Virtual Coffee

When I took this photo, I was already in a state where I was thinking, “Let’s take Virtual Coffee outside today, for I need space to think.” But the day just progressed in it’s méchant way, and now I’m looking around for the bottle of wine. So if we all had our collective cups of coffee (or glasses of wine) in hand, I’d start with something a little upbeat.

I was hoping to find a Thai translation of Harry Potter to use with the kids at SOLD and went to a bookstore that looked promising from the outside. Thus far, in Thailand I’ve only found bookshops that are little more than corner stands or maybe the size of a small shop in a strip mall. It always made me feel a little alien, as I hid away at home with my Kindle downloads. Anyway, so I walked into this one and was slightly dismayed, though not totally surprised, to see it was small and had not much of a selection. But I knew Thai translations of HP exist, so out of desperation, I asked the girl behind the counter where I might find it. She instructed me to go upstairs. Pleased as I was to discover they even had a second story, I was overcome when I got to the top of the stairs and saw a store the likes of any of our largest Borders Stores or Barnes & Nobles stretching out before me, and full of people looking for books to read! In an instant I was home. I combed every inch of that beast, just soaking it all in. Simple pleasures, folks. Simple pleasures.

If we were really chatting over coffee or wine right now, I’d try to hold back, but I’d probably not be able to help myself talking about the death of bin Laden. And the truth is, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I feel a sort of grim satisfaction, I suppose, as it seems to mark the end of a chapter in our collective history. But I cannot quite rejoice in death, even in the death of such an ignoble villain as he. And one thing that worries me is the focus the news has placed on the celebrations everywhere. The world, friend and foe alike, sees this. What they probably don’t see are the thousands of smaller, quieter voices I’m seeing everywhere saying: This is not happiness I feel.

The part that I really wonder about though, beyond the politics, beyond religion or ethnicity, is I wonder what our younger generations will take away from this entire episode. I’m about 10 years ahead of the generation who came of age in a post-9-11 world. Their lives, more than mine, have been shaped by a world in which war is a near constant background, and politics ever more than before has been characterized by folly. Will this have as powerful an effect on this generation as the Vietnam War and Watergate did when those events eroded public faith in government and set in disillusionment on the national scale? If so, what will those kids take away from it? Or have they (or even we) become so numb that even something as big as this will roll of our backs in a few weeks’ time?

I can’t help but wonder.

Meanwhile, when I turn my gaze closer to the ground, to the immediate, I find myself again contemplating consequences for the future of children. When I taught at the university level in the States, and here again now, teaching disadvantaged children in Thailand, I find myself bumping up against the same thing: people held hostage by fears, too afraid of children to stand up and guide them. Too afraid to make them upset. Too afraid to make them do hard work. Too afraid to challenge them. Too afraid of not being fun. But then I read this post and was reminded of all the reasons I feel it is right to push the children, to be the disciplinarian, and to hold them to a higher standard, even when everyone else around me is saying “don’t expect too much from them.”

The thing that I found when I taught at university though? The more I pushed the students, the higher my expectations, and the less slack I allowed for laziness, the better the students responded. It’s like they craved the discipline. Sure, I got the stink eye from them a time or two. But when I got my evaluations back? It was nothing but gratitude. They found the harder they worked, the higher their rewards.

I refuse to believe it’s any different here. At least, not until I see any strong evidence otherwise. And hell yes, I’ll take a few stink-eyes if my students walk away from my class feeling they actually got something out of it, more than entertainment.

</end soapbox>

Have you read Amy Chua’s book? If so, what do you think?

Anyway, this month will be hectic for me. I’ve written 60+ pages of my novel so far (not counting any of the character descriptions, vignettes, scene layouts or synopses, of course) and I’m getting to the point where I’m fully absorbed by it and any attention directed elsewhere makes me itchy. But I’ll be going to Chiang Rai every weekend this month to teach and to help with Parents’ Weekend. School is starting up again at the temple, and I’ve gotten back into yoga, AND I have to fly down to Bangkok for several days to take care of some business (yay, another visit with Mr. Pig…). My days shall be quick full, and I’m already sorely behind on my 365 photo project.


Still, busy doing what you love? Not so bad.

And I’m very excited because I’ve just finished (well, almost) putting together a textbook for the kids at SOLD. I’m gearing my writing workshops to each focus on one element of putting together an illustrated storybook, from start to finish, so that by the end, the kids will have practice in creating, planning, and executing a whole project by themselves. The exercises will walk them through it, but we’ll also have some other reading & writing exercises to help build their vocabulary in English and central Thai, build skills in critical thinking & analysis (especially understanding cause & effect and understanding how we learn things through observation and attention to detail), and improve writing skills. I can’t wait to see how it all goes! And when the kids are done, I hope to somehow put their final projects on display somewhere. So excited!

Ok, I KNOW I’ve rattled on long enough. I can’t wait to hear how your week is going! Hope you’re staying away from crazy tornadoes…See y’all around the Virtual Cafe!

Join in the fun at Amy’s!



Capturing imaginations – finding the bigger picture

Sometimes awareness comes in startling revelations. Sometimes there is a moment so simple that the stunning part is how subtly it clued you in to tiny revelations accumulated over time.

I was sitting at the resource center and had finished up some small bit of work. I turned to the group of girls who had been playing together while waiting for me to finish working and join them.

“So you girls want to watch a Disney movie?” I asked.

Squeals of delight erupted and they clambered over to the couch while I pulled out the DVDs. “Which one do you want to watch?”

Without hesitation: “Cinderella!”

I chuckled over their love of an old Disney classic and was intrigued since I hadn’t seen it more than a couple of times when I was a kid. But as I watched it, it seemed to me to be such a stark contrast from my personal Disney favorite, “Beauty and the Beast”. “Cinderella” is a story that captured the imaginations of little girls of the 1950s and 60s and follows the traditional story line of an impoverished and used girl who must be rescued by magic and a prince to find love and freedom. Both Cinderella and her prince are thin on personality; they are primarily just pawns moved about by larger forces (some benevolent, like the King, some malicious, like the wicked stepmother). Slightly different from my favorite, where the heroine must overcome her own fear and prejudice to find love and freedom with a hero who looks terrible from the outside but has similar intelligence and sensibilities underneath.

But “Cinderella” is the one these girls want to see. And as we watch, the tiny memories started to accumulate into one larger revelation.

When I was at their families’ home on Saturday night, the girls were watching cartoons on TV and interspersed between the cartoons were popular music videos. These girls, all around ages 6-8 or so, were belting out the tunes at the top of their lungs. I laughed at the cuteness, though I felt a little disturbed because all (and I mean ALL) the songs were about two girls fighting over a man.

And then I remembered my cousins doing the same thing when we were teens: watching music videos and singing happily about betrayal and loss.

And I thought about all the popular Thai music videos I’ve seen, waiting in bus stations, sitting on the bus, playing in cafes and hair salons, and in shop windows…

Almost all of them feature a woman left behind by a man. A lover who moves on to be with another woman. Two women fighting over a man. Men make all the choices. The women are portrayed as scheming and over-crazed by emotions. And they haven’t the self-respect to walk away.

And as I looked at these young girls, the same age as my nieces, singing lovingly about heartbreak and affairs, jealousy and betrayal, I realize just how ubiquitous this theme is in Thai culture. How do we teach empowerment, when they’re taught to romanticize love triangles and inferiority to men at such tender ages? I’m not going to sit here and blame popular music for how these girls think. Rather, I believe that these songs strike such a chord with them because the stories are so deeply embedded in the consciousness of the culture.

In reality, most Thai women I know are actually incredibly strong. But they are also rather jaded on the whole idea of romance. I’d venture to guess it’s because what is portrayed as romance in the popular culture is really just women being weak.

I want love for these girls. When they get older, I want them to find joy in romance; stability, comfort and honor in marriage. (If marriage is indeed what they want.) I’d hope they don’t have to push away love to survive, for love and strength don’t have to be at odds with one another. In fact, they should support each other. What I don’t want is for these girls to sit around waiting to be rescued. I don’t want them to ever feel like they don’t have the power to make choices. It took forty years for the story of a generation to shift from “Cinderella” to the likes of “Beauty and the Beast”. I wonder what it will take to help even just one little girl see how much power she really has over her own life.

I wonder, if I ever have a daughter of my own, what story will capture her imagination?

What Disney film captured your imagination? What bigger picture did you see this week? Join in at This Heavenly Life!



virtual coffee

Welcome! Come on in and help yourself to a cookie (or two or three). I baked them fresh. They’re oatmeal but I tossed in some chocolate chips and a few chopped up Ferrero Rocher chocolates for some hazelnutty-crispy decadence. Do you love Ferrero Rocher as much as I do?

I’m pretty sure I need the chocolate after the past couple of days. If we were really meeting for coffee today, I would tell you about what’s really been going on in my heart. But because this blog is just so public, I’m just going to have to say I’ve been stuck in a bit of a moral grey zone the last little while and I don’t know what the better path is. The brunt of it seems to have passed, but the weight of the uncertainty in this particular instance has left me rather emotionally exhausted. I would also tell you all about a separate issue entirely that has been weighing on me, but for now I can only say it is a situation where a girl is at a crossroads between choosing what is right and what is easy. I worry for her immensely because there is a lot at stake. If you’re the type to pray, prayers that she chooses the higher path would be much appreciated. And for now, I’ll just have to say my heart is heavy and leave it at that.

Anyway, as I type this, my husband is crossing into Burma. The embassy in LA told us he has to check in with immigration periodically to keep his visa valid for one year. What they didn’t mention is that it’s not checking in with the immigration bureau in Chiang Mai. It’s an actual border crossing in and out of the country. When he went to Chiang Mai’s immigration bureau, they explained what he actually has to do (and said the embassy in LA isn’t very good), so he had to drop everything and ride up, on a motorcycle, over some gnarly roads, in the rain, to Burma and back. Things dealing with legal authorities always make me (perhaps irrationally) nervous. I feel about 70% better now that I just got a call from him saying it’s taken care of. But I won’t feel 100% better until he’s back home safe and dry.

Although, as a Californian, I never developed much of an affinity for rain (though most people I know like rain), I’m actually quite glad we’ve got some rainy weather now. It cooled down the heat considerably and cleared the air so it smells fresh and lovely outside. I never liked going outside in the rain before, so I thought I would hate riding a scooter in it. But it turns out, with a helmet, I’m perfectly fine. I discovered I don’t mind getting wet; it’s just getting rain in my eyes and the feel of raindrops on my head that I find annoying. So that’s good news because it’s supposed to rain the whole rest of the week.

I’m also excited to hold another creative writing workshop at SOLD this weekend. After watching the Women In the World summit last weekend, I have lots of ideas to play around with in terms of where I’d like to go with our education program and how to develop different aspects of it. After watching the summit, too, I think I have an even deeper understanding of the nature of the challenges we face. I realize even more deeply than I did before that what we do is not just a matter of giving children the tools they need to avoid being trafficked. It’s not just educating them so that they can have chances for a better life. There are deeper ramifications. If you educate a girl and financially empower her, she will be far more likely to change the power dynamic within the family and she will be far more likely to make different choices. She will send her children to school instead of to work (or to war). She will not accept a husband having a mistress or second wife. I realized this before and thought of it as a good thing; an end to be achieved. But now I also realize, or perhaps am more sensitive to the realization, that when you create those changes, you really do begin to mess with a whole cultural order. That can be good, when elements of a culture give rise to or perpetuate the use of children for sex. But we also have to realize how those same elements are linked to other aspects of the culture that can be forces for good (or at the very least, may just be a different way of doing things). If we really want to tackle the problem of child sex slavery, we have to attack the problem deeply. But the deeper we go, the more responsibility we carry in affecting a society and a culture. In the name of our goal, to what extent do we have a right to push? These are questions we must be aware of and try to answer as an organization. Not having clear answers is okay. It’s life. But it is critical that we are sensitive to and aware of the questions. Reducing the issues to black & white would be irresponsible.

In the meantime, we can empower individuals, one child, one woman, one man at a time. And they at least will be able to make choices for themselves. And if there are enough individuals together, they maybe they (not SOLD) can push a society to ask itself questions about what they want for themselves as a society. And then maybe the society can choose what values they want. But at least they might begin asking the questions.

Maybe it is not really for SOLD to have the answers. Maybe the role of SOLD is to just present the question and provide alternatives and the chance for individuals to choose for themselves. After all, isn’t that what empowerment really is about anyway? Having the freedom to choose.

Oooph. Heavy for a cup of coffee, eh? Anyway, how are you all doing? I’ll stop yammering away now and turn to your voices. How is your week going? Do you like rain too? What is written across your heart today? What is brewing in your mind?

- x -

P.S. I did make the crocodile last week. I sauteed it in olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper with bell peppers and pineapple. The flavor combinations worked quite well together. And crocodile is indeed a delicate flavored white meat. The hubby quite approved. However, I’m still not sure I’m sold on crocodile meat. It was a little bit like white fish that had been cooked too long – maybe because it was cooked from frozen? Whatever. I can now say I’ve tried it.


Join Amy for Virtual Coffee (and hopefully some lighter conversation)!

booking it in the e-world

So it’s no real secret that the publishing world is in need of some serious revamping or it will soon go the way of the music industry. Borders is on the verge of bankruptcy. Publishers are trimming themselves in, sticking to what they know will sell even if a lot of it is crap, and agents are accepting fewer and fewer submissions. Which means it’s even harder than ever for new voices to break into the market.

But I’m not going to complain about that. That’s not what this post is about precisely. What I’m thinking about is…what if we could re-envision how publishing works?

The publishing industry is digging its heels in, in protest against e-publishing, and when it does go along with the times, it merely converts books into a format readable by digital readers. But then I read this Wired article ( that poses the question: what if we can think differently about the format and function of books? What if we can harness the power of technology to create a whole new medium for exploration and interactivity? The author speaks specifically about children’s books. You should read the article, but if you don’t get a chance to, he outlines several ways we can eschew the limitations of books to make them even better learning tools and springboards for creativity for children.

And it makes me wonder…why just children’s books? Why not books for adults too? For example, I love blogging because I love the way I get to play around with words and images together, how I can make them flow and support each other, and tap into the beautiful and the interesting and the poignant in ways that are both visual and verbal. But we don’t have that in books for adults, not unless you wanna’ pay big bucks to publish photo books. What if we could use e-readers to provide words and images together as part of the reading experience, in a way that’s financially viable for both the producer and the consumer?

I also love blogging because it’s more easily digestible. More and more these days, we don’t have the time (ahem, and maybe attention span) to devote to entire books like we used to. (I mean, we do and we don’t, but definitely it can be hard to find the time to commit to a full-length book.) However, I’ve never personally been into short stories. I almost never read collections of short stories because, honestly, if I know a story is ending in a few pages, I don’t get sucked into the characters. I don’t emotionally commit.

But what if we could use e-books as a way to bring novellas to the fore? Stories of in-between length. Stories that you can pick up when you know you have an hour to kill while the roast is in the oven or are waiting at the doctor’s office. They’re still long enough you can get emotionally invested in the characters, but short enough you don’t feel put off by picking them up because you don’t have time. They could even be tagged by estimated reading time.

You could also right-click on any word or phrase and have a dictionary or Google search pop up if you wanted to look into something more. And you know how you might highlight favorite or memorable quotes? What if you could “like” them and it automatically tweets the quote or sends it to Facebook? What if it notifies the author that that quote spoke to you, and you could even comment on it? And, what if, with one or two clicks you could recommend it to all your contacts (or just specified ones), and with another click or two, they can purchase a copy themselves? Or you can order a print or purchase a downloaded copy of a photo? I mean, as long as we’re dreaming here, why not?

I’m thinking daydreaming about getting into self-publishing someday. Yeah, it’ll be hard and it’ll definitely mean a smaller distribution than traditional publishing (if I were ever to make it in that world). But I’m really liking the idea of having much more control over my final product. I would love if I could have a say about what the cover of my book might look like, the fonts used, and how the book, as a finished art piece looks in its entirety, not just the words inside. No middle men. Just author and consumer. And the book, as a whole, represents me. Not a marketing committee. Independent. Accessible. And better for the environment. (Think of all the trees we could save and all the gas we wouldn’t have to consume!)

So maybe technology isn’t quite there yet. But if I do self-publish, I could at least toy with the idea of doing an e-book that is of whatever length I want it to be, and I can include both words and images of my own design. That could be a start anyway.

What do you think?

Being a Woman in Thailand

* BIG HUGE CAVEAT * I’ve been here just a few days shy of a month, so these are first impressions and observations only.

One thing that must first be made clear is that Thailand is not a country built upon values of equality. There are very clear rules guiding behavior according to social status, and while not quite as rigid as the Indian caste system, hierarchy here is accepted and indispensible.

Men and women are not equals, but guidelines dictating their roles and spheres of influence are not straightforward either. For example, women are not allowed to touch monks. If a woman wants to hand something to a monk, it must be done indirectly, either through a man, or by placing the item on a special cloth for that purpose. Women may own property, but after they are married, any future property must be in their husbands’ name. However, in many marriages, the woman is the one to control the finances.

{Also, let’s not even get into gender equality at work. We’ll just say that when I looked at the faculty of the political science department at one of the universities the male-to-female ratio was not exactly 1:1. Or even 5:1. Perhaps not a representative sample of office politics, I will admit.}

Surprisingly, the tension between women who work outside the home and those who are housewives seems similar to that in the U.S. Women are often expected to help bring money home, and people may look a little surprised if you say you don’t work. However, many women are homemakers, especially after having children if they can afford to do so.

And then there’s the cattiness and the judging, of women and by women. One of the bigger issues I’ve bumped up against is dress. Thai people are considered to be very fastidious. They are clean and they care about their appearances to the nth degree. But to my eye, at least, their sense of fashion seems to be stuck in the 80s castaway section of Ross or Mervyns. I really don’t mean to be derogatory here, but the best visual I can come up with is that it is clothing we might associate with recent immigrants in the U.S. Bright colors, stripes, polka dots, ensembles that may or may not match and tops that often are just a tad too big for the person in question. I’m not even convinced many women here even wear makeup most days of the year. In America, I wear a more bohemian, artist style – something along the lines of what you might see in Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters. Not full on catalogue, but we’ll say “inspired by.” Here, many of my shirts are considered too low cut because they dip below the tops of my armpits, and the long draping lines appear slovenly.

You’ll definitely see girls in teeny, tiny short cutoffs and shirts that say ferocious and pornographic things, but these are not respectable ladies and the social price for wearing such things can be severe. Some of the hipster fashion is showing up here too, but it appears that the general line on fashion in Thailand, especially outside of Bangkok is “be fashionable, but not too fashionable”, which is ironic considering how interested Thai people are in fashion and being cool.

So for me, finding clothes that I can feel comfortable in but that still are appropriate for the various social and business occasions I find myself in is quite a challenge. As much as we’ve had a simply awe-filled time here, this seemingly innocuous problem contributes to – and maybe even in representative of – some of the many moments in which I feel completely overwhelmed. Moments where I sense I’ve given offense, but everyone is too polite to explain how or why. It’s simply up to me to intuit what went wrong.

There are times that, as a woman and a foreigner here, I feel that I am without power, without voice. There are moments in which I feel like I have to fight for myself against everyone else, and these are moments in which I feel very alone.

a bigger picture moment

This week I struggled to find the bigger picture moment. There was turmoil, and I tossed and turned, groping for what I was supposed to learn from it, but all I got was lost.

I have a colleague, whom I know others avoid talking to because, well…he’s extreme. Not just extreme, but also incendiary. He enjoys provocation. He’s self-aggrandizing and tries to use huge post-modernist words to sound smart, but usually ends up just obfuscating his leaps in logic. I know this about him, but I’ve always maintained a degree of tolerance, respect, even bemused affection for him, because, you know, at least he’s earnest. And usually I don’t take the bait when he’s being incendiary and provocative because I know it never ends well. He’s always too busy trying to prove he’s right to ever listen to what truth might lie on the other side, and he doesn’t care who he offends in the meantime.

But this time, when he said that America’s institution of marriage was a sham, I had to put a few words in. Except, it’s never just a few words and pretty soon we were into it. Only later, through the course of the argument it started to become clear that he didn’t think committing lifelong to someone was a sham, only having state involvement in it was. He doesn’t believe in signing a legal document about it and he rails against the state’s incentive structure privileging married couples over nonmarried couples. He wondered why the state should be involved at all.

I was willing to grant that he had a valid point in there, though I still argued there are important reasons to want state protection for marriages. (The argument really isn’t important here though and I’m not seeking validation for my side of it.) But his point did make me start looking into the history of marriage and how states ever got involved in the first place. And I thought, maybe this is my bigger picture moment. Engaging with him might make me learn something here. So I waded through material about patriarchy and the historical economic motivations for marriage and the split between church and state and Europe…and I waded…and then…I just. didn’t. care. I stopped.

And after that point, he lost what semblance of respect he had maintained in the conversation and just became flat out insulting, so I stopped responding. But it stuck with me. And I couldn’t figure out why it stuck with me. I didn’t care about proving myself right. I knew better than to be really hurt by his insults because that’s just how he is. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to learn from this exchange. Tolerance is hard maybe? I just didn’t know.

But then I realized something. He’s just a kid. His arguments may be more eloquent and better considered than those who just say legal marriage is nothing more than the signing of a document. But he has never known what it is to totally subsume himself for something greater. (Or if he has, he must have gotten burned in the process, and that explains why he upholds individual freedom above any other possible value.) There is a profoundly important difference between making promises to your lover in private and getting up in front of everyone you know and love and declaring your commitment. There is a difference when you love someone so much, you’re willing to declare your commitment in a legally binding way. That process transforms you. And no amount of armchair theorizing can tell you how that process changes you until you experience it. A marriage is still prone to weaknesses and no legal stature can totally inoculate it from danger. But the ceremony and tradition links you to all those who have come before you.

And I found I just truly did not care that the state is involved, even if it means we’re pawns in some scheme larger than what we can see. So what if, historically, marriage supported patriarchy? My marriage does not. I don’t have to change the institution of marriage by opting out. I can change it by living it the way we want to, every single day. I’m reminded of a quote by Barbara Kingsolver (bear with me, it’s a little long):

“But his kind will always lose in the end. I know this, and now I know why. Whether it’s wife or nation they occupy, their mistake is the same: they stand still, and their stake moves underneath them….Even a language won’t stand still. A territory is only possessed for a moment in time. They stake everything on that moment, posing for photographs while planting the flag, casting themselves in bronze. Washington crossing the Delaware. The capture of Okinawa. They’re desperate to hang on.

But they can’t. Even before the flagpole begins to peel and splinter, the ground underneath arches and slides forward into its own new destiny. It may bear the marks of boots on its back, but those marks become the possessions of the land. What does Okinawa remember of its fall? Forbidden to make engines of war, Japan made automobiles instead, and won the world. It all moves on.”
– The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver, p. 384.

It all moves on. The state has been involved in marriage for centuries, but the institution of marriage has changed over that time without the state having much say about it. Whereas once marriage might have been a primarily financial consideration to ensure progeny, entered into by a man of at least 30 years of age and a woman under 18, now we marry for love, usually between equals. In the last century alone it has changed. Who knows what it will be a century from now? What matters is the will of the people in it. And we can theorize all we want about the social and political implications, but it all moves on, and people will make of it what they want from it. And that is our power.

I realized that, and I slept soundly. And into my dreams, I did not bring in this argument. I dreamt of different things and lovely things. And when I woke, I kissed my husband good morning.

Finding The Element

If you read nothing else in this life, read this book. I’ve been itching to write a review of it for two days now and haven’t because…because I don’t know why. Because I had a rule in my head that I had to finish it before urging you to read it, even though I knew I was going to recommend it after reading the first page.

I stumbled across his book after a friend posted a link to the author’s speech. You should watch it first. It will give you a really good idea what his book is about. Plus he’s a really entertaining speaker.

His book is called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, and oh my is it ever true. He makes a lot of beautiful points about what it takes to find what he calls “the element”: that nexus between aptitude and passion, where what you’re good at meets what you love doing. Through countless examples of really successful people who found success through extraordinary means, Robinson shows how so many people go through life thinking they are not creative, or they’re not particularly good at anything, when nothing could be further from the truth. But true creativity, authenticity, and talent gets crushed by our educational system because it promotes one kind of success, one way of thinking, one route to fulfillment, and it’s becoming ever more standardized and forces children ever more towards conformity.

But when it comes to learning and growing and performing, there is not just one style. He says, “Never underestimate the vital importance of finding early in life the work that for you is play. This turns possible underachievers into happy warriors.” Never underestimate the importance of work that for you is play. We have such a social stigma, don’t we, against actually enjoying our work? People who love their jobs are said to be the lucky ones. Imagine what life would be like if we all allowed ourselves to pursue work that was our passion. Work we hate takes too much energy. It saps the life out of us. Work we love? It gives us energy. It gives us life. And yet, we put ourselves in “sensible jobs” to pay the bills, have stability, etc. because we’ve been told what we really love isn’t a viable option. But as Robinson says, “doing something ‘for your own good’ is rarely for your own good if it causes you to be less than who you really are.”

This isn’t just about personal fulfillment either. If people are pursuing their passions, they work to the fullest of their capacity. Therein lies the magic to maximizing human potential. We don’t just need this as individuals. We need this as a society to grow.

This message isn’t just for the young trying to find their way. It’s for anyone still looking. It’s for mothers with children for whom school doesn’t have a spark, or doesn’t tap into and allow enough space for learning in the area where the child’s heart is. It’s for people looking for a second or even third career. It encourages you to think about how it is you think and learn, in what ways you are intelligent and passionate. And it re-envisages the boundless ways you can use your particular strengths. Maybe you’re really good at memorizing baseball stats. Useless as that may seem to others, who knows…you could just be a really fantastic sports team manager. Maybe you love gardening…who knows, maybe there’s a life for you in landscape design. The point is, it is never too late to try to find it.

He makes a fabulous point about how the education system only prepares for the world as it is now and leaves us hopelessly unprepared for a changing and dynamic future. But the future is incredibly dynamic. Think how much change has occurred just over the past 2 decades. Can any of us say with any certainty what 2030 will look like?

I’m increasingly convinced too that the one career or one job for your entire working lifetime model of our parents’ generation is becoming obsolete. I think that for many industries and avenues for work, many of my generation will have multiple jobs and multiple careers over the span of their lifetime. Being able to adjust and roll with this requires a great deal of versatility and flexibility. It requires thinking about your skill set in broad, open-minded ways. For many of us, I think even the idea of working for large corporations is anathema to our deepest desires and happiness. Many will venture out on their own, as small business owners, freelancers, or otherwise self-made men and women. And for many of these paths, a college degree is not exactly what it takes to succeed.

Did I just really say that? *gasp* Yes I did. After teaching undergrads at the university level for the past 5 or so years, I’ve really begun to feel that pushing kids into college for that “all-mighty degree” is a mistake (perhaps one of even colossal proportions). We are told that you can’t get anywhere anymore without a college degree. Yet, once you get past the interview stage for most jobs…for how many of us has that degree actually mattered? It’s all about what you can do and what you have done. Meanwhile, kids plunk tens of thousands of dollars into a college education and at least 4 years (now going on 5 or more with budget cutbacks), and most students are just not plugged in. They’re not particularly interested in the subjects, certainly not as interested as they are in what grade they’ll get at the end and so they end up just floating through the whole experience. What an enormous waste of time and money for the students, and of expertise and know-how on the part of professors.

Of course I think education is important. But I don’t like this boilerplate model we’re adopting. I think many students would be far better served taking some time off after high school to work or travel to find out what it is that really motivates them. When they find their passion, then they should go to school for it. They’d get far more out of the experience. And it may be that a university is not the best place for them to learn. For a lot of careers, what employers are looking for is talent, not a GPA and magna cum laude. So it may be that looking into a trade school or a series of workshops and working internships is the way to go. Some guidance and feedback is always helpful. But sometimes people really do just learn best and discover their own unique contributions most efficiently simply by doing.

Anyway, take a look at the speech. If it speaks to you, I urge you to try the book.

on hobbies and such

I’ve been mulling over some thoughts for several weeks now, wanting to write a post, but being not quite sure how to approach it. These thoughts all started when I read this article about maturity for the modern man. Basically, it argues that maturity in men comes with one essential guideline: create more, consume less. You really should read the article, it’s fascinating. And that mantra really did stick with me. A couple days after reading that, I came across an interview with Deborah of Whipstitch, where she debunked the myth that sewing is outdated and anti-feminist. She argued that there is a subtle (or sometimes overt) message that crafting and sewing were ways to repress women, and that domestic art is not as valuable as corporate art (certainly it’s not often considered fine art!). But more and more of us in the post-feminist generation feel an empty space in our lives from this lack of a creative outlet.

Both of these articles stuck with me, and I think, though both were addressed to gendered audiences, their lessons and values apply universally. So I wrote a whole long deal on the importance of hobbies and re-engaging in time honored skills like cooking, sewing, gardening, woodworking, mechanics, photography, writing (including blogging)…whatever. And then I scrapped it. I was trying to capture all of the suns’ rays as through a glass, and found the words did not burn on the paper (paraphrasing Ginsberg here).

But creative outlets are so important – even if you think you’re a person who isn’t very creative. The act of creating something uniquely your own is powerful and not to be underestimated. It’s practical, for developing these skills can save money and reduce waste. It’s good for your sense of pride: to look at something you’ve made and know it’s been made well. And it’s good for your self-esteem: for if you develop skills in different areas, and one area goes to sh*t, you have something else to keep you going. It’s liberating and it’s like meditation. Often I find when I bump into a problem in one area of my life, if I shut off and do something else entirely, focus and concentrate on cooking or baking or whatever, when I come back to that problem, an answer is there waiting for me. I even count sports and various forms of exercise in this because they can be meditative too. Maybe they don’t produce anything tangible (other than perhaps sweat, blood or tears…), but they do create good energy that can help focus or calm you in other areas. And because these creative outlets are so important, I really think it is essential that not only we each as individuals carve out time for them, but that we support our loved ones (spouses especially) and give them the space they need to pursue them too, even if those hobbies incur costs.

I recently started teaching myself to sew. I’ve done a couple projects here and there, but I’ve never really made a concerted effort to learn before. My husband taught me how to use the machine since he had a Home Ec class in high school and I never did (how’s that for feminism for you?). I got a couple of beginner’s books and spent $7 at a thrift store on some old napkins and pillowcases that I repurposed to make a vintage style apron.



If you look closely, those ruffles are all total crap. And don’t look at the back of it either.

Though, I kind of like these details:

Worth it to no longer be tempted to buy the $35 ones at Anthropologie.

Then, using scraps I had from earlier projects, I made a cover for my kindle.

I just have to be a little delicate with it, or the bottom pops out

Then, for my birthday, my hubby got me some gorgeous fabrics and yesterday I made a wraparound skirt. The apron isn’t great. The kindle cover needed a little retooling, but mostly it works. But the skirt? I LOVE. Because it’s totally mine, and though it’s not perfect either, I finally started getting the hang of things. (It helped to have proper tools: oh rotary cutter, how I love thee.)

Sewing isn’t easy for me, mostly because it requires patience, and patience has never been one of my virtues. But it’s precisely for that reason I’m trying really hard to commit to it. With sewing, you really have to take things one step at a time. You can’t take shortcuts or the final product will suffer for it. And doing things right the first time saves you a lot of grief in the end.

But with this last project, every time I started getting frustrated and felt tempted to rush or cut corners, I just told myself, “Make with love, not haste. Make with love, not haste.” It helped.

That scattered feeling I’ve been having lately? Slowly, I’m starting to burnish the edges of it off. I’m thinking maybe it is worthwhile to take a moment to get centered again so I can refocus and do a better job of things.

Post Women Unbound Challenge

"unchain my heart! set me free..."I’m beginning to sense that my attempt at the Women Unbound challenge would be incomplete without a reflection on what I’ve gained from it. At the start of the challenge, I was asked what feminism meant to me. I responded: “To me, feminism is about achieving not only equality, but also liberty: the freedom to be who you are and choose the life you wish to lead, to offer your own unique contribution to the world.” When asked whether I considered myself a feminist, I said: “The term is so loaded these days, and I’m not sure I consciously apply that label to myself. I’m a ‘humanist’, I guess. I don’t support one race or gender over another, but seek to promote inclusion and understanding, so that we might all understand our need of each other. As Desmond Tutu once said, “I am, because other people are.” I’m a ‘thoughtist’ in the sense that I advocate thoughtfulness, not only in understanding others, but also in understanding ourselves.”

Through this challenge, I think my definition of feminism has not really changed, but I am much more inclined to call myself a feminist. I am a feminist in the sense that I care deeply about women’s issues and righting injustices and preventing harm from coming to the innocent.


Though I call myself a feminist, I find myself increasingly disenchanted with a lot of feminist media these days. I’ve been following Bitch PhD and Bitch Magazine, and at first I appreciated their insight…until it started to seem as though “bitch” refers less to “empowered, self-realized woman” and more to the verb: for bitching seems to be just about all they do.

I have a problem with feminism when it says we need to break down societal expectations of what WOMAN should be – only to hiss and moan when women don’t choose their particular “liberated” vision of woman. It denies freedom of choice. It denies individual expression. It denies that there might be some value to the way some things have been done for centuries. And it denies the hard fact of biological proclivities. Women should not be forced to stay in the kitchen if their talents and interests push them into the office. But neither is it bad if a woman actually enjoys what she does in the kitchen. It’s stupid to pretend everything is socially constructed.

I have a problem with feminism when all it does is complain about the media. Bitch Magazine is one long series of gripes about some aspect of popular culture that did something to get their panties in a twist – interspersed with maybe a few anecdotes of examples that suit their ideal. It’s not a call to action; it’s a glorified tally sheet. It doesn’t inspire; it just hits the same button ad nauseum like a Pavlovian dog. It’s not forward thinking; it has become reactionary. Yes, there are problems with today’s media. Yes, there are elements of patriarchy dominating society (75 cents on the dollar, anyone?). But as far as I’m concerned, you can only push the victim button so many times before I lose sympathy – even if I’m in the same boat. There’s only so many times you can cry “victim” before I’m going to ask: Ok, but what are you doing to become a “survivor”?

I have a problem with feminism when it seeks to include minority voices – but then rejects the legitimacy of white, male voices. Far be it from me to be the vanguard of privileged white males! And I’m pretty sure anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis would know that. But I think it’s a false claim of “open, honest discussion” when white males are excluded. Yeah they’ve dominated the discussion for centuries, and yeah I’ll think some opinions are total crap, but that doesn’t mean they should be denied a place at the table when we discuss what we want of our society. (Maybe that’s because my husband is white and male, but I do value his opinion.)

So through a closer look, I’ve discovered that a lot of feminism is pretty much what I thought it was, and that is sad. However, through reading a lot of literature about strong women, I’ve come to remember once again what it is about the feminine voice that is worth listening to. Hearing women’s perspectives on the world and learning more about women’s contributions to society has animated me and activated me to do something more to help where it hurts. I don’t cry foul when girls wear pink, but I do take umbrage when girls give up on an education one week out of every month because they don’t have a bathroom separate from the boys. I don’t think it’s a travesty if women find role models from generations past, but I do shed tears when women are mutilated because it’s taboo to say “stop”. I don’t really care about the messages that pervade pop culture. I do care about the messages sent by parents, teachers, and church leaders, for these are messages sent every day by the people children love. They’re not something that can be shut off with a flick of a power switch. So, I haven’t become a feminist of the academic variety. Instead, I’ve become inspired to pursue my own brand of feminism, for whatever that’s worth.

Maybe I’m Just An Eternal Optimist

Apparently I’m of the unpopular opinion that the world is not going to hell in a hand basket. Yesterday, Bitch Magazine published an article on the paucity of Gen Y role models for our generation to look up to. The author argued that there is a lack of clear forerunners among our generation and also suggested that the difficulty in identifying one may be related to a lack of consensus on what values that role model should embody. This utter lack then contributes to the difficulty in articulating our own identities.

Jackie OI personally don’t find this lack problematic at all. I think it’s good for people to have role models. But it doesn’t follow that those role models must be all-in-one: my same demographic, same values, and same generation. That would leave little to aspire to, in my opinion. I looked to different people for different things. Some were women; some were men. Most were older – for how many 13-year-olds are truly accomplished? And they came from a myriad of backgrounds. What they had were various things I admired: Jackie O. for her grace and femininity, the Dalai Lama and Rev. Desmond Tutu for their compassion and humility, my mother and father for their strength…there’s no shortage of capable and amazing people in this world. These people did not even need to be indisputable paragons of virtue either. It was my vision of who they were and what they stood for that was important.

As for the lack of consensus on values, I again don’t find this problematic. Diversity is a good thing: it keeps us aware of our limitations and provides balance. When it comes to the difficulty of finding a handful of people to inspire a generation en masse, I think it is the result of a more rich and diverse society and a larger, more diverse media. Generations past, people had the choice of maybe 3 TV stations. Now they have hundreds. Back then it was probably easier to have a small handful of voices captivate the nation. But with so much competition nowadays, it’s more difficult for one person to reach the whole nation. The options now are so diverse you can easily individualize what you are exposed to and almost literally create your own experience. It’s more likely that you’ll get what you want and minimize exposure to what you don’t want, but it does lead to fragmentation, polarization, and disassociation. Add to that an increasingly diverse society, people just aren’t going to be moved en masse by the same ideals anymore. Instead, they find their niches.

However, having such fragmentation does raise a question that the article did touch upon, and that is: what does this mean for the collective? What are the consequences for collective goals and unity? I’m not sure anyone really knows the answer to that at this point. I do think there are signs, though, that our society is going through a massive and fundamental change. Post-financial crisis, people are taking a step back and rethinking their goals, and what they want their legacy to be. And I think there’s a lot going on where people are eschewing old boundaries and “ways things have to be done” and trying more innovative strategies (for example, finding ways to have the flexibility to work from home instead of at the office). With the help of the internet, I think communal ties are being redrawn: shaped less by locale and more by interest. In a way, things are becoming a little more small-d democratic. I personally find it inspiring to watch and I think the end result could be really empowering for a lot of people.

But when I posted that opinion elsewhere, the response was that defining community by superficial and transitory interests cheapens community, that we risk losing our depth as a community if we relegate it all to electronic media instead of spending time just being human, and that rather than people becoming more authentic, there is more of a herd mentality going on.

I don’t take such a bleak view. I think finding others who are also motivated by social justice, or organic gardening, or photography, or whatever can be profoundly inspiring – even if they’re thousands of miles away from you. I think it deepens our ability to connect with and empathize with people who are far away from us. I think the disaster in Haiti and the millions of dollars raised showed just how powerfully people can empathize with one another and how that empathy can be facilitated through electronic media. Sure we weren’t all on the ground there, helping people out of the rubble. But does that make the empathy – and dollars raised – any less meaningful? And just because we make ties through electronic media, that doesn’t mean our ties to family must be any less important. Connecting with people all across the globe does not diminish the quality of time I spend with my family and friends here at home.

Being social animals, I think there are a lot of impulses in human nature that produce conformity or cause people to follow others. I don’t think there’s any more evidence of a herd mentality than there ever was in history. To think so, I think is to forget a lot of human history. But when I look around me, I do see a lot of innovative thinking and a lot of people finding new ways to approach problems and finding different ways to live their lives. Probably, through social media, I see more of it because it’s easier to see what common individuals are doing that maybe isn’t so common.

Sure there’s a lot going on that’s frustrating as all hell. Sure there are many things I wish could be better. But when I look around me, I can see a lot of reason to be hopeful for the future. I think society is going through a very profound change. Not all of it will be good. But I find some of it, at least, very inspiring and empowering.

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