Monday, December 31, 2012

Beautiful Things

A year and a half ago, at a service at MPPC, I heard a song that made me cry. It was played as background music to a video then. I have completely forgotten the video, but the song is burned into my mind. I remembered it in fall 2011 and looked up the lyric snippet I remembered: "You make beautiful things / out of the dust."

And I found it, and cried again. It was a hard moment in our marriage, and it took hope and faith for me to sing along. Things were not as I had imagined they would be, and I couldn't see a way forward. This song was my cry of pain and my cry of trust.

I bought the whole album by Gungor: "Beautiful Things," the song and the album are called.

 This past Sunday, O. and I were at MPPC together, and what song should the worship leaders close the service with but "Beautiful Things"? My heart was quiet as I listened and joyful as I sang along. Things are so different now than they were when I first discovered this song; things are so much better. God has been faithful and he has made beautiful things in O.'s and my relationship. Our marriage will be a beautiful thing someday, and indeed it is already, and if it ever crumbles to dust, I will still trust that Christ will remake it into a beautiful thing, and make it new--make us new. Make me new.

Welcome, 2013. Come, Emmanuel.

Food Poisoning

Yesterday was a milestone in our young marriage: I witnessed O. vomiting for the first time.

On Saturday night, we had taken my parents out to dinner at a local Mexican place they've started going to recently. The food was good and we admired the Diego Rivera art (posters, but the images still spoke) on the brightly painted walls. O. downed his entire burrito, a corner of mine that I couldn't finish, a lime soda, and my mother's leftovers.

Home, bed, sleep. Around 2am O. got up, and moaned to me that he felt sick. In the morning, he still had a stomache ache, but we made it to the 8am service at church (albeit a bit late, but that was my fault) for this great sermon. We intended to drive up to San Francisco after that and explore Golden Gate Park, which O. hasn't seen. But since we hadn't had time for breakfast before church, we stopped at home to eat.

It was very fortunate that we did stop, and that we lingered, because O.'s condition deteriorated rapidly. After he threw up violently, we had to conclude that SF was out of the question for that day. O. ended up lying on the couch most of the day, looking and sounding miserable, and arousing all my affection and compassion. I read him 40 or so pages of Roald Dahl's charming book The BFG, which we had started the previous day. He ran a fever and worried that he wouldn't be able to take our scheduled flight (8:15am tomorrow).

He ended up swallowing a couple of my parent's traditional Chinese stinky pills (no obvious effect on him, but my mom says he should have had four, the full dose), and two or three cloves worth of minced garlic, one clove at a time. Thank God, in the morning he was all better, and was able to enjoy our last day here.

O. has seen me vomit from motion sickness a few times already, but yesterday's episode was the first time I saw him reduced to that level of physical discomfort. I would never wish it on him again, but on the bright side, I do feel a little closer and more intimate with him now. Even food poisoning can have a silver lining.

New Year's Resolution (3)

I resolve to see more of New York City while I still can!
  • visit each borough at least once (I haven't been to the Bronx or Staten Island or Brooklyn)
  • go to the Bronx Zoo and the Central Park Zoo
  • see a show on Broadway with O.
  • visit MOMA once a month
  • visit the World Trade Center memorial
  • see the Cloisters
  • walk all over Chinatown at least once
  • go on a walking tour (if I can find a free one)

California Horizons

O. and I are planning to move out here to California at the end of June, after my sister graduates from her east coast school. I can't wait--well, I can wait and I am glad to stay a while longer because there are plenty of things still undone in our current life in NJ/NY. Places to see, relationships to deepen.

But I can't wait to look out on the horizon and see mountains every morning, purple-blue against the clear sky. I can't wait to exercise in the sun all year round, and to breathe hard without the insidious sense that I am poisoning my lungs. I can't wait to visit the marshes weekly or even daily and see the waterbirds swimming and diving in a habitat that has been preserved or restored intentionally, not wantonly filled in and built on.

Yesterday evening, Mom and I drove out to the Foster City dog park with my parent's little poodle. The sun was beginning to set as we unleashed the dog. She tore back and forth across the green grass--imagine that, green grass and flowers in December! The water in the marsh just across the park's fence reflected the glowing sky. Beyond it the mountains stood, and beyond them an open sky.

New Year's Resolution (2)

In the first six months of 2013, before we begin another cross-country journey and move (this time together), I want to finish reading certain books. It will be like a semester of pre-grad-school--only more like high school, because the subject matter is not well-focused well-rounded.

Here are the books, all of which I started reading at least six months ago:
  1. Gesture and Thought by David McNeil -- has the most interesting ideas
  2. Adger's Core Syntax -- this will be the hardest read by far; it's so technical that I only made it 5 or 10 pages in during my junior year after my introductory syntax class made me think I loved syntax.
  3. The Barbarian Invasion -- This book I bought on impulse after Tim Keller said in a sermon that it was a great read. I never liked history class but I'm enjoying this book, although I'm sure I'll like it better if I read it more consistently so that I don't forget all the names between readings.
  4. Old Testament Theology -- got this book exactly three years ago, started reading it this summer but haven't gotten out of the introduction. Non-fiction takes so much discipline for me to read.
  5. Teach Yourself Turkish -- now that O. is home all the time, I think I can make good progress on this one!
I'll put links in another time, right now I need to power through five more blog posts to meet last year's resolution ;)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Resolution (1)

In 2013, I will floss my teeth every day, unless my hand is grievously wounded or there is no floss anywhere in the city.

Hold me to it, readers.

2012 Gratitude

Highlights of 2012 (5): What are you most grateful for this year?

I'll put down the top five things in my life/year that I'm most grateful for, in order of importance:
  1. Improved communication and communion with O., particularly for the breakthrough conversations we had in mid-October than changed so much.
  2. New friends and old--who would be higher on this list if it weren't for the fact that I am equally grateful for them every year. 
  3. Our house, which is so much better than our 2011 dwelling and which is now occupied by only us and the bunnies.
  4. Bunnies, babysitting, the other part-time job, and grad school applications: things that keep me occupied and give me a sense of purpose or accomplishment.
  5. Health.

2012 Learning

Highlights of 2012 (4): What was the most important thing you learned this year?

Probably the Speaker-Listener Technique, our marriage counselor's first lesson for us. This communication protocol is priceless for any kind of sticky conversation, provided both parties agree to it. It's essentially an algorithm for clear communication, and it goes like this:
  1. Select an object, let's say a waterbottle, to represent "the floor."
  2. Choose one person to be the Speaker. The other party will be the Listener.
  3. The Speaker takes the waterbottle. He or she now has the floor (the right to speak).
  4. The Speaker says a sentence or two about the topic at hand. (Some types of statements are not allowed, for instance name-calling.) Ideally he or she uses "I"-statements but this isn't required.
  5. The Listener may ask a clarifying question if he or she is confused. Then the Listener reflects or summarizes what he or she understood from the Speaker's statements: "I hear you saying that..." "What I heard you say was..."
  6. If the Listener has understood correctly, the Speaker confirms this and the process returns to step 4. If the Listener's statement was not an accurate paraphrase, the Speaker restates him or herself and the process returns to step 5.
  7. When the Speaker has said as much as he or she wants to say at that point, he or she gives the water bottle to the Listener. Now the Listener has "the floor" and becomes the Speaker; the previous Speaker is now the Listener.
  8. Repeat steps 4 through 7 as necessary.
  9. Exit the conversation, having avoided a lot of misunderstanding.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Person

Highlights of 2012 (3): Who is your Person of the Year — the person who had the biggest impact on your life, or who provided the most inspiring example for you?

It's O.!

Is it cliche to cite my husband as the most influential person in my life? If it is, I don't care. We are still so early in our marriage that his presence every day is a novelty, and he startles me regularly. I hope it is always like this. 2012 was definitely a better year for our relationship than 2011; I look forward to seeing what 2013 brings us.

2012 Decision

Highlights of 2012 (2): What was your biggest question or biggest decision this year?

Will O. quit his job? When? What will happen next?

Those were the early November questions. O. did quit and is now unemployed. We are living off savings and my meager income, which will carry us for quite a while. Hopefully I get into grad school and get a stipend starting in September! For now, O. is doing lots of housework and plotting to earn money through private tutoring in computer science, and hanging out with me, and generally being so much happier than when he was working that I can only conclude that the decision was worth it.

2012 Challenges

It's Ten Thousand Questions Day! This week at Ten Thousand Questions, the theme was Highlights of 2012; I intend to answer the five questions today (in five posts, since I am still aiming for 100 posts this year...).

Beginning with Monday's question: What was your biggest challenge this year?

Well. 2012 had quite a few challenges. From December 2011 into January 2012, I spent my first Christmas and New Year's away from my family, staying for a week (or more?) with O.'s family in Florida. We also had to find a subletter and move in the first half of January. February brought the mundane adventures of learning my way around the grocery and hardware stores in the new town.

March and April were filled with failed attempts to hang curtains, as well as the acquisition of two adorable rabbits who presented ridiculous furry problems. In May I forced myself to drive in New Jersey for the first time (during a torrential downpour, as it happened; I arrived 30 minutes late to the vet appointment).

In June (or late May?) I spent a week away from O. at Basileia. That joyful week, though, confronted me with the fact that I felt more confident facing new people and a new situation without O. than with him, and that it was easier for me to keep my relationship with God in good order when I was away, on my own. A new friend advised me, sternly, not to think about going back, but to think about moving forward. Her words echoed in my mind when I got home to O. and confessed my discoveries to him.

Somewhere in there O. fasted for seven days--a miserable and worried week for me. Plenty of marital challenges this year, definitely.

July's trip to Turkey was accompanied by the joys and frustrations of spending many hours of the day in close quarters with relatives on both sides.

August was the beginning of a new job with our church, which has challenged my communication skills and my ability to assert my preferences. That's actually been the major struggle recently, although the conflict of a few weeks ago seems to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. I just hope our negotiated plans work out.

September began a babysitting job, which is mostly fun. Disciplining a three year old and changing his diapers definitely challenges me, though.

Oh, September. Suddenly it all comes flooding back: L. and J. and their two cats moving in with us due to a housing crisis for them; our failure to establish expectations at the beginning of their stay, which stretched for two months; our refrigerator unwontedly crowded with bottles of salad dressing and mustard and a dozen other things; three jars of peanut butter in the overflowing pantry; limited bathroom access; cat allergies; the rabbits stressed out; practically no alone time with O. And meanwhile, O. gradually deciding to quit his job, hopefully leave the tech field altogether, and strike off in a bold new direction (though just what direction was unclear). Thank God we were already in counseling at that point!

October was more of the same.

November started with a hurricane, during which O. gave his two weeks' notice, with my ambivalent consent. During a non-trivial portion of that week, the atmosphere inside the house matched the winds and storms outside. L. and J. found a new place to live at last and moved out just after the storm. Then Thanksgiving, then December, and Christmas, and here I am at the end of the year.

Conclusion: 2012's biggest challenge, by far, was sharing the house with a stressed-out couple, two highly allergenic cats, and occasionally a very energetic five year old girl--for two monthsWould I do it again? Maybe. But I would plan it a heck of a lot better and not be shy about asking for changes, because, by gosh, it's my house. And I would not harbor the cats for more than a week.

Retirement Home

There is no denying that my parents are older now than they were a few years ago. Bifocals and presbyopia are dinner conversation, and hikes are shorter, particularly following my mother's bunionectomy (what a word). Names are shouted across the house, and they are not always heard.

After witnessing my father's deafness in one instance to my mother's calling of his name from several large rooms away, I remarked to O., "When we get old, let's live in a little house so that we never have to shout for each other."

"How about a dome house?" O. suggested.

I had never heard of such a thing in real life. O. described to me a geodesic dome house with a wooden frame, but he was fuzzy on the details. An internet search was soon mounted, quickly leading us to a website for an entirely different sort of dome house: one manufactured by a Japanese company and made from "the fourth generation building material: expanded polystyrene!" You can watch the promo videos, hilariously dubbed in a lovely Australian accent, on the company's website, but a better viewing experience can be had courtesy of Youtube. Embedded below:

This is the house of the future! That is, my future. I hope they are still making these things when O. and I are ready to retire. We'd like the "tow dome" construction, please.

I doubt these houses will catch on in the U.S., but I can imagine them doing well in Japan, as illustrated in the 480 dome village in the video. Having lived in Japan, I recognize a thousand subtle Japanese influences and assumptions in the design--most obviously, the compactness of it. What American would call a 44 sq. meter dome "really spacious"? These dome houses made me nostalgic for the world of my childhood, a vaguely remembered Japan.

Anyway, I seriously am interested in living in a dome house someday. This looks way more convenient than a treehouse, and almost as cool.


Here I am typing away on my mother's ergonomic keyboard, the keyboard I often typed essays and emails on in high school. I am sitting on her rolling chair, which I have sat on many times over several years, but though I never learned to adjust so much as the seat height on purpose.

I have been "home" in California for a whole week. This visit, I have felt vividly that this is not home anymore, not really. California is a home for me, my parents are a home for me. But this is not the house I live in, the place my stuff is (mostly), or even, at this point, the home of my very closest family member. O. is my closest family now, and we have our own home. That is the place that everything is the way I have arranged it to be (mostly); that is the place, now, that is most comfortable to me.

How very strange, to have my own home and have it not be here. My heart is divided between California, which is the land I love, and a little house in New Jersey, which is an island of comfort and familiarity in a great expanse of the unfamiliar. How amazing, really, to be able to call two places home. It's a luxury.

The Bible has it that we are strangers and aliens in this world, and our true home is in heaven. One interpretation is that we shouldn't get too attached here or settle down. But I have yesterday's shining sea and golden cliffs still glowing behind my eyelids. I have beloved books alphabetized on bookshelves. I have a husband and parents in this house, and I have homemade cookies in my stomach. How can I deny the home-ness of this?

This came to me: Heaven as true home doesn't make this present gift of home less real or good. Rather, this good gift, the sweetness of this home, is a foretaste of a sweeter, deeper home. Let me magnify heaven, rather than diminishing earth.

God, I am thankful for home.

Friday, December 28, 2012


On Christmas day, my family was singing "Here we come a-caroling," and the lyrics I remembered did not match the words in our songbooks. I remembered a version from a long-ago video featuring Peter Rabbit and other Beatrix Potter characters in a cozy village, in which the carolers sang, "Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too."

"What the heck is a wassail?" S. responded.

We had to look it up. Wikipedia provides the following:
Wassail (Old English wæs hæl, literally 'be you healthy') refers both to the salute 'Waes Hail' and to the drink of wassail, a hot mulled cider traditionally drunk as an integral part of wassailing, an ancient southern English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.
Good to know!

And to top it off, we discovered this fantastical song in one of our less explored caroling books:
Wassail, wassail, all over the town,
Our bread it is white, and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the maplin tree,
So here, my good fellow, I'll drink to thee. 
The wassailing bowl, with a toast within,
Come, fill it up unto the brim;
Come, fill it up, that we may see:
With the wassailing bowl I'll drink to thee. 
Come, butler, come bring us a bowl of your best;
And we hope your soul in heaven shall rest;
But if you do bring us a bowl of your small,
Then down shall go butler, the bowl and all.
This page lists five more verses but our version ended after v.3's threat of sending the stingy butler down to hell! They don't make Christmas carols like they used to...

Point Reyes

We drove two hours up the coast to Point Reyes National Seashore today. After a picnic and many deer-sightings, O. and I began a six mile hike to the coast, where blue sky meets blue water, and the cliffs of the coastline weave in and out.

Along the way, we discussed the different kinds of questions we ask people around us. The discussion centered around how questions ("How can I help this person?" "How will this person change?") as opposed to why questions ("Why did this person react so strongly? What motivates this desire?"). How questions look forward to the future, while why questions look back to the past for answers, we noted.

Every so often, the discussion was interrupted by a tiny yellow bird (a wren?) flitting through moss-festooned branches, or by a hazardous patch of mud in the trail. Once, we met a red-bellied salamander hurrying along the trail.

By the time we reached the beach, my feet were sore. I liberated them and walked the next two and half miles on the sand in bare feet, occasionally numbed by frigid Pacific waves. I think I lost several layers of calluses.

Sun, sky, sea, soul-searching conversation: a blessed day.

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Life of Pi"

Last Tuesday, O. and I had a movie date. I was originally inclined to see "The Hobbit," but after watching the trailer for "Life of Pi," I was convinced that it was a movie worth seeing on the big screen. O. was pleased.

My skepticism about the movie stemmed from encounters with the book years ago. At the time, my parents were reading it, and a copy was always hanging around the coffee table. Tantalized by the life raft and tiger on the front cover, and the word "magical" on the back cover, I often flipped through it, reading snippets. The floating island fulfilled the promise of excitement and mystery, but the other chunks I read were a disappointment.

The movie, however, delivered the magic. From the opening tour of the Indian zoo, to the fantastic ocean scenes, "Life of Pi" is visually gorgeous. The landscapes of India, the marketplace full of colored scarves, the proboscis monkey at the zoo; the huge waves of the storm that sinks the ship; the glowing plankton and jellyfish, the jumping whale, the shining fish passing through the water; the endless sky: with so much beauty, the story is hardly necessary to make the movie enjoyable. The tiger, Richard Parker, terrifies but also enchants. (For instance, he can't get back into the lifeboat after jumping into the ocean to catch fish, and he is absurdly pathetic as he clings to it by his claws, fur waterlogged and ears flattened back.) Pi's acting, solo for much of the film, is completely convincing. The story, even at its most tragic, contains enough absurdity and beauty to tip the balance well away from despair or boredom. All in all, it was a great movie to see in theatres, if not necessarily one I'd watch over and over.

Some more notes:
  • O. jumped a lot during the movie. He told me he found "Life of Pi" more exciting than "Skyfall." The tiger, sharks, and shipwreck scared him in a way that explosions and violence don't.
  • I enjoyed the treatment of religion, particularly Pi's encounter with a priest in a chapel where he has gone to drink the holy water on a dare. As a Christian, I don't agree with Pi, who calls himself a Muslim-Catholic-Hindu, but I liked his presentation of his beliefs, which fit comfortably within Hinduism's open arms. I think this is the only time I've seen a discussion of Hindu philosophy in a popular movie.
  • I kept getting distracted from the story by wondering about how they made it and whether the tiger was real. More research necessary here.
  • Pacing was uneven: after the floating island, everything sped up dramatically and rushed to the movie's end.

Year end reflections

Seven days left in the year, and seventeen posts to go before I hit 100 posts for 2012. It feels odd to be writing to fulfill a quota, "inauthentic." But a goal is a goal, writing requires discipline, and it peeves me to see the total post-count diminishing each year when I look at my blog.

Why have I been writing less? I know I always write less in the summer, when pools of sunshine beckon me outside. I write less during holidays when my schedule is disrupted. I used to write more when I was upset because I would process through writing here as well as in my journal. But that was when fewer people knew about this blog and none of them were the people who upset me. Now I write less when I'm upset or stressed; I process elsewhere.

For over a year, I had all the solitude I could want. Home alone during the day with nothing assigned to me but housework, and even that assigned only by myself, I expected to write and write. But as it turns out, inactivity makes me depressed, and depression makes me inactive. I wrote little and read less.

Now I have two part-time jobs, pet rabbits, and a stay-at-home husband. I have less spare time, but more energy and more ideas, which inclines me to write more. On the other hand, solitude does not fall into my lap. This discourages me from writing.

Over the next week, expect several (I won't promise 17, but that's what I'm aiming for) short posts. I'm "home" in California, which historically has led to me not writing, but this year it feels like a reprieve from so many obligations, and I am determined to catch up, record, process, describe, capture, share: write.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Winter Clothes

Winter forces me to think about clothes. This year, with more time on my hands and more adults in my social circle than ever before, I have been more conscious of how I dress, and I've gotten more comfortable putting outfits together rather than just throwing on a t-shirt.

I discovered, this season, that I love wool: wool socks that cushion my feet from the cold tile floor; the red wool coat that is almost as warm now as it was when I got it 9 years ago; the wool hat with ear flaps, made in Nepal, that I purchased on impulse in the Student Activities Center one Thursday. The hat has accompanied me to more than one wintry bonfire, and it carries the smell of smoke hidden within itself, and imbues my hair with it so that I smell like a campfire after a day of walking around the city.

My most recent love is the wool sweater. Long ago, when all my shopping trips were initiated and accompanied by my mother, I acquired, at a used clothing store, a thick wool sweater manufactured by Eddie Bauer. It is Christmas-red, with white snowflakes sewn on, and it is the warmest garment I possess. When I was younger, I couldn't stand the scratchiness of wool, but my skin is more tolerant now, and the weather is colder. I wore that Christmas sweater at least three times a week this fall and winter, starting sometime in October.

I never thought I would become partial to sweaters, especially not wool sweaters. I guess I'm growing up.

Husbands, Wives, Clothes

Dear O.: I know I've been hassling you lately to get rid of some clothes and to go shopping with me. I know it's a pain, because I was not always on this side of the great divide between the keeper of old clothes and the promoter of new clothes...

I grew up hearing my mother complain regularly about the sagging necks on my father's t-shirts, the frayed edges of his beloved red sweatshirt, the poor condition of his well-aged tennis shoes. He has always disliked shopping and getting rid of old things. I shared his dislike, and always felt worried about my own well-loved shoes and t-shirts when his were criticized. Of course I assumed I would never be in the position of telling my husband, "You need new shoes, and that shirt has got to go."

Meeting O. only reinforced this expectation. When we started dating, he was better dressed than me: always in a well-ironed polo shirt and black (cargo) pants. A common outfit for me, busy Californian college student that I was, was still a t-shirt from summer Day Camp plus a pair of patched jeans.

What I didn't realize was that O. was not entirely responsible for his wardrobe. In retrospect, it is obvious that an engineering student, living at home with a mother who cares more about his appearance than he does, would not be doing his own ironing, and that if his mother likes shopping (which O.'s does), she would regularly offer him new clothes. It is obvious now that as her responsibility and opportunity to clothe O. were severed by his moving out and our marriage, O.'s wardrobe would lose its crispness. At the time, however, I was oblivious.

Thus, in the past year and a half, as holes have gaped wider and wider in each of O.'s three pairs of shoes, admitting water, mud and the occasional pebble, I was surprised to find myself saying, "Honey, how about getting a new pair of shoes?" and then, "I'd like to buy you a new pair of shoes," and finally, "You have to get new shoes!" As small holes opened at the pocket-corners of one t-shirt and then another, I found myself asking, "How attached are you to that shirt?" I was shocked to discover that it really does bother me to see two tiny circles of skin peeping through his shirt. I can't say exactly why it bothers me, but it does.

Somehow on the other side of that age-long debate between the keeper and the tosser. It's a strange place to be, but I feel all right about it.

And O., we have to go shopping again sometime. I'm sorry.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Linguistic Privilege

I spent all day yesterday composing my personal history statement for UC Berkeley & UC Santa Cruz (mostly for Berkeley since Santa Cruz did not provide any instructions whatsoever). In the process, I discovered some things about myself and my motivations in studying linguistics and wanting to document and preserve endangered languages. (I think I discovered things, at least, although a case could be made that I invented explanations rather than discovering them.) Here are some thoughts that didn't make it into my final draft, about linguistic privilege and the impact that living in Japan as a linguistic minority had on me:
In California, I would have been a member of a privileged class, comfortable without ever recognizing the advantages accorded to me. Growing up in California would have meant hearing my native language all around me; understanding the words used by teachers as well as my classmates did, if not better; exploring entire libraries of books meant for me, because they were in my language. These privileges belong to the linguistic insider, and because I did not experience in Japan, I recognized them when I gained them years later in California, and I recognized that my Spanish-speaking immigrant neighbors were deprived of these privileges.
I perused Ethnologue last night while working on my essay, and reacquainted myself with a statistic I'd like to share here:
6% of the world's languages are spoken by 94% of the world's population; the remaining 94% of languages are spoken by the other 6% of the world's people.
For so many of those four hundred twenty million people (7 billion people x 6%), there is nowhere they inhabit a position of linguistic privilege.


I am still working on applications to graduate school (Pick me, Berkeley!), but all I want to do is bake Christmas cookies, preferably with lots of chocolate in them.

It's been three days since I brushed my hair, and I haven't gone outside yet today. All morning, I stayed in my pajamas: black yoga pants and a purple plaid flannel hoodie purchased from a used clothing store when I was in fifth grade, topped with a fleece jacket that is roomy for O. and huge on me. An hour ago I finally realized I was hungry and thirsty and needed to use the bathroom, so I got up, changed into jeans and my own fleece, and discovered that Pipkin had unrolled half the toilet paper in the bathroom *again.* Made myself a delicious burrito and a strong cup of tea, returned to my laptop and my seat by the window.

The rabbits are sleeping, one by my feet and the other in the kitchen. I am counting on caffeine to keep me from emulating them.

Berkeley's website informs me that my application must be submitted in 12 hours and 35 minutes. Time to apply myself.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Evening Moment

O. is whistling in the kitchen, some variation on a hymn. I hear him getting out a pot for spaghetti, moving things around. I am sitting by the front windows, trying to write my personal statement. The shooting in Connecticut is all over the internet, grief upon grief. Still the sun washes the sky in orange and pink, and the naked tree silhouettes retain their fragile beauty.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Two books

Late last night, I finished reading The End of Sexual Identity, a slim volume by cultural anthropologist Jennell Williams Paris which taught me the history of the concepts homosexual and heterosexual, and argued that the concepts in themselves are deeply problematic. We have made sexual desire into a primary identity marker, thereby consigning ourselves and each other to categories based on feelings. Paris suggests that we leave behind the categories of heterosexual/homosexual and ground ourselves more deeply in the identity of being beloved (of God).
Today, I started reading Ursula K. LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness, the account of a alien male ambassador on a planet where all the humans are androgynous hermaphrodites five-sixths of the time, only becoming male or female during estrus for reproductive purposes. Here there are no homosexuals or heterosexuals or even men and women, because sexuality does not enter into identity at all. It is strictly compartmentalized into the brief period of kemmer (estrus), rather than influencing every aspect of life and social interactions as it does for us.

Quite the juxtaposition. Paris speaks of settling into being a woman or being a man, regardless of particular desires. LeGuin describes the what-if of not having a man/woman distinction in the first place. The ideas are strikingly similar in some ways but at the same time deeply opposed to each other.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In which a rabbit is temporarily absent

Hazel is at the vet, recovering from being neutered. The house is quiet without him crashing around the living room and threatening to pee on the couch and eat my laptop cable. He should be back tomorrow along with most of his energy.

I submitted my first application for graduate school yesterday, and now I am taking a much-desired break from applications for a few days. What this really means is that I am frantically trying to catch up on Communications Coordination for church, for which I have been doing the bare minimum lately. A newsletter is supposed to go out the day after tomorrow, and I don't have any of the articles written.

However, today was a real break, because O. and I visited King Spa, a Korean sauna/spa. We might have postponed the trip indefinitely if the Groupon generously given to us by friends had not been expiring today. I'm glad we were forced to go today, because it was a great experience. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Diversity Statement in 680 characters

Stanford's graduate application requires a diversity statement of up to 700 characters long.  Crafting one was a challenge. Here's what I came up with (20 characters to spare):
As I entered the playground, my peers paused in the sandbox, shouting, "Gaijin!" Stranger, outsider: this was my identity in Japan from ages 4-10. At home I learned to read English; at school I fell behind, the sole non-native. When my family returned to California, ignorance of games and sensitivity about personal space branded me a foreigner still.
Today, my race and culture blend and shift: Korean/Caucasian, Californian/Japanese. With parents of two races & a husband from Turkey, diversity is home. Being white in Japan, Asian in Menlo Park, & female in computer science earned me empathy and communication skills vital in a diverse community. These I offer my classmates.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Disjointed Observations

I'm still toiling away at my statement of purpose. When it becomes more presentable I'll share parts of it here...

November is one long series of sniffles and sore throats for me, at least in New Jersey. I don't remember being sick like this at Stony Brook--dragging on and on and on.

The amaryllis blossoms are fading. They have lost their gloss. Their edges have purpled and withered. But the second stalk has thrust its head high, and two of its buds peep out from the green sepals.

Hazel has come of age and is determined to mate with O.'s slippers, which are fluffy black bears wearing red hats. The rabbits take turns rubbing their chins on them as O. travels back and forth between their territories.

Is that a third slipper?

O.'s last day of work was a week ago, but Thanksgiving immediately followed, so it's only sinking in now. This is day three of his unemployment, and he has been lovely around the house, baking bread studded with sesame seeds, doing the laundry, and starting the dishwasher without being asked.

He also scheduled Hazel's neutering appointment, thank God and the NJ House Rabbit Society, who supplied us a voucher for an affordable neuter procedure ($75 instead of $200+). Hopefully we can rebond the bunny boys soon after that, and take down the wall that has divided our kitchen and living room these past five months (Has it really been that long?)--"the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Letters of recommendation

I'm working on applications to graduate programs in linguistics right now, and I secured recommendation letters from three of the professors who know me best before Thanksgiving. But this weekend, one of them suggested that it would be good to get another recommendation from a linguist (since my current recommenders feature one linguist, one psycholinguist, and one English prof). And this after she had also suggested it would be good to get a letter from a professor in computer science! (my minor, which I don't intend to pursue seriously in the future).

So tonight I forced myself to ask and ask and ask. I just finished writing four emails to professors to whom I haven't talked in at least a year and a half, or two and a half years for some. Please write me a recommendation letter! I need it a week from today!

Surprisingly, the emails to the professors I know better (the three I asked originally) were much harder to write. Tonight's emails felt rather low-stakes: the worst that can happen is that I embarrass myself a little.

I hope at least one of them says yes!

Friday, November 23, 2012


A month ago, looking for rabbit-barriers at the hardware store, I bought an amarillys bulb on impulse. It took me weeks to free it from its plastic netting and plant it, but even as it waited without soil or water, it grew. Finally I planted it, and within a few days, buds appeared.


Layer upon layer

One day, one flower opened. The next, two more. Soon after the fourth blossom opened, I had to stake the heavy stalk with a stick from outside and the leftover purple yarn from a failed crochet project. The amarillys stands by one of S.'s collage-paintings.

Flowers, shadow, and collage

As winter presses toward me, I am comforted by the presence of living, growing things in the house. There is still color in the world.


In which I give thanks and remember

For basil plants growing on my windowsills despite the cold outside;
for a well-stocked and orderly bookshelf;
for the amarillys on my counter, with four glorious red blossoms open:
I give thanks.

For summer at Berkeley four years ago,
sleeping on my friend K.'s tile floor and baking peach & plum pie;
for a midnight walk and a young stag that bounded across the sidewalk and the street,
into another garden--

For the Linguistics Institute, three weeks of glutting myself on ideas;
for dozens of papers read and learned from,
for classrooms full of linguists (students and professors)
from all over the country, gathered in one place--

For naps on the lush green lawn in the golden sun, between classes:
I give thanks.

That I can remember so clearly, that I can remember at all--
I give thanks.

For pumpkin pie and knowing how to make it, confidently;
for my mother's expertise in the kitchen
and her persistence in passing it on to me:
I give thanks.

For my own kitchen, and a house to myself,
shared with O. and the bunnies and no one else;
for O.,
for rabbits--

For friends we shared the house with
and for friendship surviving ten weeks of sharing
one bathroom and one refrigerator--

For a marriage that is so much easier and happier this Thanksgiving
than it was a year ago:
I give thanks.

For two casserole dishes of borscht in the refrigerator, and a huge pot of turkey juk,
so that I won't have to cook for days;

For Pastor T. who invited us to his Thanksgiving,
and for all the church friends there (especially the vibrant single people),
and for the scrumptious turkey and potatoes and carrots and even parsnip we ate;
for the turkey skin and bones and scraps of meat that T. did not want,
which I brought home and boiled into juk;

For the telephone that let me call my father and mother to ask for the juk recipe;
for my mother, for my father:
I give thanks.
* * *

I feel the abundance in my life today, and felt it yesterday, and will feel it tomorrow. The season is turning. It will be a strange season, but it is familiar this year. I remember the leaves changing last year, I remember the furnace we struggled to ignite. I remember learning to sleep in the same bed as O., how to regulate my body temperature so I wouldn't wake up drenched in sweat as I first did when I wore the warm pajamas I depended on during all the winters before. I remember Thanksgiving on the east coast, far from my old friends and the places I called home. Now I call this place home, too, though in my dreams I am always in California.

I remember, not so long ago, when I organized my own life without consulting anyone about my schedule. I remember feeling my life was my own. I remember watching my money carefully because there wasn't any coming in. That season has come back. Wednesday was O.'s last day of work and now we are living off of savings and my small income. Suddenly the money I bring in babysitting and working for the church really counts, and suddenly I feel so much more confident of my place in the household economy, more entitled to my opinion and my decisions. The season of confidence and independence is returning, and I am grateful (though I know something is off in my emotional logic).

Also I remember, not long ago at all, writing essays, emailing professors, impressing people. I remember understanding, teaching, explaining, leading. That season is coming back, too. I am writing my statement of purpose and remembering I've done lots of awesome things and I really am qualified, and I'm scanning and uploading my transcript and noticing with pleasure how monotonously perfect the grades are (marred only by one A-, the semester I started dating O.). I'm corresponding with my favorite professors and feeling their love. This is strange and it is familiar, and it is a promise of things to come. I do want to go to grad school. Learning is what I was made for.

The leaves have changed and they are beautiful. Soon they will fall, but when they do, I will be grateful for that beauty, too, and I will remember that the season will change again, and spring will come. It is already on its way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Irony vs. Sincerity

Just read this essay from Christy Wampole, "How to Live Without Irony," and loved it. Below are three of the paragraphs that most struck me.

On the social consequences of the pervasive "ethos of irony":
While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness* and narcissism now hold sway.
[*I have my doubts about the sway of inwardness, because it implies a reflection or contemplation that are lacking from the ironic culture Wampole critiques. In my opinion, it's shallowness, not inwardness, that is in power at present.]

On an alternative and a solution to the alienated and ironic life:
Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of irony in her behavior. She has not, so to speak, taken on the veil of irony. She likes what she likes and declares it without dissimulation. She is not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others. She does not hide behind indirect language. The most pure nonironic models in life, however, are to be found in nature: animals and plants are exempt from irony, which exists only where the human dwells.
What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.
 Thank you, Christy Wampole and New York Times, for this.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Friday's question at Ten Thousand Questions:
In your memories, what song is inextricably tied to a particular group of people or an activity that you participated in years ago?
This song by Death Cab for Cutie:

--and this song (and every other by Postal Service), reminding me of a boy years ago who was so proud of his musical tastes, telling me he liked Postal Service and indie bands and hated pop, telling me he felt so vindicated when he visited a friend at Berklee and found the music students all liked the same music he did:

He quoted from the first song to me--
Sorrow drips into your heart
from a pinhole
just like a faucet that leaks
and there is comfort in the sound
--and I said I didn't understand. How could sorrow be comforting? It can get addictive, he said. I was eighteen, and innocent. That was February. At the end of May, with regret and shame leaking through pinholes into me, I understood.

That summer, interning in children's ministries at my church at home, I cried on the stairs before work, after the worship services before putting on a costume to lead Sunday school, at home on my bed when my sister wasn't in the room. In the fall, back at school where I might run into him, I stared around me into the shifting crowds, hoping for and dreading a glimpse of him. Every navy-blue jacket, every tall slumped dark-haired figure--I would stare, blink, run away.

Listening to those songs, I am right back there sitting in the cafeteria with him as he mocks me over pizza and makes innuendos that I am unwilling to understand. I am back under the low ceiling in the other room of the cafeteria as he tells me he never talks about his relationship with his mother, how she's an actress and so dramatic. I am back in my darkened dorm room reading his instant messages on a glowing screen.

I wonder if he is still as sad and mistrustful as he was in those days. It is four and a half years later and the songs he listened to still fill me with melancholy. When I hear Postal Service I pray for change in his life. I hope it has come.

As for me, I am happy and grateful where I am now, as I was then before I met him, and I never seek out Postal Service.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Selçuk and Sherbet [Turkey, pt. 3]

From Bursa, we drove all the way to the sea. Selçuk is a tourist town, it seems. We stopped at a promising little inn. Pulling the huge van into the strip of gravel that served as a parking lot, we filed out past a hedge of towering oleader bushes. I thought of Hawaii, and my father's childhood; of highway medians in California, full of the same pink and white blossoms and tongue-shaped green leaves.
The garden of the inn, as seen from my window
Down a little winding brick path past an old lady on a bench holding a hand-woven something-or-other, into a cool dark room with a glass cooler full of a liquid the color of hibiscus. An English speaking couple was on their way out the door. The parents spoke to the man at the counter; my sister S. and I sampled the small scones on a plate by the cooler. They were buttery and tasted of cheese and herbs.

The initial discussion over, we were released to wait in the garden. O.'s mother drew some of the red liquid into goblets for us. "It is sherbet," she told us. "Something sweet and cool." Punch, I thought, and took a sip.

It was not punch. At least, it was not a fruit punch. Everyone was taken aback by the intensity of the flavor. It tasted of cinnamon and... something else, something harsher and less sweet. Weeks later, we looked up the translation of the Turkish word. Cloves. This was essentially a clove tea, beautiful to look at, especially in the crystal glasses it was served in, but too strong for me to enjoy, like drinking incense.

After a few minutes, we were given keys and led through a garden of roses and luxurious greenery to our rooms. Later, S. and I were to discover tortoises roaming through the roses, confident enough in their shells to defend their territory against us interloping humans. One of them bit my toe when I blocked his way. They were oddly self-conscious though, and would stop munching on weeds when they noticed us staring at them.

S. with tortoise


Last night I dreamed of floods. The waters rose and O. and I took refuge in a cave at the back of our house, which was set into a hill. It was just barely deep enough for us to lie down, facing outward.

We survived that flood, but later in the dream the floodwaters rose again. We saw them creeping toward our house, measured how high they would come, and knew they would overwhelm our refuge.

So we took to the hills, to the house my mother's mother lived in, with its apricot tree and walnut tree and apple tree and peach tree, and its blackberry bramble and its rose garden. In the dream we looked up its elevation on Google maps, and found out it was 465 ft above sea level. Good, I thought. When the ice caps melt, this will still be above water.

When I woke, my mind was full of mud and damp. But it is a beautiful clear day, and the sun is shining.

"Let everyone who is godly seek you, while you may be found. Surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him."

Thursday, November 8, 2012


So many things to worry about today, but I will choose not to. First things first, and all the rest will follow.

At Sunday school a few weeks ago--in the middle of the "Will O. quit, or won't he?"--before the retreat, before the hurricane: that quiet Sunday morning, our leader, G., read to us from Matthew 6 in his lovely Southern accent: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well."

I started thinking about first. Seek God first: first in importance, first in line, first in the day. "Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God." "But I have this against you: you have forgotten your first love." "We love because He first loved us."

Another one that I didn't think of at the time: "In the beginning was the Word." He was here first, before there was a here. God is first. ("You shall have no other gods before Me.") Everyone else's opinion can come last.

May I live this today.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


A frenetic day of sending emails of all shapes and sizes, and updating Facebook not as myself but as a representative of an organization: Dislike.

The day started out well, with getting the house in order. Today O. actually left the house to work at the office, for the first time since Hurricane Sandy. For the first time in almost two weeks, I was alone in the house for most of the day. It surprises me every time, how different the house feels when O. is gone for the day: free, peaceful. Not that it isn't peaceful with O. here, not that I'm not free. But what do I mean?

I mean the release of my attention to be fully located within my own body, in the here of my hands and feet and back, the here of my eyes and fingers--not my ears, they are never paying attention to this exact place, they are always listening for things happening elsewhere. They hear not-here.

When O. is here (in the house, I mean), the house becomes my body. Some thread of my consciousness keeps snagging on his presence. I am interruptable. I am listening. Attending. Waiting, that would mean, if "attend" in English meant what it means in French. Yes, I am waiting: for him to say something to me, or say something at all; for me to say something to him, or say anything at all. An audience: that is the difference. Life does not become a performance but it becomes something listened to, something interactive, a multiplicity, a web with two centers, a binary star--two flaming lights orbiting some common center, located somewhere between them.

Sara Groves sings about living for an audience of one, breathing for an audience of one. She means God. How often do I think only of the Divine audience, disregarding entirely my own judgment, truly oblivious to the audience of whoever else is "here" (wherever here is)?

Probably never. Not completely, I mean.

"It is not good for the man to be alone"--but what about the woman? I come closest to that single Audience when I am alone. In the language of Anatomy of the Soul, it is in solitude that my left brain is most offline and my right brain has freest reign, to live an unexamined life--which is worth living, I contend, more than the obsessively examined life. Because what is examination, analysis, but distance? You cannot really live at arm's length from the mud, the penetrating wind, the smell of baked beans which drifts (at last) from the oven; the flavor and texture of fresh bread on your tongue, between your teeth; the rabbit that scratches you as he leaps out of your lap, the husband who cradles you when you crawl into his. You cannot really live, at arm's length. But the arm's length is what you need to analyze, and so those necessary periods of examination are periods of pausing your experience of life... Point being, my focus is less divided when I am alone. I am more embodied, my experience is more direct, when no one is watching or listening. Sometimes it is good to be alone.

Of course, the healthy alone of the morning was devoured by the pseudo-alone of emails and Facebook all afternoon. I did not protect my solitude as I might have; I bowed under the weight of my job, all those expectations (such a large audience).

And now I am ready for O. to come home. It is evening, dinner is ready. The sun vanished long ago, first behind clouds and snow, then below the horizon. The snow is still falling, and O. is trapped on a train platform on the other side of a mile-wide river, and all the trains are full, and I am not fully present here because my spirit goes out to him where he is.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember, remember [an eclectic post]

I write this with a lap snuggled full of rabbit and a belly laden with pumpkin gnocchi. I made the gnocchi from scratch following this genius recipe and they were delicious! and easy to make though a bit time-consuming.

The rabbit is here because he was chewing on the filing cabinet.

O. separated the egg for the gnocchi for me, and then decided to make meringues with the whites. They are still in the oven because they are supposed to bake for three hours.

We were planning to re-watch "V for Vendetta" tonight (it is the fifth), but it has been postponed due to pumpkin deliciousness.

We were remembering, over dinner, where we were a year ago: living in a small, moldy apartment--misunderstanding each other all the time--just getting over a brief pregnancy scare--my sinuses chronically infected. We still have a long way to go, marriage-wise, but we have learned so much in a year. Thank God.

O. washed the dishes while I was cooking dinner, without being asked. That, more than anything, feels like a sign of change to me.

I am reading Anatomy of the Soul, wherein the Christian neuroscientist author discusses remembering at length. I had one of those "aha!" moments, reading the chapter "Remembering the Future," because he cited Psalms and discussed the moral dimensions of remembering--which is something I've been thinking about for a while. I even blogged about it (posts months in the tweaking). And then he goes beyond everything I had thought about and talks about the neurological consequences for remembering, and it's awesome. I will write about it sometime soon.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Life update

Recent events, in chronological order:
  1. Hurricane Sandy, about which I have already written. We have been incredibly fortunate in that its effect on us was limited to keeping O. home from work.
  2. O. quit his job, with the intention of working part time or not at all for the next several months, and then finding a new career (which in all probability will not be as lucrative as his previous job because what pays better than software engineering?)
  3. L. & J., who had been staying with us since late August, when the apartment they were renting was revealed to have a sewage leak as well as black mold, have (finally) moved out. Their cats will never return to destroy my health! Six weeks of living with cats has increased the intensity of my allergy ten-fold.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Blue Sky!

Today I woke again to grey cloud obscuring the whole sky. But two hours later, the sun has burned through the film of cloud, and broken it into fluffy chunks. For the first time in days, I can see the sun! I can see the sky! It is gorgeously blue despite all those little grey clouds. Thank God.

I hope I never live to see an ice age. How incredibly depressed I would be.

P.S. O. got lost online researching climate change yesterday, and emerged from the data to declare that Hurricane Sandy happened because of global warming. So... let's slow the carbon emissions down. Way down. Two hurricanes in New Jersey in two years is two too many.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Power stayed on all last night and we woke up to a cozy warm house in the midst of a grey, grey day. I hope no one goes trick-or-treating tomorrow. I feel so incredibly grateful to have come through this hurricane with zero damage and really not even any inconvenience. Yeah, O. won't be commuting into Manhattan for several days (trains are down), but hey, that's actually kind of a plus.

Flooded Hoboken and darkened Manhattan
We took a walk this afternoon and saw a lot of trees down, a few wires dangling haplessly, many people wandering the city in pairs or small groups, discussing the damage and taking photos. A short walk from our house is the cliff that overlooks Hoboken and the Manhattan skyline. We stood at its edge with a couple dozen others, staring at the city that never sleeps. No light, no movement. Closer by, Hoboken lay drowning, a hockey rink turned into a swimming pool that no one should swim in, a pickup truck floating like a motorboat in a flooded street.

Welcome to Hoboken, Birthplace of Frank Sinatra and Baseball.
 Apparently the whole city is flooded and powerless. If we hadn't moved here in January, that would have been us. So grateful we moved, and so grateful that this is where we moved to.

My thoughts and prayers to those less fortunate in this disaster.

Monday, October 29, 2012


The sirens return every few minutes. The wind chimes down the block are still going strong, a persistent jangle. The wind drowns them out in a roar, on and off, wildly swinging the telephone wires and power lines and myriad other cables. The street lights are on for the moment, as is the power inside, and with it internet. But down the block the stoplights are blinking red. Stop, go; stop, go. Jangle jangle go the wind chimes.

Inside the lights are on, we just ran the microwave, the heat is still working, we have hot water. On the table are oatmeal raisin cookies with a generous dose of cinnamon--three dozen, less however many we ate. In the refrigerator are two casseroles of pumpkin soup, cooked in the pumpkin itself, which seeped out into the broiler pan and overflowed onto the bottom of the oven. On the counter, the glass pitcher and the soup-pot and all the large bottles stand, filled with drinking water. We have not so much prepared, as hoarded, making all the use we can of these necessary conveniences (power, water, gas), while we can.

The wind picks up again, wheezing between the houses and terrorizing the trees. The wind chimes jangle. I consider again whether we should move our bed away from the window. Is it inevitable that the tree I stare at every morning from my bed should fall tonight, and hit the house? The storm is passing. . .

The wind chimes jangle again as my husband runs water (it still runs!) in the kitchen sink, and opens the refrigerator (still cold!) for something. I consider, and decide in favor of caution, as I always do.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Once upon a time, and far, far away [Turkey, pt. 2]

Once upon a time, it was summer, and sunny.

We traveled, O. and I and my parents and his parents and my sister, to a far away land: Turkey. The first night, we lost my parents very temporarily, and I yelled at O.'s father. The second night, we prepared to leave Istanbul. The second morning, we rose at dawn and piled suitcase upon suitcase into two taxis, dividing the Turks between the two cars so that no one would get cheated. The taxis swerved through cobble-stone alleys and across lane-markers, and deposited us, slightly out of breath, at the ferry terminal on the Sea of Marmora. Confused and staggering under our luggage and passports, we found our way onto the ferry that would take us to another continent in a short hour.

On the ferry, we ate cake and sesame-encrusted simit, and O. drank whole milk from an aseptic carton. I stole sips from his paper cup. It was warm and creamy. A weather forecaster on TV chattered on, and I tried in vain to decode her incantations.

Once docked in Bursa, we deboarded in chaos, some squeezing into an elevator. I refused and sought the stairs, suitcase in hand. My sister followed, and my father. On land our party of seven was reunited to stand, looking lost, in the shade of the bus terminal, awaiting a van that would take us into the city.

The van came, and its driver arranged our bags like Jenga blocks in the back. Some roads were closed, there were delays. We wound through the hills and for the first time I saw the Turkish countryside--sun-colored hills rolling away from the road, and olive trees standing in silver rows. It was oddly familiar, evoking California and the south of France, the countryside I stayed in when I was fifteen.

Arriving, after a winding journey, the van pulled up onto the sidewalk in front of an open garage on a busy street: the car rental agency. There the Turks haggled about the insurance portion of the rental contract, and the Americans sat around, bemused and uncomfortable at blocking traffic for so long, and having no idea of the proceedings but noting the increasing loudness of the incomprehensible conversation happening twenty feet away.

Eventually, an agreement was reached and the contract was signed. Having arranged our suitcases in another jigsaw puzzle tower in the rear of the van we were actually renting, we now arranged ourselves inside it, and got on the road in our big black van.

The journey across the Anatolian peninsula began.

* * *

Now it is cloudy, and the leaves are turning red and yellow, and carpeting the sidewalk. We are back in New Jersey, and I am longing for summer (so recently past), for sunshine, for California. O. is talking about quitting his job in a week, and I am thinking: I will never get home to my garden.

But surely this is the start of another journey. Job or not, there will be another road trip across this continent in June. My exile far from the golden state will conclude. In California, even if we can't buy a garden, the hills will be there, rolling and golden, tall grass the color of summer. The oaks will be there. The sea will be there. The sky and the sun will be there, and I will be there with them.

This is a journey, and there will be many arrivals.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ginger Gold

Suddenly the pear-like flavor of the apple strikes me. Yellow skin, brown freckles, the scar-star of brown bursting from around a long, slender stem--have disappeared down my throat. My teeth and thirsty tongue subtract apple from apple. A sculpture remains, yellows in the swarm of air. I remember--its name.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Poetry and Intuition

I was surprised to discover this week that I actually like Gertrude Stein, the modern poet/essayist notorious for throwing off conventions of narrative and grammar. I remember sitting with my mother long ago, trying to read a Stein essay, and being unable to extract any meaning from it. My mother told me Stein practiced writing in stream-of-consciousness. Neither of us was impressed.

Now I'm five or ten years older and I've read hundreds more poems than I had read when I had my first taste of Stein. Perhaps more important, thanks to O., I've been learning about intuition, which seems more and more essential to me for enjoying (not understanding, but experiencing) poems. I used to feel uneasy with a poem until I had grasped it, decoded it, analyzed it. Like the students Billy Collins complains about in this gem.

Or, well, no, it wasn't that bad. More like: I used to think I couldn't derive meaning from a poem without first understanding it, being able to speak about it. Lately I have learned to be at peace with reading a poem and only feeling it, hearing it, seeing its images: not thinking about it.

My mother and I heard Li Young Lee read some of his poems at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing in April. We both loved it, and each bought a volume of his poetry. I devoured mine: the first time I finished an entire book of poems for the sake of the poems rather than for the sake of finishing. His poems feel like the voice of my soul, the images in them like memories dusty from disuse.

My mother started reading her book of Li Young Lee and pronounced it incomprehensible. She asked me to explain a few of the poems to her, the ones I liked best. "Sure!" I said.

But I couldn't. I love the poems, but I can't say what they mean or how they mean it. I only know that they mean. I understand them through intuition, and I don't hunger for more than that. "You'll have to find your own / pictures, whoever you are, / whatever your need," the poet writes in "A Table in the Wilderness." He shows us his pictures, though, and they speak in a language that my bones know, though not my tongue. To speak, I need my own pictures.

Li Young Lee's poems have something of the fragment about them, something otherworldly, something best understood when they are heard on the breath, spoken aloud. Still, their images are coherent and their grammar is sound. Gertrude Stein's writing doesn't offer those comforts. Reading it aloud helps, but doesn't make its assertions any more sensical. Take a look at even one line from "Tender Buttons" and you'll see what I mean. The connections between words are tenuous; my mind can't construct the relationships they stand in. Is there a structure here, or is it a haphazard pile of ideas?

The structure present is the structure of water, flowing over stones, or the shape of clouds: meaningful, determined by uncountable factors, each simple and measurable but too numerous to calculate. Chaos results, when you try to fit reality into formulas. The clouds drift away into a new configuration and the sunset changes to a new hue before you can explain the old.

Still, I see the shape, a shape nameless but meaningful. A shape I could learn to name, if I listened to it long enough. Intuition lets me touch it, and I am grateful for the unexpected gift.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


This is how I know our love
This is when I feel its power
Here in the absence of it
This is my darkest hour
--Sara Groves, "Roll to the Middle"

Friday, October 12, 2012


My new favorite meal: white beans, dark greens, and good pork sausage. I remember hating all those dark cooking greens when I was a kid--kale, collard, mustard, turnip. We also got Chinese broccoli and other vegetables that made my father nostalgic for his island home. I hated those, too. Then I grew up and went off to school, started shopping and cooking for myself, bought kale every week because you have to eat vegetables. Kale is the cheapest and doesn't go bad fast. It was 79 cents a pound at the grocery store, and it was friendlier than the other equally cheap leaves, the collards and turnip greens. Also the dandelion greens, which I would not even consider.

Two years later, I have tried the dandelion greens, braised with goat cheese and nectarines. They were delicious. The kale, I have learned to cook easily, sauteed with onions and garlic and sherry; it is a standby, and I am tired of it.

Finally I have dared to buy the turnip greens, my old enemy. Insecure, I consulted recipes. (Broccoli rabe defeated me once, until I learned its secrets from old spells: blanch it, and the bitterness dissolves.) The recipes gave me confidence, and I turned my back to them and began to cook. Onions, turnip greens, chopped fine. Most important, the pork sausage, already frying in the pan. Last, the white beans.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall, Dusk

Winter is coming, and the green and gold of summer that have not yet faded are all the more precious and beautiful because they are passing away. They will be gone, tomorrow or the day or week after. They will be gone, and the trees will be bare and the world barren. Winter is coming and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

But for now the trees are green in the park. The sky is clear blue and the sun was warm today. It is setting over the mountains and sending its golden light into my living room, and this is more precious to me than diamonds or gold. Today in the park, I looked up and saw the light streaming golden through the trees and falling on the sweet-smelling grass, and my heart was light as I had forgotten it could be. I smiled, and it felt unfamiliar, as if I had not smiled with a light heart, and seen the beauty of the world, in months.

Which is not true--I rejoiced on the road to the beach two weeks ago, when O. and I wound through the California hills at dusk, and the grass was golden and the shadows of the oak trees lengthened. And I rejoiced by the Sound last weekend, at sunset again. The clouds blushed and bruised, lavender and marigold and coral on a darkening sky. On the little beach, two swans prodded the coarse sand with great black beaks, and hissed at us when we came too close. One was dirty gray, the color of the sand almost: between cygnet and swan.

We are between seasons, and I am torn between mourning summer's departure, and celebrating its lingering presence. We are between, and someday we will be one or the other, but for now I want to be at peace with being both, or neither.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cats in the house

A big black cat is curled on a folding chair in the kitchen. His name is Amadeus. His sister-pet, the dainty Lemon Jelly, has just left her perch in the kitchen windowsill, and now I am not sure where she is, except that I do know she is not in this room, the living room, because she has not vaulted over the baby-gate into rabbit territory.

Lemon Jelly and Hazel are friends now, uneasily. Hazel usually puts his ears forward and runs to meet her when she appears in his territory. Then Lemon Jelly puts her tail up and shuffles backward nervously.

My houseplant, a beach oleander that grew from a leaf my sister brought me at Christmas from Hawaii, has lots of small holes in its leaves now, but it has survived Lemon Jelly's repeated assaults nicely so far. Lemon Jelly has also survived the plant's poisons. All's well that ends well--but the end isn't here yet, because it's only the 6th of the month, and the cats will be here until the first of next month.

The cats are not ours; they belong to LV & her fiancé, who are also staying with us for September. O. is loving the full house, extrovert that he is; I am going insane by infinitesimal degrees, every time that I can't find something in the pantry because there are too many other things, and every time that I come home with another carton of eggs only to find that someone else has already bought eggs. Things do not stay where I put them, and Pipkin is running around my bedroom, trying to get into the heating vent to tear up the carpet some more. There is cat hair on the counter by the sink, and pawprints on the toilet lid. There are four towels on the towel rack and so none of them gets dry. There is too much stuff in the fridge, but not enough food to eat, because each thing I cook only lasts one dinner, with four people eating. (The cats beg for scraps but they never get any.) There is stress and there is chaos.

But there is also life and there is liveliness. When I sit at the kitchen table, a cat (usually Amadeus) will hop into my lap, and settle there, purring. Lemon Jelly and Hazel run around the living room gleefully. Every night can be game night, for the humans.

What I am remembering is that privacy is a privilege, not a right. Having a space to myself, ordered as I like it, is even more a privilege. I am blessed to have a house arranged my way for most of the time, and now I am blessed to have friends to share it with (even though they are here because of a sewer leak and black mold, and they are stressed out and looking for a lawyer). I am allergic to the cats, but I am blessed with an air filter that is really earning its keep, and I am blessed to not be so allergic that I can't let Amadeus sink into my lap and purr as if this is heaven, this is home.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Istanbul [Turkey, pt. 1]

We walked by the Bosphorus, looking across the moving water to another continent. The sun was setting, and the heat of mid-morning, when we stood in a serpentine column of tourists waiting to enter the Hagia Sophia, listening to chatter in a dozen languages, and hoping my mother's doomsday forecasts of waiting here for an hour would prove overly pessimistic, and the sun shone directly down on us despite the tall palm trees nearby--that heat was a distant memory.

The water lapped on chunks of broken stone and concrete. The occasional fisherman stood by his rod and line, waiting for movement. On the sidewalk, couples strolled and children skipped. It was my first evening in my husband's country, and my ears strained to catch the few words of Turkish I know. Çok, deniz, çocuk, iyi aksamlar... I held O.'s hand and tried to grasp the fact that I was really here, in this place from my tenth grade geography tests, in the nation O. once worshiped, in his homeland, this place where the continents kiss.

Here, so far from home, but here, with my sister (the person who is most often in my dreams, more often that O. still), my parents (Who more strongly evokes home than the people who made that house, that country, your home?), my husband (who is becoming my home, who is my new home).

It was the beginning of a long trip, and I did not take any photos, because my sister and mother were doing it for me. Now the trip is over and I am sitting in my own home, and I don't have those pictures because home, for the moment, is on the Atlantic side of the country, and not with my parents and their camera on the Pacific.

I mark my places by the seas that nourish them.

That night we walked by the Bosphorus, and thought about crossing the Sea of Marmora the next morning. That night we walked by the strait between the Sea of Marmora and the Black Sea. That night the voluptuous moon cast her shining reflection on the water, and S. took pictures, and O. held my hand, and that night was lovely.

Who am I?

I need to write about my race/ethnicity/culture, but I have no idea where to start. I can't make up my mind how I feel about the various cultures I partake in, or whether I can claim to belong to any of them. Genetically, I am half white, half Korean. Socially, this makes me neither white nor Asian. As a child, I lived in Japan, where I stuck out as an obvious foreigner. There, children demanded that I teach them English, but simultaneously asked how I could be an American since my hair isn't blond. Then we moved back to California, where I did all I could to conceal my differences. I avoided mentioning that I'd lived in Japan. My sister, who may not have been as discreet, had classmates make fun of her "Chinese eyes."

My memories are a patchwork of confusion and exclusion. In Japan I was a gaijin; in America I was an Asian. In Japan I counted myself a staunch American, but in California I realized I didn't fit in here either. Only when I moved to New York for college did it become apparent that ten years in California had made their mark, and I felt entitled to call myself a Californian. Finding out more about the way things are in the rest of the country, I only became more set in my Californian identity, declining to identify myself with the country as a whole. Yet now, married to a Turk who doesn't really believe in democracy, I find myself defending American ideals and institutions with a patriot's indignation.

What am I to say about myself? Who am I? American, Californian; Japanese by adoption, Korean by heritage, German somewhere in the tangle of genealogies; a smidge French after my term abroad in my teens; turning Turkish in infinitesimal adjustments to my husband. How much of what? How many dimensions of identity are we talking about? Genetic, ethnic, cultural, familial, geographical, ... On each dimension, what would be the percentages? Racially, I am half Caucasian and half Asian: 50% each. Ethnically? Is that the same as racially or genetically? What about my culture--is that about food and dress and language, or about the deep, subconscious structures, the filters that determine how I communicate and what I expect? what I value and what I condemn, what I feel entitled to and how I respond if I don't get it? Impossible to determine which cultures influence me to what degree--Korean, Japanese, my father's Hawaiian upbringing, the political correctness of northern California, my innate personality, the expectations of my mother?

I turn away.

Such calculations are impossible and, in the end, useless, even foolish. They are just another way to draw lines around reality, to compartmentalize, to pin down and dissect, to control. But personhood doesn't have a body to dissect, except my body, which breathes and sweats and will not be pinned down. And when I try to dissect my personality, it is not like my seventh grade lima bean dissection (too simple), nor like my eleventh grade cat dissection (fascinating, but dead).

It is more like trying to pull up a sturdy plant whose roots grip the stones and soil, too strong for me to break with my hands and too intricate for me to untangle with my eyes.

I can look at myself through a dozen or a hundred filters, to pull forward this or that set of characteristics, to mute one color and find hints of another in unexpected places. Every filter may reveal something new.

Still, my soul is an atom, and I have no desire for fission. So I wait. Perhaps in heaven I will understand what quarks and leptons roam the spacious hall of my self.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Memory and Gratitude (2)

This post expands on the third point in my previous post on the importance of memory.

A few months ago, I was reading Ps. 105-106, and because I had memory on my mind, I noticed both psalms are about remembering. God remembers and Israel does not. Also, the Psalmist exhorts both Israel and God to remember. Some examples:
  • "Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced" (105:5), the psalm declares, and proceeds to recount those wonders, miracles and judgments.
  • "He remembers his covenant forever; the word he commanded, for a thousand generations" (8). God is praised for remembering his promises.
  • "For he remembered his holy promise given to his servant Abraham" (42).
  • "Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them" (106:4).
  • "They did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea" (7). In contrast to God's faithfulness as seen through his remembering, Israel forgets God, which leads to rebellion.
  • "They soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test." (13-14) Forgetting begets impatience, mistrust, greed, short-sightedness.
  • "They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea" (21-22).
  • "But he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented" (44-45). God's rescue of his people is directly connected to his remembering.
A search of BibleGateway for verses containing "remember" brings up many commands to Israel to remember (especially in Deuteronomy), many pleas to God to remember his covenant or his servants (especially in Psalms and in Nehemiah), and many promises from God that He does remember (everywhere). Remembering was vitally important to Israel, because their lives depended on God remembering his covenant, and on them remembering God's commands. Thus the dozens of commands to remember: "Remember the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8), "Remember the day you stood before the Lord at Horeb" (Deut. 4:10), "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt" (Deut. 5:15), "Do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharoah and all of Egypt" (Deut. 7:18), etc.

How often do churches today exhort their congregations to remember? I can't remember a lesson on memory in all my years in church and Sunday school. Memory is all about information these days; you need to remember things in school but rarely in church. In church when you are supposed to remember something, it's a memory verse, word for word, not a story or a history, not a truth, not a person.

Why? Is it because, as Zimbardo says, we are future-oriented Protestants with a bent toward trying to justify ourselves through diligence and success? I don't know, but it's something to think and pray about.

Memory and Gratitude (1)

I've been thinking about the role of memory in daily life and mood for a while, ever since I realized that O. just isn't as naturally inclined as I am to spend time thinking about the past. So I've been pondering what remembering accomplishes, and that's what this post is about. I'm pulling together several ideas:
  1. The way you remember (or don't) shapes your time orientation.
  2. The way you remember affects your mood, enabling gratitude and happiness.
  3. The way you remember can be a virtue; failing to remember can be a moral failure.
1. Remembering shapes your time orientation.
This video introduced me to the idea of people living in "different time zones." Watch it, it's only 10 minutes long but it's really interesting!

Zimbardo in the video lists six "time zones" that people live in:
  • Past, Positive and Negative
  • Present, Hedonist and Fatalist*
  • Future, Immediate and Distant
*He only names the first three of them so I made up my own names for the others, based on his explanations.

People with a Past Positive orientation enjoy remembering the good old days; people with a Past Negative orientation always remember the things they regret. On the other end, people with a Future orientation don't do much remembering, particularly if they have a Distant Future orientation wherein the present and certainly the past don't matter much, because Real Life is going to begin much, much later--in the afterlife or, in a more tech-y twist, when the technological singularity arrives.

Your time orientation has important consequences for how you live your life.  Zimbardo says, for instance, that "most of us are here [at the seminar] because we are [immediate] future-oriented," that future oriented people make plans and progress while present oriented people mostly don't, that a past-positive orientation can make you happy but a past negative orientation is filled with regrets, and that "all addictions are addictions of present hedonism."

O. for a long time was future-oriented in a way that elevated the glorious Future and devalued the flawed Present: i.e., Future Distant, Singularitarian style. This future-orientation hindered him in enjoying the present (because it could always be better) and planning for the immediate future (like getting homework done). In the past several years, O. has been changing time-zones, giving more value to remembering the past.

C.S. Lewis discusses in The Screwtape Letters how enticing a person to focus on the future is the best way to make that person unhappy and cut off from God. A person who thinks of the past may remember a time when God helped him, and turn to God in the present to pray; a person who thinks of the present can experience God's presence first hand; but a person who thinks only of the future can be lost forever in a morass of dreams and fears. I am glad that O. is remembering more, because it means he is turning less toward the future.

2. Remembering enables gratitude.
Generally speaking, grateful people are happy, while ungrateful people are dissatisfied. I'd rather be grateful and happy than ungrateful and unhappy, and I wish the same for my loved ones. Gratitude is largely enabled by memory. If you live exclusively in the present, then in a pleasant present you can be grateful and happy, but when a moment of pain comes, you will be overwhelmed because pain is all you have. On the other hand, if you remember past good things and bring those memories with you into the present, you can be grateful for those past events for years and years. Present suffering can be ameliorated by memories of past pleasures, as in Zimbardo's "Past Positive" orientation. Present despair can be broken by memories of past redemptions, as Lewis says.

Note: Of course there are also things that a person could legitimately need to forget or never think about. e.g. the case of anyone with PTSD.

3. Remembering is a prerequisite to virtue
Morality is connected to intentional behavior, so we don't normally think of forgetting as immoral since it's (typically) not deliberate. Likewise we don't think of remembering as virtuous. But memory isn't not all unintentional or uncontrollable. Consider: how often do you forget that you owe someone money vs. that someone owes you money? (Maybe you remember it more when you owe money because of the potency of guilt or obligation.) We forget selectively; we forget the things we don't want to think about or don't value. Likewise, we remember selectively; if the emotional weight isn't great enough to guarantee remembering, we can choose to write things down (in a calendar or a journal). In that sense, it seems reasonable to hold a person accountable for forgetting something. Memory has a moral dimension.

Having a good memory doesn't necessarily make you a good person, but it does enable you to do good in ways that a person who does not remember simply can't. Virtues like loyalty, gratitude, and keeping promises rely directly on memory. Others, like hope and love, are made a lot easier through memory (it's easier to love a person who is being cruel to you when you remember times in the past when they treated you kindly). For both kinds, remembering is a virtue.

To be responsible, you have to remember your commitments. If you don't, you will let people down. To be truthful, you have to to remember the past accurately. If you don't, you'll misrepresent what happened according to how you felt about it. To keep your promises, you have to remember making them. If you don't remember, you'll hurt and disappoint people. To be loyal, you have to remember your relationships. If you forget, you'll betray people. To live virtuously, you have to remember things. Forgetting makes you hurt people and break promises.

More on the virtue of remembering as seen in the Bible next post.