“Adulting”: the flourishing of communication breakdowns

These days, I’m finding that the songs I prefer to listen to have been sparser, more contemplative. I suppose that has a lot to do with how busy I am at work—maybe I am under the illusion that the more space my songs give me, the more space my work tasks will give me, too.

Is that how it works? No, I don’t think that’s how it works. It feels better though, than listening to ska—which is riotous and usually wonderful, but not for me these days—or music of the alternative variety, which frankly, in the mood I’m in, seems far too… alternative.

I have a friend at work who confides in me. She and I are like day and night. She’s a lot like ska, riotous and wonderful, a union of influences, all trumpets and insistent beats. I’m a lot like Radiohead circa In Rainbows, warm and moody, a murmuring voice and tired percussion.

She was talking to me today about her date happening tonight, and contrasting one guy from another. The longer I listened to her, the more I realized how much harder communication and relationships become the longer we are in this arena called Life.

See, you listen to someone else’s problems, and you think if you just suggested to them, “Well why don’t you just tell them how you feel,” they would listen to you and you would’ve fixed their problem. Just wrapped it up in a big red bow for them. Tell them how I feel… Oh yes, of course, why didn’t I think of that??

Well, duh, genius. Of course they’ve thought about it. (I’m not being rude, this is what I tell myself all the time, listening to people. I’m not telling you, per se.)

a973854039432d5c1a9fc258e056e598Ask yourself, would you take that advice? Personally, my response is: HELL. NO. Who wants the truth, as intense and real as it is? First I’d say that, then I’d say things like, “I don’t want to scare them away with my real feelings anyway.

Or, in the case of relationships going sour, “no, you don’t understand, it’s too late to make things right” or “no, you don’t understand, I fucked up too much” or “they fucked up too much” or “the universe fucked up too much”… Apparently, there are a lot of incompetent people out there.

These are just excuses adults seem to have no problem articulating, to justify their inability to articulate. I know this, I’ve been through it.

I’ve been at a point in a relationship where I thought things were too drastic and dysfunctional to ever be right again. You can’t un-cook the egg, un-toast the toast, un-ring the bell. If I were watching myself in a romantic movie, I’d think, “Why can’t they just apologize to each other and each admit they were wrong? What’s all this romantic comedy nonsense of waiting ’til the last minute to realize you love them, and running after their taxi to stop them from getting to the airport to stop them from flying out to Boston where their new job and future await? [Cue hopeful, energetic song that signals the beginning of the happy ending.]

I used to watch these movies as a kid and think adults were ridiculous. Now, I look at myself and think I’m ridiculous.

How do we get locked into these patterns of communication breakdown?

At what point do we grow all the things that stop us from finding real happiness? Pride, insecurity, a need to overthink?

Being an adult is great, don’t get me wrong. The range of emotions you feel is more dynamic. But being an adult versus being a child is akin to being in a car crash sober versus being in a car crash drunk—your body when you’re sober is stiffer, and impact hurts more. (I know, it’s a horrible example, but out of personal experience, the latter was better for my body. I was better off in the front seat inebriated and relaxed.)

It’s difficult, I think, to stop a downward spiral unless you feel a joltthat wake-up call violent enough to break the habit. And really, maybe sometimes it’s too late. Adults are like huge ships; it takes a lot to move them in the opposite direction. But sometimes, maybe you do have to be that almighty force for yourself.

Why not just go ahead and tell someone how you really feel? Why not eradicate all the uncertainty, and just do it? You are coming from an authentic place. What more could the universe expect out of you?

I don’t know. I still don’t have it figured out. I’m not authentic all the time. I lie, I repress things, I make assumptions. Maybe you should just forget everything I said.

See, I’m adulting again. Dammit.

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Kelp, fish, and sand

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My headspace, as I listen to you.

Stream-of-consciousness post (ha-ha, pun intended).

***

Dear you,

I am your captive audience. Sit down, talk to me, and I will make eye contact with you and put each of your words in my mouth and swish it around. After a couple seconds, I will finish processing it and tell you how it tastes — but only if you ask for my feedback. Otherwise, it will reside in the void of my brain.

People often tell me I’m a good listener. I imagine it’s not just because I sit there and nod like a bobble-head. Sure, that’s a contributing factor. But I understand that each person has a struggle that they are trying to communicate. Each sentence spoken is this person trying to cause stress on the universe, trying to get what they want. And I, in my solicitousness, am the first step to the universe obliging you.

The slight pauses, head tilts, and eye squinting are a story I read and memorize.

But, there’s something you should know about me. Please do not mistake my silence for powerlessness — because underneath my reflective surface are kelp, waving in a rhythm only I can establish; fish lurking, fleeting back and forth like synapses; and sand forever shifting, a restless foundation. My storm inside reflects the storm on your face, on your body, in your words. But I will remain still for you.

My silence is my authenticity. I am not going to tell you everything’s going to be okay, or ask if you’ve been enjoying this lovely weather we’ve been having. That is not what I wonder about you, and that is not what people who say these things wonder about you.

I wonder about you in intimate and devastating ways, like the blind silence of your mother’s belly as you were growing inside her.

I will be here for you, in the quietest of ways; to understand everything you are saying and give you a temporary home in my eyes, in my nods, in my smiles, during our time together.

All the deities in this world know I do not have the brain power or energy to do and remember everything.

If I give you my time, you are special to me. If I remember many things about you, you have been in my head every day for years.

It is such a wondrous thing, to sit in that little nook between two consciousnesses—yours and mine—and just let things be.

Sincerely,

me

***

Emotional nomad

desert

I had the suitcase with all the books, I remember. Recipe books, my mother’s accounting books, romance novels I had secretly read just for the naughty parts. I was 12 years old and immigrating with my family to Canada… leaving my island, my haven in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I think out of all my points of identity: Asian, woman, heterosexual, millennial… the one that has created the most powerful ripples in my life, ripples that still affect me as much as they did 21 years ago, is my identity as an immigrant.

I have been an immigrant most of my life. From the time I was three years old, I have only ever lived in places other than where I was born. And that has had such profound repercussions on me, my approach to life, and my relationships with people.

It’s not my fight.

That has been my mother’s mantra for as long as I remember. Don’t get involved, just mind your own business, stay quiet, do your work well, and you will be successful. After all, we are just passing through, right?

In today’s world where everything that can be said aloud can be taken the wrong way, it’s hard to maintain that veneer of impartiality. And the more I grow up, the more I can’t avoid putting down roots and standing up for something. For me, being raised to think like an immigrant meant things like: not maintaining friendships after moving; not exploring the place I lived; not developing a relationship with my environment.

It’s difficult for me to imagine knowing an area like the back of my own handI’ve never stayed long enough in one area to do so. I hear people refer to a particular shop on a particular street as if they were lovingly describing an old family friend, with comfort and certainty in their voices.

And oh, how I do envy them, and the easy camaraderie they enjoy with fellow locals. Becoming an adult, I’ve discovered that knowing the in’s and out’s of surrounding neighborhoods provides lubrication to your social life. But I can’t force myself into those crowds. I’ve never really been good at bullshitting. I only remember a place by how it made me feel, not by what I did there or who I knew there. They’re just flashes of color on a globe.

People are easier, I think. You get wrapped up in them and fall in love with them. There is history, context, pain, lingering stares, direct touch. But with the exception of ex-lovers who have changed me irrevocably, these tendrils of people will eventually pass and slip away to the wind. I know it makes me seem heartless and fickle to those whose lives I just disappear from. But trust me, I do have a heart. It’s just been spread thin, I think, from living in too many places or leaving too many people, I don’t know. Most of the time, like a parasite, it knows its time with its host is limited and temporary; it will just move on.

This will change, I know. My heart’s passiveness will cease once I have children; I will then be forced out of necessity and sanity to know the in’s and out’s of surrounding neighborhoods on the way to music lessons and shopping trips, and I will grow to love the place I’ve settled into like an old family friend. No social anxiety. No restlessness. Just a love for the area and knowing it loves me back. I look forward to that.

It may sound romantic to think and feel like an emotional nomad, but it’s really not. It gets pretty lonely sometimes. Next time you read a less-than-positive article about immigrants, or see a group of unfamiliar people congregated somewhere, I plead with you to be generous, and to understand that they are far away from home and are trying to make the best of it.