Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Little Girl's Vanity

This was shared on my Facebook feed with a picture of Jada Pinkett-Smith and her daughter Willow Smith:
"Jada Pinkett-Smith is aware of the critics that stick up their noses at the way she raises her daughter, Willow. Willow cuts, dyes and styles her hair as she pleases, a fact that bothers many who feel girls shouldn’t have that much control over their appearance at such a young age.

Jada decided to address the criticism in a Facebook post:

“A letter to a friend…This subject is old but I have never answered it in its entirety. And even with this post it will remain incomplete. The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.”"
- Have a Gay Day

When I was growing up, my mom never let me do anything with my appearance because she said that I should not be so vain. Nevertheless after turning 16, I started to sneak things, like taking the bus to go dye my hair and then couldnt get back home. When I was 17, I got my cartilage pierced. By the time I was 22, I had four piercings on one ear, and one on the other. I didn't get my tattoo until I was 26. I can't tell whether or not I am what one would consider vain. I also cannot tell whether her prevention of my vanity made me less vain than I could have been. But either way, I did appreciate her for keeping my narcissism in check.

Provided that that the post is real, I think Jada Pinkett-Smith makes a valid point, but she doesn't actually address the point of whether or not she thinks it's important to keep her child's vanity in check. Perhaps when you let your child have control over everything, the child must also understand what type of responsibility comes with the control, which is often something a child is incapable of comprehending. I guess these type of things are contextual and the pull and release has to be different for every child. And in the case of Willow Smith, the understanding of vanity is likely more difficult. I mean how can you explain what vanity is to the child who is the product of  a superstar power couple and  who has made the billboards at age 9 (or however old she was)? On the other hand, maybe it's much easier for her to understand what vanity is because of that?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Don't Date a Girl Who Reads

Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly. Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.

Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi, and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into it every time the air gets stale, or the evenings get long. Talk about nothing of significance. Do little thinking. Let the months pass unnoticed. Ask her to move in. Let her decorate. Get into fights about inconsequential things like how the fucking shower curtain needs to be closed so that it doesn’t fucking collect mold. Let a year pass unnoticed. Begin to notice.

Figure that you should probably get married because you will have wasted a lot of time otherwise. Take her to dinner on the forty-fifth floor at a restaurant far beyond your means. Make sure there is a beautiful view of the city. Sheepishly ask a waiter to bring her a glass of champagne with a modest ring in it. When she notices, propose to her with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity you can muster. Do not be overly concerned if you feel your heart leap through a pane of sheet glass. For that matter, do not be overly concerned if you cannot feel it at all. If there is applause, let it stagnate. If she cries, smile as if you’ve never been happier. If she doesn’t, smile all the same.

Let the years pass unnoticed. Get a career, not a job. Buy a house. Have two striking children. Try to raise them well. Fail, frequently. Lapse into a bored indifference. Lapse into an indifferent sadness. Have a mid-life crisis. Grow old. Wonder at your lack of achievement. Feel sometimes contented, but mostly vacant and ethereal. Feel, during walks, as if you might never return, or as if you might blow away on the wind. Contract a terminal illness. Die, but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love.

Do those things, god damnit, because nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. Do it, I say, because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell. Do it, because a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, god damnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.

Do it, because a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes along with the flow of disappointment. A girl who has read up on her syntax senses the irregular pauses—the hesitation of breath—endemic to a lie. A girl who reads perceives the difference between a parenthetical moment of anger and the entrenched habits of someone whose bitter cynicism will run on, run on well past any point of reason, or purpose, run on far after she has packed a suitcase and said a reluctant goodbye and she has decided that I am an ellipsis and not a period and run on and run on. Syntax that knows the rhythm and cadence of a life well lived.

Date a girl who doesn’t read because the girl who reads knows the importance of plot. She can trace out the demarcations of a prologue and the sharp ridges of a climax. She feels them in her skin. The girl who reads will be patient with an intermission and expedite a denouement. But of all things, the girl who reads knows most the ineluctable significance of an end. She is comfortable with them. She has bid farewell to a thousand heroes with only a twinge of sadness.

Don’t date a girl who reads because girls who read are the storytellers. You with the Joyce, you with the Nabokov, you with the Woolf. You there in the library, on the platform of the metro, you in the corner of the café, you in the window of your room. You, who make my life so god damned difficult. The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. I hate you. I really, really, really hate you

-Charles Warnke 

From Thought Catalog

Monday, November 19, 2012

L'OFII Convocation Experience

Not counting my grade 8 graduation, or my high school commencement, I've had two convocations, both of which I have chosen not to attend. Looking back, I'm not sure what I had against convocations, but perhaps the idea of me parading down some aisle to obtain the paper that depicts my "achievement" of finishing courses with no one who really cares being there for me kinda kills the idea. I mean, my parents, never for once, asked me when there is a ceremony for my graduation.

At any rate, I had to attend a convocation today. But this convocation is not a graduation, but merely "a group of people gathered in answer to a summons; assembly." I was summoned by "L'Office d'Immigration et d'Integration," otherwise known as OFII, to:
  • Learn about the values of the French
  • Get my French skills assessed
  • Get my professional skills assessed
  • Obtain a medical examination 
Umm...let me restart by providing you with the pleasure of understanding the complex, yet surprisingly effective system of the French immigration system. 

Around June 2012, our HR office in France applied for a working Visa for me. The process was somewhat uncomplicated, due to the fact that it was an interoffice transfer, as opposed to a new hire. Within a month or so, my Visa was approved and I had to wait for an invitation to the French Consulate in Toronto for the process. There was a little bit of complication there, as I had no idea when the invitation was going to come, or by what method. After a couple of weeks, I received an E-mail, in my Gmail address (to this day, I'm still confused as to how they got that address) asking me to arrive in the consulate office at a specific date and time (about two weeks from the email being sent). I will not burden you with the detail of what I had to go through before and while I was there, but the visit was short and I went back again in a week to pick up my passport with the new Visa on there.

Towards the end of August, I arrived in France. I was told that upon my arrival, I needed to mail out my OFII form with a list of document to the Paris OFII office because I need to validate my Visa within 3 months of my arrival, or else my Visa will be invalidated altogether. All right, so I have until December. Thus, the first month of my arrival was filled with things like getting a bank account, finding a place to live, and figuring out the odds and ends of moving to a country in which the culture and language is completely foreign, oh, and, um *cough*, going to Stockholm for a week.

At around the one month mark after my arrival, right before I was about to go to Singapore for a week and a half, I realized I haven't taken care of the OFII form, and I really should. I start going through the form and researching on the Internet and the form literally told me that I needed to do this AS SOON AS I ARRIVE, because the French administration may take up to months to process your form. Shit. Okay, well, I still have two months, it should be okay, right? Either way, I could only hope for the best. I mail in my form with all the documents required, and then I patiently waited (in Singapore) for the invitation to come.

Two weeks later, I'm back in town - nothing. Another week goes by, nothing. At approximately the four weeks after I sent my info and I was about to head to London for two weeks, I started to look up the information because I'm worried that my invitation is going to come and I'm not even going to be here. Let me tell you this, when it comes to getting information about immigration (as I did this also when I was going to Boston), the internet is the most resourceful place, but it also provides you with the scariest information. Throughout my research, I was told that:

  • You need to send the form by registered mail (even though the form doesnt specify this) - i did not.
  • It can take longer than three months for OFII to organize your convocation - i'm already two months in!
  • The convocation will probably happen the minute you go home for xmas - which happened to a lot of people
  • If i don't have a validation on my passport, they might not let me back in Paris from london!
So I started to freak out and tried to call OFII because I read that someone had called and it made their process go faster.  After several phone calls and getting various people to help me, I was told that they did receive my mail and that they are in the middle of processing it, and sending it by registered mail is not necessary (unless you want a peace of mind). At any rate, I headed to London feeling a little bit better, and during my second week in London, I received the OFII invitation by Gmail (seriously...) for my interview to be in two weeks. HURRAH!

I got back to my apartment in Paris, and I actually also received a physical copy, which was nice. I got all my documents they asked for prepared (the list is long, including purchasing a "stamp" for €349), and arrived at the Paris office 15 minutes before my 8:30am appointment.

L'OFII Paris, 48 Rue de la Roquette
At 8:15, the office was not opened and there was a loooong line outside. The door opened a little after 8:30 and the security guard checked each's person's bag before allowing them to enter the door. The reception at the door checks each person's OFII form and students go directly up, and others gets different colour placards. As a salarié (worker), I got a little blue placard and went up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, a woman is there directing you where to go. Everyone with a placard goes to line up outside a room, while the students go to another section. At the door, there is a woman with a checklist for attendance, who also speaks to you briefly, asking if you speak French. If you do not, they give you a printed powerpoint presentation in your language (English, Simplified Chinese, Arabic, etc.), summarizing the events of the day and send you inside the room. Once everyone gathers in the room (about 15 ppl) they ask you what language you speak, and provide you with an audio guide (those things you get in the museum) for the video on French Value, they're about to play. The video is approximately 30 minutes and then a woman comes in to talk to you about the events of the day. First you will see a social worker who will assess your skills to see if you need to take all the three classes for integration:
  1. French language
  2. Everyday life of France
  3. French Civics

The compulsory class you have to take is the French Civics class - full day, 9-5, with lunch provided. At this Civics class, you are supposed to sign an integration contract. At the meeting with the social worker, ,s/he will provide you with a date for the class. Luckily, I was exempted from having to take the first two classes. 

Once the interview is over (depending on the social advisor, it can take anywhere between 15m to an hour), she will take you to the medical area to get your medical examination. Basically almost everyone lined up outside the OFII door in the morning are waiting in this room. You are eventually called up to get your heigh, weight, and eye-sight measured, go into this closet room to take off your top and then from the other end of the room, a woman tells you to come out, takes a quick x-ray of you, and you sit back in the waiting room until a doctor picks up your x-ray to give you an medical interview.

I was literally the last person in the room to be called by the doctor, who was extremely friendly and made a couple of jokes about my lungs being as pretty as me, and asked me to be his wife...He took my blood pressure, asked me some questions on my vaccination and diseases, and passed me. He personally brought me to the reception that's processing the validation stickers, and the lady asked me for most of the documents on the list and put a silver sticker on my passport - et voila! I'm validated! I left the OFII office about quarter after 1pm - so the process (and remember I was the last one out) took about six hours.
That would be my ribcage...
  • I got to keep the x-ray of my chest (they're checking for TB)
  • Everyone in the office was extremely friendly (surprisingly)
  • There was a raucous while I was waiting of a man who kept saying in a heavy accent "Je ne suis pas francais" and something else (drama!)

I got back into the office at around 3pm (OFII is on the East end of Paris, and my office is on the west!), in time to go to my HR, give her my documents and have a chat with her about the process, and then getting some work done. 

I really liked the experience, which surprised me. It almost feels like they actually want you to succeed in living in France and ensuring that everything will work out for you - who knew?