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Monthly Archives: April 2011

早茶: Live

“Live for something higher, bigger and better than you.”

Dungeons and Dragons

If only the world abided by the principles of Dungeons and Dragons.

My Saturday afternoon was dedicated to sitting outside at a cafe to review my most recent read and spend time in my head learning how to put it on paper. Not soon after I got the ball rolling a man asked if the seat on the long bench next to me was taken. It was not. I believe this was because I removed my hat to let the glistening of antibacterial ointment mixed with blood get some air, so people were not keep to sip their coffee near me. (Note: my face is healing miraculously fast, but I still scare children). The type of people who are on Montana cafes on a weekend in Santa Monica are not generally those who seem to like to look at anything unsightly or remember that the world is not all rainbows and BMWs. I’m being judgmental, but I did get some fun looks when I removed my hat.

Anyhow, the guy that sat down next to me seemed homeless, had a distinct stench and would, from time to time, put his head in his hands and rock. Not necessarily signs of homeless or crazy, but typically good indications. I was interested, but not up for initiating because I was on a roll with my project. Yet, I always end up talking to whoever is around and so this situation was no different then others. He engaged first asking about my computer…

Tangent: I feel like a siren, calling out to every personality that I want them to sit down with me, chat and learn about their story and life philosophy. Not only do I listen to people’s crazy I actively engage and entertain their crazy to somehow enhance or occupy mine. Really, aren’t we all our own brand of crazy stirring the space we call consciousness. Churning over all that we know, experience and believe to form some gray area we define as our “reality”. What a relative term. Reality.

My friend Michael, who intently indicated his namesake to be the archangel himself, was and had been living in a reality completely self-constructed. He obviously rejected aspects of his life that troubled him in earlier years and from what I gathered took far too many mind-altering substances. He’s chosen to be homeless for 11 years, while he has family sitting pretty in Brentwood. I acknowledge this could be a lie, but do not think it to be based on our sharing of childhood memories. One stellar fact: we both share an affinity, no passion, for the movie The NeverEnding Story. Classic.

I wish I had recorded the conversation. I started typing it but was afraid he would see and feel uncomfortable or potentially lash out (actually I don’t feel like he would do that. I said that for dramatic effect). Why this conversation was initially so enthralling was because I was painting a word picture of the world around me before he sat down. I was finding a pattern in the quotes of passer-bys I took down. They were materialistically- or monetarily- based. As a Ferrari deafeningly  sped by people spoke of luxury travel, BMWs and the deal they got that day. No joke. It was bizarre. When Michael told me he played Dungeons and Dragons, I asked what the attraction was. He said it let him exist in a world that was better than this one because people were not working to get money. Instead, they work and struggle with a purpose. Oh Michael, I was just writing about that, do continue.

He believes one of the biggest problems is that people will work doing something they do not have any feelings for just to make money and achieve survival. In Dungeons and Dragons you work and fight for something and protect family. He went on to talk about fighting with balls of energy and the presence of weapons in our society and how he believes in magic…but there were some valid points made along the way. First, I wish I could throw balls of energy at people. Second, the reality we’ve created in modern, western society can be super stressful. Finally. Magic is legit. Harry Potter, for example, provides some stellar examples of wizarding.

Beyond magic, he lectured on great religious figures who have been persecuted, spent time alone in the wilderness and were misunderstood (clearly equating himself to one as he told tales of his long walks around Santa Monica). Typically, when I have conversations with people who would be labelled as “homeless”, “crazy”, or “mentally unstable”, some element of religion comes into play. Why? Many seem so sure of what they believe or feel to be true. I wonder why some tend towards religions in a historical context (like Michael) while others veer toward spiritually. I’m sure there have been volumes written on this by psychiatrists. In Michael’s case, it feels like his beliefs in magic, intelligence in religious history, addiction to mythical video games and rejection of social norms could be a culmination of a seed that was planted as a child–because we always blame parenting. Poor mom and dad… or poor us… or maybe everything is just as it should be.

We also spoke on fear–whether it can be defined or if it different for every person? We each shared a specific story of feeling our lives were in jeopardy. His was being neglected by family and nearly drowned. From there, life spiraled away from him (in a conventional sense at least). This brought us to evil. Michael so candidly explained his views: “Satan does not want to kill you he would rather rape you every single day for eternity.” I agree, Michael, this may be the very definition of hell. (Note: Talking with fellow crazies leads to raw, stream-of-consciousness conversation…most end in rants.)

Speaking of stream of consciousness and rants…what the heck am I rambling on about? I just noticed this really good smelling oil on my desk for scrapes, reminding me of beaches in southeast Asia, which makes me miss breaks from teaching because they are long and paid and adventureful, which makes me miss train travel, which makes me think of China and crowds, bringing me back Dalian and that feeling of home after traveling, which makes me miss my students there, which makes me think I should be traveling, writing and teaching all over the world, which makes me question my purpose right now, but I am reminded I have a goal here and will meet it and, therefore, I should get back to work. Point of the post: being open to communication is a magical thing because you gain perspective and new insight, building blocks for an open mind.

Also, wear a helmet.

So I haven’t been posting daily… I’m sure many wonder why? Where is Jess? Right. Well on Sunday after biking to Huntington Beach, hanging around, swimming, etc. I jumped on my bike to head home. My two friends were ahead of me, so no one saw except this poor solo bicyclist. I don’t feel like going into detail, but essentially I face-planted into the pavement. Not essentially. Literally. I ate it. Fortunately, I didn’t black out but instead jumped up to feel blood gushing down my face. I had my face covered with my hands and asked the nice bicyclist to tell me, honestly, how bad it was and also not to freak out. I moved my hands. He freaked out, saying stuff about hospitals and ambulances. One of my friends came back while the other got lost in the shuffle (poor thing…I’m so sorry Angelica!). I wrapped my scarf around my head like I was back in India and decided to ride on.

At a bike rental stand I acquired some peroxide and band-aids to clean it out and prove that it just looked messy but was, in fact, no biggy. After more ER talk, I stood my ground and completed the 15-ish mile ride back to Marina del Rey. By “stood my ground” I mean I was stubborn and would not let anyone help me or take me to the hospital because I always feel confident in helping myself. In this case, I stand by my decision. I needed to feel it out first. Back at a friends place in Playa Vista I attempted a thorough cleaning. With less blood, I could finally clearly see my eyelid flop open…the wrong way. I may be stubborn, but I am not stupid. This little lady needed stitches.

After 3+ hours, x-rays, having pavement razored out of my face and 13 stitches I went home–face throbbing, swollen, bloody. I happen to have the best roommate in the world who woke me up every two hours to ask me lame questions to ensure I was concussion-less. By the third wake up the questions became a joke and every answer I gave had an undertone of sarcasm or perhaps self-resentment… I was clearly myself.

It is painful and I ended up back in the ER on night 2 for headaches that came a bit too late in the healing process. The CT scan, however, confirmed no broken bones or bleeding. So it’s been a really fun week. Lots of pain. Black eye. Scraped up face–I was told no sun for 6 months. Hi, I live in southern California. However, today is day 4 and my headaches are nearly gone, my eye can open, swelling has gone down and I have a good skincare regimen working in my favor so I think it’ll heal fast. A close friend had fallen off a scooter in India and had the same injuries. Her face looks great and she just has a small bump of scar tissue on her forehead that I didn’t even notice before her pointing it out. So I am feeling ok, though I look like a monster and children get uncomfortable (some have even cowered behind mom) when they see me. Also, I spend at least 1 hour everyday outside in the sun, love hiking and want to live in a tent… The outdoors thing is going to be the toughest part, but I think this will work out fine. I’m starting a very large hat collection. Not just large like “I have a lot of hats” but large like the hats are going to be huge, easter-Sunday-like hats that let no sun on my face. It’ll be the latest trend.

Lesson: Wear a helmet. I always wear one on my scooter, but didn’t on my bike. Why? No idea. I do in other places, why not LA? Had I worn a helmet I would  not have HUGE hospital bills (love being young and uninsured), a messed up face, lots of discomfort and a sad heart that has been deprived of light all week. Simple things go a long way…I’m bummed I overlooked this one. Kids (and adults!) always protect yourself..because it’s so easy to do and the consequences can really hurt. Goooo helmets! If my words are not enough…here are some photos:

At the bike stand, cleaning my wounds (About 7 miles after the fall)

Live the Abundant Life

A dedication to Ms. Stephanie Doe, an inspiration and rock in my life who constantly reminds me of the person I want to be, encourages me to follow my dreams, and is not only there for me but understands what makes my heart beat and soul happy. Thank you and happy birthday to a beautiful person. Here’s to living the abundant life filled with amazing friends!


It Is Better To Be Alone, Than In the Wrong Company
Tell me who your best friends are, and I will tell you who you are.
If you run with wolves, you will learn how to howl.
But, if you associate with eagles, you will learn how to soar to great heights.
A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.
The simple but true fact of life is that you COULD become like those with whom you closely associate – for the good and the bad.
The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve.
Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity.
An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people.
As you grow, your associates will change.
Some of your friends will not want you to go on.
They will want you to stay where they are.
Friends that don’t help you climb, will want you to crawl.
Your friends will stretch your vision or choke your dream.
Those that don’t increase you will eventually decrease you.
Consider this:
Never receive counsel from unproductive people.
Never discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the solution, because those who never succeed themselves are always first to tell you how.
Not everyone has a right to speak into your life.
You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with the wrong person.
Don’t follow anyone who’s not going anywhere.
With some people you spend an evening: with others you invest it.
Be careful where you stop to inquire for directions along the road of life.
Wise is the person who fortifies his life with the right friendships.

Get a Motorcycle

This morning I woke up in Calabasas. While living in Santa Monica rocks, I love being closer to nature and the mountains. It was a windy ride late the night before. Riding in the wind is a new challenge for me so I was slowly making my way through a dimly lit Malibu Canyon. When a strong blast of wind crossed perpendicular to my path, things can get questionable…shaky. But fun nonetheless.

After wanting to jump on a plane today, I realized it’s not the distance I am necessarily craving, but the activity. The solitude. Winding along the canyon’s edge. Wind roaring. I could have been anywhere. But what really made that moment was the orange glow of the occasional streetlight, the howl of the wind as we raced each in the dark, how it shook my bike with every cross-gust, imagining I was the only person for miles. A person can create the environment they long for if it is not possible to fully be there…  I was lightyears away from the office I sat in all day, bemoaning my present condition…

The next day, as I set out back through the canyon in the morning sun, the wind was no longer competing with me. There was no sting of the night’s air. The skies had opened up and let light back into the world. I could feel my dark jeans absorbing the sun. Everything was bright, green, clear. From the canyon to Pacific Coast Highway, the world smells of pine and mountains then fresh salt air.

Having a motorcycle brings you a step closer to nature. In a car it feels like you are in a little moving bubble. You create and environment in your car. Very often it becomes a second home. We decorate, make messes, eat, talk, hang out. On a bike your space is the environment surrounding you. You feel every change, every shift. Every sense is heightened. Visually, you must pay much closer attention to the details of the road, the movement of cars (both how the road ahead affects them and how they are moving). One must be consistently alert. Listen, look, quickly process.

I was amazed at how intensely my sense of tough played into last night’s ride. I was blown away by the changes in temperature and the moisture and density of the air. It’s like I’ve become a little human barometer and thermometer. Near Big Rock Canyon there is a pocket of warm air that settles at night. Coming around the bend by Duke’s restaurants gets a little chilly and damp. There were huge gusts of warm wind passing Pepperdine leading into the canyon. After the tunnel a frigid, wet air hangs on the other side of the mountain range. As I pulled into areas of rolling hills it warmed just a tad. And those are just a few of the changes. Reminders to feel and really think about what you are feeling.

For those who don’t want to get a scooter or motorcycle. Try biking more. Transportation where you have to do some work and be outside really helps you commune with your environment and appreciate. It provides me time to be alone with myself and notice details…create a universe in my imagination…celebrate the life I’ve been afforded.

Urge for Going

Who doesn’t love Joni Mitchell.

Pray. Hope. Prepare.

{Repost from The New York Times}

Pray. Hope. Prepare.

Published: April 12, 2011
When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: “Do you have a corporate rate?” I said, “I don’t know. I work for The New York Times.” There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: “ Can I ask you something?” Sure. “Are we going to be O.K.? I’m worried.”

I made a mental note of that conversation because she sounded like a modern person, the kind of young woman who would have been in Tahrir Square. We’re just now beginning to see what may have been gnawing at her — in Egypt and elsewhere.

Let’s start with the structure of the Arab state. Think about the 1989 democracy wave in Europe. In Europe, virtually every state was like Germany, a homogenous nation, except Yugoslavia. The Arab world is exactly the opposite. There, virtually every state is like Yugoslavia — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

That is to say, in Europe, when the iron fist of communism was removed, the big, largely homogenous states, with traditions of civil society, were able to move relatively quickly and stably to more self-government — except Yugoslavia, a multiethnic, multireligious country that exploded into pieces.

In the Arab world, almost all these countries are Yugoslavia-like assemblages of ethnic, religious and tribal groups put together by colonial powers — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, which have big homogeneous majorities. So when you take the lid off these countries, you potentially unleash not civil society but civil war.

That is why, for now, the relatively peaceful Arab democracy revolutions are probably over. They have happened in the two countries where they were most able to happen because the whole society in Tunisia and Egypt could pull together as a family and oust the evil “dad” — the dictator. From here forward, we have to hope for “Arab evolutions” or we’re going to get Arab civil wars.

The states most promising for evolution are Morocco and Jordan, where you have respected kings who, if they choose, could lead gradual transitions to a constitutional monarchy.

Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, countries fractured by tribal, ethnic and religious divisions, would have been ideal for gradual evolution to democracy, but it is probably too late now. The initial instinct of their leaders was to crush demonstrators, and blood has flowed. In these countries, there are now so many pent-up grievances between religious communities and tribes — some of which richly benefited from their dictatorships while others were brutalized by them — that even if the iron fist of authoritarianism is somehow lifted, civil strife could easily trample democratic hopes.

Could anything prevent this? Yes, extraordinary leadership that insists on burying the past, not being buried by it. The Arab world desperately needs its versions of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk — giants from opposing communities who rise above tribal or Sunni-Shiite hatreds to forge a new social compact. The Arab publics have surprised us in a heroic way. Now we need some Arab leaders to surprise us with bravery and vision. That has been so lacking for so long.

Another option is that an outside power comes in, as America did in Iraq, and as the European Union did in Eastern Europe, to referee or coach a democratic transition between the distrustful communities in these fractured states. But I don’t see anyone signing up for that job.

Absent those alternatives, you get what you got. Autocrats in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain shooting their rebels on the tribal logic of “rule or die.” Meaning: either my sect or tribe is in power or I’m dead. The primary ingredient of a democracy — real pluralism where people feel a common destiny, act as citizens and don’t believe their minority has to be in power to be safe or to thrive — is in low supply in all these societies. It can emerge, as Iraq shows. But it takes time.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which is 90 percent Sunni and 10 percent Shiite, has made clear that it will oppose any evolution to constitutional monarchy in neighboring Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules over a Shiite majority. Saudi Arabia has no tradition of pluralism. When we say “democratic reform” to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, we might as well be speaking Latin. What their rulers hear is “Shiites taking over from Sunnis.” Not gonna happen peacefully.

Even evolution is difficult in Egypt. The army overseeing the process there just arrested a prominent liberal blogger, Maikel Nabil, for “insulting the military.”

Make no mistake where my heart lies. I still believe this Arab democracy movement was inevitable, necessary and built on a deep and authentic human quest for freedom, dignity and justice. But without extraordinary leadership, the Arab transitions are going to be much harder than in Eastern Europe. Pray for Germanys. Hope for South Africas. Prepare for Yugoslavias.

Craving Middle of Nowhere

早茶: Tranquility

“May this day bring you peace, tranquility and harmony.”

Thanks morning tea. This day has, in fact, already done that. My drive to work was a bit longer than usual as I stayed out in Calabasas {by Malibu} last night. I awoke to sunshine, birds singing and jumped on my scooter in the crisp morning air. Malibu Canyon is even more beautiful from a motorcycle. You feel and notice those fleeting details that are ignored from a car. Emerging from Malibu Canyon to see Pepperdine and the ocean feels like home. It brought me back to living in Sunflower Court with four other amazing women. It was a beautiful way to start this day…filling me with peace and harmony with my surroundings.