Viewing Myself: A Lesson in Acceptance

My partner David has a longstanding interest in photography. In the past few years he has upped his game by getting a good camera, studying photographic concepts, and taking lots of pictures. The ones that are not used for selling stuff on Ebay are often of me (as well as landscapes and wildlife).

Now I have mixed feeling about this. On the one hand, I want to encourage his interest and he can take lovely flattering pictures of me. However, he also takes ones that I feel are not so flattering, although they are “good pictures.” These pictures have good composition, light, and create a sense of interest. However, I look at them and think, dsc_5412“Do I really look like that??” I guess I do.

What I have come to understand is that I look attractive (by some mythic standards) some of the time and not others. And it is all me. dsc_5650It took a bit of perspective to come to this. I embrace my bright eyes and inviting smile and am working on accepting my aging self – with my salt and pepper hair (that is more salt than pepper), worry wrinkles on my forehead, and saggy neck. What is beautiful anyway? As they say, it depends on who is looking.

Yet, it is interesting to look at myself in his pictures and hear him talk about them. He often sees different things than I do. He sees the bight eyes and the turn of my head and I see the blemish on my skin. dsc_5663I guess often we are more critical of ourselves than others are. But, I think looking at myself through his eyes and the camera’s lens helps me to try to not judge myself and to accept the pictures as gift – a reflection of moments in time that are quickly passing.dsc_5656

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Listening to My Daughter’s Laughter

My daughter is visiting Massachusetts from LA where she is living and doing production work. A friend of mine has a house on Cape Cod and we went to get away and spend some time together. We thought we would wander around and check out the various towns, the antique stores, and the potato chip factory that are open year around. However, Mother Nature had a different plan. It snowed 18 inches. (Luckily, we got out to get groceries between storms and had lots of good food.) This meant that the last two days were spent watching movies, doing collage, working on a puzzle of New York doors, eating, and shoveling snow – not all unpleasant, but not the vacation we expected.img_0699

I guess the good news was that we have internet service and can watch movies. Niko loves movies and TV. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but when she was about six or seven she turned to me and said, “I love my TV” in a way that was a tad disturbing for me as her mother. (I, on the other hand, don’t own a TV and only watch programing and movies occasionally.) In any event, she was occupied during the storm. I went upstairs to write a few cards, and heard her laughing at the movie. It warmed my heart and made me smile. I love hearing my daughter laugh. It is an antidote to the pain of living.

There is so much struggle and heartbreak in life and as a mother I live it twice – once in my life and twice in hers. I remember when she was in middle school and some of her friends iced her out. (Children can really be so cruel.) It broke my heart to see her so hurt and unhappy. Yet, there was little I could do but be there and listen and remind her that it wasn’t her fault. As a mother, I spend a lot of time in this position, especially as she gets older.

Parenting for me is the most rewarding tough job I know. In my life it has been made harder by major depression and tragedy. However, it is so worth the effort and it gives my life meaning and hope. I know I can’t protect her from much any more, but I can still be there and listen when the hard times come.

And, it is a joy to hear her laugh.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Woes and Joys of Being an Intermediate


A pendant I made for my stepmom.

About a year and a half ago I started a journey of becoming a metalsmith I had done creative beading and wire wrapping for many years, but up to that point never ventured into working with metal and torches. The torch sort of scared me and I wasn’t sure I had the imagination to take a sheet of metal and make something lovely. However, I thought maybe I could just start at home with some tools and see what happened. When I told my daughter my thoughts she said, “Mom! You have to take a class” in only the tone a 21 year old can muster. She then went, bless her heart, to find a local class, sign me up and pay for it (with the help of her grandmother). Next thing I know, I am in Karen Christians’* Jewelry 1 class.

I was still scared of the torch, but Karen (the great teacher she is) knew this about many beginners and taught us right off how to safely use it (and it wasn’t that bad). I learned a ton in that class – how to pierce metal (saw), how to form metal with hammers, how to texture metal with the rolling mill, how to solder, how to set a cabochon, how to rivet, how to use the Flexshaft – the list goes on. I have taken two other classes and now would call myself an intermediate metalsmith.


Reliquary I made in memory of Peter Marvit

Being an intermediate at any thing has its frustrations. What this means in this case is that I spend a lot of time redoing things. I know what I am supposed to do and usually how to do it, but it doesn’t always operationalize very well. However, if I allow myself the perspective that I am on a learning journey and am not a professional (0r even close) then I am not as frustrated. Sure, it is a drag to have to redo stuff, but most of the time I am able to see what I am learning from my mistakes. This is valuable to me, both as a metalsmith, as well as a person.

How I face learning something new says a lot about how I face life. If I refuse to learn new things, perhaps citing the erroneous statement that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” then I am stagnant. I say that I may be “old” (although that is relative) but I am not done growing and learning. I could also get completely frustrated with my state of intermediateness and give up or at least make myself miserable with frustration and self-condemnation. I choose to do neither of these things.

As a teacher and a student, I know learning keeps one alive and sharp. It also makes life so much more interesting. I have never been one to suffer boredom well. There is really no excuse for it. The world is wide and there is so much to learn. However, along the way, you have to be ready to go over the hump of being an intermediate. I accept this challenge.

*Karen Christians has a studio in Lowell, MA and gives private lessons. She is a fabulous teacher. (


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Then, Later, Now — In Memory of Peter Marvit


You wrote me love notes

In your purple scrawl

That only I could read.

Your words so well-crafted,

So witty,

And sincere.


You gave me the book, The Giving Tree.

And inside the front cover you wrote,

“I hope to be your giving tree.”

A wish so vulnerable,

And loving.


You told me I was beautiful,

That my face was like the moon,

Despite my sense that I was just fat

And unattractive.

You never cared about my weight

Or my hairstyle,

Or what shoes I wore.

Always thought I was beautiful

That was one of your gifts to me.


At the birth of our daughter

You quoted someone saying that

“My heart grew an extra chamber”

And that you wished you had thought of it first.

But the sentiment remained.


We divorced.

Ties were cut.

We all suffered.


We rewove our lives together.

Tied knots.

Remembered our love for each other

Remembered that we are family

That we are best friends,

Confidants, parents, cheerleaders,

Unapologetically in each other’s lives.


You were shot.


On September 17, 2012.


I look at your picture

A relic of stopped time.

You never wanted to get older anyway.

Never wanted another year to pass.

Never wanted to acknowledge

That I was almost a year younger.

In fact, you always celebrated the two weeks

In September

When we were the same age.


That I had “caught up.”


I am older

and grow older still


without you.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Riding with the Blues — Take Two

Over six years ago I wrote a blog post on the imperative of riding to help manage my depression. (Link to blogpost) I spoke of the dialectic between my depression and my riding – a dialectic that remains to this day. Recently, it has come up as an issue for me as I get back on the bike after the tragic and abrupt ending to my partner’s and my cross-country trip three years ago.

imagejpeg952I feel like I am in the process of reclaiming cycling and forging a new relationship with it. As I have mentioned before, the first year and a half or so after Peter’s murder, I couldn’t ride without crying and riding alone was just too hard. So, I rode less, which on the one hand made me feel defeated, but on the other was less painful than riding and revisiting the memories of the trip and its untimely ending. Last summer, I tried to ride more and I did – but not as much as previous years and I still felt an overwhelming burden of grief related to it. And then, this winter I felt more depressed.

Now the winter in Boston was particularly bitter and it sort of made sense that I would feel more depressed (especially since I suffer from seasonal depression anyway). I was hopeful that the spring would bring a better mood and a renewed commitment to riding. Well, it’s into summer now and I do have a renewed commitment to cycling as evidenced by a health goal I made to ride twice a week for at least 20 miles. Not a hugely ambitious goal, but a doable one and a start. For the most part I have kept to this goal, except for the past two weeks. You see the hope for improved mood with warmer weather hasn’t come to pass and I find myself riding with the blues yet again.

The past two weeks have been a bit worse on the depression scale, for no apparent reason. Anyway, it is hard for people who have never had major depression to understand the fact that it is hard to do anything when depression grips you. It is a challenge to get out of bed and dressed and out the door. It is hard to move at all – never mind riding. It is literally painful. Yet, if I can get on the bike for a little I feel a sense of accomplishment and sometimes just a tad better.

Riding, even when I am doing it in earnest, has never been an anti-depressant panacea. In fact, I find it insulting when doctors imply that exercise will cure my depression. (I know for some exercise works wonders, but not for me.) It strikes me that those who say, “just ride” don’t understand what an undertaking that is when one is depressed. So I find myself again balancing pushing through with the acceptance of my limitations.

I could condemn myself for not being in as good a shape as I was three years ago or for the fact that I am not riding as much as I have in past years. Yet I have learned that I have to accept where I am and go forward from that point. I know I have to take it one pedal stroke at a time, riding with the blues in hopes of brighter days.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Art of Healing: The Sketchbook Project

So Sunday was Father’s Day. On Sunday, I thought what a good day to write about fatherhood and what it means to me. However, Sunday came and went and that post did not get written. The truth is that I am still raw from my dad’s death in May 2012 and my daughter’s father’s death that following September. Father’s Day this year felt rather empty. However, it wasn’t as wrenching as the two Father’s Days previous. Healing is happening, albeit slowly and deliberately. It is not miraculous healing. I work for it.

I do many things to promote my healing – writing, therapy, cycling, prayer, and art. Actually, art is a pretty powerful source of healing for me, especially as related to Peter’s death, which was both untimely and traumatic.

FullSizeRenderShortly after Peter’s murder, I decided that I would create collages to capture his life and my grief. I spent a long time cutting out images and words and collecting picture of him. I made one collage that expressed my deep grief and made a list of “topics” for other collages – things like fatherhood and life in San Francisco. I thought I would make 51 collages for the 51 years he lived. Then in January of this year my good friend Catherine came across The Sketchbook Project and asked if I wanted to do it. I emphatically said, “yes.”

A couple of weeks after she signed us up, a 5”x7” blank paperback sketchbook was delivered to my home. I knew the moment that it arrived (actually probably before that moment) that my sketchbook project was going to be a memorial to Peter. I can’t draw to save my life (although Peter could) and have found that collage allows me to create art without that particular gift. So, I set out to make a set of collages that expressed Peter’s life with me and then my experience of grief after his death. It was January.

One of the Sketchbook Project Collages

One of the Sketchbook Project Collages

Another Sketchbook Project Collage

Another Sketchbook Project Collage

And another.

And another.

And another.

And another.

The way it works is that the sketchbook gets submitted to become part of the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Art Library. It was due March 30th. So I spent some more time cutting stuff out. I made a few collages. I cut out a bunch of background papers that I thought I might want to use. I then created collages on those small papers that I eventually pasted into the sketchbook itself. I created over forty collages although only 38 of them were used. (The process was helped by a stint of housesitting for my step-mom where I had the use of a large dining room table.)

Last one.

Last one.

Creating this memorial allowed me to grieve in a constructive way. It allowed me to remember Peter and process some of the the pain of his death. My Sketchbook Project created a container for me to share this with others too, which in of itself is healing. I am not done with my grieving for Peter or for my dad for that matter. But creating and sharing art about my experience is a powerful healer, one I embrace as central to my healing journey.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Glacial Transformation and Miraculous Awareness

FlowerA very close friend of mine, Catherine Womack, writes a Sunday column for a popular blog “Fit is a Feminist Issue.” This week she wrote on “Easter – a meditation on rebirth, renewal, and change.” ( Last night we were talking about the post and about how change happens in our lives. In her post she writes: “This is the [Easter] story, and all religions have miraculous and transformative event myths that fix our attention and inspire us. But in our own down-to-earthly lives, transformation is not miraculous. It is slow, with setbacks and obstacles to overcome, and takes lots of twists and turns.”

She makes a very good point about how transformation is gradual. I think this is especially true in the psychological realm.

I have many examples of this in my life; most generally, I have been on a healing journey for many years in order to live with the fact that I have chronic major depression and PTSD. This journey has been far from linear, but it hasn’t been circular either. It has been more spiral, in that I have come back to some of the same issues and problems at different times, but addressed them anew with the knowledge of what I had learned along the way. Change in this realm has also been gradual and at times felt glacially slow. But even glaciers move and change, and I have as well.

I think the thing is, it is hard to discern change when you are in the middle of it – especially if you are spiraling around to what feels like the same place but is really not. Each time I hit a hard patch and fall into the black hole of depression I worry that it will be like it was ten years ago, when I would end up dysfunctional for weeks and sometimes in the psychiatric hospital. So far, knock on wood, I have been able to deal with my downs more successfully. I have more coping tools, more community, and more support which all allow me to stay above water and not drown in the sea of depression and PTSD.

This all was really clear to me recently at a video shoot for an anti-stigma campaign on which I have been working. I am on a ad hoc committee that is developing a website addressing Asian American mental health issues to provide information and fight the stigma that mental health issues have in Asian American communities. I was one of four people whose stories were being videotaped at a local public broadcasting station. During the shoot, I told parts of my “recovery story” about living with depression. At one point, I thought, I have really changed in the last ten years. I am living with this illness so much more successfully. It was an “ah-ha” moment, when I could look back and really see how much has changed in my life. And although, I remain on my healing journey and will for the rest of my life, I can from this vantage point see the transformation that has occurred. (I can hear my therapist cheering.)

Although the process of change itself is not miraculous, I believe that my awareness of my transformation is miraculous. It is a powerful moment where I could see that glaciers had moved and my life and my healing were not static. I am grateful for these miracles of awareness, as they give me hope that other things too will change. It’s like the coming of spring; crocuses peeking out from the ground make me aware that spring will actually come despite this winter’s harshness.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Stories of a Polka Dot Balloon

Pink Balloon

My friend, Diane, send me this picture of a pink polka dot balloon. The polka dots reminded her of me, and my blog. The picture we agreed was bittersweet, in that the balloon was clearly past her prime, slightly deflated, and alone in the woods. We started to imagine her backstory – was she a birthday gift? Did she slip out of the fingers of a little girl who was devastated at the loss? Was she part of a bunch of balloons, perhaps, at a wedding, each floating to different destinations? We assumed that she brought cheer to someone.

I then started thinking about the assumptions we were making and realizing that we just didn’t know. The balloon might have been a final gift to a dying child or a consolation balloon for a child whose parents just divorced. We just couldn’t know. Yet, we first made lots of assumptions, just like most of us do about everything – including people.

Most of the time, when we meet new people, we make assumptions based on how they look and act and dress. It’s how people try to make sense of the world and figure out how to interact with each other. Most of the time, this strategy works okay (to some extent), in that we manage to negotiate social situations without constant conflict. Yet, I am also aware of the times when this strategy clearly breaks down in dramatic ways – take Ferguson for an example (knowing that this case is much more complex and nuanced than a mere making of assumptions). However, I don’t want to talk about the “extreme” cases here, except to point out that they are unfortunately relatively common in our society. Instead, I want to reflect on the subtle ways that assumptions shape how we act and react to others, and explore the invisible stories that we have in our lives.

For instance, people assume that I was not born in the United States because I am Japanese-American. “Where are you from?” and “What are you?” have been frequent questions in my life. I was born in Cambridge Massachusetts and grew up in a suburb of Boston. This is usually not what the asker expects, and not really what they want to know anyway. They want to know what country (in my case) my grandparents on my came from. The other common question, “What are you?” I find quite offensive. I often think “Vulcan” when I get asked this. Most of the time, I don’t say it, as I am too polite and know that they are really asking is what is my ethnic background. One time, when I lived in San Francisco, a census worker came up to me at a gathering and assumed I didn’t speak English. In truth, I only speak English and sadly don’t speak Japanese at all. I doubt a person of European background would get asked these kinds of questions even if she or he were a visitor and were not American and didn’t speak English at all. The assumption, based on appearance would be that she or he belonged here.

In addition to the assumptions made from appearances, the pink polka dot balloon made think about the untold life stories that people have and the ways that appearances don’t tell the whole story at all. I grew up in a suburb of Boston and people could assume my family was upper-middle class based on my address. Yet, in reality my mother was always scraping to make ends meet. In our neighborhood we were the “odd” family, mostly because my mother was of European descent and her children were mixed heritage Japanese-Americans; we were lower-middle class in the sea of more privilege; and my mother was mentally ill and suffered from bipolar disorder. We did not fit the nice white middle class profile and could feel the subtle discrimination and judgment of others. Yet, there was much more to our story than the bits people knew. Although often troubled, my mother was tough too and had a good heart. Yet, very few people really knew her as they kept their distance.

So I am thinking that when I start to write someone else’s story in my head just from their appearance that I need to stop and realize that I don’t know unless I talk to them and ask. And luckily for me, people can share their stories when balloons cannot.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Cyclist’s Identity

Pata on Red crop

It’s been almost ten years since I first donned spandex and began my journey as cyclist.  Almost ten years since I first rolled down the Minuteman Bike Path with my now partner, David, for the first time. (Just for the record, I probably stopped eight times to rest, but made it the entire 20 mile round-trip.)  David would come up behind me and give me a little push to help me get up the inclines and to encourage me.  I still have the little patch that we got at the store at the Bedford train depot at the end of the path.  A lot has happened since that day.

Over the past ten years, I have developed an identity as a cyclist that is integral to who I am. I have learned and taught bicycle mechanics. I have built wheels. I raced once. I taught bicycle riding from abject beginners to group riding and pacelining. I rode five Harbor to the Bay AIDS charity rides – each 125 miles in one day. Most years, I rode on average 4500 miles per year. In the summer of 2012, I rode with my partner David across the United States (from Bedford Massachusetts to Dayton Washington State). However, my list of cycling accomplishments is only part of what makes up my identity as a cyclist. For there are plenty of people who ride their bikes a lot, but who do not have an identity as a cyclist. I think it is the pervasiveness of cycling and bicycles in my life that makes it an identity.

Take my “office/studio” for an example. It is a small room in which I do everything from meditation and art to writing and exercise. It is sort of an all purpose space for me. It also houses six bicycles (not all of which are mine), my cycling instructor certificate from the League of American Bicyclists, a bicycle sculpture, a bowl made of chain on my desk, and four bicycling posters. Righty now the trainer is also set up in the corner. Bike stuff is everywhere! In my pencil containers I have tire levers and tucked in with the envelopes is a multi-tool. Anyone who sees my room would know immediately that I am a bike nut.

Even my language is infused with cycling terms. David and I joke about having different “kits” like the “snow shoveling kit” or the “bedtime kit ” – referring to the clothes I wear specifically for those activities. Or I might say that my friend is “off the front,” when we are both in cars. Cycling jargon gets generalized and has become part of my common parlance.

My identity as a cyclist provides me with a perspective on life and reference points that people who are not cyclists do not have. Cycling is a powerful metaphor in my life. Cycling requires balance, forward movement, and pacing – as life does. I look at weather differently; the question is always, is it ride-able?

Now the past couple of years have not been good for me in terms of riding. After I lost my best friend to murder, I have had a hard time getting back on the bike. The grief was just too much. But even when I am not riding as much, I still have my cyclist’s identity. I still view the world through cyclist’s eyes. I have miss riding and think I have finally moved through enough grief to re-approach it this coming season. My aim is to reaffirm my identity and practice as a cyclist and to find the joy again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Argument for Self-Compassion

A Loving Kindness Collage I made for myself

A Loving Kindness Collage I made for myself

(This one is for CC)

I want to get back to the third of my New Year’s intentions: compassion. There has been a lot written about the need for a more compassionate world, and although I agree whole-heartedly in the need for compassion for others, in this post I want to focus on compassion for one’s self.

I know lots of people who have boatloads of compassion for everyone else, but who judge themselves harshly. I was among those who could give to others but not to myself. I judged myself to standards much higher than those I had for others and was quick to condemn myself. It took many years of therapy and support to undo those internal tapes that said I was not good enough and that I was undeserving. It took a lot of work to be able to be as compassionate to myself as I am to others and although I have yet to achieve perfection, I am much more able to hold myself in compassion than I was before. Not only was self-condemnation hurtful but it also was not helpful.

For one, being overly critical of myself never served me; it only made me feel worse. I was not motivated to “do better” by condemning myself. Instead, it just led to despair. I think there was a part of me that felt that condemning myself would make me perform better – sort of like an internal abusive drill Sargent. What I learned was that I don’t respond well to that kind of “authority” internally or externally and I do better when I feel understood and encouraged to grow from the place I am to a new one.

Personally, I think most people are this way. I am not saying that there aren’t times when I need to have goals or standards, I am just saying that I don’t have to beat myself up if I don’t reach them all the time.

It makes more sense to me to work to understand what got in the way of a task and figure out how to do better next time. Most of the time, we are all doing the best we can do. This is important to remember. This is not to say that we shouldn’t improve if we are not satisfied with how we are doing – it’s just that we should give ourselves grief. Anyone one of us can only do the best we can do at any given moment. However, we have a choice of how we interact with that fact and it strikes me that acceptance of ourselves and our limitations works better than condemning ourselves.

So as I go into this year, I hope to continue to have compassion and acceptance for myself as I make my way on this healing and growing journey.

(The picture is a loving kindness collage I made for myself. It reminds me to be compassionate and loving toward me!)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment