Blog

A Different Kind of Ghost

Me_Gram_Tea_h

I made some tea today. Chinese green tea from the Yunnan village near Pai in Thailand, in my grandmother’s tea pot. I took some pictures for Instagram and hashtagged it “asianamerican.”

I’m grieving my grandmother. It’s like a small tug on something inside me, a small ache there in my chest. I feel like some line that connected me back to the history of mankind has broken and needs to be repaired, and right now I’m still floating, loose – not floating away, just hanging, suspended, and waiting for the connection to be reformed.

There were a lot of conversations I wanted to have with her. I did not have the expectation of them, but I liked to hear her talk about people and things and places I was connected to because of her. It was alien and distant, but still something I could lay claim to, because of her, as her descendant. Now I have no proof, because she’s gone.

I read an article by a woman grieving the loss of her mother, and she asked, “Am I even Korean anymore?” And that’s how I feel a little bit. She was what made me Japanese, and now she is gone. I feel alienated from myself. How can I be Japanese when I don’t know how to make things, or don’t go to the effort to do it all properly? When my gyoza is store bought and I eat it with kimchi, and the rice for inari takes too long, and my miso has turned to a rock in the back of the fridge? My house does not look like a Japanese home, the way my mother’s does. My face doesn’t either. When I go to a restaurant or a cultural event, I’m another white girl, showing up because it’s something weird and interesting to do.

I judge the way other people hold their hashi, because, though I look more like them, I know how to do it properly. It’s a small thing I have that I can say, “see, I’m authentic,” and yet there’s so much I don’t know.

I was complimented once on how well I used hashi by the kindly proprietor of a restaurant. I smiled and ducked my head while my mother expressed her thanks on my behalf. Yet I felt that shame of being so out of place, of being singled out as Other, as not belonging, at a table with my own mother and siblings. “I’m Japanese,” I thought.

You would never be Japanese because you’re American, my mother said. They would never recognize you as Japanese in Japan, she said. It didn’t help that she said she could never be Japanese either. People recognized her right to her heritage. I was named interloper. That was part of it, the reason for not knowing things. If Japan didn’t want me, I didn’t want it. But of course, I did. And I do.

I’ve started to reclaim that as an adult, especially more recently. Still it hurts when people will say unintentionally unkind things (“you’re just white,” from a more-Asian friend), be casually misappropriative (“Kiyomi is a Hawaiian name, it’s my niece’s name, but it’s spelled differently,” from a coworker), or just plain ignorant (“your parents must have been hippies,” from an acquaintance). The bite of these things lingers. Other comments echo in my brain, still raw and upsetting. I try to be diplomatic.”I’m Japanese,” I think, and sometimes say. “Oh, part,” some will concede. “Oh, your mother’s half. So that makes you…” and they look at me, and I can tell they are thinking, “white.”

I am Japanese. I am. I am other things, but this too is mine to lay claim to, who I am. Without equivocation or caveat, it’s mine. I don’t have to look a certain way for that to be true. I don’t have to carry with me all of the cultural signifiers to prove it.

I want to shout these things.

When I was in Thailand, other women repeatedly began speaking to me in Thai. When there was a Thai price and a visitor price, there would be initial confusion as I handed over the visitor price. It made me happy, gave me some small comfort, to have someone else look at me and see belonging, even where I didn’t. It is part of the incredible diversity of Thailand, informed by centuries of rich history and an on-going openness to ideas and people that make it okay that I can look like me, and can still be seen.

You’re still Japanese, my mom would say to me, speaking of heritage. Mine to claim, because it is hers, and I am her daughter. Mine to claim, and she would defy anyone who might suggest otherwise, with that withering stare that other Asian children will know well.

My mom points out other’s like me in restaurants. “They’re at least a quarter,” she’ll assert with absolute confidence, of someone with lighter hair and more tattoos than me.

It’s a concession I’m learning to make, to accept. To be this third generation Asian-American. To eat my store bought gyoza with kimchi. To drink my Yunnan Thai tea from my grandmother’s teapot. I know there are more out there like me, invisible children who go to cultural events and are marked as strangers, to restaurants and get complimented on how they hold their hashi, and questioning looks or gentle cautions when they order off the traditional menu. Others who also have to navigate what it means when our connection to that other place – looming and important, and abstract and storied all at once – is severed.

Obon, the Japanese festival to honor ancestors, ended about a week ago. It’s more of a season than a date because of the way the lunar and solar calendars fail to line up. It started right after Gram passed away. It’s maybe right to have this period of saying goodbye happen when her ancestors – my ancestors – are traditionally remembered. She doesn’t feel like an ancestor yet, and I am still floating, untethered, with my tea.

Advertisements
Blog · Writing

Taking Care of Yourself When Things are Crazy

phone-1052023_640
Photo: Dariusz Sankowski

 

It’s been a little rough lately – not terrible, just not great. I haven’t been doing any of the things I know I should do to sustain my creativity and energy levels, and I’ve paid for it in lack of focus, lack of patience, irritability. When things get busy, it can be especially hard to make the necessary time for self care. But we know that if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we don’t have the resources to take care of the other demands on our time and attention, no matter how important they are to us. As the old Zen saying goes, you should meditate for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy – then, meditate for an hour. So I decided instead to practice the self care I preach, to be wiser and kinder and gentler with myself in order to be wiser and kinder and gentler in the world, too.

Read more of 13 Self Care Tips for Working Women here

 

We all feel overwhelmed from time to time. Whether it’s taking care of our families, or work demands, we still have to get things done. First, make sure you are taking proper care of yourself, get enough sleep, meditate, insist on a girls night, whatever self-care means for, prioritize those things! With that said, here are 10 steps to streamlining your productivity through it all!

Read more of 10 Ways to Increase Productivity Even When You’re Overwhelmed here

Blog

Gram

20171224_131642

When Red left the house, the wind was tugging at the laundry on the line.

My Gram died this month. I wrote something about my fish, about Anthony Bourdain, within days, and I was sad about those things. I knew what I wanted to say. How to express what I meant. But I didn’t know what to say this time. So I didn’t say anything at first, except to my husband, and my boss when I took the afternoon off. Not even to my closest friends.

It wasn’t like a tear, a wound. No violent, bleeding thing, this. More like a sudden void, an absence, not too heavy to bear, but Noted. Some new gravity in the rotation of what it means to be me.

When Red walked back toward the village through the woods, the sun was shining, the breeze was gentle. The day was bright.

Grama died last night, my mom said.

I finally cried when the boxes came. boxes full of her jewelry, earrings, tea cups, a scarf, her calligraphy set, washi paper. I wear a different piece of jewelry each day. Her jewelry. Every day someone compliments me. Every day I say, “it came from my grandmother.”

“Do you want me to come?” I asked.

She was fine. I just talked to her and she was fine, Mom said. They were planning a trip. A trip I thought I would join them on. We would travel together back to my gram’s hometown. Together. I would meet her brother, her nieces.

I hadn’t spoken to her in… “Were you close?” people keep asking me, and it makes it worse somehow. I don’t know how to answer, what that question even means. The words do not make any sense in my brain. Were we close? She was my grandmother.

We lived together when I was younger. She was a Japanese grandmother. I was an American teenager.

I still don’t know what to say.

Her heart just gave out, Mom said.

Red walked away from the house, back toward the village.

I hugged her, held her small body close, briefly, to mine. Everything about me that is Japanese comes from her. I kissed her cheek. “Love you, Gram. We’ll see you next time.”

She liked my husband. I think she was proud of me.

When I opened the boxes it smelled like her house, and I cried. “My gram is gone,” I said, stupidly, needlessly. “I understand,” my husband answered, both of his gone years now.

I expected to see her again. I suppose we always do. The pictures from her albums are all of us. I don’t feel regret, because there was no opportunity dismissed. There was nothing left unsaid. But I miss her.

When she came up the path to the familiar, neat little house, the laundry swayed on the line. Everything was just as she remembered it, all in its place. But when the woodcutter broke through the door, and she could finally look into the house, it was empty. No wolf.

And no Gram.

I still don’t know what to say.

She was just gone.

Blog

On Death – On Enchanted Conversation!

Happy Friday the 13th!

OnDeath-GAINES-CoverABergloff

The first story in which I remember reading about a personified Death, and one I still love, is The Appointment in Samarra (or Samarkand). It’s a very old tale, said to be from Mesopotamia, and is included in the Talmud and collections of Sufi wisdom, and is sometimes also called When Death Came to Baghdad. In it, a man sends his servant on a long journey to avoid Death, only to find that Death had expected him there, in that other place, all along. I remember feeling that there was a certain injustice in that – if only the man had stayed home! How unfair that the man’s fear of dying drove him to flee straight to the place of his death. Yet, how foolish to try to run away, only to spend his final days on a long journey to a distant land, far from all that he knew and loved. That is where Death brings us in the end anyway.

In many old stories, Death is portrayed as a neutral, or even benevolent figure. Not frightening or evil, but someone who is just doing a job. These stories represent a way for us to make peace with mortality. Not to say that we shouldn’t cling to the beauty and joy and connection presented by a life well lived, or mourn the finality of separation from our loved ones. Rather Death represents everything that is unknown, and our complete inability to return to what was before – that is to say, death, (with a little ‘d’) in a very literal sense, or any process of change or transition. Not bad, and maybe not good, but inevitable just the same.

Read More

More Articles

Blog · Writing

Where the Bones Lie continues

512px-Louis_Janmot_-_Poème_de_l'âme_15_-_Un_Soir
Louis Janmot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
You can now participate in Where the Bones Lie, and give your judgement! Is the narrator telling the truth, or did she kill her sister in cold blood?

Check out the new page, give your verdict, or follow the links to learn about the roles of music, water, and people in fairy tales!

Blog

The Declaration of Independence

Declaration_of_Independence_draft_(detail_with_changes_by_Franklin)
US Declaration of Independence draft (detail with changes by Franklin) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Blog · Writing

Fairygodboss articles!

rawpixel-675358-unsplash

I’ve had three new articles posted in Fairygodboss in the last couple weeks!

 

Six Ways to Treat Your Time Like Money and Reap the Benefits – this article was syndicated in The Ladders! It describes ways to think about budgeting our time to get the most benefit.

Five Documentaries You Can Stream Now That Will Make You Smarter – I recommend all of these documentaries, but if you only have ten minutes, watch Hilda! It is a short and sweet film looking at the life of a woman in the man’s world of art in the 1950s.

Have Insomnia? Why Traditional Chinese Medicine (And Other Unexpected Cures) Could Help – originally titled What We Mean By A Good Night’s Sleep, this article explains our natural sleep cycle and describes ways to support it.

More Articles

Blog

Ever-Changing Fairy Tales – in Enchanted Conversation!

My latest article on Enchanted Conversation!

Do fairy tales always remain the same or do they change to suit each generation?

EverChangingFairyTales-GAINES-CoverABergloff

Some people have been very upset recently about the results of a survey that found that parents are changing fairy tales in order to make them more gentle tales for their children. Changing these classic tales, many an argument goes, is nothing but political correctness run rampant.

Yet fairy tales have always been retold, embellished, and otherwise changed to suit the mores and preferences of the current generation. Our current standards of child-rearing, begun with and passed down from the Victorians, is that children should be coddled and protected. What should we expect but that it should include the stories we tuck little ones into bed with? And why not? They’re small and it’s definitely better than the workhouses of yore! However, very few children, even among those parents and grandparents now bemoaning the loss of the “good old days,” ever actually heard the original versions of fairy tales while being put down to bed as tots to begin with.

Read More

More Articles

If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please subscribe to my Tiny Letter!

Blog

#FamiliesBelongTogether

Ursula_(detention_center)_1
By US Government (U.S. Customs and Border Control) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Someone commented on a picture I posted recently. It was a picture of me as a tiny baby in my dad’s arms. We were a military family, and my mom had gone home to give birth, so this may have been one of the first times my father held me. We are content with each other, peaceful in that way unique to new parents and tiny babies. The commenter was someone my dad grew up with and who I grew up calling “uncle.”  It was odd, I thought, that we weren’t already friends, and clicked the button that would make it so. Within days he posted something ugly and inaccurate about the state of the world, a snide and casually cruel thing that highlighted his lack of knowledge and understanding about the issue at hand, and I remembered, that’s probably why we weren’t already friends.

What to do? I asked myself. I could say something, and sometimes I do in these cases. When a friend shared a crude meme that suggested that a woman’s choice of clothing made it okay to grope her, I reminded him – mildly I thought – that consent matters. The result was as might be expected. On another occasion, I shared the Bill of Rights with people defending barbarism and terror with the First Amendment. They responded, more or less, that the Constitution was drivel, until it was pointed out that the words I quoted actually and literally were the First Amendment.

But it didn’t really make any difference. No one’s mind was changed, and I’m fairly certain the number of perspectives changed by debates on social media remains solidly at zero.

I’ve often felt that when there’s nothing else we can do, we have an obligation at least to speak – my skin and education and gender and sexual orientation all generally afford me that – and when we can’t do even that, to bear witness. It’s important, I sometimes think, simply to combat inaccuracies and fabrications, just so that facts and truth are spoken as often and in the same forums as errors and lies. Maybe, I think, saying something will lead a person to do a little more research. There’s nothing wrong with disagreement and philosophical differences, a difference in perspective and understanding that leads two reasonable and good people to different conclusions about how to tackle a problem. And over time, with many long conversations, I have seen people’s perspectives begin to shift. My own has changed over the years, and I think few of us are truly the same person, with the same perspectives and thoughts and opinions we had a decade or more ago. We look back on our youth and talk about “when I was young and foolish,” for a reason. But in this “post-truth” era, we seem often not to be debating philosophical differences but facts themselves; and so, maybe, I think, it’s worthwhile to simply speak the truth, even if into the void. Even if it opens me up to harassment, cries of “liberal” and also actual insults, alienation from old family friends.

This isn’t a coffee table conversation between people who hold each other in mutual regard and respect. I’m not afforded years, in this case, to identify the things we can agree on, to tease out the fears and misperceptions driving an unyeilding and callous perspective, to call upon his better nature. It’s an ignorant post on social media – his own speaking into the void – that by now has already been lost in the never-ceasing updates of modern personal newsfeeds.

So I didn’t say anything then. I will say something here.

 

The facts are these.

We are a nation of immigrants. The question of legal or illegal arrival is a modern one.

Our government has allowed so few H-2B visas, via a lottery system this year, that farming, crabbing, and other industries (our economy and food supply) are expecting a significant downturn due to insufficient labor – because the people working in those places come here legally, and now can’t get visas to do so, and so are not coming.

Many of the families separated at the border in recent weeks reportedly turned themselves in at the border to seek asylum from dangerous circumstances few Americans could ever imagine. Seeking asylum is not illegal.

More than 2300 children, some as young as a few months old, were taken from their parents by U.S. government officials. There is no formal process to track separated children. Many of these parents now do not know where their children are, and when or if they might be reunited.

Separation was not a legal requirement but an administration policy, a fact firmly established, and it was ended by executive order this week, such that further separation, significantly with caveats, is no longer required. There’s currently no public plan for how those currently separated families will be reunited.

Images released by Customs and Border Control, like the one above, show boys housed in chain link cages, and later moved to tent cities. We haven’t seen pictures of, and don’t know where the girls and the youngest children are, leading many to ask the question, amid increasing child trafficking concerns, #WhereAreTheGirls ?

These are people. These are PEOPLE. THESE ARE PEOPLE. Human beings, scared and desperate, wanting only to make a better life for themselves and their children. Isn’t that the same thing any of us want?

 

We can have different perspectives about law and order, fairness and freedom, about what it means to be American and who gets to decide that. We can all agree that nobody wants children to be harmed, yet that is exactly what is happening. Regardless of all else, it is imperative that politics be put aside and every child be restored to their rightful guardian quickly and safely. Regardless where you fall on the so-called immigration debate, everyone in American custody must be treated humanely and with dignity, and housed in safe and sanitary conditions.

#FamiliesBelongTogether