Archive for ‘Life’

April 12, 2016

The Click Heard ‘Round the World: What my mom taught me about social media

In the world of the Internet, everyone’s a critic. Social media is definitely not immune to criticism and there are folks lining up around the block looking for the opportunity to find fault in our admittedly imperfect e-cosystem. But, for many families like mine, the advent of social media has meant so much more than accumulating “likes”, “followers” or “reblogs”.

My mother is a Filipino American. Born and raised outside the city of Roxas on the island of Mindoro, she was the youngest of six children. She lived with her mother, father, and sister in a small house made up of four concrete walls and a tin roof that flapped in the winds during monsoon season. The four of them slept together on bamboo mats on their living room floor until her sister turned 15 and married. Then just the three of them slept on bamboo mats on the living room floor. My mother distinctly remembers sleeping between her mother and father, but waking up in the middle of the night to find her parents snuggling together while she was moved off to the side. We both had a good laugh after realizing that the same thing happened to me as a child.

From the stories she tells, my mother had the most magical childhood. She recalls swimming naked in clear streams with her classmates, jumping off the tops of waterfalls, and eating beautifully sweet Indian mangoes from right off the tree. She remembered the smallest experiences so vividly, like when she would walk through the rice fields by her family’s home and hear the crunch of tiny snail shells beneath her feet (not my favorite story). The way she tells it, I can’t imagine ever leaving such a beautiful place.

On my trip back to the Philippines with her years ago, I got to relive some of her memories. But, I also got to see a lot of what she left out. She left out just how poor her family was. She left out the tiny corner stands in the neighborhoods where people could buy little sample-sized packets of soap or shampoo because where she lived, buying an entire bottle would cost a half day’s wage. She left out the rocky, muddy dirt roads and the children walking to school who only owned a single pair of sandals. She left out the fact that you have to pour water into the toilet in the house because the only indoor plumbing goes from the water pump in the yard to the kitchen sink. She left out the fact that only one house in the entire village had hot running water (and a pool!). Her life was so happy, she never noticed that she didn’t have it all. As far as she was concerned, she did. I think there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

So, how does social media come into play in this story? Well, my mother lives in the US now. The rest of her siblings, however, still live in the Philippines. If you know anything about Filipino culture, you’ll know that the family unit is very highly valued. The Philippines is much less individualistic than the States, and your happiness and success are pretty heavily based on the good you bring to your family. When my mother moved to the States, their family unit became a bit disjointed. For the longest time, the only way my mother could communicate with her family was through poor-quality international phone calls and balikbayan boxes* of clothes, food, and toys for the kids. She desperately missed seeing her sisters’ faces and laughing with them. Since moving to the States, our family has only been able to afford sending my mom on two trips back to the Philippines. I can’t imagine not seeing my sister for years on end, so I can’t begin to understand the kind of heartache it must cause my mother.

Well, along came Facebook. Mom was pretty slow to join, but after a few years of watching me connect with all of my Filipino cousins, she thought it was about time she get her own profile. We showed her how to use Facebook. We installed Skype on her computer. We made sure we found all of her nieces and nephews and “friended” them. It wasn’t long before checking her Facebook for updates became a regular part of her routine. Just like that, my mother and her family entered into the online world that my sister and I had already been a part of for years.

The amazing thing about all of this is that while I use Facebook to share pictures of my food, my mom uses Facebook to maintain strong, intimate relationships with her family members from all the way across the globe. I guess I take Facebook and other social media networks for granted. It’s easy for someone like me to forget just how incredibly powerful the Internet and social media are.

When we look back at technologies that defined generations, we tend to think of lifesaving medical breakthroughs or mechanical marvels. But the more that I observe and understand the way that humans beings work, the more I realize that the truly defining technologies are those that allow us to communicate better, longer, and smarter.

Now, some may say that social media and text messaging have kind of ruined traditional forms of communication for younger generations. It’s certainly true that kids growing up today will probably never write heartfelt letters to friends in other countries or even use email as anything more than a way to identify yourself on websites. Technologies like these do seem to shape us almost as much as we shape them. But is this new form of social literacy really as bad as all the naysayers seem to think? Look at how far we’ve come from just talking to people within walking distance:

The telegram.

The telephone.

Cellular phones.

The internet.

Email.

Text messaging.

Social media.

Our desire to learn from others has driven us outward. Outside of our backyards and hometowns. We, as a species, have this natural urge to be close, even to those who are geographically very far away. It only makes sense that we would develop something to facilitate this desire for closeness. And though it’s easy  to say that “back in my day” people asked each other out on dates in-person rather than swiping right on Tinder, these jabs don’t negate the fact that entire cultures are being molded online, and many times, for the better. Meaningful relationships are being formed. Love is being shared.

For someone who’s only been alive for less than three decades, I can’t fully appreciate the lengths that we’ve gone to as a species to stay in touch. My mom and her sisters have gone from writing letters and sending packages (some of which were lost in transport and never actually reached their destinations) to talking to each other face-to-face as if they were in the same room. What a wild ride this must be for them. I’m sure as more technologies are developed, I’ll be in for a similar ride.

So, I’ll end with a few questions for you to ponder:

How has the advent of social media affected your life or the lives of those around you? Has it been for the better? If not, why? Will the benefits of social media outweigh the novelty? And what new ways of communicating do you think we and future generations will see?

 

 

*A balikbayan – meaning repatriate – box sent by Filipinos back to family in the Islands. It’s really economically friendly, as the cost to send HUGE boxes are only around $100-150. Mostly, balikbayan boxes are sent via cargo ships, so it does take several weeks. But our family always sends one around important holidays like Christmas and Good Friday. I know we always have two or three boxes being packed at all times in our basement. It’s the same for many Filipino American families, since sending gifts when you’re away from home is pretty standard tradition in the Philippines (wikipedia link).

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June 25, 2015

New Thoughts on Old Friends: Reflecting, Not Yearning

Have you ever had a good friendship end, then find yourself thinking about that old friend out of the blue? That happened to me. I hadn’t thought of this friend in a long time (looking back, it feels like I forgot about him for a while). And then, out of nowhere, he appears in a dream.

In the dream, we’re in a skyscraper with only stairs. No elevator, no rooms, just stairs.  He’s always just out of reach, one or two flights ahead of me. And just as I’m about to reach him at the top, he starts to go back down again. I find myself sprinting, throwing things, screaming to try to get his attention, but he’s always just far enough away. It’s maddening.

So I gave up.

I sat on the steps and cried. It felt like I cried forever. But after some time, he was sitting next to me. He wrapped his arms around me in a warm, reassuring hug in the same way that he used to. He held my shoulders, kissed my forehead and said, “You can stop now.”

When I woke up, I came to a brilliant realization about my former friendship. Something that I haven’t quite come to grips with over the years:

Our friendship ended. And that’s good.

What we had was good. We learned from each other. We grew with each other. We were there for each other. We were really dear friends. But it ended and that’s for the best. We can’t go back to what we had, even if we wanted to. We’ve grown up. We’re not the same people we were when we were friends. We probably wouldn’t get along in the same way as we did.

But maybe it’s better to remember old friends the way they were while you were in each other’s lives. People are constantly changing, learning, evolving. Chances are those old friends aren’t the same as you remember them. You’re likely not the person you were before. That’s how the world spins.

But that change shouldn’t taint your memory of them. It should make it more meaningful.

It’s beautiful, really. That in this universe, for a millisecond in the grand timeline, two completely different people, both still evolving, still moving on their separate roads through life, were able to cross paths and form a bond for even the briefest of times. And even though two straight lines only meet at a singular point in space before going off in different directions and never meeting again… that point in space is special. It’s completely unique. No other point on either of those lines will ever be identical to that; nothing will ever match that intersection in space.

Life is full of those unique intersections in space. It’s silly to yearn for that same experience a second time because the singularity of that experience is what makes it special. We can look back on those moments with fondness, but we need to realize when the moment is over.

I’ve spent a lot of time hoping for my friend back. I’ve spent time chasing down that friendship that meant so much to me, wishing it would just go back to the way it was. But it never will. I’ll never have that friendship again. Even if my friend came back into my life somehow, it would be a new experience, a new intersection in space. It will never be as it was. And therein lies the perfection.

I’m okay with being at the end of this moment. I realize that what I had was meaningful and special to me. I am grateful for the happiness that this friendship brought me. I am grateful to have had the chance to know this person. And most importantly, I acknowledge the finality of it all.

Now, I have the opportunity fully engage and embrace the next unique intersection in my life. And just like all the ones before this, it will be perfect in its peculiarity.

May 7, 2015

Note to Self:

You are a woman of might and grace
You are built of rock and pain, of heat and blood
You are both strength and weakness
Both malice and love
Both vanity and charity
You are vicious and merciless but also beautiful

Your power radiates outward
But your fear fills you
You are afraid
Afraid of failure, of loss
You fear love will abandon you
Or worse, that you will abandon love

And so you pull inward,
Keeping your heart so close that you might smother it
Because maybe that will feel better than letting it break
How tempting it is to give up, to let go
The path ahead of you is treacherous,
Sometimes more thorn than rose

But you, dear girl
Are not made of gold
You may be precious and dazzling
But you are not soft

You, dear girl
Are an uncut diamond

Hardened by the weight of the world
Burned and pressed and pushed
They tried to crush you but only made you stronger
You are not made to be pretty,
Though that did not keep you from being so;
You are made to be unbreakable

Note to self:
You are a diamond
You are a diamond
You are a diamond
You are a diamond
You are a diamond.

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October 9, 2014

Coming Out: A Personal Journey, Not a Stance

National Coming Out Day is October 11th this year, which is two days away. So, I think it’s only right that I share some of my thoughts on what it means to “come out.”

For me, “coming out of the closet” is a conscious decision to live and present yourself authentically within a social group that perceives you in a way which contradicts with your true and authentic self. Until one’s decision to come out, one is consciously choosing to repress or hide a part of their identity from a social group, be it sexual orientation, gender identity or both. One is assuming the identity that has been built by others’ perceptions of them rather than the one they perceive for themselves. This is important to note. This is the reason that heterosexual, cisgender individuals don’t need to “come out”; because nothing is being repressed or hidden. They are already living authentically. Granted, that has a lot to do with cultural norms, privilege, and the distribution of power within our society. Hetero-, cisgender individuals are perceived by society to be the majority, to be “the default” state of being. Because of this, they have the privilege of being perceived in the same way that they identify. A hetero-, cisgender person can live true to their identity without having to actively try and change others’ perceptions of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

That was the lecture part. The next part is a little more intimate.

The act of “coming out” holds a lot of personal significance for me. I have had several “coming out” experiences in my life. And as is true for many others in the LGBTQ community, I will continue to have them throughout my life. When I was in middle school, I came out to my two best friends (despite not really having the language or the terminology to describe my sexual orientation). One welcomed me with open arms and congratulated me for having the courage to tell her. The other never spoke to me again. When I was in high school, I came out to a particular group of friends as well as my partner. My partner (who I am still with today) accepted me and said that this new knowledge about my sexuality would do nothing to negatively affect how much he loved me. My friends were for the most part accepting, with a small handful who decided to alienate, bully, and out me to others.

When I was in college, I came out publicly on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and my blogs. I also came out to my parents. This was the hardest coming out experience for me. In the 2+ years following my decision to live “out,” I struggled to maintain family relationships, was threatened with being cut off financially, was threatened with homelessness, received online death threats, was physically assaulted, and tolerated an almost constant stream of cyber-bullying from individuals I once called friends. I was also urged by professional colleagues and advisors to retract my coming out statement and to stop “perpetuating the idea that your sexuality is acceptable.” The social aspect of my life became so toxic to my mental health that I began to have daily thoughts of suicide and engaged in a number of self-harm activities including taking improper doses of prescribed medications, excessive drinking, cutting, and ingesting toxic chemicals.

I consider myself lucky; despite more than one suicide attempt during this turbulent period in my life, I am still here.  I have since had one more coming out experience – coming out as a professional in a workplace setting. This was by far the most positive experience I have had. The organization that I work for is very pro-diversity and prides itself on encouraging employees to live in the healthiest, most authentic way possible. It even includes the language “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in its official Non-Discrimination Policy, putting it miles ahead of most Utah-based firms.

I am proud to say that I have lived “out” in all aspects of my life for the past 3+ years.

Coming out requires personal courage, resilience, and a great amount of positivity. There are easy, positive coming out experiences and there are difficult, negative coming out experiences. Each experience is different and there really isn’t a proven, faultless, fool-proof way to come out. There’s no way to determine if your coming out experience will be positive or negative, though you can make an educated guess based on a million diverse factors. No one can tell you when or where or to whom you should come out; that is a decision you can only make yourself. I would never encourage someone to come out if they are uncomfortable or scared of the idea of living authentically. It’s my experience that you need to be comfortable with the idea of everyone knowing – and potentially making critical judgments of your character based on the idea – that your sexual orientation and/or gender identity do not conform with their perceptions and preferences of who you are.

[NOTE: I also do not advocate coming out if you think doing so would add more danger to your life than it would happiness and fulfillment. Yes, coming out despite the threat of harm does take courage. Yes, it is very commendable. Yes, many great people have put themselves in harm’s way in order to further a cause or bring attention to a social problem. But, in my opinion, your life and happiness are far too important to reduce yourself to being someone else’s martyr.]

As an “out” member of the LGBTQ community and what I consider to be a generally good person, I feel that it’s my responsibility and privilege to be an ally to those who still struggle with coming out in their lives, as well as those who decide not to come out. But, allies don’t identify themselves; allies are identified by those they support. You can’t just call yourself an ally and make it so. Your actions and the perception of those actions determine whether or not you are an ally. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think it’s appropriate to “come out as an ally.” Announcing your support is wonderful and helps a lot of people. But I don’t know that we should be equating it to the act of coming out.

Now, I’ve recently been criticized for saying that allies should choose a phrase other than “coming out” when announcing their support of LGBTQ individuals this Saturday for National Coming Out Day. People have gone so far as to say that I must not want allies and that I am rejecting their support. That’s not what I’m trying to do at all, and I’m truly sorry if I have made people feel this way. My intention is not to alienate allies. I don’t want to diminish their efforts and actions; allies are and have been valuable support systems for LGBTQ individuals and powerful voices in the fight for social equality.

But – and there’s no polite or sugar-coated way for me to say this – it’s not about them. And allies shouldn’t try to make it about them. Selflessness is a very important part of being an ally. You shouldn’t support people simply to gain praise or be commended; that’s just an added bonus to doing the right thing. As an ally, it’s important to acknowledge that you are supportive of the movement, but you are not the movement itself. In order for true social equality to be accomplished, the LGBTQ community needs to be the most active, most involved, most visible members of the LGBTQ equality movement. Allies should not act as if they are the spearhead of the movement; that gives the opposition the chance to say that it was the majority – the heterosexual, cisgender community – who gained rights for the LGBTQ community, downplaying and invalidating all the work that the LGBTQ community put in to ensure that equality is achieved. We need allies, not saviors.

I know that’s blunt. I know that’s not what some people want to hear. But I believe it needs to be said and understood. Many people aren’t going to agree with me and that’s okay. As always, these are my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. They may not be true for some; I understand that. But, I think it’s important to bring these kinds of perspectives to the table.


Please, feel free to leave questions, comments, concerns, thoughts, hopes, dreams in the comment section below. As this is a somewhat touchy subject and a virtually anonymous forum, please try to be kind if you do decide to strike up a dialogue. I do field all comments on my blog, so if I feel that your comment is hurtful or inappropriate, I may decide not to publish it. On the same token, that also gives you the opportunity to ask that I respond to your comments privately; all you need to do is leave me some way of getting in touch with you and let me know that you wouldn’t like your comment to be published.

I love you all.