brain bleach… a search for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

Most people who know me know that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favorite films of, like, well, ever. The film is awesome in more ways than this post is meant to explore, but the idea that humans might endeavor to “spot clean” our memories in order to eliminate pain and suffering holds a lot of appeal, a lot of the time. Of course there is the more mature (or something) view that it is the precise point of our mental discomfort to force us to deal with it and grow from it and blah, blah, blah…. And the movie as much as admits that it is truly impossible to spot remove something that you have experienced because once experienced, it becomes a part of you, changing you irrespective of the effort to pretend it never happened. Our experiences become us; both integrating as part of us and frankly, suiting us in ways we may or may not be ready to deal with.

Still, there are moments in which I wallow when I simply wish I could stop thinking about something… to the point that I do wish it never happened despite my best efforts at maturity (seriously) or some sort of accepting detachment. I long for my own brand of brain bleach for spot removal. Said something simply awful to someone? Just a touch of my magic product right here and you won’t have to torment yourself with reliving that forever as some medieval form of guilt therapy. Demonstrated some amazingly bad judgment in behavior? In public you say? No problem. Bleach that shit right out, and move along… no one really cares but you anyhow (we hope.) Heart broken by someone’s bullshit and your pitiful expectations? Just like Joel and Clementine? Here you go, douse yourself in brain bleach and move along.

Ah, but the residuals. For Joel and Clem as well as you (me?) Regardless of the method of brain bleaching (hypnosis? booze? indulgence? abstention?) nothing is every quite the same. I mean, as you know, if you have ever bleached your laundry or hair – on purpose or otherwise – It might look like you got that spot, but the fabric is forever changed. And the more you bleach it, the shittier it gets.

I think there are infinite interpretations as to what this might mean: ignorance is bliss, a clean conscience, unfettered and uncluttered acuity, hyper-presence… but they are just variations on a theme. I guess religious folks would call it enlightenment or something, but it is a quiet mind. Calming the chitta vritti – the monkey mind. Like turning off the lights after a really long day… but without the mental exercise of reminding yourself what you did not do and what remains to be done. Just, lights off. But, as in the film, what the less enlightened of us want is to just not think about shit that bums us out anymore.

That is my take away (one of them) from Eternal Sunshine of the spotless Mind. And I think it is important as a life lesson, and fodder for general contemplation. So important in fact I rather prophetically told someone they simply had to watch this film not too long ago, and in an ironic (not so) twist, they have become the abject object of my desire for brain bleach.

Why is this so goddammed hard?

A surgical procedure as in the film sure seems nice compared to the day in and day out work you have to put to it otherwise. And shit, there is so much advice as to how to achieve it: meditate, think more, think less, do yoga, fast, eat, run, be vegan, pray, sleep more, sleep less, talk about it, don’t talk about it, tune in, tune out… Get black out drunk…

I wanted to eradicate some recent experiences from my conscience just for the inner peace I accused the situations of stealing. As I said, I do understand that in truth eliminating experiences would not be ideal but whatever. I still tried a lot of strategies. Many mentioned above. Nothing worked. (In fact some strategies, as suggested simply created more memories to eradicate. Aiyah.) Every fix was temporary.

About the situation I wanted to delete… I kept thinking an apology would make it better. Some sort of explanation would make things right. I cannot say that either of those would have done the job, but really, could they have hurt? [Quien sabe.] I kept wondering, had this someone else managed to find an effective brain bleaching solution? I will never know… Though I think I want to.

Self-helpers say, remember, it’s not you it’s them… Uh, okay. Not so helpful.

Mom says to remember that the path you are not on is just as likely to be complicated with fuck ups as the one you are on, so don’t play some silly head game where you imagine had things gone down a different way they would be ideal. And then she has so many examples I end up feeling like a true success story… This actually is helpful, so thanks mom.

R says it’s my fault. I let things go and grow knowing that I am dealing with someone who cannot deal with me. He is probably right. He is usually right. And as the things I’ve been doing to clear my brain are not helping, I might as well listen to him.

“But, but, but…” I said. “No,” R said. “And remember a lot of these people have complexities we just do not desire.”

“But I was honest,” I said.
“Doesn’t matter,” R said.
“But he said…” I said.
“Doesn’t matter,” R said.
“But he told me to wait for him,” I said.
“He didn’t mean it,” R said. “I don’t know why guys say stuff like that. Maybe they mean it when they say it, but he didn’t make the changes he said he wanted to make for you, so he doesn’t want to make them.”

“But, but, but…” I said.
“No,” R said.

Sigh.

Lately, my mind feels a little clearer…. so since none of my other go-to strategies were working, I guess I have to admit R is right. That is so annoying.

Still, there seems to be a little more sunshine in my spotted mind… And today, in order to not think about things that bum me out, I bought more airline tickets and I’m listening to ELO. So there is that.

Thank you notes.

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. ~  Rabindranath Tagore

There are turning points in a person’s life, many, if you’re lucky, I think. A turning point for me certainly was the decision to become an expat in the summer of 2005. Although now it seems I have repatriated, (“She’s so American!” ~ Lucas D.) several incredibly clichéd truths remain around that decision to pull a geographical some 9+ years ago. But there is beauty in cliché, likely because of the universal truths they are born from and therefore resonate from them.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed. ~ Jung

I have been forever changed by my choice to live on the other side of the world, and although many understand this obvious statement, real understanding, the kind that never needs to be explained, the kind that is shown through a look, a nod…  can only be shared with those who too have made this choice. This return to Hong Kong reminded me of the power of this shared experience and the importance of reconnecting to it.

I am unsure of the exact reason it took me so long to go back, though I can speculate at many, some embarrassingly mundane (should I spend the money, my “partner” was uncomfortable about it, it is too hard to arrange…) and others more complicated (what would I find there, do I need to be reminded of things, am I going for the “right” reasons?) In the end, all of these contemplations turn out to be rubbish. Why I make a choice is irrelevant to anyone beyond my psyche really, and the judgments surrounding it are things I cannot control. Further, the logistics can always be handled, and it is only a provincial mind that allows them to stand in the way. And really, what sort of “partner” places limits upon one? [A former partner, that’s what kind…]

In the end you just go. Or maybe you don’t, that of course being your own choice.

I left Hong Kong on 1 July 2010. I returned, briefly, in February 2011 with the specific intention of proving to myself that I had made the right choice to repatriate. That was foolish. But I was in a bad place, relying too much on the opinions of others about the choices I was making, and insecure about an unsure future here. The insecure and unsure mind makes many declarations: YES, I have chosen correctly. NO, I do not need this. Etcetera, etcetera, off into tedious infinity.

Three and a half years later I returned. Not so much as a prodigal daughter, (though one could make the argument that in some ways I had squandered (by diminishing) some of the amazing lessons I had learned while abroad – and was welcomed back into the arms of my teachers with nary a moment of consideration) nor in some prodigious nature replete with characteristics of a grand tour of places far and wide (though prodigious in some other ways, I shall allow you to speculate.) Home now for nearly three days (though this is my first alone in my space with only coffee and cats – definitely a story for another time-space-medium) I can say with the most sincere conviction that my return was important, necessary, invigorating, clarifying, and right.

No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten. ~ HST

It is important to assert that I had been longing for a visit to Hong Kong, really a trip – a voyage – anywhere, as I had felt my wings unduly and involuntarily clipped for the past two years (though it would be irresponsible to suggest that these things happen entirely involuntarily, if at all involuntarily.) I had been stayed put. But then I had an experience that shook things up a bit and like a stick loosened from the mud I chose to follow the current. Of course, this did not come without judgement (both my reaction to said shake up and my choice to head to Hong Kong, but lately I am less and less interested in the judgement of others.) So, in what appeared to the untrained, uninterested, or unobservant eye, to be spontaneous (irresponsible? reactionary?) I bought the ticket.  I would deal with all of the reasons why this would be a problem later. It turns out that problems are largely a product of perception, by the way.

I let my circles know I would be coming back. ‘Home’? It is hard to say, but I believe there are so many versions of home, and likely the “where you hang your hat” definition is most accurate, particularly for me, as you can be sure I would never hang my hat somewhere I did not want to be; I have issues about my stuff. I opened my heart and my calendar to see what would be, and just let things work themselves out… and it was – if there is such a thing – perfection.

No man [or woman! – Monty Python] ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he’s not the same man [or woman! – ibid]. ~ [apologies to] Heraclitus

For a change, I harbo(u)red few illusions that I would return to a place that was the same, or people who were the same, or as one who was the same. I also allowed myself to be open to anything, making expectations unnecessary. I reminded myself that people might want to know about my reasons for coming back, (although, really the only people who asked about it were the people I was leaving in America) and that there might be assumptions… and I allowed for those as well. Why should I care what those might be? A few days into my visit, a friend pointedly asked if this trip was about Stu, I thought for a moment before answering, considering how this made me feel – shy? embarrassed? silly? I shrugged and said, it was really about me, and Stu is certainly a part of that. The answer felt right and true, and my friend smiled and said, “Welcome home.”

From the moment I landed and walked into the palpably thick air of a Hong Kong summer, everything felt right and true. Different yes, but familiar enough to comfortable and welcoming, while different enough to exciting and inspiring. [In keeping with the theme of cliché: same same but different, if you will.]

And there are so many I have to thank for this.

Thank you Frenchie for being you; goofy, loving, generous – and holy shit – ON TIME! Thank you for allowing me to use your space without limits or conditions and making time for me on the days before your departure. Wine, cheese, walks, sweat, shandy, stories, the beach, spring rolls, coffee, yoga & failed helicopter plans… Kind of a lot for three days. Although the time was too short, vive le France! And to next summer we look.

Thank you Kelly for being the consummate planner and arranging the traditional Lamma dinner and knowing precisely who to include. Although we took no photos, (wait, really?) that I was able to see my original Lamma benefactor and favo(u)rite OAP is something I cannot express my gratitude for. And the rest of you who were there… you were my first Lamma family without question, and time and space aside, you remain my family.

Thank you Chris, Jill, Cath & Daz for knowing I had to share our mutual loss, and knowing without words that it mattered. That it all matters. And for much more that need not be articulated, but suffice it to say, Cath’s bar is still home and I loved being able to rock up like a local. The four of you cannot know how grateful I am for being able to spend time together in an awesome variety of ways over my twelve short days.

Thank you Kate for being you and allowing me to combine two things I love beyond measure: Yoga & Lamma. Fabulous.

Thank you to my cousin Akasha. He knows why. And although these times are trying in many ways, for us they have been transformative. Namaste, yo.

Thank you Camellia for letting me be an auntie and for so many things: massages, margaritas, breakfasts, spa treatments, sushi & shopping. You are a fabulous mama, Chloe is so lucky. Were it not for the little princess I would still be shaking my head trying to figure out if it was 2009 or 2014 as it seems like not a day has passed since the last massage & margarita session.

Thank you Sarah & Willie for getting me to Kenneth’s recital… he was amazing and still EXACTLY the same curmudgeon I love to recall. To see you two along with Inggie and Clare was awesome. I miss you guys!

Thank you Keren for spotting me fresh off the boat and your gorgeous smile. I feel lucky for all of our unplanned encounters and the time we shared.

Thank you Tracey & Jerry & Lucas for still being the best neighbors a girl could ask for and reminding me of about a million things I love about our little village (and dinner!) I am gutted to not be having a wine with you and Nick when she arrives in a few weeks time… but I’ll be there in spirit.

Thank you Tam & Aims for making time and sharing Mui Wo with me. Gorgeous afternoon, and one of the best catch-ups of all time.

Thank you Veer for continuing to be my teacher. I am lucky to have a yoga master like you. You have shaped my practice and continue to inform my understanding of yoga far beyond the asana.

Thank you Emily for always being the connection between me and the girls we practice with and making time for a lovely long lunch. I can’t wait to see you again.

Thank you James for lunch and all the NTK news… and the thought-provoking conversation about so many professional options. And cats. You were a great boss… and make me almost consider working six days a week again. Almost.

Thank you Fun Bobby for being you. Hong Kong is simply not Hong Kong without a night out with you – in whichever form it might take. Sorry we missed the pandas, but hey, gelato and hot pilots are fairly good compensation.

Thank you Rodney for lunch and your sanguine nature and ability to explain so much of what is happening now in Hong Kong. You look amazing, and as you are singularly the reason I ever came to Hong Kong in the first place, to not see you would have left my return incomplete.

Thank you Adele and darling N for the breakfast adventure and shared time. I am astounded at the young man N is becoming, and it is certainly a credit to his momma.

Thank you Andy for being you. Always. I miss you, mate.

Thank you Kelly L. for reminding me that the light I see in others is a reflection of my own light – you’ve always seen something in me that is special, and that is a reflection of you.

Thank you Dr. Man for squeezing me in on your return. You have always had a unique ability to shift my perspective, and this was no exception. It is interesting for me to see you, then and now, because you remain, ( not ironically) someone who is simultaneously steady and fluid.

Thank you Heather and Eric for a rain-soaked happy hour. Thank you Andrew for sharing your pool. Thank you Barry for continuing to entertain in so many ways. Thank you Jack for the many ferry hellos. To Dave O., Parksy, Mooney: thank you for remembering. To Cita and Luisa and Joyce and Emma & Danny: thank you for remembering me like I never left. John Fox… thank you for saying hey, and the conversation: San Francisco may not be the only American city I could live in, but it certainly is pretty great.

And a huge, smiling thank you to everyone who came up to me with a hug and said, seriously, “Have you been on holiday?”

To Eric, Olly, Vicky, Nickie, Sheli, Tamara N., and those I missed for reasons many, I know I will see you the next time around.

The clichés comfortably, or at least aptly, remain: You can take the expat out of Hong Kong but you can’t take Hong Kong out of the expat, roads less travelled, rivers stepped in and out of, nothing lasts forever, we are all in this together… and life goes on.

Thank god for that.

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We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us. ~ F.W. Boreham

Well… How did I get here?

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

I have not published in a month. Many reasons for this [time, fatigue, distraction, WordPress insisting that I pay them for more space over here, work, elections, emotions, you know. Life.] So, now here I am with a new url and everything. Well, not everything.

It was kind of weird setting up a new page, I mean, I get a little attached to things.

You know?

It was a challenge to avoid selecting the exact same layout. I maintained some continuity by using the same header image. I may actually return to the exact same layout. You do what you can. I took a stroll through the old posts. Like I was saying goodbye or something, which is silly because it is not like the old page is going anywhere. But it was strange to actually be able to sort of read about how I actually did get here. It took away some of the mystery inherent in David Byrnne’s rhetorical question. I could see right there, before my eyes, exactly how it all unfolded. Frankly, reality is way more enigmatic than abstract mystery.

Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us
Time isn’t holding us, time doesn’t hold you back
Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us
Time isn’t holding us…

Who knew?

I revisited myriad interesting choices, diversions, interactions, disappointments, surprises. They seemed a lot less random in hindsight. And less disappointing. No less surprising. And, still, it’s anyone’s guess where this highway leads to.

You know?

In the end the most pressing question may be, why a big suit?