December 31, 2009

Embracing My Own Shadow

Grace. I have heard the word a lot lately. I have always struggled to understand this concept. Though I have read the word in countless religious texts, heard it spoken in churches and temples, and said it myself countless times, I still can't wrap my head quite around it. Maybe, like most spiritual concepts, it is not something that translates into vernacular articulations, but is something that we feel in the inner-depths of ourselves. Perhaps, it is something that brings us peace in the acknowledgement that though we are imperfect, unconditional love exists.

At the crossroads of last year's dusk and this year's dawn, I seek to embrace grace. My News Years Resolution therefore consists of writing down the traits I want to accept in myself, as opposed to writing down all those I want to change. No more cliched last-for-a-month self-expectations that will, like last year, unsuprisingly cease upon the realization that not only do I lack self-discipline, but that I am never good enough. Instead, I am starting the new year by acknowledging that OF COURSE I am not good enough and starting from there.

I must admit, it was much more easy for me to acknowledge what I already am than trying to figure out who I want to be. In order to practice radical acceptance, I first needed to identify those traits that I needed to accept. For example, this year, I'd like to accept that I am not a details person. Accept that I always end up being my own worst enemy. Accept that I am not a revolutionary. Accept that while I am organized, I am not super clean. Accept that after college sports, I have retired from all competitive activities. Accept that I don't have all (if not most) of the answers. Accept that the stupidest things drive me crazy like someone chewing popcorn next to me in the movie. Accept that I don't like pets. Accept that while I adore community, I'd rather spend most nights home alone. Accept that my eyes squint when I smile and my right eye squints more than my left. Accept that I like going shopping. Accept that I become an ashen-pale gray color in the winter. Accept that my annoying bangs are too short and my muscles are undefined. Accept that I never have the latest styles and prefer to dress in black and brown. Accept that I am a list-maker. Accept that I am hypocritical and judgmental (especially of myself). Accept that my hypoglycemia makes me cranky when I don't eat every few hours. Accept my tendency to diagnose myself with "conditions" like hypoglycemia even when there is no medical evidence in support of it. Accept that the performer in me likes to receive attention. Accept that every emotion I experience-anger, sadness or joy-results in tears. Accept that I don't like bars, despite still being in the prime of social youth. Accept my uncomfortableness with conflict and brutal honesty. Accept my love of comfort. Accept my poor short-term memory and inability to communicate ideas on the spot. Accept that my optimism can convey a sense of naivete. Accept my sadistic joy in pranking people and torturing my siblings. Accept that I am neither enlightened or dogmatically religious. Accept my unhealthy tendency to protect my sister. Accept my inability to speak my mind when I know it will hurt someone. Accept the fact that I am broken and flawed and searching. Accept the fact that I am not only human, but lacking in humanity. Accept the fact that this is okay.

My resolution this year is to find resolution in my imperfections, knowing that while they do not define me, they are a part of me, and so I must come to terms with them. Through grace, I seek to accept them knowing that while I should aim to transcend my humanity, I also must accept my own humaness as reality.

In accepting and acknowledging my naggingly persistent flaws, and not repressing them, I hope to create space from them. By being mindful of them, I hope to observe them before they take action, thus allowing them to be mere tendencies as opposed to patterns of behaviors. But, even when these flaws creep to the surface (as they always do), I hope to learn "to embrace my own shadow" and find "gratitude for the grace within my paradoxes and imperfections." (Richard Rohr). Here's to a year of radical acceptance...

December 29, 2009


I watched others read poetry last night

their hearts articulating visions

and painting emotions

through the canvas of space

My desire to make music


is stifled by the confines of words

because when I write

and look back at the sentences

I think

that's not quite what I meant.

December 26, 2009


I know I wrote this blog entry a year ago...but it still holds truth to date. Oh Family Holidays at Home... :)

From 12/17/08:
I'm heading back home today. I use the word "back" both literally and figuratively. I am literally flying home today, as in traveling. But I am also heading "back" in the sense that I am going to regress. You see, I have noticed that every time my family is together, we regress into our childhood roles. When we're not home, we're mature, grown ass people. I'm in law school doing real law school things, my brother is in business school learning about accounting, and my sister is in college engaging in philosophical discussions about social constructs. And then we get home and every day is 1989.

Scene from 1989: I'm staring into the camera, doing a choreographed dance to a "A Tisket a Tasket." And I'm really good at it... I even adlib some "doo dah doo dahs" as I shimmy my shoulders and whip my chicken legs around. My brother proceeds to run across the screen, making weird noises and holding some type of concocted gadget. He's a ghostbuster, obviously, and he's fighting the bad guys. He throws a pillow in my face and yells "you got slliiiiiimeeeedd!" "BREN-DDANN," I shriek and elbow him in the stomach. Pause. I turn back to the camera with a sickeningly sweet smile and continue dancing. My mom laughs at me (not with me) and then scans the room with her camera, wondering aloud, "where's Shannon?" And sure enough, the camera scans to little Shannon, alone in the corner, rocking away on a plastic pony, talking to herself or one of her imaginary friends, it's too tough to tell. Soon after, the camera zooms in on my dad, and he makes a goofy face, which is kinda funny, but no one really laughs (it's better not to encourage him), and the scene ends.

Not much has changed almost 20 years later. I still seek validation from my parents and try to entertain them with my trivial accomplishments (look mom! I have a blog!). Brendan spends the day playing Xbox and seeking to live vicariously through a character in a video game (He's 27, but that's ok). My dad putzes around the house making horribly corny jokes that are almost funny. Shannon is in her room, doing her own thing, and giving two shits about the scenes unfolding around her. And my mom walks in and out of each room, all up in every one's business, making comments that she thinks are funny, and laughing at us.

Part of us can't help it. We are who we are! But then there are times when we're being OTHER than who our family THINKS we are, and our family still responds as if we're the same. For example, just recently, when my parents came to L.A. for Thansgiving, I turned to my mom, gave her a big hug, and genuinely told her how much I loved having them here. My mom looked at me and responded, "Ohhhhh, you suck up." I'm sorry....WHAT??!! "Mom!" I exclaimed, "I'm not seeking validation, I'm simply expressing my love!" To which my mom laughed.

Here's another example. I come home from exams. And I'm feeling pretty good about myself and slightly knowledgeable about the law. We're at the dinner table having a conversation about politics. Somehow the law comes up. I think to myself, this is the perfect opportunity to contribute a small piece of the plethora of knowledge I have accumulated this semester. So, I chime in something about civil liberties and tell my family a story about a prolonged detention of an American citizen in Iraq. It sounds like a pretty good law school story--legal jargon, political relevancy, and exemplary of a civil rights impact litigation case. The only problem is my speech dyslexia kicks in and I add, "You can read the guy's biopsy online." Pause. "Biopsy?" my family responds in confusion. I stare blankly. "Yeah." I respond, "biopsy." "You mean 'biography'!?" they shriek and laugh hysterically. "Oh Kerry..." they say patronizingly, shake their heads, and smirk in that "you're such an idiot, I can't believe you're in law school" type of manner. And suddenly, any small bit of pride I had in my law school education has disintegrated. And I've returned to the characterure of myself from 1989.

What's so interesting about this regression is that it is actually more symbolic than I would like to believe. It doesn't just happen with family, but it happens to each of us, every day of our lives. Each day we wake up and we regress into the role we played the day before. We wake up believing that we are a certain way. Because we have told ourselves so. Because our family sees us as so. Because our friends see us as so. Because society tells us we should be so. And somewhere along the line, we started to believe that we are fixed characters. And so we start playing the part. And suddenly, we are not just playing a character, but we ARE that character.

And then we label ourselves based on these traits: I am Kerry, I am a girl, I am 25, I am straight, I am a law student, I interned here, I will be working there. And then, we begin to tell others how they should perceive us: "Oh, I'm fun, but I don't do fun things," "I'm a morning person," "I don't like watching tv," "I always do this, but never do that," "I believe in this, but not that." And the next thing we know, we've created a nice little image for ourselves. And two things can happen, we cling to the constructed roles we've created or try to free ourselves from them.

But if we're not these roles, then who are we? That's what I'm trying to figure out. I'm trying to let Kerry just be Kerry, but struggling to free myself from the confines of constructed roles. I'm trying to learn how to work outside myself, but still remain connected to my inner-being. I'm trying to be just here, in the now, but find myself creating a persona for later.

When Buddha was asked, "What are you? Are you a God or a man." He responded simply, "I am awake." And I think at the start of each day, that's all we can ask ourselves to be. Awake. Nothing else, no one else, but awake.

December 13, 2009

Dancing in front of the Mirror

When I was little, I would spends hours dancing in my room, choreographing moves to "A Tisket, A Tasket" and "Have you ever seen a Lassie?" In first grade, I completed my first (and last) dance recital--a tap dance to "Deep in the Heart of Texas." (My dad taped over the recital with a Bills Game-one that he actually attended, but a game he wanted to re-watch when he came home....this a different blog entry.)

In elementary school, I would boss my friends around, barking out the proper moves to "I saw the Sign" or any one of the Disney Showtunes. In high school, the trend continued-- in two of the talent shows my friends and I choreograped dances to "You Don't Own Me" and Jackson's 5, "I want you back." Though most people in the talent show strummed their guitars or read poetry, we found joy (and talent?) in lipsynching and jumping off chairs.

The first week of college, I naively tried out for the hip-hop team. For purposes of not reliving that humiliating 5 hours, I will simply state that trying to mimic Julia Stiles' dance moves from Save the Last Dance during the individualized dance portion of the tryout will simply not cut it, particularly when everyone else in the tryout can (1) breakdance; (2) Harlem shake; or (3) perform the full rendition to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Needless to say...I didn't get a call back.

Despite this setback, my friends and I, even in college, loved to make up dances. Prior to going out at night, I'd spend time in my room, bee-bopping around, getting ready, and practicing "new moves" in front of the mirror (and by "new moves" I mean the latest moves I saw someone cooler than me perform). My friends and I mastered the Jump Rope dance, mimicked Destiny's Child music video, and encouraged dance offs at every party.

And then one day, the music stopped. Not literally, of course, but at some point in my life, I stopped dancing in front of the mirror. I would dance at parties, at family reunions, and at weddings, but I no longer came home at the end of the day, changed into sweats, blasted some tunes, and shook my bootie to the newest jams. What happened?

I am not sure if we have a "maturity" nerve in our body or if it's a voice in our head that society has implanted, but at some subtle point in the past few years, I think when the thought of dancing in my room crossed my mind, I heard a whisper, "too old for that." The sad part is that I listened. It wasn't until this summer that something small re-awakened inside of me. After taking the Bar, I went to see Shanti, an Indian reflexologist and a healer, to help fix my study aches and pains. When I sat down in his chair, he looked me straight in the eye, leaned in, and said, "you have music your soul." I quickly admitted, "Ohh...well, I am a horrrible singer." (My sister and brother will admit I ruin every song on the radio due to my improvisations). Shanti smiled and responded, "I didn't say you a were good singer, no, I didn't. But you have music in your soul."

I don't think Shanti told me this because he knew I listened to the music; Shanti told me this because he could see I wasn't listening to it. We all have music in our soul, it is just a matter of whether we dance to it. As I get older, I cease to tap into my endless supply of internal rhythms. While it occasionally bursts out when I am driving alone in the car or attending a concert, the rhythms usually remain repressed until an "appropriate time."

Last night,the time was "appropriate." My mom and I went to see Fela, a broadway play that chronicles the Nigerian revolutionary, singer, and pioneer of Afrobeat. It. was. amazing. The drum beat penetrated the soul, the lights and colors made me dizzy, the dancing was disciplined chaos. Throughout the play, I kept thinking, "I'm going to buy this cd...and, without shame, dance in front of the mirror."

And so today, for the first time in a while, I am going to dance to the music in my soul.

December 2, 2009

Oh yeah? Prove it.

I could tell you a lot about myself that you probably didn't know. But the problem is that some of the stuff I tell myself is not always true, so when I'm telling others about it, it's probably not true either. I like to think that I'm pretty socially conscious: conscious about the environment, human rights, civil liberties, poverty. However, one thing I have learned in life is that just because you think something, doesn't mean its true. So even though I like to convince myself that "I care," my actions usually expose a greater truth. (As Maya Angelou once said, "You don't tell people who you are, you show them.")

The other night, for example, right after I made a snide comment to one of my friends who doesn't recycle, I indulged in a bubble bath. And as I lay fully immersed in the lavender scented oil, I came to a shocking and humiliating realization.....I don't really care that much about the environment. And as I came to this epiphany, my bubble of self-righteousness burst and I found myself drowning in a bath hypocripsy.

Now, WAIT, before you judge me, let me clarify. I am EXTREMELY CONCERNED about the environment and climate change. The thought of natural disasters, soiled water supplies, and deforestation makes me anxious, angry, and overwhelmed. But as far as actually caring, as much as I have convinced myself that I do, evidence proves otherwise. (As a lawyer, evidence is a necessary component of determining the legitimacy of the argument).

Evidence that I DON'T CARE: I sometimes buy bottle water, I rarely carpool (when I was in law school, I often drove separately to campus even though half of all Pepperdine students drive through Santa Monica each week), I eat meat (often the non-free range, non-organic kind), I buy fruit that was grown half way around the world, I use way too much water, I leave lights on, I haven't changed all of my light bulbs to florescent bulbs, I take planes when I could take trains, I take cars when I could take bikes, I take buses when I could walk, and so on.

Evidence that I CARE: I have a Sigg, I unplug my toaster when I'm done, and I recycle (but who I am kidding...recycling simply isn't enough these days).

Conclusion: I don't really least enough to change my ways. Why does this happen? I think my main problem is that I have confused having "an opinion" or "a belief in something" as translating into "caring." And so, somewhere in there, I have convinced myself that if, mentally and emotionally, "I care" I can justify (or ignore) my non-caring actions. Having a belief is easy. Acting on that belief is not. And actually caring about acting on that belief is a whole another issue.

I've struggled with reconciling belief and action for a while now. One of the most profound epiphanies of my life (and humiliating realizations) was in my senior year of college. I had just shared my life story (my "bio") with 15 newly met people whose only duty that night was to listen to my story and ask me questions. And after I finished my life story, cried tears of pain, and shared my proudest moments, I sat vulnerably as I awaited questions. My new friend Chatan raised his hand and simply asked, "ok yeah, we heard your story, but what do you CARE about?" Dumbfounded, mind-reeling, and annoyed that someone would even ask such a question, I defensively thought to myself "I care about a lot of things." Chatan continued, "I mean, are you the type of person who reads the newspaper, thinks 'that's sad,' puts it down, and moves on? Or do you ever care about something enough to DO something?"


And as I sat in silence, defensive, vulnerable, and ashamed, I realized that up until that point in my life, I had never asked myself, "what do I truly care about?" And I certainly never took the time to ask: "do I believe that I care...or do I care enough to DO?"

While this entry does not explore how it is that people, in general, come to care enough to act (this will be saved for a later date), I know that in order to hold myself accountable, I constantly have to bully myself, demanding, "oh yeah, Ker? Prove it." I care about the homeless? Then don't walk by them, head down on the street. I care about world hunger? Feed the hungry as opposed to talking about it over large entrees and wine. I care about how the government allocates its resources? Assess how I choose to spend my own resources. I care about the voiceless? Speak on their behalf. I care about the lonely? Sit with them and be in their presence. I care about God? Listen to Him. I care about peace? Stop judging those with different priorities.

And so, though I don't always care enough to act, I do care enough to want to act. And hopefully the bully inside of me motivates me to do good, aggressively taunting "oh yeah? prove it."