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, 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, 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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Advice, Ecuador, Mental Health, Philosophy, Teaching

Faith: and then the earth trembled

I have a confession to make: I was not wearing pants when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit. The perks of being too comfortable in your apartment. Luis, Jared, and I stood in our doorways staring at each other as the floor trembled. I giggled hysterically at the prospect of dying without pants. Then I prayed. Out loud.

After the 4th floor stopped shaking, we walked to SuperMaxi to stock up on necessities: chifles, choco chip cookies, boxed wine. Foch, known for its nightlife, was a cold somber scene. Cops, frightened faces, everything was closed. That’s when we knew it was serious. News trickled in about how badly the coast was affected. The sadness came. In terrifying circumstances, I gripped onto faith.

Ever since I could remember, I have prayed. I do not know if god is a man, woman, alien, unicorn. I do know my little chinita self has whispered, spoken, hummed to an unseen, unknown entity. Wind in trees.

rivwr

1. Faith

22 years ago, when my little sister was still in the womb, I was very jealous of the oodles of attention she was already receiving. I asked g money for no little sister. I quickly realized faith is not all powerful.

I miss talking to my sis. I cry a lot thinking about how lost she must feel in the hospital. How alone even with visitors. Her drawings show duplicate visions: two eyebrows, two mouths, juxtaposed onto the same face. I am visiting Sherry end of May. I would love nothing more than to hug her.

My lifey(lifetime compadre) Xtina who is also a therapist visited my fam in the hospital. She translated a difficult subject for my parents so well. When you have a fever, the meds provide a temporary but lifesaving relief.  My sis refuses to take medication so she is going to court to defend her case. If she loses, she will have to take the meds. So we wait.

Mental illness is a dark stealer of loved ones, yet I have faith my sister will be OK.

Faith is not a blanket reason for why bad things happen. Bad things happen for no reason. We can either find purpose, or not. It is a choice.

It’s the possibility of parallel universes. It’s found equally in creation and destruction. It’s minute particles, the ones undiscovered by science, that connect us all somehow.

It’s never feeling completely alone, even when I feel incredibly lonely.

It is action. With your help, we raised $5000 to buy supplies for earthquake victims. Paypal the phenomenal corydack(at)yahoo.com.

Faith is an umbrella.  I have lost and found it infinite times.

2. Speak

Faith helps me cope with fear of rejection. I am empowered to speak my mind.

In the application to teach in Korea(EPIK), I was required to report any visible tattoos. One girl posted that she was rejected because of hers. I could’ve taken the easy route and lied about my Princess Mononoke, a piece easily hidden by clothing. But I didn’t want to. I love my art. I do not believe in conforming to social or cultural stigmas to get a job. Guess what? My request for an interview arrived 1 day after the earthquake. Truth worked in my favor. I passed the interview. Now onto massive amounts of paperwork before I am officially accepted this fall

Another case study: a well known recruiter for Taiwan called Hess asked me to submit a head to toe photo. Immediately the warning bell went off. What does this superficial request have to do with my teaching credentials? Why do they need to see my body to qualify my mind?  After reading some bad reviews about how Hess works with schools who prefer white males,  I wrote this:

Not surprisingly,  I received a generic answer about how their interview process isn’t for anyone. I withdrew my application.

Why poke the bear when I so badly need a paying job in August ? Because I would rather hear a firm NO for being true to myself than an exuberant YES to a false persona.

3. Love and Hate

Some days I love my body. Some days I hate my body. I cannot down a pizza like I used to. I am allergic to booze, caffeine, lactose, honey. And butterflies. That’s right. Butterflies. Why not? My body is going down the list alphabetically. Time feels like my enemy. People say “Oh, you haven’t aged a day.” Thank you kindly. However, I am aging every day. How can I come to terms with it? Working out helps. More importantly, I try to forgive my imperfections.

The hardest working woman I know Ms Stephanie Park just launched her website The Healthy Hour! She makes cooking healthy look doable even with a New Yorker’s schedule. Plus, she features a delicious OREO recipe. Enough said.

The-Healthy-Hour-Taline-Gabriel-Raweo-Raw-Oreo-Vegan-Dessert-Recipe-01-268

4. I cannot do this alone 

Last week I had a serious bout of the flu for the third time this year. I didn’t want to pay for a substitute teacher when we teachers are barely getting paid, so I worked all week. I was so sick I couldn’t walk 4 flights of stairs to my own apartment without dry heaving.

I cannot do this alone. Nor do I want to.

I have met someone very special. When I least wanted to, when I told everyone who would listen that I would not open my heart again…naturally, the universe threw me a curveball. I met Luis in TEFL class. We were both trying to become better teachers. He has undeniably become one of my best friends. He is not a project. He does not need saving. He does use a painful past as an excuse for his actions in the present. In fact, he is profoundly patient. Kind. Giving. Balanced. It is not the uncertain, burning, obsessive, roller coaster dynamic my co-dependent self has chosen too often in the past. Whether we are together or apart, I feel what so many others have talked about. Peace. It is so nice because it is easy. I am understood on an intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual level. We are not halves of a whole. We are both wholes that happen to complement each other quite nicely. L teaches Chinese. He texts my mom in mandarin. I am writing this post in his class right now, surrounded by giggling girls, and I am so damn proud. Outside, the sky pours buckets. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

This life I’ve chosen can be a solitary one. You do not have the comfort of your friends from home. You do not know who you can trust, though you pray someone is willing to help.

To those beautiful people who have lent a helping hand, I have not enough space to fill these pages, but I hope you know who you are.  I am beyond grateful.

Thank you for keeping my faith.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Ecuador, Love, Teaching, Travel

agradecida: blood, snow, sorrow

Dear mother earth, heavenly father and the ultimate universe,

Last Friday, I walked out of my apartment to blood. A man ran down the street clutching his arm yelling after a taxi. His eyes were glazed, his striped shirt matted to his sweat soaked skin.  Instinct kicked in. My friend called the police while I ran after him into the video rental store. Red raindrops covered the white linoleum floor. In broken Spanish,  I told him to wash the cut, put pressure on it, call his family.  High on adrenaline and worry, we listened to Mauricio’s story. A customer came to rent a DVD. At the counter, he took out a knife and pistol. Video stores don’t keep much cash, so Mauricio did not comply. In the scuffle, he was sliced deep before the robber ran off into a taxi( clearly in on the deal).

Moments earlier, I had messaged my friend that I didn’t want to walk to Foch and preferred to get a ride if possible. So I was meant to be there, at that exact moment, to see the blood. It is not the first time nor will it be the last.

In these pivotal moments when a fellow human lost faith in humanity, in the minuscule seconds that followed, precious to shaping future beliefs, I am grateful for good.

1. Blood

I am grateful for blood. If I did not know about blood,  I would not know the complexity of love. I would not know the sound of diamond sharp scissors slicing the air when thrown, rivlets of red escaping skin, metallic smell of fear permeating pores. I remember the shattered child carried out by her grandfather. I remember listening to dad scold mom for her temper. The irony. If I did not know of blood, I would have never found my purpose in healing through Lovingkindness.

2. Snow

I am grateful for snow. I remember the barefooted girl who had never been kissed, running away from home, into the whiteness. Comforted by cold, for the goosebumps were far kinder than the madness of fists, kicks, words inflicted onto 100% my body for a 75% percentile PSAT number. 75, the numbers engraved into my scars, fearing tests of aptitude, even years later. If I did not know of snow, then I wouldn’t understand my students. The paralysis, the amygdala freeze, the somber eyes, the exhaustion you hid from your teachers, because you were really glad to be out of the house, up until the moment when the hard work does nothing against the unrealistic demand of perfection.

So I make sure my students know, that the four walls covered in posters of future civilizations and dream islands, serve as far more than just four walls. With me, they are safe.

3. Sorrow

I am grateful for sorrow. When you have to say goodbye to anyone you love, it’s hard to escape the  nagging feeling you could’ve, should’ve,  would’ve done something different. The questions that keep you up at night: am I the fool? How could I let this happen? You search for pieces of an invisible puzzle.

If I did not know of sorrow, I would not know of acceptance.

The freedom of letting go. The astute talent to just breathe. He broke your heart. She broke your heart. You broke each other. You loved each other once. You may never talk to each other again. Till choice comes to the rescue. The choice to change. To grow. The gift of transformation. You have another turn in this roulette of life. YOU, lucky soul, are still in the game with blood in your veins. So play with integrity.

I am grateful for sorrow. 7 years ago, on Christmas Eve,  I learned of unconditional love. In an utterly private moment, which I had no right or intention to witness, I stumbled upon the spiritual. I watched the gentle hands of a husband washing the greying coiff of his best friend, mother of his children, love of his life, four days before death swept away her suffering. Sorrow taught me unconditional love.

Once you know, you’ll never settle for less. Nunca.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Mental Health, Teaching, Travel

Fiesta De Quito: The crying woman

Dear Friends,

One month from today, I will be 29 years old. Allow me to reflect, process, regurgitate what little and lot this year has brought in 3 stages…

1. Joy

For their final oral exam, my students created TV shows. The highlight was The Kyong Show: imagine late night meets Jerry Springer. The romantic entanglements of a stepford wife,  basketball player husband, a scruffy pool boy. And a magician. All forced to resolve their problems over beer(water) pong…

Wandering into a fusion jazz bar, getting the last seats, savoring a splendid piece of chocolate cake, served with a boule of helado (ice cream). Soft rain and patio lights…

Flamenco dancers, one gringa in cherry red, one quiteno in blanco, strong jaws, slick black coifs, such fierce tapping you feel it in your blood…

Riding a bike in public. I’m an obsessive soul cycler, but it’s a different ballgame meandering through traffic. Momentum is key. Pedal when turning for more control. Shoulders forward in a perfect triangle, so when you hit a bump, your netherparts don’t get left behind. Freedom racing through the park…

Taking my first solo 9 hour bus trip in South America, reaching my destination, narrowly avoiding a pack of wild dogs, kissing starlight by midnight…

The ocean retains memory, my mompiche soul sistah said, it touches all life. Bubbles, effervescent elation, splashing like a newborn. Letting go…

2. Pain 

In a dimly lit street by an ivy wall(Plaza Teatro), while all of Quito dances, a small crowd gathers around a crying woman. A man in an official looking uniform, conspicuously rigid, eyes withdrawn, tapes an eviction notice to her door. The air is pungent: it smells of macaroons…

The crying woman reminds me that we are ephemeral. Impermanent. Amidst all joy exists acute pain.  I know this well. It’s been too recent since parting ways with friends and lovers. The hurt is raw. Yet the scars will make me stronger…

It’s taken me 6 years to let myself miss Mary Lynne, the mom, sister, best friend who showed me unconditional love. To let myself weep. To feel the enormity of grief…

It’s been 1 year since I’ve talked to my dad. It took 27 years to admit I’ve been emotionally and physically abused since I hit puberty. It’s going to be a lifelong journey to heal. To discover what it means to love and be loved. To relearn a concept sin dolores…

Pain is relative, and mine pales amongst the horrific pasts endured by so many kindred spirits. But it’s a smidegon of proof that to see the light, one must face their darkness…

 

I’m going to therapy soon and I could not be more ready. I’ve always wanted to go.  It’s a profession and a calling that interests me mucho. Thankfully, mental health is less of a stigma in South America. Plus it’s far more affordable, I’m talking $25/hour vs $2 grand, an arm and a leg. I’m a big believer that although a broken bone is visibly bad, a broken psyche is far worse, especially if unaddressed. It’s impossible to heal others if you can’t heal yourself. Someday, could I listen to stories and help guide someone back onto their path ? Nothing would fulfill me more.

My soul died in advertising. In all corporate life. Teaching, however, is rewarding. On Fridays, we mix Spanish and English to discuss deeper issues like spirituality, family, psychology, gender equality, sexism, racism, homosexuality. I’d love to teach in Colombia next, South Korea, then Thailand. Maybe UAE. It’s a loosey goosey 5 year vision, just how I like it.

Know thyself is priority #1. Giving myself and others time to do what’s needed, time to understand what’s best. Time exposes or promotes us all, they say.

I am proud to be the crying woman. In many ways, we all are.  Call me sentimental but I’ll take tears any day over feeling nothing at all.

My deepest love,

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Philosophy, Teaching, Travel

(No Name): 2 months in Ecuador and 7 How To’s

I’m falling in love with Ecuador. Like most special delights in life, it’s the unplanned and unexpected that make up a myriad of defining moments.

1. How to teach English

After a grammar exercise about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it quickly became clear that my high school students had no clue about Mark Twain nor slavery. Another asked me, one on one, if being gay is natural. I tell my students one thing: to always keep asking.  Never take my opinion for law.

Allow for distractions, the mind needs to breathe.

I’m aiming to get TEFL certified with the university this February in order  to continue a worldwide journey. Imagine this chinita in Columbia, South Korea, Thailand, UAE…wowsers!

2. How to travel successfully by bus

Do not rely on the Internet for timetables or routes. Ask at least 3 people on site including ticket sellers, taxi drivers, bus staff pitching to potential customers.  Do as the locals do.

No one sits in assigned seats. Be prepared to see people arguing over your seat and to find another one.

In order to meet friends at Quilotoa, my host dad crowd sourced to find out that there’s no direct bus from Riobamba to Latacunga. I needed to get off at some random, no name stop, then take a taxi to the main station. Alone and amidst a hailstorm.

My nerves were calmed only after sitting next to a nice lady named Faviola who happened to be going to the same place. We split a cab even steven. Yeats said it best: Be Not Inhospitable To Strangers Lest They Be Angels In Disguise.

By sensational serendipity, I arrived at the exact same time as my crew from Quito, despite departing hours apart and from different cities.

3. How to make the most of…

Otavalo: Use the buddy system to bargain. It’s cheaper to buy 2. Take your time browsing and getting price quotes before dropping your cash. Smile.

Go to the birds of prey show at Condor Park. Notice which beasts value freedom over food. Search for the heart shaped crater embedded into the side of the mountain.

Riobamba: Eat hornado de chancho (slow roasted pork with orgasmic thick, crispy skin). It will help you forget that on the 3 hour car ride there, you awoke from your nap to the symphonic chords of  a 10 year old puking profusely into a plastic bag.

Funda.

Quilotoa: Camp for free at crater lake. Bring tons of sweaters, snacks, water, tp. Warm yourself with Puntas(moonshine baby).

In ink black darkness, we climbed down a steep, winding sand-rock filled trail armed with 2 measly, Ecua phone flashlights. The 1 hour hike uphill in scorching heat is a doozie. PLEASE SKIP riding the donkeys/horses: their legs are far more fragile than yours. It’s tempting, I know.

Once you get uptop, reward yourself with grilled goat. Indulge in rich, meaty papas(potatoes)for days. Demolish another table’s full plate of leftovers.

I befriended a stray black lab mix who later summoned her 5 member pack of protectors (will work for food). Slept like a baby through a vicious dog fight. I’ve got 99 problems but No Name ain’t one.

Find big sticks if you venture into the surrounding wilderness. The dogs are trained to aggressively guard the indigenous lands. Good news? You’ll hear them coming. Bad news? Our friend’s pant leg got nipped twice and I had to fend off rabies-r-us while it transformed my branch into a twig…with its mouth.

Adventure.

4. How to live with ever present danger

At night, four of my friends( both guy and girl together, local looking and gringo) have been robbed. Two of them at knifepoint. Scary, though the awareness these events are commonplace oddly comforts. Take a cab to your door if you live in prime-time petty crime neighborhoods like Foch.

If and when it happens, let go of whatever possessions you have.

Keep money in your bra. Always bring a friend to keep watch at the ATM.

Past 6 pm, I walk in a black, over-sized hoodie, hands stuffed in pockets(pseudo concealed weapon), ninja jaunt on, at an effin’ speedy pace. Better to be feared and/or too fast of a moving target.

If I outlasted Dorchester, MA…

5. How to learn any language

My host dad, in Spanish, asked me to keep the door unlocked for their return.

Except he had 2 moto helmets so I assumed there was an errand requiring me to get on a bike. To which I replied: muy frio (it’s too cold).

Read intent through the lens of body language, trust the vocabulary to expand after. Embrace the awkward because people will laugh. Laughter helps you learn.

6. How to survive a nightmare

I’ve met my favorite kind of people: survivors.

One spoke of nightmares: the kind that come when the brains of a 21 year old girl meet the concrete streets of Quito. Split seconds earlier, he’d asked his friend to slow down the motorcycle. It was all too late and far too fast for the boy high on adrenaline and the pretty young thang gripping tightly to his jacket. The friend lived, if that’s what you call it. Fate in the form of accident stole the show.

Another, an indigo child destined to change the world, sat with me on a grassy knoll of an unknown park next to a gaggle women in thick turquoise sweaters and prairie skirts. As they smoked their caramel cocoa cigarettes, she told me about how her boyfriend died, high on coke, his heart stopped. No, wait, that was another story. Hers killed himself.

Why must the best people be cursed with desolation? She cried and I felt her pain as my own for we have all loved someone who feels nothingness.

7. How pain begets joy

I said goodbye to a mosaic of circumstance, however difficult, for the possibility of a true-to-present self.

To find a real shot at the perfectly imperfect, you must continue learning: not the way you’d imagine through unaffordable degrees, but the school of life.

Travel, my friends.

The world is far too lonely. Give love to others, so they see less of your skin and more of your soul.

Let go of money to gain, whenever you can afford it. I used to make over 70k. Now I make less than $400 a month. You’d think it’d be more stressful with less money but it’s quite the opposite.

Relinquish the need for others to approve of your happiness and you’ll be one step closer. (Yes, I’m talking to you “be a lawyer-doctor-hedge fund manager or else” tiger parents.)

Help, however you can, in conversation or human touch, for richness comes in numerous forms.

Reach the eternal fountain of youth the instant you stop searching.

Love from E,

writinginsoysauce

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