Saturday Introspection

 

best self

Today I am pondering about the notion of “the best version”. The best version of me, the best version of you, the best version of being human, etc etc etc. That’s the new saying I keep hearing, and I find myself repeating and adopting this new stance. When I was young, the slogan of choice (at least in my part of the world) was to be the best. Now, I am hearing more of, well, not the best but how about to be your best. Which makes me wonder, what is my best version?  Do I even know? Does anyone?

When I say, I want to give the best of me, I hear, there is an “escape clause” built in. The door is cracked slightly for slacking. In other words,  for people like me who don’t think highly of themselves or lack confidence in self, I am making room to slack off.  This way, I could very well default to, “Hey that was my best version at the time”. There is already an air of resignation for failure.  I know, I know, I can’t very well promise to be “the best” because there are always tons of people who are better than at whatever I do. They will write better, they will think better, they will act better, they are better.  So at least prepare to give myself a break, right?

Except, there is one thought that has been on my mind ever since the last time I thought, “hey, wouldn’t be great if I can be better than my best self?”  What if I don’t know my own capacity at all because I haven’t fully tested it?

Think of human history for instance. I honestly doubt we would be taking flights into the sky or diving under the water if certain people thought “let’s be our best human selves.” We weren’t meant to fly but we now are. We weren’t meant to see the bottom of the ocean, but we are. We weren’t meant to communicate through a completely wireless medium but we are. Not one of those pioneers and visionaries held themselves back by being their best selves. They broke molds and expectations. They narrate their own realities. True, a lot of people died trying to make unreal become real. A lot of people went down in flames literally and metaphorically. A lot of people never saw their inventions and imaginations come to life.

But damn. Aren’t we so lucky to have these nutters who attempted the impossibles? Every step of someone’s failure paves way for another one to build upon. Last week, I  declared right here in this blog that I am genetically incapable of becoming a fitness goddess because I am a five feet tall middle age midget who have not had a role model to look up to. Shouldn’t my time be better served  planning for retirement and not beginning new adventures like body building or poetry writing? Or am I just wearing the labels society put on me? The labels I put on myself are my self-limiting thoughts.

What sort of thoughts that have held us back because we can’t imagine ourselves beyond our beliefs about who we are supposed to be? Quiet the voice that shushes us with “Who do you think you are?”

We don’t know what we won’t become if we never try.  As Soman Chainani said in this interview with Tim Ferriss:  “Jump. Commit. Let your body do the work. Fly”

We are more than what we think we can offer. We are more than our best selves.

 

 

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I take selfies

Snapseed

Let’s face it. I am not young. My face isn’t young. My body isn’t getting younger. If I sit for a while, my legs hurt, my knees stiffen. I need glasses to read my phone which is a bitch when I am driving because I have no idea what the words are saying. When I text by dictation to Siri, she almost always misunderstands me because of my accent, which I didn’t even know as “thick” but evidently it is. When I don’t exercise, I gain a belly that looks like a wrinkled cantaloupe if there’s such a thing. I don’t eat much but my metabolism has gone downhill along with my estrogen. Which really pisses me off.

I don’t remember the last time I sleep soundly.  Slightest amount of worries keep me up. Smallest sound jerks me awake. If it’s too warm, or too cold, I toss and turn. I used to take sleep for granted. Now it is my most precious commodity like water in a desert. I have watched the clock move hour by hour all night, and felt despair weighed me down.  Most mornings, my face looks saggy-sad, with swollen bags under my eyes. If not for BB creams and concealers, I’d look downright meth-scary.

To combat this, I take control of the situation.  I drag my aging ass to the gym. I hired a trainer. I watched Youtube videos. I follow fitness girls on Instagram. To my surprise. I find that I actually like working out if it’s not cardio intensive. Lifting weights makes me feel like a badass because I’ve always been that skinny kid on the beach whose got sand kicked in the eyes by bulky bullies. But then when I go to work out at the gym, I first have to overcome the feeling of inadequacy. While other women looks like goddesses with their lululemoned-asses and Victoria Secrets’ boobs, I look one part pubescent child, one part Mulan’s grandmother, one part puppy-cute mainly due to my small size. I am like the asian Harvey Dent/Two-Face: one minute I am passable, the next, cringe-worthy. Even my mother once said, “Sometimes, you’re pretty but other times, you can be quite ugly.” Ouch. Truth hurts.

Since the new year began, I’ve been good about going to the gym and working as hard as I can. Maybe to prove to myself, I can and am capable of improving my body and mind. Or that I am capable of sticking to a goal and seeing it to through. Whatever the motivation is, I’ll take it. It’s doing wonders for my spirit. The control freak in me likes that I am doing something, anything about this inevitable part of life called getting older.

I won’t lie though. When I go to the gym and see perfect girls doing their perfect workouts, it makes me envious, depressed and motivated at the same time. I am quie aware that I am genetically incapable of  becoming the “bubble butt workout girl” no matter how much I try. I could only be the best version of this me. Which is what I am really after, but dang, wouldn’t it be great if I can be more than the best me?

Like I said, I am one part vinegar, one part sugar, one part salt and fluffy flour. You cannot put me in one box and call me “negative” or a “downer”. While I feel deflated about the shape I am in, and how even my ultimate potential of my “best self’ may never amount to much, I am at the same time determined to work as much as I can to see how far I could go, or push my body and mind. The very thing that makes me sad makes me happy.  Does that make sense? No?

It’s similar to this: the same people who piss me off to no end are the same people I would die for. It’s called Family.  You would know what I am talking about if you have a close-knit big mouthed big hearted but incredibly amazing family.

Someone called me old and I will show him how “old” can squat more than her bodyweight and deadlift one and a half time her body weight, proving any challenger wrong. Call me old and I will show you my aging ugliness, proving you right because inside that bench presser is a small skinny imperfect child. She will agree with you that she is weak even when she kicks your ass. Does that make sense?

I am complicated. As we all are. We are upside down, up and down, creatures. We are old outside and young inside. At any age, we are also made of  youthful skin and hardened hearts, wrinkled bodied with starstruck eyes.

Have the lens of your camera face you. You’ll see all of the above and none of the above. A mixture of mismatches: heart, soul, body, mind, intentions, misteps, will power and indomitable spirit. All is beauty even if you call it ugly.

 

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Friday Futuring

Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life? – Mary Oliver

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I don’t know about you, but maybe because we are at the onset of a new year, or maybe because I just turned a big birthday,  I have been looking back at my life (as they say hindsight is 20/20) as well as looking ahead (visibility is poor here).  I came to a conclusion that I am at the start of a journey, even at this age.  When I say the start of a journey, I don’t mean the beginning of adult life or the beginning of a career or a job etc. I do mean the beginning of another journey: the journey of my second life, my unlived life.

Most of you are already aware that in August of 2017, my youngest went away to the University, and with that, my new life begins as an individual who no longer has anyone depending on her to solve minor problems, or take care of things, or chat about silly things.  There is no longer, “How is your day?”  or “What was lunch at school?” for me to ask. There is no more of “Have you done your homework?” for me to nag about. There is no girl smiling or scowling at my silly jokes, or no boy making fun of my appearance or giving me surprise hugs. When I get up in the morning, I no longer make my way to the rooms down the hall to rouse the teens out of their beds. I don’t have to yell at anyone because they are running late, or laugh with pleasure because they say or do something clever and witty.  The house is quiet except for the sound of the television or the meow of a cat who keeps insisting she needs to be let outside in the cold.

Here is my morning routine: I get up, I meditate if I do not oversleep, I make coffee, I drive to the gym in the morning and head to work.  Because the commute is an hour long, I listen to podcasts after podcasts about finding happiness or protocols for self-improvement. I am forever excited by the prospect of improving myself, but seldom carry out the practices recommended by so-called experts of life.

At the end of the day, I do the same.  I drive to the gym on my way home, if I have not gone in the morning, then head back home, make dinner occasionally  or eat fried eggs on most nights (very healthy).  Because right now is in the middle of winter, I don’t feel like getting out in the evening again. By the time I get home, the world has already turned dark, weather plummeted to marrow-freezing cold.  So, I stay inside. I work some more if work demands it, or else I read, do some writings, binge on TV series, and a lot of internet-ing. Maybe, I might meditate a few minutes before bed if my mind is cluttered with stressful things.  In the morning, I start all over again. Sounds fun, right?

With no kids  suddenly I have so much time on my hand. And yet, I feel as if I never had enough time to do everything I need to do.  In other words, I feel as though I am trashing my most precious commodity i.e. time as if it were garbage.

Here’s a topic I am wondering today: Unlived life or if I want to be fancy, I’ll call it “yet-to-be-manifested potential”. As the author Steven Pressfield says, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

Meaning, what is it in me that I have not yet let out to make it real because of some form of resistance/fear or another? I am middle-aged now. As they say, days are long but years are short.  Considering my father died at 63 or 65 (I can’t remember), I could very well be near the end of life. Or if I take after my mother who is 86, I could very well have a good 30 years or more ahead of me.

What I am trying to say is that time is precious now.  What  I do with my time, whether a day left or decades left, I should spend it doing what I love, what I treasure, exploring what will bring a deep sense of gratification in the end.  Right now, I am recognizing the fact that there is a yearning in me. In fact, it has been slowly festering for a number of years now.  I want to be healthier, happier, more fulfilled. A person whose values are aligned with actions. I want to be happy for no reason.  I want to be fit as a fiddle, being able to feel good about my body and mind.  I want to be a true artist, devoting my time and nurturing my Muse so she will always offer a hand to pull me out of a rut.

There are a lot of wants, and not a lot of dos, in the above mentions.   I know me. I am more excited by the thought of the destination and the to-do lists for the journey, then the destination itself. After all, over the years, I have indeed started many new things but rarely seen to completion. My Facebook newsfeed will remind me every day in January with declarations I made 2 years ago, 3 years go, 5 years ago, that “Finally back to the gym!” only to see March came and no more gym-clarations on my wall because by then I am sitting at home eating cookies and cakes.

So then, I ask myself.  How do I make sure I don’t fizzle out of my intentions this year?  How do I know I won’t get bored or become lazy when faced with the tedious but much necessary steps I need to do consistently to achieve my goals?

For one, I feel different this year, which gives me hope.  For the first time in my life, I see this me who always seeks validation and acceptance, who flits from one thing to the next like a humming bird because one thought will lead to another and I will follow them all. This perspective reminds me to pause my brain from thinking, step back, fly above the earth to get a better view. I  have now learned to zoom out in certain moments instead of always pulling out my metaphorical magnifying glass. I am learning to say “pause” whenever I feel the urge to answer a text promptly, or chase one new thing to the next.

It’s really quite simple. The rule of bringing out the hidden part of me is this: “Focus” and “consistency.”

Focus on single tasks. Do it every day.

  1. If I want to be a poet, read a poem every day. (I am reading more Mary Oliver this week. She saves me). Write or edit poems every day.  No matter what. Even if I am writing crap poems, write it anyway. Treat it like a job and not like a hobby. Go pro!
  2. If I want to be a fitness goddess (kidding, a fit person)  I need to hit the gym every day. I need to train hard, learn harder, (this channel Athlean-X is Xtra X-cellent!) know body’s limits and push myself. No pain no gain.  Eat better. Plan meals ahead of time. No 2 pm vending machine visits at work just because I am bored.
  3. If I want to have a calm mind, an aligned life, then meditate. Be mindful of my emotions. Notice more. Judge others less, judge myself the least. Practice this every day. I use this app (Headspace) this week and it really helps me.
  4. If I want to be more knowledgable, learn. Devote time each day to learn something new. Data visualization or woodworking, just read, practice, ask.

Do more. Think less. Let the body leads me. Not the incessant thinking mind which quibbles and argues and rationalizes the volumes of reasons why I should not do the things I know I should do.

This is how one brings out unlived -life into a life living.  This is how I intend to turn “pro” as the author Steven Pressfield puts it.

“What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that still, small voice inside our heads. At last we find the courage to identify the secret dream or love or bliss that we have known all along was our passion, our calling, our destiny.”
― Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro

I’ll check back in February. And let you know how unlived-me is living.

 

 

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Gym Days in January

 

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You can see the dip in PBF (Percent Body Fat) in December 2017, which is a couple of weeks after I started strength training.

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Current mood

FullSizeRender

 

The color of crushed
grapes planted in spring, five years ago.
No one remembers the weather
when the vines were born
and their fruits squeezed

into the oak barrels
shipped from somewhere in France

where I had walked alone
in the unlit streets, followed only
by my birthday shadow

And a handful of pickpocketers
seeing a prey, their easy picking
for the week.

 

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#GivingTuesday

“True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.”― Pema Chödrön,

My birthday is coming up in a few days. This year, I wanted to do something nice for someone other than me. In anticipation of my birthday and  #GivingTuesday, as well as Facebook waiving its fee for transaction and the Gates matching funds, I decided to set up a fundraiser for International Rescue Committee on Facebook a few days back.  I have no affiliation to the charity other than seeing its name coming up again and again as a source of  help for refugees, from Syria to Myanmar (Rohingya)  or  to those resettling in the U.S.  I wanted to make sure I select a “good” charity so I looked up the IRC on Charity Navigator which gave them 4 stars and a score over 90 out of 100.  They have been vetted for their accomplishment and found to be an effective organization.  

I am not a refugee nor have I ever known how it is not to have a safe place to call home.  My home has never been torched to the ground, my body never been abused by someone who aims to humiliate and violate me. I had never been undocumented for my existence or documented for the terrible condition I live in. I do not know how to wake up to the sound of gun fires or ashes of my loved ones falling on my hair. I have not experienced terror or hunger beyond imagination. I have not carried  tiny body of a child across a rough terrain for days not knowing if or when we would be rescued.

I have been lucky thus far in life. This is not to say I would never experience any hardship of enormity.  Any one of us could become that “others”  whom were abused, violated, mistreated, turned away in time of needs.

I have indeed grown up in a country  ruled by an authoritarian regime. I do know how to fear those who hold and yield power. I do know how to cower and appease those who hold the mighty guns. I do know how to feel powerless, how to know in my bones my feelings are insignificant, my voice silenced, I as a person irrelevant.

You don’t have to grow up in an unfortunate place or lost your place in the society in order to imagine how to lose everything you have.  Surely, you have lost or misplaced a beloved item, such as a wallet, or something of value that you treasured. You might have even experienced how it is not to have hope at one time or another in your life time.  Most of us could easily remember a person or persons who have come through for us in our hour of need. It could be as small of a deed as a door being opened so that we could walk in carrying heavy loads.   We all have experienced someone letting us cut in line. For the lucky group of us, we have received precious gifts either in money, material items, time, attention or love generously given to us by family, friends or stranger alike.

Once on Facebook, I shared a news story of Rohingya refugees who are currently living in horrific condition in the refugee camp at the Bangladesh border. The article speaks of malnourished children and adults who seemed to have been suffering for a long time. Their bodies are a testament of their chronic suffering.  One of my friends messaged me the next day, saying that this story is not true, and that people just wanted to lobby for money.

This makes me think of  a quote by Brene Brown.  She said that sometimes we cannot walk in other people’s shoes because we would always see through the filter of our lens, but we could choose to believe those who have experienced hardship.   How does a child fake malnutrition?  How do little girls fake the evidence of rape?  Regardless of how the people got to the camp, the facts are irrefutable. They are people with families just like yours and mine.  And all of them are living in conditions that a human should not live in.

At the age of “fake news”, it is all too easy to dismiss those who are not like us, who we cannot imagine being like us. It is difficult not to be a skeptic. I’ve been a skeptic all of my life. I still am to this day. However, there is a difference between being a skeptic and a cynic. When credible evidence blows up in our face, we must believe it.  We might not be able to imagine how it is to live like those who have lost everything they ever had,  but we could choose to believe their experiences.  This I believe is the first step in creating a better world.

Happy Giving.

 

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Fifty and I

Fifty and I am
trapped
in this life I’d cultivated.
Careful, if you’re not so careful

years add to fifty and still feel chained
to the ground
wings clipped
by own teeth, shearing one
feather at a time
until bones exposed
through the thin skin.

Fifty and I am
grateful 
for this life and you
who play a part in this cultivation of
being me
Fifty and I want to learn-

Still a child growing up
slowly to find her fingers
capable of d
oing
so many new things. 
Fifty and I can’t find
my voice
lost it somewhere in the thirties.

Fifty and I tread in this house
like a pair of burglars
afraid

of being heard & seen
breaking fragile things.
This human  fraying
at the seams, threaded too loose
for a set of wings.

 

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Starting the rainy weekend with DNA

 

It’s been raining off and on today. Temperature is a cool 69 F. Fall has started here with leaves in transition from green to gold and rust.  I’ve been working all this afternoon, the nature of my job of late has required that I be tied to a laptop to launch some processes when a string of emails are sent signaling they are ready to be launched.  As such, I have been working a portion of the weekends for the past 4 weeks. Both of my kids are now at college, what else am I going to do with my life anyway, right? Wrong. I could think of many things I would want to do during my weekends but paychecks are great things. Being tied to menial but much necessary tasks in the workflow also makes me less sentimental and lamenting about being an empty nester.  The state of my busyness also makes me think of something else: if a person or a group of people are required to do things on a regular basis and on demand, this busyness robs them of idleness, or creative juices. If you are running a country in an authoritarian regime, you better make sure your underlings are required to perform certain tasks at regular interval of time (like Desmond from LOST) and no rebellion will take place because the whole system seems to depend on you pushing the buttons.

Not to say I am in a vault pressing a button every 108 seconds like Desmond Hume of Lost did so that the island would not be in peril. I am not in a vault. My room does have lots of windows. And I see sun peeking through the rain clouds. I see a cat sleeping on the floor after pestering me to pet her and not being successful.

And I am playing this Kpop song (DNA by BTS) and thinking of a day on Stanford campus where I watched my daughter dance this song and being filmed to make this very video. Life isn’t that bad. Being required to press a button that move things along the workflow or stabilize a fantasy island is a necessary task especially if it triggers a perspective I can reflect on.

Now watch my kid dance her heart out.  The song title is called DNA. And oh, I work with DNA so this is doubly fitting.

 

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There’s no need to go outside.
Be melting snow.
Wash yourself of yourself.
A white flower grows in quietness.
Let your tongue become that flower.  – Rumi

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“Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective.” – Mary Oliver

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Wednesday Poem: The Dream

The Dream

by DAVID SOLWAY

I dreamed that you had ceased to love me—
not that you had come from other beds
back to mine, or gone from mine to others,
just that something in your heart had stopped.

I willed myself awake to find you still
beside me. It was just a dream, I thought,
yet when I turned to kiss you, in your eyes
I saw that you had ceased to love me.

I willed myself awake a second time
to find myself alone, as I have been
these many months, but did not know if it
was terror or relief I felt, and whether

dreams unfold the past or make the future
plain. I dreamed that you had ceased to love me,
and know when I see nothing in your eyes
I can’t dream myself awake a third time.

 

from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/1997/12/the-dream/377024/

David Solway’s poems are amazing. You can read some of his work here: https://www.theatlantic.com/feed/author/david-solway/

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