Celebrating my ordinary self

I’ve had an interesting time looking at myself these past few months. While I was unemployed I swam almost every day. The upside was that I felt great; the downside was that I got skin cancer in the middle of my darned face. A few dermatologist visits later, I am the proud owner of a one-inch scar on my cheek, hiding in the crease of my smile.

Age never stops, does it? Between one weekend and the next time wears away, and suddenly I’m much older.

All of the humans in my family are attractive. The Thai side goes without saying, but the caucasian side is pretty shy about their beauty. I have a few pictures that float through my memory every now and again of various aunts of mine, modeling for me how gracefully women can age. I think one day I’ll look like them, when my hair gets a little whiter. The only part of me that’s different is height. I might seem short compared to Dave, but I’m always a giant around my family.

 

Here’s half a year of selfies, photos taken in the bathroom mirror at work. Why? There are too few representations of normal humans, especially older ones, and it’s good to get accurate representations of humans out there.

 

Prompt 7: Write a fan letter to someone

One day, out of the blue, a friend mentioned that she’d just written a letter to Richard Armitage. Slightly later that day, another friend told me that she had a class assignment to write a fan letter to the author Sharon Creech. Both of these fan letters were about how the artists’ works impacted my pals in a deep and heart-felt way.

It was an interesting exercise to read the letter to Richard Armitage. The letter was soul-baring and honest, and discussed moments from my friend’s life that were especially resonant with Armitage’s work. The fan letter to Sharon Creech hasn’t been written yet, but while discussing it with me, my pal mentioned that her personality is probably modeled after Creech’s protagonists. “How do I tell her that and not feel weird?” she wondered.

In short, I think the universe is telling me to write a fan letter. I’ve rarely been moved to write fan letters, but I have written one before: it was to the author of the book Alba, to tell him that I named my child after the protagonist of his book. So, I think I’ll take a deep breath, hold my imaginary cajones, and dive right into this one… Maybe saying it to the internet will make it less difficult than saying it more privately.

Dad hiking

Dear Daddy,

I remember leaving you to catch my flight from Honolulu back to Los Angeles. You were in the not-quite-ICU ward of the hospital, and what was foremost on my mind was the worry that you’d be ignored by the nurses. It was early in the morning, but you were sitting up with a calm expression on your face.

“I’ll be okay,” you said. “This is my life now, and I’ve got to get used to it.”

I was struck pretty deeply by these words, and by the strength (mental, physical) of the person who said it. No matter what other qualms you might’ve had about what landed you in that place at that time, you were resolved to accept and work with what you were given. I think that this moment stuck with me because it was a point beyond panic or self-pity or anything negative. It turned your situation into something that simply required work, and thought, and effort, to abide with it.

You were probably putting on a bit of a front for your daughter, and I suspect this because I did it too when I had to tell Alba that I had cancer.

Still, your words and attitude stuck with me, and helped shape my own attitude toward ability and how to handle it. I began to see people in wheelchairs as the first in a pretty revolutionary wave of human cyborgs — humans who were using awesome technology to overcome the limitations of ridiculously weak flesh. But what’s important is that I stopped feeling fear or sorrow or anything negative about people who need additional technology to live. I just see them as human, creative humans, like you, me, everyone.

Anyway, this is my fan letter to you, Daddy. I have other heroes, obviously, and one is definitely Debbie, who is a strong part of helping to solve this complex puzzle of how to exist in a world when the usual functions of a body need to be enhanced and mitigated by science. But I will save those heroes for letters of their own. So thank you, for always being the person who has led me in my philosophical approach to life and adversity, and for striving to live with (rather than despite) this bunch of life lessons.

Love and respect,

Your kid.

Walking machine

Prompt 6: Do you have a Plan? Do you need a Plan?

I am very anti-whining in journal writing. I live in the first world and have enough to eat, a house that I’m working on owning, and a family that isn’t dead from disease or war. I’ve had enough medicine to treat my diseases, a hospital to tend to me during childbirth, an infrastructure that’s invested in making sure my child learns things, and all sorts of stuff that money can buy (books, a car, pretty clothing, complicated telephones). This is my biggest and best caveat for what I have to say in this blog. Don’t think for a moment that I don’t appreciate what I have!

That being said, I must admit that my childhood is probably responsible for my perspective on making plans for the future. Growing up, my family moved every few years, and this constant, restless motion kind of curtailed my ability to think farther than two or three years down the road.

One summer I was parked at my grandmother’s house in upstate New York while my parents were trying to figure out whether or not to get divorced. I believe I was in fourth grade, about to go into fifth.

“Can I join the school choir?” I asked Grandma Stone hopefully.

“No, because you’ll probably be back in Hawaii soon.”

My parents stayed together for a year or two after that, but on different islands.

“Can I have a cat?” I asked my dad.

“No, because I’m not sure we’ll still be on this island next year,” my dad replied.

We spent a lot of time living in limbo because the future was uncertain, and my parents did the very best that they could with this uncertainty.

~

The more I live, the more I comprehend how realistic it is to live in this kind of limbo, and how smart it was for my parents to curtail any kind of investment in thinking about the future, by pointing out that we had no idea what would happen the very next year.

Does anyone, really?

That’s why, when I hear about people making one, three, and five-year plans for the future, I feel astounded. How do they know that a tsunami won’t roll in and flatten their town, or that their field of work won’t suffer a sudden, astronomical decline (like, what if you’re one of the guys that wrangles mules for the mule-pulled riverboats, and steamboats just got invented?), or that they’ll get hit with a disease?

When I got to college, I realized that the people around me were planning for their futures by going into medicine or law or journalism, while I decided to dive straight into what I enjoyed the most. After all — I could die, or maybe the earth could be flattened by a stray chunk of meteor, or the university could come crashing down around us. Why not study what I loved?

One of my majors was English, the other was something I invented myself — Jungian studies, basically. I studied the very useless field of psychology and myth, happily playing around with the idea that psychology invents itself perfect stories called “religion” to help humans feel more at peace with the catastrophic nature of all the unknowns in the world.

While pursuing this topic, I found the best possible religion for myself — Taoism. I bought myself a pocket-sized edition of Stephen Mitchell’s Tao one day, and I’ve carried the poor battered thing around me ever since. (Wait, I lied. I gave away the first one that I owned to someone that I thought would resonate with it, and bought myself a new one.)

The Tao fit into my mind and heart well, because it bowed immediately to the mutability of all existence. It did the opposite of requiring a plan — in fact, it advocated for giving up on all plans, because they’re all futile in the face of so much ungovernable reality:

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

I don’t have a plan, and I don’t think I’ll ever have a plan. Plans get in the way of adapting to reality. When I get to the end of life and look back and scratch my head at how utterly random my life has been, I think I’ll shrug my shoulders and laugh like a Chinese master. I didn’t live life so much as let life live me.

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

Nothing is impossible for him.
Because he has let go.

Today’s prompt feels kind of roughly written and dubious in emotional resolution, but that’s life.