Particularities

One of the very best things that maturing as an individual offers you is the practice of mindfulness.  Put simply, you start to recognize when you’re being difficult, whiny, indulgent and you change your behavior accordingly.  For example, it simply puzzles me how certain people need to take a survey of everyone else’s opinions before making certain life choices.  Aren’t you the one using the mortar/pestle, dress etc?

Similarly, when you’ve been exposed to certain theorists in the social sciences, your eyes begin to pick up on certain aspects of everyday life and think of them in novel ways.  For example, when you’ve learnt of Bourdieu you can never really go back.  Of his many theories, the one I find most relevant in my life is the one of “habitus.”  To summarize very broadly, it just means that our upbringing, values and past experiences all shape our current socio-cultural outlook and outcomes.  In the larger scheme of things it matters because there are also practices in play that impact the process of social climbing through the accumulation of wealth and privilege.  Face it, we all want the best and are a part of the game, whether we are aware or not.  So, this is helpful in two ways: one, if you want to take part and win a little, you can actively take on endeavors that will help you reach your objectives for success; two, you are able to understand people’s motivations with a bit more compassion because, habitus comes into play for all of us.  Now, it is important to remember that the best players make it look effortless.  Everyone tries but some come off a bit desperate.

Taking this into consideration, I can better understand certain aspects of my own character.  My love for fashion did not come out of nowhere but was initiated by a mother who taught me from a young age that it matters how we present ourselves to the world.  God, you should have seen some of my outfits as a child, she has impeccable taste.  It is from her that I learnt the value of clean lines, well-cut tailoring and how our styles can reflect our sense of self.  When you love fashion, it’s easier to engage with these principles when you have a body that you’re comfortable in.  Life’s too short not to look and feel great and obviously everyone defines this for themselves and on their own terms.

Secondly, I am particular when it comes to aesthetics, not just in fashion but also the material world.  This type of need for perfectionism also carries through to my love of the culinary arts.  There is nothing that feeds the soul more than good food.  Yes, you can still indulge in this realm while setting limits on portion size and using some common sense.  And god, if you do have a treat don’t waste it by feeling guilty.  You would have done better not eating it at all.  Being particular means that I’m also a control freak who tries to not ask for help.  Therefore, when you come over to my house my answer will probably be “no thanks” when people graciously offer their assistance.  It’s no slight to them, I’ve just been raised and surrounded by perfectionists who have thoroughly frustrated me.  When someone takes you up on your offer to help out, but nit picks everything in the process, you kind of want to say, WTF, do it yourself.  Therefore, knowing this, I do it myself.  And, if I do ask for help I relinquish control and try my best to keep my mouth shut so that the person gets to feel the full satisfaction of getting something done.  Really, you can change it when the individual goes home anyways to not hurt their feelings.

Thirdly, control freaks are infamous dissectors and this often gets worse when they become parents.  Especially in this day and age when there are so many books available about various methods, it’s easy to become too mindful of your actions.  My very blunt PhD supervisor, who is also a mother, once said to me “hey, as long we’re not locking our children in closets and beating them, we’re doing pretty good.”  So, a little common sense comes into play.  Love them, be there, and do your best but give yourself a break.  There are so many critics already, do not add to the noise.  It is also pretty likely that with any social interaction, we will crash into each other in the best of ways.  Habitus demands it.

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Imagine that

Before I even turn the first page of a novel, I have to find the appropriate actor or actress to fill the part.  So many screenplays are now adapted from best-selling novels, so a trip to IMDB often suffices.  Why do we need those individuals in our mind’s eye?  Lets be honest now, they aren’t hard to look at either.

When I first read “Fifty shades of Grey” they were still casting for the roles so I was lucky enough to have my own image remain intact.  As many of you know, the book started as a fan fiction that was written for Bella and Edward from Twilight.  Well that’s easy then because you just have to imagine Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson playing some emotional and physical games.  Done.  As soon as the trailer for the actual movie was released though, my illusions were shattered and I knew I would never see the film.

First off, I personally do not know what the big scandal is with consensual BDSM.  To put it bluntly, it’s just what gets you off.  Some people like to be called sweetheart, others, well, prefer something else.  As long as it’s between two consenting adults, it’s none of our business.  We clearly have two very public instances of when it’s not alright, like when you slap a woman on the side of her head because you’re a quasi Canadian celebrity, or when you drug women to rape them.  That is not okay.

Returning to “Fifty shades” though, the casting was particularly disappointing because of the aesthetic.  I don’t think I’m being particularly superficial here since film-making is built on the principle of finding representatives to tell a story; part of that is how they look and carry themselves.  As soon as Jamie Dornan came on the screen I knew that he was too attractive and well, Dakota Johnson was a bit too sweet.  The appeal of Robert Pattinson is that he’s slightly dirty and disheveled but can still pull off a suit better than most men because he of his edge.  His history of participating in the underground London scene with all that it entails, including the substance abuse and complicated sexual pairings, somehow just is part of his physicality.  Similarly with Kristen Stewart, she doesn’t look like every other girl that you went to high school with.  Her features and personal style are a bit more unusual and couture.  She’s different and has an infuriatingly bratty attitude that you know would attract a damaged control freak like Christian Grey.

Though the writing is obviously not going to win a Pulitzer, the novel has its own market and appeal.  For all those people assuming that it’s only stifled housewives who are buying it, your thoughts are sexist and demeaning towards individuals who raised you.  Their free labour is in one of the hardest and most under-appreciated sectors in society.  Secondly, everyone has fantasies and it doesn’t make them a bad person.  There is nothing to be ashamed of.  A high-horse on the other hand is nothing to be proud of.

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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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Extraordinary

Over the holidays I saw films about two inspiring men (Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking), and yet I’m much more interested in the extraordinary women, or the co-stars.  Obviously.  First is Alan Turing, whose involvement in intelligence service for the British government during World War II is portrayed in The Imitation Game.  The success of this film lies in offering up something for everyone; for those who came for the strategies of combat, secrets and lies and others who wanted to know more about Turing’s humanity, everyone will go home satisfied.  It stands to say that Turing is incredible.  Hell, I even learned about the Turing system in my beginners Computer Science class in high school.  His brilliance is special but he lived within a society where he never quite fit.  Whether that’s from his sexual orientation and the persecution he suffered from it, or his lack of social know-how that meant that he was never quite accepted.  Either way, it was this perception of his own difference that he battled with his entire life but also what made him more open-minded.  It’s this history of being dismissed that made him consider the talents of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), in spite of her sex.  Yes Clarke was smart and participated in very important work that she will never be credited for, but what’s also compelling is her relationship to Turing.  She was his friend when everyone thought that he was strange and a misfit.  She saw beyond his interest in codes to his ability to think bigger than anyone else.  Imagine how much her friendship was worth when he was treated with such little kindness his entire life.

In The Theory of Everything Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones) is Stephen’s university sweetheart and wife who was there from the beginning of his carefree days as a student to when his body began to give way.  She is the mother to his children, the woman who fed him and clothed him and set him off to work.  She is the light that kept things in perspective even when things probably were very dark.  Jane Hawking also has a Ph.D.  You would never think that would you?  That such a strong, selfless, awe-inspiring woman would also be so accomplished.  They showed it briefly in the film, the struggle, when she’s trying to study amidst the noise of the house, when she found the time to focus on her mind when I’m sure her body and soul were so very tired.  Jane was there as Stephen Hawking was making his mark and she bore it all.  She was steadfast when he initially said that they didn’t need help because they were a “normal” family.

What is it with these extraordinary men and their obsession with being normal?  You would think that they were far too special for something banal like fitting it.  The pull is always there though, that desire for some reprieve since it’s so much easier to be ordinary.  It’s no surprise then that the Hawking marriage wore down.  You can only go through so much together before you seek something a bit lighter, non?  Who wants to live with all of that weight?  With the end of Turing’s life you are sad for him.  Not for his life, but that he won’t see what an impact he’s had.  That it takes so long for the world to catch up.

Both films are beautiful in their own way.  One brings forth larger and relevant issues of security, identity, and social acceptance.  The other gets at the complexities of marriage and the politics of living with someone, the hurt we cause and the outcomes of this history of flaws.  But both provide hope, to continue on our paths because one day, you’ll be somewhere fine, the sun will shine, and all will be right with the world.  Perspective.  Both offer perspective.

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Tinsel and all that

There’s no better time than the holidays to live out your childhood scars.  I don’t mean this in a bad way.  Without the proper emotional regulation and perspective Christmas time tends to be quite the shit-storm filled with highs and slight annoyances.  In my early years and right through to my teens I worshiped at the alter that was a holly jolly Christmas.  This was slowly and surely tempered by a little bit of reality, which made my perception a whole lot healthier.  Rather than expecting the perfect performance of rituals, I came to accept that the days are and should be mainly for celebrating the love you have for your friends and family.  To honor that we are so blessed to be together again.

Because I view the holidays this way I assume that I’m allowed to celebrate it even though I’m a Buddhist.  Right?  If we are celebrating the birth of a teacher, leader and compassionate individual surely he would have wanted everyone to feel that type of joy without judgement.  So now that we have that covered, the next few posts are going to center on the rituals and rites of this wonderful season.  They will take on the themes of decor, gift-giving, dinner and party planning.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a geographer and a feminist political geographer to be exact.  The concepts I study are located in human geography which is a field that theorizes place.  Therefore, when it comes to anything I believe that care and consideration to the feel of the space is very important.  How do you work with such an abstract concept?  You decorate and you decorate well.

I have a weakness for holiday aesthetics and it requires so much will power to not purchase the entire Pottery Barn catalog.  Returning to the principle of minimalism though there are just a couple of key items that you need initially: tree and stockings.  Garlands for the mantle, mercury glass trees, wreath, throw pillows, bed linens and a rug at the front-door can all come later.  So let me tease out the concept of the tree and stocking for you.

Most of my Christmases since arriving to Canada involved celebrating at someone else’s house.  Though I’m so grateful for the invitations, being a guest means that the tree was always decorated.  Now, that began my obsession with oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree.  So can you guess what I did when we moved to Massachusetts?  I got a real tree from a nearby farm and decorated it from top to bottom.  It was all mine.  From many of the lifestyle sites I read there is a method.  Apparently the best trees have repetition.  So essentially you choose a colour palate and theme, buy several of 3 to 4 ornaments and you’re set.  I actually go the sentimental route and all of my ornaments represent certain times, places and people.  Though it may not look uniform, it is special to me.

You don’t even want to know how many Christmas stockings I own.  Being a guest meant that many years I received my stocking gifts in some sort of bag.  Thank you to the lovely individuals who filled them in the first place but apparently things like this mattered to me.  Therefore, now I have monogramed red and white velvet stockings with holders that spell out “Noel.”  Dream achieved.

Have you ever heard the song “In a sentimental mood” by John Coltrane and Duke Ellington?  Every time I hear the slow, sensuous notes I am taken to somewhere hot, lazy and fine.  It’s kind of the same with the holidays.  Get yourself in the mood by making your indoor winter wonderland.  The turkey may overcook and people might be late but it won’t matter when the twinkle lights blink and your red wine goes down nice and easy.

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Two for tea

One of the more “intense conversation” I’ve had with Andrew took place in the most decadent of places: a lovely tea salon in Paris.  Hey, if you’re going to have a fight you might as well do it with white linen.  We disguised it as a discussion about the French theorist Pierre Bourdieu and on the theme of taste regimes but really we were arguing.  Apparently that’s what nerds do, they use theory to get at each other.  He’d say that he won but I’ll call it a draw because the hot chocolate was really, really good.  In any case, after taking a nap we were buds again.

It all started when he refused to wait an hour to gain entrance.  I don’t really blame him because I don’t see many men lining up that length for tea service.  I normally wouldn’t be so insistent but after reading accounts in a couple of travel books, I was not about to leave the city without having had a taste.  So, I told him to head back to the hotel and that I would eat alone.  Now, some women might say this and then pout about it later.  I’m not one of those women.  When I say that I don’t mind being alone, I don’t mind being alone.  Early in my pregnancy I remember watching The Help on my own in a cinema with tears flowing freely down my face.  The whole thing started to go awry when he attributed his impatience to Angelina being a tourist trap.

I don’t deny that it is, but hey, this certainly was not an issue when we lined up for an hour and half in front of the Musee d’Orsay in the pouring rain earlier in the day.  Apparently, impressionists makes certain popular attractions more palatable.  Truly, I’m the first to run to the museum in any new city precisely because of the way that works of art makes you feel.  I will never forget seeing Klimt’s “The Kiss” in Vienna, in person, after having seen it day and night in my university apartment.  You never have to ask me twice.  But experiencing the beauty of food made with such care and skill is so visceral and important too.  Also, the whole concept of the “tourist trap” bothers me.  That statement reduces something meaningful to something flimsy like mesh.  Of course you would never catch me outside of a wax museum and certain tall structures, but certain “traps” are popular because they are pretty enjoyable too.  A gagillion people can’t all be wrong right?  I’ve never defined myself as someone who is afraid to be part of the crowd.  Being open to taking on any activity that means something to you is never a failing.  So next time you’re out and about don’t be scared to join the queue.  Plus, you just might have some fun.

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The gain

I come from a culture where it’s socially acceptable to comment on people’s weight.  Whether you have gained or lost, members of your family or the Burmese diaspora will have something to say about it.  I don’t believe that there’s ill-intent behind it, just a mix of curiosity and playfulness.  Don’t worry, I’m not taking the easy route and attributing it all to “culture.”  Everything is political.  I’m also sure that it’s not a “Burmese” or “Asian” thing but rather a prominent aspect of our greater society.

As someone who has experienced this first hand, I find that there are very different tones associated with your physical state.  When you’re demonstrating the results of some excellent culinary moments there seems to be humour associated with the failure of your weight management regime.  When your body is svelte there is now the worry that you may have gone too far and there are concerns about your health.

This discussion is not in anyway to disparage the very real phenomenon of eating disorders that women and men are struggling with.  I just want to question how the framing of these practices as one of frivolity or concern both encroach on the individual’s agency.  To put it simply, it is a process of body shaming.

Control is at the centre of these body-image projects and whether it is true or not, the fat girl apparently does not have enough while the thin girl has too much.  Either way, there seems to be something wrong with the both of them.  Now, this is what does not jive with me.  It is simply none of your business if that person is on a diet or should be on one.  Their body is very much their own and they can do what they please.  Maybe instead of the shaming they could use an ounce of acceptance, support and the space to just be.

Peace.

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