November 2016 – Part I

Wednesday, November 2nd
… It’s strange, but I sense some learning curves (or growth spurts, or whatever-) some of my friends are going through. Things that you don’t realize you are in the middle of even though you are up to your neck in it. Freeing yourself from parental expectations struggling to stay vulnerable; recognizing that there will always be certain space between humans that can’t be bridged; learning to live with uncertainty instead of seeking certainty. …

Thursday, November 3rd
… I go to the trees when my head feels too big and time is slithering through my fingers like water. Gazing up at the ancient lives who have witnessed events from the far past and who will live to see the far future. My head shrinks back and I am enveloped by the life bigger and vaster than I could ever be. Smelling in the damp earth, my inner animal stops growling and settles back, content for now. …

Friday, November 4th
I decided to follow my heart and be a writer, but I haven’t been writing.
I knew the road wasn’t going to be suddenly smooth, and I have to make the decision again and again, every day. It’s hard to find the heart, and a lot harder to keep it, because it’s helluva easy to lose it.
The human interaction between fictional characters (movies, books, etc.) – Erich Fromm was spot-on. They are imitations of the real thing, and we turn to them because it’s easier, more accesible, and less risky. But they also don’t linger. These quick bursts of warmth and humor are fleeting and they leave you feeling emptier than before, thus starting and enabling a vicious cycle. …

Saturday, November 5th
… I feel lost. Lost and scared, even though I know what I want to do. The decision to trust my heart was just the first step, perhaps the highest point for a long time to come. I did say I was descending (or ascending, or maybe it’s just straight ahead) towards madness.

Sunday, November 6th
Connection/Disconnection. Lately, that’s all I’ve been thinking about. That precious moment of shared human-ness, striking that space in us that is full of longing for belonging and of the need for connection. …
But also the disconnection – the dissonance in the melody of relationship, the surface of ego demanding spotlight. It’s time to step back, take care of our inner child, and ready ourselves for another meeting on the level of the spirits. …

Monday, November 7th
I am scared. I am scared shitless about the future. … I am afraid of turning out to be a mediocre writer, although I don’t see what’s wrong with that – perhaps it’s the social pressure of finding the dream job right away, the idea of our jobs representing who we are. … I realized that I don’t have many – any? – concrete, tangible fears. I am afraid of abstract things such as the future/uncertainty, and also of not being understood/accepted/loved by other people, but I can’t think of scary experiences in my life – for me, it’s a perpetual, long-term fear, not a moment of fear bursting into a flame and extinguishing itself just as quickly. I don’t want to play the victim card again (but I probably am), but when you have already experienced being an outsider, when you have already gone through several identity crises, perhaps your fear of spiders or operations cease to have such a huge influence on you.
In my melodramatic moments, I fancy myself an orphan – which is a slap in the faces of all the people who really do not have family, or parents who are so bad that being an orphan would be the better option. What I had refused to see, however, was how many people were trying to be my temporary family in small ways. But I never really let them, priding myself over my emotional independence, telling myself that while they were nice, I didn’t need them. Then, being a hypocrite that I am, I bemoan the fact that I am alone with my actual family far away.
Why do we isolate ourselves? Why do we push people away? Why do we punish ourselves?

Tuesday, November 8th
… I was feeling discouraged, and I did what might not have been such a good idea: I called Mom. My security blanket had been ripped off me, I felt hypersensitive and raw all over – like everyone was staring at me & judging me -, so I wanted to slip back to the role of a child and seek the comfort of my mother’s lap. Only she could not provide it anymore. So I start keeping things from her, and from my family. …

Friday, November 11th
… I don’t know how to love people whom I can’t see, touch or hear. I am constantly seeing only parts of their lives, and call me a perfectionist/purist/extremist, but I can’t love like that. I want the physicality of love or nor love at all.
… Is family a structure in which the members need each other or want each other? Is it both? Or neither? Or does it depend on the individual family?
… Maybe I don’t feel confident enough yet to face my family’s opinions. Maybe, one day, I will be able to comfortably share all of myself without worry or fear or anxiety. Until then, I’ll keep my life to myself.

Saturday, November 12th
Behind being torn about the future lies a fountain of feeling inadequate and the lack of my belief in myself. The fear of not knowing myself. Not trusting myself to be strong enough to survive the world outside of the academic bubble.
… I am afraid to trust my words, as if they are an entity to themselves, as if I could mangle them if I touch them. Maybe that’s because they seem to just pour out of me when I enter this zone of beauty – no, of life – and thus seem sacred. It must sound very pretentious to say that my writing seems sacred, but it’s not the really the words themselves; it’s the experience. …

Monday, November 14th
… I think it’s our human need to be understood & accepted that leads us to tell the people in our lives all sorts of things. We want to unload our most selfish, self-indulgent, and shameful thoughts on them, in hopes that they will absolve us from our burden, so that we can be light-hearted again, just like children after having confessed that it was us who has broken that glass jar.
But humans aren’t gods. We aren’t all-accepting, all-forgiving. We are often impatient and pre-occupied with our own lives. Other people unburdening on us feels intrusive –
I know all this and yet – and yet I find myself wanting to revert to being a kid and dump all of my problems on someone else’s shoes. The first person I think of is my mother, of course, perhaps also b/c I’m reading To the Lighthouse for my class and I am fascinated & daunted by Mrs Ramsay. …

children in the zoo

They asked my name. I let the sound of my name roll through my mind, but it sounded off-key somehow, as if I had hit a black key while playing a C major scale. Even though I only knew a handful phrases in this new language, I could hear that my name did not fit into this new melody.

I thought I was watching a movie, seeing all these kids with their light hairs and blue eyes and exotic facial structures – I couldn’t say what was different, aside from the obvious color difference, only that it was different –, just as I had seen them in the movie theater or at home on DVDs. But in truth, it was me who was on display, and they all gawked at me like I was some strange animal. I think the reality hit me then and there like a sack of flour thrown on my head. I was the stranger. I was the different one, not them. For the first time in my eleven years, I saw myself from the outside, as if my soul had left my body and was critically examining it: black hair, black eyes, exotic facial structure, darker skin. Just, somehow, different.

They asked me what the name of my best friend was. What did it matter? Her name sounded just as wrong as my name. Just as off-key. Just another thing to single me out as different. I hated my voice as it came out in whisper, because her name was tainted now. I would think of her name and not think of us hanging out after school, waiting for her mother to pick her up (and me secretly wishing that I could borrow a ride); not remember the afternoons we spent screaming in laughter; nor would I feel warmth rushing through me when I thought of our history, our friendship. Instead, when I thought of her name, I didn’t feel anything. She felt hollow, so incredibly far way both in physical distance and in myself, as if I had dreamed her up and now that I was awake, she was gone.

The world was a cold, lonely place. I lost my name, my friends, and my past in the course of maybe five minutes. They weren’t gone forever, of course, but they were covered, and it was only much later that I found the tools to carefully scrape off the surface as to damage neither the first layer nor the hidden painting underneath.

But discriminations feel similar, independent of what you are discriminated against. So when I feel like I am the unluckiest, unhappiest child under the sky, I think of the other black, Asian, Latin-American, indigenous people; of people of ethnic minorities; of women; of Muslims; of people of religious minorities; of people with disability; of people of rainbow colors; of people from abusive families; of people with poverty; of people with mental illness; of people with physical illness.
I think, too, of the people who couldn’t understand my experience but who did listen; people who made me feel welcome; people who didn’t make a big deal out of the difference; people who respected the difference; people with smiles, people with kind words.
Solidarity gives you strength, but small gestures of acceptance and friendliness smooths the sharp, jagged edges of pain. Sometimes I think growing strong means feeling more pain; without the occasional healing, we’d all go mad. Kindness is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.

December 2016 – Part I

Friday, December 2nd
… Our relationships are fragmented. Friendships aren’t bound to geographical locations anymore. We literally have friends from all over the world, friends whom we see maybe once a year if we are lucky. … We are still able to build on these friendships. Time may chip away at the foundation little by little, but we can renew a coat when we see each other again.
But we are always so busy catching each other up on the major events that have happened. As consequence, I have no one to turn to with the everyday tales – no one to fully share my life with. When I need a warm shelter from an emotional turmoil, I have no immediate number to dial, because first I’d need to renew some intimacy bridges with my friends before I pour out my woe to them.

Tuesday, December 6th
Return to mindfulness, Day Zero. …

Thursday, December 8th
… My body and I have a difficult relationship. At most, I tolerate my body. I have not grown to love it in all of its angles and varieties. I still hate my body in photos. My immediate thought is, no one will want to hug this ugly body.
Bodies are so… messy. So loud, burpy, slick with all sorts of liquids and semi-liquids. Bodies smell, sometimes terribly so. They make all kinds of noises.
But bodies are also wonderfully soft and comforting. Surprisingly agile and adaptive. They are an extension of ourselves, because they are so expressive. They are very intricate and delicately balanced out. The tip of our tongue leans against our palate and teeth to create sounds that have the tremendous power to release us from this agonizing isolation.

Friday, December 9th
… The best thing about the performance was this incredible and instinctive connectedness. As the showtime came nearer, we started to open up more, to rely on each other, to support each other. Audience didn’t really matter, only to the fact that their presence helped to bring us closer. Before, during and immediately after the performance – we were close and connected in ways that differ from the immediate & almost automatic love of family, or the easy and comfortable friendship, or even the quick surge of love between lovers.
Our connection was more instinctive. Intuitive. A smooth flow of bodies and consciousness. There was no judgment, only compassion. No one hid or shied away from the group. It was a big, warm hug, cozier than a sunny wintry morning with a cup of tea and a good book in front of a fireplace, safer than being in my mother’s arms.

Tuesday, December 13th
… Being strong means going through the life being who you are (or who you think you are), trying to not kill your heart but instead trying to feel its every beat. Being strong means allowing your heart to be torn into pieces and putting them back together, and letting that change you. Strength is the humble acknowledgment that we can’t control all of our lives, that unfair things will happen, that by chasing after happiness, we lose the present moment. …

Wednesday, December 14th
What is gender? What does it mean, in this 21st century, to be a woman? A man? By now, these have become personal questions for each of us, since there is no generalizable answer.
I find myself torn between wanting to assume the “traditionally male” behaviors and wanting to keep the integrity of femininity, whatever the fuck that means. Perhaps I should stop labeling/gendering everything I do, and just do whatever strikes my fancy.

Friday, December 16th
… I was afraid to have opinions, because none of them were “fully” informed, and I feared people would criticize me for it. The only thing that has changed is that I have begun to just acknowledge the shortcoming in myself & everyone else, because our opinions are always going to be partial, incomplete, subjective, unfinished.

December 2016 – Part II

Sunday, December 18th
I can already feel it happening. The slipping. The slide into conformity. The strange metamorphosis that takes place inside me at this strange place called airport. …

Tuesday, December 20th
…An oppressive force that kills my creativity and causes me to be (or at least try to be) the Angel of the House. It’s no wonder my sister can’t create anymore. Her time and energy are demanded and allocated already. The scary thing is that this culture? system? makes you want to be the Angel, so you give up your time & energy voluntarily.
… I don’t want to hide who I am, but I am camouflaging already, on auto-pilot. As my grandma went on about finding a husband & etc., I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I have met a person who is making me feel all these tender feelings, and that she’s a girl. …

Wednesday, December 21st (Yule)
… Family is all-consuming – you are a part of the bigger puzzle; each of us has a role to play and burden to share (we all lay out our burdens and divvy up). Opinions to ask for, advices to be sought after, even if you have no intention of heeding them. Even when you are far away, physically, your place is reserved for you. Once you come back, you are expected to slide into your role seamlessly. The only alternative, so I feel, is to alienate yourself from the web so much that you are finally cut off, and the gap you leave behind is filled quickly enough.
There are things that I have to necessarily hide, but these deceptions/half-truths don’t torment me as much anymore. Perhaps because I’ve finally accepted that demanding from my family to accept me unconditionally will create too much of a weight on this fragile web. …

Thursday, December 22nd
… I was thinking about whether ‘angel of the house’ is an appropriate term cross-culture, then I realized that there already is a Korean term for this phenomenon: 착한 여자, or ‘good woman’.’Good woman’ has, in the Western societies, a sexual connotation, but in Korea, ‘착한 여자’ is a woman who neglects herself, denies herself rest and pleasure, and spends all her time and energy on taking care of others’ needs. Critical voices have already commented on the toxicness and impossibility of such an ideal, but the truth (as I see it) is, our [Korean] cultural expectations breed such women. It’s couched in terms such as kindness, discipline, filial obedience, but the result is the same ‘착한 여자’. …

Friday, December 23rd
This is the place where I stopped growing. Each time I come back, no matter how much maturity I have gained in the mean time, I revert back to an 11-yr-old, all irrational irritations & too easily bent under the family pressure (while exerting the same pressure on sb else and so keeping the family “together”).
You are to take up a free-time activity that can be put down at a moment’s notice. Nothing that requires your concentration, for that’s needed somewhere else. Grandma never had the leisure to write any of her thoughts down, so she resorts to speaking. Whenever she lies down to rest, when any of her children/grandchildren are over for a visit, she tells us stories – but more often grievances. There are so many unvoiced stories inside her. …
Sorrow. There is so much sorrow here. Sorrow and guilt. …

Monday, December 26th
… It is funny – almost scary, even – how one becomes attuned to the moods of the others in the same microcosmic community. There was something off about Dad tonight, he didn’t plop himself in front of the TV as usual. Whether he knew it or not, he craved human connection, so he sought it from us – his gezin. And perceiving this, it was impossible to leave this island of community to attend to my own things. …

Tuesday, December 27th
Saints are boring. They certainly aren’t humans. To sacrifice oneself – the body, the mind, the soul, the time – for others is very ego-less, but it also lets one off the hook about developing oneself. …

Friday, December 30th
… It’s a curious culture, ours. Or theirs. Or anyone’s. I think there is a certain advantage to living with their primary family, i.e. the family they are born with, until they found a family of their own. There’s less loneliness, for one. A certain psychological stability. But certainly, there are also disadvantages – not using all the years (20s, 30s, 40s even!) to develop their own identity, to experiment, to find out who they are, to grow used to solitariness (even if they never get married & live with their primary family forever, some day their parents are going to die).
… It still feels like my heart’s being torn, that moment of saying goodbye, the instant of physical separation. The moment when the reconstruction begins, the self dissolves, and my head enters the schizophrenic zone again. …

에쿠니 가오리

에쿠니 가오리(江國 香織) 의 책을 읽으면 과연 이 작가 책을 서양 언어로 번역 했을 때 잘 팔릴까, 하는 생각이 든다. 특히 지금 읽고 있는 책 (장미 비파 레몬 薔薇の木 枇杷の木 檸檬の木), 딱히 줄거리라고 할 수 있는 건 없고 오히려 십여명의 등장인물의 성격과 라이프스타일을 천천히 알아가는 듯한 느낌이 든다. 물론 영국이나 미국 시장에도 (다른 나라는 잘 몰라서 뭐라고 말을 못 하겠다) 그런식의 소설 – ‘literary fiction’ – 이 있지만 에쿠니 가오리의 ‘장미 비파 레몬’과는 달리 집중과 끈기를 요구한다.

역시 동양에서 자란 사람이라 어쩔 수 없는걸까.

아니면 에쿠니 가오리의 소설은 캐릭터의 속 깊이 안 들어가는걸까? 그렇지만 또 꼭 그런 것도 아니다. 물론 지금 동양국가에 사는 게 아니라서 잘은 모르지만, 그래도 지금 읽고 있는 책의 주인공들을 보면 2000년대 한국 사회에 (16년 만에 얼마나 많이 바뀌었는지!) 충분히 있을만한 사람들이라고 생각이 된다. 정은 있되 사랑 없는 부부생활과 어느 나라던 존제하는 짝사랑과 불륜, 아주 독립적인 여자와 연상의 보호와 애정을 바라는 여자까지, 실제로의 삶은 책이 그려낸 것 보다 물론 더 복잡하겠지만 (특히 시집 갈등이 없는 게 신기하다 – 일본은 좀 다른 문화인가?).

그런걸 다 떠나서 나는 책에서 우려나오는 그 편안함이 좋다. 영어의 ‘cozy’라는 표현에 그나마 제일 잘 어울리는 것 같은 그 포근함은 어쩔 수 없이 현실에 존제하지 않기 때문에 더 좋은 것 이다. 나는 성격이 워낙 전전긍긍하는 성격이라서 그런지, 혼자 할 일 없이 한 오후를 보내라고 하면 오히려 스트레스만 만땅 받을 사람이다. 오후에 개와 산책을 하면서 가끔 꽃을 사서 들어가는 도우코나 이혼할 생각이면서 아무렇지도 않게 꽃집을 운영하고 남편을 위해 요리하는 에미코의 삶은 내 불확신하고 1년 앞이 안 보이는 삶에 비해 더 안정적이게 느껴진다. 그리고 그렇기 때문에 위안의 환상을 안겨준다.

도우코나 에미코 같은 사람들도 자기만의 전투가 분명히 있을텐데, 괴로워하고 절망하는 면이 있을 텐데, ‘장미 비파 레몬’에서 에쿠니 가오리는 그런 모습을 보여주지 않는다 (적어도 아직 까지는 – 아직 다 읽지 않았으니까). 나는 나의 삶의 절반 이상을 그렇게 나 나름대로 힘들어 하면서 보냈기 때문에 (솔직히 요즘 시대에 그렇게 안 사는 사람이 어딨나) 내가 만약 글을 쓴다면 그런 모습을 담고 싶지만, 가끔은 이렇게 편안한 책을 읽으면서 영혼을 쉬게 해주고 싶다. 그렇지만 진정한 평화는 도피를 통해서 얻을 수 있는게 아니라고 생각한다. 개인의 전쟁을 치르지 않으면 안되는 것 이다. 그런 의미에서, 오늘은 여기까지.

Breaking the silence

Congratulations, you faced off your fear! Now buckle up and brace yourself for an onslaught of shame.

The decision to stop running and turning around is the first step, but it’s also the easiest step. What you see when you square your shoulders and turn your body – it might be smaller or less deadly than you imagined. But there is a reason why you were scared of this creature in the first place. 

We will cry. We will scream a silent cry as our hearts burst open and all the foul, sticky mess comes spilling out along with our life’s blood. 
We will avoid its gaze, because we are desperate enough to give in to our fancy that if we can’t see it, it won’t be able to see us, like small children who can’t comprehend the concept of reality outside of their sight.
We will despair at the enormity of our task, but there is nothing that we could have done to prepare ourselves. We have to kick its ass unscripted, inadequate and clumsy. We will fall on our own asses. We will sweat and bleed and let tears stream down our faces. We will rave like lunatics, and cower in the corner trapped by our nightmares. 

And we will stand again. Wipe the  tears and sweat and blood and look into the beast’s eyes again. Speak the truth again. Feel our shattered and pieced-together heart beat again.

I am exorcising the ghosts again – the old and the new, the real and  the projected. I am taking a hard look at my selfish, self-pitying, indifferent mess of self again, and trying to see the human in it.

A conversation with my inner voice

Hey.
Hey.
It’s hard getting up sometimes.
I know.
Climbing out of the bed and staying out of it requires all my energy and I can’t do anything else all day.
I understand, sweetie.
But it’s a good thing I’m still alive. I like being alive. I think.
That’s a good thing, then, isn’t it? I think it’s a good thing.
Yeah, I guess so. But I look around and feel so useless. How come I can’t do what everyone else can do? Getting up, taking a shower, eating, working, paying bills, shopping for groceries, squeezing in some time for hobbies or meeting people.
It might feel like everyone is doing what you just described without breaking into sweat, but I assure you, there are quite a number of people out there who are struggling as well.
But I used to be – normal. Efficient. People said that I was smart, that I had potential.
And now?

And now… I feel like a failure. Like a total waste of resources. I consume and consume and consume without giving anything back.
What is it that you think you should be giving back? Giving whom?
The community at large. The world, the universe. My family, maybe. I want my family to be proud of me, but when I am being honest, making them proud has nothing to do with me.
So why do you do it?
I try to do it.
So why do you try to do it?
Because I can’t bear to disappoint them, or to have them worry about me, or be sad because of me.
But isn’t that what a family does? Worry about you and care about you?
Is it? Sometimes I feel like – I’m afraid – they will see me just as an additional burden. Like, they have so many things going on in their lives already, they shouldn’t worry about me as well.
The same could be said about you. You have so much on your plate right now, why add the potential worries of your family to it?
…I don’t know.
I think that life isn’t a mathematical formula of give-and-take. It’s not like the market where you have a precise value for every single thing. If you can afford to be generous, you give more. If you are barely keeping your neck above the water, you accept more.
But I used to be – different. Better than now. Like, I could deal with life better.
I understand what you mean – but… is that really true? Or were you just better at faking it? As you got older, the list of your burdens got longer, not shorter. That’s what really sucks at being an adult.
But if I can’t cope with now, how will I ever earn money? How will I achieve true independence?
Does money scare you?
Yes. I’m afraid of the final black-and-white value put on my head. I’m afraid no one will think me worth their money. I feel so inadequate.
So you are not afraid of the work itself?
No – yes – I don’t know? I am afraid I won’t be able to do the work properly. But I understand the importance of working.
So your fear lies in…
…my inaptitude. Basically, I’m afraid I’m good for nothing. That no matter what kind of work I do, I won’t be good at it.
So if you are not good at something, you better not start at all? Is that it?
In a nutshell.
Have you thought about just doing your best, and let that be enough? Even if it was just okay-ish, and not brilliant?
But… no one is going to hire me for being okay-ish.
You won’t know until you try, will you? Tell me, do you really want to become a professor?
I… don’t think I’ll mind it much? Like, if I were ever good enough for such a position?
Why the question marks?
It’s what my father wants. It’s what my grandparents want. The job title sounds grand, and depending on which country you work in, the salary is good enough to guarantee a comfortable life.
Well, that’s great. Is that the kind of life you want?
I want to be a writer.
Ahhhh. Okay. Good.
I want to write, and I want to live simply. I don’t have to live in a big city. I don’t need much stuff, I don’t need the latest technology. When I get too lonely, I will get a dog and love him or her. I will grow herbs and vegetables and ride around on a bike.
That sounds lovely.
But you can’t make a living out of being a writer. Even the simplest life has to be financed somehow, so I will need a second job – something not too demanding, something that will leave me time and energy for writing. Something that will still pay the bills.
That’s practical, too. Unfortunately, most authors can’t survive on their writings alone, that’s the bleak reality of the industry. So what will you do?
That’s the thing – I don’t know! I also don’t know whether I will have enough guts to tell my family that I don’t want to be some bigshot – all prestigious and whatnot. I mean, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a financially successful and socially prestigious business person, right? So there should be nothing wrong with wanting to become a frugal, dreamy writer, either.
You know what – you really want this, go for it. Develope a plan. Leave room for errors and miscalculations. Start saving now. You’ve already started writing. Keep writing, even if you can’t earn a penny with it.
But there are all these Tentacles – I can’t focus.
Tentacles?
You know, like in Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story? That’s how Craig describes it. There are so many things to be done and so many interesting things that I want to be able to say I have done – just thinking about it makes my head hurt.
What things? What are your Tentacles?
Like, look at my university degree. Could you get more schizophrenic? I am studying English literature and linguistics, American history and culture and literature, and even Dutch! And I want to take Italian this semester! And there are so many wonderful books I want to read! And I want to spend more time on becoming a more spiritual person! So many people to meet, so many experiences to undergo! Who has time for all that?!
It’s funny that your Tentacles are actually the things that you enjoy… the things you are curious about. How about cleaning or cooking? Going to the driving school? Dealing with bureaucracy?
Well, those things are not really important important. Besides, they don’t require much of my mental energy.
So why are you interested in all those things?
I like knowledge, I guess? And being knowledgable makes me look smarter?
So it’s to show off? To tell the world that you are a great person? That you are a genius?
Isn’t that what everyone wants?
We are not talking about everybody. We are talking about you. Is that what you want? To be admired for your accomplishments?
No, actually… no. I don’t really care about all that because all that does not make me happy.
What does make you happy?
That depends on my moods… sometimes I want to connect with other human beings. Other times I just want to live inside my head.
Can you focus on that? Spend the most of your brainpower on doing that? Instead of scattering your focus in all sorts of directions?
But no one pays me to dream all day long. Plus, I would become a very dull person without the inputs from the outside.
Okay. So how about an attitude change? Sweetheart, I am sorry to inform you that you are just an average human, and your brain’s capacity for absorbing information and dealing with them is limited. What’s worse, all your constant worrying and anxiety are occupying quite a large part of your brain, making you less efficient.
So what should I do?
You don’t want to cut off your Tentacles, don’t cut them off. Instead, let them Tentacle their merry way. Don’t let them squeeze your heart and invade your brain. That means not letting them be relevant to the core of you. What is it that is relevant to your core?
Ah… being happy. Being helpful, when I can. Love. Loving. Writing. Reading.
So all those languages and histories and theories do not make the cut, yes?
I guess not. No. No, they don’t.
Well then, learn about the theories and write papers on linguistics and learn how to say How do you do in seventeen different languages, but don’t let them identify you. Hobbies are supposed to make you happy, not make you feel stressed out. You are supposed to have fun with them! Because they are not a part of your core, making gross mistakes and being bad at them shouldn’t matter.
Huh. So… none of that matters.
None of that matters to you. And that’s okay.

Writing therapy

When I write personal pieces on my blog (which is the majority of my posts!), I don’t write with an audience in my mind. I couldn’t write if I did. It is intensely therapeutic to publish writings that are extremely personal to a potential audience who do not know me (there might be a few exceptions). It is safe precisely because of the anonymity, yet strangers can find something they can relate to in my words, because we are all humans, and similar experiences connect us.

I also keep a journal and write letters. In fact, all my writings are private in nature. For a long time, I thought I couldn’t call myself a writer unless I wrote in an established form of genre, such as fiction or essay. It still sounds pretentious to think I’m a writer, but I am one in the purest sense of the word. I am a person who writes.
I first started a voluntary diary when I was in the sixth grade, and for the next five and a half years, I wrote more or less regularly. I picked it up again after a year and a half, and have kept it up since then.
While journaling has been extremely helpful with keeping my emotions in check and voicing my innermost fears, insecurities, hopes, and dreams, my blog was the place where I would gather my thoughts and try to construct a narrative of sorts. There are especially pieces that go back to my childhood, and today I am so glad that I took the time and often also the pain to deal with the part of my childhood that I’d rather bury and forget.

The past does not forget us, though. It haunts us until we dig it up from the depth of our consciousness, and deal with it in one way or another. Even so, even after a cleansing relief so sharp that it leaves you feeling empty, you will return to the site of digging years later only to find that the pain and the hurt is still partially there.
I have a driving instructor who sometimes reminds me of my father in the worst way possible. For weeks I hadn’t understood my reaction to his reprimands, to that critical tone of his voice. Then it hit me last week as I was doing dishes, just like that. His tone, coupled with his words and expressions sent me spinning back to my childhood and adolescence, and I was again a child or teenager bracing for the verbal blow, anticipating it and yet surprised anew at how deeply it sliced into my heart until I felt like it would stop beating.

I usually don’t advocate poking at old wounds again and again without giving it a chance to heal. Well, I still don’t. But it’s worth examining them just to see whether they are healing as they should, or whether they have become infested again.
My relationship with my father is still very complicated. It has gotten much smoother ever since I opened up a little last year. Since then, it has improved so much that I had forgotten that up until a year ago, I was still being smothered by the past and present hurts.
The incident with my driving instructor brought the past crashing down on my head, but thanks to having worked on the issue on many occasions in the past, I do not have to start from zero. I am not a victim of verbal abuse and parental neglect – not anymore. But it is scary, and quite frankly just plain sad how power the past traumas still can have over me. Maybe because I have never put my past experiences in those terms: traumas. Maybe I am giving my past more power than it deserves. All I can do right now is to validate my feelings of terror and pain, and let them stand for themselves.

I’d like to think that in many ways, writing has saved me. It has helped me to release unhealthy anger, and to bring reason and order to my whirlpool of emotions. However, it can do only so much. After draining the wound, I still have to find ways to treat it and dress it and look after it. But it’s better than letting the wound fester.

I am enough, not good

What does it mean to be a good person?

Twice in the last seven days I have heard that I am a “good person”. My first reaction in both instances was to deny it. Inside, I was screaming, You just don’t know all the selfish, indifferent, careless sides of me!

It is dangerous for me to get attached to other people’s evaluations of me. Their praises are like drugs – an instant reward to my system, and after the rush has abated, I crave another. Soon my “good deeds” turn into making other people approve of me by becoming whomever they want to see.

For a long time I thought being good was to be selflessness itself, to devote yourself to other people until your body, mind and soul broke. This was the model of goodness I picked up sub-consciously in my culture. During my teenage years and beyond, I would fall into bouts of deep-seated self-loathing because I couldn’t or wouldn’t be this kind of “good”. I felt inadequate, a waste of space and resources. I still fall back to feeling this way sometimes.

It is easier to hate myself than love myself. Easier to criticize than accept. Better to be miserable than happy and guilty.

Because all I had ever wanted was for my imperfect self to be picked up by other people, and soothed, accepted, and loved by them. By displaying a textbook attachment behavior, I was hoping to receive unconditional love. If I couldn’t get love, I wanted pity, or sympathy, or something. That’s a lot of burden to place on any human being, let alone on fellow thirteen-year-olds.

In the end, when I was swimming in the misery and drowning, I started accepting the idea of being enough. That I was enough, just the way I was right now. I picked up my own screaming inner child, soothed her, held her, and promised her I would be with her. I realized that I was the only one who was fully responsible for taking care of myself, and I was also the best candidate for the job, since the need to wear a mask was considerably weaker.

With this new resolution, the definition of being a “good person” also changed. Now the priority lay in taking care of myself first. If I didn’t, I’d be a burden to others, and it would be unfair of me to expect them to pick up the slack. What this “taking care of oneself” contains is different for everyone and you have to decide for yourself. For me, it translates into taking care of my physical needs – sleep, nutrition, exercise (although I am very flexible with this one, haha), health -, setting a boundary to other people’s needs, learning to recognize when I am stressed out and what to do about it, and forgiving myself for being a human.

I am not a good person. But I am enough the way I am.

I try to treat other people the way I want to be treated; I try to be open-minded and understanding; I remind myself that I can’t know what others are feeling or thinking since I haven’t been in their shoes; I try to be helpful where my help is wanted or welcome.

I think there is such a comfort in helping others. It feels good to be needed, because being needed somewhat confirms that our existence isn’t useless or meaningless. However, I don’t want to help others purely to feel good about myself. That’s a selfish ego-gratification. It’s also not true that some disasters will happen without my help. The only thing I want is to make the world a teeny tiny better place, or at least not to make it worse. But the moment my actions become all about pleasing others, I will lose myself.

I am not an emotional person – at least not anymore. I tend to panic and forget myself when I am overwhelmed by emotions. Maybe that’s why I am wary of human connections, although at the same time I crave it, because my need for connecting with other people is a very human one. Thankfully, I have met great people in my life with whom I can be open and vulnerable each time our paths cross. It’s like a series of connection/merging and disconnection/individualization, and it suits me just fine. A long-term connection is quite another matter, and I am not sure whether I can tolerate it.

First Year Is Over

I haven’t been blogging in the past six months or so. Every now and then, the desire to keep my life private creeps up on me and makes me hate the sight of my blog, which has been up and running for more than three years now (a fact that always manages to dumbfound me).

What happened in those six months is largely irrelevant now. I visited family, met old friends and made new ones. Learned a skill or two, forgot a thing or three or fifteen. I wrote diligently in my diary, re-read a lot of old favorites, watched TV series and movies whenever I could.

A semester has passed. Instead of feeling smarter, I am filled with a mixture of dread and indignation at the realization that I am very ignorant and there are so many things I don’t know about, and there won’t be enough time to learn about them all. (Also, my brain wouldn’t support me in this endeavor anyway.)

I think in the first semester I was filled with motivation and the self-conscious need to prove that I made the right choice. So I purposefully overbooked my schedule, struggled to keep up the course reading (at least 100 pages a week, which, admittedly, isn’t a lot), ended up skipping quite a few classes, and my attention was always trying to be everywhere when really, everyone knows I suck at multi-tasking.

I decided to try a different approach in the second semester. I cut my class load in half, made sure I had enough time to prepare classes and go to library and plan large assignments weeks ahead. This approach left me more relaxed and allowed me to go in-depth with the subjects. At least, it did in the first few weeks. Then life happened, my time and effort were needed elsewhere, too, and I ended up falling behind on the preparations, and the deadlines for the big assignments had already snuck up on me. So, re-prioritization happened, then exams happened, then the semester was over.

Mentally speaking, I had my annual winter blues in the first semester, but on the whole I was so happy to be alive and to be studying what I wanted.
How fast humans get used to being comfortable, and seek for more “comfort”! I am still happy to be alive and doing what interests me. But I am also filled with self-doubt even though external evidence suggests otherwise, and I have to think about what happens after my B.A. degree, and whether I want to have an exchange semester. This feeling of inadequacy is probably a universal human feature.

Of course, by writing only about my academic life, I am not telling the full story. Or at least a fuller story, for no one – not even me! – can tell everything about my life. I started growing my own herbs. I’ve been good at taking care of myself, and I am learning to be more accepting with self-care and self-love.
When it comes to other human beings, my growth undergoes more rollercoaster-like changes. I often find myself in loneliness. It is not a loneliness that seeks a specific role to be fulfilled. I am not aching for a concrete person, either. It is a more general loneliness, the kind we can rarely escape from. Even when we are connected with other people, there are parts of us that feel disconnected, estranged, neglected. This is of course totally normal since we are individuals and all differ from each other. This spot of loneliness becomes a danger zone when it begins to spread and take over our perception of everyone and us. Its toxins are uncertainties and crippling doubts. Is the person really with me because s_he wants to be? Are they tolerating my presence just because they are bound by social norms? Would they meet me on their own volition if all social duties were stripped away from them?
The “dangerous” part of deciding to be authentic is that you always run the risk of people glancing at the vulnerable, real you and carelessly moving on, because they decided you don’t look interesting. This isn’t really anyone’s fault. No one can force anyone to like or be interested in anyone. But especially when you are not sure who you are yet, when you find that you don’t have strong opinions about many things because you realized that you know so little and you want to be open-minded, having your plainness confirmed can be devastating. Even though you resolve not to let anyone’s opinion determine your self-worth, your wound still bleeds.

Maybe we all of us are lonely beings, and our imaginations of a tightly knit community of people who understand us perfectly and love us tenderly are just that – imaginations. Even if you were lucky lucky lucky enough to be part of such a group, sometimes time and distance place even the strongest bonds under strain. Maybe this is why we are so much more vocal on social media about our relationships with others. The photos, the updates, the comments, the tags – they all hint at such fun, heaps of intimacy, best friends foreva.
Have I become a cynic who doesn’t believe in any relationship anymore? Actually, if possible, I’d like to think I am developing a more positive attitude towards human relationships. Maybe the reason we focus so much on our relationships with others is to escape from the fact that we are lonely beings at core. As much as we might like someone, we cannot understand everything about them, or maybe even accept all of their faults. We’d like to believe our own pretty words when we tell someone that they will always be special to us. We take better care of others in hopes that they will in turn take care of us. At the end of a day, we simply might not have the energy to take care of anyone.

Does your heart grow with exertion or is a heart’s capacity more or less limited?