Archives for posts with tag: optimism

Sooooo this is my first post of 2017  and yet its been a (mostly) good year. There has been so much to <3, I am just out of the blogging habit ( hint, hint Sarah.) So I am going to cheat a little and make this post a list of ALL the things that I <3ed so far in 2017.

  1. My attempt to make read more a habit seems to have stuck. Reading more has also meant that I am reading more widely,  including genres like Fantasy and Self-Help and even classics ( like “Wuthering Heights) that I had spent a life-time ignoring.  I feel like reading not only brings me great pleasure but it also continues to help me slow down, think more deeply and empathetically and of course , it’s a cliche but yes it makes me continue to learn and stay curious about the world.
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My Goodread reader challenge as of today! ( I am like 6 books ahead of schedule!)

2.  I started the year with a new year party (at my sister’s house) where I did tarot readings for everyone present ( including an assortment of my sister’s friends.) My mother once told  us as children that the way you start the year ( your mood, your behavior, your attitude) tells you what the rest of the year will be like. I think it was a pretty transparent attempt to get us to behave well but it’s kind of stuck with me as a superstition and I do make an extra effort to do something good or brave or special on days like new year and my birthday.  In this case it’s been a good year for me with Tarot, I get a lot of requests from people to read and I even “came out” at work and read from everyone from my boss to the lady who runs the canteen to I think every single member of the IT team! I love that I don’t have to advertise and offer readings as much  as I used to and that I no longer tell people I am ” just practicing.”  I also love being able to help people think through issues and dilemmas,  a friend (Katie Alexander) once called tarot “cheap therapy” ( she meant it in a good way)   and I think she was on to something there.

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The spread ( both tarot and other treats) at my sister’s new year party.

3. Since I moved back to Bhutan I have hardly traveled and only left the country once ( to go to a commercial town in India just across the border). Part of its has been  a money issue and part of it has been about feeling stuck and feeling unworthy and unready to not be stuck. When my sister decided to have her baby in Sri Lanka I told her almost immediately ( without thinking about how the heck I could afford it) that I would go down and be with her until my semester started. My parents, who for the last few years have been begging me to let them buy me a ticket somewhere for a holiday , jumped immediately and bought our tickets before I could change my mind.

 

Before going to Sri Lanka in February, I also landed up agreeing to go on a work workshop to Samtse, a part of Bhutan that I have never been to. It scared me a little to think about going and I barely knew the other guy from my college who had been nominated to go, but I had already decided that 2017 would be about getting out of my comfort zone and this was a HUGE leap out of my comfort zone. And as these things do, it paid off. I learnt a lot. I meet a lot of new and interesting people. I got to know someone from my college who I had not had much opportunity to interact with before. And I explored a part of my country that was less familiar to me.

 

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Samtse.

I think the success of Samtse made me ready to expect the best in Sri Lanka. It was a perfect baby-steps holiday for someone who hasn’t traveled in a long time. We were staying with my sister’s parents-in-law in their huge and comfortable house.  They had a car and driver to take us around and sometimes even insisted that a Bhutanese medical student ( many of whom study in Sir Lanka) go along with us to act as a guide/chaperone . Sri Lanka itself felt wonderfully unhurried after the frantic energy of Kolkata. We shopped and visited temples ( lots of holy places for Buddhists) and ate yummy seafood and relaxed and relaxed and relaxed.  The trip reminded me both that I CAN travel and that it can be pleasurable. Also my sister and I traveled so much together ( as boarding school girls  we once knew Bangkok airport like the back of our hands) and I realized that this was our last trip together before everything changes for my sister. So that was bittersweet.  But I think you can ❤ things even if there are not 100% happy.

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At the beach on my very last day in Colombo. ( I also started wearing dresses and skirts a lot more after this trip- I had forgotten how much I loved wearing them)

4. Sarah and I used to throw epic Oscars parties, first together and then when Sarah moved to DC separately. An important part of the these parties was the Oscar’s pool where everyone uses a ballot to record who they thought they would win in which categories. Last year I persuaded my siblings that we should do a pool too and being competitive and movie buffs it was a lot of fun. There was a LOT of trash talking! This year we were in three different counties but I managed to convince them to do it over google docs. Everyone put in their votes and then we watched and chatted over messenger throughout the ceremony. It made me so happy to still be ” together” for the Oscars despite the geographical distant. ( And there was again a LOT of trash talking)

5.  For the last few years I have been teaching sociology and occasionally political science classes. I have been okay with what I teach  but I do miss anthropology so I was so super excited when my college asked us ( there are two other anthropologists working at my college) to start the paperwork necessary to propose to the University  to start a BA in Anthropology! Bhutan’s first! We are not 100% through (yet!) , Bhutan has a very complex. extended approval process but we got through first 2 of 3 steps so it starting to look very likely (Fingers crossed) So ❤ that I could be getting ready to teach the first batch of Bhutanese anthropology students this time next year and I am super super proud of the hard work that has gone into getting us this far.

6. And the thing I ❤ ❤ ❤ the most in 2017 is the arrival of my niece CZ on April 24th.  I can’t even really explain in words how much I ❤ having CZ in our lives. I worry a little bit that with all of us rearranging our lives around her needs she is going to be super spoilt but for right now none of us can stop telling her how beautiful she is or stop taking photos of her. Our phone memories are overwhelmed!

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So on Friday this happened:

 

 

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By the time I realized I was almost to my bus so had to take a taxi home and than a taxi to work ( I missed my bus!)  It was an embarrassing and expensive mistake.

A year ago I would have arrived at work fuming and frazzled but on Friday I could laugh at myself. Out loud.   Instead of fretting about the money I was ” wasting” I  decided to treat myself to a nice coffee shop latte before I headed back to work and I even took a photo of the disaster and posted it on social media. Perhaps most reassuringly several people confessed — ” I thought it was just me that did things like that!”

It was only in the evening that I had a chance to realize that my response showed how much has changed ( improved!) in the last year. How can I not ❤ that I can now laugh at myself?

 

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After far, far, far too long Sarah and I had a long-distance D & M/ catch-up this morning. I have written before about how wonderful and refreshing these marathon conversations can be ( today, possible a new record at 4+ hours!) but today’s conversation reassured me more than ever that I am not “missing out” or some kind of awkward ” late bloomer” for not leading or even wanting to lead a more conventional life.

Over the years I have spent so much time and energy collecting stories of misfit and eccentrics hoping to see similarities,  find  advice for myself, a possible justification or even expected trajectory for my own quietly strange life (despite all evidence to the contrary  I swear I didn’t set out to be so odd). Roxane Gay’s wonderful book of essays” Bad Feminist” argues at one point that perhaps some of us have to make our own ways without any role models to fall back on when she write: “When you can’t find someone to follow, you have to find a way to lead by example.”  It’s not that Gay’s argument is a completely new one,  my sister has been saying something similar for years as we have worked through where we belong and what we want  and what is even possible for us  but I can’t tell you how hard this idea is for me/ I am such a natural rule follower, a wait-in-line kind of girl,  a happily -do-as-I-am-told-er. I am not interested in being unique or different or standing out. Really.

And yet I think increasingly as I start to become more comfortable with my life decisions and the odd directions they take me, I am less and less bothered with trying to find evidence that I am not so odd. Talking to Sarah about the counter-intuitive career choices we are making (or on the cusp of making), choices that might seem a step backwards or sideways or upside-down  but are absolutely the right choices for us right now, was reassuring.

Conventional success, conventional ambitions be damned, we are making our way. 

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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( 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.

2014 not the best year. Not by a long shot. And 2013 and 2012 were not very great either. Not to get all life-style guru on you here but I realized at some point that I keep waiting for things to get better, waiting for my life to get better and maybe that is just not the right approach.  I can’t really change my life but I can change the way I feel about it and the way I react to it. Of course as I work on seeing these resolutions through, easier said then done  but I can’t keep waiting for something to change. I live right here, right now. I need to find ways for it to be better right here, right now not in some idealized better future. So here are 4 ways I want to make me and my life better in 2015.

 

1) Spontaneity. 

This is a joint resolution with Sarah. We realized during one of our marathon phone conversations that the older we got the less spontaneous we had become. And that this is a huge lose. Life is so much less fun.  But I am going to push this further, part of being spontaneous is not over-thinking things too much, just following an impulse and for me I think I need to listen just as much to my instincts and say ” Nope, I wouldn’t be doing that.” There are so many joy-sucking, mind numbing obligations that clog my life and in 2015  I want to be as spontaneous about saying “no” to them and as I am about saying ” yes!” to fun and new things. I start back at work ( a veritable and highly effective factory of joy-sucking, mind numbing obligations) on Monday- lets see how this goes!

 

2) Being kinder, more forgiving and less judgmental about other people.

2014 ended with me getting some hardcore anonymous hate on my teaching evaluations. And after an understandable period of hurt, self-pity and then anger, it actually made me think of how often I have made similarly off-hand and unkind judgments about other people. I had potentially made people feel just as bad as I was feeling because lets face it, I am not very subtle. This thought actually made me feel worse than the evaluations. Shortly after coming to the realization that my mean-ness had the potential to hurt people,  as if the universe just felt it needed to hammer home this point a little harder,  my sister told me about how an acquaintance of ours mentioned to her that she was really surprised that I was so much more friendly and welcoming on-line then I was off-line. Wow.  Just wow.  In the meantime, this has been a really hard resolution and I slip a lot but I find that making myself conscious of how I talk about other or how quick I am to jump to judgment has been instructive.  I think I am getting better. I hope I am getting better

 

3) Taking better care of me, looking after myself.

In my to-do lists looking after myself is really never a priority. So things like getting exercise, going to the dentist and getting my upper lip threaded or making time to meditate are just not important. I am hoping that  shifting the emphasis from my usual resolutions like :lose weight or exercise more and thinking instead of giving more time and effort to self-care will make me take better care of myself. I think I have been trying to do some of this already in 2014 but I need to keep reminding myself.

4) Making more everyday beauty.

This was a last minute and random entry but also the one I find the most hopeful. My parents, who have moved back to my mother’s childhood home are in town for the last two week and I noticed again that my mother has this  habit of compulsively tidying up and making things look nicer where-ever she goes. I found it annoying as a child but as I watched her turn the crocked woven scarfs our cook insists on selling us into a table runner, re-purpose broken pottery into a dry flower vase and generally re-arrange everything in our house I realized she is always attempting to make the spaces we live in more beautiful. And she does it little tiny, very every day ways. Isn’t that just the most  hopeful and optimistic thing to keep doing? I have this tendency to live in mess and see everything as temporary and not worth improving or making nice. I want to teach myself to not do that. I want to teach myself to turn up the beauty. I want to live with beauty and I just have to figure out how I can do a better job of making beauty a more every day thing.

This fall I have felt incredibly trapped and unable to see past all the things that are not possible for me. Finding things to be happy about have been hard. As I struggled with all the obstacles that I felt I was up against  (time, money, logistics, fear  etc) I had been trying ( not so successfully) to talk myself into seeing all this as a opportunity for creativity. I kept thinking of cooking shows like ” Master Chef” where ingredients, time and experience  act as constraints and yet again and again contestants create something beautiful and tasty and unexpected. Couldn’t my life be like that?

And then a facebook friend posted this New York Times piece “ Learning to Measure Time in Love and Loss”  by Chris Huntington where he writes so simply and eloquently about making peace with bad luck, constraints, ageing, basically all the things that hold us back in one way or the other. Most effective for me, the author does not advocate  ignoring loss or talking yourself out of feeling the weight of loss. The line that just slays  me is this one : “I’m constantly aware of lost opportunities. I used to think such lost opportunities were beautiful towns flashing by my train windows, but now I imagine they are lanterns from the past, casting light on what’s ahead.”

I loved the piece so much, I read it and re-read it and re-read again as I posted it here. I haven’t yet convinced myself that I can be creative despite  all that I feel I am missing out on, all that I feel that I have lost but the idea that there is possibility present even as I move further and further away  from things I loved and things I hoped for, I can’t help but find that such a daringly hopeful sentiment.

So I love that I am staring at the start of a new year and contemplating possibilities even while I grieve for all that might not be possible.

I was feeling a little rejected and dejected today after yet another less then promising  encounter with someone I really really wanted to get to know better (apparently that feeling is not so mutual) .

 

As thought she read my mind a friend posted something on facebook  that reminded me that its okay if not everyone likes you, that this isn’t an indication that there is something wrong with you. Better yet another friend heartily endorsed that sentiment.

Here is the post and some of our comments:

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So besides some fun facebook banter ( which I also love), I love the reminder that someone not liking you is not an excuse for self-pity or self-doubt.

 

Now pour me a drink!

So its still spring and I am still enjoying everything being in bloom so its tempting to claim our front door steps looking like this  is what I ❤ right now

 

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But the truth is actually been a pretty awful week. For lots of reasons I have felt like I am in a real career rut lately. I have always been embarrassed that I was unable to land that tenure track job at a great university, I tell people it was all about luck and timing but in my head I can’t help wondering if it was really just me. If maybe I just wasn’t good enough. Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough. Most days I enjoy my current job because I like teaching and I like my students but no one at works thinks I am particularly good at my job or particularly valuable. Of course I feel this way in part  because I was spoiled rotten at my last job with lots of  praise ( often from really unexpected people) and folks going to bat for me when I needed it most. I doubt anyone at my current work place would storm into a  big city  art museum and demand to know why they didn’t hire  me( True story!)

And then I heard this great pop song by Kylie Minogue that just captured both my current frustration and how I wished I was dealing with them.   I have been playing this song on repeat, chanting along with the lyrics.

 

The song is about just owning where you are in life, mistakes and all  and not waiting to be saved by something or someone else. The chorus in particular is not only real catchy in a wonderful pump your fist in the air way, but  also says exactly what I wish I was saying to the world.  So I am just going to keep singing it out loud until I believe it too!

“When I get my back up against the wall
Don’t need no-one to rescue me
Cause I ain’t waiting up for no miracle
Yeah tonight I’m running free
Into the Blue
Into the Blue
With nothing to lose
Into the Blue” 

 

 

 

Every winter in Bhutan I miss the mild warmth of Arizona at that time of year but in the spring time when Thimphu turns pink and white and yellow and neon green, I am happy to be here.

 

When I lived in Eastern Bhutan about four years ago I spent all spring pointing out flowers and tree and interesting plants. Finally one of my friends ( who was often the person I was addressed when I said, ” look at that flower!”)  asked me if I thought I was John Keats ( the English romantic poet). Honestly I am not even that familiar with his poetry but it was such an unexpectedly funny comment that its continues to be an inside joke that comes back every spring.

Here is what he put on my Facebook wall as soon as things started to bloom in Eastern Bhutan ( where he sadly still lives, a two day car ride away)

 

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Inside jokes, specially long standing ones like this one are such a mood booster. I can’t even explain why but this made me smile for days.

It took me a couple of days to put my response up on Facebook. I have to say that having an excuse to take spring time photos is no hardship!

 

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Spring time and old inside jokes are a combination I have come to love and they both make me so hopefully about all the potential that the year has for beauty, for friendship and for fun.  I love that feelings so much. So much.