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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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.

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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, Books, Ecuador, Mental Health, Travel

Colombia Calling: a series of unfortunate events 

Before my grandmother survived a stroke and heart attack,  before my little sister was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, before I learned through therapy I have a condition called co-dependency, before Ecuador stopped paying its teachers, before Colombia called…

I had a beautiful dream.

Immersed in deep blue sea, a giant orca whale faced me. Terrifyingly close, awe inspiring. Zoom out. The orca swam in a glass ceiling above my bed. It wasn’t clear who was the one held captive. A mermaid entered the water: only she was accepted by the orca. Trusted.

It is all connected:

Days later, at hangar beatz, a DJ played haunting whale sounds. The next morning, my sister called with the news about my nai nai. My mom and sister had to cancel their trip to Ecuador. So I decided to go to Colombia. A series of unfortunate events began. Yet, somehow, magic remained.

1. Pre Colombia

My friend and I got lost trying to find a concert, stumbled into free Colombia movie week right when the film started. Los Viajes Del Viento: The Wind Journeys. There is an accordion off between two men, matador vs bull, in a dust filled ring. An audience member, driven into a frenzy, stabs the protagonist. The knife misses his heart thanks to the instrument. I didn’t understand half the words, but I understood the whole meaning. Music does that.

Moments later, we found ourselves on stage at Casa De La Cultura, dancing in circles with the locals to live folklore. I ran into one of my old students. Spontaneity at its best.

I met a beautiful rose at Cafe Democratico the 1st night I discovered Afro Colombian jazz. Spirited away by drums, pipes, wind flutes, a french girl’s raspy African tune.  A doctor without borders led our chorus to Redemption Song.

On cue, a true accordion player appeared at 3 am. No such thing as coincidence.

2. Bigger in Bogota

My airbnb in Bogota was located in Chapinero. As with any host or neighborhood, do your research, but people lie. Turns out, the southern tip was filled with addicts, junkies, hooker motels, and the host’s brother had smoked something before we got there. I slept to soothing night sounds: crackheads yelling PUTA outside. The bedroom door wouldn’t close, so we set up a Conspiracy Theory style trap: suitcase, book, glass box. Lamp close to bed as a weapon. We were in pain from fresh tattoos, scared, yet could not stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. You can tell a lot about your bond in the face of the unexpected.

In a rush to leave the next day, we left the keys upstairs, only to realize the 10 foot black iron gate was locked. Naturally, we scaled the gates of Mordor while the neighborhood watched. Chapinero remembers.

We escaped to my friend’s uncle’s apartment in Chia, the sunny equivalent of Cumbaya. He took us to the salt mines of Zipaquira. Interestingly, I almost ended up teaching there instead of Ecuador because one of the WorldTeach cohorts dropped out. At the time, my decision came down to one thing: I wouldn’t have missed my little sister’s college graduation for the world. Full circle.

One cannot sum up a city in 2 days, but I will say this: Bogota has STYLE, asian people(dodo birds!), diversity(we got a lot of smiles) and an excellent asian chain restaurant called WOK (1st pad thai and khao soi in 7 months. Freaked out.).

Day: Better to take a taxi

  • Museo del Oro
  • Candelaria
  • Plaza Simón Bolívar, especially Friday evening SEPTIMAZO(be careful)
  • Monserrate Cable Car(Bogotá is huge)
  • Teusaquillo. Parque Simón Bolívar. (picnic)
  • La mina de sal de zipaquirá
  • El teatro callejero

Night: ALWAYS take a taxi. Underground scenes reco’d by a Bogota friend

  • Cafe Cinema
  • Latino Power
  • Latora 4 Brazos
  • Matik Matik
  • Chorro de Quevedo

3. Magic in Medellin

Took a free walking tour with the amazing guide Pablo. Stayed at a wonderful airbnb with Arthur Leroux. Barrio El Poblado is like the West Village of Colombia.

Medellín has one of the most pristine, spacious metros I have ever seen. It’s their beacon of hope. They do not eat on it. They do not scratch graffitti on the walls. The train reflects the love of its people.

In 1995,  a bomb exploded inside a Botero bird statue(famous for painting large, round figures) downtown, killing a girl as young as 7. The government wanted to remove the destroyed statue. Ring Ring. Botero called: no you must not do that. If you remove it, the people will forget. You remove the memory.

Instead, they built a replica, unbroken, next to the original. Bird’s the word.

Paisas are entrepreneurs. You buy in because of their optimism, resilience, courage.

Day

  • Piedra Del Penol (2 hour bus from Medellin. Epic views, a real life stairmaster 650 of ’em, go EARLY bc traffic back to the city is insane)
  • Metro cable hasta Santo Domingo (ver favelas) /Parque Biblioteca ESPAÑA
  • Jardín Botánico de Medellin (gorgeous architecture)
  • Museo de Antioquia
  • Parque de los pies descalzos
  • Plaza botero
  • Pueblito paisa
  • Rio claro Valley
  • Museo de arte moderno

Night

  • Este lugar de la noche, calle 67 con 55
  •  Yagé bar, calle 68 con 96
  • Tinto Tintero, carrera 43 B-10. Thursday Jazz in el poblado (LOVELY!)

4. Post Colombia 

Ecuador is in an economic crisis. Only the military has been paid due to the threat of a coup. And cancer hospitals(hopefully!). Teachers and everyone else are the bottom of the barrel.  The government owes us but we may not be paid for years. I have faith. I have faith in myself as a teacher: I am working for my students and out of love for the profession.

I may be deported for writing the above. But it is the truth. My family survived communism. I refuse to live in fear in the face of oppression. As a US citizen, I have more options than many others. Let the stress kill you, or keep hunting. I choose numero dos.

Now onto harder subjects…

My heart crumpled when I heard about my sister. I was the first one to get the call. You can imagine how it feels to be thousands of miles away. Helpless. Useless. So I worried, and worried some more. My therapist, who normally just listens, called me out. I am so glad she did. She said this: You need to stop. Stop trying to save others. Stop trying to fix others. You are responsible for you. You are not responsible for your mother, father, sister, brother, grandparents. You spend so much energy worrying about others. You need to take care of yourself. You are a teacher. You are in Ecuador. These are your responsibilities and you must focus on them. Learn to say no. She lent me a book.

Co-dependency means you try to save, control, fix others, to the point where you no longer take care of yourself. People who grow up with any -ism or abuse in their family often have this condition because we were forced to care take at a very young age. It is up to me to refuse to be a victim. I need to put my own needs first and stop rescuing. Let others lead their own lives. Love and care but practice healthy detachment. 

To my nai nai, my sister, to everyone going through a difficult time: we are not lone islands, but we are all responsible for our own lives. It’s OK to put yourself first. Release the guilt.

Pablo’s words resonate: Colombia is a swamp of quicksand. We sink, and sink, and sink. The mud has reached our ears. But we hold on. We hold on to the tiny branch. We fight for every breath. We do not let go.

Find the branch. Hold on tight. Rise.

Love,

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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