Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Morning / Black tea and self-questions

The water in  the kettle was still hot, but I boiled it fresh and let the tea steep for precisely five minutes, with honey swirling in the bottom of the mug. (My enormous blue bowl-mug, eighteen ounces, a gift made to me on my twenty-first birthday, one of countless nights sitting on the floor in my friends' dorm room under the sloping ceilings of the fourth floor...)

I considered the oolong, subtle and on its recommended second brewing, and Hannah's green jasmine, but I decided in favor of the black. It is my favorite, a distinctive tea called lapsang souchong which smells like a wood fire on account of its leaves having been smoked during the drying process.

I drink it to feel strong.

What would I do today if I had woken absolutely full of peace and joy and certainty?

I would reply with my résumé to that HR woman. I would contact my ex-employers. I would walk to the far library, the one by the ocean, and write some letters.

I would put my feet on this floor and stand up, and I would pin my hair back.

I did not wake up today full of peace and joy and certainty. I woke up today, and I stood up and pinned my hair back.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A letter from Jeanima: 11/17/11

[click for big; text below]
Miss Holly,
Jeanima is so happy to write you this letter. She greets you in the name of Jesus Christ and Saviour who has all power. How are you and your family? She is doing well thank God. Her school activities are ok. She always studies and does her homework. She thanks you for letters, pictures and prayers. She says yes, she has friends and she likes to pray with them. She thanks you for the Christmas gift and she bought a shoes with the money. She wants to tell you that she has 3 sisters who name are Dima, Michaela, and Jisleme. Is it cold in your area? Do you love God? She wants to share this verse with you. It is John 11:35. She says to help her pray to succeed in her school and she will pray God to bless you. She wishes you merry Christmas of 2011 and happy new year of 2012.
As always, while it's addressed to me because I write the letters, I think it's fair to say it's more to you guys who are actually supporting her each month...


[Who is Jeanima?]

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Your surrender is significant: reprise

Sui asked me for permission to republish an older post of mine on her site, Cynosure. I admire her and her work has tremendous resonance for me, so of course I agreed and took the opportunity to revise the post accordingly.

She also (a surprise and an added honor) took a series of fantastic self-portraits to accompany it.

You can read the updated version with the accompanying images here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Evening, Lahaina

The next time you eat something sweet, fatty, or high-calorie...

I saw a sign at Panera that say, "Only [xxx] calories for the entire meal."

What an odd phrasing, I thought. I wrote it down.

I recently saw the exact same formulation in another food ad recently. Don't remember where.

It's how we normally talk about money, e.g. "Only $4 for the entire meal." The "for" indicates an exchange, that you must give up something in order to get and eat the food. And that's why it's weird.

You lose money when you buy something to eat. But do you lose calories when you eat it? Of course not. You get calories when you eat something. Calories are not the cost of eating; calories are the core benefit of eating. The calories are what you're paying for.

There were a couple times at college where I was concerned about money. That was a new thing for middle-class white USian, mostly-supported-by-her-parents me. And a revelatory experience for my relationship with food.

I remember walking through the grocery store, laughing at the 100-calorie packs — no thanks, I'd prefer a snack that doesn't leave my stomach growling — and declining to go to the gym, because spare calories are a luxury, and calories are a gift with enjoy a few more hours of life! written on them, and because calories are awesome and I'm grateful for them.

I would like to do an inventory of a supermarket. Measure the cost/calorie of each item, and then compare the marketing across different cost/calorie levels.

Those of us with the means to be well-fed act as though "post-calories" comes along with "post-industrial." But calories are energy. We'll never be post-calories. Not even the diet industry's best successes at creating anti-fat panic can change that. Humans need a given amount of calories, no matter how fat they are or how passionately they would like to be thinner. A low-calorie lunch means you'll need a higher-calorie snack or dinner, and exercising doesn't mean you "get" more calories to "spend" later; it means you need more calories.

The next time someone or something tries to shame you for eating something sweet or fatty or higher-calorie,  let yourself be puzzled, because it is puzzling.

The human body knows how to find find equilibrium over the course of a few meals or a few days, so that you get just the right amount of calories for you. Do they not understand that? Or do they think that shame can lower a human's basal metabolic rate?

The next time you eat something sweet and fatty, remember why it tastes so delicious. It tastes delicious because it is the assurance that you will continue getting to be alive. And that is something for your body to be happy about.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Younger sister, Kaanapali

After a nightmare, 3am

Dark kitchen:

I hover over the glowing
toaster, warming my palms.

In the silence of this
sleeping house, the sound
of its coils flexing
is familiar and cheerful:

my glowing

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Whales, Lahaina

See the tail, way out and on the edge of the light leak?
Niece-Baby was not a fan of her life jacket...

Padre sitting on the front of the boat waiting for the next shot.
Do you see the white under the water, looking turquoise through the water?
That's its gorgeous fin, and the white on its body.

2012: Intentions

I'm thinking about the word elegance.

Elegance in the way my geometry teacher used to mean: like an elegant proof or an elegantly concise definition.

And the word silence, in particular, comes to me. I had to consider it for a few days to understand the connection.

Elegance means setting what is essential off with spaciousness, emptiness, so that you can see/hear/understand the essentials properly and appreciate how spare and simple they are are by nature.

Silence is the aural equivalent of space, and I crave it. I crave these kinds of sensory empty spaces. Deep winter, silence, bare rooms, dusk.

(My senses get overwhelmed easily.)

(I remember: the silence and pale colors and expanses of Iceland in early winter.)

Elegance is also deliberateness. I would like to remember to do less by default, to choose what I do and how. And then, to choose to do less of what I don't care about, and do what I do care about more simply, more beautifully, with more focus.

More elegance.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Trees on Maui

Read in December 2011

1. Midnight Salvage: Poems, 1995-1998, by Adrienne Rich
I've read too many of her poetry books this year to keep most of them straight.

2. Planet Germany: Eine Expedition in die Heimat des Hawaii-Toasts, by Eric Hansen
Another expatriate memoir read for my German class. "An Expedition into the Home of Hawaii Toast." The funniest and smartest of the three — an insightful and interesting first-person narrative of German culture.

3. Der, die, was?: Ein Amerikaner im Sprachlabyrinth, by David Bergmann
Expatriate memoir #3. "An American in the Language Labyrinth." So gratifying to have the quirks and difficulties of the German language articulated so amusingly.

4. Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild
A sweet, everything-always-turns-out-okay novel. I like the contemporary setting — 1930s London.

5. Season of Ponies, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
This was my absolute favorite book in third grade — I went to my elementary school library a few years ago and the tag in the book showed me checking it out about eight times in a row -- and upon rereading, I can see why. It has ponies, freedom from adults, creepiness, magic...all the right ingredients, and in just the right proportions.

6. Romaji Diary and Sad Toys, by Takuboku Ishikawa
Part diary, part tanka collection. Emo (depressing). Sometimes relatable, sometimes misogynistic.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Expensive hotel, Wailea

This is the hotel with the spa that we visited. The most expensive place I've ever been, outside of the Ritz-Carlton where we've gone to a few New Year's Eve parties with our extended family.


Lighting incense / burning rice.

Making friends with winter.

A good production of a breathtaking play.

Getting set up, and going on some dates.

Falling in love with academia.

Lunches with Kathryn.

Social research, culture theory, senior capstone...

Radical feminism.

Meeting Sui and Noel.

Being awake for too many days in a row.

Swimming in Long Lake. In the Atlantic, in the Pacific, in Lake Michigan.

My only digital camera broke again.

This, again. (Thank you, anti-Pharma sentiments!)

Getting to know Niece-Baby.

Watching Xena.

My first full-time job, also the most grueling work of my life — street canvassing for two different non-profits.

Tofu scrambles.

"Hurricane" Irene.

For a few weeks at the end of the summer, traveling light and receiving enormous hospitality.

And seeing my freshman-year roommate again for the first time in three years.


Singing while I walk.

Semiotic ideology.

Gaining and losing my taste for alcohol.



Did I realize my intentions for the year? Yes. Especially my invitation to myself to have "more messes, more failures, more learning." More stretching. More experimenting. More biting the bullet.

The primary psychic ordeals, mostly voluntarily undertaken:
  • I let my friend set me up with a mutual friend and Went On Dates, despite freaking awful anxiety and cognitive dissonance. I learned that I hate dating, independent of how much I may like the person.
  • I went to the undergraduate version of summer camp (an institution I hate) in order to graduate on time. More anxiety (food-related and social). Triumphant in the end!
  • I took a job that almost no one can do. AND KEPT IT
Oh, and I read fifty-five books. I made a list of the best.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Gratitudes + things that are making me happy

• shave ice — the kind that comes with cream on top and ice cream on the bottom

• coconut-flavored anything

• a visit to a ridiculously luxe hotel spa with my sister and mom — my first time at a spa — as a gift from Pater

• the sea turtle we saw today while snorkeling

• talking doula stuff with my big sister

• Niece-Baby's grins and chortles and murmurs to herself

• graduation gifts and cards

• temperatures in the seventies every day

• that the future feels interesting, not worrisome

• Lisbeth Salander

• finding a pair of yoga pants that fulfill literally every requirement I have for yoga pants perfection. (and they're intended for men. TYPICAL.)

• getting to spend time with my big sister and bro-in-law

5:30p, Kaanapali

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

GMT -10

Finals week (not much sleep), then I moved two time zones away for the holidays, then I went on vacation two more time zones away, to where we swim and lie on the beach all day long. My body doesn't know what to make of it all. So, insomnia.

My eyes sting from the saltwater. It's lovely swimming all day.

Mutual respect makes all kinds of things possible.

The Niece-Baby is beginning to speak.

I don't really like asking for money. I used to do it all day long for pay, so it'd make me happier not to do it here too. But one blog post a month that doesn't gratify me directly is not much of a sacrifice.

(That is not a guilt trip. Just letting you know that even though I'm asking you for money, I'm still not a robot who is completely unaware of social norms, e.g. the one against asking people for money.)

If you would like a postcard from Hawaii, email me with your address, and I will gladly write one to you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The space on the horizon between the clouds and the sea

Today is peaceful.

I did some more beta-reading for Sui, which leaves a mindful mood in my veins. And I went for a walk with no aim and no hurry, and no bag of Things, just my house key in my pocket. It brought me to the top of this hill to sit, and hum the Doxology, and watch the waves breaking two miles away.

For me, there is the should noise of "exercising" —

Bike rides or walks should be at least __ miles long.
You should get sweaty and breathe hard.
You're not healthy if you don't.
You'll start gaining weight.
You're out of shape, and that's worrisome.
Aren't you concerned about all this?
You should be.

— and then there are the pleasures of moving and being outside in the fresh air.

And the air here in winter really is a pleasure. So soft. Gorgeous temperature.

It was almost 2 pm when I woke up. (I need 9 hours a night; the night before last I only got 5, so tonight I got 13. I need 9 hours of sleep a night and my body is very matter-of-fact about this.)

Waking up late too easily means waking up with a sinking feeling. So much wasted time, and now I'll never sort out my sleep schedule... But it's only the guilt itself that casts the shadow over the day.

I reached over to my stereo and pressed play, and excused myself from getting up for another six minutes so that I could listen to the last movement of the Italian Symphony.

You do what you can to rise with a light heart.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gratitudes + things that are making me happy

• finally feeling well again, and having the energy to DO things

• fogscapes

• the string of folded paper stars my friend sent me, which are now hanging at the head of my bed with the Christmas lights

• Lauren Winner

Double Dare (my new favorite documentary)

• honeybush tea

• doing good, worthwhile things

• sitting up straight

• curing hiccups with shoulder stands

• laughing and chatting with my little sister

• using up a bottle of lotion from my burdensome collection of gifted Bath & Body products

• interesting podcasts

• dancing for a few minutes to warm up instead of turning the heater on

• preparing packages

• plans to help Miss Erin celebrate her birthday? *crosses fingers*

Monday, January 2, 2012

The last light of 2011

I put a lid on my mug of green tea and climbed the hill behind my house to share the sunset with some strangers. "In our beds, we're the lucky ones, filled with the sun..."