The below twitter exchange made me so so so happy today! ( and yes Rainbow Rowell  is the author of the book in the picture from  last week’s post)

 

 

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One  of my new year resolutions was to sloooow down. Unsurprisingly that hasn’t been easy to do once work restarted but I have carried back one habit from my 6 month break that has helped me to keep this resolution.

Prioritizing reading for pleasure.

The world does seem to pause while you sink into a good book ( or puzzle over a less good one).

I have been teaching my students in Social Psychology that  “attitude follows behavior”, in other words what you do shapes the way you think ( rather than the other way around). Making myself find time to read has changed the way I schedule my day and I am less and less likely to allow myself to decide ” I am too busy to spend time reading today”

Now, if only I could get myself to prioritize my writing in the same way!

 

 

 

 

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One of many outdoor teas with our students.

Once upon a time I did my dissertation field work at an educational institution in rural Bhutan. As part of the condition for being there I had to teach classes in a brand new program and worked with a group of young enthusiastic first time teachers, who became important allies and eventually good friends.  Many of them stayed on at the institution even as a I finished my degree and returned to the capital.

We stayed in touch. When they are in the capital ( which is a full two days away by car) we meet up for drinks or a meal and swap news and gossip. When they are not in the capital we still electronically share classroom stories, resources and inside jokes. But this week I had the rare and wonderful pleasure of getting to spend three whole days  with two of these friends. As academics we were officially invited to participate in a three day workshop held at a fancy hotel downtown.

 

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Just like in the old days we found a table in the back that gave us the room to whisper, make jokes and safely roll our eyes at the occasional displays of pompous-ness and sexism ( amazing how often the two of those are correlated). But the workshop also proved to be well organized, interesting and provided plenty of opportunity for rich discussion. I was consistently glad to be able to be having these conversations with my smart and frequently irreverent friends.

So that is what I loved this week the opportunity to be able to catch up with old friends at an engaging workshop. It was sort of  like a holiday for nerdy people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Baked by our housekeeper , Yeshi.

 

It was my birthday on Tuesday.

One of things I most appreciate about my birthday is that I share it with a cousin, in fact I was famously born during her first birthday party. Starting from sixth grade we were at the same Indian  boarding school  and  she and I were even in the same class, so from my 12th to my 18th birthday we always celebrated together.

I am  desperately uncomfortable in the limelight .(In fact I hate being photographs so much  that Sarah and I are only in like 3 photographs together on facebook) so having a shared birthday was always a HUGE relief, specially during those awkward teenage years when you are secretly convinced that no one could possibly actually like you. My cousin and I settled into a celebration routine  that included us ordering a cake each and giving one away to the “class boys.” ( Yes, I went to a school with sex-segregated birthdays, tres sheltered I know but that is a whole other story).

When I went to college in Australia I tried ( with some success) to continue the traditions of joint birthdays by convincing two of my friends with March birthdays to do celebrate together.

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Joint birthday dinner at a Greek restaurant the year I turned 20

Since then birthdays have  been awkward, worse so in Bhutan now that I have moved back . I have few friends I feel comfortable inviting and the local tradition is that the birthday person brings a treat for everyone else . One year I spent a weekend making packages of cookies to give out to people at work but that was exhausting and so I have more or less given up on celebrations beyond the family. I usually make an effort to see my cousin on our joint birthday but we haven’t had a joint birthday party since high school.

Then two years ago another cousin’s son was born on our birthday! Can you imagine that? Three of us with the same birthday  in the same family? This year was the first year that all three of us celebrated together.

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Cake my cousin’s sister-in-law brought to dinner. I loved that it has 3 stars for  the 3 stars of the night!

 

And you know what it was the best birthday I have had in years!

 

Here is my favorite cake of the day, with all three of us on it. Baked by my sister and painted by my brother-in-law.

 

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So a friend of mine owns a bar where he mostly serves friends and relatives.He has good cocktails, a nice relaxed vibe and far too few customers. So on a whim I came up with a promotional event for the bar that I hoped would bring in some new customers. I would give a free tarot reading to anyone who bought a cocktail. (Now I have never charged for a tarot readings so  my tarot readings are always free but lets not get all technical here!)  If you know me, you know that this was not completely a “goodness of my heart” type offer. I love reading tarot and am always looking for opportunities to read for people.  So really it was set up to be something that was good for both my bar-owning friend and me.

My brother made us a lovely image to use. We made a facebook event and watched with delight as people committed to coming.  My friend brought more olives.

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And then it was the 12th and my sister and brother came with me to sit up a table in the corner of the bar, with a fun lamp. I started at 8 pm with my first reading and didn’t take a break until midnight after friends had repeatedly come by the table to ask ” Are you okay? Do you need another drink?” I was so engrossed I hadn’t noticed  how long I had been sitting there. I did notice a small fight when one group of vocal girls started to get pushy about whose turn it “really” was.  By the end of the evening I had done readings for nearly 30 people. I had reassured people about their love lives, their career transitions and their business plans. I got lots of hugs and free cocktails. For the first time I actually didn’t just enjoy doing the readings and talking to people but I actually felt like I might be good at it.

 

I loved being tarot queen for the night and would totally totally totally do it again in a heartbeat.

 

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I bought my first deck of tarot cards nearly 6 years ago after an expensive and unsatisfying reading by Mrs Rita, a Tempe tarot reader with a HUGE sign outside her house  and a song by the Gin Blossoms. I left the reading thinking ,  ” I bet I could do better.”  Six years later  after a lot of practicing on myself, my family  and anyone else who would let me,  I am not sure if that is completely true. Learning to read tarot is challenging and I wonder if I will ever master it well enough to charge someone a cool $50 for a reading. But I have come to enjoy the on-going  reading and researching and practicing that is learning to read tarot.  I have grown to love the complexity of trying to balance between remembering the symbolism and meaning of each of the 78 cards  and trying to tap into and trust my intuition. I get a thrill from the energy of a good reading, few things feel as good as good reading.

I have a standard spiel I give people before I read for them about my belief that I am not predicting the future, I am mostly just reading the tension and opportunities of the present. I tell them that they have the power to shape their own futures.

Recently a friend of my sister decided to stop dithering and take the plunge and take up an arts fellowship type  opportunity because of something I said in a reading. He just came home and brought me this lovely stationary set as a thank-you. It made me so ridiculously happy.  So maybe I will never be paid it cash but perhaps I can start charging in stationary. Either way I look forward to my on-going tarot journey because the rewards are so much in the process and I love that, I really really love that.

 

I have been having such mixed feelings about being back at my teaching job. As we are back on campus planning for the semester, the vivid memories of the how awful it was are coming back to me more fully. But then almost every interaction I have had with a student reminds me of why I should be excited to be back.

Today one of them who made his first trip outside Bhutan over the break came to me with a small gift. I was embarrassed and also unsure if I should take it. He kept insisting so I did and then I went to check if it was okay for me to keep it. Everyone assured me that I should.

Later he sent this text:

Hi madam I couldn’t bring anything valuable for a person like you. It is not a matter of amount and neither a bribe but simply a gift from the core of my heart. Thank you very much for your kind acceptance.

 

My heart melted. Damn petty office politics and even more petty colleagues  I am excited to be back in classroom with these kids.

 

 

 

 

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Stochasticity by Utsav Khatiwara

Flecks of star dust

Recombined

In you and I

And every time you smile

We are drawn closer

Even in an expanding universe.

One of the things that has made me happy in the last couple of months has been the coming together of a poetry anthology ( “folded into a paper boat: a collection of poetry from Bhutan”) that I helped edit for our family publishing house Riyang Books. I loved the opportunity to get to know the two other editors better, I loved reading the poems and getting to know the poets, I loved the poems we finally picked and the beautiful cover my brother designed and than I loved  the cake my sister made for the launch earlier this month. She decorated it with 13 tiny little boats to stand in for the 13 poets ( including Utsav) featured in the book.

This project had nothing to do with my career  nor does the publishing house  expect to turn a profit (we might not even break even on this one) . We did it, I did it because I love poetry and the idea of there being more of it in the world is a very good thing.

 

 

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So I admit it, this week what is making me happy is getting my very first smart phone. Despite really enjoying social media  and occasionally ogling other people’s smart phones, I have managed to hold onto my very old Indian Nokia phone  for the whole three years that I have been home in Bhutan. I used to joke it was “theft-proof” since no one would bother to steal such an unsophisticated phone. But it wasn’t losing-proof and on Monday my first day back at work I managed to misplace it and despite roaming the halls calling myself I couldn’t find it.  In the meantime my thoughtful sister emailed my parents who were in Bangkok this week and suggested they buy me a smart phone and my generous parents did.  So shallow and materialistic as it might sound, getting my first smart phone is what is making me happy this week.

 

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( The view into the Tang valley in Bumthang- site of my four month sabbatical)

 

It is strangely fitting that the only post I put up in 2015 was about my new year resolutions and that my first (of hopefully many) post of 2016 is again about my new year resolutions.

I cannot claim to have succeeded with all the resolutions I wrote in 2015, in part because I offered up no metric. And I want to continue to work on spontaneity, health, beauty and kindness but my last year demands a shift in focus.

2015 was a strange year for me. In terms of anything measurable, it was the year I did the least but it was also the most satisfying and successful year that I can remember in a long time.  The year started with me deciding that I needed to leave my job, which had increasingly made me unhappy and stressed. The year ended with me deciding to go back to my job, not with my tail between my legs but after having negotiated the terms and completely stepping away from the administrative responsibilities that made the last year so miserable.  In between I went “home”  and stayed with my parents in rural Bhutan where they are working on creating a heritage site in my mother’s ancestral home. Every day was busy but in many important ways, my almost 4 months with them let me sllloooooooow down. There was no internet, no TV and no social obligations or appointments.  I got time to read, write, think, pray and just sit and enjoy the (spectacular) view.   I am back in the city now and I start back at work in about 8 days but I feel changed. I am not a different person, instead I feel more like myself than I have in a long time. Of course, I am worried that I will slip back into an unhappy place and I see my resolutions for 2016 as a way to stop that as much as I can. I hope that knowing things can be different is the motivation I need. Fingers crossed!

 

  1. One of the things that I want to hang onto from my time away from the city is slowing down. I read a wonderful book by Christian McEwen  called “ World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down”  and it is full of ideas about how to slow down in the face of all the ways in which contemporary life encourages us to be fast and busy.  One of her suggestions that I am making into a resolution is to make a list of enjoyable slow activities (like writing a letter to someone by hand) and then do at least one slow activity each week.

 

  1. I want to write more and get more of what I write out into the world. Before I left the city, I went to my very very first writing workshop and it was less frightening and more useful than I had imagined. For me this was like publicly acknowledging that I do what to write. While I was away, I read a lot of books about writing and they were largely helpful and thought-provoking. Several of them suggested that you have to write every single day. Natalie Goldberg in “ Writing down the Bone” talks about writing as “practice,” how not everything we write will land up being good enough to be read by others or published . Instead like anything you might be trying to learn to do well, the more you practice it, the better you will get. That’s one of the most liberating things anyone has ever told me because it takes off so much of the pressure to write perfectly every single time. Additionally I listened to a wonderful interview with the graphic novelist, Gene Luen Yang where he talked about how to combat the common fear writers have of getting things wrong “ with humility and with homework.”    I find the acknowledgement of the difficulty and hard work that goes into brave writing that aspires to be “right” so inspiring.
  1. My parents are the most generous and forgiving people I know and spending an extended period with them really reminded me of this. I was often infuriated at how frequently people take advantage of their kindness and I felt fiercely protective of them, of their time, their energy and their resources. But my parents are not stupid, they know when people are attempting to use them or cheat them and their response to this is an amazing blend of pragmatism and compassion.  When I came back to internet access I came across this great quote:  “When you have more than you need, build a longer table not a higher fence.”  That is exactly what my parents are doing, building a longer table, including more people instead of shutting them out.  I want to try and do that more often. I want to work toward being welcoming and inclusive. I worry that in recent years less than pleasant social and professional experiences have made me build barriers and blocks as a form of self-protection. In 2016 I want to try to take down my fences and expand my table.
  1. Last year I said I wanted to look after myself better and I think by quitting my job and leaving the stresses of city life I succeeded at this resolution more than I had imagine possible.  I want to continue to focus on this because well-being is a constantly moving target.  I was so inspired by Sarah’s decision to hike the Grand Canyon and the preparation and thought that she put into making it happen. After the hike she told me how the experience had changed the way she felt about her body, instead of thinking about its size or even shape she thought about what her body could do.  I love that and this year I want to make a stronger, healthier body my focus. Instead of only thinking about how it looks or what I can fit into, I want to focus on what I want my body to be able to do.