the winning rule

sixty four squares of alternating
light and dark, your journey will
not cross all of them, stand
your ground, obstacles will find you
be swift, but the number of the
fallen will pale if there is no
strategy to make the kingdom
yours, grit is not measured by
outliving but rather
persistent patience in evaluation
deliberation and action

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Tropical Disappointment in Waning Shower

It was quiet walking down the Main Street of Metuchen. The overcast and drizzling day forced everyone indoors. Rich and I hurried to a local café, Cai’s café, to get some drinks. As we walked, Rich held my hand and guided me forward as I peered into every little mom and pop store on the block. The massage place had two Asian men sitting in the shadow of the window looking out desolately. A travel agent talked intensely on the phone as she manned the office by herself. Next to the agency, a hardware store selling rugs and flooring had a man at a desk slumped in his seat deep asleep.
It’s not easy running your own business.
Finally, we reached our destination. Rich opened the door for me and I stepped into warmth. We walked up to the barista, second couple in line, Rich looked at the menu and I looked around.
The first time we’d met at Cai’s was December 6, 2016. It was pouring, dark and wet that night but inside was bright as the sparkle in our eyes to see each other. We’d chosen a table with two barstools and we’d sat close together that our knees were touching. He was wearing his Rutgers sweatshirt and a black jacket over it. I was wearing leggings and a green, black and gray contemporary lined sweater dress. We talked about the story I wrote, we talked about his ideas for his story.
Today, the lighting was dim with gray and white ornaments hanging from the ceiling to add to the atmosphere. On the left was a lending library that had grown to fill a four feet bookcase. Every seat in the house was filled.
Rich chose his drink out of deduction of ingredients. I tried to do the same. He chose a Nutella hot chocolate and I chose a Tropical smoothie. He was pleasantly satisfied, I was – not.
My ingredients were pineapples, oranges, bananas, orange juice and yogurt – I should have questioned the last two ingredients more. They didn’t bring the smoothie together at all; the yogurt sat like an ice block at the bottom, the overwhelming taste of orange juice made the smoothie tangy. The drink got the color from the pineapples – and the threads.
As we left sipping our drinks, I grumbled about the point of trying new things when it brings disappointment. But I had to bite my tongue. It’s a risk and sometimes you can be surprised.
Earlier today, my parents took me out for lunch to a little vegetarian restaurant, Honest, on Oak Tree Road. I chose a favorite meal of Indochinese complete with Schezwan rice and delicious Manchurian balls (spiced cabbaged glazed in garlic and onion). A definite recommendation to all easing into Indian cuisine, I will also recommend another new drink I had today: a Falooda. An Indian version of a bubble tea, it’s made with milk, vermicelli and basil seeds and syrup of flavored choice. I had a Rose Falooda today. So smooth and delicate, it was true to its flower name!
So I had a good experience and a not-so-good experience with a drink. Every experience will have a 50/50 chance and the only way of knowing is if you try it out. And the experience you have need not be limited by one factor.
I had a fabulous lunch and I had a great time with my parents talking about my recent writings and classroom tensions. This afternoon, I didn’t have a great drink, but I was happy to be holding Rich’s hand walking down Main Street. I let him take a sip of Tropical smoothie and he tried so hard to look impassive it made me laugh because I knew his palette matches mine. To make up for it, he let me have some of his Nutella hot chocolate. I felt cozy.
As we walked back to the car, I peered once again in the shops of local businesses. The hardware man was alive now, talking on the phone and watching us walk by. The travel agent was shuffling papers and had a long face. I couldn’t bring myself to look into the massage shop.
I hope they all get new experiences soon, be it more business or an experience to laugh about, I hope the sun shines brighter on Main Street tomorrow.

Dear Class of 2018

As midterms roll around the corner and the turning weather beckons spring break, does it all feel different in your final semester?

I always wonder. I never went into my last year knowing I would graduate. I thought I had four years. But in my sixth semester, after a tumultuous discussion with my parents, it was decided I would graduate a year early. I’d already completed my psychology major but had no intention going to graduate school and picking up a second English major didn’t seem promising to my parents.
Suddenly I was a boat without paddles or water.

A mental tug of war of personalities, I was a party girl and a committed writer. I didn’t know what was coming next.
Ironically that prepared me the most.

Some of you will be lucky. You will have a plan and a determination to stick to it. You will have a job before you graduate, a trampoline for you to enjoy your hard work and success.

But some of you will be lost. That’s okay – you’re about to learn so much. Just never stop trying.

It’s easy to give advice. That’s not my intention. Nor is it my intention to say my life is great. It’s not – it’s like everyone else’s – lot of hard work, effort and reward. If I can make it, then so can you.

When I graduated in 2016, I wasn’t proud of myself. I didn’t walk in the ceremony because I didn’t think I had anything to celebrate. Two years later, I don’t think that anymore.
I was twenty and in my first ever relationship that my parents didn’t support. After living on my own in college, I didn’t want to live with them and have a curfew. But all I had was a lowly Bachelor’s degree in psychology. It didn’t bode well for me on the job market and thus having freedom. But –

– I had a lot of varied work experience. Even if you don’t think you’ll get the job, you have to put yourself out there.
– Elaborate on a detail about yourself. Are you always on time? That’s responsibility. Are you focused? That’s efficiency. Do you organize group hangs knowing not all your friends will get along? You’re a budding strategist.
You have to believe in yourself before you ask anyone else to believe in you.
– Have a mindset growth. Are you garrulous and sometimes speak over others? Admit that you are zealous about your ideas but that you’re not a good listener yet. Do you hate asking for help? Take pride in your independence but be honest about working on being a collaborator.
– Sure confidence sells, but hiring teams are also built on recognizing earnestness. There is no perfect person – the hiring team just wants to know if your views, your personality, your vibe, your output will mesh with their company.
– Rejection will become life for a while. I couldn’t make it out as a writer because I was afraid of rejection. I still had to face it to get a job. I sent applications everywhere. From secretarial positions to school aides – but the silence I got matched my clueless energy. I wanted a job but I didn’t narrow it down to what I wanted to do.
– A job does not have to be a career. A career does not have to define you. But if you want full-time benefits, you’re going to have to choose doing something that you are interested in. It’s how I finally did my alternate route to teaching (The Alternate Route).
You know yourself the best. Be rational – aim for a sustainable field that matches your interests.
– You can love your job and still hate it some days. It’s like loving yourself. You’re awesome and sexy but sometimes you go ham with friends and drink a little too much and the hangover you get the next day? You are not proud. At. All. It’s okay. We all need to blow off steam.
– Fair warning: your first full-time jobs will not be ideal. My first full time job was a front desk secretary for an import and export business. I lasted a day. I was not interested and I realized being desperate for a job to pay for my lifestyle was not worth compromising my joy of production at work. My second full-time job was as a preschool teacher. I loved the kids and teaching was fun despite the awkward singing. But it was not in my job description to change diapers and I still had to do it. But I’m still grateful for that experience. Had it not been for the preschool giving me a chance to teach, I would not be teaching kindergarten today.
– When I started applying to elementary schools, I sent my resume to twenty-four schools in my district and neighboring districts. I didn’t hear back from a single one. I was a brand new teacher and no one wanted to take a risk on me. By fluke, I applied on Glassdoor to a school and within days they started the three part interview process. It was nerve racking. But they gave me a chance and for that I am grateful. I can’t forget that. See your job owes you nothing. You owe it everything you’ve got. So be a hundred percent sure that you’re going to give it your all. That’s when you reap the most rewards.
– Now, I love my job but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t get stressful. There are days I’m not sure if my scholars are learning anything. There are days when I struggle to follow the curriculum when the kids seem restless and need a brain break. But I have my coteacher and a supportive grade team who I can bond with. Who you work with will affect you. So get to know the people around you. You don’t have to be best of chums, but you should have someone you can be yourself with.

The one advice I will impart is that it is never to early to start saving. It’s a struggle constantly being mindful of eating out and going out to movies. I also have to take care of cats! Believe me I try to pamper both of them.
As a teacher, I use an app called Shoparoo that helps my school earn points when I upload pictures of my receipts. When I look back on the list, it helps me keep track of which category of expenditures has increased more than my liking. My bank, PNC, offers Virtual Wallet to students to help budget and even though I’m long past the days of being an university student, I continue to use it to be able to see a bar graph of my spending. Mentally it helps me curb spending in that department.
If you are more of a visual person, there are many more apps you can try according to Forbes.  I personally would recommend Mint. Available for both iPhones and Androids, its brightly colored visuals make money management more carefree. It’s a free app – an awesome way to start saving money! – and helps you plan a budget out. I used it while I was in college and was quick to notice and change my drinking habits with friends to spend on dresses instead. 😛
It’s a sad truth but you can’t survive without money. So just be conscientious about it.
As for the rest of adulting that is hinged on you getting a job – you’ll get one. Failing is necessary to build resilience needed to showcase you are a badass who won’t quit at the first sign of stress at work. Take it from me, I was a psychology major who took 12 credits per semester and did better in my writing classes than psych classes. I wasn’t a top dog student, but that’s exactly why I am a teacher. Studying hard is only one facet of a diligent person. It’s not about the studying as much as it’s about your willingness to not quit until you succeed.
As said before, my life’s not perfect. But I’ve built my freedom from ground up to date who I want, to be where I want and to go where I want. If I can do it, so can you.

sunrise

I don’t need an alarm to wake me. I keep my shades open. When the big star breaks the horizon, its brightness spills onto my bed. Facing the wall or the window, my room is washed with muddled hues of a grapefruit.

Forgiveness is like burning water and boiling it the same way routinely. A festering grudge takes effort to retain like a can of beans without a can opener. A damp towel you can’t shake off, your trip to the beach will always be tainted by the crab pinching your toe than the shells you collected.

When I was a little girl, my dad took my mom and me everywhere. His enthusiasm was my calm inspiration to daydream on long car drives and energy to keep walking on my own five year old feet when exploring.
I don’t recollect more. My prime flashbulb moments are fixated in the duration of the acme of my teens. Clanging cymbals of disagreements, no math homework help or driving lesson was without verbal talons streaking across each other’s hearts.

Clouds are amorphous. On stratus days, you’re a dulled kitchen knife. But puffy cumulus days, painting with shaving cream, giggle and wonder at all possibilities.

A sailor drifts on sea to value land and appreciate the waves that carry him forward.
I wouldn’t know how to drive if it weren’t for my father. I managed to pass calculus because of him. Today when I get frustrated at work, I call him on my drive home and he listens to me rant. I can’t tell him what’s in my heart and he doesn’t ask limiting any disapproval to be spoken. Instead, we watch hours of television together, our silent communication solid through our shared laughter and tears watching comedic shows and Hallmark movies.

For every negative comment, it takes five positive comments to bring you back to state of balance. My wavering self-confidence tells me there’s still gold emotion coins to be earned. But as sun shines fiercely marking a new day, striving to be positive will set a precedent of a mindset that will react with patience and acceptance – for myself from my own eyes.

disconnect

trains passing through the night
shared strip of platform for
opposite tracks, one and four
arriving and departing
dress shoes, worn sneakers
chasing a career, maintaining a job
first month pay invested in efficient Tesla
second year working bills piling up
talk is a game, hypotheticals in the day
are incomplete checks on the nightly review
playing chess not to checkmate, catch to tag
a partner always left lying in wait
when we stop dreaming together
can we have a future?

tell me you love me

like a parched orchid in a drought
the gust’s whisper of impending rain
entices but the promise is questionable
until upheld. the orchid arches her
slender stem to let her delicate petals
radiate in the penetrating beat of light
hoping clouds part to quench her thirst.
if her roots weren’t so deep she’d
relocate, so dependent on the fickle
weather, her worry sheds her blooms
as she witnesses in the thick smell of
humidity, the rolling vapor hanging over
freshly blossomed dutch tulips.
desperate for a drink, the orchid
misses the sun’s disappearance too

Gun Control NOW!

I start my car
but I don’t where to drive it
idling, I toy with the radio
while the engine warms up
indecisive, I step out
but I can’t be home either

The beauty of poetry is that you can say what’s on your mind but not truly reveal anything at all. Like any art, the audience can make anything out of it that they choose.
My car is what I really want to write: about the Florida shooting. But I don’t know where to begin. As a teacher, I have anger and sorrow and fear sown into me. I want to pour out but I know my circumventing will overrun a gas tank. Thinking about anything else is bliss. But in this case, silence is a crime.

American born Desi, my parents wanted me to love their culture, but I chose to call myself an American first most and only. I don’t want to live to India. I love traveling to Britain and France and Switzerland and Canada, but my home is United States. The land of dreams and freedom – but it’s no longer that.
In its muddled state of affairs all we have is a dream to be free of gun violence – of all violence. How long do we have to wait for that?

The news is like a taunt – what if I can’t protect my scholars? What if I’m not a good enough confidant or role model for them to lean on me when they need it? What if I can’t teach them to express with words?
There are no answers. We can all do our best but it won’t be good if the laws don’t change.

Up until 12th grade, I learned history, the past. Then I took AP Government and Politics and I learned about policies, laws and wars all in my lifetime. It was my past, what I’d grown up with on the news, now permanently etched in a book as a recording.
This shooting will be immortalized in text; my five and six year olds will one day be learning about it. This has to be the last one. I don’t want them to think it is a norm for “troubled” people, people with mental health disorders to go around shooting the world. I don’t want them to grow up accepting the world is unsafe. I don’t want them growing up it’s okay to let a disorder consume you and let actions speak louder.
We have the chance to be on the right side of history. Now or never, the 2nd amendment has to be changed. The allowance of personal guns to protect ourselves is only endangering more lives. It’s ironic, we need protection from guns and people think the solution to that is letting everyone have a gun. Fight fire with fire and there are more lives lost and hearts broken.

I’m not proud to call this my country anymore.

I know it’s been days since the incident and I know people have voiced their beliefs already. I – I didn’t want to face it.
I love Valentine’s Day. I have gold heart decals all over my room, pink and red hearts hanging from the ceiling, a wall of my favorite television couples and above my bed love letters. To spread how much I value love, I wanted to be on the Valentine’s Day committee at my school. The scholars made Valentines for their parents. they wrote and drew on hearts which teacher they are grateful for and why; these were put up in all of the school hallways. The cafeteria was decorated with streamers and hearts hanging from the ceiling. We made time for a quick dance party to get our hearts pumping. I had more ideas – I wanted to include STEM and have the kids make hearts out of toothpicks and marshmallows, make heart slime, learn about the real heart structure – but we ran out of time in preparation but I pumped to do it even better next year.
I wore a black dress with metallic flowers of various shades of pink, I was so excited to let love ring. The tragedy – I couldn’t comprehend it. How. Why. Why.

During lunch, we had our scholars share out grateful hearts. One of my scholars, Jamie, said he was grateful for me and coteacher for protecting our class. He was talking in reference to a classmate who is autistic and is working on emotion regulation. Sometimes he puts the class in a tricky situation by pulling and throwing classroom materials around. Jamie’s choice of words made my heart sad knowing the class saw it as needing protection. There are worse dangers out there, ones I never want my kids to ever find out from personal experience.

Columbine and Virginia Tech happened when I was in elementary school. I don’t remember much in the news and partly because while my parents didn’t want to scare me. The first school shooting that I remember that left me speechless and broken was Sandy Hook Elementary. It was only six years ago but 28 people died. And still guns are allowed? How is this okay?
Lives in schools aren’t the only ones important. All lives are. The Las Vegas shooting just last year, the Orlando nightclub just two years ago, the Sutherland Springs church shooting – a church? I want to call them monsters who do this, but they’re not, they’re just people. What did we do to let them become like that?

This is my first year teaching. I take a lot of pride in my profession; it’s a lot of hard work and energy – teachers are superheroes. A lot of 22 year olds don’t believe it. They want to make money and they want to make it fast. It’s parents who look at me with gratitude and thank me for choosing the profession. I get it – they are entrusting their babies in my hands and heart to teach, to love, to help their minds and emotions grow. Really we are all a part of teachable moments with people of all ages. Be fair and be open-minded.

But even if all neighbors were kind and empathetic, but it would not hold a candle to the government not changing the law on gun control.
It’s not okay that people die. It’s not okay that control of their life is taken away by someone with a gun. It’s not okay that one cannot travel outside not knowing if they will return home that night. How can we live in a world without trust? Power should not be in the hands of a gun wielder.

I shouldn’t have to wait for my country to make the right choice in protecting all of its people.