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The "Wu Word" Blog

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The Girl at the Cashier

Posted on March 19, 2020 at 10:07 PM Comments comments (671)
I have never been your typical “girly girl” who loves to shop endlessly at shoe stores, clothing spots, or make-up shops.  Rather, out of all the places that I absolutely love to shop at, walk endlessly up and down aisles in, price compare, and truly stay hours on end and end up leaving with a cart full of goodies is the grocery store.  Oh, yes, there is nothing that makes me happier than to go food shopping.  All the beautiful boxes so well packaged for advertising, cans stacked up, colorful array of fruit and veggies to greet me, and the smooth and gentle roll of the wheels of the cart as I slide and maneuver my cart in and out.  I suppose that my love for grocery shopping shouldn’t be a surprise coming from a foodie such as I.

However, lately, my utmost love and joy of shopping at food stores has been replaced with a kind of trepidation and uncertainty during these times.  It does not help that many of my family members, closest friends, and even neighbors are reminding me that I am immunosuppressed and should NOT even be going out to this dangerous outside world.  But, who is going to buy and deliver groceries for me? Oh, yes, perhaps Peapod, but I have stubbornly refused this option because I feel like it would be caving in to a growing fear of food shopping when it has always been my love?  Who is going to feed me, myself, and I with living solo?  Only me, I must say.  So, at the insistence of Papa Wu to make sure that I have enough food to feed solo me, I went to the supermarket to get in and out of basic items and necessities. 

I tell you that you NEVER really realize the difference between NEED and WANT until you are thrusted in uncertain times.  I can also tell you what you already know with all the starkingly empty aisles, the need to ration now, the conundrum to try to figure out what to buy and when and how much, the tension that just permeates the food markets now, and the hand sanitizer that now greets me as the first point item rather than a human being, but, instead, I will tell you my latest food shopping story about the girl at the cashier.
 
After taking pictures of the empty aisles in shock and awe to dear friends and family and trying to figure how much to buy for solo me, but then also having my parents and sister in the back of my mind in case they run out of necessities and then maybe any other peeps that may need something extra, I headed out to check out all my food items.  As expected, there was a line.  And, yes, not going to lie that the line was longer than previous times I had shopped AND the line was continuing to grow because the number of items for each customer had grown exponentially.    Me?  I had nowhere to go, but I had to confess that I wanted more so to leave than to stay for the first time ever in a grocery store.  There was no choice but to wait.  When it finally got to me, I looked at this girl at the cashier who had to be in her 20’s.  She had chin-length light brown hair and, I believe, brown eyes, but they were hard to see with her bright red-framed plastic glasses.  Her eyes were closed and she was muttering to herself.  At first, I thought she was maybe praying.  She opened her eyes slowly.
 
“Are you ok?” I asked her.
 
She gave me a lopsided, tired smile and said, “I’m just tired.  It’s been a long day.” 
 
I paused and replied, “Yes, it has been.”
 
“I was just telling myself it’s a job.  It’s just a job, right?” she asked me rhetorically, giving me another one of her tired half-smiles. 

I looked behind me at a line of irritated, blank-faced, and sleepy customers.  We were all so tired.  We were all so exhausted.  Then, it struck me how severely exhausted this cashier, all the grocery staffers, cleaning people, garbage collectors, and so many other people were AND, perhaps, how underappreciated they were.  These were all people who had stayed later hours with maybe not the best of pay.  Had anyone ever said ‘thank you’ to them to make them feel like it was more than ‘just a job’?  Had they ever felt appreciated?  This made me sad. 
 
When I had paid and was about to leave, I looked at the girl at the cashier and said, “I hope your shift ends soon.  Thank you very much for everything.” 
 
I’ve always been told that I say “THANK YOU” too much, but, perhaps, I need to amp it up now.  I’ve been trying to do that more "Thank Yous" now to the unlikely and underappreciated.   I said it the other day to the cleaning lady in the locker room of my gym who was mopping the floor.  I said it to the hunched over guy at another place I was at who was wiping everything down with Clorox wipes.  “Thank You” is the greatest and smallest way to express gratitude to someone else that can mean the most and lift someone on their hardest of days.  So, “thank you” for and to the girl at the cashier for reminding me this AND that no job is too little or less than anyone else’s, for we all play a part and have an impact that can be in the best of ways or the worst of ways from what we do or do not do in our daily lives of work.  If we can do it in the best of ways, then it does not get any better than that. 
 
The most unlikely, unseen, and underappreciated may just be the ones who are the hidden heroes that do the most and maybe even deserve the most recognition.  Have you ever felt underappreciated?  Or, maybe, was in a thankless position that you did not want to do, but that you had to do to survive?  When have you paused to maybe show appreciation and kindness for the least likely that are, maybe, likely to do the very most in their own small and seemingly menial ways that are actually the most heroic?    
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,
Mary ;-) 
 

 

Isolation

Posted on March 9, 2020 at 7:07 PM Comments comments (13)
Approximately a week ago, I timidly stepped into CVS in minimal hopes that there would be some (or really any) cleaning solutions available as my products of protection from the Budlight Virus….oh, wait, I mean the C-virus.  Surely you know even if you live under a sheltered, sturdy rock about the Corona Virus, or what I am calling the C-Virus.  I hated to admit that I was starting to get the surges of anxiety and nerves with the C-Virus and felt it was my utmost duty to try and safeguard my second kidney transplant and weakened immune system with whatever tools I could find. 
I hesitated going up to one of the staff members as it seemed that we were all at a weird time and place of trying to steer clear of people who have the dread G-word of “Germs,” but I truly had no idea which aisle were the following: Clorax wipes, Gloves, Antibacterial sanitzer, and Masks. 
 
The guy shrugged in complete defeat said, “Out of everything,”

I wondered how many times he had to say this today and when that line of “out of everything” started. I wondered how many pharmacists and staff members were handling ordering supplies only to come to the dawning realization that there simply were not enough supplies for the demand from the mass. 

“Nothing?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he confirmed.

I sighed.  No ammunition.  No protection against the abundance of caution.  I wandered forlorn to the cleaning products in hope that maybe there was a stray rolling Clorax container in the aisle.  And, then, the Hallelujah chorus seemed to boom when my eyes zoned in to the very top shelf of disinfectant sprays.  Yes!  Disinfectant sprays!  Of course, they had to be located where it was the most difficult for me to retrieve.  Victory would be mine! 

Without anyone in sight, I started to try to climb up the shelves.  Then, all of a sudden, the disinfect spray was gone.  I was so focused on trying to climb the shelves that this woman who well had the height, arm lengths, and leverage over my not even 5 foot height had snatched up the very last canister of Lysol disinfectant.  She held the very last Lysol canister as though it was a gleaming trophy.  I stared at her.  I was shocked.  I was speechless. 

Isolation

Posted on March 9, 2020 at 7:07 PM Comments comments (13)
Suddenly, the memories began flooding at me when I was brought back in time to May 1995 when I was recovering at home from my second kidney transplant.    Since I was little, germs, kidneys, and immune system were introduced into my world and language, but at 12-years-old in 1995, I really began to understand just how very bad germs, bacteria, and viruses (GBV)  were because they could come at my pre-owned and what was deemed as “foreign” kidney from my donor to attack and conquer to the point that my second kidney transplant would reject and I would lose this gift of life.  To try to stop GBV from coming at me and attach my gift of life second transplant, I was told to stay at home and take my fistfuls of color-coded immunosuppressed medications.   The adults said to me that there was no way I should go back to school that was a bedrock of bad from the cluster and crowds of kids.  This made me sad.   All I wanted was to be like the other kids, but I was in indoors bubbled isolation watching the Spring season bloom before my eyes and yet I could not really go out to enjoy the scent of flowers, the warmth of sunshine, the cool cuts and blades of grass under my bare feet, and, most of all, the contact with other kids that I craved.  I could not really be a kid.  It was like I was an adult trapped in a child’s body. 
 
I think my circle of adults knew how much I wanted to be with other children because at the end of June and less than two months after receiving my second kidney transplant, my wish to just be with the outside world to touch, taste, see, hear, smell, and really feel everything was granted by going to school on just about the last day known as “Field Day.”  It was the day that ALL (and I do mean ALL) the children were there in color-coded teams playing different sports.  I had never felt like I belonged among my classmates, but for that one day, I felt like I belonged.  Sure, I was in a wheelchair and did not say much, but just being with everyone in this living, breathing, and wonderful world had never made me happier and more carefree.    It was one of the best times in my life just to live and be a kid. 
 
Shortly after my visit and contact with all the children, I got sick.  Horribly sick.  Sick as in news that my second kidney transplant was going into rejection.  It was probably one of the worst and more depressing points in my life.  The fear to lose a gift from a complete stranger who died only to save my life.  The horror that my one wish granted would be my downfall to me being sick again and that the girl who saved my life would have to suffer another ‘death’ in the sense of her life-saving organ.  Yet, in spite of all the fear and horror, I had no regrets.  I had the best time in my life just being in this breathing world after being bubbled for what I saw as much too long.  I had been around other kids who had shown me kindness and like I did not have ‘cooties.’  They did not fear me or shelter and shield me like the adults just so I could be myself and be a kid.  I did not and could never let fear control and stop me from living my life to the fullest.  I could not live or be in isolation. 
 

Isolation

Posted on March 9, 2020 at 7:06 PM Comments comments (0)
And, I got better.  And, my second kidney transplant thrived and survived at going 25 years this year and counting.  This is the thing:  When it is bad and at the very bottom, we think it can never get better.  We think we can never get through what we see as the worst and darkest of places.  And, yes, it often has to get very bad and at the bottom before it can even try to get better.  Fear, Anxiety, Panic, and the Power of our minds rear their ugly heads to take over and twist us in ways that we never thought we were capable of behaving, acting, and treating ourselves and others.  I was brought back in the present to this woman who had triumphantly succeeded and grabbing the last Lysol Disinfectant.  She then glanced down at me maybe, just maybe, realizing that she had taken the last Lysol disinfect.   She then asked me: “Did you want the Lavender Lysol disinfectant sprays?  I can help you reach them!” 
 
I wrinkled my nose knowing that permeating my apartment with Lavender would not over well with my kitty cat Ricky and me.  With a substantial space between us, we started chatting and even chuckling about the C-virus.  We were connecting and coming together over a looming crisis. That’s another thing: Crisis can either unite or divide and show the utmost ugly or beauty in people.  I have ever hope in me in unite and the good in people.  I never got this Lysol lady’s name, but I knew that neither of us and none of us can ever really be in isolation.  After chatting with her, I was empty handed of any cleaning solutions, but then I knew what I had accidentally purposefully did: I let her have the very last Lysol can. 
 
We are not meant to live or be in isolation.  Do you find with everything going on that you are getting more fearful and panicked to the point of isolation?  What are your views and hopes about unite and good vs. divide and bad?  When were you at your very worst with the belief that it would never get better only to someday realize that it had gotten better?  Were you ever in isolation? 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,
Mary ;-) 
 

 

Fix

Posted on February 24, 2020 at 9:48 PM Comments comments (9)
The first time I got the flu shot over 10 years ago, I got horribly sick.  It was the worst sick I could remember being, excluding my hospital days due to kidney issues.  I was homebound for a week inhaling Vicks vapor rub, getting high on humidifiers, popping in menthol cough drops, and lazily and sleepily dragging myself in loose pajamas and my Hello Kitty robe. 
 
I had refused the flu shot for as long as I could, until my work made it mandatory to get it.  Their threat: “If you do not get your flu shot then you have to wear a mask the whole time that the flu season is active.”  Then, my transplant center made it mandatory that I get the flu shot.  Their logic: “You are immunosuppressed.  Get it to protect yourself and prevent that nasty flu coming at you.”
 
I begrudgingly and edgily got the flu shot.  To my surprise, after that very first boxing match with the flu shot that had me knocked out with the actual flu, I had not gotten the flu since.  I would feel a little funny after the initial stab in the muscle from the flu shot, but, overall, I started to appreciate the fact that my workplace offered the flu shot for free.  Prevention is a cure.  Protection is the way to go.  You can, indeed, stop the worst before it can even possibly get a chance to start.  You can, indeed, be proactive rather than reactive. 
 
Then, about three weeks ago, I got the flu.  Mind you, I had gotten the flu shot sometime in winter 2019.  I was so sick three weeks ago that I spiked a 102 fever and managed to and was actually mandated to go the closest emergency room.  I was so sick where the medical staff could not get my fevers under control that it was advised that I stay in the hospital overnight.  As much as I basked in the free flat screen TV that provided endless channels and the gourmet meals at the hospital (that isn’t sarcasm…the food was actually good, but I just about had no appetite and you know there is a problem with Mary Wu when she does not have an appetite), I felt horrible going from hot to cold, cold to hot, and then, the topper, my IV broke in the middle of the night.  This resorted to at least 7 pricks in my vein-less skin due to dehydration.  This resulted in a final IV stabbed right in my index finger.  And, yes, that really did hurt.  Ow. 
 
The cure for the flu?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Rest at home.  Plenty of fluids.  Sleep, Sleep, Sleep.  All I could do was wait to get better.  All I could do was wait and see.  All I could do was nothing.  The art of doing nothing. 
 
For me, I flunk astronomically at ‘doing nothing,’ which, we must realize, is an oxymoron.   But, is ‘doing nothing’ really an oxymoron?  That week that I was quarantined at home, I mentally and physically struggled with doing nothing.  The minutes went by.  The moments slipped through my fingers.  I felt like I was wasting my time.  I was getting cabin fever.  It frustrated me that I had tried to stop the flu by getting the flu shot and now I was battling with doing nothing to get better from the flu.  In my mind and I think just among all of us, our immediate response is to react.  Do something.  Answer the question.  Solution to the problem.  Prevention is the cure.  As long as we prevent and do something then we are being proactive to take care of ourselves.  But, is prevention really a cure? Is proactive really taking care of ourselves?    Could prevention and proactive possibly be a bit anxiety-inducing and control freakish? 
 
A couple day after I was diagnosed with the flu, I went to my transplant center.  I was pretty much hacking up a lung and felt so drained and tired that I could have fallen asleep sitting up trying to talk to my transplant doctor.  I asked my transplant doctor this: “What’s the point of the flu shot?  I got the flu shot to prevent the flu, but I ended up getting it.”
 
He sounded like a textbook when he explained: “Well, it is supposed to protect you 80%, but it can’t protect you at 100%.  Nothing can really protect you at 100%.”
 
This is when another realization hit me: Prevention is NOT a cure.  Prevention can be a catalyst for anxiety.  We can try and do all these ‘proactive’ things to maintain our health and our lives and to maybe even stop bad before it can start and be worst than ever, but if something is going to happen then it is going to happen.  It can be good.  It can be bad.  Most of all, it is life.  This is life.  There are never any guarantees in life.  There are also times that there are never concrete solutions, answers, and abilities to really ‘fix’ or stop anything that is meant to happen.  There is never 100%. 
 
In general, humans immediate response is to react and to try to ‘fix’ or provide a solution to a problem.  I must confess that I have spent the mass majority of my life believing that proactive is better than reactive, but now I wonder if proactive is a ‘control thing’ when there really is no control over things that happen in our lives.  Our only ‘control’ is how we react to it and, maybe just sometimes, the best reaction is nothing.   The ‘wait and see’ factor.  Is doing nothing actually doing something?  Is NOT reacting a solution or answer to a problem?  Is prevention a kind of ongoing solution or is it just anxiety-inducing?  Can we really ‘fix’ something by doing nothing?     
 
 
Keep smilin’,

Mary ;-) 

Lose

Posted on January 23, 2020 at 8:54 PM Comments comments (35)
I fell in love with games and gambling at around 10-years-old. 
 
Card games: War, UNO, Poker, and Spit.  Board games: Monopoly and Outburst.  But, the game I loved the absolute most was Mahjong.   My grandfather and cousin taught me how to play the game.  We used to gamble with pennies and food.   The clickety black of the shiny ivory blocks as they smacked against each other and as we stacked them and then flipped each block out to play our hand was adrenaline-rushing and thrilling.  Bamboos.  Circles. Chinese numbers.  Take up a block.  Give up a block.   Someone could take or ignore your block.  Poker faces.  Match.  Strategize.  Think hard.  Maybe a little luck if you are lucky enough.  Until you got your way.  Until you win.  Win big. 
 
In my immediate family, I was the only one who like to gamble and play games.  Outside of my immediate family and among all my relatives, just about everyone loved and did play a good and rousing game of mahjong except for my aunt.  I thought this was odd, though, because my aunt was somehow always gambling or bargaining in life.  I still remember us snaking our way in the overly crowded and steamy streets of Hong Kong with my aunt and another aunt (in Chinese, or maybe it is in my family, we call just about everyone aunt) haggling with the store owners and store keepers to try to talk down prices of items that they really wanted to buy.  I’d watch my aunts completely mesmerized and confused with this one question blinking brightly in my mind over and over: “If they really want it, then why don’t they just buy it at the set price instead of fight it?”
 
As I got older and particularly on a trip to China, I turned red in the face with embarrassment when my aunt was snapping at this storeowner to talk down a price on this pink hat that I really wanted.  She turned her back. grabbed my arm to drag me away, and said in a clipped and no-nonsense voice: “Now, we walk away.”
 
I hissed, “But why are we walking away when I really want it?  Why is it always a fight and bargaining?  Why can’t you just accept it as the price it is?”
 
“Wanting it and meant to have it are two separate things.  You have to be willing to walk away and lose.   Wait and watch.  Listen and learn,” she whispered back.
 
Moments later, the store owner threw up his arms and spat off that he agreed to the price that my aunt agreed to.  I got my pretty pink hat that people shower me with praise that I look that like a happy strawberry shortcake when I wear it.  I could not believe that my aunt had talked down the price to that low.  I could not believe that she had gotten her way.  I could not believe how much I loved this pink swirled hat from China.  I was curious and utterly fascinated.   I was speechless.
 
I opened my mouth to ask my aunt how she did that.  Her painted red lips curled upwards in a smile.  Her eyes sparkled.  She nodded.  I paused.  Without her saying anything, I think I understood: “Wait and Watch.  Listen and Learn.”  I pondered about my family upbringing with mahjong as a staple game that we played out of family fun and my aunts who did not always accept what was told to them and they, instead, told others how it is to be.  In each of these ‘games,’ you had to learn to lose AND be completely fearless to lose.  You had to be unafraid to walk away and leave if the terms that you put out there were unaccepted for what you deemed as worthwhile.  You had to put yourself out there and make your terms known and clear without budging, but bend if needed.  Think carefully and strategize without over analyzing.  Trust in yourself and in the wise risks and stakes and take ownership for the winning and the losing.  Walk away when it was at the best peak and when timing was just right to be satisfied, but not and never greedy, with the winnings rather than the losings.   The name of the game: To win AND win big, you had to be willing to lose AND lose big.  Maybe the key to winning is the acceptance of losing that brings out our humility, humbleness, and abilities to keep on trying and going without losing our tenacity.
 
Losing holds just as importance than winning.    When have you lost?  Are you a risktaker?  Do you bargain and try to negotiate to get your way?  Is what you deemed as losing REALLY a loss?      
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 

Breaking Bad

Posted on January 18, 2020 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (9)
Years ago, I befriended a young lady who was fresh out of college.  She seemed timid, uncertain, and eager to please anyone and everyone.   In many ways, I felt like a big sister or mentor to her more than anything else.  Around this time I befriended her, I told her about my newest and latest project called “Live List.”

“Oh, bucket list?” she asked.

I paused.  “Hmm…I guess you could call and consider it a bucket list, but I do not like to think of myself doing these things because I am afraid of death.  I like to think I am doing these things to embrace life and to be and live in all these great and amazing moments in life.”

I then began to run through the list with her: “Go on a hot air balloon ride.  Go to an opera.  Go to a baseball game.  Travel the world.  Learn to ride a bicycle.  Fall in love.”

She paused and then said, “I think you suffer from FOMO.”
I was intrigued.  I never heard the acronym ‘FOMO.’ I was usually the acronym creator, but here there was this young person (at least ten years younger than me) giving me a lesson in acronyms.

“What’s FOMO?” I asked.

“Fear of Missing Out.” 

I thought about this acronym and then asked: “Is that a bad thing?”

She shrugged, “No, I guess it isn’t.  But, isn’t fear of anything a bad thing?”

I thought about this ‘FOMO’ acronym.  I thought about fear.  I was all too familiar with fear.  Probably my greatest fears being that I did not do what I wanted to do and I did not live my life the way I was meant to live it before I died.    Yes, I certainly do know it seems odd for someone of 37-years-old or even younger at that time of creating my ‘Live List’ to think of ‘before I died,’ but the truth is that the only way you come to appreciate the value and the gift of life is when you are on the brink of death yourself or when everyone around you ends up in the clutches of death.  I know that sounds dismal and depressing, but I like to think of knowing about the reality of death forcing us to live life as light to the darkness and life and death being in each other’s company kind of cool with each other. Over the years, I had went on to fulfill as many of my ‘Live List’ items as possible.   To fulfill these items, I had often run myself ragged until I burnt out.  Often, I would spend so much time planning and preparing for one of my ‘Live List’ items that I ended up stressed.  I also did not know my boundaries and limitations because of FOMO.  No matter how many people would like to say that we are limitless and can do anything and everything, I have to come to realize that this is NOT true as we get older.  We all have our boundaries and limitations, and that is just as important as knowing to push the boundaries and limitations without detriment to ourselves.  It is a fine line.  I do not know how to sit still.  I do not know how to relax.  I do not know how to do nothing.   

Then, it dawned on me that, yes, that young lady from so many years ago was right.  There is a downfall to FOMO.  There is a negative twist to FOMO.  You will plot, plan, and do everything intended for a single FOMO moment that you are living for or that you make out to take your breath away that you are missing on all the seemingly simple ordinary minutes and moments that can mean the most and bring the greatest treasures and pleasures.  Worst of all to FOMO is not being present.  I have now realized that there are many moments that I may have missed out on all because I was hung up and giving in to FOMO- Fear of Missing Out.  This realization is HUGE to me.  I have spent the vast majority of my life trying to “seize the day” and “live in the moment” only to see a different side that maybe I have not been doing this.  People have said to me time and time again that I need to slow down, take it easy, pause, and be present.  Heck, I have even said this to myself.  But, now it is REALLY time to ‘break bad.’  I need to.  I have to.  Or I will burn out and run out as a result.  This has then made me contemplate about our ‘bad’ habits and ways, imperfections, resolutions, and actively trying to change or tweak ourselves to be better.

January is almost over with.  We are well into the 2020 year.  I have asked many people about what their resolutions are.  Many have said to me that they do not make any because they cannot keep them.  I think the greater question and quandary is if people realize what their weaknesses and ‘bad’ are to try to overcome and ‘bread bad.’  We are creatures of habits.  We get so wrapped up in our days and ways that it may reach a point that we break and have to, in turn, break these bad habits.  I cannot say that I am making a resolution.  I can say that I am trying to be better and the only way for me to be better is awareness of my ‘bad’ to then try to ‘break bad.’ I can say that I am now very well aware of my imperfections and flaws that can be hurtful to me and to others that I have to try to change for the better. It does not have to be in big ways.  If anything, what I have learned in life is it is always the little ways and little things that lead to the most. 
 
We are creatures of habit and flawed humans with bad habits that need to be broken.  What bad patterns, vicious cycles, or bad habits do you have?  Were you aware of how debilitating they were so that you had to change?  What did you do or are doing to make a conscientious effort to change?  

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-)

Colors

Posted on December 28, 2019 at 6:22 PM Comments comments (46)
I come from a family of poets and painters.  My paternal grandfather encapsulated both painter and poet to the fullest effect.  Back in the 1990’s, my grandparents lived in Canada.  My grandfather’s paintings and poems were so important and ingrained in him that he had a sunroom with minimal closed walls and maximum glass windows.  The windows were so spotlessly clean that Mother Nature herself in all her glory of sunshine and blue skies along, gloomy beauty of rain, and purity of snow was so clear that you could almost feel like you were outside.  He had a table of paintbrushes and thick paints.  He showed me these paintings against the dramatic backdrop of Mother Nature and would say, “You will see the paintings best in the light.”  My aunt was also a painter.   I remember him and her showing me their Chinese paintings that had dark colors and multitude of mountains. 

I also come from a family of writers and rebels.  At a young age, I learned meaning of “The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword.”  I learned how stringing and forming certain words had the power to hurt or heal.  I learned that words could form and create magical and memorable stories of our lives to share and speak out to others.  I was taught to fight for what you believe in even if you are in the lonely minority because living a life of personal truth, morals and principles held the greatest meaning than to live a life unlived and not meant to be that was actually the saddest life there can possibly be.  I came to believe that timing is everything in life, and that it is most important to pick battles in order to win wars.    

Growing up, I always considered myself a writer.  Never an artist.  My aunt enrolled me in a drawing class when I was living with her one summer.  I learned how to draw flying birds and buck-toothed bunnies.  I was bored in those art classes.  It was not until I was in high school and then in college that I fell in love with clay and ceramics.  There was something about the feel of the clay in my hands.  With my hands, I had the power to build, mold, and really create anything and everything. All through college whenever I was stressed from a brain draining psychology class, I escaped to the chilly ceramics room to pound and punch clay to form something.  Really Anything.  It was fun.  It was invigorating.  It was empowering.

Recently and completely unexpectedly, I stopped by at a pottery place just to check it out for grins and giggles.  I joined a bunch of strangers on a Friday night that had tons of free food (you can always get me to go somewhere if there is food and especially if it is free) and shelves and shelves of beautiful and whimsical pottery pieces.  Plates.  Bowls.  Cups.  Cute figurines.  All these pieces were meant for serving, supporting, or just bringing a big smile.  The name of the game was that you pick a piece, paint it, and wait at least a week to find out how the piece turned out.  That night, I listened to many of these ladies fretting over what paint colors to choose from and saying, “Oh, this is so stressful and I do not know what I am doing!”  I could have chosen any piece.  There were a large variety of colors to choose from.   However, I stuck with a simple vase and the four paint glazes they had to offer.  I wanted to keep it simple.  Simple is usually better.  Less is more.  I listened to these ladies’ conversations with a lazy ear as my main interest and focuses that night were the cheese and crackers and just shutting down my mind down to paint.  No thinking.  Only painting.  Without even thinking and me keeping uncharacteristically quiet, I painted. 

I was the first one to finish painting my piece and leave that pottery place on that night.  I was probably also the first one to pick up my piece a week later.  I was completely pleasantly surprised at my very first painted vase that was decked out in warm cinnamon brown and cool teal.   I was shocked at how the colors I had painted on had been supposedly muted and boring before going into the kiln, but actually came out in brighter than ever with a shiny and glossy sheen.   I was hooked.

Since then, I have painted a bowl and three plates.  I had a blast with three plates, but one plate was annoying and getting me frustrated, impatient, and mentally challenged with the art of symmetry versus asymmetry.  The only wiring in my mind when I am about to paint are the colors I will choose and the extra design I might make, whether it be dots, stripes, or even bubbles.  Each time I have had to hand in a piece to be put into the kiln, I have no clue how the piece will really turn out.  I have no idea if the colors will really mesh and matchmake well together.  I also must wait at least a whole week to see the final product in all its painted glory.    I have realized that this whole process of picking a piece, painting it, and waiting on the final product is so much like life.  There is so much that you can or do put out there, do or even overdo, and then you have no choice but to patiently wait on the results meeting and matching what you put out there.  You can do everything and everything you do still will not be good enough.  You can try your hardest and your best and none of these is good enough.  There are times in our lives that are dark or a completely frightening stark white and blank canvas that you have no clue what to do or put on only to find it in you to make your own canvas and bring colors and light back to your life and canvas.  You can only hope for your faith and patience to get you through that waiting time for what you waited for to be and meet what you originally hoped for. 

A vase, three plates, and a bowl later,  maybe I would have to say that I am merely a humbled artist full of poet, painter, writer, and rebel—all coming from my family.  The time I paint is my quiet time.  My quiet time for my mind, However, it has also been my time of bringing colors back to the stark white piece AND colors back into my mind and life.  I came to terms that this 2019 was one of the most challenging years of my life.   I have and am still making my peace with 2019.  I am ready to leave 2019, but, more than that, I am more than ready to embrace 2020 and bring the brightest of colors back to it that were muted and faded in 2019.   It is fun.  It is invigorating.  It is empowering.
 
It takes quite a lot to bring hope, light, brightness, and, indeed, colors back into our lives during our darkest and most difficult and challenging times.  When did your life maybe seem black and white?  Where do you escape to that brings you comfort, joy, and, maybe, just maybe quieting your unquiet mind?  What did it take for you to bring colors back into your life?  How have you or do you bring colors into your life? 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,
Mary
 

 

Cheers!

Posted on December 23, 2019 at 8:37 PM Comments comments (54)
 
Two years ago, I learned that one of my relatives was diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer.  It was determined that he was terminal and probably would not make it past Christmas.  I was never particularly close to this relative, but terminal illnesses do a twisting kind of thing to the mind that make you remember the moments where you were close and could have been even closer. So, the memories played like a movie reel in my mind of when this relative lived with my family and I and I tormented him as a bratty child bugging him to play games with me. I remembered being given the responsibility of his flower girl in Hong Kong in a puffy pink dress.  I remembered my Dad and me spending the entire day with him and his wife out at Universal Studios in California in the beaming sunshine and daring each other to go on the fastest and wildest of rides.  Even more so, terminal illnesses back you in a corner making you think that you lost the chance to be closer so you try to make up for the perception of loss by making as many moments and memories to hold on to just before that person is no longer here on earth.  So, that is exactly what we did.   To make new memories to remember and hold on to, my family and I jetted off to California to visit this relative and his wife for what was deemed by doctors as his last Christmas. 

I had heard that he was going bald from the start of treatments to try to combat the cancer.  I knew exactly what I wanted to get him for Christmas; A handmade hat from one of my friends who was famous for her knitted hats from the thickest and finest of yarns.  After much decision with my hat lady friend, I finally decided on a swirl of colors thick hat for him to keep his head warm and spirits even warmer and more hopeful. 

Our first stop in sunny California was to see him and his wife.  In a stark white room that was badly in need of color, personality, and light, we all crowded and stood like soldiers encircling him.  We hugged his thinning body.  We plastered on bright smiles.  We took pictures. We filled up the awkward pauses with laughter, jokes, small talk, and really anything and everything that did not touch terminal illness with a ten-foot pole.  I gave him the hat.  He bony fingers brushed mine when he grasped on to it.  The hat was too big for him, but he dutifully put it on to try to please me and everyone else. 

Before we left, we all lifted up our filled up plastic cups to wish each other happiest of holidays.  I rang out: “Cheers!” 

Everyone beamed with big smiles and his smile was the biggest of all.  In my experience, there is something about the word ‘cheers.’  Almost all the time, it melts away tension and a big grin or smile takes over somber faces.  I think it is because ‘cheers’ is like the word ‘cheese’ where the lines on our faces cannot help but lift up rather than down.  He knew that this was going to be his last Christmas.  We knew that this was going to be his last Christmas.  Some could even say that we all knew that we were pretending that everything was okay when it was not okay, but maybe it was not really pretending.  Maybe it is just trying and creating new and happy memories in unhappy and even painful reality.  Maybe it is just trying to ring out and find the ‘cheers’ and positivity in pain and in the face of adversity and when the cloud of negativity looms overhead.

Just a couple days after Christmas and just before the New Year, he had died.  He had made it to Christmas.  He had not made it to the New Year.  All of us had made it in time to be together and say and ring in ‘cheers’ one last time, making a bittersweet memory imprinted in my mind.  Sometimes, the holidays can be the hardest time of the year where there is the flood of good and bad memories.  It can be the time of the year where we think about those who are missing and we end up missing these people the most.  Most definitely, it is that time of year that we find and make magic and as much ‘cheers’ as we can muster as we gather and try to come together. 
‘Cheers’ illicits joy and happy memories in the face of unhappy or daunting reality.  When have you been in a painful or hurtful time that you tried to overcome with creating new and happy memories? Have you ever noticed that the word ‘cheers’ naturally brings a smile to our faces? 
 
This Christmas and in the days to come that ends 2019 and starts 2020, I wish you and all your loved ones “Cheers!”
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-)

The Swimmer

Posted on November 14, 2019 at 7:49 PM Comments comments (52)
I was in lane two when I first encountered the swimmer. 

Lane one by the wall is my favorite lane because it has more space for me to do my stretches every ten laps, but that particular after-work swim to de-stress had me swimming in lane two to avoid the ‘circle’ swim that every swimmer knows about and avoids out of impatience and desire of personal space for ‘his’ or ‘her’ own lane.  My prescription goggles were foggy. I was underwater, slammed my hand against the wall, and just broke the surface to try to catch my breath when I heard the swimmer exclaim: “You certainly know what you are doing!”

I pulled off my goggles and squinted.  With my horrific eyesight without my glasses, all I could make out was an elderly gentleman who looked in his mid to late 70’s.  He was completely bald.  He was slim and well-built with certainly less love handles than me.  He had a big grin that revealed gaps of missing teeth.  His eyes shined like a young and excited child discovering something wondrous and wonderful.

He exclaimed happily: “You are a good swimmer!  You must do this a lot!” 

I was uncharacteristically awkward and wordless. It is unspoken swimmer rule that swimmers do not stop for small talk in the middle of vigorous and driven laps.  He was breaking the unspoken swimmer rules.  I uncomfortably gave him a half smile and nod alongside my squint and said, “Uhmm…thanks.”

Back under the water I went.  However, each time I came up for air, the swimmer boomed joyfully, “You know what you are doing!  You must do this a lot!  You are a good swimmer!”

I started to get annoyed.   I knew I should not have been annoyed.  He was so endearing, sweet, and clearly just being friendly, but my swim strokes were slower and sloppier because he kept interrupting me.  When I stopped shyly thanking him for his compliments, he slipped under water swimming slowly, steadily, and smoothly like a graceful gazelle. 

When I left the pool grumpy that I had a slower swim, he said with his huge smile, “I’ll see you again!  Keep up the great work!”

For three weeks, I kept encountering the swimmer.   I began to notice little things about him.   He wore dark blue trunks and black sandals that he would dip into the pool.    It took him up to 30 minutes or more of when I was about to leave the pool for him to even get into the pool.   He paced back and forth on the pool deck.  He then paced back and forth on the steps into the pool.  He always came with his aide who barely even looked at him because she was so busy with flying fingers texting on her cell phone.  Every now and then, the aide’s head popped up from the phone to encourage or scold the swimmer, “Get in the water!  It is good for you!”  or “Don’t wear your sandals into the pool!  You have to go into the pool with bare feet!”   Most of all, I noticed that other swimmers stayed away from him.  Just like I had.  We had been in such a rush to get our swim routines over and done with so we could return to our other menial and supposedly necessary tasks that we had ignored and excluded him.  I was ashamed.   

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