Category Archives: On My Mind

Dreaming of Purple Mountains

I’m not sure when it started, this dreaming of purple mountains. But when I look for you behind closed eyes, I know that’s where I’ll find you.

The mountains have always been purple. Deep purple, dark purple, thick lines, visible brushstrokes. Hints of lavender and a touch of violet or indigo, depending on the light. A painting.

The mountains are gently rolling in some parts and in others, steep and jagged. Sometimes there are clouds, too, tinged with dusky blues and greys. Often a few lingering white puffs across the sky. But sometimes there’s just a vast bright blue. The sun is shining. The grass is soft, the bright green that begs you to take off your shoes and play. 

I’ll see you in the purple mountains, I think before I fall asleep.

Behind my eyelids, we’re skipping up the hill and we’re laughing.

Neither of us are strangers to this place, to this watercolor illustration out of a children’s story.

But where did it come from? The first time I said it out loud, I knew it was right.

Where did it come from and, more to the point, how did I know you’d see what I saw? Where do you come from? What lives have you lived? 

Who are you? And who am I?


I live in a world where we say goodbye on the last day of school in June. Not just, “Goodbye, have a good summer, see you in August.” There’s some of that, certainly, but there’s also, “Goodbye, friend, as you journey to another part of the world. Maybe we’ll meet again one day.”

Maybe we will. 

It’s hard to send off the colleagues who have become friends and friends who have become family. I hope they all find their own purple mountains, the realization of dreams both articulated and hidden, wishes both acknowledged and buried. 

Yesterday I told a friend, “I hope it’s everything you hope it will be.”

He replied, “I don’t. I hope it’s everything we need it to be right now, but I’m not done yet.”

I smiled. “Then let me say it again. I hope it’s everything you need it to be right now, and that you voyage on.”


This makes sense to me. It makes sense to keep looking for the purple mountains in whatever form they take. It makes sense to dream of them and find that I’m not the only one up there dreaming. I’m not the only one up there looking and imagining and creating.

I know too many people who stopped looking. Maybe that’s the right decision for them and I certainly respect it. But it’s not the right decision for me. I tried to put the dreams aside, to look for purple mountains somewhere else, but I couldn’t find them. In fact, I lost them. For a time, there were no mountains and where they had been was full of holes and erasure dust. I tried to wipe it off but it was hard to see through the smudges. 

The mountains were gone and I drifted in the space where they had been.

The most frightening feeling I’ve ever had was not being able to imagine tomorrow. I remember the first time the mountains were hidden in black.

It’s hard to explain this to people who stopped looking or who found their mountains without much getting in the way. Compared to many people I know, I think I’ve lived a lot. My purple mountains with springy green grass were trampled on once but I am filled with gold bubbles when I dream of them now.

Yes, this is hard to explain. I don’t mind when people don’t understand, and I take responsibility for not explaining very well, but I do mind when others do not respect that the right thing for me to do is keep looking.


Sometimes I think I’ve found you. And having worked so hard to get back there, how could I let you go?

When I close my eyes, maybe I’ll see you and learn of the lives you’ve lived. You’re right there beside me, dancing up the purple mountains into the white cloud blue sky, barefoot in the grass. You believe in a world that might exist in a children’s story.

How did I know you’d see what I saw?

Neither of us are strangers to the purple mountains. Maybe they won’t always be everything I hope they’ll be, but maybe they’re everything I need them to be right now.

And then we’ll voyage on.

Kandy, Sri Lanka – April 2016

On Human Dignity

When I stand in front of you, I am there because I have a right to be. I need no permission and no justification. I am there and so are you.

Which is all you need to see in order to treat me with the dignity I deserve. And I deserve it not because you think so, but because I am there. And so are you.

When you stand in front of me, my only response is to look you in the eye, acknowledge your presence, and treat you with the dignity you deserve. You deserve it because you are human.

Which is all I need to see in order to treat you the way that I, too, have a right to be treated. Because I am human.


I am really, really disturbed. I am scared. I am angry. And so in my own way, I am screaming. Once again, bodies are a topic of discussion in the United States. The women whose bodies these are have been deliberately left out of the conversation. Their agency has been stolen. Their life experiences devalued. And their dignity? Their humanity? Purposely not acknowledged because that would destroy the whole thing.

As a teacher and learner of psychology, I can explain the mechanisms of group cohesion, kinship selection, stereotyping, and self-concept that are at play here.

But as a human, I cannot understand it.


When I was a child, we learned the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. One year when I was teaching middle school, my students scoffed at my outdated notions of behavior. It was passé, they made quite clear, to only consider myself when deciding how to treat others. The Platinum Rule, I was told, was to treat others the way they want to be treated.

I smiled at the time, enjoying the moment where students are strong enough to stand up to a teacher when they deem it important. But I had a problem with this idea then and I have a problem with it now.

When you don’t think of others as having human dignity, you cannot treat them the way they’d want to be treated because you fail to see them at all.

Of course, the goal is to view every individual as having dignity merely on the basis of being human. But for those who choose not to do that, at least treating another the way you’d want to be treating forces you to recognize that they have dignity because you do. While this differs dramatically from someone’s having dignity because they do, it’s a start and it’s better than indifference.


In a better world, my students would be right. We should treat others the way they want to be treated because they have dignity. Because they are human. Because they are.

I am an educator because I believe in that world. But I am writing this blog post because I am human and I am screaming.

Learning to Cry

It’s usually when I’m listening to loud music that it finds me.

Usually when I’m sitting alone in the dark.

When I’m watching a candle burn.

It’s usually when I close my eyes and reach down into the place I pretend doesn’t exist.

Usually when I find dark reds, blues, blacks.

When I feel colors swirling.


And then I have two choices.

Choice 1: Fly. Fly out of there. Back up and into the light. Find a smile. There are flowers somewhere.

Choice 2: Fall. Fall and go wherever the fall brings. Tumble. Let the heart beat faster. Let the breathing end in a gasp.


I’m learning to cry again. It’s been a long time coming.

Growing up, I used to cry a lot. I cried when I was happy or sad or angry, always when I was angry. And because I was crying, and also because I used to laugh out of sheer emotion before I cried, I always ended up feeling embarrassed or silly. Another reason to cry.

I used to cry whenever I saw someone else crying. It didn’t matter if I knew them or not. It didn’t matter if I was watching a film or living a real life. If someone else cried, so would I.

I’m not sure when that changed. Maybe it changed when I cried every single day for a month after moving to Malaysia. Maybe I ran out of tears after that. Maybe it changed when I moved to Singapore and didn’t want to give anyone back home an excuse to say, “See? You’re unhappy. You made a terrible mistake.” I wasn’t unhappy and I hadn’t made a mistake.

Maybe I stopped crying after a lonely transition to New York City that wasn’t supposed to be that way. I started that era crying a lot and then somewhere in there, I stopped.


I remember when, as I cried yet again over the phone, the recipient of my call hung up and sent me a message saying, “I just can’t talk to you anymore.”

I never, not once, cried in front of the therapist who I paid to hear me talk and let me cry. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but that I’d run out of tears.

Or that the tears had been run out of me.

A friend told me later, “You were a lot to handle back then.”

I tried, I really tried, to be sensitive to others’ feelings and needs. I understood that I needed to be around people but that I couldn’t be around people. I couldn’t be what people needed me to be and I didn’t want to disappoint them again.

I sat in crowded cafés and bars instead. Books were quiet company. I watched. I eavesdropped. But mostly I drank my beverage and concentrated on the page in front of me.


Learning to laugh again took time but it wasn’t hard. Laughing feels good.

Learning to feel okay again meant treating myself with the compassion that I extend towards others. While harder, that felt good, too.

Learning to cry, well. Well.

I’ve been surprised, actually. It feels better than I thought. It’s a relief in many ways. And I don’t mean the tears on an airplane that I’m very familiar with. I mean the tears that come screaming from somewhere deep inside.

And the heart beats and the breath comes in a gasp. The body shakes. Hands reach out.

Please hold me.

Please hold me.


Perhaps I’ll go as far as saying that crying feels good. Or at the very least, it feels like something. It’s not the tears themselves but the release and relief that come with allowing them. I’ve put down something heavy that I didn’t realize I was holding.

There’s life to feel, life and connection and love. There’s care. I have bathed in it and come out clean and new.

There are oceans where this came from.