You can’t be antisocial with us

I floated along the river—thrilled to be near the water but moving without requiring effort.

Yet every so often, someone would come up to me—”what are you doing by yourself” or worse yet, “I don’t like your individualistic tendencies.”

Next time, I need a better comeback than “Because I want to be.”

Awkwardness begin

On the day that I received an invite to a bacheleorette party, I instantaneously txted the friend, “I didn’t know that you are engaged! Congratulations!”

I was thrilled for her, because I knew how she anticipated this event for so long. Several months ago, she cut an evening together short to speak to her boyfriend because she was having trouble figuring out what they were. Committed or not committed, she wanted to know. I was so happy that she finally got what she wanted.

In a minute, she texted me back saying, “Yes, I thought that I told you earlier!”

Being a BFF

It’s hard to say when you meet one.

Growing up, best friends were the ones you bonded with, the ones that you shared classes with, the one you shared your darkest secrets with…it was meant to be forever.

I had one in middle school. Although it never felt quite true even when she gave me a BFF necklace. She gave me both pieces and I wasn’t ever sure if I was supposed to give one half to her. I never did.

Approaching high school, our friendship became competitive as we tried to outdo each other in AP classes, hours we put into peer tutoring, and the gifts we gave each other. It was exhausting and we went our separate ways when we went to college—although it was the same university.

In the digital era, I have the option to put someone on my home screen on my phone. I can quickly dial the person, view their status update across twitter and facebook, and see their message instantaneously.

As a UX designer and researcher at a mobile company, I wanted a design solution to filter all the emails, phone calls, and text messages to the people that mattered. Beyond family members and significant others, the solution was simply…favorites.

During a brainstorm for this design, a coworker looked me and said, “Best friends.”

Family, significant others and best friends. Of course, we would always want to hear what was important from our best friends, right?

He had just moved to San Francisco and only knew a handful of people. Having started a new phase of my life, I suddenly was looking for interesting people. So I welcomed him into my social life—inviting him to symphonies, plays with my friends. We shared similar music tastes and a love for food. But most importantly, we shared conversations about ourselves and who we could be.

Best friends.

This is where I feel safe

Darkness descends, but I have a night light just in case when I open my eyes.

And I am wrapped up in my blanket. Like a burrito. My pillows propped behind my head. My laptop—my communication tool, but primarily my blank canvas is warm and strong.

I have choices—to put out my writing, to lie down on my belly and close my eyes. I love choosing the latter to let a drowsiness take over and wash the concerns of the day…away.

Then everything is ok.

I think that I remember who I am now

Under the influence, you make decisions that you think that you made on your own—but they were so affected by others.

You make them because suddenly in that moment, you lacked conviction. So you ask, what should you do? And you take their advice without thinking is this what I would really do?

So when you finally pull away, you realize that you would have never done those things—you never liked green, you always hated eggplant and you love cilantro, and you love listening to Lady Gaga.

You emerge perhaps a better person, because now you know yourself. But you’re sad for all the days you spent compromising.

Especially since you used to say that you never compromised yourself.

When I put on these glasses

I took my glasses and rubbed them with the towel. Putting them on, the world was clear to me. Focused now, but it’s open. It hurt, with the bright, sharp, vivid features.

Here I can see the interpersonal conflicts so clearly. There in the far corner are the issues that I need to deal with. To my right, the endless raging emotions call to me.

In that second, I pause and reflect through my clear glasses so designed to correct my high myopia.

I switch to the polarized tinted sunglasses. No myopia correct. The world is now fuzzy and unclear. But it’s brighter now. A full sepia hue of an era past.

The kind of door slam that would make you sit straight up in bed

“Help help!” a five-year old guest yelled in the bathroom a few weekends ago.

The door was stuck. It wouldn’t budge. The non-lazy adults immediately got up from the couch where we had been enjoying the Euro 2012 semifinals. Some of us trying pushing the door so that it could be opened. Others tried coaching little Luca on how to open the door. I felt guilty for not allowing our broken bathroom door to exist. After all, a few years ago I too panicked inside the bathroom when the handle fell off completely.

It was shut. Eventually we figured out that he had taken the key out the door. Oddly enough, despite living at my place for almost 6 years, no guest nor roommates nor myself…had ever used the key. I always had left it on the door, not particularly interested in locking the door. Because hey people, if the door is shut, it means that I don’t want YOU coming in. If the door is not shut, come in to poop, pee…or do whatever business you need to do.

Moments later, we coached Luca to put the key back into the door and the door unlocked…open. Unscathed. Amazingly, he just looked thrilled (maybe because he was already bored of being adults who were being stone-faced and uninteresting during the soccer game). He jumped up and down while his parents gave him a hug for being so courageous.

Ever since then (and probably caused by other incidents), the bathroom door started having issues. It was hard to close. It made this loud sound. The kind that happened at 3 am…and would wake me up with a start. Oh hai roommate home after a crazy night out! I just couldn’t take it anymore and every night, I would try to make a mental note that I wanted that door fixed.

But then Chris looked at it. A screwdriver, a shoe…was all he needed to fix it. He left a post-it on the door, “Hey Paco! I fixed the door and now it closes silently! ~CT” I didn’t wake up at all that night. The next morning, there was a scribble on the note, “Thank you!”

In a room of strangers

Surrounded by people I didn’t know, I felt free suddenly to state my weaknesses bluntly and honestly. Despite my wavering voice, I didn’t hesitate in telling everyone about my anti-alcohol feelings, my odd no-touch no-huge zone. I was quite certain that my words reeked of my insecurity and anxiety.

Yet, I was not that deathly afraid.

See this contrast to a room full of people that I knew. Perhaps people that fell into my number two circle. These are the people that I consider close…but maybe not horribly too close. I would hesitate depending on the state of my relationship with them.

Sometimes I would be the poseur—to appear to be smarter and resourceful than I really was. Or I would feel guilty…needy…trying everything to avoid abandonment and be accepted.

But in a room full of strangers, I have nothing to lose. They didn’t accept me prior to this moment. I don’t expect them to do so, because I am not seeking to accept them. At the very least, I just want to be heard for a single moment. After that, I really don’t care.

Maybe I was afraid of becoming like this

Shortly after I returned from my trip, I wrote reasons about why I stayed.

But now…almost 6 months later, it’s almost because I am afraid of becoming the self-absorbed New Yorker. It’s unlikely that I will stumble around Brooklyn or Lower East Side drunk (it has never been my style). And it would be difficult to find me entangled in multiple love affairs.

I just don’t want to become that person that says, “I can’t live anywhere else.”

I don’t want to be the girl that lectured me on my third day in New York. Sitting in a dark trendy bar, my sister had gone to the restroom so suddenly there was this awkward space between her friend and me. Out of politeness, I made small talk—who are you, where are you from, maybe I am moving to New York…I don’t know. But it was the last part, maybe I revealed a bit of self-doubt…whatever it was, suddenly for the next several minutes, she threw her hands up in the air. I felt like she was shaking me—OF COURSE YOU WANT TO MOVE HERE. YOU BETTER MOVE HERE. THIS IS THE PERFECT TIME.

It frightened me. I had opened a bit of myself and suddenly there was this new yorker who was telling me what she believed and what she believed that I should do. The emphasis on should.

I didn’t be her. I didn’t want to be the gossipy Upper East side locals that walked around with the New Jersey accent. I could tell that they were absolutely city folk—suburbs? pshaw! $10 for a gallon of milk? Absolutely!

I could not do it. And even though I say right now that I don’t want to move from San Francisco, I know that I could. Purely right now, it’s because I live in a neighborhood where people I trust live. It’s because of familiarity. It’s because I actually unlike some San Franciscans…really do love the mild chilly weather. Maybe it’s because my family is across the bay. But in the end, really…it’s because I have lived here. So as a result, that’s why I can imagine myself right here. And I know that I can imagine myself elsewhere—if I really wanted to.

I made custard successfully

I dipped the wooden spoon into the mixture and swiped the back with my finger. For the first time in 2 years, it drew a clean line. Relief. Ecstasy. Thrill.

I finally made custard without eggs curdling.

And all of this reminded me of what I loved so much about cooking and baking. Although I lack the proper attention to detail and am inundated by constant laziness (witness my inability to measure half a cup — look I can just use a 1/4 measuring cup and estimate!), the whole process is so therapeutic.

I grab a fork to swirl the eggs. I dump the sugar into the milk. I drop a star anise into the mixture. Carefully adjust the heat—not too much, but not too little. Like a child—carefully shaped in few seconds, minutes… It’s not entirely forgiving, but I manage.

No computer can be touched. No phone can be attended. I am alone with my ingredients and the instructions that I may or may not have memorized. In these moments, I am alone with the process and for once, happy.