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. …

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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.

Plain Truth – I

Plain Truth is my 6th Jodi Picoult book, yet the thoroughness of her research (at least seemingly thorough – I’m not an expert on the Plain people by any means) and the realism of her story continue to amaze me, even though I expect them by now from her.

I bought this book almost thirty months ago because it had the name “Jodi Picoult” on it. I started reading this book a couple of days ago because I was interested in the way the Amish lived – without electricity, keeping to themselves, feeding themselves and living in a simple way. It’s like Sarah Fisher said in the book. “Normal” people show up one day at Amish farms, thinking living Plain is the solution to all their problems. I have no clue whether this is true. But sometimes I do, too, long for the simplicity of life. (But there’s no way I’m becoming Amish because I’m secure in being atheist.) I wonder what it will be like to live and work in a farm, sustaining myself without relying on the world’s heavy and tangled web of market economy. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid of growing up, of taking my valid place in the society that I wish all choices were taken off my hands. Maybe, if I worked all day and had no time to question and analyze my values and future plans to death. Unfortunately, there are two problems following this thesis: 1. Given how I am, I’d still continue to think and express doubts about what I am doing is correct. 2. I’d still be no closer to the answer than before.

I’m not going through existential crisis this time, because I already did and left it behind me. Now I’m just constantly trying to squelch the fear that I might not succeed. By succeed I don’t mean becoming a top-notch lawyer like Ellie Hathaway in the novel (I’m still appalled that she got rapists and child molesters acquitted in order to become a successful defense lawyer.).  I just want to have a healthy job with reasonably pay and secure future. The rest -being happy, spiritually grounded and morally healthy- I can take on or, at least it requires hard work from me but with input there is output. I’m just worried that I think too highly of myself because people praise me based on my grades. In a society where having good grades implies that you are smarter and somehow “better” than your fellow students, I fear of being overcome with Hochmut. Being able to boast knowledge about atomic physics does not give you the right to look down on people who don’t know about what you consider basic knowledge. People -especially the Korean adults (maybe other Asian societies, too)- consider your value as a person heavily based on your academic accomplishments. But some people just aren’t meant to be academics and analyze ancient texts, pore over books and write long papers using fancy words. Their strength lies elsewhere, and who says we have the right to put mental labor above physical one?

Indirectly, the book Plain Truth helped me realize this because the Fisher family and also Samuel Stoltzfus taught me what being humble truly means, and it has nothing to do with denying your accomplishments and everything to do with not placing yourself mentally on a higher level due to the said accomplishments.  Wikipedia defines humility as selflessness, as egolessness. I call it equality.