Archive for the ‘Humanities’ Category

Thank you, participants and Brookdale Foundation and RAPP for all the welcoming mats. It was an honor to  help open the conference with a keynote address  followed by book signings and two workshops on the following day. It was a nice way to introduce my new book: Dangerous Women: Poetry for the Ageless. Participants are to be highly commended for making a difference in the lives of our elders, our children and in the humanities.


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Do check out my story in the Sacramento Bee that came out today in the Forum Section.

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If I were Judge, I would not use punitive sentences to those who are not of danger to our communities, instead, I would sentence them to acts of human kindness.

For  a year or two or three, go out into the community and conduct acts of kindness to strangers. If guilty of a hate crime, adopt a family of your “hate” and aid them in becoming a part of our community. Work with the children and help them adjust to our schools. Punitive actions do not seem to alter negative human nature…Studying our history of human injustice has not made much of a dent. Perhaps,we need to use human kindness instead of intellectualizing with history and dialogs.


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Help Me Remember

A few weeks before my mother died, she came out of her dementia state and in Japanese, told the Buddhist priest:

Watashi wo wasure sadanaide. Do not let me be forgotten.

It made me think: What if all of my ancestors had said this? Both families on my parents’ side who perished 70 years ago in Hiroshima?

I have a candle lit to remember them. I hope you will spend a minute to remember all those who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If you haven’t already, do read my dear friend Charles Pellegrino’s book: To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima. This book, for the first time, made me realize that my ancestors are not statistics but real people who lived.

Thank you for helping me remember.

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I am up to my ears with all this discussion on theorizing and intellectualizing on racism, it’s cause, it’s solution and etc. etc. etc. Why don’t we just do this: Each time we leave the house, be kind to few people. This morning a man saw me walking toward a door and he stood and waited so he could open it for me. A man at the front desk of the gym mentioned how sleepy he was because he didn’t have time to make himself a cup of coffee. I know he has no money, working his way through college so I gave him some cash and told him to run across the street for some coffee. You’d think I gave him a million dollars. Later in the day while exiting a place, I saw a man walking toward me so I waited with the door opened and asked if he were entering the building. He thanked me and said no…then as he walked away, he turned and thanked me again. You don’t need to know the color of skin nor age nor gender, right? But we all felt good in experiencing human kindness and this is what counts.

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I did a good deed today. I went to my “cave” at the bakery to do some writing when I saw a body  lying on the sidewalk right outside my window. I looked to see if he was breathing. His eyes were closed, his zipper open, and his breathing seemed very shallow. His clothes were not clean and there was a backpack nearby.

I saw a man in business clothes stop, take a photo and  use his phone and he stood there. I assumed he had called 911.  No one came. So I called 911 and told them there is a man lying next to the bakery and he’s hardly breathing. I made a point not to use the word “homeless.”  I was asked a lot of questions..on age…gender…etc. I went out and told the man  I had called 911. He said he had called but there’s no response. I told him I didn’t mention he was homeless because they may not respond quickly if we say homeless. He looked at me as though I made sense.

Finally the ambulance and police came. One officer pulled something out of the homeless man’s pocket and it looked like a plastic knife. He tossed it off the sidewalk. They took another item from his pocket and tossed it out. It looked like a CD.  They stood above him and kept asking him to get up. I saw his confused and fearful look when he opened his eyes and saw all the uniformed people around him. They asked him in a very loud voice,  ” Are you on drugs? Do you have mental problems? What kind of drugs do you take? ” When he didn’t answer, one scolded him with “If you don’t answer, we can’t help you.”

I purposely stayed near-by with the man who had also called 911. I believe we both had similar thoughts about how he was being treated.  The 911 men and women looked at us and asked who we were. I said we had called 911. I stayed until they took him into the ambulance.

All right, the questions seemed legitimate although if I had mental problems, would I  be able to say I am mentally ill?  The voice tones used were pretty harsh. Would they have used that tone if I were on the sidewalk instead of that homeless man? When human problems become just a routine job in a day’s work, is this what happens?

Three things in human life are important:

The first is to be kind;

The second is to be kind;

and the third is to be kind.

Henry James

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Mr. H, I will call him. I first saw him on a street nearby where he had staked his new home near a business complex. He sat on a strip of property between the shrubs that concealed the entrance to the building and the street. He must be a minimalist, I decided, since he didn’t have a cart or a single garbage bag, or perhaps he’s a new homeless.

“Ah Mr.H. That’s good. Keep it clean. You are still here after a week. If you respect that property under you, I’m sure they will let you stay.”

Each time I passed Mr. H. I felt moved by the business establishment by their kindness. Was an emergency conference called to decide on this new addition to their entrance? Was it a problem that needed action? I envisioned an animated discussion:

“Look, he’s not doing any harm. He’s keeping the area clean. Seems like a responsible guy. ”

“He’s been here three weeks now and we haven’t had any complaints from our customers.”

“I noticed some of our customers are stopping by to talk story with him. He’s receiving food and cash.”

“Since he’s keeping the place clean, how about we let him stay.”

And they did.

A month later, I began to see empty soda cans strewn around his few belongings. Plastic bags tossed by the wind, swished under passing cars. Piles of garbage began to grow like a giant amoeba. His one occupancy home now extended to three. My contact is limited to only one of my senses.

“Oh no, Mr. H. This is not good. You gotta keep it clean or they won’t let you stay. Tell your friends they need to respect that property and the business folks who are letting you stay.

“You gotta teach your friends about respect, dignity and responsibility. See if this makes sense. We are all residents of this planet and when we are given the privilege of living on this planet, we do our best to take care of it, not only for ourselves but for everyone else. This is called ‘Being part of humanity’. I hope there’s ESP between us, Mr.H, because I’m afraid you’re destroying your own home.”

ESP doesn’t exist. Just as I anticipated, soon construction tools and machinery began to appear. Within a few hours, a skeleton of a gate and fence began to emerge. Within days, where the green shrubs once grew, a new gate and fence appeared. The residents were gone.

Mr. H, wherever you are, I hope you know what happened. Your lack of respect for yourself and for others did you in. I’m sorry that someone in your life had failed you.

This lifestyle that lacks responsibility and that awareness that we are part of a greater community is not confined only to the homeless so I’m not targeting you alone. At this health gym where I am a member, strands of hair are left in the porcelain sinks, toilets are left unflushed, tissues and toilet paper are left on floors. Someone had failed them, too. And they are not homeless; no, they start their work days at the gym, dressed in their blazers and skirts after a hot shower, to enter their workplace. The difference is, Mr. H. their behavior is kept private and they return to their own homes.

“So what happens, Mr. H. if you are given a real roof over your head? Even as I write this, blueprints are being drawn at the city and state level. Will you take ownership and live by respecting every part of that house as though you had built it yourself? Will you work in a vegetable garden to self-feed yourself? Will you help others learn about all these words I’ve been tossing out to you: ownership, responsibility, dignity, respect and gratitude? I hope those who build you a shelter also know that the solution to the homeless is not only about getting a roof over your heads. A house without human ownership will eventually self destruct.

This is what families do: with personal pride, they become house keepers, cooks, teachers and learners, gardeners who grow their own food, they take pride in their yards, they clean clean clean and take total responsibility. And they help others by teaching them what they have not learned. We call this paying back or living with Omoiyari…think of others first. Being part of a community means more than just having a shelter, Mr. H.

“You may have abilities and talents that are needed by our community. This is why I wish those who give you a shelter will see you as a human being and not simply as a homeless. I know you have stories to tell, stories and lessons our children could benefit. We are all part of humanity, Mr.H. Hey, Maybe you can invite me to gather you all around to write some poetry. Wouldn’t that be something? We could even become published poets.

”It’s a privilege when others reach out to you, and I so want you to feel this pride of being a responsible person. I so want you to be part of our community. It’s a good feeling, Mr.H., to live with dignity and gratitude and to know you are making a difference. Once you forget this, you may find yourself living on the side of a street again and again.”

I’m not so naïve to think the homeless problems is defined by my conversations here. Yes, it’s a multi-faceted problem but maybe, maybe, if we begin with one, we may get somewhere.





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