Shame

I’ve been making edits and additions to my growing reading list and finally spent some time tonight consolidating three different lists I had in different places. One of the books I had on my list was The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism – which I was able to get off the hold list from the library this week. Within the first few pages, it already felt like a book I knew I’d enjoy. One of the excerpts I’ve found interesting so far is this one that advises you to de-stigmatize discomfort by remembering that with over seven billion people on the planet, the chances are pretty much zero that you are the only one who has ever felt this level of shame, depression, sadness, or anger in life. Regarding shame, the author writes:

“Of all the emotions that human beings can feel, (shame) is one of the most toxic to health and happiness … (it’s defined as) “the fear of being unlovable: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

“Shame hits us so powerfully because it conveys a message about our fundamental acceptability as human beings. And in basic survival terms, if a tribe rejects you, you die. It is a life-and-death situation. The brain equates social needs with survival; being hungry and being ostracized activate similar neural responses. Somewhere in the back of our minds is the fear of being so disapproved-of that we’d be excluded by those who matter to our survival.”

I never really thought of shame in that way personally. I suppose I get it at a high level given that shame is the worst thing you can feel as an Asian child in an Asian family with extremely high expectations about everything from school performance to etiquette to career, hence the concept of “losing face.” But I never thought of defining it as the “fear of being unlovable.” When viewed that way, it would be no wonder that shame is the reason people run away from their lives or even go to the extreme of taking their own lives. It’s a terrible kind of pain for some people who experience it at that intense level.

I wonder if that was how Ed felt, like he didn’t deserve to be loved, as though it was some sort of deformity or disability he possessed that prevented him from being the person he hoped to be. It’s sad to read books that illustrate pieces of what my brother likely felt and believed.

 

 

Modern poetry

A couple of months ago, I was at an Amazon book store at the Time Warner Center perusing different books, and I came across a collection of poetry by Rupi Kaur, a 20-something best-selling Canadian-Indian poet-illustrator-performer who travels the world sharing her poetry and doing spoken word. She made a name for herself via social media, particularly her Instagram posts, which juxtapose both her poetry and her illustrations. I wasn’t sure what to make of her until I realized I’d read a few of her short poems before. These are some examples (they are much more effective with their accompanying illustrations, though, as the illustrations are meant to heighten the feelings derived from the words):

the irony of loneliness

is we all feel it

at the same time

together

 

Then, there’s this one:

i don’t know what living a balanced life feels like

when i am sad

i don’t cry i pour

when i am happy

i don’t smile i glow

when i am angry

i don’t yell i burn

the good thing about feeling in extremes is

when i love i give them wings

but perhaps that isn’t

such a good thing cause

they always tend to leave

and you should see me

when my heart is broken

i don’t grieve

i shatter

Rupi Kaur gets a lot of criticism from people who view poetry and writing in a more traditional way, but I think part of her appeal is her simplicity, the fact that she uses simplicity to push meaning and emotion onto you very quickly, and what better and more effective way of doing this than doing it via an Instagram post in 2018? In today’s world, attention spans are shrinking; so few people I know even properly read news articles from start to finish, even the shortest ones, and even just skim headlines (yes, not even read headlines in full).

One of the few modern day poets who has been able to make a comfortable living I’ve read, Billy Collins, who is also a former poet laureate of the U.S., was once quoted having said, “Certainly one thing a poem can do is give you an imaginative pleasure by taking you places very suddenly that prose can’t take you, because poetry enjoys the broadest and deepest and highest and most thrilling level of imaginative freedom of any of the written arts … (poetry) connects you with the history of human emotion. That’s why at critical points in our lives, at funerals or weddings or other rituals, often a poem is read. The poem shows us that these emotions, love and grief, have been going on through the centuries; and that the emotion we’re feeling today is not just our own emotion, it’s the human emotion.”

I think this holds true with Rupi Kaur — her words, however short, however sliced into whatever lines and italics and lack of punctuation that people want to slam, immediately inject emotion into you. These words, reduced down to their purest form, can take the most emotionally numb out of that state and make them feel once again. And that’s poetry.

Uber CEO resigns

One of the greatest things that happened this year is when the female engineer named Susan Fowler, who formerly worked at Uber, wrote an expose piece about the blatant sexism and discrimination she faced while working at the once-respected tech startup. It highlighted the fact that women are still not considered equals in society no matter what all these ignorant morons out there say, and that we’re not even close. We’ve made mere baby steps since the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s, and that’s pretty embarrassing for what is supposedly one of the most developed and richest countries in the world. Some say, be grateful for what you have and that you are even allowed to even work or own property or go to school alongside men in your country. I say… no, Dumb Shit, we need to be improving ourselves and getting better and better every day. As in everyday life, why would I want to compare myself to someone who is a low achiever when I want to be a high achiever?

But the saddest thing for me in seeing the eventual downfall and resignation of Travis Kalanick is that I know that the atrocities I faced at my last company are so small and insignificant in comparison, and the strong women I know who have left that company will likely never speak out against them, partly due to not wanting attention, and mostly due to wanting to move on and forget the hell that they left. But as in Susan Fowler’s case, one person’s voice could make massive changes. In cases like the horrible place I left, it feels like justice will never be served, and they will continue to live in their delusional and discriminatory world.

Arrogance vs. confidence in women

With the recent news about the engineer Susan Fowler’s appalling experience and departure from Uber, I couldn’t help but feel disgusted at the technology industry in general, as well as how poorly human resources departments I’ve personally encountered have handled touchy and controversial experiences that have been reported. It makes me angry that even in HR, where there tends to be a lot of women leading the team across companies I’ve seen, women cannot even help or support other women. Women, no matter how hard they work, are considered women before they are whatever their job titles are. And confident women are hardly considered a good thing in a male-dominated environment like the technology industry; there’s a very, very fine line between exuding confidence and being perceived as “arrogant” for women in the workplace. And it really bothers me to think about it because I’m positive that is how I have been perceived in the past (in fact, someone on Glassdoor wrote a twisted review of his interview experience with me, which was half wrong factually and also accused me of being arrogant in my position and discussion). If I’m speaking to a prospective employee or in an interview representing myself, chances are that I’m going to be commanding respect and attention with the tone of my voice and how I’m speaking about whatever the topic is. But after almost nine years in this industry, I’ve only met a handful of women who do this. What that means is that people in general around me are not used to women exuding this level of self-respect and confidence, and instead perceive me as being arrogant.

It would be so much simpler and easier to be a man in the technology industry. Like the protesters at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. had signs of, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.” But the worst part about the example for me I’ve given above is… it’s oftentimes that women do not support women, not just that men aren’t supporting women.

 

Christmas season hobbies

When I was 6, I loved drawing, coloring, and pastels. I was obsessed with depicting abstract landscapes with a multitude of colors, and my first grade teacher Ms. Jamison encouraged me and said one day, I’d become one fine artist. I went home one night and showed my dad the landscape drawing, and he said it was nice. I triumphantly declared, “One day, I’m going to be an artist.” My dad looked a little confused and annoyed, and in response he said, “But you’ll be poor. Artists don’t make any money. You won’t be able to support yourself.”

My dreams were shattered in a matter of just a few words out of his mouth. I was going to be destitute with no money to my name if I pursued my days-long dream of becoming an artist. I still drew and did pastels for a couple years after that, but I eventually stopped and decided to find another hobby.

I’ve realized that most of the things I like doing for fun are things that would make me little money if I actually did them professionally – cooking, baking, scrapbooking, card making. I thought about this exchange regarding my future failed career as an artist tonight as I made Christmas cards for my friends and family with heat embossing, ribbon, and glitter glue. All these little things that bring so much joy are valued so little in our capitalist society.

Thanksgiving vs. “friendsgiving”

Today, we’re departing for our now annual European Thanksgiving week trip, and this year, we’re headed to Spain. This is our fourth European Thanksgiving trip together: in 2013, we were in Germany; in 2014, we went to Vienna, Austria, and Budapest, Hungary; in 2015, we trekked throughout Switzerland. In our two Thanksgivings before that, we were in Ocean City, Maryland in 2011, and Puerto Rico in 2012. It’s been a trip that we both look forward to and is a new tradition we have as a family of 2.

Despite being away for the actual Thanksgiving week, I love Thanksgiving and still try to have a Thanksgiving feast with friends in the week or two before we leave. I have a lot of fond memories of having Thanksgiving dinners growing up with my family, when we were more or less altogether and somewhat cohesive. The last Thanksgiving I was home for was in November 2003, which is now over 13 years ago. It was the Thanksgiving of my last year of high school, and little did I know that I’d never come back home for Thanksgiving ever again. I’d never have a reason to. Why would you come home for Thanksgiving when your mother and your aunt are Jehovah’s Witnesses, your dad doesn’t want to participate when your mom doesn’t, your cousins and their wives don’t even want to all be in the same room together, your uncle would rather work overtime and get paid time and a half than spend a traditional family meal together, and your brother is dead because he committed suicide? Thanksgiving with family is special and matters only when the family you are going back to matters and cares about the holiday and you. If they don’t care about the holiday or you, then it’s not special and it doesn’t matter. It’s just another day on the calendar, and here in the U.S., you get at least a random Thursday off for it.

That’s why I don’t like it when people call Thanksgiving meals with friends “friendsgiving.” I completely understand why people feel a need to differentiate it; Thanksgiving is *supposed* to be with family, so you need a marker to denote that your modified Thanksgiving meal was with friends. But what if you don’t have a family, or your family doesn’t care about having a Thanksgiving meal with you either because they don’t care about Thanksgiving, you, or both, and all you have are your friends? What if you choose to have your Thanksgiving celebration with friends? Why should that be denigrated to a “friendsgiving” as opposed to a Thanksgiving? My Thanksgiving meal the last several years has been with friends; I’m not calling it “friendsgiving.” And I correct people when they say, “Oh, you had friendsgiving early.” It’s insensitive without them even realizing it.

 

Givers, takers, and matchers

Last night, Chris and I watched an Adam Grant presentation for Dreamforce, where Grant discussed the concept of givers, takers, and matchers in life and at work. After a lot of research and data, he found that the best sales performers were givers, but at the same time, the very worst were also givers, too. It wasn’t so cut and dry as to givers belonging in one performance area, matchers in  second, and takers in a third.

In an ideal world, we’d all be givers. We’d expect nothing in return when we give, whether it’s our time, money, or energy. But we do not live in an ideal world. My mom taught to be a matcher. She said whenever people do something nice for me, I need to do something back for them. But she took that meaning to the extreme; if someone took her out to dinner today, she’d offer to take them out to dinner tomorrow, or next week. That always sounded a bit too forward and stupid to me, and it always drove me crazy. But as crazy as I thought it was, in many ways, I mimicked it for better or worse without always realizing it. It’s taken me a lot of time to try to wean myself out of that thinking.

It’s hard to be a giver, though, when you’ve been burned by a lot of people in the past. It’s hard to let another person borrow money when so many people in the past have borrowed and never paid it back. It’s hard to chip in for a birthday cake for a colleague when that colleague doesn’t really seem to appreciate the thought that went behind that. Sometimes, i think, I rather just give money to a homeless person on the street or a charity (which I actually do). In those cases, someone in real need really needs your help. I definitely don’t think I’m a taker, but I’m somewhere between a giver and a matcher depending on the circumstance.

Vampire

My medical tests results came back, and everything looks good (especially my good cholesterol; the doctor was so impressed 🙂 — except the doctor says that I am low on vitamin D and should consider taking a supplement. As soon as I read this, I immediately thought, hmmm, is that because of all the sunblock I wear every single day? “Yes, you are such a vampire,” my friend joked. Vitamin D is primarily taken in by the body via sun exposure, and I read that over 50 percent of Americans are deficient in this vitamin, which is why oftentimes cereals, breads, and milk-type beverages are fortified with vitamin D. I drink milk almost every day, I thought. I guess that isn’t enough. Leafy greens like Swiss chard and kale actually do not have vitamin D as I originally thought; they just have a lot of other vitamins and are high in calcium.

Now I’m not sure what supplement to choose. The supplements for vitamin D often have some sort of oil since vitamin D needs to be taken with a fat to properly be absorbed by the body. The Kirkland Signature brand (from Costco) has corn oil as the oil in their supplements; that just sounds disgusting. The more popular and higher rated oils are made with coconut. Who wants to take a pill filled with corn oil?

New doctor

I finally had my doctor’s appointment with a general practitioner today, and it went pretty well. She had great “bedside manner,” asked lots of questions about my life and family history, and was very personable and took her time. I didn’t feel rushed at all. The nurse drew my blood for the lipid panel, thyroid, and other usual tests, and they (sigh) gave me proper Tdap vaccine (take that, whooping cough/pertussis). The doctor asked many questions about my family and my own health.

After discussing my brother and mom, the doctor asks, “Have you exhibited any symptoms or bouts of depression or paranoia?”

Me: “No, not that I’m aware of. I am fine. I think I am fine… But don’t we all think we are fine?”

She smiled and continued writing.

I thought about that on the walk home, though. Don’t we all think we are fine? When do you have people strong enough in your life to point out when you really do not seem fine and need help, people who don’t walk on egg shells and just pretend that everything is fine to keep the peace?

Unexpected wedding card

We received a wedding card in the mail a few days ago from one of my San Francisco friends I met through my mom’s Jehovah’s Witness congregation. The card had a very long, thoughtful, and sweet message. I’m always touched whenever I open a card that anyone gives me nowadays and the written message is more than just a line or two; pretty much no one seems to do that nowadays, nor do people value it. But it always makes me happy and wish that more people would value little things like this that require a lot of time and thought. I feel like I am getting old and dating myself by saying this, but there’s such an emphasis on things being fast and convenient nowadays that we rarely stop to appreciate things like a handwritten card or a homemade meal. My eyes feel like bleeding when I think of future children and how they may or may not value these things.