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my therapy


December 13, 2011

in therapy in session

Scene: The basement of an upscale restaurant in a hip Chicago neighborhood

Cast: Her. And a throne of other women. It would be accurate to add “mostly young and attractive (and white except her and one other woman, though this has nothing to do with anything really…)” Being young adds 20% at least to the overall attractiveness btw. Youth is something the young does not know to appreciate.

Setting: A “women @ company” event aiming to “unite” women in the company. Tonight’s event is for a popular Chicago chef to share with her exclusive audience how she overcame the male-dominant restaurant business.

There have been several emails going out to all the women in the office promoting this event. Come meet your co-workers, listen to someone who’s braved the male-dominant world and made it, be empowered (well, they have never actually used the word “empowered” in any of the communications. It’s like we are so liberated now, and all these “women @ company” events have to be coached in a non-militant, non-aggressive way), and oh yeah, have some cocktails and food while you do all of the above. She was not planning to go because she does not have any friend in the office. She just joined the company this past year and for all her work duties, she works with a different office remotely. For all intent and purposes, the space she occupies may as well be a rental space. Proof? This office location had two holiday parties and she was not invited to either. Sorry.

Somehow she decided that it’s her duty to support this bourgeoning group, “Women @ Company”. It’s simply not nice to poo-poo these events and cry about women not being valued (or valued less) in the company. With the sense of duty and “Oh, how bad can it be?” thought, she walked the 3 blocks.

She was relieved upon entering the room reserved for private parties to see one of her cubicle mates. Great! Someone she knew. She quickly got a vodkacran from the bar tender who listened sympathetically as she recounted how the office holiday party in another city that she went to last week had only a not-open open bar. The bar tender, probably feeling sorry, gave her a heavy pour of Ketel One.

She stood around awkwardly with her cube-mate and a couple of women whom her cube-mate knew. She instinctively sensed that one of the other women would rather not be in this circle that they formed. You just know these things, right? You could tell from the body language. The angling out. The slight turning-away. The “Oh I am so relieved you are here because now I don’t have to be talking to this woman whom I don’t know and have no interest in knowing” expression when someone else showed up. So now the circle was broken into two. Inconspicuously. But not, unfortunately for her, imperceptibly.  Leaving her and her poor cube-mate whom she suspected was cursing her own bad luck, “Wait. I want to be in that other circle. The new one!”

Cube-mate quickly announced, “Well, I have to leave. I have to be home by 6 to relieve my nanny.” Yes, cube-mate is one of the few other women in the office with kids, even though cube-mate is probably almost a decade younger than she is.

With cube-mate gone, she’s left in an awkward position. “No matter. I will go get another drink!” Bar tender was happy to see her friendly face again. “Another one?” “Yes.” It’s amazing how almost all the bars she’s visited she never had to tell the bar tender what she wanted after the first round. She turned around with her new drink, and was faced with one of the most horrifying realizations. She did not have a circle to go back to.



She went back to the vicinity of the aforementioned new circle, just to test the water. No. Nobody made that slight movement to welcome her. She’s now faced with a tough decision: “What the fuck should I do now?”


She took out her phone and pretended to check her messages in the midst of women engaging in delightful conversations. “This probably looks really rude. People are going to think that I am being a-social.” Chastised, she put away her phone quickly and braced herself. She turned around, took a deep breath, and slowly made her way to the bar. With a FULL drink.

The few seconds felt like eternity and the short walk felt as if it’d never end. Sorry for the cliche. But it is what it was. Nobody. She did not know anybody. Nobody acknowledged her presence. No circles opened up. She positioned herself by the bar, with a FULL drink, pretending that she’s waiting in line. For what? Her drink was fucking full. Yes, she could have finished her drink quickly so she could get another one. But she’s going to be faced with the same hell with a 3rd drink in her hand. She quickly decided that drinking heavily and fast by yourself in a small, and worse, well-lit room where it’s easily seen that you’re drinking heavily and fast by yourself was probably more pathetic than the situation she was already in. She moved back to the new circle and she forced herself into the circle by physically tresspassing the invisible line that formed the circle.

“Excuse me. Sorry to interrupt. Hi, I am XXX. Nice meeting you.”

Now, this was not her imagination: If people want to include you, they will move slightly to make room. If not, they will simply turn around in order to address you, without moving.

It was made very clear to her.

“Fuck. This is even more awkward than before.” She quickly thought. “Do you know what time the chef will start speaking?”

“Oh. She’s supposed to start at 5:30.”

“Ok. Thanks!”

The women went back to their conversation.

She moved away from the force field and looked at her watch. 5:15. She turned around to survey the sea of circles and felt her eyes getting warm.

She needed to get out of there now.

On her way back to the office, her tears started swarming out of the corners of her eyes. Luckily it’s winter and it’s already pitch dark. The turn of the event caught her off guard. This was one of the selves that she was not prepared to confront.

She resisted looking at the darkened shop windows as she walked by, as her vain self was wont to, afraid that she’d see someone from the past.

“I thought I’ve left you behind many years ago.”

And she’d been proven wrong. So. very. wrong.

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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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November 21, 2010

in therapy in session

Of all the Seven Deadly sins, ENVY arguably is the root of all evil, imo.

Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.       — Joseph Epstein

Kevin Spacey obviously agrees and that’s why his character in Seven saved Envy the Sin for himself…

It is also in the Ten Commandments in the form of the Tenth Commandment:

Thou Shall Not Covet.

Envy is an emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it. (Wikipedia. What else?)

Most of the strife and many of the abhorrent, cruel, cold acts men committed against fellow men in this world have been caused by envy. To understand Envy, we need to understand the differences between Envy and his close cousin, Jealousy.

“Envy” and “Jealousy” are often used interchangeably, but in correct usage, they stand for two different distinct emotions. In proper usage, jealousy is the fear of losing something that one possesses to another person (a loved one in the prototypical form), while envy is the pain or frustration caused by another person having something that one does not have oneself. Envy typically involves two people, and jealousy typically involves three people.

(Wekipedia. Sigh. Maybe I SHOULD make a donation to Wikipedia after all…)

Or as Aristotle said…

Jealousy is both reasonable and belongs to reasonable men, while envy is base and belongs to the base, for the one makes himself get good things by jealousy, while the other does not allow his neighbour to have them through envy.

In this sense, Jealousy implies that there is a “reason” behind the emotion that human beings should be able to relate to: the fear of losing a loved one to someone with something more desirable, whereas Envy causes you to stand alone with your rage (for the rage “It is not fair” inadvertently comes when one is envious of someone else for something; the rage becomes even more severe when one recognizes that there is nothing unfair about the situation and yet cannot help but feel the tightening of one’s heart)

The emotion used most often to explain the motif (if there HAS TO BE one) for Iago’s actions in Othello is envy. I despise any attempt by modern scholars and especially, theatrical directors to turn his motif from Envy to Jealousy, creating a plausible yet cheapening story of Iago’s potential infatuation with Desdemona or Othello.

Why does Iago’s action have to be interpreted with reason? Envy is irrational, pure and simple. And what makes it the worst of all human emotions: It is isolating, unproductive, and more often than not, destructive. And it lives within all of us.

Here is my confession.

Envy lives within my heart and I cannot ward it off completely, 24/7.

When I marvel at undeserved good fortunes and when I subjectively decide who is or is not worthy of such good fortunes. When I belittle the fashion world and the people living in it. When I complain about my sister-in-law whose husband does all her bidding and whose parents are at the ready to provide long-term free babysitting. When I go out of my way to ignore bloggers whose husbands cannot get enough of them in the bedrooms and, it seems, everywhere else. When I tighten my fists reading about husbands who help around the house after an 8-hour work day. When I make fun of the really wealthy for their frivolous purchases or idiosyncrasies. When I look down at the young for their recklessness and carefree-ness.

I cannot honestly say that I do not feel envious.

When I witness brilliance and genius.

I cannot honestly say that I do not feel Antonio Salieri’s pain, that I do not understand where his hatred of Mozart came from.

Even though I could comfort myself with the understanding and perhaps acceptance that “There is not a passion so strongly rooted in the human heart as envy” (Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the guy who wrote The School for Scandal), I despise and scare myself when I recognize envy in my heart. I look in the mirror and I see ugliness. Embarrassed and ashamed. I close my eyes, shake my head, breathe deeply, willing it to go away by counting my blessings.

I learn to truly recognize and sincerely admire the brilliance and genius in those surrounding me.

This has served me well in blogosphere.

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Called My Bluff

September 1, 2010 therapy in session

. The phone rang and I noticed the number was an unfamiliar one. Even the area code was one that I did not recognize. “Hello. Hi. Let me introduce myself. I am So and So calling from blah blah blah…” That’s all I heard since I pegged her as one of the telemarketers. I was […]


The white flag goes up…

November 12, 2009 therapy in session

Remember the tagline of my blog? These posts are supposed to be my therapy sessions. Ranting about the demise of Thanksgiving and gloating about making shotgun Christmas ornament is not very healing. The following is one of my therapy sessions. I am getting on the coach now. You have been forewarned… I am not quite […]


You are probably in the wrong place!

October 5, 2008 random

I am never one for planning even though part of my job description involves research and I am a very good researcher if I am allowed to toot my own horn, and I guess I am, since Goddammit, this here is my blog! “Serendipity” in my case oftentimes does not come because of good luck, […]