Surrender, to my new truth, celebrate my roots

I’m aware of darkness and a void, almost a vacuum, immediately before the light hits my eyes and I’m blinded. I realize I just slid out of a chute of some sort and as my eyes adjust, the overwhelming hum of a busy city street fills my ears and vibrates all around me. The humid warmth of a dirty bustling street hits most of my skin, too much of my skin, I’m not protected anywhere. I look down to see that I’m naked, only half of my important bits covered by thin, ill fitting fabric.

The horror of this moment is quickly taken over by my need to seek protection, clothing, newspapers, anything to cover my body, while rushing away from the laughter and pointing from people on the street who are fully clothed and stopping to look.

The embarrassment is overwhelming and the sounds of the street turn into a dull muffled ringing, much like when you dive underwater: there’s no sound, but there is sound. As I search for something to cover myself up with, a familiar late 70’s/early 80’s beat begins to play through the hum and is coming from my left.

I wake up with a start and turn off my morning alarm clock.

I guess it’s the first day of school.

I’m 46 years old and I’m starting a new career. I wish it were because I wanted to. I wish it were because I had just won the lottery so I no longer had to worry about my daily bills and then could do whatever pleased me, including using the education degree I had earned over 10 years ago. Instead, my business clients had dried up. I was selling something they didn’t want: hard work and personal responsibility through healing their chronic pain with holistic medicine. I didn’t have the magic pill and I couldn’t deceive them as if I had. So they left.

I fought against the dissolution of my business until I couldn’t deny it: they weren’t coming back, I couldn’t recover here and my life’s purpose was fading away. I needed to contribute to my family more than I had in the last few years so here I am teaching high school.

I cried almost every day for the first 1-2 months of teaching. I was able to make it home before I did. Some teachers don’t hold it in so long: they burst out into tears in the break room, in their cars, they cry themselves to sleep, if they sleep at all. They grade papers, make lesson plans and try to keep up with student paperwork in lieu of time spent with their spouses and children. I struggled as well. At about 2 months in, I was only crying 2x a week and had committed to bringing work home only during mid-terms, everything else would be done at school during my planning periods. This meant I would excel in curriculum planning, teaching students and responding to their ability to understand the coursework and I would hack absolutely every thing else.

“I’m sorry Chris, I hate to have to tell you this, but the client gave me this feedback and I thought I’d pass it onto you,” he said. This was in my early years of teaching and presenting in front of an audience, mostly adults. I have the gift of a young Asian face but I also knew my material like the back of my hand. So his comments were biting. “The audience mentioned that though you knew your topic, you were dressed too young for the crowd.” From then on, I have vacillated between dressing much older and stuffy, in a way that was super uncomfortable for me, and dressing youthful and playful as a much better reflection of who I felt like, in an effort to either gain respect from my audience or give them the proverbial middle finger. 

Here I am, 20 years later teaching high school. Kids have changed since I was in high school. Much more savvy, so much more bold. It took me 4-5 weeks to gain their trust and rapport and we’ve covered lesson units that are informational and somewhat rote, like the definition of depression and the biological effects of alcohol. All of this leads to the ultimate high school lesson: Sex Education. Even I was nervous.

“You always have a great way of explaining things making it not too awkward.” “You are a wonderful and great teacher!” “This is actually a useful class.”

It’s midway through the semester and I feel a sense of purpose.

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The World Around Me

{My world sucks}

<Slam>

<Slam>

<Slam>

“Fuck you!” <Slam>

One by one the doors slammed in my face. I think had they all left me all at once I might not have survived. Instead I wept, I fought the feeling of abandonment, I felt alone and scared with open wounds bleeding profusely, as they each rejected me one after another, year after year.

{I’m too much for this world}

“You’re too happy. That’s your problem, you’re too friendly. People here can’t handle that,” he said. My husband of 14 years hugged me tight. “You’re sensitive, honest, intense, and you’re Light and you know your shit. And these people, the assholes, they can’t handle it. They’re threatened by someone like you.”

{My world had to change}

I closed my consulting business after 3-4 adaptations, growing and changing as I had over 20 years. As I got more confident in my skills, my client base ran away. As I healed my childhood wounds, my friends, or who I thought were my friends, ran away as well.

{to this:}

I teach now, high school. Part of me feels like it’s a step down: working for someone else, molding my day around an institute’s schedule, working in what other people feel is a thankless job of educating a hopeless generation. Perhaps I’ve gotten lucky, but I’ve got great students this year and I’m excited to teach them. Maybe I like teaching my subject, the same thing I was offering in my small business but to adults who wanted nothing to do with it.

{Will this new world know the real me?}

I don’t have a lot of friends at the school yet. I understand high school departments and their teachers are not as collaborative as elementary and middle school teachers. I do have a few, one in particular, who I’m slowly starting to show my true self to: I’m a good person with a wicked sense of humor, I’m sensitive and get my feelings hurt and I know what to teach and how to teach it, and I’m imperfect and I make mistakes. I say sorry when I’m sorry and I don’t apologize when I know it’s not my shit. I can piss you off and I can make you love me. I can be your most empathetic friend and be so incredibly self-involved you want to vomit. I’m me.

{This is my new world}

“Good morning class! After 3 months of time together, we are now onto our most sensitive subject, Sex Ed.” The wave of reactions is real: eye rolls, some giggles, a bit of nervousness and lots of discomfort.

I begin by discussing the purpose of the Sex Ed Unit and progress onto why it’s important that teens need to know this information. I cover anatomy, saying No, human development, healthy relationships, and make our way to assault and violence. Questions are asked confidentially: all students type into an application that records their questions and who asked it, allowing only the teacher to see it. Students must type 1 of 3 comments: their sex ed question, song lyrics (I particularly like boy bands, or seasonally themed songs lyrics) or a comment about the class or a validating statement to me, but they all must type, in order for them to preserve their confidentially.

It’s brilliant: if they have a question they would never raise their hand to ask, they can ask it. If they don’t have a question, they are still typing away in a room full of students typing. If they have something nice to say to me or about the class, they do.

What I’ve learned is that kids have great questions and if I don’t answer them now, they will get false information from an adult without a good answer or from media today: TV, the internet, movies. If they can ask the question in good faith, they deserve a solid, honest answer that is both academic and human.

While teaching this lesson, I learned

{I must be me in this new world, for my new world to thrive}

They need to be happy. They need to be able to relate to others. They need to have confidence in themselves. They need to be empathetic, stand up for themselves and be relentless in saying No. They need to be willing to protect themselves should the other leave them because they won’t give up what is theirs, what is sacred, what is Light.

 

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My Church of Shame

I walked into the church, uncomfortable and not wanting to make eye contact with anyone, while still needing to be there. I knew they offered childcare on Sundays and I knew I needed a safe place to drop my daughter off for an hour. I needed an hour to myself. I needed the childcare provider at the church to be trustworthy and for my daughter to okay with them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was deeply drowning in postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and chronic fatigue. I was sinking. I felt broken and weak.

When Miss Irene welcomed me at the door to the childcare room, smiled, introduced herself to my daughter and gently took her hand into a room of color and toys, my heart slowed down. For the next few weeks, I attended Sunday church sitting quietly in the back of the sanctuary, an hour of stillness to myself. I may or may not have picked up anything the pastor was preaching about and I didn’t care. It was an hour of reprieve. I didn’t talk to anyone after church at the lightly attended coffee hour during the almost deserted summer services. This became our rhythm while my husband worked 60-80 hours a week and I was struggling daily.

By the time the fall season arrived the church was a more busy bustling place and I thought I felt comfortable. At least I felt more comfortable than before, though still under the daily darkness of undiagnosed depression and anxiety. I asked about how I could contribute and was curious about how the church was run. I was almost immediately welcomed onto a church committee that met once a month.

A lot was riding on my time at this church. Despite my busy working husband, it would also appear he was an absent father and spouse. I wanted everyone to know what I good mother and wife I was, even though he was never with me. While I could contribute to the church by volunteering my time and I knew that any monetary contribution was private, I also didn’t have two coins to rub together as we were a one-income family paying legal fees to an attorney to fight for our right to see my husband’s son according to his every-other-weekend visitation schedule while paying child support for the child we hardly ever saw, living in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the US during the aftermath of the 2008 recession. Up until this time, I had had an interesting and varied career and I wanted to contribute my talents in the safest place possible, because I was doubting them more than ever: can I parent this child adequately? can I be a good wife? can I do it under the fog of this dark cloud and paralyzing worry after having so many health issues during pregnancy and immediately after? Was I still worthy? Would I one day be able to contribute financially to this family again? And this was a church, right? A place where the broken and downtrodden go to regain their strength, feel compassion from others and be loved again? It didn’t occur to me that it was also a very white, very colonial church with true puritan roots, a space I, a California girl of Chinese descent, might not fit into.

For me, this became the Church of Shame and it would take me years to figure out.

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The Church of Corn Chowder…. and Jesus’s love

“You should have served corn chowder today.” Her arms were crossed, the judgement was thick, the disdain was palpable.

“We would have served corn chowder today but no one volunteered to make it and serve it,” I replied. We’d been planning the holiday fair for 3 months after no one else offered to organize the event, the main fundraiser for the whole church. Corn chowder was on the list of To-Do’s but no one stepped up and the two of us were not about to make 6 gallons of corn chowder when we had the rest of the event to plan and implement.

“I would have made a pot of corn chowder, she said. “You should have corn chowder today. It’s a shame you aren’t serving corn chowder.”

With love in my heart, feeling bad that she thought we didn’t want corn chowder at the fair, I offered, “Do you need a bowl of corn chowder? We didn’t make enough to sell and serve at the fair today but I made a tiny pot of it for anyone who requests a bowl of corn chowder. Would you like me to get you a bowl?” as I half turned on my heel expecting a frown turned upside down and a bobbing positive chin, excited to receive and partake of her own special bowl of corn chowder.

“Oh, I don’t want it. I don’t eat it. But you should have served it,” she said with a huff.

Mid-step I stopped. I hesitated. Did I hear correctly? Did I hear wrong, perhaps the room was too loud and the bustle of the first 10 minutes of the fair clouded her voice, her tone, her words. I turned back towards her and looked, hoping to clear up my confusion with visual confirmation that what I thought I heard, was inaccurate.

She sat glaring at me, arms crossed, legs crossed, with a thin-lipped scowl. Nope I heard correctly. She didn’t want a bowl of corn chowder. She doesn’t eat corn chowder. She hadn’t offered to make a portion of corn chowder until this moment, 10 minutes into the start of an annual day-long event that had been planned for 3 months of which the first 2 months were weekly announcements asking for, no begging for, help and coordinators, that included corn chowder makers and servers.

“You should have served corn chowder today,” I heard, repeatedly, over and over again for the next 5 hours. “No one offered to make corn chowder,” I replied. “I would have made a pot of it,” I heard. “When were you going to let someone know?” I started asking. They didn’t like that question. “You just would have served it,” I heard as they stormed away from me. Church members had a lot of say about an annual event they chose not to help plan.

You think I would have denounced Jesus. That I’d have called the Bible a false book of poetry for children. You’d think I’d have called God bad and a man of no importance. But instead, I just didn’t serve corn chowder at the church fair. At this church fair.

I can’t stand corn chowder.

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And just like that, they were gone. I was left behind.

Unfriending: Marcia

Bailey bound back into our arms, excited to see us after a weekend with Cindy. It was her first weekend away from us and we were testing the waters. Choosing a trusted neighbor as a dog sitter is a serious decision: will the dog be loved and cared for and will she not annoy the neighbor and destroy their home? It’s about a third of the stress of choosing a babysitter for your human child, which may not sound like much until you consider I had postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, so up the scale by a thousand.

“We love her! She’s so sweet! She went in the car with us, tail wagging, played at the park with us during the kids’ baseball game and loved the kids… and they loved her!”

Thank god, we’re relieved. Both the dog and the neighbor were happy with each other.

“Anytime,” she said. “Anytime you need help with her, we’re so happy to have her. Since the kids want a dog and we can’t do that just yet, watching Bailey is the absolute next best thing!”

I remember these first few conversations, what a relief to know our pup was in good hands if we were away.

So it was quite the shock to observe this neighbor, after passing me off to a professional dog watcher/walker because she was busy on an upcoming weekend, callously unfriend me and block me on social media because she got caught telling this dog walker that she’s had to work too hard to watch our dog and we are ungrateful people.

Left field.

Where did this come from? You offer to love on our dog whenever we’re away but you have to work too hard to love on our dog now? And you aren’t compensated enough, even though that was never part of the conversation?

I want a neighbor who trusts us to watch their animals and house while they are away. Compensation from this neighbor? I’d like you to call the police if you see someone stealing my stuff. Notify the fire department if there’s smoke and fire coming from my roof, perhaps? How about I not think, write, then click send, telling my other neighbors about how I’m cheap and you have to work too hard with my dog when you offered repeatedly. Seriously, what kind of neighbor are you? Well, I guess you aren’t a neighbor. I guess we aren’t neighbors. I guess you’re just no longer there.

(and yes, I realize I could approach Cindy and work things through but seriously, do I want this person in my life? Is this the kind of neighbor I want?)

Unfriending: Kate

This is a story about when you grow up faster than your friend so your friend hurls insults at you for an undisclosed amount of time until you lose your shit and then they drop you first and call you a bitch. The End.

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Can You See Me? !!!

On the spot, I rapidly search my memory. Who is this? Where do I know her from? How rude am I to draw a complete blank on who this is when she clearly knows me. Her excitement, her thrill at seeing me again, filled the room. Everyone was looking at me, waiting for me to match, or reflect, her excitement for me, with my excitement for her.

The tension was broken when the next person in line spoke up. She’s addressing me directly? About my order? Once again, I frantically search my thoughts, good god am I losing my mind? Am I so arrogant that I can’t remember these people who think so much of me, who I ordered something from, obviously having spent time, energy and a healthy amount of money on this order, I must know them, right?

“How can I help you?” he asks. My thoughts break away and I turn towards the voice. He is actively approaching me with pen and paper in hand, ready to jot down a note, an invoice number, a reminder for himself. Finally a question I can answer. I’m holding the paper gift certificate proudly. I asked for, and my darling husband responded with, a gift certificate for painting classes. I haven’t found a lot of local art classes that would entertain using oils, which is what I learned to paint with back when I was 8 years old. This frame store hosts art classes and the instructor is experienced enough with oil paint to include them in her classes. For good or for bad, they didn’t take my husband’s information when he bought the gift certificate so I wasn’t getting any information on scheduled art classes. Today I finally walked into the store to inquire. It the was the first time I had been in the store in over two years. I had just finished getting my black Asian hair lightened for the first time, to a dark brown caramel color. It was beautiful and I loved it, even if it was still so subtle that hardly anyone else could detect the difference. The salon was 2 blocks in the other direction and I had parked in the town lot between the two locations. I was feeling good, and it was convenient.

“My husband bought me this gift certificate for oil painting classes. I was wondering when the next classes begin,” I replied.

A hush fell over the room. as if the air was vacuumed out of the small space. The warm friendly feelings that swirled and filled the room only moments ago, was replaced with tension. Awkwardness, discomfort and embarrassment filled the silence.

They, everyone in the room, had mistaken me for someone else. Very clearly for someone else.

It’s happened before, me being mistaken for someone else. I’ve even mistaken someone for someone else. I’ve learned to quickly apologize, clarify how we know each other, hopefully make a comfortable connection and assure them that I am present and connected again, and then continue on with the conversation.

No one said a word. No one made eye contact. As I continued briefly chatting with this gentleman who was helping me, I glanced around at a sea of shoulder blades, the backs of heads, their brown and blonde hair in various states of style.

Their silence, their embarrassment and their non-response, I get it. But am I not human enough to say something and laugh about it then move on? This moment makes me question: how did I offend? How is their embarrassment so paralyzing that all of them, and I mean a group of 5 adults, believe that if they act as if what they just did didn’t happen, then it didn’t? That I’d forget? That I’d believe that what just happened, didn’t? Were they hoping it didn’t just happen?

It made me feel like I don’t belong. It made me feel like I literally blend with the only other Asian female in my town. When they realized I wasn’t whomever they thought I was, their silence made me feel like I didn’t exist. It made me feel like I am less than and don’t deserve to be treated with human respect.

After the now awkward exchange with the gentleman had finished, with him taking my email down in his notepad, promising to send emails out announcing their next art session, I left a room full of people making hushed conversation. There was no polite, “Thank you for coming in!”, there was no, “So good to see you again!” (as if we still knew each other), there were just eyes that surreptitiously followed me indicating as I walked through the store door and out onto the sidewalk, that they could breathe and talk freely again.

I walked to my car, got in and closed the car door behind me, creating a cocoon that was familiar and mine. I was numb. Not angry, not embarrassed, not confused. I felt small. I felt unimportant. I felt like ‘an other’.

I have yet to receive an email about art classes.

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Where Am I?

I sit in the school cafeteria, waiting, wondering, if a parent will need to speak to me at my first high school Parent Teacher Conferences. I am a teacher, a licensed public school teacher. I have an undergraduate degree and took the state test to teach this class. I also have a Masters degree and oh, um, almost 25 years of teaching experience. I’m a public school health teacher in a suburban high school. I’m both over-qualifed and completely in over my head.

I feel like a writer though. I have so many stories to tell. So many angles to cover. So many different tones I want to try out. Through writing I can be more than a high school heath teacher. Through writing I can be more than the black sheep I felt like growing up in a family of siblings who were smarter than me. Through writing I can be the best comedienne I could be, even better than the clown I was growing up, hiding my feelings of inadequacy in a family of super smart siblings, purposefully making them laugh when I literally didn’t know the answer. Writing means I can control the narrative. My narrative. My story can finally be mine.

I crave writing, but if I had all the time in the world, I might not write. So I need to be distracted too. Teaching is fun and distracting.

It’s a strange road I’ve taken. I miss the perceived power of having my own consulting business. Of being in charge of me, of calling the shots, of not having to answer to anyone. Then again, I hate the poverty. And the reality that no one wanted what I was selling. I think this part is reality: no one in this area wanted the kind of health I was selling. Intertwined evenly, is that I’m 1. not the messenger of this message and 2. I’m not supposed to be here. It took a lot to finally get to this understanding. There were tears and kicking and gnashing of teeth. But in the end, I can look forward instead of back. And forward is towards getting my family to a place that is right for all of us and having a double buttload of good things to write about. Which means I must keep thinking, experiencing, healing and discovering what I need to about myself that gets me closer to who I want to be. This is where I am. I’m in between. Seriously, so much fun. This is power.

But first, I must discuss with a parent why their student is struggling in my class, carefully dancing on the line between good hearted kid and completely irresponsible in submitting assignments. I guess this is considered power too. :sigh:

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Weighted Blanket

The elevator doors open and we step out onto clean and shiny but still dated and worn linoleum floors. The walls are an off white, the tall ceilings offer a welcome space in an otherwise narrow hallway. We follow him down the corridor, turning corners through a maze he has become familiar with.

He leads us to a door with 4 names on. The bottom right name is our’s: Alexander. His sophomore dorm room on the 7th floor. We enter the suite, the bathroom on the right followed by the full kitchen. It’s still clean after two months of some, but not a lot of, cooking. We know most of the kids have the meal plan and eat in the dining hall. On the left, 2 rooms, with 2 beds in each. His shared bedroom isn’t big enough for the 4 of us to be in at once, so I’m the second person standing in the room with him. Movie and theater show posters line the wall, the bed, elevated to hide a 4 drawer dresser, is unmade and messy. On it, in the mess of blankets is a familiar fabric: dark red dragons with dark green bamboo against a black background. A handmade blanket. A handmade weighted blanket. A weighted blanket I paid dearly for over 15 years ago, after being diagnosed with sensory issues, grasping at any therapies that might help him feel better and that would be acceptable to his mother.

Over 15 years later, he still finds comfort in a weighted blanket.

I remember searching for this kind of therapy, well before the internet was in full swing. I probably found the woman who made these blankets on AOL, which at the time was The Internet. I think she was in Colorado and I recently looked her up again and of course, she no longer makes them. A local to me woman makes them because a lot of crafters do now and because weighted blankets have been found to be good therapies for kids with sensory issues. I’m proud of myself for having researched this so long ago but I’m especially happy that the kid brought it, along with his support animal cat, to college with him. I hope it has brought him comfort all these years and it would appear that it has.

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Lesson 2: Stress

I do feel bad that this lesson was divided by the weekend. I left my poor kids all stressed out, with no way to deal with it until next week. But I did assign a cool homework.

We started off with a Stress Assessment and I was able to review each line item, including revealing that my family member, my father, had died when I was young, meaning that I started off my assessment with a 100, having experienced the most stressful situation you can experience. I’m going to try this whole ‘personally revealing’ thing and talked about a friend who went to jail, how hard it was to work in my family’s restaurant, the stress of the awkward sex conversation (“So, how many partners have you had?”), how it is their job as teenagers to push their parents/give them trouble and find that limit… and it is their parents’ jobs to define their limit. And that that limit is based on whatever their parent thinks in the limit: religious, cultural, hopefully legal, etc. I used the example that my mother said I couldn’t do something specifically because Chinese Daughters don’t do it. For no other reason. I also shared that as an adult, and now a mother myself, I will not draw those same lines with my own daughter, for my own reasons.

I played the Mortal Combat elevator prank youtube video to show how we respond to stress. It was quite funny and made my kids laugh. I also got the idea from Bruce Freaking Lipton at one of his talks. Other than the politics of this place and the fact that I sometimes fear getting fired because I know things others don’t (holistic stuff, etc), I do love my teaching life.

That said, I am still in the new/uncomfortable stage of this job: I don’t always know where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing there and if there’s someone else who knows the answer better than I do.

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Lesson 1: Neuroscience. Change your brain, change your life

The first content class was so much fun.

First, I used Peardeck to gain assessment of students’ understanding of content. Using technology, this new technology, was fun. It wasn’t very advanced but it was interesting. I have to ask more specific questions to gain more specific information. That said, my first two classes, the technology, wasn’t working the way I wanted it to and so I had to adapt. I had everyone open their chrome books and email me the responses. Of course now I have 60 additional emails I have to comb through but I still have their assessment and I can ‘grade’ them on it.

Finally, I figured out the work-around and we were off and running. The lesson was the good part:

Neuroscience. I was teaching students that they can change their brain. I taught them the basic definitions of some of the concepts in the Introductory lesson of Joe Dispenza’s Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. I got to teach them how we are all made of atoms: mostly empty space through which energy can flow… and how if each of us are made up of atoms, which are mostly empty space through which energy can flow, then we are energy and we can conduct energy and we can take and receive energy. And then we can change our lives through how we think, act and feel and that was their assignment. They were then assigned the goal of choosing to be something out there… a life goal… and then a trait that would get them there. Then to define how they would think, act and feel different enough to become that trait and become their goal in the future. Just a cool lesson and if I got through to one kid and gave them the idea that they can change and be bigger than their environment… I will have done my job.

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