Friday, July 25, 2014

What I've Learned From A Decade of Being Away From Home

The other night, I dreamt I was back in the Philippines, visiting.  I was walking in the same halls I used to walk when I taught in University.  There were the usual groups of students seated on the floor, by their professor's door, waiting for consultation hours to begin.  It was the same dimly-lit and almost claustrophobic faculty center which I used to call my office building.  It was far from being ideal, but it was home to me, and represented a job I loved and truly enjoyed.

The old University of the Philippines Diliman Faculty Center
Image by : Ramon FVelasquez

I knew I had to go to the Department of Sociology office and say hello to whoever was there.  In my dream, as it is in reality, I knew I had been gone for too long.  I was anxious, extremely apprehensive to grab the door knob and enter the room.  I can see through the glass window that there were four staff members huddled around the front desks. Towards the back, I can see our Department Chair (from ten years ago) quietly and busily working at her desk. There was no turning back now.  I had to go inside and hope for the best.

You might be wondering why the apprehension over what seems like a straightforward visit to a past work place.  You see, my leaving this workplace was a very abrupt and unplanned one that wreaked some havoc for my colleagues.  In 2004, I went to the U.S. just for vacation, but ended up opting to stay because I got engaged and eventually married. Saying that it was all unplanned, unexpected and all too sudden is an understatement.  I had a teaching load all set for the coming semester, but with me suddenly going AWOL, my classes naturally had to be redistributed to other teachers.  I'm sure none of whoever took over my load was thrilled, and probably cursed me under their breath. I accept that and will forever apologize for that.  The only consolation at the time was that, when I placed a long distance call to my boss, the Department Chair, she was fully supportive of my decision to choose heart over work. She expressed genuine happiness for me and made me feel that I shouldn't worry about anything at work.  And for that, I will always be grateful.  

So back to the dream.  I finally mustered the strength to actually enter the office.  The staff was surprised but I remember being glad that they still remembered me.  Well, at least the old timers.  There were new faces who I haven't met before and who, I can tell, didn't really care who I was either.  

Then I walked closer to my boss's desk.  She was looking down, busy dealing with a stack of papers.  I called her name and gave her the warmest smile an anxious person could produce.  She lifted her head and all I remember was feeling relieved.  She greeted me with a smile, stood from her chair and walked over to give me a hug.  I hugged her tight, as if to say 'Thank you', for all her support and simply for understanding the decisions I made ten years ago.  I saw another colleague / mentor and then came more hugs and some brief "hellos" and "how are you's".

Amidst all the conversations that went on in my dream, one thing stood out for me.  I remember that after telling my boss about how life has been since I moved to the U.S., she said, "Well, if you ever decide to come back, our doors are open here at the Department".  Of course I know this is all wishful thinking on my part, given that I have been out of touch with the academe all these years and that my previous ambition of pursuing a European doctoral degree has long been foregone that it's now beyond resuscitation.  In any case, I was truly moved by the offer and opted to lie to myself and accept it as more than just a polite ending to our conversation.

However, there was a voice inside me in and outside of the dream, that I can't drown out.  It was a realization that gripped me and demanded my complete submission this time.  

"I don't belong here anymore."

I may have called the Philippines home for three decades.  My people are there, the roots and the very core of my identity and consciousness.  But ten years ago, I stood at a fork in the road and chose one over the other.  Each path offered totally different options, different consequences, and in that one choice, a multitude of ripples were born.  When I reached out to open and walk through one door, I forced shut the other.  And the farther I went, and the more steps I took, the more firmly my feet became planted on the event horizon of this universe, pulling me deeper and deeper into this chosen life. Whether I'd like to admit it or not, I've gone past the point of no return.

This week, I celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary. It has been ten years since I chose to permanently live in the United States and give up a secure and familiar life in the Philippines. I suspect this milestone had a lot to do with spawning my dream.  In my dream, as well as in reality, I see that everything I left ten years ago has changed. The work position I vacated is now filled.  My contemporaries have all advanced in their careers. Even the students I once taught and groomed for certain future careers are now occupying positions of authority, possibly even surpassing where I was ten years ago.  It's not exactly the most comforting realization.  Feeling left behind, losing status and a sense of relevance, and getting overwhelmed by a sense of being out of place can be depressing.  

But my story can't be written simply this way, with my eyes focused on how the world I've left has drastically changed and seemingly left me behind.  The truth is, and maybe even more importantly, I know that even I have changed. It's impossible not to.  I know there are things I once desired that I no longer do; things I found acceptable that I now won't tolerate.  I am stronger where I was once weak; and more jaded toward things I had much zest for. A lot of the colors and patterns that defined me before may still be there.  But the shades and configurations might be different now.  After all, this is what the passing of time does to each of us.  We get transformed. And in this process, we need to find a way to mourn the Self we have shed, be at peace with who we've become, as well as forgive ourselves for believing that the world we've left behind has chosen to remain the same and has just been waiting for the gift of our return. Life flows with or without us.  It needs not our consent.

Amazingly, I have found comfort in this dream.  It has brought to the surface my guilt over abruptly leaving one country and life, as well as my sense of peace over choosing another, the one I live now.  

This is what a I chose and who I am now: a wife, mother, blogger, struggling writer, social media fanatic, a Filipino in the United States.  I may be a former academic but honestly don't think I can go back to desiring that life for myself anymore.  It's a life I have given up on when I chose to migrate to the U.S. I mostly belong here now, but this present life does not demand that I surrender my bond with my homeland.  It only asks that I let go of dreams that have withered, and even illusions that are impossible to attain and compete with, in order to make space for planting new dreams and welcoming new adventures wholeheartedly.  This is it.  This is my life now and all it asks is that I be TRULY present in it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

When Helping Doesn't Help

After reading this post by my French yummy mummy blogger friend, Muriel Jacques, I felt compelled to analyze what had happened to me yesterday at the Post Office.  At the time, I simply brushed it off and was able to convince myself to just let it go. However, I knew deep down it bothered me and reading Muriel's post sort of gave me permission to admit to myself that it was 'something' and not just 'nothing'.

I went to our local USPS office to send a small package for a friend in the East coast.  I had a small envelope with a card, and a few small make-up products to ship to her.  When I got to the tiny office, there was a line of maybe 5 people and I had to excuse myself for cutting through in order to get to the back wall where all my packaging options were.  There were regular envelopes, padded envelopes, boxes of different sizes, flat-rate, military and express.  

Image by:  tales of a wandering youkai

Now, if you knew me, you'd know that even before driving to the post office, I'd have already checked out my options online.  I had mentally chosen which packaging would suit me best and knew the differences between the services, except for the price.

However, when I got there, I didn't see everything I saw online and also found one that seemed like a better option. It was the express padded envelope. It was clear to me that I needed the quickest delivery time possible, although I wanted to make sure I had grabbed the correct size for what I needed to ship. Naturally, I stood there staring at the shelves, going back and forth as I tried to weigh my options and decide on the most practical one, cost-wise.  

It was then that this authoritative voice blurted out behind me, after seeing that I had an express envelope in my hand.  

"The express is if you want next day delivery".

I knew the voice was addressing me, so I turned around and found that the voice came from a bearded 50-something man, a fellow customer, not a USPS employee.  He looked at me in a way that made me feel he perceived me like some lost little girl.

I was a bit caught off guard, but knew that I had to say something back to 'defend' myself, to clarify to him that I knew what I was doing.  I tried really hard not to snap and say, "I figured that much when I saw 'express', you know."

Politely and with a smile (as always) I instead opted for, "Yeah, I know.  I'm just figuring out the sizes for my package.  Thanks!"

I felt quite conflicted after that.  The 'ego' part of me felt insulted, suspicious. Was he really just the type who loved offering unsolicited advice with the pure intention of helping others?  Or did he feel the need to speak up because I stood out in this small town of ours as one among the very, very few non-white people, and it was easy for him to assume that I wasn't familiar with the system?  I couldn't help but feel that there was something condescending about the way he said what he said.  Was it so hard for him to believe that I could be fully capable of asking the USPS staff myself if I had any questions at all?  Was it even harder for him to give me the benefit of the doubt that I knew exactly what I wanted, exactly what I was doing, and that I really was just in the process of choosing and shopping around for my options?  I wasn't in line slowing any one down.  I was minding my business.  Why did he feel compelled not to mind his?

We often complain that in our modern society, people are losing touch and have become extremely impersonal.  We often ask where the helping hands have gone and what ever happened to acknowledging each other instead of passing each other by like fog or smoke or some specter.  But at the same time, we (or is it just me?) don't like it when someone offers unsolicited help and feel quite offended or insulted.  

This balance is tough.  Like I said, I feel conflicted although prefer to give this man the benefit of the doubt, if only to keep myself from feeling pissed off.  I just really wish he had opted to wait and see if I really needed help and would ask for it myself.  I guess some people just can't help themselves.

Have you been in a similar situation where someone wrongly assumed that you needed assistance?  How did you feel?  How did you handle it?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Curse of the Blob

I was just innocently typing away on my computer yesterday when I made the mistake of looking down. Darn it! There it was.  A big blob sitting right below my breasts.

Yes, folks.  A muffin top.  MY muffin top.  

I loathe it.  But given the years that it's chosen to stay with me, I'd say that unfortunately, it seems to love me.  To be honest, I'm not one of those women who just gained weight after pregnancy or due to aging and the metabolism slowing down.  As far back as I can remember, I've always been, well,...on the chunky side.  Though I've been various sizes my entire adult life, my weight has always just comfortably hovered around 1(?)0 pounds, somewhere between Kim Kardashian's 130lb pre-pregnancy weight and 200lbs. Any more details than that and I'm gonna have to kill you.

But no matter the sizes I've been, this old trusty muffin top has always been around.  It has tortured me for decades, mocked every cute outfit I had worn or had hoped to wear, and put all the diets and exercise routines my body can perform, to shame!  What makes it worse (I think) is that I'm pretty flat chested.  So unlike those other 'chunky' women who are able to balance out their big tummies with their bigger boobies, hence still making them shapely and 'womanly', my blob of a muffin top is just there like Saint-Exupery's boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant.  

In other words, I'm (almost) resigned to the idea that I will die looking like the damn Michelin Man. 

Image by:  Laurie White

And this is another reason why I hate summer.  It's not just the heat, or the bugs, or the outdoorsy people judging my preference for the cooler and safer bug-bite-free indoors.  It's the fact that I can never seem to figure out what to wear and still look cute and appropriate for the climate.  Most things I see on the store racks are sleeveless shirts which I don't wear because, yes, you guessed it....I don't like my big arms too!  Or tops with teenee tiny pseudo 'token' sleeves which hardly cover anything.  And what's with all these cotton shirts that are meant to be cool and comfortable and yet shaped to cling to my unwanted wobbly bulges???  I would gladly wear shapewear underneath just to smoothen everything out, if it weren't 95 degrees outside!  Grrrr......

Alright, rant over.  Obviously I have a lot of body issues.  Some days are worse than others, although I have to admit that summer always brings out the worst in me.  Now I wonder how I kept my sanity and my joyful disposition when I was living in tropical and perpetually summer-like Philippines.  To think that almost everybody there is smaller than my size, given their typical Asian body frames!  And shopping there was doubly hard because the sizing just made me feel all the more miserable about my frame. *sigh*

I guess I should count my blessings and be grateful that in about two more months, my misery will be somehow mitigated by the cooler weather.  Fall and Winter outfits will allow me to layer, and for at least 3 or 4 months, I could grant semi-invisibility to my muffin top with the help of jackets, scarves and of course, some shapewear.  Hopefully, those months could also buy me some time to shrink this blob a bit more so that I won't be this miserable in summer 2015.  

Hope springs eternal.  So as my final message, I'd like to share with you this meme that my writer friend P. James shared this morning via Facebook:

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Courage To Be Free


As it is July 4th today, Independence Day for Americans, I'd like to give a brief list of wishes to all of you, regardless of nationality.

I wish you freedom....

from the belief that you do not deserve love and a spiritual partnership that bring out the best in you

from people that bring nothing but negativity and heaviness to your soul

from negative conditioning that shackles your mind, preventing you to shine at your utmost magnificence

from lies you believe that keep you from appreciating the beauty and remarkable efficiency of your body now, regardless of your shape and size

from fears that bind you to a Self and a Life less than what is truly meant for you---perhaps a job you are afraid to pursue or a job you are afraid to leave; 
a relationship you can't turn your back on for fear of being alone or being able to find something better; 
a dream you're turning your back on because you don't want to fail.

Be grateful for the freedoms you enjoy.
Use them wisely and never passively.

To be truly free is to not only have the capacity to make choices,
but to create those choices.  

Create your choices with Reason and Rationality,
and most of all, 

May we all strive for authentic freedom and live lives reflective of a freedom truly well-deserved.  

And may freedom never be wasted on us through unconscious and irrational choices.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety  deserve neither liberty nor safety. 
--- Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Introversion Doesn't Have To Mean Boring

I didn't like the dream I had last night.  Not one bit.  I felt so disturbed by it that I actually woke up frowning, trying to analyze it. (Not that I don't analyze everything in the first place anyway).  

I don't remember the details but what was clear was that I was told that I am a boring person.  At one point, I tried to argue and defend myself by insisting that none of that can't be true since none of my former students ever said that about me. (And please don't ask me for actual data but trust that I had good 'reviews' / decent results from students' evaluations).  I even remember saying, "That doesn't make sense! People have always remarked at how animated I get when I speak!"  In my dream, all my impassioned arguing didn't make any difference, and I lost.

A boring person.  That's how people thought of me and I never had a clue.  I couldn't decide which one hurt my ego more: the fact that I was seen as boring, or that my self-definition was too incongruent from others' perception.

Could this be true?  Could I really have been walking around thinking I was someone fun to talk to, when in reality I'm generally considered dry and socially inept?  What does it really mean to be boring anyway?

Image (without text) by:  Ryan McGuire

I admit that I don't have an exciting life.  I'm an introvert at heart, and therefore derive no real pleasure from going out, meeting new people or exploring new experiences.  All of the above simply cause me stress and leave me feeling drained, hence my preference for staying in or keeping the company of a small group of people I'm intimate with.  I don't mind brief chit-chats, can manage to be friendly, and as I mentioned above, even animated, but only for a very limited amount of time.  

Because of all these factors, the truth is, my life is pretty predictable, even dull by most standards.  To some, it might feel like a series of Groundhog Days, with one day feeling like a repeat of the previous ones.  And believe it or not, I'm not complaining.  I thrive in predictability.  Small talk makes me tense and I hate it, even though I can fake it 'till I make it if it were absolutely necessary.  Sure, it's great to meet new people every so often.  But it's not something I would actively seek or bravely initiate.  I think I've reached a stage in my life where I've simply become comfortable with the amount of true friends I already have and have given up all illusions of ever finding more.  If it happens, then that's great.  If not, no biggie. And sometimes I wonder too if that sense of resignation is influenced by the fact that I'm fairly new to this society; that I migrated here as an older adult and still feel a certain degree of alienation even after ten years.  Sometimes I still wonder if I would've been more social, more willing to open myself up, if I were still in the Philippines with all that's familiar to me.

I've always been on the shy, introverted side even as a child.  Was it my migration and sense of alienation that heightened this trait?  Or is it my aging, given that experts say aging heightens certain personality traits and more specifically the tendency towards introversion, especially among women?

It could be my age.  It could be my sense of alienation as a migrant.  It could be both.  But it really doesn't bother me at all that I have a very limited social circle.  And frankly, I refuse to believe that this necessarily makes one a boring person. More importantly, I'm pretty sure my significant others don't define me as boring and that's really all that matters.  I think once you've cultivated a deep and authentic relationship with someone, 'boring' loses significance. It's no longer so much about constantly injecting something new, but more about discovering what lies deeper beyond the surface layers

As a matter of fact, this coincides with my personal definition of 'boring'. To me, it's the inability or unwillingness to go deeper.  You can be the busiest and most socially active person.  But if you can't offer anything to me beyond your 'surface', then I'd still think you're boring.  What's important to me is not how socially active a person is, but how deep and multidimensional they are or can be.  It's the difference between reporting facts about what goes on in your life versus having the ability to glean insights from those events and dig deeper.  And I believe that as people get older, their chances of acquiring that skill, that depth, become greater.  I'd like to be optimistic that way!

In other words, the good news is that as we age, the excitement shifts to what's going on in the mind, rather than merely in the realm of the external and superficial.  How can that ever turn boring, right?!  

How do you define boring?  Do you think your definition has changed through the years?