This Time Last Year

This time last year

I didn’t know fear

Couldn’t have known

Worries would grow

10, 20, 100 million times

Replicating in my body

Inhabiting my cells

 

 

This time last year

All I had were

Dreams and wishes

And last night’s dishes

And

Whimsical popsicles 

To lick 

Slowly, slowly

A remedy for reality

 

 

This time last year

I was ready for

Change, but the good kind

In real life, and in my mind

What lay ahead, 

I wouldn’t have wanted

To believe in or conceive

I would have been and was,

Ready to leave

 

 

This time last year,

When I was hopeful

And Death was thousands

Of miles away,

I thought everything 

Was gonna be okay

 

 

Now, Death as an idea

And as data

Hits me in the face

Day after day

 

 

I wonder

So frequently

When it’s gonna 

Put me 

In my own grave

 

 

Could it be: 

Today

Next year

In a decade? 

 

 

Will it be:

Death by Covid,

A rare disease

Leukemia

Or mere heartache? 

 

 

Death and Taxes:

Two things

In life

That are

Inevitable

So they say

 

 

But I’m not ready

To go before

My time

Even though

I know 

It’s not my own

Timeline

 

 

In this new year

I know fear

He and I are

Unfortunately

Well Acquainted

He is a web of 

Panic, mayhem, and tears

 

 

Will he ever leave?

Do I need to kick him out myself?

If he knocks, POUNDS, on

My door, will I let him in

Again? 

 

 

How can I permanently rid of 

Something, someone

So…

Stubborn? 

How Much Is a Book Worth?

Reading, to me, isn’t just a pastime. It’s a time to engage with new ideas that challenge me. It’s a time to walk in someone else’s shoes. It’s a time to travel through time and space, maybe not physically, but in my imagination. 

During Covid times, we’ve seen the crushing effects on small businesses, and if you are a small business owner, my heart truly goes out to you. You haven’t only lost money, you’ve lost your steam, your motivation to wake up in the morning. All around us, mom and pop shops are closing down. Even bigger businesses are struggling to stay above water. While we can’t do much to stop Covid, we can still support small businesses during these awful times. Specifically, I’d like to focus on local bookstores.

 If you know me, you know that I love to read. It’s a pastime that started when I was very young. My mom would take me and my brother to the Arcadia Public library and we’d stay for hours, roaming each aisle, seeing what new treasures we could find. I remember having difficulty deciding which books to bring home with me and which ones to reluctantly leave behind – that darn book borrowing limit. As we got older, we’d go to a local used bookstore called the Book Rack. Books there were dirt cheap, so we stocked up whenever we went. Some of my fondest childhood memories are going to the library and bookstore. These places were my home away from home, and they still are today. 

Certain books I picked up along the way shaped my worldview and sense of empathy for humanity. I may not have had a prestigious education. If anything, my education can be considered humble. But when I think about the books I had access to, the non-school books, I feel lucky. I learned about historical events that no history book could ever compare to. I learned about people’s experiences and I had greater compassion for them. Are these things not to be considered when the word ‘education’ is mentioned? 

Here’s an example. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, we had a children’s book in the house called My Hiroshima. That book haunts me to this day. It is the story told through the perspective of a young girl whose family is affected by the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. It was the very first time I had learned about atomic bombs or World War II. At such a young age, I had no context, no larger picture of how such a tragic event could occur, but what I did have after reading the story was compassion for the Japanese people. 

Children of the River brought me to Cambodia in the late 70’s when the Khmer Rouge had taken over, leaving thousands of Cambodians in search of a new home, and nearly 2 million others dead through genocide. This story opened my eyes to what a corrupt government is capable of doing to its own people and the grave effects of communistic overhaul. 

The Secret Life of Bees, which I read at 14, led me back to 1960’s America, a time of great social upheaval and change. A time of tensions between blacks and whites, between the privileged and not-so-privileged. It allowed me to walk in Rosaleen’s shoes, to see how hard it was to be a black woman with few rights and a dim future in a grim part of our country, where racism reigned unbridled. 

When I think about these historical fiction stories (which all came from the Book Rack), I get chills, because I was so young and yet still so aware of injustice in the world. My young, still developing mind grappled with those injustices, wondering how and why people could be so cruel, so evil. 

Learning about the real world led me to realize you and I can make it either better or worse. We are left with choice and responsibility. How can we bring forth fairness, equality, justice, peace and harmony? We have a choice! We can choose to love rather than hate. We can choose understanding over ignorance. We can fight for the underprivileged rather than increase our own. We can do all these things and more with the help of books. Books that can open our eyes to humanity so that we can be more human

And that is why I urge you, my dear friends and family, to support your local bookstores and libraries, instead of perhaps ordering from Amazon or other large retail stores (for the time being!) so that we may continue a tradition of passing down books to our children, of creating fond memories surrounded by books big and small, and of opening our eyes to fellow human experiences so that we may offer more grace and understanding – to ourselves, to each other, and to all of humanity. 

Can a Heart

Can a heart be mended

Can it be re-sewn

Can it be tended to

After damage unknown





Can it be rebuilt

After weathering a storm

Can it be taped together,

 Preserved, reformed





And still look the same?





Can it face humiliation

And not wear the shame





Can it witness tragedy 

And not fade to ebony





‘How does a heart return

To what it once was?’





You desperately want to know.





But you are asking the wrong question,

For what once was

Is no longer able to be.





‘How can a heart strengthen

In the midst of suffering?’





This is the eternal question

For humanity. 





A heart only weakens

When the pain has

No release

Yet strengthens in

Knowing the pain

Will bleed. 





Lost a lover or a friend?

Cry your eyes out,

‘Til the last tear 

Can be shed.





Grieving?

Mourn,

And mourn again

Mourn still and always

And then





Keep believing

In abundance.





A heart can

Strengthen

Through pain

But only

If allowed

Expressions.

WAIL

Two hearts beating

One–of my own kind

The second–the Other

Forcibly confined

 

‘68, a year to mourn

Decades passed

More hate is born

 

My innocent brothers and sisters

Neighbors of another race

Weep ‘til eyes sting,

Dig their nails in 

‘Til blisters 

Form

 

They cry out, 

Though no one listens

Hold out hope

For a new dawn

 

Watching, waiting

Watching, waiting

Hoping, praying

Wailing, wailing

 

And are met with

Closed hearts and ears

As more tears

Form

 

He says, “Give me your burden,

So your weight is light.”

 

Dear White brothers and sisters

The turn is ours to wail and wail and wail

If we are to love our neighbors 

As ourselves

 

Time has run out

The hour to resist

Is here

 

Can we stand united

To atone for our greatest

Misdeeds

 

Arm in arm

Hearts heavy

Mourning, yearning

Forcibly changing

A nation unwilling

 

To make way

For 

Peace on Earth

Good will towards

Yellow, Black, 

Brown, Red,

And White Man? 

 

To make way

for

Two hearts beating

In sync

Not in 

Opposition. 

Music Is Magic

During these isolating times, it’s easy to look back on the “old days” with rose colored glasses. Boy did we have it good! We could go see a show anytime or have an awesome meal or go see friends. Or even go to work and school. 

I think the thing I miss the most is seeing my favorite bands live. Music is such a big part of my life. It feels wrong if I go a day without it. We were supposed to see Tame Impala last week, and Rina Sawayama (by the way, if you’ve never heard of her, stop reading and check her out RIGHT NOW) next month. While I’m sad live shows must be put on hold for the time being, I’ve been reflecting on shows of the past. A few have stood out in my mind, not just in terms of the music but also because the lead singer shared a bit of wisdom in between songs. 

I’ll recount a few instances. 

Twelve years ago in 2008, a metal band by the name of Cynic had just released their new album Traced in Air after a 13-year hiatus. My brother James and I were stoked and immediately got tickets to see them in LA. I’ll never forget when the lead singer Paul Masvadil spoke to the crowd. He said “If you’re holding on to unforgiving someone, let it go, and forgive them.” Just a few simple words, yet they packed a powerful punch. Whatever it was he was going through at the time clearly impacted him to the point of feeling a sense of urgency to pass wisdom along. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to practice. And a lot of the time, it’s not even about forgiving someone else. It’s about first forgiving ourselves. Now I’m passing along his shared wisdom in case it hits you the same way it hit me – unexpectedly, and at a metal show, no less! 

In 2017, I went to see LIGHTS, an electronic artist, in Pomona with a friend. During her set, she shared that she had been working on her first comic book, and after a lot of sweat and tears, got it published. Recounting how she didn’t believe in herself during the writing process, she said this to the audience: “You know that voice in your head, telling you you can’t do something or that you’re not good enough? Fuck that voice!” Friends, I cannot tell you how many times this quote pops into my head during times of self-doubt. We’ve all been there. Thinking we’re not talented enough or not strong enough or that our ideas don’t matter. But this reminder has brightened my darkest moments, and in some ways, inspired my poem ‘Voice Within.’

As I said before, we were supposed to see Tame Impala last week. I’ve never seen them, but I’d like to imagine that leadman Kevin Parker would share about his new song Posthumous Forgiveness. It’s about his dad, who passed away. Even though he had a lot of bitterness towards his father, you can see in the song that he still wishes he were alive so that he could share his music with his dad. I highly recommend reading the lyrics, and of course listening to the song. It’s one of my favorites right now. 

What are some of your favorite memories of seeing live music? How has music impacted your life? Share your epiphanies, transformations, and other enlightenments in the comment section below or on Facebook / Instagram. All experiences are welcome. I’d love to read them 🙂 

Shared Skies (for the ones who’ve lost their voice)

We share the same sky

But mine is the bluest of blues

And yours has a tinge of gray

From sadness in your eyes

That has lingered for miles upon miles. 

 

We feel the same wind blowing in our hair

But it wisps mine, as I laugh

And tangles yours, as you sigh

Frustrated and beaten down

By another godforsaken day

That you don’t have the strength to face.

 

We breathe in the same air 

But mine refreshes

Yours chokes.

 

We feel the same sun

Shining down on our open skin

But it kisses me

Lucky me!

And burns you.

 

That free California sun

For (everyone?)

Costs you skin damage and deep wrinkles

At 31.

 

Those sweet droplets of rain 

Taste like lemon drops and gumdrops

To me.

 

To you

They taste polluted, sour, empty. 

Heavy, too, as they pour, and pour, and pour

Drowning out your tears

Wiping away your makeshift home

And dearest belongings.

 

You wonder why you own anything

It’ll all be taken away by Them anyway.

 

I ask the reason why

As I drive by

While you cry

 

You think no one sees you

(‘Am I invisible?’ you ask yourself

 for the thousandth time).

 

No, you aren’t 

And, I do,

I see you. 

On Suicide

Anthony Bourdain. Kate Spade. Another senseless life taken, another tear shed for a beloved celebrity or close friend or dear family member. We swiftly turn around and post links to suicide hotlines and numbers to call for help, thinking we’re doing our part in preventing the next tragedy. And yes, it’s one form of prevention, maybe even a solution. But it’s a simple solution to a complex issue.

This complex issue being…

What if people like Anthony and Kate didn’t even have one person to turn to? Or worse, what if they lived in a society in which it is looked down upon to seek therapy? In which therapy, if sought after, is costly, time-consuming, and inaccessible (which leads me to a startling statistic — in which 56 percent of Americans with a mental illness received no treatment in 2018 — source). In which finding the right drug is easier than finding the right brand of shampoo, and in most cases, cheaper! In which human lives are ostensibly measured by our monetary gain, our social hierarchies, our possessions, our appearances — when in reality we are fighting a losing internal battle. In which our mental ongoings are quickly dismissed, in fact, shoved aside as so utterly unimportant. Mental health? More like mental discarding. We survivors sit here in the aftermath of the last tragic loss of life and look for a quick solution. The one that won’t dig too deep to allow us to discover how confused and disillusioned we have become. We don’t want to take the time to really understand the inner workings, flaws, and pressures of modern life.

Sure, life expectancies in recent years have increased significantly. Quality of life has seemingly gotten better. People are living into their 80’s, 90’s, and beyond. So, things must be improving. Does anyone care to mention, all the while, that suicide rates have also increased drastically? On average, 129 people commit suicide every day in the U.S. (source). Perhaps we need to re-define what qualifies as a good quality of life if everyone is trying to off themselves.

Until we start asking the tough questions and having the necessary conversations, suicides will continue at the same or worse rates, and we’ll still sit there scratching our heads wondering why they didn’t ‘just reach out to someone or call that hotline.’ Because we know it’s not that simple.

Note: *I wrote this the week after Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade committed suicide (early June of last year) but just decided to post it now. There’s no current or obvious relevance other than the fact that suicide is always relevant.  I would love to see more people talking about ways in which we can improve our knowledge of mental health and access to better and more (free!) resources for every citizen.

My Highs and Lows of 2018

By the end of last summer, I was not doing well. I was facing the reality that a beloved friendship was coming to an end and that I might not be in teaching for the long haul. I thought I wasn’t cut out for it —  teaching non credit ESL to adults, to be exact, which, as some of you know well, is a truly unique field and not for the faint of heart by any means. I suddenly realized a few things all at once, namely, 1) finding a full time position is essentially a pipe dream, 2) teaching year-round without getting at least one class canceled is something to be expected as an adjunct, 3) I didn’t want to be a “freeway flier” for the rest of my life, and 4) that life can simply be very unfair and it’s a matter of perspective of how you deal with the unfairness and injustices handed to you. I know. A lot of realizations for one summer. I was starting to unravel. I told my husband, “I think I might change careers. I don’t think I can do this anymore.” My life was coming to an abrupt halt, and I didn’t know what to do. Teaching was my whole life. I gave everything to my students. I had never been in such a dilemma before.

Well, meanwhile, I was still preparing for my upcoming Fall Semester at both colleges I teach at. One of them was giving me more troubles (hence, the falling apart and wanting to switch careers), while the other was pure bliss to work at, in comparison. I figured, “I’ll let the semester run its course and in the meantime be thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

I approached the start of the semester with hesitation and, frankly, a bad attitude, but I didn’t want to bail on both schools at the same time because financially that didn’t make sense for me and my husband.

So, I started Day One of Fall Semester with gritted teeth. But, much to my surprise, it presented itself to me as a refreshing glass of ice cold water on a blazing hot day — the students’ bright, positive attitudes quenched my thirst like no other group ever had, and I quickly realized that the semester would be different than any other. Little did I know that this semester in particular would, in fact, be life changing.

As the days and weeks went by, I had to constantly pinch myself and wonder, “Am I dreaming?” Am I imagining things?” “Since when was teaching so fun – all the time?!” I would come home alive at 9 o’clock at night with energy, as if I hadn’t just taught a 3 and half hour long class. Every night, my husband would eagerly ask, “How was class?” and I would always respond, “It was awesome!” My teaching life felt like the “Everything is Awesome” song from the Lego movie. I’m not exaggerating. Well, maybe a little.

I’ve thought to myself, wondering what was so special about this past semester. I really do think it was a combination of factors. The students did have exceptionally positive attitudes, which in teaching, can make a world of difference. They were also at an advanced level; I normally teach low beginners. You can imagine the stark contrast ( 😀 ). More than anything, we built a bond as a class filled with mutual trust, respect, and interest in each other that happens so rarely that when it does, you treasure every second of it and never want to let it go.

As they say, the rest is history, and I’m no longer having a quarter-life, career-altering crisis. I’m not going to sit here and claim that I have it all figured out, ‘cause believe me I don’t. But I will tell you that I *accidentally* learned an important lesson. Instead of immediately giving up on a career I had spent the last five years building upon and working towards, I gave it some time to patiently think about my next steps, and in the midst of that waiting, life presented to me a fortuitous possibility by way of 12 beautiful students who reminded me why I fell in love with teaching ESL in the first place. Call it a gift from God, a sign from the Universe, a nudge in the right direction from the Divine…whatever it was, it saved me from making a potentially huge mistake. Life has a way of presenting fortuitous moments to you, usually when you least expect them. I can’t even describe all of what those students did for me. I almost quit my job, and then they humbly came along, not realizing that they were actually saving my life.  

The moral of my story is this — just because you are momentarily surrounded by darkness does not mean there is not a light somewhere nearby waiting to embrace you. Give your problem — whatever it is — some time and the answer will come eventually. And, have faith that you will be led to your destiny.   

Recipe for a Rhyme

It’s not that hard to make a rhyme

You just need to find the time.

Put the words on the page,

Don’t be afraid.

Inviting fear in —

That is the true crime.

All you’ll need is

 

A dash of meter,

A squeeze of rhythm,

A bit of grit, a bit of grime —

Yes, all of these can make a rhyme.

 

But more importantly

In order to make not just any old rhyme

Dig deep from the surface

Find your purpose

Don’t be nervous

You deserve this.

 

Let your inner voice speak

And remember to listen closely

It has something to say

Don’t let it get away!

 

But what will the Others think?

Forget them!

They cannot shrink

All that is you —

The fullness and wholeness and uniqueness of you.

Your entity, your being

These are your true healing.

 

So, what do you do?

Where to begin?

Time, rhythm, meter

Grit, and grime

Rid of the fear.

Be true to your nature.

Make way for your display.

And then, my dear,

One step at a time,

Line by line,

That is how you make a rhyme.

High up in the Watchtower

Self-righteously you sit in your throne

Watching and waiting upon those below

Concluding that your pre-judged notions

Are correctly wise, not full of insecticide

Before you throw the final stone.

 

High up in the watchtower,

I used to sit

Feigning content

In my well-masked misery

Unaware the poison I stole

The poison I held on so tightly to

Was filling my own hole.

 

A hole

In my brain

A hole

In my heart

A hole

In the part that is used to bestow

Love and grace and every other so-called ‘fruit’ I claimed from the very start.

 

I learned so readily

How to sit in my throne in the watchtower

It’s easy, you know

Back up straight

Shoulders taut

And then start the criticisms

“Look at him

Disobeying his parents; he knows better!

And her drinking habit is out of control

When will she learn? On her way to hell!”

 

These teachers I revered

Would preach not to throw stones,

Citing the notable eighth chapter of John

Yet they lined their own pockets with them

Ready at a moment’s notice

All shapes and sizes

Haven’t you noticed?

 

This dull one is used for the back-sliders

And this sharp one for the extremely rebellious

And that large one

Oh, don’t you worry

That one we’ll keep handy

For our dearest friends and family.   

 

Hypocrisy is an ugly, sneaky villain

It creeps up and dominates your insides

Before you’ve had a chance to realize

While everyone else has been demonized.

They turned their backs on you

And you blamed them through and through

But it was you who drove them away

It was all you.  

 

Now I know better

(Though at times the critical monster shows up

Every now and then

I have to tell him, “Your path is a slippery one — I’m not making that mistake again.”)

Than to make snap judgments

For who am I to look down upon my fellow woman or man?

I have relinquished my title as “Judger of All”

And gladly traded it in for “Live-r of Life: Doing All That I Can”