We Never Know

As we enjoy the last few days of 2016, I want to leave you with these words by Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron:

When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.

I read somewhere about a family who had only one son. They were very poor. This son was extremely precious to them, and the only thing that mattered to his family was that he bring them some financial support and prestige. Then he was thrown from a horse and crippled. It seemed like the end of their lives. Two weeks after that, the army came into the village and took away all the healthy, strong men to fight in the war, and this young man was allowed to stay behind and take care of his family.

Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.

The new year is often a time of renewal, starting fresh, and optimism.

However, many may not feel especially optimistic looking forward. Whether feeling optimistic or pessimistic, this not knowing is another choice. It’s not passivity. It’s a middle path, sort of neutral space that avoids the emotional swings that may be less than helpful.

Really, we don’t know what will happen. Fear and worry definitely won’t help. Nor will chronic cheerfulness. We will see what 2017 brings.

Advertisements

America, We Need To Talk

Something has been bothering me for many years. Now that it’s become a topic in our national elections, it’s out in the open, and we need to talk about it: violence against females in America, aka our rape culture.

We’ve all heard the statistics, right? I mean is anyone really surprised? Most women are not surprised because this is our reality. Chances are you are one of these women. If not, you certainly know women who have suffered some form of sexual assault, whether verbal, psychological, or physical. I’m not talking about other anonymous women. I’m talking about your sister, spouse, daughter, cousin, aunt, or mother—someone you love. Your teacher, boss, neighbor, or co-worker—someone you see often if not daily.

1-woman

A certain Donald has never been challenged, never sued, prosecuted, or punched for the way he treats women. He has gotten away with being a misogynist and feels entitled to do whatever he wants where women are concerned.

Until now. Women are stepping forward to challenge his denial of what he said on videotape. He claims it was just guys talking and that he never behaved in the manner he bragged about. Women are saying: Wrong! He’s guilty of sexually assaulting me! He walked into our dressing room knowing full well that some of us would be naked or partially clothed.

This is the core character of someone who would be president. These are deep-seated values. Hard-wired. He and his buddy Roger Ailes, the deposed head of Fox News, apparently have no impulse control, no sense of propriety and decency, and absolutely no respect for women. Zero.

Their behavior speaks volumes. I have to wonder: Why do they hate women so much?

This is the central question regarding this epidemic of violence against females, both women and girls.

Unfortunately, they’re not alone. I hate to admit that I’ve dated men like this. They’re everywhere in society. They appear charming, but the big bad wolf is still there. They may not have the wealth and power of these guys, but their misogyny is just as toxic. Because of men like this, we have new language to describe them: toxic masculinity. Here is just one article on this subject. Google this term for more.

Talk is cheap. Action or inaction says it all.

That swimmer at Stanford who got caught raping an unconscious woman. That judge who reduced his sentence to a mere slap on the hand. Another judge in Montana in an incest trial who sentenced the criminal father to a meaningless 60 days in jail. The 12-year-old child was repeatedly raped by him. Those hundreds (thousands?) of rape kits in police departments across the country that are never processed. Those college administrators who choose to not fully investigate sexual assault incidents to avoid scandal. And these are only very recent examples.

There’s my friend who got grabbed when she was in her 20s and was working as a cocktail waitress; she got grabbed in the way that certain D (I can’t bear to even say his name) described he could do. She made a scene. The well-dressed customer denied it and she got fired. Decades later she has blogged about it. 

Women’s well-being is consistently being marginalized, declared unimportant by those holding power. That man’s behavior during the debates was especially revealing: We knew about his pathological lying, but his constant scowling, his use of intimidation (stalking and name-calling), and general lack of respect were astonishing. I can’t imagine how many thousands of women were triggered by such behavior on national television and by what was revealed on those videotapes. I can’t imagine how many women are remaining silent after being sexually assaulted by this man because they fear repercussions. Because you and I know he has done this numerous times. He gets away with it and he keeps doing it.

This kind of male privilege contributes to our rape culture. And rumors of rape have indeed surfaced in connection with this toxic man.

It’s not easy for those women who are speaking out. This is a topic I’ve written about from my own experience. It wasn’t easy to recall those events. It wasn’t easy to write about them. But it was something I had to do. I used to feel ashamed, but writing about these events made me realize this shame doesn’t belong in my body. Women are constantly being made to feel shame when they’ve done nothing wrong. Shame is being used as a weapon to keep us females in our place. It’s about power.

Like rape. Like sexual assault. It’s about exerting power over others.

When that man chants and encourages his followers (both men and women) to chant, “Lock her up,” I cringe. An involuntary physical reaction. They’re not talking about me. They’re not even really talking about Hillary. They’re talking about all women! They want to silence all women. To keep women powerless. Unequal.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

no-more-tagline-1024x343

Kudos to those stepping forward to tell their truth, speaking truth to power. Bullying and intimidation aren’t stopping them. More than ever, women need to tell their stories. Women need to use their voices. Women, we need to ROAR to stop this violence! And we need all decent men to stand and support us. Because this is not a gender war.

Violence against females hurts EVERYONE.

 

“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.

queen_emma_of_hawaii_retouched_photo_by_j-_j-_williams

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!

LTYM Seattle2016-trees

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…

View original post 616 more words

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.