Falso.

Ooooh hiiiii it’s been a minute! Ok. How y’all doing? Making it? Can we have a vacation yet?

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Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

I’m going to share why I haven’t been writing for a bit because I think many folx will identify with this feeling. I haven’t written for a few reasons, one of which is the academic machine got to me and I needed to sleep and take care of my body. Related to that is experiencing some depression related to anxiety and what people commonly call “imposter syndrome.” I’m practicing self-care and delving into my sitting practice.

A friend told me the other day that she feels like at her job, she’s not really a teacher, but she goes to work and pretends all day. She feels like everyone else is legit. I completely get that feeling. Over the past month or so, it has left me frozen, on the floor in tears, unable to answer a single email in my inbox for days. I write this because I believe many will nod and recognize this.

Imposter syndrome affects many of us- most especially womxn of color, indigenous people, and folx with accessibility needs. The feelings stem from an internalization of fraudulent occupation of a space. That’s exactly how I have been feeling- like I am taking up a space that I shouldn’t because I am not smart enough. Some instances have heightened this feeling. I have been doing some deep reflecting.

One central part of my feeling like an outsider is that, admittedly, academia isn’t my whole life. I really enjoy watching baseball, baking cakes, recycled and vintage fashion, and learning new makeup tricks. I feel a sense of guilt that I spend time on these hobbies. I watch baseball almost every night and play in a fantasy league. I bake something every week. I really like dressing up and do that pretty much every day, along with my makeup. I also really enjoy talking with my friends from college about all sports, going to old car shows with my uncle, and preaching.

In reflecting on these things I like to do, I realized two things. One is that I’m actually pretty good at most of them (not to brag, just sayin’!). This didn’t happen overnight. And I enjoy the process enough that I have improved over time, and will continue to get better. My Fantasy team IS in first place this week. Again, just sayin’. Beyond skill level, each of these hobbies connects me to a person or group of people. I began to see that baseball has always connected me to my dad, who took me to my first game when I was five. I started really baking when I worked in Boston, and my students would stop in my office in between classes to say hello. It felt really nice to offer them a cupcake. My mom introduced me to fashion when I was little- and through my own journey with (a)sexuality, it has made me feel human in many spaces where sexuality is often assumed and projected. And I got into makeup because so many of the badass womxn I follow on social media or in my own life are such beautiful artists, and I wanted to learn from them. I work at the church on campus because I have the skills to hold someone in grief while staffing an event, to give directions while listening to a student, and take inventory of a storage closet while putting a Sunday bulletin together.

Through recognizing this piece of imposter syndrome, I also need to name that there have been times when others enforced this guilt. I’ve been told that baking is enforcing a gender box, and that if I didn’t spend so much time on my makeup I could be more productive. Actions speak even louder than words, and I’ll be real- there are some folx in my community that do not respect me, my identity, and want to exclude me. I don’t write this to call anyone out, but to make myself question when I have made someone feel unwelcome or insufficient. Because if nothing else, I want to be a fire that sparks others’ belief in themselves, not the sand that smothers.

While I’m at it, I’ll mention that the things I like to do also give me a different perspective. Whether it is welcome or not, I engage it because it is genuine to me. I’m learning that gratitude is really meaningful during this rocky time. I made a list of people in my life that are great. It’s a pretty big list! Which must mean something. Not to say I am great- but I recognize who gives me a feeling of gratitude for their continued presence. I am grateful to celebrate marriages and children and new jobs, and everyday wonder. I remind myself that I am enough, and that I want to help others remember that too.

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2018

I’m going to start with failure.

At the Museum of Ice Cream

It’s so important to recognize and even cherish failure when it brings change. Admittedly, that is much easier said than done for me. I loathe admitting failure because of shame. But, sometimes looking at failure can put success in better perspective.

I wasn’t direct with people who upset me or made me feel excluded, even though I believe their intentions were not to make me feel this way. Much more importantly, I failed to call out racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and other forms of oppression that I witnessed.

I got rejected from two writing fellowships and received quite a few rejections for writing pieces that I submitted. Every single one felt like a punch in the face. Honestly, every single one made me want to throw my computer, quit this blog, and decide I’m simply not a writer and this pain could be avoided and forgotten.

I gained 15 pounds. This isn’t the failure, however- the failure was my ability to accept my body as it is and instead of focusing on health and wellness, I spent more than a night sobbing about my pants feeling too tight, my face looking more round, or my hips being too wide. I let myself feel unloved and not enough because of my body. At certain points it was excruciating and all I could do for comfort was bake or develop a guilt-ridden relationship with exercise.

I spent way too much money.

I wasn’t supportive when I needed to be, especially in a year that saw DACA ended and rights to healthcare and identity compromised.

I learned that my academic writing is…rusty, to say the least. I didn’t utilize all the office hours or meetings that I could have to improve my projects because honestly, I felt intimidated and overwhelmed.

That’s only a sampling. The good news is, after some of these failure I felt an urge to write “but” or “nevertheless…I persisted.”

I told someone directly that their actions harmed me by assuming ownership of my body and personal space. My heart pounded through the entire conversation. Afterward, I felt a mixture of guilt and pride. Currently, I feel much more pride for working on standing up for myself. In the same light, I learned who my friends are and how important it is for love to include both encouragement and honesty about times you screw up.

I actually did publish a few pieces online. I left my comfort zone and wrote fiction, which is still a work in progress but allowed me to see how creative (and downright weird) my mind can be. I got two academic papers accepted to conferences. My best accomplishment: I wrote a blog every single week, which means The Practivist has lived on through a year and a half.

Though my body looks and feels different, I asked it to do pretty strenuous things. I ran a half-marathon and a fill marathon, training in sometimes frigid temperatures. I met some amazing women at a writing retreat in New Mexico who helped me shape a new perspective about body and enough ness. At the same retreat, I called myself a writer and basked in the glory of an all-women space.

I left a job that I loved, saying goodbye much too hastily to students that taught me and inspired me. My chaplain colleagues held me through a time of incredible pain, and celebrated with me as I made an important transition.

My partner and I drove across the country and faced realities about our country that were difficult to accept, including a downright terrifying moment involving the police. When we settled back in Los Angeles, we spent the summer enjoying our city together. I watched him gently yet firmly climb out of mourning into thriving in his art, work, and teaching. While we know grief lasts a very long time, joy has found him again.

Recently, I got word that my application for a fellowship grant was accepted for a dream project. While I know this project would move forward even without the grant, I found myself crying at the kitchen table after I hung up the phone without full understanding of the origin of these tears. As I type this, I realize they represented success. Not just because someone else believed in me, but because I believed in a vision enough to make myself vulnerable for it.

No resolutions this year, except the Revolution. Happy 2018.

Abundance 

Every time I hang out with a group of college chaplains, I seem to be on a beach and stuffing my face. Not to mention enjoying the company of my favorite people on earth. For the past three days, the Association for College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA) chaplains met at Chapman University for their annual conference. We spent one day on Chapman’s campus and one literally overlooking the white sand stretches of Laguna Beach. This was my first time at the ACURA gathering; though I had been to three previous National Association for College and University Chaplains (NACUC) gatherings (the other college chaplain association) and have experienced the same mixture of joy, understanding, and community at each one. College chaplains are people who think deeply about everything they do, and believe strongly in working together in any way possible. 
I’ve been indulging greatly the past few weeks. USC football games, Dodger Stadium visits, cooking with organic butter, enjoying all of the pumpkin and apple delicacies (yep, I’m all in on the stereotype). Even my mind has been offered abundance: on Stanford’s campus it seems like every day there is an enriching talk or workshop that gets me excited and makes me want to buy 50 more books on Medieval Buddhist Feminism or Jovinian’s ridiculous claim in the early church that everyone should be treated equal. I watched Clayton Kershaw throw a masterpiece game last night only 50 feet from home plate at Dodger Stadium in game one of the World fricking Series. There is so much and there are so many for whom to feel grateful, and I do. 


Sitting with the marvelous Rev. Jim Burklo while the sun set behind Chapman’s impeccably manicured athletic field, he asked me a difficult question. “Where are you in your faith journey?” Even though that question never has a real answer for me, I usually say “I’m thinking about this or that.” But lately I’ve been struggling with losing faith in lots of things. Will women ever feel safe walking alone? Will the victims of hurricanes and fires ever feel truly “relieved?” Is the academy really just a bunch of people arguing for the sake of arguing? 
In my courses I’ve been reading about asceticism among the early Christians. Talk about a contested topic! The desert fathers and mothers I once admired from an interfaith appreciative perspective are now poking holes in my worldview. They lived in the exact opposite way I have been living these past few weeks. Or did they also live abundantly, in their own way?
It seems simple, but the Buddha’s assertion that the “middle path” as the true way to enlightenment has always spoken to me. Moderation. We talk about that all the time these days- eat one cookie, not five. Buy one shirt, not one in every color. Know your limits. We fulfill our desire but don’t deprive ourselves. Could this balance be more difficult than absolute abstinence? 
I flew first class once as a lucky upgrade (I don’t think that happens anymore… maybe?) and after getting those full six inches added to my chair and eating an actual meal, not peanuts, in my seat, it was hard to fly the next time. Actually it was awful. Admittedly, I even thought about upgrading at my own expense. Had I not experienced it, I would probably experience mild envy but forget it every time I snuggled in to my economy seat. 
When we taste abundance, we seek to keep it. But if we strive so hard to live constantly in abundance, eventually it becomes the norm. And then we are seeking again. Moderation is not so much a practice in limitation as it is in recognizing when we are not limited. It sounds like gratitude, in a way. The presence of abundance is recognized and enjoyed. 

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.

 

 

 

Do You Believe in Magic?

You’re a wizard Harry!

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Photo by Tim Trad on Unsplash

One of my friends asked me this question a few days ago. Like the academics we are, I needed to clarify. What kind of magic are we talking about? The kind at Hogwarts? The kind we channel through elements and spells and crystals? In a very general sense? After some back and forth, we decided the kind of magic about which we were inquiring had to do with possibility and perhaps even the belief in something impossible. I’ve always felt like life itself, the concept of humans breathing and interacting for even a moment is kind of magic, if you think about the endless complexities of the body and the Earth. Isn’t it a miracle that we keep existing?

My sister started her surgical residency at Huntington Memorial Hospital two weeks ago. She started on the night shift, meaning she goes to work at 7 pm and comes home at 7 am, simply exhausted from a night of traumas and consults. I can’t say I envy her, but we are in awe of her perseverance and courage. Every morning, my family listens to the cases she handled the night before. Several of the nights involved patients dying. The stories are certainly heartbreaking, and with the utmost respect and reverence for the deceased, I find it unbelievable how a person makes a particular decision that leads to the very instant in which their life ends. The 31-year old man who jumped into a shallow pool head first, broke his spine in two places, and was deemed “incompatible with life.” The woman who began walking down the street in the middle of the night and received a gunshot wound to the upper abdomen- the bullet ricocheted off her back and came back through the same vein in another spot. The motorcyclist who tried to pass between two cars going 90 miles an hour on the freeway, only to make contact with a driver side mirror, fly off the bike, and shatter each spine bone, neck and skull. Let me be clear- I refuse to judge any of these decisions as better or worse than the thousands we all make every day. Blame and judgement prohibits further reflection on the topic and impedes our human connection to compassion.

Death does not feel magical to me, it feels scary, uncertain, and deeply sad. If there is a place where magic exists, I have to imagine it is in the moments in which we make a decision and escape non-existence for one more day. For one more moment, even. I remember a time when an outdoor art fair caught my attention from across the street, and not letting go of the distraction, I took two steps into the crosswalk without waiting for the light. I heard a screech and un-instinctively stepped back just as a massive Ford Explorer blew by, just barely missing my body. This was one of those “if I hadn’t taken that teeny step back, my life would have ended” moments. Of course I feel deep gratitude that my life has continued. Magic is the explanation for the “teeny step”, for all the teeny steps we are given each day. I guess I do believe in magic.

Saying Thanks to My Parents

It’s been a jetset weekend. On Thursday, I flew to Philly to watch my sister graduate from Drexel School of Medicine (THAT WENT FAST). On Saturday My parents and I jetted all the way back to LA to attend the Honoree Mass at my elementary school, Mayfield Junior School in Pasadena. I was very humbled to receive an award along with two of my favorite teachers- both women that played a significant role in making me stop messing around, and start taking school seriously. Honestly, they don’t look a year older than I remember. 
The mass began at 4 pm on Sunday in the gymnasium- the same gym where we won the 7th grade basketball finals, played tag and graduated. What an experience coming back after 15 years. As the mass closed, the headmaster called me up and offered me a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I knew what I wanted to say. Below is a version of my very brief remarks, and is especially dedicated to my parents. They’ve been the real jet setters and deserve a vacation. 

A photo my science teacher handed me (of me)

Thank you, what an incredible honor to return to MJS after quite a while!. It seems like yesterday I was in Mrs. D’Argenio’s second grade class making my first communion, or Mrs. Hermanson’s fourth grade class building my California mission project. As an avid baker, I built Mission Santa Cruz out of sugar cubes, but didn’t have the foresight to not leave it outside overnight. The next morning, it was clear that raccoons had promptly feasted upon the structure. I remember finishing the eighth grade with Mrs Holtsneider, studying what has come to be the work I love and will devote my life to- bringing people of all and no faiths together to know each other, learn from one another, and most importantly, to find common values and ways to work together. 
I need to address my parents because Mayfield is a school rooted in faith and family as the foundation to education, and they have been my and my sister Mallory’s foundation from the very beginning. Mallory just graduated from medical school, so if anyone needs surgery, she starts her surgical residency at Huntington hospital in less than a month. My parents, Liz and Dennis, taught me two things in the last 29 years, one of which I believe created a monster. You see even when Mallory and I experienced failure or roadblocks which we all do, they wouldn’t stand for it- they never told us “you’re not smart enough, you’re tall enough, you’re not fast enough…you can’t do that.” They asked what we needed, and how they could help. From this, we learned that in our work we should always be asking what we can provide and how we can help. 
My parents believed education would better us and help us achieve our goals, but that if we didn’t acknowledge our deep privilege in receiving an education and attempt to give others the same opportunities, that life would not be full of meaning and thus not worth living. When Mallory wanted to be an actress, my mom drove her to auditions. When I wanted to be a professional basketball player, my dad came to every game with me- all five foot four of me- to watch me play. When we both wanted to live in our education, to attend boarding schools, they found a way. They have read admissions essays and scholarship applications and listened to practice interviews, and helped us pick what to wear- all because they believed in us even if we felt unsure. 
They chose Mayfield because as we know, education is perhaps the greatest gift and right we have as human beings, and they wanted it to intersect with the other values in our family. I’m so honored for this award, and it is dedicated both to the steadfast teachers here at mayfield and everywhere, and to my parents for saying yes to any sentence that began with, “what if I tried…”
Thank you mom and dad. I love you.

Full Circle

I don’t have to tell you that the world is funny, that life is not linear, that time is sometimes not a helpful tool for us- and sometimes it is.

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PC: Joey Kyber

Just last week I was writing a short story about stepping outside my comfort zone. I wanted to talk about joining the Interfaith Council at USC after meeting Varun, the Dean of Religious Life. The story of finding Varun is a silly one, it involves pulling a newspaper out of a trash and seeing his name in the headline. “What’s a Dean of Religious Life?” was the first question that popped in my head. The article in the Daily Trojan (our university’s daily paper) described the many experiences Varun lived that led him to this role. Living in Nepal as a Buddhist Monk, finishing both a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard University and a law degree from UCLA, hosting a radio show, meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama, even being an avid sports fan- all of these influenced the person he is today. Reading about them, I thought, “I want to live like this person. I should probably meet him.”

Nine years (!) later, I’m sitting at my desk at Northeastern University in Boston, where I have served in a chaplain role for almost two years. First I see the text messages from my mom and dad: “Did you see the LA Times article about Varun? I think he mentioned you.” Friends are sharing on Facebook. Varun himself emails me a link to a stunning story about his trajectory at USC, as a non-ordained Hindu attorney. It sounds just like the article I read as a lost sophomore at USC, at a time when I knew I loved studying religion, but had no idea what to do about it. This was the article that pushed me to email him in that chilly office on the second floor of the business school, that for the first time showed me I could live a life full of passion like Varun, combining so many different interests. And it’s my last week here, which feels as though a circle has been completed.

I think it’s really important to experience nostalgia sometimes, as a reminder to feel gratitude for the people who have been a constant support in our lives. I was going to post a bunch of vignettes this morning from my time at Northeastern, because there are so many wonderful and hilarious moments from these two years. I only got to tell a handful at my lovely going away party. This morning I took a Lyft to work because I baked too many treats to take on the T, and as we inched along on the 93 toward Roxbury, I looked out at the Boston skyline centered on the Prudential Center, its windows shimmering in the sunlight, and realized today is my last Monday here. Only two years ago, my mom and I attempted to navigate this ridiculous freeway and street system to move me into my tiny apartment in the North End. I remember sending Varun a picture, knowing I had made him proud. The community here has made me proud, especially after so much hardship. On the wall behind me hangs three simple letters that welcomed me on my first day: J-E-M, my name. I’m taking them with me to hang in my new office (if I get an office).

Link to the story: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-usc-chaplain-20170403-story.html