From the Ashes

From the Ashes pic

Paris. San Bernadino. Istanbul. Brussels. Orlando. Berlin. Westminster. Stockholm. Egypt. And most recently, San Bernadino, again.

In the words of Futurama’s Dr. Farnsworth, “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.” But here I am.

I grieve for the families who suffered in the aftermath of these massacres. How could they know that when they said goodbye to their loved ones as they left for work, a train or plane, that that would be the last time?

I live in the relatively low-key, sleepy beach town of Ventura, so I haven’t really worried about my city being a target of such terrorist attacks. But I fear for the day I might be proven wrong. Now, I tend to wonder if that dumb meme I showed a family member, or a reminder to pick up soymilk from Trader Joe’s will be the last things they’ll have heard me say.

I feel that these terrorists are destroying more than just lives, but the dreams of those who might have pursued them were they alive today and even the dreams of those still living and breathing.

I have dreams to embark to several more corners of the world, and perhaps even pursue graduate school overseas. But reports of terrorist threats here, there, everywhere make me uneasy, though I’ve vowed not to live in fear.

Of course, those aspirations are just my story. There are countless others, plenty more important than mine.

And one of the reasons why I’m not sure I want to have children is not because I’m afraid I might night be taken as seriously as a career woman or whatever, but because of the undoubtedly terrible world they’ll grow up in.

Idealistically, I’d like to think that it’s up to my generation and the ones that follow to help reshape our world into a better, peaceful place to live.

I’d also like to think that we’ve moved past racial prejudices, sexism and discrimination against certain minorities (although these minorities probably still do or will face prejudice at some points in their lives, unfortunately) but my hope quickly dissipates when I hear ISIS terrorists/a shooter has once again targeted a gay nightclub in Florida, a Coptic church in Egypt or innocent schoolchildren on a playground.

I honestly don’t know if things will get better. But I hope—by God, do I hope—that these tragedies will compel mankind to realize the opportunities to fight for good. There seem to be so many opportunities for this as I read the headlines, but it’s unfortunate that they’ll be rooted in the ashes of those whose lives were ended so abruptly.

 

“Deserve”?

One of my favorite books is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chomsky. I picked it up long before it was adapted to film, so yes, I will tout that I read it before it was cool.

But you need not necessarily have read the book to know one of the most Instagram’d, Tumblr’d etc. quotes from its pages:

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

The realistic—albeit, cynical—side of my brain says none of us deserves anything; we are born into this world with nothing and leave it the same way.

The idealistic side of me wants the good-hearted to always meet happy endings, and watch the heartbreakers step on Legos.

But often times, it comes down to the hand we get rather than how well we play our cards.

When it comes to love we think we deserve, I’ve seen these things fail more than succeed because someone wrongly thought they were entitled to something far better than they actually deserved or thought they didn’t deserve anything good at all. As a result, I’m very skeptical and slow to trust because of what I’ve seen close-up.

I’ve seen friends, family members and high school acquaintances become targets of infidelity or simply use silence as a mediation tactic.  

I watched one of my friends—beautiful, insightful and intelligent, with the world at her feet—who’d began dating an equally attractive guy suddenly thrown into confusion when she failed to hear from him again after what I understood to be a  successful day-long date.

I observed another acquaintance talk nonchalantly about how he’d broken up with his girlfriend of more than a year, only a few days after referring to her as the love of his life.

I watched yet another acquaintance publicly share her inner turmoil as her boyfriend at the time had recently broken up with her. Three weeks later, she began gushing about the (current) love of her life.

As for me, I told a friend with whom I felt safe several months ago things about me I shared with few others, which I never would have done had I known we’d part ways less than 24 hours later.

For awhile, it was (and still is) hard for me to trust people who told me what it was I deserved (be it something “better” or “perhaps not at such a high standard) because the things they’d say were either cliché, or I doubted whether or not it’s really true that I’m funny, worth it, “not like other girls” (whatever that means), blah blah blah. 

I can remember trying to change myself in a number of situations to feel more deserving in some way.

In my general social life, I’ve tried to pretend that I’m more chill than I truly am (type A all day) or downplay some of my views on certain social issues, depending on my environment.

In a school or work situation, I might try to appear smarter than I am in hopes of actually becoming smarter, or I might downplay my intelligence for the sake of not hurting someone else’s ego.

In my dating life, I’d concern myself with not being thin enough, feminine enough, like-other-girls enough and sadly in some cases, just unintelligent enough to again, not hurt someone’s ego.

Fortunately during times that I worry I’m not outgoing or fun enough for the most important people in my life who happen to be hardcore extroverts, I’m assured all the time by them that I’m more than enough.

I don’t know what I deserve, exactly, when it comes to any sort of acceptance. Does anyone? Maybe it’s like what I said before—none of us actually “deserves” anything.

Or, if we do deserve better, perhaps it starts with bettering ourselves.

There are things I need to change about myself to get where I need to be, wherever that is. God knows I do.

But I never want to change myself so much that I don’t recognize me, or that I feel there’s no part of me that can be appreciated unless I do away with everything else.

Because at the end of the day, when I get that grad school acceptance, project or promotion, insanely awesome social life, I don’t want it to be because the person I pretended to be was more deserving of it than I was.

The Collector

the-collector-pic

I wasn’t sure if I should keep waiting on the porch or see myself inside. I’m not sure why I let this bother me today, as I’d come in uninvited to many places before.

It was a cold one this particular night. The wind penetrated through the holes in my jacket, nipping at my skin. I need to invest in a new coat, I remind myself for the thousandth time.

And, my feet were tired from a long day of traveling. These business trips always take their toll on me. I wanted to turn around, tread lightly back down the rickety porch stairs and head home, but winter season is always busy in my line of work and my boss likes the momentum I’ve had these last few weeks.

A young, smartly dressed couple skips up the stairs and slip inside, escaping the falling snow. They don’t see me at all.

Since they didn’t wait for someone to open the door, I too enter and let the door latch quietly behind me.

The interior of the house was shrouded in age. The underside of the banister was coated with dust, as were the picture frames of the family lining the fireplace. But it wasn’t neglect necessarily, that put cleanliness by the wayside—something tells me the homeowners were always preoccupied with entertaining and inviting guests, living, that there was little time for upkeep.

I inhaled a combination of dust, cedar and the aroma of a roast wafting from the kitchen. I followed the scent, and the sound of saxophones blaring from a record player.

The couple that came in before me, along with twelve others, was seated at a table most likely meant for six. Aside from them, there were two elderly women—sisters?—another couple, though slightly older than the first, their baby, two middle-aged men and their wives, and a boy about ten years old. In the kitchen, the matron of the house kept a close watch on the roast.

I scan the room, looking for the man of the house. I’d collect what I came for and then I could leave.

The teakettle on the stove began to wail, competing with the steadily increasing volume of the company.

I recognized one of the men at the table, the one in a faded denim jacket. Yes, I remember, we both knew all too well the lives the war had taken. We lived in close quarters but never quite crossed paths. I became rather familiar a few of his comrades though, many of whom I saw fall on the front lines.

I knew he’d recognize me the instant we locked gazes, so I kept my eyes on the floor. It wasn’t a time either one of us looked back on fondly.

I felt, however, the young boy’s eyes boring a hole in my back. He recognized me somehow…ah yes. I had visited his younger brother not long ago after the car accident.

I retreated back into the living room, but I could hear his small footsteps following close behind.

“You’re not welcome here,” the boy said coldly.

When I first started this job, I might’ve scoffed at such a retort, but I’d grown weary from years’ worth of these sorts of remarks. My kind are never welcome anywhere.

“I’ve come to collect one thing and I’ll be on my way,” I responded quietly, heading up the stairs.

The boy said nothing. He knew very well I don’t stop for anyone.

I heard coughing from one of the rooms upstairs. I gently pushed open the first door on the right.

My client was a man with an equally thin frame and hairline. At the moment, he was hunched over, gripping the wall for balance as he held a cloth over his mouth.

I glanced over the wastebasket next to him. The top was brimmed with bloody tissues. The sight shouldn’t have made me squeamish, considering how many times I’ve dealt with blood.

He’d avoided me for years, this man. I probably should have visited him when the coughs made their earliest appearances. No matter—I decided I’d take what I came for while his back was turned.

I placed my hand on his shoulder and closed my eyes. Before he could turn around, I inhaled deeply, taking in his scent, his memories, the air he breathed.

I could taste the wax dripping from birthday candles, frost from that one Christmas morning, the ash of a tobacco pipe. I could also hear children’s laughter, the sound of wedding bells, the roar of a jet, the voice of a minister praying for the souls of the deceased.

Never once did he see the face of the one taking it all away from him. It was easier this way.

After I was finished, the man stumbled forward onto his bed before he finally lay unmmoving.

At least he had a soft landing, I mused. I didn’t usually go to great lengths to ensure a comfortable exit for most of my clients.

I could sense the boy standing in the doorway, watching me. I glided past him as I left the room, before I could surmise how much he’d seen.

___________________

I retired from that position not long after that day and have since begun a job in the human resources side of things—mostly paperwork.

I suppose the moral of the story is that if it isn’t me, it’ll be the new guy who replaced me—or the one who replaces him when he gets jaded from the work—who comes to collect from everyone.

Just before the end of the day, the new guy left on my desk a healthy stack of death certificates he’d filed from today’s rounds.

I shuffled through the papers, skimming over names and dates. Perhaps there is consolation in knowing that many of our clients lived sufficient lives.

My eyes stopped over the shorter stacks of reports.

Jane Sire: 1987-1988. Joey Long: 1984-1988. Ellen Lovelace: 1974-1988. D.J. Schofield-Pratt: 1986-1988.

In all my years as a collector, the most frequent complaint on my comment card, if you will, is that “it isn’t fair.” Most often, it’s said that I come too early but on some occasions, I hear that I don’t visit others early enough.

I disagree, however, with the so-called “unfairness” of it all. If anything, the real injustice is that the longevity or overall satisfaction of man’s life is generally correlated with his appearance, wealth, popularity and intelligence.

But I am not man; death doesn’t take any of these things into consideration. I treat everyone the same—that is the definition of fairness.

The sad truth is that death comes for all.

Yet as I justify this, I will admit that I’ll never know why it is that there are simply those who receive visits from me far sooner than others.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times (2016 edition)

jumping

When I look back on last year’s NYE post (https://thatsclassyfied.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/obligatory-nye-blog/), I’d say I pretty much fulfilled most of my long-term goals for 2016.

I’ve gotten better established at my job, improved my friend circle tenfold and I did become more adventurous, or at least as much as I can be in my adult life/hometown.

I got more than I bargained for as well. I traveled to cities new and old and even out of the country for the first time in forever. I started dating again. I found a church to call home. I covered numerous human interest stories and ballot measures. I got my heart broken–more than once. I turned 23. I watched a loved one in his dying stages. I reconnected with family I hadn’t seen in years at the funeral. I felt a huge sense of fulfillment after attending multiple concerts of multiple different genres. And I learned to rely more on friends when I realized time and again that I’m not invincible.

I think that’s a somewhat healthy mix of good and bad—life’s certainly never going to be perfect.

Even with a metaphorical clean slate that comes with a new year, I don’t think everyone necessarily gets a fresh start. Some things from the past carry over into the start of the next 365 days.

But I hope that throughout those 365 days, I learn to have a clearer understanding of why some things fall apart because there must be a good reason, or at least that’s what I tell myself. For me, that means long(er) talks with God; it may look different for you.

I also hope to stay focused on the good memories from the year when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Another long-term goal I have is reclaiming my passion for the things I used to. It’s been a good, eventful, busy year, but deep down I know I purposely kept my mind distracted with work, travel, everything, because I don’t like to spend too much time in my own mind with all its doubts.

It’s been a good year. It’s been an interesting one. But I hope 2017 is better.

Without further ado, here are just a handful of 2016 memories that make me smile:

The Year of Nine Concerts

I won’t list them all, but my favorite concerts I saw this year were Hoodie Allen (with a surprise guest appearance by ED SHEERAN. Hoodie’s the one in the lifeboat), Josh Groban (third in the right column), Halsey (bottom left), Sia, and seeing Panic! at the Disco (top right) at the iHeart Radio festival in Vegas. But seeing Bastille (biggest photo) at my all-time favorite music venue (The Troubadour)–and getting to touch Dan Smith’s sweaty back–takes the cake.

“Book of Mormon”

the-book-of-mormon

I realize this musical is definitely offensive (I mean, it IS written by the creators of South Park) but seriously, who isn’t offended by something these days. “Book of Mormon” was nothing short of amazing.

Realizing I Don’t Completely Suck at What I Do

writing-award

So in April, I learned that a story I wrote back in October 2015 somehow won me a California Newspaper Publishers Association award–first place in the Sports Feature category, oddly enough. I don’t know how stiff the competition was, but somewhere in the thousands maybe?

Canad-eh

When I told people I was going to Canada with my family this summer, it was often met with “Oh why, do you have family there?”. The question really should be why not? It’s got Niagra Falls, nifty cafes, a slew of national parks, free healthcare and polite people.

Reunited And It Feels So Good

I’m blessed to met lifelong friends at college but unfortunately at the expense of them living long drives or airplane rides away from me. But we somehow make our long distance relationship work.

San Francis-ky Business

The traffic/parking situation here sucks, but the views, though.

 

All I Want for Christmas is…

all-i-want-for-christmas-is-pic

You. Jk, jk…

Last Christmas, I wrote about what I wanted that year. Not a Bluetooth speaker or a Gryffindor scarf (although I would not be opposed to the latter), but what I referred to as a “normal”:

(From December 2015) “What I really want for Christmas (and the New Year too) is a sense of normalcy. It can’t be normal to find “happiness” from being minimally satisfied with simply surviving each day in a quiet existence because I’ve managed to disappoint only a few (instead of a lot of) people.

I thought as I would get older, my Christmas wish-lists would get less complicated. They’ve certainly become less materialistic, but the bike or whatever I thought was so great as a kid was far easier to obtain than the feeling of being safe, or “at home” I’d rather have now.”

I think I achieved this “normal” in the sense that I’ve gotten into a pretty good work and social life flow throughout this year and-a-half of postgrad-ness, which at first, felt akin to tinikling (bamboo jumping game).

tinikling

As far as feeling “at home”…I’m not sure I’ll ever quite feel a permanent sense of at home-ness (aside, of course, from being at my actual childhood home I still live at). I think part of it has to do with the general feeling I’ve always felt of being an observer but not so much in the action (as is the case with my day job). Or maybe it’s because I’m always searching for somewhere else that I can’t be completely at ease where I am.

But as I’ve come to terms with my new normal, I realized I’ve lost something else in the process. It didn’t quite hit me until I was at a work party this week.

I was chatting with a receptionist from our other office (we have two) about how long I’ve been working and how I would eventually like to pursue a master’s degree. Though a master’s in what I wasn’t sure, I told her.

“Well, you like writing, so what’s your secondary passion?” she asked me.

I laughed—not because the question was funny, but because I wanted to buy some time to think of a good answer. I couldn’t.

In fact, I held back the fact that for the last several months, my primary passion—writing—has been wavering a bit, like a flickering flame. How could I pursue a second major passion when I was struggling to keep my first afloat? And why was that?

Maybe it’s because I’m always writing, always trying to beat the clock that I’ve grown somewhat detached from my pen. I feel it not only when I have to write about tragedies (which are fortunately very few and far between) but I also sometimes feel detached from ordinary events.

Even in my “for fun” writing, I get so frustrated and convinced that I can’t improve in my craft—or what I thought was my craft. Somehow, after I make headway on a chapter or two of the start of a story, I feel a little empty inside. Like my pride and joy is either going to be complete crap, or my eyes will be the only ones that see it. As though trying is somehow pointless.

As a young teen, the thought of weaving stories in my head was what gave me energy. A reason to get up in the morning and stay awake. Then fear crept in.

I wouldn’t say I’ve lost my passion exactly, but sometimes it slips away, quarter-inch by quarter-inch.

What I want for Christmas is to get it back—scratch that, I want it for longer than just the holidays.

But don’t misunderstand me—I am grateful for many things this Christmas, despite my subdued passion described above. But I’ll spare my pen until New Year’s Eve to write about those things.

The Great Divide

fullsizerender

Think I can still throw my hat in? ;p

Sure why not, I’ll be the millionth blog post that rants about recent political events.

So in case you didn’t hear, there was an election yesterday.

What gets me down today—other than not having had more options as far as candidates—is scrolling through social media in the election aftermath.

I’m not talking about the legitimately sad posts, the ones disappointed in how things went. I get that.

I’m talking about the ones that are dividing friendships.

Last night, I read a post (paraphrased) in which this person essentially said that they wanted anyone who voted for a third-party candidate or wrote one in to delete them off Facebook. Not just if they voted for Trump, but if they voted for anything that did not line up with this person’s view.

I don’t actually know this person that well so it probably would’ve been a non-issue had I been deleted, but the sentiment behind the writer’s words seemed to be so clouded by ignorance.

I’m trying to practice grace though, since I know so many (myself included) are bewildered, upset and confused by what’s happening and are struggling to process through it all.

However, I don’t think the way to do so is to close ourselves off from anyone who voted—or didn’t vote—for a particular candidate. This goes both ways.

If there’s anything I learned from this year’s election—besides the fact that our political system is flawed and that we should never have an election like this ever again—it’s that diplomacy, even on just a casual conversational level, is so rare but so needed if we’re expected to get anywhere.

It saddens me when I see statuses and Tweets that say “If you’re voting for XXXXX I’m deleting you!!”

I’ve seen those messages on both sides actually, and you folks are not solving any of the problems our country is facing.

Why do you think there were so few Trump or Clinton bumper stickers this election? Everyone’s afraid of their cars getting egged or the windows smashed, lest they support the wrong candidate.

I’m even seeing people who are trying to be at peace in the midst of this political chaos called out for not being more angry with what’s happening. There’s no winning, I guess.

Freedom of speech, the freedom to share varying viewpoints, is one of the fundamental principles our country was founded on.

Often wrongly attributed to Voltaire, I strongly adhere to Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s words when she wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

“But our country was founded on wrong principles too!” you argue.

True. But I don’t think the first amendment was one of the wrong ones (don’t argue with me on that, I’m a journalist).

If there’s positives to be found in any of this, perhaps it’s that our other elected officials will use their conscience as they carry out various legislation and all the power won’t be solely in the hands of one person.

On a more personal level, maybe this is the sign I need to care out my Plan C life plan and get a green card marriage to an amiable Brit.

And no, I’m not trying to sweep the issues that undoubtedly lie ahead under the rug. I know who our new leader is.

I suppose in my own small way, I’m trying to keep us (whoever wants to be included in that) united while everything else seems so divided and uncertain right now. At this point, the numbers don’t lie, which means it’s more important now than ever to stay strong.

And in the spirit of free discourse, I welcome any comments, or more likely, arguments, that may make their way to this thread (although my readership is slim to none, usually). I may not respond, though—I, along with the rest of the country—am trying to move forward.

As I reach a much higher word count than I initially expected, I end my prose with these words: Anyone But Kanye 2020.

The Bridge

tower-bridge

When I go back and think about some of the happiest moments in my life, they usually have some sort of bittersweet twist.

I’ve said it before—I’m not, by inclination, a naturally happy person (maybe it’s the influence of all the reading I’ve had to do for my major…in any good book, at least one important character dies), and maybe it’s because I too often get high off the nostalgia from good old days I can never go back to.

My mind will take me back to a song from a band that’s no longer together, the aroma of pool chlorine from my kid days or the memory of being a teen and having someone hold my hand for the first time.

But probably the one that sticks out most in my mind is my last day in London, a little over two years ago.

Background: It was spring 2014—I’d been studying abroad in Oxford for almost four months. After backpacking for a couple weeks with friends at the end of the semester, I stayed with family in London for my final four days across the pond.

One of my favorite things to do in a new city (though I’d been to and from London a number of times by this point) is to simply explore and familiarize myself with my surroundings—alone. I suppose I like the idea of knowing I could get lost with no choice but to use my street smarts to find my way back home. I’d done this in other places where English was not the official language, so at least this time it’d be a little easier if I did lose my way.

With a map of the London Tube routes and an Oyster card (aka subway pass) in hand, I set out that spring morning not having much of a game plan, except to say goodbye to the things I’d become somewhat familiar with over the last several weeks.

There was Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, the British History Museum, a far-off view of the Shard and my personal favorite, Tower Bridge (often mistakenly called London Bridge).

For the last hour of my day, I just sat on a bench and watch the sun sink below the water. I watched couples hand-in-hand stroll past, tourists exit the Tower of London tour that was going on behind me and flocks of pigeons scavenge whatever late lunch passerbys left behind.

I was at peace, yet somewhat disheartened at the same time—firstly, I’d be en route to smoggy, hot LAX the following afternoon, where it’d be a lot harder to simply “be” in the moment as I was now.

That entire day, and several times throughout my England experience, I had moments where I was trapped with my own thoughts for long periods of time, but not in a negative way. It was a time of self and spiritual reflection, free from the loudness of the voices and expectations of those I felt I needed to impress.

In my college and even my current environment, there wasn’t a lot of that serene silence. Too many people to try to be “enough” of something for.

But I think that’s part of why I relished—and still do—that Tower Bridge twilight. I knew in my heart it couldn’t last forever, or even beyond that afternoon.

Guess I’ve never been much of a sucker for entirely happy endings.