Ugh

I don’t think delivering bad news about someone you care about to someone else you care about gets easier. It shouldn’t. I can’t compartmentalize and detach myself from this situation, it’s real and painful. Forgive the vagueness, but I wasn’t able to deliver the message to the recipient today. I just couldn’t do it. I tried to psyche myself up and make the call, but I failed. It’s a bad one, and will require action. Again, vague-but maybe if I talk around it, I’m not keeping it all inside.

However, we bear burdens in the name of family. It’s what we do. We weather minor inconveniences and struggle with helping loved ones through sickness, addiction, dark valleys. “Bad news travels fast”, as the phrase goes, and with distance, you rarely get to share in triumphs and valiant efforts.

I will take courage and do it. It will not get better right away. It will strain tenuous relationships. It is the right thing to do. Peaks and valleys, right?

*3 deep breaths*

In an attempt to segue to a more positive note to resolve the composition, I would like to share that I reconnected with an old friend, the one my old blog post Autodidact is about. After I left Hawaii at age 20, our lives took very different trajectories, but are now moving somewhat in parallel, as far as family life, making sense of our hardscrapple upbringing, and career stuff. It’s a good thing.

I also had a really good phone conversation with one of my hanai aunts. Though we are not related by blood or marriage, and we speak infrequently, and I haven’t seen her in 15 years, we are family.

This weekend I’m going to meet some folks we met as friends-of-friends, and we’ve been talking online for a few years now. I may get to see an old friend from high school. It’s going to be weird and fantastic.

I’m choosing “weird and fantastic” as the lens through which all things are viewed. I will recognize the awful, take it in, fight it if needed, and let it go, but “weird and fantastic” is my default outlook.

 

 

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Comedy

 

My oldest daughter, Selah, came to me last month and said she wanted to be a stand-up comedian. I suggested some comics who I thought she’d like, and told her about a youth open mic event downtown.  She had about a month to write her routine. Her first few drafts were AWFUL, but she kept at it. She practiced in front of a mirror and recorded herself. I refused to help with her writing, but I did help with her timing.

When the event came, she was a little nervous, but just a little. I asked the organizer, a friend of mine, to give her some advice, and he gave her some quick pointers. When she was called, she decided to do it without her notes.

She killed! She was comfortable, and though she’ll  be more polished with more time, she seemed in her element.

I’m very proud of her. She was able to turn her personal experiences into something relatable and funny.

So now it’s my turn. I’ve been a fan of comedy going back to when I first watched Eddie Murphy’s Raw way too young. I love Eddie Izzard, Hannibal Burress, Robin Williams, Zach Galifianakis, John Mulaney, Maria Bamford, Hari Kondabolu, Jim Gaffigan, Mitch Hedberg, LaVell Crawford, Margaret Cho, and Chris Rock, just to name a few. I’ve been listening to comedy podcasts, reading comedy blogs, dissecting routines, and writing for years. i’ve also been following the career of Jonah Ray. It hasn’t been an all-consuming compassion, but it’s been on my mind a lot. I accepted long ago I was going to try my hand at comedy.  I’m researching open mic nights in Albuquerque, and doing what Selah did. I’m going to try, and it’s likely I will suck. That’s okay. We’re not supposed to be masters of something the first time we try it. I’m going to do it, and I’m going to have fun, and I’m going to tell you guys all about it.

Ten Years

I promise this isn’t April Fool’s related. My mother died ten years ago today, and it is so like her to do it on April Fool’s Day. I have written about how it’s hurt me, how I’ve needed her guidance at times.

I’ve been mad at her for dying- if she wasn’t a smoker she probably wouldn’t have gotten cancer, and could be helping me navigate life and adulthood. I felt not only pervasive loneliness, but a nagging sense of rejection. I know she did not choose to get sick and die, for me to write her obituary when I was 24, or not get to know her grandchildren. I know this, but still, occasionally I’d have negative, misplaced thoughts.

It finally stopped hurting. I don’t really believe in ghosty things, but I was siting at my desk, working on a homework assignment. I felt a presence behind, and I saw myself from the side, but stylized like a drawing. I was seated, my mom standing behind me, wearing a flowing dark blue dress or robe. I felt warmth as her arms wrapped around me, and I heard her voice in my head say “your mother loves you and is proud of you”.

I’ve never experienced anything like that before. When Lindsay and I were first married, the bedroom door would sometimes slam by itself, even though apartments don’t typically have wind. I had a comforting visitor when I was little, only to see a picture of the man who visited me years later in a neighbor’s house. It was their long-deceased grandfather. Both of those, and a few other things I’ve experienced pale in comparison to this. So specific and personal.

I feel a sense of closure. I also think I’ve got enough people in my life who care enough about me to help steer me in the right direction.

Of course I still miss my mom, the World would be a better place if she were here. I’ve  continued her work, which I need to get back to, of poverty alleviation. Before I started managing homeless shelters with 100+ guests, I had a solid education in caring for people. My mom would make big pots of stew or chili and take it to the homeless camps. We’d gather their kid’s stuffed animals, take them home, and wash and repair them. She ran the “Bear Repair Clinic” as the Outreach Director at the Boys And Girls Club. We threw birthday parties for street kids We always had a family staying with us, typically a woman and kids fleeing domestic violence.

My mom wasn’t perfect, but she tried to make things better, and cared. I hope I can pass the same compassion and selflessness to my kids.

 

 

 

 

Finding the challenge

*Trigger Warning* This post discusses the loss/potential loss of a child.

I’ve been feeling quite burnt out lately. The culprits are sleep deprivation, and the permanent high anxiety of parenting a child with Dravet Syndrome. The hypervigilance is crushing me. Normally I’m annoyingly,genuinely positive. Ebullient. Effervescent. I can pick out the silver lining from a mile away, and turn a negative into a motivating challenge, but no dice. I haven’t been able to do so this time. I believe it can be done. I have faith I can find a way to make this a driving factor, but I haven’t found just how to stitch it together.

I feel like a whole person who is moving toward wellness. I feel more resilient everyday until a major setback. I know if I can turn the corner and be motivated instead of overburdened,  I would be a much more effective, happy, and alive person.

So much has changed in the last year. We drove a Mazda towing a U-Haul trailer with 3 kids and a dog from coastal Virginia to the Northeastern corner of Utah, by way of Texas. We went to Hawaii. I got a promotion. We’re actually living the life we’ve been dreaming of for years. We have achieved major life goals- we bought a house with a fireplace on a quiet street in a walkable neighborhood. We’re near bike/hiking trails and coffee. We wanted to be engaged in our community, and we are. We have great neighbors. We have chickens and a kickass garden. My wife and I are both in school for creative writing. We’re plugged into a church that is dedicated on making Earth suck less for it  and her inhabitants. I genuinely enjoy my work and coworkers.

This is what we wanted. I am grateful. I need more friends, but our life largely looks like what we’ve been hoping for. Things are good.

Except….

Yeah. Sweet Paloma, who steals food and hugs strangers. The monkey baby who moves furniture to facilitate better climbing and sometimes does.not.sleep. She’ll get tired and crappy, but literally stay awake until 4am. In those moments, it’s tough to think about the amazing life we’ve been able to craft, but incredibly easy to think “I might actually die. I might for realsies just drop dead, because, as the formula reads, >3 hours sleep/night  x (weeks)=death“.

Thus, the first challenge is finding the challenge. What am I responsible for? What’s something I can control or influence? How can I go from just surviving (barely) as a victim of circumstance to having a fire in my belly again? What can I change my thinking about? Would I rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

I am grateful for the all-nighters, even when they’re killing me. My stress level is high. My hair is thinning rapidly. Like Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element, I am one bad haircut from just being a bald dude forever.

I’m grateful because it means this condition hasn’t robbed me of my child, as it can,  at any moment, forever. Any of us can die at any moment, but her likelihood is insanely higher.

I’m not okay with that. I haven’t perfected non-attachment. I don’t know how to be a person who has suffered the loss of a child. I know people who have endured it, but I might not be made of the same stuff as they, and I don’t want to find out. I don’t think this is an idea I’m likely to be able to frame positively.

I don’t think I have to accept it. I think I can hate it and freak out about it for the rest of my life if I have a commitment to grattitude. Maybe that’s my challenge.

After Selah’s accident, I made it a point to write a list of everything I was grateful for. Electricity for her life-support equipment. Coffee. Medical insurance. Oxygen. A place to sleep. Indoor plumbing. The list got easier as I went on. It was difficult to intentionally cultivate gratitude, but I did it.

I get snarky and a bit jaded at times. I get tired or hungry and bitchy. In those moments (and now- I have a bad cold, and am feeling miserable), I can still be grateful, and I can still have joy.

I was talking to someone about joy, about how I didn’t view joy as superficial bliss, like “Walkin’ on sunshine.” Joy is funky and subterranean. Joy smells like tree roots. It lives deep down, right next to hope. It’s always there, no matter the weather on the surface world.

I challenge myself to seek gratitude and joy, especially when I want to scream at a bad driver or roll my eyes. Especially when I’m being a petulant little shit or I’m running late or the dog steals my socks.

I choose joy.

Camping and resistance

no_camping

I sat up in the tent. “Did you hear that?”, I asked Phillip, my tent mate. I was 11, and at a Boy Scouts jamboree. “Yeah, let’s go check it out”, he said.

We donned our flip flops and slowly unzipped the tent. We zipped it shut and crept toward the noise.

Whoosh whoosh whoosh…CRASH! and then a tumbling sound. We run towards it, because this is a safe place.

It was another scout troop a few campsites over. The scoutmaster piled empty beer cans into a beeramid and was knocking them over with a bullwhip.

Another time I was camping, this time near the sea. I had a muffin on a picnic table. A mongoose hopped on the table and ate the muffin, paper and all. I screamed and ran. There was laughing.

Mongoose are scary jerks.

Mongoose are scary jerks.

I have had good, memorable experiences camping. I camped once and rode horses. I pulled a lot of practical jokes. Some of these occurrences are more than 20 years old. Still, camping….I’m nonplussed.

I often react with internal resistance to new ideas which are not my own. I’m sure this is normal behavior, but it annoys me. It bothers me when I’m not able to keep my emotions in check. It comes from a place of fear/anxiety, and honestly, sometimes just plain ole laziness. I hate it.

Eventually, once the sting of it wears off, I’m fairly amenable. This does not change the fact it is A-hole behavior.

One of the best examples which comes to mind is camping. I’m sure there was a time when I enjoyed camping. Now, however, the suggestion uploads a Sisyphean to-do list to my brain. It’s a massive logistics undertaking; and since I’m Dad, if equipment is shoddy, or something breaks and I can’t fix it, or I didn’t get all the permits, or the campsite is next to an Accordion Fanciers group, or whatever, it’s my fault.
Also, camping seems like forced homelessness, or revisiting the indignities of a deployment.

So there are two things at work here- anxiety/fear, and perhaps a genuine dislike towards camping.

Looking at actual camping, I think my opposition is likely a theoretical construct with no meat on its bones. After all, I like all the things camping encompasses (compass pun, +1). I like being outside, campfires, campfire cooking, trees, vacationing, nature, long meandering walks, whittling, smores, playing guitar and singing, forest games like mumbly peg or leg wrestling, hiking, animals,watching sunrises and sunsets, mountains, ghost stories, being able to see the stars, water. I like the smells of the woods, from the dark, musty stench of the trampled leaflitter to mud, grass, treesap. I like being outside and barefoot. I enjoy the noises of the woods.

So what is it? Why is camping not my jam? i haven’t camped too many times, and don’t have a particularly negative memories I can recall. It’s not the responsibility or the work. It isn’t buying gear, learning how to use and care for it. It’s not the social interaction. It’s got to be how I think about camping.

So, we’ve isolated what camping is made of-the physical part, the emotional component, the mental part. It’s got to be the mental part, right? Why do I not associate camping with fun and freedom?

I’m writing a story about a young man who decides to take action to correct deficiencies in his character and knowledge. This includes learning outdoor skills. I do similar actions, and I’m going to do this one.

I don’t dislike camping, or even the idea of camping. I dislike feelings or memories or ideas I have about camping.

So I have decided- camping can be fun. I can enjoy it. I can make great memories with my family. I’m ready to at least try, and will not let opinions based on past experiences or feelings deprive me of pleasure any longer.

What’s your equivalent of camping?

Imma be me

I wrote in a notebook: “I want to be the Alton Brown of jiu jitsu.” I didn’t do anything with it, and stumbled across it later. I tapped my pencil on it (I like to do my initial draft of things freehand) and thought abut the phrase. It’s no longer what I want. Not at all. If I were to write an aspirational mission statement this moment, it would be: “I want to be the best version of myself I can.”

Tragedies and stressors can be useful, in that when things are settling down, you have an opportunity to look at how you’re living your life. You decide if you want to reassemble it with all the same pieces, or get rid of some crap and make or find new pieces.

I wrote a long post on Friday. So much of the text was tied to that day, and was to be published immediately. I wrote abut how it was my service anniversary, and how I had very different but very involved situations as a supervisor on the 18th. Then The Little One had multiple seizures, a helicopter ride, and a bad hospital stay to deal with. My contented insights no longer felt appropriate.

Plus, it was anchored around Agent Orange’s weird-but-good cover of Metallica’s “Seek and destroy.”

Still, tragedies aside, I am content, for the first time in a long time. I accept my circumstances and decisions, and the path they’ve illuminated for me. I accept I will not have many moments of comfort, that I will have to remain fluid, that aside from God and gravity, there is very little in this world upon which I can depend. My contentedness and acceptance of turmoil and uncertainty will serve as a darned serviceable makeshift solid thing, a piece of driftwood upon which to cling. I will accept all of this, and I will be myself.

And also, Imma be me because the Alton Brown of jiu jitsu is basically Batman. I can’t handle that at this moment. But when that baby singsongs “Dad’s home!” as I walk through the door, stumbleruns to me, and hugs my knees, I am an invincible superhero.

Brother

This was painful and difficult to write, and once written, I wrestled with posting it. No one’s family is perfect, and there’s hardwired Asian shame about making the family look bad, but I had to share this and unravel it. I think I’m going to have to write on some lighter, less fraught topics soon, or I will risk losing my small audience. I don’t want to bring people down or give the perception I’m perpetually gloomy.

I have 3 brothers. We’re not very close- 2 live on different islands in Hawai’i, and one lives in California, and is 18 years my senior.

I have a brother I haven’t seen since 2006.The last time before that was 2002, I think.

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