“What school you went?”

This question always comes up when Hawai’i’s local people get together. Always. It’s short-hand or code to understanding the individual. It’s more important than their neighborhood since someone going to a private school can live anywhere.

My sisters and I went to St. Andrew’s Priory in downtown Honolulu. My brothers went to St. Louis High School and ‘Iolani. My father wanted us to go to college-prep schools. And I think he didn’t want us picking up Pidgin, spoken commonly among public school students, and perhaps he feared other bad influences. We all would have gone to McKinley, which both my parents attended, if my father could not have afforded to send us to private schools.

Because we live in an island community, local people know the different schools and some of the more extreme reputations of some schools. If they’re into football, they can recall the rivalries, the big football games of their generation, and memorable athletes. If someone answers: “Wai-‘anae,” the inquirer might step back, but not before a respectful “Ooooh!” escapes. You had to be tough to grow up in Wai-‘anae and survive. No one messes with kids from there, not if you value your life. They may not have the material comfort of those in other parts of the island, but they live close to the land and the ocean.

Many native Hawaiians live in this coastal community in the shadow of Mt. Ka‘ala and the Wai-‘anae Mountain Range. And in fact, Wai-‘anae Valley was once known as the area’s poi bowl. It produced enough taro, or kalo, to feed those living along this leeward coast. Today, Ka‘ala Farm and Cultural Learning Center has restored ancient terraces to once again grow taro and to reinforce Hawaiian cultural values.

Knowing someone’s school might connect two people to a mutual acquaintance. It roughly identifies socioeconomic background, whether someone is “country” or “townie.” Public high schools in town are McKinley, Ka-imu-kī, Roosevelt, Farrington, University, and Ka-lani. Of these, Farrington had a bad rep; in my day, I heard about lots of fighting among both guys and girls. Its student population was very diverse–kids living in Ka-lihi, a poor to middle-class neighborhood, where new immigrants could find cheap housing. It had a good football team powered by huge Samoan guys.

In contrast, Ka-lani High School was located in the Wai-‘alae-Kāhala area, inland from Diamond Head, where many middle- to upper-class families lived, an enclave for white people, but not exclusively.

Private high schools attracted students from both middle-class and upper-class families. Many Catholic schools, Mid-Pacific Institute, Puna-hou, Ka-mehameha, Priory, and ‘Iolani are some of them.

Of these, the most expensive, most prestigious (to some), and perhaps most academically rigorous is Puna-hou, which was founded by the missionaries for their own children. This elite status continues today although children from various ethnic groups now are admitted.  A boy named Barak Obama graduated from this school.

I think the Priory had a good reputation. It was founded in 1867 as a private boarding school for Hawaiian girls under the auspices of the Anglican Church and founded by Queen Emma, wife of King Ka-mehameha IV. I remember wandering down a long hall where the photos of each graduating class were hung. It was like walking through history; I noticed the changes in the uniforms, hairstyles, and ethnic backgrounds of the girls.

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Queen Emma

Priory’s Centennial Class graduated in 1967, which was my class. Our 5oth class reunion is scheduled for Spring 2017. I was stunned to realize that nearly fifty years have flown by since we graduated! How is this possible?? Some of us have reconnected through the reunion Facebook site. I don’t have my yearbook, but some of my classmates still do, and one classmate posted digital pages. Seeing these pages and communicating via Facebook have stirred my memories of these years.

At first I wasn’t sure I would attend this reunion; I haven’t been in touch with anyone nor have I visited the school since graduation. All of us have changed. But these were important developmental years of learning and growing together. As a writer, I know how memories can be both enriching and unreliable. And yet, sometimes this is all we have to hold on to something in the past. By connecting again to my classmates, I can piece together and revisit these almost forgotten days of long-ago. Some of my classmates and I go back to elementary school. I’m looking forward to seeing my classmates again and sharing our stories!

Performance!

I am a writer, not a performer. However, I have done public readings, which is a form of performance when done well. Recently, I read with eleven other Seattle writers in a program called “Listen To Your Mother” (LYTM). Feeling the energy in the room from the audience and from each other, we were all transformed. We had rehearsed before the event, but everyone stepped up and gave more of themselves during the program, a performance anthology of stories about mothers and motherhood.

It was magical! See for yourself. Here’s the link to my performance. You can also watch the other fabulous writers; I still laugh and cry when I see/hear them.

 

After this performance, I began thinking about what happens during a live performance. What makes live performances so exciting? When I go to a theater or concert hall, why do I feel a little nervous, this low hum of electricity in my body that makes me breathless?

From a performer’s perspective, I want to do my best. I want to convey my story, let the words flow through my body in an expressive way that the audience can relate to. I had practiced how to use my voice for emphasis, dramatic pauses, and to include a variety of intonations. I had practiced using my body to communicate a shift in the story, to look and connect with the audience.

On the day of the performance, we lined up to get ready to go on stage. We all felt some combination of excitement and butterflies. We got the signal and began walking to our chairs. When the audience started clapping during our entry, I teared up. I thought, “They want to be here! They want to hear us!!”

We sat on the stage and gave our attention to each writer as she took the podium. We all loved each other’s stories and had quickly bonded during our few meetings. We gave each other our attention, love, and support, and we could also feel this from the audience, mostly family and friends of the writers. But they were sending positive energy to everyone, not just the one writer they knew.

When I took the podium, I was still teary from the initial welcoming and the wave of support I felt from the audience.

It’s not easy to take the stage. When artists, whether musicians, singers, dancers, actors, or writers, perform live, we are communicating our art to connect with an audience. We strive for perfection, but mistakes can happen. But so can brilliance. Anything can happen when art is being created. In the moment. Right here.

Honestly, I am more comfortable being in the audience rather than on the stage. I find it magical to watch another human making art, to let the words or the music wash over me, to feel the rhythms and sounds, to experience the story come alive with the staging, lights, sets, and costumes all working together with the performers—the various elements coming together and coalescing into something whole and unique and hitting all my sensory receptors. Even in a public setting, this experience can feel intimate, like sharing a secret.

Any time people are performing, the audience becomes an integral part of that performance. The audience is not passive. There’s social interaction with those who accompany you and perhaps with other audience members. The fact is, when someone chooses to leave the comfort of their homes to be present in a particular location, they are making a decision to interact. With other people and with the performers. It’s an unconscious contract. It’s an energy exchange, this flow from the stage to the seats in the auditorium, concert hall, or even the park; whether it’s laughing or crying, holding our breath, feeling shock, applauding or booing, the performers can feel the audience and its moods, and they respond accordingly. The audience offers both silent collaboration and dynamic, spontaneous responses.

I am so, so grateful for having had such a wonderful, supportive audience at the LTYM event. Their energy contributed to our success. They were moved. We were too. Dare I say, together we were brilliant!

Hitting the Refresh Button for May

LTYM Seattle2016 flyer

One of the big events for May is Mother’s Day. This year I was thrilled to be selected one of twelve writers for the Seattle production of “Listen To Your Mother.” We presented personal stories about our mothers or being a mother. The words originated in each writer’s heart and rang true for an appreciative crowd at Town Hall on Sat., May 7.

LTYM programs were presented in 41 cities in North America this year. That’s nearly 500 stories! Many thanks to Seattle coordinators Jill Ginsberg and Jennifer Scharf for making this amazing event happen!

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The fabulous women of “Listen To Your Mother” 2016.

I want to acknowledge the range of emotions that Mother’s Day generates for people. Not all mothers are loving. Not all mothers will inspire their children to think about them with gratitude, about buying cards and gifts, flowers and candy. People are complex, and it’s not unusual for love/hate relationships to develop between parents and children. Or it could even be worse. Like other people, mothers are capable of extreme cruelty, awful decisions, even life-threatening ones, and harmful, irrational behavior that can traumatize their children. For the children of such mothers, Mother’s Day might conjure up anything but celebration. Survival might be a more appropriate word.

Still, Mother’s Day is only one category of women.  Motherhood is a huge commitment and an enormous job. No question. Even though I have no children, I’ve observed my friends who are mothers, sometimes up close and personal. The challenges are many. This is a job that’s never done. This is a job that’s not for everyone. And many women are choosing to be childless.

Not only is Mother’s Day only for mothers and grandmothers, it is only one day out of  the year when we think about honoring women and the importance of their role in society.

Generally speaking, women should be respected and honored every day. Instead, what I’m seeing is evidence of misogyny at all levels. This concerns me. For example, on May 24, 2016, The Seattle Times featured three disturbing stories about women.

One featured Bill Cosby. Eleven years after a woman reported that Cosby sexually assaulted her, the case if finally headed to trial in Pennsylvania. For years we have been hearing about dozens of women coming forward with their allegations about Cosby’s misconduct: drugging and raping them.

Why has it taken the authorities so long? Are these women’s stories discounted because of Cosby’s celebrity status or simply because of male privilege?

The second story described the “Highway of Tears” in British Columbia where up to 50 indigenous women have disappeared or become unsolved homicides. These crimes are happening in all parts of Canada, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada estimates the number of disappearances and homicides could be closer to 4,000 instead of the official count of 1,200 cases.

If these were white women, there would be a public outcry. If these were men disappearing, resources would have been found to solve these crimes for a manhunt to  find and prosecute the perpetrators.

The third story reported about the working conditions for women employed on Wall Street. Twenty years ago, 23 women working at Smith Barney filed a class-action suit against their employer for sexual harassment and unequal pay. If you saw the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, you have a good idea about the outrageous behavior and sexism that this male-dominated culture encouraged. Almost 2,000 women eventually joined the case.

Even though Smith Barney paid out $150 million in settlements and awards, women still are frustrated today about disparities in income and promotions. In other words, conditions have not changed much. In addition, women’s hands are being tied in bringing legal action because they are required to sign away these legal rights if they want a job on Wall Street. Instead, they have to submit to mandatory arbitration.

Violence against women takes so many forms: economic, physical, emotional, cultural, medical, even judicial. It’s happening with such frequency everywhere.

In our rape culture, the latest outrage was the rape of an unconscious young woman behind a frat house at Stanford University in January 2015. Good people actually caught the rapist and he was charged. There was no question of Brock Turner’s guilt. He committed a violent crime. The prosecutor expected a sentence of six years for three felony counts. But he was a white male athlete attending a prestigious university, and the judge sentenced him to six months in prison and three months probation. Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County thought this was fair. Instead, he was violating the victim once again.

White male privilege? You bet! The old boys’ network is alive and well, and violence against women will continue because apparently there are no consequences.  When will women’s lives matter in our society??

Mother’s Day. Women, let’s not be lulled into accepting this one day out of 365 when the reality is persistent and pernicious misogyny.

 

Lonny Kaneko Reminds Us to Say “No” to Racism

I’m sorry I missed this reading. Saying NO to racism is so important. We must remember our shameful past: how fear disenfranchised and imprisoned innocent Americans.

Donna Miscolta

Last December, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said he didn’t not know whether he would have supported or opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. When pressed, he said he hated the concept of internment camps. Yet his flimsily veiled as well as his openly racist rhetoric encourage an atmosphere of hate and intolerance that can have no good outcome.

Which is why Lonny Kaneko’s recently released poetry collection Coming Home from Camp and Other Poems is so necessary. The camp in the title refers not to childhood summer camp or some other recreational foray in the wilderness. It was a foray into a different kind of wilderness?one in which American ideals were lost to racism, when the American government rounded up more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry in this country and incarcerated them behind barbed wire in the euphemistically-termed “war relocation centers.” Lonny Kaneko and his…

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Short-listed!

Thank you to the Santa Fe Writers Project 2015 Literary Awards Program for selecting my manuscript out of nearly 500 entries for their short list!

Of course, I was hoping to win. Nevertheless, I am very thrilled with this honor. Especially since I never intended to write a book.

This is part of the magic and mystery of writing. A writer does not necessarily know where the writing will go. I started writing vignettes and personal essays about my life in Honolulu because, while many people have written about these islands, most have been white visitors, not local residents immersed in the culture. Hawai’i-born writers have been published for sure, but they are as scarce as outrigger canoes in the Pacific Northwest.

Authors Kiana Davenport, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Garrett Hongo, Sharon Hashimoto and Nora Okja Keller have represented Hawaii’s voices that are authentic. Prominent authors like James Jones, James Michener, Joan Didion, and Mark Twain have voiced their perspectives as outsiders about the islands. When I read their essays and books, I didn’t see myself or the local community in their words. I feel that no one can understand and appreciate my homeland without understanding the people who live there.

As an island girl born and raised there, I wanted to share what it was like to grow up in three cultures: Chinese, American, and Hawaiian. And so, The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir About Being Lost and Found evolved and came into being.

Comments from other book contests:

Clear, compelling, and original. I loved this story of East meets west in Hawai ‘i. The writing was compelling and easy to follow. (2015 Pacific Northwest Writers Assn. Literary Contest)

With a lovingly evocative setting, this manuscript is a delight to read. Characterization is strong, as as the atmosphere created. The author has a rare voice… (2014 Memoir Discovery Contest)

I am encouraged by these words and will continue to seek a publishing home for my manuscript. Book contests offer one avenue; I am exploring other opportunities as well. It’s all part of a writer’s journey.

February 2016 Recap

It’s our shortest month, but this year is Leap Year so we get an extra day, and I can’t help thinking about all the events that are jammed into this month.

Besides Black History Month, events included the beginning of the Year of the Fire Monkey or Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, President’s Day, the Super Bowl (without the Seahawks, who cares?), Mardi Gras, and the Academy Awards.

It’s Black History Month and, ironically, the 88th Academy Awards were presented last night. Here’s the controversy: Few nominees in all categories were people of color and none in the acting categories. Thank goodness for Chris Rock, who dished it out with finely-sharpened jabs at Hollywood. The audience and presenters included a scattering of non-whites, but it was definitely an OscarsSoWhite show.

It’s the 21st Century, and we’re still talking about the need for diversity in America! We have an African American President of the United States, but we need to be reminded that Black Lives Matter.

I love movies, but television is doing a far better job in offering acting opportunities for non-whites: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Luther,” “Scandal,” “Scorpion,” “The Good Wife,” “Empire,” and “How To Get Away with Murder,” to name just a few.

I want to see movies that reflect the people in my world, the real America where Asians aren’t always criminals or prostitutes. But I’m not talking only about racial diversity, but gender diversity; I want to see more stories about women of all ages on the big screen. Academy Award winner Julianne Moore said that she does not go to movies featuring only men because such a world is unrealistic; this does not reflect her everyday world.

Think about this: What characters in a film could really be female instead of male? What characters could be non-white instead of white? Yes, perhaps some rewriting would be necessary, but think of the creative possibilities. Or take a page out of Shakespeare whose characters often pretended to be someone else of the opposite gender.

Hollywood is a microcosm of the larger world and here are the facts: People of color and women need more career opportunities everywhere, but white men still hold most of the wealth and power in this country. Change is inevitable, but how soon is the question.

 

 

Final Words on the Last Day of 2015

Recently I discovered some notes from a workshop in June 1988. It was a weekend with Johnny Moses who practices the oldest medicine teaching/tradition of the Northwest. I was attracted to his spiritual teachings and storytelling, which often incorporated native languages. He speaks eight languages.

Here are a few excerpts that I want to carry into 2016.

  • Every day is a holy day.
  • Everything is sacred. Including you. Including me. Therefore, it’s necessary to take care of our bodies, minds, spirits.
  • Prayer takes many forms. Silence. Singing. Dancing is physical prayer.
  • When we treat each other like it’s the last time we will see each other, we give each other full friendship: deep respect and love.

Wishing Everyone peace, love, good health, & many blessings in the New Year! Also, let beauty and art enter your days–always make time for these!