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.

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.

Blogging on a Mobile Device

This morning, after a long drive up I-5, through the afternoon and evening, I am blogging, on a mobile device from a hotel room in the Bay Area, a few hours away from my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and a long reverse trip home.

This trip is a bit of a breakthrough for me, as I left my laptop at home for the 30 hours or so that  we’ll be away. I thought about this blog post and figured that I would either do it at home (after a Bar Mitzvah and a 7-hour drive) or do it on my phone, which is what I’m actually doing.

I am impressed with my friends, Wes and Darlene, who have done previous blogs on mobile devices. I find it odd to type with my thumbs. I find it interesting to navigate through a slightly different lay out. I find it challenging to adjust to the small differences in settings (physical, mobile, internet) that require me to think faster before I need to move something that’s in someone’s way (in a closer, new shared space), before my screen puts itself to sleep or before I lose in-room connectivity.

Ah, for the breaks in routine that throw us off. Travel blogging on a mobile device; last minute Target runs for the gift, card and dress socks you meant to bring; forgetting a pencil in the car when you need to do Chinese homework; needing a portable charger for car entertainment. They are a part of the journey, actual and metaphorical. They are a part of this crazy life.

What Does Self-Care Really Mean?

We’re moving towards the end of the 30-day writing/blogging challenge I’m doing with my friends, Wes, Darlene & Anna, and it’s been a powerful month of self-reflection.  I’m definitely ready to engage (and I have been engaging already) in other types of writing, but developing a habit or discipline of public blogging each day has been important.  It forces me to stop, sit and think about what I want to say to the world, and what’s on my mind on any given day.

Today, what’s on my mind is how to really care for myself.  I wrote a list of my favorite things early in the challenge and as I was reviewing it this morning, I could see that being with those people, in those places, with those things, focused on those ideas, definitely is engaging in self-care.

But, while some of the people, places, things and ideas are easily integrated or clearly a part of my everyday life, I don’t always feel like I’m caring for myself, even when I’m engaged with my favorite things. In fact, self-care has even more to do with who and how I’m being towards myself than who or what is around me.  I mean it is called “self” care.

Example: I could be comfortably sitting in my home (one of my favorite places) with my family (some of my favorite people) with fresh cut flowers sitting on the table and a cup of tea next to me (some of my favorite things).  Surrounded by joy and love (two of my favorite ideas),  I could still be incredibly stressed, not present and silently beating up on myself.

Why am I beating myself up?

I am focused on what is left to do, what hasn’t been done, what I should have said no to, what should have gone differently.  I am mean to myself, lacking self-compassion, and, often, I am exhausted.

I could be doing all the things right, in terms of engaging in actions of self-care, but if I don’t have self-love and self-compassion, if I’m not present, it not only feels empty, but it is incredibly frustrating.  I mean, here I am, surrounding myself with all the things that should make me feel relaxed and happy, and I’m just exhausted and angry (at myself).

Many times, I am my own worst enemy on this front.

So what have I learned?

  1. Self-care isn’t always my favorite thing(s).  Sometimes, it is the discipline of drinking enough water, eating the foods that make me feel good, moving (even on days I’m not running) and getting enough sleep.
  2. I have, for 24 years, since the day my mother died, over scheduled myself and taken on too much as ways to not only feel like I’m productive and worthy, but also to avoid thinking about things that make me sad or frustrated.  This doesn’t work.  And, it’s detrimental to my well-being because I can’t be present to moments of joy.  I’m not beating myself up about this.  It was, for many, many years, the way that I survived, and I’m grateful for my survival.  But, surviving and thriving are not the same goal.  And self-care is an integral part of thriving.  So, I need to continue working on saying no, committing less, and taking things off of my plate. If I disappoint some people, as inevitably will happen, it will be okay.  I will, at least, work on not being disappointed in myself for my humanity.
  3. It’s going to take time.  Self-care and self-compassion can be commitments, but it’s not like I can undo 40-years of mental self-flagellation in 30 days of writing (or even 40).  I also just can’t see myself going to some other extreme where I eschew all responsibilities and become flaky.  That would just lack integrity.  So, I’m going to have to experiment and work on it, noting what works and what doesn’t and moving towards the goal, slowly but surely.

All of that, I’m coming to be okay with.  I am taking a deep breath, rereading this post, and acknowledging that I’m moving in the right direction.  And that has made all the difference.

Invisaligning My Life

My 12-year old, Nate, got Invisalign just before the new year.  In case you have perfect teeth or got your orthodontia prior to the existence of Invisalign, it’s akin to braces, but uses transparent trays to more gently move your teeth, week by week, towards their proper positioning.  The process is less painful than traditional braces and more discreet, but the goal is the same, to align your teeth.

We’re in the 10th day of a new year, one in which I outlined several goals to help me align my life to my values.  I’m actually doing pretty well on them, in general, but the change is a lot like Invisalign.  It’s not super noticeable to the outside world, although those closest to me can see the trays, but the change is beginning.

It’s also a multi-step process.

When my son and I went to the orthodontist, they called his teeth a “complicated” case (which meant multiple issues that would require multi-step orthodontia, brackets, retainers, Invisalign on top & bottom, maybe a tooth extraction).  I am a complicated case as well.  There are parts of my list of goals that I have been able to address right away, causing immediate change to my normal habits and slight discomfort. There are others that will take more time, and will likely be more painful.

What I’m doing better with:

  • Greater intentionality with my time and energy
  • Being more self-compassionate and taking better care of myself (more deliberately)
  • Reading, writing, reflecting and thinking more
  • Cooking more, eating more delicious food, exploring new places (and to some degree, helping my student experience new things)
  • Being open to change

What I’m still working on:

  • Praying more
  • Setting better boundaries and sticking to them (this one is going to be really, really hard for me)
  • Self-compassion –it’s on both lists because sometimes I’ve been better at it, but sometimes, I slip back into my old habits.

What I’m realizing is that it’s hard, but it’s also all good in this process.  I am growing. I am aligning. I am changing.  And that is uncomfortable.  If it was easy, everyone would do it.  It took me a long time to get to the degree of workaholism that I currently am at.  It’s going to take me awhile to get out of it too.

But, one family dinner at a time, one blog post at a time, one “no” at a time, I am taking steps towards change.

Hopefully at the end of the process, I’ll have the fuller life I’m looking for, and some straight teeth….oh wait, that’s actual Invisalign. Well, at least my kid will have straighter teeth after all is said and done. 🙂

Mothering, Mom Guilt & Mom Shaming

Three of my four kids 🙂

“Mom, I miss Aisha. Where is she now?” Nate, my 12-year old asked me casually over breakfast this morning.

Pause.

“Well, son, I actually don’t really know,” I replied

“Why not?” Nate asked.

“Well, Aisha hasn’t really been in contact with us for a little while,” explained my husband.

Pause.

“Is she in touch with Asha?” Nate asked.

“No, she isn’t really in touch with anyone in the family,” I replied, then adding for whatever explanation I could, “Sometimes, we have to make choices that are the best choices for us, even when it’s really hard.  Aisha is an adult and even though we all love her, her choice right now is not to be in touch with us. She has my number, and I don’t have a way to contact her, so I know that if and when she’s ready, she will reach out.  It makes me really sad, but I just have to trust that she knows what’s best for her right now.”

Pause.  Nate doesn’t really say anything, or maybe he says a, “hmmmm.” The morning goes on. Jojo, oblivious to it all, tells me that she’s finished her whole breakfast, and waits for my congratulations and offer of a clementine to take in the car on the way to preschool. They leave for school as usual. I go on a run. I come back, and, in cleaning my office, I find a large manila envelope I’ve started called “Letters to Aisha.” I can’t read them today, but maybe I’ll add to the envelope later.

It’s a conversation that I’ve known was going to happen eventually — “Where is Aisha? Why don’t we see her anymore?” In the 16 months since we last heard from the older of my twin daughters, and the 3 years since we last saw her, it’s been a conversation that I’ve been bracing for. It went as well as could be expected.  Perhaps, Nate will follow up later after he’s had time to think. And then we’ll have another conversation. I feel more assured that it will go okay because there’s nothing to say but the truth.

My son is close to his older sisters and loves them.  We love them too. But our family story is complicated and has been difficult, as it is for many families, adoptive, biological, mixed.  And, not wanting to tell my adult children’s stories for them, I don’t really talk about it much.  But, today, the conversation happened, and I answered as honestly as I could without assuming more than is fair. It is what I believe, but it is not easy for me.

Being a mother is a challenge.  Over the weekend, I was talking with my friend Yafa and we were talking about the insult that could hurt us the most.  Mine was, “You’re a bad mother.” Objectively, I am aware that I am not a bad mother.  I have done my best to care for all 4 of my children. I have loved them, sometimes beyond what was healthy for me, in the best ways I’ve known how, and provided them with everything I can to help support and sustain them.  I have listened to them, and tried to understand their perspectives when we don’t agree.  I have created safety through boundaries.  I show up to places and events that are important to them as much as I can.  I model the type of human being I’d like for them to be.

However, mothering, like many things in our society seems tied to how successful our children are or seem to be.  Whenever something isn’t right for any of my children, I ask myself whether it was because of something I did or didn’t do.  Even now, as my older daughters are adults, I wonder if there was something that I could have done while we were all together to have changed some of the outcomes in their lives and our family.  For my younger children, when work keeps me away from a performance or when my daughter tells me on FaceTime that she really misses Mommy or when my son tells me (2 years after the fact) about how much of an emotional struggle 4th grade was for him, I wonder.  I realize that my children are agents in their own lives; they all make choices and I have some say in the situations that my younger children face, but much less as they get older. I also know that they all have parts of their lives that I can’t and don’t see. I get this, but it is hard. It is hard because I love them to the core of my soul.

And because I love them so much, sometimes, when I feel like I’m failing them, the mom shame and guilt are real.

I don’t talk about this shame and guilt a lot because: 1) I never want to share my older daughters’ business.  They are adults and had much of their privacy stripped away at different periods of their lives. Because I am protective of that privacy, I don’t want to talk about what’s going on with me in relation to their lives; 2) I’m not necessarily looking for reassurance. I mean, I know I’m doing the best I can. I know I’m not a bad mother.  I get it.  But sometimes, like with everything, I have to name it to let it go; and 3) Well, I like to avoid looking imperfect.

But that’s life.  It is messy and complicated. For mothers. For working mothers. For academic mothers. For me.

And today, for this moment, I have the courage to be honest about what it’s like for me.

The Challenge of Intentional E-mail

If you’ve been reading my posts as part of the 30-day blogging challenge that I’m currently in with my friends, Wes & Darlene Kriesel and Anna Smith, you’ve seen that several posts have been about establishing more intentional practices related to technology, with a couple of these posts focused the exercises in David M. Levy’s Mindful Tech book.

For the last 5 days, I’ve been working on the 2nd exercise in Levy’s book called “Focused E-mail.” Unlike Levy’s first exercise which is observational, this exercise is prescriptive and revolves around exclusive and intentional focus on a particular technological platform/ application/ activity.  I started with e-mail and have continued with that, trying to incorporate both the principles I set up for myself during the first exercise and Levy’s exercise of just doing e-mail, in 15-20 minute (minimum) spurts, not deviating for real life or virtual distractions.

The first day when I started this exercise, I had to laugh at myself.  As soon as I opened my work e-mail application, I got a text message notification from a friend (or family member–I can’t even remember who send the text) and I quit the e-mail application so that I could answer the text and still technically do the challenge.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to just turn off the message notifications on my computer, but if I were to do that, I’d still have to take off my Apple Watch, close down all my other applications, notify my family that I’m just doing e-mail (which means this cannot be done at any time when my 3-year old is home because she does not care that I’m trying to focus on e-mail) and make sure my phone was on silent.  And, even if all of that had been done (which it wasn’t, in truth), I would still have been foiled this day by the doorbell. I am just not set up to give my full attention to any one task.

Sigh.

Focused e-mail is super hard.  Although I’m doing Levy’s adapted version where other applications can be open in order to “take care” of the tasks related to e-mail (e.g. opening my calendar to note dates articulated in an e-mail or downloading documents from the e-mail), it’s still a real challenge not to get distracted by other dates on the calendar, by other documents on my desktop, by my sudden overwhelming urge for a cup of tea, and by the fact that somewhere someone likely needs my attention. This is part of the purpose of the exercise, but it was also fascinating to see the degree to which this type of mindfulness is difficult for me.

But, it’s also been a good exercise in many ways.  I would estimate that I typically spent between 90 minutes – 2 hours answering e-mails/ workday previously.  I haven’t spent more than an hour on e-mail since I’ve been doing this exercise. (I’m sure part of this is due to being on break between semesters, but even before engaging in the exercise during break, I was spending a lot more time on e-mail.) Fires sometimes just put themselves out without me, and sometimes, because I’m not rapid-fire responding to e-mails, I realize that many messages don’t need a response at all. I find myself able to focus more on the work that I am doing when I don’t have to leave and come back to it to answer an e-mail that seems more pressing than the work I’m doing.  I’m also much more aware of those distractions that do draw me away from tasks: text notifications, calendar notification, dropbox change notifications.

I think I really just need to turn off notifications. They seem to notify me that I should be stressed.

I appreciated this exercise and think I’ll adopt it, to some degree, as a more regular practice.  I do like setting aside time for e-mail and not having e-mail notifications pushed at me constantly, but focusing to the exclusion of everything else is really, super hard.  It’s probably something I need to work on in all of my life, but for now, I think that I’ll be content to move onto the next exercise in the book which is “observing multitasking.”

Stay tuned…

Reconciliation

This morning, I return home to my family after a wonderful weekend visiting my friend Yafa, outside of Seattle.  I really love the Seattle area. But, it’s been 8 years since I’ve been here. The last time I was here was during one of the hardest periods of my life, and there was a lot of pain and trauma associated with that visit and that time period.

And so, today, I am grateful for reconciliation.

The situation that I was responding to 8 years ago is deeply personal and hasn’t really gotten better.  In many ways, it’s gotten worse, although in others, through time and distance, I’ve healed from the direct impact of that time in many ways.  This trip was a good indicator of how far I’ve come in terms of being present and letting the past be the past.

I am grateful for reconciliation.

This trip was full of peace and joy. It was free and easy. It was beautiful and loving. It was simple with abundant friendship, healthy and delicious food, time for reflection and stillness.

I am grateful for reconciliation.

What I’ve realized in writing this refrain is that sometimes reconciliation doesn’t come in resolution of complicated and heart-breaking situations.  Sometimes reconciliation must be a deeply personal journey in which we move forward, accepting what was and what is, and finding the joy in people and places that are present with us now, that help us live in the moment we are in, that help us visit old places with new eyes.

I am grateful for reconciliation.

As I head home today, I know I’ll return again to Seattle before another 8 years goes by.  I will do so with the fullness of all my experiences in the area — the hard moments and the joyous moments; the darkness (especially in the winter!) and the light, the pain and the joy. Seattle is, perhaps, just a city, but it is also a symbol, of the inner reconciliation that I have been experiencing in multiple parts of my life — choosing what to let go so that I can take in new experiences, breathing deeply to honor what has past and what will come, being calmer and clearer, in the face of an unknown future and a challenging past.

Being here.

I am grateful for reconciliation.

What “Counts” (as Writing)?

We’re in the last 10 days of the 30 day writing challenge I’ve been in with my friends, Wes, Darlene & Anna, and it’s been a great 3 weeks of blogging.  I was coming off of a very full semester during which I didn’t get the chance to do a lot of writing or reflection so this challenge seemed to be the perfect way to kickstart my writing practice.

That’s actually been a theme in our small writing challenge community, using this challenge as a way to kickstart thinking/ reflective/ writing practices that are important to each of us but for which we haven’t been finding (or making) the time.

The last few days, I’ve realized how particularly important the public aspect of this 30 day challenge has been for me, and the importance of blogging as public thinking has been.  I’ve been really encouraged by members of my online communities, through responses directly to the blog or on Facebook, and it’s made me realize that blogging is a way for me to engage in intentional dialogue.

This has come up for me in the last couple of days because I’ve been doing other writing (conference proposals, revisions of academic writing, reviews) and wondering if that “counts” for the writing challenge — the thought of what counts is hilarious because, I mean, we made up the rules, and as I’ve told Anna, it’s a low-stress, low-stakes challenge.  But, what that question has helped me to do is think about “what counts” in my own life (writing and otherwise).

For the sake of this writing challenge, I decided to continue blogging each day, and publicly share at least 150 words, even if I am engaging in writing for other purposes.  For me, the greatest power of this challenge has been establishing greater community and I want to honor that spirit through my posts.

But, in the rest of my life, I’ve realized that “what counts” for me is moving towards greater integrity.  This morning, I went for a 9-mile workout.  When I got back to my friend Yafa’s apartment, I was at 8.97 miles.  Did that 0.03 miles matter? Not really.  But, did it matter to me? It did. And I walked in the hallways until I hit 9.00.

This post is not to say anything about what might or should count for others. Rather, it is to declare these realizations as gifts. A gift of this challenge, of this stage of my life more generally, has been the freedom to define and honor what matters to me, separate from what fulfills the rules/ obligations/ expectations that I feel pushing down upon me. And that certainly counts.

Thanks for being with me on this journey.