Now is the Time: A Reflection & A Challenge

I would say that “real life” started for me after I graduated from college and started working. Stepping back to notice a transformative season in your life takes a sense of awareness I don’t believe the majority of the population has. Realizing and acknowledging the fact you are in a season of change within your personal being is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.

Terrifying because you realize that you don’t know anything! You start to understand that you have so many preconceived notions that are just plain wrong. You wonder where you got them from and why they are so deeply internalized. They sometimes seem to be a part of you that you wish you could just amputate and forget forever. Acknowledging this season of change is terrifying because you realize how fragile your preferred interpretation of reality really is. The most frightening part is that you can’t know the outcome of the season of change until you have pushed your way through it, if you ever do!

The flip side, though, is the exhilaration! Exhilaration because your life’s potential is, if only for this season, unlimited. The number of options truly becomes tangible in a way it had not before. It’s exhilarating when you can finally see some measurable progress in your deepest self. You realize that all the changes you are trying so hard to make are helping to propel you in a more appropriate trajectory for your personality and skills. Personal growth is not a bad thing! Sometimes the growth happens naturally, with no pain. But sometimes, only new things can grow when old things are pruned off.

I am truly feeling exhilarated, and also terrified, because I have no idea what is going to happen next for me. I am in a season of change right now, for sure. I am working hard and learning how to be a better daughter/sister/wife/lover/friend/worker/photographer/blogger/designer/person in general. I’m digging deeply and doggedly to allow my best self to shine.

All of this reflection stems from the fact that I turned 24 last month and my personal goal for this year forward is to be my best self. Those words are simple ones, but the idea is complex. I am growing and changing and figuring out my true priorities in life. I’m realizing that I am not required to allow my past to dictate my future and that I have the potential to be the person I want to be. I’m lucky to live in a place where there are many opportunities out there for me.

I’ve begun to take responsibility for my life. I no longer want to blame others for my misfortunes, my challenges, or my shortcomings. I am taking charge of my life and my self. Now is the time for me to be my best self and actively cultivate the human that I want to be. I want to focus on making better lifestyle choices, having better relationships with the people that matter to me, and managing my resources more effectively. Many of us have heard the saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Well, I’m trying to change the only thing I can; me.

My past means a lot to me. I grew up in a certain environment and in a certain way that helped make me who I am. But that doesn’t mean I should stop there. I think we sometimes (frequently) use our past to make excuses for our present. I know I do it (and my husband absolutely probably gets tired of it…). We like to use our past as an excuse to stay in our comfort zone and refuse to grow into the people we ought to be. My parents, my childhood experiences, my hometown definitely influenced who I am. But we shouldn’t allow them to dictate who we are for the rest of our lives. Those things we did not have a choice about.

I read somewhere recently that our parents/hometowns/early environments, basically the things we can’t control, determine the first stage of our personal development. The next stage, however, we determine consciously based on the parts of our psyche/personality that we choose to nurture. This concept resonated with me because I am very different from the average person from the town I grew up in. I’m not saying I’m better than people from my hometown, just simply that my goals and priorities in my life don’t necessarily reflect those of the people I grew up amongst. I confess that I used to (and still sometimes do) worry about what all these people think of me and my life choices so far, but now I’m trying very ardently to transition into being more concerned with what I (and God) think of me. This shift has helped take a load off of me that I never realized was there. When you grow up carrying a heavy load and it’s finally removed, you can finally realize your potential.

My challenge to myself (and to you!) in this stage in life is to be the best version of myself that I can be by being more mindful, more authentic, more clear, and more loving.

I started working on this post about a month ago, but since I’m posting it now… I think this is a very important challenge, especially here in the US during the holiday season. Be present when you are enjoying time with your family members and friends. When they are gone or they move further away, do you want to have these precious memories to look back on or do you want to live with the regret that you paid more attention to your social media accounts than you did to them?

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving from me and B!

(P.S. B has developed a pretty good turkey call, ask him about when you talk to him! šŸ˜‰ )

Women Wear Suits of Armor: Part 2

Here’s Part Two of Women Wear Suits of Armor!

Quickly, here’s what I’m talking about in case you missed Part 1:

A suit of armor can be worn literally or figuratively. In this case, I am obviously talking about the figurative senseā€¦ Recently I have been thinking about women and their similarities/differences from culture to culture. I am of the opinion that women in many cultures are very very similar. I think the inner nature of women is relatively universal but the way this inner nature presents itself outwardly is what varies from house to house, city to city, state to state, country to country, etc. Ā Much like a vanilla flavored cake is still a vanilla flavored cake whether the frosting is red or blue, thin or thick, simple or fancy.

Example 3: Muslim Women and Hijab

This may be a controversial topic to some, but not to me. There are many different/opposing/negative views floating around the interwebs today about Islam, especially here in the US,Ā  but I am not getting into that. The Muslim women who are my friends wear hijab because they are convicted by their beliefs to do so.Ā  They believe in only sharing their beauty with their husbands and families instead of with the entire outside world. They believe in being modest when it comes to how much of their bodies should be shown in public.Ā  My point about the hijab being similar to a suit of armor is that the women who wear hijab feel it protects them from outside forces, whatever they may be. A Muslim lady who wears hijab puts on her armor every day to protect herself from being ogled by random men, to protect her dignity and honor, and to boldly live her religion.

Honestly, I admire the people who choose to boldly live out their beliefs openly, no matter the religion they practice (providing they aren’t harming anyone else). Here in the “Bible Belt” where church culture seems to sometimes be more prevalent than living out real Christianity, it is becoming more and more rare to come across people who talk the talk and walk the walk to back it up. There are a tremendously large number of “Christian” people I know who say they believe in something but do not boldly live their lives as a reflection of it.

Over the last few months, I’ve been inspired to dress more modestly. I’ve been inspired by, yes, some of my Muslim women friends, and by other cultures where modesty is more important than it seems to be to girls and women here these days. I cringed many times when I saw that crop tops were coming into style again this Spring and Summer and that shorts and dresses are getting even shorter. My modesty resolution is that I am not wearing short shorts or dresses unless I’m wearing leggings underneath, I’m not wearing anything that is tight-fitting, and I am covering my shoulders and cleavage. I want to keep the attention on me and my ideas instead of my body. I’m focusing on dressing for respect instead of for attention, and I’m hoping more young girls and women here start to do the same.

Example 4: Overweight Women + New Moms and Dark, Baggy Clothes

Sorry to all overweight women (or even just women with body image issues) and new moms, I’m going to call you/us out! Those of us who are not happy with our bodies, and that is a lot of us unfortunately, like to hide our bodies in dark, baggy clothing. If you are a woman reading this, you are thinking,”Yeah, duh… Why are you telling our secrets to the world?”. If you are a man, this may be news to you!

I’m not looking to offend anyone by grouping overweight women with new moms, I’m just trying to show that both of these groups of women tend to have a high level of insecurity when it comes to body image. Overweight ladies tend to be insecure about their weight, their proportionality, and various other things that deal with appearance and health. New moms tend to be insecure about the changes in their bodies along with other things as well. The most common way of dealing with an insecurity is to hide it. Here, I’ve always been told that black is the most slimming color. I’m not sure if any other cultures have a color that magically slims you down, but women who wish to appear thinner here wear black. Apparently black is the magical, hide-all-the-bad-things-you-don’t-want-people-to-notice color. Black, baggy clothes are a great substitute for a suit of armor because they hide the flaws you don’t want your enemies to see.

I will admit that I have this slightly long black cardigan I throw on when I’m not feeling good about my stomach/hip area on any given day. It does hide that area from onlookers and makes me feel that I don’t have to worry about a stranger judging me for not having a flat tummy and slimmer hips. I’m not saying that this type of hiding inside armor is good or bad. It can be good when you need a boost in confidence and putting on your black cardigan gives that to you. It can be bad when you are so accustomed to hiding behind your black cardigan that you forget to make healthier choices for yourself.

Final Thoughts

All this about armor and insecurities just brings up more questions for me. I expected that by writing about how different women wear different suits of armor I would feel more closure of the topic, but I don’t. Usually writing about a topic helps me process my thoughts more clearly and helps me decide what parts of an idea are most important and relative to me. Writing about this topic though has made me think that maybe there will be no closure because women and people are always going to need some armor to protect themselves. One question I still have is “Is there a relationship between the amount/intensity of insecurities and the amount of armor one wears?” If a person has few insecurities, does she wear less armor? Do women who have many insecurities wear armor so often that it becomes a kind of permanent skin/second nature? Do men wear armor in the same ways that women do? I don’t know. We’ll see I guess.

Thanks for reading this two-part post! If you want to provide any answers to my remaining questions, please comment.

A Lifetime of Explanations, aka an Intercultural Marriage

Today I want to go into the topic of intercultural marriage. I prefer the term “intercultural” instead of “multicultural” in this case because I think that I represent my family culture and B represents his family culture. That equals two cultures, and I feel “inter-” makes more sense than “multi-” in this case.

I absolutely love my marriage. I could not think of a more appropriate person to be in a lifetime partnership with than my husband. But we are different from each other in a number of ways. Some of our differences include: age, skin color, fitness level, nationality, first language, enjoyment of cuddling, etc… Even with all of these differences, we have the most honest and secure relationship I could ask for.

Ok, enough with the mushiness. On to the facts:

There are plenty of pros and cons that come along with being married to a person who is from a place completely different than you. I want to just touch on what I believe to be the biggest pro and the biggest con of being in this type of relationship. I like to get the bad things out of the way first, so I’ll start with…

The Biggest Con:

Confusion. Confusion is the biggest con that directly relates to my marriage being an intercultural one. On the surface, every marriage (that I’ve seen) has its share of confusion simply because a marriage, by definition, consists of more than one person. When more than one person attempts to share a life, there will be things that come up that result in confusion.

However, in the intercultural type of marriage, I think the level of confusion is more on the fundamental level because we grew up in such different environments. When two Americans from Western North Carolina’s Small Town Friendly (shout out!) meet up and begin living a life together, they automatically have at least some ground in common. Logically speaking, the confusions that come up in their day-to-day life should (hopefully) not extend into the fundamental level of either person. They should (probably) have mostly “surface confusion”. Logically speaking, the same should be true for two Indians from a Kolkata suburb in West Bengal. In these types of marriages, there are plenty of common things that the individuals can take for granted, in a good way. These common things could make people in these types of marriages feel more secure because they feel they know their partner very well. (I am aware that this is not always the case, individual results will vary. šŸ™‚ )

B and I however, “suffer” from “core confusions” in addition to these “surface confusions” because we have our typical married-people differences plus the fundamental differences that come from being born into two vastly different societies. These fundamental differences were bred into us and fostered over years of exposure to one specific flavor of life. These differences affect how we communicate, how we relate, and even how we love. This is where our core confusions come from.

They manifest themselves in various ways as well and can be difficult to comprehend and learn to work around. These core confusions are evident when one of us doesn’t grasp why the other reacts to something in a way that doesn’t make sense, when one of us notices something the other would never have, when one of us communicates differently than the other would prefer, and the list goes on.

I think the worst way these “core confusions” manifest themselves is when we are in the middle of a discussion/argument/heated explanation and the phrase “You just can’t understand” is uttered in an attempt to end the discussion out of tiredness or lack of motivation to continue until an understanding is reached. This type of statement inherently shifts the blame onto one person and isn’t really fair.

I believe that the failure of the one person to understand properly is simply a reflection of the other person’s failure to explain properly (again, individual results will vary…). This directly relates to what I think is

The Biggest Pro:

Self-knowledge. I know myself now better than I ever have before. This may not sound like a big deal to some people, but I believe it is one of the most important things one can do. I believe people live their daily lives with “rose-colored lenses”, especially when they look in the mirror. We like to only acknowledge the parts of our self that make sense and make us look good. We take how we grew up and make that our identity, not stopping to question why or if it is a beneficial point of view to adhere to. For example, where I grew up, children are expected to accept whatever their parents/elders say just “because I said so”. I think this works for young children up to a point. When children start to become grow into real life people, they should be encouraged to question things in the pursuit of knowledge. Young adults (and old ones, too) should know that they would benefit from being lifetime learners. And the more one can learn about oneself the better.

Being in an intercultural marriage forces me to get to know myself better so I can explain myself better. In our goal to have the most honest marriage we possibly can, this means I have to be as honest about my thoughts, feelings, and motivations as I can. This means I have to acknowledge the negative things along with the positive. I must be able to critically assess myself. This is a difficult thing to do alone, but I have the perfect person to do this with. He is honest with me about me. He does not sugar-coat things just to make me feel a temporary warm and fuzzy feeling. He is honest with me so I can have a long-term happiness.

Are people in intercultural relationships the only ones who have self-knowledge? Absolutely not. But I do think we are more apt to strive towards it earlier and more willingly because we need to explain ourselves a little more frequently than others because of our core confusions.


There are of course other pros and cons of being in an intercultural marriage. Look for more to come!

 

Birthday!

My birthday was yesterday, but I’m still young enough not to feel sad about growing a year older! I share my birthday with one of my Indian friends and my great aunt, so October 14th is a pretty special day.

Unfortunately, our big day fell on a Sunday this year, so celebrating long into the night wasn’t really an option for those of us who had work the next day. But we still had fun and were able to enjoy the time with each other and our friends.

I was in for a surprise, however, when it came to the cake. At a typical American birthday party/celebration (at least as far as I know), the scene looks like this:

  1. The people invited show up on time at the pre-determined location.
  2. The birthday person greets everyone, chit-chat and laughter ensue.
  3. Eventually it is time for the cake. The cake is brought out, candles are lit, and the birthday person blows out the candles while making a secret wish.
  4. Cake is sliced in perfect slices and handed out to everyone.
  5. They eat cake, talk and laugh, and maybe eat more cake. The end.

Is that how this particular birthday celebration went? Um, no. This particular birthday celebration with my Indian friends was not like this at all. It was more like this:

  1. A few people showed up at the guys’ apartment on time. Most seemed to be on what we call IST. Most people would think this acronym stands for “Indian Standard Time” but they are wrong. It really stands for “Indian Stretchable Time”. So basically, almost everyone was late. This was fine. I’m used to this by now.
  2. The birthday boy and myself were congratulated by everyone and chit-chat and laughter ensued.
  3. Time for the cake came. This cake looked SO good. It was a three-layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and chocolate ganache. It was beautiful. It wasn’t a plain, cheap sheet cake, for sure.
  4. The birthday boy and myself stood together with the cake for a few photos and then we cut into it. We were fed a bite of cake by our friends and we fed our friends a bite, too. (This is another thing I don’t understand, but I just went with it). AND THEN…
  5. There was a handful of cake smushed in my face! Then another. Then some frosting. And apparently this is normal. After the birthday people were attacked, a full fledged cake-smushing-in-the-face fight began. There was cake everywhere. And the guys’ apartment had beige carpet.
  6. After things calmed down, I was allowed to go wash the cake off my face. I wondered why I even put make-up on. Then we ate what was left of the cake, drank a beer, and laughed and danced until Sunday the 13th turned into Monday the 14th.

I had a great time, don’t get me wrong. It was just not how I’m used to celebrating. I’ve never had a chocolate cake facial on my birthday until this year. But really, thanks guys! It was a great time, as always. This was probably the most fun birthday I’ve had since my 16th, and that was a long time ago!

But now I know, I will not be hosting a birthday party with any Indians at my house unless I have hardwood floors.

Welcome!

To present an idea on the scope of this blog, here are a few thoughts:

Culture –Ā theĀ behaviorsĀ andĀ beliefsĀ characteristicĀ ofĀ aĀ particularĀ social,Ā ethnic,Ā orĀ ageĀ group.

This is dictionary.com‘s definition of “culture” that I find most appropriate.

It’s very interesting to me that a distinction is made between “behaviors” and “beliefs”. In general I think that most people primarily associate beliefs with culture, forgetting that behaviors are a key factor as well. Culture involves so much more than simply believing something. It encompasses a person’s everything. Everyone grows up in a certain fashion and (hopefully) as they grow more mature, they will be able to (and motivated to) objectively assess what made them who they are.

Culture has recently become a subject of interest to me because I am married to someone from a culture very different from my own. Obviously there are challenges that arise when two individuals commit to a marriage, even when those people are from the same or a similar culture. But when those individuals come from two different parts of the world, the challenges are different. I will not say that it is harder, I will just say that it is different. Some behaviors an American may take for granted, an Indian may think are crazy, and vice versa. And I want to talk about them and any other weird things that come up.

Get ready for some posts about culture, people! You have one, I have one, we all have a culture. Also, don’t judge me for my thoughts. I’m just a girl adjusting to my world. šŸ™‚