Pulling Away

In preparation for writing workshops and applications to writing fellowships, I dove headfirst into simply a lot of reading. In the literary world, there’s an emphasis on “show don’t tell”. By that, it often means that the writer goes great lengths to describe moments—whether it is necessary or not to drive home the emotion of a character, the motivations of the character, and the way the reader should be feeling.

Most importantly, at least for me, I have learned more of the human condition that I never realized. Do people really move like that? Do they really make decisions on such trivial matters? Do they really purposefully pull away when they are hurt?

It’s so surprising to me when I see this acted out on the page, perhaps because I have been so dense to all of it. It’s easy for anybody to think, everyone must act like me and make decisions like I would. So in trying to understand the intent behind the words, I realize that each person is so unique, so delicate, so complex.

I write because I want to understand others so that I can understand myself. But in doing so, I discover even more complexity. People pull away because they are in pain. Sure, that’s easy. Nobody wants their hands to be continually burned if they happen to brush a stove. And yet, to what level? At what intensity of the burn can someone withstand until the pain is too much that someone pulls away never to return? And the most curious, at what point does that someone learn: fire is hot and it hurts, I don’t want to feel that way anymore.

I wonder how the pain can be applied to things that don’t hurt as directly. The emotional pain of discomfort and fear. That when we see something so new, so unfamiliar…do we hurt let those things hurt us because we only want to return to the comfort of the familiar? I sit with a friend and wonder if the words that I have just said — perhaps revealing that I am afraid and angry about something so trivial. At that moment, I can feel the friend pull away ever so slightly as if afraid that I wasn’t the person that they thought I was. I can be harsh and direct, because I don’t believe in hiding, and filtering is a weakness. But what can I do anyway but be myself?

I only know this: we pull away because we want to feel better. So let that be. For now.

I gasped for air today when I woke up

It was a nightmare. Someone extorted me and manipulated me to give up everything. My identity. My life. My people. I was alone at home, waiting for others to return. But then someone came to the door. I made a bad call and let the person in.

Afterwards, I felt violated and lost. Sure, there was sympathy. But then there was the feeling that it was my fault. I was to the blame. That my life was so different. I felt my heart ripped apart.

Then in the middle of the night, I woke up from the nightmare and gasped for air. Letting the softness and comfort of reality wrap me. What the details were drifted away from my fingertips and eyes so quickly as if it never happened.

Yet, the feeling of horror and violation stayed with me. In reality, I felt that I had more control of my life. More perceived control, at least. So I closed my eyes and willed happier dreams to return.

Every 5 years, I buy a new laptop

Financially, it’s not the best decision as I hold out each passing year. Because I still believe that my current laptop, still running, will survive the ticking clock.

Ever resourceful, last week, I tapped a friend at Apple to buy a laptop using his employee discount. The order was finally made on Monday and suddenly Chris swung behind the Apple store in Union Square in San Francisco. This is no suburban Apple store, usually filled with tourists trying to check their email and searching for their next activity. “I’ll be back,” he said and left me in the passenger seat in the yellow zone.

In a few minutes, he jogged up to the car with a white box, placing it in the back seat next to the AV equipment we were transporting for my upcoming meeting. “Remember!” he exclaimed. “You have the next year to activate an additional 2 years of AppleCare!”

“Why would I do that?” Then I hesitated, “Did you get a hard sell from the Apple employees?”

“Yes,” he grinned.

Later, the new laptop was charged and massaged carefully alive. I tapped on the Macbook Pro I bought in 2009, an impulsive purchase after I got the first job after the big recession. A reward for me then. Now this laptop in 2014 is more for my constant freelancing and the frustration that seemed to bore in my forehead when Sketch and Omnigraffle spun the pinwheel seemingly in an infinite loop.

The 12″ powerbook I purchased in 2004 was a monument to my college graduation. Believing that I needed “proof” of my uniqueness, tech-savviness, and first job, I bought the laptop a few months before graduation. I had taken a UI Design class where all students borrowed IBM Thinkpads. I loved it, but as a computing consultant, I detested Windows, a machine that was so easily compromised by viruses and adware. I wanted something that was better than that. Plus I was hipster before it was cool to be hipster.

After commencement, I was still in my apartment on College Avenue cleaning. Cords, random furniture was everywhere. My powerbook was resting on my desk, playing music. As I vacuumed my room, I somehow got its cord tangled with the powerbook’s power cord. With one tug, the powerbook flew in the air and it landed on its side, creating a noticeable dent. I wanted to rub the dent in and pretend nothing happened to its clear silver baby screen.

I had replace the hard drive in a year. And it kept chugging along until I bought a new macbook pro in 2009.

Now 4 years later, I am writing in a new macbook pro. No lag. Every tap is a crisp data entry into the box. That it’s so smooth that I almost feel like once again writing on paper. How will the next 5 years go? Whatever the case, I can’t wait until I can deduct the cost of this mofo from my taxes!

Speaking at the same level

What does a connection mean? To be connected? To find that spark?

Isn’t different for everyone? Some seek intelligence. Others seek passion. Even others seek curiosity. I seek self-awareness.

Living in a bustling city, I meet new people every day. Through work, networking events, social events, festivals. There’s always something going on. Yet as I get older, I realize that I cannot connect with everyone. As much as my younger self sought to be accepted by everyone, now I don’t want to connect with everyone.

Over the years, I acquired the ability to small talk. I may start with a standard question: “which neighborhood do you live in?” then progress to “what made you decide to move to San Francisco?” because almost nobody grew up in this city. (For those special few, I reserve the question ‘how has the city changed?’) And yet, I can tell whether the person is pushing me to talk about myself or happy to talk about themselves. For the former, it’s exhausting although my ego loves being rubbed.

I want to eventually fall into topics of “why do we happen to behave this way?” and “what wakes us up in the morning?” I want to know those things, but it’s nearly impossible to ask. I do resort to the question “what keeps you up at night?” in my research interviews and yet I sometimes don’t get the answer I seek.

“Following fire near your place?”

When I read the text message, I lazily said “no” and didn’t research any further. I continued my work, clicking one window then another. But an hour later, I realized what it meant.

It meant: danger, life, death, destruction, chemicals, loss.

And in my own self-centered way, I worried about my apartment. My things. My macbook pro. My lovely bed. I thought about the curry that I made last night. Then the electricity that supplied power to all my things. Then the books that I wrote in. And then my roommate who is slightly a gimp at the moment.

That’s what I thought of and I zoomed back home, nearly jogging up the steps in my black bootie heels, tapping. In the distance, I saw the fire trucks on Mission Street. A smoldering mess with smoke still spiraling in the sky.

I was relieved. It was on Mission Street, blocks away from my building. Just the other day, I mentioned to a friend that my building was rather close to another building. It may go up in smoke.

Then a few days later, the earthquake happened.

Inside my room, I found solace in my mess and wondered that my papers—the receipts, the books, the documentation all over my room—would that go up in flames? I looked through the windows at the back of the apartment wondering if I could see the smoke. Nothing. Fortunately, more than 3 hours had passed since the fire started where it was first defined as a 2-alarm fire, then upgraded to a 5-alarm fire.

Later, I walked pass the scene. It was now past 7 PM, more than 6 hours since the fire was first reported around 1 PM. Smoke still billowed out from the destroyed building. I remember the building, often dismissing it. A discount shop that sold plastic things that I didn’t need. Big plastic backpacks and suitcases. Things that hung in air balloons. Things that were cheap. Things that I would have bought in my early twenties due to my mindset in budget, but now, I would prefer quality and durability.

I walked past it ever since I moved to the neighborhood since fall 2006, never noticing, never paying attention, just wondering how many more steps did I need to get to where I wanted to go.

Nearby businesses were all closed. My favorite produce market was shuttered, losing dollars to the missing hours. I loved going there to buy cilantro, tomatoes, and onion. The butcher shut as well. The walgreens was dark. But in the distance, I saw the barbershop and a woman selling white flowers. There was an Internet Cafe that was damaged. A nearby discount store also damaged. The roof seemed to have caved in, spilling its contents of plastic wares, toys, and so many useless things.


As I stood there, gawking with the other bystanders, the smoke tickled my throat. They pulled out their smartphones, capturing the scene. That’s what we remember and then…should we remember? I remembered the risky moment I took in Taksim Square last year during the Gezi Park protests, and the way that the tear gas made my eyes water. No, not this time, fire. You won’t get me this time.

On the way back to my apartment, I walked around a fabric cloth embroidered “San Francisco”. It was dry despite all the water filtering through the streets from the fire trucks. Will anybody pick it up or will it be swept away?

Then I went home and shopped for renters’ insurance.

If things weren’t wrong…

Then my aunt corrected herself, “If things weren’t right, she would cry. ‘Crying used to be her form of expression,’ your dad used to say.”

I laughed in response, knowing that phase was past me. But it just was who I was. It wasn’t good or bad behavior (as good behavior suggests that the baby actually understand what the adult desires which is simply ‘not to be seen or heard except when being cute’).

I was and still am the highly sensitive person in my family. As a baby, to my knowledge, I believe that I was fussy. My parents thought that it was cute that I cried so much. So much so that they have many photos of me crying. My face red with frustration and anger. And partly, it was because I couldn’t speak until I was older.

It took many years until I found ways to deal with disappointment, displeasure, and unhappiness.

What if we all had no forms of expression? That while our emotions would burst and everything around us wouldn’t understand why we felt such torment? That the only vehicle of emotion was through tragic outburst and facial expressions? That’s what it’s like. That’s what it’s like to be trapped in a body that can’t do anything. That suddenly in the moments of stress that nothing ever works nobody is in the right place nothing ever is right.

That’s the disaster.

My aunt and I watched my cousin’s 10 month old again. He twisted in his high chair tossing the baby corn and peas around the table. He smiled and stared. He already learned how to attract strangers to the side. All in silence.