Why Speaking Up Matters

When I was asked yesterday to analyse a student’s work during the critique, I was a bit bothered by how he had chosen to use American Sign Language to represent the “visual language”.

He had set up three waxed hands, along with a moulded mask, on his four pedestals. I conveyed that not only these hands finger-spelled out ‘JAN’, but they didn’t seem to have any connection with the mask. As it turned out, it was the abbreviation of ‘IAN’, meaning ‘I Am Normal’.

I had then directly told him that the ‘I’ is supposed to be straight, not tilted. ‘J’, on the other hand, is tilted. As a result, his message failed to get through me. I also went on to explain that if anyone wants to “borrow” ASL, it’s important that they first consult persons who use it. It didn’t matter that he “consulted” his Deaf friend from South Africa. I pointed out that it might be signed differently here in North America, and that there are various sign languages worldwide.

The fact that he used the word ‘Normal’ was problematic for the following two reasons. First of all, his message in English implied that Deaf people aren’t normal. I don’t personally view my Deafness as a “disability”. So do many people I know. It’s more of a cultural thing. Secondly, the whole idea behind his work is that it’s one perspective. What are notions of normal in other countries? Everyone has a different idea of what it looks like.

While I told the guy that I knew that he had good intentions, it was important to think about how this would affect the Deaf community. I imagined with this wrong message delivered to them, they would get upset when they see it. I also explained that because I’m white, it would be unacceptable to create something to honour the Black community. In my case, hearing people should never speak for my people without their permission.

Everyone, including myself, agreed that it’d be better if his message spelled out ‘I AM’ instead. My professor pointed out that message would feel more inclusive. Someone also suggested using ‘I AM HUMAN.’ While there were various other ideas for improvement, I can say that this discussion had greatly affected everyone in the room. That’s what having empowerment can do. It creates a small change, but for the better.

When I left the room, I knew that my voice was heard. It meant a lot to me.  This experience reminded me that I was here to educate the others on what it means to be Deaf, and the time IS NOW. As long as I live, I will never stop making noise!

 

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Vegetarianism 101: Part 1

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It was taken during our experiment with Fresh City Farms’ recipe-kit deliveries. (2015)

A few of you have asked me how I transitioned to vegetarianism, and if there was anything I learned that could benefit you in the long run.

Before we get started, I have to make it clear that I’m not the greatest vegetarian around. I’d pick carbs over legumes and greens. However, I’m now more open-minded to eating them if they’re offered at the table. I’d even cook them sometimes! For me, vegetarianism helped me to expand my palate. I hope it would do the same for you.

Here are my tips for making your transition easier.

1) If anything, I’d suggest you to wait at least a year or two to commit to vegetarianism. You can instead break new changes into chunks. So for instance if you try to reduce your access to processed food, find better alternatives. You might like natural cashew butter or almond milk.

2) Always read the ingredients when you’re buying something. You’d be surprised to know how much animal byproducts they use in many processed food items! I’d opt to find something with fewer ingredients that people can pronounce. But does it mean that it’s healthier? No. Will it kill you? Not if you eat them in moderation.

3) Cooking your food is the best way to familiarise yourself with vegetarianism. It doesn’t mean that you have to do it from the scratch all the time. It just means that frying new vegetables (with your favourite oil) can be empowering!

4) Ditch these oil sprays. They’re gross. May I recommend extra virgin olive oil? We use it on the daily use! If we want to vary, we’d use hard-pressed coconut oil instead. When it comes to baking, I’d use sunflower oil.

5) I’d strongly recommend trying different cooking methods. It makes a difference! For me, I’ve always have hated mashed potatoes. Yet, I’d gladly eat potatoes if they’re roasted and herbed.

6) Sometimes it’s not just about the taste. It’s also about managing your cooking tasks’ level of difficulty! For instance, I found cooking toasted oats on my skillet a lot easier. I prefer this over toasting them in the oven. It’s way cheaper and tastier than store-bought granola.

7) Invest good money in herbs. The more you use herbs, the more tastier your food will be!

8) When you go to family/friend gatherings, pack your meals. If you’re away longer than 2 days, I’d double the number. If they give you a stink eye about it, you can tell them something like this:

You: Your homemade cookies are fantastic! I was actually looking forward to them all week. Can I pack more for my return trip?
Them: You definitely can! But what about these hard-boiled eggs I cooked for you? They’re packed with protein.
You: Fantastic! Thank you! By the way, I appreciate and recognise the effort you put into your cooking. While I’m not crazy about hard-boiled eggs, I’ll eat your salad. Additionally, I feel that packing my meals help me to ensure that I have a full and happy stomach at the end of the trip.

9) If you go to weddings or funerals, it is obviously rude to eat your own meal at the table. So? I’d recommend eating beforehand in the hotel or car. Bring a protein bar for later just in case if you get hungry again. I’d also use this strategy if I visit acquaintances or work parties. (Some events are accommodating. The others aren’t. This is just a tip for that.)

10) Sometimes you have to suck it up and eat your Aunt Fran’s egg salad for just one night. Tell yourself repeatedly that it’s just for ONE NIGHT. Flash your smile and say thank you.

11. There will be times when you accidentally eat meat. It happens to the best of us! Before you can move on, drink plenty of water so you could get meat taste outta your mouth. Popping a mint even sometimes helps!

That ties up what I wanted to say for today. If you wanted more, don’t worry! This is just a first in two-part series. It’s impossible to sum up what I’ve learned in my ten years of experience in one post, and I want to do it right. Hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy reading the second part by next week!

For now, I’d like to wish you nothing but good luck!! ❤

 

The ‘L’ Word

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This proof shows that comfort can be found anywhere. The ‘L’ word doesn’t justify that.

 

If I’m asked about my biggest fear, I would tell you that I’m afraid that I haven’t shown enough affection to those who matter in my life. I know this isn’t true in theory, but I feel like I have difficulty telling my close friends and family members that I’m fond of them. In fact, I’ve never said the ‘L’ word to anyone else. (My cats and Theo are the only exceptions.) (I forgot to include my little furry-friend Imi in the expectation category too.)

From my perspective, it makes more sense to hear it from someone else. I feel that I cannot be authentic if I say that. I would instead write sappy Facebook posts and send them heart emojis. If they say the ‘L’ word, I would smile and nod at them. If they’re lucky, they would be replied back with a ‘Yes, I know’.

I’m sorry, lads and gals. You’ll never ever hear that word from me. I’ll probably make the expectation if you happen to be on the dying bed. Does it mean that our relationships are based on nothing?

Of course not!!!

When I don’t dance my butt off or give you an acknowledgement nod, I would squeeze the life out of you until your arms fall off. I would also sometimes ask if I could hold your hand for a minute or two. I would happily gently stroke your back one or two times a day. I would braid your hair if you asked. If I catch you sleeping on the bed or couch, I would tuck you in. I would sit beside you on the couch for comfort. I would excitedly interrupt your conversations whenever I randomly remember something, which sadly sometimes happen while watching a movie.

I would stick my tongue out to inform you that I’m in a genuinely silly mood. I would tease you with my awful jokes. I would call you out for throwing a forced smile. I would document our walks, birthday celebrations, family dinners, and game nights. I would bake you a gluten-free cheesecake. If I cooked you dinner, I would happily omit eggplant or mushrooms. I would drive you nuts every time when I splatter your kitchen with pasta sauce or whipped cream. (I’d argue that’s the best way to be alive!) I would happily lick your homemade dessert off the plate. I would give you meaningful gifts on special occasions. I would also allow you to cry on my shoulder on a bad day.

While I may get over-simulated with frontal hugs in a while and then, I would always try to accept your affection with grace. I’d like to add that I’m not too big on platonic kisses. You can stroke my hair, give me back rubs and ask me about my day. These are a few examples of how you can make me feel well-cared for.

As you can see, it’s not that I don’t care about you. It’s that I don’t feel comfortable using the ‘L’ word myself. I see that my affection cannot be done as an one-word answer. It’s my actions that define it. Oh, here’s one more thing. Your presence largely brings light to my life, which I’ll be always grateful for.

The Third Wave

Wow, just… wow.

The third wave came. Grief comes in waves, big and small. I’ve occasionally experienced them in the last few months. Before Easter, my last one occurred three weeks earlier. I found that things became a lot more manageable after that. I thought it was the last one. When it happened again, it was hell. It felt as if my entire body was burning on the fire. Sadly, rolling on the floor wouldn’t even help me to survive the smoke faster. It took me a while to even open the doorknob. When I did, I was weaker than dust. All right, I’ll stop writing metaphors.

Here’s what happened recently.

When Theo’s mother told him that she had held onto their old quilts, I knew that I was emotionally doomed. I couldn’t contain myself anymore after the moment I laid my eyes on their soft-fleeced quilts. I was overwhelmed with grief when I listened to their private conversation. It was an echo to the earlier conversation I had with my mom when we unpacked my childhood toys for donation. It was a big send-off to that era.

I had to run. From everything. For a little bit, anyway.

My purple canvas shoes took me through their sleeping neighbourhood. It was after midnight. Every single thing, including the owl statue, had a ghouly appearance. When I saw the street sign on the road, I had goosebumps on my arms. It spelled ‘Safe’. Was someone trying to tell me to be careful? It was purely a coincidence, I’d tell myself. I would end up in a school’s backyard, which was partially filled with pine trees. My heart skipped as I got sucked into that otherworldly night. For one second, I’d believe that dead souls were walking through gaps between the trees. Nevertheless, I would reassure myself that my mind was playing with me. It was pure bullshit. Here I was, sitting on the swing, alive and alone. As I pushed myself back and forth, I noticed something even more creepier. It was indeed true. The only most bright light I’ve seen was the moon. It wasn’t only about third-fourth full, but it was also pink. With that sight, I couldn’t shake that fear of mine. I would start imagining being in the local newspaper for being kidnapped. I didn’t want to get chopped like meat and thrown into some lake. No, I couldn’t let this happen.

This experience contrasted to the one I had when I turned eight. I would fondly remember that summer as a wonderful coming-of-age adventure. My first canvas shoes came in a deep violet purple. I also loved that they came with zippers. I would wear these shoes everywhere. They were there when my father planned our first family trip to Buffalo. They were there when I was laying on the sidewalk, drawing my imagination away. They had taken a liking to sticky carpeting floors that you’d see in theatres. Most importantly, it was the time when I peaked. Picnicking in Webster Falls, more than anything, had a significance on my growth. As my sister and I basked in the sun, she would give me few pointers on how to swing myself. Everything just clicked in that moment. Before I could say anything, I was already doing it! The first image from that experience that came to my mind was my canvas shoes. I would then remember how the sunlight would filter through green leaves. I also have my sister’s blurry face pressed into my mind. I’ve had my first taste of freedom.

As I landed my feet on the ground, I vowed to find that strength back. While I didn’t feel winning the lottery in 2017, my pain itself was temporary. It still is. Like the ocean, grief comes in waves. It can be unpredictable. Learning how to choose waves to ride is an invaluable ability for us to possess in our lives. In that moment, I’ve decided to ‘swim’
all way back to the house. No, it didn’t get better like that.

However, I knew I wouldn’t be alone. That was plenty enough.

I Can See You Clearly Now

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Blossoming Before Your Very Eyes

Watching ‘Only Yesterday’ had me fuming recently. Before I could explain further, I have to emphasise that my anger did not appear out of the blue. It was so relatable that I had to live through the middle school years again. Yet, the mother in me wanted to protect Taeko fiercely. I had to grit my teeth as I watched her go through puberty, which was dreadful enough. Takeo’s male peers did not only assault her about her changing body, but they also subconsciously shamed her for being simply curious. It didn’t help the fact that she had to deal with girl-on-girl drama.

Fortunately, Taeko grew up to become a well-rounded woman. She was quite humorous, generous and insightful about life in general.

Where am I going with this?

When I was about twelve, I wanted to chop my growing breasts off. Yes, you heard me right. No, it had nothing with my gender identity at all. In fact, I wanted to be a girl. I DID NOT want to be a woman. I was pretty pissed that I had to bloom a bit earlier before everyone in my classroom. I did not ask to bleed on my recently-washed underwear for the first time. I didn’t ask to see my armpit hair growing. I felt queasy when I came out in my swimming suit.

In a nutshell, I WANTED TO DO NOTHING with anything puberty-related. For this particular reason, I refused to wear bras. I also shaved my hair in liberation. I would only wear loose pants and t-shirts. It’s notable that I also refused to shave my legs. Like many pre-teen boys before me, my hygiene was questionable. While I settled on pads, I would often hide them in shame. When I got a slightly older, I went through the black phrase. Much to my parents’ dismay, I eventually became moody and withdrawn. Like Taeko, I was taunted for simply growing up. I couldn’t even look anyone in the face when I took my last sex education class in eighth grade.

How could I? I would never forget how someone of higher authority would dismiss my discomfort and forced me to put a condom on a wooden dildo. Everyone was watching. I was told to get over it. I was naturally scarred for life.

Now that I’m twenty-six years old, I feel it’s my duty to embrace my womanhood. I can now see that it has been given as a gift. It just took me a while to see that. This is why I’m becoming verbal about the importance of birth control, female empowerment and self-care. It is only my hope to spread the message of hope among women of all ages. I would love to see us develop a strong bond together.

I know that I owe that to my twelve-year-old self. Feel free to join me!

*Added: I also would like to thank my parents for not pushing me when I wasn’t ready. I was lucky that they allowed me to grow at my pace. That had somehow made a small difference for me at the time. Admittedly, I was a brat. But still, I knew I was safe.

*Me again- here’s the link for some info on ‘Only Yesterday’:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102587/

Juggling Christmas With Divorced Parents

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It’s the time of this year!!! The moment we see our first frost, it means that winter is coming. It is also a reminder that we have to slow down to enjoy what this season has to offer us. Now that I’m a “full-time” student, I might not have much time to shop for gifts and watch a Christmas marathon. I still got it made, you guys. When I’m busy writing for my artist statement at school, I would probably tune to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ as well. I have already made a gift list. Most of them will be bought online. Thirdly, I’ll have my mom bake her delicious buttery shortbread cookies. That would eliminate my baking time. Can you give me a high-five?

What we find quite challenging is dividing our time with our families. Since we both have divorced families, we usually have four Christmases. Talk about exhausting! My experience tells me that we cannot just use one approach to make this work. What works for us may not work for you. Every family is different. Anyway, here are my few pieces of advice for you.

1. Budget your time with your spouse. For me, I want to take time for myself during the holidays. For Theo, he wants to eliminate switching beds. Now that we have two cats, it would be easier for us to reserve an one day to visit for each family on my side. Visiting his families can be a bit tricky sometimes. However, we have already made arrangements via email. When we stay with them for four days, we’ll enjoy winter serenity. We need a break from the city, anyway!

2. Discuss with your spouse about what family holidays mean to you. We both agreed that we would spend a majority of our time in our living room. We’ll just fart under our covers and giggle as we binge on drama-filled films. We also will catch up with our much-neglected housework. Indian food, anyone?

3. Ask your parents how they’d like to include you in the holidays. My mother, for instance, has emphasised the importance of having a Christmas dinner. My father usually has a combined birthday and Christmas celebration at his house in the afternoon. Luckily, they often fall on different days. When I was growing up, I was used to celebrating Christmas on a random date. We normally visit Theo’s family for New Year. It is a bit different this year as we’re visiting them earlier.

4. Discuss with your siblings about what it is they want. As for my side, we’ve had a sibling agreement on our new gift-giving policy via Facebook. We decided that we were too old for gifts and would opt for making food for the brunch instead. Each one of us had a role. One was responsible for making bread pudding. While another one was frying bacon, I was busy making fancy yogurt parfaits. On the other hand, Theo’s sister plans to visit us in Toronto for few days. We’re beyond thrilled about this! We can hardly wait to share a festive meal with them in our own home. We can even skate together.

5. Be open to traditions that aren’t yours. Theo, for instance, found it strange that he had to buy a gift for my family members. I’ve assured him that because he’s a part of the family, he had to participate in the Secret Santa exchange. We have thanked our lucky stars that this tradition was done with this year. Our hosts will still get little gifts, though. When I visited Theo’s side, I found pleasure in learning how to play games like Rummuki and Cards Against Humanity.

6. Make a holiday budget. We have established that we have to pay for our transportation, babysitter fees, gifts, and event tickets. Planning ahead makes it easier for us to afford to see our families.

7. Cherish every little moment you have with each other. I know it can be hard when you want to strangle each other’s necks. Yes, really. 😉

May your holidays be filled with less tears, boogers and drunken mutters. I sincerely hope that you will laugh so hard that you wet your pants. Tell your family that you tolerate them.

I know I will. Sort of.

Yours Truly,
Luna

 

Embracing My Imperfect Body

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When I came across Sara Benincasa’s latest piece, I knew that I had to write something. I was also asked several times why I gained weight three years ago.

I’m writing this for thousands and thousands of women who are bombarded with the media’s idea of the “perfect body”. It’s not your place to understand my own personal journey. It’s mine and mine alone. I won’t get into every single thing that happened in 2014. But I will tell you this. If you see me in the nude, you would notice that I have stretch marks on my hips and breasts. They appeared when I rapidly gained weight. While I may have healed on the inside, these scars will never fade away. They remind me that the past is real.

I remember the first time when I was asked if I was pregnant.

What was supposed to be a fun family reunion turned out to be a disaster. My poor misguided 23-year-old self cried on the inside when Theo told me that his mother thought I was pregnant. To make matters worse, Theo got silently questioned about my changing body in a restaurant. The table was filled with family members, including his cousins and aunts. On the other hand, I was still standing outside the bathroom door. I was waiting for this message to sink in.

When I did, I got upset. Our conversation went first like this:

Me: How could she think I was pregnant? I must be fat!
Theo: No, she doesn’t think that way. She just noticed that you had certain food cravings and got tired easily. She also assumed that you had morning sickness when she saw how you just recently ran for the bathroom. Please keep in the mind that she was just concerned about us.

I had to pause for one minute because I was strung by the truth. Every symptom he listed was true. However, it wasn’t pregnancy. I basically neglected myself too long. My insecurities were itching to get out. I hated every inch of my body. I would whine about how my flabby stomach looked ugly. In my mind, I was still the skinny girl who could fit into these cute clothes. Well, not anymore. I was still in the denial.

When I look back, I couldn’t blame her for thinking that. She was and still is a nurse. Of course she would come up with that conclusion. But with my denial, I didn’t think anyone would notice that I was changing. I definitely thought that I’ve hidden my suffering very well. Who am I kidding? I was never good at keeping my poker face on.
Theo’s mom wasn’t naive at all. She knew that just because we were both sensible in the bedroom, it didn’t mean that we would never get knocked up. Fortunately, we were extremely responsible with our birth control usage. Being protected, however, didn’t stop us from having few “pregnancy scares”. In a way, my boyfriend’s mother freaked us out. It was when we suddenly realized that we could be THAT couple.

What happened next was unforgivable. When we all got into the car, Theo and I fought like mad. I decided to push his buttons so we could scream at each other for not being mature enough for such “adult” things. This was my pathetic attempt to avoid my weight gain struggle like plague. He was scared about the big ugly world out there. Sadly, our silly fight had deeply hurt his mothers. Their eyes were widened with sadness. When we tried to assure them that everything was okay, they wouldn’t believe us. My heart was a bit broken at this moment.

I recall when I tried to cover up our fight, his mother would tell us to go on. She said that we could as well as speak Chinese. She wouldn’t understand a single thing we said. But it was exhausting. I didn’t want to be mad anymore. So, I let out a deep breath. This part, she understood.
“Welcome to the real world, you two. It takes two committed people to communicate their true feelings”, she said. She was right. It’s not only a good habit for us to develop on a frequent basis, but it’s also a good reminder for myself. I had to start listening to my body. It was time to ensure that my health was my top priority. It was time to give my body the treatment it deserved. It took me a few months to become ready to claim my body back.

So far, I’ve experienced occasional weight gain in the last two years. I have developed tools to keep up with a healthy lifestyle. I decided that I would only lose weight for myself, and I did. I have more energy to become active in life. I also want to protect my body from any possible disease. Seeing both generations on my maternal side has diabetes, I would be likely to get it if I’m not careful. My family history included cancer and depression. Taking of my body would benefit me in the long term.  If I’m lucky, I would lead a long and happy life.

That’s my long answer for you.

I hope my story reminds you that women are also people. We’re flawed like everyone else. We shouldn’t allow the scale to calculate our worthiness. Our bodies all have scars. These scars remind us that history repeats itself. It is up to us to break the cycle. As mothers, daughters and sisters, we have so much insight to share with the world. It is only my hope that we can bring a female future!