2020: One Word

One Word. Encapsulate the year in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2020 for you?

From years past: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010

The one word that captures this year:
Grief

Maybe it’s because I am writing two prose pieces that have to do with grieving. One about how my grandmother passed away last year and its effect (and primarily its lack of effect) on me. The other to do with things I miss that will be gone and things I don’t miss. With grief in the pieces’ title, that word is so omnipresent.

It’s ironic, though, because I typically write these entries about a word that is uplifting from resilience to understanding. But how can I really summarize this year? If the pandemic didn’t happen in the way that it did, I probably would say something like comfort or authenticity or truth, because of all the feelings that I can truly be myself since I am at home so much without worrying about what other people think of me. And yet.

I grieve for the loss of the businesses, for the loss of art, for others’ hope and dreams dashed. And at the same time, I know that I am comforted by so many things—I am so free, but that comes out of being in a privileged place and how can I say this in the face of tragedy? How can I say that I am so glad not to have to hug when everyone else is falling apart due to no touch? How can I say that I love sleeping in my own bed when businesses, cities, countries are decimated by the lack of tourism? I am troubled because I am one person and I can’t celebrate my own happiness in face of so much despair. It feels inappropriate. And yet. There’s a ring of truth, isn’t it?

I hear stories of people. Everyday. The struggle of not seeing a loved one. The loss of a dream business. The slow death. They tear my heart. And yet I couldn’t shed a tear for my grandmother. The internal conflict is too much. I grieve for people I don’t know, but I can’t grieve for my own.

Or maybe the word is numbness. I am perfectly happy wearing a mask even beyond the mandatory order. I am perfectly happy seeing nobody. I am perfectly happy cooking, cleaning, etc. on my own. I isolate myself, but everything else is still…there. I am here.

Last year I thought this year’s word would be Gratitude. It could be. But I have been cynical of it late. Is it gratitude if it’s I am grateful that my family didn’t ask me to come to Thanksgiving or I am grateful that my family respects social distancing and mask wearing? I remember earlier sharing that as a gratitude “ice breaker” during a meeting, but it felt like a downer. But I couldn’t help it.

Well next year, another word. I am not in dire straits, so it can’t possibly be survival. But I really hope that it’s hope.

2018: Next Step

When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

In 2010, it was about dream making. In 2011, it was about sticking to my boundaries. In 2012, it was about being true. In 2013, it was about embracing fear. In 2014, it was sitting my butt down and writing. In 2016, it was about leading. In 2017, it was about persistence.

I look at the lights that we put up in the office. It’s the same set of white lights that I had acquired (craigslist? garage sale?) when I first moved into this apartment. I had gotten it as decoration for the housewarming ugly sweater party. During that party, I put it underneath the table which provided a nice light for everything.

Growing up, I had always wanted a house decorated with Christmas lights. Although I don’t quite remember what we did in the first two houses in Hercules, I know for a fact that the house from 1991 in Lafayette never had any external lights. It’s a house far removed from the main street, up a long driveway, hidden from sight. Perhaps, matching my mom’s desire to be out of the spotlight. So far from the spotlight. And the fuss that it would require to decorate the house. We rarely had any visitors—family or friends. Christmas lights would never done around the house (although there was a Christmas tree of sorts).

Yet, interestingly, my parents created a game that my sister and I would play for years. Every time we saw Christmas lights (aka a house decorated with Christmas lights), we would count. At times, we would go over one thousand as we drove around the neighborhoods. (We could count the same houses on different days as new numbers.) It was a counting game at its core, yet it made me admire Christmas lights.

So when the holidays rolled around, now that Chris finally lives here and I don’t need to share the office/small room with anyone, I demanded that we decorate something. Especially when I can see the windows in the fancy condo building across the way has Christmas trees hanging in the window with lights emblazoned everywhere like they’re taunting the everyday commoner who doesn’t want to have the holiday spirit.

So we put up the lights, twisting them around the window blinds, across the desks, and plugging them into a wemo so that they would turn on after sunset and turn off before sunrise.

The lights are at the right level for the office at nighttime, making it feel like a moody bar.

But here, I see that a few bulbs are out. Dark and burned. But these modern lights don’t mind them. No other lights are affected. The current is not disrupted by these dark bulbs.

The string of lights cast a glow that I adore. It’s the big picture that matters.

What I mean by all of this is the intention to see the bigger picture. The fact that perfection isn’t always determined by the details. The big picture matters. Did I reach my goal? So be it. Nobody notices the smaller details except the creator. And I must question myself, does it matter? Look at the big picture. Look at the intention. Look at it all and judge appropriately.

2018: Making

What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

In 2010, I made xmas photo. In 2011, I made metaphorical things—that were intentionally symbolic of relationships and history. In 2012, I made ice cream. In 2013, I made design. In 2014, I made “my room”. In 2015, I made the last line of Ice Cream Travel Guide, literally. In 2016, I made my annual holiday video. In 2017, I made another annual holiday video.

Yes, I did make another holiday video. Which was an one-year-delayed reaction to my uncle’s comment during Thanksgiving in 2017 about kneeling in the NFL. “Don’t you think that employees should be fired if they don’t listen to their boss?” he said.

It’s very likely that I said something that rejected his answer. It’s also very likely that my mom being who she is probably interrupted with an obtuse topic, distracting me from answering. But it’s also very true that I held my displeasure. That is, until my aunt suggested to the entire family that we share a video / slideshow about our life in the past year.

But what did I make? It’s a mundane answer for this entry. I don’t want to answer making design. But rather the latest, always, it was making food. Specifically tartine-like scones.

For the last 5 years, ever since a moment of inspiration during a Halloween book club, I have been falling back to the biscuits idea as a way to make something homemade, but also tasty.

Because Chris insisted on buying the 2 lb bag of cranberries from Costco for my Thanksgiving cranberry ice cream, I had too much cranberries. Yet, what could I do with them? After some brainstorming (keeping in mind with my ample cupboard of ingredients and past skills), I fell back to the idea of biscuits. Particularly scones.

The last time I had made scones was a slightly disastrous attempt at making fancy scones from a fancy cookbook. Many recipes don’t mention certain techniques like cubing the butter or creaming the butter. Instead, it makes assumptions that the baker knows.

Because I am self-taught, I know absolutely nothing.

And the cookbooks that I love? Or even the recipe blogs? Are the ones imbued with the sensibility of a home cook.

And I have found my perfect recipe. One that has been a cookbook that I have owned for more than 10 years. The Tartine Cookbook. Specifically the recipe for buttermilk scones (usually mixed with berries).

I made it for myself 2 weeks ago, sharing it with nobody except for Chris and myself. I had one everyday on the way to work.

I even had trouble eating my coworker’s scone when she made it for tea time.

Then as a present for my sister, I made buttermilk scones with blueberries. Dashed with Hawaiian sugar with lilikoi (passionfruit) infused sugar mixed with bits of lemongrass.

Although I probably shouldn’t use my (warm hands), I enjoy the process of mixing all the dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugar). Then mixing the dry ingredients with the butter, making sure that pieces are only as big as a pea. So I push and rub with my fingers until the mixture resembles a coarse grainy result. It takes me at least 30 minutes to do it, but I find it meditative. Then after that, I pour in the buttermilk, mixing it with a spoon until the dough holds generally together. Then pulling it out to a working surface, I mold it into a rectangle, cutting it into triangles.

Then very important! Freeze! Overnight so that the dought can get that crackly texture.

Before baking, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 400° for at least 20 minutes. Or at least golden brown. For some reason, I don’t know how to estimate this correctly since the recipe doesn’t give instructions on how to extend the time if the dough is frozen.

And done!

Always fantastic results.

I hope to make this for the new year’s brunch!

If nobody eats it, I will eat it every day. Perhaps this will be a thing. A Sunday bake. For the every day of the week.

2018: Moment

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail.

In 2017, it was the moment (or moments) that I deeply connected with a group I had just met at a conference where I thought I would have been antisocial (or just horribly socially anxious). In 2016, it was the moment that I felt in the flow in telling the story of Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2015, it was the moments after my hat was “stolen” in Rio. In 2014, it was a moment in a writing workshop that I had achieved greatness. In 2013, it was talking to Yasar Usta in Istanbul. In 2012, it was using the ocean as a “big toilet” while floating outside Palawan. In 2011, it was my birthday moment. In 2010, it was the success in Journey to the End to the Night.

Right before I started a new job, I decided that Chris and I should do a getaway somewhere. But unlike my attempt to do something in 2017, which ended up this expensive trip to Las Vegas that only seemed fun to some people, but definitely not us, especially in the heat of the summer. For some reason, I typically have started new jobs in the summer, so not many great destinations were in mind.

This year though, after going to a writers retreat at an airbnb in Ukiah and hearing about nearby hot springs from a writer there, I was instantly intrigued. And also having spent a whole week at Esalen where I lamented that the hot springs weren’t that interesting to me, but how it would be great to share with Chris.

Knowing that Chris always enjoyed hot baths (but to me, I find them to be a waste of water), I thought that this would be a good bonding experience. Especially coming from a writer who I trusted and appeared similar to me.

So we decided to drive up to Orr Hot Springs and spend a night. I spent time researching it and understanding its layout/intentions. Although I had misjudged how much stuff we should bring for meals (yes, you have to bring all your condiments including spices and butter and pretty much anything you need to make food), it was still quite intimaite.

But the moment actually was with our prudish style. Although I really don’t have a problem with nudity, I am a bit more private. Chris is too. So our last dip to the hot springs, we decided to do with bathing suits since the darkness couldn’t mask us anymore. By this point, we had to check out of our room (a really cool wooden yurt in the woods!) and pack the car. Our plan was to do one dip before driving out of the resort and back to San Francisco. Back to reality (note: not cellular reception here nor access to the internet). I had some optional social event in San Francisco at 6 pm. But because we’re prude and private, Chris left the car keys in his swimming trunks. He realized that he had the keys after 5 minutes into the bath. But by then, it was too late. In the hot sun, we thought that the key would dry quickly. But it didn’t. The car didn’t start.

Soon we begged to use the phone to call tow trucks, but there was something wrong with the insurance and the closest car dealer was more than 50 miles away (so it would cost extra if we went that route). Then there was an issue of no callback number, because it would have gone directly to the voicemail. The resort staff refused to allow us to have the number called. So we were stuck. Surpremely stuck. Not only that the insurance company didn’t understand the issue so there was a long wait and they didn’t understand why there couldn’t be a callback number. At the last moment, we decided that we could call someone to pick us up. But of course, nobody in the right mind in 2018, would pick up a number from an unknown destination. Until of course, I called my parents who immediately freaked and said absolutely no. But then again would I have wanted my parents in their late 60s to drive a windy road for 3 hours?

In all of this, Chris figured out how to open the key with the lack of tools we had—our bare hands and possibly a pen. Resort staff was completely nonchalant and unhelpful. With that, I was able to dry out the key. The sun sucked up the water. And soon, in our constant repetitive desperate attempts, Chris tried the car again.

The moment is this: I was trying to keep calm as this was my last hurrah before a new intense job. Also, I was of the mind that I would drop $1000 to fix things, but Chris (fortunately) disagreed. With that last dry, he found that the car actually started and he drove quickly out of the parking lot, left the car running and ran into the lodge where I was happily reading Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and declared “LET’S GO. It’s working.” We said our thanks to the no good, slightly helpful lodge staff and jumped in the car, driving within rules to San Francisco.

We stopped at In N Out so that we didn’t have to stop the car in case things died.

The lesson: to work as a team and believe. Well, the latter part at least. Or simply, just sit back and let the sun do its real work.

2018: Letting Go

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

In 2010, it was a person. In 2011, it was an idea. In 2012, it was a symbol represented by a person. In 2013, I let go fear. In 2014, I let go of humility (or the desire to appear humble). In 2015, I let go of perfection. In 2016, I let go of expectations. In 2017, I let go of things and people I don’t need.

This year? I thought about the past year and realized that I had already done lot of carving out of things/people that I didn’t need. I am a less stressed out about things hovering around me (minus the actual physical things around me).

What I did let go was constant discovery. The need to try and discover new things. When I first moved to San Francisco, strapped with an expensive apartment, I felt compelled to do something every day, to prove to myself that I was not wasting my time living in San Francisco. I was out each night, always busy every evening, seeing a new person, building friendships. But in the past year, especially after Chris moved in, I am rather content to do the same thing every day and every weekend. Those “netflix and chill” days? Works for me. Eat dinner at the same time every day? Go to sleep!
Sounds good!

I can tell that I am falling into a consistent routine. Part of me worries that all my days will blur together and I’ll become a robot, unaware of the days. So I’ll have to be checking that regularly so that I don’t lose sight of the curiosity and excitement. It’s not that routine means that I can’t be curious or want to try new things. It’s more that now I really want to know that it’s worth it to go beyond my routine.

Perhaps the reason is that I didn’t have something better in my routine. Now I do. The new things often are disappointing and I know that. So if there’s a chance for something interesting and new, prove to me first.

Otherwise, I am thrilled with the routine. The sameness. The contentment of being okay with the way things are.

2018: One Word

One Word. Encapsulate the year in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2019 for you?

From years past: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010

The one word that captures this year:

Decision

Last year, I hoped that the word would be Diligence, but Decision is the word that makes the most sense. Or even Decisive makes the most sense. When faced with choice, I move ahead with an option even if I need to deviate later. Perhaps this year, more than ever, I don’t want to be stuck in ambiguity, wallowing in indecisiveness and uncertainty. I believe that movement is better than immobility.

Although akin to moments in 2016, I knew exactly when something wasn’t working for me. I knew what I wanted and what I needed to do to achieve it. I changed the job. I said my piece. I strived to be better. I continue to self-evaluate at every turn.

But perhaps this is more reflective of an ingrained nature. I know when something feels right and trust my intuition more than anything—90% of the time it is right. I am okay with the 10% where I am wrong, because even when I am wrong, I may be close or there’s a benefit of learning a lot.

Next year, I hope the word is Comfort or some sense of satisfaction. Will there be a year where I can sit back and enjoy the harvest from all the hard work? Or perhaps I never will be quite satisfied and enjoying the harvest will input the future activities?

2017: Everything’s ok

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

In 2016, it was the moment that when immersed in the election aftermath that anything could change. In 2015, it was the moment when I realized that I could finish Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2014, it was when I wrote a well-crafted piece (that I read to a live audience 11 months later). In 2013, it was when light shone in the face of despair. In 2012, it was when I stood up for myself. In 2011, it was a moment of clarity, sincere belief and friendship. In 2010, it was an action of commitment.

I got many rejections this year. I got the disappointments. I saw the disbanding of the nation heading toward the unneeded isolationism.

But what made everything ok was when I gave advice to others. People who were seeking solace, mentorship, hope found me. I often wasn’t ready to give it. I didn’t quite believe myself, but I tried to give the right thing.

And oddly, others believed me. The more that I said it. The more that I started believing it. And the more that it became true.

The people who were starting in UX and wanted my ideas. It was the new writers. It was the people who had just moved to San Francisco. And other.

And it really made a difference to me.

2017: Next Step

When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

In 2010, it was about dream making. In 2011, it was about sticking to my boundaries. In 2012, it was about being true. In 2013, it was about embracing fear. In 2014, it was sitting my butt down and writing. In 2016, it was about leading.

Interestingly, in 2017, I did make that effort to lead. It paid off, because I acted more like I knew what I was doing. Although there were a few moments where I expressed my own insecurity openly. But I kept going.

My next step is about persistence. I know my goals. In a short story from a few years ago, I wrote a character based on myself that simply declared to another that she always knew the right choice. She never was uncertain. She was deliberate of her choices that were based on evidence and data. And partly intuition.

What matters the most is pursuing those goals, because I know what I want. So I must persist despite rejection. Despite disappointment.

I will keep prevailing. In writing. In the job. In the home. Because setbacks shouldn’t matter. They are just stumbles along the way.

2017: Moments

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2017 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2017

2016 5 minutes, 2015 5 minutes, 2014 5 minutes, 2013 5 minutes, 2012 5 minutes, 2011 5 minutes, and 2010 5 minutes

  • Visiting Thailand (foodie!) seeing Chiang Mai and Bangkok
  • Eating at Gaggan
  • Doing that long circle train ride in Yangon, Myanmar
  • Starting to understand what fake news really is about
  • Witnesses Trump’s tweets and misdeeds
  • Attending the Women’s March and making it all the way to the end at the Embcadero in the rain (with Tomomi!)
  • Attending the March for Science march
  • Speaking at MidwestUX
  • Making frens at MidwestUX despite social anxiety and making strong connections that hopefully will last
  • Going to interview at Fitbit and saying quite directly that I didn’t like the idea of a wearable
  • Getting that job
  • Realizing that my level was actually at Principal level
  • Quitting Mayo Clinic and telling my manager there about it…on his birthday (unintentionally)
  • Visiting Arizona for Lorri and Paul’s wedding
  • Seeing yo lady house and other stuff in the same trip
  • Having Chris finally moving in
  • But having to deal with all the stuff !
  • Watching Star Wars, Gook, Big Sick
  • Hosting movie nights at taiche old place
  • Figuring out how to dump taiche old desk
  • Remembering the last trip to Rochester Minnesota
  • Seeing the quote that I mentioned in my goodbye email be printed out and posted on the cubicle wall after I left Mayo
  • Moving my desk into the office
  • Having my bikes stolen :(