Photo courtesy of Ivanovgood on Pixabay

I am exhausted.

It has been such a hard week in this country, and, as an extremely empathetic person who has close ties to multiple mass shootings, is the daughter of immigrants (hmmm, when were they naturalized? I actually have no idea and neither is here for me to ask), is coming up on the first anniversary of the loss of a close family member, is bummed about missing most of the trick-or-treating time with her kids tomorrow, has a bunch of assignments and even more commitments in the next few days, and feels like she is constantly walking the tightrope of work-life balance, I am just exhausted.

And so, I am here.  With my friend, my blog.

Because I know, even in writing this that I am not alone — not alone in being exhausted, not alone in feeling so discouraged at the lack of respect for humanity that sometimes circulates around me, not alone in feeling frustrated that, at this point in the semester, even 30 minutes of time wasted feels like throwing away a precious gift, not alone in being paranoid that my friends and family are upset with me if they don’t respond right away because I’ve alienated them with all my busyness, not alone in being concerned about my future, my family’s future, the nation and the world’s future.

But writing gives me hope.

As long as there is this blog, there is a platform, for me to get my thoughts out of my mind and into the world. There is a place for me to leave these thoughts and come back to myself. There is a way for me to reach out and find home again.

So, I’m exhausted today. I know I’ll be okay, but I’m just so tired right now.  If you’re exhausted too, I’m sending you much love.  I hope we’ll both get the rest we need so we can journey on together.

A Day of Contrasts

It has been a day of heartbreaking contrasts.

This morning, I went on a run and then to a wonderful breakfast put on by Team World Vision, and I left inspired at what human beings can do for one another when we join together to fight for all people globally to have basic human rights (including access to clean water) and empower local communities.

When I got to my 12 year old son’s Tae Kwon Do studio to pick him up, I saw the news about the Tree of Life Synagogue. Later, my husband and I were talking about how terrible what happened was. My son asked what happened. When we explained, briefly, before we had even finished, he exclaimed, “What the heck?! Who would kill people when they were trying to worship God? Like, praying in a place of worship. Who does that?!”

Later this afternoon, we went to church. We prayed for the lives lost this morning, and this week in senseless acts of violence; we prayed for our community and our world. Afterwards, we went to our Harvest Festival, an event full of joy, centered around our youth. As I was watching my own kids in all their quirky adorableness, I wondered about the families whose lives have been changed forever today.

My son is right. People should be able to worship safely.

They should also be able to go to the grocery store safely. They should also be able to hold political opinions (and political office) without being worried about receiving hate mail or explosives. They should also be able to exist as who they are without having their identities questioned and their human rights denied.

And we who worshipped safely, made it home from the grocery store, don’t have our identities questioned, and hold fast to our political beliefs (maybe even expressing our thoughts about them occasionally). We who get to enjoy our beautiful families, we need to use our privilege to do better for those who are suffering right now.

Vote, donate, advocate, do something. Hold space, listen, be with those who are suffering.

But do something, use your privilege to advocate for those who have less privilege than you, rather than just for your own benefit and comfort.  Things will only change if we push beyond our own comfort to reach out, in solidarity, with those who are suffering.

Reclaiming My Writer Identity

Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash

I was on my way into work this morning and listening to Dare to Lead by Brené Brown when she began talking about “creativity scars” — these powerful moments where someone in authority communicates to us that we aren’t good enough at some creative endeavor, and we internalize that message and believe it. And then we live it like it’s the truth.

When I was a young girl, I loved to write.  Creative writing was my hobby. I started a young adult fiction novel modeled loosely after The Babysitters’ Club meet The Junior High series (hey, I grew up in the suburbs where these were my model texts at the time). I wrote a ton of poetry. I entered my school’s creative writing contest every year and generally placed, even winning one year with a short story about a community of rocks based on “pebble people” souvenirs that I had seen in a small shop in Solvang, CA.

Then in 6th grade, we were assigned to write a scary story.  It was likely around this time of the year, given that Halloween scary stories are pretty standard fare for creative writing assignments.  I wrote about a mastermind clown who scared a young girl by coming alive and doing mean things.  At the end of the story, the girl woke up and the clown winked at her.  I didn’t particularly love the assignment and it wasn’t perhaps my best work.  But, I was shocked to receive the rubric equivalent of a D on the piece with the comment, “Too cliché.”

Let me tell you, in 6th grade, I didn’t even know what that comment meant (I remember asking my mother and then looking it up…in a dictionary… because I am old and the internet didn’t exist back then). And, I certainly did not know enough about the genre of horror to know that my scary clown, waking up from a dream, story was “too cliché.”

But that comment stuck with me for years.

It left a deep creativity scar.

I stopped believing I was a strong writer.

I stopped believing in my voice.

I kept writing academically, but with little confidence.

I tried to make my language as academic as possible to get it right and please my teachers.

Fast forward to writing the final chapter of my dissertation where my chair was flummoxed at the fact that I couldn’t insert my voice into my recommendations chapter.  She was mostly confused that I couldn’t translate the way I spoke and articulated my voice in person into my academic writing which she said was actually “over-academic” (which I heard as a compliment because I had been cultivating “over-academic” for years!). But her comments were equally confusing to me. For years, I thought that my writing wasn’t about my voice, but only about my data. Yes, I made interpretations, but wasn’t that a weakness of my work? Shouldn’t I minimize who I was in my work and stick to evidence?

The answer (academically) was (mostly), “Yes, AND” — that there is room for data and voice, that there is power in my positionality in relation to my data, that my experiences mattered. And they still matter.

My advisor’s counsel helped me to realize that there was a place for my voice  in my writing and helped me to begin healing the deep creativity scar that I had towards writing outside of fully academic contexts.  This blog has helped a lot too.

Last week, on national day of writing, I wrote the following tweet:

In my most honest way, this was a reclamation of my writer identity.

Creativity scars are harmful. They can silence voices that need to be heard.

But we can heal from these scars, reclaim our creative identities, and tell our powerful stories of surviving and thriving.

I am a writer. What is your creative superpower?

The Things We Carry

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Do you know what your students are carrying?

Educators, what are the things you carry?

What burdens can you not lay down because you are fully human?

Today, like the waves in this picture, it hit me how much we carry, as students, as educators, as humans.  Like these waves that can so violently crash against us and carry us away, the things we carry can surge, sweep us off our feet and make us feel completely at their will.

I have always had the privilege to work with diverse students in urban settings (as a K-12 and university educator). I have always been someone that my students have confided in when they are carrying burdens.

I have seen middle school students struggling with watching their friend(s) die. I have heard their stories of molestation and rape. I have seen their resilience as they help to care for their families, separated for a variety of reasons. I have seen their struggle with mental and physical health issues, bullying, and society’s discourses about their “ghetto school.”

I bore witness to these things and as I walked alongside my students, I carried some of these burdens with me. While I planned curriculum, graded work, worked with families, and offered support, I carried these things.

When I was teaching middle school, especially in my last few years, I was also carrying burdens.  I was struggling to parent my daughters who came to me carrying their own childhood trauma; I was working multiple jobs to sustain our family and move me towards the work I wanted to do at the university level; I was dealing with physical and mental health issues of my own.

I bore witness to these things and as I walked alongside my students, I carried some of these burdens with me. While I planned curriculum, graded work, worked with families, and offered support, I carried these things.

In some ways, I thought that moving to university level teacher education would afford me some of the privilege of less things to carry, but this hasn’t been true, and days like today remind me of the humanity of my students, regardless of their age.

This semester alone, I have had multiple students watch close family members battle and succumb to serious illnesses. I have had students deal with serious mental and physical health issues. I have had students take the responsibility of caring for friends and family members while also trying to balance school, work and their own lives.

I bear witness to these things and as I walk alongside my students, I carry some of these burdens with me. While I plan curriculum, grade lesson plans, manage my own family and a full research agenda, and offer support, I carry these things.

In our humanity, we are all carrying many things.

Perhaps the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and one another are to be kind, to advocate, to support, to listen, to seek to understand, to hold space, to bear witness, to share the load.

If we truly stay present, we will recognize ourselves in one another’s humanity.

Stay Present

My doctora designs (https://doctoradesigns.com) bracelet reminding me to stay present

Last week, I was craving writing time to write a post on “having it all” and wanting to give some back.

This morning, when I finally had a 30-minute window, I had no idea what to do with myself.  And so, I sat down to write, reminded of the fact, that, as the semester ebbs and flows, I need to remain present.

Being present and staying present are really hard for me.  I am perpetually either reliving my past or thinking about what needs to get done in the future.  In fact, my natural tendency right at this moment is to think about the grading that I will have to do in a week, and make sure that I’m fully prepared with my other teaching/ mothering/ life expectations to manage a ridiculous turnaround expectation that I created for myself.  There are always things to do.

I am not saying that planning for the future is a bad thing. It helps me to be prepared and I am more present when I am prepared and not rushing to do things at the last minute.

But, I also need to acknowledge that this type of future planning can also cause me a lot of unnecessary anxiety and prevent me from the peace of being in this moment, at my kitchen table, with a cup of tea and a space to write. In this moment, not checking my e-mail or my tweets, not texting or planning, or writing an IRB or stuck in traffic, or teaching or trying to get everyone out the door, in this moment, there is precious reflection. There is a reclamation of my time as my own.  There is strength in presence.

And I need this strength to do the work I have to do.  I need this strength to contribute, to mother, to teach.  I need this strength because there are many battles to fight for those I love, and those I do not know, but still love as humans, who are losing their rights. There are prayers to pray, words to speak, votes to cast, miles to run, dollars to give, voices to be raised, tweets to send.

There are all of these things.

But right now, there is this precious moment.


Mid-Semester Academic Mama Check-In

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I am super tired.

Yesterday, I had two phone call meetings, an in-person and taught two classes in addition to prepping and grading.  Last night, after teaching back-to-back classes, I picked up my son from evening Tae Kwon Do practice, had a long talk with him on the car ride home about responsibility (after he forgot to turn in his fundraiser packet and only came to realize it a month later after we looked for his items and they weren’t there).  Then, I came home and finished up a meeting agenda and minutes.

This morning, I have already prepped my daughter for picture day and checked my son’s math homework before sending them off to school. Today, I have a pile of grading to do, another class to teach, 3 meetings, another set of office hours, a class that I’ve been stressed about for the last week, and several e-mails to send.  I also need to, at some point, prep a conference presentation for next week, finish an Institutional Research Board submission, do a paper review, and work on my next article.

This weekend, there’s laundry (which is never really done), weekend volunteering at the Tae Kwon Do competition, dinner with old and new friends, singing at the 50th anniversary of our Presbytery with my church choir, Chinese school, spending time with my 3-year old.  And there’s a husband in there somewhere…the best one, longstanding and patient.

It’s mid-semester.

It’s all good. It’s full. But, it’s also exhausting and overwhelming.

So much. So full. But also beautiful.

Take it one breath at a time, one moment at a time, one task at a time.

Be present. Keep breathing. Keep writing. Keep going. Or rest, when needed.

Keep reaching out. Hold on to community. Take in the great moments. Let go of those that aren’t so great.

Do the work, but attend to the people.

It’s going to be okay.

Making Time to Write

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

I am many things: human, woman, mother, partner, sister, friend, person of faith, academic, runner, writer, singer — many things.

But, I don’t always prioritize those things equally, and when I’m out of balance (did I mention I’m also a Libra?), I end up feeling completely overwhelmed.

Sometimes, I look back on the early days of this blog and I laugh a little at myself because writing used to be such a challenge for me, as I began my academic journey.  And, there are some days where writing is still hard — trying to put thoughts out in a way that makes sense to others isn’t an easy task.

But more often than not, these days, I am wanting to write. I am wanting the world to hear my voice. I know that there are stories that I have to tell that either aren’t being told or that could use more voices to amplify them.

And now, prioritizing writing is about prioritizing myself, prioritizing my voice, and taking up space.

I am so grateful to do the work that I do, and that, at this point in my life and career, I’m working on academic and personal projects that make me excited to contribute my perspectives, to move my feet (when running) and my fingers (when typing), but like running, this work that I do, the writing that I love, is a discipline.  It’s something that I (personally) need to do daily, so that, even if only for a few minutes each day, I am listening to my own voice, I am sharing my own thoughts, I am dialoguing in the world, even if no one else hears me.

It is healing to listen to my own voice in the stillness of my own space (physical and virtual). It is healing to pause, to write, to be, and to begin my day in this way.

Using Technology to Build Community

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Technology often gets a bad rap in terms of taking us away from those we love.

Don’t get me wrong. I know first hand that technology can be a huge distraction from being present (in fact, I may have been reminded of as much by a dear friend during my 40th birthday weekend celebration), but there’s been a lot written on the “evils of technology.”

So, in this post, I’d like to offer the start of a different story, a story from another perspective.

I want to talk a little bit about how technology has allowed me to build a personal and professional community beyond distance, space and time.

The last week has been a tough one, as I’ve been dealing with all that’s been happening politically in the United States. It’s also been tough professionally, in dealing with a situation at work.

Plus, honestly, life is tough being an academic mother every day.

But, my social media community often offers me faith, grace, hope and a space of community when I only have a moment and access to the internet, and when I’m stressed to the gills. They totally came through for me in this last week.  My community offered resources that I couldn’t think of when I was tired and stressed.  My community offered kindness when I felt like I just couldn’t understand why things were the way they were. They empathized and reflected. They cared and followed up.

It’s not all roses. Sometimes my community tell me hard truths. Sometimes they correct me. Sometimes they don’t get me.  But, more often than not, my virtual community helps to connect me when I feel completely disconnected. And when I see those people I’m connected with on social media in person, they check-in because they already know without me having to relive the things I’m struggling with.

I’m a work in progress in terms of using technology productively, rather than letting technology run the show in my life, but today, I’m grateful, because technology affords me community, reminds me to reach out, and shows me that I’m not alone.

On Meeting My Mom (Again) at 40

My mom and me, less than a year before she died at one of my HS cross-country races

For my 40th birthday, I asked friends and family to help me find my mom again.

If you follow this blog with any regularity or if you know me in real life, you will know that it has been almost 25 years since my mom passed away, suddenly, in a car accident.  It is the single event that has most shaped my life and defined who I am as a person.

I was 16 when my mom died.

In the last 10 years of her life, I was arguably the closest person to her on a consistent basis.  My mom was a single mom.  My brother left for college when I was 7 and although we lived close by to my aunt and her family, it was really the two of us, most of the time (except for school and work, of course) for many years.

But, I was 16 when she died.  And the memories of a 6-16 year old about her mom (and who my mom had to be for me during those years) are different than those who knew my mom before there was a me, or as someone other than mom, or even, in the case of my brother, as a mom in very different circumstances.

Several friends and family members shared memories of my mom with me — photos, small stories, longer letters.  Some of my favorites were memories of my mom climbing on the roof of our house to fix something on our roof (instead of calling a repairman) because she thought she could just figure it out and do it for cheaper (and this was pre-internet days where she could look up how to fix it).  I also loved the memory of my mom caring for my brother who got a very serious case of the chicken pox as an adult.  I remembered driving down with my mom and her bringing down thick Chinese loquat syrup to help sooth my brother’s throat and making a special savory egg custard (she did this when I was really sick too) because he couldn’t swallow much more.  I loved her entrepreneurial spirit, starting small businesses selling tiny “huggie bears” (clip on Pooh knock-off bears from China) until Disney put a cease and desist on those imports (the irony of now living down the street from the Mouse) and flavored popcorn that she used her chemistry background to make just perfectly, in small batches in our kitchen.  A friend shared with me that my mom’s smile always came out when she talked about me, and how proud she always seemed to be.

There were also stories from before I was born: My mom carrying my brother through snow in the driveway when the family lived in upstate New York after trying unsuccessfully to shovel the deep piles that had collected during the day.  My mom, as a young person, in Taiwan, raised by my grandmother, who was also a single mother (widowed when my mom was 75 days old), being a very good student, tutoring others to help earn extra money.  My mom always having a “famous grin” and a no-nonsense attitude. My mom always supporting my brother through every violin concert, play and award ceremony, “even when the budget said she couldn’t.”

Like any person, my mom wasn’t perfect.  She could be stubborn and angry. She could hold onto anger and be loud in that anger, fighting passionately when she believed she was right. But, as my brother said, she was also the first come to our rescue when we fell, and the first to comfort us when we didn’t succeed at something we tried.  She was the one who told us to stay true to ourselves, to marry for love and not for any other reason, to stand firm in our convictions.

In meeting my mom, as an adult, I see so much of myself.  Of course, I realized some of this before reading the memories shared with me, but, in reading them, I see it even more. My mom was fiercely independent and she wouldn’t back down when she believed she was right.  She was courageous, the first in her family to immigrate to this country, alone, as a graduate student.  She loved her children, her sometimes grumpy son and her headstrong daughter whom she sometimes failed to understand.  She could become super frustrated easily, but was incredibly loyal to those she loved. She had an unforgettable smile, an undeniable kindness, and a deep faith.

The best gift of my 40th birthday has been having my mom there to celebrate with me.  She is always with me, but now, more than ever, I realize that who I am is so much my mother, in big and small ways. And that gift is so incredibly precious.