I grew up with Oprah in my living room every day after school, and that woman knows how to express ideas that stick with you. Whether it’s a shocking statistic on bra size ignorance or the power of s-shaped poops, her Oprah-phorisms are saved forever in my mind. One thing she’d often remind us is that if you’re a woman living in America, you’re one of the luckiest people in the world. The crowd hushes to consider the implications–is America that incredible or does being a woman suck that much?
I know she says it to make us feel profoundly grateful, but seriously who does that work on? Carrying all that “luck” around on your shoulders can be exhausting. And Asians are all about luck. We wear red and eat noodles and practice a billion rituals to usher some luck into our lives. All of us who have parents from the motherland are reminded of how lucky we are to have a fridge full of food, a car, freedom of speech, the ability to choose our careers and everything else that…everyone else has in this day and age in America. Lucky us, we have no more real problems.
A lot of Asian immigrants are also extremely motivated and skilled in their field of work because for a while, in China at least, the only way you could get a job and visa here was to be the top 2% in a technical skill and a slightly bad communist. The Chinese parents I know fought tooth and nail to establish cushy lives here, and obviously expect their kids to do even better because they’re inherently starting out at a higher level.
I’m in the unique situation of having an ambitious brainy father and a hedonistic certified-insane mother. They put me in piano classes but let me quit when the teacher made me cry. They made me apply to Stanford but didn’t trip when I was happily rejected and went to Berkeley. They thought I should go on to higher education, but I chose a degree totally foreign to them–an MFA.
They instilled the belief that I should have a job that keeps me comfortable (not including the many part-time jobs I kept as a student). So I got one, but then I quit it. I got another, and quit that too. Third time was not the charm, as I’ve just quit that this morning.
In times like this, reminding myself how lucky is a surefire way to feel irresponsible, disloyal, ungrateful. When I see fellow English and creative writing majors go on to be starving artists, vagabonds or extreme minimalists, I respect them for choosing the less “secure” walk of life in exchange for designing their own and living with meaning. But I have a long way to go before I shift from admiring that life to adopting it.
It has everything to do with this ingrained idea that the obvious future for a girl lucky enough to have been bred for greatness is a fancy job. This is probably the biggest AGP I’ve had in the past few years. My oscillation between two cultures contributes to my oscillation between a decent paycheck and meaningful work. It’s not impossible to find both but it doesn’t fall in your lap. I get stuck between pursuing creative goals yet wanting to do my family proud so they don’t think, “They left us for a better life, raised her in a different tongue, fed and pampered her into a young woman we don’t recognize, and she STILL doesn’t have a job? She’s STILL unemployed like all the poor bastards here?”
Yes, that’s accurate. In addition to rich food and loose sexuality I grew up with adults and/or dinosaurs telling me to think and question everything. With Oprah who sells workshops to help people follow their passion and fulfill their God-given duties in life. As a woman of color in America, I’ve essentially hit the sociological jackpot. It’s then hard to swallow the idea of mediocrity. Which is no better summed up by an uninspiring job that pays the bills and keep you comfortable. Wave that life in front of anyone in China years ago, and they’d be chomping at the bit. If you offer it to me I’ll just look at you like you’re a VHS salesman.
My parents are the successful ones–their dream lives of abundance and ease lay at my feet and I can go that route whenever I please, so mission complete. But we always need to find our own struggles, or life gets pretty meaningless, not to mention boring. They’ve raised our quality of life, but it’s only natural I keep asking questions. Humans are not suited to having all the answers. We are certainly not suited to sitting in an airless box counting our personal worth in units of dollars or Facebook likes. I know there are greater things.