On Blending…

Today, I’m giving you some homework. Ask a traveller, an immigrant, or a refugee about the great “melting pot” or “stew” that they are now a part of. What does it feel like to be the key ingredient?

Don’t know a traveller, an immigrant, or a refugee? Then it’s time to get out there and meet someone a little different.

It’s human nature to define the world in binaries. I’ve heard it all in people’s descriptions of “us” and “them”. They, the others, are referred to in various ways, not all flattering.

(Side note: my stream of thought was just derailed by a woman yelling at another woman not to touch her. Incidentally, the second woman was veiled. The irony of witnessing this while trying to write a post about assimilation is astounding. This is the second time I witness aggressive behaviour towards a veiled woman in a week).

Being different is quite difficult. It’s also exceptionally difficult to have to change in order to fit in with others, and consequently give up your own values, ambitions, and dream for your life. Every Disney production encourages children to embrace what makes them unique and to fight for their dreams against all odds, then they grow up and the world tells them to get in line and keep their heads down. Be like everybody else, so nobody can judge you. If you can’t change your skin, change your mannerisms and accent and hope to God nobody will notice. Blend in, but please identify your ethnic background, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation accurately when prompted by your workplace/community centre/census so that they someone can use you as a statistic to boast their equity and diversity indices… like a refurbished trophy.

What is it like to be seen but unseen?

I can tell you a thing or two about that.

I’ve come to the realization that the world is just one big high school, and people carry forward in their respective cliques until their dying day. Then, they’re often buried in a multi-ethnic cemetery because the world is just too diverse and there are just too many people to organize by “type” underground. You may be buried alongside a political enemy, or someone who doesn’t look like you, or someone who believes in another God with the decline in religious cemetery space. So… maybe it’s worthwhile to get to know them and share the earth before, you know, having to physically share the earth.

Nobody is better than anybody. No race is superior. No religion is superior. Ignorance breeds hatred and, with hatred on the rise, none of us are safe. So your homework is to stand with me today and be a beacon of light. Guide the way for a better world by making the effort to understand what it’s like for someone else to live in a strange new land with a new language and culture. Ask them about blending. You may come to realize that the person you’re speaking to is not very different from you.

And if you are, like me, often the stranger, try to connect with anyone who is willing to listen. I know they seem to be few and far between, but many people would like to get to know you but are afraid of offending you if they note that you are indeed different. It’s the phenomenon of selective ignorance. Give them a chance.

You may come to realize that the world is just one giant high school and it’s time for everyone to take a stand against bullying.

Now, excuse me while I get off this train quickly and make sure that rude woman doesn’t take another jab at the nice lady who just looks a little different.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Imperfection…

Sometimes, things just don’t go so well… and that’s O.K.

The modern global culture, especially social media culture, is obsessed with an unattainable standard of perfection. From the perspective of the outsider looking in, everyone is on cloud 9. It’s no wonder that this causes severe cases of anxiety and depression over time, as individuals come to believe that they are the only ones left behind in imperfection.

Imperfection creates character in our lives… it’s the spice that turns out a little too spicy, and is therefore memorable. What are we, if not a compilation of broken pieces fused together? Whole, but imperfect.

Yesterday, a friend of mine told me she’s “a buzz kill”. This is why she doesn’t want to spend time with others lately. I thought this was both alarming and funny… but not in the “ha ha” sort of way. We don’t see each other clearly. If we did, we would know that everyone is carrying a burden and hurting, one way or another. Perfection is not real. Would we even want it to be? What’s the fun in that?

Today, another friend brought up the fact that everyone our age seems to be spiraling forward to the next new and big adventure in their lives. Feeling the pressure from all of the change she’s witnessing, she is questioning whether she’s falling behind. Is there such a thing? No matter which way I slice it, it seems to me that we are all always just in time. The right time is just different for everyone.

People who know me personally and read my blog say the funniest things to me… “How did you figure all this out?” they ask.

Here’s the great secret… If you were paying attention, you would have seen it repeated in several posts… We are all winging it! 

We are all learning and we’re all in this together.

We all have good days and we all have bad days.

We all need help.

And guess what… not a single one of us is perfect.

The truth is that perfection is a farce. Anyone who preaches that “perfect is possible” is lying to you. In fact, not only are they lying, but they are also misleading you. The goal here is not to be perfect. The goal is to be happy, and to know that you are not alone in this world. There are others out there who think like you, who worry like you, who feel like you, and fear like you. There are others out there who fight like you.

We’re all in this fight together. Our job is to create a safer world for you, for me, and for them.

That’s better than perfection.

That’s love.

And remember… we design our own luck! 

M.

On Nostalgia…

It’s no secret… we have the tendency to live either in the past or the future, seldom in the present. Everyone reminds us constantly that we should enjoy the current moment, or at least be mindful of it. Many of our books and movies point to the same message. We nod and agree, then we go back to re-imagining how good it was and envisioning how good it’s going to be.

We miss old friends, and search for new ones. We reminisce about the days when we were younger, and tell ourselves they were much better days.

As I inch towards the end of my 20s, more and more people are getting back in touch. People I once knew and lost touch with are trying to form a connection back to me, and I tend to welcome them back with open arms and a question: “why now?” Often, they are armed with a question in response: “what happened?”

Life is what happens when you’re busy reflecting on the past and making plans for the future.

Why are we nostalgic, and why does this feeling increase as we age?

Have you ever agreed to go for a coffee with an old friend, and found yourself sitting awkwardly with a complete stranger?

How can we miss people that don’t exist anymore?

One theory is: we don’t. We look on the past and assume our nostalgia is being triggered for love of someone. The girl we spent every waking moment with throughout junior high school. The guy who left funny notes in our locker. The teacher who helped us finally see the light. The kids we split a car with at prom. Perhaps we are completely missing the point. The nostalgia is triggered for love of who we were in those moments. That is what we miss most.

Yes, other people were often a significant part of who we were. After all, show me who your friends are and I’ll show you who you are. But reconnecting with these people most likely won’t fill the void or rekindle the fire of a past moment… only you can do that by re-igniting the energy that stemmed from you at that moment.

How we feel at any moment is extremely subjective. A lot of the feeling is triggered by what’s inside us, irrespective of what’s going on outside. Nostalgia is an admission that something about us has changed significantly, and it’s something we cherished deeply. Perhaps that’s what we should reconnect with.

Nostalgia is like a warning sign that we are falling out of touch with ourselves. This does not mean we should not get back in touch with others, but we certainly should not assume that they can help us rekindle the flame inside us. Only we can do that.

Another theory is that we tend to look favourably on the past with rose-tinted glasses, and no longer remember the entire picture. Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of looking at an old photo and thinking “oh! I was so much better looking then!” only to recall that, on the very same day that photo was taken, you said the same thing about an even older photo? We don’t tend to see the beauty in present moments. Our view is often clouded by worries and anxieties. However, when we look back on the past, we filter out the things that went wrong. We don’t remember that we were heartbroken when we took that photo with a beaming smile. We don’t remember that we had just done badly on an exam. We only remember what we want to remember.

And so… we are nostalgic.

The phenomenon of selective memory is arguably to blame for our conviction that the traffic is so much worse now than five years ago. This is the privilege of retrospect.

Five years from today, given more days by God’s grace, you will look back on today with nostalgia. You wouldn’t believe the number of times an old Facebook post that I wrote gave me a future wake up call and reminded me of what I always knew: that the present will inevitably become the past, and that I will miss it fiercely. If this is the truth… why not miss today… today? Make the most of it.

You only have the moment for a moment.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Circles…

Nothing in life terrifies me as much as circles. It’s a privileged thing to say, given that much of the world lives in close-range danger. It’s funny, too, given that I am the product of two genocides… one would think that a circle is the safest place to be for someone like me.

Throughout my childhood, every year carried the possibility of absolute change. We could pack up our bags and go at any moment. Amidst this lack of stability and consistency, I would look at my friends and wish for the opportunity to find a circle: somewhere that I would belong, where I could trust that things won’t change so fast.

When I was on my own as a young adult, I started establishing traditions in the effort to make this happen. I was one of few friends who were at university without family nearby (the closest were a 13 hour flight away), and I made my home the gathering space for everyone. Year after year, we built a Thanksgiving tradition together. Soon, we were going for our annual apple picking trips and visiting the Sugar Shack in the winter (if you don’t know what a Sugar Shack is… it’s time to visit Canada). I started attending annual fundraisers and community events. I picked up foreign traditions, like St. Patrick’s day and Halloween, and made the trek out to the capital for Genocide Memorial marches.

Circles within circles.

Then, something shifted. I started saying things like “it’s nice to know what’s happening next, but I’m a little bored.” Uh oh. “I thought it would be nice to be friends with people from my mother culture, but I’m a Third Culture Kid, and they don’t get me.” Uh oh. “It’s nice to spend time with his family, but I don’t think this is working… but… what about all the traditions?” Uh… Run girl, RUN!

I ran straight into an impromptu Master’s program.

You can take the girl out of the adventure, but it seems you can’t take the adventure out of the girl.

Confronted with this realization, I had to decide what was more valuable to me. To stay, or to go? At the time, I had no good reason to stay, but God works in mysterious ways. As I was planning to finish school and leave, I found one. And nothing frustrates him as much as… circles 😏. Life is funny that way.

It’s definitely a luxury to be able to say that stability and consistency are boring. Routine is, after all, the foundation of modern society. Very little of our world would exist if it weren’t for millions of us running through routine days. But what does this mean to us on an individual level?

In my family, we deal with this by taking on new challenges. We don’t often choose the easy way because, if we do, the routine will suck the soul out of us. My husband and I like living a little more on the edge, taking on big projects and some risks in the hopes of advancing in life without losing the entertainment. We haven’t thrown ourselves into the wild yet, but it’s bound to happen sooner than later. We also try to maintain a balance between cherishing our circles, and persistently imposing change on each cycle.

We are still learning how to do this. It’s easy for years to blend into each other if we don’t make the effort to attribute a new character to each one. We are also a lot more picky about which circles we allow to persist… life is too short to waste on meaningless routine.

What about you? Do you prefer stability or fluidity in your life? What do you do to keep changing and growing?

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Diplomacy…

Diplomacy may be defined as the skillful art of approaching people with tact and sensitivity in order to improve mutual understanding and efficiency. No… it isn’t just for politicians.

In order to cultivate luck in our lives, we must approach others with an open mind and make sure our first instinct is one of compassion and empathy. Why? Because it is quite unlucky to live one’s life feeling misunderstood, and our mission should be to alleviate this. George Eliot, a female writer who use a male pen name in order to be heard, wrote: “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”

One who seeks luck must also be active in cultivating it for others. Whenever you can, open doors for the burdened, the underserved, and the unheard. Lend an ear. The greatest struggles endured by humanity often result from a lack of common diplomacy and mutual understanding. If we’ve learned anything, it is that the world cannot and should not be defined as black and white – figuratively, and quite literally. Your average fool may contest this point and claim that there are indeed absolute truths and an absolute hierarchy on the human scale of life value. Approach the fool with diplomacy… perhaps you both stand to learn something.

Life is anything but simple. The human story and condition is anything but straight-forward. It is incredibly arrogant and ignorant of us to have formed a weighted opinion about the types, ambitions, intentions, and essence of people. A simple viewpoint is always, without exception, only exposing the landscape of the mountain. If you could witness the history of every stone and pebble of sand, imagine how your perspective of the mountain would be transformed.

Human beings are so complex, they hardly have enough time in this world to get to know themselves… yet they are quick to pass general judgments and make colloquial claims about others. The paradox is baffling.

Approach everyone you meet (and everyone you don’t meet) with tact, sensitivity, and an open mind. Being diplomatic will show you that one can be right and wrong at the same time, kind and cruel at the same time, just and unjust at the same time, good and evil at the same time, worthy of hatred and love at the same time… simply put: it isn’t simple. If you think it is, you’re missing the entire picture.

Be kind to one another… even when you are unsure that someone deserves the kindness. This is how you begin cultivating good luck for yourself and for the rest of us.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On the Pursuit of Happiness…

What makes you happy?

Is it good weather? Time spent with friends? Love? Wealth? A nice house? Travel?

The majority of the world is charging ahead in pursuit of individualistic happiness that we can hardly define. I say “the majority,” because there are still a few cultures out there that seek out the greater good over individualistic happiness. In those places, group survival and success is happiness. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, theories of happiness are typically linked to very personal goals and ideals, and “happy” moments are often celebrated alone.

I’ve been quite dismayed to find myself standing friendless during my hallmark “happy” moments. My family, with its Eastern values, stretched far and wide across the globe to celebrate these moments with me. But my friends, a backyard distance away, didn’t show up when I needed them.

For someone who defines happiness by the extent of self-sacrifice she commits in order to help others in her community and attract joy to them, the realization that the world doesn’t quite agree was a hard pill to swallow. Most heartbreaking was the impact it had on who I became.

I was once the girl who would drive you 45 minutes out to the city at 1am without you having to ask. I became the woman who lets you take the bus.

I was once the girl who would pick up groceries for your mother on my way to visit you. I became the woman who doesn’t bother to visit at all unless there’s an occasion.

I was once the girl who was always, always on time. You left me waiting so often that I became the woman who, if she has no desire to be on time, would rather cancel entirely.

I was once the girl who would cook for you when you were on your own, until I was on my own for a decade, and nobody asked.

During the most difficult years of my life… nobody asked.

I was once the girl who would take the shirt off her back.

There is only one person in this world today, who isn’t family by blood or marriage, that I would give my shirt to.

This is heartbreaking.

Out of ashes, the Phoenix rises. Over the course of the past few months writing here, I’m falling back in touch with the girl I once was, and realizing that I was never wrong to be kind. I was just kind to the wrong people. The path to modern “happiness” is a very lonely path, and it isn’t mine.

There is no happiness in the hallmark moments… if you are celebrating on your own.

A few weeks ago, my husband was surprised when I skipped on finally buying myself some new clothes in order to buy a gift for a new friend. He said: “Marian! Wasn’t the plan to put yourself first? Haven’t you learned the hard way? Are you going to try this again? What if your new friends are all the same?”

I thought about it. “What I learned… ” I said, “is that: just because other people don’t have time, courtesy, or community values, does not mean I have to be the same. The only thing worse than your friends not showing up, is them turning you into a friend that doesn’t show up. I won’t be robbed like that.

The worst thing about heartbreak is that it makes you a heartbreaker, if you let it.

And so, it has been decided… for me, happiness means being true to yourself, even when you don’t fit the mould. Why? Because God made you and broke the mould. There is no one out there who is quite like you. That is, unless you choose to blend in… but, what’s the fun in that?

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” – Albus Dumbledore

Be the light. Be Dumbledore. Even if it means you wind up at the bottom of the tower with your integrity intact.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Selective Memory…

Have you ever gotten back in touch with someone who, like a blast from the past, triggers a chain reaction of emotions? I think we can probably all relate to that.

Have you ever been unable to specifically put your finger on what actually happened? How did you meet this person? Where did you go? What did you talk about? How did you part ways? You recall the feeling, but not the occurrences.

The world always goes around full circle for me. Having lived a relatively international life, I would expect the opposite: that what (and who) goes around is unlikely to come back around. Contrary to my expectation, the world really is a very small place. While this is oftentimes an amazing realization, what really stumps me is the fact that my memory fails me so often.

In grade 11, as my parents loaded the car to go to the airport once again, I hugged my friends goodbye one at a time and told them that I loved them and would keep in touch. My parents, witnessing my distress, reminded me that it was the same drama last time… I would cry for a few days in the new and foreign place, and then I would get over it. My best friend’s dad at the time raised his finger in the air and, chuckling, noted: “Don’t worry, child. You will have a lot of trouble remembering all that has come to pass in your life. You might develop some issues (ya think???) but this is how our minds protect us.”

I’d like to say he was wrong because I remember what he said that day… but he was quite right.

I’ve come to the realization that memory really is inherently selective. Strings of emotion may survive the tide of time, but the details are blurred. How can we even say that what we believe happened, really happened?

This is not a fun topic for most people to explore. All of us want to be able to trust our memories. All of us want to believe that we at least know the full truth of our own lives, even if we have insufficient knowledge of the truths of the world. But, do we?

Human beings like being able to put things into a context; we like telling stories. We like categorizing segments of our lives… some choose time based categories (“when I was 5”), others choose phase based categories (“when I was into punk rock”), and others choose place based categories (“when I was in New York”). Whatever categorization strategy you use, you are indulging in an inherent human appreciation for storytelling. I suppose the root of this is that we recognize that memory holds the meaning of our lives… or, does it?

Have you ever told a story of something that happened when you were younger, only to be told by your mom that it wasn’t how it happened at all? Are you convinced you wore a pink dress to prom, but your mom insists it was white? Behold… the wonder of not one, but two, selective memories.

How do we know what really happened? Did anything really happen, or is the collective human memory nothing more than a jigsaw puzzle of fabrications desperate to fit into the pattern?

Perhaps the answers to my questions will never truly be known. If memory is indeed so selective that years blur into one consistent emotion, then how can anyone claim to be objective? We can’t. However, I do believe it’s important for us to be aware of our historic biases and selections when we are trying to map out a truth. This opens up so many doors to the possibility that everything we know, and everything we are, can be challenged. If we accept this, we embark on the path to enlightenment – I think! I’ll let you know when, and if, I ever figure it out.

In the meantime, join me in an experiment, and write a story to an old friend or family member about a meaningful time, at least 5 years ago, when they were present. Ask them to write the same story for you, including as much detail as possible. Compare.

Do the stories match?

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.