Then I realized that I was the only Asian present.

February 3rd, 2016

And one of the few minorities.

Sitting in the orchestra of Herbst theater, I relished in the words of Cheryl Strayed. A few months ago, coming upon a Facebook advertising her visit to San Francisco, I mindlessly (digitally) ran to buy tickets. Thrilled that I was able to score orchestra tickets, I declared that I was attending in the Facebook event. And today, I settled in the lush red velvet seats and watched two women—Caroline the interviewer chatting with Cheryl Strayed.

Her sense of humor was just right. Never too overly inspirational or spiritual. With some good gotchas here and there. It was as if I was there, on the couch, listening to her, like I have with some good friends. Those are the times that I enjoy the most. Leaning forward in fascination of a friend’s self-awareness and provocative nature.

I have to admit that I loved Tiny Beautiful Things—her collection of Dear Sugar columns. So much more than Wild. The heartbreaking tragedies and an intimate attempt to help someone. She and Steve Almond later called it radical empathy (better than that ridiculous philosophy of radical honesty). I loved it and dreamed that I could structure my words that beautifully.

Then the hours concluded and Cheryl Strayed greeted some onstage guests. Chris tried to urge me forward to unleash my fangirlness. But embarrassment always overcomes me here. I know how it goes especially when I appear at authors’ book signings and the only thing that I can utter is “I want to be like you!” What can the author say? I know when someone says to me that I smile and nod and say thank you. But the connection that I desire so much won’t just appear.

As I walked into the lobby, I suddenly was struck by the diversity of the audience. Earlier, we had nearly walked into the neighboring War Memorial Opera House where gray-haired guests decked in formal wear wandered the staircases. We were directed to the appropriate building which was filled with women my age. Young and very urban. Chris was one of the few guys present.

But as were leaving, I looked at everyone. Women, for sure, which made sense. Writing and this kind of self-awareness attracts a certain type. But to my surprise (and maybe increasing awkwardness), I noticed that there wasn’t a single Asian present. Save for 1 or 2 Asian males that accompanied a while female. Everyone was blond, brunette. There was an African American flying near the edges of the lobby. But I was the only one.

Yesterday, a friend was attempting to understand my hesitation of moving to Oakland. Oakland for sure embodies a lot of the writing community. But I lamented that I haven’t been able to make the connections. She mentioned that it was probably because of the people I surround myself with. But I pointed out that it’s not that. I choose the people that I surround myself with. And quite naturally, I found my comfort in tech. And moreover, I found comfort (oddly) with people who happen to be Asian in tech. I love food and so they do too. With ample disposable income. But if I was meant to bond with writers, I just never had. It’s a challenge for me, because I love writing, but the community has been so hard to find. At least the type of writers I seek. If I was meant to befriend them, wouldn’t I have met them already?

And so as I wandered in the lobby, I hoped to see someone I knew. But the faces were all unfamiliar. So then I did what I normally do in an awkward situation when out in the city. I went to find dessert. In moments, I had a toffee milk chocolate chip cookie in my hands.

How often do you do something that you don’t want to do?

January 28th, 2016

All the time.

But how often do you do something that you didn’t want to do, but you actually had a choice?

Jack Bauer often says, “You always have a choice.”

In truth, it’s the fact that I made a choice that wasn’t what I wanted to do, but because doing the act would have given me benefit. Yet at what point, is that benefit not worth it?

In college, a friend coerced me to join an environmental lobbying group during the summer. We canvassed the local areas. But there was a problem: I joined, because of the friendship. But I didn’t think about myself. And as the job begun, I wasn’t spending time with her. The perceived benefit was gone. And I wanted to quit.

But as I gave my resignation on the third day, I couldn’t even stand up for myself and lamely said, “My parents want me to quit.”

“Do you?” my manager said. “What do you think?”

“I want to go,” I said.

But the fact is, I didn’t want to do it in the first place, but I followed along, essentially kicking and screaming the entire time. Silently. I didn’t believe in the cause and nor did I have any interest in this kind of lobbying. I went door to door and performed horribly. Interestingly, people took pity on my performance because not only did I read the speech fast and dispassionately, they thought that I was the most awkward person ever.

This is a good resolution: stop doing things that other people expect you to do, if you really truly don’t want to do it.

This is what frustration and anxiety sounds like

January 27th, 2016

I hear the words that I don’t want to hear. It’s a mixture of disappointment, rejection, and anger all at once. The voice scratches at my core, and without any warning, I feel my body tense up.

All I see now is the repeated cycle again and again. It’s familiar. This feeling. It’s a curled up thick rope that settles in my stomach and something pulling the end, rubbing its ragged edges along my sensitive stomach insides.

My first instinct is to find what went wrong. Blame is easy. That helps relieve the pain fast. But it leaves a sticky residue of guilt that oozes slime like a snail inching across dry concrete. Every single inch hurts.

Then my second instinct is to blame again. Maybe even repeat the first. In a different way. It’s not the way the email was written. This time it’s the way the subject was written. It’s all the same. I stare at the problem, and the frustration mounts again, twisting now into my ear like a worm drilling a hole into my head.

Then my third instinct now is to hide. I am older now. I know, I hear, I feel, I see how the feelings are going to overwhelm me. I know better than to act out my anger. But I say it aloud, “I am pissed that it didn’t work out. Again.” And just by telling the world that I am angry, I am just a little bit calmer. Then I sit down to write this blog post.

One tough decision

January 26th, 2016

Should a professional profile photo show me looking away from the camera in a thoughtful pose? Or a head-on stare with a real human genuine smile? With teeth or no teeth?

First world problems, right here.

And the ants piled in

January 25th, 2016

The box was closed. The box of chocolates, that is.

But this morning when we marched up to the kitchen counter, Chris yelped in surprise and pointed in horror. A moving black line stretched from the box down to the hardwood floors, along the baseboards, and moved under the kitchen table…and beyond.

Ants.

“Don’t worry,” I said.

“I was always worried because you were eating chocolate all over the place,” Chris said.

I ignored his exasperation. He was experiencing a panic attack with lack of cleanliness and things not working. I directed him. Discard the box into the building trash. Vacuum the ants. Wipe down the trail. Empty the vacuum contents. (Snapshot the contents, because it will be a mini ant farm!) Done.

And done it was within 30 minutes.

Chris added a bit of insecticide near the opening where the ants entered.

“Wasn’t that easy?” I said.

It’s telling the world that you’re ready

January 21st, 2016

I believe that if you tell the world that you want something. Like really want something that the world will respond. That if you set a goal for yourself. That if you tell other people about your goal. That if you prepare yourself in preparation. That if you do all of this, the world will respond.

But then I thought, is that a prayer? In a religious sense?

I abhor the idea of religion. Not because of religion itself. But the way that it’s misconstrued. That it’s people blindly following a faith, especially around “appropriate” behavior. Religion at its worse is about making people fear about doing the wrong thing and shaming others who seem to be doing the wrong thing. Why is it about fear and not love?

And so, I thought about my belief.

Because the fact is: a prayer is about sending a message to an entity. At least for the religions with spiritual beings. It’s waiting for that entity to respond through actions and messages. It’s entrusting that some being will grant the wish. Like magic.

That’s not what I believe. I believe that if I prepare myself, if I ask for help, the world opens opportunity. Because somehow the threads that I throw out—the call for action—want to be connected and so they connect. Entities don’t exist like that. The connection is within ourselves.

For the past few years, I wanted to be a writer. So I worked myself up to be one. Doing everything that I could: classes, workshops, writing groups, reading writing books, applying for fellowships, networking with other writers. This year, I wanted to rework my novel. I talked to everyone about my ideas. I wrote a few down. Then a writing coach popped up. And so then I found the pathway.

What makes someone interesting?

January 18th, 2016

“…he’s the most interesting man in the world.”

Bragging, if I may, I have always wondered why people suddenly say that I am interesting. What does that word mean? I use that word when I am at a loss to describe something that makes me feel uncomfortable or cause dislike. I hold the negative adjectives back and say “that’s interesting.” People catch on and know what I really am thinking.

But to say someone is interesting. I wonder what it means, because is it that person has chosen to do interesting things? Or that the person has caused envy of things undone?

“If you see something that you want to do, you just go and do it,” a friend said once to me. “Not many people like us do that.”

To me, I question if it’s really that fact that I choose to do things. Rather, it’s the fact that once long ago, I decided to stop saying no. I realized that nobody was paying attention. That the only person to lose was myself.

But maybe that’s other people’s definition of interesting.

The most fascinating people to me are the ones who are self-aware. They question life around them like I do. They are the ones that exude empathy and believe passionately in what they do and why they do it. They are the thinkers of the period—the ones who write with integrity and awareness. Most of all, they say what they mean. I find those people interesting. And do I find people who are charismatic interesting? That’s the problem that I am aware of—in the moment, I am drawn, attracted like a fly, but afterwards, the connection is barely present and I realize that I was lured in like a bug.

Interesting people are those who outlast the burning cool light.

“So…what have you been up to?”

January 15th, 2016

Once awhile ago, I would run across an old acquaintance. Perhaps a classmate. Perhaps we met at a mutual friend’s party. Perhaps it’s an old work colleague. Perhaps it’s someone I met at a networking event. Or something even more unusual like at the scavenger hunt years ago or the blogging community.

Whatever the case, at one point in time, we knew each others’ status (and maybe fate). But now years and months have passed and so now we stand (or sit). We assess each other. Job situation. Happiness level. Living situation. So then someone inevitably asks the question “so…what have you been up to?”

It’s a way to catch up. A quick way.

I would dismiss the question quickly once upon a time with a “oh the usual, nothing new”. More to focus on what Dale Carnegie insisted was essential to any conversation—focus on the other person. Or more often, it’s because I don’t have anything interesting to say—no accomplishments, the work grind that wasn’t pleasing to talk about, the general life frustrations.

But now, despite having learned skills to make small talk go on and on, I have a better answer.

“Well, a few years ago, I decided to quit everything. I thought about moving to a different country. To Berlin, London, and New York. I visited each other those places. Whether it was unwelcoming social environment, visa issues, or culture clash, no cities worked for me. Bay Area turned out to be the best. After all, it’s where I grew up and where parents still are. But I had left, because I thought that I didn’t want to do user experience. So while I figured that out by freelancing part-time, I started to explore the passion that I had as a child: writing. I decided to write a book about ice cream around the world. I visited over 60 ice cream shops to interview the ice cream makers. I also had a kickstarter for that project. I finally just finished that book. Now I plan to write a novel based on my grandfather’s life. And addition to that, I also started a thriving freelancing practice.”

Maybe not that eloquently. Probably with more bubbling insecurity and anxiety. But there’s part of me that is glad that I can say something with pride. Where before I was stuck tumbling over words of a job that I didn’t necessarily love nor gave pride.

At least, it was better than the blank stares that I would receive when I said that I created lots of fun videos, which resulted in winning a scavenger hunt. And eating 100 things you must try before you die in San Francisco…in less than 3 weeks…getting in second place.

Carrying less

January 14th, 2016

Perhaps all the dental work has led to the jaw pain. Or maybe it’s simply bad posture and lack of upper body strength.

Whatever the actual reason, I look forward to travel, but I do not look forward to the carrying bags part. For the past few trips, I have had pain following trip in my shoulders and back. Usually it last for a week or so and subsides.

Even walking around the city and even with all the buckles tightly bound to my body, I can feel after 100 feet that my shoulders are sinking and fear sets in. Will I be struggling with pain? Will I constantly rub my shoulders and neck? Will I be unable to do the things that I want to do?

There’s an impending fear that has increased the last year as I worked in healthcare. I invite participants to tell me their stories of their lives and their motivations. They always start with the fact that they’re healthy. “Healthy,” they repeat. “I don’t want people to think that I am sick.”

It’s so ingrained in everyone. Because being sick means weak. Being weak means helpless, useless. Incompetent. Shameful. Bad.

But then they bounce right up and say, “I am fine now. No big deal.”

Some struggle to push themselves up to walk. They can’t run. They can’t see clearly. But they will make it from the room to the front door with cash in hand. But they’re alive and very human.

I am afraid of being like that. And so any quiver of my body failing at me even though it’s highly unlikely at my age, I wonder and start wondering and worrying. How can I be like that?

So to relieve any pain, I walk without a bag. My body cannot be betraying me.

What does it mean to be uncomfortable?

January 13th, 2016

When does it mean that we’re happy with the discomfort?

To that end, I was thinking about this yesterday.

Is the goal to always be comfortable? Does comfort mean happiness? Or even further, is happiness achieved when the value perception supersedes the cost perception? By a significant margin?

I think about the fact that I absolutely do not take cabs of any sort in the city. That includes Lyft or Uber. The highest level belief is that I believe that it adds to the congestion on the roads and that the fares are outrageous. Other reasons include that it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever feel incapacitated that I need someone to drive me and that I rarely feel unsafe in the areas that I frequent. Furthermore, I believe that careful planning will eliminate any need for cabs, because isn’t the reason that many take cabs is due to laziness, time prioritization, and energy. Then there’s the financial cost: I already pay insurance for my car every 6 months, pay for a garage spot, own multiple bikes, and have a clipper card for public transit. Yet why would I take it?

There are a few cases: business is paying for it (because simply put, I realize that cabs do minimize the time that it takes from point A to point B), when I am absolutely lost (only in foreign cities), when I am absolutely tired (this happened only once late night in New York City at least 10 years ago), and when the requests of friends supersedes my own.

It’s the latter reason that drives me crazy. Because every single minute that I spend in the cab is a feeling that I am wasting money. But then the friendship matters to me, so I have to bury the resentment deep inside me. I’ll voice my concern yes, but guilt sets in. How can I ask a friend to feel unsafe for a walk that is over a mile long? How can I ask a friend to walk in three-inch heels? The only way to leave this is to depart quickly before anyone says anything so that the reasoning is gone. Or better yet, I’ll drive there so that I am the cabbie that am paid in friendship rather than cash.

There’s still discomfort in all of this. It’s the boundaries that I set. And no matter how any of those methods to eliminate waste, it’s all an effort to decrease the burdens that we carry everyday on our shoulders. But the hardest part of this—especially as it pertains to cleaning the things you own—is the discomfort that remains.

I have cleared our my clothes. But the problem is, that doing so, I got rid of many of my sweaters. And now I am freezing. But there’s a problem: I have rules set in place not to buy clothing at all unless it is incredibly below market value at a local store, handed to me, or most frequently, that I decided to purchase it abroad. What’s more is that I don’t like many sweater designs. There’s this belief that I will make it work if I really want it to work. And so I stood accused of being happy with discomfort. Is that really the case when I sit at my desk and am frozen like an icicle because I don’t like the heater being turned on at all? Because the latter is in itself a waste of fossil fuel? That the greatest relief I have is to visit a place where I know consciously that I am not paying for anything at all.

I am most happy when there’s no judgement on how we should or should not live.