For Women (who like to laugh) Only

forwomenonly

May 20th is a commercial festival for lovers in China. You may ask what that is. Like Singles’ Day (11/11) which is an unofficial festival to celebrate being single (1=single),  May 20th (or 5/20) is considered lovers’ day because the Mandarin for 5-2-0 (wu er ling) sounds close to “wo ai ni” which is Mandarin for “I love you.” I know. It’s just a reason to go shopping which seems to be  young Chinese people’s favorite pastime.

I’ve heard several young Chinese talking about this day, and somehow I was reminded of a conversation I had with a twenty-something friend where she lamented her boyfriend-less situation and how difficult it was to find Mr. Right. I wasn’t very sympathetic with her because it isn’t actually that difficult for a young woman like her who is tall, attractive, well-traveled and smart. In fact, lots of young men from her university like her, but as she says, “They’re not handsome nor smart enough.”

That’s the real problem: she’s waiting to meet someone who is handsome AND smart! In this area, she isn’t so smart.

I think there are only four kinds of men according to how realistic women view them for their looks and smartness:

  1. The BBC-DOCUMENTARY type. This is the kind of man you can listen to for hours. He can talk about a variety of subjects, and you just feel you are growing in intelligence just by listening. Never mind what he looks like! You don’t have to sit facing each other over a cup of coffee; you can just walk next to him and talk and listen and walk and talk and listen. That can be romantic too. 

  2. The TOO-HOT-TO-LISTEN-TO type. This man is your multivitamins for the eyes. Just looking at his handsome face makes you smile. Never mind if he’s telling a tragic story about the death of his dog, you don’t hear it because your mind is somewhere else with him where he’s not talking. It doesn’t matter if that mouth is  spewing out pseudo-intellectual or even idiotic statements. It’s not meant for words anyway! (Incidentally, my young friend prefers this to the first type!)

  3. The GHOST type. This type of man you have probably been with for too long that you can’t stand looking at his face or listening to his voice, but for some reason you’re stuck with him.  Nothing he says makes sense to you. Nothing he wears makes you want to look at him.  So you just let him talk, but you don’t hear him; he walks about the room, but you don’t see him. (Honestly, I don’t know why some people insist on being together when being so only makes both parties unhappy!) 

  4. The OCCASIONALLY-HANDSOME-AND-SMART type. The occasion being when you’re in a good mood and you find him so adorable and so smart. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. What is handsome to one woman when she’s happy, may become ugly when she’s unhappy. This kind of man’s handsomeness and intelligence all depends on your mood. He can be the handsomest and the smartest when you’re in a good mood, but he can also be a candidate for the third type when you’re in a bad mood.

This is a superficial observation, and I’m writing this just for fun (partly to comfort my young friend). But what I really want to say is, sometimes we cannot choose who we are attracted to, and sometimes too, the very thing that once attracted us to one person may be the very thing that we would one day find most annoying about that person. Hence, these emotions we have towards people are truly unreliable. It is always wiser to listen to reason than to our emotions when we choose someone with whom we have to share the rest of our lives.

Have a lovely week(end)! It’s already weekend for me! Yay!

T.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflecting 

Sunrise over Visayas, Philippines. I took this photo early this month on a trip back to Mindanao. 

It may sound cheesy but … the beauty of the sun reflected on the the ocean made me reflect on the beauty of nature. And I’m grateful for this beauty and for being able to witness and experience it. 

T. 
Weekly  Photo Challenge: Reflecting 

Daily Prompt: Exposed 

“Violet by  a mossy stone 

Half-hidden from the eye …” — Wordsworth 

I saw this beautiful little flower by the side of the road during my morning walk last weekend. From a distance, it truly looked quite ordinary  but, since I had not seen this kind of flower before,  I knelt down and took a closer look.  I thought it was beautiful, so I took this photo. 

This particular violet flower is no longer “half-hidden from the eye.” Its beauty is exposed for my readers to see. 🙂 

Have a lovely week! 
T. 


Daily Prompt: Better


Blue, blue sky

White cottony clouds,

Cool breeze blowing the hair from my face,

Warm water touching our feet,

And your soft little hand in mine

Holding tightly, afraid of being let go,

Days like this are few and far between

And make moments like these

More precious than anything money can buy.

Until next time, my dear son,

When things will be better
.

Weekly Photo Challenge: DANGER!

The sign says: Boardwalk is broken-down and needs to be repaired. Do not use.

But in the evening, young people (call them adventurous or foolish) still walk or sit on this decrepit boarded path.


When you’re young, you tend to think you’re invincible. You  tend to ignore danger.

But when you’re no longer young, you can’t afford to ignore it.

Have a lovely week!
T.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wanderlust 


I’ve been taking this same early morning flight every month for over a year now. Each time, the beauty of the sunrise amazes me like I’m seeing it for the first time. 
This time though, before heading home from the airport, I decided to stop at the beach just 15 minutes away from the airport, so my son can enjoy the early morning breeze and play with the white sand in the cool, clear water. 


It was truly a beautiful Saturday morning with the family, especially with my son, on our beautiful island of Mindanao. 



Weekly Photo Challenge: Wanderlust  

Hidden Beauty in Nature’s Design 


I saw this flower yesterday for the very first time. I haven’t gotten around to finding out what it’s called. The colors and their arrangement really attracted me. 

Today’s Prompt is “spike.” From this angle, one cannot see the spike (stalk) that holds the flower together, yet, though not as conspicuous as the petals,  it  is part of this flower’s beauty.  

Have a beautiful weekend!
T. 

Daily Prompt: Spike 

Daily Prompt: Jolt 

A KIND OF ODE TO THE DURIAN 

They say you are 

Thorny 

Heavy 

And stinky. 

But when I see you 

When I smell you 

This tired and sleepy body 

Jolts into wakefulness…


I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the smell of durian as much as my sisters HATE, HATE, HATE it. Like they say, “its strong, pungent smell either delights or repels. ” 

Durian: does it jolt your appetite? Or does it jolt you into running as far away from it and as fast as you can? 

Have a lovely week! 
T. 

Daily Prompt: Jolt 

Easter Thoughts on “The Young Pope”

Photo credit

          Even if you are not Catholic but like stories that are character/theme-driven and thought-provoking and makes you pause and reassess your faith or values or both, then you would probably like this TV series.

          I agreed with this CNN review of The Young Pope when I watched the first half of the first season. I thought the development was too slow, and it was almost painful to watch. But my friend was certain I would like it (and you have to trust your friends, right?) Indeed it turned out to be one of the few TV series that I truly enjoyed not because it’s entertaining (I don’t find it entertaining) but because it has a cathartic effect on me as a viewer (me being raised Catholic, a woman and mother). I find the dialogue quite well-written and added to the picturesque shots of the Vatican, the show seemed to me like a literary novel with sound and imagery.

This is perhaps the only TV series that made me grab the tissue so many times in its last 4 episodes, not because it is sentimental but because the characters, finally fully developed in the latter half of the season, are shown to be all broken people who try to be whole. What truly resonates with me is the mother-child motif which is central to the story. (As a mother who works in another country and only gets to embrace her son 2-3 days a month, I am easily moved by scenes of children missing their parents, their feeling of being abandoned, unloved.) The feeling of being abandoned, of being unloved by the very people you expect to love you because they brought you into this world, is ever present in the young pope.

Watching this show where characters deal with memories of their painful childhood, infertility, broken dreams, faith crisis, etc. – all part of being human, can purge a viewer of the pain and pity and fear that these sufferings evoke. That is what it did to me anyway, not because I went through all of these things myself (I didn’t), but as the characters are fully developed, there is empathy for what they have been through; and, I may not like what they did but understand how and why they became who they are.

         (Spoiler alert: Stop reading if you don’t want to know details of the show!)

This show also makes use of dichotomies, the ones most obvious to me are the following:

Free versus Determined
Cardinal Gutierrez and Cardinal Kurtwell were both abused as a child, but their respective responses to the abuse were quite different. Both are homosexuals, but Gutierrez is strongly against sexual abuse whereas Kurtwell insists that what he has become (preying on the powerless, especially young men) is a result of the abuse he suffered as a child. The Pope praised Gutierrez for turning his fear into anger and becoming an advocate for victims of abuse.

What this dichotomy made me think is the idea of free will and determinism. Are we truly free to steer our lives into a particular direction, like Gutierrez did, choosing NOT to be an abuser like Kurtwell, but defending those who are being abused as he once was?

One may say Kurtwell was simply making the abuse he suffered as a child as an excuse for what he really wanted to do as an adult – abusing young men. But then again, how much of what we do is dictated by our inner desire, and how much of this desire is brought about by the many different factors that influence our everyday lives?

Will a child born into a violent family but grew up with a loving and gentle adoptive family become violent as well? Nobody knows for sure because there are other factors that will determine his personality later on, one of which is genetics.

And then there’s the brain. (Please click on the link to understand what I mean.)

Old versus young
The title is deceiving. The pope may be young but he feels and sees himself as old. In one scene, he refers to Sofia as being one of the young people, to which Sofia replies that they are the same age. Yet the Pope tells her, “We used to be the same age.” As he is now the Father of millions of Catholics, his “age” accelerated with the many responsibilities that go with being pope.

The Pope also adheres to the old practices of the old church when the Roman Catholic Church exerted enormous influence in people’s daily lives. (Not unlike Trump, he’s willing to build a new and stronger wall to keep out those who do not agree with him.)

In his last conversation with his friend Cardinal Dusolier who asked him, “When are you gonna grow up?” the Pope answered, “Never. A priest never grows up because he can never become a father. He will always be a son.” Later when Dusolier expressed his desire to go back to Honduras because he could no longer bear being in the Vatican after a young man who had wanted to become a priest jumped to his death from the very spot where they were standing because the Pope’s new directive disqualified him from entering the seminary, the Pope answered him in words that may seem very heartless, insensitive but to me are very reasonable and so true: “If you give up now, now that you’re faced with the burden of responsibility and your own guilty conscience, when will you ever grow up?”

What does being grown up mean? Does it mean pretending not to be hurt by the painful past? Or does it mean acknowledging that same painful past while facing the present with all its challenges?

Imagination versus Reality
In his conversation with the Prime Minister, the Pope mocked the Prime Minister who had just given him statistics (reality) on the unpopularity of the church (particularly the Pope) and his (the Prime Minister’s) growing popularity among the Italians. He said the PM lacked imagination of which he (the Pope) and God have so much.
To me what best exhibits this dichotomy is the story between Lenny (before he became a priest) and the young woman he met in California. They spent a week together, and he had a wonderful time with her. The young woman told him he could touch her legs, but he never did. Yet the very fact that he didn’t, made this non-event even more firmly implanted in his memory. If he had touched her legs, most likely he would have forgotten whatever happened between them before that “event”! But because he didn’t, the scene is like frozen in his memory (think: Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn!)

Imagination is more powerful than reality.

Lost versus Found
In an unsent letter to the young woman he met in California, Lenny recalled the time the young woman told him he could touch her legs, but he didn’t and wrote, “There, my love, is love lost…And you shining gleam of my misspent youth, did you lose or did you find?”

The Pope, his childhood friend Cardinal Dusolier, Sister Mary were all orphans, abandoned by their parents. Did their parents lose them? Did they lose their parents? Or did they find each other and became, the three of them, a family?
          Perhaps when we lose something or someone, we only have to look and realize that something or someone else has found us.

Happy Easter!

the young pope

Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise 


This is the second time I’m posting a photo of the sky looking like this. And this is from the second time I saw it like this. The Chinese call it 火烧云 (huo shao yun) literally translated “fire burning sky.” 

Each time, the sight surprised, amazed me. 

Nature surprises. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Security 

A rainy Friday afternoon
Couples huddled under one umbrella
Bodies touching
Feeling secure
In each other’s arms.

A lone egret
On a quiet boardwalk
Soaking wet, yet
Looking secure
Even as it flew
Alone in the rain.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Security

On “Engaging Autism”

on autism1

          As it is Autism Awareness Month, I feel I should do my share in promoting awareness of this condition which affected my son. Even though I suspected ASD as soon as he turned two years old, it wasn’t until E. was 2 years and 6 months that he was diagnosed with ASD. And even though, I was quite sure he was autistic even before the diagnosis, it was still devastating when I read the diagnosis. It was like a death sentence. But that was so 2013. We have since accepted, embraced his autism and just keep looking for ways to help him.
          These days I’ve been reading Engaging Autism by Stanley I. Greenspan and Serena Wieder. We’ve had this book for almost 4 years now. It’s one of several English and Chinese books my husband bought after our son was diagnosed, but at that time I really could not focus on reading about autism. Now I wish I read the whole book 4 years ago. I would have been a better mom.
          Today I want to share with those who are interested in reading about autism some of the things I learned from the book.

1. If they are under stress, autistic children can resort to scripting which they use in a “self-stimulatory way, to pull away and organize themselves.” Instead of telling off a child for scripting, the caregiver can try to understand that perhaps the child is under stress, what caused the stress and help the child to de-stress.

2. Do not yell at a child who is exhibiting undesirable behavior. Autism is a neurological disorder, and autistic children’s nervous systems work differently. An autistic child may crave certain sensations or have sensory problems. My son went through a phase of chewing on whatever he could get his hands on – books, pencils, plastic spoons, my iPhone (!) He also went through a phase of playing with spit, and he spat on everything he happened to like – his favorite books, his favorite spot on the couch, his favorite corner in the bedroom, the sliding doors, etc. There were times when I was so tired and sleepy, but he wasn’t and just kept “blessing” everything with his spit that I lost it and yelled at him. That didn’t stop him, of course. He just kept doing it. Thankfully he finally got over it.

3. When an autistic child is having a meltdown, do not think he is just being naughty or being manipulative and scold him because most likely he can’t hear you and therefore can’t understand you. A meltdown actually shows “real helplessness. The child is feeling so disorganized that all [he or] she can do is kick, scream, or sob. The fact is, young children don’t have a lot of control over life. And they aren’t always able to understand why they can’t do what they want to do, or have to do things they don’t want to do.” I have witnessed this several times in the past with my son. Fortunately, I had learned this early on and did not scold him during or after a meltdown. I would just look away, make soothing sounds sometimes and say, “It’s OK.” I’ve seen other children having a meltdown and the parent yelling at the child to be quiet which only led to the child screaming louder.

4. “…Overstimulation of the child by too much activity and various physical and emotional changes” can contribute to meltdowns or regressions. When my son is left to watch his favorite videos on YouTube during the day, he will most likely be up all night scripting and stimming. Although I’m grateful for these videos which have helped him with his language, excessive exposure to electronic devices such as the iPad and smartphones which he learned to use at such an early age, is detrimental to his development.

5. Meltdowns and regressions can also be brought about by changes in diet and nutrition. (Conversely, a change in diet and nutrition can improve a child’s behavior.) The book only mentions that if a child “gets more sugar or more chemicals in his food as usual” he may “get more reactive to emotional stresses that he could ordinarily handle.”
          But having read about the Gluten-Free/Casein-Free diet, I honestly believe that what certain autistic children ingest can have a strong influence on their behavior because I have seen this very clearly in my son. I have often talked about this with parents and caregivers of autistic children that I have met. Most of them are sadly skeptical and most likely have not given it a try. In Asia where MSG is a staple, it is very difficult for a lot of households to even think of cooking without it. But my son’s behavior has certainly improved with an MSG-less, additive-less diet. He used to be hyperactive and laughed for no obvious reason, but he has since changed. Now he has a restricted diet of rice, meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. I only let him drink water and homemade juice (with honey to sweeten it).

Every autistic child is unique, but some have the same speech or behavioral problems. I hope this humble sharing can be of use to the reader. 

Have a lovely week!

T.

Daily Prompt: Purple

One of my sisters is crazy about things purple. So far she hasn’t thought of dyeing her hair purple, or maybe she has but can’t bring herself to do it, which is good.

So whenever I buy her something, I make sure it’s purple. One good thing (for her, (but not so much for me) about her obsession is whenever I see something of this color I immediately think of her, and even if I’m not interested in the thing itself, part of me is tempted to buy it for her.  Grrrr.


When I saw these flowers on campus, of course I remembered my sister. Luckily for me, she’s not crazy about flowers.

Have a lovely a week!

T.

The Daily Prompt: Purple

Thoughts after Reading Gogol’s The Overcoat 

I’m not entirely sure if it’s mere coincidence that last night I read Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat , and this afternoon, I watched the second episode of The Young Pope where Jude Law’s Pope Pius XIII spoke to the faithful for the first time, and he said something like we have to be closer to God than to each other, that he will never be closer to the people than he is to God because we are all alone before God. 

Akakievitch’s death was truly tragic, just as tragic as his life. Tragic to the reader, anyway. If he existed in our times, he would probably be diagnosed as being on the spectrum and would get some help. But in the story, in his adult life, no one cared about him. 

The quote I pasted on the photo reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a few years back. I told him how the sight of so many people who came to my father’s funeral made me think there would be very few people who would come to my own funeral because as I grow older I’ve become less sociable, less friendly. Especially now that I’ve been away from home for 14 years, and most of my friends and former students have left the city or the country, and I don’t visit friends or relatives whenever I go home; I don’t attend family (clan) reunions….

At my mother’s funeral last year, I was moved by the number of people who came to condole  with us. A lot of them I’ve never even seen before — my sisters’ co-workers and friends, my mother’s former co-workers and students, my father’s former co-workers. It was comforting to see so many people cared about my family enough to come to my mother’s  funeral. My parents were luckier than Akakievitch. 

Now and then I would remind my husband not to die ahead of me, or I would never forgive him. We often laugh when I start talking about this, but we both know I am serious. No way he’s dying before me. Good thing is we agree this is a good idea. 

Having said that, I’ve decided to try to be a little more sociable again. Not because I want people to remember me, but because I want my husband and my son to find comfort in the thought that they’re not alone, that there are people who care enough to come to my funeral. 

In today’s society where fake online friendships are common, will people care if one day you just disappear? Or will you be like Akakiy Akakievitch whose death mattered to no one? 

On Kafka’s The Trial

Franz Kafka became one of my favorite authors after I read The Metamorphosis. The two stories In the Penal Colony and The Hunger Artist” were just as interesting to me. More than a couple of times in the past years I tried to read The Trial, but I couldn’t finish reading it. Until two days ago, that is. 

After reading the last few sentences of this novel, (even though I hate to admit that this came out of my mouth,  but it really did) I went, “WTF?” And to me, that’s what I am supposed to take away from the novel — that it was simply absurd. That life is absurd. 

The only way I can explain what this novel seemed to me like is: Imagine you are dreaming, and in your dream you are the same YOU in your waking life; and even though everything and everyone else around you is acting strange, you react in the same way you would in your reality. 

The whole time I was reading, I kept asking the questions, “What was his crime? What did he do? Why weren’t they telling him? Why didn’t he insist on being clearly told what his crime was?” 

Reading this novel gave me the same kind of feeling (though not literally) that the main character, Josef K., had when he went to the court offices for the first time: “It was as if he was suffering sea-sickness.” The novel just kept getting stranger and stranger as I read. It was not like this with The Metamorphosis where I was prepared for the strangeness because right at the beginning, I knew it would be strange because — who wakes up and finds himself transformed into a giant insect? 

This novel might not have made me question and ponder on things like Dostoevsky’s novels have, but  it’s left me with a very strong feeling that life can truly seem absurd, surreal, that if we look closely into our day-to-day life, we would find a lot of absurdities. 

 ————- 

My weekend starts on a Thursday evening, so…I hope you have a not-so-absurd weekend. 🙂 

T. 

“Mothers are all slightly insane”

(The title is from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye)

mother

Having arrived back from the Philippines for two days now, I am missing my son so much. I think of the few days I spent with him and recall his smile and his scent and his little arms when he hugged me. And then I go to class looking miserable. Life.

When I’m with my son, I feel like I’m a human jukebox who sings whatever he wants me to sing, or recites Frost’s “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening,” or one of his books. Most of the time, I forget lines from the book or skip some and he promptly corrects me, having memorized almost all of his books and Frost’s poem which I’ve recited to him since he was only 4 days old. (Yeah, yeah. It’s my favorite poem, so.)

My son’s musical taste ranges from classical to pop to nursery rhymes. My husband made him watch Barnabas Kelemen’s performance of Mozart’s violin concertos since he was only five months old, so he is quite familiar with the notes of the concertos. He was so into this video that during his ABA therapy sessions, the therapist used the video as a reinforcement. When the therapist asked me what videos my son liked, I told him about Barnabas Kelemen’s concert. He just wrote it down and said he’d check it out and use it as a reinforcement. The following week he said to me, “So this is classical music? I thought this was some cartoon character or animation.” I thought that was funny.

Although I’m not really a Katy Perry fan, for some reason I got into singing “Teenage Dream” to my son to make him sleep when he was a baby until he was two years old. I would hold him and rock him to sleep while singing this song. And then one day when he was about three years old, I heard him singing a melody which I thought was familiar and realized it was the lines from the song, “You make me feel like I’m living a teenage dream, the way you turn me on./ I can’t sleep/ Let’s run away and never look back/ Don’t ever look back.” Yikes.

These days, though, he likes Franciscus Henri’s version of “Six Little Ducks.” I don’t know why. He’s known these rhymes since he was a baby, and he still likes to listen to them and when I’m around, he makes me sing some of these. A few days ago, he made me sing “Six Little Ducks” so many times (perhaps to make up for the days when I wasn’t around?) And each time, he rewarded me with a tight-lipped smile that seemed to say we shared a secret together. It is a kind of a secret. No one can sing “Six Little Ducks” like his mother — with feelings. My son is used to seeing me act goofy. I wonder what goes on in his mind when he’s watching me sing his favorite nursery rhymes complete with action and facial expression. But seeing his smile is enough to make me go on being goofy. I’m a clown.

Whenever I think about acting goofy in front of my son, I always remember my mother and how goofy she was with me. She was the goofiest woman I know, and that’s what I missed most about her. It felt kind of strange when, talking with my sisters, we had different memories of our mother. They said they did not really see the affectionate side of our mother, that she was serious and strict with them. She was that too sometimes, with me, but I remember her hugs and kisses and laughter more. I remember telling her she was not like other mothers, that she was crazy in a good way. She was the kind of mother who didn’t mind being called “cat” and would respond with “Meow.”

My mother was not perfect, but she had an interesting personality. She can be a good character for a novel. Maybe one day I’ll be able to write about her, which is what she used to ask me to do — “Write about me. Write a poem for me.”

It’s been a year since she passed on, but somehow I don’t really feel she’s gone. I only do when I think about it, then the memories come flooding back and I feel sorry for her, for what she went through during the last months of her life.

This post was supposed to be about me being a mother, but I’m ending it with thoughts I have of my own mother. I guess there’s a lot of my mother in me even if there are some things about her personality I do not want to inherit. Meow. But if what I got from her will make my son remember me with fondness, then I’m grateful. I would like my son to remember me with a smile or with a laugh.

‘Mothers are all slightly insane.” – J.D. Salinger

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish 

This week’s theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge is “Wish,” which is quite apt for my situation at this moment when I’m at the airport, again, to go home and see my son and be with my sisters as we remember our mom’s passing a year ago this month. I was informed a couple of hours ago that my connecting flight has been cancelled due to maintenance work on one of the air traffic radars. 

This is just a 5-day trip, and I have to be back at work on Wednesday, but now I might have to spend a day in Manila and waste time not being with my son. 

I’ve used this photograph before, but he is all I can think of right now. 

My wish is to see my son tomorrow. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish 

Thoughts on compassion: a crying lady, a podcast and the brain


As I was walking back from work to my apartment the other night, I passed by a young lady talking on her phone and crying . I couldn’t understand what she was saying (my Mandarin is not good enough), but I felt sad for her and said a little prayer — that she’d be healed of whatever hurt she has in her heart right now.

 That wanting to pray for this crying stranger came so spontaneously. And it reminded me of the time I tried to become a nun and had evening prayers with the Sisters. Every night we would gather at the chapel, pick up a breviary and pray together. There was always time for prayer requests, and at least one of the sisters would always, without fail, mention praying for those who were sick, at home or in the hospital, those who were traveling, and those who were heartbroken….

Why pray for strangers? (I think even an atheist has some way of expressing their hopes that somebody in pain can be healed of that pain.) 

Every time I read or hear something about how the brain works in different people and affects their perception, behavior and just about everything in their lives, I cannot help feeling sorry for human beings who are judged as sick or evil. 

Everyone of us has a story to tell; and everything we are or have become is a product of not only what we have been through in our lifetime, but also of what our brains are like. I honestly believe that if we truly know a person — not only what he is, but more importantly, how he became what he is, there is no way we can ever feel anger for the person, no matter how “bad” he is. We will only have compassion for such a person. 

I am not saying we can excuse every criminal act and simply set the perpretator free. But fully understanding a person is a reason to help a fellow human being become better out of pity, out of compassion. Rehabilitation, not death. Perhaps this costs a huge amount of resources that, one can argue, are better spent on other endeavors; but if we truly care about the human race, I think it is the right thing to do. 

In one of my previous posts, I wrote about the brain and compassion. I think I am repeating myself, but so be it. I am reminded of this topic after listening to a podcast of the Australian Broadcasting Corportion Radio National called “All in the Mind.” The topic was prosopagnosia or face blindness. 

This was an eye-opener for me because I was more often than not, sensitive when it came to not being recognized by people I had a meaningful conversation with. I was almost always offended whenever someone I had a good conversation with, especially more than a couple of times, all of a sudden couldn’t recognize me when I run into them again after just a few days. I have always taken pride in being able to remember people’s faces and names, and certain things they tell me about themselves. It’s a skill I consciously studied and learned after reading about how people like it when you remember their names. So, I tended to not like those who didn’t remember me. 

Learning about prosopagnosia, however, made me realize, yet again, how self-absorbed I still am even after years of trying to be otherwise. I am not saying that I now consider everyone who cannot remember me as having this condition because there may be those who are really pretending not to remember me for whatever reason. I should not react negatively if people don’t remember me because whatever reason is behind it, if I get to the bottom of it, I would most likely understand and forgive them. 

This may seem easier said than done. (I’m having one of those I’m-feeling-very-kind-today days, so I’m not even annoyed when my friend didn’t show up after telling me yesterday he’d show me a funny clip of Bradley Cooper.) But it can be done. We can try to be less self-absorbed and understand why certain people in our lives are the way they are, and if we honestly believe they need to change and they are capable of changing for the better, then we should help them. Who knows they may be able to help us, too. 

Have you ever prayed for a stranger? Was it easy? 

Have you ever prayed (or sincerely wished) for someone you don’t like to have a peaceful/wonderful/blessed life? If yes, was it easy? If no, would you? Can you? 🙂 

                                                          ————————- 

My weekends start on Thursday evenings, and I’ll be flying home soon! Have a lovely weekend!
T. 

WPC: The Road Taken (The Caves of Guilin, China)

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

When I went to Guilin in 2009,  it was the first time I ever got inside a high-tech,  beautifully lit cave. I say high-tech because it had an elevator inside. The only cave I’d been to in my country was extremely dark and had thousands of bats inside!

So when I was told we were going inside a cave, I was expecting bats.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see it was wonderfully lit for people to see the beauty of the stalagmites (I don’t know why I don’t have pictures of those) and stalactites.

These photos are almost ten years old, but hey, I can still use them. 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

T.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAguilin2SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Road Taken 

Second Wind

jmuaft13

JMU stadium

I have been running almost every night for almost two weeks now. I can now run 800 meters! Yay! I know it’s nothing to most people, but friends, both old and new, know that it was never easy for me to run. 

The first time I ran, I only finished 400 meters. Halfway through, I was already out of breath, but remembering what my best friend (number 2) used to say to me when I got tired during warm up for our taekwondo lesson, “Wait for the second wind! Wait for the second wind!” That was so twenty years ago, yet I can never forget the many times he reminded me of the “second wind.” 

jmuaft14

JMU stadium

I think no matter what we do, we always have to wait for the second wind and not just give up.  I have to remind myself of this when I get tired of working on something (which is what I’m going through right now.) 

As for running, I told my husband perhaps we should aim for joining a 5K race next year! He thinks it’s too ambitious of me, but hey, I can TRY, right? 

Here’s hoping you get your second wind, if you’re tired of doing something these days. 

T.

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Good Match 


I don’t know what it looks like to you, but to me it looks like the tree’s wearing a trained skirt! A tree naturally dressed in authentic leaves designed by the leaves themselves!

Perhaps it’s not good for the tree to be “dressed” as such (some ivies can choke and kill trees they say), and the workers have probably taken them off after the Chinese New Year break, but at the time I saw it, I was just struck by the image and took a photo knowing, one day, I’d be able to use the photo.

This week’s photo challenge is to post pictures on the theme “A Good Match.” As I often have to spend several minutes thinking of what skirt to wear to go to work, when I saw this tree what came to mind was, “Wow! This tall and slim tree looks nicely dressed in a green trained skirt!” Lol.

Let me know what this tree looks like to you! 🙂
Have a lovely weekend.
T.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Against the Odds


I’m back on WordPress after over a month of silence! 

The reason for the silence was I spent all my time and energy making sure my son had a fun birthday and a memorable holiday with us, his parents, in China — his home for 5 years. 

E. is on the spectrum and less than six months ago, his OT reported he has low muscle tone. Although the biggest problem is on his fine motor skills,  he still can’t throw a ball that far nor kick a ball hard. My husband bought him two bikes, one in the Philippines where E. goes to school now, and one for here when he is on vacation. He had not really learned to pedal before coming here in January, and when my husband saw him ride his bike for the first time, he thought it would take E. at least six months to really learn. 

But I took E. biking everyday while my husband was at work. And when weekend came and he saw E. riding his bike effortlessly, there was such a proud and  happy look on my husband’s face that made me wish I had taken a photo of it. It was just priceless. 

My husband has always been pessimistic and believes it will take our son forever to learn anything. In a way it is good because he works hard and always thinks of ways to help E. I am the exact opposite.  I always believe E. is capable of learning, and I get frustrated easily when he doesn’t learn things quickly. But whether slowly or quickly, what he does learn always makes us as happy as if we’ve won lottery. Lol. Yeah. We are that easy to please. 

E. learned how to ride a bike during this winter break. Against all odds. (Weekly Photo Challenge)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Resilient 

A super typhoon struck the city three months ago, knocking down many of the trees and uprooting a few others. On my way to the apartment from the airport, I noticed a huge change in the city from what it was before I left and the typhoon hit (yes, I missed one of the biggest events in the city’s history!) It was so dark and fellled trees were everywhere one week after the typhoon.  And  later, I learned that in some areas people had no water nor electricity for over a week. 

Thankfully, the local government did a great job of organizing the clean up and restoration of electric and water services, and the citizens themselves went out of their way to help others and clean up their respective areas. 

For several weeks after that, I did not hear chirping birds from my balcony. But now they are back. The trees that had remained standing after the typhoon have grown new leaves — a beautiful green. 

This city and its people have bounced back from the ravages of Meranti. They are as resilient as its trees. 

I wish you and your loved ones a peaceful and happy 2017. And should the storms of life come you way this year, I hope you will be resilient enough to bounce back and be stronger. 

Happy New Year!!!
T.

WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE: RESILIENT 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Paths 

This week’s photo challenge theme is “Paths.” And these photos of a runway symbolize my hope for a straighter, smoother 2017. 


It is quite apt for me to summarize my year with photos of a plane (part of it) and a runway, as this is the first year I found myself on a plane at least four times a month for 11 months (May was the only month I didn’t travel).  

The first quarter of this year, the reasons for flying was my son’s visa and my mother’s deteriorating health (and passing). The rest of the year, I flew home every month to see my son just for the weekend. 

My 2016 path was full of bumps and potholes. I hope (and pray to whoever can hear up there!) 2017 will be straighter and smoother, like a runway!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

T. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Paths

On Ideal/Real Men as Heroes 

      Two incidents brought this blog topic to mind. The first was my friend laughing at me for always, in our conversations, referencing Jack Bauer of “24” (portrayed by Kieffer Sutherland, who I still ADORE after all these years. He will always be Jack Bauer to me. Lol.) The second was reading the narrator’s description of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch (good luck remembering the spelling!) in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (The Devils). 
So why do I like Jack Bauer so much, even when he cold-bloodedly killed, assassinated, mutilated his enemies? Of course he is the “good guy” in the series. I know Jack Bauer is not a unique action “hero”; most action heroes are just like him: tough, cool, gentle with women and children, and merciless with bad people. (So I guess I like Jack Bauer because he’s Kieffer Sutherland!) 
Today I found the answer in Dostoevsky’s description of Nikolay:
 “Stavrogin would have shot his opponent in a duel, and would have faced a bear if necessary, and would have defended himself from a brigand in the forest as successfully and as fearlessly as L—n, but it would be without the slightest thrill of enjoyment, languidly, listlessly, even with ennui and entirely from unpleasant necessity. “
     “Without the slightest thrill of enjoyment…and entirely from unpleasant necessity. “
To me this is what distinguishes a real man from a child or a bully. When a real man defeats his enemy in a REAL fight, as in battle, (not in sports nor any game,) he does not gloat. He does not laugh. He does not feel proud at having killed another human being. Rather to him, it’s an “unpleasant necessity.”
There are bad people. “Bad” as society have judged them — the likes of former dictators who died a brutal death in the hands of their own people. The people’s anger is justified, but I find very disturbing that one can laugh about the very violent and public death of these people. If you find joy in killing a murderer or in watching his violent death, what makes you different from him?
Jack Bauer never smiled nor laughed after killing his enemies. You can say he’s a fictitious character. True. So is Nikolay. But why are these characters created? With fiction being based on reality, is it because there are REAL men like Jack Bauer and Nikolay? Or is it because these are what we hope our heroes should be?
Only a child or a bully (an adult with the mentality of a child) or a sick person, can smile or laugh at the death of his enemy.
Real men/women, tough men/women would not find the “slightest thrill of enjoyment” in defeating them.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Anticipation 

Jimei Sunrise

This week’s theme  for the weekly photo challenge is anticipation. 
Part of my ritual upon waking up in the morning is to go to the balcony and look at the sky. Since we moved to our new apartment in September, I haven’t stopped looking forward to having my son come and see what I liked about this new apartment.  I know he doesn’t like change, but I also know he would enjoy looking up at the sky as much as I do, and watching the sunrise and in the evening, looking at the moon and the planes flying to and from and the airport at a distance. He will enjoy walking and running and riding his bike around wide, open spaces. 

I look forward to having him join me and his father again, being together as a family again. 

Anticipation. 

Have a lovely weekend! 
T. 

Old Age and Dependency in Neruda’s Don’t Go Far Off

dont-go-far-off
Mindanao, Philippines 

Don’t go far off by Pablo Neruda

Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because —
because — I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

I like the hesitation expressed in the repetition of “because,” as it seems the speaker seems unsure whether the reason he is going to give for asking the other person not to go too far even for a day, would be reasonable enough for the latter. And to me, he succeeded in sounding convincing with his use of the imagery of the empty train station – empty of not only people, but of the trains as well as they are “parked off somewhere else, asleep.” This last line of the first stanza emphasizes his feeling of emptiness – everyone and everything else has gone and they are asleep (not dead, just having a rest), which I think signals what the speaker himself is going through (revealed in the last line of the last stanza.)

Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

His demand not to be left alone becomes urgent as he argues even an hour would be too long. He knows himself and knows that slowly but surely anguish will come in full force. I think “smoke” here refers to fear that can overwhelm a person and make one’s heart rate grow faster thus “choking my lost heart.”

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,

Whereas in the first and second stanzas, he gives reasons for not wanting the other to leave him (he will be waiting, feeling empty; he will be full of anguish and be heartbroken), in the third stanza, he reveals further that he is not only thinking of physical distance, but emotional as well – “may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.” These words show the total dependence of the speaker to the other person. He never wants to lose sight of this person (“Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;”), nor to have this person not being in the present with him. From not being able to be without this person for a day, then for an hour, then for a second, the speaker obviously relies heavily on the other person for his existence.

because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
I’ll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

Normally, I would be very cynical about people being too dependent on other people, emotionally. But I totally understand that certain people like the elderly and young children, and people with certain developmental disorders cannot help being so. And this is how I see the speaker of this poem. He is not a young and healthy man in the best years of his life. Rather he is old, and nearing his end and fears dying alone. This is not a man speaking to his lover, but a mere human being asking the one he trusts not to leave him, physically and emotionally.

This is not a love poem.

A couple of times, I have heard old men, who when they were young, were once brave soldiers and then, stern fathers; but, as they became old and frail, they became fearful of being left alone, begging their children not to leave them. This, I find extremely sad.

This is perhaps the saddest Neruda poem I have ever read.

 

Here’s the Spanish version (probably the original)

“No lejos de mí un solo día”
Pablo Neruda

No estés lejos de mí un solo día, porque cómo,
porque, no sé decirlo, es largo el día,
y te estaré esperando como en las estaciones
cuando en alguna parte se durmieron los trenes.

No te vayas por una hora porque entonces
en esa hora se juntan las gotas del desvelo
y tal vez todo el humo que anda buscando casa
venga a matar aún mi corazón perdido.

Ay que no se quebrante tu silueta en la arena,
ay que no vuelen tus párpados en la ausencia:
no te vayas por un minuto, bienamada,

porque en ese minuto te habrás ido tan lejos
que yo cruzaré toda la tierra preguntando
si volverás o si me dejarás muriendo.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: New Horizon 

My not-so-much-into-the-arts husband was so impressed seeing this work of mine, but my more artsy friend asked me if my five-year-old son did this. Lol


This week’s photo challenge has the theme: New Horizon. It asks participants to “think ahead” and “imagine your new horizon.” 

I think I am always thinking ahead and imagining new horizons, but the problem is actually doing something to get there. 

So I guess that’s me sitting on the boat, looking out at the horizon, wondering what’s on the other side.  Perhaps most islanders think like this. 

This .year though I am actually doing something to get to that new horizon. I just hope that boat is strong enough and I’m strong enough to paddle. Lol. 

Have a lovely weekend! 
T. 

Solitude in the Age of Smartphones

solitude-2

            In today’s society, people are more comfortable with being physically alone, but only because they have their smartphones to keep them company. “Alone but not lonely” has taken another meaning. But when you come to think of it, people who are alone among strangers are not really alone when they have their phones that they use to communicate with multiple people at the same time. They are probably even busier than when they are in face-to-face communication with other people, because with their phones, they can multi-text, or multitask.

                I personally think it’s nearly impossible to let a day pass without using the smartphone. I know I cannot, especially when I am living away from my young son, and every day I video chat with him and my family to make sure everything is alright. Businesspeople would probably lose money or business if they miss a call or message from an important client. Employees and students may miss an important announcement. Truly I can understand how difficult it is for people who have already made online communication an integral part of their lives, to forego using it even for a day.

                However with people’s addiction to social media and online games to pass time, people are  getting farther and farther away from knowing the one person that they should know best: themselves. It is sad seeing adults posting numerous pictures of themselves and what they are doing on social media. One can forgive young people, as they are still growing and their brains have not fully developed (until mid-20s), and therefore, neurologically speaking, cannot be considered mature or be expected to act or think like an adult. But quadragenarians and older should know better (unless their brains, too, have not as yet fully developed.)

         With social media addiction, it seems people know more about what other people are doing than they know themselves. And that is all they know – what others are doing. They do not really know the person they are “following” (or  really, stalking) because, online, there’s hardly any sharing of thoughts, only small talk. Worse, social media can cause undue stress to people who post or read information, as everything that is made public can be commented on and used and abused by all kinds of people with all kinds of I.Q., E.Q. or mental condition.

         I am not against technology or social media at all. I know its benefits. I use them every day of my life. But I hope people will find a way to use technology and social media in more meaningful ways. They can certainly make our lives easier, and they should. Technology is supposed to help humans live more comfortable lives, not a stressful one. Technology has allowed us to have more time for ourselves, and this is one of the greatest gifts technology has given us. We can be more human – we have more time to think, more time to feel, more time to know ourselves and become better people.

     And we can only achieve that if we know ourselves first. We need solitude – not only to relax or relieve stress, but also to know ourselves better and be able to understand others better.

       Next time you have stress, try putting your phone away, be quiet and try listening to your heartbeat, and then to every single sound that you hear, be aware of every movement that you feel or see, every scent. Just be in the present. The more you do this, the sharper your senses will be. And you’ll know your body. And you’ll know and understand yourself. That’s better than sighing after playing Bejewelled, don’t you think?

“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                               -Marcus Aurelius

Weekly Photo Challenge:Relax 


Nothing relaxes me more than being alone and quiet on a quiet beach– feeling the ripples touching my feet, seeing the waves at a distance and hearing their rhythmic sound like a mantra, smelling the briny scent of the sea and feeling the breeze on my skin. 

I had lots of quiet moments at quiet beaches back in the Philippines. I have one precious memory of being in a stilt-hut a few meters from the shore. It was part of the property owned by the Carmelite Sisters at whose monastery I was having a one-week retreat. One week of quiet except for a one-hour visit three times that week from the retreat directress. 

Whenever I get overwhelmed with tasks and life, and I cannot go away to have some quiet time on the beach, all I do is recall that time of solitude — quiet, and peace, and self-awareness. And that’s enough to relax me. 

May you have a relaxing week. 🙂 

T. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relax 

Weekly Photo Challenge: It’s not this time of year without …

Christmas decorations start getting put up around September in the Philippines. For my family the excitement starts to build up after the feast day of St. Michael ( the patron saint of our city) on September 29th, and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. And Christmas doesn’t end until after January 6th, the Feast of the Three Kings. 

Since living in China, I have not been  really excited about Christmas. When I first came here, there were hardly any Christmas decorations. Now, they are everywhere and young people “celebrate” almost every Western festival, including Thanksgiving. But it’s not the same. It does not feel the same.  Even at church, they see the whole thing as a performance , like a curious opera. It only makes me sad. 

This year Christmas will feel even stranger, especially for my sisters and nephew who will feel my mother’s absence more than I will or do. My husband and I will miss our son who will be celebrating Christmas in the Philippines for the first time, though I am excited for him. 

It’s not Christmas without family and church and happy people buying presents for loved ones and greeting strangers, “Merry Christmas” (and not the fake “Happy Holidays!”) 

It’s not Christmas without knowing the story of Jesus (hence the crèche in the photo) and that Santa is NOT Jesus. 
Weekly Photo Challenge: It’s not this time of year without … 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Magic 

I know science can explain this, but it was the first time I saw the sky like this and I thought it was magical. I took these photos a few weeks ago from my balcony. It was a little after 6 in the morning. (I sent a copy to a friend right away, and he asked if it was photoshopped. This has not been photoshopped. )

My husband said the Chinese call it 火烧云 which literally means “fire burn cloud” or burning clouds. It surely looks like that. 

Magical. 


May you have a magical weekend. 🙂 

T. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Magic 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Chaos in Watercolor

This is a picture of my mind in chaos. Sort of. I made this watercolor sometime in May 2014. I was going through a difficult time — delayed culture shock and my relationships with my (now) two best friends were not as clearly defined then as they are now. 

A couple of months ago while we were packing our stuff to move to this new apartment we live in now, I saw the sketch pad where I made this watercolor. Serendipity. I can use this one today. 

Have a lovely weekend. May you find peace, beauty and design in our chaotic world today. 

T. 

Weekly Photo Challenge : Chaos

Note: I had to re-do this post because a photo of my son and nephews were inadvertently attached to the file and I couldn’t edit it.  Sigh 

On Reality

reality

When I was still a child, I often heard my mother tell people about how I liked to look up at the sky —  wondering, (over)thinking, imagining, which was why she didn’t let me wash the dishes. It took me forever to finish.

These days I find myself doing the same thing — taking some time to finish washing the dishes because I keep looking up at the sky from my kitchen window and wondering, “Is there somebody up there watching us live our lives here below?”

I shared this thought with my husband, who simply laughed and said, “Oh, yes! And they are looking down and saying, ‘Oh look at this cute little girl bravely asking such questions!” (Let me be clear on this one: No one else thinks I’m cute except my husband. That’s why he’s my husband.) 

Ever since I read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” over twenty years ago, I’ve always wondered about the nature of “reality.” I remembered asking the question, what if there was another world where their idea of reality is different from ours?

It was a few years later that I read Bradbury’s stories, and watched “The Matrix” and my idea of “reality” was further changed. Two years ago I watched “Interstellar” and the scene where Cooper was finally able to communicate with Murph (they once thought there was a “ghost”) made me think of what we think is “real” or “imagined.”(Some of my friends who are into science fiction weren’t very impressed with “Interstellar,”  but I’m not a big sci-fi fan, so it was very impressive for me.) 

These days there are more and more people talking  about the simulation hypothesis and consciousness and how human beings can suddenly change because of some damage to the brain. Reading about the brain and consciousness and theories on reality and our existence makes me even more eager to know the truth about our existence, our reality.

Just yesterday I started watching the HBO TV series, Westworld, and perhaps this is the reason at 11:31 in the evening I am still up writing this. Hopefully with the popularity of this TV series, more people will be asking questions about our existence and actively seek answers to these questions.

Who are we?

I really want to know.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Shine

img_0335

This week’s WPC theme is “Shine.”

I took this photo a few months ago when I was in the Philippines. I have taken several photos of this place and posted some of them here on my blog.

Beautiful sunsets almost always make me wistful, and this one truly did as I was on my way home from a neighboring city working on one of the many, many things that needed my attention during the first quarter of this year. I was exhausted and looked out the car window. I just had to ask the driver to stop so I could get out of the car and snap photos of this sunset.

And for a few minutes, I forgot how tired I was as I looked at the photos I took.

Have a lovely weekend!

 

T.

 

 

Self-made Prisons: Thoughts on Dostoevsky’s The House of the Dead

house-of-the-dead    I just finished reading Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead or Prison Life in Siberia, and as I was reading about the different people he met in prison — the ones he liked, disliked, tried to avoid — I couldn’t help feeling life itself is like a prison. This feeling was made stronger after a friend complained about the shamelessness of a former colleague who had lied about his condition to the employer. He said he couldn’t stand working at the same place as this unscrupulous person. So I said to my friend, “I told you this is like prison. You can’t choose your prison mates!” 🙂
The main character, Alexander Petrovich, a noble, observed the peasants in the same prison he was in and said, “…you’ll never know what is at the bottom of the man’s mind or heart. You may think you know something about him, but it is all optical illusion, nothing more.” Isn’t this true of people, in general? It is truly impossible to know one person fully. How many times have you been surprised or shocked by something done by a person you think you know inside out, something so out of character?
Petrovich also said this of Suchiloff, the man who volunteered himself to serve the former, “It is indeed difficult to know a man, even after having lived long years with him.”
In our lifetime we sometimes have to live, study or work with people we do not like. It is stressful to always try to be polite with them, which we still do because it is what we were taught to do since we were kids. Be nice. Be polite. Be courteous. Perhaps we can learn from the main character, Alexander Petrovich, how to deal with the oppressiveness of a “prison,” surrounded by people with whom we are not comfortable: “I soon understood that work alone could save me, by fortifying my health and my body, whereas incessant restlessness of mind, nervous irritation, and the close air of the barracks would ruin them completely. I should go out vigorous and full of elasticity. I did not deceive myself, work and movement were very useful to me.”

Sometimes we create our own prisons. If we are aware that we put ourselves there, then we can get ourselves out of that prison. Unless we are too afraid of freedom, just like some convicts in Dostoevsky’s time “…poor devils who commit crimes in order to be sent to hard labour, and thus to escape the liberty which is much more painful than confinement….”
Why do some people stay in an unhealthy relationship for decades, for example? Could it be being in “prison” where their role is set is less painful? Or the person they are with, no matter how vile, is predictable and therefore not as petrifying as the uncertainty that freedom brings?
I think each of us has his own “prison.” Some have luxurious “prisons” — they have a materially rich and luxurious environment, but inwardly they are tortured by their own demons. Others probably have even worse than the barracks in Siberia in the 19th century — economically poor, uneducated, unemployed living in squalor among those who want to be forgotten by society. And there are those who have just enough — neither too much nor too little — but they get bored easily, so they create their own “prisons” and for some time their minds are “occupied” as to how to get out of it, and they may or may not admit to being responsible for creating it.
The House of the Dead, like all the other novels by Dostoevsky that I have read, leads the reader to think and re-think ideas or previously held ideas about humanity — individually and as a group. One critic of Dostoevsky berated his endless psychologizing and philosophizing, but to me, these are exactly what made his novels achieve greatness. His characters are people that readers get to know deeply, and with whom we can relate because underneath all the masks worn and personality and experience of each one, is a real human being, and no matter how vile a character may be, because we get to know him, then we understand and have compassion.
I know I’ve said this before in this blog: the more Dostoevsky works I read, the more I admire the man, the more grateful I am for his words.

(The House of the Dead by Fedor Dostoieffsky with an Introduction by Julius Bramont)

Weekly Photo Challenge : Local

wpc-local

I have been living away from the small city I was born and raised in, Iligan, for about 14 years now. But it will always be home for me, even though my parents are no longer around and so many friends have left for other countries.

It is a coastal city of about 300,000 people, which is a much bigger number from 30 or 40 years ago. Back then, on Sundays, when we walked to church my parents would be saying “Hi!” or “Good morning” to people we met on the road. Now, I can walk around the city for an hour and not see anybody I recognize.

But it’s a different feeling when I look out to the sea. Watching the sea in Iligan gives me  the feeling of being home.

Then I feel I am truly a local.

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Local

Weekly Photo Challenge: H2O

iligan

Dalipuga, Iligan, Philippines 

I love watching the sea. And this photo is of one of my favorite spots at home. As I prepare to go home again for a few days, I look forward to looking down from the plane again and seeing the beautiful waters north of Mindanao.

There is something about seeing the blueness of the sea and scattered white clouds above it, and the feel of the cool breeze on your skin, and the sound of the waves, and  the briny scent of the sea. When I sit  alone on a beach witnessing all this, I just wish for time to stand still.

What comes into your mind when you hear the word “water”?

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: H2O

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgia


This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “nostalgia.” There are many things I’m nostalgic about (me being drama queen and all,) but as I was making coffee earlier, I remembered why I bought the coffee that I’m having right now. It’s the same coffee that my family — my parents and my sisters, and my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents — drank before instant coffee became popular in my country. 

The last time I was home (which was a couple of weeks ago, because now I go home every month to see the love of my life), I bought coffee from the same store that my mother used to buy it from. The husband and wife who own the store are still there, now with dyed hair, but their assistants are much younger women. The young assistant seemed to do a mental eye-rolling as my sister and I went “Aaw” after smelling the coffee that brought back lots of memories of our childhood. (We probably drank more coffee than milk when we were kids!) 

So I’m saying goodbye to instant coffee for now. And also to Starbucks. It’ll be Iligan kape for now.  For a long, long time 🙂
Happy Weekend! 

Iligan coffee

Mornings and Beginnings

img_0864

View from my balcony 

We recently moved to a new apartment, and I am quite happy to have moved. This year has been one of changes and challenges, and I’ve been able to cope with all these sometimes overwhelming challenges pretty well. For this I am grateful to my husband and my sisters for everything they do and are in my life. So moving to a new place is symbolic of a new beginning for me — life without my mother, and living apart from my beautiful son (for a few months.)

Now that  I only work 3 afternoons a week, and I do not have my son to look after, I can sit for a few minutes out on my balcony and wait for sunrise as I sip on my morning coffee. Then I go out for a walk  and come back to prepare hubby’s breakfast.

img_0859

View from my balcony

Each day, I am trying to be hopeful and look forward to better days. I know they will come.

Every morning is a promise of a new beginning.

Wishing you beautiful mornings and wonderful beginnings. 🙂

 

On Friendship with the Ex 


I stopped communicating with my best friend #2 of 16 years, who also happens to be my ex-boyfriend for the same number of years. Whereas in the past I couldn’t last a week without talking or even just texting with him, it has been two months since we’ve had any communication. Best friend #1 who has always known and accepted my romantic-turned-fraternal relationship with M. tried to get me to, at least, ask him how he’s doing, fearing one day I would regret my silence. 

I probably would regret ending this friendship, but I have to take care of myself before I can take care of others. Something was done , and I didn’t like it. My not liking it manifests itself in my actions. I cannot control my emotions, only my actions. However, controlling my actions is exhausting because it takes so much effort, so much energy which I know can be expended on other more substantial endeavors. My only solution is to eliminate the source of these feelings by ending the relationship. 

Whereas in the past, I could shamelessly ask my friend to do or not do something; now as a more mature person, .I can never, will never ask my friend to change himself for me, or stop him from doing what he wants to do that is not bad for him. I have no control over him, but I have control over my life. Surprisingly, I do not feel sentimental about these things. I will always treasure what we had. Those were wonderful memories. 

There won’t be new ones, though.

Remembering and Hoping


Today would’ve been my mom’s 82nd birthday. 

And today I heard something that made me sad. I know I’m a grown woman who already has a child of her own, but at times like these, I just wish I could just pick up the phone and call her and cry my heart out. 

A few weeks before she passed, my mom saw me crying. She knew I had a lot on my plate — her health, my son’s health and keeping my family together in one country. She looked at me and confidently said, “Everything will be alright.” Like she knew for certain. 

I hope she’s right, and that everything will  truly be alright. One day. Soon. 

Weekly Photo Challenge:Edge

Cloud Forest, Singapore 

This is my favorite place in Singapore. I first saw this place in a movie whose title I don’t even remember, but I remember saying to myself, I would definitely go see the place for myself. And early this year, I did. 

When you’re looking down from the edge of some place, you get a different view and perspective on things below and above you. Hopefully it’s always a good one. 🙂 

Have a lovely week! 
T. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Mirror


Like I’ve mentioned many times in my previous posts, I like morning walks when it’s quiet and there’s a cool breeze blowing. It was on such a morning that I took this picture of the campus lake. I like how the old administration building and the trees in its foreground are mirrored on the lake.  

I look forward to starting my early morning walks again. 

Enjoy your weekend! 

T. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Frame


This photo was taken the same time as the one I took of the bird in flight between the Petronas  Towers (WPC: Fun)

There were so many birds flying about, and a few perched on spear leaves. Trying to frame this beautiful and graceful bird perched like a proud queen/king on her/his throne was a little challenging because it didn’t stay on one leaf for long. But finally being able to snap this picture was worth the wait. 

Have a lovely weekend! 

Empty

img_5373

I dreamt of this time for years now.
Being alone.
Not rushing.
A whole day
To think,
To write.

And now I have this much time
But somehow I can’t think
And the words won’t come out.
I can only feel
Your absence
As I walk alone
Leisurely.

What do I do with this much time
In my hands?

It’s only been three days
But it feels like ages
Since I kissed your soft, little cheek
And inhaled the baby scent from your hair
As you peacefully lay asleep
Unaware that when you woke
Mommy would have been gone.

But I will see you again
I promise.

Because I can’t go on for long
Feeling the emptiness
In that corner of my heart
That only you can fill.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare Visits 


(The theme for The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge is RARE.)

Photographs of sunsets aren’t rare, but I love this photo I took of the sunset in my hometown — Iligan, Philippines. I don’t get to see this kind of view often because first, I only get to spend a maximum of three months a year in my country, and second, I have a very busy schedule whenever I’m home.

Seeing this kind of sunset in my hometown, then, is a rarity. And its rarity makes the scene truly special to me.

This Time Tomorrow

thinking of you

By this time tomorrow
I won’t see you open your eyes as you wake
Nor see you smile when you look at me,
Nor feel your little arms around my neck,
As I usually do,
When I greet you “Good morning!”

By this time tomorrow
I will be thinking of you
As the plane takes me
Away from you.

I told you I was leaving
But I am not sure you understood.
I wish I could make you understand,
That I just want what’s best for you,
Even if it breaks my heart.

Don’t hate me for this.
I promise I will be back.
You will wake up one morning.
And I’ll be there.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Flight = Freedom = FUN 

The theme for this week’s photo challenge is FUN. 
I took this photo last month during a short visit to Kuala Lumpur. I noticed there were so many birds in the area, and I really wanted to photograph a bird in flight between the two towers. Since I’m not good at photography, and I only had my iPad to take pictures, it was not very easy. But I managed to do it.  

The “fun” part of this post is not about taking photographs of birds in flight, but it’s the thought of flying as free as a bird. 

People take pictures of things and people and places they find beautiful, and they use all kinds of tools to have a better view: selfie sticks and drones. Birds don’t need such tools. They can see beauty in different angles. 

Birds can fly to places they want to go to, and they don’t need visas or the right skin color to do so. 

Birds can fly freely and see the beauty of this world. 

If humans could do the same, wouldn’t that be fun? 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Morning

(This is my first time to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge, and it’s just because I saw the theme and remembered this photo I took two mornings ago.) 

I took a very early morning trip two days ago –at 4:30 A.M. to be exact, and it was an hour and a half hour drive to a resort on top of a hill. 

Though I wasn’t happy about waking up at 3 in the morning,  the sight that welcomed me at 6 A.M.  truly woke me up and made me feel ready to face the day better than a goood cup of coffee could (hmm, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. I need to have my coffee first thing in rhe morning!) 

It was a littte cloudy, and there was a soft breeze blowimg and birds making morning music,  when I saw these bungalows and the green lawn in  the foreground of cloudy skies. It was such a quiet scene that Wordsworth’s words came to mind :”the very houses seem asleep.”

I am a morning person, and I love bathing in  the beauty of early morning — clean, cool.air, a quiet place save for the birds’ simging or the rustling of the leaves as a gentle breeze blows. 

That’s better than coffee (but I’d still need my cofee. ♥)

Home is where …

img_0390

I’m home,

But somehow it doesn’t feel the same

I have time alone now, something I have always wanted

But somehow it doesn’t feel as comforting as it used to be. 

Your bedroom door’s open, 

And I turn to look at it

And I see your wheelchair in one corner,

It’s gathering dust. 

The curtains and the bed sheets were changed this weekend 

Like you were still going to lie on your bed 

But this room has not been occupied for months. 

It’s  a strange feeling — knowing you’re never coming back 

But like you’re on a vacation somewhere far. 

Maybe you are. 

I hope you’re happy there. 

 

Be cool, don’t be a fool 

Emotions are a tricky thing. If you don’t watch what they are doing to you, they can control the better part of you. We cannot control our emotion, but if we have a healthy brain, then we should be able to control our actions that our emotions want us to perform. 

For example,  whenever a driver ignores a red light when I’m crossing the street on the crosswalk, I imagine myself cursing the driver and flipping the finger at him (I did this just one time in the many times I have witnessed such irresponsible driving.) There is so much anger inside, but instead of acting on it, I’d talk about it with whoever is around to listen to my rant for a minute or two, and then, Whew! I can smile again. 

In my 40+ years in this world I have learned that I cannot just let anyone or anything control my actions. I can’t remember where I read this, but I’ve never forgotten it: We should act, not just react. 

Wherever you go, there will always be people who will make you angry or make you feel insecure. Some may do it intentionally,while others may not even know they are doing it. Either way, I think the reason they do it is people like these are either emotionally or socially immature, or they have a psychological problem.  (Don’t you think it’s easier to forgive a person when you know he’s sick?)

With social media, young people measure their worth by the number of  “likes” they get on their posts. “Likes” from people they don’t even know. And when they don’t get the expected number of “likes,” they would feel there’s something wrong with them. I see this happening not only among young people, but even among older ones who spend so much time on social media. 

But really when you come to think of it, there should only be a few people whose opinions count to you — family and real friends — those who we truly know and know us as much as we do them. 

The other night I saw a video of Taylor Swift talking about what made her write her song, “Shake it Off”. I don’t know if she practices what she preaches, but it’s quite good advice for people out there whose moods, emotions and behaviors are mere reactions not only to social media feedback but also to what their so-called friends and co-workers tell them. Really, just shake ’em off. 

Don’t ruin your day by giving too much attention to people whose opinion does not help you in any way but merely adds a wrinkle on your face and a white/gray hair on your head. 

Don’t let them win. 

Don’t be a loser. 

On Thinking and Writing

Kinetic Rain Sculpture, Changi Airport, Singapore

The Kinetic Rain at the Changi Aiport is a beautiful thing to watch. It had a calming effect on me. If I had more time, I’m sure it would’ve inspired me to think. 🙂 

I miss thinking. 

I have not been writing, not even reading except for online news. Most of my time the last three weeks has been spent doing things a mother is supposed to do. I’m not complaining, it is just a fact. 

I did have a very short break when I went to Bangkok four weeks ago,  but it wasn’t a leisure trip. This time I will have a few hours of quiet as I plan to just stay in at the hotel for the whole afternoon and evening before my flight to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. 

I look forward to reading and be inspired to write again. 

Wish me luck. 😉 

Mother’s Day without Mom

momsday

They say the dead don’t see nor hear
But I don’t know for sure
I just wish you could…

See that I need you
To hug me like you did
When I needed a hug
Just because…

Hear me wish for you
To come and comfort me
As life gets a little too much
And I feel …tired.

I still keep wishing
You were just a phone call away
That I could still tell you
What’s making me sad,

And you’d reassure me
That everything’s going to be all right
And that you pray for me
Every single night.

When I was a child,
I couldn’t wait to grow up
But now that I have
I sometimes wish

I could run into your arms again
And close my eyes
As I bury my face into your neck
And smell your scent of talcum powder,

As you theatrically sing and sway
Making the sadness go away,
Turning it into giggles
And then rambunctious laughter.

Mother, how I wish
I could just be
Your little child again.

Goodbyes

GOODBYES1

Some goodbyes are sweet — 
You smile and hug and kiss 
And say the word, believing
That you’ll be better people 
When you see each other again. 

Some goodbyes are bitter —
You turn your back 
Perhaps with tears 
Or with a frown, hoping 
You’ll never have to see each other again. 

Some goodbyes are not meant to be —
You think it is over 
That the last chapter has been written
And another one cannot be added. 
But then a sequel is started. 


Some goodbyes are inevitable — 
You hate to part 
You know you shouldn’t 
But you’re not characters in a book 
Or lovers in a rom-com….

These goodbyes leave you feeling cold and empty 
Like a house stripped 
Of every furniture, curtain and picture,
Of every sign of being lived in, 
And all that’s left is a hollow sound 

And the echo of one’s sigh 
And the memories of a voice…

Such is the goodbye that, in my ear,
You gently whispered
As you kissed away 
A tear on my cheek 
And softly,
Quietly

Left me
For good. 

*****

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long..” is a line from one of my favorite Neruda poems, “Tonight I can Write.” I think it’s a beautifully sad poem that captures not only the pain one feels at the thought that love has gone, but also the courage to imagine that the person one has loved so passionately will eventually move on.

Tonight I can Write by Pablo Neruda:

Click here for the English and Spanish versions.
Click here to listen to Andy Garcia’s reading of the poem.

 

On Compassion, Forgiveness and the Brain

daenerys drogon

Photo source

Have you ever been extremely angry with somebody that you imagined you were Daenerys riding Drogon which was breathing fire on to your enemies?

(Fortunately for me, I have not been that angry with any one person in a long time, but only with a group of people terrorizing my beautiful island of Mindanao, oh yeah. I was so angry that in my imagination, I didn’t even have to be Daenerys. I was happy just to be Drogon!)

Don’t you find it exhausting when you dislike this person so much, but this person just can’t disappear from your life? You hear people talking about him/her, and it’s worse when he/she is doing so well while you aren’t?

For us, humans, anger towards somebody is most often accompanied by its best friend, jealousy. Those two are perhaps the ugliest, meanest pair ever. They will keep you awake at night, make you lose your appetite, then your energy.

If you’re smart or meet the right people who can help you get rid of that ugly pair, then lucky you. If not, that pair will ruin your life.

A few months ago, I started reading Oliver Sacks’ An Anthropologist on Mars. For some reason I could not finish reading it, but a couple of weeks ago I picked it up again and read the chapter called “A Surgeon’s Life,” which is about Dr. Carl Bennett (a pseudonym), a surgeon who has Tourette’s Syndrome.

This chapter was truly an eye-opener for me, and I’m writing about this because I am hoping this can somehow also make my readers re-evaluate how we judge our fellow human beings.

Dr. Bennett is highly respected by his colleagues and patients, and despite his tics, is able to perform surgery efficiently as if he didn’t have Tourette’s at all. He said the outward expressions of his Tourette’s that most people see are not the worst problems he has to face. The real ones are those within — panic and rage. In his words,

                “It’s not gentle….You can see it as whimsical, funny — be tempted to romanticize it —   but Tourette’s comes from deep down in the nervous system and the unconscious. It taps    into the oldest, strongest feelings we have. Tourette’s is like an epilepsy in the  subcortex.; when it takes over, there’s just a thin line of control, a thin line of cortex,  between you and it, between you and that raging storm, the blind force of the subcortex.     One can see the charming things, the funny things, the creative side of Tourette’s, but there’s also that dark side. You have to fight it all your life.”

At home, Dr. Bennett can give expression to this rage, not directed at people but at inanimate objects around him. His wall, his refrigerator are witnesses to this rage. One wall is covered with knife marks.

Scary? I find this very sad. That a human being who does not want to be violent CANNOT CHOOSE not to be violent.

Dr. Bennett is fortunate enough to have a family that understands and accepts him and helps him deal with all of these. But not everyone is as fortunate as Dr. Bennett. I wonder how many people out there have undiagnosed neurological disorders, committing crimes which they could not help doing? They don’t even know why they are doing it, or perhaps they think they know why they are doing it; but do they really?

I wonder if a brain scan is required of every criminal, how many of these people we would find to have neurological disorders?

This question led me to think how the human brain is very much like a computer. Just as computers have software-related problems such as viruses and bugs, the human brain can have chemical imbalance or viral infections. And just like computers that can have hardware-related problems such as overheating, a malfunctioning chip or a motherboard failure, our brain can also suffer from head or brain injuries.

When your computer is defective, do you try to save it or do you discard it, right away?

It seems computers are luckier than humans because we can easily see that our computer has a problem, and our initial reaction is to find out what caused it and how to fix it.

But with a human being, if his brain has a problem but it’s undiagnosed, we right away judge the person according to his actions without asking whether he has control over his actions or not.

What is worse is we label these people as crazy, nuts, wacko, lunatic, deranged, etc. without even knowing what caused them to become such people. Perhaps  you have heard or read about people who were known to be gentle or kind, and all of a sudden murdered somebody. People express shock or disbelief, saying it was totally out of character.

Here are some ways people can suddenly change:

Trauma to the brain can cause a drastic change in personality. 

Alcohol and drugs (medications) can change a person’s personality. 

Viral infections in the brain can cause a change in personality. 

Certain foods and food  ingredients like MSG can affect your behavior. 

Now, going back to my first question: Have you ever been extremely angry with somebody that you imagined you were Daenerys riding Drogon which was breathing fire on to your enemies?

If you have or you still are extremely angry with somebody, ask yourself whether it’s possible this person has a hardware or software-related problem in his brain, and perhaps he has no control over some of his thoughts and actions, just like, sometimes, you have no control over some of your own thoughts and actions.

And when you realize that we are all in the same boat, then you would hopefully understand your fellow human being, and perhaps forgiving will be a little bit easier (but, of course, be smart about it!)

I wonder if that is what prompted Jesus to utter these words when he was crucified: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

When he said those words, He became the epitome of compassion and forgiveness.

 

Note:

A couple of years ago a friend and I talked about whether human beings have free will or not. Back then I wasn’t really convinced that we don’t, but mostly because I did not have the time to think about it and read about it more. But now I think my friend may be on to something. 🙂 He wrote a book called Without Free Will. It’s well-written and thought-provoking. Check it out.

You’re special

special1

Dear Son,

You are special to me
Not in the same way
The world calls you special
Because you can’t speak
The way kids your age do,
You can’t throw a ball
Like most 5-year olds do
You can’t even catch one
Though we’ve tried to teach you
Over and over again.

You are special to me
But not in the same way
The world sees you
Because you flap your hands
Or jump a thousand times on the trampoline
Or recite your books from cover to cover
Instead of talking with people.

No, you’re special to me
Because I see what the world can’t see
How sweet your smile is
When I finish a line that you start to recite;
When you leave your toys
To run to me just to give me a hug;
When you snuggle close to me
Because you want to be kissed;
When you ask me to sing
Your favorite song
Or read your favorite book.

You are special to me
Not only for who or what you are,
But also because, in your simplicity,
You have taught me —
Patience and understanding,
Humility and gratitude.

And most all you taught me
Love that expects nothing in return

Save for that sweet, little smile
You give to me alone.

Thank you, Son.

Love,
Mom

On Words and Immortality

sonnet 18

I personally know a few people who look forward to the discovery of making humans immortal. Although I’d be very happy for and proud of humanity should they make such an achievement, I don’t think I will be around long enough for that, and I don’t really wish to become physically immortal.

Having recently seen someone I love suffer, I cannot see the point of prolonging one’s life if one is unable to function normally, both physically and mentally. It is heartbreaking to see a fellow human being’s condition deteriorate like that, especially when it is one you hold close to your heart. It makes you wish you were suffering instead of them.

So, no. Immortality in the physical sense is not for me.

I have said before that I would probably reconsider if life could be painless, and one could remain young and healthy. But I think that is too big a dream for humanity — one I find extremely hard to hope for.

However, some people have successfully immortalized themselves and others they cared about thru arts and literature. There are too many works and artists and writers to mention them all, but one poem that promises immortality thru poetry that has really stuck with me since I first read it as a student is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The first two quatrains of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 explains why the speaker cannot possibly liken the subject (supposedly a young man but some people insist it’s a woman; it doesn’t matter to me) to a summer’s day. The third quatrain explains further how time nor death cannot rid the subject of his/her beauty.The couplet promises eternal life to the subject, saying, for as long as people can read this poem about him/her, he/she will always live.

And the poet has been proven true to his promise. We are still reading about the young person’s beauty. You are reading about it now as you are reading my post.

To me that IS immortality.

How (in what way) would you like to be immortalized? 

The Tryst

writing is my lover1


As I lie in bed 
Waiting for the husband 
To put down his book, 
I think of the words, 
Imagine them flowing,
Hearing the sound,
Savoring each syllable. 

As soon as the light is off
I wait a little more
For the eventual snore
A sign that I was free 

To get up 
And to be 
With my lover. 

I check on the little one
Sleeping like an angel,
And then, quietly, I go
To meet with my lover,

For my lover makes me feel 
And think 
And smile.

My lover heals me 
And comforts me 
And helps me move on. 

As I step into the room 
And walk towards the table
Where everything
Will soon commence,

I say to myself, 
Now I can do this. 
I can let the words out. 

I am in love with words. 
And writing is my lover. 

 

smiley

If it isn’t obvious yet, it’s written tongue-in-cheek. A reaction to the questions asked of me recently: what I’ve been doing with my time and why I like being alone. 🙂

Why do you write?

Like you used to

missing miming 1

For my Miming

Today I read something that made me laugh
And I thought of you, and for a second,
I thought of picking up the phone
To tell you the story,
And hear you laugh
Like you used to.

But then I remembered
That I had already said my goodbyes
That I won’t ever hear your voice again
Nor ever see your eyes disappear
As you laugh at my silliness,
Like you used to.

You’re no longer here.
That’s something
I have to get used to.

Insignificant

img_20160331_171302.jpg

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

You’re like …

A tiny, withered leaf
On  concrete ground —
Invisible except to those who look down,
Unappreciated save for a few sensitive souls
(Who see it and wistfully smile)
Too small to catch anyone’s attention
But for the sweeper’s who thinks
It does nothing for the neatness of the ground.

——

Some people feel so small; they feel they have nothing to contribute to this world, that nobody knows them, that nobody likes them. They are worse off than Dostoevsky’s man from the underground, who at least thinks/knows he is smart.

These people feel that when they finally leave this world, nobody will mourn them, nobody will remember them. There will be no flowers on their graves.

I feel small, too, but only when I think of the massiveness of the universe; I feel I am extremely insignificant. What does my life matter to the universe? It will go on, and not a thing about it will change when I die because I am just a speck of dust in its vastness.

But then again….

One may be small, seen and appreciated by only a few. But who needs too many people in one’s lifetime? One cannot possibly know all their names and all their stories. One only needs a few sensitive souls to see through one’s soul.

Though one may be small, insignificant to most, one can be the world to somebody else. One can make oneself the center of somebody’s universe by one’s selflessness and sincerity and generosity.

Make your life matter. 

 

 

Love on a Gloomy Day

dead leaf final

Beauty in the eyes of love

It’s cold and cloudy in Jimei again. I’ve already said this several times this week: This weather is depressing.

But luckily, there are people who can see the sun behind the clouds. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Yesterday, I was walking with a young friend, who was gushing about a guy she’s in love with. She thought I was a mind reader because I knew exactly how she’s feeling and what went on in her head whenever he failed to reply to her text messages right away. Sigh.

She was very happy and kept smiling. She said she even noticed herself smiling while walking alone even though it was raining.

Been there, done that.

But I’m happy and excited for her. I don’t plan on telling her to be ready for the heartaches. Anti-climactic. (But you, dear readers, who I’m sure are older than my friend,  if you’re suffering from a broken heart, might be able to help yourself recover by reading this article on the science of a broken heart — a good read.)

My young friend’s happiness and excitement makes me think that falling (romantically) in love is perhaps the most effective cure for pessimism.  To one who one is in love, even a single dead leaf looks beautiful.

Perhaps it is better for us to always feel like we are madly in love because, then, everything can be beautiful; every little thing can make us smile.

Of course, that is not possible (or is it?)

I guess we are all entitled to falling madly, stupidly in love once in our boring lives.

I wonder if there is such a thing as falling smartly in love?

On Age, Music and Chemicals in the Brain

music

A few days ago, I came across this interesting post on serotonin and dopamine and was reminded of it yesterday as I was listening to the songs of Barry Manilow. (OK. Please. Just be patient with me. I do have a point I want to share.)

When I was younger (“…so much younger than today…”) whenever I heard Barry Manilow’s songs, I would sing along until I cried (Yeah, I was that disgustingly dramatic.) I would think of the guys that I liked but didn’t even know I existed, or the guys that I liked but were not free, or the only one that broke my heart to pieces. (Who would not cry listening to “Even Now” and “Somewhere down the Road”???)

Now that I’m in my 40’s and in a stable, loving relationship with my husband of 10 years, and together raising a child, I feel absolutely nothing when I hear the songs that used to make me cry and later make me smile. When I listened to those same songs yesterday, there was not even a sigh. Nada. It seemed like that part of my mind or my heart just disappeared!

My husband thinks it’s just because I’m over that time in my life. Well, I have been over that period in my life for years now. But I used to have fond memories of that time. Now, even that fondness is gone.

So I wonder if those chemicals in my brain are up to something, or I am just getting old or already old.

Do old songs still make you cry or smile or angry? Do they have any effect on you at all? 

Words left unsaid, deeds left undone

bitter tears

 “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” — Harriet Beecher Stowe 

How often have you heard people say: I wish I had done this. I wish I had said that, after someone had left them? I have heard those too many times. I have even said them a few times when I was younger.

Most of the time we just take for granted the people around us, especially those close to us. We care about them, yet daily life makes us forget their need for affirmation. Or perhaps we are embarrassed to express our appreciation or even love for them. Unlike little children who would give a loving parent a kiss or a hug just because they feel like doing so, adults would think twice about showing affection for whatever reason.

When we, unexpectedly, lose someone, we tend to regret so many things. We cry because there are words we had wanted to say to them but did not get the chance to say (because, who knew he would die today?) Perhaps we had promised to visit but never got around to doing so. These regrets and the guilt can last a long time. I know. After 14 years, I still have not forgiven myself for not spending more time with my father before he passed on.

With my mother, my sisters and I were able to say what we wanted to say to her before she left us: we said sorry for the times we made her cry;  we told her we loved her; we promised to look out for each other. And she, herself, was able to confess, ask forgiveness, and thank people,  and let her daughters know what she wished for us to be and to do.

When my mother passed on, tears were shed. But they weren’t bitter tears. They were tears of sadness as we said goodbye to her, knowing we won’t see her again; they were also tears of love as we prayed for her eternal rest.

We may not know the time we will lose someone we care about, but we can try to avoid shedding bitter tears when they go, by saying those words and doing those deeds meant for them. 

Neruda’s “If You Forget Me”: A Lesson in Loving

1458787384042.jpg

Centennial Park, Iligan, Philippines

Whether Pablo Neruda wrote this poem for his country, Chile, or for his wife, Matilde Urrutia does not make much difference to me. I like the kind of love portrayed in this poem. I like the tone of the speaker as he warns his lover …

“If you forget me

I want you to know
one thing. ” 

It is not the sound of a desperate, pathetic lover who begs or promises to continue  to wait even though the other has moved on.

It shows a speaker who thinks and is not controlled by silly emotions, a speaker/lover who demands reciprocity in a relationship.For truly, if one can be, and is reasonable, one will demand reciprocity in a relationship.

(Even God demands, commands love and faithfulness!)

“If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.”

Who wants to be forgotten by the one person you cannot forget? Of course, trying to forget someone is easier said than done. The more you try to forget, the more you will be reminded. This is perhaps the speaker’s way of saying, “Don’t think  I will be pining for you. I will forget you before you can completely forget me!”

“If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land. 

“…and my roots will set off/ to seek another land.” This is how it should be. One should be brave in seeking and starting a new life and not waste time and energy on someone who has forgotten.

Yet….

Though the poem begins with a kind of warning, a threat as to what the speaker can do should his lover forget him, it ends with a promise, an enticement as to what he can give if his lover remains true to him,

“…ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.” 

Reciprocity.

  • Click here for the English version of the poem
  • Click here for  the Spanish version (Si Tu Mi Olvidas)
  • Click here to listen to Madonna read the English version of the poem.

On Forgiveness and Second Chances

 

I have often wondered what Jesus meant when he said one should forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-35). I don’t think anyone will take that literally (like 490 times), but I guess it means many, many times.

If God could forgive the world for what the world did to His Son (unlike Leonardo diCaprio’s character in The Revenant), then how could we, mere mortals, not forgive our fellow mortals?

But that’s just it. We are not God. We can try to forgive one person many, many times, but in the end the other gift that God gave us –reason, logic — would teach us to protect ourselves from being fooled, cheated or hurt again.

My question then is, is it immoral to refuse to give someone who has betrayed you,  lied to you, hurt you,  for the nth time, a chance for the nth time?

In the parable, the king sounded like a businessman, a moneylender who was compassionate enough to cancel a slave’s debt and actually “let him go”, after the latter begged the king to give him time to pay the debt.

Say for instance, the parable ended there, and the slave did not beat up a fellow slave who had owed him, would the king have trusted the same slave again? Would he have lent him money again? I don’t think so.

My point then is, yes, we can forgive people for the many times they betrayed our trust,for the many times they hurt us. But I think only a fool would give the same amount of trust to traitors/wrongdoers.

To me, forgiveness means accepting the fact that one was wronged, and not wishing the wrongdoer any ill, and actually sincerely wishing him well. But it does not necessarily mean giving him a second chance. Rather, it means letting him go his own way. Alone. Peacefully.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Playing Dead

 For My Miming


You used to play dead
When you felt
I wanted
Too much attention.

You would close your eyes
Stiffen your body
And hold your breath for a minute
Not making a sound, not moving an inch,

Making me think
You were dead
That you’d left me
And it was my fault.

You used to enjoy telling people
How scared I was as I shook your body
How hard you tried to control your laughter,
And how smart I was
To tickle your foot to “wake” you up.

Now as I look at how your lids don’t move
As your eyes are closed
Your body stiff and cold to the touch,
I am tempted to tickle your foot again.

But I’m not a child anymore
And I know this is no longer the silly game
That the once-goofy mother
Used to play with her youngest child. 

The machines don’t lie
You’re gone.
You have really left me
And you won’t wake

No matter how many times
I whisper in your ear
Or squeeze your hand
Or kiss your cheeks.

The game has ended.
And I lost.

 

Stop. Look. Listen. Feel. Be grateful. Move on. 

   

Sunset at Dalipuga, Iligan, Philippines 

One of my favorite poems that I can recite by heart is Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I kept reciting this poem to my baby when I was still pregnant, and even after my son was born. HBO’s Classical Baby The Poetry Show includes a reading of this poem by Susan Sarandon, and it is now my 5-year old son’s favorite part of the video.

A thought came to mind today as I watched my son give me the sweetest smile when the video clip began. A few months after our son was diagnosed with Autism, my husband wished Eli would not grow so quickly. Today, only for a moment I wished Eli would never grow up, so people can excuse his strange stimming habits, his speech delay and other autistic traits. Every now and then  I worry about whether or not he will be able to live independently, when my husband and I won’t be around to look after him anymore.

Frost’s poem talks about how we, once in a while, encounter something that makes us wish could last at least a lifetime, but we all have other things to do — duties, responsibilities, roles to play in other people’s lives — so we have to move on, continue living our lives.

The speaker in this poem though was truly in the moment. He   noticed his surroundings: the snow-covered woods, the frozen lake; he heard the sound of the harness bells and the wind. He also used his imagination (“My little horse must think it queer…”), and was quite aware not only of the lack of danger (…He will not see me stopping here/ To watch his woods fill up with snow), but also of his responsibilities and of the life he had to live,   (But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep.) 

Oftentimes I look at my son and wonder what life will be like for him. Will he ever be able to speak like a neurotypical person? Will he be able to read by himself the books that he loves for me to read to him? Will he be able to write down his own name?  But then I stop myself from doing this, and instead do things with him. Not much use wondering about the future when so much of it depends on the present.

What I liked most about Frost’s poem is the idea that though we can (and we should) live our lives — face our responsibilities, fulfill our duties, find our way in the darkness — we can stop once in a while and just enjoy what we have in our lives: food on our table, clothes to keep us warm (or cool), roof over our heads,  air we breathe, water we drink, family, friendship. And love. And faith that everything will be all right in the end.

Thank you. Salamat. 谢谢。

Are we really what we eat? 

  img_0339-3
Does coffee have any effect on you? Does chocolate?

Coffee is my non-human best friend. It gave me energy when I most needed it after my son was born. Though sleep-deprived, I still needed to function efficiently and coffee made it possible to stay awake and teach at eight in the morning, come home and feed the baby, and do housework, and prepare lessons, etc. I am forever grateful to the person that invented coffee drink.

My son used to have laughing fits even when there’s nothing visibly funny, especially after having his then favorite breakfast of peanut butter on toast. Several people told me back then to just let it be because he’s a “happy boy.” I also witnessed how chocolate could make him unbearably hyperactive.  His laughing fits and hyperactivity stopped when we put him on GF/CF diet. I am forever grateful to the person that came up with the GF/CF diet for people with ASD.

Reading about autism and diet, and books on neurology especially by Dr. Oliver Sacks, and witnessing firsthand the effects of medicine on my leukemic mother’s mind,  made me wonder if we are nothing but mere slaves to every single thing that is already in or enters our body — food, medicine, bacteria, chemicals, etc.

For example, what we call personality can easily be changed, not by our will to change (that’s not easy at all), but by lesions in the  brain.

In his book, An Anthropologist on Mars, Dr. Sacks wrote about Greg who, as a young man in the 60’s, rebelled against convention, took drugs to seek a “higher consciousness,” later dropped drugs to seek this “higher consciousness” in religion, namely Hare Krishna. His first year at the temple saw him as obedient, pious. Then he started losing his eyesight which the temple residents took to mean his “inner light was growing. ” Greg was also becoming more withdrawn which again, people interpreted as becoming “enlightened.” Long story short, it was only when his parents insisted on taking him to the doctor that it was discovered that Greg had a growing tumor in his brain.

     “Brain imaging had shown an enormous midline tumor, destroying the pituitary gland and the adjacent optic chiasm and tracts and extending on both sides into the frontal lobes. It also reached backward to the temporal lobes, and downward to the diencephalon, or forebrain. At surgery, the tumor was found to be benign, a meningioma—but it had swollen to the size of a small grapefruit or orange, and though the surgeons were able to remove it almost entirely, they could not undo the damage it had already done.”

This brain damage radically changed Greg’s personality. In the hospital “his seeming serenity (actually blandness), gave him an appearance of innocence and wisdom combined, gave him a special status on the ward, ambiguous but respected, a Holy Fool.”

Many other patients written about in this book showed major changes in their personalities after suffering from brain injury.

This, then, made me wonder if we have any independent will of our own at all? If the decisions that we make are truly our own, or are mere results of these little things in our body that ultimately feed our brain and change the way we think, speak and behave.

Alcohol and drugs sure can influence the way we think or behave. Children with ASD behave differently and sense things differently when they are overstimulated or not. Neurotypical people take all kinds of medication or drinks to make them feel better or think more clearly.

I used to think that the expression “You are what you eat” only referred to physical health. Now I’m beginning to think that that applies to our mental health as well.

(This is just a draft of what I really wanted to write. I’ll rewrite this when I have more time to be alone and think!)

As you lie there 

 


What goes on in your mind

As you lie there, awake but unable to get up?

What dreams do you have

When pain killers stop the pain

But play tricks with your brain

And make you smile, or frown

Or scared like a little girl

Crying out for her mom,

While asleep?

Do you hear people talking

About you,

How you have changed?

How it breaks their heart to see you so?

Do you hear us when we talk to you?

To tell you that we’re sorry,

That we love you,

And that we’ll be fine,

No need to worry?

Travel Woes

 

Afternoon clouds over Visayas, Philippines. I was so excited to see this cloud formation. Looks like a duck, don’t you think?

 

Pack. 
Unpack. 
Pack. 
Unpack. 

I could fill this page 
With the same words
According to the number of times
I had to 

Pack. 
Unpack. 

Barely had the time to start shedding 
The pounds from stress eating  
And I’m stressing and stress eating again. 

Someone once said to me, 
When tragedies pile up
Then you have a comedy. 

How come I’m not laughing? 

March 3, 2016

The excitement over meeting at night

 

meeting at night

No moonlight photos because I found I have never taken good enough photos of the moon. I seldom go out at night these years. Sigh

Click here to hear a reading of the poem. 

(So why am I talking about love again? Because I’m tired of hearing people tell me I look tired or miserable. In short I’m tired of feeling tired. Logical? No? I don’t care.)

This poem has a sister poem called “Parting at Morning.” But I don’t want to talk about parting. Meetings are exciting. Partings can be beautifully sad or sadly beautiful, both of which are my usual preference, but I’m not in the mood to be sad. So, exciting things for now.

Now let’s imagine this man traveling on a boat, obviously all by himself, on a dark night and crossing quite a distance (“three fields”) to meet with his lover  — a woman (this is Victorian poetry, and we know Browning wrote this for his wife, Elizabeth Barrett, so.) He braves the darkness and the distance to be with her. One can feel the excitement in the imagery in the third and fourth lines of the second stanza. In the darkness — a small light, and a soft familiar voice.

I’ve read some analyses of this poem, but not thoroughly because I do not like to be influenced heavily by what others say about this poem. I prefer to have my own understanding of any poem. We did read this in our poetry class some twenty years ago (ouch!), all I remember is the sound of my professor’s voice reading it. It was always relaxing.

I digress. 

This poem is often interpreted as having a male speaker because the poet is male. But read the poem again and imagine the speaker being a woman. Does that work for you? It certainly does for me.

Reading this poem in the 21st century, one may ask, why can’t the speaker be a woman? Surely, women can “gain the cove with pushing prow”? Women can cross “three fields” to get to the secret meeting place? I bet a lot of women have braved weather and distances to meet with a lover.

But whether the speaker is male or female is not my main point. My main point is actually quite simple: when you’re in love and you have to meet with the object of your affection, meeting in secret, especially at night, can have its excitement that for the moment you wish would never end.

But of course it ends. Duh.

 

 

 

 

On Trying to be Good

 

Sunset over Mindanao Sea (Bohol Sea), Philippines

My heart has been “battered” for weeks now, so I’m not praying for more; but these days this sonnet has been like an earworm (brainworm) in my head.

Holy Sonnet XIV by John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 
 

People raised to believe in heaven and hell, or just raised to be a good person and to be sorry for doing bad things,  most likely feel guilty for being bad and continually endeavor (and, perhaps, still fail) to be good.

The sonnet expresses that desire to be good (to be with God) again, and the supplicant is willing to be cleansed in any way (by God) just to become pure again.

Perhaps because it’s the Lenten Season, or maybe it’s just because somebody reminded me of this sonnet, that it’s stuck in my head, but it’s been awhile that I have not prayed like this.

Arrogance? I don’t think so. Too busy living? Maybe. Had enough? Well….

Sunsets and new dawns 

I am a morning person, but I like sunsets especially when I’m watching it sitting on the beach. But I have not always liked sunsets.

A long, long time ago, when  I was just 23, I decided to enter the convent. My colleagues back then couldn’t understand why, and one senior faculty (a good friend) jokingly cursed me that I would cry every night on my first week in the convent, missing my mother (yes, I was still that attached to my mother at 23!) And he was so right!  As soon as the sun was only half visible in the horizon, I would start to cry. I laugh every time I remember that episode in my life, but back then it was a terrible feeling.

I like the beauty of the sunset, the cool breeze on one’s skin, and the smell of the sea. It gives one the feeling that in this serene moment, nothing could go wrong. But then darkness sets.

After darkness though, you know there will be light again. And that’s always something to look forward to.

So are you a sunrise or a sunset person? 🙂

A time to weep and a time to laugh

  

   

I read something this morning as I was sitting on a bench facing the lake on campus. It said, “Being grateful protects you from negative thinking.” I read those words after shedding tears. Over life. 

I was, and still am, grateful for the time and place for quiet that I  had this morning. For two months I had neither, and I felt like I was drowning. 

Some people like to be around a lot of other people when they are going through a difficult time. I just need peace and quiet. And I finally had both this morning. 

I know that there is a time for everything. That the weeping will pass too. And that I will laugh again. I’m already grateful for that time. 

I can’t wait. 

On Living to be 100

image

A few weeks ago, a friend and I exchanged thoughts about living to be 100, and this was my reply: “Nah. I really don’t want to live that long. Not even if I’m healthy. I’m curious about what’s on the other side. If there’s nothing, then at least I won’t be disappointed. ” 

And my friend replied: “Consciousness is probably overrated. “

For Christians and other believers of an afterlife, death is not scary as it means reunion with the Creator. It means eternal life of happiness. (I came across this post about death a few weeks ago, and the writer beautifully expresses, not exactly the same but similar, thoughts that I have about life and death.)

I have no idea how many there are like me , but I am one of those who are more curious about what’s on the other side, rather than prolonging our earthly life. I am not saying though that I would willingly abandon my responsibilities as a mother, daughter, wife, sister, aunt. My point is, I simply prefer not to live too long.

However, I have thought about the possibility of living a longer life. I once met an 86-year old medical doctor, who was quite spry — travellling back and forth from the US to Asia, attending medical conferences, seeing patients, doing Zumba. She’s enjoying her life at 86. Would I want to be able to do that at 86?

With discoveries and inventions in the fields of science and technology, people are living longer and healthier lives.  Not only that, it probably won’t be long before immortality ceases to be mere imagination and becomes reality with the ability of human beings to create cyborgs.

If I could stay fit till I’m 100, perhaps I would be able to do all the things I would like to do but in which at the moment I am unable to indulge. I have talked about this with a friend. We both could not understand how people could be at a loss as to what to do when there’s so many interesting things to do when you have the time and health to do them

I’m not sporty nor sociable, so I do not need to be with so many people all the time. If I could live to be 100, I would spend my time reading all the books I’ve been meaning to read. I would take photographs of beautiful flowers and landscapes, learn more about the human brain, study astronomy, volunteer to help children with special needs and starving children, go.out for morning walks, watch the sunset, and write down my thoughts about all these things.

So does this mean I want to live to be 100?

No. Not at this time when humanity’s mortality is still very real, when one can still witness the human body aging, when you can still hear people groaning in pain and watch them suffer emotionally , as they struggle to remember dates and names of people they used to love so passionately,  and suffer physically as they can no longer move what used to be nimble limbs that made them jump, run, throw or catch or hit a ball.

Having a body that slowly stops functioning one part at a time is torture. Seeing it happen to others is a scary enough reminder that it can happen to you too.

So, no. I do not want to live to be 100. “Consciousness is overrated.”

How about you?

Mother’s Memories

You stared blankly into space  
As if looking at something 
That only you could see. 

Then you opened your mouth to speak 
About old friends and the fun times you had with them 
And how there was only peace among everyone 

You said you wanted to go back to the old house 
With the people you say were your real friends. 

We wish we could give you what you want. 
But the house has been gone for over half a century 
And your friends’ tombstones have even faded 

I wiped a tear away as I felt I was no longer in your memory. 
But I braved myself to ask,  “Do you know who I am?”
You turned to look at me and softly said my name, 

 And added, “My dearest child.” 

On living, loving and leaving

shakespeare1

Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou may’st in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day, 
As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest. 
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire 
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, 
As the death-bed whereon it must expire 
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by. 
   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 

There has been much debate on the meaning of this sonnet, particularly the last couplet:

   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

What is the young man supposed to eventually leave before long: his friend or his own youth?

I will not join in the debate, but I am quoting the sonnet here because I was reminded of it (and John Donne’s Sonnet 10) twice today: first, when I read this poem by John White called Laughing about it ; second, when I read Temple Grandin’s tribute to Oliver Sacks, who also wrote a moving article reflecting on his relationship with his Orthodox family and the Sabbath.

Whether the speaker meant that the young man had to leave his friend or his youth, to me, is not the point, rather that the knowledge that one is leaving something valuable makes one appreciate it or love it even more.

My first real understanding of this line happened one summer day when my best friend and I stood in a forest, listening to the sound of the leaves of the trees as the breeze was passing through, and I said it was beautiful I wish it could last forever; and he said it was beautiful simply because it was not going to last.

(Not long after that my best friend left, and for a while, that memory always made me cry. But with time, I have learned to call on that memory, and it just brings a beautiful feeling.)

If we truly love someone or something –a place, a person, a pet or life itself —  the knowledge of our imminent leaving of it/them will make our love for it/them even stronger.

Perhaps it is the best way to live every minute of our short life here: to always remember that we won’t be here forever, that we are always about to leave. Perhaps then we can love wholeheartedly, not only for a minute or an hour or for a day, but for a lifetime.

On Choosing Whom to Love

fromm1b

“All my life, as soon as a person got attached to me, I did everything to distance them. The first person whom I loved and I was faithful to escaped me through drugs, through betrayal. Maybe many things came from this, from vanity, from fear of suffering further, and yet I have accepted so much suffering. But I have in turn escaped from everyone since and, in a certain way I wanted everyone to escape from me.”

“I sometimes accuse myself of being incapable of love. Maybe this is true, but I have also been able to select a few people and to take care of them faithfully, with the best of myself, no matter what they do.

– Albert Camus as quoted in Camus, A Romance by Elizabeth Hawes (I bought a hardbound copy of this book years ago, but I saw the book again yesterday as my husband and I were sorting books to throw and to keep!)

Camus was a known womanizer, he talked about loving the many women in his life in the love letters he wrote them, yet in his journals he wrote of distancing himself from them. He sometimes wondered if he was incapable of love, yet admitted to “taking care” of a few people faithfully the best he could no matter what these people did.

I am not writing to justify nor excuse Camus’ womanizing, but rereading this quote from him reminded me of how simple it can be to love somebody, truly love somebody, anybody; but people, especially men like Camus make it so complicated. To me, he WAS capable of love, and indeed he loved those whom he faithfully took care of no matter what they did.

You cannot choose who to like or dislike or be physically/sexually attracted to, it’s a feeling. But you can definitely choose whom you give your time, energy and yourself (body and soul) to – and that’s love.

You cannot choose your biological family (not yet, anyway, perhaps with technology it will be possible), but you can choose to love or not love your family. You may like your family, but you may not love them. (“Yeah, they’re alright. They’re cool. I haven’t heard from my folks for a month!) You may not like your family sometimes, but you may love them because you take care of them, you provide for them, and make sure they are all right.

Now I can totally understand when young people make the mistake of “falling in love” with someone who everyone thinks is the wrong person, because as recent findings reveal, the brain, particularly the pre-frontal cortex responsible for regulation of emotions, does not reach full maturity until mid-20s. Young people may not be able to “think ahead” and “make mature decisions”, and it’s perfectly understandable because neurologically speaking, they are not of that age yet.

But if you are a “typical” (I no longer like using the word “normal” because, really, what does it mean these days?) adult, you should be able to think and choose whether or not to invest in a person or a relationship. If a part of you is doubtful whether you should give more of your time, energy (and money) to be with a person who doesn’t seem to give the same to be with you,  you don’t need to pray to the gods or ask your friends over and over again whether this person loves you or not. Get that pre-frontal cortex working and figure it out yourself. It will be good exercise for your brain. 🙂

Musings on the brain on New Year’s Eve

New Year. New Life.

I took this picture early this morning on my way to work. Beautiful sunrise on New Year’s eve. The cool air, blue sky, white clouds, birds flying — all these made me feel hopeful for the coming year. Happy New Year!:)

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I am thinking about new year’s resolutions which I have had the habit of making every year for the last 20 years or so. But this year, influenced by my new-found fascination with the human mind/brain, I am thinking whether I should make them.

This is going to be about my new-found interest in the brain then, because “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” or the fingers type.

Several factors led me to my current interest, the most important of which is my son’s condition. Elijah has ASD (autism spectrum disorder). He was diagnosed when he was 2, now he is almost 5. Like some other autistic children I know of, he would laugh hysterically for no reason (this has since lessened to a considerable degree after we put him on the GFCF diet), or cry for no apparent reason, and wake up in the middle of the night screaming and kicking (this totally, well, hopefully it’s totally, came to an end after we put him on the GFCF diet).

Wanting to understand what Eli is going through, what goes on in his head when he’s laughing or crying (he can express in sentences what he wants but nothing else), I decided to read more about the brain, and my interest led me to my discovery of the great mind of Dr. Oliver Sacks. The great thing about having coffee with knowledgeable friends is you can talk about subjects that both of you really enjoy discussing, and you get not only a good feeling about being understood but also the satisfaction that you learned something valuable. I mention this because if not for my friend’s enthusiastic introduction of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, I would have kept postponing reading Oliver Sacks’ book, and I would have stayed the same person I was three months ago.

This book is one of the four books I consider to have the major influence in shaping the ME I am today (excluding the Bible, that is). The other three are Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (Huh? But yes.) The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a collection of case histories of patients that Dr. Sacks saw in his capacity as a neurologist. I don’t think I will list him as one of my favorite writers, but he will always be one of my favorite people in the world. I say that because literature has always been my preferred reading material, and my favorite authors have always been literary writers, but I find Dr. Sacks’ writings (I just started reading A Leg to Stand On) though they are case histories, were written with understanding and compassion. The patients were written about not as subjects of an examination, but as real human beings with feelings — joy, sadness, fear, anger. Dr. Sacks made me see that there is more to a human being than what they say or what they do. For some, though they look normal to others, they may not have control over their language or actions.

There are 20 stories in this book but I will only mention four that really made an impact on me.

The first is the patient who is the source of the title of this book. He literally mistook his wife for a hat and grabbed her hair and pulled, thinking his wife’s head was his hat. He only realized it wasn’t when his wife made a sound. He could not recognize people by their faces, but by the sound of their voice. He mistook people for objects, and objects for people,addressing door knobs and heads of hydrants like they were people. I know it sounds like something you would see in a slapstick comedy, and perhaps in reality, we would still find this funny, but then when you realize that a person with this kind of neurological disorder has to deal with this every single day of his life, and could very well be the subject of mockery or ridicule, then it ceases to be funny. The patient was fortunate that he was a respected musician, whose gift for music was unaffected by this disorder.

What others may see as quirkiness is actually a result of an injury or damage in the brain. The person is not trying to be funny. He has no control over it.

The second case that I find fascinating is the man who could not recognize his own leg as being his. He woke up, saw a leg on top of his own that he thought somebody had put there as a joke, and he threw it away, but as he did he fell off his bed. Then he thought, for some reason that that leg had possessed his own leg. Most people would just say he’s mad. But this kind of neurological disorder can happen to anybody, to “well-balanced people, who had shown no hints of any madness before.” This disorder is supposedly associated with lesions of the brain.

No, the man was not possessed by an evil spirit. There was a large tumor in his brain which damaged his thinking faculty.

The third patient is called Martin. Here I would like to quote Dr. Sacks, as I don’t think I can describe Martin and his condition as well as he did:

     As a child, Martin had “meningitis which caused retardation, impulsiveness, seizures, and some spasticity on one side. He had very limited schooling, but a remarkable musical education — his father was a famous singer at the Met.

     ” … [He] had an amazing musical memory — ‘I know more than 2,000 operas,’ he told me on one occasion — although he had never learned or been able to read music….He had always depended on his extraordinary ear, his power to retain an opera or an oratorio after a single hearing. Unfortunately his voice was not up to his ear — being tuneful, but gruff, with some spastic dysphonia….His father transmitted not only his musical genes, but his own great love for music, in the intimacy of a father-son relationship, and perhaps the specially tender relation of a parent to a retarded child. Martin– slow, clumsy — was loved by his father, and passionately loved by him in return; and their love was cemented by their shared love for music.”

Martin could not keep a job because he was not “normal,” strange. Yet when it came to music, he was known as a “walking encyclopedia,” and when he participated in musical events no one would ever think there was anything strange about this man.

If his brain had not been damaged, would Martin possibly have a happy, comfortable life? Would he have retained his musical gifts? Or were his talents a product of the brain damage?

Finally there was the 19-year old Indian girl who was diagnosed with a brain tumor of low malignancy when she was seven, and which recurred more malignantly in her 18th year. As her tumor grew and moved closer to her temporal lobe, her seizures became more “frequent and stranger.”

As her condition grew worse, the hospital staff “would see her rapt, as if in a trance, her eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open but unseeing, and always a faint, mysterious smile on her face. If anyone approached her, or asked her something, as the nurses had to do, she would respond at once, lucidly and courteously, but there was, even among the most down-to-earth staff, a feeling that she was in another world, and that we should not interrupt her. I shared this feeling and, though curious, was reluctant to probe. Once, just once, I said, ‘Bhagawhandi, what is happening?’

‘I am dying,’ she answered. ‘I am going home. I am going back where I came from — you might call it my return.”

A little over a week later, she passed on.

Reading this part of the book reminded me of the many dying people I personally of, who talked about their brothers or sisters or nephews who had gone on before them, waiting for them, bidding them to come and join them.

These stories and the rest of the 16 cases in the book show us how the brain controls not only our body, our actions, our words, but also our past, present and future.

This leads me to one of my important questions, which at first may seem philosophical, but actually is not: Do we have free will?

But I will save that for my next musing.

So I guess for now, because I have not yet answered my question on free will, I can still make my New Year’s resolutions:

1. Read more.

2. Think more.

3. Write more.

4. Save money.

5. Be a good person.

What’s yours?

May your 2016 be filled with peace, love and happiness!

Happy New Year!!

Game of Life: Excitement, Fear, Exhilaration, and then Reality Bites 

Li Tian Yuan, Tongan, Xiamen, China

Li Tian Yuan, Tongan, Xiamen, China

 I’ve never been an adventurous person. When I was younger, I only dared to do crazy things out of love for or silly attraction to some guy, like going up alone to a military camp located on a remote hill in a city where a bomb exploded just the day before, just to get the signature of a colonel on my then-boyfriend’s clearance, or going to a city that was in the middle of a war just because an attractive journalist-friend had asked me if I could go with him, and I couldn’t say no. Sigh. So 15-17 years ago.

I’ve only been in a pendulum ride once, and I am very, very sure I will die if I try it again. The only thing I ever felt the whole time I was in that monstrous thing was FEAR. And after a minute or two of that fear, I mustered the energy to just meditate. So I did, and my two guy friends who were with me and having so much fun, were yelling, “Therese, are you OK?” They thought I had died. Ha!

But a couple of weeks ago, when I saw the zip line at the amusement park my former students had invited me to, I just wanted to give it a try. It didn’t look scary because it wasn’t too high nor too long, and below was a calm river with people on pedal boats. It looked non-threatening enough that I excitedly volunteered we go. So we did. I was the first to get up on the platform, but then insisted that a colleague go first. I was having second thoughts.

And then it was my turn. I wanted to back out, but there was a line of young people behind me, the same ones I had rallied to join me. How could I ever back out? I made the sign of the cross at least five times! Then I said to myself in the same way I did as I was being wheeled to the delivery room to have my first (and only) child, “OK, Therese. You’re doing this. You can never back out on this one!”

So I jumped.

And I screamed in fear. Waaaahhhh.

Then I yelled in exhilaration. Wooo-hoo!

I know it was probably less than a minute, but it was a moment I will never forget. I waved at the people on the river, threw my head back and consequently, spun and saw everything around me. After all that fear, I felt the most beautiful, exhilarating feeling. Andthen it was over. My knees were shaking, but I couldn’t shake off that excitement right away.

Even weeks after that experience, the feeling is still quite vivid for me — those few seconds of joy. And one day, as I thought about that moment I remembered a few lines from three of Dostoevsky’s works.

In The Idiot, Prince Myshkin talks about what actually goes on in his head while he’s having a seizure. He sees beauty and feels immense joy that he’s never felt in his waking life that sometimes he actually wishes he can have a seizure again just so he can experience that happiness, that joy.

In White Nights, the sentimental hero of the story after witnessing the happiness of Nastenka, who asks him not to be unhappy because of her happiness, says he will never do anything to ruin her joy, because he knows how precious that moment is. “My God, a moment of bliss. Why, isn’t that enough for a whole lifetime?”

In A Faint Heart, Vasya is overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness that he goes insane. His friend, Arkady, on his way home pauses by the Neva and, ” A strange thought came to poor Vasya’s forlorn friend. He started, and his heart seemed at that instant flooded with a hot rush of blood kindled by a powerful, overwhelming sensation he had never known before. He seemed only now to understand all the trouble, and to know why his poor Vasya had gone out of his mind, unable to bear his happiness.”

Perhaps Arkady himself experienced this few seconds of happiness or he wouldn’t have understood the cause of Vasya’s insanity.

Some happiness-es just happen. Others can be had by choice. If by choice, we then have to be ready for the consequences which can be either harmless, productive or disastrous.

So many people will tell you to “follow your heart, pursue whatever makes you happy, don’t think, just do it.” If everything turns out fine from an uninformed decision, perhaps it’s only due to luck or coincidence. One cannot predict the future but one can try to make an intelligent guess or infer from the current situation as to the consequences of a particular decision.

When something or someone new comes to our lives, they may bring us so much excitement, and we may feel fear as we think of the changes they will bring to our lives. Some have experienced just abandoning everything for the sake of “love,” throwing caution to the wind, and they make it sound so romantic. And it sounds like it is all good, but life is not a fairy tale that ends with “they live happily ever after.” After that brief moment of bliss, comes reality and more often than not, it is ugly.

If I have the certainty that the consequences of my action would be harmless, not seriously hurt anybody whether I care about them or not, I wouldn’t mind experiencing that few seconds of bliss. Like Camus’ Sisyphus, I wouldn’t mind rolling that huge boulder on top of a hill just to be happy.

But how often are our pursuits of happiness, of excitement and exhilaration harmless? Or, how harmless are our pursuits of happiness, of excitement and exhilaration?

I really enjoyed my first time on a zip line, but even though I know it’s safe and exciting, I think once is good enough for me. (Not adventurous!)

Smiling for a good mood

One thing I miss about being in my country is seeing the smile of people, especially early in the morning. Filipinos, in general, are a happy people, and we don’t think highly of people who are grumpy early in the morning. Even now that I have been living in a foreign country for 12 years, I still cannot understand (or maybe I do but I just cannot accept the answer) why it is so hard for people to smile, or be courteous early in the morning. (Perhaps because they don’t shower in the morning but in the evening?)

Last time I was in my home country I had to stay in a hotel in Cebu for a couple of days, and, close to the hotel is a 7-Eleven store. I went there a couple of times early in the morning, and each time, the security guard opened the door for me with a smile and said, “Good morning, Ma’am” (well, “mom” actually, if you know what I mean.) The young staff were just as courteous and smiling, and their smiles just made me feel like “Yeah, it’s a beautiful day!”

It’s amazing how people’s facial expressions can influence other people’s mood for the day. Having the habit of watching my emotions, I am always aware of how I cannot seem to get rid of a bad feeling just because somebody frowns at me (maybe the person is thinking of something else and just happens to look at me); conversely, I can be happy all day just because somebody smiles at me or greets me in the morning!

“It only takes a split second to smile and forget, yet to someone that needed it, it can last a lifetime.” 
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

These words are so true. If I get a smile from this person, I’m sure I’d remember it for the rest of my life!

Bradley Cooper
A smile you can remember for a lifetime! (Photo source)

😍😍😍😍

Here are some of my favorite quotes about “Smiles” and “Smiling”. What are yours?

“Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” ― Mother Teresa

“You’re never fully dressed without a smile.” – Martin Charnin

“A smile is happiness you’ll find right under your nose.” – Tom Wilson

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

“Always remember to be happy because you never know who’s falling in love with your smile.” – Unknown

Birthday Dirge (a funny-kind-of-sad poem)

image

You came home the other day
And solemnly said to me
You wanted to have a long life.

And when I asked you why
You said you wanted to be around
To make sure I would get

A proper funeral.

I would’ve been moved
I would’ve thought, “Aaw, how sweet!”

Had you not forgotten
My birthday yesterday
Had you said sorry
That you forgot.

But you didn’t .

I’m still alive.
Here I am.
Can’t you see me?

Love of Words, Words of Love

JMU lake 2

One of the many things that I like about Dostoevsky’s style is the distinct voices of each of his characters. (Perhaps credit is also due tothe translator who understands the nuances of the Russian language.) If the character is highly educated, then he or she can speak eloquently in long, complex and profound sentences on a variety of subjects with numerous allusions to literary works. Such as the narrator of White Nights, who speaks so eruditely, that Nastenka, who considers herself a simple uneducated girl has to say to him: “You describe it all so splendidly, but couldn’t you perhaps describe it less splendidly?” The narrator’s language is reflective of a person who is used to internal monologues, and not that of one accustomed to conversing with other people.

Nastenka, on the other hand, simple as she is, expresses herself in the simplest way possible. Her sentences are short, even incomplete sometimes reflecting a very conversational use of language.

****
White Nights, a sentimental story from the diary of a dreamer

It makes a huge difference that Dostoevsky included “a sentimental story from the diary of a dreamer” in the title, because then the reader can excuse the sentimentality of the story, for are we not prone to sentimentality ourselves, albeit only in our heads?

The narrator, a 27-year old dreamer, who hasnever been with a woman, meets an 18-year old heartbroken woman, and they become friends and each other’s confidant. The woman, Nastenka, asks of him only one thing — not to fall in love with her, which of course, is impossible, she being the only woman (beautiful at that) to ever spend time with him, and listen to him.

Nastenka is distressed because the man who promised to come back to Petersburg to marry her has not come to see her yet even though it is past the date they have agreed to meet. The narrator counsels and comforts her, until he falls in love with her and finally one evening tells her. Nastenka does not turn him away, saying she will learn to love him as she already loves him as a friend. They walk, holding hands, happy with life when the man she has been waiting for, appears and she runs to him. And they walk away, leaving our poor, poor hero behind.

Days later, the young man receives a letter from Nastenka that says, “We shall meet, you will come to us, you will be for ever a friend, a brother to me.” And she asks him to forgive her, and to continue loving her because “when one loves a wrong is forgotten.” Then she tells him she is getting married and wishes for him to be there at their wedding.

Our poor hero ends his story with these words(only in his head):

“But to imagine that I should bear you a grudge, Nastenka. That I should cast a dark cloud over your serene, untroubled happiness; that by my bitter reproaches I should cause distress to your heart, should poison it with secret remorse and should force it to throb with anguish at the moment of bliss…. Oh never, never! May your sky be clear, may your sweet smile be bright and untroubled, and may you be blessed for that blissful happiness which you gave to another, lonely and and grateful heart!

“My god, a whole moment of happiness! Is that too little for a whole of man’s life? “

I know very few women and not a single man who could love that way.

Apart from parents, how many people can truly love selflessly? To wish nothing for oneself but to see the happiness of another, even if it means being neglected, abandoned?

*****

“I don’t know how to be silent when my heart is speaking.”

The narrator says these words to Nastenka as he tells her about himself.

These words remind me of the biblical verse, “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Rare is a person who can keep his secret love totally secret from everyone but himself.

When one is in love, why is it difficult to keep that to oneself? Even if one does not admit he is, he will not be able to stop mentioning the subject of his affection in every conversation, and he will always find a way to keep in touch with the same person no matter how mundane it is that he says to her.

But indeed some secret feelings are better carried to one’s grave, especially if they will not do any good to anyone.

If the narrator were my friend, I would have advised him to keep his feelings a secret, then he would not have had the unwanted pity that Nastenka must have felt for him. And he himself would not have felt guilty for making Nastenka worry about him, and their friendship would have remained pure and unsullied by knowledge of romantic feelings one had for the other.

To keep a friendship one has to be silent sometimes. Or even silence one’s heart.

Restraint is key.

On Searching for Love, Finding it and Starting a New Life (three books, one review)

Most people I know who love reading novels read at least two books a month. I could not, cannot do that. Excuses: (1) I prefer reading philosophical novels, which require more time (at least for my slow brain) to process, and (2) I have a job, a 4-year old son, and a husband and I do 95% of the housework.

This summer I took a break from reading the Russians (or just Russian, Dostoevsky) and read three “contemporary” (meaning the authors are still very much alive) books – a memoir and two novels. It is quite interesting to me how I chose to read the two novels after the memoir, and only later realized that there seemed to be a link in the order in which I read them.

The first book I read was “Three Brightnessess: The Quintessential Story of Learning Chinese And Falling in Love in China – Over and Over Again” by William Shoemaker. I read it because I know the author, had invited him to my class a couple of times to talk with my students about his short stories which I had let my students read, and promised him I would read his first book.

Three Brightnesses by William Shoemaker

I enjoyed reading Will’s memoir because, having lived in China a long time, I can relate to the things he wrote about – the place, the people, the culture, what one can like or dislike about them. Several times while reading this book I laughed so hard, and I think that’s a good way to judge whether a writer is good or not – if he/she can make you cry or laugh.

Will speaks fluent Mandarin, dated Chinese women, has Chinese friends with whom he can speak Mandarin. And yet, I don’t think he has ever felt at home or that he belongs.

One of the things he said that resonated with me is this: “In China, no one waits. Nothing stays the same for long. You can try to understand the place, but anything you learn, the moment you learn it, becomes an artifact of the past. The thing that doesn’t change is the memory – the version of the place that you knew.”

If you’re thinking of moving to China or are interested in China or the Chinese culture especially as it is now, read Three Brightnesses.

The second book is called Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones. What attracted me to this book is the quotation from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s book The Phenomenon of Man, right at the beginning of the book, which goes,

“Since the inner face of the world is manifest deep within our human  consciousness, and there reflects upon itself, it would seem that we have only got to look at ourselves in order to understand the dynamic relationships existing between the within and without of things at a given point in the universe. In fact so to do is one of the most difficult of things.”

The novel is about a thirty-something American woman who is running away from her troubled past (being the beloved daughter of a racist politician), and wanting to start a new life and to find love (in the form of a Chinese man, had to be Chinese), in China. (Why is it so easy for Asian women like me to accept a relationship between a western man and an Asian woman, but we tend to be surprised or even shocked, incredulous when we hear of relationships between western women and Asian men? Well, I know my answer to that one, but I would really like to know how other Asian women think!)

The main character, Alice, being fluent in Chinese, works as translator in Beijing. She translates for an American archaeologist who is doing a research on the Peking Man. Being in China, the American archaeologist has no choice but to work with Chinese archaeologists, one of whom is Lin Shiyang whose main reason for joining the team is to be able to track his wife who was put in a labor camp in the northwest of China during the Cultural Revolution. Shiyang and Alice fall in love, but right after he finds out for sure that his wife died years ago in the camp, he also finds out about Alice’s promiscuities. But that’s not the ending. You will have to read it to find out how it all ends.

It’s a story within a story, as the writer leads us to the story between Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Lucile Swan in the early 20th century, and the love story between Alice and Shiyang in the 21st century.

After reading this novel, I promised myself I would read The Phenomenon of Man.

 But I ended up reading Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, which, just like Lost in Translation is a story within a story. The main character in the 21st century is a 40-year old Jewish-American woman, Ella, married to a successful Jewish man and together they have three children, the eldest being in college and the youngest in elementary school. For twenty years she lived what seemed the peaceful and content life of the perfect wife and mother. But one day, she reads a book called Sweet Blasphemy written by a man called A.Z. Zahara, and this book changes her and her life forever. While we are reading about Ella and her life and her consequent meeting and falling in love with Aziz, we also get to read Sweet Blasphemy which is about the spiritual friendship between two Sufi mystics, Rumi and Shams of Tabrizi.

Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

This novel contains so many quotable quotes all from Shams’s Forty Rules of Love. One of my favorites is

“There is only one way to be born into a new life: to die before death.”

Shamse Tabrizi.jpg

Shams of Tabrizi

In the novel, Ella’s new life entails leaving her husband (he was cheating on her anyway), and her three children, to be with a man she just met and whom she “loves”. I put love in quotation marks, because even after reading the novel and Sham’s Forty Rules of Love, I do not consider passion as love. How can you truly love somebody you just exchanged emails or text messages with? To finally meet that person and find he is even more interesting than the one you have been texting with may be very exciting indeed, but excitement does not equal love. And finally I cannot see any justification for leaving one’s children to pursue one’s happiness. Perhaps if the children are old enough to live without both parents. But for little children, I can only imagine the difficulty of growing up without both parents to guide you and make you feel secure in this world. But I have to say this, leaving a philandering husband is perfectly fine, (also the husband who forgets his wife’s birthday and their wedding anniversary, yeah!) I salute women who do so.

That said, I am grateful for this novel for introducing me to Sufism. I promised myself I would read more about Sufism, after reading about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Phenomenon of Man, that is.

But Dostoevsky’s White Nights is calling….:)

What book are you reading?

Of Exciting Beginnings and Boring Endings

Mad Men Dr. Faye Miller of “Mad Men”

Photo Source

“Mad Men: Tomorrowland (#4.13)” (2010)

Don Draper: I met somebody and… we’re engaged.
Faye Miller: Are you kidding me?
Don Draper: I know, I know. It’s a surprise. It was for me, too.
Faye Miller: Jesus. Who is she?
Don Draper: What’s the difference? I fell in love. I didn’t mean for this to happen. You’ve been very important to me.
Faye Miller: So you’re not going to put an ad in the “New York Times” saying you never liked me?
Don Draper: Faye.
Faye Miller: Well, I hope you’re very happy. And I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things. 

Quote Source: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0303746/quotes

Two totally unrelated happenings I was a witness to today reminded me of this line from Faye. In fact I have never forgotten this line ever since I heard it because I think in relationships, everyone is guilty of this. Well, perhaps not everyone, but most people.

This morning in a restaurant, I sat at a table for two, and next to mine was a table for six and there sat a septuagenarian-looking couple. Instead of sitting directly across from each other or next to each other, they sat diagonally opposite each other, directly facing an empty seat. And they were just eating. In silence. Companionable silence, perhaps, but they seemed lost in their own thoughts. Only one time did the woman say something about the food without even looking at the man, and I just heard the man make a sound like “hmm.”

This scene was in sharp contrast to the text messages I was receiving from my friend, who has met somebody new whom he says he’s not interested in romantically, but who he cannot stop talking about. His excitement over a new person he has met (and this has happened several times in the few years I’ve known him) amuses me. I enjoy observing his reaction and understanding how men think, and reminiscing the times I, too, got excited about meeting somebody new.

When you meet somebody new that you like, you cannot stop thinking about them and getting in touch with them and telling your family, friends, and anyone who’s willing to listen, about how wonderful/cool/nice they are. To me, it’s like being in high school all over again, where every word that’s spoken (now, texted or posted on social media) by said person seems to be directed at you or is related to your “friendship”; every gesture or action seems to be a code you have to decipher (when, really, there is no hidden meaning whatsoever.)

Dr. Faye Miller, being a psychologist, must know that Don’s behavior or preference for beginnings is all too common. But knowledge does not equal acceptance, especially when that knowledge hurts our feelings.

I like exciting beginnings, but I can’t bear boring endings. I don’t like how after a few weeks of “friendship”, your “friend” acts like you don’t know each other. It’s something I experienced in my youth, and I often hear from young friends who ask “Why? What happened? What did I do?” Sigh. (It’s what you didn’t do.)

One thing I’m grateful for, being in my 40’s, is the wisdom to see through exciting beginnings. Most of them don’t last. But one can work on it, I guess. They don’t have to have a boring ending. I know I wouldn’t want my husband and me to end up not looking at each other anymore, or worse, not talking. After 9 years, we still talk a lot about the things we both are interested in, and laugh at ourselves and at each other in a loving way.

I would not trade that for an exciting beginning that has an uncertain ending.

May you always have exciting beginnings that won’t have boring endings! 🙂

Laughter and Pain

image

Beautiful Mindanao

In this life I think we all have good years and bad years. Sometimes when we are having a good year, we ask (like I often do), “Do I really deserve this? Have I been really that good to deserve all these wonderful things?” And when we are having a bad year, we ask (like I ALWAYS do), “Seriously. What have I done to deserve this?”

And I’m having a bad year. It has gotten so bad that now I could laugh at an unfortunate incident my husband and I found ourselves in yesterday. It struck me that my life these past few months has been a black comedy.

The other day while I was doing the dishes, I thought of Job and how his faith was tested. I hope this is just a test as well, and that my husband and I will pass this test with flying colors. And that we will be laughing a real laugh, not the one tinged with pain.

I have always believed, and I know from experience that it’s true that “this too shall pass.”

There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. 🙂

When Love Goes Wrong

Life goes on

             Life goes on

“There is always something ridiculous about the emotions of people whom we ceased to love.”                                                   (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The words above quoted from Wilde’s novel were spoken by my favorite character in that novel, Lord Henry Wotton

At my age, I find it nothing but mere melodramatics when people say they cannot live without a particular person in their lives.

Of course I have been in that situation myself when I thought my world had ended because a particular person who I had made responsible for my happiness (and consequently, unhappiness) left me.

There is something inherently wrong in the belief that one cannot live without a particular person in their lives. First is that another person can be responsible for one’s happiness. Second, that one’s world would end when that person is gone.

No one else is responsible for our happiness except ourselves, and the world can and will really continue to exist with our without a particular person in our lives. If you tell a jerk (because even a jerk can fool somebody into loving him) that he is your life, your world and that both would come to an end if he leaves you, then you are giving him enormous amount of control over your life. Not smart. And if you tell an honest and responsible man the same, then you are giving him undue pressure and undeserved feelings of guilt whenever you are unhappy (which may be your aim, and that makes you the jerk.)

When you are truly, madly, deeply in love you seldom think clearly, logically. But when that period comes to an end, then it is like you have just recovered from a psychological cataract, and you see, if you’re lucky, the purity and selflessness of your love, or if you’re unfortunate, the silliness of your thoughts and actions.

When you fall out of love, you become this person that is able to distance yourself from the relationship and see yourself and the former object of your affection and the dynamics between the two of you, like the two of you are characters in a movie or in novel whose plot not only you can relate to, but also you can analyze and comment on objectively.

At first you may feel pity for the spurned person, especially if you have “lost that lovin’ feeling,'” but they haven’t. You may feel dislike or disgust for them, especially if they had betrayed you. Or you just may find them irritating when they cannot let go and keep trying to win back your love.

I think most people have experienced breaking up with someone or being let go by someone. If you broke up with someone that you ceased to love, then whatever they say becomes mere hollow sounds to you. If you’re polite, you will pretend to listen and do a mental eye-rolling when they tell you those saccharine words that you used to love to hear them say to you:

You are my world.
I can’t live without you.
You complete me.

Duh.
Or …
D’oh.

For those who cling to a lost love:

The pain of unrequited love is real. But you have to move on because:
1. It’s not the end of the world. Really.
2. You are responsible for your own happiness. No need to pass that responsibility on to somebody else
3. You CAN move on.
4. You WILL move on.

Let go but don’t let yourself go.

Childhood Memories

childhood memories

I watched the movie “Lucy” sometime ago and thought the first half of the film was interesting, and then it just got stranger and sillier until the end. But one scene that stuck with me is the phone conversation Lucy had with her mom, where she told her she could feel everything, remember everything vividly, as if they happened just a few seconds ago. She could remember how her mother kissed her when she was still a baby.

Would you like that? To remember everything so vividly? I am guessing most people would like to remember just the happy, beautiful times and not the painful ones. In fact most people would prefer to forget the pain they have gone through.

When I was a little girl, being the youngest, I was very affectionate with my mother. I always liked kissing and hugging her and being kissed and hugged in return. She always smelled of Johnson’s Baby Powder, and I liked that. I went on being like this even when I was already in my late 20’s. My sisters used to tell me off telling me it was disgusting that I still acted like a baby when I was already an adult. But it never bothered me what other people thought.

Those are not the only memories I have of me and my mother in my childhood though. I also still vividly remember the times my mother got angry with me and my sisters. I would not say it was a typical Asian way of discipline, but it was quite common to be hit and scolded in front of family and friends or even strangers. My sisters and I sometimes talk about those times with a little sadness and a lot of laughter, but my mother remembers nothing of those times she was not gentle with us.

Yes, I remember them as well, but those hugs and kisses are the more powerful memories.

So now that I, myself, have become a mother, I hug my son tightly as often as I can, hoping he will never forget how much his mom loves him and makes him feel loved. I want him to always remember the loving look his mom gives him, and how when he is scared or hurt, his mom comforts him and makes him feel safe.

It is useless to wish he won’t remember the times I get angry with him, but I hope those memories will not be as vivid as the beautiful ones.

One of my favorite scenes from Dostoevky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov is at the trial of Mitya (Dmitry) when Dr. Herzenstube was called to the witness stand. He recalled a time when he saw Mitya as a little boy, “barefoot, his little trousers held up by a button…” He felt so sorry for him, knowing that Mitya’s father cared little for the boy, and decided to give him a pound of nuts. After that he did not see Mitya again, until twenty-three years later, a young man came to visit him and reminded him of his generosity. This young man said to him, “I’ve just come to town and I want to thank you now for the pound of nuts you once gave me, because you’re the only person who has ever given me a pound of nuts in my whole life!”

What happens in our childhood may have a major impact in our lives as adults. We remember things that happened to us when we were children as if they just happened yesterday. Some may be good, others may make us cringe or angry.

What’s your best childhood memory?

Cure for Self-Absorption

IMG_3154

So why a picture of the sea? When I stand on the shore and look at the vastness of the sea and the horizon, I become very conscious of how tiny I am in this universe. And I am filled with emotions that I can’t really describe. Is that what happens when the soul is praying?

A sudden downpour, and for reasons I don’t really know, I remember days I spent at the convent (when I tried to become a nun.)

One of the things I liked about being there was doing the evening prayers with the Sisters. We read from the Breviary and then there was a part for personal intentions, where the Sisters (and later I, myself, having learned from them) prayed for other people we did not really know – the ones in hospitals, those who were traveling, the lonely, etc.

Looking back, I find when we think of those who are suffering and try to feel what they are going through, then we not only realize that other people are suffering so much more than we are, but also we become less self-absorbed and consequently avoid magnifying our troubles.

Right now I’m hearing someone complain about his job, and I think of those who are desperate for a job.

I pray (to God if there is one) for the people of India suffering from the heat wave, that their suffering will come to an end.

(Now I know the reason for remembering: a friend texted me about cloudburst, to which I replied “better than heat wave in India”, then I remembered days I spent in the convent.)

Love and Anger from Boredom

JMUAFT6

One day many years ago, when I was still young, free and single, I spoke with a colleague/friend who was only a few years older than I, about a boy who had been calling me almost every day for several months and then one day just stopped. I was telling my colleague/friend, who was married with two toddlers, that I could not stop wondering what happened, and that I could not sleep just thinking how it could just end like that. She looked me straight in the eye and said to me, coldly, “You do not have real problems, so you invent problems.” (I miss you, Nancy GRO.)

I do not know how anyone else would react to that, but I laughed. And even now, I laugh when I remember it. Indeed, that was not a real problem.

A few weeks ago, I re-read “Notes from the Underground” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and I highlighted the quotes below as I know I have been guilty of these things myself too many times in my youth, and a couple of times in adulthood.

“How many times, for instance, I’d take offense, out of the blue, for no good reason, deliberately; I’d know very well that there was nothing to be offended at, that I was playacting, but in the end I’d bring myself to such a state that the offense would become real.”

“Or else I’d try to force myself to fall in love; in fact, I did it twice. And I suffered, gentlemen, I assure you I did. Deep down in your heart you don’t believe in your suffering, there is a stirring of mockery, and yet you suffer – in the most genuine, honest-to-goodness way. I’d be jealous, I’d be beside myself…And all out of boredom, gentlemen, all because I was crushed by sheer inertia.”

We sometimes think people have offended us, when, in fact, if we had important things to do or think about, we would not even remember what they said. And sometimes, when people have nothing to do, they imagine being in an amazing place, with an amazing person living an amazing life. And then this imagination can lead to the illusion that one is in love, when in reality, there is nothing amazing about the subject of one’s imagination.

Idleness can lead to love or anger, both of which may be mere illusions.

One ought to have time for quiet, for introspection, (I maintain that being quiet or introspecting is not the same as having an idle mind) but one also needs a distraction from the tediousness of daily living – a distraction that needs action. Hence, the need for a hobby. As an introvert, I am happy to add photography and guitar-playing to my list of hobbies that include reading and writing.

What’s your hobby?

Schadenfreude and the Sick Mind

IMG_3306

RIP, SFP.

SCHADENFREUDE AND THE SICK MIND

I just finished re-reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and thought about how the most important characters all seem to have mental problems. The most interesting characters are the eccentric ones, and the dull ones are the very normal people.

Rogojin loved Nastasia, even though she kept humiliating him in public; but, that love eventually turned to hate and led him to murder her. When she died, he kept her body in his house and watched over it. He did not laugh at her death. He was sick, but he was not happy that she died.

Myshkin understood and did not condemn Rogojin for killing his bride-to-be. They called him the “idiot”, but he was the only enlightened one among all the characters. “The Idiot,” just like “Crime and Punishment” and “Brothers Karamazov” (my number 1 favorite novel), made me think about a lot of things – about myself, my family, friends, and life and death. I started re-reading it at a time when, someone I know, was dying.

After reading the book today, I read, not a fictitious story, but a true-to-life one of a person in terrible pain and with only a few hours to live being visited by some people who made jokes and laughed loudly in the room. Perhaps they did not realize the person was in pain? I do not think it is hard to tell if a person is in pain, especially when they are groaning.

As a child, I was scolded by my father for making my sister laugh while our other sister was crying because she was itching all over from an allergy. Back then I thought what’s wrong about laughing? We were not laughing at or about her. But before I could say anything, my father said, “When somebody is suffering, you do not make light of their suffering by laughing.” It is not only rude, it is evil.

In our life, there are people who love us and those who hate us. There are people who like us, dislike us, or to whom we mean nothing. Being an introvert, I have very few people, apart from my family, I trust and truly like. But should I find myself dying, I would not want anyone except for my immediate family to see me on my deathbed. I do not want visitors who may only come to see how much I am suffering and be happy to see me thus.

Because believe me, there are such people. They look quite normal, so normal that they even managed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree even though they cannot spell their names correctly. They look good and are very sociable. They walk with a swagger even though their stomachs are sticking out. They speak loudly in front of their acquaintances but simply to sound important. Yet what little knowledge they have is simply based on hearsay, God knows if they have even touched a book!

These people enjoy watching others suffer. It is difficult to understand because they are supposed to be “normal.” I can understand a mental patient laughing at someone who had been run over by a car, because the person is mentally sick. He has no control over his thoughts and feelings. I can understand a drug addict laughing at someone who fell down the stairs because his brain has been corrupted by drugs. But how to understand  people who are not into drugs, talk normally, act normally in front of most people yet laugh at a dying person?

How are people like these different from the rebels who tortured the 44 SAF and laughed while they were doing so? I find these supposedly “normal” people scarier than the MILF rebels who killed the SAF. We can stay away from the MILF. But, these “normal” people are scarier because they live amongst us, watching us, waiting for us to fall, so they can laugh their evil laugh. But they do not scare me. I know their kind, and they can never come near me or my family.

They laughed as she lay dying.

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

Living not thinking

I’m on holiday. Sort of. I’m home for 7 weeks. And this is the end of the second week. I’m on holiday from work which means I’m a full-time mom, and because I’m home, I am also daughter, sister, aunt. It’s great being with family, but being home means I am hardly ever alone. I’m enjoying being surrounded by family and being busy living, but I sure miss being quiet and thinking.

Today I went for an early morning swim with my sister and my niece. I spent a couple of minutes just floating on my back and looking up at the sky and just … looking up at the blue, blue sky. It was nice.

The time to think will come. For the next 5 weeks, I’ll just enjoy living.

IMG_2453

It rained last night, but we had beautiful weather this morning.

It rained last night, but we had beautiful weather this morning.

View from the restaurant where we had breakfast

View from the restaurant where we had breakfast

IMG_2506

IMG_2454

Introspection thru “Predestination”

I got this photo from this site

I got this photo from this site.

Science-fiction is not really my favorite genre, but my friend was sure I would like Predestination because (1) It’s an Ethan Hawke movie, and (2) he thought it was a mind-blowing film.

I certainly do not regret watching this movie because there are a couple of things I like about it, apart from THE Ethan Hawke (who still looks as gorgeous as when he was in his 20’s! Dang!)

It may be an Ethan Hawke movie, and he is great in it (as he is always in his movies), but I find Sarah Snook’s performance impressive. My favorite scene in the movie is when she as the androgynous Unmarried Mother (looking like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic) speaks with her young self, and her face is filled with emotions of love, understanding, compassion — all blending together in that facial expression of hers. Of course, I admit that part of that is merely my own perception. But in my humble opinion, she did a magnificent job in this movie.

The last movie I saw and wrote about was Interstellar, another science-fiction film I did not expect to like but ended up liking so much. I liked the interpersonal relationships present in Interstellar – the character’s relationship with his children and with his fellow astronauts. But, as a person fond of introspection, I liked the intrapersonal relationship the character of Predestination had with himself/herself at different periods in his/her life.

My very limited understanding of physics (I didn’t really listen to my teacher), and science-fiction and the ideas of time-travel and the predestination paradox  perhaps limits my understanding of the movie, but I will not spend another night trying to reconstruct the sequence of events in the movie. I am content to focus on the ideas that caught my attention. I do not totally understand it, but there are certain things that like about it and that made me think.

Revenge

What if I could put him in front of you? The man that ruined your life? If I could guarantee that you’d get away with it, would you kill him?

Would you avenge yourself on the person that ruined your life, if you were assured it could be done with impunity? Hopefully none of my readers have their lives terribly ruined by somebody that they would want to end that somebody’s life, but how about revenge?

“Nemo me impune lacessit.” No one harms me with impunity.

An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. There is no such thing as throwing back a piece or bread (or mantou) to someone who threw stones at you.

Forgiveness, that abstraction that is quite easy to speak about (especially if the one speaking of it is not involved in the situation where it is being sought) is extremely difficult to translate into action. Hence, people often seek revenge for every pain that another person caused them.

But upon closer examination, what does one get from revenge? Is there joy that comes in having avenged oneself? Can one sleep better at night knowing another person is now suffering from one’s revenge?

The irony in the Unmarried Mother’s desire to avenge herself was that she was the transgressor herself. When she found out that it was herself all along that ruined her own life, then she felt compassion towards and even loved herself.

I would look at transgression in two ways: one can endeavor to be empathetic and see things from the point of view of the transgressor and understand why he did what he did. Or, one can accept the fact that no one can ever transgress anyone with impunity. Not even as an act of revenge. Countries have laws. People have conscience. When you hurt other people, you hurt yourself as well. (Or am I wrong? Are there “normal” or “typical” people who rejoice when others suffer, people who have nothing but Schadenfreude in their hearts?)

Jane/John as the bartender, however, could not forgive himself as the Fizzle Bomber and shot him. The same person who was able to understand and accept the one who ruined his/her life, could not forgive himself for killing other people.

Question for Introspection 1:

Is it easier to forgive the harm we brought upon ourselves, than it is to forgive the evil we brought upon others?

Narcissism

Growing up, Jane felt she was a freak, that she was ugly. She even stopped looking at herself in the mirror. This self-loathing became even worse when she found out she had the rare condition of having both male and female reproductive organs and was left with no choice but to undergo surgery to become male.

But when Jane who is now a man with the pseudonym Unmarried Mother goes back to her/his past and meets her/his young self, she/he says to her/him, “You’re beautiful.” She/he falls in love with herself/himself and even has a baby.

(Now this just came to mind as I was typing the previous sentence: isn’t that the same idea as the Divine Trinity? The Father , Son and Holy Ghost? Which came first?)

Question for Introspection 2:

If it were possible to see yourself from the eyes of someone from the opposite sex, do you think you would fall in love with yourself? Do you have the traits that you find attractive, enough to fall in love with another person?

We sometimes love ourselves and sometimes hate ourselves. But to fall in love with oneself, this is something I have only read about or seen in movies. I still have to meet somebody who admits he or she is in love with himself or herself.

Question for Introspection 3:

If you could meet with your 20-year old self (I’m assuming my readers are at least in their 30’s!) what would you say to him/her?

Would you be kind and perhaps encourage yourself? Or would you warn yourself of the many mistakes you would be making? Or would you tell yourself, “There’s nothing to look forward to.”

And what do you think your 20-year old self would say to you? “Nice job! I can’t wait to become you”? Or, “Uh-oh!”

Self-loathing

It is interesting how people can love and hate themselves at the same time. We love certain qualities about ourselves, and hate other qualities that we possess and wish we could change ourselves.

Through time-travel, John is able to meet with his future self, the Fizzle Bomber who has killed thousands of people. When John comes face to face with the Fizzle Bomber, he says with loathing, “I will never become you!” And shoots him.

We have no way of knowing what we will be like 20 years from now. But we can look back at our lives and see what we have become.

Question for Introspection 4:

What do you think a 20-year old you would say to the present you if he/she could speak to you now? Will he/she say: You’re doing a great job! Or will he/she say, “I will never become you” and….

Like I said, I do not totally understand this film, but it’s an Ethan Hawke movie that got me thinking, so I like it. This movie, perhaps, had an effect on me, and when you read what I’ve written, maybe it will have an effect on you, too. Hopefully a good one.

“When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can eventually cause a hurricane in another…” – Edward Lorenz

On Shopping and Men who Like/Don’t Like to Shop

shopping

A shopping mall just across the street from the uni. A lot of students have part-time jobs in this mall.

The other day I had an interesting discussion with my girl students about shopping which 99% of them listed as their number one hobby.

Before coming to China, I never personally knew anybody who listed shopping as one of their hobbies. Shopping was, and I think, still is, a luxury in my country.

Talking with these young people about shopping made me feel I was old (which I am) and/or strange to them (I probably am.)

They say they do not ever go shopping alone. I almost always prefer shopping alone. They say they like going from shop to shop until they find the one they like best. I will check out two shops at most and then give up. They can shop all day; I can only last two hours, I’d rather get my nails done or eat! They have the patience of a saint when their picky friends cannot find the item they like; like I said, I prefer to shop alone and the number one reason is: I shop like a man. Or do I?

I always thought men were not into shopping. And that if they were, they would not have the patience to compare prices and quality, blah-blah.

Then years ago, I met best friend number 2. One time, we went to the mall because he was going to buy me two pairs of shoes as his Christmas present for me. It did not take me a long time to find the ones I liked, but he disapproved of my taste saying the ones I liked were old fashioned or of poor quality, so after at least three hours in the mall (in another city!) we finally found two pairs that he was happy to buy for me. Because he has always had good taste, and he paid for them, I only complained in my head.

Best friend number 2 is not alone. Best friend number 1 (a.k.a. my husband) is just as picky and patient when it comes to shopping. One time he was also going to buy me a pair of shoes and did not like the ones I liked. He insisted on going to other shops to look, so finally I said I did not really need a new pair, and a few days later, went out shopping by myself.

When it comes to online shopping these two men are even worse. For a couple of months, best friend number 2 (perhaps because he missed the easy life in his home country after working long hours in the States) did not leave his apartment and just ordered everything, practically everything, online and had them delivered to his doorstep. That included his breakfast, lunch and supper. I knew because I saw the goods delivered while we were chatting online.

My husband too can spend hours shopping online. Several times a week for a couple of months this year we had something delivered. They were either books or toys for our son, or teaching materials that he could use to teach our son. (Time and money well spent, so I do not complain.) But yes, he could and still can sit in front of the computer for hours, not programming but shopping!

This makes me wonder if it is only East Asian men who enjoy shopping.

I remember a few years ago, when I was a little more sociable, I asked my non-Asian guy friend if he wanted to go shopping with me (back then there was no female colleague I could hang out with.) Since he did not have anything else to do, he said OK. We were already near the shopping street when he asked me, “So what are you shopping for?” Then I said, “I don’t know yet. I’ll have a look first.” The look on his face was priceless.

Another time, I was grocery shopping with another non-Asian guy friend after lunch, and I wanted to buy plates but couldn’t decide which of the two different plates looked nicer. So I asked him which one he thought was prettier, and he went, “Oh come on, they’re plates. Just pick one. Then, let’s go.” I could not get angry, in fact I laughed because it was exactly what I would have said if somebody had asked me.

Will you remember…?

erhu

I love the melancholic sound of the erhu

 

I took this picture morning of Christmas Eve while I was walking at the park. I’ve always loved the melancholic sound of the erhu, so when I heard it, I  walked towards where the sound was coming from and saw this old man facing the pagoda as if he was playing for the one for whom it was built. Fortunately for me, he turned around and, click! I took a photo.

The ever sentimental me imagined the old man was probably playing for his grandfather or great grandfather, and I thought how nice it would be to be remembered the same way by the ones you leave behind. (Of course the practical and realistic part of me has something else to say.)

That night, Christmas Eve, my husband and our friends and I talked about death instead of having dessert after dinner. It came about after our friend complained about being over 60 and feeling that he was  getting really close to the end. I just laughed at him saying 60 wasn’t old, and I remembered crying when my father turned 60 as I thought he was going to die soon, but he lived to be 81.

It was not the first time we talked about death instead of having dessert. I remember another time when I thought aloud about dying and nobody would be coming to my funeral because I have not lived in my hometown for a long time, and my friends have also left. My husband, who is introverted,  felt the same way. And so did our friend who was in his early 50’s then.

But really, does it matter? Would we even know?

I would like to think my father is aware that we have not forgotten him, that I have not forgotten him. That I light candles for him on important dates, and I smoke a cigarette on his birthday and on All Soul’s Day, that I visit his grave whenever I go home and again before I leave. I do all these because I want to, because I like remembering him, and I want him to be happy, just in case he is aware of these things.

My husband once asked me if I thought our son (this was before our son was diagnosed with ASD) would ever visit his (my husband’s) grave in his hometown in the north of China on Tomb-sweeping Day. He was a little shocked by my blunt and totally unsympathetic reply: “Are you crazy? Why would you burden your son to travel every year just to visit your grave? You would not even be there anymore!” I did apologize for the bluntness, but he admitted it was a burden.

I don’t want to be buried. I want to be cremated, and my ashes scattered in the sea in my hometown or any sea really. Or, if Eli, by that time is already capable of feeling love and loss like typical people do, perhaps he can keep some for himself that he can carry around with him wherever he goes. And if the dead me sees that, I would be truly happy.

I think we all want, desire to be remembered by people we love. But when we’re gone, it doesn’t really matter if they do or they don’t, does it?

Remembering is only for the good of the living, not of the dead.

The Egret on Campus II

Alone but not lonely

Alone but not lonely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every Chinese person I know feels uncomfortable being alone. I still have to meet one who is happy at being able to spend one day alone. Even my monk friend is very sociable and enjoys being with people all the time.

At first I thought it was just the young Chinese who feel this way, until one day my husband asked his mom if, when she was young, she had ever spent one day alone not talking with anybody, and she said never and that it would be terrible not to have anybody to talk with for a day!

From the conversations I had with most people, young and old alike, I get the feeling they think of introversion as some kind of disorder, and that people have to be outgoing. If a person is a quiet type or prefer to be alone, then they think that person is strange.

Today, Christmas Eve, I saw the egret on campus again. It seems it survived the (relatively) cold winter alone. Of course there’s no way of knowing if egrets can feel happiness or not, but it did look content to me as it searched for food in the shallow water. Seeing the egret again (if it is the same one) reminded me of my conversations with people about being alone. It seems hard for many to accept that one can be solitary but not lonely. Especially in China where people swear they cannot survive spending a day without anybody to talk with, or where you can hardly meet an unmarried person over 30 because if they are 25 and still single, their parents would panic and set them up on blind dates, the idea of solitude is as unimaginable as dying without having contributed to the population of the race.

But I think of the single people I know (not Chinese), and the ones who always find time to be quiet,  and I see them more content with their lives than the ones who are more sociable and go out often. They certainly have fewer worries than those who are married or those who have several circles of friends. For one, single people who do not have children do not have to worry about their children and the children’s  tuition and their future. For another, they enjoy the freedom that most married people or parents can only look back to with a sigh. They have more time to devote themselves to developing their talents and focus their energy on their interests.

As a wife (to a man who has a different cultural background), mother (to an autistic toddler) and a teacher (who faces a class of 35 students 14 hours a week), I insist on having as much time alone as I can. I go out for walks and have lunch or coffee alone. I get stressed when I am CONSTANTLY with people, be they family or friends or acquaintances. I guess being Asian and living in a country such as China where people are so eager to give you their two cents and feel guilty if they have no advice to give even when you do not really need one (they mean well, of course) , it can be overwhelming to be in the company of people.

So I can truly understand people who want to be alone and are content to be alone. One can be alone and still find contentment. In fact like I said in another post, we all need to experience alone-ness. We all need to be solitary sometimes and to experience solitude. As Thomas Merton once said: “It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love others. The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them.” May you find time for solitude and consequently find love and contentment in your life.

Merry Christmas!

Writer’s Block (Or, Where’s Bradley Cooper when you need him?)

People inspire me. What they say and how they behave are ideas that get me writing. When they leave or just disappear from my life, I will be inspired to write some more for a week or two, and then there will only be silence.

No amount of free writing will make me come up with something I’d be happy with.

I can write a rant about a number of things, but I feel I am too old to be making my rants public. I’m supposed to have better self-control and calm that go with age.

At the moment I have zero inspiration for any creative thinking. It is too bad that one’s spouse can’t be an inspiration. My husband is a wonderful person, my best friend number 1. A witty, sometimes very funny and intelligent man. But he is so real to me. So real. And I say that with love.

What gives me inspiration is having people around me who can call forth my imagination, and right now my brain’s a desert.

Where’s Bradley Cooper when you need him?

Bradley Cooper

There he is! Got this pic from this site. 

Sunday Coffee

My fave coffee shop needs no advertising, so I'm using this photo instead which I got from this site http://www.catholicvote.org/caffeinated-graces-or-why-giving-up-coffee-is-a-very-very-bad-idea/

My fave coffee shop needs no advertising, so I’m using this photo instead which I got from this site 

She decided not to ask him to meet up with her this time. No pressure. She knew he was busy. She would just wait for him to ask her out. And it happened on a Sunday morning. He invited her to have coffee with him. She was walking down the road going to the coffee shop when something told her to look behind, and sure enough, he was pulling up to let her inside the car.

She thought she had changed, that “it” was no longer there. Yet, as she sat next to him, and watched him drive, she realized, “it” was still there. That high-school-girl feeling of actually sitting next to the guy you really, really like.  And she just sat there, not flirting, not trying to be cute, just enjoying the feeling of youth and excitement.

And that felt good. To know that even though she was now with somebody else, and he was with somebody else, and they could never be what they used to be, share what they used to share, that she could still feel like this when she’s with him .

She didn’t see him again after that Sunday coffee. Yet it was enough. She had her fill.

New Year’s Resolutions (Or, how to keep my sanity in 2015!)

From elementary school through high school, we were always made to write a composition called “My New Year’s Resolution” before Christmas break. That was always the last formal theme writing topic.

Believe it or not, every year I still write down my resolutions on my journal. Reading my journals from previous years, I find I managed to keep some for a year or longer; but mostly I failed.

For 2015 and the coming years, I resolve to be kind not only to others, but to myself most of all. I am too old to be making the same mistakes and hurting myself the same way I did when I was 20!

So here are my new year’s resolutions. What’s yours?

1. Don’t be too proud, be humble.

2. Don’t be vindictive, be forgiving.

3. Don’t expect too much from people you care about, be patient with them.

4. Don’t care too much about the lives of the people you care about, live your own life.

5. Don’t forget you’ve made these resolutions before, be mindful of them.