Sign of privilege

July 12th, 2017

The twentysomething kid tumbled out of the car nearly crying. At first, I was judgmental—a gangbanger who lacked respect for authority and rules—who most of all, at that moment, had fled when he rear-ended my car on the freeway.

We caught up and then there it was.

But I softened up when I saw his age. His declarations that he was poor, wearing a Kennedy high school lanyard, wearing a pikachu watch, a spiderman t-shirt. He said that his car was named Sally. He said that he was regretful. He now wanted to do the right thing. He a made a mistake, driving under the influence, driving without insurance or a license. As we spoke at the side of the road, blocking a whole lane of traffic, he was pleading, his hands high, and his mouth turned into a frown. Mercy, he said.

Later, he told me that he was poor. He couldn’t even afford groceries. And yet. That he didn’t have a bank account.

What could I do in the face of all of this? I am privileged that when I was 19 and rear-ended a car (at 5 mph), the only punishment I had was that my parents were furious that I wasn’t paying attention and my premiums went up. But my parents helped me out since I didn’t necessarily have the money. I am also privileged to believe that the world requires hard work, but I am also quite aware that my access to funds, to a lifelong method of diligence and grit, and a lasting support system…that is privilege. I know that if I ever ran out of personal funds, I have people to turn to who would support me. Friends, family…even acquaintances. Because I have proven my worth in other ways.

Does this kid have that kind of access? With my limited scope, he doesn’t. I made a suggestion that he sell the phone so that he could cough up the money that he owes me for the damage. But in doing so, I am taking away something that is truly helping him.

I am a progressive like the next San Francisco resident. I believe that it’s sad that the homeless are on the street. But I also believe that they are more likely to find illegal ways to find money—stealing bikes or electronic devices and reselling all of them. But they’re doing what it takes.

I told the kid that he has to pay for the damage. But I stopped myself from being cruel and demanding. Because it’s not that I want him to be homeless. I don’t want to be the cause of that. I want him to learn a lesson, especially from the mercy I gave. I don’t want to be the reason why he starts to hate the government and the world, because I took the money from him. I want to give the kid the hope that he can do better next time.

Air Filter

July 5th, 2017

Sometimes I marvel my air filter. I imagine that it sits there and the air flies in, as if drawn by a magnet. Through the filter, the air shakes off the dirt accumulated through days, months, years, and then it flings out all clean, shedding weight.

Does the air feel now pure as it circulates around the room, free as a bird, pure as a new baby’s bottom as it swings toward me. Into my nostrils into my own personal filter and down into my lungs where it does some chemical reaction that helps me body live?

Then, what has the air witnessed? Has it swirled around above the lies that we tell? The lies we tell to others and ourselves? The secrets that we see and swear never to tell a single soul until one day while in the bathroom, guilt and shame creeps up and open the door?

What does the air know?

I sit in my bed, resting against a pillow and the hard wall. This wall scratches easily, marks from shoes, from things that touch the wall. The air brushes against it too, but it does nothing. The air is a silent, gentle partner. Neutral, willing, soft, gentle. It never does anything. It only goes where the wind blows. It vibrates for sounds. It provides the oxygen and carbon dioxide that we, plants, animals need. And it moves up and down the temperature.

Swirling with no care in the world.

Things to remember about Vegas (in the month of June)

July 4th, 2017

(While I endure the sorta illegal fireworks going on in my neighborhood — happy fourth!)

  • Whatever you do, try to remain indoors with the incredible AC. If you walk outside, make it short. Because later, your skin will thank you. As well as your lungs. As well as your muscles. As well as your thin thin mucus skin (aka nose)
  • Vegas only wants you to eat and hang out at the pool during this month. Boring.
  • Food is no longer cheap. It’s land of getting whatever you want. At good quality. Especially the price.
  • Eat Japanese. It’s really good here. Obviously because nearly every city in America (and some select international cities) have direct flights here. Resulting in a diverse clientele and their needed requirements.
  • Shows are great. Just select the right ones.
  • Take the monorail. Trams or whatever.
  • Buffets? Go during off peak hours. Then you stay past the time limit. Also remember to eat as little carbs as possible. Don’t waste your stomach space on that!
  • Really think carefully why you’re going to vegas. Because it’s just a town for a certain type of person. If you’re not that type of person, minimize your time.
  • Watching the street

    June 15th, 2017

    There’s simply nothing interesting, I declared.

    After setting up the Nest cam, I became obsessed with watching it. But pointed at the street from the small room in the apartment, there was nothing useful.

    That is, I had a clear vantage point to record misdeeds of cars driving. Illegal u-turns usually from Lyft or Uber. Motorcycles revving unnecessarily. Speeding cars. Unneeded honks. But all of that, for very little.

    I couldn’t see the faces of passing pedestrians, being so high up on the top floor of the duplex. In the changing lightness and darkness, the camera couldn’t detect the differences between a person and sunlight. Also further, if the light wasn’t right, a person would appear as a blog entering the household. To the camera, it would appear that nobody was there at all.

    I am a little obsessed with being a voyeur. But sometimes it doesn’t seem to pay off. At first, I want to hear the things that I never got to hear. But soon, I realize, it’s incredibly dull. I don’t care about the ongoings. I don’t care about the common conversations. The juiciness of every day lives (and misbehavior) tend to be hidden and discrete, way below the surface of people.

    In the evenings, I go to the Nest app and swipe up and down. There always has been this hesitation for me when I look at these services built on fear. I know that I will easily buy into it. Because I want to protect myself. Better safe than sorry! But I know that’s the same reason why people get a gun. Just in case, they say. I want to have a sense of control, they say. And they say all of this as they hug the cold metal to their chest, frightened at any slight movement, shooting unnecessarily to someone who deserved to live.

    “What’s the point even?”

    June 14th, 2017

    “Politicians are just there to self-promote themselves,” he said. “It might appear that they want to help the public or to move issues forward. But they’re really trying to get themselves ahead.”

    My mouth dropped at that. Here was a San Francisco Caucasian guy. Likely liberal since we were standing in a bar during a break at a marketing business conference. We had heard from speakers who lamented the rise of Trump and the twist of how humor can break through the lies we tell.

    “Maybe I am optimistic,” I finally said. “Recently, my boyfriend asked me how I would describe what lawyers do. I replied, ‘Defend me!’ He laughed and responded that most people would say, ‘They sue.'”

    “I should go to town halls,” he continued, not quite reflecting on my response. “But what’s the point? They’re not even helping the American public.”

    “But to be at that kind of role, they do need a degree of narcissism.”

    But it dawned on me. Is this how all of America feels? That there is no hope? That there is no point to all of this?
    That everyone who holds political office is a liar. That they’re only to promote their agenda. That this is all nihilism, as a friend aptly described later.

    I didn’t bother arguing with him. We had just finished a debate about healthcare where I believed that poor health is systemic and that it’s not the individuals fault that they’re unhealthy. That the healthcare system was oriented, as it is being proposed in the House, to help people like us—highly motivated, highly educated, surrounded by resources. I suggested that fitness wearables need to be oriented toward the masses to be more successful. There needs to be better programs, most importantly. Even without wearables. “It’s not designed for them,” he argued.

    “What if,” I insisted. “What if they could?”

    I kept thinking of that last statement. What if something could help the poor find better health? What if something could help the poor make small changes or even be informed? What if?

    And what if we believed that the politicians can be good? They may be just led astray.

    I thought all of this as I thought about how I met this guy. Formerly at Yahoo. Now at Twitch. A contrast to my own healthcare experience—dabbled with a biopharm, did a longish stint at a healthcare startup helping people with diabetes, and a large complex healthcare organization. How does a guy who never worked in healthcare and only worked on services about delivering video about games know anything?

    Then I realized: he totally mansplained healthcare and politics to me.

    In return, I’ll keep my distance and note his name on my blacklist (aka people never to work with ever).

    Guilty Pleasure of Music

    June 13th, 2017

    I am not afraid to admit. I am listening to some TSwift right now. Because it just landed on Spotify!

    Because it’s catchy. Some lyrics ring true. (Although I know that it’s not all written by her.)

    For years, especially in my identity-forming era of my teens and twenties, I would declare to the world that my favorite music was the music nobody knew. I could rattle off a whole list of bands that were obscure. But the fact was I didn’t really enjoy their songs. Sure, I would have them loop in my endless playlist in an effort to make myself like it.

    But it didn’t have the same pleasure that I had with certain pop songs. The kind of songs that would make me hop and dance.

    It wasn’t until my mid=twenties when I finally admitted to myself that pop music was my love. And even just now to admit that Taylor Swift could be someone that I listened to. (There’s a story of a friend who did some website development work for her and it was intense, because there were so many demands.) It frustrates me that I waited so long. I love music, but I had purposefully denied myself of music that I loved. (Not to mention waste money at concerts of bands that…I didn’t love, but bands that I loved because it matched the hipster identity I wanted to support.)

    There’s this brand of an empowered woman—one who doesn’t take any crap, an ambitious woman who works hard to get what she wants, and more. At its core, it’s feminist. There’s a stigma.

    But right now, I sit in my office chair, play from my free spotify account, and listen to that catchy pop music pour through my speakers.

    Almost 50% off!

    June 8th, 2017

    “It’s $100 at the Milpitas Walmart,” Chris messaged. “Saw it on slickdeals. Do you want to go?”

    “Okay,” I replied, thinking that it was only 15 minutes away. Just south of Daly City.

    Then I got into the car and he said that the estimated time on Waze was 50 minutes. Wait a minute, I thought, it’s not Millbrae. It’s Milpitas, as in the city next to San Jose.

    But the $100, when normally the retail price is $199. But I acquiesced, knowing that my schedule for the day was going to be all mixed up. That I wasn’t going to be able to remember all the other things that I was supposed to do, because I hadn’t planned for a day with this much spontaneity. It’s this kind of day that would lead to missed appointments and missed meetings and missed tasks. But according to my calendar, it wasn’t the case.

    So we went. Zooming down the 101 and across the 237. Nearly an hour later, we pulled into a barren parking lot.

    We entered the Walmart, a hot day in the blaring sun in the south of the east bay.

    Now, I rarely if ever go to a Walmart. Being one of those uppity hipsters, Walmart represents a foregone era. It’s the Kmart of my childhood. The bouncing smiley faces. The rollback deals that I don’t really need. I don’t necessarily trust it. In fact, I would rather shop at Tar-jay, than to be caught at Walmart. It’s the retail store that would employ people who would never enter my social circle. It’s a rather snotty way of looking at it. But I would like to think that I am more accepting of it than my fellow peers who regularly visit Whole Foods and other “authentic” brands.

    But there I entered, my feelings pulled by the sudden realization of the low prices. Fantastic.

    We rushed over to the electronics area. The shelf was empty, so we asked the man working if he knew if there were any boxes anywhere. “Check online,” he said. “I just sold one.”

    “Can you check on your computer?” Chris asked.

    “No, you check online,” the man insisted.

    But online on the website, it showed that there were 4 boxes left. “Does it not update real time?” I said. Just 30 minutes ago, it said there were 4. Maybe we could find someone who had it in the cart and they hadn’t checked out yet. Maybe we could negotiate for the box in their cart.

    We came all this way and there wasn’t anything. Was it that slickdeals was heavily trafficked by Bay Area people and they rushed here as soon as it was posted. But that’s impossible. We didn’t see any deal hunters in our entire trip. And it was just posted two hours earlier. Did so many people really have that much free time during the day as Chris and I luckily did? I clenched my jaw and a despair settled in my stomach. Chris tried to lighten the mood by suggesting other interesting things. Go deals? After all, Walmart did have the lowest price for most purchase-able items. So we skulked around the store, going through each aisle in case extra things should pop up.

    Perhaps we could return and the 4 boxes as listed on the website would show up. But it didn’t.

    We walked around the store again. We had traveled over 50 miles to this store, and I couldn’t think of anything to make this trip all worthwhile.

    I returned to the electronics section in hopes that the boxes would appear. It didn’t. But there was a different man working the section. He had a thin mustache and a jubilant look on his face. Chris went to ask him about the inventory. “Strange,” the man said. “We should have some. Let me check our storage unit.”

    And there it was. Two completely packaged. One for me. One as a gift.

    And I giddily checked out.

    More than 8 years ago, I mentioned to a colleague how I enjoyed buying presents for Chris at a good deal. “But doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the gift?” he said incredulously. “A gift should be without the value.”

    “But it’s the hunt that’s part of it,” I replied. “Chris would appreciate the gift, the fact that I didn’t spend much, and most importantly, the effort I put into finding a good deal. Paying full price would taint the gift. It would suggest laziness. Finding the good deal suggests cleverness and diligence.”

    A pervasive bad mood

    June 5th, 2017

    It all started with that. I was crossing the street when a car making a left turn went at full speed. I stared at it, willing the driver to see me. But in sudden fear, I hesitated in the crosswalk so if the car did get that close, I would still be standing. And it did stop, like out of a heart attack. I raised my hand in a fist, an imaginary punch in the air.

    And that’s how the bad mood in the afternoon started.

    The night before, I had dreamt being in stuck in a world of Gilead like that of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. “My nightmare was worse!” I complained when Chris told me that his nightmare was about cinder blocks falling on him and injuring him. “It’s not the same, because you’re a guy.”

    “I guess so,” he said.

    I had begun the day worried that my friend wasn’t sleeping well and that Chris needed to wake up. I woke up suddenly 8 minutes to 6 am wondering why the room was filled with light and realized that the sun rises early. But all was well. I looked at the time and willed myself back to sleep.

    And back into the mind trying to recover from the nightmare.

    But then all was well. I made a smoothie by pitting cherries (found a technique on the internet to use the pastry tip to remove the seeds), lime, banana, some lactose-free milk, and three ice cubes. Then a dash of chia seeds at the end for a bit of crunch. Two pint glasses full later, I finally then made a lunch of the remaining bbq. Half of a corn cob. A sausage. Then I cut up two tomatoes and harvested a pinch of cilantro leaves.

    I felt slightly irritated that little buggies were now roaming around my little garden. I moved the plants away from each other and put them in the sun on the counter.

    Then I washed the dishes, returning to my desk. That’s when my alarm went off reminding me of the coffee I had set up at 1pm. On the way, that’s how I nearly was in a traffic accident.

    And that’s when the bad mood peaked.

    Unfortunately one of the first comments made during the coffee meeting was an admiration of Apple’s “consistency” and its incredible design. Great branding and marketing made consumers feel like Apple is the best at design. And yet…is it? It’s one of my disliked subjects to discuss in design, because it’s about pure admiration and perfection, rather than what works in terms of the user experience.

    But then I talked about the bad mood. And soon I felt better. Because it was pushed aside. It doesn’t rest inside me. It’s beyond me. At least for now.

    Valedictorians

    June 1st, 2017

    I had a moment in high school where I was appalled that I didn’t make the top grade.

    The F??!?!

    My best friend, at the time, was constantly obsessed with getting the best grades. Quite naturally, we weren’t quite friends, but more of competitors for the grade. We were nearly opposites in the way we approached school. That is, nearly all classes came naturally to me. Of course, I was placed in the honors track for math (she wasn’t). Of course, I would take tests without really studying (or if I did, it often was at the very last minute because procrastination was built after I discovered that I preferred online chat rooms rather than studying).

    I remember a desperate moment in science class in 8th grade. Or perhaps it was 7th? For some reason, the teacher had decided that the class would be split into two groups. One group would do some group activity. The other would take a test. I am not quite sure where that idea came from, but I approached it. With that oh so innate talent of mine, I whizzed through the test without much thought. For her, however, she couldn’t concentrate. The noise from the group activity was so distracting that it caused her to lose focus and the lack of focus led to tears. Eventually, the teacher allowed her to take the test elsewhere. But I remember thinking: how silly.

    Now, I was accused in college by a (now former) friend who said that I had so much potential but I didn’t apply myself. Granted, at Berkeley, I wasn’t necessarily scoring the top grade. Part of me was that I was quite aware that I knew that with all the studying, I wasn’t passionate about the subject. Computer science? Pah! Even though I was intending to major in it (and later got rejected), I suppose that I knew that I didn’t like it. It was so boring and put me to sleep. I wasn’t passionate enough about it. So without that passion, how could I learn?

    “But you can apply yourself, Jenn!”

    Now it’s not that I am a constant slacker. With diligence, I did have an overinflated high school GPA (with all those AP classes of course) and scored relatively well on all my AP tests. I worried about my grades. But if I got a B, no big deal. My GPA in college did fall under 3.0 (mostly because due to the aforementioned lack of interest in computer science). But I did go to Berkeley after all. And did get a masters at Carnegie Mellon University. So yes, I did apply myself (and yes, a dose of privilege from my family did help).

    But it’s infuriating to think that those years in middle school and high school, I needed to be valedictorian. Maybe I am thankful that my parents didn’t push me to be that (they would have appreciated it). But I grew up with this drive to be different which didn’t allow me to conform. With that rejection of conformity, I did experience a lot of pain.

    And then. There’s this fantastic article about valedictorians where I nearly yelped with glee. PROOF that my grades didn’t matter. That (now former) friend had posted it on Facebook with a sad face. Well then. It’s not that I have become a millionaire. It’s that I have stayed with my passions. I don’t know if it has made me a better person since I obviously am showing some vindictiveness. But I do remember in my final conversation with her. I complimented her on her ability to raise a kid in a city she hadn’t lived in for over 10 years. And to move beyond her PhD. In return, she openly said, “You decided on a career to do what you wanted to do. You wrote a book. Sometimes I think that you’re happier than I could ever be.”

    Treading Carefully

    May 24th, 2017

    Today, more than ever before, I felt anxious about my pages being critiqued at my writing group. Perhaps they were horrible. Perhaps that they would see that I had failed. Perhaps they would sense that I didn’t work hard enough. A number of negative scenarios ran through my mind.

    Although I knew that I would survive it. And my fellow writers wouldn’t hate me for it.

    That’s the strange thing about this. To be so vulnerable, to be judged in the spotlight, and still come out relatively unscathed.

    During the critique, I held my breath. I knew that they had good intentions, and the rule generally is to keep silent. So I did. Defending myself isn’t natural for me in the moment (I am better at analyzing the situation and coming up with the most off-the-wall commentary later). The pin pricks came. And then they ended.

    Sometimes I remember the gift that I made for my mom a long time ago as a kid. At that time, I really didn’t put too much effort into it. What was the point if I couldn’t find the passion? So I made something just because either Christmas, Mother’s Day or birthday was coming up. Not because I wanted to. Gift giving doesn’t come naturally to me. So I gave it and she was disappointed by it. Simply said so. So no presents for you, then.

    So that results in this belief: why bother if I don’t have the passion?

    Then it returns to this: Because you have to do the hard work for the in-between moments. You have to do it so that you can get to the good parts.

    So I endure it in anticipation of the better times.