The Obligation of Beauty

It took me over a quarter of a century to realize beauty is not something frivolous. We need beauty in our life. The truth still takes my breath away. With no particular aesthetic gift or impulse, I was for much of my life satisfied if my purchases were functional. They didn’t have to be pretty. And so neither did I, because my brain got me around. It was my mind, not my appearance, that helped me achieve in school and life and build relationships. I now look with patience upon the black-and-white assertions we draw in youth.

In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert borrows from The Italians by Luigi Barzini to tease out “why the Italians have produced the greatest artistic, political and scientific minds of the ages, but have still never become a major world power. [His answers] have to do with a sad Italian history of corruption…and dominators…which has generally led Italians to draw the seemingly accurate conclusion that nobody and nothing in this world can be trusted. Because the world is so corrupted…one should trust only what one can experience with one’s own senses. This is why Italians will tolerate hideously incompetent generals, presidents, tyrants, professors, bureaucrats, journalists and captains of industry, but will never tolerate incompetent opera singers, conductors, ballerinas…actors, cooks, tailors…In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible. And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real. To devote yourself to the creation and enjoyment of beauty, then, can be a serious business – not always necessarily a means of escaping reality, but sometimes a means of holding on to the real when everything else is flaking away into rhetoric and plot.”

She goes on to describe how deep in the ruins of her marriage, she began to mend her soul by reading aloud Italian words out of a dictionary. I can relate. After my body broke down from stress and overwork in my 20s, I noticed flowers for the first time. I had never seen them grace the cities I lived in. Too busy with things that mattered like studies and work, I had never looked. But in my frailty, I was ravished by their beauty, the force of their color. My spirit had fractured open, worn and thirsty for something beyond the dictates of duty. Eager for a song, not just the beat of the clock I raced. I didn’t understand why I took so hungrily to the flowers I had by practice dismissed. It took me years to realize that beauty is healing. And so the lyrical, sexy Italian sounds out of her mouth brought Gilbert healing joy. She says “the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one’s humanity…You were given life; it is your duty…to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”

I would take it a step further. Beauty is the very fabric of our world. Yes, we’ve screwed things up with crime, war, destruction, and the abuse of our natural resources. But beauty dances in the pageantry of the sunset and of the cosmos (who said Jupiter had to be so beautiful??), in the languages of men. Some days the California sky is so magnificent, the clouds coiffed with a panache which in a painting would look overdone, too perfect. Beauty wasn’t an artful afterthought to this world. She obligated herself upon us. Beauty isn’t something to find. She is the substance of this earth and wants to show her imprint in our life.

How does this belated dawning translate in my life? While I remain impressed with women who match head to toe, my regard for them is largely what I hold for curious lab specimens. I was taken by my mother-in-law’s response when I thanked her for a recent gift card saying I’ll get something to look pretty in for her son. “Get something nice to be pretty for yourself. Life is short. Someday, you will realize that you don’t have much time left over to enjoy what you have now.” I was reminded that while vanity is one thing, self-respect is another and taking care with my appearance is good for the soul. The series on beauty that’s around the corner will take us through the body, spirit, femininity, relationships, love, memory, pain, suffering, art. Please welcome the guests who have worked hard over their stories and are still bleeding from the edits because beauty is worth it.

If I Die

I remember watching my grandfather bury my grandmother’s ashes on our family’s farm twenty-five years ago. It was November, upstate New York, a cold winter’s evening. We…all walked behind my grandfather through the purple evening shadows across the familiar meadows, out to the sandy point by the river’s bend where he had decided to bury his wife’s remains. He carried a lantern in one hand and a shovel over his shoulder. The ground was covered with snow and the digging was hard work – even for such a small container as this urn, even for such a robust man as Grandpa Stanley. But he hung the lantern on a naked tree limb and steadily dug that hold – and then it was over. And that’s how it goes. You have somebody for a little while, and then that person is gone.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

Honey, I realized that if I die first you’ll want to do a slide show. I’ll have to get together some childhood photos. You know which song to use, the one that makes me cry. Be sure to send the slide to my East Coast friends. I don’t want to be laid out for the viewing, okay? Close the box, please. I would appreciate some privacy. And you know me. Don’t even look at the first-class caskets. No sense in burying your money with your wife. I insist on traveling Economy. Oh gosh, the eulogy. Oh gosh, your grammar. Uh…why don’t we give the words over to our pastor? Or…or Jon? You’ll be busy with the preparations anyway. Let me leave you with at least this token of peace: you have my blessing to remarry. Someone who will love you better than I did and make me look bad. I gotta let go my ego sometime – but ONLY if she is good to Tennyson and will mind my food blog for his meals. Gee, I hope she’s not A.D.D. I would approve if she has kids, if he can get instant siblings out of the deal. ‘S me, bargain-hunting through the end.

I don’t want you to cry too much. I mean that. You live while you can. But remember to hold our son when he spills those tears. Tell him Umma is happier than she’s ever been, that she’s finally had the reunion that burst her heart with joy. And that she asked the Lord for the dog-free section, the food’s organic, and there are no dishes. You always thought I was marketable, saw my name in literary lights. And here I probably leave you with no royalties or anything for all the writing you freed me up for. You’re right. You should’ve taken out the life insurance on me. But you’ll always have A Holistic Journey, one that never ends. I hope your wife’s not the jealous type. Just please make sure Tennyson reads this blog, my gift to him. Tell him the one thing I ask of him, the one thing I ask to redeem all my work with him, is the drumming. It would please me so much for him to get a college scholarship. I never planned to burden the boy, but what can he expect? Korean Mom. A little pressure doesn’t hurt. Save my rings for his wife.

Husband’s email yesterday: “Remember, if you die, I’m vaccinating him, putting him in public school, feeding him fast food, and putting him to bed without washing his hands after the bathroom.”

Dear God,
Tennyson’s on autopilot with the hand-washing but I still REFUSE to see you in the next ten years.

Bull-headed in California, aka Holistic Wayfarer


The Song:

I May Be a Man

What is UP with the drama? Look, I don’t need any. See me way over here sitting quietly on the end of the girly, feminine spectrum? I don’t wear make-up, hate shopping, clip these nails the moment they’re long enough to go. If you want to torture me, force me to endure a bridal or baby shower and make me play the games – your idea of fun. I have nothing to add to inane talks about your favorite TV shows because I’m a bore who doesn’t watch TV or movies. I’d rather be writing a book on the meaning of life. Are you getting this? My head’s in the sand, I’m not a busybody, I don’t know pop culture, I don’t gossip. And I still attract drama.

Because I am a woman.

Ugh! The sad part is it doesn’t matter that I am confident and secure. Problem is the insecure mamas don’t like that. Whether it’s watching how I take care of my son or seeing that I would cook for them! I mean, who in the world would slam you because you sent over a surprise dinner made with love? Only women. Can you imagine men being so convoluted? They’re not multilingual. They don’t count facial expressions, pauses, intonation as their own language. So the first minute of chatting with a friend, guys haven’t just broken out in four languages. Oh, to be a man! When life is as simple as the pork juice on your chin and the beer bite on your tongue. To be able to say yes and no and know your buddy is not saying no and no. To enjoy the peace of mind that a few minutes of exchange will never spin into a saga. Why in the world did I spend those months investigating the sport of fighting, wondering why men punched one another and then hugged? I so wish I could use my martial arts on a woman who pisses me off, shake hands, know she’s good, I’m good, all is well with the world and then have some honest fun with her in a mean game of bball on the court the next week. Only with women could a BFFship of years dissolve in one hard acid day.

And how do you men take your nice, strong arm and sweep the clutter of To Dos off your mental table? It’s a gift – the amazing ability to check in with yourself, distill competing voices down to your need in the moment. Why did I ever complain of your one-track mind? Food, sex, game that’s on, sleep. You just roll over, close those eyes, and…”Honey? Honey? I was saying –” You’re gone. Way off in a deep sea of sweet nothingness. I’m jealous. I’m stupid. I mean, why wouldn’t I want sex or sleep? Ah, but I happen to be sitting on the million-dollar answer. Hostage to hormones. People say that time of the month like it’s one day. It can run a week, people. And that’s all just the fun prelude to the bloody show. Did you know many of us also feel discomfort and can get emotional when we ovulate? How many clear and free days does that leave us in the month? I’m pleased not to be one of those women who’re able to call up tears at will. But catch me on the right days and I’m a bawling mess. Weeks like this, I’m not sure which is worse. To be a woman or to have to live with one.


The Color of Make-Believe

What color is make-believe?
It is the color of time that never runs out,
the sun streaming over a land where
children are kings and queens,
It is the heart of Middle-earth

The color of Cinderella’s tears,
the color of beauty who loved the beast
Pinocchio’s lies and the virtue of knights,
the spell of witches and hope in the
Wizard of Oz, a magic carpet ride

It is the color of your cape.

What color is make-believe?
It is the color of Mom’s laughter unbridled
with burden, the color of ache
she buries in loving memory
It is her morning song

It is the color of her wildest
dreams come true.

Your Place in the Virtual Revolution

This post is for parents, bloggers, Facebookers, anyone who’s stuck a foot out on Cyberland. In our talk about belonging, we seemed to think in terms of the social Haves and Have-nots. Many of you spoke of the self-consciousness of often feeling on the fringe. Some shared you were too fat or too this or too that to fit in, others that you never even figured out why you always seemed to find yourself on the outside. I wanted to bring to attention something that’s as right in your face as the computer or phone screen in front of you. The Internet has given every one of us the power to lead. It has made us all insiders.

It’s a new day, a global Do-It-Yourself culture everyone with online access is privy to. YouTube alone is an open platform where anyone can catapult himself into stardom and not hurt himself trying. You can post the silliest, quirkiest, most informative videos and reach thousands in the least – and make as much in dollars. My husband has had the opportunity to monetize his funky YouTube tutorial on how to make Man Kimchee (kimchee made by a man, unheard of in Korean culture. No, I didn’t edit the instructions. See? You can toss basic grammar out the window and still have a shot at good money). We all have watched publishing, newspaper, music conglomerates groan as they caved, giving up a share of the power to self-publishers and bloggers. Cyberspace has become the Great People’s Republic. Alongside the question of copyright; space, boundaries, relationships have redefined themselves yielding a new profile on leaders. Here’s a snippet of a TED Talk from’s founder Seth Godin and my thoughts on the traits he believes leaders have in common:

1. They challenge the status quo. I’ve observed that high achievers in any field are always on the move, eyeing the next benchmark or creating one. They’re never static.
2. They build a culture. Leadership is less about giving orders as it is about connecting people over shared values and goals. It is the worldwide web, after all. Tribes are no longer bound by geography, no longer have to adapt to the dictate of seasons. Virtual tribes can build community across distance and time, and determine their own climate.
3. They have curiosityabout the people in the tribe, about outsiders. They’re asking questions.
4. They connect people to one another. Do you know what people want more than anything? They want to be missed. They want to be missed the day they don’t show up. Seth wasn’t clear if he meant that leaders help people feel valued or if they themselves end up missed where they leave a vacuum. But I found this a fascinating point. We want to know we count, don’t we?
5. Finally, they commit. To the cause, to the tribe.

Seth also describes leaders who have risen from the masses by sheer drive, people who outside their success are socially awkward. “You don’t need charisma to become a leader. Being a leader gives you charisma. You know, Bill [Gates] has a lot of trouble making eye contact. Bill has a lot of trouble getting a room of strangers to come around to his point of view. But now, because of the impact his foundation has had, people feel differently around him.” Interesting. People are drawn to success. Social Have-nots can actually get.

Seth points out that you don’t need permission to lead. I would add, to make a difference. “I’m not the best blogger there ever was, but I’ve been persistent at it. Anyone could’ve done what I did. But they didn’t. And we keep making the same mistake again and again where we say, Oh no, no. That’s not for me. Someone else is going to do that one. [We make] excuses from fear.” So it seems all that’s left if you hope for a voice and an audience is to deny yourself the fear and get out of your own way.

Last Sunday I hit 1000 likes on my About. A part of me finds it a pretty remarkable milestone for someone who didn’t know which way was up when she started out. If I can do this without the aid of other media platforms, you can get along farther than you think. But the rest of me isn’t starry-eyed about my numbers. Partly because I’m too tired to be impressed, partly because others out here have done that and more, partly because you quickly adjust to your new heights and press on to higher ground. Like those who’re not satisfied with just one medal, title, or mission. This last feeling is a point of transformation all its own for me because I’m not a born dreamer. I went wide-eyed as a baby blogger, seeing 200 follows on a board. And wow, how’d she rack up 75 likes? I wondered. But I’ve come to a point where I’m not concerned about the numbers anymore. They’re nice but they’ll take care of themselves. My focus is on delivering the goods and on my relationship with you. As for authenticity, at that time my About page walked itself right out of my head, decided it had to live. What in your life insists on its own breath? Give it sun and air. I plan to support my son in just about anything he wants to pursue when he’s older. But I’ll want him to stay persistent, skillful, and inimitable. Do what he wants to do beautifully, and in his own way. Leave a mark. It’s my job to provide the opportunities for him to hear what in his spirit asks to live and nurture the will for him to shoot it to the moon. The majority of us has limitations weighing on our dreams, but don’t let your self-talk be one of them. We stop making excuses for ourselves, license to achieve little, when we accept that the stars usually won’t align over our head or the red carpet run under our feet when we want to set out. We each have our pace, mine maddeningly slow most days. A dream to me feels like a painstaking tapestry of priceless minutes I thread here, braid there, working my way around this giant rock I resent that’s really just the stuff of life. We make do. Berlin isn’t the only place the Wall’s come down. We’re talking about leadership in any context but the virtual world has leveled the playing field. Take your place. Claim it. If you want to.

Lessons from My 30s

I learned not to expect anything from anyone – not even friends – but to give. Not because I don’t have amazing friends but because people are busy, have their own burden. I am grateful that anyone should stop to think of me in some way. Wish I had known earlier not to impose standards in my relationships, to free people in their weakness. Free God to grow them.

It was the decade I fell in love twice. With the man I agreed to marry and the baby boy I found myself cradling. I realized my guys have been my 30s. With an I.V. needling sustenance into my broken body on my 30th birthday, I had yet to imagine I would meet my husband the following year – on the dance floor. While some of the most excruciating trials darken this period of my history, these 10 years have been the best. That I should be given a companion to come alongside, hold me up and provide for me, depend on me in the mundane. That I should experience the ineffable wonder of growing a person inside and bringing forth that life from my own body. My hands, given to help fashion a mind and soul, feed and grow health in the person God had knit in my womb.

It was the decade I lost myself. When I plunged headlong into motherhood, Diana disappeared – in her stead a little guy’s personal Hometown Buffet. Everything-From-Scratch MOM. Homeschooler. Walking Unmade Bed, way too tired to care about looking presentable.

P1030732Better late than never: on the threshold of the next decade, I began to recover that self. I hadn’t realized how I’d let myself go until I lopped off the hair that was brushing my low back last fall. I—felt—human. Eating right did not exempt me from looking okay. A photo of me and Holistic Husband when it was the two of us presents a woman accessorized and made up. Make-up? I’d forgotten I not only once wore it, but sold it. Sigh. Last month I parted with the clothes I’d worn over 12 years. Closet bare! Thank God for Winter Clearance. With the testimony of earrings and a top that doesn’t hang on me just because it was a freebie from a friend, I now pass for a female. I blow the dust off the gifts that shape me, so I can serve God the way I was meant to.

With the intent studies in health and natural living, I came to understand how to eat the way my body needs to. Sixteen years in the formal education system impart absolutely no working knowledge of two of the weightiest matters in life: how to eat and how to manage money. I can see why Israel’s desert wanderings lasted 40 years. Some lessons take that long. I’ve learned the kind of care my body needs. How relationships and my response to life affect me.

I’ve developed a compassion entirely alien to my nature and temperament. Hard to go through near-death training and have no empathy for those who suffer. It’s been one dogged climb against a steady rain of impossible setbacks. One step forward for every 2, 3 in reverse. I can’t figure the math on how I’ve ended up on higher ground, except for the grace of God and the stints of running He’s blessed. I have plumbed unchartered dimensions of heartache and blackness. Laid bare the nemesis fear, have come to see just how deeply it runs beneath upsets.

It was the decade I should have known better. Paid heavily for some stupid decisions. But there is no stumbling block that cannot transform into a stepping stone.

Why I Run

You might run for the thrill. You sail into the zone, keep on like you’re under a spell. I wish it came so naturally to me, wish these limbs would move with knowing.

I run because I was terrible at it. And I’m less terrible the more I do it. I run to silence the aspiration for what’s easy. To teach my body to endure, hold on just a little longer. I run to meet my weaker self head on – conquer her on strong legs Treadmill2so I limp less under my load. I sprint for the fullness of being alive because I often forget how to live. I remember the power of simplicity. I jog to find my pace and cadence. I run to take ownership of myself and to stretch my reserve. I run to claim every day that is mine.

I run because good enough isn’t good enough.


See me wrestle? Why I Sweat


Carry You In The Rain

Your toe broke through the sole of your shoe. I didn’t want you stepping on the cold, wet ground. I put you on my back – my boy almost seven – and had trouble walking. A friend of mine was with us and we peeped our head into several restaurants, more like run-down bars, for a new shoe. We left the row of shops and stood on a threshold, facing the pavement. I cradled you.

I would carry you in the rain.

You grew a few years smaller in my arms. As I asked my friend to cover your face with your blue jacket, you slipped into bed with me, pulled me out into the fresh, dry morning. The first thing you asked was what I’d dreamt.

Last week you mused, “I wonder what’s inside the sun, Umma. I want to see.” You expressed this so imploringly. Should I not have told you that you will burn? Should I have left you to dream impossible dreams? Did I kill your wondering?

The other day you took car tracks bereft of the remote and car, and turned them into a runway for your plane. The delight on your face when the plane took off. And Daddy and I had wanted to get rid of the tracks. You blow me away. Life blows you away.

I forget why I keep you close, teach you at home. To free you to stand on your slab of questions and ingenuity, ready to run into the sun. I know that this side of dreams, there’ll be no carrying you in the rain.




My Race, Coast to Coast: Part 1

I designed this series because I thought it’d be interesting to glimpse stories from around the globe. But I felt almost apologetic writing my own; I didn’t consider my tale really worth telling. Then I warmed to the rich potential this project held out as a forum for safe, honest talk about our biases and personal struggles.

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I prefer Asian-American or Korean-American. I grew into the American part with time so I speak of myself as a Korean kid looking back on my childhood, but it bugs me to have to check “Asian” on forms. Tip-toeing on politically correct ground, we don’t call black people Africans in the States but acknowledge their American status. I don’t know why Asian-Americans are not accorded the same respect. Actually, I do know. We are not vocal about it.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I live in California. My family joined the biggest tide of emigration that brought South Koreans to America in the 70s. After the formative years in New York City, I went to Pennsylvania for college. I ended up nesting there until the move across the country 13 years ago. Given the diversity in major American cities I didn’t notice significant cultural differences between them, at least ethnically.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

My childhood in NYC was your unoriginal melting pot. From neighborhood to school and city, we had white, Hispanic, Black, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and of course many Koreans. My neighborhood was so motley that it was in fact homogenous when I started my school career; it was only as an adult that I realized how unusual it was that my first grade class was all Korean – under the tutelage of the only Korean teacher in all of NYC at the time. (I won’t get into whether she would’ve insisted on the -American.) Mrs. Cho was Korean and Americanized, one fully immersed in her culture but comfortable and proficient with the mores of this country. Because I was still clinging to my native language at seven, Mrs. Cho sent me out for a season of English as a Second Language services.

I was at ease with fellow Korean immigrants but as you’d expect, there was plenty of race consciousness on everyone’s part. I didn’t escape being called chink in elementary and walking home one time, was slurred with a kick for good measure. This, by two white girls I saw all the time. It was older black or Hispanic kids who wrested your bike from you and made off with it on our street – not older Asian kids. The Mexicans didn’t blare mariachi with the Chinese. Life was what it was. It would’ve been weird for the neighborhood to go all white. I wouldn’t call what we lived with tension so much as it was subtle racial abrasion. But for the most part there was peace. We had subcommunities in high school too, though there were the kids who mingled. The magnet school I went to was over 50% Asian-American, the majority Korean. So I obviously didn’t have much occasion to feel left out the first two decades of my life.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. It could be a scene with strangers, the park, school, work. Could have been subtle feelings you recognized or a blatant attack of bigotry. If it was a season or chapter in your life, tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

Straight out of college, I ended up one of three Korean-American teachers in a Philadelphia school. But the diversity of the city represented in staff and students kept me from thinking twice about myself as a minority. On a field trip one day with my class, I was struck seeing a line of golden-haired children from another school. It was the first time I really noticed I was Asian – and this, in my early 20s. It vaguely crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be as comfortable teaching that class.

Two years later I transfered to a neighboring district where I felt the keen finger of self-consciousness as never before. White upper-middle class suburb, old money. In the meetings that prefaced the start of school, I found I was one of two Korean-American teachers among the 100 in the entire district. My African-American principal was a colored minority. Ten percent of the students in my school were Asian and as few black. In other words, I felt very Asian surrounded by staff, parents, and students. The Korean kids lit up and greeted me when I passed by even if they were not on my roll. As the Gifted and Talented Education instructor, I was a status symbol and my principal said it was important that those children see themselves in me. Despite the politeness of many teachers, I did feel awkwardly different among them. When a group of us went out to try some Korean food, I saw for the first time the profound, basic relationship of food to culture. Those who passed nervously on the invitation gave away their indifference to the Korean culture, and to me.

Others were outright mean, even conspired to get me, and things eventually came to a dramatic head. Though it’s hard to say, the malice didn’t seem fueled by racism as it was by the position I held. Suffice it to say I was a walking omen of more paperwork for the classroom teachers. Anyone who stepped into my position was doomed because, servicing the high achievers in the whole school, I worked with everyone and no one. As a specialist, I had no colleagues by grade to team with. The cultural distinction felt sharper for their rejection.

My sense of self was not shaken. It never has been. I enjoyed deep friendships with teachers who shared my faith and also knew the kindness of those who didn’t – some black, some white. I’m not sure how I handled that sense of separation from the masses. I kept my head high, even managed to break through some walls and feel accepted by some cliques though I refrained from trying very hard. I also refused to stoop to the level of my enemies. Not one retort, confrontation, or curse escaped my lips though I can’t count the times I came hairline close. I had dirt on them, too. But this way, I had won. No one could accuse me of a bad word. And in time, they were served their due. I have never looked back on those few years with anything but a dull negativity. As trying as it was, I now feel it was good for me to have experienced the cold heat of exclusion. The real world isn’t a bubble and if you insist on staying in one, it’ll burst on you. I’d say it’s important for those who usually sit among the white majority to have to work through this sense of isolation at some point, too. Of course I don’t mean we should perpetuate hatefulness across racial lines. But some discomfort out of complacency challenges us to grow.

Continued in Part 2.

What If You Weren’t Afraid?

Fear dictates a lot of what we do, say, and don’t. Over the years, my husband and I have peeled back the face of harsh words, avoidance, and everything in between to lay bare this tyrant in the heart. The things I want from him will often lead back to my fear of finding myself out in the cold with hat in hand. In those moments I’m the little girl her parents let down, even while I now understand that they had done their best. Holistic Husband will hesitate to share with me what he really thinks, afraid of rejection. I am short with my boy for shedding clothes outside because I am afraid he will get sick. Not a 100 pounds, I could not relate to anyone with eating disorders. Until a few years ago when I showed myself I could overeat. I knew better. I was the health and nutrition consultant among moms, with over a decade of study under her belt. The worst thing you can do with your food is do too much of it. I realized something wild. Though my husband spared no expensive to meet our needs, the compulsive eating started from fear of going hungry.

There are many things we hold back from trying, scared to fail. We worry about what others will think and end up spouting dumb words or holding back when we should speak up. The wind of peer pressure blows on our kids everyday, right through the morning window when they decide what to wear before pushing them toward and away from other kids.

How would these things look different in your life, if you were not afraid?

Your relationship with your sweetheart
How you parent
The people you tend to befriend
The relational boundaries you draw
How passive or aggressive you are in conflict
How often you say no
How and why you study
What you would say in a job interview
Where you work
How you work, the hours you put in
Your relationship with your self, in exercise or ways you nurture your body and spirit
Your eating
Your career
Your blogging
Your art
Your dance
How and what you write
What you buy
The goals you set
Add your own.

Feel free to think before getting back to me.

Greatness, Part 5: Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem

A friend sent me an enlightening, provocative New York Magazine article on how praising kids for being smart often backfires and ends up straitjacketing them to fear of failure. It spoke to me not only as a parent of a boy fairly fresh on the path of formal education, but as the studious girl whose achievements were marked by a curious mix of confidence and anxiety. The ten-year string of studies on the effects of praise spearheaded by psychologist Carol Dweck at Columbia (now at Stanford) University also shed light on the aspects of overachieving I have been exploring here: persistence, assurance, motivation, talent. I will extract the key points on “the inverse power of praise,” and while I usually don’t refer readers to anything but short articles or video, this ones well worth the time if you can manage.

A sizable portion of gifted students, the very ones who grew up hearing they are smart, apparently lack confidence and will keep to the safer road of doable tasks rather than set out for the hill that promises challenge.

According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart…The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short. But recent landmark studies make the case that labeling kids just this way might actually cause them to underperform.

In one of her ground-breaking experiments with 400 New York fifth graders, Dweck took the students out of the classroom one at a time for an IQ test in the form of puzzles that pretty much guaranteed success. The students were divided into two random groups, one praised at the end for the kids’ intelligence, the other for effort. The children then chose a test for the second round. They were told that they’d learn a lot from the one that was more difficult. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The ‘smart’ kids took the cop-out. Why did this happen? When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes. And that’s what the fifth graders had done. They’d chosen to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed.

In a following round, students were offered no choice. The test actually designed for kids two grades higher set them up for failure. A marked difference in response lay between the groups. The ones who were initially praised for their effort assumed they had not worked hard enough and went on to tackle the puzzles vigorously. Many actually commented that it was their favorite test. The kids who had been praised for their smarts sunk into obvious misery. Of course they took their failure to mean they really were not bright after all.

Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can controlEmphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.” Dweck found this effect of praise on performance held true for students of every socioeconomic class. It hit both boys and girls – the very brightest girls especially.

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me is their unflagging confidence and trust in my abilities. It was in my working years that I saw just how deep their affirmation rooted me in the self-assurance people sensed of me even when I was growing up. I was praised for being smart before the days of memory, but I also was an assiduous student who suffered migraines for taking elementary school so seriously. My mother not only vouched for my intellect, but urged me to work as hard as I could. I remember the time I cried in apology when she demanded to know why I had brought home only a 98% on the test. Today, she has nothing but remorse for the years she faked pride for disappointment to push me to my uttermost.

Dweck slowly began to make sense of my confusing dance with ambition. Through all the praise from family, friends, and teachers, fear of failure –  the devil on my shoulder – goaded me with the pitchfork to double-check all homework instructions with my friend who really was smart. I distrusted myself. Just before a piano recital in the junior high orchestra, my fingers would freeze both in temperature and mobility. I didn’t answer a call-back on the first audition for the sophomore musical in high school. I rejected the role before anyone could reject me. When my Latin and Linguistics professors later encouraged me to pursue a PhD, I rued having fooled them into thinking I was so capable. My mother wondered in exasperation why I volleyed every career suggestion with “it’s too hard.”  I set my standards so high that I couldn’t meet them.

To describe my metamorphosis in thinking would warrant a separate post. In brief: after teaching in the public schools, I ended up consulting a Harvard professor for a possible PhD track in language, literacy, and culture, and sat in on her doctoral class. I was 27 when I took part in that fun discussion, just before deciding on life under California’s sun. It’s doubtful I would’ve been admitted to the venerable institution, but the life-changing shift in confidence that came about largely at the encouragement of the last principal I worked with was an unlocking inside. Slim chance, but why not dream — and try? It seems what had locked me in the first place was likely the praise over my innate ability that had attended my youth. But when trepidation gives way to boldness, amazing things can happen. Because this release came so late for me, I am fascinated by people who dream bigger than the life they’ve known. My uncertainties in myself did not arise from low self-esteem. I always had a strong sense of self. The article describes how that great emperor of modern psychology, the credence of self-esteem, was found to have no clothes on.

From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything – from sex to career advancement…results often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 The Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature…Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standard…Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves)…Baumeister said his findings were ‘the biggest disappointment of [his] career.’

I groaned to be told in graduate school and teacher professional training sessions to shower the touchy-feely you’re-so-wonderful-what-do-you-feel-today approbation all over my students. How a society, let alone a marriage, can expect to survive the sacred right of every person to nurse his, her individuality and feelings above else confounds me. (How telling that the sun does not orbit the earth.) I absolutely believe in the inherent worth of every individual, and that no child should feel unloved or unworthy – because there is no higher glory than that we bear the very image of God. Self-esteem champions who haven’t quit this page by now will differ vastly in their response to this statement of faith but wherever we draw our security from, to keep on point: giving kids credit for smarts they did not earn is to build their self-esteem on sand. Once they find themselves struggling in a more demanding setting, they “surmise they’ve been dumb all along. Their grades never recover because the likely key to their recovery – increasing effort – they view as just further proof of their failure.”

The ability to respond to repeat failure by exerting more effort – instead of simply giving up – is a trait well studied in psychology…persistence turns out to be more than a conscious act of will; it’s also an unconscious response, governed by a circuit in the brain…While putting people through MRI scans…this switch [lit] up regularly in some. On others, barely at all…The key is intermittent reinforcement…The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear. We could be priming our kids for a chemical addiction to constant reward with bribes or effusive praise that’s misdirected, hijacking their capacity to work toward goals. The greats whose accomplishments we’ve been discussing apparently have a different brain. Hear that, Opinionated Man? But the beauty of intelligence is its organic adaptability. I love how Dweck’s researchers produced improved math scores from low-achieving math students: the adults simply taught the kids that the brain is a muscle and exercising it makes us smarter.

The Little Man

The Little Man

Within eight weeks, my six-year-old has memorized over 350 facts across the subjects of science, history, Latin and English grammar, math, and geography – some in the form of long sentences. At this rate, he will go on to grow his knowledge base through the years ahead. I worried on Day 1 that I was overloading him. “What are the seven types of biomes? Grasslands, deserts, scrublands, tundra, deciduous forests, coniferous forests, tropical rainforests.” Aye yaya. Since then, I’ve discovered the brain of children expands like Mary Poppin’s bag. The more you require it to hold, the more it gladly will. With a modest estimate of 100,000 students worldwide on this Classical curriculum, my son is no exception and smarts can’t really take the credit. It’s work. And we make it fun. But there’s no getting around daily application. How do I encourage his success? The article describes the kinds of praise that do make for effective encouragement: whether it’s the number of times a hockey player checked his opponent or improved concentration on a task; sincere, specific feedback provides repeatable strategies that move one forward profitably. I’ve replaced much of the “you’re so smart” with express pleasure at effort and minilessons on the capacity of the mind.

We all love commendation, and exchange plenty of it as bloggers. In light of the research, I find my own response to kudos on the blog this year interestingly apt. I’ve said that with more talent, I could afford to work less hard. After decades of reading and writing, I only now feel like a writer. Despite the modest publishings, it’s taken me 40 years to pen my thoughts with a deep satisfaction that I have communicated my purpose. It is the pains and time I take to get it down just so that keep me on sure course. Faith in my aptitude? No. And it’s not a timorous dissent. My work may not make the ranks of the literary pantheon. But with joy, great care, and dreams I answer my calling as writer – standards higher than ever.

Greatness, Part 1: MMA and the Art of War

Even in my happy indifference to athletics, I can understand the competitor who seeks to challenge himself. The Olympian urges his body on to the moment that will redeem the years and pleasures and normalcy he had laid on the altar of glory. He bests himself in going up against the unrivaled among the nations. But men who attack one another – invite the blows and blood – and go on to fist-five or hug after beating the brains out of each other? (Right, it is women who make no sense.) Baffling brutes, I’ve thought.

A year or so after my boy had started in Mixed Martial Arts and I too had learned some moves in self-defense, I was strolling past the octagon at the gym when the sparring in there took on a startling light. Suddenly, what I’d always dismissed as irrational violence made every bit of sense and the fluid logic of the moves blew me away with its beauty. So this was the art of war.

I became intrigued by men who put themselves in harm’s way not in noble cause for their country but to test themselves under the most raw, visceral conditions they could fashion. Fascinated with these creatures of discipline – so many of them who I discovered are really nice guys – I went around the last two months asking fighters of all caliber in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, “Why do you fight?” But it was the questions under the question that pressed me. Aren’t you afraid? What do you do with that fear? What makes you spurn the bed of ease and slog through the path of greatest resistance? Are you born different from the rest of us? What is the stuff of warriors, are they born or made, and what inner battles are you fighting?

These questions played in my head during a mesmerizing rerun of the epic fight between Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the summer.

A minute and a half into the first round, and blood rains on Shogun’s face. He stays bloody to the end. By the third round, both he and Hendo have drained their reserve. Round Four, they pummel. And Hendo looks at the clock. An eloquent moment: two hundred pounds of muscle and he wonders when he can stop.

The men hang by a thread through the distance, the longest 25 minutes of their lives. As a fighter later said to me, it’s not muscle in the last round. Shogun and Hendo find themselves in the mental corner. They have given up their all and for one of them, it wouldn’t be good enough. What follows will ride on mind and will. Shogun gives Hendo a run for his money, but Hendo had done too much damage too fast from the first round not to win in the judges’ eyes. The call remains a technicality for many, fans the world over moved by the warrior spirit of both men.

Soon after, I caught some words from The Korean Zombie on the gym screen, a crash introduction to the relatively new but popular mixed martial artist who earned the nickname from his singular ability to plow through injuries and blows. Thrilled to his wildest dreams that he was slated to fight UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo, Chan Jung said, “I’m willing to put everything on the line…I would give my life to be fly1champion.” How stupid. How marvelous. Beautiful. I was enthralled. Three years he had chased the chance to take the title from the eight-year undefeated champion. I asked The Zombie in my head: What makes you define years of your life by a moment you hold in your dreams? Where does the confidence even come from, to disagree with the masses that your opponent is superior?

Aldo: “I don’t even see a chance of losing.”
Jung: “I push my opponent to his breaking point.”

I scribbled away the rest of summer, lit by the high voltage narrative.

I had the recent privilege of reaching The Zombie in Seoul, Korea. His agent Brian Rhee took the time to translate the interview and grant me a more personal acquaintance with the star. Chan, like some of the other fighters I spoke with, ended up in martial arts because he was bullied as a kid. His aunt enrolled him in Hapkido. As to the qualms, he echoed the others, “There is always the fear, but mostly of losing.” Fear of injury becomes a minor concern. After the first blow they feel, they’re good (something I don’t quite get as a woman) – the anticipation over and the adrenaline on. Beyond any anxiety over a black eye, they’re afraid of letting the coaches and themselves down. The competitor works to free himself from the fear of fear. A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor at our gym said he competes to face his fear of vulnerability and stay ahead of his insecurities.

Former UFC champion Vitor Belfort said it simply on TV, “Nothing can distract.” The Korean Zombie doesn’t just dream. He labors in the vanguard of those who breathe, beat, sweat that dream into reality with this laser beam devotion. These guys seem to live on a different plane altogether. I remain mystified. Because the art of the octagon happens out of the months and years and daily dogged minutes of self-denial. Though C.S. Lewis was speaking of spiritual appetite when he pointed out that we are far too easily pleased, his commentary captures the human spirit. We worship comfort, especially as postmoderners. I am blown away by the single-minded who take no excuses for themselves, repudiate mediocrity, forgive nothing substandard. In this case, fighters put themselves at a place that exposes what they’ve got, what they’ve worked for: they ran the extra mile or they didn’t. The cage door closes and you have two guys hell bent on winning. No one trains to lose. They force each other to their best. The contenders risk it all before a watching a world. And the months of toil can all go down in seconds. It hit me (pun intended) that this death grip on commitment resonates with me for the crazy work ethic Koreans have branded themselves by.

I had to puzzle out the deepest answer I sought from the interviews. The men told me, “I fight because it’s what I love. What I’m good at. The thrill of victory, the arm going up.” But why do you have to punch someone in the face to feel so good?

If man ever did evolve he stopped over 2,000 years ago. I realized MMA is not so new. I am watching the Spartan warrior and the Roman gladiator in the most primal fight for self-preservation. History is battle, the fiercest of physical arguments over land and power. My son has been learning, “Assyria falls to Babylon, Babylon to Persia, Persia falls to Alexander the Great.” The Conquerer has been redefining boundaries – of space and within himself – since ancient times and on he goes. Man’s quest for greatness.

The current of the past carries these fighters on to their future. Competitor Phillip Brown is not only chasing his dream but living it. He stays present so that the training is not only a movement toward possibility but joy: “You wake up and realize it’s already tomorrow. You feel really alive. It’s a presence. All your hard work has paid off. All those minutes on the bag, all those tap-outs in practice. Tap-out means I need to get better. Martial arts is the art of bettering oneself. When that cage door shuts, I’m exactly where I wanna be: win, lose, or draw.” How many of us know exactly where we want to be?

Part of my fascination with these contenders stems from the mystery of the Other. They are as talented with their body as they look and talk so differently from me. After a year’s sorry attempt in Self-Defense, I discovered I have as much survival instinct as I do coordination. But I’m drawn to the sport for the resonance; I fill with hope and pride in people who seek excellence in their craft, partly for this very pursuit in the roles I have played as mother, as writer. Whether or not I have been successful remains a different matter. But what I asked the competitors were really parenting questions that continue to replay themselves. How much do I push my son in freeing him (to borrow from Gloria Vanderbilt) to follow his bliss? How do I encourage him to refuse distractions from his purpose? How to reconcile the wisdom of balance with the virtues I prize: stamina, discipline, passion? You lose, sometimes excise, a part of yourself for the greater gain on the hot trail of dreams.

Fighting doesn’t make you great.  Even winning does not necessarily, and indeed it is the heart of gold that marks the knight. Obviously greatness begs definition, but to offer one isn’t my goal in this series so much as to examine its different faces through the lives of achievers in their element.

“The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream.”  Benjamin Mays (1894-1984), American minister and educator

Enjoy the Wayfarer in MMA action here – most notably not in her element.

The Real Reasons I Blog

1. To ward off dementia.

2. Stay in touch with my roots. No such thing as overworking with Koreans. Rest? Psh. That’s what the grave is for.

3. You’ve saved me money on therapy. I didn’t have to go this year.

4. I don’t want to clean. Who in their right mind would choose mopping and dusting over THIS?

5. It’s my one rightful obsession. I don’t drink, smoke, go on shopping sprees, or get pedicures. You gotta give me sOmething.

6. I can be as anal as I want and people like me for it. Go figure.

7. I’m repressed. Parents didn’t let me stay out at night. I get to party ’round the clock as the comments roll in.

8. I hand out advice on stuff: blogging, life, men and women. And all these people think I’m for real.

9. It’s my only chance at keeping up with technology. I’m terrified to tweet, annoyed with Facebook, have yet to go near an iPod, hate texting.

10. I haven’t had this much fun since…since…
*Slump* Pathetic. (Time for my next pick-me-up post.)

German Wardrobe

The conversations at the table continued around me. Work place, I caught. Ten o’clock. Or was that eight in the evening? I was still learning how to use a twenty-four hour clock rather than a.m. and p.m. At least I was certain it was Donnerstag: Thursday, because every Thursday my German boyfriend and I met his friends for dinner.

I was a body taking up space.

In the beginning everyone had spoken English out of consideration for me, but I knew I needed to get used to hearing and hopefully speaking German. “Please,” I’d insisted. “Just go ahead and talk German. It’ll force me to learn the language faster.”

I was dismayed by the consequences. They took me at my word, and no one had spoken another syllable of English to me. For weeks I sat through get-togethers and meals unable to take part. I picked at my food, nursed my drinks or gulped them and ordered more.

“Is it hard for you to have to listen to us? Can you understand much yet?” Rolf repeated.

I realized that someone had spoken to me – in English. Everyone at the table looked at me, waiting for an answer.

“Well, Rolf,” I answered, “I’ve been trying to follow you all. I try to get a paragraph and if I can’t, I listen for a sentence. If that doesn’t work, I try to hear phrases, or words. “And,” I added, “if all else fails, I amuse myself by imagining everyone sitting at the table without any clothes on.”

“Oh!” Rolf exclaimed. The table went silent, and everyone suddenly looked alert.

“Honey,” my boyfriend patted my shoulder, “I think you’ve had enough wine.”

After that evening my language skills increased dramatically. My boyfriend’s friends made a point of including me in every conversation each time we met. No one was quite sure whether my comment had been a joke…and I never told them.


Jadi at Jadi Campbell


I See You

Holistic Wayfarer:

We need more health care professionals like this. Touching post.

Originally posted on Nurse Kelly:


Truth can not only be found in obvious places in the world, but also in some of the most obscure.

I arrived at the agency promptly at 7:00 a.m. as planned. I was meeting with Tina to discuss the day’s caseload prior to heading out with her on her rounds of assigned patients, actually friends, no – family, to Tina.

Tina was written up one day on the hospital floor where she worked for a medication incident. It was filed with her state’s nursing board and disciplinary action ensued. Once this happens to a nurse, the action is placed on their permanent record, made public, and is posted on the board’s website. It is very difficult to have this action removed from the permanent record because it is seen as information that protects the public. Tina was not able to secure another job in a hospital, but was hired by a home health care…

View original 1,010 more words

Walking Solo

I hated my life. My first teen year passed in fear. My parents struggled to make ends meet. Our meager diet left me skeletal and my physical weakness made me a target at school in a tough neighborhood.

Father then found a job in Mississippi in a rural town nestled on the banks of the Pearl River with only 300 residents at the time. I was happy to move there. I was only a child. I still held on to ridiculous hope that all my fears were behind me.

I started the eighth grade that year determined to make new friends and start fresh. The other students walked past me, unaware of my awkward newness. They were very tight with each other. I could see how happy they were as we all collected together before class. Socialization was a concept I didn’t understand. That first year, I never enjoyed more than a passing conversation. I grew silent and retreated inside myself. I had no distractions. My grades placed me in the top of my class. That further isolated me. It wasn’t a new experience.

Each day, lessons were imparted by teachers who never addressed me or looked into my eyes. Exploring the woods and creek behind my house filled my emptiness with adventure. My noisy mind was the only place conversation echoed.

In time, good friends entered my sanctuary and listened politely at the rantings of my fantastical dreams. They couldn’t stay long. I understood. My life was intended as a solitary journey and the friends that walked with me were a cherished memory when they left.

Daniel at Hyperion Sturm

American Raised In Chains

“Why do you always have so many bruises on your legs?” my third grade teacher asked.  I stared at my desk, my hands twisting in my lap.  I tried to will her away and simultaneously hoped she would come closer. If she had looked under the designer clothes she would have seen the open lash marks where he had whipped my backside.  Some were still oozing and my underwear stuck in the wounds.  “I fall a lot,” I replied quietly.  People rarely asked questions.  They were blinded by our upper-middle class two-parent home, the manicured lawn, my white skin.  Evil couldn’t exist behind my straight-A record, my perfect piano and dance competitions, and the expensive clothes.  Even I had learned to keep the illusion intact.  A gun to my head, knives to my throat, blows to my body, the snap of a bone.  Yes, I had learned my lesson well.  My eyes remained on my desk and I refused to answer any more questions.  Unseeing, she walked away.

My head stayed bowed in his presence.  A backhand for disrespect was the price of raising my eyes.  I spoke when told, I thought as taught.  My favorite color prescribed, the clothes I wore chosen, my food forced upon me or withheld to suit his pleasure.  My smile so ugly I was required to cover it with my hand.  So stupid I was recorded so I could hear for myself.  I couldn’t learn for myself who I was.

We sat in a church pew.  I sang in the choir.  Honor Roll awards, band performances.  They saw a suburban dream.  Yet, before I was in first grade he taught me to submit to a man’s lust.  Child pornography, child rape, and then being sold — these were my truths.   He would make me pose for pictures, then give me “treats” and tell me I was a whore because I took them.  I was 11 the day I finally learned the meaning of the word.  It seared my soul.

In a bar he made me dance before waiting men.  A simple tap dance produced laughter.  He placed his hands on my hips and swayed them to better please the audience.  From the edge of my eyes I noticed money exchanging hands.  My confusion grew when the bidding began.  When it reached $200 I was told I would be having a “date.”  Circumstances intervened but his abuse continued. I ran away at 15.

No longer did I wear beautiful clothes, possess shiny hair, or unpack prepared lunches.  Now I knew cold, days without food, and the desperation of looking for a place to sleep.  The teachers saw a dirty, unkempt child.  The students saw someone to mock when they found her digging through the trash for their discarded lunches.  No one saw hunger, fear, and loneliness.

Over time, that child grew into a woman who fought her way through college and law school.  A mother of five.  An advocate for the abandoned and broken.  Healed, but not unscarred.  Brutalized, but not broken.  I decided I would hide in shame and fear no longer.  I choose to expose illusion, victorious after all.

Sabrina Gallimore at


I was chopping vegetables for dinner, silent tears running down my face.

I had just gotten off the phone with my sister. It was cancer.

She was terrified and feeling alone, despite the love I tried to pour through the phone. All I could do was listen and witness her pain. Be a witness to her strength. To the woman she was before this label she was already chafing against: cancer patient. I had held it together for her but after hanging up, broke down. All that was left now were tears and the sound of the knife on the cutting board.

My husband came home. He walked in, set down his backpack, glanced at me and went about his business.

As I cried, he checked his voicemail. Got himself a drink. Went through the mail. When the tears did not stop after 20 minutes, he asked me what was wrong. He stood about five feet away, as if my grief might be contagious. When I told him Anne had cancer, he said with a very distinct remoteness, “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” And walked out of the room into the office, shutting the door.

Something in me clicked.

I had, of late, become somewhat resigned to feeling lonely in my marriage. I had struggled for years over the right thing to do. I stayed mainly for my kids and if I am completely honest, also because I was terrified of being in the world again without financial support. But that night, I knew I deserved more. More respect. More love. More understanding. More dignity.

And so I followed him into the office and asked quietly, “Do you still love me?” His answer was no. He thought our marriage was damaged beyond repair.

My Before had just ended, and at my own hands. And the first of many Afters had begun.


Kristine at candidkay

Punch Line

The year after my father left us, we went on welfare. My mother, brother, and I moved into a tiny piece of row housing that was six units, brown, and looking as though it had been slapped around one too many times. This wasn’t the kind of place that was maintained, because by the time you ended up there survival was the goal and beautification was a concept out of Good Housekeeping.

Through the thin walls we could hear the neighbours, a roofer and his girlfriend, scream and fight with the howling desperation of alcoholism and decaying dreams. My mother once had to pay the balance of the rent in change she had somehow managed to squirrel away. The property manager laughed at her. Mom came home crying.

My friend Paul and I were walking to school; I had run into him about halfway there.

“Where do you live?” I asked him. I’d been to his house for a sleepover when I was about ten but I wasn’t sure if he still lived in the same place. We sure as hell didn’t.

“Still over by the hospital,” Paul said. “Where’re you guys now?” he asked.

I told him and he chuckled. I looked at him, confused.

“Oh, you mean the Pijouex Estates.” He smiled at the joke.

“Huh? I don’t get it.” I hadn’t heard the place called this before, but I’d only been there a short time.

“It’s a joke,” Paul said matter-of-factly. “You know, because the place is so shitty, and the guy who owns it is named Pijouex. So everyone calls it the Pijouex Estates.”

Paul said this without malice or sympathy. Like a toddler with a handgun, he had no inkling of the wound he inflicted. My life had become the punch line of a joke.


John Callaghan at Get Off My Lawn.