October 31, 2016

The Life you Keep Saying you Want

What's not to love about Elizabeth Gilbert? She's whip-smart and hilarious, sarcastic and self-deprecating in a way that's still self-loving. I adore her, admire everything about her. When I finished reading her book, I felt the same way I did after watching The Oprah Show: awestruck, energized, and ready to save the world or something.

Like most people, I first fell for her writing with Eat Pray Love, and her most recent book, Big Magic, has become a permanent fixture on my desk. She has said that Big Magic is her manifesto, and much of the weekend's workshop was shaped around the ideas her book lays out on creativity.

My notebook is full of scribbled phrases I jotted down as I read, but there was one line I didn't even need to write down. It stuck with me, and I honestly can't stop thinking about it.

"What are you willing to give up to have the life you keep saying you want?"

After Elizabeth asked the question, it sort of hung in the air, shifting the energy around me. She went on to explain the hardest part, that you don't just have to give up the things that are bad for you, or the things that are a waste of time. You have to give up some of the good things, too.

This is the part that really got me: the life you keep saying you want. It's so pointed, right? It forces you to compare the life you claim you want to the life you've actually created for yourself. What's different? What's not? How much are you willing to bend to make the two look more similar?

I'll leave you with that. Oh, and my favorite line from Big Magic, which is actually a line by Jack Gilbert, a poet: "We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world." 

Stubborn gladness. So perfect, right?

October 20, 2016

Those Days

You're six years old and lived next to your grandparents. Time was a smudged glass in a summer haze. You spent your days without shoes and watched your feet, praying callouses form on your heels. Your mother had a hard brush to rub hers away but you waited for the day when you'll be able to boast, "look how far I've walked. Look how many layers I carry."

Six was a small age. Six was sweet potato and tea in the evening. Six was cold ice cream tube from a rusty freezer. Six was polka-dot pants and pink cotton t-shirts. Six was leaning against your grandma's knees as she braided your long, wet hair. Six was a singing time.

The evening smelled like grill smoke and wet dew, burned wood chips and yards of flowers. People stood outside in their yards. Fine day. It was. The tree branches formed shade over the yards like a suburban rain forest, and sunlight slipped in rings onto the tall grass through the green leaves. You sat in your backyard, on the edge of the sandbox. If you're not careful, you'll get a splinter on the back of your thigh. You're always careful. You made a path in the grass from your house to your grandparents. Home was communal, a haven. You watched for smoke to rise over the brown roof of your grandparent's home. Tuesday, there was nothing. Wednesday, you waited. On Thursday, a puff of white settled into the air, a balloon rising with a halfheartedness like smoke from the hookah's the caterpillars in Alice in Wonderland smoke with a lazy ease.

Hookahs. Alice in Wonderland. You went to town with your grandma and picked out a coloring book with Alice in it. You carried it to grandma and presented it with a proud smile. "This is what I want." Later, you struggled through the pages, confused and unhappy by the incomplete color pencils in your stationery box.

That Thursday evening, you climbed the stone steps to the small backyard patio where your grandpa stood in front of the grill. He had on a white thin shirt and his hands were on his back as he watched the chicken on the grill. "Hi", you said. He gave you a look that means, I know what you're up to, and with the tongs, snipped a bit of the skin from one of the wings. "Be careful, it's hot," he said, and your fingers burnt when he handed you the piece of skin. It melted on your tongue, the fat sizzled and formed a fire in your belly.

He turned a chicken wing over and one drops into the embers. You knew what comes next. He picked the wing up with the tong, brushed the charcoal from the edge, and winked. "That's your grandma's." It came every time and you still laughed. It's tradition, in the smallest sense. He gave you another piece of skin before you walked on the cool stones making up the steps down from the deck. You ran barefoot back to your house.

Those good old days..

My grandparents died so many years ago, when I was in high school. And I dreamed about them recently. How I wish they were there on my wedding day. Well..I'm sure they're watching over me. I miss them so much. 

October 11, 2016

The Special Thing in my Mom I Hope to Pass Down

I've been thinking a lot about my parents lately...who they are, who they've made me. People talk a lot about the mistakes their parents made, all the cycles they hope to break. And my parents aren't perfect, of course, but what I'm really holding on to these days is everything they did right. They set the bar in so many ways, and I can only hope to love like them.

By the way...I think I can finally share the good news: I'm pregnant and my baby is due in April next year! If you've been wondering why it's been super quiet around these parts lately, well, now you know! I honestly just couldn't sit down to write about real life, so I've been focusing on my pregnancy and trying to wrap my mind around what's ahead. We're so, so excited, and I can't wait for this next chapter.

So when you're expecting your first child, the avalanche of parenting advice that rushes your way can be more than a little overwhelming. There are suggestions from friends, tips from family members, link after link of parenting stories online. And then, of course, there are all the pointers you pick up on your own.

More than anything, of course, as I try to imagine myself as a mother, I look to my mom. I remember the way she tucked me in when I was little, the music box that played, the final words she said each night: "I love you." I remember the notes she left in my lunchbox all the way through primary school, the times she saved the day by just being there. Again and again, I've replayed scenes where she was more selfless than I'm afraid I'll ever be and more empathetic than, at times, I may have deserved. I remember feeling safe, always.

She's not perfect, of course, nobody is, although she's a perfectionist. Sometimes she's way too perfectionist. Her punctuality makes her always in a rush, she's the queen of neatness, and sometimes she cares so deeply that I hesitate to share the tough things with her, afraid she'll panic for me. There's one thing, though, one quality of my mom's, that I'm vowing to pass on, and that's her relentless need to celebrate the little things.

Every time I got an A on an exam, the paper made its way onto our refrigerator for the week. Whenever I won first place in school debate, I got to pick what we had for dinner. On each birthday, mom ordered a cake and cooked so many foods and invited everyone to celebrate. There was the time she planned a surprise party for me...actually, many times. The woman loves surprises.

Sometimes I wonder where that heart of gold comes from. Maybe it's her roots, or from a life lived in, or maybe she took after the people who raised her. In any case, it's second nature to her, and the point is: she knows how to show love, and she does it. It's as simple and as difficult as that.

My mom and I are living apart now, since I'm married and currently living with my husband, but still she finds ways to celebrate the special moments. I come from a huge family. My parents have 6 kids and 12 grandchildren, and my mom's babysitting more often than not. Still, as big as the family has gotten, that's never diluted her love for any of us. There's always plenty to go around, and she makes sure we all feel it, not just on holidays or on birthdays or when the major milestones happen, but every day, in the smaller moments.

I hope I'll someday do the same. I'm definitely going to try.

October 4, 2016

A Birthday Wish at 26

I turned 26 yesterday and I've always loved birthdays though it's not really a big deal. But for me, birthdays tend to inspire a bit of reflection. Each year I look back at the year behind me, and I have to say, if 26 treats me half as well as 25, I'll be a lucky girl indeed. I thank Allah for everything I have, especially my husband and my family. They're the most precious gift I've ever had and I won't trade them for anything. My family threw a birthday party for me yesterday, my husband bought a lovely chocolate cake and we were all having steamboat and grill at lunch. It was so memorable and wonderful. 

Fast forward a year and everything's changed, everything but the people beside me. And that's really all that matters, isn't it? And there's always next year. In the wake of everything, I've also realized that there won't be a next year to change my life.

When you're young and in your 20s, that's the time when you should be taking big risks. When else could we bounce back from bottom as easily? But there's a difference between risking big and being reckless, and that's a distinction I've ignored for the longest time. I've always been reckless. I did too many things I'm not proud of having done before I was legally allowed to vote. I've always jumped first and hoped to develop my wings on the way down.

For as long as I can remember, I've been reckless with my own life, and put my own emotions second. I grew up quickly, and compartmentalized how I felt, because I thought it was more important to focus on how everyone else felt. On how I might make life easier for them. Seeing somebody else happy was more tangible, making their lives easier was easy for me. Everyone likes to feel useful, to feel helpful, to feel needed. But I would always put my need to feel needed at the top of the list, and ignore everything else I needed.

And that's not a way to live life.

Life is too short to waste your time doing anything less than what you love, and anything less than what makes you feel alive. Life is too short to stay comfortable, and to not take risks, and to not feel scared. Life is too short to be reckless with anyone's life or emotions, even your own. Life is too short to waste your time on anyone who makes you feel anything less than important. And not everyone has to make you feel as if you're important. they're not obligated to by any means, but for every person who doesn't, you'll find 5 more who will. And they're worth the effort. Your time on them will not be wasted. And your life will be more rewarding for knowing them.

And whether it's your birthday or you just wake up tomorrow and aim to fix what's not working about your life, I wish for you to remember that though it might be uncomfortable at first, that space where things become uncomfortable is where we grow and learn the most. And that space is rare and precious and few people ever make it there. And it's worth going there. It really, really is.

Happy birthday to me. 


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