That’s Life

A lot of shit has happened between my last blog post and now. A lot. Some good, some awful, some terrifying, some exhilarating. Personally, politically, locally, globally… a lot has happened. History has been made. And it’s been a ride.

I think that the overall theme of this year has been extreme living: the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Friends, family, world leaders, citizens, all of us, have strongly felt something. Whether we have experienced love, heartbreak, loss, confusion, exhaustion, defeat, rejection… it’s all a part of life. And I’ve learned that we are all resilient and passionate enough to keep going back to the things that bring us joy and fulfillment, knowing all too well that we could be torn down again. And again. And again.

And yet, we keep going. We push to think higher, feel deeper. We strive to be the greatest. We act like heroes, even just for one day. Because one day can make a difference. We know this. And damn it, we are optimists and we want the best that life can give us. And we work hard to make sure that we get what we deserve.

I’ve said this before: I’ve had to fight for my happiness. For the past few months, and especially the last 30-odd days, I have put more into this fight than I thought was possible. The saying goes that when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. What if life hands you a pile of shit? Do you ignore it, hoping it will go away? Do you toss it somewhere else, hoping that somebody else will deal with it? Or do you sift through it, hoping to find the rich fertilizer that will bring life to whatever metaphorical garden you are growing? (Because when life hands you shit, you deal with it, because it’s yours to handle. Sorry.)

Indecent expressions aside, I have to say that these past few months have been interesting and wild and revealing. If I’ve realized anything, it’s that no matter what is thrown at me, I can rise above it and be a better me. Because life is worth it.

We’re halfway through 2016. Let’s make the other half worthwhile.

Half-Assed Kindness

I’m not one to half-ass kindness. I either love fiercely, or let it drop. I don’t like to keep my feelings hidden, although that’s what I do on the daily. It’s hard when you’re scared or hesitant to let people know how you truly feel.

But when I do, it’s mostly in my actions: I share food. I ask people how they’re doing, and listen. I try to be fully present for them, to be a listening ear or a sounding board. A shoulder to cry on when necessary. And I think the world of them. Yes, we all have our flaws and we’re imperfect – but I love my people anyway.

I think that the one thing that sums up how I show my love for people is time. I give my time, I share my time, I divide my time between those I care about. Simple enough, right?

But lately, it’s been difficult to care. I like to be authentic as possible, so it’s hard when people I know are not being authentic. They’re being kind on the surface, but I know that they’re not genuine in their actions or words. It’s disheartening to know that they’re half-assing their kindness. It’s not real, what they’re doing. And it’s a shame, especially for somebody like me who loves whole-heartedly and whole-assedly (yes that’s a word).

It’s a shame because I mostly am afraid of showing people how I truly feel, and so not being kind at all scares me – what will they think? I already know that they don’t really think the world of me, and I should be okay with that. But deep down, I know I’m not. I’m so used to pleasing everybody and having them like me, so whenever things like this happen, it’s off-putting to say the least. And so I half-ass my kindness. I selectively care when I have the energy to do so. I lie and pretend. It’s exhausting.

So where does this leave me? Do I choose to spread as much kindness as possible, knowing that in some cases it won’t benefit anybody? Or do I let these cases and these people go, with as much compassion and patience as possible? I already know the answer, but it’ll be hard to put it into action. Even though giving something your all is exhilarating. Maybe it won’t be so bad.

Let’s whole-ass this thing.

Soften Your Heart

I remember a conversation with one of my favourite high school teachers while volunteering with her elementary school archaeology program. She had been a reference for a summer internship with a non-profit that provides education about the history of WWII in east/southeast Asia. We were talking about how I would learn a lot about the atrocities during the war, and about the people it continues to affect to this day. “Harden your heart,” she had told me.

I didn’t realize at the time how much those three words would impact me throughout the course of my internship, and would continue to serve as a reminder of how I should live. During those summer months, I learned about genocide, sexual violence, human experimentation, racism, political ugliness, and gained an overall disturbing and disheartening picture of what human evil looks like. It was awful.

But it was also inspiring and humbling in ways I had not imagined. After learning about the evil, I would learn about the good: the efforts by international organizations and governments to bring about justice, peace, and reconciliation; the innate tendency that humans possess to be kind and to do the right thing; the willingness of people previously ignorant of these atrocities to work towards spreading awareness, tolerance, and hope. It was a phenomenal start to my journey as an activist.

Throughout this internship, I heard “harden your heart,” over and over again in my head. And I did try to harden my heart. But ultimately, it was impossible. How could I distance myself from what had happened and what is currently happening in the world? I understood that there was some truth and value to separating yourself from these kinds of things for your own mental health, but I was and still am unable to fully do that.

And I’m unable to do this in everyday life. Whenever I try to put up that tough/witty/authoritative front, it always fails me. And it’s a lesson that I have to learn over and over until it will finally stick. Being kind, being soft, being graceful in a world that pushes you to do the opposite is not only brave but necessary. At least for me. I know myself well enough by now that softness and kindness are a big part of my personality and bring more good than harm – as scary and vulnerable as it is.

And I think that’s why it’s so difficult to consistently soften. It’s just so damn scary. What if we crumble? What if our worldview and outlook on life are destroyed and cannot be mended? What if I change? What if I don’t? What if I don’t like what softening does to me?

Perhaps this is The Big Risk that people like myself have to take. Perhaps softening our hearts is the only way to live an authentic and fulfilling life. And perhaps that’s the way we’re meant to live.

Why I Stopped Being Sorry for Speaking

I was never much of a talker, growing up. I was told that I was – and in turn, believed that I was – shy, quiet, reserved, serious, you name it. I preferred to listen and then speak, instead of the other way around. It’s too bad that society – school, work, etc. – prefers the other way around. Being loud, speaking right away, giving an answer when called upon… it’s what I’ve been conditioned to think of as the right way to communicate with others. I thought that speaking loudly, boldly, and even out of turn was what it meant to be confident or popular or smart. Not listening intently, paying attention to others, and mulling over one’s answer.

I had tried to become that ideal confident, popular, smart person. Speaking out of turn in a matter-of-fact, “hey look at me” tone of voice happened every now and then, but it always felt fake. Putting up my hand to give an answer to the class didn’t feel natural to me. But I still believed that I wasn’t mature or brave enough to do those things. It was like I was building up to being that kind of person, because that kind of person was the ideal.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t realize that I was fine the way that I was. That it’s okay to be quiet, to think before speaking, to speak only when you deem necessary. That it’s okay and normal to be introverted. That’s the word that I didn’t hear throughout my childhood. People tend to associate “introverted” with timidity, when it has to do with where we get our energy and how it gets used up. Introverted means that you get your energy from within (a nice, lovely thought), and that being in very social situations (parties, concerts, big crowds) uses up a lot of your energy and so you have to get away from those situations in order to recharge. That’s me.

And while I’m becoming more and more comfortable with being an introvert, lately I’ve been becoming bolder in the way I speak to others. Whether it’s at work or with friends and family, whenever I think I have something important to say, I say it. Before, I would have not said anything. And whenever I did, I would feel bad and apologize for speaking out of turn or speaking so boldly – that might be another reason why I didn’t say anything. So, there’s two parts to why I didn’t speak up as much.

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at here is that while I am still introverted, I’m not shy or scared to speak my mind. I’ve been dubbed sassy and blunt because of this, which I am definitely proud of. I have actually stopped apologizing for adding my opinion to conversations when other people are talking. I had thought that this was rude at first, but it turns out that people actually invite that kind of thing. Who knew?

It feels good to speak up. I feel important. I feel confident. I feel smart. And most importantly, I feel me.

Finally.

2015

As this year is drawing to a close, I can’t help but become more reflective than usual on what 2015 has meant to me. I know that this has been the best year of my life (so far), because while I’ve experienced so many lows, the amount and quality of highs has been phenomenal.

I had 3 new jobs that challenged me and made me a better person. Two of these jobs involved working with kids and the second one involved working with youth leadership, which I loved. I didn’t expect to work with kids again, but I now realize that I needed to do this in order to really become confident in speaking in front of and giving directions to others.

My current job is permanent (or at least, not part-time or contract) and I love it. I get to work with elements of activism and social service, and it’s with young (kind of) people. Also, while this is definitely a downside, there are a lot of petty politics to deal with. But I feel like I’ve been preparing myself my whole life to reach this job and deal with the shit – because I definitely would not have been brave enough to speak up for myself and be okay with others not liking what I have to say.

I finally, finally reached that point where I became comfortable and confident enough to be myself. I am no longer nervous to go to interviews or to speak in front of crowds. I am no longer afraid of letting myself be vulnerable in front of people. I am loving my body and my physical appearance more.

Of course, I know myself well enough to recognize that these feelings of power and gratitude will go away. There will come a time when my courage will break and I will want to disappear into the ground so that I can avoid my feelings and the unknown. But that time, too, will pass. These things come and go in cycles. And hopefully those cycles will feature more positive and less negative. I’m still trying to re-frame my perspective and re-train my way of thinking.

And this is all okay. I know that I’ll continue to experience lows and highs, but 2015 has taught me to view the lows with optimism and the highs with gratitude. Just being present in those moments has been so helpful in getting me to calm my mind and spirit. So I think that the overall theme throughout this year was being able to experience the present for what it is. I honestly believe that this is the best way for me to live, since it seems to be working in my favour so far.

I’ll write another post with more fun and specific highlights of this year later, but I really wanted to take a moment to reflect on what 2015 has been to me. 🙂

My Favourite Stories: The Hunger Games

My Favourite Stories - The Hunger Games

This month will see the final movie of The Hunger Games series. It’s another end of an era, and I’m becoming used to the press and emotions surrounding such a thing. I’ve done the usual: re-read the books and re-watched the movies, and somewhat prepared myself for the new installment. I’ve also thought about how the story has impacted me and society.

The Hunger Games is pretty much the primary series that has shaped how I view economic inequality and all of the human rights issues entangled in it. I saw economic inequality as a web, since all of the issues related to it are interconnected, and it’s up to us to de-tangle the web.

These different strands – transportation, income and wages, food security, education, environment, gender, race, and more – are all part of inequality and oppression. And they all play a part in this awful game that we play in order to “win,” whatever that means.

The Hunger Games is probably the only dystopian fiction that I will read or watch for a long time. The stories themselves, while revealing and empowering, are also quite bleak. A lot of people die. If they don’t die, they become broken. And while that is a huge part of reality, especially for those going to war, I don’t like to consume those kinds of stories on an on-going basis.

This might be why I had struggled to complete this blog post. After comparing the themes and plots of The Hunger Games to everything, from Arab Spring to Occupy to Black Lives Matter to the most recent string of ISIS attacks and backlash fueled by Islamophobia… From comparing the tributes to child soldiers who either die or survive and have PTSD… From seeing how this piece of fiction reflects our reality a lot and could potentially become our reality 100%… I had become exhausted.

I work in a non-profit organization in a role that allows me to be an activist and to support people facing marginalization and oppression. I volunteer for a non-profit that allows me to be an activist who uses pop culture to support other fans with their actions. I absorb the news everyday, because I can’t help it, and witness beautiful and terrible things happening around the world. So, naturally I would feel exhausted.

So why is The Hunger Games one of my favourite stories?

Because it made me love first-person novels again (Twilight kind of ruined that for me before). Because it made me feel more hopeful for the future young adult literature. Because I love the characters and how I learned what true strength meant from them.

Katniss taught me how to use the fire within to fight for what I believe in, but to soften and empathize when needed. She taught me the importance of fending for yourself and finding your true self in nature. She taught me that protecting what you find most precious is worth it.

Peeta taught me that humans are innately good. That we all have the freedom and autonomy to be ourselves, our true selves, even in the face of evil. He taught me that love and kindness are far more important than showing off or appearing to be strong.

So, as a farewell to this series, I offer a three-hand salute to The Hunger Games, and to the people all around the world, from the refugees fleeing Syria to the folks being arrested for doing this same salute in Thailand. May we work together towards peace and collaboration in order for everyone to live their lives to the fullest.

Until the odds are in everyone’s favour.

No Hate

I always get emotional whenever people talk about others being “raised to hate.” It just strikes a chord within me. Maybe it’s because I’ve innately and steadfastly believed in kindness and empathy. Maybe it’s because I’m super sensitive and want everybody to at least like one another. Maybe it’s because I know what it’s like to be on both sides of hatred and of love, and would instantly choose love – even if hatred is easier.

Whenever I think of the word, “hatred,” I always recall the cycle of hatred in Naruto. Pein, one of the antagonists (although I say that word lightly because of the nature of the series and how it portrays people as morally complex), says the following:

Love breeds sacrifice… which in turn breeds hatred. Then you can know pain.
Just by living, people hurt others without even realizing it. So long as humanity exists, hate will also exist. There is no peace in this cursed world. War is just a crime paid for by the pain of the defeated…

There’s even a Curse Of Hatred that has plagued the Uchiha clan for generations.

In these instances, it looks like duality is at the forefront: you can’t know hatred without love, you can’t experience peace without conflict or violence. Basically, if you’re human, you feel all of these emotions and live all of these experiences. It’s unavoidable. What can be avoidable, though, is how we turn to destruction and despair whenever we feel and experience the negative.

Nelson Fernandez Jr.’s article about ISIS and the cycle of hatred uses Naruto as a narrative framework on conflict and peace-building. He talks about how the cycle can be broken or how we can look at acts of violence through a different perspective.

I really like this article. It calls for critical thinking and understanding, a willingness to cooperate and collaborate, and most importantly, empathy. We need more of it in order to end this cycle, or at least stop ourselves from thinking in that framework.

No hate, all love. ❤

Shit My Ego Says

I found the website “Shit Your Ego Says” a while ago, and I immediately loved it. Here was a funny, frank, and genuinely helpful place for people to get over their shit-talking egos. I thought it was great.

I’ve only visited it twice.

Why? Probably my ego saying that it wasn’t necessary. That I was fine the way I was and didn’t need to find a way to be better. But my ego was wrong. It usually is, no offence.

James McCrae, creator of Shit Your Ego Says, argues that your ego isn’t just a Freudian concept or the term for acting and being high and mighty. Your ego is the voice that says that you shouldn’t be doing this. Your ego is all of your fears conveniently compacted and stored in the back and front of your mind, weighing you down. You don’t realize it at the time, but your ego is a part of you, but not you. Your ego acts like society or a parent, but is not your enemy. Not really.

I’ve thought about the times that my ego has shit-talked in order to get me to stay the same (read: remain stagnant and complacent) and not do anything. My ego told me to search for jobs the traditional way when I knew that it wasn’t working. My ego told me that I needed another person to complete me. My ego told me to not do anything out of the ordinary: don’t sign up for coaching, don’t share your writing, don’t build your network, don’t, don’t, don’t.

It’s amazing how I did not get tired of hearing that. At the time, it was like reassurance and justification for procrastinating on things that would only propel me forward and allow me to grow. It was like my ego was taking care of me. In reality, it was coddling me. And I didn’t need that. I needed to be an adult. I needed to be a grown-up. Most of all, I needed to be me.

Whenever you let your ego do the talking and just go with whatever it says, you’re denying yourself the opportunity and freedom to be yourself. You’re not standing up for yourself. You’re letting one part of you act like the whole. (Like I said before, your ego is not your enemy. It can actually protect you at times from taking risks that would backfire, or caution you to think some more before making a big decision. It can teach you how to be self-confident and how to trust yourself.) And this whole person needs to listen to a more important part. This can be your higher self, your intuition, God, the universe, etc. But this part is more of a whisperer. It doesn’t like to yell or point or jab at you. It is more loving and calm. Which is why we tend to ignore it for so long.

My higher self doesn’t shit-talk. It soothes me, heals me, and lends a listening ear and a warm embrace. I always feel better after listening to it and doing what it says. I feel more like myself, because the ego’s been stripped away. All of the worries, fears, expectations, layers of, well, shit, are gone. It’s just me and my higher self.

While I do feel a little weird about talking about what some might call “airy fairy hippie spiritual nonsense,” I also feel vulnerable and earnest and completely myself. So it must be the right thing for me to do.