Sunday, June 28, 2015

why the writing, all of a sudden?

© amy pang
I'm terribly undisciplined when it comes to my personal writing. I get excited by an idea, fall into a pattern of diligently authoring carefully crafted pieces and posts, and abandon the enterprise altogether when my time and energy are needed elsewhere.

Writing something every day is daunting. There are days when I don't have much to say, or I struggle with the words. Sometimes I read something that I've dashed off, and I think, "Ugh. How banal."

Then there are times, like this season, when I'm feeling restless and need to create. And I'm approaching this literary fecundity with the idea that I should stop worrying about the 'carefully crafted' part. Good grammar and spelling are still important, of course. But I don't need to mess around with finding the most artful way to say something; it will keep me from breaking out of my self-imposed hamster ball. I'm trapped within my own relentless need for perfection.

As my boss is fond of saying, "Perfect is the enemy of good."

I had lunch with a friend, who also writes and is a photographer, the other day, and I mentioned that I blog for myself and have one hosted on HuffPo that I've sadly neglected for nearly a year. I had plenty of excuses: no time, no ideas, no recurring themes.

To paraphrase his response: be yourself. Write. You don't need themes; those become stale.

You can't run a marathon well without training. My scratchings here are my boot camp.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


 Trust me...there's a reason why I'm showing a photo of
sushi in a post about race. © Toshihiro Gamo
Given all of the news of late where atrocities based on racial prejudice have been committed, it's a natural step to examine your own biases on race and ethnicity and confirming or denying where you fall in the spectrum of popular opinion.

My kids are multi-racial, which brings up obvious questions around identity. When I in college and working toward a minor in Asian American studies. there were plenty of discussions surrounding the 'melting pot' concept - forever immortalized in a Schoolhouse Rock short - and how it's really more of a stew: each ingredient a distinct shape, texture, and flavor all thrown together and retaining their integrity, more or less. We can remain true to our cultural identities while co-mingling with others.

Can we?

Kids are colorblind; they are born without bias. And because I believe that the acceptance of people not in your ethnic cohort means that you don't use stereotypes as markers, I've done my conscientious best to not call someone black or Asian or whatever unnecessarily. I love that my daughter has a bona fide rainbow coalition of friends. I wish that she acknowledged her Chinese heritage more frequently and proudly, but that will come in time. I love that my son is interested in learning Chinese and different languages when the opportunity is presented to him.

People are, frankly, weird about race. I've gotten into heated discussions on whether a non-Japanese server or chef working at a sushi bar makes the experience less authentic and therefore not as good as one staffed with folks of Japanese descent. My answer: it's irrelevant. The food and the experience, the end product, is what matters. Is the fish fresh? Is it cut and portioned well? Does it taste good? And are you enjoying what you're eating?

I'd carry this through to people: do you like hanging out with them? Can you share a laugh and a joke? Are they quality peeps? If all of the answers are yes, then does it really matter what their ancestry is? Nope.

Monday, June 22, 2015

keeping it real

© amy pang
Right now, my daughter is enjoying some solo time with the Disney Infinity video game. I'm upstairs, writing and winding down from work. I am trying not to feel guilty about not spending time with her. Because we had a quiet dinner together and did an errand earlier. That counts. And now we're being introverted and recharging.

One of the challenges about parenting is dealing with the mindset that you're supposed to be all-nurturing and all-knowing. You are expected to spend quality time, aka your free waking hours, with your spawn. How many articles have we read about the fallout when we don't read with them every day, when we don't have a family dinner every day, when we are not micromanaging everything from homework checklists to whether they're wearing the right socks for soccer?

Being a mindful parent can drive even the most zen-like of souls to fretful self-doubt. It is far, far easier to slack off. How many times can we tell kids to feed the cat, or throw away the snack wrapper, or remember what can be composted and what can be recycled, and not feel like a broken record? It's tedious. Exasperating. I don't like being a nag. I don't like being nagged. Does anyone?

And then when you need to mentally check out just to regroup, there's that sensation that you're neglecting them. You can't win.

I've been working on getting over my guilt. I'm a single parent; by necessity, I need to chill out regularly, or everything goes sideways. Both of these guys are old enough to be functional and independent without me hovering 24/7, and they are learning to make good decisions.

So, here's what we're doing. I keep an open door at all times, literally and figuratively. I may be upstairs and the kids are downstairs, but they know that they can come talk with me about anything and at any time. No question is too trivial, and certainly all questions get answers, even if it's a "seriously???" There are agreed-upon household guidelines that everyone follows, and there is freedom within that framework. Everyone in the household has a valid opinion; I don't believe in an authoritative structure that prevents children from sharing their thoughts honestly. I still am the final arbiter, of course - otherwise we'd be awash with too many video games and endless craft supplies - but decisions are made by consensus and compromise.

I'm hoping that my openness and acceptance will continue through their teenaged years, when the communication lines and our connection will be severely tested. I'll know very soon if my philosophy sticks.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

In honor of my father on this day.

on FB but I'd like to repost here for journaling's sake.

My impossibly chic, mod parents in Hong Kong, 1967. My dad is no longer with us, and I wish I had photos of him and me, but suffice to say that he was a compassionate, wise, and hardworking man who got me and accepted without question how much of a pain in the ass I was (and in some ways still am). He watched out for me and tried to guide me as best he knew how.

He had great insight into people and situations but wasn't bombastic or didactic about sharing his opinion.

He had a much harder life than he deserved.

I miss him. I regret that he isn't physically here to see all of his grandchildren grow up. But, a bit of him lives in me, in my daughter, and in my son. And, I still ask for his advice every so often.

Happy Father's Day, daddy. I hope you're still checking up on us when you can, in between rooting for the Giants and listening to 33s on your record player.

back to the core

© amy pang
I took some wrong turns over the past twenty years. bad decisions. while, yes, everything that has happened has been for a purpose - I get that - I wish I could've been a little wiser. small ways. such as:

being content with the present. I spent too much time mired in the what could've been and the what could happen. and because I was wrapped up in regret and speculation, I was unable to take in what surrounds me daily, currently, all the time.

not settling at my expense. I'm a peacemaker. I don't like conflict. I cared too much about what people thought of me; I could not bear the thought of anyone thinking ill of me for being myself. so I hid myself for years. it was further reinforced when I offered an opinion and was dismissed. and I went along with the tide even though I wanted to be anchored elsewhere.

accepting myself. this goes hand in hand with the former two. I was unable to be at peace with myself. I didn't like living with myself. I tried to find purpose in helping others, but that was because I found myself unworthy of help.

I'm working on all three. I can be happy with where I am and not apologize for not needing or wanting more. I can be a compassionate, thoughtful person without hurting myself. I'm letting myself be okay with being vulnerable.

and I have to say, I am happy.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

taking stock

the setting: it’s an early Saturday morning. the fan is on. the cat is sleeping with his head tucked into the duvet, his pose relaxed. streaming Leon Bridges, whose throwback style is appropriate for unwinding, reconnecting with emotions, feeling good. I heard birds chirping their business outside. 

I have been itching to write and express again. I’ve been lacking the energy and discipline to do so. and here I am trying to jumpstart my motivation yet another time. 

I know better than to make this a goal. I fail at goals because I get distracted from the path when something different and interesting makes me wander to the side. this is the pattern of my life: let the path be the sure and steady, explore the parallels and tangents, then go back to steady ground.

this time, I’ll meander.

I won’t set expectations.

just go.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


© danny howard
 I was able to chaperone a field trip to the San Francisco Symphony this past week for Zoe's third grade class. We endured a broken MUNI light rail train and rainy weather and managed to arrive a few minutes into the program. We heard Beethoven's intro to Symphony No. 5 as we filed into the rows in the upper balcony. Dim lighting and warmth relaxed everyone. When the program ended, the kids were complaining that it was too short. And it brought back memories of similar field trips from my elementary school years.

Growing up as a child of working-class immigrants, culture generally was the last priority on the list of enriching childhood experiences, which was very short to begin with. My parents' focus was on food, shelter, and education. I looked forward to field trips, any field trips, because they took me outside of my immediate circumstances. I remember the coziness of the War Memorial Opera House, the pre-Loma Prieta earthquake deYoung museum and Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts. They were mysterious places, full of history and stories. We saw the King Tutankhamen exhibit - the 1970s version - and watched planetarium shows. Cow eyes were dissected back then, too. Dates and details are vague after 35 years; impressions are as sharp as they were when I was eight.

On the way back to school, we boarded a nearly empty train. As we traveled westward, past Castro Street station, one of the kids said, "Look at that! That's so cool."

I looked out the front window of the train and saw a seemingly endless stretch of track illuminated by closely spaced lights on either end. Forest Hill station was too far away to be an end point. Some of us gazed at the void while the train moved at a steady clip, the wheels providing a soothing rhythm, the car slightly swaying. It was easy to imagine that West Portal, our destination and transfer point, was not just another station but a portal through time, through physical space, through dimensions, a wormhole to a separate reality.

Wonder still reigns.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

my Mary Tyler Moore moment

I'm staring down the cobbled and meandering pathway of single parenthood with a slight feeling of trepidation and an expanding feeling of exhilaration. This was not one of the milestones that I had charted for my life. I was to be married for life, partnered for life, and due to a number of circumstances and ironies, that life was not meant to be.

Being a mother has taught me what unconditional love is, and that awakening starkly demonstrated what I did not have. I yearned for it. Wondered why I didn't have it. Wistfully observed couples of all genders and orientations who were attuned to each other's needs and desires, wanting to be part of that club. Love had to be real, right? Not in the pop music sense of the word, but something deeply entwined and bare. It's the ability to be vulnerable and knowing your other as well as you know yourself. It's a feeling of quiet contentment and the appreciation of simplicity.

I made two mistakes in my early years. One: I became the person the other wanted me to be, rather than being myself. Two: my definition of love isn't universal, but until I was able to assert my true self, it wasn't possible to realize love.

I'm happier being on my own, and more content, and more accepting of the person I am. I had spent far too many years pushing down my true self, believing that my flaws and foibles made me inherently unlovable and undesirable.

I will no longer apologize for being myself. Those who can't accept me, well, they can keep moving.