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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Every time you come around.

All students at the liberal arts college I attend have to fulfil distribution requirements - at least one class from two different departments, from the three fields of study (humanities, social sciences, and math/science) - before graduating.

In order to fulfil my remaining humanities requirement, I'm taking a poetry class from the English department this semester. I'm surprised that I feel a little anxious about it; I'm usually fairly open, as you can tell from this blog. However, my poetry has always kind of been an unspoken thing; I've never really been in a situation where discussing it in person was needed. I've also never gotten specific feedback on any of the poems I've written over the years. I think some part of me feels like I've been winging it for the last five years. There might be so many rules and conventions out there regarding how I should be writing and I might have been breaking them this whole time with no idea.

Also, over the years, I've (finally) been developing a filter on what I choose to talk about and being mindful that sometimes, people really don't want or need to hear certain things. At this point in time, my poetry are the stories and feelings that I don't want to directly admit have been lingering on my mind, almost as if there is a sense of shame for caring about these things too much. Because of this, the very nature of my writing makes the idea of having to discuss it aloud in class slightly uncomfortable. I'm sure I'll eventually get over it though.

Yesterday, my English professor made us get into groups - those who have never been in love, those who have been in love but are not currently in love, those who wish to be in love, and those who are in love. In our groups, we were supposed to briefly share the relevant stories or feelings, and reflect on how where we're at will influence our writing. "If you don't feel comfortable sharing your feelings," the professor said, "You will not write good poetry."

I didn't immediately know which group to go into. I knew that I wasn't really looking for love, nor am I presently in love (When people ask, I say I'm dating this nice boy named Academics. No last name. He doesn't talk much, but that's not much different from some of the guys in my past), but I didn't know which of the other two I belonged in. As I've definitely mentioned here before, I've become more critical about the attitudes I had in the past and considering how selfishly I approached things, perhaps I didn't/still don't really know what real romantic love was/is.

But then again, I thought that this might be a revisionist view, that perhaps love is love if at the time you chose to ascribe such value to how you felt. If so, I ought to go to the "have been in love" group. Besides, I thought, literally nobody will care enough to contest the legitimacy of the love that I choose to talk about.

Something else drew me towards joining that group. Truth was, as I considered whether I had been in love before or not, I was thinking of a specific time and person. I thought about how this certain example took things to a new level and invalidated everything before that. If there was something so specific that came to mind, maybe it was at least significant enough to warrant identifying with that group.

Soon, it was my turn to share. "He goes here...and I hate that." I started. I wanted to say that on one hand, I remembered that time as the most in love I had ever been. I was so upset when it ended that I filed it away at the bottom of my largest desk drawer. On the other hand, now that I was being forced to revisit it, it was like recovering the file, opening it, and not being able to see what it originally looked like because it was a drawing made with glitter glue - I had filed it away before the glue dried, leaving a mess of angry-looking rips where bits of the paper file clung to glue when I pried it open. I look back with a lot of incredulousness, feeling like I was another person back then and I don't understand her. I couldn't really visualize our many small conversations at breakfast, the way we used to look at each other, the way we pretended we didn't know how society had decided we were a bad match - the things that make up what I imagine is love. Instead, I recall the times I felt I swallowed my pride, the hours and days of waiting for nothing, and the reality that we don't talk and haven't since things reached its sour end. This was a situation where the whole - the overarching feeling of love - didn't match the sum of its parts - the nitty gritty of life together. I think the human mind (or at least, mine) has an interesting way of defying rationality in this context.

I think about him more than I think people know, and definitely more than he thinks about me. There are still moments when I think about how he would react to the things going on in my life now, and then I usually conclude that he either wouldn't understand, or wouldn't care. The irony about poetry is that the people I write about almost never ever read, or even come across, the pieces about them. But then maybe that's not so ironic because it's mostly someone else's level of seeming indifference that drives me to write in the first place. It's weird how you can be so interconnected with someone else's life and then - just - not be anymore, like a band-aid that is taken off quickly and painfully, instead of slowly and painfully. That's unsettling and to me, writing poems is expressing that I haven't forgotten, like I mentioned.

By the end of the group activity, there were tears. Surprisingly, none from me.

That said, though this post wouldn't suggest it, I think I'm over it, over him, and have been for quite a while. I think that sometimes there are things that happen that will come back to us every so often. These are the things that impacted us the most, things that we don't forget, things that don't leave us in the near future no matter how far we run away or run forwards. I don't think that remembering is bad, nor does it necessarily mean attachment or weakness. If anything, I think there's a lot of strength in being able to acknowledge the past as a whole event and see it, see the bad and good, and still stay standing. These were things that once pushed us down, things that once made us feel like we wouldn't be able to go on. But now, seeing it and acknowledging it for what it is - we are SEEING it, not LIVING it anymore...because of strength.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"Your Hometown"

Yes, I am here, within the city lines of your hometown.
I have stitches made of six months
(mostly invisible)
and someone else
on my mind.
I do not remember your number.
By most counts, success.

I wonder if these stitches have unravelled a little
upon consideration that this street could be
where you first learned to ride a bike,
where I can find your favorite meal,
where you paced back and forth when we fought over the phone
that one time past midnight; last chances and we both knew it.
This place shaped you, gave you your manners,
protected you after we stopped talking, yet -
with the sun on my cheeks and my two jackets
tucked away in the trunk -
your hometown stays impartial.
I think about whether that is also how you are towards me now.
I used to be in disbelief that you could be so blasé, so carefree,
but somebody had to be the real adult here.

Going at seventy-eight -
roof down, hair loose, and a friend
mindlessly switches between radio channels.
The view bears a clarity that never existed between us;
I see pale-blue mountains and snow-dipped trees for miles
while we struggled to have vision, to have security, that lasted
past a week. If we were still in each other's lives, you would
be showing me all your special places. For now,
all I have are clues from the sleepy conversations I could not
erase. These uncertainties magnify
every point I stand on.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My year in review.

In 2013, I spent New Year's Eve with my then-boyfriend. We got takeout, and watched Breakfast At Tiffany's.

A few days after that, I had lunch with a few of my girlfriends from high school. One of them had just entered into a new relationship and we were discussing whether or not he was a good fit for her.

"Better to be alone than with the wrong person," I commented.

The conversation continued, but my mind paused, and I thought about whether I had just vocalized my own recent doubts. My then-boyfriend was pretty perfect on paper; accomplished, caring, good-looking, romantic, and our relationship had the approval of our friends, family, and religious circle. He was evidence of my own success in the world of romantic relationships - implicitly, proof that I was deserving of someone so great. Our unbelievably drama-free relationship was proof to the people who knew me as crazily attached, or crazy in general, that they had been wrong about me all along. It took me a long time to recognize that my doubts were persisting and put them into words, but I eventually understood that I liked the reputation that came with being his girlfriend more than I really liked being his girlfriend. I was increasingly feeling like I had to hold my tongue and be a certain person in order to keep the peace I so highly prized. In this sense, he was like a fabulous pair of shoes - great to be seen with, but I can live without them.

In March, I let go of that boyfriend after fully knowing that in a nutshell, we both deserved better. He deserved more from a girlfriend, and I deserved to be myself without holding back. Once, after our breakup, he asked me why I never told him about how I had really felt. I didn't feel comfortable enough doing so because we were never good enough friends to begin with.

2014 was also about acknowledging my shortcomings, and identifying my own mistakes. One of them was jumping into a new relationship faster than it takes a package from Amazon to reach your mailbox.

Yes, even on Amazon Prime.

Immediately following the breakup in March and during the days that preceded it, I struggled with the fear that perhaps I was incapable of loving someone - how could I be so blasé about my ex? As much as I had realized that we were so different and whatnot, how could I not feel the slightest bit bad about just cutting ties with someone like that? I never really appreciated his presents and spent more time spotting grammar errors in his letters to me than cherishing his words. I cried less over this breakup than I have over rom-coms. So when an opportunity to quash that fear presented itself, I dived in, heart-first.

Unsurprisingly, a new variety of problems emerged. I couldn't understand why I was pouring my whole heart and soul into this (or so I thought) but yet I was so constantly disappointed in my new boyfriend, and in us. We fought all the time. During one of our arguments, he asked me whether I liked any of his four main interests, one by one, slowly. We knew the answer to that before I said anything; I never joined him in his hobbies and secretly (or not so secretly?) found them really boring.

This question replayed itself over and over in my head over the next few weeks, even after we called it quits soon after. I thought about how I was unable to retort back with questions about my own interests because...WHAT WERE MY INTERESTS?? I hadn't declared my major in college, didn't know what I wanted to do after graduating, and had no idea how I used my leisure time meaningfully. I had only learned from my two relationships that I disliked what my boyfriends were interested in, but I didn't know what I personally, actively liked. When I sat down to create a list of things I liked on Microsoft Word, I literally typed "shopping" before being distracted by something else. I closed the document at the end of the day, and that list of a relatively shallow, single interest has not been opened since. As someone who harped on and on for years about the importance of following your heart and doing what makes you happy, I ironically couldn't define my own concrete, joyful pursuits.

Fortunately, this wasn't as big of an existential crisis as I initially thought it was; I am good at, and I really like, analyzing situations, reflecting on them, and creating my own arguments. I taught over the summer and I learned the importance of articulating your points in a way that your audience can understand - otherwise, it's a waste of time on your end and on theirs. It's not like I didn't know this sooner, but this point was never as salient before I had to teach, and actually teach, seventeen adolescents as a full-time job. I found satisfaction in the looks of comprehension on my students. It was initially easy to blame my students for looking uninterested or taking unreasonably long bathroom breaks, but I realized that it was on me to effectively answer "Why should you be interested in what I have to say?" every lesson, every day. Expressing myself well, with connections back to what mattered to them, was my opportunity to answer this wider question and I realized how much I enjoy such challenges.

When I went back to school in the fall, I realized my summer experiences as a teacher had implications on me as a student as well; this understanding made me want to try a whole lot harder in my classes. My elementary school motto was "Success Inspires Success", and it applied to me. The better I did, the more motivated I was to improve. I naturally spent less time obsessing over boys because I saw, with sudden clarity, that my efforts in schoolwork made a difference much more quickly and noticeably, and I have much more control over the grades I will get than I do over who I fall for, and who falls for me. I used to constantly whine about how things in my romantic life would turn out differently if only I could alter the one thing about someone that was hindering our relationship. Now, my priorities are different - I kind of like books more than boys. It has paid off - this past semester, I took five classes instead of the usual four, and I made the Dean's List for the first time ever. I can achieve more than I thought I could as long as I put my mind to it. I'm really excited to keep pushing myself because it's amazing that getting to do what I like is going to positively impact my future.

Two very popular songs from 2014 - "Let It Go" from Frozen and "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift - have, on a broad level, the same message. It is thus fitting that 2014 was also my year of letting things go and shaking things off.

Or to be more specific, I recognized that some of my own values face constant evolution and I want to live according to them. This year, I worked harder and played harder than I ever have and I stopped caring about what people thought about me, about these changes, as much. Some things no longer mattered as much to me and I didn't have to hold on to them anymore if I didn't want to. I don't owe it to everyone to maintain the image of myself that I previously created. Truth is, people are usually too preoccupied with their own lives to care if your changes don't affect them or yourself negatively. And on my end, I'm learning to let go of things that frustrate me because they're really not that big of a deal, and now I'm usually too busy to dwell on them. The thoughts that do linger are turned into words, into poetry (have I mentioned that both "The Temporary Guest" and "Firsts" are going to be published in a literary periodical in early 2015??) and then after that I really put them to rest. Learning to let go is hard because I used to ruminate over my feelings all the time, but I've made a lot of progress on that. Putting greater effort into school and seeing its rewards has also made me put greater effort into actively choosing to get rid of negativity - I am blessed that I have phenomenal friends at school and elsewhere, and I want to be even better of a friend to these people.

In sum, 2014 has been a great year. There were a few buckets of tears, a few things that I would have done differently, but for every moment of sadness, of wistfulness, there were a hundred of laughter, triumph, and the kind of happiness that comes from being responsible for happiness. I spent New Year's Eve this year typing this post. Let's be real, I should have known, and been able to articulate, all along that writing is one of my passions.

I hope 2015 is a good year for you and me. Also, thanks for reading this.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"In This Order"

This is the feeling of your arms around me.
My hands roam about, searchingly, until
they find rest on the nape of your neck.
This is the way you and I break barriers.
I make you feel wanted but I
cannot afford to believe myself.
Your eyes are as clear as I hope your story is
and this is what your voice sounds like.
I learn these things in the dark, in this order.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"The Bathroom Sink"

The bathroom sink was very much like my parents’ marriage;
A visitor would admire the beautiful grey marble
But an inhabitant would know that it was on the verge of collapse.
My parents dealt with it like the rest of their problems – doing nothing;
In the meantime, we stopped using that bathroom altogether.

One day I went to get something from the cabinet under that sink
And I had forgotten. No miracle happened. The crash was so loud that
I ran as far away as I could in the apartment; the sink’s fragments were after me.
My father’s phone was conveniently busy. My mother, who called him,
Said phrases I could not understand but they made my head spin with fear
And they made me swear I would never be in love.

She called for repairmen to come up, and while waiting she stood there, 
Holding what was left of the sink together – 
This is the image that comes to mind every time I read 
Mao’s quote about how women can hold up half the sky.

The debris on the floor started swimming.