short story: once upon an anger

Foreword:
In February I visited the Big Island of Hawaii and was awestruck by the volcanoes and lava fields. A few weeks ago I spent a few days reinventing the story of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcano, as an exercise to reinterpret my story and relationship with my mother-in-law. When I finished writing, I was told the Kilauea volcano, legendary home to Pele, had been erupting that whole week!

 

Once Upon an Anger

When Pele became her family, Namaka lost her home as she knew it. Pele, young goddess of fire who was unaware of her own power, flung a spark that landed on Namaka’s face. Namaka, goddess of water, was the older, most powerful, most respected and feared in the family. Insulted, she almost drowned Pele in her fury.

That was how Pele too lost her home, the one she dreamed of having.

The rest of the family coaxed Pele to calm down and learn from her mistake. Alone, wounded and hopeless, it seemed that if Pele was to live happily at all, there was only one way: Namaka’s way. Strong-willed and guilt-ridden Pele took a bucket of the ocean and poured it over her head. Whenever she felt feisty, she’d drench herself with another bucket.

But it didn’t work for long. Pele started to notice smoke escaping her nostrils. She felt lava behind her eyes. She feared what might happen if she opened her mouth.

One day finally Pele slipped. She gave her true opinion on something. If this was a happy and a healthy family, she should be allowed to express herself too. Namaka, though kind and generous in her ways, could not stand being challenged. When Pele’s little flame snaked its way towards her, she met it with a wave. Not a gentle wave of her hand, but an ocean’s wave. Pele shook in her anger and burst into flame. She pushed right up against Namaka’s water wall. Namaka sweated in Pele’s heat. Pele pulled away, frightened by her own uncontrollable temper.

Pele ran to a small cliff. She stood there, shaking. How odd for the world to seem so quiet while on the inside she burned like a planet on fire. The rocks began to melt under her feet. Lava trickled down the cliff like the blood from her forehead. She closed her eyes to go inside. She had tried so hard to kill her fire, and now she was more powerful than she knew. She didn’t know that every effort to put out her fire was energy that fed her fire. All the anger, hurt and self-denial was energy that fed her fire.

For the first time ever, Pele was glad that she still had the fire in her. She had never felt safer and freer to learn that nobody, least of all herself, had the power to extinguish her.

Instead of returning to her family, Pele walked. When she came upon a clearing, she melted the ground into a large crater and climbed in. Family can come as they wish. She can go to them as she wishes. But this will be her home within the home. Inside the Kilauea volcano, Pele can be as powerful as she wants.

a poem: Couple

(Hi All, this is a piece of creative writing)

“Couple”

A couple posts their engagement photo,
A picture dripping in honey
Swarmed by blessings and envy.

He wraps his arms around
Her shoulders like a rubber band.
Both are dressed in tank tops,
Entangled by their gaze
and naked arms.

Their love is in full bloom.
A magnificent beginning
Of love’s unfolding.

Petals fall out like hair.
But we stay put, for we know
There’s a tiny, pale and sour fruit
Ripening with the seasons.

Flowers and fruit
Are many and sweet.
And they wither like youth.
What’s left of love
Are dry and tough
As branches.

Will you keep believing,
Keep watering and sheltering,
Until the time comes
For another blossom?

I wonder when was the last time
I had as much skin to skin
With my husband.

your door, my door

Just like a lot of you, I live with people, and I find living with people is hard. One day I was really brooding over a certain bedroom door, wishing it was a wall, and blaming it for just about every problem I have. Because when you get upset over people, you tend to think the people are causing you upset.

And then the door talked back,

“There’s no way you can keep me closed, because I serve only the people who live behind me. We are of no real threat to you but you think we’re an intruder. And sadly, when you keep your eyes fixed on me, you nail your heart with fear.

But look, and remember, I have a twin just across the hall. Her name is Your Door. You are free to open and close it whenever you need, whenever you want. That’s the boundary that you can control.

We all live together, I know you wish things were different. But you’re OK, because you have a door. You don’t have to let anyone or anything in that you didn’t want, even if they ask. And you are free to let anyone or anything out. You didn’t know you could, did you? You thought it would be rude, and that’s kind of why you thought you have intruders in the house.

So now I’d like to ask you to stop giving me your evil look and angry vibes, and just see and trust that you have a door, your own boundary, and it’s been here all along for you to use and control.”

And then.

A few days after that door talked to me, I’m standing at its threshold. I’m being greeted at the door to hand over something I’m bringing. When I did, I had a flashback. I saw myself barging in very self-righteously. I can understand it but I am sorry now to recall that I had stood in the middle of that room that isn’t mine, and thought that being asked to leave my thing at the door, as opposed to bringing it into the room, was a violation of my boundaries.

knew you from way back

Last night in a dream, I confided the recent relationship trouble of a dear friend to another dear friend. The news spread and a circle of four women friends flew across the world, two to show support, one ready to help with anything, and one hoping to talk some sense into an old friend. After being estranged for twelve years, these women were over whatever that had caused the breach in their friendship with this friend. Even I was not expecting such a full on intervention. Now I was caught in the middle as the secret-teller, but all is for the better.

In a book written by a Taiwanese spiritual teacher about reincarnation, he says that every encounter is a pre-planned reunion. Parents, friends, lovers, we promised each other that we’ll meet again. We discussed and decided on the relationship we were going to have with each other. But as we take our first breath as a baby in this material world, we forget. We forget that the main purpose we’re here again is to have a second chance, to make amends to our loved ones and to love them better. We forget, so that we can have the real experience.

Unfortunately, we forget even within the current lifetime about the promises we know we’ve made.

How many of our relationships start out good and turn sour? Would we have talked and be like, “Hey, next time let’s be real good friends. Then let’s have something happen between us so that we’ll break up and secretly resent each other for the rest of our lives”? Or, “Let us be married again in the next life so I can love you better. But let’s make it dramatic and have you cheat on me so that I can never forgive you again. Does that sound good?”

We probably did agree on adding the drama. The drama needs to be there for very important reasons. But with people I love most, I don’t believe we would decide on those endings. Would you?

chinese names and friends

Last night while putting my baby to sleep, I went over the Chinese names of my friends the way you count sheep in your head. I went to a school in England that had a lot of overseas students from Hong Kong like me. We were known by our English names in school; as friends, we also tell each other our original, Chinese names. Pammy’s Chinese name is “Treasure of the Family”. Candy’s name says “Seductive Fragrance” and Chloe’s is “Sunshine”. My husband Galen’s is “Mountain Range of the Family”. James’s is full of aspiration: “Reaching the Sun”. And Ken’s parents hoped that he would be “Intelligent and Conscientious”.

Not all Chinese names have coherent meanings and there’s no one way to come up with names. Parents may start with a word for its meaning. Or they may start with a favorite sound, then choose a character/word based on its meaning, kind of similar to choosing the spelling of a name. For instance, will it be Lisa with an “s” or Liza with a “z”? In Chinese, the “s” and “z” not only looks different but may also have different meanings.

My friend Phoebe’s Chinese name sounds like it could be a man’s name, until you see it on paper, where the characters chosen are all floral-based. My dad’s name literally is “Metal People”. When the internet came along he called himself Iron Man as his email address. For his children, he wanted to carry on the metallic element, so while my given name sounds feminine, on paper it looks like “Armor Flame”.

I had to think hard to recall some of those Chinese names of my friends in school. I counted them in my head like you would count sheep, but the second time around each of them had become shiny jewels and interesting pebbles. With fifteen years of distance between us, I now see that without exception, every one of them is a part of my life. What is there in your past if there was nobody in it? Friends, non-friends and enemies alike, they all make up the color and story of our lives.

how to change the past

There is one way to change the past and it is the only meaningful way to do it.

It is to change the way we think about the past, thus altering how the past affects our present and future.

It is to reinterpret the past and come up with a better story. It is to figure out what you learned from those past incidents that continue to haunt you. It is to see each mistake, failure, disappointment, break up, betrayal, as a chapter, not the end.

When it comes to relationships, what I’ve read is this: in your memory, go back to the times you were still together. Remember the joy and love you shared with each other. Go back to that place, enjoy, feel all the warmth, and stay there. This alters the frequency between you and eventually, the conflict and hurt melt away, and you might be back in a relationship with them again.