My Quest for “Career Bliss”–Yes, it Exists!

a guest blog post by shopgirl of shopgirlanonymous.com

 
 

My daddy could sell ‘ice to an eskimo’, or so I was told.  Growing up, I remember my daddy was a jovial person.  He laughed more than any human I have still yet to meet, and he always donned a smile that extended across his entire face.  I would trace the deep crevices that had cratered in a sunburst pattern from his eyes at only 35.   He was my love, my hero, and held all my admiration.   I asked him to marry me over and over again.  Call it childhood instinct, but I knew our time together would be short.

 

It was a Sunday night, 5 days before my 11th birthday, when we received the tragic call; my daddy was dead.  The day before my birthday I sat nervously locked away in a back corner, hiding from his corpse displayed for the viewing pleasure of all those that had loved him as much as I did, “He died doing what made him happy,” everyone kept saying over and over and over again as they passed me. Looking back at my life, I can tell that statement became a subconscious mantra.

 

My childhood was not the happiest, and the option to do what just made you happy was not exactly conducive.  My mother was left in piles of debt with an 11 year old, 5 year old, and newborn infant.  My job was to help clean the house and take care of my brothers, I had to repress the pain and understandably step up and take my role as oldest sibling.  Each night as I lay down in my bed I could finally weep over his smile.  How much I longed for someone to laugh or smile, or to be able to genuinely laugh or smile myself, but for a time I had lost the ability. My stepfather loves to remind me that when I was teasingly asked at 13 if I wanted to marry some crush of the month my response was, “whoever I marry, I want him to make me laugh.”

 

My grandfather was founder of a bank in Houston and as I hit teenage years I would spend my summers working there. At dinner time my grandparents would build me up, “You will be a banker, there is no more accommodating field for a woman to climb to the top.” They would groom me for a position they had in mind for me at my grandfather’s bank.  Each day as I sat behind my desk my soul would fade, I would find myself venturing onto Livejournal to just write, my heart was not in my work, and I was miserable.

 

Once at the university, I finally began taking only what made me happy.  Although by my later teenage years my responsibilities for my brothers had faded, it was a difficult state of mind to shake.  It was difficult to just let go and be a child, but in the dorm, for the first time I experienced a euphoria of freedom.  I began to really laugh.  I began to take whatever classes sounded like they would make me happy, and bring great interest to me.  If  a friend said a prof they had in astronomy was amazing I signed up for it, if I read that a women’s writers teacher was the bees knees on a school review I would apply.  I took whatever sounded fun at the time with no real direction.  Finally in my Junior year, I was called into an advisors office who said I had to declare some sort of major, we looked at my plan and with my credits English junior high education was my calling.

 

I married a man at 21 that made me laugh, I was only a sophomore in college at this point.  We bought a house, and though his salary paid for our home he wanted my equal contribution and requested I get a job.  I applied at my favorite store in the mall, the one I visited every Tuesday night for inspiration and story ideas, and within weeks was their new lowly sales associate.  The man who hired me was the most jovial man I had ever met, he had that distantly familiar genuine twinkle of happy in his eyes.  He let me know that my job was to make my customers’ day.  I was inspired, my job was to bring joy to customers!

 

I was encouraged to dance, I was encouraged to laugh, I was encouraged to reach out to each and every individual and bring a smile to their faces.  I was given the opportunity to listen and to care. I was able to take the sad and mistreated and inspire or reignite a light within. I felt my mantra come to life.

 

With great consideration and pain I left my retail career (now an assistant manger) after a year to student teach where I was told not to allow laughter in my classroom. I was told to teach the children how to answer questions on a test, not to teach them the correct answers. I was told I could not encourage their own laughter and clowning. The principle would walk in if she heard laughter and tell me she could not concentrate, that we had to work silently in my classroom.

 

This was the career path I had chosen, this is what I had studied for.  But one night I sat and thought of my last conversation with my father.  I remember there was no time that I saw him with more confidence and excitement then when he was describing to me his successes as a traveling sales man.  We lived in the desert, and he sold scuba equipment which ripped him from our home for weeks at a time.  He showed me all the sales he had made, how suddenly we were going to be able pay off debt, and how someday soon we would own a red suburban (his dream car). He had such a passion and talent for sales, and so had I. For his final breath he was standing in the pacific ocean with his best friend, just off the shore of California, putting on his flipper to begin another dive.
 

I didn’t want to die doing what I felt I had to do. I was going to spread smiles and laughter, I was going to return to sales.

 
 

Featured photo is owned with all rights reserved to the guest blogger, it was taken in a trip to Grand Cayman

My Instinctive Judgment Theory: Strangers, Instincts & Relationships

There is something particularly special about the fact that wherever we go, regardless of the nationality of people we see around us, we always kind of know who to trust in an instant–by looking at their faces, the way they act, what they hold, what they do, even if we don’t hear them speak. Perhaps, I’m referring to what we usually call instinct. When travelling alone waiting for the boarding gates to open in an airport for instance, we scan the waiting area before settling in a vacant seat. Apart from being vacant, we also look for the area where we find people we feel we can trust most. Without talking to them, we kind of already know we’re relatively safer sitting closer to them than others.

This morning, on my solo flight to Manila, I realised how this strange subconscious thinking process works. A tall guy wearing sunglasses, a cap and a hoodie sat on the benches directly facing mine and watched me the whole time I was eating my McDonald’s takeaway. I thought it a bit odd but judged it normal enough not to create panic or move to another seat. Besides, I was surrounded by others I would generally trust (again, by my instinct’s judgment). And then right before boarding, when I was standing up to proceed to the gate, he suddenly came to me (I didn’t see from where cause he was not on the seat in front of me the last time I glanced that way) and said “Excuse me, which province are you from?” I turned my face and said “Sorry”. He repeated the question and I answered “sorry” one more time. He said “What? Why? Don’t you understand what I’m saying?” I said, “No, I’m sorry I’m not from the province.” I was completely standing up by this time with my backpack securely on my shoulders. He said, “Oh, where are you from then?” I said “I’m not from the province, I’m from the city.” I was already walking away while talking. And then he asked, “Which one?” and I walked hurriedly passed behind him and said “I’m sorry.”

The whole time inside my head, I was just telling myself “Do not speak to strangers. Do not speak to strangers.” And I didn’t look back, I hurried to the gates where I was caught up in the queue when I heard two old ladies talking from behind me, they were asking each other if they were supposed to queue or wait since they’ll be seated on the sixth row. I said, “They said rows 30 up should fall in line first but I think you should be fine. They’d probably let you in anyway.” We started chatting then and up till we boarded the plane. I even nicely said goodbye when they took their front row seats.

While I was walking to my seat towards the back of the plane, I realised they asked me some more personal questions than the tall guy actually did but I comfortably answered all of them. They also shared some information about themselves and I learned that they are US citizens who travelled to Sydney and now off to Manila for vacation with two other friends who were in wheelchairs and therefore, will have to board last. I wasn’t the only one too trusting, they also were, considering the vulnerability of their pack. They were really lovely, reminded me of my late grandmother who raised me up from childhood.

I don’t think what they were wearing were fancier clothes than the tall guy. They probably even hold the same type of passport and came from the same country. In the 21st century for a woman my age, who would turn away from a rich-rapper-looking guy to talk to some old grannies?

But our instincts just know who to trust. Is that being bad, perhaps judgmental? If one is travelling alone, is  being selective with who you talk to considered bad? Is being rude justified? How do we know when to be friendly and when to be on our guards?

I could probably do some analysing here— think of all possible factors affecting our instantaneous level of trust, draft a model and then run the regression after collecting data from a good number of sample. It would be an interesting economic research paper. And then we’ll see which factor has the strongest correlation to our trust level of a stranger. But I can only do this with some data—a survey; questionnaires, interviews of some random people of different backgrounds who have travelled alone. More interestingly, I could explore deeper and try to find out which instinctive judgments made have been strongly, directly proportional to the actual personality of the strangers judged—this one would require more than a  survey but a full experiment. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to do either of these. So I’ll just resort to trusting my instinct and common sense being particularly careful in situations like this.

In any case, my guess is that the results of such study will show that a person’s instinctive judgment would prove to increase reliability in direct proportion with age. I’m saying the younger we are, the more likely we are to misjudge people. There may be outliers of course, the influencing factor being experiences with people and how much one’s seen the world in general. That being said, I could probably conclude my research saying a person’s level of maturity, shaped by his/her experiences in life would show the strongest correlation value between his/her instinctive judgment  of and the actual facts about a stranger.

This would incidentally explain how unwise our relationship choices were when we were younger and how many wrong choices we’ve taken when it comes to love. But then again, once the right level of maturity is reached, our instinctive judgment of a person improves. By this time, we may have already trained our instincts well and have increased the precision of its judgments and their correlation value with the truth. We probably would look less on the person’s physical appearance and begin to see right through him/her at the first word he/she utters.

A lot of us, young people rely on what we’ve heard somewhere that once you see the person who’s the one for you, it would only take a moment. You’ll just know he or she is the one the first time you meet him/her. That probably may be overly romanticising it. I think it’s true for some but more rationally put, they get caught up in that one right moment the first time they meet the other person because they talked and they found out that they just click and they end up being actually right for each other. These are the ones who have probably met when they’re level of maturity and instinct’s training were ripe and ready. So when their subconscious told their conscious mind “Yes, this person seems to be perfect for me and I can entrust him/her with my vulnerable side,”  this instinctive judgment was as close to reality as possible that the risk of being wrong is negligible. They would then interpret this as falling in-love. The subconscious and its instinctive judgment, we then refer to as “our hearts”. Thus, we say the heart knows when it’s found its home. Although, thinking about it—the subconscious gets inputs uploaded to the brain by the conscious, so the two are still connected. So it’s actually our mind through this process, not our hearts, that “fall in-love”.

Yet for some people, love-at-first-sight is not the case. They are those who have long known each other for a long time but never quite realised any sooner that they were a good match and that they can live and make each other happy for a lifetime. These people would seem matured from the outside but remains unaware that their instincts’ training have not been enough. So they have often misjudged the one that is actually perfect for them as being just one of the other strangers—just like everybody else. It would take some time; and for others, some heartbreaks; before their instincts come to full maturity enough to see that the once-friend-zoned is actually the ONE.

And then there are those who grow old in age, face too many heartbreaks, make the same instinctive misjudgments again and again and still keep their instincts immature—keep spitting out the same kind of misjudgments leading them in cycles. I would like to believe that there is nothing in their conscious mind that wills this, everybody wants his/her own piece of happiness. I think there are just too many factors messing up with the subconscious that the natural process of maturity of the instinct and growth of that subconscious superpower to see through people is halted and this disorder goes on for an uncertain length of time. Sadly, some grow old and die never fixing such disorder, living with a malfunctioning instinctive judgment all their lives. But then there are a few lucky ones of this type who find someone with matured instincts, who can tell that the person are their match even as they can see exactly how messed up he/she is. These people get the chance not all people can experience in their lifetimes—to sort out another person who has a malfunctioning subconscious and a persistent inability to mature and see beyond strangers and people. We all have the ability to help repair another person with such disorder, but not everyone gets to try his/her hand on it. These cases usually make for the most unique and dramatic love stories.

Of course, these are all just theories inside my head with no way of me proving them at the moment. I’m just sorting out my judgments of people inside my head, wondering whether I am writing this with a matured instinct or not. You of course, dear reader, are free to hold on to the  most famous theory of falling in-love, finding the one and experiencing magic in moments.

It’s not of much use to ponder on this for now. In the meantime, I’m sleeping in the plane just about now and will publish this as the first WordPress post I’ll ever do from my hometown in a few more hours.

 

With all the “love” from 41,000 miles above the ground,
@sassycare
 
 
 
Featured photo from Airport Love Sport Retailer TV Commercial Ad as seen in youtube

My Taste of Australia

a guest post by twinbutterfly of Confessions of a Food Tourist

Here in Australia, we always say (at the risk of sounding cliché) that we are indeed a blessed country. I am certainly no expert, but I personally find Australian cuisine really quite difficult to define because it’s such an intricate fusion of all the cultures that have called this wonderful country home since day dot. These days, we have the opportunity to take our pick from an endless array of cuisines when dining out, or looking for something different to whip up at home for dinner.

For me personally, the ultimate Australian food experience is enjoying a really delicious meal that is made from locally-sourced produce that comes with a stunning view of the local countryside.

One of my favourite places in the world is right here in the south west corner of WA – Margaret River. Boasting of a stunning location nestled between jarrah and karri forests and a beautiful coastline, it’s one of Australia’s premium wine producing regions. And where there’s good wine, there is bound to be good food!

I’ve lost count of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had in Margaret River – or “Margs”, as it’s more affectionately known – so it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to just one or two; as a result, I’ve put together my Top Five, in no particular order (because that would be almost as cruel as forcing a parent to single out their favourite child). While these highlights are inspired by my own treasured experiences in Margaret River, I’m sure they can easily represent many of Australia’s other amazing wine and ‘food bowl’ regions, too. In a perfect world, I would love the opportunity to travel through all of them Paddock to Plate or Destination Flavour-style. Unfortunately though, I don’t have the credibility of a celebrity chef like Matt Moran or Adam Liaw. Nonetheless, here’s my list of Top Five Margs Foodie Faves:

1. The Classic “Tasting Plate”

This option is a blessing for an indecisive Gemini like me, who often finds it very hard to choose just one dish when there are an abundance of tempting items on the menu. When done correctly, tasting plates are also an ideal way to sample the best of the region’s seasonal harvest and locally-crafted products: from olive oil, cheese, fruit and veg to meat and seafood. Beer drinkers can even opt for a tasting paddle at the local craft and micro-breweries!

I have enjoyed many fabulous tasting plates in Margs – in my opinion, the best ones are shared with a friend or loved one (to avoid any possible food envy), and served with a glass (or two) of local wine.

The "Tasting Plate"

2. Indulgent 3-course Local Winery Lunch

About five or so years ago for a ‘significant’ birthday gift, a group of friends pitched in to buy me a voucher for a private chauffeur-driven wine tour in Margaret River (they know me SO well). While being chauffeured to several good winery cellar doors for tastings (and a “bit” of purchasing), the tour included lunch at Flutes Restaurant at the Brookland Valley winery estate. I wasn’t sure what I should be expecting. A tasting plate with a glass of wine perhaps? That of course would have been perfectly acceptable, but what transpired was actually more breathtaking.

The setting was simply spectacular. We were on an open deck overlooking a large lake surrounded by vineyards in one direction, and forest in the other. Being a weekday, the restaurant wasn’t particularly busy (either that or I was so involved in what was going on at our table to notice we may have been the only ones there), so all you could hear were birds singing, and the occasional quack from the ducks swimming on the lake.

Yes, we had a tasting plate – but this was just the entrée: a charcuterie platter of delicious morsels such as pork rillettes, chorizo, duck and pâté.

Up next was the main course – a tender lamb shank served on a bed of couscous infused with exotic spices, capers, olives and tomatoes. One look at the sheer size of the dish made my stomach shrink in fear; however, my tastebuds managed to convince it to take on the hefty task of devouring the lamb (the velvety Cabernet Merlot helped as well). I’ll admit, I couldn’t finish it, but I gave it a good ol’ Aussie go!

Before you could say “I couldn’t possibly eat another crumb”, it was time for dessert – a trio of petite sweet treats. This time it wasn’t a shared platter (although that would have been the safest/most logical option) – we were given one each. The groans of borderline discomfort quickly turned to sighs of pleasure when we battled all resistance and bravely picked up our spoons to try the tiramisu, vanilla bean panna cotta with berries, and a chocolaty slab of chocolaty chocolate mud cake drizzled with chocolaty chocolate syrup and double cream. Did I mention the chocolate?

All that was left to do was be practically carried back to our hotel (through one more winery just because we could), lie back and digest what had just happened (physically and metaphorically).

Winery at Margaret River

3. Self-contained Domestic Bliss

The great thing about a place like Margaret River is the sheer variety of accommodation choices – you can choose to stay in a hotel right in the centre of town, or venture further out to anything from a quaint Bed & Breakfast or farm-stay, to an all-inclusive luxury resort. Alternatively, you can select from an endless array of self-contained apartments and cabins either close to town, by the beach, or nestled within a forest setting. Anything goes.

Having travelled to Margs a number of times, I’ve been lucky enough to have tried a bit of everything. Personally, I find that self-contained accommodation is the way to go as it generally allows for more space, more privacy, and more freedom of choice. For example, if you want to drive into town for a meal, you can; if you’re too tired (or squiffy*) from a full day of wine tasting, you can choose to have a quiet night in and whip something up in the kitchen, even if it’s just a languidly-constructed board of cheese, crackers and dip! Or – as my friends and I did on an indulgent girls’ weekend a couple of years ago – start the day with a bang and fuel up on a hearty homemade breakfast…before a full day of wine tasting (is anyone noticing a pattern here?)

There is something so much more pleasurable about cooking while you’re on holidays than doing so at home, although my Other Half and I tend to stick to the same basic formula on a short break – barbeque one night, and if there happens to be any leftovers, use them as topping for a home-made pizza another night.

Domestic Bliss

As an added bonus, a lot of self-contained accommodation in Margaret River makes the most of either one of its settings: its idyllic forest, vineyard, gently sloping countryside or the beach. Some of my favourite moments in life have been relaxing on a deck with my morning coffee enjoying the tranquillity of the natural habitat with nothing but the sound of birdsong and a gentle breeze to keep me company. The super lucky ones may even spot a kangaroo (or two)!

*squiffy – tipsy/warm and fuzzy/not quite there yet, but definitely on the way to getting a little drunkity-drunk

4. The Cellar Door

The best part about staying in a memorable place is having the opportunity to take a small piece of it home with you so you can continue to enjoy it long after the journey itself has ended.

A cellar door offers much more than just the opportunity to sample a few wines – they add to the overall experience. Many wineries have a country-style charm about them, or are simply jaw-droppingly beautiful, begging to be explored. And in most cases, there’ll be an infinitely interesting history behind them.

I’m by no means a connoisseur of wine (in fact, very far from it), but I do enjoy the explanations and recommendations provided by the cellar door staff as you boldly make your way from sparkling through white and rose to red, and – if you dare – heady fortified wines (I’m one of the fortunate ones who aren’t particularly fussy when it comes to wine – possibly my trade-off for not being able to drink beer, if only by choice). The secret is to take your time and enjoy the moment. And if the obnoxious wine tour groups sharing the space start getting a little too demanding and raucous, step back and browse through the assortment of wine accessories, books and giftware on offer; or explore the picturesque grounds until it’s time for them to depart for their next stop (all the while secretly hoping it isn’t where you were planning on visiting afterwards). If the winery has a café…bonus!

The Cellar

Although my Other Half begs to differ, I am certainly not the souvenir-junkie I was in my late teens and early twenties. These days I rely on my camera to help capture and preserve my memories (that, and thanks to my former addiction, I couldn’t possibly fit another branded shot glass into my cabinet, or magnet on my fridge if I tried); if anything, I may pick up an inspiring recipe or coffee-table-style photography book capturing the essence of the region. Oh, and maybe just a few bottles of vino… 😉

Cellar doors are not just restricted to wines – in Margaret River there are all kinds of options for exploring tastes of the region: beer, cheese and yoghurt, chocolate, coffee, fudge, olive oil, venison, nougat, fruit, jams and preserves, cider, lollies/candies, and ice cream just to name a few!

What a treat it is to take a little piece of Margs heaven back home – each time you fill a glass, break off a piece, or top a cracker or piece of bread, you’re instantly transported back (if only for a moment), allowing you to enjoy “the trip that was” just a little bit longer.

The Cellar Bottles

It’s a bittersweet day in my house though, when we get to the end of our bounty (‘cellaring’ is not something we do very well). It’s almost as if we’re bidding our blissful break farewell all over again. On the other hand, it can only mean it’s time to start planning the next trip!

5. The Berry Farm

Located about fifteen minutes’ drive from the town centre, The Berry Farm is the one place I never fail to revisit every time I stay in Margaret River. After a pleasant drive winding through tree-lined roads, vineyards and lush green pastures, the first stop must be the Cottage Café and Gardens. Whether it’s for a quick cuppa to start the day, something sweet for morning tea (they are particularly renowned for their Boysenberry Pie and Scones with jam and cream), or perhaps a more substantial meal for lunch, you are in for an absolute treat!

Not only is everything on their seasonal menu fresh and delicious, the historic building with its jarrah interior and wide patio oozes comfort and country hospitality. The surrounding picturesque cottage gardens teeming with local birdlife add a magical touch no matter what time of year you choose to visit. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing your pots of jam and cream with New Holland honeyeaters and silvereyes.

Berry Farm Food

(By the way, if I appear to be gushing, I make no apologies – this place deserves to be gushed about!)

The next step is to take a stroll through the lovely cottage gardens that surround the café – there is always something pretty in bloom, regardless of the season. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a Splendid Fairy-wren (the name says it all)! On the way in (or out), you may notice the interesting array of ‘lawnmowers’ that graze below the vines and fruit bushes near the property’s entrance – geese, chickens, emus, I’ve even spotted a peacock!

The Berry Farm Garden

Of course, no visit to the Berry Farm is complete without checking out their amazing Cellar Door to sample (and purchase) from their extensive range of gourmet products including homemade jams, preserves, pickles, sauces, fruit wines, liqueurs, and – my personal favourite – their Club House Series of fortified wines. I never leave without at least two bottles of Boysenberry Port (No. 3) to take home and enjoy as a perfect nightcap with a square or two of dark chocolate…or warm brownies.

I’ve been fortunate to visit the Berry Farm at different times of year. While the menu and gardens change with the seasons, the eternal charm, beauty and indulgent treats on offer ensure I always leave with a big smile and happy tummy. And that goes for all of Margaret River as well!

Margs Collage (twinbutterfly)

I must extend my sincere gratitude to the lovely Care for this exciting opportunity to be a guest ‘juicer’ on her beautiful blog. I’ve been a big fan of Flavored Lemons since we ‘met’ at the beginning of the year via a Blogging101 course, and I have to admit I’m a bit nervous that my rather bombastic, impulsive style of writing may seem a little out of place here. In any case, this really was a fun, challenging experience. Thank you, Care!

All photos featured in this post are owned with all rights reserved to the guest blogger, twinbutterfly of foodtouristconfession.wordpress.com

A Dose of Reality… Yet Again

I had the perfect excuse to work from home today. The property manager conducted the very first inspection of the unit we are renting. I did actually work but I also realised, now more than ever, that my ideal life is waking up to a day like this. Working in my sleeping clothes; having breakfast, lunch and snacks without the time constraints; freely surfing the net about an idea that suddenly pops into my mind without worrying if my boss or an officemate is looking over my shoulder to see what’s on my screen–all this is just perfect.

I definitely want to work. I’m not actually sure if I can last a day without getting in front of my computer to make myself busy with something worthwhile. But I guess after some time, people eventually tire of the normal 9 to 5 routine and the ordeal of waking up in the morning to go to the office, waiting for the clock to strike closing time. Specifically for me, who’s an introvert (lately, I’ve been receiving feedback and psych test results saying I’m an ambivert or an outgoing introvert), I love working on my own. I don’t have issues dealing with people and working in teams, only saying as a matter of preference, I’ve always loved being in control of a specific work from its beginning through to the end and having the fulfilment to call it your own. This may sound vain but I enjoy working with myself, participating in those productive discussions happening inside my head. This is why I always believed I’m an artist and I was aways meant to be one.

Unfortunately for me, I was born and educated in a third-world country where that career path is a luxury and only those born to rich families who would almost always have the right connections can realistically assume they’ll make it big. Talent is definitely not all you need in the third-world. So I worked my way up through a more profitable, practical and safe profession. It enabled me to save and get most of what I basically need. Most times, it afforded me with more than what I need. These types of job can bring you to places, countries you can only dream about if you’re a struggling artist (especially writer) in some far-east country whose foreign exchange currency rate doesn’t even appear in the banks’ boards. Ultimately, this type of job gave my husband and I (both working in the same field) the privilege to live in a first-world country while we are still young. For that, I will always be thankful. Not out of sheer gratefulness though, I’m still doing the same thing I used to do since I got out of the university to fend for myself.

Today, I got two emails about job opportunities (in the same line of work, of course). I have not replied to either of them. I wished to move to a new job because my current one doesn’t really pay much (not complaining here, I’m just fully aware how much more on the average similar positions pay), but deep down I secretly wish there was another option for me. I was hoping to get a job that will allow me to do something I really love doing. So I went looking for opportunities for writers. Most of them either require experience (which I don’t have because I spent all my professional life becoming an expert of something else) or involve writing for companies–asks you to promote brands, products, company websites, etc. The latter is not a far cry, in essence, from what I currently do with so much less money.

There are opportunities for writers with no experience which, I can tell upfront requires tons of work but pays as little as $1 per page. On the average they would expect 10 articles a week. If I’ll do that full-time, I could possibly achieve their targets (and mind you, the topics are not the least bit exciting as you might have imagined). But doing it full-time means I have to give up the salary I currently get for a maximum of $30 per week, assuming I write 3 pages per article and turn in 10 of them per week. Wow, I definitely can’t live on that. I don’t know how full-ime writers could have survived their days when they were all still starting out. I read some articles written by full-time writers honest enough to admit that they were able to pull it off only because they are lucky to have advantages that didn’t need to be part of their hard work–either with their parents or spouses who may have financed them before they made it big or at the least provided them with all the connections or head-start they needed.

Realistically speaking, success in this highly competitive, low-paying field with a highly saturated market demand may be just a chasing after the wind. Maybe for most, writing (or whatever their passion with some inclinations towards the arts is) were just only meant to be a hobby. This is not yet heaven yet, after all.

I can say blame it on commercialisation, industrialisation and the market economy, And yes, I’ll say this as a well-informed, sufficiently-educated economics graduate. But today I prefer to be a realistic layperson, so I’m blaming my fundamental need to provide amply for myself and my family, and my fear of treading the unknown to start somewhere bottom-low, even lower than when I started out with where I am now. Oh yes, I’m just a coward. So I’m responding to those two head-hunters who sent me those emails about finance job opportunities and for the time being, forget about ever having the same work-from-home everyday lifestyle that I had a taste of just for today.

Yeah, I know… LIFE!

 

Featured photo is from barclaylittlewood.com

My 2,000-Year-Old Valentine: an Inkspill

A guest blog post by American Kate of thewarmjournal.com

A Shocking Discovery

It began in Romans. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was immersed in the New Testament. I was so full of scriptures on the love of God, they seemed to be overflowing out my ears. Love, love, love, and more love; I was flying high in Romans 8. But at the beginning of the next chapter, my eyes screeched to a halt. Romans 9:3-4. Had I read it right? I scanned it again to make sure, and then once more, still shocked by the words. The apostle Paul, continuing after his glorious discourse of the 8th chapter, said this:

“. . . I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers . . . the people of Israel.” (Romans 9:3)

My reactions were threefold. Horror, admiration for the kind of love that could make such a statement, and finally, obsessive thought.

Think About It

Imagine, believers, what it would be like to be “cut off from Christ”. To no longer have the kind whispers of the Holy Spirit guiding you from the inside. To lose your covenant with God. Imagine being cursed, doomed, condemned; lost to Him forever. Imagine never being able to get Him to turn His face toward you, after being intimately acquainted with His love and irrevocable righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). 1 John 4:16 says that we have known and believed the love God has for us. We know it inside ourselves. Imagine losing that knowledge; that faith. To be nothing but an ache, never satisfied. To know that every unbeliever and backslidden Christian on earth has endless opportunities to run into the Father’s open arms—but not you.

The very thought makes me queasy. It is past my full comprehension.  I wonder how Paul could care about his people so much that he would be willing to trade his salvation so they could have theirs. For my part, there is only one thing I would never let go of, even for the salvation of an entire nation: my covenant, salvation, relationship (whatever you want to call it) with God. I don’t want to admit it, but I just couldn’t. My life, body, relationships, or livelihood, maybe. I’d like to think that with the strength and courage of the Holy Spirit living in me, I could give all these up for love. But I could never give up God Himself. He is my one true addiction. I make no sense without Him. He is the author of every good thing I have become. Without Him, I am nothing. Without Him, there is no such thing as me.

Good News

I would like to point out that the tormented existence I’m describing will NEVER happen to you if you accept Christ into your heart. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your life is like or what you have done. You can always come to Jesus. He waits, arms wide open, to wash your filthy soul and stained reputation.  He will clothe you in robes whiter than snow. He wants you even more than you want Him, and He will never stop seeking to adopt you as His own. God’s door is open, so that you and I can come running to Him. Seek the Lord while you can find Him, call on Him now while he is near, and you will not be put to shame (Isaiah 55:6, Psalm 25:3).

And if you already know Christ but find that you have strayed from His commandments, then remember that you can always return to His love. He is ever-forgiving and would never turn you away (John 6:37). His love is available to anyone who will take it. If you have accepted it, rejoice! You will never, ever have to sacrifice that relationship. The day will never come when you must choose between keeping your salvation, and giving a loved one theirs. It could be that you end up risking your life for such a thing, but not your salvation. Rebirth in Christ is yours forever. Paul mulled over the concept of exchanging his own salvation for that of his people, but he never had the option to do so.

Love Enters the Picture

In light of this, why is Paul’s remark even in the Bible? On the surface it seems irrelevant. But as we know that the Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and that every word of Paul’s letters was given him by the Holy Spirit, there has to be more to the story.

And there is. It is meant to point us towards Jesus. I had not meditated on this verse for five seconds before it occurred to me that the awful proposition of Romans 9:3 had already happened. Just once.

There was a man who loved God with everything he had. God favored him and called him His “beloved Son”, in whom He was “well pleased”. This man was connected to the Father in every possible way. In point of fact, He is in His very nature, God (Philippians 2:6). 1 John 4 states twice that “God is love”. Well, we call this man Jesus Christ, and He is love. Love is the very substance His spirit is made of. And it’s because He loved us that He chose to be separated from God on Calvary.

Peace With God

Let me explain. When I speak of a Christian’s “relationship” with God, here’s what I’m talking about.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (Romans 5:1)

Think about it. We. Have. Peace. With. God. That means two things: we are (or can choose to be) at peace with the Creator of the universe; and the Creator of the universe is at peace with us. This is huge. It’s what both God and mankind have craved since the third chapter of Genesis. No matter what happens, I can count on peace with God. I can count on His listening ear, on His lavish and gentle hand in my life. No force in existence has the power or the right to steal my peace. If I have peace with God, then I can have peace about everything and in every situation.

The Price of Peace

Back to Christ’s separation from God. I believe this is a key piece to the “punishment that brought us peace”. In the past, I tended to only consider the punishment Jesus took for us through the crucifixion. But on Valentine’s Day, the very worst torture Christ ever suffered was revealed to me; something worse than just dying in the flesh. He was cut off from God. Since Christ is God, the sensation must have been akin to that of sawing off His head with His own hands. (Even this description is inadequate. How much more pain can God feel than the sensations of human imagination?) Part of the eternal relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Christ found Himself forsaken. He was severed from the presence of the Father, away from His sight and His love. I finally understood the meaning of Christ’s words on the cross, words that had confused me all my life. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ, laden with all the filth of the ages—every sin of the past; every sin of the future, was exactly what Paul described. Cursed. Cut off from God. He, love personified, became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13). God couldn’t look at Him. He turned His face away from His Son.

You are Never Forsaken

At that moment, Jesus was taking our place, our punishment. So the pain became not ours to bear—it became His. He was the one who cried, the one who suffered, the one the Father turned his back on. It was supposed to be us—that was supposed to be our cry! We are the ones worthy to be forsaken. But in that great exchange, He cried our cry for us. So you will never ever have to say “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The Lord wants His children to know that our greatest fear, alienation from Him, was destroyed on the cross. When human beings are estranged from God, we become nothing more than bleeding mutations; helpless. Jesus cried out, but there was no help for Him. Remember, He endured that so we would never have to. Bottom line? God will NEVER forsake you (Matthew 28:20). He got punishment. We got peace. Don’t ever let yourself think that God is turning His face away from you. He has never and will never turn away from His children. He will always listen to you, always watch over you, and always be there for you.

This belongs to us. The Bible says so. The war between Heaven and earth is over.

Love Brings Freedom

I often call my salvation my “peace with God”. And I often call that peace freedom. I suppose you’ve heard the phrase “freedom isn’t free”? It’s true. Freedom always costs something. As far as I have been able to discern, true freedom has only ever been purchased with blood. And mine was bought with the blood of Jesus. You see, to make peace with God after all that mankind has been guilty of, somebody had to be punished. The problem is that even if we got what we deserved and the entire earth was nothing more than a heap of ash in outer space, we would still have unpaid debts of sin. We overdrew our accounts, and it was going to take nothing short of the perfect blood of Jesus, God in the flesh, to wash the evil away. Even more important than that, however, is John 3:16: “. . . God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son . . .” It’s obvious that God’s reason for sending His Son, our Prince of Peace, the author of our freedom, is because of love. His will is for no one to perish (2Peter 3:9). He wanted to defeat our sin with forgiveness, not wrath. So God the Father chose to punish his own Son. Jesus: fully man, fully God, fully obedient to the Father. His pure, sinless blood paid the price of punishment God’s glory required on our behalf.

We couldn’t do the good we knew we ought to. We couldn’t sort out the chaos we’d created. We couldn’t fix what we’d broken, return what we’d stolen, or unlock the shackles we had made ourselves. So He did it for us. After all that, still we were precious to Him. We will always be precious to Him. To Jesus, we are more valuable than His own life. That . . . is love.

Our Happy Ending

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6, emphasis added)

And what happened after all this? We were made the righteousness of God in Christ. We wear His cleanness like a robe (2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 61:10). And, thank God, “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17). Peace Forever. It’s one of the titles of history’s great love story—that between God and man, wherein sin was defeated and love prevailed.

Many thanks to sassycare for her sterling advice, edits, and expansions.

Featured photo is taken from http://theprayingwoman.com/2015/02/23/10-simple-steps-to-healing/healing/

Taming Sorrow

How can anyone be so lonely deep inside her heart when all there ought to be is content? How does anyone fight such internal battle? An emotion springing so naturally from the soul yet is only ought to be shut down everyday for fear of being ungrateful? How can anyone be so blessed yet be so empty?

Who can grasp the heart of an artist? Who can decipher her soul? Who can stand being ignored over and over and over again by the thing she loves most yet hold on to the awareness of her own worth? Who can keep her sanity when all her thoughts never ought to be shared with another; when not a stranger, not a soul, all the more not a friend must hear her heart’s own cry?

Contentment, even love, is a choice; so who dares indulge the enduring void hidden behind the smiles, the laughter, the kind words? But if these feelings ought not to be felt, why were they ever planted there? Is not the farmer infallible? Is there a good reason for such secretly poignant feelings? Can gratefulness mask the longing? Or should it be wilfully shun out from being, in its entirety, without looking into the roots? Is it meaningless to let it linger?

It often passes. And crying often turns into careless laughter. Then hope the morning wakes her with all the feelings gone. When finally she’s shaped up to the mould of her hopeless situation, and she drowns herself successfully to the delights of the world, when the seemingly endless advantages of practical, uncomplicated life succeed; perhaps the uncanny thirst will cease. When that time comes, the world will see her more alive then she ever was. At that moment, the artist will die–all her passions buried with her.

 

Featured Photo by Madrid-based surreal photographer, Elena del Palacio

The Heart of Things

He killed himself. Sensei committed suicide. The question is “why?” With the first few chapters, I thought of no other reason but the fundamental loneliness of man (as I’ve come to label it) but when I reached the main part of the book, I learned it was because of dark events in his past that piled up into an unbearable suffering–one that revealed a more profound truth not just about him, but about all of us, humans.

We often hear the saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” but the opposite is also true: The road to the best kind of “heaven” this fallen world can offer is paved with evil and selfish motives. The happy and successful life, as this world defines it, often has hidden behind it the underlying ugliness that is humanity. I will try to spell out this truth for you using the events in the book, the title of which I shall try not mention for the sake of its future readers. But I shall call him Sensei, all throughout this post, just as the author did.

In the flashback chapters, we find Sensei in the middle of his story living with a widow, Okusan and a daughter, Ojosan.

Before meeting them, he was disillusioned with the world through the deceit of his own relatives as an orphaned boy. It gave him the impression that all men have dark motives especially when money is involved.

After meeting Ojosan, his perspective changed. Love changed him. But he can’t trust both mother and daughter yet, he was convinced people always have bad motives when they show you good. But in time, his love for Ojosan grew stronger and his views of men changed.

He had a friend who lost everything, disowned by his own family. Out of the kindness of his heart and his sense of responsibility for what happened (because he encouraged him to do something his family didn’t want him to do), the latter being the more likely reason of the two; he asked him to live with him and paid for his rent and food, convincing the two ladies to let the friend stay if he pays for him. They accepted not because of the money but because they learned to love Sensei as their own.

One day Sensei’s friend, K, did what he could not do himself–admit that he has fallen in love with Ojosan. Even when he had more than one chance to admit to K that he felt the same way for Ojosan, Sensei cannot admit that he had also been in love with her ever since. He was a coward and so he did nothing to tell K, evading the gentlemen’s fight for love. But he could not entertain the thought of losing Ojosan to K either…so he did the following:

1. He tried to talk K out of the idea of pursuing his love for Ojosan, never mentioning that he did this because he wanted the woman for himself.

2. He lied about being sick to get Ojosan and K out of the house to talk to Okusan behind their backs, more especially behind K’s back.

3. He asked Okusan for Ojosan’s hand, fully aware that even before K came to live with them, Okusan wanted to marry her daughter to himself because she trusted Sensei from the start.

4. Rejoicing for his success over K, he cannot help but be pleased with his achievement. He finally got the love of his life. And though he believed that he is inferior to K in all aspects, he finally won this one thing over him—and the one thing that matters most.

5. All these time, he did not bother to tell K what he did. Worse, his conscience was no where in action the whole time. All he was, was pleased and triumphant.

6. Since the wedding arrangement was all set, Okusan and Ojosan’s treatment of the two changed, the difference became more pronounced—with special treatment for Sensei, of course. All along, Sensei didn’t bother to tell K, leaving him clueless. He enjoyed his victory over K all the more.

Okusan told K eventually without Sensei’s knowledge. And as could be expected, he was devastated. Being the only person left in the world he could trust and depend on, Sensei ought to have been more responsible for K. Instead he destroyed him–for love. Upon knowing about it, K didn’t mention anything to Sensei. He was, as his usual self, calm. And on that same night, he killed himself. With a brief suicide note thanking Sensei for everything he’s done for him and asking for a last favour to arrange for his burial, he asked him to extend Okusan his apology for all the troubles. He never mentioned Ojosan even once in the letter, carrying his love untold to his grave.

This dropped the bomb on Sensei. He felt guilty, and now he’ll never get the chance to apologise to K for all the evil things he’s done him. No one knows about it, only himself and K. And now that he killed himself, no one will ever know about all these. Okusan and Ojosan will never know of K’s love for Ojosan.

After about seven months, Sensei married Ojosan. He got a bigger, more comfortable house and lived with them there. All went well, and the bad motives, the darkness that looms in the background of the marriage never surfaced in their lives.

Then the guilt that never really went away soon ate him up as it grew bigger than he can handle. He decided to kill himself in the end. He left the author a long suicide letter revealing the full story of his life and its secrets. The last sentence on it was a dying wish to never reveal all these to any other soul so long as his wife is still alive. He would not take a chance of her ever knowing about all these.

There are two contending views on this. On the one hand, he loves his wife so much and as he once mentioned (when he did not allow her to see K on the suicide scene), someone so beautiful and so pure cannot see something so ugly without losing some of her beauty. He was determined to preserve her innocence—in such case, the motive was selfless. On the other hand, he wants to protect his self image. He was determined to preserve the way his wife sees and looks up to him with all the goodness he thought he is—in this case, the motive was something selfish. It was left for the reader to decide.

I choose to believe the former. He loved his wife so much that he never wanted to destroy her image of life and of the one person that mattered to her, Sensei. He mentioned in his letter that if he had revealed the story to his wife and mother-in-law, he is sure they would have forgiven him. It would have eased him of the burden of guilt he was carrying for a long time. It would have been the easier way out. Indeed, the truth would have set him free. But then again it would have also been more selfish. Unloading himself and transferring part (if not the same amount) of the burden to his wife who would have felt terrible about herself had she known the truth about the two friends. Instead, he chose to suffer and carry his secret to the grave. In his letter, he wrote that he would rather have his wife think he has gone mad thus committed suicide  than let her know of the truth. In this regard, it made more sense that he loved her more than himself. In fact, he wanted to die a long time ago to ease him of the suffering. Imagine how every time he sees his wife’s face, he was reminded of his own ugly, disgusting self. Yet, he dared not leave her. He felt a very deep hatred for himself and an insurmountable loneliness that he thought death can be his only hope for relief. Yet he withheld it so long from himself. The reason he said, was because when Okusan died, his wife told him: “In all the world, I now have only you to turn to.”

K’s last sentence in his suicide letter was “Why did I wait so long to die?” In Sensei’s life, the answer was, because he loved his wife so much. Only when he met the author, to which he wrote the long letter about his life did he finally allow himself to die. Because, I think, it was only then that he found someone he can trust, someone whom his wife can turn to when he is gone.

The marriage and life of Sensei, though seemingly well and good from the outside, was hiding behind it something dark—the ugly motives and fallen nature common to us, sinful humans. It shows how easily we give up on our morals, how we can let our conscience be swallowed up by the people’s recognition and the world’s approval—if only for the idea that society accepts us as “living a good life”. In that sense, Sensei was bad. For the rest of his life, he suffered and repented of it. He went alone to K’s grave monthly to cry and apologise for what he did.

Going further into looking at his character though, I would say because of all his reasons for staying alive; absorbing all the suffering upon himself, protecting the innocent till the end; Sensei’s character was redeemed. In love, he did right.

And then in the end he finally chose to kill himself, which to me in every way is selfish and wrong. It appears as if he was doing the world a favour of ridding it of the evil person that he is. But that’s a lie. He might have deceived himself if indeed he believed that. The ulterior motive of the suicide is selfish—it was to end his suffering. And then he passed on the burden of keeping the secret away from his wife to someone else, the author. In the end, the selfishness and evil prevailed. Masked in love, his weakness won.

Indeed this book is a story that talks about the heart of things (in its most literal translation). And to me it talks about the things of this world–the truth about us, our story, humanity and our hopeless and sinful state. We will never be capable of redeeming ourselves because it has become ingrained in us–our being selfish, cunning and evil since the fall in Eden. And people who realise and truly, truly grasp the weight of this ugly truth without taking in that opium of society—social humanism, the notion that we are all capable of being good without help from outside or from a higher being—fall into a very deep sense of loneliness, the only cure for which, in an ordinary person’s view is suicide.

This is why humanity needs a saviour, it always has. The story of Sensei only shows that the evil of mankind can only be cured by selflessness, innocence and purity—by true love. THAT is Christianity to the core. No other religion offers humanity a Saviour to redeem us of a situation so hopeless and full of shame, to rescue us out of our own selves that have become too heavy for us to bear. All other religion would have failed to appease what Sensei felt. They would preach to rid himself of his bodily desires and accomplish a list of things in order to be forgiven, all of which he would still not have deemed a fitting retribution for what he’s done. Nothing else but death will be.

Had only someone told him that he never needed to carry the burden himself because someone bigger than him already did it for him, he would have been able to spare his own life and live a new one. He was not the one that needed to forgive, it was not his authority that mattered. It was God that should have been appeased, that his soul was longing to make peace with. And to do that, God already did for him what needed to be done—to die to pay for his sins. THAT is the one good news only Christianity claims.

The book is a tale that gets to the heart of the loneliness, fear, and guilt that accompanies love, individuality, and betrayal.** It shows us that we; left to ourselves, no matter how grand and glittering we make of our lives in this world; are selfish, hopeless and bad and we could never make it in this world on our own without getting lonely beyond what our hearts could bear and eventually killing ourselves. The core of the human heart, even if we cover it up with beautiful photos in social media and our vain obsession over living the ideal life, will always have a hint of this ugly thing that goes with being human. We need a redeemer because the ugly truth is, the heart of things…is nothing short of darkness.

 

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. […] the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 3:23 and 6:23, Holy Bible NIV

 

 

 

This post is in response to this week’s Blacklight Candelabra writing challenge, Mephistopheles and the Road to Heaven.

“I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.”
—Mephistopheles (In Faust I by Joann Wolfgang von Goethe)

(Spoiler alert: Click link only if you want to know what book is the subject of this post.) **quoted from bookrags.com

 

 

Featured Photo is one by the Swedish photographer and visual artist Tommy Ingberg as part of his photographic series, ‘Reality rearranged’ (2010-2013). It was taken from the article by Andreea Saioc published online in the website theglobalpanorama.com.