Ain't No Shame in that Train

For the better part of 7 years, when I first moved to the Bay Area, I didn't have a car. I took public transportation everywhere (almost always the bus), and because of my location in downtown San Jose, most places I went involved trips on the 22 or 23, both major bus lines. Major. bus. lines. Huge, double buses came by as often as every 10 minutes, and they still managed to become standing-room-only sweat lodges barely containing the hoards of people within.

I don't just mean people, here.

I mean The People. A public bus is the great catch-all, the 99%-mobile. Roaming home of the Everyman. 

It seemed hardly anyone taking the bus in San Jose did so to be economical or to avoid traffic or parking issues (parking lots abound!). People in San Jose took the bus because they didn't have another option. And this was one of the things I loved about the bus. When I was forced to share my ride with dozens of other people smelling of their workplaces (or homeless camps), exhausted from the drudgery of just getting from place to place, beat down and war-torn as only The People can be, it was pretty hard to forget my own rightful place among them. I too was living in poverty. I too worked hard (sometimes multiple jobs) and made very little money. I too saw no end in sight to scraping up the ever-increasing means necessary to buy a monthly bus pass, so I could repeat, cycle and repeat, ad infinitum.

I was quite at home in that crowd.

And yet I remember those times as some of my favorite times. I remember often seeing beauty all around me and being constantly whisked into tripped-out states of wonder brought on by some human interaction I'd witnessed. The reason for this, of course, was that there were people to witness in the first place: Strangers. I love them, the strangers. (The stranger the better, in fact.)

Sit tight while I launch into Full Hippie Mode (this is an actual setting on my brain...or is it my heart?). I have more than once been brought to tears--touched, happiness tears--because of something I witnessed on the bus. I have been inspired to write many words as well, like a personal essay titled The Unexpected Teachings of Canned Corn, the title of which alone hints at some of the odd situations the bus has beckoned me into. In those days I felt the absolute truth in the idea that we are all connected--and that this is a good thing.

I don't take the bus anymore. I don't have to because I own a car. I'm very thankful for many reasons, not least because it's been years since I lived and worked in the same city; I put lots and lots of miles on my car. I'm thankful because I can lug things around--things like my children and all their necessities and accessories. I can visit people more easily. I can shop for Christmas presents. I can hit the road.

I'd nearly forgotten that public transportation has a kind of magic to it, and I was missing out.

But two weeks of training I attended recently gave me the chance to ride BART (incidentally, I board at Fruitvale Station and have never once been able to go there without remembering the heartbreaking story of Oscar Grant--please see the movie on the subject if you get a chance).

I'm not new to BART, but I'm new to BART as a commuter. I haven't normally ridden during peak times, when the platforms are constantly filling up, the sleepy- to bright-eyed fresh morning crowd off to work, the weary-eyed and spent evening crowd coming home. It's a pretty well-oiled machine--stuff that's supposed to happen mostly happens. People mostly get to where they need to go. And highly talented street performers are often around to entertain throughout.


I've always liked letting somebody else do the driving because it gives me more time for this:

And it affords me unlimited access to one of my favorite activities--people watching--and people watching brings me back around to that Hippie State, the one that says I love everybody and everything. Hippie State re-opens me to the experience of practically tripping over the gobs of beauty to be found in every day. Makes me appreciate this morning sky a little more:

And this sunset one:

These past two weeks have left me feeling extra alive in the mornings (perhaps because I was standing rather intimately close to so many other living beings). It's made me plan better and be awake for more of the day. It's made me listen more (make that eavesdrop). And it's reminded me that there are so many different kind of lives to be lived. It's made me curious about those lives and left me wishing I could know, like really know, more people in the course of my one, brief-as-all-hell lifetime (seemingly brief, I think, even if I live to be 100).

Now, don't go deconstructing me here. I'll save you the time and do it myself:

Yes, I acknowledge that being able to now choose public transportation instead of having it chosen for me is a luxury like no other. I get how privileged and First World it is to say La la la la la la la...how quaint and fun it is to be riding with all these *other* people. Forget First World. It's a privileged state to be in here in this country as well.

I understand that people who don't have options and who lug their children around and do their Christmas shopping via BART may not think it fun at all. I was there, after all. Years and years of it would probably get old.

Years and years of most things do.

But I also think that, like in many other realms, personality and outlook are the strongest determining factors at play: despite the inconvenience and the added time involved, I always felt this way about the so-called Shame Train, even when I didn't have other options. It always left me feeling more in touch (and sometimes in conversation) with the world around me, or the people who inhabit it anyway. It's, impossibly, brought me a whole lot of joy.

And yes, I did gain a different kind of appreciation when the privilege of driving was afforded me.

But if one day I had to go back to relying on schedules and running to catch my ride and sitting by people who smell like moth balls and wedging my bag of groceries between my feet while I stand, hovering jealously over the lucky ones who got a germ-ridden seat to themselves...I'm just saying...it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.


What's In a Name?

Two standard questions often asked of pregnant women are 1) Do you know the baby's gender? and 2) Have you chosen a name? Without the possibility of having answers to more specific questions available (Is the child a nose picker?), we stick to the basics.

It just so happens, though, that these basics form what will be the quintessence of that little person's identity, even many, many, many years down the line. What is a bigger identifier than gender, even for (especially for?) those who identify with a gender other than the one they were born with?

Name is a very, very close second.

My parents must have thought about this at length before they gave me my name. I hope so anyway, otherwise all those years of searching in vain for a damned keychain with my name on it would have been for naught. Ditto for terrible bastardizations and mispronunciations I've had to endure.

My name is Kisa.

(KEE-suh), to my mind, would be the American brain's natural first guess on how it's pronounced. And that would be correct. But somehow that's not the most common guess I hear. My name is mis-said at the outset so often that I'm shocked when people get it right the first time.

I've heard many creative versions, including those that insert letters not present (like KRIS-uh) or those that correct it to what it seems it should be (LEES-uh), but this is my list of most unpleasant wrong guesses:

Third least favorite version: (KISS-uh). This pronunciation has on occasion, from (corny) men, been accompanied by something along the lines of "oh, KISS-uh, as in give me a kiss-a?!"


Second least favorite version: (KEEZ-uh). This one I can understand, but it hurts my ears like teeth scraping against utensils. I had a professor call me KEEZ-uh for an entire semester. After correcting him twice in front of the class when he called on me, I was too embarrassed to bring it up again.

Shakespeare wrote:
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
I don't think so. I think KEEZ-uh smells like poodoos.

Least favorite of all version: (KEESH-uh). Sometimes this pronunciation is my fault. I think over the phone it actually sounds like I'm saying it that way. That must be the case because whenever I introduce myself over the phone people follow with "KEESH-uh?"

No! No no NO!


I bring this up because this week I've been wrestling with the question of what is (or should be) contained within a name.

A couple of years ago I wrote about how meaningful it was to take back my maiden name after getting divorced. It didn't have so much to do with the divorce; it was about the fact that the person I always felt/knew myself to be was called by one name, and for a period of time I had taken on another.

It had an impact. How could it not? It was my NAME.

I was recently introduced to a woman who has repeatedly said my name wrong (wrong in my least favorite version sense of wrong). I have corrected her at least four times and have heard others correct her as well (she's said it multiple times in front of groups of people who have miraculously learned how to pronounce my name in the same amount of time that she hasn't). Each time I correct her, rather than apologizing or showing embarrassment, she laughs. Not a nervous kind of laugh. A flippant, isn't it quaint how I'll never get your name right? kind of laugh. 

I have interpreted this as a kind of disrespect--a flagrant unwillingness to show the goodwill that would be demonstrated if she made the effort to do this thing that (it's probably clear by now) matters to me. To my mind, it translates as "I don't really care who you are" or maybe "I don't really care who you are." Either way...not nice.

But my reacting this way has got me thinking: Who am I that the correct pronunciation of my name should be so important? How much ego do I have tied up in this thing? How much power is at stake in this battle of KEES vs. KEESH?

Buddhism teaches that attachment to the "self" is an illusion that leads to suffering (at least that's the impression I was left with after reading a single book on the subject). I am not a Buddhist and don't claim to know much about the tenet, but I do think there is something to that idea.

If I weren't so heavily invested in there being a something known as me--a thing I identify with and attempt to define and mold and figure out how to present to the world--this slight (and so many dozens of other things I could take personally) couldn't possibly unnerve me. Who would care that anyone said my name wrong? What is the nature of the thing that is being named, anyway? Who or what am I, whether I am called KEES-uh or KEESH-uh?

Perhaps that's all more than I can realistically hope to understand or weigh in on at the moment.

Anyway...why do I want this person's respect? This woman's lack of attention to a basic fact about her new coworker is not so much a reflection on me as it is on her. But that aside: what, truly, do I stand to lose here?

In my mind, the best version of myself would like to go about my business undeterred, unruffled--even if this coworker never learns to call me by my real name. I would strive for humility. I would strive to be so grounded and so focused on my job (not my JOB job, though I mean that, too...I mean the job of being a good person and, when possible, adding joy to the world around me), I wouldn't even register a show of "disrespect."

I would always know exactly who I am and what I am worth, regardless of whether or not anyone else cared to know. 

I hope to be there one day. And believe me, I wouldn't in a million years trade my name for the less-likely-to-get-screwed-up "Lisa" in order to avoid these conundrums. In fact, I hope what I have to offer in this lifetime can live up to my name's originality, if not its strangeness anyway. I feel like when my parents gave me my name, they issued me a challenge to bring something different, a variation on the theme, something unexpected. I'll keep working at that...

P.S. and in the meantime: If I meet you and I ever, ever mispronounce your name, please correct me. If I do it twice, please give me a proper noogie. ;-)

Kevin's Sketch

In his words...

Interstellar Dzotzi78. This drawing was created using two of the six senses of my beloved Manzanita project co-conspirator and inspirator, her hands (touch) and eyes (vision), perhaps the vital essence of her craft.

Scene from Manzanita Project Work Time, Week 10

I love this, this shared creation space. My honey has much more patience for desks than I do.


No...What Do YOU Want?

A customer at work was going on and on the other day about the new season of The Bachelor. "Oh, Juan Pablo," she crooned..."He is just the cuuuutest." Apparently the pilot episode had just aired, and women the country over were all in a fit over this dude.

*Disclaimer coming* I don't watch much TV. I ESPECIALLY don't watch much reality TV. But I must have been struck that night with the right combination of curiosity and responsibility avoidance, because I actually went to the trouble of pulling that pilot episode up On Demand.

Yeah, it turns out Juan Pablo is indeed a nice looking fellow, and his oft-declared devotion to his young daughter is attractive. Still, I couldn't get over how the dozens of young women sent his way were claiming to know they and Juan Pablo were perfect for each other and saying things like "I want this more than anything," this being Juan Pablo, a man they'd never once met.

I'm not a stranger to The Bachelor; I've caught bits and pieces of a few seasons over the years. And what I always marveled at was that all the contestants were so wholeheartedly invested in being chosen by a man who often wasn't even very interesting, funny, or intelligent. And even if he was attractive, what were the chances he was attractive to them?

But of course The Bachelor isn't about true love or even true attraction. It's about wanting to be chosen...no matter who's doing the choosing. I've always thought to myself, 'wouldn't it be so great if for ONCE, one of those women said they weren't into HIM?' Because really, what are the odds that 27 women all like the same dude, once they've had the chance to meet him and see what an awkward dork he often is, in real life?

Of all the young women featured, my favorites were a prosecutor from Atlanta named Andi and a Canadian opera singer named Sharleen who'd just moved from Germany, where she's been working for three years. The main reason I liked these women is that they projected intelligence and confidence, and both talked in normal, adult voices as opposed to the high-pitched squealy ones that tend to abound in these "reality" situations.

Juan Pablo clearly liked Sharleen as well. After sitting alone with her for a brief period, he excused himself and, to the wild-eyed envy of the rest of the women, retrieved the first rose of the night to give to her. She said almost nothing in response to the gift. After a pregnant pause she answered his "will you accept this rose?" with a flat, unenthusiastic, "sure" that actually screamed NOT SO DAMNED SURE!!

Juan Pablo's explanation for this reaction was that she was so stunned by his offering, she was speechless. Her explanation was that she didn't know if she was into him yet and that she thought the "connection" was, "frankly...a little forced."


It's entirely possible this has happened in seasons past...with my limited exposure I couldn't possibly say. But it was refreshing to witness. This was a woman honestly asking herself the question: What do I want?

I have a love/confusion relationship with that question. I vividly remember a moment in my life when I was at a crossroads and my parents sat me down, looked me in the eyes, and asked me: What do you want?

I could say absolutely nothing in response. I know I sat there blinking at them for some time. And then, all I could do was cry. Crying is apparently the natural biological reaction of a woman who realizes she hasn't, herself, considered that question in years.

Things have changed in that way...but not completely. When we were looking to move to a new town last year, I found myself entertaining the notion of and even desperately wanting to get places that could have been TERRIBLE to live in, including a duplex where the landlord (who lived upstairs and with whom communication in English was absolutely hopeless) indicated with hand motions that we were not allowed to be in the backyard and that the cat, if we had to keep her, could only live outside in a 2-foot square space, under a stairwell. I was like, Sign me up! Such was my temporary insanity when faced with the competition for rentals in the town where we wanted to live. I had forgotten to ask myself what I really wanted and how I wanted to live. Thankfully, my boyfriend was loads more clear-sighted than me in that moment.

On the other hand, I've shown marked improvement in some areas. Last year I told myself that, since I was already employed by a company that gave me outstanding benefits, I would not take a new job unless I really wanted it. It took a while, but I was recently able to make a move within the company to a location and position I was actually excited about. I told myself that I will absolutely be taking the approach that I am interviewing the job from now on when I'm looking to make a career change, even as I myself am being interviewed. Inasmuch as it's possible, I might as well hold out for the work I truly want to be doing. 

A couple of weeks ago a friend shared this meme on Facebook, and I identified with it, big time:

Maybe finally feeling this way is just the wisdom of age that so many parents have told us about and which we thought was total bullshit at the time. It's probably that. But it's also the willingness to choose happiness for myself (regardless of what other people have to say about what [my] life should look like), along with the absorption of the idea that I am a worthy individual.  Also, it's getting older and having less time and patience for fakery and for trying every which way to find acceptance (including settling for and agreeing to things that don't really jive with my outlook or desires).

It's asking myself what I really, really want and being ok with the idea that there are people and places and scenarios that won't fit into the answer.

That is the beauty of arriving at this place. I am free to simply say: Here I am. I'm happy to be here. I'm happy you're here, too. I will try to be good to you, and hopefully, we'll be cool with each other.

Most shocking is discovering that this seems to be the most foolproof recipe of all I've stumbled upon--for happiness, peace-of-mind, and smooth interpersonal relations.

Who'd have imagined?


Combine Ingredients and Blend...

My first indication that the home my boyfriend and I had created between us and our two boys (one each from previous relationships) was just that--a home--sounded like this:

"Yes it is."
"No it isn't."
"Yes it is."
"No it isn't"

It was coming from the backseat of the car as we all headed to my parents' house on Christmas Eve. It sounds terribly cliched, I know. I wouldn't have believed that exact conversation actually happens outside of sitcom scenes, had I not heard it myself.

As much as it annoyed me, as knowing as the glance exchanged between my boyfriend and me was, and as quickly as I wanted the nails-on-the-chalkboard sound of the bickering to end, I gained a new awareness upon hearing it:

This was the sound of Siblinghood (yes, that's a word...now).

It wasn't long, a car ride maybe two weeks later, before I was telling them not to touch each other. Next week I'm sure to hear "I'm not touching youuuuu" as one of their fingers hovers menacingly close to the other's leg or arm or face.

Because that's what siblings DO, right?

Last weekend, we were driving again when I heard my steppy son teasing my son by reminding him he'd left a toy behind where we'd been. Instead of giving the toy back to my son, he was saying "finders keepers" type things, playing with the toy in front of him and (until I stepped in) refusing to give it back. At first (even at second), I was really irked. I couldn't imagine what a 12-year-old would want with a toy a 4-year-old was into.

Then I realized it wasn't about that at all. For the first time in his life, my steppy son is an older brother. It's his JOB to tease the only person in the house smaller than him (for the time being anyway). Likewise, it's my son's job to drive my steppy son crazy by trying to imitate every last thing he does that my son thinks is cool (which is everything, of course). If I really want these two boys to feel like brothers--and I do--I have to recognize that this sort of thing comes with the territory.

Here's what else I realized: the kids are doing it better than I am...the blended family thing.

The mother of two biological sons would never have bothered herself with stepping in to stop an argument unless one of them were on fire. That mother is capable of tuning out all manner of verbal sparring and can probably even ignore a half nelson here or there. She knows they'll work it out on their own.

I am still hypersensitive, super vigilant, (probably over-) protective of my own child in these situations. 

As much time as I spend doing for my steppy son all the things a mother does for her child: cooking and folding laundry and interrogating about homework, I am always aware that he HAS a mom of his own, a real biological mom--and it isn't me. And though my boyfriend and I devote much time to discussing what's best for each of our children, for the most part we still retain a sort of unilateral executive decision making power over our respective domains.

Honestly, this can sometimes make things easier; we skip the difficulty of compromising because we don't always HAVE to, and we don't always have to agree. In the case of a hung jury, the DNA contributor always beats the other interested party (no matter how interested the other party).

On the other hand, our ability to take short cuts around those difficult arrivals at consensus is a reminder that our familial ingredients have yet to fully combine. 

I know these things don't happen overnight. If they did it would be weird. I think it wouldn't show the proper respect for what it truly IS to be completely integrated. And it would also downplay the monumental honor it is to be a child's biological parent. 

Still, our family quilt could certainly be more seamless.

I'm sure those days will come with time. It's a state to look forward to. For now, I'll pause to reflect on and appreciate all these little milestones along the way, no matter how irritating they can sometimes sound from the front seat.



Well Now That I'm on a *Mission* and All...

While driving this morning, I was treated to some archived interviews on Forum, a show on our local NPR affiliate. I was struck by one with a woman named Rhodessa Jones, founder of a The Medea Project, which fosters artistic expression of incarcerated women through theater.

First of all, Ms. Jones came across as an incredibly fascinating woman with a rich and layered background in the arts here in the Bay Area. What an inspiration to listen to! Her voice was smooth and silky in that way that conveys a kind of transcendent wisdom. I wished I'd known more about her, sooner.

At one point the program's host, Michael Krasny, asked her a question and her response included the phrase, "part of my Mission Statement is..." I actually didn't catch exactly what she said after that because I was so captivated by the idea of having a Mission Statement--that a person could have one rather than a corporation or organization.

I'd never considered such a thing.

A quick Google search alerted me to the fact that writing personal Mission Statements is A Thing. As in, an entire industry. Stephen Covey has a how-to page on it. Many, many people and organizations do. There was so much to be found on the subject I was quickly overwhelmed.

While I was thinking about it, I sent Ms. Rhodessa Jones a message via Facebook seeking more information and perhaps a copy of her own mission statement as inspiration (because the act of living this long has given me the nothing-to-lose-but-time cojones to do things like that: write emails to perfect strangers in the hopes that they're in the mood to help). Since Rhodessa Jones is surely a very busy women who may not have the time to respond any time soon, if ever, I surfed until I landed on the web page of a blogger named "Gala Darling," who'd undertaken her own mission statement writing exercise on this day 2 years ago (I highly recommend visiting her post if you have any inclination to write a Mission Statement yourself. She has great suggestions on how to get started!). This is among the things she had to say on the subject:
...let me tell you a few reasons why writing a personal mission statement is important & useful. Firstly, it’s a fantastic way to figure out what your values are. This way, when you’re feeling bogged down with email, projects or meetings, you can quickly think back to your mission statement & be able to figure out whether what you’re doing today is relevant to what you want to achieve. The second reason why a mission statement is helpful is because it’s hard to make things happen when you don’t know what you really want! To get things done, you have to start with the end in mind, & a personal mission statement will help support your goals in a wonderful way.
If a “personal mission statement” sounds too heavy, you have my — our — your own — permission to call it something else. A statement of intent. A manifesto. Your quest, on paper. A vision communiqué. A declaration of fabulousness!
I will be the first person to say that a personal Mission Statement lands on the ears a little hokily. I mean what kind of person am I to have a damned mission? Missions are for unmanned drones and international spies and Mormons. And it sounds a little "Successories" for my taste. But then, what kind of life am I living without one? There's something very appealing about the idea of a life lived with purpose.

I know...plenty of people are living lives of extraordinary purpose without the aid of Mission Statements; they have internalized their goals and --consciously or not--make even the smallest of life's decisions with the achievement of those goals in mind.

I'm not there yet.

Until two years ago I didn't even know I was CAPABLE of setting a goal and seeing in through! So I like thought of having something concrete to focus on and refer back to. And I think I will opt to call mine a "manifesto" as Ms. Darling has so cheekily suggested.

I looked over a number of examples from a link her blog provided and was quickly brought to tears of inspiration. People have identified scores of meaningful life goals and deeply loving outlooks, ways to go about approaching each day. Take this, for just *one* example: "I want to make everyone feel welcome in my presence, and yet retain my strength and individuality."

Again I was overwhelmed.

So I took to the clean-surfaced kitchen table with paper and pen to regroup and identify some worthy-of-a-Mission-Statement goals of my own.

Here's what I (eventually) came up with:
I demonstrate and live in accordance with my deep respect for the complexity of others' stories and life circumstances, the precious nature of all of life's resources, and the brevity of this human, on earth experience.
I remember that laughter and the connecting of spirits are what bring me the most joy and I live each day expecting and and engendering both.
I know that I am most fulfilled when I show deference to my goals and those of others.
I believe with conviction that in every moment, I alone can dictate my experience, my outlook, and my state of mind.
I take action on fulfilling the dreams I dream; I am a launcher and a carrier-through.
I remain a firm humanist, believing in the goodness of my fellow men and women, resisting the urge to spread negative information about others, and consistently showing supportive enthusiasm for their successes.
I use my ability to communicate to uplift and spread joy. I write because I am most gratified when doing so on a regular basis.
 I live in a financially responsible manner and believe I am worthy of the wealth I continue to cultivate.
I actively seek to do work that is fulfilling and strive to make my time spent at work meaningful.
I am quick to understand and forgive; I question my own motives before questioning those of others.
While welcoming the experience of knowing all kinds of people, I surround myself most closely with other positively minded individuals who are looking to build-up, support, act in kindness and morality toward, and love their fellow humans.

In case it wasn't abundantly clear, this Mission Statement represents the ideal of all circumstances. This is who I envision myself to be when I am at my absolute best, my most awakened. These points are stated in present tense because I'm a subscriber to the "act as if" principal, card-carrying member of the "fake it 'til you make it" club.

In other words, I'm working on it, people.

It feels good to be working on self-improvement and to have my very own manifesto to look to and compare notes against. It is bound to change over time as my priorities shift and things that didn't seem so important before suddenly are, and vise-versa. But putting this into words is a good step for the present...a good way to kick off a brand new year.

So (and because my man and I have been on a 10-day Breaking Bad bender), I ask you:

What's your mission, yo?!

Kevin's Sketch


A dukun is an Indonesian shaman that is capable of accessing realms of the supernatural or of 'the other', usually in order to heal or receive direction for the seeker.