Living a Life Worth a Nobel Prize

Hello Family and Friends,

The best thing about September is my birthday! … (30 second dance party- shake, shake, shake…pause… break it down now…. To left….to the right now…do an old school dance… now back to your regularly scheduled email)… And that is about how much celebrating I actually do. I spend more time sitting around contemplating if my life is where it’s supposed to be. Am I a conscious global citizen, an effective Christian, a caring friend, and a good person? Has my life improved since this time last year? Am I making it in the world? Is this it? If I was gone from this world, what would you say about me?

I recently heard the story about Alfred Nobel. Does that name ring a bell? He was pretty successful at making explosives and he invented the dynamite. Unfortunately, one day his brother was killed in one of the explosions and people had mistakenly thought Alfred had died. Alfred’s obituary referred to him as the “Merchant of Death”. Could you imagine finding out the truth of what people thought about you and how they defined your life?  This wakeup call provoked him to create a legacy that honored the good in the world. People around the world are honored with Nobel prizes in chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and peace. Does his name ring a bell now?

I’m not saying that the only measure of doing good in the world is by getting a Nobel prize or some other form of external recognition. I have many measures in which I evaluate my life every September: Did I right a wrong, did I turn something bad into something good, did I handle conflict in a way that I could be proud of? I used to hold grudges for at least 6 years. Now I’m down to letting things fester for about 6 days at most. I know I’m not perfect; I can still be pretty mean or dismissive… but I’m not as mean as I used to be. This year brought a couple of shady characters into my life that really tested how I treat people when I’m extremely angry with them. Here is my list of things that I learned (and actively working on):

  1. No matter how right you are- and how wrong they are- it is never about them. One thing I’m learning about relationships and conflict is that it is all about you. You never know what the other person is going to do, how they are going to react, or what they are going to say. But you do have control over your own behavior. I had A LOT of opportunity this year to proactively decide how I wanted to treat the other person despite the possibility of negative retribution. How I actually treated them was a different story… but I tried my best. One thing I always tried to ask myself was, “what type of person does this situation reveal about me?”
  2. It is never completely about what you are fighting over. Yes, each side has clear arguments and specific things that happened. One thing I learned is that we bring a lot of emotional baggage- that has nothing to do with the situation- to every conflict. The other person may unknowingly touch upon an insecurity you have. You may have biases or judgments against that person. You may be stressed about something else out of your control so you fight with those who are close to you over little things. Sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself what else is bothering you besides that person.
  3. You have to live with yourself after it is all said and done. Most conflict will end relatively soon. You have to live with yourself- not the other person- at the end of the day. You have to answer to your conscious. The other person does not answer to you. You can either replay every negative thing they said and did, or, you can take a good look at yourself and how you were wrong and how you contributed to the problem. The people who care about the play-by-play of the altercation are looking for gossip. The people who help you see how you can grow and learn love you. But only one person has to deal with the aftermath and the consequences.
  4. If you don’t feel some emotional burden while being the “bigger person” there is a good chance you are not the bigger person in the situation. If you are older than 5 years old, apologies should hurt a little bit. It takes a lot of tension to destroy a relationship, so it should take some work to put it back together. I think we skip heartfelt apologies and genuine/ sincere hope to resolve things because: 1) we typically don’t like to feel any worse than what we already feel so we avoid such acts, and 2) we don’t know how to sincerely apologize and truly forgive so we let things end without dealing with feelings. “Sorry” and “I forgive you” don’t erase pain and other emotions that led to their necessity. As strongly as you felt when you were angry with the other person is as strongly as you should feel when you forgive/ ask forgiveness from that person.
  5. You are not over it if you keep telling the story.
  6. Reality TV sometimes gets real. There is a scene in “Little Women of L.A.” in which two women apologized to each other after a serious disagreement they had. I was very moved and touched because it was very genuine and because I personally don’t give and receive “sorry” enough. One of my favorite quotes is, “sometimes you have to accept the apology you are never going to get.”
  7. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not doing or saying the right thing. Forgive yourself for being childish. Forgive yourself prolonging the conflict and not walking away. Forgive yourself for putting up with their crap for way too long. Forgive yourself for being the bully. Forgive the other person for being an asshole. Forgive the other person for not saying sorry. Forgive yourself for not doing your best to end on a good note. Forgive the other person for not reciprocating your efforts to make peace. Learn from it and move on because forgiveness is never about the other person. They say un-forgiveness is like drinking rat poison expecting the rat to die.
I took this photo at the Butchart Gardens in Canada

I took this photo at the Butchart Gardens in Canada

So, do I think I’m making it in the world? It doesn’t always feel that way, but I theoretically know I am. I’ve decided that I’ve made it in life. I am living the epitome of a life well lived. I woke up this morning and I had the opportunity to decide what I would do with my day. Life could get better; there is always room for more joy, more laughter, more ice cream, more good conversations, more Netflix binges, more love, and more money in the bank. I figured if life isn’t good enough today then it probably won’t be good enough tomorrow (unless I secretly win the lotto). I don’t want place all my hopes that there is a tomorrow or a next birthday month for things to get better.

As you know, this is the 9th out of the 12 letters that I committed to writing this year. Like I said, it doesn’t always feel like life is beautiful but it does when I write to you. The point of these letters is to remind myself that I have so much to be grateful for. Most importantly, I’m grateful to know that there is at least one person in this world who cares to read my monthly ramblings on life. It has  to be true because  you made it to page 3 of the letter. I really like it when I get a response from you because sometimes it’s the only time I hear from you all year. I even keep some of the things you have written to me because it is so profound I wish I would have written it myself.

Lastly, I realized that I haven’t left enough quotes: It’s funny how day by day , nothing changes. But when you look back , everything is different. When something like this happens, you find out what you’ve been working for all those years.

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Van Gough, Failure, and Mosaics

I really don’t cry over too many things. My mantra in life is that I won’t cry over anything or anyone in life that wont (or can’t) cry over me. The one exception is I would cry if my computer crashed and I was unable to recover all of my photos. This summer I’ve been walking down memory lane of past Christmases, college, random flowers and everything that was important to me since I got my first digital camera way back in 2006 so I could back everything up to the cloud.

I look at most of the pictures and see happy times. I know I had worries, but I couldn’t tell you what they were at that time. However, I can look at photos during a spring break trip my friends and I took in 2010 and I can tell you exactly what my biggest worry was. The winter school quarter had just ended and I was really nervous about my grade for anatomy. I did not do well on any of the midterms and I was pretty sure I didn’t miraculously get an A on the final that would have boosted my grade to a passing “C”. I was right. The grades were posted and I got a “D” in the class. I emailed the professor and he told me there was nothing he could do because my grade was far below the average. To put it in context, I thought my life was over. This was my senior year of college and this was a required class I needed to graduate. It was also a pre-requisite for the next class that I was required to take in the Spring (also needed for graduation), and both classes were offered only once a year. It seemed as if I would not graduate on time and I would have to wait an entire year to hopefully pass it the next time.

I told my friend Cindy and she said, “Well, there is nothing you can about it now so you might as well just enjoy the trip.” And I did… as much as I could. I have the smiling pictures to prove it.

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We were so excited to take BART. If I would have known that I would eventually move to S.F. and use BART all of the time

As most of you know, I graduated on time (you should email and ask me how that happened) with the D on my transcript and life moved forward and I survived to tell about it. It didn’t stop me from pursuing more education.

So this is what I learned:

1. We get so anxious about the future that we hardly stop and realize how far we have come and how strong we are because of it. Setbacks, fails, and disappointments are just as important as the success, applause, and achievements. I just hope for more good memories than bad. More successes than failures. And to not be defeated by any situation.

2.  No matter what we are going through in life, good and bad, it is just a snap shot.  It’s not the defining picture of our life. We are not trapped in a moment or a season of life… unless you chose to be.

3.   Most of the things we are going through won’t matter this time next year. We probably won’t be affected by the outcome of the disagreements or whatever it is that bothered us. I’m not talking about major crises. I’m thinking more along the lines of all the idiots in our lives that irk us and small mishaps that are part of life. You’re not going to miss that $5 you spent on coffee next year and go into debt 20 years later because of it (unless it turns into a habit you can’t afford 20 years from now). You’re not going to have sleep issues for the rest of your life because you stayed up real late that one Tuesday night. Most things work out… eventually. Our bodies and our lives are designed to reach homeostasis. No matter how good or how bad, up or down, left or right, we will always try to make are way back to baseline.

4.    The fact that you are reading this means that we know each other and that there is at least one person in your life who won’t watch you destroy your life into oblivion.

5.   All of the moments in our life create a bigger picture of who we are. When I look back at my pictures of my life nothing brings tears, shame, or regret. (I’m not saying everyday feels like I won the lotto and everyone around me is o.k., but relatively speaking I acknowledge that my existence has been pretty peaceful.) It is probably why I’m attracted to the painting ‘Wheat Fields with Cypresses’ by van Gough. (You should google the picture). The picture is of a clear day with ¾ of clear skies in soft light blue paints.

6.   On the other hand, some people have some really, really dark times. Your life is probably a little more akin to van Gough’s ‘Starry Night’. The blues are a little darker. The indigo cries in a way that sky blue doesn’t. The skies are a little more turbulent. But it still is very beautiful and a lot more people resonate with ‘Starry Night’ more so than ‘Wheat Fields with Cypresses’.

7.    My other favorite type of art is mosaics. It’s not the individual pieces of glass that are beautiful. It’s the broken and fragmented pieces that come together to make a complete work of art. The purpose of some pieces make no sense until the work is completed. Just like the snap shots of our lives. Somethings only make sense in retrospect. One of my favorite quotes is: When everything seems to be falling apart it may be because everything is falling into place. Bonus quote: God takes the broken pieces of our lives and turns them into a beautiful mosaic.

My New Year Resolution this year is to consume less, produce more, and waste nothing to help me stay grateful and grounded in the moment. When I was thinking about what I was going to write I was trying to figure out how going through at old photos fit with the theme. I decided that reflecting on the pass prohibits me from being consumed by anxiety over what is next.

As always, I love to hear your thoughts…

And I am A Hoarder

My friend Lupe once said that most people’s problem is that they live in their head and not through their body. I’ve contemplated her meaning and how it manifests in different aspects of my life. One such avenue is my personal space. So I decided to clean the apartment, get rid of junk, organize the rest of my junk, and the like.

I’m beginning to hate doing this task. I could be reading a book, but instead I’m having mental anguish over whether or not I should get rid of my Spice Girl cds.

This all started when my parents decided they no longer loved me. After 5 years of not living at home, they actually decided to change my room. I always thought it was supposed to be left exactly the way I left it as a shrine to their magnificent, wonderful, kind, intelligent, humble daughter. It was supposed to be a place where my dog (and I guess the humans in the house) could walk in and reminisce over the great times they had with me. It was supposed to make them excited and anticipate my returning home. But NNNOOOOOOOO… they had to paint the room gray. They had to get rid of my stuff. They had to put a stationary bike in the room. They even threatened to get rid of my books.

I know it is supposed to be a sign to only move forward in life. Blah blah blah.

Actually, the room looks much better than when I actually occupied the space (primarily because my dad “accidentally” painted the room the color that I wanted) and I don’t miss the things that were thrown away.

Now I’m stuck doing the same for my current apartment. Here are some of the key things I’ve concluded.

  1. My name is Brianna, and I am a hoarder.
  2. I read this quote from a person on their death bed about what they would have changed about their life. Their response was “If I could have done it again, I would have traveled lighter.” That can mean so much to so many different people. For me, that means I don’t want to be anchored by stuff.
  3. You can be physically anchored to stuff. My dad can attest to the amount of stuff that I have. He has had to throw a lot (of my stuff) away. He had to load his truck and move my stuff from multiple places. I joke that the next time I move is the last time I move because I have so much stuff. I never want to get to that point where I need a lot of stuff to feel as if that there is something of value in my life. I don’t want to be that person who can’t walk away from stuff (This is exactly why I have a shopping at Target problem. I’m emotionally attached before I even by it.)
  4. Being emotionally anchored to stuff is probably more problematic. I had to spend a lot of time convincing myself that throwing away some items is not the same of throwing away the memory or emotion that item evokes. I did get rid of a lot those items that reminded me of the good ol’ days. (Please,  hold your applause!) It was hard because those items bring instant happiness of something/ some memory  that I would not have felt in that moment if I had not seen that item. I had to tell myself that even if I didn’t have those reminders of the past, I will be o.k. I won’t forget what made me happy; more importantly, those moments that the trinkets represent contribute to my well-being today. I might not get the instant gratification of that thought ever again, but my life has already benefited from that moment and I can move forward.
  5. I try to be aware of my New Year Resolutions: Produce more. Consume less. Waste nothing. Going through my stuff reminds me how much money I have wasted, how much stuff I consume, and how much I have already. I truly have more than enough in every aspect of my life. I really don’t need too much more. If I just keep this in mind I will have a lot more money in the bank!

How about you? What are your thoughts?

Dad, Cars, and Jail

The best thing about cleaning is that you begin to appreciate all that you have. So, I decided to get everything in order and take my car to the carwash today. While I was waiting for my car it made me think of two things: teaching at the jail and my dad.

I’m part of an extracurricular program where UCSF students go to the county jail and teach health classes to the female inmates. I’ve taught on topics on nearly everything from diabetes, to sleep issues, to harm reduction for sex workers. I always wonder if someone would have told any of those women that they were smart, or worthy, or didn’t deserve being abused that it may have prevented them from making some of the choices that they made that landed them in jail.

For instance, last week the topic was female anatomy. So of course we talked about sex, and how things work, and what does it mean when things aren’t working. One of the ladies shared a story where her sex partner did something without her knowing, but she felt that it was o.k. (In other words, she consented to sex, but some things were done to her body that she was unaware of. She said she was o.k. after the fact, but I don’t think she was because she chose to share this experience). I try not to pick on people when they share something like that and they become vulnerable to the group and possibly criticism and judgment. At the same time, this may be the only time when someone says to that woman, “that is not o.k. and you deserve to be treated better and have full consent about what happens to your body.” (I learned pretty quickly that they won’t listen to me if I tell them what they “should and shouldn’t” do, but I will tell them that other people aren’t allowed to do harmful things to them. They may choose to self-harm, but other people have no right to hurt them.)   Later, another inmate made her cry because she was pleading with her to not use heroin when she leaves the jail. The reason I didn’t regret that one lady being so exposed in the class was because she had this realization, “maybe I end up here over and over and over is because I keep doing the same thing over and over again.”

So what does this have to do with my dad?

One thing I’m very aware of is that I’m not where I am in life because I was born with the right genetics and the right mindset. Honestly, I was born to the right parents with the right resources and the right opportunities… and I chose to utilize it. While many of the women in the jails (and outside of the jails) never knew their fathers, my father has been a very constant and vocal part of my life. While many of their fathers harmed them in unthinkable ways, my father protected me.

I remember when I first started college there were many people who just dismissed their parents because they didn’t live with them anymore. I feel as if my dad did his best, he never did anything intentionally to hinder, harm, or stagnate my life. Yes, he still is opinionated even though we don’t live together; however, he did right by me for the 1st 18 years of my life so he earned the right to have his opinions be at least heard.

So what does this have to do with my car?

I’ve never had car trouble (aside from the couple of times I crashed it). Every so often I get the oil changed. I check the tires to make sure they aren’t balding. In the 9 years I had my car I never had any real issues with it. When my dad purchased this car for me, he was thinking of a car that would support me and be reliable for a very long time. He knew what to look for in buying this car. I can’t tell you what was going on in his mind 9 years ago, but I knew his focus was making the best decisions for my wellbeing for the long run (and I’m not just talking about the car).

I was thinking about that today because I was thinking about what life is going to be like in the next year. In all my worries and in all my concerns, reliable transportation isn’t one of them. That is a benefit to my daily life. I think about how the women in jail made bad decisions (or just got caught up in drugs) because your mindset isn’t different when you are always trying to survive.

Think about how much you don’t have to worry about… Is your car going to get you to work. Do you have work to go to? Does the pay cover the gas it takes to get there? Will you eat today? Will you have lights tomorrow? Do you anticipate the next season of Orange is the New Black or do you anticipate another dark cloud coming your way? Never judge someone who is making decisions to survive. And yes, often times choosing drugs is an emotional survival method.

So, what does my car, my dad, and the jail all have to do with each other?

I always think about what decisions led the women to jail. We all make bad mistakes, but why did they make worse mistakes that had more serious consequences than the rest of us. We can talk about how some people are just bad and do bad things. We can talk about how poverty and racism and social injustices and economic injustices and unfair policing and predatory affluence and current laws and policies ensure that private prisons stay filled. Or we can talk about (as my Uncle Jerry would say) people’s 1st 4 walls- their homes, family structure, and community structure. I didn’t wake up in nursing school one day. I had people make decisions on my behalf before I was even born that I would be safe, happy, and have some level success and self-assurance. (You read my May letter, right?)

As always, I would love to hear back from you!

Trading Mom

One of my favorite movies growing up was called Trading Mom. The plot was about 3 siblings who shared an overwhelmed and frustrated mother. The father was absent and the mother was struggling to keep everything together. The siblings learned of a spell to make all traces of their mother disappear from their existence and memory. They each received a token to pick out a new “perfect” mommy from the mommy market. If they couldn’t find a better mom after 3 tries, they would become orphans for the rest of their lives.

What kid wouldn’t have wanted to pick out a new parent(s) at some point in their life? Some of you adults probably wish there is a mommy market out there to replace your mother. Either way, we are stuck with the mom we got.

Lapedtra is the mom I’m stuck with for the rest of my life. I really wish I could remember the day I realized that “mommy” wasn’t her actual legal name and it was a title that she acquired the day my older brother was born. I wish I knew my mom in her early twenties before she was “mommy”. I think we would have been friends. She was (and she might still be) this individual with hopes, and dreams, and ambition, etc. Over the past 26 years she has made me believe that I’m included in her list of hopes and dreams (and hopefully I’m at the top of that list), but I’ve been thinking that maybe there is more to my mother than just being my mother. I wonder what her hopes and dreams are now. Only in writing this do I realize how little I know about my mom outside of her role as my eternal advocate.

For any of you who know my mother, you know that she is a very relational-oriented person and there isn’t a single soul she wouldn’t help. If you don’t know my mother, think of something you really like about me and I promise you that quality is magnified 10x and is part of the essence of my mother. I’m tempted to write out 26 years worth of amazing things about my mother that the world should know about. She is also human and she isn’t perfect. Our relationship isn’t perfect; I don’t call as often as I know I should and I probably have hurt her feelings more than I know. It doesn’t take away from the fact that there are so many things about my mother that I admire that I should tell her face to face. In short, if I do turn into my mother it would be something that I would embrace and the world would be better because of it.

The way we celebrate Mother’s Day is a little off. We are basically celebrating moms who parent us up to our standards. Mother’s Day would be better served if we acknowledge our mothers as human beings outside of their role as our caregivers. Mother’s Day should be about honoring moms for being good, imperfect, fallible people who are trying to navigate and negotiate this world just like the rest of us. Mother’s Day should also be about remembering the moms who are live in our hearts and not on this Earth and celebrating the person that they were and the legacy they leave behind. Mother’s Day should be about forgiving Mommy Dearest and taking into consideration that maybe she isn’t happy that she didn’t live up to the expectation of what kind of mother (or person) she had hoped to be. Forgive her for your own sake, accept the apology you may never get, and honor the women who have impacted you’re life in a positive way. Mothers Day should be about the women who don’t have children of their own, but have influenced many generations of children. Mothers Day should also be about loving on the moms who have lost children.

In the movie the Trading Mom, the kids got to try a new mom for a week. Each new mommy had 1 great quality and a whole bunch of horrible qualities. At the end, the kids began to describe their version of a perfect mom. It was no surprise they described their original mom. The spell was lifted because they were able to remember the little things that made her perfect and the next morning they woke up and their tired and frustrated mother was back. The difference was that the children were able to see her for who she was and not just what she did for them.

“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin” –Mitch Albom

Crossing Boundaries

Someone recently crossed a very personal boundary. Let me give you the context. Its rush hours. I’m late and I decided to take public transportation. (If you are running late-never take public transportation). Anyways…  I noticed that most of the people were clustered at the front of the train car- basically standing and sitting on each other’s lap- and there were a few people at the back comfortably seated. A normal person who pays attention in life would have thought that something was weird. Nope, not I. I just got on the back of the bus and found a seat. I took one step onto the train/car and smelled the reason why people were smushed together at the front of the train/car.

I only had two stops to go and the smells of the city is nothing to me. I stayed on a bus even when someone threatened to blow the bus up. I nearly got my head bashed in with an umbrella when two people were about to fight over a seat. I even got stuck in the underground tunnel for 40 minutes. A little body odor wasn’t going to stop me from getting on the bus. O.k., it was a lot of body odor.

An elderly Asian woman caught my eye. Her face was frowning in utter disgust.

When she caught me staring at her, she gave me the universal “it stinks in here” sign. I gave her the nod. That lady and connected over the putrid smell that offended our nose.

When someone crosses a personal boundary, it is like an insidious smell that creeps up on you and lingers in your mind long after the person is gone.

Just like body odor, when someone crosses your boundary it always bothers offended the person more so than it bothers the offender.

What I have learned this month is that it is o.k. to have boundaries and make other people clear what your boundaries are. Don’t apologize for not accommodating for the needs and wants of others- especially if it is another adult.

I also learned that sometimes you have to move the lines of your own boundaries; they can keep people out of your life just as much as it can keep you trapped in your routine and comfort zone.

That is all. I have no more thoughts. You may go back to your day.

Brianna

Side note: The city of San Francisco should be ashamed of the amount of homeless people, nearly homeless people, and people living in food deserts and in food scarcity. This city is way too rich to have this many suffering people.