At Hellgate Canyon

Stop. Breathe. Again. Good.
Wind whistles in endless pine trees
as your neck cranes higher to look.
-do you see it yet?-
The bright blue sky– paint from a God-hand
streaks through the gaping canyons of yourself.
Places unexplored.

Sit on the black-orange-mold-moss that scares you.
Let yourself reflect on decay, on the parts of yourself dead and dying.
Smell the lambs ear of sage offered to you,
smell the tobacco you offered underneath that,
smell the salt of your own skin underneath that.
Places unexplored.

Sit among the sound of rushing waters– the call of your own blood
bubbling underneath.
Now is the time to ask, to listen to its burbled question,
What do you want? What do you want? What do you want?
Have you stopped to actually listen to the reply?
Have you turned the corner, seen the arrow of your own heart
and the sacred sites it points to?

When you are wobbling on the silk-water of shining rocks,
will you take the steadiness of hands offered?
Embrace the chill?
Both?

Stop. Breathe. Again. Good
Smell the braid of burning sweet grass, a protection.
Love the untamed red of the unknown mountain cherry and
see the ochre faded rust on stone, the handprint swiped like blood.
Smile at the violence used to create
the unexplored gaping canyons of yourself.
Look up at the sky and the wind,
feel your neck crane.
Do you see it yet?
Do you see?

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Many thanks to Melissa Kwasny for leading us here and through the exercise that led to this poem. Needless to say, this experience has already been transformative.

The Stories I Weave Myself

I am sitting in a small dorm room at Carroll College. The window overlooking downtown Helena and the Helena Mountains is to my right, and the sun has just broken out of a thunderstorm to break into a beautiful sunset at 9:20PM.

sunset

Earlier, when I was supposed to be writing this piece (though I confess, I had no idea what I was going to write about), I was sitting with my feet up on the windowsill as a lightning storm passed through. Thunder boomed, lightning shot across the sky, and the rain streaked down all the way to the range– long fingers of cloud-wisps reaching from the horizon towards the trees. I sat in the room, alone, listening to Jazz music, just… watching.

I am in Helena, Montana, for a seminar on nature and education. It seems fitting to try and paint the picture of my setting for this story.

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I had an interesting realization earlier this week. While I’ll be studying with a cohort of 16 people, I don’t know anyone on this trip. I don’t know anyone in Montana. I got on the plane out here knowing that, frankly, I was going to be alone. No one to meet up with or reach out to, no one sitting on the plane next to me holding my hand and planning adventures. I was on my own.

As much as I am an introvert and love my alone time, I realized that I actually am very rarely alone. I’ll go through brief afternoons and evenings, but I haven’t really been on my own since I moved to Hawai’i five years ago. Ever since then, I’ve found people– friends and family– to call mine. If I’m really honest, I’m a serial monogamist who hasn’t been single in quite a while either. I function best, I think, when partnered.

Or, I assume. Of course, I am still (very happily) partnered, but there was no feasible way to get my guy out here to join me on this journey. So, for the next three weeks, I’m flying solo, and it’s completely new to me.

And, as much as I should have been excited, I’ve actually been terrified. What if I lost all my luggage on the trip? What if being apart like this destroys my relationship? What if someone I love dies while I’m gone and I wasn’t there? What if I hate everyone? What if everyone hates me?

These questions don’t just stay simple, easy-to-answer dilemmas in my head. Unless stopped, they will often weave their way into full-blown, worst-case-scenario stories. I will very vividly visualize the horrors each one would rain upon me. A pit forms in my stomach. I can’t stop seeing the worst.

As much as I love stories, as much as I’ve been focusing my life on storytelling, I see now that sometimes my own stories hold me hostage.

I used to see Panic as the monster who would come and get me. That’s an apt metaphor much of the time, and sometimes my panic attacks will come out of nowhere, with no decipherable trigger. The problem with that image, though, is that it means I have no agency with my anxiety. Sometimes I don’t– sometimes it just hits me like a ton of bricks, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Over the past few weeks, though, I’m beginning to see the ways I have, perhaps, let anxiety come to run parts of my life. I have become so accustomed to weaving tales that, sometimes, I’ll follow the yarn of a question all the way around and around until I weave myself into a web of despair, unable to claw my way out.

I am trying to get better at pulling myself out of the web. Instead of wriggling around, further entangling myself, I am trying to stop, breathe, and re-evaluate the situation. Often, though, I have someone who can help me start finding my way out.

Now, though, I am sitting in a dorm room thousands of miles away from the people who love me, with no one but the mountains and trails to help me find my way out.

So, at first, I was terrified by this.

But this morning, I woke up after very little sleep (Helena is currently in an unseasonable heat wave and our dorm room unexpectedly lost air conditioning, so little rest was had). I was tired and moody. I missed my partner. I missed air conditioning.

Then, I decided there was no one to cry to about it (literally, as I was the first person in the seminar to arrive), so I better just go out and do something else. I hiked up the 1906 trail to the summit of Mt. Helena. I saw nature like I never had before– endless sky and mountains covered in more evergreens than I could ever imagine. I was welcomed and helped by friendly strangers and their dogs. I ran down trails that looked like the ones I have dreamed of.

Then, I bought myself some chocolate milk, did some work, and watched the rain fall outside while listening to some Jazz music.

I’m currently going through a bit of a mind-shift, I think. As I’ve been asking myself what I really want, it also means coming to terms with the things I actually need– not just of other people, though, but of myself. What do I need to do to bring happiness into my life? How can I stop letting anxiety write the story that I should be writing myself?

I look out at the sunset, breathe, and remember the joy I felt this morning running along a lonely trail. Surrounded by trees, I felt so blessed just to exist, on my own, in such a beautiful space. It was a complete 360 from the despair I felt this morning. It was seeing that with each footfall I took, on my own, I was slowly stepping out of the web and back into myself.

And that’s where it begins, I think. As much as I love and need the support of people in my life to help me manage my anxiety, I need to be the one to break out of the narrative and back to the blessed reality that I am loved, supported, and incredibly blessed. People can tell me that as I further entangle myself in darkness, but ultimately I have to be the one to believe it. I have to be the one to set it down in ink on my heart so I don’t lose sight of it.

No one can write my story but me.

Finding My Way Home

Recently, I’ve found myself running again.

Certainly not as often as I used to, and without the data to analyze (my Garmin band broke in JanuaryWhat’s Next: Teacher, Writer, …? and I’ve yet to replace it), but I’m still running anywhere from 3-6 miles 4 times a week.

It’s funny, as much as I start trying new sports or fear I’m moving away from running— this sport that has defined me in so many ways– when I take a second to step back I realize that I am, often, still “running myself back to myself.”

I was re-listening to the episode of On Being that I was fortunate enough to be featured on last year. The episode (especially the parts beside mine) is such a beautiful testament to what running does for the soul. It always makes me think, but this time through I was struck by Roger Joslin’s note that, for him, running was sometimes the only way to make him feel different than he did before.

That’s when it hit me– running has always had such transformative powers for me. Of course, the other sports I’m doing force my presence and change me, but running has a way of restructuring my DNA a little. It forces me to check in with my breathing and myself. It inevitably turns me into an adventurer. I still make it a point to explore new places and see new things while running. Even as I run the same Magic Island path for years, each time through allows me to experience the people and the place a little differently than the time before.

What has really hit home recently, though, is the cyclical and circuitous nature of running. So many of my workouts are linear: we show up, we work, we end up at a new place, skill, or PR. Running, though, is cyclical– the repetitive steps running the same paths day after day force me to consistently evaluate where I am, what I’m doing, and how my body is feeling in that moment. It can also give me the space to physically zone out a little and turn my focus inward.

At the end of the run, I always come full circle. The thing about running is that once you run to a place, you more often than not have to run back. Running forces me to do the work, put in the time, but also find a way to get home at the end of the day. As far as I push myself outside my own comfort zone, I always know my body will bring me back home.

So, I’m in an airport on my way to Orange County and eventually to Montana for the month, spending a month at Carroll College for an NEH fellowship. I’m excited not just to learn, but really to explore. I’m excited to find new trails and, just maybe, find my way home in a whole new way.

 

run

On Open Water

I am slowly dragging a kayak down the sandbar at Kailua beach– alone. A few days earlier, my girlfriends and I had taken a few double kayaks out and really enjoyed it. So, when I woke up restless and discontent that morning, something in me said I had to get out on the water. Stat.

That morning, I sat on the edge of the bed, unsure if I was actually going to go out on my own. Why did I need to go out there? What was I going to do?

I looked around the room and saw a few dried lei hanging. One I had bought as a welcome-home gift, a few that were gifts for my birthday or for presenting. Strangely, in that moment, those things seemed so far away.

A lot of things have changed in my life over the past couple of months. I’ve taken a new job, I have friends leaving the island and, for the first time since moving here, I’m heading out on a trip completely on my own. Now, we’ve hit summer break, and I’m left sitting with my thoughts for the first time in what feels like a very long time. It’s complicated and difficult and… good. I think.

So, looking at those lei, I knew what I needed to do. I grabbed the lei off the windows and the shelf. When I return to my apartment I grabbed the ones hanging there– gifts from students this past year.

I knew it was time to shed some skin. I knew it was time to say goodbye to parts of me. I knew it was time to sit with myself– and just myself– for a while.

So, as I lugged the kayak across the thick sand, a paper bag full of lei in the back, I prayed that I might find some peace out on the water.


The first time I went out on open water, I hadn’t known how to catch my breath properly.

I had asked a boy to take me snorkeling.

He was an accomplished swimmer and had grown up late-night fishing with his dad and swimming on weekends. For me, the beach was an entire-all-day kind of affair. It meant planning and packing and, yes, stress, so I rarely went. I had a handful of summer days riding waves on a boogie board when my church had a beach retreat, but that was about the extent of my water adventuring.

When he and I reached the edge of the beach, he asked if I was nervous. I nodded my head a little. He grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze. He showed me how to put on my snorkel and we went out into the waters of Electric Beach, swimming through currents from a nearby power plant. The warm water draws tons of exotic fish in. It was beautiful.

But it was also terrifying. I had never swum so far from shore in my life, and I was ill-prepared for how tiring swimming is if you’re not used to it. I was sure I’d be fine, given my athleticism, but I quickly found myself huffing and puffing, and becoming anxious that I might drown. The current and winds were stronger than we planned, and I felt myself getting pulled farther from the shore than I wanted.

The boy pulled me to him and held me in his arms, my hands clumsily tangled around his neck and in his hair. He reminded me to catch my breath as he held us above water. He promised me we would be okay and make it back to shore. He asked if I trusted him. I nodded my head.

Eventually, he guided me back to the shore, and I learned that I could actually catch my breath under water, through the snorkel, by floating and lowering my heart rate so I didn’t panic and hyperventilate. We saw some more fish and eventually touched down on the sand.

When we got there, I was so exhilarated to be alive and to no longer feel scared that I ran into the boy’s arms, kissed him hard, and told him I loved him.

He was surprised; hell, was surprised. It wasn’t that the words were necessarily untrue, but they were said without really thinking through what I was actually feeling.

“Love” in that moment encompassed gratitude and companionship. I was grateful to be alive and that he had guided me to the shore. I was thankful that, in that moment, I was not alone.


What– I take a huge stroke with my paddle– the hell— another stroke– are you doing?! I think as I begin to pull my kayak through open water. I still can’t believe I’ve actually done this– I feel my parent’s voices in my head berating me about never going out (in water, or in general) alone.

Still, I am only going about a few miles from the shore, and am surrounded by other kayakers, surfers, and paddleboarders. After a few minutes of pulling the oars through the water, I smile to myself. I make it to one of the small islands, grab a few photos, then decide to keep going and see how far I can paddle on my own.

Paddling, I soon learn, is about the closest, soothing movement I have found besides running in a very long time. The consistent strokes of the oars through the water are meditative. It is easy for me to set a direction and then just… go.

Out on the water, I quickly realize I have accidentally paddled into the reef area that the informational video I watched a few days ago reminded me to avoid. It was rocky and often had waves that capsized boats. I momentarily panicked.

I am gliding forward, unsure if I should try and go around the reef in either direction (I had no clue how far out it went, and trying to go around the other way meant heading back nearly to shore). All of a sudden, a turtle popped its head out of the water, raising its right fin at me.

“Oh, shit! I’m sorry, man!” I yell (out loud) at the turtle. It ducks back under the water and glides under my kayak, and I can’t help but start laughing. I take the turtle as a good omen, and carefully navigate my way through the reef. I let the waves gently keep me above the rocks below, and paddle hard when I get to open areas, looking out for rocks that are sticking up when the waves settle.

And, after a few minutes, I make it through the reef just fine. The water beneath me now is clear, bright turquoise. I look up and see that I’ve made it nearly to the Mokes, something I was unsure if I’d even be able to do that morning.

I start laughing. Then, without thinking, I start to cry.

I have built a life around the wants of other people. I come from a culture of obligation, where love is often shown by self-sacrifice, by giving, by choosing what’s best for the team or the family or the community instead, sometimes, of what someone wants. I don’t think it’s bad– I am joyful in my service to others and often find the greatest pleasure in giving to the people around me. Still, like all things, it requires a careful balance not to lose myself and my agency. I am turning thirty soon, and I have to be honest: I am not very good at asking for what I want, or demanding what I need from others.

So, sitting out on the kayak that morning, alone with only the ocean and a forgiving turtle, I am answering a question that I have had a hard time asking for years: What did want? What did need? To put it in the words and context of Beyoncé and Brittany Packnett, “I need freedom, too.”

I am doing it in small doses as I sit, by myself, for that moment. I am joyful knowing that I have taken this small slice of adventure and– most importantly– love for myself. As I sit out there, laughing and crying in the water, I realize that I really do and must continue to love myself. Up until now, my love has been one of constant sacrifice. If I loved myself, I think my ability to love others properly could be so much bigger than what it was right now.

The boy I had told I loved on the sand had ended up breaking my trust and being, perhaps, unworthy of my love, but I had forgiven him long ago. I hadn’t regretted what I had said either, just perhaps gained a new appreciation for what “love” might actually look like in practice.

It was not simply about companionship or gratitude. I realize that “love” now was knowing that I was fully complete. Love was the gratitude that I had chosen to take care of what I needed– then and, of course, before. Love reminded me that when I’d made that choice, people had come around me and embraced me as I was. Love showed me that I could do it again. Love was trusting that I would always be able to guide myself to shore, but knowing that I had cultivated enough love in my life that I was never alone.

Love was knowing I was worthy.

I reach behind me into the bag, and slowly begin laying the dried lei into the water. I cry and smile, silently filled with gratitude for each story the lei had represented, and then let them flow towards the ocean. The current pulls them away, not to be seen again.

I breathe in a deep sign, turned my face towards the island, and began to paddle.

Rhythm and Flow: Beating Myself Back Into my Body

I’m becoming certain that, as unexpected as it may seem, there is nothing quite as mindful as getting punched in the face or choked by your own collar.

I’ve been toying with the idea for several months now, ever since I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and sparring in Muay Thai. After years of becoming knowledgeable as and identifying myself a runner (something I’m struggling with), I’ve jumped into two physical worlds where I know… absolutely nothing. I’m newer than new to both sports. I had a brief stint with Karate as a kid, and trained some boxing and grappling on and off over the years, but nothing consistent.

Needless to say, the experience has been incredibly humbling. There’s a lot to learn, and while I’ve always considered myself generally athletic, there’s something really different about BJJ and Muay Thai that’s asking me to do something completely new: be totally and completely present.

Don’t get me wrong. Running and weightlifting both require thought, especially in order to do well. Running distance asks you to consider pace, strategy, and efficiency of motion. Weightlifting and doing a difficult WOD means thinking about form and timing strategy as well.

Still, both (running especially) have allowed me to slip into a cradle-rock rhythm of “work” and lose myself there. I’ve said before that running is a form of moving meditation for me. It often allows me to zone out completely until I’ve suddenly run many miles without realizing it. It has offered me solace and escape in this way for years.

Now, though, I’m working in a world where the consequences of zoning out will punch you in the face. Literally. As soon as the bell rings, all my attention has to focus on that moment– what is my opponent doing? Where am I expecting them? How will I counter their move? The physical muscle memory I am trying to build so I can hit or grapple safely and effectively is in a consistent, intertwining dance with the mental chess game at stake. Come at me with a body kick? I can be ready to throw the cross. If I’m able to take mount, I better be thinking about how to keep my base and try for a submission. Every moment is assessing the situation, choosing a response, and planning the next move.

Still, while it’s tactical, it’s a graceful and powerful experience too. It’s dangerous to overthink (and, thus, slow down) while sparring, so while there is consistently critical thought, there’s also the need to let go and see how well training and translated to good instincts. There isn’t always time to debate every possible move; the person in front of me demands a response in this moment. It demands my body to move in space with another. It forces me to interact with the world around so completely that I can no longer turn only inward and ignore everything around me. Instead, I allow myself to be drawn into the push and pull of another person, and the tension is fraught and exhilarating and reaches into a deep, gut-level part of myself that I so rarely get to interact with.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of Flow, a state of joyous and complete focus.

As strange as it is, I have always had a hard time reaching Flow while running or even while doing yoga. I would try and focus, be mindful, concentrate on my body, but the repetitive movement made it so easy for me to zone out, stop thinking about my body, be able to work through other mental things (something, again, I often love).

As I am trying to grow in these new arts, though, I find myself not only focusing more quickly, but almost being forced into Flow. In some ways, a sparring situation is a Flow or Die kind of moment. You either pay attention and do your best, or you get smashed.

There’s no shame in getting smashed though. If anything I’ve come to welcome it. There’s nothing like a teep in stomach or getting rolled over your head to bring you back into your body. When I am tempted to lose myself down the rabbit hole of my own mind, being in a space with other people who will beat me back into my body– quite literally– is actually incredibly soothing in a way.

Each hit, blocked or eaten, is a reminder to breathe. Each slam of breath out of my lungs makes me grateful for the next gasp I take in. And when time my training kicks in (finally!) and I land a hit or take a stronger position, there are double blessings: there is a brief moment of triumph that my I learned and executed something new, followed by the humbling realization that it was one moment in a series of many, and that I better get back to work.

Because the work is exhilirating, empowering, and exciting.

What’s Next: Teacher, Writer, …?

When I started this blog a few years ago, it was in part to document my journey attempting to hit a sub-4 hour marathon. As I stared at the Wordpress title field, trying to think of a name, I decided to label it after my three favorite activities: teaching, running, and writing.

As I am approaching 30 (*oomph*) I had always sort of assumed much of my personality was set. Naive, of course, but I saw myself as a lifetime runner– one of those folks who would be marathoning when they were 80 or something. Running wormed its way into my heart as a daily necessity, a place I had to go to each day to be able to breathe properly. I loved it.

Now, in 2017 I don’t think I’ve run more than 15 miles a week. Tops. I have gone over 5 or 6 miles. I’m not sure because the band of my Garmin broke in January and I didn’t bother to get it fixed or get a new one. I no longer plan my life around my a run.

I still run, on occasion, as a way to help train the fighters at the gym where Chase and I coach or as a warm-up for my own workouts. It is still the place I can go to clear my head or listen to some good music and just disconnect from things. I still enjoy running, but is running still a core part of who I am? That’s a harder question.

I woke up before my alarm this morning, though, a rare occurrence that made me wonder if I should lace up my shoes. I’d had a bad day yesterday, and spent much of the afternoon overwhelmed and crying on my apartment floor. My eyes were swollen and groggy, and I wasn’t sure if I could muster the energy to coax a run out of my already sore limbs– a feeling I hadn’t experienced in years.

I decided to give it a whirl. I slipped on old shoes and trotted out the door, my body easing into a familiar rhythm. I put on some salsa music, thinking that since I was out of practice, I’d need the motivation.

As I crested the hill near my apartment, I could feel my muscles flexing with each beat against the concrete. “Oh, hey,” my legs sputtered, surprised, “we’re doing this again?” I cracked my neck back and forth, ear to shoulder, and smiled.

“Yup. Here we go.”

Within a mile, I shut the music off. I found my groove– slower than normal, I’m sure, but steady and solid. I buckled in, dipped my head forward and began to move forward. The road was still there, unchanged in my absence, ready to meet me where I was again.

As we move into April, I’m excited to start figuring out what’s next for me, at least as far as the physical is concerned. I’m teaching Yoga three times a week, taking Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and lifting heavy things at CrossFit. Each of these is challenging and exhilarating in its own way.

But it’s nice to know that, no matter what happens, the road will always meet me where I am. In a world in which I am always asking, “What’s Next?” I am grateful to know that I don’t need to eschew the things I loved before to grow– I merely find a way to fit them in. Whenever I need to, I can always strap on a pair of shoes, strip away all other distractions, and run back to myself.

I Am Not Okay; I Will Be Okay – An Admission

I have been sitting with some stories on my heart for the past few months, but I haven’t known how to share them with you.

I guess to start off, I have to make a confession: I’m not doing so great. I’m okay. Some days, I’m not okay. Many days, I am. I’ve been pretty emotionally overwhelmed for the past few months. Like, the -water-is-exactly-at-my-head kinda overwhelmed. I’m not pulled under the tide yet, but the current is strong.

And that’s a terrifying thing to write, if I’m honest. Much of my work is predicated on the idea that I’ve got it together– or at least that I can present that face well-enough, especially online where much of my work is done. I’m still not sure how this will turn out, but admitting this here is something I’ve wavered on a lot.

Still, I was reminded by the lesson I learned from Luis Alfaro: we can either run from the things that hurt us, or we can name and eventually own them instead.

So, let me tell you a few stories. Mostly about my anxiety.


K is the only reason I was able to write this.

K is a 14-year-old freshman in my English class. Sweet kid– hyper, athletic, hilarious, exuberant– and a great kid. He’s been dealing with ADHD since I had him as a 7th grader, and has been pretty good about managing it and being upfront with it (it helps that he has an awesome family supporting).

So, this year, I asked all my 9th graders to tell me a story about them. It was pretty broad, but K shuffled over to my desk in his Longs-Jesus-Slippers all the kids are wearing at my school.

“So, uh, Ms. Torres?” He starts out shyly.

“Yes, sir. What can I help you with?”

“Um, I want…can I talk to you about my paper? I want to write, um…” He looks back at his classmates, back at me, “I want to write about, like, um, seeing my ADHD not like, always a bad thing.”

I was silent for a moment. Here was this teenage boy in all his embarassed-awkward-teenage-boyness, opening up about his own stuff. I was also a little surprised. I’m all for framing things positively, but normally we don’t associate ADHD with anything positive, just an obstacle to get around.

“Okay,” I nodded, “That sounds great. What’s the story?”

He smiled.


K’s words stick with me as I drive up the Pali to my first day teaching Sunday yoga for Crossfit. I’m nervous and excited to take over the class from an excellent teacher who I consider a mentor.

Then, my car feels funny. Bump. Bump. Bumpbumpbumpbump. 

Then comes the smoke.

Fortunately, I’m able to pull to the side of the road. I hop out of my car and see my front tire. Completely shredded, flaps of rubber jagged and hanging off like they had a play-date with some very aggressive cats. I sigh, thank God it wasn’t worse, then turn to get the spare in the trunk. That’s when I see THE SECOND FLAT TIRE.

I sigh, again, and feel my heart race. I’m baffled. What will I do? The logistics of letting the studio know what happened, getting the tow truck, explaining what’s happening to my parents, figuring out where to get the weird tires that no one EVER has on island and I have to wait three weeks for Costco to have shipped and how am I ever going to manage that when I only get one tow with my insurance so I’d have to pay for the others out of pocket and I won’t have a car for weeks and seriously what the fuck now am I going to do?

The tow truck guy shows up, a late-forties local with a bit of a beer belly. I ask if he can do patches, and he gruffly replies, “Nah, sis. That ain’t my job.”

I nod and understand, still no idea what I’m going to do. He begins to set up my car on the dolly. Midway through, he stops and walks over to me. “So, where am I taking you?”

I look at him. My eyes burn. “I…uh…” I feel my heart rate rising. I feel my ears start to ring. “Um…” My head gets flooded with a million thoughts at once and my lungs can’t hold onto air for very long. “I have… no idea.” I admit. It becomes harder to breathe.

He’s on the precipice of perturbed, but something stops him and he looks at me. I don’t know what he sees– late-twenties, brown, bougie, yoga girl freaking out in front of him?– but somehow it brings him to some place of compassion.

“Okay,” he says. “You don’t know where you’re gonna get tires?”

Heart rate rises. Throat chokes.

“That’s okay,” he says, “have a seat in my office.” He leads me to the bed of his truck and we lean against it. He cautiously places a hand on my shoulder.

“It’s okay,” he says. “Just catch your breath. I’m here. We’ll figure it out. I think I gotta guy anyway.”

Heart rate drops. Lungs open a little. Eyes sting with tears.

“Thank you,” I mutter back, humbled by this in-the-moment grace sent to me in the middle of my morning.


I don’t know how I end up at the foot of the bed, but I do.

It’s a week or so before, and something has awakened me. I have no idea what– but it’s all-consuming. I can’t breathe, and it feels like there’s this weird fog between my brain and my eyes. Like I’m seeing the world, but not really processing it. It’s dark, though, because it’s two in the morning, so it doesn’t matter. But I’m distinctly aware I’m operating on two different levels.

One level is telling me to calm down. To get back to bed. To settle down and get it together.

The other, though, is the one wrapped around my head like a filmy gauze coloring everything I can see. I can’t do this, the voice whispers at me again and again. I  can’t do this. I feel my ears start ringing. I have no idea what the “it” is. No, no, I can’t do this.

I move to the floor sit with my back to the bed, a steadying presence. I desperately want to deflect my emotional blast from my partner with the mattress. I cover my ears, put my head between my knees, and try to breathe.

But the voice gets louder, so loud that I even bring voice to it, “I can’t do this.”

I start to cry, hard now. Sob, really– nose running, mouth open, tears and snot and saliva spilling onto the floor. I’m drowning in myself, and I don’t know how to pull myself up.

At some point (honestly, I have no idea how long), I feel the bed stir. No no no no,  I try to muffle myself with my hand, but the ringing in my ears is loud again and I cover my head.

“Baby?” I hear Chase say, looking for me in his half-sleep. I say nothing. I cover my ears tighter. I hear him ask something, but I can’t hear or see him through the fog of my own panic and just tremble on the floor.

He doesn’t fly down, trying to shake me out of myself. He doesn’t freak out and ask why I always have so many feelings.

He slowly climbs to the end of the bed where I’m sitting. He leans over and gently kisses the top of my head, a silent call for me to come home now.

I take a breath.

He tucks his chin into the crook of my neck, nuzzling my hair, saying nothing. He just breathes next to me.

I pause and take another big, shuddering, breath.

“There you go,” he whispers, and I can hear him smiling.

He sits there with me, quietly, for however long it takes. He does not drag me, kicking and screaming. He merely shines the light into my own darkness and stays beside me while I find a way to return to myself.


I don’t know if I will ever see Panic as more than the monster that sits on my shoulder.

I’ll give it this, though. While I have been intensely overwhelmed, these past few months, I have also been placed in the way of grace more times than I can count.

I have tried to handle it alone. I have failed spectacularly sometimes. Yet in the moments where I have been most broken, most vulnerable and so sure in the overwhelming knowledge that I was alone, I have been met time and time again with an equally overwhelming amount of kindness. These moments have not been happy, but they have been full of joy and, yes, an astounding amount of grace that I don’t know I deserve.

So, as scary as it is right now, I can admit that I am not okay.

Still, I am filled with the small, glowing voice that reminds me that, somehow, I will be okay.

And, for now, I think that can be enough.

The Story Doesn’t End: What I Will Tell My Future Daughter About Love

 

Sometimes, I write letters, especially when I am struggling to find my own voice.


Little one,

I don’t know if you and I will ever meet. The universe spins and throttles about on so many different axes that to be certain of anything seems like a fool’s errand.

And yet.

You come from a heart-on-the-sleeve stock, my dear (at least on your mother’s side). Everything can be so exciting– if you want it to be. The graze of a hand, catching someone’s eye, your first kiss– all of it can bubble so effusively in that spot right beneath your lungs. You’ll feel like you’re filling with air and everything will feel tense and your skin will feel like it doesn’t quite fit you because you’re all wiggly with joy and apprehension and excitement about the course your life might take. All of this can be spurred with a small gesture if you want.

I hope you let yourself have that kind of joy if you want it.

We live in such a cynical, difficult world sometimes. We’re taught to “play it cool” or not give too much. The world might tell you that sharing your joy is a surefire way to give up your power at the table, so best leave it at the door.

And to those people, my love, I sort of want to say, “fuck that shit,” (pardon my cursing, of course).

The thing is, there are people in the world who see their love as the weight on a far-swinging pendulum.

You can hold that weight in your hands, let it sit there heavy and cool and close to your chest. When you feel it start to pull towards someone else, throw your balance into your toes so you’re less steady than before, you can react defensively. You can hold it tighter to your chest, squeeze yourself a little harder, assure yourself that the weight and power and shine of your love is still yours and yours alone.

On the other end of that pendulum is a throw-yourself-at-it-drop-everything kind of love. It’s devoting the entirety of your strength and balance to someone else, praying they send it back to you with the same force and devotion. You’re left tottering on your toes, waiting for the other person’s counterforce to steady you. As you swing the weight back and forth, you hope you don’t knock down too many bodies along the way– especially your own.

Sure, either of these is an option, I think.

But there is a magic in the middle ground, if you can find it. You don’t have to see love as this sacred, weighted object that you can only wield with strength and centrifugal force. You don’t have to see it as a shining thing that you lob at someone when you’re ready.

Instead, I want you to see love as a story.

By now, you probably know your mother lives for the story. Love is no different. Your story began far before you took breath in the world, as did mine. It began with me, your grandparents, and back and back and back. When you were ready, you picked up the pen and began writing your own lines. Your hand was unsteady at first, but as time went on, you started becoming more confident in your grip. You caught the mistakes you were making. You wrote adventures and difficult silences and laugh-out-loud shenanigans.

Love is letting someone share the pen and write with you. It’s giving up the agency of sole authorship and letting them wrap their arms around you and hold the pen too. Hips against yours, arm slung around your waist, you will let them nuzzle their chin the crook of your neck. They will kiss your ear and gently place their hand on top of yours and write that part of the story with you.

It will make the story richer. Little star doodles will find their way into the margins, and the story will become so much funnier and sweeter. You will laugh and cry and fight as you figure out the next chapters. You will both make mistakes. You will have big cross-outs and messy, ugly ink blotches that no amount of white-out can fix. Love will never be the neatest pages in your story. It will look like chaos if you want. It will be big and bold and ridiculous.

And it will be absolutely beautiful.

Still, just because someone makes an appearance in your story doesn’t mean they stay. At some point, you may realize it just doesn’t fit. Or they got tired of writing with you. Or they want another partner or you want another partner or the million other reasons love can change and need to be let go.

It will hurt. A lot. Your back will suddenly feel naked against the air without the other person. You hand will feel unsteady again after letting someone write with you. The pages will feel cold and blank. You will feel like you can’t write anymore.

Here’s the thing, though: You still have the pen. The story isn’t over just because someone stopped writing with you. You will still be able to keep writing. The magic of the story is that someone you love can rip out your heart, make you cry and ache, and you will still be able to get up in the morning and keep writing. Your story cannot be ended by anyone but you. 

I don’t know a lot about love right now, if I’m honest. I know I have a lot to learn. But the  lesson I want to give you is this: don’t stop writing. Don’t be scared to share your story. It will be tempting to set down the pen. The first time your heart is broken, you will want to hold it tight to your chest like that pendulum for fear of ever sharing again.

Relax your body. Breathe. Let the grief and the fear flow through you, and then let it go. When you look back later, you will love those pages you wrote when you were in love. You will have a fond, small ache for the people who wrote with you, even if you know they weren’t the right co-author. The pages you shared enriched your story, added color and nuance.

Forgive yourself for the scratches and the inkblots and the “mistakes.” They were just part of your process. They were the lessons that taught you that no matter how empty it feels now, tomorrow will still come and tomorrow will feel better.

And when you’re ready, love, look up from the paper. See people again. Look at the world around you and then write some more.

When someone comes along who makes you feel like you’re filling with air and your skin doesn’t quite fit you, smile. Hold out your hand and ask them if they want to sit with you for a second. You have a story you want to share with them.

With love,

me.

 

Ashes: On Lent and Choice

I have always struggled with the concept of Lent.

In theory, I’m a huge fan of a 40-day retreat leading up to the Spring and Summer. It allows us to become thoughtful as we end the busy holiday and New Year season, and ensure we can reset our intentions (in any given context) around the new year. It’s a period to look inward, question ourselves, and push ourselves to grow as people and as Christians.

Still, Lent also comes with a whole host of rules that even non-Catholics question. Why am I fasting today? What if I have an athletic event that day? Why can’t I eat meat? What counts or doesn’t count? If I eat meat Friday can I get away with being vegetarian on Sunday instead?

I struggled with these questions because, honestly, I don’t really think God cares that much if I eat meat or not today, or whether or not I fast. If I ate a cheeseburger right now but still tried to generally be a good person, I don’t think I’d get kicked out at the pearly gates when my time came. I don’t think that would happen to anyone else either.

As I got older, though, and returned to my faith a few years ago, I realized that I wasn’t becoming involved in Lenten practices out of fear of my Father, but rather as a thoughtful choice to better myself as a person. Lent has nothing to do with “having” to give things up, it’s a choice to let go of things in your life that you may not need, or create some healthy distance from parts of ourselves we have perhaps become too indulgent in. Lent is the opportunity to actively step back and re-evaluate what you actually need, what you can let go of, and what you can do to enrich your life.

In addition, though, Lent is the opportunity to welcome new, more giving parts of ourselves. I’ve often enjoyed hearing from priests like Fr. James Martin SJ, who invited us last year to add more kindness to our lives this Lenten season. I was also happy to hear that Pope Francis encouraged us to give up indifference towards our fellow humans.

So, this year I have a few things I’m giving up privately. I’m hoping to become a healthier person physically and emotionally, so I’m using this season to work towards that.

I’m also, though, planning on donating to and shouting out a different charity each week. I struggled with this a bit– I don’t want to come off as boastful (and, let’s be honest, I’m a teacher– I’m not giving a lot of money). Still, I want to encourage others to find charity this season, Christian or not, especially in times where resistance and power are sometimes financial.

So, this week, I’m donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center. As someone who has benefited immensely from Teaching Tolerance and been involved with the amazing work they do. As we fight to ensure equity and safety for so many students, the work they do to educate teachers and students is essential. I encourage you to send a donation their way.

 

Pick Up Your Mat and Walk: On Running for Office

My family has been having a quiet love affair with politics since I was a kid.

Growing up, the only shows I remember watching as a family were Hardball with Chris MatthewsThe West Wing, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. We are the descendants of veterans and my parents were both politically active in their youth.

For a while, I thought it would be my older brother who would carry on that torch. After graduating from Stanford, he’s his way to eventually become the legislative director for Sabring Cervantes, a state assemblywoman from Riverside, CA. Paco was the one running campaigns, who could potentially run for office some day. I was too afraid of confrontation, too emotional, and frankly a little frightened of the responsibility.

With all the current political climate, however, both Chase and I have talked about the need to get involved and be active. The current world is scary and upsetting sometimes.

There’s a passage (John 5:8), where Jesus tells a crippled man that, to be healed, he need only to “pick up his mat and walk.” I think of this often, when I want to get out of a spiral of self-pity and get moving towards action and change.

I am finally at a place in my life where I feel supported enough and strong enough to throw my hat in the ring. And, after years of telling kids that our job was to be civically engaged– now was the time to put my money where my mouth was.

So, when some folks at LEE reached out to me about running, I thought: if not now, when? 

I have no idea what comes next. Right now, I’ve just been so grateful for the support of my family and loved ones. Plus, Chase sings Hamilton lyrics at me all the time now, which is also my favorite.

I know, it’s a neighborhood board seat, not the White House. BUT, I think that Margaret Mead had it right when she talked about the power of a small group of committed citizens.

As far as what I believe? Well, that a whole long list. Here are some quick thoughts on what I’d like to help handle at the neighborhood:

  •  Keeping Mānoa as a place that provides an excellent education and public resources to our residents– including increased attendance and awareness of resources available.
  • Supporting small, local businesses that make the University and Puck’s Alley areas as vibrant places, both accessible for younger residents as well as family-friendly and safe.
  • Finding compassionate and effective ways to help handle our homeless situation, as well as ensuring the safety and well-being of our residents. 
  • Dealing with the traffic problem. Seriously. Particularly in the morning. There are FOUR K-12 schools located in the area (ULS, Sacred Hearts, Punahou, and Voyager), not to mention the University itself. As an educator at one of those schools, I know how stressful it is to try and get kids to school in the morning (and how many come in late with their tardy slips marked “traffic”). We must find innovative and effective ways to attempt to manage traffic control.
  •  Partnering more with the University. Having a public University in the area can be a huge benefit for students and families. Resources and opportunities available there provide a huge privilege many do not have. We must find ways to partner with the University as residents to use their resources to support the community, and hopefully support them as well.
  • Finally, and most importantly, be accessible, intrigued, and determined to listen and be responsive to the concerns of my neighbors.

I am excited to see what happens and eager to jump in with both feet. Like I said, I’m mostly excited to hear from others.  So:

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