A life well-lived

I dreamed a dream where I had someone to hold my head, lean my head on, walk alongside, and giggle quietly with.

I woke up with a sense of longing for such company. I distracted myself by thinking of lighter things like The Beatles’ “I wanna hold your hand”; distancing myself from the non-reality I just experienced.

I remind myself that what I saw is only an idealized concept of what a romantic relationship is. So, even as I reassure myself that I may find the love of my life in the next chapter of my life or elsewhere, whatever it is will not all be sunshine and rainbows.

What’s more, I remind myself, is that I am a whole and complete person with or without a partner. To be myself is important. I must be able to do so myself, and must be able to do so while in a relationship too. The strong women around me that I admired when they were single, I still admire all the same when they have a significant other because that has not changed who they are. They are still fiercely themselves, with a distinct and solid shape to their selves.

I know that relationships do not simply fall out of the sky, so if I were to want one I would need to actively seek one. But if I spend my life focussing on myself – realizing and actualizing myself – that very much is a life well-lived.

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A Brave Thing

Sometimes bravery doesn’t look like overcoming physically challenging feats like slaying dragons or jumping out of moving vehicles. For me on a Sunday two weeks ago, bravery was purchasing two pairs of shorts.

I don’t like buying trousers or shorts because I keep thinking that I might get smaller so the things I buy will not fit me for very long. I hold off on buying anything because I keep believing I will fit into some smaller size. I also hate the feeling of measuring myself against a number and feeling, “Yet again, I do not fit into a size six. The last time I bought something for my lower body was over a year ago, partly because of my fear of not fitting into the “appropriate” size for me.

I thought I was overcoming my body image problems as I overcame my fear of 130 pounds, but I see now that this reluctance to purchase trousers or shorts is another manifestation of those problems. Measuring myself by clothing size is still measuring myself by arbitrary numbers, regardless of whether it is six or 130.

In March, I had the small thought of, “What if…I just bought clothes that fit me, no matter what the size was?” The thought faded as I hit lower points in my mental wellness, but in early June the stars aligned. I found myself feeling confident enough, close to a mall and with enough time to shop.

When I browsed the racks, I was hung up on size six, but I tried the next size up anyways upon the sales person’s advice.

The larger size felt so much better.

I got them.

I have new shorts and they fit. For me, by buying those shorts, I’ve dealt a blow to a fear that has lingered about me for a long, long time.

Welcome to my wardrobe, my new size eight shorts!

“CONSUME!”

 

The world screams at me, “CONSUME!”

I shriek back, “No!”

I plant my feet so that I am grounded but my hands fling about, going between covering my ears and shooing away the world’s pleas. “I don’t need those things! I don’t ‘need’ anything but the essentials: water, food, and shelter!”

“Don’t you want fame?” the world asks, “Don’t you want beauty? Don’t you want material luxury goods?” The world proffers me images of a gorgeous Instagram feed featuring myself with a much tinier waist and much flatter stomach, decked out in brand name clothing and equipped with the latest technology.

“No,” I protest, shaking my head at these images. “What I have is enough. It is more than enough. I am drowning in privilege as it is already.” I point to the notebook upon which I draft this. This is just one notebook in my collection, which represents how easily I can access paper when others are starving. Thoughts become written sentences easily because I am educated and have learnt how to use language to express my opinions. I can write leisurely on topics of interest as I do not have to work. I am writing with a pen I got while on vacation in England.

“But don’t you want more? More clothes. More food. More follows. More attention. More time. More flavours. More beautiful photos,” the world nudges me.

The world has a form now. It is No-Face from Spirited Away, a Japanese animated film that I watched recently. No-Face is a mysterious spirit that seeks attention from the film’s protagonist, Chihiro, jangling gold at her in an attempt to win her over.

“Don’t you want this?” No-Face/the world chants, gold nuggets clattering to the floor as they spill out of its hand. “It’s gold!”

Unlike Chihiro in Spirited Away, my reaction is not so composed.

Sometimes I drown. I am subsumed. I have dreams of starting a massively popular blog, my face featured in a circular photo that accompanies my article which is circulated everywhere on social media platforms. Or, I dream of an Instagram post with follows and likes in the hundreds, proudly proclaiming that I have achieved some #fitnessgoal and declaring my state of #bodypositivity. I dream that uplifting, motivated posts like this will garner me a large enough audience to gain sponsorship so that future posts can feature me in stylish branded clothes with #sponsored.

When I am stronger, I resist. I write shit-on-the-world pieces like this. I promptly rebuke any statements by other around me, challenging their perception of “need” regardless of whether the time or place is appropriate or whether they have used the term for a serious matter. My critiques are not necessarily productive but I retaliate anyways, striving to take down this overwhelming consumerist society around me, one interaction at a time.

At these times, I wonder if my fight is worth it. What did I achieve? it seems that I have stirred up more discord in my interpersonal relations than I have forwarded a message of minimalism or sustainability.

Is it worth it to be critical like this? Wouldn’t surrendering and letting things slide be easier, in my interpersonal relationships and my life generally? Could I not still live that way?

I don’t think it would be the right way though.

How do you support other women?

Fuck pretty,” I declare, “That’s not what matters. What matters for work is that you dress professionally and look presentable.”

That was how I responded to a friend of mine who said that she likes dressing prettily for work. She had said that she wore a particular dress because she likes being pretty at work.

That particular friend of mine is growing. She is blossoming, budding as she has just entered a new job and is working to drastically shift the approach she is taking to life and the people around her. She takes care to “put on her face” after working out and wears it, along with her jangling bracelets, all the way up until the moment she has to break a sweat. Scratch that, she wears make-up while working out.

She is ecstatic about the interactions she has with a growing number of people on social media channels. She excitedly recounts to me what activity she spurred on Facebook, comment by comment and like by like. Every week that I see her, she has not failed yet to ask another person in our circle of friends to add her on Snapchat so they too can revel in the amazing series of snaps that she sends.

I care for her like a sister or cousin. While I am happy that she is overcoming some very difficult challenges and attempting to change herself, I am afraid that the direction she is going is unsustainable. I am afraid that she is not resolving the deeper problem that often lies at the root of our outward behaviour: a lack of self-confidence or self-worth.

I want her to be a resilient, strong woman who finds her footing, no matter where she falls. I want her to know that her worth does not lie in her appearance, nor whether she has a significant other, nor the number of Facebook likes her posts have, nor the number or length of Snapchat streaks she has.

But I don’t know how to help her grow. What should I say? What can I do? As a fellow woman, I share similar fears about my self-worth, but we are different people with very different experiences. How I overcome (and am overcoming) my fears is likely different from how she will overcome hers as she will face different people, stressors, and events along her journey.

I feel elated when I see illustrations like this, showing how women support each other. But how do I do what those illustrations are doing? Is what I’m doing following along those lines or am I off track?

Review: Nine Dragons

Image source: Tim Nguyen, in this CBC article

What a show.

Nine Dragons is a fictional historical mystery set in 1920s colonial Hong Kong. Chinese cop Tommy Lam confronts racism and discrimination from British superiors as he works to resolve a series of murders linked to his stark opposite, the wealthy Anglophile Victor Fung.

Hong Kong, crime mystery, and 1920s glam were the words in the description that stuck out enough for me to purchase tickets. I thought it a good way to support the local arts scene and as a fun night out for my theatre-loving family, but received much more than I ever expected.

I was blown away by the effective execution of a complex, layered dive into discrimination. The discrimination in Nine Dragons was not one-sided, nor did it appear in only one form. The play drilled deeply into the topic by showing the obvious and less obvious ways in which racism manifests, and how the marginalized and oppressed perpetuate aggressions onto others too. It was simply torturous to see the awful scenarios that characters like Tommy were in: suppressed by British colonial superiors, yet inflicting pointed accusations that others (like the one woman character) could never relate to his struggles.

Of course, the plot is part of the key to Nine Dragons’ effect. It kept me on my toes and engaged in the story. I realize though that the plot alone was not the element that impressed the struggles upon me the most.

Rather, it was the dialogue and interactions. They explored the topic and conveyed its tensions so well. On top of major scenes that presented divides amongst characters, Nine Dragons managed to naturally sneak in small quips about discrimination into the dialogue. Meanwhile, staging played an important role in physically symbolizing or playing around with hierarchy. One simple yet effective example that I recall was how Tommy or Victor stood on a box a head above others as a white tailor took their measurements. Another was how the play took advantage of the height of Tommy’s actor. His height made for some interesting moments as he stood taller than most of the cast.

For me, the sum effect of Nine Dragons’ parts was a dense, layered examination of discrimination. No character held the solution to addressing it. Tommy points out that he is on the receiving end of discrimination but his drastic actions understandably undermine his supervisors’ trust in him, and he also puts harmful labels on others too. Sean Heaney, Tommy’s partner for the case, attempts to defend Tommy and ensure Tommy gets the respect he deserves. However, Tommy lashes out against Heaney, saying that Heaney’s help only undermines Tommy’s ability to prove himself. Victor Fung represents an attempt to fully assimilate, imposed by forces above and from within, to the point where he cannot relate at all to Tommy.

A family member remarked how although he couldn’t dislike Tommy, he couldn’t bring himself to like him either. I believe that’s the point of Nine Dragons, which it has successfully achieved.

Nine Dragons is showing at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond, BC until April 21, 2018.

About the new photo

As regular readers may have noticed, I’ve updated my blog photo. It’s more meaningful than the last one, which was primarily taken to serve as the profile photo of an Instagram account that I spontaneously started.

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Before
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Now

This time, this photo is expressly for the sole purpose of the blog.

Like the last one, it doesn’t show my face, but the purpose behind that is different.

While not showing my face previously was in order to protect my privacy, the same thing has evolved into a declaration for my blog’s purpose. I am not here to promote the superficial aspects of my life. I am not here to use my visuals to convince others that my life is interesting or enviable. What matters is not my appearance, but the thoughts in my head.

Thus, a shot of my head still remains.

Serving multiple purposes is my hand that holds a pen. It covers my face, reflecting how my writing or thoughts is more important than my visuals. It also reflects some very personal details about me: which hand is my dominant hand, what my hand looks like (hands are very unique), and how I typically write with pens rather than on a laptop.

The importance of my thoughts, as expressed primarily through writing here – that is the message behind my new photo.

Coming back and moving forward

Fourth post in the Architecture and Design series

On my last day of undergraduate classes as a social sciences major, I looked more like the architecture student futurity that I abandoned prior to entering university.

With a black oversized blazer and culottes, I fit the (completely fictional) stereotype of architects wearing dark-coloured clothes. What completed the architecture look was the large portfolio bag I deftly carried around, in order to keep the the final tabloid-sized (11×17”) prints for my final presentation flat.

For my last class was not a class for my major, but rather the city visuals course. To top it off, it was presentation day, for which we had to bring in our final drawings for one last crit session thus the large print outs.

All throughout today, I mused how it was very neat to finish my undergraduate classes this way, doing a presentation like the architecture course I had in high school. Being the architecture student that I might have been, rather than the social sciences major that I actually am.

Since starting this course in January 2018, I’ve had the sense that I was returning to a past version of me. Through this course, I was exploring the future as an architecture student that I never had.

I made use of experiences from the summer high school architecture course in this university course. I attribute part of the success I had in my final project to the “Why” lesson I learnt all those years ago. From the get-go, I saw the need to establish a strong narrative to unify my project. I think I successfully achieved that as I did not receive any questions during crit about why certain components were relevant. Rather, I only received questions about the execution of my project, which did not dig deep at whether I successfully conveyed my concept or not.

In this course, I built on those experiences and deepened my understanding of design. I learnt about drawing principles, how to convey hierarchy of importance, and applied those lessons to real-life examples. I figured out how to use Adobe Illustrator for my final project. I wasn’t designing spaces, but I created visuals with purpose and demanded “Why?” as I contemplated designs, much like what an architect does.

All this reminiscing about my architecture and design history and the future I might have had is what prompted me to do the Architecture and Design series. This course has reaffirmed my interest in the way things are visually represented.

A friend who has read the posts asked me if I regretted not choosing to study architecture five years ago. To her, it sounded as if I saw greener grass on other side.

I reassured her that it was the opposite. Perhaps it sounded like I yearned to have done things differently and that I only declined my BArchitecture offer because I felt that I was not capable of doing well in that field. In reality, I love where I am nowadays. I also knew when declining my BArchitecture offer that is a Master’s degree in Architecture that is essential for an architecture career, and so I have always known that I could pursue that if I was still interested after my Bachelor’s degree.

That is not happening though. I will be pursuing further studies in the social sciences and I cannot recall pausing to consider architecture at any point during this undergraduate degree. I love what I am doing right now too much!

At the same time I began exploring the potential architecture student me when I started the city visuals course in January, I already realized how important my current interests are to me. While the prof went through examples of how visuals were biased, my mind instantly screamed, “Politics! Politics!”

So, though I came back to my interests in architecture and design during this term, I simultaneously am moving forward. Onwards, onto new adventures.