Thursday, December 24, 2015

Why Every Christmas Brings Me to my Knees

Each Christmas season, we take our nativity scene out of storage, unwrap the packaging and put it on display.  I go outside to cut branches from evergreen trees to place around the scene, and I cover the greenery in amber colored pine cone lights to softly glow each winter evening. This year, we added in real pine cones with edges covered in gold glitter to go along with the lights.  It is, in essence, a way of bringing together nature and theology, of bringing together heaven and earth.  

In this nativity scene, the mother of the Christ Child both holds and kneels before the baby.  Some know her as Mary, some call her St. Mary.  In Greek, she is called Theotokos - the God bearer.  

Each Christmas season, there are these lovely moments, these simple moments, when ornaments go neatly onto the branches of the tree, when we put all the pieces where they belong, when we step back to see the beauty, or even the perfection, of the decorations.  In those moments, I feel so grateful for every good thing that has been given to me. 

Yet each Christmas, we are reminded of how so many pieces in our lives won't seem to go where they belong at all.  We are grieving some recent loss, or we are remembering those we once spent Christmas with who are no longer with us.  Maybe we are looking back on a year when things did not fall into place in ways we wished they had.

Sometimes we bring our best and good comes of it.  Sometimes we give our best, and it doesn't seem to be enough.

There are Christmases in my life that I would rather not remember.  There were a lot of sorrowful holidays for me growing up, and many other Gen Xers would say the same.  Of course, we find new ways to be happy, we make new traditions, we try not to let the past overshadow the present.  In those evening moments when the sun sets and the Christmas lights start to come on in the neighborhood, if I need to, I let myself grieve for a few moments, and then and then I move on to something quotidian to bring me back to the present, like putting dishes into a sink of hot soapy water, or making hot apple cider so that the house is full of the smell of cinnamon and cloves.  It is amazing what spiritual beings we are, and at the same time, it is profound that we are so rooted to the earth, the way we are flesh and blood beings, connected to the physical things around us.  Christ was born into the most humble beginnings imaginable, and when he did, God became less abstract to us, he became someone who breathes the same air that we do. He became incarnate. 

Why the world needs God is because it is a broken place, and because we live in a broken place, we also find ourselves broken.  And when God made himself incarnate, he made himself vulnerable to every wound, heartbreak, and betrayal that a person can experience in this life.  This is what brings me to my knees every Christmas - that God made himself a defenseless infant to the coldness of night, so that he would fully know what we feel like when we are cold.  When Christ was born, the love of God became so profoundly palpable.  When Christ was born, he proved that love means suffering with those who suffer. When Christ was born, everything changed.  

God is with us.

The white-golden glow of Christmas lights from our tree shine on these small nativity images of the most extraordinary story I have yet to hear.  And to know that Christ was laid in a wooden manger so that he would some day show sacrificial love by hanging on a wooden cross - - I just cannot get over this story, I cannot help but be moved, even changed, by it every Christmas.  I have devoured as much literature as I can get my hands on from the centuries of the human experience, and no story has ever brought me to my knees like this one. 

And when looking back on a another year of life on this earth where darkness has tried to make us all live in fear, this is the story that instead gives us hope. When dusk comes and goes, and the Christmas lights on the houses shine in front of a backdrop of a cold winter night, when the soft glow of candles flicker on the table that you eat from this holiday season, remember this:

A light has shone in the darkness, 
and the darkness has not overcome it. 

Merry Christmas, friends.  And a link below to some words I wrote three years ago... 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Generations of the View-Master

There's something about this time of year...when the morning chill makes its way through the turning colors of the leaves, and as we turn to our Charlie Brown and Rankin Bass holiday specials, a certain nostalgia rises up within us. This is the time of the year where find ourselves making holiday shopping lists for remakes of retro toys we once had as Gen X kids or pulling down our own retro toys from our shelves for the kids in our lives who come to visit us.

In 1976, it was the Bicentennial of America, and everything around us from the pot holders in our harvest gold kitchens to the fire hydrants on the streets became red, white, and blue.  The View Master model that year was also one of those things....

This was the most beloved toy of my early childhood.  When I would lift the lenses to my eyes, it created a certain magic.  The sun would send its slanted rays onto the shag carpet of my bedroom and I could lose myself in another world as I pulled the reels out of its round canister.  I would lose all sense of time and a whole afternoon would disappear in moments.

This is the time of the year when the most epic stories usually make their way to the movie screens in theaters and in our homes - when we are more likely to be indoors, when we are more likely to look inward, or to take a moment to look back.  The beauty of storytelling always seems to come alive around the holidays.

When the 1970s rolled into the 1980s, the kids of Generation X kept on using our Bicentennial View Masters to view the new pop culture that came at us in a new decade.


The stories to go along with the images were neatly folded inside the View-Master envelopes and there was nothing more fun than pulling these out for the first time when you got a new View-Master.  It was a lot like getting a new record, a new cassette tape, or a new CD, and pulling the sleeve out to read the lyrics.

The stories that we remember from our View Masters include characters from every TV show, movie, or cartoon we knew.  This included Snoopy, Herbie, Holly Hobbie, E.T., Star Wars, Adventures of G.I. Joe, Looney Toons and Disney characters, Captain Kangaroo, and more obscure stories like Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.

Of course, Benji made his way into our View Master reels - especially since he had already made his way into our hearts.

I have 3D images forever imprinted in my mind of my old Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan.

Just about any character we remember from the pop culture of our youth probably found their way to these reels.

Even our superheroes would come alive for us in all their dimensional glory....

Some of the images of View Master reels over the decades of the 20th Century were photos, some were in cartoon form, and some in claymation form.  Some were of historical events like the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth.

There was nothing I loved more as a small child than seeing the world in 3D - how I first experienced the sites of America was through my View Master reels.  I could feast my eyes on the Golden Gate Bridge hanging gracefully over the San Francisco Bay, the surreal vastness of the Grand Canyon, the stalactites hanging from the ceilings of Carlsbad Caverns, and the palm trees leaning over the Atlantic lapping up onto the Florida Coast.

The larger world became real to me through images, like the tulips of Holland or the pyramids of Egypt.   It was national parks and travel destinations that were the original images on View Master reels from the 1940s....

Since moving to my new Northern California neighborhood a year and a half ago where the tree lines on the horizon don't become red or gold until late fall, I have become friends with a sweet neighbor who is from the Silent Generation, and she has been here since the neighborhood was built in the mid 1970s.  This is where she raised her Generation X children, stayed home with them when most moms didn't do this, and even kept her family together in a time when families often didn't stay together. She knows the value of story, and of history, and has kept many of the retro things of multiple generations safely tucked away in her home.  She has kindly shared many of these things with me - to keep in my Gen X retro writing nook, or to take pictures of, or to hold in my hands for a moment and remember. One of these things is her collection of View Masters and reels.

The first View Masters were sold at the 1939-1940 World's Fair in New York soon after Kodachrome color film was invented.  Some of the pieces of my friend's collection date back to the era of her early childhood - the 1940s. I remember looking at some of these as a child, when friends of mine had gotten these as hand-me-downs from grandparents.

The plastic View Masters I had once held in my hand as a child had been grandfathered by the original metal ones.

During WWII,  the US government commissioned millions of View Master reels from the Sawyer's Co. in Portland to train serviceman how to recognize planes and ships from a distance and for range estimation.

Stories from the View Masters of the 1940s included classic fairy tales, national parks, and celebrity cowboys of the time like Gene Autry.

C.S. Lewis said that some day we become old enough to read fairy tales again.  He also said that we should read books from different eras than the one in which we find ourselves - this is because each era (and generation) is good at seeing certain truths, and liable to make certain mistakes.  What I did not know as a child is that when I was learning many of these stories, I was looking back to the 3D images of a decade that was far before my time, and in the case of fairy tales, these images were bringing alive stories that were written in the centuries before my time.

Over time, there have been almost 30 viewer models in every color you can think of, each representing the era it came from. There have been hundreds of different themes for the reels, though the View Master itself has remained basically the same so that any reel made from any decade can be used in any View Master.

When we are long gone, if our civilization is buried in rubble, what will they unearth of our old belongings?  How will the history books sum up the 20th and 21st centuries in which we straddled with the timeline of our lives?  They will see that we took the stories of the centuries before us and turned them into 3D images, that we took black and white and turned it into color, and that we escorted an analog world into a digital one.

What I know is that the Silent Generation and Generation X had something in common - our stories often faded under the sound of the louder voices of other generations of our time, and that is why, while there is still time, we should tell those stories.  What I know is that every generation has a story to pass on to the next one.  When we look at time and generations and the stories that formed us, we begin to see how much the narrative of all of our lives intrinsically connects us.  When I would look at my View Master as a child,  I would look at the enormity of the trees of the Redwood Forest reaching toward the blue California sky or the depths of how far the waterfalls of Niagara Falls were plunging into the water below.  I was looking at these images with all those who had the same reels, and even with those who had actually once stood in those places. We are truly are connected, and for all the differences that exist among generations and cultures, we have more in common than we usually realize.  From the tulips of Holland to the pyramids of Egypt, nothing we do connects us more than storytelling, nothing connects us more to others than telling our own story, and to listening to the stories of others.


Thank you, Louise, for letting me borrow these symbols of time, to photograph them, and to see 3D images again that I had not seen in decades.  Sending you love for the extraordinary person you are, for the history you have been a part of, and for the beautiful story you have lived.  


Thinking today of the red, white, and blue of the French flag, of the 3D reels we once looked at of the Eiffel Tower, and of the way that suffering and tragedy brings humanity together in the narrative of the human experience. 

(c) 2015 writing and photography by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved 

Friday, September 25, 2015

When the Message Reaches You

"Do or do Not...there is no try."

When Luke Skywalker is having trouble using the force to get his X-Wing out of a swamp he has crashed it into, these are words of wisdom from Yoda.  In other words, don't just sort of put some effort into something, really try, make it happen.

That's about as philosophical as it gets, especially when it comes to the movies/pop culture of the formative years of Generation X.

Earlier this year, I was walking past Union Square in San Francisco and this giant heart statue caught my eye...

Artist: Lawrence Noble

So I took a photo, walked around to the back of it, and took another photo....

And as I lowered my camera back down, I saw my own reflection in the words, and I have to say it felt like that specific message had somehow been delivered to me the way a letter is delivered in an envelope.  Maybe that's why it was designed this way, so that if you look close enough, you notice your own reflection and take the words more seriously.  I sat down for a while to watch other people look at this giant fiberglass piece, and while some were just taking selfies next to it, I could see other people having the same reaction that I did...feeling as they walked up to it that the message was for them.

As I saw this message I resolved to not just try, but to fully embrace the opportunities that presented themselves to me in the days that followed.  Soon after, it was as if the universe began unfolding around me in a way it had never quite done before, and it felt as if I took a huge turn around some corner in the timeline of my life.  As fall begins, and as I begin to plan out the rest of this year, I realize that this has been one of the most amazing years of my life - not easy, but amazing.

Sometimes, a moment presents itself for us to change our thinking, for us to resolve to do something, or even to do something differently. Sometimes it is a moment that is profoundly beautiful, sometimes it is a moment that hurts.  Sometimes we stumble upon these moments so that we can turn a corner, or change direction, and it is these small moments than can change the trajectory of our lives.


This sculpture was painted by Lawrence Noble who has made numerous Star Wars sculptures, some for Lucasfilm.  This piece has been part of a charity drive to benefit San Francisco hospitals.

Photos and writing by Chloe - 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Meeting Jennifer

This summer, I took a trip to Oklahoma to see someone I needed to reunite with even though we had not yet ever met: Jennifer.   I had been connected to her online for years, and had been reading her blog for even longer.  I left my 20th high school reunion in the New Mexico desert for the singing of cicadas and the sound of the wailing trains passing through Oklahoma City - for the feel of the summer humidity and heat on my skin in a way that I had not felt in a very long time.

Jennifer and I both spent a good portion of our nomadic childhoods on Route 66 and in the cities and towns that are dotted along that highway.  I have always felt such a connection to her through her stories, partly because we grew up in the same generation, and part of that is because we were in the same places growing up - New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, many of the Midwest and Southwest states.

 I took a snapshot of this wall that is in the Albuquerque airport on my way to Oklahoma City see her....

Some nights, while Generation X sleeps, Jennifer is up, collecting and archiving the photos of our generation before they disappear forever, putting together the story of our generation, so that it won't be forgotten.  In looking through these photos online, she has found at least one picture of herself from her childhood that she had never before seen. Someday, I hope she finds some retro photo of both her and I standing right near to each other in line at some roadside Tastee Freeze or Dairy Queen when we were very young.  I am convinced that she and I passed each other at least once on Route 66 or some similar highway as kids.  Whether we glanced at each other through the back window of a car on the road, or whether we were shopping at the same souvenir shop, I have always had this feeling I had seen her somewhere before - decades ago - and most likely for only a fleeting second.  Maybe the yellow NM license plate on the wall of the airport is sending some cryptic message that means the two of us saw each other in 1980 on the road somewhere in New Mexico?

When I visited Jennifer, I stayed in her guest house which was originally built as the maid's quarters about a century ago.  The kitchen inside had a coffee pot on the counter that I put to good use each day I was there and I drank my coffee out of a Fiestaware cup.

One evening at her house, we sat down to a sturdy wooden dining table heavy laden with all the colors of Fiestaware, and with skewers of grilled vegetables and burgers fresh from the grill that her husband Robert had barbecued for us.   It reminded me of summer meals I ate as a child with family in Texas - it was profoundly meaningful to share a meal with her family, to see everyone in real life that I had only seen in digital pictures for years.  The cool of the air conditioner fought back against the humid summer heat outside.  The sun came in to puddle up onto the wood floors of her lovely house.  I did not photograph the table or the house because it was too beautiful - it was more important for me to just be in the moment. I told myself I would photograph my own Fiestaware when I got home to tell the story.

I first ate on Fiestaware when I was a kid - it was at the home of my after-school babysitter, a lady who was from the last Lost Generation, who had lived through the Great Depression, The Dust Bowl. Fiestaware came about during the Great Depression - all the bright colors were meant to cheer people up.  While families often try to pass on the same china patterns through the generations, the reason I put these on my wedding registry years ago was so that I could share the same pattern of dishes with women from many generations even beyond my own family - it is a symbol of all the people who I would feed from my table who I had not yet met, of the connection we have to people who have had the same life experiences to us, whether we ever meet them or not.  Both Jennifer and I are quintessential Generation Xers - we know what it's like to live through a dust bowl of our own - to come of age and continue to live on the timeline of history during an extended Crisis - when everything is turned upside down and the wells are found empty.

I was anticipating my visit to see Jennifer as the worst drought in California history kept hanging on, just as it still does.  One evening after packing my bags, it was hot and my back was aching fiercely, so I slept on the floor.  In the middle of the night, I felt an earthquake quite unlike anything I'd ever felt.  I could feel the house go over a wave of sorts as the plates of the earth shifted.  My arm was up against the wall and my back was on the wood floor so my bones could feel the movement of the structure of the 1970s house that we live in.  I could feel the framing of the house move like the skeletal structure of a whale move as it slowly goes over a large wave in the ocean.  The movement was subtle enough that I knew everyone around was okay, but I wondered for a moment if any of my Fiestaware was going to slide off the kitchen shelf before I fell back asleep. One afternoon a few days later in Oklahoma City while laying on the bed to rest my tired back I felt a sharp jolt as if someone had rammed a car into Jennifer's guesthouse.  I jumped up and ran in a sort of panic as the ground was moving.  It was another earthquake.  The shamrock green Fiestaware cup and saucer Jennifer had left for me on the counter sat calmly in its place.

Sometimes it is as if the very plates of the earth below us have to shift so that we can get to the next place in life that we are supposed to be.  And we see there is good in that.  Some days though, we feel fear as we brace ourselves against the next natural disaster, and it seems that the droughts will go on forever, and we wonder why it has to be that way.

Jennifer was given her name for some reason much larger than she may have ever knew - maybe because it is the most popular name for the women of our generation, maybe because she knows the suffering of all the Jennifers.  She has been through a lot in this life - so much I know that she could empathize with any person of our generation.  She has gained a lot of wisdom through the hardships of life, and through her story she looks for redemption, and creates beauty of it all.  She reaches many other Jennifers through her story - many other Gen Xers.  She is a natural born storyteller, and when she speaks, light fills the room.  She knows what it is like to have the foundations of life moved below her, yet she uses her difficulties to pass on hope.  Sometimes when I look at people's lives who have had a large amount of suffering, it makes me think of the suffering of saints.  

Both Jennifer and I write about, and are fascinated with history, and generations, and generational theory - the generational turnings of history.  Every four generations, at least in the Western World, there is what is called a Lost Generation - the last one were those who came of age during World War I.  The current one is Generation X.  We grew up in a time when children were valued the least in modern history, yet we are now known as the best parents in modern history.  At Jennifer's house, I watched as she took care of each little detail of her kids' lives, how she entered each present moment with them.  Maybe each Lost Generation is the ultimate salt of the earth....

There are these extraordinary moments I have shared with Jennifer over the years, these things that have happened that are far too coincidental to be a coincidence, that have been seemingly cosmic, divine.  There are too many moments to name, and many of these moments would be almost impossible to describe, though there are a few that I can share with you....

One of those moments was in 2012, when right around the same time, both of us found an almost identical, newly hatched, little blue egg shell laying in the grass - for me it was in Oregon, for her it was in Oklahoma, and we both saw a delicate beauty in it and photographed it.

There was another time when we both had similar experiences of experiencing God's presence on baseball fields...and we both stopped to take pictures of the moment - the list goes on and on and goes back further and further in time....

There were moments when, around the same time of our lives -  for her it was in the summer of 1978, and for me it was in the summer of 1979 - when we each stopped and watched fireflies glowing on a warm evening, ascending and descending, and each of us experienced a juxtaposition of beauty and tragedy going on in our lives as young Gen Xers as we stared at the fireflies.

The last night I was with Jennifer in Oklahoma City, we went out, and when we got back to her house we were standing in the driveway.  I could not believe my eyes when I noticed that there were fireflies lit up, encircling us, with their peaceful glow.  The beginning of our journeys as Gen Xers began with memories of fireflies, and our visit ended with fireflies as well.  The fireflies left us as quickly as they came - they were on their way somewhere, they stopped and encircled us briefly and then left.  It was just like how Jennifer and I probably crossed each other's paths on Route 66 as kids - only briefly, and on the way to somewhere else.

I never really thought that I would call someone in this life a soul mate, as I had never really found anyone who can operate on the same wavelength as I do, who can see the human experience the way I do. Until I found Jennifer, I had never found anyone who can hold humor, and tragedy, the presence of God, and the weight of the pain of a generation all in one moment, yet she can, she is Jennifer.   

Thank you, Jennifer, for letting me come see you, for letting me be in your presence.  After all these years of reading your writing, it was so good to hear your storytelling in person, and to hear your infectious laugh.  After all these years of exchanging digital words, it was so good to give you a hug, and to break bread with you, and to sip coffee from your shamrock-green Fiestaware cup.  You are kind, generous, and full of profound beauty.  You are Jen X.  You are encircled with Light.

Photo Credit: Jennifer McCollum

If you follow this blog because you love reading about Generation X, you will love Jennifer's blog, too: Are you there, God? It's me Generation X

(c) 2015 - Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The New Mexico Sky and Why You Can't Go Home Again

All the thunderstorms of summer stood back and paused as I went back to New Mexico for the first time in many years - the land where I was born and came of age. On my way to my 20th high school reunion, I was thinking about the people I needed so much to see and the way they had become a part of me, and I was thinking about the land - the way it had always left its mark on my soul - the mountains, the bright blue skies, the way the clouds would lay down their heavy shadows on the ground. 

These images that I captured on my camera from the window of the plane as we flew toward Albuquerque were so familiar.  As a child, I would fly across the Southwest by myself, and the shadows would cover the ground, and patches of light would come through, and I would feel these sparks from within even the deepest of my sorrow - these shards of light of infinite peace in the most center part of myself - in spite of all the problems that I had left on the ground - even if just for a couple of hours. 

Looking down on the ground was where I was nearer to the clouds, in between time zones, even outside of time, was where I could merge with God.  

I had a lot of unfinished business to take care of on this recent trip, messages that  I needed to say to convey, reconnecting that need to happen, places I needed to visit, things that needed closure.... There were people I needed to embrace, people I needed to say thank you to, things that had been left unsaid that needed to be said. 

The shadow of our plane moved across the desert ground on this land where I was born as our plane descended.  I thought about how our souls come into our bodies when we first come into this world - if we come from some outer stretch of the universe and descend, then our soul merges with our cells, our bones, and our DNA in the way a plane merges with the earth when it touches down on a runway.  I wondered if maybe this is how my soul first descended toward earth - over this desert landscape, with the dark blue of mountains on the horizon, and the light blue of the sky.   

This was that quintessential epic journey for me - the one where you go out in the world and become who you were meant to be in spite of your upbringing, or maybe because of it, and then you go and stand where you once stood and choose to make peace with everything you were ever at war with when you were young. 

This land is rich with Native American culture, it permeated our lives in a way that we didn't always realize - in a way that was often implicit.  It was in the rhythms that we could feel below our feet when we walked barefoot on the desert sand.  It was in the movement of the brown swelling water of the Rio Grande. In the early mornings and late afternoons of my youth, the all covering Father Sky would stretch over me every day I was alive like it was the only thing always willing to embrace me.  

In the distance is the mountain line that will always be a part of my memories of my youth.  That distinct line has become part of the landscape of my own soul.  

There is a life that some people create for themselves in this city - a life of sipping wine and spending hours on the golf course, and living in the right neighborhood.  Meanwhile, there are parts of this city where poverty means dirt floors and not enough to eat, and moments or even lifetimes of hopelessness. 

In making some kind of peace with this place, there were a few roads I needed to travel on, a few places I needed to stop by.  Heading up this road makes me think of a birthday party I had in elementary school at a house I lived in that was up this road - and how I keep a photo of that party tucked away, out of the light, in a photo box in the room in which I now sit and write, and how half the girls at that party are no longer alive on this earth. To the right of this road is a sidewalk though it's hidden almost entirely by the green plants that sprung up from the rains of July monsoon season - this is where I at one time walked with each of those girls who I have since lost, to go to the nearby park, or to go buy magazines with our allowance money at a nearby store... This road holds so much sorrow for me.  Clouds began to build in the distance with the promise of more rain, just like they always did.  Just like I remember. 

It's a city where too many people die too young, a city full of secrets that get kept for far too long, and a city with far too many addictions.  There is a darkness that falls on the ground each night in a way that is relentless, in a way that makes you wonder if the light will even come again in the morning. Darkness fell on the city just like I remember

Pink and lavender light bounces off the clouds in the foreground, while yellow and orange light covers the sky in the distance. Captured in this shot in the light of dusk, are hospitals, and churches, and a vintage motels, and it's hard to say which of these buildings have held the most weight from the stories of the human situation.    

I don't know what it is about this city, but its edges spill over with dichotomy, with juxtaposition.  It holds within it a light-drenched hope on the horizon and an enormous overbearing sorrow in it's dark alleys. 

I took these sunset photos from a posh roof-top hotel bar as I sat next to a table of movie stars and crew working on a local film.  Even in the cool breezes of the evening and the flicker of city lights slowly emerging, it was hard to stop thinking about how this renovated building was originally a mental hospital and how I remember going in it to visit a distant relative when I was a child.  

Even if you spend the whole second half of your life trying to take care of unfinished business, it seems there will always be something left undone, something that cannot be repaired in this lifetime, and for those situations that I may never be able to fix, I can only hope for grace.  

More fluorescent pink bounces off the lavender clouds and a pale blue sky.  If you look close enough, you can see the shape of a flying dove in the middle of the sky in pink.  Maybe it was a fleeting image of the grace that hangs over this city.  When I was a child I would pretend that the ground was the ocean and the lights, as they began to come on, were the boats floating on the water.  In spite of wishing I was someplace far from the desert as I grew up, I also knew that a profound beauty existed all around me, and that this was only the beginning - that there were many more places I belonged, and that I would soon enough no longer belong here.

"Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away. Son, son, you have been...furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul - but so have we...You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way, but, child, this is the chronicle of the earth. And will grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us..."

-Thomas Wolfe You Can't Go Home Again

(c) 2015 Writing and photography by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Letter to My Teenage Self From 20 Years in the Future

Dear Teenage Self,

This letter is to be read by you the day after you graduate from high school.  It is being sent to you from your older self in the future after you have just gone to your 20th reunion. Today (in 1995) your friends will take you to the airport and you will leave the place where you were born and grew up. You will look down on the desert ground as your plane ascends and your life will change forever.

You didn't get into some prestigious university, but that would have actually stood in the way of your calling - so it all works out for the absolute best.  You will end up transferring around to different schools until you are done with college, and you will do exactly what you need to do, so don't worry.  You don't have to do what everyone else is doing.

You came of age in a city that was stunningly beautiful with July monsoon thunderstorms and fluorescent pink sunsets, yet it is full of a dark and haunting and relentless undertow.  You got pulled into that undertow, but you made your way back to the surface.  This will be part of the reason you will be able to overcome enormous adversity in your life.  All the things that happened led you to something better, they were for a reason, they were to help you become the next thing you needed to become each time you needed to become something else.  Even the darkest things of your life eventually find their way to a place of redemption.

Get used to the feeling that there are more questions than answers.  Get used to the feeling that you aren't completely at home in this world.  In all your years on this planet, something deep within will continue an echo that you were meant for a world beyond much better than this one.  In the meantime, through the decades, you'll have to make the most of your surroundings.  Through every Death Valley that you travel, always remember the way the New Mexico summer rain dotted the desert sand and each small cactus would drink up the water.  In your life there will be many droughts.

You were blessed with good friends in your growing up years who will find again even when you have lost touch for a while.  They will be there to help you when you de-rail, to bring you back to the real you when you get swayed by something out in the world that doesn't have your best interests in mind.

Work hard and try not to leave things unfinished with people - while growing up seemed to take an eternity, the years of adulthood, and of life, somehow are very short.

You will find that you are much braver than you thought you were.  You will find a way to use your voice.  You will rise beyond your circumstances.  You always did.  You will find a way to cut ties with people who do not respect you, and once you work through your anger, believe it or not, you will find ways to move on from all the disappointment you experienced in your youth.

Here is the most important thing: listening to your heart instead of your head.  The heart, the core of the heart, is where God speaks, the head is where ego speaks, and within your mind, your deepest anxieties are the echos of people telling you how to live your life even though they don't know how to live their own.

Eventually, people will stop telling you how to live your life.

You will find an extraordinary connection to your generation that you will not have enough context to see until you are much older.  You will realize that a lot of the suffering you endured in your younger years was not all that uncommon - all the things you went through were the things that many people went through - this will help you to no longer feel sorry for yourself, all of that energy will eventually go toward using your own story to help others.

It never gets easy, but it does get easier.  In every dusk that seems darker than it should, in every night that seems longer than it should, the sun will rise - it always did, it always does.

You find love, eventually.  You have a daughter who is just as strong-willed as you are and that is what will give you the confidence to know that she will also make it in this world.

Through long term relationships, and parenting, and by years of quiet observation, you will begin to see people differently.  You will start to see that people that you viewed as gods while you were young, were really just fragile and even broken, and that is why you will start out in life angry, and stay deeply angry for a long time, but eventually you will end up forgiving.  You will realize that even though there were people in your life that were monsters became that way because of the monsters in their own lives.

You are about to put your cap and gown into its storage box.  You are tired because you just walked out of your graduation party at 2am and felt like you are in free fall because everything that was ever familiar to you is now going away. But it is those moments of feeling completely lost, that if you reach to the depths, you will know what to do, and you will end up exactly where you are supposed to be.  So don't worry so much, and hold your ground, and tune in to the deepest parts of your heart.

U2 will still be your favorite band all these years later, and to quote lyrics from a song that you will not hear for twenty years,

"Every breaking wave on the shore tells the next one there'll be one more."

Leave your mark on the shore, with both hands.

 -From your Thirty-Something Self

(c) 2015 Writing and photography by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved

Monday, July 13, 2015

Delivering Happiness

Jenn Lim - Photo credit:
As Generation X gradually becomes the new leaders in all areas of society, we are making paradigm shifts in order to make the world truly better.  One of those areas that is becoming truly better is the business world. Tony Hsieh and Jenn Lim are two extraordinary Gen Xers who have created their own path to building a major company that has been successful for reasons far beyond just profits.  And instead of just keeping their ideas to themselves, they have decided to share it with the world....

Jenn was a part of the team at who proved that happier employees = happy employees = profitable/sustainable business (and most importantly meaningful lives)

One paradigm shift that has taken place as a result of Generation X leadership in the work place is that a company can have a higher purpose beyond just profits.  Another shift that has taken place is the idea that people can be genuinely happy and deeply connected to others they work with.  This is one of many reasons why I am amazed at the way Gen X business trail blazers have chosen to try and create a significantly better environment for people who work for them even in large corporate settings.  As Xers, know what it is like to experience dead-end jobs as we built lives for ourselves in our younger years, we are the ones who are largely responsible for building the internet, and we are the ones who rode the wave and still managed to get back up on our feet afterwards.  Who better than Gen X to change what it means to have good job and as an extension of that, a better life?

Both Jenn Lim and Hsieh are interested in making the world a better place....

Tony Hsieh, picture credit: Wikipedia/

I recently had the chance to read Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose written by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos which is full of so much practical wisdom. Tony has put many of his ideas into real life practice as far as building a tribe and having meaningful connection to others, following the golden rule/living altruistically, and going above and beyond to serve people.   If all businesses could follow this kind of thinking, then everyone connected to businesses either as clients, as employees, or as vendors, would all have an incredibly different experience of their day to day life.

The Delivering Happiness movement started as a book, and now it is a company with a mission to connect people and ideas around the world to spread and inspire happiness.  Jenn Lim is the CEO of Delivering Happiness - a company founded to inspire science-based happiness at home, work, and in everyday life.

The stuff these people are doing is so groundbreaking, you should probably just head on over and check it out directly...recently Tony and Jenn have created a cool new video series - The Delivering Happiness Academy.  They are excited about sharing their ideas with the world through this course, and they've created a short video of info they learned while building the Zappos company:

Monday, June 8, 2015

An Epic Conversation with Judy Blume and Molly Ringwald

It's hard to think of two people more influential to the formative years of Generation X than Judy Blume and Molly Ringwald, which is why seeing them in person at the same time seemed almost surreal to many of us who got to be there for the event.

On Sunday, June 7th, at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, over a thousand of us came to see Molly ask questions of Judy in a sort of interview-style format, as well as tell her own stories.  The theater was full of mostly Gen X women and the event was hosted by Inforum (part of the Commonwealth Club) - an organization that works to connect the Bay Area's most interesting people to thought leaders in tech, pop culture, politics, food, and business.   Inforum is about creating meaningful conversations and inspiring action, and their mission is similar to that of TEDx.

This was one leg of Judy's book tour for her newest book, In the Unlikely Event.  She did months of research to create a historical fiction novel based on three plane crashes that occurred almost back-to-back in the early 1950s, and how the lives of three generations of families, friends, and strangers were profoundly changed by these events.  Judy started her writing career in 1969 and she has written for every age.  While the evening was in part about her new book, it was about all the writing she has done over the years and how it has affected people.  Molly had some beautiful words to share about being affected by Judy's writing, especially when she gave an introduction about Judy, and I'm pretty sure just about all 1300 of us were shedding a tear as she said those sweet words.

Both Judy and Molly have affected a lot of people through film and writing as they showed us we were not alone through the transitions of life - especially the transition of adolescence.  Molly said that she was one of the only teenagers of the 80s who didn't have The Breakfast Club to guide her since the experience of being in the movie was different than watching it.  On that same note, she was curious about who Judy had to guide her.  Judy said that she quickly made her way through childhood books and was soon reading all the books on her parents' bookshelves.

The first Judy Blume book that Molly ever read is, Are You There God?  It's Me, Margaret.

credit: Inforum at the Commonwealth Club

Molly spoke on behalf of all the girls over the decades who have been comforted by how Judy was able to write with honesty and candor about adolescence with a remarkable lack of shame.  She spoke about how Judy wrote about all these issues with humor and grace - things that we are "not supposed to talk about" and that she has been a guide to many who would have otherwise been taught to approach these issues with embarrassment.

They also talked about censorship issues - it was interesting to find out that Judy never experienced her books getting banned (or challenged as she prefers to call it!) until 1980.  The 70s were a much different decade than the 80s and Judy's books were treated differently as the ideals of one decade made way for the ideals of the next one.

I loved finding out during the talk that Judy had done one of the same things in  her childhood as I did in mine.  Because her teachers didn't respond favorably to reports on the sophisticated/advanced adult reading she was doing, when it was time to do book reports for school, she would make up books that didn't really exist along with authors that didn't really exist.  I used to do this, too...only Judy used to get As on her fake book reports and I was more likely to get a C+!

I forget how loud my laugh is when I find something deeply funny.  It sort of explodes from my vocal cords and the sound waves can fill up a very large space.  Sometimes it causes people to look at me quizzically.  This explosive laughter is what I spent a lot of time doing when I read the books Judy wrote for elementary school kids - Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, and others.  As Judy said many funny things through the evening, she looked over at me because of that loud laugh of mine and it seemed fitting, since it was her humor that caused me to laugh explosively in my childhood, it seemed fitting that she could hear it in real life.

A Mini Etch-A-Sketch, a mini hand-held
water game, and a mini Rubik's Cube for Molly

I somehow made my way up to the stage right after the show ended and called Molly's name a couple of times, but she didn't hear me.  It was her adorable daughter Mathilda who noticed me and got her mom's attention to point her in my direction.  I had the chance to give Molly the gift I brought for her - three miniatures of toys from our Gen X childhoods along with a card.  The stage lights were flooding down so brightly that I could really only just see her eyes and her signature smile as we very briefly spoke. She gives off the vibe of a truly kindhearted person.

The hashtag of the evening was #judyandmollytaughtme

What I learned from Judy and Molly is that we should always be kind to one another, and more specifically, that we can better do that when we first have the confidence to love ourselves for who we are.  Both Judy and Molly are examples of kindness, and that is clear by the way they treat the people around them.

Rachel Maddow, when speaking at an Inforum conference described San Francisco as the only city that is truly magical.  That evening I got to experience some of that.  It was in the room that night as we all listened to Molly and Judy, it was on the streets as we all came pouring out of the theater.

The palm trees leaned quietly over us as fog and a chilly dusk began to take over the blue sky.  We walked back into the world, away from the profound experience of being in the same room as these two women, who are truly legends of their own time.


Judy's first adult novel in 16 years, In the Unlikely Event is a book I can't wait to read because the novel is based on real life events and history that Judy researched through old newspapers and even the memories of old friends.  It is a story of tragedy, loss, and hope, and how one generation reminds another that life goes on.

Molly's first acting opportunity was in San Francisco when she was 10 when she was in the play Annie.  She then went on to TV, to John Hughes films, then to foreign films.  She isn't just an actor, she is also a published writer, and not everyone knows that she is even a talented jazz singer.

The YouTube link to a video of the evening:  A Sunday with Judy Blume and Molly Ringwald


(c) 2015 - by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved