Reasons to be Brave

Reasons to Be Brave pic

It’s amazing how where I am now is completely different from where I thought I’d be a year ago. I’m not saying it’s “waaaayyyyy” better than what I’d had in mind (although certainly it is in some aspects), but wholly different than what I previously had in my little life plan for sure. And being forced to relinquish my ideas of how life was going to turn out does in fact require me to put on a brave face as I step into the unpredictable.

As a kid, I took pride when the dentists told me that I was “such a brave little girl” during the aftermath of having my baby teeth pulled out (sitting in that dentist’s chair was literally 25% of my childhood). And I daily exercise small bits of bravery whether I decide to run that extra fourth mile when my legs feel like giving out, or if I choose to confront the barista about a drink order gone wrong (I’d generally rather not make the person handling my food annoyed). And when it comes to crowded rooms (which I hate, unless I’m at a concert or something), I’d rather run that extra fourth mile in the opposite direction.

I suppose now is a good time as any to reveal how, within the past two months my life was changed by two emails – emails containing information about what’s about to come up for me that will require much more than a little chutzpah to handle. Instead of writing about both right now, I may choose to write a Part II, which might come up when the occasion comes closer.

Email #1: In late November, I applied to join one of my school’s summer 2013 action teams. I was ready to make a change in my life by helping to bring change to other people’s lives. I knew where I wanted to go – Thailand, to help teach English there for a few weeks – but it was up to the office in charge to place me on one of the many action teams available. For all I knew, I could end up on a plane headed for Machu Picchu, Peru or somewhere in the middle of the African continent.

After some supplemental paperwork and an interview, I received this email the first week of February:

“Congratulations you have been accepted to Team THAILAND!!!”

Basically…I’m going to Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand this summer for five-ish weeks. I’ll be on a team with six other girls teaching English at Santisuk English School in Bangkok for the first four weeks, and then visiting a girls’ home in Chiang Mai the final week.

I was – and still am – in disbelief, but the good kind. But as the weeks started to pass as I attended each team meeting, some doubts started to take shape in my mind.

For one thing, I’m slowly learning the customs and some basic Thai that I’ll need to know before setting foot in Bangkok. For example, setting your feet on the coffee table or using your foot to point to something are both big no-no’s in Thai culture. There are also five tones in the Thai language, all indicating different semantic meanings when spoken, yet they all sound the same to me. What if I offend an entire nation of Thai people when I’m asking for the location of the nearest latrine?

Probably one of my biggest fears is the openness and shall we say, very honest nature of the culture. For example, if you are rotund or slightly unattractive, these things might be pointed out to you by the people you encounter in a friendly manner, who don’t realize that American culture isn’t always as straightforward. I don’t know if my body weight is above average in Asian culture, but I’d rather not have that pointed out to me (especially when I make sticking to a strict dietary and fitness routine one of my top priorities), but I know that that might happen, and I’ll have to be nice about it and laugh it off, even if I feel like throwing something across the room.

Which brings me to my other concern, the fact that I’ll be without gym facilities – my sanctuary – for five weeks. If you’re asking if I’m actually fearful of becoming fat or losing muscle while overseas, the answer is yes.

Then there’s the whole what-if-I-don’t-get-all-the-vaccines-I-need-and-have-to-go-home early-on-account-of-nearly-dying question. Surprisingly, that’s the lesser one of my concerns.

…And there’s the hypothetical but perfectly plausible situation in which I get separated from the rest of my team in a foreign country. At the moment, I only know enough Thai to ask “How are you?” and how much a cup of Thai tea is.

But there is a quote by Ambrose Redmoon that I’ve identified as my philosophy; everything that I strive to adhere to that encompasses the core of what I believe in:

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

I can have all my travel documents in order, my suitcase filled to the brim, and get all the vaccinations I need, but I’ll never be “ready” for this adventure. You might as well be pushing me out of the airplane door with no parachute. Perhaps the mental unpreparedness indicates all the more reason to take that step onward, because there’s no time like the unexpected to drop everything and just go.

If you’ve ever seen the Princess Diaries movie, the words “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all” are attached to the rest of Redmoon’s quote.

I am ready to live, though it may not be for much longer, for all I know. What I do know is that one day spent facing the unknown is worth a thousand spent in quiet caution.

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More Than a Number

More Than a Number pic

There are two questions I hate being asked: 1) “How much do you weigh?” and more recently, 2) “What grade did you get?” (I really only mind this when it’s someone from my own class asking me this).

My freshman English teacher used to say before administering each test, “A test is not a reflection of who you are, but how much you learned (and I will still love you even if you don’t do well).”

When it comes to asking about grades, I always phrase the question as “How did you do?” I don’t care about numbers; I’m just asking a fairly general question that can be completely open to interpretation. If you say “I did well,” that could mean an A, B, or even D grade, depending on what your usual average is. But no one has to know that average, and no one has to feel the judgment of being compared to. When you ask me what grade I’ve received and it turns out being worse than yours, I feel bad, of course. And if I’ve done better than you, then it’s just awkward. What’s the point of the comparison?

Like I said in a previous posting, I’m currently taking Bio 101 – a general ed requirement. So far it’s been smooth sailing – but not for everyone. After getting an 80% on the first unit exam, I kicked it into high gear and managed to fare a lot better on the next two – quietly. I guess you could say that my desire to not have to take the semester final outweighed my desire to watch the season finale of Downton Abbey (if you go into the final with an A, you don’t have to take it!).

I say “quietly” because I learned that if you do well in a class, don’t be loud about it, otherwise you’ll end up “helping” (and by “helping” I mean “doing”) others’ work for them. And bragging is just stupid. Don’t get me wrong – I’m proud of my accomplishments and when I do well. Don’t think I don’t privately do a little happy dance in my dorm room when things go right; maybe write a little grateful Facebook post about it. But I’m not about to shout it from the rooftops, or brag about it to my classmates.

However, I was explicitly asked by a classmate a few lectures ago, “What did you get on the last test?”

Not “How well?” but “What did you get?”

So I told him. And he told his friend next to him. It was clear that his friend didn’t believe me.

“Let me see,” he said.

Excuse me for being offended. I don’t need to prove myself to you. But I reluctantly handed the document over.

“How come you don’t tell anyone?” another classmate asked me, in regard to my recent scores.

What I wanted to say was, “Because then I will suddenly accumulate 50 new ‘friends’ who want to conveniently ‘hang out’ with me before each exam.”

But all I did was shrug, and laugh it off while saying in the almost-words of Leonard McCoy from Star Trek, “I’m an English major, not a scientist.”

I loved my high school – I’m proud to say, one of the best in the nation. But I’d be lying if I said that much of my time there wasn’t spent dwelling upon the high standards I was expected to meet, and feeling guilty when I fell short. I’d also be lying if I said that I didn’t often wish that I could be as smart as those Calculus kids, or had more to put on my resume like the political party student interns. There was an unspoken but obvious game of comparison that everyone was a part of when it came to academic prestige.

I suppose you could say that my good old dragon days conditioned my insatiable need to be successful at everything – who wants to be labeled the Loser? But I don’t want to be defined by a grade – even if it’s a good one.  Because if you don’t know me, that’s all you will see when you look at me. Forget who I am, now it’s all about what I know. And when this class is done, you’ll never give me the time of day again, because we’ll have no more classes together, and therefore I have nothing to offer you anymore.

I’m more than a number, letter grade, or percentage score. At the end of my life, I’d like to be remembered for what I did, not how many classes I passed or didn’t pass. I’d rather be remembered for being kind than being sharp, and having lived a full, adventurous life, rather than one spent alone in my lair working on various projects day in and day out. My assumption is that whoever’s presiding over my funeral won’t be reading my past grades to those present, and if he does, I’ll be sure to come back to haunt.

“I Can’t Carry it For You…

I Can't Carry it For You pic

…Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you” is how the rest of these amazingly compelling words from Samwise Gamgee play out. I’m not really a crier, but it sort of makes me want to every time I contemplate the friendship of Frodo and Sam.

And now I dwell upon the different definitions of friendship between here and Middle Earth. Friendship defined by Tolkien is characterized in his books by one leaving his comfortable hobbit home at the drop of a hat, possibly to be massacred by orks, and continue onward towards a wonderful-sounding place called Mount Doom, thank you very much Mr. Frodo.

Friendship by 21st century standards goes more along the lines of volunteering to be the designated driver of the group when everyone else is too wasted to function.

I don’t have 50 “best” friends, and I’m kind of glad I don’t. For one, I don’t have the time or care to put all my energy into half-baked “friendships” that don’t go beyond the “I’m good, how are you? We should catch up sometime!” Indeed, the game of “catch up” that never actually happens. For another thing, 50 seems like too unreasonable an amount to put my trust in.

Over the past few months in my observations, I’ve noticed that a good amount of friendships are based on a give-and-take equation. Essentially, a little bit of my energy + what I think I’m able to get out of this relationship = friendship. I won’t call you friend just because I want a ride off-campus from you (which is a luxury in college). Likewise, don’t dare call me such when you find out that I know a thing or two about writing a literary analysis that would make your professors weep, which you need help with. Don’t tell me that I’m in your thoughts when I’m not, and I will return the favor by not speaking in flatteries. Honesty – it’s the best policy.

And don’t pretend that you’re availability is as unlimited as you’d like to say it is. In other words, I think the famous friendship quip “I’ll always be there for you” is far too overused. More often than not, I think it should be rephrased as “I’ll be there for you [when it’s convenient].” I have no interest in faux friendships. If I wanted something artificial, I’d eat a bowl of Fruit Loops. Say what you mean, mean what you say.

Would you drop your 6-month monthaversary plans to comfort a grieving friend? Press the pause button during midterms week just to catch up with an old friend who misses you? Contact your friend simply because and not because you needed anything from them? Text “I’m with a friend, I’ll talk to you later” to your boyfriend  when you are indeed with a friend at that moment? Stay up all night with them despite how tired you already are? And do this the night before your birthday? Not that I’ve done that or anything…

If you answered yes to any of these things, I have hope in you. Hope that when worse comes to worse, you won’t slide into the shadows to seek out more appealing circumstances. I have hope that you’ll have the strength of a thousand to carry Frodo up the rest of the mountain.

Wiser at 16

Wiser at 16 pic

To be a sophomore again…but I wouldn’t want to. Of course, there were some really good times, but no, I wouldn’t want to do it all over again. Plus in my mind at least (and perhaps a few others’) I was kind of awkward – even more so than now, if you can imagine that.

Yet awkwardness aside, without sounding too conceited, I have to say, going through my old high school sophomore/junior year notebook, I find myself sort of pleasantly surprised by the little wisdoms in the notes in the margins that I wrote to no one in particular, except maybe to future-me.

I honestly had no clue what I was going to write about this week, so on the off-chance that anyone’s actually reading this right now, I hope you too find some wisdoms from your own past as well.

May 2010

With every choice, there is a gain and loss. You can’t force yourself to love something – it was there all along…In circumstances like these, you learn just how much you were meant to be in a place only after you had traveled a different road for so long.

Last night as I was “studying” in the commons in my dorm complex, I was struggling to find something utterly profound to write for this week. Then, one of my hallmates entered the scene, and we got into conversation about possible majors she had narrowed her choices to. As our hour-long conversation was nearing its close, I said to her, “Choose something that you could see yourself doing for the rest of your life” and alluded to the old Confucius quote, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Then I realized that much of what we were conversing about related to my May entry.

Even now I worry about how in the world I’m going to make a living with my current major and minor (English and Journalism). In a perfect world, I’ll be living in my swanky bachelorette apartment, being bossly in a top-notch publishing/editing firm whilst donning an awesome business blazer, and jet-setting to various countries for both work-related purposes and leisure. Oh yeah, and become the next Suzanne Collins in my spare time.

In the real world, I know that I’ll be more likely to start off interning for a very small paycheck. But going back to Confucius, I know that at the time when I wrote this May entry, I was going through an academic related semi-crisis. In short, I was determining if writing was something that I could do without, career-wise. I knew it wasn’t a glamorous field. I still know that.

But I knew that if I had chosen a secure route, such as the sciences, yes I’d have a comfortable paycheck, but I’d probably die early of depression or something from hating my job so much that I wouldn’t get to enjoy spending that hefty paycheck. I considered business too – but I hate numbers. Unless it’s my starting salary, with a bunch of zeroes interspersed between multiple commas. I even thought about minoring in pre-law this year, but quickly decided against it, as I had been considering this possibility with wrong motives.

I’m obviously not a successful writer at the moment, at least not by the world’s standards. But I do enjoy writing these weekly postings whole-heartedly, even if my readership is limited to my parents, sister, and a few Facebook friends.

But something my Dad said a year ago still resonates with me now. As I proudly read to him one of my blog postings for a class, he said nothing for a few moments and said to my mom, “I think our daughter’s meant to be a writer.” Or something like that. Whatever the exact words, the message remains clear to me.

Of course, I still don’t know what exactly it is I will do with my life, nor where I go from here. Whether I’m the shark in the PR world or a columnist struggling to pay rent each month, I have a pretty good feeling that I’ll be okay, as long as I’m not – in light of Confucius’ definition of work – working for a living, so much as enjoying what it is that I’m doing, that I just happen to earn a living from.

And with that said…

December 2010

It’s frightening to know that I’ll never what will happen a year or a hundred years from now – but it’s a beautiful thing too.

Kicking It

Kick It List pic

I’m a list-person. I pretty much thrive from composing to-do lists, grocery shopping lists, homework agendas, the list of what classes I’ll be taking within the next few years, etc.  Call me a freak, but one of my greatest pleasures comes from the sound of a pen drawing a line through one of the executed items on one of those lists.

That said, I believe life is for the most part made up of a series of to-do lists. And that includes the following bucket list which includes fairly reasonable tasks and exhibitions that I’m to complete before I make that bucket get some serious air.

In no particular order…

  1. Run a 5k. Oh wait, I’m doing that next week!
  2. Get ordained. As I was procrastinating one night, I came across the Universal Life Church’s “Become Ordained Online for FREE!” ad on Google. Hey, it’s free and it’s certainly something unique to put on my resume.
  3. Be part of a YouTube sensation. Given that my music skills are lacking and I hate the sound of my voice recorded, my remaining option is to make myself part of the next viral flash mob/Harlem Shake-type dance video.
  4. Go to an Irish pub. …on St. Patrick’s Day.
  5. Tandem skydiving. I have this somewhat recurring dream in which I’m falling off the edge of a waterfall, freefalling to my death probably, until my leg jerks me awake. Charming, I know. So why would I want to pay $150+ to jump out of an airplane and get a similar sensation? Well, I would say that freefalling is one of my biggest fears, and I like to make it a habit to conquer my fears. Plus I’ll be strapped to a skydiving expert who knows what he’s doing, unlike silly me who decides falling off a waterfall’s edge with no parachute backpack is okay.
  6. Make a phone call out of one of those red telephone booths. …which is why I NEED to be accepted into the Oxford Study Abroad program. Amongst other reasons, obviously. More on that later.
  7. Meet a famous person. I just realized that I’ve never met a famous person. At least, not that I can remember. But if they were famous, I think I would remember.
  8. Get fitness certified. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love me some gym time, especially kickboxing, Zumba (it is not just for old people; get a good instructor and prepare to get your butt kicked), strength training, and most recently, max interval training. Ideally, I’d like to spend one point of my life working part-time or as a guest fitness instructor. Getting paid to force blood, sweat and tears out of my clients? Sounds like my kind of gig.
  9. Ride an elephant. I surprisingly actually do have the opportunity to do this this upcoming summer. It’s a bit of a story, and I’ll dedicate another blog posting to explaining that.
  10. See something on Broadway. I don’t care if it’s New York Broadway or London Broadway, I just need to see The Book of Mormon. Or Phantom. Or Billy Elliot. Or Chicago. Or Wicked (third time’s the charm).
  11. Write a book. Ever since I was 13, I vowed that I would become an author. After all, I’d been penning various construction paper-paperbacks about the princess who really liked eating fish (this might have been loosely based on my own dietary preferences at the time) and the Sparknotes version of the Easter story since age five. My taste in storylines have greatly evolved since then (thank God) and I have a series of boxes in my room filled with spirals and cluttered drafts of tales that went unfinished. This reminds me that I still have a working, creative mind, but sucks because I’m reminded of my continuously busy schedule and that weird emptiness I felt inside after writing a chapter, or both that kept me from continuing to write. One day though, I will finish a book. Not just 20 chapters, but the whole nine yards. Getting published is another thing…
  12. Be in a live audience taping. Ideally, I’d love to see The Big Bang Theory or The Soup. Just not Maury. Ever.
  13. Go on a safari. I want to meet Simba. And Rafiki. Need I say more?
  14. Travel. This one’s a given. A brief overview of some places I’d like to see include but are not limited to Europe (ALL of it, haha), New Zealand, South Africa, the East Coast, etc.
  15. Get inked or pierced. Actually, I probably won’t get inked. Even permanent markers are too permanent for me. A second piercing, on the other hand…well, I’m in college. Seems almost like a rite of passage, right?

*List subject to alterations and additions.