I’d like to say that I live in a constant state of self-analysis. I’m an analytical person, okay — I overanalyze, and I’ve been told this by friends as both a bad thing and, well, just a me thing. Once my BFF Ann said, “If you stopped overanalyzing, you’d stop being you.” Which can be taken in any way, but it’s just as well, because I don’t know how to stop it. But what I can do is point it inwards, and use it to be more aware of myself and all of the junk going on in there.
Last night a few friends and I had some coffee at Starbucks after dinner. We like to have coffee and gab to each other. We’re girls. We talk. About anything and everything. But something that has been a point of contention amongst us is stuff like marriage and IF there is “The One” and relationships. It’s in these conversations that I can track the changes that have been happening to and inside me.
I still remember the very first REAL conversation I had with two of my friends now. We were out on a morning walk (that’s right - we’re old ladies) and they told me they didn’t believe in romantic love. And I was like, but why not! There’s a reason for all of those love songs! Not all things crash and burn! Some really Hallmark bullshit. But it was genuine, guys. This stuff, me going on about how love can be great, how being with someone can make you grow and learn about yourself, I really believed that love, despite all of the gold bangle million dollar wedding shit people lay on, is pure and good and amazing if you really saw it without the make-up. Like a really beautiful girl, love is even more amazing when it isn’t dressed up and caked with superficial ornaments. And I thought, if only people could see that like I could. I could have easily been jaded, too. I saw my parents and I didn’t see the love that pretend people like Cinderella and Prince Charming did. It would have been so easy for me to have said just because I didn’t see it there, that it didn’t exist. Maybe a little even too easy.
I’d gone on that spiel plenty of times, including to this guy a few years ago. He was a good looking cat but he was young, from a broken home, and was jaded. I asked him if had ever been in love, and he said that no, he hadn’t, but that the fact was irrelevant. “I don’t have to have ever been in love to know that it’s all bullshit,” he said. I said, “Call me when you fall in love so that I can personally come over and watch you stick your giant-ass foot in your mouth.”
The more I read Donald Miller, the more he makes me want to be a writer. A good one. Not just a storyteller, but someone who writes and makes sense for people. I want that kind of resolution in myself, the ability to step out and be able to offer something better than, say, a happy ending at the end. Anybody can offer a happy ending. I want something more profound — something that sticks with you, something that someone will think about while they’re laying in bed waiting to fall asleep, or sitting in traffic. Something that wakes you up from idle routine, puts pieces together, and inspires you to break out of your funk.
Take this quote:
“I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.”
One time my friend Earl and I were talking about dating and all of the different “terms” we have for dating (“going out”, “seeing each other”, “dating”, “hanging out”) and he asked me to define all of them. Which I couldn’t. Because it occurred to me that I can’t really differentiate clearly between all of them, which totally blew my mind, because I know for different people they mean different things. And then he says, “See, I hate having to label something. Because the moment you label something, you start to put restrictions on it.”
“And expectations,” I added, and he nodded. “And expectations mean disappointment.” I mean, wouldn’t it be great to live life without expectations? That way everything good that happened to you would just be pleasant surprises and there would be no disappointments.
And then I got to thinking about how far back expectations go, and how expectations have become such an innate and fixed part of our human psyche. I think of the first caveman that accidentally started rubbing two stones or sticks together to make a fire. (I think we can all pretty much say that the first fire was an accident.) But then, seeing the fire as a result of what he had been doing, he starts doing it again — and that’s when expectation comes in. We had seen it happen, cause and direct effect, so we begin to anticipate it.
That’s a more concrete example of expectations, I guess. Direct cause and effect. Then we get to the more complicated stuff - expectations based on language and behavior and relationships. The fact is that expectations are a learned trait. Think of it as a dog getting a trick right and getting rewarded with a treat. I.e. I work hard and do all my work so I expect good grades and am disappointed when I don’t get them. But where do unrealistic expectations come in? And can it be cured with endless rational training? And what is the real difference between hoping and expecting, when both of them can both end in disappointment? What is hope if not partly expectation? Like in love. We all show up on love’s doorstep with expectations - grand expectations - even some of us, who know better than that.
And that is the part where I think expectations are so human. We take it to a level that other animals can’t - the part where we can rationalize an expectation is unrealistic and decide to scrap it, yet can’t. Innately, something keeps us from letting go of it. I struggle with this, mostly with my expectations of other people. I am incredibly idealistic. I expect people to know better, to make better decisions, because they are intelligent beings. I tell myself over and over again that that just isn’t how the world works, but a little part of me is always a little disappointed.
my mom said something that made me really think. Something about being alone — being and living alone. Not just in a place, but in a state. In a completely different area code. She said, “It must be hard. Going home, for her. Having to open that door, coming home to no one.” And then I thought about how exhilarating yet terrifying and incredibly lonely it must be for a person that grew up in such a big family to be alone. I have two brothers and one sister, and it’s like one by one we are flying the coup. My sister’s in Maine, my brother’s in Berkeley, and soon I’ll be leaving, too.
My friend Earl is a pending transfer student like me. He wants to be a theater major and we were talking about how neither of us applied to any schools in San Diego. I told him about how when I had been a senior in high school, there was nothing I wanted more than to get out of SD. I was dramatic back then so I had even inquired about seeing if I could get a full scholarship to the University of Alaska. And so there we were, sitting in the sun on a bench while he ate his almonds, and I said, “It’s weird what you start to appreciate when you know you won’t have it for much longer.”
It’s like when you’re coming closer to having your “dream” actualized, you start to walk slower, and take more time to smell the flowers and feel the happy San Diegan sun on your skin. And then as your time starts to dwindle, you feel yourself getting all clingy and attached. I feel particularly attached to the weather. And walking. Specifically, walking in really great weather.
We take advantage of things when we know we won’t be going without them anytime soon. It’s human nature. For example, my sister always cries when we drop her off at the airport. I always used to make fun of her for this. I have never been an airport crier but how should I know? I have never left San Diego for such a substantial amount of time. I have never had to live in a place where I knew no one, or make dinner for myself, or have that chance to miss my parents. Suddenly you see how your life would be like without your everyday comforts and mundane routines, and you don’t really know how you would react. I think about all of the College freshmen getting homesick stories. People who go away to college with utter confidence in themselves and their skills to adapt and then they hit that brick wall of homesickness and suddenly they’re begging to come home.
I don’t think there’s any way you can prepare yourself for that. You can expect it and not kid yourself (it happens to everyone), but there’s nothing you can do to thwart it. That’s one of the worst parts. Homesickness already has a lot to do with helplessness, and then you realize you’re utterly helpless in facing that helplessness? If it’s painful, it’s probably part of growing up.
When I think ahead and try to visualize my life when I transfer next fall and move to a place where I know absolutely no one and have to make do with just myself, I see a lot of possibilities but I also see — a lot of empty space. Spaces that, with my life here, are filled. Every day. They’re so routine you don’t even consider the fact that one day they might be gone. I reassure myself with science: human beings are meant to adapt. We’re meant to move and build houses and communities then move some more. We evolve every day so that we might be ready for whatever happens next. [If you think historically, you’d realize that we were built for this. The very beginning of (colonized) America was because of people leaving home.]
As I’ve gotten older I have come to really appreciate my mom and dad’s anecdotes about their past — because I’ve realized that I don’t know much about them as people (before they were my parents) at all. I mean, weird to think about your parents before they were your parents, right?
Funnily enough, though, one of my favorite things to muse about in my free time is how my parents were like (my mom especially) when they were my age: if they were different, if they had total ‘tudes, and if I could meet them at that age and yet still see a semblance of my parents in them.
So tonight my parents, my brother and I went to an Italian restaurant for my birthday, and my mom got to talking about how her dad passed away when she was 13, and that she had to quit school for a year to help my grandma out at the market. Naturally, as with all of my mom’s stories, it turned into a story that was somewhat self-glorifying: “You’d never know it, but the navy men came to buy fish from us, and they started to court me! I was only 13!” And of course my response was, “And you didn’t think they were creeps?” And my mom paused and then she just shrugged her shoulders and nonchalantly took a sip of her rootbeer, as in to say “I was hot, what do you expect?”
(My parents are silently hilarious. I’m going to miss that about them.)
She then went on to say that my grandma, noticing all of the attention she was garnering from said creepy navy men, told her that she should just get married. At 13!!! Let’s ignore that this was probably not even legal (this was the end of the 50’s, not the medieval times when daughters were married off at 12 or whatever), but my grandma’s reasoning was that it would have been less strain on the family if my mom married and became financially dependent on some Navyman pedophile creep (keep in mind that my grandpa had just died).
And my mom, bless her soul, told my grandma No. “I want to go back to school,” she told her. Even at 13, my mom knew the probability of the jaded life as a housewife she’d be stuck with if she’d married off without having a chance to finish her education. I love that. I wanted to tell my mom that it was such a feminist stance to have, and that Jane Austen would have been proud of her. And at 13! God, at 13 I was still whining about the flared jeans that i wanted and clueless boys.
She told me that she was determined to prove something. “I don’t know what it is about poverty,” she told me, “but it makes you want to rise above your circumstance. It makes you want harder and work harder as a result.” She then compared her family (my grandma was the poorest of all her sisters, since my grandpa died when she was only 42) to her aunt’s family, who lived comfortable lives thanks to their Navy fathers, and who — most of them — never even finished college. “We were the poorest,” my mom told me proudly, “and we had 3 Magna Cum Laudes. We all finished college with honors. Nobody else did that.”
Today during dinner I watched my parents and when it came to blow out my candle, I wished that I would write a bestselling vampire novel (or something more redeeming) so that I could give my parents something nice, because they deserve it. I want to buy my dad Wimbledon tickets and send my mom on a cruise where she could have all the lobster and crab and martinis she wants. Something entirely just for them. On my 20th birthday, that’s what I wished for, and it was the best wish I’d ever actually had.
who is so wigged out by silence and awkwardness that I have to chatter to fill it up. I relish and fear awkwardness, if that makes any sense. But is there anything worse than when you’re trying to have a conversation and the other person is totally just not having it? But you keep trying. So you keep changing the subject — subjects that you think are relevant and easily relatable, by the way, so how does it still fall on a flat note? Of course I have to be THAT person who asks things like, “What age have you always dreamed of being?” a question that nobody would understand, until I had to further explain, “You know, like I have always idealized being 17. 16 you’re still a little stupid, and 18 is a little too serious because then you’re going off to college, but 17 I imagine a summer away at a beach town and having a summer fling with a cute lifeguard.”
Even though 17 was nothing like that at all for me (see: forgettable, and thus immediately forgotten). But it’s weird how your mind keeps things like that for you — little picturesque scenarios, perfectly preserved, no matter what. Like snowglobes. To be honest, I don’t remember being 17 at all, except that I did not go off to some cute beach town and spend my 17th summer trying to get sand out of my clothes. But every time I think about 17, all I can think about is that idea, that picture of how I see being 17..
One of my younger cousins answered me and said, “21.” Which I had to laugh at. It’s a typical answer. You get to drink and go to clubs. I think a lot of people glamorize being 21 — they put 21 on a pedestal, which is sad, because 20 and 22 get no credit, either. But it’s interesting that my 17 year old cousin can’t wait to be 21 and me, this 19 year old blabber mouth, can’t stop thinking about the 17th year that I never had. She’s there daydreaming about body glitter and clubbing and happy hour and I’m dreaming about fucking sea shells and faded white beach houses.
I mean, I can’t decide if that’s weird or totally normal.
But I totally digress.
My point is that an hour later I realize, “Wow, I was totally just having a conversation with myself.” Which isn’t as dull as you think it might be. I ended up learning a little something about myself, oddly enough. Even though I know my cousins might have thought, “Wow, she must really just like the sound of her own voice.”
Today in my gender studies class the big topic was love, and how the love that the world presents us with is wrong and set up to fail (see: Disney love). By the traditional meaning of love, it means: heterosexual, monogamous, “forever”, means to procreate, commitment, etc. The entire time conversation is happening around me, of women trying to renegotiate their definitions of love to fit into real reality, I’m hard at thought thinking about my own definition of love. Like, to put into actual words. And I was at kind of a loss. All I could really think about was self-love.
Not as to say that all I could think about was how much I love myself, but the concept of self-love and how vital it is to the notion of love altogether. I am a HUGE fan of self-love. The biggest, probably. Because if everybody were nurtured and taught to love themselves without having to depend on others for their validity or self-esteem, I don’t believe there would be murders. I believe that if Hitler had been taught to love himself, he would have loved people, and he would have actually maybe gotten accepted into art school and maybe would have become a famous artist instead of an infamous war lord.
One of my friends said something that really hit a chord with me. She said, “If little boys and girls were raised to be whole and complete people, instead of incomplete people taught to search for the other to be totally complete, then a lot of our problems would be solved.”
Then I remembered that some people use the phrase “He’s my other half!” in describing their partners. Like, to begin with, they were never a complete person in the first place. They were just half a person their entire lives, with half a heart and half emotion and half passion.
I’ve put off writing this blog because it deals with race, and race is such an intense and touchy subject — not only race, but racism, and not only racism — but internalized racism. Racism from within. Which, you know, doesn’t always jive with everyone. But whatever, I’ve finally mustered up the guts to write about it, so if the subject (or really long wordy posts) make you uncomfortable, feel free to skip it.
Let me be the first to say that I put white people on a pedestal.
I was raised this way — as I’m sure maybe a lot of you were, too. I grew up in a culture that worships white people, that wants to erase any trace of Asianness to be white, that makes movie stars out of people who look white even though, let’s be honest, a three-legged donkey could probably act better than they can. From childhood the idea was ingrained into my head that white was beautiful. Brown/black/yellow/red was not.
My first (official) boyfriend was as white as Betsy Ross. I was a sophomore in high school and I remember thinking that it was all just a big joke. I grew up fearing — and not only fearing, but expecting — that one day the punchline would be revealed and I would be the butt of it. I was a lowly Asian girl that had no semblance of blatant whiteness in her, and he was a superior white boy that liked Nirvana, who thought it was funny to draw swastikas on his arms, and liked driving over sand dunes in Arizona. Throughout that entire relationship, I was a train wreck. My self-esteem was in the negatives. I never dared to say it, but deep down I knew it was all because of race. He was white. I was not. At the time I was thoroughly convinced that he was inherently better than I was, and that he deserved some beautiful white goddess that could share in his cool whiteness, and I spent every day waiting for him to realize that.
It’s that internalized racism that ripped me apart to shreds. I was racist against myself and everybody like me — when put in juxtaposition with white folks. And I was so young and naive, you know — I didn’t know how to critically think about it. It wasn’t something that I was ready to acknowledge, to form into words, so it trickled out in feelings of constant inadequacy and doubt.
Inside, I was asking myself — Who do you think you are, being with a white boy? Do you really think you’re that great?
I think a lot of it also had to do with just the general environment I was raised in. My high school literally had about 5 white people in it, so I was left comfortable with my own kind, the Asians in AP classes, the ones that looked down on the people who smoked pot and ditched and drank and had sex and couldn’t speak up in lit circles. I had a lot of white teachers, but they were teachers. I got really close to two white women teachers who trash-talked patriarchy and the government and evil white men, but I still felt different with them. Like there was always going to be this racial barrier, that even though they were these awesome, intellectual, feminist, aware and liberal women that I so eagerly looked up to and admired, we could never really connect in that deep of a level.
I was in class once and a girl raised her hand and said, “Everybody needs to love themselves. It’s just as simple as that.” Typical: she was white. No offense, but let’s be honest: it’s easy to love yourself when you’re white. The entire world isn’t in your face or brushing up against you in crowds or on the television or in magazines telling you otherwise because your skin isn’t white, or because your eyes aren’t big enough, your hair isn’t straight enough. I know that it’s hard to love yourself as a human, period, but — do you know how hard it is to love yourself when you’re an ethnic person in a world that loves white people? In a world that still predominantly shows white people on television? That still consistently names white women as The Most Beautiful Woman in the World? That still casts colored people in highly stereotypical roles on TV? Think about the women you deem beautiful, the men you salivate over on TV. How many of them are white?
I hate to think that this has become a permanent, fixed idea within me. I like white guys. That’s my general taste. Is it because I put white people on the pedestal, even now — just a little bit, when the critical thinking switch is off in my brain? Is it because I think white boys are superior to Asian boys (the answer is no)? Is it because that’s what I’ve been taught to want (but not taught to feel like I deserve)? What, exactly, accounts for our taste?
I still struggle with this. I still get starstruck by white people sometimes. Sometimes, when talking to a white person, I revert back into my young self and think, “Wow, am I lucky, to be in the presence of a white person. A white person!” And it makes me hate myself, but at least now I am aware of it.
In my Gender Studies class, it’s therapeutic to hear all of the white people acknowledge that they have privileges in society that minorities do not, just because they were lucky enough to be born white (I always wonder if they feel guilty), but it worries me because I can’t see things ever changing. You could say that with every generation we’re getting more open-minded, more accepting — but people still say the N-word, people still call other people Fag, people still call each other Pussies in a way to degrade their masculinity and belittle them. I am not an exception to this. We’re still racist, but we’ve become comfortable, instead, of being racist and at the same time laughing at ourselves. In a lot of ways, our little ways of “being racist” have become normalized to the extent that we don’t even know we’re being racist. Being a little bit racist is funny to us; but when you’re a lot racist, it’s unacceptable. That’s when it warrants the word “racist.” But racist is racist, guys. There’s no such thing as being a little bit racist, and being a lot racist.
Yesterday, I was crammed in the backseat of my cousin’s Lancer with my mom and my auntie. It’s about an hour drive to their place, which is an affluent gated community. Nice little suburbia, great to raise children in, no black people or crime, etc. Their backyard even abutts a nice little green golf course.
After we’ve done with all of the small talk in the backseat, my mom asks me, “So. You haven’t changed your mind about your major?”
I’m sure it’s not surprising that this is the billionth time that my mom has asked me this. It comes every week like clockwork. Every time my answer has always been the same, but it does make me sad to see that my mom still has some hope hanging on a little silver thread that i might suddenly wake up one day and become passionate about sticking needles into people’s arms and/or wearing scrubs decorated with teddy bears and a nice pair of rubber crocs. I want to tell her — Mom, trust me, if it hasn’t happened by now, it never will.
I think about when I was little — I wanted to be a singer, a ballerina, a paleontologist, a scientist, a fashion designer, the person that makes up new crayon colors and names them, and I have never once wanted to be a doctor or a nurse. Probably because I was petrified of them. They always had cold hands. Like a yeti.
My cousin, who’s driving, asks me what my major is. I tell him creative writing and then backtrack and mumble, “English with an emphasis in creative writing.”
“How are you going to get a job with that?” she asks me.
“You know, about 70% of people get a career that has nothing to do with their major,” I tell her. Which I realize is kind of a smartass comment and totally avoiding the question, but my cousin in the driver’s seat nods his head and agrees.
“What good does that do?” she says. “The point of going to college is to get a major that you can get a career in.”
I love that my mom knows that my passion is to write (creatively) and yet she has never put two and two together that i want to major what i want to major in because i want to be a (creative) writer. Like I’m just majoring in it just to fuck with her, that once I graduate my diploma will just vanish into thin air and I’ll have nothing. Which is possible, but not inevitable.
Before I can get a word out, my auntie beside me says, “Kids these days, they only do what they want.”
Which is sociologically true. My parents are collectivist people, I was raised here in the United States of Doing Whatever the Fuck I Want, that highly individualistic society where you grow up with people telling you that you can be a writer, an artist, an astronaut, a dog whisperer, whatever. I didn’t grow up feeling obligated to go into whatever career my parents deemed financially stable and equally monotonous, nor did I grow up knowing that I would be doomed to eventually succumb into a loveless career. I grew up believing in myself and passion and my future.
Which leads me to say — I love my parents with all of my heart, but I pity them, too. I hate that they didn’t grow up thinking they could be anything they wanted. I hate that their parents didn’t allow them to foster any kind of passion (except in God). I hate that they were forced to give up so much as children, that they had to quit school and work because there was no other way to live, that they lost their fathers, that they lost so much. I hate they were robbed of so many things, but God, as much as I hate every single tragic and sad and unfair thing that has happened to them, I love the people that it has shaped them into.
I love them because they are such good people and sacrificed everything for us, but in that lies such a hefty contradiction. My parents sacrificed their high level jobs and a house and their friends and help so that they could come here, where they had to start over, where they had to scrub the grime off the bottom of the ladder, so that their kids would have better opportunities.
I bet they never thought what effect that would have on us. I bet they never thought that giving us better opportunities would expose us to the thought that we could be artists or historians and major in what we loved, instead of what was good for us. I bet, that as we got off the plane and saw the gleaming flourescence of hope and opportunity and the sea of white faces, that not one thought in my parents’ heads was: My child could be a writer here.
Today I had a quick little errand trip to Walmart with my mom, and somehow our conversation turned into my mom’s young adulthood. I was asking about my parents’ wedding, and about her maid of honor. She told me that her maid of honors were her two best friends (not her sisters, which was surprising to me), and then she added, “They live in LA. They’re doctors now.” And then she paused. “We were all supposed to be doctors. But I couldn’t handle it, financially, so I went into accounting. When I first went into it, I didn’t even know what accounting was — I had never heard of it. But that’s where I got a scholarship, and I studied accounting for four years with a full ride.”
My heart broke for her. When she said it — she wasn’t rubbing it in my face. You’d think so. You’d think she’d be saying this to me to say — see? See what I did? You can do it, too. But there wasn’t any of that in her voice. Just sadness.
Funny how I’ve spent 19 years living with my parents and sometimes, God, I feel like I don’t know a single thing about them. I always thought that my mom was into accounting because she loved numbers, she was just a totally lovable freak that way. But it’s like they have this entire secret life that I know nothing about. And I think — I know why they don’t say it. They have their pride, too. They’re allowed. God, are they totally freaking allowed.
The fact is that I wish I could be that daughter that they want. They’ve given up so much, and as contradictory as their intentions and wishes are, when I think about how much they’ve given up I want to be that daughter that can make them happy in that way. But I can’t. But hearing my mom’s story makes me feel like it’s not impossible to put myself completely aside, because she did it. But I am not as strong as my mother. I am a selfish, selfish girl. I love what I love too damn much. But what her story told me was — you can learn to love it. Just like you can learn to love a person, you can learn to love anything, under the right circumstances.
But that’s just it — the circumstances. They’re not the same.
Which is funny because I always wish that I could be completely honest with my mom. I’d be willing to major in something else if I had even half the passion for it as I do with writing — but I don’t. What else am I passionate in? Arts and crafts. Butchering clothes. Acting really badly onstage. Drawing. They’re all on the same level.
And then my mom says, “I couldn’t be a doctor, but at least your brother can be. It looks that way.” And she smiled this kind of ironic smile.
I don’t want to say that I think that my mom doesn’t believe in me. Maybe it’s not me she doesn’t believe in — but what I love. Not to be mean, but my mom’s recreational reading material consists entirely of these things: Danielle Steel, Twilight, and emails. I remember once my sister told me that I should let my mom read something that I wrote because maybe that was the problem — she just didn’t know how good at it I was, she didn’t know how serious about it I was (what did she think I did at home all day? seriously, mom, I sure as hell wasn’t curing cancer). I snuck a short story I wrote into her bag the next morning, nervous as hell, and she never said one word about it. No “Good job on the story.” Not even a “You had some typos, but overall, not bad.”
Which immediately made me feel embarrassed and humiliated. But I don’t write for my mom. I write for myself. I don’t write for her validation. I love my mom, but I still think about whether I’ll tell my parents if and when I’ll ever get published. I hope that I won’t just tell them just to say I Told You So. I hope I’ll be better than that. But most of all, I hope my parents will finally understand. I hope that if it ever happens, and if my mom still makes a joke about me going into nursing or accounting, that I can just laugh it off and not still feel the sting of not being good enough.
That’ll be the day.