Game of Life

What are you living for? Do you have “THE purpose” in life? You know, the one that defines you and your existence on this planet?! Everyone is shouting how you are supposed to figure it out, have THE goal of your life, and confidently go towards it, step by step, brick by brick. Sometimes life seems like not about the actual living, but trying to follow the perfect model, formula, “rules” of living. And you do it day after day, and you are supposed to be “happy” and “fulfilled,” but all it does is leaving you feeling fake, an imposter. You are not living your life. You are playing the game called Life. It is all pretending.

Living a life: what does it actually feel like? Enjoying life without the “must-have” purpose or passion or far-reaching goal? What is life all about? What is the purpose of life if you do not have a purpose?

I have recently watched new Disney movie Clouds, and it affected me profoundly, struck pretty hard. It is a movie about a kid with cancer, terminal stage. He is questioning his purpose of little time he has left on this planet. The story touched me to the deepest mostly because of how it makes us question what we are all doing here. We can be so caught up with things to do, things to accomplish by certain age, things to prove to ourselves and others that we forget about the very question: so what? if you were given a terminal diagnosis, what would you do? what would you focus on? would you still care about money? appearance? status? promotion? Is that what life is all about? Just think about it. What would you actually do if you were given a few months to live?

Fuck, sometimes I ask myself: do you really need to know you are dying to realize it is time to start LIVING?! Why cannot we be born with this realization that life is painfully short, and that you have a definite amount of time, so stop wasting your time, energy, emotions, thoughts on bullshit. Things that will never matter had you less than a year to live.

Even though I am an atheist, when I come across a story, a book, or movie about someone who dies young, but leaves an invaluable legacy behind, I always feel this person was “sent” to our planet for a short period of time to teach us something greater than us. Angels, do you exist?

Apart from these “messengers,” I also believe in ART. I believe it can unite people. It can make us relate to each other. It makes us pause our game of life. Art breaks the rules of any set game.

That’s why I am so obsessed with books, and poetry, and movies, and music, and any artistic expression. It surpasses our ego, our mind, brain, any man-made entity. It is something we cannot touch or explain, but it is the biggest achievement of humanity.

Art is life. No rules, no games. Pure, raw, and painfully beautiful.

audiobooks…greenlight

Ok, I have to admit from the start that I have never been into audiobooks before. In fact, I used to be a book snob and look down on people who opted for audiobooks instead of “real” physical hardcopied with words printed on pages books. And I feel bad about it. This year I have completely changed my opinion about this format of reading/hearing books. Since I have an amazon account, I thought I might as well use my free 9 credits in the audiobook app. This exposed me to a whole new experience. Listening to the voice of the original author. Tuning in with what a writer says in his or her book. Driving a car and completely losing myself in the world of spoken thoughts, uttered truths. Now I truly believe some books are best to be listened to. Sometimes you need to hear the authors to hear their message. Sometimes listening is more powerful than reading.

I feel like some kind of a paid promoter, but I swear I am not! However, I am still going to encourage you to get your hands (or ears) on one audiobook. It is called Greenlights. The author, the narrator is Matthew McConaughey. The actor. Turns out Mr. McConaughey is also a brilliant writer and storyteller. Who would have thought?

I haven’t finished the audiobook yet, but I already have so much to say about it. It is so different, so refreshing, so…weirdly…optimistic. Matthew takes you on a rollercoaster journey, sharing the most personal, hilarious, enlightening, serious, absurd stories of his life. It is not a linear story of success. It is a messy, unpredictable, but ingrainedly beautiful memoir which makes famous people – actors – look like all of us. Ordinary people with ordinary problems, ordinary crises, ordinary moments, and ordinary feelings and thoughts.

I say this book is so refreshing to me because I mostly read highly dramatic books. Not to say that they are pessimistic, but they usually take things very seriously and deal with pretty hard topics. McConaughey’s book Greenlights touches upon many heavy issues, but he does it with such a light tone that it makes you take life less seriously. It makes you feel it is OK even if you are not always ok. After every red light, there is a long-awaited greenlight. All it takes is some hard work, perseverance, and undeniable and unstoppable belief in the good turn of events.

I have instantly fell in love with Matthew’s idea of breaking walls and roofs someone else (or you yourself) has set up for you or other people. This book is all about breaking limits, stereotypes, boundaries, and any other unhealthy restraints on the path towards success. This book is about living, not “over-living” or “under-living.” How liberating is it to live a life without overthinking? How mind-free would it be to accept a lesson from any life situation without overanalyzing? No, I am not saying Matthew is shallow. Not at all. On the opposite, he is very insightful and often existentialist, but he knows how to move on and enjoy the life the way it is at the very moment. He knows how to focus on greenlights. Forget about red lights.

Matthew McConaughey is not just reading a book. He is acting it. Acting his own self. And it is absolutely magnetic. It is a show of one person. It is a show of one life.

So, yes, sometimes you need to listen to a book to feel its power. Audiobooks – greenlight.

one name you need to know

I am going to tell you the name of one person, and I want you to remember it. Her name is Nikita Gill. If you google her or search her name on Instagram, she will pop up right away. Why, you ask?

Not because she is a famous influencer, living her life on display and recommending what clothes to buy, what drinks to taste, what brands to follow, or what music to listen to.

Not because she is pop star, being the lucky one to get through the hardships to the very stars. So high in the stars that the green planet looks so small.

Not because she is a politician who voices the opinions of those who are silenced, ignored, repressed, or oppressed.

Not because she is an owner of a cute puppy, making money of each cute post of the fluffy ball and spreading the promo codes on dog clothes or puppy treats.

No, she is famous because she understands people’s hearts, minds, and souls. She is popular because whatever she posts rings a bell for you. She is known not for her looks or clothes, but for her words and thoughts. Her beautiful words.

Nikita Gill is a famous poet and writer. Someone who will explain YOU to yourself. Someone who will touch a hidden string of your heart. Someone who will make you doubt everything you believed in before and force you to discover the truth within yourself. Someone who will become closer to you than your friend, sister, your mother.

One tiny piece of advice: when you come across her book of poems, please, just please read them to music. Put some inspirational music as the background and forget about the whole world. Let it just be you and her poems. No one and nothing else. Just you. Just a poem. Just the beauty in the world. And in your heart.

Remember. It is just one name you need to know. Her name is Nikita Gill.

Ode to Books

I have always loved books. Truly, sometimes books are more loyal than best friends. In many ways, they are.

Always available, always there for you. They understand you, and you try to understand them.

They make you laugh. You cry with them. They are next to you, ready to share an intimate moment any time of the day. They are ready to talk whenever you need it.

Books do not lie. They do not betray. They chose to tell the truth even though nobody asked them to.

Books are not jealous. And you are not jealous of them. They belong to everyone and no one.

Good books leave a mark on you. They become part of your heart. Great books become part of your family.

In so many ways, books are our loyal friends. For some, they become best friends.

So many times I thought this or that person would be my best friend forever. So many times, it did not happen.

Only books can make “forever and ever” truly possible.

A little thing that can change a lot.

This spring – right before all the craziness with Covid-19 – I have started meditating, for the first time in my life. Nobody encouraged me to do that. No one recommended an app or some YouTube channel to listen to. It happened spontaneously. It came to me naturally. Since last year I have started having anxiety. It probably had roots in my family’s financial problems and my own personal conflicts. Once, in April, I was taking a walk to clear my mind, calm down my nerves, and stop negative thoughts. And I couldn’t do it. I realized at that moment that I could not control my anxiety anymore. It controlled me. It became this grotesque monster, eating me from the inside. I felt hopeless. I understood I needed help. Absentmindedly, I clicked on the audio-book app and downloaded the first available mediation book.

Truly best choice I had made at that moment. The audio-book turned out to be the perfect meditation guide for beginners. For 21 days, it had daily 10-minute tracks which introduced basic things about meditation. I remember turning on the first track during my walk, and a soft, soothing female voice reassured me that everything would be okay. I would figure it out. Life was beautiful and problems were momentarily. And peace was still possible despite the anxiety. 10 minutes was enough for me to understand I wanted to do it every day. This absolute harmony of mind and body could be addictive. And I did not mind that positive addiction.

It did become a healthy habit for me. Rarely there is a day when I don’t meditate now. It has been 5 months since I started meditating, and my desire has been only increasing to make it part of my life – forever. Every day these 20 minutes (I now meditate for more than 10 mins) are the blissful moments of relaxation of the body and stillness of the mind. Every time it is different. Every day I learn something about myself. It is kind of cool to watch your own mind, notice when it drifts away, and bring it back to the present moment. You feel so powerful by letting it go.

I think one needs to grow up to meditate. To my shame, I used to have wrong assumptions about meditation and people who did it. I used to be friends with someone who would meditate for 3 hours a day, and I thought he was insane, spending so much time in the world of the mind, instead of living in reality. I thought it was crazy to meditate every day. I was really immature. I judged. I needed to grow up and discover meditation years later. It is funny how things turn out in our lives and how much we change.

If you struggle with anger issues, depression, anxious thoughts, pessimism, I do encourage you to try meditation. It made me feel so much better. I believe it will do the same to you. It can be a little thing that can change a lot in you and your life.

Keep calm and choose meditation.

Online Fall

The trees have stared changing their bright-green color, and a new semester has slowly crawled up to us. Here we are – September, 2020 – the year of Covid-19, quarantine, and online studying for everyone involved in the education. In Canada, most schools resumed in-person classes while the universities opted for online education for the whole semester. The decision about Winter semester has not been made yet, but I feel that Covid-related cases will soon go up and the second lock-down is very real in the near future.

Last week was the first time I used Zoom after two months of a summer break. I was nervous to meet up to 200 students online – I am teaching five different courses at two universities this semester. It is such a strange feeling to see my students as little boxes of moving faces instead of me standing in front of the audience and reading everyone’s body language, hearing the tone of their voices, and feeling the overall atmosphere of the room. Even though the first impression can be wrong, seeing someone in person gives you the much-needed information to establish a healthy relationship – compared to meeting a person behind the screen for the first time and trying to catch as much emotion as possible from a tiny square in which everyone is enclosed. It is such a fragmented sense of people and environment.

What I noticed right away this semester is that if before, the students would come to my class and rarely talk to each other to make friends as all of them were from different departments, and they met together in this classroom only for the required English course – if before it was like that, now, I guess, after months of no social contact and isolation, they are really hungry for communication, thirsty for any human contact. I noted this right away. They told me they were happy I chose Zoom (not asynchronous type of teaching) to meet regularly and discuss the material. They did not mind turning on their cameras. They wrote 100! messages in the chat (one of Zoom options) during our first class to greet each other and exchange their social media information. And you know, I am happy that my class can contribute, even a little bit, to the students’ feeling of belonging, sense of community, and healthy communication in these lonely times.

So, here we are – Fall semester. Cameras are on, volume up, zoom in and zoom out. It is new. It is weird. But at least we are all in this together. So, let’s get the best of this year and have maybe-the most memorable semester in our life. Zoom-zoom!

Behind the screen

We do live in the world where texting is slowly replacing calling or talking in person. Texting is easy, fast, convenient. Very often, you can hide your true emotions behind the texts as, no matter how good an emoji you choose, it cannot replace your face expression, your voice or intonation, your eyes, and body language. It simply cannot. There is limitation to texting. Lack of personal touch, emotional note.

Yesterday one of my best friends called me, crying, to say that her boyfriend broke up with her. They have dated for almost a year. Living in different cities, they managed to come see each other almost every two weeks. They spent all their vacation days with each other, and in summer they lived together for two months. They got to know the families and friends of each other. They had plans for future. They wanted to be together. Until yesterday.

Yesterday he broke up with my friend. And he did it over a text message. He wasn’t ready for commitment or anything serious. And while he explained to her in great detail what was not working for him, the text message left so many things unanswered. My friend was in the state of shock. She called me to ask for help, and we talked for hours. I felt so much pain for her. I cried for her loss. And while it was about her heartbreak, it also brought so many memories for me.

I’ve also had an experience of getting this kind of goodbye texts from boyfriends. These texts were from someone I spent years with. Someone I was ready to share my life with. Somebody we decided to move in together. Yet, despite that, their choice of break-up was sending a text message and being done with it. And while I could understand the reason for separation, I could never understand the way it was done – through a poor text message.

If you had the desire to spend weeks, months or years with one person. If you let this person into your life. If you shared good, bad, or usual days with him or her. If you kissed their lips, their face, their body. If you let them into your circle of friends and family. If you took them seriously. If you let them open their heart and trust you. If you said your first “I love you” to their face, have the courage to say goodbye while looking in their eyes. I know it is extremely hard to reject or hurt someone, and you might think text message is an easier way to let that person go, but it is easier for you. Not for them. You end up hurting them two times: first, by not reciprocating their feeling of love; and, second, by not respecting them enough to say it in person, to look in their eyes and say honestly: I do not love you anymore.

Don’t break up with your partner over a text message. You might have your valid reasons to end relationships, but end them in a humane way. Cell phones do not have a heart, but you do. Show your emotions to this person for the last time. Don’t hide behind the screen. Don’t.

(Boundaries)

All the recent self-help books talk about the importance of boundaries in our life. To maintain your own inner peace and harmony, you got to set boundaries, especially with the closest people in your environment. Mothers, fathers, siblings, partners, children, friends. Boundaries are needed when you feel unwanted influence, interference, or undesirable participation in your life.

Up till the age of 32, I have never set up healthy boundaries. I’ve let myself be affected by other opinions, judgement, advice, criticism, and influence. My flexibility or even dependence has played a bad joke on me. I’ve struggled to make my own decisions, always doubting myself and seeking advice from the closed ones. When my close people criticized me, I instantly agreed with them, without questioning for a second. I could not defend myself when I heard hurtful things I did not agree with. I did things for friends or family even though I was against them. I listened to everyone without hearing my own voice. I let people decide what kind of life I should have and what kind of person I should be.

Only now I have started realizing that and setting up my own boundaries. I am slowly teaching myself to listen to my heart first and then hear others opinions. I am learning to pause before agreeing right away. If my partner gives me the instant solution to my problem, I do not follow the advice immediately. I ask myself: Is this really what I would do without his advice? When my sibling pours negativity in the message, I answer with a simple positive statement without letting myself get drowned in the pool of pessimism. If my parents or his parents judge how I live or what I do, I stop myself from reacting to that and keep doing what I want to do. I am learning to say ‘No’ more often. I am learning to protect myself from unwanted guidance or emotional impact.

It is hard. Damn hard because people get hurt. They think that you distance yourself from them. That you don’t want to be close anymore or that their opinion means nothing to you. In these moments, you want to break down and let it go. Agree and follow. Isn’t it easier for everyone? For who? For you? Or for them? Exactly in these moments, the hardest times, you have to stand strong and resist the temptation of being the old you. You are your new self. You are setting the boundaries even if you think it is too late. Better late than never.

love-hate relationships

Relationships with the city you are living in are as complicated as relationships you are having with a loved one. Sometimes it is love at first sight. Often times, love fades away and you see another side of the city.

The first time I saw Taipei from the window of the airplane, I instantly felt it was a city of insane energy and endless fun. I fell in love with it the minute I landed and took the first breath of city air. A strange, unfamiliar smell promised a new adventure and a different life. I was in love for the first time. In love with a person, and in love with a new city. Every day I woke up with the feeling of excitement to be living in one of the coolest metropolitan cities in Asia. Hundreds of events were happening in all parts of the city. Every day I tried a new restaurant, and every day I was pleasantly surprised by something new. I was deeply in love, and I felt the city loved me back. I liked how cheap street food was. How sunny and hot the days were. How different the fashion style people had. How beautiful the palm trees looked at the university I was studying at. I loved how often I got compliments about my looks. How friendly all the vendors were. How organized the public transport was. How much of the nightlife I had. I liked everything and everyone at this moment. I was in love.

I loved this city for the whole one year. I broke up with my first love in a year, and something happened to my relationships with the city as well. Involuntarily, I started seeing a different side of it. And I hated it. I hated the intense, never-ending humidity when nothing ever dried out overnight. I hated having ants and lizards in my room (hello, subtropical climate). I hated the bland taste of steamed vegetables in the restaurants. I hated having rice 3 times a day. I hated being always the tallest person in the bus. I hated the times when people wanted to take a picture of me without trying to talk to me or be my friend. I hated the fact that no matter how much I studied the Chinese language, I could never have deep conversations and form close friendships with Taiwanese people. I hated meaningless parties, hangovers, and phone numbers of random guys who never wanted commitment. I hated being alone without family and friends. I hated being a foreigner. I fell out of love.

It was love-hate relationships with the city. Many years later, when I moved to live in another city, another country, I formed new relationships with a new city, but I never forgot Taipei. It was my first pure love – beautiful and ugly at the same time. And even though I left the city on a bad note with many heavy feelings in my heart, I remember it now in warm, bright colors. And I do want to give this city another chance. After all, don’t we all deserve a second chance?

Every puppy is unique

Last week we finally met our puppy Taco. We had been preparing for him for the last 2 months, watching YouTube videos, reading blogs and articles, stocking house with all the necessary pet stuff. Last week we finally met him and fell in love at first sight and sniff. Even though it has been only a week living with him, we have already learned so much about this adorable floofy doof.

Here are the things we discovered about Taco during his first week at our home:

— his coat is mostly chocolate, but he has a white spot on his chin, and it looks like he has just been eating sour cream and spilled it on himself 🐶

— when he is super excited about his hooman, he runs and gives a smooch on the lips, just like a human being 💋

— he is a big fan of flowers and plants: he cannot pass anything green without smelling and tasting it. We think he was a botanist in another life 🌿

— he loves chasing ants, and their fast moves make him really excited and playful 🐜

— when he is in an unknown situation, he gets very clingy and does want to let you go: he is a very sensitive boy 😊

— he falls asleep while we drive in a car. He is definitely a car loving puppy 🚙

— he prefers yogurt to peanut butter and banana to apple 🍌

— he has hiccups after too much playing and being too agitated🤭

— during our walks, he has a habit of sitting down in the middle of the street refusing to go further, and it takes a lot of effort to push him to continue the walk; we still haven’t figured out what he wants to say by that 🤔

— he loves the sight of leaves whirling in the wind — it mesmerizes him 🍃

— in a deep sleep, he has dreams and shakes his paws as if running away from a wolf 🐾

— he loves chewing hair and beard of his owners 😈

— sometimes when he wants to sleep near you, he would put his face on your neck. We think it is an old habit of puppies sleeping on each other when being born. It is definitely something that brings him comfort and peace 😴

— overall, he is a very sweet, affectionate and people-loving puppy, but he can be naughty and mischievous at the same time. He definitely has a big personality 🐕‍🦺

He might outgrow some of these habits in future, but we will always love every trait and every change in him. Every puppy is unique, and Taco is no exception.

To see Taco’s growth and life journey, follow his instagram @taco.labradoodle ❤️