Saturday, May 14, 2011

Money and Jobs

Herb and I were talking yesterday about how we have never been motivated by money in our long working lives. We have never chosen a job or worked zealously, because we wanted solely to earn more money. More money was always welcome, because there were a lot of bills to pay along the way.

We also liked being able to incorporate others into our "hanai" family of choice and of the heart, and money was often handy to help others over a hump. (A "hanai" family is a Hawaiian concept of an extended family that you choose, not limited to blood relations.) However, choosing a job or developing our skills and knowledge never had anything to do with seeking more money.

Since we are both very good strategists and negotiators, we did negotiate knowledgeably and strenuously for a good compensation package once we became interested in a job. We took into account amenities as well as dollars in compensation packages. Sometimes it's flexibility in hours or access to education and professional development that trumps a higher salary.

Herb always said, "Money (in the form of a salary) doesn't make you happy. Depending on how much you feel you're underpaid (and everyone feels underpaid), it just makes you less unhappy."

I love this story my brother, Jon, tells about our late brother, Chris, who once told a prospective employer, "Pay me the $15 an hour I'm worth and that you were going to pay me after I pass probation in 90 days instead of starting me at $10 an hour. Don't wait to see if you like my job performance to increase my pay. If you don't like it, fire me at any time." Christ was a confident risk taker, logical and persuasive, and he got the higher hourly rate.

Herb's and my interest has always been in the work itself. We like a challenge, and we like working with stimulating people. Our rules for deciding on whether or not to take a new job or a promotion are pretty straightforward:
  1. Am I interested in the work itself? Will I learn new things and have new experiences?
  2. Do I believe in the mission? Can I support it?
  3. Do I feel I can make a contribution? Will the job and workplace structure allow me to be successful?
  4. Do I respect the people I'll be working with? Are they honest and trustworthy?
Asking and answering each of these two-part questions honestly will go a long way towards enhancing future job satisfaction. Each question has a component that focuses on what the job and employer will offer and what you can contribute to making the job satisfying for yourself. Both you and the job and employer can make or break a job, and it's important to look honestly and objectively at the fit between you and the job. Money often clouds judgment in deciding whether or not to take a job.

One of the strengths of our marriage has been total support for the other partner's inclinations and decisions about jobs. I still remember a movie (I think it was Parenthood, 1989) starring Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen in which he quits his job, and she forces him to go and beg for his job back, because another baby is on the way. I despised that dynamic between that movie wife and husband so much. I think that movie wife disrespected the personhood of her husband in asking him to subjugate himself in a demeaning employment relationship with his boss and company.

Herb and I have always agreed that we could scale back to the one-bedroom apartment we started out with, if circumstances required us to do so, rather than to make either one of us go to work everyday feeling like we were walking into a soul-sucking job. Our family's philosophy has been that there are resources and sacrifices in every family's life, and every family member shares in both the joys and the tribulations.

Leaving a job is something that many people do poorly, and I have some insights about that, too. But I'll save them for a future post.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Desperately Seeking Asian American Identity

There are some topics that I really would prefer not to comment on. It just hurts, you know? It cuts too close to the core. But the Asian American online community has jumped in, both feet thudding loudly, to praise and decry Wesley Yang's "Paper Tiger" cover story, all eleven online pages of it, in New York Magazine. The tag line for the Paper Tiger story is "What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?" which is not reflective of Yang's entire article that might be better titled "Desperately Seeking Asian American Identity."

My friend, Edward Hong, has weighed in at 8Asians (a collaborative blog of Asian Americans and Asian Canadians on all topics Asian) with some good insights, including an excellent Edward-to-Wesley commentary, "several things I want to say to Yang."

So, here I am, weighing in, too, at last. Thanks to my brother, Jon, for sending me the link to Yang's article yesterday. I did not anticipate reading Yang's article all the way through, but I did, and I found it stimulating at several levels. 

I am sorry and embarrassed as an Asian American woman and mother that Yang feels such self-loathing about being an Asian American guy with an Asian face. He has obviously internalized the meme that White faces are the norm and thus, better. I am sorry and embarrassed that Yang so thoroughly hates his Asian heritage that he says "Let me summarize my feelings toward Asian values: Fuck filial piety. Fuck grade-grubbing. Fuck Ivy League mania. Fuck deference to authority. Fuck humility and hard work. Fuck harmonious relations. Fuck sacrificing for the future. Fuck earnest, striving middle-class servility."

Really? All of it? None of it is redeemable in his eyes? I'm probably 20-25 years Yang's senior; so, I will stipulate to there being cultural differences in the way we've each processed growing up Asian American in these United States. Generational differences are significant. 

I do speak the language of my forebears, Cantonese, although I do not read or write it. I have parsed the Asian values and leavened them with American (Western) ones. I don't subscribe to the cultural norms of patriarchy or matriarchy, each evident in different expressions of family and society among the Chinese. I honor my mother and my father, but it's because they're worthy of being honored, not because it's expected or required of me.

I walked away from some of the educational and achievement expectations of my parents, because I believed that I had the right to exercise choices, even though I knew that my parents only wanted what they believed to be the best opportunities for me. My choices eventually made some parts of my life tougher than they had to be, but I don't regret any of those choices, including the dumb ones. My experiences have all contributed to making me who I am today, and I'm glad to be me in 2011, doing what I do, thinking what I think, loving whom I love.

I found Yang's comments about balance between academic monomania and social development to be spot on. I know that maintaining a balance between the two is supremely important from both my own experience - mostly a non-existent social life during my school years due to overly protective parenting - and my daughter's experience - a constant tension between encouragement to live up to her potential and support of a life outside of school that included competitive fencing and friends.

To be fair, let me report that my 25-year old daughter has said that she felt like I exerted a lot of pressure on her to succeed academically, which leads me to wonder if this kind of expectation and pressure from parents is reflective of more than just an ethnic value, that it is maybe merely reflective of a parental value of wanting something more and better for our offspring. Let me also report that despite the emphasis on grades and education by my parents, I turned my back on scholarships and a linear path, choosing what I characterized as life and experience. It was harder; I was smart, determined, ambitious and aggressive; and I found my way, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend my path to everyone.

Yang's observations about what he calls the "bamboo ceiling" do reveal a reality that many Asian Americans face through no fault of their own. There are many ways in which different personalities show up in the workplace that have nothing to do with race, national origin or ethnicity. It is a truism that managers seek out people who are like them, who make them comfortable, to whom they can relate without exerting themselves, and whom they surround themselves with and groom for promotion.

The kinds of courses that LEAP - Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc., the organization mentioned in Yang's article to combat the bamboo ceiling, - offers to help Asian Americans learn assertiveness, self-promotion, non-verbal communications, etc. were called management training workshops in the '70s and '80s and used to be directed at women and others who had not had the advantages of college educations or mentorship by senior managers.

The portion of Yang's article on Asian American men seeking to date White women and Yang's own admission that he, a Korean man, has never dated a Korean woman, makes me sad. In my dating years, I dated men from all races, ethnicities and ableness; being conscious, thinking for himself and having a wide range of interests were the qualifiers for me.

Yang wrote about a dating coaching business directed at Asian Americans that I actually checked out: the ABCs of Attraction Web site. I watched a video of the Asian Playboy or APB as ABCs of Attraction owner and chief guru J.T. Tran calls himself. Tran is a twenty-something Asian American who seems personable enough, who has put together a dynamic Web site with slick seminars, videos and other products for helping Asian American men get theirs. Why shouldn’t Asian Americans succeed in all the arenas open to Whites, including something as sleezy as the ABCs, which is promoted with blondes and boobs, and where men can plunk down $1,450 to learn how to smile, make eye contact and come on to women.

Yang does say late in the article, "I finished school alienated both from Asian culture (which, in my hometown, was barely visible) and the manners and mores of my white peers. . . I wanted to be an individual. I had refused both cultures as an act of self-­assertion." Yang wants the same thing today that I wanted over four decades ago as a young Asian American woman starting out in the world: to be an individual. What I said then, and I still say now, is "This is what Chinese American looks like, on me," because the not fitting in and not being recognized as "one of us" also comes from the Asian culture ("she's not Chinese enough"), but that's the topic of another blog.

Wesley Yang is a provocative writer and someone who also has a lot of internal conflicts despite his protestations to the contrary. I'm glad that he got to write a New York Magazine cover story, and I hope that it will garner him lots of new and lucrative opportunities. I also hope that the reading public will have the good sense to figure out that Wesley Yang is just one voice among many voices and that he no more represents all Asian Americans than I do.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Who's being disrespectful?

I'm wondering - Is a young woman dressed in short shorts and a low-cut, tight tank top in the same category as a young man dressed in over-sized baggy jeans that hang below his hips and show his butt crack?

What I'm asking is this: are young women and young men who dress this way being disrespectful?

Does the context in which they wear these clothes contribute to the determination of whether or not they're being disrespectful?

Of whom are they being disrespectful?

And who gets to decide?

I ask these questions, because a friend whom I greatly respect and admire just blogged about "sluts" and the taking-back of that term, which has been used as a pejorative aimed at women who have been raped and judged to have been attired in "slutty," "sexually-provocative" clothing. My friend says that she finds such a "state of half-undress" to be disrespectful of the women themselves - and of others.

True confession: I used to dress like that, in a state of half-undress. My weekend attire in Berkeley, California, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the '70s into the '80s (ages 21 to 35) was a bikini top and short shorts as I tooled around on my 10-speed bicycle. In the early '70s, I even wore a dress that was made of yard-squares (front and back of the dress) of bright yellow and black plaid small-wale corduroy that barely covered my butt with pantyhose and spiky high heels to work in the financial district of San Francisco where I was employed as the executive assistant to the president and CEO of an international insurance brokerage firm.

My choice of dress back then was based on several factors and attitudes. I was young and attractive with a good figure. My 20-something hormones and desire to attract males were raging. I thought I looked good in the clothes that I wore. They were comfortable choices for a sun worshiper. And, the culture at the time, in which I lived and worked, allowed my choices of attire, even if the majority of the culture did not endorse my choices.

As the years have progressed and I've gained weight, rotundness and gray hair, I've made changes in my choices of attire. If I were still svelte and comely, I probably would still wear bikini tops and short shorts on occasion and think nothing of it. Even today, my clothing tastes tend to run to tie-dye and dramatic, over-the-top accessories, although I also favor simplicity and comfort for everyday dress. I'm with Dolly Parton in her philosophy that she's not going to limit herself just because people won't accept the fact that she can do (or be or appear to be) something else.

Now, let me be clear: it was never my desire or intention to invite rape or sexual assault. I was and am a feminist, and it has always been clear to me that No means No and men are responsible for controlling their sexual, anger and aggression behavior.

When I look at the clothing choices of some people - and let's not limit it to young people, because middle-aged folks in clothing that is too tight or age-inappropriate also contribute to this discussion of attire and respect - I am not so much feeling disrespected as I am feeling offended. Disrespect is an attitude broadcast by someone else on or towards me. Feeling offended is about my own sensibilities and my emotional and philosophical, perhaps even moral, response to the stimuli - the person in such-and-such clothing - in front of me.

As much as I am offended by the sight of young men (and women) in jeans worn so low that their butt cracks are staring at me, I must not assume that they are wearing those jeans with the intent and for the purpose of offending me. In many cases, I suspect it may be nothing more profound or thoughtful than simply wearing the uniform of the crowd in which they hang and by whom they are judged on a daily basis.

So, I keep my opinions to myself about how other people dress and figure that young people, especially, don't need my judgmentalism raining on their parade of fashion for fun and fitting in. It is tough enough claiming your own identity and path in the world without hearing the questioning or disparaging remarks of others about something as inconsequential as your clothing choices.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rome Vacation, The Pantheon

On our last day, a Saturday, in Rome, we visited the Pantheon after having spent the afternoon in nearby Piazza Navona. The history and architecture of the Pantheon are unique and well worth taking a few minutes to read about at the Wikipedia link at,_Rome.

Originally built as a temple to all the Roman gods, the Pantheon has been in continuous use since it was first built in 126 CE. Today it is used as a Roman Catholic Church known as St. Mary's and the Martyrs. When Herb and I were there, as it approached 5:00 PM, the staff were getting ready for a mass and beginning to turn people away for the day.

Lee in front of the Pantheon
When we first arrived, we found an almost carnival-like atmosphere all around the Pantheon. In addition to many tourists in front of as well as flooding the side streets leading to the Pantheon, there were also costumed buskers, dressed like Roman centurions and noble ladies of Ancient Rome, posing for photographs with tourists for a fee. There were signs as we entered asking for silence and no photography in this sacred worship space, but no one paid attention to the signs. The noise level was as loud as in a circus tent, and everyone, including me, was taking photos. After all, this is one of the best preserved Roman buildings to be found anywhere.

This photo gives a better sense of the scale of the Pantheon.
The crowd as we entered the Pantheon
The concrete dome of the Pantheon is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, and there are brick relieving arches which can be seen on the exterior of the rotunda walls [seen faintly in the second photo below]. The oculus in the center of the dome provides light and ventilation.

The oculus in the dome & door are the only sources of light
Brick relieving arches on the rotunda exterior
The interior where it joins the concrete dome structure
Herb taking a photo amidst the crowd
One of the altars inside the Pantheon
The altar used for masses. The pews were the only seating.
Looking through the portico columns as we exited
The rotunda is huge, large enough to fit a sphere with a 142-foot diameter. If you'd like to view all 53 photos of the Pantheon, go to my Mobile Me Gallery at

Mother's Day Your Way

This post is dedicated with love and affection to R, J, J and others who know who they are. I'm sorry that your mothers have not provided you with the best of memories. I hope that you will look to the future with hope, knowing that you get to create your own future history even as your past history was thrust upon you.

As we approach this Sunday's celebration of Mother's Day, I am reminded that not everyone has a Hallmark Greeting Card's version of Mom or fond memories of life with the one who was mother. Even for those of us with good memories of childhood and motherly care, our relationships with our mothers are complex and multidimensional.

My mother is 82 and has lived with us since 2000 when we moved from Amarillo to Boulder County. We had actually invited Mom and Dad to live with us all the way back in 1985, when our daughter was born, in Honolulu. We wanted an easier life for Mom and Dad, and we wanted our daughter to have a relationship with her grandparents. As it turned out, Dad died in 1988, and Mom moved to San Diego in 1994, after my youngest brother died, to be grandmother on site with his then 5-year old son. Mom proved to be a real blessing in my nephew's life and a support for my widowed sister-in-law. Mom has a servant's heart when it comes to doing for her family.

Shortly after we all began to live together here in Colorado, I got terribly sick with chronic hives. I was tested for allergies, lupus, and all sorts of other possible medical conditions, and we never did figure out the hives' origins. It was only when I left for my first ever, alone vacation six months after moving in together that I figured out the problem.

Mom and I were locked into a passive-aggressive fight over control of the kitchen. We never confronted one another about the issue, but we each rearranged the pots and pans, dishes and pantry items as soon as the other left the kitchen. My hives went away when I realized, while sitting in a hotel room alone in Vancouver, that I wasn't going to win this battle, and I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I had to cede ownership of the kitchen in order for there to be peace and harmony within our family. It was the right decision to make, even though I still bristle at it from time to time. When I am able to talk about the kitchen stories with perspective, they're actually quite hilarious and would make a great sitcom premise.

If the only serious issue between Mom and me were the kitchen, it really wouldn't be much fodder for blogging or generate undercurrents of resentment and anger. The really sticky situation is the one of my being supplanted by my mother for my grandsons' relationship with a grandmotherly icon. When my two grandsons, now almost 10 and 12, were born, Mom muscled her way into the grandmother's role without, so far as I have been able to discern, a thought as to how I might be feeling about what was happening.

I say that about my mother not to be particularly judgmental, but to say with honesty that this lack of self-reflection is both her strength and her flaw. I don't think my mother could have withstood all the trials she has had as a refugee, immigrant, arranged marriage bride in a foreign country without the psychological cover offered by her brand of tough-mindedness.

I remember resorting to the same brand of tough-minded narcissism when I was in a bad first marriage that was sending me over the edge towards suicide. Sometimes that's what mothers do to save themselves so that they will still be around to serve and save their families. Judgment in such cases is so wrong, because it lacks compassion for and understanding of how circumscribed some women's lives can become.

For our daughter, my mother's presence in the household was a gift during her high school years. There was a nurturing female presence to cuddle and spoil our daughter when I was called repeatedly into the role of authority figure and disciplinarian. Meanwhile, my husband was consulting on a schedule of two weeks away and one weekend at home for almost ten years. Mom blessed us with a lot of housekeeping help even when it wasn't done the way that I would have preferred. In terms of living together, I have been a filial Chinese daughter, and my husband has enjoyed the blessings of a mother-in-law who thinks he's king.

Both women and men around my age, 62, are very much the spread inside the sandwich, squeezed by parents who are living longer and children who are maturing slower than in prior generations. On good days, we are grateful for what we have, including our relationships with our parents and children, despite the sacrifices that we have made and continue to make. On bad days, we wonder when it will be our turn, when we won't be caring for both the older generation and the younger one. The key to living successfully, happily, is to enjoy the moments as they occur and not to wait for what you imagine will be the more successful, more happy times that may or may not come to you in this lifetime. Live now, be happy now, make memories now.

In 1870 Julia Ward Howe wrote a proclamation for a Mother's Day as a pacifist cry for women, who shape the new generations of their nations, to stand in solidarity against the bloodiness of war and the unspeakable sacrifice of our youth on the killing fields of national arrogance and economic hubris. I could gladly and unreservedly celebrate such a Mother's Day and such a purpose.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Mind of a Buddha

There are some things - news, events - for which there simply aren't the right words. Like when your long-married girlfriend shares that she's filed for divorce . . . or your co-worker tells you he's been laid off right after he's returned from his dream vacation . . . or when you learn that your teenager's best friend has been sexually abused by a trusted adult . . . or, as we've experienced this past Sunday, when someone who's your country's and humanity's enemy is hunted down and killed in his home.

It's not just not having the right words. We also don't have the right emotions or the right thoughts. The emotions are a jumble of visceral reaction and pent-up feelings that burst out in surprising ways. The fact that in the case of the killing of Osama bin Laden the feelings are shared with an entire nation puts your own emotions and those of the people around you and in the country into a sort of centrifuge for which an external force is pushing the on-off button. Everyone's emotions get stirred up as each new factoid gets released and reported. There is altogether too much of a frenzy and smorgasbord of so-called news about the event and its aftermath, and it's confusing and exhausting.

There has been both jubilation at bin Laden's death as exemplified by the mostly students who gathered outside the White House to celebrate on Sunday night and sober reflection in the numerous blogs, articles, sermons and other writings from religious and spiritual leaders and some political pundits. My own reaction has been to maintain a thoughtful watchfulness, listening to what others are saying and not saying, and to refrain from jumping into the fray of speaking my mind.

Sometimes, things are better left unsaid, held in sacred contemplation between you and the divine. Sometimes, your words add nothing to illuminate or to help the situation. It's an exercise in humility to recognize that not everything you think or feel is worthy of being shared and to maintain your own peaceful silence. Sometimes, we are called to just be, in peaceful coexistence with everyone and everything else.  Om mani padme hum.