Today, I Run

Today, I Run
Today, I run.
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My friend loaned me her car, so I drive to a trail head I’ve never been to before. I want to explore. I want to go up the rocks and jagged pathways and be completely immersed in nature. I love DC for that. You can escape whenever you need to into a National Park.
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I’ve caved in and started using the Samsung “Running Coach” app on my phone. I pride myself on being a self-motivator, but it looks like I am falling into another millennial trap of covering up the feeling of loneliness with a button on my phone. Hit this one to find a lover, this one to help you meditate, this one to find out where you are going.
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I find it hard to believe we are still born with any sense of intuition at all.
Looks great! says Samsung.
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How the hell do you know how I look? I say back. All that matters is that it feels great. I remind myself. Getting my heart rate up feels great.  
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Keep up, you’re going too slow.
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Of course, I’m going slow! I’m going uphill on a trail, dammit! This is as hard as shit! 
I give myself the break.
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Thankfully, I’ve learned how to do that in the past four years. 
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Four years ago I was not a runner. I was not even a mover. If the doctor asked me if I worked out, I probably would say I had sex pretty regularly– does that count?  Oh, and sometimes I take a walk. I wasn’t fat; I wasn’t skinny. I just didn’t really see the point of exercise when there were other things to do.
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My mother said my childhood pediatrician told me I had a body of an athlete. But the narrowness path of public education set me up as someone who was supposed to get good grades and be in marching band. I felt embarrassed around athletic people. Couldn’t really keep up. Leave me to the brainy stuff, I thought. Forget the body.
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So, when did I start running? I think back first run I took at my summer teacher training after I had arrived in China as a fellow in Teach for China, a program similar to Peace Corps or Teach for America. We lived and worked at a rural school for a month to prepare us for teaching in our villages in the fall.
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A few of my friends would run. But they were very competitive, as many of the people in my program were in they had first arrived. Many hailed from Ivy Leagues and were used to being the best. On many levels, I felt intimidated.
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I’m going to be quite vulnerable with my readers and say I have a slight, but sometimes major, emotional trauma from childhood when it comes to becoming a part of new, big social groups. Ironically, I seek the experience out constantly. Such is the paradox of souls yearning to heal.
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On top of that, the general atmosphere our training was just, well, difficult. I had become so depressed from nights hardly sleeping on the hard-wooden bunk-bed. We had ridiculous deadlines of lesson plans to meet without any real Wi-Fi connection. One weekend, I developed a low-grade fever and just wanted to nap the day away.
I think after some lucky Skype call connection with my dad, he reminded me to try and exercise more. I remember putting on an album of Afro-Cuban music and going towards the hills, the day-time glow of a full moon in sight.
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A la luna yo me voy sang my iPod.
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I guess this DOES feel good, I remember thinking.
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The fever disappeared and I forgot I had ever had it to begin with. 
Good pace. Keep this up.
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Thanks Samsung!
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Today, I run alone. I’m going to an event later tonight with a new friend that I don’t really know. Samsung talks in my ear but grounding down into my body reminds me about real emotion.
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Slow down and keep breathing.
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Stop pretending you’re not anxious. Just breathe.
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Run at a pace that allows you to still sing a song out loud.
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To who? About what? I’m alone Samsung!
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I wonder if I can make new friends who will want to run with me. Or maybe I do have friends that will run with me; I’ve just never asked.
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I pass an older gay couple with the two black dogs, the family of four that got lost from the trail, and a mom and her daughter racing in the grass to run into dad’s arms. 
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Belonging. I think to myself. I also have that sense of belonging. Matching my emotions to manifest my needs.
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I think back to the friends I used to run with. 
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I think of Derek, I think of Brittany and I think of Li Hai Peng. My co-fellows, two Americans and one Chinese, in my village, who convinced me to start running with them.
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Derek had a long, lean and muscular build. Brittany was tall and fit and had been running cross-country for years. Hai Peng had shorter legs, but they carried him along quickly.
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The first year I attempted to go with them two or three times after dinner. Teaching most days was a nightmare. And with running, I did not believe in myself at all. Someone in my family sent me a giant jar of Nutella in a care package, so and truth be told, I just ended up eating spoonfuls of that in my room after teaching to combat the stress.
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The second year, I settled in. I had a mastery over my class, my Chinese, and my emotional well-being in general. I started doing a lot of yoga, but I got bored. There wasn’t really much to do in the village, so I joined the run.
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Today, I look up the hill I’m about the climb. I can almost hear my childish cry after Derek and I see him up ahead on the trail. 
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“Derek slow down! Not fair, you’re too fast!”
“No, Merritt, you’re fine. Keep up that pace. See, you’re doing so well! Lengthen your stride. You have long legs, you can do it.” 
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“Thanks coach!” 
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Hai Peng and Derek used to sing songs in Chinese. Derek told me he liked to run to sad, melancholy songs, rather than upbeat ones. While we ran, we would talk about what was happening with teaching, or just ourselves, and even our lives outside of that place.
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I’d wave at my students, playing outside at home after dinner. Derek would always see that 14-year-old picking grapes who had dropped out of middle school and who he had befriended.
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When I ran alone, I’d hope the stray dogs wouldn’t chase me, but sometimes they did, and it made me run faster. Adrenaline is a nice drug of choice. In my mind, I’d plan out my trips I’d take to Vietnam and Cambodia. I’d think about what kind of life I’d have once I got home. I’d look at the grape fields and the mountains, but I never thought that one day that this place would be the home that I’d miss.
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Eventually, we started training for a marathon in the nearest city, about a two-hour bus ride away from our village. Hai Peng’s friend, Kun Zai, had come to live in the village because he had a job in computers that allowed him to work remotely and have time to play lots of video games as well. He always brought along a much needed sense of joy and humor to our running conversations that were often dampened by the stress of our work in the classroom.
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The day of the race we lined up early in the morning. There was a man smoking a cigarette and with a Red Bull in hand jogging in place.
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Yeah, I think I can do this, I thought. 
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We were off, running past a large beautiful lake and through alley ways of shops preparing fresh包子Bāozi, or steamed buns, from the windowsills.
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Derek and Hai Peng took off quickly, both of them taking a stab at the half-marathon. Kun Zai promised to keep an eye on me as he and I were both attempting our first 10K. 
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Near the end of the race, I found myself alone, tired, and ready to have the whole thing over with. But then Kun Zai met up with me.
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“You can do it! Defeat the enemy!” he said, a quick as a gunman from one of his games.
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I looked forward at a girl running about 30 meters in front of me. Sure, I can do it. Why not? (Or as I was probably thinking in Chinese 为什么不?Wèishéme bù?)
I crossed the finish line and came in 9th place for the women’s race.
…………………………………………….
I’m not really sure there’s an enemy to defeat anymore. I don’t hang around competitive people and I can’t say I’m competitive with myself like I used to be. 
The only “enemy” was the voice in my head that told me I couldn’t do anything.
Now, I just enjoy the view from the run.
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Derek e-mailed me a few days ago. He still lives in China. I suggested that he and Hai Peng should make a motivational bilingual running app. It would sell millions! He said he’ll pitch the idea to him. 
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Across oceans of disconnect, it’s good to know technology can help make us feel we still belong to some greater tribe of friendship.
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 Nice job, you’re almost there. 
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Thanks Samsung.
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But where exactly is ‘there’?
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For I know with each breath I take, I have the chance to begin again.

The Whole World

Listen to a tale of how the whole world came to be
Sit on my lap and sink in close to me.
God rose at dawn, fell asleep by a well
Took man from an atom
And descended to hell
It was then that he saw
How the great sun grew bright
He put up stars in the sky
To make that thing we call “night”
With blue boomerang balls of fire in fists
Blazed rock laden coasts with the air we call “mist”
Moonbeams and sunstreams and water did not
Exsist at this moment for God had forgot
The Goddess inside and her good word delight
Spreading an unyielding love upon a vibration called fright
So they danced and they withered with some special light
Not the kind you turn on, but the kind you ignite
And they waded and walled in all of that pain
Thinking that one day, in some dimension we’d exist on this plane
of projects and problems and death’s brutal brew
so that I could sit here my dear one, and feed it to you

Ode to 艾 and 爱 (Ode to Ai and Love)

— I’m not doing the quote full justice, and there’s much more I want to say on this but here is the story for now —
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.

Once Upon a Time in a New Mexican Hot Spring

The story began “Once upon a time in the New Mexican hot spring…” I doodled on the flight over. Creating the vision of what would be when I arrived.

I met my little not-related-by-blood-and-it’s-a-long-story cousin. She had loads of those mindfulness coloring books that are in vogue now. I tend to like my personal brand of coloring creation, so in the cupola of my aunt’s adobe home, we sat together and designed our original pictures in journals.

“Look,” she said, “It’s Mother Earth giving everyone in the world a big hug.”

It’s Christmastime, so I give her a gift – a journal from a Chinese stationary store. It says “Love – where there is great love, there are great miracles” and is covered in little cutout hearts. When I lived in rural China, my close friend and I developed a mild obsession with finding the best of the best in cheap Chinese stationery stores. The inspiration for “fly.the.dreams” came from one of these notebooks I bought over spring break, upon which I healed the wounds of a mental breakdown and the pages of my first story poured out.

A few days later, I go to visit my cousin’s family at the hot springs they own and operate. She had filled up the journal with notes — details about her family, her home at the Springs, her dreams about what she would be when she grew up, the boys in her class that she had a crush on. To think, I once did the same. To think, I still basically do.

I thought about the diary my mother gave me one Easter, etched in existence forever in my mind and in the form of a recorded home movie. I’m eight or nine, around the same age as my cousin. In this video, I can see where it all went downhill.

“Oh! A journal!” I exclaim as I pull out the Lisa Frank brand book with three bright yellow puppies sitting on a sandcastle.

It goes by the wayside, as my mother immediately digs into the plastic grass and takes out the plush head of a girl with two pigtails. It’s made for hanging clips and barrettes. “Do you like it?” obvious that no Easter bunny brought this for me and her desire for me to affirm that I’d actually use it. I shrugged it off “Oh, yeah, it’s cute,” I say to appease her. I knew myself, and that my mind was running away with thoughts of what I could fill the pages of the diary with. No one indulges me in my private world, and the diary remains with only a few pages filled.

Here in New Mexico around Christmastime, small, simple gifts are galore. I’ve already given the journal, and now I’m a cowgirl ready to take the mistakes of family karma by the reigns. I help my cousin set up some twinkling fairy around the desk in the room of their double-wide.

“Every writer needs her special space,” I tell her. “Let’s make yours beautiful.”

Hot springs might sound more glamorous then they really are. Don’t get me wrong, they are a lovely way to relax, heal and connect into the Earth. But remember, we are in rural New Mexico. There’s a show in recent memory about a cancerous science teacher with a meth lab inspired by this part of the world, perhaps you know it well.

Outside under the sunshine, we I take some photos of my cousin and her little brother with my father. The life they have here reminds me much of my childhood with my own in rural Pennsylvania – not a lot of kids our age around to play with, but a whole world of nature, animals and secret trails to run around between, becoming barefoot and bruised. I can see the playfulness my father had with my brother and I when we were kids come out when he is with the two kids – a side of him I rarely get to experience in his age of empty-nesting retirement.

My little not-really-blood-related cousins are both bi-racial, of Mexican-American descent. I find the nearby towns themselves to be very segregated, attracting the bougie Santa Fe art crowd mixed between impoverished Central American immigrants and white Americans alike.

At one point, she points to her melanin and says, “My brother is browner and more Mexican than I am. I’m the whiter one, see. ” and I can see the seeds of some implicit superiority already being implanted. Trying to take in this family karma again by the reigns I say to her, tenderly, “Neither one is better or worse than the other. Both are beautiful. Remember that.”

The story begins”Once upon a time in the New Mexican hot spring…” I doodled on the flight over. Creating the vision of what would be when I arrived.

I met my little not-related-by-blood-and-it’s-a-long-story cousin. She had loads of those mindfulness coloring books that are in vogue now. I tend to like my personal brand of coloring creation, so in the cupola of my aunt’s adobe home, we sat together and designed our original pictures in journals.

“Look,” she said, “It’s Mother Earth giving everyone in the world a big hug.”

It’s Christmastime, so I give her a gift – a journal from a Chinese stationary store. It says “Love – where there is great love, there are great miracles” and is covered in little cutout hearts. When I lived in rural China, my close friend and I developed a mild obsession with finding the best of the best in cheap Chinese stationery stores. The inspiration for “fly.the.dreams” came from one of these notebooks I bought over spring break, upon which I healed the wounds of a mental breakdown and the pages of my first story poured out.

A few days later, I go to visit my cousin’s family at the hot springs they own and operate. She had filled up the journal with notes — details about her family, her home at the Springs, her dreams about what she would be when she grew up, the boys in her class that she had a crush on. To think, I once did the same. To think, I still basically do.

I thought about the diary my mother gave me one Easter, etched in existence forever in my mind and in the form of a recorded home movie. I’m eight or nine, around the same age as my cousin. In this video, I can see where it all went downhill.

“Oh! A journal!” I exclaim as I pull out the Lisa Frank brand book with three bright yellow puppies sitting on a sandcastle.

It goes by the wayside, as my mother immediately digs into the plastic grass and takes out the plush head of a girl with two pigtails. It’s made for hanging clips and barrettes. “Do you like it?” obvious that no Easter bunny brought this for me and her desire for me to affirm that I’d actually use it. I shrugged it off “Oh, yeah, it’s cute,” I say to appease her. I knew myself, and that my mind was running away with thoughts of what I could fill the pages of the diary with. No one indulges me in my private world, and the diary remains with only a few pages filled.

Here in New Mexico around Christmastime, small, simple gifts are galore. I’ve already given the journal, and now I’m a cowgirl ready to take the mistakes of family karma by the reigns. I help my cousin set up some twinkling fairy around the desk in the room of their double-wide.

“Every writer needs her special space,” I tell her. “Let’s make yours beautiful.”

Hot springs might sound more glamorous then they really are. Don’t get me wrong, they are a lovely way to relax, heal and connect into the Earth. But remember, we are in rural New Mexico. There’s a show in recent memory about a cancerous science teacher with a meth lab inspired by this part of the world, perhaps you know it well.

Outside under the sunshine, we I take some photos of my cousin and her little brother with my father. The life they have here reminds me much of my childhood with my own in rural Pennsylvania – not a lot of kids our age around to play with, but a whole world of nature, animals, and secret trails to run around between, becoming barefoot and bruised. I can see the playfulness my father had with my brother and I when we were kids come out when he is with the two kids – a side of him I rarely get to experience in his age of empty-nesting retirement.

My little not-really-blood-related cousins are both bi-racial, of Mexican-American descent. I find the nearby towns themselves to be very segregated, attracting the bougie Santa Fe art crowd mixed between impoverished Central American immigrants and white Americans alike.

At one point, she points to her melanin and says, “My brother is browner and more Mexican than I am. I’m the whiter one, see. ” and I can see the seeds of some implicit superiority already being implanted. Trying to take in this family karma again by the reigns I say to her, tenderly, “Neither one is better or worse than the other. Both are beautiful. Remember that.”

Can You Take a Wrong Turn?

I finally wrote a series of poems about my trip to New York.

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Can You Take a Wrong Turn?
  1. Wrong Train
I got on the wrong train towards East Village
And fretted – will It ever stop?
Will I ever get off?
Do you ever wonder?
How many people boarded a vessel to come here?
By choice or by brute force?
More likely, some combination of both
After hearing two girls talking about the slaves
Harvesting sugar cane in the Caribbean
You can feel that New York City
Vibrates on a level of
Everyone who has come and departed 
Looking for a better life
Only to be caged in coal mines
Profiting from industry
And the cleansing of the countryside
To think we all that we had something
Together
Fusing steel to sky
To see it all
  1. To Be Appropriate
More than death in the Civil War
Burns a cultural vapid hell 
Some envy in knowing where you come from
Some hold resentment for those who drink
From the well
Sitting on my hands and clear separation 
I’m thinking this shirt from West Africa
Fits better than yoga pants
He said, “As token of appreciation 
For more than a minute
Of your understanding.”
  1. Revolutionary Sister
The Lady Liberty in the Brooklyn Museum
By Dingha McCannon
Stands taller than 
Her green-eyed predecessor 
With bullets on her belt and flag-pole hair
Gazing in at the room of Judy Chicago’s
Goddess gathering
Suppose that no one would have invited her there 
“How do you get to Harlem?” she asked
“A-train I suppose” 
I didn’t need to know New York
To know the Duke taught me that
  1. 23 And Free
Other so-called nations don’t trace their
Generations into the pathways of ghosts
Question their DNA
We’re forced to wonder “What am I?”
Search in codes of chromosomes and hormones
Leftover from McDonald’s chicken nugget bones
For the soul only knows “I am”
And that bodies are just individual homes
  1. Bad Juice
Seems like everyone struggles with
Knowing they were born “bad”
Born a conqueror or born a slave
Born to be broken or born to be made
Thank the gods of industry for bringing me
Comfort in a mason jar of freshly pressed juice
For only ten dollars
Get a cleanse for your soccer-ball soul
Make you right, give you better eye sight
So I gave her my credit card without looking twice
  1. Prayer
Shaman says:
Oh Great Spirit
Visit me again tonight
Take me away
Heal my bones
Comfort me and remind me
No matter the sins
Of our Ancestral lands
That the end
We all go home

 

In Your Eyes Now

I am in your eyes now
Fall out through some and valleys
Fall into that lost space
I am in your eyes now

Falling for formations
Motion set to pass
For I am in your eyes now

Rising sun and rising moon
Set apart and set too soon
I am in your eyes now

Too late to find a friend
One with motion, one with end
For I dream too much
And able to say as such
That I am in your eyes now

The Child

我要让孩子长成的样子

而不要我期待的样子

因为我知道孩子并不属于我

他只是经由我来到这个世界

去完成他自己的梦想和使命

I want the child to grow into the way he wants to grow into

Not what I expected

Because I know the child does not belong to me

He just came to this world through me

To complete his own dreams and missions

Break The Rules

August 5, 2016

Break the Rules 

I. Spirals 

At the farmer’s market I meet a man selling Kombucha. He says you may actually be able to alter the way your genes are expressed by certain microbes in your stomach. I say that I’m reading a book on microbes but I don’t know what it’s called. I show him the DNA on a necklace I made the Natural History Museum yesterday. There’s me – in the spit around my neck – a pure expression of who I am. A microbe is an invisible force that could change all of that in just a swig. Who ever said God wasn’t real. Who ever said invisible forces have no factor on our lives.

                   

II. Pillars of Light

The Hirshhorn Museum calls me when I’m sad and lonely. I go to feel something breathing between those empty walls. I go with the hope that I can walk out less confused.

Three years ago, I came to interview in DC for a spot to teach in rural China. I walked into the Hirshhorn to find the museum was featuring art from the Chinese dissident Ai Wei Wei. Children’s backpacks lined the ceiling to count the dead in the Sichuan earthquake. A middle finger flicked off the White House and Tiananmen Square. The Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium was big enough to hold the whole world inside to compete and oppressive enough to trap its creator under house arrest without a passport. Off to the land of “tofu-brick” buildings that crumble under corruption. Away from the swamp where the student’s from schools built in the early 1900s remain almost as segregated as they did upon the building’s conception. 

Today, I watch while a museum security guard tells a couple how to stand between two pillar-shaped mirrors in order to show their reflection. I ignore the exhibits’ large white canvases covered in tiny dots. If an order of dots is what’s to come, I suppose I find it more frightening than Ai Wei Wei’s dystopia. At least there, I found hope amidst the rubble.

III. The Tower

A man is playing guitar across from Trump Tower.

I turn to him, in a burst of angst. Make him go away!

Vibration warrior, knock this tower down.

“Yes girl, this is my protest!” 

I day dream on my bike ride back about a boy I met once who did street art. How we may have ended up if I hadn’t wanted to follow the rules so much rather than the laws that govern this universe.

~

I get money out of the bank. The teller cannot recognize my signature.

It’s two short, I only left my initials, I tell him.  I write my name out longer.

“You can tell the counterfeiters,” he says. “They write it so delicately and with precision, but if it’s yours, you just do it naturally.”

I’m at the temple of a man who watches a million signatures a day, to a believer in the art of hands this is pure gospel.

The world is moving towards fingerprinting technology now, you know, I say. 

“But a signature, will always stay the same. You can slice off a finger but you can’t steal the way someone moves.”

~

I like to eat dinner and watch Chef’s Table. Perhaps is a phenomenon of not sitting to enjoy your own creation and needing that of another to truly feed you. Grant Schatz made food that can float and switches out strawberries for tomatoes. He lost his sense of taste to cancer and kept creating. Reborn when he took a sip of coffee after chemo, he made art on the dependence of others. It’s as if he said, “Look what I can make. Now let’s see if I still love how you look with my eyes closed.”