For the past couple of weeks I have been deep, deep, DEEP into the archives of my past lives. Although I realize that sounds weird, going through the accumulated archives (the intentional and the accidental) of my human existence, it really does feel like a series of loosely connected but wildly divergent experiences.  I have found things from my infancy, my burgeoning adolescence, my painfully intentional embarkation into college, my initial departure for far off shores, and all things in between.

To say it has been a long strange trip would not only be plagiarized, but vastly understated.

Many of the true gems deserving of public display found themselves on my Instagram (because why shouldn’t Facebook, Inc., own my memories?) and there were heaps more beneath the carefully laid bandages I have strategically applied in order to preserve and/or to obfuscate the uncomfortable, precious, healing, and irreparable memories.

As I went through the boxes I was awed by the (embarrassing, silly, hopeful, ruined, strange, unfamiliar, heart-wrenching) notes, photos, accolades, and things… so many things. And as I sat among the things, things I would keep, give away, throw away, I thought aloud:

I miss this girl.

Now to be clear, I was a strange kid; too everything. Too tall. Too bossy. Too critical, Too worried. Too smart. Too too too. But looking back through time at all the things that were me, I suddenly missed my younger self in a way I had never really considered before. At least all those too’s were mine.

I hear all the time about people who miss their youth, but it is usually a ‘glory days’, cougar-y, broken dreams-y longing, which I have never identified with. As I looked back at my life what I missed was being the person in those pictures and notes and things, who was totally free to be herself. She was not operating from underneath the weight of a lifetime of labels assigned to her by other people. The girl I saw in all that stuff was not afraid to smile with crooked teeth, or laugh out loud, or stand up for what was right, or to speak up for herself. She was not afraid to be totally fashion/music/style challenged, she was just going for it. Not that she had a huge number of original ideas in any of those areas, but she tried them all on.

A lifetime of “you are so…” “you know how you are…” ” it is your style, way, personality…”

It dawned on me as I lugged boxes on boxes on boxes of things from here to there to gone, that the heaviest thing I was carrying around was something I haven’t put down since I picked up that first thing someone told me was mine years ago.

It is funny that I am thinking about this now, because right now I am faced with a real, conscious opportunity  to think about where I am, what I want, and to truly remember who I am. And it is hard. It is hard to ignore the constant barrage of people telling you who you are, what you are good at (and not so good at) and how you should be and what you should want, need, care about. When you think about the infinite and incessant input a person gets in this regard it is deafening.

No wonder we just quietly take it on board.

Think for a minute how many times in a day or a week you hear someone say, “You are…” I have become acutely aware of it in my present work situation because it seems to be the primary operating system there to tell people how they are, who they are, even why they are. But it started a long time ago, the first time someone pointed out something about myself to me that I picked up and put on.

They are not all bad things, mind you, (you are so smart, so athletic, so tall -?-) but they become this fabric, this tapestry, that you slowly add to over a lifetime and you wear everyday, adding to it, good parts, bad parts, strengthening parts, sad parts. I remember things people said about me when I was really young, (mostly the good things); when I was discovering adolescence (mostly the bad things); and beyond (mostly the confusing things).

And when do you take it off?

In my case, I didn’t. In all the days of adding to this technicolor dream-coat of a life, I never took it off. Sometimes I held on tighter because I liked what it said about me, other times, because I felt like I’d be lost without someone else’s understanding of where I belong in the world.

Sometimes, I keep it on to hide because it is a whole lot easier to wear all those labels than to try to really show people who you really are.

But sitting in that filthy garage among piles of life sometimes less ordinary and other times so totally ordinary, I caught a glimpse of what that little girl way back then thought of herself. The fact was she didn’t think of herself that much. She thought about the wide world out there and all the cool things to do and see and taste and try (within reason of course – she was a Virgo then as now after all.)

And it was not half bad.

I walked away from that garage and another completed project, noticeably dirtier, a little sadder, and a lot freer than I had felt in a long time.

The next time someone starts a sentence with, “You are so….” I am going to do that thing someone special taught me in Hong Kong years ago: Look just beyond their left shoulder and continue on with whatever I might be doing, politely nodding and agreeing when they are done with their most current assessment of me.

And I am gonna leave that coat right there. I have plenty of my own stuff to wear, thank you very much.


We’re Number 2!

Recently, the news broke that America is no longer the fattest of the worlds “populous” nations, having been overtaken by our neighbors to the south, Mexico. I can only speculate if our uniquely American obsession with being Number 1 at everything will encourage us to reclaim the title shortly – we have all the advantages, not to mention a growing Latino population that could help us recover that top spot, sort of like how defectors from totalitarian states helped us make gains in the Olympics through the 70s & 80s…. or something (too soon?). [Don’t worry too much though, we are still tops in lots of other awesome categories like assault by rifle/shotgun/firearm, drunk neighbors, death by reptile (oooohh… Australia is gonna be mad about that one!), divorce, defense spending, as well as the highest incarceration rate & prison population, car thefts, soda & fast food consumption, teen pregnancy, lawyers, hours of television watched, plastic surgery, eating disorders (is this ironic?), school spending (this IS ironic), and every sort of personal debt…]

Anyhow, I have been thinking about this recently because I have been amazed at how much weight I was able to seamlessly gain on my return to the US… I am so grateful to be 5’10” so I can try to hide it, but still – dayum. And as one would expect, my response has been to attack my weightgain 4000 rather than just buy new clothes (which, if I did, would actually be smaller sizes than the clothes I have now that do not fit so well… bizarro.) So, it has been back to the gym and the yoga studio and eating… well, not better, because I eat really well (thanks a lot California) but eating less… which is not so fun when everything we seem to do here revolves around food and drink consumption somehow. I also have the luxury of an entire summer off so I can do this pretty easily. And I like to exercise, so win-win.

Except for one thing. It turns out that what you put in your body is a lot more important than the amount you exercise and that sucks because I would like it to work more like an energy exchange situation. Nope, that is no longer the case. It is possible that this has always been sort of true, but my mom told me a while back that after 40, it is totally true: what you eat is far more important that what you do with your body.

And man, is that one more annoying example of mother-correctness. Last week the LA Times finally got on board with this, too. Sigh.

In the end, I feel better when I exercise, and living in San Francisco, one of the nations most fit cities, I am also motivated to continue. My lifestyle also helps (I still have not replaced the car I sold when I went to Asia, so I walk everywhere) and I date a metabolic freak of nature, which is really inspiring when it is not filling me with rage watching him enjoy Ben & Jerry’s by the pint… And I am not freaked out by how I look (it is much more to do with the ill-fit of some of my nicest clothes…) but I am also not satisfied.

I am unsure if this lack of satisfaction is a good thing or not, it could be a motivating factor, or it could just be a prettier incarnation of body dysmorphia (which, by the way, seems to be something practically unavoidable to pick up if you put in time in Asia, as I did.) I do know that I keep seeing photos of myself and thinking, “Wow, that is not how I feel like I look,” and so I know I have some sort of disconnect going on. And then one of my former students posted a video from this Dove website, and I thought, “Huh. I wonder how I would describe myself…” And that was kind of weird.

How would you describe yourself? Does it match what people see? It might be a good exercise to just consider this moving forward. And while I know I will never fully embrace the body positive thing, because that is jut not my thing. I also know that, like most people, I am actually not paying that much attention to the physical details of other people – we tend to hyper-focus on ourselves, and I suppose my own little body positive effort might be to chill out about that. Maybe. For now, I am heading back to the gym for round two today.


Professional crisis of faith, in pictures.

I teach. Or at least, I have until recently, believed myself to be a teacher. Implied in this is the idea that I am also a student, dynamic conditions both.

Lately, what I have been learning has all but made me want to leave the building. Not quite like Elvis.

But kind of.

When I embarked upon my career I hoped to be like this:


Or even like this:


When I actually started working… way back in 1995… I actually thought I might be like this:


Not kidding.

Lately I have realized that I am really turning out to be more like this:
“‘C’, ‘D’, ‘F’. ‘F’. ‘F’. For three weeks we have been talking about the Platt Amendment. It was passed in nineteen-hundred and six.”


Although, it seems a lot of people really see me like this:


And I am really afraid I am heading toward this:
“The kids haven’t changed, Dick. You did.”


And frankly… I am just a little over it all because of this:

teaching jacques burzan

And this:


Everyone keeps telling me I just need a vacation – which I am fortunate to get. But It is not just that I need a break (I do.)

It is something much bigger than that.