Holding space and claiming one of your own

As we wrap up November and head straight into the holiday season, like many, I find myself contemplating the year and everything that’s happened. As one of my friends put it, it’s like hundreds of years of trauma and growth finally reached a climax in 2020, and we’ve been challenged to place life as we knew it on hold to face our personal and collective demons. You had plans in 2020? Yeah, think again. The Universe, Nature, God, Spirit—whichever you subscribe to—has other plans.

Personally, I faced a devastating heartbreak from the end of my most significant relationship, which I’m still grieving but am finally finding my own sense of real closure on. Amid these unpredictable times of prolonged, collective loss through financial hardship and instability, illness and death, catastrophic climate change, and divisive rhetoric, I find myself breathing through the act of holding space for myself and the jarring experiences and emotions we are all trying to grasp.

One of my friends asked me what it means to hold space. To me, holding space means to allow what is to just be—staying in the present and meeting yourself, others, and situations just as they are. For me, holding space means taking pauses, creating, with intention, a moment to receive and accept. None of it is passive, and it is an active and often emotionally taxing practice. In these times of strife, I find it to be more and more important for my own sense of groundedness and the interconnectedness that is written into our humanity. Holding space can feel like an act of defiance at times, but its intentions are anything but that. Just like the dormant season before the bloom of spring or the fire that initiates germination, holding space for what must be is a part of growth and new beginnings.

Hold space where and when you can—for yourself and for others. In times of physical isolation and when the world we once knew must transform, making room is where it begins.

Body counts

I’m sitting on a roof catching the sun while I still can. It’s a quiet afternoon, as quiet as it can be near downtown. I’d just gotten off the phone with a friend in the throes of a COVID-19 infection. Total people I know who’ve contracted the infection: eight and counting. Total people I know who’ve died from COVID-19: one.

I remember sitting in on a meeting in July, right after one of my relatives died of COVID-19. Folks on the call were talking about how the California government was overreacting to the precautions we were taking to try to mitigate its spread, that all things considered, it was more important to maintain our regular lives than to live in fear of catching the illness, that all in all, COVID-19 wasn’t really as bad as our public health agencies were making it seem. I had to excuse myself from the rest of that call.

It’s easy to take a self-centered approach to all of this. It’s easy to say, hey, well I’m not affected and I don’t know anyone else who’s gotten it, so why should I be worried? I don’t think we should be living in fear. They are right about one thing—that we can’t live in fear, at least not for too much or too long. Fear, while at times compelling us to redirect our motivations and actions, also blocks us from moving with clear intention.

I consider myself rather cautious, especially because I live in close quarters with my neighbors and my parents are vulnerable to severe disease. I’ve come to accept that at some point I’ll contract it too, regardless of how careful I am. Yet, I, too, no matter how outwardly healthy I appear, live with a pre-existing condition that renders me vulnerable, but I’ll get to that if the time comes.

I wonder what those same folks in July are saying now. In the US alone, we’ve surpassed 254,000 deaths. In Los Angeles County—almost 7,400 to date.

I think I’ll paint today.

3,300 and counting

I live about 2 miles away from my first home in Los Angeles when I immigrated here in 1991. So much has changed since then, but the biggest thing on my mind now is the 3,300+ new daily cases of COVID-19 we are averaging.

With holidays approaching, tensions growing from unemployment, increased rates of homelessness, and stricter safety precautions, including a curfew being imposed for a month starting this Saturday night, it’s hard to know what’s going to happen in the coming weeks. Upheaval continues to be in the air.

I’m optimistic about emerging COVID-19 vaccines, but it’s hard to know how we’ll get enough people to get vaccinated in order for them to be effective on a large community scale and demonstrate herd immunity. I don’t think we’ll have a glimpse of much normalcy until the end of 2021, which—even then, from all of the projections I’ve kept up with—seems to fall on the more ideal end rather than what we might actually experience. I’ll stay optimistic for now. Ask me again in November 2021.

A Complex Anatomy

It’s true that the eyes allow to see what’s near and in the distance
That the ears grasp a melody both familiar and new
The nose, which triggers surprise but also memories of past
The mouth, home of a tongue both gentle and sharp
The hands, which create with the finest brushstrokes but also build monuments that rival the sky
The legs, which carry you to distances once weary to reach
The feet, delicate but striking force on a treacherous earth
The mind, the ruler of a kingdom, waging wars to foster peace
But it is the heart that will bring you to your knees
It beats with an abandon that will have you stop in your tracks
A warrior that wears the scars of stories untold
But also, so vulnerable, as to bring the most brave to journey to the deepest pools of tears
The heart, a timekeeper, pulsating with the breath of day and the quiet of night
Your heart—it is that piece which sets the stage
And without the heart, we are unshaped
It cradles our hopes and dreams
With a caress so tender, yet fragile
So we protect it with the utmost care,
Often draping it with fear
But we must not forget about the heart
We must remember to feed it
That palpable throb which leaves us hungry for air
For when left breathless for too long,
The force which gives flow to nourish
Starts to forget its own name
So remember your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, legs, feet, and mind—
But also never forget the heart,
Because without the heart, one will lose:
The openness to seek
That flick, that tickle in rhythms that compel us to move
The memory of the brine in the sea air
That voice which compels us to speak our true names
With the calling to write our personal convictions
That force which pushes us past horizons
The quiteness to tread softly while the tired rest
The imagination to ache with strength and compassion
So remember the heart,
That part of you which beats without command
But also that part which melts when  moved
For your heart is a reminder
That even the most determined parts need kindness and care

The ficus that could

I spent the week giving some love to my plants, pruning dead ends to tidy up and make room for new life. I’m in no way a plant whisperer, but investments in time, dedicated care, and patience have led to some stunning greens and blooms. Other times, some dead ends or a total burial of the life that was.

One of my ficus trees has been struggling for the last several months. I’d considered giving up on it entirely, with many of its leaves and branches withered and a far cry from its once luscious, deep green fullness. Within nine months, it’s suffered through two major moves, animal attacks, and being left out and scorched by the sun, but despite that, it continues to shoot new buds and leaves. I’m in awe of its will to live. Maybe it’s just as stubborn as I am. Though the days are shorter and winter is ahead, the spring awaits, and I’m optimistic.

Starry nights

Some of my favorite nights have been spent in the middle of nowhere, head tilted up with eyes glued to the night sky. As a kid, my most memorable field trips were to the planetarium, but growing up in various cities with lots of light pollution, I’d rarely see more than a handful of stars outdoors. Nevertheless, I often dreamt of swallowing the Milky Way with my hungry eyes.

My favorite memory of stargazing was when I was visiting family in Australia in 2018. We were driving from Sydney to Melbourne at night, with much of the road in a quiet darkness. I remember rolling the window down and sticking my head out. It was August, so the chill in the air stung my skin, but I couldn’t help but remain fixated. I’d never seen the Milky Way like that, with the Southern Cross boldly waving hello, beckoning for us to follow. Speeding down the highway, we chased the horizon of that sparkly path, hoping to meet it.

There’s no way I could, in total, capture what I’d experienced, other than the sheer awe in the vastness around me and the tininess of my humanity. I was perusing r/Astronomy when this photo captured me:

This photo was shot in Wyoming, so a bit far from the road of my memory and dreams but definitely a continuation of it. I hope it transports you to another time and place like it has for me.

Keeping things fresh

It’s almost the end of the year, and it’s easy to feel like 2020 was both the longest and swiftest year of my life. Nationwide cases of COVID-19 are surging, as we brace ourselves for winter and a holiday season that brings a greater sense of isolation and financial instability for many this time around. I work in public and mental health, and the question around the work we are all asking is how do we manage physical distancing and sheltering in place when addressing mental health is critical for longevity?

Frequently working from home, it’s also easy to feel a sense of monotony throughout the days, weeks, months, and soon-to-be year. (To be fair, I am deeply grateful to be able to work from home.) I’ve been rotating various hobbies to keep things fresh and moving, and one of the hobbies back in rotation is painting. I am far from having any formal training in this craft, but I’ve always loved creating anything by hand and have painted for years. Recently, I started off painting a derpy portrait of my cat, but now painting pet portraits has become a side project, and I’ve managed to get a queue of portraits together.

I’m only on my third portrait, but I’ve got three more in the queue!

It all started with my muse George.
I painted Rue for a couple of my best friends in the Bay Area.
I’m working on a third portrait and mixed a sweet coral to match this pup’s namesake and color vibe for the background.

I try to get to know these pets’ personalities so I can capture unique quirks. It’s honestly the best part, and I often find myself laughing as I paint these silly facial expressions.

Painting has also been great with relieving stress, which also helps when I have technological issues and want to throw my laptop across the room!

If you’re reading this and feel apprehensive about starting anything crafty, just try it! No one starts off a master at anything anyway, and the most important part is whether you find joy in what you’re doing. If cost is an issue, try repurposing things you’ve already got at home. I’ve also painted old planters that have otherwise been collecting dust. I’ve used my glue gun to put several odd objects together, including repairing my toilet seat. (It’s easier than bugging my landlord and way more cost-effective for me.) Happy crafting!

The Map Show

I woke up this morning to alerts that Pennsylvania and Georgia had “turned blue,” which, if you’re not familiar with U.S. politics, means that the electoral votes from those states are likely to go to the Biden/Harris/Democrat ticket versus to Trump/Pence/Republicans. (This isn’t the space to get into why this flip is monumental and what efforts were taken to achieve this, but start with #StaceyAbrams.) With the final counts wrapping up, Biden/Harris are likely to take the Oval Office next year, with only six electoral votes away from the necessary 270 to win.

I’ve tried to avoid actively perusing Facebook for some time, only checking messages and alerts here and there. I see a lot of complaints from all sides on how “we can’t just sit back and watch,” “we can’t depend on them to do this,” and “we’ve got to take back our country.” All racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, violence, and just overall bigotry aside, that’s actually the point of civic engagement. Educate yourself, get involved, take responsibility for your personal sense of power and what that means collectively as a society—do the thing!

I’m reflecting upon the biographical documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs and her comment that we should not rely on messiahs to save us. She made a reference to Barack Obama and the hope he inspired in so many. Two presidential terms and four years since he was in office, some lament today that he did not do “enough.” What can one person do, even if he held one of the most powerful positions in the world? Granted, much, but grassroots power—people power—I really believe this is where it’s at. Hope makes all the difference, but ultimately, it’s only the beginning and a call to action.

If there’s anything we can learn from these last four polarizing years and the disastrous 2020, I hope it’s recognition of our own power and our collective capacity for and to change.