Risk

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Photo by Anatoliy Gromov on Unsplash

I have officially touched down in Palo Alto. Let me brag for a second about how epic my summer was, thanks to my family, friends from all over the country, mentors, and teachers. By the numbers:

-19 states visited

-84 hours of yoga

-3 thrilling USC football games

-72, 000 words written

-11 Dodger games, including one day when it was 100 degrees on the ravine

-52 books read

-95 days of French study (Duolingo FTW)

-9 doctor/dentist visits (and my first cavity!)

-3 Incubus concerts (also a pretty sweet country show with two of my best friends)

-100 morning walks with my wonderful mom

-An absolutely amazing writing retreat with 23 goddesses

-1 epic road trip that taught me so much about my country and its people

-A productive and much needed meeting with 12 of the coolest college chaplains

I finished the Revolutionary Love fellowship as a writing fellow and started a new position as a researcher for the project. I traveled to New Mexico twice, each time falling deeper in love with the vivid desert colors and even surprise lightning storms. I hung out with former classmates and other IFYC alumni. I visited the Ice Cream Museum.

I also struggled quite a bit with my weight, an exercise obsession, and feeling like “enough.” I sent in several writing pitches and got well-worded rejections. I experienced loneliness and growth from it. I am shattered and grateful. So grateful.

And now the next part of my life begins. I took a risk moving to Stanford because frankly, I’ve always struggled to feel like part of the academic community. Am I smart enough, well read enough, capable of learning to be an “expert?”

My family and friends have been teasing me about becoming a tree (Stanford’s mascot- or is it the Cardinal? More on that…) because we bleed cardinal and gold as die-hard Trojan fans. I responded by promising to maintain my loyalty. It’s all in good fun, but as I considered moving and beginning my life here, I began to think about this risk and what “risk” means.

Place is important to me. I have been so lucky to travel around the world and the country, experiencing a plethora of ideas and beliefs that clash with my own. But home is home for me, and that will probably never change. Though I’m now closer to home than I have been in five years, braving snow and long plane flights with turbulence that makes my heart pound, this place is still not quite home. And that’s fine. Risk for me is believing I can make this new campus and city home, that I can find meaning and purpose by listening and finding ways to be helpful.

Home has changed since I’ve been away. My sister started her first job as a surgical resident. One of my best friends left a very well-paying job to get closer to her dream of working at USC. My colleagues got married, divorced, had kids. Two left this earth way too soon and I felt crushed that I never got to say a proper goodbye, or tell them how gorgeous of a human being they were. Home will continue to shift and move still, and I will return to see and feel shocked.

Taking this risk means trusting that change is not only inevitable but necessary. Trusting that new jobs and family members and even losing some will test me. I have to learn to trust myself, especially in failure.

My adventures will not soon be forgotten. One of the women in my small group on our writing retreat spoke about writing in a joyful time in her life. She said in some ways, writing about pain is easy. Recognizing when we are full and when our lives feel fruitful is difficult. Of course we experience cycles and every day gives us both. Our people lift us up and celebrate with us, and when we find these loving communities we are indeed home.

I cannot say I feel ready, but this risk feels like a good challenge for my mind and soul. Just like the lightning storm on a sweaty Phoenix evening that both terrified me and gave me a new sense of beauty, this new place scares me and tests my ability to find home.

 

 

 

 

 

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Numb

First. I had surgery today. There is a cyst that’s been bothering me on my lip for the past three months and after several trips to dentists and dermatologists, I decided it was time to see an oral surgeon. The waiting room reminded me of a 1970’s office with blue plastic furniture and yellowed blinds. I sat with my hands folded in the patient chair while the surgeon explained the procedure and the risks (discomfort was the biggest… so you can tell this was a mild surgery). Then I prepared myself for the novocaine, the only part that really terrifies me about medical procedures. The feeling that comes with the initial shot is a loss of feeling, to eliminate the potential pain we might experience. This sensation is called “numb.”

PC: Jon Tyson
Today of course is the 16th anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Last year on this day, I was frantically sharing the media pieces that the Revolutionary Love team had put together in honor of the 15 year mark. 15 felt like a big milestone, perhaps because 5-year increments do, perhaps because the impending election trumpeted hateful rhetoric reminiscent of the days and months and years after the attacks. But this year as I sat dreading the needle that would make my whole face feel nothing, I wondered if we as a nation have shifted to a kind of numbness after this pivotal moment in history. 

“No,” I quickly decided. There may be fewer media pieces and ceremonies, but the calls to action for help in hurricane relief and fighting white supremacy are not so different than calls to affirm our Muslim neighbors and to practice compassion. Further and perhaps more importantly, as impactful as a single moment can be, sixteen years later we should not ignore the effects this days has had on every day following. Not to mention the deep-seeded racism and xenophobia the attacks helped to expose to those oblivious. 

This evening I met the new Revolutionary Love Project team and I feel like I did last year on our first team call. Recognizing that we have our work cut out, I feel grateful that we may be angry and scared, but we still believe in our message. That is not “numbness.” That is genuine, blessed feeling. 

Labor

It’s the end of Labor Day Weekend, traditionally a transitional weekend. Even though the temperature this past week in Los Angeles has climbed over 100 every day, I admit that pumpkins and apples have been appearing in my feeds and emails. Fall is near. Many of us live according to an academic calendar, which means we have just started a new school year (if you’re on the quarter system, we’ve got a few more weeks!). Excitement and anxiety and anticipation abound, and Tuesday morning traffic has returned to ever freeway in southern California in full force.

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Photo by Mariano Rossi on Unsplash

I just finished reading Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love yesterday. In case her name isn’t immediately familiar, Guerrero plays Maritza in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black and Lina on Jane the Virgin. She also happens to be a best-selling memoirist. Her book details the story of growing up in Boston in a family of Colombian immigrants, she the only US-born member. Since everyone should read this book I won’t give everything away, but the crux of the story is the scene in which Guerrero returns home from school at age 14 and finds her parents have been taken by ICE. Within weeks, they are both deported back to Columbia, and Guerrero is left totally alone as a new high school freshman.

With the decision to end DACA confirmed this week, Guerrero’s book feels more than relevant, it should be a textbook read for all of us. As many of us enjoyed a day free from labor yesterday, at least in a formal sense, I thought about Guerrero’s daily struggle with a different, invisible kind of labor- emotional labor. Her situation forces her to grow up years beyond emotionally in a matter of days. The emotional struggle translates to many physical issues, and an especially chilling scene shook me to my core. The thing about her story is that 800,000 DACA-mented folx and other undocumented people in the United States struggle through a similar narrative every day.

This emotional labor often takes a much larger toll than many realize. For a few years I have sought out and listened to stories of immigrants in the United States, their statuses mixed. It seemed like the best way to engage. This will never make me understand the struggle, mind you. The stories I heard made me consider mindless choices I make every single day, like booking a flight and putting my address, applying for a part-time job, or even walking in public places. The emotional labor of these decisions for undocumented folx hangs in the air every day, until their meaning is internalized. Unknown. Unrecognized. Unwanted. The labor it takes to live a full life despite these internalized attitudes is one that does not allow a day off.

As the season of new school years pushes off the dock, I think my emotional labor should involve more listening and awareness around the internalized attitudes that create roadblocks. My roadblock this week comes from deep-seeded anger. It’s an anger that can only prove productive if it drives me to keep working.

Cake, Honesty, and The Best

How do you live your best life?

This question. It’s been plaguing me for months! I’ve written a fair amount about joy as an act of resistance lately, because my hope is to sustain myself (and y’all, dear readers) for the long road ahead. There’s a great Buzzfeed listicle that instructs “go the F*** to bed,” which I will never oppose. It’s not easy to find joy in trying times, and further, it’s easy to feel guilty about experiencing happy emotions when so many suffer.

I’ve been causing myself an inordinate amount of suffering in the way that I see my body and what I put in it and ask it to do, desperately striving to maintain control over food and exercise. My excuse has been, “I have so many clothes. I want to fit in to them.” One of the times in my life I felt I was living best was during my senior year of college. I had joined a gym downtown primarily because they offered quick 15-minute workouts, and what college student doesn’t want to save time? After a few months of working out there 4-5 times a week, they hired me to train other members. I loved the attitude of Educogym, the “forget everything you know about dieting and eat FAT for breakfast” message. This isn’t a commercial, though I definitely wrote several glowing reviews online. The truth is, I was living my best then because I was living in the present glory of gratitude for who I was, what my body gave me, and the image I held of myself as a person in the world. It has not always been the case that I have been so gentle and accepting.

Acceptance proves difficult when you tell yourself “you’ve done it before, why can’t you do it now?” For the past few months and even years, I have experienced a yo-yo sensation between “eating clean” and “omg cake, pinterest, ALL THE BAKES!” The experience meets with emotions of longing, on the one hand, and then guilt on the other. How do we have our cake, eat it, and feel good about it?

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Photo by Lance Anderson on Unsplash

This piece isn’t mean to police any kind of diet, lifestyle, calorie count, or exercise regimen at all, in fact I want to return to the question of living our best lives by tweaking the prompt. How do we live our most honest lives? It moved me that perhaps this yo-yo effect is leading me to think about a deeper need, one of balancing health and a pursuit of freedom. I needed to be honest with myself about my own limitations and abilities to enjoy the present for where I am. So I baked a giant brownie torte, picked five dresses that cut off circulation in my arms, and folded them neatly to donate.

It’s important to live our most honest lives because we face our deepest convictions. Performative actions, to impress, to prove, to hide, harm everyone involved. We have our cake, eat it, and embrace it when there is harmony in value and action.

 

 

 

Eclipse

Today something historic happened! This is true every day, of course, but today a total solar eclipse took over the internet and several million people across the United States donned special glasses and cut holes in cereal boxes in order to see the eerily gray and red circle in the sky. In some places, complete darkness fell for only moments. To be honest, I tried to witness the event in Southern California and only really noticed weird lighting for a while. Then the bright sunny sky came back and a normal August day continued on with reading and writing and French verb conjugations.

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Photo by Jesse Belleque on Unsplash

I decided to do some research about the spiritual significance of solar eclipses over the course of recorded history. Several themes emerged. Several cultures saw eclipses as signs of deep change or uncertainty approaching. Others saw it as a time for celebration, and threw huge feasts. Some sacred texts mention events that allude to something like an eclipse. Take Joel 2:31 in the bible, for instance: “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”* Sounds pretty weighted. Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist Scholar and Lama, suggests that during the eclipse merits multipled by 100 million, and offered recitation of the 35 Confession Buddhas or reciting particular mantras as ways to reap the benefits. With network news on in the background as I cooked dinner this evening, I realized the eclipse points to something else important, especially in this politically rancid time: a change in habit.

Every morning we expect to wake up and see the sun rise, go about our days, and notice the sun set finally in the evening. I rarely consider how life would go on if one day the light never came. This is not to suggest light is superior to darkness, the balance of both and the seasons of waxing and waning also demonstrate longer habits we expect to continue. The brief moment today when the light in the sky looked almost as if a huge fire were blazing and smoke was billowing caused me to pause in my own daily routine and consider the spiritual gift of habit and expectation. Ritual, whether in a sacred space or at bedtime, helps us evade discomfort with uncertainty, if only for a moment. Even holidays and celebrations that mark “special” times still fall into an expectation that this particular time is marked by non-regularity. I felt uplifted that folx everywhere today paused their daily lives to go outside and experience wonder. Habit can be a very useful, helpful course to follow, and breaking habit once in a while helps us deepen perspective on why.

Speaking of habits, I also found today that I believe tradition should be challenged mercilessly and often. I’ve grown up in a family deeply rooted in tradition in everything from Christmas day cinnamon rolls to learning the Fight On sign before I could speak a full sentence. Traditions ground us and give us sacred resonance. But just because something has been done forever does not mean it is right for now. The sun may one day hide and not rise because on that day, it serves no benefit. This is a bit of a side note, but this post is atypical for a reason. Happy eclipse-ing. I leave with Thich Nhat Hanh’s wisdom: “Waking up in the morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

*This translation is from the New International Version

Lightning Storm

Last night I watched a fantastic Incubus show right underneath a glorious and terrifying lightning storm. I drove 300 miles to Phoenix from San Diego yesterday morning, through the desert, along the steel wall that separates Baja California and Sonora from the United States. Border patrol stopped me, asked to search my trunk, and I said “no.” The agent listened. I went on my way unharmed.

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Photo by David Moum on Unsplash

2000 miles away, some of my greatest heroes stood arm in arm facing men with riot gear and automatic weapons. They weren’t police. These heroes are the clergy of our time. They’re pastors and preachers. Scholar activists. I admired a picture of them standing linked together, singing and praying while just feet from them violence erupted and a young woman lost her life as a terrorist plowed his car into the crowd. Their prayers and songs are heard. They were echoed this morning in churches around the country, and will be this week in many forms of sacred space.
I’ve found such hope in the writings and teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He was an activist, exiled from his home country and now helps people from all nations understand that Buddhist practice requires us to recognize we are all connected. Our suffering is bound up together, and thus we must show up and care for each other.
Sometimes it feels as though my faith has told me not to get attached to the fight for justice. At the root this teaching points to attachment as the core of suffering, and I believe this to be true. But turning off the thirst to learn and simply exist ignorant from the real suffering in my country at this moment does not lead any closer to Nirvana, it only lulls me into false notions of self-care as the only necessary form of practice. We come to the cushion to find awareness of ourselves, and this is called a “practice,” not “our life.”

Because the world is waiting for us when our sit is over. Sitting helps us to be mindful in the action, to remain unattached to outcomes but stand hopeful that love will prevail.
I’m proud of the religious and spiritual leaders for recognizing that they have voices. I was thinking today about the Civil Rights Movement and subsequently the internment of 120,000 Japanese immigrants and American born citizens, two moments that feel both far in time and close in context. We might read about the leaders who ushered change and progress in textbooks, or hang pictures in our offices years from now. But they show us a great example of remaining present in this moment, armed with the texts and words of timeless prophets and teachers, focused on saving lives today.
The lighting storm terrified me. It lit up the sky as if we sat trapped in an electric glass bubble, and the thunder boomed directly on top of us. I kept looking to my right to see if I could run for it. The band had left the stage, and I wanted to book it to my car. But I stayed in my seat, feeling safer among the crowd. The cheers and shouts around me reminded me I wasn’t alone, even if I was terrified. We are not alone in this fight, we have arms to link and songs to harmonize. I am grateful for every pulpit that spoke truth today, especially to call us in.

I am a Writer

A token from Jennifer Louden, our retreat leader

I am a writer, and I am writing.

I come from a strong line of female writers. My grandmother liked to write historical fiction and romance novels. My mom is writing a memoir about being the parent of a medical school student. We are writers, and we write.

I spent the last week on retreat in Taos, New Mexico with 22 brilliant women writers. Every day we listened and shared, wrote and read, moved and found stillness. Every day the rain came and brought with it the scent of fresh lavender and mountain air. As our time together went on, I heard an echo from several of the women at lunch, in our small groups, even after morning dance: You are brave. You are so brave.

Every time I heard this my gut reaction was to correct. “Oh no, I am not brave. I may hide it well but inside I am terrified, nervous, anxious, and completely unsure. My mother is brave- a cancer survivor. My grandmother was brave, she was a mother of six. But I am not like them.” In one of the afternoon sessions, our assignment was not only to name our inner critic but to personify them. These are the people or experiences we internalize that tell us we can’t write because we’re not creative, or edgy, or we might offend someone. What if they could help us, we mused.

My inner critic turned out to be an old man sitting at an antique wooden desk, looking sternly at me over his glasses. In his hand he holds a rejection letter. All it says is, “no.” The man couldn’t be expected to waste his time telling me why or what I might do better, he just laughs and shakes his head. “You really thought your story belongs in our prestigious publication? HA!” He shoos me out with a lazy wave. This critic comes from something I wrote about last week, which is an obsession with perfection and a deep hesitance to show anyone my work unless it’s absolutely stunning. I can write all day, never stopping for a minute to consider how scary it is, until it comes time to share. I can practically feel my face fall when the email comes in, something about dear writer, we regret…it’s hard to read past that part. Sometimes you don’t even get an email, just silence. Ghosting, as the dating world calls it.

I read a few books this week, really living in to the question “What do you want in this moment?” Reading is always one answer. In the book The Spirituality of Imperfection, the authors tell us that admitting our imperfection is quite a profound step as humans, but one that ultimately leads us to healing. In one chapter, they consider the woes of perfectionists by considering a particular point: “We may not be able to do anything completely perfectly. But what that means is that we cannot do anything entirely imperfectly. Consider a bad day: we wake up late, spill our coffee, give a terrible presentation at work. But we complete a few tasks and commiserate with our spouse in the evening, and not everything has gone wrong.”

I thought about all the writing I have ever read. What a spectrum from mind-blowing to absolutely horrifying. Yet, the mind-blowing could always be tweaked just a little more. The absolutely horrifying still has one tiny piece of merit. My work will never be perfect, and never completely useless. Bravery is knowing this and not letting it stop you.

I am a writer and I am writing. I come from a strong line of female writers- my grandmother, my mom, and now 22 new sisters. None of us perfect, all of us alive with stories. We are writers and we write. We are brave- fear exists within us, but we do not entertain the possibility that this fear would stop us from doing what we love and what is right. And what is right, is to write.