“Why do you like your in-laws?”

This question was asked to me yesterday by my therapist during our session. Why do I like them? Well, that’s an easy question to answer. The very plain and quick answer is, they are good, happy people who only have the best intentions and want to see the best in everyone else. I’m not full of shit when I say that. I really mean it. The longer answer to that question is that what makes up these very good, happy people are interests and passions that also interest me: food, culture, travel, politics, daily observations of the world that are actually valid and insightful. It’s true, though. I’m not going to like or get along with everyone who says they have these things as interests. One person could say he’s into food and cooking. A colleague I don’t like is like that. When I realized what kind of food and cooking he’s into (just food that originated in Europe? You just make chili and enchiladas?), I realized… we have nothing in common. You’re not as exploratory as I was hoping.

So I like my parents-in-law as actual people. This is why. I could go on all day about everything interesting that we’ve discussed that feels like a substantial conversation. “Do you like your parents?” she asked me. I responded, “Do you mean, if they were not my parents, would I want to be friends with them?” She nodded. “No, no way.”


Today, I met with my therapist, and I was describing to her why I was annoyed about my mom’s reaction to Chris’s parents coming last night. As I’m telling her what transpired, she cuts me off at some point and says that she’s made the observation about me that when I discuss something that is very emotional or sensitive that I laugh. That’s true, I said. In fact, Chris has pointed this out about me relatively recently. Why do you think you do it? She asked. My initial response was for external reasons, that it was to make other people feel more comfortable about a topic that was not comfortable at all. She breaks into a little smile and says, Do you think you need to make me feel comfortable? Hm. Well, that’s a good point.

Why do you laugh? She asked. And I said that in 99% of these situations, I just think the overall thing that happened is ridiculous or just plain stupid. Why would she just predict that Chris’s parents would not be nice? Or why would she get so mad and hold a grudge because one isolated time, someone asked her if she wanted to remove her hat when entering someone else’s house? These things are not a big deal at all to normal people. My therapist responded, yes, that may be the case and is usually the case, but can I say that I think you do this because it’s your way of expressing your anger, and instead of allowing yourself to feel, you try to skip the anger feeling and go immediately into the “that’s ridiculous!” laugh feeling?

Yes, it’s probably true. Now I need to stop laughing at myself as much when I describe these situations to outsiders.

I guess I’m never going to fully get over my anger toward my parents. It’s just a fact that I need to deal with for the rest of my life. But I think so far, I’m doing a pretty decent job considering how much I talk to them proactively and how often I go home and do my good-daughter duties.

The in-laws are coming

Some people are flat out lying or plainly bullshitting when they say this, but I love my parents-in-law. They are so normal that they make you question whether normal is really “real,” and whether they are just some mirage that your subconscious made up because this is what you’ve always wanted for in-laws. They enjoy life for what it is and seem to only point out the most positive aspects of even the worst situations. It’s a world away from what I’ve grown up in. So you can imagine how annoyed I can get when my mother starts pre-judging their eventual meeting, which will be taking place in San Francisco when my in-laws will be traveling there next week. They will be arriving and staying with us here in New York beginning tomorrow night, and next Tuesday, they will fly to San Francisco. Chris will be going, too, with an overlapping work trip, so all five of them will have dinner together. My parents will be meeting my in-laws for the first time. And I will not be there. What an invigorating situation to be missing.

My mom is on the phone with me tonight, asking me if they are “really” nice, or if I am just making it up. Yes, because I lie all about my in-laws and how much I love them just because it sounds good. “I hope they are nice,” she says over the phone to me. “Of course they are going to be nice!” I exclaim, hearing the irritation coming out in the shrillness of my voice. “Well, we will see,” she says, doubtfully.

The problem with this type of negativity is that she’s already decided that there will be something wrong with Chris’s parents, anything wrong, somewhere. Even if this dinner goes smoothly and all is roses and blue skies, in her head, she wants something to be wrong. So she will search for things that she does not like either about them or the dinner or meeting itself. In just over a week, I will hear some criticism of hers of them. She may get annoyed that she payed the bill and they didn’t fight over it “enough.” She may get mad at the way Chris’s mom looked at her when they first make eye contact. I have no idea. But I know for a fact she will say something critical.

And if she doesn’t, then perhaps I have become a more version of my mother and only expect bad things to happen.

Dust balls

These are the times when I get really frustrated at New York City, when it is spring time, and Chris and I are getting ready for his parents’ arrival at our apartment, and we amass dust balls the size of our heads under our bed and couch and dresser. This city is like a rodent, roach, and dust ball magnet. There really aren’t enough to go around in this great big metropolis, are there?

We are spending the last night before Chris goes to Chicago for work to make sure everything is clean and tidy for his parents’ arrival on Wednesday. As we are going through bags of clutter and things to toss out, I’m lamenting all the things I have hidden in my old big suitcase I used to move from Boston to New York: a rolling pin, oversized cookie sheets, a real oven rack, pie pans, and lots and lots of picture frames, all of which Ed gave me, that we have zero space for in our tiny Manhattan apartment. It’s either I am getting old, or I am just tiring of New York in general. We have no space where I can comfortably put all my supplies or access them easily. My scrapbooking material is in several boxes being hidden under the bed while Chris’s parents stay with us. I even have Christmas ornaments I have collected over the years all in a bin under the bed, getting no love because we have no Christmas tree of our own to put themon. I feel cooped up and wonder how much longer we will need to keep living like this. I think I just got a wrinkle thinking about it.

Appam and yeast

The first time I made appam, otherwise known as a South Indian coconut and rice based pancake that is fermented, I did it the very un-traditional way and used baking soda instead of yeast or hot toddy. It came out almost perfectly; it probably would have been better if I had thinned out the batter a bit and also had a real appam chetty pan to get the correct shape. Today, for a small dinner party at home, I attempted to use a supposedly more “authentic” recipe that uses yeast, and the texture was all wrong — spongy instead of light, airy, and fluffy. The taste also seemed to have more of that fermented taste that I wasn’t so sure about. That’s not how I remember it tasting when Chris’s mum made it or the last time I made it a year and a half ago.

I was so irritated about how I had failed that I mentioned it a few times to my friends when they came over. They couldn’t tell the difference since this was their first time having it, and they insisted I was being overly critical. It’s true. I was being overly critical, but I tend to be this way about things that I am passionate about, and cooking is clearly in this area. I hate messing up and disappointing myself. We are all perfectionists about some aspects of our lives; that’s how we encourage ourselves to become better versions of ourselves and constantly improve. At least, that’s what I believe.

An “assignment”

This morning, I went to another mentoring session with my K-8 school in Harlem. Because there was some misunderstanding with the kids regarding today’s session, most did not show up, resulting in approximately two mentors being paired up with one mentee for activities today. Another mentor and I sat with a girl as we discussed goal setting. She shared a notebook with us of a story she had begun to write. The story started with “Once upon a time…” and included some drawings.

As I’m looking at her writing and smiling at her misspellings, I suddenly remembered an “assignment” my mom would give me in my first few years of kindergarten through elementary school. When I first began writing, my mom encouraged me to read and write as much as possible. Because she worked full time, I wouldn’t see her until she’d come home from work around 6pm. At the beginning of the day, she’d walk me to school and drop me off, and she’d remind me about what she expected of me when she came home from work. She said that in my notebook, I had to write her a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and that she looked forward to reading it when she came back. When this first began, I literally would write silly things like, “Once upon a time, there was a girl with long pigtails. She had a cute dog she played with. And they lived happily ever after in the fields of roses.” Well, I guess I had to start somewhere. I was just 5 then. But as the years went on through the end of elementary school when I was 10, these writings would evolve into full blown stories with complicated plots and surprising endings, and the length would be in excess of ten to fifteen pages on 8″ x 11.5″ binder paper. In third grade, I started sharing these stories with my classmates and teacher, and during silent reading time, the kids would fight over my stapled binder paper stories. Once, a story got torn up in the fight. Our teacher had to get involved to stop it.

I guess this is where my love of writing began, and it’s also how I started developing these really long sentence structures that the average person never writes in. My sixth grade English teacher was the first person to say this to me, that I have a gift of expression and a gift of writing. How do you know when you are different or have any type of talent? Someone usually needs to point this out to you. Some idiot I once met told me that my sentences were run-ons because they were so long. I responded back that I don’t even know how to write a run-on sentence, and that there’s nothing “run-on” about my sentences; they are just complex, unlike him. I never even realized how different my writing was from the average person until around 6th grade, when I read someone else’s writing in a peer review. And I thought their sentences and general expression were crap and completely inferior to my own. I guess that’s also when I started becoming a more confident person. 🙂

What struck me during this mentoring session, though, was how after all this time, I had completely forgotten about this “assignment” my mom gave me. I had a weird moment looking over this girl’s notebook and remembering my past. I usually pride myself on remembering these types of details. “When I was your age,” I thought to myself, “I was writing crazy stories to entertain my class.”

Suicide Shatters article

I recently started following the Suicide Shatters page on Facebook, and today, I saw this article written by Kristina Cowan, who has experienced the death of immediate family twice in her life, the first was her mother’s to cancer, the second was her brother’s to suicide. She quotes a line from Dr. Maxine Harris’s book, The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father. : “[I]t only takes one shattering event of sufficient magnitude to change one’s core beliefs about life.”

In Cowan’s own words, she writes, “They’ve changed my beliefs — for the better. I’ve learned not to ask why bad things happen, but how to cope well with such bad things, and turn them into something glorious. For me that means when I remember my brother, I’m challenged to love the people around me better, to forgive faster than I’m inclined, and to be kind when I’d rather not.” I understand and feel a lot of what she feels. I have always been a kind person, but now I’m even kinder to people, especially strangers… even the ones who bump into me on the street. But at the same time, I think I am far less tolerant of a lot of things: lack of empathy and compassion, arrogance without something concrete to back it up, and even things like people interrupting me or each other in group settings. I’m less patient with complaining and irrational worry, and I’m also far more critical of day to day superficiality that people seem to love to discuss and fill their lives with. Example: the other day, a colleague gave me a really hard time for not remembering the name of some famous actor (apparently it was Jared Leto). She said, “Yvonne, really? How can you not know this?” Chances are that someone who says something like this is probably really catty and gossipy in real life with her own friends, and she’s not someone I’d want to waste my breath on at work. I simply responded that I don’t really focus on celebrities and their lives in my free time. She got the message… At least, I think she did. And I’m sure she also wrote some nasty instant messages about me after. I really can’t be bothered by people’s stupidities and shallowness. Some might find this narrow minded of me, but I don’t want that kind of life. There’s an art to not giving a shit. It’s important to judge people not by isolated comments or conversations, but as a whole person. And she as a whole person is not appealing to me.

AFSP appreciation event

Tonight, I was invited to attend the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s first appreciation event for top fundraisers. The group was far bigger than I thought it would be — there were at least 30 people who attended, a mix of fundraisers/walkers, board members, and junior board members of the New York City chapter across all five boroughs. I spoke with a number of fundraisers and board members, and it was a great feeling to be part of a group of people who were clearly passionate about the cause we’re all supporting. One junior board member I spoke with had lost her aunt, who was also her godmother, to suicide a year ago. Another fundraiser, whose first name I recognized from the top fundraisers list last year, had lost her little brother to suicide in December 2013, just five months after Ed passed away. Talking to her hit very close to home for me. Even though Ed was really my older brother, in so many ways, he felt like my younger brother. He never had a real opportunity to grow up to be a mature adult. It wasn’t his fault, though.

She talked about the pain and shock she experienced when she learned her brother had died, and she said that she began seeing a therapist about a year after his suicide. She was diagnosed with “complicated grief,” which is a condition in which a person has lost someone close to her to death, but the survivor struggles to grapple with the death, which results in time moving on, but the survivor not. I had no idea this was even a condition one could be diagnosed with.

One thing she said really resonated with me — she was so angry afterwards when some of her own family and friends just withdrew from her. It’s as though as soon as they knew her brother died and it was because of suicide that they decided to just ignore her, some for over a year. That made me so angry. I could actually feel pain seep through me when she said this, and I could see the hurt on her face as she described the whole experience. “I get that people don’t always know how to respond when someone has died, especially when it’s something as sensitive as suicide,” she said. “I was like that for a long time before my brother died. But sometimes, it doesn’t really matter what you say or do as long as you say or do something. Just show that you are there and care.” She said that after that experience, she realized who her real friends were and who really cared, and she just separated herself from the ones who turned away from her. It’s so interesting how similar this is to my own experience and how I changed my own outlook on people after that.

Exchanging experiences with her was emotional for me, as many moments I held back tears listening to her speak about how isolated and alone she felt, and how she felt like she could never really be herself ever again. I still feel moments throughout every day since Ed has passed when I feel like no one really understands me or what I’ve gone through, not just because of Ed’s suicide, but because of all the experiences in our lives that led up to that hellish moment he jumped off that bridge. Everyone seems to think it’s all about his suicide. If he were still here and struggling, no one would pay me any attention. And even worse, no one would pay him any attention, as they did up until the point he died. We all know this is true as awful as it is to write it out. When you have someone very close to you experience mental illness and/or suicide, the way you view the world is completely different. There’s a completely different level of empathy you have for what others’ experiences are and how they perceive the rest of the universe. There’s little that can accurately describe it. Every day is a different type of hurt. But at least it’s a small comfort to know there are other people who care enough to share their own experiences and support a cause they believe in.

Strawberry rhubarb syrup

This year, I’ve made a goal to make use of seasonal produce that I’m not familiar with to challenge myself to be more creative in my cooking. A few fruit and vegetables that are on this list include rhubarb, figs, beets, summer squash, and artichokes. Some of these are clearly higher maintenance, like artichokes, while others, like rhubarb, are just foreign to me. The only way I’ve ever had rhubarb was in a strawberry rhubarb pie a friend’s dad made when I came over to her house. So I figured the easiest way for me to use it for my very first time would be by making a strawberry rhubarb syrup I’d then use for homemade soda.

I don’t drink soda at all unless it’s made from a small or local company that doesn’t use high fructose corn syrup. I stopped drinking soda after the second time I had braces when I was in 7th grade, and it was a great thing that I did it then. Because of this, it’s even more gratifying when I made a syrup for soda myself because I know exactly what I put into it, and I know that there’s nothing artificial about what I’ve made. And it’s pure sugar, for better or for worse. It’s a lot of effort, but it makes me really happy at the end, and it makes me even happier to share it with other people who can appreciate pure ingredients and the taste of real fruit flavors.

Depression awareness week

April 20 through 26 this year is Depression Awareness Week. I found out because I started following this Facebook page called Suicide Shatters, a group that seeks to raise awareness around mental illness and suicide. By following this page, I’ve actually learned a few things about depression and suicide that I’d never thought much about before, such as the fact that there’s still a large group of people out there who actually have either the nerve or complete lack of empathy to believe that mental illness is a big hoax, that people should be “left free” to address any “mental distress” that they may be experiencing.

I feel sorry for people who really believe this. It only reveals their lack of understanding of human experiences that are different than theirs. Empathy is a quality that most people don’t actively think about when they have to ask what they value in people. Unfortunately for me, every single day, it’s one of those qualities that is always top of mind given the experiences I’ve had. And because most people I seem to meet have little to no empathy that they outwardly and readily show, I guess it’s no wonder sometimes I feel so shut off from the rest of the world.