Thursday, September 22, 2016

When being the Disturbed Hibernating Bear is a temporary departure from your constant Zen self

This being married thing is sometimes awfully tiresome, especially when you remember you signed up for a lifetime. Anyone in an intimate relationship lasting longer than five minutes knows this. Often the stress stems simply from the fact that you are a person apart from your so-called better half. There is no getting around this: you are two people with separate brains, each brain infused with muleheadedness. This, despite all the church talk about being one in God's eyes the moment you say your vows. Living with another person day in and day out is the litmus test for patience, altruism and self-awareness. How much does one put up with in the name of unconditional love? How much does one give up of one's preferences? Some days you cave just to keep the peace and some days you let the steam out and scream back. Boy, does that feel good. For about two minutes. The spouse is startled into the re-realization that you are quite capable of pushback.

You wonder how people stay married. You wonder why people even marry to begin with. Don't they know what it can be like? Do they think they're exempt? Are they convinced they're exceptional and able to float above the chaos? Didn't their mothers/girlfriends/sisters warn them? (And you acknowledge with some guilt that you are partly culpable in perpetuating the romantic myth of married bliss, due to those posts when you are at the moment quite adoring of your beloved, and those posts that never get written, a sin of omission if you will, when you are at the moment regretting having said "Yes" that many years ago.)

So let's talk about anniversaries—the announcements of such on social media, the resulting outpouring of congratulatory comments. Thirty years wed, you say? The higher the number, the more we are supposed to be impressed.  Some of us concede during these announcements that the journey hasn't been padded with rose petals. We are being kind, and that kindness comes out as vague references to bumps and snags. We like to think we are not sugarcoating or whitewashing, when in fact we are, but it is called not washing dirty linen in public. This is how we distinguish ourselves from the juveniles who trumpet every dissatisfaction and slight, and change their relationship status to "It's complicated" whenever the SO exhibits a pinprick of insensitivity.

Right about now you are looking for a redeeming factor amid the venting. Maybe if this were a post on Facebook you would be tempted to write "SMH." Maybe you want to, facetiously or sincerely, (either way, infuriatingly) suggest that one could use a glass of wine. And, if you are single, you might already, four paragraphs up, have concluded that you are better off.

I wrote all of the above about a month ago, when I was particularly peeved at the spouse about something I don't even recall now. I have long since simmered down, as I knew I would, and might have forgotten about the draft had I not come across Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person in The New York Times Sunday Review.

There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.
In other words, you could be lonely as a singleton or despondent within marriage. Choose your poison. And doesn't that hold true in other areas of life? You could be exasperated as an employee or as an entrepreneur. You could be confused as a believer or as an atheist. You could be indignant as a conservative or as a liberal. You could be deprived of human rights as a citizen or as an undocumented immigrant. You could be exhausted as a dancer or as a couch potato.

The opposite is also true. You could be grateful for income as an employee or an entrepreneur. You could be devout as a believer or an atheist. You could be committed to justice no matter which party you vote for. And so on.

What have we learned here? What pithy summation can we formulate to put this post to bed? How about:

The circumstances may not have changed, but your perspective changes everything.

P.S. I'll paste my reply to Eugenie's comment, below, as I am unable to respond to it under her comment: Lovely seeing you here, Eugenie. Thank you for commenting. I felt so much better after getting all this down in writing and putting some distance between myself and my emotions. Yes, gratitude cancels out resentment.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The post in which I diss another writer's opinion on sexuality in fitness trends

Words in red are mine.
Have you ever noticed that fitness trends geared toward women tend to be a bit sexualized? You don't say!
While we support a woman’s choice Did we appropriate the Planned Parenthood slogan? to get fit any way she chooses, we’d love it if the following sexualized workouts and fitness trends disappeared, like, yesterday. Like, you just gave away your inexperience in life, my dear.

1. Mermaid tail workout

Yes, you read that right. Well I do have my bifocals on. Cliché alert. The Hotel del Coronado in San Diego hosts a weekly class called Mermaid Fitness. The class is a “high-intensity, full-body workout” that’s basically “circuit training mixed with an ab workout on the side of the pool,” Well and Good reports.
“You’ll swim laps to get your heart rate up, and I also included standing stationary movements, like squats and arm exercises with a beach ball,” Veronica Rohan, a fitness instructor at the hotel, adds.
Sure, there’s nothing wrong with donning a tail and getting sweaty, There's plenty of weirdness about donning a tail and getting sweaty! Plus, neither the fitness instructor nor the publication you quoted said anything about a tail. but last time we checked, mermaids were considered highly sexual, human-luring creatures. Did you check with Disney, though? So, it’s a bit odd that this sexual fetish is now considered a great way to burn calories. We’ll just stick to swimming laps in the pool in our swimsuits. If you like that kind of boredom, sure.
We should note that the class is open to men, too, which does relieve us slightly. Well I'm glad one of us is relieved. That actually makes me wonder why men would want to don a tail. Still, though…

2. Pole dancing

This exercise trend isn’t new, but it is still really annoying. We’re all about learning how to feel sexy, but there’s just something about these classes that creeps us out. First, is pole dancing that good of a workout? A question asked by someone who has obviously never tried it. Couldn’t you get similar results by going to a pilates or yoga class? I've done all three kinds of classes, and in a word, NO. Second, strippers are highly sexualized in a negative way Is being highly sexualized ever done in a positive way? in the United States. So, until they are respected by the masses, Bwahaha! Are you holding your breath for this to happen? Not if you perpetuate the ignorance with an article like this. perhaps we shouldn’t name a class after what they do to make a living. And third—and this should go without saying—if you’re doing this workout because you want your partner to think you’re sexy, think twice. Because the person you’re sleeping with should appreciate your body and moves for what they are—not because you’re taking a strip aerobic class. Uh, so nobody should take a class to look and feel better, and maybe even feel more confident in bed? We should just be grateful for the status quo the way the orphans in Oliver Twist weren't supposed to ask for more gruel?

3. Super-hot workout selfies

The Greatist recently published a great piece about how fitness “gurus” and  models from all walks of life are embracing the following motto in the name of losing weight or firming up: “If you do it, you’ll look great naked.” Sure, everyone wants to look good when they’re in their birthday suits, but isn’t fitness really about health? Does it have to be one or the either?
“#Fitspiration has turned into full-blown, soft-core porn workout videos of girl after girl deadlifting in bootie shorts,” Greatist reports. “These videos clearly inspire more calories burned from fast wrists moving than any other part of the body. Hahahaha! Best line in the article, but you didn't write it. You can’t actually work out to them, as they quickly cut from one shot of a girl doing a handstand in a thong to another girl bouncing up and down doing jumping jacks in a bikini.”
And now the cop-out — err, disclaimer: Now, even though we are a bit weirded out about these exercise and fitness-inspired trends doesn’t mean you should be. Because if you feel comfortable doing these types of workouts and they make you feel good about your body, then go ahead and do the workouts! Just make sure the organization or class you’re taking is all inclusive and supports bodies and people from all walks of life. I should worry about that? I can't just go and work out? Should I pause at the door and gauge if the class supports bodies and people from all walks of life, then turn around and leave if the ratio of fit to fat bodies is off?
From "Three Sexualized Workouts that Freak Us Out"

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dancing, sewing, gardening, yoga—it's all about finding God anyway

Yesterday I was digging around in my spare bedroom where I imprison piles of thrift store clothes and vintage linens that swallowed my story about some day glorifying them into the stars of my upcycled etsy shop. Some of them have been waiting for years. Each time I go in there I hear flea-thin voices shrieking, "Pick me! Pick me! I'd make a great ruffle."

In the corner is a stack of opaque plastic tubs with lids. I haven't looked in them for eight years. Just because they were next to the fabric pile I was digging in, I took off the lids and looked.

And was thrown into an archeological dig uncovering long-dead hobbies. Stencils for wall borders that went out of style 20 years ago. Craft scissors that cut fancy edges in paper. Rubber stamps of juvenile images I outgrew long ago. I began buying all this stuff in the '90s every time there was a coupon for the craft store. Like every hoarder-crafter, I hadn't paused to think if I'd ever find the time to use the stuff, and the tubs had turned into a time capsule. These were my artsy aspirations in my 30s. Unfulfilled.

At least I learned this about myself: I was a maker earlier than I gave myself credit for. I tend to trace my maker urges only back to the turn of the millennium, when I made my first Halloween costume and took first place in the staff competition. It took two decades to recognize myself as a creative being shepherded by an analytical brain rather than a logical mind with sudden, unpredictable urges to make something.

These days my soul identity as a creative (apparently the truly creative leave off the noun and use the adjective solo) feels so solid that it's practically my religion. I fellowship with artists. I worship with my needle and thread. My service to humanity takes the form of each new thing I shape with my hands. Thinking this way redefines my creating from "me time" to respectable work time. The only thing missing is a regular paycheck, but to extend the church analogy, I get whatever change is tossed in the collection basket.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

What is true worship?

Sunday. I woke up thinking how much more gratifying it is to live life as the Beloved. Complete, perfectly loved by the Divine, without the need to seek (imperfect) love from fellow createds. I have known that perfect Love. The moment came unbidden. It was a split second, just as my eyes were halfway open after meditating in a yoga studio in Modesto, CA. It was a Saturday in March 2013. I had been meditating daily for three months to alleviate the anxiety attacks that started four months earlier. What I felt was this: I was awash in approval, in favor, I was being seen (by God) at my utmost self, in whom He took delight. I write this now and remember that in Scripture, that was how Jesus emerged from His baptism. A dove appeared, a voice said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Oh my gosh! I have known that piece from the Bible since I was a child, and just now understood it in my spirit.

This afternoon, leaning against the dishwasher, I thought, "Why do they call it 'the sacrifice of praise'?" ("We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.") Is it such a big sacrifice to praise God? I guess if you didn't love Him it would be. But maybe "sacrifice" in this context isn't something that hurts, something that requires that we give up what means a lot to us. (Although yes, we'd have to give up our ego to surrender to God in faith. That would be a sacrifice of needing to be in control.) 

What if sacrifice means an offering, like in Old Testament times? I think that's closer to how it was meant to be read. Jesus, the ultimate Sacrifice, put an end to sacrificial lambs and other innocent animals, because He alone was the perfection that could please God. 

As we approach the throne of God to worship, we would be empty-handed if we did not bring the sacrifice of praise and acknowledge the extreme sacrifice made for us by His Lamb.

I was raised to believe that as a person born with original sin, I am tainted unless and until I have accepted Christ as my Savior. Then I can inherit the Kingdom as one of God's children. But that second part, being a child of God, well, I hadn't really given that much thought as an adult. To me it simply meant keeping a pure heart, staying innocent, guileless, faithful, kind—all the good stuff. You tiptoe to the throne, head low, hoping God the Dad is in a good mood, has seen you being good like Santa does, hears your troubles, grants your prayers very soon after you pray them.

But to worship as the Beloved! To simply open to the veiled truth that as the vessel of the Holy Spirit I am already and always filled with His perfect love, whether the emotional weather is stormy or calm, regardless of debt, deadlines, life-threatening illnesses or crude, rude, aggravating people getting in my face. Worship isn't merely a refueling of my spirituality. Love doesn't run out like that. Not perfect love, anyhow. It brims and overflows.

To worship as the Beloved strengthens me to spill unconditional love with every step, over every encounter with every person, animal, object, being, in every situation. To worship as the Beloved is to turn my face to the blinding light, keep it there, and keep seeing that Light in my darkest moments. It is to take only the minimum time possible to get past the jabs, the insults, the hurts, the slights, the disappointments in flawed fellow createds so that I can focus again on that Light, that completion that I am only in Him.

"He who began a good work in you
will be faithful to complete it in you...
You are his treasure
and He finds His pleasure in you." ~Philippians 1:6

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How I made my peace with water

This post was sparked by the first annual writing contest hosted by in September 2015. The chosen theme was "Women and Water."

 Lusty villains are chasing a nubile woman. She steps gingerly into a basin of water, wrings herself out like a washcloth and dissolves. Her body reconstitutes itself elsewhere as she steps out of another container of water. No more bad guys in sight.

This is a scene from a movie I remember watching as a child. Another striking image, this time from a TV commercial: A woman lies spread-eagled on a life-size lotus afloat on a pond. Her expression is languid, making her seem unreachable.

Something about both scenes awoke the first stirrings of sensuality in me. Water symbolized escape—whether from danger, my straight-laced Catholic upbringing, or the tedium of reality, I wasn’t sure at the time.

When I was 14, my Dad retired from the Philippine Air Force, which meant we couldn’t live on base anymore. Our family moved from the city to a remote subdivision converted from rice fields. The nearest neighbor was a brisk walk over the hill. At sunset, the lizards on the walls joined the crickets in evening song. At night if you got out of your mosquito net to get a drink of water, the flying cockroaches dive-bombed you. It became a choice between enduring thirst or braving the wilds.

We had electricity but no phone lines or running water yet. We had a pump well in the back yard powered entirely by elbow grease. The water gushed out brown and greasy-smelling with every push on the roughhewn beam that served as the handle. Dad put a sock over the opening. That was our filter. One day a lady came looking for my parents, who weren’t home. She asked for a glass of water. I gave her one from the pitcher in the fridge. She knew, just by looking at it, that it wasn’t from the tap. When she didn’t take a drink, I glimpsed our new lifestyle as it must look to outsiders. Miraculously, no one in the family got sick when we moved to the sticks, apart from the first summer when I broke out in hives.

Our small house had a galvanized iron roof. When it rained, which was six months of the year in the tropics, the rain made pleasing pelting noises on the roof. It could either make you sleepy or help you focus. In high school I studied for a test with the sound of rain on the roof. I aced the exam. In the middle of Typhoon Didang Signal #4, I cowered under a blanket in bed, waiting for the roof to rip off and the fierce rain to pelt us in the dark. The roof stayed put, but by the next morning the trees stood nude.

As a grown woman, the thought of water inexplicably disturbs me. Not the kind in a bottle or out of the tap. The untamed force that tosses ships and hides alien-looking sea creatures. The torrential rains that release from grim clouds.  The malevolent waves that hurl across the ocean and rear up on shore to collapse and crush cars, buildings and the economies of small countries.

In California’s agricultural Central Valley where I live now, concrete irrigation canals snake through farmland, pasture, dairies and orchards to funnel water from mountain reservoirs to thirsty lowland. Some roads cross over these canals. I am always queasy driving over these short bridges. I have never learned to tread water, and I am short enough that my head would be under water if I tried to stand in a canal. That’s assuming one can stand. I suspect there is a current beneath that benign surface strong enough to pull your bloated body along for miles.

I go through a disaster checklist in case my car swerves and plunges into the canal. Unbuckle seatbelt. Hit the button to lower the window, or break it with the small hammer designed specifically for such a purpose. Take a big gulp of air and pray I get my head above water before it runs out. I have gotten much better at holding my breath and extending my exhales from three years of yoga.

While all of California withered to a crisp in the drought, and while forest fires brutalized hundreds of homes this summer, I nursed my distrust of water with shame.

The fear stalks me. One night on a cruise to the Caribbean, I could not bring myself to lean against the deck railing. The moon reflected off the inky waves. It might have been romantic if I weren’t bordering on bonkers. I kept squashing thoughts of climbing recklessly over the railing and flinging myself into the depths. Why would I even be thinking that? Who runs toward the beast?

The human body is about 60% water. Mine wants to retain all my water as though I had a personal scarcity. Sweating is a natural detox, but this midlife body disdains it. On the dance floor, while everyone around me secretes from palms, underarms, foreheads and backs, I remain uncomfortably hot and dry. If I tried hot yoga or sat in a sauna I would likely suffer heatstroke.

In times of trouble, my dreams are variations on water themes:  In one, I am trying desperately to drive a bus home over steep terrain. Just when I think I’m almost there, a flood renders the road impassable. Any dream dictionary will tell you that water stands for strong emotions. In my waking hours, I keep a tight grip on mine.

In the second theme, I feel the urge to pee, but the bathroom always has some faceless guy standing there. Or the windows don’t have blinds and there is absolutely no privacy. So I have to hold my water.

Recently, though, my relationship with water may have shifted. I teach midlife women a fusion called Ballroom Yoga. We undulate to the beat and the breath, shedding inhibitions and self-loathing, flooding with gratitude for the gift our bodies truly are. My husband says we move like water.

Water awakened me to my sensual nature when I was a girl, and as a woman I have come full circle to my sensuality and spirituality.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Forgiving vs forgetting "with generosity"

"Let us forget, with generosity, those who cannot love us." Pablo Neruda

One of the comments under this quote on author Elizabeth Gilbert's page was, "Never in my life has such an elegant 'fu** you' been written."
How do we forget "with generosity"?
We allow that those who did not love us—because they simply could not, those poor heart-challenged beings—we accept that they continue to exist, and thrive even, as we walk away and leave that arena of our loss for them to rule. We create our own corner of the universe, where they are not the center, but they are not barred at the doors, either. We face forward. We don't keep walking past that same sad arena, peeking in, keeping track and comparing, reliving every slight and injustice and pondering why, oh why, they did not see how deserving of love we really are.
This is why forgetting with generosity is healthier for us than just forgiving but never forgetting.
(notes to self in this month of love)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Is doubt even a writer's worst enemy?

This post was sparked by Positive Writer's Writers Crushing Doubt contest, which deadlines on June 1, 2016.

One of the first jobs I applied for straight out of college at 19 was an opening for a speechwriter for the chair of a multinational advertising agency in the Philippines. To be considered, I had to draft a speech on women's suffrage. So I did. There were just two problems:

1) I had never written a professional speech in my life.
2) I had never cared for politics and must've been either absent or daydreaming when they discussed in history class the period leading up to women winning the right to vote.

Make that three problems. Google had not yet been invented, and as I didn't know where the nearest library might be in my parents' rural rice-paddy-converted community where I had moved back post-graduation, I clearly did not have the resources (translated: diligence) to research my speech.

Some time later I received a call to retrieve my writing sample. I asked the receptionist what the executive had said about my speech.

"He said, 'It's unacceptable,' " she said blandly.

Ah so. I took it as a sign that I was not put on this earth to be a speechwriter, and went on my way. Over the next two decades I landed jobs writing for a fertilizer corporation, a children's magazine, and after I immigrated to California to join my Mom two years after graduation, a small-town newspaper, a regional newspaper, and finally, the president of the Turlock campus of California State University and the chancellor of the Merced campus of the University of California.

Yup. Somehow despite my inauspicious beginning, I ended up ghostwriting speeches for campus executives for a good 10 years of my career. And not just their speeches, but memos, articles for publication, letters of commendation, condolence and recommendation, social correspondence, donor solicitation, sound bites for the press, tenure evaluations, blah blah blah. If they wanted something said on paper, I was their voice. Or rather, my voice was at their disposal. 

Two weeks on the job writing for the chancellor, who was an electrical engineer, he asked me to write a speech based solely on the PowerPoint slides he had presented two months before he'd hired me to a gathering of fellow engineers. The trade journal needed to print his speech, but he had delivered it off the cuff and now was pressed for time to meet the deadline. (And it didn't help that English is his second language—but that was job security for me.)

The slides were gibberish to this Literature major. There was a reference to a book in one of them, so I started there. I tracked down an online preview of the first few pages and the table of contents of that book, did a little mind-reading about what pithy points he might've extracted from it, and went from there. Where the slides were just too esoteric, I left blanks in the draft for him to fill in, which he gamely did.

Because that speech was one of a mountainous pile of tasks demanding my attention, there wasn't time to get angsty about it. If there had been, it may never have been written.

A deadline. That, it turns out, has been the antidote to any stirrings of doubt that might have poisoned my productivity as a professional writer. The longer I have to complete and turn in a piece of writing, the worse it is for me. Maybe that's why I habitually procrastinate—hmm, that could be another blog post:
"Is procrastination even a writer's worst enemy?"

I've noticed that a commonality among fledgling writers is the question of identity. "Am I a real writer?" Pishposh. Perpetually pondering this is a monumental waste of time. If you write, you are, and if you doubt that, just ask Jeff Goins at You might currently earn your living doing something other than writing, but identities are formed in layers. We shed or acquire those layers by choice or force of circumstances.

Another tripper-upper for writers: the need to Stage. "Before I can write brilliantly, I must have sharp pencils. Or a decluttered desk. Or a rented space in an office building. With white noise on the headphones. Or a sunlit table and mocha frappuccino at Starbucks. Or the beach. Or a laptop that doesn't freeze." So much bull. For the love of Gouda, get on with it already. Fuck the muse. (The last three sentences was a script I ran through my head each time I sat down to write. As mantras go, it wasn't very uplifting, but it got the job done.)

The most important thing we must have as writers is our own voice. With a voice, we have certainty. If we haven't developed a voice (because we are too timid to write furiously and passionately as though rabid dogs were chasing us), we can't convince ourselves, let alone the reader, that we know what the hell we're writing about.

Which brings me to how my story ends: I lost that job writing for the chancellor. And in ceasing to write for someone else, I found my voice. Yay me.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Faith and popcorn

If you want to appreciate something anew, take yourself back to when it wasn't the status quo. When the entire world hadn't heard about it. When there was no network, no written manual, no early adopters touting it on social media. Then ask yourself, "If it came to me now, would I have recognized its power to change my life? Would I have leapt without looking around to see who else was doing it?"
Not talking about my cellphone.
We just watched "Risen."
I grew up hearing about the persecutions, the lions in the arena, the trail of miracles witnessed firsthand by those who lived in those times. But Christianity was already an established, centuries-old tradition when I became a born-again Christian at 16 in a country predominantly Christian. Would I have chosen it for my personal belief system if it had been so new, so untested? With the dangers to life and limb looming over me? Knowing my skeptical and scaredy-cat nature, likely not. It would take a personal encounter like that of Saul on the road to Damascus (and like the fictional tribune in "Risen").
But still I choose it, every day. Because what I choose is not a religion or denomination or affiliation. I choose to keep a relationship with God, awaiting each new way the Divine chooses to reveal Spirit to my spirit. Sometimes it comes by way of a humbling moment, when the woman next to me in the theater, whom I had just judged as a bit of a glutton for the size of her popcorn bucket, pours popcorn into an extra cardboard tray and offers it to me.