home again

Muddy. Like the murky shallows of Trinity Lake when the waters have drop-drop-dropped and sucked the shoreline muck into red clay pools swirled with yesterday’s bath water. Like the ash falling from nearby fires, engulfing an entire state in smoke and soot, a sickly yellow fog no place should ever see (let alone breathe). My thoughts were hazy.

Who am I? And why am I here?

I needed distance. Distance from the he-said-she-said. Distance from the rush-rush-rush of hurryupandwaiting. Distance from the clammy humid-cloud that enveloped me the moment I opened my front door.

In all of my years in Tennessee and abroad, I have never been so homesick.

I flew West on July 12 and cried when I landed at the San Francisco International Airport. I laughed when I heard a passenger complaining about California’s gun laws. I smiled when I shivered as I walked to my rental car. I was home.

Home with all of its myriads of problems is still home.

I spent three weeks visiting friends and family. I played with my 15-month-old nephew. I sorted through childhood memory boxes and read old letters and journal entries. I relived my twenties like a movie watched in reverse—this is who I am; this is why I’m here . . . Here not only in location, but in body, mind, and spirit. Here in loyalty. Here in love. I’m here I’m here I’m-here I’m-here-I’m-HERE.

It’s raining today in Knoxville, pouring buckets in a fashion California rarely sees (and sorely needs). I’m not home anymore. But this is home for now, for reasons I must cling to, no matter life’s sea.

After all, those reasons are ME.

 

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blessed

It’s Father’s Day. We all have the world’s best father, don’t we? Except those who don’t. Or those who have lost their dads. Or those who never knew them to begin with.

Life isn’t fair.

That’s one thing my mother taught me as a child: Life isn’t fair, so stop expecting it to be. She was right. I met a young man recently who broke my heart. A “thug” on the outside, he quickly showed that he’d had an unstable childhood at best. He had no support system, and as an adult, he was hurting.

How much of who we are is who we are, and how much of it is where we came from?

Me, though—I was blessed. I have two amazing parents. My dad is and always has been my best friend. He knows me better than anyone. We think alike, and he’s always been there for me with open ears and ready arms—no matter the hour, no matter how tired, no matter what he himself is going through. He’s the most giving person I’ve ever met—giving to a fault, in fact. (Dad, you need to take care of YOU!!)

But I love him for it and know he will always put others first, no matter what I or my brother say. We’re a trio, really. My brother is amazing, too—why don’t we have a Sibling’s Day, by the way?—and this is perhaps the hardest part about being so far from home. I miss being surrounded by people who know me and love me just as I am. I wish I could be closer to watch my nephew grow. But, alas, I have to follow my own path, and my path has taken me to Tennessee.

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Today I want to share with you an event from this past week, which actually started earlier (the “backstory” from my last post), and which I couldn’t have done without my dad, who has encouraged me every step of my non-traditional way.

Back in March I wrote a post about attending my first “Poetry Slam.” The “Slam” meets once a month, and last month I got brave and recited a couple of my old poems. It was nerve-wracking, but afterward a guy reached out to me and said he and his friends had really liked my work. He invited me to a game night, which I later attended, and in a span of about five weeks my social circle in Knoxville has nearly doubled.  Thanks to my new friend I now have numerous contacts to do crazy things with like hike, rock climb, sky dive, and more. And even cooler? I no longer have to attend Poetry Slams alone! This is a video my friends took of me at this month’s Slam. Some of you may recognize my work.

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All of this to say, NONE of this would have been possible without my dad. He’s been there for me through thick and thin and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He’s supported me through every life transition and trusted that I was making the right decisions. He’s visited me wherever I am and is always been just a phone call away. He’s my biggest supporter and number one fan, and is exactly the kind of parent I wish everyone had . . . What an amazing place this world would be if that were true!!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you!

a dangerous business

“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” — Hellen Keller

There’s a back story to this. It’s coming.

I moved to Tennessee knowing no one. It’s been a lonely adventure—until recently. That’s the back story. The now-story is that, within the past few weeks I’ve tried several things I never thought I would, or thought I might but had no idea when.

I’ve hung out with a group of strangers playing games like “Killer Queen” and “Cards Against Humanity.” I’ve gone to a medieval fair. I’ve rock climbed for the second time since my accident. Tomorrow I’m headed out to play paintball, and in a couple of weeks I’m participating in a dragon boat race . . . Heck, in a few months I might even go sky diving!

Life is strange!

 

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The way I’ve survived until now, though, is by getting out. When I was lonely, I went out and exercised. This didn’t always help, but when I finished I’d text or call my closest friends. I looked for interesting events around town. I’ve seen Blind Pilot, Jason Mraz, Lucy Rose, and Charlie Cunningham in concert since moving to Knoxville. (Okay, so Jason Mraz might not have helped. All of his songs are love songs, and I might have cried through half the concert. But still . . .) I’ve gone to and participated in poetry slams. Last week I saw the comedian Henry Cho in downtown Knoxville, and a few months ago I was thrilled to see Steve Martin and Martin Short at their show in Chattanooga.
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I’ve done anything and everything I can to get my introverted self out the door and in places where I knew I might meet people. And nine months into my adventure here in Knoxville, it’s finally paying off. Nine months later, I’m meeting an incredibly diverse group of humans who are proving a point I made early on after moving home from Hong Kong: People are people. And people are beautiful.

My journey isn’t over yet. Life is full of ups and downs, and most of my days are still very quiet. But if I’ve learned anything in the last three years, it’s to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You never know what a day will bring once you force yourself out the door. The trick is forcing yourself out the door.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

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why i do this

I ran a trail race today. I’ve never run a trail race before. It’s been raining a lot in Knoxville. The trail was slick as hell.

This morning when my alarm went off before sunrise, I groaned: Why am I doing this again? After the race, when I was discussing the course with friends, I realized I would have only just gotten up if I’d slept in. This is why I do this . . .

img_3421During the run, I saw a guy wearing a shirt advertising the La Jolla Half Marathon. He was talking to a buddy about trail races in San Diego. “You from California?” I couldn’t help but ask. “Nah,” he said. “Went out there for college; just moved back.” Still running, he raised his hands to the canopy of leaves above us. “I missed this . . .” He seemed to forget me for a moment, then resurfaced. “And you? You from Cali?” “Yes, I’m from Cali—born and raised. I miss it, but I like Knoxville, too.”

Both were true.

Last weekend, I did a sprint triathlon. The scenario was the same. Why am I doing this? . . . Oh yeah, this is why I’m doing this. I commented to a friend afterward that I still find warm Tennessee mornings strange. In California it’s always cold at night and in the early morning. I miss that about home, but the warmer weather here does help during triathlons.

After another event a man said to me: “I lived in Cali for eight months, in Oakland. I never really could get used to it—didn’t understand what all the hype was about.” “Oh yeah?” I said. “Yeah. It‘s so expensive, and the traffic is awful, and . . . ” “But what about the beaches?” I pressed. “Places like Mendocino or the Bay—they’re so pretty!” “But the water is so cold!” he said.

The water is cold, I’ll give him that. But also, you find what you look for.

 

I have friends, so many friends, who have never left their hometown. People stay where they’re comfortable—most stay in the same place their whole lives. It’s easier to do this, certainly. I’ve moved around a lot, and moving is HARD. It’s hard to make friends in places and then leave them; it’s hard to never have roots. But after the initial adjustment period in a new town—after you no longer have to ask Siri for directions to get home, and when you’re finally making friends, and when you’re getting involved in things around town—suddenly, it makes sense. This is why I do this.

I do this to grow and to see and to experience different places in the world. I do this to push myself and to relate better to others, no matter where they’re from. I do this to better understand myself and to challenge my beliefs about the world. I do this because what I learned in Taiwan is true: There is no “better,” there is no “best.” All that exists among the world’s various regions and climates is “different,” and it is these differences that make that make our world interesting and beautiful. It is these differences that make our lives worth living.

So please, dear readers, stop fearing change. Stop taking the easy route. Move if you feel stagnant. Move even if you don’t feel stagnant. Growth cannot happen without change. Happiness cannot happen without growth.

Trust me. After almost a year, I can finally say: Knoxville is starting to feel a little bit like “home.”

 

 

 

 

 

love you, mom!

It would be impossible to tell you my first memory of my mom. Mothers aren’t someone you remember meeting. They were just . . . always there. My mom was athletic and fun. I remember she used to go running, and I’d beg to go with her as a kid. Back then we lived on a small court and she often ran on busy roads. “When you’re older,” she said. And when I was older, I did.

Mom always made amazing home-cooked meals for our family. She made it look easy, and our house was always spotless, too. “Does anyone even live here?” my friends used to ask when they’d visit. “Yes,” I’d reply. “Mom makes us clean up after ourselves.” It was true.

My beautiful picture

Mom and me on my 2nd birthday. Pretty sure she baked that cake herself!

Mom did her best to try to teach me how to cook; sadly, I was never much interested. I wasn’t interested in sewing, either. “Too much work and too tedious!” I’d say. “I’ll marry someone who can cook and take my sewing to a tailor.” Thanks to her persistence, however, I actually can cook today. I’ll probably never sew a Halloween costume, though.

Mom took us to swim lessons, music lessons, varsity practices, school performances. She took care of us and kissed our “owies” when we got hurt. She worried over us and saved her salary to help my brother and I get through college without loans.

Speaking of college, she drove me across the country — was it twice, Mom? — to go to school in Tennessee. Once there, she bought me a mini fridge and a microwave and new bedding so I’d be comfortable in my new “home away from home.” She always wanted the best for me.

Mom liked to play. I remember people-watching with her at the airport or mall, or any time we had downtime in a public place. “Everyone looks like a different animal,” Mom told my brother and me. “And people look like their pets.” And so we’d sit and determine what animals different people looked like, and especially those who were toting their pets.

Mom was artistic. She had impeccable taste and the eye of an interior decorator. She knew how to make everything in a space “just right,” and to this day walking into her house is like walking into a model home. She could paint and draw, and she created magnificent booths at our school’s Fall Festival every year. She was also known for her amazing gift-wrapping skills. At Christmas we always joke that we don’t want to open our gifts — they’re too pretty!

My beautiful picture

Mom and me at Halloween a few years ago. ;)

In short, Mom was everything a mother should be, and much, much more, and her greatest gift to my brother and I was (and is) the time she’s given us throughout our lives. These days Mom and her husband Ron live in California, my “forever home,” and thus I didn’t get to have brunch with them this morning. I did, however, get to FaceTime them, and I was reminded that there’s truly no place like home — and by “home” I mean family!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you!

P.S. Yes, in case you were wondering, my mom and I are a lot alike!

lemonade, anyone?

There’s that saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Haha, we laugh. Sure. I don’t even like lemonade, but you got it.

Life has given me a lot of lemons over the past ten years.

Yeah, yeah. “Look for the positive — focus on the good!” Isn’t that the other phrase we hear? Easy to say, much easier said than done.

But still we try. Or at least we move on. Or at least we keep getting up every morning, putting two feet on the floor, and shuffling towards the door. We go through the motions without a clear picture of where we’re going — just knowing that this is what we’re supposed to do, this is how to escape the fog and move towards the light.

Someday things will make sense.

We hope.

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Stairway into the fog at Dalmaji Hill, Busan, South Korea, taken on my trip in 2011.

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A detail I never fully explained was why, as a California native, I chose to go to graduate school in Tennessee. Sure, I like Tennessee (I did go to college here), but . . . Move away from my family? Move back to the humidity? Why would any fine-haired new aunt choose to do that? (My hair is incorrigible here, and I miss my nephew so much!)

A simple reason: finances. When I was looking into graduate school, I knew I couldn’t afford to do it on my own. I didn’t want to go deep into student loan debt, so I looked into programs with assistantships that offered funding. UT was one of these, and when I was accepted, I was thrilled. But there was a catch. I’d been accepted to the program, but I hadn’t been offered funding.

Well, damn.

So last April I flew to Tennessee and met with the program’s director and, together, we hatched a crazy plan. I’d move to Tennessee, start school on my own, and reapply for funding in spring. If I got it, I’d be fully funded for the following two years. If I didn’t, well . . . I’d be back to square one.

Well — deep breath — go.

Fast-forward one year and here I am in Tennessee and for months I’ve been waiting to hear if I got funding. I wasn’t on the initial offer list (that was heartbreaking), but as everything shook out, I found out recently that I was, in fact, offered funding for next year.

There is a God, lol.

No, seriously. I’ve had my doubts.

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An optimistic view of Knoxville, looking west. Taken on a ride a couple days ago.

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It’s been all sunshine here in Knoxville for the past couple of days, and yesterday on my drive to class — in my beloved 18-year-old Jetta, sunroof open and windows rolled down — I couldn’t help feeling something I haven’t felt in a very long time: optimistic. I’m still scared sh*tless most days. The future is murky and there’s still sadness behind and a resistance to letting go and always the very real chance of being let down again (and again, and again and again and again). But somewhere in there I hope tenacity is rewarded. Grit is its own strength. And life experience — in all of its varieties — is what connects us.

It’s what’s connected me to you.

Lemonade? Anyone?

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*Lemonade image credit to Smirnoff.com

what i wanted to say

I’m struggling to write what I want to today. You see . . .

Some of you have said I’m a good writer. Sometimes I think I am. Some you have suggested I write a book. Sometimes I’ve thought about it. (My rock-climbing accident would make a good story.) Sadly, though, I struggle with descriptive writing. I can write personal pieces all day long, but story-telling? Honestly, I suck.

The fact is I need to read more, and read good authors — people like Dickens, and Tolkien, and Hemingway. I need to read authors who paint big pictures and create even bigger characters. I need to read writers who know what they’re doing.

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“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Can that be?

It was encouraging this past week, though, when I was admitted into a creative writing class despite not having taken the prereq. It’s the only graduate writing course being offered next semester, and while my program isn’t writing-specific, I can tailor it to my interests. This class required the prereq or approval from the instructor, so I contacted the teacher recently and sent her some writing samples. She took a few days but finally sent this response:

Jessica,

You are welcome to sign up, but with the warning that the other students in the class are graduate MFA and PhD students and are more advanced. Of course, that means you can learn more that way. I always choose musicians to play with who know more than I do.

You have my permission.

Professor —

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Life is about taking chances, and the world of graduate school has been one of the biggest and most intimidating chances I’ve taken so far. I applied four times before finally being accepted and talked recently with another classmate about her own graduate journey. She has an MFA in non-fiction creative writing (something I’d like to do) and participated in multiple writing workshops at UCLA just to create a writing sample for her applications . . . and even then she was only accepted to one of the schools to which she applied.

Oh. My. Word.

(Side note: So then how does most of the garbage in the literature sections of grocery stores and airports today get published? I don’t get it!)

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And so, yes . . . Anyway . . . My point is . . .

I’m a decent writer, but I’ve got a long way to go, and sometimes I can’t write what I want to, even when I try. I swear, though, that sometime I’ll get around to writing a description of Hanoi, and how I met my friend K- , and about the package my friend P- sent me, and about the real reason that Facebook is worth it to me . . . I’ve just got to get through a few other things — like the research paper I’m supposed to be working on or the sprint triathlon I was talked into doing tomorrow morning (when there’s a 100 percent chance of rain) — first. Aye aye aye!

Happy weekend, all!

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walking my “why”

The truth is I lied in my last post. My trouble with blogging isn’t work. It’s time management.

Sure, sure — we all have this problem. Who ever does everything they’re supposed to exactly when they’re supposed to do it? Almost no one. That’s human nature — and life. But this flaw has perhaps been exaggerated in my case since moving to Knoxville. I work from home for a company on the west coast. I have class in the middle of the day. I’ve always been a night owl . . .

You see where I’m going with this.

It’s a fine thing to have flexibility and down time, but there comes a point where structure is good, too. Kids need routines and schedules, and so do adults. I like needing to be places and feeling productive. I like feeling like I’m a part of something in a meaningful way.

I’ve talked a lot about happiness on my blog — what it is compared to what we think it is. I’m come to see that happiness is multi-faceted. It’s not enough just to be thankful for what you have. Happiness is not about possessions or wealth. Happiness is much more than that, and part of it is “walking your why” and feeling like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

Take, for example, the families who have been displaced in places like Syria or Rohingya. Many of these people have nothing except the clothes on their backs. Surely these people are suffering, but something that keeps them going — something that keeps all of us going — is the idea that a better future is within their grasp, that somehow they can create a better life for their children.

But why do I bring up refugees? Why not talk about the Yale graduate who left a prestigious law firm to help save women from human trafficking? Or the CEO who left the big business to start a program to help the homeless? Or myself who moved across country to start school to become a teacher? Those are the kinds of stories you were expecting, right?

Why? Because happiness isn’t limited to “first world” nations, folks. Take a look at that smiling Syrian baby above. Is he not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Indeed, some of the happiest people I’ve ever met were in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Imagine how much simpler your own life would be if you didn’t have all of those “things” to worry about and bills to pay? How much easier would it be to live in the moment? We underestimate the toll some of our privileges take on our overall well-being.

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In her talk on emotional agility, which I mentioned previously, psychologist Susan David talks about the importance of living our lives according to our values when it comes to our happiness. And I feel like that’s what’s really missing here. I say I want to get to bed earlier. But do I? I wake up much more satisfied with myself the next morning when I do! We say we want to help others. But do we? We’re much happier when we volunteer at that food kitchen, or reach out to that silent coworker, or take a leap of faith and make that career change — in other words, when we listen to our gut and think outside of ourselves — yes, when we follow through!

My challenge to myself this Easter weekend is to challenge my habits and actions that are not in line with my true values. I desperately want to be a better person and to “walk my why” on a daily basis. Don’t you?

Just food for thought on this beautiful Easter weekend. And . . . Speaking of “whys” . . . Now that I’ve got this blog post done ;) . . . I’ve got a five-page paper to write, so I guess I’d better get going on that, too!

wide awake

The night before the race, late. Too late to write; too late to sleep.

If only you knew,
How often I think of you . . . 

How many sleepless nights,
How many thoughts per hour, day, week . . .

If I had time to write all my thoughts, I’d have written a book by now — a blog post a day, maybe two.

Instead my thoughts are scattered; my time, full.
I’m off on adventures, trying to forget you,
Looking for the day I no longer think of you.

After all, you’ve forgotten me.

(A bunch of poetic lines, just erased, which didn’t rhyme or have a real place.)

Yes, somehow I’ll get through.
I’ll find the new me,
I’ll find a way . . .

But I’ll always miss you.

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I’m running Ragnar Tennessee this weekend with a group of friends and acquaintances from college. The race covers the nearly 200 miles between Chattanooga and Nashville, with each team member covering three legs totaling anywhere from 14 to 21(ish) miles each. It’s an overnight race. You don’t stop until you reach your destination. It’s going to be cold. It might thunderstorm. It’s going to be exhausting. It’s going to be fun.

When in doubt, pedal (or run) it out. It’s always worked for me!

(Hope all of you out there are gearing up for a good weekend — and hopefully get more rest than me!)

the key to success . . .

Confession: I’m a failure. I fail every day. But I’m also a success. I keep trying.

How do I mean? I’ll give you a few examples:

  • I applied to graduate school four times before being accepted. When I finally got in, it was on uncertain terms. (I’ll explain later.)
  • I didn’t complete my first half Ironman. I was anemic and had to withdraw. The next year, I finished two half Ironmans and several other triathlons. I have my sights set on completing my first marathon and first full Ironman in 2018/19.
  • I started a blog while I lived in Taiwan, Tai Tao. It never took off. When I moved to Hong Kong, I started Shift. Today I have more than 2,400 followers (and hope to gain many more).
  • I’ve lived in seven cities in ten years. Each relocation has been difficult. I’ve never given up and moved home (wherever that is). My life perspective has grown ten-fold because of this.
  • I’ve loved and I’ve lost. I’ve learned something valuable from each relationship. I’ll be swimming  and not out on a date tomorrow night. (Valentine’s Day sucks, anyway.)
  • I’m trying to eat healthier. I had a vegetable smoothie with tofu for lunch. I also had gummy bears. :D

I like what Will Smith has to say on this topic, too. In truth, the only way to truly fail is when you stop trying.

What’s your relationship with failure? Do you agree with Will?

 

 

 

 

let’s talk about the weather

(No, seriously!)

I was shocked when I moved to Tennessee as a freshman in college and my mom bought me an umbrella. “It’s summer, Mom,” I protested. California summers are hot and DRY. I did not need an umbrella.

It rained weekly in Chattanooga that summer and fall.

I needed an umbrella.

When winter came, though, I was sure I’d be prepared. I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. We skied in Tahoe when I was a kid; sometimes it snowed at home. I knew about winter.
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My hometown on a wintry day.

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I did not know about winter.

In an era of global warming, pictures like the above are becoming less and less common in my hometown. Most of California rarely sees a daytime high below 40°F (5.5℃); in Chattanooga, though, it’s common. I remember walking across campus that January and marveling that, at noon, I could still see my breath. I learned to wear gloves and scarves and hats in Chattanooga. I’d never really needed them before.
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Ice skating, anyone?

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This year, as a graduate student in Knoxville, I have again been struck by the weather. Although we haven’t had deep snows or sub-zero temperatures like other parts of the nation, we have had some really cold days — days in the low 20s that have frozen lakes and ponds . . . Days that chill you to the bone and require hot cocoa and cuddling by a fire (or, in my case, a heater) . . . Days when, to keep from going stir crazy, you put on six layers of clothing and go for a run to feel alive . . .

I remember really cold winters in Taiwan and Hong Kong, too. There’s something about humidity that penetrates the soul.
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How do you feel about winter? What has your winter looked like so far this year (that is, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere)? What does it typically look like? (Share a picture of your weather if you feel so inclined!)

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. William Shakespeare

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. Henry Adams

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Frozen solid.

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It was 22°F and felt like 12°F (-5.6℃, or -11℃) with a when I took these photos.

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Poor fishies!

(Ironically, while I was drafting this, it warmed up significantly here for a couple of days. I might even ride my bike tomorrow! . . . Of course, when I mentioned this to the lady at the dry cleaners today, she laughed. “Don’ be fooled! ‘Ees jes’ playin’ wid you. Winter ain’ over yet!”

to begin again

me2I hesitate to start this post. I don’t want to make pre-broken promises. I am broken, so how can my words be anything but?

I’ve never lost my passion for writing. But I have, from time to time, lost my voice. It gets buried within — too deep to find; too deep to retrieve. Clear writing takes clear thinking; for me, it takes fervor, too. I cannot write about something I don’t care about. Or, rather, I don’t want to.

But life has taken some twisty turns lately. It’s been hard to find my way, so different has the labyrinth been from the straightaway I’d imagined.

Decisions have been harder, too — and more life-altering. I’m in my thirties now. I can no longer afford the luxury of screwing up.

And so I’m taking take baby steps. I’ve always been a thinker, and I’m bordering on being over-analytical now. Not to say I can’t make decisions, but . . . when I get to the end of my maze, I want to know I navigated its zigzags the best that I could.

And I want you to know, too — those who have joined me, those who have cared; those who have stayed with me long enough to watch me try (again and again and . . .) to

begin again.

 

p.s. Thank you, those of you, who have reached out to me in my silence. You encouragement means more than you know.

on new years eve

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New Years in Hong Kong

Where you are, the ball may have already dropped. I know it has for my friends in Taiwan and Hong Kong. But maybe you live in Hawaii, or Alaska, or some other remote place — I don’t know where.

It’s 2015, no, 2016. Hip hip hooray! A new year. But somewhere in there, in between the shiny memories of my youth — when I held my breath and clung to each passing moment; counted eagerly, haltingly, “5… 4… 3…”; when lips were rosy and blushes, plenty — somewhere between innocence and the glaze of adulthood (I’ll be doing laundry tonight — what’s another year?), something got lost.

What happened to the magic? What happened to the nostalgia?

I won’t lie: 2015 has been a tough year. I won’t be sorry to see it go. Unlike many others, however, I don’t place all my hope in what lies ahead. I know that good will come in 2016, and that I am the master of my destiny, but there are things that are out of my control: no new year is all sunshine and roses.

And so I look forward to the new year resolutely. I will make the best of both the good and bad in 2016, and will always make the best decisions that I can. I promise to always be kind — even to myself. I won’t make resolutions I can’t keep but will continue living as I have, making the most of every day. I will learn from and cherish the past, but I won’t live for it; I’ll live for the future. And, most importantly, I will always follow my heart.

humanity

Hqb3pRing around the rosies,
pocket full of posies,
Ashes, ashes,
we all fall down.

The delightful children’s chorus, one nearly all Americans learn as youth, has an insidious underlying meaning. Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the associations — the song dates back to the London Plague of 1665. (Well, some say it does. Others dispute this claim, tying the song to childish courtship games and pagan history.) I’m not here to argue for either case; rather, I am amused by the fact that something so appealing on the surface can actually mean something so somber. Continue reading

the man next door

shutterstock_103496906_copy_712_711The crazy guy next door moved out. Well, actually, he got evicted. I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with his personal hygiene — the man never showered. His clothes were always dirty, too, and, despite his friendly demeanor, he couldn’t hold a conversation to save his life.

“I see you exercise a lot,” he’d say, exuberantly. “I exercise a lot, too. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

“I saw you running the other day,” he’d say the next day. “I exercise, too. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

And the next day. “Is that your bike? That’s a nice bike. I have a bike, too, but the tires are rotted. But I exercise a lot. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

And so on and so forth. I used to try to respond to his comments. To his, “I see you exercise a lot,” I’d say, “Oh, I try!” Or, “Well, I’m training for a triathlon, so . . .” But the conversations never went anywhere; they always ended the same. Continue reading

to help a stranger

Broken-down-car-drawing-in-inkShe came at me from across the busy street. I was sitting in my car with the door open, enjoying the breeze, listening to the rustling of the trees, preparing for my upcoming tutoring session. I watched her cross — alone and carrying nothing — and thought it odd, but I looked away. I didn’t expect her to stop.

“E-excuse me? Miss?”

I looked over. The girl appeared to be about my age and was wearing faded jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. Her reddish hair was pulled into an oily ponytail at the nape of her neck. “Uh, hi,” I said.

“Can you give me a ride?”

Umm . . . I looked at the clock in my dashboard. 5:45. “Where do you need to go? I have to be somewhere in 15 minutes.”

“My car broke down,” the girl hurried to explain. “It’s not far. My friend’s house. It’s about 5 minutes from here, off Rheem Boulevard.” She looked near tears.

Umm . . . “Uh, sure,” I said. What else could I say? “Yeah, I can do that.” I looked down at the textbooks and papers strewn across my lap and passenger seat beside me. My half eaten salad from Whole Foods sat atop the dash. “Hang on just a sec.” I grabbed the textbooks and salad container and tossed them in the back seat. The papers I gathered into a pile on my lap. “Come on in.”

The girl climbed in. As she did, I noticed — she had a faint odor, like stale sweat and body odor. I had to fight not to wrinkle my nose.

“Okay, so I’m not actually from around here,” I told her. Which was true. I travel nearly 160 miles round-trip once a week to tutor *Sophie right now. “Where are we going again?”

“Rheem Boulevard. It’s that way.” She pointed to a road on our left.

“Okay.” I turned on the car and began driving in the direction of her finger. She didn’t say anything else as we went, and the silence felt awkward; I used it as an opportunity to introduce myself. “I’m Jessica,” I said.

“I’m Stacy.”

“Nice to meet you, Stacy. I’m sorry about your car. So . . . You just left it there?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you not have a cell phone or anything?”

“No. I mean, yes, but my cell phone is dead, and I don’t have any money.”

“Oh . . .” I was at a loss. Stacy seemed prone to lapse into silence between my attempts at conversation. But then she surprised me.

“You’d think people in Moraga would be nice, but they’re really not,” she said. I assumed she was talking about her car. I waited for her to say more, but . . . nothing. I understood what she meant, though. Upon my first visit in Moraga, as I’d watched Mercedes Benzs and BMWs drive through its hilly terrain, I’d felt a strong impression that these people were, if not selfish, very self-absorbed. No one made eye contact, and there was an intense “keeping up with the Joneses” type feel throughout the town. Thankfully Sophie’s family was an exception.

“I know what you mean,” I said after a moment. I looked at the clock. 5:50. Were we close? I didn’t want to be late . . . Then it occurred to me: Had I been foolish? After all, I knew nothing about this girl. Could I trust her? I glanced at her through the corner of my eye, but her face was blank; I could detect nothing. “Are we getting close?” I asked finally.

“Yes, it’s coming up soon. It’s going to be up here on the left. It’s . . . right there.” She pointed to a cul-de-sac twenty yards ahead.

“Gotcha.” I turned on my blinker and turned left at the street. “Now where?”

“Umm . . . It’s right there.” I did a U-turn and parked in front of the house she’d indicated. “Well, here we are.”

“Thanks so much,” she told me as she got out the car.

“Hey, no problem,” I told her. “Good luck with your c–,” but she was already shutting the door and walking towards the front door.

Well, that was interesting.

As I drove away — I now had five minutes to get to Sophie’s — I thought about my concerns on the drive over, and how sad it was that I even had to worry about whether or not helping a stranger was the right thing. I knew for certain I wouldn’t have helped Stacy if she’d been a man. Was that because it really wasn’t safe to help a man, or . . .? Or was it something else?

It’s a strange world we live in, but I, for one, want to be kind, helpful, and generous whenever possible, no matter what the risk or ultimate return.

*name changed
Image credit: Leah Whisenant

blog design, and other things

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Blog design is a lot of work!

So, among other things, I’ve been contemplating updating the look of my blog. The other day Jon found an article about a guy my same age who’s been traveling the world since 2006. Apparently he started out teaching (like I did) but soon took a different path to make money: he started a blog and then, later, a digital media company. Jon wondered why I couldn’t make money with my blog (after all, who doesn’t want to make money doing something they love?), and I told him, “That guy isn’t just writing for the love of writing. He’s a ‘tech entrepreneur,’ and I don’t have a clue how to do that!”

But the discussion did spur something inside me. No, I don’t plan to start begging readers for donations. (I know bloggers who’ve done that. It isn’t pretty.) And I don’t hope to have advertisements spattered all over my blog any time soon. (In fact, I hope the opposite.) But it wouldn’t hurt me to start posting more and make my blog more of a priority. If I’m planning to apply for graduate school this fall (which I am), I’m going to need more writing clips to send in, anyway.  My blog is a good way to do that.

But what I wondered from you is — I’ve had the same “look” for my blog pretty much all along. Do you think an updated design is needed? Or . . . One thing I really don’t like about WordPress right now is that it’s not letting me preview my site in a new template before sending it “live.” Talk about annoying for a perfectionist like me. I want to be able to customize everything to my liking before presenting it to the public, but, right now, I can’t find a way to do that. Any tips? Thoughts? Advice?

Anyone?

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when it’s all said and done

JessicaI am SO glad I don’t have to get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning and race 70.3 miles.

So glad.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not glad I did last week’s race. It didn’t go as planned — didn’t go well at all, actually — but it did go, and it was a learning experience. I am ashamed to say I didn’t complete the run. There were a lot of factors aimed against me — a late swim start and a 30-minute flat tire among them — but, ultimately, the failure was my own. I wasn’t as strong as I needed to be, and it hurt me.

Almost comically, before the race, the editor at the Windsor Times asked me to write an article about my experience. He would publish it in the paper; I would be in the news. Oh boy. I was excited by the prospect initially, but then . . . Really? I had to write about the race that I failed?

Below is the *article I sent him. You’ll notice I left out the race’s ending entirely. I just couldn’t admit to the world that I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t admit that I wasn’t strong.

Funny that I feel comfortable sharing that here, with you.

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A day in the life of a Vineman

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Finally! Almost time to swim.

4:30 a.m. came early. Ugh. Was it really time to get up already? I stumbled out of bed and gathered my things. Water bottles, electrolyte tablets, Bonk Breakers, goggles, running shoes, helmet, etc.—it’s amazing how much stuff you need for a triathlon. I’d made breakfast the night before—a nutrition shake and two scrambled eggs. In my previous event, the Monte Rio Olympic Distance Triathlon, I’d skipped breakfast and ended up “bonking” halfway through the race. That was not something I wanted to repeat.

The drive to Guerneville was smoother than expected. With approximately 2,300 athletes competing in the 25th Ironman Vineman 70.3, I’d been warned that traffic on River Road could be bad. But, as the twinkling stars dissipated and the sun’s rays began streaking orange into navy skies in the distance, the stream of taillights before me kept moving. There was no stop-and-go anywhere.

The race was starting at Johnson’s Beach. My boyfriend Jon and I parked our car about a half-mile away on Highway 116 and rode our bikes in. Jon wasn’t participating but had come to to cheer me on. All along River Road and on Guerneville Bridge I saw people jogging and stretching and completing various other pre-race rituals. I started to get nervous. I hadn’t been planning to warm up. Should I? But, I needed to save my energy for the race!

To be honest, I trained a lot for the cycling and running portion of this event but not as much for the swim. I was also unsure about nutrition. It takes a lot of calories to fuel an athlete through a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. This was my first half Ironman, and, without the experience of years, I wasn’t sure how to fuel or what to expect. I was about to find out.

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In line at the transition area, 6:30 a.m. Some swimmers had already started. My swim wave wasn’t until 8:42.

There were athletes everywhere and a buzz of excitement at Johnson’s Beach. At the gate I dismounted and got in line for the transition area. I needed to set up my bike and bike needs so that, after the swim, the switch to my bike would be easy. As I waited, I watched other waves of swimmers take off. “Honk!” went the air horn, and then the next group of swimmers moved in. I, unfortunately, was in the very last swim wave at 8:42 a.m. It was almost 7 a.m. now.

And so I waited and waited. Why had I gotten up at 4:30 again? My bike was now ready, my arms and legs marked, my wetsuit on, and . . . Finally, “Women 30-34.” I was in!

The rest of the race is a blur, honestly. The Vineman 70.3 course takes participants up and down the Russian River, through four different grape growing regions—the Russian River, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and Chalk Hill—and then around Windsor High School. It is advertised as one of the most beautiful courses in the world, and, as many who raced Sunday would attest, it lives up to its name. We had incredibly good weather on Sunday, too, which made a big difference for me. Eighty degrees is a lot more bearable than 90. The only unfortunate thing was that I got a flat tire on the bike ride and, in changing out my tube, lost all of the carbon dioxide out of my CO2 cartridge. I’d only brought one, so I then had to wait for 30 minutes for the sag wagon to come help me. What a delay!

All in all, participating in Vineman was a great experience, one I hope to do again next year. There is nothing like the thumbs up or “Way to go!” from a fellow athlete when you’re plugging along on the field, and Sonoma County is truly a beautiful place to race. If I learned anything, though, it’s to spend more time training for the swim—I was shaky when I got out of the water—and to bring an extra CO2 cartridge!
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*To read the article in the paper, click here: A day in the life of a Vineman
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The Russian River where the swim took place.

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meant to be

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Jessica,

Thanks for writing that very nice article about us three new administratoris in Geyserville. It is always nice to see positive press in the newspapers, or at least a balance. You write very well–clear, concise, and not a lot of fluff. So, thank you again and let us know if you need anything else down the road.

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It’s comments like these that tell me I’m right: I was meant to be a writer. No, not a reporter. A writer.

The article this man mentions is located here. It’s an assignment I got as a freelancer at a local paper here in Santa Rosa. It’s a position I got after being rejected yet again for a full-time reporting job. It’s an opportunity to produce clips and, hopefully, make (more) connections.

My half Ironman was this past Sunday. It didn’t go as planned. I will write more soon, but, in the meantime, thank you–all of you–for your encouragement over these past few years.

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Image: mymodernmet.com

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will she ever . . .

post again? write again? rhyme again?

Stay tuned for a long-overdue answer.

In the meantime . . .

Is this guy for real? What does he think he’s accomplishing? I mean, really. Go get a job. Or something. Anything. Go feed the homeless, maybe. I dunno. But I’ll bet that that’s what Jesus would want you to do. Not . . . this.

crazy

the busy trap

Mindfulness-and-Living-a-Busy-Life ..
Perhaps the problem isn’t “busy.” Perhaps the problem is the reason behind busy.

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There are people who have kids. There are people who have jobs. There are people who have kids and jobs, but, the fact is, the majority of our lives aren’t spent worrying about us. It’s spent worrying about others. Or money. Or food. Or _________.

And that’s the way it should be — to a certain extent, anyway. No one wants to be a narcissist. But there’s a part of us that’s important, too. We have to like ourselves, we have to accept ourselves, just the way we are, before all of the busy. We have to have goals for ourselves without all of the busy. Otherwise . . . the busy is just . . .

Busy.

Empty.

A cover-up.

A sham.

An attempt to hide what we really feel inside, which is, ____________.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my busy lately. Why am I so compelled towards perfection? Why do I feel better on a day I accomplish a lot than when I only do a little? Why do I seek to control my life when I know, deep down, that control is only an illusion? Why do I equate busyness with success?

011-Busy-is-a-Drug-webThe truth is: History’s movers and shakers have never been people who sat around. Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa aren’t remembered because they thought about doing nice things for others. They’re remember because they did something nice for others . . .

But even movers and shakers need quiet moments of reflection. Even they need a reason for what they do.

And I think that that’s my problem, and maybe others’, too. I get so caught up in the busy that I forget what the busy is there for. I forget what I’m trying to accomplish and where I’m headed. I ignore the fact that, in trying to control my life, it’s actually controlling me. And then I wonder why I get discouraged in the process — why my goals seem so far away.

My busy is in the way.

Every life has a purpose. It’s up to us to find that purpose each day. I hope you don’t get caught up in the busy like I do. I hope you find a better way.

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Images: Google

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times are tough, but i’m in luck!

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True that, yo!

It occurred to me, as I was reading the headlines this morning, just how lucky I am. I have a roof over my head and enough food to eat. I have a job and a loving boyfriend. (Believe me, he puts up with a lot.) I have family close by and friends near and far. I have use of all four limbs and my hearing and eyesight. I have it good.

I am often quite hard on myself, but, the truth is, when comparing myself to others (which I shouldn’t do — I know, I know), I only look to those I consider my betters. Those with more money, more life experiences; those who have things “all figured out,” those I consider better looking. I forget to check myself and look at all of humanity and just how many people out there I can help, or would, or should. Continue reading

the stories of our lives

atoz_assessmentI attended a private school growing up, as I have said. Private school was a “safe” environment — at least it was for a goodie-goodie like me.

The elementary school I work at now is not private. There are three kindergarten classes, three first grade classrooms, three second grade classrooms. Third, fourth, and fifth graders attend an identical school down the street. More than 60 percent of our students are Hispanic. More than forty percent do not live with their parents.

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Last week, *Marius was thrown out of school. He’d been a problem all year, had barricaded himself in the bathroom and was stuffing toilet paper into all of the toilets. He refused to come out, and, when he finally did, was chased down and taken to the office to wait for his grandmother. Marius has blond curls and blue eyes and baby chub. Marius is in kindergarten. Continue reading

oh, kids

410_1target_group_kids_apparel_photography_los_angeles_mike_henryLittle kids are so loving. I’m working in a first grade classroom right now. “Your hair is so soft!” “Will you tie my shoe for me?” *Big hug* “You’re so pretty!” “I like your glasses!”

(They are far kinder to me than I am to myself.)

Then today, on the playground, a student named Morgan, blubbering: “Miss Jess . . . No one wants to play with me. I don’t know why, but no one wants to play with me.” His blue eyes pooled with tears. Continue reading