sorry, not sorry

I sit at my laptop, looking out the window — a blank stare.

No, not blank. There’s a lot going on inside the walls behind my glasses. There’s always a lot going on there.

I think too much.

I watched a movie last night. In it, Reese Witherspoon delivers a spot-on line. “You know what the difference is between men and women? Men just do. They decide what they want to do, and they just do it. Women always have to think about the consequences.”

Like today. After days of rain, it’s finally beautiful outside. I’ll be out on my bike soon, but even then, where is my mind?

With the victims of Parkside, with the gun war, with social media and online identity. With what it takes — what it really takes — to become a writer. (Do you need a degree? Dickens didn’t.) With passion versus practicality. With “forge ahead” versus “let it flow.” With “be yourself” versus “be what others want from you.” With finances. With family. With faith versus real-world experience. With famine versus plenty . . .

With race, privilege, power, poverty, circumstance, personal responsibility, finances, friendship, loneliness, thankfulness, climate change, litter, recycling, consumerism, capitalism, love, hate, tradition, change, aging . . .

Did I mention that I think too much?

I’m tired of being sorry.

Sorry, I’m not sorry.

i am . . .

It’s a quiet night on the home front. Bike is put away; swim gear is drying. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow — had to get in as much today as I could . . . in honor of my birthday.

I’m calmer this year facing my birthday than I’ve been in years past. I don’t have any plans, and I don’t mind. It’s just . . . The days drag and the years fly on. Where does time go?

I must be the oldest almost 34-year-old on the planet.

I’m learning to accept myself this year. Calling myself beautiful instead of calling myself names. It’s not easy to change the way you see yourself, but it’s worth it. It sets the course for the rest of your life — and, in some cases, for others.

I saw this video recently and really liked it. Please, let me know what you think. :)

The most powerful force in the human psyche is how we describe ourselves to ourselves. Who’s giving you labels?

34 is going to be my best year yet.

the REAL problem

(Hint: It’s not guns.)

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A post by Florida Teacher of the Year Kelly Guthrie Raley has gone viral in the last 48 hours. In it, she cites mental health, violent video games, and “horrendous lack of parental support” as being at the root of America’s gun problem.

“Until we as a country are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available care for mental health issues, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support . . . (Oh no! Not MY KID. What did YOU do to cause my kid to react that way?), lack of moral values, and yes, I’ll say it — violent video games, which take away all sensitivity to ANY compassion for others’ lives — as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream in each others’ faces and not value any other person but themselves — we will have a gun problem in school,” the sixth-grade language arts teacher wrote.

Raley herself hunts and grew up around guns. “But you know what? My parents NEVER supported any bad behavior from me,” she said. “When I began teaching twenty years ago, I never had to worry about calling a student’s parents and getting cussed out, told to go to hell, or threatened with a public shaming — all because I was calling out their child’s behavior. Something has got to change.”

 

The below video is an example of the disrespect many teachers in U.S. classrooms face today.

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Interestingly, at the same time parental support has decreased and problems like the ones Raley mentions have risen, the use of social media has increased. People around the world can converse more easily now than ever before, and it’s telling that, rather than increase tolerance and understanding, this communication is doing quite the opposite.

Take any article posted on facebook as an example. If you check out the comments section, you’ll see complete strangers verbally attacking one another — simply for having a difference of opinion. This is true for people of all backgrounds and religious creeds, all ethnicities, and all sides of the political spectrum. And, quite frankly, I find it disgusting. And painful. Why are people so rotten?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re “right” or “wrong” on an issue. What matters is how you treat others and approach the debate.

How else are you ever going to gain any real insight on an issue? How else are you going to find solutions? Or, if you’re not there to understand and fix the problem, how else are you going to convince others that you’re right? Not by calling them names, I can assure you.

And also, your children are watching.

The truth is, we’re a broken nation, and the only way to fix our problems is to take a good look at ourselves. No, stricter gun laws won’t fix America’s problems — we need a miracle for that (or a million of them). But if we made it just a little bit harder for just anyone to pick up a gun and do god-knows-what with it, it could help save us from ourselves.

divided, we fall

I don’t want to write this post. I’ve already written it — several times. But here it is, relevant again . . .

 . . . But, no! I’m not going to write this post. I started it last night, but I just can’t finish it. I can’t re-say what I’ve already said . . .

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But how can I stay silent?

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United, we stand. Divided, we fall.

Americans are united in the belief that mass shootings on U.S. soil need to stop. We are divided about how to stop them.

And so they keep happening.

And so people keep dying.

And so madmen keep shooting.

And so the story keeps cycling.

cycle

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The facts are these: The United States has more guns than any other nation. We also have more gun-related crimes, homicides, and deaths. We do not have more mental illness. (Don’t believe me? Check out this New York Times article. It shows the stats better than I can.)
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But crazy is crazy. If it’s not guns, it will be something else.

That’s not what the statistics say. If there were fewer guns, there’d be fewer deaths. Period.

But I won’t give up my right to protect my family!

No one’s asking you to give up your right to protect your family. They’re asking for laws to keep AK-15s away from the people who would hurt your family.

But I like to hunt and target shoot. I won’t give up my guns.

Did you hear what I just said? Here’s another way to look at it: Why would we require someone to pass a test to drive a car but not to own a gun?

But I don’t trust the government. The government is trying to take away our guns.

Really?! President Trump didn’t even mention guns when he addressed the people of Parkland on Thursday. And beyond that, that’s beside the point. The point is that PEOPLE ARE DYING BECAUSE OUR SYSTEM ISN’T WORKING. Period.

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The below video from CNN shows disturbing footage of the Florida shooting on Wednesday. I cried watching it, but it needs to be seen. The fact that American law allows individuals to buy AK-15s before they can buy a beer is INSANE.

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But I’ve already said all this, and I don’t want to say it anymore.

I’m tired of the fighting on the Internet. I’m tired of the cruelty and bigotry. I’m tired of the pain . . . I’m tired of it all, and so the very last thing I’ll add is this:

I’m currently in grad school because I want to become a teacher. And when I become a teacher, I would GLADLY die to save the lives of my students if ever I needed to. But quite frankly, I’d rather not die for them. I’d rather live for them, AND HAVE THEM LIVE, TOO.

Wouldn’t you?

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This video is well-done. I think most people would say today: We’re ready to talk about it.

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I’ve posted this video by Trae Crowder before. It’s relevant now, too.

for the love of marketing

Happy Easter!

Oh, wait. You mean . . . That’s still six weeks away?

Oh, thaaaat’s right. We skip from one candy holiday to the next here in the States. It’s Valentine’s Day before New Years, Christmas before Thanksgiving, Halloween before the 4th of July. At least that’s what it looks like in American grocery stores.

The average American eats 22 pounds of candy per year. This is despite increasing evidence of sugar’s negative effects on literally everything, and I have to admit, I’m as guilty as any. Recently I’ve swapped frozen bananas for ice cream, but I still can’t get through a day without fruit snacks or gummy bears.

It’s a sad fact, really, and something that I want to change. In Taiwan (where obesity is the exception, not the rule), people prefer red bean and green tea desserts and typically find American desserts too sweet. This isn’t a biological difference. It’s trained. And it’s marketing. Candy is both the first and last thing Americans see when they enter and check out at grocery stores, and as numerous medical reports and TED talks will tell you, virtually all processed foods are created to be addictive rather than nutritious.

So what are we to do? What can we do? It all comes down to personal decisions. Marketers aren’t going to change their tactics (and products) until we as consumers don’t buy them anymore. It’s also about challenging the status quo. Just because Hallmark said you should buy expensive valentines and candies for your child’s class doesn’t mean you actually should. Simple cards with smiley faces are just fine. They last longer, and they’re healthier, too!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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?

 

 

 

 

the devil’s advocate

Whenever I write, I play devil’s advocate. Writing makes me think. Hard. I say this, I think. But what if it comes out like this? What if I were approaching this from this?

Will Smith’s message about fault and responsibility is true. But what if, through no fault of our own, we are rendered incapable of dealing with the trauma we’ve been dealt?

It happens all the time. Take the THIRTEEN kids of the couple who were arrested for torture and child endangerment in Perris, California recently, for example. The children were chained to their beds, not allowed to use the restroom, starved, filthy. Authorities were finally notified when a 17-year-old escaped and called 9-1-1 for help. Thanks to malnourishment, she appeared about ten.

Now . . . How this could have gone on for 29 YEARS (the kids are ages 2 to 29) without someone noticing is beyond the scope of this post. (In truth, it appears many are at fault.) Instead, my question is, if we are to take Smith’s “fault vs. responsibility” concept at face value: How are these malnourished, psychologically-abused individuals supposed to take responsibility for turning their lives around? It took 17 years just for one of them to figure out how get away. Can they be held to the same standards as Joe Schmoe down the street?

Now, this is an extreme example. I wasn’t planning to go so extreme. In truth, I was planning to share a personal story related to self-esteem. I’ve hinted in years past at internal battles I’ve had with my appearance and feeling like I’m not “good enough.” It’s taken several years of counseling to understand where my emphasis on appearance came from and how this has translated into the way I treat myself. Yes, I’m “owning” my issues — recognizing the role others and (impossible) societal standards have played, but not blaming them for my struggle — but it’s taken me a LONG time, and I couldn’t have done it on my own.

And I guess my point is, before we judge others, we need to walk a mile (or twenty) in their shoes. And before we worry about others, we need to worry about ourselves. Sure, at some point, some people cross a line. There is NO excuse for certain behaviors (more on that soon), but even so, people’s lives are rarely improved by critical barbs or blame. Instead, they’re changed by compassion. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the video below. How many times have you walked past a homeless person and wondered, How did they get there?

I know I have.

will smith, well said

I’ve always been a fan of Will Smith. No, I haven’t seen all of his movies, and I don’t know his entire life story. It’s possible he’s a terrible person. But typically the person you are on the inside shows up on the outside, and on the outside, Mr. Smith appears to be a decent human being—and a thoughtful one, too. He posted the below video on Instagram Live a few days ago, and when I saw it I thought, “Well said.”

Please watch!

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I know too many people who focus on what they can’t control—the actions of others or crappy circumstances—instead of what they can. There is power in accepting responsibility for our own happiness and success. No, it’s not easy. Life can be cruel and unkind, and the world’s playing field has never been level. But blaming others accomplishes nothing. As William Ernst Henley so aptly put it in the poem below, we are the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls.
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invictus

P.S. This is a reminder to myself!

thoughts on superbowl sunday

Today as many Americans gather to watch the Superbowl, I remember the first time I was abroad on a different American holiday — the Fourth of July. I was 17 and was in Florence studying Italian for the summer. The school had a special Fourth of July meal with traditional American food — burgers, fries, ice cream, etc. — and I remember how strange it felt to realize that the Fourth of July wasn’t celebrated everywhere. The school was just being nice to its American students.

Of course the Superbowl isn’t actually a holiday, but in the States it might as well be. It’s the most widely-watched sporting events of the year, and a single 30-second ad during the game costs advertisers $5 million (or $166,666 per second). The half-time show is always a huge production—this year’s show features Justin Timberlake—and it’s just generally a time of both rivalry and fellowship for families across the nation.

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For many people worldwide, though, the Superbowl is, “What? Oh yeah, that American thing.” In these countries people get excited about the World Cup, or Wimbledon, or The Grand National, or Polo, or . . . I once met a group of Australians while traveling with friends in Thailand. The Australians were trying to explain Australian football to us, and we Americans were like, “What?”

It’s interesting how much pride people take in team sports, though. In the South, college football is king, and people are loyal to their “home team” until death. I’ve never been a big sports fan, but I do think that to ignore the power of sports is to miss out on an important cultural phenomenon. The kinds of sports we play, the rules, the players, the fans, the coaches, the actions of everyone involved — these things matter. There have been numerous examples over the years of big-name sports players acting like total jerks both on and off the field. Just because someone’s a big name player doesn’t mean they should get a pass to be a jerk, though. If anything it means we should hold them to a higher standard. After all, these are people our children look up to and who represent America to the world. No one likes an arrogant whiner jerk. So why do we tolerate players who act that way?

Additionally, there have been mixed reactions to the amount some sports stars and coaches are paid. Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban reportedly earns a salary $11.125 million per year, and top NFL players like Tom Brady make more than $20 million per year. Holy cow! Now I’m not saying that these people aren’t worth the money they’re making, and I recognize that in some instances they’re actually putting their lives (or at least their health) on the line for the work that they’re doing. However, I am saying that the amount they make shows where our society’s priorities are — for better or for worse.

What are your thoughts on American sports and coach’s/players’ salaries? I am by no means an expert in this field. Just one American girl writing a post while the Superbowl is on — and I don’t mean on the TV. I don’t even own a TV!

P.S. If you haven’t seen the below SNL skits, you should check them out. Pretty funny!

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so how ’bout those new year’s resolutions?

:D

I didn’t mention resolutions last month. I thought about it. I have a few goals of my own on an ongoing basis, but, truthfully, I’ve never been big on creating lists at the start of the year. For one, I know the newness doesn’t last. By only a few hours in, 2018 was already starting to feel a lot like 2017 to me. Secondly, I recognize that big goals and big changes require big “whys.” We have to really want something—and have an attainable plan for how we’re going to achieve it—in order to stay motivated and “get there.”

Typically that motivation has nothing to do with a date on the calendar.

Take finances, for example. Money is something we all worry about, but budgeting is HARD and many people don’t know how to do it properly. I’m one of them. One of my long-term goals is to get better at handling my money—I want to travel again and stop living paycheck to paycheck—and for that reason I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey a lot lately. Love him or hate him, Dave has a common-sense approach to getting out of debt and “building wealth,” and thanks to him I recently sat down and created my first budget. I don’t have a perfect system yet, but it’s a start.

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But here’s the thing. This change has nothing to do with January 1st—nothing. I started reading Dave’s “The Total Money Makeover” last year. I finished it on the plane ride to California over Christmas. After the New Year, I started listening to his show. The desire has been there all along; it’s just taken me a while to get the ball rolling.

In another area of my life, too, if my goals were based on a 12-month calendar, I would have failed already. I want to blog more consistently, but I struggle to write when emotionally stressed. January wasn’t the easiest of months for me. As such, you may have noticed I dropped off the face of the earth recently. I wanted to write; I just . . . couldn’t.

Now, it’s true that how we react to our circumstances is as important as the circumstances themselves, but another area I’m working on is giving myself grace. If I’m stressed and can’t write, oh well. And if I’m stressed and do write—and if my blogging comes across as “down” because I’m stressed—well . . . At least you’ll know I’m genuine! This blog isn’t about putting on a happy face. It never has been. It’s about the bumps and shifts of life and making the best of them as they come our way.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for joining me for the ride.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? If so, why? And what have been your results?

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#totalfail… Sound familiar? It does for me! :D

the “in between”

Lights, camera, action. The theater darkens; actors appear on screen. And then, reality sweeps away. For the next few hours, we become a part of the film. We are encapsulated in the artwork of storytelling.

In those moments, we are the heroes; we are the everyday Joes; we are the young professionals trying to find our way. There’s a reason we choose the films that we do. In some form or fashion, we connect with them.

And later, when they’re all over, we long for them not to be done. We sit in the darkness, waiting—holding our breath—reliving vicariously the scenes we’ve just seen. I’ve never felt prettier than I have walking out of a movie theater . . .

That is until I get to the car and see that big zit on my nose. Ugh!

ladybI went to my first movie since moving to Knoxville last night. Ironically (or, not surprisingly?), I picked a movie about a girl who grew up in my hometown. She’s a high school senior who dreams of experiencing life outside her city. She hasn’t traveled much yet, but she wants to.

Throughout the film, I saw a few parallels to my own life. “Lady Bird” graduated in 2003 and went to a school in New York; I graduated in 2002 and went to a school in Tennessee. She and her mother both had strong personalities; I and my own mom are quite similar.

But what stood out to me most was a theme we often overlook in life: waiting. In the film, Lady Bird was eagerly anticipating the next phase of her life. She couldn’t wait for college; she couldn’t wait for the school year to be over.  But what the story was really about was what she was doing now. Often the “in-between-changes” parts of our lives are just as important as “what comes next.” I myself often worry about the future, but the movie reminded me that today—and every day—is an important opportunity to work on myself.

Shortly before seeing “Lady Bird,” I watched a video on facebook that talked about happiness. The video claimed that we often look outwards to find happiness and life’s purpose when it should be the other way around: “You are what you love, not what loves you.” This concept came to mind on my drive home last night, and I couldn’t shake it as I contemplated this newly-highlighted idea of waiting. Although I didn’t agree fully with the video’s message (my qualms are written below), I thought the narrator made some really good points. Please check it out (and read my comments, too)!

The narrator’s thoughts / My thoughts:

We’ve been conditioned to move to a place of “what loves us,” and almost every decision we make now is based on what other people think about us.
It depends on the person.
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If you’re under the impression that things outside of you complete you, you will always be a victim because everything has to change to make you happy . . . You’re moving from “out to in.”
True.
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When you were a kid, you weren’t working on managing customers or fake lists, etc., you were working on you. And that same mentality exists in people who are the greatest at what they do. They weren’t looking at their lists and how many people they got; they were working on themselves and excelling at that.
The narrator’s parallel to childhood is a bit simplistic. Kids play to learn skills they will need as adults. That’s part of life. At surface level, though, his analogy makes sense.
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There’s a level of effortlessness that shows up when you enjoy the process of working on yourself. That’s the goal of life, and when you do that, the results will show up when they’re supposed to.
The goal of life is more than just working on ourselves. I feel the goal is to look at what we can do to help others. In so doing, we become the best possible versions of ourselves. That said, I really like the idea of worrying less about what others think and knowing that things will happen when they’re supposed to.

a chance to grow with mike rowe

I’ve been thinking about changing my tagline. When I created Shift, my tagline seemed perfect. Shiftbecause the only thing constant is change. It just . . . flowed.

I was in my late 20s when I started this blog. I was at a stage where I’d recently shifted from being a teenager, to a college student, to a young professional, to an expat, to living at home, to . . . I didn’t know what would come next.  But I realized that life was just going to keep shifting. Nothing would ever stay the samenot for very long, anyway.

But of course my blog isn’t only about change. It’s also about connections. It‘s about connecting people, places, ideas, stories, things. It’s about searching for meaning and goodness in this, our crazy world. It’s about conversations and self-expression and challenging my own beliefs by sharing them with you. After all, challenging ourselves is the only way to growand that’s something we all should want to do. Even if it’s hard. Especially if it’s hard.

William S. Burroughs perhaps said it best: “When you stop growing, you start dying . . .”

And that reminds me of something else I saw recently . . .
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beer

TV personality Mike Rowe

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I read an article on the Tribunist the other day that was pretty bad-ass. It’s a response from TV narrator Mike Rowe to a critic who wants to get him fired from his job on “How the Universe Works.” Mike is best known for his work on the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs” and CNN’s “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” and although I’ve never actually watched any of his shows, I’ve seen several things lately that make think that I should. In his response (and in his typical, sarcastic “oh-no-you-didn’t!” Mike Rowe fashion), Mike turns his critic’s words back on her in a way that should make us all think.

Please check out the link below and let me know your thoughts!

Woman Wants Mike Rowe Fired for Being “Ultra-Right-Wing Conservative” – Mike Responds

Note: If you’re pressed for time, look for the paragraph that starts with,

XW4Rz0J9“Anyway, Rebecca, my beef with your post comes down to thisif you go to my boss and ask her to fire me because you can’t stand the sound of my voice, I get it. Narrators with unpleasant voices should probably look for other work anyway, and if enough people share your view, no hard feelingsI’ll make room for Morgan. But if you’re trying to get me fired simply because you don’t like my worldview, well then, I’m going to fight back . . .”

Disclaimer: I don’t mean to say I agree with or condone everything Mike Rowe says. I do, however, agree with his point in this article.

hush trump, the king is talking

If you scrolled through social media at all today, you likely caught a glimpse of the above image. The artist, Haitian-American Watson Mere, originally developed the image to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday in 2017. A week before the event, though, Donald Trump was inaugurated and, “with the atmosphere . . . and everything going on in the news, my spirit led me to add Trump to the image, too,” said *Mere.

The image went viral then and resurfaced again today, for obvious reasons. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a hero, but his birthday weekend is sad for me  sad because we’re still fighting the same fight; sad because his dream still hasn’t been realized. (Also sad because we do, in fact, have such an asinine president. I don’t usually talk politics on my blog, but, well . . . Perhaps I’ll make an exception another time.)

That said, today in Dr. King’s honor I’ve decided to post a few of his most famous and moving quotes. Please take a look at the below slideshow and be inspired.

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*Source: PRI’s The World

the wild wind blows

I’ll be honest: I’m discouraged tonight. Life isn’t always easy; in fact, sometimes it’s downright hard.

That said . . . There are certain universal truths that we must all cling to during difficult times. One of them is that, like music, poetry can make everything better. :)

This poem is perhaps my favorite to date because it is one of my technical best. I originally posted it on September 3, 2013.

The Wild Wind Blows

The wild wind blows,
In caverns – slows
The beating of my heart.

In darkness deep,
Where creepers creep,
I dream of days, depart —

To summer sun
Where rivers run,
And all the world’s an art —

And all of love
A perfect glove,
And you, the perfect part.

The wild wind blows,
A blanket, snows,
Alone, I’m miles apart —

In darkness deep
And silence steep,
From you who has my heart.

To listen to this poem, click below:

beyond the walls

So, I’ve been trying to write more poetry. I have a lot of great ideas but keep getting stuck after the first few lines. As such, I thought I’d share a few of my older poems. (I’m hoping they might spur my creativity . . .) This poem first appeared on my blog on August 5, 2013.

Beyond the Walls

In all the halls
And through the walls,
My harried thoughts are singing.
I hear them there,
And over there,
Like finches they are winging.

I think of you,
And you, and you,
And, oh, the anguish stinging.
For every time,
You seem sublime,
I only end up wringing.

And so it is,
I’m only his,
The one who me is flinging.
And so I’ll go,
Where no one knows,
And meet you there in clinging.
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For a (really bad) audio version of this poem, click below . . .

 

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!”

travel, racism, and compassion

(And you thought they weren’t connected . . .)

Shortly after returning to the States in 2012, I wrote a post about people. “No matter where you go, people are people,” I said. “Can you believe that? See, I thought (when I moved to Taipei), that this dark-haired multitude would be somehow different than me. And of course they were: I mean, the things they liked to eat and the way they did their hair—that kind of thing. But when it came down to the REAL stuff, the stuff that makes people people, they were exactly like me . . .”

It was a silly post, really, but it demonstrated well mankind’s similarities. My students were a great example. Children in Taiwan are no different than children here. Kids aren’t born racist or culturally constricted. These are things they learn by example over time.

Now . . . Of course since we adults are so “wise,” we should easily understand this, right? Sadly, this is not always the case. Take, for example, the note I found on my rental car after a run last week.
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Whoa? Really? A piece of trash, huh? Because I put my stuff in the trunk and because of my car? Wow.

I was really put off at first. I’ve never been called “trash” before, and I actually grew up not far from El Dorado Hills. If anyone was “trash” in this situation, it was the person who would leave this kind of note on another person’s car. And yet . . .

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what would cause this person to do such a thing? What insecurities did they have? What pressure were they under? Why would they attempt to build themselves by tearing a complete stranger down? . . . Also, were they looking to rip off my “crappy” car? Nothing about the note made any sense.

As a matter of fact, a LOT of things in the world don’t make any sense. Another pertinent example of this is racism. I can’t comprehend what would cause someone to feel superior to others because of the color of their skin, but it’s an epidemic that’s gripped this nation since its inception. In 1968, not long after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, educator Jane Elliott did an experiment with her white students in Iowa to explain racism. In the space of 15 minutes, she made her brown-eyed children feel superior to those with blue eyes and thus demonstrated the heinous effects of such attitudes. It’s something she’s been trying to explain—and destroy—ever since.

Please watch!!

“We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. White people are the free, and people of color have to be brave. I want this situation to change.” — Jane Elliott

Jane’s life work breaks my heart and brings to light the systematic racism we see in this and many other nations today. It demonstrates how odious racism is and shows white Americans (like me) the truth of white privilege, which never should have existed in the first place. After all, as Jane so rightly says, there’s only one race: the HUMAN race. (Amen, amen!)

One thing Jane’s experiment doesn’t do, though, is explain what would cause a person to take racism to the next level. Extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have horrified me since I first studied them in grade school, and back then I thought they were a thing of the past. In the segment below, Sarah Silverman interviews Christian Picciolini, a former “skinhead” and reformed white supremacist, who helps explain why people are attracted to these groups and why rallies like the one in Charlottesville happen—and what we should do in response.

Please watch to the end!

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Obviously this interview touches on many things, but what stood out to me most was the dialogue at the end. In response to Sarah’s question, “What advice would you give us?” the very wise and kind Christian says this:

“Because compassion is what changed me, I challenge your audience—go out there and find someone that’s undeserving of your compassion and give it to them. Because I guarantee you that they’re the ones who need it the most.”

Amen! Amen!

making connections

In my last post, I scratched the surface of how I ended up in Taiwan. In this post, I’ll scratch the surface of what made me stay. It’s all part of the introduction to a paper I wrote last semester at UTK and a good reminder of this quote by Marcel Proust:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

My first few months in Taiwan were rough, to say the least. Culture shock, homesickness, loneliness—these are common challenges every new teacher in a foreign country faces. There were many moments when I wanted to tuck my tail between my legs and, head down, head home. But something wouldn’t let me do it. I’d like to say that something was my pride—my “stick-to-it-ness”—but, really, it was twofold. Sure, pride played a part, but it was really my students and a group of Taiwanese “language exchange” friends who changed my perspective and opened my eyes to the beauty and depth of Taiwan.

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Playing the alphabet game

Anyone who’s ever taught children or young adults can relate to this image: A classroom full of squirming bodies. Chatter. Laughter. Enthusiasm. Smiles. Mischievous smiles. Cunning smiles. These were my students in Taiwan, with the added challenge that their chatter was in Mandarin. Generally the kids were well-behaved, though sometimes it was difficult to tell when they were not. Sometimes it took the crying of another child to learn that Pirate had called Rex a bad name, or that Lady Bug wasn’t sharing her crayons. (Taiwanese children often choose their own English names or are given one by their teachers.) Of course we encouraged the kids to speak English as much as possible, but about half of our students struggled with questions as simple as: “What is your name?” We were here to have fun, not torture our students.

The more engaged I became in my role as a teacher, however, the more I wondered about their chatter. Often at mealtimes our translators would talk with the students and laugh. When I’d ask what they were laughing about, though, the meaning was usually lost when the translator tried to explain. Some things just don’t translate—cultural traditions, idioms and metaphors, linguistic idiosyncrasies, etc.

This became further evident when I befriended a group of Taiwanese professionals who worked at a landscape architect company near my apartment complex in Sanzhi. Laura had introduced them to me shortly after I’d arrived. She’d been meeting with Wei-Ming, Yenhsuan, Sueching, and Rox regularly for what they called “Language Exchange” for the past year. Basically, they’d get together and help each other with their English and Mandarin, respectively, and would talk American and Taiwanese culture along the way. Laura had moved to a new school when I arrived, however, and thus I had the benefit of sneaking in and taking over where she left off. This proved to be one of the most satisfying experiences I had in Taiwan and established friendships that have lasted to this day.
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Out with my language-exchange friends

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“I’m so glad we’re meeting today,” I remember telling Wei-Ming one rainy evening as I shook out my umbrella on the doorstep of his office. Wei-Ming was a spunky gentleman in his late thirties with a round face and dark hair that was just starting to silver at his temple. His English speaking and comprehension were fairly good, though grammar and pronunciation were a struggle. He smiled. “Oh yeah? Why is that?”

Just then Yenhsuan and Sueching entered the room. They were both recent graduates from an architecture school in Taiwan and were a fantastic source of information about youth culture in Taiwan.

“What on earth was going on yesterday?” I asked as soon as everyone was settled.

The previous day I’d taken the bus into town and, along the winding way, noticed large slaughtered pigs on display in front of every home between Sanzhi and Danshui. What the…? I’d become used to seeing brown women in aprons plucking chickens on their doorsteps, and men napping in blue trucks with their feet stuck out the windows, and scantily-clad women selling betel nut from florescent-lit glass booths along the road. I was used to the brightly-colored temples, and the night markets, and the meat trucks speeding down the mountainside (with hanging carcasses swaying) early in the mornings. I was not used to seeing slaughtered animals on display outside of people’s homes.
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The harbor in Danshui

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Betel nut girls — a common sight in Taiwan

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Shilin Night Market — the biggest night market in Taiwan

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“I went to Danshui . . . there were all of these pigs . . . it was” — I wanted to say ‘horrifying’ but didn’t want to offend my friends — “crazy!” I said at last.

After blurting out these words, I think I expected an immediate, strong response from my friends, but to my surprise, they just sat there. “Umm,” said Wei-Ming after a moment, “I’m not sure,” and he looked at the girls for help.

“Oh, I knowww,” Yenhsuan ventured after a moment. “Wasn’t this weekend the Yimin Festival? It’s the Hakka tradition in honor of Shénzhū—the God Pig.”

“Oh yes, yes,” Wei-Ming’s brow began to brighten. “People raise pigs to be very fat, then kill them as an offering. It is a very special day for the God Pig. The farmer with the biggest pig will receive many blessings from the god in the following year.”
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View of the Pacific from the top of my apartment complex… (I’m not posting pics of the pigs — too gross!)

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.Yenhsuan nodded, her shoulder-length locks bouncing as she leaned in. She loved sharing things about her culture. “There’s a big gathering in Sanxia, in New Taipei City, every year.” She paused. “Many people do not like it, though. They say it is cruel to make the pigs so fat.”

“Ohhh,” I said. “But these pigs were not that big. And I wasn’t in Sanxia. Are you sure it’s the same thing?”

Yenhsuan nodded. “Many people participate even if they do not go to Sanxia. They sacrifice the pigs to their city god or local deity for good luck.” She smiled, looking amused. “Weird, huh?”

I nodded and realized I must have a mixture of horror and shock written all over my face. I attempted to wipe it off.

Sueching, who’d been listening quietly to the conversation, piped up then in Mandarin. Her English was not as good as the others, and she was timid because of it. Yenhsuan laughed when Sueching had finished. She translated, “Sueching says she thinks they are crazy, too. Our families have never participated. It is an old tradition.”

“I see…”

“But maybe your families will regret it!” Wei-Ming laughed. He spoke first in Mandarin to the girls and then translated in English for me. “They will embrace Buddha’s feet in their hour of need—it is their destiny!”

Uhh? I laughed heartily along with the others, but truthfully I was still perplexed. There were inside jokes I was missing, cultural connections I just couldn’t see. (Wei-Ming’s joke hadn’t been that funny!)

I wondered, too, how these linguistic and cultural variations impacted my students’ ability to understand English, to understand me.

(Stay tuned…)
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*Images mine or borrowed from the World Wide Web

back to the beginning

Roughly eight years ago, I made the decision to move to Taiwan for what I thought would be a seven-month period. I thought I was going to go to grad school in the fall of 2011, but as it turned out, I ended up staying in Asia for almost three years — two in Taiwan and one in Hong Kong. These experiences changed my life forever, and it is partly because of them that I’m studying Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics at the University of Tennessee today. For my final project last semester, I addressed metaphor theory in Mandarin. I won’t go into detail about metaphor theory here, but I wanted to share at least part of my final paper with you, as it highlights experiences that have made me me and greatly influence some of the things you see on my blog today. My story starts right around New Year Eve 2010. I started teaching in Taiwan in January, 2010.

I didn’t know anything about Taiwan when I was invited to teach there in the summer of 2009. I didn’t know what language was spoken, or what the climate was like, or, sadly, even where it was located. “It’s right off the coast of China,” my friend Laura* told me. “It’s really cool, and the kids are great. We live in Sanzhi, about 20 minutes from work. I’m thinking about buying a scooter.” (The rest of the teachers commuted to work in a van together, apparently, or took a bus to the closest MRT station to get into Taipei.) Laura was not the most detail-oriented and talked fast when she was excited. Continue reading

happy new year!

I have a whole slew of things to tell you — stories of the last few days, poems I’ve written, thoughts on the past year, hopes for the coming one. But tonight, as I sit waiting for my 2000 Volkswagon Jetta to warm up in the 18-degree economy parking lot at the Nashville Airport, I just want to say thank you. Thanks for reading. Thanks for caring. Writing lights up my soul, but you are what light up my writing. I wish you all the best in the coming year and pray that your 2018 dreams and goals (like mine, below) come true!

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:D

the stories we tell

I grew up in a conservative Christian environment. In my childhood church, jewelry and dancing were akin to divorce, and divorce was the doing of the Devil. Imagine my identity crisis, then, when at the age of 26 I learned that my parents were getting a divorce. Divorced? What did that make me? The Devil’s child?

You think I’m kidding; I’m not. My entire identity and foundation were shaken. I now came from a broken home. This was NOT supposed to happen.

The reality is, of course, that 50 percent of marriages in the States end in divorce. My parents’ union was no exception. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and not all marriages last until “death do us part.” I had bought into a lie.

Interestingly, I get a similar feeling around the holidays. Christmas and New Years are surrounded by so much hype. We have this idea about what they’re supposed to look like — with presents and snowflakes and family and laughter — but the reality is often much darker. For many people Christmas means debt and loneliness and sadness and depression. Suicide attempts increase around the holidays. I myself struggle to feel excited about Christmas every year.

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Why? you might ask. Why not? My life looks nothing like the Hallmark movies or anything it’s supposed to. Why wouldn’t I feel sad?

But perhaps the bigger question is: Why did I buy into those Hollywood narratives? Where did I get these expectations in the first place?

At our cores, I believe we all seek approval. We all want to love and be loved. We’re idealists born reaching for the stars, and we’re hard-wired to seek meaning and connection. This is what binds us. This is what makes us human . . . But life inevitably lets us down; in one way or another, reality “checks” each of us dreamers.

And that leads me to my next question: Once we know life will let us down, why do we perpetuate these expectations? Why do we continue telling false fairy tales?

I think we do for a few reasons. Fairy tales give us hope, and hope gives us a reason to keep moving. We need superheroes and Hallmark stories to give us something to strive for. We need to believe that things can be better than they are. But, but . . . Do these narratives also do harm? Would it be better if the stories we told were a little more realistic? Accepting my parents’ divorce would have been far easier if I hadn’t believed it meant they shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. Christmas, too, would be a lot easier if the holiday stories we told evoked a sense of normalcy rather than elevated exceptions to “real life.”

Because let’s face it — there is no perfect family. We’re all flawed individuals working through our “stuff,” and family and friend dynamics are never simple. December is a month just like any other. Why would we try to sell it as more?

But I don’t know . . . What do you think? Could we do our life and holiday narratives better? Or are they fine the way they are? What would you change about them if you could?

 

happy haphazard holidays

Well everyone, I suppose I can’t — or at least shouldn’t — put this off any longer. (Actually, I haven’t been putting it off — I’ve been slammed . . .) The time has come to wish you all a happy holiday season. So, Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!! My holiday decor in Tennessee is pretty simple this year; I flew to California this past Monday, so there was no reason to go “all out” 2,000-plus miles away. Still, it’s nice to do something . . .

 

 
In an effort to get into the holiday spirit before leaving Tennessee (it had/has been a rough few weeks), two Friday nights ago I participated in the Tour de Lights Knoxville holiday bike ride. It was a 5-mile loop in downtown Knoxville for which many people decorated their bikes with Christmas lights and garland and dressed up in costumes, etc. It was fun, but it was COLD! It was 29 degrees and my hands were freezing by the time the ride was done. Next year I’ll cheer from the sidelines.

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Since then it’s been a whirlwind. I went to Santa Rosa on Tuesday to see friends and to work in my office, and, last night, before I headed home (to the fam), I went out to see some of the fire damage. It was too dark to take pictures, but the scene was unreal. My heart is broken for the whole community. Here are just a couple pics from a hike I did at a local park the previous day with friends. These don’t even begin to do justice to the extent of the structural damage in the city. Those who lost their homes (there are thousands) are looking at a rough holiday season this year.

Yesterday (Christmas Eve’s Eve) was eventful, too. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say life tough sometimes. (Or, all the time? The jury is still out for debate.)

In any event, I apologize for this haphazard post, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas! I’ll touch base again soon!

xoxo,

Jess

 

who needs grammar?

Okay, I (unintentionally) started this conversation, and now that I did, I might as well finish it.

I didn’t have time for a longer Christmas-related post on Friday (I’ve been negligent, I admit), so I posted my “friday funny” instead. It was a silly image, perhaps — with the CIA stepping in to correct a person’s grammar — but there is a larger conversation here that’s been bothering me for some time.

Since moving to Knoxville I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking for furniture on online yard sales through facebook. The online yard sales are a sort-of new and improved version of Craigslist and make it easier than ever to communicate with buyers and sellers. That said, they’re also a place where people frequently “show their true colors,” so to speak, and I’m never quite sure what to expect.

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In addition to online sales, there are also online “watches.” The below examples come from a stolen bike watch in the Bay Area.

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Say, whaaa?? Some of the above are simple spelling mistakes — perhaps the person was rushing, no biggie — but in others the grammar is so bad I have no idea what the person is saying. In these cases, I can’t help but wonder, “Do they know how confusing this is?”

Now, of course no one is turning these ads into their English teacher — I get that. What concerns me, though, is the connection I see between these and a larger societal trend that attempts to devalue and even make fun of correct grammar. I myself feel self-conscious when posting on facebook because I like to write full sentences and use punctuation. This is not the norm in online communities where short-handing and emoticons reign. After all, who needs “you” when you’ve got “u,” or “Way to go!” when you’ve got “👍“? (And, for the record, I see people of all ages writing in short-hand like this. It’s not just a millennial thing.)

But really, it’s no big deal, right? As long as you get your point across, who cares?

You’re right. It doesn’t matter — until college graduates don’t know how to put together a resume or write a cover letter, or until the lack of an oxford comma costs a company millions.

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(For the full article, click here.)

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The societal trend towards — I’m not even sure what to call it: illiteracy? ignorance? obtuseness? — is complicated and points to a number of factors, no doubt. Certainly our highly flawed education system and lack of government funding play a role, but I believe it’s more personal than that. I think it’s a trend we all choose to recognize and participate in or reject on a daily basis, and that it’s consequences are far more reaching than we realize.

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But then again, what do I know? I’m just a girl perusing online yard sales.

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I recently rediscovered Twitter. I still don’t use it much (my apologies if you’ve pinged me there and never gotten a response), but posts like the above make me think that I should! :D

On a more serious note (not really), I often find myself catching others’ spelling and grammar errors — I can’t help it. I typically don’t say anything but wonder sometimes if I should? What about you?

an everyday hero

A friend of mine from the South used to joke that California was going to fall into the ocean. We “left coasters” couldn’t quite get our priorities straight and were headed toward oblivion.

I learned a lot of other names for my home state from my friend — the “wrong coast” and the “land of fruits and nuts,” to name two — and, after living in the Bay Area for a few years, I have to admit that some of them seem appropriate. There are a lot of crazies in California. And don’t even get me started on politics or the cost of living.

That said, California is still a beautiful state and will always be my “home.” Just as you can’t control the color of your skin, you can’t control where you’re from; California with its wildly good weather, breathtaking scenery, and vibrant diversity is a big part of what has made me, me. Continue reading