Archive for August, 2016

Of Tigers and Feathers – Day 6

Mom mentioned something about “when you go to NTU and meet someone” and I broke her off with “that’s not in the plans”.

I’m trying so hard not to be militant about it, but I can’t seem to stop myself from getting a tidge cranky when it comes up over and over and over in ways both subtle and not.

Just the other day, someone said something about my culinary prowess and how I should treat them to a home-cooked meal so I could practice the art lest I lose it.

My first reaction was: and why would it be so terrible if I lost the ability to cook well? It’s not like needing to know how to cook is a necessary life skill in Taiwan, where cooking can be cheaply outsourced, unlike the US.

My first reaction was that it was to make sure I kept as many of the traits that make me “marriable” as possible. Because gods know I don’t really fit all that many of the criteria for “preferred daughter in law”.

Yeah, I can see the side-eye of “girl, you overreacting”. I gave myself that side-eye too, fret not.

It just felt like one of those little things. Like my grandmother saying that whoever married me would be a lucky person because of my ability to whip up deliciousness.

…because that’s the point of my learning to cook well? …because that’s the summation of my work and my ability? How happy it will make some guy?

How do you measure a life?

In achievements unlocked, in people loved, in loves lost, in dreams accomplished, in hopes shattered, in haves and have nots?

Meal tickets found and lost?

Part of this journal is I really feel like I need the reminder that I am complete in of myself, and if I am not, then I need to get the hell to work on that rather than hoping someone will lift me out of the ashes.

It’s no coincidence that Cinderella is one of the fairytales I haven’t been able to find a satisfactory twist to yet.

People keep insinuating in ways large and small that it doesn’t matter what I do, if the world is fair or not, that I can solve my problems if I just find the right husband, and it’s so unbelievably damaging in all the ways.

 

It matters that racism is a problem in the country I would prefer to live in.

It matters that wage stagnation and a wage gap are issues in the country I currently live in.

It matters that there are huge issues with the whole M-formed societies we live in.

It matters that emotional labor is still seen as largely a female thing.

It matters.

 

I refuse to live in a mindset where I can “win the lottery” and cheat code my way through life by finding the right guy. Or, to game the system by finding someone who loves me and marrying them even if I don’t love them.

Of Tigers and Feathers – Day 5

Nothing much happened today. Mostly because I spent about 90% of it asleep due to a cold and whatever else ails me. I’ll try to parse out the guilt complex that threads through the notion of marriage and the reality of chronic illness later. Again, on the don’t ask don’t tell of relationship negotiations.

I was thinking about something someone said the other day, about how our generation is too selfish. The way this came up, was because she was talking about how her twin sons were content with each other for companionship and didn’t want to get married and provide her with grandchildren. According to her, her sons had told her that they saw no need to get married because she took care of the household and they were perfectly fine with just each other for their emotional needs.

It was fascinating, because I’m so used to the concept that having children is inherently selfish, in terms of consuming resources, in the sense that you are bringing a life onto this world because you want it.

But no, this lady was lambasting our generation as a whole for being too self-absorbed, too spoiled and selfish for children.

And I have to think – is that truly so bad?

There are way too many shitty parents out in the world, people who have kids just because their culture, their parents told them to, people who have kids because they don’t have a choice. Isn’t it a good thing that these two guys aren’t running out and knocking some chick(s) up simply because their mother wants grandbabies?

Isn’t choice a good thing?

Of Tigers and Feathers – Day 4

Or of gifts and burdens.

I was at my godmother’s yesterday and somehow the conversation turned to that of an outstanding young man: tall, comes from a good family (whatever that means), handsome, in a promising job, etc etc.

I wasn’t really paying attention until my cousin interjected, “Oooh, we should try to introduce him to Yingcheng (me).”

I blinked.

Two guesses as to the purposes of introducing a nice guy to me.

Turned out the dude was married already. Bummer. /irony

I’ve been fiddling with the idea of doing this journey in a daily update format, after reading someone’s scathing remark about people who aren’t alcoholics talking about day x of being sober and it being hard, but that sentence sort of clinched it.

How easy would it be to just succumb? Accept without thinking the concept that I need a man, that I in fact require a man to make my life good and worth living (read: babies), that my happily ever after doesn’t rest upon my shoulders?

Too, too easy.

Of Tigers and Feathers – Day 3

The husband thing came up again.

At this rate, this journal-memoir thing is going to write itself.

What was interesting was how it came up.

I was talking with a friend of my godmother’s. Let’s call her Fanny.

Somehow, we had come upon the topic of salaries versus real estate prices in Taiwan. The average entry level salary is about 25k NT (about $757 USD)per month, and the real estate prices here mean that the average household could go save their entire income for decades before being able to afford a home. To put this into perspective, the income to housing price ratio in New York is about 6.1, and that of Taipei is 15.

I said something about it being incredibly unfair, that it deserved revolution, and that it was insanity itself.

Fanny responded with: “Your generation is spoiled rotten. Just live at home with your parents like everyone else does until you can afford your own home.”

I was almost rendered speechless.

A bit of back and forth later, she admitted that it was unfair, but that I should simply worry about “keeping my eyes bright” and landing a good husband in order to skip over the insanity.

 

Of Tigers and Feathers: Day 2 – the question of the shelf

Ah yes, the shelf, and the corollary question of loneliness.

As a woman past the big three-oh (we’ll discuss the hilarity of that insanity later), I’m well on my way to being considered on the shelf.

There’s this notion in the air that I must make efforts to change my single status, whatever it takes, and even more interestingly – the onus is on me and me alone.

But wait, one thinks, shouldn’t the onus be on the person wanting to get married?

Yes, but we’re not just talking about the usual expectations of cleaning up, putting on a face, and walking out of the house to put myself out there (we’ll discuss this later too).

If I were to put it in marketing terms, this isn’t about flogging the product, commissioning a gorgeous cover for the book, or making sure that it’s in the right channels for widespread availability. This is the editor suggesting changes to the plot, to the characters, maybe even something that changes the story as fundamentally as whitewashing or moving the setting to a different planet.

There’s also this idea, not ever fully verbalized, that whatever it takes doesn’t just expect me to contort to fit whatever box will have me, but includes shifting my expectations, my paradigms of fairness, and changing what my notion of the ideal life would be.

And the prize in exchange for all this?

A husband (and kids).

By the way, a happy ending isn’t part of the package. That comes separate. The idea floating around me right now is to hop on the bandwagon lest it pass me by, so I will have security, and to have kids before I’m too old to have any.

 

Everything has a price, it’s true, but you need to know the value of what you’re trading and the worth of what you’re buying.

 

Who is the best person I can be, and what will singledom look like as that person?

What will my ideal life look like if I plugged the preferred version of myself into a relationship?

What will I be giving up that would be irreplaceable if I were to stay single?

What will I be sacrificing to be part of a couple?

How much does fear and loneliness factor into all of this?

How far away can I push the fear?

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

First off, I’m rejecting all the worst case scenarios that people like threatening me with.

There’s no saying that my spouse will live as long as I do.

There’s no guarantee that even if they do, that they will be willing or able to take care of me should I need it.

There’s absolutely no promising that they’ll be a shield against loneliness rather than something that causes it. One of the times I’ve felt absolutely alone was in the same bed, cuddled up to my then-boyfriend.

There are things that no one can protect you from, not even if your love is true. There are things that are beyond the best of us. And whereas the world at large loves the stories of devoted spouses working tirelessly for the people they love, I don’t believe that is the only story. Or even the preferred story. (we’ll discuss the questionable practice of over reliance later)

My friends have dragged me past the quagmires of depression, out of self-doubt, talked me down from the ledges of anxiety, prompted me to pursue my dreams, and stood by me while I struggle with an unnamed chronic illness. The person/people I would like to thank the most for helping me get to where I could publish my first book is not my then-boyfriend of nearly a decade.

And honestly, if the entire world wants a younger, prettier, more polished someone else… I refuse to believe I’m missing out. And if who I am can’t shine brighter than physical attractiveness, well then, might as well know we’re not a good fit now rather than later.

My ideal life right now is one where I have enough money to pay the bills, travel a bit, and indulge once in a while with my friends. In an ideal life, I would be writing as much as I wanted, have the means to engage in art at my whim, and have the health to do what I wish.

If I had to put what I wanted onto a checklist and shuffled them into order of importance:

1. Health/energy/time to do what I want with my life

2. A sufficiency of resources (monetary or barter or whatever makes the bills go away)

3. Friends/family to share my life with

4. My writing/art-ing

5. …?

Those are all things that I would not exchange for a husband. Everything else is negotiable, depending on the husband in question.

Compromise is a beautiful thing and I’m not saying my way or the high way, but I’ve lived a situation where what I really wanted out of life was ever so slightly out of reach because of how the relationship ended up being parsed.

Maybe one cannot have everything, but as they say: quality, price, speed, pick two. Or back in college it used to be: sleep, grades, social life, pick two.

Pick two.

Having a comfortable life and my art. That’s my two.

What’s yours?

Of Tigers and Feathers – Day 1

Yesterday at dinner, my eldest aunt started talking about how “it’s better to have daughters”.

In general, there’s only one real reason why that is said around here: post marriage in law issues. In recent years, however, it’s also been coming up regarding the general unwillingness of their sons to perform emotional labor versus their daughters’ consideration and empathy.

So what would it be this time?

Turned out to be some unholy blend of the two.

According to her, her sister in law is a lovely woman who works herself to the bone doing all the things that are expected of the wife. In this particular story, things like cooking up the New Year feasts every year, without help. Keep in mind that often there are different celebrations and thus a lot of work to be done the entire week of the lunar new year. The amount of work would be enough to drive me into seclusion every time lunar new year rolled around, but that’s just me.

This year, her daughter told her to drop everything, including her two brothers and their wives, and took her mother out on a vacation abroad.

How her daughter was able to accomplish this?

Via her amazing foreigner husband who footed the bill and took them on a wonderful trip through Europe.

 

Therefore, my aunt concluded, the obvious thing to do for me was: “We should go to the temples, burn lots of incense, and pray that you find a good husband.” Oh yeah, and do good deeds so I can deserve such a wonderful paragon who will be willing to take care of my parents when they get old.

Uh-huh.

 

Let’s sort out the (many many) threads to this mess.

Lately, there’s been a lot of bounce in my family and in the general atmosphere about how so many men get married and start worshiping their wives to the exclusion of their parents, especially after the kids come. So whereas it used to be expected of the sons in the family to take care of the parents when they get older and to do the usual filial piety things like checking in, taking the parents to the doctor’s or grocery shopping, and so forth, now it’s often the daughters who’re doing it because the new wives are frequently very meh about performing to this sort of cultural expectation.

For one thing, in-law relationships are both super ingrained and the stuff of legend around here. It almost never fails to make an appearance in any televised drama. In fact, there are shows with hundred plus episodes that focus around nothing but in-law drama. There are numerous idioms passed down through the ages about the particular hell that is dealing with your mother in law as a new wife, each one funnier (scarier) than the last.

So whereas the more self-aware mother in law tries to curb the daughter in law hating crazy and attempts to ease everyone into the new situation, there are still women who go “this is how I ground my way through” and lay down the law and haze (yes, it’s hazing). Because, of course, why let someone take the school bus or, gods forbid, drive them to school when you personally had to walk uphill to school both ways in a raging typhoon?

For another thing, in our section of the world, we haven’t quite moved past the cultural expectation that a married son will still live with his parents so he can help take care of them. As one might think, this assumption is really interfacing badly with more modern thinking. Unfortunately, in Taiwan, a combination of helicopter parenting and general economic crazy (for some ungodly reason, real estate here is in the top five expensive in the world) means that most men do live with their parents at home and then it’s a whole stinky kettle of rotted fish to try and change that post-marriage.

For yet another aspect to the insanity: grandparents here expect lots of access to any children that might result from an union. These are their little passes to the only version of immortality open to us, after all. And with the economy as it is, oftentimes parents will have to leave their kids with the grandparents in order for both parents to go to work. This, of course, complicates the whole question of moving out.

Then there’s the usual bullshit where there’s the pay gap (smaller than the US though) and the still-prevalent (if somewhat more muted than other countries) expectation that a woman will give up her job to stay at home after marriage (because duh, children). I would not be surprised if this fueled part of the on-going expectation that it will be the son’s job to take care of the parents.

So there’s that snarling mess of piranha-teethed worms. (yes, I imported an alien species just so I could say that)

 

It’s fascinating how there’s this gradual shift from reliance on the sons to depending on the daughters, and how instead of looking at how screwed up the situation is and going “oh hey, maybe we should fix all these fucked up factors”, some people’s reaction is to try and patch things up with non-solutions.

 

Of Tigers and Feathers – a romantic’s journey through singledom

Why this project?

The seed for this started with Jess Zimmerman’s essay on hunger and how what the world sees as a man’s hearty appetite equals that same world’s definition of a woman’s avaricious voracity.

It started me thinking.

In what ways have I been curtailed and starved as a woman? Society’s thoughts on whether I’m skinny enough, pretty enough, compliant enough, submissive enough, kind enough, gentle enough. Read: feminine enough. Because it’s 2016 and we still have enough outdated gender notions to sink the Titanic.

In what ways have I been told “no, that’s enough” as an immigrant? To be grateful that I’m allowed on this hallowed ground. To be grateful that I’m part of a “model minority” easily allowed a visa and not one of those illegal aliens to be deported on sight. To be grateful for the things I have, and if I’m not sufficiently ecstatic, to “go home”.

In what ways have I been squeezed and packed into a plexiglass cube as a person of color? Almost always the demure sidekick as opposed to the heroine, the helpless foil to the main character’s sassy kick-ass personality, the shy introvert in need of a white savior. If not the red shirt, then the slinky, sly, sexy femme fatale out to get the heroine’s man, no matter his disdain or outright insult. Or simply invisible in the vast seas of media, no matter if the setting is historical anywhere to a thousand years later in space to places of sheer fantasy where vampires and werewolves roam.

In what ways have I been scoffed at for wanting more as an artist? Told to be grateful that anyone wants to read me at all. Mocked for the thought of wanting to make a living off something I enjoy. Treated with gentle condescension, patted on the head, and told I’d have to get a real job so I could live in the real world.

And then there’s the idea of being neuro-typical. Of being gender normative in the way your particular society wants. Of conforming, always conforming.

How have I been starved? How am I hungry? What will feed me versus what will nourish me?

Then, I read Kristi Coulter’s essay about the real reasons why women drink. As someone who regularly turned to cocktails to get through the day/month/year and who really bought into the “oh, your day blew? Have a drink!” band-aid kool-aid in the past, I cringed and nodded my way through.

Your boyfriend refuses to help out around the house? Pick up a glass of wine, put on some music, and vacuum the floor yourself.

Your boss is a racist sexist dickhead? Throw back a shot or three and keep trucking.

Your health insurance doesn’t cover dental or the tests for your mysterious chronic illness and you’re fielding medical bills seemingly aimed to get you bankrupt? Here’s a fifth of whiskey, now hush.

You’re stressing out because you can’t find affordable daycare but you also can’t afford to stay at home? Have a “mommy juice” and laugh your woes away.

And it all circled back to the question of hunger, of “hysterical” demands, of not being allowed to ask for what we need to survive and thrive. We’re not just drinking because it’s fun; we’re drinking to numb the pangs of starvation.

Let’s drink to forget so we can keep on keeping on in a country that doesn’t offer adequate support to new parents, that speaks of freedom and liberating the world but refuses to face up to its own racist and sexist agendas, that expects its citizens to be the best and brightest without offering the scaffolding required to build them up.

Let’s drink so we don’t fight, so we can all pretend that everything’s just fine.

Then, I strolled over to Kristi Coulter’s blog about sobriety and it really hit me, how in many ways abstaining from alcohol was similar to abstaining from other similarly mind-altering things. Things like using spirituality to hide gaping wounds. Like using relationships to try and keep back the darkness. Like relying on everything except myself for what I need. Like chasing everything shiny to block out the screaming emptiness inside.

 

Of Tigers and Feathers is an exploration into hunger, into the depths to find the source of that hidden ache, and hopefully into a state where I can not only acknowledge what I need, but find ways to be satiated and feed others.

Don’t ask; don’t tell – chronic illness edition (intersection with fat shaming)

It’s funny, but living with a chronic illness means that sometimes I feel like every moment of my life has to be justified and explained and asked permission for.  Especially situations when I appear to be having fun.

Almost everyone has an opinion on how I should fix things. Almost everyone has a hypothesis about what I’m doing wrong. Spoiler: it’s because I’m fat.

Persistent inability to breathe? Because I’m fat.

PCOS? Because I’m fat.

Depression? Because I’m fat.

ADD? Clearly because I’m fat.

Inability to gain rest from sleep? Because I like my cake, duh.

Weirdly painful periods involving enough blood to make my bed look like a murder scene? Because the gods are punishing me for loving my carbs, natch.

It’s my responsibility to keep going to doctors even though no one really has either solutions or even a proper diagnosis. (you’re just fat. lose weight and you’ll be all better.)

It’s my responsibility to constantly apologize for anything I do that is less than perfectly healthful (bonus negative points because no one really seems to agree on anything… except that I’m fat) and to essentially ask permission for being sick.

It’s my responsibility to try everything under the sun to fix myself, because if something isn’t working it’s because I’m not doing it enough. (oh, you have no energy because you feel like you can barely breathe all the time? exercise! oh, you’re walking 5 miles a day and it’s not helping? clearly exercise harder and more!)

And most recently?

My godmother very sincerely told me to never tell anyone about my health issues.

Not my future friends because they might stigmatize me or they might let something slip to the wrong person (read: everyone) and cost me a job or a promotion or an internship or *gasp* a relationship.

Not my future colleagues because of the same.

Definitely not my teachers or my supervisors because that’d be torpedoing my future.

Absolutely not anyone I might have a relationship with because … duh, who would want me if they knew of all this?

….

*blink blink blink*

So. This is a thing.

Welp.

Fuck that thing.

For one:

I’ve never been much for the dark secret conflict plot type of romance novels and so I really don’t intend to write that sort of bullshit into my life. Besides, “I live with a chronic invisible illness that no one can diagnose and no one has solutions for” is a pretty shitty sort of dark secret in terms of jaw-dropping drama bombing.

Even though, seriously, I think it might be legit grounds for divorce for keeping this sort of thing from your significant other. Chronic invisible illnesses might not make for awesome screentime drama-emoing, but in terms of how much it actually affects a life with another person, it’s a sight worse than having a secret baby or being a step-sibling or being the bastard love child of a mafia boss or whatever is trending right now.

For another:

I don’t want to be any part of the crazy. I don’t want to be friends or lovers with someone who doesn’t get it because this isn’t just about me, it’s about everyone else dealing with the bullshit.

I’m not going to be part of the problem. I’m not going to go around indiscriminately screaming about my issues, but you can bet your entire net worth that I’m not going to hide it from people who intersect my life in meaningful ways.

I have a chronic illness. No, I don’t know what it is. All I know is that it affects almost every aspect of my life. I often can’t suck in enough oxygen to keep my brain going. I can sleep for sixteen hours and wake up exhausted. I very often have only just enough spoons to get out of bed and keep myself fed (and sometimes not even that). I get drained by social interaction, no matter how much I enjoy it or how much I like you and if I get too drained, it can be bad enough that I have to retreat to bed for a day or two. I get random weird pains that might or might not land me in bed for days from the most innocuous of activities (once was laid up for seven days with debilitating lower back pain after I attended a three hour seminar; should make going back to school where all the classes are in three hour blocks very exciting in that roulette sort of way).

And now for the non-Hallmark sidenotes:

No, this doesn’t make me “stronger” as a person. I survive. I often feel like I survive badly. I don’t see much benefit to living with this level of quality of life. If anything, I sometimes feel like the smarter, braver thing to do would be to just end it.

No, I’m not a magically happier person. I don’t necessarily appreciate what I have more when I have the wherewithal to appreciate it. Oftentimes the not-bad days are crammed with “must do all of the things to keep life moving” rather than “oh my, this is nice, I’m going to enjoy life because I can actually smell the roses without shooting pain through my back today”.

No, I don’t automatically have some sort of wisdom or patience or whatever qualification for sainthood because I live with pain, almost perpetual exhaustion and a persistent lack of oxygen.

I’m not saying I’m a special snowflake. Having a not-perfect body is part of life and almost everyone will encounter a phase like this at some point. There will always be someone who is suffering more than me; that doesn’t in any way negate what I experience daily.

It’s your choice whether or not to make allowances for my limitations; I don’t expect it. All I ask for is the basics of respect and humanity.

I make no excuses, give no fucks, and tell it how it is. You should feel free to do the same.

I can be a flakey friend. I routinely drop off the face of the planet when I get sick. It’s your prerogative to decide you don’t want to deal with that.

I can be a difficult person to love. I have limited resources and the answer might be “no” a lot of the time. It’s your call as to whether that’s a deal breaker.

That’s okay.

I’m going to be honest about my limitations. You should definitely feel free to do the same.

 

P.S: No, it’s not because I’m fat.