Balloons — or, the science of letting go.

It feels like there are so many people in this city – flowing out and falling through every turn, alley, street, corner. The city is not just pulsating with energy, sound, and light – but with the millions of heartbeats, of the millions of people: passerby’s and those who call it home. Today I needed the city to be a little empty, today I needed to carry twenty balloons across the city. Helium ones – you know, to make my life harder. And no, this wasn’t for a kid’s birthday or some cutesy proposal at Central Park with a horse carriage and rose petals. This was for me.

Balloons are strange, in a way always associated with celebrations. We fall in love with them as children; reveling in the latex smell and their ability to take our breath away, literally. Every person has some fond childhood memory that contains some version of a “…and then we had a balloon blowing competition on my eighth/ninth/tenth birthday”. As adults, though, balloons can teach us about the harder things in life. Balloons are temporary; we know this when we buy them. They are temporary, yet we take the greatest care to make sure they don’t get hurt or pop. We know they are temporary, and we love them anyway. Balloons by their very virtue, have the potential to float away from us. Just slipping through our fingers as we try to hold on, leaving us to watch them from a distance. We know all this when we  buy them. And we buy them anyway. 

Balloons, I think, teach us the science of letting go.


“I’ll take twenty please”.
“Yes, helium please… okay, I’ll wait half an hour”.
“40 dollars? (!!), here, okay thanks! I’ll be next door”.

At the café, next door, I was thinking about last night, when I’d decided to bring a bunch of helium balloons to release at Bryant Park. I knew if anyone who saw them would think they had escaped some celebrations. Knowing they were released and didn’t escape, made me feel like I was colluding with the Universe on this somehow.

“Whose birthday are you buying them for?”, it was a boy I’d seen at the balloon shop.
“Why do you think it’s for a birthday?” He seemed to linger on this question, I could see he was thinking hard – not able to think of any other instance balloons are required, “well, because balloons make birthdays great!” he concluded.

“I’m actually buying them to release them at the park – no birthday – just me letting them go”, I leaned in towards him as if we were sharing a secret.

“You want to just release them?”, he whispered back, incredulous.When I nodded to agree, he asked, “what if some fly away before you get to the park – you can’t control them sometimes”. Before I could respond he added, “or what if…when you get there, some don’t fly away. They just sink to the ground”, he was clearly enjoying this.

“I guess, what you’re saying is that I can’t really plan this?”, I looked at him in mock surprise. He shuffled his feet and whispered, “you can just be ready for it – whenever it happens. It’s fun watching them float away.”

Where was this kid’s mom, anyway?


I had hoped today, Sunday morning, would’ve had fewer crowds on the street. I looked like a discombobulated mess, fighting the wind, and trying to keep my balloons together, and not run into the many, many, many, humans packed on the sidewalk. You’re probably thinking “why doesn’t this girl just hail a cab – she’s in the city of cabs!”. But I tried – the summer sun heated up the cab’s door frame so much that I lost three balloons as soon as the rubber touched the metal. So, me and my seventeen balloons were walking the crowded streets towards Bryant Park. Some places have significance, not because anything of note happened there; no tremendous moment, yet it stills holds importance. That’s why I chose this park, to release them there. I was a block away when the wind picked up, as though with an agenda to take the balloons from my grip. The ribbon grazed my hand so slightly, and then it was out of my reach — leaving my hand outstretched. I watched the balloons float on, standing out starkly amidst the glass and metal buildings. I heard someone point out the balloons, calling attention to others. For a few moments, people – tourists, locals, policemen – stopped to look at the group of yellow balloons floating against the skyline.

I guess you just have to be ready for it – whenever it happens. And try to have fun watching them float away.

-e.j.

The Strength in Female Entrepreneurship Traits

(originally featured in Dairay: http://dairay.com/female_entrepreneur_traits/)

 

Don’t reject, but embrace your femininity. Entrepreneurship is primarily seen as a male activity, if you look at pop culture, history books, and media. However, as the world is changing, women are stepping up and beyond, and there in an increase in female entrepreneurship. In tandem with this increase is an increased interest in gender differences between skills and traits, and what makes a “successful entrepreneur”.

The myth that women entrepreneurs need to combat is that traditionally feminine traits are a detriment. Many women mistakenly feel they need to adopt “traditionally masculine traits”, such as aggressiveness, competitiveness, and independent work ethic, to be considered competent. We often feel we have a lot of prove, just by virtue of sitting “at the boys table”. We feel compelled to present ourselves as devoid of any of our feminine characteristics; we might feel the need to compensate by over-stressing certain behaviours, like interrupting or cutting others off. Often we forgo our normal responses and swap them for a “more masculine” response, thinking it will appear more credible.

However, it’s important to note that something inherent is lost when we mask the unique skills we bring: the traditionally feminine traits. Traditionally feminine characteristics such as collaboration, receptivity, patience, and showing vulnerability. While these qualities aren’t openly welcomed, they have a lot of value in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is about the relationships you build; investors, partners, the people around you are more interested in the person sitting in front of them. Practice becoming more comfortable in your authentic nature and your natural responses to situations instead of pushing them aside for their “masculine” counterpart — and make that narrative your brand. The most compelling thing an entrepreneur and a leader brings to the table is their own personal brand.

Adopting forced characteristics that don’t truly belong to you will dilute your message and eventually drain you. There is a great value to the inherent skills and capacities in the gender differences, and in incorporating both ends of the spectrum as the situation requires. Effective leadership is successful when you are true to your own self. Whatever table you are sitting at, never feel the need to negotiate your identity.

making eye contact.

 

Mornings usually constitute of a commute, somewhere – work or school or something else – and often involves public transit. This means: train delays, over-crowded and cramped spaces with people who have different standards of hygiene than you, dampness or stickiness depending on the weather.   My regular morning commute was no different; rushed, squished, loud, tiring. This morning was more of the same, but I was lucky– I found a seat. I squeezed myself in between a well-dressed woman who was already answering emails on her Blackberry and a very tired student carrying too many textbooks.  Having forty minutes to kill, I thought about whether I should nap or read. Instead, I found myself people-watching, specifically the little girl across from me. She couldn’t sit still for longer than a few moments. Every time the train stopped, she watched the automatic doors as though it was a magic trick. Her eyes were optimistic and inquisitive, interested in every move and sound the train made.  At stop announcements, her head perked up, and when the door chimed shut people turned to look for where the laughter was coming from.  She stood up on her seat, hands pressed against the windows, while her grandfather desperately tried to keep her from falling off. She watched the passing by streets, trees, houses, and skies as the train came above ground and then back into the tunnel. She was completely unaware of the discomfort of the woman sitting next to her. It’s like watching TV, she announced to nobody in particular.

This was her first time experiencing something I, as an adult, did every day – for whom, the magic had faded.  At some point life was a series of firsts, when we approached everything with a sense of new excitement.  Then life changes. We go to school, or maybe we don’t. We get jobs we hate, or maybe ones we love; sometimes we don’t have jobs and we love that and we also hate that. We do things like meeting friends for coffee, or think about a savings account; we talk about travel, and the reasons we don’t travel as much. We find the people we love, sometimes we realize maybe we didn’t really love them, or maybe they never loved us.  And somewhere along the way, that wonder escaped us.

Her grandfather began to gather her things, and zipped up her jacket, found her mittens in the pockets and asked her to put them on. She ran up to the door pushing past the people standing around her, most of whom were familiar with her by now.  Placing herself right in front of the door, she jumped a little as the train pulled into the station. It reminded me of the first time I learnt the feeling of “losing gravity” if you jump when an elevator stops; I was probably her age. As she prepared to literally hop off the train, she turned and our eyes met briefly and she waved goodbye to nobody in particular.

Some people smiled,  some shuffled, and everyone went back to their regular commute.

-e.j.

 

 

an audience to loss.

Even though they were at the hospital, I could see she had taken the time to make sure she wore her bindi today, a deep red against her frail and pale skin.  The dim sunlight coming through the windows caught her slim gold bangles, periodically shining. They sat at the cafeteria table, eating sandwiches and shared a bottle of water. In complete silence, each lost in their own thoughts. He occasionally looked up, to brush off a crumb that had fallen on her shirt, she smiled in acknowledgement – but they didn’t actually say a word to each other. He had finished his food, but waited until she was done to get up and collect their things into a bag. I noticed a slight tremble in her hands as she put the empty sandwich wrapper on the tray, it made her bangles tinkle lightly. He smoothed her hair, and her hospital gown, went around her and started pushing the wheelchair towards the hallway leading to the OR.

I had seen many people come through this hospital, in different states, different relationships, different emotions. There was something about the way in which these two people, a husband and wife, had spent an hour in comfortable silence. Connected, yet silent. There was nothing hurried about them, no rush to fill each moment with words and sounds. Just two people, sitting with each other, letting the world go by.

Many hours later I saw him sitting in the hallway. I could hear the sounds of footsteps echoing away. He sat alone, there were many empty chairs around him.  There was a medical certificate of death on the seat next to him. He was, however, holding a picture of them.

I sat down across from him.

This is what losing a lifetime together looks like.

-e.j.

 

to all that is new york.

I read Joan Didion’s essay ‘Goodbye to all that’, I read ‘Goodbye to all that: writers on loving and leaving New York’, I tried saying my own goodbye; yet, here I am, still thinking about it. Three years later.

In ‘Goodbye to all that’, I noticed that almost all the essays start with a proclamation of a ‘starry-eyed youth’ moving to New York, or a native New Yorker describing what it was like growing up there. It is as if there are only two kinds of people: those who have spent their past imagining the life in New York and then moving there (only to leave), or the ones who are from there and need to get out.

My story is as similar and as different from these stories, as stories can be. I was not a starry-eyed youth, already in love with the idea of New York, when I arrived. I was not burnt-out and anguished when I left. I lived in New York for two years. A New York minute. Actually, I didn’t even live in New York City, I was out in one of the suburbs. Far enough not to call myself a “New Yorker”, close enough to make it there every weekend.

New York, to me, became about independence. I had never lived on my own before that. It became about being comfortable with being by myself, to spending afternoons walking around alone. It became about doing the things I didn’t like, but doing them because they are good for me. It became about being unafraid, self-sufficient, and knowing that nothing is impossible for me. It became about moving boxes and suitcases, on rainy nights; knowing that I could do it alone.  New York is where I learnt to drive on the highway and reading complex parking signs.

But it wasn’t just that. It was also where I found a different me, a liberated me. It was stepping out of my comfort zone, and realizing that I liked being out of my comfort zone. It was about hating bananas, but then falling in love with banana bread pudding. It was breaking into Bryant Park, after 2 a.m., not once but twice. Lying on the damp grass and looking up. There are places in the city where you can see the stars.

Ultimately, it wasn’t the city, it was who I became in the city  that makes me affected by its skyline. Every time I get off the plane now and drive towards the city, I watch it take shape against the sky. Every time, I am reminded of the young girl who moved there and the self-assured woman who left.

Maybe I will always stay in the process of saying goodbye.

And maybe, that is okay.

 

-e.j.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the daily battles: ungrateful or ambitious?

“what do i want out of my life?”

this is the question i ask myself, almost every day.
and every day, the answer is the same: better.

reading this you might think that perhaps my life is in dire straits, maybe i am financially unstable, maybe i have too many broken relationships, maybe i have a terminal illness and i am searching for meaning. it is none of those things; i have everything i have worked for, and many things have been given to me.  yet, i can’t shake the feeling that i need to do more and be more. 

when i tell people that, they often tell me to look at the laundry list of achievements and be grateful.   other people tell me that i am ambitious, that i should be more content and happy. my thought, in response to that, is to wonder: when did we begin to equate gratitude with complacency? When did ambitious become unhappy?

 

you can want more things, be grateful for what you have, and experience happiness, simultaneously.

in fact, you should.

-e.j.

8 weeks.

The night before; it was the weirdest feeling.

She didn’t think there would be a feeling associated with it, naiveté spilling with every tear. Her hand lingered over the lower half of her abdomen, she thought if she touched her skin maybe it would change her mind. “How could there even be a connection”, she had never thought of it this way.

The morning of; a series of mundane morning rituals.

Even when big moments take place in our lives, they are punctuated with ritualistic, mundane, everydayness. She got ready, still making sure she didn’t accidentally graze her lower abdomen, choosing a dress so she didn’t have to button any pants. Her phone flashed, he was waiting downstairs.

It was cold, even for October.  Walking into the nondescript building they were ID-ed and brought into the reception room, which was trying too hard to be cheerful. Women of all ages were sitting, reading magazines and chatting. To her surprise, so many were middle-aged, married women with other children. Soon, they were called into an office, the doctor explaining the procedure, talking about anxiety and counselling, giving them a stern look when talking about contraception.  He held her hand under the table, the whole time.

It was like a relay race; from the doctor’s office, down the hall to change into a gown. “Why don’t these things have a back to them?”, she thought as she put on booties made of hospital-gown-paper. She felt like she was gliding towards the ultrasound room. Ultrasound.  A thing happy, married people did, when they wanted to see their baby. As the nurse powered the monitor and began to rub the cold jelly on, she turned away feeling a strange sadness for losing something that did not exist, that she did not even want.

Finally, at the end of the race, she could sink into the sleepy warmness provided by the narcotics flowing throughout her body. The doctor’s voice was talking about the process, “it feels like a vacuum, you’ll feel some pressure”, with a loud whirring sound acting as a soundtrack to this moment. “Why are the tubes transparent?” she thought, as she watched the clear tube become varying shades of red.

Ten minutes.

In the narcotics haze, she turned to the nurse, “how big was it?” breaking into sobs. The nurse, a warm woman, seemed unfazed by the suddenness of emotion in the room. “It was nothing. 8 weeks is nothing”. She sat a few minutes in another room, eating soda crackers with a can of Canada Dry. He waited in the reception, with a box of chocolates. They left, and he let her cry in silence the ride.

The night of; she let her hand mindlessly wander onto her belly button ring, and fell asleep.

-e.j.

on orientalism.

(this was originally posted on “The Belle Jar”http://bellejar.ca/2014/11/20/guest-post-on-orientalism/)

It was around 10pm on a summer night, a few years ago. I was waiting on Queen West for a friend. We were going to head out to a party like any other twenty-something on a weekend. A man approached me and asked if I worked in the ‘entertainment industry’. When I said no, he told me that I had a “really good look for this stuff”. He introduced himself as a film-producer and continued to tell me that his next project was looking for exotic, middle-eastern-looking women and that the pay would be really good (side note: I’m not middle-eastern). As I began to walk away while refusing his offer, he shoved a card into my hand and told me to think about it. I turned the card in my hands and saw that he was indeed a film-producer; he produced pornography, specializing in ‘oriental and exotic girls’. Feeling confused, my thoughts ran something like this: Am I really ‘exotic’? What does that even mean? I’d never thought of myself that way before so should I accept his comment as a compliment? Wait, or does he mean that I’m different; like a zoo animal, an ostrich amongst the crowds of pale-skinned blondes?

The idea of ‘exotic other-ness’, especially for women, exists in all areas of society where sex and sexuality are concerned. In the world of pornography, it is most visible, most at display, most lucrative. If you walk into any adult entertainment store, videos are often categorized by race and then broken down by category. A quick search online will give you the same results. Women of colour or racialized backgrounds are shown as hyper-sexualized and promiscuous. There is a sense of stereotyped fantasy based on old ideas about what a woman of that ethnicityshould be like: a black woman is ghetto and must have a “big booty”, a Latina is feisty, a South Asian must have memorized The Kama Sutra, and an East Asian is submissive yet kinky simultaneously. The plot lines, if present at all, revolve around racist imagery and situations. These fantasy generalizations also show women of colour as lusty and not having control over their desires. These are women who have to be liberated sexually and are willing to do anything. These are women who are different from the status quo, the majority of white women.

Many argue that this is just a venue for people to experience or live out their fantasies. The problem with that idea is that this is not the sexual reality of black, East Asian, South Asian, Latina or other women of colour. People who watch porn regularly argue that they recognize it is not reality, they recognize that real sex with real women is different, and that they can draw the line between sex and porn. As a woman of colour, I disagree with them. These ideas about racialized sexuality and the fantasy find their way into real-life conversations about sexuality and discussions with friends, causal hook-ups and even people you regularly have sex with. These race-specific genres of porn muddle expectations, the ones men hold of potential sexual partners as well as ethnic women themselves. It adds another layer of questioning to already present complexities women experience in asserting their sexualities. Besides thinking about what society will say about our sex lives and how our bodies look from various angles, now women of colour have to think about if they are ‘mysterious and different’ enough, if they are meeting the expectations set by porn. With so much going on, focusing on pleasure and what they want can potentially become secondary.

For the remainder of that night, I couldn’t help but wonder if every guy there saw me as ‘exotic’; that man’s thought had found its way into mine. In the years that followed, I came up against this perception more times than I appreciate. I find this frustrating because it is a fabricated element in my reality; it changes the way people experience me. Simply put, it creates an aura of objectification in every aspect of daily life. However, It’s hard to say which influences the other. Is it the seeping of porn-ideals into mainstream culture, or is it mainstream ideas finding their way into porn? I think they are two sides of the same coin. Mainstream media saturates us with objectified ideals and stereotypes of women of colour; but these ideas are limited to interpersonal, ‘regular’, or daily situations. Characters like Gloria from ‘Modern Family’, or Latika in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ speak to what life is supposed to look like for women of colour, but doesn’t really explore their sexualities. This gap is filled by the porn-industry, which provides a glimpse into what the sexual lives of these women of colour is supposed to be like. Combined, both these powerful mediums present a completely fantasized version of a woman of colour. The danger lies in the fact that when a fantasy is presented to you, already complete, it is hard to imagine it as existing otherwise.

-e.j.

opposing permanence: a narrative of temporary.

one of the most beautiful and tragic things in life is the myth of permanence. we fall in love, thinking that it will be forever. we make friendships for life. we make financial plans based on the idea that there is a more. these plans bring us joy, make us sad, and make us feel that we belong to an ongoing narrative; that there is a beginning, middle, end to our stories.

the opposite of this idea is to be temporary. this is a revolutionary thought. working as a psychotherapist, i often find that people come up against seemingly immovable walls made of the idea of permanence. it becomes an obstacle in their path to recovery. this is because they feel that this is how it will always be. that their sadness will last forever, that the happiness they seek is a permanent ending. a slight shift in thinking, towards the belief in temporary, becomes essential in building hope. once we begin to see that every feeling state that guides our moods and actions is temporary, we are able to see beyond it. it begins to build the foundation for resilience, managing expectations, and sets the stage for change. it also causes the most important shift of mindset, of knowing that you have more control over your situation than you think.

so the reality is, one of the most beautiful and most tragic things in life is the narrative of temporary.

-e.j.