Month: March 2016

Love is Love

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(Picture has been borrowed from the Internet)

It’s been a long, hectic day and I’m only now getting around to writing something. Since I’m pressed for time, I’m picking an easy one for today- LGBT rights. And by easy I mean there is only one way to look at it. We are all people and we must all have same rights and freedom. So my views on this subject are identical to my views on women’s rights– why is it even a topic of discussion?

Who are we to decide what love looks like? I am a girl and I fell in love with a boy, yet everyone still keeps telling me it’s wrong. From an outsider’s point of view he wasn’t a nice guy. He didn’t treat me with kindness or respect. But it’s my life and only I know what we truly shared. I may refer to him as playboy but I don’t believe that he is one. He is just someone who is really scared. And I am ok with that. I still love him. It’s not a choice that I’ve made it’s simply what my heart truly and deeply feels. So how can anyone else say that it isn’t love?

Similarly, how can we, as a society, tell anyone what their love should look like? Just because two people aren’t of the opposite sex does not mean their love is any less meaningful. I respect the fact that different people have different views. For some, their view of the world and how it ‘should be’ is guided by various cultural or religious influences in their lives. But a mature society is where we don’t impose our beliefs on other people- we live and let live. And more importantly, we respect everyone because they are people just like ourselves.

All the barriers some of us adhere to exist only in our minds. We may look different on the outside but what it all comes down to is one simple fact- we are one species, Homo sapiens, and we all deserve the freedom to live our lives the way we want, love who we want, marry who we want.

Below is a YouTube link to ‘Love has no labels‘ commercial by the Ad Council. This video conveys the message so much better than what words could ever do. Just watching it brings tears to my eyes. I wish one day we can live in a world where we don’t just say that we’re all equal but actually practice it too. For that, we first need a leader who believes in it. Here is a link to Sen. Sanders plan to fight for LGBT equality.

 

Peace!

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First I Am a Human, Then a Woman

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I am a woman so this subject is extremely personal to me. Yesterday, a friend made a comment in response to my post that it’s nice to hear my views because I have an ‘outsider’s’ perspective. I was offended by that remark, and indeed I made no reservation in showing just how I felt! I am a person as unique as anyone else in this world. I think for myself, listen to various rhetorics, and finally develop my own view on a matter. I am entitled to change that view as I get more exposure but that I was born in India does not influence my whole personality. It can influence my interests, like my interest in immigration, but it still does not guide my perspective. My thoughts on immigration are founded in logic and ethical treatment of people. I agree with Bernie’s agenda because it speaks to those core values. If I weren’t an immigrant, I probably wouldn’t bother myself with reading the plan, but if I did, I would still end up supporting it because it sounds logical. Just as if I were an American, I still wouldn’t support the candidate with the most horrific views on immigration that sound dangerously similar to an ethnic purge. Any two people will agree or disagree from time to time. You might agree with some of my posts, not agree with others, but that’s because we’re different people irrespective of the skin we wear, the countries we’re born in, or the languages we speak- we’re different at an intellectual level. And while cultural differences have a role to play, it is not always the case. My thoughts on healthcare are independent of my heritage. I don’t think I even had a view on abortion when I was in India- I was too young and protected to have to think about it. At 30 years, I have something to say, and guess what, it’s everything that a 74-year old American man is saying!

When it comes to women’s rights, I don’t have a whole lot to say besides this:

It is a shame that a woman’s rights should even be a topic of political debate, like we’re animals and men of this world have to fight for our rights (read: PETA). We are human beings just as men are and if there is never a debate about what men can and cannot do, why should there be one for us!

But this damage wasn’t done today. It has been done over centuries and now we must try to undo it. We can only look to the future and we must ensure we build a better one- we must “go forward”. I agree with all the points in Sen. Sanders plan so I have only selected the top two to talk about in detail.

Item 1:

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Equal pay for equal effort- it is as logical as it can get and I don’t see any reason why anyone should be opposed to it. But much like my friend from yesterday, at a subconscious level, most people struggle to see everyone as equal. It is part of the cognitive process to identify a person’s physical attributes when we first meet them- man or woman, young or old, their race, etc. Our brains have evolved to register these nuances so that they can access the surroundings and any potential danger based on past experiences. It’s science and it’s all good. But there was a time when people let these differences determine how they treated the other person. After centuries of protests and progressive movements, we have reached a point in time where most people outwardly agree that people should not be treated differently. But subconsciously, they still end up doing it.

I was grossly underpaid at my former job. And I don’t say this by comparison to anyone else, but in absolute terms I was not paid enough for the hours of work I had to put in. It was a male-dominated workplace with a handful of women. So not only was I an immigrant worker which made me inherently unequal to my peers, I was a gender minority too. I don’t know how much salary my male counterparts made but it would not surprise me if it turns out to be significantly more.

Consciously or subconsciously, women are still not treated as equals in the workforce. Equal pay is more than inevitable, it is common sense!

Item 2:

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Women have a natural disadvantage over men- pregnancy. But had this been reversed, if men were the ones responsible for bringing a new life into this world, I wonder if the term ‘reproductive rights‘ would have ever come up! Again, I am not talking about the world we live in today but the world that set the stage for some of the issues we discuss today.

Personally, I would rather see an unwanted pregnancy terminated than an abandoned infant in an orphanage, or worse, in a garbage dumpster. It does not matter how the pregnancy came about- forced or consensual- the burden falls on the woman. There are no consequences for men, even when both parties had equal role to play. To those who say women cannot choose, I say, men shouldn’t be able to choose either. If the union leads to a pregnancy, the man must sacrifice his social life just as much as the woman does, and pay for child support until the child reaches the age of 21. I would like to see how many people will change sides then.

I know someone who accidentally got a girl pregnant when he was only a teenager. He did not marry the girl but decided he was going to be part of the lives of the girl as well as their child. He stayed true to his word. He does have a wife now, and kids from his marriage, but he still takes full responsibility for his first child. But how many such examples do you hear of? Most young men walk away from such responsibility. I know someone else who has a child from a previous marriage and the ex-husband refuses to take any responsibility for their daughter. She has had to take him to court several times just so he would pay child support. But a court can only force someone to pay, not to be a good father. This woman lost her job and was going through incredibly difficult circumstances. To have to be embroiled in lawsuits on top of that? Is that fair?

Women are equal contributing members of the society and should be treated as such; I am with Sen. Sanders!

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Universal Healthcare Anyone?

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(Image taken from Bernie Sanders official campaign website)

After publishing my post yesterday, I had an idea. In the coming days, I am going to do short summary posts on specific Bernie Sanders campaign issues and share relevant examples from my personal life. I am calling this series of posts (including Twitter handle), #Bernieonissues. If you have a story of your own, please leave a comment here or on Twitter and I’d be thrilled to feature a guest post! Yesterday’s subject was immigration and you can follow this link to read the post.

Today, I want to talk about healthcare. I already gave a little gist of my opinion on the subject yesterday but today I want to discuss few specific points. Full plan can be accessed on the campaign website using this link. So let’s begin.

Item 1:

 

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I cannot stress enough how much I support the idea of universal healthcare. Sure, those who argue against the concept don’t want to encourage free-loaders in the society. That is a fair and valid concern, but on the other end of the spectrum is a society where each man is for himself. This is the beginning of improportionate wealth distribution and accumulation. Those who can accumulate more wealth are entitled to better care. As a nation, I don’t think it is an environment we want to foster. I am generally a supporter of the Ayn Rand philosophy of objectivism and I don’t condone altruism. As much as I like the notion that each one should get what they deserve, when it comes to running a country, an extreme stance like that cannot be taken. We must share the burden of healthcare, even if it means letting some people get away with a free ride. It is practically impossible to determine what each individual deserves in a nation of over 300 million people. We have to strive towards a goal that would benefit most, if not all. A socialist approach to healthcare, hence, is a clear winner.

Item 2:

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I know first hard the consequences of linking any aspect of a person’s life beyond income to the employer. In my case, my whole life is linked to my employer but that’s something I already covered in my immigration post. By the same token, linking healthcare to employer simply makes people more vulnerable and open to exploitation.

When I suddenly lost my job, I lost medical, dental and vision coverage with it. When I urgently needed a root canal procedure due to an abscessed tooth, I was left feeling helpless. Small as may be, I had still paid monthly premiums for better part of last year for my dental insurance. Just because I was no longer eligible to be part of the employer’s group plan should not mean that I be left without any coverage. I looked into private plans but I couldn’t get immediate coverage. All of them required that I wait 6 months if I wanted the procedure to be covered under the plan. How can someone live with a rotting tooth for 6 months? I ended up paying for the procedure on my own but at a time when I already didn’t have a source of income, an extra expense of this magnitude came as a severe blow.

Item 3:

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As an extension of the previous point, I was left at the mercy of private companies when my employment ended. I am not a citizen so although I have been contributing to the social security system for 9 years now, I could not seek unemployment benefit. Although I have paid into the Medicaid system for 9 years, I cannot sign up for Obamacare. It’s somewhat of a deviation, but under Sanders immigration plan, there is provision to allow immigrants access to universal healthcare. Legal immigrants are the furthest thing from free-loaders, we are the ones who pay for the free-loaders. But going back to the subject of single-payer system, it goes back to the core philosophy that healthcare is a right, not privilege. So there should not be any disparity between what the rich and the poor can afford. Letting private insurance companies run the show makes it all about profits and not the common good. Premiums can vary, copays can vary, coverage can vary, even the providers in various networks can vary. The world of healthcare is already tainted with avarice. Removing private insurance providers is only the first step in the direction.

Item 4:

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This is simply the manifestation of everything else that we have already reviewed before. Having a federally-administered plan that is independent of employers and private insurance companies and that provides same coverage across the board, from general healthcare to emergency care, across medical, oral, vision and other facets of health and wellbeing means we, the people, don’t have to worry about copays or deductibles, or look for a provider that’s in a certain network. I will not get into the details of how this plan gets paid for. It is a very straightforward and logical taxation system that is touted to save money in the long run. A step-by-step breakdown is included in the plan link to which can be found at the beginning of this post.

In conclusion, this type of healthcare system has already been in place in most developed countries and has proven to be a successful model. It’s high time America implemented something that has been tried and tested instead of experimenting at the expense of its people’s health and wellbeing.

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My Voice, My Vote

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Disclaimer: All facts listed in this post are true to the best of my knowledge. The intent of this post is to substantiate some of the policy issues based on my personal experience. No malice or slander is intended and should not be perceived as such. Excerpts of policy have been taken from Bernie Sanders campaign website. Full immigration plan can be accessed using this link.

I have been following this election very closely, as are most people, not just in the US but across the globe. Even those who have actively refrained from getting involved in politics in the past are finding it difficult to ignore the curent race to presidency. The world looks up to the US as a leader so when this great nation ends up with the choices for its leader as they are today, tension is palpable. Bigotry, prejudice, arrogance and, simply put, a blatant lack of decency are the foundation of some campaigns, and what’s worse is that they are gaining traction. Is this the future of America, and consequently the whole world? It’s a scary thought.

I first got interested in the Sanders campaign when I was forced to buy health insurance at what seems like exorbitant rates in my current circumstances. I am not a citizen so I was forced to go to private companies. I am a healthy, young individual with not much money to spare at the moment, so when I have to shell out $200 per month for practically no benefit, it makes my already bad situation worse. I am all for universal healthcare, but I think what we have right now is an example of a good idea poorly executed. I was immediately interested in Sanders’ single-payer plan. Reading further through the issues page on the campaign website, I found myself constantly shaking my head in agreement. And then I hit the jackpot- immigration! Today, I simply want to use my story to validate some of the points in his plan. I don’t have a right to vote, but if I can change just one person’s mind I would feel that my voice was heard.

Item 1:

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Facts:

I am an immigrant worker on H1-B visa. Since June 2014, I have several documented communications submitted to my former employer about my workload being in excess of 300 hours per month. My requests were either left unacknowledged, or were acknowledged without a remedial action.

My story:

I continued working to the best of my ability as my employer essentially owned me. If I made too much noise and they decided to terminate me, I would lose everything.

Item 2:

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Facts:

Admittedly, my former employer considers all non-US persons to be equal. I was given counseling by an authority figure who is neither of US origin, nor Indian, about how I ought to work with Americans.

My story:

During this ‘counseling’ session, the authority figure told me that I would “not have a future here [the company] or anywhere else” in this country. The whole discussion left me feeling humiliated and discriminated against. I reported it to my then manager who dismissed the subject as a misunderstanding on my part. I then reported the incident to the human resource department who promised to investigate but I heard nothing further on the matter. Few months later, my manager hinted that I should mend my relationship with the authority figure as this person had a lot of power and control over my fate. I was forced to apologize out of fear.

Item 3:

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Facts:

After months of being treated unfairly, I was ultimately forced to file a formal complaint with the Divison of Human Rights. Exactly a week after I filed the complaint, I was abruptly let go.

My story:

I have been struggling ever since to maintain my legal status in this country. I have lived here for many years and this has become my home athough I wasn’t born here. I did nothing wrong, always followed the rules, but when I decided to stand up to injustice, I ended up being the one suffering. The current United States immigration system does not offer me any accommodation in these circumstances. I am nearing the end of my visa term and the only way I can continue living here is if an employer petitions for my permanent residence. I don’t even have the right to petition for myself.

This country boasts to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave“. I tried to be brave by reporting abuse, but so far it seems like I will be losing my freedom in the process- the freedom to protect my rights, to protect my dignity, to protect my life. A change is crucial if those words truly mean something to today’s Americans.

Thank you for taking the time to read this!

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30 and Learning: You Can’t Go Back

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Now that I’m back in Buffalo, I’ve been spending a lot of time hanging out with old friends. Yesterday, I spent the evening with a group of friends who’ve all turned 30 during the course of this past year, myself included. We walked to a cafe, ordered salads and soups, then walked to another local coffee shop down the street for our nightcap, if you will, although a cappuccino (no sweetener, and an extra shot of espresso, please!) would hardly aid anyone in falling asleep, not me though! We occupied a couch and couple of chairs, Friends-style, and talked about all sorts of things.

As we were leisurely strolling back at the end of the night, we walked past a bar where we used to once hang out. Looking at the crowd inside, loud and packed elbow-to-elbow, I couldn’t help but observe, “that used to be us once“. It’s not that we don’t go to bars anymore, but they’ve become rare occurrences now compared to what they were up until few years ago. Nor is it that we decided one day that now that we’re thirty, this is what we’re going to do. In fact, it has been a very gradual, organic transformation and we hardly ever notice it until something like this happens.

One of my friends is pregnant, so there was a lot of talk about babies. Politics, of course, is a subject that is omnipresent these days, and we discoursed at great length about the ongoing Presidential race. We talked about fitness and how we’re all making healthy lifestyle changes (hence walking and ordering salads). I shared my ‘before’ picture that I took last week. Now that I have all the time in world, I have decided to dedicate most of it to fitness. I start my day with an intense cardio workout, followed by a wholesome protein smoothie. I eat fish and salad for lunch, and chicken breast for dinner. And every other day, I do strength training in the evening. Today, however, was my rest day! At 30 years old, I’m in the best shape of my life right now, better than I was in my early 20’s, but I want to see how much better I can be if I’m dedicated. And I want to do it the right way, by eating healthy and working out.

As the evening progressed, the conversation steered towards more intellectual subjects. We were talking about various socio-economic issues and related studies, and soon about our own expectations from life. I slowly started to notice a theme, no one is truly satisfied with what they’re doing. I am, of course, an exception right now, but even my friends with steady jobs and big paychecks seem to feel that they’re missing something at a deeper level- a feeling of fulfillment. Thinking back to the time when I was still with my previous employer, life was much the same for me too. Work-life balance is getting more and more skewed in corporate America, with the work-end slowly tipping the scales. Annual compensation packages sound great at face value but when you do the math to see how much you make per hour for the number of hours you actually put into the job, the result is rather dismal. This is assuming you’re an exempt employee, which was the case with me and still is for my friends. And after all that hard work, there is very little of significance to show for it.

This part of our conversation really got me thinking. I’ve undergone many transformations during the past few months, most of them life-altering. A part of me wants to share what I have learned with the rest of the world. Life lessons don’t come by easy. We have to fall first in order to learn to stand up on our feet again. And the harder the fall, the tougher is the struggle to get back up. I cannot make another learn this, everyone has to do it themselves. When they’re down, they have to find the strength to pick themselves up. But perhaps I can share with them my own experiences so that they know there is hope, and that they can do it. The more time I spend away from the daily, mundane grind, the more I feel the urge to do something on my own. And do it not for money but for the sole purpose of giving back that what I’ve learned.

When we were 20-somethings, we all wanted to look good, have high-paying jobs and drive around in fancy cars. A decade later, we don’t just want to look good on the outside, we want to feel good on the inside. We don’t just want to make big bucks, we want to make a difference. We don’t just want material acquisitions, we want spiritual enrichment. Perhaps this is what quarter-life crisis looks and feels like. But it’s a sure sign that we haven’t just grown in years but also in intellect. I don’t think this is a ‘crisis’ though, it’s our individual quest for a greater purpose, it’s a process of defining what ‘success’ really means to each one of us.

Fortunately or otherwise, this process has been fast-tracked for me. I have been yanked away from the life I had become so used to. With this downtime that I’ve been given, I am now trying to figure out what I want to do next- go back to that life, or make a radical change. Change is never easy but sometimes it is imperative. Having undergone so much in less than a year, I almost feel it would be unfair to not make a change, to not have a worthy outcome of this mayhem when the dust settles. Sure, the lessons I have learned will always stay with me, but is that enough? If everything goes back to the way it was, over time it will seem like none of this ever happened, that it was a bad dream, and that I’ve woken up in the same rut in which I once was. I want to wear my scars with pride, not let them fade. I have relinquished all control over my destiny to life right now but I’m hoping to have some of it back. I’m turning to the Universe for signs. If life hasn’t allowed me to fast-forward my challenges, I will not allow it to hit ‘reset’!

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Need Help? Try Asking Yourself!

In response to the Daily Post Prompt: Help

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(Image courtesy: Celestinevision.com)

I really like the idea of Daily Prompts. It’s incredible to see how each individual interprets a word differently when there is no context. One simple word can mean so many different things to different people! When I saw today’s word the first thing that came to my mind was ‘grounding’. What does that mean? Let’s examine.

I’ve been going through some exceptionally challenging times since last year. Here is a link to the recap I did few days ago. Help has come to me in all forms and I have needed it desperately all along. I’ve had help from friends and family in staying positive. I’ve had help from my therapist in breaking free of a downward spiral of depression. I’ve had help from attorneys and other associates in employment and visa-related matters. I’ve had help from well-wishers who always sent good vibes my way, and still do. I couldn’t have made it this far without these helpers. So why didn’t I think of any one of them when I read the word ‘help’?

All the people I named above are external to me. No matter how much they care, or how badly they want to, they can never fully understand everything that I’m going through. And it’s not because it’s me, it’s because we are all unique individuals and no one can understand us better than our own selves. It holds true for everyone. I am sure I cannot understand a friend’s problems the way he/she understands them. We are all complex creatures, and knowingly or unknowingly, we control how much of ourselves we expose to others. Like I said in a previous post, I shared very little with friends and family. I shared a little bit more with my therapist, and I shared completely different concerns with professionals. I controlled how well they understood what was going on with me at a deeper level. We all do that.

Writing this blog has been another great help, because it closely serves the purpose of introspection; most commonly, it is the outcome of introspection. It helps me clear my thoughts and understand myself better. As I was learning to navigate through the darkness that had enveloped my world, I stumbled upon meditation. Meditation helped me clear out all the noise and listen to only what matters- the voice of my soul. When I meditate, I take plenty of time to focus on my chakras, specifically the root, the solar plexus and the third eye (see image above). These chakras help me in finding my purpose. They help me reassure myself of my value in this world, no matter how insignificant it might be to someone else. They remind me that I am a person and that I am important to me. They also help me see the light at the end of the tunnel. The third eye is supposed to strengthen intuition. I don’t claim that it turns a person into a seer of the future. What it does instead is to reinforce the idea that good things will follow. When going gets tough, we often hear people repeating platitudes such as “night is darkest before the dawn“, or that we are being “tested” by an unknown, unseen force. We nod our heads and agree. But how many times do we really, truly agree? Again, they don’t know exactly what we’re going through. They don’t know that my night actually just got darker! Why am I being tested when that guy over there is a complete profligate and I was actually living a moral life? The point is, banal sympathies only help to an extent before losing effectiveness. When we learn to look inward, the encouragement comes from deep within our soul, and that counts! What intuition tells me is not that my troubles are over, or that I will win a lottery next week. It tells me that no matter what comes next, I’ll weather it, and soon troubles will pass. And until better days arrive, I have enough strength to hold on to hope.

This to me is the meaning of grounding- feeling connected with myself and the world around, knowing that I am capable of overcoming anything that life throws at me- the oneness of mind, body and soul. If we lose hope, we stand to lose everything. But no one else can give us hope. It is something we need to find ourselves. It lies within each of our hearts and all we need to do is to tap into it, and build a lasting bond with our inner selves. I have chosen meditation. Someone else might be able to connect with themselves through art, or nature, or simply by sitting in a quiet room. The important thing to remember is this: if you ever need help, ask yourself first!

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Movie Review? Why Not! #BrooklynMovie

 

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(Picture: courtesy IMDb)

If you haven’t already watched the movie Brooklyn, you’ve atleast heard of it. With its wide acclaim and multiple Academy Award nominations, I doubt it’s possible to have missed it, unless you live under a rock, of course! The film centers around a young Irish immigrant who comes to the US in early 1950’s, and her struggle to choose between the old and the new. It’s a well-made movie with stunning cinematography and great performances by all. I watched it last year when it just came out with a friend who is American with Italian heritage. After the movie she said to me, “You must be able to relate to it way better than I can“. She was right in a way. Immigration is not something most people personally experience in their lifetime. Although America is, in essence, built my immigrants, most modern-day Americans have only heard second- or third-hand retelling of their ancestors’ journeys that all began at Ellis Island (almost). So like love-at-first-sight, which most people don’t personally experience, immigration is next to have been romanticized by movies. But often times movies only show the best possible outcome of a situation, and in a way that is very convincing.

Eilis’ story certainly pulls at the heartstrings- the sorrow of leaving behind family and friends, and the home where she grew up, homesickness and fear of the unknown, feeling lost and lonely in a sea of people- these are all sentiments that we can empathize with. What’s more, Eilis is a charming yet bashful girl who instantly wins over the audience. She is smart and talented, and we find ourselves rooting for her. She left her hometown for its lack of prospects. She was ambitious and had outgrown what the town could offer. There is no reason why she shouldn’t have her share of the American Dream! And then love comes along. It’s not love-at-first-sight or anything cloyingly sweet; it’s very believable. We’re pleased for her because no matter what we say, most of us still consider marriage one of the touchstones of success, especially for a girl. So now that she was settled in her job and taking classes, it was natural that she should fall in love.

But things aren’t the same when she visits Ireland. She now has prospects- job, and a potential husband with considerable wealth. If she really loved Tony, she wouldn’t even think of this as an option. But she does think. She carefully considers it, and for a rather long time too. What ultimately makes her change her mind is a meddling neighbor, making her realize that it wasn’t the prospects, but the closed-mindedness of the people that had driven her away. So she wasn’t really torn between two men, she was torn between two places; she didn’t pick Tony, she picked New York. It’s a movie so we are left to assume that they lived happily ever after. But had this been real life and not a movie, I imagine a rather different ending.

Anyone who has been following this blog knows that immigration is a constant theme around here. It’s one of the reasons why I started writing in the first place, because my experience with the process of immigration over the last several months has been anything but rosy. No one, myself included, had any idea that it can be this tedious until it all happened to me. If my life were a movie, my playboy would have fallen in love with me, we would have married and all my troubles would be over forever (yes, he is a US citizen). Sadly though, that’s not the case. Now I don’t imagine immigrating to the US was nearly this complicated back in 1950’s. But what was also not the same was the social status of women. Eilis couldn’t have imagined living in New York all on her own for an indefinite length of time like a girl can today. So when Tony came along, I think she made the sensible choice, she followed her head and not her heart. Had she chosen to follow her heart, she’d probably be in a situation similar to mine. I’ve dated other men during these last three years, whenever my playboy and I were going through our break-phase. A couple of them really liked me and were ready for long-term commitment. But I chose to follow my heart and left each time. They were citizens too- you get the idea. For Eilis, things weren’t easy because she was a single girl, for me things aren’t easy because I’m an immigrant. So would her story have been any less touching if she had simply moved from countryside to the big city, without ever leaving the country? I guess not. Her story is not about moving to a new country, it’s about moving to a new place, and it’s not about finding love; her story is that of survival. To answer my friend’s remark, yes, in a way I can relate to Eilis’ initial struggles better than many. But the fact that she was an immigrant lends almost no significance to the overall storyline.

This, of course, is my interpretation of the movie. I have not read the original book that the movie is based on, so I am sure there is a lot more to the story than what has been captured in the film. Someday perhaps I will write a story that truly captures what it means to be an immigrant, until then let’s romanticize it!

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An Extraordinary Life

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As if there wasn’t enough chaos in my life already that as of last week I am no longer working. There have been some hiccups with my work visa, so while I can stay in the country legally, I cannot work until these problems have been resolved. It may seem like a rather unnerving news, but quite frankly I couldn’t stop laughing when I got the call informing me that I couldn’t go in to work starting next day until further notice. I am beginning to feel like I’m living in the pages of a Shakespearean comedy of errors where nothing seems to be going right, although there hasn’t yet been a case of mistaken identity and yet if it were to happen to me tomorrow, I wouldn’t even be mildly surprised considering the events that have transpired since last fall! What is also typical of such a comedy is a happy ending. I was in Rhode Island for a weekend to see my best friends. On Saturday morning, I decided to go out for a walk/jog, and explore the neighborhood. I spotted a park a little over a mile away on the map, and decided I was going to head that way. It seemed like it was close to the water but there was a street separating the park from the waterfront- beach houses, in all likelihood. But as I approached the park, I noticed the houses ended at one point and there was a series of steps right next to it. Excited, I ran towards it and, lo and behold, ocean, and an endless beach as far as the eye could see (above)! My friends had no idea they lived this close to a public beach. I spent few minutes taking in the scenery and reflecting on what it meant to me. During my run back, I concluded that this was a sign that I’m about to find ‘my beach’ in real life too. I have been on an adventure for many months now, not knowing what lies ahead. Anything that could go wrong has gone wrong, anything that I could lose I’ve lost. Today, I’m playing the narrator instead of the protagonist in the drama that is my life!

Act One: It all started last summer with my long term employer deciding to withdraw their sponsorship for my employment in the US- the very basis of my existence. And they did so with little to no justification, rejecting any legal expertise I brought to the table through my independent counsel with various immigration attorneys. What followed was a series of power plays by authority figures that culminated in my abrupt termination, despite my stellar track record. But in a world of at-will contracts, ethics are non-existent. Being jobless is one thing, as stressful as it is, but being without a sponsor in a foreign country- now that’s something practically unheard of. There is a lot in this one sentence that I want to talk about in detail, from the convoluted process of visa sponsorship to how I have been made to feel like a ‘foreigner’ although this country has been my home for many, many long years. Since I am going to have plenty of time on my hands in the coming days, I will take them one at a time. For now let’s talk about employers.

Employers are almost always sympathetic to the fact that if a person’s whole life depends on a piece of paper that they control, that they let this person make other arrangements before they pull the plug. But I had made some powerful enemies who wanted to pull the plug and watch me squirm and die. And so they did. But I was already expecting them to strike me where I was weakest- my immigration status- and, fortunately, had my modest team of attorneys on standby. With their help, I was able to safeguard my legal residence. That was the ‘situation‘ that I refrained from talking about in some of my earlier posts from last fall.

Act Two: Act One left me without a job in the most dramatic and unexpected way. In Act Two, I started plummeting towards bankruptcy. Cash flow was upside down. I had no income but expenses had skyrocketed with attorney fees and other immigration-related dues. I am not entitled to claim unemployment although I contribute to social security- another topic for next time. Moving on, I was offered various part-time jobs but the multitude of visa restrictions made it impossible for me to accept anything that came along. I was all alone during this crisis. I didn’t say anything to my parents or they would have driven themselves sick with worry, and I put up my bravest and best face in front of friends. But deep down, I was terrified and lonely. So when I couldn’t get my playboy to stop texting me, one day I asked him to come over and hold me. He did, and it was so sweet! But the universe was determined on breaking my bones and bringing me to my knees. So during what has undoubtedly been the darkest time of my life, my playboy once again did his disappearing act and left me just as he had found me that day- terrified and lonely. No job, no money, no love, no support- I decided to end not just the Act, but the entire play altogether. I have already written about that so I won’t go over it again. But sure enough, nothing happened as this story isn’t over yet!

Act Three: My free fall towards an unknown abyss continued and I decided it was time I sought help. I had started seeing a therapist since I lost my job but now I actually took therapy seriously. My therapist made a comment that came as a wake up call to me, “You have forgotten who you are, you think you are your immigration status…“. Perhaps we do have an element of mistaken identity after all! He was right, I had forgotten that I am a person, I could only think of myself as an immigrant, and by extension, erroneous as may be, someone who is not a human being at all. I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t sleeping right, I stopped working out, started smoking- I had lost all regard for myself. But now that I had made my therapist an active partner in my recovery, I was being held accountable for my actions and each week I had to report my progress to him. It didn’t take me too long to bounce back. There were minor setbacks along the way, like a toothache when I was out of insurance as well as money! But I was able to find positivity and hold on to it.

Act Four: Emotions were under control but I still needed a job, and a steady source of income. The only job that came along, that would meet visa requirements AND where the employer was willing to take over my sponsorship, was far from Buffalo, in Michigan. Buffalo, NY is where my heart belongs; as a matter of fact, one of my early posts is dedicated to Buffalo. Being home was my final tether to any remaining sense of security and comfort. Now it was severed. I had finally lost all that I ever loved. Someone could have driven a stake through my heart and it probably would have hurt lesser than it did through the whole process of packing and moving (here’s an example).

Call it fate, intuition or perhaps, weakness, but when my property manager in Buffalo refused to let me out of my lease early, I was secretly happy and I decided not to move my things to MI just yet. All I have over there are few dishes and cooking utensils, an air mattress and a TV. Everything else is still in Buffalo, and as of last week, the cats and I have moved back in! Paying rent and utilities in two places hasn’t been easy but to me it is a small price to pay to hold on to my ‘home’ until I’m ready to let go, or come back forever, whichever happens first.

As Act Four draws to a close, I’m once again grappling with visa issues. But on the bright side, I’m back in Buffalo in the interim, and finances are beginning to improve. There has been no development on the playboy front, except a brief reappearance and yet another disappearance. I did run into him during my last visit to Buffalo and we acted like perfect strangers, like we were transparent to each other. Meditation has been a significant underlying force during this whole time and my mental state has never been more tranquil in my entire life, not just these few months. It has also awakened me to the voice of my own instinct. As I look to Act Five I am confident that after all this chaos, everything is suddenly going to snap into place and things are going to get better, just as haphazardly and abruptly as they fell apart. There’s something inside me that can smell the ocean in the air already, and is telling me that the beach cannot be too far now. Tomorrow we commence this new Act and I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out what’s next!

P

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Tomorrow Never Comes, Indeed!

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Another weekend, another Meetup, and another group of great people! We went to watch St. Patrick’s Day parade and then to an Irish hooley at a local microbrew. I didn’t spend 13 hours with the group this time, but I did form a special bond with one of the members. She and I are in a similar situation, the only difference being she is just starting the uphill climb whereas I think I am on the descent now. I shared my struggles with her and she was able to find comfort in knowing that it is possible to make it through this no matter how hopeless things may seem right now. She said, “I was meant to meet you today“, and it warmed my heart to realize that perhaps my struggles weren’t for nothing after all- they helped someone else take heart.

At the beginning of February I had said that I could feel spring in the air, I was my own Phil, the groundhog, and something reminded me of that this morning. So browsing through my Netflix list, when I saw the movie title The Groundhog Day, I just had to watch it. For those who haven’t watched the movie, here is the link to IMDB page. Bill Murray plays an egocentric, arrogant weatherman who has to go to Punxsutawney to report on the titular event. Through some inexplicable phenomenon, he is stuck reliving that day over and over. What’s worse is that he is fully aware that he is trapped in that day but no one else remembers a thing from the previous day, which was the same as today, and will be the same tomorrow. Initially, he goes about being his old grumpy self each day, running into the same people, having the same conversations. Soon he realizes that his actions couldn’t possibly have any consequences since tomorrow will never come. So he starts exploiting the situation and having some fun with it. But fun gets old pretty quick. Desperate to break out of this cycle, he tries to kill himself several times. But no matter what he does, at 6 am, he is back in his bed, waking up to the same song and chat on the radio, and once again, it is February 2!

Over time, and partially in an attempt to woo his producer, something changes in him. He starts using his ‘power’ to do good things, to help people, to keep them safe, he even tries to prevent death. He becomes a good man. No longer are his days the same. He takes the time know other people, acquire new skills and do all the good he can in that one day. Because of his newfound kindness of heart, at last he is able to win over his producer and he is released from the time trap.

As I was watching the movie, it made me think, “what makes one day different from another?“. It’s not simply the date on the calendar. Often times, I wake up in the morning and feel saddened by the realization that I’m still here, it’s going to be another day just like all the days before it since the beginning of this year, another day of hoping that something will change, that I’ll find a way back home. I am stuck in my own time trap. But aren’t we all? What’s the point of living if there is nothing to aspire to? My aspiration right now is to be able to return to Buffalo. But instead of thinking of each day as being same as the one before it, I can try to make it different. So I go out, try new things, meet new people. I think of ways to get closer to my dream and act in that direction. In whatever I do, I remember to live today to its full potential. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I don’t even know if I will get a tomorrow. Today is all I’ve got and if I waste it with negativity and inaction, then I would have failed myself. So what does make one day different from another? It is what we do with it.

The only advantage Bill Murray had over the rest of us is that life wasn’t passing him by. He was no older the next day when he woke up. But for us who are living in the real world, each day we lose is one more day we can’t get back. We can’t go back in time to fix things, or do them over. So it is but obvious that we must be extra careful with the choices we make today. When we are going through crisis, it is easy to lose sight of today. We just want it to be tomorrow, and not just any tomorrow but the tomorrow we are yearning for. I am all for a fast forward button for life, but while the geniuses of the world figure that out, we must all face our todays, no matter how grim they might seem. So why just face them, why not make them worth something? That something doesn’t have to be extraordinary, even a small something like going for a long walk, but surely a something that is positive.

Something else I watched this weekend was the movie Becoming Jane, based on the life of Jane Austen. I, like every single girl in this world, grew up reading Jane Austen and fantasizing about a life filled with romance. The thing with novels, though, is that they end at a point where everything is perfect. But life doesn’t end there. If I were a character in Jane’s novels, my story would have ended when my former boyfriend asked me to marry him- I was young, successful, happy, and so completely in love- all elements of a perfect ending. But life went on, we broke up, in came my playboy, the rest you know. The point being, even if we could skip to our desired tomorrow, there is no way to make it last forever- now don’t tell me you want the geniuses of the world to make that happen next, that’s just plain greedy 😛.

Life will always be full of challenges, and there’ll always be times when we’ll want to skip over the bad part. But the bad parts are the true test of our character. It is not easy to make it through, but make it through we must. And if it is something we must do, we might as well give it our best. Life is simpler living one day at a time, so let’s stop worrying about tomorrow, or next month, or next year. Let’s seize today and make it better than yesterday!

P

 

Making Happiness

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Sometimes, the most remarkable things can happen in life. It was a mere two days ago when I said I didn’t have much going for me. It’s not that I was writing from a place of self-pity, or that I hoped to garner sympathy. It was simply an observation about the state of my life measured against the common barometer of ‘success’. And although it might give the appearance of lack of success right now, I am quite happy with my life because I don’t doubt my choices, and perhaps more importantly, I haven’t given up hope. It wasn’t always this way, and it wasn’t easy getting here, but through perseverance, and perhaps some good fortune, I have managed to find peace.

I’ve often heard people talk about the power of manifestation. If you send positive energy into the universe, the universe will send positive energy back at you, and if you can maintain this exchange long enough your thoughts and desires will  eventually manifest themselves. Now, I am a fairly rational person so I don’t identify with something as hyperbolic as that right away. But this weekend has certainly swayed me towards the believer-end of the spectrum.

Saturday started out being an ordinary day. I recently joined a local Meetup group and I was going to attend my first lunch get together with them. I was supposed to meet the others at the restaurant at noon; I expected to spend no more than two hours there, then go for my weekly hot yoga class later in the afternoon. I arrived at the restaurant at the designated hour and made my introductions with the three other ladies who were already there. As the hostess guided us to our table, I realized that it was actually four tables joined together, set for nearly 30 people! I thought, “wow, all those seats for us?“. Slowly more people started showing up, and indeed, the table was soon full.

Lunch was less than spectacular to be honest, but I had great people on either side and across from me, and conversations were truly captivating. I have a bad habit of losing interest quickly but I must say, I didn’t find myself reaching for my phone to glance at the time, or hoping there was a message I absolutely had to respond to. In a couple of hours people began leaving, but not our end of the table. There were five of us and we were immersed in discussion that kept going from one topic to next spontaneously. I did eventually check the time, only to realize that I had already missed my yoga class.

I will spare everyone the details because as it turns out, I didn’t get home until 1.30 in the morning! Of the five of us who were left, one person bid farewell reluctantly as he had prior commitments he couldn’t get out of. The rest of us proceeded to Starbucks for coffee and eventually to the chic Mall Rd (pictured) for dinner and few drinks. I had never met these people before that day in my life, but the way I connected with them I felt like I had known them forever. There wasn’t one dull moment in the 13+ plus hours that we spent together and conversation flowed naturally. When I woke up yesterday morning, I had no friends here. I was optimistic about making new acquaintances at the Meetup but I ended up concluding the evening with a group of people who went from being total strangers to acquaintances to friends in a matter of few hours! What’s more, I think I’m going on a date with one of them tomorrow. I say I think because I’m not entirely sure if it is a date. We became such good friends that when he asked me this morning if I wanted to watch a movie tomorrow, I couldn’t tell if it was a good pal asking or a guy I just met 24 hours ago. I don’t care if it’s one or the other, I’m just glad to have my social life back.

So going back to the power of manifestation- I don’t know if this was just a coincidence or the universe does actually resonate and reflect our energy. Since the beginning of February, I had been feeling a surge of positivity, that in turn helped me find serenity. I must have been radiating all this positivity and serenity into the universe and now the universe has sent it all back to me, only twice as much. There is no way to prove it but I daresay, it’s well worth a try. We have all heard that happiness is a state of mind, and we all know that sometimes no matter how hard we try, it’s just not possible to get to that state of mind. So instead of forcing ourselves to be happy, maybe we just have to focus on being positive.

Despair is an emotion too and I have never believed in denying any emotion, good or bad. Unless we acknowledge an emotion, we cannot find a way to deal with it. So we have to acknowledge despair but at the same time, also look for the slightest sliver of optimism and focus on it instead. Thoughts are like building blocks, we can keep stacking them one on top of another. Dwell on a negative thought and soon you have an insurmountable pile of troubles. So we must first and foremost learn to keep our thoughts in check, and then only dwell on the positive thought, daydream a little! (And only a little because thought without relevant action is no good). The thought will soon give way to positivity emanating from within. And maybe, the universe will start reflecting it back, and maybe we will be able to make good things happen. We haven’t got anything to lose by trying, so why not, right?

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