Why a clutch is the handbag equivalent of a raisin

I don’t like raisins. Why so many people insist on ruining a good carrot cake or cinnamon roll with raisins is one of life’s great mysteries.

Carrying a clutch seems like a moot point. I mean, sure they’re cute and all but say you and your husband are going to the movies. You can’t sneak in potato chips, soda, candy and two turkey subs each in a clutch. You can barely sneak in one of those minuscule packets of pretzels that they give you on airplanes. What about the hand sanitizer, aspirin, wallet, deck of cards, and book? Especially if your current read is 900-plus pages. For that, you need a manly purse (oxymoron, I know), not a delicate clutch:

 

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If I wanted to, I could sneak a whole rotisserie chicken into the movie theater in this purse. 

 

(How cool is it that his middle name is Risk?)

There’s a sign that Adan and I often drive by that says: Al leer vives muchas vidas. It always makes me smile and inwardly nod in agreement because when I read a really great novel or biography, I feel as if I know that protagonists better than I know my best friends. Also, I feel like I am living in that time and place or occupation. The above novel taught me, among other things, quite a bit about the process of making fireworks and the craftsmen behind those Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve shows that I would never have known or imagined. It’s an engrossing, fun read and would make a great beach book if it weren’t so heavy.

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One of these things is not like the other

 

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My cousin and her peers at ballet school in Korea. My cousin is the one furthest back, and I love that in this picture they look like peas in a pod with their matching hairdos and outfits.

 

For the most part, having children seems like a vaguely amorphous endeavor to me. It seems hard to prepare because everyone’s experience and every child is so different. Some women I know read many books in preparation for breastfeeding only to have it be easy and natural. Other women I know expected it to be easy and natural and belatedly had to call in experts and read books. It’s hard to prepare not knowing whether you will be one of those lucky few who has a baby who sleeps through the night or has no trouble attaching, or who later in life will feel no curiosity to experiment with underage drinking or play with fire.

I don’t know what Adan’s and my child would be like if we did have children. I do however know that he or she would be a minority and I often wonder whether they will resent that being thrust on them or whether they will be bullied for it. I may not be a child psychologist but I do have personal experience from having been a child and it seems to me that being visibly different from the pack can often feel like having a bulls-eye on your forehead. I know because I have lived most of my life as a person who does not blend in, who is at first sight different and an outsider, especially these last 15 years in Mexico.

Then I started noticing how in all the great stories (autobiographical or made up), it is always the outsider who is compassionate towards fellow misfits. Hidden Talents, The Goldfinch, Remember the Titans. In Trevor Noah’s excellent memoir he explicitly states it like this:

I stood there awkwardly by myself in this no-man’s-land in the middle of the playground. Luckily, I was rescued by the Indian kid from my class, a guy named Theesan Pillay. Theesan was one of the few Indian kids in school, so he’d noticed me, another obvious outsider, right away. He ran over to introduce himself. “Hello, fellow anomaly! You’re in my class. Who are you? What’s your story?” We started talking and hit it off. He took me under his wing, the Artful Dodger to my bewildered Oliver.

(side note, how cool is it that he so casually dropped a reference to a Charles Dickens novel?! Such a great book—I refer here to Trevor Noah’s memoir Born a Crime, though it goes without saying that reading Oliver Twist is a worthwhile endeavor. Besides the fact that Noah is extremely funny even while talking about topics like apartheid and poverty, it is was also incredibly eye-opening to read an account of that period of South Africa’s history from the perspective of a regular citizen, and a child at that (he was almost six when Nelson Mandela was released from prison). I have read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom but I think we can all agree that his perspective and experience with the end of apartheid and birth of democracy in South Africa was probably singular.)

Maybe, just maybe, being a minority isn’t just a burden if it would teach our child compassion, a sense of not judging others by their physical characteristics, and a desire to be kind to people that are new or different, that don’t quite fit in. Maybe it will teach him to talk to and reach out to someone who is alone and confused and to say: “Hello, fellow anomaly!  Who are you? What’s your story?”

Then, this Fresh Air interview where Terry Gross talks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway musical Hamilton (of 11 Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prize for Drama fame).

If you want to make a recipe for making a writer, have them feel a little out of place everywhere. Have them be an observer kind of all the time and that’s a great way to make a writer.

Here he was speaking in the context of being Puerto Rican and living in a Latino neighborhood but attending a predominantly white school where he was a minority. Obviously, there are many contributing factors to his success as a writer and composer but I love that he singled out this aspect of it. Something I hadn’t really considered as a benefit of “feeling out of place everywhere”.

Either way, it is helping me open my mind to the idea that we shouldn’t worry so much about the possibility of our hypothetical child being bullied in elementary school. (For a while, Adan was suggesting we should get our future progeny in martial arts classes as soon as they can walk so they can protect themselves but I don’t know… would we be turning him into a walking cliché? I mean, we would virtually be teeing him up for endless Kung Fu Panda jokes, never mind that Pandas are from China.) I guess we can burn that bridge when we get to it.

 

Fascism explained

Some of our recent adventures in Chapala and Ajijic.

 

(That’s a German restaurant we really like and I admit, at first we were skeptical because I couldn’t name a single German dish outside of saurkraut and bratwurst so I thought maybe that is all they eat there. But we’ve now become very big fans, and we really love their veggie to meat ratio: 20 to 80)

As you can see there’s no unhappy people around.

In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s no sad or irate or despondent people in Chapala at all. I can only imagine two ways in which this might be accomplished: 1) there’s secret checkpoints when you enter the town with happiness security men who keep out the people that are despairing. Or 2) you come to Chapala all bummed out but then ten minutes in this town cheers you up and your glass is now all full of happiness elixir. Either way, people there are happy.

I do have to point out one small detail that didn’t make me jump up and down in joy. We love going to the hotel pictured above. It has a pool with the best view of the lake. It used to be that you could bring your own food and drinks and sit all day by the pool. You are now no longer allowed to bring food and drinks from the outside world though, which hit us hard because we are cheapskates (I mean, frugal). Let me just say that it is totally fascist to not allow people to bring their own potato chips and sandwiches. It would be like not being allowed to bring our own soda to the movie theater (which admittedly is not allowed but we sometimes do when my purse is large enough). Being the rebels that we are, we did manage to sneak snacks in anyway. And let me just say, there is a certain level of ingenuity involved in bringing in contraband peanuts when you are carrying a transparent beach tote.

I have been reading the ever hilarious Mark Twain. I think he must have been the first standup comedian because he clearly had a heart of gold (I mean, he’s dead so I can’t speak ill of him) but his humor is at times… mean? Biting? Sarcastic? Not sure what the correct adjective would be… let’s just say he’s not very politically correct. I’m not sure if he does it on purpose but quite often while being flippant and humorous, he will catch you completely off guard with some sort of truly profound observation about life. Like:

“Many a man lives a long life through, thinking he believes certain universally received and well-established things, and yet never suspects that if he were confronted by those things once, he would discover that he did not really believe them before, but only thought he believed them.”

Here he was speaking about snow in August. But I think it succinctly describes every real encuonter I have had with Jesus.

And then there’s:

“Moralizing, I observed, then, that “all that glitters is not gold.”

Mr. Ballou said I could go further than that, and lay it up among my treasures of knowledge, that nothing that glitters is gold. So I learned then, once and for all, that gold in its native state is but dull, unornamental stuff, and that only lowborn metals excite the admiration of the ignorant with an ostentatious glitter. However, like the rest of the world, I still go on underrating men of gold and glorifying men of mica. Commonplace human nature cannot rise above that.”

I’m still struggling with that one myself.

Very Important, Monumental News and a Small Purchase

I am reading a great novel! It is Jane Austen meets Sophie Kinsella meets Kate Fox (author of “Watching the English”, but in this case, more aptly, “Watching the Singaporeans” where, apparently, the middle class is made up of millionaires). You laugh your whole way through (Kinsella), even the footnotes are a riot and now I have officially learned many new facts about Singapore and quotidian life there and know how to say “what the heck?!” in Hokkien or “high maintenance” in Mandarin (Fox). Which is basically all the vocab you need to to travel in Southeast Asia. The protagonists are likeable and you can easily relate to them minus the net worth that runs in the billions and the private jets that come equipped with a state-of-the-art yoga studio (commentary and satire on upper crust elitism of Austen). The book also takes the cake for Best Title Ever. Hands Down. I mean, just look at it.

All important update on what I’m reading aside, we bought a car this week! Behold.

 

IMG_0688[1]We are now broke but mobile and I’m relieved that worrying about Adan’s safety will no longer keep me up at night. I know that this normally happens to someone between the ages of 16 and early twenties, but this is actually the first car I’ve ever owned. Now I am officially an adult and can spend all my time griping about the rising price of gas. It’s good to be part of the club.

Upon hearing of our purchase, Oscar immediately and enthusiastically offered to teach me how to drive. I politely declined, of course, because, um, have you seen Oscar drive? The list of qualities in my pastor that I respect and admire is long. Were I to enumerate them, that list would reach from here to Macau, the gambling capital of the world (whose annual revenue is triple that of Vegas, thanks Kevin Kwan! there’s nothing I love more than useless and fascinating factoids about other countries! and I’m being dead serious). But his driving skills would be conspicuously absent from said list.

Speaking of wisdom from different parts of the world, there’s a Korean proverb that warns against learning how to drive from one’s significant other. Apparently it’s our country’s leading cause of divorce. So Adan probably shouldn’t be my driving instructor either. Also, if you have ever visited me or spent any time in the country, you know that the driving in Mexico in general makes for daily reflection on one’s mortality, so maybe I will put off this chore indefinitely.

Before we bought it, I specified that I wanted us to still walk to church (it’s a little under a mile and a half away) and places nearby. Time and weather permitting, to me anything between two to three miles is walking distance. I have this irrational fear of us becoming the kind of people that hop in the car to get from the kitchen to their dining room. It’s the reason why for so long we didn’t have a functioning remote control for any of our apparatuses. Walking is good for you and good for the environment. Parking in certain parts of the city is a pain and can be expensive. Case closed.

Wanting to crawl into the mind of C.S. Lewis and stay a while

I think C.S. Lewis is the most brilliant person I have ever known. I wish he were alive and that we were pen pals. Some of the things he has said, I don’t even know what language it is. Smart people language, I guess, that is beyond my reach. Despite the fact that sometimes (his book “Miracles” for example, which for however many times I try, I can’t get past the first three pages) I can’t make sense of his paragraphs, let alone his sentences, I persevere because:

1. For someone so cerebral, he says things that make me laugh. Like this: My father, who had more capacity  for being cheated than any man I have ever known, was badly cheated by his builders; the drains were wrong, the  chimneys were wrong, and there was a draft in every room (Surprised by Joy). And, We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it. (The Problem of Pain)

2. He uses the perfect and most proper word for every situation, without seeming like a show-off, or like he’s trying too hard. When I’m reading C.S. Lewis and run across a word I don’t know, I pause and look it up (rather than taking a guess from the context clues) because I know that it will be important to the understanding of the metaphor or argument. He uses words like:

  • bibulous (fond of or addicted to drink) he was speaking of a gardener he knew.
  • bugbear (any source, real or imaginary of needless fright or fear). Referring to his childhood governess. He also clarifies that “all that I can remember assures me that I was unjust” in thinking of her as such. That she was actually a “mild and modest little lady”.
  • pis aller (French, a last resort or final resource) Lewis says he began writing stories as a child as a pis aller for his extreme clumsiness in all things manual.

3. He will hit you with thoughts that are like bombshells. The truth of it blows you away and you spend weeks thinking about it, trying to dig out its every application, until ultimately it changes your worldview.

  • All that is not eternal is eternally out of date. (The Four Loves)
  • To love at all is to be vulnerable…. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. (The Four Loves)
  • Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s (God’s) ground…He [God] made the pleasure: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy [God] has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He [God] has forbidden (The Screwtape Letters).
  • [God] will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of heaven as a shortcut to the nearest chemist’s shop.” (The Screwtape Letters)
  • It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. (The Problem of Pain)

4. He occasionally says things that I identify so strongly with that it feels like I myself might have uttered them, were I the capable and precise wordsmith that he is: While friendship has been by far the chief source of my happiness, acquaintance or general society has always meant little to me, and I cannot quite understand why a man should wish to know more people than he can make real friends of. Or there’s this one speaking of his parents’ differing temperaments, “… this bred in me long before I was old enough to give it a name a  certain distrust or dislike of emotion as something uncomfortable and embarrassing and even dangerous” (Surprised by Joy) 

I think this last quote sums up what I most love about his books. Sometimes when I feel like my faith is both brittle and illusory, or simultaneously bewildering and boring, I like the soundness of his logic, the lack of emotionality and sentiments in the way he talks of God and Christ and his own faith journey (which doesn’t equal a lack of awe, he has plenty of awe and reverence). He is not loud or demonstrative, does not gesticulate wildly or bang on the pulpit; he lets God and the beauty of the gospel be their own compelling argument, no fireworks show necessary. When I feel far from God, what I most want is someone to explain to me why a relationship with Him is actually the most logical thing for this life, that it is what makes the most sense above every other alternative. In short, when I feel blasé and finally become tired of feeling that way, as a pis aller I turn to C.S. Lewis and he makes me laugh, while teaching me new vocabulary until he has me nodding my head at his arguments and somehow manages to shake me out of my stupor and point me back to God.

A 30 day Compendium of Scribd, part 1: memoirs

Not sure if everyone out there has heard of Scribd. It is a book loan website, rather like Netflix but for those bookworms who either don’t have access to a local public library (me) or are just to lazy to drive there. There is a monthly fee (8.99 USD) and you can keep track of books, download books, read/listen to books and audiobooks, create your own library and get recommendations. I signed up for the one month free trial and this is a compendium of some of what I’ve read so far.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler. (I actually read half of this sitting at Barnes and Noble in Chicago, then listened to the rest using Scribd) As you know, I am a huge fan of her work as Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec and most of her movies and comedy sketches. But I have to say I was slightly disappointed by this book. I guess I’d never doubted that should Amy and I one day become neighbors (that is, when I become the world’s best paid multimillion dollar earning church secretary…. I’m still waiting on Oscar to call me to break that news), that we would hit if off and become best friends. But this book written in her own voice wasn’t as good as the writing she does for shows. I feel like I am being sacrilegious to even utter this thought. It’s a good way to kill time if you’re at an airport and your flight has been delayed five hours, but otherwise, I would say: just skip it and get the full boxed set of Parks and Rec DVD’s.

In Stitches by Anthony Youn. Korean-American assimilation/immigration story, mostly anecdotes about his strict Korean parents whose aspirations for their son were the same as all (Korean) parents 1) become a doctor 2) marry a Korean woman. Worth reading, especially if you are around Koreans in your daily life and would like to know a little bit more about their culture. Or, if you have medical aspirations. This should talk you out of it.

Shut Up, You’re Welcome by Annie Choi. Another memoir by a second generation Korean American. Mainly her struggle against what all (Korean) parents expect of their daughters. 1) marry another Korean and 2)  produce Korean children. I read her first memoir (Happy Birthday or Whatever) when I was up in Pennsylvania visiting Jess almost ten years ago. I remember I kept reading passages out loud to her, because it’s the kind of funny book that begs to be read out loud. We were sitting at Barnes and Noble and though I had sworn to not spend money, I ended up walking out with a copy. (Basically whenever I visit a city in the US, I only care about eating where the locals eat–the food tour–and going to Barnes and Noble. Museums, architecture and all historic and natural landmarks are kind of optional and not as impressive. How could they compete with Starbucks and displays of books of every genre, more than a single person could get through in one lifetime?)

The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan. If you like her fiction (The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, The Kitchen God’s Wife) you will most likely love her memoir. She’s just the way you imagined her to be: quirky and charming.

It’s been a thrilling ten days so far and I have loved being able to read the types of books that I would normally covet, but not allow myself to purchase. It’s unwise to blow one’s budget on books that would only be considered entertaining if one is stranded at the airport. Having said that, I will most likely cancel the membership before I’m made to start paying. If we are shelling out that amount per month, we might as well get Netflix, which is something Adan and I can both enjoy. As opposed to Scribd, which makes me view Adan as just that talking entity that is forever interrupting my reading.

Korea: the good, the bad and the ugly

I recently read the book “The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture” by Euny Hong. Not a bad read, though I do agree with you that it’s the worst book title to be penned since the beginning of time. (sorry, Euny and publishers) It is part personal memoir, part chronicle of Korea’s success story, and there were some really interesting (to me) factoids in it that were completely new information to me. Like for example:

*In Seoul, “every single subway car has two wi-fi hotspots so that people can watch their morning TV shows on their Samsung Galaxy phones–benefiting from a super fast Internet connection that never gets interrupted even when the subway is going through tunnels or below water.” Also, the government is currently working to wire every single household with a 1 gigabit-per-second connection, 200 times faster than the average internet connection in the U.S.

*”It is the world’s plastic surgery capital, in terms of procedures per capita, leaving countries like Brazil and the United States behind in the dust.” Since reading this, whenever I drop it into a conversation, someone will invariably mention that they have watched a news report/youtube video on Korea’s obsession with, as the media calls it, “trying to look white.” Hong makes the brilliant point that Korean women aren’t in fact chasing after the western ideal of beauty. Everyone gets surgery to fit into the popular conception of national standards of beauty. Trying to make a Korean woman look like Jennifer Aniston would take more than plastic surgery, it would take a miracle. That is not what people are striving for.

*”between 1983 and 2005–a span of just twenty-two years–Korean life expectancy increased 60% for males and 48% for females.

*”Until as recently as 1991, South Korean women were not permitted to be the head of the household, meaning they could not make legal decisions on behalf of the family. In the event of a divorce, a wife was not entitled to an equal division of property and children were automatically granted to the father’s custody. Just two decades later, in December 2012, South Korea elected its first female president.”

Of course all of these monumental leaps in technology and freedoms, democracy and economy  and openness come at a hefty price. “Korea also has the highest suicide rate of any nation in the industrialized world. In fact, the most common cause of death for Koreans under the age of forty is suicide.”

Most attribute this to the tremendous pressure of university entrance exams and overall academic expectations placed on young people. That, of course, is sad and devastating. I will say this though about Korean culture. Trying hard and being smart has always been cool. Even before women working outside the home was common and accepted, girls were still expected to do well in school and praised for their achievements. Young people still honor their parents (and if they don’t, usually they are ashamed of themselves and know that it’s wrong) and older people are respected for their wisdom, their experience.  They get the most comfortable seats; they are always served their food and beverages first. I like that. I like that aging is seen as natural–not just an inevitable part of life that one must do all in one’s power to fight off. That youth and beauty, and hanging on to them at all costs, are not considered the end all and be all.