A Happy List

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  1. Today I saw an old man looking at his phone with a magnifying glass.
  2. Weeping willows.
  3. Receiving snail mail.
  4. That feeling when you are in class and actually learning something new.
  5. Orange leaves on the sidewalk.
  6. When my little bro calls me just to ask about my first day of school.
  7. First days of school.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

 

Happy 60th birthday to my father! Is it too soon to say ‘my old man’? ;p Even though it is cliche, I seriously don’t know what I would do without you, Dad. There are days when I get so down on myself and think I just can’t do this anymore. And when that happens, you are always the person I turn to first to cheer me up. You have an unfailing optimism that astounds me time and time again.

You are the best example of loyalty, commitment and unconditional love in my life. I miss you and with I could be with you, but I hope you have a stellar day and don’t work too hard!

An interesting observation from the movie “Crazy Rich Asians”

CRA_FPTB_0164r.0.jpgI saw the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” the other day. Bravo! It was so powerful to see an all-asian cast for the first time on the big screen. I applaud the movie– so fun, poignant and engaging! Plus, the soundtrack was just plain awesome.

At one point near the end of the movie, Eleanor Young, the mother and matriarch of the family, says something that struck me. She is from Singapore, and she is speaking to her son’s girlfriend Rachel, a Chinese woman who was born and raised in America. She says, “All Americans think about is their own happiness. It is an illusion.”

This moment demonstrates the huge difference between the two women’s cultures. Eleanor believes one must put family above all else– career, romance, etc. Happiness is not the top priority on that list. She does not believe the young Rachel will ever be able to make those sacrifices because she was born and raised in a culture that preaches happiness above all else.

What do you think? I am reminded of this quote by Hugh MacKay:

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.
—Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life

I don’t know about you, but my darkest days taught me more than all my happiest days combines. And while I am tempted to say I am happy right now in life, perhaps I should really say I am feeling whole right now.

I’m curious, what is your take on this topic?

P.s. Photo from here

 

So you want to be a writer

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetSo you want to be a writer, you say? Well, my first piece of advice is to try your best to be anything else. Race car driver, president, astronaut, a race-car driving astronaut, really anything else will do. Try your best at all the other subjects, even though you soon learn you can’t tell the difference between an isosceles triangle and a right triangle to save your life.

Find you neglect your other subjects in favor of spending all your time on your English essays. Your favorite theme is man’s inhumanity to man, so try to work it into every prompt. When your teacher returns your work, covered in so much red ink it probably required the sacrifice of a small animal, the words “off topic” are scrawled across the top. Sink into a dramatic depression for days, until you decide she has no idea what she’s talking about. Continue to write off topic.

In college, try to be an art major. But your favorite part is writing the descriptions beneath the paintings, so you finally change to Creative Writing despite your parents gentle pushes towards business.

In these classes no one is right and no one is wrong. Mostly you just sit in a circle asking “Does this work? Is the metaphor wind of change over done or genius?” No one ever knows. But you are growing prouder of your work. Show it to your roommate occasionally and sometimes even to her boyfriend, an athlete who asks you what the word myriad means.

Try to diversify, but somehow all your characters end up sounding like variations of you: a college girl who has no idea what to do after school. Study abroad your sophomore year and consequently write about it unceasingly until you’re classmates beg you to stop. Still, your final thesis senior years is about an american girl who goes abroad. Decide you need more life experiences.

Date a pakistani guy upon graduation to gain said experiences, and furtively write down everything he says for material. He will make a great character one day. See the breakup as only more material. Unfortunately you will continue to view people this way for approximately the rest of your life.

So write because you have to. Because when you don’t you are a worse person than when you do. And if all else fails, I hear the job of race-car-driving astronaut offers surprisingly good benefits.

 

 

 

Today I Turn 23!

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetToday I am 23!

The typical response I hear is, “That’s so young!”

And while yes, it is young, I can’t help but think of all the millions upon billions of things that have happened in these 23 short years. And when I do, it actually feels quite old.

In the last 23 years…

I was born.

I grew up in Malibu, surrounded by two kind, handsome brothers, a mom who packed stellar school lunches and plans vacations like a pro, and a dad who’s easy laugh makes everyone love him. I passed afternoons playing in the Santa Monica mountains and summers swimming in the salty Pacific.

I moved to El Segundo, where I learned to drive, kissed a boy for the first time, attempted geometry and politics and biology but discovered the only thing I really like is writing.

I attended university, where I had an endless turnstyle of rooms and roommates and unrequited crushes. I learned to speak mediocre German and studied abroad in Heidelberg, where I was introduced to good coffee and train travel for the first time.

I graduated and moved to Weinheim on my own with two suitcases and tried my best to figure life out. I found an apartment and held a job and attempted to teach kids and get to know my coworkers. I cleaned a cooked and shopped and budgeted for myself. I rode a childs-sized bike everywhere in all manner of wild weather and dreamt longingly of my Honda CRV. I paid bills and made a few friends and deciphered what it means to feel simultaneously like a kid and an adult. I experienced genuine loneliness and joy and depression and elation and anxiety and triumph and love, to name a few. I felt the kindness of strangers and friends alike, who stuck with me through it all even when it might have been easier not to at times.

Thank you to so many people, near and far, who have supported me this year. From the friend who sat with me in a cafe when I was depressed and just listened, to the neighbor who brought me furniture when I had none, to the girlfriend who sent me a letter just because, the mom who mailed me socks when my feet were cold, the family who flew across oceans to visit me, the coworker who bought me american peanut butter, and so many others. I know without a doubt that I couldn’t have done it without you.

And that’s just scratching the surface! So yeah, can you blame me for thinking 23 is actually quite old in the grand scheme of things?! Even though there were times when it wasn’t easy or fun, I’m so grateful to have had the chance to do it all. I don’t deserve these blessings but hey, look, there they are anyways. I think maybe, just maybe, I am finally learning the meaning of gratitude at my advanced age :p

So here’s to 23+ more years of living in and learning about this beautiful world and trying my best to do myself and others proud. What a gift.

Things I’ve Learned

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  1. How to fix the chain on my bike when it falls off
  2. Why the internet won’t stop talking about how good this show is
  3. How long to boil pasta for the perfect consistency
  4. How to combine two PDFs into one
  5. It only takes one good friend to turn your day around

P.s. Photo of Weinheim in spring 🙂

A Personal Note

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetI just want to say a little something. Before this year, I had never really struggled with depression or loneliness or hopelessness. I was always the motivated, ambitious girl with a smile on her face and a certainty that her future was bright. I hate to admit it, but when I used to encounter other people with problems like depression or anxiety, I would secretly think to myself, “Can’t they just shake it off?”

Well, never again.

This year has taught me so much about empathy. Over the last few months I have often felt like I just can’t connect deeply with people. They are all around me– on the train, in the coffee shop, at work– but I felt unable to reach out in any meaningful sense. This made me lonely in a new, profound way. And this loneliness led to depression. There were many other factors (ahem, bad winter weather, I’m looking at you!), but it was heavy. Really heavy.

I lost motivation for a long time. I struggled to do even little things like cook a healthy meal or send an important email. And if I could barely do those things, how could I possibly have a bright future?!  I deleted my Instagram because I didn’t know how to respond to people’s comments on my photos like “You’re living the dream! I’m so jealous!” when in reality I felt so bad. Then I would feel bad about feeling bad! It was a negative cycle.

Now that’s I’m feeling so so much better for a myriad of reasons, I just wanted to share this little piece of my story in the hopes that maybe it might help someone out there reading. I now have so much more empathy and compassion for

Foreigners

People who just moved to a new place

Refugees

Lonely people

Those who are going through a breakup of any kind

People who just started a new job

Recent graduates who are disoriented

Singles who just want someone to do fun things with

People struggling with depression, anxiety, chronic stress, etc.

People grieving

Language learners

The list goes on! It is so cliche to say that you can’t truly understand something until you’ve gone through it yourself. But in my case, I think the cliche holds true. I am sending love, encouragement and hope to anyone out there going through something heavy today. Thank you all for reading along this year. It means a lot to me.

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P.s. Photos from London, where I visited a friend 🙂

Why I Call My Apartment Building the United Nations

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When I was younger, I thought being a ‘migrant’, or a ‘foreigner’ or an ‘expat’ were things that made a person different– an outsider. I thought it was easy to separate people into two categories: native and other. My world was small and my thinking black and white. But on this ever globalizing planet, where the pace of change keeps accelerating exponentially, it is becoming harder and harder to maintain such clear categories. Everyone is beginning to feel a bit foreign, because all of us, whether we’ve never left our hometowns or traversed the globe, are migrants through time. Parents feel foreign to their children and vice versa, as the lives they lead look more and more dissimilar. The borders and languages of today are a far cry from those of even just 20 years ago. Minds are educated differently in the classroom with new techniques and types of information. A child of the seventies becomes a mother of the two thousands, and then a grandmother of what is sure to be a new reality all together.

And so this year spent living abroad in a little apartment in a little corner of a ‘foreign country’ has forced me to accept my differentness and to explore the empathy that arises from the shared experience of being different. I’ve learned more about the interconnectedness of our diverse world this year than ever before, and much of that learning has occurred without having to leave my building.

On the bottom floor of my building lives a Syrian family with three children. They came to this country as refugees two years ago and have since taken up the noble and heavy task of remaking their lives. The first night I moved in they were there to greet me and carry my belongings up the stairs. They brought me toilet paper and dinner and a warm cup of tea. We laughed immediately over our shared struggle with the German language and how much paperwork is required just to survive here. Over the months, they have fixed my bike, changed my light bulbs, reset my heater, driven me to the airport, invited me over for cake and so much more. Their daughters come upstairs for a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of an older girl, and I go downstairs for a taste of the stable life of a family. In our differentness, we are one.

The second floor is inhabited by a German couple in their seventies who have lived there for thirty years. Their names are old school German and their English is broken- the tail end of a generation that did not learn it in school and did not need it in their daily lives. They are grandparents and retired insurance brokers. My first interaction with them was one of remorse- I had broken one of their hallway plants moving in a sofa and knocked on their door to apologize in murderous german. They smiled and waved it off, “es macht nichts.” Through the next few months they brought me pots and pans when I mentioned my need, left their door open when I locked my keys inside my apartment, brought my chocolate for Christmas and giving me missing ingredients to finish my half-completed muffins.

Though sometimes awkward, sometimes challenging, my interactions with my neighbors have been a highlight of my year. They teach me about kindness, generosity and community. We are a group that has almost nothing in common, and yet we decided to look out for each other simply because we are neighbors. That’s all.

I wish this for anyone, anywhere, foreign or national, young or old, rich or poor. I have felt alone much of this year, but when I see my neighbors I immediately feel less so. They brighten my day and I know I could go to them if anything were to happen. With all the xenophobia and fear mongering  in culture today, it’s easy to forget how simple it is. We all need a helping hand. We all need a smile in the hallway. We all need to realize that foreignness is a shared human experience, and it is beautiful.

When my parents came for a visit, I joked that our building is the United Nations, except with less arguing. They agreed and felt reassured that their daughter was going to be alright at the end of the day. And I am. And when I move out at the end of June, I will be happy to move on to the next phase, but sad to leave the UN.

Who knows where I’ll live next– LA? New York? Frankfurt? But I do know that wherever that may be, I will try to be the first person to greet my neighbors with a smile and say “I’m here if you need anything.” Always.

P.s. Photo from here