the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Monthly Archives: July 2008

The walking contradiction

Our life experiences play an enormous part in the way we think and behave. We learn from them and prepare ourselves for future experiences that challenge our sense of self, our belief systems, and our wellbeing in its entirety. When we get hurt, we learn to protect ourselves so that nothing and nobody can touch us again. And yet it proves to be both a blessing and a curse.

Yesterday someone said to me, “You’ve changed a lot over the last couple of months… You’ve gone back into your shell and closed yourself off again… You’ve become so serious, like you don’t know how to laugh anymore…You just seem so SAD all the time!” This was coming from someone whom I’ve known for about eight years and only started keeping in touch with again at the beginning of the year, after a five-year hiatus. That there was a five-year hiatus is reason enough to take that claim with pinch of salt. That the claim actually seemed to strike a chord somewhere in my system is reason enough to take it seriously to a certain degree. Fortunately, I was able to justify some of it.

It’s true that I don’t talk much to people these days, except when I’m at work; in fact, it’s probably my overly articulate and exceedingly verbal job that has robbed me of the energy and patience to talk to anyone outside of work (texts and IMs notwithstanding), except the closest people to me, the number of which I can count on one hand. And my inability to laugh when people say the stupidest things may very well be mistaken for seriousness. And it’s true that when something bad happens I shut down and crawl under a rock until I’ve recovered, and shut everyone else out. But I don’t think I’m ‘SAD all the time’; there just isn’t anything to be wildly ecstatic about. And yet this appears to be a complete change of character altogether in others’ eyes.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about things that have been said to me about not being myself in certain circumstances and around certain people. And even though I conceded that they probably had good reason to think so, I thought that at the very core of it all, I couldn’t not have been myself, because I don’t know how to be any other way. But then at one point someone asked, “Is there something you’re running away from?” And then the reality, that had become such a deeply-ingrained part of my life and who I am that I was barely conscious of it, resurfaced: I was running away from the possibility of getting hurt again.

Which makes me a walking contradiction.

We are well aware of the risks we have to take when we want something. We know what we stand to lose, we know we could end up in dark places, but we also know what we stand to gain if we get past all that; the pain is merely a lesson to be learnt along the way, a lesson that we discover was worth learning when the pain is over and we’ve gotten what we want or when we come out of that dark place. So what is the point of running away, if it only takes us farther from what we’re trying to reach? That guard we put up, coupled with our natural instinct to fend for ourselves, goes against everything we’ve been working for and only makes everything worse than it already is.

So why can’t we let our guard down? If in the end we do get yet another (proverbial) slap in the face we know that we got into this completely of our own accord and there’s no one to blame except ourselves, so why are we subconsciously stopping ourselves from trying for what we want and subsequently repelling everyone else? We know that in the end our hearts will win over our heads and we’ll  probably do it anyway, but maybe it’s just the task of patching up that heart all over again, and the pain that comes with it, that keeps pulling us back one every three steps. Maybe it’s the terror of opening up only to have it thrown back in our faces like all the other times we tried.

I know what I want when I want it. I know that in the end I’ll throw everything away just to take that risk all over again. And yet I know that if I lose everything, I will never be able do it anymore.

So I’m a walking contradiction. A stupid, stubborn, walking contradiction. And probably a bit of a hypocrite.

I’m learning again…

How it feels to be afraid.

How it feels to be teetering on the edge, too terrified to move and too tired of standing still in the same spot.

How it feels to have the stakes raised against me.

How it feels to be completely helpless.

How it feels to rather be left in this gray area than to be sent hurtling back to the black area.

How it feels to know that this time around, I really could stand to lose everything.

That in the end, I would still risk everything to know how it all could have been.

Head vs. Heart

The never-ending battle

We hear the clichés over and over again. “Listen to your heart.” “Follow your instinct.” “Trust your gut.” “Go with your feelings.” The phrases uttered so mindlessly, so mechanically, that we know we’ll never follow them no matter how many times we hear them.

How do we stop the war that rages on in our bodies? When will we know that it’s time to stop fighting? Even when we know it’s time to stop, will we stop at all? Why do we keep fighting? Is it because we’re holding on to that unswerving faith that everything will be all right in the end? Or because we simply refuse to stop fighting because we’re secretly afraid that stopping means a lack of faith and therefore things won’t go our way? And yet, when in the end either the head or the heart wins, we’re so battlesore that when we take a look back at what we’ve fought for, we wonder if it was all worth it to begin with.

How do we know when to listen to our heart and when to listen to our head? The head tells us like it really is, but the heart tells us what we want it to be. And in the end, when the battle dies down and we make as best a decision as we can, we’re never really happy with the outcome, because it was a battle that was won by default, when one side simply chose to give up. We will always end up wondering what it could have been like if the other side had won.

And the war will go on…

Tu le parles?

I don’t do tests. Not academic tests, although if I had it entirely my way I would never have done those either, but the kind that tells you what kind of person it thinks you are, what your underwear says about you, and what kind of language you speak. I don’t do them because I’m somehow afraid the results will tell me I’m a frigid control-freak or that my underwear screams slut. But I was asked to do this yesterday, so, tired of rewriting Dato’ Abdullah’s speech and fending off product owners who were assaulting me with calls for their creative approvals, I consented. I’m not sure whether to be contented or horrified by the results…

The Five Love Languages

My Primary Love Language is Quality Time

My Detailed Results:
Quality Time: 11
Physical Touch: 9
Words of Affirmation: 7
Acts of Service: 2
Receiving Gifts: 1
It kind of makes me out to be a needy, amorous, self-absorbed narcissist, which, if any of it is true, is too mortifying to think about. On the other hand, it kind of says that I just need the good ol’ TLC, which is a much more comforting notion.

It’s true that I don’t need gifts. All the previous men bought me things and they all accounted for nothing in the end, because it appeared that I wasn’t the only one they were buying things for. I’d much rather buy my own things, because as certain gifts have proven, it saves a lot of money, time, and embarrassment of buying a gift that I will never use or look at, on the man’s part. Besides, very few men in their right mind — or the right financial status — would actually fork out the money for a pair of Christian Louboutins or Manolo Blahniks (import tax really does kill you).

The acts of service don’t really matter either, because nobody wants to be put through the misery of being made to do something they don’t want to. Unless it’s an absolute emergency, like fixing my closet door or running out to buy tampons (which will only ever happen if I’m in the shower and I know full well that I was too lazy to get them when I had the chance, and even then I would never put the poor man through that kind of public humiliation) or doing something I can’t bear to do — like stamping the life out of a cockroach because it scares the life out of me — I’m perfectly capable of doing most things on my own or hiring someone to do them for me.

So really, my love languages don’t cost a single penny to learn. In fact, after taking away the neediness and narcissism (because let’s face it, what man doesn’t want l’amour?), they’re really not that difficult to understand. Tell me every now and then that I look as normal without my face on as I do with so there’s no need to put it on before I step out of the house for fear of being shamed, and I’ll tell you that you really don’t need to be built like Ryan Reynolds to rock my world. And I won’t drag you out to watch the Sex & the City: The Movie sequel, so you can’t make me join a gym.

Although to be fair, I really am (occasionally) thinking of joining a gym.

See? Not that difficult.

No regrets

You’d better know that in the end
It’s better to say too much
Than never to say what you need to say again
John Mayer, Say –
We spend half our lives regretting the things we have and haven’t done, and things we have and haven’t said. It could be the regret of taking that job at Vogue because it means we’re chained to the hem of Anna Wintour, or the regret of not taking the job at Harper’s Bazaar because we found out too late about the fantastically unrivaled expense account. It could be the regret of putting our I love you‘s out there without first making sure they’ll come back, or the regret of not telling Big Momma that we hate her cheesecake which has led her to making them every other week. There isn’t a day — or at least a week — in our lives that we’re not regretting something.But then after delving into it further, half of our regrets are quite unnecessary, really. If we hadn’t taken the job at Vogue we wouldn’t be privy to that fabulous and legendary Closet, and if we had told Big Momma we hated her cheesecake she might also have stopped making the brownies we could never get enough of. And if we hadn’t told someone how we feel about them, and all of a sudden we don’t talk to each other anymore, we’d be spending the next few weeks going, “I wish I’d told him I loved him.” *

Someone once asked, “Does it bother you that you told him you were in love with him but he didn’t say it back?” Admittedly it was mortifying at first that the words had been thrown out there and had just hung there without coming back. But then one of the most curious things about loving someone is that we do it unconditionally; we don’t love someone on the condition that they have to love us back, and we don’t say it on the condition that they have to say it back. Maybe things like that are just supposed to happen in their own time, or maybe even not at all. But we learn to accept it at any rate, and whether or not the other person says it back, we can look back and tell ourselves, At least I told him I loved him.” *

* Gender is relative to reader/writer. To put ‘him/her’ would be very unsightly.

Office space

The little spot between sanity and hysteria
It’s 8:52PM and I’m still in my office. The last person has just walked out the door, leaving me completely alone. And  the odd thing is, even though I’ve completed my work for the day — or as much of it as I can at this stage — I’m still here because I choose to be — and also because it takes a while to psyche myself up for the drive home. The only other time I get to be alone is when I come in to work in the morning, and I’m almost always the first to arrive, therefore having the whole office to myself for at least a good forty minutes, but even then at that point I’m still recovering from the battle with traffic. Maybe it’s the gradual calm settling in after everyone has bustled out the door that feels strangely comforting to me, even more so than my own house. And now that everyone is gone and the office is quiet I can take some time to breathe, decompress from the crazy day — and think. Because if I stop to think about anything else but work during the day, and if I try to think when I’m sitting in my room and letting the day’s events wash over me, the pain is so great that it becomes almost physical.

The ‘aha!’ moment

Today I went for a Meet & Greet held for candidates of the Management Associates Program at Café Bisou, Asian Heritage Row. I would probably not have gone if Eza hadn’t put her foot down and vowed not to go, and if Charlie hadn’t made me. When the program coordinator first approached me and asked if the recruitment company could conduct a mini-interview about working for a bank and get it all down on camera for the program’s publicity, I was extremely apprehensive; being three weeks old in the company, what would I know about working here, aside from just the things I do everyday? Fortunately, the mini-interview was only a few minutes long, and Eza, being only two weeks older in the company than I am, was pulled into it at the last minute, so the few minutes split between us saved us from having to yank things out of our asses.

Then today, at the Meet & Greet, which was split into two 2-hour sessions, the employees of the company had to talk to the candidates in little groups, speed-dating-style. And because Charlie was in the end indisposed due to a sinus attack, I ended up staying for both sessions and had to talk about my division and what it does, which was unnerving because again the question arose: I’m new, what do I know apart from what I do everyday?

Enough to get aspiring investment bankers interested in corporate communications, apparently.

Today was the first time I began to realize the magnitude of my job scope, simply because I was talking about it. In spite, or maybe because, of all the running around and just focusing on getting one thing done after another without botching it, I never had the time to sit quietly and think about what I’ve learned in the last three weeks. If caught off-guard, I might not have been able to tell anyone what the other teams in the division did, or even were. But today, as I talked and talked about how my team deals with the media and the press, and how the other teams handle sponsorship, advertising, events and Corporate Social Responsibility, and how the division as a whole deals with every single person they work with, for and around, I found that one second to think, Wait… I have learnt something.

Admittedly I was also quite abashed by the candidates, who ranged from being extremely laidback to being open-minded to being driven to the point of trying too hard. They all knew what they wanted to do (mostly investment banking at that), they knew where they could see themselves in five years  — managing roles of some sort, as opposed to me just seeing mysef doing well in whatever job or field I happen to be in (which incidentally was an answer that worked very well on Charlie during my interview) — and they knew why they wanted to be in the banking industry. Regardless of the possibility that they could change their minds about what they want to do after being in the program for some time, at  least they knew. I, on the other hand, just happened to fall into this job when I wasn’t even actively searching for one, which sometimes makes me feel like I’m in need of a good kick in the pants when I’m teetering on the edge of a lull.

That’s not to say that I may or may not have found It. I don’t know if this is just beginner’s luck or the novelty of trying something new and actually relevant to what I graduated in, but I actually do like my job. It’s absolutely nothing like what I did back in the States, which I also loved, but the dynamics of how I feel about both jobs are vastly different. I loved being in social services and training to teach because I knew I was doing something to help people, and I like what I do now because of what I get to learn every day, in the hopes of being able to impart that knowledge onto someone else just as eager to learn.

In an industry that has to move and evolve as fast as, if not faster than, the world does, that there will always be new and bigger things to learn. I might never learn them all, no matter how much I do, but at least I won’t have to, if ever, say that this is ‘just another job’. For now, I know who the best person in the Credit Cards Division to speak to is, when to give the PR answer and when to just shut up, who to send press releases to knowing that they won’t end up in the trash, that the corporate logo is no longer in reverse-white printing, and who appreciates candor and who needs to be coddled, among many many other things.

Oh, and in Malaysia, it’s not ‘investment banking’. It’s ‘corporate finance’, which is a small part of investment banking.

Even I know that now.

Off the market

Was with Becca after work tonight, and she was talking about a man she was previously seeing who, after appearing to have lost interest in her, has suddenly begun to acknowledge her presence and make his known again, only because she stopped trying to remind him of her existence. He went so far as to say, to her great indignance, “You do know that I’m back from [insert foreign country here], right? So why haven’t I heard from you?”

“It goes to show that my metaphor was right: the opposite sex is like a DVD,” she fumed. “You contemplate buying it, and then decide that it’ll be around for a while so you don’t have to get it just yet. But when you finally decide that you do want it, and you go back for it, you discover that it’s gone, that someone else has bought it — and possibly for a lower price at that!”

I’m not gonna write you a love song
‘Cause you asked for it
‘Cause you need one, you see
I’m not gonna write you a love song
‘Cause you tell me it’s make or break in this
If you’re on your way
I’m not gonna write you to stay
If your heart is nowhere in it
I don’t want it for a minute
I’ll walk the seven seas if I believe that’s there’s a reason
To write you a love song today

– Sara Bareilles, Love Song