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Belief and Philosophy Break Divorce Educators Health Self-help Teachers Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Marriage and Divorce and How to View a Sculpture

How to View a Sculpture

I would like to explain a few ways that we can think about the practice of observation that might help us come to terms with the way we see ourselves within the construct of marriage and divorce.

Here’s the famous Venus de Milo (photo by tabitha turner) an ancient Greek sculpture displayed in the Louvre. She is a symbol of Western beauty. There are many tales surrounding her beauty and interpretations of her appearance. I am unaware of an Asian equivalent image of a woman that is as significant on a global scale. There’s a meta element to her existence as a sculpture that also interests me: the physical element that socially distinguishes an individual and determines personal navigation is the face, the next are one’s hands. What we move, carry, sculpt, shape, stroke, create, carve and more, determines what we do in the world. She has no arms, no hands, so we look at her body and face…but let me continue.

When I was sixteen my parents sent me to France for the summer to learn French. I stayed with an acquaintance of my father’s, a medical doctor’s family, which I did for a few weeks in their summer home in the south of France. It was eye opening for me: large meals of rabbit stew at noon, a Pink Floyd blasting grandmother, a tennis playing aunt with a deep tan wearing a bikini that displayed tufts of her pubic hair, and a bucolic estate replete with a vineyard and peacocks pecking about the front lawn. There were other teenagers, but I was an admittedly difficult teen, bookish, and easily bored and not the best social companion, and so, within a short period of time found myself alone on a train to Paris where I spent the remaining part of the summer attending classes at Alliance Francais. I was terribly lonely and wanted to return to the US, but refused to do so out of pride. Determined to stay on, I decided to be purposeful, and so I set myself the task of going to every single museum in the city. 

As anyone knows, there are countless museums in Paris, but I covered many of them, an admirable ambition and a reflection of what I recognize now, as a sometime dutiful and obedient nature. I wandered about with my guidebook and recorded my observations in French in my journal as I downed cups of hot chocolate and cut my way through pastry after pastry. One day I met an older man—I no longer remember his name or even what he really looked like, although I seem to recall dark framed glasses and hair, and a leather briefcase. He saw me wandering around outside the Louvre, introduced himself, and then kindly proceeded to take me on a tour of the museum, pointing out significant art, and commenting in a way, I realize now that suggested someone with an abiding passion for art. After we drank coffee in a nearby cafe and chatted about what we saw, although I politely declined an invitation to meet him again. There are all kinds of ways we can read this encounter, but suffice to say the lesson he imparted to me that day about how to look at sculpture was probably one of the most significant I learned in terms of observation, one that I have carried with me and added to, and have passed on to students throughout my life.

When we look at a sculpture face-to-face or face-to-shape a single look from one angle does not suffice. Modern life is hurried, but when we slow down and look carefully, we experience art in new ways. To take in a sculpture in a way that evokes a relational response to the art and artist, we observe the piece from multiple vantage points, address the three dimensional material object at various angles. We might walk around it, do a 360 degree stroll. We squat down and look up, as if to be a small child beholding the world above. We reach out and touch it. Lean against it, if we can, press our own body against it, feel its surface. We stand up on our tiptoes and then look down upon the object. We tilt our head sideways and maybe even upside down. Most significantly, we look at the piece of art at different times of the day to observe how the shadows change, how the light and dark are cast across the shape, and note what this does to the object. The shadows tell a story. A sculpture does not look the same at dawn as it does mid-day. We must interact with it at different times, note the miracle of how it changes, to really see what the sculptor might have been communicating.

We too must allow ourselves to understand that the way we observe, define, any object, idea, institution, state of being, or whatever we encounter as humans, depends on our vantage point and may dramatically shift throughout the course of a day, over a number of years, as we weave our way through a lifetime. This perspective is derived from where we are physically, emotionally, or in time. How we see and why we see is fluid. It changes depending on the light or dark, on our moods and priorities, on what came prior or after.

Our responsibility then is always to understand, and if writing, to record and detail what we know when we know it, forgiving ourselves for what we cannot possibly see at the time we are observing, or if we dare say, participating, responding, or dancing with the art or idea. We might be generous to ourselves, allow ourselves flexibility as we move to a new insight closer into the seeing and knowing of how and why, nurturing or answering our questions as we linger and skip. It is impossible to take in all angles at once. Maybe there is a spot where we gaze beyond the sculpture, and so the object becomes framed within the background, or the object comes forward, the background receding. We touch the shape, feel its ease, roughness, and smoothness, its temperature and crevices. This moment is all that we take from the experience of looking at the sculpture as we remember it later, trying to recall and feel again what we felt. Somehow, removed from that moment, we feel a bit differently, and we say in our hearts that the art was more expansive at that time, at that place. Maybe it was. Or not. We have to have a little faith in ourselves, that where and how we are seeing at the moment is one perspective and it is fine, we are doing our best, we are seeing what it is we are supposed to see. When we look back at the moment, we are also doing our best, recalling what we can with all that we can muster. 

Truly seeing art, understanding an idea, feeling, person, place, concept, requires us to be compassionate with ourselves. Seeing involves being seen–specifically, we must see who we were and are, and this will allow us to envision who we can be. Slow down. Take in the sculpture. Allow yourself to see. This practice of seeing will help you to see others and yourself.

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Belief and Philosophy Divorce Reading & Writing Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Reasons for Women to Write Their Divorce Story

Women are storytellers and consciously or unconsciously constantly use stories to communicate. We navigate life telling, remembering, and listening to stories. The key is to be conscious and to honor this powerful ability within ourselves. For how many thousands of years have women told stories to children before they sleep, or used stories to explain a moral rule or household habit? We know the stories of our community, and we are often entrusted, whether we like it or not, to be the holder of family secrets. We find it easy to contain and hold and tell the stories of those we know and love. More complicated, for reasons that I will explore in the coming pages, is putting ourselves both literally and metaphorically as the central protagonist in our own grand story called Life. When we center ourselves as characters in our story, the one that we live and write, we validate ourselves. Writing our story, what happened and what we felt about what happened, is one of the most powerful ways that women can define, heal, and reckon with ourselves.

A divorce story forces us to center ourselves within the context of our own life. Willingly or unwillingly, we as women have frequently been assigned roles that have translated into prioritizing others needs before our own. By default and extension, we become reluctant to claim a space for ourselves, and in turn, the best we can often muster up, is to claim a segment of others’ stories for our own. While any story has many characters, we can do this to the point where we forget our story, downplay our role in others’ stories, deprive another of their own story to live to satisfy the absence of our own story, and most tragically, and all too common, think that we never had a story, or that our story was secondary to another’s because such a person received more external validation in terms of money or status.

Women are almost always rewarded for compliance, for putting others first every step of their lives and are bestowed praise for living the accepted narrative of a helpmate to everyone within a world governed by men. Our names change upon marriage. We are not on stage; we are Stage Mothers. Our salaries our lower. Our hours are longer. We are the stop gap go-to person for when all systems fail, when a family’s in crisis, a car malfunctions, a child is sick, or when someone is laid off. Everyone turns to us for caregiving. The status quo rewards us for making our story shorter, for functioning solely as a prelude to the stories labeled more significant, even if they are the stories of our loved ones. We almost always define ourselves in relation to another person and if we fail to do this according to an imagined bar of sacrifice and service, we feel poorly about ourselves or others judge as inferior or lesser. There is a huge difference between living a story that exemplifies love, loyalty, and kindness, and being measured as worthy because of what compromises one has made to exist in a relationship with another. 

Divorce is often the first time we may consider the real depth of our individuality. We may have always told the story of our marriages, relationships, romance, and families with the royal plural “We” as opposed to the humble first person “I”. This is how writing a divorce story can empower: if we were firmly entrenched in the “we” of being a couple, becoming the main character of the story is a shock to the system! There are a minimum of three stories in every marriage. The “I” story of each individual and the the “We” story they mutually narrate about their coupledom. It is vitally important to state that our lives do not exist in a vacuum, and that we are deeply affected and directed by the culture of our time. 

Once we recount the story of what happened in our marriage and what we felt about what happened, we can boldly claim space in a new arena. The story of a public life almost always sets the man’s story as first, the woman’s story as secondary. As women, the divorce story we share with honesty, is the story of the marriage wholly from our personal perspective. Know that writing this personal story solely from our own hearts is not an act of selfishness, but an act of personal volition. It is saying to the world: My story is worth telling because I have value. 

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Belief and Philosophy Break Divorce Reading & Writing Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Divorce and Voice

When writers, readers, and critics speak of a writer’s voice they are referencing the writer’s chosen words that reveal the writer’s self, how she perceives and moves in the world. Voice is the writer’s soul and spirit, and how the writer brings this to the page is the writer’s voice. Being honest to our voice, to who we are, is the key task in the writing of a story, and our life’s most significant mission. If we cannot be who we are, then who shall we be?

When we refer to a writer’s voice, most telling and daunting is that there exists a distinctly proscribed way of conveying written text codified by primarily male writers. It has been this way for centuries. It will continue to be this way. In the process of trying to convey our story, we quiet or even lose our voice because we are fearful. We strive to appease or appeal to people who judge us according to an unknown or mysterious standard that often, we can never achieve as it is rather subjective. And yet, it is imperative that we persevere and risk writing who we are as otherwise, our voice is silent, and if ours, then many other women who are out there too. When we are courageous about our voice, we pave the way for dozens of others to follow suit.

We must have faith in the story. Believe in our right to write. While writing is a learned skill, the ability to reveal who we are is directly correlated to our willingness to be vulnerable on the page. Our words are meaningful because our story matters. The voice that we summon is one that acknowledges our full self. This voice is the beautiful, courageous, resilient, complete self who has declared her right to live as a one who wants to set the terms of her own life.

Whoever controls the text controls the story. A delivery through the medium of writing often prompts a different reaction because texts impart a permanence. Words on a page compel an undeniable respect. Every major cultural, religious, legal, and creative institution’s laws and customs are upheld, reinforced, and codified by text. Someone writes the text; another person interprets this text; yet another person writes a story based on this interpretation. We are readers of a story several layers away from the primary text. Imagine what remains and what changes. Given this truth, it’s important to throw your own voice into this layered chorus and write with everything you are. You are your voice. Write your truth to power.

 We may feel inhibited about the physical act of putting words down on a page. An easy solution is to simply pretend that we are speaking to someone: talk to the page! For accuracy, we record our voice with a phone or device, and transcribe the spoken words. Edit for clarity. Speaking and writing use different parts of our brain, but know that communication is linked, writing inhibition is real, and however we get our words onto the page will be fine. The vast majority of the globe’s illiterate are women, but our wisdom transcends what is written; this is how we have survived through the millennia. Know that through the power of our oral storytelling we write a story on the page—for those of us who cannot write we put our words down on paper. We do this by recording our story.

A woman’s voice is often considered dangerous. How often are women accused of being shrill? The numerous complaints about a woman’s voice—her accent, her tone, her articulation are familiar to anyone follows the commentary about women in the public spotlight. There are no end of complaints about the actual pitch of a woman’s voice, but what most dig at is a particular woman’s willingness to use her voice in an arena that women rarely participate in.

Breaking silence is looked upon as disruptive and to break the silence about our marriage, enshrined across the globe as an institution to maintain stability within a system of patriarchy, is considered at best poor taste, and at worst, a display worthy of public condemnation. Marriage is considered private. Personal. And it is. But to dismantle a marriage through divorce requires outside documentation (just as marriage did), and to write the details of this break-up potentially place women in the position of being seen as dangerous. We may or may not be the very first woman in our family to divorce, but it is highly likely that we are the first woman who records the reasons for the divorce. It is inconvenient, if not unpleasant for most people to be presented with anything that disrupts the norm. The truth is the details that prompted your divorce are unimportant to most, but they are important to you, and therefore worth writing.

You may be quiet, someone who is reluctant to expose your private happenings to anyone, but you have a right to exercise the use of your voice. There is no reason for your silence.

Write your divorce story. Discuss the inclusion of your divorce story in your legal file.

Write your story. Change your mind. Author your life.

 

 

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Belief and Philosophy Blog Break Divorce Health Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Choosing Your Divorce Lawyer

A word to those embarking on their divorce journey: a key player on your divorce team is your lawyer. Divorce is the disruption of a business agreement. A break. It is not a time to say “Oh, I don’t really care. I feel too tired to make any decisions.” Think about it: No matter how tired you got of organizing your wedding, you were able to find the energy to figure out the logistics or style of your cake or dress. Muster the energy to get legal support. The only divorce that goes away is the completed one.

Get referrals to lawyers from friends. I interviewed a dozen lawyers both overseas and in the US. You need to be willing to give the facts. Be prepared to discuss the details and personal information. Divorce varies from state to state, nation to nation. Know some basics—google.

Your lawyer must be on your team. This is more important than any other quality or characteristic. Will the lawyer understand you more due to your gender? Ethnicity? Background? Frankly, that’s hard to say. The lawyer must understand your perspective. I had one lawyer (woman) tell me she didn’t like representing women as they were “too emotional”.

I didn’t hire her—and I would go so far as any woman would be absolutely bonkers to hire someone who is uttering such sexist statements. This woman is rooting for the patriarchy. I will bluntly state something here. You may be too (with or without knowing it), but get this women, if someone is rooting for the patriarchy, where does that leave you? In. The. Dust. Or if you prefer a metaphor from this image: smashing your head on a coral reef.

If you are in a precarious psychological state or are not versed in the financial or business implications of your split, you need to know your lawyer will look out for you. You must be able to speak truthfully to this person. If you get a bad vibe, if you can’t trust this person, do not ignore your instincts—find someone else.

One of the best pieces of advice I got from a friend was this: “Do not use your lawyer as a therapist.” Lawyers figure out your legal and financial interests. Therapists fix your emotional issues. Using your lawyer as a therapist is very costly.

Ask the following:

  • Experience with your type of case (be prepared to state in a few sentences what you have going on—kids, money, property etc…).
  • Retainer and hourly rates/estimate
  • Advice about mediation, collaborative, or standard divorce
  • Time framework and availability

Start writing your divorce story. How do you do this? You have to start changing your mind about who you are and who you were. Examine the Master Narratives that governed your life. Look at yourself with new eyes. Writing your story and sharing it with your lawyer will help move you forward, as well as center your thoughts and ideas as you head into the next chapter of your brave and beautiful life.

 

 

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Blog Divorce Hawai'i Health Parenting Reading & Writing

Hawai’i: Football and Parenting

“You don’t like football,” my son says.

I disagree and cite evidence to prove my support: team apparel for myself and the family, hundreds of dollars of groceries from Costco for ‘football food’, picking him up from practice, spending hours online trying to upload and organize the multitude of lists and forms, and a general rearranging of life to meet the demands of afternoon practices and upcoming games. We’re in a deep argument by now and frankly, I’ve had it. It’s only later I realize, he’s right. I don’t like it.

I had not allowed him to play for years for all of the usual reasons: concussions and more concussions. When he was small, there wasn’t as much of a concern about the machismo and general discussion that surrounds the sport. While I had played football in my neighborhood growing up, I had never played a team sport other than one dismal season of softball at age 9, and I am the only person I know (other than my sister) who has never watched an entire Superbowl game. I did watch the Bruno Mars performance. I also watched the commercials one year for work (2001?) when I was assigned to do so. But other than that, football was one of those sports that had failed to engage me. I had enjoyed movies about football, but my live game time was limited.

In 3rd grade, my father took me to see the University of Iowa football team play a game on my birthday—the year that they lost every game. Dad bought me a pom-pom and we stayed until half time so I could watch the cheerleaders and then we went home. At boarding school there were co-ed cheerleaders who wore old wool sweaters from a vault of prepwear from days of yore who led cheers at the homecoming game. Since I was part of an advisory senior group, I too led cheers and wore a creamy white sweater emblazoned with a navy blue ‘A.’ I led a cheer where I misspelled our school’s name. I liked the yelling through the megaphone. Details like who was playing, the game itself, and spelling were another matter.

Fast forward another ten years and my mother won a raffle and I got four tickets to a live Raiders game. I went with a sister and my friend from acting class—he had previously studied and danced with the Houston Ballet, and another friend, a writer whose day job was high school football coach. The three of us stayed for the writer/football coach, but as I recall, I spent most of the time going back and forth for snacks. Ballet dancer had initially suggested selling the tickets and going out to brunch, but it was too late to do that.  I had no idea football moved so slowly. I believe the team lost that game. I can’t remember.

As a teacher, I had come to accept football season as the time of year when students left class early and learned that to be a teenage football player was to enter an American myth, a boyhood dream. My student athletes of the football variety were always polite in class. And there was always the exceptional football player, the one who engaged deeply with reading and stories, who asked questions and pondered the material. But mostly, the players were exhausted, suffered from lack of sleep and obligations, having been recruited to these high fee schools for their athletic prowess. I understood what it meant. They were, at such a young age, professionals. The majority were students of color. Their families dreams and their community’s hopes were on their shoulders and they knew it. They were there to serve the elite school with their bodies. I understood what was at stake for them. College. Mentorship. A ticket out. Yet, truthfully, part of me chafed under this idea too. Poets and musicians are rarely granted such privileges and absences. Football players are exclusively boys. What I found even more trying was that the boys with interesting academic or creative abilities were often dismissed and slotted into spots because they were football players. Imposed limits on a young person. I look back on the kids I know who were athletes–what poetry they held was often buried by the school’s belief in how they served the institution. Homecoming at all schools revolves around this single sport that supposedly defines the social culture of the fall semester. None of it sat comfortably with me.

As a parent, I had been easily able to ignore the football stuff. Overseas there was rugby (nope, didn’t allow him to play that either) and soccer (yes, he played it).

The Kid had played soccer in Hong Kong. It had been the chosen sport of his father. Upon relocation to Hawai’i he continued to play, but it was just us two here. The first year could only be described as a heteronormative extreme. While all parents had to contribute, the team parent who took the reigns was extremely disgruntled when I explained my nearly 1.5 hour one way commute, and then said condescendingly, I was more or less like a single mom, (an entirely negative state from her assessment), so let me off of some duties and gruffly assigned me others.

Families are pressed. Modern family life is supposed to be a joyful time, but the sporting activities seem to take a toll on families, and yet there is a strong cultural expectation of participation in these activities. Coaches were the dads who had not played much, or so it seemed. There were a lot of boring drills, not much playing time. There was well-intentioned yelling “Get your head out of your butt, XXXX” and parents’ dreams of a soccer star dying at every practice. A very heavy kid lost 25 pounds that season, the entire team cheering him on as he ran across the field and scored a single goal.

Yet without a male figure by my side The Kid rarely had playing time. Fatherly interest assured time on the field, and while I raced home for practice, showed up for every game, brought the required snacks, and enthusiastically cheered, my presence as a mom didn’t hold much sway. The Kid’s athletic, but his short attention span became shorter as he played defense. He liked the camaraderie, was distracted by his hair falling in his eyes, and amiably followed the rest of the team. I decided then that I had to become more involved the next go around.

When time for soccer came up the following year, I volunteered for team parent, assigned snacks, sent out regular emails, and became the uber soccer mom to blow out all soccer moms. There were assigned snacks with specific rules. Get well cards. Car pool coordination. I refused to be trifled with. It was also a team that had several single moms and this time women, more than men, were the ones present at practice and games. The paradigm shifted. The coach had minimal drills and the kids played. “Kids like playing,” was his response. “Not so much drills.” Everyone played. The coach had no ambitions of anyone becoming a serious soccer player. The point was exercise and fun. The philosophy worked. The team did well. We’re still in contact with a few of the boys from that time. The Kid says that was his best year of playing soccer ever. It was that mythic time before boys’ playing abilities were about potential and the goal was fun.

The following year, several members of the soccer team decided to try basketball. Indoor games ran late–up to 9PM for an elementary school kid. Parents were friendly, but the vibe was different. Competitive. By now, students were 10 years old. From what I could see, no one was heading to a professional team, but the intensity at which they played and the parental involvement was clear: they were gunning for private school spots, and to do this, they had to show that they excelled at a sport. Parents were not messing around. I heard a parent brag that her child’s ambition was to play basketball at Yale. He was 10. The tiresome vibe had started: What school is your child applying to? An admissions officer encouraged me to keep my child on a team, to have him play at a high level as that might influence his private school acceptance. My child liked basketball as much as soccer, but it was mostly about the camaraderie. Why I was supposed to do this instead of art class to get him into a private school was beyond me. It was, in fact, the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard–unless the child was keen to do the sport. I suppose if I was dealing with a professional level figure skater this would be one thing. But I’m not big on sacrificing time to the altar of sport for a school spot when the kid is 10!

The next soccer season happened when my marriage headed to extinction. The difference for this team was that the the involved parents were fathers, unlike the previous season of mothers. They were a nice bunch–the fathers were friendly. It was hard for me to focus on being the uber soccer mom given what was happening personally, but again, I coordinated the snacks. I sent out schedules. I tried. The tent was in my car. One dad gave me weights to hold it in place. But the names remain a blur and while The Kid enjoyed the time on the field, the chemistry was just OK, though this wasn’t the fault of anyone in particular as all were generally jovial and nice people. It was me: I was preoccupied. I wasn’t quite divorced, but I was feeling my existence as a single parent and trying to decide how I felt about it.

The following year, my divorce was final. A few weeks after signing the paperwork, The Kid made the cut at a competitive soccer club in town, before we moved off-island. The soccer coach gathered the parents and announced in a firm voice that certain behavior would not be tolerated. No brawling parents, no bad attitudes, no sideline refereeing, and everyone had to get over the idea that their child was going to win a college soccer scholarship. This was supposed to be about fun! Fine by me, though I am sure some parents were disappointed, and if they were brawlers, likely to be pissed off about that. I would like to say that this is because they were really concerned about tuition, but from what I could see, much of this scholarship desire was influenced by parental ego and bragging rights as opposed to genuine abilities.

No matter, we were off to a different island. By now I was in the throes of the fallout of a high conflict divorce. Given The Kid’s entry into club soccer, and my feeling that continuity was important, I agreed to drive upcountry over an hour one way for club practices, but a teacher’s salary meant several hundred dollars a month for fees and gas. Did The Kid even like soccer that much? What was I trying to do, anyway? When his father refused to pay soccer fees that changed the direction of my son’s soccer trajectory. In retrospect, this soccer playing was never The Kid’s fantasy, but his father’s. The Kid had always gone along. It was then that I realized that he was one of those parents that the coach had said he was tired of. I felt some satisfaction in this. There was me, one of the normal parents, and then there was him, the parent who harbored delusional fantasies. So, The Kid ended up playing more casually a short drive from home with other kids from the neighborhood and school. The coaches were neighbors and knew The Kid lost interest unless he was directly chasing the ball. Everyone had a shot. The parents harbored no scholarship ambitions. People meant well. I began to question whether or not The Kid really liked soccer all that much when I saw a photo I took of him gazing in the opposite direction of the ball while everyone on his team was intensely focused on the ball. He looked bored. Soccer was fun, but I realized, not that serious for him. It was recreation.

Then came basketball season which showed me what team sports could be: A good coach, the best on the island, took over the team and magic happened, as it does when a good teacher or coach leads. Everyone had playing time, no matter their playing ability. There was camaraderie and friendship and laughter as the boys tumbled into the backseat. The Kid had a ball. My fondest memories of that year of turbulence and change where I was signing papers and going in and out of court finalizing the divorce revolved around The Kid’s basketball practice and games. An old friend, E, from decades prior stepped off the plane the day after my divorce was final, and for the first time ever, myself and The Kid enjoyed a family life that we had always wanted to have, but had never experienced. We laughed together and E cooked dinner every night and we became during those brief months, a little unit of our own. A former student athlete himself, E told The Kid he had to have protein the night before the game and the morning of, diligently prepared him meals, and together we shuttled The Kid and sometimes other boys in the back of the car to late afternoon practices and morning games. E chatted to parents and the coach. We cheered from the sides and in our own way, were part of the crowd and suddenly I was experiencing with joy and celebration all aspects of heteronormative youth sporting event participation and such involvement was fun. The Kid and I have fond memories of that time. E showed The Kid what it meant to have man be kind to his mother and take interest in his activities. It was also where I saw the fallout from the divorce begin to manifest through sports.

“That guy I played with today called me a rich kid, because I’m going to XXX school,” The Kid said defiantly.  As a teacher, my child received tuition exemption. There was no other way he would be attending.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I asked him where he lived. He lives on XXX where those big houses are. I asked him how many bedrooms he had in his house. He said four. I said I live in a one-bedroom cottage,” said The Kid.

“Oh?”

“Then I beat him on the court,” said The Kid defiantly. “Screw him. But he’s OK. Now we’re friends.” The jockeying for dominance. The have and the have-nots. Loss had become more acute in his mind. He did not have a house anymore. He had a lost a family. There was upheaval, envy, anger, and confusion. The divorce, as far as The Kid was concerned, was not only a split up, it was a new way of socially framing himself in every arena of his life.

“Mom, am I a poor kid now? I think I was kind of a richer kid before.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t have my own bedroom. I sleep in the living room.”

“You’ll get a bedroom. Don’t worry. You’re not poor.”

Circumstances shifted upon return to Honolulu. The Kid got a bedroom, but basketball at a big public middle school was no longer a friendly well-organized sport. The Kid left the first day of middle school tryouts. He had loved the coach and playing on his team before, but now he was intimidated: “I’m not doing this.”

I was disappointed as I remembered how much he had enjoyed it. I explained the point was to play for fun, not to do anything else, but he even refused to join the intramural team. Fearful. Ego. Acceptance. Shut down. He was in 7th grade and sports were no longer only about fun. It was a private school calling card. It was parents trying to justify a family’s weekend activity. It was where and how your masculinity and mettle were tested. It was all the stuff that drove me away from participating in organized sports my entire life. The old coach had said that The Kid would be a good player, that he would have the height, and that he would keep improving. But without the guidance of kind coach who saw potential and who didn’t yell, who encouraged fairness, and prioritized playing time for all, who didn’t expect everyone to perform and opened the floor to beginners, The Kid would not play. The days of basketball ended. I was disappointed. But I saw too, that it wasn’t the game. It was what the game meant.

And so during COVID, the football campaign began in earnest. I had kept hoping it would go away. The Kid had briefly waged one in elementary school, but even then, I had not allowed him to play Pop Warner. He had made football rosters for his friends in elementary school and played every recess, but there was a desperate urgency in his voice and something had shifted.

“Football is important in Hawai’i” he said to me. “It’s THE sport here, Mom.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“I have wanted to play it since 3rd grade. I’m good at it.”

“You never play it. You hardly watch it!”

“I’m good at it.”

“OK, but you’re good at a lot of stuff. Tennis. You’re good at tennis too. Maybe join the tennis team.”

“No. Dad wanted me to play soccer. You wanted me to play basketball. I want to play football. Football is my choice. I have always wanted to play it and you NEVER let me play it.”

“I never wanted you to play basketball. You liked basketball. I don’t care which sport you play, I care about injury.”

Sandy’s is dangerous, Mom. You let me go there.”

“It’s the ocean.”

“That doesn’t matter. It’s dangerous.”

“The water’s different.”

“How?”

“It’s the natural world. It’s something else. It’s the ocean.”

How to explain rocks and gods and water? The meaning of ocean as life, as who we are as part of this earth to a teenager hell-bent on acceptance? Football translates into mainstream popularity. Campus stardom. Friends who travel in a pack. A position. Belonging.

“I want a family. I don’t have one anymore,” The Kid declared.

COVID had offered a respite from the politics of middle school social life and adjustment from divorce. The fallout of divorce and the instability of a family underscored by strife had come tumbling out. The Kid had clicked on Instagram only to find out that his father had gotten married without informing him prior. Memories of bottles of alcohol in the morning reeking on a kitchen counter, yelling, and fear creeped in. A longing for a family that never was. Escape. Confrontation. The dissolution.

And then, there was the ocean, specifically, Uncle N, the surf instructor, and the ocean. The Kid had begun to surf when we had lived on another island, but he was hesitant in many ways. While he had started to go out with Uncle N on his board prior to COVID, the water took on another dimension once he started going to Sandy’s. Three or four days a week, Uncle N would swing by and pick him up. Time schedules shifted. After a late nite gaming and yelling over a discord call, The Kid would eat breakfast and amble out the door to hop in Uncle N’s car and spend a few hours at Sandy’s, under the tutelage of Uncle N and all the uncles out there in the early morning, sharing tips and guidance and in this, he found, if only a space through Uncle N, a place to belong.

Growing up on the Mainland, I knew about Sandy’s as it was the beach my uncle refused to let us go to when we arrived for the summer. No. Too rough. That was it. We never went. The shore break is dangerous. The current is strong. Yet it was here that The Kid began to find himself in the water, losing himself in the blue, charging and challenging the blue, and eating big plate lunches with Uncle N or downing a half a dozen grilled hot dogs on the beach. His hair turned light, his skin browned, and he developed confidence. His back got cuts and scars from the rocks and shoreline, he battled a current, and still, he went out every AM. My parents and I went to see him. A boy in the blue. Light. Strength. Joy. Calm. A slow transformation, if only a few hours a day. Healing had begun.

A teacher, Uncle N said with pride: “He’s looking good.”

My heart swelled. It is something else to see a child who has suffered feel free in the water. I wanted to cry. I laughed and smiled. The Kid looked awesome. Grandma smiled. Aunty said, “Those are big waves.” Grandpa looked for a few minutes too, said, “Is that wave too big?” then walked away and found petting a friendly pet pig lying under the shade to be of greater interest than seeing his sole grandson in the ocean.

One day The Kid was sprawled out on the bed, his body now stretched from one end of the bed to the other. He looked up the ceiling and said to me: “Mom, I thought I was going to die today on a wave.”

“Then what?”

“I prayed. Then, I committed,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Good job,” I said. “I’m proud of you.”

The ocean heals. The water eases. The sea. A boy and the elements.

All during COVID I watched my FB feed. Mothers with sons who cheerfully played puzzles and made pizza. Families that made crafts and read piles of books. The only way we got through COVID and through the school year intact was that I installed a punching bag outside the front door. The Kid grew 5 inches, his voice changed, he worked out like a religion, and he entered the water. He came in from the ocean to do a few hours of schoolwork. COVID was discord and gaming. Two gallons of milk a week. Piles of toast. He changed his diet, grilled meat, and scrambled over a dozen eggs a week. He swore off sugar, and just plain ole swore. Defiant. Rage. It was the kick-off of what I am well aware will be long period of rebellion that is likely to intensify. I think I am prepared. I know I am not. The last several years were hard.

The football campaign had begun the late summer of 2020, but ebbed, and then started to amp up as the prospect of school opened. I had hoped it would go away.

“I’m going to play football. Mom, this is the one thing I have always wanted to do. My whole life. You say no, you always say no. To everything. You’re such a negative thinker.”

“No, I don’t.”

“When you say maybe, maybe is a NO. You are a Debbie Downer.”

“I’m not a Debbie Downer.”

“Yes, you are! Moms say no.”

“Moms do not say no.”

“Well YOU as a mom say no. ALL THE TIME.”

“Listen, football is…it’s a complicated thing. It’s really…we saw that movie together about concussions.”

“I want to play. Not everyone gets one. This is for me. It’s my choice. This is my life. This is me. I’m going to play.”

This is my life, Mom. So when does it become this, exactly? My uncle played it. My students played it. But I resisted. Horror stories abounded. My mother’s doctor’s friend’s son: paralyzed. Brain damage of a former student. I never liked the sport. It was violent. Tennis? Cross country? Hiking? Wilderness sports? Biking? Why did it have to be football?

“Why do you always think something bad will happen? What is wrong with you?” said The Kid. “You always think the worst will happen.”

Friends and family weighed in. No! Absolutely not. I will not let my child do it. Yes. Let him do it a few weeks. See what happens. Once he gets sacked it will be different. Those are men on the field. Some of those kids, they are full grown. No. It’s not a good idea. No, there are other sports. He likes football? He never watches it! The anxiety increased (me). The anger mounted (him).

I researched the coaches and team. Somehow the interview and stories reassured me. From what I read, the point seemed to play.

To my surprise and to everyone else’s, I capitulated:

“OK. You can try it. You have to get to bed early and eat right. You have to take ballet class too. You have to maintain a 3.5 GPA. You have to do your chores. You’re basically just a machine during season. Understand? And if you get one injury, I don’t care what it is, you are out. Got it?”

Deal done.

He’s running with a pack now. School is about to start. Practice is on. Scrimmages. I haven’t watched. He got bigger after a week of hearty eating and play. But when I drove to pick him up at the following week it looked like every other player had also gotten bigger! Every family must have been doing the same! Feeding the kid to protect him. The last time I thought about him eating like this was when he was a baby.

“You don’t like it. I can tell. I can tell you don’t like it,” said The Kid, angrily.

And then I had to examine: why didn’t I like it? Was he right? I’m doing all that I can. But after another late night of arguments I began to remember and had to agree: he was right. Unlike any other sport in which I had only a mild passing interest in, I really mostly found myself bored with football. But was it really avoidance? And then I dug deeper.

Growing up in Iowa, football became the symbol to me of not belonging. Of bullying and whiteness. Of mockery of my father, of my Asian self, my Korean family. We were not a football family and never would be. There were three girls and a father who didn’t care about football who never saw it until he came to the US. We had no reference for this game.

There was a neighborhood and school filled with boys and girls who lived for football, talked about football, whose families followed it religiously. If you didn’t you were isolated and made fun of. Briefly there was inclusion: A young neighborhood boy, Bill, with no football, who was on the 7th grade team and who was dying to play and who corralled my sisters and I and another neighborhood girl into playing. We played football with a red rubber ball with Bill commanding the plays and direction, and those were, in honesty, my only fond memories of the sport. Once when we expanded the play and other kids joined in with a real football my younger sister wound up flat on her back. The wind was knocked out of her. We stood over her looking at her carefully.

“She’s the running back,” said Bill. There was some question. Do we tell Mom? Stop playing? Was she breathing OK? My sister nodded. We needed the running back. Mom didn’t have to know. Game on!

Yes, there was fun. But football was also whiteness, big people, and gatherings where, from what I could see, you ate a lot of potato chips and there was no rice. As I lay awake thinking about The Kid and all of the misery that football culture caused me growing up, I realized that my reaction to write, to embrace art, to willfully leave Iowa at the age of 13 for boarding school was deeply connected for my utter distaste and dislike for organized sports, for all the feelings and ways it isolated and belittled, and at the center of this, was the sport of football. Proms. Homecoming. The Game.

I had to let go. It was coming to bite me back.

I thought of The Kid’s very first word: “ball”. He runs, moves, and takes to almost any sport with a basic level of competence due to coordination and speed. He’s athletic and the way he moves through the world is at times very foreign to me. I’m physical, but it is something else when this is what defines someone. This year, my capitulation has meant that his dream has finally come true: He’s playing football. Day 4 he broke his finger. There was a moment where he wondered if I would pull him out, he lashed out and said, “You’re going to take me out.”

“No, I’m not.”

I rationalized it by noting his changes. There are friends. He’s catching balls. Kicking goals. He’s doing well. He’s happier. The angst and feelings are always underneath, but football takes up a lot of space. I could use the break. We both could.

“I missed a few. I missed,” he said ruefully. “It sucks.”

“It does not suck. You’re doing great. You’re having fun, right?”

“Yeah.”

“OK. Good.”

He memorizes plays. He texts his friends. He’s in for the season. The Kid’s a football player and me, I’m the mom who worries, the one who hated football, and now the person who is trying to understand. This is the last stage before The Kid goes out into the world. He has his own goals and dreams for the season, and for his own life. How long will football be a part of this? A season? A game? Four years? It’s hard to say, now. Adolescence is a time of constant dramatic change. My football season goals are more modest, but involve a lifetime of unraveling perceptions and feeling. I’m doing what I can to resist voicing my concerns and doing what I can to have faith that it will all work out. I got my T-shirt. I’ll be sitting in the stands, apprehensive, letting myself sink into it, happiness, that is, watching my son live his dream.

Categories
Belief and Philosophy Divorce Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Reading & Writing Self-help

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: When I Sleep

This poem When I Sleep was first published in an anthology released by the Asian American Women’s Artists Association Cheers to Muses. I believe there are still hard copies of this book available through the organization. Work exhibited or featured ranged from sculpture to prints to writing. We do not create in a vacuum; at any time there are others who are creating, making, and expressing, and it’s important to note that we are not alone in this way. Women who have chosen a path predicated on expression and creativity often find themselves on the fringes of a society, and so it is important to know that you are not alone in this endeavor, that is often looked upon by outsiders as rather peculiar. It’s important to note that there are avenues of art that are always accepted by society should they fall into the matrix of womanly arts–these are not to be dismissed. But when you begin to question existing narrative frameworks art becomes dangerous.

Always remember that writing is a radical act. And as anyone who writes will tell you: writing is not a choice; it’s a compulsion.

I was remembering what a Korean American friend of my sister’s once told her: “Why can’t you just conform?” LOL. This is such a terrifying statement on so many levels. What was it about how this young woman was raised that she would level this type of criticism? Rather terrifying. The world finds so many ways to keep women compliant.

The poem below was a real dream I had many years before I divorced. I was extremely unsettled, filled with anxiety, but it was difficult for me to discern why or how as seemingly, everything on on the surface seemed to be as it should. Child. Spouse. House. Work. Check. Check. Check. It’s the potential hell of surface oriented idea of a heteronormative nuclear family that is a disguise for unrest and discontent. I found out years later, unsurprisingly that many people I knew were more or less drug-filled, bodies numbed from what modern capital declares is contentment. Purpose and happiness are complicated when it comes to obligations and definitions of women and place. Our bodies know what our minds fail to grasp. There is no peace without sleep, lack of sleep is a form of madness, and this absurd modern condition is the killing of what it means to be who are meant to be. What does one do if the dreams offer no release from the day? If the day is a continuation of what is reflected in a dream?

This poem underwent quite a few drafts. It is much shorter than the original, but I tried to keep the idea of the upset of the ordinary: How we squelch the true ideas we must confront in the daily habits of washing our face, walking across the floor, going to sleep. At this point too, I began to see how the power of beauty, youth stands with age.

There is too a refusal to awaken, because to truly rise means to live seamlessly between what is honest and to acknowledge what most deny. We live this way to shore up some idea of what should be– that is rooted in concepts of scarcity and fear.

The ideal state is to live without denial of who and what you are, to peel off the layers of sleep that seep into our waking hours, to boldly move your body, all of who you are, into a state of consciousness rooted in an awareness of mortality. Calm. Acceptance. Peace. Joy.

And now I head to the water. Have a great day. Aloha.

 

 

When I Sleep

 

Memory drowns in dreams—

monsters of the deep bare incisors,

scrape with scales.

Incandescent. Ravenous.

Earth’s belly spits a picture:

you run on a meadow to muses,

blossoms of poetry.

I lift my hands in a corner of disbelief.

 

Trapped by morning.

Eyes raise to the sun.

Escape vanquished by daylight’s rip.

Night’s pictures, a pornographic loop.

 

I am sorry, but I too

have impossible songs that swell.

We bend, but the nightly reprieve will not halt.

 

I splash water onto my face,

note lines on my neck,

imagine words murmured in your sleep

did not leak into my own.