It’s That Time of Year Again…

It’s that time of year again.

Sunday, February 3, around 5:30 am, I’ll be preparing to run the Surf City half marathon.  I’ll also be thinking about my mom, who passed away 24 years ago around that time, on February 3, 1995.

Yesterday, I was driving in the car to work, heard a song and started crying.

This morning, I woke up and felt a strange mix of sadness and anxiety. I turned to my husband and acknowledged what we both know.

It’s that time of year again.

This year, the anniversary of my mother’s death is perhaps made more poignant by my journey to reclaim some of my cultural identity through learning my heritage language and beginning a Chinese studies degree.  It stands out as more real because I requested for my 40th birthday that people tell me stories and memories of my mom which brought her home for me in a different way.  It is perhaps more painful because I am not choosing to bury my pain, but instead, seeking to bring light to so many invisible stories, my own and those of others.

So, if you see me (IRL) in the next few days, I will be however I am because grief ebbs and flows, even grief of loss that happened 24 years ago, but know that however I am, I am carrying an invisible weight in my soul that is present with me every day, but more present at this time of year.  Some years it is easier than others.  This year, apparently, is not one of those years, even though I am the most joyful I have ever been in my life.  But that’s okay.

Here’s what I know helps me: 1) Being loved; 2) Getting things done that need to get done (but not too many extra things); 3) Space to grieve; 4) Writing; 5) Crying (sometimes); 6) Good thoughts, prayers and the nod of understanding from those that also know how deeply sudden loss can hurt, even many years later.

So, this is it for now. Time to sigh and pay my monthly bills and head to a full day of work and class.  Thanks for being with me through this time of year.

I’m Learning!

I just got back from the language lab.  It’s week 2 of Chinese 101. I survived my first quiz. My son says my intonation is getting better.  The writing of characters is getting a little easier.  I am learning.

I have always been afraid that if I tried to study the Chinese language, I would fail.  Perhaps this comes at the hands of trying to pronounce words in the past and being corrected in ways that I couldn’t hear, understand or process.

This would happen a lot with my son.  I would say what I had internalized (a long time ago) in my youth, and inevitably either my articulation or my intonation would be wrong. He’d repeat it in the correct way and I would, in frustration, exclaim, “That’s WHAT I JUST SAID.”

To which he would respond, “No, you said….It’s….”

I would look at him incredulously, and say, “That’s what I said. You just said the same thing twice.  I said that.”

He would look at me, with both pity and frustration and say, “Okay, Mom, that’s what you said.”

But we both knew I hadn’t gotten it right, and we were both somewhat sad and frustrated that I wasn’t learning.

My son was more gentle and patient with me than Mandarin speakers I didn’t know. These people would speak to me first in Mandarin, then, upon hearing my labored attempts to say anything (even, “I don’t understand”) would sigh in frustration (and maybe contempt?) and switch to English.

These experiences made me so nervous to even attempt a Chinese course.

But, as of week 2, I really feel like I’m actually learning the language (little by little), and it’s a huge thing for me.

I’m also learning how to learn with and from my son. Learning pinyin and the differences between the tones (through explanation, practice and not just by ear) has helped us to have a common framework to work from.  He’s been great at acknowledging my progress, excited to quiz me and really proud of my successes.  He also encourages me when I feel overwhelmed and helps me break down characters into radicals so that I can better remember them.

In fact, learning Chinese has been an unexpectedly awesome mother-son bonding experience.  Last week, Nate and I did our Chinese homework together.  We watched the cheesy (he would call them “cringe-y”) Chinese practice videos that accompany my textbook. We practiced the sample dialogue on my way to drop him off at school.  Last night, we discussed the character with the most strokes in the language, which he had already learned about (and written for himself) last year in Chinese school.

I’m only 21 characters into the language, but I’ve already been given a priceless gift through this journey.  I truly am so grateful.

Making (Taking? Reclaiming?) Time I Don’t Have….

I really don’t have the time to write this blog.

And that’s probably exactly why I need to make, take, reclaim the time to write it.

It is the second week of the semester.  Yesterday, I went pretty much non-stop from my 6am run to arriving home after choir practice at 8:30pm then taking a practice quiz for Chinese, administered by my son 🙂 .  Today, again, it’s a 6:30am to 6:30 pm day. I began my day with a student teaching meeting at a local school before driving to campus to schedule research interviews and observation dates.  I have a collaborative research conference panel call in 30 minutes.  I have my first Chinese quiz in a few hours.  This afternoon, I have another student teaching meeting and a research interview.

My life can go non-stop.

Unless I call a hard stop. Unless I close my e-mail programs & refuse to focus on other browser windows. Unless I breathe and make a fresh cup of tea.

Stopping to blog does not take care of the lists of things that “need to get done.” It does not even, at this point, fulfill a challenge or allow me to check a box off on my busy schedule.  No one may even read this post.

But, that actually doesn’t matter, because it is my own form of personal resistance, to the idea that everything external will continue to be the driving force in my life.

Blogging brings me to a moment of presence.  It reminds me that as much as there is going on, I have the right to reclaim a bit of my time, that I can write for myself and in this moment.

This will not get done without practice.  So, this is practice.

What I hope is that I can catch myself sooner and sooner, when I go in an automatic doing mode so that I can be present, and remember WHY I’m doing all that I do, how much I value it, and how I need to set boundaries so that I can feel the ground beneath me and experience my own life.

From this place, I can go back to the rest of the day, less frenzied and more aware.  I know I’ve chosen to fill my life with these good things, so I want to experience the goodness of them through making, taking and reclaiming the time to breathe.

Week 1 — Dazed and Confused?

It has been a week.

Today is Friday and I have a full day ahead of me, but I feel like I can already write this post because I’m already feeling what I’ll likely feel more of by the end of the day.


It is a little early in the semester to be exhausted, but I am pretty darn tired, and I think that the main reason for this is that this semester involves so much shifting of gears.  While I am not a super fan of regularity, some structure is helpful and this semester, the place where I’m most structured (taking a class twice a week) is also the place in which I’m more cognitively challenged (learning a new language in an introductory undergraduate class).  So, there’s been a lot of dissonance and discomfort this week, a lot of adjustment and some instability.

This week, there’s also been a lot of balancing of many great things: mothering, running, working on multiple research projects at multiple stages (with multiple forms of analysis), coordinating supervision meetings for my student teachers, serving my department and college in a variety of ways, being a student again, etc. Each is individually a part of who I am, but taken together and switching off between them constantly leaves my head spinning.

I suppose that soon this will become the new normal.  It is hard because with all of the switching of gears, I feel like the writing and reflection which provides me such solace and connection is more labored, with less voice and less presence. Protecting not only the time to write, but also the ability to focus my thoughts on the task in front of me has to be done mindfully and intentionally when my mind is pulling me in a million different directions.

However, this may be exactly the challenge that I need.  A challenge that is grounded in purposeful action, that acknowledges just how much it can wear me down, but that focuses on having the presence of mind to come back to myself, to let go of what hasn’t gotten done and to choose what else must be let go, that sees myself wandering into the wasteland of mindless social media, and pulls myself back to the path, back to the breath, back to the next thing through refocusing.

Suddenly, I feel a little less tired. Soon, I will leave to begin a next project, but now, I can breathe, look at what needs to get done before then and take it one step at a time.  Right now, in the stillness of this moment, I can pause and regroup.

I’m ready now for the day ahead.

Present and grateful.

Day 1: Chinese Class and Other Adventures

Today was the first day of the Spring 2019 semester.

It was a really hard day, but honestly, I’m really proud of myself.

My son needed a last minute ride to school, putting me an hour behind schedule on a day where I already had very little give time.  But, I got to take him to school so he could serve as a “student ambassador” to visiting students from China, and during the ride, we got to talk and he reassured me (once again) that my first day of Chinese class would go well.

My 10am meeting was super productive and great, but went until 11:50 and instead of eating lunch quickly in between the meeting and my class, I ended up just snacking on a few (delicious) chocolate shortbread cookies and rushing to make it to class in time.

My first Chinese class. Chinese 101.  As I texted my husband after the class, “This was the most awkward educational experience of my entire life.”  I am great at school. I have always been great at school. School has always been my comfort zone.  But, until today, I have always been pretty much the traditional student.  Younger than most of my peers and progressing along the expected timeline.  Today, I was, by far the oldest student in the room, and I felt awkward even entering the room.  I think I enter the room like a professor (because I mean, it’s a part of my identity). There’s a cadence in my step, and I was not dressed like a student (because for the rest of my day, I wasn’t a student). So, when I first walked in the room, everyone paused (or at least it felt like they did).  Then, after saying hello to the people around us, we had to do introductions: Name, year at CSULB, major.  SIGH.  I didn’t really know what to say so I said I was faculty working on my second bachelors in Chinese studies, which is, of course, the truth.  And then, because I have been reading rooms of students for the last 18 years, I saw the sideways glances exchanged.  I could barely find a partner willing to work with me on the dialogue. It was awkward. But, maybe it’s awkward for many people, maybe it was also awkward for me 20 years ago and I’ve just forgotten.  I’m not sure.

I had an hour between my class and my second meeting of the day with the dean and some other colleagues.  I scarfed down 3 pieces of leftover slices of pizza from a birthday party my daughter attended over the weekend.  Then I spent the next hour addressing e-mail.  It took the whole hour and I didn’t finish.

My next meeting should have ended with JUST enough time to get to my son on time before his martial arts lesson.  But, traffic was terrible. I was late getting him from the library to Tae Kwon Do, and just before arriving to pick him up, the low tire pressure light went on in the car.  I dropped him off, went to the nearby gas station, checked the pressure on all 4 tires, determined which tire was low, pumped it, and recalibrated the tire pressure system.  So much for using that time to write.

Our plan for dinner was a local taqueria, but they didn’t have fish tacos or quesadillas so we detoured to get dinner for the whole family because, after being gone all weekend, I didn’t have time to plan meals for the week.

When we finally arrived home, despite all there was still left to do, we had family dinner time. I caught up on a few e-mails. Then, Nate and I did family Chinese homework time, which was awesome for both of us.  It was awesome for me because I actually feel like I’m learning something and it’s an accomplishment to see a page full of characters in my own handwriting. It was awesome for him because he actually got his homework done much more quickly (because he was focused on doing it with me instead of with the distraction of 2+ electronic inputs). I tucked in Jo, finished my character writing for the day, responded to a few more e-mails, and finally, sat down to blog.

It was an absolutely crazy day.

But I’m really, really proud of myself.

Today, I did not let my fear stop me.  Today, I did not feel guilty for what I couldn’t accomplish.  Today, I didn’t get angry at the things I couldn’t control. Today, I did something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I am learning a lot, but perhaps most importantly, I’m learning patience with myself.

Go with the Flow

I am exhausted.

On the eve of my first ever Chinese language class, after a weekend of working with an amazing group of Asian American Scholar-Educator-Activists, after launching and getting incredible response for a study of Asian American educators, after running 5miles at 5:30 am and tucking in my children, before getting ready for the start of a new semester and all that it encompasses, I am feeling all the feels and it is overwhelming and exhausting.

So, I take a moment to breathe and to write this blog. I breathe to get present to this moment, right now, where it is quiet, children and dog sleeping, partner getting much needed down time after a weekend with the kids, and me, blogging.  I write to get present to this moment, to the integrity of doing what I promised myself that I would do, reflect on this journey, write this blog, pause and breathe.

In my weekly planner, I wrote to “blog re. embracing identity.” What I meant was to think about the journey I’m on to embrace my identities as a Taiwanese American, an Asian American scholar, educator and activist, a mother-scholar, and returning student.  But, what I’m realizing is that, as important as all these identities are, it is perhaps even more important to embrace my identity as evolving.  After getting tenure, I changed the title of this blog to “The Life and Times of an Evolving Academic,” and at the time, I didn’t realize how true that sense of becoming really was to me.

I am embracing that there isn’t always a right way, that sometimes I won’t get it all done, that there will be moments of tension between mothering and work, between being a student and an academic, between being Asian American and being a scholar-educator-activist.  But, I can acknowledge this tension and move through it to become stronger.  And I can do so with the support and love of multiple communities, including my family who reminded me tonight at dinner that change is good, that I can do this, and that they are behind me 100%.

Acknowledging all of this is a gift, a perspective that I need most as I go back into a classroom as a learner, as I juggle an “already too full” life, as I embrace abundance and learn to go with the flow, as I learn to say no, as I apologize when a spinning plate crashes to the ground, apologize and move on without letting it define me.

It is the present of being present even in moments when I don’t think I have it in me. It is self-compassion and self-care and lifelong learning, and I am lucky to be living it.

Habits and Intellectual Discipline

It is rainy outside (a rare occurrence in Southern California) for the 4th morning in a row (even rarer).  My knees hurt, but I also have extremely low energy from 2 rest days in a row because my running schedule is all off, and because, rain. The 30-day writing challenge is over. The semester is about to start. It’s about to get super busy. I have multiple things to do, and I’m just generally feeling unmotivated.


So, what to do?

I’m blogging.

Not for any particular reason except that it generally helps kick start my day.  My friend, Darlene, wrote in one of her blogs for the 30-day writing challenge about keystone habits (from the book The Power of Habit, I think, which I’ve listened to, but clearly need to listen to again), and I’ve realized that running (and now blogging) are my two keystone habits that kickstart my day.  Without one, the other, or both, my day feels really off and I can be doing similar things, but I don’t feel the same focus and productivity.

This is actually working.  In the time that I’ve sat down to write this blog, what inevitably happens has happened.  Multiple things that need to get done have emerged. Yet somehow, I feel more motivated to do them.  Because I feel like the start to my productivity has begun with the blog.

Now, onto getting those things done.

I Guess I Should Write That Book…Thriving with Technology Part 1…

It’s the first day after the 30-day blogging challenge I just finished with my friends, and what am I doing? I’m blogging. I guess 30-day habits die hard.

I mentioned in one of my blog posts that I’m working on a book on more sustainable educational technology practices for teachers and academics.  My friend, Anna, asked if I meant environmental sustainability or life sustainability.  The simple answer is the latter rather than the former. But more than just sustaining our lives, I hope to approach my use of technology as a way for teachers and academics to thrive.

So, if I’m going to write this book, let me share some thoughts on how technology has helped me to thrive as an academic since it will help me to also further organize and sort through my thoughts as I’m presenting them to you.  Today, I’ll start with these 3 tips to thriving with technology use as an academic:

  1. My LMS is my best friend

A learning management system (LMS) is a standard 1-stop platform in academic settings.  All LMS platforms have their advantages and disadvantages including the one my university currently uses.  But, I have made it my mission to make my LMS my best friend.  This has been wonderful.  In doing so, I’ve been able to reach out to the company that designed our LMS, and get information on how to embed my Twitter feed; I never have to recreate my course from scratch, and can import files I need from other courses in seconds (such a huge timesaver) to adapt or update; my students get access to all the information they need in a timely manner; and everything is in one place.  In the semesters when I’m really on top of it, I can set up my flipped modules to release automatically so that I’m not trying to remember to do it at a specific time each week.

2. My social media game is strong and specific

I use Twitter for my professional network.  I have a Facebook, LinkedIn & Instagram account, and have used several of those social media platforms in the past to connect to my professional work, but I focus my professional interactions on Twitter.  I participate in specific Twitter chats that have helped me build up a professional network. I keep in contact with former students; tweet resources for educators and teacher educators; I live tweet from conferences. I also let my students know that Twitter is one of the fastest ways to reach me and integrate opportunities to Tweet and establish networks in class. But, I’m also not on Twitter all the time when I’m on breaks from school.  I am intentional with my Twitter use and it’s helped me to connect with amazing educators (K-12 & higher ed) that keep me motivated and focused professionally.

3. I am learning to set boundaries on my tech use

This is a hard tip for me because this one does not come naturally.  But, if you want to thrive, you can’t be available 24/7.  I’ve begun engaging in more mindful technology practices like those named by David Levy in his book Mindful Tech.  Levy’s exercises have helped me to become more focused on my use of e-mail and reign in my tendency to multi-task.  I am trying to communicate these boundaries with students and give myself more time to respond, even if my natural tendency is to see a notification and take care of it before it even gets on my to-do list.  It’s a slow process, but, I remind myself that, moving from an “as immediate as possible” response rate to a 24-hour response rate isn’t slacking. Instead, it’s building in greater personal sustainability and setting a foundation to use tech as a tool to support my goals rather than being enslaved to those red notification numbers.

This is a starting post, for this book that I’m working on writing.  Would love your feedback, thoughts, tips and tricks (or questions) about how technology helps you to thrive in your work and life (or how you wish it would but it doesn’t)! Comment below if you have thoughts…


The Finish Line and Carrying Momentum Forward

Thirty days ago, my friends Wes and Darlene casually posted on Facebook about a 30-day writing challenge they were taking on.

“Hey, that sounds like something I could use too! Can I join?” I asked.

What were they going to say? No. This is our challenge. Friends not allowed.  Of course not. They graciously welcomed me into the challenge and a few days later my friend, Anna Smith (with her newborn and plenty of wonderful multi-modal ideas, but so little time) jumped on board too.

And that was the start of something remarkable for me.

I have done a blogging challenge before, for 20-days, with a series of questions, posting on Twitter, to a community that I don’t really know.  But, this was different.  It was a more personal community of readers (shout out to my friend Yafa also, and a few other regular reader and commenting friends from Facebook); I chose my topic each day; I was part of a real team; I developed a regular schedule; I went beyond my comfort zone.

I proved to myself that with discipline and encouragement, I had more than enough to say for 30 days.

This 30-day challenge has been a lot like training for my first half marathon which, ironically, Wes and Darlene led as my team captains.  Similar to that experience, I wasn’t sure I could do it, but their encouragement and our regular “meet-ups” (virtually in this case), the gradual build-up, the discipline and the going beyond myself set me up for success.  I also didn’t expect much from myself that first time. I went into this challenge with low stress and a sense that I would just do the best I could too– sometimes rambling, sometimes profound, but always moving forward.

Yesterday, I finished a 10-mile long run, my longest training run in preparation for my 10th half marathon.  I was so grateful.  Three years ago, I was just beginning to train for my first half, and now I have run a half marathon under 2-hours and am ready to run my 10th.  Running for me has become a part of who I am.  It has been a joy and a discipline. It has made me stronger and calmer. It has brought me much needed solitude and community.

But what I’ve realized is that, in order to keep running, I need a “What’s next.” I love to run, but I am not the type of person who will run without a goal.  I always know the next race I’m preparing for so that I can always keep my eye on how much I need to train. I know how hard it is for me to pick up training again after I lose momentum.  Just one cold or flu and I can convince myself that I don’t need to get back out there unless I have a race to prepare for.

So, onto my next challenge.  From 30 days to 52 weeks of public writing.  I have a lot of other writing projects I need to work on so blogging everyday isn’t really workable or sustainable (yay for self-care and setting boundaries).  However, writing publicly (at least) once a week will give me the opportunity to write, engage and connect. It will give me the structure and goal that I need to keep my momentum going.  I hope my community will continue to support me as I take on this consistent public writing through this blog.  I’m excited for the start of this next journey and grateful for the finish line of this challenge I’ve just completed.

But most of all, I am grateful that I have rediscovered writing as a part of my best self.

Coming of Age

We made a quick trip up to the Bay Area (like, literally less than 36 hours -14 hours of driving) to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of my nephew.

A Bar Mitzvah is a wonderful, sacred, coming of age service that, as an outsider, I can’t fully understand the meaning of, but as an observer, I can appreciate, in many ways.

What I really loved about being at the Bar Mitzvah was the sense of tradition, of honor, the rite-of-passage, and the sacred space of passing down understandings from generation to generation, coming into adulthood, being grounded in faith and family, being surrounded by community. We were in a temple full of love and full of hope and full of possibility.

Being at the Bar Mitzvah service had me reflect on coming of age in my own life, and in that of my own children’s lives.  I contrast the months of preparation to become a Bar Mitzvah with the sometimes abrupt and traumatic transitions to adulthood that some of us, in our family, have faced.  I think about the beauty of the ceremony and the acknowledgment of the responsibilities and honor of adulthood with the contrast of increasing expectations of maturity without explicit opportunities to acknowledge (at least in front of community) my own pride at the transition of my children into adulthood.  I think about the ways in which knowledge, values, and beliefs get passed down, explicitly and implicitly from parent to child, and about what children choose to adopt and adapt as they become adults themselves.

There’s no tidy ending to this blog as I’m thinking of all these things, and on a bit of a tight timeline this morning (as we have to return the rental minivan we used to haul up the convertible crib that will now go to my baby niece, as my 3.5 year old transitions to her big girl bed, another rite of passage), but I’ll end by saying how grateful I am for family and community — by blood, marriage, chosen, and destined — who witness our family’s coming of age, and walk alongside us in this journey.  They are the greatest blessings and reminders of who we are.