themindofmani


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Keys

This past year has involved a lot of traveling and moving. The one constant has been my little car that has taken me to all of these places. It has been my home and constant companion and the keys to it are accompanied by a different set of keys to a house/room/apartment every month. Each transition brings a time where my car key is the only solitary key on my key chain, which weirdly reflects the uncertainty of the next month. There is always a sense of panic and excitement when I hold my solitary car key at the end of every month. There is also a sense of purpose and acceptance with every new key I obtain at the beginning of every month.

The thing about keys is that we get used to the weight of them in our hands. I personally fidget with mine in my pocket all the time. In normal life, your keys weigh the same month to month. We tend to have the same keys for an extended period of time. For me, the weight of my keys changes every month and it is always a little strange to handle them when this happens. It’s like a little piece of my life disappears when take some keys off. Maybe that’s why I held on to my keys from my aunts house. It was a split second decision but when it was time to give her the house keys back after a month of living with her, I couldn’t. Instead I stated that I was taking them with me and drove off. I eventually gave them back a few months later but it was my way of keeping some semblance of normalcy. They gave me the feeling that even as a vagabond, I still had a place I could go back to and have something that I could claim as my own.

Looking back at my life, I have not stayed in the same environment for more than a year in the last 12 years. This year felt like a culmination of all that moving since I have spent the last 12 months moving every month. My life in general has taught me about minimalism but the last 12 months have taught me that sometimes, the simple things like your keys and their weight and how the feel, can be the most important thing to stay grounded.

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Self Absorbed

I am 29 years old and for the majority of my life I have lived in my own head. I was a quiet kid that spent a lot of time by herself either sitting in a corner and drawing, or playing on the monkey bars and going back and forth. It was monotonous and something I could focus on without letting my mind take control and propel me into a cycle of anxiety and worry. I worried a lot as a child. Maybe it stemmed from being an immigrant or the new kid. Maybe it was from the fact that I was bullied and had no friends. It probably had to do with how I combat my own sorrow and the lack of self worth.

Now as an adult, I do much of the same. When faced with the tough situation, I like to sit in a corner and write or color in my mandala coloring book. When things get extra anxious, I put on my running shoes, pick a direction and just go. All these years have passed since I was a kid and yet I still have the same coping mechanisms. Some would praise me for being able to handle my life, but the thing is that I don’t really praise myself.

As I have become older and more set in my ways of handling my life, I see how this practice has actually made me self absorbed. Suddenly, when things are bad, I am unable to see anyone else’s troubles but my own. It is all about combating my own anxiety. This way of life makes me focus so far inward that I can not see the anxiety of others. I can’t empathize with the plight of my fellows. Often it takes days to come out of my own mind after a stressful event.

I guess, as always, it is something to acknowledge and something to move forward from.


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Stranger in a strange land… amongst other strangers

I can’t get over the fact that their are so many foreigners here. I am in Cambodia, but every corner I turn I find someone else from somewhere else who is usually doing the same thing I am in this country. Because of this, their are distinct places for ex-pats (or as I like to say, white immigrants) to hang out and other places for locals to be. Personally, I am having a bit of an identity crisis. I know what it feels like when one is an immigrant but here I am referred to as an ex-pat because I am here for a certain amount of time and I live in a certain class where the locals do not. I am a citizen of a country that many of my co-workers want to be in, and I am also referred to as “white” by my fellow colleagues from the States. It is the “white” people here that are the aid workers, that can go to the expensive coffee shops, that go to the “local” hang outs made especially for the foreigner and I am a “brown” girl who fits in more with that lifestyle than the Cambodian one. This city is literally divided into where the locals go and where the ex-pats go. It is rare to have a cross over but it happens when a local has manged to learn English amazingly well or when an ex-pat has stayed here long enough to learn Khmer decently (its a tough language).

I was 7 when my family immigrated to the US. I am American in every way and proud of it but I am still an immigrant. I fit in everywhere there and yet I don’t. Their is still an undertone of being different. Now I come to Cambodia expecting not to fit in anywhere but I do, and it is with the other Americans, Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis, and Brits. Maybe it is because we are here for all the same reasons. Maybe it is because we all feel a little different in our own countries. I think it is because far away from our countries, we finally see our similarities in stead of our differences.


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Priviledge

I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege today. Privileged is something I have always been in my life. I am painfully aware of it because no matter how hard my life is, someone always has it much worse. In the US, overall I am pretty average. I am an average 20 something (that is sooner rather than later going to be a 30 something) who has a pile of student loan debt that is just trying to make it. For some, making it means that they are rich and famous. For me, it is the want to live a peaceful life. I just want a little place somewhere in the corner of the world that I can call a sanctuary. For the last few year, I thought that goal was so far away and so unattainable. I have been bouncing around and at times basically living out of my car. My father continues to remind me that I am, in fact, homeless, and I myself have never managed to stay rooted to a spot for more that a year and a half since I was seventeen.

But lets go back to making it for a second. Here I am in Cambodia and I have ditched my car now so I am living out of my backpack. Literally, I don’t even have a closet. I live in a hostel and my space is a single bed in a dorm room where some nights I have a roommate and others I don’t. But this little bed and my backpack are my sanctuary. I am at peace here and I can afford to pay for my little bed every night and have a roof over my head. I especially think about the roof on the days that the monsoons are so loud that I have to scream across to whoever I am talking to that night.  I come home to this hostel every night and it is home. It is a home where I feel pretty safe and it is somewhere that I sigh a breath relief every time I see it as I turn the corner on my bike ride home from work.

I am lucky. I didn’t have to do much to live here. I just came with the money I had and rented a bed. I also know if my money ran out, I would be able to make more by getting a job because I have an education which allows me to make more than minimum wage. I also don’t have to be like the girls I study. The girls that are my age that were dealt a different card. Whether they were sold into sex work or chose it, they never had the opportunity to have anything different. They have to sell their bodies to make the same money I make because apparently I read enough books along and threw enough money at some institution that gave me a piece of paper verifying that I am a professional. Frankly, they are just trying to make it too.

My heart goes out to these girls. Even though I am here trying to make a difference in their lives, I’m not doing much. I wish I could help everyone but I’m here and still privileged. I go “home” to my hostel, in their country, which is cleaner and nicer than anything they have probably lived in. I am Privileged beyond anything these girls could ever imagine about me. They see my type of privilege in the bedrooms of the men that they go with at the end of night. They live my privilege for a few hours a day being a slave to some rich white 70 year old asshole. I live my privilege for free…

So at the end of the day I have a sanctuary, I have food in my belly, I have bike for transportation… I have made it already. How do I help these girls do the same?

“I’m not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it.” – Erica Cook


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Cambodia

I have been in Cambodia a week now and it already feels like I have been here for a month. I am weirdly comfortable here (despite having to create my own form of sign language with most people) and yet certain things I may never get used to. Things like lemon grass in all the food, or every tuk tuk driver asking “lady! tuk tuk?” when I am clearly trying to walk somewhere, or how everything smells strangely like India but with more of a fish and oyster sauce undertone rather than a curry and urine undertone (I honestly don’t know which one is better). Regardless, they are all things that are familiar to me from all of my other travels.

Each day I meet someone else from some developed country just hanging out here. They are all here for the same purpose, to find something or to find themselves. Their are people who recently graduated with a degree, traveling before they start their “real” lives. Their are people who quit their desk jobs that they have had for years and are now starting their “real” lives. And then their are people like me, transplants, here for a few months or a few years, working for NGO’s and trying to give something back but mostly failing, and just contemplating what “real”means.

Maybe “real” is just that late night game of scrabble and a lot of beer with strangers. Or maybe it is the morning greeting and the smile from the girl my age (probably younger) who cleans the hostel. Or maybe it is kitten who plays with the security guard with the incredible smile as I walk into the office every morning. Or maybe it is simply riding a bike along a bank of a river that is not familiar to you and watching all the boats go by.


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ebbs and flows

It’s amazing the things that can cross a human mind in one minute. We have thoughts about about our future, our past, or whether we fed the dog. We reflect, obsess, worry, and contemplate about life. For me, my mind has been on overdrive. In the past year my world has crumbled around me and I have reached new lows. I thought I knew how far my rabbit hole went, but turns out, my rabbit hole had a false floor that cracked and shot me down even farther into the darkness.

I guess you can’t really know yourself until you drag through the shit. And you can’t really propel yourself forward without moving back in your metaphorical slingshot. I think for me, this whole process has been overall positive but today I realized that as I have been moving forward and taking my baby steps, I haven’t paid attention to the fact that I have moved away from people that are important in my life. What a weird feeling that is. One of the most important people in your life is standing in front of you and you used to be in a place where you could sense so many things about this person. You knew what they were thinking before they said anything. You knew how they felt and could judge their next move. Now, this person who still matters is a little closed off. Kind of a stranger. You realize you haven’t actually stood together in months. You haven’t felt their presence, and you haven’t felt their happiness or their pain. And you realize that you haven’t let them feel yours either. It’s like an old song that you love suddenly comes on the radio but you can’t remember the lyrics anymore. Maybe you still know the chorus, but you stumble through the verse.

Just like the ocean tides, relationships go through ebbs and flows. In the ebbs, they obviously suck. In the flows, they are amazing. I guess an important lesson to learn is that the ebbs are okay. You may not know this special person like the back of your hand always, but you would probably give your hand for this person because they are a part of you, like you are a part of them.


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When life gives you lemons… make lemonade and then get an awesome roommate!

I guess the whole point of your 20s is to live with and learn from anyone who comes into your life. The greatest experiences over the past few years that I have had, have come from the people that I have lived with. You would think it would be your family or best friends, but its not. Now the amazing roommates I’ve had have all turned into my best friends but that’s just it. Whether I have lived with them for a month or for years, my roommates have all left lasting impressions and are forever people that I will always learn from. Maybe its because living with someone allows for a certain type of intimacy that isn’t acquired with other people. You see them in their triumphs but you also see them during their failures. Better yet, you see them as they are triumphing from their failures.

Freshman year of college the theme of my dorm was Thugz Mansion. Yes, like the 2pac song and no, we were not thugz and nor did we live in a mansion. The point is, like the song stated, it was a place where we could come and just chill. As a person who has struggled with the meaning of home or the location of home for the majority of my life, 2pac’s thugz mansion was a God send! After that I kept on getting some pretty awesome and not so awesome roommates but living with my cousin in India for a few months and traveling around was also an amazing experience. I always wanted a sister figure in my life and I look back at that experience knowing that I have one. We became sisters that summer, filled with love and appreciation for one another. And now that she is married and has kids, we still look on that summer fondly. Because of that experience, other sisters and brothers have come into my life that I would have never been open to had I not known what it means to gather family

After that I got to be a part of the Vagina Monologues and consequently live with some of the people that were involved with that show. At that moment, the Vagina house was born and so was the first place that I legitimately called home. It was a place with a lot of warmth and love and a place where all our friends were also welcome. We must have had about 20 keys to the front door for  the 6 people that lived there and the 14 that were frequent visitors of our couch. It was the safe house where anyone could come and just be… no questions asked. I loved it there. I think in many ways, I still think of it as home. The next time I felt at home was my first year of med school. I lived with a group of girls who just had fun. It was really my first time living with all girls and having absolutely no drama. I particularly was close to one of my roommates and coming home to her meant a lot of laughs, great wine, and good food. She will always be one of the people that I go back to.

This past year has been rough for me but I have also bounced around a few roommates. One of them being on of my best friends, which has saved me on multiple levels this year and the other with a likely new best friend which is already saving me in ways I could not have imagined since I just moved in a week ago. I guess what I am trying to say is that family is not at all people who you are blood related to. They are just people who love you… without any other baggage attached. They are people you click with and in my case people that I have lived with and gotten to know on an incredibly personal level.