My belief in my own self-doubt is the only thing holding me back. I cling to it like a life preserver. Yet just now I’m shaking my head like I’m coming out of a dream, realizing the life preserver is actually an anchor and it’s dragging me down while I struggle to stay afloat.
Just because I sometimes let fear get the better of me doesn’t mean I am not also sometimes incredibly courageous. It never ceases to amaze me how when it’s something I really, really want, I can push myself through a sickening sea of extremely dark negative thoughts in order to put myself there. I’ve been wearing all of these expectations that others have of me like they are actually a part of me, thinking I have to take on every single thing. But I can’t do that. When I spread my energy too thin I wear myself down and spin my wheels. If I save my energy for the things that matter most, I can do anything.
I’ve been struggling with feeling directionless lately because I’ve been pulled creatively in about ten different directions at once. I have more ideas than I know what to do with, and more than a dozen dreams that I’m in love with. And because I create best when I follow the inspiration and allow it to pour out of me unhindered, I find myself jumping from project to project. It takes me forever to finish these projects (at least it feels that way to Miss Impatient Me) but I do eventually get there. I’m getting really close to putting a box around my latest project and getting ridiculously excited to share it. But it’s not quite done yet so I’m going to desperately try not to get ahead of myself. (Really… SO FREAKEN CLOSE THOUGH! The anticipation is killing me.) I have learned the hard way how important it is to wait until projects are actually ready before you share them. It’s worth taking the time to make them as good as you can without being such a perfectionist you get stuck in revisions forever. Patience, Tien-san.
The journey of life is very much like putting together an oversize jigsaw puzzle without ever seeing the front of the box. For a long time, you’re grasping at pieces, trying anything to see what fits. You have no idea what your goal is or where you’re going, just a blind faith that eventually some of the pieces will fit together and start to make sense. Over the years, they kind of begin to; but you still have no idea what the final picture will look like. Then one day you somehow manage to put a whole bunch of pieces together at once and a great number of things come sharply into focus. It’s been so slow in coming that all at once it seems like you can see the whole picture. It takes a while before the glow fades and you realize that it may be a big piece, but it’s not the whole puzzle. There are still more pieces that are missing. So you keep sorting, testing, searching. And then one golden afternoon you look down at the sheet of paper that came with the puzzle and realize that it says “Infinite piece jigsaw puzzle”.
It’s never, ever going to be finished. And the moment you stop fighting with that fact, the puzzle becomes a lot more fun. You realize that every single day you get to add your own brand-new pieces to it — and the picture will continue to become what you choose for it to be.
You will hurt. Parts of you might never stop hurting. But you don’t have to let yourself be defined by those hurts. They are not all that you are. That pain gives you the gift of a deeper, richer, and more fulfilling joy than you can possibly imagine. It starts with deciding to love yourself exactly as you are — millions of flaws and all, imperfections that stick like needles — not with the expectation that you have to act or behave a certain way to be a lovable person. You decide to forgive yourself for the things that feel unforgivable. You are lovable, even if you don’t always feel that way.
Today I feel the most incredible sense of peace I have felt in a long, long time. I’m a highly imperfect person, filled to the brim with flaws and fears and regrets. And you know what? I’m also fucking awesome. It’s amazing how much fear I have to say that. I’m like, “if I say that does that make me vain?” It’s a very tight shoe for someone that has spent her life feeling inferior in just about every way. But no — there’s not a damn thing wrong with me saying hey, there are probably a lot of people out there who don’t like me for one reason or another. They perceive me negatively for whatever reason. But those people don’t get to define who I am. Don’t I deserve to finally know for once what it feels like to actually really like who I am? Why does my insecurity get to be the box I hide myself in forever?
It’s such a peaceful feeling to own your power. No, I’m not going to set myself up for the expectation that I can live in that 24/7. But when I’m connected to my own heart and I say to myself I’m going to love you, Tien, even when you fall on your face, well… I feel like I can do anything.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Hemingway
Well fuck you, too, Hemingway. I’m not quite sure why you think it’s so easy to sit down and put words to your deepest and darkest thoughts, but if I had to hazard a guess I would say that if you think there’s nothing to it, then you aren’t truly bleeding.
I certainly don’t find it easy to do so. They say that it isn’t worth writing about if it doesn’t scare you shitless, so I must have a lot of things worth writing about. Everything seems to scare me shitless. Especially these days; you can’t do anything without someone having an opinion about it and I’ve never been very good at not caring about what other people think. I have this frustrating need inside of me to be liked by everyone, so I doom myself to failure by default.
I don’t want people to see me as rude, or angry, or stupid, or cold, or weird, or embarrassing, or dorky, or deluded, or bitchy, or overemotional, or uninformed, or untalented, or scared, or inferior in any way.
Why am I so scared of being all of these things? Is it maybe… because I am all of these things?
I’ve dedicated my life to fighting against all of those aspects of myself that I don’t like, because I don’t want to take on all of those labels. I’m afraid that if I let them too close, admit that maybe they belong to me, they will completely overtake me and that is all I will ever be.
What utter insanity.
Everything in life is dualistic in nature; light/dark, inner/outer, hot/cold, pleasure/pain, everything/nothing. There can’t be one without the other. So why would I expect myself to be any different than the world around me?
I cannot be only a rude person or only a kind person; I am both. I can be either smart or stupid, depending on the moment. I am both ugly and beautiful. Generous and greedy. Free and caged. I cannot be anything without also being the opposite. The right half of my body has been running from the left and I’m finally standing here, out of breath, realizing that both sides are attached to each other and I wouldn’t even be able to run without both of them.
It’s okay if sometimes I do things, and other people never understand why. I cannot stop being half of who I am. I cannot be a bad person without also being a good person, too.
The same goes for my emotions. I’ve spent my life trying to cure myself of my social anxiety. I chastise myself endlessly when I lose my temper. I feel guilty when I have a depressed day. I hate myself for wanting things I think I can’t have, I’m always trying to meditate my way back to serenity, and I hit myself over the head internally with logic when I feel illogical emotions, even though I know it serves no purpose other than to make me feel terrible about myself.
I realize now that sometime long, long ago, back before I can even remember, I bought into this idea that I’m sick and I need help; that I’m broken and if I can just figure out how, I will find a way to fix myself and become the happy, free person I’ve always wanted to be. The person I already know that I am, that is just covered up sometimes.
The mistake that I keep making is to think that I can leave half of myself behind. I will always be both caged, and free. And I will continue to fluctuate between those emotions that I put in a row and label “good” and those emotions that I kick into the corner and try to cover up and hide and mutter “bad” under my breath so that no one knows I have them.
Maybe the problem I have with my emotions is the same problem that we all have with other people. Why do we have to label everyone and categorize them? Why is she only a bitch and not also a human being? Why can’t a badass also be a sweetheart? That guy who seems like an unfeeling robot is probably also tormented somewhere deep inside, tucked away. And yes, even the nicest person you know can become irate under the right circumstances.
Why do we as a society feel so compelled to sweep the “bad” emotions under the rug? When someone cries, we rush to comfort them and try to make them feel better. When someone is upset, we try to calm them down. Why can’t we ever just let people feel what they are feeling, without trying to fix or change them?
I’m not talking about drowning in misery forever and ever, I’m talking about this need we have as human beings that the moment someone switches from “good” to “bad” to try to run over and drag them back as fast as we can, as if it’s some kind of disease we don’t want them to catch.
And along that same line, I am so sick and tired of spirituality being equated to serenity and peace. Blissing out all the time sounds an awful lot to me like being sedated. Why is this always the goal of spiritual practice, hell, in many ways, the goal of everything we do? Everyone is so obsessed with being happy and staying positive and looking for the silver lining — and don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that any of those things are inherently bad. They are important. But why do we constantly try to negate everything else — especially to each other?
“Come on, it’s not that bad. You just have to look on the bright side.” It’s a subtle comment, and something we probably hear often, in so many words. “You shouldn’t be worrying about that. Pull yourself together. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
The problem with any of these sentiments, however well-intended, is that we are subtly saying that our feelings are not valid, and we need to fix them and cover them up and feel better quickly. Now yes, there does come a point during self-sorrow at which we sometimes need someone else to help pull us up out of wallowing so that we can see things for what they are. But let’s be clear: most of the time that we make these statements, that isn’t the case at all. As a society, we habitually tend to jump far too quickly to soothing and smoothing the moment we smell sorrow or anger. We want to calm and quiet and offer solutions on how to fix the problem or feel better.
The so-called spiritual variation of this tendency feels like a more entitled version of the same, with just a splash of disguised gaslighting, even if it isn’t intended that way by the person who says it. “You don’t have to be a victim to your emotions. You need to focus more on what you are thankful for.” While these are all wonderful truths that are rooted in ideologies that can help us tremendously, I feel like they are used out of context far too often. We’ve been taught to believe that to feel pain or anger or sorrow is unspiritual, and that if we give into it for too long we are weak and unevolved.
This way of thinking is completely backwards. It is our pain and our sorrow, our fears and our hungers, that make us inherently human. There are so many gifts in our struggles. Without them, we can never truly experience freedom.
As an artist, my purpose in life isn’t just to feel joy and pain, but to feel them both deeply, and to express them in only the way that I can. If I can learn to embrace my “bad” emotions, and find a way to love them even as I hate them, I might just discover peace.
Many years ago on Mother’s Day, I wrote this poem. Today I decided to pull it out, dust it off, and share. I’m feeling thankful to have another Mother’s day with all three of these amazing women in my life.
Some girls, they never know their mom —
They never get the chance.
They lose her early on in life;
It’s just the circumstance.
Some girls they have a mom that hurts,
That teaches her to fight —
She grows up only knowing
How to argue every night.
Some girls, they have a lovely mom
Who’s there through thick and thin;
She’s there to hold her hand through
Every loss and every win.
But me, I have a special mom,
A mom that’s very rare.
I have not one, but three great moms
Each one beyond compare.
First, there’s Granny Mo, you know,
The sweetest mama bear:
She’s the one in all the world
Who’ll always be right there.
Without this special woman
And the choices that she made,
We wouldn’t all be here now
And this family would fade.
Grandma, you’re the world to me —
You are my lucky star,
You’re my cheese and pickled onions
And my favorite cookie jar.
Next of course, there’s Mary;
Of you I’ll always boast.
You make me feel so welcome
You’re the hostess with the most.
Whenever I’ve been struggling
And life becomes a strain
You never stop encouraging
Me to work through all my pain.
I always feel supported
And loved when you’re around
You’re one of the best friends in life
That I have ever found.
And then of course there’s you, Mom,
You’re like no one else I know;
You never seem to cease from
Always helping me to grow.
I always felt encouraged
To just be myself and do
The things that make me happy,
And to find my own world view.
You raised me to be strong
And to hold my head up high;
You handed me the keys to life and said,
“You go and fly.”
Thank you each for helping me
To come out of my shell,
And thank you, too, for loving me even
When I didn’t excel.
Thank you three for listening
When I was full of qualms
I owe my heart to each of you
My three amazing moms.
Together you have painted
With your brushes on my life
Splattered vibrant colors gently
With your palette knife.
Together, you’re the world to me
The lens that I see through —
It’s clear to me that moms like mine
Are far between, and few.
I thank you all, my three moms
From the bottom of my heart;
Because of you my canvas has
Become a work of art.
One afternoon many months ago, I was going on a long walk in suburbia when I passed the elementary school. As I walked by I heard the shouts and laughter of the kids playing in the field. I don’t know if it was recess or P.E.; the majority of the kids were involved in a soccer game. But not everyone.
There were three little boys who looked to be about six playing off to the side, away from everyone else.
Two of the boys were fighting with imaginary swords, slashing and thrusting and parrying with unusual dexterity. They were so believable in their parody that I swear I could see the invisible swords clashing and clanging against one another as one boy drove the other back. They moved together as one, not pretending, not holding empty air — but actually engrossed in a spectacular show of swordplay. For the briefest of moments, I stepped into their world and they reminded me that it still existed. It’s amazing how much magic disappears from the world as you age, unless you really make a strong and concerted effort to hang onto it and treasure it. But it’s hard. Agreeing on one all-powerful reality becomes more important. We forget that reality is only powerful because it is subjective.
The third little boy that had disengaged himself from the soccer game was sitting alone under a tree, building a lopsided mud castle. I thought to myself, that was me. Forever the loner, I always wandered far off from all the other kids, lost in a fantasy world where the school no longer even existed. That tree off in the corner of the field? That’s where I spent all of my time. For a blessed twenty minutes I could pretend that the teacher wouldn’t be calling me back into hell where I had to sit quietly and write things I didn’t care about on paper for the rest of the afternoon. I had fresh air and blue sky and a million different worlds I could visit where I could meet all kinds of strange people that didn’t judge me for being different or try to tell me what to do. I could be anyone, do anything, go anywhere.
I’m still a dreamer. But I miss the dreams that I used to have when I was younger; they were so much bigger, so much less limited, so much more real.
It was nice to get a brief window back into that world. It reminded me that there are still areas in which a person should never have to grow up — and imagination is one of them.
I’m so excited to share this video! Earlier this year, I wrote, illustrated, and published a children’s book, “Festerfarkle the Frogdragon” under my pen name. Now I’ve created a narrated animated video on YouTube for kids and families to enjoy.
If you are like me, watching the election results roll in was like watching a nuclear bomb explode in slow motion. I stared in horror with the rest of my country, waiting for more electoral votes to swing in on Hillary’s side and rescue us from certain destruction, but they never arrived. I woke up yesterday morning with a painful knot in my stomach to the very real nightmare of President Trump. And I sobbed and I screamed at the television and retreated to Facebook where I could find some tiny consolation in the fact that so many other people were feeling the same awful pain that I was experiencing, that I was nowhere near alone in my absolute disbelief and disgust that America — our America — signed up for this. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve been living in the California bubble. It’s not that I didn’t see how much support he had; I had no doubt how close the race would be. I suppose I just had too much faith that humanity and compassion and love would ultimately win. And actually, I wasn’t wrong. More than 50% of the voters in this country voted to elect Hillary Clinton, and only because of a broken and outdated system (that was initially implemented to prevent people like Trump from getting into the White House, by the way) did he even win. Technically, our country said NO to him and yet in true American rape culture fashion, we are still stuck getting his hyperbole shoved down our gagging throats.
I’m sure my friends and family are sick and tired of hearing me talk about the election at this point. Everyone keeps trying to smooth over the bad feelings: “Get over it. Stop whining. This is reality, we’re stuck with him; we might as well make the best of it. Maybe some good will come out of this.” Or the worst sentiment of all: “The best thing you can do is just ignore him. None of this will really even affect you that much.”
Excuse me? This isn’t just a pity-party where I sit around feeling sorry that “my team” lost. This won’t affect me!? Yes, I am white and I just happen to be engaged to a man, that means that I am privileged and in many ways, I certainly won’t be as affected as a lot of my fellow Americans. But you are dead wrong in that this won’t affect me. I am a woman, which means that for the next four years (at least) I have to live in a country where we the people have proclaimed to the world that it is okay to grab women, to kiss women even when they don’t want you to, to do whatever you want to them, to demean them purely because of their appearance or the fact that they don’t like you. We have endorsed a man who wants to take away my rights, my freedoms, and potentially even punish me for exercising them. We have elected a vice president who would like to repeal marriage equality and believes in the pseudo-science of conversion therapy. As someone who proudly represents the B in the LGBTQ community, this infuriates me more than anyone who is straight can possibly understand. I AM NOT FUCKING BROKEN; you cannot fix me or shame my sexuality out of me, it is part of who I am. And to say that I am a lesser part of my community and try to take away my rights because of your religious beliefs is UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
But worse even than all of these things and perhaps one of the most terrifying things that Trump’s presidency means for all of us is the fact that he believes that global warming is a hoax. We are rapidly (not slowly) destroying the only home that we have and while I’m not even sure that intense and focused preventative action will save us at this point, it is the only option that gives me hope for the future. I can’t even completely appreciate the fact that so many millennials are getting involved in politics and rallying for change due to this election — and it’s all because I don’t even know if their children will be around to see the results of that.
“We need to pull together. Unite. Stay positive. Look at the bright side.” Look, I am trying. But I have spent a lifetime trying to suppress my negative feelings and put on a happy face, and you know what? I’m tired of it. There is nothing wrong with being hurt, and angry, and afraid. When we gloss over these things, we minimize them. We say that they don’t matter. Let’s all just suck it up and hope for the best! Make sure to keep quiet about our pain for the sake of pulling it together. You know what? If you are as angry as I am and are able to react calmly when people say things like “Trump isn’t that bad!” Well, my hat is off to you, you are a better human being than I. But I cannot stay silent. I believe in freedom of speech, and I will exercise that right even in the face of people who would seek to take that away from me (even just by trying to minimize my feelings.)
Right now, one of the hardest things I’m struggling with is this internal battle about Trump voters. On the one hand, I have several friends that I know voted for Trump; people who I love and respect and know are intelligent and rational people. People that I want to stay friends with. People that I have always been able to have an open and healthy dialogue with and learn from. I believe wholeheartedly in treating others with love and respect, and that’s why at this moment I can’t even engage in rational conversation right now about the election with people who are willing to defend him. I just can’t do it. I’m trying to get back to that place where I could have a calm dialogue, and I’m sure I will get there, but it might take me a little time. Right now I’m finding solace in the community of those who are feeling many of the same things I am, and I decided to write this post in hopes that perhaps this could shed a little extra light into why so many of us are so upset (for those of you that are having a hard time understanding.)
Right now it is so hard to come from a place of love. I am so angry — I feel let down. All of these people that I know were willing to turn a blind eye to all of the racist, bigoted, sexist and degrading things that this man has said because they dislike or disagree with Hillary for one reason or another. But to me, the two are not even remotely comparable. All politicians are corrupt to varying degrees; all of them do things that have at least some negative consequences. I have never been the biggest Hillary fan (although I will admit, seeing the way she handled herself during this election certainly gave me a new measure of respect for her) but to compare even what extreme right-winger’s accuse Hillary of doing to the actual video evidence of things that Trump has done and said… well, they’re simply not comparable. Trump marginalizes, degrades, and seeks to oppress minorities and all of the freedoms that they have fought SO HARD for; Hillary does not. I never needed to love her to elect her, I only needed to trust her to stand up for ALL of our rights as American citizens. I don’t trust Trump to do that.
It doesn’t make it better when friends tell me they voted for him in spite of all of the awful things he has said and done. When someone tells me they voted for Trump on policy, this is what I hear: “I voted to take away your rights and freedoms as well as the rights and freedoms of others I don’t care about, because I believe in tax breaks and trickle down economics and I’m tired of people taking advantage of the system.”
I’m sorry, but that fucking stings. I know that’s not the way they see it or the way that they mean it, but that’s what it feels like.
I can’t help but find it ironic that it’s not okay for people to take advantage of the system that provides food, health care, and housing — but it’s okay for a rich white man to take advantage of the same system in order to avoid paying federal taxes, avoid actually paying people for the work that they did for him (which he USED by the way) and essentially screw dozens of investors out of their money. I’m sorry, but in what world is that better? Loopholes are okay for the rich, but not the poor. GOT IT. I’m not going to deny that people take advantage of our system on every level — but you know what? I would rather be a part of a system that provides basic needs to every citizen, even ones who might take advantage, than a system that is “every man for himself” and a large percentage of people (even the people who need it and deserve it and work hard) can’t have their basic needs met. Regardless of how you set up the system, there will always be people that take advantage; stop using that as an excuse.
Every single person that I know who voted for Trump is white. Every. Single. One. Of course they are going to tell me to “get over it” and “stop whining.” They can get back to their lives as usual and not leave their house every morning afraid that someone is going to sexually assault them or come after them with torches and bullets and hatred. That’s called WHITE PRIVILEGE. Just because you can’t imagine life from someone else’s point of view doesn’t automatically make you right. I’m sorry, but yes. I am angry. I have been trying for this entire election to put myself in your shoes and I can conceptualize, but I hear and see too much greed and lack of empathy in those words to take your support for Trump seriously.
My heart aches for all of the people taking to the streets late last night in protest. On the one hand I feel for all of the people who went out with the intention to protest peacefully; but I am simultaneously angry at the protesters that allowed their anger to fuel violence. I have no patience for that. You make all of us look bad. You give Trump supporters a reason to point and say “stupid liberals” and not take any of this seriously. Violence is never the answer. On top of that, a large percentage of these protesters didn’t even vote. This makes me more angry than the Trump supporters. (Obviously if you can’t vote, or you chose to vote because you honestly don’t care about who was elected — no hard feelings. That is your right.) But if you could have voted, didn’t, or worse, voted third party, and then get angry that Trump was elected — you made your fucking bed.
Some of my Trump supporter friends have told me that they think everything Trump does is “just for show” and now that he’s elected he will be different. I sincerely hope they are right, but I’ll be honest. I spent six years in a relationship with an emotionally abusive man who would swing back and forth between complimenting me, and belittling and degrading my sense of self-worth. I put up with every apology, every “I didn’t mean it.” I let him manipulate me with sweet words after the dust of emotional destruction had settled and continued to allow myself to buy into the delusional idea that things would get better. I know what that bullshit looks like when I see it, and Trump oozes it out of every orange pore. Every woman who has ever been sexually assaulted is looking at Trump right now, horrified because they see their attacker not only vindicated, exonerated, but CELEBRATED. Elected to the very highest office. Women have been putting up with this shit for pretty much forever, and we’re used to it, but that doesn’t make it okay. Society victim-blames and points the finger and belittles women when they step forward and speak up — and you’re asking WHY they don’t come forward!?
Guess what? I don’t trust or believe people any more when they say one thing and do another. So I’ll make peace with Trump as president when he stands up for MY rights, and for the rights of my friends who are Muslim, Black, Latino, Native American, women, LGBTQ, disabled, or poor. If President Pussygrabber can get his Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde personality under control and perhaps actually get his story straight for once and actually make improvements to this country that benefit its citizens without restricting the rights of half of them, and if he can stop inciting hate and violence, and for once encourage white people to step into the shoes of the other half of the country and imagine a world where they wake up every morning AFRAID, and find a way to help these people embrace and accept all of the differences that make this country the beautiful rainbow that it is — well, then I will eat my words and I will accept his presidency.
But until that happens, I will be that angry voice that is willing to stand up and say, “I believe in this beautiful thing called FREEDOM — the very thing that our country was built upon. And I will fight for my rights and the rights of others, in any way that I can.”
I know sometimes you hurt, and often you don’t even know why. I know that after the days where you feel unstoppable there are always the days where you feel like you’ve failed at everything and nothing can make it better, not even chocolate. I know that sometimes those feelings of self-doubt (and even self-loathing) can become so omnipresent that it feels like the only truth that exists any more.
I know that a simple comment or a look from someone can either put a jet pack to your day or set it on fire and watch it crumble into ruins.
I know regret.
I know that sometimes you agonize over something that you did for days, wishing you could spin the hands of the clock back to have another go at a defining moment that could have made everyone look at you with admiration in their eyes. Instead you’re left with nothing but dust and ash that was once hope, caught in a cycle of forever kicking yourself over the mistakes you made.
But I also know that mistakes are never mistakes, they are actually tiny seeds that are being planted that just haven’t had the chance to break the surface yet. They feel like pain and taste like glass in your mouth but that’s only because you haven’t had the chance to heal yet. You can’t heal if you haven’t hurt, and seeds can’t grow if there was never a barrier for them to break through; a dark gestation place that made them reach for light.
Keep reaching. Just because you can’t see it yet doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.
I acknowledge that over the last year I’ve been writing a lot of sad and depressing things. I’ve been going through a really hard time and writing helps me to process the sea of shit my mind often swims in. I’m not always this way; in fact, I’ve spent my life being an incredibly positive and upbeat person. This makes my lows feel deeper sometimes. I often worry far too much about what other people think of me, and I’m finding tremendous healing in opening up about social anxiety and laying it all out for people to read. Of course, it terrifies me. I berate myself endlessly but decide to do it anyway. But maybe if I know that people know, I can stop giving so much of a fuck. I’m not really sure if it’s working yet, but it has to be better than pretending.
Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not writing these things for sympathy. I’m writing them because it terrifies me and this is the logical way of facing that fear.
It’s a weird dichotomy, having the capacity to feel simultaneously good about yourself and hate yourself at the same time. But the good is definitely there, especially on the days when my thinking is a little less stormy. Thinking back, I have this one really beautiful, pure and perfect memory. This one time in my life where I was brave, and exuberant, and incredible. I felt like I could conquer the entire world. But to tell you how I got to that point, I have to back up a little.
When I was a teenager, my mom was really into self-improvement. If there was a book to read, she would read it; a teleclass to listen in on, she was all ears. If there was a seminar or workshop she wanted to go to, she was there, and once in a while she would take me, too.
One time, she signed me up to go with her to this week-long workshop called “Warrior Camp” where you’re supposed to practice facing your fears and in the process learn about yourself. At times the experience was difficult, but I found myself excelling at most of the challenges. Making friends was painful of course, but as far as all of the physical exercises and emotional processes, I realized that there were many things that scare normal people don’t bother me at all. I tackled each experience willingly and with an open mind, but after the first couple of bumps, most of the workshop was unchallenging for me. Then on the third night, all of that went out the window.
The exercise: write a song or poem in ten minutes. If you wanted to volunteer, you could sing or read it out loud to the group of 200-something campers.
A hot flash of panic spread from my instantly knotted stomach and I knew that this was something I needed to do. The whole point of this camp was to face your fears, and here it was — one of my very worst. Deep breaths and butterflies and lots of scribbled words and scratch marks. Ten minutes later, I had a song that I put to paper.
“All right, we’ll take volunteers now.”
Do it. Go. Get in line. COME ON, TIEN. This is your chance.
Feet of lead. I couldn’t move from my chair. I was paralyzed by fear, heart pounding like crazy. I screamed at myself mentally to get a move on, but my body wouldn’t budge. My palms were sweating like crazy. Person after person went up on stage, singing and professing and sharing. I wanted to, but I JUST COULDN’T. IT WAS TOO MUCH.
Go! GOGOGOGOGGOGOGO!!!!! JUST DOOOOO IT!
My foot jerked forward abruptly, and before I knew it jelly-legs were actually wobbling toward the stage. Wait, what? No! I’m actually moving. People are looking at me. I’m going to have to follow through with this! Oh my god. Can I do this?
One of the staff turned suddenly and stepped in my way, blocking my path to the stage. “I’m sorry, but we’re out of time. We can’t take any more.”
No! You can’t mean that. You can’t tell me I FINALLY got up the guts to get up there and do this something that scares me absolutely shitless, and then take it away from me!
But the staff member was resolute, and directed me back to my seat. I walked sullenly back to the chair and gazed up at the stage.
I felt furious. Yes, a little bit at the staff member, but mostly at myself. I had waited too long. I had hesitated, and hesitated, and hesitated. I second-guessed myself and let my fear get the better of me. Here I was, at this camp where we were supposed to face our fears and the ONE challenge that really would have meant something for me to overcome, and I completely BOMBED it.
I could not stop kicking myself. I was pissed.
I didn’t get over it, either. I was upset at myself for months. I knew I would never get another chance like that again. I wished I could go back in time.
It was a year or so later when I decided to sign up for another workshop by the same company. This one was a much shorter event: just two and a half days up in L.A. helping to get clarity on your life direction and purpose.
The event went smoothly. I was uncomfortable in the sea of people, and yet somehow I could get through it because there was so much acceptance and kindness everywhere I turned. It was this beautiful sanctuary from the regular indifferent coldness of everyday life. It wasn’t until the very end of the very last day that the excitement was starting to die down and things were coming to a close.
“We have one last challenge today. You have ten minutes to write a song or a poem about your life purpose and then we will take volunteers to come up here and sing or share with the group.”
I could not believe my ears. They were actually doing the same thing as they did at warrior camp! It took only a moment to sink in: I was being given a second chance. Only this time, it was a group not of two hundred people, but of two thousand.
There was not a single shred of hesitation in my body. My heart pounded so loud in my ears it drowned out the room full of rustling papers and scratching pencils but I scribbled out a new song about my love for directing movies and telling stories. It was hurried and imperfect, but it rhymed and had a melody. It was a little slice of my heart, written down on paper. Ten minutes later, the speaker returned to the stage and said, “Okay, if you want to share, raise your hand.”
I leapt to my feet and darted through the crowd of people. I raced up to the side of the stage, and looked at him expectantly. I was the only one that had actually gotten out of their seat. The rest of the crowd was holding up hands so that he might call on them. He turned and looked at me in surprise.
“That’s not really how it works.” He paused, unsure of what to do. “But… okay.”
Oh my God I am really doing this I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M DOING THIS. It’s finally my chance to do it right this time.
I stepped up onto the stage and looked out at a room of TWO THOUSAND PEOPLE. I stepped up to the microphone with a lump in my throat, shaking hand holding on to the crinkled paper with my song lyrics. OH FUCK. I was scared shitless. I’m not sure why I felt compelled to mumble out some kind of preface, but somehow the words tumbled out: “Um, this is really outside of my comfort zone right now.” Then my words turned to ash and I couldn’t get anything else out.
Come on, come on.
I closed my eyes and took a slow, deep breath. Then I opened them and started to sing.
At first my voice was weak and wavering, but then it grew stronger. If it wasn’t for the microphone, I don’t think I could have sung loud enough, but the room was absolutely and utterly silent. I realized that everyone was really listening to me.
The song was short; I don’t think I was up there for more than a minute and a half. Still — it sounds cheesy but time ground to a halt. It was a perfect moment of utter silence. I was doing it. I was up there, singing to two thousand people. ME! I was lucky if I could strike up a conversation with a stranger, much less this.
But I did it. I sang the whole song. And as the last few notes trailed out, I heard nothing around me but the absence of sound.
Then, the entire room ERUPTED. I’m not exaggerating, either. I don’t know if it was because it was obvious that this terrified me or what (I doubt it was my singing voice.) You know how sometimes a few people stand and clap, and then a few more people stand, and a few more, until finally the whole room is giving a standing ovation? Yeah, that didn’t happen. The whole room jumped to their feet in a standing ovation, screaming and cheering. I have never been so bowled over by an overwhelming feeling of total LOVE in all of my years. It was absolutely incredible.
It was one of the very best moments of my life. And one of only a handful of times in my life when I felt completely free and self-expressed and accepted and happy.
Like all things, the moment did end. But every so often I return to it in my head and think, I did it. I didn’t let anything stop me, and I put it all out there. I faced my fears, and found love in a crowd of unfamiliar faces. Some part of me is lovable. Maybe my life does mean something, after all.
Usually when something is going to have a profound impact on my life, I feel inexplicably drawn to it — a feeling of excitement builds in my gut and I have no idea why. Like the time I was driving through Santa Monica as a teenager and looked up and saw a Wicked poster and hadn’t a single clue what it was (I didn’t even know it was a musical) and every fiber of my being screamed “whatever that is, it is going to be AMAZING!” Goose bumps rose all over my body. And when I finally sat in the audience a year later and saw myself in Elphaba while my Glinda-like best friend sat next to me and we watched the themes of our childhood and friendship come to life on stage with the most incredible story set to soul-inspired music, my heart cracked in two and was put back together again while the lights came up on my tear-stained face, and my life was changed.
Or that time when I was in middle school and my friend was having a birthday party and the DJ played swing music and we all learned a little bit of swing dancing and a massive bear-like creature came roaring out of my chest screaming “I MUST DO THIS” and many years later I threw myself obsessively into swing dancing and was out almost every single night, dancing for hours on end (even on school nights) because I loved it so much.
This knowing I feel before an experience is so normal for me that I forget that occasionally things whip in and change my life without precursor or internal fanfare. That’s why when I don’t feel enthusiasm at doing something, I am hesitant to throw myself all in. I dip my toes in tentatively and think things through logically. I give things a shot with the mindset of “we’ll see.”
Brandon and I have another couple that we hang out with often who are really good friends of ours. Erin and James love backpacking, and invited us on a trip, so we said yes. I have never felt particularly drawn to the idea; on the contrary, the idea of hauling a heavy backpack for long stretches has always sounded rather unappealing to me. Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved hiking. And I enjoy the occasional camping trip, though we never did much camping when I was a kid so I didn’t grow up loving it like so many people I know do. It’s more of an acquired taste. As much fun as it is sitting around a campfire getting tipsy and eating hot dogs and marshmallows and trying to fall asleep in a tent while the next camp over is still drunk and cackling, it just never really thrilled me enough to want to do it on a regular basis. So the idea of having to haul everything on my back first and then go camping was more of a shrug and a “sure, why not give it a try?”
On top of that, I am probably in the worst shape I have ever been in. I’m not out of shape, per se; I can still go for really long hikes with little problem (sans weight, of course) and I still try to get in at least a little exercise every day, but these last couple of years I have thrown myself so hard into work (which usually means sitting at my computer for hours on end) that I don’t exactly have the stamina or muscles to dance for six hours straight like I used to as a teenager. Gone are the days of being able to just go rock climbing when someone invites me; I’d probably really struggle right now if I tried to go for very long. I’ve been meaning to get in better shape, but everything else always seems more important and, well… it’s easy to stay on the momentum train.
Still, I was determined to give it a try. “You’ve been wanting to get into better shape, Tien. Here’s your chance!” I told myself. For the two weeks leading up to the trip I pushed myself to exercise more and use muscles that I had forgotten about. I didn’t train like I probably should have and didn’t go for any walks with weight on my back, but I did try to prepare somewhat at least. I definitely felt a lot of trepidation about how the weekend would go and I hoped I wouldn’t be a complete drain on everyone else. But our friends promised us it would be a short three hour hike to the campsite and three hours back. One night. A great beginner trek for me to get a taste and see if I liked it. Not to mention Brandon used to do a lot of backpacking so he already knew what to expect and we could plan together appropriately.
The hike was definitely a lot harder with a giant backpack, that’s for sure. I was slower on the uphills than everyone else. But we made it to the campsite without too much difficulty and set up tents and sat around talking while we ate dinner. I forgot how delicious food tastes when you really kick your own ass exercising. I find it ironic that the most difficult part of the trip came when it was time to go to sleep. Because I hadn’t been sure that backpacking was an experience I wanted to repeat, we had borrowed the tent and sleeping bags from our friends and I had decided not to invest in better sleeping gear (because, ouch! That stuff is expensive. I wasn’t about to drop that much money on something I didn’t know if I was going to be doing again any time soon.) Even though I was exhausted from the hike it took me over two hours to fall asleep because I was so uncomfortable. I woke up in the middle of the night several times from bizarre dreams and my tailbone and hips were aching from where they pressed against the rocky ground and I berated myself for not taking the time to figure out a way to have a more comfortable pillow. Ever since getting rear-ended in my early twenties I have had neck problems and this trip showed me that a wadded up jacket does not qualify as a pillow when you are almost 30 and your muscles and bones don’t bounce back like they used to when you are younger. I woke up feeling far more sore from sleeping than I did from hiking with a heavy pack, which I thought was pretty funny.
Interestingly enough, I was still in great spirits. I was filthy and sweaty and smelly and pretty damn chipper. Many times throughout the night I listened to the panoramic symphony of crickets serenading us in our tent and thought, “if I was comfortable right now, this would be incredible!” I was looking forward to what promised to be a much easier hike back to the car with a lot less uphill than the trek there, with my backpack much lighter than before from all the water we had been drinking. I thought of how I usually take showering for granted and how fucking amazing it was going to feel to sleep in a real bed with a real pillow. But I was so happy to be right where I was, with great company and good friends and the beauty of nature all around us, drinking water and getting exercise. I know that all of these things have a massively positive impact on my mood but it’s easy to forget when you get sucked into the day-to-day grind of things.
Somehow on the hike back our lead got a little turned around and we ended up going the wrong way which caused us to have to do a painfully steep incline for the last half a mile back to the car. A tiny part of me was disappointed because I was exhausted and just wanted to take my backpack off and be done. But mostly I was mentally unfazed by this sudden twist, which surprised me. I knew it was going to be harder for me than the rest of the group because I had already been the only one with trouble hauling my backpack up the inclines on the first day, and I was probably going to be trailing behind everyone else. And yes, I ended up being the last one, huffing and puffing and sweating like crazy because my leg muscles weren’t at all used to it with so much weight. But Erin stuck with me and encouraged me and kicked my butt a little when I needed it and I appreciated her for that. We were so close to the top and I was struggling but so happy to be almost there when Brandon came jogging back down and tried to remove my backpack, saying he would carry it for me the rest of the way to help me out. I love him so much for his sweet intentions, but I swatted him away and grumpily snapped my pack back on. “Don’t take this away from me,” I told him. “I’m so close to the top. Just let me finish this on my own.” And when we finally made it it felt just as amazing as I knew it would, like those times when I did in my early twenties going rock climbing when I pushed past the fear and made it to the top even though my muscles were shaking and I was terrified I would slip and hurt myself. I ended up being thankful we went the wrong way, because it made the whole experience that much more memorable.
That feeling of being capable…. that feeling of succeeding at something that is difficult and pushes you beyond yourself… it’s a drug, that’s for sure. But the very best kind.
And yes, that first shower after was the most amazing shower ever. And dinner tasted fucking incredible. And colors were brighter and my mind felt sharper and I felt a renewed sense of appreciation for both nature and technology.
But the best part came when this night owl woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at an unnatural hour the next day, before the sun was up and the fog was still thick around suburbia. I watched all of the parents ushering crowds of children off to their first day at school and I felt utterly thrilled to the tips of my toes that I am an adult and I’m no longer shoved into a classroom being force-fed things I don’t care about and will never remember. I was one of the first people into the coffee shop and I ordered myself a giant cup of hot black coffee and sat in the corner by myself slurping it straight into my soul and nibbling on a pastry and feeling more thankful and centered than I have felt in a long, long time. The easy and convenient things always feel more delicious when they are preceded by the difficult and the challenging — especially when those challenging things are just enough for you to handle and not completely overwhelming; when they push you right up against the edge of yourself but don’t throw you over. You get to stand there and feel more awake and alive and capable and somehow free.
And as I climbed into the car to make the drive from Orange County to San Diego, I felt better than I have in a long, long time. The depression that I’ve been carrying around lately has been tied to a feeling of losing my sense of hopefulness and optimism about my future. I’ve become cynical, sarcastic, and bitter — something I never saw coming in myself. I used to have all of these huge dreams and things that I wanted to do and accomplish, and somehow in the last couple of years I feel like they’ve all died and I’ve given up on so many of them. But interestingly enough, the overwhelming happiness I felt after my trip didn’t change any of that — it was in spite of it. I know that might not sound like a good thing, but I promise you, it is. It made me realize that I could still feel good about myself without needing my life to look a certain way. I don’t have to hang on to any of my dreams in order to feel good. I don’t need them. For those that don’t understand, that probably sounds negative, but it’s not. It’s the closest thing I’ve felt to free in a very long time.
Negative thoughts continued to pop up as I was driving; typical anxious thoughts that I’ve become so used to: “you always make such a fool of yourself, Tien. You’re such a loser. No one likes you. I don’t know why you even bother.” But something small shifted inside of me. A very lucid, clear thought floated to the surface, a bubble that burst open and spilled sunshine over the anxiety: if I let my mind wander for this whole drive, these thoughts are going to take over like they always do. But I feel good enough right now that I don’t have to let that happen. I need something to focus on, something to pull my mind in a different direction. I mulled it over and couldn’t come up with any thoughts that I knew would keep my mind occupied for the next hour in a truly positive way, when all of the sudden it clicked. Brainstorm.
If I could only use one word to describe myself, it would be creative. It is the one thing that I truly live for, the thread of my soul that makes me happier than anything else on this planet, and the one thing that I would die inside without. When I am brainstorming or working on creating something that I feel excited about, I am at my happiest. It only made sense for me to use this beautiful slice of solitude to dream up something new.
But here’s the interesting part. Normally when I brainstorm story ideas, I get hung up on wanting everything to come together perfectly. I want everything to make sense, I want everything to fit together logically and still have a powerful underlying message. I allow myself to get stuck there, and it’s why I rarely move forward. For years now I’ve been starting stories, writing chapters for things I never finish and developing characters for novels that go nowhere. I get frustrated because I can’t see the entire road and I’m so hell bent on wanting it to be perfect that I never complete anything. I know this is my weakness and yet it’s always been hard to let go somehow. In other creative endeavors I can let go of perfectionism, but I just care so fucking much about writing that I get stuck. It’s been my single lifelong dream, and I’ve already told you that I easily get hung up on dreams. That’s why I finally set my sights on something different and decided to publish a children’s book. It still took me a year, but it was something I could actually finish. I was less attached to it being perfect than I am writing for adults, and that’s why I could do it. That’s also the same reason that I started writing this blog — I wanted it to be an exercise in writing things that are less than perfect. Sure, I rewrite here and there. But I’m allowing myself the space to let thoughts roll over the keyboard, completely uninhibited, and let them be grammatically incorrect if that’s the way they come out. I’ve been trying to ease myself, step by step, away from my perfectionistic nature, and it’s been leaking out here and there where it can. But I’ve still been stuck when it comes to stories, and I’ll be honest with you: a big part of me has given up. No, I don’t think I can ever completely let go of that dream because it is too close to my heart, but for my own sanity I have had to let go of it for the most part.
So that’s why brainstorming on my drive to San Diego felt like such a huge breakthrough. This time, I wasn’t creating for an end result. I wasn’t trying to create a perfect, epic, incredible, life-altering story. It was just me and the scenery shifting around me and good music on the stereo and a single good intention — keep feeling happy. What if? And How would? and Wouldn’t this be cool? I’ll be honest: part of me didn’t want the drive to end. But all drives do eventually end, and I tucked my story idea into the back folds of my brain for later. It’s one of the best I’ve had in a while. I can’t make any promises, since I always have the best of intentions when it comes to new story ideas, and things like this take more time than I ever want them to. But it’s the first time I’ve felt excited about a story idea in a long time. I’m going to spend some time nurturing it and see if it turns into something. Most of all, it made me happy to simply spend an hour being me at my very best.
And backpacking? Well, I guess I’m kind of hooked; I had no idea I was going to enjoy it as much as I did. It looks like now I’m going to have to start doing a little research and looking for some of my own equipment. I don’t see myself having the time to become a hardcore backpacker, but I definitely see more trips in my future. I love when life takes me by surprise and sends something my way that is not only wonderful, but exactly what I need.
It’s no longer science fiction – it’s just science. To think that so much science begins with science fiction – and all creation begins with imagination. Science fiction writers of the last century imagined technological possibilities, many of which seemed like pipe dreams but have become reality because scientists put time and effort into figuring out how to make them work.
Technology is evolving rapidly – my grandchildren will laugh at me when I tell them I was just a kid when the internet became mainstream, and you’d turn on a computer and the only thing you’d see was a C prompt. They’ll just look at me with confusion in their eyes and ask “what’s a computer?”
Technology is always shifting forms, becoming simpler, more efficient, more effective, more versatile and more integrated. We’re at this wonderful vantage point in our own evolution where we’re no longer looking at ANYTHING as impossible because 100 years ago, hell 50 years ago, you could have told someone what our technology looks like now and they would have laughed in your face.
Locked you up.
Violently opposed your outrageous claims.
Now people are asking themselves, “what’s next? What impossibilities of today can be the possibilities of tomorrow?” The future is limited only by the furthest reaches of our imagination.