dubai

My Moonstruck

Few movies influenced me as much as Moonstruck growing up.

I must have been 12years old when I first watched it with my parents. My mother had to explain so much. The different kinds of love, the different reasons for marriage, the different ways adults get stuck and stop fully living, the messiness that comes from passion, forgiveness and the struggle to be honest, and the power of art (opera). Set in Little Italy in NYC, I could relate to a lot of the idiosyncrasies that come from being a 2nd generation immigrant. I thought Cher was beautiful, both before and after her makeover in the movie – possibly my first female role model that wasn’t a Disney princess. It is also the first time I truly appreciated comedy. It’s a funny movie.

Some of the key scenes from that movie happen at the Metropolitan Opera. I longed to see the famous Chagall painting that hangs therein, and to feel for myself the power of music in that concert hall. Which I did, in 2011. A broke student, I splurged on $250 tickets to go see Rigotello with one of my girlfriends. In 2014, I returned to the Met, this time alone, to fulfill a bucket list item of seeing Polina Semionova dance the lead in Manon. Both times, I hoped to run into Cher and Nicolas Cage, because obvi they must go to all the performances there, always, right?

This past weekend, I treated myself to a weekend getaway to NYC to visit my cousin & her fiancé. Her sister joined us. They’d been wanting to try out the ABT, and waited till I was available to join them, as I’m the balletomane of the family. I was SO excited to share my passion for ballet with them, specifically at this dream location of my childhood.

I cried as Giselle fell in love with her player-prince, was betrayed, went crazy from the shock of her beloved’s unfaithfulness, and died from the heartache. That was followed by intermission: I sipped a glass of bubbly out on the Met balcony with my cousins under the beautiful NYC night sky. I thought my heart would burst from the beauty of the night.

It occurred to me that I’ve undergone a similar character arc to Cher’s in Moonstruck. I was stuck in a place of depression, trying to live a safe life. I rejected vulnerability for the longest time. I tried to build a life that would avoid hurt and grief. Then the Universe threw Beaut at me, like it threw Nicolas Cage at Cher, and suddenly I was alive.

Ronny: Come upstairs. I don’t care why you come. No, that’s not what I mean. Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is. And I didn’t know this either. But love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people… and die. I mean, the storybooks are bullshit! Now, I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!

Beaut might no longer be in the picture, but he left me with dance. And through dance, my life is changing beyond recognition. The people I’m meeting; the lessons I’m learning; the trips I am taking; performing. Life is messy, thrilling and exhilarating, both on and off the dancefloor. That’s not the same happy ending that Cher’s character experiences in Moonstruck – but I’ll live happily ever after just the same. And what better moment to acknowledge how far I’ve come than at the Met, where Cher learned to feel as deeply as I have?

(Incidentally, that quote from Moonstruck is a very apt description of the story line of Giselle, the ballet we went to see. I love it when the Universe echoes the same message over and over, in different manners. #subtlenotsubtle)


It was a wonderful weekend with my cousins.

We walked through Central Park and the High Line. Little oasis of greens in the bustling city.

We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

This weekend was perfect.

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Reblog: Falling Half in Love with Strangers

I stumbled upon the post below: it’s a masterpiece. It describes so very perfectly what happened to me in Dubai. I’d say my experience was a bit further along the line of “falling in love non-platonically” than Quinn’s here, but that doesn’t matter. I was invested. I experienced, for the first time in my life, an immediate and perfect connection with someone, and the days and hours that followed served only to prove my gut instinct right.

It’s been surprisingly hard letting go of that connection, especially in this era of social media. I struggled to understand what I was going through in the weeks following Dubai. Such a sharp blend of happiness and sadness. I realized, finally, that it was grief: grief for a chapter of happiness that had a pre-defined expiry date. Melodramatic? Maybe, maybe not: it is what I felt, and when I read Quinn’s experience below, I am comforted in knowing that others too have experienced similar moments. Now that I’ve worked through all that, I’m free to feel gratitude for those 4 days of perfect connection. Seeing him pop up on my Fbk newsfeed serves as a reminder of what I should continue striving for in my interactions on this side of the pond: a heart singing with joy.

I am on the lookout for a particular word.

I want a word for the feeling I get when I connect with a total stranger for a few minutes or hours, and then never see them again. It’s an ability to suddenly feel profound, intense affection for someone I don’t know. It’s not physical attraction, necessarily. It can happen with men or women. It is a non-discriminatory feeling that happens without warning, without rhyme or reason. I want a word that explains how I can feel instantly and powerfully attached to somebody and then, in a perverse way, almost hope never to see them again.

Is there a word for that?

There are a handful of people I’ve met over the years who I still think about from time to time, because even if I only spent a few hours with them, in those hours I was invested. I wanted to know everything about them. I fell a little bit platonically in love with them and their stranger-ness. I felt something that I don’t have a word for, and I hate that. I felt a nameless, wordless bond.

Read the full post here: Falling Half in Love with Strangers

 

My facial expressions are not correlated to my happiness levels

Finally! The official photographer from the Dubai festival uploaded his pics onto Fbk yesterday! It turns out that I look like a prissy know-it-all when I dance. Yippee. This pic however, I enjoy. You can see traces of the prissiness, but really that’s just my look of intense concentration/mild panic, mixed with enjoyment and satisfaction.

photo cred: Farantini, the amazing photographer of all kizomba events @http://www.farantini.com/

When I first danced with that guy on Day 1 of the festival – hands down, one of my favorite leads ever! He can make me DO things!! – he surprised me by pulling that move. I didn’t expect it, the sudden falling forward, so maybe definitely I screeched. Loudly – I don’t have an indoor voice even when I try. Classic dance styling option: startle your partner into almost dropping you. Imma trademark that, stat.

Notice how my mouth is closed this time? That’s what 4 days of non-stop dancing will produce: no more hearing-loss for my dance partners.


Cue many minutes of total non-productivity, as I perused through all those pics, bringing back small moments I’d already forgotten.

It’s the “bringing back” part that I struggle with. When I first got back to Montreal, I didn’t want to let go of the intense happiness I’d felt in Dubai. I made the mistake of assuming everything I associated with this trip – including the friendships and all emotions – must be in the past, distinct from my present. And that is true, kinda.

This Dubai trip proved to me that I have the capacity to feel happiness, and the capacity to dream. I created deep bonds with friends, both new and old; these friendships changed me, as all love and shared experiences must. Therefore, who I am today, post-trip, is different than who I was pre-trip, because of the people that I met in Dubai. My anxiety lied to me last week: it is false to assume that all these lovely people are continuing to live their lives, without me, and I without them. We all bear the marks of each others’ influence, stemming from those moments of intersection. That eternal connectivity is just as true as the physical truth that we all apart now, sprinkled across the world.

If I can feel that grateful and connected to the people I spent 4-8 days with, perhaps, maybe, I should refocus my gratitude on those that I share my daily life with? There are so many opportunities for happiness in my Montreal life, that I frequently don’t notice, distracted by the noise that is adulting. Like my Baba taught me: “give us this day our daily bread”. That means my happiness is not stuck in the past, nor is it tied to the outcome of goals set in the future. Happiness is felt in the now, if I will but let myself be open to it. It can be found in my #dreamteam that smiles when they see me, and care and worry about me as much as I try mentor them. In the zany disorganization of Teacher’s dance classes. In the grey weather that is starting to show green tinges of summer. In a good workout with Coach and my gym crew. In my favorite ice cream parlor opening on Sunday for the spring-summer season. In a Friday-night supper with my friend & her fam that I haven’t seen in a few months. In the satisfaction of knowing that I did a good day’s work, boring accountant-style.

Dubai taught me I can be happier than I ever thought possible.

Montreal will teach me to enjoy every day that I build a life of happiness for myself.

Them happiness goals tho!

#beherenow

A valuable lesson

Back in Feb, I was having coffee with Dynamo, and I brought him up to speed concerning my trainwreck dating life.

I’d recently experienced a few moments with Beaut that had led me to believe that perhaps, maybe, with caution, we could sustain a friendship. Dynamo listened to me in silence, and then gravely spoke:

So this is what you are gonna do. You are going to unfriend him from social media, block him, and never talk to him again. He lied to you. He has lied to others. He has repeatedly shown that he will hurt you as a side-effect to him getting something he wants. He can have all the good quantities you describe, all that is true. You have forgiven him, bc you should not hold hatred in your heart. But he is not a good friend. And so he deserves nothing from you. No time, no energy, no space in your life. That isn’t being a drama queen, that is choosing to control the levels of drama and happiness in your life. To chose happiness you MUST not choose drama.

I mourned the end of a chapter in my life that, while tumultuous, had triggered so much personal growth and discovery for me. I was a better person because of Beaut – how sad that I couldn’t benefit from all the advantages he’d generated with him as a part of my life. But Dynamo is wise, and has built a life for himself that I respect and admire. If he tells me something, it’s worth considering.

I followed Dynamo’s orders and blocked Beaut. My stress levels improved almost immediately, and have continued to steadily improve ever since. I’m free.

Dynamo wasn’t done. He had lots to say about my recent string of dates, including Hickster, Eurodude, Older Guy.

I think it is time you question what you want in your life. If you want happiness, why are you accepting guys that won’t bring you happiness in your life? Happiness is a choice, and is contingent on the alignment of the values you hold dear and your own behaviour. The Vanilla I met in 2009 would not have accepted these guys in her life, bc they do not align with her values.

Have your values changed? Because your quest for happiness has not, so make sure your behaviour is reflective of that. I don’t think it is.

Ouch. From my best friend. Hearing that suuuuuuuuuucked. He was right. I’d been settling for dead-end, fun, convenient dating scenarios, with no long-term potential, and usually a whole lot of drama, that inevitably distracted me from my goals of well-being and joy.

A few weeks later, cue my almost burnout and a need for an immediate vacation, and off I went to Paris/Dubai.

I have often stated that the Universe is a bit of a dick, with a fucked-up sense of humour. Well, not this time: the timing of this life lesson was just perfect. If I step back and look at the theme of this trip, it is that of Love and Friendship: both new (FroMan, Energizer and Sunshiney), old (BlondEyes) and dear (BossMan and IronSweetie). There was no drama. There was no insecurity. There was overwhelming happiness and connection and joy. Why? Because of the ppl in my life, willing and capable of sharing themselves beautifully with me, and I with them.

This trip spoiled me. I don’t wanna settle for any less happiness with my friends and dating life than what I experienced in Dubai. Frankly, I don’t think I can settle again: anything less will be too little, when compared to the joy I felt during those 8 days.

Dynamo, as always, was right.


Recap of this trip – Dubai:

A tale of 4 days

I wrote this immediately after my trip, when the joy coursing in my veins was strong. It has taken several days to fade, as fade it must. I’m learning that the down-side to travelling is that we cannot (must not!) hold onto the people and transient moments that bring us joy. To prevent total memory loss, I’ve put those initial feelings into words. Like a photograph, I want to reread this and remember a slice of my life when my happiness was palpable and contagious.


FroMan.

He caught my eye at the first party of the festival, with his unusual mix of self-assurance, dancing technique and understated style – he dances to create a shared experience between him and his partner, rather than to perform. In the dance world, talent, technique & self-assurance are always accompanied by a healthy measure of ego & pride. It’s a world of big personalities. Not so with FroMan. My instinct told me I’d find peace & pleasure in his company, and not my usual anxiety amongst strangers. Just like that, mere hours after the start of the festival, I’d pegged FroMan as a safe friend. A safe, lowkey sexy-AF friend.

Any down-time between workshops and parties, I’d reach out to him. The answer was always that I should join him & whoever he was with. Hanging out with him in a group was an interesting experience. With most ppl, like Energizer and Sunshiney for example, spending time with them leads to surprises that change my understanding of their character. With FroMan, it was the opposite. Just like peeling away the layers of an onion does not change one’s assessment of the onion, every discovery or new info served to deepen and confirm my opinion of him: a safe, self-assured, reserved humble man with the most beautiful manners – always looking to enhance and promote the success of any gathering for all participants, consistent with his dancing style. Those beautiful manners gave my paranoid brain ammunition: maybe he was just being his kind, polite self, and letting me tag along bc I didn’t know anyone at the festival? Afterall, he’d not overtly flirted with me, or made any sort of move. His eyes just crinkled into a smile every time he saw me, and when something unexpected happened, I could be sure of him catching my eye to share a silent, complicit look.

At the afterparty of day 4 of the festival, Energizer was outrageously flirting with me. He’d been flirting with me from the moment I’d had my dancefloor meltdown on day 2, all festival long basically. By Day 4, he’d tacitly accepted his spot in my friendzone, which made me relax, and engage in the harmless, fun, over-the-top flirting with him. Energizer noticed FroMan studiously not staring at us, and broke off mid crude/hilarious compliment to go shake FroMan’s hand and tell him, “Bro, don’t worry. I like you. You are my friend. Good luck.” To my puzzled look, he explained, “FroMan wants you, and I am his friend, so I can’t have you, and I don’t want him to think I’ll try have you. Besides… I’m pretty sure you want him as much as he wants you.” (Who knew there was such a thing as an honorable playboy?!) That moment of confirmation that no, I wasn’t crazy, there was something between us, FroMan’s impeccable manners be damned, made me so happy it hurt.

The next day, a bunch of us from the festival went to the Burj Khalifa. It was a glorious day amongst friends. That tower is incredible – hypnotic in its grace and stature. We watched the famous fountain shows as the sun set. Those shows are so beautiful they strip your mind of any thoughts – rushes of pure emotion and amazement. During our second viewing, I stood next to FroMan, rapt in my bubble of glorious joy. He slung his arm around me as he watched in silence. I was so happy it hurt.

That night, at the last dance party, it came time for our goodbyes. Small talk, best wishes, smiles, intentions of staying in touch, and keeping tabs of any dance festivals we’d attend on each other’s continents. He slung his arm around me and held me close in silence. I left. It hurt.

Maybe I’m all wrong, and it was a one-sided crush: a good, deep friendship. Who cares? Wtv it was, it felt like 2 pieces of a puzzle fitting snugly together. We shared a unique, beautiful thing. It makes me sad that this story was only meant to last 4 days – but what a lovely, self-contained story! He lives on the other side of the world. Maybe he is a male version of BlondEyes – someone I run into every few years, with whom I share a few hours/days of wonderful connection before we go our separate ways. The delight I feel at having met him outweighs the regret of not having him around anymore.

I never knew. I never knew it could be so easy and simple, so wondrous, to like someone and be liked in return. What a gift he has given me.


Recap of this trip so far:

 

BossMan

Dynamo. My darling. My bestie.

I got to know Dynamo’s brother BossMan in Montreal in 2011. BossMan was going through a rough patch: he was an extremely high-achiever who was underperforming. Born to be an entrepreneur, he was having trouble developing a business model that was successful. A few too many costly flops, and his self-esteem was rather raw. Yet, always, he had an unwavering confidence that he would succeed one day. He just didn’t have anything to show for it, and society does not look kindly upon those dreamers that preach greatness but don’t have demonstrable results. I was studying for the UFE. I was in the danger zone, pre-depression (I slid into it, badly in 2012). I was a bundle of fear and insecurity and anxiety. BossMan decided we’d be friends – he didn’t give a damn whether or not I wanted to explore vulnerability, he imposed himself in my life. (In choosing a pseudonym for him, I considered Endearingly Explosive Bully, EEB for short, but that sounds like some medical procedure.) He saw the real Vanilla, drowning in my fight against my sick brain, and he always addressed his friendship to that part of me. I’d weep about the UFE, convinced I’d fail; he wouldn’t comfort me, no. He’d yell at me for dreaming too small. He didn’t understand that at that time in my life, I physically couldn’t dream – that is the cost of depression. I didn’t understand how he could still dream after all his failures, but I recognized that this was someone who could teach me about life. I clung to him.

Fall 2011. I was in the car with Dynamo, when BossMan called him about a business idea. Dynamo listened. Dynamo cautioned against the inherent risks in that industry & market. BossMan got irritated at Dynamo’s lack of vision. Later, I asked BossMan for an offhand update about that business idea. That innocent question led to BossMan sharing his business plan with me, consulting with me, trading ideas/approaches with me. He’d call me at work and get annoyed that I was busy and couldn’t walk him through a new tweak in his concept rightthatinstant. He listened – the only time in all these years he has ever listened to me. #EEBalltheway I enjoyed working on this prototype with BossMan. I enjoyed seeing how someone with vision and dreams tackled life.

BossMan left for Dubai in early 2012, with pocket change, the prototype we’d worked on, and his dream of success. I thought he was KA-RAY-ZAY. We kept in touch as he struggled to get his new business off the ground. He confided that his romance with IronSweetie was heating up; he married her a few months later. He launched his business, successfully. Via Fbk, I watched his life take shape, and with every new success, I was proud of him for grabbing life by the horns. But like in my dealings with BlondEyes, I knew: that thirst for life was not for me.

At Dynamo’s wedding last year (2016), BossMan was delighted to see that I was less paralyzed by my fears and insecurities. But to my dismay, he told me I still had a ways to go. I wondered if maybe he was right – the first time I considered that freedom from depression was not the same thing as happiness.

BossMan picked me up at the airport when I arrived in Dubai last week. He asked me what tourist attraction or landmark I wanted to see during my visit. My response: his office, to see the results of that prototype that has grown into a very successful business, and spawned a 2nd business that is shaping up to be as successful, if not more. “Of course! You must!” He introduced me to every single one of his employees. I had trouble not crying: I’m so proud of him. Not for succeeding financially – no. Proud of him for becoming the man he knew he could be back in 2011. Not giving up. Persevering. Overcoming incredible odds. Building a life of happiness for himself.

On the last day of my trip, I was telling BossMan of the various stories from the dance festival, how transformative an experience it has been, all the people I’d met, my various meltdowns. I got the only compliment I’ve ever gotten from BossMan: “Many people would not have done what you did. Good for you. You are living now. Don’t stop.” I know that he is proud of me for becoming the girl he spotted beneath my depressive mess back in 2011. Not giving up. Persevering. Overcoming incredible odds. Building a life of happiness for myself.

We all need those people in our lives that believe in our capacity to be our best selves even when we can’t see our way.

Dynamo & BossMan. What my life would have been without you both.

Thank you.


Recap of this trip so far:

 

Discovering different kind of friendships – Moments of Truth, part II

On my 3rd day in Dubai (the day before the saga of multiplying dishes of food), I had 2 brunch dates. Funnily enough, both people picked the same restaurant as a meeting spot; I am BFFs with the wait staff now.

The first was my fairy godmother‘s niece. My affection for my godmother is such that if she tells me I should meet someone, I will, because it will be a good experience, one way or another. And so it was. I spent 4 hours chatting with her niece, about all kinds of topics: life in Dubai as an expat, democracy, the struggle of self-realization (finding one’s dream and purpose), marriage, the convoluted twists and turns of a career, misogyny. The conversation had an astonishing level of vulnerability given that we’d never met each other before – we just shared love for the same person, her aunt/my fairy godmother (my mother’s best friend who still watches over me in all her love and wisdom). That love created a safe space for truthful revelations.

My second brunch was with BlondEyes.


I did one year in MechEng with BlondEyes, before dropping out. We were 2 of the 25 girls in the 130 student class. I admired her so much. She represented everything I wasn’t and wanted to be: confident, happy, friendly, fun, smart, determined, a delight to be around, always surrounded by people wanting to enjoy her company. Meanwhile, I was paralyzed by my insecurities – I kept BlondEyes at arm’s distance despite my affection for her, because I was too ashamed of who I was and I feared she’d be unimpressed if she knew just how much of a mess I really was. (Honestly! I remember those days of deep self-hatred, and I wish I believed then what I know now: it really isn’t a big deal, we all struggle with adulting, join the party, don’t isolate yourself child! #vulnerabilityreallyisthewaytogo ). Despite this, BlondEyes welcomed me in her circle.

We kept in touch after I dropped out of MechEng in 2004. BlondEye continued to shine brightly, approaching life as a thrilling ride, determined to squeeze every ounce of experience out of it. I yearned to be fearless like her. Our lives diverged after her graduation in 2008: her career brought her to Edmonton, I was struggling to put myself through school and earn my accounting designation. That is life, right? We can’t hold onto everyone we enjoy.

Fast forward a few years (2012). I was a senior working at a Big 4. My first out-of-town mandate was in Edmonton. I posted a pic of some Albertan oddity on Fbk, and BlondEyes commented, asking if I’d be available to catch up. Yes. We went for a 4 hour brunch. She was so happy, her star still shining brightly. This time, I felt I deserved to sit at the same table as her: she was a respected engineer, I was no longer a flunkee but a respectable CPA. (Seriously. The years of unhappiness my brain imposed on me!) She told me of her relationship with her new fiancé, and uttered a phrase that I will never forget: “Vanilla, I know now that love should be easy. Easy doesn’t mean boring. You can feel more alive than you have ever felt with him, but it should still be easy and simple.” I think that might have been the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received. It had the ring of truth to it: she radiated joy. Rather than feel envy – I couldn’t, my depression dictated that happiness was not within my grasp – I felt pride that BlondEyes, at least, was succeeding at happiness.

Fast forward a few years (2017). I post a Facebook status indicating I’m travelling to Dubai to visit BossMan and IronSweetie. Once again BlondEyes commented, asking if I’d be available to catch up – I’d forgotten she’d moved to Dubai 2 years ago. Yes. We went for a 4 hour brunch. BlondEyes: happily married, pregnant with their first child, career going strong, her star shining still so brightly. For the first time in our friendship, her happiness at seeing me didn’t shame me: I too am capable of happiness. It felt like finally, after 13 years, this was the friendship that always could exist, but had never manifested itself. There’d always been a genuine appreciation, goodwill and encouragement of each other, but my former incapacity for joy had made me avoid hers. Now, my thirst for life matches hers, and we can fully celebrate each other’s stories and struggles. And celebrate we did.


Will I ever see these women again? Who knows. I really hope so.

It’s taken me close to a week to understand why that day of brunches made me SO happy: it is because I lived Moments of Truth with them.

Looking back on the three years since my mother’s passing, despite doing my best to keep the world at arm’s length so as to not reveal my messy inner turmoil, I now see that I’ve shared several surges of pure emotions with coworkers, friends, and teammates. Some of these shared moments have blossomed into friendships, and some never morphed into anything other than a momentary connection. But regardless of what happened subsequent to each moment, they are all valuable to me, as they involved an emotional connection. We shared a moment of reality, and in that brief moment we shared our true selves.

And so I begin to reconsider my struggle with truth. Perhaps my concept of knowing someone has always been too narrow: however wonderful and deep the connections I shared with that boy and my mother, they were similar to beautiful paintings, constantly getting reworked to become better approximations of reality. Without doubt, I still aspire to share that process with someone once again. But, in the meantime, as I continue to make my way through life alone, I can revel in each of the brief yet permanent connections that come from sharing a moment of truth with another person.

I feel so blessed to be free finally to connect with people, and live these moments of friendship. Deep, joyous and permanent.

I’m alive – something that was out of my reach for so long.

#mentalhealthstruggles

#grateful

#solocationwhat?


Recap of this trip so far: