It’s calm now

The energy has been sucked out of the room
And you close your eyes
The sunlight now beams through the slits of the shades
Warming your skin, your fingers
Dust hangs in the air
Now the angry words have disappeared
Silence once hated, now welcomed
The madness in your head leaves,
Replacing with purity and contentment
The plane soars above, a low distant roar
Cars drive by, their engines turning
But here, isolated behind windows
You rest your head against the pillows
The life will arrive again
The darkness drifts away
The sun sets and now the moon rises
Light always returns.

I dream of potato salad

Baked potatoes, al dente. Mixed with creamy mayo. Chopped hard boiled egg. Bits of crunchy celery and slices of red onion. Dill or pickles to add that slightly sour lingering feeling. A dash of mustard, perhaps the stone kind. Paprika to add that slightly salty, tangy taste. Then a pinch of salt and pepper. Garnish with herbal greenery like cilantro , chives, tarragon.

It’s a mystery what lies underneath all the white things. I remember a chicken salad like this once and the illness that followed.

She and I competed

In middle school, a girl with pale features was my best friend. For my birthday, she gave me a heart necklace that broke into two pieces. But she implied that I would keep it. I never knew whether I was supposed to give it to her or not. We only befriended each other, because we were outcasts and were high-achieving in class.

But there was one major difference.

In each of our classes, I easily absorbed the information, barely studied, and aced the tests. She, on the other hand, struggled to do well and spend our “study time” in the library reviewing her notes and practicing problem sets. I goofed off by writing long essays about nothing, quickly doing my homework, and reading books. No matter what, she and I scored the same. Not perfect, but in the high nineties.

During one test that I finished (quickly, of course), I looked over to her and her eyes were brimming with tears. Outside, gardeners were ripping up the bushes and by now, students were chattering. “I can’t focus,” she said.

The teacher listened and set up a time separate so that she could finish the test. I remember frowning at her, surprised by her lack of skills to block out noise.

Yet we ended up at the same place—the same type of admission and the same university. I always wondered at the core—who were we and why were we so different?

Horrors of a roommate

(Note: not my roommate)

There comes a time where the little things build up and where you think gosh darn’t! why can’t i live alone? oh right, i live in san francisco. Then in your mind, you list all the things that on its own, it’s not a big deal. But when they happen together, it’s the worst. And you count that list.

  • Not flushing the toilet after #2
  • Bringing fleas into the apartment
  • Cookie crumbs on the floor (not only that, they were from your favorite cookies that you thought that you were going to eat tomorrow)
  • Leftover food eaten (wasn’t it pretty implicit that food in the fridge that is yours remains yours?)
  • Asking if you can buy more spoons, because the spoons are all dirty and unwashed
  • Leaving dirty laundry by your bed (how? it’s not clear.)
  • Tripping over your things when it was clear that it was a private area
  • Breaking things in the private area
  • Breaking the printer
  • Pulling out DVDs from a carefully ordered pile
  • Asking questions like “Did you watch [insert a bad movie]?” or “Did you go to San Mateo?” when there is no obvious connection
  • Being incapable of actually taking feedback and doing something about it
  • Like an emotional time machine

    All it took was a combination of these things:

  • Chatting with a longtime friend where she and I shared moments of support in that year
  • A friend’s journal entries from July 2003
  • Memories of the people I used to know
  • Discussion of a broken romance
  • Looking at photos from then
  • And suddenly I felt like I was back in 2003. Not my body though. My body was very well in the present, still recovering from the “flu” and feeling like early 30s. But it was my mind. The emotions specifically. I felt like I did in my early twenties—hopeful, fearful, mostly anxious, a suffocating feeling that I wasn’t doing enough, not living enough, trapped.

    But maybe I am cynical. It wasn’t that bad, was it? That summer of 2003, I was hopeful. I saw a boy that was my second choice. I was starting my final year in college. I interned at a silly tech company in Santa Clara. I was applying to graduate school. I read career books. I (barely) studied for the GRE and LSAT. I was afraid of parties. And I spent all my spare time in front of a computer, typing away at instant message screens.

    And the feelings of suffocation. Maybe my 2015 felt suffocated by those memories. Regret? Displeasure? Hope?

    I am a hairless beast

    And fleas don’t live on hairless beasts!

    I whirled around the Mission today. Unsuccessfully meeting a buyer, who for the fifth time suggested a time and place to meet, and needed a text message to remind her that oh, i’ll find you later. And a homeless woman who harassed me for money while I peered inside a store that used to sell chocolate and ice cream, now empty, devoid of any furniture and sweets. And the possibility of a project with a client who has a history of UN-innovation and UN-collaboration. And the troubles with managing participants with a study.

    Little irritations. But then they added up as they do for any inhabitants of the first world. And I sat in the corner of a fancy chocolate cafe, rubbing my temples, my eyes glazed at my computer screen and a 33-page writing piece that didn’t fit my reading interests, but I had to critique, because that’s what I told myself that I would do as a dedicated writer. And the sun beating down on me, with the wind whipping the hair into my eyes.

    My sunglasses though, made the world appeared cheery with yellow and red. I wish that it could make my emotions and mental state do the same.

    It felt like a mean trick

    Calm down, I told myself.

    But my nerves flared. My power cord was missing. And my memory doesn’t betray me. The moment that I found a label maker in the office, I punched in my first and last name. Then I printed another label. I put one on my power cord and another on my chair. I was one of the first in the office to do it.

    I call myself possessive. In my apartment and nearly any living situation that I share, I know what is rightfully mine. The borders of my room, my bed, my desk, my chair, my shoes, my clothes. It’s not that my sister has ever borrowed my clothes or the like. She knew (or perhaps never wanted) not to cross that boundary. But when the door was opened or left open out of my control, a screech would wail from my mouth. “Close the door!” I roared.

    The door must remained closed, because I closed it. And it is always closed when I go to sleep. It must be that way, because it is.

    Now, I have loosened up about doors.

    Despite my inability to clean up my room, I do know where the important items lie. And that pertains to my desk.

    So after a presentation, I came back to my desk in the office and found my power cord missing. After broadcasting video, my laptop’s battery was at 50%. “Has anyone seen my power cord?” I wailed, keeping the volume to a sensible note.

    “No?” clueless colleagues said.

    I whipped around and scoured each row of desks, breathing. I will find it. But I tried to limit my insanity. The presentation of insanity that was boiling at the surface. In this case, perhaps, it bothered me more not that it was company property, that it was personal property. My personal property that I had been reluctant to use for work purposes. But because of the extraordinary requests I made, I decided that was the price I had to pay.

    But my power cord. Perhaps one of the visitors took it? Out of my desk? But how would they look to take it from the third desk from the wall in the middle row? Or was it a fellow colleague? I danced from conference room to conference room, staring at people. One smiled and waved at me, always a cheery one. Another glanced up from his serious conversation with the phone and sent a blank stare. I made a note to myself to burst into the room as he finished to check that power cord. Did it have my name on it?

    Then I went from desk to desk, pulling out power cords, searching for my name. I took deep breaths, hoping my anger didn’t burst open in awkward words without fear of consequences. Then as I walked back and forth, a colleague who I had fenced with about bikes in the city, suddenly called my name in his usual singsong voice. “I took your power cord!” he said.

    “Did you see how wild I was?” I said, incapable of containing my displeasure.

    “No,” he said and led me to my power cord. “I took it because it was the only one lying on top of the desk. And I was going to your meeting, so I figured that you didn’t.”

    I said nothing and returned to my desk. “I found it,” I said to nobody and plugged in my laptop.

    The laptop loved the electrical juice.

    Don’t confuse positive reinforcement for appeal

    This will get me every time.

    “That is such a brilliant idea,” someone says. “I never thought about it that way before!”

    I can feel my inside vibrate with pleasure and pride. I am smart! I am intelligent! All that hard work paid off! I am so special!

    At the same time, I stop myself. It’s not that I don’t believe that I can be a producer of great ideas. It’s that I can feel myself suddenly magnetized toward the source. I want to be surrounded by people who respect my ideas and to bask in their compliments. I want it all! Forever and ever! I want to feel that thrill in my chest and the desire to ask aloud in blind pride, “Don’t I have the greatest ideas? I do, after all.”

    But I scold myself. Because I know that an insult, a complaint, a disagreement will drive me away as easily. So what then, is it worth that a single vocal statement can sway me so easily?

    It then falls into rewards and punishment. I question why a positive statement can have such effect. I question then too why a negative statement can nearly paralyze me. I then question why statements at all have an effect on me. I wonder if one day, I can hear statements and yes, have a small reaction. But the words that came out—the compliments of great brilliance or of great stupidity—have no effect on who I am and what I choose to do. They are words, after all, from someone else. And that the only words that matter come within me.

    Flea Infestation

    “My leg,” Chris said and pointed at the red dots now speckled the flesh.

    “That doesn’t look too good,” I said.

    Earlier in the week, his roommate emailed me in the middle of the night asking if I had eucalyptus oil (nope, because I use real leaves to steep in my eucalyptus ice cream) because he had fleas. Make your own, I suggested, unsure if this was a real phenomenon.

    But several days later, Chris confirmed its existence. He found it hopping on his sock. Not one, but two. Then during the night, he scanned his legs and found random red dots all across his ankles and feet. It itched like crazy. “I want to boil my feet,” he said thinking of the extreme.

    “How did you get fleas?” I asked his roommate.

    I imagined a dog rolling around in the dirt and poking her nose in unwanted areas. Curious and without any awareness. A clueless human might do the same too, right? Stepping in something drenched with larvae, and hopping onto a human host. A human host who didn’t necessarily cleanse right away, but allowed things to breed and breed. I always wondered since I never saw him take a shower daily. But why should anyone? When the state is in a horrible drought? But I had to, it was my way of getting to sleep.

    “I don’t know,” his roommate said. “It’s better today.”

    “Look,” Chris said and showed the webcam around his carpet. “I sprinkled white powder everywhere. Borax. I need to go. I am breathing on the insect repellent fumes.”

    I sat back in my bed, safe for now. My eyes blinking back sleep, breathing easily in air and a room free of bugs. At least for now.

    Stirring Up Nostalgia

    I finally completed the “backup” of 30,000+ photos to Google Photos. Despite having used Flickr for almost 10 years, I had been seeking some kind of photo option so I could access photos readily with the power of the web and search algorithms. And the feeling of security brought me a lot of pleasure. Since for most of the my needs, I only need a photo at low resolution whether to reference an event, a detail in a story, or to remember the moment as it happened.

    And so my whole life, literally, flashed in front of my eyes. That is, all the way to 2002 when I really first began digitizing my life. A few by scanning, of course. But when I got my first digital camera, Canon Powershot S30, that I had carefully saved money from my first real job. I saw former friends, former activities, former outfits, former apartments, former classmates, former jobs, former loves and enemies. I saw it all. But most importantly, it made me remember how my life was like in my early twenties.

    During those nights, I was by definition…a hermit. Physically, of course. I turned down party invitations (too socially anxious!) and rarely went to any campus events (again too socially anxious to even consider stepping in the room). But my life as a hermit was only physical. I was extroverted, speaking without any filter on forums and chats. I met people all over the world. And in the glow of my monitor, at 11 PM, I would be surrounded by at least six chat windows talking to friends not located nearby.

    I felt comfortable like that. Chatting. Back then, there was no link exchanging. There was no articles to read. No social media posts. It was all about pure conversation. Maybe a photo here and there, but speeds then weren’t fast enough for video and when I did them, the tool always constantly broke. Maybe we sent an email here or there with an attached photo from the webcam. Or maybe we sent carefully crafted letters. But I can’t remember honestly about what we talked about—it must have been about everything and nothing. I remember that I would cry and laugh. That’s how it was every night—up until the last few years when communication broke into social media, my friends started drifting into purely offline communication, and the connection simply dropped. A simple “like” on Facebook was all that was needed to maintain a friendship.

    I missed those nights of my early twenties. It was chaotic, because I was trying to figure myself out. But it was how I got to know people. Nowadays, I hate the idea of having a conversation over text. A friend once coaxed me into it, saying that it was the best thing ever to have a conversation over multiple days. That didn’t make sense to me, and he was almost ten years older than me…and very heavily single.

    There’s a silence now before bedtime. I sleep before midnight typically, unlike the nights that used to last until the wee hours of the morning where my typing was not about typing blog posts, but rather the constant thoughts streaming through my fingers and directly into chat windows. I got to know people through lines of text, much like stream of consciousness. I was more eloquent, but definitely not as crafted as a text message. I miss it. But as I transitioned from an old macbook to a new macbook, I found myself not even signing into AIM.

    I am sad, I imed Chris over google hangouts — the final alternative. Time passed. It’s slow, because nobody ever uses hangouts anyway. I know that it pings all devices. And minutes pass. “Yes,” he replies.