Monthly Archives: August 2014

Tough love

tough love

When we were kids, my brother and I were never allowed to skip school. It didn’t matter if we were sick, or if it was post-exam week and nobody else bothered to go to school. My disciplined doctor of a mother wasn’t the least bit sorry sending us off to school with a strip of Panadol, Clarinase, Zinnat or whatever medication suited our ailments, and she didn’t care if we were only one out of five other kids who went to school post-exams.

“Unless you’re dead or dying, there’s no reason not to go to school,” she always declared.

Needless to say, her tough love approach rubbed off on me. I grew up believing that as long as one still had at least three functioning limbs, and a functioning brain, there was absolutely no reason for them to not do whatever they wanted or had to do. And when people came to me for advice, I was empathetic to their plight, but completely unsympathetic in my advice to them. The way I saw it, they had to toughen up if they wanted to survive whatever hardship they were going through, and I had no concept of self-pity or self-commiseration.

So when a friend asked me for relationship advice because she happens to be in a relationship whose circumstances are similar to my own, I gave her the only advice I could: to deal with it the way I myself deal with it. (Naturally, I left out the part where I sometimes drown my sorrows in a bottle of white wine) This proved to be somewhat of a rude awakening for me, because I had always labored under the delusion that anyone in my position would have no other choice but to handle it the way I do, with a hardened heart and a complete lack of self-pity because the way I see it, we brought this on ourselves.

So it was with great consternation that I realized she and I dealt with our situations in completely different ways. She had no idea how her partner functions in a relationship because she chose to ignore the circumstances that came with it, while I had always believed that in a relationship like this, total awareness (and even foresight) of a partner’s behavior is absolutely crucial. She was all about making her life revolve around him and his circumstances, while I drew a line because I thought it was bad enough to live with the existence of circumstances without allowing said circumstances to come within 100 miles of where I live.

So with all of these realizations came the unsettling epiphany that either my friend had absolutely no clue what she was doing, or I had been dealing with my own relationship bullshit the wrong way. Never mind that our ‘counseling’ sessions (via WhatsApp, no less) had led me to mischannel my own anger at my own situation, but I was unable to comprehend why she couldn’t look at her situation through my eyes.

It made me wonder: how many ways can there be to deal with any situation, particularly a hopeless one? If you’re aboard a sinking ship, what can you do but jump (assuming you can swim)? If someone breaks your car window to rob you, what else is there to do but file a police report and replace everything you lost? If the person you are seeing happens to already have someone else 4744 miles away, what choice do you have but to suck it up and live with it, because it was your choice to be with them in the first place? All the bitching and crying (and alcohol) in the world isn’t going to repair the ship, track down your robber, or make your partner choose to leave the whelp for you.

Maybe I had been dealing with it the wrong way, but it was the only way that would have worked for me. So in the end, I told my friend to do what I do only if she thought it was worth it, and if she would be able to accept the circumstances. I conceded that she may not have the character to do it, but in a relationship that requires nothing but strength and discipline in order to survive, I hope she will toughen up anyway.

The heart of the matter

Death is something I’ve never really talked or written about, mainly because I’ve never been very sure how to address it. I was raised to rein in any and all public displays of emotion, because I was always told that any sign of emotion is a show of weakness, so I learned to keep my feelings in check and only deal with them when I’m alone — or in the shower.

But yesterday’s coverage on the return of the victims’ remains from Flight MH17 struck a weird chord in me. I never liked thinking or talking about death because when I do, I only ever wonder what the victims — be they of a car crash or a plane crash or a sinking ship — were thinking and doing in their final moments. That, in turn, makes it morbid and totally inappropriate for me to be talking about death.

A few years ago, I dreamt that I was drowning, and it was so vivid that when it woke me up, I was disoriented enough to flail around thinking I had broken the water’s surface. And when I realized it had all been a dream, I was relieved primarily because I knew I had not died without telling the people who mattered to me how I felt about them, and I spent the next few days writing down everything I wanted to say to each person in individual, personalized letters.

Before you marvel at my diligence, I should point out that there really weren’t that many people to write to, and I didn’t have a great number of things to say to some as I did to others.

Now, as I work towards a brand new chapter in my life that will (hopefully, with all extremities crossed) come within the next year and a half, I realize that there are many people with whom I will have to find some sort of closure eventually. I can count on both hands the number of people with whom I have unresolved issues, and on one hand the number of people I would want to keep in my life when that new chapter dawns.

It makes me wonder, what makes it so difficult for us to say all the things we need to say in order to move on? Is it our pride against not wanting to be the first to admit defeat and apologize, or our fear that even if we did say whatever we need to say, nothing will change and the other person would still hold a grudge against us? We may not be able to forget the things that people have said and done to us, but is it really so impossible to forgive? Is it really that much better to live with the anger, the bitterness and the resentment, than to live without the people who at one point seemed to matter so much to us?

People make mistakes, people may not know what to do sometimes, but that is just human nature. But we look past all that and accept them just the way they are, because not to do so would mean that we can’t forgive them for being themselves instead of what we want them to be. It can’t always be all about us — what we think, what we feel, what we want. Sometimes we have to put ourselves aside and understand that this is how they are and know that we can accept them for it. And it’s only when we forgive — ourselves and/or them — that we can move on, with or without them.

I’ve been learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know, the less I understand
And all the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again
I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak, and my heart is so shattered
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Even if you don’t love me anymore

– India.Arie/Don Henley, The Heart Of The Matter –

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do still have those letters.

A requiem for manners

When I decided to leave my last job at the end of April, I knew that wherever I went next, I would be a writer again. As much as I detested some of the occupational hazards that came with writing for a magazine, I missed being in publishing. So I did some Jobstreeting and came across a very appealing position in a very appealing magazine, and I immediately applied for it.

Some weeks later, I was recommended for the very same position by a friend who had direct connections with said magazine. I sent my résumé to this contact, and waited for a response. To cut to the chase, I emailed the same contact again a month later to inquire about the status of my application, and this is where you realize that if I had to “cut to the chase” a month later, I obviously never got any form of a reply from them. Not a peep.

RUDE

The story of how I only discovered a week ago that the position I’d been eyeing had been snapped up by someone else will be saved for another post. But in the immediate aftermath of this discovery, I found it difficult to get past the most glaring point at issue: the appalling lack of common courtesy that was evident in the radio silence that I had received from the publication.

Then, nearly a month ago, a good friend came to me asking if I would be able to help pitch for sponsors for a friend of hers who wanted to do a book signing event in Kuala Lumpur. After telling her to have her friend email me with details of this book signing as well as everything this sponsorship would entail, I received the most taciturn of emails from a man I had never met who essentially wanted me to convince people to throw money at him, that read nothing more than:

[My publicist] and I can send you info about my book as I would love to bring [insert book title here] to Malaysia for a book signing and speech in conjunction with [potential sponsor]. Let’s brainstorm.

I am currently in [an Italian island that nobody cares about].

RUDE

Several things leap to mind in the face of both incidents:

Bad manners. There isn’t a pin to choose between a badly-worded, ill-mannered introduction email and a total lack of initiative to respond to an email. Potential employers, take note: It is completely unacceptable to not respond to a job application, even if it’s to tell the applicants that they didn’t get the job, because it’s far worse to spend an x-amount of time waiting for a response than it is to get a rejection email. We’re adults, we’re aware that there always will be jobs we’re not qualified enough for, so be an adult too and tell us so that we can stop wasting our time.

Inflated egos. I’ve stressed time and again that people constantly overestimate their self-worth, and this was made clear to me in the Email With No Manners. Just because you’re from a country whose current moral compass is questionable at best and have a TV show in a genre specifically designed to kill brain cells, it does not mean there aren’t still people falling over themselves to be associated with you. Therefore, if you want to email someone you’ve never met asking to be sponsored by people who haven’t the faintest idea who you are, it might not be a bad idea to begin your email with even a simple “Hi”.

Dying practices. In the 16th century, messengers delivering notes and letters would wait by their horses while the recipient wrote a reply, because everyone knew that if it was an urgent matter, the messengers would have to ride back with a reply as soon as they could. But today, in an age where it’s become so easy to limit or completely cut off communication with someone just by tapping a screen, it’s no surprise that common courtesy and common decency have become as uncommon as common sense. People no longer feel obligated to toe the etiquette line because they have that digital wall — as well as a wall of “I’m busy” excuses — to cower behind and make up for their tardiness.

RUDE (2)