The best thing to do on Black Friday..

…is not to panic. Actually just do nothing. You can save a lot of money that way.

It used to be a family tradition to wake up at 5 AM and rush to the stores to line up. I loved the energetic pitch in the air. The festivity of “suffering” together in order to get the best deal. I leaned about FAR (free after rebate) and BYOB (buy one get one free).

I did fill my room with stuff that I didn’t need. But by the time I had my own salary, the appeal suddenly wore off when it was spending my own money. What’s the point of filling my place with stuff that I didn’t need? So that’s why I am sitting on a couch bought from a friend’s former boyfriend surrounded by furniture from craigslist, floor models, garage sales, and dumpster diving (well not really, I just saw something nifty on the street. once.) I have this horrible habit of questioning myself for everything that I buy—will I enjoy this thoroughly 24 hours later? Most of the time except for grocery items, the answer is no.*

So the only thing I do on Black Friday now is watch people. Watch people pile over themselves to buy buy buy.

* Except that one time that Chris knocked over a stand in a small stationary store. I rushed to find something cool and awesome (and expensive) and bought it. I would have never owned an angry asian girl canvas bag if it wasn’t for that.

Did my dislike come from movies?

Unlike many American protective parents, my parents often showed R-rated movies regularly at home. Fans of movies but not fans of movie theaters, rented videos from the video stores and libraries regularly previewed at my house every weekend. Violence. Sex. Alcohol. All were part of my movies while growing up. Watching Disney movies and the like were rarely part of my film diet. Whether I became simply desensitized to it all…did it have an effect on who I am today?

Although I realize that is just like saying video games make people violent and sex scenes make people promiscuous, did it give me immediate negative reactions toward some things? Namely alcohol? Did I latch more onto those movies where it played a negative character, the devil, the evil voice? And that I completely ignored the joyful scenes?

Or did one day, did I wake up and think…I will always take the hard way out. I will always take the steeper path crowded by thorns and uneven trails. Even when it hurts.

No more, but I didn’t know how to say it

“Please deliver a letter for me,” the email said yesterday night.

I stared at it for a minute. My eyebrows furrowed, and my stomach clenched. Taking a deep breath, I closed my laptop and opened up Candy Crush Saga for the third time that day. I drifted off to sleep as striped and wrapped candies appeared.

In the morning, my phone started ringing around 9 am, jerking me awake from my uneven sleep. Groaning and rolling my eyes, I glanced at the caller id and fumbled for the “ignore” button. In a few moments, I heard the gentle ding of the voice mail notification. I listened and rolled over in bed. I closed my eyes, drafting a reply.

I sent an email with every sentence beginning with “I feel…” and “I am concerned…”. I looked over my four sentences carefully. No accusations. No disrespect. Just simple statements of my situation and my context. Just clear explicit sentences of what I wanted. An apology to appease his request. After all, it is only a request, not a demand.

Then I clicked send. Would that snuff it out enough? Would it be enough? Moments later, I received a response. It was what I wanted. But inside me, I could feel the desire to punish and shame people. But I resisted and wasn’t it easy…wasn’t it just easier to get what I wanted?

“Lean in!” she declared

“So, lean in!” Sheryl repeated during her interview with Marc the Salesforce CEO.

She turned and smiled at the video cameras and the audience over 1000. “Lean in.”

For the past 30 minutes, she regurgitated her book. Her stories, her snippets sounded rehearsed. In the fact that they never quite answered the question. Marc asked about her success, about any insecurity, and more. But she used every question to pitch an idea from her book. The fact that women can’t be called “aggressive”. The fact that she started a project that said “what would you do if you were not afraid?” The fact that men should just pitch in doing laundry.

Well, besides the last one, I wondered what she was trying to do. It was obvious that she was just speaking about the book, in hopes of spreading the word rather than sharing her own personal stories and directly answering the question.

Sometimes I wonder if my insecurity comes from my struggle of being feminine—being quiet, submissive. When I catch myself being loud and demanding, I am suddenly afraid. Will people not respect me? Will people like me less? And that last thought stays with me, killing any enthusiasm for the reason that I spoke up and leaned in.

I know that there are times that I can be harsh, perhaps even cruel. Yet, would I feel the same if I was male?

But for now, I will lean in.

Watch this, I said, it’s extreme cheapskates!

Last week, I dragged Chris over to the couch. “You have to see this,” I said and pressed play.

For the past few months, both of us have decided to focus on what we want to do. Away from the man. That unfortunately results in little income with the same level of expenses. And we were unwilling to let go out of our lifestyle. And so, our deep-seated frugality surfaced. But how far were we willing to go?

A friend’s husband shamelessly admitted to me, “I would dumpster dive. Then I would share my food with her. Sometimes she’ll even eat it!”

I raised my eyebrows then. But then I came across Extreme Cheapskates on Netflix. Now, you see, I have always subscribed to the model that if you put more money in, the more money that will get out. Although some peers may disagree with me, I am not a penny pincher (even if that roommate from graduate school still claims that I always split the bills down to the penny! I personally thought that was fairness and not stinginess.) In the past few months, I moved a lot of my savings into investment accounts. At the very least, to make sure my assets were creating their own “income” without my input.

But then, what else could I do? Although I already had a habit of eating half of my meal when I ate out…what else? What did these self-proclaimed cheapskates do? Sure, there was the garbage picking. Shameless confession: if the furniture on the street is in good condition, I’ll take it (note: this rarely ever happens). But then I watched a woman in New York City open a dumpster and pull out tomatoes, packages of prepared meals, and a carrot cake. She combined the prepared meals in a single pot. Then I watched a mother cut up old clothing into cloths to be used as toilet paper (saves over $10 per month, she claims!). That I won’t do. And the guy picking rice off the ground after a wedding. And the guy giving gifts from scavenging to his wife for their 25th anniversary. Then his run to tables where the diners have left so that he can collect the leftovers.

We watched in awe. We watched in horror. And yet, like much mainstream television, we couldn’t pull our eyes away. On one hand, the TV series was designed in a way to hook and surprise us. Yet on the other, we were curious. Would we do this? Would we be ok with doing…something…that was considered abnormal?

For now, I cannot. We found that most dumpsters behind grocery stores were locked. And we would never go through a neighbors’ trash (there is just things that I don’t want to use). But I did learn to cut open a toothpaste tube when it’s nearly done. And I learned…hey, I would eat anyone’s leftovers. I just wouldn’t ask for it.

What is writer’s block?

Suddenly, under the age of 10, I claim that I was hit with writer’s block. With it, my ideas for stories disappeared. I could not imagine the crazy villains. I could not imagine heroines—my sister and me always. I could not imagine the plots, the other characters, or the settings. All of it was gone.

I wanted to be in yearbook and the school newspaper. Rejected. I started my own creative writing club, but I only had one class, because I didn’t know what to do. I did many things to overcome the writer’s block. But all I could do was write sparingly in my diary about what was going going in my life—what I hated, what I loved, what annoyed me.

Then when I was 18, I started writing again. Moreover in the form of blogging. It was read. I was validated! But I still wrote more personal essay shorts. More memoir type things. It was always about me. Then I participated in Nanowrimo. But I just used it to write a memoir. So I didn’t really reach my goal, but I wrote my entire life up until the age of 21. It was full of boys. I wrote in a xanga that my friend had spammed across the comments. I wrote long stories and garnered a legion of fans. They loved me for my insights. But then I hated it.

Then when I was 29, I decided this was the time. Someone gave me a prompt.

Journey to the End of the Night, Now Volunteering

This year, rather than being a runner in the annual game of Journey to the End of the Night, I helped out. I registered the runners exchanging their waiver for two ribbons and a map. Then later, I helped out at checkpoint 3c, letting players arrive, handing them a juice box, giving them a crayon, asking them to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up, and marking their map for a completed checkpoint.

There was something amazing about being a volunteer. I could participate, but not really participate. I could see the fear, the excitement, and the happiness of the runners. I saw the disappointment of those that were tagged—their eyes drooped down, falling to be part of the majority of runners.

There was so much to be seen. For new players, returning players, and other volunteers.

Some ideas for what people wanted to be when they grew up:

  • Lots of t-rexes
  • Many astronauts
  • Great answers of simply “happy”
  • Best answer #1: space wizard
  • Best answer #2: t-rex firefighter
  • Best answer #3: Tony Stark
  • Best answer #4: Sir Mix-a-Lot from the 80s
  • Several cats, because people didn’t know how to draw anything else
  • Several stars, because it was the quickest thing to draw
  • A picture of poo and the word “shit”—we couldn’t figure out whether it meant that the person wanted to be the shit or a shit
  • Several unicorns, obviously from females, which I thought was too feminine
  • My answer: ice cream maker
  • Good answer: chaser killer (a special staff role during the game)
  • Some boring answers: doctor, engineer (note that I never heard lawyer
  • Confusing answer: Warren Beatty’s fingertips
  • All you have to do is to want to be compassionate

    I used to hate the word “nice”. To me, it screamed boring and bland. It was the word used to describe me in school. “Nice girl”. My mom used to use those two words to articulate our last name: N G as Nice Girl. But really what nice was…it was because I barely spoke. I was quiet. My face may have brimmed with thoughts, but my voice was always absent.

    So in college, I decided to build a different persona. Deliberately, I wanted to be hostile and cold. I wanted to be mean. I wanted to be anything but nice. And yet, that’s the very odd thing. I didn’t want to be treated not nicely.

    I have trying to backtrack. And to just simply start with the intention of being compassionate. I learned how to voice my feelings and thoughts with the greatest of intentions. That to really show empathy is believe in the empathy.

    With the same piece that I had critiqued yesterday, the instructor today encouraged everyone to start with the good parts. “Start with what you like,” she said. It felt oddly different than yesterday when the other instructor began with 5 seconds with what she liked and more than a minute of what didn’t work. Being creative requires a thick skin, yet I never expected a backlash of that level. So today, in an in-person class of seventeen, I felt more at ease, understanding for why what didn’t work…really didn’t work. Where once I was about to delete sections, I could help build better context.

    People often say they have good intentions. Yet if they are buried so deep, they almost don’t matter. And those of us who don’t have the thickest of skins, we let it hurt us. But at least for now, because this is the only way I can learn, bring it on.

    Creatives need critiques

    “That doesn’t look right,” a voice said.

    It took all I could to resist the temptation to tell myself that meant that I wasn’t good. That in my first design critique in graduate school, it was okay to be slightly off or imperfect. Because who gets it right the first time? But as I stood there with my classmates staring at my carefully placed typography on paper, I heard the critiques. It stung harshly then. But then after several more weeks, it stung less and clarity swam to the surface. That’s when I could also critique with focus, “Yes, I see what you mean. Maybe the J needs to move over.”

    It’s hard to be creative. But it’s hard to be creative and not let critiques affect you negatively. Because it’s only through critiques that we learn what needs to be improved. Because in your eyes, your work is perfect already and you cannot see from others’ eyes until you ask for feedback.

    Today though, almost ten years later, I had something critiqued. In a different kind of medium. It felt as painful as the first time. When I realized that something that I once thought was perfect…was actually imperfect. It stung deeply as my decisions turned out to be false. So I listened to the voices and took a deep breath. “Thank you,” I said.