Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Demons Unleashed

After being so 'illiterate' for so long, I have once again been able to read and finish a book.  I've made up my mind to bring Noah to the library every week to borrow books and so every two weeks or so, I am also able to enjoy the luxury of walking through shelves, scanning books and sniffing pages as if they were some kind of drug.  The last one I just read, albeit interesting, gave me a bit of discomfort.  

It was one of those stories where, there isn't really much of a climax and everything seems mundane.  At some points the characters almost seem surreal, while in other parts appearing very ordinary to the point of being invisible to one's comprehension.  Before hitting midway, I was able to digest the point that the characters are indeed cowards; people who wanted something, wanted more, but were either too cautious to pursue their dreams and desires, or simply, unfortunately, incapable.

And there lies the seat of my discomfort.  It was like hearing Roberta Flack in my head singing 'Killing Me Softly' while being struck by the nature of the characters and their cowardice.  They could be me.  This is the story of my life, isn't it? 

I cannot tell you how often I think about what I could have been.  

I could have been a doctor.  

I could have been a geneticist or molecular biologist.  

I could have obtained a PhD.  

I could have been a tenured professor of Sociology.  

I could have been a human resource manager.  

I could have been a poet or writer.  

I could have been many great things, 'successful' things.  

Most of you would probably argue that it's wrong of me to think that way because I could still be many things if I so desire it.  But we all know that's easier said than done especially for someone my age and my circumstance (a wife, parent, limited financial resources, foreign educated with mostly foreign work history, and the list goes on).  I also acknowledge that, much like the characters in the novel, I am a coward.  I admit it.  I am afraid of failure and I am much too well-versed in the art of self-sabotage.  My own sister has pointed out to me before how I'm the type who thinks of all the bumps in the road even before I take a single step and visualize the end as achievable.  I am aware of my tendency to quit when I know that it is something I will not be good at or excel in.  I also know that I lack confidence in my own abilities.

Much too often, I have felt so frustrated with myself for not being REALLY good at anything; for being mediocre, at least by my standards.  I can teach, but I don't think I was a great teacher.  I have not had any complaints from any of my previous employers and have even had some minor office awards and things like that, but I still don't think I was the 'Best' in the group.  I can sing but I'm not a 'real' singer or someone who would have the guts to sing in public.  I cook and can cook but I'm not a 'chef' or an exceptional cook in my view.  I love organizing around the house or any space for that matter, but I'm not a professional organizer.  Most of all, I can write, but I am not comfortable to call myself a 'writer' and always cringe at the idea of labelling myself as such.  

It was so easy for me to shake my head while reading the novel, to effortlessly feel frustration over how the characters were living their lives and making (or should I say NOT making) choices.  But that's natural for people, isn't it? judge others' lives more easily than give a verdict for their own; to find solutions to others' tribulations than work through the countless labyrinths in their own minds.  It's always so much easier to see that all the 'perhaps', 'what if's' and 'if only's' in someone else's life exist only to incapacitate them.  When it comes to our own, my own, it's always so much harder and I often find myself powerless against these personal demons.  

How do others see me?  How do others measure my life?  I wonder if they think I'm not living up to my highest potential?  Do they think I've compromised my standards?  Do they think I'm a wasted investment?  When they see me or think of me, do they think deep down, "She could've been more"?

These voices have become too familiar to me, unfortunately.  And it's not that I regret my choices.  It's not that I don't think raising a child and having a family are unimportant or worth 'less'.  Neither is it about not enjoying myself with the things that occupy me now.

I guess the one thing that scares me most is that, while I was reading the novel and figured out a common denominator for the characters and their lives, the fact that I was able to easily relate to the characters' lives and felt how similar my biography is to theirs' means that I too share that common denominator---ordinary.  The characters were ordinary.

The thought of attaching the word 'ordinary' to myself brings me much trepidation.  All my life, I strove to perform, excel, be recognized or simply achieve something that would make me feel special, exceptional, different. Looking back though I'm realizing that I have either failed or just haven't tried hard enough.  I don't know.  What do I know?

What is 'special'?  How would you define it?  How do I change my lens so as to view my life and my self better, kinder?  In a previous blog I know I wrote that I need to be gentler to myself.  I suppose I haven't gone far, have I?



Saturday, June 26, 2010

Too Much Action to be Missing In Action

It's never good to start a blog entry with an apology and I would hate to make a habit out of it.  That being said, I find it necessary on my part though, given how remiss I've been in my Fortune Friday duties.  It's been crazy busy and exhausting, and I do apologize for missing my commitment.  

First, there was that out of town vacation where 19 people in the family spent a whole week together.  We all drove to Virginia and also visited Washington D.C. and as my niece, Francesca, said, that takes a LOT of love to accomplish!  I'm sure at some point someone got on somebody's nerves but in the 'Fab Fam' (which is how I've been referring to this side of the family lately / my husband's immediate family), all is forgiven, understood and perhaps sometimes even forgotten.  With so many different personalities to deal with, disagreements and annoyances are just bound to happen.  With a family as big as my husband's (Note: He has five siblings; all but one are married; five nephews and nieces; six grandchildren total, but one is engaged so fiance is now considered another grandchild and nephew...and this is just the immediate family travelling and vacationing together.  My father-in-law actually has five siblings himself so put all those extended families together and you're sure to have a riot...I mean, a clan J ), differences are sure to exist  and in the end, all you can do is either embrace those differences or teach yourself how to better deal with each person so as to not end up either losing your mind or killing each other!  In situations like this one, the most valuable lesson ever passed on to me which needs to be practiced is that you cannot change other people but you can change the way you perceive and deal with them.

In the final analysis though and with all objectivity in mind, I am happy to say that luckily, I have more similarities with the Fab Fam than irreconcilable differences.  In the end, the most important thing is that we share the same core values of respect, dignity, honesty, family unity and love.  Luckily too, we share similar interests in terms of leisure activities...movies, food, sports, etc.  And that brings me to the second reason for my being busy recently.  We have been working hard at being more active and have found tennis to be our perfect activity!  Brothers and sisters have been playing tennis almost everyday now for the past two weeks and it's pretty amazing!  My left knee is not at its best but I just love this sport so much that I just have to make do with a knee brace and a lot of prayers.  It's been fun exploring this side of the family, especially since for the longest time, it seemed as if our only concept of a 'get-together' was an 'eat-and-talk-together'.  Now we have sports, going out to movies, and now playing poker too, among others!  This is probably the most fun I've had during the summer season in all these years here in the U.S. and I'm just really happy about it because it took me long to get here.

Yes, I come from a different family myself, hence a slightly different background too.  I am only an 'in-law' to my husband's family and it took me long to get to the point where I consider myself part of them and them part of me.  It is not without heartaches and difficulty before I saw that truly integrating myself with the Fab Fam does not mean shedding who I am and obliterating my roots, my side of the family.  It was a struggle.  But I guess I am just blessed that, not only have I received the grace to open myself, my heart to them, but more importantly, I've been given the gift to meet a family willing to open their hearts to receive me.  To any in-law, that is a blessing.  To a migrant in-law such as myself, it could mean everything.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Deconstructing Grocery Shopping

I love grocery shopping.  

What most people consider a boring errand, I actually look forward to and perceive as a fun breather.  I know of a lot of people who would probably prefer a trip to the dentist than do their grocery shopping, but not me.  Especially when AJ is available to just stay with Noah at home, a trip to the grocery really becomes even more fun and relaxing.  

I still remember the very first time I stepped in a grocery store here in the U.S. back in 2001 when I stayed for a three-week vacation.  I went with the thought that one of the best ways to gain an even deeper insight about this society is to look at the food the people commonly consume.  Suffice it to say that I was enthralled.  It was an experience seeing all the frozen dinners which were, at least at the time, unheard of in the Philippines where everyone cooks or makes their own meals one way or the other, and frozen dinners were only something I saw on t.v. or American films.  

It was fun how everything looked bigger, aisles were wider and food was so abundant.  I would have to say though, that the clincher for me was when I reached the cereal aisle.  It was then that I realized that this was a society of choices.  You know how everyone says that America is the land of the free and that anything is possible out here?...Well, you only need to go to your cereal aisle to confirm this!

It was too overwhelming looking at all the varieties of cereal one can choose from.  Actually, it still is!  To this date, sending me to the cereal aisle with no particular preference in mind will drive me to the throes of panic caused by utter indecision.  Cheerios or Honey Cheerios?  Frosted flakes or Cinnamon Toast Crunch?  Sweet or healthy?  Quaker brand or Kashi?  Something new I've never had before or something familiar and reliable?  Maybe I want something with chocolate or maybe peanut butter?  Which size?  How many carbs per serving?  This is why when I'm on a tight schedule, you should never ever let me linger here.  I take it all too seriously and behave as if there was no tomorrow and that choosing the 'wrong' type of cereal will dent me for the rest of my life.

Even with this 'tension-inducing' aisle though, I still love the grocery.  After giving it thought, I think I can pretty much explain this with two main reasons:  (1) I love food and where else can one get so much exposure to food and all its infinite combinations and unique possibilities but at the grocery stores?; (2) Though the choices seem infinite in this place, everything can still be very predictable and organized, and we all know how I love order.  I mean, think about it.  This is one place where there are countless choices to be made. long as you have a list and know exactly what your purpose is for shopping, you can easily find your way around (with all the aisles being labelled and for the most part, logically organized) and everything is within your control.  
I love how a trip to the grocery is something I can completely plan for.  I love the predictability of it;  how everything is where I expect to find them, that they are exactly where they were the last time I saw them; how easily I can navigate inside the store and even organize my list according to how the goods in the store are mapped out.  

In the final analysis, it's really all about that.  More than anything, I am comforted by the predictability and organization of the grocery universe.  I go in with a plan (my list) and execute that plan with little or no human interaction necessary which makes the predictability and intentionality possible and even more pronounced.  With no one and nothing else to deal with but my cart, the merchandise, and my personal discipline and focus, the variables are reduced and it all becomes simple.

Now if only I can live in the grocery store!        

*Image courtesy of*

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fortune Friday: 6.11.10

Before anything else, I would like to apologize for a really late Fortune Friday entry.  I have not had internet connection from where I am so I hope you can excuse me....Anyway, here it goes....

“You will make a good lawyer.”


First of all, I hate arguing.  Actually, let me clarify that.  I like arguing and debating, but only if I end up winning…all the time.  Second of all, I just know that I would fail miserably and just embarrass myself as I could get too intense and emotional.  If I ever became a litigation lawyer, I just know that I would either end up in jail for killing opposing counsel or end up dead myself due to a heart attack. 

Speaking of arguing, I’m going to go off-tangent here.  It’s just that I’ve noticed that Noah has learnt to argue and reason with us.  He now defies us (or at least tries to, but with not much success of course) and definitely tries to express himself more with increased intensity.  You can often hear him say things like, “I told you!”, or “I don’t want to”. 

Other than this relatively new-found ability to argue and reason, I’ve also noticed a certain change in his speech.  Just this past week, I realized how American my son is really sounding.  He now has, what Filipinos call ‘the American twang’.  He pronounces ‘pants’ as ‘pents’; or ‘Daddy’ as ‘Deddy; or ‘snack’ as ‘sneck’…you get my drift. 

Admittedly, these are things I hadn’t expected to arrive this early.  I was thinking all these changes, (the arguing, defying and the pronounced American accent) would more or less come once he starts school.  Well, lo and behold, they are here and I can only hope they don’t get any worse. 

These small but inevitable changes truly challenge my sense of identity as a Filipino parent.  I have always been scared of not being able to preserve some of the traditional Filipino values, and especially the language, in my parenting style.  I have always dreaded the day when I will realize that there is no hint of being Filipino in Noah as he grows older.  In the back burners of my mind, I am always anxious of his peer group being a more powerful and effective agent of socialization than our family and our home life. 

I pray that day never comes and I vow to do everything in my power to keep that day from ever being realized.  I don’t expect him to not get assimilated, don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate the value of assimilation in making one a successful and effective member of any society.  However, assimilation for me does not mean a total turning back from one’s roots.  Embracing a certain way of life does not automatically imply forgetting your lineage.  In my heart I know that I want Noah to always respect his being Filipino and have the desire to be as Filipino as he can be despite his Western world.  I wish for him to keep seeing the beauty in the Philippines and its people and keep having the highest hopes for the nation even though he considers himself a citizen of a much developed society.

I do realize that much, if not all of this, depends upon how we parent Noah.  I am clear about my wishes.  I just need to have a clearer plan of execution.  Let me start working on this project now.  

Court is adjourned!                     

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fortune Friday: 6.4.10

“You cannot put the same shoe on every foot.  Try amending your plan.”

I've been staring at this 'fortune' for hours and hours and couldn't figure out how to interpret this on a personal level.  At some point, I had given up and out of boredom just decided to go to my Facebook homepage and took a peek at what's going on with my friends' lives.  

Then just now, approximately 30 seconds ago, it hit me.  After perusing through some of the photos posted by some of my FB contacts and once again feeling pangs of jealousy over what others seem to have accomplished or how they're living their lives and what they've ended up with, I finally heard the 'fortune' truly speaking to me...."What works for them won't necessarily work for you.  Just because they have what they have doesn't mean they are better off than you are".  

I suppose at this point, it's not so much about me amending my plan but amending my desires.  I know the 'plan' has changed.  To be honest, at this point I'm not even certain if a plan still exists.  What I need to do is accept that I am where I need to be for whatever reason.  What I need to do is make the most of who I am now given where I am.  What I need to remember most of all is that my life now is how I chose it to be.  Choices have been made that place me where I am now and I am not merely a victim but an agent of those choices.  I had such grand plans the life of an intellectual, travel to Europe, grow old with my closest friends and have our kids grow old together as well.  The only real reason why my life took the turns that it did is because I chose it so.  

I was the one that gave up what I had previously planned on.  

I was the one that chose some relations over others.

I was the one that changed my mind about what I thought was my calling in life.

It was all me and in the same way that I chose before, I continue to choose in the present, in each and every moment given to me.  If my life continues on its present path, it would mainly be because of my own desires and choices. Sometimes, somehow, the avenues open to us are limited.  But change can always be achieved if, and only if, we truly want it.  If we want it badly enough for us to actually initialize and catalyze it, something will happen. Something will change, either way.  And we just have to be equally responsible for the consequences at hand.        

When I become restless like this, wondering about the 'roads untravelled', I turn to the Serenity Prayer for ample perspective...

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference...    

May this prayer bring peace as well to those of you who also wonder, question and even experience some degree of regret at times over certain things.  If we can truly be rational about the whole thing, we will realize that regrets and 'wonderingments' are but forms of self-flagellation.  Why be cruel to ourselves when there are so many other things to be grateful and happy about?  Let's adjust our lenses, refocus and be more gentle with our selves.  

I need to be more gentle with myself.