Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife

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Due Date

In an alternate world, today would be different. It wouldn’t just be a day that I took off work to enjoy Hawaiian living. It would be a day when I was carefully driven to Tripler hospital to give birth to my first child. I imagined using a special water-birthing chamber. It sounded so much calmer than a typical frenetic hospital ward. It would be warm, and peaceful and by the end of the day I’d have a sleeping baby that I could contemplate in its Buddha Zen. Pink cheeks. Ten fingers, ten toes.


We aren’t in an alternate world. We are here. Today. And even though it’s my due date, there is no baby. I lost it months ago.


Its been hard knowing that everything I do right now would be so drastically different in that alternate world. Last week I went to the Big Island for work. I hiked around Volcano National Park and gained over 20,000 steps each day. It was beautiful and amazing and there’s no way I could have done it if I was 9 months pregnant. It’s hard to hold both truths in my mind. Then I remember there is only one truth, the one where that baby, my first, was never destined to be.


I thought about driving up to the North Shore today and buying a lei, then throwing it into the sea. A symbolic goodbye. I took a nap instead.


Part of my apathy is survival. I can’t feel it all again right now. It was too much when it happened. I can’t go through that again. Not today.
In a more hopeful way, I feel I’ve already said goodbye. It happened maybe a month ago.


Right after the miscarriage I commissioned a bracelet stamped with the initials of the baby, had it been a girl. ALY. Amelia Leilani Yaste. Our Aly girl. We never picked a boy name.


I wore it always. It was something that was part of me. That and my wedding band never left my person. I was afraid that without it, I would forget, and do some disservice to the child that would have been. I won’t ever forget though.


Then one day, I was wearing the bracelet, and suddenly I wasn’t. I didn’t take it off. It broke.


I remembered that a friend told me once that when a bracelet breaks off, it’s good luck. I texted her asking if that was true. I didn’t give her the details. She told me that when a bracelet breaks off, it’s a sign of completion or closure.


That same day someone messaged me on Twitter about how an article I’d written about miscarriage gave her courage to write about her own. Her blog was heart wrenching and beautiful in its honesty.


It felt right. I’d spent so many months focusing only on loss. This was an opportunity to move forward. Not to forget. I’ll never forget. But to find a path where I can remember without being totally undone.


When my mom stayed with me after the miscarriage she suggested I should have a mantra. Something I could say to myself to feel better in some way. I never found a mantra, but I did find a prayer.


Please grant me strength and shepherd the spirit of my child.


I don’t know exactly what I believe in. I have a complicated history with faith. But I say this to myself throughout the day, every day.


Somewhere, I’m sure, ALY is safe.

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Sexism, orgasms and grad school- oh my!

Over the weekend I read through novel synopses for my peers in a graduate creative writing class. Most were good and I’m excited to see how they develop. One, however, shocked me both by its overt sexism, and because the author seemed totally oblivious to the fact that it was incredibly sexist.


I won’t go through all the details of the plot, but it involved a man in a power position dating an unnamed Japanese-American woman who has never had an orgasm. The man makes it his quest to make her climax. They have a “great” relationship, and the man wants to propose to this woman, but isn’t sure if he can unless he can make her orgasm. That premise alone is so mind-boggling and icky in its cluelessness that I realized just how alive and well sexism is in America.


First off, ladies don’t need a guy to get off. If a woman is sexually active and has never climaxed through intercourse, chances are she would take the matter into her own hands eventually (pun intended). Also, I may be a bit jaded on this one as a military spouse currently on a 6-month sex moratorium thanks to my husband’s deployment, but sex really isn’t the most important part of a marriage. Sex is great, orgasms are awesome, but it’s not the foundation of a relationship.


It’s also problematic that the guy is an authority figure, and holds all the power of possible marriage and presumed happiness (because all a woman needs to be happy is a wedding ring, #obvi). I could go on and on about how much this synopses irks me, but the end result is it’s gross in how belittling it is to women, and highlights how subconscious sexism is still prevalent.


Dudes still think of women as sex objects instead of people! Not all of them, but some do. I’m lucky enough to have had good men in my life who all support strong women. It didn’t seem possible that there might be a real contingency of men, and even some women, who think of women as inferior.


I’ve gotten catcalls on the street, been groped in public by strangers, and had at least one boss who blatantly checked out my rack on the regular. It’s not great knowing that my gender is one reason why I’ll likely always make less money than my spouse, or that my mom used to have male employees who made more money than she did as their supervisor. These things are upsetting, but reading this synopsis was the first time I got really angry about sexism in America.


The guy who wrote the synopsis is an award-winning writer. He’s got his Master’s and is on track for a PhD. He should be an intelligent human being. His critiques and comments in class are always well reasoned and informed. How then, did this grown man, with an adult son, achieve such a warped view of women?


It’s got to be something in society that lets some men believe that women are more valuable for their sexuality than intellect. A woman’s orgasm is not the core of her being or abilities. It’s a nice treat, but fleeting. Nobody should be valued by sexual performance. The fact that any man feels that a woman’s marriageability is entwined with her ability to orgasm is complete bullshit. We need to work on making the world a place where that idea isn’t a reality.

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After the miscarriage mom came out for a few days to be with me. Cameron was out to sea. She coddled me, bought us fine wine to share, and made all of my favorite childhood foods. Among these dishes was what we lovingly call Mommy Pasta. It’s a simple pasta with red sauce that tastes divine. I’ve never been able to replicate it.


In order to make it she needed fresh basil. I picked the only fresh basil I could find at the store. It was the living kind that still had roots attached. After my mom was done cooking she cut the top off a soda can and put the remaining live basil in it with a little water.


The basil sat there on my kitchen counter for a few days, even after mom flew home. I didn’t know what to do with it. I’ve never had a green thumb, but I couldn’t throw it away.


I found an old small pot that a friend had painted to say “Julie” in middle school that I’d used as a pencil holder off and on over the years. I bought the smallest bag of potting mix I could find and transplanted the basil to its new home.


Some of it died, but not all. Sometimes I’d forget to water it and the basil would wilt in dehydration, but it always perked back up with a little feeding.


We moved houses and the basil came with us. Cameron returned from sea. I repotted the basil in an even bigger planter and started growing other fresh herbs. Cameron uses them to cook. The basil is thriving. It’s huge and expanding with large fragrant leaves.


The one thing mom said when she found out I’d planted the basil was to never let it flower. If I saw a shoot of flowers start I needed to pinch it off immediately, otherwise the plant would die, its lifecycle complete.


For months I was vigilant. I watched the tiny herb grow but not flower. It didn’t seem like it would happen.


Then recently, I saw its first tiny bloom. It’s been about five months since the miscarriage. I know a few women with due dates similar to what mine would have been and I can see their growing bumps and know about how big I’d be by now.


I plucked the budding flower and dropped it in the grass.


The next day there was another bud. I plucked that too. Now it’s almost daily that I’ll find one or two floral shoots and I pluck every one.


So now I have this basil that I can only keep alive by preventing its bloom. It’s constantly trying to blossom, and I keep pinching it back. It seems so desperate to flower, to move to its next stage, even if that stage is moving on entirely.


I think sometimes about letting it flower. Letting it move through the natural lifecycle progression. I may. Basil isn’t hard to grow, and I could always start another plant. But I guess I’m just not ready yet. Maybe I never will be.

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Calendar years are arbitrary. But they give us a way to mark our days and reflect. It’s uncommon for a year that lacks major milestones to be significantly transformative. Usually it’s just another year.


I did not get married or meet my love this year. I did not have a permanent change of station (military move) although I did make a short move on-island. I did not have a child or even gain a new pet. Yet despite the lack of milestones, 2015 has been one of the most difficult and rewarding years of my life.


I’ve had seven jobs in the last 12 months. That must be a record. In the past I’ve topped out at 2 jobs, and that was mostly from working a steady job and teaching SAT classes on the side. This year I wrote for the Humane Society while also working at the publications department at an engineering firm. Then I took some time off before landing yoga classes teaching at two different facilities. After that I transitioned to teaching yoga, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking at a resort in Kaneohe. In October I took on a new violin student, who can now play three songs. I also started working at Honolulu Publishing as the editor for Spotlight on Hawaii and Waikiki Menus.


So, in essence, I was paid to manage people, teach yoga, entertain tourists, teach violin, write and edit. Phew. I’m a gal with lots of interests, to say the least. Thankfully, I’ve also had the support of my amazing husband to pursue different avenues.


It’s been a treat. In June I did an intensive yoga teacher training. It was 3 weeks of 10 hour days. “Intensive” was an understatement. I had wanted to do a yoga teacher training for years though, and this training not only led me to meeting some amazing individuals, it also helped me to connect to myself and heal. Because by June, I needed healing.


In March, an old friend from Monterey committed suicide. I’m still heartbroken. She and I had lost contact in recent years, and that was my fault. That sort of thing happens sometimes, but I still absolutely loved her.


As soon as I heard of her passing, I booked a flight to California in hopes of attending some sort of memorial, and an add-on trip to New York to see my best friend. The memorial ended up happening after I was in town, but it was good to go back and see friends and family. The trip helped me to feel a little better.


Less than a month after that trip I was back in California to attend the memorial of another friend who had also taken his own life. He was close with my first friend to pass. It was terrible. I had anxiety about attending his memorial, because I’d mostly let that group of friends go. I assumed my presence wouldn’t be welcomed, but it was. Remembering those friends and that time in my life was painful but necessary.


My one hope is that both old friends have found some peace. I know their families always will feel their absence.


The coupling of those losses left me, and many others, reeling. Thank God I was able to take 3 weeks to myself in yoga training a month later. In all honesty, it was the thing that helped me get through.


Teacher training ended with June and in July I submitted my first article to the Huffington Post. It was about my firm belief that a couple’s fertility issues and decisions are private. Not only was my article accepted, HuffPost posted it to their main Facebook page with 5 million followers. The article was shared thousands of times, and had nearly 30,000 “likes” on Facebook. It was later translated to German, and also posted to an Australian online publication.


Prior to this article, I had only been published in local publications with a small circulation. This was my first publication in a national platform, and I’m still in awe of the reaction and aplomb I received as a result.


Of course there were also people on the Internet who told me to stop whining, but I’ve learned that people on the Internet can be jerks, and I’m developing thicker skin.


Since that first article, I’ve published several more pieces with Huffington Post, and with elephant journal. Building my writing portfolio is what led to my hiring at Honolulu Publishing as the Editor for Spotlight on Hawaii and Waikiki Menus.


I write and edit for these magazines. They may be free for tourists, but they’re mine creatively. That feels good. I love knowing that I live and work in Hawaii, working as a paid writer. I thought getting actually paid for writing was a myth or reserved solely for the Stephen Kings of the world. But I’m doing it. I can’t say how good that feels.


As the year draws to a close I’m thankful. I really have been lucky. I joke that I’m full of luck- both good and bad. I never do things in half measures. I’d say this year has proven that. I’d like to hope the luck will hold through 2016, but I won’t push it. I also know that I’m starting to make my own luck through working towards goals I never honestly thought I’d achieve.


2015 has come and now gone, and while it may have been an arbitrary mark of time, looking back shows me just how much one year can change a person.

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Winning my First Trophy

“Excuse me,” I began after I approached the race info booth. A young man looked up. “Do you know if you’ll be awarding prizes to the top 3 male and female finishers in each age division, or just the top three male and female finishers overall?”

It’s my standard pre-race question. I generally finish in the top 10% of female finishers, but that usually doesn’t earn me a medal unless it’s a really small race with lots of age brackets.

“Just the top three men and women overall,” he responded. “We have trophies for the winners.”

A trophy.

I’d never won a trophy before. I’m not young enough to have always received a prize at any lost competition. All I ever got was a cheap burgundy ribbon with “participant” scrawled in gold lettering. I always wanted a real trophy.

I surveyed the field. There were plenty of thin women in fancy running gear. But this was both a 5k and a 10k. I was only running the 5k, which would narrow the field. I might have a chance.

The 10k race started first. More than half of the runners who’d turned out were running the longer race. By the time they cleared the start area, I looked around and realized it was mostly the slowpokes left. Excellent.

The 5k lined up, and a buzzer let us know to start running. One woman glided easily in front of me, and a small girl followed closely in her wake. I was the third one out.

I expected the child to tucker out after a minute and fall back. It’s fairly common in races that include children. Instead she kept going, keeping a solid 20 feet in front of me.

I’d like to say that I was happy for her- silently rooting on her progress. She was, after all, a child with much shorter legs than mine, but still running at a fast clip. In reality, I was plotting how to best overtake her. It took about a mile, but eventually the little girl started walking and I plodded on, now in second place.

I maintained my place through the rest of the race, and was frustrated when my watch hit 3.1 miles, and saw that the finish line was still a ways off. I’d measured my energy for a 5k, and was out of internal fuel to run more. I walked for a moment out of frustration, then picked up my run again, cursing the naval construction unit that had measured the course.

Finally I crossed the finish line, then immediately lost control of my bladder. (Thank God it wasn’t all that full.) It must have been bad karma from passing the little girl. Thankfully, I was already covered in sweat, so the urine more or less blended into the total ensemble. At least I maintained my place, and was going to get a trophy for it!

I looked around and realized that there weren’t many other finishers around, then remembered there was a 5k AND a 10k. I would have to wait around, soaked in pee, until finishers from both races were done and I could claim my prize.

I waited. And waited. In hindsight, I realized I could have gone home, showered, and come back in clothes that weren’t covered in piss, and still made it back in time for the awards ceremony. But I couldn’t have known at the time, and I was determined.

Around an hour after I finished the race, the awards ceremony finally began. I thought it never would. They gathered the winners around. This was it! I was finally getting my freakin trophy.

The trophy, as it turned out, was a cheap tumbler with “Second Place Women’s Finisher” etched into the glass.

Are you kidding me? A glass tumbler that wasn’t big enough to quench my thirst when full? Geez. I mean, I know I should be proud of myself, and grateful to win something, but this was clearly a case of false advertisement. Since when was a gilded trophy synonymous with a shitty water glass?


I received my award with aplomb, and made my way back home, contemplating the notion of second place being the first loser.


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Becoming a Yogini


I’m buzzing, glowing, exhausted, thrilled, and totally at peace after teaching my very first yoga class.

12 days ago I graduated from yoga teacher training. Today I took the step towards teaching, while remaining mindful that I’m always a student. Even though I taught, I learned a lot in that first class, like not to fall down while demonstrating a posture.

The class wasn’t flawless. Several times I got feet and hands confused in giving directions. I also mixed up right and left and my eagle pose was a disaster. Thankfully there were no terrible repercussions. It was ok. I lived. My students lived. They seemed to enjoy my class, and not just the friends I forced to attend. I did it.

When I moved to Hawaii, I realized that as a military spouse, working a traditional corporate job probably wasn’t realistic. I decided that I wanted to teach violin and write. Eventually I’d look into yoga teacher training because I’d wanted to do that for years.

A few weeks before my move on a lark, I applied for a marketing job in Honolulu, because I lacked faith that I’d be able to make it with the passions I wanted to explore. I got the position, and felt obligated to be the working professional I thought I should be.

I was miserable. My coworkers and supervisor were amazing. The work was fine, but I felt constantly drained. I hated not working for myself and feeling like I had to stay. Nobody was making me.

I felt so guilty at the thought of not maintaining a 40-hour workweek when I was capable. Never mind that it was costing my sanity. I felt like there was something wrong with me for being constantly miserable in the full-time desk jobs I held after college.

Everyone in my family has always worked corporate jobs. My parents met in the workplace. While I was always told I could do whatever I wanted, and was very supported, for some reason I still felt like I had to work a high-stress job to be successful. But stress isn’t the measure of success.

I left my marketing job for another in non-profit, but still wasn’t happy sitting at a desk all day. Finally I had to come to terms with the fact that working in an office isn’t for me.

I registered for an intensive yoga teacher training. It was three weeks of 10-hour days with no day off in the middle. A few times I lost my mind to uncontrollable giggles or fell asleep through a 7am asana practice. I learned anatomy, some Sanskrit, philosophy and sequencing. It was a lot to force into my brain, but miraculously I retained most of it (and kept my manuals just in case).

In training I met some of the most beautiful souls. There was Liz, the laughter captain, Amanda the powerful, Misha the fabulous, Lauren the soulful, Kaylee the beautiful, Jax the forthright mama-to-be and Jaimie the storyteller who brings babies into the world. These are just a small handful of the community we forged, each woman with her own unique talent, and too many to list here. I’ve never felt so instantly welcome and loved.

My instructors were remarkable. I’m not afraid to say I have active girl crushes on them all. They had so much talent, strength and flexibility, both physical and mental. Adria shepherded our spirits, Kilty made us love anatomy, and Courtney wowed us with her physical abilities while always making us laugh.

On the first day of training, each instructor introduced herself. During Kilty’s introduction she said that she frequently reminds herself “I am enough.” I’d never thought that before. I’ve always assumed some level of lacking. I thought of the areas where I can improve in life as a void constituting my utter insufficiency. Being imperfect doesn’t make me deficient in some way though. It just means that I have space to grow. I’m still enough wherever I am.

Starting to believe that I am enough as an individual (it’s still a daily struggle to remind myself and have faith), gave me a glimpse of who I might really be. I’ve always defined myself externally. How do I earn money? Where do I live? Who is my spouse and how does he earn? These things can all provide clues to my true self, but aren’t everything.

I am more than a job, or home or spouse, although my husband brings me more strength than I’ve ever had on my own. He helps me find power that I didn’t know I had. He supports every decision, even when I can’t muster support myself. I believe everyone must find a way to define him or herself internally, but I also know that without the support system my husband provides, I might never have tried to do that which challenges me. I’m so thankful for the opportunity.

I’m still learning who I can be without labels. It’s a process, and not an easy one. But yoga is honestly helping me feel like I can take the journey.

There’s a word in Sanskrit that roughly translates to bliss: ananda. It’s a dance on the tongue, a smile on the lips, a light in the heart, and a radiance through the soul. Ananda.

I didn’t know I’d been lacking ananda, but now that I’ve seen it, I feel it daily. It’s fleeting and impermanent, but each darting glance brings me one step closer to knowing myself.

Julie & Cameron FINAL-1152


Friendships and Facebook

In 2004 I started college at UC Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is an eclectic place, which is illustrated by the student body’s decision to cast a banana slug as our illustrious mascot. Somewhere in my first quarter of freshman year, a friend introduced me to The Facebook. It hadn’t yet shifted to the singularly iconic “Facebook” by then. I remember thinking that it wasn’t as good as MySpace.

Back then Facebook was useful. You had to have a “.edu” email account to register. I could list all of my classes at UCSC in my profile, and find other students in the same courses. That way if I missed a lecture it was an easy search and message to find someone with notes. By the time I graduated, this feature was gone.

I initially interacted with my first real boyfriend on Facebook. He was the son of my mom’s work friend. She told me to find some way to ask him if we could carpool for coming home at Thanksgiving. Our innocent messages turned to a clandestine flirtation, and then about a year and a half of dating. My next major college boyfriend also started via some profile stalking and flirtatious messages.

Soon it was everywhere. My first job out of college relied on me to create a social media presence. In the years since, I’ve specialized in social media marketing, a field that I never thought would net me any funds.

Now my mom is on Facebook. My octogenarian great aunt has an account. I’ve had to go through old photos and delete anything that wasn’t business friendly, because something that was once devoted to personal friendships is now searchable by potential employers.

Truth be told, this is all a preamble. I feel like these developments in social media can be regrettable, but understandable. The real problem with social media is how we, as participants, use it.

In the last 3 years, I’ve found out two friends have died via Facebook. The first was Dominic. He was 23. He died in 2012. We were in high school orchestra together. He was a freshman when I was a junior. Our conductor paired us to play the second movement of the Bach Double Concerto. It was the slow movement, and we both had terrible stage fright. It was not pretty. But like soldiers from the same horrific battle, we had remained oddly connected. At least I felt that way, and he’s not here to argue.

The second was Summer. She was 25, and she died last month. She and I had moved through the same circles in Monterey. I’m not sure where we actually met, but we connected one lunch where we discovered we’d primarily dated the same men in the previous year. Some women would have been threatened. We compared notes.

That one lunch was enough to solidify a friendship. She was one of the funniest people I ever met. In times of crisis, she was there. She was solid. When I met my husband I let us drift apart. I didn’t stop caring about her welfare, but I didn’t have the time to maintain an active friendship. I was a bad friend. Instead of actually talking to her, I watched her wall, and liked what she posted that made it to my newsfeed. It made me feel like we were still close.

The newsfeed can be a deceptive device. The average Facebook user has 338 friends according to a quick search. Think on that number. I’m quite gregarious, and I have over 400 “friends.” Of those 400 folks, I see only the updates from a few dozen online. It’s not that the rest aren’t posting ever, it’s just that Facebook has an algorithm that narrows down newsfeed options to only whatever you are likely to interact with. This is generally determined by recent friend ads, likes, and common searches.

The folks who make it to your newsfeed might never see what you post. Conversely, someone may see everything that you do when none of his or her posts make your feed. You never know who is really paying attention.

But it’s so easy to imagine that if you see something someone has said or done online to feel like you’re still real friends. Who knows how many people feel that way about you that you’ve never thought twice about?

The other issue is that we only ever see what someone decides to share. Most people will only show the good side of things. I suffer from depression and anxiety, but my social media posts are generally light-hearted and funny. You would never know from my online presence that my life is anything but bliss. It’s impossible to know anything more than broad strokes of a person’s life by how they present themselves online. I never knew Dominic was so sick or Summer so sad by watching their posts alone.

If it wasn’t for Facebook though, I might not have even known they died. I’m not sure if that’s worse. Then again, would I have continued to feel so connected and then so heartbroken by their deaths had it not been for social media?

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Facebook or social media. It can be a useful tool to help people communicate. I have lived in 4 states and nearly a dozen towns in my life, and social media provides a constant to help me stay in touch. The problem arises when anyone, myself included, starts to rely on social media to maintain or affirm friendships.

I am guilty of allowing myself into the lull of passive online friendships. But I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t believe that quitting social media is the answer. That removes one symptom but doesn’t alleviate the underlying problem. Instead I plan to participate with caution, and rely on active communication to keep relationships alive.