Friday, April 25, 2014

It's Just A Crush...Or Is It?

Our family spent the Easter weekend in Chicago.  As it was also my son's birthday weekend, we figured it would be a great surprise for him if he got to spend it with his favorite cousins from his Dad's side of the family.  

Visiting family in Chicago normally translates to three related and almost causal events, which I definitely always look forward to:

Son gets to play with cousins.  

Son ends up at cousins' house which means somebody else gets to watch the kids.  

Mommy gets to go out and play with her friends!  

Granted these girls' nights out (GNOs) for me are very few and far between, (the last one we had was in November last year so on average we see each other every five months, or three if we're lucky), a GNO is undeniably always a welcome event for me.  

An Event. Yes, it's sacred time I carve out to be with friends (two of whom are sisters-in-law) so that I can really unwind and take my mind off of worrying thoughts that constantly shadow my identity as a parent.  It is an 'event' because it's one of the very few times I get to be a bit dressy, take a bit more time putting make-up on, and most of all, consume alcohol.


Image by: Drunken Monkey

Somehow, our group always ends up spending the entire evening at this Italian restaurant located less than 15 minutes away from where we all live. (I stay with one of my sisters-in-law when we visit).  It's a wonderful place. Chic but not stiff.  Great food, attentive and friendly service, good mixed drinks that are just enough to loosen us up without making it impossible for anyone to safely drive home, and everything is reasonably priced.  But beyond these logical reasons that keep drawing all of us in, this restaurant has one unique selling point for us. Ok, for ME, and it's time to fess up.

I fancy one of the servers.  

Don't worry.  It's just an innocent crush.  I first spotted him five months ago, in November 2013, and luckily when we returned last weekend, this handsome young man, 'Babe' as our group now calls him, was still there.  (Should I be thanking the tough job market for him staying on?)  

Before you judge me, although frankly I prefer you save your energy because I couldn't care less, let me further explain why this guy makes me feel like a silly teenager once again.  Personally, I think he resembles Henry Cavill. When I first spotted him five months ago, he wore a beard that completely reminded me of Man of Steel Henry during that oil rig scene. Last weekend though, he was completely clean-shaven further revealing a good, strong jawline. 'Babe' also has such a remarkable profile, thanks to that perfect nose bridge. He also has dark, wavy hair, once again invoking his Henry-ness. However, he's admittedly lacking in height.  We all think he's only about 5'6 or 5'7. But who cares, right?  He's more than made up for it with his face. However, like I said, it's just an innocent, silly crush and I just enjoy watching him from afar.  We've never even been lucky enough to have him as our server, so at this point, it's really all been about babe-watching, giggling and having a good time with my girls.  

I understand that there are some who believe that people in committed relationships should not have crushes or feel any sort of attraction towards people other than the partner or spouse.  But isn't that unrealistic to expect? We are human after all and it's normal to acknowledge and appreciate beauty in others when we see it.  In my case, I'm clear that there's no emotional investment or attachment on my part.  I haven't even directly interacted with this guy and only see him twice a year if I'm lucky enough.  I don't fantasize about him or imagine being with him. I really just think he's remarkably attractive.  Ok, maybe even 'spine-tinglingly' handsome.  But that's about it. It's a shallow crush, a strictly superficial admiration that I know I will never act on.  Ever.  And I suppose that's the important part.  I may appreciate and admire this person's looks but by no means do I look at him as a replacement for my spouse.  My admiration for this other man does not translate to my husband's diminishment.  In other words, I'm able to compartmentalize, and it seems to be working in my favor.  I think that's key in keeping these things innocent and harmless, and ultimately, quite acceptable.

You know what else I realized?  It wasn't so much the sight of my crush that I enjoyed the most, but the feelings the whole experience brought me.  For me, it was the strategizing with my friends so that we can have the best view of 'Babe'.  It was the thrill of doing my best to be subtle, to not be 'found out'. It was the feeling of innocence that was brought back by this shallow infatuation.  It was the sense of fun it brought with it that I was able to share with friends and one we bonded over.

We are drawn to people not simply for who they are but more because of how they make us feel about ourselves or our lives.  We seek out situations that bring out a part of us that we want to show up or enjoy experiencing and cultivating; and we tend to retreat or shy away from those that we feel ill-equipped for or that tend to call forth parts of us we don't like or reject.

What we do or how we behave really has nothing to do with others, (whether it's the handsome server or my husband, in this situation) and everything to do with us (me).  Just as is true for any other married person who develops a crush on someone (or even an affair), it has to do with the experience you are seeking, the feelings you want, rather than simply the other person involved.    

The whole time during that evening, what kept popping in my mind was how everything felt like I was in college again, when my closest friends would help 'stalk' my crush and find out as much as they can about him for me; how I'd share my feelings with my dearest friends and always felt supported and understood; how the smallest thrills just made life fun for us.  Those are what I miss.  That's probably what I'm seeking.  And I would take what I (safely and sanely) can, even if it's just three hours at a restaurant feasting on eye-candy with friends, just to remind myself of that version of me again; that time in my life when my heart was still open to feel anything and everything life threw at me; that time when I felt most significant, most at home, and least alienated.  



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?!