Posted in Books, Nursing, Reviews, Self-Discovery

Book Review: Mindset – Carol S. Dweck (With a Side Helping of Reflection, as Always)

Last month, I was working at a private hospital in London where I sometimes do shifts to earn extra cash. For those new to this blog, my day job (when I’m not pretending to be a writer) is to assist surgeons in the operating room as a scrub nurse. Fifty years from now, I will probably still be drooling over dreamy, dark-haired, scalpel-wielding individuals with serious God complexes, like this woman from the Grey’s Anatomy series:

Can MerDer please stop their drama so I can go pee, please?

Anyway, I was working with one of my favourite surgeons in the world. It had been about 3 months since we’d worked together because COVID had made everything apart from cancer operations come to a grinding halt. We were about to do a robotic partial knee replacement on a patient with severe arthritis, a procedure which will take too long to explain on a blog so I’m just going to say that it is the Iron Man of orthopaedic procedures, 100% patient satisfaction guaranteed (I do not get paid to say this by the way, this is just my own opinion lol).

Don’t you just love technology?

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who is somewhat good at what they do, and I’ve been doing orthopaedics for seven years – some people would probably even go so far as to call me an expert (and they’d be wrong). But it’s not overstating it to say that scrubbing for the robot always scared the ever living hell out of me. I don’t know why, but from the time they started training us on this technology, I’d felt as if there was this microchip in my brain that blocks my ability to learn this procedure. I think maybe its because the robot came at a point in my life when I had so much on my plate that I didn’t have the time to learn something new.

That’s a lie.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the robot technology came at a point in my life when I’ve already reached a certain level of seniority and success, that I was SCARED to learn something new…because I might fail at it.

Enter Carol S. Dweck’s book.

I started reading Mindset a couple of days after that robotic knee procedure. I was feeling a bit down in the dumps because that night I felt like the most clueless novice ever to hold a surgical power tool in an operating theatre. It was so bad that one of the other scrub nurses jokingly asked me if it was my first time to scrub for this procedure. The robot specialist was a good friend of mine, and bless her, she probably didn’t think she’d had to work so hard to support me during the case. I mean, seriously, I help organise training sessions for this shit. It was bloody embarrassing.

So after a period of intense reflection, I finally realised that the reason I never ‘got’ the robot was because I never bothered to learn it properly. Like I said, by the time it was introduced I was already a senior scrub nurse. I was a team leader, I was training other people in orthopaedics, and I’ve probably developed a bit of an ego about it. I am the best, I know everything, how dare this new thing suddenly appear and disturb my mojo? No, I do not need to work hard at it. Study the op tech, are you kidding? Actually ask questions to clarify what I don’t understand? No way, Jose. I don’t want to diminish my status among my peers.

What a pile of rubbish.

Dr. Dweck writes that there are two types of mindset in this world: a Fixed Mindset, where you “believe that your qualities are carved in stone, which then creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over” and a Growth Mindset, which is based on the belief that it is not the qualities you are born with that is important so much as the effort you put in to learn and grow and develop.

It would not take Dr. Dweck more than 10 minutes of conversation with me to figure out that I am of the former category. Overachiever as a kid, check. Perpetually told by family and friends how great and smart they were, check. Spends the majority of their adult years turning themselves inside out to prove their worth, needs constant validation to make them feel good about themselves, hides their insecurities underneath a load of hubris – check, check, AND check.

There is nothing worse than feeling like a fraud. Reading this made me realise that all my life I’ve been trying to live up to this sort of alter-ego that I’ve created for myself. Through sheer dumb luck, and okay, a little bit of intelligence and effort, I’ve achieved things in my life that make other people think, omigod, she’s so great. But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually felt great. Most of the time, I honestly feel like I’m just doing my best to get by. This isn’t false humility. I truly feel that I do not live up to other people’s expectations of me and what I can do. BUT I HAVE TO TRY ANYWAY. Because to lose that, to lose their regard, would be a blow to my self-esteem. I have built my whole life around what other people think of me, what will I do if they suddenly find out I am nothing but extremely average?

So you plod along, and pretend, and you start making choices based on this belief that to be SEEN as good is more important than actually BEING good. You start to deprive yourself of the opportunity to stretch and learn something new because you’re afraid of that natural dip that one experiences when one is on a learning curve…your ego cannot take the risk that you might actually be given honest feedback about what you can do to improve, so you also surround yourself with people who will only tell you good things about your work, and you somehow manage to convince your brain that those who criticise you are simply out to get you.

What a way to live, huh? I read it back again after I’ve written it and I’m exhausted. And I’ve literally just described myself so that means…I EXHAUST MYSELF. I have no idea where or when it started (I’d like to think I wasn’t born like this) but the one thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to live like this anymore. When I finished this book, I made a vow that I was going to try and be better. And to be better means being honest about my weaknesses, to accept the fact that there are things that I lack…and that’s okay, because once I’ve accepted that I need help to learn, I can then go about seeking that help and actually learning.

One of the first things I wrote in my diary after I finished this book is this statement (and I’ve been saying it to anyone who will listen ever since): I AM NOT NATURALLY INTELLIGENT. I am not the kind of person who sees something and instinctively learns it with a snap of a finger. I need explanations and reasons. I need the how’s and the why’s. I need structure, I need processes.

And godammit, I can’t learn under pressure. I have never been a crammer…seriously, when we were in college I started studying for midterms A FULL MONTH before the exams. In the weeks leading up to a big exam I would start to live like a hermit. I once spent 20 hours (10 hours straight on Saturday and another 10 on Sunday) studying for my Anatomy and Physiology finals. I think I ended up vomiting at the end of the day, it got a bit too much.

The takeaway from that little anecdote is that rather than being naturally intelligent, I am someone who puts in the effort to learn. And it used to really annoy me that I spend all that time studying, only to find out that another person in my year, who studies like, five hours before a test (and who actually has the time to go clubbing the weekend before an exam) had gotten a bloody better grades than me. What sorcery is this?? How is this fair?

And people celebrate that. People are more likely to admire people who achieve with very little effort, because by definition, putting in effort apparently means you’re not good enough, that you’re somehow less because you have to try a bit harder.

Dr. Dweck (and now me) says: BOLLOCKS.

She says, “no matter what your ability is, EFFORT is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment”. My classmate was obviously an extremely lucky exception, like some kind of prodigy, but there’s no reason to feel bad for not being gifted…like how many true prodigies do you actually personally know?? That’s right. Not a lot. The rest of us have to get by on effort, and that should be equally celebrated.

A week after my disastrous attempt at scrubbing for the robot, I called up my friend Melanie and asked if we could meet up and go through the procedure from start to finish. I studied even before our meeting; I made notes, and I listed down the things I didn’t understand. When we were going through it, I asked all the questions that I didn’t think to ask the first time I learned this because I thought it would make me look stupid. I asked for tips on how to remember certain stuff. I asked her to make drawings and illustrations if there was something I didn’t get. I prepared. I made the damn effort.

And the next time I scrubbed for the robot, well, I don’t like to brag…but I did it very well. And what’s more, I felt like for the first time I truly understood it rather than just pretending to understand it, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve consistently been able to scrub for it with little trouble since then.

And just to add to this: other people didn’t really see the difference. Apparently, I had blown up the previous incident and I really didn’t do as bad as I thought I did. But I FELT THE DIFFERENCE. I didn’t need other people’s validation because true growth and accomplishment through learning and effort was the only validation I needed.

It was such a great feeling, and trying to carry this newfound mentality meant that, maybe for the first time in my life, I was no longer setting myself on fire trying to “convince others and myself that I have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried you have a pair of tens.”

I may not have a royal flush (yet) but I’ve come to peace with my pair tens, and we know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I loved this book and thought it was a total 5 STAR READ.

Posted in Feminism, fitness, Reviews, women

Book Review: Happy Fat- Sofie Hagen

One fine day towards the end of lockdown I decided to do something I haven’t done in the three months that we’ve all spent at home wondering whether some stupid little virus was going to kill us and everyone we love: I stepped on a weighing scale.

People respond to stress differently. I happen to do it with a burger in one hand and a red velvet cupcake on the other. I have been told for years that I needed to find a new way of coping with stress, one that does not involve consuming massive amounts of calories, but it is as ingrained in me as the urge to pray like a good little Catholic whenever I feel afraid. Whatever logic I come up with doesn’t compare to something I’ve internalised from the moment I understood what stress meant.

Anyway, seeing as how nothing was more stressful than a global pandemic, it shouldn’t have surprised me to see the numbers on the scale, flashing like great big neon signs telling me I now weighed more than I’ve ever weighed since I lost all my college weight.

I went into a spiral.

I spent nearly 100£ at Marks and Spencer buying”healthy” food and vowing to only eat greens and fish from now on (this lasted about a day, and the expired cucumber and kale eventually made our fridge smell like something had died in it). I downloaded the couch to 5k app and bought a new series 5 Apple Watch to give myself further motivation to run every morning. I reinvigorated my complicated relationship with MyFatness Pal and told myself I would stick with the limit that the app has set to presumably give me a caloric deficit which will then enable me to lose weight.

This is a cycle I repeat at least once every three months for the past two decades of my life. I have been on a diet since I was 10. I was taught from a young age that fat is something to avoid at all costs. Fat is a word that boys in my class would use to tease girls who do not conform to the accepted standards of Filipino society, where the default setting is skinny. This is a society that considers a size 12 fat, a society where it is acceptable to make tsunami jokes when someone who looks like me even thinks about wearing a bikini in public.

I could write a whole book about this and someday I probably will. But for this blog post I refuse to waste another paragraph dwelling on all the slurs and bullying I’ve received AND GIVEN to people who are fat (in fact, I just realised I’ve already written a post about this). I will instead talk about how reading Sofie Hagen’s book made me feel.

First, it made me check my own privilege. I may consider myself fat but I can still buy clothes in an ordinary store, run, climb several flights of stairs without feeling like I’m going to die (most of the time anyway), and fit into regular airplane seats. Before I read this book, I didn’t realise this was a genuine problem for other people, that for them going on an airplane is akin to their worst nightmare, a danger-filled safari where they have to pay for two seats just to have leg room, because if they don’t, they have to spend the next 12 hours or so in physical torment, trapped in something that is literally a cramped metal box, all while feeling like they have to apologise to their seat mates for being who and what they are.

I don’t have that experience. Knowing that some people do makes me feel ashamed of ever moaning about how my life is over because I’ve gained a kilo. I used to hate that sentence. Check your privilege, I mean. I used to think it was incredibly judgmental and holier-than-thou. As if I have no right to complain about how I feel shitty because other people feel shittier. But it’s true. You don’t realise how good you have it until you gain some perspective about how it could be worse.

Second, by the time I got to the end of this book I had unfollowed everyone on my social media feeds who is or has ever been a Victoria’s Secret model. I remember this sinking feeling in my stomach every time the annual VS Fashion Show would come around. It sent every millennial I know into a tailspin of delight and frenzy and for weeks my feeds would be filled with photos of Candice and Kendall and Behati and Alessandra and Adriana. People who are so abnormally fit and beautiful they make you feel worthless because you don’t have a thigh gap. I consider myself to have a healthy-ish self-esteem but now for the first time I can admit that I have never been able to sit through a VS Fashion Show without feeling the need to run to the nearest gym and stay on that treadmill until I achieve this mythical thigh gap.

This impossible standard of beauty…where the hell did it come from?

How many people I know actually look like that in real life? Why are they considered something to which all woman should aspire to? Do I really want to date men who will think less of me for not looking like every man’s wet dream? I have this thing I tell myself, that I’m happy with the way I am because I’ve long ago accepted the fact that I will never be beautiful but will have to settle for “cute” instead. I regarded my intelligence and sense of humour and all my other achievements as compensation for the fact that my looks are fairly average and ordinary.

Bloody hell, just reading that sentence makes me want to shake myself and scream at myself until I start to see sense.

I’m intelligent but I’m fat. I’m funny but my looks are average. I have a good job but men don’t immediately think ‘hot’ when they first see me. These are three of the stupidest sentences I have ever written in my life.

I feel obligated to say that I don’t hate people who fall within the accepted standards of beauty. Its no one’s fault that they look the way they do. In fact, please find below two of. the most accurate and reaffirming statements I have ever read in my life:

Beauty is a tricky one – because you can’t blame someone for being beautiful , but you can blame the culture that created the idea of ideal beauty.

Beauty is so subjective. It is laughable that we have somehow been tricked into thinking we should all find the same thing beautiful.

I think its healthier for me, now when my mental health feels a little fragile after the experience of the pandemic and having to face all my worst fears and insecurities during lockdown, to not look at yet another photo of Kendall Jenner in a bikini so tiny she might as well not be wearing anything at all. I wish full-figured bodies were better represented in mainstream media and social media (maybe they are and I’m just not looking hard enough because my head is still obsessed with the beauty ideal), I wish I lived in a world where people don’t think fat means unlovable and unF**able (sorry, have to censor that, my conservative family reads this blog lol). I wish we had, as Sofie says, a fat Disney princess.

I have to write a line here about exercise and fitness. I’m writing a separate blog about this but just within the context of this post, I feel the need to point out that exercising doesn’t mean you subscribe to the notion that fat is ugly, as long as you exercise to achieve a goal, because it makes you feel good about yourself in that moment, because of the endorphins and the rush you get after completing a run for example…and not because you are perpetually running after a vision of a thinner, more desirable you.

Thirdly, this book tells me that the road to accepting and loving your body is not a straight path but one with curves, where you might find yourself doubling back to that point where you hate the person you see in the mirror. The trick is to always bounce back from it, to rise above every fat phobia and misogyny and every capitalist message telling you that you are not good enough because of how you look. We ned to challenge every norm and cut off things and people that make us feel that way.

This book made me realise that I should and could be doing something to change the narrative for people who look like me and for fat people whose experiences I will never come close to understanding (again, check your privilege), and it starts with something as simple as not seeing the word fat as a negative. It is simply a description of a type of body structure. Its people who add all sorts of negative connotation to it. People say fat like its a bad thing, and it’s not. At least, it shouldn’t be.

There are other things I should be doing too. Like maybe stop making weight such an issue. And to have entire conversations with my girlfriends that do not centre on our diets and exercise regime. And maybe standing up for those who aren’t able to walk into a restaurant without worrying that they’ll break one of the chairs made by a world that tries to exclude, marginalise and erase them.

Okay, FULL DISCLOSURE TIME:

I’ve just read what I’ve written and it all sounds so good and positive and yet, I know that the process of applying it in my own life is far more complicated. Even as I type this I am looking at the clock and counting down the hours until I can eat because I am currently doing intermittent fasting. I am still in a relationship with MyFatness Pal and I still zoom in on my stomach in photos before I post them to make sure I don’t see a bulge.

I am not fooling myself into thinking I will change overnight or if I could even change at all. So what was the point of posting this blog? Am I just one big giant fraud? When it comest to my weight, I am never certain. I always feel like I’m only paying lip service, because I have spent my whole life equating my value with how far down the numbers on the weighing scale goes.

I suppose I am writing this stream of consciousness to first of all, encourage everyone to read Happy Fat. But mostly I am recording these thoughts here for posterity, like I want to capture this moment in time where I am fully lucid and cognizant that everything I think I know about being fat and being beautiful is a pile of rubbish.

So that the next time I spiral, or if there’s even one person out there who feel like they’ve been helped just by reading this post and they find themselves spiralling, we will have something to go back to. Maybe someone will read it and think twice the next time they find themselves thinking negative things about a fat person who is simply trying to eat their carrot cake in peace.

P.S. Sorry Sofie, if you ever read this, its not much of a review at all. But I love you. thank you for this wonderful gift of a book you’ve given to the world.

Posted in Covid-19, london

Human beings have the memory of a goldfish…and maybe that’s okay.

I’m writing this on the eve of the easing of lockdown. Tomorrow, all non-essential establishments, including pubs, restaurants and (huzzah!) salons, are set to open. Living in central London, I foresee massive crowds and noise pollution around my neighbourhood as thousands and thousands of alcohol-deprived (yeah, right) Londoners flock like birds to the nearest Red Lion, or in my case, The Blue Post.

I’m struggling to not turn this into some kind of rant about how selfish people are being: moaning about how they haven’t had black daahl from Dishoom in 12 weeks, or that their roots are showing because their hair hasn’t been coloured in three months, or that Boris should really allow gyms to reopen because they couldn’t possible live without their Zumba class much longer.

Do not even get me started on the idiots who thought it was a good idea to trash Bournemouth beach during the heatwave last week.

I told a friend that all of this sort of makes a mockery of the sacrifices that health care workers have made during the pandemic period. I mean, you clap for us in one breath and defy social distancing and lockdown rules in the other. What was the point of it all? What was the point of the long hours in PPE, the night shifts spent huddled in anxiety because a COVID patient has just coughed all over you, or the agony of having to hold a dying patient’s hand because there was no one else but you who could do that for them?

Compared to all that, it seems kind of shallow to be moaning about missing having gin and tonic on top of your favourite rooftop bar doesn’t it?

But I’ve come to realise that human beings are simply not built to withstand so much suffering. There is only so much we can take in before we shut off. Collectively, we’ve all been overloaded by so many things these past three months, its really hard to believe we’re only halfway through the epic shitshow that is 2020. With everything that’s going on, I think something does have to give. We each will find our own ways of coping, we will find things that will enable us to carry on, and perhaps part of that is forgetting the incredibly traumatic experience of having lived though the first major pandemic since the 1912 Spanish plague.

When the shops reopened, I immediately went into the Mango website and spent 100£ on clothes that I would then return because I gained so much weight during the lockdown, that I now struggle too fit into a size 12 (more on this in a separate post lol). I spent three months only thinking about essentials, three months not spending my money on anything other than food and household supplies, but the minute lockdown started to ease, I started to think about the outfits I would wear, or that maybe I could start dating again after I finally managed to get a haircut (as if this was a major deciding factor on whether or not I could get a decent date lol).

The only thing I’d worried about during the lockdown was getting through the coronavirus pandemic with my physical, mental, and emotional health intact. I was praying the rosary everyday just asking God for me and everyone I love to still be alive after all of this. Then lockdown eased, and things started getting back to something close to resembling normal, and I started feeling anxious about getting extra shifts to earn more money, or whether or not I would ever get that dream job that feels like its so close, I can almost taste it. And of course, the ever present question of whether or not it was worth getting into dating again (am I the only one sensing a theme here?).

I guess I’m just trying to illustrate how easy it is to forget about your troubles when you’re given just the slightest hope that it has gone away. It doesn’t matter how much you tell people to be cautious, to remember what these past few months have been like and that i’s not over yet: you give them an inch of rope and they’ll run a mile with it, not because they’re insensitive creatures (at least the majority aren’t) and I don’t really think humans have the memory of a goldfish. But I think people forget because they want to forget. Because they need to forget.

We want, and in some ways we need, to chalk this up as just one extremely long nightmare episode. A blip. A wrinkle in time.

We were taught about homeostasis at school. No matter what happens internally or externally, the human body will always compensate to try and achieve a sense of homeostasis or ‘steady state’. I think that’s what we’re doing now that restrictions have been lifted. Forgetting is our way of going back to that steady state, no matter how different from what was once considered normal that state may be.

As a nurse, I’m obligated to remind people that this virus really hasn’t gone away, and we’re a long way away from any sort of vaccine just yet so it would be a bad idea to start visiting the pubs in droves tomorrow, but I truly appreciate that I’m in the minority here. So I guess…let the journey to forgetting and homeostasis begin.

Posted in bloggers, Books, relationships, science fiction, science fiction, Writing

Book Review: The Garden and Other Stories – Aaron Ramos

In my head, I always equated the science fiction genre with weird looking aliens invading the earth and machines taking over the world and sending mankind into extinction. I was quite adamant in my belief that these are things I’d never be interested in reading. I’ve gotten better at expanding my horizons when it comes to my literary choices, but I’m a creature of habit; throughout the years I’ve stuck with the genres that are almost guaranteed to tickle my fancy – YA and romance to name a few.

I picked up The Garden, a collection of short stories written by Aaron Ramos, because I was fortunate enough to have gotten a preview, a taster really, of the kind of stories that this new author wants to share with the world. Elevated was one of the first sci-fi stories I’ve ever read, and I enjoyed it so much that afterwards I questioned my sanity at having ignored this genre for so long. Clearly, I’ve been missing out.

The book opens with Video Game Theory, which is really a story about a father’s love for his daughter – a truly emotional journey that still haunts me now, nearly a full month after I first read it. I’m a very emotional reader anyway, and to those of you who read my reviews quite often, this isn’t anything new, but as I read that story I was sobbing my heart out and clutching my chest in a way I haven’t done since I read The Kite Runner. Maybe it was just because I read it during the pandemic when I was missing my own father, but I thought it was just a real gut punch of a story. The book then closes with Knocking on Heaven’s Door, a short story that questions the very nature of our existence, exploring life’s often unanswerable questions with wit and biting humour that I’ve come to realise is the author’s signature style.

A lot of thought was put into the pacing, the sequencing, and I think even the order in which the stories are to be read. I like how one story just naturally flows, one into the other. There was always a sense of continuity and connectivity in all the stories, and I think a lot of what makes it so cohesive is rooted in Aaron’s point of view, his unique perspective of the world, and the kind of messages that he wants to send out to his readers through his writing.

In some respects, this book felt to me like a social commentary on the dangers of capitalism and the effect man is having on the environment. In other parts, it was a call for us to recognise that, despite our differences, we are all the same, and the things that make us all different should be celebrated rather than discriminated against. Considering that this book was published well before the Black Lives Matter movement, I think the author showed incredible foresight, not to mention insight, into the issues currently affecting society.

I am not an expert of this genre, obviously, but I thought the stories were well-researched; they were believable because they were founded on real scientific concepts. They capture the imagination and will make readers imagine a world that is somewhat similar to our own but also somehow different. However, what makes the stories even stronger, in my opinion, is that through it all Aaron never loses his grip on the human element of his stories. Strip away the robots, the advanced technologies, the chemical experiments and the fantastical elements and you find that at the heart of it are the very things that make us fundamentally human: love, loss, and the basic human need to understand and to be understood.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Travels: The City of Weep and beyond with the Muse of Nightmares

The first time I read this book I was so excited to finish it that I think I missed some of the finer points of the story. I was looking through my notes on this and 2019 me felt all confused and conflicted about the ending of this book, whereas 2020 me thinks its pretty darn awesome!

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the key to any successful fantasy or dystopian series is world building. I believe the great JRR Tolkien created an entirely new language while he was writing The Lord of the Rings; there are kids out there who still dream of receiving a Hogwarts acceptance letter when they turn 11, because JK Rowling made it as real to them as their own local middle school.

Albeit on a much smaller scale, in this book Laini Taylor has done something similar to what those literary giants. For the sequel to Strange the Dreamer, she’s shown us the broader world that exists outside of the City of Weep and in so doing, opened possibilities for an infinite number of stories. I’m already ablaze with excitement at the thought of the many spin-offs she could do and the number of directions she can take from this point.

Of course, the City of Weep is still at the heart of this story, and so are the characters that readers would have become so invested on from the first book. There is so much character growth in this book and we finally get a clear picture of just how much of the present has been shaped by the past. Special shout out to my favourite side characters, Minya and Thyon Nero!

Expect a really satisfying conclusion to the series. I really like how it all comes full circle, and I especially like how its evolved into more than just another YA love story.

If you’re new to Laini Taylor’s writing, I’m jealous that you still have so much of her works to discover. Might I suggest the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, which is just as incredible and also somewhat related to this one?

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars!

Posted in pop culture, Self-Discovery, sport

The Last Dance, Being Like Mike and My College Traumas

Lockdown is making people feel all kinds of nostalgic. Its understandable: the present is looking a little bleak at the moment, and no one knows what’s going to happen in the future, so we comfort ourselves with thoughts of the past. My extended family has taken to sending old photographs in our messenger group, including some of myself that has led me to conclude that I was a cute baby but a freakin’ ugly kid who then grew up to be an okay-looking adult.

I could be an emoji

Anyway, I don’t think it gets anymore nostalgic than The Last Dance, a sports docu-series that’s currently on Netflix which tells the story of the 1997-98 championship winning season of the Chicago Bulls, starring the great Michael Jordan. Its made a lot of people into three-week basketball fans; its had such an impact that its even trending in the UK, a country where – when I first arrived and said I didn’t like football because I’ve grown up watching basketball instead, people looked at me like I had horns sprouting from my head.

Watching this documentary brings home the fact that so many of my childhood memories are centred around those Saturday NBA games on ESPN when we would all gather around the telly watching Michael do a lay-up or a fadeaway or another dunk – basically anything humanly (sometimes inhumanly) possible to win the game. I’ve been watching the episodes with my sister, who’s not a big sports fan but nonetheless could almost reflexively identify all the important players of that era even now, 23 year later.

I remember watching my brother and my male classmates go through a period where they worshipped everything Jordan-related. If a genie had appeared before my brother at age 8 I believe he would have asked for a pair of Air Jordans without so much as batting an eyelash. His face when my aunt finally sent one over from the States is what I imagine mine would be when I finally meet the love of my life (yeah, I just had to get that in there lol).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care what other people say but nothing compares to watching a really good game of basketball, especially when you’re invested in the team and the players, as a fan or as a person. And I think the magic of MJ is in the way he makes you feel invested; he pulls you in with that attitude and that determination to win at all costs. There’s something to be said about a guy who believes in playing at the highest caliber at all times, because if you don’t, what’s the point in playing at all? Hey Mike, I want a sip of your Gatorade.

Watching this series, and getting to know the person behind the legend, I realise that I don’t really like Michael Jordan and I think a lot of people will agree with me; he’s kind of a dick. But I think people not liking him is a price he’s willing to pay for being GREAT at what he does. They don’t need to hug him on his way to the basket, they just need to get out of the way. I find myself wondering a lot of times while watching this series whether it was better to be liked or to be respected, and whether it was possible to be both.

When I was younger I used to be quite arrogant and a bit full of myself. I was probably masking some deep deep insecurities (which may or may not have been related to my weight issues) but the one thing I always had going for me was my intelligence. I knew I was smart. I was first on the honour roll from kindergarten onwards. I graduated class valedictorian in high school and had so many medals around my neck after the graduation ceremony you could hear them clanking as I walked.

Then I started college and for the first time I was around people who a) have not been my classmates since we were practically in diapers and b) who were just as if not more intelligent than I was. Suddenly I was in a class where we had 14 valedictorians and about half as many salutatorians. It was a whole other playing field. And like MJ (just so we don’t lose the thread here! Haha) I revelled in that. I pushed myself hard and I was determined to be the best of the best.

I’m a really competitive person. I want to win. I don’t want to do something if I can’t be great at it. I don’t believe in mediocrity. That attitude has gotten me to where I am today. But my greatest weakness has always been caring too much about what other people think. I have this pathological need to be universally liked. And in college, I rubbed a lot of people off the wrong way because what I thought was me being determined (and okay, showing off a little) most people saw as me being a complete bitch with a superiority complex. I still cringe at the thought of how much people I now call friends must have hated me in college. Oh well. At least they like me now.

Needless to say, I graduated college with one medal, a lot of friends, a more humble attitude and a greater appreciation of my place in the great circle of life.

Why am I suddenly bringing this up? I suppose its because I wonder where I would be if I had the same attitude as Mike…the whole isolation is the price of winning mentality that seems to be a characteristic of the greats. Is it worth it? Or is the old adage true, that its incredibly lonely up top all by yourself? I’m sure my feelings would have been different if you asked me when I was younger, but with the wisdom of old age I can say (with only a slight hesitation) that I would rather have friends than reluctant admirers. I would rather have people who will be there for me no matter what, even and especially if I fail – and its almost a guarantee that you will fail at some point in your life.

As usual I’ve managed to make this about me but whatever.

Takeaway messages from The Last Dance: Dennis Rodman is a Dude, Steve Kerr is proof that nice guys don’t always finish last and you should never judge a book by its cover, Scottie Pippen deserved better and finally, it takes a village. MJ wasn’t winning championships until he had a winning team. 72-10, baby.

P.S. this blog is in part dedicated to the guy whose job it was to shout “What time is it?” during the Bulls’ pre-game huddle. You, my man, are an icon.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Travels: The City of Weep and Strange the Dreamer

When we grow up, it feels like some force of nature compels us to stop dreaming big dreams, and in some cases it also forces us to let go of the dreams we already had to begin with.

How tragic and how sad it is to live that way.

I think this is why I read fantasy. It keeps my imagination alive, and sometimes – and especially when reality starts becoming so heavy and all too real – its one of the few things that keeps me believing that impossible things could still happen, that it would still be possible to have miracles for breakfast.

Laini Taylor is one of THE best writers in this genre. Her books, pardon the cliche, are like pages and pages of poetry compiled into one single cohesive work. For the uninitiated, it might seem extra and oversaturated with enough saccharine sweetness to make you want to puke. I can’t deny that I get impatient with it sometimes, especially when you just want to know what happens next but you’re treated to an internal monologue about stars and moons and butterflies and everything that is fluffy in the world.

But that’s just me being cynical.

Strange the Dreamer is Laini at her best. Its the story of a young orphan named Lazlo Strange, a small seemingly insignificant young man with big dreams that, one day, literally came riding into his life. His is a tale to inspire, to remind people that even when others mock you for it, you should always hold on to your dreams; or maybe it wasn’t so much dreaming as it was the fulfilment of one’s destiny. Whatever it was, I found Lazlo’s story such a joy to follow. He has always been one of my favourite book characters (yes, yes, this is technically a reread).

The City of Weep is at the centre of all of Lazlo’s yearnings and imagination, but the reality of it was bigger than even he could have ever dreamed of. Weep is a city with a tragic backstory. I applaud Laini Taylor’s courage to explore some really dark themes in what is essentially a YA book, but then these are dark times. I keep forgetting that the young adults of today are no longer as ignorant about the sufferings of the world as I was when I was 14 or 15. This fast-paced and sometimes cruel world we live in forces you to grow up quick.

There is of course a love story at the heart of Strange the Dreamer; it was given quite a lot of air time but it wasn’t the most compelling part of the story for me. I personally thought Lazlo and Sarai were more interesting apart than they were together but then again, this could just be ME: my state of mind not being in the mood for giddy romance and all. In fact, is it a reflection of my state of mind that I found the anti-heroes Minya and Thyon Nero and the flawed and tortured Eril-Fane so much more interesting? Maybe. What this tells you, dear readers, is that this is a book with a deep back bench. Its secondary characters add salt and pepper to what would have otherwise been just another okay but somewhat bland star-crossed love story.

Its been a real pleasure travelling to and through the City of Weep (again), with its endless supply of stories and legends. I’m staying here for a little while longer as I’m currently reading the sequel, where things get even more juicy and sinister and interesting – all the requirements you need for a really good book.

Check this book out, its really awesome! 4 out of 5 stars.

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Travels: Afghanistan and A Thousand Splendid Suns

It’s difficult for me to write this book review of A Thousand Splendid Suns.

It’s a well-written book, let’s get that out of the way. Khaled Housseini has a real talent for telling stories, and for sharing a little bit of Afghan culture to the world. His words make the country come alive for the reader, making them feel like they’re sharing the blistering heat of the sun or the welcome pouring of rain with the characters. I especially like the little touches of whimsy, such as the fact that Titanic and Leonardo di Caprio were apparently big enough to be trending even in war-torn Afghanistan.

I think what made this book difficult for me to read, and therefore to review, is because the subject matter pushes all my buttons. At the heart of it, this is a story about two women who were both victims of circumstances beyond their control. Their whole life they’ve not been given any choices, they’ve never been able to have a say about what they want or what future they might have imagined for themselves. They’re forced to wait for life to happen to them; they’re not free to make things happen by design.

I hate that.

I hate that in some parts of the world this is still considered normal. I hate that some of the freedom and privileges that I take for granted all the time may seem like a miracle for a woman whose never been allowed to even speak in a man’s presence, let alone argue with them. I hate that, despite our best effort, we are still a long way away from achieving equality. I would never presume to call myself a feminist, and God knows I haven’t got a bone of activism in my body. But I nearly wanted to sound a call to arms when I read the scene about women having to go to a different hospital because the one they’re at only caters to male patients; and then to arrive at a women’s hospital and find the amenities so lacking that you have to reuse sterile gloves, or bloody hell, have a caesarian section without any anaesthesia.

Both as a woman and as a healthcare professional, I was so horrified by this that I nearly stopped reading the book.

I also hate that there are still pockets of society, even in this modern world we live in, where people think that bearing children is all a woman is good for. If that’s the case, then I am the sorriest excuse for a woman there is.

The book may or may not have hit a bit too close to home.

In the end, this book made me feel grateful: grateful for my education, grateful that my parents worked hard to give me options, that despite their reservations about my lifestyle (and their increasing desire for grandchildren lol) they respect me enough not to force the issue of marriage. I mean, it’s not like eligible men grow on trees these days, and even if they did its kinda hard to get to know someone when you have to social distance or hold a first date through Zoom.

There is something symbolically powerful about a woman standing up for another woman, and there is a lot we can achieve when we build each other up rather than tear each other down. Such is the message of this book, and this is what makes it so beautiful.

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

One of the sacrifices we’ve had to make during this pandemic, and subsequent lockdown, is to forego all non-essential travel. As someone who likes to explore all the beautiful places this world has to offer, this saddens me. I don’t think I’ve ever fully appreciated the extreme privilege of being able to move freely between countries, or of having opportunities to experience various cultures and different ways of life.

Its times like these that I’m grateful for the solace that reading has to offer. Between the pages of a book, the possibilities of being transported to a time and place far far away from my current reality are limitless. Reading is the only way that I can still afford to travel to different places, for the bargain price of 8£ per paperback.

Today’s travel took me to 1970s Afghanistan. In the list of places I would never even consider travelling to, Afghanistan is superseded only by, I don’t know, North Korea maybe. It first came to my attention during the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, a watershed moment that brought terrorism to my consciousness. I remember watching the news and thinking life will never be the same. I read about jihad and holy wars and understood for the first time that there are some men willing to fight, kill and die for the sake of an ideology. Nearly 20 years later and those same was are still being fought.

The Kite Runner is as far away from war and terrorism as anything could be. Sure, it is set against the backdrop of conflicts and coups. One cannot tell this story without also touching on the many political changes that made the country what it is today.

But to tell the story of Amir and Hassan is to tell the story of a different kind of Afghanistan. Its an Afghanistan that is colourful and exciting; it is a place where you can write stories, read books about heroes, and watch American Westerns in the cinema; it is a place where young children anticipate winters so they can have kite-flying tournaments and make their parents proud when they win; and it is a place where friendship, love and loyalty can still exist despite divisions in class and religion.

I told my sister today that when all this ends, I’d quite like to visit Afghanistan. She asked me, do you want to die?

I googled a photo of Kabul as it is today, and it depressed me to see its war-torn streets and ravaged population. it forced me to think that, for all that we moan and groan about anything and everything that inconvenience us on a daily basis, we live an insulated world where we are mostly protected from true horrors, from the true meaning of human suffering. I think reading books like this is important, if only for the fact that they give you just a little bit of perspective.

Stories like this underscore the need for us to really nourish and cherish the things that are truly important. Not money, status or power, or other transient sources of happiness; but simple things like the thrill of feeling love for the first time, the pleasures of reading for and with a friend, the pure joy and freedom of running through familiar streets and knowing you are limited only by how far you are willing to run, and when you’re young sometimes you feel like you can run forever.

I think in a time where there is so much uncertainty, this book gives me hope. There are days when I can barely bring myself to read the news because there’s so much filth and stories of human cruelty permeating the headlines and the social media feeds. To read a book about unconditional love and unswerving faithfulness at a time like this…well, I’m already an emotional person at the best of times, the sort that will cry in films like Stuart Little, so it will come as a surprise to no one when I say that this book had me sobbing into my pillow for a good 15 minutes, pounding my chest as if to help ease the ache I suddenly felt there.

There’s no better review than that really, is there?

I’m late to this particular party, I know. My friends have been telling me to read this for years. Its made many a readers’ favourites list on Goodreads and Instagram, even friends of mine who are not avid readers have read this book. They all told me its awesome, they warned me it will be emotional. But none of that prepared me for the reality of it, for the sheer emotional punch of the story within its pages.

To say that I’ve read a lot of books is an understatement. I must have reads thousands and thousands of them by now. Some good, some I had to force myself to finish, some whose stories have stayed with me to this day. The Kite Runner belongs in the third category: I will be thinking about this book on and off for a long long time.

Posted in Covid-19, Current Events, Health and Well-Being, Nursing

It’s Been a Long Year…and It’s Only the Start of May

Sometimes it feels like this lockdown will never end.

Its been roughly six weeks since the UK imposed measures that essentially robbed life of any semblance of normalcy. Since then, we’ve all been trying our damnedest to keep our spirits up even as we become increasingly isolated from our fellow man.

Every day there seems to be new challenges cropping up on social media (like doing 20 press-ups on your instagram story and then challenging five other people to do the same) or an at-home concert organised by one pop star or the other, and what both those things have in common is that it speaks to our inherent need to stay connected even as social distancing becomes the new normal.

I might just be speaking for myself here, but I think this unprecedented crisis has heightened our sense of empathy and compassion for others. All of a sudden the number of people showing support for the NHS and recognising the work that carers do has increased tenfold. Young people now go out of their way to buy groceries for elderly neighbours. Colleagues who don’t normally get along have learned to put their differences aside so they can work together and do what’s best for the department they work for.

Personally, what this pandemic is teaching me, above all else, is that in times of pain and suffering no one is a stranger.

This week another nurse lost the battle to Covid-19, three weeks after his admission to one of the best hospitals in the country. He was my age.

Like me, he was an overseas nurse who left the Philippines to pursue a career in a foreign country, in the hopes that it will lead to a better life for himself and his family.

Like most of my friends, he dreamed of opportunities and adventures the likes of which we never would have experienced if we stayed in the Philippines.

Like tens of thousands of Filipinos before him, he bore the loneliness, the frequent homesickness, and the separation from family because he believed his future laid here, in his adopted country.

When I heard about the story of his death, I cried like a baby.

Despite having plenty of common friends, in every sense of the word this person was a virtual stranger to me. And yet his death affected me to a degree that goes beyond what you would normally feel for someone you didn’t know from Adam.

Maybe his story hit a little too close to home. I don’t want to dwell too much on how his story could so easily be our story, because that kind of thinking is just too morbid to contemplate. But all the same, on the day of his death I said a little prayer for every overseas Filipino nurse I know, and even for those that I don’t.

I’m not really sure how to end this post that has turned out to be more morose than I intended it to be when I first started writing.

I guess I just wanted to say that the longer this goes on, the deeper we may have to dig within ourselves to stay upbeat and positive.

But we can’t let this virus defeat us. I have every hope that this too shall pass, that there is a life waiting on the other side of this pandemic, and that we will all be better, more understanding, and hopefully kinder people for having lived through it.

We owe it to the people who have lost their lives to this virus, and especially to the people who have given their lives in caring for people with this virus, to ensure that we never ever take that life for granted.