The Basics – With This Ship

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I was obsessed with this song a couple of years ago… Heard it again after not listening to it in years. Trippy video, too.

“I fly this flag forever but you don’t wanna see it
The way it was is how it is for you and you can’t leave it
We’re only treading water, but slowly sinking deeper
And I don’t wanna go down with this ship…”

I think it’s about a relationship that’s on the rocks, but one person can’t accept it.

Why do I write?

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I honestly don’t know.

For the people who actually read this blog (all two of you), you know I’ve kinda been going through an existential crisis for this. Sometimes, I post my thoughts. Maybe photos. The occasional interesting Youtube video. Sometimes I’ll post stuff every few days. Other times (like now) I’ll go for weeks without.

I remember I used to write about my life. Things I did, where I ate. But then I’ve stopped doing that. I felt like I had to craft my life for an audience, and subconsciously, it was making me live for an audience. I’d always have this thought at the back of my mind… “how am I going to write about this? How am I going to illustrate it through my photos?”

I still write restaurant reviews. A few weeks ago, someone nicely complimented me on Yelp, saying they enjoyed reading my reviews and wouldn’t I want to start a food blog? They’d read it. What a nice thing to say! :)

I dismissed the idea, though. I did that before — painstakingly take photos every time I went out, write a review. But y’know what? I’m not a food critic. I can’t really talk like my more eloquent peers about the intricacies of flavors and palates. I can, however, talk about what I like, and quite simply how I like it, and how my night went. And that’s what I do, to practice writing, and because I want to build this city, somehow.

So why do I write?

I don’t know. That’s what this blog is for, I suppose… to discover what I want to write about. And maybe to discover a little bit about me.

My veggie story

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Can I just say, I’m super proud of my blossoming relationship with vegetables?!

I distinctly remember when I first started really eating veggies. It was 2008, and I’d moved to the US. For the first time in my life, I was living by myself. It struck me that I had a really crappy diet up to that point. Before then, I thought nothing of eating unhealthy food every day. Hey, I was young! I had a fast metabolism! I still looked good! So why worry?

But yeah, 2008 was the turning point. (Not because I realized I was no longer young, or had a fast metabolism or looked good – I like to delude myself that I’m still all of those things, hehe.) I resolved to eat more vegetables, so I devised a strategy. I ordered a Subway sandwich semi-regularly, and each time I got one I added one more kind of veggie. First lettuce. Then tomatoes. Then onions. And so on, and so forth… until I had the whole shebang of veggies on my sandwich each time.

Except onions. If I was going to talk to people afterwards, I’d lay off the onions.

Our relationship has pretty much strengthened still then. Yes, I will now go out of my way to order veggie dishes at restaurants. There are times when I actually crave for them, and my meal will feel incomplete if I don’t have any. I add them as much as I can to my home-cooked meals. Frozen veggies have become a quick and easy lunchtime regular.

It’s amazing.

Social media and vulnerability

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One of the things that rankles me about social media and current modes of communication is how it makes people more connected and more disconnected at the same time.

I was listening to a TED program on Making Mistakes and Brene Brown resonated with me:

You know, one of the things I’ve said before is, you know, live tweeting your bikini wax is not vulnerability. You know, sharing the intimate details of your child’s emotional response to your divorce on Facebook is not vulnerability.

Embedded in real vulnerability is an honest, raw bid for connection. And, you know, if I get really shamed by a colleague in front of clients at work or something, and I come home and I put it on Facebook, man, got totally shamed at work by so and so and feel small and stupid, I might get 20 comments from other people that say, I hate when that happens, it’s happened to me, you’re not alone brother. You know, that kind of thing.

And that’s normalizing. But nowhere in that is there a raw bid for connection. If I called you after work and said, hey Guy, it’s Brene, and do you have a minute, because I just went into this total shame spiral at work, and I’m just feeling, just, I’m devastated. That’s a very vulnerable bid because I’m saying, do you have time, and do you care enough to spend a few minutes talking to me about something that’s hard. And so in my view, vulnerability is about intimacy, trust, and connection. We share our stories with people who’ve earned the right to hear them.

That’s something that’s bothered me about a lot of social media. It’s easy to share, to like, to retweet, to comment a witty one-liner… but how meaningful are those connections, really? When I was active in Facebook and Twitter for a brief time, when I moved overseas to the US in 2008, I felt connected, in some sense, but it was an empty kind of connection.

All we talked about were daily trivialities. Everything had to be positive or witty to earn a mark of approval, and anyone who dared venture into something negative got greeted by a cliched comment such as, “Hang in there!” or “Thinking of you!” or “Things will get better tomorrow, promise!” and, their problems having been addressed as such, would be swept under the rug.

That’s inevitable, especially when people are far away, and sometimes that fleeting connection may be better than none at all. But I shudder to think that this has become, in a lot of people’s minds, a standard way of relating with others. Announcements of major life events and milestones are greeted by a like or a perfunctory comment, nothing more. Issues aren’t probed or understood; they’re commented on briefly, then attention is redirected to the next item on the news feed.

There’s something different, though, about finding information that a friend has posted publicly, versus a message that they’ve told me personally. When a friend got pregnant, she eventually posted it on Facebook, but I was touched that she’d gone out of her way to tell me about it first. When I talk to a friend and express surprise at a life change they’ve gone through, their first reaction is, “but I posted it on Facebook!” Somehow it doesn’t feel the same.

But maybe it’s just me. I prefer not to spend too much time on the endless busy-ness of posting and commenting and liking and sharing on social media, because, for me, my meaningful relationships are built through heart to heart chats or phone/video calls or personal e-mails and messages. And the personal stories I tell, as Brene Brown would put it, are for people who’ve earned the right to hear them.

Unusual encounters

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I was in Redfern for work a few weeks ago. Now, and I know most people reading this aren’t from Sydney, so here’s a one-liner: Redfern is an inner-city suburb that had begun gentrification these past few years. The particularly area we were at, however, had not.

So I was there with my coworker when two characters stumbled in. He, a Caucasian man with missing teeth. She, an Aboriginal woman. Both slightly overweight, wearing rumpled clothes, wrinkles on their faces, with airs that showed they were belonged to, and owned, that neighborhood.

The man turned to us first. “I can read faces,” he said.
He spouted a few lines about my coworker.

“But what about me?” I asked.

He turned to me.
“You’re very smart,” he replied.
“And you’ve gone through a lot of hard times lately.
But you’ve learned how to live with it, and to deal with what you’ve got.

Is that right? Is that right?”

The woman turned to me. “I know how that feels, come here,” she said, and she gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek.
The man also then hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.

I’ll keep my realizations about what I think about his statements to myself, but it made me think: How nice it is to encounter well meaning strangers who like me enough to give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.