Clean

For awhile now my goal has been to deal with life in simpler terms.  Too bad, so sad, move on.  There is something very clean about not making a fuss and finding something else to do.  But rarely does hurt get compartmentalized so easily.  Our hearts do not contain an attic where you tuck away your issues and junk, never to be seen again.  It always resurfaces and often at the most inconvenient times when you really want to just be over it.  Why do you think there are particular steps to grieving?  It’s because we as humans are not wired for clean breaks.

The most common and difficult type of loss comes in the form of death.  This is when there are no take-backs and we are forced to come to terms with that hole left in our lives.  When I reached my late teens I started mentally preparing for losing my grandparents.  You must think that it’s very strange for someone in that life phase, which is usually when most are preoccupied with relationships, sex and cigarettes, why I would be so morbid.  I don’t think I was macabre, I just knew that I would need a long lead up to not fall apart when it actually happened.  Because you see, my grandparents were the two best people in the world.  They helped to raise me and were the ones I looked up to the most.  I’ve spoken a lot of my grandmother and her radiance, but my grandfather was also very special.  He was one of the good men, a gentleman.  His values made him kind and he treated every single person with respect.  He also loved his family dearly and was the centre of so many lives.  When I started to recognize their mortality I started to detach and with every succeeding visit I engaged with them less.  It’s like I was afraid to make more memories, which would make what comes later more painful.  Basically I was a big jerk and I would not recommend this to anyone.  Enjoy people fully while they are still here and love the one you’re with.  It’s one regret I have to carry with me always.

The worst thing you can do is not mourn properly and to let go when you’re not ready.  In our society being sad is made to be a pathology, but you know what, when you lose someone it’s okay to cry loudly and hard.  Now, dwelling is very different from grieving.  I would just say to feel as much as you need to and then try your best to move on.  They’re no longer here but I guarantee that they do want you to be happy.  And real sadness behaves much like a wave.  Occasionally you’ll be on the bus or about to mail a letter and there will be a trigger.  Perhaps you see a flower they liked or smell their cologne.  Often tears will reach your eyes but it’s ok.  It’s ok to remember how much you loved them.  It’s probably at these moments that they are thinking of you too.

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Onwards

It’s when you start to dismantle your life that it becomes stripped to the bare bones.  Suddenly words such as “house,” “car,” “food” appear in bold at the top of pages like puzzles ready to be solved.  I’m famous for buying notebooks whenever I need to get something done.  Usually they have inspirational quotes or pictures of places I’d rather be.  So basically, super corny motivators that I stuff into boxes or behind shelves when I have company.  Now, if I actually completed all of the tasks proposed inside the pages I would have invented Facebook.  Cue the eerie but emotionally stirring Trent Reznor score.  I’m teasing, but it’s funny how we all find ways to cope with tasks that we would rather not take on.  These stark representations on your to-do list demonstrate not only how built up your current life is but how much will change when you have to start again.  It’s also slightly disconcerting how easy it is to lose all of the weight, to travel light.

The logistics of it all is not particularly interesting and borders on the dull.  You start to sell books, records and any extraranous material that you literally cannot carry anymore.  It’s almost symbolic of the baggage you wish to leave behind and you become more careful to not accumulate too much till you’re good and settled, if that even ever happens.

When you begin on a new path you are no longer tethered to commitments and are beholden to fewer individuals.  With the shrinking of your network the support obviously decreases but there is also the exhilarating potential for new friends, new schedules, new lives.  It’s essential to frame this all as a fresh start because it can be disconcerting to lose those whom you’re most comfortable with.  You enjoy their company because the guesswork of trying to connect with someone new does not exist.  But it is also a way to be freed of stifling expectations and your life is more on your own terms again.  You determine the PR for this round of press because those embarrassing stories do not exist, well not yet anyways.

Major life changes are always the master of taking away those minutes and hours and suddenly it’s time to go.  I believe that we are not fearful of the change itself more than the spaces that were once inhabited by those who made you think and laugh.  However embarrassing, the word “friends” should definitely be devoted a page of its own next to other tasks to get done.  This page can help you determine clubs or other social networks that you’d like to try.  You don’t expect it but over time and very organically those gaps fill and you suddenly have a very full life, much like your old one.  I promise.

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Just desserts

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”  Funny statement for an act that is fuelled completely by hate.  There is nothing cold about it and gets you nowhere good.

When you’ve matured as an individual you recognize that hissy fits are not the way to go.  Even if you can barely be still from the anger, you just breathe and try to remain silent.  This is the smart choice because your words grant them power to use against you and especially in North America you can’t be weak.  There’s also the issue of professionalism.  This practice attempts to compartmentalize your life into separate spheres.  I’m not suggesting that they’re mutually exclusive, especially when you’re a woman, but it’s sometimes beneficial to prevent them from bleeding into one another.  Your professional and personal life, for many of us are not the same thing.  Being professional means that you try your best to show up.

I recently worked for a professor whom I admire in so many ways and detest in others.  She’s a firecracker, speaks her mind and is obviously intelligent.  Now there were moments this summer when I did not communicate enough with her and she articulated her disappointment.  This is well within her rights as a course director.  Constructive criticism is an integral part of life and the workplace.  We continually need to improve and I’ve learnt to prevent this misstep next time.  I am better and that’s so valuable.  Now, what I did was nothing too egregious, just needed to send her some more emails.

It’s not the message I have a problem with, it’s the method.  After my sincere apology, she does not let me explain the context of my actions but rather cut off the discussion because she “doesn’t want to fight about it.”  Excuse me?  Are we sixteen here?  Also, rather than address the issue when it actually occurred she waited till the last day of class.  With all of her concerns with my level of professionalism, apparently hers are not placed under the same exacting standards.  This did not sit well with me, especially when she accused me of one act I did not commit.  For someone who speaks about such lofty ideals like women’s rights and multiple perspectives she certainly does not walk the walk.  What a complete hypocrite.  She may be smart but she is not nice.

I’ve thought of speaking to her superiors but my position is limited because I did make some errors.  It’s also not worth my time to take on a 50 year old adjunct professor.  What am I going to do?  Ask them to make her nicer?  I’m not deluded to thinking that all individuals were raised to practice courtesy.  This is not the first instance of her erratic behaviour.  The sarcasm and tone with which she addresses students is explicit and vast.  It’s clear that she uses her position as a professor to subordinate and infantalize them and in front of a lecture hall of 125 people nonetheless.  We are not her children and it’s not within her rights to make us feel small.  Her evaluations will reflect this conduct so why would I lodge one complaint when there will be several.  There are always consequences to your actions.  She will be served but not by me.

In spite of this one instance this was the best teaching experience I had in grad school.  The students were so engaged, hardworking and kind.  I will always remember them.

But I choose so speak up here, in my personal sphere.  I only have one thing left to say to the Dr., whom with all luck I will never have to see again: stay classy.

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Represent

One of the more defining moments of undergrad consisted of a student stating that she didn’t see Denzel Washington’s colour when she watches his films.  That’s about when the class went to hell in a hand basket.  Another student who is of Filipino descent retorted that she wished that she could see her image on TV, that she also wanted her story to be told.  Because you know, it’s true, however distorted or limited the representation is, we still want to be present.  We want our beauty, history and cultural practices to be counted.

You don’t know how exciting it was for me to grow up actually seeing Asian characters on weekly dramas.  I loved that Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) was a surgeon, so driven and slightly socially awkward.  Ming-Na’s character on ER was so empathetic and likeable.  John Cho made guest appearances and you felt sorry for him that he worked too hard during residency and drove over someone with his car.  God, were they all doctors?  I’m cool with that.  I liked this version of the assertive, well-adjusted and intelligent representations of my Asian heritage.  I much preferred this to the geishas, silent and meek companions or much of nothing at all.

But my question is, where are all the South Asian men?  We sure have a long way to go but there is hope.  If you’ve never seen the film Cairo Time please go rent it right now.  Like tonight.  It beautifully portrays a friendship and attraction between Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig when she comes to visit the North African city.  He serves as her companion to navigate the scorching streets and customs with more ease.  The Egyptian culture is so beautifully rendered here through food, dance, family and colours.  It’s brilliant.  He is educated, liberal and works for the UN.  This was the most positive and progressive representation of a South Asian man I had ever seen.  Usually they are relegated to being terrorists, police officers or Saudi princes.  This is similar to roles that Riz Ahmed (pictured below) is taking on of late.  I’ve written of him briefly before but in short, he is an MC, attended Oxford, was a shit-disturber at his posh high school and is formed fully of charm and wit.  I hope that he keeps working because I am actually excited for what he will bring to the table.  In Closed circuit, which got awful reviews but I quite enjoyed, he is quote on quote a villain but as a member of MI5 he still complicates his exact motivations for carrying on the fight against terror.  Ahmed adds more complexity and layers to where the British Muslim man exactly stands and it’s fascinating.  We need more of this.

So my objective for writing this post is to remind us of the power of the media and films.  They are not just sources for information or entertainment but help to act out the different textures of our lives.  Observing one interpretation of a similar problem that you’ve encountered or a present one that you’re still grappling with, can allow us to tease out what kind of resolution we’re seeking.  It helps us accept that more often than not there are no answers.  It is also a rush to feel that difference is being represented.  That difference is not considered ugly.

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University Ave

The first thing I would tell Marina Keegan, author of “The opposite of loneliness” is that she’s fucking talented.  I also want to apologize for calling her “Monica” when I tried to share her work on Facebook.  But I can never tell her this through correspondence or in person because she died at the age of 22 in a car accident.  It’s always so tragic when someone with gifts and promise passes away.  So many of us have gifts and promise.  Thankfully she has left her legacy through her work.  She will be evergreen.  Marina, whom her former professor described as: “brilliant, kind and idealistic; I hope I never forget that she was also fierce, edgy, and provocative” was a riot.  Apparently “if you wanted a smooth ride, Marina wasn’t your vehicle.”  She probably would not care that I butchered her name.  Wherever she is she’s too busy feeling, writing about it and having a grand ole time.

The woman pictured below is not Marina Keegan and I’m not sure of her identity because I got the photograph from Tumblr.  But I feel like she reflects Marina’s spirit, her exuberance.  What’s special about Keegan’s work is that she wrote about a time that all of us would die to get back.  When things were so raw, urgent and everything was vested with meaning.  We lived for those glorious, messy nights when we were reckless and felt that we were invincible.  We wanted to connect with the right one, the wrong one, anyone.  But who knew that growing up would come so soon and that responsibilities and promises would burden us with some weight.  The big girl pants are great but can fit a bit tight.  It’s when you feel the most confined that you long for those years when you were completely free.  When we literally vibrated with excitement and all of the possibilities were palpable.  I don’t wish back the puke in my hair or the complete emotional annihilation from the boy I could have truly loved.  But we were so lucky.  We had Queen’s to allow us to figure out the angles, to step up and choose the identity to take forward.  I don’t want to go back, fuck I’m so much wiser, but cannot help but smile when I think of you, and it all.  Thanks, it was fun.

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Faith

Isn’t there a saying that if you want to keep friends you don’t talk about religion or politics?  Well, I’m surprised that I have any friends at all if this is the case.  Technically I am a Buddhist, practically my religion lies in theory and common sense.

A fortune teller once told me that I had “stolen” someone’s spouse in a last life and that’s what I’m paying for now.  Firstly, I’m pretty sure that romantic entanglements require participation from both parties.  Secondly, it does not surprise me in the least that I was a shit-disturber in my past life.  That’s what I appreciate about Buddhism.  There are consequences to your behaviour but there are also opportunities to try to be better the next time around.  There isn’t forgiveness and you have to pay your dues.  This is very comforting to someone with my temperament who gets into many a situation purely because of my need to know and feel.  It makes me think a bit more before I act.

Buddhists precepts also promote the concept of impermanence.  Inaccurate interpretations suggest that this is a way of withdrawing from the world.  I disagree.  I believe it’s just a tool to interact with society in a calm, balanced and composed way.  Attachment and favouring your ego can cause unnecessary pain because it instills a fear of the unknown.  When you give into uncertainty and reconcile with the fact that both pleasure and pain eventually subsides, everything is more bearable.

When all religions are wiped clean of all of the self-righteous excuses to define the “other” they are all beautiful.  What is better than a set of codes to help cultivate kindness and be held accountable for your actions?  It’s the extremists who scare the living daylights out of me.  When you interpret scripture for the purposes of control and dominance you are doing no favors.  You can keep your exclusive club membership because I don’t want it.  I will not give you the satisfaction by admitting that I somehow need to be saved.

Religion also helps you make meaning when theory ends, when even Foucault could not help explain the causes.  It helps you cope with the childhood cancers, grandparents starving five year olds, war and thirteen year old girls being raped and thrown off of moving trains.  It helps you face the heavy, twisted shit that makes you cold and sick.  When you are baffled how people and life can be so cruel.

I subscribe to the belief that an open heart is the most important tool for life.  The Dalai Lama in “The Art of Happiness” helps to articulate this strategy.  He provides examples of how different religions would approach certain predicaments.  They are all valid and equal in his eyes.  This type of flexibility is so needed in our present world when we are all about safeguarding countries and putting up walls.  Fluidity provides more opportunities to listen, and with that at least there are more opportunities to learn.

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Catalysts and math

Whenever a production company is trying to sell a movie they start throwing around words like “chemistry,” “undeniable,” “connection.”  Nine out of ten times it will work because it is the catnip for us romantics.  Now, don’t play shy, you know it’s irresistible when you see it in your office, the grocery store, the parking lot.  I know that you smile.  So when it is available for public consumption?  There is nothing better.

I  highly doubt that it’s just smoke and mirrors.  You can’t fake chemistry.  You either have it or you don’t and some pairings work so well.  Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart come to mind, whatever you have to say about their former open-relationship and bisexual arrangement.  I don’t know why anyone’s surprised.  Rules are not always the smart choice in hollyweird where they pay the bills by kissing and pretending to love other people.  How many conventional relationships do you think exist there?  Who’s to say these arrangements are any less healthy than our “normal” relationships?

But returning to the topic of chemistry it can destabilize many foundations but that doesn’t mean that a relationship or commitment will result from it.  I think after they’ve done it for a few years, actors just attribute that strong emotional connection to character bleed and move on.  Have you ever seen a behind the scenes look?  Couples are not formed in that awkward studio with those giant microphones.  They are created in whisperings in trailers when they are “rehearsing” far from their families, responsibilities and home.  I also think they recognize that this artificial environment and the feelings felt there do not always stand up in the daylight.  The soft glow of the fantasy cannot withstand the glare of everyday life.  There are exceptions of course.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have a beautiful friendship post-Titantic.  She even wears a plain gold band from him, engraved with a message, underneath her wedding ring.  I reiterate, rules don’t exist the same way for celebrities with all of that wealth and freedom to choose.  Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz also returned to their former lives and gave it another go, before realizing that they actually wanted to be with each other.  So they cut the ties, wed and returned to living very private lives.  Sometimes you can’t get it out of your system, and you’re not meant to.

The catalyst aspect of these chemical reactions is what fascinates me.  Because some never begin, others die out while a rare few will survive.  These are just questions because I don’t believe that there are well-formed answers as to why this happens.  They just do.  In December I was marking mid-terms at the public library.  I was amongst the entire student body of North Toronto CI who were pretending to study.  Now if the chatter wasn’t distracting enough there were two “friends” helping each other out with Calculus.  I put the label in quotations because everything associated with the beginning was right there: the flirting, the leaning, the laughing.  God, I felt like I was 17 again.  Then his girlfriend showed up.  And I was like, oh, it’s that grey zone.  When she kept looking over with concerned looks I felt badly, because I thought, honey, I’m sorry but I’m not sure you’re going to like how this story gets played out.  One of her guy friends even gave me a knowing look.  Everyone at the table knew.  Sure enough, two months ago I was leaving the library and guess who are now a couple?  Calculus friends.

Chemistry can blow.  I felt badly for the ex.  But the new couple was cute.

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