note to self: be present, not perfect. that is enough.
note to self: be present, not perfect. that is enough.
Two months ago I’d circled this week of May as my Week of Hell because of school assignment deadlines. Entering into it, however, I noticed that I’m already exhausted from planning and anticipation. Right now I find myself feeling soft and open because I’m tired, but also there’s nothing I can do but surrender.
Now, this might change as I move deeper into this week but I hope to remain this way. I’ll show up to my work, plug in my hours, and let it go when it’s time to submit. To stay soft and open during each moment with the least resistance, especially when faced with hurdles you can’t control like a delayed bus or a toddler who refuses to go to bed. To not stress out or get mad for the loss of how-ever-many minutes thinking that I could have been working. Essentially, to not waste my energy.
On the mom-side of things, if I’m busy and stressed and my little girl happens to be getting fussier every day, it’s not a coincidence. She is sensitive to my stress levels. She senses it when I’m anxious to get away from her, so she fusses, fights and delays going to bed. In other words, when I’m stressed, she gets stressed. Last night I gave in and laid with her, because it’s important to discern (at least take a guess) and take care of her emotional needs which she can’t articulate. When I’m busy it’s even more important that I choose to forget my to-do list and focus on what’s going on with my child.
It’s hard work outside the comfort zone
When we’re taking risks and leaving our comfort zone, things will change, and it gets uncomfortable. This makes sense. But when we begin to feel overwhelmed, like everything seems harder, more confusing, stressful and it feels like we can barely keep our head above water, too often we fall back into thinking that the reason we’re struggling is that we’re not good enough. We forget that learning, being in new territory and taking risks are challenging and debilitating by default.
As the discomfort continues, we can accept that this is how it should be, and flow with this new course of life that we worked hard and were brave enough to put ourselves into.
On a related note, living in the new, discomfort zone is exhausting. We can be so great at working hard and meeting deadlines that when we do have free time, we begin to wonder why we are not more productive. We forget that we are already doing a lot. Rest is more than just sleep. We also need idle time to unwind from our mental, physical and emotional hard work.
So, it was my birthday on 12/31 and for the first time I want to say something about it. Having a birthday on New Year’s Eve feels like being at the finish line of a long run where everyone rejoices, or finally relaxes, and everyone who made it deserves to be celebrated. I love that there’s always fireworks on my birthday, and I get to piggyback on the joyful hopefulness of the many people who celebrate this day across the globe.
Thank you for inviting me to this party. Here’s a sparkler for you, courtesy of restaurant Barolo in Seattle who made it for my birthday dinner there.
Wishing YOU a healthy and happy year ahead 🌟🧡✨
There was a time I was troubled by my inability to feel gratitude towards some people who were supporting me in huge ways, and perceived it as a dysfunction on my part. When I eventually accepted it as a reasonable result of those people also being the biggest source of my pain, any gratitude I tried to muster towards other things and people still felt superficial.
Then someone introduced me to the idea and importance of saying thank you to ourselves. I thanked myself for resilience, courage, patience, and for trying. It felt nice.
Lately I read about how trauma affects the body and the brain. I was brought to my knees realizing just how much our body and brain are infinitely more intelligent and complex than all my conscious thoughts and analyzing and problem-solving skills put together.
Over and over our body and brain go to work automatically, without conscious mental instruction on our part, to protect us, help us survive, and keep us alive. I think about every time the knife slips when I chop carrots and it hits the nail of a finger. I don’t tell my hands to move out of the way. They save themselves during 99.9% of my chopping accidents before I know it. Or when oil splatters from a hot pan and hits a quarter-inch away from my eye but never actually in my eye. Or like the other day I stumbled over a rock. By the time I registered that I was falling, my body had caught me. I was back in one piece and steadied by the time my thought was over. Instinct.
Too often we resent and punish our bodies for their shape, sensations, feelings, moods and emotions, and we forget the immense intelligence and power of our instincts and intuition. Neuroses, sudden flood of tears and even illnesses are often part of the body’s way of trying to regulate or remedy itself.
So, deepest thanks to you, my body. I’m so lucky to have possession and experience of this healthy, exquisite biological machine.
Trying light and airy in this one…
I’m currently reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book of Madeleine L’engle’s A Wrinkle In Time series. The rune that Mrs. O’Keefe recites is ringing with me…
“At Tara in this fateful hour
I place all heaven with its power,
and the sun with its brightness,
and the snow with its whiteness,
and fire with all the strength it hath,
and lightning with its rapid wrath,
and the winds with their swiftness along their path,
and the sea with its deepness,
and the rocks with their steepness
and the earth with its starkness:
all these I place,
by God’s almighty help and grace,
between myself and the powers of darkness.”
*Hey Friends: This is not a restaurant or food review at all. I love that it gave me an experience that was fun to write about! The authentic snail meal, ăn ốc, sounds delicious.
Last week we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in our city’s Little Saigon known for its snails and shellfish. This great blogpost tells me that it’s a nationally beloved social meal in Vietnam. The restaurant’s Yelp photos boasted greasy shimmery shells, fleshy clams and generous toppings of chili, garlic, cilantro, peanuts and green onion, and we got excited for our foodie adventure.
It’s okay for the real thing to look slightly less appealing than the photos; that happens to all of us. But the blood clams arrived in a grayish hue that made me think of nothing better than a dead vampire’s skin, which is not quite a color I find appetizing. I kind of looked away and slurped one into my mouth. Then I tried a second to be sure: Each one suggested hope but ended in regret. Instead of evoking the ocean, I thought of wet mud (which to my dismay may be the snails’ true and rightful place of origin). Even the peanuts in the topping tasted like old Tupperware.
I don’t think our party of five had ever been this quiet during a meal. I think we were all baffled by the divide between ours and other diners’ merry experience. My mother-in-law didn’t even complain much. Though if she did, we wouldn’t argue with her this time.
That night I missed my mom. Not because she cooks great seafood, or any food for that matter. But for many years she worked near the source of all the freshest seafood in Hong Kong: Sai Kung. Funnily enough, Sai Kung in Cantonese sounds just like Saigon. And I just learned that it is written with the same Chinese characters (西貢）used by the Vietnamese in their former writing system.
When I was still an exclusively Cantonese-speaking ten-year-old I memorized a Japanese name, written in English letters, because it was printed on the covers of the Sailor Moon manga. Naoko Takeuchi. In my head I would pronounce it like English words, truncating the double vowels into one syllable. I didn’t know how to say her name or what she looked like, but I knew she drew the best art I’d seen in my ten years on earth.
I read all the mangas, watched the anime on TV. I fed hundreds of HK$1 coins into a machine to trade for collectible Sailor Moon cards. I saved up pocket money for Sailor Moon stickers. I had learned the English names of the planets in the solar system before I knew what a solar system is, because Sailor Moon had friends like Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter, and so forth. So when I started going to school in England, I was the Chinese kid in a British classroom who didn’t speak but wrote the names of all the planets when the teacher was still at Venus.
Come to think of it, isn’t it amazing when we get to obsess about the best thing we’ve seen in our lives? If we always obsess about the BEST things we know, won’t that make for a fantastic quality of life?
What’s the best-of-something you are obsessing with right now?
The thing I struggle most with painting is not technical ability, though that is a trigger, but the uninvited guests who pull their chairs right up to me the moment I sit down with a blank piece of paper and brushes at my desk. The perfectionist hovering above and under my brush, the art school graduate who’s scared I’m going to ruin her reputation any further, the art gallery staff who will decide that nothing I make is interesting enough, and the inner critic who identifies each mistake in the painting as the reason I’m failing in life.
“I’m not blind!” I shouted back in my mind. “I can see how this looks like a child’s drawing compared to what I had in mind! Just go away and let me be.” But don’t turn around. You just can’t engage them like that.
Despite the gnarled fingers on my shoulders, hot angry breath, sighs of disappointment, I labored at the painting until I couldn’t fix it any more. When I gave up, my inner Monet came out and took over the should-have-been-OCD-precise mandala painting. In my resting state (as Monet was doing the work) I asked, apart from ignoring those “guests” as best I could, what am I supposed to learn from them?
It said: The opposite of their assaults. Self-compassion.
The other day I watched some live baseball in person and live World Cup on TV at the same time. I’ll be the world’s last person to become a sports fan, and my introverted nature lamented the fact that I had to attend the game. But I found myself captivated by penalty kicks on one side, and baseball on the other.
When fans talk about a game like they would have done better than the athletes on the field, I cannot relate. But as the player draws a deep breath, step in front of the ball, that I can relate. As the player draws a deep breath, step in front of the ball, I feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. Not just the failure and success of their country or the pride and dignity of their fellow countrymen, but the world. Because soccer/football IS the world they’ve built with their sweat and blood and life.
The chaos of nerves and fear, the no-turning-back. Having to find their way to the eye of the storm, to focus like they’re running on the blade of a sword, and giving it their all as if it’s a matter of life and death: that I admire. Whether or not it gets in the net, they’re a hero to have stepped up, showed up, and just kicked the damn ball.
As my heart tightened and released with every kick, regardless of the team, it felt like I was training my courage muscles just by watching the players.