My eighth year in the same apartment

October 16th, 2014

Yesterday, my fourth roommate in my current apartment moved in.

Yesterday too was the anniversary of my eighth year of living in the same Edwardian apartment. Rent-controlled. Untouched. It’s almost the longest place I have ever lived in. It’s a quarter of my life already!

There’s something scary about that. Not because of the age. But because I can honestly say that the eight years that I have lived in the same apartment in the same city have been the most defining years of my life. That may be very melodramatic to say, yes, but I entered this apartment very different than I am now.

Or at least I would like to think so.

On October 15, 2006, I moved into this apartment with excitement. It was meant of a new life. An adult life. At the time, I thought that I knew myself. My life was open with possibility. I knew so many people, so many friends. I could be who I wanted to be and believed that I had the confidence to do so.

But as life always it is, I found that I had less confidence than I really believed. I was crushed by heartbreak and failure. I wailed around the house like a lost ghost and experienced excitement at my desk when I succeeded.

This is the apartment where my room is trapped in four walls and one window, the window that looks out into nothingness. Yet despite that, the sun still breaks through in the morning without any pretense. This is the apartment where I learned to jostle the bathroom doorknob carefully not to lock myself in and conclude that it’s truly securely shut. This is the same apartment where I retreated to my room to read and write, always with my fingers dancing across the laptop’s keys. It has watched me have over 8 different jobs, 4 periods of “funemployment”, and planning meetings organized by yours truly.

I will remember this place when I leave just like I remember all the places, but what will I forget?

What does “selling out” really mean?

October 15th, 2014

When I meet a marketing expert, especially one in consumer media, I immediately see “branding”, “outreach”, and “content creation” cross their eyes. My gut twists. An invisible shell grows instantly around me. All because I don’t think that matches who I am.

But what does it mean to “sell out” anyway? When I started promoting the Kickstarter and spreading the glory of the Ice Cream Travel Guide, I received many emails. Want to help up promote dairy, one said. Another invited me to take part of a food blogging event. Yet another suggested that I take part of radio shows and TV appearances. I hesitated and selectively chose ones.

Working in design, which touches advertising and marketing, I am familiar with all that nomenclature. Based on research, people don’t like being advertised to. They don’t want to be told Use our household soap to open your pores! and our vacuum cleans 10x as fast and efficient as the one you own! I pride myself on being authentic and real, but in doing so, I realize that I am losing by not letting others know who I am.

Yet, it’s partly because as much as it doesn’t seem like it, I value my privacy. It’s a risk to be vulnerable. So of course, I show scorn at the lifestyle brand of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and Blake Lively’s Preserve. Someone in their team thought: what if we take a well-known celebrity and make it into a brand?! And that’s what it turns out to be. An empire of fashion lines, household beautification techniques, recipes that *gasp* the celebrity eats, and curated videos that “show” glimpses into the celebrity’s life. I raise my eyebrows when I read obviously designed language to not drink Earl Grey (since it contains bergamot; reality check, only if you’re allergic to oranges) and the juice cleanses believed to cure all (reality check: the body is made for cleansing; a cleanse may feel clean only because it’s psychological). But who knows, I am just this Asian chick in San Francisco who doesn’t really get it. But then, I realize that by putting yourself out there whether it’s a horrible marketing message or not, there will be someone even if it’s only one person who will love you. Even if it’s just your parents.

And so I continually write in this blog, a place that I haven’t promoted to anyone for nearly a decade. Partly, it’s because I am afraid of the above. The scorn that I show others is likely the same that will occur here. So I remain in my safe place, not growing, squeezed in this perfectly controlled box. I am stunting myself by that fear, yes. But in the moments that I send words out to literary magazines and publications, I hope that someone would hear my voice. Not because it’s about selling things, but because my work is good.

Things I learned in the Northeast

October 14th, 2014
  • There is no traffic (except Boston, of course)
  • Asians are a rarity outside of the metros.
  • Unless they’re studying at reowned universities of course
  • There are two ways to serve a lobster roll—the Connecticut way or the Maine way. I prefer the Connecticut way with warm bread oozing with butter enveloping each lobster chunk…not like the cold salad way of Maine.
  • Obviously rich towns with a lot of money often invites the best ice cream makers.
  • People may tear up while watching from afar the former president’s estate.
  • I won’t always get seasick while on a boat.
  • Falling asleep in a rocking boat is the best way to sleep
  • 100% maple syrup comes from boiling sap from maple trees for hours (as a Californian, I never knew)
  • All maple syrup is organic, because maple trees are never farmed and are grown in the wild
  • Popular syrup like Aunt Jemina actually may not even have maple syrup and consist of syrup dyed brown
  • There is still no such thing as a $5 lunch. I know, I thought that I would find it in areas away from big cities
  • Dartmouth is one of the smallest Ivy Leagues. Not to mention the small city of Hanover that it occupies.
  • Cellular service in Vermont and New Hampshire in 2014 feels more like 2004. I often can’t get a signal.
  • Older Caucasians love the Northeast.
  • A sculpture made of bone, crab shells, and snail shells can be inspiring
  • The Red Sox will always be the Red Sox
  • It can take awhile to get to Boston proper from Somerville and Cambridge even if it’s a few miles away
  • An ice cream shop is never quite what it seems from 3000 miles away
  • Lines in Boston are nothing like lines in San Francisco and New York City
  • There is nothing like a lobster bake on an island in the middle of nowhere
  • No matter what building you walk in Boston, the floors will squeak with every footstep; you will learn that there is no such thing as walking softly in that city
  • If you’re in a small East Coast town and you want a touch of whimsy in your hip boutique shop, sell Fred products. In fact, sell only Fred products and visitors will ooh and aah over “selective” taste.
  • Yes, fall colors is quite beautiful
  • But for me, as for many nature-y things that everyone has seen in many Instagram/Flickr/Facebook/Twitter/Path photos, I saw one leaf and I felt that I saw it all
  • Bugs in the room

    October 13th, 2014

    Alert!

    There are bugs in the room. Flying bugs. Hear a buzz buzz around your ear at 3 AM in the morning? Bolt up. Quick, turn on the light. Find a tissue. Scan the room for the enemy. There! The black dot high up in the wall. Approach carefully as not to surprise the target.

    BAM, you thump with your fist and the tissue. Relief, you think, and you let your wrist falls. Look at the tissue paper. No blood? No black carcass?

    The bug, this everlasting creature, flies in front of you, slowly out of your sight.

    You sit on your bed, vigilant. Eyes scanning the room, perking your head up when you see a black dot on the wall. Feel your mind going crazy. It doesn’t matter what is happening in 6 hours. Meetings don’t matter. People don’t matter. Neighbors don’t matter. The landlord doesn’t matter. You want to squash that enemy into pulp.

    So for the next five hours, you’re there on the bed, waiting. Waiting until the enemy emerges again. Light fills the room and your eyes burn.

    Where is that enemy? Where is that bug?

    You think all of this as the red welts on your fingers, the soles of your feet, your left thigh, your right calf, your stomach itch. Your hands touch each moment, rubs…then scratches.

    Murder? Oh yes, murder.

    You think about tearing apart your room, next. A scream curdles from deep within.

    Cooking at home

    October 9th, 2014

    After every long trip, I return home in confusion. I stand in my kitchen, helpless and hungry. The effort to put disparate ingredients with my rosemary-infused salts and delicately picked lavender is completely lost on me. All I want as I did on the long trip is to declare to a sympathetic soul, “Ummm…the big plate please. Eggs sunny side up and hash browns. Oh and a small orange juice. Oh wait, you have the housemade soda. How about the rosemary blueberry one?”

    As I sit here on my desk, my stomach grumbles, but my principles stand. When I don’t travel, I am adept at spending very little on food. I can subsist on a single bag of fruits and potatoes. Then perhaps a bite of yesterday’s leftovers. But right now, confusion and hunger dominates my mind.

    The kitchen utensils, my rack of spices from all over the world make no sense. My refrigerator, because my roommate has moved out and because I was preparing for my trip, is nearly empty. There are my frozen items, sure, but in it, a cardbox of eggs, full rows of condiments that I never use (like who eats dry mustard and horseradish, anyway!), and rotting tomatoes fill the space. I am flummoxed.

    But then I envision myself getting up. I have batches of homemade chicken stock. I can defrost my chicken that I had prepared months ago. I will browse my small selection of canned foods—the kidney beans, the chopped tomatoes, the cream of potato soup. I will look at my teas, quite often the savior of my hunger, as I drink and drink hot water to satiate hunger.

    I know what will happen: I will look at the granola, the pomegranate-infused dried cranberries, the nearly empty bag of trail mix. Then I will stand up, walk to Arizmendi or Rosemunde. I will stuff myself with $10 worth of lunch and then think, why am I not saving any money?

    This is the unexplainable pain

    October 8th, 2014

    A teacher rushed to comfort the 5 year-old me as I stood on the playground during the recess. Tears poured down my cheeks as I watched all the other kids—the pretty one in purple named Jessica, the black-haired boys, and all faces known to me and not known me, race across the blacktop and scream in glee. I stood in a corner with a frown that consumed my face. “What’s wrong, Jennifer?” she asked.

    I struggled with the words. Finally, I said, “Nobody wants to play with me.”

    Whether her face contorted in disgust or remained sympathetic, I’ll never know. What I know is this: she heard a boy’s cry across the playground. He rolled on the ground, hugging his right knee, and shrieks broke through the gentle laughter. The teacher left me, standing alone, tears still dripping down my chin and blotting the blacktop. I looked up, all the adults seeming to tower above me. Then I looked at my classmates who were at my height, smiling and laughing. So I stood alone, making the decision that seeped into all the decisions that followed.

    Pulling Away

    September 29th, 2014

    In preparation for writing workshops and applications to writing fellowships, I dove headfirst into simply a lot of reading. In the literary world, there’s an emphasis on “show don’t tell”. By that, it often means that the writer goes great lengths to describe moments—whether it is necessary or not to drive home the emotion of a character, the motivations of the character, and the way the reader should be feeling.

    Most importantly, at least for me, I have learned more of the human condition that I never realized. Do people really move like that? Do they really make decisions on such trivial matters? Do they really purposefully pull away when they are hurt?

    It’s so surprising to me when I see this acted out on the page, perhaps because I have been so dense to all of it. It’s easy for anybody to think, everyone must act like me and make decisions like I would. So in trying to understand the intent behind the words, I realize that each person is so unique, so delicate, so complex.

    I write because I want to understand others so that I can understand myself. But in doing so, I discover even more complexity. People pull away because they are in pain. Sure, that’s easy. Nobody wants their hands to be continually burned if they happen to brush a stove. And yet, to what level? At what intensity of the burn can someone withstand until the pain is too much that someone pulls away never to return? And the most curious, at what point does that someone learn: fire is hot and it hurts, I don’t want to feel that way anymore.

    I wonder how the pain can be applied to things that don’t hurt as directly. The emotional pain of discomfort and fear. That when we see something so new, so unfamiliar…do we hurt let those things hurt us because we only want to return to the comfort of the familiar? I sit with a friend and wonder if the words that I have just said — perhaps revealing that I am afraid and angry about something so trivial. At that moment, I can feel the friend pull away ever so slightly as if afraid that I wasn’t the person that they thought I was. I can be harsh and direct, because I don’t believe in hiding, and filtering is a weakness. But what can I do anyway but be myself?

    I only know this: we pull away because we want to feel better. So let that be. For now.

    I gasped for air today when I woke up

    September 15th, 2014

    It was a nightmare. Someone extorted me and manipulated me to give up everything. My identity. My life. My people. I was alone at home, waiting for others to return. But then someone came to the door. I made a bad call and let the person in.

    Afterwards, I felt violated and lost. Sure, there was sympathy. But then there was the feeling that it was my fault. I was to the blame. That my life was so different. I felt my heart ripped apart.

    Then in the middle of the night, I woke up from the nightmare and gasped for air. Letting the softness and comfort of reality wrap me. What the details were drifted away from my fingertips and eyes so quickly as if it never happened.

    Yet, the feeling of horror and violation stayed with me. In reality, I felt that I had more control of my life. More perceived control, at least. So I closed my eyes and willed happier dreams to return.

    Every 5 years, I buy a new laptop

    September 11th, 2014

    Financially, it’s not the best decision as I hold out each passing year. Because I still believe that my current laptop, still running, will survive the ticking clock.

    Ever resourceful, last week, I tapped a friend at Apple to buy a laptop using his employee discount. The order was finally made on Monday and suddenly Chris swung behind the Apple store in Union Square in San Francisco. This is no suburban Apple store, usually filled with tourists trying to check their email and searching for their next activity. “I’ll be back,” he said and left me in the passenger seat in the yellow zone.

    In a few minutes, he jogged up to the car with a white box, placing it in the back seat next to the AV equipment we were transporting for my upcoming meeting. “Remember!” he exclaimed. “You have the next year to activate an additional 2 years of AppleCare!”

    “Why would I do that?” Then I hesitated, “Did you get a hard sell from the Apple employees?”

    “Yes,” he grinned.

    Later, the new laptop was charged and massaged carefully alive. I tapped on the Macbook Pro I bought in 2009, an impulsive purchase after I got the first job after the big recession. A reward for me then. Now this laptop in 2014 is more for my constant freelancing and the frustration that seemed to bore in my forehead when Sketch and Omnigraffle spun the pinwheel seemingly in an infinite loop.

    The 12″ powerbook I purchased in 2004 was a monument to my college graduation. Believing that I needed “proof” of my uniqueness, tech-savviness, and first job, I bought the laptop a few months before graduation. I had taken a UI Design class where all students borrowed IBM Thinkpads. I loved it, but as a computing consultant, I detested Windows, a machine that was so easily compromised by viruses and adware. I wanted something that was better than that. Plus I was hipster before it was cool to be hipster.

    After commencement, I was still in my apartment on College Avenue cleaning. Cords, random furniture was everywhere. My powerbook was resting on my desk, playing music. As I vacuumed my room, I somehow got its cord tangled with the powerbook’s power cord. With one tug, the powerbook flew in the air and it landed on its side, creating a noticeable dent. I wanted to rub the dent in and pretend nothing happened to its clear silver baby screen.

    I had replace the hard drive in a year. And it kept chugging along until I bought a new macbook pro in 2009.

    Now 4 years later, I am writing in a new macbook pro. No lag. Every tap is a crisp data entry into the box. That it’s so smooth that I almost feel like once again writing on paper. How will the next 5 years go? Whatever the case, I can’t wait until I can deduct the cost of this mofo from my taxes!

    Speaking at the same level

    September 9th, 2014

    What does a connection mean? To be connected? To find that spark?

    Isn’t different for everyone? Some seek intelligence. Others seek passion. Even others seek curiosity. I seek self-awareness.

    Living in a bustling city, I meet new people every day. Through work, networking events, social events, festivals. There’s always something going on. Yet as I get older, I realize that I cannot connect with everyone. As much as my younger self sought to be accepted by everyone, now I don’t want to connect with everyone.

    Over the years, I acquired the ability to small talk. I may start with a standard question: “which neighborhood do you live in?” then progress to “what made you decide to move to San Francisco?” because almost nobody grew up in this city. (For those special few, I reserve the question ‘how has the city changed?’) And yet, I can tell whether the person is pushing me to talk about myself or happy to talk about themselves. For the former, it’s exhausting although my ego loves being rubbed.

    I want to eventually fall into topics of “why do we happen to behave this way?” and “what wakes us up in the morning?” I want to know those things, but it’s nearly impossible to ask. I do resort to the question “what keeps you up at night?” in my research interviews and yet I sometimes don’t get the answer I seek.