Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Seeing an ugly side of myself I've never witnessed before

So.. the break up finally happened. It was like I planted a landmine for the bf to step on.  I gave a suggestion that I didn't want him to take (and didn't expect him to agree to), but surprisingly he did, but not without insulting me first. So I blew up and it was all over.

Never in my life have I ever expected myself to have this kind of unacceptable manipulative behavior. If anyone ever pulled one of these stunts on me, I would totally break up the relationship or friendship and stay as far away from that crazy asshole as possible. Now I know that crazy bitch secretly lives inside of me and so there's NO escaping ever.

They say that one of the red signs that a relationship is not good for you is that it brings out your worst behaviors, that you don't like how you act around that person. I always took it to mean that I can't express myself fully, that I feel like I'm stepping on eggshells around that person, that I lower myself by acting like I'm always trying to please that person, which was what was happening during the relationship. I was NOT expecting to become manipulative put that person in a lose-lose situation. I never thought I was capable of that, but I proved myself wrong!

The final act was a truly terrible one. Unacceptable and totally surprising. I really didn't mean for that to happen. I realize I so desperately wanted him to behave a certain way that conforms to my ideal of a good boyfriend (say he misses me and that he wants to see me very soon) that I kept dangling carrots, candies and toys at him, even ones that I didn't actually mean to show him. When he refused to behave like I wished he would, I became frustrated, humiliated,  rejected, depressed, angry, furious, I went insane, I threw it all out at him, showing him the ugliest and craziest side of me. Somehow, insanely, I still secretly wished he would ask me not to end the relationship!

He's been very uncommunicative for a long time, and finally he told me what his deal-breaker was. It totally came out of the blue and made me scratch my head in total confusion. Like... this trait is the deal breaker? Not my manipulation, my bossiness, my insecurity, my craziness, stuff I really hate about myself? I mean, obviously he doesn't like any of those traits either, but those somehow were not the deal breakers? It really showed how little I understood him, how utterly incompatible we actually are, but also explained why we stayed together for so long. Basically, his complaint was something that I really didn't think was important. I mean, I tried to work on it a little bit, but seems like I could not nearly achieve the level he wants me to be at. Basically I'm fundamentally not the kind of girl friend he wishes to have. But then again if he had communicated it better earlier I would have tried a lot harder. Don't know if it would have made a difference though. In my head I felt like my request was totally legit (spend more time together, for him to express more that he loves me and misses me), but to him it's probably just as foreign... he does not have any friends who act like that and never in his life has ever wished to become that kind of guy.

It's been a crazy ride. I don't for one minute regret this relationship, but the ending was so weird (we actually both agreed we still want to stay friends). If I hadn't ended it, I don't think he would ever initiate the break up. In my head, the relationship should keep advancing to the next level, or it should be cut off. Either you like me and decide to put up with me, or let me go. It wasn't until the final talk where I finally began to understand his logic.  He would have been okay with all my craziness as long he keeps our meetings relatively short, with enough alone time spaced in between the meetings. It totally made no sense to me this entire time we were together, because he never communicated what he's been thinking. I guess it wasn't necessary, since he had full control of how often we met. He had the upper hand in the power struggle. I was in the dark and put up with it because I was completely being controlled by my oxytocin (the desire to attach myself to him, spatially/physically and emotionally). But of course he also hasn't been happy either, and was relieved about the break up.

Very luckily, I have a group of girl friends who behaved exactly as I wish my ideal best friends would behave - completely supportive, non-judgemental of me, not asking any harsh questions (eg. "Did you do anything wrong on your part"), and totally on my side, saying all the kind words I wish to hear. I love these ladies to death. I don't know what I did to deserve these friends, and not sure how I could have survived the traumatic emotional roller coaster ride without them.

On the other hand, it also makes me wonder: am I just a total control freak, subconsciously aiming to build a social network of friends, family, lover and work colleagues who would behave as close as possible to a certain ideal I wish them to be? Is this what everybody else does as well, only accepting new people who think and behave the way they expect into their social circles, and try to keep out the ones who behave too far from expectation?

I'd like to think I'm more open minded than that, but I guess when it comes to really close partners/friendship, we would all like them to share some common fundamental values with us, along with some superficial expected behaviors. That's an important lesson I learned from this experience.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Choices and Distraction

I get very easily distracted. I had a goal in my mind to finish a particular task on a work day, but I ended up obsessing about the Malaysian airplane tragedy. I felt really affected, because there were about 100 scientists on board heading to a conference. One stupid mistake (mistaking the commercial aircraft as a military aircraft), and their lives are over. It doesn't matter if they were the most talented, hardworking, humble, productive scientists ever existed, or if they were one of those superficial people who are all about playing politics and marketing themselves to make them sound better than they really are, or if they were struggling PhD students/postdocs hoping to do some networking at the conference and secure a job, they all came to the same fate.  It really puts life into perspective for me. Heck, I could have been on that plane if I were offered to study HIV for my postdoc and were given funding to go to this conference in Australia.

Is this really worse than the deaths of the Palestinians in Gaza or Syria? I wouldn't say so. Being killed unexpectedly by a bomb or a missile is just crappy. Does the number of deaths matter? 10s of people dying + hundreds injured and thousands forced to leave their homes are not "better" than ~300 international people dead all at once. It's just that the boundary that made people felt safe (ie. particular nationalities, not living in a warzone) was shattered, all because the pilots wanted to (were ordered to?) save some fuel by flying over a warzone.

I recently came across two TED talks about choices: Our unhealthy obsessions with choice, and How to make hard choices. The first one talks about how many personal choices we get nowadays, and we seem to be paralyzed with too many personal choices that we ignore the big pictures about social issues. That is very true.. every day I obsess about what to wear to make a good impression, but not seem overdone; how much makeup should I put on? Should I go work out or clean my room first? What should I eat? Japanese or Thai food? Should I be reading scientific papers or a good fiction novel? Etc. etc. Sometimes I am so indecisive I can take hours to decide, or I end up doing nothing for the day. The first talk warns about this. Avoid taking these choices so seriously. Just pick one thing to do and go with it. Realize what kind of choices are actually important enough that they require deep pondering.

The second talk is about hard choices, which is also what I am facing. Should I stay in this country or should I go somewhere else? Should I stay in Europe or should I go to another continent? I love how beautiful Europe looks, but hate the difficulty in forging friendships. I miss the familiarity of home (amazing food! Yoga friends!) I know exactly where I can sign up for volunteering, and I miss the multitude of local communities that are sorely lacking here. But I know that I will still have trouble finding romantic partners, and have to deal with the local politics. Should I dump my boyfriend now or later? Right now I feel like I'm in a friends with benefits relationship, and that's not what I signed up for. But I do enjoy the times where I do get to hang out with him. Should I forget about my science career (too much politics, not enough authenticity and collaboration) and just go spend a few months in Nepal or Peru? Ruth Chang suggests that making the hard decisions and how we justify for our choices help reveal who we are. I guess I'm having so much trouble because I don't really know who I am or who I want to become. I'm too afraid of making bad choices. That in itself is pretty revealing of my character.

In the end, if I get hit by a car, or struck by lightning, or suffer a plane crash, or if Russia, US, or China starts a third world war, none of those choices will matter. But in the mean time, since I am fortunate enough live in a peaceful place where accident/disaster rates are low, I should keep on making choices, but not think so hard that I get paralyzed about actually making the decisions. I've made that mistake many times and it's time to cut that out and start being more decisive.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Even more confused than ever

I came back from a vacation, and everything has changed. There were long periods of time during the vacation where the bf avoided talking to me. The two of us buried our heads in our smart phones. I think my bf is getting sick and tired of me.

When I came back to work, the grad students found friends and alliances, and I feel like an island in my lab. New people have joined our lab, but I feel distant to everybody. Boss had a talk with me and while on the surface he acted like he wanted to help me, but really he's saying he pities me because he doesn't think so highly of me.

It was so good to see my friends back home though. The city was so green, so gorgeous. I felt like I could go back there today. Unfortunately neither job opportunities nor boyfriend potentials are abundant there.

The indecisive me has been activated. I am comfortable here, but the relationship is going cold. I want to find a good lab, but don't know if I am talented enough to make it into one. Does it make sense to take up some permanent job or to make another crazy move in some other exotic country or continent in hopes of finding a fantastic boss? Should I go home? Should I focus on my career or should I focus on finding true love?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Recent ramblings about opportunities, uncertainties, and social media

I attended a career building workshop recently. I must say that I do not remember ever being in the same room among such vast majority of individuals with so much self-doubt, self-criticism, skepticism towards alternative ideas, and fear of making mistakes.

If you wonder who are these people: these are a group of PhD students. Sometimes I think the purpose of graduate school is to strip students free of all shreds of self-confidence, instill hyper-tunnel-vision into students, and make them forget they are actually highly intelligent individuals capable of doing so many things.

For me, it was very refreshing to hear so many alternative perspectives from people who are not in traditional careers (kudos to the organizers). A lot of the ideas that I took for granted from observing how yoga teachers make a living (using Twitter/Instagram/Facebook marketing to get clients and to sell merchandise) were unheard of for most people in the classroom, who likely had been following nothing but scientific literatures and news websites, and maybe their own personal interests that did not involve social media marketing. Many were highly against/scared of the idea of "branding" themselves on internet. I guess I already went through that mental struggle myself back when Kino first started posting daily selfies in short shorts and yoga instruction Youtube videos online. It's been a few years now and she's been hugely successful, in terms of increasing visibility among the public worldwide, promoting her reputation, as well as pushing her merchandises (books, clothing, jewelry, yoga mats, retreats, workshops). Without a doubt, social media marketing is ridiculously effective if used in the right way.

To be honest, what I took from the workshop for me wasn't to learn how to use Twitter, but how different I felt from everyone else in the room. I guess my own grad school experience, however negative it was, still gave me space to pull myself away from my project mentally and pay attention to what's out there, while many others have been so focused on getting their experiments to work without having any mental space left to ponder about alternatives. Ironically, I am the one who is currently more interested in continuing research while >50% of the room have had enough and are ready to quit academia.

Life is full of ironies. I've been thinking about ending it with my bf for quite some time now. However, because of my emotional detachment from him, he feels less pressure from me and seems happier about the current status of our relationship.  However he still plans his life separately from mine. I'm not entirely sure what to do. I guess I will have to plan my life independently of him too.

It's good to know I have a lot of opportunities but at the same time it is also quite unsettling that I have not established a good support network nor have I convinced someone to go through the journey of life together.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Forge meaning, build identity

Instead of working on my paper, I do my usual procrastination and watch TED talks instead. And then I feel the urgent need to blog about my thoughts instead of working on my paper.

Today I came across Andrew Solomon's talks: How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are, and Love, no matter what. I highly recommend the talks.

Solomon built a career interviewing people who have been through very traumatic events, and learns how they make meaning of lives. He also interviewed those who has children who are not "typical", for example, parents of mass murderer, deaf children, autistic children, Down Syndrome, dwarfs, etc. He also talked about his personal experience of growing up being bullied for being gay.

The major theme identity - personal acceptance, parental acceptance, acceptance by close friends and family, and social acceptance. He learned that many people who have been through adverse situations should to accept the experience as part of their identity, building character and furthering their knowledge of the diversity of humanity. Some parents mentioned given the choice, they want to eliminate the "abnormal" conditions so the kids could have an easier life, but they wouldn't change the experience because they themselves have learnt so much and gained so much compassion. Solomon himself decided to have children after interviewing many of these parents, as he felt that the message he got from these people (and from his own mother) was that the experience of parenthood brings more reward in terms of personal growth, love, and joy that is worth all the worries and anxieties and possibility of loss and kids being pain in the butt.

In more liberal societies in the West, society have come to accept more and more the diversity of humanity, be it homosexual, transgendered,  mentally or physically disabled, as long as one is not causing harm to others. However, in the East, where the group coherence (in the unit of family, clan, ethnicity, country etc.) matters more than the individual, being different -- whether genetic or by choice, is looked down upon. So in that sense, I'm extremely "lucky" that I was not born gay or disabled, not because I think there' anything wrong with them, but that my mother would first blame herself for giving birth to an "abnormal" child and then make sure that I feel like I'm a horribly flawed being better off never been born to this Earth, because I would shame her deeply for not being typical.

So I turned out to be super-typical in the academic sense for an Asian kid (straight As with a postgraduate degree).  Then I run into this strange situation -- I became a scientist instead of a doctor or lawyer, professions that people are more familiar with, so instead of being proud of me, my family don't know what to make of me.. I can't tell if it's because I'm not married with kids yet, or because I'm not making a sh*tload of money, or that instead of living next door to parents, taking care of them for the remainder of my life, I moved to a country that nobody ever thought of ever visiting in their life times, I was met with ambivalence when I went home. I couldn't tell if they were jealous of me, or think lowly of me because I'm being selfish for abandoning my parents to go to a foreign country, or an idiot (for not making money and not getting a husband), or if they just don't give a rat's ass if I get hit by a train or eaten by a shark tomorrow.

Every human being has many identities. I'm (not in any particular order) a daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece, heterosexual, animal lover, spiritual, atheist, yogi, martial artist, rock climber, snowboarder, academic, scientist, Chinese-Canadian, citizen of the world, Liberal, postdoc, confused soul, dispensable employee, a failed-vegetarian, cheap foreign labour, etc, etc, but we all have our own prioritization in term of our self-identities. We tend to become friends with those who respect and accept our foremost treasured identities and distance from those who refuse to acknowledge what we see ourselves to be.

I don't think I am the most angry/sad about whether my extended family cares about me or not. I've come to realize I am most hurt by the fact that my extended family pointedly chose to not acknowledge my researcher identity at all - it's what I've been working on the longest and hardest my entire life -- I admit at the expense of not neglecting my other roles as a caring niece, cousin, daughter or aunt.

I guess they purposely chose not to acknowledge my primary identity because they're fearful they won't be able to understand anything that comes out of my mouth, but I feel the hurt nevertheless. I also feel that I can't change this distance between me and my family (and even some friends) if I choose to quit my profession today and pick up a more regular job, like teaching English or becoming a secretary. So it's better if I just carry on with forging my own meaning and building my own identity than to try to please them somehow.

This scientist career is not going so well though. As some big named young successful professors have pointed out, the 21st century is a great time to do science (because of all the emerging novel technologies which are enabling us to make incredible advances and findings), but a terrible time to become a scientist (the system allows very few people to succeed and the rest can bite the dust). It's what I chose for myself so I don't regret it. What I feel bad is the terrible relationship I have today with family, due to my tunnel vision and neglect. Also, the lack of experience in the romantic department also makes the current dating situation difficult.

I went to see a career coach and she told me that I seem to have a lot of difficulties making decisions,  so I avoid making them, which then keeps me stuck in unhappy situations. So I think I need to work on building more identities as contingency plans, and simultaneously take my identities less seriously, since others don't see me with the same ID as I do anyways.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Updates on taichi practice.

My beginner taichi class ends for the summer. I learned a grand total of 5 forms. Some classes I just feel bored because we don't learn very much per class, but today we did more warm up movements and I feel really great afterwards, kind of like the feeling after yoga practice. I feel really confused right now. The movements of yoga are so different from taichi; why would they both provide similar types of feelings of euphoria after practice?

It's really hard to understand the "chi", so I will venture to guess that making movements from the core, working the joints, and making slow, synchronized movements while breathing naturally with e movements activate the release of feel-good hormones, like endorphins, and releases tensions in the body. It's just what I need since I've been insanely stressed out lately. 

However, yoga has the added benefit of working the muscles, while taichi... Not so much. So while it is possible to distress and feel bliss from taichi, I still need to pick up some sort of cardio and strength training.

What's the most surprising is that with all my martial arts training, yoga and anatomy, the simple movements of taichi still surprise me. The movements feel totally novel. Just when I thought I figured out the secrets to Ashtanga and Bikram yoga asana sequencing magic, I am completely stumped by taichi sequencing. Guess I have to keep taking courses until I figure it out.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Blogging - trying to improve my writing

I have discussed several times (here, here and here) in the past about why I blog. I blog to practice writing, to procrastinate instead of doing real work, to vent, to talk about my passions, which are often topics that people around me in real life are sick of hearing. In the beginning my posts were mostly about yoga. I had lots to reflect on after most of my yoga classes. Now that I have slacked off on my yoga practice, my blogs have turned into this bottomless pit of self-victimization and self-pity.

I think being negative and playing victim allows the thoughts in my head to flow freely. As depressing as it may be for my readers, spelling out my ruminations helps me form sentences that make grammatical sense and flow from one phrase to the next, a feature which is lacking with my manuscript writing right now. I also think that I can't stop ruminating because nobody ever took the time to listen to me vent when I was younger, so these same thoughts just ran themselves in circles in my head and carved deep, deep tracks in my brain. I'm trying to release my daemons, but more of similar thoughts just keep coming up.

I had never had any inkling of desire to become a writer. I have always wanted to wear a lab coat and play with test tubes. It's ironic I ended up being a double-writer - must write computational scripts and manuscripts for a living. I can't complain though, since test tube playing turns out to be 1000 times more frustrating than writing. Experiments fail and most of the time you have no idea why. Recently I watched the talks by J.K. Rowling and Elizabeth Gilbert, who both mentioned how much they wrote every day and how many times they had to be rejected to get to their superb writing level today. I don't think I can ever catch up to them, especially since I only blog once a week. All I want is for my paragraphs to be understandable enough to get accepted (stylistic requirements for scientific papers are a lot lower than for-profit books written for the public).

In addition, Gilbert mentioned that you must find something you love more than yourself and keep working on that. I think I love cool discoveries more than I love myself. So that's what I will keep doing and home I find center/home through what I love, despite all the politics, bureaucracy and power struggles. If I need to become a better writer in order to achieve what I want, then I will keep practicing.

I will try to blog less negativity from now on because those are too easy for me to blab on and on for ever. Will try to come up with more challenging (and interesting to read) topics.