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A bit stressed, a bit sad, a bit depressed. Lucky that these periods don’t happen often, or at least they haven’t yet. Life has always been easy and rather undramatic for me, and the downside is that I’m not so good at handling “tough” times.

Anticipating the closing of this chapter in my life and the starting of a new one. I have no idea what holds ahead. When do I ever? I don’t know why I’m so terrible at planning things out. I do try to sometimes, but it generally doesn’t go anywhere. The only time that I’ve ever pushed myself toward a concrete goal and had it paid off was when I applied to college. After that, I’ve been pretty much swinging it. Maybe because I don’t really want anything that badly.  “I’ll live” – that’s my motto. (Feel bad sometimes that so much money was spent on educating me only so that I end up this unambitious. I am supposed to aspire to grander things.) But this time, I do want something badly, and not so easily obtainable. And yet I have so much doubt about myself.

I can’t say that I’m proud of the past few years, having been too comfortable and not pushing myself hard enough. Hard to imagine I once was such a social butterfly. The only “redemption” is that I’ve grown emotionally. I read so much that I can recognize different nuances in other people and sympathize with them, at least intellectually. It wasn’t until recently that I lived some of these nuances myself.

Sometimes I’m tempted to throw away everything and not have to try so hard. After all, I don’t have any special purpose in life, and don’t plan to go find one. Just go home and hug the pups, or move in with you, live on a farm and see no one but the birds. But I’m just so scared.

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Jan 1-15: US/ Jan 16-20: Sai Gon/ Jan 20-Feb 10: Da Nang/ Feb 11-28: Ha Noi/ Mar 1-24: Da Nang/ Mar 25-31: Sai Gon/ Apr 1-10: Taiwan/ Apr 11-20: US/ Apr 20-27: Da Nang/ Apr 28-May 10: Ha Noi

I still get energized by speed packing everything into a carry on, walk out and close the door behind, excited that I’d soon get to see this and that friend and go have such and such food. But more and more, there’s a persistent feeling of yes I can live anywhere and adapt and meet people, but nowhere is really home. Nowhere that I have to stay and try my hardest to make it. Nowhere that I can say: this is my place and I’m gonna be here for a while and you’ll sure find me when you’re back. I could stay, I could leave. There’s almost no difference.

Đi đâu loanh quanh cho đời mỏi mệt/ Trên hai vai ta đôi bờ nhật nguyệt/ Rọi suốt trăm năm một cõi đi về.

I can’t believe it took that long for me, a self-professed chronic procrastinator and internet reading junkie, to find this new lifestyle manifesto: Structured Procrastination.

It’s like when I was first introduced to the concept of introversion vs. extroversion: Not that introverts shun social interactions and extroverts seek them because I’m neither, but that introverts get energy from alone time, and extroverts get energy from group environment. Everything in my social life suddenly made sense; everything fell in place. Or when I came across the idea that there are specialists and generalists, people who have one all-consuming passion and people with many different interests, and they all have their places and serve their purposes in society. And I became so accepting of my self and my lack of devotion.

I’d always derided myself for my procrastination issue, but I can’t find a good reason to avoid activities like reading news and interesting stories and writing this blog or my Spanish blog. And I now thank Structured Procrastination for convincing me to embrace my way of life and making the most out of it. Following the advice given, I wrote down a lists of all my projects and tasks and sort of prioritized them but not really. And if I don’t want to get started or continue on with the topmost one, I’m just gonna be productive and work on others that are just as worth spending my time on. And if I want to avoid any other commitment, I look at my already long list and click my tongue regretfully and say no. So today, in no particular order: I rough translated a couple of chapters for my other blog, entered 3 surveys for my job, researched my travel plan, watched videos for my online course. And oh, I took a board out to paddle. It’s been a long long time that I was out in the water. My arms were killing my shoulder after 10 minutes of gentle paddling. But still so exhilarating and I just couldn’t help laughing like a maniac out there all by myself. Luckily the waves were loud enough to dwarf my laughter or else some people would be perplexed. Good day indeed.

 orphans in Da Nang orphanage, Vietnam

Da Nang orphanage, Vietnam

A month ago I found out about an orphanage 5 kms from my apartment and finally got to visit it today. 21 babies and toddlers, half with physical mental disabilities, each in their own crib, and 3 mothers taking care of them. It was dinner time. The mothers had just finished cooking a giant pot of congee and started to feed them one after another. I came by myself, without any gifts, just wanted to spend some time with them. They were so excited, calling out to me, jumping up and down, touching my shirt, my anklet, my pants’ buttons. It broke my heart. They’re in the most critical developmental years and need so much attention and stimulation, care and love. They need to be held, cuddled, caressed, kissed. They need to be talked and sung to. They need to be brought outside and shown the world.

I don’t know what’s worse. Kids with disabilities that can’t even move their limbs to fend off flies, but at least they aren’t aware of their conditions. Or the kids that in a few years will start school and realize that they’re orphans and different from most of their classmates.

I was once a frustrated 19 years old. I couldn’t get why people didn’t care about the same thing that I did. I’m a lot more mellow now, more understanding and accepting. Everyone has their own priorities and interests. The diversity makes the world spin around. It’s good enough as long as they don’t harm others intentionally. But in moments like this, I still find myself bitter. There’s so much suffering. How could you not care?

She was trying to get pregnant with my ex when they found out the ovarian cancer. Having her own kids had been her life’s dream and being forced to give up on that dream threw everything into the whirlwind, including their relationship. That was a few years back. A few weeks ago, she called my ex up. The cancer the doctors thought they’d nipped out has metastasized, invading even her lungs. I don’t know all the details but the docs give her a year. She’s 27, one year older than me.

I meet sick and suffering people day in and day out through work. There’s no shortage of sobering or heart-breaking stories. Yet this time, I think about her often. A woman I don’t know and have only seen a few photos of.

Is it because I read her poems? I found her notebook in a pile at a corner in my ex’s cabin. Folded inside were a couple of loose sheets where she scrambled down her works. I cried. English is not my first language so it’s rare that I have a gut reaction when I read poems. But I did with hers. Finding a warm hand to hold in this cold artificial world; being the light that shines and scares away all the roaches. They were raw, sincere, and speak to my desire to be true to myself and to find one to be true with.

As the rate of cancer shoots up in Vietnam, many relatives and acquaintances have fallen to illness. And many of them have turned to Buddhism, especially praying and meditation, to turn away from suffering and despair to find their peace of mind. I hope you, somehow, will find your peace too.

In Vietnam, this question is the short form of: “When are you getting married and inviting me to your wedding party so I can eat some candies?” It drove me nuts this new year’s season (no surprise!) and I have thought up of a genius idea: From now on I’m gonna bring candy bags with me when I go with my parents to visit their friends and our relatives. And if anyone brings that question up, I will simply pull out one bag to hand them: “Here, have all the candies you want.” Just imagine all the awkward silence, and once I’m out of their sight, all the phone calls and gossiping.

I have to admit that they’re right in saying now is a critical time frame to seriously look for a life partner; a couple of years more and my chance would go down precipitously. The problem for me is I can’t decide if I even want to get married and have kids. The more I talk with friends and see them off to set up couple life, the more I realize how indifferent I am. I’ve never dreamed about wedding dresses, celebration parties, honeymoon. I’ve never had the instinct to protect and guide young children, to put them on my lap and baby talk them about what they like. I look at them as funny creatures with fascinating behaviors and logics and sometimes they’re cute and entertaining; other times downright annoying. Yes I understand family life is a lot more than all the things I just list, but the traditional form at least in Vietnam isn’t a particularly attractive idea to me.

Following many repetitive arguments with my mom, I flipped and told her flat out: “I’m not getting married. You can drop the matter.” The parents are utterly confused. Why would anyone think that it’s a matter of personal choice? What do I mean that I have no duty to the human race, society, ancestors, parents, to mate and procreate? They know I’m a bit weird, but surely not so weird that I don’t want to have my own little clones running around?! Not in their wildest dreams would they ever picture their daughter becoming a spinster. My mom even sheepishly asked if I was gay. I tried so hard to keep a straight face.

Something I think about often in my personal life and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it at least a couple of times in this blog: my mom and my grandma are quite angry and bitter and I don’t want to turn out like them. I simply do not have any desire to carry such negative emotions inside; they drain my energy. Most people that know me would say I’m chilled and don’t get stirred up.  Yet in my own relationship with my mom and with Col, it’s shocking how easily I get pissed off. I could brush it off as them knowing how to press my button, but I’m more and more alarmed at the frequency, and I think I have to acknowledge it’s more about me and how I handle my reactions and less about them and what they do (as perceived by me).

I’m not a Buddhist but I do usually find myself turning to Buddhist practices. And here are the 2 things that I need to keep reminding myself:
– Every action creates a reaction. The only way to stop the negativity and to avoid escalation is not to react, or to react positively. Not every conversation is an argument where I have to boil everything down to small details to see who wins the logic contest. With my mom, a lot of time she says things out of habit; I do not need to make a big fuss every time. With Col, he does not want to hurt my feelings with his words; he doesn’t know exactly how they affect me. And sometimes, it’s me who’s overthinking his motives and then react based on my own projection.
– Physically, the best way to calm down is to be conscious/mindful of my breathing. The second thing is to repeat in my head the importance of kindness. The ultimate goal in life is to love. I’ve seen enough suffering. If people are happy, then I’m happy.

Update: 3 hours after I wrote this, I already failed spectacularly with my mom.

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