2020: Everything’s OK

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

In 2019, it was when I left my job and when Chris comforted me that we are ok. In 2018, it was realizing my own qualities. In 2017, it was giving advice in hopes of inspiring others. In 2016, it was the moment that when immersed in the election aftermath that anything could change. In 2015, it was the moment when I realized that I could finish Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2014, it was when I wrote a well-crafted piece (that I read to a live audience 11 months later). In 2013, it was when light shone in the face of despair. In 2012, it was when I stood up for myself. In 2011, it was a moment of clarity, sincere belief and friendship. In 2010, it was an action of commitment.

I would like to say that in this dump fire of a year that it was the moment that Trump was kicked out of the office and that Biden was elected! But still, that’s all about stuff so external to me. As privileged as I am, I realize that there were many things that during the last four years, they didn’t affect me so personally. Despite not being white, I still have escaped the worst. Plus the fact that so much of my family is safe due to our jobs and huge safety nets. Also the vaccines. But I personally have so many mixed feelings due to what I love about this time, yet craving the missing moments that I once enjoyed.

So the real thing that everything is ok…is actually job-related. It wasn’t even about writing, because I had already decided to have a beginner set there.

In the fall, I received some feedback at work that…the core thing about my job wasn’t good enough. It was simply devastating because I had believed that it was good enough. But when I finished the project and presented it. When others actually responded positively, when others really appreciated it, that’s when I knew that it was okay.

Particularly when the head of product for my group repeated the biggest takeaway from the report and gave me credit. I heard it several times in product group meetings. And I wasn’t going to shy away from taking it.

That’s when I knew that it was going to be okay. But that’s also partly when I realized…well, is this something that I want to be constantly doing. Seeking praise. Seeking validation. But there was something about the process, the way I would get to the results, that I appreciated on my own. That’s what it was all about.

And I knew everything’s ok.

2020: Next Step

When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

In 2010, it was about dream making. In 2011, it was about sticking to my boundaries. In 2012, it was about being true. In 2013, it was about embracing fear. In 2014, it was sitting my butt down and writing. In 2016, it was about leading. In 2017, it was about persistence. In 2018, it was about seeing the big picture. In 2019, it was about moving on (on my own terms).

In this very special year, it’s about simply valuing the things (and people) I love and finding ways to recreate those experiences. It’s an easy cop-out answer for this year.

There’s a question though about FOMO that I know that I will unfortunately falter. What other people do, what the Jones do is going affect me. Look, they’re partying. Look, they’re traveling. Look, they’re doing this and that. And I’ll feel obligated to do the same.

I already had been progressing toward this path. I got traveling out of the way. I refined the friend group. I pivoted my interests into something that felt more fulfilling to me. I indulged in what I actually liked rather than what others liked. And I’ll be aware of what’s truly unhealthy for me. And what things were truly healthy.

But with this comes worry. When it’s back to “normal”, when it’s the After times, I might not feel the same anymore.

2020: Moments

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2019 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2019.

2019 5 minutes, 2018 5 minutes, 2017 5 minutes, 2016 5 minutes, 2015 5 minutes, 2014 5 minutes, 2013 5 minutes, 2012 5 minutes, 2011 5 minutes, and 2010 5 minutes

  • When they announced shelter in place
  • When they called it at Four Seasons Total Landscaping
  • Biden winning Arizona
  • Getting accepted to Tin House
  • Getting accepted to VONA
  • Co-leading the BIPOC community at Tin House
  • Reading at a BIPOC event at Tin House
  • Workshop at Tin House
  • Getting published at Quiet Lighting
  • Reading at Quiet Lighting
  • Reading at Novalia
  • Taking a class on Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings
  • Making sourdough bread the first time
  • Making sourdough bread and it turned out well
  • Making a dutch baby
  • Birthday zoom
  • Animal Crossing and having people on the island on birthday
  • Meeting people on animal crossing
  • Getting Animal Crossing and switch
  • First day at new job
  • Eating at cafe of new job
  • New writing group
  • going to Orr hot springs
  • Getting po po big watch
  • po po funeral and burial
  • Doing The Artist’s Way
  • Taking the shuttle to new job
  • Winning trivia night organized by Becca
  • Watching lots of TV
  • Watching Tenet
  • Seeing Chris getting Tenet from Santa
  • Getting first covid test
  • Getting second covid test
  • Getting negative results each time
  • Seeing parents for the first time in their backyard since March
  • Having dinner with parents in early March against our recommendations
  • Waiting in line for House of Prime Rib on Thanksgiving
  • Having Farmhouse Thai birthday (remote) celebration
  • Having fancy eats from San Ho Won
  • Having first take home meal from Han Il Kwan
  • Having Claws of Mantis
  • Having the basque cheesecake
  • Giving a Pecha Kucha at work research summit
  • Writing and workshopping How to Grieve essay based on my experiences in the pandemic and Po Po’s passing
  • Reading a truncated essay of that at a Minor Feelings reading

2014: One Word

One Word. Encapsulate the year in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2014 for you?

The one word that captures this year (from 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010):

Progress.

I had trouble coming up with a single word. I felt disappointment and rejection this year. At the beginning of the year, I resolved to work harder, earn an income, and finish my book. But depression and fear set in as publishers and editors said no. I poured money into writing workshops and writing coaches. Then there was an ambition to build my freelance user experience practice—to tackle unknown, intriguing areas. I had not one, not two, not three, not four, but five different intense projects this year.

When I succeeded, I really succeeded. But when I failed, I really failed.

But what is the point of rejection and disappointment if I didn’t learn from them. If I didn’t know what to do next time. The funny thing about progress is that it accumulates slowly. It’s not a magical cure all. Tomorrow, I won’t leap from level 1 to level 2. In fact, I may not move from level 1. But like every video gamer knows, if I keep trying and trying, I will succeed.

So despite all that negative feelings, I did move forward. I did move my foot one foot and another. I may have looked back to see all the accidental fire. But I kept looking for the fresh air in the trees. I pushed through the weeds and drank the clean water when I could. Then when I reached the top of the mountain, I looked back, pleased at the progress. But then I looked upward. Because I want to keep moving forward.

2014: Moment

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail.

In 2013, it was talking to Yasar Usta in Istanbul. In 2012, it was using the ocean as a “big toilet” while floating outside Palawan. In 2011, it was my birthday moment. In 2010, it was the success in Journey to the End to the Night.

For this year, I thought hard about the moments I had this year. Or as I learned from Pam Houston’s writing workshop this year, a glimmer. And for this, I want to answer with a glimmer that felt whole, that felt inspiring, that felt complete.

I hesitate to talk about the disappointments and rejections. The way that I had to define my boundaries to protect myself. The way that I had to declare that you know, I really don’t like it. The way that I had to let go of a friend to heal. No, I won’t talk about those.

Rather, it was this meta-glimmer at Pam Houston’s writing workshop. The assignment was to use a perspective that we rarely used (e.g. second person) and a character we rarely embody (e.g. an old man).

windjammermaine

By then, the frozen cold of the boat had shocked my bones. In the sun, the windjammer was inviting and adventurous. But as the evening progressed, the daylight disappeared and only the chilled air from the Atlantic remained. The cramped space in boat made everything itchy. The rocking of the boat drummed up nausea. I felt unclean. And my mind couldn’t rest to let the words fall on the page as they usually did.

During the first exercise, my mind turned into mud and the usual stream of ideas did not grow. My creativity was stumped and uninspired.

But suddenly with that assignment, I found hope. My pen moved across the notebook as my mind seized on second person and an older man. I wrote about a father attempting to connect with his two daughters. His desire to do what his own father could never do. The sorrow that dripped through his words over the telephone. The sorrow that was not heard by his daughters as they kept the call short. The way memories of his father’s funeral passed through his mind as he dialed the numbers. And the way how he assured himself that he was a good father.

The words flowed out, but it wasn’t until I volunteered to read my draft to the group that I felt more complete. My voice, as it naturally is, shies away from public performance, but in this glimmer, I increased my volume and sat up from the stoop that I took on the deck. Then I began reading.

“Have you done this before?” Pam said after I finished.

“This is only my second time,” I said.

“It sounds like you know how to write second person,” she said.

Then later, a fellow writer a father himself leaned over and said, “That was so powerful. The most powerful piece I ever read.”

I describe this glimmer not because I want to pat myself on the back, but because of the previous entry. I need to remember that there are times that I can succeed. They do exist.

2014: Letting Go

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

In 2010, it was a person. In 2011, it was an idea. In 2012, it was a symbol represented by a person. In 2013, I let go fear.

In 2014, I let go of humility. Well, in the positive sense, of progression. I felt trapped in the fear that others would judge my self-promotion and the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. Imposter syndrome? Yes, but it’s very unlike the syndrome many women describe in tech. I am in a secure place in tech where yes, I grew less humble and demanded higher hourly rates, better working environments. But because I deserved it.

But what I mean is the fear that drives me to be humble (or quiet). I still hate talking about my work, thinking that it’s lesser. But I pursued writing groups and classes. And I kept going and going.

Back in late September, the wind was picking up as we were moving quickly toward Rockland. It was the last day of the writing workshop. I turned to a fellow writer. He was at least a decade older than me with a teenage daughter and a wife who had exited their marriage with dreams of another life. As we scooped the morning’s breakfast onto our plates, I made small talk about the last day—the sorrow of it ending, but how it would propel us to confidence. “Sometimes, I feel like I have imposter syndrome,” I said, the words accidentally sliding out. “Like I can’t really measure up to the other writers.”

I stiffened as I could hear my well-meaning problem-solving friends who would stare at me and say, “There’s no reason to feel that way. Well, just work hard! You can do it!”

Instead, he eyes didn’t fall into the same mode. They didn’t try to size up the situation and patch up the open wound. Rather, he leaned forward and whispered, “You know, I have it too.”

2012: Everything’s OK

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

In 2011, it was a moment of clarity, sincere belief and friendship. In 2010, it was an action of commitment.

In 2012, it was when I stood up for myself.

Previous to this moment, I had discovered that I often let myself fall into a whimper—a rolling ball of self-pity. I let other people bulldoze me. I let people persuade me that I could really like Chinese food and then inside, a tantrum starts and I suddenly feel irrational but I don’t know why.

I was angry at first. Because I realized that I didn’t allow myself to be angry. I rationalized the anger believing that I was at fault, I was always responsible, I was the one who made the mistake. But then I couldn’t bear it anymore. So I was angry.

Being more, my anger came in different ways. Angry tears. But every word I said, I meant it. Sure there were moments later that I regretted what I said. But a few days later, I would agree.

For better or worse, I could never blame those words on anything. Not alcohol. Not exhaustion. My deeply grounded beliefs that the words I say are meaningful even if said awkwardly and without confidence. They do reflect my beliefs.

But the moment started with an im. I saw it criticizing my style of travel and being told how I should behave.

Then the moment went on with another email. I was responding to an email where the only line that remains in my mind was “Have you gone native yet?” I felt no closure from the earlier criticism. In my email, perhaps not in the most friendly way, I pointed out the criticism and bluntly stated how hurt I was. I could not continue the email in a friendly discussion because my anger had already polluted my blood. The black cloud was steaming.

Then the moment ended with an email to a reply. I was in the hot, sweltering room in Manila. In the hotel that I regretted staying in. The ceiling was diagonal. The room was on the top. It was supposed to be Spanish colonial style, but I felt like we were in a cave with dim lights, roaring air conditioner, cold tile floors. The internet wireless was weak and unreliable. And I saw his response. A rightfully upset response. I shuddered lightly. Then I checked my body. I was sad. But the anger remained although it had calmed to an even temperature. I could feel it in my chest, the tightening in my throat and I could see the blackness streaming in and out of my body.

So I wrote a reply.

“I am sorry. Thank you.”