They’re Coming. They’re Here.

They’re Coming. They’re Here.

Easter passed. Where were you last year? 

close up photography of hand near window
Photo by Renato Mu on

They said don’t worry a mass awakening is about to happen. They say “its” coming. They say things will go back to normal. Then they say they won’t, and probably never will. They say it’s our destiny still yet unfulfilled. They say it takes timing, effort, to go where you need to, be who you want to be. They say you need to buy more, and guess what, everything is 50% off on the website now and clearly you’re running out of things to wear. They say that we’re not free until all of us are free. Then they say we all are already free right now and that’s something worth fighting for. We say ok declare war then.

They say we’ve built our own chains just as willingly as we’ve built our own castles. They say “no man is an island,”  but he can certainly live on one, and probably remain perfectly safe. They say we’re just a drop in the ocean – salt water cures everything. They say social distancing is hard – but necessary. They say we’ve come so far but still have a long way to go. They say shut up you are full of “toxic” positivity. They say hey you owe me 752 dollars a month for that piece of paper plus your tank is empty now go buy gas. They say goodbye and now go wash your hands. We say okay my hands are clean but my gut full of wire and brass I could do more with copper plated gold earrings that dance around my nose and hold up my chin.


grey white clouds



They say we could be building an elevator to space by now, a rocketship to Mars. They say to create a new home there. They say that’s good because now we’d be reborn as settlers but this time without a population to desecrate. They call it “a bug” but really, it’s an alien. They say it might actually help us to evolve. They say most people who are dying in America are black. They say whites hate Asians and Asians hate blacks. They say domestic violence up, but street crime is down. They say, don’t be shocked by that, and now, back to Commercial reak. They say you ought to be most afraid of the human psyche and what it can do because unlike the globe, it hasn’t been “mapped” yet.  We study those maps. We coat our walls with the mandalas of the Tibetans and wear facemasks designed by Carl Jung, we review the brain scans and take deep evaluations of what’s produced in the thymus and the cells regenerating with every deep breath and more powerful heartbeat of an intensive herbal workout. These maps of the body-mind have always been here and always will be, just as they were before. Nothing changes, even with the clock rewinds. They say most kids don’t use analog time anymore, anyways. They say this truth is binding, they say we have a soul contract. There’s no way we could use our own will to get out of it. They say it might rain today but it doesn’t. It storms. They say you might die in two weeks of cancer but you don’t. You live for 20 more years. You uncover some secrets, on a first attempt, but come back emptyhanded like a fisherman with a pole and no bait. You wish you could just be doing “a little bit more.” Hyper-drive kicks in. You can’t sleep at night. You say you’d wish for mercy by what you find out, so you come back again, so you start swimming furiously up to the shore as if your arms could never give in. They say you are weak, but you are strong. They say not to panic, but you feel like you can’t breathe. They say it feels like drowning, but still, your arms are swimming. They ask who is this “they” you are referring to exactly? They say at the end of this motivational speech that they’ll cut for Commercial break. Promise this time. They say they promise to cut copy edit for the Communist revolution. They say shit why is this thing not working? Work dammit. Who still owns a VCR? 


They say okay if you didn’t learn math in school. They say if you look like me and sound like me you’ll start winning then plus one  = guaranteed happiness. They say don’t ask kids to write down what kind of dreams they had last night when they wake up in the morning. They say listen to this and remember it’s just a blip in your brain of neurochemicals and synapses firing. They say who this  “we” you are referring to exactly? 


They say they can channel the gods and masters. They say it’s is just a light-being hologram placebo who comes down now and then to remind us all how to live. We say okay that makes sense we’ve forgotten how to live. We say we don’t feel anything. We don’t know anything. We say it’s time to get ready, to back to work. We get back to work.  We say take us when we’re ready. We’re ready. Take us. Take us to your leader. We know it’s time. Take us, already. We know. We’re ready! We’ll give you back our crowns. 


Ode to what is owned and given


Once upon a time I had very few possessions. And in the process of owning of very little, and feeling quite a lot, I liberated myself from much undue suffering that I had haunted me for much of my life.

In each moment, I was born anew, and asked in return favor to my creator, to deliver me what I needed now, or later. I’d continue growing, sowing, and showing, despite not knowing, where I might be going next.

It was at this time that I felt the world around me so deeply. My life was vibrant, I felt healthy. I was very rich.

How did I come to see the world as such? Wanting for so little, and not really asking for much?

Before leaving for my travels, I had bought many things, and I felt sure that these many would help protect me from myself on my journey onward.
I spent the money on the things I had worked for, multiple packages of PeptoBismol and a renewed year-long prescription on my Nuva Ring, and all of appropriate clothing I would need for a dry, desert-like climate. I could fit it all into a large, red suitcase. My cat would hide in the lining. He wanted to be a part of it too.
When I arrived, the room I had been given had come somewhat already equipped. As S, the previous fellow, had left many of her belongings, and had returned home without them due to her mother’s passing.
I exclaimed with glee upon entering the room. She had left behind many things, including a French Press and 3 bags of coffee. I had made it all the way to rural China, and now look at all the delicious treats that were waiting for me in what was now my new room.

But B, who had known S or the past year, asked me if she could see the room first, before I moved my own things in.

“We have to talk to her first. See what she wants us to send back.” I had never encountered such wisdom and graciousness as this. And from my own internal suffering I wondered: How had I been conditioned to enact such a subconscious sense of entitlement?

“I have arrived! There is something I want, so thus, it is mine!”

How would this behavior make this person whose territory I had encroached upon, really feel? The one who had given up a life here in this room that had been created to manifest a felt sense of a joy and purpose, the one who took nothing into something intensely meaningful, and the one now gone to mourn the deceased? Through these things I was asked to know the part of me that also had carried such my things such a long way, to know that upon arriving, I truly had nothing, because I had not created such connections yet, as the one that she and B had developed. One that said, “No, those are her things, and I will respect the wishes of those who have come and moved along.”
I learned to take such gifts that remained in the room with stride. A set of shelves, English flashcards, toys for the children I’d soon be teaching.

I cleaned out the room. I realized I had more than I knew. There was not enough space for all of the belongings she had left behind. There was not enough space for my own.

Please, I thought. Someone come and take S’s stuff. Send it back to America now. I just don’t have the space.

But it remained there. For many months. It watched me while I struggled with teaching, and while I fell asleep at night, hurt, crying, wanting to go home and back to America.

Maybe B sent it back eventually. I’m not sure. Maybe the pain of knowing her mother’s body had departed from this world mattered more than whatever was in the case.

I would receive many more packages from American friends in the coming years. A package from my aunt with packages full of Hershey kisses and Halloween toys, National Park flashcards from my Christian church minister, a block of Parmesan cheese from my mother, postcards from my college roommate, a blue scarf from a local teachers, a nautilus necklace from the owners of the hostel where I stayed,  and eventually, once I credited it, bushels upon bushels of watermelon and pomegranates from my good friend Uncle Yang. Giving gifts became a part of a tradition I grew to cherish as well. I purchased a book of translated poetry and a blank journal for my co-fellow, D. Adorned blue beaded friendship bracelets for my two best friends who commiserated with me in hotel rooms on the weekends over cups of Oreo-yogurts and episodes of the Mindy Project.

I even departed with a saxophone, that I had since I was nine, my father bought it for me, but did I know that it was mine? Did I need three? I gave to to Yang upon parting, with the wish that one day, it could be possible, that there was a child in the village who would learn to love it just as much as me…

Ode to 艾 and 爱 (Ode to Ai and Love)

Today I went to go see Ai Wei Wei’s “Never Sorry” at the Hirshorn Museum.  It’s been over five years since I’ve seen the film. To be honest, at this point I define my life by “life before I went to China” and “life after I lived in China.” Most ex-pats who have lived there for any extended period of time might agree. The place changes you. I was curious – how would I feel about the film this time?

When I saw the movie five years ago, I went with a group of four Chinese teachers my father had dragged along with us. I respect my dad so much – for years Chinese teachers have been visiting his school and he always connected with them so beautifully – inviting them to dinners, Christmas, taking them shopping for groceries, and supporting them just as humans who needed to be seen and understood. Of course, having a bit of a radial edge, he always wanted to dig deeper into their experience. What was life in China really like? Were they a part of the Party? Were they religious? What was life like for their grandparents during Community rule?

So he took them to the film. Big mistake? Maybe. They yelled at the host leading the Q&A after the film. He was also Chinese. He originally came to the US to get his degree in engineering at CMU, but started learning about Chinese history in the 20th century, and switched his degree to nonprofit management. He had been working as a coordinator for wealthy Chinese high school students coming to the US. When I asked him afterwards what the Chinese teachers were saying to him he said, “They think Ai Wei Wei is a nobody, not important, worthy to be ignored. They are still so brainwashed by Chinese propaganda.”

When I saw the movie today, I noticed people in the theater laughed a lot at Ai’s antics. He is quite a hilarious activist, a modern day jester if you will.  There’s certainly shadow side to Ai in this context. He makes those privileged in the US feel safe in our complicity. To  feel good that we “aren’t” China. We are here, in a museum watching an activist film, for free, on a Sunday. I probably watched the film the first time in similar fashion. Amazed, fascinated, curious and in awe of the man. Knowing that “over there” people lived in repression and thankfully we had free access to art, music and culture. A dangerous dose of some American exceptionalism I was born into: the illusion of pure free expression.

My viewing of this film this time around was much more…human.

I cried much more than I laughed. I sobbed seeing schools destroyed by the Earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, due to shoddy construction of “tofu-brick” buildings in schools in poor areas; meaning, tuition funds go to a fat salary for an official comes before the price of a student’s life in a safely constructed building. I cringed at the moments when Ai sat in the hospital photographing himself wearing a bandage on his head after being assaulted by the police. The audience laughed, but here I saw a man in pain, trapped in a cage he could not escape, no matter how humorous his approach.

When I came to Washington, DC in 2013 for an interview with Teach for China, I remember heading over to Hirschhorn afterwards, alone, to see Ai’s “According to What?” exhibit. Always was my favorite museum after all. I saw the backpacks of every student killed in the Earthquake lining the ceiling, the names of dead children lining the walls, read aloud by many different voices.

Knowing, in my heart at the time, these students and families would one day be a part of my own world. People I connected with, played music with, shared meals with, attended religious services with (Yes! religion exists in China!), talked about love and relationships with, danced with, cried with, spent the night in their humble homes with.

Today I sat shocked, at the lengths an artist must go to in order to humanize himself to the Other.