Sunday, December 26, 2010

Point: Counterpoint - Eddy Hong's Brave New World

Point: Counterpoint
Eddy Hong’s Brave New World
dedicated to Eddy Hong, my FB friend

Point: About you

Risk taker
snake wrestler
shadow boxer
truth telling confessor
of all things hard and personal
personal and hard
I admire your take no prisoners stance
on podcast and Facebook
You’re humble
just not too humble
scared but not too scared
muscling up now
for the long haul

I’m just sayin
Ya gotta start somewhere
‘n now is sometime
cyberspace da somewhere
way ov’r da rainbow
da crazy blinkin rainbow
da place for yous
cuz I’m too far down da road
tripping down da yeller brick
to be of use to yous anytime further

Counterpoint: About me

Man! It eff’in fucked ta wake up
‘n realize I’m old
It’s da hands that give me away
an old person’s hands
Da white hair adds drama
a sexy kinda dramatic flair
But da hands
fluttering und’r da sun so many decades
give me away
like I ain’t ne’er been given away before

Fear is learned
and experience burns
wrinkles into my heartsoul
No regrets, my friend
maybe a few hiccups
of hesitation at the memories
pauses for reflection
reflection and forgetting
Oh, man, did I really do that
did I really say that
did I really mean that
I’m afraid I really did
I really did all that
and more

I’m sayin
In my time
my peeps loved my bravado
cheered ‘n clapped
enuf to propel
da wave of resistance
to win da war
in da workplace
‘n da homefront
sacrificin only da captain
exiled into another life
on another continent
It may as well hab been da moon
I wasn’t of use ta them anymore either
This is what it feels like to be used up
for a reason
in a season
but not forev’r

Ya learn ta reinvent y’self
becuz ya gotta
becuz it’s survival
becuz it’s what we do, man
My relations:
It’s who we are, man

Point: About you

You’re learning not to blink
your gaze direct
man to man, person to person
your inward gaze an X-ray
into the interstices
of sinew and blood relations

Boy, I’m just askin
where did that little smile
in da corner of yer mouth
come from
How’d ja learn ta stare
into the camera that way
Was it from talkin to yer ma
Was it from talkin to yer ba

Counterpoint: About me

From my ba
I learned what to do
and how to do it
From my ma
I learned what to resist
and how to avoid it
The yin and the yang
The parent I adored
and the one who survived
The lesson here:
You don’t get to choose

I’m just sayin
Is anybody listenin?

[Check out Edward Hong's podcast for the I Am Korean American blog site at or here:
I am proud to call this young Asian American my friend. I'm sure we'll see more of Eddy as poet, performer and actor.]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Aspiring to Kindness

“Guard well within yourself that treasure: kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.” - George Sand, French novelist
There are many movies and TV shows that I choose not to watch, not merely because of their genre. Horror films and most vampire movies just aren’t my thing. And as much as my husband and daughter enjoy Dexter about a serial killer who kills horrible people, I can’t quite wrap my sensibilities around a TV series featuring a serial killer of any stripe. But the most overriding reason that I choose not to watch certain films or shows is because they are mean-spirited.
I’m not a goody two shoes by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. I have my share of angry, vengeful thoughts about people who have done me or my family wrong or who are just plain stupid in the face of chances to do helpful rather than hindering things. Hubby Herb and I often say, “Where is a firestarter when you need one,” referring to Drew Barrymore’s child star turn in a 1984 film called Firestarter. I have to admit it’s fun to imagine throwing fireballs with my mind and satisfying to think of them hitting their marks.
But mean-spirited behavior as an excuse for comedy turns me off. I do not find the Mrs. Doubtfire’s of the world endearing under any circumstances. Excusing and forgiving bad behavior in a film or novel can be justified when the writing brings you to a denouement deriving from the conversion experiences of the protagonists. That journey is worth following, sometimes even inspiring. However, excusing bad behavior because it’s presented as endearingly comedic just leaves me cold. I don’t get it. Why is bad behavior in the form of making someone else’s life miserable, causing them tons of trouble, supposed to endear the perpetrator to the observer?
I can no longer remember the triggering event, or even if there was one, in my early thirties that caused me to decide to become a good person. I hadn’t been a bad person before that period, but I experienced a rebirth of sorts, a metanoia, where I made a decision to walk down a path that I called “being a good person.” For me, that transition was about a reordering of my life priorities. My emphases changed, and my life opened up. It was in that time period that I stopped having specific goals in my life about achieving more, like getting married again (this was B.H., before Herb) or targeting a rung on the career ladder.
I had somehow refocused on being in the moment. And the psychic space around me opened up into a universe of possibilities. The opportunities for dating and the suitors knocking on my door multiplied. My interactions with my staff and customers blossomed into mentoring relationships and long-term friendships. Perhaps the universe of possibilities had always been there, and I only needed emotionally to stand still and feel safe long enough to smell the proverbial roses. I think one way of looking at that time period might be to say that I had embraced, in the Buddhist tradition, an attitude of lovingkindness and mindfulness towards myself.
The very first lesson I ever learned from Ani Pema Chödrön was an admonition to stop doing violence to oneself, to stop the seemingly endless negativity towards oneself of girls with well developed guilt reflexes. Lovingkindness begins with the self and empowers the individual to expand it out into the world. Emotional security is about feeling safe not just from outside influences that scare and harm, but also from internal thoughts that do the same. I’m still not very good at lovingkindness to myself, and I need regular reminders.
A few years ago, I had lost (or had stolen) a new pair of expensive prescription glasses and a camera used for work and couldn’t bring myself to get past punishing myself by not replacing them. I was telling my priest that story one Sunday when he, very seriously, said to me, “You’re forgiven, Lee,” making the sign of the cross before me, “now go get yourself a new pair of glasses.” I’m so grateful when the people around me remind me that I am forgiven, that I am entitled to kindness in my life, and that it’s when I experience kindness towards me that I can then extend kindness towards everyone else.
I used to aspire to being known as smart. Now, I’m delighted when someone says that I’m kind. I’ll take kindness over being smart every time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Thoughts

I don’t know about you, but this holiday season, which I have purposefully trimmed of excess activities, is still too busy, stressful and filled with physical and mental running around. I have bravely said No to kind invitations to socialize. I have shrugged off the vague obligations, recognizing that I don’t owe anyone an excuse for why I choose not to do something. Shouldn’t “I don’t want to” and “I’m going to be busy keeping myself company” be sufficient reasons to avoid unwanted activities?
I had to go into town (Boulder, population 300,000) today for an appointment. The choking traffic around road work as I approached my appointment made me late. (Okay, so I should have left earlier. I admit that I always underestimate the time needed to get anywhere. I’m an optimist!) The frenetic dueling cars vying for parking spaces had nothing over the dueling cars vying to get out of the parking lot. Turning left was going to be a long wait for those of us sitting at Stop signs. I prayed fervently for no fender benders for all those in this and every other parking lot today and the rest of this holiday week.
Now that my grandchildren are older at ages 6, 9 and 11, their parents have helped to shift the focus away from Christmas presents and towards doing things for others. So, from a grandma’s point of view, there isn’t a lot to do in terms of “making Christmas” for kids. For that, I am thankful. We told the family that we weren’t doing presents this year, and we’ve increased our gifts to organizations that are helping victims of disasters, both the ones originating from natural and human causes. We’ve opted for a dinner theater experience for everyone, and we’re celebrating our son’s birthday on the 22nd with a lunch get-together. We’re foregoing our annual orgy of excess this year and, we hope, every year hereafter.
My girlfriend had a wonderful idea yesterday. She was remarking on how so many stores instruct their checkout clerks to tell their customers the amount they’ve saved by shopping there. She pointed out that unless she does something different with those savings, like sharing them with others who need help, the savings feel selfish. Her comments gave me pause. Just think of how much additional charitable giving there could be if we each donated those savings instead of pocketing them.
The religious significance of Christmas is the incarnation of God as human. Incarnation is important. From a human perspective, incarnation makes things real, including, in a sense, making God real as a human experience or knowledge of God. Incarnation validates us, as humans, as being important and significant to God. We may be puny humans, but God values us and loves us, just as we are, right where we happen to be, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, however lovable or unlovable we turn out.
I think my girlfriend’s idea of intentionally sharing those store savings is about making our charitable impulses incarnational. It’s not enough to think about sharing with those in need. We’ve got to make it happen, for real, by writing the check and giving the cash. Now, that would feel like Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Inevitable: the death of news as we know it

The familiar and revered
have died
passed on
overcome by another season
other reasons
Nature deals extinction
for animal and plant species
Losing hands
loosening grips
memory or imagination
history or invention
Why not news media
Delivery mechanisms
stagecoaches and trains
papyrus and ink
remnants of days gone by

Like the summer annual
bright and brighter
for a moment
leading us to believe
summer will last forever
But its premise fades
blowing into the autumn breeze
precursor of the leaves
unleashed from trees

light as a breath
blow in on winter’s watch

Learning to let go
not mourning
not cheering
simply watching
the news slip away
in this print form
not quite believing
news will come again
in a new form

Ciphers constructed of
electric ions
speeding on
fibers thin as a notion
that we’ll become
accustomed to
like the lamp on
the table next to the photo
of great-great-great grand relatives
whose names we barely remember
whose stories we never knew
like the next generation’s
old stuff that got saved
sometimes inadvertently

Do you want to be the one
announcing the death of a generation
or proclaiming the beginning of the next?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Frazzled Moms and Over-Weening Expectations

I just read an article in the New York Times about frazzled volunteer moms who are pushing back. The point of the article is that over-achiever volunteer moms, or should I say, over-guilted moms, have finally hit the wall and figured out that they need to scale back for their own health and their relationships' well-being.
I think the article had it right as far as it goes, but it basically, in my opinion, misses the point. As wonderful and needed as are the decorated classrooms for seasonal events or fundraisers for all manner of extras for teachers and students, maybe, just maybe, the answer is that we need to scale back our expectations and get along with less.
That certainly is how we are handling our family’s resources and needs right now in the face of retirement and declining savings. We still want to help the people that we have helped in the past, but we also have to do that with many fewer resources. So, it’s time to look at everything anew, together, and discuss and discern what’s important today and what we’re capable of realistically.
We’re having little Christmas this year, which means that we’re not decorating or hosting a huge holiday dinner at home. We’re also not giving gifts to anyone, and we’ve let the family know that. What we are doing is hosting one family gathering at the local dinner theatre so that everyone, from grandchildren to great-grandmother and in-laws, can spend an evening together, enjoying the same musical play, and eating a nice dinner that no one has slaved in the kitchen over all day.
It will be about the experience of being together and enjoying each other’s company and not about feverishly rushing from store to store or Web site to Web site trying to find the perfect gift. Because, let’s face it, no one in our family needs anything more to make them happy. We as a family are blessed to have enough stuff. It is good for our souls to spend time walking the dogs at the Humane Society, knitting hats for the homeless, and sitting and chatting with the lonely.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dashing the Hopes of the Poor

When my husband Herb was in the hospital during his kidney transplant surgery in early October, I reflected on the great good fortune our family was enjoying through the generosity of the donor's family and the excellent transplant program in which Herb was enrolled. As the days progressed and Herb recovered, I also reflected on how intense my involvement was, and needed to be, in order for him to recover fully from the transplant and sustain the health necessary to maintain the donor kidney's viability.

One of the things that struck me fully and forcefully between the eyes was the need for a recipient to have a functioning family support system. Without such a support system, a patient simply wouldn't even qualify to enter a transplant program. After all, donor organs are scarce commodities, and prudence requires careful stewardship of such organs. 

The ability to be a compliant recipient who adheres to all the medical regimen after the transplant is a necessary requirement. This is an important aspect of transplant surgeries over and above any issues of health insurance and ability to pay for the costly surgeries and even more costly anti-rejection immuno-suppresant medications for the rest of the recipient's life. 

In our case, because Herb is 71 and in the Medicare system, his surgery and medications are largely paid for through Medicare and his private Medicare gap insurance. (Incidentally, you'd be surprised at how big a reduction the physicians, hospitals and other care providers take as participants in the government-based Medicare program.)

I just read in AlterNet that the State of Arizona has cut payment for certain kinds of transplants for patients on Medicaid due to budget constraints. It chills my soul to hear of this. Talk about taking the hope of the poor away, not to mention condemning them to death merely for being poor. Lord, have mercy!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


What comes after the dust?
she asked in quiet tones
meant to be heard only by herself

What came before has been fulsome
and finite
the facts are known
but not the motives

Each lifetime measured in days
unless you were unlucky
to have died
before you developed memories
or merited photographs
and aching desire
of some One
to taste your essence

Pleasure is so overrated
knowing that you will disappear
the way you came
suddenly, without announcement
Promises peripheral
like the ribbons binding
the presents she forgot to give

The time before the dust
Was it eternity or something less?