Monday, July 24, 2017

How (Not) to Write an Essay for The 52 Essay Challenge

This is (late) Essay #29 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished, totally messy!) essay each week during 2017.

Wake up before everyone else. You like the quiet of a brand new day. It’s like a clean sheet of paper (which can be both exciting and terrifying), open to so much possibility.

Make some coffee. You know that writers all have their rituals. Some read. Some physically warm up with calisthenics. Some meditate. Some take walks. Yours is coffee.

You pour cold water into the back of the coffee maker, insert a brown paper cone filter (because you are environmentally responsible and do not buy the white filters), measure out the coffee carefully as you know the ratio of water to coffee grounds is key to the perfect cup. (Well, that and water temperature and length of steeping, but, really, who’s paying attention to that?) You “pre-heat” your mug by pouring a little water into it and popping it into the microwave. It is important that your coffee is not poured into a cold mug as that will affect the ideal temperature of the beverage. That said, you also warm up a tiny cup of half-and-half. Again, to not mess with the coffee’s ideal drinking temperature.

When the coffee has finished brewing, you measure out one teaspoon of sugar and run your finger over the spoon’s edge, sweeping away the excess to ensure that you have less than a teaspoon, as you do not like your coffee too sweet. You put the sugar in the empty mug. You then pour the coffee into the mug, over the sugar, allowing the heat of the coffee to dissolve the sugar while simultaneously swirling it into the coffee. This is a trick you learned when you worked at Dunkin Donuts in high school. You’re not sure it’s any different or better than simply putting the sugar into the coffee after it’s been poured, like most people do, but you’d like to believe that it does make a difference. It’s a habit you don’t want to give up.

You grab whatever fruit is available –berries, bananas, apples, oranges—and bring it, along with your coffee, to your writing studio. Now that you think of it, you grab a protein bar, too. Just in case. You leave your phone on the kitchen counter so as to try to minimize your distractions, like sending random text messages. They have a new collection of emojis now and you’re dying to use them all. Best to leave the phone in the kitchen.

Once in your studio (a converted bedroom in your house), you flick on the mug warmer and put down your coffee. You mentally note the effort with which you work to keep your beverage at the ideal temperature. What does that say about me? you wonder for a split second, but then turn your attention to your desk.

There is so much clutter, you think to yourself. Maybe I should clean a little bit. But then you scold yourself. See? This is why we don’t get any writing done. Focus, girl. Focus.

You take your journal –one that is from Paperchase, your favorite brand of writing journals (not Moleskin, like every other writer you know) that are hard to find but have recently been seen at Staples. There is something about the feel of their paper. And the spacing between the lines is perfect for your handwriting. Plus the bookmark ribbon is always a pretty color, not basic black. Not to mention the variety of covers. But you digress— You spend some time freewriting about whatever is on your mind. This, you tell yourself, is writing meditation. This is one of your rituals for writing. If you don’t do this, you’ll mess up your whole day. And writing anything of worth will be useless.

Oh, the things we tell ourselves. And the things we believe.

After you’ve done your brain dump and have thoroughly stressed yourself out with the giant to-do list that emerged from that dumping session, you are ready to begin writing your essay. But that thing that popped up in your freewrite –the thing about finding childcare in the event that their outdoor camp would be cancelled—that thing is gnawing at you. So you go to the kitchen, get on your phone and text everyone, including your mom, to find someone to care for your kids so you can go teach your summer session class later that morning.

Then you are faced with the phone issue. Literally. The phone is in your face. Okay, not literally, physically INSIDE your face. Man, theses kids and their use of “literally”! You upgraded to a new phone and, as usual, there is a problem. It is never easy to make any kind of change when it comes to technology. So, you decide to get on the phone (using your house phone. Yes, you still have a house phone for these very reasons.) with customer service because it is early and everyone is still in a good mood. You hope.

As you dial the number, you have already resigned yourself to the fact that you will indeed not write this essay. The phone call will take much longer than you have time for and then you will find yourself rushing to get ready for class. Thankfully, your dad will be arriving shortly to stay with your kids so you can do your job.

As for the essay, there’s always tomorrow. Maybe.

Essay 28

Hello dear reader,

Essay 28 of The 52 Challenge will not be found here as I plan to submit it for publication. But if you're curious, it's about swimming. And if you're even *more* curious after I just said that, then email me & if I know you, I'll send you a draft. If I don't know you, then you'll have to wait patiently for the publication. :)

Have a fantastic day!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

On Raising Biracial Kids, Part 2: Grandparents on the other side of the aisle

This is Essay #27 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished, totally messy!) essay each week during 2017.

“She doesn’t know anything.”

My dad said this to my nine-year-old last weekend, as I was getting ready to go out. My parents were babysitting that night. I am truly grateful that they live nearby and can provide such support to me as well as participate in my kids’ everyday lives. But a sentence like this makes me take pause.

My daughter came upstairs to tell me this.

“Why did he say that? What were you talking about?”
“I was talking about Cheetoh*—“
“You know you can’t talk about him with Lolo.”
“I know. I forgot!”
“So what did you say?”
“I said I didn’t like him [Cheetoh] and he asked me why and I couldn’t remember. And then he said that you didn’t know anything.”

I held my breath. Tried to steady myself and not allow anger build into rage. I took a long, deep inhale. I slowly exhaled. I could feel my body begin to knot. I was working on not taking this statement personally. I took another deep breath.

“Do you believe him? That I don’t know anything?” I said as evenly as I could.
“No. He’s the one who doesn’t know anything." I'll admit: I laughed on the inside. "Why does he like Cheetoh?”

And here is where I have to be careful.

“He doesn’t read the same things I do. He has a different way of seeing things.” I said.
“So he’s reading, but he’s reading it wrong,” she decided. 

What do I say to that? In my head, I agreed. In my actual response, I said “He just needs to read more things outside of what he usually reads.”

“Can you help me with my answer to why I don’t like Cheetoh?”
“Because he grabs women’s private parts and hates brown people.”
“Oh yeah! Now I remember!”

[*Cheetoh is the name we use for the 45th president. Voldemort is another one. We do not say his name in our house.]


Some of you reading this will be shaking your heads, passing judgment on my parenting skills here. Chances are, you are white. Some of you will be nodding your heads in agreement, perhaps wondering why I couldn’t have taken a harder line. Chances are, you are a person of color. The complicated response is the one who passes judgment and is also a person of color. This last category would be the one in which my dad falls.

Eight months after the results of the 2016 election, I am still don’t know the reasoning and logic behind my dad’s choice to vote for Cheetoh. Here is a brown man, an immigrant who fled the Marcos dictatorship, deciding that a rich white guy who gives zero shits about him –and in fact, would probably like to have him deported—is a good choice for president. I’ve come up with some theories as to why he’d vote for Cheetoh: he really hates powerful women, which, in turn, makes him anti-feminist, which, in turn, makes him in opposition to me, a feminist. (This is nothing new.) He is gullible enough to believe the promises that Cheetoh will turn the economy around and revamp healthcare. (Based on what past experience? On what records of success with such things?) Well, we all know how that’s turning out.

But the bottom line is: I have stopped making the efforts in trying to understand this choice, as it doesn’t serve any purpose in the present moment. It doesn’t change the election results. It also doesn’t change my dad. He is too set in his ways to see anything beyond what he has already decided. (He’s always been set in his ways. His advancing age only further solidifies it, if that’s even possible.) I thought I could just leave things be.

A long time ago, my dad decided that we were not to talk about politics, ever. And when I say “we” I mean everyone in our family. He and his dad, my grandpa, would get into heated political arguments when I was a kid. Republican against Democrat. Light skinned brown man against dark skinned brown man. Privileged physician against the forgotten WWII veteran who now delivered mail. One time, it got so heated that my dad ordered us in the car and we drove away from my grandparents’ house before dessert.

My grandpa has been dead almost thirteen years now. His birthday was on the Fourth. He would’ve been 98. I wonder what he’d say about all of this. About Cheetoh. About my dad. About me. Looking back, I wish I had paid more attention to him when he told his stories. What could I have learned from him? What insight could I have gained? Alas, the past is gone and all I’ve got is now. So I turn my eyes to my kids.


It’s tricky to love someone who stands behind the things that are diametrically opposed to the things you stand for. But this is what unconditional love is, yes? Yes, but I want to note that unconditional love is not an automatic given, as I previously thought. It is built. It is tested. It is revised and rebuilt. It is tested over and over. The unconditional part is deciding whether or not to rebuild, test after test.

I hate to break it to ya, folks, but love is not some magic fairy spell that appears out of nowhere (it can be, but not always). It’s not “You are born. Your parents are there. You instantly love them.” (The reverse can also be applied here. Parents don’t always instantly & automatically love their children upon birth.) Love can be a decision you make. And I mean that across the board of Love. Familial, romantic, platonic. (Divine love is an entirely different matter that plays by a different set of rules, something for a different essay.)

So the same questions are still here, the same ones from last week’s essay: how do I teach my kids compassion and love, even for those who disagree with what they think, even for those who support people who do not see them, my kids –my daughters—as full people, but rather as objects to be taken, silenced, or removed? I know that the best way to teach anything is to model. In this case, I need to be the example of showing love and compassion.

But how do I myself extend and show love to my dad? Do I overlook his staunch beliefs, even if they are beliefs that threaten my very livelihood and his? How do you love someone like this? How do you accept who they wholly are and still love them?

Jesus did it. But, hell, I’m not Jesus.

Still, I’ll give it a shot. Because I want to try. Otherwise, where would we be if none of us tried to do the hard thing?