Friday, April 02, 2010

The Miracle Month of March

What can I say about the month of March? Something was finally moving in my life...and moving in a good way. To think that it possibly started with a simple phone call to a dear friend from college who shares a similar spiritual view as me, despite her being of the Mormon faith and me being a member of the Community of Christ. Both of our "New Age-y" universal spirituality puts us both at odds with the doctrines of our respective churches, so it makes sense that our spiritual bond would inspire encouragement in each other's life journeys. Thank God for her!

March 2010 has turned out to be one of the most surprisingly eventful and meaningful months of my entire life. My "synchronistic" vibe must be on, finally, because I feel like I'm truly back into the flow...headed for a destination that could look far different than what I imagined earlier this year. And to think that it all started with a phone call (or two, actually). I was in such a desperate spot about my being stuck that I had to do something. So, I had called a counselor / psychologist who specializes in helping people who feel stuck and not living the life they feel they were meant to live. We kept having missed connections, though, playing phone I supposed that it wasn't meant to be. Its not like I have a whole lot of disposable income to indulge in a regular therapy session. Besides, I've always felt like I am strong and independent enough to figure out my own "problem" and generally don't like to seek out help. Its always the last resort for me to ask for someone's help.

When that didn't work, I was wondering who I should call who might understand my predicament and give the kind of advice a person who really knows me is able to give to push me towards the life I'm meant to live. The person that came to mind was Brooklyn, naturally. Its pretty sad when I can't seek a church member (particularly priesthood holder) for spiritual advice and have to seek out a friend of a different religion. But there it is. Whatever works. I know there are many detractors for the "New Age spiritualist" view of the world, but I've lived long enough to know the merits of specific ideas that Christianity seems too scared to explore while it's not a big deal in New Age circles. I needed advice specifically from a person who shares a similar understanding about how our world works, so I'm glad that Brooklyn was there to offer needed advice, because after our phone conversation a month ago, I had an eventful month and felt my energy level increase significantly.

What happened after that conversation? Well...I finally made peace with the fiance of the lady I've been attracted to and put a closure to that episode, I met a writer I had wanted to meet for a decade and still need to send my novel off to his publishing company for consideration, I went hiking with a couple I know from church whom I like (caucasian guy with a Japanese wife) and wish there were more of so I could feel more at home in my church, I attended the cool Springsteen Eucharist, I went to a couple of discussion groups with the World Affairs Council Oregon (one was all about China, which was informative), I met quite a few foreign ladies (two gorgeous Russian ladies, a lady from Malaysia, and others), celebrated the historic vote on Health Care Reform with my Ethiopian neighbours, see my organization face some scandal with a lawsuit trial (which was a major deja vu to my previous place of employment's scandal in 2005), learned that a friend of mine has decided to run for a local political office and that a Navy veteran is running against my do-nothing and unexciting Congressman, attended an event in which newly arrived refugees from Iraq were honoured, attended a lecture on Burma and met some interesting people afterwards, and on Wednesday the 31st, went to a book group's discussion of Kerouac's On the Road and Ginsberg's Howl (I mostly listened, curious about people's thoughts of my favourite writer and his classic novel). Also this past month, two of my friends made a point to call me up and we haven't spoken by phone for a long time. We all have busy lives, but at least I email them. They seem to prefer actual conversations, which I always enjoy, especially since I don't hear from them otherwise.

That's way too much activity for one month! For me, anyway. I generally don't like life to be that busy, but I'm not complaining...because I see a pattern emerging. For one thing, one of my goals for March was to focus completely on what I love and ignore what I hate (my work). My supervisor is annoyed that I don't remember details from the previous day, when she might have questions about something and I take too long to remember. The truth is, my job is so inconsequential, boring, and not my passion that I don't really much care about it. I find the trial to be a form of karmic retribution, even if I disagree about the motives surrounding the plaintiffs. Its a hilarious sideshow.

What's this pattern? Well...I think it has to do with Burma, Thailand, or Southeast Asia in general. For all my life, I had been raised in my father's white, Midwestern culture and I had the fortunate experience to live six years of my life in Europe during the most impressionable period of my life (13-16 and 19-22). Besides being Euro-centric in my upbringing, I gained an interest in Africa during my teens and young adulthood. Asia has never really been on the front-burner...but the past few years, I've been feeling a desire to go to Southeast Asia to research the roots on my mother's side and to see the culture she came from. Just in this month alone, I had a great conversation with a Japanese lady, an intriguing conservation with a lady from Malaysia, and then I received an email invitation to attend a lecture on Burma last Tuesday. I don't remember signing up for any notices about Burma and the email was sent by a Russian lady. I had been wanting to meet more Russian ladies and I'm impressed that March delivered big time.

The lecture on Burma was held at MercyCorp's new office building that once housed cool Australian, Thai, Indian, and Tibetan shops. I have no idea where those stores relocated, but now MercyCorps has office space there, as well as a museum and gift shop. The lady giving the lecture featured gruesome photos of the genocide of the Karen people in eastern Burma. I wasn't expecting a lecture on a genocide, though I knew that it was most likely going to be about the brutality of the military dictatorship that has ruled the country with an iron fist since the 1960s.

Why Burma? The lady who gave the lecture said that for her, she was just some Catholic school girl who learned about the country in college, traveled to Thailand and met some Burmese refugees on the border and worked for a group devoted to documenting the ongoing brutality committed by the military against the Karen people. She said something that was quite true for me as well as some other people who were there: "Once you learn about Burma, it kind of burroughs its way into your heart and you can never get rid of it." She talked about how Darfur was able to attract a lot more attention because of celebrities, but almost no one has heard about the ongoing genocide in Burma. Its not reported in the news, even though the Buddhist monk uprising in 2007 and the deadly cyclone in 2008 made headlines for a brief period.

For me, my fascination with Burma began long childhood when I looked at maps of my mom's home country and noticed a similar shaped country next to it (they both look like mushrooms--large umbrella with a skinny stem). As a teenager in Germany, when I saw a notice in The Stars and Stripes newspaper for a pen pal from some girl my age in Burma, I made sure to write to her. We exchanged quite a bit of letters (I still have all of them) and I was fascinated by the colourful stamps and the similar writing style as the Thai language. I lost touch with her after 1988, which happened to be the year of the student uprisings, in which many students were killed. I don't know what happened to my pen pal Candy Tet Tun, but I sometimes wonder whatever happened to her.

In 1995, when a shipmate and I went to Washington, D.C. for a visit (from Norfolk VA), we spent time with his Burmese girlfriend and her cousin. They kind of tried to set me up with the cousin, but she was too shy and quiet, whereas the shipmate's girlfriend was pretty Americanized and intelligent. She was the one who told me about Aung San Suu Kyi, whom I had never heard of before (despite her winning the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize). So, I sought out a book written by Suu Kyi and I also saw the film Beyond Rangoon, in which Patricia Arquette played an American tourist caught up in the pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989 and even having an encounter with Suu Kyi in the incident that made her a national hero (and immortalized in U2's "Walk On").

For those not familiar with Aung San Suu Kyi, here's a brief rundown: She's the daughter of a popular Burmese General, Aung San, who was assassinated. Aung San Suu Kyi was born in the 1940s, went to college in England (I'm thinking Cambridge) where she met and married a British man. They had two sons. In 1988, Suu Kyi's mother fell sick so she returned to Burma and happened to be in the country when the military crackdown on students began. The incident that elevated Suu Kyi to the status she now holds (the unofficial spiritual leader of the Burmese people) happened on a road where the military had a roadblock. Many people witnessed it. A soldier demanded that Suu Kyi not take another step, threatening with her with guns. She kept walking and the soldiers did not stop her or shoot at her. People who witnessed the event claim that they saw a spiritual force protecting Suu Kyi, as her aura was such that even soldiers who had no problem killing people felt that it would be bad karma to harm her in any way. That, folks, is how mythology is born!

Suu Kyi got involved in the local politics and led the National League for Democracy, which won in a landslide during the 1990 election, which the military generals refused to honour. She was placed under house arrest, where she remains to this day. She's free to leave the country, but if she does, the regime will never allow her back into the country. Though not able to see her sons or even her husband (who has since passed away), she has chosen to remain in her family's house in Rangoon (Yangon) to suffer with the rest of the Burmese. She is a saint, though she would hate being called that. In fact, she famously said "Saints are sinners who go on trying." In Burma, she is simply known as "The Lady." To me, she is the most inspirational person I've ever read about. I consider her to be "the most beautiful woman in the world" because of her spiritual quality (she's also attractive, and if they ever make a film about her life, I think actress Michelle Yeoh should play her).

After the lecture on Burma, those of us with the World Affairs Council Oregon -- Young Professionals met up to go to a Middle Eastern restaurant (Habibi's) to hear a presentation by a member who lived and worked in Burma for seven months in 2006 and 2007. It was a good presentation and he is quite entertaining, especially giving a great Australian accent in imitation of his boss, who happened to be Ross Dunkley, the founder of the English-newspaper Myanmar Times. James (the Young Professional) happened to visit Burma during a vacation to Thailand and didn't plan to work at the newspaper. He merely wanted to tour the building during his stay in Burma and the only way he could convince the receptionist to let him see more of the building was by telling her that he was there for an interview. He got interviewed on the spot! And offered a job after he had returned to Thailand. He only accepted at the insistence of a friend of his, who said he was crazy to turn down the opportunity to experience life in a totalitarian country and writing / editing under the eye of government censors. His friend even told him that he might be able to sell a book about his experiences afterwards.

A book? I actually had a flashback when he said that...because I did happen to read a book in 2006 about an Australian journalist's experience in Burma. The book is Land of a Thousand Eyes by Peter Olszewski. Of course, after this evening was finished, the first thing I did upon entering my apartment was pull the book from my shelf and sure enough, Peter wrote about the same Ross that James had talked about. I was amazed by this coincidence...that I had read this book in 2006 at the same time that James was actually working for that Australian newspaper editor. At the time that I read the book, I had thought about how cool it would be to experience Burma for a few months or even a year. James said that he never felt in any danger during his seven months in Burma because the government military officials and soldiers knew enough to keep away from "white people" (not harassing them as much as they do the Burmese and other local ethnic groups). And the Burmese loved having foreigners visit and treating them as important guests. He said that he couldn't go anywhere without people wanting to talk to him.

I was interested in what it was like to write under the eye of censors. He even showed copies of newspapers in which his article about architecture was censored. Because the newspaper has existed for at least a decade or two, the editor-in-chief knew what was likely to get censored, so the journalists knew what subjects to avoid. They would, however, test the censors on a few articles, just to see what might slip through. And sometimes what is censored and what is not can be amusing. The official newspaper by the government is The New Light of Myanmar and he had a sample issue to show us (the English version). It was hilarious in the propagandistic slogans (propaganda writing is always hilarious to look at, but the bad writing makes it virtually impossible to read for any length of time) and word choices (such as the unintentionally funny headline of the issue he saved: "The General felicitates Mexican President").

I learned that James is currently a reporter for the Willamette Week newspaper (the free weekly alternative newspaper). I asked him if his paper was working on a story about my organization. He said that it wasn't and the reason was because they got too much flack over their coverage of the Mayor's scandal last year. They simply don't want to go there anymore, he said. His exact quote is: "We're not interested in what old men do with boys." Oh-kay. That answers that question, then.

As I walked home, though, I was on cloud 9 because that has been my month. I had wanted to meet certain people (writer Dave Eggers, Russian women, a reporter for the Willamette Week) and get involved in politics again (a Navy veteran running against our Congressman, a friend jumping into a local race)...and the universe presented options to me. Things are moving and I hope they continue to move in April. I still want to be in a new job before June arrives, so perhaps its time to up my search. I love Portland and the small community vibe it has. I'm looking at another busy month of political events, literary events (director Paul Verhoeven will give a lecture and booksigning at Powell's City of Books), and even the U2charist. I also hope that I will attract into my life a new career, at long last. One that matches my passion. Yesterday at work, my supervisor was her usual self when under stress...a completely unreasonable bitch who is not above throwing me under a bus to management in order to make herself look good. Seriously...its long past the time when I need to get out of here.

Mostly, though, I just want to be among international and international-minded people. When I'm away from work, incredible things happen. I want more of that in my life and I want a job that reflects my passion. You know how powerful you can be when you are working in your passion? The happiest day of my life is the day I walk out of here into a new reality. I'm living under a "New Energy Dynamic" (that phrase came to me in early March).


brooklyn said...

I'm so glad things are coming together for you!

I'm honored that you deem our conversation as significant. I really appreciate having a kindred spirit when it comes to religion/spirituality.

And, in case you want to ride this wave into a new job, I thought you might like this website:,-or-jobs.html

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Yay! You sound so positive and upbeat. And your posts, always, continue to surprise.