May 292011

I had run out for an errand that I thought would take me about half an hour. I felt under pressure to do so quickly because I was busy with a project.

On my return trip I sought out the bus stop on the corner of Market Street and Cyril Magnin; and thanks to the new electronic time alerts they have at bus shelters these days, I could see that my wait was going to be about 17 minutes. Unacceptable to me at the time but neither did I want to pay for a taxi.

So I sat down next to an elderly woman who it turned out was not waiting for the bus but for her husband. “He’ll be here in half an hour,” she said in her Tagalog accent.

She looked like a wizened dried mushroom under a floppy black hat.

“You have such beautiful hair,” she crooned through crumbling blackened teeth.

I thanked her and that was all she needed to launch into her curriculum vitae.

She said she was 77 years old and a karate master. “I still teach karate,” the ancient munchkin said. “And I give massages. I massaged my daughter.”

“Would you give me a massage,” I asked?

She nodded and smiled.

“Would you come to my house and give me a massage?”

“Oh no, I live in Daly City,” she indicated that the distance was too great.

But I got her to rub my right shoulder which had been cramping. But only for a few seconds. Darn.

“I teach karate,” she repeated. “Black belt.”

I said I was impressed.

“My husband also teaches karate. He was a boxer.”

“In the Philippines?” I asked.

“Yes and he was champion.”

Somehow her colorful and unstoppable narrative made waiting for the bus more tolerable. I felt I was learning something, absorbing the world or a world by witnessing this strange little lady. Drinking her in. Still I was anxious to get home.

A pedestrian, a tall youngish African-American professional type, loped by and called out, “I love your hair.”

That cheered me up. But then the electronic bus sign showed bus arrival was going to take even longer than the original 17 minutes. (How does that happen? Was the bus running backward?) I started thinking about the project that was waiting for me, moments ticking away.

“My husband is coming in about an hour,” my neighbor said. I did not point out that he was supposed to have come in half an hour when I had first sat down next to her 10 minutes earlier.

“I have three daughters. One daughter she is a nurse.”

“I’m just waiting for my husband to pick me up,” she said again.

Suddenly, this world I had been absorbing next to her seemed to have run its course.

I decided to hail a taxi and I hopped away.

 Posted by at 8:24 pm
May 082011

On April 27 I met Cynthia Perlis, the manager of the Art for Recovery Program at UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The center encourages patients to express themselves through creative projects such as painting, journal writing, poetry, music and quilting for the Breast Cancer Quilt Project.

An artist, Cynthia has led this group for over 20 year; she says it has become her life. A small delicate woman with vibrant eyes and active face, Cynthia said she was lucky that her husband and children were so supportive. One gets the impression that her family had better be supportive! You can see how passionate she is by the way she bends forward when she talks about her work and mission.

Cynthia seemed pleased to hear about my work and scheduled me to speak to her patients June 23.

 Posted by at 3:37 pm
May 012011

One of my workshop students, Alfie Adona, was so motivated to tell her family’s story that she started not only a manuscript to appear in book form but also a website about her family’s tragedy. Although she has a full-time executive position, a husband and a child, she has been focusing her early-morning energies on recapturing her childhood and familial challenges.

The Seludo Story,, paints the picture of a nuclear family thriving in a Louisiana hamlet but struck by evil. Alfie’s physician father, Manolito, is poisoned by a neighbor and rendered helpless for the next 10 years of his life. Two years after this crime, his wife and Alfie’s mother is maimed and incapacitated in a car accident.

Alfie and her sister Alta, 15 and 13 years old respectively, had to carry on the burden of their parents’ well-being and their own daily lives as if they were adults. With little guidance from wiser aunts and uncles, the girls lost the family house and automobile to lenders.

On Alfie’s website she explains the conflicts, guilt and struggle these two girls went through to maintain your family’s integrity and unity. She and her sister still revisit these issues in their adult lives.

In my workshop, “Forever Remembered”, I urge students to collect all of the memorabilia and documentation of the past that they can access. Alfie did a superb job retrieving and preserving a packet of love letters that her parents wrote to each other during their courtship. In her blog my student notes that she and Alta must rely on research “since our parents are now deceased as we write this memoir in our mid-30’s.”

She continues:

My recent research unveiled letters between my parents dating back to 1973.  I also came across letters I saved from my mom in 1993. … I share some       awareness I gained through reading these letters and hope that it will inspire you to re-engage in the lost treasure of writing letters.

The 38 year-old letters were still in good condition but had to be carefully handled.  I read the beautiful cursive handwriting across the slightly discolored, off-white paper and learned a few things about Mom and Dad’s 5-month, overseas courtship and the profound love they had for each other.  It was in Dad’s letter to Mom dated March 18, 1973, written at 11:30pm, that helped me learn about his compassion for his patients and the field of medicine.

Driven to understand her past, Alfie Seludo Adona is creating a work of literature that will serve as a catharsis.

 Posted by at 1:52 pm