easy, tiger

What does it mean, to say the moment isn’t right?

At different times, people may say it means their heart wasn’t in it, they were struggling to let go of the past, they felt confused about the best course, or there were insurmountable barriers like confidence or resources.

Maybe it’s best to just say the stars weren’t aligned.

In that framework, there’s no moral failing, no scheming villain, no mistakes. It’s just that there are a hundred billion stars, a thousand spheres twisting and grinding into step. It’s a tricky thing, a cosmic Perfection game with an infinite timer – it starts with the big bang, spirals through the Cambrian Explosion into the sandwich your grandmother had for lunch on her third birthday, and continues through to you, today, contemplating your next move.

The progression for many of us is a predictable cadence: we think, we plan, we do, we rest, we think. If the time’s not right, the fire burns down in the evening, and whether in sleep or sorrow, the day closes like a paper fan. There’s nothing for it but to see what embers remain with the dawn.

When FUTURE LYNN chose Deb Oh for a profile in our series on the fascinating lives of ordinary women, she was already uncommonly cool. She’s a singer, a pianist, a producer, works for the production music arm of BMG, and is the single most musically knowledgeable person I’ve ever met. Her music curation project, Debop, has been cultivating custom-curated playlists for people disenchanted with the algorithm since 2015, complete with personalized liner notes. The absolutely stellar catch phrase is, “The right song can change your day; the right day can change your life,” so I wanted to hear all about it…but that’s not what happened.

The first time I talked to Deb, it wasn’t the right moment.

The second time I talked to Deb, all the pieces were there, but they were still finding their places – body at home, and mind in Vietnam, in Hong Kong, in New York’s Chinatown, in Austin, Texas.

The last time I talked to Deb, she was right here, right now.


Late last year, when she was letting the embers lie, it was hard to say what form the flames would take. She was full of stars too numerous to inventory, some bright and some dim, but she already suspected it wasn’t so much a case of intensity as it was of distance, and she was looking through the telescope at a very wide sky.

She loves the work for Debop, and she praised her current sync licensing job as “a way to utilize my creative brain and my business-y brain and marry them in a way that feels gratifying.” But still, there was something fluttering in the back of her mind, like a bird at the window.

“I think music is magic,” she told me, “and I mean that very seriously. It’s not a metaphor, not a tagline. I very much think it’s total magic, magic, magic. It’s just something that connects everyone, this universal thing.” As a result, she had a newfound drive to conjure something wonderful, for everyone, if she could just figure out how.

Her filmmaker husband Dave was working on a documentary in NYC’s Chinatown, and they were talking about its history of record stores, now all closed. At first, they talked about how it would be wonderful to have those back, but then realized that they had never seen a broader representation of Asian music in the West. At best it’s a narrow, single-origin monolith in a solitary vinyl bin, and at worst it’s nothing at all. Deb’s idea wouldn’t be a renaissance then, but a creation.

The link to her origins hasn’t always been easy. As a young singer and songwriter, Deb admits having gone through a phase where she was worried her Asian identity would pigeonhole her. “At that time, my internalized racism made me think, ‘If everything that is written about me leads with the fact that I’m a Korean American or Asian American songwriter, then given my knowledge of how this industry works, that’s going to limit me to a very small audience.’ And so, I really resisted that.”

There’s nothing like time to change a mind, and to heal wounds. ”I’ve worked in music my whole career and only recently had this realization that there is such a rich and diverse Asian music history that I’m ignorant about,” she told me. “It’s crazy to me that there’s no space to access that.” She was starting to dream of someday opening a brick and mortar location with a curated record collection across different genres, eras, and regions of AAPI artists that would have benefited younger Deb. “I would want it to be a third space that invites people to come and connect with these different musical cultures and histories.”

Creating instead of recreating is a much more ambitious and ambiguous path, and Deb was looking down a lot of streets, but the key tenet was to make the space welcoming. “I’ve never really felt welcome in most record stores. They’re largely white, male-dominated spaces that I’ve felt out of place in.” She wanted to offer representation, access, and helpful context, like short blurbs or liner notes on the record sleeves – similar to how she crafts her Debop playlists. “It can be intimidating to walk into a record store if you don’t really know what you’re looking for and don’t feel like you can ask questions without being judged.”

Where’s the magic in that?

At the end of the conversation, I knew her swirling thoughts would have a lot of traveling forward to do, but I was still surprised by the speed of starlight.


Just a few months later, we planned to check in when she got back from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. That’s an exciting place with a lot of diverse musical influences, and a reputation for making big things happen.

We barely talked about it.

“I’m just back from Vietnam and Hong Kong!” she grinned. She had been traveling with family, and took the opportunity to go into every record store she could find. Some of them turned out to be indie record labels. She was able to get recordings you can’t even order online, much less listen to.

On the Hong Kong leg of her trip, one store in particular stood out to her as a literal sign from the universe, as she thumbed through the record sleeves. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, they have little liner notes!’” There they were, a delicate thread of context through her years listening to music, making music, connecting others to music – just like the ones she had been thinking of making herself, and drawing the line from Young Deb to Future Deb.

“This process is an interesting way to learn about it rather than just googling, for example, ‘history of Indian music’,” she told me. “It’s so different to listen to a piece of music, the artistry, the instrumentation, and use that as the jumping off point to learn, well – What is this instrument? Who is this artist? It’s a specified entry point that’s then brought about into the larger history.”

She was starting to see how to leverage her own inspiration as an entry point, too. “The mission has become clarified as well. I could just build this collection for myself, that no one would ever hear or see, but instead, I want to be a conduit for other people to have access to this, in one place.”

So the key word this time was connection. “I never want to compromise on this idea of being in a creative space with creative people. That has been the North Star the whole time. And I think because of that, I can look back now and see how everything connects. I learned so much from everything I tried to do on my own, whether it was producing my own music, being in the studio, or working in the industry. I feel like time has given me that gift of really being able to see there’s no one way. There’s no one way to feel like you’ve either succeeded or failed.” She was looking ahead to see how the connections she was making would be the ones to serve her over the next decades of her career, and who knows where that could lead?

The last thing she said to me during this chat was, “It’s okay if it doesn’t last. This thing could exist, be real, for however long it can. This moment is enough. So, even if it doesn’t pan out? I think it’ll pan out.”


I have a friend who says that 99% effort is exhausting, but 100% effort, wholeheartedness, is totally free. You and the situation are aligned, overlapping, sustaining each other. When the stars click into place, it’s not just easy – it’s effortless, timeless, egoless, the way the leaves turn in autumn, or the way smoke rises from fire. In that light, maybe it’s logical that by our last conversation, everything was coming together for Deb.

“I’ve basically been leapfrogging, having lots of conversations with as many different people as I can,” she said, “other collectors, DJs, labels, record store owners, anyone with a potential tie in to this project. Each one leads to another introduction and conversation.”

She appreciated her decidedly practical friends wondering how such a project would potentially make money, or record store owners and collectors explaining aspects that might be real roadblocks. “I think this goes with an overall mental shift I’ve made in the past year of putting in good intentions, time and energy, but letting go of expectations and timelines. I’m starting to have an understanding of how big of a scope of a project this is, to be sourcing vinyl from different parts of the world. It’s going to take time and that’s fine. I’m fine with it being a hobby on steroids!”

That’s real wholeheartedness, to see reality clearly, assess your resources without wishful thinking, and take the next step with an open heart. In late September, Year of the Tiger Records appeared in its inaugural public incarnation, a popup vinyl table at the 2023 Golden Hour Fest in Brooklyn. Deb had a record player set up so people could preview before buying, with 8 or 9 countries represented, plus Hawaii and the US. Although the zodiac sign has a certain association with male energy and ambition, Deb chose the name for a decidedly matriarchal reason: she, her mother, and both grandmothers were born in the Year of the Tiger, as well as the idea for the company itself.

She was thrilled to have realized her vision after so much work and thought, but the highlight surprised her a little bit.

“The best part by far was getting to witness people’s reactions to hearing the vinyl,” Deb said. “Sometimes they’d just be grooving along to the music, other times it’d be a more visceral reaction of excitement or emotion. But the real a-ha moment for me was realizing that I never get to see such reactions with my Debop playlists, which are all created and sent digitally. And it’s also different from seeing people react to my own music, because there’s inevitably my own ego and insecurity involved there. This felt like an uncomplicated joy of simply connecting people to music that they might love.”

She feels energized, empowered, and ready to get her growing collection in front of as many people as she can. So what comes after the right here, right now? That’s for Future Deb to figure out.

There’s no doubt, no doubt at all, that she’ll seize the tiger by the tail.

Heather Martin is a registered dietitian in clinical practice, and a lay-entrusted Soto Zen teacher. She is also a freelance writer and Candy Corn Science Correspondent for several online publications. You can read more from her at her blog and Substack, or find her on Post and Instagram as @momofnorank. She encourages you to encourage yourself, and to take good care of your heart.

All photos by Matt Infante.


to the point

Outside it’s as though there must be two suns – one all heat, and the other all light.

On the other side of the door, however, it’s soft and cool. There’s the scent of flowers, not sprayed or plugged in, but real — fresh and bitter, dried along with their bark and leaves under just one benevolent sun. There’s a whiff too of salt and electricity, as though it’s rained recently, inside.

Dr. Claudia Sandoval looks you in the eyes, warmly, openly. You won’t feel like she’s scanning your body and your movements for places where she could tip things into balance, but it’s happening without even her thinking about it. It’s just how her eyes see now, as if they have their own consciousness. It can’t be separated from who she is, or from who you are, either.

How she got to be who she is has as many layers as the scent in the room.

Before I talked to Claudia, I laid out my questions with reference to what I know about her. She’s a native California girl, but the daughter of Mexican parents. She excelled in her 20-year career as a surgical tech, as Western as allopathic medicine gets, but she left it for a doctoral degree as Eastern as it gets, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and now owns The Point Acupuncture and Herbal Clinic in New Braunfels, TX. From the many conversations I’ve had with her up to this point, I know she really grieves the loss of hard science as a guiding principle in public policy, but when we start this interview, she hesitates a bit with a decidedly unscientific protest – “I don’t really like to talk about myself,” she says, “I’m a Capricorn.”

I ask a lot of questions to tease these things apart, but again, even though you can see each axis — North and South, East and West, heart and mind — they can’t be separated. As we talk, it’s like watching the saturation bar move up and down on a photograph, shifting from black and white dualism to gradations in technicolor. Any contradiction one might imagine? It’s a trick of the light, depending only on your point of view.


Claudia credits her work ethic and respect for education to her parents, who emigrated to the US for better economic and social stability. Her mother left school in Mexico City as a young teen to help her newly single mother support the family. When she met and married Claudia’s father, an accountant from Tijuana, they moved to LA county, where Claudia was born. After first working on a factory line, her father was quickly promoted to plant manager, and he ultimately invested in and ran his own factory with a handful of partners. Her mother was equally driven, founding a successful cleaning business, but she deeply regretted her lack of schooling, and the bruises on her life persisted.

Those early years were hard and lean at times, with some of the tumult and disconnect that’s common in any family where one generation’s circumstances are vastly different than the next’s. “I wasn’t a very good person growing up,” Claudia says a bit sheepishly, describing herself formerly judgemental, prone to categorizing and rating others’ behaviors, even trivial ones. She credits her children with the process of releasing that knee-jerk critical urge and going with the flow, with learning to practice what she had been preaching.

She’s such a good conversationalist today, able to talk to anyone about just about anything, that her assessment of herself feels like it might be unfair judgment in itself. A highly discriminating eye capable of making fine distinctions between this state and that, after all, is critical to her skills now.

Trying to find the thread running through her life, I ask whether there are commonalities between her parents’ Mexican culture and Chinese medicine. The answer? No…and yes. Her parents adapted quickly here “because they had to”, and she didn’t grow up with much brujeria or herbal remedies. “Vapo rub – yes. Yerba buena – yes. Don’t go outside with no shoes, or with your hair wet. There is a hot/cold thing.” And there was the concept of what we allow into our lives and our bodies having natural consequences. Still, a Chinese household with a Daoist framework might understand a lot better, she says, when it’s common to hear that a person’s heart Qi is disturbed. “But someone from here? They don’t understand why I tell them to stop drinking ice water.”


She started to question the standard medical approach via her own suffering. The only thing she was offered for chronic, severe back pain was prescription muscle relaxants, which she didn’t feel comfortable taking long-term, and things weren’t getting better. A friend suggested she try acupuncture. “Five treatments,” she says, “and it was gone.” After tiring of her OR career, she had been thinking of medical or PA school, but eyes suddenly opened, she applied to the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine for a doctorate in Traditional Chinese Medicine. “My family was fine with it,” she says, “but everybody I worked with judged my decision to go on this path.”

She still values her Western medicine training because it’s adept at addressing acute problems, like cancer or a heart attack; but, just as she refers patients who can’t be best served by acupuncture and herbs back to primary care or specialists, she wishes MDs could think more broadly, too. She tells a story about treating a man who developed new knee pain after back surgery, but whose doctor diagnosed it as totally separate. To Claudia, it was obviously a chain of events only treatable if understood in that way, as though the back and the knee had a common root. “I think there might be something behind childhood trauma and autoimmune disease, too” she says, wishing lab results and pharmaceuticals weren’t the only tools in the toolbox. “That takes people’s power away. They’re not encouraged to say ‘This is why it happened.’ What if the person did some trauma therapy, something to rewire that plasticity? It’s all related.” When that isn’t honored and addressed, she says, the patients end up frustrated. Sometimes a patient wants to heal so they can reduce the number of medications they need. Sometimes lab values improve on paper, but the person still feels ill, and they seek alternative care the way she did herself.

That word she uses, “rewire”, explains something about how she has a foot on both sides of what many of us would view as an incompatible divide. “When I say energy, to me it’s the nervous system. We do have positive-negative polarity in our cells. There’s something we can’t see, like radio waves or sound.” Some people around her call it the devil, and other people call it disease. To her, it’s just energy imbalance.

It wasn’t immediately natural to Claudia to think about people as just one element in systems working around and through them, in terms that are loaded with mystic meaning from a Western perspective. “In the beginning, I did feel the conflict,” she says. “Wait, when the moon comes up what happens? You replenish your yin? What?” But, the more she learned, the more the Chinese paradigm nestled into her own instincts about taking care with how we treat our bodies: sleeping, eating, and exercise are tied to circadian rhythms cycling with day and night, minerals and nutrients have known physical effects, movements open circulation and invigorate nerves. It’s not supernatural. “I like to think of Qi as one cell signaling the next, and the next, and so on,” says Claudia. “Qi is always flowing. In Chinese medicine, we say it becomes ‘stagnant’ with injury or stress, but that just means that it moves a bit slower – still flowing, just not as freely as it should.”

The biggest thing she wishes she could explain to people? “That I’m not stupid,” she laughs. Even though she thinks there’s no harm in a little astrological sign fun, she finds it frustrating that so few people understand what she does as a clinician, bristling at her work being lumped in with pseudoscience, indiscriminate supplement overload, and snake oil. Claudia’s program took six years, requiring chemistry, biology, anatomy, statistics, many hours of supervised practice, clinical research, and even instruction from Western medical doctors, so that practitioners can learn to spot acute problems. Given that, it’s irksome that some other practitioners assume they can provide the same services after a weekend workshop training, or no training at all, and the devaluing isn’t just theoretical. If Claudia has regrets about the career she chose, it’s that she makes a lot less than she could in a doctor’s office. Insurance will often reimburse a physical therapist with little experience – at a higher rate – and that means patients also get the short shrift.

It’s hard, too, when those patients expect a magic potion. “The difference between my herbalism and a random supplements store is that I’m looking at your overall health, and whether your liver and kidneys are functioning. There are too many ‘coaches’ who don’t talk about that. My stuff is medicinal. It tastes like crap, there’s no honey in it. If they don’t notice anything in two weeks, they want to stop. They don’t always do their part.”


What’s different about Claudia, after her years of reflection and training at the crossroads? She has developed the gift of curiosity without the curse of ego. As she talks about how she treats patients, she is assessing the whole picture: diet, lab values, stress, family history, chemical exposures. As opposed to Western medicine, where something like her old back pain may have a single standard treatment, Claudia has learned that “you can treat two different people with the same problem from two different angles.” At first, admittedly, she zooms in, perhaps treating that muscle spasm with needles, and she calls that a science. “There has been imaging that reveals acupuncture points have a higher density of micro-vessels and contain a large amount of involuted microvascular structures,” she says, and that accounts for their capacity to influence nervous system activity.

Once that is done comes what she found lacking in her allopathic career, the part she defines as “the art of knowing what you’re looking at”: zooming out to study the underlying reasons the muscles seized in the first place. Is it a mom carrying a baby on one side as she does other tasks, harried, on too little sleep? Maybe that’s kidney Qi. Is it a veteran, repetitive physical stress with lifting, crummy diet, history of chemical exposures? Maybe that’s Yin deficiency. “I do believe there are fields. It’s not like I can fix everything, but I can read energy, sense where they have pain,” she goes on. “I’m not afraid of being wrong, though. I always say ‘maybe’ because I don’t know.”

the whole works

How are all of these spheres embodied and reconciled in a single person? Simple: her understanding of the universe, of Qi or of cellular biology, is deeper than either framework’s ability to describe it. Whether she’s explaining one side or the other, she’s always translating her actual understanding into words, and she’s choosing them not based on which side she believes is truest, but on which will reach the person she’s talking to. “When I say a person has ‘dampness’, I explain the Chinese view, but I use Western terms like spleen, kidneys, and fluids, to help them understand the context.”

Most of the time, even in a healthy state, “perfect” balance is just a bit imperfect – but only in that it’s gently swaying to and fro around a happy medium. “Everything around has Qi and is in a constant state of motion,” Claudia explains. “That yin and yang symbol – it’s a perfect balance between the light and dark which is always interchanging. That is the goal.” It’s only in disease states where the tipping points between fire and water, love and fear, are far exceeded, and that’s where Claudia’s finely tuned eye of unprejudiced discrimination finds its purpose.

“At first I was translating even for myself, to understand it and justify it,” she says. “Now, to me, it’s all about energy flow. There are energies, things we can’t see.” She takes pains to explain that she’s not talking about living in a demon-haunted world of ghosts and lucky charms, but things with physical properties as scientific as they are mysterious, like magnetism and electricity. There’s no actual contradiction between art and science, just as the knee isn’t disconnected from the back, and just as the heart isn’t in competition with the mind.

Her main point, if she could explain it to the rest of us trying to make sense of illness and health, joy and sorrow? It’s that there isn’t one. “The balance doesn’t just apply to one thing,” says Claudia. “It’s everything. There’s only one system.”

Heather Martin is a registered dietitian in clinical practice, and a lay-entrusted Soto Zen teacher. She is also a freelance writer and Candy Corn Science Correspondent for several online publications. You can read more from her at her blog and Substack, or find her on Post and Instagram as @momofnorank. She encourages you to encourage yourself, and to take good care of your heart.

All photos also by Heather Martin, except for the final photo which was provided by Claudia.


down the road now


Even in Kyoto—
hearing the cuckoo’s cry—
I long for Kyoto.

~Matsuo Bashō (trans. Robert Hass)

To me, there’s no better place, but people in other places increasingly wonder how anyone can stand to live where I do: Texas, our Texas, my home and native land.

I can relate to the puzzlement on one level, because I’ve labored to hammer my heart into words for this piece, to really explain. I talked to over a dozen women to help me frame it out, and all of us are struggling. On the one hand is the truth we have lived – that Texas’ spectacularly giant reputation is surpassed only by its reality. It takes 12 hours to drive all the way across it, either west to east or north to south. That leaves a lot of room for awe, and for 10 distinct ecologies, from desert to swamp, mountain to plain, and prairie to forest. I can stand in the salt spray, see an armadillo on the hoof and crack a few pecans at the rest stop, all before even sitting down for breakfast – which thanks to our complex settlement history might be huevos rancheros, kolaches, biscuits and gravy, eggs and fatira, or bánh mì. We’re the birthplace of Beyoncé and Willie Nelson, the setting of both Terms of Endearment and Slackers. Local-boy-made-good Lyndon Baynes Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We voted Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards into office. We are large, we contain multitudes, and even Walt Whitman knew it.

The good news is that the only thing that could diminish it would be hardening hearts. That’s also the bad news.

In analogue to the perpetually uneven pavement of IH-35, these bountiful heights of grandeur and humanity run in jarring parallel to what should be foreign territory in the big sky, small government “Friendly State”: We’re third in the nation for the number of hate groups, and second only to Florida in the number of residents charged in the January 6th insurrection. Our wind and solar potential lies neglected as wildfires rage, and the coast literally sinks under the weight of hurricanes. The state legislature doesn’t look anything like our population. We’re leading the national backlash against gay and trans people. With a ban on abortion with precious few technical exceptions for the life of the mother and essentially no allowances in practice, the question of whether a woman’s life has value here is no longer hypothetical.

As I talk to friends, there are shaky voices, and tears of betrayal or rage. “Now, it feels dangerous,” says Marie. “It always did in a down-the-road way, but I guess we are down the road now.” It looks dire. It feels dire. How can there be love in this story yet?

When Texas comes to mind, it might carry with it connotations of pride, rugged individualism, and self-determination. You may think of us as people who take up space, who speak our minds, perhaps to a fault. All of those things are true, and I hold them dear. These are skills of fearsome beauty, cultivated over long years by hardship and courage, a pond lily blooming through muddy water.

Though many don’t want to admit it, it’s also true that there’s always been racism in Texas, misogyny and homophobia. We’ve been creeping ever forward compared to some other places, the trailing arm of the moral universe. The pain now? The arc has been moving backwards, and our treasured cultural underpinnings turned in on us like weapons. It’s why Larry McMurtry called the Old West “the phantom leg of the American psyche.” Like a bad cover of a favorite song, the here yet not here-ness of the state we cherish stings and prickles, a lovely ache that refuses to heal.

When I was a child, a friend of my mother’s, a Vietnamese woman who came here after the war, stopped for gas near the small town of Vidor, an old “sundown town” in the southeastern part of the state. She woke up on the pavement some time later, a rock next to her bloodied head. No one helped her. She got back in the car, dazed, and drove away. Perhaps she stayed because there were a lot of things about Texas that seemed an improvement over postwar Vietnam; other parts of the Gulf Coast welcomed thousands of refugees in the 1970s and 80s, and they had more opportunity here to work in the familiar fishing industry, to start new businesses and afford homes. The state’s natural and human resources drew people here from many places over centuries, which is why every old phone book cataloged surnames like Bui and Barrientos, Kickapoo and Kopecky, Lumbala, McDonald, Nikolaou, Patel, Rabbinowitz, Shobassy, Zimmer.

At our best, we know this is a strength, a source of pride in the trailblazing spirit, a way to leverage our painful histories into prosperity for everyone. At our worst, we let fear whisper in our ears, convincing us that our ways of living on our own land can be encroached by other people living differently on theirs. We pitch forward into hubris, deluded that we can possess the essence of the state, that we can leash its majesty for ourselves alone, even though the definition of the place is that it defies any effort to contain it. In short, we build fences across plains the heavens left open, and we throw rocks at people when they stop for gas.

Regardless of the solutions we favor, many mothers here are desperately afraid for their children – we all wish we could turn back time to when the town of Uvalde was only famous for Guajillo flower honey. If your child is black or brown, gay or trans, the worry is pervasive, behind every small decision about where to go and what to say.

“There are so many good people here, there’s such a community spirit, they take care of people, I just hope it’s not only for people just like them…” says my friend Lynne, trailing off. She grieves the apparent loss of the live-and-let-live character of the state, the peeling away of our myriad faces into a Marlboro-man caricature. Not that there’s no truth to the man; as for myself, I am related to many a good ol’ boy by blood and circumstance, and often like them. I admire their bravado, their love of tradition, their appreciation of a proper biscuit. I’ve learned a thing or two from watching them move in the world, just being who they are without any hand-wringing. I even empathize with their surrender to the seductive appeal of a monoculture, where the field is familiar and the edges clear-cut, like the bluebonnet cast in black and white above. But look what is lost in that capitulation: the natural heart, the manifest soul, the intricate vigor of life.

If they can’t bring themselves to admire the complexities? I can live with that. Where we disagree, and there are many such areas, I’m content to let the disagreement lie as long as the return respect and courtesy are extended to other varied and very Texan folks, in recognition of our shared values. Black, Hispanic, Anglo, Native, or Asian, we all want to be proud of our heritage. Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, humanist, or atheist, we all want the liberties of self-determination, religious freedom, oversight of our children’s education. We want big government out of our lives, respect for our centuries-old customs, local control even if the powers that be don’t like what the locals are doing. We want to be from here, without apology or caveat, and it’s painful to hear fellow Texans saying those things aren’t meant for us. Every Texan deserves more, and is capable of more, than diminishment toward the extremes.

What does it mean, then, to be from a place? In the end, it’s that the land can claim you. It has held up your feet, covered you in its dust. In the morning, the sun rises at the right time. The light through the trees falls at the usual angle, and the air smells the way it should. You may not think you pay much attention to the birds, but their song is in your body. When you pass people on the street, their familiar bearing is your home. The gentle whirlwind of the commonplace is like a shadow skeleton, framing your postural existence. You belong to it. And what has been joined in spirit most holy, no one else can put asunder.

That’s why I still hope the present expansion of a subtractive culture doesn’t mean a hill of beans in the long run. Texas has the capacity for great things; I’ve seen them. Gazing around the scarred landscape of burned Bastrop pines and banned books, it’s difficult to look on the bright side, sure. Many of us are hanging our hats on the idea that the loudest voices don’t reflect the bedrock in its natural state, intact beneath the shifting sands. My friend Hailey dug up some optimism when we talked about it, after all. “I do see more acceptance and understanding with each generation,” she said, “and I try to hold on to that.”

I try to hold on, too. I don’t think I could stop if I tried. Even in Texas, hearing the keening cicadas, smelling the smoke of burning mesquite, or passing a billboard for the rodeo on a mirrored office tower, I miss my home, a place of many peoples, of many freedoms, and of every natural wonder protected for posterity. There’s a longing for that Texas. It’s in the bones, it’s in the heart, and it’s deep.

Heather Martin is a registered dietitian in clinical practice, and a lay-entrusted Soto Zen teacher. She is also a freelance writer and Candy Corn Science Correspondent for several online publications. You can read more from her at her blog and Substack, or find her on Post and Instagram as @momofnorank. She encourages you to encourage yourself, and to take good care of your heart.

All photos also by Heather Martin.


you’ll love her

Dominique Bañas just shines.

I don’t even want to tell you what she’s wearing in the first photo I saw of her, because women are so often reduced to literal threads, but at the same time, I want you to know that she’s one of those people who wears their clothes and not the other way around. This little kernel is emblematic of her whole pop.

I don’t want to tell you who she works for either, lest it overshadow her own story, but there’s no way around it. Just keep in mind that, as big as his name is, she has a lot going on that doesn’t involve late-night’s benevolent overlord, Stephen Colbert. That one of the most famous faces in the world is only one of many knots in her life’s giant net of connections is also emblematic of her nature, and that’s exactly why I want you to know her– her everyday life is busily chaotic but intentional, genuine but complicated.

Maybe that sounds familiar to you.

It’s perplexing for all of us, even when we make it look easy. How do we end up where we are, as life flows along? Sometimes we float, sometimes we swim or surf, and maybe sometimes we get caught in eddies and riptides.

Dominique’s life sailed her along to a lot of places as the only child of single mom Cynthia Bañas, but the kitchen table was a constant in her life, where she learned to chart her own course. “A product of being an only child is that you grow up around adults. We moved a lot when I was younger and we would always be in different places, and I I felt like I was able to adapt. I knew how to talk to all kinds of people, because my mom would put me at the table.” Sitting there with her mother’s friends and family, with no children’s table in sight, Dominique learned to navigate different situations by entering the stream of the conversation in her own way, as herself. “I would just say, “Anyway, so in middle school today…” I was trying to get you to find me interesting, you know?”

It wasn’t all about adults, though. With eight aunts and uncles, family connection was never lacking. She grew up with some cousins as close as siblings and counts them among her biggest supporters now, but they also influenced her path from the beginning. “I’m Filipino, and our family is obsessed with karaoke,” she laughs. With the ubiquity of pop music and singing in the house, in those early years, she wanted to be Jennifer Lopez.

She did some theater at her New Jersey high school and kept up the family karaoke, but over time, her interests matured past professional singing. Her teenage dream job?

Oprah Winfrey.

“Oprah is a huge influence for me. I have her photo as my desktop background because she is truly part of the reason why I wanted to work in TV. Seeing her conduct those interviews, I think I always kind of wanted to be a part of that world.” At first she thought she wanted to be the person asking the questions with the “charisma and empathy” she admired in Oprah, and now she knows those great questions are a team effort.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing as a broadcast journalism major, where she discovered being in front of the camera felt like an onslaught of negativity. In school they taught Dominique and her classmates how things had always been done, that you get a job in a small market and work your way up, cultivating the approved look and sound for the camera. Some reality set in. “As a person of color, a woman, I just felt like that traditional way was going to be very hard for me.”

It’s painful to hear her talk about her first couple of years of college. “It was pretty brutal. We’d do our reports outside class and then they’d put them up on the screen, and our professor would just completely eviscerate us, everything from our script to how we looked. I knew that was part of it, but I didn’t want to have to feel that way every time I was doing this job.”

Once she took a producing class as a junior, she never looked back, relishing the processes of media research, pre-interviews, and especially the feeling of creative control. Through internships, she found her niche in talk shows, where her love of music, comedy, and entertainment journalism came together. Before long, she landed a job at a prominent West-Coast daytime talk show, and she loved it – for a while.

Hollywood (she hates the word but uses it as the best descriptor) has a reputation of superficiality, of chewing up big dreams and spitting them out, and Dominique eventually felt that to be true. “I play ‘the game,’ right? Everyone has to in some capacity. But I always try, when I come home after a long day, to reflect. I want to make sure that I’m always leading with and navigating this world by being true to myself. I don’t want to jeopardize who I am in order to get ahead.” She’s sad to say she saw people around her doing just that, and it wore on her.

In that context, it makes sense that the 2016 election was a sea change for Dominique. Daytime TV isn’t the place to tackle controversy, but she wanted her work, the place where she spent 12 hours a day, to matter. Traditional news would have meant giving up a big part of herself, her joy at covering the entertainment world, but she was looking for something more substantive. “I just felt compelled to be working on a show where these issues weren’t hidden, where they were talking about them.” She was already aware of Colbert’s developing tendency to give context and meaning to national events in his late-night monologue, and in him she saw an opportunity to align her job with her values. When a researcher position at The Late Show opened in 2017, she jumped at it.

She still loves working there almost five years later, and now having ascended to Senior Associate Producer, she has even more of that creative control that makes her feel empowered, a part of something bigger than herself. When I ask about segments she’s most proud of working on, she mentions recent interviews with Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, Grammy Hall of Famer Dionne Warwick, and rising actress and author of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae.

“You know, your ideas are your currency,” she says, “I always say that to friends and coworkers.” Still, in talking about what she wanted me to highlight for this piece, it became clear that sharing things she’s proud of is a new skill for her. She has a wonderful intentionality about it, reasoning through it to encourage herself to take up social media space. “Again, as a woman, as a woman of color, in an industry where there’s not that many people that look like me who are doing what I’m doing, I need people to know that I am a creative person. I don’t need a blimp in the sky to say ‘Dominique is great!’ But, pitching those things and then getting credit for it is important.”

So she’s doing big things in bright lights, and she’s getting recognized for it. Has she “made it,” then? How do any of us measure success?

Dominique wants to be sure her mom gets full credit for supporting her unconventional career decisions. “She never once questioned my desire to work in TV,” she says. Still, there have been other inherent pressures on her mind when she thinks about whether she is fulfilled. There’s an underlying assumption for most of us that success is equated to money, and Dominique found that despite their connection to a world of celebrity and wealth, entry-level jobs in showbusiness barely make ends meet. She wondered for a time whether she was making too many sacrifices to keep the job she loved. “You want to feel like what you’re making isn’t going backwards,” she says.

Moving up the ladder at work and getting married this year has given her a greater sense of being able to build a secure financial basis with her musician husband Patrick, but as we talk, I notice she’s drawing a distinction between financial and creative success. She may be approaching contentment with the former, but she’s still hustling for the latter – just on her own terms. “I feel like I have succeeded in breaking into the industry, but there’s still more that I want to accomplish and more that I want to be able to prove to myself.”

When I ask her to think about what that kind of accomplishment would look like, she answers,

“My deepest intention is to connect with people and to connect people. I love meeting new faces, connecting, and fostering a relationship. Then once I am able to bring various connections together or connect two different friends who I think might vibe — and they do! Well, there is truly no greater feeling to me.”

From the outside, it certainly looks like she’s already met that goalpost. But, as fulfilling as this perfect story arc is up to this point, it’s not the whole story. Even after moving across the country, even after coming back home to her treasured mom, even after finding love, she’s still looking for ways to express her whole self. And, she’s finding them.

Dominique and her friend Lauren Cortizo have their own non-profit, Your Neighbor’s Backyard, that marries a love of show business with the desire to serve others. As the friends brainstormed a way to fund Lauren’s entry into the Boston Marathon in 2015, they thought of the house shows they had loved growing up on the East Coast. From there, it was a short leap to 501(c)(3) status. By hosting friends and coworkers workshopping new material to a casual but engaged audience, YNB has provided a supportive community for artists while it benefits all kinds of causes worldwide. They’ve donated proceeds to girl’s empowerment efforts like UN’s Girl UP, refugee organizations like RAICES, Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, and the National Park Foundation. When Dominique moved to NYC, they decided to keep it going on both coasts. (“I had to get a little creative with what the ‘backyard’ was here,” she says.) After these last pandemic years, so harrowing for many in New York City, food insecurity is on Dominique’s mind, and the most recent show is slated for restaurant and local grocer Farm to People in Brooklyn, to benefit FIG, an inclusive and collaborative food security collective.

In addition to focusing YNB’s efforts in places it’s needed most, the stresses of the pandemic helped electrify some of Dominique’s efforts to come into her own, too. “A lot of successful writers and performers and producers, when they’re giving advice to younger aspiring creatives, they say, ‘Go out and make your own stuff. If you’re waiting around to get promoted or you’re waiting around for your seat at the table…well, why don’t you just go and make your own stuff in the meantime, and then see if it can land somewhere?’” To that end, she is fresh off the first live taping of The Junior Mintt Show, and has a travelog series in development with actress and writer Quinn Marcus. She does feel creative at her main gig too, and feels thankful and gratified to contribute to such a great show, but in her own projects, she’s head producer. Everything is her call. “It’s another kind of fulfillment,” she says.

This brushes into one of the things I love most about Dominique: her efforts to be true to her core values, to nurture and respect her own talents, to raise her authentic voice – she’s using the fruits of that labor on her own behalf to elevate other people whose innate talents she recognizes. She’s gotten very good at spotting that rare skill of being able to connect with an audience.

That sixth sense she has for connection is a double-edged sword, though. For one thing, it meant that she struggled during the pandemic lockdown, when doing her jobs meant looking at a screen from the same four walls every day. “I love talking to people. Maybe the origin is me being at the dinner table trying to connect and relate, but I feel extremely energized by connecting to people…I knew I was extroverted, but I realized I actually need to see other people to be re-energized.”

It seems like a paradox, but it also means that she has realized she needs to cultivate time for herself, doing things that are creative but not related to any of her work or projects – gardening, flower arranging, photography for no one’s eye but hers. She’s still working on making that a priority, and the first step is learning how to say no.

“I use the word like bandwidth a lot now, which I never really did like, but part of me setting up boundaries is telling people that I don’t have the bandwidth to do this right now. Six months ago if I said [that], I would have felt so guilty,” she says. With a full-time job, side projects, and planning a wedding, she had to face the fact that her energy is not unlimited. “Being a producer, you kind of have to be in control, but the reality is that you’re never going to be fully in control, because a lot of things are completely out of your control. So I think it was hard for me to admit, but I am getting better with every passing week.”

It’s a process. She has a new therapist to help her set and keep boundaries, and she is promising herself that she’s going to schedule a flower-arranging class soon.

So yes, Dominique has what many people would think of as a dream job in the most exciting city in the world, but the reality is complicated. She uprooted her whole life to make her show business job match her values, instead of the other way around, and it’s still just one part of her reality as a person. Her greatest personal achievements are not televised. She has barriers to overcome, but they may not be the ones many assume when they look at her. She has attained some of that deepest intention to uplift and connect with other people, but she’s still seeking full connection with herself.

And she is wearing wedding dress, by the way, in that first photo I saw — a colossally spectacular garment with wave after wave of floral overlay. It’s absolutely blooming, layer over endless layer, feminine and mighty. Just like her.

Heather Martin is a registered dietitian in clinical practice, and a lay-entrusted Soto Zen teacher. She is also a freelance writer often featured as the Candy Corn Science Correspondent for the TODAY Show’s online Food section. You can read more from her at her blog and Substack, or find her on Post and Instagram as @momofnorank. She encourages you to encourage yourself, and to take good care of your heart.

All photos by Matt Infante, except for the wedding gown photo, which is by Carmelisse Sanga.


aging, not caring

For many years, from my teens through my 30s, I was painfully averse to causing anyone offense. In big and small ways, I often hurt myself to accommodate others. I loathed conflict and discord and would go far out of my way to avoid them, even with strangers I would never see again. Or at least, I tried to. When I failed to avoid it, which was inevitable, I would be tied in knots for days, guilty and confused. And leaving the house without makeup? In unfashionable jeans? Never. It was constant, a gentle twisting of my thoughts like wool into a worried thread, woven into my life so seamlessly that I didn’t even see it was there.

A fish has no idea of the water.

Or maybe they do, when they’ve been around long enough. Around the time I was turning 40, a colleague of mine got a T-shirt that read, “I’m 50 and I don’t care.” I thought it was funny, taking it to mean she didn’t care that she was turning the age that popular culture seems to deem “old”.

Now that my 40s have ripened in an ombré from disquiet to integration, and I’m 50 myself, I think the sentiment of “I don’t care” is much broader than I understood at the time. Although there is that aging-positive aspect for me in that I don’t feel past my prime, I also find I don’t care about a lot of things that used to consume reams of time and energy. I often walk around blithely not caring. Sometimes, that looks like a little bit of hesitation as I weigh the cost-benefit of a given situation, followed by my throwing caution to the wind:

Am I going to quote what my experience and qualifications are worth in this freelance proposal? Yes.
Am I going to wear weird purple leggings to run an errand? Yep.
Am I going to take the last piece of pizza on the buffet table? I sure am.

Other times, it doesn’t even occur to me to contemplate whether I care. Instead of trying to foresee every eventuality, attempting to guess ahead of time how I can present myself to so that other people won’t be offended or inconvenienced, I now sometimes realize in the middle of an interaction that I am just responding naturally as myself, with no insecure posturing, and that I haven’t even thought about doing things another way. Is the other person okay with that? I don’t care. This would have been unthinkable in my 20s and 30s.

The thing about this new way of being is that when I try to explain it to people, it sounds a little bit nihilist, which is unlike me. I don’t want to be that way, and it doesn’t feel that way to me. What gives? I’ve been examining it carefully to see if I can understand my own reactions, and I’ve noticed some details.

I’ve lived long enough to see things rising and falling, and going in circles through the years. Flared jeans were in style when I was a small child, and I have such a clear memory of how I felt about jeans in the 80s, when what was cool transitioned to tight and tapered. I would not have been caught dead in flares in middle school. Old photographs looked utterly ridiculous to me. I couldn’t fathom how anyone had ever worn something so outrageously lame and unfashionable. But then as I watched, the 80s jeans died, replaced by the wide jeans of the 90s, and the flares of the early 2000s. Here they come back around now, 20 years later, right on schedule. Hemlines and jeans legs and hairstyles rise and fall like breathing — inhale, exhale. So, I see an article about Gen Z making fun of Millennial skinny jeans, and it’s just a thing people are saying. I have no emotional response to it and make no plans to buy new jeans unless I need them. I remember thinking what they think, in reverse. It’s impossible to take seriously.

There’s also a sort of settling of my small self into very large context. It’s easy to see, from perusing just a few photos of the roaring 20s and the wartime feminist 40s that flared jeans predated me, and they’ll outlive me, too. The fad, its ebb and flow, has nothing to do with me in particular. When something that I don’t like or that doesn’t look good on me is in, I don’t have to take it personally. I also don’t have to wear it! Other things are that way, too — whether society thinks I should be working full-time or a stay-at-home mom doesn’t really have anything to do with me; all that matters is what options are available, and what I want. A person who seems irritable towards me, in some banal and everyday situation, is likely to have been irritable before I got there. When annoying or even terrible things happen to me, there’s usually no good reason for it — most of the time, I didn’t cause it, and most of the time, I don’t deserve it. So, who cares? It doesn’t matter that much, and as one of unimaginable trillions of beings ever born on this one planet, neither do I. If I make a mistake, if my hair is flat today, if I burn the toast, it’s all just water under the bridge. A neat trick I’ve learned pretty recently is that even when I do care about something like that, if I get flustered or angry at some petty thing, that too is all just the water, flowing on. I can let it pass, and it doesn’t have to flavor the day.

From paying close attention, I’ve noticed that sometimes when it may appear that I don’t care, it’s actually that I’ve developed a deep understanding, from difficult and painful experience, that I can’t control the reactions and choices of other people. They won’t always understand me. They won’t always like me. They won’t always do what I think is right. A lot of my efforts to curate my appearance, to avoid offense — those were efforts to control another person’s reaction to me. Their reaction, though, is not my responsibility. My responsibility is to curate my character, to find harmony with my placement in the world, to help where I can, and then to let go.

The upshot to all this not caring is that I care more. It may seem like a paradox, but it’s actually the natural consequence of having repeated experiences with the reality of interdependence. I affect others, and they affect me. This is inescapable – I’ll never be able to protect myself entirely from harm, and never be able to protect others from my inevitable mistakes or the mistakes of those around us. When I let go of control, though, I can embrace influence. I can put my energy where it may do some good, both for myself and other people, instead of letting it blow off into the ether on things that aren’t my purview and shouldn’t be. When I say I don’t care, it would be more accurate to say that I care more appropriately. I take that last piece of pizza – if I’m hungry and everyone has had their share. I still want my husband to think I’m pretty, but if the cashier doesn’t like my eyeliner, I couldn’t care less. I work hard for every client, but I don’t work weekends for free. I survive my mistakes. And, I understand my responsibilities. I’m only one person and can’t carry the world by myself. I have to rest. I have to have fun. I can’t do everything, but I can sure as hell do a lot for other people. I can donate. I can educate myself. I can listen. I can vote.

For all of that, although they are fewer now I sometimes notice those old destructive thoughts emerging still, seemingly out of nowhere, like carbonation in a glass of mineral water. They arise and pop, arise and pop…

The water takes no notice at all.

Heather Martin is a registered dietitian in clinical practice, and a senior Zen student at her local temple. She is also a candy corn science correspondent for Today Food. You can read more from her there, or at her blog. You can also follow her on @momofnorank on Twitter or Instagram. She encourages you to take care of yourself, and care less.

all photos also by Heather Martin.