Issue No. 3
Youth Speaks Hawai‘i! The Lit Issue
Luminous Prose & Poetry: Harmonie Bettenhausen Suzanne Farrell Smith Richard Hartshorn Brenda Kwon Caitlin Leffel Zoe Matayoshi Mindy Nettifee Jocelyn Ng Anjoli Roy Lyz Soto Alexa Yokooji & More!
One on One with Lynne Hanzawa-O'Neill Hawai‘i-Born Uber-Awesome Fashion Show Producer Holds onto Her Roots in the Big Apple
Local Teens Use Spoken Word to Inspire
Paper bags never looked so good
[from the contributing editor]
have a new favorite book: The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch. It’s only 42 sentences long and has as many pages with illustrations as it does with words. What the book lacks in character development, it makes up in colorful pictures and a damn good storyline. The same thing that makes me love The Paper Bag Princess is why I believe in Hawaii Women’s Journal. If you don’t happen to have keiki to read to or work at a nonprofit that promotes reading aloud (as I do), then let me bring you up to snuff with a plot summary. Princess Elizabeth is a smart, beautiful girl engaged to Prince Ronald. He looks like a jerk, huge jewels hanging around his neck and nose in the air, as if Elizabeth smells. She, on the other hand, looks quite lovely, with a smile on her lips and hearts floating in the air around her. Then a dragon comes, burns everything, smashes the castle, and takes off with Ronald. Elizabeth, however, is a survivor. She finds a paper bag and puts it on without complaint because she has somehow escaped the narcissism and materialism that can come with, well, being a princess. And she sets off to rescue her fiancé. She uses her brains to outwit the dragon, tricking him into using all of his energy to prove how badass he is. He falls asleep so soundly that she’s able to walk right over him to his cavern lair, where she opens the door to rescue dear Ronald. But rather than fall to his knees in gratitude, he points at her with a look of disdain and says: “Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled, and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you’re dressed like a real princess.” Elizabeth tells him to shove it and skips off solo into the sunset—frizzy hair, beatup paper bag, and all—toward her own happily ever after. This is not how most fairy tales end.
Just ask any five-year-old if happily ever after involves a paper bag (and a plain brown one at that) and princelessness. I’m going somewhere with this. It’s that HWJ is my post-Ronald Elizabeth. Hawaii Women’s Journal takes us outside of the suffocating castle and arranged marriages that we sometimes forget exist (in grown-up terms: a capitalistic society that supports restrictive gender roles) by creating an alternative platform. Minus firebreathing, castle-smashing, and death by dragon. It challenges us to rethink our wardrobe (grown-up words: surroundings and lifestyle choices) and reconsider how we’re using our best assets. If Princess
How do we give society a makeover? We publish amazing fiction and nonfiction pieces that confront body image and encourage us to heal ourselves (both literally and figuratively), because society can be a powerful anti-Neosporin. We celebrate movements that demand alternative opportunities for style and lifestyle. In this issue, we reclaim PMS, fashion, and the myriad complications and blessings of being a woman. All together, our voices are redefining “our room,” the world. Not to mention HWJ keeps it real for post-castle-and-ballgown Elizabeths—just because we say no to forced gender roles doesn’t mean we don’t love an innovative fashion find, good manners, or tasty home-cooked risotto. As for you, dear readers? You’re my princesses-gone-rogue, too. (Men, it’s ok—I’m not trying to emasculate you. Embrace your inner Elizabeth.) You don’t just wear your paper bag, you own it—your red ribbon, your protest sign, your TOMS shoes—to raise awareness in a world wearing blinders the size of castle walls. You confront inequalities and photo courtesy of Anna Harmon crises with volunteerism, vegan Elizabeth didn’t face that dragon, her cafés, works of art, and grassroots brilliance would have gone untapped, movements, to name a few. You are and she’d still be sitting idly, fluttering her the seeds and the soil of community eyelashes every time dear Ronald walked revolutions, including the platform HWJ by. strives to be. When you face your metaphorical I’m proud of you. I’m proud of our fire-breathing dragon, you may lose your writers and artists of all ages, who are pretty pink dress. But why are you in that turning their conflicts and insights into dress to start with; what’s wrong with a stunning stories, poems, columns, paper bag? Enter, again: HWJ. This issue, artworks, and exposés. Which I now, multiple queries from our writers revealed without further ado, will let you enjoy. a universal need to address appearance and its effect on our opinions, lifestyles, Hawaii Women's Journal: Where the and interactions. Let’s face it, the way paper bag princess found her happily ever we see each other matters; it’s a flawed, after. v yet ubiquitous, part of our society that Anna Harmon, Contributing Editor is exploited and commoditized. Weight, makeup, hair, muscles, clothes: we “see” Hawaii Women's Journal it, they sell it.
Our Room Is the World July-October 2010
Issue No. 3
Page 11 FASHION THIS
Lynne Hanzawa-O'Neill: From the Pineapple to the Big Apple
poetry & prose
To Be Continued:
An Interview with Lynne Hanzawa-O’Neill on “Not Being Fabulous” and That Margaret Cho Episode on Sex and the City
BY MINDY NETTIFEE
Because the Next Generation Can Speak for Itself
Black, White, and Red
Gratuitous Love from the Editor
A Second Look at Providence BY CAITLIN LEFFEL
BY MELISSA MATSUBARA
BY KRISTA SHERER
photo by Ryan Matsumoto
BY JENNIFER MELEANA HEE
BY JOCELYN NG
BY SUZANNE FARRELL SMITH
How to Sell Your Body Parts ...and Still Respect Yourself in the Morning BY JENNIFER MELEANA HEE
Translation IX BY LYZ SOTO
The Risk It Takes to Blossom
BY MAYUMI SHIMOSE POE
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 2
Here's Where It Takes a Turn BY HARMONIE BETTENHAUSEN
BY BRENDA KWON
BY ANJOLI ROY
BY RICHARD HARTSHORN
contents columns 5
The Wellness Manifesto
The Dame Game
The Domestic Diva
Balm for Being
Toxins and Chemicals: That's What Pretty Girls Are Made Of? Part One BY IVY CASTELLANOS
Practical Acupressure BY LORELLE SAXENA
Fashion Showdown BY STACEY MAKIYA
Chasing the Zen BY JENNICA GOO
Don't Rush the Risotto BY JENNIFER DAWN ROGERS
When Being a "Good" Girl Is Bad: Identifying and Recovering from Good Girlism BY SUZY ALLEGRA
The Balancing Act
What Should I Wear? The Bella Project BY ALI STEWART-ITO
Women with Pzazz BY THERESA FALK
From the Contributing Editor
RSVP- Huh? A Refresher Course in RSVP Etiquette BY von HOTTIE
Ponds of Jupiter
BY ZOE MATAYOSHI,
Our Period: Burden or Blessing? BY SHINAN BARCLAY
Five Minutes with Kaui Hart Hemmings BY MAYUMI SHIMOSE POE
Hawaii Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Journal | 3
My Life Falling Apart!
BY ALEXA YOKOOJI,
Cover & Youth Speaks photos by Ryan Mat
HOW TO REACH HAWAII WOMEN'S JOURNAL
Our Room Is the World PUBLISHER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Jennifer Meleana Hee
Mayumi Shimose Poe
CONTRIBUTING EDITOR ART DIRECTOR & LAYOUT
Andrea Devon Bertoli
Suzanne Farrell Smith
HAWAII WOMEN'S JOURNAL a project of the Safe Zone Foundation 501(c)3 a Hawaii-based nonprofit organization
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ARTISTS & ILLUSTRATORS
Suzy Allegra, Alice Mizrachi, Dave Poe, and Kathryn Xian
Shinan Barclay Harmonie Bettenhausen Ivy Castellanos Suzanne Farrell Smith Jennica Goo Anna Harmon Richard Hartshorn Jennifer Meleana Hee Brenda Kwon Caitlin Leffel Stacey Makiya Zoe Matayoshi Melissa Matsubara Mindy Nettifee Jocelyn Ng Jennifer Dawn Rogers Lorelle Saxena Krista Sherer Mayumi Shimose Poe Lyz Soto Ali Stewart-Ito
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Hawaii Women’s Journal | 4
THE PROMPT IT'S ALL ABOUT YOU THEPROMPT@HAWAIIWOMENSJOURNAL.COM
We at HWJ realize that we have amazing resources. My favorite cure for a late night is lots of ice water and mac and And we’re not talking about minerals, coconut trees, or hours in the day. We’re talking about the women and men all over the country writing for and reading this magazine who are brilliant, creative, thoughtful, and determined.
cheese, although this is all ancient history for me now. Months ago, I began rising at dawn to get to the farm, and I don’t remember the last time I was awake past 10 p.m.! –Andrea, Editorial Assistant
We need your help to make this publication even better.
The night: Waitiki 7 plays NYC. (Note: Tiki cocktails do not equal regular cocktails; there’s extra hoo-doo voo-doo up in there.) The cure: 7 a.m., waking to carousel operated by a psycho, DO NOT GET UP. Drink quart of water; take three Advil; crash. 10 a.m., eat three bread slices; crash. 1 p.m., down mug of yesterday’s coffee. Head toward nearest deli for greasy, delicious croissant ’wich of bacon, egg, and cheese. And live—barely. –Mayumi, Managing Editor
So, every issue, we’re going to feature you. That’s right: Give us your opinions. Tickle our funny bones. Set your metaphorical bras (or liberated clothing item of choice) on fire with words. Because you’re the shit, and your forces combined are probably enough to take over the world—or at least determine a fail-proof hangover cure. We’ll start small. For the next issue, we want to know: What is your must-have morning-after cure for a late night? (Feel free to include the cause of one such late night—we’re curious little buggers.) HWJ staff says: Guacamole toast. Simple and hydrating, sometimes I start to crave the cold and crispy guacamole + toast combo before I’ve even left the party. A rough chop of ripe avocado, tomato, and red onion; squeeze of lemon or lime juice; minced cilantro and garlic; and salt and pepper all frantically mixed together and lathered on toast makes my queasy belly do a little happy dance instead of a little vomit dance. –Jenn, Editor-in-Chief I’m always on the hunt for something “bready” after late nights; 2 a.m., 3 a.m., doesn’t matter. I need a bready fix, and it usually prevents a hangover from ever hitting me the next morning. My latest: naan, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and fresh basil, warmed in a grill pan. How I managed to chop basil in that state is beyond me, but the naan worked! –Suzanne, Proofreader
Sleep, sleep, and more sleep. However, that’s not usually an option on weekdays, so the morning after the Fat Freddy’s Drop concert (great concert, bad day of the week), I gave a 7-Eleven slurpee a try. And I survived. –Anna, Contributing Editor Okay, being that I’m a proactive/prevention-minded smurf and a total lightweight (yes, I get the Asian Flush, too), I take two aspirin and drink one very large glass of water before I pass out. This was taught to me by a Greek alcoholic named “Left.” True story. If, for some reason, I pass out before I can do this, I wake the next morning, eat pho, and then fall asleep on my shiatsu machine. –Kathy, Publisher Submit your answer by direct messaging us on Twitter, tweeting your response to @hiwomensjournal, posting it on our Facebook wall, or shooting a quick email to: email@example.com Your response may be edited to fit space restrictions. Aim for 75 words or less. We will use your first name or Twitter username. Should we choose to feature your response, you may be contacted for more information. v
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 5
manda’s recurring dream as a child was about a witch and a bathtub and how hard it is, really, to strangle someone with your own bare hands. Nevermind that the choked witch was her self, her own power. She wouldn’t know that for years, anyway, and until then she had to fall asleep terrified each night and wake up sick with victory. Until then she had work to do, to become beautiful and worthy. We praise all who come out of hiding to claim their lease on the sun. We reward pride in all its forms, throw parades for it so we can liberate flowers from the straightjackets of our fists and call it Spring. We don’t talk enough about the difficulty of staying in the closet, of disowning the only part of you that knows how to say your name. What it takes to keep the struggling color of you quiet and reined,
when it was born to scream and river—it is an incredible feat of hesitation to live with your hands around your own neck and smile about it. What fierce love we have for our mothers and fathers that we go to such lengths to return their protection. Someday you will have your parade, Amanda, I have no doubt. You will have streamers every color of every rainbow and the whole world barely containing their pleasure at your pleasure, their shared joy just zippered behind the warm closed ellipses of their lips. But this one is for the little girl in the bathtub, preparing to fight. I suspect she knows something about survival. You do what you have to, live pinned beneath floorboards, crouched in attic closets. You imagine every crumb is a wedding cake.
Guard closely what is most precious, and wait out the war. Hold your breath when you hear another horn section warming up outside. Shine the lock on the door. No one can tell you how to write your own story, but I will tell you a secret: the witch cannot be killed. We are so limited by the spectrum of what is visible. How many things are dazzling in the dark? Are secretly thriving just out of sight? v
photo courtesy of Mindy Nettifee
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 6
contributors Suzy Allegra
Suzy is the author of several books and articles. She is currently shopping her most recent book, Recovering Good Girl, to interested agents. Suzy is also an artist who creates vibrant art that hangs in collections around the world, as well as a professional speaker, coach, and retreat leader. She lives on Maui and is an adjunct faculty member at University of Hawai‘i Maui College. email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.recoveringgoodgirl.com or www.suzyallegra.com
Shinan Barclay, M.A., is coauthor of forthcoming Moontime for Kory, a rite-ofpassage, mythic story about a girl and a dolphin who share coming-of-age (www. bit.ly/moontimeforkory/fanpage). Her memoirs have appeared in numerous anthologies, recently: Grandmothers’ Necklace and Chicken Soup for the Positive Thinker. www.facebook.com/shinanbarclay blog: www.moontimeforkory.blogspot.com
A Rocky Mountain transplant living in Honolulu, Anna is an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) at Read To Me International and Contributing Editor of the Hawaii Women’s Journal. She has written for The Post and Courier in South Carolina and for Colorado College Media Relations and was lead copy editor for Colorado College’s student newspaper. She recently discovered the joy of picture books after years of English-major assignments. email: email@example.com
Richard is a fiction writer whose work has appeared in publications such as GlassFire Anthology and The Spell for Rain. He is also a screenwriter, playwright, and occasional actor, and is responsible for writing an award-winning indie film. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Meleana Hee
Harmonie wrote her first poems when she was very small, living in the Chicago suburbs. Her muses included overhearing fighting neighbors, discovering her father’s stash of cocaine, and finding her mother passed-out drunk on the floor. She excelled at high school, not at grades, but at being a part of her own teenage years and wishes that she could recapture that rapture. blog: www.ednaseyes.blogspot.com
Jennifer Meleana Hee is a vegetarian cook and baker at Kale's Natural Foods, a blogger for Peace Corps Worldwide dot com, and the Editorin-Chief of the Hawaii Women’s Journal. She has been published in The Smart Set, Worldview Magazine, and innov8. She is the proud owner of the only Bulgarian street dog in Hawai‘i. blog: www.jennmeleana.com email: email@example.com photo: Ryan Matsumoto
Ivy is a freelance writer, currently shopping her first screenplay and finishing two unruly, very insubordinate novels. She has worked in the health and wellness field for over ten years and holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Health Education, Behavioral Health, and Health Communications. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Theresa Falk is a writer, director, performer, and educator. She teaches English at Iolani School. email: email@example.com blog: www.msmanifest.typepad.com
Suzanne Farrell Smith
Suzanne Farrell Smith has essays published or forthcoming in The Writer’s Chronicle, Muse & Stone, Hawaii Women's Journal, Tiny Lights, and In the Fray. She is finishing her first book, a hybrid of psychology, philosophy, and memoir that excavates lost memory. Suzanne worked for over a decade with elementary school children as a teacher and language arts specialist. She lives with her husband in NYC, where she now freelances as a writer, editor, and proofreader, and hosts a writing salon. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennica Goo is an electrical engineer in the SF Bay Area. She is currently training for the SF Nike Women's Half Marathon 2010 to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She will be racing in memory of her cousin, Jeff.
www.pages.teamintraining.org/sj/nikesf10/TeamGooMorrow email: email@example.com
Brenda Kwon is a poet, writer, and educator born and raised in Hawai‘i. The author of Beyond Ke'eaumoku: Koreans, Nationalism, and Local Culture in Hawai‘i and co-editor of YOBO: Korean American Writing in Hawai‘i, her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies including Bamboo Ridge. She teaches Language Arts at Honolulu Community College.
Caitlin Leffel is a writer, editor, and co-author of The Best Things to Do in New York: 1001 Ideas (2006), NYC: An Owner’s Manual (2008), and Flair (2010). She is a runner-up in the Southeast Review’s 2010 Nonfiction Contest and will be published in the next issue of Drunken Boat. Her writing has also appeared in publications such as Blackbook, Daily Candy, and Mademoiselle.
Melissa Matsubara is a graduate academic advisor at Hawai‘i Pacific University, vested in promoting international education and studyabroad opportunities. She is also a board member for www.KanuHawaii. org and enjoys converting karaoke rooms into dance halls whenever Spearhead, Journey, or Michael Jackson comes on. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ryan Matsumoto is a photographer/ videographer from Honolulu. He is openly biased towards Hawai‘i Women who Journal and is notorious for over-customizing his three-sentence bio towards whatever magazine hires him. He now realizes that he only needs two sentences. email: email@example.com
Mindy is a Pushcart Prize–nominated writer and performance poet. She has competed in five National Poetry Slams, toured across America and Europe, opened for the Cold War Kids and Meiko, and is the author of Sleepyhead Assassins. Mindy is also the co-producer of Drums Inside Your Chest and is executive director of the Write Now Poetry Society, working to build audiences for poetry. www.writenowpoets.org www.drumsinsideyourchest.com
Jocelyn Ng is a two-time Youth International Slam Poetry Champion and represented Hawai‘i at the National Poetry Slam competition this summer. She will also be attending the University of San Francisco this coming fall to receive her degree in English. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Dawn Rogers
A graduate of Harvard University and a former film development executive, Jennifer cooks and writes in Los Angeles. In 2009, she launched her blog Domestic Divas, which focuses on local, organic cooking and wine reviews. She is currently writing her first novel. email: email@example.com blog: www.domesticdivasblog.com photo: Jeri Rogers
Stacey Makiya is currently a freelance fashion journalist and stylist. After graduating from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, she has held editorial positions at Hawai‘i Parent Magazine, SMART Magazine, and Chromatic Magazine. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Anjoli is a recipient of the Myrle Clark Award for Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in the West Fourth Street Review, Brownstone Magazine, The Big Stupid Review, and Diverse Voices Quarterly and is forthcoming from Hawai‘i Review and ExPatLit.com: A Literary Review for Writers Abroad. She is coeditor of the recently reimagined online journal, ViceVersa: Creative Works and Comments, and is also coediting the winter 2010 issue of Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing. blog: www.anjoliroy.wordpress.com
My name is Zoe Matayoshi, I am eight years old, and I attend Wilson Elementary School. I love to swim, cook, and play with my little sister. One day I’d like to be a pediatrician.
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 7
Lorelle Saxena, M.S., L.Ac, is a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. Originally from Honolulu, Lorelle now lives in Santa Rosa, California, where she maintains a private practice. She welcomes any questions at: email@example.com www.thesaxenaclinic.com
[the wellness manifesto] Krista Sherer
Krista, when not stuck in the stacks during the day as a library technician, is quite the wild flower, rabble rouser, and foxy modern-day sage. A freelance writer from the island of Maui, Sherer is passionate about poetry and is a neurotic writer/ defender of goodness in training. She tries to proceed with caution, when she can remember to do so. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayumi Shimose Poe
Mayumi is Managing Editor of Hawaii Women’s Journal and American Anthropologist by day, writer by night. She has fiction, essays, and poetry published in American Anthropologist, Dark Phrases, Eternal Portraits, Hawaii Women’s Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, Hybolics, the Phoenix, and Stepping Stones. She wrote the libretto for Ka’ililauokekoa, a Hawaiian opera performed in Honolulu in 2007. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband. email: email@example.com blog: www.mayumishimosepoe.com
Lyz Soto is the Executive Director of Youth Speaks Hawai‘i. She is a performance poet, a student at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and her chapbook Eulogies was recently published by Tinfish Press.
Ali Stewart-Ito currently teaches high school English and coaches at a private school in Honolulu. Despite a general state of rootlessness (she’s lived in three different countries and several different states), Hawai‘i gives her warmth in her belly. A lover of travel, sport, and creating, Ali writes to clear the utter mayhem that rocks her skull. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
von Hottie is performer, pinup, and guru living in New York. You can follow her many adventures at vonhottie.com as well as on Twitter @askvonhottie and Facebook. blogs: www.vonoracle.blogspot.com, www.vonhottie.tumblr.com
Alexa Yokooji is a fifteen-year-old from Waimanalo, O‘ahu. She studies writing at Na‘au under the tutelage of Lois-Ann Yamanaka and Melvin Spencer. She attends the University Laboratory School. In her spare time, she enjoys going to Waimanalo Beach, where she cruises with friends, not boys (yet). At home, she enjoys cooking Italian foods like bacon-tomato pasta and garlic French bread. In the future she hopes to attend her dream school, the University of San Diego, and declare a major in nursing specializing in working with children.
TOXINS AND CHEMICALS: THAT'S WHAT PRETTY GIRLS ARE MADE OF?
y nine-year-old niece accompanied me on a recent trip to the dollar store. The moment the automated glass doors parted, she made a beeline for the makeup aisle and filled a basket with a congeries of pretty princess paraphernalia: iridescent tubes of glitter-infused lip gloss, pastel pods of eye shimmer, and a pink bottle of lotion, laced, of course, with princess sparkles. I dutifully scanned each ingredient label and discovered that within those enchanting little plastic containers hid a magical, whimsical concoction of glitter and toxins. After a crash course on the dangers of parabens and phthalates, I initiated my niece into her first ever product boycott. She stared at me pensively. “But what do you mean, it’s bad for me?” she asked. “Cinderella uses it.” “Cinderella’s just a figurehead, baby.” “But Aunty,” she said ingenuously, “it makes her pretty.” ***** Perhaps it’s been a few decades since you carried a tube of Bonne Bell lip balm in your back pocket. But take a look at the ingredient label on your favorite personal care product—the retro red lipstick that puts the pow in your pout or the deodorant that allows you to complete your 6 p.m. spin class without sneers and snickers from those downwind of you. Chances are, unless you have an advanced degree in chemistry or are particularly skilled in decrypting cosmetics ciphertext, the ingredients listed are as foreign and confounding as a Coen Brothers film. Beyond being impossible to pronounce and printed in the smallest font known to woman, evidence suggests that many of these ingredients are hazardous to human health and have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other health concerns. In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group (Houlihan 2007), a research and advocacy nonprofit organization, more than one-third of all personal care products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer. Sugar and spice and everything nice? Not in this bottle. Product Fetish In the context of modern-day cultural personas like the product whore and Hawaii Women’s Journal | 8
by Ivy Castellanos the metrosexual, grooming has become a national pastime. We are a society of compulsive primpers, obsessed with looking good, staying young, and keeping fit, and each obsession comes with an accompanying product list. Even for those of us who simply aim to be hygienic, there’s a caveat: Many commercial personal care products are like amateur science experiments gone wrong— attractively packaged in sleek bottles and kitschy containers, emblazoned with clever marketing terms engineered to appeal to our collective sense of imperfection and quick-fix mentalities: “ass-firming,” “tit-enhancing,” “proven to increase fuckability.” We assume these products are innocuous—after all, they line the shelves of our trusted and beloved corporate stores—when in fact, cosmetics are among the least regulated products on the market. The issues of safety and health risk transcend obscure antiaging serums and cellulite creams. We’re talking about products of the everyday variety: toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, soap. The question is, how is this allowed to happen? Lipstick, Lotion, and Loopholes The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the agency charged with oversight of cosmetics, yet its legal authority over cosmetics differs from other products it regulates, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to premarket approval (with the exception of color additives), meaning the FDA is essentially impotent in terms of regulating what goes into cosmetic products prior to consumer distribution. And we thought Uncle Sam had our backs. So, who is responsible for substantiating the premarket safety of cosmetic ingredients? The cosmetics firms themselves (dun-dundun!). The industry polices the safety of its own products through a review panel called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, run and funded by the industry’s trade association, the Personal Care Products Council (formerly the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association). In its thirty-four-year history, the CIR has evaluated only eleven percent of the more than 10,500 ingredients in commonly
[the wellness manifesto]
used personal care products, according to a report by Skin Deep, a cosmetics safety database sponsored by the EWG. The EWG states that more than 750 personal care products sold in the U.S. violate industry safety standards or cosmetic safety standards adhered to in other industrialized countries, and ninety-eight percent of all commercial products contain one or more ingredients never publicly assessed for safety (Houlihan 2007). Not surprising, as under federal law, companies are allowed to put virtually any ingredient they fancy into their product. On its website, the FDA maintains: “The cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing” (USFDA 2005). Further, manufacturers are not required to register their products with the FDA, nor is the FDA allowed to mandate product recalls. The result? Toxic materials are regularly added into products that millions of Americans—and their children—use day after day, year after year, throughout their lifetime, while our government ensures the continuity of a flawed and inherently risky system. To Groom or Not to Groom Personal care products encompass a wide range of bath and body, shaving, cosmetic, and baby products. The average American woman uses approximately twelve different personal care products per day, exposing herself to 168 independent ingredients. The average American man? He uses approximately six products daily, making contact with 85 unique ingredients (Houlihan 2007). Think about the arsenal of products you used just this morning. It’s ironic: companies spend billions of dollars concocting magic formulations to banish zits, defrizz hair, and erase under-eye circles, while consumer safety is reviled as an obstacle to innovation (and profit). Who needs health when you’re wrinkle free? Pretty Poisons Many noxious chemicals found in personal care products are byproducts of the manufacturing process, involving contaminated raw materials, while others are added specifically to produce or enhance an intended effect, such as increasing the sudsiness of body wash or shampoo,
helping fragrance linger, or lengthening the shelf life of a product. The EWG reports that the average product on the American retail shelf contains at least one or a combination of the following: human carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals), mutagens (substances that cause cell mutations), teratogens (those that cause birth defects), reproductive toxins (which are linked to male and female infertility), developmental toxins (those hazardous to an unborn child), and numerous skin and sense-organ toxicants (chemicals that may induce irritation and allergic reactions). Whether or not we’re aware of it, as long as we’re using these products, we’re sleeping with the enemy. Safety Last Small doses of harmful chemicals are unlikely to cause adverse reactions. The issue, of course, is bioaccumulation and the health effects of regular, long-term exposure to multiple chemicals. According to the EWG, scientists have found cosmetics ingredients in human tissues: phthalates in urine samples, parabens in biopsy samples from breast tumors, and synthetic fragrance components like musk xylene in human fat. Unlike trace contaminants found in food or drink on a part-per-million scale, the chemicals in personal care products are often base ingredients, meaning they can constitute a significant portion of the product. Chemicals stored in the body not only increase individual body burden, studies demonstrate they are also being passed from mother to child through fluids, blood, and breast milk. We must further consider the environmental ramifications as these chemicals are rinsed down drains, discarded in the trash, and excreted in human waste where, research shows, they are impacting wildlife and the broader ecosystem. Further research is clearly needed. Nevertheless, the absence of conclusive data should not be mistaken for a confirmation of safety. The bottom line is this: chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, and compromised health do not belong in any beauty product, at any level.
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Consumer Comeuppance Perhaps granola isn’t the image you’d like to project. Crystal deodorant and Patchouliinfused hemp shampoo peaked in the sixties, no matter who tells you otherwise. Nevertheless, it’s important to be conscious about what’s in the products you use. As consumers are becoming more aware of industry discrepancies and demanding safer, more natural alternatives, a shift in the attitudes of manufacturers is occurring. Some companies have ceded to public pleas for nontoxic products, responding with product lines featuring safer alternatives. Over the past few years, over 1,500 companies have signed a pledge promoted by The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of public health and environmental groups, vowing not to use chemicals linked to cancer or birth defects (see The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics n.d.). So what’s an informed girl to do? Grow out her pit hairs and abandon hygiene completely while flipping off the cosmetics industry? Not necessarily. Stay tuned for the next installment of The Wellness Manifesto, as we continue exposing the ugly truth behind big cosmetics, while providing practical tips on how to be a critical cosmetics consumer. We proudly present the Pretty Poser Awards, honoring the top ten most pernicious cosmetic ingredients (i.e., ones you should avoid at all cost). The goal is not to live product free but to be free of the shit in the product. v REFERENCES CITED The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics N.d. FDA Regulations. http://www.safecosmetics.org/section. php?id=75, accessed May 28, 2010. Houlihan, Jane 2007 EWG Research: Cosmetics with Banned and Unsafe Ingredients. Environmental Working Group website, September. http://www.ewg.org/unsafecosmetics, accessed July 29, 2010. Environmental Working Group N.d. Exposures Add Up—Survey Results. Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database. http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/research/exposures.php, accessed August 19, 2008. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) 2005 FDA Authority over Cosmetics. USFDA, March 3. http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/ucm074162.htm, accessed May 28, 2010.
by Lorelle Saxena
Disclaimer: This column is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. With the exception of Nei Guan, these acupressure prescriptions SHOULD NOT be used by pregnant women.
n this edition of Kitchen Medicine, you’ll be empowered to quickly and easily address a variety of common ailments using just your fingertips and basic anatomy. Standing alone or combined with the herbal remedies from the last two issues, these simple acupressure techniques will have you feeling better faster than overthe-counter medications, and without the side effects that are often worse than the ailments themselves. We’ll begin with one incredibly useful point: He Gu, which translates to “Union Valley” or “Joining Valley.” To locate it, hold out your hand as though you were admiring a sparkly ring on it, and then look at the knuckle connecting your index finger to your hand. With your other hand, feel the thin bone, called the second metacarpal bone, that runs from this knuckle down towards the wrist. Find the halfway point of that bone, scoot over a smidge to the thumb side of the bone, and press firmly into the muscle there. Another way to find this point is to squeeze the index finger and the thumb together, making the universal sign for “Stop!” See that bulge that appears just to the thumb side of the second metacarpal bone? That’s your first interosseus dorsalis muscle. The point you want to press is in the belly of this muscle, at the high point of the bulge. If you have a headache, firmly press He Gu on one hand with the thumb of
the other hand; it might feel a little bit sore. Hold it for about twenty seconds, then switch to the other hand. Next, rub the areas on your head where you feel the ache in small, gentle circles. Repeat this series until your headache is alleviated. If you have sinus congestion, use this acupressure series: First, press He Gu on each hand for about twenty seconds. Next, use the tips of your index fingers
to press along the lower corners of your nose, about right where laugh lines start, for twenty seconds. Then press underneath your cheekbones, starting from close to the nose and gradually moving outwards. Do the same under the bony ridge that you feel beneath your eyebrows, starting from the center of the face and moving outwards, and then along the hairline, again moving from the center to the sides of the face. Finally, reach behind your head and find the occipital ridge—that bony ridge at the base of the skull—and use your thumbs to massage just below it in small Hawaii Women’s Journal | 10
circles, moving in an outward direction. For nausea of any origin, including motion sickness, morning sickness, and nerves, try pressing Nei Guan, which translates to “Inner Gate.” To find it, turn your hand so that the palm is facing you. Make a fist. In the center of the wrist, most people will see two parallel tendons; if you don't see them, you should be able to feel them just below the skin. Nei Guan is between these two tendons, about the width of two fingers from the wrist crease, in the direction of the elbow. (Ten to twenty percent of people only have one of the two tendons—if you can only locate one, press just to the pinky side of it.) This is the point that seasickness bands are designed to rest on. Press Nei Guan gently for one minute on each wrist, continuing until the nausea dissipates. If you feel like you’re starting to come down with a cold, try massaging just below the occipital ridge, as in the last step of the sinus congestion series. Then, use your fingertips to lightly tap on your sternum, which is the large, flat bone in the upper center of your chest. The thymus gland lies just beneath the sternum, and the tapping is thought to stimulate it into producing T-cells, which are critical players in your line of immune defense. Lastly, here’s a point to press when you’re getting drowsy and need to stay alert in, say, a boring meeting or long study session. It’s located right underneath your nose, about in the center of the divot between your nostrils and lips. Use a knuckle to press firmly into this point, and you should wake right up. Combine it with He Gu for maximum effect. v photos courtesy of Lorelle Saxena
To Be Continued:
with Lynne Hanzawa-O’Neill on “Not Being Fabulous” and That Margaret Cho Episode on Sex and the City by Melissa Matsubara photos by Ryan Matsumoto
awaii Women’s Journal doesn’t do diva. We feature successful women in positions of power who have earned diva status yet are so grounded in spite of their success that they would be comfortable at your family’s dinner table. You might expect diva behavior from Lynne Hanzawa-O’Neill, a New York City fashion show producer. You expect someone whose real-life persona has been played by Margaret Cho on Sex and the City to be too posh to sit down with HWJ for an outdoor picnic during a windstorm. You expect her to be like the antagonist of The Devil Wears Prada, to catwalk all over a new publication in Manolos from 2015 that Manolo Blahnik himself hasn’t even seen—not thank you for the honor of having her life and work featured. You do not expect to meet a woman who may be more down-to-earth than you, even though major designers such as Betsey Johnson and Calvin Klein chomp at the pavé-diamond bit to work with her.
Inspirational to fashionistas and nonfashionistas alike for being a successful woman who works and lives following her heart, Lynne is at the center of major fashion shows around the world yet hates being the center of attention. Lynne’s work and life philosophy is the same: put others first. Whether it’s taking a designer’s vision and knowing she has the unique ability to manifest it without breaking a sweat (read about her “Aloha Zen” philosophy below), or giving me a hand-crocheted Purell caddy at our interview because she knew I was about to leave for Vietnam, Lynne is Hawaiian at heart. “I try not to forget the Aloha spirit—how can I forget it? I’m from Hawai‘i, I take it wherever I am,” she says. Our interview was more like catching up with an auntie, as she insisted on hearing about my life before allowing us to focus on her and turned two shades of red when I alluded to needing to take her photograph. Indeed, Lynne can best be described by her own statement: “I’m all about not being Hawaii Women’s Journal | 11
fabulous.” If only we could all be a little less fabulous, discover a little more Aloha Zen, and live our lives as vibrantly and thoughtfully as Lynne Hanzawa-O’Neill. HWJ: How would you describe what you do? LHO: I produce and direct fashion shows [also known as “calling the show”]. I work with designers on the concept of the show; I review their collection with them so I understand their vision and what they want their message to be. Then I work with production companies, lighting, sound, stage, runway, if there’s any kind of AV [audio-visual], music consultants, casting directors, and stylists. [A fashion show] involves a lot of people—the show is only eight or ten minutes, but it involves a whole army of fashion people, all experts at what they do. For [New York City’s] Fashion Week, we start about two months out, but it boils down to one week.
HWJ: Did you imagine that one day you’d be a fashion show producer in NYC? LHO: No. Not at all, because I didn’t even know there was a job like this. I thought I was going to be an occupational therapist or a nurse. I’d look at Vogue and fashion magazines and was always interested in [fashion]. I think I always dressed a little bit differently. I didn’t dress like anybody else but I wasn’t trying to dress differently, I was just interested in other kinds of looks. My grandmother and mother made me outfits—how could I not [be interested in fashion]? My mother was a seamstress, my grandmother was a seamstress. I think somehow I got all of that from them. My mother, even now she looks at something and says, “look at how that’s draped” or “that seam is not straight, it doesn’t hang right.” She always makes comments; I think I’ve absorbed it somehow. I never knew what I was going to be doing—what I’ve done and what I do now. I didn’t have a five-year plan; I didn’t understand what a five-year plan was. I didn’t know what I’d want to do tomorrow, how would I know what I’d want to do in five years? This kept me open to possibilities. That’s the theme of my whole life—doing what I really love to do. I’ve made good decisions because I’ve followed my heart. Not blindly, you know I’ve always thought about it, but if it felt right, I just did it. HWJ: What are the best and worst parts of your job? LHO: It was never about me. With this kind of business (or in life), it’s easy for your ego to get in the way, and I prefer to be behind the scenes. My job, it’s a service business. I’m there to make sure that the designer’s collection is presented in the way that they want, as far as collection elements and all the details of it. It’s also really important that the process goes smoothly. Designers have enough stress about previewing their collection to the press and world; they don’t need to have drama. I try to make it as dramaless as possible. I take a very kind of Zen approach to fashion shows. My husband calls it Aloha Zen. Whenever everybody gets stressed out is when I get really relaxed. I love walking in on the day of the show. I’m so happy if I can do three
to four shows in one day. That’s a great day—the best day—because I really love what I do, I love the people I work with. I love to walk into the organized chaos of the backstage—trying to work with the production elements and the models and then pulling it all together. It’s really exciting: you start off small with a group of people and then it turns into this big mass of 250 people backstage. We start twenty minutes after the hour and the show is eight minutes long. The show has to be perfect. I love it; it’s kind of like my drug. HWJ: How do you stay behind the scenes? LHO: I love to stay behind the scenes, I don’t like to be the star. I don’t like to be the center of attention. I’m actually a very private person but what I do is very public. It’s really about the designers, and my job is to make them and their collection look good and to have it be a good, positive process. People have tried to ask me questions backstage and want me to be on camera. I’ve just avoided it because I don’t want it to be about me. I’m somewhat shy, so it’s really difficult for me to talk about myself. I run from cameras. HWJ: Is it true that Margaret Cho played you in the Sex and the City episode where Carrie Bradshaw was asked to participate in a fashion show? LHO: That kind of changed my world. When they sent me the synopsis and said Margaret Cho was going to play me, I thought, “Wow, Margaret Cho. I love Margaret Cho.” How fantastic is this? Besides, I could be behind the scenes: I didn’t have to play myself, she was playing me. I hired the casting director; we worked on the models, the music, the hair and makeup leads; I negotiated all of that. We did fittings, the rehearsal, and I called the show, too. After always staying under the radar and not wanting to be in the public, I thought, how did this happen? It’s sort of like a really great gift in life because she was playing me; I respect her so much and think she’s so funny. It was a real honor and it was so much fun. It was very funny when I saw her playing me on film. Very odd. I don’t say the F word like she does. I don’t talk like Hawaii Women’s Journal | 12
that, but that’s Margaret Cho. People said she has my mannerisms—the Margaret Cho version of me. When that came out, I didn’t tell anyone. It didn’t really filter out until years later. But it’s interesting that people, once they got to know me, would say, “Are you that Margaret Cho character on Sex and the City?” Her name was Lynn Cameron and at the time my name was Manheim so the joke was Lynne Cameron, Camryn Manheim. HWJ: Who is the most interesting current designer? LHO: I always love Rei Kawakubo from Comme des GarÇons. Even from the early eighties, I’ve been wearing Comme des GarÇons. I follow her because I think she’s fantastic—she’s in a category of her own because she’s such a visionary. I love the name of her company, Comme des GarÇons: in French it means “like the boys,” because when she started her company there were no Japanese women in Japan who had their own company. I liked that because she’s always been a maverick without trying to be one. Not only do I love her clothes, I respect her. Because she’s not swayed by the trends in fashion, she actually creates them. HWJ: We heard that Scholastic is writing about you. Can you tell us more about this? LHO: Scholastic Books is doing a series of books on careers. Twenty-one careers for the 21st century—it’s coming out in about a year. It’ll be for [students from] the ninth through twelfth grades. Scholastic wanted to feature new careers, because in fashion it’s always about being about a buyer or a designer, so they wanted to branch out. [They want to write about] what my path was to help young people who are interested in fashion and fashion
shows. I sort of fell into [producing fashion shows], but now there’s actually a book about it, so I feel like this is another gift. HWJ: What advice would you give for someone wanting to get into the fashion show industry? LHO: The industry is difficult because so many people are doing it now. It’s very competitive. When I started in New York twenty years ago, there were maybe a handful of people that actually did the shows. I’d say if it’s really what you love to do, then try to intern. A lot of times people know they love fashion, but they’re not that sure what they want to do in fashion. You should intern, volunteer. There are a lot of
I’m actually a very private person but what I do is very public. PR companies, there are casting people, and different production companies. What’s exciting about producing fashion shows is that it’s theatre. It’s got all the same elements: an audience, the stage, the runway, the lighting, the sound, the music, the actors are the models, and the costumes are the collections. Once the lights come on, it’s show time and the show must go on. Fortunately, it only goes on for eight to ten minutes. That’s it! Eight to ten minutes! It’s for the press and buyers, and they don’t want to see a big collection so the collections can only usually be about 38 [or] 40 looks. It goes quickly, and the editors and buyers go from one show to another, so it has to be really well edited so that they can see what the designer’s message is and then go on to the next one.
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HWJ: What is your connection to Hawai‘i? LHO: I was born in Hawai‘i and I lived here for three years, then we all moved to Los Angeles. My parents sent me back every summer to stay with both sets of grandparents and my aunts and uncles. My heart has always been in Hawai‘i. When I’d go back to Los Angeles, I’d always feel misplaced. My earliest and fondest memories are here in Hawai‘i. Even though I lived in Japan, L.A., San Francisco, [have] traveled all around the world, and have lived in New York for what—twenty years?—I still feel like Hawai‘i is home. I feel like this is the person that I am, when I’m in Hawai‘i— that that’s the real [me]. HWJ: Do you have plans to return to Hawai‘i permanently? LHO: My heart is always in Hawai‘i. I’ve been lucky enough in the past few years to spend four to five months a year in Hawai‘i; I break it up in between Fashion Weeks. I’m able to spend time with my parents, friends, and it’s just so wonderful to be here. I’ve really talked about living here, retiring here, but not yet because I still have things to do. That’s the exciting part, the end of my story hasn’t been written yet. I feel like I’m only really at the beginning. I’m very excited about what’s in the future and I’m really open to it, but I do know that I’ll retire here. I may still need to keep a little apartment in Greenwich Village because I want to continue working—I don’t really know what the word retirement means. I’m hoping I’ll be able to work here too in Hawai‘i, I don’t know doing what. I’m sure it’ll be challenging, but Hawai‘i people are the best people in the world. Who doesn’t want to live and work surrounded by all of this Aloha spirit? To be continued! v
by Stacey Makiya
rowing up, the only good thing about the end of summer was back-to-school shopping. I would wander around the girls’ department of Sears and picture nonmatching, nonconforming outfits in my head. I walked to the beat of my own runway— my style was a jukebox of 80s melodies. A little Bon Jovi, a little GoGos, a little Lauper, and a lot Madonna (without the cone bra, could never have sneaked that by my dad). I loved to mix trends, and even if the world (i.e., my mom and sisters) didn’t get it, I didn’t care. It was my style. That attention-getting sixth sense for style—while not always positive (Cavariccis and Daisy Dukes: need I say more?)—followed me to where I am now. While I guess I could have ended up a hooker, I choose to get my petty cash by dressing people, not undressing them: I became a fashion journalist and stylist. I often push the suffocating limit on what’s appropriate within Hawai‘i’s world of aloha-print fashion. I love scarves in the winter and don boots anytime of the year. Unless I’m planning to hike Mauna Kea, you might ask, what’s the point? It’s FASHION! It’s creative expression, just ask the Lady known as Gaga. Do we always understand and want to replicate her style? No. But it definitely is recognizable as Gaga-ish art, and she owns it. This year, I had my first opportunity to style a spring fashion show for one of Honolulu’s malls and was eager to push
my own eccentric style onto the reserved shoppers of upper-class Hawai‘i. But years of writing and styling for fashion publications did not prepare me for the runway—which I quickly decided should really be called the run away. My original thought was: How hard can it be? I watch The Hills, The City, Rachel Zoe, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey (the latter being, of course, a crash course on what not to wear). It’s women walking in a straight line, not rocket science. At our first fashion show meeting, the mall’s marketing department was just as excited as I was. Eager to push the mygrandma-shops-at-this-mall stereotype out the window, they were on board for a fashion re-vamp. But just as my eyes started to light up like a starved fashion journalist on the Mag Mile in Chi Town, they started to shovel on the warnings and apprehensions we would be facing. Besides limited spacing and a high school’s talent show budget, I realized the biggest problem I could foresee would be working with the tenants of the mall— any merchant could participate, even a candy store. This wasn’t reality TV; this was reality. After several drawn-out meetings, I knew this wasn’t fashion freedom, this was corporate couture. Some tenants welcomed us with open arms, mainly because pulling clothes for a fashion show and fitting models was torture they were eager to avoid. Creating a head-to-toe, I-want-that-right-now outfit is not easy, Hawaii Women’s Journal | 14
and big department stores know this. So they welcome creative persons who are willing to take this load off of their shoulder pads. With other tenants, walking into their boutiques was like walking into diva dens, where the lionesses wanted to prey on fresh meat. Their “pride” was at stake, and no one was going to stroll in and take over. At first, I wanted to challenge the condescending attitudes and adamant (and abhorrent) fashion views, especially since some of the garments would only be seen in a Cher or Diane Keaton fashion show, but Al and J (my partners, who are much better in handling the politics of the runway) constantly reminded me, “Your style is not everyone else’s style!” I couldn’t believe that: Why wouldn’t everyone want their clothes to reflect a uniquely fabulous approach instead of a mainstream mediocre one? Showing the same cookie-cutter catalog look offended me deep down in the eclectic mix of my Goodwill–smashingly-meets-Gucciwearing soul. I needed a second opinion. So, I contacted Lynne HanzawaO’Neill. She produces fashion shows for New York Fashion Week and has worked with top name fashion designers and the Sex and the City girls. Since she lives a bicoastal life, I reached her via phone and left a message. She called me back within the hour; no matter who you are, Lynne never makes you feel insignificant. It didn’t matter that she was the Yoda of fashion shows, and I was a Jedi knight, she always offered herself as a resource.
Maybe she regrets that now, as I didn’t take her offer lightly. At any rate, her advice always made me feel like the force was with me. What she said during that first phone call in her sweet-as-sweetpotato-pie voice confirmed two things: Fashion shows are part of the service industry—that is, you are there to please your clients and showcase their visions— and nobody likes a “bitch” in this business. It wasn’t the answer that I wanted, but it was the advice that was given. And I thought about this for a long while— which in the fashion world is about ten minutes. I suddenly realized that my creativity wasn’t being stifled by others interpretations, it was just being given a new path. Instead of putting our visions
on the runway, my team and I were faced with the challenge of adding inventive details to each merchant-selected outfit. A deep-ocean blue mother-of-the-bride silk cover-up was instantly transformed into an Asian-inspired kimono jacket worn over a tomato-red bikini. Stationary paper—like I said before, anyone who paid mall dues could participate—became color-popping boutonnières. We were creatively challenged to say the least, but when you get lemons, pair it with some sugary sass, refreshing hues, and voila, you’ve got a quenching style that satisfies. I also realized that when you work with people instead of against them, the tasks at hand are less stressful and everyone is happy—well, almost everyone.
A few complaints came in after the show that our choices may have been a bit too risqué (typical, unappreciative fashion cattiness). To them I say: a fashion show just wouldn’t be a fashion show if there weren’t some outré elements to expand ideas of what is not only possible but also fashionable. So, I guess in the end, the fashion show was a success. I may have lost battles and reached a draw on some, but the experience I gained was a win. Would I do all of this again? Definitely—and I will, as we did get asked back to do the next fashion show. And the reality is, this is the stuff that makes up the great Lynne O’Neill’s of the fashion world—and being a part of all that is my style. v
[the dame game]
Chasing the Zen Z
en gardening. Star gazing. Prozac. Everyone has their own way of maintaining equilibrium. Me? I keep it simple. I run. You don’t have to purchase expensive equipment or pay for lessons to learn how to do it—you just strap on your sneakers and go. You don’t need a special moisture-wicking sports bra or compression socks. You don’t even need an iPod. You plus an old t-shirt and fairly decent running shoes equals game on. What’s not simple about running is learning to listen to your inner coach and silencing the inner anti-cheerleader that says, “Really? You chose this over watching old reruns of The Cosby Show while munching on a box of Junior Mints?” Even after eight years of consistent pavement pounding, I occasionally still ask myself: Am I a runner? A real runner? In high school, my world revolved around flexing my brain and stretching my vocal chords, so I became the chubby kid. And let me tell you, shaping up is the last thing on your mind when you’re the chubby kid sporting a damp buttondown shirt in the humid mid-80-degree Hawai‘i weather. Apparently, sweating out buckets of water weight didn’t count as exercise. In my college years, it was more of the same, except with the added stress of homesickness, rebuilding a social life, and finding unique ways to not waste the meal plan. Ah, the foundation of the “Freshman 15”: ice cream and waffles for dinner. Becoming discouraged by the weight I was gaining and
by Jennica Goo
seeing how calm and put together my runner friends seemed, I decided to try running. Predictably, I discovered that running did help melt away the pounds and stress. What my friends didn’t tell me was how empowered running would make me feel. With every step, I was finally making myself a priority. For me, what makes running special is the paradox at its core: you have to speed up to slow down. As a society, we’ve become so fast-paced that we never actually look at the world. It takes something simple to make you focus and truly appreciate your surroundings. Even runners sometimes take the sport’s simplicity for granted by concentrating too much on cadence, breath, stride, and so forth. We can all benefit by taking a step back to relax and actually live in the now. It’s very zen. It’s the same basic concept that makes running appealing to begin with—up until people start taking the sport way too seriously. Running is mechanical: you put your body on automatic and instead of predetermining your thoughts, they come to you while you watch the fall leaves turn, smell the salt of the sea breeze, or take in the sights—like the cute backside of the runner in front of you. So here I am, a mid-pack runner in my late twenties, setting my own unique training runs for my yearly half-marathons. Each run has its own purpose and story. While I do focus on one technical improvement per run, I try to let that fade to the background in the constant struggle to turn my brain off. Sometimes I’m able to quiet my mind for thirty whole
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 15
photo by Raquel Rhoads
minutes—and I take that as a success. Much like meditation, pride of lions. It’s our primitive, competitive nature to want to you have to accept whatever happens rather than seeing it in be faster and not dead (literally, in the case of the wildebeest) terms of success or failure. last. I couldn’t help but beat myself up for my performance— Of course, it’s also crucial to have points in your training even if I tried my best. where you measure your general fitness, pace, and endurance. On the other hand, the 5K reminded me of why I run. I had one of those days recently. Running is for me. It’s something that I do Enter my company’s 5K. Also known as for my own self-improvement; it’s time the day I got left to be eaten by wolves. to cultivate fresh ideas while maintaining Naturally, the other people who showed my physical abilities. As Haruki Murakami up to run were serious athletes, because ...if you’re the slowest writes in What I Talk about When I who else would be crazy enough to give up wildebeest in the herd, Talk about Running, “In long-distance their lunch hour to exercise in boiling heat? you become dinner for running, the only opponent you have to Even though I knew keeping up with my beat is yourself, the way you used to be” colleagues was going to be a challenge, I a pride of lions. It’s our (2008:10). needed to prove to myself my own athletic primitive, competitive Even as a recreational-but-serious nature to want to be mettle. runner, I still have wake-up calls: for Now I’ve always considered myself to faster and not dead example, my pace is still slower than I’d like be a mid-pack runner. It never concerned (literally, in the case of it to be. But herein starts my official speed me when massive, muscled hulks loped the wildebeest) last. training. Naturally, the reward is not going past. But if the whole pack actually leaves to come without a lot of hard work and me behind, my ego definitely takes a hit. determination. But that determination is Which, unfortunately, is what happened. not fueled by wanting to beat the head of My coworker pumped up my ego before the pack, it stems from a desire to improve the race, and after we burst out of the start line, I managed my personal 5K time by just six minutes. If I set a goal that I to keep up with him for the first mile. But when my legs and know is in reach, I won’t give up. lungs began to burn, I helplessly watched the distance grow So, watch out, Self, because I’m going to kick your ass. v between us. It was like high school PE all over again. The 5K ended up being an exercise in calming my competitive REFERENCE CITED nature. Why did it bother me to be the slowest runner in the Murakami, Haruki race? Consider this: on the plains of the Serengeti, if you’re 2008 What I Talk about When I Talk about Running: the slowest wildebeest in the herd, you become dinner for a A Memoir. New York: Random House.
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The Domestic Diva
Don't Rush the Risotto
he first time I heard the word risotto, I was twelve years old, and my mother had just returned from her first trip to Italy (a journey undertaken on the advice of her psychic, but that’s another story). She breezed back into our house refreshed, with a healthy fear of Italian drivers and full of culinary inspiration. The first recipe she prepared for our family was a Roasted Beet Risotto, a slow-cooked rice dish, stained the color of rubies. To my childish eyes, it looked like something cooked up in Willy Wonka’s factory, not a rustic Italian dish. After some coaxing, I dug in, marveling at the rich, sweet, creamy texture of this rice. Rice-A-Roni, this was not. Time passed—I went to high school, then college, graduated, and moved to Los Angeles, where I experienced the shock of being an adult, out in the real world, living on a shoestring budget and lacking necessary survival skills. Namely, I couldn’t cook, and I was pretty sure I
couldn’t live off Koo Koo Roo for the rest of my life. Fortunately, a naked stranger came to my rescue. No, I didn’t land a job in the porn industry (though the first apartment complex where I stayed in Canoga Park was overrun with porn stars). Rather, I discovered “The Naked Chef,” Jamie Oliver’s imported cooking show. (He doesn’t cook in the buff—it’s blatantly false advertising.) Jamie Oliver is many things— roguishly handsome, a sustainable superhero (check out his latest television show “Food Revolution”), and a master of risotto. After watching him whip up a chicken and pea risotto on television, I stocked up on ingredients at the grocery store and then undertook this culinary challenge. Then I stirred, and stirred, and stirred some more until my arm felt like I just did 5,000 single-arm fist pumps while watching a Jersey Shore marathon on MTV. You see, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about risotto, it’s that you can’t rush it. It takes time. It’s like the
Vegetable Risotto with Asparagus, Savoy Spinach, and Fresh Goat Cheese
Serves 4 people Cooking time: 40 minutes
Ingredients 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 4 cups vegetable stock (preferably homemade) 3 leeks, tender white and green parts, chopped 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped 1 cup arborio rice 1/2 cup dry white wine 3 cups savoy spinach, julienned 1 cup asparagus, cut into thin slices 1/4 cup fresh goat cheese (chevre) salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until softened, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Then, stir in the rice, coating it with the oil, and cook for another two minutes. Pour in the white wine and stir until absorbed. Once the wine has been absorbed, slowly add the vegetable stock a half cup at a time, stirring until absorbed before adding more stock. Once the rice is beginning to soften, stir in the asparagus and the spinach. Continue adding stock and cooking until the rice is al dente and the vegetables are tender (note: you may not use all of the stock). Hawaii Women’s Journal | 17
foodie version of meditation, the slow stirring, the smells percolating up to your nostrils, and finally, the culinary enlightenment that comes when you take your first bite. Since that day, I’ve never looked back, cooking up all manner of risottos, from red wine with bacon and radicchio to chard and black cod, but lately I’ve been making mostly vegetarian risottos. I stock up on the freshest produce at my farmer’s market, make a homemade vegetable stock (see sidebar—it’s easier than you think), and then finish the risotto with a dollop of fresh goat cheese in the center and drizzle of olive oil. I love serving risotto family style, letting everyone dig in to the bowl and watching as they finish their portion and then return for seconds. And thirds. And fourths. Now, that’s culinary enlightenment.v
by Jennifer Dawn Rogers Once it’s finished cooking, season the risotto with salt and pepper. To serve family style, spoon the risotto into a large bowl. Place a big dollop of fresh goat cheese in the center of the dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper. Enjoy!
THE FINANCIALLY CHALLENGED EDITOR’S CHEAP, ECOHAPPY VEGGIE STOCK
THE DOMESTIC DIVA’S QUICK VEGETABLE STOCK Nothing will make a greater difference in your cooking than using homemade stocks. Here’s a fast way to make vegetable stock. Roughly chop two celery stalks, two carrots, two small onions, and one leek and place them in a stock pot. Add a teaspoon of peppercorns, a bay leaf, and a few sprigs of thyme to the pot. Cover with filtered water and simmer for at least one hour. Strain and keep warm if using right away for risotto. The stock can be made a few days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Also, keeps in the freezer for up to six months.
Real cooks may cringe when they read this, but I’m a former Peace Corps Volunteer, so I tend to hoard. In my kitchen, I save all my veggie peels, ends, and unsightlies, and at the end of the week (or when my fridge’s scrap bucket—yes, bucket—is overflowing), I put all these odds and ends into a pot with water and simmer it down for at least an hour. Granted, my cream-colored vegan corn chowder occasionally turns pink from using stock full of beet parts, but I’d like to think it gives my soups, stews, and whole grains (which I cook in vegetable stock instead of water) personality. There are only a few warnings: Don’t use much from the cabbage family (this includes kale, broccoli, and cauliflower) because it will turn your stock bitter. An overripe tomato and ugly basil are okay to toss in the stock pot; rotten jicama and slimy basil are not—be careful with aging produce. Lastly, some produce, such as lettuce ends, doesn’t enhance a stock, so like a bad relationship—if something/someone’s not going to add anything to your stock/life, compost that shit! Speaking of composting, you can compost cooked stock vegetables, but you’ll need to keep it hot (140 to 160 degrees) for a week and animal proof (bury or enclose the compost). Do not compost vegetables cooked in sauce, oil, or butter. If you’re an advanced Domestic Diva with your vermicompost bin, worms love cooked vegetables. And dead bodies. v –Jennifer Meleana Hee
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Ponds of Jupiter There are stars above Makaikoa Street in Waialae. There are stars that smell of ripe lilikoi and plumeria. There are stars that taste like sweet Kahuku corn and tart pineapples. There are stars that sound like the calls of the mynah bird and soothing ukulele tunes. There are stars that feel like tall sugar cane stalks and the sand beneath my feet. Some stars are brighter than others. Other stars jump into ponds on Jupiter. Among the stars are those who paint a radiant color of citrine. There are stars above Makaikoa Street in Waialae, stars that glow more than yellow sunflowers. v
Matayoshi, Age 8 photo courtesyWomenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s of NASA Journal | 19 Hawaii
My Life Falling Apart! The smart guy I paid to do my math homework screwed me over. I hate Tim Plick. No food in the refrigerator— I’m going to die. My friends are back-stabbing low-lifer pigs who I want to kill. My 20 fish in a brown mossy bowl— I killed my fish. My stupid Aunty Tosh keeps telling me to get married to Koa. She needs a muzzle. Waiting alone in the black theatre. Damn, I got stood up. Black and white fuzzies flickering— our TV just broke. The boyfriend I loved went to North Carolina. I hate North Carolina. Global warming is killing the ozone layer. It’s so hot now. My sister embarrassing me in front of my friends. I hate that adopted piece of junk. Girls’ monthly period coming three days early— God I hate periods. Me losing earphones constantly— those things need to be bigger. Me saying things about a person and them finding out— my friends are the worst. v – Alexa
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 20
Yokooji, Age 15 illustration by Kathryn Xian
Because the Next Generation Can Speak for Itself
hey are talented, articulate, and perceptive. Standing on stage, some shake with fear, others with excitement. Their vocabulary is as colorful and bold as their sneakers, their cadence and motions tinged with island dialect and dance. They brandish words filled with such passion and imagery that you are moved to tears, you are speechless, you are snapping when they stumble over their lines, and more often than not, you are cheering them on in praise and admiration. You are in awe at what their words make you feel. They are the youngest poets of Hawai‘i, part of a nonprofit spokenword, education, and youth development program called Youth Speaks Hawai‘i. The national Youth Speaks program was first created in San Francisco in 1996. In 2003, one of the Youth Speaks co-founders, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, contacted HawaiiSlam founder, Kealoha Wong, asking him to create an adult team from Hawai‘i to compete in the Bay Area’s invitational poetry slam, known as the Living Word Project. Melvin Won PatBorja, Travis Thompson, and a few other local poets performed as the Hawai‘i team. After being eliminated, TravisT (as Thompson is known in the spoken-word community)
watched as youth poets took the stage to compete against some of HBO’s well-known Def Poets at that time. TravisT explains: “I was watching this poetry competition where I saw poets that I had seen on HBO compete against these youth that I had never heard of and that were a part of nonprofits that I never knew existed. As I listened and watched them progress through the rounds, it was just amazing to see how many poems they had, how cutting edge and how politically honest as well as message worthy their poetry was. There were no gimmicks that grown-ups sometimes use, like banter to an audience; instead they were using creative riffs. And I just kept thinking, Man, what if there was something like this for myself when I was a teenager? What if there was something like this for the kids back home?” After watching the teens defeat their grown-up counterparts, Melvin and TravisT knew that they had to start a program for teenagers back in Honolulu, and Kealoha supported this idea. It took a couple of years to get off the ground, but in February of 2005 the first Youth Speaks Hawai‘i workshop was held at Marks Garage. Five years and a feature on HBO later, Hawaii Women’s Journal | 21
by Krista Sherer photos by Ryan Matsumoto Youth Speaks Hawai‘i has shown the nation what Hawai‘i’s next generation is capable of achieving. TravisT is now the Events Coordinator, Dar’ron Cambra is the Art and Educational Director, and Lyz Soto is the Executive Director. All three of these mentors have seen the support that the organization gives to the youth poets: some teens come from unstable homes and need catharsis, a family who hears their voices; others are natural-born writers who want a safe space in which to express their talent. Either way, the workshops, open mic events, poetry slams, and exposure to national competitions have shaped these young poets into remarkably confident and well-expressed individuals. You don’t even need to be a huge fan of performance poetry to be impressed. As TravisT put it, “I’m rather certain that once people see the kids perform themselves, it’s really just one of those phenomena that no one really ever forgets. There is a certain buzz we carry that I think we all hoped for but didn’t understand how we were going to get it.” One way they got it was through the consistent dedication of a core group of staff and mentors—most who are spoken word poets themselves—offering free weekly workshops for youth. The workshops are based on free writing as well as word-exercise activities that help the teens sharpen their individual voices. The rules of the workshops are that “the standard is yourself,” which reminds young writers not to compare themselves to anyone else and that “there are no wrong answers.” Poetry is neither fact nor fiction, and the mentors emphasize to the youth poets that there is room to play in the grey area of their thoughts as well as with the concept of universal truths. The writing processes as well as the performances help attach value to their words, and once these students start to see that their stories have validity—or that they have the ability to tell the story of someone who can’t speak up for themselves—they feel more valued and empowered during a point in their lives when they might otherwise remain unheard.
The youth poets find another family in Youth Speaks Hawai‘i, a safe environment where they find compassion and acceptance to express their thoughts and feelings in an artistic way. Many of the teens take pleasure in rising to the challenge YSH mentors and peers provide: to grow, to learn, to push themselves, and to be conscious of their thoughts and feelings as well as of those in the world around them. Although YSH started out small with barely any attendees, it has grown exponentially in the last five years. Every April, there is a competitive slam held by YSH that determines the top five to six poets who will go to the National Youth Speaks Tournament, “Brave New Voices.” As two-time champions and one of the teams featured in Russell Simmons’s 2008 HBO documentary of the same name, Youth Speaks Hawai‘i has definitely made a name for itself here in the islands as well as in the larger world of slam poetry. Although they attend “Brave New Voices” to compete, they are also there to have fun, meet fellow teen spoken-word artists, and live poetry for a week. Being from Hawai‘i, they also take pride in their culture and enjoy sharing their stories of home both on and off the stage. Youth Speaks Hawai‘i Executive Director Lyz Soto explains, “The kids find it to be a really amazing experience. They get to meet people with similar interests from all over the place with very diverse backgrounds that I’m not sure they would get a chance to meet any other way.” Of his experience being involved in national competitions, and specifically the Brave New Voices documentary, Ittai Wong says, “We set out on what we aimed to do, be the best we could possibly be and not compromise the art for gimmicks. Our team is all about love, and through the documentary it is evident that our journey was made and won because of our love of the stage, word, and art.” Youth Speaks Hawai‘i has helped expose our youths’ talent to the world. Equally important, YSH has supported youth reading and writing in a state where the Department of Education attempts to handle budget cuts and deal with labor costs by closing its schools for one day out of the week. Dar’ron Cambra, who runs the YSH workshops and is also a certified teacher, spoke on how spoken-word poetry is helpful to students as an educational tool: “The Language Arts’ standards of reading, writing, and oral communication are met very nicely, [as] the spoken word poets write their own poetry, memorize [and] present the [poems], learn [the poem’s] rhythm speed, and [learn] how to set themselves up on the stage. So all of the standards get hit as an educational
tool.” YSH offers a creative way of fostering education as well as a safe community for teenagers. Many have gone on to college: for example, two YSH poets have gone on to receive “First Wave” scholarships from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, which are especially for hip hop/MC/breaker/poets. Ittai Wong, who will be the next poet from Hawai‘i to attend the program, comments, “I hope to continue slam through college in the collegiate level (CUPSI—Collegiate Union Poetry Slam Invitational) and use it as an opportunity to experience the world. I don’t know if poetry
in trying to improve myself not only as a writer but also as a performer. Growth should be the only constant in anything you do, and to see spoken word evolve is brilliant. Slam poetry gives any individual a voice and opportunity to express themselves through words.” When a teenager writes a poem in a notebook and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? The answer is, of course, yes. But teenagers need to be heard, and poetry is one of the more positive ways for them to channel their emotions in a confusing time filled with a need for acceptance, frustrating rules, and stifling curfews. What
will be my career, but if I got to do something I love for the rest of my life, I see no downfall.” In 2009, national slam champion Jamaica Osorio, now a student at Stanford University, performed at the White House Poetry Jam for President Barack Obama. The title of her poem, “Kumulipo,” powerfully expressed her desire to keep the culture and tradition alive within her Hawaiian roots. I think spoken-word poetry is one of the most compelling forms of art. As these young poets stand on stage, they are the canvas and their words are the colors, depths, and textures. Their thoughts and feelings are shaped into expressions that immediately conjure emotions from an audience. The images evoked through the combination of their narrative and their delivery is a mixture of raw vulnerability and intellect, leaving listeners ruminating on the depth of their story. Jocelyn Ng, a slam poet with powerful delivery and a competitor in the 2007 to 2009 nationals, touched on why performance poetry was so important to her. She explains, “I love how there are so many different dimensions to slam poetry. I like the challenge
the teens from Youth Speaks Hawai‘i do have is the opportunity to use their voice, and they learn to do so fearlessly. As the national Youth Speaks mission states, “The next generation can speak for itself.” We all should be listening. v
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 22
Get Involved: Youth Speaks Hawai‘i Writing Workshops Who: Everyone and anyone ages 13–19 When: Every Wednesday Where: ARTS @ Marks Garage Time: 4:30 p.m.–6:00 p.m. Support: YSH Poetry Open Mic and Slams When: Every second Saturday Where: ARTS @ Marks Garage Time: 3:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m. For more information: www.youthspeakshawaii.weebly.com www.youthspeakshawaii.wordpress.com www.facebook.com/youthspeakshawaii email: info@YouthSpeaksHawaii.org tel: 808-306-7197
Gratuitous Love from the Editor
here is something that happens, I believe during puberty, when the Pandora’s box/basement of your brain that used to be buried beneath stacks of schematics for forts, fears of toilet monsters (don’t ask), strategies for street hockey, and memorized passages from A Wrinkle in Time comes unlatched. Suddenly, everything is really, really fucked up. Your McDonald’s Happy Meal is full of dead animals; you acquire the ability to think about war in a critical sense, not a “how do I make this into a diorama?” sense; your family is full of logical inconsistencies; you get boobs or you don’t get boobs and either way it’s traumatic; you don’t know what to believe in or what the media’s color-coded terror levels really mean. I don’t know what is more impressive—that the teenagers from Youth Speaks Hawai‘i can take history, current politics, profound introspection, and pop culture references and compose them into coherent pieces or that they can perform these pieces and bring you to tears in under three minutes. Or that they were born during the nineties. Their poetry is like an onion squeezed inside an artichoke nestled into smiling matryoshka, all stuffed inside a Turkducken that’s wearing fluorescent green sneakers. YSH: So many layers! Youth Speaks Hawai‘i (YSH) has done for poetry what Glee has done for all embodied forms of adolescent marginalization: made being you as you are, cool. Because of my high school marching-band drum major, yearbook-
editor nerd glory, I could have never imagined a YSH of my own, a place where you are put on a pedestal/stage for being different, not isolated for trying to shove your square-peg self into a society full of holes. YSH is a family of teens and mentors encouraging one another to turn their journals inside out, revealing their traumas and dreams, owned vulnerabilities and reclaimed injustices, addictions and the search for Edward-and-Bella love, even their affinity for masturbation—all in front of their peers. During open-mic events and slams, peers support one another with a chorus of snaps during a performer’s forgotten lines and yell inscrutable rally cries: “Eat the mike,” “Don’t be handsome,” “H1N1,” and “Beast mode.” Instead of cheerleaders, the crowd shouts “Youth Speaks!” for the kids, “Grown Speaks!” for the mentors, and “New shit!” for first-time poems spit fresh from their notebooks. Between poems, Honolulu’s youngest DJ, DJ.acob, rocks the iPod and panda-head beanie with a surprisingly stoic expression for an eight-year-old. YSH events are magical. The things that can divide youth—love for unicorns, mad french horn skills, lead in the school musical, black clothing, the last pair of Justin Bieber tickets, high scores on Rock Band, athletic prowess, socioeconomic status—are chain links in YSH, not fences. Teens use exactly what makes them unique as inspiration; it is their celebration of each other’s uniqueness that connects them, arm-in-arm, word-to-
by Jennifer Meleana Hee word, challenging you with their metaphorical Red Rovers to even try to break through their conviction that they can better the world with their words. You want to be on their side, you want to help their reach, taunting the island, the nation, the world to send hope on over. Yes, the teenagers from YSH inspire me—with their awareness, their tears, their candid exploration of identity, their camaraderie. They do not have the potential for greatness—raw and unadulterated, their craft develops before they have a high school diploma. They are their own genre, creating in the midst of becoming—the line “I’m about to be 18” has an expiration date. There is no hierarchical evolution to a youth slam poet; it is precisely watching them grow that shakes you. You feel the immediacy of their attempts to comprehend why their grandparents can’t receive proper healthcare, why intolerance exists, why love does not always love you back—every experience is “new shit.” You wish you could hold their hands and skip with them back into childhood, before you and they knew how broken this world is and became aware that some casts you have to wear for a lifetime. But you are also hopeful, because you know voice is power, and they have already mastered their tongues. Here’s what I am certain of. We are not alone in this literary revolution, as YSH staff and mentors continue to support the next generation of:
WEB EXCLUSIVE : Check out Jocelyn performing her poetry on our website at www.hawaiiwomensjournal.com.
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 23
photo of Jocelyn Ng by Ryan Matsumoto
Christine There is this melody the ocean conducts
pushing and pulling the tides like orchestra strings. I can hear each and every note float back my eardrums as if they were swimming past destiny. And I wish Christine could hear it, But she can’t. Christine is my sign language teacher born deaf with inner lobes too small to catch a single note. She teaches me and my classmates how to speak without using our vocal chords, our tracheas, our tongues. We’ve become so immune so accustomed so conditioned to using our voices that we forget what perfect sounds like. She teaches us everything from the ABCs and 123s to simple introductions like saying “Hello, my name is Jocelyn, it’s nice to meet you,” to colors and states. From things you like to things you don’t like. From saying I’m sorry to telling someone I love you. One day I ask her, “Christine, do you ever wonder what music sounds like?” She simply replies with words that made me write this poem, Made this pen bleed onto this paper Made these signs translate into something more than just words. She says, “No, because I can feel the music.” She said... She can feel it. From that moment I wanted to know what that means. I want to feel the music the melodies, the orchestra, photo by Kathryn Xian
by Jocelyn Ng
the strings, the simple tick tocks, beat box, hello dear—this is music. I want to feel each and every onomatopoeia you can think of Breathe into my flesh. Like the alphabet Like vowels like every a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y. I find myself wanting to become the harmony, the melody, the vibrations, that I wish I could feel. See, sometimes, Christine, I wish I could put myself into your shoes experience music like you do. I’ve tried putting my hands over my ears But I just can’t seem to feel it. I’ve heard that music is universal language But I seem to be lost in translation. So could you tell me what it feels like? Would tracing your fingers on harp strings Feel like the sensation of caressing your mind into a dream. Do songs run up the back of your neck every time lyrics braid themselves around your spine? And would the melodic strikes of a percussion remind you of the rhythms of your own heartbeat? Would the cry of a symphony feel like an earthquake rumbling beneath the soles of your feet? Would you dance to the disaster?
Can you sing with your hands? Can your palms hear the difference between black and white Like violin bows Like piano keys Like major and minor Like F flat and G sharp? Does music feel like a tsunami crashing onto your eardrums like sound waves? Would you swim with its currents? Or would you drown in your own undertow? There is this melody the ocean conducts, pushing and pulling the tides like orchestra strings. I wish I could feel it like Christine. v
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 24
[balm for being]
When Being a “Good Girl” Is Bad: Identifying and Recovering from Good Girlism
oday my hairdresser and I had a discussion about good girls, bad girls, and the difference. We decided “good girls” give themselves away and do things to please others at the expense of their own wants and needs. “Bad girls” don’t give themselves away but instead react by usually being contrary to what someone else wants them to do. Both behaviors, in the short and long term, are destructive to a woman’s selfesteem and how fully she experiences her life. Can we all be categorized as “good” or “bad” girls? None of us fall neatly into either group, but since society has raised the majority of women to be “good girls”—good mothers, good wives, good friends—we have to learn to recognize that there are aspects of being “good girls” that do more harm to our well-being. Consider this column a sort of “Good Girls Anonymous,” a fellowship of sharing our experiences of this social disease and our recovery. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop being so damn good. First, you need to determine whether or not you are a “good girl” or are in the process of recovering from being one. Do you: 1. automatically respond “yes” when asked to help out (even if you are already overloaded)? 2. smile, no matter what, even when you are in pain? 3. find yourself being treated like a doormat but feel unable to stand up for yourself? 4. believe that everything you do, have, or are is not enough—good enough, smart enough, thin enough, wise enough, etc.? 5. beat yourself up when things don’t turn out as you had hoped? 6. fear that others will learn that you’re not perfect? 7. secretly wish you could run away to pursue a wild dream, although you also doubt you’ll be able to accomplish it?
You may have answered “yes” to at least one of these questions. Perhaps you didn’t realize how detrimental these behaviors can be to your own happiness and peace of mind. Identifying these behaviors help us recognize that the traits we have accepted as who we are aren’t really who we are but, rather, who society has programmed us to be. Consider how Good Girl Syndrome affects us: good girls are unable to perceive their true self because their inauthentic “good girl” identity is cobbled together from the traits others see them as possessing. They take their self-worth from how they’re perceived by
others, regardless of whether those opinions are solicited or even valid. Imagine how much better you would feel if none of these behaviors listed above hit home. Once you are aware of what defines selfdamaging “good girl” behavior, the next questions become: How can you consciously modify your “good girl” behavior? How do you discover who you are at your core? If you’re not a “good girl,” then who are you? Living a life that hinges on what others believe puts “good girls” in a box with walls sealed so tightly that such confinement will eventually suffocate them. When your authentic self is stifled while you’re fulfilling Hawaii Women’s Journal | 25
by Suzy Allegra
the dreams of others, you may begin to feel depressed, lifeless, or angry. You may become physically as well as psychologically ill. If a good girl doesn’t begin conscious recovery, she will likely manifest a variety of issues. Recovery, then, is not only a life skill but also a process as necessary as breathing. Recovering from Good Girl Syndrome often means asking for help. We all need others to support, encourage, and guide us. Once we have put some miles on our inner automobile (learning what is driving us on our deepest levels), we can consciously decide to make different choices, choices for ourselves—ones that bring us joy, peace, and love. Consider the following situation as one example to overcoming your Good Girl tendencies. A friend or acquaintance has asked you to help out with a time-consuming project and the good girl within itches to say yes as usual. Instead try: 1. Simply saying no—with a smile and no explanation. Test out “I’m sorry, I can’t.” That’s it. Beware of explaining, because as soon as you begin to do so, you lose. You’ll end up doing some version of whatever you’ve just said no to. 2. Replying “let me think about it.” This buys you time. You can open up your calendar, smart phone, or date book, and take a moment to get real. What are you willing to give up to take on this new task? If your schedule permits you to say yes—and, importantly, you want to do so—then follow-up with a yes. Otherwise, respond (e-mail them if you’re nervous about talking to them) and tell the truth—you don’t have enough time. Period. 3. Responding “I’ll be happy to help if you can find two committed assistants. But I can’t do this by myself.” And refuse to begin the project without help. If you think (or, worse, say), “Well, maybe I’ll help them out a little just to get started,” you are stuck, sister. artwork courtesy of Suzy Allegra
Being a good girl is like any other addiction. You recover one moment at a time. It is incredibly easy to fall back into old behavior, especially under stress. On that last note, realize that being a good girl may have been necessary for you to make it through childhood. For example, if your parents weren’t accepting of you as an individual, you may have learned to “make nice” to keep your parents happy and/or less angry—to literally or figuratively stay alive. And you kept using those behaviors because they continued to work—for a while. That is, until they started taking their toll on your physical, mental, and/or emotional health. If you’re lucky, at a certain point, you will realize this good girl behavior is holding you back; that there’s an invisible strait jacket being put on you, stopping you from speaking your truth or pursuing a dream. At the same time, you also realize that the only one who can help you recover is you. Once you move away from either of the extremes of a “good” or “bad” girl, you are what my friend Betsy calls an “awake” girl. An awake girl realizes and admits her codependence, and she works diligently at being who she is deep inside: the painter, chef, or marathon runner. She works on creating her dreams, not someone else’s. She speaks her mind without anger but with conviction. As you take steps toward recovery, you wake up to who you are, and the quality of your life improves. Even after 25 years of working on myself, I, too, still have setbacks—but they’re less frequent and less intense. The more recovered I am, the better able I am to teach those who need to learn. I know this inner path that I’m exploring will lead to happiness at the deepest of levels, where I always feel like I am enough. I wish the same for you. v
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What Should I Wear? The Bella Project photo courtesty of Ali Stewart-Ito
uring the spring of my senior year of high school in the early nineties, two pressing questions weighed heavily on most students’ minds: Am I going to go to prom? And if so, what should I wear? At that time, I literally had only one fancy dress—for Easter brunch and other such holidays—but that dress wouldn’t have afforded me second looks from anyone, except perhaps a textile historian. Buying a dress for prom didn’t even cross my mind: Why buy a dress that would be worn once? I chatted with my friends (literally “chatted,” as this was the preinstant-messaging era) and asked if anyone had a dress I could borrow. My volleyball teammate volunteered a black, form-fitting sequin dress that flattered my adolescent non-curves. I bought some black heels at Marshalls, but since I sprained my ankle at track practice, I happily brought Teva sandals and an ankle brace, so I could dance with minimal pain. The night came and went, but I have a picture to prove it happened. I looked good in that dress. I felt beautiful. On prom night, teenage girls want to feel especially beautiful, encapsulated in magic as we pass through the balloon archway and into the “ballroom” accompanied by our handsome date (but not so handsome as to steal our fire). Love it or hate it, prom is an adolescent rite of passage in American culture, but even after the prom bid has been purchased, there is a high price to pay to achieve the prom “fairytale effect” as dictated by the media. From designer dresses and shoes to accessories, flowers, hair and makeup, and photos featuring fantasy backdrops—one girl’s prom night could feed a small third-world village for a week. Peer pressure is on to “have it all,” but what’s a girl to do when her pockets are empty and the price tags are high? For many teenagers and their families, especially given the current economic climate, finances make preparing for and attending formal dances a challenge. This is where The Bella Project flutters in, bearing stunning dresses, shoes, and accessories to make prom wishes come true. The Bella Project is a nonprofit organization that “promotes self-
by Ali Stewart-Ito
confidence, individual beauty and diversity by providing new and virtually new prom dresses and accessories free of charge to underprivileged high school women in Hawai‘i” (www.thebellaprojecthawaii.org/about-us. html). With the help of volunteers, donors, and local corporate partners, prom essentials are gathered throughout the year to prepare for the annual dress giveaway. This year, the event took place on March 13 at the Honolulu Design Center, just in time for all of the major spring dances. I volunteered at the event and was assigned the role of “personal shopper,” an ironic assignment considering shopping is the bane of my existence. I was, however, willing to put my disdain aside in an effort to help girls find the dress that would make them feel beautiful. Over three hundred dresses and select shoes and accessories graced the mock boutique, ready to be whisked away within the four-hour allotted “shopping” time slot. Several volunteers showed up to assist with everything from checkin to makeup and accessories consultation, and, lest I forget, serving as personal shoppers. “Kylee, this is Ali, and she will be your personal shopper today,” says the official greeter, making a note on her clipboard. We smile, exchange awkward greetings, and set out on our mission without a moment’s hesitation. We sweep our hands across the colors and fabrics as we move to the rack displaying her size. “Oooh, how about this one?” Within five minutes, I have three dresses draped over my forearm, and we head back to the makeshift dressing room. The first one she tries is an emerald green and it fits well aside from the four inches of fabric dragging on the floor. “Nothing five-inch stiletto heels can’t fix, right?” I say. We both laugh, and then I hand her option two: a pink, floor-length halter dress. After she wiggles into her new skin, she checks her reflection from all angles as I nod approvingly. There’s no need to even try on the third dress still draped over my arm—the pink dress makes her glow. I carry the chosen dress for her as we examine the shoes and accessories. None quite complete the ensemble, but she is confident she can borrow the necessary accessories from her mom. She checks out and Hawaii Women’s Journal | 27
skips away, satisfied. Finding the “right” dress in one go is no easy task. I got lucky with Kylee. Over the course of the morning, I shopped with five more girls who ultimately left empty-handed. Though in sheer numbers, my success as a personal shopper fell short, the look of excitement on Kylee’s face when she twirled to meet her reflection was more than enough validation. A month later, I followed up with Kylee via e-mail. She had attended her prom, and it surpassed her expectations. She arrived in a limo, passed through the balloon archway, and walked the red carpet. Kylee wrote me to say: “In my dress, I felt amazing. People were telling me my dress looked beautiful on me and my hair was pretty. I think a person’s dress should be everything they want because it just makes their night a whole lot better.” In high school, prom is a Big Deal, a night filled with desires and high expectations. As adults, we have a broader perspective and can see that there are clearly larger issues to worry about, such as genocide or the inevitable destruction of our planet, but for high school girls during prom season, ensuring the “perfect night” is a paramount concern. As much as we may want a prom revolution—for overpriced formal dresses and popularity contests to be things of the past—for now, The Bella Project exists to offer some relief. What The Bella Project offers is huge in the life of a teenage girl: the opportunity to erase financial obstacles and class divisions for one night to help each young woman feel beautiful in the skin she’s in. Nonprofits exist to serve a need that is absent in a given community. Be it to provide clean water to a rural community in Cambodia or a prom dress to underprivileged young women in Hawai‘i, an impact is clearly felt in the lives of those served. The young women who attended The Bella Project’s annual event walked away with more than a dress: they were allowed to enjoy a monumental high school event that will be forever etched into their adolescent memories. v Get Involved: www.thebellaprojecthawaii.org email: email@example.com
ou know it’s a bad idea, but the school where you teach needs the cash. Money is the number-one priority in private school. So for the annual scholarship benefit auction, you and your colleague offer a parent’s babysitting dream: you’ll chaperone a sleepover in the classroom. After drinking daiquiris all evening, four mothers pool their resources and buy the sleepover for $800. The following week, they drop off the boys, with snacks and sleeping bags, for what the kids hope will be an off-the-wall Friday night. After board games, computer time, and jokes verging on the inappropriate, you make your way to the gym and ask a member of the maintenance staff to unlock the storage closet, and the boys begin to play with huge bouncy balls and hula hoops. A game of basketball starts up. The boys challenge you to shoot. It goes in, thanks to your experience as a Junior Varsity basketball coach. Your stuff—bags, snacks, toys, camera—leans against the wall. Boys periodically run to their backpacks to grab fistfuls of Cheetos. The game gets messy, giggly. You’re sweating. It’s time to bring the group upstairs for ghost stories. You gather your things. But your purse—your big red purse—is missing. Maybe you left it in the classroom? You retrace your steps, leaving the kids with your colleague. The only other people in the building are the maintenance staffers. You ask the one who opened the storage room for help. “Did someone come in? Was there a meeting tonight?” The school is connected through a hallway to a church. “Was there an event at the church?” “No,” he says, he saw nothing. Defeated, you start back upstairs. But you are bugged. Jittery. You turn around and find the maintenance staffer again. “Are you sure you didn’t see anything?” “Look, I told you, nothing.”
and Red maintenance locker room. He is there, as is his supervisor, a woman. She is standing against the back wall. You stand in the doorway, the man now caught between you and his boss. “You took it,” you tell him. “Give it back.” You are a teacher and you are convinced that this maintenance man, who works for the same school you do, has stolen your purse while you were playing basketball with children whose parents bought an expensive play date to benefit the school’s scholarship fund. Everything seems fucked up, but you are single-minded. You want your purse back. The woman says, “You’re wrong.” Her eyes are wet. Or yours are, and hers look wet. “How dare you,” she says. The man is silent. “Open your locker,” you tell him. He looks from you to his boss and back to you. You try to fill up the doorway. “Open it.” The man brushes his fingertips against the locker door. He fiddles with the padlock. It clicks open. He unlatches the metal door and it swings out. Your big red purse is in the locker. You are relieved but also devastated. You slap him. Or his boss slaps him. Either way he gets slapped. You grab your purse and run up the stairs. You don’t cry because you don’t want the boys to see that anything’s wrong. You call the headmaster at home, he calls the cops, and within thirty minutes the man is arrested, fired, and gone. You see the maintenance supervisor at lunch on Monday. Your eyes meet, but she looks away quickly, and you are left to wonder if you saw a hint of how dare you still lingering in hers. v
This man has called you “Beautiful” since the start of the school year. You’ve asked him to call you by your name, but he continues to use his nickname for you, even when your students are in the room. It’s been awkward for months. Now he won’t even look at you. He looks at the floor. You return to your classroom. Over the heads of the boys (who are now composing Mad Libs), you mouth to your colleague, “I’ll be back.” Then you look for the man again. You go to the basement, to the Hawaii Women’s Journal | 28
Suzanne Farrell Smith
How to Sell Your Body Parts T
hings I would do for $20,000:
• Chew .001 ounces of SPAM for 10 seconds and then spit it out and gargle with bleach. • (Hi, I’m vegan.) • Shave my head for a year, even though I have hacne (head acne). • Murder something small. • Define “something small” for the Managing Editor of this journal, who insists it needs to be defined. • Vajazzle myself in a public performance art piece. • Donate the entire $20K earned from public vajazzling to build an orphanage in Sri Lanka because I would never exploit my body unless it was to help the exploited. (Don’t give me that look, feminists.)
hings I have done for upwards of $10,000: • Sell my eggs.
While I don’t have a literary agent, an editorial assistant, or even a sycophantic friend, I do have an egg agent who is responsible for negotiating a decent sale of the most profitable commodity of my twenties—my genes, prepackaged in follicular bundles. By acquiring my eggs, future parents hope they’ll end up with a me-like child: a Harvard graduate; Chinese and Caucasian; overachieving but existentially unsettled; athletic body type; passion for words; a history of social service and teaching professions; prefers the outdoors to the indoors; an introverted adventurer who loves travel; proficientish in music, artistic endeavors, and vegan baking. Thanks to egg donation, I no longer have to wonder, on the tops of isolated mountains, Buddhist temples, or in line at Target how much am I worth? I know exactly how much. My egg agent works for an agency that specializes in Ivy League egg donors. We’ll call her Trixie, because no one in real life has that name. Trixie has been a surrogate, and many women I met who work in various fertility centers have been surrogates or donors themselves. It’s not just a day job—they are passionate about helping families who can’t have babies, passionate enough to lend their bodies and give from their bodies. There is nothing black market about the fertility
centers (or Trixie)—these doctors have the swankiest medical spaces my naked patient ass has ever seen. One reproductive endocrinologist said they have the reputation of being reproduction cowboys, experimenting on the wild, wild frontiers of baby making. What used to be “gifts from [insert deity of choice here]” are now gifts from doctors, nurses, embryologists, Gestational Carrier X, and Donor 6259. It used to take a village to raise a child, now it takes a village to create one.
Steps to Baby for the Rich and Infertile and/or Gay Male Couple:
1. Family (“Intended Parents”) who can’t have a baby chooses to compensate another woman for her ovum. 2. Ovum-Donor woman’s cycle is synchronized with recipient’s cycle. If the Intended Parents will not be carrying the child, family may rent-a-womb from a third woman (“Gestational Carrier”). Meanwhile, the donor injects herself with hormones for a few weeks. 3. Fertility specialists retrieve Donor’s eggs. Donor is sedated during retrieval, which is a short procedure with minimal recovery time. Donor receives check and Vicodin, sometimes placed together next to clinic bed in a gift bag. Donor wishes she were compensated similarly for corporate years spent selling her soul to the man. 4. A few hours post-procedure, donor eggs meet either donor sperm or father’s sperm in a romantic five-star petri dish. Embryologists develop the burgeoning new life in a laboratory. 5. A few days later, fertilized embryos are put into either the Gestational Carrier or the recipient mother. (“Put into her” is official in vitro medical terminology.) 6. Provided embryo transfer is successful—recipient mother or Gestational Carrier is pregnant! 7. Congratulations! Family who had financial means to purchase said baby-making services gets a baby. It’s the miracle of life, sort of. One reason the egg-donation market is lucrative for young, interested donors is because women are waiting until later in life to have children. Women are focusing on their careers before creating a family—and while we have made gains toward societal equality, apparently biology is still doing its
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...and Still Respect Yourself in the Morning best to keep the woman down, making it increasingly difficult and risky for her to have children after the age of 35: Biological Clock: You can’t have it all. Woman: For $50K and a prayer, I can. Also, despite the lack of state-recognized equal rights, with the help of tolerant (and business-minded) fertility clinics, same-sex couples are also using the egg-donor and gestational-carrier market. Gay men are the demographic I am most interested in offering my body parts to, as they are usually the least interested in my body parts. While we are never a match made in biological reality, together, we create a family. A fabulous, fabulous family. Not including the matches made in Weird and usage of multiple people’s parts to create one new life, there are all sorts of questionable practices surrounding the egg-donation business. Intended Parents who are willing to pay up to $50,000 to compensate a donor for her eggs can purchase “higher-quality” eggs of their choosing. What’s considered “higher-quality”? I am, duh. “Higher-quality” eggs come from donors with: Ivy League educations and/or higher educations, high SAT scores, and success in their careers. As the website from my agency states: “Our focus is on providing the healthiest, the most talented and most educated egg donors for our intended parents. Our egg donors are exceptionally talented women who are also highly intelligent, as measured by high scholastic achievement/ outstanding scores on standardized college and graduate-school entrance exams and tests. Each donor is required to provide transcripts and official test results, such as SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, and GMAT.” The American Society of Reproductive Medicine frowns upon egg donors receiving more than $10,000 as compensation, but the market determines value, not a faceless/frowning medical group. My agent told me a typical family using her agency spends over $100,000 for all related fees. That seems like an outrageous amount until you do the addition of compensating an egg donor and often a gestational carrier, covering all
by Jennifer Meleana Hee photos by Ryan Matsumoto
medical expenses for said donor and gestational carrier, and paying traveling, hotel, food per diem, lawyers, psychologists, and agency fees. It’s an incredible process for an insane price. And it’s fucking weird. For my first donation, I responded to a recruiting ad on the back of a local independent paper in Seattle, one of those little ads that no nondesperate person who didn’t need medical marijuana, a new herpes drug via clinical trials, or cash for eggs would ever respond to. Much to my amazement as a first-time donor, the clinic was part of an uber-modern hospital, and every woman from the clinic coordinator to nurse practitioner were incredibly professional, kind, and not likely to discreetly snatch a kidney along with my eggs. I looked forward to my visits, which is a little creepy, since our conversations usually took place while I was in some form of splayed-legged undress. It unexpectedly warmed and fuzzied my moral insides to help a stranger-family and provided me with cash to move home. However, even the women working at the clinic—which didn’t specialize in “Ivy League Eggs” and compensated every donor the same amount—told me I should get an agent for future donations because I was worth more than other people. I knew it! Before one can even start the medical process of donating, there’s a lot to go through. It’s like applying for a job, only you don’t get a job—you get your eggs sucked out of your body via your vaginal wall. You fill out preliminary-screening questionnaires for days and days, brimming with personal questions about your entire life history: everything from that cigarette you smoked when you were 16 to that crack pipe you hit when you were 22, how many people you’ve slept with “recently,” and the circumstances surrounding your grandmother’s miscarriage. And exactly how developmentally disabled is Uncle Kimo? Respectable agencies and clinics will also have you undergo review with a genetic counselor and evaluation by a psychologist. You’ll also have a physical, complete with full blood work-ups, and you’ll have to fill out “All about the Donor” information for an online profile. Intended Parents might choose you because their favorite book is your favorite book (One Hundred Years of Solitude), because you are prone to world saving, because you are sporty, vegetarian, and Turkey is their favorite country too! Intended Parents want to find a connection where there is none. It’s your
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DNA, your nonconfrontational personality, your hapa brown eyes that they’re buying into their family line, and most likely, they’ll never meet you. It’s like online dating, except you have to list your STDs. Once all your paperwork clears, and Intended Parents choose you, you settle on a compensation amount and IVF center somewhere in the United States. Menstrual cycles are aligned faster than you can say “transvaginal ultrasound,” and the donation process begins. Everyone’s medications are slightly different, but during Donation Month—or, as I like to call it, “DoMo”—the job starts out pretty easy. I wake up and inject a synthetic hormone called Lupron into my abdomen. Lupron’s the gateway hormone, which stops my ovaries from functioning. Scary? Yes. Profitable? You betcha. After ten days on Lupron, the blood draws begin. Every few days, my blood is drawn and estradiol level checked until it is low enough to start taking the stimulation hormones. Throughout the entire egg-donation process, I’ll have had my blood drawn at least ten times, and I hate blood draws more than I hate being honest with myself. In a normal menstrual cycle, a woman’s ovaries develop one follicle and mature egg. During DoMo, my count was thirty. (Thirty!) I inject myself with the same hormones a woman who is having trouble conceiving would take. For me—as uberfertile as I already am—it causes the IVF doctor to say “HOLY GOD” every time he takes his condomcovered wand into vagina town for an ultrasound. Each hypersized follicle will be between 13 to 20 millimeters. How big is one follicle normally? 100 to 200 micrometers. Now I’m no math nerd, but even I get that that is really small. Like pollen particulates or my ambitions. I also take antibiotics and a low-dose steriod. Don’t ask me why—I’m a cynic, not a doctor. I imagine antibiotics help anti possible infections one could incur during the egg retrieval, and I imagine the steroids give you the strength to kick the ass of any manfriend who may try to get intimate during your “celibacy month” even though you’ve been wearing a magazine cutout Octomom mask as a reminder to never have sex for the rest of your life. Three injections and three pills a day—a pretty intense regimen considering I won’t eat white food because it has no nutritional personality. (Except tofu, obviously.) If I were a heroin user or a meat eater, it would probably be easier to abuse my body, but I keep my eye on the money, as my slowly bloating abdomen becomes dotted with small bruises. “This is better than a cubicle,” I tell myself as a pep talk. I also tell myself: “It’s the journey, not the destination,” but in this case, this statement is bullshit.
DoMo is long—it feels like it lasts longer than a month. It feels more like a month and a few days. I am always tired, which I blame on the fact that I can’t have caffeine. Or cocaine. There are few experiences in life I treasure as much as reviewing my contract with a lawyer, where one of the clauses explicitly states I cannot take it up the butt, and if I do take it up the butt, I can be sued. Indeed, while my ovaries are being stimulated, there’s an extensive list of Do Nots: Do not have sex. Do not have oral sex. Do not have anal sex. Do not use illegal drugs. Do not have sex with a man who’s used heroin and had relations with a Mad Cow (without protection). Do not go swimming. Do not jump on trampolines. Whatever you are thinking—do not do that. Sometimes I get confused, because the list doesn’t say no to doing it Mormon-style or no watching New Moon while naked inside a wolf suit. So I do those things, but they’re not the same as swimming and swallowing, if you know what I mean. Point is, the things that hold me together—rock climbing, postclimbing Coronas, an evening jog, a morning joe—I trade all of it to shoot up with more of the hormones that make me crazy in low doses. I don’t drink milk, even if it is hormone and antibiotic free, but for a quick buck I’ll skip the middle cow and go straight for the drugs. Fortunately, during DoMo I am usually too tired to be Claire-onLost insane; instead, I watch Dancer in the Dark and cry my soul out. Throughout the entire process, while one’s ovaries are intentionally overstimulated, the greatest known risk is Ovarian Hyperstimulation. Apparently, I was at high risk for overstimulation—something about the combination of my small size, uberawesome fertility, and the script of my life being a streaming FAIL blog. Ovarian Hyperstimulation could result in extreme bloating, severe abdominal pain, and rare but possible death. Also, there are no long-term studies of the effects of stimulation hormones, but much like all excessive things—from too much red meat to licking too much napalm—exposing your body to high doses of hormones could result in cancer. One Reproductive Endocrinologist spent an hour explaining all the risks in gory detail—from my abdomen filling with blood to losing an ovary, to being anesthetized only to never wake up and spending the rest of my life in a coma. In the last scenario, I imagine lying there, comatose, and my brain actually develops into the most ubergenius brain ever, such that I actually find a cure for cancer, but then I’m in a coma so I can’t ever tell anyone.
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ere are a few examples from a “Potential Risks of Ovum Donation” form I signed, agreeing that I accept such risks: Potential risks to ovum donor from ovum donation process: • Infection, requiring hospitalization or surgery or loss of fertility. • Bleeding, requiring hospitalization or surgery or loss of fertility. • Ovarian torsion, requiring surgery and possible loss of fertility. • Ovarian follicle rupture, requiring hospitalization or surgery and possible loss of fertility. • Potential, but as yet unknown, increased risks of ovarian or other types of cancer. Because I am already here, in existence, I am given the choice to sign this form, to accept the risks associated with egg donation. We bring babies into the world, without giving their little nonexistent, nonthinking, non-pain-experiencing selves the option of accepting the risks of living—risks much scarier than ovarian torsion. So: the risks of egg donation don’t feel any greater than the risk I feel every day by existing. My friend’s father dies “suddenly” within two months after being diagnosed with cancer— when the etymology was exposure to asbestos 50 years ago. My sister’s 26-year-old girlfriend slips in a river while hiking in Costa Rica and dies. Planes intentionally hit towers and we keep going. Tsunami wipe out cities and we keep going. Immediate friends and family have their worlds dismantled by suicide. Some of the most amazing girls I spent a month with in Sri Lanka are sexually assaulted by the school principal. Some of the most beautiful Roma (gypsy) girls I met in Bulgaria will never be seen as anything but stupid, dirty, and less than human in the eyes of society. I’m barely scratching the surface; we keep going. Life is like a rollercoaster, a fucking scary rollercoaster with chopsticks for safety bars and a sociopath on the speed controls. I take one glance at the news and the only mantra I have is: What the hell. What the hell. What the hell. Perhaps you bring a child into the world and call it hope. Perhaps you toss a drowning person in an ocean full of sharks a life jacket and call it hope. Perhaps you hand someone hyperaware of her own hyperawareness (me) some organic herbal Xanax and call it hope. All I know is: how strong the urge must be to have children, stronger than level orange terror alerts, stronger than the existence of the word genocide, stronger than natural disasters, disease, and the germs my best friend tries to kill as she disinfects everything with which her baby might come in contact. Sorry, honey, you can’t Purell the world. Besides the minor discomforts of blood draws and
injections and a month of Sybil-like behavior, egg donation and Jenn Hee were meant to be. I’m the friend who balks at the existence of baby showers because I don’t understand what we’re celebrating, and I can never find a Congratulations, your child might get raped one day! card. I’m 30—my desktop is cluttered with icons from downloaded photos of my friends’ babies. Here’s the zygotic sonogram! Negative five months! One month! Four! Eight! 48 months! Wow! Can you believe it’s been 48 months already? I can’t tell which baby/embryo belongs to whom, and I’m tempted to e-mail back photos of a dead rat with the message, Can you believe it’s been 48 months already? But I don’t, because I don’t have a photo of a dead rat. I am a bad person. The inner innerness of my head is dark and lonely. If you are my friend, I will hold your baby and say cute baby, but inside I feel sad, and I do not judge you at all, nor do I feel superior—because you can’t help wanting children with as much biological voracity as I do not want children, even though once they are here, I love them. I loved the kids whose happiness glowed through their malnourished yellow eyes in Sri Lanka. I love my six-year-old nephew, who cries when he surpriseattack kicks me in the crotch. He is full of small grievings; he doesn’t mean to hurt. It’s not the child’s fault, but we yell at them anyway, try to make sure they know everything they cannot do. Welcome to life, the answer is no. I have a few offspring in the world, who have perhaps already learned their bodies can break, who’ll one day learn that love can fill and empty you faster than panic, who will feel the tight grasp of happiness and sadness arm-wrestling in their hearts, the tension a reminder that every day is a game we can never win, not for long. So, yes: I think having kids is wrong, but selling my eggs so that someone else can have kids and I can afford to go travel and hang out with orphans in the third world is my own kind of selfish survival. I’m a pacifist who happens to be particularly gifted at constructing weapons, a factory farmer who doesn’t eat meat. We don’t always do the things that make us proud; we lock the doors of our dissonance so we can sleep at night. I realize it’s not “sustainable” to stop having babies, but the sustainability of our kind is the least of my concerns.
Jennifer Meleana Hee
ist of my concerns:
1. If I leave my laptop at the table to use the bathroom while in Starbucks, will someone steal it? 2. Hungryhungryhungry. 3. Can one die of sleep deprivation? 4. But I really have to urinate. 5. The survival of mankind for the next googleplex infinity years.
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I want my glass to be half full with babies, extra-cute ones, with rainbows coming out of their heads. With one hand I make the international stop-having-babies gesture, but I’m not an activist, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. I’m just trying to understand—to understand everyone else who doesn’t look at a baby and immediately think, how cruel. With the other hand I accept thousands of dollars and do the exact thing that goes against what I believe. I wish I had a baby bump so that I could turn sideways and fit into the Escher drawing of my breeder friends. It is isolating, there is so much white space around the puzzle piece of my head. I’ve ended relationships because I can’t date a man who wants to have a child—we just don’t see sperm to ovum. I feel the strain of my own cognitive dissonance: my greatest guilt is knowing because of me, my selfish need for fast cash in order to escape, to avoid cubicles, to avoid committing to life—there is someone who will have to spend a lifetime avoiding pain. In the end, what I learned from donating my eggs is how little I know my own body. The monitoring of hormone levels,
counting and measuring of follicles, and gross manipulation of your reproductive system really gets you in touch with your inner innerness. My choices are surreal. I could: (a) take these little gobs and make a little me, (b) sell these little gobs and a stranger can make a little me, or (c) have my tubes tied, saving these little gobs from ever becoming a living thing that could know suffering. The last thought in my head during the egg retrieval, before the prick of the IV sends me into a peaceful nowhere, is always: sorry, baby. v
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photo by Rita Coury www.ritacouryphotography.com
lungs filled and emptied. Look left and find time stopped. Nothing happens here, we are safe in our flesh webbed cave. Find him harmless in this anxious womb nothing happens here. No slivered skins No abraded elbows or knees No twisted ligaments No scarred tendons No fractures No hiccupped breaths after tremor sobs. Find him safe in my anxious womb, not weeping. Not one thing happens. Inoculated numb, we are padded. No risk No first times No last times No middles No hiccupped sobs after laughter. Find him silent, or rupture this trunk, splinter the frame jagged this caesarean wound, Yes! He breathes messy asymmetrical gasps. He is scar wrapped. He is beautiful. v Hawaii Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Journal | 34
In here, somewhere, between rib spaces, intercostal webs stretched over these
The Risk It Takes to Blossom
on’t try to get pregnant. You just turned twenty-nine, you’re broke, and you’re in the middle of a MFA program in creative writing. No matter how many friends become pregnant, no matter how much you ache when you hold their children, don’t get pregnant. But get a little sloppy with the “safe sex” practices. You’re off the pill because you want to get pregnant next year and you want all the hormones and chemicals out before your body turns into an all-organic hothouse. Besides, a condom on the bedside table during the sex act? Totally works. Miss your period. Pee your way through the EPT three-test box. Pretend you’re misreading all those lines in the two little windows. Go to your gyno for good measure—peeing on a test in an office with white lab coats will make it official. The white coats have advanced degrees that make them able to read pee. And to deal with any number of reactions when they say “You’re pregnant.” So. Be pregnant. Tell no one. If you tell no one, nothing will change. Wrap yourself around your secret, as tight as unbloomed petals. Start prenatal vitamins and rush delivery of What to Expect When You’re Expecting but also have that one glass of wine at dinner with that friend because otherwise she’ll look at you weird. Agonize over whether to have this baby. Because you’re not Catholic or pro-life or convinced of some All-Seeing Eye. Baby is not judging you—or, at least, probably not. See a doctor. See an ultrasound. See… actually nothing because at this stage, the gestational sac and the white bit where the doctor is outlining an embryo looks like a Magic-8 ball with the message obscured. It is decidedly so. Reply hazy, try again. Outlook not so good. But in the grey there is a baby, and what begins now is the alchemy of keeping it there. There are things to learn. Get serious. Take notes. Limit your caffeine consumption. Cut out herbal tea, raw fish, soft cheese, and all alcohol. Eat more vegetables. Save money. Read up on pregnancy, and diet, and parenting, and
banking umbilical cords, and college-education savings funds. Get scared. How will you afford anything? How will you nurture baby into a creative spirit, an adventurous eater, a compassionate soul, but also instill a sense of initiative? How will you give them a moral compass, the choice of religion when you’re an apathetic agnostic, and an open mind? How can you fool yourself into believing you can protect a baby, considering the world into which you will deliver, considering you can’t even protect yourself? How will you discipline with a loving heart, not end up a resigned parent to one of those screaming toddlers on the plane that other passengers itch to spank? And what of the very real concern about what kind of parent you will be—how will you weave together a strong cord of love that doesn’t feel like a leash, or an umbilical cord left uncut? How will you do all of this and still do the things you want to do? How much will this change you, your partner, your relationship with each other and with everyone else? Who won’t be judging you? And why are you thinking of all these very real concerns now when you’ve been planning to get pregnant for a while? Is it the actuality of being pregnant that makes you finally face what it means to bring a life into the world? That tiny heartbeat is a clock, and each tick takes you further from vague ideals of a someday baby and closer toward the reality of a thousand concerns, this new life you have conjured out of nowhere. But start to get a little bit excited. Make elaborate lists of names. Smile when you think of how excited the “grandparents” will be. Talk with your partner about the things you want to give your child, and the things you don’t. Feel gratitude swirl up inside you, sudden and forceful, when you think of what a wonderful father he will make. You do want to be young parents. You do want to have a baby while you’re still working from home. You have been talking about this, with increasing intensity, for the last five years. Why not now? Still. Tell no one because you want to keep baby safe. Then: tell everyone, and when you tell them, say the condom “broke” with a gentle shrug of the shoulders. Because “we weren’t trying but Hawaii Women’s Journal | 35
we welcome this miracle” sounds a hell of a lot better than “we are almost thirty and still stupidly think we are invincible—that we can cross streets without looking both ways, flash our wallets on the street and never get mugged, leave the condom in its wrapper and not end up pregnant.” Approach that fine line between a life lived impetuously and one lived fully, with the attendant heft and joy of family. Cross that street without looking both ways. Let love come to you in a million wonderful forms. Let your partner’s mother weep in joy when you tell her. Let your mother make a scene in the middle of Ross Dress-for-Less on the phone with you. Let friends embrace you with fierce tenderness and tell you what amazing parents you and your partner will be. Believe them. Let your partner pick up the dog poop because you’re more susceptible to bacteria now. Let yourself have that second serving at dinner because you’re eating for two now. Let your mother take you maternity shopping, and strap on the pillowy bump to see how the clothes will fit you in one month, and three, and six from now. Let yourself cry at slow songs, commercials with babies or puppies, and the moments in movies when the soundtrack tells you to, because you’re hormonal now. Go back to the doctor two weeks later. He is running late, but you don’t care because you’re looking at one of those Anne Geddes books—the one where babies are contorted into the curves of their own mothers. One is even back in the womb—recreated with a gauzy mesh, the baby smashed in there. It looks really uncomfortable. It’s something you’d make a sarcastic comment about, even as your heartstrings pluck, but you’re pregnant so you let these newborns play your heart like a badass guitar solo. Look up when your name is called and follow the nurse into an exam room. Finger an embryonic-development chart while you wait. Pull out your single-spaced, two-page list of questions when the doctor comes through the door and prepare to launch in. But he wants to do another ultrasound. Be excited! You didn’t think you’d get to see your baby again so soon. The lights are
by Mayumi Shimose Poe floral photo by Dave Poe still on while the doctor puts a condom and lubricant on the ultrasound wand, and he’s sticking it up in you while his wife, who is also his assistant, watch along with your partner. Which is weird. He flicks off the lights and you all look at the screen. He fishes around and fishes around. And as suddenly as switching the light back on, he breaks the news. There is no heartbeat, and the baby has stopped growing. But, he rushes to say, his machines are not the most advanced, so you really should have a second opinion. He rushes to make you an appointment at a diagnostic lab and hurries you back into your clothes and down the street. As you and your partner walk, the lubricant soaks through your panties. Every step you take is punctuated by “no heartbeat, no heartbeat.” You are not invincible after all. Get that second opinion. Your partner can’t come with you because it’s a “women’s center.” Sit in the dark, alone, unable to stop crying. When a lab technician enters the room and stupidly asks you if you know why you’re here, try really hard not to bite off her head. Yeah, you fucking know why you’re here. You have a dead baby inside you. The woman has you undress, hands you a box of tissues, and puts a trash can at your feet. As she inserts another condomed, lubricated wand, you cry and blow your nose and toss tissues. She leaves the room, then a few minutes later returns and says you’re have to go back to your doctor’s office for the results. Throw a fucking fit in the middle of the waiting room, making all thirty or so heads turn. Why the fuck can’t anybody man up around here? You know your baby is dead, so why can’t someone just fucking say so? You fucking do not want to fucking go back to your fucking doctor’s fucking office and sit in the fucking waiting room with all the other fucking women who are visibly fucking pregnant. Don’t give a fuck about the noise you’re making, or that other people might be getting bad diagnoses themselves. Give a fuck about nothing but yourself.
Your fucking fit fucking works. Your doctor gets on the phone in his office and you get on the phone in the lab’s office. You aren’t pregnant any more, he says. I know, you say. It was a silent miscarriage, he says. Baby stopped growing about a week to a week and a half ago. Come back into the office. We need to talk about the “next step.” You won’t have to wait in the waiting room. Go. Briefly weigh the options of a natural miscarriage, of the baby disengaging on its own and flushing like the heaviest of periods,
...You want to start grieving, and to keep grieving, and then to someday reach the end of grieving.
or a D&C, the surgical removal of the baby. Make the too-sudden, too-emotional decision to have the D&C. You want this over with. You have a dead baby inside you. You want it out. You want to start grieving, and to keep grieving, and then to someday reach the end of grieving. The doctor is able to schedule you for a D&C the very next day. Go home. Pack all your hopes into a small box. Put in the maternity clothes and the pregnancy guides and the baby books and the lists of names. Pack the newborn’s little bear onesie, bought on a whim, the ultrasound, and the few congratulatory cards. Name the ungendered, unliving, never-to-be-born child. Decide he is a him. Write him a letter and tell him goodbye. Put that in the box, too. Look at your little curio collection, all of it so certain, shiny with invincibility. Miscarriages happen to other people. You even did your worrying wrong. Make the saddest love. It is silent love, mostly, except you’re still crying. This is not Hawaii Women’s Journal | 36
sexy, but it’s not about getting turned on. It is about needing your partner to be the most physically close possible. It’s about the tenderness of his touch. It’s about spending one last night together as a family. Wonder if that’s fucked up. After all, one of you is dead. Don’t eat the next day. Don’t drink, either. Endure IVs being inserted and blood withdrawn. Wait for nearly seven hours in a breezy hospital gown and slip-resistant socks. Try not to cry continuously. Get drugs, sweet drugs, and then get led into surgery, and get strapped down to a table with your legs in the air, your view a tray of shiny cutting implements. Cry in earnest. Feel like you’ve been abducted by aliens and some horrific experiment is about to occur. Get administered anesthetic. Think of the Saw movies, I–VII. Cry hysterically. Then pass out. Wake up. Ask for the doctor. Ask for your partner. Ask for water. Pass out. Forget having done any of that. Wake up. Ask for the doctor. Ask for your partner. Ask for water. A male nurse tells you you’ve already talked to the doctor. Don’t you remember? You said you had important questions for him. Like when you could have sex again. The nurse smirks. You really don’t remember? Wish you could pass back out. Finally, go home. Don’t leave the house except to walk the dog and get the groceries. Don’t speak to anyone. Have your partner break the news to your families, even though you know he is hurting, too, in his quieter, more understated way. His mother cries— hate her reaction. Your mother doesn’t cry— hate her reaction. Swathed in a blanket, you curl on the couch next to him in what else but the fetal position. Place the blame. How could you fail? Starving women in Africa manage this. So do prostitutes who then pass on HIV to their children. Careless teenaged girls who don’t want babies do it without even trying. Be angry with your body, as if it was not your body. You had one job for the last nine weeks: to keep the bell jar over the seedling. Instead, you shattered
the glass. It was because you weren’t sure you’d wanted him. It was because the week you conceived you went to hear that Exotica jazz band and had way too many tiki cocktails. It was because you didn’t start prenatal vitamins early enough. It was because you walked too much, because you lifted that one kind-of-heavy grocery bag, because you didn’t get enough sleep. It was that fight with your mother—remember, right afterward, the air high and tight in your chest, being unable to breathe. It was your husband’s sperm. It was your egg. It was the fuckedup combination of both. It was the love, too much love, and the pride, too much of that, too, the wanting it too badly, the celebrating it too loudly. It is all your fault. Hate yourself. It is everyone else’s fault. Hate the world. Hate the baby. Who is he to knock at the door but leave once you’re finally ready to open it? Send out e-mails telling everyone to leave you alone. Let the love come to you, virtually, florally, epistolarily. Ignore everything; box all of it up, too. Stay home and pull tight the covers of the world around you, making sure nothing gets in. Cry until you have no moisture left in your entire body. Be unpregnant. Watch the magic trick of it: the Thanksgiving table set, flickering light cast from spindly golden candlesticks, the goblets of ruby wine, the creamy linen napkins and tablecloth, china bone white and laced with gold, all five pieces of the silverware but these plated, too, in gold. The turkey glistens as it waits to be carved. And then the tablecloth whisked out from under the load. The light still gleaming, the glasses retaining each drop, each last thing seemingly undisturbed. You have been given back your same life, but you are not the same person. Slowly reenter the world not a mother. Were you ever a mother? You were one when sperm met egg, at least this is what your body would say. Or perhaps you were one when the first test came back positive, or when the last did. But you know when it began for you. It was when you traded in your wine glass for those awful, fishy prenatal vitamins. It was when you began dreaming and worrying. It was when you vowed to care as much for this Other as for your Self. It was when you took a life into your own hands. Drink and dance and eat sushi and fly in airplanes whenever you feel like it. Wear short skirts and dresses that cling to your skinny self. Take no vitamins and have an entire pot of coffee every day. Forgive your friends’ children for living when your child
did not and hold them close. Learn to love them again. Let seven months pass before you realize the date. Before you realize that you’re so unpregnant that by now you’d have an unbaby. See now the arc you’ve travelled. Unpack your emotions along with the boxedup condolences, the goodbye letter, the ultrasound, the maternity clothes. Here is the shock, the keening, the rage, the withdrawl into an unquiet mind. Here is the surprise and horrification over your resilience. You are guilty of nothing but being okay. Here are all the fears about what might go wrong, and did go wrong, and could go wrong in the future. Here are the same unanswerable questions. But dig deeper, because here, too, is the hope. The readiness to risk going through everything again. You can no longer remain tight in a bud. You are thirty, still broke, and done with your MFA. You’re an editor and a writer. You are a daughter, a niece, a wife, and a friend. But what you want to be most is a mother. v
Acknowledgments I could not have written this essay without Jennifer Hee. I also thank Suzanne Farrell Smith and Caitlin Leffel for two years of teaching me how to write creative nonfiction through their own beautiful examples. Lastly, I am grateful to Dave for allowing me to share this story.
Mayumi Shimose Poe
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 37
Art by Alice Mizrachi www.am-files.com Hawaii Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Journal | 38
A Second Look at Providence by Caitlin Leffel “Mark my words,
the truth will come out.” I read this in an etiquette column three days after I returned from Providence. A pregnant woman wrote asking if it was all right to lie about how long it took her to conceive to spare a friend’s feelings. The columnist asked the woman if she was prepared to lie for the rest of her life, and when I read that, I thought of Providence. Every lie is a lot of work. Concealment requires upkeep. Perpetual care. The trip from New York to Providence on Amtrak took seven hours. That’s not a lie. Our train left Penn Station on time but came to a stop not long after, just outside Manhattan. I heard passengers phone people at their destinations and call where we were stopped “Astoria,” but I’m not sure if that’s really where we were or if it was a guess one person made that spread virally to the rest of the passengers in my car. There were reeds growing around the track, and through them I could see the New York skyline. We stayed in that spot for more than an hour before the conductor made an announcement that our train’s engine had broken and we were waiting for a rescue train to tow us back to the city, where the engine could be replaced. When we arrived at Penn Station two hours later, I leaned across the aisle to look at my husband. It was Saturday of Columbus Day weekend—a popular time for Amtrak, the conductor told us—and we hadn’t been able to get seats next to each other. The trip to Providence was for his twentieth college reunion, but I had also wanted to go; now I was afraid that since we were back where we started after two hours on the train, he might give up on the trip altogether. But Alex didn’t say anything about getting off. The kid
sitting beside me left the train, and Alex moved into my row. Well into the third hour of the trip, the train doors opened at the first stop, in New Rochelle. But they didn’t close. After an hour of waiting, EMTs got on and took a woman from our car off the train on a stretcher. More phone calls were made, and I heard people say that someone on the train had a seizure, but again, I wasn’t sure if this was the truth. The conductor never made an announcement about this delay. Maybe he was worried about mutiny. Things got better after that. The route followed the Connecticut coastline, and it was a sunny day. The trees were colored in all their different ways from springy greens to autumn’s golds, oranges, and browns. The leaves seemed more like offspring than appendage in their individuality—each tree’s own rainbow tribe—and with the sea in the background, I felt overwhelmed by the variety in this landscape. Had I ever seen beach and foliage so close together before? “I didn’t realize how close Providence is to the coast,” I said to Alex, eager for the honesty. I had been telling him little lies about Providence all week long, and now the pile was so high that it was hard for me to say anything about it that was true. When we finally arrived, it was almost four. I asked Alex whether we should walk or take a cab because I didn’t know how far the station was from the campus. This, too, was the truth. I started lying again when we got to Benefit Street. The Rhode Island School of Design doesn’t really have a campus; its buildings are scattered around several streets in the middle of Providence, though they are separated Hawaii Women’s Journal | 39
from the rest the city by being on a hill. Alex’s friends met us on the steps in front of the student coffee shop. When they asked how we were doing after our crazy trip, I said, “I’m just glad to be here. I’ve never been to Providence before!” On our walk from the train station, we passed a group of four students on a walkway over a canal. One boy wore a striped maillot, like the kind you see pictures of Picasso wearing in Antibes; one wore a flannel shirt; and one wore skinny jeans and a tight-fitting cardigan over a neon yellow t-shirt. The girl was dressed in Goth. I went to a preppy college in Massachusetts where everyone wore North Face fleeces and corduroys from J. Crew. The fact that this site registered as unfamiliar was a relief. I didn’t remember the canal. The kids seemed unusual. I felt as if I never been here at all, and this made everything I’d said before feel closer to the truth. RISD was founded in Providence in 1877 with the objective of providing instruction in disciplines of art so graduates could apply these principles to trade and manufacturing. Brown University, which was founded as the College of Rhode Island in 1764, moved from Warren, Rhode Island, to Providence in 1770. Both schools are located above Providence’s metropolitan area on College Hill. The respective admissions materials say the schools are next door to one another, but it’s more accurate to say they overlap. The schools’ logos mingle with each other around the neighborhood on buildings and signs; and students at both schools are permitted to register for classes at the other. In 2007, Brown and RISD announced the creation of a joint degree program, through which
photo courtesy of Caitlin Leffel
students receive degrees from both schools in two complimentary majors of their choosing. In 1997, when I was 16, I took a tour of Brown with my father, during spring vacation of my junior year of high school. The only thing that I remember about being there was that I saw a Ben & Jerry’s on the main street. “Is it a requirement for all college towns in New England to have a Ben & Jerry’s?” I joked. There is still a Ben & Jerry’s on College Hill, and when Alex and I walked by it on Sunday morning on the way to the RISD art museum, I was about to tell him that story but then remembered I couldn’t. I don’t know why I lied, but I know how it happened. The best way to explain it, which still isn’t quite true, is that the lie felt close enough to what was real. Alex and I work on weekends. We don’t have a car. We live in a small apartment. Going away with him for a day and a half was a luxury, and it seemed like something about the trip would not have been as good if I’d
been to Providence before. Nothing had happened my first time in Providence that left any mark on my life, so it seemed like I easily could not have been there at all. The distance between the truth and the lie was so short that I slipped across it, and once there, the journey seemed harmless. At the RISD art museum, Alex pulled me into a room off the main exhibition hall to look at an installation called “Connected: Eject before disconnecting.” “I love this,” he said, and I did too. A group of electronic collages hung from the ceiling, each one made of plastic bags, water bottles, colored lights, computer pieces, and little video screens. It was amazing, but now, just four days later, I can’t remember how the pieces fit together, or what I liked about it, and I feel like I need to make a rule about Providence that if I forget something about it, it didn’t really happen. If I make that rule, what I said wouldn’t be a lie and someday I could tell Alex what I’d said about the Ben & Hawaii Women’s Journal | 40
Jerry’s and feel that I’d been honest. If I could mark all the words I’ve ever said to my husband, I’d see that so many haven’t been the truth. I read about a British study that found the average person lies four times a day. The most common lie? “I’m fine.” I’ve told Alex that I’m fine so many times when I could have said something else, and now the deception between us seems insurmountable and inexcusable. I want to warn the pregnant woman about the strange burden of altruism she will take on with her lie. Every day, I feel Providence sag a little more. It’s a nuisance but too benign to let the truth out. Still, it doesn’t ache all the time. In fact, I often don’t feel it all. So it’s fine—whatever that means. v
WEB EXCLUSIVE: THE BACKSTORY Caitlin gives us another glance at Providence www.hawaiiwomensjournal.com
[the balancing act]
he first time I met Gladys, I was looking for a pair of shoes for my mother’s funeral. I had ventured into Pzazz, my favorite Honolulu consignment store as a break from the exhaustive planning and cleaning and phone calls that ensued after my mother’s passing. I had already procured a tasteful black dress, cap sleeved and full skirted, similar to one that my mother would have worn in her heyday of the early sixties, and now I needed shoes to match. As I browsed the racks, Gladys floated out from the back room. She was resplendent in a black turtleneck and fur coat—in the middle of a Honolulu spring. Her sophisticated bob gleamed a shocking bright purple. “Can I help you with something?” she asked. “I’m just looking for some shoes,” I replied awkwardly. Gladys’s regal bearing and straightforward nature, even her confident, upturned chin, reminded me of my mother. I was unnerved and yet comforted at the same time. She fingered the long strand of pearls at her neck as she studied me. She pointed at the top of a rack nearby. “Try those. They look like you,” she smiled. Ten minutes later, I was owner of a gorgeous pair of pink Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals, which I wore proudly to my mother’s service the next day. I know Mom would have loved them. I have visited Gladys at Pzazz many times over the past two and a half years, and every time I go into the store I feel more like a part of her family. Gladys listens to me complain about work and fusses over me as I try on clothes. She stands with her hands on her hips, shakes her purple bob, and without a word I whirl back into the dressing room and take whatever I was wearing right off. She sets aside Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses because she senses that they will look good on me. She even tells me when she thinks I’m spending too much money. In other words, she looks out for me. We women spend a great deal of time and money on shopping. We shop for different reasons: stress relief and therapy, for instance, but the eventual goal is to make ourselves look and feel good. Sadly, however, the urge to look fabulous often feeds a parallel desire: to look more fabulous (not to mention younger and sexier) than the woman standing at the sale
Women with Pzazz rack next us. Shopping provides an almost too-perfect example of the insidious competition between women: the hysterical tug-of-war over the same marked-down dress. The dress could be baby-poo green and ill-fitting, but it’s on sale, and damned if any other woman should go home with it—or anything else that should be ours: a man, a job, even happiness. Men may be the hunters, but we’re the gatherers, and no one stands in the way of our successful gathering. We have become a generation of women who will push each other out of the way for a fifty-percent-off pair of panties. Competition is not always a bad thing. The survival of the fittest naturally connotes competition—we human beings have used it to thrive since the beginning of time. I’m sure prehistoric cave women had the occasional fight over a new mastodon hide. But how did we get to the point where we can’t stand to see another woman look beautiful in said hide (or a DVF wrap dress) without wanting to, well, club her over the head? Here’s my theory: despite the ubiquitous group-Prada shopping trips on Sex and the City, most of us choose to do our shopping solo. We don’t need other women. We walk the mall of life alone. This is not a surprise: as third-wave feminists, we have been raised to prioritize independence above all else. We have been taught by our second-wave mothers (with the best of intentions) that to not embrace independence, whether personal or economic, is to dishonor their quest for gender equality. We’ve been told that we owe it to ourselves (and to our fellow women) to be successful and that this sometimes will mean stepping on a fellow sister. In other words, once Nordstrom opens the doors for their half-yearly sale, it’s every woman for herself. It’s logical, yet contradictory. In order for women to make gains in the fight for gender equality, our foremothers banded together in remarkable numbers. The women’s movement itself is traditionally defined by the work of the second wave, a wave being one coherent force. Yet even as our mothers banded together, they were coaching us to strike out on our own. I remember my own mother saying: Don’t depend on anyone else to give you what you want—especially other women. And so, the message that many young women Hawaii Women’s Journal | 41
by Theresa Falk
have taken away from the feminist movement seems to be both bastardized and lonely. The above is clearly based on a male paradigm of power, which makes sense: our mothers had to struggle within the confines of a patriarchal system. Even fashion served as a mirror. Women bobbed their hair and burned their bras, eschewing symbols of femininity. They donned linebacker-worthy shoulder pads, literally mirroring their male counterparts. They worked with what they had. Pzazz, for me, is a haven of support in the sometimes lonely world of independent womanhood. In Gladys’s own words, it’s a clubhouse—and everyone who enters is a special member. Bliss, Gladys’s daughter, works at the shop as well, and often her own children are present. I have spent many a happy afternoon trying on Jimmy Choos while Gladys playfully races around the store in her fur coat pushing one of her grandchildren in a stroller. I play with Bliss’s daughter while she is busy putting clothing back on the racks. And we snack on cookies and mochi the entire time. All of Pzazz’s customers have bonded. There’s an older woman, red-headed and tall, who must have been a dancer at some point. She pushes open the curtains of the dressing room with a showgirl’s flourish, arms extended, one leg bent inward, to reveal a St. John suit or Chanel jacket—things I’d never wear (although Gladys thinks I will, indeed, work my way up to Chanel someday) but that on her look irresistibly glamorous. “What do you think, Honey?” she asks me, and I swear I’ve landed in a Bertolucci film. “Fabulous!” I say, and I mean it. She is gorgeous. I spontaneously break out into applause. There are dozens of regulars at Pzazz, and each of them has their different style. However, being there together allows women who otherwise may not run in the same circles to relax—even to bond. No matter who you are, Gladys serves as That Woman You Need: a mother, a sister, an aunty, or a friend. She is the female support we all crave but that our stubbornly independent selves will not ask for. Gladys doesn’t let you shop alone. We all want to feel beautiful, and every time I set foot in this special store, some amazing woman—Gladys, Bliss, a lovely stranger—in some way tells me that I am. And that’s something we women need to hear from one another more often. v
Here’s Where It Takes a Turn
Thunderous anticipation tangibly
heightened, gripping my bowels, I feel myself diminishing in a vortex of odium and angst. I am forced to leave the dark situation that proceeds before my darting eyes. I don’t like that person. My pebble of a heart cannot handle having to deal with people who are unreal. Unlike the undead, which are totally real, the unreal think they have problems like “trying to be more real.” It’s snow, it’s rain, snow. Rain. Seattle can’t seem to decide what exactly it wants to do right now. I woke up and pillows of new snow were falling from the sky, creating a cartoon “splat” when they hit the ice on the sidewalks. Now it is raining. Hard. Icy rain pounding against the windows, single-pane relics; you can hear a fly land on them if it’s quiet enough. This rain has nice legs. It is thick, an icy gel slapping and sliding down the glass. So this is Christmas.
There’s a pumpkin smashed in the middle of his street, orange innards slime and stain, creeping down the slush with each passing vehicle. Better than bees, treads on tires will pollinate the city with the sprinkle of pumpkin seeds, eaten and shat. So this is it, a flurry of overconfident text messages. My new role is undefined.
We end up at Collins Pub. Sitting on either edge, on the angle, facing each other. His right knee is near my left knee. I try not to move. Try not to be jittery. Try not to have to say, "Oh, sorry, was that your leg?" Awkward pause.
The sun was spreading like a swirl of melted dreamsicle over the bay, reflecting off the bar mirror. We were laughing. Why are there always mirrors behind the shelves of alcohol? To create a feeling of depth?
To create a feeling of watchfulness. Watch your back.
Anyway, the sun. He suggested we go outside, he needed a smoke. American Spirit. Yellow pack? Blue pack? It’s irrelevant now. We sat on the cold, black metal chairs. Not “black metal” chairs—they were metal, black, and they were freezing. Donning merely a black hoodie and scarf, not ready to admit I was cold. I knew the next act. I didn’t want to flip to that page. We watched the sun set over Puget Sound. I know. Corny. He doesn’t pay attention. Never pays attention. I have to bring his attention to those things right in front of him. He always says, “Damn. I missed it.” “Yeah, you missed it, alright.”
This is where it always takes the same turn. Where I turn my barstool to face the mirror. Turn to face those fears. This is where I make the grave error of expecting to see something slightly different when I raise my head to finally look.
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 42
This is where I look. v
photo by Bianca Mills
Flight She once caught an avocado between her hands. Poised on a rock beneath the tree in our backyard, she leapt, seizing the alligator-green, then landed tender in the grass, no signs of sore leg or blue veins in the way she clutched her prize to her chest then held it out to me when she noticed me watch.
she watched me graduate from the balls of my feet to the tips of my toes ‘til the only thing holding me down to the earth were wood and a millimeter’s thickness of satin because she believed if I only kept going, chassé, arabesque, sauté, elevé, I would lift off the ground and learn how to fly.
I took that prize because I know the language of a mother’s care and how she feeds to say I love you, but her real gift was flight, those few seconds she lifted up, left behind the weight of stone, her seventy-two-year-old body slicing the air the way it did in the decades-ago pirouettes and grand jetés that pulsed her blood in the days before my grandmother threatened, If you become a dancer, I will break your legs.
And so I danced in satin, ribbons, and wool, but flew in sound, letters, and words, and the day I untied those ribbons forever was the day she let go of dreams that puppeted me across the floor, me, the girl whose movement in her womb must’ve felt like the dance she carried inside, stirring long after ribbons fell unbound, the cord that tied us clipped and cut.
I have never seen her dance, her only recital shaped by the ballerina who pas-de-bourrés in my head with a choreography composed of fragments: the lift of her arms pinning sheets to the line, the point of her toe when she steps on the gas, the tilt of her chin as she tucks the phone between shoulder and ear, her stage the story of our lives, whirling through piano lessons, band practice, basketball, and hula, three meals per day and reminders to sleep, her music the waltzes I hear her hum when she is dreaming of the girl she never stopped being.
And she packed away my winged feet but refused to break my fingers’ flight over the lined platform of clean white pages. And she followed me through my many stages, her steps en avant and syncopated by swollen leg and hips tilting, unjustly weighted, while my pen would glissade loops, crosses, and points, each piece a story of what a body does when allowed to dance.
Maybe that’s why she led me into pink leather slippers, stitching elastic to hold my girl-feet in, combed my hair back so it wouldn’t fall as I spun, my child’s body reflecting in studio mirrors the artist she was never allowed to become. Insisting I learn how to walk above ground,
But beneath the lyrics I learned to hear her earthbound rhythm, her supporting beat, the way the pause would lengthen between her steps in what I imagined was flight but knew was time, silvering her hair, curving her back, measuring her sleep, and slowing her breath. And in the silence I remember the way she leaped, her body supported by the knowledge of flight— and when she leaps from this rock to claim her prize, there will be no stones to break her fall. v
Hawaii Women’s Journal | 43
von Hottie’s guide to navigating a modern life
by von Hottie
A Refresher Course in RSVP Etiquette
ere we are, living it up in the digital age, and we are all so in demand. Invitations are flying at us from every electronic and offline corner of the world. But how are we supposed to deal with these paper-invitation things again? And just what does it mean to reply “maybe” to an event? With so many invitations via so many avenues, it is easy to become overwhelmed—like my grandmother used to say, “It’s hell being popular.” Well, mes petits von Hottlettes, back away from the “reply” button. Let’s reassess, let’s refresh, let’s remember how to répondez-vous s’il vous plaît the right way.
Formal Events and Printed Invitations (Weddings, Milestone Celebrations, Intimate Dinner Parties, etc.): •
Do what you’re asked. Respond by the reply date and in the manner indicated on the invitation: telephone, e-mail, reply card, and so forth. Do not make the host hunt you down for a response. They want to invite you, not stalk you.
The “Plus One.” Never assume that you may bring a “plus one.” If there is only one name on the envelope, it usually means the invitation is just for you. Sure, you would like to bring your flavor of the month to your friend’s wedding, but that doesn’t mean your friend wants to shell out $150 just so some person they won’t know by your next birthday can help you get “look at my belly piercing!” drunk. Show up. Once you have positively replied, barring an emergency, you are honor bound to arrive—and to dress appropriately, be punctual, and be ready to appreciate every moment.
Don’t leave them hanging. Just because it has a cheesy graphic illustration and small fuschia font does not mean you can ignore it. E-mail functions as a primary form of communication for many people, much like the Pony Express did in the Wild West. Back in the day, could you ignore a dude
on a pony? No. Think of Evites like really fast ponies—don’t keep that pony waiting in the virtual front yard forever. Holla back promptly to the folks who invited you. Plus One? Or Plus None? Evites make the plus one issue even more awkward, but again do not assume you can bring a friend. However, depending on the formality and importance of the event, you could very politely and humbly inquire, “Does this invitation extend to So-And-So?” Show up. Be honest with yourself about your time and social commitments. Do not say “yes” if you know it’s likely you won’t attend. People often wrongly assume that because there are dozens of people on the Evite that their RSVP and their attendance will not matter. Assume that you are the one person on that list for whom a RSVP actually matters and treat the reply with consideration.
Facebook Events: •
Find the important ones. It’s rough, I know. Your inbox is flooded, you cannot comprehend what the event is even about, and you haven’t a clue which one of your 876 friends sent you the invitation. But you must try to decipher which ones are important and reply. Of course, be honest with yourself about your time: you are only one person and you cannot be at all 58 Facebook events occurring between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on next Saturday night.
Yes or no, not maybe so. When a lot of these events are friends’ performances or fundraisers, it is tempting to reply “maybe” because you don’t want to seem unsupportive, even though you have no intention of actually showing up. It is actually more polite to give a truthful RSVP, and if you can’t make it, e-mail them a personal note. Feel free to cut and paste this exact note: “Dear [Friend], I’m so sorry I can’t make your [show/fundraiser]. I’m sure [you/it] will be fabulous. Love, [Your Name].” Hawaii Women’s Journal | 44
Downgrading. If you replied “yes” or— don’t make me cuss at you—“maybe” and later have to switch your reply to a “no,” it’s best to e-mail or message the host with an explanation and an apology. Similarly, if you upgrade to a “yes,” confirm with the host to make sure there is still space for you at the party.
Always Keep in Mind the Following: • •
If you do attend: call or e-mail the host to thank them after the event. Bonus points for handwritten thank you notes.
If you cannot attend: call or e-mail the host to express your regret and wish them well with the event. This will keep you on the guest list for the next event. When in doubt about the attire, formality, or guest list of a party, ask your host for clarification. Be careful not to overly badger them for information or be high maintenance; always remember that you are not the only person they invited.
Have fun! It’s a party, people! Relax and look good. Not sure how to look good? Stick to the two-for-one rule: two pink drinks for them, one for you. Everyone looks good through rosé-colored glasses. v
If you have pressing etiquette concerns or questions on how to best navigate this modern life, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
photo by Lucas Stoffel
Walls by Anjoli Roy
Illustration by kathryn xian “You always have to think beyond the structure. Think about what is going on underneath and all around, because that is where the rats are located. The more you look into it, the more you will most likely find.” —John Murphy, an exterminator, quoted in Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants
here are rats in the walls. Everybody knows that, but nobody wants to think about it. Still, they’re there, nesting nimbly in the cotton-candy insulation, smudging their musty hair along concrete walls and wooden support beams. I’ve nursed a fear of rats as far back as I can remember. In my travels across the U.S. from California, where I knew rats to lumber around in garages and alleyways, to New York, where they got on and off the late-night subways as casually as human passengers, all the way back across the country to Hawai‘i, where I’d sensed but never seen them, I hoped with all earnestness that I might find a place, at last, without these hideous creatures. Still, I know that wherever I am, if I listen closely enough, I will hear their nails clicking and their highpitched squeals squeaking across the still night air. But New York’s nights are never still, which means that to hear the rats, to note when they are scratching their wet teeth through the dry wall or gnawing on the plastic bags beneath your kitchen sink, you must have an ear alert to them. My boyfriend, Dave, always spends the weekends outside the city. He says it’s his time to decompress—to “chill out with family” and “get away.” A born-and-raised Long Islander, he’s happy to spend Saturday and Sunday in the suburbs for a break from the crush of the city. When he’s gone, our small studio apartment is, for the most part, unoccupied. After spending the better part of a decade in Manhattan, I found that I also wanted some distance from the city to decompress, but I wanted to get farther away than just a few hours on the train. I decided to attend the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa for an M.A. in English, but I felt confident that Dave and I would survive the two years and five thousand miles apart. Having grown up in a California
community where parents divorcing was as predictable as puberty, I told myself that for a relationship to last, it needed a test, and I couldn’t think of a greater challenge than being so far apart. Dave and I were great, sure—I knew that from the six years we’d been together—but what would happen if our relationship were inconvenient? If we weren’t in the same apartment/city/continent? Would our sometimes papery attempts at communicating withstand the distance? What furry beasts might surface if I were gone? We’d survived my first year away already, each of us going to great lengths to see each other. Our pattern was to visit after no more than seven or eight weeks apart—a time period, we soon recognized, that was our breaking point. If we went longer, Dave was sure to be increasingly distant, and I was sure to pick fights that ended in tears. Silently, we’d decided that we’d each do whatever it took to find each other before more than seven weeks passed: Dave found the money and the time off from work to surprise me for a long weekend in California when I was visiting my family just as the final sprint to summer break seemed too long to bear; I, on a whim, spent the last of my savings to brave the half-days of travel, each way, so we could be together on Valentine’s Day weekend. I imagined us traversing the endless maze of walls that had shot up between us; once we were together, the struggle to find each other always faded away. Though we’d begun quibbling about small things—like where we’d live when I returned and how long it might take me to find a job with a degree that didn’t mean much of anything in the city—and bigger, foundationrocking things—like if I’d open myself up to trying to hear “the message” at his church rather than continuing to hide out with the babies in the nursery—I hoped that after braving this great distance, we might average the space between us and move to some place between New York and Hawai‘i, some place closer to my family in California, some place that wasn’t as gritty as New York. Some place without rats. At nine p.m. my time on an October night, Dave logged online. Calculating the time difference—it was three o’clock in the morning his time—I was surprised to see him there. I Hawaii Women’s Journal | 45
accepted his request to audio chat, especially excited to hear his voice since it’d already been close to a month and a half since we’d seen each other. I remembered that since he didn’t have a webcam, I wouldn’t be able to see him and glanced up at my wall calendar, where I’d circled his upcoming arrival date with a fat red marker A slew of excited, indeterminable—not cursing, Dave doesn’t curse—words came through my computer from his end. “Uhm, what?” “Two in the apartment when I got back from work—their bodies as big as Coke cans! “Two what?” “Rats, Roy Li!” he pleaded, using his nickname for me to garner extra sympathy. The Rattus norvegicus is the only species of rat that lives in New York City, my quick Internet search would later tell me. Most likely misnamed by the English physician, naturalist, and writer John Berkenhout, the rats were believed to have come to England on board Norwegian lumber ships, though they hadn’t been sighted in Norway yet. Having originated in Southeast Asia, this rat— also known as the brown rat—is said to have traveled through northern China and Europe, arriving on Turtle Island around the time of the American Revolution. Their port of entry was most likely New York City, and they spread out onto the continent in hordes, a “manifest infestation.” Thanks to global warming’s more tepid winters and humans’ ever-wasteful food habits, the brown rat is now common to all continents in the world, with the sole exception of Antarctica. In the midst of my research, I would be most loath to discover that, as stowaways on European ships sailing the Pacific, these same rats had landed in Hawai‘i in the nineteenth century. Though there were rats here before them, the brown rat is the largest on the Hawaiian Islands today. In New York, winter is the best time to exterminate since rats are already combating the cold and relative lack of food. However, as a Times article I read had said, every garbage can without a lid, every window screen that had been nudged aside just enough to let a rat slip by, encourages the existence of this everpresent population. “Did you call the exterminator?” I asked,
horrified. This was a silly question. I knew Dave hadn’t had a phone for the past year. Was being so difficult to reach his way of punishing me for moving all the way to Hawai‘i to go to graduate school? I didn’t want to believe that, unlike me, he wasn’t addicted to technology— didn’t need a Blackberry for e-mail, BBM, text messages, Facebook, the bus schedule, Internet searches, and, oh yeah, for telephone calls, too. My mind immediately flashed to the teeth and nails I was convinced that I’d heard in the very apartment I was sitting in, halfway around the world from Dave. On those nights, I’d lamely hunker down into my sheets, hoping nothing would eat its way through the cinderblock walls. Dave recounted the scene he stumbled into after his most recent weekend with his family in Long Island. He saw one rat scurry back into the wall behind the refrigerator. The other was in the toilet. Captive, the toilet rat suffered a painful drowning in concentrated peppermint Castile soap and urine. (Those were the only fluids within reach, he told me. It was the heat of passion.) After the drowning, Dave lifted the rat’s limp body—“at least 30 pounds” (his words)—with the plunger and dumped it down the garbage shoot just a few steps outside the front door of our studio. Then he went to work scrubbing the apartment, dumping the crumb-filled pizza boxes and greasy Styrofoam takeout containers he’d abandoned days and weeks before on our small counter (he hadn’t grocery shopped or cooked a decent meal since I’d left). Finally, he shifted the stove and fridge away from the wall enough to reveal the fist-sized hole the rats had eaten through the wall. He stuffed it with a dirty towel. In the morning, the towel had been eaten straight through and a new hole gaped in the wall, though the rats, thoughtful guests, had disappeared by morning. Dave patched things over again, this time, covering the holes with duct tape and “something else,” he said. “What else?” “Well, you know how I told you the holes are, like, perfect circles?” “Yeah . . .” “I plugged up the holes with your makeup thingies and then used the duct tape.” Packing up for Hawai‘i, I’d left behind my plastic cylinders of pricy mineral foundation and blush, thinking, who needs to maintain in a long-distance relationship? “Dave! That stuff’s expensive!” Home again that evening, he found yet another rat, this time “chilling out” (again, his words) in the planter on our windowsill, sunning itself. Its legs were kicked out to the side; its face, resting against the warm glass,
looked out dreamily at the setting sun. “I swear to God!” I yelled into my computer screen. “We aren’t living any place with rats or—or—or snow! When my program is up in May, we’re moving! So get your isht together!” (Out of respect for Dave, I didn’t curse either.) “Didn’t you move already?” I sensed him smirking behind the screen and flipped off my computer—although I knew he couldn’t see my angry finger. “Funny, guy. I’m serious.” “And are you saying there aren’t rats in Hawai‘i or something?” “Not that I’ve seen!” I snapped. I instinctively drew in my limbs; eyed the walls for gnaw marks, the surfaces around me for droppings. “So what’d you do to the sunning rat?” “I opened the window and pushed it outside.” Never mind that we live three stories off the first floor. Never mind that there are always pedestrians dappling our street, playing music too loudly, yelling at each other, smoking weed, and laughing. I imagined the rat making a big splat on the sidewalk below. “The exterminator came,” he said. “He gave me glue traps.” I imagined the hulking beasts laughing, the sticky mats clinging to their muscled, furry bodies as they scurried back into the walls and beyond. Dave created his own tactic instead of the glue traps. He cut up circles from the wiremesh strainer I used for draining pasta, then duct taped those circles to the wall. The next morning, there was no rat in sight, and his patches were intact. At work that day, Dave beamed through the phone. “And get this, Roy Li! I was walking out of the apartment, and I heard our neighbor through the wall saying, ‘They’re effing huge! I think they must be coming through the gas line!’ I guess they’ve moved on.” He laughed. On my way out that same morning, I stepped into the bright Pauoa sun and was thankful that I had encountered no such rats in my house on this island, so far away from Dave’s. On its way down the valley, a cool breeze sped down one of the many green folds of the Ko‘olau mountains and hit my upturned face with a playful smack. I smiled, appreciative for my good fortune, and clanked shut the chain link fence behind me. Turning to walk to the bus, I spotted a prone, furry lump out of the corner of my eye. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and considered refusing to acknowledge what was at my feet. But, I knew that even if I kept walking, even if I shrugged and hustled to the bus, it would still be waiting for me when I got back. Hawaii Women’s Journal | 46
I exhaled and looked down. There, just ever so slightly too close to my left foot was a large mass. I shrieked, my body jolted as if thrown from a blast, and scuttled down the street with increasingly fast staccato steps. I chose not to move the large, motionless body to the slim trashcan in the garage just then. But even after its limp, light-brown body stiffened and rotted away, even after I would shovel it into a plastic bag that I’d then carry with the tips of my fingers to the trashcans at the end of the street, I’d pretend like it hadn’t been there, at least for a little while. I couldn’t tell Dave about it, I told myself. It was either not tell him or settle on moving us to Antarctica. But rats have a way of surfacing, and relationships only work if we are brave enough to confront the ones that make homes in the walls that separate us from our loved ones. Feeling swift rivers of sweat running down my slumped spine, I reasoned that I’d have until May, when I’d graduate, to ready myself for what I knew would be waiting for me in that many-walled city of New York, where I’d continue my campaign to live somewhere else. Beneath my feet and ahead of me, the steaming asphalt, still slick from the morning rain, seemed to radiate back up at the sun, blurring the line between the ground and the already sweltering air. I imagined the mirage of Dave’s smiling face glimmering just ahead of me, and I laughed, straightening my back a little. v
Thank you to Jenn Hee and Mayumi Shimose Poe for their wonderful editing and encouragement—they’ve improved this text greatly and inspired me to make it better. I’d also like to thank them for drawing my attention to Sullivan’s text, which contains a number of fantastic quotables on rats, including this story’s epigraph and the term “manifest infestation.” Diverse Voices Quarterly published an earlier version of this story in volume two, issue five.
Notable References Cited
Gorman, Christine 2008 Mapping the Rats in New York City. Time, December 15. www.time.com/time/ healtharticle/0,8599,1866594,00.html, accessed July 25, 2010. Sullivan, Robert 2004 Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants. New York: Bloomsbury.
Sorry, Dani by Richard Hartshorn
et me start at the beginning. I am Dani’s aunt. Dani is prelingually deaf, born to two hearing parents: my sister Tracey, a hippie with rings on every digit and hair down to her butt; and her husband Sam, an independent contractor who left Tracey shortly after the birth for reasons Tracey has never revealed to me. A month after Dani turned six, I moved into Tracey’s guest bedroom to help look after her. It was easy for me to take on this responsibility: no husband, no kids of my own, unemployed. But Dani frightens me sometimes—her need for goodnight kisses, the way she snuggles up to me when we watch television, her constant I love yous—as though she thinks of me as her mother when Tracey is away. As much as her affections warm me, I still feel like a visitor here. I cannot stay forever. Tracey plays acoustic guitar in a Beatles cover band, cashiers at a convenience store, smokes dope, and occasionally brings coworkers home and makes love to them in the bedroom where she and Sam used to sleep. I am in the bedroom down the hall and can hear every detail. My sister howling, the headboard smacking the wall. At first it was vexation, a simple annoyance, although I understood her need for release as well as I understood my own. Currently, I am pitiful enough to occasionally slide my fingers under the purple band of my underwear and play with myself to the sounds from down the hall. Tracey never talks to me about these encounters with her co-workers, so I act like they don’t exist, which has generated a certain distance in our breakfast conversations. I am twenty-six now; I am unable to have children due to complications following a car accident when I was sixteen. I have a shaved head and gauged ears, remnants of my punkrock adolescence of which I refuse to let go. I wear torn jeans everywhere except five-star restaurants and weddings, for which the happy trio of Tracey, Dani, and myself have little time or money, anyway. Tracey tries to get me to clean up for the sake of getting dates, but
she forgets that she was the one copying me during childhood. More than anything, I love Dani. I love playing with her hair, reading to her in sign, and I am completely absorbed by her interests. Fairy tales, soccer, homemade pizza. Every harmless thing I would want my own ten year old to eat up if I had one. After Dani completes fifth grade, she also graduates to a new doctor. When we meet the doctor, a Doctor Sanford (who introduces himself simply as “Matt”), we sit in a whitewashed office with no windows and listen to him explain that Dani is a candidate for something called a cochlear implant, which can potentially improve her hearing. “It is not a cure for deafness,” he says, “but rather, a prosthetic for hearing. Because she has not yet passed the critical period of adolescence, her brain will still be able to learn to process and distinguish speech.” I hold Dani’s hand while Matt speaks even though she cannot hear him. She has always been an excellent lipreader, but he is using plenty of words she doesn’t know. He explains the operation: a small incision will be made behind Dani’s ear, then he will drill into the thin mastoid bone and insert the tiny electrode array in her inner ear. This will be done under a general anesthetic and she will go home the same day—as if a hole hasn’t been drilled into her skull. From the outside, she will look like she has a hearing aid attached to a magnet on the side of her head. There are risks: meningitis, facial nerve damage, a thousand types of skin infection. But most of all, the implant will inevitably damage the nerve cells in Dani’s cochlea—the loss of residual natural hearing means she will never be able to hear without the aid of the implant. This is, I think, a disclaimer he must give everyone while describing this operation. Dani has been deaf since birth, and we’ve been told a thousand times she’ll never be able to hear on her own, but Matt’s warning ignites guilt in me, as though we’re throwing Dani to science and not leaving her to nature. I interpret to Dani while Matt speaks, but I Hawaii Women’s Journal | 47
don’t tell her about the bad things—just that she may be able to hear and that this operation is her choice. It is the hardest interpretation I’ve ever had to do because Dani is ten years old and has no concept of sounds or voices. She can’t miss them because she’s never had them. Nevertheless, she looks at me as I explain it, her blue eyes sliding from my right hand to my left, her lips pouting like they always do when she’s concentrating. I imagine once she thinks it through, Dani will regard the operation as just another adventure. Tracey practically signs on the dotted line before Matt even finishes speaking. But her excitement is not for Dani. It’s for herself. If Dani can hear, Tracey’s life will be easier. She can play out with the band, smoke until she’s incoherent, and she won’t need me taking up space in the house. None of this is to suggest Tracey does not love her daughter. That wouldn’t be fair. She loves Dani more than Hey Jude; more than summer breeze gliding through her hair; more than any amount of toe rings, bonfires, and casual lays; more than seven years of marriage with the man who helped create Dani; and more than the parents who sang the two of us to sleep in our childhood double bed. But she cannot deal with the pressure. It embarrasses her to introduce her daughter with a disclaimer attached. She can’t raise Dani alone, which is why I’m here, but I cannot be Tracey’s Other; she needs to be with a man. She doesn’t seem to mind that it could take years for Dani to be able to hear properly, form her little voice around words, and fully communicate with others. In Tracey’s mind, once Dani awakens from surgery, she will be fixed. Over the next week, Tracey slowly convinces Dani that getting the cochlear implant is the right decision, although I watch their conversations and Tracey often signs nothing can go wrong. I want to step in, but I was the liar at the doctor’s office, and I’m not mom. I make the mistake of nosing around about cochlear implants. I come across articles that
focus on the surgical process and the side effects. I read about botched operations in which eardrums are shredded to powder or surgery goes smoothly yet the patient never hears a thing. The most stunning discovery is the one about which I’ve been most worried: a young woman about Dani’s age gets the implant and, having had no concept of sound since birth, loses her mind in the cacophony. The implant is hastily removed, destroying all residual hearing, but the girl swears she can still hear the noise, and she is put in a mental hospital. My dreams all involve Dani screaming, but no sound comes out. Her eyes are tightly shut, her jaw hangs. Silence. In waking life, my thoughts hang on Dani’s skull being drilled. That spot where I always brush her hair over her ear will soon have a chunk of steel violently spinning through it. I can’t help but expect the worst: the surgeons will hit something soft and vital and Dani’s little head will pop like a water balloon. Then the head surgeon will come to us in the waiting room, stand with perfect posture, hands clasped in front of him, and say, “Sorry, folks; there was nothing we could do.” No apology to Dani. Dani and I spend some time at the park the day before the operation. We sit for hours watching people and seeing which one of us can get more height on the black rubber swings. The burning orb of the sun hovers over us, and we don’t mind the heat until we stand and our thighs stick to the metal bolts holding the swings to the chains. Dani, who can’t stand sores or blisters or any sort of blemish, is briefly miffed, but I calm her down by saying I’ll buy her an orange smoothie. I will hear you soon, Dani signs to me during the walk home. I want to smile and cry at the same time. She’s excited but doesn’t even know what it means to hear. To Dani, it’s an epic journey into the unknown. The unknowable. Tracey is called into work the day of the operation and is told she will be fired if she doesn’t come in. She throws a fit as I gently wake Dani and usher her to my aging Isuzu. “I don’t care,” says Tracey, her necklaces jangling as she whips her head away from my nurturing hand. “I’ll quit.” But she knows she can’t quit. After a few heaving breaths and the
promise that I won’t let anything bad happen, Tracey gives me a half-hug, composes herself, grabs her car keys from the coffee table, and rushes out the door. I decide to dress up for Dani’s big day. I snatch a pair of Tracey’s designer jeans and slide into them, twisting in front of the bedroom mirror and admiring my lower half, which doesn’t look half bad now. I spritz my neck with the contents of a peach-scented bottle from Tracey’s dresser, throw a summery tank top over my head, poke two fake diamond studs into my earlobes, and walk to the front door. Dani is in the passenger seat, leaning back, eyes closed. I do not belong in a hospital. I did my time after the accident and still can’t forget the sleepless
nights, the bland room, the feeling of having my shredded guts stitched back together. Without Tracey to hold my hand through the bleach-smelling corridor where our baby resides, I am frightened. I curl up in the lobby and watch The Price Is Right all morning until surgery is done. The operation goes smoothly. Doctor Sanford performs it himself. No infections, no extensive damage (aside from her inner ear, which is now outfitted with a microphone, a speech processor, a receiver, a stimulator, and twenty-two electrodes). When the nurse calls me in, she tells me Dani is in the last room on the left. I make my way past the other little rooms and try my damnedest not to look at any of the other patients, but I cannot help myself. Some are groaning at unseen ailments; some sit upright eating in silence. Others, hooked up to networks of tubes, sleep. A family is huddled around one of the beds, all chattering with low voices, but I cannot see who or what Hawaii Women’s Journal | 48
they are looking at. As I enter the room, Doctor Sanford appears from behind the curtain of Dani’s little alcove. He hails me neutrally, waving his hand alongside his head as if we are old friends. “Our girl is ready to go,” he says, and I catch him looking at the rear of my jeans as I go past. I have a brief, silent conversation with myself about Doctor Sanford and his taste in women, shaven heads, and designer apparel. I snap out of it when I part the curtains and see Dani. Her head pokes out from under the ghost-white sheets. The device is firmly in place; a piece that looks like a black hearing aid is attached behind her ear, connected to another circular piece on the back of her head, which I see when she turns to look at me. Her eyes open and close slowly, drowsily, no doubt the effect of the drugs on her tiny body. A fantasy passes through my head in which I imagine she will be able to hear me when I speak and that she will jovially respond with a full sentence telling me how she feels. I do say “Hi, my little sweetheart” aloud, but I also sign it to her when her eyes fully open. Doctor Sanford says he will give us a minute, and he strides off. Dani wriggles her arms from the mass of bedsheets. I have a headache, she signs to me. I want to go home. We will, I sign back. We have to wait for the doctor. She smiles. He is a nice man. We spend the next few minutes discussing the dreams she had for the three-and-ahalf hours she was under. She tells me she was friends with a narwhal. It grew so large she was able to ride it. They scoured the sea bottom for gold, leapt through the water’s surface, and soared through the expanse of the sky together. I am briefly jealous; I want to give her something even better. Doctor Sanford sidles up behind me. He sets a plastic cup full of water in front of Dani and winks at her, then regards me with a brief smile before putting his face in some paperwork. “It’s going to be about two weeks before incision heals,” he says. “Come back in and we’ll activate the device. In the meantime, you should encourage her to make sounds, exercise her voice, and try to speak some of the words she reads. There will be extensive
ongoing therapy once she can hear, but this will be a good warm up for her.” We get Dani out of bed and onto her feet. Her legs wobble like strands of wet linguini when she tries to walk, so we each lift her by one arm and carry her to the car together. Doctor Sanford gives me his card, which I already have. He reminds me again to call him Matt. “Are you this informal with all of your patients?” I ask. I try to sound flirtatious, but in the half-second before he answers, I recognize the absurdity, the immorality, of the situation: me and Dani’s doctor. But I do smell good, and he’s the one who checked me out. “I’ll see you soon, Matt,” I say. Tracey never quite gets over the fact that she missed it: driving Dani to the hospital with no conversation but a mother’s soothing touch, holding her daughter’s hand before surgery, being there when her eyes opened. She takes her frustration out on me. I am resentful, sexually frustrated after the whole Matt thing, and I have several words for both my sister and her daughter’s surgeon. The whole reason I am in Tracey’s house is because I gave up everything to help her. I could run away, take up waitressing again, finish that marine biology degree. However, this is my family. Instead of screaming back at Tracey, I pamper her. I give her back rubs when she comes home from work. She crashes face-first on her bed, and I dig my fingers into her knotted muscles until she is near tears. After a few days of this, Tracey’s temperament begins to cool. She listens to me when I tell her what Dani and I did all day and when I remind her that her health insurance completely covers the operation. But things don’t go as planned. Dani does not want to speak. She is embarrassed. She becomes impatient with me when I push the issue. Tracey has no luck either. There is a disagreement between them one morning, and mother and daughter begin to spend even more time apart. When the wound is fully healed, we bring Dani back to get the device activated. It takes Doctor Sanford (sorry, “Matt”) all of thirty seconds to turn it on and send us on our way. I let slip that I take care of Dani most of the day, and he tells me how brave I am. He hands me another card, which I slide into my back pocket. It gets bad. During a trip to the local aquarium, Dani has a panic attack and begins pounding on the shark tank. A shortfin mako sweeps past, briefly hovering in front of us before aquarium attendants escort us out. We spend the rest of the weekend home. Dani lies in bed, fiddling with a dolphin diorama that hangs over her pillow. I sit on
the bed next to her and sign, Did you hear something? She sits up, nods, but she doesn’t say anything back. She has not made a sound since the operation. I want to convey how worried I am, how much I need her. In my head, I dismiss everything I thought before: that I could run away, ignore my family, date around. When Dani acts this way, I feel pitiful. Do you want to try reading with your voice? A curt shake of the head. You can try it whenever you are ready. She opens her eyes wide and indicates the device on her head. Opens her mouth, no sound. She signs, I hate this. What can I tell her? That everything will be okay? When will it? When the speech therapists step in? I sign back, Can you hear me now? and I say the words along with the signs. She shakes her head no. I don’t want to upset her, but I need to know what’s going on in that brain of hers. What happened at the aquarium? Did you hear something? She pounds a fist into the soft mattress like a little gavel. You did this to me, she signs, then plops down into the bed with absolution and flings the sheet over her face. I wish Tracey was home. Someone to comfort me; someone with a voice. If Dani wants to ignore me, all she has to do is turn her head or quiet her hands, and she’s made clear that she’s not in the mood to deal with me. But then when has Tracey comforted me since I’ve been here? Never. Stifling hysteria, I walk to the kitchen. Blackand-white tile floor. Refrigerator humming. For some reason, I pick up one of Matt’s cards from the counter and dial him up at home. I just need to hear another voice. “Hello?” “Hi, Doctor San– Matt.” I explain who I am. When I sheepishly say, “I was the bald one,” he remembers. I don’t even have to remind him of Dani. “Yes, hello,” he says. “Is everything okay?” I can’t tell if it’s personal or professional interest. Having half my conversations in sign has made me rusty at phone talk. “Dani won’t talk to me. I’m home alone with her, and I’m worried.” “Did something happen?” His voice is frustratingly calm. “No. Well, yes. She had a panic attack at the aquarium. She told me she heard something, but then said she couldn’t hear me talking.” I hear him exhale pronouncedly as if blowing on tea. “This is fairly normal,” he says. “She’s expecting to hear but has no idea what hearing Hawaii Women’s Journal | 49
is yet. She’s afraid of what might happen. It sounds as though you are, too.” He says it as though he’s known me forever. I want to tell him to piss off, that he doesn’t understand, that my feelings are none of his business, but he is right. I keep quiet. I hear him take a generous sip of the tea or coffee or cognac or whatever it is. “Signing is your special thing with her, I know,” he goes on. “But trust me. The implant will help her. She’ll come around in no time.” I know what is probably expected now. Matt and I get together; we talk about Dani and things get all mushy. Maybe we go back to his place, he tears my clothes off, and we don’t even make it to his bedroom before eating each other alive. I won’t pretend I haven’t thought about it, but none of this happens. He doesn’t know that my abdomen is scarred from the accident or that I haven’t dated since high school. I put as much distance between myself and everything to do with the scientific aspect of Dani’s problem as possible. I want my relationship with Dani to be beautiful and free, relying on nothing but the two of us. I remember a saying that went “when a doctor treats you, he plays God.” Matt Sanford, the god of our little world, must step back for a moment and let us evolve. The following afternoon, Dani still won’t speak to me. We are in the living room together; Dani is watching Garfield and Friends with subtitles. Her hands stay folded and motionless. The front door lurches open, revealing Tracey’s slender form. A breeze rushes in with her and blows a cluster of papers and blank checks from the coffee table. Her hair is matted in the front, and the rest is a cloud of static, clinging to her shoulders and back. The car keys rattle against her rings as she tosses them on the table. I ask her how work was, and she doesn’t tell me much of anything. She doesn’t need to. She’s been away from her daughter for eight hours, wearing an apron, counting pennies. We hug, and as we part, she rubs my head. I can smell a metallic odor on her hands from handling change all day. “Our baby is upset with me,” I say. Tracey throws her apron over a chair. “Take the night off, okay?” I can see it in her face: Tracey is tired, resentful, ready to call it quits with the job, Dani, me, everything. She goes to the sink, runs some cold water, splashes it against her cheeks. Without drying her hands or saying a word to me, she goes down the hall into her bedroom and firmly yanks the door shut. I am exhausted, but we need to talk about Dani. When I walk into Tracey’s bedroom, she is face down on the bed, still in her work shirt. I sit next to her, pull each wet ring from her fingers
one at a time and drop them into a ceramic bowl on the nightstand. She doesn’t make a sound. I go to her feet, pull away her toe rings, and make a tired attempt at a foot rub, digging my thumbs into her soles. She finally groans a little. I keep going for a few minutes and move to the small of her back. The muscles are tight, knotty, like a trail of solid bubbles on an alder tree. She moans, “Help me.” I roll my hands through the hair on the back of her head. “Tell me what you need,” I say. She is quiet. I begin massaging the back of her neck, working my fingers in deep. After a moment, I close my eyes, falling into the onset of sleep even as my hands keep going. When her breath slows and deepens, I gently drape a sheet over her back and walk down the dark hallway back to my own room. I wake up at four in the morning with what feels like an ice cream headache and Dani curled up in bed next to me. This is a breakthrough. I feel as though she has not acknowledged me in days. Her arm is flung over my breasts, and her eyes are squeezed shut. The fact that she has come into my room, peeled back the covers gently enough to not wake me, and nestled herself so tenderly against me is almost celestial. I am stunned by it. I glide my index finger along her cheek. “I love you, my sweetheart,” I say out loud. Maybe she can hear me, maybe not. I wonder what my voice will sound like to her. Whether she’ll hear the real me or whether I’ll sound like a robot through her implant. Dani awakens. Fresh faced. Zeal burns in her eyes—and I know it means she wants another chance at the aquarium. For a moment we lay still, amazed at each other. She puts on a smile
that melts my insides; it’s the smile that says she wants me to forget something she’s done. She makes an “a” with her right hand, rotates it over her heart, points to herself, then mashes her fist onto the opposite palm like a mortar and pestle. I’m sorry I complained. I don’t wait for her to ask about the aquarium. I sign that I will take her if she wants to go, and her face brightens. I say aloud, without signing, “I want you to grow. I want you to fall in love, have children.” She shows no signs of hearing me. She snuggles up close. I try to be the responsible aunt. I wish Tracey could be with us, but work dominates even her Saturdays. I wonder if she talks to any interesting people among the coin flinging and grocery bagging, whether she flirts with men anymore. Dani and I walk through the lobby of the aquarium. The cool subterranean blue undulates over our faces. An octopus shimmies past Dani’s head, moving through the water like a belly dancer, and she chases it along the transparent glass wall until it skitters out of sight. She wants to see the sharks and the narwhals (though she doesn’t have a sign for narwhals, so she sets the back of her hand on her forehead and points her index finger out like a horn, opening her mouth wide like a whale). I close my fist, extend my pinky and thumb, and wiggle my hand in front of my face. You’re silly. Dani laughs. A series of high-pitched cackles, like the call of a chickadee but more enunciated, erupts from her. It’s so rare to hear her voice. I wonder if she even knows she made sound. I can see it in her face as we make our way through the cavernous walkways toward the
narwhal exhibit. The grin of a child but also the fostering eyes of a mother. A lover’s concerned brow. Dani is already a woman. We walk over a small bridge that spans an open tank. Dolphins pop along the surface. Children chatter and giggle as their parents drag them past. The overhead fans, which look like the engine of a rocket ship, cause the hanging starfish mobiles and sea turtle skeletons to joggle and oscillate over us. Dani holds my hand. The narwhal exhibit is in the next room. I don’t know why, but I stop in the middle of the bridge and I get down on my knees in front of her. Your mother loves you. She wants to be here. Dani exhales and looks at me in a way she never has. She signs, I heard her this morning. She told me she loved me. Can you hear now? She points at me with her thumb and forefinger, slowly lifts her hand to her forehead and clasps the fingers together. Confused. I think of how tight Tracey’s muscles will be when I massage her tonight. What I’ll tell her we did today. How the knowledge of being the first thing Dani has ever heard might alleviate her pain. Whether she’ll be able to appreciate the moment Dani and I are sharing right now. And then I’m suddenly glad Tracey couldn’t come with us. There we are, in the middle of the bridge, hovering between the noise of the rocket fans, the floating skeletons, and the blue waves crushing themselves against the tank beneath us. I imagine this is what the sea is like: the foam raging above; gray blurs and dorsal fins slicing around us; our naked forms spinning in the womb of the ocean as we lift our heads and hear for the first time. v
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Burden or Blessing?
magine looking forward to your menstrual period. Picture your partner, friends, or coworkers filling in for you so that you can have time to relax and rejuvenate. Envision those same people eager to hear about the insights you received during your monthly time. Feel your menstrual experience being so valued that your good feelings last all month. Sounds farfetched? To those in the Western world, perhaps yes. Yet, in essence, many tribal societies treat women’s menstrual periods with reverence, understanding the power behind a woman’s moon cycle. “Moontime” is a natural term for “period,” “menstruation,” “the curse,” and “the rag.” Menstruation in human females generally follows the twenty-eight day cycle like the moon. When anthropologist Margaret Mead (1961) asked Samoan women in Polynesia about premenstrual symptoms, they thought the question was bizarre, a joke, because they didn’t associate discomfort with their bleeding time. Brook Medicine Eagle, in writing about menstruation in Buffalo Woman Comes Singing (1991), suggests that women who live in harmony with nature—waking with the sun instead of a digital clock-radio; eating fresh and local fruits, vegetables, and grains versus a Big Mac; working outdoors instead of in a forced air high-rise; and so on—have few to no PMS symptoms. Similarly, Tomasa Macapinlac, a women’s health coach, advises Chi exercises and an alkaline (fruit/ vegetables) diet as ways to ease PMS symptoms.1 In India, the Hindu word rutu means “menses,” and it is the root of the word ritual (Gadon 1989). Vicki Noble in Shakti Woman (1991) says, “We just need to understand that the monthly menstrual period is the quintessential ritual experience”; it is “analogous to the time of the Dark-Moon— the impossibly magical time when the moon disappears from the sky.” Ancient cultures told time by the seasons of the sun and the phases of the moon. During menses, like the moon waxing full, the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) builds up in preparation for fertilization, then, again like the moon, menses wanes. In her groundbreaking book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Christiane Northrup,
M.D., writes, “The menstrual cycle is the most basic, earthy cycle we have. Our blood is our connection to the archetypal feminine. The macro-cosmic cycles of nature, such as the ebb and flow of the tides and the changes of the seasons, are reflected on a smaller scale in the menstrual cycle of the individual female body” (2010). And Native American visionary Black Elk says, “the power of woman grows with the moon and comes and goes with it” (Neilhardt 1972:161). While many women in developing countries regard their moontime as sacred, most women in Western cultures consider their period a nuisance and would gladly ingest a new pharmaceutical to eliminate monthly bleeding. In Western cultures, 30 to 85 percent of the female population suffers from premenstrual syndrome (PMS Health Center n.d.). However, as early as 1965, nutritionist Adelle Davis wrote about the stressful plunge that a woman’s blood calcium takes during menstruation and the need for vitamin supplements (personally speaking, calcium supplements did ease my PMS irritability). PMS and PMDD symptoms range from headaches to acts of violence. I talked with a man whose wife had burned their house down and shot and killed their five-year-old son. She suffered from severe PMS. Twenty years ago, a woman with PMS was considered crazy and moody. How different it would be if we had a “Red Tent in Every Neighborhood,” as author DeAnna L’am (2006) envisions: a place where women could rest, meditate, and nurture one another.2 I recall times during my period of wanting to kill my ex-husband. Years later, never having connected menstruation to the moon, my boyfriend took me by the hand as I yelled at him, walked me outside, pointed to the moon, and gently said, “Shinan, you always get this way around the full moon.” Since then—thirty years—I mark the calendar with a big red circle and write “MT” for “moontime” to remind myself about take time for me. I also began keeping a moontime journal, recording how I felt, what I did, and what was or wasn’t helpful. Eventually I saw a pattern: a glass of wine was helpful, yet three margaritas and I was sloshed; turning the phone off was Hawaii Women’s Journal | 51
by Shinan Barclay helpful while endless chat with colleagues irritated me; decapitating the hedge row was helpful but angry thoughts toward my boss increased my irritability. I noticed that when I suppressed or repressed my feelings, I became depressed, and that when I expressed my feelings without compassionate awareness for my partner, I erupted like a volcano. Energy that is suppressed, repressed, or depressed often explodes. Imagine this high-spirited, redhaired Irish gal. “It must be your period,” my husband used to say, “because that’s when all the plates start to fly.” Yes, I demolished my china and then started throwing my potted plants. It took several years of psychotherapy and interpersonal communication training for me to learn that every moment brings a choice for me to be 100 percent response-able. By attending to my moontime, I’ve become more skilled at positive choices. The cause of PMS is undetermined; it’s merely labeled a “hormonal imbalance.” Yet this very imbalance or heightened sensitivity was believed by many tribal cultures such as the Lakota, Apache, and the Maori of New Zealand to enhance a woman’s intuition and to open her to vision, wisdom, and insight. During a woman’s “moon,” hormonal changes bring about a time of heightened vulnerability and a dreamlike awareness. In earlier times, these women were encouraged to drift into dreamland and then to bring back stories, songs, and insights that would benefit themselves, their families, and their tribes. Tribal cultures live in harmony with nature, aware that everything goes through ebb and flow. Fluctuations in the rhythm of life and changes in the seasons are gifts from the Great Spirit. As rain purifies the air, so too does a woman’s bleeding time allow for transformation, purification, newness, and change. Through menstruation, pregnancy, and birth, many indigenous people believe that women are instruments of transformation because our basic biology embodies a sacred ritual of change (Allen 1986:28). Native traditions view the biological changes of the menstrual cycle or moontime as a powerful and positive pathway to inner growth and wisdom (Medicine Eagle 1991).
Unfortunately, in our fast-paced world of cyberspace and “instant” messaging, we’ve lost touch with nature’s cycles as well as our own creative and emotional cycles. We’ve forgotten how to tune into and use our menstrual energy to empower our lives and our world. We’re too busy “‘doing” to be aware of “‘being.” In many arenas, Human Beings have been replaced by Human Doings. “Doing” comes from the goal-oriented, analytical, and masculine or left hemisphere of the brain, whereas “Being” comes from the creative, feeling, and feminine or right hemisphere of the brain. Many women today pressure themselves to do more and more. “My to do lists have to do lists,” I sometimes complain. Stressed out, once again, I’ve forgotten how to simply “be.” Moontime gives a woman a monthly reminder to take some time out and nurture her inner self. By going within we begin to access our deeper feminine. In my book Moontime for Kory, the wise women of the village advise young Kory: Moontime is about re-connecting to our personal rhythm so we can begin our cycle anew, pure and strong. It’s the time when the Goddess is most likely to offer truth and beauty through a woman in the form of songs, stories, art or ideals. Guard this special time of your cycle. Give yourself quiet time to receive inspiration. Don’t busy yourself with useless details. Through each woman at Moontime, a blessing can be born... sometimes however, the blessing is a nap. [Barclay and Dillon 2010] So, what does this mean in practical terms for today’s woman? For Bianca, a Hispanic California mom, it means recognizing her feelings, allowing herself time for what she calls her “moontime dreamtime.” One result from this gift to herself was a new idea that produced a lucrative sale in her webdesign business. Linda, a teacher in Alaska, takes a “wellness day” each month, during which she stays home reading, meditating, and daydreaming, which resulted in an innovative classroom curriculum that got her nominated for teacher of the year. Mei Lin, an Asian-American executive secretary and student of Native American traditions, takes time out for ritual during her menses. “I close my office door, put paper clips in a coffee cup, and rattle, chant, and dance,” she
says. For Monika, it means that her husband cooks dinner, gives the kids their baths, and cleans up the messes while she takes a moonlight walk, reads, or soaks in the tub. And as her kids put it: “Mom’s a lot easier to be around and she’s not so grumpy.” For me, observing my moontime means allowing myself to dip deeply into my intuitive feminine self. With my hands on my belly, I either sit or lie down and breathe deeply, concentrating on the inhale and exhale. Then I focus on my heart center, placing one hand on my heart and the other on my belly. After calming my mind, which is sometimes like a runaway freight train, I slowly repeat an affirmation. “Go with your gut; follow the flow of your aliveness.” I not only feel connected to a larger, more knowing part of myself, I also receive helpful ideas/inklings such as “do this [difficult task]
We’ve forgotten how to tune into and use our menstrual energy to empower our lives and our world. We’re too busy ‘doing’ to be aware of ‘being.’
for ten minutes three times during the day.” One moontime on a Sunday afternoon, I had an impulse to get up and immediately call a bookstore owner in Seattle, whom I’d been trying to contact for weeks to set up a seminar. She hadn’t returned my calls or e-mails, but this time she answered the phone, obviously expecting someone else. “Why are you calling now?” she asked. When I told about my intuitive prompting, she replied, “If your instincts are that strong, I want to meet you.” In the end, she not only set me up with a book signing and workshop but also arranged a radio interview and a lunch engagement with the editor of a magazine, who then hired me to write several articles. Thank you, moontime inklings. Even now, in my menopause years, I still feel moontime energies pulling me into reverie. I mark my calendar for three days before the full moon and block out time to rest, read, swim, and meditate. There are numerous moon and lunar calendars to help us record our moontime. By tracking actual bleeding days as well as days when Hawaii Women’s Journal | 52
“hey, I feel really good,” it is possible to work with the body’s energy cycle. Keep a list of “inner work” you’d like to explore during your moontime: meditation; feng shui; understanding your dreams; exploring your inner child, artist, or archetypes. Or just plan to spend the day in bed. One of my favorite moontime books is Sark’s Change Your Life without Getting out of Bed. Many women redefine PMS as “Put Men Second”—take time first for ourselves. PMS now means “Please My Self,” by respecting the ebbs and tides of my energy. A shift is required to view our periods as moontimes, not as burdens but blessings, not as curses but cures. As we honor our sacred and powerful moontime energies, women will rebirth feminine wisdom that is so needed in our world today. v NOTES 1. www.PMSFreedomNow.com. 2. www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Red-Tents-in-every-neighborhood/122 438694447745?ref=ts. REFERENCES CITED Allen, Paula Gunn 1986 The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press. Barclay, Shinan N., and Mary Dillon 2010 Moontime for Kory: A Girl and a Dolphin Share Coming of Age in This Mythic Rite-of-Passage. Charleston: Hazel Heron Press. Davis, Adelle 1965 Let’s Get Well. New York: Harcourt Brace. L’am, DeAnna 2006 Becoming Peers, Mentoring Girls into Womanhood. Sebastopol, CA: Red Moon Publishing. Gadon, Elinor 1989 The Once and Future Goddess: A Symbol for Our Time. San Francisco: Harper. Mead, Margaret 1961 Coming of Age in Samoa. New York: William Morrow. Medicine Eagle, Brooke 1991 Buffalo Woman Comes Singing. New York: Ballantine. Neihardt, John G. 1972 Black Elk Speaks. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Noble, Vicki 1991 Shakti Woman: Feeling Our Fire, Healing Our World, the New Female Shamanism. San Francisco: Harper. Northrup, Christiane, M.D. 2010 Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing. Rev. edition. New York: Bantam Books. PMS Health Center N.d. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)—Symptoms. http://women. webmd.com/pms/premenstrual-syndrome-pms-symptoms, accessed August 1, 2010. Sark 1999 Change Your Life without Getting out of Bed: The Ultimate Nap Book. New York: Simone & Schuster.
with Kaui Hart Hemmings A Chat with Mayumi Shimose Poe
first met Kaui Hart Hemmings in Bronxville, New York. It was 2001, and we had both signed up for a class called “Anthropology Goes to the Movies” at Sarah Lawrence College. She was a graduate student in Writing, and I was an undergraduate finishing my junior year. Even then, I had a serious case of stars-in-the-eyes combined with jealousy/panic along the lines of: Shit. She’s from Hawai‘i and writes about Hawai‘i and is wayyyy further along than me in her craft. Which means she will be the hottest thing to come out of Hawai‘i since Lois-Ann Yamanaka. Was she my role model or literary nemesis? Of course, I did what all aspiring artists in their early twenties do—I publicly supported my fellow female writer from Hawai‘i while secretly hoping she’d go and Eat, Pray, Love it up in a third-world country for a few decades, so I could become the next superstar literary darling instead of her. But instead of moving to a third-world country, Kaui went to northern California, garnered the coveted Stegner Fellowship, and became the youngest member in San Francisco’s premier writing collective, The Grotto. She published a highly acclaimed book of short stories (House of Thieves, 2005), a novel (The Descendents, 2008), and had a baby in under three years flat; then she dropped her babyweight incredibly fast and moved home to Hawai‘i, where she now hangs out on the beach in a bikini, shooting the shit with Dog, the Bounty Hunter. Bitch.
KHH: The turning point was realizing that “exciting” isn’t the point. Anything and anyone can be interesting. I didn’t necessarily give myself permission to write about home. I test out places and voices and use what fits. HWJ: The writer Robert Vivian (among others) has said that “in this life, we are given only one or two true landscapes.” Would you agree with this statement? Do you consider yourself to be primarily a “Hawai‘i” or “local” writer or have you found that, with two books set in Hawai‘i under your belt, you are now experimenting with other landscapes? KHH: I’m experimenting. Right now I’m writing about San Francisco and Colorado. HWJ: In a recent Honolulu Advertiser article,3 local author Chris McKinney has suggested that The Descendants has a “universal quality”—that “Hawai‘i in this book is just a backdrop to these American characters’ lives.” In your work, do you consider Hawai‘i a landscape/backdrop to your characters or a character in and of itself? KHH: Hawai‘i is the setting. A setting informs who we are, the choices we make, the way we live. Nothing could be more important. HWJ: What’s a work day in the life of Kaui Hart Hemmings look like?
From “Anthropology Goes to the Movies” to in the movies, almost a decade later, Kaui has made all us aspiring local writers believe that we too can write books set in Hawai‘i that will one day star George Clooney. Her 2008 novel, The Descendants, is being made into a film directed by Alexander Payne and stars Clooney as the male protagonist. As filming of The Descendants wrapped, Kaui sat down with HWJ to give us insight into her work.
KHH: [Writing] is my only job as of now. I work a little, do mom stuff, cook, grocery shop, exercise. We go out a lot. HWJ: Worst writing advice you ever got? KHH: “You’ll never write anything good until after you’re thirty-five.” HWJ: What are you reading these days?
HWJ: I read your interview of author Pete Rock where you asked him to describe his book in one sentence.1 I liked that question so I’m biting you. Tell us about The Descendants in one sentence. KHH: The Descendants is about a father and his daughters forming a united front against someone they love; it’s about sacrifice, shame, death, and real estate. HWJ: In a 2009 Star Bulletin article,2 you discussed how you came to write about Hawai‘i in your first two books: that initially you didn’t think writing about “life in the islands” would be “interesting or exciting” enough but after trying to write about other things you realized “it wasn’t my material, in the end.” What was the turning point that gave you permission to start writing about home? How does it feel to now know that writing about life in the islands is exciting enough to be a movie starring George Clooney?
KHH: The best books I’ve read lately: The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm, The Aderall Diaries by Steven Elliott, Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. HWJ: What do you want people to take from your stories? KHH: I want people who claim to not be big readers to read my stuff and be engaged and entertained. I want to make all readers laugh, feel emotion, and ultimately turn the page. v NOTES 1. www.partywithaninfant.blogspot.com/2009/03/chatting-up-pete-rock.html 2. www.starbulletin.com/features/20091004_no_place_like_home.html 3. www.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/20100214/life/2140330/stepping+out+in+th e+right+direction
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photo by Christina Simpkins
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