On the 17 to Cheryl and Elizabeth

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.

Imagine that you’re on a beam of light

“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.

My last day

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.”

Don’t baby me

“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.”

Belated Birthday Wishlist 2018!

FWIW, I did vocalize my wishlist a few weeks ago, but never got around to blogging it…

Previous years: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, forgotten year in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, a forgotten year of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002

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…

Now it’s that obvious

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.

If you asked me what I wanted to do in the next year…

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?

Here’s my backwards attempt for writing something for March

What are principles if we cannot abide by them? Should principles guide us? Or does empathy guide us? Where’s the right balance?

I remember a talk on ethics and empathy. If we lean toward empathy, that doesn’t mean that our choices are ethical. We may choose to help the young boy who has a sob story—the one where he never got to see daylight and the one where he was caught indoors and all he wanted to do was play with his friends and learn about science. But then we might naturally ignore the big-boned woman who lives with depression and diabetes…who has a story that doesn’t make our heart warm.

I choose what’s right.

On the way to be the crotchety old woman

On Friday to catch a 7 am flight, I woke up unexpectedly at 4 am when my android phone decided that it needed to warn me that if I wanted to get to SFO, I better leave NOW NOW. I had planned to wake up at 5, grab a lyft at 5:30 to the plane, and be at the airport for the minimum (safe) time before my flight.

But now I was an hour early awake!

Because my phone was too smart.

But I don’t know if that was beginning of the crotchety behavior that persisted into my behavior for the rest of the day, at least in the morning where that adrenaline spiraled me into making decisions that were like an old woman.

As I clambered into the lyft, I could tell that the driver was going to make an illegal u-turn, so I promptly told the drive not to do so. “Please don’t do an illegal u-turn across the double yellow. Just go straight and make a right. Then you know, make another right.”

But I was quite aware of how nagging and lecturing this could come off. But then moments later as I noticed that the driver wasn’t too pleased with my comments, I decided to present a rationale for why it was important not to do an illegal u-turn (although waze said so). I proceeded despite a desire not to offend…to talk about how dangerous it was for everyone—pedestrians, other vehicles, cyclists. Of course! I had nearly been run over by other drivers like this especially when on a bike. Maybe he didn’t realize it, I reasoned. But I immediately reasoned that he didn’t care as he suddenly turned off waze and proceeded to take a VERY slow way to the freeway. As a city dweller of over 12 years, I knew that he was pulling off a passive aggressive move. If he was a lyft driver in the city, the route to the airport, especially from the Mission would be quite common, especially down cesar chavez and no matter, he would know that driving down any numbered streets would encounter multiple stop signs. It was simply obvious and I gritted my teeth as I said diplomatically whether he knew the way. Apparently, he didn’t, he said in a strained voice. Knowing that there was no way that I could avoid appearing a nag, I proceeded to tell him how to get on the freeway. I wondered how my rating was like, but I realized that I didn’t care. I only took lyft for work. So I was like whatever.

He drove at the speed limit and in the slowest lane of traffic on the freeway. No complaints, because he was driving safely.

And then on the line to board the plane, I noticed that a guy dragged a rollaway was in the wrong group. I couldn’t help myself and told him that he wasn’t in the right group. “They’re only boarding the A group! You’re the B group!”

He proceeded to ask me if I was security and that why should I care. Especially that it was none of my business. I protested, “You’re taking the space of someone! You’re cutting in line!”

I silenced when I got on board, and suddenly a thought occured to me. What if I could sit next to him so that his flight would be horrible as I shot lasers to him! So I proceeded to follow him onto the plane. But then I realized that my own flight would be ruined by this erratic decision. I thought about how I would ruin everyone’s flight. For just over an hour. I thought about it. But instead, as I saw him settle in an aisle seat, I immediately turned the other direction and took a window seat. I made sure that I gave him a glare and settled into my seat, wondering what crotchety woman got into me.

Because you know…get off my lawn!

2017: Travel

How did you travel in 2017? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

In 2016, I traveled to Finland/Sweden for my first big speaking gig, Portland for a “bachelorette” party, road trip to LA for my sister’s wedding, and Minnesota for work. In 2015, I went to Brazil for a conference, multiple work trips, and a midwest trip. In 2014, I went on multiple weekend trips, increased business trips, and found a destination for ice cream and writing. In 2013, I finished off the bulk of the travel for the Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2012, I started the journey of a life and went to what I thought was unfathomable (in my life) — six domestic destinations and eight international destinations — for professional and personal reasons. In 2011, I went on one international trip, one domestic…and one super local. In 2010, I went on one international trip and multiple domestic trips.

In 2017, I traveled to:

  • Minnesota one more time. And it wasn’t even for quitting my job although I had planned that already.
  • LA not once, but twice. Once for the pre-planned trip to a writer’s conference. On the way back, Chris made some strips in cities along the way, which was quite excellent. Then another one to visit the Museum of Ice Cream in LA, because I had to. Although regrets, because it came to San Francisco just about five months later!
  • Las Vegas for a short-sighed omgihaveajobibettergosomewhere. It wasn’t the most excellent trip (because Las Vegas is limited for what it is), but it was very filling with food!
  • Then that big trip to Thailand and Myanmar. All because my friend Sasi mentioned that she was going to visit family and I am always rather fond of visiting along with friends to their home country. And Chris came with me! To make up for not going in 2009. We went to Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Then hopped over to Yangon. The Thai stuff was amazing, but Myanmar was somewhat disappointing.
  • And that was it. Somewhat disappointing, since I didn’t actually go to New York. And because of the torrential rain downpour earlier this year, the roads to Big Sur were cut off due to landslides. So the writers camp didn’t happen.

    But this coming year? I am guessing that I have make a work trip to Minsk at some point. Hopefully that can fold that into a trip to Budapest to visit Callie. But perhaps, it will fold in with a Health 2.0 conference. What I hope for is some tangential trip for a film festival (Telluride perhaps?) or somewhere to ski (Whistler? Colorado?). And I really hope the writers camp at Big Sur happens?!