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me and myself

This post is inspired by The Bloggess‘ latest post I have no fucking idea what I am doing which has inspired 500 (and counting) comments so far, including the three comments I’ve left there… *cough cough* yes, I am a comment hog… 

I have been grappling with this question: Who am I? since high school, and it has induced a lot of angst and crazy shit, including reading and misreading existentialist novels, and a suicide attempt because it felt exhausting and pointless to go on living.

I remember one of my teachers was particularly asinine. For example, this being an all girls’ school, she would interfere in people’s friendships whenever she thought the young women were too close to each other emotionally. (More about that, and my life in all girls high school some time later…)  Anyway, one day she decided to talk about our mottos in life. So she wrote a bunch of standard, expected, nice things, e.g. the Golden Rule, be grateful, Karma, etc. Then she asked us to vote. I did not raise my hand, thinking it would not matter. That bitch went and added up the vote, and got pissed when she realized she was one person short. “Who did not raise their hand?!” she hissed. She had that look on her face that made me defiant (otherwise I’m usually quite easy going) and so I raised my hand.

“Why didn’t you vote?”

“Because none of them are my motto in life.”

She smirked. “Well, what is it then?”

I got up and walked to the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk and wrote my name. True (or truth). Then I sat back down.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She hissed again, taunting.

“It means one should be true to themselves and be who they are.”

She rolled her eyes. “Ok then. Let’s vote again.”

Nobody raised their hand for the first choice. Nor for the second one. Nor for the third one… … When she got to the last one, the one I added, every single person in my class raised her hand.

This youthful obsession with finding oneself and staying true to it came hand in hand with my obsession of Hermann Hesse’s Demian. I was hooked by the very first line from the book:

I wanted only to try to live my life in accord with the promptings which came from my true self.  Why was that so very difficult?

This being one of the classic Bildungsroman, the protagonist’s main objective was to find himself, on a path to enlightenment and self realization.

Each man’s life represents the road toward himself, and attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path. No man has ever been entirely and completely himself. Yet each one strives to become that — one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best he can.

This sounds great and vaguely romantic on paper, unfortunately, it caused a lot of heartaches and confusion because try as I might, as pretentious as I wanted to be, I could not seem to embark on that journey. I did not even know where the Yellow Brick Road started.

During my “self searching” formative years, I wrote the only short story of mine that was ever published. Don’t get too excited, it was published by the school magazine. I don’t even have a copy of the magazine and I can only barely remember what I wrote. It was narrated in first person (of course!) fashioned after Notes from the Underground. The Narrator complained about having trouble recognizing her own face in the shop windows when she walked by, in the mirrors, and in group photos. What she saw was a young woman with an unnatural smile that made her look as if the corners of her mouth were pinned to the sides of her cheeks. She could not recognize her. Blah blah blah. She ended up carving herself a smile. (WAY before The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger as The Joker…)

Now that I am (much much) older and (debatable) wiser, I think I’ve got it figured out. The problem is that most people still subscribe to the idea of a true self being somewhere to be found, that there is this essence of oneself to be discovered.  (I think this has something to do with Plato and Aristotle from the very beginning but I have given all my knowledge about Greek philosophers back to the teacher as soon as I received my diploma…)  It is somehow our job, as we grow, to discover what that essence, that core, i.e. our true self, is.

But here is the right question to ask, imo: What if there is no core? What if we are more like onions? What if we are made up of all the layers? If so and you still believe in finding that core, no wonder you feel lost: as you peel away each layer of the onion, you are like, FUCK! There is another door behind this door!   What if we shift the paradigm of how “selves” are defined, and that every single layer is YOU?  The real you. Everything you do, everything you say, every decision you make, every breath you take, is what makes you you.

To steal Sartre’s famous line: “Existence precedes essence. ” Your essence, who you are, is defined by the way you live your life, the actions you take, the decisions you make.  This also means one’s true self is constantly changing, because our actions are constantly changing.

The person you encounter each time, even though she may be slightly different from one moment to the next, is you.

Ergo, even when I am pretending, I am being myself because in some sense, when I become so sure of myself, I cease being myself. Ouch my head hurts! I need to stop right now!

Before I end this rambling, I just want to quote e.e.cummings, yes, again, because the quotient of pretentiousness in this post has not gone through the roof just yet!

 

 

* I am not endorsing the message from the one-hit wonder I’ve Never Been to Me. Just borrowing the title. Although I’ll admit, the song is a sweet sweet gem for a good old drunken Karaoke session.

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I saw these for sale when I made an emergency run for coffee at the store: a dozen for $1.99. I normally do not buy flowers, the same reason I do not make the bed: What’s the point? But I made an impulse purchase that day and I am glad I did. Whenever I pass by them, which is all too frequently since they are sitting on the kitchen table now, a smile pulls into my face. Flowers do that to you. Besides, they are so much cheaper than a diamond necklace.

 

I held out the daffodils the way He-Man pulled out his Power Sword, screaming: “By the power of Narcissus!” Willing Spring the coy bitch to finally show her face.

I did that often when I was young: holding up my umbrella, yelling, “The omnipotent gods, please endow me with the power of miracle!”, the Chinese dubbed version. I harbored this longing to be a super hero, or a swordsman. All of these fantasies involved me cross-dressing incognito. There is a lot of theorizing available behind a cross-dressing story such as HUA Mulan (Don’t say “Fa” please. Use the historically correct pronunciation, in Mandarin…) : being male in appearances somehow signified a path to empowerment and freedom, provided you are not found out.

 

Back to Spring. Or the lack of sighting of that pesky bitch forever running late or simply no-show even after she had RSVP’d when the universe was first created. The sky was dressed in blue and adorned himself with glorious white clouds yesterday, waiting for her.*

Whenever the kids and I see the sky looking like this, we’d say, “Look! The Simpsons!” And we all could hear the intro music to The Simpsons wafting in closer from behind the clouds. Or maybe it’s just me.

 

Back to the lingering thoughts of cross-dressing. Sister Merry Hellish recently wrote a great post on “Men in the corporate culture, their ties, and the women who fight them” aptly titled Sex, Ties and Reconditioning. She had asked several bloggers to send her pictures of themselves wearing a tie, and I am honored to be one of them. You really should click over and read the post. Actually, don’t even worry about finishing this post and leaving me a comment (srly sometimes I wonder what I myself would say if I had to comment on the gibberish coming out of my keyboard…). Just stop and hop over there right now!

As always, assignments of self-portrait stresses me out to no end and I did not pick up the camera until the last minute. In the end though, I had to admit that I had a lot of fun posing with a hat and a tie inside our powder room, holding a camera with my right hand, snapping pictures of myself in the bathroom mirror. I, a 40-year-old woman, was playing dress-up in a tiny bathroom, in the middle of the night, by myself. And I had not even been drinking.

Do you ever wonder now what your parents were doing when you were sleeping back then?

It was really late when I sent SMH my submissions, and I knew she waited up for me so she could work on her post before she went to bed. I continued to play with Picnik.com, or what I like to call, A Woman’s Best Friend. After much cropping (for you could see the toilet in the original picture AND I was wearing a pair of hot pink pajama pants underneath. They were only $5 on sale!), massive editing, and over-applications of effects, I have to say I love how I look in a fedora* and tie.

The funny, and slightly disturbing thing is how often I stare at this picture of myself ever since. I know it is not real: Too much cropping and softening and posterizing effects have been involved. But it makes me feel strong inside when I close my eyes and see myself in a hat and tie thusly. Does that even make any sense?

I hope I can manage to retain this mental image of myself channeling Annie Lennox (who is a very strong outspoken feminist. Yes, she does not deny that she is a feminst) on days when I feel oh so unworthy of working side by side next to all these men around the conference table.

Self: I can’t do this any more. These men think I am an idiot.

Annie Lennox:

You’re a bird in the sky now baby
Earthbound
Feet on the ground

 

 

Today, in a very self-serving way, I am going to declare that we all need a little bit Narcissus in us.

 

 

 

* On second thought, I guess we can’t blame Lady Spring for not showing up this weekend after all since blue tux & white ruffles combo inadvertently conjures up the image of Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber

The fedora actually belongs to Mr. Monk, my 8 year old. I now am convinced that every man and woman should own a fedora.

 

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Defiance

February 13, 2011

in random

If you are out and about this past week, it will take a lot of resilience to not be carried away or affected by all the pink and red hearts, the flowers, the chocolate and candy in pretty pretty heart-shaped boxes wrapped in red ribbons tied into perfect little bows, the flowery typeface all over shop windows and billboards. On my way home on Friday evening, the second I stepped in the train station, I sensed the collective nervous energy from the crowd. People were swarming in front of the Fannie May counter, all of them men. The same with the flower stand. As I walked through the train to find an empty seat, I saw many, men, awkwardly trying to keep the flower bouquets upright and in check.

I have to confess: With all the talk of “Bah Humbug! I don’t care about Valentine’s Day. Won’t people please shut up about it already?” my heart was caught in my throat and tears began emanating from behind my eyes, stinging them, when I settled into a seat and noticed a balding middle-aged man in a pedestrian outfit in front of me holding a lovely rose bouquet.

Luckily for me, it so happened that on the same day, I discovered at the CVS right outside the train station one of the best inventions known to women, especially commuting women, Juice Box Wines. I was also not without a box of chocolate in my possession because Mr. Monk, my 8-year-old, had asked me that morning, “Mommy, would you give me a box of chocolate for Valentine’s Day?”

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I was disappointed when I asked, half jokingly [ONLY half!], The Husband before he left for his month-long trip abroad, “So, you are going to send me flowers right?”

“Are you crazy? That’s a total waste of money!” He said, NOT joking at all. “They are expensive and they won’t survive longer than a week.”

Fine. I knew I was not married to Mr. Romantic when I entered the deal, and I tend to agree that flowers ARE expensive and impractical. [It just seems easier to tell myself that.]

Isn't she sexy?!

To be honest, I am kind of relieved that once again he’s not here for Valentine’s Day. I would have been the person that planned everything and stressed myself out. Without expectations, there will be no disappointment.

His absence makes it a non-event and I get to do whatever I want: So I decided to ignore it but not before I went and got myself a Valentine’s Day present, and The Husband was more than happy to take the credit: “See? Isn’t that an awesome Valentine’s Day present? Much better than flowers?” I had to agree.

All’s well that ends well.

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Procrastinating

December 21, 2010 random

It is 3:50 am. I am a night owl. I think I am so by necessity: when I was in high school, it was necessary to stay up and “burn the midnight oil” so to speak in order to deal with all the tests and homework that Asian countries are so famous for; in college, […]

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