“Yours Ever and Always.”

On December 28th, I went into my Mom’s room to look for a photo. It was a photo of her and I in Texas before we trekked over to California. I scrummaged through her closet to find the various scrapbooks we’ve accumulated over the years. I found a stack of photos of her in Vietnam, when she visited my grandmother, and I stumbled upon a photo of my mother and someone else. My mom was younger in this picture, she was at an age I had never seen her, and the man next to her, was someone I’d never seen before as well.

I flipped the photo and saw a small note written in cursive English. It hit me that I’ve seen this photo before. I remembered that I’ve read this note before. I realized this is a photo I had been meaning to find again and here it was.

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“Nothing can erase the memories of the those days we spent together.”
Yours ever and always.
Thanh

The man in the photo is my dad, my biological father, the missing person in my parentage, someone who I think about quite too often for someone who’s not in my life. In the photo, my mother and father are next to each other, standing shyly, looking like two innocent lovers who just got together. I’m assuming the photo was taken in Indonesia, where I was born, because I do not recall my father with us in Vietnam. Overwhelmed with emotion, I teared up for obvious and some not so obvious reasons. For most of my life, I felt devalued and lesser than my peers with complete families so I, myself, felt incomplete. But, now, at the age of 22, I no longer ask, “Am I worth less because my father is not in my life?”

Instead, I ask, “Isn’t his life worth less because I’m not in his life?” I know my worth and it’s not defined by the lack of his presence, him not being here for me has only made me stronger.

A memory that calls to mind was when I was in high school and my mother picked me up to go home. During the car drive, she asked if I was dating someone. I said no. Then, she began to softly lecture, teaching me lessons I would not yet reflect upon, about how men sweet talk to avoid the issues and how words cannot mend actions. On occasion, I would ponder if my mother misses my dad. I don’t miss him, but I hope he misses us.

As an aspiring writer, I devote myself to being authentic. I devote myself to living a life of honesty and documenting the truth. But… the truth isn’t always pain-free. The truth isn’t always easy to accept, but ever so often, beauty can flourish from the darkest and ugliest crevices. To be able to ascend from the murky depths of grime and filth, a blossom of change spreads its petals of perseverance, and when we prosper in an environment of deterioration, that is success. Success doesn’t always come in form of money, it can come in a manner where we learn from the past, take what we’ve learned, and execute it so our future is better, not bitter.

Speaking of bitter, today might be a bitter day for some, but not for myself. I’ve never been sour about Valentine’s Day – despite the fact that I’ve never had a Valentine – EVER – (cue in audience laughter) I actually love seeing all the love being spread today. If you know me, I love pink and today is plastered with pink. I love it!
Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you have a day filled with sweetness – whether it comes in the form of chocolate, friendship, or family. Enjoy today, be safe and be grateful. Thank you for your time, thank you for reading. ♡

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2017

When I was younger, I dreamt of flying cars and being able to teleport. I imagined that by the time I was 21, I would be able to travel from one continent to another within seconds, but alas, science has not yet matched my imagination.

Moving along, it’s been a few weeks since 2016 has ended and 2017, the new year, has begun! I’m not one to make New Year Resolutions because, well, frankly, I have enough goals from last year carrying on I’ve yet to achieve. I know my commitment with the gym and eating healthy will be inconsistent, but, at least I know that and I’m not lying to myself.

Another item on the list of “Things I Won’t Lie About” is how this year, I will focus on my friendships, more than I have ever before. Speaking of friends, this month marks the birthdays of my two best friends since high school, Cali (23) and Christy (22). 2017 also marks a decade since I’ve known these women. 10 years of friendship is quite the achievement in my book. Cali’s birthday was on the 2nd and Christy’s was on the 16th. Quick pop quiz, what’s 16+1?

Apartment 17

On January 2nd, I drove past my old apartment, the apartment where my mother and I had lived together before my little sisters were born. It was where I spent a chunk of my childhood, the almost-casino where my mother held gambling sessions, the one bedroom apartment where I grew my little sunflower plant and my mom tried to grow a lemon tree, and the spot where my imaginary friends and I frequently met.

The number 17 resonates with me mainly due to the fact I was born on the 17th day of October and when I was seventeen, I barely passed my driving test. I was infinite, unstoppable (at least I thought I was), but in all actuality, I was reckless. Fast forward to the present. As of this moment, I’ve been in the United States for 17 years, 18 years this June. I have no insane emotions or any extreme bright hope for this new year, but since the number 17 is in this year’s date, I do feel slightly giddy, but ever just so slightly – because this year could be just like 2016: a whirlwind of emotions, traveling, laughter, departure, new beginnings, and as always, growth. 2016 was one of best years of my life so let’s rewind, reassess, and repeat.

Spring 2016

 Spring 2016 was the last semester of college I spent in Southern California. I juggled two internships and two jobs in which I found myself in a routine – a safety net for five months – I had become an automated student who knew what to do each day and each week. I lived by my Passion Planner, gifted by T, so I was able to know what I was doing each hour of my life: commuting to my internship, at the gym, tutoring, working at PopBar, or hanging out with someone. But, no matter how great of a planner I was or how structured my planner made my life seem – I couldn’t plan on what was happening next in my life after graduation.

Ah yes – I graduated college! I didn’t walk across the stage because I had immense anxiety about this event ever since my junior year of college. In my third year, I had already known I wouldn’t be able to do it. Why not? It’s my anxiety, I can’t explain it. When my mother said she wanted to see me walk for my Bachelor’s – my anxiety went down a considerable amount, but it wasn’t enough for me to walk amongst my classmates. Embarrassed is an understatement – I wish I had been stronger to conquer my anxiety because it truly hindered me from participating in unrepeatable experiences.

Summer 2016

During the months of May, June, and July, I was able to travel to Miami for the first time and Mexico twice. I still question if I ever went there but as I look back on photos and videos, I realize it wasn’t all a dream but a reality. Traveling is a privilege bestowed to those who can afford it and when I went to Mexico, I saw those who did not have the same privilege as me. At some points of my travel, I felt wrong being there due to the fact I could see the inequalities of class, education, and culture. But, it made me aware and appreciate what I had and what I could give to others.

Fall & Winter 2016

I thought I had mentally prepared myself for the move back home. I had decided in Fall 2015 that I would move back home instead of staying in Southern California and pursuing a career in Orange County. But, the move back home consisted of me traveling back and forth to SoCal so often it caused me to not have a solid identity of where I belonged and where I did not – was I officially home in Sacramento or was my home still in Southern California?  I had registered for classes in my local community college for the Spring, got a job at the local mall, hung out with my little sisters constantly, but the feeling of being misplaced and lost only grew as the weeks passed.

I joked about being depressed when I moved back to Sacramento but the joke’s on me now. I never strive to be happy, just not to be sad, but it appears though that sadness struck me in the most unfashionable manner. It made me more anxious than ever, the thought of not living appealed to me, and I started drinking alcohol more often than before because I wanted to feel something else than what I was feeling when sober: dour. Mentally, I feel as though I’ve regressed because I’m back to my former self where my only defense mechanism is to: push people away, run far, far away, build a wall, have my guard up, and then build another wall. President Donald Trump, if you ever read this – a wall is not the answer.

Being distant from people is a path I know I should not take but it’s a path I took instinctively… It’s a road well paved by the copious times I’ve travelled. The further away I seem to be – the better off I presume myself to be – but the verdict is, I only feel more alone. Forgiveness is an area I feign to understand and with my character, I don’t believe in the idea of fabricated friendships, so my situation remains desolate. How do I forget and forgive? Perhaps, it will occur in 2017. Perhaps not. Only time will tell.

* My sorority sister, Melissa, wrote a reflection post about 2016, and I felt inspired to do the same.

“I have a small family.”

The title of this blog post is the title of my mother’s short essay she wrote in one of her English classes.

On the page, she wrote about her family: her father, mother, older brother, younger brother, and her sister. My heart hurt when I read the line, “He passed away.” My mother’s penmanship is lovely, it’s remained the same as long as I can remember. She writes legibly while my handwriting looks like smeared lines.

I’m crying right now as I type this post.

As I read more, I found that she wrote about my grandmother, who had not yet passed away when my mom wrote this piece, and I became even more emotional. As I finished reading her paper, I cried. I felt guilty. Guilty because I did not know about my aunts and uncles. Guilty because I was never curious and seldom asked. Guilty because I stopped talking to my grandmother over the phone when I found out she neglected and abused my mother when my mom was younger. Guilty and ashamed because I eventually neglected my own culture, spoke less Cantonese, and became more Americanized. Guilt has taught me a lot.

When I was in high school, my mother had started taking some English classes at a local community college. I remember she would be at our dinner table, late at night, past dinner time, just practicing her writing. English is my Mom’s fourth language. She can speak Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mandarin. I recall the times I got frustrated translating for my mother, wishing she would just be able to understand English so I wouldn’t have to translate for her anymore. But now, I look back on my selfish behavior with immense shame. I hardly can even speak Cantonese properly and I was becoming annoyed with my mom trying to learn her 4th language.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to appreciate my mother and her broken English. I used to frown but now I smile because my mother is trying – how could I ever ask for more?

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you so much, I truly cannot picture life without you. I know that in life, there are inevitable passages we all must one day walk. The day that we must walk different paths is a day I hope I have your strength, resilience, and courage to continue to make you proud. I may be genetically 50% you, but you’re my 100%.

Give to give, not to receive

As humans, we are naturally selfish. There’s always something we want, and most of the time, it’s never a ‘need’. In this fast paced and instant gratification generation, we have the ability to satisfy our wants but the desire to have more grows rampant, like a virus. I’ve got this, now, I want that

Flash back to a few months ago, I was ordering a meal at McDonald’s. I pulled up to the cashier, and I see, D, my former high school classmate, taking my card and processing my payment. She sparked a conversation with me when she remembered me from elementary school. I commend her because I didn’t have eyebrows back then.

But, I also commended her for what she had told me as she updated me on her life. In the our less-than-60-seconds conversation, I learned she lived on her own since she was 18, supports herself and her daughter, and with this small conversation, I felt an ardent desire to do something nice for her. I thought about it constantly – as soon as I left the drive though, randomly during days I cannot pinpoint, and heavily during this month of December. Out of the million sporadic thoughts in my mind, this was a recurring notion that would not settle until I settled with the fact that I must follow both my heart and mind.

On Friday, the 23rd, I had called her work asking when she worked (so that I could surprise her). Afterwards, I realized how creepy I sounded – yikes – and later D called me from her cellphone. I spilled the beans because I can’t lie that well and we met up later that night. I gave her a card and giftcards to: Target, Buffalo Wild Wings, AMC, and Starbucks. We hugged four times and she kept thanking me because this had never happened to her. We conversed for a bit before she went back home and I arrived back home feeling accomplished and fulfilled.

As I type this now, I feel as if… this isn’t enough. I wish I could do more. Not just for D, but the other young mothers, strangers who need help, people who wish they had enough, families who are barely fed at dinner, the list could go on forever. But now I know, there’s much to be done, more to be given, and lots to appreciate. As always, I appreciate you, the reader, for taking time out of your day to read my blog. I hope you have a day full of joy today. Happy Holidays.

This blog is a documentation of my life, my progress, and of course, my thoughts. This is a thought of mine: if you feel like you want to do something good for someone else, and it’s a constant thought in your mind, pursue it, plan it out, and make it go from a thought to a fact. Make it happen. Life has a lot of unopened, unexplored, and disregarded potential. If we all did the good we wished we could do – wouldn’t the world be a greater place? Being kind is a choice and generosity isn’t a trait everyone has – some can’t afford to (I understand) – but those who can – why not?

We blame society

Yet, we are society.

As an advertising major, I was shocked that in my advertising classes, we seldom talked about how advertising affects the demographic we often ignore: adolescents. Kids these days are growing up with iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices that didn’t exist during my childhood, so it’s a no brainer that children nowadays are exposed to much more advertising than previous generations. There’s ads before YouTube videos, underneath all the free games, and during their favorite TV shows. During my projects, we’d target the most profitable demographic: the millennials or the baby boomers, but we never stop and think about who were unconsciously influenced: the younger generation, Generation Z.

As I returned home, I learned the details of my younger siblings bickering with each other, and I was absolutely livid when I found out one of my younger sisters called my other sister “obese and disgusting” along other vile words. Knowing my mother would never say such words to my sibling, I quickly made the assumption that my sister gained this thought process from the media or society (friends, classmates, etc). My hunch is perhaps 70% true since my sister wouldn’t say anything when I confronted her about her mean words.

But the main focus of this post is not about what one sister said to another, but it’s why she said those remarks, why she thought that way, and how we can change the way she thinks. Another thing to note is that millions of young children and teenagers think this way, too. The perspective that a skinny body is a pretty body, that being pretty is all a girl should be, and looks determine someone’s value can be credited to the media and societal standards. Something I learned in advertising is that the best form of advertising is word of mouth advertising – we all trust our friends more than commercials, right? So, when we hear a friend say something that’s not so positive about body image, it can make us think about our own body and how we perceive it.

Certainly, this post is not a self-love post because I am not the proper teacher for that subject, but we should all focus on how we influence our friends, whether we know it or not and whether we believe it or not that we do influence our friends. What we say about ourselves, others, and objects can negatively or positively change one’s opinion. As the oldest in my family, I recognize the influence I have on my siblings, so because of this, I am cautious of my diction, behavior, and attitude towards life. I’m now a teacher – and we all are – so we must teach, not only ourselves, but the ones around us, to be better.

This post was made in dedication to my younger sister, Lily, who turned 13 in September! Happy birthday, my little artist.

Fighting Anxiety: The Invisible Battle

One aspect of my life which feels never-ending is the conflict between my heart and my mind. Daily, I find myself in situations where I have a desire to say or do something, but my brain says, “No.” But, it’s more than just a quick rejection of my own wishes. It comes along with fear, stress, feeling stuck, and wanting to escape. However, these things are invisible to the naked eye and only I can feel them, though I wish I didn’t.

From elementary school to the beginning of my first year in college, I had the assumption that I was “strange” and not in the hipster sense of being different and cool, but because I could not handle social situations as well as the people around me. Was it normal that I would occasionally cry before I had to go somewhere and then continue to cry because my anxiety stopped me from going to places I had wanted to go? The fear of leaving my house would sometimes be strong enough to hold me back and I would stay in – does that happen to any regular person? My anxiety symptoms include: rapid heart beats, sweaty palms, trembling hands, my throat closing up, not being able to talk, and my face heating up. When I was younger, this felt like impending doom, now, I know it’s just my anxiety acting up.

I recall a specific memory from middle school, I was not yet 14, perhaps 12 or 13, and I was walking home one afternoon. I lived in this complex that was near the school and there would sometimes be people from my school who’d play in the playground, which was right in front of my apartment. When I approached the gate, I saw at least ten people I had recognized from my middle school and this wave of fear took over. I couldn’t go home. I didn’t want to see them and I definitely did not want them to see me. What I did was walk around my complex, spent time in another area far away from my home, and waited it out until everyone was gone. That was just in middle school. In high school, I remember I had so much anxiety about a competition that I flaked out on it, disappointing my coach and former teammates. Now, it’s not as easy to just wait it out or to run away.

Whenever I’m entering a new environment, or a place I’ve deemed uncomfortable, my anxiety goes through the roof. New work places and social situations I did not intend to attend are a couple of examples. I remember at one of my internships, at the beginning, I found myself with my words stuck in my throat, struggling to say the simplest greetings, and couldn’t even ask for the smallest favors. I felt as if my words were always on the tip of my tongue yet there’s a blockage so I never spoke when I so desired to. It took me a few months to get comfortable at my internship and before I knew it, it was time to leave. I wish I wasn’t so rigid and could have let down my walls faster, but it’s complicated when my anxiety doesn’t allow me to make the first move.

I’ve been tied to these chains of worry that never go away. My constant paranoia is a sidekick I’ve never wanted. But, I am stuck with my anxiety for what feels like the rest of my life. My anxiety masks who I am and because of this, I can be seen as standoffish, anti-social, or rude (all of which I completely accept). When you’re me and you’re mentally fighting against yourself, it’s not surprising when my face is full of frowns and there are no smiles to be found. Strangely, I must admit I find comfort in not having to be forced to smile and look delighted at all times.

However, one lesson I’ve learned is being comfortable means being stagnant. If I stay in the same place for the rest of my life, socially, career-wise, or academically, would I ever rise to be the woman I wish to be? The answer is no. Stepping out of my comfort zone is what spikes up my anxiety: meeting new people, going to somewhere unknown, having to bond with strangers, and so on. But nothing great comes from standing still in calm water. Overcoming the angst means traveling into treacherous tides. Is anything safe ever worth the drive? As someone who loves the rush of adrenaline, I have to stop taking flight and fight.

Fight against the anxiety, fight against the worries, and fight against the desire to give up.

Drive Safely

A haunting view I regularly see (but wish I did not) is the remainder of what’s left of a car tire each time I enter the freeway. During my trek to Northern California this past July, I consistently saw a torn apart tire that once was positioned perfectly on a car. What happened? What are the stories from these leftover pieces of rubber? Were they all deadly car accidents or were some parties saved by a miracle? These are questions where perhaps the answers can never be obtained.

On my way back from San Francisco, I saw a bumper of a car near the wall of the carpool lane. It makes me think – how often do we pass by visible damage and not do anything about it? Sometimes, there’s not much that can be done. On the freeway, I can’t just get out of my car and try to assess the debris. I’m not part of CSI. But in reference to our own lives – how often do we avoid obvious destructions, both literally and figuratively? There are moments of chaos where I know I will probably cry or fume about it but I push those thoughts, emotions, and energy aside, to an extreme distance, to focus on another item on my checklist. But, like the broken car parts on the freeway, the not so pretty moments of my life existed and sometimes still remain. No matter how far away I assume I am from my problems, it does not guarantee that my issues will dissolve on their own.

The rubber on the road does not disappear into the atmosphere within days or weeks. There could be a chance that someone will come to pick it up but there’s also the strong possibility that it will remain on the side for an undetermined period of time, perhaps months or years, perhaps forever. As we disregard the messiness of our lives, are we moving on, avoiding the wreckage, or accepting the mayhem? Like an unkempt room, items left behind in a certain position will remain there until we put it back where it belongs. Our clothes cannot wash themselves. Books cannot travel to their proper location on the bookshelf automatically.

As I pass by the remnants of what once used to be part of a car, I pray that I will never be part of the road in that same manner. But now, with this gained perspective, as I drive past rummage, I’ll think about the clutter in my life. As much as I wish I could just ‘drive past’ my personal issues, some problems are inescapable and some fears must be faced. As someone who is hooked on running away from her problems, I’ve found myself not ever being able to mend the wounds and repair the difficulties.

Sometimes, time does not heal everything. Sometimes, healing is working on the dilemma and conquering the obstacle.

This post was inspired by seeing some ripped up tires on the road. It made me think about how interesting it is to see that what we see in life can be a parallelism to our individual lives.

Every 6 Months

I will openly admit that I’m judgmental. I’m highly critical of not only others but myself as well. It is evident because I am my own biggest critic because every day, I am analyzing my actions and seem to give myself an abundance of poor scores and negative reviews. I also mentally take notes of the actions of people who are around me. In order to become a better person, I must surround myself with companions who too seek to better themselves.

At a minimum of every 6 months, I mandate myself to reevaluate my goals, friends, and environment. I ask myself a series of questions that sometimes challenge the position I’m in but growth never comes from being complacent. It’s a mental sweeping of emotional clutter to prevent an emotional mess.

  • Is what I’m doing, in my personal life and work life, part of the bigger goal that I have in mind for myself? How will I construct the bridge that allows me to close the space of where I am right now and where I wish to be?
  • Are my friends ambitious as myself and do they individually inspire me?
  • Am I currently located in a city that I want to be in – if not – when will I move and what are the necessary steps to take to get to where I want to be?
  • What am I doing today that will be good for tomorrow?
  • Have I remained honest to myself and is there integrity behind my actions?
  • How’s my health and am I properly monitoring both my physical well-being and mental state?

Comparison is deadly. I make it a point to not compare myself to my friends and their careers and lifestyles because as the worn out and played out saying goes, everyone’s journey is different. Looking at the future gives me copious amounts of hope, motivation, and determination. I am ecstatic to learn from my failures and manifest the mass figments of my imagination into reality.

Happy Belated Mother’s Day

To the woman I wish I could be, I dedicate this post to you, my mother, P.

You are a woman of your own dreams and I am, too. I never asked what your dreams were and undoubtedly, I feel guilty and incredibly selfish for having my own, chasing them, and not ever knowing yours. Like many Asian immigrants, you left your home, family, and a culture you knew well to a land of unknown possibilities.

As I get older, the Venn diagram of you and I becomes more aligned. The comparisons between you and I grow as I realize that you and I are quite similar, or rather, I am becoming your mirror image.

I can only recall you being sad less than five times my whole life. The first time was when your youngest child had to get open heart surgery, another time when you picked me up from CPS, and the third time, I felt your despair as you lost your own mother.

You sharing your sadness surprised me – I’ve seldom saw you express that spectrum of emotion – so the lesson is that even the most vigorous of dragons can fall, too.

As I age, I’ve taken note that I am more than just 50% biologically you. As a person who doesn’t often express her emotions publicly, I’ve hypothesized that I’ve inherited this trait from you. There lies scores of hidden similarities between our chromosomes. Besides our eye shapes and thin eyebrows, the honesty I share with others stems from the fact that you are painfully blunt with me. You’ve taught me to protect myself by showcasing my thorns because not everyone deserves the beauty and worth I hold inside.

Thank you for teaching me an abundance of essential life lessons that I shall pass onto friends and my future children. Thank you for your sacrifices and the strength you’ve embedded in me. When I feel weak, I think of you. When I want to give up, I think you and I push on. You are the definition of a vigilant woman, so today and everyday is for you, Mom.

 

MacBook Mayday

Last Monday, my MacBook broke and I couldn’t schedule an Apple Store appointment until Thursday. Come Thursday, I leave it to be fixed and I picked it up on Friday to find that it wouldn’t load after I typed in my password. Saturday, I went back to the Apple Store to be left with no resolution besides removing everything in order to have my laptop work.

On Thursday, I said I was ready to let everything go. On Saturday, I wasn’t quite prepared at all.

30 seconds after everything was deleted, it didn’t hit me.

2 minutes later, I thought about the countless amount of photos, videos, writing, projects I had been working on, music, and essentially, 3 years worth of memories that I had stored on my laptop – gone. I felt like my own memory got wiped, too. I was left wondering what did I really experience if I cannot recall it? This goes beyond being just an inconvenience.

I walked out of the Apple Store stunned. Jaded.

Right now, there is no way for me to see any positives in this aside from the fact that my laptop is functional. This wave of displeasure only constitutes swirling thoughts of blame and deep regret. I should have kept my computer more technologically organized. I should have gotten that external hard drive last year when I thought about it. Lastly, I cannot help but feel that this was preventable. I blame no one but myself.

My college years have indeed been the best years of my life thus far – I’ve gained experiences and memories that could never be replicated (literally) – and now, I’m at Step 1 with a blank slate I never wanted. Currently, I’m stuck in a hazy nostalgia that I cannot quite grasp – I’m trying to recall everything and this proves to be a mental task I am not equipped to handle. I am left with only the ghosts of all my memories – they’re there but they’re not really here and tangible. Life just wants me to stay detached, hah.

With everything said, I hope everyone backs up everything they have and please, learn from me! Every day, I think about how I lost my photos and how I’ll never get them back. But I can’t be negative forever. Let’s change the lens of how I’m viewing my situation and focus on making new memories. Say cheese!