Back to school.

This is the last weekend before the commencement of the new school year for me. I am using the word commencement because as a high school teacher this word is overly associated with the end of the school year as a general rule… but really it means beginning. However, this morning I am considering the notion that the practice of celebrating the end of traditional (read American public (and institutionalized private) secondary educational programs as a commencement (a beginning) might be doing those of us who choose to participate in education quite a disservice.

Of course I did not wake up thinking about this. No. I woke up pleasantly enough, detached from the impending reality (doom? You know you have something to think about when the conventional humor around the return to school held by both students and teachers is something along the lines of the death of fun, relaxation, and time to grow in ways that truly nourish us…) of going back to school(work). No, I woke up and reread some of Anna Deveare Smith’s book Letters to a Young Artist, which I am teaching this year as a way to show my vastly talented art students that the kind of rigor required to make it (read ‘make it’ as survive beyond cup noodles and automotive domiciles) is the same sort of rigor that us banal work-a-day types rely on. It is a great text. Then I made some coffee. I watched Max make biscuits in the air for a good five minutes wondering what he must be thinking about and didn’t get up when I wanted more coffee because Matilda was in my lap. So, you know, my standard non-working morning.

But then I read a post someone had put on the Facebook about “unschooling.” That, by the way is not a word, and please do not get me started on the totally unsubtle and unhidden meaning of such nomenclature because I will never get to my point. I posted a comment to the post that said this:

The downside of perpetuating this idyllically presented narrative of non-traditional education is that this parent is neglecting to articulate how completely unusual he and his partner are. Not that I personally do not know people like this, but the majority of Americans who will take up this call to be “unschooled” are the same who rail on about liberal brainwashing in schools, shop for all their food at Walmart, feel the need to fight for their gun rights, and watch reality tv, which they mistake for the news. The kind of consciousness this sort of thing requires is deep, complex, and labor intensive. How many parents, especially the working poor, or people who simply lack the ability to think abstractly, or themselves are not curious but just pissed off at anything resembling government influence in their lives, could manage this?

But that wasn’t really the whole of what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say also was this.

If I had a even a penny for every time I heard someone, (usually my kids to be fair because I am working with the part of the parent population that has not totally turned on public education) say that school should be built around what kids are naturally interested in and that they should only have to do what they like to do… I could buy myself a car. Seriously. Not a new car, but I’m trying to make a point absent my usual hyperbole. From the pennies of those thoughts I could for sure by a nice used Honda. Seriously.

So I often think about this idea, this fantasy that by cultivating – exclusively – the desires of children and teenagers (do you really even want to go there??) somehow we would grow more creative, motivated, curious, productive adults… And without LOL’ing (and I am using that neologism intentionally too because teenagers think that is a real freaking word) this true story comes to mind:

When I was six years old, I was already quite sophisticated in the relative world of six year olds. I could read. Well. I loved practicing my handwriting. I flew on airplanes alone, and regularly, to visit my grandparents in LA. I was comfortable around most adults because I was around them all the time. I believed I was  great draw-er and thought being a ballet-er and an ambliance driver were perfectly compatible life goals. I loved animals, especially – wait for it – cats. I was pretty articulate as things go and had a lot of ideas about the world. I was definitely curious about things ranging from how grown ups might participate in things that cause their faces to become fully engulfed in flame (seriously) to divorce to the relative significance of inanimate objects. I observed that people are all weird and different and strange in their own way, and experienced the nuanced distinctions between my former kindergarten community school and my new school that had bells of an unknown significance. And most of this was because I was an only child to exponential degrees: the first grandchild, first niece, etc. who had a lot of direct, international, interested interactions with people around me (in spite of attending school, apparently.)

It was at this point in my young life that my aunt made a proposal to me. This aunt was an amazing globetrotting person who was doing things that at six I realized were basically spectacular. Her proposal was this: When you turn eight, I will take you on a trip anywhere you want to go in the world.

I died (as much as a six year old will) and promptly answered: LA!

Consider this. Just back from Bangladesh or India or who knows where, my aunt makes this proposal and my six-year-old mind knows LA. This was not a product of oppressive schools, a lack of curiosity, or waning creativity. This is the result of the simple fact – which i reiterate to my high school students all the time – that there is no way to really know what you might like/love/be inspired by if no one pushes you out of your known universe of likes by exposing you to new things. Some of which you might not like. The world of possibilities grows through experiences that you might not ever even know to take without the guidance and even pressure of those around you.

The trip we took  took me out of school for a month or so and ended up being a train ride across the US from La to New York, then off to London by plane, the to the Netherlands – then more usually Holland – by boat. Then I flew home from Heathrow to LAX on my own.

Now consider my adult life (well, at least those of you who know me can do this, and frankly I assume most of my readers do know me) and think about how it might have turned out differently if I were allowed to make all of my own choices based on my known likes, dislikes, and interests. We will just say it might have been more limited in order to avoid more judgmental terms. I would have gone back to the Valley.

I think about all the things that move me and inspire me now, and the experiences I am grateful for having, often in hindsight, that I would have never sought out or undertaken  if left to my own choices and devices because I was simply ignorant to all of the possibilities that were out there. I was six. Or thirteen. Or sixteen. Or 21. Just consider your priorities at those ages.

Often I hear people (myself included) say something along the lines of school not being about teaching students information, but rather how to think. In some ways I believe this, but in an effort to be more precise I would say that it is not about teaching how to think… It is about teaching why one would want  to think. Or about the myriad ways out there that people do  think. I also believe that school gives students a wonderful opportunity to hone in on things that they really don’t like or that don’t work for them, and that is also important. School also teaches us about the infinite number of frustrations that are out there at the commencement (and beyond) of the no-more-school life. It helps students understand that there are innumerable ways to deal with people and situations and they all beget unique results – and that with only a very few exceptions – you are going to have to deal with people and situations out there on your own, and the trial and error method is far safer in school than say, in a new job. I am not suggesting that Fin and Rye (really dude?) are not going to be able to deal with people and situations, but understanding human systems (bureaucracy if you’re feeling like casting aspersions) is necessary in the modern world and this requires practice with actual bureaucracy. Not because you have to participate in it, but because you are going to be a part of it regardless. Plus, You cannot effectively break and then change the rules of a system – any system – you do not like if you are unfamiliar with those rules or that system to begin with. Living totally off the grid is nice for some folks, but not a reality for most. And I would go so far as to say the ones who can make it work have real experience ON the grid.

It is clear that assessment based teaching is garbage and makes everyone miserable – and my theories as to why this has become such a point of emphasis in America belong in a different diatribe (and I am not even going to touch the implicit suggestion in most alternative education circles that anyone can be an effective teacher because… they have kids or draw breath, or whatever.) But the idea that school is a great oppressor and that kids should never have to endure that which they do not love is equally ludicrous. School has great potential – I think more than homeschooling or unschooling or whatever you want to call it – for the simple opportunity that it affords for varied experiences of world views. It is why I have to share so intentionally with my students what life outside the Berkeley Bubble is like. Life in Dhaka, or Alice Springs, or Appalachia, or Fresno for goodness sakes,  is nothing like what they are used to in the day to day of living in Berkeley, California. Nothing at all.

The more ideas, experiences and ways of thinking that people are exposed to – whether they agree with them or not – the more likely the possibility that we might actually create a more tolerant, contemplative – dare I say enlightened? – world. Fin and Rye are missing a lot of the realities of the modern world. And as I said, those might not be great realities, but there it is in the word itself: they are real.

 

Thank you notes.

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. ~  Rabindranath Tagore

There are turning points in a person’s life, many, if you’re lucky, I think. A turning point for me certainly was the decision to become an expat in the summer of 2005. Although now it seems I have repatriated, (“She’s so American!” ~ Lucas D.) several incredibly clichéd truths remain around that decision to pull a geographical some 9+ years ago. But there is beauty in cliché, likely because of the universal truths they are born from and therefore resonate from them.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed. ~ Jung

I have been forever changed by my choice to live on the other side of the world, and although many understand this obvious statement, real understanding, the kind that never needs to be explained, the kind that is shown through a look, a nod…  can only be shared with those who too have made this choice. This return to Hong Kong reminded me of the power of this shared experience and the importance of reconnecting to it.

I am unsure of the exact reason it took me so long to go back, though I can speculate at many, some embarrassingly mundane (should I spend the money, my “partner” was uncomfortable about it, it is too hard to arrange…) and others more complicated (what would I find there, do I need to be reminded of things, am I going for the “right” reasons?) In the end, all of these contemplations turn out to be rubbish. Why I make a choice is irrelevant to anyone beyond my psyche really, and the judgments surrounding it are things I cannot control. Further, the logistics can always be handled, and it is only a provincial mind that allows them to stand in the way. And really, what sort of “partner” places limits upon one? [A former partner, that's what kind...]

In the end you just go. Or maybe you don’t, that of course being your own choice.

I left Hong Kong on 1 July 2010. I returned, briefly, in February 2011 with the specific intention of proving to myself that I had made the right choice to repatriate. That was foolish. But I was in a bad place, relying too much on the opinions of others about the choices I was making, and insecure about an unsure future here. The insecure and unsure mind makes many declarations: YES, I have chosen correctly. NO, I do not need this. Etcetera, etcetera, off into tedious infinity.

Three and a half years later I returned. Not so much as a prodigal daughter, (though one could make the argument that in some ways I had squandered (by diminishing) some of the amazing lessons I had learned while abroad – and was welcomed back into the arms of my teachers with nary a moment of consideration) nor in some prodigious nature replete with characteristics of a grand tour of places far and wide (though prodigious in some other ways, I shall allow you to speculate.) Home now for nearly three days (though this is my first alone in my space with only coffee and cats – definitely a story for another time-space-medium) I can say with the most sincere conviction that my return was important, necessary, invigorating, clarifying, and right.

No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten. ~ HST

It is important to assert that I had been longing for a visit to Hong Kong, really a trip – a voyage – anywhere, as I had felt my wings unduly and involuntarily clipped for the past two years (though it would be irresponsible to suggest that these things happen entirely involuntarily, if at all involuntarily.) I had been stayed put. But then I had an experience that shook things up a bit and like a stick loosened from the mud I chose to follow the current. Of course, this did not come without judgement (both my reaction to said shake up and my choice to head to Hong Kong, but lately I am less and less interested in the judgement of others.) So, in what appeared to the untrained, uninterested, or unobservant eye, to be spontaneous (irresponsible? reactionary?) I bought  ticket.  I would deal with all of the reasons why this would be a problem later. It turns out that problems are largely a product of perception, by the way.

I let my circles know I would be coming back. ‘Home’? It is hard to say, but I believe there are so many versions of home, and likely the “where you hang your hat” definition is most accurate, particularly for me, as you can be sure I would never hang my hat somewhere I did not want to be; I have issues about my stuff. I opened my heart and my calendar to see what would be, and just let things work themselves out… and it was – if there is such a thing – perfection.

No man [or woman! - Monty Python] ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he’s not the same man [or woman! - ibid]. ~ [apologies to] Heraclitus

For a change, I harbo(u)red few illusions that I would return to a place that was the same, or people who were the same, or as one who was the same. I also allowed myself to be open to anything, making expectations unnecessary. I reminded myself that people might want to know about my reasons for coming back, (although, really the only people who asked about it were the people I was leaving in America) and that there might be assumptions… and I allowed for those as well. Why should I care what those might be? A few days into my visit, a friend pointedly asked if this trip was about Stu, I thought for a moment before answering, considering how this made me feel – shy? embarrassed? silly? I shrugged and said, it was really about me, and Stu is certainly a part of that. The answer felt right and true, and my friend smiled and said, “Welcome home.”

From the moment I landed and walked into the palpably thick air of a Hong Kong summer, everything felt right and true. Different yes, but familiar enough to comfortable and welcoming, while different enough to exciting and inspiring. [In keeping with the theme of cliché: same same but different, if you will.]

And there are so many I have to thank for this.

Thank you Frenchie for being you; goofy, loving, generous – and holy shit – ON TIME! Thank you for allowing me to use your space without limits or conditions and making time for me on the days before your departure. Wine, cheese, walks, sweat, shandy, stories, the beach, spring rolls, coffee, yoga & failed helicopter plans… Kind of a lot for three days. Although the time was too short, vive le France! And to next summer we look.

Thank you Kelly for being the consummate planner and arranging the traditional Lamma dinner and knowing precisely who to include. Although we took no photos, (wait, really?) that I was able to see my original Lamma benefactor and favo(u)rite OAP is something I cannot express my gratitude for. And the rest of you who were there… you were my first Lamma family without question, and time and space aside, you remain my family.

Thank you Chris, Jill, Cath & Daz for knowing I had to share our mutual loss, and knowing without words that it mattered. That it all matters. And for much more that need not be articulated, but suffice it to say, Cath’s bar is still home and I loved being able to rock up like a local. The four of you cannot know how grateful I am for being able to spend time together in an awesome variety of ways over my twelve short days.

Thank you Kate for being you and allowing me to combine two things I love beyond measure: Yoga & Lamma. Fabulous.

Thank you to my cousin Akasha. He knows why. And although these times are trying in many ways, for us they have been transformative. Namaste, yo.

Thank you Camellia for letting me be an auntie and for so many things: massages, margaritas, breakfasts, spa treatments, sushi & shopping. You are a fabulous mama, Chloe is so lucky. Were it not for the little princess I would still be shaking my head trying to figure out if it was 2009 or 2014 as it seems like not a day has passed since the last massage & margarita session.

Thank you Sarah & Willie for getting me to Kenneth’s recital… he was amazing and still EXACTLY the same curmudgeon I love to recall. To see you two along with Inggie and Clare was awesome. I miss you guys!

Thank you Keren for spotting me fresh off the boat and your gorgeous smile. I feel lucky for all of our unplanned encounters and the time we shared.

Thank you Tracey & Jerry & Lucas for still being the best neighbors a girl could ask for and reminding me of about a million things I love about our little village (and dinner!) I am gutted to not be having a wine with you and Nick when she arrives in a few weeks time… but I’ll be there in spirit.

Thank you Tam & Aims for making time and sharing Mui Wo with me. Gorgeous afternoon, and one of the best catch-ups of all time.

Thank you Veer for continuing to be my teacher. I am lucky to have a yoga master like you. You have shaped my practice and continue to inform my understanding of yoga far beyond the asana.

Thank you Emily for always being the connection between me and the girls we practice with and making time for a lovely long lunch. I can’t wait to see you again.

Thank you James for lunch and all the NTK news… and the thought-provoking conversation about so many professional options. And cats. You were a great boss… and make me almost consider working six days a week again. Almost.

Thank you Fun Bobby for being you. Hong Kong is simply not Hong Kong without a night out with you – in whichever form it might take. Sorry we missed the pandas, but hey, gelato and hot pilots are fairly good compensation.

Thank you Rodney for lunch and your sanguine nature and ability to explain so much of what is happening now in Hong Kong. You look amazing, and as you are singularly the reason I ever came to Hong Kong in the first place, to not see you would have left my return incomplete.

Thank you Adele and darling N for the breakfast adventure and shared time. I am astounded at the young man N is becoming, and it is certainly a credit to his momma.

Thank you Andy for being you. Always. I miss you, mate.

Thank you Kelly L. for reminding me that the light I see in others is a reflection of my own light – you’ve always seen something in me that is special, and that is a reflection of you.

Thank you Dr. Man for squeezing me in on your return. You have always had a unique ability to shift my perspective, and this was no exception. It is interesting for me to see you, then and now, because you remain, ( not ironically) someone who is simultaneously steady and fluid.

Thank you Heather and Eric for a rain-soaked happy hour. Thank you Andrew for sharing your pool. Thank you Barry for continuing to entertain in so many ways. Thank you Jack for the many ferry hellos. To Dave O., Parksy, Mooney: thank you for remembering. To Cita and Luisa and Joyce and Emma & Danny: thank you for remembering me like I never left. John Fox… thank you for saying hey, and the conversation: San Francisco may not be the only American city I could live in, but it certainly is pretty great.

And a huge, smiling thank you to everyone who came up to me with a hug and said, seriously, “Have you been on holiday?”

To Eric, Olly, Vicky, Nickie, Sheli, Tamara N., and those I missed for reasons many, I know I will see you the next time around.

The clichés comfortably, or at least aptly, remain: You can take the expat out of Hong Kong but you can’t take Hong Kong out of the expat, roads less travelled, rivers stepped in and out of, nothing lasts forever, we are all in this together… and life goes on.

Thank god for that.

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We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us. ~ F.W. Boreham

One week in… Nine remain.

In my first week of summer break this year I have made a very intentional effort to pay attention to what I am doing, how I am spending my time and how I am feeling about it all. It has been pretty good so far. Under freakishly warm and sunny San Francisco skies, I have done yoga every day. I have gone out to fancy dinners and had take out in the park. I have read one novel and started another. I have watched a ton of soccer. And baseball. I have taken a lot of pictures of my cats. I have vacuumed. I have enjoyed some great cocktails. And cold beer. I have gone home and I have been home. I have cooked good food. I have fought a summer cold (victory uncertain at this point.) I have appreciated my urban situation more and more as I take advantage of the neighborhood and the ease of life in a place where everything is nearby, and no one really cares what you are wearing or who you are with. And I have appreciated having a traditional ‘hometown.’ I have hung with new friends and old friends and my parents and my parents friends.

I have also greatly enjoyed the feeling of being unburdened from negative people – although this bonus was relatively unplanned, it has been wonderful. No more fear about ‘doing something wrong,’ or ‘saying something wrong,’ or that the way I think or feel is “wrong.” No more suffering hideous treatment, only to then be told that it has to do with something else “this is really hard for me!”), or worse, that I somehow brought it on myself (“YOU did…”) No more having to worry about how someone will react – always so unpredictably –  and just feeling generally bad about it all. No more having to worry about needing to build/repair/maintain other people’s bridges. It is so freeing I can only imagine that this is the light of summer manifesting.

People always say to be kind – and this is not always easy, but damn, does it pay off.  I am so glad that the circumstances of my summer have allowed me (forced me?) to literally and metaphorically walk away from so many situations that I know would only have brought out the worst in me. I have been amazed at the kindness reciprocated from kindness.

So far this summer has been warm (too warm if you worry about drought, fires, and global warming) in a literal sense, though more so in a figurative way. When you stop placing yourself around people who only talk shit about everyone and everything, things look a lot better (duh.) And the positive energy – as silly as this sounds – is real and changes everything. It even gives you the strength to fight the good fight against those things pull at your fundamental sense of right and wrong.

So on the eve of the longest day of the year up here in the Northern hemisphere – everything feels light. I will spend the solstice day at the ballpark – what better place? – and watch the sun go down over San Francisco when it finally does.

And what of the remaining nine (almost) weeks of my summer break? I look forward to enjoying the light, even as it begins to diminish, from Carmel, Vegas, Hong Kong, Thailand, and this beautiful city by the Bay. I have a stack of books to read, a new camera lens, an open heart, and a true sense of freedom.

#WINNING

How I suck at “Social Media” and how this allows me to use it prolifically.

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Let’s start with full disclosure: I blog (which is a poncy way to say ‘I have a blog’), I have a Facebook (again, a ridiculous way to say ‘I use Facebook’), I have an Instagram (I actually think this is how everyone says this), I have two Twitters (one is for work; my students use Twitter for current events via KQED and it is a good format, and I have a personal account which is my only truly locked down and private outlet within the social media sphere), I used to have Myspace (two of those too – one for me and one I allowed students on – I do not do this with Facebook now, I just say no until students are out of school, then if they still care, I will accept their friend requests), and I have a Google+ but I have no idea what it is – although it seems public. Oh, I have a YouTube account too, but I think if you use gmail you have this because of the pervasive trend towards conglomeratization. I do not have a Linkedin – and I wish people would stop inviting me because it is a totally useless concept in my field. I do not have Flickr, DeviantArt, Tumblr (although I had a school one for a year), a Bebo (don’t even know what that is), and god help me I do.not.SnapChat.

Basically, I have a fairly visible digital footprint. Regardless of this, I still suck at social media. And I am totally fine with this because I think it is why I am able to use social media so prolifically without becoming angry and insane.

Here’s why: I do it wrong.

It turns out, I am just not really that “social”

I have always known this about blogging. I like to blog (look at me go!) but I don’t really read other blogs. I do occasionally come across blogs that I read because I am looking for something specific – like research for work or personal interests, and then I will read them, but in general, in the same way I look at my blog as a way to be hugely self-indulgent, I am not that interested in reading other people’s self indulgences. Unless they are about me or something uniquely related to me. The blogs I write that get attention get it from small niche populations. Thus it is no surprise that a blog I wrote about my cat remains to this day the blog that got the most hits out of anything I have ever done in any internet capacity. When I write about friends from home, my friends from home read it. When I write about being a teacher, my teacher friends read it. When I write about events and adventures, the people who shared the experiences read them. And there are a few exceptions here and there, a clever tag that gets others over to the page or something, but really the audience is terribly limited. And I am okay with that. I don’t interact with commenters (oh, I will get to them in a minute) and I don’t comment. I do very little to engender interaction or interest in my blog. I harbor no illusions that I am telling stories or illuminating ideas that no one has ever considered. In fact, mostly I feel like I am just adding validity to the reality that our shared human experience is far more similar than it is unique most of the time. And in its own way that is kind of cool.

I use Twitter for news. I love it and scroll through it regularly, occasionally retweet things, favorite things I want to come back to, and mostly leave it at that. I originally got it as a way to text for free from overseas, but now I use it primarily for information and as a way to measure the social temperature around said information. I like Twitter and it is very handy for my students to use as well.

I use Facebook (which I keep private, although I do not consider private in the way my personal Twitter is because there are people on my Facebook that I would not share certain things with because it would be weird and inappropriate) a lot. Although, it is getting harder to use it the way I would like. But again, it turns out I am not that “social” on FB. I post a lot of things. Things *I* think are interesting, important, funny, relevant, whatever. Again, I am under no illusion that these things are “interesting, important, funny, relevant, whatever” to other people. I am not posting for other people. I am posting for me. That is why I put the stuff on my Facebook page. If it is interesting to other people, that is cool – and I generally can predict with nearly perfect accuracy who will respond/comment/reply to the things I post. That is a benefit of having people who you actually know on your Facebook.

But I don’t get really interactive on other people’s Facebook pages. There are several reasons for this. First – Facebook is making this harder and harder as they only automatically show you the stuff posted by people you “interact” with regularly so it is easy to see how that circle gets inadvertantly smaller and smaller. Another reason I am not super active on Facebook is that there is a lot of stuff that people I really like post that I don’t wanna see. This does not mean I like them less, or do not want to be their friend in real life, or on the internets, it just means I am not into seeing stuff like that and so I don’t look at it. Going to the page of a person, like my friend D.M., a guy I have known since the first grade, and really like in a ton of ways, is not fun for me because we hold diametrically oppositional views on politics and a lot of social issues. Telling him how I disagree would be stupid – or having the audacity to tell him he is wrong or should not be posting something because it bothers me is just inappropriate. He is not posting that stuff for me – he is posting for him, so why do I want to go there and get all fired up – or worse, get involved in some comment battle where I am trying to convince someone that their opinion is “wrong”. Opinions – like feelings – cannot be wrong. They can be in disagreement with my opinions, and certainly wrong for me (or you), but telling someone their opinion is wrong is a waste of time, and really offensive. So instead I leave comments and “likes” on his Instagram where we have much more common ground.

I do believe there are times and places to help someone perhaps see that their opinion does not match data/history/science/facts or something, but I would suggest that would be like in a teaching situation, or as a parent, or an actual conversation among friends. Not really apropos for “social media.” I mean, it’s like the rules that govern polite conversation at dinner parties. People used to say ‘do not talk about politics and religion in mixed company.’ And this was not because people didn’t think about that stuff, or should not hold different opinions – it was because it was a “social” situation and being a dick by telling someone that their opinion is wrong is not very social. Remember when we were taught that if you didn’t have anything nice to say to not say anything at all? If social media is as it claims to be [social] – maybe that is a good rule…. I mean treat other people’s pages as their dinner party and use your own home(page) to say what you have to say. If people don’t want to hear your opinion they don’t have to come to your dinner party.

Facebook in all its deficiencies does allow for a couple great ways to deal with this. First, you can straight hide someone’s posts from your news feed (either by unfollowing them or selecting certain posts.) I have done this. A lot. If someone whose posts you enjoy following generally posts something you cannot deal with, you can had that specific post. A friend in HK who is super active in animal rights posted a super awful photo of an elephant, which I assume was attached to a story about how disgusting people are to elephants, and I could’t take it so I hid it, but not her. I hide all the silly fantasy sports stuff one of my former students posts – it is clutter and useless, but I love hearing about him and his family. I posted a misogynist rant that came out around the Isla Vista shooting on my page and one of my really good friends in HK who I discuss almost everything with, was like, ‘I can’t take this, I’m hiding it from my feed.’ And I totally get that. She didn’t feel the need to tell me how my posting it was wrong or that it was somehow not appropriate – she just said, I don’t want to look. That is what I would call solid use of the comments section.

Which brings me to the commenters. OH.MY.GOD. There is a seemingly growing population of people on the planet that have infinite amounts of time to dedicate to some sort of personal calling to comment on internet activity. These are trolls. I have had a few trolls. I know who one of them was, and I think I have finally blocked him enough that he cannot comment on my blog and Instagram (my only public pages) and his deal was just that he was (is?) a weird little man who thought I rebuffed him inappropriately. But it was still really annoying to get shitty comments from him. Another one I had was a former coworker who was convinced I was subliminally writing about him in my blog, which I was not, but his misunderstanding was illuminating. I am always surprised at how bad the (poor grammar and spelling aside) words of a total stranger or someone I could really not give two shits about can make me feel when it shows up on my stuff. Do the trolls have their own pages? Agendas? I have no idea, but they freaking should because that would be the right place to vent. Venting on the pages/posts/comments of total strangers just to spread vitriol is so bizarre. And it is like they get a certain kind of joy from just being awful.

Says a lot about society.

While I cannot even begin to grok why you would spend this sort of energy being a dick (and far worse) to total strangers, I am even more mystified by people who would do this to people they know – unless they just don’t want to be friends anymore, which is fine, but “breaking up” on Facebook/Instagram/blog seems pretty lame.

I am grateful for the ability to see what my friends – from near and far – are up to in their lives. It is really fun to see who has gone somewhere amazing, had a new baby, got a new job, and be able to be a spectator. I realize email could do the same thing, but that is a much different interface. Do I want a whole email every time for all these events? I think I prefer being able to look through the “news” feed. It works for me. I also have a growing appreciation for the vastly divergent attitudes and opinions my friends hold around religion, politics, social issues, and life in general. That I am friends with such a diverse group I think says a lot about me and my friends. I don’t need them to change for me, that they are who they are is what I love about them. And I do like having conversations with my friends about our thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but this does not happen in the comments. This happens in a pub in Hong Kong, at a secret diner party in SF, poolside in Vegas, on a phone call from Paris, or in email exchanges from Dubai.

In the end “social” suggests being with people and so while social media does endeavor to so this – it is not them same.

And I am okay with this.

The way I choose to use social media works for me. And if it doesn’t work for you, then there are lots of ways to handle that…. (like why are you reading this?) But whatever you do, if you want to remain hopeful for humanity and maintain your sanity… trust me on this: NEVER READ THE COMMENTS.

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[First image from HuffPo, cartoon from unknown source.]

 

Summer comes again.

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It is summer again, and although summer generally denotes a seasonal change, as a teacher it has an additional sort of significance. Waking today – a Saturday much like many before (and hopefully after) feels slightly different than those recently passed because the reality is any day that I want to feel this way can for quite some time. This reality serves to temper many other feelings one might have, and so of course for me, in the summer everything seems so much more manageable, tolerable, deal-able.

This is my fourth summer since I came home. I realize some people think I place undue, even undeserving I’ve heard, emphasis on the compartmentalization of my life based on my geographical orientation, but I have come to understand that those who do not take the leap to experience expatriation will never under stand how (among other things like marriage and childbirth and divorce -I would guess without knowledge- matriculations and commencements, and of course death, to name a few) there are experiences that quite permanently become markers of Before and After.

These Befores and Afters become the chapters around which we build our stories. So I think they have inherent significance.

My story today starts with the rumination that this is the fourth summer I have commenced here in San Francisco, which I suppose is home as much as any place might be for me. And it feels familiar, but rather unusual in a sort of Alice and Wonderland kind of way. For example, the light is different (my building is being painted and so I am living behind scaffolding and shade cloth) but the rhythm of the morning remains the same.

The World Cup has begun. Another familiar pattern rearranged with the indelible imprints of four more years of life – rather like the pattern the shade cloth spreads across my floor. Four years ago I contemplated the World Cup as I prepared to leave my home of the past five-plus years on a small island in the South China Sea. And of course that made me think of #5. This week as the Cup kicked off in Brazil, things are so much the same – I am certainly thinking of him, but it is not the same.

Repatriated Summer #1 

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall

To come home was a cause of some celebration and my friends – people I have counted on for decades and certainly will for more to come – allowed the landing to be a bit of a cause celebre. It was a summer of embracing complete unknowns. It was seemingly open to infinite possibility, and I was distinguished by my “fresh off the boat” status (being distinguished has a lot of gravitas in a world like ours it seems.) This was the summer that the power of a hometown and lifelong friends became clear. But I still didn’t want to be t/here. I chose to interpret the uncertainty as freedom and it worked. For a minute. It was all so easily manipulated and perceived. In moments I had a house, a job, as if it had been effortless.

But nothing really is as it appears.

Repatriated Summer #2

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ‘em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
To call Alice, when she was just small

The grey of the City was heavy. The cause and effect relationships in California public policy, and my personal public policy weighed heavily upon me. I still was free – in a way I’ve only recently begun to acknowledge and appreciate – but under the weight of unpleasant circumstances, perception mirrors the unpleasant. This summer I employed my freedom in the willful pursuit of terrible decisions. And then that was that. As quick as the fog rolled in – it went out and another paradigm shift occurred. A new job – swept up from the pit of despair with apparent ease straight out of a parking lot at an A’s game.

I recalled (as I have so many times) the words of one of my yoga teachers who warned of the potential unhappiness that awaits those who allow themselves to place too much stock in the capricious highs of life, as they will certainly then be ill-equipped for the inevitable lows mirroring the misplaced euphoria with equally mismatched despair…. But not really. It was summer, when all things are possible, positive and perfect. So I got another cat.

Repatriated Summer #3

When the men on the chessboard get up
And tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know

Much stayed the same. The home. The job. The cats. But suddenly the freedom shifted. No longer the open ended possibility of a summer of unknowns stretched out in front of me, but rather a summer of (seemingly) known facts. There was someone telling me where to go and how to see things that I was sure were not right.

No. You are wrong. Your feelings are wrong. You should not do the things you think you should do, he said.

The gaslight was illuminated. And I did what I was told because surely my feelings must be wrong because they did not match anyone else’s.

I was right. But it took another year to work this out. And it took another year still to realize that when people tell you the way you feel is wrong, they are the ones who are mistaken, and they are not your friends regardless of what they say.

Repatriation Summer #4

When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the red queen’s off with her head
Remember what the door mouse said

A beginning that suggested the summer would be one of the mythical summers of antiquated literature and cliched perfection.  Settled. Work, home, patterns. All combining to allow for a hideous misappropriation of confidence in perceived reality.

Cracks became too real to ignore, and deep contemplation of what steps to take became the focus. Because the magical elixir of summer allows one to feel super heroic and powerful enough to manifest all illusions of reality and control, this summer set me on the required route to internal combustion.

All would break in the fall. Though not all would be revealed until the  subsequent summer.

And now here: Repatriation Summer #5

Feed your head,
Feed your head

The World Cup is back. Work is behind me. The same job awaits me. My village remains steadfast and supportive. The fog has rolled in. The cats get along better.

But this summer everything is different. I have broken free in amazing ways; unburdened as my mom said. Yes.

Like that first summer back in America I feel like I have the freedom to do anything I want to do -and that is inspiring. I am very clear in my heart & mind where this freedom has come from and my gratitude is immense. Suffice it to say that a debt has been paid in a way I never could have imagined and it has gone so far beyond what I thought I was owed.

This summer I am doing the things I should have been doing all along and reclaiming my true self. Thrice traveling. Sharing time with people who feed my soul in a way that cannot be explained. Practicing. Breathing. Reading. Writing. Taking photos. I can’t recall feeling happier… but it’s not that wildly euphoric kind of happiness. it is reflected in balance, and calm, and awareness. So I’ve got that going for me.

Feed your head,
Feed your head

Feed your head,
Feed your head

Feed your head,
Feed your head

Statistics.

I love statistics. Not the class in college – I did not love that so much, but data makes me super happy. And I understand how easy it is to manipulate data, and therefore statistics… but still… they are so compelling.

Except, I don’t really want to be statistic. Nor do I want my students, who really are my kids (even though I fall into the statistic that represents intentionally childless women between the ages of 40-49) to be statistics. I work really hard to share strategies with them so they can avoid becoming a statistic:

Another student of color who will not graduate from high school.
Another young black male in prison
Another pregnant teenage girl.
Another student shot.

And this was just this past week.

It is a heavy load to bear, even when the end of the year is so near, maybe especially when the end is so near.

 

The Hook brings you back…

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I think expected sad news may really be the most unexpected. It is like you think you are ready, and then you wait and wait and wait and it never comes.

And then it does.

And when you get the news you sit with it a minute and think to yourself, ‘Well, I sort of expected that….’ And then you can’t get out of bed for like, an hour, and then you have to go to work, and then the rest of the world and the day and everything is just just just so fucking normal.

I am not sure there is anything sadder.

Meeting Stu was one of the best and worst things that ever happened to me all at once. But he was like that – all things all at once. So many things he couldn’t really ever keep them together. And that was his tragedy – and his gift. I remember the night I met him perfectly and the various strange, not always nice, events that followed. I can say now that those days, months, years, in which Stuart played a role  have been some of the most fundamentally significant in my life.

And it just makes it so much god damned more sad.

Stu was unable to overcome his demons in the end, it appears, though I had to smile when this morning as I spoke to a friend about it and she said, ‘He just seemed like one of those indestructible ones, you know?’

I guess there is no such thing when you really get down to it.

As I sit here, semi-catatonic, perusing photos from Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao, and Lamma Lamma Lamma…. I see the faces of people who knew us, who know me, who might say to me, well, it had the air of inevitability about it, this. And I think to myself, I suppose.

But we all do die, don’t we?

When I think of Stu I realize I never really had the chance to fully grieve. And as you can imagine, when one breaks off with  a person under the conditions we did – there is always unfinished business. Always. This adds to the sadness. I never really had the chance to get angry with Stu either- I was too busy managing things, myself, mostly I suppose. As I look through my email (why not poke the bruise a bit?) I see so many times he tried to reach out… and I did not (could not?) reply. I am so remorseful over that today, and while the sane mind will say it would not have changed the outcome, the sad mind can only wonder if it might have made a difference. And though we kept in touch on and off these past few years, I am so grossly disappointed in myself that the last real contact we had, digital though it was, was about me harping on him to handle his business.

How embarrassingly trivial. How devastatingly sad, to have those be the last words he heard from me. How horrible to actually experience, what can only be termed as the deepest regret, that I could not have been kinder in that last connection.

This is a regret that will not soon pass.

Stuart was a tragic character, and burnt many bridges, not surprisingly. But Stuart was much more than that. He was a kind, kind person – in spite of all that made him tragic. Stuart was good to me in spirit and in his heart – if not in more practical issues of this corporeal world. He saw me beyond the obvious, and he truly believed I was beautiful, in every way. Stuart introduced me to fascinating ideas and people and experiences that I’d never have had the chance to glean other wise.

Sitting here thinking on Stu this evening I remember his passion for life, how he loved to dance – and those beach parties! His sense of humo(u)r, how he loved our cats, and being and working in our home and our garden. I am still awed by his compassion for others regardless of their station or circumstance. I remember how much he loved Hong Kong – really and truly, and all the people I met there because of him. He used to sometimes just say, ‘Here we are on a tropical island in the South China Sea – how bad can anything be? This is superb!’ I remember how we got on about our football rivalry, my choice to support Chelsea just to vex him, and his lifelong love of the Tottenham Hotspur, and our World Cup debates. His silly taste in music… James Blunt! Robbie Williams! Dido! And I recall the person Stu really wanted to be…

People who met him – certainly all the people I introduced to him – wanted so much for him to succeed. Perhaps now in some way he can see that he did. He wanted to change the world and today I spoke to friends from Thailand to Israel to Ireland to Australia to England and of course our beloved Hong Kong who remember what a light he had inside of him and the joy he had for living… in spite of the choices he made and the circumstances he created. And I have to think that makes a difference, even if it was not enough to get him through the darkness.

In the end I sit with knowing how much we both believed in the love we had, and I mean, that is sort of a nice thing to experience with another person at some point in a lifetime, right?

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There’s not a single song I could choose that fits better right now…. it’s the first thing that’s made me smile about this whole situation.

Rest in peace Stu. And get your groove on while you’re at it….

Sometime… Can you feel de pressure does unwind
Sometime…
Sometime… Trough de day and trough de night
Sometime…
Sometime… You can make our pressure does unwind
Sometime…
Sometime… It’s for your spirit and your mind
Sometime…

 

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