Accountability - Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Just a quick little post here about accountability and how grateful I feel to have it. I met a poet/novelist/playwright/meditation professor back in 2016 in a writing workshop in San Francisco. Ever since then, I’ve been meeting with her on and off for most weeks, meeting via Skype on mornings, despite me living in California then and her living in Pennsylvania. We focused mostly on making progress with our novels, but oftentimes, it became time focused on our own work. She on her academic writing and me with my client work, mostly focused on copywriting and editing and other freelance-writing-type work. And even when I moved into a RV full-time with my family and stayed in areas where wifi was scant, we made it work, texting or emailing each other so we knew we were writing.

We met, and still meet, via Skype or FaceTime, most mornings and work using Pomodoros (25 minutes of focused work, followed by a 5 minute break). Soon, we introduced meditation into the equation and began almost every session with 5 to 30 minute meditation sessions. Since she also taught meditation to her students in her university, this felt like a mini-meditation class. This calmed our spirits and nervous system down so we could settle into whatever work we were about to do, whether creative or not.

Today we met up after not meeting since the holidays and I was glad when she reminded me the importance of not giving up on my novel, which I had honestly put on hiatus for the moment, only working on it when I felt like it. Instead, I told her, I was working on my blogging practice. What about the five minutes you used to do every day? she reminded me. She recalled how happy I had felt even after just five minutes, how often five minutes would turn into ten, and sometimes 20, and times when it was longer. Being in the revision stage of my novel has been scary, and many times, made me feel lethargic. I’d rather wash dishes than have to risk figuring out what to do next. After a few minutes of resisting with her, what she said actually resonated. I could feel it in my heart space, my gut. I’m beginning to realize how much my body has to come on board for me to know it’s the right thing to do. And in this case, I’m glad I listened to my body. My friend and I both agreed to just five minutes, and no more, to just work on our respective and neglected novels. I opened up my Scrivener file where I had last left off, freewriting about a knot I had to unravel with a few of the characters in my novel, in a certain scene in particular. And in just five minutes, I felt a little less lethargic, a little less scared. And even, dare I say, a little more excited about what was to come next.

And that, my friends, is the power of accountability. Oftentimes in life, you need someone else to remind you to keep going. To remind you of the important things you’ve almost forgotten. I must say, I feel immense gratitude that I have found a friend who gives me that accountability!

Detaching is Synonymous to Trust

Trust - Martin Adams on Unsplash

Today, while meditating, I began to fret. Worried about something I said, worried about how it was received. As sometimes happens during meditation, thought bubbles of worry floated through my head. I wished I could help a grieving friend and her kids more than I had been, wishing I could wave a magic wand and her loved one could come back to life. I worried about all the things I said I’d do for my writing, work, family, friends, but hadn’t. Like a snowball hurtling down a hill, these worry balloons became bigger with each breath.

But then this word appeared:


I held onto it. That’s it! My clenched stomach began to settle. Detach from the outcome. And the more I thought about detaching, letting go, the more I realized that detachment is really the same as Trust. The two words are synonymous.

I don’t know what will happen in the future and how my words may have landed on others. I don’t know what will happen with my friend and others I love. I can future-trip about it and frighten myself into a frenzy of foolish panic. Or I can just trust. I can just detach. Even if the worst happens, I’ll figure it out. And trust that the people in my life and the decisions we all make will work out in some form or other, at least in the end. Detachment. It’s a form of surrender. It’s a form of trust. And ultimately, it’s a path toward ease and peace.

Some Lessons Learned from Living in an Adventure RV Full-Time for a Year

RV Life Lessons

Living in a RV full-time forces you to live more simply

With only about 100 sq ft of living space, our family of three had to whittle down our belongings into what was truly needed. This meant clothes that were actually worn day after day, not just for special occasions. Clothes that matched the weather, the season. No winter clothes while traveling through blazing-hot Mazatlan weather in June. We had kept some stashed above our truck cab in weather-proof boxes. No longer did I carry unnecessary beauty products like tubes of hair gel or bottles of face toner. I never even used a hair dryer because I didn’t want to use too much electricity. Now even as we’ve recently moved from living full-time in the RV into a rented apartment, I have no desire to buy unnecessary beauty products I used to keep crammed inside my cabinets of my house like argan oil, hair creme, hairspray, a plethora of facial products. Now my beauty routine is simple: basic shampoo and conditioner for my hair, and facial cleanser and moisturizer. That’s it!

It’s easy to reset your circadian rhythm with Vitamin D-3 from the sun

Every morning, it was easy to open the front door of our RV and step out into nature for some easily accessible Vitamin D3 to flood the retinas of our eye sockets. This is a quick and easy way to reset your circadian rhythms, helping you to improve your sleep. This is something I miss but still try to apply every morning, making sure I raise the shades of my bedroom to greet the sun, get in an early walk out in the fresh air.

You don’t need that much stuff from Amazon (ex. clothes, books, cooking utensils)

Living in a RV, we rarely ever ordered from Amazon (exception: Kindle books). With a dearth of space, you begin to realize: Who really needs to order that much from Amazon anyway? Especially when you’d order a pen and have it arrive with a mess of plastic packaging in a giant cardboard box; what a waste! When we were living in a RV in Mexico for about five months, we never really stayed put long enough to order anything from Amazon. Besides, we couldn’t even figure out how to do it (although some friendly Canadians in Los Braillies, in B.C.S., Mx, told us there was a way). While in the States, we had delivered a few items from Amazon at one or two RV parks and used Amazon locker from time to time, but the longer we lived in the RV, we realized we could really do without the huge online retailer. Most things you could buy at your local store, wherever that may be.

It makes you realize that nothing is ever permanent

Even now living in an apartment we’re leasing for one year, we now have the mindset that if it doesn’t work out, we can always pick up and go somewhere else. Back to Mexico, or some place we had never lived. Somewhere like Malaysia or Taiwan, where my parents grew up and many of my relatives still live. Or anywhere in the world that isn’t crazy expensive. What we’re most happy about is that we got rid of being tied to the ball and chain of a mortgage and property taxes. Now we feel much more freedom to move as we please.

Spending time with family is time well-spent

The year we lived in a RV was the most time we’ve ever spent with our kid. Short of that first year of babyhood, we have never spent so much time as a family unit before, especially in such close proximity. In the past, when we lived in a house together, we were all in our separate spaces, almost separate lives. With us working outside of the house then, we’d only see each other as a cohesive family after work or on weekends. And when my 26-year-old stepdaughter, also a traveler, came to visit us from India, where she had lived for over six months, we had the best time out in Redinger, CA, not too far from Yosemite, as well as Chabot in Castro Valley, CA, the two siblings chatting and making videos together, laughing their hearts out. We’d watch the stars in the sky at night as we cooked dinner outdoors on the grill. During the day, we’d go for long hikes. When my dad had emergency spinal surgery last summer, we parked our RV in the hospital parking lot in San Leandro, CA and got to spend even more quality time with him as he recovered from surgery. Because my parents live in Livermore, CA, we parked our RV in Del Valle Regional Park and again, spent more time with my mom, dad and 80-something-year-old aunt than I ever did when we lived in a house only 40-ish minutes drive away from them. It’s funny how living in a RV can make you closer to your family!

You learn to conserve resources such as water

  • We showered less, washed hair less often
  • Wiped plates off into the garbage (even now in the apartment)
  • Use less water to run while brushing teeth, face, and hands

You’re less concerned with needing everything to be clean (including yourself!)

Before RV Life, I was highly-critical about public bathrooms and camping showers to be hotel-level clean. After RV Life, my standards have significantly lowered. Now my husband and I pride ourselves in being able to use the grossest bathroom. In one RV park in Mexico, we showered in a bathroom that had only cold water running with barely any water pressure, and mice poop on the wall shelves.

It gave us faith in humanity again — most people are good people (unlike what the media will tell you)

Whether in Montana or California, Mexico or the U.S., there were plenty of people we connected with. When we first began living in a RV and I was still trying to figure out this new life, there was no shortage of friendly folks who readily gave us useful advice on where to go and how to live when you live in a RV. We’d meet them while dumping sewage or at RV parks from Colorado to Utah, Idaho to Wyoming. In Texas, a woman with blonde hair streaked with gray came inside our RV and personally showed me how to roll up my clothes in the storage areas for better efficiency, also showing me her favorite maps. A man we met in Utah wrote down in my bullet journal all his favorite places to boondock on BLM land or Forest Roads all over the U.S. At each place we stayed at, we were given suggestions by our neighbors on where to go next, since we weren’t as destination focused, taking more of a slow travel approach. Boondocked next to a creek in Wyoming, shortly after visiting the Grand Tetons, we met a solo traveler from Switzerland on a motorcycle. Sharing wine, we gained insight about his almost two-year-long world travel, from Africa to Australia and beyond. He joked with us that the hardest border he faced of all the places he had gone so far in the world was entering the U.S. through Canada only days before. As he collected flag stickers from each country on his motorcycle, he made sure to scrape off the flag sticker from Iran, because he knew he could face difficulty. Headed for Mexico, we shared info we had learned at the Overland Expo we had attended where a panel gave advice for those traveling by motorcycle, van or RV to Mexico. While there at that panel, we had a chance to meet one of the two badass overlanding ladies, also a couple and authors of the book, I Can. Will. Women Overlanding the World. We had followed them on Instagram, inspired by their travels as a couple. In Mexico, I must have lost either my iPhone or wallet at least three times at a restaurant. But every single time, I found it where I had left it, nothing stolen. One time in Cabo, I left my phone in an Uber driver’s car. About an hour later, the driver showed up at the restaurant he had dropped us off in and brought back my cellphone. At the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona one year where we exhibited our RV with Blissmobil, we met an amazing guy from Colorado who had connected with my husband on Instagram before who showed up with fresh duck, chicken, even emu, eggs, plus bacon and meat. Another former ambulance driver in New Mexico bought us breakfast so he could meet us to chat about our RV. In Baja, we met up with another guy from Arizona who converted his ambulance into an expedition vehicle, who invited us for a potato bake on the beach and later showed us the best spots to boondock on the beach at La Ventana and El Sargento, bringing our family to enjoy a bike ride amid the abundant cacti. A Mexican mechanic from Guanajuato with a love for 4×4 trucks offered to help us with any mechanical problems, should we find ourselves in a bind. Via Instagram, he asked if we could meet up at the RV park and gave us abundant tips on where to go, where to eat. Another couple who had found my husband’s Instagram feed invited my husband and son to their home for a meal while I flew to San Miguel de Allende for a writer conference, later renting us their own stand up paddle boards to use while facing the Sea of Cortez. In Mazatlan, shortly after we left Baja Sur on a ferry to the mainland, we met a young YouTuber born and raised there who made a video of our RV. In Guadalajara my former neighbor in Oakland’s parents who grew up there insisted on having us over for drinks (they used to make and sell their own tequila) and taking us to their neighborhood restaurant to eat traditional Mexican meal. Our last time living in a RV while parked in Austin, TX this past summer searching for apartments so our kid could attend high school, we met a couple who is as into keto and carnivore as we are. We actually sat together chatting together like old friends for over FOUR hours! They have started a Keto Nomad group online for people who are into RV life and are also keto. Or at the very least, are interested in both for the future.

A surprise for us introverts: we experienced less social anxiety

Living in a RV, especially a unique expedition vehicle such as our Blissmobil, definitely pushes you out of your comfort zone. I used to live in a 3000 sq ft home, and even then, there were times I was reluctant to even go outside to get the mail, for fear of having to say hi to the neighbors, to bump into people. I’ve always been socially awkward, as an introvert pretending to be an extrovert. Time with people tends to suck the life force out of me. But surprisingly, I have never been as social this past year or so since we ventured out of our comfort zone to live and travel in a RV full-time. Every day, one of us would make conversations with total strangers. At gas stations, grocery stores, RV parks, park grounds, even while stopped in traffic. People of all backgrounds stopped to talk to us. And once we shared our story of how we decided to buy this Blissmobil/LMTV, stemming from my husband’s cancer, it was amazing how much of an ice-breaker and equalizer it was. Also much to our surprise, we met people from all over the world via Instagram, who because of our shared interests and love for RVlife, travel, expedition vehicles, or keto eating — many now feel like old friends!

RV life lessons
Hanging out in nature catching Vitamin D3 with my family.

There is so much more I want to write about this, but my plan is to take some time to look at the multiple journals I kept while we were on the road. My husband wrote more extensively about traveling in an expedition vehicle/RV and some technical stuff too. We met so many awesome and kind-hearted people from his blog and both of our Instagram accounts. It really does give us faith in humanity!



With Thanksgiving this past week, I’ve been thinking about “Gratitude.” A friend of mine posted a writing exercise on her newsletter and I decided to open up a spread on my bullet journal notebook, write the word, GRATITUDE, in big green loopy cursive letters, then fill the space with whatever pops up in my head. Surprisingly, doing this writing exercise actually helped me on Thanksgiving Day feel even more gratitude than I have in a long time. It helped plant seeds in my heart. The very act of writing things down, especially by hand, helped me start to extrapolate the broad vague concepts, such as “my health” into specific details, such as “lower blood sugar.” At one point, I started writing down words like “air” and “nature.” I began appreciating the little things, realizing there was so much in life to be thankful for. I started the exercise feeling numb and ho hum. But by the end, I prickled with excitement about all the positive reasons to stay alive. As a result, I began appreciating all the elements that make up a life.

Last night, I drank a little too much pinot noir and accidentally spilled the glass all over my gratitude page. But the words blurred into black images mixed with burgundy red, and even then, I was again surprised by the beauty that happens when we mess up, whether in life or on the page. And you know what? It felt just fine. That’s all I have to say for now.

Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety - Photo by Chaozzy Lin on Unsplash

Have you ever climbed up 15 flights of stairs and told yourself: “It’s a HIIT workout; I’m working out my glutes!” When really, it was your way to avoid making chit-chat with others on the elevator?

I was officially diagnosed with “Social Anxiety” around 2008, shortly after I enrolled in graduate school, among a string of other diagnoses such as ADHD and Bipolar Disorder (Type 2). This did not come as a surprise for me, as I’ve always struggled being around others, especially large groups of people. Memories of hiding out in the library at recess and rushing to my car with my younger sister as soon as the meetings at the Kingdom Hall ended (we grew up with a Jehovah’s Witness mom) were never far from my mind.

Sometimes I’m surprised I’ve even made it this far in my life — having married, had kids (a biological son and a stepdaughter who I raised since a toddler), have friends — in fact, a large group of them, even got jobs. Made it through college and grad school. Was in a mom’s group and countless others. Volunteered, even.

I guess I want you to know that if you’ve ever struggled with something remotely like this, that you’re not alone. That you can be surrounded by friends and family yet still struggle with social anxiety. I’d love to share what I’ve learned along the way. What I want people to know is that you can come to peace with this, that there is something you can do. There are simple non-expensive and simple resources such as eating better, learning meditation, adding exercise into your life, and focusing on a sleep routine. And that therapy — good therapy, that is — is truly priceless.

CBT (cognitive behavorial therapy) can be especially helpful when you struggle with social anxiety. When I had a breakdown after I entered my MFA program in college, shortly after I had my son and still struggling with post-partum depression, I remember actually googling “Social Anxiety” and somehow stumbling onto a page that gave me hope. I read about CBT and how it can help people who get high anxiety around other people get through this. I still remember going to the counseling office at Mills College in Oakland, CA, and talking to a counselor who referred me to Dr. H in a little office on College Avenue in the Rockridge area. Even though my insurance  covered 40% of my sessions, I still believe going out-of-network was worth every penny.

Some of the tips Dr. H had me do seemed silly at first. She had me learn some meditation and mindfulness tips. When I felt panicked, she had me focus on my five senses. What did the floor feel like beneath my bare feet? Was it hard? Cold? What colors did I notice around me? Green tiles? Red petals? What did I smell? What did I hear? What did I see? How did my body feel? I began learning, like Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel-san in the movie I loved as a teenager, The Karate Kid,  how to change the lenses–and habits– of our lives in order to live. I told her about my fears, how I worried people were judging me, were thinking the worst of me. Especially when sharing semi-autobiographical fiction in a MFA program and frightened about everyone’s opinions, fretting about the subtext beneath the written comments they had  left on the hard copies of excerpts of my novel. I remember running to the bathroom after class ended reading my classmate’s comments, barely unable to breathe. So what? she asked. So what if they thought this about you. She had me do the “So What?” exercise. I had to write out what I believed they’d think about me after any particular event, such as a literary reading, for example. So what if they think I’m narcissistic? If they think I’m a loser? If they think an Asian woman of my age should not be thinking or saying this or that? That I’m a terrible writer that didn’t belong in the fiction writing program? So effing what? She would have me write until the “so what’s” didn’t make anymore sense, had lost their logical conclusions. That was one exercise.

Another one we practiced that helped immensely was the sticker exercise. One day, Dr. H had me put on a bright green dot sticker and adhere it to my forehead. She put a red one on hers and we walked out of her office into the bookstore next door. She asked me to predict how others would react. I told her they’d laugh. They’d point. They’d be disgusted. I mean, who in their right mind would go out into a public place with a sticker on their face. Right? She wrote down my predictions. Then we decided to head out to this hipster bookstore next door. There were like four customers browsing books on the shelves. One older man looked at me. But for just a few seconds. I met his eyes, but he quickly averted them. That was it. I was surprised! Dr. H then suggested that we go out onto the sidewalk, outside the bookstore, and wave at cars driving by. She suggested we jump up and down and even kick our feet up into the air. We were both Asian American women in our 30s then with primary color sticker dots from Avery and long dark hair walking down the street in an upscale neighborhood in Oakland, California, waving and smiling, drawing attention to ourselves unlike what we would normally do on any given weekday afternoon. But here we were, and nobody even so much as honked their horn. What I realized that day was that nobody gave an absolute shit about us. And Dr. H, I thought, was actually pretty! Later, Dr. H told me the story about how her skirt got caught in an escalator at the Rockridge BART station one evening during rush hour, and even though she was left standing in her underwear and pantyhose, no one really, in the end, gave a shit. It was an important lesson. It taught her that everyone, when it came down to it, was mostly focused on themselves. Not her. All this time, she had worried that people were thinking of her, were judging her, but when this most embarrassing moment of her life happened, she was largely ignored. It taught her a lesson that we don’t need to worry that much about what other people think about us. Because people really are more worried about themselves!

Doing that exercise that day was life-changing for me. I came to realize that there was no reason to be that frightened about what others think. Of course, it didn’t solve EVERYthing. But something in me shifted that day.

Later, when I became an adjunct professor at a community college teaching English in an Asian American learning community, I had my students do that same sticker exercise on campus and come back and write about what they discovered after doing it. We also did a pre-writing exercise where they predicted what others would think, say, and react. Like me, they discovered they were wrong.


Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Today is Day 2 of 365 days of my new self-imposed writing challenge of blogging daily. Of getting out of my comfort zone. Even though I’ve been doing a Morning Pages practice for years, writing and journaling something almost every day, I’ve been a little too precious with my words. I’ve decided to blog daily as a way to manifest writing being an important value, an important part of my life. It’s always been important, but I’m hoarding these words of mine like Gollum, so precious. So afraid of losing these words. I need to trust that my words being out there, shared with others, even if no one ever reads them, is safe. It’s a safe act. And it doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks about what I write and how I write. Even if the grammar is off. Even if the prose is gross. I just don’t care. At least, in theory. But that’s the practice. The more I put stuff out there regularly, consistently, the more I’ll be less precious. A less precious practice. Perhaps I’ll even become more patient with myself.

The very act of getting out of my comfort zone, I’ve realized,  is how I can grow as a human being. As someone who has battled depression and anxiety much of my life, I’m beginning to realize that staying too comfortable, being afraid to try new things, to fear having to shake my life upside down like a Christmas snow globe, is how I will stagnate as a person, only to grow stale and numb to the beauty of life. Staying too comfortable, in my mind, is a recipe for complacency–and often times, a straight path to the depths of depression.

The more I think about it, a large part of my life IS about getting out of the comfort zone. And a large part of this is seeing it as a series of experiments.

Some examples:

  • Selling our 3,500 sq ft house of ten years in the Bay Area to move into a 100 sq ft expedition vehicle/adventure RV for over a year with our son, six months of it in Mexico.
  • Leaving my steady-ish job teaching English at a community college to becoming a freelancing virtual assistant (which made it possible to live and work remotely, becoming location-independent; this transition was less scary with the help of this empowering lady.)
  • Leaving California and all my friends and family to live full-time in a RV traveling to other states such as Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Texas and then Mexico, where we considered becoming ex-pats in Guadalajara or San Miguel de Allende.
  • Leaving the life of always moving to suddenly not. Full-time RV-life to apartment life. Once an homeowner to renting. California to Texas. A shit ton of friends to zero.
  • Taking the leap to ramp off all meds since 2011 for depression, anxiety and ADHD to choose food as medicine–first no flour and no sugar, gluten-free, then Paleo/Primal, then keto, followed by carnivore.
  • Sharing with others publicly about my diagnosis of bipolar disorder and how eating healthy and ketosis has helped me feel and look better in my late 40s than my 20s and 30s. Also the very act of sharing a photo of myself to others is radically scary.
  • Trying keto as an adjunct to conventional chemo and radiation when my husband got cancer in 2014.
  • Taking the leap to homeschool/unschool our kid for a few years instead of blind faith to a certain kind of education we once believed in.
  • Extended 7-day fasts without food (just water) for autophagy and cancer prevention.
  • Trying psychedelics for healing (something I’m planning to write about in more depth).
  • Attending MAPS’ first Psychedelic Science Summit in Austin, TX to learn more about how it can help with PTSD, depression, mental health and healing trauma.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little down, now about three months into living in a semi-permanent place in Austin, TX, where we’ve settled after the excitement of full-time RV life, now living in a rented apartment. Our son is now thriving in his new high school, happy. That’s the most important thing to witness as a parent, is to watch your kid thrive. He’s even working out, spending time in the gym, running around the lake with friends.  But for me, I’ve found myself a little stagnated. It’s crazy how easy it is to get into a rut. So I’m shaking up that snow globe again by trying another experiment.

I’m curious to see where a year of writing will take me…

What experiments have you tried in your life?

My New Goal: A New Writing Practice

New Writing Practice

It dawned on me today, while sitting in a car for over four hours, driving from Denton back home to Austin, that if not now, then when? Inspired by Seth Godin, I’ve been wanting to blog every day, something I’ve been dying to do, yet so damn afraid. Afraid that people will think I’m too much, too narcissistic, or on the other end of the spectrum: not enough. Not enough knowledge, not enough education or connections, still feeling as if I still don’t know enough to write, despite the school loans I’m still paying down many years after a MFA in Creative Writing. (Funny how I felt much more confident to write BEFORE I formally enrolled in a program designed to teach me just how to write, to publish.)

I’ve decided to finally begin this self-imposed challenge to myself: write in this blog every day for an entire year and watch what happens! Will my writing improve? Will I gain more confidence to allow myself to be seen, to be visible? That someone like me, of this certain age, gender, race, class, ethnicity, whatever, could possibly put myself out there like this? Whatever the case, I decided to start now. Here on a Friday. The day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday, in fact. Instead of wildly online shopping, I am here online, putting myself out there on the Wild Wild Internet, to put my words out there. To actually “trust my words,” something I encountered this past week when I dared to enroll in another writer who I respect’s online class, part of her beta writing circle.

I realize there may be no one reading this, but it’s healing to practice allowing myself to put my words out there. To trust that this process of writing, of exposing myself, will be fruitful. I want to get over my fear of being judged, being criticized. Of worrying about what others, especially friends and family, will think if they realize what I think about x, y or z. This is a practice of sharing my words, my truth, at this moment in time. Because who I am and what I believe will shift with the sands of time.

Part of the inspiration today is this guy I listened to named Derek Sivers. His quick podcast post on limitations and freedom really reminded me of all the self-experiments I’ve indulged in so far in my life. The time I did several months of carnivore-eating and how it made such a difference in my physical and mental health. Experiments are a way to spice up life and to challenge you to try a lens on life you may never had the balls to try before. Because you know it’s only temporary, and for only a set amount of time, you’re able to work within these constraints, finding an incredible amount of freedom. It’s like being confronted with a vast blank page of whiteness versus being presented with a focusing writing prompt.

I’m realizing that for me, I’m someone who finds freedom in limitations, in constraints. Especially ones of my own choosing.

So … here goes: Today, on November 29, Friday, 2019 (I’m not even gonna wait until the New Year to start), I am beginning my own N=1 experiment of a new writing practice. I will write in this blog every single day — even if it’s only a sentence — until November 29, 2020. With no fanfare, no telling of anyone even in my own family (I’m typing this as they sit around me playing video games), and not waiting until I’m in the perfect of writing conditions (again, I’m in the same room as my family, all three of them laughing and playing as I type, post-Thanksgiving). No excuses whatsoever. I’m finally realizing that waiting for everything to be perfect is the perfect recipe for failure… I don’t even know what I’m going to write about, but whatever it is, I’ll find something. I’m going to allow myself to fail, flail: wildly!

And the thing is, I can’t wait to find out what happens when I get to the other side!



What I’d Tell My Ghostwriter: Advice on Finishing My Novel

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

If I were to hire a ghostwriter to write my novel, how might I instruct her?

Here is what I came up with:

  • Write a coming-of-age story that encapsulates a young Chinese American girl’s life growing up Jehovah Witness in the 80’s — her desires, her struggles — and how her life changes throughout the course of the book.
  • I’d ask this ghostwriter to remember the title and keep it in mind as she writes: THE FOREVER LIFE. (That’s a title I don’t want anyone to take, by the way, so I really need to light that fire under my ass to finish this thing, otherwise someone else will have that title. Fuck that!)
  • If I had a ghostwriter, I’d tell her to channel her memories of youth, that my character, Natalie, is only 14-years-old, struggling to belong, either in the life of forevers (the path of her mom), or a life of freedom and agency (her friend Rachel.)
  • I’d instruct my ghostwriter to come up with writing prompts before writing for each section/chapter/scene.  (E.g., What parts in the Taiwan trip can you pull out for the novel? Natalie is in the hospital post-car accident. What happens next? Knowing your outline for the closing of Act 1, how can you incorporate that into this hospital scene?)
  • I’d instruct my ghostwriter to read coming-of-age novels I love (like Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend) to get a sense of story, voice, structure, pace, tone, setting, and characterization.
  • I’d have her revisit writing-related notes on the manuscript in all its iterations, such as the ones in Carolina de Robertis’ class at Cristina Garcia’s Las Dos Brujas Writers’ Workshop. Pull out the stories she had showcased about narrative tension. How can you apply this to your own writing? I’d have her revisit April Bosshard’s Deep Story Design notes for coaching. Perhaps revisit the class notes from the past class on story structure and the technical aspects within a story (ex. midpoint, plot echo points). Revisit Elizabeth Tallent’s notes from Squaw Valley. Revisit Cristina Garcia’s feedback from that time we met up in San Francisco. Revisit Michelle Wallace‘s manuscript notes she helped me edit. Revisit third writing group’s (Brenda and Gina from Liminal) notes for novel. Revisit my second writing group (Small Vino) feedback with Mel, Sam, Kiala, Muthoni and Michelle. Revisit my notes from my first writing group with Tiff and Steve. Revisit notes from my first MFA fiction class with Gail Tsukiyama at Mills College. Revisit my notes from VONA, from ZZ Packer and Ashe Bandele. Classes I took at the Writing Salon and the SF Writing Grotto.
  • I’d create a solid writing practice for her to follow. A schedule. So she’d fall into the writing easily. I’d tell her not to be so hard on herself when the writing doesn’t flow. I’d ask her to use pomodoros and build in breaks to stretch, run to the bathroom — basically to not sit in a chair the entire time.
  • I’d ask her to build in time for research, study the craft (see above about revisiting class notes), reading both books about how-to write (e.g., Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext book I lent Lorelei when she was eager to learn about novel writing) and fiction. I’d have her build a solid literary life.
  • I’d also ask her to live her life — outside of writing — because all of life can be material in some way. (Not in a nasty capitalistic way of churning straw into gold, but in that stories can be found everywhere.)
  • I’d ask her to pair writing with music. To sometimes write with a song on repeat, a song that moves you, gives you life. Something like Max Richter. Or Helen Jane Long. And songs from the 80’s my characters — 14-year-old Natalie and Rachel  — would be listening to, like Depeche Mode, Ministry.
  • I’d ask my ghostwriter to follow the outline I’ve given her, but to feel free to deviate if it serves the story. To not be afraid to do so, but to check in with me, and we can adjust as necessary. I’d ask her to give herself permission to feel free. This is fun work. This is play. Write with lightness and spaciousness.
  • To write in this way, with ease, I’d instruct her to meditate before writing. To meditate when she gets stuck. Or to get up and move. Perhaps a walk outside in the fresh air, taking in the textures and colors of nature, marveling at the world larger than ourselves.
  • Reading is essential to writing well. I’d ask her to remember that when I read fiction or memoir, I read to find out how someone has lived, how they surmounted hardships, how I seek, often continuously, to know that I am not alone–in whatever struggles I’ve felt, or once felt, in life. I also read to be entertained. I like the excitement of cliffhangers, of what happens next. I like seeing characters in impossible or crazy situations, watching how they overcome the world they are boxed in.
  • I’d also ask her to pull up a blank page, especially in 750 words (because it’s on someone else’s server), to use as a canvas to draw on, so to speak. It’s okay to scribble, sketch. Then take that over to Scrivener to turn into a painting later.
  • I’d ask her to research Jehovah’s Witnesses. Go through my mom’s old books, the Watchtowers, the Awakes. And when writing, not to feel as if you have to explain everything to readers, in a didactic way, but to weave it into the actual story.

Yeah, if writing this novel were easy, I’d hire someone else to do it. But I’m sure I wouldn’t feel good afterwards, knowing I didn’t do it.

If writing it were easy, I’d just write. I’d look forward to writing it. I’d have a regular writing practice, sitting down each day to write. I’d tell myself to just keep going when I have doubts. I’d hire a coach/editor to keep me accountable (which I have). I’d make writing dates (which I’m doing regularly now with my friend Julie via Skype on weekday mornings).

I’d just keep showing up …

Each. Fucking. Day.

Sometimes I Forget How Far We’ve Come

Sometimes I forget.

Forget why we began this trip, this new RV life. How easy it is to get caught up in the middle of life — with all its ups and downs — and forget how far we’ve come.

But when I revisit pictures like this, I am reminded of how far we’ve come together as a family, in regards to our health, and how much we love each other.

These pictures were taken between 2014 and 2015, when my husband of almost 22 years, Darrell, [if interested, he has his own separate blog] was diagnosed with cancer, when we dreamed up the idea to reduce overall stress in our lives by quitting our traditional 9-5 jobs, stop paying for a mortgage for a SF Bay Area house we could barely afford, and live and travel the world together in a RV as a family.

There’s still some stress now, but it mostly stems from work-related and time-management stress as we both work on-the-road part-time chasing wi-fi.

But nowhere near the stress of worrying that you don’t have much time on this earth with the love of your life and your son and stepdaughter’s father, burdened with high costs and massive amounts of debt.

In 2014, when Darrell went into his regular General Practitioner’s for a cough that refused to disappear, he discovered something was  amiss when the chest x-ray technician gasped at the sheer size of the mass that appeared on his black and white screen. From there, it became a mystery game, a hunt to discover if he even had cancer, and if so, what kind.

Most importantly, we all wanted to know: How long did he have left to live?

We were at a loss as to what to do. Should Darrell turn vegetarian again? He had been vegetarian for over 15 years. I imagined the freezer full of Morningstar burgers and fake bacon. I had recently adopted a Paleo diet and it had already helped me come off all my meds, but I still had weight to lose. Other friends suggested juicing and the Gerson Therapy. Others suggested other alternative therapies. We didn’t know what to do, what to choose.

Only three years before, Steve Jobs had died and I read up on all kinds of diets and scenerios, imagining the worst outcomes possible. But then a good friend who followed a Paleo/Primal way of eating Darrell’s mentioned the ketogenic diet. “There’s talk that cancer feeds on sugar, on glucose,” he informed us while visiting from out of state.

A former biology/chemistry major, Darrell immediately latched onto the science and chemistry behind the ketogenic diet. It made sense. We began searching online and came across Ellen Davis, Dominic D’Agostino, and Miriam Kalamian. I immediately bought e-books and devoured everything I could on the subject. My sister, who had lovingly spent much of her time babysitting and helping me with my virtual assistant clients while we went to doctor appointments and during hospital stays for the two biopsies, introduced me to the audio book by Jimmy Moore: Keto Clarity. Later, I found Patricia Daly, Martina Slajerova, as well as Maria Emmerich.

In the meantime, as I learned how to cook and eat keto, I adapted many of the Paleo recipes I had from all the Paleo cookbooks I had amassed, such as Melissa Joulwan and Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo. I encouraged Darrell to reach out to Miriam Kalamian for a Skype consultation, and he did. She was extremely helpful and encouraging, and I remember making my first mug cakes from recipes she had sent us, in addition to the ones I was making out of her e-book.

At first we didn’t know what type of cancer Darrell had. It was right before Thanksgiving in 2014, and Darrell’s fantastic oncologist in (Alta Bates Summit) Berkeley pulled some strings and found a doctor who would do a biopsy in Concord, at John Muir Hospital. That doctor speculated Darrell might have thymoma. Then there was talk among other doctors brought in that it could be a teratoma. We looked it up. Could Darrell’s tumor have teeth, have hair? Even through the despair, we found a moment to joke around. What if Darrell had a miniature clone growing inside his chest, where the tumor was located? That year, we skipped Thanksgiving, spending it in the hospital.

We were told Darrell needed to stay in the hospital for several days. He was fed orange juice, sandwiches, dessert. While Darrell had the biopsy which would take quite some time, per the doctor, my sister, my kid and I sat in the waiting room, taking turns playing the piano. We also spent some time in the chapel area, writing heartfelt notes, wishing and praying for the best possible outcome. The doctor at John Muir pulled me aside after the biopsy was over to inform me that he believed Darrell had a thymoma that would require open-heart surgery, chemo, and radiation. “He’s not going to be able to work anymore, not for some time. In fact, it will be hard,” he said gruffly, a doctor with not the best of bedside manners. And with that he was gone. I was left in tears, worried about my husband’s chest cut open, the danger around cutting near the aorta.  Later, I remember being comforted by my sister-in-law over the phone shortly after.

No one ever tells you how time seems to slow down when you’re awaiting a cancer diagnosis. Especially around the holidays.

After about a week, the biopsy came back: Inconclusive. The doctor had cut around Darrell’s chest area and there still wasn’t an answer?? We were disappointed and angry.  So was Darrell’s oncologist. Apparently, he chewed out this doctor at John Muir who had recommended we go ahead and act as if this were a thymoma. Again, Darrell’s oncologist pulled some strings, and this time, sent him to Stanford, even though it was now close to Christmas. We were worried time was running out. Would we have time to shrink the seemingly unusually large tumor?

Our answers came easily at Stanford. This time, the doctor we were assigned to who did the biopsy was easygoing and made us feel at ease immediately, unlike the one at John Muir. He guessed it was lymphoma, not thymoma, and he was right. The biopsy was quick and easy, a short outpatient visit, and within a day or two, we found out Darrell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Stage 2B). The doctor assured us that if there was a cancer to get, this was “a good one.” Again, we laughed. Relieved. But our oncologist was still concerned with the size of the three tumors (7, 3, and 2 cm). He had three near his heart, and the chemo would have to pass through his aorta. I worried about how fragile that area was, how fragile the heart can be. Would he be able to handle it? (A lesson learned here: Just because someone is an esteemed rock-star doctor, he may not know all the answers. You are your own best advocate when it comes to your own health. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.)

But at the same time, we were both ramping up the ketogenic diet, now following Miriam Kalamian’s advice in her book, along with other keto for cancer books out at that time in 2015. We bought a scale, Ketostix at first, used MyFitnessPal for macros, then the Precision Xtra to measure glucose and ketones, discovering Dr. Thomas N. Seyfried’s book that Darrell immediately downloaded onto his Kindle, a dense medical book that recommended that the GKI be as close to 1 as possible. I wrote a blog post for Heads Up Health, a client of mine, about how Darrell and I tracked his Glucose Ketones Index during his cancer, and still do, now in remission.  He included some fasting as well. To support Darrell, I decided to eat mostly keto too. I was also intrigued to see if it could help my moods as someone once diagnosed with Bipolar Type II, having read in Jimmy Moore’s book that the keto diet had the potential to help those suffering with this disorder. I had been off all meds–including asthma–simply reducing the amount of flour and sugar back in 2012, and was encouraged by what a Paleo/Primal diet could do. Also, my doctor had warned me that with my latest HBA1C, I was now diagnosed with prediabetes. (In 2016, we began tracking our health using Heads Up Health, enjoying the ability to import medical records from different labs and using the Analyzer graphing feature to see how far we’ve both come in terms of our health, motivating us to continue staying keto-adapted.)

The oncologist, radiologist and the nurses in the chemo infusion room all noticed how rapidly Darrell’s tumors were shrinking. They also remarked on Darrell’s lack of the usual symptoms post-chemo: no hair loss, no nausea. Even though all food Darrell ate tasted like metal, he enjoyed eating the mug cakes, the fat bombs, bone broth and all the keto food I made using a Paleo/Primal lens. We kept his net carbs really low, at 12 net carbs, weighing and measuring portions, afraid to eat too much protein then, due to gluconeogenesis. I pricked my finger alongside Darrell daily, checking our blood glucose and blood ketones (beta-hydroxybutrate/BHB), then making sure his GKI was low as possible. The fasts helped with the chemo, lowering insulin and raising ketones. “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!” One nurse smiled warmly at us after checking Darrell’s blood test results before beginning his hours-long infusion, seated in a lazy-boy-like recliner, his laptop still propped on his lap as he refused to quit working full-time. His employers were understanding, wanting him to take time off, but working gave Darrell something else to think about, and this was what he wanted then.

During this time — several months — of weekly chemo infusions, Darrell stopped taking the BART train for fear of catching colds, compromising his immune system. Instead, he took a commuter bus near Oakland that brought him into San Francisco where he worked downtown for a FinTech company.

Although I know the treatment and oncologist helped, what Darrell and I both know today is that eating keto played a part in quality of life, and we feel it in our bones that it also helped in the rapid shrinking of the large tumors that resided in his chest.

Now it’s 2018 and in October, Darrell will have been in remission for three years. Even though much older now, we are both now in the best shape of our lives. Although not 100% compliant every single meal, we still incorporate keto eating and fasting into about 90% of our lives. What keeps us keto-adapted and in ketosis most of the time is tracking our health (e.g., blood ketones, blood glucose) with the Keto-Mojo (much more affordable blood ketone strips than Precision Xtra) and Heads Up Health (e.g., GKI, waist and hip measurements, weight, lab tests like the Hba1c), MCT oil, butter and ghee. And now almost three months in, we’re about to embark on a trip around the world in our RV, finally having the energy to exercise, to pursue our dreams. We recently sold our house in the SF Bay Area and downsized in the biggest way, leaving a 3K+ sq ft house for a 100 sq ft expedition vehicle/RV.


Life can still be stressful at times, but we have so much to look forward to now.

And with that, I cannot be more grateful.

Yellowstone: #RVLife

Yellowstone Geyser

“Nuggets!” My kid cries, bent over his screen, as if he’s been shot, heading to the bathroom. Outside, I hear my husband cough amid abundant birdsong.

We have traded the mosquitos for birds.

The last campsite — Yellowstone/Lewis Lake — had bodies filled with our blood.

Today we awoke in Montana; yesterday in Wyoming, in Yellowstone.
The states are beginning to blur, as are the days.

We are nomads, travelers, drifters. We are adventurers, overlanders, full-time RV travelers, #digitalnomads

We live, love, and fight in a moving cube.

Yesterday morning, we erupted, like Old Faithful, before the drive toward Mammoth Hot Springs. It was the usual arguments and panic about where we’d land, could we find a spot in time, given all we wanted to do, given all the miles we had to drive.

The eruption was great — talk of airports and dissolving our plans, our trip.

We had learned of constriction as the mechanism beneath hydrothermal features such as geysers, and as we drove toward the hot springs, I felt constriction in my chest. The heat of our anger, our frustration, like magma; our words flowing like snowmelt or rain, words that pelted with hurt and misunderstanding.

As we drove, I pondered the anatomy of a fight.

Always the eruption, the constriction, tempered by silence, space, and time. Ours simmered down to a low boil, punctuated by sightings of wildlife — a grizzly bear ambling matter-of-factly on the side of a road, bear-faced cow-like bison, families of geese waddling into the moving Yellowstone River below. Followed by walks to the volcanic mud pots that boiled with sulfer and smelled of soft-boiled eggs atop steaming bowls of ramen. One was named Black Cauldron, a fitting name. Later the hot springs and travertine terraces, ending the night in Montana, sipping wine and reading aloud short stories to my family — the eruption now subsided.