Going salsa dancing sans partner usually involves me standing in a corner, nursing a glass of top-shelf water in between dancing with men at least twice my age, who have zero concept of personal space, or alternatively, with boys who smell overpoweringly of thyme and superbly make zero eye contact during the entirety of a 6-minute number.

But I keep going because the music moves me. Because I feel alive. Because I can laugh at my taking the cues that weren’t given, and my partner laughs at his stumbling feet. I am far less self-conscious, or feel the sense of incompetency, when I move to something bigger than me. When it empties me out and fills me over the brim.

Heaven help the American-born boy with a talent for ballet.

Camille Paglia

I went to the Viennese waltz hosted by the Duke Woodwind orchestra for this year’s Valentine’s day, and my escort readily agreed to go even though he knew nothing of ballroom dancing. I thought him incredibly brave, because most guys shrivel from the prospect of being on the dance floor having no idea what’s going on.

Things have been pretty rough lately. I’ve stopped writing, made little time to read, dance, or even make music. And my spirit is dry: I have been losing who I am to be more acceptable in someone else’s book. And the harder I tried the more brittle I became: tired and small. I’ve forgotten–or at least neglected–the machinery that makes me tick and tried to re-vamp the entire system to please others who cannot be pleased. And the harder I tried the more vehement the accusations became.

I know I am imperfect. But no one should have to be perfect in order to be loved and accepted. And I only have one of me.

Writing after a hiatus is kind of like using a leg that’s been in a cast. Awkward and floppy and lacking all neuromuscular coordination. The sentences buckle when I put weight on it. Reflexive twitching of quasimodo thoughts. But writing helps me think and waters my spirit and word by word I walk back toward God. A funny two-step.

A dance of one in body. Two in Spirit.


a time to heal

When I was twenty I had my heart broken in earnest. And my mother wrote this for me. I think having a woman like her as my mother is one of the reasons I have grown resilient and grounded, but not hard, because being tough and hard means that I would be closed off to the world and the people around me, and there would be no exchange between the world and my human-hood.




This is a rough time, hard to tough through. When we first encounter a crisis, or even during its midst it’s easy to think, I can’t do this. Then allow God run the course of the crisis; we ask for His mercy.


Humanity can attest to another humanity as one heart to another. Like pain, to which every person has been acquainted. I don’t want to see my child go through any sort of pain, bodily or mentally. But even more so, I don’t want my child to be desensitized to pain because that would be a frightening anomaly.


It’s almost impossible to be spared of heartbreak; we neither welcome nor desire them yet they are inevitable, arriving unannounced and wreck havoc. Heartbreaks cause us pain; cause our growth. We never want to break up with those we love, yet the fatality of first loves is not infrequent. It’s been said that we don’t understand love the first time around, even when we think we do.


A woman bring a child into life through pain and likewise through metamorphosis, a chrysalis becomes a butterfly. Metamorphosis is agony and metamorphosis is necessary.


You have a hard time of letting go because you are dedicated and committed. You let go despite of your own suffering because you are responsible and respectful. Respectful of his decision and your own ontology.


We both see the infinite and absolute love of God and the inept and finite love of a mother. Yet there is one thing that I give you without reserve, one thing that is absolute: I will always share your pain and joy, you will always have a place to come home to. I will always be waiting for you, ready for you.



Gallway, Ireland. By Abby Kroken

Gallway, Ireland. By Abby Kroken

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~e.e. cummings

reblogged: Growing Up into Belonging

A piece by Wendy Strgar, orginally found in The Elephant Journal, dated 24 May 2013.

“The hunger to belong is not merely a desire to be attached to something. It is rather sensing that great transformation and discovery become possible when belonging is sheltered and true.” 

~ John O’Donahue

I have been working on my capacity for receiving for some time. Teaching myself the ways of opening to love and affection, learning how to sense the feel of love in my body and noticing how it lasts or dissipates with my attention. The ability to receive manifests itself in everything from our capacity for sexual pleasure to our sense of financial security. It also lives in the endless human transactions that make up our days, not only within our most intimate relationships but in the ways we meet strangers, participate in groups large and small and generally experience belonging and isolation in our lives.

The need to belong is hardwired into our neural networks as a survival mechanism; being forsaken by the tribe meant certain death. Although the high degree of independent functioning that characterizes our relationships belies this ancestry, the feeling of being excluded still ignites deep emotional wounds of shame and unworthiness. I have known the truth of this trauma since early childhood, as our primary imprinting of belonging happens within our families. When the early give and take of family life is skewed toward isolation, we improvise to find connection as young children. The anxiety responses that form to protect us create patterns of interactions that are so deeply ingrained one could convincingly argue that there is little separation between the pattern and the person.

Usually, these patterns carry both costs and benefits. I have grown into an inspirational teacher and leader, unafraid of teaching to large groups, yet stubbornly unable to relax into being a quiet participant. Some odd yet persistent linking of being quiet and unsafely invisible is so deeply enmeshed in my neurology, that most group participation triggers such high levels of anxiety that my default leading takes over before I recognize what happens. While being a leader in some situations is a gift, in others it is alienating for everyone. This anxiety that I have come to know as myself does not allow me to receive anything around me. My knee jerk patterned reaction to fill the space and ease my anxiety prevents me from ever feeling the deep relief that happens in belonging to community.

Thanks to a dear friend’s compassionate insights, I was able for the first time to witness this lifelong pattern as something distinct from who I am and actually stay with the shame and anxiety that compels my behavior. As I have always said, our most painful realities only demand our attention to find their healing resolution. Holding the moments where we feel like we belong beside our times of isolation, speak volumes about our ability to receive the love that is always available, just by sharing our full presence, even with strangers. I feel like I have cracked a window on the persistent and painful isolation that I have long accepted as part of being who I am. I am finally able to witness a new possibility of community that has long eluded me. As Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Dealing with my long standing anxiety about belonging may be as simple as focusing on how I most want to be remembered by others—by how they felt when I was near them.

re: more yes, please

This is an older post, written 25 February 2013. I was still writing with all lower-case lettering. The sentiments are the same.

Alpine Climbers, Midi-Plan Traverse, France.
photo credit: Tommy Harris, National Geographic Magazine.

there are too many voices in my head. usually there are few. they lounge, chit-chat. drink Early Grey and plot world domination. fine by me. then they invite their relatives and it turns into a shout-fest and their conversations spill over into my conversations in real-time and now Huston we have a problem.

the bodacious ones in this round of internal polylogue have hitherto been wallflowers, so when they exploded out of nowhere no one brought proper PPE and thought-filter plugins were disabled and that’s why this post might be huge. the most recent trigger was my reading of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, where she described the overall dissatisfaction of the post-WWII female population. womanhood at that time was contoured by domestic chores, but Friedan–and as she came to realize in her research, her contemporaries–felt unfulfilled. as with most unhappiness, we slab on a psychosis label and try to talk it out, except back then psychotherapy for women was an euphemism to dismiss the patient’s unhappiness as a fluke.

thence began the feminist movement in earnest and now i feel like we’ve overcompensated. now women are supposed to do everything that a man can and it is uncouth and unimpressive to be only a housewife. on the other hand, men are cosigned as clueless mess-makers and football-watchers and sex-drives draped in skin and i feel like we’ve missed the point. when i look at social norms and tradition and expectations the discrepancies even within one community is daunting. and for the twenty-somethings i feel it’s even harder, because we are answerable to the generations before us and where our own lives seem to be going and often the two (and three and four and a dozen) are not in accord. i’m sure my philosophically-inclined friends who have a feast with parsing out which one is the good and true and worthwhile of pursuit whereas i am simply lost.

so, what happens when there’s too many voices?

it would seem that the elixir to information overload is effort-output anorexia. everything we are doing most of the time are met with “no”s: i ought to not be frank in my relationships lest frightening the other, i mustn’t want because it’s envy and that’s a sin, i should not laugh loudly because it’s childish, and good heavens i should not ask a guy out because it’s unladylike. some of my friends noticed that they’ve become less creative, either because they have no time to be creative outside of their assigned, ye-must-do type of work, or they have been honed toward something that is predictable, and predictably successful. it seems like my generation–and perhaps, an inherited trait from the generations preceding ours–is living by this whittling ourselves, and we end up choosing what-we-do-based-on-what-we-can’t/shouldn’t/ought-not/shan’t-do. and it appears to be that the only workable alternative to make ourselves feel less limited is to manipulate others into limiting themselves too.

it makes me sad that we, as human beings, as collective creators, as creatures of potentials, and as lovers of the deepest degree and magnitude and sincerity often feel so limited, whether by other’s choice or our own. and i refuse to believe that we can only be satiated and secure when we dismiss and discredit others, whether between genders or races or cultures or choices or opinions.

when there are too many voices, i think it’s good and honorable and worthwhile that women–and men too–choose what they wish to do. i certainly cannot raise a toddler and keep up the house and work full-time and keep up my friendships. (the first and second items named in the previous sentence are mutually antagonistic.) and i certainly cannot save the world by decoding the secrets of neurotoxin and world-travel and world-create and take dazzling photographs of my cats. (hence there are not any at the moment.) i cannot do many things but there are people, strong and able and admirable, both men and women who can and i don’t understand why any of them should be scrutinized because of they know themselves and decide to live thusly.

i cannot do many thing and cannot be who people expect me to be, but i can do many that are my own and be my own person. i can bake mocha german chocolate cake with raspberry glaze and make ratatouille with basil puree and dance a mean foxtrot and read Craig Thompson novels and recite Yeats and caress Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise from a 18th century violin and perform micro-surgeries and carry on conversations in a French accent and write pixels on a screen that makes someone feel less alone. and i am saying yes to these things.

and i believe we need more yes, regardless of genders or races or cultures or choices or opinions. and i don’t want to use terms like feminism or proper social roles because they seem so very narrow, because they divide and we can only be dissected so much before we forget we are more than the sum of our parts.

so more yes, please.

what I learned from immigration woes

I got an email from Duke the same day the cat had her surgery and now I might be back on Square Zero with going to graduate school. As an incoming international student, I am required by Duke to prove that I have enough funding for my first year before the Visa Services Office can grant me my I-20 which I need to apply for my F1 Student Visa. (This is completely different from my fiasco with my J1 Visa.) Evidently, the Estimated Living Cost for one year at Durham is vastly higher than what I had budgeted, and Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program recently adjusted their tuition and technology fees, so my proof of funding is currently more than 20k under what Duke deems as satisfactory. Until I find a way to get that amount in assets, I am currently prevented from matriculating this fall.*

photo credit: Tumblr

After I gave my Hamlet soloquy of why me and why this now, the hilarity and tragedy of this entire process made for some clear thinking, like discovering one’s love for painting while on imposed bed-rest:

Being an immigrant makes me appreciate people much much more, because I might not be with them a few months from now. A friend of mine said having a transient lifestyle—moving every few years because of school—makes it hard to really care about people, because you’ll be losing touch with them soon. I don’t agree with that anymore, because it’s even more the reason to connect and spend time with the people around me.

Having said that, I realized how damn entitled I feel most of the timeToday I plan this and tomorrow I should do that. It’s a complete change of pace to understand that something or someone is not mine to keep, and most of the time I take what I have for granted. As much as I hate being the exception to every immigration rule and organizational regulations in existence, it’s awakening to realize that no, I don’t know this or have the power to execute that tomorrow. I am now. I only have now.

And despite what immigration and systems and regulations might do, people care. Sometimes they can’t do anything, but they have made me feel less lonely. And that kindness, that opposite of loneliness keeps me going. They give me hope.

Being surrounded by people who care, I acknowledged that I am not a victim. I think it’s easy to say oh woe is me (which I did, dramatically) and lambaste against the governments/institutions (which I did, dramatically) for making rules that are conspicuously inconsiderate for immigrants who have been in the country long enough to be naturalized citizens. Yet although I can’t change governments or organizations or institutions or rules, I can choose how I face hardships when they arrive. I can choose to be angry or despondent or frantic, but I can also choose to be calm and logical and practical, and ask for help when I am in need, and accept help when help is offered.

And help comes in many forms. Despite her inherent fear of all things technologically savvy, my mom stayed up until 3:30am helping me finish translating and preparing my documents, with both of us on loud-speaker over the phone and working on the same document in Google Drive. My mother is awesome.

I learned a few other things too. I learned that it is okay to grieve and not be so strong all the time. No one is above receiving kindness, and every one of us can offer grace. I learned that I am not supposed to be a human pressure cooker and pent up all of my troubles: I have seen an actual pressure cooker explode and take out half of an apartment. I don’t want to be like that. We share our troubles and joys and we grow together through them.

When I got accepted at Duke I thought I had my one road to go on: school, find a job, work, so I got all bent out of shape when this plan is being severely impeded. (See entitlement above.) I then got all depressed and keened my life is ruined and I have no future! but then I realized I have more options than I thought. It all depends on what kind of vision one has for one’s life, and sometimes the detour leads to grander vistas. Maybe I will move travel the world higher on my life-goal docket.

*To answer some of your questions:

  1. No, I cannot take out loans, because as an international student, I don’t qualify for federal or state loans.
  2. No, Duke did not offer me any scholarships, or offer a lot of assistance-ships/stipends. Physical Therapy programs are similar to medical and law schools in that there aren’t a lot of scholarships or TA/RA positions available. Either way, the scholarships I can apply for are not available until after I matriculate, and I need to prove my financial assets now, which is before I get to Duke.
  3. Also, this excludes me from applying for a need-based scholarship, as once I prove my funding sources, I will be disqualified for a Duke doctor of physical therapy need-based scholarship that awards a certain amount of financial aid to students with standing need of $10,000 or more. So, I won’t be allowed to attend Duke if I don’t have enough money, and when I have enough money (for just this year) I won’t be allowed to apply for more scholarships. This is such warped logic.
  4. Yes, I will take hugs by proxy.

reblogged: The Beautiful Due, featuring Micha Boyett

Even though I am not a mother, I found something here. To the women who bore us, thank you.


When the child tore out of me, I roared.
It ended. The midwife lay him on my empty belly. 
Skin on skin, he bobbed his head along my chest.
The instinct is rooting, foot over foot, 
mouth unhinged. Millions of years,
the new born hunt for mother, for milk. 
In the bed, later, I straddled ice.
My husband said, You look beautiful.
You look like a mother. Years before,
in a slum, I clutched bread to my chest
then released it to the children near.
Naive, I expected a happy few mouths filled, 
a tender thank you. How to know the mass
that gathered, the manic shredding, shoving, 
the screams. Their bodies crawled on hands
and knees for crumbs. They clawed, swallowed. 
Weeks later, back home, I picked at my burrito.
A friend said, You look older, sadder
Months into this one’s life, I nurse
on the couch. My body keeps his living. 
Your face has changed, my husband says.
He smiles. He doesn’t say it’s longer, 
it bears more. He doesn’t say, Look
at all you’ve carried, Look at how you’ve 
filled yourself and built this life,
Look what you’ve born, what you’ve poured out. 
Beautiful, he says. How to feed a child
without alteration? We all root, foot over foot 
toward the nourished hope. We all are blind,
fumbling by scent, by touch. 
Children break free from us.
We do as we must. 
We feed them.

more yes, please

Alpine Climbers, Midi-Plan Traverse, France.
photo credit: Tommy Harris, National Geographic Magazine.

there are too many voices in my head. usually there are few. they lounge, chit-chat. drink Early Grey and plot world domination. fine by me. then they invite their relatives and it turns into a shout-fest and their conversations spill over into my conversations in real-time and now Huston we have a problem. Continue reading

go east, gypsy girl

photo credt: Bloomberg

trivia on my interview day: the waiting list to be married in the Duke Chapel is currently 4 years. if i start seeking a spouse now, the likelihood of my nuptial ceremony taking place there is still abysmally minuscule.

the solution to dissuading unwanted suitors, i have been advised, is to be rude and pretentious and un-charismatic and unapproachable. evidently, similar principles, when employed in reverse, apply to graduate school interviews when i want the admissions boards like me.

so they did.

Continue reading