The very cynical will say that Instagram is just another way for the narcissists to boast about how much better their life is.  Wow, what a great outlook.  Good luck with that.  Instead, why don’t we say that it’s a way for people to share their happiness and adventures.  An outlet to add more beauty to the world.

Whether you use social media or not, we are active participants in the practice of signaling.  It’s in the clothes we wear, the haircut we get, the purse we hold.  Signals get crossed, people argue and sometimes you even win.  Yay.  Even with your subversive T-shirts and thrift store “I really don’t care” attitude there is no escape.  The sooner you realize the game, the better you will be at playing it, trust.  I figure, I might as well look good and have fun while doing it.

But then one must also ask yourself, are you really present and enjoying what’s right in front of you when you’re pulling out your cellphone?  What about all of the times when we were younger and there was no “proof” of the good times.  But then I remember that there was, it was just in a roll of film that you couldn’t expose to light and took a few days to process.  We just bored people with albums back then, or those projectors that clicked after each picture.  Perhaps we have come a long way after all.  Now you have the option to scroll right on by.

It’s not that I disagree with the cynics completely.  Photographs capture an instant in time, nothing of what came before and what will prevail after.  I’m not saying that people are liars, just that they’re not displaying the back room action that’s also happening.  For every happy image of a baby or toddler, tears and refusal to leave whatever fun event could have followed very soon thereafter.  Those landscapes in Europe could come at the cost of being ripped off in the taxi on the way there.  But the beauty of Instagram is that for that moment, it was all good.  Nothing wrong with freeze-framing those little moments that add up to a good and textured life.  We always want to pin down what is fleeting anyways.  I say let them and feel free not to look.




It’s a fact universally acknowledged that the very moment that you say “like I care” is when you care the most.  God, I wish it was not true.  You gain a lot of baggage when you give too much credit to people’s opinions.  You risk very little when you don’t want to be made a fool.  But here’s the concession, there are strategies to not give a damn and rewards associated with it.

It’s Andrew’s coping mechanisms to brush things aside.  He reasons that it’s a way to not waste energy on things that don’t really matter.  Sure his feelings rarely get hurt but sometimes I wish he would pay more attention to the finer details.  The downside is that it can make you sloppy when it comes to your personal life.  Sometimes you have to do nice things for people even when they’re not particularly considerate or attentive to your needs.  It’s work to be a bigger person.  But here’s the good stuff, not caring allows you to not fear instabilities that are just a necessary part of life.  People always wonder why successful people don’t have regrets that haunt them.  It’s because they know they would not be where they are without all of those setbacks.

Another liberating fact is that more likely than not people are too busy to think about you anyways.  Schedules are hectic and even when you screw up, most people will devote a nano-second to ponder your situation and then are distracted by something they have to get done.  They are probably already checking their phone.  Who says that self-interest is always a bad thing, heck I’m pretty sure that it can be an integral part of self-preservation.

But I believe there is a point when you would not let things faze you as much, when you’re not looking for gratification from everywhere but within.  I believe the path to this zen, this security, is finding something that you’re passionate about and taking steps to master it.  Work hard to excel.  I’m currently reading “The Goldfinch” and upon seeing the cover Andrew said, “Donna Tartt, that’s the worst fake name ever.”  To which I replied, “she doesn’t care, she’s won a Pulitzer.”



This past summer I was on one of those giant floating swans and actually grazed someone else’s bird.  At that exact moment my husband, mother-in-law, mother, father-in-law, quite literally, everyone and their mother, chuckled.  It was also the point when I rolled my eyes, waved my hands in the air and communicated “whatever.”  Spatial challenges have never been my forte.

Lets just say it took a few tries to get my learner’s permit but I do like to boast that I got my permanent driver’s license (highway test and all) with one try.  You know why?  Because I was finally old enough to ignore that nagging feeling and the naggy people.  Plus, if you actually look at the bigger picture, if I had not grown up in a large urban centre where you can take the subway or cabs everywhere, maybe I would have built up my skills over time.  Because it’s just like how they frame studying for tests in school, it’s a muscle and you need to practice everyday, especially when there’s memorization involved.  Makes sense, non?

But you know what happens when you move to a new country with no extended family to rely on in the area?  Your husband leaves town for a conference and you drive your son back and forth to preschool in torrential downpours.  I believe they call them Nor-easters.  You drive in these conditions after a 3 year hiatus from operating any form of motorized vehicle and one week of practice.  I am an excellent driver.  Who knew!  You know what else you do?  You meet your husband’s colleague’s wife for coffee and then a few days later ask her to put her name and contact information on your records at daycare.  Basically, she became the person they would call under excruciating circumstances if they could not reach either of us.  But she gets it.  As someone who’s American but just moved here from Edinburgh, she knows that you don’t need to be tight before you’re someone’s emergency person because well, there’s no one else.  Plus we want to be friends with them, they’re cool.

I wish these circumstances would happen more often.  When someone would figuratively pick me up and throw me off the dock.  I would imagine myself in a lake in Muskoka, having a ball, and learning to swim.  But see, it would be under my terms to stay in the water.  After you get a taste of this freedom, trust, you never get out.


Blank slate

I want to buy my first house and paint it fifty shades of grey.  Most people get rid of their IKEA furniture when they move in with someone or buy their condo.  We are finally at that stage and I am so excited.  I’m using the same precision I practice to rid myself of things I do not want, to thoughtfully invest in pieces I actually want to own now.

Furniture shopping with my husband is a constant negotiation.  Ha.  Much like our marriage.  But still I’m pretty forthright when there is no room for discussion.  I think my exact words are usually “that ugly-ass lamp is not coming with us.”  His solution is to always put it in the basement.  If you ever come over to our house you’ll understand why you are not allowed down there.

I am inspired by two schools of interior design because of their warmth: arts and crafts and french country.  These styles look like actual people live in the space and it is not a transient hospital room or airport lounge.  But the reality of making a house functional for a family is that you need clean, minimalist designs with materials that can be easily washed like leather, glass and metal.  Plus, I think Andrew once cited an academic article about the connotations of low cultural capital associated with hoarding.  He’s made his point.

If we’re going with contemporary, which is a melding our tastes, then I am going to work hard to add some humanity to it.  Like with fashion I think rooms look awful when they’re too “done”.  There is always one piece that puts it just over the top and makes it camp.  The most stylish ladies look a bit undone.  Even for the boardroom there is a way to balance your business casual to look like you didn’t come straight from Ann Taylor.

But these design objectives are reliant on us committing to living in a certain place.  One time Andrew mused on how we are not “cottage people.”  Funny thing coming from someone who never had a cottage to run to every weekend in the summer.  But still, we both agreed that we’d rather go to Paris or any other place with museums and restaurants.  I sometimes think that being rooted to one city scares him because we would have to get someone to water our plants or something.

I believe that it was John Green who said, “It is so hard to leave—until you leave.  And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”  Moving to the States was exhausting not just physically but mentally.  Trying to make sense of all the different bureaucratic circles was harder than taking the MCATS.  But I think in some ways Andrew reveled in it.  During the snow storm last December when half of Toronto had no power, he looked to me and said, “I kind of like this because it means I have to problem-solve.”

We figure we’ll reevaluate things in five years and decide if we just commit and move to Europe.  Some people call it a plan B, we call it an exit strategy.  Furnished apartment, three suitcases, and you’re there.



Can a private person be active on various forms of social media?  There must be some disconnect in keeping your personal life under wraps and putting it on display right?  I think the line is fine and depends on where you want to set it.

As someone who writes on a blog three days a week about her everyday life and aspects of her past you must wonder how I even define myself as being private.  Well, I very much am.  I can count on one hand the number of people who I am truly myself around.  Let me list them now: my husband, my mother, my son and my best friend K.  Four.  Four people whom I trust enough to reveal it all.

I write about all this stuff because it’s my way of learning.  I document this not necessarily as a reference to mediate on later, I just think better with words.  And the fact of the matter is that I think ALL the time so it’s nice to let some of it go, you know?  I figure for all of the use that particularities can encourage, like respect and empathy, some of the universalities are sometimes good.  We’ve all probably had the guy issues, blown off commitments, been a flake or broken people’s hearts.  So it’s nice to know that it’s part of the narrative of life.  That we’re all fumbling around a little and that frailty is allowed.

Plus, what you see here is a fraction of what’s actually going on and a sliver of what I want you to see.  And whatever you read from it, be it neurosis, confidence, frustration, acceptance, all of those interpretations are perfectly acceptable.  It’s meant to be read anyways, it’s public.

And that’s where there’s trouble.  As someone who’s very much part of my history and obviously my present Andrew appears now and again in my writing.  It doesn’t always make him comfortable because he’s so private.  He’s hard to decipher but it’s intentional and I agree that it’s effective.  If you show people all of your cards, you make yourself vulnerable to their critiques and ridicule.  The difference between us is that I just assume that the feedback from the peanut gallery is just a part of developing as an individual.  If you didn’t have that reflection, how could you possibly define who exactly you are?  To know who you don’t want to be?  Plus some critiques are meant to be dismissed.  They make it too easy.

I think it’s common for anger to be defined as an undesirable trait.  In some ways I do agree.  People with higher emotional intelligence see the manipulative aspects of tantrums and how useless they are.  Most of the time they just produce tears and people thinking that you’re kind of a loser.  But I think that human emotions are far too complex to create such stark contrasts, like how the words neurotic and aware have different connotations but similar motivations.  Don’t these people just want to see and question?  Some just manage it better and they get placed behind the “fun” line on the spectrum.  So management.  Management and mystery.

I’ve always preferred to try to problem solve independently.  It’s a force of habit.  For all that you have to say about only children you have to admit that our hands don’t always need to be held.  If that makes us distant, well so be it.  At least we don’t advertise every paper cut.  Most of us just put our heads down and get shit done.



The best advice I’ve ever received came from my friend K, who in his loud, witty way told me to buy a ticket.  At the time it was in reference to some game we were playing but it stuck with me.  Now I basically use it every time I consider a job opportunity or try to change my current reality.

The advantage of having a low threshold for humiliation is that you’re more careful.  The disadvantage is that you’re more fearful.  I used to be so afraid of failure that I missed out on some great opportunities.  But if you don’t put in that application or volunteer that time or buy the fricken ticket the answer will always be “no.”  The answer might still be “no” in the end but at least you were in the running.

This is all within reason of course.  I’m pretty sure that one of the definers of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, looking for a different result.  That or you’re a masochist.  Of course don’t give up and try, try again.  Just make sure that you change the parameters or the strategies.

There are so many ways that we get in our own way.  We tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, that we suck at math, or that we’re not intelligent.  It’s human nature to want to fuck it up for yourself because at least that way the rejection came from you and not from someone else.

When I was young I celebrated the Christmas holidays with my extended family.  One year my mom and aunt got stress balls for the three of us.  My cousin K got one that said “whatever” and a stick figure who didn’t care.  T’s said something that doesn’t come to mind but probably had something with her “knowing what she’s doing.”  Mine was pink, had a shaking person and said “me, nervous?”  It’s not like they were saying anything that wasn’t common knowledge.  I brooded over getting my ears pierced for two days till finally my aunt put a spray meant for freezing throats on my ears right before the procedure.  I was a nervous wreck for a long time.  I built things up so much in my mind and set the ground for overthinking it.  Since then I’ve learnt to look objectively at the stakes, know that they’re not life or death, and to do my best.  I’m also older so I can do something fun afterwards like go shopping or have some champagne.  Yay!  I screwed up!  And just like that the sun rises and you move on.

For me, standardized tests used to be the enemy.  Now I just know that the best thing to do is study.  Duh.  But don’t psych yourself out when the time comes to put that learning into practice.  You deserve better.  You are better.

Update: T’s stress ball said “I’m not listening.”  Ha.  Fits her to a T.


Dotted line

There is no better motivator, the thing that gets you down to business, than looking to buy a home.  Yes, please let me go into debt so that I can live out the American dream of owning property.  Where do I sign?  But seriously though, when the price is right and the interior is nice I sometimes say, what, is this house haunted?  All jokes aside though it’s so motivating to see your starter home within reach especially after years of being a graduate student.

I also am living in a town in Massachusetts where housing prices are reasonable and you can obtain some beautiful properties and still not be a slave to your work.  The white picket fences naturally fit in a community where people hold open doors, ask “how you doing?” and smile.  They actually strive to be good neighbors.  God, I come from a city where everyone minds their own business and if someone smiled at me on the street I’d wonder if they were about to rob me.  This place is wearing down some of the cynicism.  Slightly.  It’s nice not to be a big grump anymore.

What I feel more reflexive about is how I used to feel sorry for those who didn’t live in large urban centers.  For awhile Toronto was the centre of the universe and those who were not within her orbit were just dreadfully unlucky.  But the fact is, I would roll my eyes at the old me.  There are different ways of living and being.

There are self-important people who feel that their bleeding hearts do the world a service.  Even if you sent them an email with images of your new house and tell them that your dreams of escrow finally came true, they would find a way to feel sorry for you.  Because you know, you might feel at home but you live in the country.  To these individuals I just want to draw a distinction between empathy and taking away someone’s agency.  Not everyone wants to be just like you.  If someone is struggling, of course be supportive, open and there but they can probably do without your worry.  Because these types of interactions quickly become stale and can even verge on toxic.  They just might take the next flight out of town to not be stifled by the weight of your expectations.  Chill.


Line em up

There was a time in my life when I wanted everything to be perfect.  You know the phrase “have all your ducks in a row?”  I would be the person making sure that the distance between them was exactly 3.5 cm.  Then I had a child and started adopting the motto “better done than perfect.”  Not only did I become more pragmatic but less of a pill.

The long and short of it is that life is not a three act play where people are going read their lines and behave the way you want on cue.  One of the most exciting aspects of life is the concept of free will and the ability make autonomous choices once you reach a certain age.  Wanting that dinner to go according to plan or that party to work out exactly so will just put you in a tizzy.  Tightly wound people will be the death of me I swear.

This is not to say that I don’t have great expectations.  I am my own harshest critic and expect a certain level of decorum and achievement from myself.  The only thing I take more seriously than my own success is the responsibility of parenting.  I like doing things well and this is one task that I do not want to fail at.  I’ve always been able to remain calm because most of my frazzled self happens below the surface.  Now, this does not mean that I’m not sometimes a spazz.  Highly driven people mostly are.  My husband recalls how most of his childhood friends were spazzes well into high school and they are now all well-adjusted, kind, high-achievers.  They are very good men.  So what can be considered strong-willed can be guided towards leadership and motivation if handled intelligently.  I love C’s spunk, though sometimes parenting him requires the patience of saints.  But, the last thing I want is to raise a mindless follower whose very identity depends on meeting normative benchmarks.  I remember when I was young I always wanted to know why I could or could not do something.  Being entrenched in an Asian household this was obviously defined as being impertinent but it really wasn’t.  I just wanted to reason and determine if what was instructed of me aligned with my values.  There’s nothing wrong with thinking for yourself.

But if there’s anyone that I want to be perfect for it’s for my son.  Hell, I would work three jobs if it meant that he received a private education.  It is up to me to provide him with as many opportunities as possible, to be an enabler.  Gaining high cultural capital is work but it is a form of enrichment and a life-long project.  I’m here to build up the conditions for these engagements.

So of course having a perfectionist as a mother will come with some pressure but those who know C best understand that he already recognizes precisely what he wants.  I don’t think there is a danger of him living for his parents.



“I don’t want to watch that, it has old people in it,” says my husband of Sarah Polley’s film Away from Her.  Now before you balk at the insensitivity of his remark about the elderly or Alzheimer’s, ask yourself, is he saying something none of us have thought ourselves?  Who actually wants to get old?  It’s the phase in life when your body slows and bears the scars of your experiences.  The very lucky get to maintain their wits but that’s never a guarantee.  But lets be positive.  The polite adjective is distinguished but I believe it’s accurate.  Just think of all that you have accomplished and learned.

I’ve never been one to squeeze every last minute of a fun experience.  I don’t have a fear of missing out.  I leave the bar when I get bored.  So, when I reflect on the process of aging I hope that the universe will take this into consideration.  I don’t really have the desire to reach the point when I’m no longer present and drooling.  When I’m just delaying the inevitable.

So instead I choose to view this life phase as an opportunity more than a hindrance.  But to acquire this perspective one needs foresight and planning.  Do I want to take those vacations when my joints can’t take it?  Hell no.  I want to see all of those places when I’m willing and able.  I’m not going to be rushing to get things done at the very end.  I plan on taking my own sweet time.  Do I want to feel that things were so much better in the past?  This is the very definition of an “old” person.  Things change all the time and that is a gift.  We are so lucky that every passing day allows for greater recognition of difference and the human condition.

One of my favorite television shows is BBC’s “As Time Goes By.”  Starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer, the series chronicles the meeting of two sweethearts who lost touch during the war.  They reconnect and realize the depth of their feelings after marriages, children and careers.  After so very much.  Not only is the writing and rapport between the actors perfection but I like the sentiment behind it.  That it’s never too late to enjoy life, to enjoy each other.  Isn’t it Dylan Thomas who said “do not go gently into that good night?”  I rather not fight it, but will take it for what it’s worth.  Shall we?



Do us part

It’s not particularly novel or cutting-edge to depict the dangers of marriage in popular culture.  It’s actually a service to society that the prevalence of domestic violence is brought to light.  Sadly they have a lot of material to work from.  To honor the release of the film Gone Girl, which I hope is infinitely better than the novel, I am going to feature two thrillers that are working within this genre.

There is a spoiler so skip over the next paragraph if you want to wait.  Actually, the whole post is a spoiler.  Stop here please if you want to wait.  Seriously.

I’ll get to the critique right off the bat.  The sad reality is that bullies on the playground sometimes grow up to be weak men who push around their wives.  But as soon as a writer creates a character like Amy who pushes back, she is of course absolutely crazy.  I’m not denying that she is, just that real-life women who are trying to leave emotionally and verbally abusive relationships are not one or the other, a weakling or a psychopath.  Adultery and never growing up are forms of emotional abuse in my books, Amy just goes way out of line for her just desserts.  The useful lesson from Gillian Flynn’s best-seller is to bring attention to the fact that women are not the only victims.  There is a reason why it’s called “spousal” abuse.

Another fighter is Christine in SJ Watson’s “Before I go to sleep.”  I read this book when we first moved to Massachusetts, in an empty condo with a sleeping child and my husband at work.  It scared the living daylights out of me to say the least.  Silence is not your best friend in these situations.  Christine is desperately trying to piece together her life after a horrific accident where she suffered severe memory loss.  Each morning she wakes up and cannot reclaim her short-term memory.  This results in her husband being a stranger and her telling herself that she is in love with him.  I’m not going to give much else away because it’s just too good to spoil.  Lets just say that something is not quite right and you too will be as desperate as her to figure out the “truth”.

Both novels also address the power of memory and how it’s very much shaped by context.  If you lost all those fragments tomorrow and had to rely on other people telling you the significance, just imagine how meaningless it would become.  It also reminds us how much we mediate on what we remember and change it.  There is no absolute truth and that’s what creates such a chasm between Amy, Christine and their sleaze bags husbands.  I think this is a great lesson here on how unhappy you can become if you put so much weight on making memories and capturing the happiness.  Sure, joy is meaningless when it’s not shared but being able to live for yourself would also make your life more sane and manageable.  Amy’s problem is that she is clueless to her own flaws.  Nick not remembering some random outing does not a thoughtless bastard make.  Probably gives some perspective to our own idiosyncrasies non?  To try to see the forest for the trees?