No, You are Not Allowed to Drown

Happy Birthday, Mary Oliver by Austin Kleon

I only seem to write these little journal pieces when I am under the gun or I am stuck in my head (and under the gun) as far as working (which for me equals writing). However, although I have a tenure and promotion packet due in a few weeks (gah!), this time it is not me that is under the gun but two of my three doctoral students who are about a semester and a summer behind in their dissertation process. By now, they should be collecting their data, doing their interviews, writing their chapters 1-3. Instead they are still writing their proposals and filling out their IRB forms.

I think what I needed to grapple with as a first time dissertation chair is “who the fuck would give me that kind of responsibility?” I am not the typical researcher/writer. I get things done, but nothing to model for someone else who is struggling. I do not follow the structures set forth by the academy, and in fact, I always try to see how far I can blow up structures and still get published. In other words, someone who is constantly trying to get away with shit is not really dissertation chair material in my mind. When choosing my own dissertation committee, I made sure that I had very traditional quantitative folks who would question my shit so that I would be forced to be more transparent and translate my intentions such that they could see substance over aesthetic frivolity. Yes, it is a multigenre dissertation, but the rigor is there, I challenge you to say it is not there so that I can make it more apparent to your way of knowing.

This kind of terroristic thinking does not help my students who are struggling and just want to get to that next hoop and jump through it. I cannot use the same strategies that I use for myself (self hatred and shaming that leads to resistance) because it is not fair for me to expect these students, who are also full time teachers, to do what I do.

I think that is why this graphic done by Austin Kleon really spoke to me. It is a gift, a poetic pearl, by the late poet Mary Oliver that basically gives my students insight into not only the key to staying afloat (as in, no you cannot drop out of the program at this point, it is like choosing to drown), but the key to swimming back into shore.

In Hawaiʻi, our currents often go parallel to the beach so when the undercurrents are strong, the way to come back to shore is not by looking forward to your beach towel and slippers and swimming straight ahead, but to actually let the current take you and swim diagonally until you get to shore. You will not end up where you started, but you will get there. Isn’t that the point of this struggle that is one’s dissertation – to end up somewhere different from where you started? So the strategy (to connect the graphic and this story) is to work at it a few hours a day, everyday. Write a little, read a “good book” which basically means reading an article or research that is what will inform your diagonal movement, and taking a little time for self care whether it is digging for clams (not a Hawaiʻi thing) or just going to the beach for an hour to tread water (my thing) as the sun goes over Mauna Kea.


Why I is never me, but always “we”

grandmaʻs garden

I just turned in my third article a couple months ago and as a 50 year old academic, that is pretty lame. I went to AERA where they were introducing some social justice pioneers and one of them published 7 books and like 200 articles. Yeah, I haven’t been doing anything but teaching for 27 years so I am already near my end and not even close to that.

Still, what I noticed about my very slow writing (like an article every year and a half) is that half of the battle, no, 3/4 of the battle is this push back on my part of not sounding too white. I sometimes use words that are not English (like kuleana), but I have to use it because it means more than just my obligatory one word definition that I give it (obligation). However, if you know, you know, and if you don’t know, I really don’t care if all you think it means is obligation. Maybe I’m not writing to you. . .yet.

Mostly, though, I shift my pronouns away from I to we and then reviewers keep asking me who the “we” is. The we is me, but it’s never just me. It’s the difference between indigenous thinking and western thinking. You know that saying, pull yourself up from your own bootstraps? There is nothing indigenous about that. Individual success is never done individually. There are paths and jungles and oceans that were crossed to get me here. It takes a village. That makes more sense to me. Those are the we, the village, or in my case, the lahui.

What does this have to do with the picture above that just looks like rocks and stuff? This is a picture of my grandmother’s garden, a menagerie of shells, rocks, abandoned toys, driftwood, a lone skateboard wheel. Every day, my grandparents would walk the two miles along the coast to Kaʻanapali and while grandpa sat on the bench to watch the water, grandma would walk the beach picking up more “seeds” for her garden. This garden ran the length of the house from her bedroom to the kitchen door. It was filled with anything and everything that caught my grandmother’s eye – from sea glass to puka shells to non biodegradable plastics. She would haul her treasures up the hill to Fleming Road and plant them in her garden. This garden is the story of me, both as that face shaped rock that she picked up, but also as a grandmother now, it is about the “seeds” I look for and pick up. Things that maybe are not worth much to someone else, but let me show you what makes each thing sacred. This is my treasure, this is what I teach from, this is whom I teach for and about. As a native Hawaiian teacher who teaches through a lens that privileges my grandmother’s garden, I teach through aloha ʻāina, a Hawaiian moʻo pedagogy and praxis of sustainability, metaphor, generational knowledge, ancestral memory and sacredness of “we.” I may stand in front of you barefoot and alone, but I bring with me multitudes. Welina. 

Writing in corners

fashion art coffee macbook pro

Photo by OVAN on

Austin Kleon talks about Bliss Station as perhaps both ideal place, but also ideal time to get the very independent work of doing done.

Even he believes this is the best solution in an ideal world and as I struggle to actually take advantage of my own carved out time on my calendar, and as I see deadlines start to pass me by for my “on the side writing,” I realize that I need to stop looking for my own bliss station and start writing in corners and in the car as I am sitting in traffic. Perhaps my ideal time that I carved out – Wednesdays, 7-10 am – really only works if I stop looking for the ideal chair, the perfect light, the best inspirational quote and I really just write.

So this is me, just writing after one whole month and a half of having my every Wednesday morning carved out for writing on my Google calendar as well as my paper calendar. This is me writing for the first Wednesday instead of wishing that I was writing or feeling guilty that I was not writing. I am not at home on my uncomfortable, cheap office chair, nor am I at the university in my comfy chair but always with the risk of a distractions from students, colleagues, email and fast wi fi.

I am sitting at a Honda service center on a little round table with plastic chairs waiting for my car to get looked at. I am here with a television blasting the morning news and a view of the men’s bathroom. Perhaps this is the bliss station because hey, at least I am writing.

I sat in on a student writing group the other day and one of my students was supposed to be reading his poem that he had just written as a way for me to model Elbow groups based on Peter Elbow’s work Writing Without Teachers. He is a science teacher candidate, not used to being forced to write poetry from a couple of mentor texts so in the 10 minutes I gave him to write, I gave him this technique: write “I don’t know what to write” until your pen is so used to moving that you will start to write with fluency.

When “J” shared his piece to our small Elbow group, he read “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write. I carry my father’s last name, but I wish I carried my mother’s. I don’t know what to write. . .”

The way he read it. The way after a series of the same sentence he would throw us some pearl of insight and then close up again was so powerful that as I think back to that now, I realize that I have absolutely no excuse for not having anything to write. I just have to build up my stamina for writing by writing.

What I need to/want to write about:

  • The cosmogenic relationship to Kuahuokalā (the dirt that smells like my grandfather’s yard and the dirt below the mango trees)
  • and how this relationship has created a hale that is my Room of Requirement (walk past three times with your intention in mind and the room, like magic, provides what is necessary)
  • Abstract for our work in community partnerships – pilina, pilina, pilina
  • The lessons of Hiʻiaka in Honouliuli and how that is the foundation of the secondary education program




I am an adult who loves words

red heart on a old opened book

Photo by Kaboompics .com on link

Although I do a LOT of YA reading — and by a lot, I mean 109 books this year so far, I came across the book The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron.

It is not a YA book, but this quote from the NY Times review sold me:

“Gabriel García Márquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges for a sprawling magic show.”

I pictured exotic (non-American) civilizations, the romance of the past, and indulgent adult sentences that seem to make me as a reader feel like I am floating in the buoyant, salty waters of my youth as the humpbacks sing their mournful songs in the ʻAuʻau channel. The promise of this book is that I am free and unencumbered to slow down and get pulled in.  Seems silly even for me, but that is what Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges

I got to the first page and I need to write this paragraph down somewhere so that when I am old or sad or scared that I will not be able to write, I can at least read something that is good and pure and magic.

     Shortly after the Civil War, an outbreak of cholera had taken my mother away. We buried her in Montjuic on my fourth birthday. I can only recall that it rained all day and all night, and that when I asked my father whether heaven was crying, he couldn’t bring himself to reply. Six years later my mother’s absence remained in the air around us, a deafening silence that I had not yet learned to stifle with words. My father and I lived in a modest apartment on Calle Santa Ana, a stone’s throw from the church square. The apartment was directly above the bookshop, a legacy from my grandfather that specialized in rare collectors’ editions and secondhand books–an enchanted bazaar, which my father hoped would one day be mine. I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day. As a child I learned to fall asleep talking to my mother in the darkness of my bedroom, telling her about the day’s events, my adventures at school, and the things I had been taught. I couldn’t hear her voice or feel her touch, but her radiance and warmth haunted every corner of our home, and I believed, with the innocence of those who can still count their age on their ten fingers, that if I closed my eyes and spoke to her, she would be able to hear me wherever she was. Sometimes my father would listen to me from the dining room, crying in silence.


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Native Control of Native Research

silhouette of trees

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

This month we are meeting again to talk about native control of native research. For many academics, it has to start with controlling the IRB process (the organization and structures we have in place in universities so that we are no longer able to do the kinds of research on humans that were done until the Holocaust.)

For me, however, it has to do with knowing the “who you.” Who are you to do this research or even ask for an IRB? What is your kuleana to this community? How do you know that this is what the community wants? It starts with this quote:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. I want to be free. I want you to be free. And you aren’t free until I am. Spend your privilege, and just when you think you’ve spent enough, spend some more. Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist and artist

The Spirituality of Evaluation

background balance beach boulder

Photo by Pixabay on

I was asked by a former professor of mine to come and speak to the UH Mānoa Ed.D. cohort 3 on indigenous evaluation. It was really to provide some feedback on their own growing understandings based on a scenario they were given on a mental health project in Hawaiʻi.

These doctoral candidates are mostly local and about half of them are native Hawaiian so they really understood the idea of native control of native research, kuleana, understanding the community and asking permission as well as input and feedback from the community.

One of the big ahas that came out of the group was the idea that even if you are a native researcher, it is not about chasing the money. Ask yourself if the intentions of the researchers sit right with your own naʻau, your gut. Also ask yourself if you are the right person to bring this evaluation forward. Are the right people at the table?

That led to a discussion on how do you know the right people are at the table? What I wanted to talk about was the power of letting go as a way to know if the right people are at the table.

In my work, I have found that I increasingly rely on the methodology of “letting go” meaning I plan, create foundations, but then there is a point where I need to evaluate the “Pono”ness the right-ness of my moving forward by letting go. This is about talking to people involved about what I am trying to do, putting it out into the universe and then waiting for hoʻailona or signs.

I tell the story of my needing participants in my dissertation project and not being able to answer my committee as far as my n=. My answer to the committee was that I was going to personally talk story with as many teachers as possible, I went to conferences, opened it up, but that the teachers that stepped forward were the teachers that were meant to step forward. I then gave my committee a random number (10) and they let me go. I didn’t end up getting 10, but each of the teachers that stepped forward were supposed to be there and proved that in many ways throughout the project.

Another story is about finding my kupuna, or elders to become mentors in the program. When I sought out specific elders, I found that things were not working out. Once, there was an elder that I really wanted. She is a famous musician from one of the last remote fishing villages in Hawaiʻi. I happened to see her at my OB/GYN. I did not personally know her, but I whispered to my husband, “look it’s Aunty D. Do you think I should go up to her and ask if she can be part of my project this summer?” My husband was aghast and told me to not do that in this place. I let it go but I still saved a spot for her in my agenda.

About a month before my project was going to start, I see on my roster of participants a name that I know is connected to Aunty D. I email this teacher, talk about what we will be doing in the summer and casually ask if she thinks Aunty D might be able to come talk/sing/spend time with us this summer. The teacher says sure, I will ask and I quickly got a reply that Aunty D will show up. Again, the right people at the right time show up when I just trust that there are forces outside of myself that will help me if what I am doing is pono.

The last story, another kupuna story came one and a half weeks before the start of the project. Of course I had already committed to going to an educational conference on the continent so although the timing was not ideal, it was part of my job so I am on an airplane, last row, middle in front of the galley and I am in the middle of three seats. Not ideal for a 9 hour plane ride. I also still have one day open without a kupuna for my project. A women sits next to me with her blanket, pillow, large bag. I look at her and recognize her from work. Although we work at the same place, we are on different campuses so I have not seen her in a while. It takes me about half an hour to get my nerve up, but I know that her mama is a very knowledgeable kupuna of another community in Hawaiʻi and that both of them are cultural practitioners, so I talk to her about my project and ask if she is willing to take us through Puna to share their moʻolelo (stories) and maybe we might hang out at her mama’s house in the middle of the lava fields. She says yes, she would like to share her community moʻolelo and have us come to their house to spend the day but she only has one day available because they are traveling again. Of course it was the only day that I had an opening.

I have many of these stories in my own research as well as my work in evaluation. This letting go is what I call the spirituality of evaluation. I find that Indigenous time has nothing to do with time. It has to do with timing and the “faith” to wait for the right timing. It also has to do with a belief that the people that you have contact with are meant to be with you at that particular time for a specific reason.  In Hawaiian thought, it means when the student is ready, the teacher will come.

Austin Kleon wrote about something similar in his post “Ideas in cars, honking”

A Warning to My Readers

There is a poem by Wendell Berry “A Warning to My Readers” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry that I want to keep for days when I must get motivated to not start, but finish. I realize that writing is like making a lei. The attitude coming in is everything and the finished product reflects that attitude. Bad attitude = crooked lei. I had two people tell me this week, “it is because you’re a writer” although the “it” part is lost to my memory, it is just a reminder that I am a writer. My lens in life is through words, so get writing, even if I would rather be reading.

But I am a reader that writes first, so I am holding onto this poem because it will come in handy and then I can start writing.


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Mana: Junot Diaz Breaks Silence


Author Junot Diaz writes a powerful personal essay, “The Silence” in the April 16 New Yorker. It is a letter to an anonymous fan who approached him after a reading, stood in line and asked if the sexual abuse alluded to in Diaz’s books happened to the author.

This is Diaz breaking the silence, not that day, but many days and years later. It is his emergence away from the mask that both shields him and destroys him.

As a teacher of English teachers, I always caution my teacher candidates to not allow themselves and their students to automatically make leaps in literature. Not everything is personal autobiography for the authors. It is a dangerous assumption to make.

However, this type of evidence, the mana, that spiritual power of a writer writing about his/her writing and how themes in their life intersect and seep out into their work is valuable and must be collected and held in our “teacher memory” so that we can help our students delve deeper into the psychological, spiritual and aesthetic power of literature.

What is sacred:

Iʻm still afraid–my fear like continents and the ocean between–but I’m going to speak anyway, because, as Audre Lorde has taught us, my silence will not protect me.



Papio by Eric Chock

It’s April which means it’s poetry month and I am always a slow starter but I do like to try and highlight poems this month so this is by Bamboo Ridge editor and poet Eric Chock from A Hawai’i Anthology edited by Joseph Stanton, 1997.

This papio caught by my fisherman hubby on Hilo Bay 4/1/18.



This one’s for you, Uncle Bill.

I didn’t want to club the life

from its blue and silver skin,

so I killed it by holding it

upside-down by the tail

and singing into the sunset.

It squeaked three times

in a small dying chicken’s voice,

and became a stiff curve

like a wave that had frozen

before the break into foam.

In the tidal pool

we used to stand in

I held the fish and laughed

thinking how you called me

handsome at thirteen.

I slashed the scaled belly,

pulled gills and guts,

and a red flower bloomed

and disappeared with a wave

like a last breath

your body heaved

on a smuggled Lucky Strike and Primo

in a hospital bed.

You wanted your ashes out at sea

but Aunty kept half on the hill.

She can’t be swimming the waves at her age

and she wants you still.

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To share something is to risk losing it

Although the blog is 20 years old, I just started reading it but the first post I read is timely for my writing process. Jason Kotke shares  this video which is a parable about sharing this Broccoli tree and what we gain by its loss. In essence:

To share something is to risk losing it, especially in a world where sharing occurs at tremendous scale and where everyone seems to want to be noticed, even if only for cutting down a beloved tree. […] And the truth is, if we horde and hide what we love, we can still lose it. Only then, we’re alone in the loss.

The connection, because shouldn’t I always pay attention to relevant connections, is that the message is answering my questions that got me stuck yesterday and stopped my writing flow.

My first question that stopped my writing: how much of the back story do I need to tell and how do I tell the truth without sounding victimish or angry brown female-ish? No one wants to read that and I have to keep in mind that there will be editors and “peers” reviewing the work so no turning people off. For this one, the Broccoli Tree message is to share what I love. I don’t have to go down the rabbit hole if I am focused on sharing what I love. Yes, I have to talk about how decisions were made and why but I can generalize it, use other researchers’ similar findings without calling people out where I work. So parable as universal rather than personal truth.

The second question is from one of the co-writers. Three of us were working together on separate sub topics on one Google document and I started writing questions at the end of one of my sections and then just staring out the library window at so much sky. He thought that I needed to talk about insider versus outsider. I didn’t want to go there because I don’t want to deal with those terms when I am talking about inclusivity. He does not have to deal with the connotations of the terms as a tenured, white, male faculty member. I as a non-tenured, Indigenous female walk a cultural tight rope and choose not to see myself as insider and the participants as outsiders. I am a facilitator and a third space conjurer, cultural grounder and feeder. He listened, I listened, none of us came to any kind of solution or compromise and then we left it like that. I think we both understood that we were heard but I am just going to sit on it a little.

What then does the Broccoli Tree say about that? In watching the process of Patrik Svedberg who created the IG account and shared his weekly pictures of the tree with the world, I learned that I can look at the same thing over and over and what it will show me is the subtle changes over time and seasons. This process may look like it is rooted and steadfast, but I need to be aware of how elements, people, interactions, the tree itself work to change things so that 200 pictures taken at 200 different times/seasons/days will not look exactly the same. This process, this writing – each little question, each direction that the writing takes about this one project will be a little different. I just have to know at the end of the process what story I want to share, editors and peer reviewers be damned.

The interesting thing is that was not the take away lesson I was going to write about when I started writing the above paragraph. That just shows that perhaps the light shifted in the room, the breeze stopped and I saw something different from what I thought I saw earlier.

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