Advice, Current Events, Mental Health, Teaching

The True American: A Love Story

Dear reader,

I’d like to share a childhood story: one of hope and love. I’ve written in second person to put my shoes on your feet (tongue-in-cheek.)

Imagine you are 4 years old. You can’t get enough of banana popsicles. You’re terrified of pooping alone, especially in the outhouse in your grandma’s village, which happens to be a ditch.  You love your mom. You don’t remember your dad.

After school, you and your mom go to a sand-brown, brick building. You wait for her on the steps. She walks in happy, she comes out sad. One day, she scoops you up in her arms and spins you in the air. “Lu ka!”she’s cries out. She’s gone mad over a green card.  Timing is everything so you ask for a banana popsicle. The two years she has spent raising you alone are over.

At the airport, you go down the escalator towards a man with brown glasses. “Jiao Ba!(Shout dad!)” your mom pinches your cheek. You yell as loud as you can. They’re laughing, hugging, crying. You haven’t learned about happy tears, so you start crying too.

You move into a white house with black shutters called the Jewish Service Center.  Having never set foot in a house, you’re certain it’s a palace. You don’t know your family is the live-in help nor that your dad works nightshifts at 7/11 and any parking lot that accepts Chinglish. You like your teachers, but not the kids. They pull their eyes into slits. None of that matters because you’ve discovered Happy Meals.

Imagine your first snow. The whiteness hurts your eyes in a good way.  A strange creature awaits you on the porch. Her disheveled hair sticks out of her trucker’s hat and owl-eye glasses.  “I’m Madeline,” she hands you something. “Hold this will ya?” Pop eye voice.

She sticks two fingers in her mouth and whistles. Streaks of color paint the yard like a Jackson Pollock.  Their purring emanates through your belly like tiny grandfather clocks. You are bewildered, flattered, overwhelmed. Turns out you’re holding a can of cat food.

5 years fly. When you’re not being cat-dundee, your nose is in a book. Madeline introduces you to lifelong friends: Tom Sawyer, Heidi, Gulliver.   You’re clueless about holidays: she brings you marshallow peeps. Her minimum wage is bank rolling your Americanization.

Happy birthday 9. Your family reaches the pinnacle of the American dream: property. They move outta there fast. So fast you don’t remember to get Madeline’s number, nor call, nor send Christmas cards.New school, new place, same loneliness.

Grow up. You equate money with success. You take shit from people you shouldn’t. You walk away from your country, partner, job. Volunteer abroad. Consume attention like drugs. Self-destruct. You’re so fucking lost. Start therapy. Learn about co dependence. Learn to say no. Set boundaries. You keep going to therapy. You don’t plan to stop. Discover meditation. Run. Re-educate on love. You grow healthy. Strong. You actually enjoy your job: how did Columbus claim land? He slaughtered children.  What do Leonardo DiCaprio and Standing Rock have in common? Fight global warming. How can we help? Eat less beef. Who was the first woman to make it to space? Valentina Tereshkova. Why isn’t her name in the book? “They thought girls were stupid,” your smartest kid says. Think, not thought. Ask questions. Never stop. Love is love is love is love.

Arrivez election results. For everything you’ve been teaching, the opposite stands. You shut off facebook cuz it just fucking hurts. Chimamanda, where art thou.  You’re safe for now, but what about everyone else? What about L? “Everything will work out,” he strokes your hair and smiles. Storm meet lighthouse.

You apologize to all your friends. “Orange is the new Hitler,” you choke on your jokes. “Trump tells the hard truth. Hilary doesn’t,” one blurts out. Your friend is one of the nicest people around.  So you give him a hug with 3 words: “Please fact check.” Be like Trevor Noah, you repeat to yourself. Commit to conversation even if it’s hard. How else will we understand what’s going on?

A sliver of silver shakes up the clouds. Madeline it spells. Once you’ve met a true American, you’ll never forget. Once you find your voice, you can never be silenced.

Dark days lie ahead. Fortify my friends.

Compassion. Wisdom. Love.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Current Events, Love, Mental Health

The Virgin Suicides: Fuck You Waldo Winners

When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set. -Lin Yutang

Soundtrack Chivas.

Dear reader,

This post is inspired by my tyrannical boss, Donald Trump’s latest assault on women, and the guy who took my virginity.

10 years ago, I met a boy named Waldo Winners(anagram). Though I’d learned how to play ‘baseball’ in high school, I waited for the home run. Waited for the cracker jacks with the free toy .

Enter Waldo: blonde, swimmer, International Relations major. Hot. Smart.Sweet apartment. Free booze. Friends with all my friends. Hark! The angels sing.

Before anything remotely romantic happened, I asked him if he was single. I’d seen him hanging out with a pretty, dark-haired girl. Let’s call her Paris since she was abroad the majority of this story. “Nah, we’re just friends,” he chuckled.

We kissed. We more than kissed. I wanted to be desirable: no more of the high school Mathlete guys turned down at dances. So I omitted my V card. My first time in 2 words? Awkward. Thrilling. Thanks to the inventor of tampons, there was no Carrie post prom sheets. I did, however, have a post coital panic attack in his bathroom. Indoctrinated to see sex as both sacred and shameful, I’d crossed over to the upside-down like Eleven on Stranger Things.

“Are you ok?” he knocked eventually.

“Uh… my contact fell out!” Maybe he thought I was taking a massive dump.

We spent almost every night together. Ordered Thai. Drank his favorite Lipton green tea. Jammed to Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Crammed our friend’s room with newspapers floor to ceiling. Starred on youtube’s nipple muffins, a non pornographic portrayal of pure, sober, idiocy.

When it was just us, Waldo was sweet and doting. While I brushed my teeth, he’d mouth  “Olive you” instead “I love you”.   He generously paid for everything. He came from a family whose forefathers had the privilege of examining Barbara Bush’s vagina. Gyno-gold.

7 months flew.

In groups, our dynamics changed. Just little things at first. A lack of attention.  Don’t be clingy, I thought. A message from an upset girl on his laptop. Don’t snoop. A lucid nightmare he cheated on me with someone we had just met. Just a bad dream. I shook it off. Whenever I got upset or brought up my concerns, he’d laugh it off or make me feel looney. What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy? (Thanks Bey). He was so good to me behind closed doors. I had no official proof of wrongdoing. Fine, he was a flirt, but who was I to change him?

On one of our rare nights apart, Waldo drunkenly attempted to piggy back a mutual friend. He broke his jaw on the pavement.  I spent weeks playing nurse. You know that SATC episode when Big gets heart surgery and opens up to Carrie at last? When you think: YES! She’s FINALLY getting the love she deserves. But as soon as Big feels better, he’s back to emotionally withdrawn. Like a hamster trapped by centripetal force, no matter how hard I worked, I’d wind up in the same place.

Then there was Paris. Her semester abroad ended and she came back to Boston. It wasn’t a big deal when he’d spend time with her, or walk her home after parties: he still came home to me. I respected their friendship. “She’s cool with us, right?” I’d ask. He’d flash that crest white strip smile. “Yeah, of course. But I think she likes me. I don’t want her to feel bad. Can we tone down the PDA?” I only ever saw Paris when we were out. She seemed like a nice girl. Small sacrifice. “Sure!” I nodded eagerly.

One week later, my guy friend sat me down. He’d been in the car with Waldo. He looked grim. “I don’t think they’re just friends.”

As usual, Waldo had a quick defense. “Why do people talk behind my back? They just make things up,” his voice trembled. “This always happens to me.” I didn’t want to believe him but he was on the verge of tears. My anger faded. I patted him on the back: “You can be honest with me.”

His eyes stared into with mine: “Cheating is disgusting.”

Two weeks later, while Waldo was out of town, I got coffee with Paris’ best friend. We ran in the same 20 strong circle, but had never gotten a chance to catch up one-on-one. 5 minutes in, I blurted out: “I’m so glad Paris is cool about me and Waldo…being together and all.”

“What?” she put down her coffee cup.”Since when?”

“Since she left Boston…”

“Impossible.”

“Huh?” I put my coffee cup down.

“He’s been with Paris. Since she left Boston.”

My chest bumped like a dryer with shoes in it.

“I’m calling her now,”she whipped out her 5 pound cell phone.

Me, Paris, her best friend, Waldo’s now ex best friend assembled for the grand inquisition. The four of us painfully unraveled a cunning web of lies. How he’d been in bed with me while in a long distance relationship with her. How he played upon our sympathies to keep us from finding out about each other.  How he knew exactly what to say, when to say it, and never got caught. (God knows how many other women were involved. Pure luck I am STD free. Get tested annually.) The magnitude of his deception was sick and impressive.

During all this chaos, he called me. I let it go to voicemail, then played it for the group. Waldo made silly voices,  chirped about his amazing trip back home in Minnesota. “See you soooooon!”he drawled. Click.

Welcome to the super shitty reality show nobody wants to be on. We made more calls. When the shock subsided, the breadcrumbs connected. Much later, we found out how he had done the same thing to another group at BU. We were not his first.

That night, I wrote him a message on Facebook: “I know what you did. Stay away from me and my friends.” That night, I rode the green line alone. Dear reader, that moment was my lowest to date: my virgin suicides. I wanted to hurt myself just to feel something.

Thankfully, I went home instead. The dam burst while my mom and I were alone in the kitchen. I started to cry and couldn’t stop. She instinctively guessed what had happened: “jiao cai liang chuan” (1 guy. 2 boats.)  For an old school asian lady, this was a huge breakthrough. A silver lining in the grey beyond.

In the following years, I self-medicated with my favorite drugs: far-too-fast love and promiscuity.  I jumped headfirst into relationships and took no time for myself. I was determined to exorcise his existence out of my head and scrape the touch of his hands off my body.

Shortly after World War III, Waldo had sent me an apology email about being an alcoholic. Delete. I never talked to him again. Until last year.

Before Ecuador, I wrote him a message about forgiveness. It took me a decade to feel ready. He responded: “you didn’t deserve the things I did to you.” Alas, the truth.

I let this experience break me for a long time. How could I have been that naive? How can I trust my partner to stay faithful? Not just with strangers, but with friends?  What if? What if? What if?

Only time, therapy, and decent men have tempered this fear. I couldn’t forgive him for the longest time because I could not forgive myself. We co dependents struggle with guilt (What did I do wrong?) and shame (What’s wrong with me?) in its extremities. What is co dependence? (Link to must read book recommended by my therapist.)

Remember: the signs of a sociopath, alcoholic, abuser, are not always obvious from the get go. You don’t go from kittens and fairies to Rihanna post Chris Brown mug shot. It builds up. Explosion inevitable. Falling debris.

To all the survivors: it’s not your fault. You did NOTHING to deserve it.

To all the beautiful souls who support us by listening, loving, enlightening:  THANK YOU.

To the countless others who still have no idea what consent, sexism, nor feminism means: FUCK YOU.

Fuck you Waldo Winners. I forgive you too.

writinginsoysauce

P.S. Waldo turned 31 this week. I hope you’ve healed enough to stop damaging others.

 

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Advice, korea, Love, Mental Health, Teaching, Womens Health, Writing

I miss you like crazy

Soundtrack: We Move Lightly

Dear reader,

A few days ago I was ready to give up on love. L didn’t get into the Masters program in Korea. His Barack Obama character, fluency in 3 ruling languages, 3.6 GPA, and caramel Gu Jun Pyo good looks, weren’t even worth an interview. He applied to smaller universities to increase his chances, but no dice. Given the sexism I’ve already faced at work(men looooove roomin’ with roaches), let’s address the pink latino in the room: his third world passport. My interview for Korea lasted the amount of time it takes me to eat a snickers bar. But I’m a US citizen with a pulse.

While in NYC, I survived a long distance relationship for 5 years. We both lost loved ones to cancer. We were laughter and light: the only salve to unbearable numbness. Until we weren’t. I changed. I used to want a diamond, now I’m good with a tattoo. I used to want babies, now I prefer passport stamps. I used to drink like a Bostonian, now I don’t need booze to bare all.

First cut is the deepest

The last time L and I held each other was May. If you read the post about my abortion, then you remember my devastation. Our goodbye. I felt his absence most acutely during my first month in Seoul. A meteor shower, in celestial harmony with Quito’s blood red moon, welcomed me to the Han River with 3 of the nicest teachers and their plus 1’s. Not for one instant did they make me feel like a 7th wheel. Instead, we inflated vagina-shaped lawn chairs and cuddled a little black dog named Tux. Feasted on fish tacos. Gawked at bike-size Afghan hounds(the dodo bird of toy breed Korea). Discovered Daiso, the dollar store equivalent where bitch I’m rich. Admired boy piggy-back girl, crutches n all. Matching couple outfits.

I was having a fucking blast, which compounded into resounding sadness upon seeing my super single bed.

L and I couldn’t make any of these memories in the same time-space continuum. Share a coffee. Take a walk. Binge watch LOTR. And let’s talk about sex. Per OTNB memoir: after 3 months of abstinence, you could’ve spit on me and I’d sizzle. Rio Olympian, starved out for the gold. Sure a big mac is a quick fix, but I’d rather wait for the Shake Shack (grand opening in Gangnam July 22!) 

IUD. Not DIY. 

Don’t fret: I’m armed with 3 letters: I.U.D. “Expect 3 mild cramps,”the gyno said. She held up a silver tong the size of timbuktu to pull my uterus out so this tiny piece of plastic could go in. Any tattoo artist will tell you I have a high pain tolerance, but this was intense. I had to take deep birth-video breaths and find my happy place: instinctively L’s face. After a minute or 2, she patted me on the back, “Good job! Some patients faint on the table.”

Ladies, this is not to scare you, but to prepare you. Take ibuprofen before you go. I got the hormonal IUD cuz I prefer no periods whereas the copper one may give you worse ones. Like a pair of shoes, try out different kinds of birth control till you find one that works best. Liletta is good for 3 years and I don’t have to do anything.

Given my gamut with womanly health, one burning question remains: why do we call weakness a pussy? Who came up with this flawed concept? Did they ever have a period/abortion/baby/IUD? If you punched a pussy and a penis, who do you think would be standing first? “You’re such a testicle” makes way more sense if you ask me. Or we should just stop using gender-specific body parts as insulting adjectives altogether.

Taiwan Thanksgiving 

Thank universe L’s back up plan to study Chinese in Taiwan went through. I booked my flight for September stat. I made it a priority to see him. So when he completely forgot to research hotels and call my therapist from Ecuador…I flipped a shit. It didn’t matter that he recognized his mistake immediately and apologized. 

I wish I could tell you I rolled like ghandi. Instead I chose the worst of two evils: fight and flight. Stage 1: mad as hell: “What the fuck? Am I the only one trying here?” Stage 2: weeping willow. “You hurt me. You really hurt me.” Stage 3: lost girl. “We should break up.” 

I didn’t sleep that night.  Perhaps, the debris wasn’t all due to L, though the residual pain created a perfect storm. In my anger, I forgot everything that L had shown me. I lost faith in him and myself.

When L faced failure, I expected some semblance of guilt, jealousy or stress to bleed over. He did the exact opposite. He stayed proud. Excited. He never made me feel like I was leaving him behind. His capacity for forgiveness is something I’m still working on. When I go bananas, he’s got just the right box. (That’s for you TEFL)

It’d be too easy to give into old habits. To cut and run, like a bat out of hell. For many of us, it’s far simpler to give love, than to receive.  Carson McCuller writes: “the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself. It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved.”

The morning before Boston, L surprised me with his college diary. Bold move buddy. I perused 4 years of the mind of someone who shares great visions and horrible nightmares. Few people understand me on this level: how blessed I am to know one. No matter what, we will make our greatest effort to learn from our love. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile.

In 3 weeks, I’m visiting L for Chuseuk( Korean turkey day). 6 days with bae! He may try again for Korea or I may head to Taiwan later on. Then this chinita will apply to NYC Teaching Fellows. Uhhhh, subsidized Masters of Education for only $8K what?! It’s one of the only affordable on campus programs out there. I refuse to go into debt for higher ed. Plus, I’ve gotta get certified pre-UAE.

Master of None

No relationship exists without fears, worries, doubts. No show on TV explains these WTF moments in modern romance better than Aziz: long term relationships are tough. You can’t just expect a big, roaring fire right away, right? You know, you can’t put the big logs in first. You start with the small stuff. Kindling, all right? Then you add that, *then* you put in the big logs and *then* you have a roaring fire. And that’s a good relationship. But be careful, sometimes kindling is hard to find, you know? Good wood. So, don’t take it for granted.

Folks: tend to your fine pine. For me, that means continuing therapy.  Eating cake and patbingsu. Working out. Teaching kids that ‘different’ is good. Finishing the first draft of my self-help book…tentatively titled The Co Dependent Diaries: A Teacher Tells All. 

Remember: distance makes the heart grow stronger.

To me. To you. To L.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Family, Mental Health, Travel

The Noonday Demon: Dear sister

Dear sister,

The scariest day of my life was neither earthquake nor pregnancy. It was when I received a message from your best friend on facebook.

On May 26, you showed up to work. You stopped talking. 911. The ambulance rushed you to New York Presbyterian. From Boston to Brooklyn, our parents drove through pitch black. You were sedated most of the month. When you were lucid, you did yoga. You sketched. Faces juxtaposed upon faces.

Dad sent me an email about praying. I had no idea he believed in god. You refused to take medication. Every second we waited, you were getting worse.

We had to go to court. The judge ruled that you had to take medication. When you got out of the hospital, your first request was a large cheese pizza. Hope.

Fear

At the airport, your hands trembled. At the restaurant, you walked out. Mom ran after you. Earlier that week, you had opened the passenger door while she was still driving.

On June 12, parallel to the Orlando shootings, I had a nightmare. We were on a plane. Sordid yellow, oxygen masks dangled. I screamed for you to wake up. But you didn’t. I awoke to a silver lining. That day, you put on a coral blue dress and pearls for some fine dining at Not Your Average Joe’s. Glow.

Come midnight, you stopped feeling good. You were shaking so hard you couldn’t put your sneakers on. ER.

The meds were too strong, but you had to keep taking them. I’m so glad you came home the next day. I’m so sorry it hurts.

Frustration

The hospital bills were astronomical, even with insurance. There was a minimum 8 week waitlist to see a doc near home. What happens to those who cannot afford to wait?

On sleepless nights, you came to my door, wiggling the handle, asking over and over: “Can I come in? What are you doing?” I had to lock it. You’d walk over to our brother’s room and do the same thing. Whether I was teaching, laughing, talking, you’d tell me to stop. I never knew if something I said would trigger you. I took phone calls outside.

It was extremely frustrating when you said and did inappropriate things. I worked out every day to keep calm. When I didn’t react, you’d turn to mom. You could always get a reaction out of her. It scared me to see you feed off that.

When you weren’t sleeping, you were eating. I know what it’s like to feel powerless over food. Eating when you’re bored. Eating when you’re anxious. Before Ecuador, I tried to force myself to throw up. I’m lucky I stopped. For so many, it’s a life long struggle.

Change

While the rest of the family tries to change your behavior, I know it won’t make a difference.  You cannot force someone to heal. Mom worries. Dad lectures. Alex tells you to get off your ass. I want to tell them to leave you alone: “Can’t you see she’s depressed?”

But I don’t. I am also recovering from my codependency. I cannot control, fix, save others. I can only offer my unconditional love and support.

What can I do?

I use every tool I learned in therapy. I accept others as they are and build a fortress of solitude around my heart. When it’s too much, I make my muscles scream so I don’t have to.

During my cool downs, I think of our New York moments: your sharp, dry humor that makes me eyes rain. Tuesdays with Sherry.

What Would Nandy Drew Do?

I rummage through your room. Your shelves are stacked with LSATs when you were so determined to become a lawyer. “Drawn Out” shows hellish sketches by a man who lost his dad at a young age. He drowned himself in sex, drugs, rock n roll. When he finally sought a psychiatrist, he discovered he’d been reenacting a “living death”. 40 years old. Illumination. I know you’ll find your lightbulb.

Still, the million dollar question remains: What happened?

There’s no easy answer. Here is my educated guess. Only you, mei mei, can discover the rest.

You were 16 when you stopped talking to dad for a month. 6 years later, you stopped talking at work. Since graduation, you’ve felt pressure to figure out your life. Worked multiple jobs. Said yes when you felt no. Your law office boss made you her personal assistant and punching bag. “She says one thing, but means another.” A sense of inadequacy amplified. Great bosses are rare. Horrible bosses abound. Not only is their behavior is accepted, but promoted. We know the world does not operate on fairness: see season finale Game Of Thrones. Sometimes it’s good to be a quitter.

In the media, whenever something terrible happens, family and friends are shocked, “we didn’t see this coming.” Kill my cynicism. You don’t know til it happens to you. Any questions about whether this is an illness have been erased. It is a cancer of the mind. It is every bit as deadly. “Do you have any family history of this?” the doctor asked. Our parents were confounded. We don’t know what it looks like because it hides in plain sight. Remember when Nai Nai would talk to herself for hours? Her moods fluctuated at lightning speed. When I lost track of time playing outside, she hurt me worse than dad. If there happened to be a romantic scene on TV, she’d turn it off. “Do not trust men,” she’d rage-rant.

I was 12 at the time. Grams is 82 now. She didn’t get a second chance. You do. I’ll be here.

Hope

On June 29, I dreamed of Mary Lynne for the first time in years. Dressed in white, we stood in the kitchen. “Sherry will be OK,” she held my hand. I got my visa to Korea the next morning.

She’s right. I’ve seen you get better. You show interest in life. You hang out with your friends. You got a job at the deli. You go to the gym.

We laugh now. We talk about boys. L said he prefers me paler so I wrote a mini-novel back, loosely titled, “Best love me no matter what color F@$%^&!” You offered sage like wisdom: “tell him you’d prefer him…bigger.” Turns out I misread his message. Glad I didn’t hit send. PMS is real. (L’s still the greatest)

We whatsapp while I’m on Seoul’s, clean-as-a-dream subway. Free wifi, shopping, food stalls, and public bathrooms. All underground. Welcome to the future.

You told me your greatest strength is courage. You told me your greatest weakness is fear.  I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems more awful than life is good.

I love you. I’m proud of you. You are fighting the hardest fight of your life.

A fine line separates a fighter and a warrior. One is motivated by reason, the other by purpose. One fights to live, the other lives to fight.

You’re both.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Current Events

A fish wouldn’t get in trouble if it kept its mouth shut

Dear reader,

Sometimes the bad news is too much. I want to shut my eyes. I want to find Pokemon, not hatred in the heart of America. I want to categorize cities according to budget, not whether ISIS will attack. I want to curl up to the Kardashians, not pray I won’t get raped on a night out.

There is a Russian expression: “If you wake up feeling no pain, you know you’re dead.” I get why vampires turn their humanity off. Who wouldn’t want to frolic in the United States of Unicorn?

As much as I’d like to sign up, I can’t stop caring. That would be a fatal flaw. If we stop caring, there’s no chance for change. No recourse for reason. No leg room for love.

Whether we’re disagreeing, arguing, fighting:  there’s dialogue. If we shut our thoughts down, flip off the pain Prozac-style, we sentence ourselves to a living death. That is the greatest horror.

1. Know what you don’t know

My first boss in advertising said: know what you don’t know. He also happened to be a raging alcoholic who bragged about getting a blowjob.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a marginalized minority. I don’t know what it’s like to be born into privilege.

I don’t know what it’s like to put my life at risk on the job, nor to feel afraid from the moment I step out. 9 months in beautifully brazen Quito was enough.

I don’t know what it’s like when the world assumes your faith means you’re a terrorist. To feel alone from your first crush. To be trapped in a body that does not represent yourself.

Heck, I don’t know even know what it’s like to have a penis (though I’d definitely try it out).

There is so much I don’t know. There’s so much to find out. I teach to be taught.

2. Know what you know

I know that the scope of my understanding is limited to my personal experiences. Every interaction, from conception to now, is entirely unique. Imposing my beliefs, no matter how fundamentally right they seem, can be extremely off-putting to someone else. However, reaching out with rhyme and reason, armed with facts, not fiction, can make a difference.

Blood spills upon asphalt. If it’s not mine, it’ll be that of someone I love. Ask yourself: what can I do to help?

Information is the antidote for ignorance.

3. Agree to Disagree

Our nation couldn’t agree on a blue(or gold?) dress so our current state of affairs isn’t too surprising. Either we’re far too eager to take sides, or hesitant to express an informed opinion. Emphasis on informed. There’s plenty of idiots runnin’ wild. Comedy Central’s Trevor broke it down: why can’t we be pro-black and pro-cop? Pro-gun control and pro-constitution? Pro-prosecuting priests and pro-god?

Declaring your support for others does not mean you are discriminating against your own. Show your love for black lives AND all lives by speaking up. Show your love for the brave women and men who do protect us by better training and body cameras. Show you’re open to SOLUTIONS by admitting there’s a PROBLEM.

4. Denial

Remember: denial is the first stage.

Start small. Build bigger. For example, I’m pro-chunky monkey and I love phish-food. I’m also lactose intolerant.I devoured Toscani’s green tea heaven on July 4th. Fireworks ensued. I have a problem.

Our world faces increasingly violent times. I will never be prepared for the day I need to block my student from a bullet. But I will never turn my pain off. Without it, how would I know joy? Polarity makes the world go round.

I know the bitterness of anger. It will never help you get back up. It may make the front page, but it will leave you, and everyone around you, empty. Violence is the demon that never wants to stop.

A fish wouldn’t get in trouble if it kept its mouth shut, as the Koreans say. Let’s keep the lines open, especially towards those who seek to tear knowledge down.

Ask. Listen. Hug. Hold. Repeat.

Doctor’s orders,

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Happiness, Philosophy

The Lost Ones: The Case of X and Y

Dear reader,

Thank you for your tremendous encouragement, love and support. You’ve replenished my faith. How refreshing to know vulnerability is still valued. The eternal optimist, Ms Pretty Woman herself said, “it’s never just one person that deserves the credit.”

La vie est belle. Yet it’s far too easy to lose yourself in the perpetuation of a false high. We are scared to talk about the times we crawl through the mud. “Look ma, I’m living the dream!” masks our shared loneliness.

There is courage in honesty. I will continue sharing the spectrum of my experiences: good, bad, ugly. Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first, the lesson afterward.”

I’ve failed a lot of tests. I’ve learned some life-changing lessons. Time has revealed who is willing to stick around. Through trial by fire, I’ve been burned badly before. Here’s to the scars that bear their mark.

Chapter 1: X

Frankly, despite the exuberant kindness shown, I had expected to receive a “you godless baby killer” message. It wouldn’t have been the first time. 9 months ago, I received an email from a friend we’ll call X. X and I met in college. We had survived too many boozy nights to count, bad breakups, and loved ones affected by cancer. X even helped me get a job with an excellent company: one I continue to admire and promote.

Before I left for Ecuador, there had been an event where one of my co-workers threw a piece of lettuce at me. My knee jerk reaction was to throw a piece of lettuce back. It was a moment of silly camaraderie, one among many I shared with some good peoples. Since that event, X and I stopped talking. I sensed something was wrong and reached out but never heard back. 3 months later, 24 hours before my going away party, I received an email with the subject “Hi”. This title was alarmingly misleading for what was about to unfold.

In 914 words(not including character), X declared their overwhelming disappointment in my personal and professional decisions. To start, there was my break up from a long term relationship. X felt I had disrespected my ex by moving on too quickly. Though X used to look up to me, my single girl choices were falling short of their expectations.

Next, X listed numerous no-no’s I had committed at work. The tip of the iceberg being…wait for it…the lettuce. Ba-da-dum. Not only did my actions show I lacked respect for the entire company, it also perpetuated nepotism, defamed X’s reputation, and supported the claim that people saw me as their “crazy” friend.

Lastly, X hoped none of the litany of attacks had offended me. They would still be attending my going away party to wish me well.  To justify their means of communication, X noted that they would’ve had trouble saying all of these things in person. This is accurate, since that would’ve taken far more courage, cruelty, or both.

In shock, choking back sobs, I read the email over and over, trying desperately to understand how it could’ve gone so wrong. Was I really that terrible of a friend? How could 10 years dissolve into 3 paragraphs sent before I boarded a plane? Worst of all, if someone I considered family felt this way, was all of the above was true?

Chapter 2: Y

To understand the case of the X, let’s talk about Y, for we are bound by symmetry. Y and I also met in college. Y also helped me find a job at a blossoming company before my leap abroad. 10 years of the highest of highs and lowest of lows later, Y was my brother from another mother.

A month before my departure, I learned some female co-workers had been receiving unwanted advances from a male employee we’ll call UPS. I was surprised to hear this, since UPS and I were on friendly terms. He had never crossed the line with me.

The women were nervous about “tattling”. They didn’t want to stir up any trouble. Though the male employee was acting inappropriately, the women were worried about getting blamed. Sound familiar? This kind of twisted psychology is far too common. “If you were showing your legs, blacked out, or doing any of the activities guys do without second thought…expect something terrible to happen.” Even if it’s not as horrific as getting violated while you’re unconscious, please remember misogyny is real. Cue Mansplaining. We’ve got to teach our boys better.

Back to UPS. Since there had been no HR, the interim solution was to keep him and the women physically separated in their daily routines, while the rest of the team assisted with avoid and reroute. On my last day of work, I ran into UPS on my lunch break. After having a friendly chat about his daughter and my plans to teach, I broached the pink elephant in the room: “Hey buddy, you’re a nice guy and we’ve had some good talks. You know, we’ve all made people feel uncomfortable before, myself included. Live and learn, eh?” UPS seemed a bit awkward, but thanked me for the advice.  We even shared a hug.

The next day, I received a wake up call. UPS had written an email to the top executives about how HE was being harassed by another employee. He felt unsafe, unwelcome, and uneasy in his work environment. He played the victim card like his last hand.

I flipped out. It was my fault this had happened. Did I just destroy two of my closest friendships in one week, both of whom were kind enough to help a struggling gal? I looked in the mirror and saw godzilla.

Y called me into their office and asked what happened. Heart racing, sweaty palmed, ashen mouthed, I stuttered out the chain of events. We had ended on a good note. I had no idea it would escalate. I should’ve kept my mouth shut.  I apologized profusely.

Then I held my breath and waited. Waited for the barrage of criticism. Waited for all my mistakes to be dragged into the light. Waited for the inevitable, invisible, face slap. I prayed it’d be less than 914 words. At least this time I could answer in person.

Y listened attentively the entire time. When I finished talking, Y explained that although I had good intentions, it was a bad idea to have said anything given the delicacies and politics of the corporate enigma: “I’ve made the same mistake before and I’ve learned the hard way.”

Y got up. Y patted me on the back. And then Y forgave me.

They fired UPS.

Chapter 3: No means No

I had to read X’s email again to write this post. It still stings, but reflection and healthy detachment helps.

Yes, in the height of my co-dependence, I moved on too fast and made some questionable decisions. But gimme a break. I survived 5 years of long distance and was single for the first time. I was in the midst of uprooting my partner, career, and country. Anyone close to me could tell I was fragile and figuring it out. Did this justify a friend’s deepest disappointment and demoralization?

No.

True, I should not have thrown the lettuce. I wasn’t working that day. I was not wearing gloves. Every company should hold their employees to the highest standards of food safety. So what about holding yourself accountable to equally high standards of communication? This should’ve been addressed within the proper work environment and in a timely manner.  Why wait to write an email right before I left the country? Why bring up other people’s negative opinions of my personality? Was this professional?

No.

X had every right to express themselves. I’m sorry for causing them pain. I’m sorry our friendship had to end like that. However, I will not apologize for who I am.  I am flawed. I love too hard. I lose too much. I make stupid decisions and I learn from them every damn day. Will I bow to someone who climbs atop their moral high horse and glares down?

My dear reader, you already know the answer to that.

Though X wrote with the intention of mending, they tore new wounds. Fortune cookie says: don’t show up to bingo with a battle axe. This is what I wrote back:

Hi X,

Thank you for sharing your feelings. I understand that it’s not easy. 

I think we are all growing, learning, and taking different paths in life. No single journey can be the same, nor can we do anything but share our perspective, live and love true to ourselves, and hope for the best.

Hopefully, the pain we’ve caused each other dwarves the good times we’ve shared.

CeCe

Chapter 4: Don’t you know that you’re toxic?

We’ve all been an X and we’ve all had an X. Relationships can change drastically: it can take 10 minutes or 10 years.  It’s the hardest thing in the world to face, much less fathom.

X’s are not bad people. They may be great friends to others, but toxic to you. If someone continues to deplete the hard-earned energy you’ve collected to survive, why stick around for more?

As someone who fights her own self-destructive tendencies, I understand the battle. Yet at some point, enough is enough. There has to be a limit.  How do you know you’ve reached yours? Time. When it’s time to take a step forward, you won’t go back.

To avoid hypocrisy, I gladly apply this philosophy to myself. If I’m a drain on your soul, please let me go. I wouldn’t want me in your life either.

True friends call you out on your shit from a place of love, not bitterness. They do not attack, question, or make you doubt your self-worth. Let go of The Lost Ones.

Chapter 5: Growing Pains

In the hip hop song Matrimony, Wale asks Jerry Seinfield “Can you plan for growth?”

Seinfield shakes his head vehemently. “Absolutely not. It’s like any growth. You can’t be ready for it.”

I was not ready. I’m still not. I could either question everything I believed in, rerun a million “what if” scenarios in my head…or I could try my hardest to accept that someone who once nurtured my heart was shattering it.

In best case scenarios, we grow in a way that fosters a deeper understanding. In worst case scenarios, we are forced to acknowledge fundamental differences in beliefs, perceptions, and values. Sometimes, you have to stand back and let the bridge burn. It hurts like a mother, but from the rubble, you have the power to clear a new path.

Remember: every time you cut others, you slice yourself twice as deep.

Let’s staunch the bleeding. Let’s cauterize the wound.

Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.

Your friend,

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Ecuador, Happiness, Loss, Mental Health, Philosophy, Teaching, Writing

再见: Born is a new beginning

Dear reader,

I had to leave Ecuador early for a very personal reason. Yes, I had to get home because of my sister but mostly it was because of me. I debated sharing this publicly, but if I am to maintain the integrity of this blog, then I must. I ask for your compassion and openness when reading but I do not expect it.  Writing helps me heal. It’s like a pomegranate: you want to jump to the juicy bits, but the process can be very messy. This story will elicit many opinions, and in some cases, judgment. It’s OK. It’s taken me a long time to get here and I plan to stay true.

Chapter 1: Mother’s Day

2 weeks ago, the night before Mother’s Day, I found out I was pregnant. Moments earlier, L and I chatted hypothetically about a What If situation since I was a week late. This kind of talk is always fun and can swing both ways. It becomes pretty clear whether you’d be on your own or fully supported. I’m relieved to say it was the latter.

So when the 2 lines popped up on the test, I handled it like a pro. Let’s call Stage 1: The Sailor.  F bombs decimated a 5 mile radius. I dropped expletives no teacher should ever be caught saying. Stage 2: The Exorcist. Animalistic wailing, rolling on the floor. My personal favorite was Stage 3: The Superman. Visualize your worst hangover, getting to the top of the Six Flaggs ride, and realizing you have no seatbelt. Cue emotional disaster. My family was going through so much already with my sister. How was I going to tell them I got knocked up thousands of miles away? How could I have fucked up so badly? The ugly demons of shame, guilt, disappointment surged in molten torrents. Any insult you can think of, I came up with worse. I felt utterly and completely alone.

But then there was L. He held my splotchy, snot-covered face in both hands. “Everything will be OK,” he said. Though I still felt like a planet out of orbit, I knew with inexplicable certainty he meant it. There were no magic words, but rather the feeling of safety in the storm, a hot bath after blizzard. He believed it would be OK, so I allowed myself to believe it too.

The following morning, we celebrated Mother’s Day in Ibarra with his family.  Surrounded by moms, many of whom I had met that day, I was certain of one thing: god loves a good story.

Chapter 2: The Decision

As someone who holds parenting in high esteem, I knew I was not ready to be a mom. From the moment I found out, to before and after.  Regardless, I dug deep to address 4 BIG questions:

1.What kind of financial support could I offer a child?

Bills, Bills, Bills.  If it’s this tough to budget for rent and food, then budgeting for a baby is just not in the cards. Educators, one of earth’s most valuable resources, are paid jackshit. That’s just how the dice rolls until we get legislation to change. Lower that pay bracket for volunteers, then scratch it out completely with an economic crisis.  The bright side? If you want to find out whether you love what you do, then work for free. Answer guaranteed. I do love teaching.

2.What kind of emotional support could I offer a child?
Limited. I am still working through deep rooted issues from my childhood. Though this is the strongest I’ve ever felt, the journey has just begun. There’s plenty more room for improvement.

3.Could I honestly say having an unplanned child would be a responsible decision?

Thanks to therapy, I am learning the power of no. Codependents have trouble setting boundaries because it is our coping mechanism to say yes. We often had to appease volatile adults in situations where No was simply not an option.

I refuse to raise a child until I am ready. Though the decisions that led to the pregnancy were irresponsible, my decision after needed to be the exact opposite.

No.  100% no.

4.What kind of parent would I be with unfulfilled dreams? What kind of example would I be setting?

I am teaching in South Korea this fall. I plan to get a Masters of Education and teach in the Middle East. Someday, I hope to write a book worth publishing. These goals require time and commitment. If I gave up on my visions, or delayed them significantly, would I be happy? No. Would a child, one of the most perceptive beings in existence, pick up on that? Absolutely.

If and when I choose to be a parent, my child will become priority number 1. In the footsteps of Mary Lynne, I’d like to adopt too. But the time is not now.

To the moms who have sacrificed everything for their children(including mine): I am confounded by your devotion. I am humbled by your resilience. I have the utmost respect for you. That’s the beauty of it. It is YOUR decision to make. Not mine. Not anyone else’s.

Chapter 3: The Call

Unless a girl or woman is raped or the baby causes physical harm to the mother, abortion is illegal in Ecuador. President Correa said he would rather resign than legalize abortion, both of which sound like best case scenarios. Females, especially those with limited to no resources, seek secret clinics with unregulated and often unhygienic practices. They put their lives at risk because the system leaves them with no other choice. By taking away choice, we are endangering the lives of our sisters, mothers, children. Our best friends. By taking away choice, we knowingly hurt, and oftentimes kill, the bodies, souls, and aspirations of our women. How would you feel if someone took away your choice in any other arena? Who you love? Where you live? Where you work? Who you talk to? What you believe?

Though there can be positive purpose in religion, I have trouble understanding those who use god shaming as the reason why abortion is wrong. god is pure love. god is free will. If god does not cast the first stone, then what gives us the right to?

Regardless, this is not about religion or politics. It is about the human spirit. I firmly believe the choice to choose is a fundamental human right.

That being said, none of this prepared me for the call home. L had to pull the car over in the breakdown lane because the thought of telling my family brought on a full blown panic attack. One week prior, I had told my mom I was happy. Instead of being happy for me, she had reminded me of my numerous ‘failed’ relationships.

I love my family deeply. They have also inflicted the deepest pain. The two are not mutually exclusive. Asian culture often uses intense shaming as a tool for motivation. Being daddy’s girl meant hearing “you’re worthless” instead of “I’m proud of you.”  Abuse was special delivered by fist(and slipper ai ya) and tied with an “it’s for your own good” ribbon. Re-education is direly needed.

My sister answered the phone. It was the first time I had heard her voice in a month. Cue tear fest. Sherry immediately guessed. “You’re pregnant,” she listlessly mumbled before passing the phone to my mom. I braced myself for the worst.

Another thing I am sure of: life is wraught with surprises. As someone who used to blame her mom for standing by and staying with a man who hurt us, in that phone call, I have never been more thankful. “Come home,” my mom said. “We will help you. Please take care of yourself.”

I had the phone on speaker the entire time.  L understood every word, no translation needed.  In times of strife, your bond either grows, or the underlying issues come crawling out. I am learning that love is nothing without compatibility. They are different beasts. Bound by time, trial and error.

Chapter 4: The Goodbye

In 3 days, I had to pack up and say goodbye to my students, my friends, my heart. Last year, L got screwed over at the airport by some racist vigilantes out to get anyone South of the border. They took him into a dark room and screamed until he signed the no admittance papers. It didn’t matter that he was intending to visit a friend. It didn’t matter he’d been a foreign exchange student in Oklahoma, or graduated from Taiwan with a full scholarship, or had a job in Ecuador. He is banned from the States for 5 years unless he re-applies for a visa successfully.

I knew I was going home alone. The good news? Before we met, I had decided to teach in South Korea and he had applied to a Masters of Economics in the same country. We want to become citizens of the world before settling down. Kismet.

My last day teaching at CEC happened to coincide with oral exams. The class had to create and perform original TV skits for Fabian’s class.  One student built a Bill Nye the science guy air ionizer: wires, fires, and all. Another group created a Judge Judy style trial about a wife and husband’s custody battle over their preciosa cat. I died laughing watching a game show where each contestant was an emotion from Inside Out. My students blew my damn poncho off.

When I announced the news, their faces were kittens left in the rain. We hugged. They chipped in their hard earned cho chos for a bouquet and fancy chocolate. Fabian surprised me with an Oreo mousse cake. He thanked me for helping him become a better teacher. I told him to stop making me sob.

To the beautiful souls of Ecuador, I am so blessed to have spent 9 months with you. You’ve shown me the darkest of dark and lightest of light. Thank you for teaching to be brave.

Chapter 5: The Homecoming

Jetblue, I love you. My flight home was a breeze; greeting my family was not. I arrived on my Dad’s birthday. The man I used to be terrified of was born the same day I came back…pregnant. Impeccable timing. I took a deep breath and recalled what my therapist had said. “You supported yourself in NYC for many years. You’ve had a rough patch financially with making a life transition. You’re relying more heavily on others for money, but you can pay it back. Money is just money.”

“Healthy detachment, my dear. It’s about holding space,” my spirit guru Jerry would say. Luis agrees, “Whenever they’re mean, add it to the don’t give a fuck box.”

I hugged my mom first, then brother, sister, dad. It was physically apparent my sister was sick. She couldn’t hold a conversation, but showed up with a smile, and that’s infinitely more than what I had hoped for.

Now here comes the logistics. Though there’s plenty of information on google, I would like to provide you some personal insight. The doctors at Planned Parenthood were so kind and informative. Our support for PP to receive government funding is everything. Under 8 weeks, the pill to terminate is 98% effective. I felt nauseous the first day and experienced bad cramps.  I was lucky because it was like having a heavy period: more uncomfortable than painful. Everyone’s body chemistry is different so please do your research before making this decision. With all choices in life, there are risks. Please, please, please USE BIRTH CONTROL. I was on it for 7 years, but the hormones were making me too moody. In addition to condoms, there are non-hormonal methods of protection.  Yes, you can still get pregnant on your period. No, you can NEVER be too careful. Don’t take a chance like I did. I am blessed to have conceived with a devoted partner, but it was still traumatizing on a multitude of levels.

I was instructed to dissolve the meds in my mouth for 30 minutes. Tears streamed down my face as I played one of my favorite songs on the piano Canon in C by Pachelbel. Mother Nature gifted the sun of spring. I felt god and the universe with me every step of the way.

I am not going to use the word fetus to soften the situation. I was carrying a baby, a growing life, created from pure joy with the man I love. I’m sorry that I had to say goodbye. In Chinese, goodbye or 再见 (zài jiàn, pronounced zuh-i-jee-anne) means see you again. 再见: born is a new beginning.

The following day, I had a particularly poignant moment when a dusk grey, tea-cup sized bird perched outside my window. Its onyx-black eyes pierced mine. I have never seen a bird like that. I can’t help but feel this tiny soul was sent to cushion my grief.

Chapter 6: Beloved

I wish there were a different word for love. I don’t think I’ve loved myself properly for many years. Beneath my confident demeanor, I’ve discovered my greatest fear is being unloved, unworthy, inadequate.

L and I may not have known each other for long, yet every day, even when we are apart, has been a great one. We fight our worst sides to be better for each other. We aim to be PP: present and patient. We turn towards each other, not away. Most importantly, we take it one day at a time. I wasn’t sure it was possible to feel this complete on my own and simultaneously with someone else. There’s the underlying fear that if you put all your eggs in one basket, what happens when the basket breaks? Well, I found a sturdy basket and I’ve got some great eggs. No pun intended.

Remember: nothing is impossible unless you believe it is so.

Dear reader, if you’ve gotten this far, I’m honored. You are not alone in your pain. You are not alone in your shame. You are not alone in your doubt. You are certainly not alone in your devastation.

You are loved. You are precious. You have a purpose. Embrace whomever you see in the mirror. Forgive your mistakes. We are only human after all.

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.

再见,

writinginsoysauce

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