wow moments

I got nothing. Earlier this year, there was a hostage situation at Trader Joe’s in L.A. I happen to know that particular one because we went shopping there a lot right before my childhood BBF’s wedding. If you care to read it, it’s about this remarkable artist who was one of four people in the store who talked the gunman down. She introduced herself, she got to know him, and she advocated for him. At one point, she could see a sniper take aim at the gunman’s body and she blocked his body with hers. When her husband texted asking if she was okay, she said, yes, but was busy. What she said in the article was she did not blame the police for their actions at all, but at that point, she had gained his trust and had diffused the situation. When he said he wanted to speak to his girlfriend whom he had shot earlier, she insisted upon it with the police. She talked him into turning himself in and she promised him she would visit him in prison, that he could still lead a meaningful life. When there was an opportunity for one of the hostages to leave when they were getting equipment from the police, that hostage chose to return to the supermarket. In the end, four hostages walked out surrounding the gunman, and they all survived. The next day, the woman said she went and got ice cream with her family.

Like I said, I got nothing. I’m floored by this woman. Should a time like that ever come my way, do I think I can handle it with so much patience and kindness like this lady? I doubt it. I think she’s amazing and deserves AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR BEING A HUMAN.

I’m just going to start doling these out.

modern day saints

The more I read about Michelle Obama, she comes across as warm, thoughtful, and normal, which is part of her genius because she has navigated some arduous obstacles and was in the eye of the storm for eight years. Here is someone who is not remotely interested in or all that comfortable with fame, but she did the personal work (therapy?) in order to exist with it, so she could tour the world and inspire us. She knows we need her as a feel-good symbol; she knows we need to amplify the energy of her generous spirit, and so she leans into a role that she never really aspired to in order to uplift others (me!!!!). She’s also a gifted public speaker with a brilliant mind, but I feel like she is so relatable that you forget you’re dealing with one of the top minds of the country. (This is the Michelle mythology I’m just making up, but it feels right.) On another note, she’s the cutest dresser. I love her clothes. I read this fascinating piece on her stylist’s work in preparing her wardrobe, and the article details how they were always thoughtful to choose designers of diverse background, US-based. You can look at color and cut to support the event, and find that balance to be attractive but not so loud that it calls too much attention to itself. This is a job I would be TERRIBLE at, but it was a wild read. (I know one mom who dismisses fashion and always wears sweats, and I’m like dude, your clothes telegraph your identity to society and I’m no fashion head, but I respect that there is craft that goes into it. And now I ALWAYS compliment her sweats.)

I see Ruth Ginsberg as being similar too — someone normal going above and beyond for the sake of the rest of us. Not that that there is anything ordinary about serving as a Supreme Court justice (Kavanaugh aside…ugh),but the woman is like almost a hundred and she still goes to work, never mind showing up after three broken ribs. She should retire and go sailing, but she’s determined to outlast the current Presidency. That is bloody remarkable. (Incidentally, my high school teacher Mrs. G. went to high school with Ruth Ginsberg and used to talk about how she was smarter than Ruth. Of course, I wonder now if she always mentioned because she didn’t feel like she quite measured up. I can so relate to that.) While Ruth Ginsberg is not known for her sartorial choices, she does discuss the elaborate lace color around the Supreme Court robe. Maira Kalman painted a beautiful version of it. (Scroll through the story til she gets to R. Gins.) The robes all come from Paris.

The Parkland kids are another set of people who make me feel it’s not all crud out there. The way they call adults out on BS and hypocrisy is amazing. They remind me of being young in the way Lorde’s first album did–that sense of invincibility (though that may not be the right word when these are all terrorism survivors), that absolute belief in their point of view, their raw honesty. Their passion and organized protest gives me tremendous hope for the future (I do not wish to discuss gun violence in this post because it’s a whopper. Our society has gone insane to think this is okay. This collective amnesia makes me mental and I I wonder if I should just not send my kids to high school.) I no longer think the next leader is from my generation. I think they’re among these children, young people like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Desmond Tutu gave the Parkland kids and their March for Our Lives organization the International Children’s Peace award recently and said that he is in awe of these children, and this moves me so f*ng much.

I see these individuals as modern-day saints. They remind me it’s not all completely hopeless out there, and we do have some good people around.

PS
Also I found an old bag of apples in Wonder Twin Girl’s backpack. Fermented, acidic. Thanks girl! What a treat!

waiting

I read “The Changeling” by Victor Lavalle a few years ago and I so enjoyed it, I wrote him a fan email. I talked about how great it was, how I was also hoping to be published myself one day but that regardless, I would never be as good of a writer as him. His writing is exquisite. I have a handful of writer friends. They write like the Bohemian Rhapsody of prose. I am dazzled by their technical prowess and then when I got back to my manuscripts, my stories kind of feel like a bagel. Like not bad, but not that exciting either. Mr. Lavalle wrote me back the nicest email. He said that he appreciated my kind words, that it was nice to hear, but to also remind me that “The Changeling” is his ninth book and that his prose did not begin at that level. He also wished me luck with my writing.

I have a novel I have been shopping around to agents and I came very close to signing with one. She and I went back and forth for six months, and we developed a rapport. I liked her! She was extraordinarily shrewd yet supportive with feedback. I rewrote the outline, the first fifty pages, then the whole book to try to make it something she could sell and I really thought it was going to work out but she disappeared. And then I felt like, should I give up? I mean this book, this YA book, I started it years ago in my dad’s hospital room when he was first sick and I needed a light story to distract me. I have revised it off and on in ten-minute scraps of time here and there until I have written at least twenty drafts. I have wondered many times about giving up writing. In fact, I have quit but always end up coming back. I have been writing for years, since the third grade, and have always wanted to be published (and I have been, but I mean, I want an entire book with my name and title on it.) I have been writing and waiting for such a long time. Perhaps it is time to give up my professional aspirations for it. Perhaps I simply don’t have the talent necessary to get to that level.

Me: Husband, how do I know when it’s time to quit?
Husband: Is it still your dream?
Me: Yes.
Husband: Then never. The answer is never.

And his answer fortified me. It made the question of quitting, of being good enough irrelevant. Other friends, writer friends too, have advised the same thing. Never, ever, ever, ever give up (said Winston Churchill). The agent reappeared, apologizing for her long absence. She was battling an illness that was taking more time to recover from than she thought so regretfully, she needed to pass on my project to reduce her workload, and she said she greatly look forward to reading my work in print (such a nice thing to say). And her rejection did not sting so much, since I figured with her lack of response to me, I was being ghosted.

Another writer friend (mad successful writer friend) posted a link about Deborah Eisenberg saying that people don’t realize to get a piece of writing really good, it takes a long, long time. I haven’t even read the piece yet, but the headline alone was startling and has shifted my sense and understanding of time. What is my true goal? Is it to be published? Or is it to become a master? I am choosing both. And that is going to take a great deal of writing and working and sweating, and a lot more time. But what’s perverse about my nature is that if I’m told I should want something or I’m told I can’t have something because the obstacles are too hard, I go the opposite way than requested. I dig deep and drop down to a different level of patience. I am ready to wait.

school candy sale

Every year, I bring my kids’ candy sale catalogues to work, overcome my discomfort for asking for help, and visit all my co-workers. As one said to me this year, “Tina, I’m so sick of all you moms shaking me down. Get away from me.” (She bought peanut brittle. Correction: she bought an $8 bag of air with three pieces of peanut brittle in it.) Sometimes, I will have wine and order jewelry from the school candy sale (don’t be jealous.)

When that stupid day comes where all the goods arrive, I schlep the orders from all three kids. I’m like a professional mule. I pick up three bags/boxes/albatrosses from school along with kids, schlep home, then schlep the gigantic bags to work the next day. And just to encourage someone reading to get out the world’s tiniest violin, I take these giant, unwieldy bags during rush hour, with a Hunchback of Notre Dame style of walking, apologizing to strangers as I hit them in the back with gift wrapping paper when I don’t quite clear the landing. But I get ahead of myself.

Last night, when I got home and dumped the items, the kids were pumped. Nothing makes the kids more wired than the unexpected arrival of candy (only second to unexpected toys). Once they understood none of the candy was staying, they burst into tears. Long, agonized tears. Open-mouthed devastation. They needed to hold each, to give comfort, to give succor, so great was their sense of loss. It was like Carmina Burana.

Kids: What do you mean we’re giving all the candy away!
Me: We’re not giving the candy away. We are giving the candy to the people at my office who paid for them, who want to support you and your school.
Kids: I knew! This happened last year. Don’t ever do this to me again!

Fresh round of inconsolable tears and need to comfort each other for ten minutes.

Sigh.

kit kats from japan

I love all the random articles on Japan from the Times. They just pick out specific obsessions and casually point out the radical differences between their culture and ours. First, you think, “wow people in Japan are weird,” until you get to the point of, “oh my god, Americans are so weird.” For example, apple picking is an enormously popular family activity in the New York area. Every fall, I see all these pictures online of happy parent units with their descendants smiling in a field with a bag of apples, or apple doughnuts, or whatever apple product. And I was always hoping I could add this to our family repertoire, but it’s only happened once (and this only happened because my friend Nancy drove and organized me, First Son as a baby, and my parents, and I have officially let it go).

In Japan, they have something like apple picking, but not quite. What happens is you travel to a fruit area like say in Yamanashi, pay for a ticket, and eat for an allotted time. You don’t leave with a big bag of product. At first, the writer thinks the practice as bizarre, but upon further reflection, sees it as a profound living out of a life philosophy:
Unlike apple-picking in the fall in the United States, the fruit doesn’t really function as a “It was practical, it was beautiful and it acknowledged that souvenirs were, like memories, at best only approximations of the moments they represented. That it was, in fact, completely impossible to remove a taste from its origin without changing it in the process.”

Anyway, loved this piece, but mostly what hooked me was the focus on Japan’s obsession with Kit-Kats and the hundreds of flavors that the market makes available, from ones you’d find in a typical Western market (varying degrees of chocolate) to ones more in Asian markets (fruit like cantaloupe and mochi. the article detailed how this food scientist worked meticulously in trying to capture the spirit of the mochi in a Kit Kat, experimenting not only with different flavorings but also texture in order truly capture the spirit of this dessert. I found the whole pursuit completely wild, and tried to pitch food scientist to the kids. “Isn’t that cool? Someone’s job is just taste candy all day and make it more delicious?” No takers as of yet, but that’s fine. They may not possess scientist brains and the only reason why I’m pitching this path is for access to free candy.

glenn on “the walking dead”

god, there was a time where I was so fond of this show. Of course, I love zombies, stemming from my belief that most adults are dead inside. There was a great deal of diversity on that show without comment. There were multiple scenes with white actor and three to four African American actors. I never see that on TV or film. Usually, it’s one of every color; or a white ensemble with one actor of color, so I just loved, loved, loved this show forever. Excellent zombies! And although the show narrative is just running in place right, there is still ingenuity in location/set design and zombie stunts (like a shot of zombies rolling down a hill cracked me up. I had never seen that before. Who can forget zombies walking around with their unfurled large intestines dragging behind them like the tail of a glamorous gown? Such witty sight gags.) Back in the show’s hey day, it was absolutely a water cooler show that me and colleagues gabbed about. For some reason, it was only a handful of men I’d yell at about it, and every time a major character die, I’d yell through the office “I just have the one Korean! Leave my Korean alone!” (Glenn was the Korean, and of course he died). Anyway, I was just thinking today how two of the major actors on the show are from England and do these insane, crazy southern accents (the story takes place in Georgia) and my lone Korean sounds like he’s from New York. What gives, Glenn, what gives.

busy phillips

This actress/social media influencer Busy Phillips wrote a book recently about how, when she was on the show “Freaks and Geeks,” she was hit so hard by her co-start James Franco, that he knocked the wind out of her. Uma Thurman, in Kill Bill, went to the Times and talked about how she almost died in the car sequence when the car crashed at 40 miles an hour. Quentin Tarantino told Diane Kruger he had to actually choke her for Inglorious Bastards, that a stunt wouldn’t look as real on film as the sight of her actually losing consciousness.

This should not be happening at all. I don’t understand how this happens. Staging and performing a fight and/or physical violence is actually a craft, and filming a TV show or film is incredibly technical and precise. There’s no room for someone to be so lost in their art or the moment that they lose control. People go to drama school and receive training on how to do it. Husband is a fight choreographer among other things, and he has always taught me, that the “victim,” in any stage fight, is the one who leads the action and provides the reaction. You always want to be safe, you always want your actors to feel safe, so when I read or hear about stories of these women being endangered like the anecdotes above, it sounds like a bunch of amateurs are in charge and don’t know what the hell they’re doing. I can only imagine being an actress on set, not wanting to make it a big deal, not wanting to hold up production, not sure if maybe they were overreacting.

meghan markle, princess of the world!

Is it sad that I light up whenever I see footage or images of Meghan Markle? I want this woman to succeed so badly. It sounds goofy, but to be the wife of an English Prince seems to be like the worst fate ever. She had been an actor on “Suits” for seven years, and I’m wondering if the tedium and long hours of being on a TV show can amply prepare you for a lifetime of always being on. I mean, the woman is always freaking beaming and I can barely manage a polite half-smile. There’s so much terrible stuff she dealt with, including explicit racism by the press (she’s biracial, half white, half African American), exploitation for money by step siblings and her biological father (too painful to recount). As Princess, she has to give up being overtly political and explicitly feminist. It’s like she has to give up being an individual to become a symbol. (Reminds me of the plot of “The Little Mermaid” or like what happens when you fall in love with a vampire.) There are a flurry of news stories of how she shut her own car door, shown on TV on repeat. Right now, she’s in Fiji with her husband, making speeches, smiling in what seems like a relaxed, benign manner, even when her security team is shutting down one of her events early due to security threats. I mean, I’m sorry, under such relentless, intense scrutiny, most of us would buckle into a puddle, curl up in a ball, and rock back and forth, quietly muttering “redrum.” Whatever she’s doing to steel and center herself is working. (I also believe she and Prince Harry are madly in love because why on earth would you bother with this BS otherwise? Seriously.) And I am rooting for her. In this present garbage time when the U.S. is explicitly moving towards, if not already embracing Fascism, we have a black hole vacuum of moral leadership in the world, I am going to welcome Meghan Markle as someone who is trying to contribute to spreading good will. I am going to trust that the English monarchy, behind the scenes, is an incredibly political animal, and if they are “letting” her make her mark as an advocate for women rights, albeit in a more conservative approach, I am here for it. We need all the heroes we can get. Go, Markle, go. Be the light!

beyonce beast mode

In her Vogue profile, she mentions she’s has a little bit of post-pregnancy belly and is enjoying it. When she’s ready to get six-pack abs, she’ll go into “beast mode” and get it done. I so relate to that. Not the abs parts – I have not seen my abs in a long time, but beast mode, yes. It is the mindset you get into to access a deep, unwavering focus and determination that allows you to get through the difficult, unpleasant tasks to get your goal. It’s almost like being a superhero for fleeting moments, a magic mode you drop down into in order to do the impossible. However, I don’t use beast mode to get into a ripped physique or prep for a world tour. For me, I use it to tackle my parents’ medical bills + legal paperwork. It’s like this giant pile of actual paper I need to go through carefully, labyrinthine, complicated sentences that need a psychic sensibility to translate. Once in beast mode, I can plow through them. before then, they nag me. My ma suggested I handle medical bills and legal matters for senior for a living. Ha ha. No way. I hate this work with an extraordinary passion. I only do it for my parents because they raised me. I am the Sasha Fierce of bureaucratic monotonous paperwork. (Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?) Take that [!] you microscopic, conflicting directions on legal forms! Boo yeah!

Excellent Sheep

I read this book with great interest since I am obsessed with thinking about the education I received and how the heck I’m going to try to fake-guide my children in their pursuit of higher education. (If my mom was a “tiger mom,” then I would be considered “sloth mom.” Somewhere between us is probably a healthy model.) The author, who taught English at Yale (I think), summarizes the joylessness and intense anxiety he observed among his students. He takes down former colleague Amy Chua, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom,” for education approach of all-or-nothing excellence, calling her out for not seeing that the excellence she demands from her daughters is so much about proving herself to her own mother that she is profoundly handicapped at excelling at parenting herself. (Damn. I will never publicly call out a former co-worker, but also? It made me feel gleeful and a bit vindicated.) The author makes this sad observation that more than half of the undergrads of Yale go into consulting, a third go into banking or financing. Like, is my alma mater producing the least interesting humans ever?

There is an emphasis in college, overall, on being pre-professional, being hire-able. The book says kids often apply with five to six extra-curriculars and get perfect SAT scores and pitch in at the local soup kitchen, while performing as a world-class violinist. (Eww.)

I have worked with people from fancy consulting firms and heard them speak disparagingly of the liberal arts degree. (“We don’t need another barista with a liberal arts education.” To which in my mind, because let’s be real, I say “Really? Maybe that’s the job they can get in this garbage economy where there are fewer low-skilled jobs.) Through those projects and witnessing what gets funded through my kids’ schools (science, engineering, advanced manufacturing, STEM, STEM, STEM), I keep hearing how science and its cousins are so worthy ALL THE DAMN TIME.

But you know what, cutie? The world needs English majors. The world needs writers, actors, and creative types. If we are really going to get taken over by robots (and by all accounts, this is totes true. The reason why this latest industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 gives economists agitata is that computers that can make decisions now exist – that quality was once considered a uniquely human trait. Now, not so much. Oh well. But can a robot juggle? Can they overeat to the point of pain even though they know better? Yeah, I DIDN’T THINK SO. #HUMANPRIDE.) All of these trends, to me, further reinforce that we all need to learn how to develop the skills related to the right brain, the creative part, the weird part. As thought leader (is that title?) Daniel Pink has hypothesized, the right brain is the key to make us distinct as job seekers and work creators in this competitive job market.

Reading this book made me feel madly lucky. While raised by a quasi-tiger mom, I have always been myself. As an undergrad, I took whatever classes I want, including ones I failed abysmally. My grades ranged from A- to W, as in “withdrawal.” I would drop classes to not get an F, but I was okay with the D on Introduction to Psychology freshman year. (As mom said, I got every letter in the alphabet (not very happily, I might add. “I regret letting control go over your college years,” she says. “But Mom,” I say, “what is life without regret.”) (She hates me.) Junior year, I decided I needed to take classes outside my comfort zone so I took Military History with a bunch of guys with baseball hats with bulldogs on them and Old English, which I nearly failed. I acted for the first time. Like, I felt free to experiment, in a way that contemporary college students don’t seem to feel comfortable with. Poor things, lucky me.