A few months ago, I took the ferry from Jack London Square into San Francisco with some friends. Once we de-boarded the ship, somewhere along the Embarcadero, we came across a man—an artisan—selling pieces of wood with quotes burned into the sides. Each of us bought the wood-burned wisdom that spoke to us in that specific moment. The one I chose had a question from Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Even though I’m ostensibly a Master of Poetry, I haven’t read Mary Oliver, but her question struck me for the simple fact that I didn’t know. For the first time in my life, I felt adrift, and beyond that, an extreme pull towards something different from the incredibly precious life I’ve lived—a pull towards the wild.
I’ve had other strong pulls in my lifetime, some of which I’ve ignored out of fear, suffering or a willful lack of interest. Just this year, I’ve begun to wonder if it was perhaps selfish to ignore at 16 what I’ve come to realize in my adulthood other spiritual people consider a Call To Worship. I was sitting in our family living room after school one afternoon when I was overcome by a powerful white light and a voice asked me to dedicate my life to something higher. But I am an Agnostic, a skeptic who longs—sometimes in desperation—for intense faith, so I didn’t believe it at the time. I wanted to be a famous singer and actress and to eventually marry the person I am meant to be with, not to become a nun, so I said no, but I often wonder if I chose the wrong path, especially given that I let go of the dream of becoming a singer and an actress years ago for Philosophy (a dream I also eventually let go of), and, additionally, more than one psychic I have come across has told me I am a saint or an angel, though I am also skeptical of that information.
What I’m not skeptical of is human potentiality; it’s one of the reasons I adore German Existentialism! I believe in the power of human beings to constantly struggle to become greater: more conscious, more evolved and more passionate people. We have an unlimited amount of possibilities for knowledge and cultural production in this world. I see it as my personal responsibility to help awaken as many minds to their real potential as I can. Two quotes which express my values at their most primal level are:
1) “Humankind will always be engaged in struggle, because struggle is in fact the highest expression of human creativity…the only belief worth struggling for is the belief…in humankind, because human beings have only themselves to rely on in their unending struggle to become more profoundly human.”
2) “In the beginning, I adored. What I adored was human…What had reached me, so powerfully cast from a human body, was Beauty: there was a face with all the mystery prescribed and preserved on it; I was before it, I sensed that there was a beyond, to which I did not have access, an unlimited place. The look incited me and also forbade me to enter; I was outside, in a state of that desire. I was the question. The question with this strange destiny: to seek, to pursue the answers that will appease it, that will annul it. What prompts it, animates it, makes it want to be asked, is the feeling that the other is there, so close, exists, so far away; the feeling that somewhere, in some part of the world, once it is through the door, there is the face that promises, the answer for which one continues to move onward, because of which one can never rest, for the love of which one holds back from renouncing, from giving in—to death. Yet what misfortune if the question should happen to meet its answer! Its end!”
The first quote is from Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs, two social activists who advocated for us all to be “more human, human beings.” Their belief in an individual reaching her own personal transformation before being able to bring about real, lasting change in the world inspired me in my early 20s when I was involved in liberal campaign fundraising, feminism, Asian American political identity and gay rights organizations without having a clear understanding of why these issues were important for me on a deeper level, and without actually having an authentic sense of self from which to act from. I was more reactive than active back in those days, but by getting in touch with my more human side through writing about my personal experiences as a liberal, Korean adoptee, lesbian, I did find my voice again.
My voice lives in the unending questions Hélène Cixous writes so fiercely about in Coming to Writing and Other Essays. I’m still searching for answers, for definition, for the things and people that I can believe in completely, but I do have faith in humanity. I also have faith in beauty. My nonfiction mentor, Marilyn Abildskov, once told me that my writing contains “an intense longing for ecstasy and annihilation.” I agree. I exist in that beautiful, yet controlled, tension between extremes: the ecstasy and annihilation, questions and answers, the human and the divine, the wild and precious.
These past three years since receiving my dual Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degrees from Saint Mary’s College of California, I’ve found it difficult to hold on to things in a meaningful way. I didn’t realize at the time I was doing so, but by grasping onto the people who came into my life with such force—and sometimes desperation—and making their world my own, I lost my voice again somewhere along the way. Which is kind of funny, for when I finally decided to focus on my writing for the first time in my life by choosing to apply to MFA Programs instead of more traditional academic ones, I made that choice because I feared if I didn’t, my talent for writing would leave me, and I would be voiceless. In essence, annihilated. But I’m still here, and I have reclaimed my voice again after staring at that wood block to the side of my desk every day asking what exactly it is that I plan to do with my one wild and precious life!
It happened quite quickly after I decided to change gears and give the same intensity and dedication I had thrown onto other people in my life to myself again. I started going to ecstatic and conscious dance classes through Open Floor Movement Practice and 5Rhythms® in Marin County, and the self-revelations I learned on the dance floor brought me back to myself, as well as to the healing arts community I had left two years ago in order to spend more time on the interpersonal relationships in my life.
In 2011, I participated in a juried exhibition called A PLACE OF HER OWN™ (PLACE) at SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco, in which I created a large-scale art installation using found objects in order to explore my notions of the real and unreal, the tangible and intangible, and erect an actual place in the world to contain these ideas. Artist and curator, Cynthia Tom, created a space for women to explore our answers to the question: if you had a place of your own, what would it be? After participating in the 2011 exhibition, I became so dedicated to the process that I helped her develop PLACE into a Social Service directed workshop series and was one of the Artist Facilitators that mentored non-artists. Along with Dr. Trinity Ordona, Cynthia eventually grew PLACE into a fully-fledged residency program which now uses meditation, chakra balancing, looking at family patterns, art and the creative process to allow women to hear our own voices, transform our lives and physically create that place for ourselves. I have now returned to PLACE as an Art Facilitator, and being back in the arts, in the classroom and around the healing process as both a student (in the dance classes) and a guide (in PLACE) has given my life direction again. I am no longer adrift. I am also no longer so precious.
I’m ready to be more wild with my life and fully embrace the things that give it meaning: creativity, freedom of expression, deep thought and healing, which has led me to the Transformative Studies Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, for I am ready to learn how to be a better mentor and find more lasting answers. Unlike Cixous, I don’t believe it would be a misfortune for some questions to meet their ends. It’s in the endings that new beginnings arise, which can lead to greater questions. I want to find those questions. I also have come to think it might have been a little too selfish to not devote myself to something higher when asked, and I would like to figure out what that higher calling is. Now that would be truly wild!
Boggs, Grace Lee. Living for Change: An Autobiography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998. Print.
Cixous, Hélène. Coming to Writing and Other Essays. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991. Print.