31 March 2010


At the weekly Monday meditation evening a newcomer came up and asked what work I did. Ohmigod! For most of my life that's been the most anxiety-producing question imaginable. Last Monday I just smiled serenely and answered, "Oh for the last 15 years I was a writer. Now I'm transforming."

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" my father constantly asked me as far back as I can remember. After my parents divorced when I was 10, he still called most days to find out what I'd done in school. He paid me $20 for every A on my report card. "You're smart and if you get good grades you can be anything you want," he loved to tell me. "The wider your horizons, the more choices you'll have in life."

The notion of infinitely wide horizons and deciding what/who 8-year-old me wanted to be when she grew up was terrifying. I craved small manageable horizons. I understood that while Dad promised a world of work options, he implicitly dismissed many potential career choices as inappropriate. I could grow up to be anything I wanted as long as it was a reputable profession like doctor, lawyer or anything that required lots of studying at a prestigious university. (Dad started out as a doctor and at age 40 switched to become a lawyer.)

"What does XX's father do?" Dad asked about every childhood friend I played with and every guy I dated through high school. "What does XX do?" he asked the adult me about the men I dated. For many years I never shared such information with him because I knew instinctively that "motor trader," "weird Austrian author," dope smoker," "itinerant musician" or "industrial firebrick layer" wouldn't satisfy his criteria of acceptable career choices. Once I proudly introduced him to a "math professor" I dated in the late 1970s even though this guy was fundamentally nuttier and more dysfunctional than any of the others.

As for my own "profession," I spent the first 28 years of my life assiduously avoiding the issue. I dropped out of college after the sophomore year and spent five years working at increasingly bizarre temp jobs in Swinging London. I returned to the US in 1972 and waited tables in the Napa Valley for a couple of years. Eventually Dad offered to put me through court reporting school in San Francisco. He probably figured that as long as I wasn't going to be a lawyer, at least I could sit in rooms with lawyers and breathe lawyer air.

I type super fast and was acing the court reporting course until I developed tenosinovitus (repetitive motion injury in today's parlance) in my wrist and dropped out. Perhaps Dad finally accepted my overt and covert resistance to "professions" because he gave up on his dream of my getting one and told me to find a job.

Getting a job was easier than choosing a profession. I became secretary to Dr. K., a Hong Kong scientist who ran a research lab at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. During the 15 years I worked for him—1975 to 1990—my title changed from "secretary" to the slightly tonier "administrative assistant." Neither sounded like the sort of "profession" I'd been brought up to covet.

After ending up in Thailand and become a published writer in the early 1990s, I felt better responding to "what do you do?" questions. I called myself a freelance writer, not to be confused with the professional journalists who all seemed far worthier of the writing title than I. People often complimented me on my pieces, yet their praise felt undeserved because I never embraced my own talent.

In late 2008 a slowly developing case of systemic candida invaded my brain. I could barely think straight, much less write coherently. The last magazine article I wrote, a 3,000-word destination piece, would normally have taken a few days to write. This one took a month and ended up being completely rewritten by the editor. I was mortified. I started a very strict anti-candida diet in early December 2008 which gradually cleared up the worst symptoms after a few months. My mind returned but my desire to write had vanished.

Even a few months ago, writing a simple email was a daunting and scary task. Sifu H insisted the block was mental, not physical and after the month-long session that ended on the 10th of this month, I suddenly became psyched about writing a blog. For the first time in years, writing has become so absorbing that playing Scrabble on Facebook, plucking chin hairs or the many other time fillers I relied on no longer appeal.

So far I haven't figured out how to show how learning Qigong has transformed my life so drastically. I'll just keep noting changes on the blog and stop tying myself up in knots trying to explain everything.

What I do know with certainty is that "transforming" is the best job I've ever had!


Harris said...


Thanks so much for linking me to your blog. We've been dis/un/not-connected for too long and I have avidly read the last few postings. I must admit that I never quite realized how serious your health challenges have been and am so very happy to hear that you are moving forward physically and otherwise.

You write so beautifully. I'm very happy you've come back to the writing and have achieved some of the clarity we all strive for and, occasionally, get.'

Much love and affection,


yinsan said...

Hmmm...Snake was my previous entry to my blog, but I didn't have a picture! Enjoy reading your blog!