rage against the machine

Do not be gentle in this, the great fight.
Rage, rage against those with little sight.
Rage against the machine.

In 2015, the Gun Violence Archive states that there were 53,711 gun incidents in the United States. 13,507 of those incidents resulted in death. In 2016, the number of incidents rose to 58,700, with 15,084 resulting in death. Thus far in 2017, at the time of this writing, the number of gun-related incidents and deaths is 54,610 and 13,775, respectively.

That’s a lot of (unnecessary, avoidable) deaths.

To get away from numbers, though, let’s look at headlines. “Missing Illinois bartender found shot dead.” “Toddler finds gun, accidentally kills playmate.” “White cop shoots black man during regular traffic stop.” I am disturbed every time I look at the news. People die from gun wounds EVERY DAY in the United States.

And yet we are silent.

We are silent until a mass shooting in Las Vegas takes place, and then suddenly the whole nation is up in arms. DO SOMETHING!! we cry — for a little while. We are angry with our government for allowing madmen to obtain guns. We are angry that these killings keep happening. But, really, we are tired. We are tired of the headlines. We are tired of bad news. We are tired of our own troubles, and, truthfully, we don’t want to give up our guns. We don’t want to do what it would take personally to eradicate the gun problem in our nation.

By now most everyone has heard about the steps Australia and Japan and the United Kingdom took to curb gun violence on their home fronts. Australia did a huge gun buy-back program; Japan requires intensive training and testing to own a gun. The U.K. banned private handgun ownership and bought back tens of thousands of guns from its citizens. In Hong Kong, where I lived for a year, citizens were never allowed to own guns in the first place. I felt safe in Hong Kong. I don’t feel safe in the United States.

Since the Las Vegas shooting, though, what have people been talking about? Sure, there’s been talk about stricter gun laws, but we Americans have this tendency to focus on effects rather than causes. Just like we still take our shoes off at airports because of one incident years ago, I’ve heard more discussion about screening hotel guests’ luggage than I have about making it more difficult to buy guns since the massacre at the Mandalay Bay.

Notice that I said “making it more difficult to buy guns.” I didn’t say, “Do away with all guns,” or “Only law enforcement officers should have guns,” or “All guns are bad.” Having lived in the South for a few years and having made many wonderful friends here, I can easily see how guns and hunting, etc. are a big part of the culture here. What worked in other countries will not necessarily work in the United States. You can’t come in with sweeping measures that many oppose and expect to find success. But surely there is a middle ground we can all agree on? Surely the reasonable gun owners in the nation would be willing to make some concessions on the kinds of guns they need to own — and the process they’re willing to go through to get them — if it meant keeping a larger majority of our nation safe? If it meant keeping machine guns out of the hands of maniacs?

Because, if we’re not, well . . .

We have no one but ourselves to blame.

(And, also, I’m becoming an expat.)

..

Below are a couple of videos I’ve posted previously on my blog talking about gun violence and the need for change in our nation. They’re worth the watch.

 

*Note: This post was originally written for my friend Sreejit, an amazing blogger who’s currently featuring other writers in his “Rage Against the Machine Month” on his blog, found here. He’s asked me to write a post for him many times, and I’ve never followed through — until now! Stay tuned for a tie-in to my last post next time. 

our little secret

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Downtown Denver

I’m about to tell you a secret. But only if you promise not to laugh. And only if you don’t tell my friends on facebook.

Last Friday night I went to friend’s wedding in Denver, Colorado. Last Friday night, five minutes before the ceremony started, I totaled my rental car — right in front of the wedding venue.

It was one of those days when, up until that moment, everything seemed to be going well. I’d caught up with an old friend the night before and run a decent 7.5 miles in downtown Denver earlier that day. It was beautiful out, and I was proud of myself for making the trip. (The bride, Jen, is one of my oldest friends, and though Denver isn’t next door to Tennessee, her wedding was something I couldn’t miss.) I even managed to get ready on time and felt pretty in my dress. (Sadly, this is not always the case.) My only concern as I approached the venue that evening, then, was . . . parking.

The wedding was at a beautiful art gallery in downtown Denver. The gallery didn’t have a parking lot, though, and so the closer I got (thank you, Siri), the more I started looking for street-side parking. And the more I started looking for street-side parking, the greater at risk I (apparently) became for making a mistake.

I made a mistake.

I entered an intersection crossing a one-way street without seeing a stop sign — or the oncoming traffic. In fact, I never saw it. In the blink of an eye my world went from silence and Siri to screeching breaks, crunching metal, ssss-ing smoke, and inanity inside my head. Oh my god, oh my god . . . What just happened?

When my car came to a halt in the middle of the road (right beside the venue), I was in shock. The rental car, the rental car, the rental . . . Jen’s wedding is starting, Jen’s wedding is starting — I looked at the clock — in seven minutes. This can’t be real; this can’t be . . . Oh no, oh no, oh no. In all my life and seventeen years of driving, I had never been in a “real” car accident until that moment. I had no idea what to do.

A crowd had gathered on the sidewalks. People, many of whom were involved in the wedding, were calling out to me. “Are you okay?” Their voices came as if from within a fog. Finally a man in street clothes caught my attention; he made a downward motion with his hands and pointed to my window. “Oh- ohhh.” I suddenly understood. The front end of the car was gone, but my power windows still worked. I rolled mine down.

“Are you okay?” he asked, concerned.

“Ye-, yes, I’m okay.”

“Can you walk?”

“Ye-,” I nodded.

“You might want to get out. The car is leaking fluids pretty badly.”

“Ohh . . .” I was barely functioning.

“Can you put the car in neutral? Maybe we can push it to the side of the road?”

I put the car in neutral and got out and watched as several men pushed it across the road. I was mortified.

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On the tow truck.

Things got worse before they got better. I’d been hit by a red Ford F150. After hitting me, the truck had spun sideways across the road and suffered significant damage. A rear tire was blown. The front end looked like it’d been mauled. The driver was on his cell phone on the sidewalk, and at first I thought we were the only ones involved. When I finally had enough sense to walk over towards him, however, I saw that two other cars had also been hit. A Mercedes sat beside the road with its rear end smashed in. The car in front of it had been damaged, too. Someone said that they belonged to people involved in the wedding. Ohh nooo . . . Then someone said they belonged to the groom’s parents. OH NOOOO!!!!

I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

But I was freezing. While the police reports were filed and phones calls made and insurance information exchanged, the sun had gone down. Colorado is cold at night in November, and I hadn’t been prepared to stand out in it in my dress. The driver of the truck was very kind and offered me his coat. “That truck is my baby; I’d just put new tires on it,” he mused. “But it’s okay; they’re called ‘accidents’ for a reason. I’m just glad everyone’s okay.”

I couldn’t accept his coat, though. Not after what I’d just done. I shivered instead.

I missed the wedding — watched the kiss from outside the gallery’s clear glass windows — and called the rental car company to report the incident and request a tow during the reception. Friends and loved ones gave me rides home and to the airport the next morning, and at the end of the day, I knew I should be thankful things weren’t worse: medical bills on top of insurance deductibles would just about break me right now. But sometimes it’s hard to be thankful; sometimes you just wish you could turn back time. My pride was wounded, and my mistake had caused great misfortune to others. Even now, trying to retell my story, my eyes well up with tears — and I don’t cry.

Next up: This one will be for you, Sreejit. I’ll email you!

A few pics from Denver and the wedding:

 

love is beauty

Speaking of poetry . . . I may not be able to write poems anymore, but this lady sure can. She made me cry.

I looked in the mirror and what did I see,
but a little old lady peering back at me,
with bags and sags and wrinkles and wispy white hair,
and I asked my reflection, “How did you get there?

You once were straight and vigorous, and now you’re stooped and weak
when I tried so hard to keep you from becoming an antique.”

My reflection’s eyes twinkled, and she solemnly replied,
“You’re looking at the gift wrap and not the jewel inside,
a living gem and precious of un-imagined worth,
unique and true, the real you, the only you on earth.

The years that spoil your gift wrap with other things more cruel
should purify and strengthen and polish up that jewel.

So focus your attention on the inside, not the out—
on being kinder, wiser, more content, and more devout.

Then, when your gift wrap is stripped away, your jewel will be set free,
to radiate God’s glory, throughout eternity.”

The “little old lady” reciting this poem is Wanda Goines. She was 92 when this video was recorded in 2015. According to ABC News, she wrote the poem years ago, but it only became known when her caregiver posted this video on YouTube. Today it stands at almost 3.5 million views . . . Not bad for a little old lady!

I’m 33 and can already relate to this poem. I say “already” because, at 33, 33 doesn’t seem so old. When I was 23, 33 was “pretty old”; at 13, accordingly, it meant “almost dead” . . . This perspective will change yet again when I am 43, and 53, and 63. When I am 73, 33 will probably mean “baby,” and that, to be honest, scares me. These last 33 years have been far from easy; if 33 equals “baby,” I’m terrified of what’s to come.

But that’s kind of Wanda’s point, isn’t it?

Life is hard — for everyone — and over the years it does things to our appearance that we don’t always like. At 33 I have more wrinkles than I did at 23. I have more gray hairs. (Okay, I haven’t actually seen any yet, but that’s because I’m blonde . . .) I get sore more easily. I take longer to heal when sick or wounded. If had a rock-climbing accident today like I did at 18, I probably wouldn’t survive.

No one is immune. Everyone will die.

And that’s why Wanda is right on. In this world of superficiality, where youth is worshiped and beauty idolized, even the rich and famous get old, and no amount of plastic surgery or fancy clothing can change this. The only thing we have control over is how we live. How much we love, care, laugh, strive — these are the things that matter. These are the things we’ll be remembered for.

I am reminded of Princess Diana. She was a beautiful woman, certainly, but I would argue that she’s remembered as much for her kindheartedness and love as she is for her beautiful face. By contrast, certain celebrities considered beautiful today somehow become less beautiful in light of their selfish or foolish actions. We are what we eat, and also, how we act. Love is greater than beauty. Love is beauty.

 

Note: This is a reminder to myself as much as it is for the reader. Lord knows  I worry about my appearance far too much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

random updates on life

Ahh! It’s been a crazy few weeks.

Since we last talked, I’ve:

  • Visited friends in California and seen the damage from the fires in Santa Rosa. The devastation is unreal. Although tragedies like this happen around the world every day, this one hits particularly close to home for me. It will take years for my old community to rebuild.

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Also, if you’re on facebook, check out this link of the overview of the damage of Coffey Park, a neighborhood I lived near that was completely destroyed by the fire.

  • Surprised my dad by showing up in Sacramento for a fund-raising ride for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which my family was doing in honor of my nephew, Oliver.

(Don’t think I’ve mentioned it on my blog, but my six-month old nephew has cystic fibrosis. This was a surprise to the whole family — no one in our family history on either side has ever had the disease. It’s quite rare and requires both parents to be carriers. It’s really unfortunate and shocking for us all. That said, Oliver has stolen our hearts and is doing well so far!)

Since returning to Tennessee, I’ve:

  • Completed my first ever academic book review (and probably bombed it).
  • Questioned my life decisions and choice of a masters program. (Prayers appreciated!)
  • Attempted to write more poetry and failed miserably. (Not giving up, though. Maybe I should get a masters in poetry so I have more time to work on it?)

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  • Seen my first concert in years (Blind Pilot) and discovered an amazing British guitarist/vocalist, Charlie Cunningham. (Check out his song “In One Out” below.)
  • Decided to move to the UK — lol . . . no, seriously.
  • Become completely fed up with American society as a whole — oh wait, that’s not new.
  • Found out that a college friend my age passed away yesterday at the age of 33. Life is too short, folks. Embrace it  — even the sucky parts.

(More soon!)

don’t wait for perfect

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Restarting my blog at the same time I uprooted my life and started graduate school might not’ve been my best idea. Grad school is tough, and culture shock is real, people. (More on that later.) But, as Brandon Stanton said at the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville a few days ago, I can’t keep waiting on “perfect.” Cuz perfect ain’t ever going to come!

For those who don’t know, Stanton is the creator of Humans of New York, a powerful photoblog featuring pictures and quotes from people around the world. Stanton started the blog in New York City in 2010 with a simple idea: Take pictures of people around the city; create a “map” of those people and where he photographed them. As the blog progressed, however, Stanton realized the map wasn’t necessary. What drew people to his blog were words.

Stanton started including quotes from the people he photographed, and then interviews. His following got larger as his stories got longer. (Currently it’s at more than 18 million.) He realized his blog’s universal appeal and traveled internationally to more than 20 different countries. He also did several series of interviews — with cancer patients, refugees, military veterans, and more — and from these, raised millions of dollars for cancer research and other charitable causes. Most recently he’s been working on a video series that builds on the same premise and is currently being released weekly on facebook.

Image result for humans of new yorkI started following Stanton’s blog a few years ago. It enticed me with its raw humanity. It clearly displayed everything I’d seen in Asia: No matter where you go, people are people. Stanton himself is also very down-to-earth, which has contributed to his success. During his performance last week, Stanton wore tennis shoes, jeans, and a zip-up hoodie as he shared the beginnings of Humans of New York and how he figured out what he needed to do. “I realized early on I was never going to be the best photographer,” said Stanton. “Humans of New York is not about photography. But what I do have is something many of the world’s best photographers do not — I have the ability to approach and talk to strangers.” (paraphrased)

Stanton shared several other great points that evening, which stood out out to me as applicable to both blogging and life. Here are just a few of them:

  • Don’t wait for perfect. Perfect never comes. Time is our most valuable commodity. If you’re meant to do something, do it now.
  • Don’t worry about your audience. If Brandon had worried about his audience when he started Humans of New York, Humans of New York wouldn’t have come to be–he would have given up long ago because success didn’t happen overnight.
  • Following your dreams means “choosing your work.” “People talk about following their dreams as if following your dreams means avoiding responsibility or getting to play all day,” says Brandon. “But no, pursuing your dream is work. Whether you want to be a famous musician or a well-known blogger or own your own business or travel the world, all of these things take time and dedication and hard work. The difference between it and other work is that you choose it.” (paraphrased)

Brandon’s talk left me in tears. In the past four weeks I’ve started this post at least a dozen times. I’ve had great ideas but “never enough time” to finish them. I’ve had paragraphs written down, but they were never “good enough” to share. I’ve had thoughts whirling around, but they were too fragmented to be “worthy.” It’s true that grad school is demanding, and starting over in a new city hard, but if I am truly going to “begin again”– if I am going to “choose my work” (here on my blog and elsewhere) — something’s gotta give.

So tell me . . . What’s your trick for accomplishing your blogging and/or life goals? Have you seen Humans of New York? What did you think?

 

(Below is just a sample of Stanton’s work.)

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“This better not be for a porno. I stopped doing those.”

“Okay, Mother. That’s enough.”

 

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“I prefer maritime laws to laws on land. Maritime laws only exist to guarantee safe passage. There are no loopholes or biases to favor more powerful vessels. Every ship is equal, and no one is more powerful than the sea.”

 

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“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

*As a side note, this image went viral in 2016 and Stanton ended up raising more than $1,000,000 for this boy’s school. You can read more about that here.

 

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“So do you do a different color every day?”

“No, I used to go through different stages. But then I found I was happiest when I was green, so I’ve been green for 15 years.”

 

Image result for humans of new york crazy subway you want to hear what just happened to me seizure

“You want to hear what just happened to me? I was in the subway station, and this man came walking by me. He seemed really angry and was talking gibberish and screaming about how he was going to kill anyone who talked to him. So I thought: ‘That guy’s crazy; I’m gonna keep away from him.’ Then two minutes later another young man walked by and collapsed right in front of me and started having a seizure. I bent down to help him, and you know what happened? The crazy guy bent down and said: ‘He’s having a seizure! Turn him on his side!’ I thought: ‘Wait a second! Weren’t you just crazy?'”

 

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“I want to build a bridge.”

“How do you build a bridge?”

“If you want to build a bridge it’s going to take a long time, and it might be hard because your employees might not be as interested in building the bridge as you are. You have to think about what kind of bridge you want to make. One type of bridge is a suspension bridge and another type of bridge is an arch bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension bridge and it was built by John Roebling and his family, and that’s all I remember from the second grade. And the bridge has to be strong because the water can rise and push up the bridge. I’d maybe like to build a bridge in Wisconsin because there are a lot of people in Wisconsin who might not have bridges, but I don’t really know where Wisconsin is.”

 

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Brandon Stanton, creator of “Humans of New York”

 

 

to begin again… again

changeAh, hell. I’ve been thinking about this forever. If not now, then when? There’s only me stopping me now.

I haven’t written in a while. “A while” is an understatement. It’s been over a year — 16 months, to be exact. Some of you probably thought me dead. You certainly thought my blog dead. For all intents and purposes, I guess it was.

But I was not dead — far from it. The irony of my last post does not escape me. I really had hoped to start blogging again, but truthfully, I knew I wasn’t ready. I was on a roller coaster and the end was far from sight.

But things have settled down now — some. I’m in a new town in a new home with new things in front of me. I’ve just started graduate school at the University of Tennessee (UTK) in Knoxville. I’m working on my masters in Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics (RWL) so that someday I can teach and write again — for real. I’m also continuing to work for my job in California. I wasn’t meant to be a tech writer, but the Water Agency is an important organization powered by amazing people. I learned so much there, and I’m blessed to be able to work remotely among them. Continue reading

on good friday

good-friday-love-hurtsGood Friday. Bad Friday. Black Friday. Easter Friday.

Whatever you call it, today is Friday, and the Friday before Easter, no less. I must be a bad person because it was only two days ago that I realized this was Easter weekend. Easter is supposed to be in April, right?

But no; no, it’s not. And I am a bad person, or surely you must think so — you who knows all, sees all, thinks all, is all.

(You were my all . . .)

But I . . . I got off track.

Today is Easter Sunday. But what does that mean? For Christians around the world, it’s the day their Savior died, two days before His resurrection. It’s a day of hope, a day of love, a day of sorrow, a day of repentence. What did we do to deserve this?

(Nothing. We did nothing.)

But what of the others, for whom Easter is brunch and bunnies and eggs and chocolates? What of the population for whom it’s Cadberries and marshmallows and pastel dies and little kid messes?  What of those for whom it’s nothing more and nothing less than any other holiday?

And what of the people that don’t celebrate Easter? What of those who’ve never heard of it?

I have to admit, I’m a little distant these days. A little remote. A little confused. The worldview I held as a child doesn’t compute anymore. Where is God, how is He, and Who? I grew up Protestant Christian and truly still believe. But the God I see now is bigger than I imagined — His message not limited by culture or geography. “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-ladened. I will give you rest.” “I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you.” “Love God and love others as yourself.”

Be kind, rewind.

It’s all the same, isn’t it? The principles of kindness and courtesy run the gamut across cultures. They are received and returned the same way. And God is bigger than a book, or a church, or a person. God is LOVE, and is there anything larger than that?

 

hello world

leafIt’s been a while. No, not since I’ve lived in you. I am immersed in you every day. Whether I like it or not, I am engaged with you — with your pressures, with your stresses, with your “Waits!” And though I may try to fly under the radar (how much easier it is to move unseen), still, you always find me. You find me with your wisdom; you find me with your hate. You seek out ways to destroy me; you are bent on my destruction.

But though you drag me down, “Surprise!” You will not win. I may be weak, but in my weakness, I am strong: I will stand my ground.

And if I must, I’ll go my way alone — but not quite. With head held high, I will seek strength in Him. I will view each sunrise with hope; take each blow as a challenge — to be tougher, to be wiser, to be . . . more.

Because how easy it is, flying under the radar, to forget who we are, who we were, who we always wanted to be. “Suffer little children,” He said. “Forbid them not to come unto me.” Because children are rock stars, can’t you see? If you want to know how to change the world, look into the eyes of a child. They are our hope. They are who we were supposed to be.

And so maybe I won’t always stay under the radar. Maybe I’ll fly out into the Son. Because this going-life-alone thing ain’t working, and I am tired of being afraid.

p.s. As an exciting side note, after posting my story about my dad’s cycling accident, a sweet lady named Ashlee contacted me and wondered if I’d like to share my story on her website. The story was published two days ago. You can link to it here.

never again

dadTwo weeks ago yesterday, my dad broke his neck. Two and a half weeks ago, he got married.

They were on their honeymoon. They were going for a bike ride. An oncoming car was turning left directly in front of them; he didn’t see it until there was nothing to do but slam on the brakes – and go over the handlebars.

He landed on his head, breaking C6 and C7. His hands and feet went numb. He was scared.

We were too. We were supposed to go to dinner with them. I felt guilty because, while I love his new wife, their wedding hadn’t been easy for me. Their marriage was the final nail in the coffin of my once-family. I knew I shouldn’t feel that way. Things were better now than they’d ever been before. My dad was happier; my mom was, too. But still. It was my family. (Also, as a side note: In my childhood culture, divorce was/is akin to drinking alcohol or eating meat or having sex before marriage. It was a no-no. And we’ve already discussed the fact I’m a goodie-goodie.)

And so I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to dinner. It was out of the way and a drive in traffic. I was tired. I was supposed to go to spin class after work – I love spin class. And we’d just seen them at their wedding.

And so I hesitated. And then I got the call. Elyse, sobbing: “Your dad had a biking accident. He says it’s his neck. They’re rushing him to the hospital.” She was hysterical.

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Father and son

And suddenly, I was too. My mind was a blur: So little information, such a turn of events. Such guilt. Here I hadn’t wanted to go to dinner, and now the man who was my hero and role model and life rock was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital.

The things we take for granted.

And so instead of eating dinner or going to spin class or doing a thousand other things we usually do, we spent the night in the emergency room. At almost 1 a.m., my dad was life-flighted to a U.C. Davis Medical Center where they tortured him (okay, tried to fix his neck with traction) before taking him to surgery and fusing three segments of his neck. The neurosurgeon said it was a miracle he wasn’t paralyzed. The next day my dad said it was, too. He said he had “so much to be thankful for.”

And he did. And he does. And we are. And I am. And suddenly I know what’s most important. If anything worse had happened to him . . . I don’t know where I’d be . . . where we’d be . . . what we’d do.

And all I know is that, while his recovery has not been and will not be easy, we are so lucky to have him, and I’ll never again put exercise selfish struggles before family and the people I love. (That includes you, Elyse!) You mean the world to me, Dad. Thank you for being my rock. I want to always be yours, too. I love you.

waiting

waitingWhat worries me is the way it sucks it out of me. Life.

There’s nothing new under the sun, a wise person once said. And he is right. And he is wrong. There are new things, because there are new people. Yes, we’re all the same and go through similar things, but only you can experience your life, and even you can only experience it once.

And things never go as planned, and questions never go away. Everywhere we look we have scientists and preachers and stories and teachers explaining: This is how things are. This is where you’ll be. This is how to live. This is what you’ll see.

But in the end there’s a lot we don’t know and can’t control. There’s a lot we can’t see.

Sometimes there are no right answers, no easy fixes, no straight and narrow.

And in these moments, and in the end, it’s just us and the silence, waiting.

 

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.

the christmas debate

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Tomorrow. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Tomorrow’s tomorrow is Christmas. Today is Christmas Eve’s Eve.

Huh?

But, wait. Am I even allowed to say “Christmas”? Would it be more politically correct, more considerate to say, “Holiday’s Eve”? After all, how do I know if you (my reader) celebrate Christmas? What if you don’t? Am I being rude?

As a kid, I don’t remember there being much fuss around Christmas. I mean, sure, there were presents and Santas and snowmen and trees. But controversy? Arguments? Boycotts?

Of course, here in the United States, the “Christmas Debate” has been exacerbated recently by ISIS attacks, religious shootings, presidential debates, and a lot more. Fair enough, but I can honestly say that, while living in Taiwan, I never heard of a “Merry Christmas!” offending anyone. Kids go to school on Christmas Day in Taiwan, and yet if you told them or their parents, “Merry Christmas,” they’d smile, and they’d say, “Thank you!”

The same is true there for Ramadan and Diwali and Hanukkah and Passover and Chinese New Year and a host of other religious and cultural holidays. There, they’re seen for what they are: celebrations, remembrances, family, humanity. Holidays are a celebration of life around the planet. Is that so hard to understand?

And so the next time I hear a news story about the Christmas Debate, I think I might scream. Or cry. Or, at the very least, sigh. A genuine “Merry Christmas!” isn’t religious imperialism, folks. It’s love.

ten minutes

thCAE4W3I2Ten minutes. How much can I write in ten minutes? We used to have free-writing sessions when I was in college. Ten minutes and you couldn’t stop moving your pen. You had to just write, and to let flow what would flow. You weren’t supposed to erase or edit or stop or walk. You were just supposed to write. Well, I can’t say I was ever very successful at it. I haven’t been successful just now. I’ve edited a few words, moved some things around. I’m tired, though. My eyes are heavy. I rarely write well when tired. And so I’ll stop for now. Maybe pick things up tomorrow. There are so many things to share. Ten minutes. Huh. I wrote this in eight.

Tomorrow.

save a turkey

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From my corner of the board to yours… Save a turkey!

It’s days like today I’m thankful for my blog. And no, I don’t actually mean my blog. I mean you: my readers, my friends. Despite my apparent inability to post consistently, you are always there, cheering me on, encouraging me to keep going. Writing is worth it.

I hope to post again soon. As for today, it’s on the road to a Thanksgiving meal at my mom’s. I hope that, wherever you are, and whether you celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November or not, you have a great day and always remember that, no matter how bleak things may sometimes seem, there is always something to be grateful for.

And also, save a turkey: EAT CHICKEN!!

wherever you are

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What do you do? What do you want to do?

If you’d have asked me that question in college, I’d have given you a blank stare. I loved to write and read; Dr. Haluska’s were my favorite classes. I was decent at editing, I knew, and okay at writing. There is always room to improve, though, and how many people actually make it as authors?

In short: I had no idea.

I got lucky, though, and landed a copy-writing internship straight out of college. It was at a publishing company, and it was here that my first job was born. I was good at what I did, and my editors loved me. But that didn’t mean I wanted to be a copy writer forever . . .

After a year and a half, I returned home to California where I worked as an ophthalmology tech, a job I hated but desperately needed. Shortly thereafter, I received the opportunity to teach in Asia — first in Taiwan and then in Hong Kong. Those experiences changed my world, and most days I long to go back. It’s been freelance writing and teaching and tech writing since then, however, and I must say: I’m grateful for each one. My “career” thus far has given me insight into far more walks of life than many can claim — and that’s a good thing.

ladder5Why? you might ask, to which I’d reply, Why not? How could it possibly be bad to be able to relate to more people around you?

Not only that, good can be done everywhere. I still think of little *Lacy, in whose classroom I was an assistant last year. She’s a big second grader now, and I wonder, Does she remember me? I miss her little-girl giggle and grin. Working with people who’ve only been around just a very few years is one of the best things I ever did. These days, at the Water Agency, I help facilitate public projects aimed at helping the greater good. Pictured in this post are before and after photos of a dam the water agency built last summer to protect fish in the Russian River. People aren’t the only ones being affected by California’s historic drought.

And it all leads me to believe that whoever you are, and wherever you are, you can make a difference. You don’t have to be in a service job to help others. You don’t have to give all of your time and money to charity (although doing so never a bad thing). You don’t have to be a pastor or a teacher or have ten titles behind your name to make a difference. Life starts now, not at some distant day in the future when you’ve got everything “all figured out.” And every day counts. Sometimes all it takes is a smile or an encouraging word to turn someone’s day around — including your own.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be a rainbow is somebody else’s cloud. — Maya Angelou

*Name changed

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A fishladder!

staying sane

FullSizeRender2I’m running after work. I run or ride every day at 5. (It’s the only way I stay sane in desk job.) The sun is shining, warm, though falling fast. Shadows creep and fields glow, golden. But as my feet hit the pavement, my mind is miles away — Dr. Haluska is gone, and gone far too soon. How many years do I have left? What will I do with them? . . .

Suddenly, I glance left. I gasp at the glorious scene. It’s a mad world we live in, but there is always beauty to be seen.

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everything is connected

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The trouble with life is it’s too dang complicated. Very little is clear cut. I mean, sure, there is good and bad, black and white. But issues are rarely isolated — everything is connected.

Take my last post, for example. I took a swing at an excuse-laden lazy society. I encouraged people to move. But what if you have selfless obligations that keep you from moving? Or what if you’re injured? Or what if the weather is bad? Or what if you’re too poor to afford a gym membership (like me)?

People come at topics from all different angles.

Another example is education. I’ve seen a number of articles recently that address the decline of the American education system. “The American education system is failing miserably,” the authors say. To prove it, they compare old and current middle school reading lists. “A hundred years ago students were reading the classics; today, they’re skimming Twilight.” “It’s no wonder the United States is falling behind other nations in Math, Reading, and Science,” they moan. “Look at what they’re reading!” A quote by the late Joseph Sabron is often then shared. “In a hundred years, we’ve gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching remedial English in college,” Sabron said. “So sad and so true!” the authors lament.

So sad and so true; so sad and so true. Yes sad, and yes true. But, but . . . My question is: Is anyone asking what’s responsible for this decline?

The trouble with statistics is that they can’t possibly examine all of the probable contributing factors to a problem. Isolating factors doesn’t do us any good, either. Take the above education crisis, for example. Based on the authors’ comments above, one might easily assume American students are to blame. “Kids are lazy these days!” “Twilight? Bah!” After all, it’s our children who are taking these tests. If we look a little harder, though, we realize perhaps it isn’t our students’ fault at all. And maybe not our teachers’. And maybe not even our government’s. Perhaps the issue is much larger than that.

On any given day American students are likely to hear stories about, witness, and/or be subjected to racism, illegal immigration, gangs, gun wars, drug wars, government corruption, cultural clashes, school shootings, natural disasters, violence, murder, and more — much more. Education starts at home, and unfortunately not all children have a home to come home to. I witnessed this firsthand while working at an elementary school last year. Acknowledging this, I believe it’s safe to say: Certain places in the States (and everywhere) might be more sheltered than others, but no child, school, system, or government is immune to the various connected issues of man.

For a few related articles, look here:

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/12/03/248329823/u-s-high-school-students-slide-in-math-reading-science

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32608772

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/02/02/u-s-students-improving-slowly-in-math-and-science-but-still-lagging-internationally/

for all that we’ve gained

social-impact-of-technology-social-isolation-3-638“Duh-uh!” The facebook notification ding! goes off at my computer. I’m standing at the kitchen sink. Oh boy. I roll my eyes . . . Oh boy? My curiosity is piqued. Who’s contacting me now?

I’m checking facebook on my cell phone. I see I’ve got a new message. I click on the 💬 button but am greeted, no, not by my message, but by a black screen: “Please turn on notifications,” it says starkly at the top. Below it, as if to soften the blow, the screen explains, “The app works best when you and your friends can see new messages right away.” It then gives me step-by-step directions explaining how to turn on instant message notifications on my phone.

I’m feeling alone. The work day is slow: I don’t yet have a lot to do, being new. But, oh wait! According to my phone I have ten new messages in my email inbox . . .  Never mind that they’re all from credit card companies or people I don’t know. Maybe I’m not so alone after all.

“Did you look at Yahoo this morning?” “No. Why?” “Just go look at it. Tell me what you think.” “Think about what?” “Just look!” “Uhh . . . Okay, okay.”

                                  

When I was a kid, the only way to look up the news was to read a newspaper or watch the evening news. The only way to get in touch with a friend was to call them up (on a landline) or to pass notes in class or write a letter — and send it via snail mail. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was in high school, and I didn’t have a texting plan until long after that. And I distinctly remember the first time I ever heard of MySpace (at an evening service in college) and Facebook (a friend convinced me to sign up so we could stay in touch over the summer). I remember that the very idea of a social network site seemed strange to me. Why would I want to use something like that?

How times have changed.

But have they changed for the better?

These days, even when I try to decrease my online time, I’ve got applications telling me I’m better off not. “I’m here! I’m here!” the Internet calls. “You’re better off because I’m here!”

Am I really?

Yes, I can now buy groceries, go clothes shopping, read the news, look for jobs, “follow” my friends’ lives, look up words, track races, watch games, and so much more — all on my computer — thanks to the Internet. But . . . Did you read the conversation about Yahoo above? For all that we’ve gained, how much have we lost?

what now?

IMG_4028It’s an afternoon in the office. My eighth afternoon, to be exact. I started the new job last week, and, so far, things have been good. My coworkers are nice; my boss is, too. Things have been slow and mostly low stress – a good thing since I’m getting used to a new schedule.

It’s been a melancholy start, though: mellow and mild, a search for meaning. My long-term goal is still graduate school. This job – writing agreements and contracts at a water agency – pays well but isn’t what I’d hoped for. I want to teach.

IMG_4029(And yet you’ve gotta pay the bills. You’ve gotta start somewhere.)

My favorite college professor died, too – last Friday. I’ll write more about him soon, but my heart aches at the loss. I always looked to him for wisdom (believe me, he never held back), but now?

Now I have to rely on my heart, which sometimes feels so old and, then again, so young. Where will life lead next? What now?

run

runHe turned to her, suddenly. “So you . . .?”

“Yes.” Softly. She couldn’t meet his eyes.

“So then . . .?”

“Yes.”

“But how . . .?”

“Yes . . . I mean . . .” Her gaze faltered. She looked up.

“It wasn’t me, Drake.”

“Wasn’t you? But you just . . .”

Cecilia pointed to a woman — her mirror image — out the window, and ran.

I was searching for inspiration last night, and nothing came. And so I thought, Why not try something different? My favorite blogger Vincent used to publish fifty-word stories all the time. Could I? The above isn’t much of a story. It’s more of an intro. But when I reread it this morning, I decided, Eh? Why not?

Note: As a follow-up to my last post, you may have noticed I’m trying out a new theme. Nothing is permanent. This one needs work. But that’s why things shift, yes?

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In case you’ve been wondering: What on earth has been keeping you so busy? I mean, seriously. The school year is over. What on earth do you do with all your time?

Well, folks. Here it is. The Vineman 70.3 (Half Ironman) is less than a month away. I am not even close to ready. Below are pictures from an Olympic-distance triathlon I did at the end of May. The pictures may not show it, but I was suffering by the end!

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Smiling because the swim was OVER!

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the busy trap

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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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friend or foe? the fine line called “busy”

agirofobiaIf I had eventhe time I need to record my thoughts every day . . .
I grew up busy. I had busy parents; we led busy lives. From sun up to sun down (and usually long after and before), my family was on the go. My brother and I did the usual “kid thing”: school, homework, varsity, instrument lessons, church programs, summer camps, etc. There was always cleaning and cooking and laundry and yard work to do. Mom and Dad worked full time. When they weren’t at work, they were working at home. If I ever saw my dad, say, sitting down on a Sunday morning, I wondered what was wrong. Was he sick?

They say busy is good — at least that’s the way it’s always been presented to me. And busy is good. Some of the most depressed I’ve ever been is when I was unemployed and had nowhere to go. Working gives me a sense of purpose and direction — I am doing something with my life. But . . .

How busy is too busy?

I wake up every day with a to-do list a thousand miles long: work, run, ride, swim, wash my car, do laundry, cook, clean, vacuum, dust, mop, make lunches, do dishes, pay bills, check email . . . My blog is important, too, and enters my thoughts a thousand times each day — Oooohh! I could write about this, or this, or, I wonder what they’d think about this? — but often (usually) gets pushed to the bottom of my list.

The only reason I’m writing tonight is because the laundry room at our apartment complex is full.

And I wonder, every night as I’m compulsively working on my list: Where does time go? Why couldn’t we sleep deeply like Roald Dahl’s *BFG so that we didn’t need eight hours of sleep every night (which, incidentally, I rarely get). And what is relaxation worth? Many people have no trouble sitting down and “chilling” after work every night. So, why can’t I? I pride myself in how much I get done in a day, but what about the things I didn’t do — the things whose results would, perhaps, would last a little longer?

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*Big Friendly Giant

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“thank you”

TypedThankYouShucks! A whole week gone and not a post written. Guess that’s what happens when spring break ends…

Got an email today from a student I taught at my last job, in San Ramon. It was a good way to end a rough week, and a reminder that no effort on a child is ever wasted.

Sorry I haven’t been talking that much. I don’t remember what I did for Christmas. I like the teachers at Eye Level but I like you the best! ;)

Aww!!! Thanks, A!

Never underestimate the power of “Thank you.” A’s sure made my day today!

Hope your weekend is off to great starts. Thank you for reading! Be looking for more posts soon!

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