Coming Home


In response to Pablo Nerudo’s From the Book of Questions III, in which he asks, “Why do trees
conceal the splendor of their roots?”

I know why trees hide the splendor of their roots. They were born in dirt and shit and
sand. It was all they had to feed on.

I know why trees don’t walk until all are asleep. They hide their secret under asphalt sky
so you cannot see where they splinter and smell and learned to breathe.

I know why priests hold babies under water to wash away blood no baths can take. That
blood comes from the place our flesh was born.

So, I understand why I’m quiet and frail when the plane lands down in dust and sun. It
returning to the place I cannot hide from. I’m coming home.

Divorce: Taking The Long View


Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

A year into my second marriage, I waited in bed for my wife to return from her daily bender. I was 39
years old and miserable. My children were safely tucked in bed in their bedroom and, as I waited to see
whether she would be yelling at me again that night, I wondered whether I could handle another forty
years of this and, if so, what I would be like after that kind of a stretch. It wasn’t pretty.

For those of you who never married into anger, let me give you a window into what the life is like.
Imagine a world where you do all the stuff you are already doing now, but are constantly having to
process your tasks through a set of questions, such as “what is her preferred way of this happening?” Or,
“If I do this, will the kids be woken up with yelling later?” Or my personal least favorite, “Will this ruin
Christmas?” Since the day we had said “I do”, my wife has shifted from a person who sent me love
poems to a person who sent me hate mail. Everyone and everything was suspect. She was convinced my
friends were lovers. Offers to navigate while she drove were considered an affront on her navigational
skills. On and on it went, and every perceived slight led to another round of accusations and yelling. It
was a nightmare and I wanted out.

However, this would not be my first failed marriage and I wasn’t even forty years old. This would mean
my 4-year-old son would become a child of not one divorce, but two. I’m sure you’re following along
here. That figure does not look good. Reflecting on that failure kept me stuck in a miserable pattern. I
attended personal and couples counseling trying to save my marriage. Meanwhile, things kept getting
much worse. I didn’t want to acknowledge my mistakes and fail my children, but in that moment,
reflecting on who I would become if I didn’t leave, I was greeted with a new question. It wasn’t just about
what I would become, it was about what my children would become, too.

Looking into the future allowed me to look past my fears in the moment (of failing my marriage, of the
inevitable social judgment, of the public embarrassment, of the expense). Taking the long view reminded
me what really mattered and that trying to make an insane situation work would be an even greater
mistake. I didn’t have the courage to end it that night, but it wasn’t long after that I did.

When people are in crisis, it’s normal to go into a survival state. After the past year, a lot of us are stuck
in that right now. Unfortunately, this mind frame often gets in the way of us being able to think
reasonably and make sound judgments regarding how to respond. People become focused on the
immediate future and immediate needs. As a result, it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of figuring out how
to get through the day rather than sorting out how to build a better life. You are not likely to make your
best choices and often, this is when your choices matter most.

If you find yourself in an untenable position and can’t imagine how to get out, take a deep breath. Shift
your attention for a moment away from your fear and to what you want. Now ask yourself, what do you
need to get there? Write it down and make it happen. Take the long view and you could very well save
your life.

Now, almost three years after that difficult night, I can say most certainly admitting my mistakes didn’t
hurt as much as staying. My poor son is hard to feel bad for most days. He’s too busy making fart jokes
and showing off his new Tae Kwon Do moves.

Sure, when I filed for divorce, the social judgment came. I think we can all agree that was inevitable.
Some people wrote me off, but I’m still here and I’m happier than ever. So the jokes on them. Or maybe, the joke is on the woman that I almost was. Doesn’t really matter either way. The important thing is I can
laugh again and mean it.

Conversations With My 12-Year-Old Self


Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Dear 12 Year Old Me,

You don’t know it yet, but everything will turn out fine.

It’s an awkward phase for you right now but you’ll grow out of it. Those popular girls that you kind of hang around but aren’t truly in with … well, future you still won’t be friends with them but that’s ok because you’ll find friends that will accept you for who you are. No hard feelings.

I know you thought braces were cool because you could change the colors to match the holidays, but you’re going to grimace a bit when you see pictures of yourself. Especially when they’re red and green … that’s kind of a clashing color combination. It’s not going to match anything other than Christmas sweaters but those aren’t a thing yet.

You have a reputation for being smart, especially when it comes to math and science. Or rather, you’ve been told you have to be good at math and science, no matter what. But it’s English that you’re naturally blossoming in.

This is the year you decide you don’t want to become a doctor. When you tell your dad, he’s going to be disappointed. You won’t forget his reaction, even after he’s forgotten his own reaction. But you’ll settle on becoming something he’s ok with.

You’re going to get the award for the highest academic average in your class. Enjoy it while it lasts because this is the last year that school is going to be easy for you. You’ll continue to do fine academically because that’s what you do, but you’ll find out next year that you were just a big fish in a small pond.

You’re struggling with being Asian right now, but that too will change. It’s hard to be the only Chinese at school when you’re growing up and no one is valued for being different at this stage of life. You’ll learn to balance your “white side” and your “Asian side”, and you’ll also learn it’s ok for that balance to fluctuate at times.

You’re painstaking combing your English to remove all traces of an Asian accent that might have trickled through to you. You’ll change your pronunciation from AD-ult to a-DULT and from fi-NANCE to FI-nance to better fit in. When really, it’s not even a Chinese accent thing — it’s a British vs American pronunciation thing. Your parents grew up under the British and undoubtedly, the British accent is cooler than the American accent.

You hate sandwiches and you’re going to continue to hate sandwiches. But you’ll continue to bring sandwiches to school every day for lunch because that’s what the white kids are doing. The last time you brought a thermos of fried rice, you got curious looks that made you uncomfortable. And that time you brought sushi, you had to explain that it’s seaweed and survive all the “ew” comments. They’ll change and Asian food will become no different than Taco Tuesdays. Once you start working, you’ll never pack a sandwich for lunch ever again.

It’s ok that your parents hold you to stricter rules than the “white parents”. It’s not actually all for your own good, but you won’t be able to change it anyways till you move out and you won’t do that for another decade so hang in there. You’ll find time to catch up.

I know you can’t go to the mall like the other girls can because of said Asian parents and, consequentially, you don’t get to buy the matching bracelets or shirts or whatever was cool back then to fit in. To be honest, you wouldn’t fit in anyways even if you did match them. Also, malls are boring if you don’t have money and you do not have any money right now.

You live under a rock right now and you can blame your parents for that. They won’t let you watch “Friends” because there are too many sexual references and they won’t let you listen to popular music because the Spice Girls are too scandalous. Backstreet Boys … well, they were afraid you’d become a fangirl and they think crazy fans have no dignity. Honestly, it was probably just easier for them to issue a blanket ban than to sort through it all.

To be honest, you’re going to spend a fair bit of time trying to hide this gap in your pop knowledge, but you’re never going to catch up. And then you’re going to reach an age where you still live under a rock but you can’t blame your parents for it anymore. But it’s ok — who needs pop culture anyways?

Don’t pick the clarinet as your instrument in band class. Clarinets are not cool. Pick the tenor saxophone. I know your band teacher says you can switch to the tenor next year but you won’t have the next year with this band teacher, and you won’t actually learn to play the tenor sax for another 17 years.

You’re tinkering with jazz piano right now as a junior, wanna-be jazz band member, and you’re struggling. You aren’t going to get the jazz rhythm now and I don’t know if or when you ever will. Stick with classical. There’s no shame to being a classically trained pianist, although I know it gets lonely being a solo pianist all the time. But you’ll stumble across something for that in two years time.

Every week you go to your piano lessons. You’re currently working on the Pathetique Sonata. The boy who has lessons right before you is playing the Moonlight Sonata. You fall in love with the haunting melodies of this composition, but you don’t really remember the boy.

8 years from now, you’re going to bump into him at university, but neither of you are going to remember each other. It’ll take multiple chance encounters, a couple of musical sessions sizing up each other’s piano abilities, and a strong dose of luck before there’s a casual mention about growing up in a certain neighborhood down south. He’s the guy who played the Moonlight Sonata and you’re the girl who played the Pathetique Sonata. And it turns out he was just as interested in the Pathetique as you were in the Moonlight.

11 years from now you two are going to end up living in the same downtown high-rise building. You’re going to sneak into the building together before construction is finished for sneak-peeks into your units. He’ll send you updates about the building as construction is wrapping up. You’re going to text him anytime you’re out of ice for a party or need a neighbor to lend some sugar. But no, no romantic relationships here although it sounds like I’m writing a rom-com.

Back to 12-year-old you.

You’re going to compete in the Kiwanis Music Festival with Liebestraum by Liszt. You’re going to win first place and this composition will always have a special place in your heart because it’s going to be your last competition-level polished performance with Mrs. Malo. She was the perfect piano teacher for you and, for all that she lacked in technical ability, she made up with heart.

She’ll tell you that she’s never put as much heart and time and care into a student as she has with you. She’ll tell you that you’ve surpassed her technical abilities and that if you want to become a better pianist, you have to move on to another piano teacher. You won’t want to and your parents won’t force you, but this will be your last year with her.

Cherish your moments with her because, in the years to come, you won’t be able to find her again. Hang on to that Pathetique Sonata because you’re not done with it yet. Be sad for the farewell, but know that you’ll find yourself with another wonderful piano teacher who will take you much further without losing the heart that goes into your piano. You’re going to have fantastic piano opportunities in the upcoming years.

You love reading and you love libraries and you were so excited that your bus route included a transfer right next to the library. But then you got self-conscious about what the other kids would think. So you didn’t go into the library even though you stood waiting at the bus stop right outside the library five days a week.

You’ll still love reading and you’ll outgrow feeling any embarrassment about it. Those fantasy/sci-fi books you love are suddenly going to become really popular and you’ll roll your eyes at the bandwagoners. You’ll join far too many book clubs (some successful, some not successful), but you’ll continue to love reading.

If I have my timelines right, the Harry Potter trend is very seriously picking up right now and the movies are being released each November right around your birthday. Harry Potter is still cool. Neopets will be thought back on fondly, although you might want to remember that fake birthday you put down because you’re going to need it if you ever want to reset your password later … like a decade later. Animorphs … questionable on the cool-ness scale even back then, but you’ll bring up odd animal facts randomly and will continue to have a fondness for peregrine falcons.

I don’t know if you know this yet, but your parents are going to tell you that the family is moving to Texas at the end of the school year. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be very difficult. But it’s going to be for the better and you will cherish everything that Texas brings to your life.

With love, care, and empathy,

Your 29-year-old self


A small fiction

Photo by Hao Pan on Unsplash

The busy streets are filled with noise. Colors whizzing by mechanical and humanoid. Indistinct conversations and the smell of exhaust. Chance finds me here waiting for what I think is a bus. But chance has other plans this day.

To my left another bench now occupied by a creature so beautiful I dare not look completely for fear of going blind. Glimpses of mahogany shined hair and porcelain skin. Lips the color of cherries. Wrapped in cream.

The sound of the city drowning out my heartbeat but only barely. My hands feel hot even though it is quite cool today. And I try to sit in some sort of cool pose to match the weather and her coolly reflected beauty. I feel I am failing miserably.

Does one start conversations with strangers without a cell phone these days? What would I even say? Hello does not seem to convey the desire I have to hear her voice. Talking about the weather would be so contrived. What does one say to such a thing of beauty?

I imagine that I somehow found the words to begin a conversation and that she turns her body slightly towards me on the bench. Looking wholly on her exquisite face and then into her eyes. I imagine myself falling into them body and soul. I imagine asking her for coffee and that she agrees to go both of us abandoning the bus trip we were here to make.

Lost as I am in this dream I fail to notice that she has gone from the bench to where I know not. Nor is it likely in a city of many millions I will ever know. And my hands are cold.

Guarding The Fishes

By A. M. Stein

Photo by Gerard JJ Hopuu on Unsplash

“the thrum of the lake water, lapping, in hypnotic pulse, at the lakeshore”

I have had a lot of jobs conducive to writing. William Faulkner wrote his gorgeously lyrical novel, As I Lay Dying, in six weeks, while working the night shift, as a security guard, at a power plant. That is what I mean by “conducive to writing.”

I, too, once worked a security guard midnight shift (which, technically, started at 11:30 p.m.) Saturdays through Wednesdays, on a ferry boat dock in Burlington, Vermont, on the shore of Lake Champlain.

I was “guarding the fishes,” as I thought it to myself, but in fact I had been hired to “keep my eyes open.”

“Can you do that?” my soon-to-be boss asked bluntly during my job interview. “Can you keep your eyes open? The last night guard could not do it. She might have had that sleeping disease, whatchamacallit, but if she did, she hadn’t informed us of that up front, so to us the sleeping on the job was pretty much as it seemed to be. Are you with me?”

“Narcolepsy?” I suggested, to show I had been following.

“Yes, that is what she was claiming afterward,” agreed my soon-to-be-boss, “when we found her asleep, among flotation devices, in a storage closet. So, you can understand how I might be interested in your answer to my seemingly over-simple question.”

One midnight shift, around 2 a.m., few months into my employment, a silent alarm must have gone off, because there was a pounding on the glass door of the dock’s modular office building where I was sitting at my work desk drawing in a notebook.

The noise startled me. I was made further insecure, when I went to investigate, by the sight of a serious-faced police officer shining the thick beam of a flashlight at me from the other side of the glass door and rapping it insistently on the glass.

Once I had let the officer inside, she examined my badge. “Are you on duty?” she asked, shining the flashlight directly into my face, scrutinizing my blemishes, as I supposed. 

My duties were minimal but I was on them, so I said, “Yes.”

I guessed she was asking why I wasn’t wearing some kind of identifying uniform. I had a good reason, but I didn’t volunteer it. The reason had to do with the money bags I transported from the ferry docks to a nearby commercial bank at the end of each shift.

Next, the officer investigated my work desk where my notebook lay open. I had been drawing a dragon flying over some sort of temple. The dragon was a dragon, but it was also a symbol I was trying to unpack. So, for that matter, was the temple.

Almost immediately, upon beginning my solitary night work on the ferry docks, I had begun having sweeping and specific visions of a monastic grounds near a meadow. Full of waterfalls and haiku insect life. Maintained by a cadre of beatific and begowned monks.

Maybe it was only the thrum of the lake water, lapping, in hypnotic pulse, at the lakeshore, but something had triggered my imagination. I caught brief sightings of unfamiliar (yet, somehow, familiar) persons and places. I frequently heard snatches of phrases and even, long, distinct conversations, riding in on the lake winds.

Part of this was, probably, just the entering, of poetry, into my subconscious.

Drawing from the A. M. Stein Archives

“You drew this?” the officer asked, of the drawing.

“Yes,” I acknowledged.

“Are you writing a kid’s book?” the officer asked.

I didn’t want to tell the officer I was working out a new, visionary poetic, so I agreed that, yes, I was.

“My kid identifies with Max from Where the Wild Things Are. You know that book? You remember Max? Sailed away from family and home and became king of the Wild Things? Let the wild rumpus begin. Max was the one who said that. My kid says it every day. Every single day she says it to someone.”

“Max became king of the Wild Things by taming them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once,” I offered.

“That’s right,” the officer agreed. She shined her flashlight beam, once more, around the office. “Might have been a squirrel,” she suggested. “They sometimes trip the alarms. God knows they have nothing better to do.”

Next, she radioed some code to a dispatcher who returned the favor with more code.

“You have a safe rest of your night,” the officer said, departing.

I locked the door behind her. 2:25 a.m.

I sat back down at my work desk.

The drawing meant something, there was no doubt about it. But what? It was crying out for my discernment.

Losing My Motivation

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Over the past month, I seem to have misplaced my motivation. I am usually at least fairly motivated to accomplish most things, but these past few weeks, I find that I am much as this picture suggests, just here. Doing nothing, with nothing to say, and feeling quite like just a lump of unmotivated flesh.

Sure I have ideas about things I could do. They come all the time and I look at them and ponder how I might bring them to life and that’s about where it stops. I just don’t have the motivation or inspiration to proceed further.

I could force myself to do it. I can write anytime, but it would be just words without conviction or passion. I could paint, but it would be perfunctorily done without true art or expression. I could organize my house or do some deep cleaning, but I would rather rest.

Now, it is not as if I do nothing at all. I get up every day and work a 10 to 12 hour day at the business I own and run providing mental health counseling to girls and women five days a week and every other week adding on half days on Saturday. I supervise a therapist who is gaining her hours for licensure every day. I do all the things required to run a business every day. And I am very good at my job.

I have a family with a husband and three sons, adults all, but they still all live in the home with me and I am engaged with each of them on a variety of levels every day during and after my work. I do clean my home and cook meals mostly on weekends as after a 10-12 hour day with mental health I do not have the margin for that every day.

I have friends that I talk to and engage with as often as possible. Less now with Covid but I am still engaged with them as best we can.

I do many other things weekly in conjunction with running and marketing a business. I engage in family activities such as games and movies. So, I am not doing nothing.

However, my creative endeavors have suffered dramatically over the last month perhaps even longer. I have written and published things online but it was without much creativity. I have not painted outside of my therapy practice using art therapy in months. I have not written a single word on the book series I am working on in months.

Even today as I write this there are lots of ideas in my head for things I could write about. How I am hooked into the Netflix series The Last Kingdom and am on my second watch through of the four seasons. How I think Bridgerton could have been written by someone in a coma as it is that predictable and trite. How the NFL offseason is going to be a carousel of quarterback trades and changes. How Tom Brady continues to defy time. And I have all kinds of ideas for painting as well.

But nothing moves me to actual creation of any of this. I feel drained, tired, and dare I say it, lazy. And lazy is not a word I am familiar with. Of all the words I and others would use to describe me, lazy is not one of them.

Perhaps it is winter, but we have barely had any real winter this year in our part of Montana. Perhaps it is the start of a new year and the feeling that time is flying by. Perhaps it is the experience of my 58th birthday. Perhaps it is ongoing Covid and political unrest.

Perhaps it just a season of time where I take a creative rest. I am not sure but I am not enjoying it. Though I do not know how to get out of it and start the flow again. I hope that it does.

I do believe that nothing stays the same and that this too will change…when the universe is ready.

Christmas Lights Make Me Happy

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Christmas lights make me happy. It does not matter the time of year or the situation or place, seeing Christmas lights will always, always make me happy.

2020 has been a year full of unhappy things and events. Surrounded by hate, division, blame and Covid. Add on election tumult and you have a recipe for frustration, anger, sadness, and grief. None of these are happy things.

I have struggled with my private practice. Not because it is not doing well from a business standpoint, it is acctually doing very very well. Lots of people are seeking help with their mental health, which 2020 has also impacted greatly. I have more clients than I can see effectively and many more calling daily to try and get in to see me.

I cannot take on any new clients. I am at the limit of my own capacity for sessions about Covid or political climate or social issues for 7-10 hours a day five days a week.

I do try desperately to do my own self-care but at the end of the day I am so tired I have little left with which to work. On the every other weekend that I am off both Saturday and Sunday, I just want to be a vegetable and binge watch movies and TV shows.

I am not writing this as a “poor me” story. My life is wonderful. I have a husband and family that love me completely. I make a very good living. I lack for nothing. But I am tired. I am tired in my body, in my mind, and in my spirit.

I am tired.

Shortly after Halloween, I began thinking I wanted to put up my Christmas decorations in the office. But I hesitated thinking that it was rushing seasons and skipping Thanksgiving, which I love, but not as much as Christmas. The more I thought about it though the more convinced I became that being happy is more important than being holiday correct.

On Wednesday of this week, I had a break in my therapy schedule and I put up all the office Christmas decorations. During the process, I was happy, lighter, smiling, and I even put on Christmas music to go with it. When it was finished, I was beyond thrilled and my heart was glad.

Every day now when I come in and turn on the lights and see the beautiful decorations, I smile and it makes me happy. When the clients come in they smile and are happy to see it.

I am still tired. But that little dopamine burst every time I flick the switch to turn on the Christmas lights, makes it a bit easier to bear. I will be putting up my home decorations next week. So every evening when I go home tired and worn down, I can sit in the midst of Christmas lights and decorations and be happy and smile.

I have a sign in my office that says, do one thing every day that makes you happy. Turning on these lights makes me happy – every day.

Until next time be well,



Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

So tired these days

in so many ways

in body, in spirit, in mind

peace is hard to find

So much pressing in

spreading me thin

another task on the pile

just want to rest awhile

So much noise all around

hate and division abound

everyone feels out of control

can I just crawl into a hole

So many clients seen every week

my voice tired so hard to speak

try to help them feel stronger

not sure I can any longer

So tired every day

in every conceivable way

hoping for something to lighten the load

to keep on walking down this road


Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Like sandpaper
everything feels rough
little bits being shaved off
under constant frustration

Grating changes
lack of control
nothing is normal
feeling untethered

Constant exposure
whether we know it
or not
to possible infection

Affecting home
work school
entire lives

Everyday more
grating and grinding
pushing towards explosions
repetitive frustration


Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash

There is beauty in letting go

a coloring of change

making way for something new

preparing to undergo transformation

flashes of brightness and being bold

everyone notices each phase of the change

until we lie dormant regathering our strength

quietly waiting for new life to begin

whispering winds of renewed hope

fall into becoming

the trees will show you the way

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