Monday, July 23, 2007

Of friends and friendship

“Surround yourself with people who will only lift you higher” ~ Oprah Winfrey

I felt compelled to write this because these people, your friends, will be one of the most important features in your life. Like family, friends occupy a special place in your heart. But there are many types of friends. And eventually, as you grow older and wiser, you tend to weed out the fair-weathered friends, the insincere, the ones who use you because they have ulterior motives, the ones who call themselves friends only in name and then utter half-truths or dishonest things about you when you have your back turned. I’d hate to say this because friendship is a wonderful thing, once you have discovered its true meaning: but along the way, you must keep your guard up. There is a certain measure of distrust that you must employ for self-survival. And your true friends will remain.

You will meet people from all walks of life when you grow up. But keep yourself grounded, your feet firmly planted on the ground. Do not discriminate by gender, race, colour, social standing, etc. Open your heart (carefully) to those who open theirs to you, but learn to take all colourful accounts of life from others with a pinch of salt. Believe what you see with your eyes, not what you hear with your ears. Learn to trust your instincts and listen to your inner voice. It is, as I have discovered, one of the most effective survival methods you will come across.

Oh, I know many people, E. I have many “friends”, but when I say friends, I mean people that I know. As I grew older, and the people who were once close to me drifted further away from me, I learnt to see only those who remained, notwithstanding the circumstances. I have a handful of good friends, people I trust and love and whom I can count on. People for whom I will sacrifice my life and liberty, because they will sacrifice theirs for me too. I have a childhood friend from primary school- she is a true friend to this very day. Our friendship has spanned a course over 20 years. She lives abroad now: a small woman with a truly big heart, who has given up her luxurious life in Malaysia to do God’s bidding in poverty-torn Aceh. A woman who has given up the comforts of living to serve the noble quest of rebuilding a nation torn by the December 2005 tsunami. A woman who, in all the years I have known her, powered God’s words on our earth. A woman who loved me and understood me, despite the vast ocean of difference between us. And when she returns to Malaysia for a break, we meet up and catch up on old times, as if time had stood still and things had never changed. We pick up where we’d last left of.

And then, when I started work in my early twenties, I met a group of people who were destined to be my friends forever. Or so, I'd like to think. It's been over 6 years since we met that day when I was a fresh-faced graduate all ready for work. Some dropped out of the "group" but a few of us stuck by together and saw each other through break-ups, weddings and children, amongst others. I avoid using the word "best friend" because inevitably, when once journeys through the roads of life, one meets a special someone who will, at that point, be the "best friend". So one tends to interchange "best friends", depending on whom one is closest to at that point of time. But I have good friends, are they all my best friends? So I adopt the Hollywood, diva-like term to these people, they are my BFF.

The years have passed, but my friends remain. In particular, your godparents. Extend the circle a little more, and we find partner, spouse and friends of your godparents. It doesn't matter that we're all a little older, or that we don't go on holidays together anymore (because we have children now!- and let's face it, a parent must first consider the needs of the child: comfort, food, convenience, healthcare facilities- before deciding to go on a holiday), or that some of us meet each other once every month or so. Some have moved abroad to work: Singapore & Australia. Some have found new passionate adventures, like rock-climbing, which the others, unfortunately, through some measure of constraint, are unable to participate in. Some bond because we're mothers hoping to achieve financial freedom.

And you, the apple of my eye, has become the apple of another friend's eye. He who loves you with unbridled attention, who seeks to ensure your every comfort and need, who gives in to your every whim and fancy. He who bought a pair of swimming shorts just so that he could be one of the first people to be with you when you first took a dip in the pool. He who cares for you like a father cares for his own child. He is one of my dearest friends.

We will all be friends until the day we die, and simply because we have shared with each other the most significant events in each other's lives. This is the kind of friendship that I hope you will experience someday. These are the kind of people I hope you will surround yourself with in your life. Because they will lift you up and stand beside you, no matter the circumstances. Love these friends like you love your family. In more ways than one, they will become your family too.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Relax, take it easy

"Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inwards in prayer for five short minutes" ~ Etty Hillesum

My dearest E.,

Let me share a brief folly of mine with you, a folly caused of my wanderings into unchartered regions- the information technology area and all things connected thereto. Last week, I thought that it would be great to have my own domain name and own domain host. Big ideals for a little person. I had an inkling how I would go about it: after all, the Internet is almost endless when it comes to information and knowledge. I knew I'd find some instructions on how to go about my task. The full account of my experience is recounted here.

But what I wanted to share with you, isn't so much about my experience. I want to share with you what I received out of that experience, and I don't mean tangibles, like a website with my own name, or content in a blog written by me. I received a valuable lesson: and it wasn't the first time that this lesson was being imparted to me. Many years earlier, my parents had tried to guide me through this lesson. I must've tuned out along the way, and only remembered this recently.

Relax, take it easy. It is that simple.

What do you when you're faced with a problem? Don't rush headlong into it. Don't allow yourself to panic and lose your breath or start hyperventilating. Don't allow the force of negativities to surround you. Don't berate yourself. Don't ask how the problem came about excessively (except maybe once, so that you can find a solution). And the most important don't of all is, Don't Panic! You will ask me, how can I not panic, not worry, not be distressed. But this is possible. A problem is usually exacerbated by excessive panic or worry. In that distressed state, your mind is clouded, your judgment becomes questionable and your focus is unbalanced. You want to find a solution immediately, so you don't see the little things that will help you reach your goals. Perhaps your heart will start beating quicker, the adrenaline will course through your veins like a flooding river- these physical traits will only serve to bring your mind to a snap-close, and however hard you may try to pry it open, it stays shut. Because you have been traumatized.

My mother taught me long ago how I could simply take deep breaths to calm myself down. I even did a whole meditation course on that. I did yoga. I learnt to breathe. Along the way, I forgot all that I had learnt.

The world will not come to an end simply because there is a problem, whether caused by you or not. Life will go on. And so you must as well to make do with the circumstances presented to you. A long, deep breath taken slowly and calmly (close your eyes if you prefer) together with a minute or two of silent contemplation and emptying your mind completely, will not only ease your mind, but also fill your body with oxygen, funnelling through to your brain, and releasing positive energies throughout your system. A long deep breath serves you better than a solid minute of panic, shouting and running around.

When you breathe, you can rationalize, seek creative solutions to problems. Open your mind to possibilities, make necessary judgment calls. What has been done, has been done. Often, the mistake is to dwell on why a problem cropped up, the cause of the problem, the perpetrator of the problem, etc. When your thoughts are focused on the past, you cannot look towards the future for the solution.

I confess that my thoughts initially were jumbled, panicky. I could serve no purpose. I couldn't find solutions, even though it was right before my eyes. Because I had allowed myself to become over-consumed by the alleged loss of my blog content (and that, was one of the most horrible things to have happened to me). Only when I had finally decided that I was going to let it be, did the solution, like a flash of brilliance hit me. And I solved my problem.

Apply this lesson to everything you do, sweet cakes. Exams, work, love, relationships and most importantly, life. I promise you: although you may not always find solutions to your problems, you will be comforted knowing that you had done all your best with a clear and conscious mind.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Being Ill

“I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worthwhile” ~ George Bernard Shaw

My dearest E.,

There is no rest for the weary. Your father and I fell ill with the viral flu over the weekend. At first, the illness crept through us quietly and steadily, showing no physical signs of mutation, or that we would become worse for it. We had a wonderful weekend as usual. But come Monday, the illness ravaged our bodies, played with our minds, and we were consumed with lethargy and weakness. Afraid that you would catch the illness from us, we left you in the care of my parents, hoping that you would remain fit and well whilst we floundered at home to take care of ourselves. I called in sick and stayed in bed a lot on Monday and Tuesday. Short trips to the doctor’s and to buy meals were inevitable. We also popped by for a short hour on Monday and Tuesday night to look in at you at your grandparents’. We have prayed that you would not be infected with the flu virus that has been going around.

There is no time for convalescence. It is Wednesday and I am back at the office, working at half speed despite the workload that has built up while I was home nursing the illness. My head is heavy and my throat is slightly sore. My nose is clogged with semi-dried mucus which I have to clear loudly in the bathroom. My body still aches. I am sick and tired of having to take my antibiotics. I am lucky, though, that my thoughtful colleagues have tried to help me with the work load, and covered for me in some of my work duties while I was home. It is hard to find people like these.

It transpired that my boss’ wife and another colleague’s wife were also stricken with the viral flu. It is at times like these, when I am ill, that I wished I had taken better care of myself. I glanced with a little guilt at the almost-full box of Redoxon Vitamin C effervescent tablets sitting on my table. And when I opened my drawer to take out some stationery, my bottle of Blackmores Multi-vitamins stared at me from within. A few sachets of organic powdered health drinks were sadly chucked and relegated to a dark corner of the drawer, too, where I finally dug them out from hiding.

Work has been slow, because my brain is a little slow and woozy today. I gorged on a bacon sandwich for lunch, and not too long after, a clean and crisp ham sandwich. Gorging myself on empty carbohydrates and fat-filled pork also means that I am now a little sleepy and disoriented. The new table clock I bought from Ikea points to 4 p.m. It seems like an eternity before I can get off work and go home. I am dying to have you in my arms again, after 2 whole days of not being with you. If circumstances permit, I want to bury my face into your face and neck, breathing in the scent of your baby sweetness. If my voice allows me to, I want to sing “The Sound of Music” to you and watch you fall asleep after the first verse.

I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.

I hate being ill, because it means that you have to be away from me. I will myself to get better in the next few hours, or risk leaving you at your grandparents’ for another night. I will probably cry this time if I do again. The tears have been dammed up within me the past 2 days, because it is for your own good. But tonight, I may have to break the dam for fear that it will consume me.

Your little bed is empty beside mine. I have tucked Mr. Bunny and Ally under your fleece blanket. Last night, I heard the tinkling of little bells, they sounded like the little bells on your gold anklet: I forgot that you were at your grandparents’, and I automatically reached out to stroke you back to sleep, and my hand fell through the silvery beams of moonlight drifting in from the window.

Nothingness. A flat, smooth bed. Unslept in for the past 2 days.

I sleepily took Mr. Bunny and held him close to me, the bells sounded again and then I remembered that Mr. Bunny’s head would tinkle everytime he was picked up or moved. An in-built bell in a toy bunny’s head. My. Bunny had your baby scent all over. I fell asleep, dreaming of rabbits, babies and toys.

The auditions

“When you are modelling, you are creating a picture, a still life, perhaps something like a silent film. You convey emotion but you are only using your body” ~ Helena Christensen

My dearest E.,

Your father and I, when you were born, had, and still do have, the highest hopes and dreams for you. You must know that we do not intend, in any way, to push you into a specific direction, a direction which, through some reason or other that we were unable to pursue ourselves, we now hope to channel you through. What I have learnt since becoming a mother is that children, even your own, are people with free will and spirit which should not be stifled with. What I can gladly do, is to guide you and offer options. At the end of the day, and above all, you will decide for yourself your goals, your aspirations and your wants out of life.

In my head, I have visions of you becoming a pro-golfer like Michelle Wie, an accomplished tennis player like Maria Sharapova, a squash queen like Nicol David, a supermodel like Gisele Bundchen, a Nobel Laureate like Wislawa Szymborska, a United Nations ambassador like Angelina Jolie, an activist with a heart like Oprah Winfrey, a soprano like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and the list goes on (these names may mean nothing to you when you’re older and reading this, but I can assure you that these are some of the world’s most powerful women now as I write this!). As I revel in these images in my head, I hope to be able to provide you with the push in these directions. Conveniently, I forget that you may not agree with my choices, and certainly, someday in future, we will most likely squabble over this.

But because you’re still a teeny-tiny little baby girl (and I will always see you this way!), your father and I have taken the liberty of taking you to various casting agencies to see if you could have your fortune made by the sheer beauty of your looks. As a result, you had been shortlisted once for a TV commercial, but the idea of using a baby in the aforesaid TVC had been scrapped (I know because the Assistant Director is none other than our friend, Eugene!).

Let me first tell you, my sweet, that I do not (I stress) see you as all beauty and nothing more. Indeed, I see you as everything beautiful and sweet, both in countenance and personality and hence, thought it my duty to expose you to the world (ahem!). Over the course of the last week, my heart fluttered several times over the 2 phone calls I had received from casting agencies. Both sent a clear message: the agency had clients who loved your pictures and had shortlisted you (you!) for their TV commercials (one was for AnMum, another was for Astro), and that you were required to attend a short video-casting session for them to make their decisions.

So we dressed you up in your Sunday best and trotted you off to the auditions. Your father and I thought, “Why not?” Better to have tried than not at all. I was frankly a little apprehensive at the thought. The lady from the agency who had called specified “Needs to look adorable”- I was dumbfounded, because you already are adorable, and you must’ve been to them otherwise they wouldn’t have picked you out of at least a hundred other kids.

Your father took you for the first audition at a place called Passion Pictures. I was unable to make it as it was on a Friday afternoon, the worst time of the week for me at work. I did, however, give you lots of kisses and hugs for good luck, and kept my fingers crossed. I think you were oblivious to the whole thing. Your father recounted the event to me: you weren’t too happy about the auditions, particularly the bright white lights shining into your face and the throng of people watching you. Incidentally, one of the gentlemen who were manning the camera was an acquaintance of mine: he was the lead male talent in my band’s music video years ago. But acquaintance or not, you could not be coaxed to endear upon them a beatific smile or a Shirley Temple pose. I admonished your father for racing you off to the auditions mid-morning, so close it was to your afternoon nap time. I had thought you would be more cooperative in the afternoon once you had woken up, refreshed from your nap. All that aside, my friend, Kieran, had to tell us that he was sorry, but we could try again next time when you were more prepared.

When your father told me, a little pang of disappointment hit me. And then guilt washed over me. And then I felt all terrible for putting you through that ordeal. Funnily, I also understand Kieran’s point of view. The advertising world is a ruthless place to be in- sometimes, one cannot stand to profit from being overly nice or overly patient. A model will be yelled at, criticized for being too fat or too thin, who cares if he/she is being paid? The director calls the shots. If you can’t cut it, you just can’t cut it.

You’re a baby, sweetie pie. You haven’t turned 2 yet. You have no idea what is expected of you, and how can it be expected from you when you haven’t even begun to comprehend the language of adults? How can I expect from you to act all cute-sy and in a certain way in front of these strangers? You think we’re special, you know we’re your parents, so you humour us with your antics, all those wonderful things you do to make us laugh or bring happy smiles to our faces. But you are under no obligation to do the same for other people if you do not want to.

Your father told me you fell asleep in the car immediately after the audition, and my heart went out to you. I wish that I was there to hold you and tell you, it’s ok, sweetie, you will always be my superstar and I’m sorry that I put you through the auditions.

But that same day, I received another call, the one requesting you to audition for the Astro commercial. Your father and I debated this once more: to allow you or not to allow you to audition. We weighed the pros and cons. More often than once, it came up that I thought you were still too young, and I could not bear the thought of putting you through another ordeal. But your father thought we should take our chances, and I agreed with him.

We confirmed with the agency that we would take you to the audition on Sunday afternoon. This one, at a place called Pegasus Films, went much better because you found a little friend there, a darling handsome boy of about 4 years old named Eric, clearly a product of mixed parentage. The 2 of you spent some time looking at each other and playing ball.

You were certainly more relaxed here, you even deigned to smile and offer some cheeky grins. But you were still awe-struck. The lights were bright, but not hot-bright, simply designed to put you in the limelight. Eric insisted on moving into the frame of the camera with you, and stood beside you while the gentleman behind the camera took pictures of you. If I was a hard-core Mummy-toting-about-her-child-talent, I’d have screamed blue murder and demand for Eric’s mother to pull him away. The nerve! Stealing my little girl’s moment.

But Eric was just being a child. And like all children, I saw no fault in him. So he wanted to stand beside you. That’s cool! Because he liked you. So he wanted to play with you. All in fun and jest, I enjoyed watching you at play with him. A brief thought struck me as I watched you: boys. And I dreaded to think of what would happen in your teenage years.

You paid more attention to Eric than the camera. The cameraman was polite and thanked us for coming to audition on a Sunday afternoon. I knew what his tone of voice meant. But I felt no sadness, no disappointment. I was only glad that it was over, and that this time, you had a good time because you had made a friend.

The auditions taught me something, E. Oh yes, even at my age, I am still learning things as the days go by. I don’t proclaim to be all wise and adult. I’ve learnt that all those dreams and aspirations I had for you- that’s all they will remain. I’ve learnt that I must let you make your own choices and that you cannot be moulded into something you clearly do not want to be. I will not force you to do what you do not want to do (disclaimer: terms will apply!) and I know now that you are not ready for the limelight, that you want to enjoy your babyhood with me and your father and your loved ones. When you are ready, I think you will tell me that you are. If the calls come, I will take you for auditions, but I will not force you to act a certain way, be a certain way. I will wait for your inner voice speaking to mine: I’m ready now, Mummy. Or: I won’t ever be ready, Mummy.

Either way, that’s ok with me, sweetie. It really is.