Trick OR Treat

I would like to say that the wind howls, the leaves blew, and the pumpkins growls. That has never been the memory of my Halloween childhood memory. What I do remember is dressing up in school. Maybe trick or treating? Maybe.

It wasn’t until my sister and I suddenly were old enough to have a strategy that we went trick or treating in full force. We considered the best neighborhoods—the areas that maximized the chance of getting lots of candy while minimizing the time from door to door. But what about the times before we had that independence? When parents had to bring us to house to house? I don’t remember any of that.

I am in Minnesota for the week (again) and was invited (very kindly) by a coworker and her family. I followed along with her 4 year old and 6 year old, dressed in a cat and vampire respectively. They ran from door to door, shouting trick or treating, and mumbling thank you as they ran away.

“How many did you get?” I asked.


“What’s the best from the house?”

“I got three once. That’s usually the best. One is the worst. Oh! I got four! No, five!!!!”

When out of sight, her father dumped candy in my bag. And at back at my hotel bag, I sorted through the small pile. Remembering how it used to be. How to organize. How to feel the sweat and tears in each piece.

This is me at every new writing group

My body is ambitious. You must do this to succeed and move toward your goals. This is what you need to do. This is what you have to do. I move quickly down the street, dodging obstacles and people in the Mission sidewalk. My feet carry me to the bookstore. I know exactly where it will be and once inside, I skirt around a walking customer, the bookshelves, and head directly to the chairs in a circle in the big open airy space.

I say airy, because I know that the room has high vaulted ceilings. But as the movement slows toward the empty seat, my mind takes over. It realizes that the inevitable is arriving. That the challenge of getting to the bookstore has been overcome. Now what?

My mind forces my body to be as inconspicuous as possible. I am harmless! my mind wants to yell at eyes recognizing an unfamiliar face. Don’t judge me. Don’t think of me as any less. Please treat me well.

The night hurtles forward. Critique after critique. Anxiety sets in. Am I good enough? Will my writing be eviscerated? Will I be considered that young writer who never deserved to even try? Will they tear into the line editing and miss the plot story? Is my writing too egomaniacal? Too unrelatable? With an unsympathetic character? Or even worse, a boring story?

My mind starts yelling, Can we leave? It declares feeling faint. A rush of blood to the brain. A feeling of unease. Better to run. Better to hide. Better to never leave the bed, hide under the covers, and settle into safety.

My body wonders if it will have an anxiety attack. It knows that past anxiety attacks haven’t been real. They were contrived, pushed out from stresses. My body feels guilt, because it doesn’t understand what a real panic attack is—the suffocation, the noise, the whine, the feeling of true frailty. Thirty minute passes. Then an hour. Then 90 minutes. The facilitator suddenly declares that there’s time for one more.

My mind wonders if it would be disappointed if I weren’t called upon. Disappointment? But the mind knows that the body would be then be determined to return. The mind knows the body the best. The body believes in efficiency and optimization. You printed 10 copies of your work. That’s 3 pages each. And that’s 33 pages of very nice paper from your laser printer. Your personal laser printer.

My name is called, and I clear my throat. I apologize that I have only 10 copies, but that anxiety is not a big deal—two others did the same thing. I worry that my voice is not loud enough as I read, but what’s the point? I am reading and they have the pages in front of them.

Then the critique comes. And then it’s over. It’s over. But then there’s that awkward moment after it finishes. I whisper my thanks and dart out into the night, breathing the cool air, tapping on my phone to an app that I can control. Pokemon, where are you? Let me capture you. Let me evolve you. Let me be your trainer. Because you allow me to know you best.

On public speaking

In 8th grade English class, we were given the assignment to make a moment from a novel come alive. So I took advantage of the family video camera, harnessed my sister and my dad, and basic directing skills to re-enact a scene. Of course though, the toughest moment was giving the presenting as I stood in front of class.

“Speak louder” was always the dreaded directive from the teacher.

I would turn pink, trying my best to increase my volume. But I never quite achieved it. A combination of shyness and social anxiety kept me incredibly mute despite my creativity and desire to…express myself. I had no problem creating the presentation materials, no issues in creating exactly what I wanted to say, and most of all, not a single weary moment as I walked in front of the class. In fact, every single time, I was always excited.

But standing in front with all the eyes on me suddenly on me, I panicked and yearned to be back in my seat. And so it went for years. A call to be in front, to be seen, to be in the center of attention while crippled with the practicality of it all—the skills of performance and the connection to the audience.

There was once I used to wish that people didn’t listen, didn’t watch…while at the same time, I wanted them to listen and watch.

During high school, I opted out of giving a presentation for my final project. Instead, I walked up and said in a shy voice, “I made a video.” As I played it, I slumped at the podium, embarrassed about what I had created. My teacher told me, “No, look up, it’s your work.”

Museum of Awkwardness

“We don’t have many t-shirts left,” the younger woman said. “Just large.”

I wanted to leave the table, but Chris had guided me there. I wanted an easy exit, yet I wanted to be respectful and polite. So I decided to continue the small talk across the table littered with t-shirts for sale, pamphlets for the course, and brochures for something that I absolutely did not want to do. “Why do you think that you only have large t-shirts left?” I said, not expecting a complete answer.

The younger woman immediately interjected, perhaps her words trying to fill the words. “I think that it’s because most people like tight t-shirts. So that’s why we have larges left.”

I stared back at her, surprised. I thought about how my own inventory for marketing. About how I misestimated, constantly misestimated. I ordered too many XLs and Ls. I was overburdened with them. A thought crossed my mind that their clientele was not large-sized and I wondered if her response was intended to be politically correct. She didn’t want to mention that large clients never came their way. “Tight t-shirts,” I mumbled and finally decided to play along. “Well I have that same problem.”

The conversation halted, and I stared back at them, prodding them to speak. After all, we were at the Museum of Awkwardness. “So what brings you here?” the older woman said.

“Because I embrace awkwardness all my life,” I said and outlined all the various moments. “Sometimes I enjoy the uncomfortable. It pushes me beyond my comfort zone to understand the world better.”

“Isn’t this the place?” the older woman said.

“What do you do?” the younger woman said.

“What do you mean?”

“How do you spend your time?”

I hesitated, mentally flipping through pages of my usual responses. I hated boring people. I hated explaining concepts that people didn’t understand. I wanted to tell something quite fitting for the situation and the words just tumbled out. “I think,” I said. “That’s what I do. I look to understand why.”

I read their faces and knew that wasn’t quite the answer. It never was quite the right answer as they were trying to size me. “What do you do other than that?”

I relented and said, “You mean to generate income?”

She nodded.

“I also think,” I said. “I ask why as a designer and researcher.”

Silence descended as I stared back. Beat. I felt a desire to depart. I wanted to sleep. I wanted the extra snacks from the table. I wanted to sit in the car on the way home. I wanted to be in my bed. I took the cue. “Well, thank you for your time,” I said.

“Will we see you at the Wednesday event?” the older woman said with a wide smile.

I returned her gaze with a wide smile. “Probably not,” I said and their smiles dimmed. “I am, after all, embracing the awkward truth. It’s not for me.”

Outside, emboldened by the fearlessness around awkwardness, I called out a man who was awkwardly riding a bike with another bike in his arms as he moved down the sidewalk. “Sir, excuse me, do you need help with your bike? I can carry it for you. Looks like you need help, because the seat just fell off.”

The man laughed, trying to get away.

“Also looks like the bike may not belong to you, sir. But I’ll help you. I’ll help you.”

Once upon a time, there was a fish

The fish had swam in a glorious lake of sparkling fish—schools of synchrony. She swam up and down through the untouched coral, poking her head through whatever she wanted. Predators were nearly absent. The water was mostly fresh. But as she swam, she always felt bad for the rejected the fish. The dirty ones. The injured ones. The old ones. She longed to make a difference.

So she leapt. She leapt into another lake. This lake was so much bigger. They said that it had so much clean water. Because there was a pump hidden in the corner of the lake. They cared about the quality of the water and the orderliness of the fish. Everyone was eating at the same time. The same mush. The same motions over and over again. Sparkly was prohibited here and so she wore the drab colors like every other fish. She was tasked to change. To do things the right way, so that the coral would grow again. She wanted to do it the right way. “Hey, let’s think about eating different colored mush every other day,” she began.

She thought that change needed to be slow. She was right, of course. But a creeping regret took over her. The water was the same kind of water that she breathed in her original lake. But it was different. She wanted badly to return to the original lake. But she wasn’t going to help anybody in need. But in this lake, the change was coming. The change is coming, she repeated to herself.

But she stared, she swam, she listened in this lake. The lake kept going through the seasons. But she wasn’t sure. All she felt was that she was a fish out of water. Breathless and desperate to return to familiarity.