Whenever I get a little bit loose with my manners karma has a way of reining me in. A few weeks ago I fell down a couple of stairs and didn’t get something I really wanted, and that’s when I knew, I had to pause and reset. When I say reset, I basically mean that I have to try to be a better person. Andrew gave me a high-five at this declaration and I told him that the universe also rewards the intention to be good. Sometimes the both of us get down with our judgemental selves and he nodded “yes,” because refinement of self is an art that we try to take part in.
Personally, I like my karma straight up and all at once. Like, if it’s coming just make it into a stick and give it a gentle wack. I’ve accepted it as part of my existence and these little reminders make complete sense upon reflection. When I was near the end of my undergrad studies and working in a hellish restaurant, I sliced my finger open one particularly busy day. Standing over the sink with the tap on full blast, I honestly thought I had never felt to so miserable in my life. Then, the thought occurred to me that this was probably my karma for being mean to my grandparents or something. So, I got a band-aid and got on with the rest of my day. I also vowed to not be so flippant and it’s a part of my nature that I try to monitor and check. There you go.
My project to be better is not as abstract as you would think and it’s twofold. One, words matter so I work on not being so reactionary and saying things I usually regret. Secondly, I work on my thoughts and try to keep them on a higher plane. I feel that it is so much more productive to expect the best outcomes before you get the answer because I personally find pessimism to be so toxic. I don’t see the point of worrying about problems and setbacks until I’m in the middle of trying to solve them. We live in society and not a vacuum so frustrations will ultimately test your resolve to roll with the punches. Though I don’t always succeed, taking part in the challenge makes me feel like I’m trying to whittle away at my faults.
I personally find these checks and balances to be helpful. It’s comforting to me to know that bad things don’t happen to me because I am a bad person. Rather, unfortunate circumstances are opportunities to work off wrongdoings from the past and try to prevent further failings in the future. As I gained more life experience and have had the chance to mature, I’ve come to terms with the fact that being an adult means that you often have to do things that you do not want to. Participating in life as a mature individual means that you have to be gracious and understand the concept of duty while still not losing your own beliefs in the process. I now understand that there are individuals I would be fine with seeing once a year for twenty minutes tops, but, they are part and parcel of my life’s choices. Everyone understands that you can’t just quit your job because you don’t like one or two of your co-workers. That’s why it’s perfectly acceptable to take your commitment to being professional and cordial in your workplace to other aspects of your life. It is so refreshing to know that you don’t have to be best friends with everyone and they don’t have to be best friends with you.
Are these types of tension-filled relationships salvageable? I used to think so but I’m not so sure anymore. I believe that over time, continued hurtful behaviour towards someone, whether the individual is aware of the consequences or not, changes a dynamic. Most humans will begin to shut down and close themselves off from these triggers and circumvent any further damage by being hands-off. In the past, I thought that this form of coldness was a shame but I now believe that it can be the most healthy remedy for dysfunctional relationships. The best part of being born is that you enter the world able to connect with so many others. A part of that too is that there will be loads of people who become sources of friction and resentment. But that’s not say that you can’t be civil and co-exist. I’m pretty sure that’s what an adult would do. Now, in your downtime, be with people who bring you light.
Isn’t receiving unsolicited advice just the darnedest thing? That and unwanted personal questions rank high on my list of things I would not wish on anyone. I think both actions breach commonly known rules of good taste and sound judgement. The kicker here though is that those who commit such faux pas would not be self-aware enough to recognize it. So, let me provide you with my litmus test of when you might have crossed the line.
I am a stickler for boundaries in my personal life, perhaps because I am an only child or just my general temperament but over the years I have found that respecting these limits often prevents you from making social missteps. It might seem counterintuitive that a feminist and politically liberal individual like myself would care so much about rules. While I still believe that it’s completely your prerogative to break them, the discomfort you may cause someone with your cluelessness has social consequences. I’ve always felt that what you say and do is written in ink. Of course the most important people will still love you but if you don’t work on these flaws and try to be better, they might not actually choose to spend time with you. What you do makes people think of you differently, that is fact. As a woman who spends her days caring for her family and her evenings writing, staying in tune with literature in my field and working through the next steps of her career, I don’t waste my social time with judgmental know it alls who believe they are the Ann Landers to everyone’s problems. The next time you feel like offering someone a solution to their life’s problems, remember that people wrote to Landers asking for advice, not the other way around.
Of course constructive criticism and knowledge in general are key to having a full and textured life. You only grow when someone expects more from you and it’s always refreshing to hear someone’s perspective about their experiences. I put in the time to research and read reviews before I travel or even purchase some organic cotton bath cloths. The difference between these instances and undesirable opinions is that I choose to seek them out.
We all play a role in someone’s life. Whether you’re a friend or colleague, we will all find ourselves in positions where we want the best for someone. As a mother I know that eventually the job of raising my kids will be done. C and T will be “finished” so to speak and it’s up to them to make their way with (I hope) a set of good values. Eventually, my job will be just to listen. I’ve always felt though that part of the learning process is trial and error. What’s the point of having the answer to every problem? Life would literally be the most mundane endeavor if you didn’t have to struggle at times and figure things out. Also, the choices you make are informed by your personal history and value system; what works for you could be a disaster for someone else. The one advice I’d give, and I assume you want to hear it because you continued to keep reading, is to try to look at the social situation. Before you offer that piece of wisdom ask yourself, do I have an intimate relationship with this person? Does she share her innermost secrets with me or do we operate on a different level? Also, if the individual could retort with “what’s it to you?” it probably means that she either doesn’t care about your take on where she does her shopping or that you are not really in the position to offer advice. So, if you get yourself into these situations, please choose to keep your opinions to yourself, back away and dismount off your high horse. Because even the most enlightened person wants to grab a step ladder to push you right off the mount. Peace.
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C came home the other day and said, “You know, we shouldn’t laugh at Donald Trump, even though he’s a bully, because he’s the president.” That one sentence made me realize that these are indeed the times we’re living in, when a 4 year old can understand the concept of integrity and decorum more than the most powerful head of state in the world. The reactions to the Women’s March also got me riled up so I feel like the following needs to be said. This post basically wrote itself.
I was not at the Women’s March but I would have been there in a second. I couldn’t attend because C had his skating lesson and T naps at that time of day so there I was, at home. But you know, I knew that these women would understand that my commitments to my family prevented me from driving into Boston and standing with them. If anyone would “get it” it would be these women. So, I was there in spirit and was so appreciative of their efforts to bring attention to the fact that we are not going to be still and watch by as human rights and any sense of decency slowly gets burnt down. You know why we are so attached to these rights? It’s because the women, men, and racialized people who all took part understand the struggle and sacrifice that was paid to attain them in the first place. So, the people turning their nose up at such a demonstration of strength and solidarity need to wake the fuck up. I despise people who want the liberties but don’t want to continually safeguard and work for them.
Do you know when I woke the fuck up? When I took gender studies classes in undergrad in my early twenties. The department was called “women’s studies” at the time and even people in my family wondered why the hell I was bothering. With those professors, writers, theorists, and activists I learnt that the misogynistic shit that we endure is not “normal” and it’s not “right.” My graduate studies was on the conceptualization of home at various scales but one of the most painful aspects was learning about all of the violence within that space. Of course there’s physical abuse and the scars they produce but what about the emotional ones? What about being told constantly that you are a lesser person, that you are stupid, incapable? Sure, it might not bother you but you know, staying is partly inflicting that violence on yourself. This gets me to the concept of choice. Though I fully respect the right to have spiritual beliefs, my religion is founded on the laws that grant me my rights and freedom. My religion is feminist theory and the people who continue to build it. So, no orator, religious text or government official is going to sway me in my belief that women have the right to choose. They lawfully have the right to choose what to do with their bodies, where to walk at night, their occupation, education and when to end their romantic commitments. There may be danger that comes with these choices but as whole human beings they are able to make them.
So I’m going to end this in a positive way because if we let every little thing in this current state of being get us down, we wouldn’t get out of bed. Life is beautiful. I truly mean this. The most beautiful thing in this life is that even in the most difficult of circumstances women, men and children begin their days and do the best they can. They work hard to have a life they are proud of and are kind to those in their community. So let’s all do our part to be respectful and protect what we all rightfully deserve. In solidarity.
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Well folks, I am back and it’s story time. I once saw the end of a race. The cyclist had just completed a long and arduous course and was going to come out on top. As a result, he begins to raise his fists with joy. Unfortunately, while he is busy celebrating his impending victory he falls off of his bicycle and the competitor behind him wins. Really in these types of situations do you laugh or cry? In my case I get a take-home lesson without having to feel the heartbreak myself: you shouldn’t relish something you haven’t quite attained yet.
I’ve stayed away because I didn’t have the mental energy to write any posts. I had to put all of my effort and focus into completing the last revisions and defending my dissertation. Well, it is done and surprisingly does not feel nearly as satisfying as you would think. Of course I’m happy and relieved but also hungry for my next challenge. It is never enough. I also had another baby a month after defending and he is a sweet little bun. I am in a house filled with boys and people always say that it means that I’ll always be taken care of. Being adored sounds pretty good to me. I’m back but I’m also sleep-deprived. While the thoughts are still there getting them down on paper takes a bit more effort and it doesn’t sound quite as sharp. But onward right? If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the last time it’s that the fatigue lifts, the body rebounds and the mind becomes quick once more.
That cyclist’s fate reminds me of why I continually try to practice restraint and discretion. In my mind there is nothing worse than revealing every little part of yourself. What some people consider friendly I call boring. Musings from Lainey and Kristen Stewart of all people support my point. Lainey’s sound advice is that “you light it up when you’re done.” This is a great reference when you’re working hard and making sacrifices to meet your objective. At one point during the revision process the frustration was starting to get to me. Really, you can only re-read a 200 plus page document so many times without just being over it. I once told Andrew that if my diss became a person and knocked on my front door I would slam it in her face. That’s right I became so crazy that my thesis gained a gender and legs to come visit me. But this is when you muscle through it because giving up on all of those years you’ve invested is not an option. Giving up would be a disservice to not only yourself, but to all those people who have helped you in the past and believe in you still.
It’s also tempting to use your bragging rights much too soon and in this instance I paraphrase Kristen Stewart. She says that till you’re on set with those giant boom mics above you and you’re actually filming, you don’t talk too specifically about a future project. Because here’s the truth, life is full of so many factors that you can’t account for. So, until you are actually in the midst of it all why talk about it? Hell, I don’t even want to talk about it sometimes when the job is done.
The truth of the matter of is that you only gain this type of perspective when you are finished. So when things are not so pretty in the middle that’s when you keep working at it. All that I have gained from my graduate degree from the intellectual development to being a resilient person would not have been acquired without all of the trouble. You just don’t grow unless you’re a bit uncomfortable and challenged to be better. Being in grad school taught me to be critical and not buy all of the ideology that society is trying to sell. That in my opinion is worth everything.
It’s great to be back friends. I’ll be seeing you.
I have a strong dislike for football. I know that most sports are physical but there’s just something about having a position that solely consists of running through other bodies and dealing with the damage that doesn’t sit well with me. Also, sitting on a commuter train with a hoard of Patriots fans on Super Bowl parade day didn’t exactly endear me any more to the game. So needless to say, my husband and I are going to discourage our son from playing this sport in the future even though he will be growing up in America. Andrew takes a stronger stance and says that “C will never play this sport.”
My perspective softened slightly after the Patriots won the Super Bowl and I started to listen to some of the media interviews. I only really became interested because of the Malcolm Butler story. Come on, who does not love the underdog triumphing in every way imaginable on game day? One soundbyte that was quoted frequently basically involved Malcolm saying that it doesn’t matter where you came from, but it matters what you do when you get there. This is a scrapper who did not give up. Fuck, that’s inspirational. If you watch the interception you notice that he sort of puts his shoulder in front of the other player to get at the pass. You get that grit from having to fight for a spot on literally the last train that was going to come for you in your pro career.
Many other players also spoke of how what ensued on the field was nothing special because these were the exercises that they performed each and everyday. What they achieved did not happen because of an exceptional event but instead was the result of the time they put into their craft. That is such an important message to any young person who may be looking up to them and hanging onto their words.
Never having been particularly sporty, other than excelling at swimming, I wished that I had had this sort of influence for most of my life. This type of work ethic and determination can positively impact so many other aspects of your wellbeing. I’m happy that my son has an athletic father to grow up with who can nurture this part of his development. My husband is not cocky, loud or boisterous, in spite of both his intelligence and talent in various athletic endeavors.
Through his immersion in learning to ice skate each Sunday, my son’s current idols consist of hockey players. A few weeks ago a young player was practicing on the ice with his full gear on. As he’s making his way off the ice, C points out to his dad that there’s a real hockey player. This thirteen year old kid, with Ashworth on his uniform, smiles and comes over to say hi and gave my son a high-five. Later on, when C takes a tumble on the ice Ashworth comes over, helps him up and even demonstrates for a bit how to skate, and man, he was a great skater. I was amazed that at a such a young age he was so humble, nurturing and sweet. I’ll take these type of hockey stars over Spiderman or Batman any day. Play on player.
Isn’t it strange that you sometimes don’t understand the profound depth of song lyrics till you’re a bit older? “Life is a highway.” True facts, thank you Tom Cochrane. This all stems from my recent experience of caring for my son while my husband was in California. My relationship with motorized vehicles has strengthened my resolve that my child will learn to drive at the age of sixteen. He will then have years of practice and not be like his mother at the age of thirty-two, pretending not to be scared when driving in winter for the first time. The process of reading signs and signals will be second nature to him and this life skill will be much like breathing and not gasping for air.
The other lesson I’ve obtained from a week of shuttling my young son to and from preschool is that it stresses me out when my husband takes business trips. It’s not because of the bedtime negotiations or preparing the meals. No, I just don’t want to get behind the wheel. The stakes are much higher when my most favourite person in the world is in the back seat and I want to be the perfect chauffeur. But like any challenge that makes you grow, the best decision is to always take it on, because practicing is precisely what lowers these stakes.
Most importantly though, I’ve learnt the value of slowing down. When in doubt, put your foot on the brakes (safety permitting), breathe, and figure out how to solve your latest problem. This made me realize that any mistake I’ve made in life has been because I’ve wanted to rush through things. I have a very bad habit of avoiding the pain. Sure sure, I take on the challenge but I also occasionally shut my eyes and wildly make my way through without being focused and deliberate. This is not a good strategy whatsoever. Everything from test scores, performance reviews to the health of relationships are impacted negatively by this type of tactic.
Instead, why not just take your time? I know that we are forever taught to get the answer, to get to the point. You’re rewarded for putting your hand up first in class and it becomes addictive to be the smart, nice girl. This can make us rush headlong towards this type of praise instead of being intelligent with our efforts and mindful about the quality of the product. So, I’ve learnt to slow down because eventually getting it over with just doesn’t cut it anymore. Maybe being in your thirties can make you more self-reflective because you do start to notice the passage of time. I no longer want to waste my time on half-assed results. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in being timely and not letting perfectionist tendencies stall projects. I just don’t believe in distinctly separating the work and play aspects of my life nor prioritizing one over the other. Both deserve your undivided attention.
I always tell my son that he has to try liking everyone, with try being the operative word. I’m sure it’s common practice to say to most toddlers, whose worlds are very literal and often black and white, that they have to like everyone. Well, I don’t really believe that. Do you like everyone? I imagine someone with a fake smile plastered on their face, a smile that never really reaches their eyes. Frankly, it kind of creeps me out. But I do emphasize making the effort to like someone because it is our duty to behave respectfully towards everyone, there is no alternative to that. Plus, having different personalities in our lives are an important part of growing as individuals.
Don’t you find though that there are some people whom you will never really connect with? No matter what they do it’s your first instinct to react, and react with varying levels of negativity. My husband says that it’s very much a lens and one that was built over a history of misunderstandings. It’s like having Instagram on all the time and on one of those filters that distorts and make everything a bit unattractive. To some, having this type of relationship would bother them. They would start to examine how they were being judgmental or unkind. Of course some of that comes into play but I also consider how the other person, intentionally or not contributed to the situation. So, what can you do? I mostly try to lessen the impact of these toxic connections on my life because it’s just too exhausting to manage those negative emotions.
Sometimes though, you don’t have a choice in the matter and these are relationships that may be life-long. No matter what, this person will be a part of your existence. So, you have two choices: you can try to change how you feel about them or you can put some distance between the two of you. In the end there’s only so much you can do to eliminate frictions that result from having different approaches and values. As vanilla as it sounds we tend to gravitate towards individuals with similar experiences and outlooks. I don’t even think it’s malicious, conversation just tends to form more easily with some more than others. I say, lets not stress about it but allow ourselves to be particular. Let’s not fight.
A prominent guru Ram Dass states that “If you think you are enlightened, go home for Thanksgiving.” The writer Elizabeth Gilbert takes this further in her analysis by emphasizing that your family will of course push your buttons because they are the ones who put them there. I don’t view this negatively at all. Truly loving someone means that you see chips in their facade and love them all the more for it. Anytime you gather together a group of strong personalities there is bound to be some conflict, whether it gets articulated or not. I find that we are made to fear frank discussions so much because it’s not seen to be particularly dignified. I just find it way less “classy” when people are leaving things unsaid but you know that they will gossip about it tomorrow. I do agree that silence is sometimes the best thing for these situations because the need for honesty should be tempered by long-term thinking. Do you really think the specific context will improve when confronted? If not, then maybe a bit of acceptance is key.
The thing with family too is that you know that they are always going to be a part of your life so treat them well. You have a history together and a bond. So it is a balance, like everything else in life. I believe that Ram Dass also states that it is our purpose to love everyone in the world since respect is integral to forming this type of affection. But some people are better loved from a safe distance. Now, that is one of the most pragmatic and real things that I’ve heard from a guru in a very long time. Sometimes a little bit of space can be the best thing for a relationship.
You know the term “you need a chaser?” A chaser is that wedge of lemon after tequila, the lime in your vodka-soda, gross sugary syrup in a mix drink. Basically it’s something to cut the alcohol, which does not taste so great but has the potential to make you feel different. For a time alcohol was my chaser to life’s hiccups or whatever else I found reason to be stressed about but I soon learnt that it doesn’t really work. I saw a really great quote on a Lululemon sign once about how alcohol will only make you forget the question but never give you the answer. Those yogis are wise non?
My relationship with alcohol was perilous from the start due to the allure it held as a banned substance in my household. Everything becomes desirable when it’s unattainable. Growing up in a Buddhist family, alcohol was a big no-no. Along with the baggage that comes with having strict Asian parents is the concept that Buddhists’ minds are their most sacred parts of themselves. So losing control of it to a legal-depressant is far from ideal. So when I could finally get my hands on it and had the freedom to do whatever the hell I wanted, I got hammered. It took me a long time to learn about drinking responsibly and knowing my limits. It also took me awhile to not feel the need to be drunk to have fun.
When I was pregnant and not partaking in the wine I learnt the pleasure of having an intellectually stimulating conversation without having it dull my brain. It was also nice to never worry about a hangover. I got more stuff done. Surprisingly I didn’t actually want to drink again right away after my son was born. It was close to a year in fact before I indulged which is a far cry from the “party girl” I once was. It is just not feasible to have a late night and care for a toddler the next day. The pain is far too great and so not worth it. So, I’ve learnt the advantages that come with moderation. Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally still have a jolly good time, I just hydrate and realize that my body cannot handle those 3am nights, nor does it really want to.
We’ve all moved on in our own ways, with or without the babies. No one really wants to be that old sketchy guy at the bar. Dude, the party’s over. Plus, a stiff drink will never fix the situations where acceptance, resilience and character are needed. If only it was that easy.
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.
There are some writers who hit you squarely in the stomach with their prose and you both love and hate them for it. These individuals are so skilled that they can take you on a meandering, and at times boring journey which is punctuated with moments of absolute bliss. Ha, much like the theme of life and one’s purpose within this universe that they write about. But isn’t that the whole point of fiction? To show us glimpses of our humanity? To curate beauty and ugliness?
I just finished close to 800 pages of this type of narrative in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. As much I don’t regret reading it, because it’s absolutely gorgeous, I also feel slightly peeved and cheated. She strings us along and gets us invested in tragic Theo Decker, whom you hope and pray does not screw up his life any further than it already is. You feel empathy that he’s lost his mother and you dearly wish that he will find a place to thrive. But at the end, when Tartt suddenly lays it all out there, to offer up what she’s withheld so easily, I thought, really? That’s what you decide to do with me as a reader? After taking a breath though, I understand her method and motivation. She’s trying to demonstrate that life is full of these complexities. It’s inconstant, unfair and as long as you keep yelling its faults from the rooftops you’re only going to get in your own way. Instead, why not try to go with the flow a little and take it as it comes?
A similar message is conveyed in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which to be honest I don’t remember the particulars of. All I know is that it has something to do with trains, values and overbearing parents. The take away though is, don’t wait. All of this waiting for the timing to be perfect or for all of it to be aligned will just sweep away any chance you have of enjoying yourself. We are never ready. Above all, just do something, anything, to get on with it. We so need more of this in our society: reminders to be good.
There is an endpoint, we all have one, so don’t be afraid of the fallout. Everything gets rebuilt once more.