Monday, October 8, 2007

on happiness

i just got back from the wedding of one of my oldest and dearest friends. it was a strange experience, seeing the girl i've known so long at the alter, with a minister, wearing a $4000 dress (that she apparently bought for $500 on ebay), smiling and crying. i still remember that morning in sixth grade when, in the moments before the bell rang for homeroom, she pulled me right next to the radiator and whispered in my ear, "i got my period." being who i am, i of course said, "what?" but once i understood it, we were really bonded for life. i knew i was the first person besides her mom and perhaps her sister to hear this news. and ever since, i feel like we have been a kind of family, albeit not always in touch.

it was an overwhelming weekend for me. i got to hang out with a few other friends from my adolescence. i left massachusetts when i was 13 to move with my parents to japan. even though that experience was confusing and strange, i took it as it was. having moved to the japanese countryside, i took it as a given that my new friends would look at me as some exotic presence. but i never thought the friends i left behind in upper-middle class wellesley would see me any different. having gone back and experiencing a strange aura about myself, this was the first time i realized that what had been very matter-of-fact for me was actually out of the ordinary for my friends. i was not only their friend that moved away, but their friend that moved abroad. not only was i their friend that moved abroad, i was the friend that somehow fully assimilated the language and culture of that new and very different place. i guess as much as i see our world as transnational, it dawned on me finally this weekend how that experience might have seemed, well, glamorous. even though i felt it as an experience of deep estrangement, from the onlooker, it was an experience of broadening.

and here i show up--men's suit and all, wearing a bowtie and designer haircut. when asked what i did, i said, "i used to work at university of texas as a lecturer, but now i'm trying to be an artist full-time. meanwhile, i work in a woodshop, sanding." my friends took it with aplomb. even though going back to my place of origin made me realize exactly how different my trajectory was from many of my friends, i was really heartened by a certain bond that radiated warmth and renewed compassion.

you see, during my years of college, i learned to hate many things about my childhood. i hated my upper-middle class background, i hated the wishy-washy liberal values, i hated the manicured lawns and preppy clothes, i hated the perfect, hetero-normative families. but my opinions slowly softened since college. my hatred turned into critical observation, into contemplative problematics. now, instead of hatred, i enjoy exploring the tension between loving collective politics and procedure with an undying desire to get rich. my once radical politics are a bit more pargamatic, and somewhat lazy. and even though i see the problems with marriage, i also notice myself staying home on weekends and savoring domestic bliss with my partner, so much that i find myself daydreaming about our future decades together; marriage seems like my kind of bag.

and there i was at a straight wedding, surrounded by upwardly mobile young professionals, bawling my eyes out.

my friend had planned for everything. it was a moving ceremony and a mean after party. it kept me thinking about what my own "wedding" might look like. who knows? the room was mostly awash with urban professional asian americans. i believe there were something like 40 yale mbas there. lots of lawyers, bankers and doctors. it's not the kind of room i'm used to working. a kind of culture shock. but i was smiling all weekend. and then the bonny bride (she really was bonny, glowing, in fact) took the time to call me and another old friend to her honeymoon suite just to spend some time talking with us. she was so in the moment, happy and yet caring, i was overcome with emotion. it was really inspiring.

somehow, the weekend has made me very contemplative. nothing like a blast from the past to help me assess where i am right now. how is my current state fitting in with my plans? how am i going to get where i'm going? and how am i going to do it, even if i don't win the lotto?

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