“Dancing Toward Bethlehem”

In another sampling of “Yvonne remembers her dreams” again, last night, I dreamt that I was standing in a music studio with Brian Littrell, the lead (or who I considered the “lead”) singer of the Backstreet Boys, and we were discussing the poet Billy Collins’s poem “Dancing Toward Bethlehem.” I’ve recently started re-reading poems that I enjoyed back in high school and college for nostalgia’s sake, and also because I’ve been reading the more modern poetry of Rupi Kaur. This was a very odd discussion, though, because we were exploring how to dissect and potentially rearrange this poem to make it into a song. I have no ear for anything, but Brian was attempting to make certain lines of the poem into a chorus and hum tunes for what he thought was fitting, while I was trying to figure out which parts of the poem would be good for a chorus and/or a bridge.

The strangest part of this entire dialogue and exchange was that we never once took our eyes off each other’s eyes. It was as though we had the poem memorized, and the only place our eyes could look towards was each others’.

I don’t even know what that means.

If you were interested, this is the magical poem we were deliberating over:

Dancing Toward Bethlehem

by Billy Collins

If there is only enough time in the final
minutes of the twentieth century for one last dance
I would like to be dancing it slowly with you,

say, in the ballroom of a seaside hotel.
My palm would press into the small of your back
as the past hundred years collapsed into a pile
of mirrors or buttons or frivolous shoes,

just as the floor of the nineteenth century gave way
and disappeared in a red cloud of brick dust.
There will be no time to order another drink
or worry about what was never said,

not with the orchestra sliding into the sea
and all our attention devoted to humming
whatever it was they were playing.

Steam cleaned engagement ring

My engagement ring was always too small. When Chris first proposed with it four years ago, we struggled to get it on my finger, and then really struggled to get it off. It’s always been the most frustrating when it’s hot outside because that’s when my fingers swell, just like my mom’s do, and I’d need to pry it off after applying soapy water to my hands. So finally, a couple weeks ago, I decided to have it sent in to be resized just a half size bigger, and when it came back, it was amazing: you’d be shocked to see what a difference just a half size in a ring makes. Not only that, the company also tightened all the prongs and professionally steam cleaned my ring, so now, this ring looks almost better than it did when I first received it. When I opened the box, I couldn’t stop staring at how clear it looked. It was almost newer than new, and in some ways, looked like a different stone.

Since I’ve started wearing it again, I’ve gotten no less than half a dozen different people asking me if I just got married or received a new engagement ring. Today, while having my highlights redone with my hair stylist, she randomly exclaimed, “Wow, girl! I love your ring! It looks like brand new! Did he get you a new one?”

It’s definitely not new, but it certainly feels like it’s new all over again given all the attention this ring has suddenly started receiving again. This professional steam clean really paid off, even though it cost nothing.

Extroverted introvert

This week, I’ve spent four intense days in our San Francisco office, and also at our offsite at the Grand Hyatt in downtown with my team coming from across the globe. It’s been extremely enjoyable for me to connect in person, in meetings and over tea and meals, with my colleagues, some of whom I call friends. It’s been non-stop catch-ups and walks with so many people since I’ve arrived. I love seeing colleagues and friends I have not seen in a while and reconnecting with them. I enjoy sharing random anecdotes, travel and customer stories, and laughing about ridiculous experiences. I love learning new things about people that I didn’t know before. I’m always curious to find out more about everyone, to uncover the things that others do not know. As an extrovert, I derive so much energy in the presence of others, particularly those I find intellectually stimulating, humorous, and fun to be around. But as an introvert, when all of this is done, as it is for me tonight as I am headed to the airport to return back to New York on a red eye, I relish my alone time and enjoy not speaking to anyone, putting my earbuds in and listening to my book or my music. I enjoy being in the company of no one I recognize or know, and not being obligated to speak to anyone or have any type of conversation. Though I am the type of person who enjoys striking up conversations with complete strangers, when I’m in transit, especially when flying, I’d prefer not to chat at all unless it’s initiated by someone else.

I feel my extrovert and introvert all the time. They’re not necessarily at odds, but while some like the labels of being one or the other, I feel very firmly in the center of both.

My brother stood out.

After lunch at home with my parents yesterday, we went to the Columbarium to visit Ed. After spending some time cleaning the glass of his niche and peering into the little world I built for him, it was time to bid him farewell for now. On our way out, I went into the main building and ended up meeting the new family service counselor. She’d actually been there for a couple years now, and we had just not met yet. Part of her job is to go around to each of the halls in the Columbarium to do routine checks of each niche to make sure each is in good shape. She asked me what my brother’s name is, and I told her. “Edward?” she repeated, surprised. “Wait, is he in the Hall of Olympians? He’s the one who has the Simpsons family with him?”

I almost lost my breath. I just stared at her and felt chills all over my body. How is it possible that in what is probably thousands of niches throughout this historic building that she could remember Ed’s over all of the others?

When she first began about two years ago, she walked around and browsed the niches, trying to get a feel for the place that she called her new workplace. She said she immediately noticed Ed’s niche. Ed’s niche was the one that touched her the most, and she kept wondering what happened to him and what the stories were behind the Simpsons and the other trinkets that decorated the surrounds of his urn.

She said that she felt for me because she also lost a sibling recently, as well. A couple of years ago, she was on a family vacation with her four siblings and parents when suddenly, one of her sisters was found dead in her hotel room by their father. She was just 34. “34?” I said. “Ed was just a month shy of his 34th birthday when he died.” Our eyes just locked. “That is just too strange, too much of a coincidence,” she responded pensively. Her sister also had a decades long struggle with depression. Another sister had attempted suicide. It was all too real for her, too.

She told my dad and me that we did a really good job decorating Ed’s niche. My dad shifted a bit and cracked a little smile. “Well, that was all Yvonne,” my dad said, looking down, still smiling. “Yvonne did everything and organized it all for him.”

“Well, then, you did a really great job,” she said to me. “I don’t think you realize how many people you unknowingly touch and how they can feel your brother through his niche.”

She said she was so happy we met, and that she got to meet the person who decorated that memorable niche. I’m still feeling strange that this meeting occurred, that we have these tragic commonalities, that she was so touched by my brother’s niche that she’d remember it and say it stood out from the others. I wonder if Ed was listening to that conversation.

Between the World and Me

This month, I’ve been slowly reading the journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book Between the World and Me, a collection of letters he’s written to his young son to prepare him to be a part of a world where white people dominate and black people have historically and through this day been discriminated against. It’s not a long book at all, but it’s one of those books that you have to digest a little bit at a time because its sentiments are very painful and raw. It’s taken me some time to fully take in what Coates is expressing. It’s a bit jarring to think that we live in a world where the color of our skin really matters so much  many decades after events such as the abolishment of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and even having a half-black president of the U.S.

I’m disgusted, but not surprised, to see the negative reviews of white readers who have read Coates’s book on Amazon, stating that they felt that Coates was attacking them for being born white with inherent privilege, that they should feel guilty for being white and never knowing what it’s like to be discriminated based on skin color. It’s one thing to be aware of one’s privilege; it’s another thing to altogether act as though it does not exist and to be defensive about it. It’s as though they are blind to the pain of people of color solely because of their own privilege, or they choose not to see it. The inability to see what causes pain, even when it’s right in front of our eyes, is obviously a very human reaction, a sort of defense mechanism to protect oneself. But being defensive, however human that reaction is, fails to serve anyone well or to help our country or world progress. We need more empathy, a stronger and greater desire to understand the experiences we personally have not experienced ourselves, but experiences we are cognizant exist and are the everyday reality for others who look different from us, who lead completely different lives from us, who see the world through a different lens because their world, frankly, is not the same as ours, even though we may ignorantly believe we all live in the same reality.

This is one of those books that I think everyone should read, but I know not everyone will.

 

Rainier Maria Rilke on Marriage

When I was in middle school, I thumbed through Rainier Maria Rilke’s book Letters to a Young Poet. I’m tempted to read it again now, as when I think about relationships, my thoughts often return to what I read in that book. He was the kind of writer who, when you read his writing, it kind of just stays with you and soaks itself in your head. And then at random moments during the day after reading his words, those words just come back to you without you even consciously thinking about it.

The quote that always comes back to me, which apparently on the web is oftentimes cited, is this one:

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

It aligns with what I’ve thought to be the ideal relationship: one in which two people do not become one (the idea of being “joined at the hip” has always made me want to vomit in my mouth; those couples I meet at weddings or parties where they cannot allow the other to have a 1:1 conversation have always disgusted me), or the idea that after marriage, a spouse must stop doing all the things she’s loved doing individually or with others. The ideal relationship is one in which the two spouses can still be their individual selves with their individual loves and hates and opinions, but when joined together, enrich each others’ lives with their similarities as well as their differences. They relish in each others’ company, but they also respect each others’ boundaries and allow each other to be themselves and have their own time and opinions. They have shared experiences, but not everything will be shared, whether it’s experience or outlook or opinion, and that’s healthy and fine. They are still individuals, right? They grow together, with each other, and motivate each other to be the best version of themselves. They challenge each other to be better, to be happier and more developed. They accept that they have an understanding of each other, but they may not always understand each other fully, and that is healthy and normal because even one cannot fully understand oneself fully, so how can we expect our partners to? At the end of the day, they trust each other. They may betray each other’s trust at times, but they will love each other to the point where they can have forgiveness and learn from the times of betrayed trust. We’re all human beings. We’re imperfect. We’re going to mess up. It’s okay. And that’s just part of life and growing.

As a society, we have such unrealistic expectations of romantic relationships, of marriage. So it’s no wonder that the divorce and separation rates are so high, that people are always in and out of relationships, that we keep seeking out “the perfect one” but it usually ends up in vain, or we “settle.” But perhaps we should be more forgiving, more open minded, more questioning of these unrealistic expectations to create our own that are more in line with what we think should be right and good for ourselves.

Sky of Red Poppies

For the last month, I’ve been reading Zohreh Ghahremani’s book Sky of Red Poppies, which is a book about two girls’ controversial friendship during the rule of the Shah, and into the Iranian revolution. I finally finished it on the plane ride back from Miami today, and as the plane descended, we got to the part of the book where Roya, the main character, learns that after she’s moved to the U.S., her brother got killed during one of the protests as an innocent bystander, and her family kept his death from her for months, if not years. No one mentioned his passing to her over the phone when she’d call; they’d insist that he was busy, not there, or “just didn’t want to talk on the phone.” She was filled with so much shock, despair, and outrage.. she didn’t even know how to mourn him properly. As soon as my eyes reached these pages, they overflowed with tears. I felt knots in my stomach. I don’t even know these people… they’re all fictional, just a story in my head. But it hurt so much to read this. Sibling death is too close to me, and to think that it would be kept a secret is just so devastating. I used to have nightmares of things like this happening, of my brother or my father dying, and my mom never telling me… or telling me months after the fact. These are the moments when I miss Ed and really wish he were alive and healthy.

Saffron

As long as I have been cooking, saffron was always known to me as the most coveted and most valuable (money wise) spice in the world. It’s often been said that saffron is more expensive than gold by weight. Given that at Costco, the equivalent of about one tablespoon of Spanish saffron costs $10, I can only imagine how much it would cost at regular market price.

My friend recently came back from Spain and bought me a small bottle of saffron, and I’d been waiting for the “right” use for it until today, when I decided to make Persian herbed rice. I crushed the little strands into a powder and steeped the little precious bits in hot water to draw out all the aromas. And then I inhaled it. Well, it certainly smelled real.

It was absolutely nothing like the fake saffron I bought when I was in Budapest over three years ago. I got so excited when I was at a market there and found a bag of saffron for the equivalent of a few dollars, and stupidly I bought it and thought I’d gotten the best deal ever! When I got home, I prepared a finishing sauce for chicken with the “saffron” and ended up throwing all the sauce out. That “saffron” was the most bitter “herb” I’d ever added to anything I’d ever cooked. I really got what I paid for.

Never again. I’m going to relish these last few strands of saffron I have left.

Indian runner ducks

One of Chris’s absolute favorite wine regions of the world is South Africa. Maybe it’s because the region has a similar climate as that of Margaret River, one of his other favorites in Australia, but the wine is delicious here and relatively inexpensive. We booked probably the cheapest wine/food tour we’ve ever done with a small company here that seeks to help visitors understand wine better by visiting smaller, more local producers.

The first wine farm we visited was Vergenoegd Wine Estate, which is in the Stellenbosch region just outside of the city of Cape Town. They are famous for their biodiversity certification they’ve received, which is all due to the fact that they use over a thousand Indian runner ducks to feed on the pests, such as insects and snails, that grow on the grape vines. A few times a day, they unleash these herds of ducks into the vineyards during what they call a “duck parade,” where the workers all usher them from the pond and farm area out to the vineyards. In the middle of our tasting, we were interrupted by the duck parade call, and we all went out to gather to see the ducks being herded. It was the cutest spectacle — these skinny, tall-necked ducks quacking and waddling their way from the water along the grass, then along the paved walkways into the vineyards. I’d never seen anything like that before, and certainly never imagined this being a use case for ducks — organically pest-controlling a vineyard! The sheer number of ducks was incredible. You could also see the different duck personalities coming out because some refused to be herded, and instead established a “rebel” pack right under a tree for shade. Some of the workers saw them and started picking them up to go instead.

The techniques used around the world to be more sustainable and better to the planet never seize to amaze me. In this case, I just never thought that it would provide me this much entertainment.

Do more, be more

Tonight, I was sitting at the Argo Tea at Broadway and 22nd Street, chatting with a Wellesley prospective at her admissions interview… with me. I honestly don’t give much money back to Wellesley, so I figure one small way I can give back is by being a Wellesley admissions representative and doing admissions interviews. My time is worth money, right?

She started out quite timid and awkward in both speech and body language. She began by making a lot of statements and not knowing how to back them up. I wasn’t quite clear on what she stood for until we got to the subject of public health, which is an area of passion for her. Her high school sounded very diverse and had a variety of classes that I would have loved to take when I was her age: public health, sociology, Latin American history, engineering (okay, I wouldn’t have loved to take that last one). But once we got to the topic of public health, of her awareness of the disparity merely across public schools in terms of educating on topics ranging from menstruation to birth control to STDs, of her anger that so many kids grow into adults and have no idea what a pap smear or gonorrhea are, she really shined and was her authentic self.

She talked about wanting to pursue public health as a career, and how her parents, typical Asian immigrant parents, told her it was a terrible idea, and why spend all this time and money going to school and then come out making nothing? “Other people pursue these careers and end up just fine,” she said to me. “I’ll be okay. I just want to do something I’m passionate about that can help others. I don’t want people to be unaware of things they should be aware of.”

The last week has made me think a lot about self-awareness and what we all stand for as individuals. What are we all passionate about and care about? And this led into the conversation I had at dinner at my apartment tonight with my friend, who lives just a few blocks away. He told me he doesn’t think there are enough people who are consciously thinking about how they can contribute to the world more and be better people. That’s… sadly probably true. Most people are so unaware that when you point out the most obvious things about them, they immediately go into denial and reject the idea before they’ve had even ten seconds to think about whether what we’ve said could be true. We’d be a better world if everyone consciously spent more time thinking about their own self-improvement and how to take action on that. He joked that it probably would be a great religion because there’s really no religion either of us could think of that focused on self-improvement.

The level of delusion that most people have is so ridiculous and depressing. I think the idea of a religion based on self-improvement would be offensive to them.