Watching “First They Killed My Father” with Survivors of the Cambodian Genocide

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung holds a large piece of my heart. As a teen, in an attempt to find my mom’s lost sister, I scoured the internet searching for hope. Hope did not come in the form of finding my aunt (there is no closure with the unknown – did she survive or did she pass?) but it did come by finding an author with my mom’s maiden name and her memoir. I read the book and realized my mom and her family were not alone. This book opened my mind to genocide worldwide and how important it is to preserve their stories and not let them fade over time. I never saw my relatives the same afterward. Their loving smiling faces once endured something so horrific that nearly a quarter of their population was wiped out. From my mom’s family alone, the Khmer Rouge stole the life of my grandfather and one uncle, and the fate of one aunt is unknown.

Because of my nephew’s first birthday party, we had relatives staying with us this weekend. On Saturday, my mom and dad, my mom’s eldest sister, my mom’s only surviving brother and his wife (who also went through this) and my two cousins and I gathered around the tv in the living room and watched the film adaptation together. There was something deeply bonding by having them watch with me and gravitas of four survivors in my living room was heavy on my heart. Their experiences added to everything I saw and felt from the screen. It brought up questions I hadn’t asked before [“Did they also specifically say it was the Americans attacking when they knocked on your door?”] and memories I had heard before [“They gave us a watery rice soup that was all liquid. One time I counted out the grains of rice and it amounted to 17 pieces.”]

Tears rolled down our cheeks as we silently took in the difficult scenes. About halfway through, my uncle got up to use the restroom and never returned back to the couch. One of my cousins checked on him and found out he was sleeping in the guest room. Without trying to assume too much, I can only guess that the main character in the film hit him harder than his sisters because of age. As the youngest of the family, he was about the same age as Loung when the country fell, and seeing a child that young brought back a flood of memories and innocence lost. My mom and eldest aunt were both college graduates but he was only a child.

“Your uncle was drafted by them, just like Loung. Young brilliant minds were wanted to be able to brainwash.”

The next day at my nephew’s party, nearly half the guests over 40 were survivors of the Cambodian Genocide too, and between the celebrating and fun, I paused and took that to heart. I know so many strong incredible people who have rebuilt their lives here in the United States, each one with a deeply personal and moving story of their own.

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Rejection as an Adult

I’ve been conditioned to being rejected since I was a child. That doesn’t surprise me, but it does surprise me how much it still hurts as an adult.

When I was in third grade, we had a morning log we had to write in. It was either a prompt from the teacher or what we felt like writing on. One morning, feeling particularly lonesome and jaded, I confessed that I had no friends to play with at school. At first recess, my name was called along with a few classmates to stay to talk to her. She explained that I didn’t have anyone to play with during recess and it would be great if they could include me. That lunch and second recess I was over the moon to have my own little posse to play tag with and chit chat with to while we nibbled on our sandwiches at lunch. The next day they were there for recess only. By the end of that week, they weren’t anywhere to find. That’s when 8 or 9 year old me realized forced relationships didn’t work and friendship for pity didn’t last either.

As an introvert and person dealing with social anxiety, it takes a lot of mental output and energy to invest in someone new and try to make that connection. When I realize they are faking it or trying to rush out of a conversation, or are so bored with me that they jet after grabbing dinner with me (not even waiting for me to put my meal in a to-go box for pete’s sake!), I know they’ve rejected me or don’t find me interesting.

It’s okay. It’s going to happen. I understand this. Just like because a guy asks you out you don’t have to accept, if you don’t sense any platonic chemistry in building a relationship, that’s acceptable too. But platonic rejection hurts.

When it’s hard already to make friends and keep relationships, rejection just makes me feel like I’m less human – like I’m less capable of socializing and of less worth. Then, the next time I try really hard, there’s a mental grey cloud looming over me and in fight or flight, I sometimes pick to avoid any hurt and hide/decline.

I don’t understand the politics of socializing – at work, at church, with friends of friends, and so it probably makes it worse. When my coworker says he had a blast and I say that was a fun experience, we are both relating excitement in our own ways, but of course, the environment favors the ecstatic feelings of my coworker and questions if my very level-toned answer even has integrity behind it.

As a kid, I was more desperate and a people pleaser, but now, I don’t feel like kissing up. I can exude what they expect of me but that would be lying to who I am. I feel like “fake it til you make it” is a very toxic idiom when it comes to building relationships. So I just kind of sit in social limbo. “Oh yeah, Laura right?”

On the other hand? Through the searing reminders of my social awkwardness and reserved nature, through the rejection and want to fit in better? I know that I have some wonderful friends who have been very forgiving and gracious of my not-always-chipper or exciting self, and I appreciate and love them so much for never rejecting this Eeyore.

A Whole Year Eclipses: Brother Update

August 18th came and went and, unfortunately, my brother’s concussion didn’t follow. There was a small glimmer of hope? That on the anniversary of the life-changing accident, the brain injury would just -poof!- go away and he could go about with life plans. That isn’t what happened though, and  we look at the possibility of another anniversary passing vaguely without promise of any guaranteed progress.

I remember last year distinctly. I called N from a department store parking lot to ask him a super simple shopping question and his reply was that  he was at the hospital and had been involved in a bad accident. From there, they expected the concussion to last days. From days, it became weeks. From weeks, they tried to offer a hopeful couple month’s time. After six months, they told him he now was an anomaly, and after a year, people who fit his parameters are so rare they don’t have medical data to project any timelines for progress.

Many of the therapists he is working with are also at a loss and ready to ween him from their services. After all, after a year with little improvement, a medical professional probably has little more to say or contribute. Nothing seems to be working in his favor except for the fact he is still retentive of all his knowledge and fully sound of mind. The problem is that his brain can’t process all the hard sciences and data without taxing him critically at this point. That means working on his doctorate is put off indefinitely.

They went away for a short trip to see the solar eclipse in the path of totality to “get away” from it all for N’s accident anniversary. My SIL unwinds best in nature so they took a few days to camp and another day or two to visit friends. N’s head was in a bad place for a portion of the trip, but he said viewing the eclipse was breathtaking.

Even though it’s just as silly as the -poof- dream above, I still hope and pray that if it’s God’s will he will be able to enjoy his son’s first birthday next month concussion free.

Vegas, Hospice, Freelance, & all the Rest

Last week I spent a few days in Vegas for the first time as an adult. My first Las Vegas memory was was made over a decade ago. My crazy theme-park loving cousin settling to “walk the plank” with his bride on a ship at Treasure Island because marrying at Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland was too many figures.

Fast forward to now, when I’m nearing thirty, and finally hitting it up as a gambling-and-drinks-legal adult. I did zero drinking, and wasted more money gambling than I should have, but the best parts were outside of the casino. I was able to join my boyfriend and his family for a little taste of downtown and Fremont Street. I’m pretty sure my eyes went wide at some of the debauch billboards and marketing but outside of that, it was all fun. In the course of one day, I dined at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, saw my first Cirque de Soleil show (worth every penny), and ended the night high above the city on The Highroller enjoying the city lights with my love. And yes, it was hot as blazes.

Yesterday at my art lesson my heart sank a little to see a hospice van parked outside my teacher’s home. They delivered a walker to help her get around. Sometimes I get lost in my head and forget that my sweet friend isn’t going to get better. Spending time with someone that’s dying is both severely sobering and the sweetest thing. It means their time is near an end, but they still want to invest some of it with you. The doctor told her recently she is doing better than expected, which is a relief and hard news at the same time. It means more pain, more limitation, but a little longer to get things done. Some days we visit from when I’m off work until 7 pm. I had planned to be there until 6:30 but around 6:10 and after many phone checks, I could tell she was exhausted and it was time to cut the visit short. Sometimes I look back and see genuine smiles and joy, and other times I catch her grimacing with worry. But she has hope again, enough for tomorrow. “Maybe Saint ___ will heal me and I will be a miracle.”

Do you find it hard to answer when someone follows up a ‘how are you’ with ‘what are you up to?’ I feel like a majority of my life is mundane and no one would be interested in what I’d share even if I tried to sound passionate about it. I find myself answering with how my family is doing, or saying not much. I have a freelance job at the moment – my first time consulting, which is very exciting! But not something I’d necessarily share. I can’t believe August is here and that next month my little nephew will turn one. September begins the whirlwind: LOTS of birthdays of people I love, Bible study and my non-profit meetings start back up, and the thrill of holidays and a annual visit from my best friend. I should tell them not a lot is happening but I have many things to look forward to.

 

The Sobering Cost of Rent

If you read almost any money guru book these days, they are still harping on a very outdated rule of thumb that doesn’t really reflect the current housing market. The advice? Keep rent to 30% or less of your income.

If someone made 2k a month, that’s $600. (roughly 24,000/yr, $7,200 rent)
If someone made 3k a month, that’s $900. (roughly 36,000/yr, 10,800 rent)
If someone made 5k a month, that’s $1500. (roughly 60,000/yr, 18,000 rent)
If someone made 9k a month, that’s $2700. (roughly 108,000/yr, 32,400 rent)

In my current area, which is a nice suburban area outside a large metropolitan, in one of the most expensive states to live in, renting a small room is $650-800+. Most larger rooms with a private bathroom will run $900+. A two bedroom apartment is $1800+. Renting a basic home is $2600+. I don’t really know how many people are really able to spend only 30% unless they are shacking up with other friends or both making a nice income.

Here’s an article that breaks down the income necessary to make rent for a 2 bedroom apartment in America’s largest cities. Many people can make the rent by not following the 30% rule or living very frugally. The problem is, many of these places have a formula in place that require you to make 3x the rent per month or make 40x the rent annually. This means that even though one may be able to afford the rent, they may not qualify based on income expectations. For a couple that both works full time? This isn’t as difficult. For a family that has one breadwinner that has a decent job but not a high paying job? That’s problematic.

To live in Southern California, it basically takes two $45,000+ salaries to qualify for anything more than a bedroom. To have a home in Southern California, it basically takes two $50,000+ salaries or four $30,000+ salaries. There’s a reason why owning a home looks like something so far in the distance at this point. How long would it take you based on your annual income and savings plan, to gather 20% down for a half a million plus home? How much can one save for a house when rent is this high?

Sobering.

Legalism/Unity – A Free Verse

Legalism says we’re different.
Too different.

Legalism says here’s a piece of chalk:
Now draw a line. 

Legalism is the air-
Used in inflating egos.

Legalism says don’t question.
Just nod.

Legalism says
only show them your good side.

Legalism says
you’ll never be good enough.

Unity says we have differences
but also God. 

Unity says see my ugly;
see our ugly.

Unity says admonish
in love.

Unity says let’s discuss
and work this out together.

Unity says gather for
‘Iron sharpens Iron’.

Unity says
But with God all things are possible.

“Let’s Rename It.”

I clocked out of work on Monday, sat in my car, and checked my phone for voicemails and text messages. My art teacher has cancelled most of our planned meetings since her cancer diagnosis but today, I was notification free. My gut feeling wasn’t positive, but I drove over to her place anyway.

I was greeted at the door by my winded and pale friend. She grasped the door firmly and it took all her energy to just speak. “It changes from one moment to the next. I was doing better earlier,” she explained. From there I was beckoned into the kitchen where she placed a cracker-sized piece of sourdough topped with cheese, salami, and tomato in my hand. She leaned over the kitchen counter and tried to forcefully eat hers. “I’m trying. I’m really trying [to care for myself].” I watched her take a half-hearted bite while tears trickled down the corner of her eyes. She was exhausted. She felt defeated.

I forcefully swallowed the salami cheese lump in my throat and hugged her gingerly. I had tears too. “I’m sorry you are going through this,” I whispered. I walked back to my spot and finished my snack for her sake.

“I’m trying to pray fairly,” I told her. “I pray with faith for God to fully heal you if that’s His will, but I also pray that if it’s your time He gives you strength and lessens the pain.”

She nods and then apologizes for crying and I tell her it is perfectly fine to cry.

Her photoshop lessons are on pause indefinitely. Since she is now technically in hospice, we work on end-of-life planning. She helps me with painting and I help her gather pictures for her memorial montage. It’s just as heavy and grim as it sounds in theory, paired with her sharing sweet memories from certain snapshots.

We began with a new desktop folder. “What would you like to name it?” I dare not name it myself.

“Last.” She says firmly.

I type in her request with a heavy heart. We open up her pictures folder and go through each folder, one by one. I wouldn’t say this was a miracle, because I was CTRL+Z’ing some of the accidental shortcuts I made, but we had the folder name disappear twice when it shouldn’t have. Either her archaic laptop was freaking out, or I was subconsciously undo-ing more than once. The important part is that I wasn’t trying and truly didn’t understand why the folder name kept changing if I had so many images in there already and it wasn’t undo-ing THAT.

“Look. It disappeared again!” I searched her desktop for the Last folder and found it hiding out as “new folder 4”. “Perhaps last is not the right name for it. We need something more hopeful.”

She tightens her jaw. “Let’s rename it.” She takes a moment as her voice quivers: “Hope.” She apologizes again for crying. “Maybe it’s not my time yet.” We both remain quiet in the intensity of the moment. She pulls out a tissue and wipes her eyes. “You know, this is the first time I’m crying for me.”

Even though the buggy little four-letter folder may have been a glitch or oversight on my part, it truly was a miracle for her. It strengthened her and gave her hope for that day. And I know in that way, it was from God. It was a sign she isn’t defeated yet.

The Great Case Purge!

Toss all the CD/DVD Cases! 
X-All-The-Y

I used to be on the other side of this fence. How could someone ditch the case?! As a staunch lover of non-digital books and music (although I can appreciate digital!) however, I am rather inundated with media in bulky cheap plastic shells. I realized in this day and age with the churn rate of music and movies, that quality of packaging has gone to the crapper. My dvd cases lack the quality and heft they once did. The cheaply printed inserts lack a sheen and I can detect PIXELS from low resolution. This is probably because I peruse the $4/$8/$10/$12 section when I can which is probably so mass media they don’t give a bleep. I can appreciate the cover art and CD inserts but not so much the quality control these days.  Plus those flimsy eco paper cases? Barf. Hate them.

I purged the films and music I figured I’d never want to watch/listen to again or disliked and put the rest into the cases I bought off amazon. Now the towering pile is clear and the rest live in a black zippered case. Here’s a link if you want one.


Confession: I didn’t ditch all my cases. I’m a designer after all. I adore GOOD packaging. The nicest ones and favorites have survived the fate of being stripped. I kept about 25% of my DVDs in their cases and about 20% of my CDs. It’s all about balance. I only purged about 10% of my media because I’m pretty selective even though I have a good sized collection. I don’t buy DVDs often because I seldom rewatch things. And music I don’t care for I pass on.

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I also kept a majority of the CD inserts because I do appreciate the design and effort that goes into them and I am horrible at remembering lyrics. 😉 The CDs live above their companion inserts.

The DVDs live in a separate case and because I don’t own too many movies, I moved a lot of the family DVDs and mine into the DVD case and made the living room less cluttered for all.

I’m really happy I took the dive. It was time. This is probably one of the biggest change of hearts I’ve had since minimizing because for so many years I didn’t want to be a media case person.

One of the most helpful lessons I’ve learned from minimizing and following some minimalists is processing packaging. Some packaging is functional. Some packaging is necessary. But a lot of it? Once an item is bought it loses its appeal. Boxes and cases take up a lot of space. It’s better to remove most items and some dry food from its original packaging and either put it into something that organizes it or makes it easier to store. In this situation, the cases I ordered save me from visual clutter and don’t take away from the experience of what it is.

I’d highly recommend this project to everyone. Also because this gives me more space for books. And books are never clutter. 😉

His First Word is “Banana”

At least, that’s what his mom and dad claim. I have yet to hear this mythical first word despite my constant coaxing. He is now fluent in the ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ department, and babbles ‘banana’ on Tuesdays when Mama works at the birth center and Dada takes him to a nearby Trader Joes for a weekly banana treat. Some of his outbursts are also uncanny for ‘Yeah!’

Kai is now a little over 9 months, and I look at this little dude and think of how much he’s grown. He is both spirited and inquisitive and flips sides at the drop of a pin. In the grocery store, he’ll be all smiles and wave like crazy to everyone around him and then pause all emotion to examine the face of a particular person. He often folds his hand into a loose fist, with his pointer finger stuck out and posed on the corner of his mouth making that “hmm” pose. It’s the cutest thing.

Every month Kai grows and reaches new milestones is also a bittersweet moment of reflection for my brother, who still suffers from a concussion due to an auto accident that happened exactly one month before my nephew was born. I think of how hard it must be to mark his son’s new advancements and his limitations on the same day each month. It gets hard to answer those around me who are praying for my brother with the exact news months later: “There are slight improvements but he’s about the same.”

Kai adores his daddy. They spend almost every waking minute of their day together. It’s definitely harder for my brother to try to get all his mental exercises done and have time to rest with a baby on his hands, but at the same time, despite the constant migraine, he’s also blessed with being at home and bonding with his son during Kai’s first year of life. I think of the what-if: if he didn’t have the accident he would be working full time or be in grad school and working part time. My SIL has worked really hard to keep them afloat with her midwifery while being a good mom and wife. She’s really shown me how resilient she is. I’m hoping and praying that in the next few months, Kai and Daddy can both work on big milestones together – Kai in development and N in healing. Secretly, I’m hoping for a birthday miracle in September.

Shedding light or fanning flames? Why 13 Reasons Why and To the Bone don’t sit well with me.

Netflix garnered quite a bit of attention by picking up a series based on a book that deals with teenage suicide and high school pressures. They are back on the radar for the upcoming addition: To the Bone. I watched all of 13 Reasons Why and sat back and wondered about what resonated with me. I felt full of emotions that didn’t necessarily make me more aware, but impacted my well being because I left feeling very uneasy and negative. I watched the preview for To the Bone and also felt this kind of empty pit. Do these types of series shed light on an issue and offer aid to those who are seeking solace, or do they fan the flames of people on the edge? Is it opening a discussion with parents or inviting unhealthy triggers into viewer’s lives?

Reflecting on 13 Reasons Why, I remember feeling so upset that even though a mother and daughter team helped direct it (Selena Gomez and her Mom), and the characters had concerned parents, none of the characters were portrayed as close to their parents. They made out parents to be mindless, unaware, and unnecessarily concerned but unwilling to be more available. They made the high school kids to be in secure families but secretive and so open range that they could walk out on their parents and get caught with drugs at school and still just get an apathetic grumble from mom. To me, this just showed teens not to open up to their parents and to hole up their feelings. The parents seemed to fail them. The school counselor and teachers seemed to fail them. Reliable adult resources were failures, according to 13 Reasons Why. Now that I’m in my late twenties and a decade has passed since my teens, and I have worked with youth in ministry, my heart hurts to see depictions where adults fail the youth and where the youth don’t trust the people placed in their lives to help them. I want to scream, “we were in your shoes too! We understand, please open up to us!”

To the Bone looks like a heartwarming tale from the preview, but I also know that beyond some hints at lightheartedness, there is nothing to romanticize about an eating disorder (ED). It truly bothers me that they chose an actress with an ED past to play the main character and undergo weight loss and method acting that could have caused her to go into relapse. It’s obvious that makeup magic plays a role in making Lily Collins look gaunt and unhealthy, but let me also include a portion from an interview she did with Elle magazine:

“They hired a nutritionist, and we did it in the most healthy way possible. I had a lot of people…to be accountable for how I was doing it, and I had check-ups all the time. I thought it was necessary for me to portray the character in the best way that I knew I could, and also to pay homage to what she was going through. There was never any pressure put on me to reach a current weight or limit. I felt like I had to limit myself in a way as well. I felt like I had to get into that mindset and recognize some of the feelings that I once had felt and that Ellen was feeling.

The gaining of it back was probably a little harder, because it’s just a strange twist on what I went through when I was younger—which was about losing, not about gaining. The idea that after this movie I had to get back to proper health, it wasn’t as easy. You know, eating a bunch of burgers and milkshakes and all that—I don’t really eat meat anyway—it had to be done in a healthy way, and it’s not good to go from nothing to a lot, because your body doesn’t know how to handle it. It took a little while longer than I think most people would have expected it to, but it was a process that needed to happen and it was a very personal experience. But I came out of it extremely proud of the work we had done.”

Source: http://www.elle.com/…/lily-collins-to-the-bone-netflix…/

She felt she had to pay homage. She felt like she had to go back to that mindset. *shudder* WARNING WARNING WARNING. That is SO UNHEALTHY. For her to then say gaining it back was hard, I feel that also sheds light on the fact that even with her controlled environment, that process was difficult on her body.

I have friends and acquaintances who have struggled with ED. It is not heartwarming to hear someone is near organ failure or that they can’t ever have children because their body is permanently changed. It is not funny to see someone you felt so close to distance themselves to hide their condition. It isn’t beautiful to see someone who was so strong and full of energy be a ghost of their former self. It isn’t something you gather around a tv and observe and try to make light of. When you offer a happy ending? Sometimes it makes a fantasy of something with an often harsh reality. How many girls will think, wow, I can get myself to that point, and then a doctor/institution will save me? How many people will feel they can jump ship and get a red and white life preserver thrown at them? I just can’t help but feel very uneasy…

Are these shows shedding light or fanning flames?