Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Fluffy Tree of an Afternoon

Oh, look! That red one . . . so gorgeous!" Mom's hands form the tree's shape, hands that once molded clay into pots and vases. "That yellow one," her arms widen to embrace the view from the car's front seat. We are taking our daily joyride around town. Maple, birch, sweet gum trees, oak are full of fall foliage and on these sunny October days, the view is stunning. "Oh, my goodness!" Mom exclaims, "It's so picturesque!!"

Our mother has had advanced vascular dementia for two years now. From what I see of the other elders at Southtowne, by now our mom should be walking with a fixed stare, robot like, or belted into a wheelchair with an alarm set on her so that when she stands up, a caregiver is alerted. These elders are called "Falling Stars" because they cannot stand and walk long without falling.

Why has my mother escaped that fate? I believe the answer is because Mom is completely off of pharmaceuticals prescribed her for symptoms of dementia. The particular med she was on to calm her fears and anxiety and self-endangering behavior caused her to grind her teeth, shattering them. The grinding distracted the caregivers. One admitted that her husband told her that in the middle of the night she would yell in her sleep, "Mary!! Stop grinding!" The social director who had treated mom as a favorite earlier began to walk by her without noticing her. Defintely mom's fun was being affected. The nurse practitioner who advised Southtowne agreed with us that the drug was not working. I felt I had a clear road now to seek other ways to help mom with the fear, confusion and anxiety that plagues people with dementia.

We had a sacro-cranial masseuse working with mom with some success in reducing her anxiety, and asked if he had any ideas. We talked to my naturopath. My naturopath had given mom a successful remedy to calm her sundown syndrome so her mind would slow from its anxious high speed at night and she could sleep. Homeopathic remedies do not have any side effects so we often turn to them for mom since our mother is already on eight prescription medications for her heart.

For example, this year mother had a bladder infection, which for elders is a very dangerous thing. The usual symptoms do not occur. She may or may not have a fever. I had asked for a urinalysis when I first noticed her confusion and tiredness. I had to keep asking about it and was finally told that the test result came back negative. Five weeks later, my mother stopped eating. The medical doctor said this is all part of the process in dementia but just in case they would give her a urinalysis; in some cases a bladder infection affects eating. Alarms went off in my head. When we returned to Southtowne, I confronted the med aide about the possible bladder infection and asked if the urinalysis was really done. I learned that the nurse had been let go when it was discovered that she had let many things go including my request for a urinalysis.

It is a very scary thing when a person stops eating. I plied Mom with food Japanese give to sick people, rice gruel. I chopped up fresh shiso leaves, chicken with garlic to sneak in protein and add flavor. Mom would eat a bit of it while dramatically suffering and whining. I gave her a protein drink which she drank with an anguished look on her face. "I caaaaaan't" she would wail! Her weight plummeted. Again, I went to the naturopath for advice and she suggested we try Chinese bitters. Administered 15 minutes before a meal helped the salivary glands to do its work and it can jumpstart appetite.

Now a month later of constantly checking and the help of Katrina, a very vigilant and diligent caretaker who took it on as her crusade to address this eating problem, and the caretakers who worked with her idea, mom eats 100 percent of all her meals. I name Katrina because she is remarkable. Another person might remember or might not remember about the tonic. Some excuse their inattention so easily. But Katrina stands out. I do credit Katrina and the Chinese bitters with giving mom her present peace of mind and happy days. Food and the enjoyment of eating are important to quality of life.

Returning to the story of our search for a non-pharmaceutical treatment for our mother's dementia, I turned to the sacro cranial doctor. Benjamin suggested alpha-stim treatments, a simple device being successfully used by many who have depression and now being used by some for Alzheimer’s and dementia. The electrical impulses stimulate the part of the brain, which controls anxiety, apparently. The medical doctors have used alpha-stim to help athletes with muscle problems. Locally, a psychologist dispenses the alpha stim, which anyone can learn more about by going to

Now, through the successful alpha stim treatments and my naturopath's correct analysis and prescription of a homeopathic remedy, my mother has reduced her grinding and has not only maintained her own personality but is calmer than she has ever been in her life. She goes with me on rides with the alpha stim ear clips on her ears looking like a youthful version of herself listening to tunes on an ipod. Her high water pants show off her flashy socks (which I choose so I can clearly see if her socks are being changed daily) and we have kept up her bright and flashy style revved up a bit more. That day she wore her black straw hat with the big bill which protected her eyes from the sun, sunglasses with leopard designed frames, a slick slim jacket bright reds and pinks with flashes of blue floral set off by glass rivets forming designs around the cuffs and collar. We were ready for our ride!

We round the corner onto campus. Lots of trees line the street. "Oh, marvelous! Did you set those up like that? It looks like those are the ones you did."

"No, our neighbors did that, mom,” I have given up with true answers like "those are trees." or "Creator did that." "They grow that way."

Mom nods, accepting my answer, "It does look like your style, though." I accept the compliment.

"grit grit grit grit"

"Mom, please stop biting," I remind her using the words the sacro cranial doctor suggested.

"I'm not biting. I'm crunching."

"Please stop crunching then, mom, it hurts your teeth." I work to keep my voice sing song as I grit my own teeth.

Mom always boasted that Grandpa used to call her "Mary, Mary, quite contrary" for a good reason. Now at this stage of her life, that contrariness definitely keeps her youthful.

She's always surprised when I drive up to Southtowne bringing her home again. Each time she exclaims over the tall shrubs, which are trimmed into a spiral design. "I've never seen anything like it! It's so artistic!" she says each time. As I push the open button for the gate, she wanders away, hands on her hips surveying all the trees lining the parking lot. Then her attention is drawn upwards. "Look at those!" She points at the blue sky with cumulous clouds building up. 'Those white ones! Those trees are so fluffy! I've never seen that before!"

What would you say? "Those are clouds, Mom" or allow yourself to step into her incredible fall afternoon? It's anyone's guess because any answer will do. In fact, the truth is I have answered in either way so many times, I can't remember which I used the afternoon of the fluffy trees. It seems an appropriate way to end this story, our family version of Alice in Wonderland as we tumble into the magical rabbit hole with Mom.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thank you!

I humbly thank you for logging on to TBAsian. This morning I learned that there have been 100 viewings of TBAsian. I've always wanted to write. I taught my students what Ursula LeGuin said about writing. How to become a writer is simply to write. Write every day. Just write. And that writing was a very solitary activity. I confess I used LeGuin, partially, to prevent writing to become social hour. Life is social for middle schoolers. They would all go to their own separate little corner and write. Sometimes I would write with them. But most of the time, I became 'editor' and first reader of their pieces.

I had thought I might want to write a book when I retired -- maybe for young readers, maybe a mystery with a real life mix of people -- but it was daunting to think of publishers and editors and especially that pile of 100 books gathering dust in a closet.

Now I am writing in my own little corner of blogspot. It is indeed a solitary activity -- except for a bit of blogger technology which allows me to peek every once in awhile to see if anyone has logged in. Maybe everyone doesn't log in to read. Maybe everyone doesn't read a lot of it. Or maybe it's a couple of people related to me logging on 50 times apiece. Whatever the case, I thank you all for making TBAsian a little less solitary. If I were techno-miraculous I would have a blog party!!! Thank you again.

Campaign 2008, Will It Be Our Big Bachi or Not?

It has crossed my mind observing the 2008 Presidential Campaign between Democrat Barak Obama and Republican John McCain, and McCain and Palin's racialized attacks in the last month that we could be in for a big bachi.

When I was a young and would trip or stub a toe causing me to yelp with pain, my Obachan would not spoil me, but would say "bachi ga atatta." It wasn't mean. She didn't gloat. It was just part of life. She explained to me once that bachi kind of meant that negative begets negative -- although "bachi" was something which was more accidental and universal than a direct consequence or punishment.

Sometimes, evesdropping, I'd hear her say "Ii-bachi" about something -- and that was like "Good one!"; probably she wouldn't approve of my sharing with anyone this most normal of human responses she would allow herself to enjoy from time to time. So I apologize to Obachan.

This country was built on two evil policies. One was the colonization of 1000 sovereign nations of this continent, the land stolen through wars, treachery and violence, all illegal according to any international human rights code, and the second was slavery specifically of African people. The American form of slavery is quite unique in the history of the world. It was based on color -- not on enmity. Slavery was a life sentence and beyond; in other words, babies were born into slavery. Who enslaves babies? Slavery, generally, was through war or enmity and enslaved people could even marry into the enemy's family or would eventually become free. But American slavery was quite different. In this country, enslavement was purely for economic reasons. It was not about enmity; it was all about cold cash.

American slavery was distinct in that it treated people like chattel, work animals. The human beings were auctioned, brutally beaten, branded, "bred," separated from their families, forbidden to anything that human beings do -- learn, pray, speak their own tongue, marry, have families. The babies were kept naked, fed from a trough. In spite of being born in all this evil from generation to generation, African people had the incredible strength to keep their humanity, create tradition and keep family structure of some kind. In spite of generations and generations born into slavery, African people and their descendents have always been the first ones to stand up for freedom. That is awe inspiring to me. That's why I told my students, I would never refer to people with such a strong commitment to the ideal of freedom as "slaves." I don't know what I would have done, as a "sansei" enslaved for three generations. Would I have believed the slaver that I was just chattel? Would I be broken? Would I have even understood what freedom meant without tasting its sweetness?

This deeply evil form of slavery cannot be ended simply with the stroke of a President's pen. Its legacy twists all hunan beings. It twists up the slaver too, the quivering fearful so called "masters" in the big house who have to surround themselves with thugs armed with chains, dogs, whips, guns to keep people down. It twists up the bankers the slave ship builders, the captain and crew, the banker and lender, the slave auction, the lawyers and legislatures, judges , the ministers and teachers, every person who kept this evil system in place. The whole US economic systen was built on the cash brought in by slavery and aggression against sovereign indigenous nations. I asked my students -- so who is the slave? The person in chains whose hearts are set on freedom? or those who fetter themselves to a rotten system despite what huge compromises it requires of the country's ideals.

I remember we had a simulation in my class once, my attempt to make studying the Constitution less deadly for eighth graders. I still remember Sari Gomez, delegate from Rhode Island, and her passionate speech against slavery. The other delegates gave her a standing ovation and rewarded her by voting slavery down unanimously. They agreed slavery had absolutely no place in the new union based on democratic rule by the people. I was the only one surprised by the vote. My instructions had been to use the text as a guide to their speeches and their participation. Their resounding no to slavery moved my heart so much that I had to stand up and walk to the front of the room as their teacher, interrupting their simulation. I told them that because of their historical vote, the US will avoid the bloodiest of wars, the Civil War, there would be no segregation, and there would be no racist divide in the nation. I told them I was very proud of them. I cannot describe how these young eighth graders glowed. They felt their strength. They had inspired their teacher, made her tear up and they had changed history that day, in their classroom. They felt proud for what they had done for the country.

I know it was a simulation, but that is the power of the tool. As a teacher, who would I have been to say, "No! You can't! History says that the delegates must compromise on slavery. Your vote is incorrect! " Big red check mark by the teacher. What kind of future would that have prepared them for? It was more important they FELT what they could do if the power to choose were in their hands. As for historical factoids, they can read about the sorry history of bad compromises, official mistakes and policies based on greed in the textbook because, after all, that's all history is -- a chronicle of actions, not an instruction book. This day, it was important to let them know, as Maya Angelou says in her poem for Clinton's inaugaral, "Good Morning!"

Lift up your eyes upon this day breaking for you
Give birth again to the dream.
Women, Children, Men
Take it into the palms of your hand.
Mold it into the shape of your most private need.
Sculpt it into the image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings.

This brings us to the Presidential election of 2008, after eight years of the disasterous Bush administration which leaves his country embroiled in an illegal war, his people's Constitutional rights diminished, on the brink of a recession even a global depression, high unemployment, huge budget deficit of trillions which our heirs are going to have to pay. The Presidential candidates for 2008 are like characters in a parable. One, intelligent, coolheaded, one could say dignified, speaking about a change from eight years of disaster, the other, a part of the failed Bush team, waging a campaign on personality, openly and clumsily racist, and somewhat confused. One African from Mother Africa, the other white, rich and a soldier of the Vietnam war who hates Gooks and always will (his words).

Whom will America elect to be their President after the devastation of the Bush years -- a devastation so broad it is apparent even to the party faithfuls? Will they choose Barak Obama, African American, intelligent, cool headed, whose presidential run is clearly a response to America's yearning or will they choose John McCain, who supported the Bush administration’s failed policies 95 % of the time, who has waged a campaign of personality rather than answer questions which weigh heavy on each American’s mind. Whom will America choose?

My two cents is this. If John McCain and Sarah Palin win the presidency, we are in for a hard time. Four more years of the Bush Cheney program can mean the demise of this empire we call home. A McCain victory during a time of such pessimism toward his party and its president means only one thing for me. A "more of the same McCain" victory over the Obama phenomena points to racialized thinking, a legacy of 300 years of slavery and segregation. Four more years with McCain and its disasterous results will be our big bachi for slavery. Or maybe the youth will make a difference. I have witnessed it. And their influence was so strong it remains with me today.

We will reap what has been sown unless we think as my eighth grade students did -- unfettered by a history text book -- and taking action in response to the dire needs (moral needs) of the present for sake of our future. I pray we have the will to lift our heads up and mold and sculpt our own piece of history. As Maya Angelou, elder and poet says, Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Back to the Longhouse, 2008

This weekend was Homecoming at the University of Oregon. My friend Marcy was asked to organize a Homecoming weekend for the NASU alumni. The club had a long history, beginning in Fenton Hall. BSU and the Chicano students also began clubs during that time in the early 60's. NASU's proud history also includes organizing the first Longhouse on a college campus. James Florendo traveled to an early NAIA conference bringing home hundreds of signatures of Native students all over the country supporting NASU's endeavor. I joined with others to show that NASU had alliances, but this was before there was an Asian American organization on campus. All of this was part of my education -- one how to make a vision a reality, but also, how visions such as these grew beyond what one could ever imagine.

When I came to campus, I was Japanese American sansei, part of my generation's anti war movement, and alone. Far from my Idaho family and the Japanese American community and the familiarity of a small town in Idaho, I felt very isolated in this college town. Every time I saw black hair, I would do a double take looking for familiarity.

On campus, the concept of differing world view was introduced to me. It was a giant shift for me. My self concept of treasured weirdness was replaced by something which felt to be much truer I learned that being the only Japanese American family in small town Caldwell, Idaho, did not make me weird; I learned that I gew up with a cultural set and more importantly that my white classmates also grew up with their own cultural set. One was no weirder than the other and both were acquired at such a subconscious level, we never questioned it or looked at culture critically. We lacked the perspective to analyze it and get beyond my feeling weird or their feeling normal. You can imagine the powerful tool knowing about world view was for me.

During this time, a friend I met in class invited me to a pow wow sponsored by a Title program and for the first time in Eugene, I truly exhaled. Listening to the drums, watching a circle of traditional people of all ages, elders and children, dancing to old songs touched that part of my heart which hurt and I felt better. I would go even by myself the following years, sitting alone but not feeling alone. It felt good to watch the little ones grow up; I especially remember girl twins I later learned were Les and Bonnie Houck's girls. What I had missed so much in Eugene were the elders, the children, and the feeling of watching children grow up.

In the university daily I read about a class "Asian American Experience" by John Beckwith. I couldn't wait to meet the Asian people of Eugene! We all signed up. Half of us were young students. Half of us were older, community members. I was in between -- a teacher returning to earn a graduate degree. Two groups were organized in that class -- the AASU, a student organization now called APASU and still remains on campus, and the Asian American Community Group which included older students, and community people. I belonged to both. We were very busy. The two groups worked together. We supported the events organized by the student group. And we fed them and sponsored outings and other events which brought them a little bit of home. The community group remains morphing into other groups along the way -- Asians Together, and now PanAsian Community Alliance, a community group focused on justice.

It was only a matter of time, as it always is in Eugene, that the Asian American student group became closely allied with the other student union groups, a natural evolution in Eugene for people of color. My friend Debbie Osato dubbed our city with a new name -- Hakujin, Oregon. Hakujin is the term for white people. To get anything done, you worked together. And in working together, so much experience and wisdom came our way. As the experience came our way -- it is called diversity nowadays -- my world transformed to what it is now. It is such good work to work together.

Back then, we worked together to bring our stories, ancestors, poets, philosphers into the university classes. We designed our own classes. We wrote the books if there was none. We found monies set aside for students of color buried in remediation programs and designed a new program which had our college success as the goal. The Council for Minority Education was built on a Native American model, because the mentors of the movement were most Native, and the way things were done was by concensus, in a circle, with respect for every person. We supported one another's events. The Asian American Student Union and Native American Student Union did a lot together. For the pow wows, we volunteered to fix the sandwiches and lemonade for the visiting drums. Oftentimes, we would help with the housing. When we did our spring conference, the NASU students helped us get things ready, and came to all the parties to make it a good time, as did MEChA and the BSU students. These Asian American presenters and musicians from Seattle to LA and NY were always impressed by the Eugene welcome and do not remember this as a Hakujin town at all but as a town of a beautiful mix of hosts and friends. A lot of the planning work was done at the Longhouse.

So, this weekend was homecoming. And I'm still in Eugene. It must puzzle some people why this Asian person is at the Longhouse for homecoming. But it would be even more puzzling and awkward if I didn't go because my friends are like family coming back for homecoming . We shared the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties and even if much that we built has systematically been torn down by this President, we've also shaped a family and became our childrens' uncles and aunties, been through thick and thin, kids grown up and having kids. We have also gone all over this country and through our work and involvement in community wherever we landed, we continued the vision we picked up at the University of Oregon, together, transforming our own world.

The Longhouse, without exaggeration, was our college experience. It was the part of the university which welcomed us, which supported us, which included us, which nurtured us. A tiny WWII building, a hall and a small kitchen was our memorable campus experience. We could be sure to have a place to meet even if we were the Asian American union if we needed a place a bigger than the small sliver that the university provided us, right up against the bowling alley. Why do Asians so often get stuck right by a bowling alley? On Wednesdays, college students of all backgrounds knew there was a place they could go for homecooked meals at the Longhouse potluck. If we needed to study with a group, we could go to the Longhouse. All of us began to model our world after the Longhouse experience.

The boundaries of the Longhouse had nothing to do with the roads encircling this campus. They Longhhouse was connected to all the reservations, Indian people everywhere. One of my closest friends and someone I refer to as my younger brother, Roger Amerman, Choctow, although he was 12 years younger than I was like a teacher to me. Through him I learned how important it was for the student to go to the reservations and ask personally for support, and the support would be there such a deep and powerful way. I learned what happens to a small space (campus) when these elders and spiritual leaders, and tribal leaders came on campus to support the students and talked to them reminding them of the richness of responsibility they are inheriting as tribal college graduates. Indian Country, I learned, will never be for me again the small dots of land across this country, but will always be the heritage, promise and possibility of this whole continent. As immigrants we could have accepted our part in this heritage. Those who came as colonizers stamping their mark on this land missed it. The legacy of colonization, slavery, and point of view of overdevelopment and excess have become a destructive force. At the Longhouse, we all from many backgrounds were able to learn enough of the responsibilities we carry as descendents of immigrants. So to Roger Amerman, the Longhouse -- a new structure which is called The Many Nations Longhouse -- and NASU alums, thank you. To Rudy, first Native American recruited to play UO football who traveled so far and shared his heartfelt words, thank you. To all who shared the stories -- Bob Tom, Stuart Whitehead, Roger, Tom Ball, Wilma Crowe, thank you. To the hosts, NASU students, vice provost Tom Ball and Marcy who spearheaded this, to the new Alumni Association steering committee which includes Frank, Twila, Rudy, Roger, Colette and Marcy, with Alicia and me, thank you. I guess it's not a surprise that this is the first homecoming I've attended since graduating from the UO and that, in fact, it is the first I was invited to. The Longhouse, small though the old building may have been, was the whole campus for a multicultural community of students. That's not a small thing either. We look back, all of us, to the UO days -- or Longhouse days -- as a giant experience. We remember it as happy times where much good work came from our being together. That certainly is a lesson to me that it isn't magnificent buildings, the attention of powerful administration, being part of the right clubs that make the experience worthy. The humble sweeps away the grands everytime.

I will post the address to access the pictures Marcy's husband Dean took during the reunion on the blog. Thank you, Dean! BTW, the Ducks won!
"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.