The Magician

I’m going through a month-long healing phase after my body has finally shut down from a two-month manic period. With that time, I’ve discovered the writing I created but was too scared to edit and publish. 


She has been practicing her sleight of hand for years now.

It’s almost second nature, at this point. She smiles, catches their eyes with a snap and a whip of her fingers. It appears all flash and no substance, but then she makes the card appear when it seemed impossible The audience is astonished. Bamboozled, really, because they were so sure they could not be fooled. That there was no way she’d actually get the right card.

It doesn’t really matter, though. She’s moved onto the next trick.

What they don’t see is the hours of practice that goes into the moment where the Magician makes something out of nothing.  They do not notice the red-rimmed eyes, tired from staring into the mirror and watching the same trick over and over again. The Magician is trying to make sure it is perfect for the audience. It has to be perfect for the audience.

They do not hear the ringing in her ears from years of listening to cries and catcalls instead of the sound of her own breath. They have failed to notice her skin, dull and red, from the make-up she wipes off in streaks each night, slumped over her dressing room table, barely able to move. They do not care that there are times where she is unable to focus her eyes before going on stage– she knows the gauzy film between her brain and the world it should be perceiving is problematic, but she also knows that she has to go out and perform.

The audience needs its show. They must be entertained.

So she goes out, night after night, honing her “craft,” learning to read the room. When she feels like she’s losing them, she slap-dashes something together and throws another coin into thin air, pulls another rabbit out of her hat, changes the mark to a more forgiving body on stage with her. It doesn’t matter what it takes. Stand on the back of the bucking horse? Sure! Swallow swords, eyes watering as she wide-grin-smiles toward the crowd? Of course! Anything so that she does not lose them. She cannot lose them.

Because she knows what happens when the crowds go home, and she is left in the dressing room, alone.

She sinks, slowly, into the chair. The table is in disarray– make-up is strewn, long smudgy splashes of color on a faded, white, wooden top. The makings of a face finger-painted on to a splintered canvas– the metaphor is almost too painfully obvious, even to her, who has lived without subtlety for years now.

There, in her solitude, when the memory of the crowd roars in her ears like the ocean, there is no one to distract her, no one to look at, no one who she must bamboozle. She is in a standoff only with herself. There is nothing to face but her own existence in that moment.

Why?

The question sits there, unmoving. No sparkle, no flash. There is no magic trick that will satiate the audience who is witness to her own brokenness. There is no bucking bronco or sword to swallow that will turn her gaze away in the mirror. There is only the heavy question, the ball and chain tethered to her. She sees it reflect back at her in the shine of her eyes, the creases in her skin.

Why?

She sighs, tears the question away from the mirror and places her head in her hands. Instinctively, her fingers reach into her chest pocket and pull out a card. It’s one of the few times she can ever answer anyone properly– showing them the card they were thinking of.

She holds it up to the mirror, tries to fake a smile.

Is this your card? 

She flicks it to the floor, reaches in, and grabs another.

How about this one?

She flicks that one away.

She stops mid-reach. Her eyes finally connect back with her self.

Her card will never be pulled.

 

 

 

Photo by Calamic Photography

The Girl Who Laughed at the Ashes: 2017 in Recap

You know, at some point I’m going to need to stop burning my life down if I want to keep anything.

Sorry, that was for me. I was looking back on my writing, and noticed that I’ve used the analogy a couple of times in the past few years. I keep insisting that things have to burn and break if I want to inevitably grow in any way.

And that’s true. I’m a firm believer in that. Still, I’ve realized that I’ve probably done quite a bit of demolition work in my life these past few years. I’ve cleared the field a few times, looking at the way my life was turning out, shaking my head, and firmly saying, “…NOPE.”

I don’t regret it– I’m a little frustrated with myself, at times, for getting into situations that I so clearly need to leave, places that were unsafe and unstable, that have been a huge emotional suck for me– these past few months especially. I know that these personal things have gotten in the way of my career, my work, my ability to be the person I wanted to be.

Yet, I’ve come out on the other side and I feel stronger and more like myself than I have in a very long time. Yes, everything burned down, but I discovered so many beautiful things in the process. I realized that I could stand on my own and say no when I needed to. I realized that I was stronger than I previously thought. I realized that, in the end, my gut had been trying to tell me things I already knew. Despite what I’d been told– I could trust myself and my instincts.

In the aftermath, I was immediately surrounded by so much love and support that I was frankly a little blown away. I have struggled with asking for help in the past but this time, when I reached out, I had a number of people hold me (physically and metaphorically), validate me, encourage me, and let me know things were going to be okay.

And they were. Even though there were times when my stomach wouldn’t stop aching, where I couldn’t sleep, where it felt like I couldn’t breathe, things inevitably got better– as they always do.

On New Year’s Eve, I was standing out on a black sand bay in Kona, at a mellow get-together that was warm, inviting and full of good food. I had danced and smiled. I walked out onto the shore, the full moon reflecting off the water and the lava rocks, everything looking like silver had been painted over the world.

And I laughed. I looked back on all the ridiculousness of my life and that was all I could do. What a farcical, unexpected, tumultuous journey I had been on! There have been a few times in my life where I’ve said that, if you’d told me where I’d end up, I would’ve laughed, but this time I had to actually laugh.

Then, I smiled and said a silent prayer of gratitude. As ridiculous as it had all been, this past year had also brought a number of wonderful, beautiful things and people into my life. I was grateful for the friends and family that had been there for me from the beginning, I was grateful for the people the universe had conspired to bring into my life when I needed it most, and I still feel very blessed that I had been given so many wonderful opportunities despite it all.

I had chosen, perhaps, the path most ridiculous, and I was still able to come out the other side with a smile on my face.

There are worse things, I suppose. In the end, I am the girl who looked at the ashes of her life and laughed under the moonlight.

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So, what’s happened this year?

I posted this update on Twitter, and I actually find them to be a fairly succinct view of where I have been:

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When I look back at my resolutions for last year, I got 3/5? Sort of?FullSizeRender

BUT! I have hopes for the new year!

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Enter a caption

So, 2018. Let’s do this. I’m moving in a few weeks (a few blocks away from my current place), I am happier than I deserve, and I’m seeking joy and laughter in every moment I am blessed to live.

And In Each Other: Rejoice!

The warm, squishy body wriggled in my arms for a few minutes. Penny, my aunt and uncle’s dog, let me snuggle her, and then looked up at me as if to say, “Dude, it’s loud in here.”

And it was. I was home for Christmas for the first time in years, and my father’s side of the family had all come together and raucously filled my aunt and uncle’s house. The number of cousins is in the double digits, and that doesn’t include their significant others, children or my grandmother and our aunts and uncles themselves. The dining room was packed full of people who have known me since my birth or theirs.

It was, to be honest, perfect. It is kinship of the clearest kind– forged through years of laughter and heartache, built on a strong foundation of finding love and joy within each other, even when it felt impossible.

I love Christmastime for lots of reasons. Beyond the surface-level, it’s a time to remember to love as puppies and babies do— without restraint or judgement, and with a full-hearted sense of wonder and awe.

This Christmas, though, I was in mass reflecting on the nativity. I was praying with imagination and imagining myself in the stable. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve normally seen myself in awe as one of the shepherds or wise men.

This time though, for reasons beyond my understanding, I imagined myself as Mary. Don’t get me wrong– I hold no lofty illusions about my own lack of sin or greatness in the world. I was just sitting in mass, thinking about her in that moment, and realized that Mary must’ve been so scared.

I mean, pregnancy is scary. Motherhood is scary. Doing all of those things, at a young age, when you didn’t even conceive the kid but instead because some angel showed up and said God wanted you to? Like, how even? Now, to top it all off, everyone in the neighborhood is being the worst and you have to birth this kid in a stable, one of the coldest and grossest places one could birth a tiny human? That is truly some shenanigans right there.

In all seriousness, though, I imagined how helpless I would’ve felt in a moment like that– how out of control everything would’ve seemed, how my body would’ve, perhaps no longer felt like mine.

And I got a little teary because I have certainly felt that way this year.

Then, in all that fear and helplessness and pain, I thought about how Mary looked up and saw people around her— a husband that stayed with her through the most ridiculous of circumstances, random folks from the meadows who were told that they needed to come through. And I remembered a line from Fr. Boyle’s book, Barking to the Choir: “If love is the answer, community is the context, and tenderness is the methodology.”

In the middle of the worst conditions, the birth of a child created a community of warmth and love. For one night, that stable was an enclave of joy, laughter, love, and light. In a time of struggle, tenderness rallied these people together to create something much stronger and more powerful. Much like the dining room of my aunt and uncle’s house, they found raucous, bubbling kinship in each other, even when the world outside felt less than hospitable.

In my own time of personal struggle this year, when I felt helpless and out of control, was it not my own community that made me feel like I could overcome and reminded me that I was loved? Was it not the friends consistently at my side supporting me, the people the universe conspired to bring into my life, the family who loved me unconditionally? Earlier this week, I spent time with people who I had no blood connection with, but who had known me for nearly twenty years. Some I am still very close with, some I hadn’t seen in ages, but no matter what I was welcomed with open arms and laughter.

Ultimately, what staves off fear and helplessness is connecting with and loving each other, even when it feels impossible, even when the connection may not seem visible. It may be your blood family. It may be your chosen family. It may be the dude who you were arranged to marry and some shepherds who followed a star.

You never know how and when community will emerge though. The question is, when it comes, will you be ready to accept it? Will you be ready to turn your back to the harshness of the outside world not to forget it, but to seek to improve it by turning towards each other and rejoicing in the presence and light of others?

So, as we move into 2018, I am eager to continue finding the communities of kinship, and rejoicing not simply in all things, but trying to rejoice in all people. I am hopeful to try and focus this year not just on love, but on community and tenderness too.

For a savior was born unto us for one real reason: because, above all else, we are loved.

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This Is Your Body on Teaching

The first thing that gets you is the lack of sleep.

Well, it’s not inherently a lack of sleep. It’s actually the fact that you have to wake up early now. Very early. Long before the sun comes up, your alarm is blaring whatever iPhone sound you’ve chosen (some days it’s something soft like ~Bamboo Forest~ but most days it’s that one that sounds like the submarine alarm because you know that fooling your body into thinking we’re on the brink of nuclear disaster is the only way you’ll get up).

You groggily reach for the phone, hit the button, and look at the time. You groan internally. You’ve never had to get up this early before. Years of college have softened you, and you’ve been living in the magic land where you create your own schedules and can ditch class when you really need to. Your body still thinks that if it crashes at 11:45 PM after just-one-more-episode of Stranger Things, you’ll be able to skate through your alarm clock to get the 7 or 8 hours of sleep you know you need.

That’s not an option anymore, though. Now, you know that at 7:45 AM, for better or worse, 32 sets of eyes will be looking at you. 32 heads will be craned towards you, wondering what they’re supposed to be doing next. Now, unless you want to stand there, mouth agape and unknowing, you have to get to school by 6:30 at least to handle the myriad tasks necessary to try and engage 32 adolescents in whatever shenanigans (and, yes, even the best, most effective plan becomes “shenanigan-esque” when 32 kids get involved) you have put together.

You roll out of bed onto achy joints. Maybe you stretch a little first– the whole “walking the room” thing does, in fact, work for classroom management, but it’s doing a number on your legs (“At least you get your steps in,” your friends muse at you). You crunch your toes into the rug before slinking across the room. You go through your shower-clothes-coffee morning routine and grab your bags– always more than one, always one with papers/supplies/books– and head out the door.

This time in your car is some of the only solace you’ll have for the rest of the day, so you try and enjoy it. Some days, it’s a hilarious podcast to take your mind off things, or NPR to help you understand why you do this work. Some days, it’s just silence– you let your mind wander at the million-hour pace it now functions, crunching numbers, figuring out activities and assigning the minutes they’ll need, wondering what to do with that one student. The stoplights and turns are on autopilot now, and before you know it, you’ve parked your car in the parking lot.

Stop. Close your eyes. Breathe. Again. Good. 

Here we go.

The day passes in a blur. Your body, in some ways, is a machine now, or at least it has learned how to be efficient. You have learned the time it takes you to run to the bathroom hurriedly in between classes. You can eat your lunch in 22 minutes while walking around monitoring a make-up quiz, listening in on the small anime club that meets in another corner of your room (sometimes, that “lunch” is leftover Halloween candy bars from the break room). Your vocal chords finally adjusted a few weeks ago– up until then, the consistent projection they had to produce caused them to crack by 6th period. You shake out your arms from hours of jazz hands, reaching to the top of the board, tapping on a kid’s desk, handing out papers or receiving the high-five from someone smaller yet so much stronger than you.

By the end of the day, you finally flop into your chair. The squishiness in the seat is sinking, but it feels good to relax in that moment, to feel your low-back and legs release some of the tension they held. You rub your eyes for a second and hear your phone buzz. Your friends will want to go out for a drink tonight. It is a Tuesday. You know you will have to decline. The most you might squeeze in is a quick run or a hurried dinner with a coworker. Then it will be back to the grind.

As you hear footsteps fade down the hall, you cannot help but notice the way your life is different now. This job is not at all what you thought. You see you friends and a partner– if you’re lucky enough to convince someone to stay through this with you– less. You are more drained at the end of your day.

It’s physical, yes, but it’s emotional and mental too. Your mind works harder than you ever thought it would– the knowledge is there, but you are forcing yourself to re-remember how it got through to you in the first place. You now learn how to deal with being “on” for the majority of your day, often unable to take a minute to yourself, except for a few hurried breaths in the bathroom. The stakes feel higher (even if your paycheck doesn’t show it).

So, you sit at your desk now and think about these things– the changes, the struggle, the process. Then, you hear your door open, and a kid peeks their head around the corner of the door, and waves at you.

You smile, genuinely. An inquisitive kid is always the sweetest image, and it fills your chest a little.

“Hey kiddo, how can I help you?”

They smile and bound up to your desk with a question, a comment, a thought.

A veteran teacher once told you that, when you are a teacher, every morning your alarm goes off, it’s a call to lead. You didn’t fully understand the sentiment at first, but now it becomes clearer.

It’s not a call to “lead” so much as it is the space to “guide”– every morning, you know your work is to create space and clear the way for your students to shine, to grow, to question and struggle, perhaps even to fail so that they can rise far higher than they thought. Every morning is a new one that fills the space in your soul with some of God’s purest joys– the laughter of children, the pursuit of discovery, the warmth of community.

So, when the kid comes into your room at the end of the day, you can’t help but smile a little deeper into your heart. And, when someone asks you how you’re doing, you can answer honestly: My body is a little tired, but it is well with my soul.

 

 

 

Running Towards Hope

A confession: I’ve been hurting the past few days.

Nothing crazy, but I’ve been waking up feeling particularly tight and painful. I couldn’t figure out why: did I have rhabdo (I clearly didn’t.)? Did I need to break in my shoes more? Had I pulled something? Of course, at a certain point, it hit me that three months of three-a-days with very sporadic rest wasn’t a particularly healthy strategy and that the amount of strain I had put on my own muscles was likely just catching up with me.

So, after a painful 5k on Thanksgiving morning, I took the day off yesterday, since I knew that I had to go out and do my twenty-miler sometime this weekend. I rolled out last night, went to bed early, and prayed that this morning I’d magically feel better when my feet hit the road.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t. At least, not at first. I woke up feeling fine and, despite gusting winds and periodic storms, the cool weather boded well for me. This was a good day to go out and do the damn thing.

I was bummed to discover, though, that after a few miles I was still tight. My shins were screaming and my hips ached. What is going ON?! I mentally wondered to myself. I kept having to stop every half mile to try and stretch out to make the pain go away. I kept trying to breathe into my muscles, but I was really struggling to make this run work.

Then, right around mile 3, my arm grazed a pole in just the wrong place, tearing a huge hole in the sleeve of my favorite shirt. I groaned and stopped. “BRUH!” I yelled at the sky, at God, the way only a young, Catholic, CrossFit asshole can. What’s the deal? I asked. Do you want me to stop and turn around? What do you WANT from me?

I stopped, stretched, and breathed for a second.

I heaved a heavy sigh, and the questions came back to me: Are you present? Are you here? Are you listening?

And thing is, I knew the answer: No. I was caught up in my head, stewing in anger over some things happening in my life that had nothing to do with the run and, frankly, were out of my control. I had been holding all the anger and sadness in my body for days now, and was parsing through it during those first few miles.

I shook my head, frustrated that all this negativity was still affecting me. I shook out my body again, and continued to parse through my thoughts. After a few minutes, I came back to two questions for myself:

  1. As frustrated as I am, can I let it go? Could I accept that even if something is unfair, it may also be what’s right? Am I able to say a silent prayer of gratitude for the surfeit of love and light in my life and walk away?
  2. Even when we are working through anger, can I still act with kindness and love? Can I center on that and find forgiveness? Am I able to stand up for myself and name my hurt while still ultimately knowing that, in the end, compassion is the place I am moving towards?

As I looked at these questions, I knew what my answer had to be. Even if I didn’t feel like living up to them, I knew that the only way I could stay true to myself was to recenter myself with these questions as the compass. I knew that, if I could say yes to these things, I would be okay, and able to come back to the place of unfettered love and joy that makes me who I am.

So, I prayed for strength and grace, and began to run towards forgiveness. It wasn’t easy– forgiveness encompasses all the sadness and frustration of grieving.

As I ran, though, I thought about the rainbow I had seen that morning. In Christianity, the rainbow is the sign of God’s promise to His people after the great storm. It reminds us that, even when the rain comes for forty days, we ultimately believe that the universe will bend towards justice and good. It’s a reminder that, in the end, things will be better.

I kept running. In a lot of ways, forgiveness is an act of hope. It’s moving with the belief that hurt has occurred, but does not need to be dwelled in. It’s understanding that the only way to move past pain is with love. It’s knowing that we can move past pain in the first place.

With each step, God asked if I trusted that things would be okay. With each step, I affirmed that the answer was yes. Each step was a silent prayer of gratitude and hope, a testament to my faith that things would get better.

As I ran, my body loosened up. My hips settled a little more. I breathed a little more deeply. I knew that, even if this wasn’t going to be easy, I was going to get through it. I was going to be okay.


So, what’s next?

Well, I have two marathons within six days of each other, because that’s what I like to do. I’ll be running the Honolulu Marathon and then, later that week, run the inaugural Hawai‘i Bird Conservation Marathon. Since the latter is an all-downhill course (I know), I’ll be taking Honolulu nice and slow to see what I can do later that week.

Of course, I haven’t been training for any of this. I’ve been running, sure, but until today my longest distance has been 10 miles. Today was hard and painful (running into the wind for those last 6 miles didn’t help). So, honestly, if I can finish both of them with a smile on my face, I will be amazed and happy.

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So, This Is Love

It doesn’t hit me until I am doing laundry.

My body is already bone tired— there’s a weird pain in my hips every time I turn and I’m pretty sure I’ve permanently strained my rotator cuff, since every time I have to pick up anything there’s a weird pinching in my back. My shoulders sag; even my ear is sore from hitting the mat. I’m tired.

Then, I realize that my laundry doesn’t fit in the machine. I’m going to have to do at least two loads since I just remembered that there’s another pile in my gym bag I forgot to grab. I sigh, since it’s all going to have to be washed on hot and extra long because… frankly… it stinks. It’s covered in sweat and salt and spit and no dinky, express wash is going to be able to handle this.

I rub my eyes, split the load, and get ready for a long night of laundry.

When did this happen? I ask myself. Have I also had this much stuff to wash?

I realize that, no, it hasn’t always been like this. It’s because I’m switching identities multiple times a day now. I jump from middle-school English teacher to runner to CrossFit athlete to jiu-jitsu practitioner in a single twelve-hour period. Each requires its own costume, its own gear, and each has me use and abuse a new article of clothing. That increases the hours I spend doing laundry each week and since I’m out late doing all these things, it makes for a very, very long day.

So, this is love.

It hits me when I was hunched over the washer, stretching my hamstrings as the machine begins to whir. If love is the measure of our devotion and investment in something, the way we attempt to name the amount of time and affection we give, then I have been having an intense love affair for the past few months.

Love is multiple loads of laundry every week so that you have what you need. Love is line-drying jiu-jitsu gi and getting your own CrossFit equipment. It’s separating out piles of running clothes and looking for matching socks at 10 PM because you have to be up at 4:30 AM to run if you’re going to be able to get to everything else that day. It’s having to pack and unpack your car in multiple trips because between all the clothes and all the gear for these twelve-hour-days there’s no way you can carry it all at once.  It is, at the end of that day, running to your classroom and grading twenty essays in your jiu-jitsu gi because it’s easier to go straight to back to school then it is to go home. It’s sore shoulders and aching calves and groaning as you try and roll out all these muscles, knowing that the next morning you’re going to get up and do it again.

Because that’s what it takes. Or, more importantly, that’s what I want— it’s not about medals or accolades. I’m not a competitive CrossFit athlete or jiu-jitsu practitioner; I don’t win marathons. I simply love doing these things, even when they hurt. Even when I have a bad run or my lifts suck or I lose every sparring session, I am in a deep and intense love affair with my body. That love makes me move from workout to workout, knowing that the sacrifice and commitment now will mean something much greater in the long run.

After years of trying to understand love– of my family, my friends, my students, a man– I’m finally understanding what loving myself means. It’s the time and devotion and affection for the physical space I inhabit each and every single day. It’s investing in myself and that space to do things I never thought were possible.

“Joy cometh in the morning,” Psalms tells us. It’s not just a reminder to know that a new day always dawns, but a spiritual exercise in hope and persistence. Love is the mental wherewithal to persevere when things are bad because I believe that they will eventually be better. It’s knowing that, on the days when my body may not perform the way I wanted, the joy is in the practice itself and not the outcome. It’s believing that every failed lift or tired run is a step towards eventual triumph.

So, yes. It’s long hours and lots of laundry and an aching body. Yet, I know that at the end of that day when I finally make it back to my apartment, I will sigh happily with relief. Everything hurts except my heart. My heart is always bursting with a love for myself that completely new and thoroughly joyful.


 

Note: So, during aforementioned marathon grading session, I took a break to run to BJJ so I didn’t burn out. I definitely forgot a change of clothes and had to run back to my classroom in my gi to finish grading. The ridiculousness of it struck me, and I wanted to capture the moment. Thanks to Calamic Photography for the photo edits. 

On The Other Side

When I first wrote this a few months ago, I was a mess. I wrote this in a flash and closed the window, unable to look at it again because it was too raw.

Today, I looked in the mirror, looked at my life, and did not feel like a mess.

So, I went back to edit it, and I was finally ready to actually read it. It feels good to feel like myself and be writing (and re-writing) again.


I didn’t realize how truly turned around I was until you started acting exactly like I would have a year ago.

“I get in my head,” you told me.

I know the feeling.

So, when I told you I’d been out on a date right after you left (me! The one who writes love stories for boys the minute I meet them. How strange to unabashedly risk everything and not care about your reaction), you exhibited the exact kind of false, cool, calm that is trying to mask a brain fast at work. The emergency lights blare and the alarm is “woo woo woo-ing” all over the place. I hear it in your voice as it insists that this is fine.

You say that, but I know you because I think you are like me and I know myself. Behind your assurances, I can hear the crackling of fire as my honesty burns down the paper pedestal you put me on far sooner than you should have.

See, the problem with me is that I’m a mess right now.

I know this because, right now, you don’t seem like a mess. You seem like you might be seeking stability.

I know all the tell-tale signs. You slip in pet names when we talk, seeing how I react. You ask me what I want from you. You sit there when I ask you the tough questions and then, instead of running, you make me bulleted lists with answer. You spend your time checking in on me and opening up to me and telling me you want to be better this time.

And the thing is, I’ve lived that life. I’ve made of living of it, in some ways. I have spent a lifetime opening hearts up, breaking walls down, providing the vulnerable foundation on which men can come to a better understanding of themselves and what they want.

And, to be honest, I’m tired.

Something broke in me and all my ability to open up, be the one who moves forward, be the one who gives anyone stability, feels like it’s gone. I have spent a lifetime cleaning up other people’s messes only to become the mess myself. I tailspin into impulsive decisions fueled by the one-too-many-beers I had two beers ago. I tell myself that this is fine with the same false, cool, calm you exhibit, but mine is a brain fast at work too.

The difference, though, is that you’re masking your terror so as not to scare me away. I don’t know who I am hiding my terror from except myself, and when I see so much of my old self in you it holds up the mirror that makes me ask where I lost myself before I met you.

It started with a lie.

Not your lie though. Or mine. Someone else’s lie. Someone else’s lies and someone else’s baggage and someone else’s pain running the show because isn’t that always the fucking case with a woman.

Eventually the lies felt bigger than my ability to love and everything was broken and the only way my mind could triage was to shut down the whole fucking system. Total reset. I refused to notice the emergency lights blaring or the woo-woo-wooing of the alarm and threw up my arms. The only thing was to move forward, to try and find a way to feel good again, to slowly make my way through and cling onto anything that felt vaguely like hope.

And maybe that strategy worked. I don’t know. I’ve made it to the place now where at least I can look in the mirror and finally start seeing the truth of things.

I am a mess right now. You are not a mess.

But, as the system slowly reboots, I guess things are becoming clearer.

And as I try and wade my way out of the mess— pushing the debris to the side, holding onto what I can of myself as I make it out of the muck— I am slowly learning to listen to the signs. The emergency lights blare, and I stop, shake my head, and turn in another direction. I hear the “woo” of alarm sirens approaching in the distance, and I close my eyes, take a breath, and change course.

Maybe, just maybe, I can find my way out of the mess.

When I do, I will brush myself off, and look in the mirror. I have no idea who I will see on the other side.

But I think I have to get there on my own.

Cages and Cogs: Considering Education and Colonialism

Reprinted from Education Week Teacher


I am sitting in my car, and I’m weeping.

While one could argue that, as a naturally emotional person, this is not an uncommon occurrence, tonight I am crying hard. Nothing has happened, except I just saw a play with a girlfriend that has hit me in the gut and made me ask the terrifying question that every educator asks themselves at some point: Am I actually helping my students?

It’s always a difficult question to ask yourself. Sometimes, it stems from a rough day in the classroom where your students were running around and you question if your lesson made a difference. Sometimes, it’s after getting some difficult feedback or assessment scores, where you wonder where the work you thought you did as a class went.

This, however, came from a much deeper place though. Tonight, I was faced with the troubling reminder that education, as a system, has historically been a tool of oppression and colonialism. The ramifications of that history live on in today’s system and, as an educator, I am in some ways a cog in that machine.

And there’s no easy way to say it: that sucks.

It is the exact dilemma that the play, Wild Birds by Eric Anderson, performed phenomenally at the amazing Kumu Kahua theater, forces every audience member to consider about education. It’s a play that I don’t just think every teacher on O’ahu should see, but something I wish every teacher in the U.S. could watch.

23157462_1665352876842930_3159420205500685252_o.jpgThe play is a historical drama based on real-life missionaries Amos and Juliette Cooke, who end up teaching not the local children as they planned, but the children of Ali’i, or Royal Chiefs. As the play progresses, the students push back on the Cooke’s rigid, Christian education by reminding them that they have their own ways and rules. Eventually, though, colonialistic education would strip them of their language, culture, and history, caging them in a society they did not ask for.  While Amos doubles down on his strict ways, Juliette asks him the question all teachers should ask themselves from time to time: have we taught our students anything at all? The question after that is, if we have, did we teach them the right things?

It’s a difficult question, especially given the complex, colonial history of Hawai’i. Personally, as someone who now teaches at one of the best private schools in the nation, it’s particularly hard to wonder if the work I am doing is actually serving the good of my students or simply furthering the reach of the colonial mindsets that created these systems in the first place. Are the structures and supports I give students so they can “succeed” in American society actually just bars I am adding to their cage?

The thing is, while Hawai’i’s history easily shows us the marks of colonialism on a people, we cannot forget that education has been used this way in our nation for centuries. It would be easy to try and say Hawai’i’s history is different and “other,” but what happened here mirrors, in many ways, the way education has been used not just against Native peoples, but communities of color as a means to strip them of language, dialects, culture, beliefs, and values.

I don’t have any answers. Like I said, before writing this entry, I sat in my car for about five minutes sobbing, wondering whether I was fulfilling any meaningful purpose as a teacher (then I bought ice cream).

Beyond these difficult questions, there’s something else I am trying to take away. At the end of the play, the two missionaries, Amos and Juliette Cooke, are at odds with one another. While Amos doubles down, Juliette pushes him to find compassion and question himself. She is, in many ways, changed by the children, telling him that she dreams of them, that even if they are not their flesh and blood, they are theirs now. In the moving final scene, Mrs. Cooke exchanges hā with her students and sings with them in ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian). Their voices eventually die out– some, in tragedy, without question– and she continues to sing on, clearly changed by her experience with them.

The scene is nuanced and, as my friend pointed out, is not there to make us feel good. The students, and the history of Hawai’i itself, were inevitably affected by their time at the school and while they may have gained some things, they lost other aspects of their culture.

Still, she is at least willing to learn from them and carry their stories instead of imposing her own. That was and is not enough. Mrs. Cooke’s voice should not be the one carrying on their legacy or their stories. Ultimately, we should be asking what had to happen so that we may dismantle the cage and the birds can fly free to sing for themselves. It means making space and providing the tools for students to carry those stories, not us.

The desire to love, listen to, find compassion and advocate for our students, though, is perhaps a good place to start.

Image via Kumu Kahua Theater

 

The Home I Built Myself

Let’s be real: I’ve been all over the place these past few months.

Don’t worry, you won’t hurt my feelings by agreeing. I know.

I’ve been living this crazy-12-hour-day life where I go from teaching to coaching to CrossFit to Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve rarely found time to be by myself, much less write (hence the quiet on this blog). I’m working too many jobs. I won’t even begin to tell you about the emotional turmoil I’ve put myself in recently (I am fine. I’m just going to have a lot of fun stories one day).

So, I’m sitting here on my couch, trying to write, and I look down at my sore body.

Honestly, I am covered in bruises right now.

I have one on my bicep from jiu-jitsu; my thighs are perpetually purple from working on cleans and snatches at CrossFit. I have some weird internal bruising on my knees from the 12-miler I did yesterday. I am sore everywhere.

And, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve been this happy in a really long time.

Let me explain: I’m not saying people should hurt themselves for the sake of self-discovery. What I’ve said above is true, but I’m not some crazy masochist beating myself into the ground. I’m recovering, taking supplements, icing when I need to, and taking days off when my body tells me it’s necessary.

That’s what ended up happening Sunday morning.

I went out for what I wanted to be a nice, mellow long run. I just got an Apple Watch a few weeks ago, which has finally allowed me to start tracking my runs again. Perfect timing, since the Honolulu/Hawai‘i Conservation back-to-back marathon extravaganza I have planned is just about six weeks away. I figured I’d do some easy double digits and get back in time to go to mass then play disc golf with some friends.

My body, though, had other ideas.

I went out Sunday morning, new compression socks on and everything, and my body completely fell apart. My calves started aching and seizing within the first half-mile. My shins were splinting (correct? do I care?). My hips were sore.

Admittedly, I had a little bit of a freakout moment. Oh my God, I worried to myself, am I losing it? Am I no longer a runner? I’ve been pretty lax in my running once Cross Country ended. Yes, I’ve likely been running more, but I don’t know that I break into anything but a casual jog while doing so. Instead, I’ve been focusing my efforts on other sports. Had I gone too far?

I tried to breathe through the pain but ultimately decided to stop and avoid injury. I reminded myself that while I hadn’t run the previous day, I had done some intense BJJ and gone to a two-hour intensive Yoga class. I decided to listen to my body, walk home, and try again the next day.

So, at 4:30AM on Monday morning, I went out for my first twelve-miler in months.

And it was lovely.

No, it wasn’t as fast as I was running last year (I was booking it at a steady sub-8:30 pace in Nov 2016. Recently, I’m right around 8:45. This particular run was a slow build to 9:19). And, yes, it was much harder to run without music than it was in the past. My running had certainly changed.

The thing was had changed too.

My feet pounded the pavement down Date street toward Diamond Head, and I felt my hips sink down towards the ground just like old times. I began thinking through just how crazy these past few months had been. I had torn down an entire section of my world, and the skyline of my life had a hole in it.

Years ago, the hole would’ve terrified me. The negative space in the busy outlook of my life would’ve made me feel incomplete and I would’ve hastily built the first structure that stuck to fill in the gap.

I turned the corner to go up Diamond Head’s long incline, ducked my head, and leaned into the hill. Half-way up, I turned and, through a hole in the trees, saw the stars and a beautiful nearly-full moon over the ocean.

I stopped.

I took a deep breath and looked up at the stars. I smiled wide and realized that sometimes when your life cracks, it lets moonlight in and you see a whole new part of the night sky you had been missing before.

I said a silent prayer of gratitude for the abundance of beautiful things in my life right now: meaningful work, an amazing family (blood and chosen), passions that pushed me to feel strong and empowered. I thanked God for the run and the night sky and the moment I was given to appreciate it all.

And then I turned and began to creep my way over Diamond Head and down long Kahala streets. It was dark and empty– only a handful of us crazies were up running or biking this early. Instead, there was nothing but the road, the rhythm of my feet, and the run.

And it hit me, then, that running helped me build my first home: the body I lived in each day.

Ultimately running is nothing but me, my body, and the road. As I work through miles, I find a comfort in the very existence of my own being, as bruised and broken and slow as it is. This home, this body is so far from perfect, yet so perfect in its present state because it is really, truly mine now.

See, the thing is this is the first time in a very long time I am doing things solely for my own joy. I am running because I love it. I’m doing CrossFit because want to. I worked to continue my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training because I knew it was where I wanted to be. I’ve spent years building my world around other people– which I think can be healthy– but now, at 30, I’ve taken the reigns and am doing the things I want to do solely because I want to do them.

And that’s really exciting.

And I would have never gotten here without the chaos my life had survived.

We never know the outcomes of the decisions we make, but I still believe that ultimately they lead us where we need to be. We often can’t control aspects of our lives, but we can choose to be bitter or we can choose to move through it with grace and find joy.

Later the next morning, my students sang Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” with a verse I hadn’t heard before. It included the line:

And even though it all went wrong/I stand before the Lord of Song/with nothing in my heart but Hallelujah.

So, as the run allowed me to process these past few months, it also gave me the opportunity to see joy and grace in this home I had built. Everything else around it had crumbled. My body was bruised and hurting.

Yet, I stood at the top of Diamond Head on the way home, just as the first rays of sunlight peaked over the horizon, and smiled. I chose to find the Hallelujah of my aching body as it ran the road to redemption all the way home.

The People Who Danced in Ashes: Some Thoughts on Costumes and Cultural Appropriation

Well, it’s that time of year. Halloween is upon us, and beyond whatever thoughts we have about which sexualized animal or Game of Thrones character we want to be this year, there’s the hot-button topic of cultural appropriation in costumes.

Listen, my culture is not a costume. I’m all for experiencing, learning about, and sharing culture, but as taking the look of a culture without appreciating the culture itself is hurtful and frustrating.

Let me give you an example.

Last year, a group of folks I knew were going to attend a “Día De Los Muertos” themed party. The party had margarita machines and a taco truck. I, predictably, rolled my eyes at the concept, and told my partner at the time that I didn’t want to go.

For me, the party they were throwing had nothing to do with the actual traditions behind “Día De Los Muertos,” a beautiful holiday where we celebrate loved ones who have passed on. We dance, sing, share their favorite food and stories of them.

“At the very least,” I commented, “they could have the party and like, have a small area where folks could leave a photo or write a little note about someone they loved who had passed on. That way it could honor the spirit of the actual holiday.”

“Well, I don’t think they’d do that,” he said, “because it would kind of bum everyone out.”

And isn’t that the problem?

The reason why Dia De Los Muertos is powerful is that Latinos found a way to dance in the ashes and find joy in death. We are a resilient people who, as I’ve written beforetook horror and tragedy and turned it into song, dance, food and, somehow, joy.

So, if you want to take our clothing and our face-paint to have a party because it looks cool, you should also acknowledge the beauty of the culture that created those things. You should respect and celebrate the community who was able to look death in the eye and laugh loudly, eat and be merry.

I hope people learn more about and want to partake in the beautiful traditions of my culture. I just want them to acknowledge the culture too, and not just the costume you can exploit it for.

 

 

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