2017, adulthood, birthdays, celebrations, injury, writing

Why 29 Will Be My Most Unbalanced Year Yet

I’ve always used my birthday as a time to stop and think about where I’ve been and where I’m going. The annual tradition is one way I try to build self-awareness and achieve balance. This year in particular, however, I didn’t want to stop. In some ways, I had been stopped all year and I wanted to celebrate my renewed ability to go-go-go. Last year, I had knee surgery four days after my birthday. I spent the next six months rebuilding my strength, and the six months after that rebuilding my strength again after a second surgery. I spent all twelve months chasing literal and metaphoric balance.

Literally, the muscles in my right leg atrophied and stopped working after surgery, and required both electric stimulation and intensive isolated exercises to get them back in shape. In the early days, this meant spending most of the day lying down with my leg elevated, slowly trying to bend it every couple of hours. In the later days, this meant dedicating an entire morning to rehab, then doing mini stretches throughout the day.

Metaphorically, the recovery process and pain inhibited my ability to practice or enjoy much of what typically keeps me emotionally balanced—writing, exercising, cooking, socializing, working, and sleeping. Even if I could occasionally do one or the other, my notion of balance necessitated my ability to do all of it at once.

In some ways, I felt like I was stuck in another person’s body (for better or for worse).

April, 2000

This lack of balance was a stark opposition from the life I have always known. As a child, I was involved in countless activities simultaneously: Multiple styles of dance class, singing lessons, choir, soccer, writing contests, piano, swim team, volunteer work, oil painting, yoga, and I’m probably forgetting a few (school). Despite the occasional overwhelm, I never wished any of them away. I enjoyed what I defined to be a “well-rounded” life, and more importantly, I prided myself in being able to balance everything. The pace I set (or that was set for me) in my childhood is the one I brought forward into my adulthood. Whether or not it’s right, I equated “balance” with “doing many things” and “imbalance” with “failure.”

About six months after my surgery, as I regained my physical balance, I attempted to test my mental balance as well. I outlined an idea for a new book and considered ways I might start to realize my dream of owning a coffee shop. Both of these endeavors required extensive time and energy, which, admittedly, were sparse given how much of my limited time and energy were drained by the recovery process. I set both aside and considered that perhaps I was incapable of the balance I once knew.

Around this time, I learned that I needed to have another surgery. It was as if someone was tugging the rug underneath me as I was trying to stand up. But somehow, I held my ground. I didn’t let it throw me off. I was surprised to find that through the initial months of recovery, I had found a sense of balance amidst the imbalance. I was more adept at riding life’s waves.

Last week, The New York Times published a piece in its Well section about achieving balance. Shockingly, the article isn’t in praise of it. Instead it argues that sometimes, imbalance is a good thing. To get fully consumed by some one aspect of your life (“Falling in love. Writing a book. Trekking in the Himalayas. Training to set a personal record in a triathlon.”) is rewarding  in a way that balance sometimes is not. It allows you to fully acknowledge, experience, and appreciate this one thing. With self-awareness, it enables you to excel.

The article summarized my past year in a way that I couldn’t on my own. It made me see the imbalance in my last year not as my destroyer, but as my healer. There is undeniable benefit in giving one person or thing your undistracted attention.

As I look back on my year of imbalance, one thing is true: I was happy. My injury gave me an excuse to slow down and wholly focus. It allowed me to work toward, and achieve, small and big milestones. It reminded me to appreciate the marvels of the human body—my human body. It proved to me the humanity in strangers. It filled me with the care of loved ones.

So in entering another year of my life (this time with more physical balance than last year), I am, for the first time doing so with an eye for healthy and meaningful imbalance. And I’m pretty happy about it.

 


Read More

Birthday reflections

Why 28 Is The Year I Need To Do What I Want
What Amy Winehouse Taught Me About Turning 27
4 Things I Couldn’t Admit To Myself Until Turning 25
Ten Thoughts On Turning 25

Inspiration  

You’re Doing Your Weekend Wrong
Maybe We All Need a Little Less Balance

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2017, abundance, adulthood, appreciation, cooking, food

How a Japanese Chef Taught Me That I Am What I Don’t Eat

I grew up in a household where wasting food was unacceptable—not just in theory, but in practice. One of our (many) dining table rules was that you couldn’t get up out of your chair until all the food on your plate had vanished (and not because you had snuck it into our dog’s mouth). My mom, the gatekeeper to the kitchen sink, was the enforcer of this rule.

The good news is that my mom is a fabulous cook. She takes into account dietary restrictions, preferences, and irrationals. There’s no reason you wouldn’t want to finish eating her food, except for when you took too much to begin with—when your eyes were bigger than your stomach. And in those instances, you paid for it.

This rule wasn’t restricted to members of our household; instead, it was applied to anyone dining in our home. More often than not, our neighbor would join us for dinner. My mom had convinced him that his spoon would start singing when he had finished everything on his plate. I distinctly remember one summer evening when, staring at his reflection in the stainless steel plate he had licked clean, my neighbor held up his spoon to his ear. “Do you hear it?” he asked, “Because I do. Listen.”

Not all of my friends were willing participants, though. At some point during my childhood, I learned that many of my friends were actually scared to come over for meals. Some waited until my mom was temporarily distracted so they could quickly send their unwanted food down the garbage disposal. Others told their parents they didn’t want to come over at all. “Don’t make me go over there! Aunty makes you finish everything your plate,” was the line.

In these instances, I was embarrassed to be her daughter. Still, I followed her rule because it was a rule. It became a habit. Until college.

Eighteen years after dining under my mom’s supervision, I, suddenly found myself planted in a culture of food wastage. I noted how many people—mostly women—would consistently waste a bit of their meal. I don’t know their reality, but I perceived it to be a signal of health and moderation. A way of communicating, “This is how I stay healthy.” It made me feel like if I ate everything on my plate, it would signal that I was unhealthy. Or worse, that I would become as such.

And so, two thousand miles from my mom’s dining table, I started wasting food to fit in. Unlike my childhood dinner table where there were repercussions to wasting, now, the repercussion, in the form of perceived social judgment, came with choosing not to waste. The wastage continued into my adult life especially in social and professional group dinners where every single person ordered plates to share. Now it was less about body image, and more about carelessness and abused privilege. When I cooked for myself, I finished what was on my plate, but often found myself throwing out food that I had forgotten about or gotten bored of.

Soon, I didn’t even realize I was doing it.


Earlier this year, I visited Tokyo. One of my most memorable meals was at Frey’s, which yes, was a pizza place, but was also some of the best pizza I’ve ever had (I have been to Italy). The restaurant seated maybe twenty people, and I was at the counter, being served by the chef. Before ordering my pizza, I ordered a salad. It was pretty basic, and I ate most of it. There were leaves left behind, though. Enough time had passed where it was clear that I was ready for my next course. Yet, nobody came to take my order. I made eye contact with the chef several times, completely befuddled as to why he hadn’t approached me. Finally, someone dining next to me, recognized the situation. “He’s waiting for you to finish your salad,” she told me gently. “Oh! Of course,” I said.

At that moment, I was embarrassed not to be the daughter my mom had raised me to be. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I hadn’t finished my salad. I had just moved on to my next desire. But the chef read it differently. To him it said, “I don’t like your food.” It also said, “I am ungrateful for what I have.” If I had been too full to eat anymore, I wouldn’t have needed a pizza.

This experience opened my eyes to a good childhood habit I had wasted away in my journey to adulthood. My mom’s rule wasn’t just a rule, but an important value. She was teaching us to take only what we need.

So, I made a change. Now, I make it a point to finish whatever is on my plate or in my to-go box—and save leftovers when I can. When I prepare my lunch and dinner for the week, I am more deliberate about what, and how much, I make. If I think I’m going to get bored of it, I figure out a way to make it unboring. Or, I suck it up and look forward to the next week. If I mess up a recipe, I get creative with the failure. Neither my process nor I am perfect, and I will not choose  to overeat when I can put my plate back in the fridge to finish later. Still, it has raised my awareness of what I can afford and also what our climate affords me. Of the real meaning behind my mom’s rule.

I constantly remind myself now—and I only wish I could go back and tell my college self—that eating smart isn’t about portioning your plate. It’s about portioning what you put on your plate in the first place.

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accountability, adulthood, camping, friendship, trust, truth

I Was Almost Suspended, But Instead I Learned An Unforgettable Life Lesson

I was seated one seat diagonally behind Jonathan that day. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was a Monday. Nineteen years ago.

He reached into his backpack and then pulled his hand out, his fist clenched around something.

Click.

Now there was something silver protruding from the fist. He turned around and held it up. We made eye contact.

“I forgot I had this in my backpack,” he said without prompting, “I went camping this weekend.”

He turned back around and I went back to my in-class assignment. It was rare that Jonathan seemed to notice—let alone speak to—me when I wasn’t with one of my best friends, the girl he had a crush on.

Later that week, I was called into the principal’s office. I had been there a number of times previously, usually to help with admin work and once to bond with my principal about our matching Halloween costumes (we were both Dorothy that year).

I skipped in, but my gait became far less chipper at the sight of my principal’s face.

“Take a seat,” she said, “We’ve got something very serious to discuss.”

We weren’t in Kansas anymore.

“Jonathan and James have been suspended,” she stopped. I was confused. Not because they had been suspended (they had a knack for getting themselves into trouble). But because she was informing me. Why? If we were gossiping the least she could have done was offered me some tea.

“Do you know why?” She asked after a long pause.

“No.”

“Are you sure? Jonathan showed you something this week.”

The knife.

“Oh, the pocket knife?” I asked, still trying to piece together my presence in that room.

“As you know, we have a zero-tolerance policy with weapons. Why didn’t you tell anyone he had it at school?”

“He told me he accidentally left it in his backpack. He went camping last weekend.” I honestly didn’t think twice about the pocket knife, but even if I had, I still wouldn’t have told anyone. I had been let in to Jonathan’s circle, and he was one of the popular kids. I couldn’t gamble this high honor away.

“Zero-tolerance means it doesn’t matter why. What if he injured someone or himself? How would you have felt? You could have helped prevent that. The fact that you knew and didn’t tell anyone means I could suspend you too.” My eyes welled with tears. I wished Jonathan had never spoken to me in the first place. I wondered how my name had come up to our principal. “I’m not going to, but today I hope you learn a very important lesson: When you see something, and you don’t say something, you too are guilty.”

That day, I learned what it means to be a not-so-incident bystander.

Eight years later, in my AP Psychology class, I learned the story of Kitty Genovese, a twenty-eight-year old woman who was murdered to death outside her New York apartment in the 1960’s. Just under forty people witnessed the event without calling for help. This apathy was later coined the bystander effect. People are less likely to help someone in need when there are others present. To give people the benefit of the doubt, everyone thinks or hopes that someone else will help.

This is humankind’s most depraved quality.

Recently, I was inspired by two women who broke away from the bystanders. One, a friend of my mom, and the other, a mentor of a colleague. Both could have safely remained silent. But they took action by stepping away from their respective groups to bring positive change. In doing so, they did not care what others would say or think; they did not take or push blame; they did not ignore all the intricacies of the situation; they didn’t try to protect themselves or anyone else; they did not seek martyrdom. Instead, they spotted the metaphorical pocket knife, sensed its potential for harm, and did what they believed was right. My involvement was to witness the end result: My mom’s faith and friendship restored, my colleague’s renewed feelings of respect, support, and appreciation. In stepping up, my mom’s friend and the mentor broke silence. Silence that, as I learned in my principal’s cramped office so long ago, can sometimes be more damaging than an illicit act itself.

Unlike my fourth grade self, I no longer consider what it means to be well-liked by a group. These recent displays by strong women have reminded me of the power not in being popular, but in following our inner compass even when it detracts from the majority. Their acts demonstrated what it truly means to gain and maintain trust. To build strong relationships. To be true to others—and to yourself.

Each of us is equipped with an inner truth. This is our most powerful weapon. Use it to cut away the brush and forge the path that you believe in.

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www.instagram.com/rmdrk
adulthood, lessons, life

An Open Thank You Note To Cheryl Strayed

Your tiny book taught me how to love and live

Dear Cheryl,

If there are only two more words you read in this letter, let them be: Thank you.

I first learned of tiny beautiful things last summer. It came highly recommended by a mentor. Me in my late twenties and she in her early thirties, we often discussed how we teeter between dichotomous feelings of intimacy and isolation.

Source: www.instagram.com/rmdrk

-R.M. Drake

I bought it and started reading that evening. Expecting something like Wild, I approached the book with an intellectual lens, in search of a deep and lengthy literary arc. For obvious reasons, the short anecdotes were a letdown. Dismissive of the content, I refused to let my guard down. “These questions are annoying. These responses are annoying,” I thought with each page turn. I ultimately decided to pause on the book and wait for a better time. I believe that much like when people enter our lives, there is a “right” time for certain books—ones that matter— to enter our lives.

At that point, I instead opted for Saramago’s The History of the Siege of Lisbon. Talk about an opposite end of the spectrum. I think there’s one period in the entire first chapter.

Last December, for some inexplicable reason, I glided toward your unmistakable orange spine in my bookshelf, and sat down for my second attempt.

This time, I soaked in every word on every page. While there were some letters with which I couldn’t connect, and others whose contents I pray will never apply to me, there were ones that fluttered toward my chest and settled down at the core of my heart.

I got perspective. I found meaning. I felt emotion. It was clear to me that I would read many of these stories again and again as my life went on.

***

My dad tucked me in to bed every night of my childhood. When this ritual began, it consisted of his coming into my room, closing my window, and saying good night. Occasionally he would kiss the air near my cheek.

One evening when I was seven, I stopped him short of “good night.”

“I made a poem that we can say to each other every night,” I said.

Visibly taken aback by my disruption of the routine, he responded, “What is it?”

“I’ll say it then you repeat it,” I said with my last strain of confidence. I took a deep breath. Despite the fact that I was lying in bed with all of Earth’s gravity pushing down on me, my heart was beating up against it, a mile a minute. I started: “Good night…” I stopped.

I started again, this time with rhythm in a sing-song voice.

Good night
I love you
Sweet Dreams
And buh bye

My dad looked at me. I snapped shut my eyelids to avoid eye contact. “Good night, I love you,” I opened my eyes. “…Sweet dreams, and Buh bye.”

He stood there for a moment, both of us allowing the comfortable silence to linger. He turned away to leave. I smiled.

I had always wanted to tell my dad that I loved him. But I didn’t know how. I-love-you wasn’t a sequence of words repeated in our household. Not because there wasn’t any love, but more likely because my mom and dad’s expressions of love were influenced by that of their traditional Indian upbringing: Ones that were void of visible or audible displays of affection.

The poem was my clever way of expressing my feelings. I could pass it off as an intellectual piece of work, just like the activities I did in school.

From then through my early teenage years, my dad’s good night ritual included a recitation of the poem, which I recited back.

My use of the word “recitation” is deliberate. There wasn’t much emotion behind the words. They were forever a string of three words I had cunningly snuck into a poem.

I learned, over the years, that masking one’s feelings is a sign of strength. Whether it was in the classroom, on the soccer field, or in social situations, I wore a mask of tempered stoicism.

Transitioning into my post-college work life, this lesson was only further validated for me. I read that being sensitive and emotional — characteristics typically attributed to women — could curtail career success (Imagine the hatred I felt toward myself for months after I burst into tears in front of my CEO). I heard from another Sheryl to seize opportunities that come my way by being more assertive and confident regardless of any insecurity or anxiety I might truly feel. I gathered from politics that I should hide any “inconsistencies” in my mood as it may put into question my leadership skills.

You see Cheryl, until I read your book, I was never taught that it is not only okay, but necessary to acknowledge that I have feelings, and to listen to them. Before reading, I believed that showing emotion was a sign of weakness. I was blind to the fact that being vulnerable is the only way to experience life.

Now, after reading tiny beautiful things, I am more comfortable allowing my emotion to drive my actions. This includes acts like saying “thank you” to my parents and sending love notes to friends. I’ve let myself be visibly sad and mad and glad and all those other instinctive responses that seem to come so easy to kids. While I still consider context, I hold back from holding it all in. I feel like a more natural human being.

I am, because of you, more whole. This is a tiny beautiful thing.

Thank you for teaching me how to infuse logic with love.

With love,
Rohini

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adolescence, adulthood, beauty, growing up, insecurity, television

How Cable Television Secured All My Adolescent Insecurities

http://img11.deviantart.net/7431/i/2012/095/6/4/wishbone_press_photo___robin_hood_by_the_toy_chest-d4v4vmi.pngMy family didn’t get cable television until I was in the sixth grade. Until then, I resented my parents for depriving me of this simple luxury. It was unfair to me that all my friends could enjoy a buffet of television options whenever they wanted while I had limited choices which included weekly airings of Wishbone and Full House. 

I didn’t realize it then, but the lack of options made it so that television was never part of my routine and rarely my first choice for entertainment. Instead, I’d opt for writing stories or doing art projects (leaf pressing, stone polishing, sand designs and anything else sold in a D-I-Y kit at Target). Family time around the television was similarly sparse, and occurred only after we’d exhausted other post-dinner group activities like board games or going for a walk.

These television alternatives always served their purpose in entertaining me. At the end of any of my self-directed episodes of fun, I was completely beside myself with happiness. I walked away satisfied.

I still remember the miraculous day that I returned from school to learn the miraculous news: we had cable. It was like a dream come true and I imagined that now, by association, my life would be just like a sitcom, with lots of laughter, superficial beauty, and whatever “perfect” was supposed to be. I spent that Friday night binge watching shows on The Disney Channel.

Over the next few weeks, I was slowly sucked in by the characters and worlds that I considered to be analog to me and my current or aspirational life. I couldn’t wait to experience high school, college, and adulthood in the ways these characters did.

But by the end of high school, my appreciation for television had taken an inexplicable turn. At the end of an episode of most anything, I felt not entertained, but empty. It was back to reality, and a reality that was more and more distant from what I saw on television. I was stressed about academics, intimidated by social dynamics, nervous about my future, and uncomfortable in my own skin. Immersing myself in episodes of perfect families, perfect friends, perfect students, perfect bodies, perfect skin, and perfect comforts for even characters that were supposed to be “struggling,” only reminded me of what I was not. Though most of their worries and problems could be solved within a thirty-minute episode, all mine were only aggravated during that time.

Finally, I did what my pre-cable self could have never imagined possible: I effectively stopped watching television. Though I misinterpreted the reason back then (I told myself I just didn’t have time), I now realize that it was because television made me feel insecure about every aspect of my life, from my body to my day-to-day experiences.

To this day, I don’t feel compelled to watch television and follow only countable shows. The Office was one in college, and now it’s The Mindy Project. There are several unsurprising reasons it makes the short list including the fact that I find her laugh-out-loud hilarious and that I identify with her given our shared ethnicities.

But the main, and more subtle reason, is that she has established herself as a human off-screen. Be it through her open admissions about the importance of hard work or via her raw and authentic instagram, she is unlike many celebrities and lifebloggers out there who rarely break the fourth wall.

And it’s not just other celebrities. I’ve increasingly noticed the seemingly curated life I, and all of us, share on our various social networks. We don’t necessarily deserve all the blame, as these platforms tempt us with opportunities to filter the world around us and compete for recognition via likes, making it easier than ever for us to portray our lives as the ones we see in media. They encourage us to live lives of self-compsure and photographic exposure.

Mindy’s transparency is refreshing and in some ways, has helped me begin to build an adult appreciation for television and its entertainment value (ignoring for a moment that her show doesn’t actually appear on conventional television).

Though I often worry about the ways in which social media and technology will affect current and future generations of insecure adolescents (and adults), people like Mindy make me hopeful about the ways these channels enable humans to connect at the most fundamental levels.

Instead of ending this article with a bow like every thirty-minute television sitcom episode, I’ll instead leave you with one way in which Mindy’s life is exactly like the one I live, and am living at this very moment:

https://instagram.com/p/8QcB9zJQ_C/?taken-by=mindykaling

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