Belief and Philosophy Break Divorce Reading & Writing Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Divorce and Voice

When writers, readers, and critics speak of a writer’s voice they are referencing the writer’s chosen words that reveal the writer’s self, how she perceives and moves in the world. Voice is the writer’s soul and spirit, and how the writer brings this to the page is the writer’s voice. Being honest to our voice, to who we are, is the key task in the writing of a story, and our life’s most significant mission. If we cannot be who we are, then who shall we be?

When we refer to a writer’s voice, most telling and daunting is that there exists a distinctly proscribed way of conveying written text codified by primarily male writers. It has been this way for centuries. It will continue to be this way. In the process of trying to convey our story, we quiet or even lose our voice because we are fearful. We strive to appease or appeal to people who judge us according to an unknown or mysterious standard that often, we can never achieve as it is rather subjective. And yet, it is imperative that we persevere and risk writing who we are as otherwise, our voice is silent, and if ours, then many other women who are out there too. When we are courageous about our voice, we pave the way for dozens of others to follow suit.

We must have faith in the story. Believe in our right to write. While writing is a learned skill, the ability to reveal who we are is directly correlated to our willingness to be vulnerable on the page. Our words are meaningful because our story matters. The voice that we summon is one that acknowledges our full self. This voice is the beautiful, courageous, resilient, complete self who has declared her right to live as a one who wants to set the terms of her own life.

Whoever controls the text controls the story. A delivery through the medium of writing often prompts a different reaction because texts impart a permanence. Words on a page compel an undeniable respect. Every major cultural, religious, legal, and creative institution’s laws and customs are upheld, reinforced, and codified by text. Someone writes the text; another person interprets this text; yet another person writes a story based on this interpretation. We are readers of a story several layers away from the primary text. Imagine what remains and what changes. Given this truth, it’s important to throw your own voice into this layered chorus and write with everything you are. You are your voice. Write your truth to power.

 We may feel inhibited about the physical act of putting words down on a page. An easy solution is to simply pretend that we are speaking to someone: talk to the page! For accuracy, we record our voice with a phone or device, and transcribe the spoken words. Edit for clarity. Speaking and writing use different parts of our brain, but know that communication is linked, writing inhibition is real, and however we get our words onto the page will be fine. The vast majority of the globe’s illiterate are women, but our wisdom transcends what is written; this is how we have survived through the millennia. Know that through the power of our oral storytelling we write a story on the page—for those of us who cannot write we put our words down on paper. We do this by recording our story.

A woman’s voice is often considered dangerous. How often are women accused of being shrill? The numerous complaints about a woman’s voice—her accent, her tone, her articulation are familiar to anyone follows the commentary about women in the public spotlight. There are no end of complaints about the actual pitch of a woman’s voice, but what most dig at is a particular woman’s willingness to use her voice in an arena that women rarely participate in.

Breaking silence is looked upon as disruptive and to break the silence about our marriage, enshrined across the globe as an institution to maintain stability within a system of patriarchy, is considered at best poor taste, and at worst, a display worthy of public condemnation. Marriage is considered private. Personal. And it is. But to dismantle a marriage through divorce requires outside documentation (just as marriage did), and to write the details of this break-up potentially place women in the position of being seen as dangerous. We may or may not be the very first woman in our family to divorce, but it is highly likely that we are the first woman who records the reasons for the divorce. It is inconvenient, if not unpleasant for most people to be presented with anything that disrupts the norm. The truth is the details that prompted your divorce are unimportant to most, but they are important to you, and therefore worth writing.

You may be quiet, someone who is reluctant to expose your private happenings to anyone, but you have a right to exercise the use of your voice. There is no reason for your silence.

Write your divorce story. Discuss the inclusion of your divorce story in your legal file.

Write your story. Change your mind. Author your life.



Belief and Philosophy Blog Break Divorce Reading & Writing Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Don’t Hold Your Breath

When you are divorcing you are scrambling to check off everything you need to do to get to the next step. You understand there’s a safe harbor out there beyond the horizon, but it’s as if you are setting off to sea with no clear map, only an idea of the destination. There are also rumors milling about that the globe is flat and you have been warned you could fall off at any time.

You don’t know how you do it, but you manage to move forward. You ask people for help. You figure out the steps. You are moving to a resolution and you are aware that you have to get to the end. You would like to sprint, but are starting to feel it’s a marathon ahead.

Remember that as this process is unfolding you have to take time out to simply breathe.

I’ve taken different kinds of physical exercise classes in my lifetime, from dance to martial arts to yoga to weightlifting. At one point or another, they all address the idea of breathing properly.

I’ve been told to breath in with my nose, out through my mouth

Count my breaths.

Touch my tongue to the roof of my mouth on the exhale.

Quickly exhale from my lower belly.

Slowly exhale from my lower belly.

Breathe in and out through my nose.

Breathe in my breath and focus on sending to other parts of my body.

Close my eyes and breathe in.

Open my eyes after I breathe out.

Breathe fast.

Breathe slow.

Breathe in the dark.

Breathe and imagine my third eye.

Relax my shoulders and breathe.

Take big breaths.

Avoid breathing in and out through my mouth.

Make a sound while breathing out.

They are all correct. About a month ago I realized that after I popped up on the surfboard I was holding my breath.

I have since corrected that, but I sometimes remind myself to breathe by using an exhale sound a Tang Soo Do instructor Master Jang once taught me, it’s a bit like this on the exhale: SHHOOOOOPPP.

I was fascinated to discover that for months I had been popping up on my surfboard and frequently not breathing. It explained a lot. It also made me think about why I would do this.

The truth is we hold our breath when it feels unsafe to breathe and we know we will be able to hit the surface and find space to relax. Holding our breath is never meant to be permanent. It’s a momentary action, an anticipation of eventual release.

Existing in terrible marriage before divorce was like holding my breath. I was drowning, but refused to surface. If you have been used to holding your breath you often don’t believe that the air is available.

For me, to divorce was to breathe.

When we begin our divorce we can finally exhale—we are free of the indecision surrounding whether or not to divorce! Then comes the second breath. We may have to think about our second breath. And third.

Eventually, normal breathing returns. But there are places and moments where we still hold our breath.  Because this is body memory at work. For me, there was no history of surfing while married. But I realized that I was holding my breath surfing because once more, I was in a situation that I felt I could not control. Holding my breath stiffened my body. It limits fluidity and agility. Indeed when the air and water that exists within you becomes porous with the exterior world and achieves an equilibrium wherein you become inseparable from the very moment and state you are in, this is the ideal state. Holding my breath created a protective wall between my interior and exterior world, but it did not allow me to relax.

Take some time during the divorce process to think about your breathing. See how a minute of being conscious of your breathing feels. You will do all that you need to do and holding your breath will not keep you safer. It will not make the divorce go more smoothly. Holding your breath will only make it more difficult for you to feel in control—your body stiffens.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Everything Will Be Fine.










Belief and Philosophy Blog Break Divorce Health Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Choosing Your Divorce Lawyer

A word to those embarking on their divorce journey: a key player on your divorce team is your lawyer. Divorce is the disruption of a business agreement. A break. It is not a time to say “Oh, I don’t really care. I feel too tired to make any decisions.” Think about it: No matter how tired you got of organizing your wedding, you were able to find the energy to figure out the logistics or style of your cake or dress. Muster the energy to get legal support. The only divorce that goes away is the completed one.

Get referrals to lawyers from friends. I interviewed a dozen lawyers both overseas and in the US. You need to be willing to give the facts. Be prepared to discuss the details and personal information. Divorce varies from state to state, nation to nation. Know some basics—google.

Your lawyer must be on your team. This is more important than any other quality or characteristic. Will the lawyer understand you more due to your gender? Ethnicity? Background? Frankly, that’s hard to say. The lawyer must understand your perspective. I had one lawyer (woman) tell me she didn’t like representing women as they were “too emotional”.

I didn’t hire her—and I would go so far as any woman would be absolutely bonkers to hire someone who is uttering such sexist statements. This woman is rooting for the patriarchy. I will bluntly state something here. You may be too (with or without knowing it), but get this women, if someone is rooting for the patriarchy, where does that leave you? In. The. Dust. Or if you prefer a metaphor from this image: smashing your head on a coral reef.

If you are in a precarious psychological state or are not versed in the financial or business implications of your split, you need to know your lawyer will look out for you. You must be able to speak truthfully to this person. If you get a bad vibe, if you can’t trust this person, do not ignore your instincts—find someone else.

One of the best pieces of advice I got from a friend was this: “Do not use your lawyer as a therapist.” Lawyers figure out your legal and financial interests. Therapists fix your emotional issues. Using your lawyer as a therapist is very costly.

Ask the following:

  • Experience with your type of case (be prepared to state in a few sentences what you have going on—kids, money, property etc…).
  • Retainer and hourly rates/estimate
  • Advice about mediation, collaborative, or standard divorce
  • Time framework and availability

Start writing your divorce story. How do you do this? You have to start changing your mind about who you are and who you were. Examine the Master Narratives that governed your life. Look at yourself with new eyes. Writing your story and sharing it with your lawyer will help move you forward, as well as center your thoughts and ideas as you head into the next chapter of your brave and beautiful life.



Belief and Philosophy Blog Hawai'i Health Self-help

Hawai’i: Friendship

I spent the ages of 13-17 in boarding school at Phillips Academy Andover. I say now that the only time I wasn’t competing was when I was sleeping. Andover was about performance, excellence, and achievement within the very specific parameters of the East Coast establishment.

In retrospect my journey in life has been highly influenced by the relatively short amount of time I attended that school. I lost touch with almost everyone I knew from that time, and as the years passed came to wonder if I had imagined the friendships I had cultivated there.

In the end, I concluded that the majority of the ways that we were taught to behave were in fact oppositional to how one cultivates friendship and compassion, and the relationships were primarily utilitarian. Adolescence is a difficult time, never mind if you are thrown into an environment that focuses on your believed potential. I deeply appreciated learning the profound lessons of literary analysis, and yes, the testing of one’s abilities is part of growing up.

But true friendship is rarely made of this stuff. It’s about kindness, support, and tolerance. It’s about the joys and foibles of a human relationship. Compassion. Foibles. Joys. Forgiveness. Connection of the spirit and heart. I would like to say that I developed a host of friendships from Andover, but truly, I did not. I’d say I had hundreds of acquaintances, some very close, but could rarely be myself, although what teen is herself? That’s the nature of being a teen! Figuring it out! I will say that if a true friendship was developed and survived from that time, it is likely to be real. Like many private institutions for the elite, it functioned as a place of networking.

For years in my adult life I avoided anyone having to do with the school. I questioned if I had anything in common with them, politically, emotionally, or socially. It was designed to be an environment of handpicked children who were anointed by the Admissions Office Gods as young leaders in the making. After I left, I didn’t feel I was leading in anything. Where was I supposed to lead someone? Why me? Who is leading? Can’t I follow? I’m tired! Where are we heading? This leading stuff is very not mellow! she said…in cowardice? With anxiety? When I did bother to check in on what was going on with most of the people, I noted how many of them continued to compete, and behave in a manner I deeply questioned for reasons of ethics and kindness.


During COVID I reconnected with my old dormmate and friend Catherine Cotins. We had seen each other once over a decade ago when I was in Boston for a conference, having found each other again on social media. We had lost touch since high school graduation and had gone on our separate paths, navigating our way through school, children, illness, deaths, work, marriage, divorce, and the long river of life with everything that it throws your way.

A few months ago Cathy Cotins came to Hawai’i. We talked, hiked, laughed, and went out stand-up paddleboarding and got tired shoulders. I met her son and she met mine. She went to dinner with mom and dad after all that time. Her son was older than she was when she had last seen my parents. She had spent the summer after senior year with my family while we toiled in my dad’s lab injecting rats with diseases (more on that later…I know how to swiftly break a rat’s neck, but uh, haven’t used that dubious skill ever since. Any science interest either one of us remotely had was dead by the end of that summer!). We couldn’t stop talking and sharing. What was both meaningful, reassuring, and exciting about meeting up with each other was knowing that I did have a true friend who knew who I was so long ago, and here we are, decades later, and we still have this connection.


She gave me this little book I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast about friendship and inscribed these words: “…I hope we can always stay friends. We’re so different so much the same, and good compliments to each other all at the same time. We may not do that much together, but when we do something, it’s always so much fun no matter how small…The world isn’t such a bad place with friends like you in it.”

Andover was hard on both of us, an experience we wanted to forget for our own individual reasons. I’m so glad we are friends again and know I will know her the rest of my life. This is a fantastic feeling.

Cathy texted me after she returned, both of us so happy to have reconnected and said this about seeing each other, especially in the context of that hard time during school and what it did: I feel less broken.

That’s what a good friendship does—it heals and opens you through connection. It changes the future and present as it changes the memories of a place and time. By reconnecting again, the ending changed, and in this way, everything else ripples back and forth and flows with a different sense of meaning. We get better through knowing and sharing with other people. We need people to cheer us on in life, to empathize and to be compassionate with us. This friendship makes me so very happy. She’s thousands of miles away, but there are few people in life who get who you are and to know someone does! What a great feeling! I feel honored to call Cathy my friend!

This is all to say that yes, get in touch with that person you once knew, because there is a good chance that what you will find out is that you did know each other, you were friends, and that can make all the difference as you journey on discovering who you are. Because the way that someone knows you, if the person really knows you, is probably important and a reminder of possibility and dreams. You are there for each other. Connect. Reconnect. Friendship.

Belief and Philosophy Blog Educators Hawai'i Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

Hawai’i: Family

I’m starting to learn how to play Chang-gi/Jang-gi or Korean chess, or what some may call Chinese chess. I’m doing this, so that Dad and I can have some activity together. The Kid and Dad played 5-in-a-row. Dad can beat The Kid at this game. He’s also good at chess. He told me this is how he spent part of the Korean War with his brother and cousin, hiding in the attic to avoid being drafted as a young teenager, the three of them playing chess.

I first learned to play chess in the third, maybe fourth grade. A friend taught me and failed to tell me that losing the pawn was not as bad as losing a rook and she easily won for several rounds. I developed an interest in playing chess, enough to have Dad come home from a business trip with a small magnetic chess set. I still have it. He learned Western chess; we played together. My ambition became to beat him.

I played other Korean boys in Iowa, most distinctly one who won against me with a series of memorized moves. I was in awe. I asked him how he learned chess, and he showed me a chess book. I went to the mall, ordered the same book, Dear Reader, I still have it, LOL. I studied it, and then memorized the moves. I got better. I kept playing. I didn’t ever play the boy again, but I ended up challenging Dad to chess and beating him.

I beat him once, but obviously, he was the person I wanted to win, as I didn’t play much after that match. Dad laughed. I had taught him now to play Western chess, and he had always beaten me up to that point. Looking back, I know he had let me win, played a bit casually, but no matter. I felt like it, and he admitted it: I had won.

So much of my identity throughout my life was tied to being my father’s daughter. The daughter of a scholar and research scientist and doctor. The daughter of someone who had survived the Korean War, who had won the nation’s top scholarship to come to the West, who had a PhD and MD by the time he was 27. He headed a research lab. He was the only person of color with his field’s medical association. He was a colonel in the Army. He published over 200 papers. He spoke multiple languages. He lived a big life. Mostly, he was unique, unabashedly exhausting, often temperamental, humorous, brilliant, and fiercely loyal. It was under this shadow that I lived and tried to measure myself and my accomplishments, and of course, I always came up short. I still do. The complications of his existence were exacerbated by language challenges and his struggles with the truth of race in the US. Dad’s journey was long. Difficult. In almost every sense, it was my mother who made his navigation in the US possible (more on Mom in my next post!).

Dad was the one who had always drilled into my brain that I had to have more, be more, accomplish more, to be treated with half the respect, as he said, because I was Korean, because I was Asian, because I was female. This was the lesson that my father kept repeating, and this was the lesson that nearly broke me, or perhaps did. (I’m since rather patched together on my merry way…)

I particularly remember these ideas when at boarding school. I would not buckle. No. I would not. Because I was not a quitter. I was the daughter of Dr. Tai-June Yoo and the white students who bullied, belittled, had no idea what I did to reinvent. It wasn’t me who was on the line. It was my race. It was my ethnicity. It was my gender. I would not let anyone down. Ever! Tough times. I got sick of living up to everything–and as one does, it led to completely giving up that type of structural existence. Too exhausting. Too narrow. It did not fit. Even if that meant disappointing Dad.

It took me decades for me to see that there are truths to how we learn and function in a nation and that our families messages are to be interpreted according to who we are individually. We can’t be everything to everyone all the time. What we can be however is this–people who slow down and play a game chess now and then, people who try to learn something new, people who try to understand that our own paths are informed by others, but are our own paths full of foibles, mistakes, joys, and unexpected happenings.

Stay tuned.

Maybe one day I’ll beat dad at Korean chess.

Miracles do happen.


Belief and Philosophy Divorce Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Reading & Writing Self-help

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: When I Sleep

This poem When I Sleep was first published in an anthology released by the Asian American Women’s Artists Association Cheers to Muses. I believe there are still hard copies of this book available through the organization. Work exhibited or featured ranged from sculpture to prints to writing. We do not create in a vacuum; at any time there are others who are creating, making, and expressing, and it’s important to note that we are not alone in this way. Women who have chosen a path predicated on expression and creativity often find themselves on the fringes of a society, and so it is important to know that you are not alone in this endeavor, that is often looked upon by outsiders as rather peculiar. It’s important to note that there are avenues of art that are always accepted by society should they fall into the matrix of womanly arts–these are not to be dismissed. But when you begin to question existing narrative frameworks art becomes dangerous.

Always remember that writing is a radical act. And as anyone who writes will tell you: writing is not a choice; it’s a compulsion.

I was remembering what a Korean American friend of my sister’s once told her: “Why can’t you just conform?” LOL. This is such a terrifying statement on so many levels. What was it about how this young woman was raised that she would level this type of criticism? Rather terrifying. The world finds so many ways to keep women compliant.

The poem below was a real dream I had many years before I divorced. I was extremely unsettled, filled with anxiety, but it was difficult for me to discern why or how as seemingly, everything on on the surface seemed to be as it should. Child. Spouse. House. Work. Check. Check. Check. It’s the potential hell of surface oriented idea of a heteronormative nuclear family that is a disguise for unrest and discontent. I found out years later, unsurprisingly that many people I knew were more or less drug-filled, bodies numbed from what modern capital declares is contentment. Purpose and happiness are complicated when it comes to obligations and definitions of women and place. Our bodies know what our minds fail to grasp. There is no peace without sleep, lack of sleep is a form of madness, and this absurd modern condition is the killing of what it means to be who are meant to be. What does one do if the dreams offer no release from the day? If the day is a continuation of what is reflected in a dream?

This poem underwent quite a few drafts. It is much shorter than the original, but I tried to keep the idea of the upset of the ordinary: How we squelch the true ideas we must confront in the daily habits of washing our face, walking across the floor, going to sleep. At this point too, I began to see how the power of beauty, youth stands with age.

There is too a refusal to awaken, because to truly rise means to live seamlessly between what is honest and to acknowledge what most deny. We live this way to shore up some idea of what should be– that is rooted in concepts of scarcity and fear.

The ideal state is to live without denial of who and what you are, to peel off the layers of sleep that seep into our waking hours, to boldly move your body, all of who you are, into a state of consciousness rooted in an awareness of mortality. Calm. Acceptance. Peace. Joy.

And now I head to the water. Have a great day. Aloha.



When I Sleep


Memory drowns in dreams—

monsters of the deep bare incisors,

scrape with scales.

Incandescent. Ravenous.

Earth’s belly spits a picture:

you run on a meadow to muses,

blossoms of poetry.

I lift my hands in a corner of disbelief.


Trapped by morning.

Eyes raise to the sun.

Escape vanquished by daylight’s rip.

Night’s pictures, a pornographic loop.


I am sorry, but I too

have impossible songs that swell.

We bend, but the nightly reprieve will not halt.


I splash water onto my face,

note lines on my neck,

imagine words murmured in your sleep

did not leak into my own.