don’t take anything personally

I met a young girl a few days ago who recently started home schooling, because of a fellow peer’s constant bullying. Her spirit was down and a frown was painted on her face for nearly the entire time I was around her. Her mother shared her story with me and I was instantly sympathetic. My brother too was bullied for a long time and I hate that I wasn’t around to protect him. I was bullied a bit too by other kids, but most of the bullying I received has been by adults.

While the mother relayed her story, she made her contempt for the other child no secret. “She needs a good ass beating, is what she needs. Better discipline or something.” I replied with a brief summary of my brother’s and my’s experiences, noting that I’ve found that when someone hurts another, it’s sometimes because they too, have been hurt. “Well, her step-dad treats her like crap.” I saw a moment’s sympathy, but it quickly vanished as she fell back into the victim’s role.

To me it sounds like the bullying was a cry for attention. The person she chose to pick on didn’t matter, so long as she found someone who she saw as an easy target. It makes me sad that she has a step-father who doesn’t treat her very well. Maybe she just needs someone with compassion to talk to and help her work through whatever issues she has that compels her to hurt a peer for (what appears on the outside) seemingly no reason. And it also makes me sad that the mom isn’t taking the time to put herself in the child’s shoes and help her daughter understand why she really has nothing to do with the hateful behavior.

Thankfully, she now is studying from home and is getting away from the other girl before anything really serious can happen. Unfortunately, there are cases where bullying has gotten so extreme, people lose their lives. People are bullied because of their sexual orientation, disabilities, race, for simply being “different”. And it’s disheartening that a bully’s ignorance and insecurity hurts another fellow human. It’s important that the one being bullied and picked on understands that it truly is never really about them. Usually the one hurting them either does it for the power it gives them, because they think it makes them look “cool”, because they’re jealous, because they’re emotionally immature, ect, ect, ect.

So can we all just be kind to one another? Stop taking out our hurts and frustrations on other people and deal with our troubles in a healthier way? Accept everyone you come in contact with and see them as a mirror of yourself. It seems simple enough. So why is it so hard for some?

“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.” – Emma Goldman

I was raised with the idea that in order to be happy, one must put high importance on money. That way, everything that you need (food, water, clothing– the necessities) are taken care of. That, I understand. It’s important to take care of yourself and get all of your basic needs met. But what I’ve never vibed with is the idea that having a lot of money is something to be admired; that having an expensive house and luxury car and designer purses is impressive. I’m not impressed by material things. Some of the most miserable people are ones who, on the outside, seem to have it all, but inside, there’s serious lack. There’s nothing wrong with having nice things, but when one defines oneself based on one’s possessions, one’s priorities need some serious revamping.

If you’ve read previous posts of mine, you already know that I moved a lot between family growing up. Life with my father was much different than life with my relatives, as you can imagine. As a single-parent (even when he was married to my ex-step-mom, his was the only income), financially, he struggled a bit. We were classified as “lower class” for quite some time. That meant free lunches at school and any clothing we donned, coming second hand. I remember chasing my brother around the laundry mat on weekends while Dad waited for our clothes to wash, because we couldn’t afford a washer/dryer of our own. And it wasn’t rare that one could find me milling about a thrift store while Dad looked for furniture or clothing. I even remember looking at old toys while Dad browsed for a used mattress since my old one had worn through. Despite all this, my dad has always been a great provider and we never wanted for anything. He instilled in me the notion that while having nice things is nice, it’s not what makes you a good person.

When I lived with other family though, life was completely different. No one really spoke to me much and just left me to my own devices (which was actually the same at my dad’s), but I observed and soaked in quite a bit. Being around other family, I learned to be competitive and superficial. I noticed that having lovely things was what made one shine in their eyes, so I strived to look my best, always. I’d get the best grades I could and make certain that every prize I ever received was displayed not as a sign of personal achievement, but as a sign that I was better than their children, smarter than their children. I was already looked down upon for my broken family and used clothing, so I had to prove myself in other ways and what else did I have but my brain? When I was finally old enough to get a job, I made damn certain to wear only name brands and designer purses. I couldn’t dare be seen with any thrift store items or Wal*Mart clothes anymore.

Having grown up, I see how petty that was. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I see now that I was trying to buy their love (pun intended) and approval the only way I knew how. Having nice things made one happy and enviable, at least, according to them. They didn’t even glance in my direction when I’d help their child with homework, or volunteer at a shelter. I’d make homemade cards for them saying how much I loved them and appreciated them only to find them in the trash later. So if wearing a Coach purse got their “love” and was suppose to make me happy, then I HAD to have a Coach purse.

Money isn’t bad. Money is just money. But putting so much power in it is dangerous. And really, it gives me a damn headache. Growing up, I was constantly reminded to always put money first. That whatever I do or dream, I have to put money before it. But it’s my belief that if you’re true to your heart and are doing good by helping others, then you’ll always be provided for, no matter your income. My rational brain says: “NO, that’s foolhardy! That’s not how life works!” But I am choosing to have faith.

I always hear statements such as: “as soon as I get another job, I’ll be happy.” Or “When I finally find love, I’ll be content.” Or “If I only had a nicer car, my life would be so much better.” But it really hit me the other day, that you don’t need to acquire certain things or achieve a certain status, in order to be happy. Happiness (real happiness) shouldn’t rely on any outside source. One can be happy for seemingly no reason, because (as “new age” as this might sound) happiness comes from within.

One of the happiest people I know is a dear friend who sometimes has to literally choose whether she’d like to eat or have money for gas. She’s an artist who lives by her own rules and pursues her dreams with what appears to be wild abandon. She doesn’t plan, she just does. And although she has very little money to her name, she’s rich in her heart. And her heart is beautiful. That, I admire.

pick up crazy heart and give it one more try.


A friend and I were talking the other day about how when she was younger, she always felt weird. Like she didn’t belong. Like no one seemed to “get” her. I totally vibe from where she’s coming from. I’ve always felt lost, as if I was somehow put into the wrong world.

I’m addicted to a site called The Daily Love. Mastin, the founder, puts together a daily email (hence, the name) that’s sent out consisting of inspiring quotes and thoughtful blogs. It’s like a multi-vitamin for the soul, and I’m convinced it’s written with me in mind. My favorite part of the emails right now is a new addition reserved for anonymous writings of the readers themselves. I’ve noticed that many readers too feel as if the emails are written with them in mind.

Little things like that show me how connected we all are. Sometimes there are days where I cry so hard I can barely breathe. I usually feel very alone during those times, blind to the notion that anyone else could be feeling what I’m feeling. But there are others out there feeling the same way I am, thinking the same thoughts I’m thinking. And yet we all feel as if we’re on different planets.

Lately I’ve been struggling with pursuing my dreams. When one has been put down all their life, discouraged from pursuing their dreams, because they’re “unrealistic” and “too difficult to attain”, it’s difficult to pretend not to hear what’s considered realistic. It’s difficult not to let it stop you. But now, at twenty-four years old, I’m tired of standing still. As a child I was bullied and beat down, both mentally and physically, but I’m not a child anymore. The past year has taught me to let go of the past and allow myself to heal. So why am I still just standing still?

I delved into a new book a couple of weeks ago called The Artist’s Way, by: Julia Cameron. Again, I swear it was written for me. The things that kept me sane amongst the chaos of my childhood were writing and music. Back home in Wichita, there are dozens of shoe boxes filled with lyrics and prose. Creating has always been natural for me, a safe haven. But for some reason, I’ve run away from this. Art was also a big part of my life, whether it was painting, drawing, origami, sculpting; you name it, I did it. I grew up with visions of one day sharing my art with the world. But a life as a successful artist (or at least, what society defines as “successful”), is very difficult to achieve. It’s unstable, competitive, hard work, vulnerable. And scary. So damn scary.

Taking in Julia Cameron’s words though have helped to show me that I’m not alone. That there are many other struggling artists struggling to be…well, artists. It’d be so easy to blend into the “real” world, get a “normal” job, have a “normal” life. But honestly, I’ve lived that “normal” life for two years now, and it’s boring as hell. The other day I was considering going to grad school, devoting time to study a profession that would be easier to break into. But I realized that if I did that, I’d be giving up on my dreams. And the initial excitement I felt at returning to school and the false sense of security it’d give me, fell away.

I’ve built a home for myself that’s both stable and secure, but I’m not happy. This is the first time I’ve ever had security and felt “safe”, and it’s also the first time I’ve truly abandoned myself. On the outside looking in, my life is phenomenal. I’m thankful everyday for a comfortable place to live, healthy food to eat, beautiful clothes to wear, all ten fingers and toes, the (mostly) sane head on my shoulders. But it’s very humdrum, and humdrum isn’t getting me anywhere.

Stifling my dreams has kept me from possible outer rejection and heartache, but the rejection of my true self is more disheartening than rejection from another. Thankfully, I’ve realized this early. But sadly, there are thousands who haven’t. Either that, or they allow their fears to reign supreme. It’s what I have been doing for years.

Reading The Daily Love and The Artist’s Way have shown me that I’m not alone after all. I’m not the only one who feels like they don’t belong. Like they’re misunderstood. And though I still feel like a misfit somedays, at least I’m one of many.

I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)

My grandma died yesterday. The last time I saw her was Christmas, 2009.

Growing up, I was unusually close to her. Because my mom left us when I was four or five, I’m only familiar with my dad’s side of the family (though with over 20 cousins, I don’t feel like I missed out) . When my mom was out of the picture, I was sent to live with my grandparents. I loved it, because Grandma would let me get away with murder!

Perhaps it was because she felt bad for me since my mom ran away. But whatever the case, she became my maternal mother. Sometimes I’d hang out with Grandpa in the backyard playing with my My Little Pony collection, while he tended his herbs. Other times I’d cause trouble with the neighborhood kids (we lived in a huge duplex). I remember one particular time when I hid out in my grandma’s closet, because I had gotten a New Kids on the Block film stuck in the VCR (back when DVD and Blu-Ray had yet to see the light of day). I was obsessed with them and would watch a particular concert video so many times that the tape couldn’t handle it anymore and rebelled by trapping itself within the confides of my grandma’s VCR. I can’t recall whether it was my dad or uncle who had to fix the VCR, but I do remember my grandma telling me to hide in the closet so they couldn’t  punish me. Her closet was often my safe place.

After my dad was remarried, I moved back in with him. I’m not sure of the reasoning, but when my grandparents and my aunt Thi moved to Missouri a few years later, I was moved with them (from then on, I moved every year, sometimes twice a year, between them and my dad). In Missouri, we lived in a three-bedroom mobile home. I loved it! My grandma was a bit more strict there, which wasn’t so fun, but it was only to protect me.

It was in that home that I discovered my love for music. I would watch music videos and emulate the choreography or sing karaoke for hours. Often times, my grandma would sit in the living room and watch on as my cousin Kenny and I pretended like we were rockstars. Those were some of the best times! When I had wanted to take dance and voice lessons, my aunt would give me an unequivocal ‘No’, but Grandma always encouraged me to explore my talents. (Oddly, I had forgotten about her support until yesterday. The no’s and discouragement I received from others growing up, overshadowed the one supporter I had, which is a shame. It’s difficult for me to pursue the things I dream of, because I’ve rarely been shown support. A lot of times family would laugh at me when I told them what I wanted to be when I grew up and being so sensitive, coupled with being a people-pleaser, I let it keep me down. Now I wish I had kept those memories of my grandma encouraging me, in the forefront.)

If it hadn’t been for my grandmother, I might not be so fluent in Vietnamese. And I definitely wouldn’t be familiar with Vietnamese cuisine (even eggs and hotdogs had “asian” spins on them). Until my grandfather passed in 2006, she had always treated me differently than the other grandchildren. I got away with things my cousins would have definitely been lectured for, and in turn, got in trouble for things they probably would have gotten away with. Unfortunately, I’ve had very little contact with her the past few years.

When my grandfather passed, it’s like my grandmother’s personality took a complete 180. It was probably a combination of grief, loneliness and plain ol’ “old person” syndrome, but she hasn’t been the grandmother I remember in a very long time. The past few years, her home has changed more than mine had growing up. She’d live with one aunt/uncle, quickly be displeased by something, move in with another aunt/uncle, be displeased again, move in with someone else, and so on and so forth. Stories were contrived and feelings hurt. One aunt would be upset with another aunt because of something my grandma invented, and an uncle would hate another uncle because of whatever it was Grandma told them about the other one. It all just became one massive headache.

Drama makes me feel icky, so I try to avoid it as much as I can. I’ll admit though, I was very angry with my grandma for a long time because of things I’d been told she said behind my back. Maybe she had run out people to make up tales about, but whatever the case, she’d set her sights on me a few years ago. Stories were strung together telling of things I’d supposedly done and habits I supposedly possessed. The family has always been addicted to gossip, so I’m not new to being a victim of rumors and flat out lies, but for my GRANDMA to be the one to start something…that was a huge blow.

She’d also had no problem (supposedly) trashing a scrapbook I had created of the grandchildren for her. When I was around her, she’d act as if my existent in her life didn’t matter one way or the other. It’s like I had been demoted. So that, coupled with the rumors she started, completely caused me to distance myself from her. I just didn’t care anymore. She obviously didn’t love me, so why should I show love to her?

Reflecting now on the past few years, I see a lot of hurt, pettiness, ego and loneliness. There’s so much secrecy in my family, you rarely hear the full story, so it’s difficult to figure out what’s true and what isn’t. From the time I came out screaming from my mother’s womb, the foundation of my life has been cracked and unstable. I had had to grow up very fast and be my own parent for a very long time. My grandma took on the role of ‘mom’ for a while, but there was always a thin wall between us. We were close, but complete strangers at the same time. There’s a lot she didn’t know, but probably should have. And there are things I would have liked to know, but now never will.

I see now that she wasn’t a very happy person. Her shift in personality most likely had to do with my grandfather’s passing, as well as exhaustion. I don’t think she had ever found true contentment, and for that, I am sad. Her words and actions hurt me, but usually, when people intentionally hurt others, it’s because they themselves are hurting. I forgave her a while ago, but I regret not telling that to her. For years, I thought that she didn’t love me, but perhaps she thought the same about me. I don’t know. But I do know that I miss the times in that living room when she would clap on as my cousin and me did synchronized dance moves to New Kids on the Block. Her smile then was genuine, and that’s the way I’d like to remember her best.

down the rabbit hole

“You’re the sanest person I know.”

That was what my guitar instructor said to me a couple of years ago after one of our random philosophical discussions. To this day, I’m still unsure of what he really meant.

I like to think I’m pretty self-aware. That being said, I don’t understand myself some days. If my photo were in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it would be next to paradox. I’m self-aware, yet I perplex myself constantly. Making friends is a breeze, yet I’m a loner. I was exposed to things that probably weren’t very appropriate at a very young age, yet I’m still a bit sheltered. Most people are surprised to see the person I’ve become today considering the crazy shit I’ve been through. So there are many words I could use to describe myself, but sane certainly isn’t one of them.

My initial intention for this blog was to create an apparatus where I could share my thoughts on current events, film and music reviews, books, or important things such as Lindsay Lohan’s latest scandal (has she been incarcerated yet?). But to be honest, I rarely watch the news and have no desire to stay up and up with what’s going on in Hollywood. Gossip bores me and I find little use in reviews/critiques, because I don’t need someone else’s opinion infiltrating my own.

Then I thought that perhaps I could have the blog be all about me (because I’m a narcissistic ass like that). But does anyone really want to read about the creepy man I met at the gym or how I almost ran over a turtle the other day? BORING. So a friend suggested I write about the things I’ve been through and how I’ve managed to survive through it all. I wasn’t too keen with that idea either, but another friend pointed out that my words might actually help someone. And I’m all for helping people.

I’m not sure how to put my life into words. I’ve been too afraid for so long to let anyone get close enough to really know me fully, much less weave words of personal struggles and triumphs and vulnerability for public dissection. My intention isn’t to seek vindication or hurt anyone, but rather to show pieces of myself that I’ve held hidden, in the hope that I can inspire someone who can relate to anything in this nonsensical world of mine. Maybe along the way what my guitar teacher meant will kick in…

giving power to another’s opinion

“Don’t eat too much!” One of my co-workers admonished to another.

Hearing that had immediately stirred feelings from the past. When I was a kid, I was always the smallest one in the class. I could out eat anyone. (Adam Richman had NOTHING on me!) When I hit twelve though, I started gaining some weight. I was a growing girl, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. But my family was keen to constantly point out the extra pounds. (When I say family, I’m referring to my step-mom at the time, aunts, uncles and a few older cousins.)

I’d receive backwards compliments: “You’re pretty, but you’d be prettier if you were skinny.” Straight out criticism: “You’re much bigger than anyone else your age.” And someone’s idea of words of encouragement: “Let her starve herself, she looks better that way.” (That one was from my now ex-step-mother to my father when he found out I wasn’t eating…yeah.)

I was thirteen when I began monitoring my eating habits. My family’s constant criticism killed my self-esteem and I hated my body. When I look back at photos from those days, I’m baffled by the beliefs they convinced me of. Back then I had taken to wearing shirts that were much too large for me, but it’s obvious that I wasn’t overweight by any means. But when you’re going through puberty and your hormones and body are doing crazy things, you’re more sensitive to other people’s opinions.

I’d started out by simply eating healthy and at that time of my life, my idea of eating healthy was all veggies and fruits and nothing else. The scale had become my best friend and when I learned that the less I ate, the less I weighed, food intake decreased. It got to the point where I eliminated all foods but water. I was constantly drinking, probably more than I needed. I’m surprised I didn’t drown myself!

I was living with an aunt at that time, and to my disappointment, she didn’t let that last long. I remember her taking me swimsuit shopping one day. I dreaded it, but because swimming was a requirement in P.E., I had no choice. I had begged her to write a note to the teacher so that I could get out of it, but no dice. I think the suit we ended up buying was a size 10 in little girls. I don’t remember why we bought that one, but it was too large, so my aunt had to take it in for me. At one point she had said to me, “April, you’re too skinny.” Of course, that went right over my head. Criticism I held close to my heart, but words to the contrary? I assumed they were lies.

I can’t recall the exact time, but at some point, I had transitioned from starving myself to bingeing. I think I had grown tired of my aunt and dad constantly reminding me to eat. Life was unstable (that’s a whole other story) and I had grown depressed and food made me feel better. It was comforting to me. I quickly shot up from a healthy weight to overweight.

It’s funny, because when I was at a healthy weight at thirteen, my family constantly called me fat, but when I was fat, they were quiet. Sure, they’d still admonish me from time to time, but it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as before. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they finally realized the effect their words had on me.

In fall 2008, I lost 25 pounds (being 4’11, that’s quite a bit). And I did it the healthy way! I’d become so disgusted with myself and realized that starving and bingeing were not healthy habits and were hurting my body. There are still times when I find myself hating what I see in the mirror, seeing that girl who was overweight vs. how I really look now, but I’m learning.

I’m extremely sensitive when it comes to talking about people’s weight and body. I mean, who the hell am I to tell someone they need to gain or lose weight? And why should their weight have any bearing on…well, anything? Why is it okay to criticize/critique anyone on anything really? And why do we let another’s words have power over us? The people pleaser in me makes it difficult not to care what people think, but I’m finding it easier not to as time goes on. I’ve found that a majority of the time, when someone says something negative about another, it’s because they have inadequacies about themselves. And many times, when I’ve tried to “fix” or change whatever it is someone else has criticized about me, they don’t give a damn either way. So why bother giving a damn either? The same goes for positive opinions. I thank people for compliments, and then move right along.

I use to be my own worst critic, constantly striving for perfection, but never attaining it. I use to hate myself to the point where I didn’t believe I deserved love from anyone, even God. It was so destructive. It’s been a battle, but I’ve learned to love myself unconditionally. It takes way too much energy to dislike oneself! That makes it easier to not let another’s words bother me.

So in the words of Sara Bareilles, “Who cares if you disagree? You are not me. Who made you king of anything?”

From a “Commoner” to a Royal Princess

Copyright St. James's Palace 2011 by photographer Hugo Burnand

Browsing the magazine section of Border’s, Kate Middleton’s face is smiling at you in every kiosk. Kate and Prince William’s lives have become such a media frenzy that they’ve become like celebrities here in America. When their engagement first broke news, hearing their names quickly became tiring. It was easy to be indifferent, but now that I’ve caught glimpses of the matrimony, the idea of being Kate seems like a fairytale.

The whole idea of marrying a prince whilst donning a fancy gown and running away to live in a castle together sounds very romantic– something only seen in Disney movies. But for Kate, this is reality. Private chefs, tiaras, horse drawn carriages, it’s all very real for Kate Middleton. Like a dream. But is the grass really greener on the other side? (Or the pond, in this case?)

Inheriting a royal title seems like the easy part of Kate’s joining with Prince William, but the pressures and duties that go along with being a Princess don’t sound so appealing. There are many luxuries that Kate is acquiring, but in choosing to marry a prince, she’s had to sacrifice quite a bit. She’ll be expected to live up to a certain image. To not only be a good role model and remain an advocate for charity, but also portray an image of a would-be queen. That’s a lot of pressure.

Upon watching the famous Diana, Princess of Wales interview with Martin Bashir that took place in 1995, a particular statement struck out: “The pressure on us both as a couple [Prince Charles and Diana] with the media was phenomenal and misunderstood by a great many people.” Granted Kate’s life leading up to the moment before she took her vows was quite different from Diana’s, but the pressures are the same. There is always going to be that group of people who are scrutinizing her, waiting for her to fall. Every decision that she makes from here on out will be dissected to the bone and she has to stay very aware and cautious of how she portrays herself.

Quite honestly, I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes. All of the pressures and the image she has to portray would be too much for me. Before going into the marriage, I’m sure she knew exactly what to expect and for that, she must really love her husband.