Posted by kfordk

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

on April 25, 2014 in Creative Life, Latest News, Writing the Wave with no comments by

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http://www.amazon.com/Wife-John-Baptist-2014-Entry-ebook/dp/B00JOU2YXS

 

Soon after The Wife of John the Baptist was published, I decided to enter it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition.  I wasn’t sure if I would win anything.  After all, it seemed like a long-shot.  Thousands of novels were entered and my novel was just one out of the many.  It took the judges a long time to read through all the novels and  I almost forgot about the contest entirely.  Then one day, I received an email telling me that I had been selected as a semi-finalist.  I was thrilled.  Now my novel was one out of the few.

I’ll have to wait until July to find out if I won or not, but until then I’ll just be happy I made it this far.  If you want to read the first few pages of the novel and submit a review, follow the link above and see my entry.  I’ll look forward to hearing what you have to say.

A Tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez: How Magical Realism Changed My Life

on April 18, 2014 in Creative Life, Latest News, The Traveling Story Teller, Writing the Wave with 1 comment by

cinque terre

I didn’t expect my life to change when I entered the sparsely-furnished, literature classroom at the Universidad de Veracruz in Xalapa, Mexico.  The long-haired, political-activist professor who arrived late was a bit of a surprise, but that would pale in comparison to the stories and novels he was about to introduce us to.

We didn’t have any books.  Instead the professor handed out faint, mimeographed pages containing the stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, master of magical realism and literary journalism.  We read them aloud while our professor became increasingly animated in his enthusiasm, pausing only to push the hair from his eyes.  As the stories came alive, we realized that this level of learning could not be contained to a bare and dusty classroom.  Some of us accompanied the professor to a series of cafes around town, drinking beer until we were tipsy, talking for hours and filling our hungry souls with the delicious adventures of shipwrecked sailors, old Caribbean soldiers, ethereal beauties and the ghosts who coexist with the living only because they are too stubborn to succumb to death.

The world of magical realism was an epiphany and I suddenly realized that life was not the black and white, cut and dried reality I had learned in hometown America.  A whole new world opened up in which the supernatural, the spiritual and the physical all coexisted in an exotic mélange that changed my view of life forever.

This epiphany was to set me on a lifelong pursuit for adventure, travel and opportunities to experience different cultures; a continual thirst to see the world through different eyes and to write about it.  For the first time I had been given license to be the person I really wanted to be.  The magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez had given me the freedom to soar.

When I ran home after class and told the senora in the house where I lived about my discovery, she handed me a succulent plateful of carne de res, arroz and the bright red flower petals known as colorin.   I told her how wonderful it was to read about a world that was turned upside down but that made so much sense at the same time.  She looked at me with a dry expression, “Es normal,” she said.  “That’s how we all see the world.”

Her comments made me smile.  I borrowed an antique typewriter and with senora’s blessing, I started writing my first, full-length novel on her kitchen table.  The family’s elderly, maiden aunt, Tia Pilar showed up even before I was finished with page one.  “I will keep you company while you finish your task,” she explained. “We will be like sisters every afternoon.”  True to her word, she showed up each day to sit nearby fingering her rosary, while my own fingers tapped on the typewriter keys.  She only stopped coming when I had finished the last page.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez opened my young mind to the unlimited possibilities of imagination, creativity and diverse cultural experience.  It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received and in a very real way it changed the course of my adult life forever.  So today, as I pay homage to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I dust off my tattered copies of his books, open One Hundred Years of Solitude and begin to read.  Here once again is the band of ragged gypsies who arrived in the mythical, Caribbean town of Macondo, bringing with them the learned alchemist, Melquiades.  In turn, Melquiades brought the first magnets that anyone had ever seen in Macondo.

The gypsy dragged the enormous magnets behind him through the streets of the town while “pots, pans, tongs and braziers tumbled down from their places,” and followed him down the street.

“‘Things have a life of their own,’ the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent.  ‘It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.’”

 

 

Maui and the Paradise of Zero Racism

on April 17, 2014 in Latest News with no comments by

Rayna's leis 2008 080

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband and I were always proud to have an ‘international marriage,’ as it was called in Japan.  I was an American expat living in Tokyo and my husband was Japanese.   Our marriage spanned two nations and two cultures and for us, it seemed ideal.  Not long after we were married, we saw a TV documentary in which mixed-race children around the globe were interviewed about their experiences.  In each case, the children complained bitterly about the lack of a single identity, about not knowing where they belonged, and about the racism they experienced from the races of both parents.  There was only one exception, the young man who lived in Hawaii.  Being from two cultures and two races was for him, the best thing in the world.  He talked happily of having the best of both cultures, of speaking two languages, of celebrating all the festivals, of having the most fun and best of all, of eating a variety of delicious food.  I turned to my husband and said, “If we have children, we’re moving to Hawaii.”  He agreed.

When my daughter was born, we talked of moving often but it didn’t happen until we began the search for an elementary school.  We spoke with many parents and children and while most were content with schools in Japan, there were several students who experienced serious bullying because of their mixed race heritage.  Some were taken out of school to be home-schooled.  Some were put into expensive, private international schools but the emotional scaring remained.

A few months later we moved to Maui.  We told my daughter how lucky she was to have two cultures and two passports and how wonderful it was to be able to live on Maui and visit Japan.  She embraced it all and like most of her new friends, she was proud to be Hapa, the Hawaiian word for half.  As a family, we appreciated that all children in Hawaii are cherished and being Hapa was the most normal thing of all.

Most people think of Maui as a paradise because of its beautiful beaches and terrific weather. But for us, Maui was an island of wonderfully kind people living in a paradise of zero racism.  Once we settled in, we breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Not only was our diverse family accepted, we blended right in with everyone else.

Soon my daughter was inviting her new friends over to play in our condo pool.  Her friends were from every possible combination of different backgrounds: Asian, Caucasian, Hawaiian, Tongan, African-American and Hispanic.  Once in awhile my African-American neighbor would stop by and watch them play.  “Your daughter and her friends are Martin Luther King’s dream come to life,” she once told me.   And it was a beautiful sight to see, not just because of the children’s diversity, but because they had no idea that race mattered to anyone.  They didn’t know what racism was, and didn’t learn about it until they were much older and studied it in school.  Even then, it was a distant, historical subject, an oddity that happened only on the mainland.  In short, they just couldn’t believe that people acted that way toward each other.  Their worst fears were that something like that might happen to one of their friends, if they visited the mainland.

Unfortunately life in the islands has not always been a paradise of tolerance.  In 1893, after years of turmoil instigated by small groups of mostly American businessmen, missionaries and sugar plantation owners, Hawaii’s monarch, Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown.   This coup took place with the help of the U. S. military.  The reason they gave was that it was necessary to protect American interests and the American citizens who lived in Hawaii.  An act of aggression on this scale would cause an international outcry today, but in 1893 it went unchecked.   The problems for Hawaii didn’t end there.  There was racism on the part of the white overseers and bit by bit, the Hawaiians lost their ancestral lands.

A local man once told me that his family originally owned several miles of beach front property.  But their land was taken away until they only owned enough land for one house and they struggled to pay their property tax.  “This land was ours for hundreds of years before the US government took over.  Why do we have to pay property taxes now?  I’ll pay income tax, sales tax, any kind of tax they want, but I don’t think Hawaiians should pay property tax.”  In a culture where the aina, the land is everything, he spoke without any anger or racism but only from a place of deep sadness.

When Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1898, Princess Kaiulani, the heir to the Hawaiian throne, said that when she saw the Hawaiian flag being taken down, “it was bitterer than death.”  Hawaii finally became a state in 1959 but culturally, it is and will always be its own proud Hawaii.

In light of their history, why then is Hawaii this present-day oasis of racial equality?  I give credit to the Hawaiian people who believe in ‘doing what is Pono’, which translates to ‘doing what is right’.  In short, they chose the higher road and I have the greatest respect for the people of Hawaii.  If Maui is a paradise, it is first and foremost because of its people and I will always be eternally grateful for what Maui gave to my daughter, a much cherished childhood of racial acceptance, a childhood in paradise.

 

 

 

The Fifth Book

on April 16, 2014 in Creative Life, Writing the Wave with no comments by

fragonard_art_artistic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My friend Carlos grew up in Mexico City but now he lives on Maui.  He works as a window washer.  I see him at some of my jobs, brandishing his squeegee and an assortment of multicolored rags.  We’re always glad to see each other as it gives us a chance to speak in Spanish which really means that we get to tell funny stories and jokes that just don’t sound the same in English.

But this time Carlos was more serious.  “Why do you do this hard work all day long?  You could teach Spanish. You learned Spanish in Vera Cruz where people tell risqué jokes and colorful stories all day long.  You could teach Spanish a la Veracruzana.  And if you teach all the bad words, you must charge much more money.”

I had to agree.  “I used to teach school but I can make more money taking care of houses for people.  That way I can keep my daughter in school.”

“Then you are an angel.”

“Either an angel or an idiot, I’m not sure which one,” I said.

Carlos shook his head.  He was much too polite to use the word idiot, even in English.

“I’ve written four novels, too,” I said.  “But none of them are published yet.”

Carlos continued washing the windows.  “So how do you become successful?   How do you become as famous as the writers we see in the bookstores?

I shrugged.  “Some of those writers had to write five books before they got the first one published.”

“That’s it!”  Carlos was polishing the window with a linen rag and he pointed the rag towards me as if he was going to polish me too.  “You write the fifth book.  You must go home and do it today!”

“I’m working on the fifth book.”

Carlos shook his head.  “You must work harder.  Go home and finish the fifth book.  I feel certain that this is the answer.”

He stepped back to admire his windows which I had to admit shone like diamonds and then he turned to me, obviously pleased that he had managed to mend my shattered life as part of his days work.

“Go home and write,” he said.

“I guess it’s either that or teach dirty jokes in Spanish,” I said.

My gentle friend laughed as he packed up his rags to leave.  “Some angel!” he joked.

As I watched him leave, I smiled for the first time all day.  And just as he suggested, I went home to write the fifth book.

The Potential of Heroes

on April 16, 2014 in Latest News, Life in America with no comments by

 

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I can’t help noticing the incredible potential that children have.   When I talk with my daughter and her friends, I find no limits to what they can achieve.  Among them are talented actors, dancers and artists.  They are compassionate, intelligent girls and they amaze me.   Seeing potential in the young is not such an unusual experience but a strange thing happened the other day.  I began to see potential for greatness in everyone.  I’m not just talking about potential for financial success.  I’m talking about the potential to inspire others, the potential to rise above difficulties in a miraculous way and to be the hero of our own life story.

The first person I saw this in was a homeless man living on the beach. His intelligence was still intact despite years of drug use and he spoke to me about his experiences and how he wanted to write a book.   “Not many people can write about what I’ve seen,” he said soberly.  I agreed and offered him all the encouragement I could.

The next person I met was an elderly woman in the grocery store who leaned on her shopping cart for support and smiled up at me from her permanently stooped posture. She seemed surprised at my offer for help, and laughingly explained, “I’m nearly ninety but I can still do everything myself.”   Her enthusiasm for accomplishing small tasks had me smiling all day.

Last was the happy child from a neighborhood welfare family who wandered through my front door without knocking to ask for rice crackers. (She does this all the time and is always smiling despite her bad teeth.)  She stayed to eat her crackers and talk to me about school before skipping off to find a friend to play with.  As far as she is concerned, she has as much potential as anyone and I think she is right.

Seeing such potential in everyone I meet is like finding an unlimited treasure trove.   And not only this, the potential seems close to the surface, unstoppable.   We all have the potential to be great in our own way, to become the fully realized heroes of our own lives.  Find your greatness.   Embrace it.  Your greatness is closer to the surface than you think.

Irish Ghosts: Searching for Family in Ireland

on March 29, 2014 in The Traveling Story Teller with no comments by

ireland_door_ballyedmond

 

My ancestors hail from eight different countries and three separate continents, yet my Irish ties have always held a special fascination.  Maybe it’s because my Irish relatives are so colorful and they tell such good stories.  Whatever the reason, I’d always imagined that my Irish ancestors were somehow bigger than life.  On my first trip to Ireland, I’m hoping to find out if this is true.

Upon arriving in Dublin, the first thing I am aware of is that I am the foreigner here and I’m not comfortable with that.  I wanted to feel at home, to be welcomed by the somehow familiar faces of ghosts.  Instead, I see retired Americans fulfilling a life-long dream and young parents proudly herding their red-headed offspring through museums and castles.  I’m surprised to discover that they have come for much the same reason I have.  They are all a little sheepish and apologetic about it.  They have no explanation for the strong pull that Ireland has always had on them.  Seems my journey is not so unusual after all.

I drive across Ireland alone, something which is viewed as not only strange here, but downright shocking.  In the countryside, the dominant colors are the emerald green of the rolling hills and the comforting blue of the Irish sky.  My eyes ache from straining to catch sight of every thatch-covered cottage and meandering stone wall.  I pass ring forts and round towers, monasteries and castles.

Contrary to all predictions, it does not rain.  The whole country has a clean, smoky smell from the peat fires.  It reminds me of my Irish grandmother’s house.  Am I making this trip for her, I wonder.

I stop to visit the crumbling stone walls of a “famine village.”  A man in a tweed coat and cap explains to me that everyone in this village perished during the great famine.  Even though the potato famine occurred more than 150 years ago, he makes it sound like a current event.

“Many also died on the coffin ships trying to cross the seas,” he recalls.  He pauses, then adds, “We keep their blackened cooking pots, out of respect for those who died.”

I thank him for the information and travel on to the next hotel.  The woman behind the desk seems more curious than most.  She asks me the usual questions: “Why are you in Ireland…and why are you alone?”

She immediately begins talking about the living relatives I must have somewhere in Ireland.  I had not been thinking about the possibility of relatives in the present; all this time, I had only been searching for my past.  She asks question after question but I have few answers.

“Don’t you have any old letters?  Don’t you know what county your family came from?”

“No,” I admit, mumbling something about some letters that may exist with some distant relatives back east.  How can I explain to her that we were the transient ones who moved west and then west again and again, each time leaving behind little trace of ourselves?

“You must find out,” she says.  Finally, she pauses and then continues, “I didn’t want to say anything at first, but you are the spitting image of my great-great aunt.  You even have the same name.  It’s even spelled the same way.  And she had three brothers who emigrated to America.  We may be cousins!”

We exchange addresses and she promises to send me a photograph of my twin who she claims even had similar interests, mannerisms and gestures.  “Your voice sounds just like hers and you even walk the same way,”  she says.  I have to wonder, Is this the ghost I’ve been looking for: a mirror image of myself?

With my trip nearing its end, I reach the Cliffs of Moher.  I stand on the precipice and stare out across the Atlantic.  I think of my ancestors leaving the land they loved, saying goodbye to families they would never see again.  I think of their dreams and their promises to return one day.  In that instant, the reason for my trip becomes clear to me.  Along with my Irish hair and Irish eyes, I have also inherited my ancestors’ unfulfilled promises.  This is a journey I have made for them.

I return to Dublin and spend one final night.  Then on my final taxi ride to the airport, the driver asks me about my trip.  I tell him that I drove around Ireland by myself.

“You must be mad!  A woman shouldn’t drive around Ireland by herself”  He ignores the whizzing lanes of traffic in front of him to turn around and look at me.  “You must be mad,” he says again.

When he’s recovered from the shock, he tells me about all the places I missed, places that do not seem to be in any guidebook.

“You’ll just have to come back,” he says and he doesn’t let the matter rest until I have promised to return.

 

 

Pretty Girl

on March 27, 2014 in Creative Life with no comments by

 

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I am a pretty girl.

I carry many burdens.

They are my ballast,

lest one day, I float to the sky.

 

balloons_balloon_colorful

 

balloons_sky_colorful

An Unintentional Pilgrimage: The Anne Frank House

on March 27, 2014 in The Traveling Story Teller with no comments by

 

in_amsterdam

Traveling is often an unintentional pilgrimage.  This was especially true of my trip to Amsterdam several years ago.  On the first day, I went through my guidebook and checked off all the tourist sites I planned to visit: the museums, the flower markets and oh yes, the Anne Frank House.  I had almost forgotten about that.  I made a check by the entry.  Then I underlined it and decided to go there first.

As I set off in search of the house, I realized that Anne Frank’s diary was one of the most important books of my childhood.  I remembered the photograph of Anne on the front cover.  It was Anne’s favorite because she thought it made her look like a glamorous, Hollywood movie star.  And I remembered Anne’s bright, optimistic vision for the future.

The tall, narrow houses on Prinsengracht canal all looked the same, but the Anne Frank House was easy to spot.  A long line of people waited outside.  As I took my place at the end, I realized that most of the people in line were women.  None of us spoke the same language, but all of us had read Anne Frank’s diary and all of us were on this unintentional pilgrimage together.

Finally the line moved.  We entered the building which housed Otto Frank’s business.  He sold pectin for jams and jellies and spices for meats and sausages.  We climbed a steep Dutch staircase, stepped through the revolving staircase and we were in the “Secret Annex” where Anne, her family and four others hid for over two years.

Traces of the family remain but there is no longer any furniture in the rooms.  The Nazis took it all after the family was arrested and shipped it to Germany.  On the day the Dutch police discovered their hiding place, the arresting officer grabbed the bag in which Anne kept her diary and schoolbooks.  He dumped the contents on the floor and filled the bag with money and jewelry.  After the family was arrested and taken away, Miep Gies, the helper who brought them food from the black market, saved the diary, planning to return it to Anne after the war.

In the living room of the Secret Annex there are some faded marks on the doorframe where Anne’s father measured her height.  She grew several inches despite the moldy beans, preserved kale and potatoes, which was often all they had to eat.  A map on the wall marks the advancing Allies as reported over their secret radio.  The space above Anne’s desk is still decorated with her favorite postcards: Hollywood movie stars and a young Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain.  Through a crack in the window we could see the Westertoren clock and a chestnut tree, Anne’s only view of the outside world.

My fellow pilgrims and I huddle around a glass case which contains the original diary bound in red-and-white plaid cloth.  The fragile lock is broken open.  Many women are tearful.  Everyone is moved.  No one speaks.  We feel grief over the tragedy of Anne’s life.  But we are also in awe of the power of a single voice, Anne’s voice to reach countless millions across several generations, and in over one hundred languages with her vision of hope and compassion.

On the wall is a list of “Judentransport,” which names all the people on that last train out of Holland bound for Auschwitz.  Halfway down the list we find number 309: Frank, Anneliese.  Anne and her family were sent to Auschwitz where her mother and the other occupants of the “Secret Annex” were killed.  Anne and her sister were later moved to the concentration camp at Bergen Belsen where Anne died in March, 1945, just a few weeks before the Allies liberated that camp.

My fellow pilgrims and I leave the Anne Frank House trying to comprehend the contrast between the unimaginable horrors of Anne’s final months and her  powerful, unshaken faith in humanity when she wrote, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”  – Anne Frank died sixty-nine years ago this month.

 

 

How my Grandfather’s Stories from the Depression Helped Me Survive

on March 27, 2014 in Latest News with no comments by

pennsylvania_log_cabin_structure

My grandfather didn’t live to witness this Recession.  Perhaps it’s just as well.  It would have dredged up too many unhappy memories of the Great Depression.

When I was little, I used to twirl around on the red, swivel, architect’s stool in front of his drafting table, listening to him tell stories about his life during the Depression.   He sighed heavily and shook his head often.  After all those years, it was still hard for him to talk about.

He told us how the Depression moved across the United States slowly, like locusts or a disease.  His family listened to the news reports on the radio, hoping that the Depression wouldn’t make it to Colorado but when it did hit, it hit hard.

All construction ground to a halt and since my grandfather was an architect, he no longer had work.  His family lost their home and their possessions.  They fell out of the middle class and into a poorer class. They left the town they lived in and retreated to a family homestead in the mountains.  It was an old log cabin and no one lived there anymore, but there was space for a garden and they could hunt.  They cut back.  They made do.  They went without.  They went hungry.  It was not romantic.  Both my grandfather and grandmother were college educated, but financially, they had been thrown back in time more than seventy years.

When our Recession hit, I lost money and jobs just like everyone else.  I cut back.  I made do.  I went without.  I went hungry.  I lost my social class and found myself in a poorer one.  I was college educated, but financially, I had been thrown back in time more than seventy years. I remembered my grandfather’s stories and sometimes, I wished I had somewhere else to go. I thought about that homestead cabin once in awhile and wondered if anybody lived there.

My grandfather’s stories of the Depression took a hopeful turn when he talked about the WPA.  The WPA was a federally funded program which employed millions of men, and some women and youths to do public works projects.  For the first time in three years, my grandfather had work.  In fact, every male relative I had, who was alive at the time and old enough to work, was employed by the WPA.  That federally funded program saved my family.  It gave my grandfather hope and diffused his anger over a Depression that happened through no fault of his own.

When the WPA went into effect, my grandfather moved back to town. Architects were only allowed to bid on one job in one county but my grandfather bent the rules a bit and drove his old Chevy truck from county to county bidding on jobs.  He worked so many jobs at once that he sometimes got them mixed up. My grandfather said he never worked harder in his whole life than he did during the Depression.

When our Recession hit, I remembered everything my grandfather taught me and I worked several jobs at once.  I did anything and everything: cleaning, laundry, ironing, gardening, freelance writing, baking, garage sales, teaching, tutoring.  I often worked so hard that cleaning chemicals filled my lungs and gave me headaches and nausea.  I was often dizzy and at night I had trouble with my eyes.  I thought about my grandfather a lot, knowing that at night when his vision got blurry, he parked by the side of the road and slept on the old, cracked seats of his truck.

Even with all his hard work, my grandfather barely survived.  Even with all my hard work, I’ve barely survived.

Programs like the WPA, which saved my grandfather, and the GI bill, which later educated my father, allowed America to grow a flourishing, educated middle class.  My father didn’t have student loans to pay off.  He began saving money to buy a house right after college.  He felt securely and permanently part of the middle class.  He always knew he’d belong to the same class.

I always assumed I’d belong to the same class too, the one I had identified with since birth.    Now I’m not sure if I’ll ever be middle class again.  .

Today’s generation is just as frugal and hardworking as my grandfather’s generation. My grandfather’s generation and my father’s generation worked hard, but they also got a lot of help from federally funded programs.   How will our generation pull ourselves back into the Middle Class without help?

What would their lives have looked like without the GI bill and the WPA?  Would America even have an educated middle class?  And what about my generation’s future?  Will we ever have a flourishing middle class again?  Our Recession may not be exactly the same as my grandfather’s Depression, but in so many ways, the situation is just as debilitating.

 

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Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class?

on March 11, 2014 in Creative Life, Latest News with 3 comments by

Kford love70

 

This article was originally published on the first page of the Huffington Post in the blog section.  

I graduated from college during the recession of the ’80s. I had the same youthful high hopes that all college graduates have and I assumed I’d find a job. After all, I was a Phi Beta Kappa honors student with work experience. But the only jobs I could find were part-time, low-paying teaching positions. To make ends meet, I cleaned houses, the same job I’d had at 16. I owned almost no furniture. I ate very little. I was always sick but I couldn’t afford a doctor. I felt betrayed. I had studied so hard but there was no reward.

A few years later, I was lucky enough to get a job in Japan. I taught in a community college and wrote for a Japanese newspaper. My profession was well-respected and I was well-paid. My apartment, transportation and health care were all paid for. I saved money. I traveled. I had plenty of time to work on my novels. I never worried. Those years I spent in Japan were the only time in my adult life that I felt successful and securely part of the middle class.

I married and had a wonderful daughter. We lived in a nice apartment in Tokyo and we had a housekeeper who cleaned and cooked twice a week. My greatest joy was all the time I spent with my daughter and husband.

When my daughter was older, we moved to Maui so that she could attend a good private school and grow up happy and healthy. Not long after this, things began to go wrong. My husband discovered he had diabetes. He rapidly went blind and lost his business. He was hospitalized and that’s when we discovered he had cancer. He died a few months later. My daughter and I were on our own. Then the recession hit.

I had two priorities: survival and to give my daughter a good education. So I taught for a private school and worked in a hotel. But even though I worked hard enough to develop heart palpitations, I had trouble making the rent.

Meanwhile my daughter flourished. She was an honors student and I vowed to keep her in the school she loved. I knew that cleaning houses was a good way to survive on Maui, but at first I was too proud to work the same job I’d had in high school. Finally I swallowed my pride and started cleaning houses.

The work was hard. The heat and tropical climate on Maui are wonderful if you are sitting in a deck chair enjoying the view. But they are not so great if you are vacuuming and scrubbing, up to your elbows in hot water. After work, I made dinner for my daughter, often falling asleep at the kitchen table. At night, I lay down saying, “Oh God, please don’t let me die in my sleep.” When I woke up in the morning, I always breathed a sigh of relief. I know three women my age who have suffered fatal heart attacks.

When I first moved to Maui, I was shocked to meet people who couldn’t afford to leave the island. A few hundred dollars for a plane ticket was impossible for them. But now I was one of them.

Piece by piece, I sold off all of the jewelry my husband had given me, plus my family heirlooms, to pay for my daughter’s education. I sold a beautiful strand of pearls to a debutante from Chicago. On the day we agreed to exchange them, I put the pearls around my daughter’s neck and showed them to her in the mirror. I explained how valuable they were.

“As beautiful as these pearls are, you and your wonderful mind are much more beautiful and precious to me. I guess from now on, we’ll call these ‘our pearls of wisdom’ because they are going towards your education,” I told her.

She laughed and hugged me.

Despite everything we never had enough money. I begged and then pleaded for financial assistance to keep my daughter in school. I held garage sales. The families I cleaned for rummaged through their closets and generously donated items. I sold cookies and brownies. I cried on the day I learned how to apply for aid because work as slow. Somehow I managed to work on my novels a few minutes a day, my only solace.

I quickly learned that most of the things we consider middle class essentials are really luxuries. The list is endless, from television and a land line to hair products and household products to vitamins, most medicines, fast food, drinks other than water and all non-essential groceries.

We eat mostly fish and rice with vegetables and fruit from the farmer’s market. I splurge on tea and coffee. Sometimes I cut my food intake in half so there is more for my daughter. I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 10 years. When they get holes in them, I mend them. I gave all of my cute Tokyo clothes to my daughter. When I can afford to buy clothes, it’s usually at the thrift shop and almost always for my daughter.

I began to feel I had slipped so low that I was no longer respected. I lost self confidence. I stopped talking about my writing. Soon nobody knew that I was a writer or that I’d ever gone to college. Nobody knew me. I became invisible.

But hard work and sacrifice does have some rewards. My daughter graduated and she was awarded a full scholarship to a top private university on the West Coast. People still ask me, how did you manage to raise such a wonderful girl and get her through private school all by yourself? I never know what to say because it still seems like a miracle to me. So many times I thought I would fail, but somehow we made it through.

Before my daughter left for college, I told her that true success is not just about money. True success is measured by how happy you are. Always strive for happiness, I told her.

I’m still cleaning houses and eating very little to save money for when my daughter comes home on vacation. I worry that I won’t have enough money to feed her. I try not to think about my own future. Retirement is something other people do. I assume I’ll work until I die.

Each day as I go from one cleaning job to the next, I stop to talk to the working homeless who live on the beach and who own nothing more than some clothes and a cell phone. The next minute, I’m talking to someone who owns several, multimillion dollar beach-front homes and a private jet. I walk a treacherous tight rope between these two worlds, always afraid of falling. Sometimes I wonder, “Am I the face of the new American middle class?” I hope not. I really hope not.

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