On the 17 to Cheryl and Elizabeth

Although I had driven up the 17 on my own several times, this time—perhaps because I had to do it for four days roundtrip—was so knuckle-baring. There was the one time that I drove down to see the Pixies, but my fellow concertgoer forgot the tickets on the kitchen table in San Francisco. He said that he would drive my car back up, but I insisted on going back (since it was my car and he didn’t really drive). That was at least four trips in my car. Then there were the times that I drove to see a friend at UC Santa Cruz when I was crazy enough to just drive everywhere in the Bay Area to see people and confirm to myself that the friendship was true and real.

This time though, it was a self-inflicted impulsive move when I discovered that a retreat was happening at 1440 Multivarsity. I had already booked a writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed and other established writers at Esalen. But in the middle of increasing stress at work and a feeling that I was losing touch with my writerly self, I called the phone number frantically in the morning and booked myself a spot.

I wanted to cancel after I met someone at Esalen who went in 2017, hating the impersonal aspects and the lack of intimacy. “Esalen is better,” she said.

But it was too late. Losing a deposit just for a free weekend wasn’t enough. So I went, placing my expectations low.

As I rounded around the corners in Scotts Valley, the campus revealed itself in new modern rustic glory. Women walking along the streets. Nearly all white women as expected (and in the usual disappointing fashion). The conversations began both among the women and in the room. Then the letters to ourselves, our fears, our future selves, redefining our internal DNA. Forgiving those who trespassed against us. Forgiving ourselves. Finding clarity. Establishing realness in all of this.

But despite all of that and my reluctance to fully be satisfied with the hippie culture of whiteness (yoga, tai chi, qigong without a single Asian instructor present), I still found my clan. This time, I found myself drawn to the fellow Asians. Unintentionally.

They were all beautiful. They also saw the lack of color among the attendees (but there were even fewer men in general). But maybe it was only me who too aware of my non-whiteness was acutely aware of the rules of things I couldn’t say. But in the midst of the letter writing and sharing of those letters with a “stranger”, I couldn’t stop my thoughts.

“And when I entered the campus, I felt a blinding whiteness,” I read from my hastily written letter, scrawled in pen in my moleskine journal, formerly given from a venture firm I worked for only 3 weeks and now covered with writerly material. “I thought that it could be different. But then although I chatted freely about the lack of PoC, a white woman asked me about my roots. When I tried to dodge the question, the white woman insisted and so I relented with ‘Hong Kong’. She immediately said that she loved Hong Kong. I said that I don’t know the city and had barely been there. That I was more Asian American. I thought that I could just be American.”

I could hear the audible draw of the breath from the fellow white woman who had enthusiastically clapped and shouted in glee when Elizabeth walked on stage.

And with the women who mattered.