What I’m Learning

Reschooling in History: My Grandpa Remembers the Bombing of Pearl Harbor

It’s December 7th, and for most of us it’s just another day. But for my grandpa Bill, my mom’s father, it is “a day which will live in infamy.” This is how President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the day on which Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor on a quiet Sunday morning in 1941.

Recently, I interviewed my grandpa, whom I call Gung Gung (“Grandpa” in Cantonese), to document his experiences that day and the months that followed. Our conversation was a helpful part of my reschooling: unlike many of my history classes, it was meaningful, story-based, and personally relevant. It also helped me appreciate the value of hard work and security. Here is an excerpt of the piece.


These are some things that my grandpa Bill likes: A $1.99 roast beef sandwich at Arby’s. The plastic forks that he keeps in a kitchen drawer, just in case. The cup of coffee at McDonald’s he gets each day with his senior citizen discount. He has always provided well for me and the rest of his family, and at the same time, nothing makes him smile like a good deal.

My mom’s father is a triple threat of thriftiness: he’s a senior citizen, he’s Chinese (a culture known for being frugal) and he came of age in Depression-era Hawaii. It wasn’t until I interviewed him about a major event in his life that I understood the roots of his “waste not, want not” values.

In December 1941, my grandpa was living in Hawaii, seven miles from Pearl Harbor on the morning it was bombed. This is his story.


One early Sunday morning after church, Bill was eating breakfast by himself in his family’s modest dining room when he heard loud noises outside. They came sporadically and sounded like cannon fire. He didn’t pay much attention at first, because the military bases nearby would often fire cannons in practice drills called “maneuvers.” Bill, a 17-year-old high school student known for his slick black hair and big smile, kept on eating.

As the thundering sounds continued, it occurred to Bill that they were abnormally loud, and that one came quickly after the other. He realized that the cannons never fired practice rounds that early on a Sunday morning. When the sounds kept coming, he knew that something was wrong. He gobbled down the rest of his food, jumped up, and ran out the front door and down the porch steps to see what was happening.

The date was December 7, 1941. What Bill had heard were bombs that Japanese planes had dropped over Pearl Harbor, and U.S. cannons firing back at them. The attack had taken Hawaii—and the rest of America—completely by surprise.

The cannon fire continued as Bill dashed down his front steps and out into the street to investigate. People were beginning to run out of the open doors of their homes, stepping outside their picket fences to look up at the sky. Some looked half-asleep, having been awakened by loud noises. They seemed more curious than afraid, looking toward the horizon for an explanation. Bill and his neighbors could see black smoke billowing up to the sky from the direction of Pearl Harbor.

Soon, the neighbors who had radios in their homes came outside to share the news with their neighbors: The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. They had sunk the USS Arizona, a Navy battleship, and killed an untold number of service members.

“This is not a drill,” the radio announcer said. “This is the Real McCoy. Take cover.”


Reschooling Tool #21: Turn Breakdowns Into Breakthroughs

At the moment, I’m feeling truly annoyed at myself. I haven’t posted to the blog for over three weeks, so now that I’m sitting down to do so, I have a lot to say. It’s going to take a long time. It would have been better to break this long update into smaller ones along the way. I’m tempted to close my computer and avoid blogging at all. I’m experiencing a moment of breakdown.

I don’t mean “breakdown” in the hyperventilating, curled up in a fetal position sense. I mean that I’ve hit a snag, an obstacle that’s preventing me from being who I want to be. The opportunity here is to turn this moment into a breakthrough by reacting differently than I normally do, in a way that makes me happier. This takes willpower and practice.


Five Reasons Why I Love and Hate the Internet

I’ve recently had a couple of really good weekends. I did a lot of things that I enjoyed, like play music and cook. Most importantly, I mostly stayed away from the Internet.

Like many of us, I rely on the Internet every day, and I don’t know how I’d survive without it. But it also makes me crazy. Some days I come away from hours of browsing feeling truly unhappy.

Here’s why I have a love-hate relationship with the Interweb:

1) There’s new content literally every time you blink, and most of it is free.

Pro: I’m constantly entertained or fascinated. I can watch most of my favorite shows online. I can get up-to-the minute announcements about cultural events in town, or safety alerts on hurricanes that are moving into my area.

Con: I feel guilty and ignorant every day for not keeping up with the constant flood of breaking news. I feel like Newman from Seinfeld, working in the post office: “The mail never stops. It just keeps coming and coming and coming. There’s never a letup. It’s relentless.” I typically have dozens of web pages open, nagging at me to check them out. A friend sends me a New York Times article, and by the time I get around to reading it, it’s old news. Next! It’s simply not possible to keep pace with everything newsworthy, but I still feel like a failure for not being able to.


Four Ways to Make Life More Like a Road Trip

Since I got back from a six-day, cross-country trip on Tuesday, I’ve been craving the open road. Last week Darren and I left my hometown of Sonoma, California, and drove my Jetta and most of my belongings to my new home in Jackson, Mississippi. Each day of the trip was so exciting that it’s felt like a bit of a letdown to readjust to a normal routine. In order to maintain the energy of the road trip, I’ve decided to take four major lessons from it and try to apply them to my everyday life.

1. Do things that you enjoy, especially with someone who makes everything fun.

Darren, my partner in crime, was thoughtful enough to fly to the Bay Area for just a couple of days to help me pack and keep me company on the drive east. I’m glad that we already spend so much time together working from home, so there was no question that we could handle nearly a week of 24-7 together time. Even though I don’t love being cooped up in the car, we made it fun by playing cheesy road trip mixes (including “Country Roads,” “King of the Road,” and Darren’s least favorite of the bunch, “Loveshack”) and making up games.


Let the Muse Speak Through You

My mom has close to a hundred personal narratives sitting in dusty binders at home. I didn’t even know that she had even written them, over a decade ago for a friend sick with cancer, but one day I came across them and began reading. Every one resonated with an experience that I’d had and left me feeling inspired. I told my mom that she could publish these essays, because people deserved to read them.

“Ahh, no,” she said, dismissing the idea. “Those were just for John.” But as she sat there on the couch paging through binder after binder, I could tell that she was seeing the essays objectively for the first time, as if someone else had written them. And I think that she was stunned to realize, “These are good.”


Stumbling Around the Stage: Reschooling with Musical Theater

“I am way out of my league,” I thought as I walked into the lobby of Jackson’s New Stage Theatre this afternoon to audition for the musical Smokey Joe’s Cafe. This thought was only reinforced as I filled out the bright yellow form that I’d gotten from Chris, the theater’s friendly Education Director.

List previous acting experience (or attach a resume):


What I chose not to mention was that Roomers was my eighth grade play, and that Altimira is the name of my middle school. I decided that listing my title role in Mrs. Hurryup and the Runaway Presents in fourth grade wouldn’t boost my credibility.


Five Ways to Reschool on the Interweb

As much as I curse the Information Age for gluing me to a computer screen all day, every day, I must also praise it for democratizing learning. Never before has information been so accessible to those of us lucky enough to live in countries with Internet access. Even those without Internet at home can use it at the local library free of charge and reschool themselves in just about anything. For example, I’ve learned how to play basic guitar largely from Googling guitar chords and pop songs, and I’ve figured out how to build many of the features on my website by searching technology forums. Here are five types of online resources to educate you from the comfort of your couch.

1. How-To and Do-It-Yourself Sites

Instructables shows you how to do just about anything that you can imagine, step by step. Darren, a man’s man who used to plan all his meals around meat, has taught himself to make yogurt and pasta from scratch using Instructables tutorials. Other topics include everything from “How to Pack a Suitcase” to “How to Make a Beanbag Chair.”

Videojug is like the video version of Instructables, with how-to videos on topics like makeup, sports, and even relationships (Check out the helpful “How to Ask a Woman On a Date” and “How to Avoid Trapped Arm Whilst Cuddling in Bed” narrated in a lovely British lilt.) About.com: Video has similar tutorials on everything, like “How to Do the Heimlich Maneuver.”


Stepping Up to the Mic on JFP Radio

This morning, as usual, Darren and I rolled out to a coffee shop and had our official morning meeting (“Darren?” “Present.” “Melia?” “Present.”). We got to work on our laptops, and around 11:15 a.m., Darren pulled out his phone to read a text message.

Darren: Hey, want to talk about Reschool Yourself on the radio?

Melia: Umm…sure! When?

Darren: Today at noon.

Melia: That’s in 45 minutes. (Pales. Long pause.) OK, I’m in.

The radio show in question was JFP Radio, the Friday afternoon broadcast of the Jackson Free Press, the city’s alternative news weekly (similar to the San Francisco Bay Guardian). Darren recently left his job as Art Director of the JFP and stays closely connected with the staff, an artsy and talented crew. Staff members Sage Carter-Hooey and Kimberly Griffin host the one-hour talk show that features local music and guests from the community. Sage and Kimberly thought Reschool Yourself would fit well with this week’s “The Good Issue,” which encourages readers to get involved with social causes and organizations.


Trying Screen Printing on for Size

Today Darren introduced me to a whole new world: the business of screen printing, otherwise known as silk screening. He learned the craft as a Graphic Design major in college and has designed and printed hundreds of his own t-shirts by hand. During my last visit in August, he designed a shirt for my grandpa’s birthday (see photos below) and demystified the process for me. Now when I see just about any t-shirt, I think, “I could make that!” I’ve never done crafty things like making jewelry or knitting, so I feel empowered knowing how to produce something useful.

I’d known that Darren had made a neat profit selling t-shirts at local festivals and a design shop he ran for about a year, but I hadn’t experienced it firsthand until now. Last night we stayed up late printing a few dozen shirts, mostly with his new “Buy Local” design, in advance of tonight’s Fondren Unwrapped event (see photo #53). At this annual festival in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood, locals tour small businesses, sample food and wine, and buy arts and crafts. We set up an outdoor table and arranged our t-shirts and tote bags, as well as buttons and postcards made by Darren’s friends.


Madly in Love in Middle School

This week I’ve become consumed by a powerful obsession that has precluded all other activities. I haven’t been blogging much. I don’t want to sleep. I forget to eat — which hardly ever happens. I want to do nothing else but spend time with the object of my affection. I’ve fallen in love, as middle schoolers tend to do. I have only recently become acquainted with the guitar, but I am completely, head over heels, crazy about it.

My introduction to the guitar was a fluke (or perhaps, as you romantics may believe, it was destiny). The other day, when I was on campus at my elementary school, one of my best third grade friends, whom I’ll call Lisa, pulled me into an after-school guitar lesson. Lisa is the most adorable little blond creature I know, yelling my name with glee whenever she spots me, giving me bone-crushing bear hugs, and swinging my hand as we walk down the halls. She insisted, “You HAVE to come to guitar!” and since I’ve always wanted to try it anyway, I attended my first lesson with the Little Kids Rock program. The nonprofit trains schoolteachers to give lessons at their sites and, stunningly, provides instruments — in our case, guitars — that the students get to keep. The Little Kids Rock programs, as well as programs run by foundations like VH1’s Save the Music, have often filled in the gaps that have been left by budget cuts in public schools.