Return to Minny Apple

And as expected, Minny Apple has changed. I mean, the city has to as I would expect in the thirteen years since I was last in this place. If it didn’t, then I would declare that the city is very much stuck in the past.

When I visited Minnesota in August 2003, right at the peak of starting my last year in college, I saw this state as a land of opportunity. Perhaps a place where I would go to graduate school. With the fact that my best(est) friends were online, I was willing to travel anywhere. My ties to the Bay Area were far and in between. Loose ties in fact. I wanted something completely new. I wanted to reinvent myself. And that’s what Minnesota held for me in August of 2003.

I arrived at MSP, looking for faces that I had only seen in digital photos. And fortunately, the two guys that I met—Cheez and Tanner—matched their photos. As one might expect though, there were taller than expected. Like 6 feet. But all was well. Then I was whisked off to Duluth, then one day in Minny Apple.

I remember days of trying new things—water skiing, lying down in the middle of (barren) railroad tracks, being around a lot of white people, spending time with the guys. I was the exotic Californian. But when I look back, I wonder, what would I have thought of the person that I am now sitting in a fancy hotel downtown attending a conference in ethnography? Knowing that I hadn’t even returned to Minneapolis for over thirteen years? Knowing that the risks that I took then and the beliefs that I held, that they would change over time? Would I have expected it?

But the thing is, which is still true to this day, I just don’t concern myself of the future. That is, of one year ahead. Five years ahead. Ten years ahead. What matters most of the time is about tomorrow, next week, next month, maybe 6 months. But after that, I don’t really think that deeply. It’s about distant goals—yes perhaps a thought leader, perhaps finishing my novel, perhaps being a sustainable writer, perhaps doing what I want to do in life, having more confidence and security and of course better public speaking (aka commanding the room). Would I have approved of the life I had now?

Likely yes. I would have admired the ability that I found my own form of self-expression. Even more about building the connections, the relationships. For the latter especially was the reason that I was drawn so much to those 6 days in Minny Soda. Because I felt valued as a person for once. Being everything that I was at the age of 21.

A new job

I can’t say that there have been many times in my life where I have been so outwardly welcomed. Simply because of my interests and expertise. There’s a stroking of my ego, yes. But to feel like a valued part of a team is a rarity. I think this is why some people have difficulty leaving jobs. Maybe I finally understand now.

I can only remember few moments that are like these. Mostly in life transitions—like the move from Berkeley to Pittsburgh and the move back from Pittsburgh to the Bay Area. It’s those life transitions that you see the light. And this time, you think, that light is actually quite warm.

I rarely have seen that light, because day after day, I am grounded into cynicism. I often would walk into situations where people would glance at me and dismiss my expertise and skills. Then I would have to sell myself all over again. Or I would feel uncertain and I could feel the headaches overwhelm, pressing into my sides.

This is where I say that I look at the trees and it feels like the leaves are fluttering for me. Do they understand the beauty? Beyond the narcissism, hope comes and the light is so strong. So I hope this lasts.

An end of an era, a beginning of a new one

Tomorrow, I begin a full time job, which is end to an era that began just over three years ago when I decided that I didn’t want to be bullied by big companies anymore. At least not the silicon valley style companies that pushed people around, like they were numbers.

I wanted to take control of my career. So I did by exploring projects that I wanted to do, throwing myself in uncertain situations, practicing skills that I was able to sell, giving talks, and just…well learning. Now I go back into a permanent position in a new team. I wonder what this all could mean.

Checking my privilege…

With all the hubbub around privilege, sometimes I worry that I have some. It’s not that I am white. (I am Asian.) It’s not that I am male. (I am female.) But it’s this: I am a cis female born into a family of heterosexual parents living an upper middle class neighborhood.

And there’s this crazy thing: despite looking obviously Asian, I never was overtly aware of discrimination against being Asians. I didn’t witness any squinty eyes or the words “ching chong”. At least not directed toward me, but on TV and in books. That kind of stuff existed in a different world.

And there’s this other crazy thing: despite being female, I never was aware of any overt discrimination. Sure, there may have been subtle stuff that I wasn’t aware of…like salary, company culture fit, and expectations.

I came across an old journal entry from my sophomore year of college. In a moment of weakness, I turned a cold shoulder when close friends hurt me instead of figuring out the issues. I said something. They said something. To this day, I can’t remember what was exchanged or what had perpetuated the whole event. All I remember is standing in the middle of the street at 3 in the morning. The sky was dark, and the streets empty. We stared at each other in anger. One finally turned to the other and said, “She acts that way, because she’s rich.”

The two were unlike me. As daughters of a working class families, their college lives were dominated by a budget, constrained by financial aid. The three shared an apartment even smaller than mine. They arrived at college as the hope for their families to move beyond a working class life, a move toward attaining the American Dream. One told me that she feared riding the BART toward where I lived—”I am afraid of white people.” I pursed my lips and said nothing.

I am buoyed by the fact that I have a fallback plan. If I fall, I won’t fall onto concrete. I know that I will survive.

You are so interesting

Sometimes I blurt out what I have been doing the last few years (the ice cream book thing, the whole intrepid exploring thing, the whole living in San Francisco for a long time thing), and strangers who barely know me suddenly say that I am the most interesting person.

I always thought the Dos Equis advertisements featuring the “most interesting man in the world” was so amusing. Because what he did, what he chose to do, and the stories that he could was what made him interesting. He took risks and never looked back. Regrets are not in his blood. Fear is not in his blood. Only courage, curiosity, and ambition survive in his vocabulary. He threw himself into tasks that nobody has ever done. He achieved greatness and all of that. But why is it interesting?

We all are attracted toward the things that we want to achieve. We want to be next to the person who has achieved the job that we want. We want to be present in the movie stars and bask in the glamor, their skill, their livelihood. Is that what is interesting?

Sometimes when I find myself next to someone who I deem interesting, I find myself looking in a way that makes my vision blurry. I am squinting, because in that blurriness, that interesting person is just another person. Who is a person if not for their character? The interesting parts is everything that they might have achieved due to luck and circumstance. But who are they? If they aren’t a full person of character, of loyalty, and of kindness?

Once I went to a book signing of a food celebrity that I adored. I became nervous in line as I held my book ready for him to sign. Each person was given a post it to fill with their name so he knew how to spell their name. But for me, I wanted to have our conversation be as productive as possible so I wrote my name and my entire background on my post it. Then I would ask my questions—how interesting he was to live in France, to have worked in fine dining kitchens, how was it like knowing all those famous chefs, were they that crazy? But then when I got to the front, I could see that he was overwhelmed. An introvert at heart. He was bearing through all this signing, because it’s what he needed to do to get a book out in the world. But of course, he wasn’t the charismatic type, not the talkative type. So I bared my smile and squinted, realizing that all he wanted was to express his ideas. Yes, having the audience made it better, but that’s not his joy. I felt guilty for being one of the overbearing fans, but in doing so, I saw that he was just a person. An interesting person perhaps. But just a person.