Chinese New Year 2011: blood poetry

2 02 2011

I do not find it insignificant that I, born in the year of the rabbit, one of the luckiest of all Chinese zodiac animals, am here in Taiwan celebrating what is the year 100 in the Chinese calendar and a new year of the rabbit.

On this cusp of a new year (and such a significant one) I…

…honor the intelligence of the body and spirit, and the unveiling of understanding

…honor my experience in this body, what I see and feel and know in my life, body, and psyche

…offer thanks and gratitude for my natural ease with symbols and my strong, strong intuition, and I honor my journey and phoenix-like abilities

…honor my experience and scars and also the wisdom and poetry of them

…honor the God that has been my support and my guiding Parent, who has wildly and wisely given me an abundance of gifts and guides that have been like much-needed weapons wielded in battles, some of which I can now look back on with wiser eyes and a heart full of appreciation for having fought them…and thrived!

…offer thanks for the lack of fear but instead the safety and connectedness and joy and opening and groundedness I feel when I experience the world

…offer gratitude for the gift of noble compassion I now feel for the suffering of ones who hurt me and for whom I once felt contempt

…offer thanks for sounds and stories that heal, for the possibility and process of healing itself, for the solitude and quiet found in nature, and for the gift of dreams that continually help me slip back and back into truer and truer skin

…honor the spark inside that can never be put out.

Happy New Year. Xin nian kwai le.


I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom. (Clarissa Pinkola Estes)


back and forth in Taiwan

2 02 2011

I’m back. After several years, I have returned to Taiwan. It’s an incredible experience coming back to a foreign place I am so familiar with—a former home—having all this time clearly pictured and missed specific places, people, foods, and ways of doing things. Some of them I have remembered perfectly and others more figuratively, and some places have closed down or changed and others are exactly the same. I am back at the same school where I started my teaching career, now witnessing all the growth and development that was just starting when I was here that is based on some of the issues we were just identifying among Chinese-speaking English learners. It’s so exciting to see the growth of all of that and to be able to continue to add to that development.


Things I am already tired of:

  • screaming children who still insist on using their “outside” voices inside near my already ringing ears
  • whining
  • tattle-telling
  • fighting a sinus infection and a messed up spine since I arrived
  • the lack of polite language
  • watching as some of my favorite, most natural things about myself are offensive to some Chinese people
  • no breaks between my seven-plus hours of classes (what I lovingly call my marathon teaching) until about 9 pm
  • communal living in a really ugly space
  • most of all, I am tired of hardly ever really having time for true and restful solitude

All major parts of my life are currently being lived with the same people, which is some ways is worse than living in a small town or in a family.


Things I love:

  • lovely cafes and tea houses
  • Zen parks and bike trails
  • mountain and bamboo forest hikes
  • meeting up with old friends
  • learning Chinese and using it
  • yummy, cheap food
  • really well thought out food packaging (USA, wise up!)
  • correct portion sizes
  • fresh, ripe fruits
  • that one of my students, Carson, asked at the end of a particularly successful practice in class reading like “storytellers” instead of “robots”, “Teacher, why you look so happy when we read?” Especially glad when I got to tell him why.
  • that more and more of my students are now starting to respond and show more kindness and generosity, as well as improve their language skills. Some of them are really darling little people.

the way of pain

10 12 2010

the way of pain


to accept this path is



the way it leaves you




and as vulnerable as shelled and broken pale baby birds,

bit by bit coercing unspoken or unidentified truths that

slip out through the cracks

the breaks

at times so frightening they steel and steal your breath


to accept this journey stipulates and extracts truth,

what was, is, and will be

your truth—

sometimes with methods as brutally pointed as an interrogator

of whom you see nothing but silhouette and

of whom you hear nothing but unremitting questioning,

but sometimes


with methods as inviting as great, wide, and supple moments

between true friends—

which then gradually softens the jagged edges and works with tenderness

at piecing them

piecing you

together in the cushioned nest of acuity





the experience of pain, that great shaman,

the same truth

that tempers you pang by agonizing pang

and aches deeper than a dehydrated tongue in the sweltering summer Sahara

and gapes around inside until you feel

the other side of the universe siphoned into your belly,



becomes an experience of love

deliberately conjuring up an authenticity—

your very own strong, expansive, ample, beautiful wings—


(like the intelligence of blood that both leaks and stops itself from leaking)

is the very thing that fuses and welds and melds you together again


cohesion is its final relinquishment

a gift of you

to you


to accept the way of pain—the eminent truth disperser and dispenser—is


but so it is to fly


—Kiri Manookin, December 2010


two senses about my kids

29 09 2010

As unusual as it might sound, it’s the smell of my children that I anticipate.

To say that I have hit the point in my life and my body where I am aware of my biological clock would be a true and surprising statement. Surprising, at least, to me since I never anticipated being aware of the speed and loss of time without already having children. But, well, such is life…but I ain’t dead or dried up yet.

I have always had a sense about my children, even just moments when I’m sure that they already exist in one way or another. I have always loved kids and wanted my own (though the older I get, the more I become aware of just how much you can’t take back a decision to have them—one reason why it might be better to have kids while you’re young—and if you try to take it back you just end up hurting the children, yourself, and everyone around you…which just makes me appreciate the decision to have them in the first place).

Still, sometime, I want them.

The experimental/scientific side of me wants to see just what my genes can produce when mixed with another person’s. The human side of me wants to see the beauty and goodness and talent and flesh and soul that my body can give. The spiritual side wants to give flesh to another spirit and to love and be loved and to teach and be taught by the education and wisdom involved in navigating that flesh.

Right now, though, I really just want to smell them, even the stank of them, if necessary. I want to smell the sun on their skin and hair, when they’ve been playing hard, when they’re sleeping, after a bath, at breakfast, or after school.

And when they’re older and around friends, I’ll try and keep the sniffing to a minimum.

the honor of Mercy

29 09 2010

The past few weeks have shown me that 1) when pushed hard enough I seem to have the temper of a red-headed Irish spitfire, 2) some law enforcement need more real crime to keep them busy (calling all criminals!), and 3) sometimes life just isn’t fair. But 4) what they have shown me most of all is that mercy is (and I know of no better way to say this) a discerning, exquisite, and transformative gift.

Justice, as he is called, is a punctilious sort of fellow who respects truth and rightness but who, like a dog that chases its tail, can end up spinning round and round–and sometimes with as little regard as the dog has for what’s around him. “An eye for an eye makes the world blind,” Mahatma Ghandi rightly stated about the consequence of Justice’s mantra. Justice is, already, blind to circumstance, effort, or intention. He has no room for ambiguity and cannot fully stay balanced. When alone, Justice is rickety, standing on the knife-edge of law, where one misstep or one slip may result in harm, or at least the severe declaration of being outside the law and therefore wide open for Punishment to come in and bop you on the head or to sometimes even push you when you are already down. Or worse, compel you to then exact some nitty-gritty justice of your own from someone else. Justice alone cannot rule the world without eventually–as the tail-chasing dog–catching his own tail and gnawing away, self-consuming.

Enter Mercy.

When a law or regulation is broken and Justice hurls himself in like an immobile bouncer on a nightmare boomerang, and when effort is made to restore what was lost and Mercy invited (she does not have to come, after all), she enters like a wise and poised jaguar on the fluidity of a sigh, dangerous only in the sense that she both dismantles and reconstructs at once: disassembling defenses and grudges, and constructing a more sagacious path for precariously perched and perennial Justice. Mercy elucidates, clarifying and siphoning understanding and compassion from what seem like depth-less and impossible wells. Like a water diviner in the parched and unforgiving desert ground, Mercy summons wisdom and taps it, ending the ever-devouring thirst of Justice and stilling his circular and sometimes blinding run. Shifting the center and determining real balance.

Mercy in all her exhales (Compassion, Kindness, Understanding, Courtesy) has the dexterity to calm the spirit, clarify the path of Justice, and–most impressively–motivate the upset heart to fully respect and befriend Justice.

So the next time you are offered a little Courtesy or Understanding, or you are shown Kindness and Mercy, even when Justice claims “No Visitors,” remember that to receive any of them is an honor and a gift, the likes of which without make the solo world of Justice seem, to me, miserably vindicatory and intolerable. Or the next time you are given a chance to channel any whisper of Mercy to another, allow her through without hesitation because Mercy will be, for everyone, a gift of such consummate honor.

gracias, Mexico

7 09 2010

Good-bye, beautiful Mexico.

Thank you for giving me such delight and such beauty. Thank you for helping ease the jetlag and offering well-crafted rest. Thank you for ancient, harmonious ruins and layers of centuries that occasionally sort of slough off to show another depth of history, for the soft white sand and shades of Caribbean blue, the electric blue doctor fish, the various kinds of parrotfish, the cobalt and taupe striped fish, the mini sardines, the four-foot-long barracuda, the “hopping” conch shell, the flying manta ray, the bright yellow and the yellow-and-black fish, for the skinny spider starfish and the fat bright yellow one. Thank you for life jackets and snorkeling tubes and underground rivers and caverns, for salty sea kisses, water confidence and piña coladas, for exquisite tacos (yes, something as simple as a taco really can be exquisite) and enchiladas rojas, for bright and showy flowers, for birds roaming inside restaurants and theaters, and thank you for sunny, green quiet.

Chichen Itza

standing on ancient ground

more at Chichen Itza

history sloughing off

refreshing coconut ice cream

heavenly white sand & the Caribbean Sea

the beach

on the beach

electric blue doctor fish

yellow & cobalt fish

tail end of a very large barracuda-like fish

manta ray

bright yellow fish



sea urchin

exquisite tacos (slurp!)

red birds

caught in the sun

green birds

we're both drawn to it

some of my faves

no idea



happy heart

grateful for the equipment and having a blast

green quiet



more green quiet

even more



31 08 2010

28 August 2010

after snorkeling in Xcaret, Cancun, Mexico

I just did two things I never thought I’d do. One, I signed up for one of those touristy tours to a sort of theme park. I’m a bit of an independent traveler and I always thought those kinds of tours were just for senior citizen travelers or those who were afraid to get out and really meet the peeps of a place. Well, I AM a tourist here so I decided this tour was a good way to go, and it’s more of an ecological park, which (in my mind) justifies me going. So I took the tour, food included (delicious). And two, I went snorkeling (twice even—once in a river, once in the ocean) for the first time and loved it. I mean, really LOVED it. For someone who has always suffered from aquaphobia, especially deep water, this was big.

Yes, I was the six-year-old kid who was so excited for her first swimming lessons she had her long hair done special (in pigtails), but who upon arriving at the pool watched another class jump off the diving board into the deep end (12 whole feet!) and suddenly froze—so much so that she was eventually and humiliatingly placed in the swim class for babies and handicapped children (1½ feet deep) and never really made it past much deeper, especially without clinging to the edge. I freaked out, without realizing why.

Determined for years to beat this fear and finally learn how to swim, in high school gym class I flopped my way through swimming lessons without much success (having a screwed up spine meant I just ended up getting all twisted up in the water without going anywhere but into humiliationland), and in college I would go early in the morning to an empty pool, grab a beach ball, and kick my way from one side of the pool to the other, meditating and breathing as calmly as possible to control my anxiety as I passed over the deep end that absolutely terrified me because if I put my feet down I’d have to go down very far to touch the bottom. Finally, somehow, at the age of 28 when I was living in Asia, I figured out how to coordinate my movement, breath, arms and legs, and fear into swimming…swimming like a frog, but nonetheless swimming.

I felt liberated in a way.

Today, however, was even bigger than that.

I went snorkeling at Xcaret park just south of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in a long series of underground rivers. Suited up with a life jacket on and snorkeling gear in hand, I was excited and simply kept going to prevent myself from thinking about things too long. I entered the crystalline water, put on the gear, and practiced putting my head in and out of the water making sure I wasn’t going to drown. Everything about this, after all, was foreign to me. I didn’t want to think too much about it and get freaked out, but I also wanted to be prepared enough to not die while doing it.

Done. Then I headed into the darkness (eek!) of the first tunnel. The gentle flow of the river nudged me along as I kicked and thought, “This ain’t so bad.” Then I put my head into the water.

It was like someone pulled open the curtains to two things. The first thing you notice is that the water shuts out all other sound so that all you hear is you and your own breath. In…out…in…out…. Like a heartbeat. Like waves. Mesmerizing. And the second thing you notice is that it’s like putting your head through a liquid mirror and peering into a whole other world.

If I hadn’t been clenching a rubber bite on the end of a plastic tube between my teeth, you would have seen my grinning from ear to ear like a goofy kid, snapping photo after photo with my new waterproof camera.

Well, except for one section. There, you would have seen me panic.

What lies beneath the surface of the earth is fascinating and strange and beautiful. I just usually don’t want to go down into it. Call it mild claustrophobia, but I would much rather climb up or be in the light of day or come as close to flying as I can. So the fact that I was swimming alone through dark watery tunnels (that occasionally opened up into gorgeous green light-filled oases, which were the MOST beautiful and welcome sights) meant that two of the things that scare me most—deep water in the moist dark—were the two things I was facing at every tunnel entrance. I admit I hesitated sometimes until I could see, or at least hear, other people behind me before I kept going. I didn’t want to be alone in the dark. But I pushed on, keeping calm, “squealing” with joy at streams of light dancing on the rock formations below and the miniature cave fish swimming around me. Just me, my breath, and the underground wonderland. Until…

I turned a corner at an open oasis only to find the entrance of a very dark tunnel and just enough light to see a giant and very, very deep crevice below me. I panicked and swam over to the shallow edge to pause.

The term “life jacket” is a good one, but for me it doesn’t have the same impact as the term in Spanish: chaleco salvavida, literally “jacket to save your life.” I’d never been happier to be wearing a fluorescent orange contraption (that was painfully cutting into my crotch and that I later discovered had bruised my tailbone). But this is the self-talk that followed:

“Holy CRAP, that’s really deep and dark!!!” (Panting)

“Kiri, you can do this. Just keep going.”

“But, did you see that crevice that’s sucked in all the light?!”

“Yep, saw it.”

“AND?!?! WELL?!?!?”

“I saw it. But how is this part any different than any other section you’ve swum through until now?”

“It’s so freakin’ deep, that’s how!! I could swim over it, get sucked in or fall in and never be found or heard of again! I can’t see or hear anyone ahead of me or behind me. No one would ever know or find me and I would have spent my last moments with my last few breaths being sucked out of me as I drop into oblivion!!!”


“What are you wearing, Kiri? ¿Qué estás llevando, Kiri?”

“Un chaleco salvavid…ahh.” Tienes razón. You’re right. Okay.”

“Yep, keep it on and keep swimming just like you’ve been doing. Go toward the dark, even if it’s counterintuitive, stay with the flow of the river, and it will bring you into the light. Now go.”

So I went. I swam over that giant fissure (without looking much again, I have to say) that could have swallowed me up (I was sure of it), I kept breathing, and I made it into the light again. The salvavida saved my life. Maybe one day I can snorkel without it and maybe even dive, but for now I’m content. Like training wheels on a bicycle, maybe it’ll come off one day…but it still means I’m riding.

Near the end of my wonder-filled hour-long journey through this network of underground rivers, I again muffle-squealed in delight at the yellow-and-black striped fish that greeted me and at the bigger electric blue fish that darted between the others. Squealing in joy at the beauty that thrives beneath the surface. I didn’t want to get out, but when I did, I removed my mask and fins, unsnapped my life jacket, and broke into a giant smile, honoring myself and offering gratitude to God for many things: for the sound of my own breath and for being aware of it, for this planet and all its grandeur and mysteries, and for this awkward and bulky vest that had made possible that journey through the wonder and terror of facing fear and emerging stronger and even more in love with life.

ready to start my day at Xcaret

in the river

jungle oasis

so pleased and happy by the sea