Do What You Want

Why do I feel like nobody says this anymore unless it’s in that passive-aggressive way towards a lover when you’re really not feeling their actions at the moment but don’t want to admit it? Today’s culture has become a very opinionated one. Or maybe it’s just because social media allows you to force-feed your viewpoint to the world, whether they want to hear your views or not. In the midst of witnessed heated debates galore on Facebook involving various topics such as gun violence, race issues, women’s rights, or what that rapper did, it’s like you can’t NOT give your opinion (well, I can…) and simply tossing it into the interwebs makes you somewhat of an expert over the computer.

What sucks is when you become entangled in the sticky web of suffocating perspectives from the world and forget that you too, have one as well.

“Follow your heart.” “Do what feels right.”

Those used to be really popular guidelines once upon a time. Now that everyone is an Internet expert on everything from politics, to relationships, to how to make the most out of life, have a fulfilling career, and make money from your couch totally legitimately, you rarely hear advice tailored specifically for the person being given the advice. Blanket recommendations repackaged and reposted for mass consumption are the norm, even though we’re fully aware that the same things don’t work for everybody. Even those you’re closest to may not offer you direction based on your character. For the past few years I’ve gotten encouraged to have a baby, despite my being divorced and without a stable father figure that would be around for the child, simply because I shouldn’t “wait too long.” I hear that “There are lots of single mothers,” and that, “Your mom did it.” Right, but why would I want to actively choose to be a single mother solely for the purpose of having a baby that you want me to have that I’m not even happy about making the decision of having? :/

I’ve never been the type to fear walking a different path from my family or friends. That’s the thing about pioneering. Someone has to clear that path that they didn’t find by following everyone else’s roadmap and set a new route. Sometimes you can’t give a fuck about everyone else’s opinion. Sometimes your opinion will be the unpopular one and that’s fine, because it’s your choice and it’s your life and you have to live it.

A few years ago I worked on Wall Street for an office that had just been bought out by a highly reputable, long-time respected company that brought us awesome health benefits, 401K options, and a stable future.

And I quit.

Poor management and extreme burnout severely diminished my mental quality of life. I would literally wake up every morning and think “This shit again…” Turnover was high, loyalty was non-existent, bathroom meltdowns by co-workers not uncommon. One day, shaking from anger and disrespect brought on by my manager on my lunch hour in an outdoor courtyard, I decided I couldn’t do it anymore, and that I’d rather venture into the unknown and learn a whole new set of skills than remain in my secure position clutching what little seniority I had with the company. So I sought out a startup with an uncertain future, took a pay cut, and haven’t regretted my choice one iota. In just a few short years I’ve surpassed my old salary in my current position, my company has gone remote, and my current boss is a wizard.

It’s a risk that many may not have taken. But having poured 7 years into my old job and endured the humiliating devaluation of my work ethic, I didn’t care who advised me not to do it. It was my life and I had to get out. Some risks are applauded and others are scoffed at until they pay off.

After a breakup, everyone tells you to “focus on yourself.” Which is stellar advice if you gave up everything you love in your relationship and forgot what it meant to do things you enjoy. But believe it or not, some people are fully grounded in who they are and don’t abandon their hobbies just because they’re with someone else. I didn’t hang out with my friends any less, and in fact explored new interests. My friends remain the same whether i’m in a relationship or not; married, with children, engrossed in graduate programs or simply living their own lives.

Maybe your circle advises you to stay single and sleep around (But I’m not too fond of casually sleeping around and prefer meaningful connections). Or don’t sleep around at all and do other things (But I LOVE SEX and I was doing those things anyway). So make new friends if your current ones are busy (Which is exactly how you meet new people and possible new romantic interests who pursue you). But don’t rush into anything (Have you tried online dating nowadays? First date — ANALYSIS. Second date — Is something gonna happen here? Third date — We sleeping together or nah?). I discovered I despise online dating because of the clinical and rapid pace you’re thrown into things. And that my mom’s dating standards are far different than my own, with car, apartment, and lucrative job weighing more than attentiveness, connection, and honesty (curse my Millennial-ness). :/

Despite what advice anyone has to give you, we are all going through life on our first try. Your own intuition should always be your best guide, while recommendations come second. Be bold and confident in this one life you have and wear that cheeky bikini or those short shorts, or that outfit that you second-guess whether it’s “appropriate” for your age (because apparently in non-American cultures, they dgaf). Go to cosplay parties even though you’re in your 30s, take handstand classes just because it’s random, bounce around with your cousins at a trampoline park until you’re exhausted even though it’s mostly for children, and take hip-hop classes because your family always told you that you couldn’t dance.

Fall in love as often as your heart allows, and don’t be ashamed at its capacity. You only have one life and you can spend it diving headlong into the unknown or tiptoe-ing the outskirts according to someone else’s standards. Take a spontaneous trip to Chicago for Pokemon GO Fest (WHICH I DAMN SURE WOULD HAVE DONE HAD THE TICKETS NOT SOLD OUT). Because sometimes you want to do something like fly out and get a hotel room for a night for a one-day mobile phone event. Yes, as an adult woman, you can travel with others who may not be the same gender as you that you met on Facebook, or Meetup, or Twitter. It’s okay.

And by the same notion, don’t do what DOESN’T feel right to pacify your circle or what the “Internet experts” encourage either. Ignore the pressures to cave to organized religion (because they discuss behind your back about how you should) or hop on the Brazilian wax bandwagon (because even bikini-waxing was too intense for my tolerance). Free-spirit your way through life without make-up and heels, and be the one in the family with the unconventional natural look, oblivious to trends.

The more life you live, the more you find that ignoring your intuition is a waste. Lupe Fiasco said you can’t take back words you never said, and the same goes for actions. You can’t take them back if you didn’t do them. If it’s going to make you happy and you’re highly sure you won’t regret it, do it. If everyone looks at you oddly because your decisions are different from what they would have chosen, good. That’s why they’re your decisions and not theirs. And individuals exist to operate outside of a hive mind. Don’t ever forget to be loyal to your true self first.

Because it’s not your best friend’s baby, or your co-worker’s relationship, or your mother’s job, or your family’s trip, or the world’s life, or the Internet’s happiness. It’s yours.

~Tael (Strong Intuitionist)

The Facets of Feeling

I have a problem with the term “chasing happiness.” It’s too simple. The past 2 years for me were a prison of black and white, upbeat happy or pitfall sad. In-between emotions weren’t recognized or permitted. Hell, even sadness was considered intolerable, and angrily acknowledged if it surfaced. The vivid spectrum of human emotion could not be fully accessed. The only emotion allowed…was “happy.” But denying your palate the varied flavors of life through emotional suppression only creates a disastrous recipe.

Happiness. We hold it as the most powerful, sought-after state of being for a healthy, satisfying life. But there’s a problem with those who ONLY wish to be “happy” and banish the other emotions to the dungeon-like doldrums. Happiness is just one shade. Satisfaction, for example, is not as surface-level as “happy.” Satisfaction can run so much deeper and give you a far higher sense of achievement when attained. Contentment, as well, is a warm feeling that echoes softly through your soul putting you in a relaxed state that “happy” cannot achieve on its own. Exuberance is an exhilaratory upgrade of happiness that heightens your mental state with a gripping thrill.

And then there’s the downside of the spectrum. No one wants to be sad. No one wants to be depressed. And no one should wish for it. But when it happens, sometimes you have to feel it deeply. There is no such thing as a “bad” feeling; there is only a poor way to handle it. Choosing “not” to feel it is one such example. You can never truly face your situation by running from the sentiment. If sadness happens to be your reality at the moment, then face it head on, grieve, and learn from it. Fleeing from feelings conquers nothing and produces 0 growth. It’s simply putting a lid on a pot that will continue to boil and erupt later with explosive, exponential intensity.

Screamgiphy

It may feel like a curse to feel emotions magnified other than “happy.” If you’re like me and feel things very deeply (mood swings galore as a child), simple words with an odd inflection may cut you deep. Brutal anger may draw a curtain of red over your world. Unfair treatment might make you curl-up-on-the-floor-sick-to-your-stomach with resentment. But buoyant, spirited vibes resound within you, magnifying to a high better than any hallucinogen.

The individual you run into sobbing in public will be one of the most honest people you’ll meet. Unafraid of the world’s judgment, they are showing you their current truth in raw form, without a facade. That highly opinionated acquaintance who constantly vomits their viewpoints that everyone finds “inappropriate,” likely won’t be “two-faced” behind your back because they give you themselves without dilution. The stranger you’ve just met who heatedly shares his indignation at an injustice he recently witnessed is unafraid to display the passion in his heart. Fearless emotion is an amazing thing.

If your goal is to only chase “happiness,” how can you fully appreciate the facets of feeling? Like a brilliant diamond, there are so many glittering sides to experience that grant you new perception at different angles. Angles that illumine paths to reflections you may not have seen before. Paths that lead you to fellow humans who immediately and completely understand what you’re feeling because they’ve felt it as well. They’ve experienced that facet of the diamond themselves. They’ve tasted that emotion and overcome it before and now you’ve created a powerful connection through sharing and empathy.

We need the jarring rage you feel when a friend is mistreated, the sweltering indignance you feel when you’re spoken down to, and the simmering jealous awe that pushes us to climb and stretch for things out of our reach. Going through life cradling one feeling is a robotic pathway of monochrome imbalance. Celebrate the fact that you can feel a myriad of sentiments. Reactions that prove you’re legitimately interacting with the world and people around you. You hear them, listen, disagree, get angered by what they say, happy at their news, sad at their downfalls. Cry when you’re upset, stomp when you’re mad, yell when you’re frustrated. Shout beneath a waterfall like in A Quiet Place and let go of the composure. Embrace the wild freedom of being human.

PharellHappy

Be wary of those who are only ever “happy,” afraid to come face to face with any other emotion. Those are the ones who hide deeper currents that wash over their hidden truths and malfunction their mechanical myths behind the veneer they’ve put up. If your life is one emotion, you’re half-living, and not viewing the full panorama the human soul has to offer. If you haven’t fallen to the lowest point, clawed your way back out, coped through a mind-numbing loss, been picked up by the kindness of karmatic-hearted strangers, and even had your boss comfort you in the throes of devastation, you might not have truly lived yet.

The ending line from the Fruits Basket manga never resonated so well with me before: Repeat the good AND the bad. Do it all, and pile on the years.

Never be afraid to feel.

~Tael

 

That New York Bubble

At the time of this post, I can still say that I’ve never had an overtly racist encounter. Strange, isn’t it? I’m a 30-year-old African American woman with about 12 years worth of dreadlocks. I have never once been called a “nigger” to my face or over the internet. I have never had a backhanded compliment such as “Oh she’s blahblahblah, for a Black girl.” I’ve never had trouble landing a job either because of my race. The only questionable situation I had with a recruiter was when she tried to low-key tell me that the positions she recruited for would likely have a problem with my hair (And well, the hair stays). And as far as I know, I’ve never been passed over for anything because of the color of my skin.

I grew up in New York City, which I consider to be the greatest city in America. I may not have an overwhelming “patriotic” pride, but I sure am loyal as hell to New York. And growing up here, there’s a whole different lifestyle and an entirely unique state of mind. There is no physical divide between rich and poor and race here. Sure, certain neighborhoods are more LIKELY to have a certain demographic (South Williamsburg, Sheepshead Bay, Brownsville) but gentrification runs rampant through the city, low-income/lottery housing exists in the most luxurious buildings (my friend was lucky enough to bag one) and you’ll find everyone in Times Square from the businessmen to the tourists to the teenagers to the hood squad.

There is a certain kind of acceptance that comes with being a New York native. If you went to school here, you were exposed to a mixing bowl of race and culture at a very early age. I grew up brushing elbows with project kids, families who had enough money to treat a group of kids to dinner and the movies for their child’s birthday (an impressive feat in the 90s), immigrant children who spoke little English, young girls wearing hijabs and a boy brought up as Jehovah’s Witness who wasn’t allowed to participate in any of the holiday activities. We had class luncheons where everyone would bring in family dishes, Dance Festivals where we’d learn choreography from different origins, and Spanish class was a requirement for 5 years of my public school life.

The fact that a Confederate flag was recently found displayed in the window of an LES apartment was definitely a surprise, considering I grew up in LES. Because in the New York Bubble, racism is something that happens somewhere else. Growing up here did not instill the fear of cops in me and getting pulled over was never a stressful or scary event. In the New York Bubble, a racist establishment will get slammed and shamed on social media or Yelp; a racist incident in the street will be recorded on a camera phone and make the Gothamist for the city to snub; a Good Samaritan will call someone out publicly for displaying prejudice. Growing up in NYC, I was not taught to see race, traipsing through Chinatown, the only Black person in a swarm of Chinese friends, their parents thrilled with my knowledge of Mah-Jongg without the English characters on the pieces. In the New York Bubble, racism is a shocking and disgusting thing we’ve mostly evolved past, while small towns in Middle America remain ignorant without progress. In my mom’s building, our conservative Jewish neighbor, a mother of 2, has offered my two cousins to come wait inside her house when we weren’t home, and they can look like hoodlums sometimes.

I just had a conversation with my boyfriend the other night about how different my high school experience was from the ones you see portrayed in teen movies. No one was ever singled out for being poor, for being overweight, or for struggling in English class. Those with bad grades or bigger pants sizes or suspicious odors weren’t really treated differently than anyone else. What kind of alternate universe did we exist in? Were we just on a different level of maturity?

Even when I leave New York, I find that the Bubble still follows me. As much as I’ve traveled to visit my family in South Carolina, no one has ever tossed a racial comment my way down the dirt roads, surrounded by deep forests and trailer parks. When I moved to Boston for 2 years, I was met with friendliness abounds, as if the whole New York vs Boston rivalry didn’t exist. When I went to D.C. for Otakon a week ago, nada. Likewise, Baltimore, Virginia and down the East Coast, nothing.

One might see this as a strong sign that our country is progressing. Until you look at your Facebook feed and the news stories, the viral videos of police encounters and personal accounts from across the country of cultural headscarves getting snatched and sneers to “go back to your country.” And you dejectedly realize it is very much still there. And sometimes…it comes into our Bubble and it’s here too. And while I hold my NYC upbringing like a talisman, how far can that Bubble extend? The outer membrane is so thin…

~Tael

Mix Hoodies With Black

I tend to have some pretty down-to-earth conversations about racial truths with one of my cousins, who is like a brother to me. They’re never serious, debate-like, haughty, “woke” ones; just some “Damn, shit’s really like this, huh,” ones.

One lovely experience that reinforced the scaffolding of our own invisible prejudice occurred during a trip to Atlantic City for my birthday a few years back that I’ve shared on Facebook before. It was late and dark and the ATM I needed was the drive-thru kind in an empty secluded lot. My cousin instantly put the fear in our party’s hearts by mentioning how one could easily get robbed here. He does this. Like when we went to see “Get Out” on opening night and he said he hoped no white supremacist would come shoot up our theater in protest of the movie. T_T’ Had me looking at white boys with backpacks who couldn’t sit still and the exit routes for half the movie, praying.

The ATM wasn’t constructed in a way where the car could get close; we rolled down the window and I slung half my body out, engaging my core to access the screen and withdraw as quickly as I could. OF COURSE, at that very moment, a black guy with a hoodie enters the lot and seems to make a beeline for our car. Stuck hanging out the window, waiting for the machine to process the withdrawal, while everyone else is giving commentary, “He’s coming closer!” “Did he just pull out a ski-mask?” “LOCK THE DOORS!!” I panic, terrified and fully believing I’m about to get buck-fiftied for my meager checking account balance. I’m not sure if I made it to the part where I actually got the money. I may have just jettisoned myself back into the car and screamed “DRIVE, JUST DRIVE,” without completing the transaction.

Dude walked right past us.

Was our fear justified?

If you were walking down a block at night and saw a group of Black teenagers clustered outside of the projects, would you cross the street to avoid…”something?”

I don’t. Not anymore. I don’t because what am I afraid of? Why should I be afraid to walk past a group of my own race at night? At most, as a woman, to avoid catcalling, but I’d rather show solidarity. When I confidently pass them, they either quiet down or throw out a greeting. I acknowledge them back as fellow humans and keep it moving and the “big, scary moment” is over. I don’t want to fear my own people. If it was a group of White men in suits, there wouldn’t even be a situation up for discussion, my cousin says. Or if it was a group of Asian men.
What if they were wearing hoodies?

“What about Spanish men?” I ask.
“Probably not. A bunch of light-skinned guys don’t look as threatening.”
What if they’re wearing hoodies?
“But your skin is the darkest of all; would you be afraid to walk past a group of you?”

There is not a clear cut answer.

“What if it were Black men in suits?”

Then it probably wouldn’t be an issue either. Everyone loved Men In Black.

What if they were Black but wearing glasses, skater gear, a Nintendo shirt…blahblahblahblahnothoodies, why do what they’re wearing hold so much weight? Why do we trust clothes before people?

I don’t want that ingrained fear that was instilled in me growing up. I’m Black and I wear hoodies. To fear another Black-in-a-hoodie seems silly. I want to break that fear. And so I walk past them, fearless and without judgment. Because we are all people, and we deserve that much. Most especially from our own.

~Tael

The Vilification of Shyness

I come from a family of acceptance and varied personalities across the spectrum. The outgoing, the charismatic, the loud and boisterous, the low-toned pipe-ups, the never-smile-for-photos, the Let’s-Take-40-Photos-at-the-Same-Angle-and-Only-Slightly-Mix-Up-The-People, the ones who avoid the center of attention like the plague. We’ve got it all. Maybe I was raised in a bubble. The New York one, I’ll get to in a later post, but the acceptance bubble. Because the real world is not as graciously accepting of the unfamiliar.

Assimilating into the world from beneath the comforting blanket of your family, one constant mind-boggler has been that there are many who treat shyness and introverted natures with disdain. Perhaps they don’t understand them; perhaps it doesn’t exist in their own families; perhaps it seems very Columbine-esque to them and they fear we’ll murder them in their sleep. Growing up, we brought many friends and lovers into the family, and half of them were introverts. They were shy, spoke quietly (and duh, why shouldn’t they be, they were just meeting us) and we respected this and surrounded them with our raucous laughter and love and never made them feel a certain way if they didn’t speak enough or remained on the sidelines.

Leaving my own family though, I’ve encountered the opposite throughout life. I’ve had people tell me my shyness and habit of keeping to myself has come off as rude, intimidating, and arrogant. When in the world did this happen? When did a lower voice and less speech and more social observation make you a villain? Sure, in grade school, it was more likely to make you a pariah, until you matured and realized not everyone is a social butterfly with a big mouth.

At family gatherings and events, you might have found me huddled in a quiet corner with a book on the outskirts. An only child until the age of 15, I learned early to be comfortable with silence and isolation. My comfort zone was in solitary. My mom constantly answered questions toward me for me, might have realized that wasn’t the best move, and once took me to a church function where she plopped me in a group of kids I didn’t know and demanded I make friends before walking away. I immediately burst into tears from the pressure. Middle school I was pretty friendless. I clung to what little social interaction was offered to me, played Gameboy in the yard, tried not to hide out in bathroom stalls at lunch, and dreaded when the teachers gave us the opportunity to choose our own groups for projects. High school I developed sweaty palms from the social anxiety, frequently wore gloves to hide this fact, and prayed I wouldn’t be questioned when I went to shake someone’s hand or I left damp palm-prints on the science tabletops.

Eventually, you encounter people in this world that don’t care if you veer away from social situations and probably even understand it (I would think it to be fairly easily relatable). But you also continue to encounter ones that still look down on it, as I did recently. And I’ll likely continue to encounter it the older I get, because not everyone is accepting to your personality, whether you’re in their face with it or not, and not everyone is willing to see the deeper you past your reserved layer. In our society, where partying and raucous antics are considered the epitome of a good time, if you deviate from this, you must be ready to defend yourself. Because if you hide on the outskirts and don’t drink as much, your motives will be questioned. Because if your anxiety gets the best of you at the wrong time, and you seek solace in isolation to recover, you lose worth in their eyes.

Thoughts

The ninja lifestyle can be misunderstood by most. But I am not lonely to continue its path. If you’ve ever been judged by your shyness, find me.

~Tael