Wednesday, July 30, 2014

When in doubt... BUTTER MOCHI

Butter Mochi
recipe image
Submitted By: Lea
Photo By: RoseFalles
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour
Ready In: 3 Hours 15 Minutes
Servings: 24
"Butter and coconut milk flavor this sweet, baked, Japanese treat."
3 1/2 cups sweet rice flour (mochiko)
2 1/2 cups white sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
5 eggs
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups milk
1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1.Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish. Whisk the rice flour, sugar, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl.
2.Beat the eggs, coconut extract, and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl until the eggs are smooth. Whisk in the milk, coconut milk, and melted butter until incorporated. Stir in the flour mixture a little at a time until no lumps remain; scrape into the prepared baking dish, and smooth the top.
3.Bake in the preheated oven until the mochi is golden brown, about 1 hour. Cool to room temperature before cutting into 24 pieces to serve.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2014 Allrecipes.comPrinted from 7/30/2014

AND ANOTHER THING-- wait, I mean, moving on.

So a long time ago, when I first moved to Kaua'i, I took my tiny adorable little 18 month old baby to the library. The automatic doors slid open, we smelled a blast of air conditioning and book mustiness, and my baby gasped, "YAY, BOOKS!"
The librarian, David, stage-hissed, "If she can't be quiet, she's going to have to leave."
I was so offended. I didn't want to ever go back.

But I realized something. This was MY library. I could walk there. There wasn't another one-- I had to get over it.

So I trained my kids to be terrified of the librarian, to be SILENT in the library, to gather as many books as we could and get OUT OUT OUT GO GO GO under his unflinching sniper eyes. And now... DAVID the MEAN LIBRARIAN.... he likes me. We are allies in a moldy, sandy, short-attention span, book-hating world. My kids are perfect library patrons for him. He gives me book recommendations. He will help me, with that hyper-vigilance, find obscure texts. I brought my 7-12th grade students there every three weeks last school year, and he gave me piles of resources and scurried around helping my students find what they need. We are united in our bibliophilia.

So, there's some lesson there. For me. Which I still haven't learned. But which I can sense hovering on the edge of my vision. I suspect the specter of that lesson won't go away until I've learned it. Like a poltergeist. I have to figure out the puzzle before it will go back to hell where it belongs. Or, FINE, until it's been integrated into my adult interactions.

How do I move on from galling interactions? It's so easy to get miserable or demoralized. But this community is too small. I can't write my generous coworker off because she holds bizarre opinions. I can't afford to end relationships with that family because the auntie said, "You're okay for a haole." I've had parents call me and scream at me, threaten me-- and I still have to work with them the next day, and see them at the beach, and get their help for field trips. I can't walk away or wall myself in with a phalanx of people who are just like me, who won't offend me.

I guess... I just show up. I try and be more nalu-- more wavelike, skimming the surface, going with the flow. Try and cultivate that Hawaiian-style mind-- not completely derailed by cognitive dissonance. Try and hear the dissonance as harmony.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kaua'i is Completely (Gorgeous) CRAZY

I left Hawaii.
Not forever-- just for two months. Just the day school got out-- all my book shelves pushed into one corner of my classroom, all the partitions folded and desks stacked and supplies boxed up. I got on an airplane-- actually three-- and left Hawaii behind.
I just got back Sunday.
I learned a lot. Some of what I learned I should probably write about. But not today.

Today, I went back to work. And the day sort of embodied everything that is sacred and amazing, and everything that is enraging and crushing about this rock in the middle of the pacific.

I left the house at 4:30 am. I drove my truck through the dark-- down the mountain, along the coast. Just knowing the black ocean was right there, invisible and inky on the side of the road, lapping at rocks in the dark-- gave me chills. The ocean is big and powerful-- a force to be acknowledged and respected. Good morning unseen ocean.

By 5:30 I made it to the beach. Many of the other teachers were already there, standing in their pareos. I hugged and kissed them all-- E Aloha kaua, e na hoakumu! Pehea ke kau wela? Pehea kou wa ho'omaha? Hello to us, friend teachers! How is the summer? How is your rest time?

The vice principal gathered us for a pule, and we all spread out across the dark beach, shed whatever we had left of our clothes onto the sand, and waded into the black smooth water.

It was buttery-black. The Pacific was warm, even as the chilly morning breeze played across the surface-- licking up little waves. I dove under and came up gasping a little. I floated on my back-- easily buoyant, tasting salt on my face.

I lay there, on the water, gently moved, looking at the blue-grey predawn sky, and the jagged mountain cliffs. I imagined all of the exhaustion and residual stress from last year lapping away. I felt lifted. Finally I put my feet down, mentally left the past behind, and headed toward the beach, careful not the look back. That's kapukai, or hi'uwai-- a ritual bathing to start a new time.

We headed to Limahuli-- an extension of the National Tropical Botanic Gardens. We were greeted by the staff, standing in a line in front of a web of stone walls, sluices, terraces and taro-- and a graceful thatched hale, in front of the jagged and dramatic green cliffs. We sang an oli to come up into the gardens:

Kunihi ka mauna i ka la’i e,
O Wai-ale-ale a i Wai-lua,
Huki a’e la i ka lani
Ka papa au-wai o ka Wai-kini;
Alai ia a’e la e Nou-nou,
Nalo ka Ipu-ha’a,
Ka laula mauka o Kapa’a, e!
Mai pa’a i ka leo!
He ole ka hea mai, e!

They answered us with an oli of their own. Then both groups lined up and kissed each other's cheeks, inhaling sharply with each kiss-- he honi-- the exchange of breath.

Then Dr. Kawika Winter, the Director of the gardens, took us on a tour up the paths, through the grounds. In beautiful and grammatically rich Hawaiian, he introduced us to the complicated issues with biodiversity, unique endemic ecosystems, coevolution, and cultivation of extremely endangered plant species in this valley, the most biodiverse place in Kaua'i, and also the highest concentration of endangered flora and fauna. We saw rare ferns famous for their use in sacred leis, trees and shrubs unfamiliar to us except as words in songs, beautiful flowers curved to fit the beaks of indigenous birds, with names that carry multiple meanings.

Kawika left us to gather plants for our lei piko-- an enormously thick and ornate lei that will symbolize our unity and goals for the year. Each plant braided carefully into the lei has multiple meanings and uses. Kukui leaves are accordianed to symbolize light of knowledge, curving koa leaves are folded in to symbolize the strength of the warrior. Ohia lehua, lau'ae, palapalai, maile, mokihana, a'ali'i... and many others I don't know, but each with specific meanings and purposes.

We spread out across the garden and carefully picked plants for our lei. The sun came out-- the sky was clear bright blue down to the flat side ocean. The cliffs were green and black. Hibiscus and hao flowers were jewel-bright in the sunlight. I breathed deep.

Once we had the plants we needed, we returned to the hale. We spread woven mats out on the rock floor, and sorted the plants into piles. Two teachers wove the thick base-- and all of us made little boutonniere-sized bouquets. I like the lacy ferns with the sickle-shaped koa, and a splash of cheerful yellow from the ilima. We got to chat-- mostly all in Hawaiian-- only an occasional English word or urgent sentence bursting through. I coordinated with my fellow teachers-- how can we get the high schoolers onto that archeology project? How do we motivate the younger students? How do we get our older students to lead? Everything was seeming positive for starting the new school year.

I was chatting with one teacher about ways to teach poetry and early literature. We planned a Greek myths art project together, talked about the human genome project-- and then she said, "Oh! Have you heard about the hollow earth theory?"

Me: "No...? What is that?"

She went on to tell me how nobody's ever actually BEEN to the north or south poles, and how that's because there are giant military bases there, protected the giant holes that go down into the earth. "Because the earth is hollow."

"But--" I protested lightly, suddenly feeling very lost and alone, "people go to the North and South poles all the time. That guy Jarod from Farsyde Tattoo-- HE'S been there!"

She gave me a skeptical look. "Well, my husband saw this documentary-- they're hiding it from us, just like they hide everything else, as we know..."

I grew more alarmed. I had to get the conversation back on the ground: "It is the mass of the earth-- that super dense core-- that even gives us our gravity. If we didn't have that, the earth wouldn't spin, we wouldn't have seasons, the atmosphere, everything would fly off into space!"

She looked at me pityingly. "You know gravity is just a theory, don't you?"

I gritted and soldiered on brightly. "Isn't it funny how there are two ways to use that word? Like, 'I have a theory about how LOST is going to end!' or 'germ theory predicts the spread of disease!'"

She scoffed, "Yeah, exactly! THAT'S a theory..."

I blinked a lot. "Well, that's the funny thing. A Scientific theory means that lots and lots and lots of evidence has been amassed to form an idea that-- yes, with new information we will continue to adjust-- but that we can pretty much rely on to be true! I mean, like, yes, gravity IS a theory. But a scientific theory. Just about any situation in your life, gravity will work just exactly as the theory predicts. It's only when you get to the subatomic level that it doesn't behave the way the theory predicted. So then we update the theory. It doesn't mean that... we don't understand how it works, or that it's not a really good idea."

"Right," she said, "But it's still just a theory."

Dear readers, can you hear the sound of my heart turning to ice and breaking into a million pieces?

"Oh!" She said, "have you heard of the nephilim?"

Aaaand, at that point, I gave up all home for humanity.

Another kumu, then two, joined in. Ooh, Ancient aliens! Angel feathers falling from the sky! aggressive reptilians! Hawaiian time traveling chiefs arriving in Atlantis! And all of it proof that God is good and the Bible is literally true! It would be hysterical if it wasn't so terrifying.

One teacher said, "I just don't feel comfortable teaching facts. Like, you say, Polynesians only came to Hawaii 1,000 years ago. But I would never say that. If the students believe that Hawaiians have been here forever, they should be able to make up their own mind."

I think at this point I began to envision bashing my own head with a rock.

I lamely carried on. " can present the evidence. You can say, this is how carbon dating works, and the carbon dating from analyzing this layer of organic material says this. What conclusions can we draw?"

"But even saying this is how carbon--- thingy-- works, that's saying that it's true, and I'm just not comfortable telling my students that." She shrugged.

Panic rising.

These are teachers. These are, technically, "highly qualified by the state of Hawaii" teachers. We all have college degrees. We all have teaching certificates. We've all passed PRAXIS tests in our subject area and in general knowledge. How is it that teachers-- TEACHERS-- can be so credulous and gullible?

I tried again. Mostly for myself. Was there any way to smooth out the edges of this horrifying conversation?  "I think Hawaii is really unique is that people here can hold two contradicting ideas without having to really choose one or the other. Like people can dance hula to Pele and Hi'iaka, and worship Jesus at church on Sunday. And like my students can read Genesis and the Kumulipo and The Origin of Species all together, and not really feel the need to fight over which one is RIGHT. "

She made an interesting point: "One problem is the word 'mo'olelo'-- it means 'story' AND 'history.' So I can't say, oh this is history, but this is folklore..."

Huh. It was lunch time.

"Wow," she said, "I really feel like I've grown some new brain cells talking with you!"

I felt like I had five new deep worry trenches carved between my eyebrows.

The day carried on-- lauhala mats on the floor of the hale, the colorful and meaningful thick lei, the transcendently beautiful place, ocean horizons, sheer verdant cliffs, warm breezes over green leaves, beautiful stories of the place we were in:

Two rocks, a brother and a sister, wanted a place to settle down-- the sister chose the ocean and the brother wanted to sit on top of the mountain, but rolling uphill was challenging, so the god Kane helped him up in exchange for reporting back to him on everything he could see from up there...

And another story about a child who helped a stuck menehune, who in return helped him throw a firebrand past the chief's canoe from the top of the mountain Makana -- lifted it up with a magic wind. Other firebrand throwers were jealous and killed the child. When the chief came to find his body, the menehune and his family placed it in a cave, and stood in front of the entrance, and allowed themselves to be turned to stones to guard it forever...

But I couldn't shake the sense of helplessness. How can I convince my students to check their sources, to use critical thinking, to use logic... if I'm the only person in their life who is telling them it's important?

On the way home, I stopped and jumped in a river to try and wash my dark mood away. It was beautiful-- white sands with purple shell shards, whispy ironwood trees, bright water-- but I was still kaumaha-- heavy and sad.

I drove back and passed hundreds of city council signs. Barca 4 Mayor caught my eye. I groaned. Apparently red bull thinks the pro surfer, pro fighter, and "anti-gmo activist" needs my vote. I must be turning into an old English teacher or something because "4"?

Tiny little Kauai is, bizarrely, a politically volatile climate. Everyone has intensely emotional political opinions. They curse our the mayor, call wrath down upon hated council members, and deify others. The attention span is 120 characters long. Information is passed around in an echo chamber of hearsay and fear-- untarnished by facts. Fueled by conspiracy theory and fear.

There is so much fantastic information out there in the world-- there is so much KNOWLEDGE. Of course we don't know everything yet, but we know SO MUCH! More than one person could ever hope to master in a lifetime. The anti-facts, anti-information, fear and emotion based climate of suspicion and intellectual laziness... it's just depressing.

So that's my reintroduction to Kauai.
Totally crazy-making.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kawa Ceremony

I came late to the faculty meeting yesterday. I walked in with my laptop and planner but the conference table was gone and everyone was sitting on the floor in a circle.

Kaina, the Hawaiian language teacher and charismatic force of nature, was sitting shirtless at the front of the circle, with three large wooden bowls in front of him. At either side hovered a shirtless teenage boy. To their left sat our two graduating seniors.

Ah. A Kawa ceremony. Cool.

I mentally changed lanes. Last year's kawa ceremony was out in the school garden one evening, in the handmade hale, and was followed by a hi'uwai-- a purifying dunk in the ocean to symbolize letting go of the old and embracing the new.  Apparently this time it was in the social studies homeroom, on the carpet.

I noted the three bowls-- one full of the stringy dried Kawa, one full of murky grey-green liquid, and one full of clean water with many little coconut bowls bobbing around.

Kaina whispered to the boy helpers, directing them to the next person in a seemingly random order. They respectfully held a small polished bowl, made from a coconut, as Kaina swirled and poured the muddy-looking Kawa liquid from the large bowl in the middle. The boys brought the small bowl to the next chosen recipient, who then gave a thought --he mana'o-- to the graduating girls-- and then drained the small bowl, even the dregs.

Kaina indicated me. My 9th grade student (terrible unrequited crush on classmate, new spacer earrings, still staying with his mom, killer dimples, natural musical talent) brought me a bowl and grinned at me as I accepted it and bowed at him.

I gave my thought in mangled Hawaiian-- I am so glad to be able to teach and learn from these graduating girls, and have so many conversations with them, and see their growth. From here, their path is wide open-- they have no limits, only options. I'm happy to watch the choices they'll make and all of the wonderful things they will do with their lives.

They rolled their eyes.

I laboriously drained the bowl, full to the brim. Swallow-- swallow-- swallow-- I eyed the dregs. My student gave me menpachi eye and I crunched them down. It tasted like dirty grass and made my mouth numb. As I passed the empty bowl back, Kaina said "Pa'i ka lima!"and everyone clapped --kahi, lua, ha!--

Everyone had a turn to talk-- some teachers crying and remembering when the girls were just wee little things-- and their classmates choking up-- and saying how much they'll miss their big sisters. The girls themselves spoke about their eagerness to move on and their gratitude for their teachers and friends who have become their real brothers and sisters.

When everyone had spoken, Kaina performed an extemporaneous oli for the girls-- look to your past, think on your ancestors, think on the Hawaiian language, and look to god. We all stood and hugged each other and the girls--

"Okay now we'll begin our staff meeting!" Admin pulled up desks and got out planners!

I vetoed the desk and sat on the floor next to the Kawa. During the meeting, Kaina passed out another bowl or two to those of us next to him.

My second cup of Kawa made me loud-- when the secretary said "make sure you send me your supply list..." I shouted, "SUPPLIES!!!" and made all the other Kawa drinkers giggle and elbow me.

The meeting split into two universes overlapping bizarrely. Finance gave a report and made it clear that all classroom inventories had to be completed and end-of-year-check-out-forms signed off by next friday-- and Kaina swirled the Kawa and poured and rinsed the glistening coconut cups and I became entranced with my neighbor's wrist tattoo.

Just another day at our Kula Olelo Hawaii-- Hawaiian Immersion school...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gratitude for a Day

It's easy to write when something awful grabs my brain-- or something annoying buzzes in my ear and needs expression to be silenced-- but today I am feeling raw and grateful and I want to write it down.

Gratitude is so fragile-- a wet tissue paper feeling-- and I want to feed it, like drops of nectar to a thin-winged moth.

So here is what I'm grateful for today.

This moment: the girls are falling asleep together in my bed. They have twisted the sheets around their feet and around the quilt that Matt's dad recently sent us-- an heirloom from Vietnam-- a deep blue, hand embroidered piece of functional art. They are listening to an Aesop's Fables audiobook on youtube. They are freshly showered, teeth brushed, stories read, and fully dressed in tomorrow's clothes: RJ in a homemade "bra"-- the tattered remains of a tiny satin dressup and black leggings with two meters of fake leopard tail pinned to the back-- and MP in a stylish pineapple and hello kitty ensemble.

It's dark and quiet outside. Just frogs and cricket and stars. Matt has just come home and I could hear his loud music from the car speakers-- and the clank and slither of the chain on the farm gate-- the cats gathered under his feet to trip him up the steps and to complain that the quorum of toads had eaten all of their food again. The toads cycle through quickly-- once they discover the cat food they eat until they bloat up to the size of soup bowls and then die. We find the oversized victims of gluttony sitting motionless and sunburnt in the daytime.

Matt's been at Aikido-- he comes in dehydrated and challenged-- he seems happy to be thrown around for two hours a night four nights a week-- he lovingly bleaches, hangs and refolds his gi into a tight bundle. It dries on the line outside the kitchen window and startles me like a shrugging samurai when I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye.

Tonight he made chili for dinner-- strongly beefy Kauai meat and beans and whole garlic cloves simmered with tomatoes and poured over rice. I defaced mine with an arterial spray of Sriracha. It was delicious-- a hearty counter to the overcast day and wind.

This morning (no school, Good Friday,) we set out all together. Matt invited us to come along with him to set up the farm fair for tomorrow-- but just as we got to Lihue he found out that the set up was finished. So we crossed the Lihue barrier-- went beyond that invisible line that marks school/work/groceries-- and went out to breakfast at the Kalaheo Cafe, another twenty minutes down the road. The girls got enormous Knuckles-- light doughy knots of cinnamon and icing-- and the grownups shared potatoes and omelette and waffle and hot breakfast beverages. We sat outside and RJ drew celtic knots in her own little sketchbook and I told stories about the constellations-- Perseus and Medusa, Pegasus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia.

We pushed on-- further West-- out through Kalaheo and off makai to Numila, where Matt's great-Uncle worked as the fire luna on the sugar plantations, and where a few dusty plantation houses are still leaning on their stilts. We stopped at Kauai Coffee and strolled along the little self-guided tour path. MP noticed coffee cup stamps in the sidewalk and jumped from one to the next. She attracted the attention of a well dressed little tourist girl. MP said, "Everybody WUN!" and bolted down the path with the tiny tourist hot on her tail. MP ran the whole circuit with Tiny Tourist, Tourist Mama, me, RJ, and Matt in pursuit. It started to rain-- not a cloud anywhere in sight--just clear blue sky. Rain and sunshine. Matt and I said, "the devil's beatin' his wife!" and elbowed each other.

We sat down on a picnic bench in the shade and ran relays across the lawn. The girls ran and did cartwheels and then the grownups copied them. I tried handstands and flopped around, and an old lady asked me, "is that YOUR husband? Woowee, handsome!"

The girls ate ice cream in the shade and we got all itchy lying in the grass and at last we packed up and drove home and listened to Phish really loud and I found an apple in my purse for RJ and MP fell asleep--

It was ordinary, but lovely. A day to be grateful for.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dear Men and Women at That Party

Dear Men At That Party,
You are laughing-- a baritone staccato-- outside on the porch. The beer bottles have begun toppling over the ledge into the grass below, to be discovered the next morning in the dew like eastereggs. The cadence of your storytelling rises and falls, and you jostle and jockey for center stage-- interrupting and verbally shoving others out of the way. To us inside the meaning is lost, but the ruckus remains. One of you begins slamming something again and again-- the door? The sound is nearly drowned in the answering laughter. It sounds loud out there. Competitive. I've only met one of you before; the rest of you are strangers. I meet all of you eventually tonight, except one of you-- the guy who passes out on the couch. One of you, one of the two single guys, apologizes to me for using foul language in front of my kids. I wave away his apology-- I tell him my kids are so hung up on "stupid" and "shut up" being the very worst words in the world that they miss most of the rest. He continues to curse. 
You all come inside occasionally to fish fresh beer out of the coolers. You all come inside eventually when the smell of coconut rice and cilantro chicken wafts out of the screen windows. You end the night with a rowdy poker game.

Dear Women At That Party,
You are in the kitchen, drinking water and juice. You are more or less strangers to each other, so your conversation skims politely across the surface details of your lives- how long have you lived here? Is this your first time here? How do you two know each other? As you chat, you butterfly the chicken, complaining about the smell to your pregnant sensibilities. You squeeze lime juice and chop garlic and cilantro into a marinade. You improvise opening a can of coconut milk without a can opener. A husband comes in-- you've only just been married this year-- and you say, "oh honey, do you have your knife or something that could help with this can? The flow is too slow?" He snatches it out of your hands and scoffs, "what the hell is this? Look, you should have just asked me to begin with." You giggle, without taking your eyes from his face. He holds the can in one hand, takes an enormous serrated bread knife from the drawer, points it at the lid, and slams it down. The women around the countertop startle. I attempt a joke-- "I hope he's not a guitar player?" You, the wife, beam at me, "oh yes! He is! He loves to play--" he cuts you off. "Can that be -- enough-- from the peanut gallery? That's just not really helping--" and slams the knife down again. "Oh, honey that's fine--" "no!" He hands you the can and the milk pours out easily. You beam at him and thank him. He shouts on his way out. "See I wasn't so wasted as you thought! hah! Next time just f$$$ing ask me to do it first."
After he leaves the conversation has lost the easy forward motion it had. You, the women, carry on chopping without much more chat. You make the rice and the salad and the chicken, and lay out stacks of plates. The men come in when it smells appetizing and they eat. They are complimentary about the food. All of the women refuse to take credit.

One man loads a plate up for the guy who is about to pass out-- still outside on the porch. The coconut milk wife says, "Oh, that's nice. He's a good man." You, his pregnant wife, say, "hah, I made him that way. He used to be a wild child. Well, so was I. But now I just have to tell him-- honey, you've had enough. And he's done drinking." You are pleased with your good work. When your husband sits down by you to eat his food, you call him, "good boy."
You, coconut milk, look me right in the face and say, "do they do that?  Do they get better?"

And here is the moment that has hooked me-- sunk a spur into my brain enough to force me to write.

I shake my head at you-- "No." 
Pregnant wife tuts.
I persist. "They become more themselves. Their real selves shine through." That's what all people do-- we become less and more tolerant, less and more hopeful.

So men and women at the party... I need to tell you some things.

Dear men: the women are inside making the food and cleaning up while you are outside drinking and playing horseshoes. The women are not drinking. They are being the grownups. They are making the food because they realize that if they don't, nobody will. They are not drinking because they realize that SOMEBODY has to have their wits about them. The women are not doing this because it is fun for them, or because they are innately good at it-- two of you men are in the food business!-- they are doing it because you are not, and somebody has to, and because they are trying to be nice.

You men probably think of yourselves as nice guys. Letting other people tend to your needs is not nice.  If you see a group of women doing all of the work for you, you are not being nice, you are being an infant. 

Men, step up. Engage in your own self-care. Notice if you are exploiting other people's kindness. Especially notice if you are exploiting the willingness of women to be nice. There are times when people-- women and men-- DO want to cook, or clean. Don't assume that right now is one of those times; check in. Don't wait to be asked, don't wait to be told what to do. See what needs to be done and then do it. Bring everyone at the party together. Half of the party doing all the work is not a fun party. That is the men having a party with women staff.

Dear men at that party. Your wives and fianc├ęs are still hopeful about you. They are being nice to you and serving you because they still like you, and this is their way of showing that they care about you and want you to be happy. It may take a long time-- even years-- for that goodwill to wear down but eventually-- she will hear that condescension in your tone and realize that you were never grateful for her work-- you felt entitled to it. You never valued her the way she prioritized you.

Men, be nice. 

Dear women at that party,
You cannot NICE people into appreciating you. You may think you are showing them how you would like to be treated. You may think, I really appreciate it when someone makes me food, therefore I am going to make food for my man, and he will be grateful. For some people, the nicer you are to them, the more forgiving and gentle and accommodating, the more they feel entitled to your niceness. They feel they are owed your kindness. They feel they are owed your work.

Women at that party, stop teaching your men that they can play while others work for them. Stop teaching them that if they don't take care of their needs, somebody else will. 

Do not hold out hope that someday he will wake up and realize that all of those washed dishes, all of those homemade meals, all of those tidied counters were actually acts of your generosity. He will not. Unless you tell him. Tell him: I'm making you this meal even though I am tired and it is complicated and I've never tried this recipe before because I love you and I want you to feel good. 

 Men, I am disappointed that my daughters saw you and asked me why the men were acting like little boys. Women, I am disappointed that my daughters saw you doing all of the work without any appreciation. We know better than this. We believe that women can be brain surgeons and principals and bus drivers and men and be stay at home dads and home ec teachers and ballet dancers. We know that masculinity and femininity are different from gender. We accept there can be all kinds of men and all kinds of women, and that we can redefine what is "womanly" or "manly" by doing. I am a woman and I wrestle rabid bears, therefore wrestling rabid bears is womanly. I am a man and I paint my poodles' toenails, therefore poodle pedis are manly. 

Men and women at that party, and at many many other parties I've been to, cross those lines. Don't just accept that women should hang out together in the kitchen and men should hang out together on the porch. Hang out together in front of the fire-- share the work, share the fun.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A little heart break

My heart is a little broken today. I know it's the right thing to do-- to let go, but it still hurts. A part of me still wonders if I should say, wait! Stop! It's worth saving! I'll do better! I'll change-- I won't let things that are important to me disintegrate anymore-- I'll make time, I'll try harder. I'll make beautiful things. 

But no-- I won't. I need to let it go.

What's all this about? My wheel. My kiln.

My pottery wheel deserves a new home, a better life. Someone who will take care of it the way it deserves. Who even knows how to use it properly. Maybe I'll be a better person at some point, and then I'll be prepared to bring another pottery wheel into my life, and this time make none of the mistakes I've made with this one. But-- not soon. When I'm ready. I'll know, next time, before jumping in.

When I was sixteen, my parents gave me a birthday card with our traditional birthday breakfast in bed. The note said, "a set of wheel for your 16th birthday." I was puzzled. I didn't have a license and I didn't have any burning desire to drive or get a car-- and the key was just a regular house key. The biggest clue was of course the grammar error. Not likely with my English nerd parents. A p.s. on the card said, check the basement. 

We all ran downstairs, and sure enough, the basement craft room was locked. My parents waggled eyebrows at the shiny new key in my card. I opened the door with it-- and there, resplendent in a coat of fresh sky-blue paint, and with a calico pillow my mom had sewn (and, I later realized when I went to replace it, super-glued and nail gunned in place) was an enormous pottery wheel. A four inch tall round of concrete like a millstone rotated heavily on a steel axis, a half-moon of splash guard fronted the elegantly spinning central wheel. A little companion sat beside it-- a little kiln.

I loved my wheel. I sat with it and wrestled with clay and made tiny pots and wobbly bowls. I attempted to seduce romantic conquests with it (Ghost left an impression). It was the eye of my storming life. 

It was a terrible time. My mom's health disintegrated. She died a little after my next birthday. All of us-- my dad, my sisters-- poured our grief into creative projects. I journaled and did theater and threw pots, my sisters played music and drew and threw themselves into all of their projects and sports and teams and friendships with manic urgency. There was lots of sad Bach. My dad built gardens and trellises and traveled the world and hammered us all into a family band that ground out an album every year for years. CREATE the pain away! 

I went away to college, and occasionally would come home to throw a pot or two, but the enormous thing, at least 500 pounds, stayed denting the linoleum in my dad's basement. Then I spent a couple of years in Japan, my wedding, and graduate school in California-- it became more and more clear that I really had moved out. I was venturing into my own adult life, and I was losing the right to indefinitely store things at my dad's house. My dad somehow loaded the wheel into a rented trailer and drove it out to us in Berkeley just in time for us to jam it onto a barge to Hawaii. 

It stayed under a blanket in a garage for a year, under a tarp in the garden for another year, crossed to Kauai on another barge, and sat in place of honor next to the washing machine in our car port. By this point it was feeling like my albatross. Impossibly heavy-- unmovable, fragile and accusing. I should be taking care of it, using it every day, mastering the skills necessary to really use it well. It hulked in the corner of my vision, looking sad and neglected, and housing unspeakable critters: fat cane spiders and skinks and anolls and geckos and centipedes. Stuff piled on top of it. The pillow moulded. The paint peeled off. Rust threatened the edges. 

The guilt got to me. I finally took a class. It was marvelous. For a few months I was throwing pots, little one or two pound babies. I found it such a soothing practice-- physical and mental and aesthetic. I repainted the tram and reupholstered the seat.  But it was too much wheel for me: the heavy stone charging around and around, capable of shaving toes off. But also capable of flinging shapeless clay inexorably into form.

A baby, a move, a full time job-- the wheel has been sitting, mostly out in the elements, for three years. My optimistic purple spray paint job of five years ago has faded, and the sky blue from my 16th birthday has chipped off showing a layer of red paint underneath. The splash is pitted and pocked, and plants have grown through the motor. Looking at it made me sad and anxious. I wanted to take better care of it, but I just COULDN'T. Not within the restraints of my real life.

This week I got an email from a potter friend of a potter friend. I told him to come get it and take it away, for free. Just take it and take better care of it than I could. Fix it up, give it a new lease on life. Use it. 

Today he came and got the kiln-- he's coming back to get the wheel tomorrow with several strong friends. I went out to make sure it was accessible. I moved the rusting bikes off it, uprooted and disentangle the tropical vines growing around and through it. They were attempting to pull the steel and stone back into the ground. 

I just feel so bad. 

I know it's right to let it go. But it represents such promise, such potential that I never realized. It is a gift from my parents-- both of them, alive and together--to a young optimistic limitless version of myself. It represents that hopeful moment in time-- before death and destruction changed all of us down to the atomic level. It holds the potential of future creation-- I could throw pots with my kids on that thing, I could really master it. But it's too late-- I need to give it away before my procrastination makes it into garbage. 

Obviously part of the hurt of giving this poor wrecked wheel away is the terrible symbolism of the thing. The phrase, "the way you do one thing is the way you do every thing," haunts me. So many things and people and treasures in my life carry amazing potential-- how many things and gifts and years and friendships do I neglect until they die? How selfish am I being to keep beautiful things to myself while they rot? Isn't it better to give them away while they still have value? This lesson plays out often in Hawaii-- everything is so dank and damp that absolutely everything molds. Books, clothes, papers, art-- it's a wonderful exercise in cultivating a zen-like relationship to physical possessions. This lovely thing may be mine for a moment, but it will be destroyed, and very soon. There is no point in saving clothes-- better pass things on, keep them in use while there's life in them. Pass it on.

With the wheel I comfort myself that while yes, the object is important, the memory and the symbolism are more important. Yes, my mom herself gave me that wheel: she chose it and fixed it and kept it as a big delightful secret for me-- but it's not the wheel itself that matters-- it's her creativity and generosity and sense if fun. And even if I give this wheel away, if I ever do pottery again in the future, it will be because of her, her hands on mine.