I recounted the most impactful entertainment pieces for me in 2014. Then I did it again for 2015, 2016, 2017. Now 2018.
Movies I Saw
TV Shows I Watched
Books I Read
Ways to Pass the Time
I recounted the most impactful entertainment pieces for me in 2014. Then I did it again for 2015, 2016, 2017. Now 2018.
Movies I Saw
TV Shows I Watched
Books I Read
Ways to Pass the Time
Last year during Thanksgiving, after hearing an uncle’s comment that was clearly a rant against kneeling—”shouldn’t employees be fired if they don’t follow their bosses’ request?”, I was incensed. Before I could start an all-out debate, my mom unknowningly intervened with some obtuse topic. The conversation was forgotten, but I didn’t forget.
For this year’s Thanksgiving, my aunt sent an email requesting a list of dishes that each family would bring (as it was always potluck style) and a suggestion that we share a 2 minute video of what happened in the last year.
That was my chance to flex my creative muscle. AND speak to the unspoken topic of last year. People should disobey their employer if it doesn’t fit their moral standards and build up a movement within. Because that’s how society changes.
With a subtle nod to the recent Nike commercial, I created a 2 minute video of snapshots from Chris’ life and my life in the last few years where we defied expectations and most importantly, spoke up against hate in a way we never had. Beyond the fact that it was particularly self-serving, I wanted to send a message: I disagree with what you’re saying about Kap.
Then time came to present it as each family cast through the Apple TV. First my uncle and aunt showcased their recent experiences through a photo slideshow—people they met, being grandchildren, and everything else. Then my cousin did a photo slideshow of his kids and wife all against a default Apple music. Then my dad showed photos from his trip to China, highlighting the photos he took of his childhood home and his father’s home. Then I offered to show ours. Sensing the atmosphere in the room and a slight tinge of regret, but an urge to make a stand, I said, “My video is a bit different. So be prepared.”
In silence, my family watched my video (albeit with one buffering issue). When the last screen fading to a “Just do it”, my mom declared that the theme of videos should be “just do it” without being aware that was Nike’s catchphrase. My cousin declared that I got an A for the effort in the vieo.
In the moments that followed, I realized that nobody got the reference. I felt disappointed, but almost partially relieved. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to people disagreeing with the sentiment.
But in the following days, perhaps in an attempt to get approval, I showed it to trusted friends. People who would know the Nike commercial. To my surprise, most people didn’t even know. I showed it at work while I described why I did it. To which end, I received a reply that probably validated everything with a “You’re spicy!”
I don’t remember how I started following her or why I even chose to follow her. Perhaps it was through that facebook group of women writers. Perhaps it was because she popped up as someone to follow in someone that I followed. It’s unknown.
But I have become more vocal online about my discontent of being a person of color. Which oddly prior to 2016, I never was quite visibly vocal.
And yet, of course, having ignored much of that myself, I didn’t have a really strong opinion or knowledge.
And of course, that means that I am quite behind in everyday issues.
So I may absentmindly respond to posts and replies especially if they’re to mine. And after I wrote a post that was firey in response to the recent news on birthright citizenship, she responded. Then I responded. Then she responded. But before I knew it, it seemed like I was being attacked. I didn’t bother looking back at my replies, because I knew immediately that something was misconstrued. Especially with who I was suddenly to blame for Trump. I representing all of America. But rather than detail out the disagreement, I knew that this was going to turn into a back-and-forth where nothing would be resolved.
I sent a few private messages and replies in order to get it cleared up.
But by late evening, it was simply clear that she was going stand her ground and didn’t even bother to respond at my attempts to reconcile.
And for what?
It made me wonder if this is what social media has become. The downfall of social media where flame wars start accidentally. Sometimes one-sided. When it doesn’t matter if people are civil any more. With the limited text, with the design intended for quick short conversations, with the limited attention spans, it’s easier to spar than to have a full discourse. It’s easier to jab and attack, then to thoughtfully consider with a full cohesive discussion. It’s easier to say that someone is wrong than to consider fully if someone understands.
But perhaps that’s what social media is. It’s about getting a quick read on people. It’s about getting a quick connection. and in doing so, we have forgotten our true selves again.
Although I had driven up the 17 on my own several times, this time—perhaps because I had to do it for four days roundtrip—was so knuckle-baring. There was the one time that I drove down to see the Pixies, but my fellow concertgoer forgot the tickets on the kitchen table in San Francisco. He said that he would drive my car back up, but I insisted on going back (since it was my car and he didn’t really drive). That was at least four trips in my car. Then there were the times that I drove to see a friend at UC Santa Cruz when I was crazy enough to just drive everywhere in the Bay Area to see people and confirm to myself that the friendship was true and real.
This time though, it was a self-inflicted impulsive move when I discovered that a retreat was happening at 1440 Multivarsity. I had already booked a writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed and other established writers at Esalen. But in the middle of increasing stress at work and a feeling that I was losing touch with my writerly self, I called the phone number frantically in the morning and booked myself a spot.
I wanted to cancel after I met someone at Esalen who went in 2017, hating the impersonal aspects and the lack of intimacy. “Esalen is better,” she said.
But it was too late. Losing a deposit just for a free weekend wasn’t enough. So I went, placing my expectations low.
As I rounded around the corners in Scotts Valley, the campus revealed itself in new modern rustic glory. Women walking along the streets. Nearly all white women as expected (and in the usual disappointing fashion). The conversations began both among the women and in the room. Then the letters to ourselves, our fears, our future selves, redefining our internal DNA. Forgiving those who trespassed against us. Forgiving ourselves. Finding clarity. Establishing realness in all of this.
But despite all of that and my reluctance to fully be satisfied with the hippie culture of whiteness (yoga, tai chi, qigong without a single Asian instructor present), I still found my clan. This time, I found myself drawn to the fellow Asians. Unintentionally.
They were all beautiful. They also saw the lack of color among the attendees (but there were even fewer men in general). But maybe it was only me who too aware of my non-whiteness was acutely aware of the rules of things I couldn’t say. But in the midst of the letter writing and sharing of those letters with a “stranger”, I couldn’t stop my thoughts.
“And when I entered the campus, I felt a blinding whiteness,” I read from my hastily written letter, scrawled in pen in my moleskine journal, formerly given from a venture firm I worked for only 3 weeks and now covered with writerly material. “I thought that it could be different. But then although I chatted freely about the lack of PoC, a white woman asked me about my roots. When I tried to dodge the question, the white woman insisted and so I relented with ‘Hong Kong’. She immediately said that she loved Hong Kong. I said that I don’t know the city and had barely been there. That I was more Asian American. I thought that I could just be American.”
I could hear the audible draw of the breath from the fellow white woman who had enthusiastically clapped and shouted in glee when Elizabeth walked on stage.
And with the women who mattered.
“You’re on a beam of light, stretching from your forehead,” I said, reading from another self-help book. “You travel from the building where you are…”
Because Chris chuckled when he read the same passage hours before when I was lying down on my childhood bed at my parents’ house, I started cracking up. I pushed him, urging him to be serious. “But it’s a beam!” he said. “Like lasers are coming from your head!”
That imagery of what we were imagining began to broke my intended serious facade again and again. Although I had done these exercises before in counseling sessions on sofa where I calmly imagined a flowing waterfall, light from my head, a glow emanating from my feet, all of it…really did sound ridiculous. I doubled in laughter as I read the passage of traveling along the beam of light up through space and beyond the globe and then traveling down another beam.
“You’re supposed to be serious!” Chris said, opening your eyes.
I took a breath and dug out my serious self to read again. I got through the passages about beams of light, then got to the part of imagining the future self—our mentor.
“He brings you to a part of the home,” I continue. “Note the area of the home. Ask your questions. Like how to get to where you want to be. Ask anything else.”
Then I finished the passage with more beams of light, finishing the meditative exercise and now encouraging a journaling of the experience.
“You don’t have to show me what you wrote,” I said, trying not to be curious.
I had been comfortable with sharing what I saw in my mind, but I knew that he was protective of his inner life. He stayed silent as he continued scribbling on the notepad. I imagined his handwriting—he always described it as somewhat girly and neat, better than the scrawl that I formed from a life where I never sought to be neat and organized. After a few moments, he tossed the notepad to me, revealing everything he thought.
The questions I had asked in my mind simply where: how do I get to where I want to go in life? how do I get the ideas? how do i know if I am doing the right thing. He had the similar questions, but also an equivalent one I didn’t even mentioned because I took it for granted: “Is Jenn doing okay? How is she doing?”
When I read the question, I teared up and placed my hand on his hands.
Just over a year ago, I had walked into the new office, steady and unsteady. Surrounding buildings and a new transbay terminal were in rapid construction, hoisting materials, parts, people to new heights. Overwhelmed by the buzz of activity and new faces, I shuffled quickly to the solace of a new desk. I plastered a ready smile on my face. “Yes, I am ready to take on the new challenges!” I said.
On my last day, I gazed at the park on top of the new terminal. It had morphed from a concrete monster to grassy refuge replete with transplanted redwoods and palm streets. A single pathway, lightly sprinkled with dirt, circled its perimeter. How could I swoop down from the 16th floor to it, still high above the roaring angry traffic?
I gathered all my desk trinkets—the fish from a team training from college, gifts from that unwieldy time in my life, and the illustration of myself—into my small purple tote bag with a small velcro attachment.
“Bye y’all!” I wrote into the group chatroom and threw in a few emojis, gifs for a good measure. “Stay in touch.”
“Wah!” my mom exclaimed, laughing. “I am 67 years old! I am not a baby!”
My grandmother, on the speakerphone, had been lecturing how my mother’s daughter (namely me) should get breakfast for my mother. In fact, my mother was recovering from a low-stakes surgery and had decided to check into the hospital due to her body’s negative reaction to anesthesia. That reaction runs in our blood, because I remember how horrible it could be.
My mom countered my grandmother again saying that she felt sick and couldn’t even the hospital’s entree—soup. Just a few sips of milk and water. She doesn’t need me to bring breakfast.
I lost the Chinese words then. I didn’t know how to say — if she doesn’t want to eat, then I won’t make her eat. She’s old enough to know. Plus she’s under a hospital supervision, so the care team will jump in if something’s awry. I wanted to say that I wasn’t worried.
My grandmother continued scolding me. I had visited my mom even though the prognosis was that she was barely going to be in the hospital for long. In the morning, I received messages from my dad—sent via group text to my mom, my sister and me—everything is great. surgery a success. My mom, especially, has always been super practical and straightforward.
When I learned to drive, my dad acted like the typical dad teaching a teenager to drive. 100 feet? Too close! Did you see the stop sign? Did you see the car? Did you see the turn? It was horrible.
But similarly, learning to drive with my mom was also horrible. But different. Why are you going so slow? Go faster! Don’t let them cut you off! And a proverb—that to this day, I am not sure if she made it up or it came from classical Chinese literature—don’t block the world from turning. It was teeth-grinding and all of this made me hate driving for years.
And yet. Here I was in the hospital room with my mom. I had a long history as an adult in barely visiting family members in the hospital. Yes, my schedule conflicted. Yes, it was too out of the way. But I also felt partially distant from them—not just because of the language, but because of how they want to be seen. Did they want me to remember them as partial people, now stricken on a hospital bed? I personally just wouldn’t. I would rather craft the persona I was through my computer and writing.
“Just tell her that you will,” my mom said in English and smiled.
So I did. In that moment, I realized what the nagging meant. For many years, due to my grandmother’s progressing age, she has lost the energy of her youth. She is taken care of by my mom. Like a baby. But here’s a moment with my mom, recovering from surgery wincing from pain and mind clouded with painkillers, that my grandmother had a chance to be a mother again. To have the respect and authority.
When I walked into my mom’s room, I declared that I had arrived. I had read her texts that she was feeling “bad” and couldn’t eat. So I brought my own solution—candied ginger—which had always helped me when carsick and seasick. “It’s from Thailand,” I said, handing the bag of my treasured bits to her. “It’s high quality.”
At the end of our visit—a round of Facetime with my sister and my dad (and some finagling brushing teeth from bed), she leaned back and said, “I feel so much better now.”
FWIW, I did vocalize my wishlist a few weeks ago, but never got around to blogging it…
1. Lots of tasty fruits (and candy too!)
2. A nice jobbie for Chris or just happiness!
3. The motivation and determination to finish revising this novel of mine…
4. Get a short story published THIS YEAR somewhere, so I can promote my fiction
5. And many more good times…
For many years as I lived in the Mission, I ignored much of what was whispered as I walked along the sidewalks. Essentially what that meant was that I only heard what I wanted to hear and ignored everything else—including racial and sexist comments.
Shortly after I moved here in 2006, a friend and I walked down Valencia Street. Apparently someone yelled something at me, but I didn’t hear a single thing. My friend, a white dude, was offended for me. He said something racist, my friend declared.
He did? I answered obliviously.
I continued on.
Of course, I had always been quite passionate about any injustice. I remember distinctly arguing with my parents as they disagreed about the way that race took part in our lives. Around my high school days. But despite my desire to change things—I felt incredibly held back by social anxiety and a general lack of confidence. I never participated in any protests or join any groups…or even tried to change society. Instead, i only tried my best.
Until the last year with everything. I try to be sensitive to things going on around me.
As we walked back from dinner today, I heard some white couple talked about the police and how it was challenging. I didn’t think too much about it, except how annoying they were to dodge around us as they rushed to get in line at the Chapel. Once we were out of earshot, Chris noted that the guy was complaining about the black guy drumming upside down buckets and about how the noise was a front for laziness, drunkenness, and how the police wouldn’t do anything about it.
I was incensed. The overt racism. The disrespect. The dismissiveness of the residents just living here. Even if the guy was going drink or whatever, that’s his choice. His choices, as long as they don’t infringe on physically hurting others, are his and he’s free to make them. He may use up the city’s resources, but this then becomes a more systemic problem in trying to understand the root of the issue.
Chris noted how the couple likely went to the Chapel to listen to music likely by white performers. Then they were very likely to go next door to Tacolicious, a partial representation of “Mexican” food. I agreed. They would declare how the Mission is so fun and cultural while never interacting with the people who live here.
Earlier in the day, I recalled the memory of talking to a female Asian friend who grew up in the South. She talked about how people in the Bay Area believe that they’re not racist, but incredibly they are. It’s probably worse, we agreed. But then this is an area that I felt less educated about—the solutions that could fix it. I tried to make an intellectual argument—that now felt a little dumb, it’s hard to fix systemic racism. It’s hard to change everything, I said. She became firey insisting that people in the Bay Area don’t get it. She knew, because she grew up in the South where the amount of racism is about the same. And that there is an easy solution to fix systematic racism. But whatever she said nice, I could not remember. Not because I was stunned that she was shaming me for my ignorance, but because I didn’t understand her solution. I just couldn’t understand it.
But right now, I wonder if I heard it at all.
It’s this: edit my novel, create a strategy for a podcast (about Asian Americans perspectives? about pop culture? about movies?), buy that road bike, edit and publish short stories, get Chris to a good place about jobbie.
And create that idea. Refine that idea that I would like to spread.
Why is it that I don’t have a yearning to improve my professional life? Is there a reason why my desire for that is quite lacking? Am I not interested?
Does everyone think this way?