Monday, April 21, 2014

Jung, the soul, and the difference between fate and destiny

I have trouble sleeping at night. Rather, I fall asleep within two minutes of my head hitting the pillow, but I will be tormented by thoughts while I sleep and often awakened four, five times a night, often my heart pounding like crazy over some email  forgot to send, or more disturbingly, the dreaded feeling that I'm losing my soul. That the part in me that deeply appreciates art and literature is being starved off like the oregano plant that sits brittle and parched on my veranda.

I don't know why it should feel like my soul is being lost. I'm the one who decides not to paint for fear of upsetting my partner's wishes for a clean, paint-free space. I'm the one who decides that theatre and art exhibits are a waste of money, that novels too are seldom worth the paper they're printed on. I'm the one who decides work and writing about actual events is preferable to struggling with fictional writing. So if it's all self-imposed, why do I feel like an important part of me is being swallowed alive by 'real-life' priorities and limitations?

Lately  a trusted friend recommended that I read on Jung, and that I seek therapy. She didn't just recommend it once, either - it was four times, five in the course of 50 minutes. The advice was so laughable I made it clear with face expressions and gestures that I thought it was a profoundly stupid idea. For starters, I've undergone no abuse, no war, no near-death experience nothing that would warrant therapy or counselling. Second, Jung, Freud, and all the rest have always struck me as pretentious and impenetrable. In reality, I've only ever read Freud, but to an ignorant person like me, third-party explanations of Jung's theories  -- the myths, the archetypes, the "individuation" -- always seemed remote and deliberately confusing.

Especially when she passed me the business card of a psychologist she knew, I felt positively used -- did she have some kind of deal going, where if she introduces a client, she gets a cut of the profit?

Walking away, sneering at the idea, I still obliged myself to google the therapist's name. And came across a quote by Carl Jung there that gave me pause: "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate".

That was exactly it, I thought. For many years, I've had the feeling of one side of me -- the conscious, perhaps -- strangling and violently throttling another side of me that was impractical for living in the real world. Any time I had a desire to indulge in anything, it would stamp on that desire, arguing that it was terrible to want frivolous things while half the world was starving for food, that financial security could not be gained by wasteful spending. If I had a desire to relax and enjoy the afternoon, it would whip my butt out of bed, screaming that time was finite and that there was work to be done. Slowly and surely, that inner voice stopped speaking out, and I found myself alone with a deafening silence, a mental existence where there existed no desire, only duty.

I asked myself what I wanted and was surprised to find no answer: no desires, just duties. And no dreams, only benchmarks.

And that was breathtakingly sad. The goal was to shut off that impractical, 'inner desire' voice because it kept getting in the way -- horribly in the way -- of my work and the kind of person I needed to become in order to succeed or be approved by others. The "me" that my partner and others wanted was someone who prioritized dish-washing and laundry over journaling, who organized their photos and files into neat folders, who would refuse a family trip to Gibson's Island on a beautiful Sunday in order to cover a stupid political rally, which would have seemed utter madness only two years ago. I thought that I was becoming professionally successful, and was shocked to learn last week that my mother resented the work-enslaved person I was becoming, that she was angered to see me glued to my laptop even during family gatherings, and who pleaded me to find another job that would give me space to breathe and be creative. I found that tears came to my eyes when I considered that the inspiration and urge to draw and write creatively had left me over a year ago. I now doodle out of habit, but nothing moves my soul anymore. I say things are beautiful because they seem to fit a template of what society deems beautiful. Nothing stirs anything in my heart the way it used to.

And perhaps that was a major reason why I couldn't sleep at night anymore.

Half out of desperation, half not, I went on Google Play and bought a Jungian psychologist's book called "What Matters Most" by James Hollis. I also bought -- feeling like an idiot for taking advice so literally -- Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Jung.

They have been a revelation.

In reading the books, I realized that the first decades of life have been about moulding the self to be able to survive in the world and fit in relatively with society. But what society/loved ones want you to be is often different from what the soul wants you to become. The soul is "destiny" -- what your inner self wants you to be. The compulsive acts, the endlessly regurgitated pattens of actions that we fall into as a result of our experiences (e.g. always sacrificing the self to help the spouse, devoting oneself to the alter of work, buying what is 'safe' and 'conventional') is "fate".

Even though economics and real-life practicalities have often gotten in the way of exploring it, my soul has always been drawn to the exquisite. As a child, I was entranced by things that were "exquisite" (even that very word), and tried to replicate them or curate them for an imaginary audience. I thought it was my duty to communicate the greatness of the world to others. Utilitarianism, pragmatism, realisitc compromise have always struck me as disgusting until they became a part of me through economic realities and lack of sufficient talent/charisma to turn my desires into a viable career.

Perhaps there is a way to manifest the thing I desire to be with what I am now. There needs to be a way.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cake shop haunt

There's a cake shop a few blocks from my home, which has delightful Asian-style cookies and cakes. Their products are delicious and they're open until evenings. 

It's a shop that most people would love to visit, except past 6 p.m., there is always one figure in the window who makes it hard for the browsing customer to step in. He makes no acknowledgement of any of the existing customers in the store, and appears bizarrely out of place in a cutesy cake shop.

I've drawn him a bit flatteringly here, but basically he looks like an Asian version of the South Park's "That which has no life" guy in "Make Love, Not Warcraft." 

It's entirely unclear what he's doing there, but he sits there for hours in front of the window every night, looking bored out of his mind, clicking his mouse and doing something on the computer. He freaks the heck out of me. 

"What do you think he's playing? Video games?"
"No," says J, my partner and consummate gamer. "He's not leaning into the screen, and he looks totally disinterested." 

My personal guess is that a) he's the owner and founder who mysteriously sabotages his own business. 
b) He's the owner's son, who the staff can't make go away. 
c) He's an accountant or web designer who keeps the wheels going in the business without any inkling of concern for customers. 

Monday, March 17, 2014


In reality, beauty is absolutely everywhere if you're looking for it. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bad boy, good girl

I often see guys checking out girls, but very rarely do I see women overtly check out a guy. Well, the other day in Burnaby, I saw a classic teenage bad boy walk by -- hair dyed translucent light blue, leather jacket, piercings, disgruntled frown. Walking opposite of him was a classic "good girl": pretty, hair tied back in a neat braid, doing some grocery shopping with her mother. As soon as the boy walked by, she turned around very explicitly, checking him out from top to bottom, her eyes hovering around his butt, no less. She did everything but cat-call him. It was an interesting display of what happens when the tables are turned. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why I travel: Jordan, part six. A walk through Wadi Rum following a blue light.

There are moments that change a life, but you don't realize it until months after that moment has passed.

Such a moment, or string of moments, happened during my night stay at the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan. As mentioned in part four, I had fallen very ill and had not yet recovered, even though the wild jeep ride through sand dunes and magnificent view of the sunset had revived me somewhat.

I lay in pain and softly breathing in the woven tent in the Bedouin camp. The soothing sound of wood cracking over the last embers of our campfire rippled through the air periodically. The stars glittered in the clean night sky. I'm about to fall asleep when I hear the sudden sound of feet slamming in shoes and flapping cloth, and suddenly see a cluster of lights through the tent cover.

I listened, and heard that they were assembling for a "night walk"through the desert for A__'s favourite spot to have tea. Tea, in the middle of nowhere, at 11 pm?

It all sounded too much so I rolled back in my covers and tried to fall asleep. Then I heard the words,
OK, so that's everyone but ___then. 

My heart jumped. Was my whole group really going on this crazy night walk, and I was missing out? I tried to inject logic into my thoughts: I was throwing up and feeling like death only a few hours ago. I'm in the middle of a foreign country with no health insurance. I'm in the desert, where there are Palestinian snakes (little grey snakes that apparently have venom so potent, you die promptly after being bitten). All of this makes joining the night walk seem like an irrational idea.

Pulling the thin covers over me, I try to ignore them and go to sleep.

But then, the unrest flutters in my chest. I'm in Jordan, I think. This is the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do things you can never do at home. You've spent entire summers sitting on a computer, and your entire twenties playing it (relatively) safe. You can't even remember the last time you did anything outrageous. Can't you take a risk, just once?

Before I knew it, I was stumbling out of the tent to the surprise of the entire group, and insisted that I wanted to come along.

We filed out of the camp in a single file, flashlights on, feeling a cool night breeze. Everyone was chatting, and happy. Just a two hour walk, nothing more.

Everywhere, there was serene dark blue landscapes and a beautiful carpet of stars above. I thought it was like heaven.

About 5 minutes after we'd left the camp, A___ turned around and said something that instantly made me regret coming out of my tent covers.

"We are going to have some fun. OK everyone, please turn off your flashlights."

Puzzled, we turned our lights off. Only a faint black outline of A___ remained.

"I'd like us to try walking in the desert at night. Everyone must walk alone, and walk about 30 seconds or a minute apart from the next person, so that you can't see each other. I will be the one walking in front, and you can find where I am as I will flash my little light here--"he said, pressing a faint blue penlight.

"Watch for this light, and you'll know where to go. When you walk all alone in the desert, it's very special experience. Trust me, you'll really enjoy it."

My stomach dropped. You're kidding, I thought. The others didn't seem disturbed at all, but for someone who gets easily lost or has poor vision, this seemed like a recipe for disaster.

The wind blew harder, and I had to pull my keffiyeh scarf over my shoulders to ward off the cold. Why oh why hadn't I just stayed in the tent? 

"Uh, I think I might have to go back," I muttered, and started to turn away, but remembered my partner criticizing me that I give up too easily and put the brakes on my cowardly feet.

Dark desert. Queasy stomach. Terrible with directions. This could not be good.

"Where are we walking to...?"

"Straight ahead, he pointed to the faint, black-brown outline of a mountain, far off into the horizon across a flat black stretch of desert.

"We will have tea at that spot on the large rock-mountain,"he said."Ready? I'm going first. Wait one minute, and the next person can come, and a minute later, the next person."

What a stupid, reckless, daredevil guide we have, I shook my head, cursing A___ under my breath. So that's why he made us sign those bloody waivers back at the hotel, where it said if we die, he's not legally liable.  How the hell is he going to find us if one of us gets lost?

A____ walked further and further ahead, and all of us lost complete sight of where he was in the dark. Just as someone was about to call out, a microscopic blue light flashed for one second in the distance. Reassured, the next person began walking, then the next person, then the next. 

I started walking, but felt every cell in my body rebel against this walk. You'll enjoy this, my ass! Far from enjoying the serene night walk, I was frothing over with stress and tension. My stomach gurgled. Darkness ferments the imagination, and I wondered every time my foot sank into the soft, fine-grained, yielding sand, whether the faint black thing I saw one step ahead was a desert plant or perhaps a rat, a gerbil, or just a rock. A few times, I felt so overcome with anxiety that I turned on my light for a few seconds, before someone from behind implored that I turn it off. I imagined a Palestinian snake slithering across the sand, in the dark, soundlessly, and my foot landing smack in its path. How I'd scream when its sharp fangs sank into my ankles. Three minutes to live after a Palestinian snake bite. What would I even do, what would I think in the last three minutes of my life?

While I ground my teeth and imagined my horrible fate dying alone in the Wadi Rum desert, the walk continued. Two more hours of this, and this walk had just started. Fifteen minutes in, I saw a strange yellow light blinking on the left side of my field of vision, far off ahead.

Was it a car? In this desolate desert, at 11 pm at night?
"Please keep quiet everyone," A__'s voice in the distance, sounding tense.

"---Keep walking, I'm going to leave my light off for awhile...We don't know who it could be that would be in the middle of this desert at this time, but they may be up to trouble, so it's best not to let them know we are here."

OH GOD, I screamed inside. What could they be? Hunters? Kidnappers? Human traffickers? In retrospect, all these conclusions were silly,  knowing how civil Jordanians are, but the ominous lights and the warning from A___ made me so nervous I could almost feel the roots of my hair turn white. 
But there was no turning back now, so we all had to walk the best we could, in stealth.

One foot in front of another. One, two. One, two. On it went for another 15 minutes, and my face was a mask of intense concentration and fear.

Eventually, the roaming yellow lights disappeared over a mountain, and didn't come back our way. I exhaled in relief.

Then something strange began to happen. I looked up. I sucked in my breath at at the beauty of the night sky, with stars more dense than I had ever seen before. Almost as if a curtain had been lifted from my eyes, I looked now ahead and saw how beautiful the desert at night was, how precious this moment was to be able to walk in the middle of it, like so many before me. I could see the outline of trees, of sand, of mountain, in the deepest shades of translucent midnight blue and black.

And complete silence. The desert was so quiet, there was no sound except for the soft shifting of sand under my feet. Feeling the wind blow against my shoulders, I pulled the Keffiyeh tighter and was surprised to find that despite only wearing a thin shirt and cotton bra, I did not feel it was cold. Or sick. 

My fears and external concerns began to melt away. Thoughts about work emails, insecurities about my abilities, doubts about my family, all evaporated. My sickness was purged, albeit temporarily. Walking in the night, alone, in silence, I felt the soft sand like air beneath my feet, and whenever I started to feel a bit lost, I saw the faintest glimmer of blue light, flash once-twice so quickly I almost thought it was a figment of my imagination. But I walked toward it with instinct and trust. 

It was the closest I had ever come to meditation while eyes open and alert. The calmness of being able to simply walk, one, two, left-foot, right-foot, not knowing where you are really going but trusting yourself and hoping to reach a good destination at the end. 

The moonlight shone brighter in the night sky, and I could see at the end of our walk a large sandy rock, which A___ had climbed on top of to see our progress. Within 20 minutes, all of us were here. In a move that could be construed as sexist, A___ ordered all the guys to gather firewood from the desert, and over a dry pile of sticks and leaves on the rocky surface, A___ lit a match and out of seemingly nowhere, produced a kettle with water and some paper cups. Soon, everyone was sitting on the rock that is A__'s favourite spot in Wadi Rum, warming up with a cup of hot, fire-boiled tea, and chatting about this and that. It all felt surreal. 

The walk back was significantly shorter and less suspenseful than the way there, and we all fell exhausted into our tents. At the time, I thought nothing of it, other than a deep sense of relief that I'd not died or gotten lost.

But every now and then, when I start to think a challenge or task is far beyond me, I think about that desert night walk in Wadi Rum and realize it may actually be done. Every now and then, my mind is back in Wadi Rum, walking in the pitch-black darkness, not knowing entirely where I was but revelling in the feeling of the unknown and the unknowable.

Putting one foot in front of another, going forward. Guided by the faint, almost not-there flickers of blue light.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A tale of two black leather bags, or a lesson in value

I have two black leather bags. I'm neither a bag nor shoe person by heart, but have come to realize why women value these two things. They transform a person's self-image. It's the thing a woman sees when she looks down to examine herself: she may not be able to see her face or her hair, but she sees her bag and her shoes constantly, and if they look sharp and good, she feels good about herself also.

These two black leather bags are a study in contrasts. One, my old Roots bag, is something I have had for years. I received it out of the blue from my father, who bought it for me years ago when he saw that I had no handbag and was toting around my dirty backpack everywhere. He'd presented it as casually as someone would offer a mint to someone, unwrapped, a mid-sized crossbody bag with a sturdy leather front-side, gold zips and a synthetic poly underside.

"I found it in Costco and thought you could use it," he'd said.

I found the bag ugly and unstylish, but I loved it instantly because my father had bought it for me. A Roots brand bag, even at Costco it must have cost at the very least $100, possibly $200. Since receiving this gift, I have carted the bag everywhere, done everything to it.

The other bag is a gift I gave myself. A vintage, made-in-Paris and a genuine Givenchy, made by high-quality luxury leather and eye-poppingly stylish. It was a consolation gift I had given myself after weeks of grueling work, and after having given up on a $200 Fossil doctor's bag that spoke to my soul, but which I could ultimately not bring myself to buy due to wasteful cost and the fact that it was made in China. The Givenchy bag -- normally a $1000, $2000 item -- was on sale for a paltry $30, which meant that I absolutely had to buy it. Even the ugliest synthetic pleather brand-name bags I found at Winners still cost $60, so this one was a no brainer.

Since receiving it, I have endlessly admired the fine craftsmanship of the bag, the beautiful gold handles and logo, the elegant shape.

But these two bags are treated very differently in my daily life. Even though I love the Givenchy bag, in reality I am afraid to carry it day-to-day. Already, due to one accident, the bag has been slightly damaged by water, and I have been afraid ever since to take it anywhere. Deprived of fancy occasions, it sits often at my bedside, its main purpose not to carry things but to remind me of luxury that I too might one day be able to afford (even if I never do, because stinginess and thrift are part of this creature's DNA).

Then there's my Rots Bag. I treat it well, clean it with leather conditioner once every three weeks, but it needs it for all the wear it gets. Despite its lack of style, the bag has accompanied me to and from the office, coffee mugs, clothes, heavy notebooks, cameras, snacks and candies and half-eaten cookies. It has accompanied me to the Middle East, to swamp hikes, on canyon hikes, across a 26km mountain trail, and most recently, it has held oil-soaked dirt. I don't give a second thought to dragging it with me to the outdoors, even though that's not its purpose.

And it made me wonder what the true value of a bag, or any item, is. Quality and beauty is one thing, but how superior could it be to something you use daily without so much as a second thought, to items you use so frequently they are like a second skin? Is caviar really so much more precious than the old brown rice you eat as a staple?

I think in the end, quality and value come in many forms. I have an exquisite vintage Japanese silk scarf that rarely leaves my closet, which forms the foundation of my fantasies, and yet who is to say that is less important than the polyester black scarf I wear every day, everywhere, even to bed, even though I find it ugly and cheap? Who is to say that special occasions are more precious than the everyday?

Monday, January 20, 2014

I dreamed of Paris

Last night, I had probably the happiest and most exhilarating dreams in recent memory. It was around 3 a.m. when I woke up to a weird banging sound in the next room. It could have been someone slapping around yeast dough (best case scenario), or hitting his girlfriend/wife/kids, though the complete lack of screams and other objects banging around made me wonder what was really going on. The punching bag option came to mind as well, but it was too loud for a fist hitting canvas/leather.

I sat there half-asleep, all anxious and heart thumping, wondering how horrible it must be to live in one of those neighbourhoods where actual screaming matches and gunshots are keeping you up. That was Yaletown, minus gunshots, only a few months ago.

But my dream took me away from all that. In my dream, I woke up to see myself in an old, pale building in Paris, where some young woman was signing up contestants for a longboarding race. I'd never done it before but signed up, just like I did in real life with the rollerblading tour of Paris. I'd gotten a white longboard with deep blue and red Islamic tile designs.

The mission was simple: race downhill to the old library, grab a book about Audrey Hepburn's last days in Paris (no idea that she even died there, this was just part of the dream), get a librarian to write something on a card as proof you were there, and race back.

I dove into the race with wild abandon. Thanks to my over-eagerness to win, I was coming in first for the downhill portion of the race. I arrived at the library, and was just bowled over by the immense beauty of the white exterior, and the black iron fence. I pulled out my camera and just took photos of it, I dont' even recall if I actually went in. Somehow I ended up with a Hepburn photo in my pocket and I raced back.

And on my way back, there was a scene that was so marvelous I'd never forget it. I was now boarding uphill, on my back on a cobblestone road (there is no way that could have worked in reality), and there were birds flying off the street into the air as a horse carriage passed by on my left, like a scene out of the 18th century. On my right was the most elegant brown brick building I'd ever seen in my life, with gorgeous green trees surrounding it. I was grinning ear to ear, feeling happy to be alive and thrilled to be witness to such incredible beauty.

But racing, uphill, was still slower than downhill, and I almost got lost along the way. But when I arrived, I saw one of my competitors who came before me. I was in second place. The strangest surprise was when I poked through the other rooms and saw none other than my dear best friend, T, sitting alone and quietly enjoying a breakfast of fresh croissants, yogurt and strawberries.

I walked up to hug her, and that was where the dream ended. Looking it up, it turns out this means I'm yearning for more romance and excitement in my life, to possibly escape routine. This all sounds very plausible.

I will surely have to save up for my next trip...not to Paris, but Botswana.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vancouver Douchebags: Lord of the calamari rings

A true story that I overheard in a restaurant. But I'm ashamed to say I also didn't know that calamari referred to the squid species itself, and not the "rings".

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Futile SkyTrain ticket

I don't know why but it bothers me deeply to see transit police fining people for not having a ticket.
In a city where there are shootings, drug dealings, and a whole lot of other ugly things going on, it strikes me as a colossal waste of public/private funds to arrest -- for the most part -- harmless people who just want to get from Point A to B.

Especially today, there was an overweight, unshaven man in bad shape being ticketed at Commercial Broadway. He probably came from a good university, too. If the CEOs of Translink took a pay cut (still making a vastly superior living wage to most people), they could probably easily afford to hire this young man instead of slapping him with a ticket. They are a brazen group to increase the fares each year while adding nothing to improve service.

I doubt those who run the public transit in Vancouver think very much about the users who step on their trains, day in and day out. Increasingly it appears to be run by those who can well afford never to set foot in a Skytrain at all.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ugly dream

I had a memorable dream last night.

There was a little blond kid with angelic, big wavy curls and large blue eyes, five years old. He was at a children's dance event with other children. The children didn't know it, but it was a charity event being held for one of the girls there and others with cancer.

"That girl over there..." he said, looking repeatedly in the direction of a young girl in the back with a deformed face.

"She looks like what America did to Iraq."

His father (me in the dream) gave a slight smile. The boy had an odd way of describing things, and absorbed talk around him like a sponge. He couldnt' have of course known anything about the war, but he had absorbed from the way his parents talk that what America did in Iraq was wrong and ugly.

"Now, don't be mean to her, though. It's not her fault she was born like that."

The boy blinked. He didn't mean to be mean, but was just saying it to ask why everyone else seemed not to notice her ugliness. Was he the only one who saw it? Why did no one else seem to mention it? But and as though to prove he wasn't mean, he walked up to her to say hi.

The girl, with her mashed up features, looked at him. She had been writing in her notebook.
The boy opened his mouth to speak, but looked down at her book and saw that she had written in shaky pencil, "I am ugly". The words were upside down, but the boy could read what she meant to say.

"I just wanted to tell you you have a nice smile," the boy said, and walked away. He wasn't sure why he had lied -- he hadn't seen her smile but the words just slipped out the moment he saw her words in the notebook.

Turning around, he said,
"Oh, and also, hi."

The girl was stunned for a bit, but gave a beautiful smile and closed her notebook.