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Tuesday
Jul052011

day 218: don't knead the pie crust too much

I was reading a small list of lessons that my friend had put together earlier this month.  The list reads:

Don Cherry is a fashion guru. Don't knead the pie crust too much. Not making much $$ is OK if the work is fun.
And for whatever reason, it stuck with me.  Not so much the Don Cherry part as the pie crust part.  Like this idea that we shouldn't over knead, over plow, over think.  Because when we do, we end up letting the pie crust become threadbare and worn, when it really should be plump and fabulous and misshapen and good. 
 
Rolled from the gut, with instinct and fortitude; and not rolled so much that it has lost a bit of itself in the process.
 
I don't know why I've been thinking about this so much - it could be because of the romantic idea of pie in all its americana, juxtaposed against the fact that it was just the Fourth of July.  Or it could be because I'm reading Blink, which in essence chronicles the notion of thinking without thinking and, for lack of a better term ...
 
rolling with it.
 
So in an effort to offer you a piece, or as Blink's Gladwell would say a 'thin-slice' of my mind, let's noodle on a question my friend and I were pondering the other night.  At one point in the evening, I had asked her who was the love of her life.  (I have occasion to ask really stupid, and sometimes stupendous, scruples-esque questions that satiate nothing other than my ridiculous curiosity.)  She spun the question back to me in good form, and I replied with someone most who know me well may not have guessed. 
 
I said my high school sweetheart.
  
But not in that 'aw shucks' kind of way.  Truth be told, we had some rough stops and starts over the years.  Indeed, we tossed the breaking of the heart hot potato with varying degrees of severity as we leapt in and out of each other's lives from 15 to 25.  And certainly today I don't proclaim him to be the (da da da da - said with emphatic pronouncement) 'love of my life'.  (Indeed, he's married, with two beautiful kids and a drop dead g wife.)  But I do think of him in a more transformative kind of a way, in a 'don't knead the pie crust too much' kind of a way. 
 
Because for whatever reason, he has rolled into my life from 15 to 25, and from 25 to 40 in an interesting hop scotch that was neither planned nor hoped for - the most recent stop of which was when his agency was in the same physical building as one of our sites just a few years ago.  At the time, I'm fairly certain we hadn't spoken in years, and as we rolled up our moving trucks to our new site, I saw their name on the wall, and I thought to myself:
"And so we meet again."
Please understand that I do not believe this is the cosmic universe bringing two souls closer in dance.  Hardly.   But when my friend asked me the question, my first instinct was to respond with my high school sweetheart because I believe there was a different reason why my coda in life has returned me to him every once in a while.

And it's that ghosts will reappear like bubbles to the surface in moments when you least expect them, and new spirits will emerge with the same spontaneous voracity, simply because you need a reminder of what is possible and what is palpable.  My 'back in the day' bf bubbles up to remind me that I have light and dance to give to someone who dares to take my hand.  And if I can embrace that thought process for a moment or two, it helps to open me up for what is possible when real love comes my way. 

We just moved out of that space last week.  And among the memories I tuck behind like an epistle left in the earth is one of a boy who I remember when.  And a reminder that life isn't as you imagined it back then.  Indeed, sometimes or many times, it's lonelier and crazier and more hopeful than ever. 

But damn it if it's not palpable.  And damn it if it's not rich with intention and with all the good stuff of a life that is too dimensional for its own good.

It can be that way.  It can feel that way.  If you don't knead the pie crust too much. 

Here's to lumpy, but fabulously rich, and threadbare, beautiful pies.

Maria Kim

Wednesday
Jun222011

day 205: are you a twinkie, a ho-ho or a ding dong?

Like many imports from Korea (born here or abroad), growing up I grappled with the notion of being a 'twinkie'.

"Yellow on the outside.  White on the inside."

It was a pejorative nick name certain folks (who probably never were my friends in the first place) would call me for not being 'truer' to my culture, and for being too westernized, americanized, and supersized (though I don't recall super size being en vogue in the 70s).

Twinkie.

I hated it then and I hate it now for so many reasons - not the least of which is the fact that I'm actually not even yellow at all, I'm brown.  And to suggest that if you cut me open, I would be purely white is as simplistic and as silly and as divisive as what they were accusing me of being to them. 

I had occasion to speak on this topic this past Saturday at a Korean-American women's leadership conference.  In the audience were about 150 women and girls, ranging from 13 to 83, with each generation in search of shared traditions and aspirations with which we can elevate this voice and, in a way, write 'our story'.

I have great pride in my culture and am grateful for my parents' journey across the ocean to find hope through education and enterprise in the land of the free.  In both their families, they were the first to make the leap - the founding Korean family if you will on our block, in our church, in our school.  We were the hub where so many family members who immigrated to this country stayed until they got their bearings, built up their language skills, and settled in on their own.  I look at pictures of my family and am reveled by them - even their serious and pouty faces (Old school Koreans often don't smile ;) - that betray the generations of hurt and survival and poverty and bliss. 

And though this has shaped me in so many ways, it does not define me.  Not exclusively. 

That is to say that much as we explored in day 57, who I am on the inside is so many things.  I am a blend of spirtiualities and sensitivities and histories and frugalities and frivolities and whimsies and outrage and kindnesses and colors and faiths that has stepped with me, through my entire community of friends and family. 

You see, we cannot so easily be summed up in one hyphenate or two. 

We are the sum total of so much more than that.  We are the Jewish girlfriends in college who called me Kimstein.  We are the predominantly African-American men and women at The Cara Program who have helped me get my groove back.  We are the life long friends stitched over time, like your favorite sweater - worn threadbare, but so lusciously comfortable.  We are the stories of healing we have heard in the wake of 9/11, with a clarity for a new day and a new unity.  We are the laughter of friends so unequivocally robust, so unequivocally them, that you can't help but smile when those giggles float in your direction.  We are our nieces, nephews, sons and daughters for whom we live, for whom we stretch further each day. 

We are our first loves and the confidence they gave us in showing us we were worthy of having our hand held, of having someone hold his or her head high simply because you said yes. 

We are black, white, yellow, and brown.  We love many people in many ways and defy our own gravity when we realize the depth of that love.  We rebound from grief and are resilient against attack, but we do tumble.  And when we do, we get up to fight all over again because we can. 

And if we get cut, we would not just be one color, one song.  We would be the color and the fight and the flight and the rhapsody of a life lived rich with intention, across color lines and throughout a vibrant community.  And we will reason, we are not so simple as this or that.  We are we. 

And no hyphenate or ho-ho or ding dong would effectively capture that. 

So as I looked at this room of women and girls in search of a shared herstory, in search of a shared voice, I hope I was able to convey that we live within and beyond our ethnicity.  And when we embrace those many dimensions of our selves and our story, we are not abandoning who we are, but rather anchoring who we are while drinking in the world in the process. 

Maria Kim 

Friday
Jun032011

day 186: 12 candles and a flight of passage

Last Sunday, I went to the most amazing space in Chicago. 

Not because it was in Hyde Park, though I certainly love that area.  Nor because it was in a vintage condo with all the trappings of a Carson McCullers book that you could devour in one sitting. 

No, it wasn't that kind of a space.  Not a physical, literal space, but a better kind of space - the amazing space created only among close friends and family - often across generations, often within a circle held tightly like a hug.

A dear friend of mine wanted to celebrate the 13th birthday of her oldest daughter by creating a new kind of tradition.  In other cultures, we find unique ways to honor a young child's transition into adulthood. In hers, there isn't an analogous event, so she wanted to create one from scratch.

The invitation? That all the women who her daughter views as role models in her life join together and share a letter with lessons of growing up - of skipping the rock from tween to teen to adult - to wish her well on her first leap. 

So there we were - an aunt, a grandma, three neighbors, a colleague, the mom, the potential future step mom, and three friends - surrounding this young girl with honesty, awkwardness, elegance and possibility.  And we each lit a candle, then read aloud our letters to this birthday girl taking flight.   

From candle 1, I knew that no one tumbles into love quite as fast and as fiercely as a new aunt with her first niece.

From candle 3, I knew that grandmas are weavers - who see the past in new frames every day, in the faces and places and moods and spirit of children, whether 40 or 4 months old.  They see beautiful echo in everyone.

From candles 2,4, and 5-9, I knew that friends can amaze you and lift you and surprise you.  But above all, they can share an unequivocal love for your child, simply because you invited them in.

From candle 10, I knew that a child's family includes all she lets in, beyond and because of bloodlines, and that there's power for that child to have all her family together, in one space, at close bay, encircled.  

From candle 11, I knew that she was the type of mom I wanted to be - one who imagines rituals so that her child never doubts that she is backed by an amazing cheering squad who will root for her until she can boldly and fabulously root for herself.

And candle 12?  Well, that was lit for all the women who couldn't be with us that day - either because they were out of town but sent crazy love home, or because they were in heaven and sent crazy love home.

And over 12 candles, 11 letters and a buoy of laughter and love, we unfolded all the little truths.  We told her that there would be good days, and there would be bad days.

And just as predictably, there would also be awesome, can’t get enough, my belly is floating like a roller coaster but it feels great anyway, palpable, crazy, alive, sweet, amazing days.

The days when she is fully she.  No airs, no accidents, just she – with all her style, humor, smarts, sassiness, kindness, friendship.  The days when she is just she and she is fabulous. 

The days when she tumbles fiercely into love and chooses someone who chooses her right back.  

The days when if faced with a choice of any other day she could possibly dream up, she says ‘I can’t imagine any other place I’d rather be.’ 

For us, last Sunday was one of those days.  Our lives have become richer, with more attitude and more strength, because of her.

And that flight of passage was as much about her and her leap from tween to teen plus, as it was about our flight from "aunt, grandma, mom, friends, neighbors, colleagues and step-moms to be" to just what we were that day - her circle. 

Yes, there in the middle of that circle was the best space for me to be.  An amazing space indeed. 

Maria Kim 

Wednesday
May252011

day 177: color me egg roll

My mom told me a story over lunch not that long ago.  A story of ignorance, wrapped up in an egg roll.

She said there are colleagues in her workplace (she works in a hospital and is just a wee bit away from retirement), who call her and the Filipino women she works with 'the egg roll people'.  (Not that it matters for the purpose of this story, but just fyi - my mom's Korean.)

Egg roll people?

It always astonishes me that we can emerge as a people so renaissance, so cosmopolitan, so new world; and then in one second, with one utterance, we can bring all that sense and sensibility to a crashing halt.

I don't want that for her, or for any of her colleagues.  As she sunsets a career some 50 years in the making and irrevocably in the service of others, let this not be the memory on which she walks her last walk.

And leave it to my mother, it ain't gonna be.

In her 't minus seven months to 70' swagger, she walked over to the woman (in what I imagine is her classic saunter where she's almost running on her tip toes she's so damn angry), and told her off.  Now perhaps she had the gumption to do this because as she gets older, she more ably embraces her inner John Wayne.  Or perhaps it was because she believes she really doesn't have much to lose since she's nearing retirement anyway. Or perhaps it was simply because what the woman said was sixteen shades of bogus, and my momma wasn't having any of it.

I like to think that the latter were true.

In her recounting that story to me, she reminded me - as she often does - that we each have a voice.  A strong one, a bellowing one, a voice that transcends generations, that meets people eye to eye, that reminds them - to their deepest of deep - that words are powerful, in the good and in the bad.  And that if we don't take a stance to claim them, if we don't take the time to stand them up like the mirror they are to ourselves and to each other, then we will have failed.

We will have lost our voice.

So, whether the words are 16 shades of bogus, or just six.  Or whether they are 16 shades of bountiful and glorious, or just six.  Speak to them, challenge them, reflect them back to their owner, so that when they are bad, the owner may begin to see it; and when they are good, the owner may begin to celebrate it.

Use the voice your momma gave you.

She'd be real proud.

Maria Kim 

Saturday
May142011

day 166: my best love note was a lofe note

My best love note was a lofe note.

And it looked something like this.

My niece sent it to me a few years ago, and I have treasured it ever since.  Some folks think ‘Isn’t that cute?  She meant to say love …’  And I say ‘Yes it’s cute, but there’s no mistake about it.’  My niece, in her infinite toddler wisdom, was serving me up some soul that day.  She wanted me to see that there is a sweet spot at the intersection of life and love.

OK, maybe she didn’t have that well-oiled of a thought process as she drew me this card, but I think there is something to be said for the innocence that falls off the tip of a crayon.  And if it swoons me for a day, or in my case, for several years, then so be it.  Let me set forth on this journey to submerge love into my life and life into my love.

I share this with you because my niece – by accident or by intention – has saved my life, and has pulled me out of the wreckage of what can often be a pity party for one.  In ways she may not ever realize, she has reminded me of an utterly powerful thing –

That I am hers. 

Let me explain. First, while there has never been any question, I am renewed every day in knowing that I am my mother’s kid – the grit of her, the ornery, the caretaker, the laughter, the friend.  I am she.  She is me, and I get it.

And whether he claims me or not, I am also my father’s daughter. I am his risk, his trajectory, his charter of the unchartered.  I am his sitting with a child, his child, until the belly ache just begins to lift.

It doesn’t matter if he chooses me.  He lives in me anyway. 

That fateful day some 11 years ago when I first learned he did not choose me stunned me silent, left to battle with only my voices and my shame and my humility and my fear.  In an instant, it made me question so many things – who I was, what I must have done wrong, why I cannot find my own love to create my own chapter, how sad he must be to have to blame his 11-year flight on me – a good kid, with good teeth and a good soul, like a really good soul –

like the kind of soul I would love to parent one day. 

And though I heal every day, there was actually one moment that helped me get over the crest and into the underbelly of this wave.  I saw a picture of my niece – so precocious, and so perfect. With these cheeks (these cheeks!) and these soulful eyes – so deep you would think she had seen a thousand sadnesses in her young days. I saw her – the lilt of her hand tucked behind her hat, the shrug of one shoulder not out of uncertainty, but out of giggles.  I saw her and I thought:

This is me.  I am she, and I get it. 

I am tethered to every tile in this family and I know it.  I loathe that I had to doubt it.  I loathe that I had to wear lonely because of that doubt.  And while I work everyday on the wisdom to remember this, it can sometimes be rough.  And so we do what we do, and we awaken bit by bit, thanks to miracles and friendships and nieces too.

Yes, this is me.  And we are we, and I lofe it.

Maria Kim