What used to be common sense is not common anymore. How open and patient are you willing to take to find your new sense of common?

I’m a member of an independent coworking space, and had painstakingly packed my harp and electronics into my car this morning, and drove to my coworking space, you know, just so that I can jam. As soon as I set everything up, I realized that my amplifier batteries were dead. So I replaced them with my backup batteries. After replacing the AA batteries from my portable amplifier, I realized that my backup rechargeable AA batteries, too, were dead. I didn’t bring the power adapter for the amp. I also didn’t bring the charger for the AA batteries with me. Actually, I don’t even remember where it went. Hopeless, I felt like my effort to want to experiment on my harp today was just not meant to be.

I persevered. I asked my co-working coworkers if anyone has a charger for AA batteries. I was told to check the utility closet. So I did. I walked to the utility closet, looking for a charger, but didn’t find any. But I found something that I didn’t expect to find. What I found was a pack of AA batteries from ACE Hardware. Why didn’t I think of it? ACE Hardware store is just across the street from here!

To think that I was going to be dejected and just find something else to do. So, I happily walked across the street and bought myself a pack of AA batteries. Now I can go ahead with my day, although hours had passed.

Moral of the story

In order for something to be common, you’ll need more than one person, or one group, or one country. The internet has fundamentally changed what common sense is. The old common sense is only common because people used to live in the same physical space, in the same country, in the same town, in the same family.

You feel isolated and alone. What do you do? You go to your family, or your “tribe”. Many people find it in the virtual reality, which is good, but it’s not the permanent solution. No man is an island, at the end of the day. We all need someone like us. Many think that they’re looking for their soulmate, our lover, our future spouse. It’s a good start, but if that’s all one thinks it takes to not feel lonely, one’s mistaken. It won’t be a healthy, long-lasting fulfilled life. Life is bigger than that. We all need more than one or two people, we all need our clan, or tribe.

We live in very fortunate times where we can globally figure out what that means to each one of us. Some take months to find it, some take years. Unfortunately, some never. If you think you keep getting misunderstood, and no one understands you despite all the effort, it’s most likely you’re on the wrong path. Get off the freeway and take the local roads. If that’s not enough, carve your own path – eventually, you’ll find who you are looking for, one by one. No one said it’s easy to begin with.

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Duck Culture: I received a treat from Sweetie Pie today

I just came back from my month-long travel from Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. I finally switched back to Pacific time today, 5 days after I came home. My housemates have been very kind in helping me take care of my ducks all this time. Today, I came home and was able to pick up Sweetie Pie without much effort. Usually, when I hug her, she would tolerate my belly rub for less than a minute before she struggles to be let go. This time not only she did not struggle, she seem to be enjoying the tummy rub. Then she decided to tuck her head under my arm, as if she needed the comfort. I whispered and kissed her, because the last time she let me hug her like this was when she was a baby, which was why we named her Sweetie Pie. The moment was such a treat for me.

It makes me wonder what human instincts we have lost as protector of nature in the name of “progress”.

Reflection: Anthony Bourdain’s suicide and my depression

Prelude

Anthony had influence so many people’s lives all over the world, including mine. When I read of his suicide, I was not surprised. I understood.

As food and culture fans, Gary and I used to watch his work. In fact, I blogged about it in one of my posts, Shawarma, which now when I revisited it, turned out to be one of the last TV programs that Gary and I watched together, 2 days before Gary passed.

Depression is everywhere. Depression is a continuum. Every day, one decides how one wants to act that day. Those who are religious hold on to the belief that it’s a sin to take your own life. For those religious and still contemplate suicide, it’s a struggle. For those who aren’t religious, their struggle becomes more real, as in, there is “no life after death”. Regardless, you decide what action to take every day.

My depression

I denied my depression for the longest time because for the longest time, it drove me. I was afraid that when my “self-diagnosis” is made official, others will perceive me differently. Worse still, I’ll victimize myself. I finally put my pride aside and sought help when I was burned out at work and needed time off to recover and spend more time with Gary. Again, in retrospect, it turned out to be about 6 months before Gary passed. The antidepressants helped regulate my emotions and therefore helped with deciding what to do every day, and it helped with my interaction with Gary. Yet, I didn’t like the feeling of being dependent on medication. It didn’t seem to make much difference after Gary passed. So, a year after his passing, I weaned off my antidepressants. I’m fully aware that my depression wouldn’t disappear overnight, I knew I had to actively do something about it. More so than when I was on medication. I consulted with my therapist and doctor so that we are accountable to each other. The last time I contacted my therapist was more than 3 months ago.

Those who knew Gary well knew that Gary was suicidal. We talked about it and even had a plan for when “the day” comes. That day never arrive. Instead, he decided against it when I asked him again in the last year of his life, seeing him suffer, and telling him I will be alright if he wanted to. He lived life his fullest to the very last day of his life.

Truth is – I am, too, but I just don’t have the guts to act on it. Furthermore, small little things still tickle me every now and then. Like, I’m in Japan right now, and here are the little things that I made me smile:

  • heated toilet seat. Especially in the middle of the night. O. M. G.
  • the decor of this hotel would easily be considered outdated by many. Classic wooden side tables with push buttons from the 60’s or 70’s. Golden light stands. Classic light pink bathroom wall tiles, toilet and bathtub. But the point here is that, the whites of the grout is white, and the pink is pink. It’s clean. The style is intentional. In other words, I see quality.
  • listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” played using steel drums, supported by a live band, while having udon and porridge for breakfast. Why did it tickle me? Because we’ve come so far as a world. Stevie, the electric guitar, the drums and the bass are American, steel drums are from the Caribbean, and to hear this in Japan, in addition to having the best quality udon and porridge for breakfast, that I’ve not had in years? Let me describe a little bit of what I meant by quality here. They have at least 3 different tongs at the buffet for different purposes. For example, the porridge condiments are presented in a classical black and red sectional tray. The tongs for picking up porridge condiments is small and slim, with a smaller head, as though they’re subtly reminding me that, “Hello, they are condiment – I only need a little of everything.”

Yet, it was only last night I was in a drunken stupor even though I made similar observations of how cold soba is served and how the remainder broth is drank, along with tempura served with hand grated wasabi, with a glass of Kirin fresh from the tap.

While many parts of Japan are indeed clean, I also noticed the stench of alcohol the moment I walked into the JR train headed towards my hotel. Cigarette butts, empty beer cans, and plastic wrappers can be seen on the ground every now and then.

The beauty of life is that it is unique to each individual. The beauty of death is that it is unique to each individual.

Definition

The APA defines it as: Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.

Feel: worthless, guilty, painful

Think: Cognitive dissonance, analysis paralysis, resentment

Act: to numb or dissociate from the feelings and thoughts above

Prefixes to the word “Act”

in: not

re: again

over: too much

inter: between

de: reverse

Application

Generally, I maintain a healthy lifestyle and act logically and reasonably. It’s a discipline I’ve learned from my strict upbringing. Grief and depression is inevitable as we grow older. In fact, the effect of grief and depression accumulates, if I’m not careful about keeping up with the balance of emotions overtime.

In learning the definition of depression and deconstructing it, I applied that to my life in the context of Bourdain’s news. At the end of the day, it’s my action that determines whether I live another day. Well, unless an accident occurs, under which it’s beyond my control.

In-act-ion is always the first to happen upon an unexpected event due to the cognitive dissonance – or what some geeks like me call, “Does not compute”.

Then the re-act-ion to the news is “How does this relate to me?” Most likely it will come in a negative form because “No news is good news”. The human nature is such that we are usually attracted to “Bad news”. So based on this logic, every time I hear a bad news like Bourdain’s, I re-act negatively by getting reminded of the feeling of being worthless, guilty and/or painful.

It’s ok to react to the news negatively. It’s natural. In fact, the definition of the prefix “re-” in “reaction” is a reminder that “it” has happened before, whatever “it” is. But as I become older, I’ve learned to not over-re-act. I have also learned to only inter-act with people who are healthily supportive of me especially when I’m vulnerable. Otherwise, I’d rather be alone, which many depressed people tend to do. In these times, I mindfully remind myself that I cannot de-act-ivate my act-ions.

When I’m alone, I eventually get bored of my inaction and start to inter-act with my environment. “Inter-” in this case, helps me go between being alone, to being with other people again. So I start interacting with my computer (typing, reading). When I’m hungry, I eat. (Well, I’m still working on that). I interact with my ducks. Eventually, I visit with friends.

Good things come to those who wait are patient. Mindfulness is an act of patience, a practice of micro-patience.

Conclusion

(Added after someone posted, “What made celebrity suicide so special when there are 22 veterans who commit suicide every day?”)

It’s a damn good question. For me, doesn’t make a difference. Every death, suicide or not, is just another reminder to me about the two absolutes in life – Life and Death. I had the honor of playing for a service member’s funeral when I was serving in the US Army as a musician. He did not commit suicide. He was killed right outside of base (Fort Bragg, NC), due to an altercation outside a bar. He served 2 tours in Afghanistan. He was 21.

I can keep going…

My point is, “What does comparing deaths, celebrity or not, mean to you (the poster)?” I think that’s a more important question to answer.

Love Beyond Boundaries

In my first immersive visit to Malaysia after more than 20 years, I came home with a new set of eyes, Malaysian-American eyes. My cross cultural eyes. Today, I saw this bible verse, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, cross-stitch my mom made while accompanying my eldest sister revise her SPM (O-level) examination. I decided to revise it to make it my own:

Love is… Wild
Love is… Patient
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Resentful
Love is… Kind
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Jealous
Love is… Content
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Boastful
Love is… Humility
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Stubborn
Love is… Submissive
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Irritable
Love is… Happy
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Wrong
Love is… Right
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Weak
Love is… Strong
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Uncertain
Love is… Trust
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Depressive
Love is… Optimistic
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Denial
Love is… Sacrificial
Love is… Passionate
Love is… Blame
Love is… Forgiveness
Love is… Change
Love is… Beyond Boundaries

What are your boundaries?

 

Self-identity, as a continuum: Drawing parallels between the parable of the widow’s offering and the movie “Disobedience”.

“Disobedience” setup: *movie spoiler alert*

Imagine being the only child to the most respected Rabbi in your town. As you’re a girl, your father had to groom another boy in the community to take over his legacy when he passes. You’re best friends with this boy. Your father had grand plans of having you “betrothed” to this boy. As you come of age, you fell in love. There is one problem, you fell for another girl. You want to be accepted by your father and community, but not at the expense of the authenticity that you feel so deeply in your soul. Yet, you’re a “senseless” teenager, trying to “prove” yourself to adults. You know you have to make a decision. Not wanting to hurt anyone, you leave town – you leave your only family, your best friend, your lover – alone.

You survive in New York city as a photographer – a vocation that brings out the best in you and those you work with, and still make a decent living. One day, you received a phone call telling you that your father had died. You return home to face your past, where almost everybody at home thinks that your attraction to debauchery had led you astray. You learn that the only reason you received the news was because the girl you fell in love with, now married to your “betrothed”, convinced her husband, to reach out to you…

This is not a story of being gay. This is a story of being vulnerable to let go of resentment in order to empower, in order to be… to be you.

Parable: The Widow’s Offering

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

Identity as a continuum

I saw the movie last night, and it didn’t take me long to relate to my Christian past. I shed a few tears. As I reflected on the movie and my life, a parable came to mind. As I’ve left Christianity for almost 20 years, I only remembered it to be of a woman giving <0.01% of what the rich folks gave as offering, yet Jesus made sure to remind his disciples that her contribution is more significant than the wealthy folks. When I googled the parable, the woman in the parable turned out to be a widow.

Mind blown.

I started drawing parallels between my widowhood and the widow in the parable. In her world at that time, she must have had to depend on her husband in every way to survive. I live in world where I’m lucky to be able to carve out an independent woman’s life, despite some challenges. Gary and I were partners where we empowered each other. He lived a life of a perfectionist artist, like Reynolds Woodcock in the “Phantom Thread”, who empowered and brought out the beauty of selected women in his life, through his be-ing and his work.

The lead actor in “Disobedience” had to make a choice at the most important moment in his career, at the stake of his reputation, to stand up for what he was taught throughout his life – of freedom and choice – because otherwise, the lead actress could have never been able to gain her reputation within the community as the late-Rabbi’s daughter.

Likewise, the story that I tell of my marriage have such a deep, yet different realities to people, than if he were to have told it. We each have to tell our versions, in order for our story to be complete.

We also gave each other a safe space to be vulnerable, and to turn that vulnerability into empowerment.

Now it’s up to me to tell our story. It’s my responsibility.

The journey of self-discovery can be as broad and as deep as you want it to be. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t want mine to have taken me this far from home, and this long to travel (run, fly, crawl, skip, walk, dance, swim, drown).

Yet, I would not exchange my life for another’s.

Happy Birthday, honey.

Our family celebrated Gary’s birthday last year in Long Island, where he was buried next to his brother, Jon. This year, I spent his birthday in a cabin in Tahoe, with my classmates from business school. I didn’t get to make a spoon, but I was surrounded by nature when I called Rob and Kathy that morning. I received some well wishes from friends, and at dinner time, my new friends and I gave Gary a toast, in a manner he would approve; a simple home-cooked meal and good conversations.

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Today, I decided to rewatch his knife-making videos. It was painful to watch as I’m reminded of the effects of the cancer had on us, yet I’m grateful that he made the videos, despite not wanting his family and friends to remember him looking like this.

This is the first of the series.

… and this one is of him breaking down the cost of making a knife.

Using music to explain converging heritages harmoniously

Each and everyone of us wear different hats and play different roles at different times to different people.

We don’t get to choose our lineage, our physical appearance, the country we were born in, how we are taught to think as we were growing up.

Yet at some point of our lives, we have to make choices that would eventually define us for the rest of our lives. The hope is that as we are given that responsibility to choose, we don’t make irrevocable mistakes, where we don’t get to learn from those mistakes as we move on in our lives.

This is an interpretation of my Asian and American heritage. Depending on how embedded you’re in either of these cultures, you will experience the piece differently.

I chose these two songs because they are evergreen pop classics in each culture that describes our journey of continuously working on the innate human connections that we call friendship.

Could you tell that there are two songs going on?

Do you know the lyrics to each song?

Do you have a Chinese or East Asian or American friend who grew up with either song where you can share the significance of the song and it’s meaning with?

What do you think of the harmony?

What about the timing of how they start and end together?

To me, the harmony of the 2 songs blends so well that it made me wonder what could go so wrong in any two seemingly polarizing opinions that it could never be resolved.

Surely, there are moments in the song where dissonance and tension linger. But by giving the dissonance and tension time, and allow myself be comfortable with the uncomfortable, it births a new appreciation to the converging songs, thus giving color to the song, so that when the dissonance gets resolved, the harmony brings peace to the soul.

How does this relate to your current self and your past self? What about your relationship with your family? Your relationship with your friends? Your relationship with your government? Your relationship with your enemies?

As I relate more to my American heritage these days, I recorded Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” first and used it as a baseline to my playing of Emil Chou’s “Peng You” (which is translated to Friend in English).