Monthly Archives: March 2017

I Never Bring it Up

I never bring it up myself. Typically someone will ask me how long I’ve lived in the bay area. I say, “I have been here for over 25 years now.” If I’m feeling frisky or if I like the person and feel comfortable, I may add, “I originally came up for school in my twenties.”

“Oh, really. Did you go to Berkeley?” I have my ideas about why they always pick Berkeley. There is the notion that my politics are to the severe left, which matches up with Berkeley’s reputation. There is also the notion that I lived in Berkeley for 20 years. And, finally, there is the belief that if I went to Stanford, I would have said it from the beginning.

“Nooo,” I say with the lowest key, humblest voice I can muster. If I were more stoic, I would then just stay quiet and dare them to pursue their curiosity. But I’m not. I was raised to tell the truth and answer questions before they are even asked. The problem with answering this question, what always makes this an unsatisfactory interchange, is that people stop wanting the truth after I answer.

“I went to Stanford.”

“OOHHH,” they go, pausing, “you must be smart.”

What is the appropriate response to that? What does this mean if I had said yes to going to Berkeley or any number of fine schools full of smart people? What about all the clever people who did not spend a day on a college or even a high school campus? And was I not smart before they learned I went to Stanford?

Like I said, they stop wanting to hear the truth at that point. They don’t want to know that I am indeed smart, but not because of Stanford. That I was sure I was smart when I transferred to Stanford from La Verne. That by the time I graduated from Stanford after attending on again, off again for five years (remembering I already had one year under my belt), I thought I must have been mistaken about my intelligence. Certainly the library didn’t think much of me, having suspended my right to check out books forever by the time I left. Funny what happens when you don’t have the money to buy the books and you check them out and lose track of when they were due as you seek to at least keep the Jones within earshot.

My Oceans professor would not have given me much of a recommendation, seeing my name next to the lowest score on the mid-term. I was smart enough to switch to pass/fail to avoid a D- on my transcript. My English literature professor would recall how I almost fell asleep in his seminar room with only five other students present. How he sent me out to get a cup of coffee. He didn’t worry about my achievement. Perhaps it fed the stereotype he had heard that Latinx don’t value education. My Spanish literature professor would recall how I dropped his class the day I was scheduled to make a presentation. I was a Latina for god’s sake, utterly shamed when I couldn’t handle this class, did not know how to dissect literature and, more than anything, did not know that professors’ office hours were for me.

And don’t think my statistics professor could explain my fall from grace. Getting an A- on my mid-term and a D on my final. He would look puzzled, presuming I was lazy or in love; trying to remember when was the last time a student wrote an apology at the end of her little blue finals test book. Even my friend, who taught an alternative class on Oral History, would wonder about my ability to follow through, given she had to give me an ‘incomplete’ on my transcript that is still there. To complete the course would have required me to interview my father, and I was caught in the ‘don’t ask me questions’ message he telegraphed as I interviewed my mother. He would have had to lie about his first family when I asked about why he came to the United States.

Because people who discover I graduated from Stanford think I am so smart, they don’t want to hear that I finally decided I was a better fit for UC Santa Cruz, but I was too close to finishing and could not bear another transfer process. I scanned the majors in the English department, finally settling on Creative Writing, knowing sin duda I could write nine short stories. No other major seemed doable for me to graduate. People have told me that writing nine stories would have terrified them. I was touching the tip of my gift como escritora, but no one thought to tell me it was a gift and I didn’t see it. It was fed by the many white, mostly male professors whose canon of literature did not feature writers or protagonists that reflected me. I had one professor of color, Sandra Drake. She chose to read my story first in her Creative Writing class. I felt uncharacteristically proud, but my soil of self value was too dry to absorb what she did. I see now that she was in my corner, but I was in my assimilation and survival phase.

Because everyone thought I was smart back when I attended Stanford, including my fellow students, roommates, and my family, I did not see help as an option. I had no idea how to break the news to myself or others that I was in a foreign land where people spoke a foreign language and did not understand the impact of race, gender, or class. Help was all around me, from my advisors to my work-study oficina full of radical women who saw my differences as positive but did not know my terror.

I did graduate, wearing my sister’s graduation gown and hand-me-down shoes along with a banner protesting Estelle Freedman’s initial tenure denial, happily overturned a year and a half later. It did not have to be this way, but I had not yet embraced the privilege I had. My parents would have given me money for the books, but I had inherited their “do it yourself” attitude. At the time they had three children in college and that must have lurked in the back of my mind.

More importantly, I wanted to be able to take care of myself. My wings had always been spread too wide for the circumstances of my life. I kept flying off buildings that were too tall and crashing. This verve matured into my capacity for vision and for imagining a world bigger than my daily struggles. People will continue to fall into the habit of framing intelligence by external factors rather than by the myriad ways we are all magnificent. No matter. I am comfortable with my lessons and the journey that brought me to this moment. The stock storyline about my intelligence quotient is just one of many misinterpretations that stop people from holding the complexity of my being. It is up to me to guard that gate with my heart, and I do. #52essays2017

Self-Love: The Crux* of it All

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Yes, none other than the Buddha says we have to love ourselves. Not just love, but be affectionate. We must feel endearing to that person we so often ‘other’ because that is what is done to us daily. That mountain called self-love is one most people seem to think is bigger and farther away than Mt. Everest. What creates such a disconnect from something so basic to our health and well-being?

The other day a friend wrote me a despairing email about meeting someone for whom she felt a romantic attraction — how it brought up all of her insecurities and feelings of not being worthy. We then moved to WhatsApp and continued the conversation. She, like most people, wants to feel loved. She, like most people, still look outside of themselves for that validation. Too risky and too often a panacea, an addiction so we can dull the pain. I wanted to nail her ass to a tree and shove love and affection down her throat. Not really, but my own despair bubbles up inside when so many beloveds cannot see their way through the forest of self-hate. As a woman of color and an immigrant, messages about her lack of importance in the dominant culture tumble her fragile self-love down a rocky hill again and again.

I will share what I told her and what I do to practice love and affection toward myself. I told her love had to come from herself, that she had to love herself. And she said she couldn’t. Una mentira, I said, the crap you have been fed and you then chewed and swallowed, thinking it was nourishment when it was toxic.

Today, I said, note down everything you do to love yourself. Reaching out to me, drinking water, taking care of yourself. This was the way to swim against the current of hate. Swim towards love. Otherwise, I told her, we live in the past. We go back and keep opening our mouths out of habit, hoping this time we will get from someone else what we already have inside, the power to see our magnificence.

I consider almost every act of every day an act of love and affection for myself. Getting enough sleep, meditating, being grateful for life. That is even before I get out of bed. Then rolling over on my side so I don’t stress my back when I sit up. Putting on slippers so my feet are comfortable. Getting on my roller and relaxing my sacrum, then rolling up and down my spine to make sure any tightness is released. That is before I even climb down from my loft.

I think you get the picture of what I am saying here. Love and affection are right there, every day, every action, and more than anything, every thought. I play tennis and all too often I hear two kinds of chatter from other women. The first consists of apologies for, basically, not being perfect. Sorry I hit the ball out, sorry I walked by you a little too closely, sorry my ball toss was offline so I had to toss it again. The other chatter is talking negatively about other players or coaches. When we throw our negativity on others to see if it will stick, we are too often trying to convince ourselves we are good because they are bad. You would think lives hung in the balance. The biggest loss in these conversations happening beside tennis courts and in workplaces, cafes, and homes is that it is time lost. Time and energy that could be used to give and receive love and affection.

It is no surprise the Buddha created an 8-fold path to end suffering that included right thought, right speech, and right action. Not as in oops, sorry, I did that wrong. More as in detached, loving and non-violent thoughts, honest and useful speech, and authentic, honorable actions. To ourselves first—you, yourself, said the Buddha. That then seeds our approach to others. It does not mean we cannot be angry or disappointed. It does means blame, shame, and attacking ourselves can only result in doing so to others unnecessarily. I was training with a lovely, vibrant woman and we agreed that life was too short to sweat the small stuff. It does not mean ignoring micro-aggressions, but it does mean measuring our responses with what we want to feed, told beautifully in this Cherokee story.

And then there is the other way we attempt to address the crux of self-love. The flip side of the negativity towards ourselves and others is bending over backwards (not good for the spine or our well-being) to give love and be compassionate to others. The problem is that if one’s love for self is not clean and well fed, then that external love gets tangled up in unconsciously expecting reciprocity from others that is not asked for directly. We think that if we give what we want, then those around us would get the meta-message. That would work if we were all well-fed and saw ourselves as beloved. We know that is rarely the case. We know because we understand hunger—it is too often our motivator rather than self-love.

The question is not “How do I?” practice self-love. The question is: “Why don’t you see that you do?” “Why don’t you see that you can easily practice even more?” “Why don’t you accept that your power has never left you?”

Email me for my Health & Wellness Checklist – you will get to see what you do everyday to love yourself, you can see how to easily practice even more, and you will see your power manifested every day. #52essays2017

an unsolved question
an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome

The Power of the Weed

As a young child I wrenched myself free again and again from the limitations ground into my soil, mi tierra. I still admire the bits of grass and weeds that slowly, inexorably, finding the cracks in the cement and asphalt. Bravo, I shout. They are a sign of my continual commitment to breathe, to believe in my power, in the power of my disorderly, unrelenting resistance to the “mitote” of this culture, which Miguel Ruiz defines as the chaos planted in our mind.

The excerpt on the back of my writing notebook in 2002 spoke of the fear of being powerful beyond measure. I didn’t resonate with that. My growing confidence exuded being powerful and then getting the shaft. Instead of labeled the weakest link, I received the “You are the strongest voice of opposition to the status quo.” Good-bye.

I speak easily about my job employment history — of being suspended, demoted, and fired from different jobs where equity was supposed to be a value. It was not my inadequacy that brought about these responses from the decision makers. It was my unabashed sense of entitlement, coupled with my denial that on the unlevel playing field, I would lose – be it because of race, gender, function level or a combination of all three. While I have been despairing of past employers and clients’ unwillingness to listen to and value my wisdom, I appreciate those in each organization I have left who have seen and heard me, who have appreciated my presence and continued our connection.

My response can easily tilt toward believing I don’t have a fighting chance in the dominant U.S. culture. That I will always be in a one down position, subject to the fears of others’ biases. This opinion continually attempts to graft itself to my soul, like an indubitable fact. The impact of feeling empowered and also one down is that I know I will experience discounts and I also let it bother me less and less. Failures come and go like the wind when I create space to quickly grieve and let go.

This allows me to avoid the pit of despair my mother splashed in after my father’s death, enveloped in heartache and unable to absorb the joy and love of her children or grandchildren. I have, over the years, explored my mother’s path to learn the lessons she could not. Even as I unearth the meaning of her suffering, I also unearth the fuller picture of my path – the one where I use my power in exciting and joyful ways. I have been gainfully self-employed since my last job ended more than twenty-five years ago and have the positive regard of my colleagues, friends, and familia. People abound in my life who believe in me, hire me to work with them, trust in my abilities, and see me as a powerful being. My example fuels their own journeys of power as we toss energy back and forth, challenging each other with different perspectives.

My twins are delving into their power while also feeling ambivalent about me expressing my appreciation of their wonderfulness. They note my inner confidence to say ‘I don’t know’, to refuse to be an English only familia, to apologize when my power comes out like a hammer when a feather would have sufficed.

I remember flying over Los Angeles during the day, seeing for the first time the earth smothered in concrete and smog – truly horrified at what civilization had wrought. I picture myself as the earth who cannot breathe. Claiming the power of the weed requires turning the chaos into art, love, and new dreams full of choices.

My power emanates from my writing, my creativity, my sexuality, my spiritual practice, and my cultural journey. The integration of all these aspects multiplies the sparkle in each. They were all submerged, distorted, or shamed into submission as I grew, sprayed with pesticides, stepped on, yanked up by their roots, tossed into the garbage, plowed under, cemented over. They have triumphed. #52essays2017