Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Culture On A Plate: Hosting Parties Abroad Filipino Style

Yesterday, a friend of mine who's Caucasian, told me, "Hey!  I went somewhere on Saturday evening and I was thinking of you the whole time.  I was almost expecting you to walk in!".

Naturally I asked, "Why?  Where did you go?"

"A Filipino birthday party!", she exclaimed, and added that it was a party for her son's friend from school.

It was funny because what my friend was so excited about was the fact that there was so much food!  She said she couldn't believe the amount of food that was prepared by the hostess (who started cooking the day before the party), as well as the droves of Filipinos who attended the gathering.  

All I can say to her was, "Yep!  That sounds about right!"  

Filipino parties.  What can I say?  Expect a lot of people, a lot of food, and most likely, disposable dinnerware.  (Yes, it's unlikely to find the host busting out their best china for such gatherings as it's just not practical given the amount of guests that show up).  

And speaking of the size of the crowd to be fed, expect the food to be served buffet style.  This means, finding a good spot for eating, where you can really sit down and find a stable surface to place your food and drinks on, can pose challenges.  The dining table becomes prime real estate and securing a spot (and being able to keep it!) takes skill and clout.  Age and sex are key factors for finding a good spot for dining.  The older (elderly) people are normally offered good seats, I'm sure mainly out of respect.  Men are also generally expected to give up good spots so that women can sit down.  If you're a 'newbie' though, someone who's really considered a 'guest' at this party, as opposed to being 'family' or a frequent guest (which practically makes you 'family' anyway), you're in luck!  You will be enjoying the fruits of the world-renowned 'Filipino hospitality'.  This means the host will make sure you are sufficiently fussed over, offered food, drinks and a comfortable spot for you to enjoy your time at the party.  

The level of hospitality afforded to you may even multiply further if you are a of a different race!  We Filipinos love to be loved and hate to disappoint.  We will surely go the extra mile to make sure you are well fed!  

However, don't expect every one of us to speak English in your presence (although we promise to do our best and trust that we don't do this to be intentionally rude; just that we love telling animated stories and it's hard to do this and have to translate for you). Rest assured, we are not bad-mouthing you.  We just want to have a good, relaxed time and 'feel at home' and be able to use our native tongue in this foreign land.  Surely any sensible non-Filipino guest can appreciate that and won't take it personally.  Heck, we'll even send you home with a lot of leftover food so you don't have to cook the next day! That's how much we appreciate you joining us and hope you had a good time too!

A typical Filipino spread...Egg rolls and more egg rolls (veggie egg roll, pork egg roll, fried, fresh, etc)

Of course there will be some kind of noodle dish or 'Pancit' as we call it

There may be some 'American' dishes in the mix (mashed potato, turkey, pot roast).
 But there will ALWAYS be a RICE COOKER.

A separate area is allotted for desserts / sweets.  There's just too many of them to be included in the main buffet table.


My friend seemed like she enjoyed herself at the party.  I'm happy she kept an open mind about it and though she didn't try all of the Filipino dishes, she was curious enough to remember them and did not criticize.  She even found some of them delicious.  She was also happy that she witnessed a traditional Filipino custom.  She said she saw the younger ones at the party greet the older guests or family members not by kissing them on their cheeks, but by taking the older person's hand and pressing it against their forehead.  This is what's called 'Mano' in Filipino culture.  I added that it's a way for the younger people to show respect to, and receive a blessing from, the older ones.

I felt good after hearing what my friend had to say about her experience.  And it wasn't because she had a perfect time at the party, but because hearing all the details from her, a non-Filipino, highlighted what is still very much Filipino about me in spite of my sense of alienation here in the U.S.  I've always said that I'm proud of my heritage and will never reject it.  But at the same time, I acknowledge that I'm not, or never have been, very traditional either.  In other words, there's a sense of limbo lingering and hovering about me somehow.  

I'm not American, but at the same time, not 'that' Filipino either (meaning not traditional or stereotypical).  It's been a long time since I last did the 'mano' and frankly didn't grow up doing it to most of my relatives.  We were 'kissers', more Western admittedly.  But if there is one thing that remains very Filipino about me, it's my tongue.  It's in my language and how I still feel at home speaking it to express what's deeply true about me or what's going on in my life. It's also in my taste buds, my palate, and how Filipino food is still my comfort food, soul food, just simply 'home'.

I may not subscribe to some traditional Filipino customs or beliefs.  Nor do I act or even look traditionally Filipino.  But you can surely expect me to keep cooking Filipino dishes, do my best coming up with approachable Filipino party spreads and keep serving my guests buffet style with disposable dinnerware. It's the best I can do to keep 'home' with me while I share it with precious old friends and open-minded, gracious new ones.


Have you ever attended an 'international' party, one where the host is of a different race, and the food is new or unfamiliar to you?  
How did you cope?  
Did you learn anything new about culture and diversity?


Friday, April 11, 2014

Thrown-Off by Throwback: Memories and Migration

I treasure the past.  I'm the kind of person who likes reminiscing, looking at older pictures, and reading through my old journals.  I value memories and do what I can to preserve as much as possible.  I love documenting important events or conversations.  Yet in spite of my love affair with the past, I can't deny that I've always felt conflicted about #TBT (Throwback Thursday), this social media phenomenon where people post pictures from their past in order to, of course, share more about themselves. 

It's not as simple as it sounds because if you searched online, you'll realize that there are rules to participating in #TBT.  One that I'm familiar with is that you shouldn't post a photo that's less than five years old.  There are others who are even more strict, saying that it shouldn't be anything you have a digital copy of so that you know it's really that old; that it needs to be an actual photo that you need to take a picture of (or maybe scan?) before you can post online.  The whole point of course is that the older the image, the better.

And that's the source of my angst.  

As a fairly new U.S. citizen, much of my life is 'undocumented' here in the U.S. No, I was never here illegally, but only meant that most of my photos documenting the first 30 1/2 years of my life are in the Philippines.  Unlike most of you, grabbing a picture of your college graduation is easy.  Unearthing a photo from a fun family vacation when you were an awkward teenager is as easy as flipping through a few pages in that yellowing photo album.  


One of the VERY few photos I have with me,
from circa 1974 (?)

Almost every Thursday, I find myself looking at numerous #TBT photos posted by friends and I can't help but feel a faint pang of jealousy.  Sure I can post some photos from six or so years ago but really, that's not much of a throwback, is it?  If I was desperate enough to truly participate and be true to the challenge, it would require me contacting my Mom either via email or an overseas phone call, and then have her look for a photo that I would probably won't be able to describe adequately, not to mention most likely needing a week of lead time before I am able to produce such a photo for posting.  Can you imagine what sort of desperation I would have to have for me to actually put myself (and my mother) through all that inconvenience???

Don't get me wrong.  I'm jealous not because I want so badly to participate and can't, but because every old photo I see posted by others is a reminder of every photo I don't have with me.  Every detail I learn about others through their old photos is a reminder of the missing pieces of my own life.  Sure, I still have my memory, or at least most of it.  But what about those years when I was too young to remember?  Or what about those deeply buried ones, those sitting in the darker corners of my mind which could benefit from me seeing a seemingly irrelevant photo that could light up those dark and forgotten crevices?  

Memory is fragile.  And from experience, I know how immigrating, especially for adults, shocks one's consciousness to a certain extent. Though the brain is resilient, it is never immune to such jolts, shocks and new rewiring it has to perform and get accustomed to, hence affecting its capability to retain some information.  No matter how much we want to hold on to some memories, they still fade and abandon us despite our desperation.  Faces and places we hold dear become blurred in our minds overtime and this saddens me.  This is why artifacts, such as photos, videos, old letters or journals, are priceless to me, and perhaps others like me whose lives have been transplanted; people whose biographies have more pronounced breaks between chapters instead of having a more predicted fluidity to them.  

An old photo may just be that to some, or perhaps just entertainment to others.  But to me, they are powerful reminders of treasured feelings and experiences shared with people who have mattered in some way.  These artifacts from the past, which I don't have easy access to, unlike most others, are nourishment for my sense of identity.  They anchor me in ways someone who has never left their country of origin might not fully appreciate.  I find that they illuminate what I call my sacred intransigence that defines and reminds me of who I am amidst an ever-changing surface.



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How Facebook Can Make You More 'Zen'


In 2009, I wrote an essay on how Facebook may be harming us, particularly by breeding narcissistic behaviors, as well as overall unhappiness.  Since then, numerous articles have been published devoted to the same topic, highlighting how social media (particularly Facebook) may be harmful to one’s self-esteem, sense of connection, reputation and safety, among other things. 

Well, today I’d like to share with you a different perspective, this time highlighting how I’ve discovered that we can also cultivate our ‘Zen’ with the help of Facebook.

Before I proceed, I’d like to clarify that I’m using the word ‘Zen’ quite loosely here.  I don’t mean any disrespect towards those who truly practice this tradition, and I acknowledge that it’s most likely more complex than I would make it seem here.  That said, I believe that there is enough consensus to proceed with the term ‘Zen’ as something that invokes the idea of cultivating inner peace, wisdom and and deeper spirituality. 

With that in mind, let me cite the reasons why I think engaging in Facebook, with all its superficiality and seemingly endless drama and sometimes toxicity, can still encourage you to be more evolved and live Zen-ful days.
MINDFULNESS OR BEING PRESENT IN THE MOMENT

You know those Facebook statuses announcing that your 'friend' (or their child) is sick with some contagious illness (e.g.  the flu, diarrhea, strep, etc.)?  Well, for the normal ‘audience’, those statuses are just like any other status that don’t really interrupt much of your scroll down impulse.  However, for a generally paranoid mother like myself, news of someone’s child being ill could cause me to panic and react as if it’s a full-blown pandemic that I need to protect my son against with all the power that I have (which isn’t really much)!  And the closer in proximity the sick child is, the more insane I could potentially become.  I know how irrational my thoughts and feelings could be in situations like that, wanting to confine my son in a bubble, and so I’ve forced myself to learn how to consciously pause and step back. 

When I encounter panic-inducing statuses, I take a deep breath, close my eyes and say to myself, “Our Now is good”.  I remind myself that I can’t control everything about the future and no one knows what will happen.  But right now, in this moment, my son is healthy.  All is well.  

The only moment we truly have power over is the present and there is no better time for practicing gratitude than now.  Now is also good for saying prayers for those who do need it.  See Now for what it is and do your best to make friends with it.  After all, it is and will always be your only constant companion.



OVERCOMING THE EGO 

Time and time again, you will encounter a one-upper on social media. There are just individuals who seemingly have a constant need to prove themselves omniscient and thrive in a perpetual state of competition. You say one thing, they say another, either to completely invalidate what you said or to highlight that they know more than you do.  These are the people who just have to say something about everything to everyone, and each situation is turned into a sport to be won.  I'd like to believe that most of the time, they probably mean well and only want to help because they think their input will save the world. The trouble is, I don't always have patience for them and I know that my Ego rages when it feels threatened by such characters.  

According to Eckhart Tolle, the Ego is the constant stream of thoughts that courses through us, that separates or identifies us from others, and that which has a constant desire to be right.  We have to understand that our Ego is not everything about us, hence should not define us or dictate our actions. Once that's clear, it becomes easier to detach or overcome the need to feed our Ego and choose something else that offers a greater sense of peace.   

When you see a status on Facebook that you instinctively want to comment on, with or without the presence of a one-upper or know-it-all, just take a pause and ask yourself what your true intentions are.  One question is all it takes before you type a comment:  What for?  If you are offering support, or simply sharing some knowledge that is truly being sought, then go ahead and make your input.  But if you feel that you are only commenting to show off, beat others to the punch, or prove something, then stop and walk away.   'What for?' is also the same question you need to ask yourself when you are tempted to engage a know-it-all / one-upper to jolt yourself into realizing that it's just not worth it.  Remind yourself that there is no need to prove anything to anyone, no trophy to be won, no spotlight to steal.  Remember that the Ego is fleeting and insatiable.  Is it really worth feeding and investing a lot of your time and energy in?



ACCEPTANCE (OF WHO YOU ARE AND OF OTHERS) 

It's so easy to fall into the comparison trap on Facebook, as we get constantly bombarded with beautiful images capturing moments of a friend's life.  But as I've written before, these photos we see are but snippets of someone's complex biography, and well-selected snippets at that!  That flawless selfie, the slimmer-looking body, the sparkly jewelry in that photo, or that nice hotel room where your friend stayed at during their vacation...All these are pre-selected images, posted not because they necessarily accurately capture reality, but because they are brag-worthy. They represent the best, the happiest, and not the median realities.   You can't compare your life to others' because you simply don't know enough.  More importantly, it's unfair for you to view your life against an unrealistic (and even photoshopped) standard!  

Treat those fabulous Facebook photos you see as a reminder to practice Acceptance. Honor who and where you are now, as you honor who your friends are right now.  Make peace with what is and focus on your own gifts rather than your inadequacies.  Remember that we all have imperfect lives that are still gratitude-worthy if you just wear the right lens for viewing.  




DETACHMENT

In Facebook, it's quite common for people to ask friends for positive thoughts and prayers in times of need.  It may involve a serious illness, periods of grief, job applications, or school exams.  Whatever it may be, when you see those statuses, consider it a perfect opportunity to practice Detachment.

Please don't think that I'm using 'detachment' to mean being cold, withdrawn or uncaring of others.  'Detachment' is used here to refer to non-attachment to specific results.  And isn't this really how we are taught to pray?  In offering support to others by means of prayers, sure we clarify our intentions.  And yes, we hope for the best.  But ultimately, it is not up to us and like most anything in life, we cannot possibly control every thing to ensure that we achieve the desired outcome.  In prayer, we learn to relinquish control.  There is no way for you to be certain of the outcome when you offer your thoughts and prayers for someone.  The best you can really do is focus your thoughts on your request and then say, as we often do in the Christian tradition, 'Thy will be done'.




THE PRACTICE OF COMPASSION

The way that Facebook has expanded and even strengthened our networks is undeniable.  Keeping in touch has never been easier, though certainly to an extent I believe the quality has gone down somehow.  However, time and again, we still have friends or contacts that will suddenly send us private messages, pouring their hearts out to us unexpectedly.  (I've done the same, by the way).  Maybe they have parenting problems, marital / love life troubles, health issues or a host of other things.

It's during those times when we can certainly exercise our compassion muscles.  Compassion is not to feel sorry for someone or pity their condition. It is to feel with someone and have the desire to alleviate their suffering, even just by being there, by truly listening.  Thich Nhat Hahn calls this ‘deep listening’ where you allow the other to open his heart and you are there, present, genuinely open to receive what they have to share, without judgement or a rifle filled with criticism all set to be fired.  And in this act of being able to genuinely listen, you have the opportunity to alleviate the suffering of the other.  Just by letting someone vent, even if you don't have any wise words or eureka moments to offer, can be all the gift that is needed at that moment.  To be really there for someone, even though it’s not a physical presence, could be a priceless offering and helps tremendously in lightening the other's burden. 



Facebook, or social media in general, has been both a gift and a curse.  Some have even gone so far as to say that it is the root of all evil.  But as is true for any type of technology, its value depends on the user and you can either be controlled by it, or be its master.  The choice is always there and we can always choose wisely.  So the next time you log into Facebook, remember to take a deep breath and try to invoke your inner Buddha (and/or Christ). Whatever works, right?!  




Monday, March 24, 2014

Making Family Time Truly Count

Let's be honest.  As parents, most of us share the idea that a great vacation would just be to stay home, vegetate and really not have to think of anything or anyone else.  The idea of packing and planning seem even more exhausting sometimes, and hence less enticing than, say, cleaning your bathrooms at home.  But, it is what it is.  We have our children to think about and give in to.  

So last week, since it was my son's spring break, we headed out to a small, quiet town, around 2 1/2 hours east of Nashville.  I didn't dread this trip so much because it was a manageable distance from home, and I knew we'd be using our timeshare for the whole week which means we'd have a fully furnished condominium.  Knowing that we'd be staying at a 'house' as opposed to just a 'room' makes a huge difference in my stress levels.

Now, when I say 'quiet town', I do mean it.  When we got there, we realized that it was like a retirement community. Most of the people within the resort, as well as those residing in the surrounding areas, are senior citizens.  I have nothing against this and if you know me, you'd understand how I actually prefer these quiet and low-key environments.  And seriously, why would anyone complain waking up to this view?


Wooded area right by the back patio areas

A small creek offering such relaxing sounds

The only two down sides were that (1) this place was clearly not a foodie's paradise as there were hardly any remarkable places for dining (although food was definitely not bad either); and (2) there were not too many attractions for children.  The town is known as the golf capital of the state and that has no relevance whatsoever to a six-year old.  

So what did we do to keep our son entertained after realizing driving around to view the lakes and mountains was not doing anything for him?...We drove to the Knoxville Zoo which was about an hour away.

Truth be told, I've always felt ambivalent about zoos.  On the one hand, I understand that they educate people about the various animal species, as well as raise funds for the preservation of endangered ones.  However, on the other hand, a part of me feels it's cruel for using the animals as entertainment, or something to watch, as they are caged and taken out of their natural habitats.  This feeling always heightens when I see the apes. Most of the time, they seem depressed and bored, and since evolutionarily speaking, they are the closest to humans, I seriously empathize with them. (And I seriously mean this in a way that might seem freakish to others).  I couldn't even bring myself to take photos of the gorillas because I was too sad and felt like I was being too cruel if I did so.

But I still had to take some photos, if only to capture the happiness and curiosity of my son.





One thing has become clear to me after this vacation.  Yes, we did a variety of things, from activities unique to the towns we visited, to just fun family activities like tennis, swimming and mini-golf.  But it's never in the busyness, grandness or novelty of experiences that happiness lies.  It's really in being in the moment.  To be honest, I felt that it didn't matter what we did or where we went.  What made it fun and remarkable especially for our son was that we were truly there with him.  We were all focused on each other, did away with distractions and made the effort to be in the moment.  It's really the best gift we can all give to each other, and the only element that can make any time spent authentically valuable.






Thursday, March 13, 2014

Words of Wisdom For Your 12-Year-Old Self


Sometime last week, I read an article from a magazine giving tips as to what simple steps we can take to discover more joy in our lives.  One of the recommendations was to imagine what you would tell your 12-year-old self to reassure her that it's all going to be okay.  (Don't ask me why the age of 12 was chosen).  

I decided to give it a shot today after trying to remember who I was and how things were like when I was 12.  That would be in the mid-'80s and I was probably simmering in a whole lot of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Wham and Hall & Oates, not to mention all the sentimental love songs by Whitney Houston, Paul Young and Phil Collins, most of which I most likely didn't fully comprehend.  How  could I?  I was only 12, though by then, dying to be 13 just so I can claim to be a 'teen', more mature and free to do as I wish.  Ah, the joys of being young and naive!

I remember that at 12, I couldn't wait to be older and by the time it was less than six months to my next birthday, I would tell some people I was 13, rationalizing in my head that I'm simply rounding it off.  I couldn't wait to be older and not be a 'child' anymore.  I was insecure about a lot of things and just couldn't wait to move on to the next phase of my life, hoping that a few birthdays would automatically spell out a host of desired changes.  Again, the joys of being young and utterly stupid!

Anyway, here is my list for my 12-year-old self and I hope that somehow it manifests even just a faint glimmer of wisdom gained from close to three additional decades of birthday celebrations.


1.  Don't let your body size define you.  

Don't waste your time trying to be skinny because you'll never be.  First of all, you were born with a big frame so no amount of dieting and obsessing will turn you into the typical petite Asian size.  Second, I know that you're only obsessing over your size because you've been told that being overweight and 'chubby' make you less 'lovable' and unattractive to the opposite sex.  In your heart you know this is not true so ignore those destructive voices.  There is so much good and love in you to focus on, so much more you can accomplish if you just stop criticizing yourself  for your size.  Remember that you are worth more than how you look.  


2.  Take your time with (the idea of) falling in love.  You will find and be found by someone really special.

It's okay that most everyone around you are having boyfriends.  Trust me. It's not because you're unattractive or awful.  You're really just meant to take your time and focus on more important things right now that will help you mature better.  Besides, 'boys' will not sustain your interest and attention. When the time is right, you will find and be found by a real man and it will be worth the wait, worth every ounce of passion that is so natural for you.  And yes, true love can look past body fat, stretch marks and bad hair.  


3.  Believe our parents when they say that you and your siblings are loved equally, even when you feel you're not getting the attention that you crave.  

Sometimes it may feel as if you're not doing enough, achieving enough, being enough.  And sometimes you may feel ignored and that your other siblings are getting more of the spotlight.  But trust that you are enough to your parents and that they do love you unconditionally.  Your soul alone makes them proud of you and that they mean it when they say they couldn't ask for more.


4.  You may be reserved or generally shy.  But you will still be able to gain friends who are true, and be in the company of remarkable souls who will truly enrich your life.

It's okay if you don't feel very social.  It's okay that you don't enjoy the attention of strangers or people who don't matter to you.  Just know that the seeds of friendship are nurtured when you remain true to who you are and accept others with humility.  You will be surprised and overwhelmed by the support and friendship people will offer you in the future, just because you gave everybody a chance sometime in your distant past; just because you were humble enough to realize that people are merely different, instead of better or worse than your self.


5.  Take good care of your skin and don't take it for granted.

You may disagree and hate it when Mom tells you to clean your face at the end of the day, or shield your face from too much sun, or to not bother with make-up until after college. But you will thank her later.  Trust her. The woman knows what she's doing.



What words of reassurance do you want to say to your 12-year-old self?






Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Art Of Surviving A Break-Up


No two break-ups are exactly alike.  It then follows that no two heartbreaks will ever be exactly the same.  Our uniqueness as individuals creates for us distinct ways of experiencing and dealing with pain, much like having a ‘heartbreak fingerprint’, if you will.  The intensity, the length of time spent in this grieving process, our coping mechanisms, all depend not only on the quality of the just-ended-relationship, but also on what our personalities are like. 

I’m an intense person who leans towards introversion.  And though I’m known to have a strong penchant for anything cerebral and live to shred ideas to pieces if only to subject them to over analysis, I also can’t deny a strong emotional side.  Yes, I’m a bit of a drama queen but a ‘closet’ one.  That means, when things truly matter to me, I do feel intensely and passionately, although I almost never flaunt such emotions.  I won’t deny that I do feed my masochistic tendencies by relishing my sorrow and squeezing as much drama and good writing material out of it as if it were my only source of satiation.  In other words, in some twisted way, I feed myself with what has killed me. 

    Image:  (theater) Fernando de Sousa from Melbourne, Australia
So how does someone like me deal with a break-up?  I have one word for you:  Cinemafy.  I’ve survived a soul-shattering break-up essentially by making it as Hollywood-like as I could.  You know how in movies the heartbroken person (most likely a woman) first reaches rock-bottom before finding redemption?  Aren’t there always scenes where she first falls into a coma-like state while feeding herself with nothing but junk food, feels crappy and looks unkempt, and then moves into self-discovery mode by walking (yes, it’s always walking or running with great background music) all over town?  That’s pretty much how I did it. 

At the time, I lived in an apartment and would only go home to my parents’ house on weekends.  Since I had no energy to cook, I lived off of the glorious P&P combo… …Pizza and Pepsi.  I took long walks by my lonesome after work amidst old trees and dared myself to do this even at night time.  I know this might sound stupid now considering I really could’ve been mugged.  But at that time, it was as if all that mattered was for me to test my limits and push beyond all of my comfort zones.  I was angry and broken and wanted to see if changing my self would also mean ridding my self of the love I felt for my ex. 

I spent hours in bed looking at the ceiling while in a semi-catatonic state, rewinding events and conversations in my head, trying to make sense of it all.

I watched Bridget Jones’ Diary, over and over until I practically memorized the lines and spoke with a British accent.  Heck, I WAS Bridget Jones!  Remember that first scene where she was wearing her pajamas as she lip-synched to All By Myself?  Yes, that was me. 

I also drank vodka, but since I was (or am) a wuss, I only drank it mixed and very mildly.

I listened to Ella Fitzgerald as I felt completely wasted, not with alcohol, drugs or nicotine, but with grief and over-analysis. 

I wrote in my journal.  A LOT

I cried and prayed and begged.  And then I slept.

I forced myself to go out with friends to have some distraction.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that going out wasn’t always a great idea because I only ended up even more depressed and psychotic as I felt like killing every couple I saw walking past me.  The agony was worse if I saw interracial couples.  (The ex is British).  It could've easily turned into a Linda Blair-spinning-head scene from The Exorcist.  I knew I had to be very careful because out there was an emotional landmine.  

Finally, I figured I needed to leave the country for a short vacation and time abroad to further distract and convince myself that there’s so much out there to look forward to and discover about myself.  (Don’t you think this was very Sabrina-ish?...the remake with Julia Ormond, not the Audrey Hepburn original).  Unfortunately, I ended up torturing my best friend, with whom I flew for approximately  20 hours,  by talking about my ex and our intense love affair, non-stop!  I can imagine that she was probably thinking that it would’ve been far more pleasurable to jump off of the plane than hear one more bit of my reminiscing.

So, yes.  I did a movie-worthy post-break-up journey and I don't regret any moment of it.  I felt the depth of my pain while feeling like a movie star. I paid attention to my self-discovery and healing, while imagining that it was a magical and glamorous experience.  You might as well have fun while you try to pick up and put together your heart's jagged shards.  Create soundtracks, come up with cheesy lines and choose your inspiration characters.  Most importantly, plan for a happy ending.  Sometimes the main characters get back together, but sometimes they don't.  But in any movie, the best and most memorable endings are those where the characters dared to go deeper into self-discovery, ending up feeling more self-assured, enlightened and evolved.  That's real triumph.  That's the real key to surviving a break-up.

How did you survive yours?

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Attack Of The 'Boxing' Master

I've always been quite domesticated, even when I was much younger.  I never enjoyed going out too much, especially when I know it's going to be loud, crowded or that I'd smell like cigarette smoke and end up with a migraine at the end of it.  No thanks.  I've also always been comfortable with housework and enjoyed cooking and most of all, organizing.  

But I never realized the extent of this domestication until last night.  As our family was having dinner, there was just one thing on my mind and that was my excitement to tell my husband about the 'project' I finished for the day.  I told him I had done something involving one of our closets.  I wanted to build some suspense so I didn't bother to elaborate.  Instead, I told him and my son to finish their meal and go upstairs so I can show them.  I felt like a proud school kid about to show off her artwork to her parents.  Or maybe a middle-aged man about to shock her wife with a new blazing red sports car sitting in the garage.  Either one will do.

Anyway, as soon as the dishes were put away, we all headed upstairs so I can show them what I had done.  I decided to finally organize my husband's shirts.  Color-sorted and nicely folded in bins.  I just couldn't stand it anymore how, every time my husband pulls out a shirt, everything else on top of it got messed up.  It was something my toned-down OCD just couldn't bear any longer.  So, I took some extra bins and put an end to the stacked-shirts problem. 


But I didn't stop there.  I went through other spaces in the house that I could tackle with whatever strength I had and whatever my extra containers can handle.  It's all that could excite me these days.  Organization.  It's what's been on my mind for about a week now and frankly, I've enjoyed obsessing about it.  Sorting, purging, containerizing. But the truth of the matter is that I suspect this isn't simply about battling clutter.  (It never really is.  Is it?)  

Upon deeper reflection, I was ready to admit that this is about control. Recently, I've been feeling that a variety of things in my life are beyond my control.  It's as if, left and right I'm surrounded by circumstances or realities that I can't change in spite of my efforts; or things that I just know are not for me to change and no amount of steering would matter.  And because I don't like this sense of loss of control, and to a certain degree, powerlessness, I turn to things I have control over.  Things

My need for a sense of order definitely translates beyond 'things' and when I clean and organize my space, I know it's my way of seeking some semblance of order in order to fight the sense of chaos that I feel is nibbling its way through aspects of my life.  My categorizing things and containerizing them is my way of asserting power and maintaining control.  It's my own way of stepping on the brakes and feeling that I can somehow slow things down enough for me to catch my breath, think things through and once again be comfortable enough to go with the flow.  Whatever figurative 'mess' I feel I can't clean up around me, I turn to some corresponding physical mess to clean up and put my energy into instead.  It becomes both a distraction and a source of comfort, albeit superficial.  I know this and there is no need to judge me.  It's either that or you'd have to bear with me snapping at you or worse, have me bite your head off.  Your choice.  Just don't say you've not been warned.

I don't know how long this feeling of powerlessness and frustration will last.  I know it will pass.  I've been here before.  In the meantime, I still have a few more closets and cabinets calling my name.  They will be my friends for a while as they give me sanity while I make them look pretty.  That's a good enough deal for me.


What activity do you turn to, either as distraction or source of comfort, when you feel a sense of imbalance or powerlessness?





Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Six-Year-Old Is Learning 'Bad Language'

Something horrific happened twice this week.  Perhaps I'm being a bit melodramatic here but I'm sure a lot of you can appreciate and understand my sense of horror, especially if you consider yourselves strict grammar freaks.


Twice in the past four days, I heard my six-year-old use ain't in his sentences. You can call me a purist or a prescriptionist when it comes to grammar and I won't argue.  Just don't insist to me that using such a term is proper, let alone acceptable in my household or my family, unless of course your objective is to be disowned.  

I'm pretty sure it's now clear to my son how I feel about his use of this term. To be honest, as far as I'm concerned, it might as well have been profanity escaping his lips. With my dilated eyes, gaping mouth and then quickly followed by a resounding, "What.......!!!....did...you...just....say???!!!!!", I have no doubt my disapproval left no wiggle room for misinterpetation.  And did I mention there was a long litany that followed, which I'm sure clarified my reasons just before his six-year old brain got overloaded?

First, I asked him where he learned it from.  Is he around friends from school who speak like that?  Is it a t.v. show he watches?  A song perhaps?  Or maybe a game or YouTube video game tutorial that he constantly views?  He said 'no' to all of the above and just told me he doesn't know anymore. Personally, I'm betting on the t.v.

Then, of course I had to explain my utter disapproval.  I told him that it's grammatically wrong; that instead of saying 'ain't', he needs to say 'am not', or maybe 'isn't'.  He told me that he knows all this, which all the more made it slightly unforgivable.  I told him that he does not have any excuse to not speak properly because English is his first language; we are sending him to a good school; we come from a long line of well educated people who will never tolerate such language; and that most of all, nobody in our household speaks that way.

I have no judgement of people who speak like that as long as they are either using it for some literary purpose and maybe humor, or if they have an excuse for not speaking any other way; that is to say, that it's something they grew up with or was socialized towards, and perhaps did not have the opportunity for good education.  In other words, they don't know any better.  But for years, I have taught my son to live by Maya Angelou's 'When you know better, you do better'.  He has no acceptable excuse and I expect him to do better.

I also told him that some people deliberately speak that way just because they think they're being 'cool', when in reality they just sound stupid.  That's all. And I don't want him to sound stupid because he's not stupid.  He has no excuse to not do the right thing.

You might say that I'm being too strict or unreasonable.  But I would disagree.  Grammar should be taken seriously. Language rules are there so that we can best express ourselves. Grammar is also part of one's presentation of self. One's credibility does not only begin with how one appears, but also with how one speaks.  Can you really expect to be taken seriously when you can't speak your own language properly and appropriately? Being articulate and eloquent do not only make you sound and seem pleasing. They also reflect the degree of attention to detail you give to your speech (and / or writing).  

In other words, it's a choice you make between being disciplined and being sloppy.  If I spend time teaching my child to be organized with his things, his toys, shouldn't I also apply myself to teaching him organized and disciplined thought and speech?  When I supervise my child during homework time to make sure he is not careless with answering questions, nor sloppy with his handwriting, doesn't it make sense for me to also reject sloppiness with speech or grammar in general?

I've heard time and time again that in parenting, consistency is key.  I'm a firm believer in that.  I also believe that, though it's easier to always compartmentalize, I'm afraid we can't do that with parenting or socialization. What we say and how we act are magnified in a child's eyes.  And what we try to teach in one aspect needs to carry over other areas as well in order for them to have a better shot at successfully learning something.  Most of all, most often than not, we socialize our children based on our own socialization experiences as children.  I was raised believing, among other things, that formal education is important, discipline and attention to detail are valued, and speaking 'properly' is expected.  As such, I am doing the same to my child.  Some people might perceive this is snobbish, elitist, discriminatory or all of the above.  But I'd like to point out that what I'm teaching my son are expectations or standards we have of him and ourselves, not of other people, nor the practice of judging others.  As I quoted above, when you know better, you do better.

I know that language evolves and rules do change.  But for now, I don't believe that it has changed enough for 'ain't' to be widely accepted as the right way to contract 'am not', 'is not', 'do not', etc.  It's just NOT.  Period.


Have you had similar experiences with your children?  What 'bad language' have you caught and were you able to nip it in the bud?











Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Fruits Of Thom's Tree


On February 9, just two days ago, our blogging group PBAU lost one of our dearest members, Thom Brown.  According to his daughter, it was unexpected but it was a peaceful passing and he had his wife by his side.  

I never got the privilege of meeting Thom personally but I have always considered him like a father figure in our group. He is a professor of Psychology in Utica, New York and perhaps it's partly due to this academic background that made him and his posts all the more relatable to me.  But more than that, I have always found his writing so full of grace and wisdom. He loved writing about his family, treasured memories from years past, and of course his musings on teaching or education.

There is one series of posts though, that is just so representative of Thom.  I believe that all of those who know him and follow his posts would agree that his signature lies in the Tree.  As a matter of fact, it's been repeatedly called and I believe should now be officially referred to as "Thom's Tree".  

Copyright © 2014 Thomas G. Brown

You see, there is a tree right by Thom's office window and he takes photos of this beautiful tree from the same angle, at around the same time of day almost everyday. Then he shares through his blog and Facebook page his favorite photo for the week, and this collection of photos started in 2010.  I encourage you to check out this magnificence here.

So as a way of remembering and honoring Thom, I decided to dedicate this post to him and his tree.  I want him to know that his postings were not only beautiful to look at, but also spoke of lessons that will always guide.  As someone who also loves looking at trees and finds them to be so full of grace and poesy, I truly believe that he could not have chosen a better subject.

Thom, these are, to me, the fruits of your Tree...


**********

1.  Acceptance of Change

No two photos of his Tree are exactly the same and the changes of course become even more apparent with the change of seasons.  And as a viewer or audience to this Tree, we know this.  We accept it.  It just is and always will be the truth. Thom's photos reflecting the subtle changes in his Tree highlights the reality that change is a natural consequence of the passing of time.  We cannot control it, and are only left to experience it.  It may look sad sometimes that the tree loses its leaves or is simply all covered in snow. But we accept that it's the inevitable and still are able to believe that the tree will endure; that it will remain graceful.


2.  Resilience (creates beauty)

For three years, Thom has shown us how this Tree has withstood the changing seasons and even the harshest weather conditions.  But I can't help but see strength in it, and I think I speak for most of us when I say that there is undeniable beauty in this tree.  I believe that the knowledge that this Tree has survived so much and that so many of us have witnessed it adds to its beauty.  And I think resilience does that to any of us.  We ache, we suffer and we survive.  And each challenge that we conquer gives us more strength, more wisdom, more compassion.  Aren't these the very same things that make one remarkably and authentically beautiful and memorable?  For me, Thom's Tree reminds me of all that; that resilience gives character and brings with it the gift of real beauty.


3.  The Value of Stillness and Consistency

Consistency helps produce the results we want to achieve.  If Thom had kept shifting angles or perspectives, the series would not have achieved the desired effects.  The reason why it has been so fascinating is because Thom allowed us to witness even the subtlest changes to his Tree.  Moreover, his discipline in photographing the Tree is what gives the series its unique character.  Thom knew when to be still.  It was just an ordinary tree and yet he knew when to pause and REALLY see.  If he had taken this Tree for granted and did not bother to be still, we would not have enjoyed this gift. Isn't this also a good reminder for us that we need to take time to pause and enjoy what surrounds us?  Beauty is everywhere but you need to be still to be captured by gratitude and be able to hear when beauty speaks to you.


**********

Thank you, Professor Brown, for the privilege of learning from you and knowing your spirit through your writing.  Your humor and wisdom shall be missed.










Friday, January 31, 2014

My High School Yearbook Threw Me Into A Mid-Life Crisis

Next year, my high school batch (or class, as most Americans call it) will be celebrating our silver jubilee.  Yes, it's been 25 years since I graduated from high school and frankly, it shocks me.  When I was younger, I've always felt like the silver jubilarians were ancient women. (We are an all-girls Catholic school).  But now I clearly, and conveniently, know better!

As silver jubilarians, our batch is now the one in charge of hosting next year's alumni homecoming and so everyone has been particularly active on Facebook trying to get in touch with one another.  Recently, a batchmate of mine posted another person's yearbook write-up, and this naturally prompted me to pull out my copy of our yearbook and review what was written about me.

I had honestly forgotten about the write-up.  Nothing. No memory of it at all whatsoever.  I wanted to build up some suspense and so I checked out the others' write-ups first before reading mine.

Generally, a lot of the other ladies had some sort of description of their personalities and then linking those to some predicted future career. Some were predicted to be doctors, while others were to be physical therapists or nurses. Some were sure to end up in theater, and a number were dead set on pursuing a career in business or finance.

When I finally got to mine, there was nothing;  no clue as to what I might be good at some day in terms of a career, or which direction my future might go. Nothing specific, and this somewhat disappointed me, for I was hoping to find a clue that might lead to a gift or skill I've always had that could help me determine what to do next with my life.  I don't resent the person who wrote this about me because they were all pleasant things.  But as you can see, it's all about my personal traits and tendencies at the time.

The hairstyle, body size/weight, as well as the spelling of my 'second' name are all dead giveaways that this was pulled out from a different lifetime. (And I'm sure they meant 'Scorpio', not scorpion)

If anything, I'm actually more disappointed in myself now than if I had just found out that I didn't end up in a career that was predicted for me more than two decades ago.  It's one thing to see that you didn't end up as a doctor or a Nobel prize winner.  It's another to ask yourself where that person went, that person being described in that relic from 24 years ago.

What happened to her?  The Scorpio-ness is still very much alive.  But what about that part that has so much zest for life?  Corny jokes and the smiles, yes, sure, occasionally.  But the girl overflowing with positive thoughts?  I wonder.  This write-up makes me imagine a girl, all sunshine and energy.  But I don't see that girl anymore.

Yes, I still smile, maybe more than others.  But I don't think of myself as particularly positive and definitely won't claim to be a ball of energy and light. I've grown jaded, much less enthusiastic, and definitely more skeptical.  Do life and aging generally do this to people?  The older one gets, the more challenges one naturally encounters.  And though we find ourselves triumphant most times, finding solace in the fact that we haven't gotten completely plowed down by life's hardships or heartbreaks and other soul-draining encounters, we also can't deny that such things transform and harden us.  Certain spots get strengthened, while others are weakened.  It's all part of living and aging.  

I could mourn the 'death' of that teenager filled with optimism and zest for life.  Or I could celebrate the fact that at least once I was that person.  And maybe part of her is still around, although hopefully balanced with a more solid sense of reality.  At the time that picture was taken, that person hasn't fallen in love; hasn't had her heart broken; has not struggled with a job she knew she was wrong for; has not had the chance to expose herself to the wider world where real poverty and political injustice breathe; has not had the chance to have intelligent discourses with some of the best in the academe; has not traveled outside the country; has not experienced uprooting herself from her country of origin to start a new life and learn new norms and grapple with new taken-for-granted realities; has not had a child, nor lost a child. That girl in the picture has not had the privilege of getting acquainted with real pain, and so didn't have yet the untiring intransigence to hold on to love, real friendships and joy.

She didn't know it all and she still doesn't.  But I'd like to believe that we are allowed to know enough at any point in our journeys to just keep us going; enough to convince us that there is more ahead to look forward to, smile for, be positive about and have corny jokes for.  We have all that we need at every moment.  I hope we can all find peace in that knowledge.