The "Wu Word" Blog
I come from a
family of poets and painters. My
paternal grandfather encapsulated both painter and poet to the fullest effect. Back in the 1990’s, my grandparents lived
in Canada. My grandfather’s paintings
and poems were so important and ingrained in him that he had a sunroom with
minimal closed walls and maximum glass windows. The windows were so spotlessly clean that Mother
Nature herself in all her glory of sunshine and blue skies along, gloomy
beauty of rain, and purity of snow was so clear that you could almost feel
like you were outside. He had a table
of paintbrushes and thick paints.
He showed me these paintings against the dramatic backdrop of Mother Nature
and would say, “You will see the paintings best in the light.” My aunt was also a painter. I
remember him and her showing me their Chinese paintings that had dark colors
and multitude of mountains.
I also come from a
family of writers and rebels. At a young
age, I learned meaning of “The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword.” I learned how stringing and forming certain
words had the power to hurt or heal. I
learned that words could form and create magical and memorable stories of our
lives to share and speak out to others.
I was taught to fight for what you believe in even if you are in the
lonely minority because living a life of personal truth, morals and principles
held the greatest meaning than to live a life unlived and not meant to be
that was actually the saddest life there can possibly be. I came to believe that timing is everything
in life, and that it is most important to pick battles in order to win wars.
Growing up, I
always considered myself a writer.
Never an artist. My aunt
enrolled me in a drawing class when I was living with her one summer. I learned how to draw flying birds and
buck-toothed bunnies. I was bored in
those art classes. It was not until I
was in high school and then in college that I fell in love with clay and
ceramics. There was something about the
feel of the clay in my hands. With my
hands, I had the power to build, mold, and really create anything and
everything. All through college whenever I was stressed from a brain draining
psychology class, I escaped to the chilly ceramics room to pound and punch
clay to form something. Really Anything. It was fun.
It was invigorating. It was
Recently and completely
unexpectedly, I stopped by at a pottery place just to check it out for grins
and giggles. I joined a bunch of
strangers on a Friday night that had tons of free food (you can always get me
to go somewhere if there is food and especially if it is free) and shelves
and shelves of beautiful and whimsical pottery pieces. Plates.
Bowls. Cups. Cute figurines. All these pieces were meant for serving,
supporting, or just bringing a big smile.
The name of the game was that you pick a piece, paint it, and wait at
least a week to find out how the piece turned out. That night, I listened to many of these
ladies fretting over what paint colors to choose from and saying, “Oh, this
is so stressful and I do not know what I am doing!” I could have chosen any piece. There were a large variety of colors to
choose from. However, I stuck with a simple vase and the
four paint glazes they had to offer. I
wanted to keep it simple. Simple is
usually better. Less is more. I listened to these ladies’ conversations
with a lazy ear as my main interest and focuses that night were the cheese and
crackers and just shutting down my mind down to paint. No thinking. Only painting. Without even thinking and me keeping
uncharacteristically quiet, I painted.
I was the first one
to finish painting my piece and leave that pottery place on that night. I was probably also the first one to pick
up my piece a week later. I was
completely pleasantly surprised at my very first painted vase that was decked
out in warm cinnamon brown and cool teal. I was
shocked at how the colors I had painted on had been supposedly muted and
boring before going into the kiln, but actually came out in brighter than
ever with a shiny and glossy sheen. I was hooked.
Since then, I have
painted a bowl and three plates. I had
a blast with three plates, but one plate was annoying and getting me frustrated,
impatient, and mentally challenged with the art of symmetry versus asymmetry. The only wiring in my mind when I am about to
paint are the colors I will choose and the extra design I might make, whether
it be dots, stripes, or even bubbles.
Each time I have had to hand in a piece to be put into the kiln, I
have no clue how the piece will really turn out. I have no idea if the colors will really
mesh and matchmake well together. I also
must wait at least a whole week to see the final product in all its painted
glory. I have realized that this whole process of
picking a piece, painting it, and waiting on the final product is so much
like life. There is so much that you
can or do put out there, do or even overdo, and then you have no choice but
to patiently wait on the results meeting and matching what you put out
there. You can do everything and
everything you do still will not be good enough. You can try your hardest and your best and
none of these is good enough. There
are times in our lives that are dark or a completely frightening stark white and
blank canvas that you have no clue what to do or put on only to find it in
you to make your own canvas and bring colors and light back to your life and
canvas. You can only hope for your faith
and patience to get you through that waiting time for what you waited for to
be and meet what you originally hoped for.
A vase, three plates,
and a bowl later, maybe I would have
to say that I am merely a humbled artist full of poet, painter, writer, and
rebel—all coming from my family. The
time I paint is my quiet time. My
quiet time for my mind, However, it has also been my time of bringing colors back
to the stark white piece AND colors back into my mind and life. I came to terms that this 2019 was one of
the most challenging years of my life. I have and am still making my peace with
2019. I am ready to leave 2019, but,
more than that, I am more than ready to embrace 2020 and bring the brightest
of colors back to it that were muted and faded in 2019. It is fun.
It is invigorating. It is
It takes quite a
lot to bring hope, light, brightness, and, indeed, colors back into our lives
during our darkest and most difficult and challenging times. When did your life maybe seem black and
white? Where do you escape to that
brings you comfort, joy, and, maybe, just maybe quieting your unquiet
mind? What did it take for you to
bring colors back into your life? How
have you or do you bring colors into your life?
Keep smilin’ until
we meet again,
Two years ago, I
learned that one of my relatives was diagnosed with late-stage stomach
cancer. It was determined that he was
terminal and probably would not make it past Christmas. I was never particularly close to this
relative, but terminal illnesses do a twisting kind of thing to the mind that
make you remember the moments where you were close and could have been even
closer. So, the memories played like a movie reel in my mind of when this
relative lived with my family and I and I tormented him as a bratty child
bugging him to play games with me. I remembered being given the responsibility
of his flower girl in Hong Kong in a puffy pink dress. I remembered my Dad and me spending the
entire day with him and his wife out at Universal Studios in California in the
beaming sunshine and daring each other to go on the fastest and wildest of
rides. Even more so, terminal illnesses
back you in a corner making you think that you lost the chance to be closer so
you try to make up for the perception of loss by making as many moments and
memories to hold on to just before that person is no longer here on earth. So, that is exactly what we did. To make new memories to remember and hold on
to, my family and I jetted off to California to visit this relative and his
wife for what was deemed by doctors as his last Christmas.
I had heard that he
was going bald from the start of treatments to try to combat the cancer. I knew exactly what I wanted to get him for
Christmas; A handmade hat from one of my friends who was famous for her knitted
hats from the thickest and finest of yarns.
After much decision with my hat lady friend, I finally decided on a
swirl of colors thick hat for him to keep his head warm and spirits even warmer
and more hopeful.
Our first stop in
sunny California was to see him and his wife.
In a stark white room that was badly in need of color, personality, and
light, we all crowded and stood like soldiers encircling him. We hugged his thinning body. We plastered on bright smiles. We took pictures. We filled up the awkward
pauses with laughter, jokes, small talk, and really anything and everything
that did not touch terminal illness with a ten-foot pole. I gave him the hat. He bony fingers brushed mine when he grasped
on to it. The hat was too big for him, but
he dutifully put it on to try to please me and everyone else.
Before we left, we
all lifted up our filled up plastic cups to wish each other happiest of
holidays. I rang out: “Cheers!”
Everyone beamed with
big smiles and his smile was the biggest of all. In my experience, there is something about
the word ‘cheers.’ Almost all the time,
it melts away tension and a big grin or smile takes over somber faces. I think it is because ‘cheers’ is like the
word ‘cheese’ where the lines on our faces cannot help but lift up rather than
down. He knew that this was going to be
his last Christmas. We knew that this
was going to be his last Christmas. Some
could even say that we all knew that we were pretending that everything was
okay when it was not okay, but maybe it was not really pretending. Maybe it is just trying and creating new and
happy memories in unhappy and even painful reality. Maybe it is just trying to ring out and find
the ‘cheers’ and positivity in pain and in the face of adversity and when the
cloud of negativity looms overhead.
Just a couple days
after Christmas and just before the New Year, he had died. He had made it to Christmas. He had not made it to the New Year. All of us had made it in time to be together
and say and ring in ‘cheers’ one last time, making a bittersweet memory
imprinted in my mind. Sometimes, the
holidays can be the hardest time of the year where there is the flood of good
and bad memories. It can be the time of
the year where we think about those who are missing and we end up missing these
people the most. Most definitely, it is
that time of year that we find and make magic and as much ‘cheers’ as we can
muster as we gather and try to come together.
‘Cheers’ illicits joy
and happy memories in the face of unhappy or daunting reality. When have you been in a painful or hurtful
time that you tried to overcome with creating new and happy memories? Have you
ever noticed that the word ‘cheers’ naturally brings a smile to our faces?
This Christmas and in
the days to come that ends 2019 and starts 2020, I wish you and all your loved
Keep smilin’ until we
I was in lane two
when I first encountered the swimmer.
Lane one by the wall
is my favorite lane because it has more space for me to do my stretches every ten
laps, but that particular after-work swim to de-stress had me swimming in lane
two to avoid the ‘circle’ swim that every swimmer knows about and avoids out of
impatience and desire of personal space for ‘his’ or ‘her’ own lane. My prescription goggles were foggy. I was underwater,
slammed my hand against the wall, and just broke the surface to try to catch my
breath when I heard the swimmer exclaim: “You certainly know what you are doing!”
I pulled off my
goggles and squinted. With my horrific
eyesight without my glasses, all I could make out was an elderly gentleman who
looked in his mid to late 70’s. He was
completely bald. He was slim and
well-built with certainly less love handles than me. He had a big grin that revealed gaps of
missing teeth. His eyes shined like a
young and excited child discovering something wondrous and wonderful.
He exclaimed happily:
“You are a good swimmer! You must do
this a lot!”
uncharacteristically awkward and wordless. It is unspoken swimmer rule that
swimmers do not stop for small talk in the middle of vigorous and driven
laps. He was breaking the unspoken
swimmer rules. I uncomfortably gave him
a half smile and nod alongside my squint and said, “Uhmm…thanks.”
Back under the water
I went. However, each time I came up for
air, the swimmer boomed joyfully, “You know what you are doing! You must do this a lot! You are a good swimmer!”
I started to get
annoyed. I knew I should not have been annoyed. He was so endearing, sweet, and clearly just
being friendly, but my swim strokes were slower and sloppier because he kept
interrupting me. When I stopped shyly
thanking him for his compliments, he slipped under water swimming slowly,
steadily, and smoothly like a graceful gazelle.
When I left the pool
grumpy that I had a slower swim, he said with his huge smile, “I’ll see you
again! Keep up the great work!”
For three weeks, I
kept encountering the swimmer. I began
to notice little things about him. He wore dark blue trunks and black sandals
that he would dip into the pool. It took him up to 30 minutes or more of when
I was about to leave the pool for him to even get into the pool. He
paced back and forth on the pool deck.
He then paced back and forth on the steps into the pool. He always came with his aide who barely even
looked at him because she was so busy with flying fingers texting on her cell
phone. Every now and then, the aide’s
head popped up from the phone to encourage or scold the swimmer, “Get in the
water! It is good for you!” or “Don’t wear your sandals into the pool! You have to go into the pool with bare feet!” Most
of all, I noticed that other swimmers stayed away from him. Just like I had. We had been in such a rush to get our swim
routines over and done with so we could return to our other menial and
supposedly necessary tasks that we had ignored and excluded him. I was ashamed.
However, worst of
all, other swimmers complained about him.
They called him “grumpy” (I did not see that at all) and claimed that he
kept disrupting their swims. After a
swim that was thrown off by the swimmer, I glimpsed each disgruntled person march
over to bored lifeguards to gripe about the swimmer. I felt bad for the swimmer, so I one day took
the plunge of purposefully choosing to swim with him in a lane. Lane one.
My favorite. He looked surprised
and asked, “So, you swim there and I swim here? Just the two of us?”
“Sure,” I replied
with a big smile.
He looked at me like
he was trying to figure out what the catch was and then what to say. His confused tension faded away and his eyes
sparkled with joy. There was that big
gap-toothed grin again. He said to me
softly, “You are kind.”
On the day that I swam
with the swimmer, I spoke with his aide.
She told me about the swimmer in the midst of furiously texting, “Anyone
who meets him knows something is wrong with his mind. His memories are going. But, he just wants to make friends and
connections. Swimming is good for
him. His mind and to meet other people.”
With a towel wrapped over
my shaking cold body that was dripping with chlorinated water, I looked at the
swimmer who was methodically swimming underwater. I knew all too well how necessary swimming
was in my life. It was my therapy. It was my security. It was a happy place I slipped into to actually
try to FORGET a bad day and bad memories and moments rather than REMEMBER them,
but it was also the place I received clarity, strength, rejuvenation, and a
different perspective on bad moments and memories. Yet, here was the swimmer trying to bring
clarity to his losing mind and memories all through swimming.
With a towel wrapped over my shaking cold body that was dripping with chlorinated water, I looked at the swimmer who was methodically swimming underwater. I knew all too well how necessary swimming was in my life. It was my therapy. It was my security. It was a happy place I slipped into to actually try to FORGET a bad day and bad memories and moments rather than REMEMBER them, but it was also the place I received clarity, strength, rejuvenation, and a different perspective on bad moments and memories. Yet, here was the swimmer trying to bring clarity to his losing mind and memories all through swimming.
One day and I think maybe after all the complaints from all the swimmers, the swimmer did not show up. The day turned into days and weeks. The swimmer was nowhere to be found. I found myself thinking and wondering about him when I was underwater in my favorite lane one. I was remembering his slow and steady strokes that were a reminder for all of us and me to stop and slow down rather than rush and ignite anxiety and impatience. Remembering him was a reminder of how utterly powerful our mind, moments, and memories are. I could hear his voice reverberate in my mind under the water, “You know what you are doing! You must do this a lot! You are a good swimmer!” and, especially, these three words that made all the difference in the world to me that day that I swam with the swimmer: “You are kind.”