Fortune

When the shit has hittith the fan my philosophy is to take it like a woman and to clean up later.  Because you know that’s where character’s needed right?  The clean up.  But when things are a bit shaky I also draw on two lines written by a Victorian poet and a man with a beautiful voice.  The words are from “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley and Morgan Freeman is the one speaking them.  “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”  In my mind there is nothing more powerful than that.  The belief that you have the power to make things better, and if not, at least the will to trudge right on through to the other side.  After the poem I also tell myself that “this” will not break me.  Perhaps it’s my own little prayer but man, the comfort it provides it indescribable.

All the talk of lyrical words also bring forth thoughts of spirituality.  I’m sure that many faiths frown upon it but as a Burmese Theravada Buddhist, I’ve been raised to also believe in a little bit of magic.  Perhaps it’s because we know that so many things are out of our control, we arm ourselves with a bit of the mystic.  Whether it becomes true or not, the practice of drawing on the gifts of individuals who may have access to another realm is not reduced to nonsense.  I appreciate that, the world is far too serious already.  Plus, it’s become somewhat of a ritual, that when I’m in Yangon I consult with the fortune teller, a woman I met when I was fifteen and last saw when I was twenty-eight.  Her face is pure light, her aura is very beautiful.  It’s all in good fun and I like having brunch with my family afterwards.  If you’re going to have Burmese fish soup (mohinga), it always tastes better at a cafe downtown, on a wooden stool, in the middle of so much life.

I’ve also had a long-term relationship with astrology.  I was that girl who looked up the sign of her high school crush and tried to figure out how to go about speaking to him.  Judging from my list of boyfriends (one, the one who became my husband), I was a bit shy and awkward during that time and didn’t end up speaking to most of them.  The idea that all born within a three week time-frame would have similar characteristics is somewhat silly, but those who take these things seriously know that the rising sign and moon sign make an attempt at drawing out the nuances.  Either way, I occasionally read my monthly horoscope at the back of fashion magazines.  While I chuckle and hope that those new opportunities do come my way, I am aware that working towards it is a necessary part of it all.

There are a million different ways to come to terms with the unknown.  Some people worry and others feel that they have answer before it’s even been delivered.  I always remind myself to ask for what I want and have the flow to change course when necessary.  After all, what are captains if they are not leaders.

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Moderate

I feel blessed that I’ve never felt true devastation.  The closest I’ve come to it is when I lost my grandparents.  This is not to say that pain like this will never touch my life again.  I know that it’s just a part of living in this world.  And this world is extraordinary, beautiful and productive.  It’s important to remember that in the face of utter destruction.

I draw this philosophy and approach from Buddhist teachings and other less defined forms of spirituality.  That and just generally observing human behavior.  The main principle is to tread lightly.  The image I always see is that of skimming water.  There is still displacement but there’s less impact than a cannonball, right?  It’s also a whole lot less selfish because now people don’t have to change their shoes.

Studying these concepts and actually practicing them are two different stories.  One or my worst traits is my lack of patience.  I can sometimes be reactionary and not fully think through the consequences.  I also have a flair for drama.  I recently noticed that a moth from our old apartment in Toronto had put holes in several of my sweaters, basically leaving them ruined.  I commented that “it’s like we’re living in Victorian England,” to which my husband responded, “it’s like we living a house filled with hyperbolic statements.”  I gave him a “humph” but I can’t disagree.  But recognizing these flaws and trying to improve on them is the first honorable step.  It’s always a work in progress and I’m just trying to live as respectfully as possible.  Plus, these traits can sometimes make me brave.

So how exactly do you become enlightened?  Well, the simplest route is to always seek the middle ground.  Here are some examples: acknowledge the shortcomings in the world but also see the good; don’t place anything on a pedestal, imperfections are what provide richness in life; there are always different approaches and various ways of being, respect that; and you’ll only have a letdown if you build something up too much, simmer down and just enjoy it while it lasts.  The principle: moderation in all things.

Therefore, when hard times approach you won’t completely fall apart.  True grit is often more valuable than privilege, wealth or even talent.  It’s what keeps you going.

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Priorities

It is a truth of the universe that something always has to give.  To have a lot of anything, concessions need to be made in another aspect of your life.  Lets not be greedy shall we?  In my last year of undergrad I worked two jobs to pay the bills.  This is all the while taking extra courses to graduate after changing majors and finishing up my honors thesis.  The good news is that the grades didn’t slip but needless to say I ended up performing both employment positions poorly.

One of the jobs was in a restaurant and was so physically demanding that I vowed to get a career that allowed me to sit most of the time.  Service people work hard for their honest living.  The whole experience taught me that there is a danger to over-committing, even with a stubborn streak and will to get the pay stub.  In the end you do no one any favors with this “leaning in” and more often than not they are disappointed that you’re a flake.

I’m reflecting on all of this now because at this transition I’m trying to strategize for my career.  Luckily my husband is investing in my worth because he has the childcare worked out for me.  But I wondered, if my primary job was to take C to enrichment classes, prepare his meals, play and have fun, instead of finishing my PhD and looking for employment, would I feel differently?  Would I be less stressed with the juggle?  If we took back the cost of childcare and forgot about gaining a salary for me, would I be able to put that effort into raising my son?  As with anything I would want to do it well.

This is all hypothetical of course because I’m not sure if I am wired to take on motherhood as my sole career.  It’s not that I don’t love it, which of course I do, I’m just inspired by different types of fulfillment.  But I do believe that I might perform my motherly duties so much better if that was my only concern.  These types of considerations do serve reminders to maintain balance.  One always needs to set priorities and allocate energy to what matters most.  Don’t lose yourself now.

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Later

One Christmas my father gave me the book 7 habits of highly effective people.  At the time I was thirteen and like most thirteen year olds who are slightly bratty, I thought that it was the worst gift ever.  Isn’t the opposite of effective, defective?  What am I, a blender?  Reflecting on it now I think that my Pops had it right.  There is nothing better than knowing how to be more strategic because let me tell you, making it is not all about skill.  It’s about being smart with your time.

I am the queen of procrastination but not in the usual way.  I commit once I’m in the midst of the project but I will always find ways to delay the start.  I will catch up on gossip, I will read travel books about Paris, I will shop for Christmas gifts.  In recognition of this, I don’t allow any of this monkey business till I’ve put in some work, till I’ve earned my break.  I just tell myself to “start somewhere.”  So if you’re in a similar bind, here are some ways to end the cycle of postponing the beginning.  It’s time to show up.

One.  Make lists.

Every single day I start with a list of objectives.  Some are banal like “cancel phone plan,” some are fun like “go to Whole Foods,” and others are more serious like “submit paper.”  God, I even have a line for checking email, but that’s okay, because it’s so satisfying to cross something off that piece of paper.  Even if you don’t get it all done today, that’s okay, the intent was there and tomorrow you just make another list.  Eventually you will get sick of seeing the same task every single day and you will finish it, trust.

Two.  Discipline.

When my son goes to bed each night, all I want to do is work on my fashion blog, watch Gossip Girl or read a book.  Nope, I don’t allow myself to even turn on Tumblr till I’ve made his lunch, filled out the school forms, and emptied the dishwasher.  You know why?  It’s because all of those things are mandatory and there is no negotiation.  So why not finish your duty before fully enjoying your pleasure.  Blair and Chuck can wait.

Three.  Dig deep.

The one sport I excelled in was swimming.  Perhaps as an only child it appealed to my need for independence.  Even in a relay, you contribute your lap, but you are alone in the silence of the water.  It’s breathtaking.  But you know those last four laps or the last four miles in a marathon when all you want to do is have a cupcake, that is when you draw from within.  You dig even if you think there is nothing left.  If there is one thing I’ve noticed about highly successful people it’s that they don’t even define it as digging deep.  It’s just a part of their drive and motivation and to them this practice is like breathing.  You don’t want to fold the laundry?  Do it anyways.  You don’t want to write today?  Do it anyways.

Four.  Play the long game.

I am a firm believer in perspective, that it will all make sense one day.  When we first came to Canada my parents gave me 10 cents everyday to put in a little margarine container.  It was my most prized possession.  Each day that you strive to be better, to learn and to improve is another coin in the bank.  Ever so often when your reality isn’t fully what you’ve imagined, just think of that investment of your time, heart and effort.  It is something that can never be taken from you.  There are few things more valuable than a positive attitude and gumption.  Be your own PR person and re-frame.  You always get what you need.

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Flippant

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.”

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Drive

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.

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Public

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.

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#fail

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.

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Cosmic

I have a photograph on my Tumblr blog that states “what if the one that got away came back?”  Ten years ago, heck three years ago, a statement like this would have made me swoon.  I keep it on my blog now to remind me not to be a fool.  He is never coming back and if he got away, well, maybe it was for the best.  Forget chasing and dodge that bullet.

I’ve smartened up because I’ve learnt the hard way that pining over something in the past is so completely useless.  It’s probably the very opposite of being productive and you end up not loving individuals around you like they so deserve.  But I see the pull.  The past is so much easier to figure out because it’s already happened, the present is what you’re working through now.  The bigger picture is mostly granted with experience but the good news is that we almost always learn to live with whatever plays out.

Don’t worry, being less naive has not made a cynic out of me.  When I say that he’s never coming back, I just mean maybe not this lifetime.  If you’re one to believe in karma like I do, you probably also subscribe to the idea that souls are somehow linked.  Now this is not soulmate with a capital S where there is only one person in the world who can make you happy.  How absurd is that, especially when you are growing everyday?  No, I believe that you only get that surge of energy when you meet someone, when your entire body reacts towards them because you’ve met before.  I believe that a couple of us circle each other lifetime after lifetime and the relationships are not always romantic.  Sometimes you’re siblings, platonic friends or enemies and because of your karma it might take a few tries to actually be together.

I’ve felt that seismic jolt a couple of times like I’m sure we all have.  There’s happiness in knowing that we’ll probably meet again no?

“See you next lifetime brother.”  If you watch Lost you’ll get the significance of that statement.  God, Desmond was my favourite.

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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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