Tuesday, January 1, 2019

No Holiday Delusions As I Reflect On The Year

It’s a weird thing, the expectations and idealizations we project onto the holidays. Given that beyond the glimpses displayed on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or the long preserved and manicured narratives of T.V. and anywhere you can shop; the majority of my personal experience has shown me we’re constantly vexed by the large gap that exists between these images of what the holidays “should” be and what we actually experience. Even in movies like the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story, which attempt to bring humor to the conflicts of the seasons, there is a happy ending that addresses all of the preceding conflict(s). And of course, there is. Who would want to watch a comedy that is exactly what really happens without any embellishment or a nice bow on top? That would be masochism.

In real life, the happy moments that we might possibly experience during the holidays stand in the eye of the tornado. A tornado – of all of the issues that come with your family of origin, debt, insecurities long held, newer insecurities that developed, health issues, and the many many systematic conflicts that engulf people who are less privileged than those who are privileged (in any way, shape, or form) – that is moving constantly, violently, erratically, and will not go away easily, if at all. Eventually we will take our eyes off the shiny things, wherever they’ve come from, and see we are in a storm we cannot escape. If you doubt me, just turn on the news. If the news doesn’t get you, go back and spend more time with all of your relatives. If that still doesn’t work, then go back and spend more time with all of your relatives to talk about what you saw on the news – politics must not be omitted. We are inundated with messages of idealization that surround us like a thick dome but are as delicate as a FabergĂ© egg crushed under the indifferent weight of reality.

So, with the New Year and the traditions of setting goals, celebrating or trying to get a “new you,” dieting, exercising, etc., etc., etc., please excuse me if I don’t feel that there is much of a clean slate ahead and within the grasp of a few line items being listed in the books. In fact, as I am writing this, a bird just shitted on the window to the left of me at my house. An omen of things to come perhaps? They say you’re lucky if a bird poops on you…what a way to spin being defecated on. That said, I think these resolutions can be like the psyche trying to wipe the shit off of the window when the idea of luck is overridden by the fact that what just happened is just plain gross (and I did promptly clean my window even if it means my house is now blessed with luck).

I guess this is partly why these traditions exist. To bring a sense of hope and order to the recent past in which hope has been replaced with a pile of messiness and disappointment. Do this and that and maybe we’ll we be out of the storm. And why not? It’s logical to find resolutions. So why am I so bothered? I think it’s because despite this logical ritual, and trying to find a way out, the storm deserves appreciation for what it is. It’s the need to grieve all of the things that’ve happened in 2018. Things that deserve grieving. I mean, how absurd would it be for a person to have someone significant to them lost through death or breakup or whatever it is that can cause agonizing separation, and then expect the sudden turning of a calendar page to ameliorate all wounds and usher in feelings of freshness and vivacity? That is delusional.

In my psychodynamic therapy practice, I try to allow a space for human experience to be named. Where the many parts of our selves, of which many can be in conflict with other parts of our selves, can be processed in relationship and dialogue, instead of internally hidden and fragmented. It is this fragmentation of experience, where our losses in life do not match the fulfillment we desire, and where wounds are made, that our humanity has such a difficult time with. Denial, avoidance, anxiety, depression, self-contempt, nightmares, self-destructive behavior, self-sabotage of relationships, neurosis and psychosis all involve degrees of fragmentation. Integration of a cohesive self, then, involves naming experience…the part of you that still remembers the hurtful thing and things that happened, giving it its deserved space…even if the calendar page has turned.

And so for me, I am still processing the choice to have left my non-profit agency and all the unfulfilled hopes I had for it while I was there in leadership; all of the wounds incurred as I tried and tried to work those dreams into reality; the unresolved strife. It was soul sucking, and at times I felt I was at the edge of my capacity to function. Near the end of my time there, I was definitely beyond my ability to function as a “normal” human. I felt like a shell of a shadow of myself. So, leaving that place in April, saying goodbye to clients and colleagues felt like surrendering in a battle that I could not have won but desperately wanted to.

I feel somber as I think about the many health scares pregnancy has involved, which reminds me of our miscarriage the year before. There are too many thoughts and feelings I still haven’t faced from that time, which still feel raw and beyond reach of my mind and heart. That said, I can name with clarity that as much as there was profound loss, there is profound joy; and those two things continue to be inseparable.

The family-shaped hole in my life has felt gaping wide, and hasn’t really felt any smaller, after my dad suddenly died in September after keeping his prostate cancer hidden. After discovering the vast amounts of debt he incurred, as well as other things he long kept secret. My wishes to be fathered in a way that feels safe and intentional are now vapor in the wind. And I especially saw that vapor floating and lingering in the air like a ghost on my birthday, which also fell on Thanksgiving this last year, then throughout the Christmas season, and now with the New Year, with January 1st being when my mother passed away. Today is the 10-year anniversary of my mother’s death; but it feels much closer than that. Sometimes, I still have dreams that she’s alive, that her death was a mistake and she came back from the hospital in even better health than when she was near death, able to walk and talk, and coherent. In other iterations, she awakes from the casket at her viewing. But it’s always me who wakes up, wakes up and feels sad it was only a dream and with the realization that the reality is even sadder. This year the sadness is amplified with the loss of both my parents, the pain greater than the sum of its parts.

So, as I have no choice but to step forward into 2019, I do it trying to make space for all of my parts. Parts named here and also the parts too tender for me to put into words in this space. The hopes and dreams are here, as well as scars and wounds still open from the past, long ago and fresh in time. Maybe the tornado will calm and I will find myself lucky, and hopefully ready for future storms with no delusions about it.

Saturday, December 14, 2013



The warmest embrace my baby heart knew
Comfort in your arms
And when the firm and secure cradle of your hands placed me
Securely into my crib
And when I woke up to find you gone
Endless sorrow

The brightest smile my childhood eyes desired
Affirmation in your face
As you guided my hand to draw delicate birds
Imagination growing on paper
And when you spoke your praise
Endless joy

The most shaming sound my juvenile ears could brace
Apprehension in your mouth
When you scolded me for my unruliness
Being pruned like a plant
And when you looked my path
Endless guilt

The unspeakable words that had to come from our mouths, mom to son, son to mom
Unsettled in our bodies
When you could not speak
Heart grasping for something
And when you passed

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Four Years

Four Years

Four years ago
You slipped quietly out of this world
Which barely understood your beauty
Worn in the canyons on your face
Set by the strains of smiles and tears
And the trembling hands you offered
To a world that often winced away
Because it did not know how to receive your wonder
And moving forward even though your feet did not follow
Stubborn to chase your heart
Looking on with innocent eyes that sliced the view with a beguiling passion
That saw terror and beauty
Ever searching you were
Even when your body refused to move
I remember that
Baffling and wondrous love
Given to us
Who barely understood your beauty
As you slipped quietly out of this world
Four years ago

Wednesday, November 28, 2012



As the tectonic plates of your world shifted around you
Relentlessly scraping, pressing, molding
Swallowed up by the earth
Deep in the suffocating soil
Your heart felt all of its weight
The more they pressed in
Your supple soul toughened
Dense, sharp, clear
A diamond
People look and say,
“Oh! So beautiful!”
But little do they know.
But little do they know.
A diamond
So beautiful…

Saturday, April 28, 2012



The warm weight of a surgically gloved hand rests against my fleshy side
Gravity heavy and secure
With the flickering buzz and hum
Burning needles singe the wicks of my nerves endlessly
Knives meticulously sawing, cutting, piercing, scraping, stabbing
Blades with heavy feet
Running with varied cadence across epidermal topography
I cannot outrun the pain
Carving canyons of smoldering tissue
Scouring the image in
The picture must be birthed through the narrow canal of pain
A throbbing river
Waves of lightning ink surge, burst, and sear
Buried under layers
Of trauma
Emotional wounds rise
As the needles dive in
Which I have survived

This last week I got my first tattoo. It was 5 hours of the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes, depending on where the tattoo needle was, it felt like a hot knife scraping my flesh. Other times it felt like my tattoo artist was Captain Ahab sadistically and meticulously harpooning a beached Moby Dick with a magical harpoon set aflame by Hades and concentrated ghost pepper extract. That was a long time to try every pain tolerance technique I’ve heard of or could imagine.

I told myself to imagine the pain was pleasurable…nope, didn’t work. I tried feeling the pain and telling myself, “It’s okay. You’re safe. Those are just needles. You’re in no harm. Holyshitballsoffirewhatyouarefeelingistherealestmotherfuckingpainever!!! And you’re still safe. Those are just needles. It’s okay. It’s OKAY. It’s OKAY!!!” I tried staring at a single thing in the room so that everything else would fade away. I ended up staring at almost every single thing in my sight for at least a few minutes each before the pain returned as quickly as it would sort-of-fade-away but not-really-fade-away. I tried focusing on a beautiful tree in my mind while breathing on the hairs of my left forearm while my right hand was tightly gripping the thigh part of my jeans and clenching my teeth. I held my breath for as long as the needle was on my skin and took a breath whenever the needle wasn’t touching me, imagining I was surfacing for air while swimming. I imagined I was David Blaine doing some feat of endurance. I imagined I was Lance Armstrong and the pain was the lactic acid in my legs while I powered up the hills of the Tour de France. I listened intently to whatever was streaming from Pandora, even the commercials. I kept telling myself this is only a moment in time and it will be over soon. I did those things and more, cycling between different survival techniques for 5 long hours.

And after all was said and done, my tattoo artist told me he was impressed with how I sat. Although I was in constant agony, he heard neither a peep nor felt a strong twinge from me.

Speaking of which, I almost forgot to mention a particular pain tolerance technique I used. It was one that kind of shocked me, which I’ve used before for other painful things in life, and that I’m not proud of. I told myself that I deserved the pain. In those moments I imagined the pain to be miniscule to the pain I may have caused others. In my mind I minimized my pain by comparing it to others who I imagine suffer more than me…the mother in the throngs of child birth, people who have been tortured, all those who had ever suffered intolerable injuries and sicknesses. I told myself I’ve been a bad person before and this pain pales in comparison to what I should suffer for all the times I fucked up…so bear it and don’t be a bitch.

It scared me that I could think that way and really tap into such feelings, but in other ways I’m not surprised. I know the persecutory and minimizing voice inside me that came out has been the result of a collection of angry voices in my life. Unhealthy internalizations. Guilt derived from a punitive superego made manifest. It is what evil wants me to believe. But although pain is inevitable, regardless of whether or not it is deserved, it doesn’t mean I need to join its efforts to tear down. Getting the tattoo just reminded me I still have a lot of healing to undergo…healing that forms a beautiful picture.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kony 2012, Eat Your Food, and Merit Badges

I still have vivid memories of my time as a young child watching T.V. and seeing Ethiopian children with skinny bodies, distended stomachs, and flies swarming about. The Caucasian man wearing khakis on the screen pleaded for the viewers’ help. As I ate my dinner during the broadcast, my parents said to me, “Eat your food. See those kids starving? They would be so grateful to have your food. Think of the Africans.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has those types of memories etched into their childhood. The question is, "How have those memories shaped who you have become today?” More specifically, “How have those memories impacted how you react and what you do about similar images, sounds, emotions, and experiences?”

For me, the honest truth is that I have been both a softie and hard-ass in response to anything that triggers those memories I’ve had as a kid watching those humanitarian aid pleas on T.V.

I remember a time throughout my childhood (one that I’m very ashamed of) in which I saw Black people as always needing help from others. Since I was from a different race and culture, and didn’t have any other perspectives around me in my mostly Asian upbringing to challenge my views of Black people (fueled by humanitarian aid programs on T.V., my parents’ racism, the dominant White perspective that surrounded me, etc.), I had an extremely skewed perspective (as a child would). If the people around me looked like or reminded me of what I saw on T.V., my immediate response was to see them as not on the same level as me, feel sorry for them, and be glad I was not them. It wasn’t just an intellectual idea or response but a deeply embedded and visceral feeling I had. It was a strong emotion of feeling pity and sadness for the Ethiopian children and families I saw on T.V. It was the feeling of fear and anxiety that swept over my body, causing my little heart to race as I walked past some of the Black homeless people in downtown Los Angeles; scared because I thought they were in need of help but absolutely desperate and dangerous. It was the feeling of superiority I had as I made friends with Black kids at the Boys and Girls Club, thinking my family and race knows how to thrive while theirs doesn’t. It was racism in its most unadulterated and seemingly soft form. And this is what I mean by saying I’ve been a softie, because I felt like I genuinely cared for them; however the care was poisoned with a false sense of superiority. I highly doubt that I would’ve felt the same way if I saw Black people as strong, independent, and complete human beings – something that those programs on T.V. left out in their efforts to tug on my heartstrings. And whenever my heartstrings feel plucked and the old sentimental song rises, I wonder if I’m infantilizing the other and putting myself in the parent/rescuer position.

So now I am an adult; and having gone through many of my own experiences of being on the receiving end of racism, my perspectives have changed. Enough people have done the chinky eyes look to me for me to passionately hate being inaccurately made fun of and ridiculed for a physical feature associated with my race. Enough people have expressed inarticulate, patronizing, inaccurate, and over simplified views and associations of what it must mean to be Asian; to the point where I want to lash out every time somebody asks me if I know “Karate” or am “good at math” or why my people are “bad drivers” or have “small penises.” My parents and I have experienced enough times of being made felt stupid and left out for not being a part of the dominant culture, to the point that I passionately despise the racialized status quo that’s so prevalent in America. Being Asian is different than being Black for sure, but I’ve experienced enough to know that people’s views of other races must be tempered with a heavy dose of reality and perspectivism. I remember my over simplified, inaccurate, infantile and softie-racist emotional overtures towards Black people and want to avoid it at all costs. As such, I have become a hard-ass, and often think, “Who the hell do you think you are?!?” when one people group approaches the other with an emotionally charged overture of help. Are they – are you – perpetuating an oversimplified and demeaning stance toward the other? Are you taking away the capacity, autonomy, and dignity of the other by breaking the butterfly’s cocoon? As much as I question others, I continue to ask myself these very same things.

So it goes without saying that these memories, experiences, emotions, and thoughts came to the forefront as the Kony 2012 (http://youtu.be/Y4MnpzG5Sqc) whirlwind barraged my Facebook feed. I do not intend to ridicule anyone with the good sense to stop a horrible man. However, I do intend to question what motives are mixed into people’s sentiments and fledging urges to help. If you decide to contribute to the Kony 2012 cause, will you also look within yourself to see what lies behind your motive? Will you research how your choice to help or withhold will actually affect the people of Uganda beyond what is stated in the Kony 2012 video? Will you try to be informed beyond your assumptions? Again, these are questions I ask of myself too.

I’ll end this post by sharing two things. 1) These links here (http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/120307/kony-2012-campaign-criticized-dumbing-down-conflict) and here (http://hopewanders.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/the-kony-2012-party-crasher/) as food for thought about what the Kony 2012 campaign may be leaving out (there are also other articles online offering many other perspectives. BTW, thank you David L. and Jonnali M. for posting those perspectives on FB), and 2) a spoken word poem I wrote last year as I was processing some conflicting emotions and thoughts connected to much of what I’ve expressed in this post. It is meant to be read as the thoughts of an adult (who originally came from a third world country and is living in America today) perusing Facebook pictures.

Merit Badge

What is this phenomenon of White people and their pictures with third world kids?
They float around on Facebook like badges of pride,
Merit badges sowed on to their Facebook profile vests.
One, two, three White people surrounded by a small sea of dark brown smiling faces.
You could see the joy in their faces,
I mean the kid’s
But their smiles betray and mask the agonies they have had to march through
Because they have had to
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the smiles are fake at all,
For after all the porcelain veneers that cover teeth exist just as much as the fractured teeth underneath.
Do you see the brokenness?!?
Or are you so stuck on feeling like a contributor that you forget to mourn because their smiles appease your guilt and compassion hunger?
Are you satiated? Are you full yet? What do you want?
Is the answer to rescue more like these?
Are they the only ones that will allow you to rescue them? What is the true answer? I ask!
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m not disparaging the humanitarian work that exists to meet the needs of these people who count on the generosity of the human heart and its capacity to give.
Please do see the wrong.
I’m disparaging the fucked up shit that is what exists in what does not exist
As you click on the absence of humans like these
As you flip through the other Facebook pictures identifying the limits of whom to and how long one gives…and receives.
You see,
I don’t see
A small sea of brown smiling adult faces in your non-merit badge pictures.
You know, the ones of you just hanging with your family, the vacations that you take, those pictures of you eating out…
Should I go on?
Where do the Black, Asian, Latino, First Nations, Pacific Islander…PEOPLE…in your life exist?
Is there only room for diversity so long as they are children in a third world country where you come as an aid?
Is the only space in which you can hold the brokenness of others who smile through hardships or mourn and struggle a place that is far away?
What about your neighborhood?
Where do you live?
What about the bus?
Where do you sit?
What about your work?
Who do they represent?
What about your home?
Who is brought in?
What about your school?
Who is admitted?
You see, this is what I see when I see…
And I’m not just talking about Black people that need “help” in Haiti
And I’m not just talking about the cute little Korean babies that “need” to be adopted because they’ve been abandoned
And I’m not just talking about the First Nations people you buy your fireworks from on the reservations
And I’m not just talking about the Southeast Asian refugees you sponsor and host
These are the people I see and wonder when else and where else are they in your life?!?
Beyond your “humanitarian” efforts and consumer interactions and chance passing,
What should lead me to believe they exist for you beyond a one night stand?
That they have not escaped one form of forced prostitution for another?
The one that satisfies your need to feel like you have contributed?
When are they more than that?
When will we be more than Facebook profile pic merit badges?!?”

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I’m Eating, So What Now God?

I’ve been attending a bible study that I can stomach...well, at least two times so far. We aren’t fearful of disagreeing with each other. The people that attend represent a variety of theological stances, church backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. I’m not afraid to swear or say things that might be considered offensive in some more conservative circles. Christianese (you know, language Christians often use that people who haven’t grown up in the church culture wouldn’t understand) isn’t regularly spoken there. Communion is served at each study. And the fact that the Ruthruffs (the hosts) serve delicious food before each study definitely doesn’t hurt.

More so lately, I’ve had a pretty big aversion towards the practice and explanations of Christian tradition and orthodoxy that seem to exclude anybody who doesn’t immediately understand church or Christianity as a whole. In other words, I’ve been feeling something of a hate (and I think hate is a strong word, but for now it seems most representative of how I feel most times) for things that make a holy huddle. It’s my opinion that Christian practice should always seek to be relevant beyond a myopic and ingrown culture and/or worldview; ultimately representing a Christ that embraces the “other.”

Today we talked about the paschal meal – a recreation of the Passover Meal (which commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites as they were freed from slavery) that became the last supper of Christ. Historically, and in my own personal experience, these types of conversations usually leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth, the flavor of not having met some sort of Christian quota mixed with equal part shame and emotional self-flagellation. So when today’s discussion of the paschal meal led towards the topic of Lent, fasting, the exodus, identity formation, how we bear shame, and where God fits in without reverting to simple bible quoting, and included multiple self-disclosures of personal struggles in believing aspects of God and God’s actions in our lives – I became alive and engaged.

A few things surfaced in my mind as a result of the conversation.

In reading, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:30-31), we discussed how slowing down from the day’s activities to eat with those close to us can help us “unplug” from the static and hum of life which can sometimes act as a barrier toward mindfulness and attunement towards self. The act of intentionally eating with others can help us feel and recognize the physical and relational nurturing we all long for and need. Isn’t that what the act of abstaining in Lent is intended for? To not feel full anymore. To reconnect with our longings, and as a result see the shitty parts of our lives, who has been M.I.A, how we’ve been falling short, having our mommy and daddy issues surface, various traumas, etc., and then be able to sincerely ask, “So what now God?” Maybe when the disciples received the bread they really felt the “So what now God?” and as a result were finally able to see their answer in the presence of the resurrected Christ. I mean, how often do we in our efforts to tune out the hurtful parts of our life also tune out God’s presence in those hurtful parts? Maybe if we slowed down enough to feel what is floating in the undercurrent we might also have our eyes opened and recognize Christ.

I’ll end this post by submitting to the blogosphere a photo project I came across on the interwebs. “Dinner in NY” is a series of photographs by Miho Aikawa portraying various dinner times. I wonder how these people, in their eating practices, might also be practicing connectedness or dissociation. Do any of the photos remind you of your dinner times?