The chase

When Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for Best Actor he said that his hero is five years away.  And he’s right, you should always be chasing and not be complacent.  My husband and I try to put this outlook into practice.  We are always looking forward.

Now, this strategy exists in our plans for a year in Paris, it’s present in our current monthly budget that will add to our savings for a mortgage, it’s there on the steps we take for our careers.  We put aside pleasure now to have something bigger and better later.  Delayed gratification so that the rewards are bigger.  Granted we’ve had a lot of practice.  Andrew left his corporate job to pursue a graduate education.  People believed that he was indulgent and that it was risky but he did it anyways.  And now, he’s living his life on his own terms and very happy.  In the end it’s always worth it.  The funny part is that the doubters are usually there to offer congratulations at the end when things are good.  Too bad about all that middle part.  But this is when you are gracious and accept their sentiments.

At the core of this is simply one of the sound bytes that you heard from your mother, teacher or guidance counselor.  Set goals and take intentional steps to reach them.  That’s not to say that there is a set path that if you diverge from will result in disaster.  No, there are always different ways to go and it’s very much a process.  One must be resilient and keep at it but there is no distinct end point or time-limit.  Trust, when you finally obtain it you will always want more.

We set similar objectives for our marriage and personal life.  We’ve discussed our 25th wedding anniversary throughout our marriage and have very specific plans.  Having aspirations such as these also means that we’re trying to stay married for at least 25 years.  We are not going to host a lavish dinner party.  Been there, done that with the wedding.  We want the celebration to be about us, not for other people.  That’s why a month in Provence in a chateau is everything we want.  We want that time to reflect on what we share, to be with each other and to be with the people we love most.  I want to break bread and be content.  We’ve also discussed our gifts.  I’m going to purchase a Rolex for him and he’ll buy a Chanel purse for me.  Then Andrew noticed that around our 25th anniversary is when C will be heading off to university.  He realized financially that would be a pain.  So we looked at each other and at the same moment said “what about the 30th for the gifts?”  We may be dreamers but we are also pragmatic.

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Maman

I feel that my son will thank me down the road for not being bat-shit crazy.  Well, that is my sincere wish, lets see if it is the outcome.  I hope that he reflects in his twenties that I had certain expectations for his behavior but above all my semi-relaxed parenting style allowed him to find his way.  That I taught him not be afraid to make mistakes and respected his need for some semblance of a private life.

Those are my overarching goals but I have to negotiate the toddler years first.  There was a phase when I read so many parenting books and ended up thoroughly confusing myself.  After some research the consensus is that everyone will tell you how to do things but you need to decide which strategies work best for you.  We all need to come to terms with the fact that families are built on interactions between different temperaments.  We cannot help but have an impact on each other so you might as well lead by example and accept that even if you try, you cannot always present the best version of yourself.  Accept that you are human.

The French methods observed by Pamela Druckerman in “Bringing up Babe“ have influenced me greatly.  She has it right in thinking that many North American parents are obsessed with indulging their child’s every whim.  We as parents, especially mothers, are expected to bleed ourselves dry till we cannot sacrifice anymore.  What kind of life is that?  I’m sorry but I have no desire to live for my child and trust me, they will not be grateful for your overbearing ways.

In France, parents respect their child’s individuality and therefore try to create a relationship that considers their personality and preferences.  But to define one’s identity you need to have both hard limits and a great deal of freedom.  The French love their paradoxes non?  But it makes sense because if there were no rules how could anyone play the game?  Plus we live in a society where we are accountable to each other, so play nice.  Clearly these boundaries vary according to age but overall time-outs are warranted when the child causes physical harm or disrespects someone else.  Patience is key especially during the toddler years when they are still learning the social mores.  But I like that within this system you frame why they cannot do certain things because they don’t have the right to.  For example, your child does not have right to hit another child, Billy does not have the right be make fun of someone’s physical appearance.  Having discussions of this nature also involves speaking to your child in an adult manner and about concepts of considerable depth.  At all ages we need reminders that we strive to live in a respectful way.

Now, they lump together the rest of the behavior as some of annoyances and inconveniences that come with childhood.  Yes, they will probably be messy and have sensitive moments but that is part of the package.  Would I still explain to C why he cannot spread jam all over my walls (which he hasn’t by the way)?  Yes, because I don’t want him to go over to my friend’s house and do the same.  I don’t have the right to bring my child over to vandalize.  But the important lesson is to always explain why and in turn encourage him to ask why.

So many people have children and don’t want to actually parent.  It is not my job to be C’s friend.  It is my duty to try to lead him while providing him with some agency and most importantly to love him.  There will be times when he doesn’t like me very much, but that’s alright.  Self-worth and good values are far more important.

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Chit chat

I don’t know if it’s my own self-centeredness or the self-centeredness of others that makes my mind wander.  To put it bluntly, I really don’t care.  I think it’s in the details where you lose me.  I don’t need to know every minutiae of daily life.  Most people are ill-equipped to be human pro/con lists to manage risk.  At this point you are wondering how I have any friends.  The truth is that I try to keep my life as simple as possible, which means that my closest friends generally get to the point.  I return the favor by being succinct myself.

When I delve deeper into the motivations of my intolerance it’s that I don’t like indecisiveness.  You know that inability to make decision stems from fear.  Fear of faltering, fear of messing up.  Now this is where I get confused.  If you decide to go one route and it ends up being a mistake there are two outcomes: you live with it or you fix it.  How does this exactly affect members of your inner circle?

Additionally, the sticking point for me is the distinction between a conversation and a monologue.  Having a discussion with someone means that there is a give and take.  You speak a bit about your experiences and then you ask a question or two and allow that person to elaborate.  Or perhaps they will interject at an appropriate moment and offer their point of view, which will trigger how your situation relates to something in their past.  This form of interaction is stimulating and offers the potential to form bonds through commonalities and rapport.  Who actually likes to be talked at?  Now this all hinges on the person you’re speaking to being open-minded.  Judgey people are often the most boring.

Listening is the most important skill one can master.  The very best people listen much more than they speak.  Their contributions are thoughtful and considered.  My inability to hear people’s words and my short attention-span are two of my worst traits and ones that I’m truly trying to improve.  I’m trying to care, really.  But if being self-involved means that I’m reflexive, well that’s just something that’s never going to go away.  Being critical and judgmental are two different barrels of fish.

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Take care

We often tells ourselves that it’s a waste to live one’s life in fear.  And it’s true.  It’s such a waste to feel that any moment may be our last because what sort of living is that?  Perhaps a better approach would be to enjoy what is given and savor it for all it’s worth, so that when the time comes you can go forth bravely, feeling like you did all that you could.

But sometimes you are not granted this wish.  You leave this world with such terror and pain and very much alone.  Last week two British tourists were brutally murdered in Koh Tao, a popular island destination in Thailand.  They were probably doing all the same things that we did when we were 24 years old, having some drinks and feeling like the time and place could not be more perfect.  David Miller and Hannah Witheridge’s lives ended that night, which they thought would like be any other night, and it ended so violently.  And it impacts me because I feel for their families, their friends and all those who will miss them the most.  They make me see so many others I met in my travels and they make me see myself.

Here’s the thing.  You could be walking down the street at home and be hit by a car.  You do not need to be abroad to be in danger and robbed at gunpoint.  I love Thailand, I love the people and I love the place.  One cannot and should not fear what is to come because I think it would be missing the point.  There is also the case of Tomoko Kawashita, whose life ended at a Buddhist temple at 9 o’clock in the morning.  How could anyone ever predict there would be danger in visiting a religious site at the height of Loy Kratong, which is a major celebration each year in Southeast asia?  In the daylight?

It is only respectful and vigilant to remember that violence against women is possible at anytime.  There is a reason why Stieg Larsson’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was originally named “Men who hate women.”  Because it is this hatred against our body, towards our mind, towards our very existence that gets us subjugated and brutalized.  It’s not just us they hate, they hate themselves.  So for these young victims and all victims of violence I truly hope that you are at peace.  And for all women traveling alone please take care.

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To be social

In my twentieth attempt to quit gossip I decided to become more savvy in social media.  I figured if I spend so much time using it to gain information I might as well also be a source of one too.  I never realized how thrilling it would be.  There are so many different platforms to meet your every need but here are two of my favourites.

Have you ever felt like there are too many tabs open in your brain?  Pinterest will help you store some of that inspiration and in a format that is accessible anytime and anywhere.  If you’re a control freak like me this is an online version of one of your to-do lists but the best part is that there is no temporal limit.  Who cares if you don’t get to the file on “Decor inspiration” till two years down the road when you’ve actually bought a home.  Also, if you’re a shopping fiend like me a file called “Products” can help keep track of what is on your radar.  But trust, it’s dangerous for your cash flow because you will remind yourself of things you want.  You can follow my Pinterest boards here.

Tumblr helps to make up for Pinterest’s shortcomings.  My two most active boards on Pinterest were “Style” for my fashion inspiration and “Mapping beauty” where I posted images that I find beautiful.  But without an archive button it is difficult to locate that Emerson Fry jumper or Neil Patrick Harris’ photo.  With Tumblr you can upload these photographs but can also find them again later.  I started one of these accounts when I was looking for news about a certain Canadian ice dance pair.  US weekly doesn’t really cover the lives of figure skaters and fans always have more information.  So amongst the outfits, plates of food and travel destinations their faces would pop up every now and then.  Now I’ve kind of lost interest in them so I’ve purged my account, short a few images, and the blog reflects my current interests.  See but this is the strength of Tumblr, it allows for this type of flexibility.  That and the ability to control your content.  In Pinterest one way to garner followers is to follow individuals who re-pinned one of your items.  The positive aspect of this is that your feed reflects the preferences of so many different people form various backgrounds.  The limitation in this is that you sometimes have to weed through spiritual quotes and crafting instructions.  With Tumblr there are endless amounts of fashion bloggers to follow and they provide the type of content that you’re looking for.  There is less filler.  I run my Tumblr account found here as Kate Smith.  Surprise, surprise.

Although distinct this and other social media platforms are just a way to mold your online brand.  Of course most of us aren’t selling anything but our day to day life requires putting forth a certain identity.  Just like you had that cork board of notes, photographs and postcards in your youth, it’s here again, just online.  The best part is that you can create or erase, alter or keep whatever suits your needs in the present.  We all know that it’s written in ink and will last forever, so of course take care.  It goes without saying that one must educate the kids for sure but perhaps an extracurricular activity would also help.  There’s nothing better than going out and having an actual conversation.  But I almost feel like it’s become so banal.  Like with anything, your past actions impact the now, with or without the photos at the bar being hammered.

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Shop girl

“It’s fine to shop at outlets as long as you have standards” says my husband.  Girls, I have one of the good ones.  Now that I live in the States I have landed in the motherland of outlet shopping.  They even seem to have restaurants so that you can get some sustenance amidst all of that bargain hunting.  There is nothing better than a mall where everything is on sale, I just personally don’t have the patience to wade through piles of unfolded clothes and throngs of people.  It would feel like Christmas eve at Yorkdale mall every day.  No thank you.  The only exception would be for Le Creuset.  I would enter those gates for a dutch oven that I can barely carry by myself back to the car.

I don’t really see the need for it either since online stores have sales every weekend.  When things are 40-50% off and the products are from this season and not four months ago, it seems a bit more practical since you can wear that sweater or blazer as soon as the post arrives.  Plus, you don’t really have to consider how some companies use different quality of materials for their factory stores.

I love the bargain as much as the next person.  There is such a thrill when you see a discount next to a pair of pants that you’ve been chasing after.  I literally checked the price of a dress from Club Monaco every other day for months.  In the end I bought it for full price because I needed it for an event.  But see, there is a bit of care and thought put into that right?  A sort of devotion?  So when I actually committed to purchasing it, I know that I will love wearing it that night and for many events to come.  You don’t necessarily need to practice this form of restraint when you’re in feverish mode at the sales bin.  You probably make more mistakes and have lots of clothes that you wear once or twice.  Trust, I get as frenzied as the next person, I guess I just like to hunt from the comfort of home with a coffee in hand.

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Misfit

There are moments when you’re searching for employment that are downright depressing.  It’s like looking at the wasteland of all your half-finished schemes and things you could have done differently.  In my case, I feel overqualified for some of the opportunities and the things that I actually want to do I don’t have the experience for.

We all know the importance of hustling, that there will be sacrifices and fatigue so severe you want a short reprieve.  That if you really want to go after your dreams, you sometimes have to start in the mailroom.  I understand all of this but I just think all the years we spent on gaining an education should count for something.  Because I chose the path of a graduate education, that event planning position that I would pay to have now probably is not feasible.  I’ve always wanted to be a party planner, I was just afraid that it was not “legitimate” enough and what a shame.  I should have started in the mailroom in my early twenties right out of undergrad.  Hindsight is 20/20.

What a waste to regret anything though.  You’re allowed one day to mope and that’s it because after that you’re just wallowing.  Growing up means that you look at what you are trained to do and frame it for a position that you would be proud of and love.  I understand the value of going after what you want but some dreams are not meant to come true and that’s alright.  Not all of us can be rock stars.

I just thought that I would have it together by now.  In a year or two I know that things will be clearer and beginnings are what you have to muddle through.  Growing up with Sex and the City I imagined myself a certain way in my mid-thirties.  I still have time, it’s all about being strategic right?  Every girl plays the game of deciding which character they are.  Most people would say that I’m Charlotte.  It’s true, I’m proper, traditional in many ways and cringe at some aspects of subversive culture.  But I always admired Carrie’s vulnerability.  Her flaws made her so much more relatable.  She was not always the greatest friend, partner or even person but you still loved her.  I’d say most of us have aspects of all four characters: Miranda’s drive, Samantha’s bravery, Carrie’s confidence and Charlotte’s heart.  I know that the show Girls is written with a similar goal to empower women, but perhaps with more of an edge.  Goodness gracious Ms. Dunham you are smart.  Both are valuable, but Carrie and co. are so much more aspirational.  I love you Lena but I would choose their careers and wardrobes over that version of reality any day.  Life’s a mess but I don’t really need to see it in technicolour all the time. tumblr_nbg3wjo0Zr1taiftro1_500

Help!

My grandmother always said that your relatives are forced to love you but you want to make the job as easy as possible.  I suppose it is true that there is a social code that encourages for family members to be supportive, forgiving and tolerant of flaws.  But is blood really thicker than water?  I’m not quite sure and this belief is put into even more question when you move somewhere else.

One of the realities that comes with relocating to a new city is that you have fewer people to count on.  Of course you make friends and meet your neighbours but they probably don’t want to drive you to the airport at 6am or pick you up medication on their way home from work.  Nor should they have to.  I think we all prepare for this before the moving vans are packed because we don’t want to be shocked upon arrival.  You expect to cocoon into each other, make a party of three and lean in.  What is not spoken about enough are all the ways that people do help you, the various times they go out of their way to make life easier.

Most of our belongings are traveling by land in a truck, stowed away in boxes or bubble wrap.  These possessions are all that we carry and they bumble along the road of life much like we do.  It takes time to cross the US-Canada border and days pass before the miles are traversed and these reminders and memories land at your doorstep.  So you plan and prepare your suitcase to last a few days, in our case it will be closer to two weeks.  The positives about moving to a neighbouring country are that the culture and currency are similar and the language is the same.  So you buy all those objects to start a home, to survive and eventually thrive.  Now, what you travel with as a single or even a couple is very different from boarding a plane with a toddler.  Extra baggage in the form of car seats and fold-out cots are essential along with a carry-on suitcase of toys.  This is when it gets heavy and tricky.  What surprises you most in these situations is the kindness of others: the stranger on the airport shuttle who helps you unload your bags, the other passengers who don’t roll their eyes at your fussy child and the rental car agent who leaves his desk and carries your suitcases right to your car.

When you begin a new job you know that your first connections will be with your colleagues.  This will be one of your circles, maybe not an inner one but an important one nonetheless.  So when they host a barbecue to welcome you on your first weekend in the state and serve you lobster tail, scallops and shrimps, basically the best that New England has to offer, your heart aches a little, and not in a bad way.  But you do get a bit teary when they buy your son organic animal crackers, juice boxes from Whole Foods and crayons galore.  When from the start they treat you with a warmth and genuine care that you only expect from your relatives and those who know you most, you are surprised and humbled.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve experienced this form of support or friendship.  During my fieldwork in Thailand so many individuals offered such great advice, help and camaraderie that can make a place less daunting and lonely.  I remember when my colleague and friend V picked me up from the Chiang Mai airport because I had never lived alone in a foreign country before.  She got me home, gave me water, and turned on the fan, basically the first things you need when you’re a bit intimidated and unsure.  I also cannot say enough of my friend M who drove me to the mall to get a cellphone and to grocery stores countless times to get good cheese and chocolate.  My roommates L and K allowed me to hitch so many rides to jazz bars and cinemas because I could not operate a motorbike.  Well, I could but not without severely compromising my personal safety and the safety of others.

All of these experiences with such giving and generous friends makes you want to be better.  You hope for opportunities to help someone out and pay it forward because you were so lucky to find what and who you need, when you needed it the most.

From my heart, thank you.

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Entitlement

“For the first time in my life there is no logical next step and it’s fucking amazing.”  That was supposed to be the first sentence of this blog post.  I had meant to finish it weeks ago but never got around to it.  Perspectives shift when you’re actually in the middle of it.  I guess that’s why they call it lived experience.  Along with the “fucking amazing” there is a more grounded sense of unease, but it’s not fear.  It’s not like the feeling before the drop on a roller coaster, it’s more like you’re a kid on the first day of school.  Nothing is worn, the pencils are fresh and there is the potential for something new.  I’m not just standing on a conveyor belt.  I’m actually thinking about what it is I want.

The last time I did this was when I was failing miserably at a science undergrad and basically felt like a big fat loser.  I use the word “fat” because it was when I was the heaviest.  I’m an emotional eater so I also seem to gain a few pounds when things aren’t at its finest.  What was worse though was losing my confidence and questioning my level of intelligence.  This was precisely the turning point when I needed to put on the boots and sludge through something I hated or work towards a goal I loved.  Both paths required the Wellies and hate to say it but some shit to walk through.  So I chose for it to be meaningful and close to my heart, even if that meant not having a B.Sc but god forbid a B.A and feeling the weight of my parents’ disappointment for close to a year.  In a family with a long line of physicians a Bachelor of Arts degree probably seems like I majored in basket weaving.  For me personally, it was far more valuable than knowing the table of elements and quantitative formulas.  It provided me with critical thinking skills and a political frame.  It woke me right up.

I’m at a similar crossroad now since I’m close to finishing my doctoral degree.  Graduate school is a process, a negotiation and it’s far from linear.  It requires you be resilient, to work hard and be open to always improve.  These are lessons and skills that are easily translated into various fields, the issue is that I don’t quite know what that “field” currently will be or what that “job” will look like.  There are ideas, concepts and dreams that just need to coalesce into something more solid and less abstract.  One of my major faults has been to follow along with societal and familial expectations.  Always having been such a “good” girl I’ve never wanted to disappoint.  Thankfully as you age Shakespeare’s words about “to thine own self be true” becomes more of a life mantra than a high school English essay.  At the end of the day you are only accountable to yourself so what sort of things do you devote your time to?  Making yourself miserable for the pay cheque no longer cuts it.  As much as I am thankful for all of the opportunities that grad school has offered, I’m also ready to leave.  I believe a workplace and a career should surround you with inspiration, should ignite your passion, and it should not be a chore.  Am I asking for too much?  Every few months the New York Times or Slate will publish an article about my “generation.”  We as the Sesame Street cohort has apparently been told all our lives that we’re “special” so we have unrealistic expectations about our present and future, that we are too entitled.  In my humble opinion, there is nothing wrong with working at it till you get it right.  Till you are good and satisfied.

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Light my way

You knew the night out in undergrad was over when they turned on the ugly lights.  The lights that allow you to see your runny make-up, precisely how intoxicated you are and question if you actually want to go home with the person you’ve been dancing with for past half hour.  This is all hypothetical of course because I always went home with the person I was dancing with, my longterm boyfriend at the time, my husband now.  But it’s strange how this form of illumination makes you recognize how the alcohol, hip hop and darkness made you feel so free.  A moment in time when no one cared.  It’s the signal to get home that brings you back to reality, whether it’s that you have the class to get up for the next day, a paper to finish or that you fully regret that last pint that you’re going to pay for tomorrow morning.

I find similarities between this and the process of settling somewhere new.  Even if it hurts you kind of just have to look life in the face.  It’s always the mundane things that you do, little by little, that makes it hit home that you actually don’t have a home anymore and that your current surroundings are half-finished versions of a place to belong.  That there’s still a ways to go.  Eventually the light goes on that things have changed.

My realization hit me through metal objects of high practical value: when I changed up my keys and emptied out my change purse.  When I placed my new keys onto my ring they were so heavy.  So I thought, I certainly do not have a need to open any doors in Toronto the near future, so why not just put them away for now.  And that’s precisely what I did.  I put them in a place where I would not to lose them: in the pockets of my luggage.  That’s when I knew that I would never need them without the gear to take me back, a temporary vessel of my belongings for my temporary visit.  That place was basically gone from my day to day life and that was fucking sad.  Secondly, I kept going into stores and struggling to give exact change to purchases.  This was not just annoying but again, cluttering my wallet with weight.  So I emptied out the currency that I did not need into a ziploc to use on my next visit.  Just like we sold or gave away everything we could before boarding that flight, we were dropping weight every chance we got.  Physically I might have felt lighter but the emotional baggage will take time to shed.

Now this is my nostalgia talking and I know that it will go away.  The longing will lessen with a schedule, new friends, new plans.  Just like how I explain to my son that his grandparents live in a different city that we have to take an airplane to, I’m constantly reminded of not just the physical distance but the emotional one.  Lives always go on and in the best of ways.  After every month long visit to Burma where I savoured every last minute with my family, my grandmother would always chide me at the airport when I would get too emotional.  We were raised to be stoic and an outpouring of tears was the furthest thing from being dignified.  She used to say, “we’ve had our fun right?”  And of course we did.  And we will again.  Just like goodbyes are always made worse by prolonging it, you just have to do it.  Like Neil Patrick Harris’ character on HIMYM always used to say, “fact, when I get sad I just be awesome instead.”  So be awesome and if you’re sad, buy a ticket.

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