The "Wu Word" Blog
The first time I got
the flu shot over 10 years ago, I got horribly sick. It was the worst sick I could remember being,
excluding my hospital days due to kidney issues. I was homebound for a week inhaling Vicks
vapor rub, getting high on humidifiers, popping in menthol cough drops, and
lazily and sleepily dragging myself in loose pajamas and my Hello Kitty
I had refused the flu
shot for as long as I could, until my work made it mandatory to get it. Their threat: “If you do not get your flu
shot then you have to wear a mask the whole time that the flu season is active.” Then, my transplant center made it mandatory
that I get the flu shot. Their logic: “You
are immunosuppressed. Get it to protect
yourself and prevent that nasty flu coming at you.”
I begrudgingly and edgily
got the flu shot. To my surprise, after
that very first boxing match with the flu shot that had me knocked out with the
actual flu, I had not gotten the flu since.
I would feel a little funny after the initial stab in the muscle from
the flu shot, but, overall, I started to appreciate the fact that my workplace
offered the flu shot for free. Prevention
is a cure. Protection is the way to
go. You can, indeed, stop the worst
before it can even possibly get a chance to start. You can, indeed, be proactive rather than reactive.
Then, about three
weeks ago, I got the flu. Mind you, I
had gotten the flu shot sometime in winter 2019. I was so sick three weeks ago that I spiked a
102 fever and managed to and was actually mandated to go the closest emergency
room. I was so sick where the medical
staff could not get my fevers under control that it was advised that I stay in
the hospital overnight. As much as I
basked in the free flat screen TV that provided endless channels and the
gourmet meals at the hospital (that isn’t sarcasm…the food was actually good,
but I just about had no appetite and you know there is a problem with Mary Wu
when she does not have an appetite), I felt horrible going from hot to cold,
cold to hot, and then, the topper, my IV broke in the middle of the night. This resorted to at least 7 pricks in my vein-less
skin due to dehydration. This resulted
in a final IV stabbed right in my index finger.
And, yes, that really did hurt.
The cure for the flu?
Absolutely nothing. Rest at home. Plenty of fluids. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep. All I could do was wait to get better. All I could do was wait and see. All I could do was nothing. The art of doing nothing.
For me, I flunk astronomically
at ‘doing nothing,’ which, we must realize, is an oxymoron. But,
is ‘doing nothing’ really an oxymoron?
That week that I was quarantined at home, I mentally and physically struggled
with doing nothing. The minutes went
by. The moments slipped through my
fingers. I felt like I was wasting my
time. I was getting cabin fever. It frustrated me that I had tried to stop the
flu by getting the flu shot and now I was battling with doing nothing to get
better from the flu. In my mind and I
think just among all of us, our immediate response is to react. Do something.
Answer the question. Solution to
the problem. Prevention is the
cure. As long as we prevent and do something
then we are being proactive to take care of ourselves. But, is prevention really a cure? Is
proactive really taking care of ourselves?
Could prevention and proactive
possibly be a bit anxiety-inducing and control freakish?
A couple day after I
was diagnosed with the flu, I went to my transplant center. I was pretty much hacking up a lung and felt
so drained and tired that I could have fallen asleep sitting up trying to talk
to my transplant doctor. I asked my
transplant doctor this: “What’s the point of the flu shot? I got the flu shot to prevent the flu, but I
ended up getting it.”
He sounded like a
textbook when he explained: “Well, it is supposed to protect you 80%, but it
can’t protect you at 100%. Nothing can
really protect you at 100%.”
This is when another realization
hit me: Prevention is NOT a cure. Prevention
can be a catalyst for anxiety. We can
try and do all these ‘proactive’ things to maintain our health and our lives
and to maybe even stop bad before it can start and be worst than ever, but if
something is going to happen then it is going to happen. It can be good. It can be bad. Most of all, it is life. This is life.
There are never any guarantees in life.
There are also times that there are never concrete solutions, answers,
and abilities to really ‘fix’ or stop anything that is meant to happen. There is never 100%.
In general, humans
immediate response is to react and to try to ‘fix’ or provide a solution to a
problem. I must confess that I have
spent the mass majority of my life believing that proactive is better than
reactive, but now I wonder if proactive is a ‘control thing’ when there really is
no control over things that happen in our lives. Our only ‘control’ is how we react to it and,
maybe just sometimes, the best reaction is nothing. The ‘wait and see’ factor. Is doing nothing actually doing
something? Is NOT reacting a solution or
answer to a problem? Is prevention a
kind of ongoing solution or is it just anxiety-inducing? Can we really ‘fix’ something by doing
I fell in love with
games and gambling at around 10-years-old.
Card games: War, UNO,
Poker, and Spit. Board games: Monopoly
and Outburst. But, the game I loved the
absolute most was Mahjong. My
grandfather and cousin taught me how to play the game. We used to gamble with pennies and food. The clickety black of the shiny ivory blocks
as they smacked against each other and as we stacked them and then flipped each
block out to play our hand was adrenaline-rushing and thrilling. Bamboos.
Circles. Chinese numbers. Take up
a block. Give up a block. Someone could take or ignore your block. Poker faces.
Match. Strategize. Think hard.
Maybe a little luck if you are lucky enough. Until you got your way. Until you win. Win big.
In my immediate
family, I was the only one who like to gamble and play games. Outside of my immediate family and among all
my relatives, just about everyone loved and did play a good and rousing game of
mahjong except for my aunt. I thought
this was odd, though, because my aunt was somehow always gambling or bargaining
in life. I still remember us snaking our
way in the overly crowded and steamy streets of Hong Kong with my aunt and
another aunt (in Chinese, or maybe it is in my family, we call just about
everyone aunt) haggling with the store owners and store keepers to try to talk
down prices of items that they really wanted to buy. I’d watch my aunts completely mesmerized and
confused with this one question blinking brightly in my mind over and over: “If
they really want it, then why don’t they just buy it at the set price instead
of fight it?”
As I got older and
particularly on a trip to China, I turned red in the face with embarrassment
when my aunt was snapping at this storeowner to talk down a price on this pink
hat that I really wanted. She turned her
back. grabbed my arm to drag me away, and said in a clipped and no-nonsense
voice: “Now, we walk away.”
I hissed, “But why
are we walking away when I really want it?
Why is it always a fight and bargaining?
Why can’t you just accept it as the price it is?”
“Wanting it and meant
to have it are two separate things. You
have to be willing to walk away and lose. Wait and watch. Listen and learn,” she whispered back.
Moments later, the
store owner threw up his arms and spat off that he agreed to the price that my
aunt agreed to. I got my pretty pink hat
that people shower me with praise that I look that like a happy strawberry shortcake
when I wear it. I could not believe that
my aunt had talked down the price to that low.
I could not believe that she had gotten her way. I could not believe how much I loved this
pink swirled hat from China. I was curious
and utterly fascinated. I was speechless.
I opened my mouth to
ask my aunt how she did that. Her
painted red lips curled upwards in a smile.
Her eyes sparkled. She nodded. I paused.
Without her saying anything, I think I understood: “Wait and Watch. Listen and Learn.” I pondered about my family upbringing with
mahjong as a staple game that we played out of family fun and my aunts who did
not always accept what was told to them and they, instead, told others how it
is to be. In each of these ‘games,’ you
had to learn to lose AND be completely fearless to lose. You had to be unafraid to walk away and leave
if the terms that you put out there were unaccepted for what you deemed as
worthwhile. You had to put yourself out
there and make your terms known and clear without budging, but bend if
needed. Think carefully and strategize
without over analyzing. Trust in
yourself and in the wise risks and stakes and take ownership for the winning
and the losing. Walk away when it was at
the best peak and when timing was just right to be satisfied, but not and never
greedy, with the winnings rather than the losings. The
name of the game: To win AND win big, you had to be willing to lose AND lose
big. Maybe the key to winning is the
acceptance of losing that brings out our humility, humbleness, and abilities to
keep on trying and going without losing our tenacity.
Losing holds just as
importance than winning. When have you lost? Are you a risktaker? Do you bargain and try to negotiate to get
your way? Is what you deemed as losing
REALLY a loss?
Keep smilin’ until we
Years ago, I
befriended a young lady who was fresh out of college. She seemed timid, uncertain, and eager to please
anyone and everyone. In many ways, I felt like a big sister or
mentor to her more than anything else.
Around this time I befriended her, I told her about my newest and latest
project called “Live List.”
“Oh, bucket list?”
I paused. “Hmm…I guess you could call and consider it a
bucket list, but I do not like to think of myself doing these things because I
am afraid of death. I like to think I am
doing these things to embrace life and to be and live in all these great and
amazing moments in life.”
I then began to run
through the list with her: “Go on a hot air balloon ride. Go to an opera. Go to a baseball game. Travel the world. Learn to ride a bicycle. Fall in love.”
She paused and then
said, “I think you suffer from FOMO.”
I was intrigued. I never heard the acronym ‘FOMO.’ I was
usually the acronym creator, but here there was this young person (at least ten
years younger than me) giving me a lesson in acronyms.
“What’s FOMO?” I asked.
“Fear of Missing Out.”
I thought about this
acronym and then asked: “Is that a bad thing?”
She shrugged, “No, I
guess it isn’t. But, isn’t fear of
anything a bad thing?”
I thought about this ‘FOMO’
acronym. I thought about fear. I was all too familiar with fear. Probably my greatest fears being that I did
not do what I wanted to do and I did not live my life the way I was meant to
live it before I died. Yes, I
certainly do know it seems odd for someone of 37-years-old or even younger at
that time of creating my ‘Live List’ to think of ‘before I died,’ but the truth
is that the only way you come to appreciate the value and the gift of life is
when you are on the brink of death yourself or when everyone around you ends up
in the clutches of death. I know that sounds
dismal and depressing, but I like to think of knowing about the reality of
death forcing us to live life as light to the darkness and life and death being
in each other’s company kind of cool with each other. Over the years, I had
went on to fulfill as many of my ‘Live List’ items as possible. To fulfill
these items, I had often run myself ragged until I burnt out. Often, I would spend so much time planning and
preparing for one of my ‘Live List’ items that I ended up stressed. I also did not know my boundaries and
limitations because of FOMO. No matter
how many people would like to say that we are limitless and can do anything and
everything, I have to come to realize that this is NOT true as we get
older. We all have our boundaries and
limitations, and that is just as important as knowing to push the boundaries
and limitations without detriment to ourselves.
It is a fine line. I do not know
how to sit still. I do not know how to relax. I do not know how to do nothing.
Then, it dawned on me
that, yes, that young lady from so many years ago was right. There is a downfall to FOMO. There is a negative twist to FOMO. You will plot, plan, and do everything intended
for a single FOMO moment that you are living for or that you make out to take
your breath away that you are missing on all the seemingly simple ordinary minutes
and moments that can mean the most and bring the greatest treasures and
pleasures. Worst of all to FOMO is not being
present. I have now realized that there
are many moments that I may have missed out on all because I was hung up and
giving in to FOMO- Fear of Missing Out. This
realization is HUGE to me. I have spent
the vast majority of my life trying to “seize the day” and “live in the moment”
only to see a different side that maybe I have not been doing this. People have said to me time and time again
that I need to slow down, take it easy, pause, and be present. Heck, I have even said this to myself. But, now it is REALLY time to ‘break bad.’ I need to.
I have to. Or I will burn out and
run out as a result. This has then made
me contemplate about our ‘bad’ habits and ways, imperfections, resolutions, and
actively trying to change or tweak ourselves to be better.
January is almost
over with. We are well into the 2020
year. I have asked many people about
what their resolutions are. Many have
said to me that they do not make any because they cannot keep them. I think the greater question and quandary is
if people realize what their weaknesses and ‘bad’ are to try to overcome and ‘bread
bad.’ We are creatures of habits. We get so wrapped up in our days and ways that
it may reach a point that we break and have to, in turn, break these bad
habits. I cannot say that I am making a
resolution. I can say that I am trying
to be better and the only way for me to be better is awareness of my ‘bad’ to
then try to ‘break bad.’ I can say that I am now very well aware of my imperfections
and flaws that can be hurtful to me and to others that I have to try to change for
the better. It does not have to be in big ways.
If anything, what I have learned in life is it is always the little ways
and little things that lead to the most.
We are creatures of habit and flawed humans with bad habits that need to be
broken. What bad patterns, vicious
cycles, or bad habits do you have? Were
you aware of how debilitating they were so that you had to change? What did you do or are doing to make a
conscientious effort to change?
Keep smilin’ until we
I come from a
family of poets and painters. My
paternal grandfather encapsulated both painter and poet to the fullest effect. Back in the 1990’s, my grandparents lived
in Canada. My grandfather’s paintings
and poems were so important and ingrained in him that he had a sunroom with
minimal closed walls and maximum glass windows. The windows were so spotlessly clean that Mother
Nature herself in all her glory of sunshine and blue skies along, gloomy
beauty of rain, and purity of snow was so clear that you could almost feel
like you were outside. He had a table
of paintbrushes and thick paints.
He showed me these paintings against the dramatic backdrop of Mother Nature
and would say, “You will see the paintings best in the light.” My aunt was also a painter. I
remember him and her showing me their Chinese paintings that had dark colors
and multitude of mountains.
I also come from a
family of writers and rebels. At a young
age, I learned meaning of “The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword.” I learned how stringing and forming certain
words had the power to hurt or heal. I
learned that words could form and create magical and memorable stories of our
lives to share and speak out to others.
I was taught to fight for what you believe in even if you are in the
lonely minority because living a life of personal truth, morals and principles
held the greatest meaning than to live a life unlived and not meant to be
that was actually the saddest life there can possibly be. I came to believe that timing is everything
in life, and that it is most important to pick battles in order to win wars.
Growing up, I
always considered myself a writer.
Never an artist. My aunt
enrolled me in a drawing class when I was living with her one summer. I learned how to draw flying birds and
buck-toothed bunnies. I was bored in
those art classes. It was not until I
was in high school and then in college that I fell in love with clay and
ceramics. There was something about the
feel of the clay in my hands. With my
hands, I had the power to build, mold, and really create anything and
everything. All through college whenever I was stressed from a brain draining
psychology class, I escaped to the chilly ceramics room to pound and punch
clay to form something. Really Anything. It was fun.
It was invigorating. It was
Recently and completely
unexpectedly, I stopped by at a pottery place just to check it out for grins
and giggles. I joined a bunch of
strangers on a Friday night that had tons of free food (you can always get me
to go somewhere if there is food and especially if it is free) and shelves
and shelves of beautiful and whimsical pottery pieces. Plates.
Bowls. Cups. Cute figurines. All these pieces were meant for serving,
supporting, or just bringing a big smile.
The name of the game was that you pick a piece, paint it, and wait at
least a week to find out how the piece turned out. That night, I listened to many of these
ladies fretting over what paint colors to choose from and saying, “Oh, this
is so stressful and I do not know what I am doing!” I could have chosen any piece. There were a large variety of colors to
choose from. However, I stuck with a simple vase and the
four paint glazes they had to offer. I
wanted to keep it simple. Simple is
usually better. Less is more. I listened to these ladies’ conversations
with a lazy ear as my main interest and focuses that night were the cheese and
crackers and just shutting down my mind down to paint. No thinking. Only painting. Without even thinking and me keeping
uncharacteristically quiet, I painted.
I was the first one
to finish painting my piece and leave that pottery place on that night. I was probably also the first one to pick
up my piece a week later. I was
completely pleasantly surprised at my very first painted vase that was decked
out in warm cinnamon brown and cool teal. I was
shocked at how the colors I had painted on had been supposedly muted and
boring before going into the kiln, but actually came out in brighter than
ever with a shiny and glossy sheen. I was hooked.
Since then, I have
painted a bowl and three plates. I had
a blast with three plates, but one plate was annoying and getting me frustrated,
impatient, and mentally challenged with the art of symmetry versus asymmetry. The only wiring in my mind when I am about to
paint are the colors I will choose and the extra design I might make, whether
it be dots, stripes, or even bubbles.
Each time I have had to hand in a piece to be put into the kiln, I
have no clue how the piece will really turn out. I have no idea if the colors will really
mesh and matchmake well together. I also
must wait at least a whole week to see the final product in all its painted
glory. I have realized that this whole process of
picking a piece, painting it, and waiting on the final product is so much
like life. There is so much that you
can or do put out there, do or even overdo, and then you have no choice but
to patiently wait on the results meeting and matching what you put out
there. You can do everything and
everything you do still will not be good enough. You can try your hardest and your best and
none of these is good enough. There
are times in our lives that are dark or a completely frightening stark white and
blank canvas that you have no clue what to do or put on only to find it in
you to make your own canvas and bring colors and light back to your life and
canvas. You can only hope for your faith
and patience to get you through that waiting time for what you waited for to
be and meet what you originally hoped for.
A vase, three plates,
and a bowl later, maybe I would have
to say that I am merely a humbled artist full of poet, painter, writer, and
rebel—all coming from my family. The
time I paint is my quiet time. My
quiet time for my mind, However, it has also been my time of bringing colors back
to the stark white piece AND colors back into my mind and life. I came to terms that this 2019 was one of
the most challenging years of my life. I have and am still making my peace with
2019. I am ready to leave 2019, but,
more than that, I am more than ready to embrace 2020 and bring the brightest
of colors back to it that were muted and faded in 2019. It is fun.
It is invigorating. It is
It takes quite a
lot to bring hope, light, brightness, and, indeed, colors back into our lives
during our darkest and most difficult and challenging times. When did your life maybe seem black and
white? Where do you escape to that
brings you comfort, joy, and, maybe, just maybe quieting your unquiet
mind? What did it take for you to
bring colors back into your life? How
have you or do you bring colors into your life?
Keep smilin’ until
we meet again,
Two years ago, I
learned that one of my relatives was diagnosed with late-stage stomach
cancer. It was determined that he was
terminal and probably would not make it past Christmas. I was never particularly close to this
relative, but terminal illnesses do a twisting kind of thing to the mind that
make you remember the moments where you were close and could have been even
closer. So, the memories played like a movie reel in my mind of when this
relative lived with my family and I and I tormented him as a bratty child
bugging him to play games with me. I remembered being given the responsibility
of his flower girl in Hong Kong in a puffy pink dress. I remembered my Dad and me spending the
entire day with him and his wife out at Universal Studios in California in the
beaming sunshine and daring each other to go on the fastest and wildest of
rides. Even more so, terminal illnesses
back you in a corner making you think that you lost the chance to be closer so
you try to make up for the perception of loss by making as many moments and
memories to hold on to just before that person is no longer here on earth. So, that is exactly what we did. To make new memories to remember and hold on
to, my family and I jetted off to California to visit this relative and his
wife for what was deemed by doctors as his last Christmas.
I had heard that he
was going bald from the start of treatments to try to combat the cancer. I knew exactly what I wanted to get him for
Christmas; A handmade hat from one of my friends who was famous for her knitted
hats from the thickest and finest of yarns.
After much decision with my hat lady friend, I finally decided on a
swirl of colors thick hat for him to keep his head warm and spirits even warmer
and more hopeful.
Our first stop in
sunny California was to see him and his wife.
In a stark white room that was badly in need of color, personality, and
light, we all crowded and stood like soldiers encircling him. We hugged his thinning body. We plastered on bright smiles. We took pictures. We filled up the awkward
pauses with laughter, jokes, small talk, and really anything and everything
that did not touch terminal illness with a ten-foot pole. I gave him the hat. He bony fingers brushed mine when he grasped
on to it. The hat was too big for him, but
he dutifully put it on to try to please me and everyone else.
Before we left, we
all lifted up our filled up plastic cups to wish each other happiest of
holidays. I rang out: “Cheers!”
Everyone beamed with
big smiles and his smile was the biggest of all. In my experience, there is something about
the word ‘cheers.’ Almost all the time,
it melts away tension and a big grin or smile takes over somber faces. I think it is because ‘cheers’ is like the
word ‘cheese’ where the lines on our faces cannot help but lift up rather than
down. He knew that this was going to be
his last Christmas. We knew that this
was going to be his last Christmas. Some
could even say that we all knew that we were pretending that everything was
okay when it was not okay, but maybe it was not really pretending. Maybe it is just trying and creating new and
happy memories in unhappy and even painful reality. Maybe it is just trying to ring out and find
the ‘cheers’ and positivity in pain and in the face of adversity and when the
cloud of negativity looms overhead.
Just a couple days
after Christmas and just before the New Year, he had died. He had made it to Christmas. He had not made it to the New Year. All of us had made it in time to be together
and say and ring in ‘cheers’ one last time, making a bittersweet memory
imprinted in my mind. Sometimes, the
holidays can be the hardest time of the year where there is the flood of good
and bad memories. It can be the time of
the year where we think about those who are missing and we end up missing these
people the most. Most definitely, it is
that time of year that we find and make magic and as much ‘cheers’ as we can
muster as we gather and try to come together.
‘Cheers’ illicits joy
and happy memories in the face of unhappy or daunting reality. When have you been in a painful or hurtful
time that you tried to overcome with creating new and happy memories? Have you
ever noticed that the word ‘cheers’ naturally brings a smile to our faces?
This Christmas and in
the days to come that ends 2019 and starts 2020, I wish you and all your loved
Keep smilin’ until we