Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the Season: Reflection

My birthday is this time of year (December 30th for the calendar-slaves among you) and for the last several years, in addition to celebrating by going out dancing, drinking and / or eating with friends, I've also taken time to wind down at the end of a busy year, look back on what I've done and haven't done, and reflect. Being a Capricorn, this time of reflection is important for me, because we are so goal- and achievement-oriented that we can sometimes lose sight of the big picture. Going inwards, ironically, helps me get more clarity on what my external work in the world should be. As this beautiful poem, by Rafael Jesus Gonzalez, accomplished poet and my first creative writing teacher, describes, we Caps are always searching for the inner core, the 'cardinal point' of the earth. We're always searching for deeper meaning and purpose.

I will be winding down this blog soon--this may be my last or very close to last post. I've talked about it before but am definitely doing it this time. After five-plus years of writing this blog, it's time to move on. I will be starting a new blog about the sometimes painful, often confusing, and at times joyful process of be(com)ing a writer, so stay tuned for more details.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rest in Peace: Remedios Fernandez Manuel

(The pic above is from me and H.'s wedding last year. That's my Auntie Remy on the left, my Mom on the right)

Writing is often a way for me to process things, a way for me to express emotions that are confusing, knotty or complicated (or all three!), so it doesn't surprise me that I woke up this morning with this urge to write this remembrance--my eulogy of sorts, I guess--for my Auntie Remedios (Remy) Fernandez Manual, my mother's only sister, who passed away in Los Angeles this past Saturday, October 24, 2009. She had been suffering from complications following triple-bypass surgery several weeks ago. She was 62 years old.

The concrete things first: Auntie Remy was born and raised in the Philippines, wife of Salvador Manuel, mother of twelve children. She immigrated here to the United States two years ago, flying on a Cathay Pacific jumbo jet with myself, her husband and her son, my cousin, Richard. She was illiterate, and grew up very poor and uneducated in a small town in Pangasinan, far to the north of Manila. She worked in the market selling vegetables under the hot sun, in addition to being a 'helper' for rich families--cooking and cleaning for them, in addition to raising her family. She spoke Pangasinan and Tagalog and a tiny bit of English, and had just learned her ABCs so that, ultimately, she could learn how to read.

Of course these salient details don't give a very complete picture of my Auntie Remy. I didn't know her very well, was only with her a handful of times--in the Philippines when I was there for two weeks, in LA a couple times, and then twice when she was here in the Bay Area (for my wedding and then to spend time with my Mom)--but she was the kind of spirit who made an impact on you in a quiet, subtle and profound way. Just a few memories from the short amount of time I knew her:

The first time I met my Auntie Remy was a little over two years ago. I was nervous, hot and sweaty from the smoggy Manila night air, and nearly shaking. I had just arrived for my first trip to the Philippines, and was already completely out of my element--from the language barrier (I speak very little Tagalog and only understand a little bit more, and speak absolutely no Pangasinan, my family's native dialect) to the cultural differences (I couldn't understand how people could be wearing so many clothes when it was so hot out!), I could already tell that this trip would be challenging for me. But when I saw my Auntie Remy come out of the door of the condo, I immediately remembered why I had made this trip. My mother hadn't been back to the Philippines since she left in 1967, and refused to join me on this trip as well, and so I was her proxy, her conduit to all the people back home. None of them had had seen my mom or me except in pictures, and only had talked to us on the phone before this. When she saw me, my Aunty Remy's face broke out into a crooked smile (she was, probably more importantly from her perspective, seeing her son Richard for the first time in nearly six years), and then both of us started to cry. She held me for a brief moment, a slightly awkward, but necessary embrace, both of us knowing without having to say anything that this moment was about the re-discovery of family, about blood knowing blood, about our family bucking the odds to find each other again despite poverty, distance, cultural difference and time.

She looked out for me as much as she could while I was in the Philippines, worriedly placing her brown hands on my face and neck when I told her I felt feverish, saying in Tagalog that I needed to go to the doctor. I reassured her that I just had a cold, but her furrowed brow told me that she took it very seriously that her only sister's eldest daughter was not feeling well. She arranged with her friend to let me stay at their house my last couple nights there, because they had an air conditioned bedroom and spoke English. I think she knew, somehow, in the intuitive way that mothers of large families might know, that I was uncomfortable and lonely in this strange country that was supposed to be my 'homeland'.

It's ironic then, that what was undoubtedly the most important journey of my Auntie Remy's life was undertaken with me nearby--her transPacific flight to Los Angeles, California to live in this even stranger country, the United States. I remember taking pictures of her and her family in front of the house they were staying in--the house of a wealthy family that my cousin Lusita worked for--and how both happy and sad everyone looked. They were happy that they could all be together--we ended up caravaning to Manila so that they could see their mom and dad off--but also sad because their mother was leaving them. Auntie Remy was so clearly loved by all her children and her grandchildren, and I envied their closeness as much as it brought me joy to witness it.

After we flew from Manila to Hong Kong--my Auntie had never been on a plane before, mind you--I remember taking her to the bathroom in Hong Kong, a super-modern, luxurious place with those automated-everything bathroom, and struggling to answer the confused look on her face at all the electronic toilets, faucets, etc. She must have been as baffled by all this modernity as I was by the lack of hot water and technology in the province.

More recent memories I have of my Auntie Remy are more comforting and joyful: watching her dance at my wedding, smiling and happy; her carefree smiles as my Mom, my husband and I took her sightseeing at the Berkeley Marina when she came up for a visit, the way she kept thanking us as if what we had done was such a big deal--me for giving her my frequent flyer miles so that she could fly up from LA, my husband for driving us around; how she proudly demonstrated that she could recognize the letters on a restaurant menu. The few times I saw her in the states were probably some of the few moments of leisure she'd had in her long, work-filled life. Her children--who all seemed to inherit her good, loving nature--all talked about wanting her to rest and relax after taking care of them for so long, and I wanted that for her too.

I try not to think about how tired she looked the last time I saw her, when she'd just been released from LA County Hospital after her surgery, how she kept urging me when she got home, as if on a reflex, to "Eat more, eat more," probably because she knew she couldn't. She never fully recovered from the aftermath of the surgery, but at least now she is going home to the Philippines, where she will be put to rest in the land that she knew and loved the best, with all her children and grandchildren nearby.

Even though I really didn't know my Auntie Remy very well, I loved her. She was probably the most selfless and saintly person I have ever known, and the most peaceful. I'll miss you, Auntie Remy, and I hope you're dancing and smiling in heaven, having a good time, and just relaxing. You deserve it more than anyone else I know.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

For Gadget Geeks and Wanna-Be's

I am a time management junkie. That doesn't mean that I spend endless amounts of time tweaking and re-tweaking my calendar, task list, etc. (ok, I only spend a shitload of time doing those things--but all in the service of being more efficient, I swear!), but it does mean that I require that my time management gadget is effective, easy-to-use, and versatile. The iPhone addicts out there will be laughing at me in a second, but I don't care, because really, the PalmOS offers the most effective time management/calendaring functions of anything, and I mean anything, I've seen out there.

I'm a diehard MacPerson, and my purchased-in-2005-Powerbook-G4 is my most valued piece of property, but I'm sorry, iCal does not help me be productive. It's confusing, doesn't let you make tasks into events (crucial if you are serious about managing your time well), and on and on. Outlook, Entourage--pah. PalmOS' old school calendar, with tasks that you can categorize by color and name, which also match categories for your events (in iCal you have to create different calendars to do this, Jeez!), and which you can sort by date due and priority level, beats them all.

My personal gadgetry is, by modern US standards (especially in the Bay Area where it seems like everyone has a Blackberry, iPhone or other SmartPhone) pretty old school: I have a year-and-a-half-old Palm Handheld Zire (one of the last Palm non-phone PDAs) for my calendar, tasks, and many of my contacts, and a mid-level Samsung phone for Sprint that is good for calling and texting, which is mostly what I do with it. I don't even have an iPod or MP3 player. What a luddite, eh?

Now, I am enough of a technology-geek that I would like to have the all-in-one capability of a SmartPhone, but so far I haven't been able to give up the efficiency and ease of PalmOS for the cool slickness of an iPhone. Lately, though, with my consulting practice ramping up and my related need to be more mobile (conference calls, email from a cafe, not wanting to always have to lug my laptop around with me), I've been craving the convenience of one gadget over two. The frustrating thing is that I haven't been able to find what I really need--time management, WiFi, email capability, a reliable browser, a solid way to sync my contacts--all in one device. If anything, the more reviews I've read about what's out there and what people are using, I've realized some people who are as addicted as I am to efficient gadgetry are STILL using more than one device because the all-in-ones just really aren't that. I personally know at least two people who actually use a SmartPhone and a PAPER calendar! That says something about the time management (in)capability of the SmartPhones out on the market.

My search for the perfect SmartPhone, of course, began with the iPhone, since I am a MacGirl and am devoted to the brand (sick and twisted for a woman who claims to be anti-capitalist, but true). But like I said before, iCal wasn't gonna cut it for me, and even the seemingly powerfuly app OmniFocus didn't seem to be what I wanted. I want tasks+calendar, not tasks in one place, calendar in another. It's the bedrock of how I manage my life!

Blackberries never appealed to me because of the difficulty people I knew seemed to have with syncing it to their Macs. Since I've worked on Macs at home AND at work (I know, lucky me, eh?) for more than a decade now, it really wasn't an option to have a SmartPhone that wasn't Mac-friendly.

So then, I got all excited when the Palm Pre came out earlier this summer. Actually, I got excited about it way back in late 2008 when I first heard about it. Palm's answer to the iPhone, it claimed to take the best of Palm and take it another level with very conceptually coolSynergy, the new WebOS platform, cut-and-paste, 3G and very pretty design to boot. But after playing with it at the Sprint store a few times, I was greatly disappointed that it also didn't have a good calendaring/time management system. And I know I'm not the only one thinking, 'WTF, Palm?'

There may be hope, though, in MotionApps' new PalmOS emulator app. I need to check it out to make a final assessment, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Being that Palm has been my go-to time management device-source for nearly a decade now, I decided to check out the Centro, and although I still need to go play with it a little bit more, I think I my have found what I'm looking for. As the article linked above shows, the PalmOS is indeed soon going to be a thing of the past, but I hope that Palm listens to its loyal, highly-efficient base of customers, and integrates some of the features we loved from the old platform into a new calendaring app for the new WebOS.

When that happens, I will gladly buy a Pre--but only if Apple and Palm kiss and makeup so that Apple will stop blocking iTunes syncing for the Pre, and other such capitalistic, proprietary nonsense.

For now, I'm probably gonna stay closer to the old-school camp and finally get a SmartPhone--a PalmOS-based Centro with email and web capability. At $50 (after rebate, since I'm already a Sprint customer), I really can't go wrong. Or if the PalmOs emulator app works well on the Pre and I can have my PalmOS and WebOS at the same time--that could be the true definition of gadget-geek-joy!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Rest in Peace: Corazon 'Cory' Cojuangco Aquino

Although she was probably never as progressive as her husband, the late Senator Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino, and disappointed many people with the lack of major reforms during her Presidency, I will always remember Cory Aquino as the first woman President of the Philippines. She was in many ways the epitome of the Filipina ideal (never too forward, unendingly loyal to her dead husband, morally upright and religious, supremely family-oriented). While I don't fit that ideal myself, and don't like its patriarchal constraints, there was something elegant and beautiful about how Cory carried herself in the world, and how she commanded respect and deference from her people as well as world leaders. I would be lying if I didn't say that the fact that Cory became President of my parents' home country didn't inspire me on some level to want to be the first woman President of the United States someday (a hope I've pretty much abandoned, of course, but my mother hasn't forgotten about it!).

She was a truly feminine leader, and paved the way for the next female Philippines President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (or GMA as she is more commonly called), who in many ways is sort of a shadow-Cory: more outwardly brutal in her suppression of 'subversive' elements and violently abusing her own people's human rights, more ruthless in her dealings with the many powerful men in her political sphere, and nowhere near as popular as Cory even during her lowest times.

I remember when I was in junior high and Ninoy Aquino was shot, and later when the People Power revolution on EDSA took the Philippines (and the world media stage) by storm. At the time, being as young and naive as I was, I was a little bit confused but also very proud of my countrymen (even though I had never been to the Philippines). The drama in the Philippines also played out in a different way in my family, as some of our (and wealthier) relatives were on the 'wrong' side of People Power and later needed to flee like the Marcoses did from the righteous wrath of the masses. I, even at my young age, knew that they were on the wrong side and was happy to see Cory and the yellow-clad people on EDSA drive the corrupt politicians and military henchmen out of the Philippines.

Of course, history would show that this glorious time of saying 'No' to corruption wouldn't last long, but Cory and many, many other of the brave leaders and ordinary people who stood up against a brutal dictatorship could celebrate their victory for a little while. And the Philippines got to bask in the glow of the People Power revolution on the international stage, proving that if we pulled together, we could overcome one of the most entrenched and violent US-supported dictatorships in the world.

Rest in Peace, Cory.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Another Blogger Against Racism

So I found out, thanks to this post on the Angry Black Woman blog, about the fourth annual International Blog Against Racism Week (or IBARW, because really any title that has more than two words needs to have an acronym!). And since I see myself as constantly working against racism, internalized, individual as well as external/institutional, I have to post something this week to commemorate this worthy effort.

Since I've been fortunate to work in nonprofits that consider themselves racial justice organizations--although I struggle to discretely define what that term means exactly--I will use my airtime to point you towards a few of my favorite racial justice groups:

The Applied Research Center, which was founded by racial justice extraordinaire Gary Delgado, and is now led by the equally amazing Rinku Sen. ARC is a think tank, communications hub, resource for educational materials on race, and also the publisher of Colorlines magazine, as well as the excellent blog, Racewire.

ARC was instrumental in launching the organization that I spent my formative political years with, Californians for Justice, another brilliant racial justice group that has been organizing in communities of color for the past fourteen years on issues such as affirmative action, bilingual education, lack of resources in California public schools, and youth empowerment.

On the literary side of things, the Carl Brandon Society promotes and supports speculative fiction/science fiction (SF) writers of color. Recently, they put out a thoughtful and practical (aka 'Hey White people, here is how you engage in reasonable discourse on race without totally offending and turning off People of Color') open letter, prompted by the recent online racial brouhaha between/surrounding K. Tempest Bradford and Harlan Ellison.

Also, my favorite writerly organization, the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation, or VONA as its better known, which offers an annual two-week workshop series for writers of color at the University of San Francisco campus. I was there this past year and got to study with one of my favorite writers of all time, Pulitzer-prize winning author, down-to-earth and super-hilarious Jersey homeboy Junot Diaz.

So now it's your turn to get with the program and do your part---write a blog post against racism, launch a new blog, whatever, just do it!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Another Goodbye: RIP E. Lynn Harris

I will admit that I've never cracked open an E. Lynn Harris book--mostly because I didn't feel like I was the 'intended' audience-- but even I knew that this man's contribution to the world(s) of African-American, LGBTQ and people of color fiction is outstanding. He was talking about the 'down low' way before Oprah did, and broke many barriers in literature and in book publishing that should put his name down in the history books.

Rest in peace, fellow writer, dreamer and artist, E. Lynn Harris. Here are a couple links with more information about this remarkable author.

Update: Thanks to my Goodreads friend Wilhelmina for pointing me to this tribute to Mr. Harris.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Well Said, White Lady!

Since I mostly gave up arguing about race with White people who refuse to listen long, LONG ago, I will post excellent response written by a blogger who is a White woman about the Henry Louis Gates racial profiling incident in Cambridge. Perfectly summarizes what I would have said anyway--except that I would've wanted to add something about how awesome it was that President Obama called out the racism of this incident during a prime-time televised press conference! Combine this with Rachel Maddow's recent excellent smack-down of Pat Buchanan's inane racial politics and I'd say it's been a good week on the anti-racist media front.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nothing Like Getting Published to Make You Feel Like a Writer

This isn't a 'creative' piece in the traditional sense, it's a non-fiction, trade magazine piece, but it was creative for me in that I got to interview grassroots groups who are bringing more culture, fun and creativity to their fundraising events. This article is part of a special issue that the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, one of my all-time favorite magazines, did this month. The Journal's a great resource for how-to fundraising tips for small organizations, and I'm proud to have my article in this issue.

To give you a sneak peek, I profiled three cool groups doing work in the Bay Area and beyond: the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, and my former employer, Californians for Justice.

I'm also finishing up an article for Greater Good magazine, for which I wrote an article a while back on how my immigrant family dealt with the death of one our elders, and will start working soon on what should be an interesting piece about what nonprofits should consider when applying for money that comes from gambling casinos, for Blue Avocado magazine, an online publication for nonprofits edited by Jan Masaoka, former Executive Director at Compass Point.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Although the media circus surrounding Michael Jackson's death (the same that hounded him in life) will no doubt continue for weeks if not months after tomorrow's public memorial service at the Staples Center, I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what Michael gave to me. He was probably the first young person of color I saw on TV dancing and singing like no one else could, at a time when I loved to dance (and sing a little) too. Michael gave his all in every performance, singing and dancing 'full out' and with such precision, grace, innovation and unique style that there is no way anyone could truly imitate him, although many have tried and will continue to try. MJ influenced my own dance style, partially because he was just the SHIT when I was a kid and a teenager, and we all wanted to move like him, and partially because I tend to move percussively, like MJ does. I've realized in the past week since he's passed that many of my own moves on the dancefloor come from him. (And yes, I can do a decent Moonwalk). Michael also had a huge role in popularizing popping and locking, the 'Robot' and breakdancing through his own dancing as well as the dancers he featured in his videos.

And this is all in addition to the great joy I've experienced over the years dancing to his songs, the music, his voice. It's almost unbelievable how much Michael has given the world, and me personally, as a performer. I've been obsessing a bit about him (my Facebook friends are no doubt rolling their eyes now) the last week or so, but I'm moving towards a place of resolution and peace now, and am now able to say 'Goodbye' to him, and to be at peace with the little girl in me that once dreamed of being a superstar like Michael one day.

So from one dancer to another, from someone who is forever grateful for the love of dance and music that I've been blessed with, Thank you, Michael. Thank you for everything.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


This is a piece I wrote right after Michael Jackson died, and which I read at the VONA student reading last night. Thanks to my friend Tammy Johnson at the Applied Research Center, whose video response to Michael's death inspired me to refine my piece.

Rest in peace, Michael, we will always love you.

In case you don't know the song I've excerpted below, you can click here to hear it and watch the video.

Yes, I’m Wearing Black Today Because Michael Jackson Died

“You are not alone
I am here with you
Though we're far apart
You're forever in my heart”

Thank you, Michael, for giving us your voice—clear, piercing angelic and soulful,
the kind of voice only an 11-year-old child could have, but that only you did. And thank you for your dance—the grace and innovation that everyone from James Brown to Fred Astaire had to give props to. Thank you for giving so freely and so early on of your divine gift, a gift that would prompt us to take more from you than you should ever have been asked to give.

I’m sorry, Michael, sorry that you were pushed so hard by a father who saw in you his chance for immortality, and by all the other adults around you who saw their fame and fortune in your golden voice, your silver moves. I’m sorry that none of them stopped to wonder if you were being used and exploited.

And, Michael, I’m sorry that our greed to witness this divine gift of yours over and over wasn’t enough to make you realize how precious and unique you were, just the way you were. I’m sorry that we took you for granted. We are greedy creatures, we human beings, and when we see beauty and talent as deep and singular as yours, we want to breathe it in, eat it, live it, and then when it’s not there even for a moment all we want is more. I’m sorry that our ceaseless wanting caused you pain.

And it hurt us too, to watch someone we loved so much hate himself, to watch you despise your own face, and take out on yourself and the children who trusted you whatever anger and grief our adoration couldn’t stop you from feeling, all because someone, somewhere made you feel like you weren’t good enough, pretty enough, and yes, White enough. We watched in dumbstruck terror your transformation from a beautiful young black man into a strange pale ghost that we could barely recognize.

Until, that is, you opened your mouth. Until you moved your body and showed that despite all the self-hating surgical procedures and medications you’d heaped upon your body, your soul was still intact, a soul with a god-given talent that infected the world with a divine fever, with a feeling so good and real that we could not even name it.

This morning, I finally cried for you—the Michael Jackson that was and the other Michael, the young, innocent black boy that lived beneath the mask.

Michael, if I could wave my magic wand and make this whole week vanish, and make Bubbles the Chimpanzee and NeverLand Ranch disappear, and take you back before the days of Bad and Thriller and even before Off the Wall, even back before the Jackson 5 and Motown, if I could go back and ask God to give you a loving, unselfish father and a mother who could nurture you the way you needed, if I could give you a regular life and be assured that you would grow up a normal, happy Black child—as happy as a black boy can be in a world as insane as ours—would I give up all the joy you’ve given me? Would I give up all the memories, the dance moves, the music, the piercing woo’s, the magic that you weaved when you stepped onto a stage or up to a mic? Would I give it all up if I knew that there would be just one more blackboy in the world who would grow up healthy, strong, happy and loved just for who he was?

“You are not alone”

And the answer is yes, yes.

And Yes, I am wearing black today because Michael Jackson died.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rethinking my Blog Existence, Again

It's that time of year again, when, after a good few months' worth of not posting on this blog, I question whether I should still keep it. I've been bandying about ideas of other, more specific and less individual-centered blogs with different folks--a blog about Oakland, a blog about fundraising and nonprofits, a writing blog (which does exist but is currently set to private)--and am wondering if I really need to keep an individual blog at this point, or whether to narrow the focus of this blog so that it's not so vague.

I should say that when I started this blog several years ago, it was really just an experiment, an 'I'll-try-this-thing-and-see-how-it-goes' thing, and I never thought this particular blog would've lasted this long. It's had it's ups and downs as far as readership, content quality and posting frequency, that's for sure, but it's served its purpose for me and made me realize that on some level, blogging is now a part of my life.

I think it's interesting that some colleagues of mine who are of the Baby Boomer generation look to me for advice and a certain perspective on all things high-tech, in large part due to this blog and my more consistent presence on Facebook. It's actually funny to me that they see me this way, actually, because I don't think of myself as super-technologically savvy compared to my Millenial counterparts. In any case, my life has become much more oriented around the Internet than I ever thought it would be, even a few years ago, and this blog has been a significant part of that.

More soon about my recent retreat/residency at Windcall in Washington State last month, which was a big part of my overall reflective mode these days.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why I Love Susan Boyle

Perhaps it's because I, like Susan Boyle--the Scottish singing sensation from 'Britain's Got Talent' who is burning up the Internet right now--am unemployed and have more time on my hands than usual, compounded by the fact that I've been confined to my apartment for the past two days due to a bad flu, but I've watched the youtube clip of Susan's performance about five times now, and each time been in awe and admiration of this woman.

Why do I love Susan Boyle? And more importantly, why do millions of people across the world love her so much? It's not that different of an answer than I would give if you asked me why reality television has become popular, not just in the U.S. but elsewhere. People can relate to Susan Boyle, and all the other contestants on reality game shows and the like. What makes Susan Boyle so special is that she is 'more real' and therefore more relatable than many other reality show types, who probably work out for days or do their hair special or make extra efforts to look 'better' for the cameras, and Susan is a real 'come as you are type'. Mark Goulston, on the Huffington Post, gives his opinion of the Susan phenomenon here.

Also, we love Susan because she confounds our very narrow and messed-up stereotypes of what talented people should look, act and live like. Her life, from the little we know about it, has been anything but dramatic or glamorous. It's been quite a normal, if not a little sad ("never been kissed") life, during which she's lived in a village with her parents the whole time, has never been married, and cared for here mother before she died a few years back. Susan, by all intents and purposes, is not what we think of when we think of 'star potential' or talent.

But the reality is that--and I think we all know this deep down inside--there are many, many thousands of if not hundreds of thousands of people out there who are just as talented (if not moreso) as Susan, but who are stuck in the drudgery of everyday life, because of where and to what strata of society they were born, because of shyness or lack of opportunity, or because they've been told that they are NOT talented by others who are bitter and jealous or what-have-you.

I love Susan Boyle because she so clearly loves to sing, loves to do the thing that she has not been able to do for her livelihood, but as a 'hobby' or something to do for fun. And, lucky for her she's really good at it! It's always beautiful to see someone who is so present when they do something, who loves what they are doing and are good and it and can move and inspire others when they are doing it. I feel the same when I watch my husband DJ or when I watch amazing dancers on stage or when I see a good public speaker. These are people using the gifts that the Creator gave them to create good in the world, and people respond to that.

I've been thinking a lot about my own life purpose lately, not feeling like much of a writer or anything else since I've stopped working and have been taking a break from a lot of things. I know that I'll get back into the thick of things soon enough, and that this time of rest is important and productive and necessary in its own way. But seeing Susan Boyle sing has inspired me to not give up on my own dreams, or at least not give up on trying to figure out what they are.

Susan is the epitome of the rags-to-riches tale, despite the fact that she's not yet 'hit it big'. It always amazes me how quickly and brightly someone's star can rise on the international stage, only to fall into obscurity not long afterwards. Fifteen minutes indeed. But I think there's something, dare I say it, in the stars and in the cosmos right now that makes all of us human beings long for more Susan Boyles, to long for our life's purpose. I hope her performance inspires other people to pursue their dreams, no matter how silly or impractical as they may seem.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review of 'Long Way Gone' by Ishmael Beah

This is just my brief reaction via goodreads, but I figure the old cut and paste is a good way to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Enjoy!

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
i gave this book an extra star because this story is so important in this day and age, when war for Americans has become a video-game-like-unreality divorced from our everyday lives and while so many people (including more and more children) are the victims or perpetrators of atrocious acts of violence. While the writing itself wasn't brilliant, it was very readable and the voice of the author, Ishamel Beah, was clear and resonant throughout. I liked the fact that several of the war stories that he tells are presented as flashbacks during the time of his rehabilitation, effectively mimicking how the author's violent past came back to haunt him even when he was no longer in the army. I also liked how the author didn't get into the politics/ideological arguments between the different factions fighting the war. In the end, that stuff didn't really seem to matter as both sides were 'recruiting' boy soldiers into their ranks. The author did an excellent job--like Elie Wiesel did in 'Night'--of illustrating the absurd futility and waste of war, as well as the healing that can come to those who were affected by it afterwards.

View all my reviews.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Disbelief, Grief, Outrage, Sorrow

Rest in Peace: Carl Joseph Hoover-Walker (1997-2009)

Those are the emotions that came up for me when I heard about Carl Joseph Hoover-Walker's suicide after the boy endured weeks if not months of bullying at his school. I don't even know what to say about this or write, except for that my heart goes out to the spirit of that young boy, who hopefully now is at peace in whatever after-life there may be, and also to his family who is trying to speak out and make sure that this destructive behavior does not continue.

Children are the most victimized and brutalized members of our society. Children of color, LGBT/queer or perceived-queer children, children who are disabled or are in any way 'others' to the American mainstream are often subject to humiliation, violence, marginalization and other forms of oppression that just need to stop. This young man's death is senseless in every way. This did not need to happen.

Two more posts here and here, and a heartfelt plea from a young man to participate in the national Day of Silence on April 17th to protest the hateful harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ people in this country.

I hope the teachers and parents of the children who bullied young Carl are talking to those young people, and trying to bring healing to the wounds that exist in that community, in all our communities. Rest in peace, Carl. I hope and pray that your death was not in vain.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Second Day of the Rest of My Life

This past year has been one of many changes, big changes--endings and beginnings of relationships, deepening of some, letting go of others. It's been an intense, fun, amazing and life-changing year. And I think it's just now starting to settle in for me, I'm finally feeling the gravity and the significance of these changes, now that I've stopped working at my full-time job and have time to sit, reflect, write and just be.

I'm sitting here writing this in a cafe, because my house is just too messy to write in and not get distracted right now, and I just finished working on one of my short stories--which I'm planning to submit to VONA on Tuesday for Junot Diaz and / or ZZ Packer's workshops--for about an hour. That may not seem like a long time to you but that is a long frickin' time to write for me. I haven't spent that much time working on a piece in the middle of the day, on a weekday, in YEARS.

And you know what? It feels good. Damn good. And all the preparation for my transition out of CFJ, all the planning and calculating how much consulting work I'd have to line up to make as much money as I was making before on less hours of work (not as much work as I thought I'd have to do, actually), all the worrying about how to deal with my health insurance and paying taxes quarterly, after all that, I'm finally realizing that what it all comes down to is having the TIME to do what I want to do, and not be beholden to numerous other people's needs and agendas, anxieties and problems.

I am feeling very blessed right now, as there are lots of people out there who need work and can't find it, and here I am choosing to work less and do something as silly and pointless as creative writing so that I can be happy. Believe me, I've set myself up pretty well (so far) work-wise. I'm not dumb and I'm not the kind of person that is happy not knowing where my next paycheck is, so I've done lots of planning. But I still feel fortunate that the stars have aligned and that there are enough people out there who have been supportive (including, ironically, my old job!) and helpful that I can do this and feel totally good about it.

Yesterday was my first day off from work, so today, then, is the second day of the rest of my life. And so far, I'm liking it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Transitions, Endings

Life is all about change, impermanence, things evolving. Tonite my organization is throwing me a good-bye/thank you party, as my last day there is in twelve days, after working there on staff or as a volunteer in some capacity for nearly the past fourteen years. I was sharing with my Executive coach, the fabulous Belma Gonzalez, recently that I haven't been feeling super-emotional about my leaving yet, and that that surprised me. I would think, 'Is there something wrong with me that I'm not feeling overly sad or guilty or happy?' It's not that emotion hasn't come up in the days leading to my departure, it's just that it hasn't overwhelmed me.

Belma, bless her, posited in her very optimistic and supportive fashion, that perhaps the emotions weren't overwhelming because I'd been doing a lot of work to just sit with them and not push them away or not acknowledge them, and also because it was probably just the right time to leave the organization--for the organization itself, as well as for me and my life. I know she's right--and it's not like I haven't had moments of difficult or frustration or sadness or even a little (but not much!) guilt, and a lot of happiness about the next phase of my life post-CFJ--it's just kind of amazing to me to be in this place of relative equanimity, and to be okay with all the different things that are arising.

I'm sure though, tonite, that I will get emotional, as over 50 folks are slated to come through to my party. It's always amazing--something i realized at our wedding--when your community gathers around you to celebrate you, to thank you, or just to acknowledge something like your birthday. It's a beautiful, precious thing, and something I don't think enough of us on this planet get to experience often enough. I'm still figuring out what I'm going to say during my little 'speech' tonite--I feel like I must be preparing to receive an Oscar or something--but I'm sure it's all going to be fine.

Wish me luck! And let's hope whatever tears come up don't mess up my makeup. ;)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

It's Been a While...

I know I've been neglectful of this blog. Just haven't felt inspired to write here. I've been writing quite a bit in my notebook and journal, including some (bad, half-formed) poetry that felt good to write. Lots going on in my life these days, from transitioning out of my full-time day-job into a more part-time, fundraising consulting practice, in order to make more time for (you guessed it) writing as well as my family/personal life. Also, this past couple weeks my Auntie, who immigrated from the Philippines just a couple years ago and whom I've blogged a bit about before, was in town and I wanted to spend a little time with her. Lastly, I feel like since the wedding I've been slowly reclaiming my life, going back to a pace that is more normal for me and enjoying my free time and not guilt-tripping myself that I'm not being ultra-productive every minute of the day. Productive rest is one of my mottos for 2009, and I've been taking it quite seriously lately. Still, I'm doing some consulting work outside of my day-job already, so it's not like I haven't been busy with paying gigs.

Hopefully I won't take so long to write again. Blogging is a good outlet for me. Let me know you're reading and I'll be even more motivated to stay current here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

It's a Start: 'Why I Love Oakland'

So this guy is probably all down for redevelopment and gentrification in a bad way, and you gotta be wary of any white dude who says 'I've never been a racist', but I'm so glad to finally have the San Francisco Chronicle print something positive about Oakland, even if it is just a column, that I am compelled to post this here. I know a lot of people who feel the same way, or even more passionate, about Oakland.

I've been toying with the idea of starting a new blog about Oakland, mostly because of all the negative and extremely biased and racist press it's been receiving lately, but also because there are so many enlightening, lovely and poignant stories being lived and never told in this beautiful city that I want to help expose to the rest of the world. Oakland is not a perfect place, by any means, but it's also not the 'hell', 'scumhole' and 'wasteland' that I've heard so many people who don't live here (and who may have never even really spent time here) say it is.

Oakland has been my home for the better part of the last seventeen years, and it's the home of thousands and thousands of die-hard Bay Area folks who know no other haven. I wish the people that talk so badly about this place would remember that. And the fact that we love it in spite of, or in some cases, because of its flaws and imperfections and the way the people here rise above all those things, is a beautiful thing, something to emulate.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Quick Review of Sherman Alexie's New Book

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I liked this book quite a bit, more by the end than I thought I would. I still don't understand why it's being marketed as a 'young adult' book--if that was Alexie's goal or if that was his agent's or publisher's way of trying to make more money. In any case, there are plenty of harsh grown-up truths in this book to make it challenging even for a cynical reader like me to breeze through. Although I didn't enjoy the fact that the protagonist, Arnold Spirit, seemed so in love with white people throughout the book--when they weren't beating him up or acting racist, that is--I think Alexie did a great job helping me understand how Arnold in some ways HAD to love white people in order to have any hope to escape the poverty and misery of the reservation where he lived. The political activist of color in me wanted Alexie to show more of the positive things about Rez life, but in the end, I'm glad he didn't, because that wouldn't have been honest to the character or the story he was trying to tell. And he did describe some lovely details from the character's perspective (moments with his grandmother and best friend, Rowdy, for example) that were achingly beautiful in their painfulness and irony. I would love to hear what a teenager/young adult thought about this book!

View all my reviews.

Friday, January 23, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different...and Geeky

I have to say that I was excited about the iPhone when it came out, although not excited enough to actually go and buy one. Even when the second version came out, no biting from this hard-core functionality girl-geek. I need my technology to not only be pretty, but be extremely functional. That said, I am also a dyed-in-the-wool (i don't know what that phrase really means but it somehow feels right to use it here) Mac-head, as the first real home computer I ever used was my uncle's old Macintosh with the black and beige-ish floppy disk drive that I used to play video games on when I was a kid. The biggest single purchase I've ever made was of the beautiful (yes, I said beautiful) and highly functional 15" aluminum Powerbook G4 that I'm typing on right now. And yes, my beautiful laptop has a name, but I'm not telling you what it is.

So my Mac credentials are firmly established. At the same time, I have been using a Palm handheld organizer device of some kind for the past four years or so. I find them extremely handy and useful, and practical, not to mention cheap. So despite my lust for the iPhones--which was tempered and cooled by the fact that AT&T's service plan for it cost a good $99 per month--I stuck with my handy-but-not-at-all-fancy Zire, with my handy-bu-even-less-fancy Samsung Sprint cell phone as my mobile communication tool.

But now, all bets are off. Because Palm has out-Mac'd Mac with the new Pre, a mobile device that seems to do everything I liked about the iPhone and then some. The iPhone is pretty and has some cool, interesting apps which are completely useless as time management or practical tools (yeah it's cool that you can find the name of a song just by putting your iPhone up to the stereo as it's played, but really, I'd rather have system-wide cut-and-paste functionality!), but the Pre is just a better work horse. Of course, this is a new gadget and there will most likely be many bugs to be worked out, but I have to say, I'm geekin' out over here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Would'ya READ something already?

I'm amused but starting to get a little irritated by all the anti-Reverend Lowery stuff out there right now, from white people mostly but also from some people of color that don't 'get' what the good Reverend was saying. As I don't have time to break this all down for folks with my perspective (which is just one perspective), and since there are plenty of other more articulate and learned people who have broken it down already, I offer the following links:

• A post from African-American blogger Tonya Jameson at the Charlotte Observer.com.

• A more in-depth collection of links to articles about Reverend Lowery's background, life and political/racial analysis, which informed his benediction speech, from a white blogger in Rhode Island.

• A really interesting break-down of different ways to interpret the 'Black will not be asked to get back', etc. part of the Reverend's benediction.

• And a brief post from blogger Doug LeMoine that has a subtly humorous closing line that I loved about white people.

So if you know people that are confused, offended, curious or angry about Reverend Lowery's speech, please direct them to the links above. It's a new day, folks, and race is not going to become a thing of the past--we're just now actually going to be able to deal with it in a more honesty way, I hope. But that means that some folks who have not had to think about race much in the past because of white privilege or class privilege or whatever, are going to have to get educated. They're going to have to read some stuff and struggle with some tough issues and some challenging emotions and learn how to grow through it all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ending, Beginning, Celebrating

What an amazing day! Yesterday (1/20/2009) felt more like New Year's Day to me than January 1st did--full of celebration, community, reflection, healing, music and good food. It was truly the end of an era--and lest we forget, in our giddy rush into the bright future that President Obama (God, it feels so good to say/type those words!) has asked us to build together, the suffering and misery that was created by the Bush administration, here are a couple things to remind us. I was with H. and our friend B. at the Oakland Coliseum to watch the historic inauguration of our 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama, with thousands of other Oaklanders. Black, White, Asian, Latino and other folks joined together in a mass gathering of joy, release, celebration and patriotism that I have never experienced before. Here are some pics of the event:

I also thought it showed how much class Obama had when he tried to give Chief Justice John Roberts the chance to correct himself when he screwed up the Oath of Office. Class act, this guy, all the way. Even if you disagree with his politics or don't like his proposals, you have to admit he has class and tact.

It was really cool that Reverend Lowery opened his benediction with the lyrics from 'Lift Every Voice and Sing', the Black National Anthem, and H. and I LOVED the Reverend Lowery's benediction (and I have to say, Yes on 8, anti-gay marriage activist Reverend Rick Warren's invocation was also rousing, but less inspiring for me). I thought it was interesting that the very black/brown but still multi-racial crowd at the Coliseum laughed and 'got' the joke, and it seemed clear that many Black folks in the stands understood that the good Reverend was flippin' the script on the old US race/caste system by changing up the words to this old anti-Jim Crow song, 'Get Back (Black, Brown and White)', while later on YouTube I saw people (I'm assuming White, call Rev. Lowery a 'racist' for saying things like 'that the White man can embrace what's right man'. And that our President was sittin' up there laughing and chuckling at the Reverend's words. This was an indication of things to come, and white folks are going to need to start gettin' educated about race, both the entrenched legacy of racism and the current-day racism that all people of color face on some level, if they want to 'get' what's going on in this country.

After the inauguration, I had the kind of chill Oakland day (thanks to having the day off from work) that I love. Finally got to go to the new Cathedral of Christ the Light next to beautiful Lake Merritt. I have to say it was much more impressive than I thought it would be.

Then, finally, after meditation class at the East Bay Meditation Center and a nice dinner (great salad but the main course of braised chicken was pretty tasteless) at the Franklin Square Wine Bar, H. and I first headed to the Bench and Bar, a gay bar that used to be predominantly Black and seemed to be pretty mixed last night. We ended up talking to a really drunk gay white dude who couldn't believe that we were married.

Then finally, we went down to Jack London Square to witness a block party outside Everett and Jones barbeque joint, where a pretty mellow, mostly Black crowd bopped and swayed to live R&B to celebrate the inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States. We ran into old Lefties Miriam Ching-Louie and Belvin Louie, which is always a nice surprise. But mostly it just felt good to know that hope was not some distant horizon any longer, that a new day was dawning and that we had been a part of making history.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Links and more on Oscar Grant protests

Added a few new links to the blogroll:

Seeking Avalon, where a recent, spirited debate on the representation of people of color characters by white writers of fantasy and sci-fi caught my eye.

K. Tempest Bradord's blog (can I have a middle name like 'Tempest', please?), whom I found via Claire Light's See Light blog--both these are women of color Speculative Fiction writers whom I hope to get to know better in the coming year.

And, no I haven't forgotten about the Oscar Grant tragedy and aftermath in Oakland. How could I with media and police helicopters swarming my office and home neighborhoods for nearly three days straight. But instead of writing more about it here, I'll point you to another new link in my blogroll: Richard Wright aka DJ Fflood's blog, as well as a couple interesting posts on Racialicious here and here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Was it a 'Riot'?

Thank God the mainstream media finally published something sensible about the Oscar Grant protest turned 'riot' last week. Dori Maynard, incidentally, is the widow of former Oakland Tribune publisher/editor Bob Maynard, whom I believe was the paper's first African-American publisher back in the 1970s.

And this comes the morning that another protest is planned at City Hall tonite. Also, the officer who shot Oscar Grant (because we all saw the video, right?), has finally been
arrested on murder charges after quitting the BART police force and skipping town to Nevada.

I only hope that, in this case, justice may be done for Oscar Grant. And that the community may be able to count a small victory, and an important one, at the end of the day.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Justice for Oscar Grant

There's a protest scheduled for today at Fruitvale BART in Oakland to address the police shooting there of Oscar Grant, a 22-year old man, on New Year's Eve. You can also find it on Facebook.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Rest in Peace: Oscar Grant

Oscar Grant was a 22-year-old African-American man, father of a four-year-old child and a butcher at a local Oakland supermarket that H. and I used to frequent. He was killed by a BART cop's bullet on New Year's Eve at the Fruitvale station in Oakland, only a few miles away from where I live. Although I didn't know Oscar, he could've been any number of young Black men walking the streets of Oakland, Hayward, Alameda, San Francisco, etc. Unfortunately, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Words can't really express what I'm feeling now. I know there are many other gun-related and other violent deaths that happen in Oakland and around the world everyday. Only some of these capture the attention of the media and, thus, the general public. I hope that this story results in some good being done, although this young man's untimely death could never be made up for. I hope and pray for justice and for a peaceful resolution to the violence that is rampant in our society.

Thanks to the Applied Research Center for posting this action alert on their blog, RaceWire.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Movie Review: Beyond a Shadow of a 'Doubt'

Couldn't help myself with the pun, there. I just saw the film 'Doubt', written and directed by the playwright, John Patrick Shanley (a good Irish-Catholic boy, no doubt), who won a Pulitzer Prize for his original play of the same name, and starring one of the tightest, most brilliant casts I think I've ever seen on screen: notably, the ever-formidable and ridiculously talented Meryl Streep, and the equally virtuosic chameleon Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, Viola Davis in particular deserves major acknowledgment, as her one speaking scene in the film, opposite Streep, showed how powerful an actor can be even with less than ten minutes on screen. Amy Adams was also terrific as a naive young nun who becomes sort of a human moral scale, weighing the accusations flying between Streep's Sister Aloysius and Hoffman's Father Flynn with a bewilderment that mirrors that of the audience as we grapple with the grave issues presented in the film.

The film can be summarized, or written off, depending on how you see it--the way that another amazing film, 'Brokeback Mountain', could be written off as the 'gay cowboy movie' when it's so much more than that--as the 'Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal movie'. And despite the injustice of that description to the film, I think if that kind of controversial summary makes people come to the theater to watch it, then great. I think every Catholic or recovering Catholic, at minimum, should see this film. I don't want to say too much more because this is the type of film that's best enjoyed through conversation with other viewers, because the director/writer leaves so much up to subjective interpretation. And I like that. He and the actors have set up a world that is totally believable (although H. could barely believe that even during my Catholic school experience in the 1980s I knew nuns like Sister Aloysius and was as terrified of them as the school kids in the film are of Streep's character), and with it, they pull you in irresistibly with universal and immortal themes of faith, redemption, the complexity of human nature, and, yes, doubt.

As a survivor of sexual abuse myself, I appreciated the nuances of morality and the lack of judgment of the characters that permeated the film. It offers a very humanizing portrait of what can be a very polarizing and dehumanizing (for all people involved, from perpetrator to victim) experience.

I will say that the film is far from perfect, with some heavy-handed symbolism getting in the way of even this ultra-ritualistic Catholic School-girl's enjoyment. But all in all, it's a tightly-crafted, important film and seeing it is well worth the price of admission.

If you need more encouraging, a couple reviews that I liked can be found on the Independent Critic web site (this one is written by a sexual abuse survivor, at Pajiba (which wins the award for best self-description of its site: Scathing Reviews for Bitchy People), and the New York Times.

Suffice it to say that beyond a shadow of a doubt (there I go again with the puns!), this is probably the best film I've seen this year. I hope Oscar will too.

Friday, January 02, 2009

List: 2008 Retrospective (and Resolutions), Part II

Yay! I actually made it around to posting a Part II to a Part I. (I've promised to do so for other posts in the past, without delivering. Maybe this is a good sign that I'll be able to achieve my new year's resolutions for 2009? I hope so).

Traveling to Belize on my honeymoon, which was a relaxing, satisfying and truly lovely experience, and not just because it was my honeymoon! It had been more than a year since I'd traveled out of the country, and more than two years since I'd had a 'vacation' trip abroad (to Europe with H. in 2006). Especially in this year of Obama-fication, it was important for me to see how folks in other countries were reacting to the U.S.'s sudden change of destiny. Some American ex-pats that we ran into in Placencia, Belize said that they had a huge party the night after the election, with free beer for all. I for one am glad that McCain didn't win so that I wouldn't have to explain to folks why Americans are so intent on destroying themselves and the rest of the world with us. And of course, Belize itself as a country, as a Caribbean-bound-land, was gorgeous and lush and friendly and down-to-earth and pristine and just the antidote for my work-weary body and mind. You can see some of our photos on Flickr.

Reconnecting with family and friends, mostly because of wedding planning and the wedding itself and, of course, because of the reality that now, as a formally married (read: now-formally-accepted as a real couple by most of society, even in the progressive bubble of the Bay Area), it seems that our friends and family sort of take more seriously our invitations to lunch, dinner or other social events. And we take theirs more seriously too. One of the most touching moments of our wedding for me, though, was looking at all of our friends and family gathered around us during the ceremony, and later at the reception, and just feeling an immense love welling up inside me, knowing that H. and I were supported in our decision to connect our lives and our communities.

Thinking about and planning my big next year (and this is where the New Year's resolutions come in). I am leaving my job in March 2009, and planning to launch my consulting business for real. Which means, hopefully, less actual hours of work, but hopefully more income, as consulting fees can pay a lot more than a full-time job at a small nonprofit. I'm also really looking forward to picking and choosing projects that I really want to work on (if I can, which everyone tells me should not be a problem, given the dearth of fundraisers of color in the world and the endless number of groups who need us). Lastly, I am planning to take on two major creative endeavors in 2009, which this extra time will allow me to do: 1) Have a baby (nope, not pregnant yet, but will be working on it), and 2) Get some serious writing time in. It's been several years since I've really delved into my writing, and I realized this past year that the main impediment to my progress is just TIME. Such a simple thing, but one of the toughest things to carve out for yourself in the midst of full-time employment, taking care of your own household, family obligations, life in general.

So my resolutions for 2009? Pretty simple: Do what I want to do, do what I love, live my life to the fullest. Spend time with people I care about and who nurture and support the best of who I am, and vice versa. Trust in the Spirit/God/Orishas/Universe/Creator/whatever-you-want-to-call-It to guide me and take care of me. Know that I have the talent, perseverence, courage, contacts, intelligence, determination and skill to not only survive in this harsh economic climate, but to THRIVE. If there is one word that I want to bring with me into 2009, and to cling to like my life depended on it (which in a way, it does) it's that one: thrive, thrive, THRIVE.