22 August 2007

a little bit of inspiration never hurt anyone

The other night, as we talked about the daunting challenges of social injustices and the apathy of the people around us, a friend asked me how I still believed in positive change. I realized, despite... well, everything, I have never stopped believing in the resilience of the human spirit, especially in the face of adversity. Today, a humble yet passionate advocate and leader by the name of Greg Mortenson exemplifies the epitome of that unwavering compassion, I would swear is innate in all of us. Tonight, I completed Three Cups of Tea, jointly written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, with tears in my eyes and joyous celebrating in my soul.

In a news world that increasingly champions the superiority of fact over all else, reporting those facts completely devoid of all emotion and forcing a slow and discreet severance between mind and heart, Relin begins this book with a disclaimer - a rush of reality: firmly claiming that it is impossible not to care, explaining the contagious and addictive nature of one man's passion, and clearly dispelling all misconceptions about the range of one person's efficacy in the world at large.

In 1993, Greg Mortenson tried to climb a very big mountain in Pakistan in a effort to honor the life of his sister with epilepsy. Due to a series of unfortunate events, he failed and taking a wrong turn, stumbled upon a small mountain village that took him in and cared for him until he could travel again. He had studied neurobiology and become a nurse in efforts to care for his sister and learn more about her condition; so he used his skills to provide services in the village which suffered from a severe lack of care as well as practically non-existent access to resources. One day, he asked to see the village school and discovered 82 children writing their lessons from memory in the frozen dirt, out in the open. This town of Korphe had no money to pay the dollar a day for a teacher, much less a school building, so they shared with another village. The teacher came three days a week, and on the off days, the students simply reviewed on their own what they had learned. Mortenson was appalled and moved by this fierce desire to learn that reminded him of his sister, and so without a plan or any resources, he promised to build them a school.

Mortenson had no idea where to start, but through random connections (isn't that how it always works?), he found a benefactor who would fund his first school for $12,000. He went back, ready to build, but was side-tracked by various other villages who tried to con him into building his school with them instead of in his promised mountain town. When he finally got back to Korphe , they told him that they had considered his offer, but before they had a school, they needed a bridge that would connect their village across a very dangerous ravine to the main road. Mortenson returned defeated and sulked until a friend of his benefactor told him to just ask for more money. He was granted his request and proceeded to build both the bridge and the school in fulfillment of his vow. Seeing his passion and ability to follow through on his tasks in addition to the great need that presented itself, Mortenson's benefactor endowed the Central Asia Institute to allow Mortenson to continue building schools in rural Pakistan.

His journey has been far from easy. Mortenson faced constant setbacks due to local political corruption and lack of financial resources. His projects have expanded to vocational centers for women as well as installation of plumbing and electricity. His work became increasingly difficult and important after 9/11 when "a village called New York" was attacked and refugees flooded Pakistan, fleeing the undiscriminating violence of both the Taliban and the American military in Afghanistan. Through the CAI, Mortenson provided immediate relief efforts, focusing on the importance of education while also developing long term plans for his programs. Over the course of ten years, he has managed to plant 55 schools, and is extending his work to the rural destitute regions of Eastern Afghanistan.

Mortenson, who grew up as a missionary kid in Tanzania, is a simple guy with a big heart. He has vision and courage to serve a unique need with all the energy he can muster. He literally has a magnetic personality that draws like-minded people into his inner circle and they serve and protect both him and his work with the same vigor and hope that distinguishes his efforts. His cultural sensitivity and relevance puts everyone in his presence at ease and his genuine manner earns him undeviating respect, allowing him to build life-long relationships and invaluable cross-cultural bonds.

I started reading Three Cups of Tea on the L-train, and I couldn't hold back the tears that rose from even the first pages. It wasn't brilliant, moving prose; it was the content. Here is this man who lives an unmistakably extraordinary life. It's so easy to laud him as "one in a million" or as some hero who we can idolize; but that's the beauty of this story. He's just a guy who found a need, made a promise to fill it, and gave his everything to keep that promise. He doesn't asked to be praised; he wants to be an example. And he is; his compassion, drive, and focus are the embodiment of a universal human spirit, one that rises up in all of us and takes us with purpose and intentionality to those wrong turns where we learn how to make things right again. So I will continue to hope and wait for the day when that which seems "extraordinary" becomes part of our ordinary lives.

...but i do believe in sole-mates.

Every American girl wishes she could take the next good looking guy on the street and turn him into the perfect, caring, wise husband of her dreams. And I suppose it's possible that some man could see in a little girl the makings of the woman he falls in love with and marries. Actually, that's always going to be pretty creepy. And yet in this intensely realistic tale of promise and patience, of foresight and trust, of a fantastical, yet practical love that doesn't seem to have a beginning or an end, it just works. Audrey Niffenegger creates the perfect relationship in her debut novel The Time Traveler's Wife, not because they live without problems, but because they have a picture of how it all ends up, and in the end, they love each other and everything just feels alright.

Causality is rendered obsolete, perhaps because its application would debunk the notion of "love" in the story, as the reader tries to piece together this "chronologically challenged" narrative. We're given no explanation for Henry's time travels that break all natural laws. Often triggered by stress, he disappears and appears - naked, because he can't manage to take anything else with him - in unpredictable places and times for an unknown duration. For another unknown reason, Henry is able to visit his future wife, Clare, many times during her childhood. This is where the story get tricky: Clare meets Henry as a child, falls in love, finds him in her present when she becomes older, and becomes his wife. Henry knows that Clare is his wife when he meets the smaller version of her, but she seeks him out and loves him later on because of her initial experiences with his older self. Henry's influence on Clare as a young person greatly influences who she later becomes; while Clare's image of Henry as an older man gives her hope and guidance with the younger, more volatile version of her husband. They both change the person they see in front of them into the image of the person they have in their minds (and have experienced in some form) and this is precisely the concept that I find difficult to label "romantic" and simply digest.

Clare, especially, is put in an incredibly challenging situation. Her life is built around her own patient waiting - for Henry to visit her as a child, for Henry to grow up into the man she knows him to be from her childhood visit, and finally for him to come back from his various inexplicable and incalculable trips. She endures all this through the love she develops for this man who teaches her about life and literature, while even taking great lengths to defend her honor. Clare suffers through the hardships of every relationship because she loves the untapped potential in the man she's dating to become the man she marries. In real life, people with these misconceived notions are scoffed at and talked about with disgust or elitist sympathy during sadistic dining rituals.

Henry and Clare's lives are intertwined in a way that evokes a shudder like one of revulsion from jaded cynics walking in on a conversation about soul mates. It's almost too easy, that this couple survives years of pain and fear, intermingled with passion and acceptance; because, they know how the story ends. Real life doesn't give us the happy ending so that we can pull through with the knowledge that any unhappiness is temporal. Every day, we re-evaluate and choose to love the people we love, to commit to the people we relationship with, to see what they can be but still care for who they are. And it's the choice to share that uncertainty, not knowing where we're going or who we're becoming, that sweeps me off my feet.

behind these lattice windows

Everyone loves the mysteries of a secret world, locked away in some parallel universe that we often neglect to recognize as our own. We love to hear the whispered stories of shielded lives behind walls and screens. We live for the rush that we get when we learn something previously hidden, accompanied by the soft pattering of our hearts as the realization of having gained a special trust sweeps over our bodies and settles softly in the peaceful parts of our souls. And that is precisely the effect that Lisa See creates when a reader is bold enough to delve into her acclaimed novel: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

Recounting a lifetime of ardor and emotion, Lily's detailed narrative allows us to enter into a place that shines with a glimpse of paradise that stands guard against the social oppression that makes such a place a necessity. This sacred utopia - in a culture where a woman is worth nothing more than the sons she can bear - is the highly coveted and fiercely protected intimacy between women. Some create small groups of "sworn sisters" within the local community who act as support systems for one another, but even these exhibit loose ties when compared to the bond shared between laotong, "same olds" - a relationship fostered from childhood, formed and revered to be more binding than family or spouse, because it is a relationship of equality and choice in a world functioning on the rules of responsibility and indebtedness.

In an effort to possibly justify or redeem the choices she has made in her life, Lily explores her lifelong journey with Snow Flower, her laotong. Communicating through nu shu - "the only written language in the world to have been created by women exclusively for their own use" - the two young women create for themselves a world of dreams and promises that attempts to shut out their bleak shared realities. As a middle daughter neglected by her family, Lily finds in Snow Flower a genuine human connection as they both plow through life's hardships in search of an affirmation that will establish a self worth innate in their nature as human beings, independent of their bride prices. Lily runs from paradigm to paradigm as she reconciles various manifestations of love in her life: "mother love" that beat her with a stick while she broke the bones in her feet to create the perfect 7 inch "golden lilies" that would ensure her a good marriage; her husband's love, often childish but sincere, that bridges the outside world of the man with the inner sphere of the home; and her laotong love that encourages Lily to recognize and share the deepest most real parts of her self, but also leads to the darkest, most excruciating pains that Lily will carry for the rest of her years.

In this clearly vulnerable account trust, betrayal, and forgiveness, we are called to wonder about the walls of dishonesty and anger we build around ourselves in an attempt to bury our own insecurities, even when faced with the scrutiny of love. How much do we really believe in this idea of unconditional love that Lily expresses in the opening pages? Are we doomed to be daunted by our unwillingness to extend it? Or is the real fault in our inability to trust in its existence and simply receive it? I believe that See, through Lily, documents this life filled with regrets precisely so that we can believe in a life free of them.

21 August 2007


words, sound, expressing.
.....whispered screams;
.....whispers - expressed.
letters, symbols of expression.

safe in my cocoon of verbalized emotions, tangible
ideas, suffocating beneath everyone else's perceptions. a need
to be understood without my own grasp on... shhh.
.....be still.
...............endure the unraveling silence.
.....let the quiet undress you.
...............stand naked before yourself without shame.
.....the words will come when you stop trying.
...............and listen to the calming sound of...

19 August 2007


i answer the inescapable eventual beckon
to sleep, curled up to gather up my defenses. afraid
to invite bittersweet slumber.

dreading the inevitable state of vulnerability
to the foreign monsters who seek to turn my darkest secrets
into paralyzing nightmares. these powerful non-beings hold
the keys to unlocking a past i refuse to recognize. i swing
from impulsive repulsion of the darkened unknown to a subtle
resigned surrender in search of earth shattering truth.

holding out on the hope that i've somehow outgrown
the lurking beasts of my childhood like tattered pjs and tailored booties.


the light is negative, illuminating voids, invoking terror.
each desired caress reveals a cowering shudder,
a gentle shattering of the arms i used to cradle my dreams.

i lull myself to sleep even as i craftily sidestep the pervading
fear of waking. of the unknown. perhaps an uncertain, yet eerily tangible
presence that manages to trump all dormant fears. my mind is
aware of a pressing need: rest for a weary body - tense, engaged
in a war between fatigue and my own subconscious.

18 August 2007

because it's better than "normal"

who would want me?
.....broken imaginations
.....stolen innocence
.....distorted paradoxical images and dreams
dysfunctional, unable, ugly, fat

you redeem me
because life presupposes a propensity for
change. and that is a reality of hope.

constantly receiving promises of painful processes.
insufficient substitute for a cure-all capsule or fix-it formula.
and the burden of brokenness is never blasted away.
perhaps only proportioned to smaller, manageable sizes.

we train ourselves with tools arduously acquired and seldom
comprehended. and just sometimes, we hold our breath, hesitatingly open
our eyes and in the anticipated exhale, it all comes together.

amidst the flurry of functionality and frustration. an almost imperceptible
shift, negligible across spectrums and unnoticed by the untrained eye.

and i am beautiful.

17 August 2007

when did pretending become so real?

i am over-saturated, inundated, ready to explode. hoping
to simply overflow, "belly pregnant with hunger" bursting
from desire. beyond the point of no return. i release without
regret. vomit on paper and call it: art.
is anything produced from our self-destructive
personalities, eternally tainted bodies - sacred? pure? even resembling
beauty? or do we only generate waste from
the natural processes of our existence?

nothing of worth comes from me. i contort my corpse to fill
spaces, to make shapes, to move in ways i haven't
yet imagined. i wallow in the despair of my failure. screaming
with sarcasm, i seek to validate my own selfish existence.

but weren't we made for creation? for life? ah yes. that "we"
eludes me in my singular attempts. but who will be my "we"?
who is worthy? who is willing? who is courageous? empty voids
appear. openings to engage in the risky business
of an uncertain, un-guaranteed partnership. a slightly
cocked skeptical head is the best defense. like primates,
they smell your fear. don't show your teeth
or insecurity. be true to all you've learned: the world is built on
lies. growing up means perfecting the art of faking human qualities.

the unnatural editing and filtering of emotions we don't really
feel and thoughts we're afraid to have. adopting inhibitions we can't
question because we're distracted by forced attempts to provide
constant antitheses to prove our rational selves that disregard
shadows of an existential nature. i abhor this unnatural virtual unreality.

but i did always like playing the clumsy, less
effective or aggressive and often disgracefully
unsuccessful princess peach.

12 August 2007

To Satisfy a Craving

...but not really.

After four days of craving a certain korean comfort food -- one would think that living at home makes a simple problem such as this easy to remedy. one is very very severely mistaken. There were tears and tantrums involved in the process of acquiring the necessary materials and mannerisms to create the dish that would end the yearning in my tummy. Yes, I am 21, but you know how hard it is for me to give up something I've already set my heart on. At any rate -- my mommy finally made me dukboki. Yummy spicy (but not too spicy because that would be unpleasant) sticky gooey fabulousness.

After the satisfied tummy sensations superimpose themselves on the hungry sensations, my mind has a chance to express itself in utmost clarity: "like, really?"

Don't get me wrong: it's good. Perhaps even just as good as I remember.
But there's something missing. And like every other part of my life, I'm starting to realize that it has simply lost its luster. Only to reinforce that stark reality I spend my days avoiding: growing up sucks.

I'm sitting here, honestly trying to figure out what exactly I was trying to recreate - the feeling of being a child? the nonchalance of not knowing how food is made? What image of myself am I trying to invoke?

I think of myself in the third person as a child.
I guess I'm still trying to reconcile the fact that this person - who is still this routy, unmanageable little kid to me - is getting a real job, finding a real place in the grown up world, perhaps even growing up herself.

Food really is everything.

04 August 2007

the only thing we can really make out of nothing is words

as I go about my every day, a subtle
drumming. rhythm. chant.
"don't waste... don't waste..."
speaks softly in my ears.
on my heart.

don't waste time.
moments of temporality that pass
without notice.
without warning.
without sign.
precious memories lost before they are made.

don't waste talent.
numbed by insecurity, fear of failure, and
overstimulating distraction. creativity caged.
confined to cases of concrete idleness.

don't waste water.
life. condensation of our breath on parched lips
begging for salvation. (but when we inhale
all the oxygen, where do the
two hydrogens go?) that fresh cleanliness we take
for granted. pure, sterile liquid giving
moisture and buoyancy to our joints,
limbs, smiles. (if there is a conservation
of matter that matters, where do all the impurities
in my tap water go?)

don't waste food.
don't be so quick to throw out those
leftovers. we live in a new age where
scraps to one could mean sustenance to
another. the
Syrophenician woman claims that
even the dogs will eat crumbs from the
child's table. Have we really come
to regard our neighbors,
brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers,
as less than our designer
cashmere clad pets as they pretend
an attempt to replace heightened intimacy?

conserve energy.
the world naturally conserves matter. according to some law.
there are no laws to conserve that which makes the matter functional.
leave something for that future we spend
our now obsessively planning for. ensure another day
after this one.

03 August 2007

i watched a woman share her story on tv

she hides in herself.
she fakes a smile.

melting into her longing.
lingering in loneliness.

her broken self withers in frustration. willing
to do anything. prepared
to endure anything.
for glimpses.
whispered affirmations of a romanticized
emotion instead of covered
bruises and shameful scars.

to salvage any semblance of a functional relationship?
she's given up on "love" a long time ago.
to please the one she loves.
she knows she can.
enough to do, take, survive the unimaginable.
the unmanageable.
she hides in her darkness.
for a spark.
but her mirror only reflects the indefinite abyss.