RIOT-paramore-6412664-1280-800In 2009 I was a 4th grade teacher in Seoul, Korea. My class was primarily made up of Korean students with the exception of one…Owen. A young American, Owen was many things: brilliant, awkward, and opinionated. The kid had a comment for everything, and many of those comments could not go unrecorded. With personality and innocent humor, Owen made my teaching year very colorful.

I fondly kept a list of “Owenisms” as I called them in a journal. Recently, I came across them. Here are a few.

  • Ms. Martin, do I look Goth to you? (he was simply wearing all black that day)
  • I think it’s outrageous that this school doesn’t have escalators! (the school had four floors)
  • You’re just like my mom! You always make me do something else after I finish a task.
  • Ms. Martin, I may be going through puberty because my voice can’t reach certain pitches. I’m not growing any arm hair, but I do have peach fuzz. (He didn’t; he was ten)
  • Jinsoo (a classmate): “Women are weaker than men.” Owen: “Well, that’s insulting!”
  • In the future I’m gonna start a riot.

And my personal favorite… in answer to the question: “Does anyone know what a conscience is?”

  • Yeah, a conscience is the small voice inside you that you always ignore.

Just like that. Matter-of-factly. How did a fourth grader know that?

At a moment when cloudy things are finding clarity, I stop at times to listen. What is my conscience saying? Can I make out that teeny voice that was background noise all along? Trusting intuition has never been my strongest skill. Guess I’ve been afraid to “be wrong”. But, what’s that anyway?

Being wrong is one of fear’s favorite outfits, strutting around, seemingly untouchable. It’s old, outdated, and boring. The truth is that we’re only as wrong as we decide to be. What are we afraid of really?

I don’t know the answer to that yet. These weeks have revolved around that question a lot.

If only Owen were around to share with me a profoundly honest answer.


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There is a large, glass, barn door that slides, making an entire wall an opening to the garden. It’s part of my home and it’s glorious. I’ve gotten used to bumble bees and flies temporarily buzzing in, making their circles before finding their way back out to freedom. They’re quick visitors.

Three days ago, Craig arrived from Cartagena. It’s been a long anticipated reunion interlaced with both apprehension and joy. Six months apart can do that…create a meeting of feelings that ordinarily do not share space. As we had our first morning together, we made lunch in the kitchen, the glass door opened. In zoomed something much larger than a bee.

Hovering across the glass ceiling was a hummingbird, wings beating so fast they sounded like a mini helicopter. She was instantly desperate to find the exit, and seeing the sky above her, was puzzled that she could not lift above the glass barrier. Back and forth, she flew with urgency. Little did she know that lowering a few centimeters would put her in line with the door’s opening.

It was frustrating to watch.

At moments, she found a ledge near the ceiling to rest. She was exhausted. We wondered how we could help. For a while, we left the room and waited to see if our absence calmed her into the right movement. Concerned she’d wear herself out, we opted for a more hands-on approach. With a broom and teamwork, we managed to gently guide her out.

Relief experienced, I stepped outside expecting to see her perch on a branch and shake off the traumatic moments. But, no. Instead, she flew higher and higher until I worried aloud: “I’m afraid she’s flying so high she will fall out of the sky!” Craig laughed at this and we finished our lunch.

A few years ago, Craig’s mom gave me a book about Animal Totems which gave meanings behind the reasons certain animals appear in your life or your dreams. It’s fascinating, really. I decided to look up what the significance of a humming bird is, and found the following:

  • Lightness of being, enjoyment of life
  • Being more present
  • Independence
  • Bringing playfulness and joy in your life
  • Lifting up negativity
  • Swiftness, ability to respond quickly
  • Resiliency, being able to travel great distances tirelessly

Honestly, this speaks to me and where both Craig and I are in our lives. Our time apart has encouraged some large questions about who we are, what we want, and how we envision our lives. These are not comfortable questions. They are scary. They are maddening. They are necessary.

While the humming bird’s visit shared a message in her simple presence, it also gave us something more: permission to continue our upward flight.


carpe diem

Last week I attended an 8th grade graduation. This marked the end of my three month revisit to the school I’d regarded for many years as the best place I’ve had the chance to be an educator in; and, I still feel that way.

Here’s one reason.

Just at a time when I needed a universal message, an inspirational tap, an emotional nudge…I found it in the crafted words of a 13 year old, standing on stage, ready to embark in the next big thing in her life. With short breaths, she offered something for us all to take away. It went like this.

A quote that has always stuck with me since the first time I saw the movie Letters to Juliet is:

What and if are two words as non threatening as words can be. But put them together side by side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: what if?”

So, what if you had no fear? Everything you want is on the other side of fear; so, what would you do if you had no fear? Fear can rule your life, making your world smaller and smaller until it is only you left. But my hope for you is, as Nelson Mandela said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

Courage does not come from living without fear, courage comes from being scared to death but still doing the right thing. As we leave Julia Morgan today, we enter a world much bigger than the one we have been in for the past few years.

So, take risks even if you fail, be yourself even if you get weird looks, fall in love even if it hurts. We are strong because we have been weak. We are fearless because we have been afraid. We are wise because we have been foolish.

[image: seize the day clock at JMSG]


Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 8.52.11 PMWhere you come from now is much less important than where you’re going.
-Pico Iyer

It’s been three months since I’ve established “home” in Berkeley. People have kindly asked how the re-entry has been. The phases of cultural transition are still the same. I’ve felt all of this before. In America, it’s about getting used to the fact that there are an obscene numbers of cereal rows to consider, that having an app for practically everything really can simplify life, and that knowing what Miley Cyrus is up to is common knowledge.

I won’t lie. I kinda freaked out.

The idea of just sliding back into North American life proved silly. I thought I’d have that ah-ha moment; something like: finally, coming full circle to land in the place I’ve left loving and still love. Finally, home.

Yet, it has not been that simple. I was naive to think so. I’ve questioned over and wondered about and ached a bit for my overseas life. Twelve years is twelve years, after all.

The turning point, however, happened with this easy realization: no place is perfect.

From then on (which has been about four weeks now), I’ve embraced this place. Or, maybe it’s more than the place. Maybe I’ve come to embrace where I am in life and what’s ahead.

I watched this TED talk a little while back. With grace, charm, and introspection, Pico Iyer delves into the relevant question: What is home?

Is it the cul du sac you and your sister rode bicycles in? Is it the city your parents still live in? Is it the place you pay rent or the location with your fondest memories?

According to Iyer, it’s something much, much more.


photo (15)Ever do the “when this,then that” thing?

When I get into the college of my dreams, then I will well be on the track towards the career of my dreams.
When I find the “right” person to share my life with, then I will find happiness.
When I make $ ____, then I can enjoy life.

It’s a spinning ride that doesn’t stop.

I found this most true in the goals Craig and I created while in Laos. At first it was about getting the work visa, then finding the right home to live in, then the yoga space, then launching the business. There were some genuine matters that relied on time lines, but for the most part we accelerated our being there.

It wasn’t until we made the decision to leave, that we had the chance to look and see all those months lined up behind us. Where had the time gone?

Far from behaving as an isolated event, I can see similar patterns where I am now. When I finish my teaching job, then I will feel more creatively free. When the visa paperwork is done, then Craig and I can have a normal marriage again. When I make enough money, then I can relax.

Such bullshit.

A few weeks ago, Craig called his ninety-nine year old grandfather. Asking how he was feeling, Gramps shared: I’ve bloody overstayed my time.
I wondered how I’d feel at that age, if life just plain would wear me out. Craig wondered too. Was there grace left after so many years? Would you not appreciate one more sunrise or one more cup of coffee or one listen to a favorite song? he asked.

I held on to that. At ninety-nine or thirty-nine, there are no guarantees. I may have forty more years or forty more hours of being on this precious planet. It’s the showing up at this very moment that matters. So, I could participate in the creative learning of my students. I could love the marriage I have now. I could find moments of relaxation in my day-to-day activities.

Look back at a line of months spent anticipating life or living it? My choice.

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I recently read that Emily Dickinson quote. It’s nothing revolutionary, really. It’s about having courage. It’s about overcoming fear. And yet, it’s the capitalized word “Nerve” that makes all the difference. Nerve is a proper noun, having an identity of import. It’s something we give credence to.

When it grants, it empowers action. When it denies, it sucks away aspiration and deflates dreams.

About three years back, I recounted a story over and over again. To my multiple life coaches, to my husband. I was in the thick of studying interior design. I had started a website. I began to dream…cautiously. Starting something new scared me to pieces. Unsure of my ability to succeed, I wondered if I truly had the Nerve to go through with a career change.

Fast forward to present day. While I still teach, it is temporary. My days are ignited by a love of what I do with design. I have jumped in with both feet (finally!) and am excited about the future. This is honestly a new feeling for me when it comes to work.

There is still much that needs to happen; there are large goals ahead. The difference though, is hearing Emily loud and clear; going above my Nerve once only makes the next time easier to do.

[image: Shelby Brakken]




Luang Prabang is a set for so many fascinating story lines. There are people of all walks of life passing through, staying for a time, settling in. There are dreamers, adventurers, lost souls and truth seekers. There are artists, do-gooders, partiers, and floaters. There are entrepreneurs, free spirits, escape artists, and risk-takers. Some kept to themselves. Many congregated in small but vivacious spaces to share in the experience of being right then, right there.

One of these places is the Ikon Club.

I feel lucky to have frequented this place and shared a friendship with it’s owner, Lisa. Watching her creative video of the genesis and character of Ikon makes me smile and wish I was sitting on a stool there right now.


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