Paralyzed By Being The Best

I don’t know if it’s just me, but all throughout my childhood, my parents drilled into me that I was supposed to be “The Best.” Whatever that meant – I was supposed to be it.

Examples of things at which I was supposed to be the best:

– Being Chinese (of course, by default, being Chinese is already the best!)
– Playing piano (includes having the best piano teacher)
– Singing (and voice teacher, naturally)
– Academics
– Chinese school
– Christian (the best church)

Anything that was anything could be turned into the quest for the best. Of course, friendly rivalry with cross town high schools and sister churches were de rigeur and all in good fun, but it really highlighted the general attitude and feeling I got in everything I did.

Unfortunately, this obsession with being the best did not do me any favors. If I wasn’t able to quickly capitalize on innate talent, I gave up. What was the point in attempting anything that I wasn’t going to be immediately amazing at? This penchant for only doing things that I was naturally good at severely limited my activities (despite my being good at lots of things). Of course, hard work and a little sweat equity never crossed my mind as valid options.

Being the best also transferred into needing to own or acquire the best things. As a result, any time I have to buy books on a topic, or learn something, or buy a car, or a computer, or a TV, or anything, I can’t do anything unless I have the best. Which of course, requires a lot of research. (Something I despise doing.) Then, I procrastinate. Or, if I actually do do the research, I am fraught with anxiety about choosing and making sure that my choice is actually the best.

I do this a lot with my kids’ activities. Currently, I’m looking into martial arts classes for Cookie Monster. I’m obsessed with finding the “best” martial arts type. Is it MMA? Krav Maga? Shaolin Wushu? I mean, if we’re going to go Kung Fu, we should go with Shaolin, right? They’re the most badass! But if we’re not going to stay in the Chinese/Asian family, then we should go with Krav Maga, right? Because Mossad kicks ass. But they don’t let little kids learn it. So, I guess that rules itself out.

Just replace “martial arts” with art, piano, voice, whatever thing I may suddenly decide the kids should do or need to learn – and the same craziness applies.

This is why usually, I put off buying things or starting classes.

I am paralyzed by the thought of not being the best – and yet, what does it matter? I mean, who cares if it’s not the “best” martial art? And what does being the best mean, anyway? Best for the child? For defense? For offense? For coolness factor? It’s an arbitrary designation that is ultimately meaningless. For truthfully, it’s just good for the kids to have an activity that is both good physical exercise as well as a good skill to have. Why does it matter if it is the best?

Or who cares if it’s the best piano technique? I would say that most piano teachers have technique down, and then the rest would be up to style and talent and likability. There is time to change teachers. My kids aren’t going to be professional piano players or singers, so who cares? (Well, I suppose you never know. But thus far, unlikely.)

I care, apparently. I care a lot!

I care so much that I obsess for hours, days, weeks, even months before I either pull the trigger in a fit of exasperation or shelve the topic entirely and do nothing. I rarely tell myself to chill out and relax and remember that it’s all fun and games anyway so why am I driving myself crazy?

One day, I will come around to the “Good Enough” variety of thinking. (Gracious, just the thought of having things “good enough” makes me want to break out in hives.) “Good enough” is what mediocre people choose! Which, maybe true. But there I go again, thinking that what we do and what we know equates to our value as people. And that is all a big, steaming pile of poop.

Look. Sometimes, just to get things done, we have to settle for “Good Enough.” My cleaning products don’t have to be the most organic and the most non-toxic. They can just be organic and non-toxic. My posts don’t have to be perfectly nuanced and paced and parsed. They can just blather on and on and have some meandering point if even that. (And apparently, lots of run-on sentences.) My children don’t have to be in the best dance/art/voice/piano classes. They can just learn things and have fun and if they show any aptitude, then we can go searching for the “best” teachers. But until then, it will be fine.

This goes against my very grain because all I can think about is, “All that wasted time/effort/money on something that wasn’t the best! Practice makes permanent! All that time will be wasted on doing something that could be forming bad habits and will take even more time/effort/money to fix and do right! GAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Sorry. My kids have been utter terrors at night lately because Hapa Papa is out of town and ever since we changed Glow Worm into a toddler bed because the little stinker has shown a remarkable ability to climb out of his crib, he has been impossible to put down at night (and at nap time – oh, who am I kidding? What nap time?) and this, of course, affects Cookie Monster and Gamera’s bed times and OMG I’m exhausted and frazzled and by the time they go to bed it’s close to 11pm and I’m an utter failure as a mother and I want to stick a fork in an electrical socket.

Wow. I would delete that last paragraph but then I would have to come up with new transitional material and you all know how much I hate writing endings to posts.

At any rate, be kind to yourself this fine Wednesday. May it be a “Good Enough” type of day (and may that be good enough!).

 

 

Who Made Me Gatekeeper?

It has occurred to me that based on my previous posts, it can seem that I have some sort of chip on my shoulder when it comes to Mandarin Immersion. (Perhaps “chip” seems inadequate. “Boulder,” maybe?) And perhaps, at times, I do. But like I mentioned in my previous post, just because my delivery isn’t to your liking doesn’t mean what I’m saying is not also accurate.

At any rate, I’d like to clear some things up and answer some (self-selected) questions folks may have. To change things up a bit, I’ve decided to do the post Q&A style today. If only because that requires less transitional writing. (Hey, what can I say? I want to be informative, but also, I’m really lazy.)

So, without further ado, a highly curated and self-induced Q&A.

Q: Why are you so mad all the time anyway? Just what is your problem with Mandarin Immersion and people who are not Chinese/Asian (non-heritage speakers) who want to do Mandarin Immersion?

Since I’ve already written several posts on this topic, I’ll refer you to those:

1) How An Article Confirmed My Worst Fears About Mandarin Immersion

tl;dr: Even on the topic of Mandarin Immersion wherein the majority of students are of Asian or Chinese descent, the focus is on the white experience. STOP OBLITERATING ASIANS FROM THEIR OWN STORY!

2) Hating On Mark Zuckerberg’s Chinese

tl;dr: Why is a rich white guy learning and having mediocre Chinese so impressive when millions of immigrants are FLUENT in English (albeit with an accent) but insulted and maligned and told, “You’re in America, speak American!” (And usually with laughably bad English.)

3) Will All This Mandarin Immersion Be For Naught?

tl;dr: My internal conflict re: the Mandarin Immersion bandwagon. On the one hand, I’m pleased at the increase in resources and classes. On the other, I’m still really annoyed by my language being relegated to a trend.

Q: Why can’t you be happier for more Mandarin Immersion opportunities?

As I have repeatedly mentioned, I am happy there are more opportunities for Mandarin Immersion. Anytime more people can be introduced to another language (in this case, Chinese) is a good thing. The more folks there are who express interest, the more resources and opportunities there are for me to take advantage of for my children. So, in purely Machiavellian terms, it is in my own self-interest to promote Mandarin Immersion.

However, it is possible to be both happy about more Mandarin Immersion opportunities and point out shit that makes me angry about the current situation.

Truly, even though there are parts of me that scoff at all the unrealistic expectations folks have for Mandarin Immersion, what’s it to me? Who cares if people are doing it for the “wrong” reason? Or don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell for their kids to actually become and retain fluency? How does it harm me? And how is it any of my business?

The only time it does matter to me is when there is actual harm to me and my kids. (And by harm, I consider racism, entitlement, etc. all forms of harm.)

Again, my main concerns relate to the following:

1) When non-heritage parents and students think that just because they know some (or are learning) Chinese that they are now somehow Chinese and can understand and speak for the Chinese/Asian American experience.

2) When non-heritage parents and students dismiss the legitimate concerns and experiences of Chinese/Asian American parents and students.

3) When heritage parents and students dismiss the legitimate concerns and experiences of non-heritage parents and students.

4) When the white experience and viewpoint is of primary importance and spotlighted to the exclusion or tokenism of other experiences. (Ie: business as usual.)

5) The entitlement and utter cluelessness non-heritage (okokok, I mean white) parents exhibit when they complain about their kids being excluded or not popular or otherwise experiencing what every single minority person in America experiences to some degree on a daily basis. Then they cry “reverse racism!”

Q: Why are you so divisive? 

As for division, I am not advocating for exclusivity or some sort of litmus test. But rather, truthfulness in a community. There is no peace when the offenses and hurts of part of the community are papered over and over again for the sake of “unity.”

That isn’t real unity, opportunity, or peace. That is a lie.

ETA: Just had a thought. Why is it when I, as a Chinese American person, don’t like the idea of white people jumping on the Mandarin Immersion bandwagon, I am considered an elitist? But when white people do it about their golf courses, or financial institutions, or neighborhoods, they’re just “keeping tradition”?

Q: It seems like you’re wanting a litmus test or some type of delineation to see who should be allowed to participate in Mandarin Immersion. As if there were a “right” way to do it.

As appealing as a litmus test initially sounds, ultimately, I find it a dangerous slippery slope.

After all, who is to say who should “qualify” and be a “good” Mandarin Immersion candidate? Should it only be native speakers and their children because the parents want to pass on their cultural heritage and legacy? Should it also include heritage parents who CANNOT speak the language because they feel regret at their lack of fluency and because they also want to pass on their cultural heritage? Should it include only white and non-heritage allies? Should it include only white and non-heritage families who show the appropriate amount of dedication and commitment to learning a whole different language and culture? For that matter, should it include only native families who show the appropriate amount of dedication and commitment?

And even if we could “decide” who the “right” people are to allow in the Mandarin Immersion classes, who should do the deciding? And why them? And the danger of having such a calcified code of rules and qualifications is that all of them are so subjective. A person runs the risk of failing their own litmus test!

You know what that’s called? DOGMA.

I am uninterested in dogma.

I think the only litmus test is that the participants be human and someone in their family signed them up and enrolled them in Mandarin Immersion. Everything else is gravy.

Q: Who made you The Mandarin Immersion Gatekeeper?

No one. Aren’t you paying attention?

I am not The Mandarin Immersion Gatekeeper. Nor do I wish to be. After all, who wants to be the one who’s telling others that the “Seat’s Taken?”

I’ll freely admit. I used to wish there was a gatekeeper of sorts. You know, to keep the rabble out. But over time, I realized that that type of thinking was incredibly arrogant and divisive and ultimately, not helpful to the conversation. Plus, if I loved Mandarin Immersion, then really, I want as many people to take part in it as possible.

Personally, I think all schools should have some type of language immersion – be it Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian – whatever. Having more languages and cultures can only be a good thing. Keys to better understanding our allies and enemies and what have you.

Some instrumental posts that have changed my mind from being super “conservative” as it were about Mandarin Immersion, have actually come from the geek/SFF world. Many long time gamers or purveyors of Geek Culture (yes, capitalized) got all upset by the mass marketization of the things they love. And SF author, John Scalzi, wrote several posts that helped me a lot.

Now, I realize that the analogy is imperfect because I wouldn’t say geeks are or ever were an oppressed minority with major justice issues needing address. But the parallels are there. (Although there IS a need to address injustice and minority representation WITHIN the forms of comics/games/books. But that is an altogether different post.)

Anyhow, the main articles that really resonated with me are:

Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be – John Scalzi

A Creator’s Note to “Gatekeepers” – John Scalzi

When Someone Says They Love A Thing That You Love, Don’t Challenge Them; Embrace Them, And Love That Thing Together – Wil Wheaton

Q: You talk a lot about what you don’t want from fellow participants in Mandarin Immersion. What are things you would want? Or think that people “should” do?

Sigh. Again with the “shoulds.” I know. It’s human nature to want to draw a line in the sand and separate the sheep from the goats.

I don’t want people to live in fear of a bunch of “shoulds.” I don’t want non-heritage families to be kow-towing to heritage families. (But wouldn’t that be a nice reversal? NONONONONONO. Let’s not even go down that path.)

Rather, I consider some of these on my Wish List. A bunch of, “Wouldn’t it be nice if people acted in this manner?”

Here then are some of my “It Would Be Nices”:

– For non-heritage parents to listen, truly listen (without being the Tone Police), to the experiences, pain, and opinions of Chinese and Asian American parents. Language does not exist in a vacuum.

– For non-heritage parents to think before they speak. Especially thoughtless comments like, “What is ‘Asian,’ anyway?” or “Will they make any friends that speak English?”

– For both sets of parents to remember that not all Chinese Americans can already speak or read Chinese.

– For heritage and native speakers to not seem/be so smug.

– For non-heritage speakers to remember that it’s not all about them.

– While we’re at it, it would be nice for heritage speakers to remember that, too.

– For each group to remember that there are unique challenges each type of parent faces and to be a safe space.

Ultimately, the community of Mandarin Immersion families needs a healthy mix of heritage and non-heritage families. If the community is limited only to heritage families, there is no way Mandarin Immersion will reach the critical mass it needs in order to get more resources and money. If the community is limited only to non-heritage families, there is a great loss of cultural context.

Truly, it is possible to recognize that there can be different needs for different families – and to address those different needs. Let’s be respectful to the unique challenges each type of parent faces and be a safe space. Ultimately, we want to raise happy, healthy, and hopefully bilingual children.

Feel free to add more questions in the comments! As per usual, all trolling will be ignored and/or disappeared.

Verboten Music

One of the most regrettable parts of no longer constantly being depressed is the music. There are entire categories of music I love deeply but am afraid to re-listen to other than in passing on the radio due to an intense fear that if I start listening again, I will be dragged down into the awful, desperate dark spaces in which I used to be mired.

Like an addict returning to old haunts or old friends, that’s how I view certain artists and albums. Little triggers. Hidden minefields.

I used to lock myself in my room and listen to Radiohead, Erasure, The Cure, or Tori Amos on repeat for days – even weeks. All in the attempt to wallow. (And quite frankly, what an enjoyable wallow it was.) There was something beautifully broken about being gloriously depressed. Reveling in pathos. Tragically melancholy.

Seductive lies about art and sadness. I mean, seriously. Why can’t our culture glorify art and joy? As if only true art stems from a dark, broken place.

What is my fear, exactly? That I’ll be drawn back to the lures of tragedy. To want to go back to the siren song of drama, insecurity, and unbearable sadness. There is something still so dangerously enticing to that old life. The lie that angst and brokenness and irreparable damage are more beautiful than wholeness and healing and vibrant living.

I turned in my Manic Pixie Dream Girl Card ™ a decade or so ago. I don’t want to lose my fourteen year sobriety chip just because I miss some tunes. (Plus, who’s going to take care of my three wee ones?)

However, I’m slowly coming around to the idea that I can listen to this music again without triggering a depression spiral. That enough decades and healing have intervened and the music is no longer a minefield and back to just beautiful music.

Sadly, I can’t say the same for movies or fan fiction. Entire broad categories of Spuffy BTVS fan fiction (especially those by the incomparable Herself) and certain angsty Alias Sarkney fanfics (but especially the Complicity fic by Behind the Red Door) are now either unavailable except through the Wayback Machine or by personal choice. Now by all means, these are not my favorite fan fics, just ones that particularly trigger my angsty self. There’s a reason why I tend to read Regency Romances nowadays.

And as for movies, no matter how much I loved it on first viewing, I will never again be able to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I think fiction and movies get me too invested in characters and I just can’t divest myself from the feelings. THE FEELINGS!!

Actually, I feel somewhat embarrassed at just how much I have geek-checked myself in this post but WHATEVER.

Anyhow, since I’m the one with the trigger problems, there’s no need for YOU to deprive yourself of some awesome (albeit, somewhat older) music. Here then, a sampling of songs with which I would put on repeat for days:

– Radiohead: Fake Plastic Trees, High and Dry

– Erasure: Rock Me Gently, Piano Song

– Tori Amos: Winter (ok, pretty much everything)

– Delirium: Innocente (ft. Leigh Nash)

– Sarah Mclachlan: Fear

By no means is this list all-inclusive. It’s only what I can easily recall late on a Sunday night.

So tell me, am I crazy? Am I the only one?