thoughts on a sunday morning

I’m sitting at my kitchen counter sipping caramel coffee and wishing I had more time. Time to explore, time to read, time to help, time to breathe. I’m lucky, too. Luckier than most. But still, this world and the time we are allotted are not enough.

I made a friend recently who told me he’s an atheist. After hearing more of his life story, I didn’t wonder why.

I have friends who had wonderful childhoods who’ve become atheists, too. You never know.

Living in Asia made me question everything I’d ever been taught about religion. I still don’t have any answers.

I’ve been thinking, too, about expectations and desires versus reality. Reality never aligns itself with Hollywood versions of caked-out weddings and happily-ever-afters. Even in the happily-ever-afters, reality’s life is HARD.

Patience is HARD.

Never compare your life to anyone else’s, people say . . . while they post on social media happy images of the engagement party they attended yesterday. No one says anything about the anxiety leading up to the party or the way they REALLY feel inside . . . Or if they do they’re looking for sympathy. That’s just as bad.

You CAN’T win.

Or can you?

Me I just forge forward, fighting for positive and looking for good, being myself and not apologizing for being real. You lose every time you lie to yourself or others. Honesty is HUGE.

Yesterday I participated in my first dragon boat race. It was a fundraiser for Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries and a great bonding experience with my newfound poetry and game friends. I was exhausted when it was over, but thrilled to have gotten to join in on an event I’d previously only watched in Hong Kong.

Oh the memories.

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embracing my humanity

I’ll start this with a blank page. That’s where all good stories begin, isn’t it? A blank slate, a clean record. You don’t know anything about me yet . . . and maybe it’s better that way?

Better to leave some stories untold. Better to build fences and live behind walls. I’m human and you’re not – you, the great unknown, the great gods of Facebook and Strava, the ones who live behind fences of your own.

And yet here I sit, writing. Wanting to share, needing to share. Since moving to Knoxville, I’ve seen we can’t live our stories alone. We mortals are wired for connection – even us quiet ones . . . Well, this one is, anyway.

And so I sit, writing. Reaching, breathing. But what is there to say? Shall I tell you of my failures? My inability to find focus when I need it? Today I must write a critical paper on metaphor theory and Mandarin. Today all I want to do is run and wash my car, and sit here, and write. Have I chosen the right degree?

img_1696

I didn’t announce my car accident on facebook. Only my good friends got to hear about that – and you, my readers. I might be a little bold sometimes and post pictures of myself or mention events I participated in or attended. But I can’t come out clean and stand bare beyond my fence. To do that would be to admit my mortality. Or worse – to appear to be seeking sympathy.

A friend recently expressed her concern for me. “You’re so hard on yourself,” she said. “You’ve done so many amazing things and have so much to be proud of. I hope you see that.” And I knew – she was right.

I have done a lot of amazing things, and hell yes, I am proud. Not everyone from the States can say they spent three years in Asia, bumbling around in a culture and in a language they did not know or understand. Not everyone went across the country for college, or has risked everything for a relationship that didn’t work out, or has left everything yet again to pursue an advanced degree in the name of personal fulfillment. img_1639-1Life for me is more than just a paycheck, or a fancy home, or boasting about what I’ve done from my comfort zone. But sometimes I wonder, at what cost? Wouldn’t it just be easier to go with the flow?

Yes, perhaps it would. But I can’t live my life that way. In the same way we mortals seek connection, we also seek meaning. Even the most stalwart at the end of their lives look back and wonder, “What have I done?”

For me, I hope I’ll be able to look back at my life and say, “I strove for perfection when perfection was none. I took risks rather than staying ‘safe.’ I dug in when times were tough. I found meaning through connection. I loved no matter the cost. I made a difference because I lived. I am human, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

the christmas debate

happyholidays-2

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.

wherever you are

ladder4..
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

fishladder

A fishladder!

the true meaning of the holidays

bedroom1

My room in Taiwan

Two months after I left for Taiwan, I got a phone call. “Jess, your mom and I have something to tell you . . .” My parents were getting divorced. After nearly 28 years, my mom had made up her mind — it was over.

The conversation wasn’t long. There wasn’t much to say. I couldn’t say I was shocked. I’d seen the disconnect between my parents for years — both of them trying, each in their own way, to bridge the gap. Both of them failing. I’d convinced myself that they were going to make it, knowing, deep down, I was wrong.

After we got off the phone, I sat on my black bedspread and stared at the brightly polished wood floor that I’d scrubbed and scrubbed when I’d first arrived. Outside my window, the dark sky began to rain. I didn’t notice. My mind was empty; my emotions, numb. I wondered, blankly, how my brother would take the news. Continue reading

staying true to me . . .

san marino italy

For some, the path has always been clear . . . But not mine!

My parents had a plan. From the time he was a kid, my dad knew he wanted to be a doctor. My mom was fostered into a career as a physical therapist — in high school, she fell in love with gymnastics. She was naturally strong and interested in fitness. Becoming a PT just made sense.

I never knew what I wanted to do. While the rest of my friends fell into paths almost identical to their parents’, I was not a science person. I hated Chemistry and Biology. Give me a literature class any day! And besides, I’d seen how hard my parents worked and what working with people in pain could do. I knew I wanted to help people, just not with their physical health.

Fast forward several years. A college graduate with a B.A. in English, but now what? . . . I’ve held a handful of jobs since I graduated, ranging from being a copywriter, to an ophthalmology technician, to an ESL school teacher (in Taiwan and Hong Kong), and now, to a freelance writer. I’ve been trying to come up with my long-term plan: But what? I’ve wanted to return to Asia: I have this HUGE fear of getting tied down. The world is too big and too beautiful and too full of need to live in one tiny pocket my whole life . . . But. But.

Do I always want to be alone? Continue reading

in the beginning . . .

Taipei 101

Taipei 101

Something old and something new:

My last few posts have catapulted my mind in a million different directions. All of my posts do, actually. It’s just . . .

Sometimes it’s hard to focus on a single string of thoughts. Tangents are everywhere.

Today, then, rather than wax philosophical, I’ve decided to talk history. It occurred to me recently that I’ve never explained how I ended up in Asia in the first place. I’ve also been thinking about starting a weekly section — “Forever Friday” . . . maybe? — and, well, if I do that, why not combine the two?

And so, without further ado, here is the first installment of . . . whatever this is. I hope you approve! Continue reading

beyond the walls

AWIn 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.

..

“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ― Rumi

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Image: Angkor Wat, Cambodia (mine)

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i love . . . me?

fgirl

Flower girl at about age 4

So, I’m in line at Costco the other day, and I’m watching people, like I always do. I’m seeing them come and go, and talk and laugh, and argue, and yell at their kids, and hit their brother or sister, and talk on their cell phone, and stand quietly, and I’m wondering, Do I really love these people?

And I’m realizing: Yes, I do.

And then I’m wondering, But, if I love them, why is it so hard . . . ?

I have never been the “cool kid.” In grade school, I wore thick glasses that made my eyes appear twice their normal size. (I am extremely far-sighted.) I wore pink and purple matching outfits covered in kittens. I put bows in my hair and was incredulous when, at 11 or 12, my friends started wearing training bras and shaving their legs. Aren’t we too young for that? I hissed. Continue reading

what the world needs

stars

All of the inspiration I need is in the stars.

I went running tonight, as usual. It’s been too hot to run during the day recently, and I like running beneath the stars best, anyway.

If there is one area in which Taiwan does not not compare to Northern California, it is the night sky. The humidity in Taiwan and, in many places, the smog and bright lights, make star-gazing an almost impossible dream.

In Northern California, on a moonless night, they’re all you see.

But I was worried, tonight, that I hadn’t been clear in my last post. You see, although I loved Taiwan, it would be a lie to say that I loved every minute I was there. Continue reading

why i love travel

IMG_0251ed3One pedal, then the other. Over and over and over again. Almost there. Just me and the road, and . . . That old guy who just flew past me.

Seriously? . . .

. . . He was pushing a much lower gear.

I felt better.

Then, suddenly, “Hiiiiii!!!” I looked to my left. High up on a balcony, a little boy and his dad were catching the last rays of the setting sun. The little boy was waving vigorously. I smiled. “Hiii!!” I called back and waved as I pedaled on. The boy grinned.

(A few minutes later. Heading down the hill I’d just pushed up, contemplating my next blog post [now my next-next post] . . .)

A group of men, strolling. Hands clasped behind their backs, chatting amiably on the sidewalk. A few wore caps. They were tan. Asian. One of them looked at me as I flew past. His eyes smiled, as though he were amused, as if he were saying, “What are you doing here?” Continue reading

finding the here and now

I made it. Starting at 7:45 a.m. (we got a late start) and 45° F (7° C) on Sunday, my dad and I took off from our cabin and didn’t look back. We rode clockwise around the lake, starting from the south shore. It was my first organized ride—Bike the West: America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride—and kind of fun. There were a lot of cyclists on the road and people cheering along the way.

The first big climb was around Emerald Bay, a popular tourist spot on the lake. At the bottom of the hill, right by the shore, is an old home called Vikingsholm. It’s quite pretty and made entirely from materials native to the Tahoe area. Continue reading

on death and living life to the fullest

There are so many things I want to write about right now. I have a long list of recent experiences to share, not to mention wanting to get back to things related to my time in Asia. But, sometimes, life gets in the way. We wish life was all sunshine and roses, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Last December, my family lost our grandfather on my mom’s side. He was a gruff man who built his legacy on a tow yard. I wrote about the experience here. Now, it looks like we may be losing my grandmother, “Nana,” too. Nana has spent more time in the hospital than out of it since my grandfather’s death, and just recently everything has gone downhill. Presently doctors are trying to keep her comfortable at a hospital in Ohio. We’re not sure how much more time she has to live.

Upon hearing the news last night, my brother Derek, who is himself a talented writer, sat down and penned (with a few minor edits) the following thoughts:

On Death and Living Life to the Fullest

By Derek Cyphers

Whatever happened to passing peacefully in one’s sleep? Is one of the few drawbacks to advancements in medicine that we can now prolong life further than it was meant to, ultimately leading to more suffering over time? At least for our family, this has probably been the hardest part. My first exposure to this came with our paternal grandmother, who fought cancer bravely, and painfully, for nine years before finally succumbing in 2003. More recently, it was our grandfather on our mom’s side, who was a shell of his true self due to mental and physical decline by the time he passed this last December. Continue reading

the end of the world as we know it

Why is it that mankind is obsessed with its own destruction?

thor-2-dark-world-posterNo, no. I’m not talking about drugs and alcohol; not talking about cigarettes or fatty foods, either. I’m not even talking about adrenaline. I’m talking about entertainment.

I never watch T.V. and almost never watch movies. During the three years I was in Asia, I stepped into a movie theater all of about twice. Things haven’t changed much since I moved home. Despite the fact that I live just across the street from a theater, I almost never go. Yes, yes, I know. There are a lot of great films out there. On the whole, though, well . . . Let’s just say I’d rather be reading or writing or riding my bike.

This past Sunday, however, I made an exception. My brother invited me to see Iron Man 3. I hadn’t seen my brother or his girlfriend in weeks, so, despite the fact that Iron Man 3 isn’t really my kind of movie (though I do love Robert Downey, Jr.), I decided to go. Continue reading

on and on you go (take two)

Please don’t hate me! I was not content with my first version of this poem. Something about the third stanza (and a few other things) just didn’t fit. So I revised it, and here it is. Most of you know by now: This poem is dedicated to “wind.”

dress3From here to there and everywhere,
on and on you go.
I hear you there, or is it there?
Your face, you’ll never show.

O’er sea and over mountain,
continent and plain,
from Asia to the Balkan:
the world is your domain.

At times I’ve seen you angry,
you howl and wreak havoc.
It’s then I shiver meekly,
and stand in awe, dumbstruck.

But when you’re sweet, you’re lovely;
you caress my soul.
Your whispers soft and balmy,
you can take me whole.

And though I cannot touch you,
on wings you fly me high,
to places where I knew you,
under another sky.

Which version do you prefer?

Image: Pinterest

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on and on you go

dress3From here to there and everywhere,
on and on you go.
I hear you there, or is it there?
Your face, you’ll never show.

O’er sea and over mountain,
continent and plain,
in Africa and Asia . . .
The world is your domain.

Sometimes you get angry,
you howl and growl a lot.
You know it is quite silly—
I’ll not move from my spot.

But when you’re sweet, you’re lovely;
you caress my soul.
Your fingers full upon me,
you can take me whole.

And though I cannot touch you,
on wings you fly me high,
to places where I knew you,
under another sky.

Tip: Read aloud. ;)

Image: Pinterest

i stand corrected

hk

Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong

I remembered, after my last post, a conversation I once had with a friend.

“My teachers told me I was stupid.”

I looked at him. “They did what?”

“They told me I was stupid.”

“That’s terrible! Why would your teachers say that?”

“I don’t know. My grades were bad.” He looked out the window. The sun was sparkling on the water. It was a surprisingly clear Hong Kong day.

“Your grades were bad because you didn’t study, not because you’re stupid.”

“The education system is messed up.” He glanced back at me and then down at the table. There was a checker board there, in case we’d brought pieces to play. Continue reading

the luxury of dreams

images3edHe was short. When he walked, he lilted—up and down and up and down—bobbing as a buoy on the sea. Maybe because one leg was slightly longer than the other. Or perhaps he had flat feet.

No matter the weather, he wore a t-shirt (fitted tightly over rounded belly) with shorts and flats. Sometimes he wore a sweatshirt. His sandy beard he kept unkempt. His bus, however, was immaculate.

I saw him often—on my way to and from home. He drove the 103M, the minibus between Tseung Kwun O, the closest MTR station, and Clear Water Bay. Around and around he’d circle, letting passengers on and off, waiting in the dimly-lit parking garage for people shivering or sweating to fill the bus so he could take them home. While he waited, he’d wash the bus windows. Sometimes, he’d whistle. Continue reading

backwards and forwards

nikeWhen I turned 25, I was sooooo old. That was before I went to Taiwan. I knew everything by then.

When I turned 26, I went hiking and ate “authentic” Italian food at Pizza Olmo in Sanjhih.

When I turned 27, I was the director of an English camp in Taiwan.

When I turned 28, I was a teacher in Hong Kong. I learned that love can be like a pile of laundry—and that that’s a good thing.

When I turned 29, the pope abdicated his “throne.” I visited friends in San Francisco. I realized I have 365 days to accomplish all of the goals I set out to accomplish before 30. And I remembered: Continue reading

no man is an island

island3

“Heyyyy! I thought that was you!”

I didn’t recognize the man who had appeared out of nowhere beside our table.

“How’s that arm?” He touched my shoulder. “Your dad was so worried about you—and not just about your arm, about your life! How long ago was that, anyway? . . . And how ’bout Hong Kong? Your dad told me you were over there. What were you doing there? Bet ol’ Placerville feels small now! I’ve never been to Asia. Born and raised in SoCal; moved up here and never left. Did a rotation in Dublin once, though. One of the best times of my life. What ya doin’ in ol’ Placerville?”

I wondered, briefly, how the man breathed. His lips hardly seemed to keep up with his mouth. Continue reading

confession

MD means "My Daddy"

A long time ago…

I have a confession. I really, really, really wanted to lie to you in my last post.

I wanted to tell you my dad was a plumber. Or a roofer. Or a trash collector. Anything, anything but a doctor.

Why? you might ask. Are you ashamed of what your parents do?

Absolutely not. I am incredibly proud of both of my parents. My dad is known around town as one of the best docs in the area. Neither one of my parents came from money. They worked hard to get where they are. And they still work hard. My dad gets up between 4 and 5 a.m. and works 14 to 16 hours almost every day.

He has my entire life.

But I’ve always hated the connotation of being a “doctor’s kid.” Continue reading

on privacy

It was dark. Suddenly, as I scurried about my apartment cleaning and folding laundry in shorts and a tee, I realized my blinds were open.

Oh, no!

viewwindow

The view from my window.

I live on the first floor near the entrance of a busy apartment complex. Directly outside my bedroom window is a sidewalk lined by grass and trees. Across the street is a pool and fitness center. A nice location, for sure, but not when one considers a little thing called privacy.

Here in the West, privacy is held in high esteem. Close the blinds, Johnny! Someone might see! Even when I lived on the second floor of a large home on several acres—when a person would have had to climb a tree to see in my window—still, as soon as night fell, Close the blinds, Jess. Someone might see! Continue reading

wider, richer, deeper

The woman behind the counter smiled when I walked through the door. Her face was young; her dark hair, tinged with gray.

myeongdong-crowds1

Crowds in Seoul (image credit: world-walk-about.com)

“Hello, Jessica.”

“Hi, Joanne!”

“You ah back from Taiwan?”

I nodded. “Yes. Actually, last year I was in Hong Kong.”

“Oh? Hong Kong?” She reached for the dry-clean-only garments in my hands and began to examine them as we talked. “Did you like?”

“Yes, I did; I liked it very much,” I said. “Except it was too crowded! There were soooo many people.”

She nodded, knowingly. “Like Seoul.” Continue reading

wishes for the new year

There are moments, instances, experiences that shape our lives. Both good and bad, big and small, these are the things that make me me, and you, you.

These are the comments from your mother, the good mark from your teacher, the accident in February, your father’s death in June. They’re acceptance into grad school, the crazy trip to Tokyo, the man you bumped on the subway, the loss of your job, too soon. They’re the traffic jams, coffee breaks, playground brawls, road trips, pregnancies, broken hearts . . . These are the fabric of our lives. Continue reading

not what you think

University_of_California_SealIt’s been a few days since I’ve posted. Perhaps you might think I’ve not been disciplined enough, not been writing enough. And, while it may be true that I am not always disciplined, it would be inaccurate to say that I haven’t been writing. I have been writing. A lot. Just not for this blog!

You see, I’ve been working on graduate school applications. I spent all day today touching up my Personal History Statement and Statement of Purpose for U.C. Berkeley‘s Graduate School of Journalism . . . Honestly, I hesitate to tell you that. Berkeley is incredibly competitive; I’ve already applied once and failed to get in. But that was before Asia, before I really knew what I was doing . . . Ha. Does anyone ever really know what they’re doing?

I’m rambling. My point is, I might not get in, but at least I can say I tried. I am also going to apply for creative nonfiction writing programs around the country. Creative nonfiction is what I love to write, anyway.

But, for those of you who don’t know me very well, I thought you might find (part of) my Personal History Statement interesting. It is the most concise statement of have of what has brought me to this point—the point of being the author of a crazy blog called “Shift.”

Here it is:

Jess Cy’s Personal History Statement