Searching For What’s On the Other Side

Beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean for the first mile

Beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean for the first mile

Hello and welcome to my first official blog post! I’m super excited to get going with this new idea of mine – writing about those untold yet important stories that need to be acknowledged.

Often when I’m hiking or on a walk, the thing that keeps me going is the desire to know what’s on the other side. Sometimes I’m anticipating that spectacular view I heard about to appear so I can revel in its beauty. For example, on one of my favorite hikes up in Point Reyes on the Palomarin Trail, my friend Tracey and I were trying to find a beautiful lake smack in the middle of this trail that wove in to the Pacific coast and then away from it. Bass Lake was supposed to be four miles in from the trail head, but after walking so long along the ocean, away from it among several hills, onto a rocky path in between two more hills – we thought we were almost there, surely the lake should appear. But no, instead there was a forested area. We were determined though and kept hiking for another 45 minutes through the thick forest and into the sunshine. Still no lake and only shrubs to our right and left.

What we saw for a little while before finding the lake

What we saw for a little while before finding the lake

Right when we were about to give up, we spotted some birds flying overhead and followed their flight path to… YES, lo and behold, Bass Lake, this perfectly blue shrine out in the distance! All our hard work paid off.

So what does this have to do with digging up stories? Well, this is what I feel like a lot of my work will be on this blog. I know there’s a story out there to be told – one that isn’t commonly heard and celebrated every year – and it’s going to take hard work to find it, but if I stay with this part of me that naturally loves to explore and find that view, that nugget of information, I’ll get to it. I know it.

Bass Lake at last!

Bass Lake at last!


How a Story About Music Helped Me Get Through My Fears

The story that pushed me through my fears – Lost Songs: The New Basement Tapes

When people are being brave and (2)

I haven’t been blogging lately because of FEAR.  Fear of not having a perfect story, not writing to the right audience…

So I’m going to go out on a limb and just write what I have so far no matter how imperfect I think it sounds.

A story I discovered this past November has helped me (and is still helping me) get through a difficult change in my life.  Last June, I officially decided to leave my 16 year teaching career to find my next field of work, where I could be more creative while doing things that connected deeply with my values.  Teaching gave me these things in the beginning, but as time wore on, the bureaucracy and politics of schools became more intolerable, as well as dealing with people that went against my ethics.  I kept switching from school to school, thinking that I’d find a better environment and community to work in, but it never happened.  There was always something inside me that felt unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

I had already tried several times before to change careers and find a different path.  But every time I thought about leaving teaching, I talked myself out of it because of my fears.  Here are the top two that I obsessed about:

I was afraid of not having a consistent paycheck and health care.  My belief was that if I left my stable teaching job, I’d become destitute and unable to survive.  It felt utterly impossible to change careers.

These were thoughts going through my mind and still pop up from time to time:  What if I failed at finding work that I enjoyed and could pay the bills? What if I had to come back to teaching after all the effort of searching for a new career?  In my eyes I would’ve been wasting valuable money and energy.

So even though I knew I was burned out by my workaholic tendencies and the increasing blame of societal problems heaved onto teachers’ shoulders, I stayed with it.  I thought I could balance myself better and deal with all the disagreeable policies being placed at teachers’ feet.

It didn’t work.  I wanted more passion and creativity and wasn’t finding it in teaching anymore.

This time I’m fully committing myself to leave teaching and  see this journey through.  I’ll do whatever it takes to seek out this creative purpose I feel inside of me.

However, traveling on a completely new path in my life where the plan and outcome are unclear brings up tidal waves of fear for me.  I’ve been trying to go with the flow and see where the waters take me, but the constant uncertainty causes incredible anxiety.   This entire process goes completely against how I was brought up and how I naturally operate.

Everything I’m doing is new, so it’s hard not to feel scared in this whole process.  What it really boils down to is how I hate being a beginner in anything I do.  My confidence plummets because I’m so afraid to not be good enough.

One day last November my fears were welling up higher than usual and became so unbearable that I was too paralyzed to take action.   As I was resenting these feelings I came into a heavy thought:

“When people are being brave and confident, insecurities and fear are often right next to them as they do it.”

And then I suddenly realized that this reminded me of the documentary that had just premiered on HBO called Lost Songs:  The New Basement Tapes Continued.   Famous musicians Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James, and Marcus Mumford came together for the first time to write new music to Bob Dylan’s never before seen lyrics from 1964.  They had to do this in two weeks and it was wonderful to get a glimpse of their own fears while making incredible music.  Watching them work through their creative process helped hammer my thought home about how fear and bravery sit in the same room.

It was especially inspiring to watch Rhiannon and Marcus show their vulnerabilities and fears so openly, and then compose such moving music.  Rhiannon is the co-founder and amazing vocalist, musician and songwriter of critically acclaimed band The Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Even with these accomplishments, she still had to work through her own insecurities of being a “baby songwriter” among the more experienced musicians in the group.  Although she felt this way, she was still able to be persistent and compose one of the best songs on the album – it’s such a beautifully haunting song.  Here’s Lost on the River:

I especially related to how she described her creative process:  “Each song I put every ounce and heart and everything into it.”  The same goes for me in terms of every creative act I do, including every blog entry I write!

Similarly, Marcus Mumford, who’s won a Grammy with his band Mumford and Sons, shared how he feels insecure all the time when he’s creating, that maybe it comes with the territory of being artistic.

Marcus Mumford pondered about how being insecure just comes with the territory of being artistic.


Here’s a clip that gives you an idea of this.:

This idea of fear and bravery going hand in hand, fear sitting right next to me as I’m being brave in all my ventures really blew me away.  I always thought that once you’re brave that fear will go away and everything will be right in the world.  No more bad feelings ever.  Unfortunately, this isn’t true, but as much as I hate feeling insecure, hearing how famous creative people struggle and be human made me realize this is just part of the landscape in which I have to learn to live.  It encouraged me immensely!  Now, every time I start feeling afraid and crippled by it, I come back to these brilliant examples to help me get through my fears.

You must watch this!


This is How Women Can Bring Peace to the World


During the dawn of Islam, women were distinguished, they held high positions, and women were behind so many developments in Islamic culture.  So how is it that now the position of women has fallen so far behind?”     ~Karima, Muslim spiritual guide

       Imagine if a nation decided to tap into the leadership of women to try and make a difference in society and prevent further acts of terrorism.  This is exactly what’s been going on in Morocco the past ten years.  I recently watched the documentary, Casablanca Calling, which shows and tells how female Muslim religious leaders are changing girls’ and women’s lives for the better in Morocco.  These Morchidat, or spiritual guides, work at institutions such as schools, orphanages, and prisons and also at street level in the countryside or urban areas.  Their goal is to hopefully plant seeds of thought to help improve society.

Morocco and other Arab and Muslim countries have been living in a period of ignorance and stagnancy…Women suffer from injustice and discrimination…Any new idea we try to put in place about changing life for the better, takes time.”~Hannane, Morchidat featured in   Casablanca Calling

There are many beliefs people have that have nothing to do with our religion”     ~Bouchra, Morchidat featured in Casablanca Calling

The line that summarizes best how girls and women weren’t treated equally is when a man in a jewelry shop said to Hannane:

Girls are a bomb waiting to explode that could ruin the family’s reputation at any time.  So we must get rid of this bomb as soon as possible – by marriage.”

 Watch this clip from the movie to see the whole conversation between Hannane and the men in the jewelry shop:

What makes the stories of these incredible women so inspiring is that they are filling an enormous need in Morocco.

In the following clip, Bouchura counsels students of an all-girl boarding school due to the death of one of their classmates; she had committed suicide due to her strained relationship with her father.

Watch how Karima hopes to change Morocco by educating youth about the contributions of women in the Islamic Empire during the Medieval Period.

I especially love this clip because it reminds me of the reason why I went into teaching – to promote awareness of marginalized people who usually go unrecognized in mainstream society.

       This documentary also captures ideas that are never seen in mainstream media.  The dominant storyline Americans see is about extremist Muslims wreaking havoc around the world.  Rarely do we hear how Muslims are making positive change, and especially from and by women’s perspectives.  It is pretty amazing that the government of Morocco had the insight to hire and train Muslim women to be leaders who preach about Islam as a religion of acceptance and peace.  All while helping girls and women have more of a voice and support in an otherwise heavily patriarchal society (more than 60% of women have never been to school!).  I hope the positive effects of their work spread and transform Morocco for the better and that more people around the world learn from their example!

Here is the official trailer of this wonderful documentary – a must see!

Writer’s Quote Wednesday | Perfectionism Kills Creativity

Ever since I started writing creatively and blogging, I’ve found that this deep-seated fear creeps into me, literally paralyzing me – preventing me from doing the things I want to do.  This fear comes from a long time foe of mine that I constantly have to slay or at least suppress:  PERFECTIONISM.  I rediscovered a great book for creatives, Art & Fear, and found this quote today while taking a CreativeLive class, Fulfill Your Creative Purpose, by Ann Rea.

Pink Clouds 1

Writer's Quote Wednesday

Misgivings about Thanksgiving

Even though Thanksgiving (and most holidays for that matter) has been ingrained in me as a time of togetherness with people you love, I can’t help but look at the roots of this holiday and not feel 100% on board with it.

As usual every year around this time, I flip on the TV or computer and see Pilgrims and Native Americans shaking hands on some cartoon or commercial.  Everything is hunky dory and all is right in the world.  Yeah, right.  Years ago when I first started teaching, ever since learning about the truth about Columbus from Lies My Teacher Told Me, I knew that Native Americans had to have a different side to the traditional happy story of Thanksgiving. So a few years ago I decided to dig up the truth and share it with my 8th grade US History class.

I ventured into the public library and looked for videos to shed some light on my inquiry.  Luckily I happened upon a PBS documentary called We Shall Remain, which was sponsored by American Experience, a program a support for giving you quality information.  It told the story of the Native American perspective on the history of Thanksgiving, specifically the Wampanoag.  In school I was always taught about the specific background of the Pilgrims from Great Britain, but never even knew which Native American group interacted with them.  There were hundreds of Native American communities in the US.  Why didn’t I learn their names and background?

The specific section I watched, “After the Mayflower,” completely blew my mind.  I had an inkling of what I would discover but not to the extent that I did.  There were so many missing pieces to this story, tremendously upsetting ones actually.  First of all, without the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims would have surely died.  There were some indigenous people that didn’t trust the Pilgrims and they could have easily killed them, but instead the Wampanoag chief Massosoit decided to befriend them and generously helped them to survive.   In a nutshell, the lesser known parts of this relationship involved unfair “agreements,” betrayal, loss of life and territory on the part of the Wampanoag.  In fact, this day actually marked the beginning of further large scale encroachment and usurping of Native American lands.

Ever since 1970, Thanksgiving has been recognized by Native Americans as a National Day of Mourning, a day to protest.  Although I don’t have roots in their culture, I also mourn for their losses, particularly during this holiday weekend.  My small contribution to this protest is to make as many people aware of the atrocities committed against native people in the US.  So please like this story and pass it along to show your support!

How a Violent Act Led Me to Be a Story Digger

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Salad Days.”

It all started when I became editor-in-chief of the Asian American Quarterly (AQ) in my junior year of college.  Growing up in a mostly white suburb, I wasn’t used to hanging out in cultural organizations.  Assimilating and blending in with others was certainly the most preferred way to be.  In fact, I remember having such culture shock hanging out with my Korean American roommate and her Asian friends that I asked her if we could hang out with more white people.

Somehow though, the explorer in me had always sub-consciously been curious about my cultural heritage.  This is why I choose to do a research paper on Chinese immigration (I relate more to being Taiwanese American now) in my junior year of high school history and joined Asian American student organizations in college.

Even so, all of this was so new to me, and taking the lead at a magazine focused on Asian American issues introduced me to topics I never really thought about.  One in particular was brought about by my friend Mike, another editor of AQ.  While figuring out which articles to produce and how to edit them, we became embroiled in a heated discussion about discrimination against Asian Americans.  As an expert assimilator I had no idea what he was talking about, so I told him that I had never experienced discrimination, which completely shocked him.  Mike kept prodding me, trying to dissect it out of me – that I had been discriminated but just didn’t know it.

Being the explorer I naturally am, I wanted to find answers.  I wanted to know why Mike seemed to know something that I didn’t.   So, I decided to take a Student Organized Seminar called “The Asian American Experience.”  During one of these classes we watched a documentary about an incident almost ten years before called “Who Killed Vincent Chin?”

There on the screen I saw how a Chinese American was brutally beaten to death by auto workers in Michigan because of their racial prejudice.  This was during the 1980’s, the time when Japanese cars became popular and threatened American auto workers’ sense of job security.  When I heard one of the perpetrators say, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work” I felt my body tighten and I cringed in disbelief.  And then on top of it all, the judge only sentenced them to 3 months of probation and a $3000 fine  – for killing someone?!  When questioned about the sentence this is what he had to say, “Had it been a brutal murder, of course these fellas would be in jail now.”  What?!

It was then that something in my brain switched on.  My world permanently shifted – everything I had previously thought completely changed.  I became more aware of things people said and did.  I realized that when the white guy down the hall my freshmen year talked about wanting to date only Asian women, that was racial stereotyping.  When non-Asians asked me where I was from and I told them New York, their look of disappointment wasn’t that they didn’t like the state of New York.  It was because I didn’t answer the question they wanted to know, my ethnic heritage.  When people told me I spoke such good English, they weren’t complimenting my linguistic skills.  They were assuming English wasn’t my first language.

In fact, many Asian Americans have had a similar reaction as I did as seen in this clip of the documentary “Vincent Who?” which also talks a little about the historical context of how Asian Americans have been treated since the 1800s.

I couldn’t believe I never knew about such anti-Asian violence, that after splitting open Vincent Chin’s head with a baseball bat, after all the trials and retrials – that in the end, these two men would never serve a day in prison.  Unbelievable!! How could our justice system have failed so miserably?  This was 20 years ago when I discovered the story that changed my entire perspective on society and made me determined to learn as much as I could about this missing gap of knowledge.  Now I hope to tell people more about important stories like Vincent Chin’s through this blog!

For a Writer

Even though I’ve been writing in a journal since I was 12 years old, I never thought of myself as a “creative” writer, and it wasn’t until 4 years ago that I decided to take myself more seriously and call myself:  A WRITER.

The Quotes For a Writer page is dedicated to sharing the quotes I’ve collected since then. Hope they inspire and encourage you too!

This is the first quote that got me thinking about where my writing could come from.

…I think important cultural stories that need to be told…emerge from long-held silences, and with most cases, the storyteller has had to have spent a good deal of time mulling over the issues before breaking that silence…FOR A WRITER, as you live in this  kind of silence…not knowing quite what it is that the world is not giving you, not knowing quite what it is that your work cannot address as yet, you are at the beginning of a critique of culture and society.  It is the moment when powerful personal alienation slips into critical thinking – the origin of imagination.

– by Garrett Hongo, Under Western Eyes