I packed up my life this week. While sorting my belongings into “pack,” “donate,” and “trash” piles, I realized that there were a number of luxury items that had gone untouched.
Homemade candles, unlit.
Organic argan oil, and my favourite perfume, barely used.
Specialty food goods like truffle salt and saffron, saved indefinitely.
What’s the point in buying these items if we don’t use them and enjoy them? I had this frustration growing up with my mom’s fancy china that was always on display, but never on the table. Despite proclaiming to do differently, I failed.
It’s more than just luxurious treats though. I didn’t just pack my stuff; I packed my life. Left my job. Gave away most of my possessions. Re-homed my pet rabbit and turtle. Said goodbye to my home, apartment, neighborhood, and a city I love so dearly. In saying goodbye, the deep beauty of everyday moments is truly, magnificently revealed. These last few days I’ve been trying to savour every moment, trap them in my mind, and appreciate them as much as possible. This is why you should carpe diem every damn day. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
What does it mean to identify? Is it how close you are to the other members of the group? Is it how important this characteristic is to you, and how it affects your thoughts and feelings? Is it how important this characteristic is to society, and how people treat you? Is it how proud we are to be it? Is it the degree to which we attach it to our personality?
It’s interesting to see the words that people choose to identify themselves, and also what they identify with more. We all choose our own ways to describe ourselves. This is how I identify, with stronger items that are more core to my being at the top of the list. Some items on the list refer to a mindset, which is just as important as tangible conditions.
- I am a part of the world.
- I am transient (*mortal).
- I am an earthling.
- I am human.
- I believe in love. I believe in loving all beings, in love’s power to conquer all, and I’m a pacifist.
- I am open.
- I am female.
- I am a young adult.
- I am middle-class.
- I am the child of immigrants.
- I am an optimist.
- I am inquisitive.
- I am intellectual.
- I am independent.
- I am creative.
- I am adventurous.
- I am a biker.
- I am an environmentalist.
- I am a US citizen.
- I am black**.
- I am tall.
- I am plain.
*I had an extensive conversation with a linguist-enthusiast friend about using transient to mean mortal. Mortal focuses on death and the end of life. Transient has a broader lens. It’s about existing in this world for a short time; passing through. It has larger implications: that this world, this experience, this dimension is perhaps not all there is. Of course, I mean this in the Stephen Hawking/ Rick&Morty way, not in the heaven/hell way.
**I realize that this is shockingly low on the list, especially compared to how high on the list “female” is. Racially, I’ve had a unique experience, I guess. A uniquely pleasant experience. Past the age of 8, I lived in mostly white communities. Affluent, educated, worldly white communities where I’m treated as an equal, a neighbor, a peer, a friend. I don’t expect prejudice when I interact with white people; I expect to be treated with respect. That’s an important distinction, I think: seeing racism as the exception, not the rule. The effect that this has on one’s mindset is profound.
I want honesty, openness, vulnerability. I want to be direct. I want to ask for what I want. I want to share how I feel. I want to know how you feel. I want to ask all the questions, even the hard questions that challenge my prejudices, my opinions, and the idea I have of who I am. I want you to ask the questions that linger on your tongue for fear of offending me, or getting hurt. I want to be REAL with people. I want to talk about pain and fear and dreams and hopes. I want to hear about your hard times, and what you learned from them. I want to be with you through your lows as well as your highs. I don’t want to hide under a social media mask that only shows the pretty, cool, impressive, successful parts of life. I want to value the less palatable experiences just as much, for I’ve learned that they have the potential to bring so much grace, patience, and understanding of people and the world at large. They offer a rare opportunity for true, deep connection between people. I have suffered alone too many times, and I know far too many people who have suffered alone as well. As Alan Watts said, “Just as manure fertilizes the plants, so the contemplation of death, and the acceptance of death is very highly generative of creating life. You get wonderful things out of that.”
I’ve failed a lot on my quest for more authentic relationships, and I’ve lost a couple of friends along the way. But I’m not giving up.
And that’s ok with me. I’m just surprised I didn’t admit this to myself sooner.
I look at the people who succeed here, and I’m not like them. I’m never going to be eager to fulfill my boss’s needs. I’m never going to make small talk or networking a priority for me. I’m never going to have a 5-year plan for professional growth. I’m never going to dedicate my ambition to a company. I simply don’t want to do these things, and the benefits they bring don’t have value to me, nor are they worthy of my energy.
I’m like a grumpy dog, too stubborn to do tricks for treats. I’d refuse to get off my ass. You want me to roll over? Beg? Shake your hand? FUCK YOU AND YOUR DUMBASS TREATS! That’s basically how I feel about the corporate world – doing a lot of fake, dumb, meaningless actions to get treats (income, prestige, and a way to impress people when they ask what you do).
I’ll cautiously take this one step further. It’s more than just the corporate world. I feel this way about society. Society is our harshest judge, and our most fickle critic. Why should we judge ourselves by the values of others? Why do we assume society’s values instead of thinking critically and finding one’s own values? Because it is difficult. It takes a lot of strength of self to eschew the masses and hold on to one’s self. There is immense strength in each artist that chooses to sacrifice the will of society and the pressures of the world in order to pursue their own work. There is immense strength in people that are unsatisfied with the answers they are given, and choose to look further, think deeper, explore existentially in order to find something that speaks to them, that makes sense to them.
I look at this modern world, and don’t see the world. I don’t see the Earth, our humanity, our animality. Rather, I see us abandoning our truth. Our true selves are not groomed, edited, styled, nor poised. Our true selves are messy, scared, naked, curious, emotional, and humble. We lie about ourselves. We hide ourselves. We cover ourselves in makeup and fashion, showing only our best angle to the camera, and to the world. We curtail our speech, we suppress and ignore our thoughts, saying only what we hope will be well-received. And in doing so our true selves are subdued, often to the point that we don’t even know our true selves, and sometimes to the point of near non-existence. The profoundness of our sadness, the transcendence of our ideas, the brilliance of our questions, the delicacy of our love, the creativity in our ponderings, the sincerity of our fears, are all lost in the effort to be palatable to society. Society doesn’t value these things, so we have learned to hide them in order to protect our vulnerable selves. But what is more human than the things we experience so deeply within ourselves? What is more real? So much of what we do and what consumes our minds and our time serves not us, but others, society. And that is a betrayal to our selves.
Who are you? What will be revealed if we strip down the bullshit we layer on ourselves to insulate us from society’s judgement, and satiate our ego? Who are you without the job, the house, the car, the posh friends? Who are you without the rules of society, without the expectations of others? Who are you without the ideas our peers have of us being the funny one, the artsy one, the athlete, the DJ, the hipster, the goth? Who are you without the impressiveness of your accomplishments, your fancy vacations, your athletic achievements, your GPA, your instagram followers, your sarcasm? Who are you without the cute shoes, the smokey eyes, the (sic) swole muscles, the #beardgamestrong? Who are you without the pretense?
It’s not that these things aren’t valuable. The question is, is it valuable to YOU? Do you do it for yourself or for the effect it has with others? Are you an athlete because you’re good at sports, or are you an athlete because you intrinsically love it? Be not an athlete. Be someone that loves athletics. Be not a writer. Be someone that loves to write. Be not a misfit. Be yourself. Stop obeying what others tell you, and decide for yourself.
“There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with their IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world”
-James Kavanaugh, There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves
I can be super emotional. I honestly didn’t even know this about myself until about a year ago, when my dad (who I call a “zen master”) said something like “Sometimes I feel like maybe I’m a bad person, because I’m not as deeply affected by things as you are.” That put it into perspective to me, for I find my dad to be incredibly empathetic. I am empathetic even with situations that don’t relate to me personally. The best example of this is here, but I also deeply connect with this character’s description here, and the long quote in large font here.
I’ve noticed that in the last few months I’ve barely cried. I was a little depressed in the winter/spring. (I should mention, that depression to me is not sadness, it’s absence of feeling, which makes me feel alive and connected.) It was mainly winter blues, but partly because I have no fucking idea what I’m doing with my life – something I now find to be a blessing.
You don’t think in depression that you’ve put on a gray veil and are seeing the world through the haze of a bad mood. You think that the veil has been taken away, the veil of happiness, and that now you’re seeing truly. It’s easier to help schizophrenics who perceive that there’s something foreign inside of them that needs to be exorcised, but it’s difficult with depressives, because we believe we are seeing the truth. (Soloman)
I cried on March 31st when I shared the dullness I was experiencing with my dad, finally admitting to myself that I need to take my emotional health into my own hands and get myself to a better place. I stopped distracting myself with TV and wine, I surrounded myself with great friends, and I started meditating and doing yoga. And miraculously, on April 17th I found myself literally dancing in the woods out of happiness! It’s the fastest and most dramatic recovery I’ve ever experienced!
I cried on my birthday. The good kind of cry. I used to get bummed out by my bday, because I think of it as a day where I should get to do what I want, yet that’s rarely the case. This year was one of my fave bdays ever! I threw myself a small party and had friends over for champagne cocktails, pizza, and cake. Exactly what I wanted. See how happy I am? My dear friend Ikram gave me a card and wrote this poem in it. All the feels took over me!
Was passt, das muss sich ründen,
by Adolph Selmnitz (see full poem here)
What suits has to round/form each other
I’m so embarrassed to share this, but this video of Obama singing Amazing Grace at the funeral for those killed in the Charleston church massacre made me tear up at my desk. I tend to remain neutral to politicias. But Obama’s been pretty damn impressive. This video made me cry because it’s so rare that a person in a powerful leadership position shows such genuine empathy. All politicians kiss babies, but this dude mourned in public. Now that I think about it, he’s been the most authentic politician I’ve been exposed to. He adheres to his values despite the potential dissent from the masses. That’s admirable.
Selmnitz, Adolph. Den Mond Wollt’ Ich Dir Schenken Poetische Präsente. Comp. Hans-Peter Kraus and Werner Schmitt. on Demand, 2015. Print.
Solomon, Andrew. “Depression, the Secret We Share.” TED. Oct. 2013. Web. 30 June 2015. <https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share?language=en>.
“My type of people” can be very divisive. If you’re celebrating something you have in common with a group of people, you inevitably exclude a lot of people too. And there’s also the idea of not being cool/nerdy/artsy enough. It can very quickly become judgmental. I’m not black enough for black people. I’m not Haitian enough for Haitian people. I’m not Jamaican enough for Jamaican people. And I’m not American enough for Americans! I’ve been out of place in each group, so why would I identify with them, especially when our “bond/connection” is arbitrary? Nobody chooses to be born of a certain race or nationality. So why would we use that to judge one another?
Ancestry is just that: ancient. It affects the genes we have and how we look. But we choose who we are.
It bothers me that this sometimes guides not only hate but also love – why is interracial dating so rare? In so many TV shows that have one token black character, he/she rarely gets a romantically involved with one of the existing characters, rather another black person comes in to fill that role. Are you missing the subtext? Why did my Korean college roommate only have Korean friends? Koreans were the minority at our school! I personally think the idea of choosing your friends or mates based on their ethnicity is gross, disgusting, pathetic, shallow, close-minded, horrible, and wrong. Just imagine all the awesome people you’re missing out on.
I can’t shut up about this. I’ve written about it before.
*I may be dating an “aggressively white” person (his words, not mine) at the moment, but I actually wrote this months before we met.
**Though, maybe this is all just a part of how much I love juxtaposition. I love contrast in every weird way you can imagine: visually, my love for black & white patterns; socially, I love breaking stereotypes by working in a male-dominated field and being my own handywoman at home; my philosophical thoughts about crying in public; musically, in high school I loved songs that mixed rock and rap; now I love rap & r&b mixed with electro; the Flaming Lips’ version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon; all these crazy flavor combos in my cakes; and even the contrast between my the two main characters of my favourite book, Leo and Alma, after whom I named the moon and sun, respectively. I thrill in the unexpected! I find the chaos of life to be beautiful and inspiring. I especially delight in cities where people of all types and all backgrounds cross paths unexpectedly (it’s what I truly love about the USA). The way we can find something in common with absolutely everyone. Convergence. Unity. Oneness. Humanity.
Significance is subjective.
Different people attach different meanings and weights to the same thing. Two quick examples:
- My mom was hurt and insulted when I chopped my hair off a few years ago without mentioning it to her. She would have spend months debating that decision, consulting with all her friends, family, stylists, strangers on the street – anyone who could help with what is a major decision in her eyes. For me though, I thought about it for an afternoon (or less). It just made sense to me – my relaxed hair required heat styling that was ruined as soon as I hopped on my bicycle that I ride daily, and impeded me from jumping in the lake whenever I want. I made that decision hastily and never looked back. And it was fun to surprise friends and family with my new ‘do! It wasn’t significant to me, but it was significant enough to my mom to cause harm.
- In France, the custom is to call someone a boyfriend/girlfriend after a single date or kiss, and to expect exclusivity. In the United States, we put a lot more significance on the idea of exclusivity, and on the titles “boyfriend/girlfriend,” so those tend to occur much later than the first date.
This goes hand-in-hand with the idea of perception being the filter through which we see the world – and we all have different filters, therefore deriving different meanings from the same occurrences. My good friend Nirankar pointed out to me that I place a lot of significance on things. It’s so true, but I wouldn’t have been able to notice that about myself. That’s just how I am.
Here’s a list of things that frustrate me endlessly. Aka, the biggest rant of my life.
- Judging without understanding.
- Don’t just tell me I’m weird. Ask why I’m doing this thing; then decide how weird it is.
- Assuming things instead of asking questions and listening.
- Obviously closely related to #1. But I had to admonish the word “assume” and promote questioning and listening.
- Not answering questions clearly and specifically.
- Almost every time I ask a person “what is the movie about?” they tell me who the actors or directors are.
- Many times at work I ask a yes-or-no question or ask for instructions, and I get a history lesson or story instead. I ask not because I don’t know the complexity of a situation, but to get clarity on how to address it.
- Idolizing people.
- Idolize is defined as “to worship as a god; broadly: to love or admire to excess”.
- All people are fallible. All people have weaknesses along with their strengths.
- This especially applies to the way people treat celebrities, and “fandom”. You can appreciate a person’s work, talents, and contributions without idolizing them.
- This is hard to describe in specifics, but generally you can call Beyoncé a music genius, but don’t call her a fucking queen!
- Failure to ask for what you want. Directly! Repeatedly!
- If you don’t share your needs/wants/frustrations, you can only blame yourself.
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