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! 😉 )

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 sense… 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.  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,  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.  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.  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.

India was My “Fernweh”

I recently saw a page on Buzzfeed that resonated with me called “23 Charming Illustrations of Untranslatable Words from Other Languages.” I clicked on the link to the page because, being a visual person, I enjoy illustrations and, seeing as how I am married to a man whose first language/mother tongue is different from my own, word/expression meanings in different languages have recently become relevant to me.

The first word illustrated was “fernweh” which comes from German and means “feeling homesick for a place you have never been to” (according to the illustrator, I hope she was correct!). The list goes on and some of the illustrations are quite nice. If you didn’t click the link to the page, you should check it out. You might find a word that speaks to you like I did.

Back to why “fernweh” stood out to me… When I read the translation of what it means, I recognized that I had felt this exact feeling in my life many times. I can’t tell you where it came from, why it came, or anything other than I know without a doubt I felt this homesickness for India long before I ever had any Indian friends or even knew any Indian people. Maybe it manifested itself because I was always an avid reader in my childhood. Maybe it came because I read something about India or its people at a young age. Unfortunately I have no idea what this could have been or if it was anything like this in the first place.

What I do know is that in my elementary school, I learned to read a little earlier than most other children, I used reading as a means to escape reality (don’t take this the wrong way, my reality was quite good, I promise) and “travel” to many different places, and that I had a very vivid imagination. I enjoyed reading so much that in fifth grade, I read so many A.R. books and got so many points that I was the Top Reader and won $100. That’s a pretty big accomplishment for a 10-year-old! What I’m trying to get at is that it makes total sense to me that I could have learned about India while reading one of the many books I read during my early “travels”.

My earliest memory of being interested in India was when I was young, maybe 10-12 years old, and spending some time at my paternal grandmother’s house. This story requires a little background information, so hang on! My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the whole world, especially when I was young. She and her dog lived in a three bedroom brick house about fifteen minutes from my parents house. I would often spend Friday nights with her and we would do many crafty things together during these times. We would draw, color pictures, make jewelry, do embroidery, etc. because she enjoyed being creative and making things herself. I think (and my husband thinks) I got some of my character traits from her. She made one heck of a grandmother. I still get teary-eyed when I think about her and she has been gone for more than 7 years…

One thing she would do with me was take me to fabric stores and let me choose a fabric to make something out of when we got back home. She sewed various things for my brother and I growing up, like pillows, embroidered blankets, bags, you name it. She had a fancy embroidery machine that you could create your design on the computer and the machine would transfer it onto your fabric. I guess this was pretty fancy for the time, now that I think about it… Because she was always sewing and embroidering various projects, she always had some interesting fabric scraps. One of my favorite things to do when I was at her house was to play in the fabric. Literally. I would take out her neatly folded and organized fabrics, throw them around for who knows what reason, wrap myself up in them pretending to be somebody different, or wrap up her dog or my brother in them turning them into whatever characters suited my fancy that day. This is where my earliest memory of being interested in India came from.

One day I told my grandmother that I wanted to wear a sari. I don’t even know how much I knew about them or how in the world I came to know about them, but I knew that they were beautiful pieces of fabric beautiful ladies were wrapped up in, and I wanted one. Spending the whole day dressed in a pretty fabric sounded perfect to me. And in my grandmother’s quest to be the best grandmother she could be, she made it happen. (Perhaps I was a spoiled child…) She found (I don’t know where) a print-out of how to wrap a sari and how much fabric one needed to do all the wrapping and pleating. She also calculated that since I was a child, I would need less yardage than a full-grown woman. We came to the decision that we would go to the fabric store and find four yards of the fabric for my sari. I still can picture the blue fabric in my head to this day. It was a polyester, flowing blue fabric with sky, royal, and navy shades and a large paisley block-style print. When we made it back to her house, we followed the directions as best we could, and I was happily in our version of a sari. That’s all I remember about it.

As time went by, I learned more about the world, not just India. It was on my radar just like any other country halfway across the globe would be to a girl born in 1990 in the U.S. When I would come across products imported from India, I was drawn to them because of the various colors and patterns that were different than the norm here. Other than that, I didn’t really have any tangible reason to be interested in a country that was so foreign to me. Fleeting thoughts here and there told me I wanted to go there, but I had no reason to believe it would actually happen! This was my “fernweh” kicking in.

I met my first Indian friends in college. I liked so many things about these people: their food (of course!), their clothes (surprise…), their friendliness to guests, and the way they were excited to share their culture with a white American Southerner who despite all the stereotypes surrounding her, was not, in fact, as closed-minded as she thought she was. And as those of you who already know us know, one thing led to another, and through mutual friends, I met the Indian man who became my husband.

Almost five months after our wedding, we traveled to India to meet B’s parents. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that it was a big deal for me especially because this trip was full of firsts. My first plane ride, my first time out of the U.S., my first time traveling with B for more than a small trip, my first time meeting his family face-to-face, my first time finding out what I am really made of! To read more about this trip, click here or here. I experienced so many things on this trip. I won’t list them here because it’s just too much.

December 2013 and January 2014 was the time my “fernweh” was satiated. Now when I feel homesick for India, Nabagram, B’s Mom’s cooking, Bengali mishti, etc., it’s just plain old longing instead of the fancy word “fernweh” because I’ve been there now. The bottom line is that I knew I felt something, but was never able to describe it in words. While I don’t know that all (or even half) of the things on Buzzfeed are worth the time it takes to skim them, this page was worth it because it made me connect things in my life I hadn’t connected yet.

Do you have a place that you feel “fernweh” for? If so, try and make it there someday! I bet you won’t regret it.

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. 🙂 )

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!

 

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today is International Women’s Day 2014! I can honestly say that I have never been more glad to be a woman than I am at this point in my life. I’m usually not a big proponent of this type of celebration/day/recognition, but this time, I am. There are multiple reasons why I am more proud to be a woman, but I can save those for another time.

Growing up, I always was given the impression by various people in my life that being female meant I was, if only to a slight extent, lesser. I will not name names or point fingers, but it happened. The things that make me who I am are, in a lot of ways, very feminine qualities. I am an emotional person. I am a caring person. I love very deeply and become emotionally invested in the people I care about. These qualities, while not limited to the female gender, are more commonly found in it. I was always under the impression that these things make one weak and lesser.

I do not believe so any longer! And you shouldn’t either.

If you are a woman, please be proud of the things that make you the person you are. You are amazing!

If you are a young woman, please know that the struggles you are going through to figure out what makes you weak and what makes you strong will work themselves out and you will be fine. You may not feel amazing, but trust me, you are!

If you are a man, give us a break! Our sensitive and emotional natures are why you love us. Your grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, and female friends took care of you and helped you become who you are.

Women around the world struggle for various things, against various unrealistic ideals, and with various goals in mind. Some struggle for higher wages and better jobs. Some struggle to get jobs at all. Some struggle to feed their children. Some struggle to feed themselves. Some struggle to make it out of sex slave industries. Some struggle for reproductive rights. Many struggle with feeling lesser.

Let’s be proud of being women. We struggle every day for something and we still manage (for the most part) to look pretty and smell nice! Great job ladies, keep up the good work!

Happy International Women’s Day!