White privilege & identity

My head has been swirling the last couple of days in the wake of protests that have been happening around the country and in our city in response to George Floyd’s death. San Jose, CA now has a mandatory curfew set for the remainder of the week to help curtail further riots from happening. My heart, like many others, is hurting badly. Our country is in desperate need of change yet there is so much resistance to do so. I’ve been pondering on what needs to happen for real changes to take place and two key things came to surface: 1) people need to see the problems that exist and 2) people need to be willing to change.

I took a Masters course years ago at San Jose State University that touched on the topics of white privilege and identity, topics of which I’ve thought a lot about since the courses end. The professor of this class, an Indian man, wished to have an open discussion one day about white privilege in the “safe” confines of his very mixed race/gender classroom. Despite his assuring us repeatedly that his classroom was a safe place to express ourselves, many were not very vocal on the subject; myself and the only other white women were the most outspoken people in the class. I remember expressing that I knew that white privilege existed for the white man but I simply could not see that it existing for a white woman and remember being offended that they were suggesting it which shows how “blind” I was to it at the time. My limited thinking had me spew out examples focusing on jobs/salaries and overall treatment of women by men which to me seemed to be very unfair. I was not thinking more broadly about how simply moving through the world from day to day could be an issue, it never occurred to me to think about that which is where my blindness showed through. I wish the other students had educated me about this as I was open to hearing what they had to say.

Looking back on this day now I have no idea if this classroom really was the “safe” space my professor wished it to be when it came to this particular topic. Is there really a safe place to talk about such a loaded subject? It could be that the people of other races felt unsafe and uncomfortable speaking up about why I was so wrong in my arguments or perhaps they saw how blind I was, assumed I was unchangeable, and didn’t bother to give their point of view. It’s possible they did try to enlighten me that day but that I wasn’t ready to hear what they had to say.

In that same classroom on a different day we spoke about identity: the things that make up ones sense of self. We talked about what specific things make up ones identity, how attached people are to their identities, and how identities are very difficult to change.

The professor asked us to imagine our identity as an onion which has many layers, some layers you are born with and other layers you acquire over the years. At the core of the onion would be things about your identity that have been with you since you were born of which you relate most strongly to like gender, race and religion. The things at the core of one’s identity are very difficult to alter even if those things are things you do not relate to any more. So even if there is something about your identity that you no longer relate to and wish to change, doing so would be exceedingly hard to do as people are very attached to who they are, however, there is a most wonderful loophole: you can always add new layers to your identity/your onion. You don’t have to give up part of who you are to do or be something different. Who you are at your core will always be with you. Always.

Why is this so remarkably important to know and understand? Because then it is easier to see WHY people don’t change their ways even when they themselves might not like who they are being. You cannot change somebody’s mind if they feel their identity is threatened in any way. Understanding that identities can only continue to grow gives people FREEDOM to add new layers to who they are without having to worry about letting go of their sense of self. Knowing and understanding this can change everything!

After comprehending this I was finally able to resolve something in my own life that I’d been struggling with for a very, very long time. I had been wrestling with my identity as being Catholic (a religion I grew up in but I no longer could relate to). I was not able to formally join a new church that I related to very much despite the fact that I had been attending the church for years (a non-Denominational church that accepts people from various religions). Although in my heart I knew that I no longer related to the Catholic church and didn’t even agree anymore with its core fundamental beliefs, I couldn’t give it up because I felt that I’d be giving up a part my identity and I simply couldn’t do it. Once I saw that in joining a new church, I was only adding a new layer to my identity and not betraying anyone (including myself) I was able to move on easily and become a part of a community I did relate to and could be proud of.

If more people could begin to see the problems we are facing right now, a big one being that white privilege exists, and are able to free themselves from their own limited thinking about identities then real change will be able to happen. Imagine how these shifts in thinking could help our nation move forward. Unnecessary deaths like that of the late George Floyd could finally become a thing of the past.

Being my true self

I’ve been told that one quality about myself is that I’m always myself regardless of who I am around. I really, really like this trait about myself as I think it is admirable. However, since COVID-19 hit in the US and we’ve been in shelter-in-place now for about two months I’ve realized that a couple of things I’d been doing before shelter-in-place occurred didn’t actually line up with my “true self.”

For one, wearing contact lenses. I really hate them. I despise putting them in every day but I actually hate myself in glasses more. I’ve worn contact lenses for years – since high school. For about 15 years I had hard lenses, then I had LASIK eye surgery and was glasses free for about 12 years, then my vision worsened again (yes that can happen after LASIK) and I was back into contact lenses again but soft this time. I’ve never enjoyed sticking them into my eyes but I hate myself in glasses so much that I’m willing to tolerate doing this. Since shelter-in-place began two months ago I have not put them in once. Not once. It’s been glorious!

I’ve realized that I don’t put my contacts in for me but for other people. After all I’m not the one looking at myself, you are looking at me, so basically I’m wearing contacts for vanity reasons with the few exceptions of when contacts are truly a benefit, like when doing sports for instance when glasses can be a hinderance. And more recently I realized that wearing a mask with glasses is a pain since your own breath causes your glasses to fog up. In those instances when I have to wear a mask I simply take off my glasses and I deal with my blurry vision.

Contacts are simply NOT a necessity in my life during shelter-in-place. My eyes are not bad enough to be going without them in and around the house and when I do actually go out driving to the store or for walks around the neighborhood I simply wear my glasses because I am not interacting with people for the most part, I’m mostly solo.

The second area where I realized I wasn’t being my true self is with my clothing. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’ve never been stylish with my clothing choices and have always preferred comfortable attire over clothes that are not. However, now I find that these days I barely leave my yoga pants, sweats or shorts. I mean really, what’s the point when they are clearly the most comfortable option and I’m mostly hanging out at home! I’ve been wearing the same tee shirts repeatedly and have noticed small holes in some of them. In the past this might have stopped me from wearing them out and about but these days it doesn’t stop me from wearing them. And if the clothes don’t smell after one wearing, why not wear them another day. Who cares if I’m wearing the same things two days in a row! Whoo hoo! The fashion police are nowhere in site.

So yes, my wardrobe that was already sorely lacking has now managed to go down yet another notch on the totem pole.

When shelter-in-place ends I wonder what I am going to do now that I’ve discovered my new true self? I love my new found freedom of being contact free and caring even less about my clothes. The thought of having to shove contacts in my eyes again daily and to care about what I look like for other people truly makes me cringe.

However pressure from society is strong and is too hard to resist and I know when this is over that I’ll wear my contact lenses again and put in more effort into trying to look nice again each day. But now that I have a clearer view of who my true self is and what makes me happy I’d be surprised if I don’t give myself more breaks from these things going forth. Only time will tell.

The Redwoods are calling

Living in San Jose, CA, a city with a population of just under 1 million people, during a pandemic is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because for nature lovers there are some truly amazing state and county parks around to visit. The downside of this is that now, when many people are looking to escape to nature, many of these state parks and some county parks have been closing their parking lots and/or trails to prevent people from gathering in mass.

After sheltering-in-place for about a month and a half, I was desperate to get out into nature and I don’t mean ‘neighborhood nature,’ which I’ve been making a point to see every day, I mean real nature! I knew I needed to get into the woods but finding a location to go was a bit challenging. I also realized that it wasn’t simply any woods that would due at this point. It was the giant Redwood trees that my heart so desperately needed to connect with.

John Muir had once said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” A slightly edited version of this quote had been calling out to my heart now for weeks and today I simply could not ignore the words any longer: “The Redwoods are calling and I must go.”

There is something extraordinary about these enormous trees that heal me. Perhaps it’s their age and that they’ve seen so much history; this little blip of coronavirus is such a minuscule thing for the big giants which helps to put things in perspective. The trees have incredible endurance over fires and other challenges that hit them over the years which is nothing short of admirable. And their height and girth can not be overlooked; they command attention as they stand so magnificently tall and wide amongst the quiet forest surrounding them which is full of wildlife. If I believed in reincarnation I would be certain that in a previous life I was somehow connected with these trees. All I know is that today I needed to be around the large Redwoods.

The nearest Redwood park to me wasn’t far, just a 20 minute drive from my home if that. It was a small park but I figure I could at least get out in the trees and breathe for a bit and get away from the neighborhood with all of its never ending city sounds and the very loud chainsaw across our street beginning the process of trimming our neighbors’ tree.

After a 20 minute drive I arrived at the Redwood park to find it’s parking lot completely full with a sign reading “If the lot is full so is the park. Protect yourself from COVID-19 by not overcrowding parks.” OK. At this point a voice inside my head is screaming obscenities and I’m in tears. “Damn it! I just want to take a walk in the woods!!! Is that too much to ask?” I decided to leave and kept driving south on the freeway away from the San Jose until I found a different park with Redwood trees to venture into. In my mind I’d already picked my destination, my favorite park (which I will not say here for selfish reasons) but my hope was to stubble across something else sooner before having to drive so far.

Needless to say there was nothing else and 30 minutes later I found myself on the road outside my favorite park although not allowed to enter it since the parking lot was closed to visitors. Mind you, the PARK itself was not closed but just the LOT to keep it from overcrowding. So here I was again now 50 minutes from home looking at Redwood park from the outside, screaming obscenities inside my head and desperately looking for street parking which was also currently full! “AAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!! Are you fricking kidding me?” Thankfully this time a spot opened up fairly quickly so I didn’t have to wait long. I parked the car and headed into the woods.

I was expecting the inside of the park to be a mob scene considering all the cars on the road but to my surprise I was wrong. I barely ran across anyone even in the beginning of my hike. To my great delight after a mile in when I arrived at my favorite spot, the Redwood loop, it was practically deserted! I could not believe my good fortune and couldn’t have asked for a greater gift! I walked slowly through the loop among some very large trees breathing deeply and savoring every moment. For days now my heart had felt broken and utterly defeated but now after just a few minutes among these giants I could feel my heart become lighter and beginning to heal as I breathed in the fresh air.

I continued to hike through the trails inside my favorite park seeing a few people here and there amongst the squirrels and the birds. It was much less crowded then in the past in the many times I’d visited the park before. After hiking for about an hour I took a break to sit on a log near a creek simply soaking in the beauty of it all. For the first time in a month and a half I was alone, no husband, no son, no sounds from the city, no people. It was so peaceful and serene. I felt joy. I felt peace. I was a tiny speck in a big forest amongst these beautiful trees and it felt great to be just a speck! I hugged at least one tree and took several pictures as I know I’ll want to look back upon them in the upcoming days to come.

There is something remarkably healing about being in the Redwood trees surrounded by nature. My heart which felt so heavy and inconsolable just hours before now feels lighter and more at peace. Before today it had been exactly 41 days since my last visit to real nature – 41 days! That’s much too long to go without getting out into nature.

Now as I type this blog back home at my desk in San Jose a police helicopter is circling above me like a pesky mosquito and I am already missing the trees terribly. I will listen more closely to my heart in the future and when it tells me that the Redwoods are calling I will most certainly go.

Social Distancing: Week 3

This is week 3 of social distancing. School in San Jose, California let out indefinitely 20 days ago due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. It seems like a lifetime ago. We have a newly established homeschooling routine in place for our 8-year-old and are connecting daily with his teacher online. It is working alright so far – mostly good moments amongst some occasional fits. There is a combined feeling of isolation and one of connectedness as we touch base with our family and friends both near and far through text, Facetime and Zoom. It’s an odd sensation being in such close proximity to our neighbors and so many other people in such a large, sprawling city while at the same time being so isolated.

Besides homeschooling, it’s hard to know what do with myself and my son during these times. I was completely out of sorts last Saturday and not in my best mood. It was a rainy day in San Jose and I really felt the need to get out of the house and go somewhere but I realized there was absolutely nowhere for me to go. I did some artwork in my sketchbook shortly after shelter in place was instigated to express my distressful feelings.

I check Facebook throughout the day to see the range of what people are doing. Some people appear to have a pretty good handle on things which makes me feel both comforted and insecure about what I’m doing. Limiting my time on Facebook is always a good idea, however, it can sometimes give reality checks as I glimpse into other people’s lives: like learning that some people are in the midst of other real crisis in the midst of this corona virus stuff; or that other people’s home situations where they are forced to hunker down are less than ideal.

To keep myself busy in my own home I clean the house (it’s never been cleaner); I take some walks or runs in the neighborhood (keeping my distance of course); I meditate daily; I garden and do lots of projects around the house. I bought fabric before we were home bound and made all new curtains for our house, a project I’d been putting off for ages, thanks to a friend who lent me a sewing machine. After a couple of online tutorials and many hours spent on the machine can proudly say I now know how to operate a sewing machine. I even managed to give my son a couple of homeschool lessons on sewing before returning the machine. Score!

It’s interesting how each state has responded so differently to this virus. My brother lives in Ohio and has been in lockdown slightly longer than we have. My sister and family are up north of Seattle on Whidbey Island. Her kids were out of school and hunkering down at home awhile ago due to Seattle being one of the first American cities hit by the coronavirus. She is worried what might happen to them if the virus hits hard on the island. Will it be difficult for them to get services? My parents currently left Florida since it had way less restrictions than other states. Thankfully they are now safe in Ohio sheltering in place there. I’m glad they are taking precautions and are healthy at least for now.

My spring allergies are about to hit their peak. The flowering mock orange tree right outside my house – my nemesis – is about to bloom and once that begins I suffer with pretty severe hay fever which sometimes brings on asthma. I do worry about myself getting the virus during this time but I know compared to others I am not supposedly high risk for it, but who knows with such an unknown, “slippery” virus. I worry too about my son who also gets bad asthma with bad colds. But are kids getting the coronavirus now as it changes all the time? Who knows! All these crazy uncertain times.

At any rate, although we are separate my friends and family, know that you are ALL close to my heart and just a text, a Facebook comment, or a Zoom call away 🙂 I’ll end todays post with my meditation mantra for the day:

May we be safe.
May we be peaceful.
May we be kind to ourselves.
May we accept our lives as they are.

Not my plan!

This is NOT the post I was hoping to write today. The headline was supposed to read: “I earned my black belt!” instead of the existing one. Although I’m not certain, I suspect I did not pass my black belt test today and if I did, I question if I really deserve it as I didn’t break 2 required board breaks despite the fact that I have done them many times. An official test has a way of raising the stakes and you really have to rise to the challenge and today I did not deliver.

For those that know nothing about requirements for a first degree black belt testing in taekwondo there are 4 parts: the form containing about 24 moves in a certain order; required board breaks; sparring with 2 partners; and a brutal 5 minute fit test at the end involving 300 moves. Let’s just say the black belt test is not an easy one.

I’ve been training now for 3 years for two times a week every week whether I’ve wanted to or not, and believe me there were many days where I did not want to go. I’ve been bruised up or injured a more than a handful of times – most notably once on the top of the foot in my first year training when learning my round kick (I had a nice big bruise on the top of my right foot and a major dent in my confidence which I needed to work though…and DID) and recently a foot injury while attempting a board break with a front kick – the board bent back at an angle that wasn’t good for my foot. This last injury caused me not to be able to walk correctly for a couple of weeks and I seriously thought about quitting at that point but then decided I was simply too close to earning my black belt to quit so with permission from my Master I substituted out the front kick for a round kick and decided to persevere.

If it weren’t for the board breaks today, I’m sure I’d be boasting my grand accomplishment for all to see on on Facebook. But this was not meant to be. Instead huge tears of disappointment were shed. I know I’m going to have to dig deep to really want this for myself so that I keep going and get this done. It takes a lot to put yourself out there especially after failure.

The thing is, it was never my goal to become a black belt in the first place. Taking taekwondo has been something I have done primarily to support my son and show him that you don’t quit when things get hard – and by doing this class I have been sticking to my word and leading by example. It all started when my husband signed us up 3 years ago when my then 5-year-old son expressed interest in taekwondo. My husband thought it would be fun to train with him so together we sought out taekwondo schools and agreed to have them train at Victory because we really liked their discipline and structure which we felt would be a good fit for our son. Since two people training in a family is the same cost as a family membership I was handed a uniform, much to my dismay. This was not MY plan! (I growled at my husband.) But I am athletic and not one to sit on the sidelines so I quickly joined into class since I might as well participate and learn something instead of just sitting on the bench and watching. Victory Martial Arts encourages families to train together and teaches people not to quit when things get hard. (Brilliant marketing strategy if you ask me!) The good student that I am took these lessons to heart and so once I began training it wasn’t really an option for me to quit until I reached my black belt, no matter how many times I complained to my husband, “Why am I doing this again?”

Perhaps this is why today’s blow of not breaking my boards hit me especially hard. In my mind, it wasn’t just a test – it was my way out! My ticket to freedom. My ticket to CHOOSE freely if I want to continue taekwondo or not. I don’t feel that I earned that ticket yet.

My husband and son were there to support me today and both of them told me how I looked really good and did great and I SO appreciated and needed that positive feedback. I’m grateful I have them to help me through this. My son even made tea for me on his own when I got home and showered me with love. I must keep things in perspective and not let this one setback get in the way. I will go forth and persevere, just allow me one more cry first.

Regifting is not a bad thing

Christmas time can be a challenge for minimalists like myself. I’ve never been big on getting a bunch of material things – less stuff is better as far as I’m concerned – so when family and friends start asking me what I’d like for Christmas I struggle coming up with ideas for them. This Christmas is even more of a challenge because people are not only asking me what myself and my husband want for Christmas, but they also want to know what my 1-1/2-year-old son would like. (Frankly, just wrap up a plastic kitchen cup or Tupperware container and he will be entertained for hours!)

Our family doesn’t really “need” anything since we have already been given so much from many wonderful people in our lives consisting of true necessities for the baby, toys, and so much more.  Many of the items we have gotten have been hand-me-downs but we don’t care. This isn’t to say that there aren’t things that I need or want – like the new iPhone for instance, which I want very badly – but the things I find that make me the happiest are usually not material things but rather experiences or trips.

I’m a firm believer of reusing items. There is so much out there already; why buy new when you can pass on a perfectly good used item that is sitting idle in your own house. I told my in-laws to not feel bad at all about wrapping up my niece’s old magnetic doodle board and alphabet magnets that she no longer uses and give them to my son as Christmas presents. Seriously, why not? They’d save money; they’d help the environment by recycling; and my son would love them. It’s a win, win, win as far as I’m concerned.

I encourage others to not be ashamed to do the same if you also have items in your house that you think other people might get usage out of. It will help you get rid of things you no longer need and save you money in a tough economy. I’ve devised a list of courtesies to abide by if you do take my advise and choose to pass on items to others this holiday season:

  • Don’t try to pass your gift off as being new if it was ever used before – that makes you look cheap, and it’s tacky. Tell them it’s a gift that is being passed on from you with love. (One exception to this is if the gift is a regift that was never even taken out of the box and is indeed new.)
  • Clean up the item thoroughly before giving it to someone else. Nobody appreciates getting a dirty gift – plus it’s unsanitary.
  • If the gift is a toy or an electronic item make sure it works. If it’s broken don’t give it as a gift; recycle it when possible or throw it in the trash instead.
  • Present it nicely. One thing I learned in art school is that presentation is everything. If giving as a gift, wrap it in a nice box or bag with tissue around it and a pretty ribbon and it’s every bit as fun and special as a brand new gift.

Don’t let someone make you feel bad about giving someone something used that you think they might have a use for. Remember, your intention is a good one – there is absolutely no shame in that.

Pass it on

The other day when our house cleaner came over, (Yes I have a house cleaner that comes once a month. Please don’t judge me!) I thought I’d do a good deed by passing on some old white undershirts from my husband that were in our rag pile. I had originally thought I’d just throw them in our recycle bin, but I decided to ask our cleaner if he wanted them first since I figured he might be able to cut them up and use them for cleaning rags.

After showing the old shirts to him, he surprised me. Not in saying he would gladly take them but rather because of his intended use for them.  I was not expecting that he wanted them for their intended purpose – as shirts – for the workers back in his home country, El Salvador.  When he told me his proposed use for them I felt a bit ashamed. Ashamed that I had ever intended on recycling them at all when some people could greatly use them just as they were. I was ashamed that they were all wrinkled up and in balls, as rag pile items often are. I wanted to get out my iron right then and there. I was ashamed that I was so privileged that the thought that other people would use my so called “rags” as clothing didn’t even cross my mind.

It wasn’t all bad though. A part of me was also happy. I was happy that I had the foresight to ask our cleaner if he wanted the shirts before simply throwing them away. I was happy that I often think of the best place to take items before declaring them trash. I have noticed that so many other people put valuable things in the trash cans simply because they are too lazy to find a good home for things.

Remember that one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. Please don’t just toss things in the trash can. Instead, think of a place that items could go where they can still be used for the items’ intended use. I know that whenever I find a good home for something it feels really good.

We’re all doing the best we can

I read an article not long ago in the Huffington Post by Mike Robbins titled “We’re All Doing The Best We Can.” He quoted Louise Hay when she said “It’s important to remember that people are always doing the best they can, including you.” His article, and particularly Louise Hay’s quote, really struck me and it will forever remain in the back of my head as I go through life.

It is so easy for people to judge others and I truly wish I were an exception to this imperfect way of being, but unfortunately I’m not. When thinking of the many times when I have judged other people in my life I realize that I have not fully understood their predicament because I was not in their “shoes” – so to speak. It’s very easy to make judgement calls from the outside when you yourself are not entrenched in a situation.

How I can people (including myself) remember to be more compassionate toward others who are really doing the best they can at any given moment?

Perhaps we could start by stopping the never ending judging voices that come forward like…”She COULD really be trying harder” or “If he only did it differently then it would be so much better” or “If they only did it my way.” Simply stop – mid judgement – take a breath, and let it go. And I don’t want to hear… “But really, they just need to…” or “She really IS doing it all wrong… .” It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Just let it go fully and completely.

This is not to say you have to like the situation; you probably don’t. I’m simply asking you to try to take a step back from it with a little bit of compassion remembering that everyone – including you – is truly “doing the best they can.”