Core Memories

July 26th, 2016

What are your “core memories” (a la Inside Out)? a redditor asked yesterday.

I saw the post fly by on Facebook and intrigued, I clicked through the responses. What are the core memories that make us who we are. The moment that we decided to be something, to grow in that direction?

What was interesting is that all the core memories, quite naturally, fell in the happy category. The kind that builds bonds to family, friends, or home. These core memories must be the kind that one can repeat in detail with the words spoken, the sensory detail, and more.

I remember playing with my sister. We would build imaginary castles where our stuffed animal friends would join us high in the sky. They battled sure, but there we would be where we could play freely. We were the rescuers that took them from treacherous environments and brought them to a happy place with rainbows and excitement. I wonder if we could have stayed longer. Do our friends miss us? Do they remember?

Reality vs. Dream

July 19th, 2016

This is the dream: sleepful nights, happy friends and family, pushing through the challenges resulting in your version of success, good health, good shelter, well-fed, satisfied, sufficient

This is the reality: wakeful nights, instability among friends and family, unsurmountable challenges resulting in failure, poor health, risky shelter, imbalanced diet, dissatisfied, disenfranchised, inadequate

But without the dream, the reality is only the reality—a morose cold wind. With dream-colored glasses, reality becomes something so much more.

But there’s this inner performer

July 18th, 2016

I once told a counselor about how I couldn’t understand why I desired so much to be onstage. That when I watch a TED talk, watch a band perform, or watch a comedian, I am instantly compelled to be up there.

Because it doesn’t match my reserved, quiet personality.

“It’s because you want to express yourself,” she answered.

Is that really my way of expression? As writing (or even blogging) has always been my preferred form of expression. It’s not that I want to be the light of the party all the time. I want to have a defined moment, a defined act to be stage. I want to be the star.

Public speaking, like for many, has always been terrifying for me. Witness how nobody in class could hear me speak when I gave a presentation—my voice was tiny and terrified. But I would give it my best with a clear idea of what I wanted to present. I never wanted to be like the “quiet people” who I always perceived as lacking ideas. Or is it that I believe that the loudest, as common in American culture, is the one who grabs the attention and express themselves?

By the time I got to graduate school, my fear of public speaking had subdued. I had accepted the fact that fear was unnecessary (although fear of being judged was another thing of in itself). Somehow I had made the decision that everybody was terrified of public speaking and those who actually attempted speaking, I realized that I could be no worse than them. It might be a superiority complex, but I really believed that the worst thing that anybody could do was say nothing at all.

So when an opportunity popped up for me to host the ice cream eating contest at the ice cream festival, I jumped for it. Sure, it offered an opportunity to promote my book. But even though the spirit of the ice cream eating contest was bad taste and also conflicted with the mission of my (my recommendation is to have GREAT ice cream in moderate amounts; to travel far and wide to experience those scoops where taste not volume prevails), I wanted to do it. I had admired George Shea from Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Fourth of July for some time and that’s exactly what thought that I would do.

So I prepped. Writing lines. I studied announcers. I brainstormed quotes. And then when the time came when the food park owner handed me the microphone (after I did the “test test” check), I began. I couldn’t match George Shea on my first time as emcee. And yes, I bolted to my backup instead of giving color commentary. But once the competitive eating began, I found myself screaming and yelling. What is cheering and egging competitors if you can’t be heard. And the crazy thing is, people could barely see me over the tops of heads, I felt like it was awesome. Nobody staring at me. Just everybody hearing a shrill voice announcing the winners of the 2016 ice cream eating contest.

A rich inner life

July 13th, 2016

For most of my life, I always believed that everyone was like me. With the common saying “walk a mile in someone’s shoes”, so I would imagine myself in their shoes—whether it was too big or too small, i would imagine. I would see myself thinking, examining, imagining. Yes, I would suspend judgement, but sometimes I couldn’t understand how others don’t think the way I do.

They say that my personality is one that has a rich inner life. Yet what does that mean? That inside my head explosions of color, dreams, and life live? If that’s the case, does that mean that others don’t have rich inner lives? That their inner lives are devoid of color and brightness? That their inner lives are so empty? But it doesn’t matter, because they are already happy.

What I love doing is thinking playing with hypothetical situations or imagine the stories of other people. Some call it a thought exercise. But sit me down in an airport and this is what happens. I watch the couple walk toward the terminal and think that perhaps they are going on a vacation, but perhaps they weren’t quite happy about it, that one had to use up all their PTO and the other demanded that they needed to spend time together and viola, that’s how they are like on this trip. Or perhaps it’s the trio on the other side of the line. They are visiting family, but this time, the visit isn’t just a visit. It’s because the woman’s aunt who she knew as a child but started to drift as an adult has started a steep decline toward death. This is the game that I play in my head, poking my mind into all the possible unknowns.

Or the problems that rest on my shoulders. I examine them almost immediately. Because I must in order to reach some reasonable solution in the short term otherwise the anxiety would explode into panic and headaches. I think about why an event coordinator hasn’t gotten back to me. I think about how to exert responsibility as a tenant so that my landlord doesn’t come around knocking. I think about how to make use of all the fresh produce resting in my refrigerator. I think about the games I must play, the email that I must answer, the unfinished conversations on Facebook, my prejudices and biases that are getting in the way, and finally whether I can ever organize my room in a respectable fashion. I think about all of this as I sit at my desk running through a list that numbers in the hundreds. Sometimes just by thinking through all of this, a sense of relief moves through my body. It’s ok, I think, it’s ok.

I think differently. I always have. Occasionally, it bothers me. Especially when people start to admire it. But in the end, all I want is to be me and understood.

Do something that scares you every day

July 7th, 2016

Advice sprouts everywhere now. Not only from the voices of friends and family. But everywhere we touch. Facebook. Twitter. Texts from friends. Pinterest posts. Blog posts. Advertisements. Billboards.

It may seem overwhelming, because…it is.

But what I have discovered that has helped me the most in life is “do something that scares you every day.”

I am guilty like everyone (perhaps even more so) to shy from anything scary. Caution runs in my veins like blood. As a result, I let myself be coddled for the simplest tasks like asking for directions or finding help in a store. Not that they would be rejection per se, but they increased the uncertainty and vulnerability that I would need to endure. So I carefully stepped with only sure footing as I moved forward.

And yet.

I always felt that it trapped me.

So in the last 10 years, I take those leaps of faith. The only worst thing that can happen is death. Not death, but the definition. But death, which means the end of doing anything more possible. I can recover from rejection, but I can’t recover the state where I can’t produce, can’t pursue, can’t ask, can’t try.

Today, I made a request. The third type of request in the last 4 weeks. The first time, I anxiously stalked the venue round and round until someone forced me to ask why I was there. I was rejected. The second time, I asked and a few days later, I was accepted. The third time, today, I asked with such a wimpy, cowardly opening, but I let my piece speak for itself and I was accepted. It was scary, but now it’s not as scary. Then one day, I would say, hey not scary at all!

Remember parents as they once were

July 5th, 2016

“Did you see the car?” my dad said. “Did you see it?”

Not yet sixteen, I stared over the steering wheel and grumbled that yes I did see the car. That is, the car that was more than 100 feet away from me. Once again, I started sulking as I practiced driving. As a highly sensitive teenager who lacked coordination, any criticism darkened my soul immediately. I hated driving.

One might say that parents criticize because they care. The bit of chub on my belly. The slowness of my driving (my mom). The speed of my driving (my dad). My hope to be a writer. My desire to be a public speaker, a performer on stage. My inability to maintain an organized room and desk. You know, all because my parents didn’t want me to be disappointed.

Of course, like many teenagers, I aged out and figured out my own life. In the more than ten years of my life, I have figured out how I want to live (dessert first), how I drive (make other people drive for me), and how I want to organize my room (I am happy with messy). I matured and understand why my parents said the things they did even though there are moments where I remember the sting of the words.

And the funny thing is that recently as I watched my dad drive a rental car with sixty-seven-year-old eyes with cataracts, I told him my memory of practicing driving while he sat in the passenger seat. I recalled how all those hours in the driver’s seat with a parent in the car were the worst hours in my teenage life. I succeeded in getting a driver’s license (partly because at that time, I believed that a driver’s license was a necessary part of being an American teenager and I had no intention of missing out), yet driving itself was miserable. But as I watched my dad struggle with the backing up and parallel parking, he admitted his guilt from those hours. He didn’t remember exactly what he said, but he did remember the guilt. To my surprise, he apologized. I was stunned and didn’t say anything. At that moment, I wanted to criticize how slow he was driving, nearly 15 mph below the speed limit. The fact that he couldn’t figure out how to shift from R to D, always skipping to P. Or the fact that he lost the ability to parallel park using the sideview mirrors and twisting the wheel at the right time. It might be because he had a rearview camera in his current car and that it came with parallel parking guides, but it was obvious that his age took its toll. When desperation edged in his voice, he pushed open the drivers door to declare defeat, but Chris intervened and calmly coached him through the parking.

“Turn all the way to the left here,” Chris said watching the sideview mirror. “Now, back up. Back up. Back up. Now straighten. Okay. You did it.”

I could only remember my parents as they are and as they have always been.

Since 2012, society wouldn’t think that I had a real job

June 27th, 2016

It all started when a colleague told me she only worked Monday through Thursday, “because why not?” I was immediately intrigued and jumped at the idea. The way I could control my hours and my work. The fact that at many of my full-time jobs, I spent so much time waiting for someone or something…that I didn’t get anything done. The idea that I could feel free to spend that time not feeling guilty about doing non-work things was very attractive. Even more so that I would be paid for the hours that I actually worked. At a rate that I set. All golden!

Then fast forward to 2016. I finished my book and despite another novel in the works, I am hesitant to continue freelancing. Having a job does help me focus, especially in writing. Writing becomes less of a chore and more of a hobby. The kind of thing that I could say “let’s do it…just for fun!”

So I worked hard to find a full-time gig. That one? This one? What’s going on? Let’s talk. Let’s figure out something together. Let’s fine tune this. Until ready for it…I got an offer.

I am not sure what will change and what I will have to do differently. I am not sure what it means for my professional career. Or my writing career. Or how this will function. But what I have to do is to make a decision. And that’s all I can do.

This is how the game of the chicken would have happened

June 25th, 2016

The SUV blocked our way. Two women, not of the hipster variety, blocked our path. We were turning left, and they were turning left from the opposite flow of traffic. But our paths intersecting. Who was supposed to yield? Who went too far? Who drove without anticipating and arrived there unceremoniously blocked our path? Honk, we yelled through the car’s windshield. It was a clear statement: we can’t move, because you’re in our way. But you can’t move either, because you’re in our way. And we don’t want to get in an accident do we?

Inside, I felt a flow of irritation. Back up!

But this is what I would have done.

Like toddlers in tantrum, we would have stood still, locked in a dead stare. No gas. Just brake. If you want to fight, I’ll fight. We’ll stare each other down, giving the control to the car. I am in no rush. You don’t want to hurt me, and I don’t want to hurt you. I can stand here all day. I would be calm and collected, as you wave your arms in the air. After all, the fact that I did nothing is simply not illegal. We both had the right of way. And it’s more likely that you’re in my path. Traffic obstruction? You’re more likely to have yielded to me, because I have more endurance.

HONK.

Instead, we reversed and let the SUV go. And the anger flared. The irritation at an inconvenience continued as cyclists barreled through intersections and pedestrians jaywalked on a red light. I grasped my cautious self—a natural desire to play it safe constantly no matter what I vehicle I used. preservation first, and stand your ground.

“There’s nothing you can do,” I said. “There’s nothing you can do.”

Rejection is…

June 14th, 2016

…a fierce shadowy leopard. The claws are sharp and pierce deep into the cloak of hope. You thought for a moment that it was all safe under there. You were optimistic that everything was working out. After all, nobody talked about the leopard and its black sleek coat that would dazzle you at the same time as it would shun you.

They tell you to always stand tall and ask for what you want boldly. But when you arrive, you sense the leopard, so you walk round and round it. You wish that you were like the others who don’t see the leopard and march boldly in. Their skin is so thick, their cloak already has been cut, but they have thick armor now with nicks that underneath, they don’t feel a single thing even if the leopard strikes.

You want to run away because you don’t have that armor yet. But you turn away for a moment, blinded by the sun, and you go ahead. Then you open your mouth to ask and there’s the leopard again. Before it even strikes, you feel the pain and you quickly acquiesce as if you were expecting to be struck. You know that it is possible to get struck, but you know for certain that it’s not every time. Yet this time, you cower in fear even before being struck as if you expected it. The pain is overwhelming, but after it subsides, the wound smarts and now you’re angry that you didn’t wait until it struck. You’re irritated that you allowed yourself to be struck and worse of all, you invited it. Where was that armor? Where was your own fierceness? The white leopard that was inside you to strike back?

“I am going to be mad at you for the rest of my life.”

June 13th, 2016

“I am going to be mad at you for the rest of my life,” Cheryl Strayed said during a disagreement with her husband.

Amused by her statement, her husband wrote it down and stuck the note on the refrigerator, where it sat for a decade.

I first heard Cheryl describe this scene on the Dear Sugar podcast. She mused that at first glance, the statement sounded like perpetual rage. Yet when she looked closer, her intent is that she chose to be with him despite the rage. That there is nobody on earth that deserves that rage, that anger, that disappointment.

And to me, that was a beautiful sentiment.

Relationships are messy. Long gone is my former belief that love was this magical thing—the kind where two people spot each other from across the room and bam, a spark rumbles into a rolling fire. Besides the fact that this moment never happened to me (if it did, it certainly was not mutual), I learned that persistence and endurance is what matters in relationship. In the face of conflict, it is the partner that one can blame. Because simply put, the partner is there. They witnessed all the drama, the rejection, and failure, how can they not be partially to blame? Because they were present? Of course what I mean by that is they chose to be present and not to leave at the sight of conflict. That the nuance in all of this is the madness of persisting and enduring. That we chose one other to be mad at for the rest of our lives. Because without that other person, nobody will ever know that we existed.