The English Din

I step into the terminal. Time seems to slow for a few seconds. Returning to the din of voices that I understand, little segments of sentences which again hold meaning for me float through the air. I’m surprised by the welling feelings of comfort, distraction, and disdain. I haven’t been away for very long, which is why I’m surprised. In the short time away, my mind has come to inhabit some place worlds away from where I grew up. Upon returning, I had expected more comfort than anything else. Instead, I’ve found myself somewhere in between, playing down some parts of myself in order to adapt to the present and respond in an acceptable fashion, to make people feel comfortable. I do this naturally by now, perhaps to a fault. It’s become instinct to hide what is different or foreign to people’s daily lives and respond with the minimum. In the few moments that I’ve gone too far, I’ve suffered the unpleasant consequences. People cut off from you, find you intimidating, can’t relate, and you become a self-proclaimed repository for passive aggressive comments. You could believe that this is an efficient filter of people from your life. I find that it only serves to pain others and yourself in many cases. Everyone has their own world and finds comfort within that.

But let’s go back to the airport. All together – comfort, distraction, disdain. In the short time away, it seems that I’d become accustomed to not understanding the words most people speak. I could block out the side conversations of no interest to me. It’s liberating in a way – to be able to sit in a crowded restaurant, café, coffee shop, party and remain with your own thoughts. To allow disturbances becomes a conscious decision, only allowed when one makes the conscious effort to listen and understand. After being alone in my head for some time, unconsciously understanding the conversations all around naturally becomes distracting and invasive. I find that I’m out of practice at blocking out the endless voices. The disdain only comes from understanding the emptiness of so many conversations. A pair of ladies gossip about the audacity of a friend: “Can you believe it? She’s telling me to do this, but it can only be done with aluminum pans! Well, I don’t have aluminum pans.” The indignation is tangible. What an affront to this poor lady. Yes, of course, when giving cooking instructions, care should be given to consider the recipient’s capacities so as to avoid offense. I’m struck by the banality of so many conversations. Of course, this is the case in any language. I’d only escaped it for a moment.

Perhaps it’s the only positive I’ve found amidst my seemingly constant frustration with the French language. I’ve harnessed this frustration into disdain for myself, rooted in an incapacity to learn and promptly apply. The violence of this frustration has made itself known in the past few weeks. I’ve come to blame language for my persistent dissatisfaction and what I’ve perceived as a regression to propensities I’ve so diligently worked to subdue. Low confidence, an incapacity to make decisions, and debilitating fear of doing the wrong thing all thwart my innate need to be independent at all costs. My already limited conversation has become even further reduced. People pass over me, either out of their own discomfort or my short conversation. And I feel indebted to the ones that don’t. I’m sorry for their efforts for so little reward. It makes me question my potential to be happy in that place. The idea that if only I could move around with confidence, independently, without a constant fear, frozen gaze, or incoherent mumbling. If I could move around without revealing my secret. Instead, my fixed smile seems to say, “Yes, you’ve found me out. I don’t fit here.”

How important that sense of belonging is. How important for confidence, for independence, for happiness. Where does this fear come from? I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time without a satisfactory answer. It only seems to ooze from some eternal black hole that pollutes my every action, each a strictly calculated movement. Despite all of this, I’ve returned to the din of English and find myself hating it. Perhaps it’s only the lack of sleep. Or perhaps I’ve adopted yet another repellent tendency – the Parisian sensibility of endless complaining and haughty disdain.

Dud defense strategy #431: head in the sand

NOTE: Google image “head in the sand” and you will come upon the glorious collection of stock images.

I’ve been a delinquent blogger for a LONG time. Spans of blog silence filled with useless fretting about being silent. Transition periods are always hard, and this many-month period of quitting a job, getting some R&R, and moving overseas only to remember that life’s a little rough without your family/friend network was no exception.

In the past quarter of a year, so much has happened in the world (see below posts for proof). Instead of jumping into the blog and writing about the world, or writing productively about my life + its intersection with the world, I’ve sat at a computer with brainlock and frozen fingers. Every blog idea I’ve had has fallen somewhere in the realm of self-indulgent, in the agonizing narrating voice of Gossip Girl (XOXO).

There’s a whole lot of hurt in the world. In this exceptional time of an unprecedented surge in human displacement by war and natural disaster, the incredibly depression electorate validation of Trumpism/Brexit…ugh you know what? I’m not going to try to list this all out. The world is in rough shape. I don’t understand.

In this global context, the already overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety-drivers in my life carry on. I’ve buried my head deep in the sand, and I think my radio silence is a bit of evidence of this.

Head-in-the-sand is not an appropriate defensive stance for dealing with the world, or with my own life.

So, here’s a pre-New Year’s resolution to plug in to the world and deal with my life. Process it. Write about it in a useful way.

Home?

Looking out the airplane window, down onto the moving toyland from my little sister’s Lego set, I can always tell how I feel about a place. Sometimes it’s excitement. Other times, it’s dread. And every once in a while, it’s the warming feeling of home. This one in particular is an interesting feeling, and probably because it seems that the feeling has changed for me in the past year. So much so that it was both at first alarming and exciting and comforting. Alarming in the realization that I may be attached to a place, which has never been the case in the strict sense of knowing that I want to live there, be there. Exciting to be finally figuring it out –  a place that I like to be. Comforting to know that yes, this is home.

But I’ve moved again. A month ago, I moved again. And it won’t be the last time. I recognize now that that feeling of home doesn’t come for every place. In that way, for me, when it happens, it’s noticed. It’s treasured. In another month, I’m going back. But just to visit. I don’t have a room there, a bed, my own window, a place to call my own. I only have a friend’s couch. Will I still call it home? Will that feeling come back? Will it have gone forever, left in a time that I can never re-create or re-build or re-live, only reminisce and remember? Or will it be so overwhelming as to overcome any potential future plans I’ve already made in my head? Will it become a guiding goal to call this place home? Will I be set on striving for something that seems so unreachable and faraway? Which is worse?

I’ll know in a month’s time as I contemplate all the things cut off from the world in my window seat, looking down.

On the Brink.

I’m on the brink. I can feel it coming soon, the barrage of events that happen that make you realize that time is passing and life is happening.

“He’s sick, just old age illness,” she says. “He looks pale and slow and sad. I go to see him more often now to cheer him up. He seems happy when I’m there. I washed my car at his house, and he sat on the stairs to watch me. He’s a lot quieter. I asked him to go for a walk, but he doesn’t want to anymore.”

In a span of just a few months, I find myself making mental estimates as to how much time I might have left – how much time I might have left for them to meet my own children. The too real possibility is that there’s not enough. But I’ll make sure to go as soon as I can. Is Thanksgiving too late? Or maybe he will play with my hypothetical little ones.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt the urgency to get to a certain life stage. It started a little over a year ago, when my mom started making more regular trips to the emergency room than I’d like. I was suddenly acutely aware of what I was not doing. I wasn’t moving forward, progressing toward something worth building. And while I wasn’t doing that, I also wasn’t there, near her, as life is happening.

Just a few years ago, I wanted to travel – travel for work, travel for fun, and by travel, I meant live. Because how do you really learn a place unless you spend some real time there, with real people? Now I find that I’m struggling to find a way back, to somehow compromise the two. For someone who wouldn’t call herself a world traveler, my life is decidedly across borders, across several. My closest friends are scattered about in such a way that I think I’ll never find one place to be fully home. And now, so is my family.

So how do I find my way back? I’m convinced that it’s a matter of priorities. Yes, I may be in the middle of a doctoral program. But life is happening and it’s not waiting for me to be ready. For essentially my entire life, school has been at the center. (This is clearly where the Asian mother shoulder angel presents herself in all her glory.) Education is the key. Education is what will bring you far in life. Education is what no one can take from you. While all of that may be true, school alone is not life. It’s one facet. (This holds for work and career too, or just in general. I know, I’m late.) Still, in a household where education stood high above all else, it took quite a bit of time to re-work that perspective when I was out there on my own. While school happens, and will happen, life is happening.

So I’m on the brink of change – realizing the change in perspective, putting thoughts and words into actions. I’m moving forward. I’m building something. And for the first time, I’m consciously putting life first. Not because it fits into my school schedule, but because it’s important, central to connecting with people, building my world and theirs into something worthwhile.

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Counting Days

I have a breakdown every time I move to a new city, a new place. The past few years have been called my early twenties. Staying in one place is decidedly not in my line of work.

I just moved two days ago. I feel it simmering, threatening to boil over. It’s always the same questions. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I force this upon myself over and over again knowing what’s to come? I was fine before. I was happy before. I could have stayed.

My mind spins, a broken record, repeating these questions even as I know their implications aren’t true. There are reasons that I came. There are reasons that I came here. I had to come. And it’s here that I will find what I’m looking for.

I’m waiting for it to come. The complete breakdown: the tears and hysteria and self-medication. Nothing crazy. Maybe a couple of glasses of wine or maybe some melatonin to sleep it off.

But it doesn’t come this time. Three more days creep by and so far, I’ve kept it at bay. I think I’m almost in the clear.

This isn’t the first time. Having moved seven times in the past few years, I’ve since noticed the pattern. The first few days are my test. The days where I find out what I loved and have left behind, the time and circumstances that I can never get back. Even if I were to go back now, today, or tomorrow, it’s gone. What I’m left with here is the stress, anxiety, excitement, and curiosity of what more of the world there is to discover. But I’m alone.

It’s been two weeks. The breakdown isn’t coming. Maybe I’m getting better at this. Different from the times before, what I notice now is an enduring ache. I work to keep the tears away when I see the Golden Gate, what used to be home. In any case, it’s not what I should call home. It’s not where I grew up. In fact, it was only a year and some change. What right do I have to feel about this place?

Still, I can’t help but think that this might be worse that the sudden outbursts of earlier moves. This one has stayed and I’m not sure how long it will take to treat. For now, I wake up in the morning and go through the motions of my day. For now, I try to fit things into my day that may make me fit into this place. For now, I focus my head on getting through the day to make it until the night, when I come back to my bed.

Old Haunts

It’s been four years and I’m not quite sure that I remember the way to the cafeteria. But I feel my way. I make it. No problem.

I do remember that the food is bad, and expensive. But this time, I can afford it. I don’t have to get the soup and stack up on the free bread. I’ll get the special.

I eat alone today. Don’t worry, it’s by choice. It most often is. Attributed to something in between my own laziness and my grand appreciation for solitude in the midst of the blur.

It’s finally sunny. So I sit in the sunroom. I hear people’s conversations. There are a few distinctive types – the one happy for some superficial social interaction for their lunch break, the other discussing family details like they’ve lived amongst each other for years, another in what seems to be obligatory work discussion – just to have someone to sit with. With others, I see the plain-faced boredom – they look up to watch me eventually put my tray away. Longer than normal. Curiosity mixed with the interest of something new.

I start walking back to my office – my office for the day, anyway. The elevator is small, but I get in with two other people. Something, or really – someone makes it inevitably awkward. The first gets off at the second floor. “Bonne après-midi,” mumbled, just barely discernible. There’s no room for a response. The next elevator ding is mine and the other person gets off with me, clearly confused at who I am and why I’m on his floor, but no questions asked.

This isn’t the first time I’ve returned to old stomping grounds. And I suspect that it’s going to happen more and more often. I can’t remember if I ever really meant to be back here – I think I hadn’t exactly planned on it in the way that one doesn’t when one doesn’t think about it. It forces me to reflect on the ways I’ve changed and what I’ve done between now and then to cause that change, for better or worse.

I was young – fresh out of college. I’d never worked the 9 to 5. And I was eager, so insufferably excited. So sure that this is where I wanted and needed to be, that this was the only logical decision for me, because this is what you do, and what people want. That all dropped off somewhere in the first or second quarter of graduate school, scattered and windswept over the streets of Baltimore. By February, I’d had enough. I wondered where I’d gotten so mesmerized by all of it. It was time for something real. Two years later, I’m still finding that that’s a hard thing to pin down.

So, what’s the difference between being here then and being here now? Basically that I walk around like I own the place. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But in comparison to what my demeanor was before, that description is pretty accurate. There was confidence before. But that confidence seems to have taken root and blossomed, somehow escaping my watchful inward gaze. Or perhaps, I simply give zero fucks. I take in the looks and stares like they were self-evidently meant for me. And they’re thoroughly amusing.

Now, I’m left wondering where that change began. Was it becoming thoroughly jaded with the work and the world? Did it start with a need for more tangible impact, right now? Or realizing so much of the perpetual, tangible frustration are problems of the system? Or was it simply a byproduct of aging and more practice, if only four years of it? Whatever it was, I’d venture to say that the transformation hasn’t ended there. All I’m left with at this moment is sheer amazement at the magnitude of the change.

In some way, it gives me more confidence of the things that, in my head, I can’t do now simply because of “how I am” or what skills I may or may not have, I’ll be able to do only a short time from now. Perhaps I can now if only given the opportunity. But why leave it to so much circumstance? Maybe, I need to create my own opportunity.

Rose-colored words

I have a problem. When framing my problems to external audiences (boss, friends, strangers, boyfriend), I compulsively force everything into this stupid, false optimism-shaped mold. I’ve been praised for this.

“My challenge is that I’m struggling to get everything in order for this project to meet deadline, but it gives our team an opportunity to BLAH BLAH BLAH”

My boss LOVES this.

I read back on some of my previous posts (blah, blah). They are not completely honest. I force a rose lens in conversations with everyone. (“This terrible thing happened, but you know,  it’s not *that* bad because BLAH BLAH BLAH, it will be okay!”) I feel so much more doubt and hopelessness than I let on. And I think that is okay, to feel this.

I’m so concerned with being flexible, optimistic, positive. Where does this come from? Is it a female condition? I’m strong, yes. I’m optimistic and bright and resilient. Yes, I pride myself on this. But where did I learn that I concede weakness if I present my struggle and my sadness and my hopelessness without a delusional tint of optimism?

I want to approach my struggles with grace, and with grace I think comes a degree of optimism and hope. But I am doing myself no favors when I strap those stupid fucking rose glasses onto my face.