Author Archives: Writing Wahine

About Writing Wahine

Wahine (wah-hee-neh) is the Hawaiian word for woman. I feel like a writer living in a lawyer's body. Hawai'i is where I lived as a child, but I have also lived on the east coast, and I now live in California. I love all things Hawaiian and most things French.

The Chaos of Love


Copyright Boscia Photography 2018.

It’s typical for hula hālau (hula schools) to have an annual hō’ike (show) that allows the haumāna (students) to share what they have learned. Contrary to popular thought, the primary purpose of a hō’ike is not to entertain. Hula has spiritual roots as religious ceremonial rituals. At the hālau I belong to, we are taught that the true purpose of hō’ike is to honor and to give thanks for what we have learned about dance, history, culture, ourselves, and each other.

That being said, our hula hālau puts on a great show, thanks to our kumu hula (hula teacher). Oli (chants) for hula kahiko (ancient hula) connect us to the past and carry tradition forward. Musicians and vocalists provide a wonderful concert for the hula ‘auana (modern hula). The costumes and adornments made from fresh greenery such as ti leaves (la’i) and ferns provide a colorful feast for the eyes. All this combined with beautiful choreography performed by dancers makes for an enjoyable show.

We have to laugh after each hō’ike, though, when we gather for kūkākūkā (discussion) to share our thoughts and memories about the experience – backstage and onstage. For those of you who are stage performers or who volunteer to help backstage, you know what I’m talking about. Human beings aren’t perfect, so their endeavors won’t be. Things don’t always go as planned or as rehearsed. We roll with it and do our best.

Somehow each year, hō’ike is perfect when viewed through the eyes and in the memories of love. Members of a hula hālau share the common goal to learn and preserve the Hawaiian culture. We are taught to live by the core values of aloha (love) and ha’aha’a (humility). When people come together with this common goal and these shared values, love prevails, allowing us to accept ourselves and each other with all our strengths and all our weaknesses. This is what our kumu calls “the chaos of love.”

The best thing about the chaos of love is that it can work in every area of our lives – with our families, with our co-workers, and in our communities. With love, chaos can be embraced as a display of human emotions, honest and free of ill will. With love, mistakes are lessons learned for the future instead of embarrassments. And the icing on the cake is that when you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll find it easy to laugh at yourself and at life. So when you’ve done all you can, surrender to the chaos of love. You’ll be fine.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.


When Love Means Everything



Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018. 

I’ve been a tennis fan since I was 13 years old. My skills are nothing to brag about, but I love playing. My husband once videotaped me serving while we were playing at the Kapalua Tennis Resort on Mau’i. The video made me laugh so hard that I cried. I looked so awkward and uncoordinated that it looked like I was purposely trying to be funny. Brad Gilbert, a retired tennis pro player, wrote a book called “Winning Ugly.” I don’t win, I just play ugly.

When our kids were growing up, my husband and I tried to get them into tennis. We bribed our daughter with pretty tennis outfits. Our son was a trooper. He dutifully took lessons and even entered a juniors’ tournament. But then high school came along. Our daughter, who was already a ballet dancer, decided to try cheerleading. Our son declared his preference for the team sports of baseball and football.

For a while, my husband and I soldiered on and played tennis without the kids. But it got harder to find time for tennis as we spent more time driving the kids to their classes and practices and attending their shows and games. Then I injured my foot badly during a tennis clinic, and by the time I was healed enough to get back to tennis, my life seemed to have taken off in another direction. That was seven or eight years ago.

The 2018 French Open Tennis Tournament took place from late May through early June. I happened to see a commercial for the event and I immediately decided I’d try to watch a few matches. I ended up watching most of the tournament – thank you, Tennis Channel. My husband said he knew from the way I was hooked that I’d be back on the courts. I got my old racquets restrung, bought a new pair of tennis shoes, and proved my husband correct.

My first day back at tennis was a delicate balance of excitement and caution. I had lingering worry about reinjuring my foot, but I couldn’t wait to feel that old sensation of making contact with that yellow ball and following through. To my relief, muscle memory didn’t fail me. I was rusty, older, and out of shape, but I still loved playing.

A few days later, I started thinking about getting back into tennis lessons and clinics. I started remembering my old tennis coaches and the people I saw regularly at clinics and group lessons. One man stood out in my mind – a gentleman whose nickname was Dick. Like his nickname (for Richard), Dick had old world manners. He was a retiree, and it was easy to see how his social skills in business served him well in his personal life. There was always an air of formality about him, but he’d talk about going on vacation or about his grandkids, so he never seemed aloof. He was likeable. After I stopped playing tennis, I saw Dick in the cardio room at our tennis club a few times, but eventually I stopped seeing Dick at the club. I wondered if Dick was still playing tennis and if I’d see him out on the courts again.

Nearly two weeks after my first day back at tennis, I was checking in at the front desk of our tennis club. I noticed a copy of an obituary placed in a frame sitting on the counter. I pulled the frame toward me and read it. The obituary was for Dick. He died two days after my first day back on the tennis courts. Stunned and saddened, I walked to the cardio room and went through my usual routine, my mind preoccupied by what I had just read.

Dick lived to a good old age. He left behind a loving family and friends. I don’t know if he played tennis to the end. But I can picture him seeing me back on the courts. I can see him smiling as he says to me, “Welcome back. Good for you. Do the things you love, and enjoy playing while you can.” This seems like the kind of polite and friendly thing he’d do.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.


Mother’s Day Cards

Mother's Day Cards

One of the hardest lessons about grieving that I learned when my brother died was that a memory could come out of nowhere and suddenly bring me to tears. In the first few months after my brother’s cancer diagnosis, I would see something or hear a song that reminded me of him and instantly I’d lose my breath, my throat would close, and tears would fill my eyes. Sometimes I ran to a ladies room to cry.

I would later learn that these episodes were anticipatory grieving. My brother’s bleak prognosis made me face the prospect of losing him. Although I’ll never know for sure, I sometimes think that bracing myself for my brother’s death lessened the blow for me when he passed away 14 months after his diagnosis.

The passing of my grandmother at the age of 94, three months shy of her 95th birthday, came with no warning. She was in the hospital after making it through surgery for a broken hip that resulted from a fall. She was in Honolulu, five hours away from me by plane, with loving family members, and I was sure I would see her soon to wish her a happy 95th birthday. But Grandma passed away after hospital staff tried to get her up and walking. She was too weak and in too much pain to start her physical therapy. Grandma worked hard her entire life and never sat still, and I think God told her it was finally time to rest.

This weekend I went to Target to find a Mother’s Day card for my mom, and the sight of Mother’s Day cards for grandmas triggered another out-of-nowhere moment. I stared at the word “grandma” on a card for what felt like a long time. A twinge of pain shot through me as I realized I didn’t need a grandma card anymore. Thoughts of Grandma ran through my head and my vision blurred with tears, but I was stronger this time, and I didn’t run to the ladies room to cry.

It’s ironic. I always thought of going to the store to buy cards for Mother’s Day as an errand, a to-do on my list, a chore. That’s not to say that I didn’t choose and send these cards with love. But now that I don’t have to buy cards for my grandma and my mother-in-law who passed away several years ago, I feel deprived.

Today I included two Mother’s Day cards in the box I sent my mom. Just because I can.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Dear Manhattan


View of Manhattan from Liberty Island. Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2018.

Dear Manhattan,

You and I hung out during my high school years. We lived together during my college years. Then I moved away. Since then, you and I have seen each other off and on. We always have a good time when I come back to see you. You bring excitement, glamour, nostalgia, and novelty to my life.

But, dear Manhattan, you’re also high maintenance. Walking on your sidewalks is like running with the bulls. Dawdle and you’ll get trampled. Pause to appreciate architecture or to read a street sign, and you’ll piss off the teeming masses behind you. Then they will sigh or huff loudly to voice their displeasure as they walk around you. Such an overabundance of important people with important places to be. Avoid tourist traps or commuting hours? Then walking is downgraded to an action-packed game of people dodging. You lose points if you brush against or bump into other players.

You’re loud. Construction and street repairs barely drown out the sound of intermittent sirens and the constant angry honking of cars.

There is a great price to pay to do anything with you. Lines. Long lines. For everything. And traffic. So. Much. Traffic. Heart-stopping rides in cabs, Ubers, and Lyfts driven by aggressive drivers who hate their jobs. Life is short, and high blood pressure is no joke. Jus sayin’.

And, dear Manhattan, you don’t keep the cleanest house. The smell of urine at random corners or subway entrances, the registry of hotels with reported bed bug infestations, subway car surfaces that have never met bleach. I could go on, but you and I go way back, and these things never used to bother me when I was younger.

I know, I know, you have no shortage of admirers and fans eager to spend time with you. You’re gorgeous and seductive. You don’t need online dating services. It’s not you. It’s me.

I’ve changed. I’ve been to the promised land where people walk to enjoy things… like the weather… and flowers… and being alive. Where people aren’t breathing down each other’s necks as they avert their gaze on packed subway cars. Where people have elbowroom and breathing room. Where people don’t pay good money for standing-only room.

So, dear Manhattan, the once love of my life, I think I have finally fallen out of love with you. Since you have permanent legal and physical custody of Columbia University, the Yankees, and many other things I love, we will always have a bond and we will always be part of each other’s lives. But I will definitely be seeing more of other cities. So please don’t troll me if you see photos of them on my social media accounts.

I’ll always love you.


 ©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Stop Calling School Shootings Surreal


Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

Surreal: bizarre, unusual, freakish, unearthly, dreamlike.

When a school shooting happened at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, 15 people died, including both shooters, and 24 others were wounded. This happened before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Columbine was the 9/11 of school safety.

When Sandy Hook happened on December 14, 2012, 20 six- and seven-year-olds died along with six adults. The event brought back our collective memory of Columbine and every other school shooting since then. Surely, many of us thought, the slaughter of young schoolchildren would inspire members of Congress to pass sensible gun control. We were wrong.

In the five years and one and a half months since Sandy Hook, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide. This includes the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. Of the 438 people shot in these events, 138 died. (New York Times, Jugal K. Patel, Feb. 15, 2018, based on statistics from the Gun Violence Archive.)

School shootings happen so regularly now that they’re not surreal anymore. What is surreal is that they continue to happen because Congress will not enact sensible gun control. It’s surreal that lobbyists for gun manufacturers control the national debate about assault weapons and measures to keep mentally ill people from purchasing weapons. It’s surreal that we let them paralyze us with their mantra – “That wouldn’t have prevented this tragedy and that won’t solve the problem.”

Frequent school shootings have become a reality for our country, a horror to which we are in danger of growing numb. Go to and scroll through the pages of school shootings nationwide in the first month and a half of 2018. Parents send their kids to school and keep their fingers crossed that they’ll come home alive at the end of the day. We cry, send thoughts, offer prayers, and then wait for the next school shooting. This is beyond surreal. It’s a nightmare.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Love and Waimea Canyon


Love at Waimea Canyon

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

When I last visited Waimea Canyon on the island of Kaua’i, I saw a red padlock left on the guardrail at the viewing deck. Thinking back to the love locks left on the bridges of Paris, I immediately thought, “How romantic.” The lock’s infinity symbol and two hearts told me all I needed to know. Lovers placed the lock there to declare a love they hope will last forever.

This lone lock, with its shiny red color set against the dramatic backdrop of Waimea Canyon, left me wondering about the couple whose love it symbolized. Who are they? Where are they from? Is their relationship still strong? Are they still in love?

Meeting. Dating. Falling in love. Wedding planning. Honeymooning. The honeymoon phase. No matter the ups and downs, these are the easy stages of a relationship. The curve balls come later. Colicky babies. Ornery teens. Health issues. Emotional baggage. Financial surprises. Tragedies. Losses.

Waimea Canyon was created over millions of years. Millions. Our lives on this planet last a mere blip of time. While we’re going through rough patches in our relationships, we forget that pain and struggle won’t last forever. Love does, though. So be like this bright red lock and hang on. Create a love that lasts forever.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.

Lila’s Hō’ailona (Sign, Symbol, Omen)


Lila’s Hō’ailona. Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.


Lila’s Hō’ailona. Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine 2018.

Last week I went home to Honolulu for my maternal grandmother’s funeral. Grandma, who I called Lila, lived to the age of 94, three months short of her 95th birthday. Lila’s funeral and burial took place in Kaneohe at the foot of the misty Ko’olau Mountains that have been magical for me since I was a child. It was a typical Hawaiian winter day with cloudy skies, intermittent rain, and temperatures in the low 70’s.

Just the day before, I learned that I was to deliver the eulogy. I didn’t have the time nor the concentration to prepare a speech. Knowing I would wing it, I prayed for the grace to be coherent.

My mom and her two brothers sat to the left of Lila’s casket. I sat in the first pew to the right of the casket with Mom’s two closest cousins. Mom’s cousins are like sisters to her, and I grew up calling them aunties. We periodically stood to greet friends and family, but our gaze always returned to Lila’s casket.

Suddenly one my aunts pointed to the flowers beside the podium and said, “She’s here!” I was startled, and I wasn’t prepared to see Lila’s ghost, but I looked. I saw only flowers. “See the butterfly on the flower?” my aunt asked.

There it was, a monarch butterfly sitting on an orchid. Unlike the usual orange and black monarch, this butterfly was white. When people brought the milkweed plant to Hawai’i in the 1850’s, the plants carried eggs of the monarch butterfly. The white genetic mutation of the monarch was discovered on the island of O’ahu in the 1960’s. Less than ten percent of monarch butterflies in Hawai’i are white.

My aunty walked toward the podium and took a picture of the butterfly. I did the same. A few people asked what we were doing and then followed suit. The butterfly never moved.

The butterfly stayed on the orchid as the priest began the funeral service, and it sat there for so long that I leaned over to my aunty and asked, “Are you sure that’s not a fake butterfly?” “No,” my aunty said, “It’s moving.” I didn’t see any movement, which only confirmed for me that it was a fake butterfly.

When the priest finished the religious part of the funeral, a singer performed a few songs. The butterfly seemed content to sit through the music, so I turned my attention to the singer and got distracted. A short while later, I looked back at the orchid. The butterfly was gone. “I guess it wasn’t fake after all,” I thought to myself.

Then something told me to look up. The butterfly was flitting near the ceiling. I smiled and watched it as the singer finished her last song. When the butterfly disappeared through a high window, I thought Lila was saying goodbye. My heart called out, “No, don’t go.”

The music stopped, and I stood up hesitantly to deliver the eulogy I had not prepared. I spoke from my heart and told everyone about the grandma I knew as dignified, self-reliant, brave, kind, forgiving, hard working, and generous. I told them I had a yellow plumeria in my hair because Lila picked yellow plumerias from the tree in the front yard when I needed to make a lei at school. I reminded my family to remember who we were: children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of this humble and remarkable woman. I thanked Lila for loving me and our family so well.

I returned to my seat wondering if my talk made any sense and hoping I hadn’t been a complete mess. My eyes drifted back up to the ceiling. The butterfly reappeared through the window and flitted briefly before it left again. It didn’t reappear for the rest of the day.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.