006 | the gig i didn’t get.

The second time I met my now sister-in-law, my brother took us to lunch at one of those comfort-food Chinese restaurants where the portions are a’plenty and the ambience is as easygoing as pizza night at home. I tried to be an enjoyable human and not indadvertedly point bright flashing arrows towards my depression and low self-esteem. I ended up trying to make a joke about how aimless I was in terms of my career– having just moved on from a retail sales job to an executive headhunting/business development role I had no business being in because I have never ever been driven by sales and profit– to the complete dismay of my family.

Me: “Oh, I wish I was one of those people who knew what they wanted to be from a young age, then went to school and studied exactly that and now they’re a boring accountant!”

Future-SIL: “My sister’s an accountant.”

My bad. Goddamn, my bad.

But you get it. You decide on a career for its job opportunities, you complete the training, you apply to the jobs, then if you’re feelin’ fancy and adventurous, move onto another company and move up the ladder– but you’ve always got that one field to comfortably move around and adjust within.

The only job I’d ever declared from a young age was actor.

But for my parents sake I declared doctor– medical, not academia. No one wants an overeducated woman, I hear. From my mother. And the Bengali aunties who inform her of these things.

To my friends I declared myself a future med student by day, bartender by night. My head was mostly filled with tropes from ’90s blockbuster films and novels beyond my social comprehension. I’m pretty sure every twenty-something character was pulling some sort of sexy double-duty like that in a big city.

To myself, sitting in front of I Love Lucy marathons every weekday afternoon, I was reassured that my tendency to laugh too loudly and react too bigly was the best life I could ever live.

School extracurriculars to expand on this performing lust never came to fruition in elementary school. We moved constantly in the middle of school years. Singing publicly was being muddled within choirs. Acting was something shy-person me was never encouraged to try though I was desperate to feel it (until high school when my brother pushed me into it! What! Story for another time!). I remember one summer we learned American Sign Language and performed Mariah Carey’s “Hero” for an end-of-term school concert. Yes, I was registered for summer school in order to get out of my parents’ hair, but really, can’t begrudge ’em since when else would I have learned ASL?

The confident superhumans unaware of their own limitations.

While we were all signing the lyrics, one girl, Wendy, was selected to sing it. Long curly hair, supreme confidence, she jumped at the chance to sing solo and goddamn she sucked. Like, so hard. Thirty-six year old me who has now watched and applauded numerous gifted child singers is still horrified by how awful she was. I stood in the second row, my sad signing hands barely visible to our audience of parents, and seethed for not having had the courage to raise my hand when the teacher asked for someone to sing. I felt helpless in wanting to sing solo and so loudly, not along to the radio in my parents’ car, but loudly and proudly to this audience of bored adults.

But that’s who wins, that’s who always wins. The confident superhumans unaware of their own limitations. I bet when they hear the phrase “low self-esteem” their instant reaction is that iconic Mariah Carey gif. And why not, it’s such a pathetic way to face life.

It’s ok, we can say it. In fact I’ll say it first. I wish I was dumb and aloof. I wish I wasn’t aware of how I can come off. I wish my brain didn’t make me feel an everlasting wave of embarrassment the morning after a performance. Don’t worry, I have mentally fortified myself through my late-twenties and now into my thirties. I mean, after the wave of political and cultural idiocy we’ve been over-inundated with for a good few years now, we’re all done holding back. But to have spent so much thought and energy on holding myself down, it’s… it’s annoying.

I think I just want to leave it there. I’m only throwing out the facts here, as the analysis is the work I’ve done since and who I am now. Sometimes I ridicule myself/marvel over how I live my life, similar to how parents form their children’s lives– classes, projects, and practice time– but instead all entirely focused on the development of my own self. The self I’ve always wanted to be. If that makes me selfish, so be it. I can be aloof, too. Purposely, though. I can on purpose pretend not to care. And if you do it long enough you can sorta convince yourself you don’t.

005 | hers.

What’s a superbly extreme joy I’ve felt in this past year? Beyond career achievements, beyond broadening my home into an extremely comfortable white-collar prison to accommodate my every whim… It was the unexpected time and availability to connect at a deeper level with my nieces clear across the country in Vancouver. Up until March 2020, I was barely talking to her (the second was born in April 2020) once a week, if lucky. Most usually it was once a month, on a weekend morning when our times matched up, her at breakfast, me lacking an improv class or shift to run off to.

I went from barely remembering what sleeping in felt like, to lazy mornings 7-days a week, entirely focused on 3-hour Facetime hangouts and exercise sessions with a preschooler. We chatted, sang, danced and made faces at each other, eventually dissolving into simply sitting in silence in each others company while she coloured and I attempted to add on a second-a-day to my daily planking. We were suddenly gifted with the unexpected benefits of my schedule being blasted to smithereens, and her having developed enough tongue and lip control for us to converse without her parents as my kiddie translator.

A daydream I’ve held since she was born, since I realized I could be the sole non-parent in her realm purely focused on making her laugh and feel exuberant joy– I want her to never feel alone. To always know that I’m available to her at every turn. To never think that the self-depreciating thoughts that lurk in our minds, because we’re only human, in no way deserve permanent occupancy in her big beautiful brain of possibilities. (I know her parents are very much in favour of these ideas as well, but they’re also concerned with paying for her soccer equipment and ensuring she gets her reading homework done. Meanwhile, me, the languishing auntie, I’ve got all the time in the world for her beyond those boring things.)

I think about the weird shit I’ve encountered growing up, how certain peers treated me, how certain adults put me down in order to drive home a point, be it my weight or my shyness. None of it should’ve built up to a point of holding me back at stages, but yea, it happens. It happened to you. And that whole bullshit about “It made you strong and learn how to work hard to be a success,” yea all of that can go eat its own butt.

Think of how much farther ahead you’d be right now in your own vision of “success” without those setbacks. I think that’s what I’ve been exploring in my last few posts, about learning from a young age to be scared to ask for help, to be fearful of not being perfect because that’s all everyone in my community seemed to ask of me. Be nice, be sweet and be exactly what we’re telling you to be. Be their version of perfect.

I want her never to think that the self-depreciating thoughts that lurk in our minds deserve permanent occupancy in her big beautiful brain of possibilities.

For my final project in 4th-year Abnormal Psychology I focused on the topic of Exceptionalism, the opposite, but equally extreme, end of the spectrum when people think of “abnormal.” Basically, the other end of the bell curve when you look at “normal” right down the middle. Those incredible viral articles about the poor disadvantaged kid born to a single mother who almost aborted him, growing up to be the 7th-richest person in America. That stuff. The go-to view of the general public on such outliers seems to be that their tough beginnings instilled a sense of wanting more despite all odds– and Hard. Work. Pull yourself up from your bootstraps. Ooh yea. And yea, total bullshit. Yes, they did work hard, I’m in no way taking that away from them. But these are the outliers. You still have generations of kids growing up in supremely difficult and disadvantageous circumstances who do not make it out thriving, or even alive.

The absolute only single variable that was common amongst all of these kids who made it beyond the odds, despite their situations, and absolutely thrived, be it 7th-richest human or middle-class suburban glory– was the presence of an adult, any adult– teacher, neighbour, relative, Big Brother/Sister– in their life who truly believed in them. Who mentored them. Who showed them possibilities. Who supported them through their setbacks. Who cared enough to desire more for them beyond food, water and shelter. Beyond basic survival.

I’ll never regret not having started my acting career sooner, not having done an acting degree instead of Psychology, because I got the privilege to study human behaviour– the single-most influential factor in our lives– and reconfigure my worldview. (Sure, I left undergrad massively depressive and suicidal, but at least I knew what was happening, and that’s a story for another time.)

That tiny little squirt who spanned the length of my forearm when I first met her. That tiny little weirdo, home sick with a sniffle and colouring in a unicorn– her mom working in the home office, her dad preoccupied by a phonecall– pulled up Facetime on her own yesterday on the family iPad, and for the first time ever, called me.

The overwhelming magnitude of gratitude I feel towards this pandemic for shutting down the world so I could build myself into the image in my daydream, into that first person this cool little human turns to when she’s left to her own devices and on the hunt for a good time. As much as I hate covid for totally and completely throwing my career off-track, for leaving me physically and emotionally isolated at the height of grief I never could have imagined– there’s finally a sense of relief in having located a source of forgiveness and acceptance for what the world is now, and where I get to progress from now.