2021: Entertainment

Well, 2021! You would think everything was back to normal. A bit, but still not quite. And just like 2020, entertainment helped so much to pass the time, and sometimes it reminded us that things were kinda normal.

I recounted the most impactful entertainment pieces for me in 2014. Then I did it again for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Movies I Saw

Well, we still have yet to go to a theater, except that one moment that we saw Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at Oracle Park. But it reminded me how hard it was hear when there’s PEOPLE. I enjoy HBO Max and Disney+.

  • Nobody
  • In the Heights
  • Godzilla vs. Kong
  • South Park: Post Covid
  • The Mitchells vs the Machines

TV Shows I Watched

  • Industry
  • Succession
  • Hacks
  • Wandavision
  • Loki

Books I Read

  • The Loneliest Americans
  • Earthlings
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad (yes, I know that I was several years later)
  • The Midnight Library (for the concept mostly)
  • Crying in Hmart (less on the representation, but just some resonant scenes)

Ways to Pass the Time

  • Baking bread
  • Watching. So. Much. TV.
  • Trying to write something, but end up not being happy with it, so it just sits on my computer
  • Telling Chris to clean up
  • Work on yet another personal project, usually something related to the wedding (yes, even now)

Technology

  • Spotify (for some reason, after nearly a year, I didn’t realize that I could listen to music without disturbing other people because nobody is around!)
  • Google Home (and now if it actually listen to my voice)
  • Pixel 6 (if it actually SHIPPED)
  • Would have been Clubhouse, but the craze died quickly, I am sad
  • Discord, but it only works if you have the right community

Do you feel different?

“No,” I begin, knowing that the standard answer is a long list of nothing-changed. “But it made me realize how society values the married label.”

For most, at least at the very beginning, I tell the story about how we were in line and how when we used the wife-husband labels, that people reacted differently. That there was some different weight with those labels. That those people might be SERIOUS! And whatever they’re asking is IMPORTANT! Then I go into some angst about how it’s dumb, about how about the people who are single, who don’t marry for whatever reason. Why is it that labels define us so much? That blood is thicker, but suddenly marriage is even stronger?

Although I realized that Chris and I had masqueraded for years in front of my (somewhat religious) uncle and aunt that we had lived apart when he finally moved in three years ago. But I never confirmed any change in status. So when my uncle asked, “Oh where did you move?”

I was stunned. Of course, nowhere. But then I paused realizing the context. How my cousins had devoutly lived separately for years before marrying. For us, it wasn’t about religion, but mostly around practicality. His car wouldn’t fit in my garage. And I wouldn’t ever move to a place where I had to be further away from the BART line and had to pay more! So we gave some story about how we had roommates and then the roommates were kicked out.

But in a moment of fury in the response to Mr. and Mrs., I added, “I didn’t change my last name. I absolutely have no plans on changing my last name.”

And then there we were, as conversations shifted and morphed to some controversial topics. I was happier there, I think. No questions about me. But questions about beliefs, attitudes, behavior that weren’t quite about me. But I had the passion to argue about for hours.

Day 1 of Honeymoon

Technically, it’s day 2, but we arrived late yesterday.

This morning, I woke up in that usual mixture of where-am-I and work stress.

“Maybe we can go see the sunrise?” I said looking at the clock. “Although we have only 20 minutes…we might not make it.”

It was first started as some usual morning waking—the usual scrolling of Twitter and news. Then figuring out how to make tea. Then suddenly, it transitioned into Chris checking his work things and then I had been rolling back and forth on the bed, thinking that we could be out getting malasadas and that we might be missing a chance to get them early in the week. Maybe tomorrow?

I intended to spend time writing and editing. So I tried to get into the mood for that. A coworker pinged me based on an Instagram story I posted about looking at the forest outside our window. The shot also showed a reflection of a laptop in the window. I wrote, “someone is working when on vacay!”

I sighed as time ticked on. The irony was that I was soothed by Chris talking on the phone—was it commanding? Instructing? Clarifying? It sounded like he was in charge and I was proud.

Then I became that annoying child, annoyed in my seat, asking over and over again, “Are we going yet? Are we done yet? When can we go? I am bored!”

Part 1: Prancing into city hall

So 2 weeks ago…it finally happened.

Maybe I didn’t sleep that well or I was filled with nervousness of waking up. My sister messaged me shortly after 6 am that she was up. They were leaving Lafayette and she shared her location. The day before, she had made the trek to San Francisco to Cal Academy and it took over an hour due to a burning truck and usual traffic. But this time, perhaps due to the time, they made it over to the apartment in 30 minutes.

“Someone is sitting on your doorstep!” she messaged me.

I was annoyed, of course, and was too busy just trying to pull on my clothes. Trying to wear that near strapless bra that I didn’t want to wear. I remember how a friend told me that I needed to get the dress tailored and thought how unnecessary it was. My anger simmered at that, but I suppressed my feelings because it was ultimately irrelevant. And my sister found a solution that worked fine, after all.

“Go open the front door!” I told Chris.

But we were rushing around the apartment getting ready. I didn’t want my parents to come up and look around the apartment, judging the cleanliness or the state of things, especially since we barely had anybody over during the pandemic. So there was a pause until Chris finally went to let my sister in.

She came up with Jakobe. “In the other bedroom?” I said.

I had pulled out the fun or at least what I had deemed to be fun, Jurassic Parks. Unfortunately Jakobe, almost 2.5 years old, was feeling unhappy about being woken up. I could tell, because my eyes felt sore too and he was grumpy. But then my sister did the thing that she didn’t like doing and pulled out her phone. All was well as he sat on the bed. No need to worry about him exploring. He was satisfied just there with the screen playing a video.

Then my sister proceeded. I had the hairspray, the foundation and blush I acquired from Sephora, hair pins, brush, eyeliner, etc. In very little time, we were done with curls and what not.

And then we went. Chris got there easily. We paid, for the first time!, at the parking meter, because we were not going to be late. As we crossed the plaza, I noticed a car at polk. And there was Allison. I hesitated because I also saw the photographers along the way at the entrance. The entrance, probably first, so I deviated my path and waved over Allison. I was so awestruck by the crown, boutonniere, and the scepter. It was exactly what I wanted! Vegetables. Extravagance. Elegance. And whimsical. But I was a little troubled by suddenly realizing that I had to perform as the photographers began as Allison placed the crown on me.

Then my sister, Jakobe, and others arrived. I went ahead through security with Chris and the photographers. Because of the stroller, it seemed like they went an alternative route and were admonished for “sneaking” past security. But no time to waste, I went ahead down the hallway to get registered. We sat around waiting while the photographers slipped in photos. We met with a judge, had a conversation. “How long have you known each other?” she asked.

I noted that she had a neck decor like RBG. “Almost 15 years,” we replied.

“So just getting things in order?”

“Yes,” we agreed.

Chris mentioned that we were also planning to drop our ballots and the judge mentioned how she didn’t like the recall. I was surprised that a judge could say so in a public setting, but Chris told me that they didn’t have any policies to conceal their politics outside the court.

The Recurring Nightmare During the Pandemic

My nightmare wasn’t ever about someone I care about dying. Rather it was something…more sinister or just a greater personal fear of mine.

It starts like this: I am going somewhere public. Whether it’s work with people I don’t really know. A public mall. Some gathering. As I look around, I realize that I am the only one masked. Am I supposed to be wearing my mask, I worry to myself. What are they thinking?

But I resist because I had made decisions previously to mask and be safe. And yet, I am vaccinated and even with the confusing recommendations, I hesitate to go maskless.

But then yesterday happened. In recent weeks, I have been a bit more looser about outdoor masking. The heat is one factor of course, but I have decided to accept the studies about outdoor activities—it’s safe. So I let it go.

But then with everything they say that going maskless indoors is fine. I am wary of course due to the increase of cases by the Delta variant.

And with yesterday’s incident where Chris forgot his cloth mask and thus had to use my blue disposable mask, which broke shortly. I went maskless and it was like it was before. The Before. It felt uncomfortable, but normal. And yet I don’t know. I felt exposed. Not just to potential viruses and bacteria. But knowing that people see me, like really see me. I don’t want to be seen. Not until I actually want to be.

And now, she’s just nothing

Over eight years ago, with a renewed energy to actually starting my writing life, I joined every writing class, every writing workshop. I spotted one—for free!—at the Potrero Hill library. During the weekday. I had essentially taken a sabbatical from working and so that fit perfectly. I put that into my calendar and showed up with a quick flash piece.

“Anyone wants to share?” she said.

She sat in the middle of the room. I was startled that the whole workshop just evolved around her—she spoke and nobody else spoke. Not that she invited anyone else to share their opinions. Everyone was older likely in their fifties and white. As it always happened in many writing events, I was the only non-white person. I may have been the only or one of the few young people, then barely into my thirties. I had prepared copies of a short piece about my neighborhood—a satire of taquerias, bicycles, and tech people. I remember how much I laughed to myself after I wrote it—so hilarious and I was so proud of it.

“This, everyone!” she said. “Is Excellent.”

I silently puffed my chest. Proud. Her only comment was to consider line breaks. She suggested writing something from another perspective or something similar to that. Who knows, because during the following week, I wrote something about my mother. A risky thing, of course. I remember asking Chris for feedback, he being my first reader, but he couldn’t of course, because he had issues with his own mother and couldn’t read it for what it was. So I was stuck in the world of…I think there’s something here, but I am not sure.

The following week, I brought copies of it to the workshop. And it’s likely I didn’t apologize for it, because I naturally wouldn’t express my insecurity, even if I had it. And just as expected, that woman tore it apart. She sat there in the middle of the room critiquing a piece that was personal about experiences with my mother. Who knows exactly what she said, but I only heard that she was questioning about why I wrote it, why the narrator was acting in such a way. Nobody else spoke. Eleven other voices were quiet as if they were praising her, agreeing with her.

My confidence crashed and the only thing that I could retort was, “This isn’t supposed to be therapy.”

“Sometimes it is,” she said.

I cried silently. I don’t remember if I stayed or left. Probably the former, because it’s not in my nature to leave when I am upset. It’s simply this: if I am upset, I want everybody to know that I am upset.

Years later, I have built my confidence in various ways and am protective my early work (usually). I want to be closer to my Asian identity and with that, stories of my mother arise. How was that piece like? I look at it again today—it’s raw and disjointed, but I see glimmers of a strong voice. That’s what I would have focused on—drawing out that voice through exercise. Maybe that’s what that woman would have done. But maybe I would have seen an early writer and say that it’s fine, it’s fine. Keep going, keep going, you’ll get there.

So…what happened the last 15 months?

As if it was all dandy and good. But honestly, I am super privileged. My immediate family, at least, were cautious and risk averse, even my parents who seemed to expressed a desire to leave their suburban house. “But you don’t understand,” they said. “We are retired. We don’t have anything to do.”

I would say all of this and more:

  • Felt so much relief that I didn’t have to be perceived, didn’t have to perform, didn’t have to negotiate
  • Appreciated the fact that nobody was doing anything
  • Learned how to bake sourdough bread
  • Taught myself how to actually use the produce that I have instead of referencing thousands of recipes although I still do that
  • Killed some plants both with overwatering and underwatering
  • Grow to love podcasts as they created voices in the background
  • Know how to create a zoom brainstorm effectively
  • Learned which of my friends valued social justice in the way that i do, but also realizing that…did it matter if they didn’t????
  • Still do not miss hugs
  • Did so much writing than I did previously
  • Adjusted how I considered my spending
  • Realize that routine give so much solace
  • No matter what, I may never get through my entire tea collection
  • Talking to a twentysomething

    Today, in class, Alexander Chee said in response to the way that his young students would write about aging, he would correct them: “At a certain age, having the same things happen each day is a victory.”

    Yesterday (on my birthday as I inch closer to forty), in contrast, talking to a former twentysomething coworker, he noted a paragraph from my essay about my own twentysomething experience where I had rejected the notion of repeated doldrums of adult life. “That’s why I don’t want to get married,” he said.

    I was awestruck by that. The moments depicted in the essay were more than years ago when I didn’t know who I want to be and how I want to be. I had embraced the idea that to be alive, it meant taking every opportunity to discover and feel free. What I didn’t know then was that discovery doesn’t mean that it’s meaningful. Being alive isn’t about adventure. In some way, yes, it’s about safety. Which seems risk averse and “too” safe. Yet, the happiness and maybe just satisfaction is the fact that my “home” is defined by someone. So no matter where we are—whether it’s at home for months on end due to the pandemic or a sleepless nights in a foreign city where we don’t know the language, that’s what I seek.

    2021 Birthday Wishlist

    Previous years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, forgotten year in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, a forgotten year of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002

    Vaccines arrived! Well at least for the US, interestingly.

    1. Reduction in vaccine hesitancy
    2. And obviously, better vaccine distribution across the world
    3. Some kind of social event soon! At the very least, cooking a meal for people
    4. Acceptances for my writing whether it’s workshops or venues
    5. Better growth of selective close friendships
    6. Better sense of where I want my “income-generating” career to go
    7. Good fruit, especially high quality stone fruit and berries!
    8. Visit to a farm or similar food-making enterprise, to get the feeling of getting to the roots
    9. Building a relationship to a nonprofit that actually matters to me and a place where I could see my personal effort
    10. Some kind of way to buy reasonable, high quality property in San Francisco
    11. To offspring or no offspring?
    12. Decrease in stuff!!!

    Vaccine Journey: Part 2

    Because this time, it was planned. This time, I was prepared. I wasn’t as emotionally overwhelmed.

    For whatever reason, they called me and asked to change my appointment time from 3 pm to 9 am. Fine, I said. So off I went, convincing Chris to drive me. In fact, he expected that he would do so since it was a hassle for me last time—to find parking and do that whole thing. So at 8:45 am, he drove me to San Francisco General, dropped me off at the welcome circle. I hopped out and got into the appointment line. Everything was repeating as if I was there the first time. Someone would stop me at the line. “Are you here for…?”

    “Yes, a vaccine,” I say and hold up my vaccine card.

    They would look at the date and nod. Then they stuck a sticker on me that essentially said registered. They placed on the sleeve.

    “Do I go?” I say motioning to the doors. I actually have never been inside the hospital beyond the ER and that first time. I see so many people walk in—maybe appointments for other things, maybe staff for other things. This is the local public hospital and I wonder how much funding they get. Probably not much.

    They tell me to wait. Finally the line is filling up. Five, six or seven people now. I am first. Then they say, “Follow me.”

    She holds this paper spinning windmill—the kind you might see for a Chinese tour or a child playing in the yard. Right at the end lobby, she motions ahead to another person. “Follow her.” So we follow and arrive at a set of elevators.

    I understand immediately that the elevator can only hold four. At least for safety reasons. We all stand in the corner. There’s a couple that huddles in a corner, treating like they are one person. Fine.

    We arrive to the fourth floor and it’s back again in the row. The nurse asks me for my card and I hold it out. “You got it laminated,” she says.

    “No,” I say. “it’s just a plastic cover.”

    “How did you get that?” she marvels.

    I am a little surprised, but not really. I wonder if she’s saying that because she just wants to talk to people, wants to have small talk again. I wonder myself if I want small talk. I tell her that I have a lot of conference badges and this is just one of them. I know that Office Depot and Staples are offering free lamination.

    And soon, I arrive at another registration. “My second,” I say.

    They send me to another station, then another station. I remember that just three weeks ago, I was frantically looking down at my work phone and checking the time, wondering if I would make it back in time. It’s barely 9:12 am now and it didn’t take much time at all from when I arrived to now. Soon, I am sent to a station. This time, I am curious. I am waiting and wondering why I am waiting. Maybe paperwork? Maybe the nurse needs to check something. Finally, I am sent to sit.
    The nurse has a needle ready. I have taken off my jacket and have my sleeve ready. “Non-dominant arm?” I say.

    She nods. A quick sharp jab and it’s over.

    I do the fifteen minute observation. I wonder if I should take the juice offered, but I don’t because it’s embarrassing. I do the windmill, but not much because I don’t see anybody else doing it. And soon, the time passes. I take selfies. Trying not to be rude and that person breaking HIPAA. Then I am done. I stand in front of the selfie station and take photos of myself, because well, because I should. But there isn’t many people here, taking photos. It’s all serious. I don’t know how people are feeling. Smiles? Doing their civic duty? It’s what I should do.

    And I went outside and went…to work virtually. I had a mild headache that afternoon, but didn’t know whether I could attribute to the vaccine (because I had a similar headache the day before) or to the annoying work.

    I took the next day off. A sick day. But I was fine. Maybe slow. Maybe more pain due to cramps. But I felt like myself. And felt like I was stronger. And the world was returning to normal, maybe?