Creatures and Happiness: Dementors

Newest post from my new site: The Enchanted Outlook. I am having so much fun with this series! Be sure to follow me at theenchantedoutlook.com for more content like this.

The Enchanted Outlook

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The dementor is a creature of J.K. Rowling’s invention. Cloaked in a dark hood, the dementor feeds off happy thoughts and leaves victims with a sense of hopelessness. The dementor also has the ability to give a “kiss” that sucks the soul out of the body.

How did such creatures come to be imagined?  In an interview with Oprah, Rowling explained that she based dementors off of her own experience with depression. She said, “It’s not sadness; sadness is- I know sadness; sadness is not a bad thing, you know, to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling, that really hollowed out feeling; that’s what the dementors are.”

Interestingly, the more horrors in a person’s past, the greater the effect the dementors have. How, then, does one fight a dementor? By focusing on a positive, happy memory. This memory creates a light force, called a…

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Creatures and Happiness: Dragons

A sneak preview from my new and improved site: http://www.theenchantedoutlook.com. Don’t forget to follow me there for more content and several new blog series within the next few months.

The Enchanted Outlook

img_1152In anticipation of the premier of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I am excited to reveal my new series, Creatures and Happiness, where I will examine the symbolism of magical creatures and what they can teach us about our own wellbeing. First up: Dragons!

I love dragons and could talk all day about the different things they symbolize. Today I will talk about one of their less-thought-of attributes: the attainment of wisdom. Dragons are often portrayed as particularly cunning. They love riddles and tricks. They are also, of course, very dangerous. To meet with a dragon is a great risk, but it is also an opportunity. Defeating a dragon takes a lot of courage and a lot of brainpower. In short, it is a chance to find one’s inner strength and see the full extent of what a person is made of.

The dragon, thus, can…

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When a White Girl was Racially Profiled

mr and mrs

I said yesterday that I was tired of sharing facts, memes, and empathetic stories because I felt like they weren’t working. I still feel like they aren’t working, and I know it’s hypocritical to share one now. But I realized that there was one story I hadn’t yet shared: my own. 

My husband and I, newlyweds, are looking for an apartment. I had responded to a few posts the day before via email and was waiting for them to call me back. Early one morning, I got a call back from a woman. Her tone was very strange and she was choosing her words very carefully. She said that my number wasn’t local and asked me where I was from. I told her we had moved here from out of town a few years ago. She then said that the two other people in the building (it was a triplex) were a “certain type of person” and she wanted to make sure that I fit in there. She said the other tenants were friends with each other, that they were quiet neighbors. She didn’t want anyone disruptive.

It suddenly dawned on me that all she knew about me was my last name, “Choi”. Was I, a white girl, being racially profiled?  

I had never personally been a victim of racial discrimination from a white person before. I wasn’t sure, definitively, what this woman’s motivations were. And that, in a way, was the kicker. She was careful and didn’t call me out outright. It was more a matter of tone, the nuance of what she was saying and how she asked her questions. There was nothing that I could call out and be like, “That’s racist.” And yet, I knew in my gut that I had never been talked to that way before.

I realized the impact it might have. Sure, the people at the local Korean restaurant always bring me the cheap silverware instead of the sets they reserve for Koreans. That’s annoying. Sometimes we get slower service in Asian restaurants or Asian groceries. That’s annoying too. Sometimes I’ve read terrible things said about “all white people” online that I personally don’t relate to. That’s frustrating. But this type of racial profiling, from a person who held some power over me, directly impacted the options of where I could live. Because even after I dropped a few names and she warmed up to me, and offered to show me the place, I felt sick to my stomach thinking about possibly living there.

This is not to tell some sob story about the time that privileged white girl joined “the other side.” I only say this because I imagine what would happen if this situation were magnified. If EVERY landlord treated me with this amount of caution. If EVERY store feared that I might be “disruptive.” If EVERY potential employer was looking for “a certain kind of person.” Or, at least, a large percentage of them. How would I have the motivation to keep applying, to keep smiling, to keep trying to impress when I knew exactly what they were thinking?

As Jonathan and I talked about, we feel oddly out of place in this discussion. Asians have been treated much better, at least, than black people in this country. Their struggle is not the same. Asian-white relationships are generally accepted. If anything, we confuse people. The person at the movie ticket counter might ask for my ticket separately before realizing we handed her both. The person in the phone store might single me out to ask if I need help when I walk into the store in the dead center of his entire family. Those stories, generally, are amusing, and credit, at most, an eye roll. Sure, there’s the occasional ignorant comment. The girl telling me he was cute “for an Asian.” The coworker who found out he was Christian and said, “Well good for him!” People asking me close personal questions about our relationship that I know they wouldn’t ask a white couple.

Still, we, as a couple, have never been called names. We’ve never had to be fearful. And yet, what is happening does affect us, especially him. As Jonathan said,  “I’m on the fence between ‘I’ve never been treated that way before’ and ‘But I’m not white.'” I dread the day when I will have to explain racism to my own children, when I may have to tell them why they are being treated differently. I’m hoping I won’t have to, but I know that’s naive.

It’s hard for me to think in terms of “privilege.” I feel like people equate that word with “easy.” My life has, in no way shape or form, been easy. Still, there is a certain kind of privilege in being able to find a place to live without worrying about the color of your skin. Yes, I would say that is a certain kind of privilege.

 

 

Seven Questions to End Political Controversy

Last week, I was having car trouble. Or, at least, I thought I was. I had tried, on several occasions over several days, to get into another lane, but no one would let me over. I live in a small southern city, not a place for aggressive drivers. So, I thought my turn signal light must be out. I pulled in front of my house and checked the light. Much to my disappointment, the light worked just fine. It wasn’t the light that was broken; it was society.

This week, I have been having writing trouble. I have been struggling because I realized that it really doesn’t matter what I say, or how I say it. The internet is filled with people saying things, citing statistics, taking stances. I knew that no matter what I say or how I say it, someone won’t like it. And someone would. And no one’s opinions would actually change. No one wants to hear statistics or facts. No one will be swayed by them. No one wants to hear an empathy-driven anecdote, either.

Growing up, we had to participate in class debates just about every year. We would pick a point and argue it. Sometimes we would choose which opponent “won” by who had the better argument. We even had a debate team. In college, we were often rewarded for who had the most interesting (read: controversial or inflammatory) comment in class. Now, people enjoy trolling each other online, just for the sheer joy of inciting controversy.

We had a debate team at my school but we never had a consensus team. It wasn’t deemed important that we were taught how to listen to each other, respect each other, or empathize with each other. Our entire culture has been structured around a fear-based, controversy-loving, team-choosing, “us-vs-them” rhetoric. 

I’m not saying there isn’t value in statistics or in anecdotes meant to inspire empathy. I’ll admit, I’ve been sharing some of them myself, and I’ve re-posted enough “Snopes” articles on other people’s shared memes that I might as well start working for the website myself. I’ve gotten in my fair share of political debates too. I am just saying that everything we are trying isn’t working. So I came up with seven questions. And I challenge you, no, I DARE you, to write out what you view the answers to these seven questions to be. Write it out from multiple perspectives if that helps. They are as follows:

  • What does the other side want, specifically?
  • What is motivating them to support what they want?
  • What do you fear would happen if they get what they want?
  • What are they asking you to give up?
  • What have they given up, or what would they be willing to give up?
  • What would you be willing to give up?
  • Is that thing worth giving up? Why or why not?

Now, I’m not saying that everything is worth giving up, or that there isn’t a reason to take a stance. I’m even questioning if it’s even right to not take my own stance in this post. I have chosen not to do so because I don’t feel it is constructive to the post itself, and because, like I said, it wasn’t working. Writing your answers out may make it clear whether those things are worth giving up or not. If you feel they are not worth giving up, thinking through these questions may still help you to form a more informed opinion. And, most importantly, it may help you to respect your fellow humans, even if you don’t agree with them.

If you don’t know the answer to any one of these questions, but you are posting memes and the like online, then shame on you. You need to stop right now, and do a little research for yourself. Better yet, find someone who has a viewpoint opposite of you and ask them to give their opinion. And actually listen and ask questions instead of thinking about your rebuttal. If you do know the answers and have thought about them a lot, and have really thought critically about your opponent’s point of view and have tried to empathize with them and truly respect them, then give yourself a pat on the back. And go eat a cookie, because you have probably had a very long week.

I’ll be honest. I have zero expectations that these seven questions will solve anything. But you know what? I’m a writer, and words are all I have to try to make a difference in the world. So I’ll leave it to you to prove me wrong.

 

The Case of the Unidentified Flying Hubcap

So last Wednesday I was rushing out to my car with coffee, tote, and purse in hand, ready to go to work, when I came across this as I rounded the back of my car:

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Not entirely sure how this was possible, I bewilderingly snapped a picture of it.

The weird thing is, I should have been angry, but I found myself feeling guilty instead. I’m a cautious person. I’m a planner. Despite making my share of “oops moments,” I try to learn from every mistake and prepare for the future. Then here was this thing that happened out of nowhere that I had not prepared for. I felt even worse after I called my insurance and realized it wasn’t covered, and realized there were no cameras around to catch the culprit. How could I have been so stupid?

Sure, there is a case for hindsight (Insurance plan upgrade: check. Parking off the road? Working on it.) The thing I think I learned the most, though, is that sometimes, things just happen. Life is full of UFHs -Unidentified-Flying-Hubcaps- and no matter how much we plan and prepare for them, they happen anyway. When we continuously look for a deeper meaning (as I always do), we run the risk of denying ourselves the right to feel what we need to feel.

Sometimes there is a deeper meaning. I believe that we are a small part of a much larger and more meaningful picture. But I also believe that sometimes, hubcaps are just hubcaps. Recent events have made that even more clear to me. And isn’t that just terrifying? Whether it be from a rapist or a shooter or an alligator or an amoeba, sometimes absolutely horrific things happen to good people. 

Why, then, do we try to blame the victim in these circumstances? I think it is much easier to assume that person did something wrong than to realize that something horrific could happen to us. It must have been that person’s fault, right? Because they misread a sign, or looked away for two seconds, or weren’t a good person deep-down, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or blinked, or ate cheese that morning, or slept on their right side instead of their left. All smart people know that if you sleep on your left side instead of your right, your chances of being consumed by a random swarm of purple locust significantly decrease. Right?

I have unsettling news for you. Even if you dot all your “i”s and cross all your “t”s, if you are a good person, if you pray and go to church every single Sunday, if you never blink, if you have an emergency savings that Dave Ramsey would balk at, if you are a vegan, organic, gluten-free, mace-carrying hyper-vigilant super-ninja, something terrible may still happen to you anyway. Life happens.

Why does this matter? Because I grew up believing that bad things did not happen to good people. Then my mother, aunt, and grandmother died when I was in high school. We need to think about what lessons we teach our children.

So, if you find yourself a victim of UFH’s in your own life today, I urge you to go easy on yourself. Don’t blame the victim, even if that victim is you. Hubcaps fall out of the sky, but you are still awesome. Rock on.

Oh, and worried about the car? No worries, my hubby fixed it:

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When Life is Not Enchanting

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Generally speaking, writing about life’s enchanting moments is easy. Just about anything qualifies. Got a head cold? Sure, I can work that in. Going on a trip? Easy. Had a stressful work week? Piece of cake. Enchantment is all about perception. If we change the way we interpret situations, we can live a more enchanted life.

Some weeks, though, writing about enchantment is hard. This was one of those weeks. Sometimes life is not enchanting and no little tweak in how we view things will change that. Sometimes life is brutal and gory and traumatizing and anger-inducing.

I was just in Orlando a month and a half ago at the start of our honeymoon. I may have seen the staff person who was killed last week when I rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that a city that is normally all about finding life’s magic is suddenly about finding much darker things. Finding family members who are missing. Finding bodies or parts of bodies. Finding out the worst. Finding monsters. Finding a way to make it through the night. Finding courage to keep going. Finding out that yet another tragedy has struck.

But, more than finding things, we are ALL searching for things that we can’t find. We are searching for answers. We are searching for meaning, or understanding. We are searching for a consensus that can’t be reached. We are searching for truth in a web of memes and twitter statuses and rumors and opinions and misinformation and corruption and hatred. We are all playing riddles in the dark. We are all running in a giant Caucus-Race.

There are, really, two outcomes of this race. The first is that we will continue to get nowhere. In this case, we can throw our hands up, stop running and give in. The second is that we WILL get somewhere. This will involve scary words like compromise, understanding, empathy, and courage. It will involve us really, truly, looking at things from someone else’s perspective. YES, that means the person whose opinions you don’t like, even if their opinions are full of judgement or fear or misinformation. YES, when I say “us,” I mean YOU. It also will involve taking ACTION in any way that you can, even something small like signing a petition or making a small donation.

I like to think that we will get somewhere. Just look at all the other times we have gotten somewhere. My voice, a woman’s voice, wouldn’t be heard like this if we hadn’t gotten somewhere. I wouldn’t have been able to marry my husband if we hadn’t gotten somewhere. It’s the getting there that makes these horrific moments our generation’s personal journey of overcoming. And it’s a shame that we have to go through these moments, particularly for those whose lives were lost and for their family and friends. It would be so much easier if we could just start with love and compassion, wouldn’t it? Certainly it isn’t fair that we go through these pains again and again.

Still, every magical tale contains darkness and monsters of some form. Every magical tale has its own story of overcoming. Every magical tale ALSO has heroes and friendship and love and so many wonderful things that make the tale worth telling. This may not be a tale that we will ever, ever want to tell. But the heroes who are standing up for what is right, who are working hard to reach a consensus, who are responding to cries of distress, who are doing anything and everything they can, make the tale one that will need telling. We all have the choice as to whether or not to embody those heroic traits like love, courage, and compassion in these situations. That, I think, is how we find enchantment in the world’s dark moments: by being that lightness, by being that love and compassion.

Remember: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”