Saturday, January 9, 2016

2016's First Ramble

Isn't it crazy? When I was younger, I couldn't wait to be twenty-something years old, because I knew these would be the prime years. I assumed I'd know everything there is to know about life by this strange, odd age of 24 (okay, more even than odd). Now here I am, a few weeks past my 24th birthday, without a clue about the adult things that I've been hearing about and should do or start doing, the adult things described with words and numbers I never thought to string together as a child:

  • "Are utilities included in the rent?" 
  • "Is 750 square feet big enough?"
  • "401K."
  • "Make a budget."
While I'm getting more involved in the adult life I had long pined for, I admit that a part of me wants to stay at home, where I know I don't have to cook my own meals and can even make requests here and there, where I can assume that if the laundry hamper is overflowing, someone else (i.e. Mom) will likely take care of it, where I am more taken care of than taking care of. But I acknowledge that sooner or later, I must "grow up," and that means physically detaching myself from home for long periods of time.

When I lived in the dorms my freshman and sophomore years at UCLA, I didn't dare call those 10'x10' rooms "home," because home was where I returned every Friday to see my family, friends, and then-S.O. When I moved into my apartment on Rochester Avenue junior year, I was reluctant--and afraid--to call apt. 410 home: reluctant because I wasn't sure how I felt about my roommates, how I felt about the apartment, how I felt about the rent; afraid because I didn't want to emotionally detach myself from my official home, because I felt like I was betraying my parents if I could make a home outside of the one in which they raised me. But after a few months of simultaneously nonchalantly and intentionally calling apt. 410 "my apartment," I began to ease into calling it "home," albeit not "my home." Eventually, "home" became an utterly confusing term--it referred to apt. 410, M's apt. 102, my parents' house, M's parents' house... And at some point in the midst of all that, I learned that home truly is where your heart is. And your heart can be in many places at once, and it isn't a case of betrayal or disloyalty; rather, it's a sign of family, acceptance, love--however differently displayed in the respective realms. 

Shortly thereafter, I learned that the term "family" is just as flexible as "home." It's the people who love and accept you at your best and your worst, who give you a hand when the going gets rough and root for you even with the smallest accomplishments. 

Just before I turned 24, I began to practice being assertive and being flexible. I'm more assertive--though not necessarily pushy--about the things I want or don't, more assertive about my feelings and my intentions. I'm more flexible in my attitudes toward others--though I probably should stop yelling at other drivers while I'm driving alone with the windows closed; flexibility in this sense mostly refers to my interactions with and acceptance of people--except irritating drivers, I guess. Even though as a child I thought I'd be all grown up by now, I'm still growing up and learning a lot about not just (adult) life, but also about myself. You know the saying "There's always room for improvement"? Not true in every case, but I do believe it's true for personal development and growth. No matter how old you've just turned or what you've done, there's always room for improvement. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Revelations

During the drive up to Napa yesterday, Sherry and I saw something incredible. We had been on the 5 for several hours, zooming down the California-drought yellow bush-lined freeway, and had just gotten onto the 55-mph limit CA-12 West highway. While I was disappointed by the considerably decreased speed limit and the intermittently one-lane road, I was also extremely fascinated by the scenery. Here I was, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the glorious way the mid-afternoon winter sun shone on the body of water to my left, when all of a sudden I glanced over at Sherry to make commentary--what we both saw next was something I'll remember for a long time coming.

Ahead, a little to the right, a huge swarm of small black birds--and I mean SWARM--was flying all together, and suddenly, flocks began to come out of that swarm. One after another, these flocks pirouetted out of the group in S-shapes, like a hurdle of ballet dancers breaking into their choreographed formation. Each flock exited neatly, and then created their V-shaped flying formation gracefully. While most flocked eastward, others seemed to go slightly more northerly. When I thought this was over, still more flocks appeared to my left and one or two more emerged from the remaining of the original swarm. That quarter-mile stretch of the drive was a miracle--physically in that I had never seen flocks emerge from swarms like that, and metaphorically in that I had never seen anything quite literally just fall into place so gracefully and peacefully. Simultaneously, I wondered why we as humans, with such great intellectual capability, are seemingly unable to do what these birds had just done--together come up with a solution, and together fall into place to migrate to a suitable situation for everybody; and I was hopeful that everything for this trip was going to simply fall into place. Simultaneously, my heart was racing because of this miracle, and my heart was calm because of what it immediately meant to me. 

I feel that these words do no justice to the complete awe that I felt, to the incredible wonder I witnessed. Try as I might to utilize figurative language and vivid imagery, I'm actually having a difficult time conveying the scene. It's times like these that I wish I were a skilled painter, so I could physically illustrate--no pun intended--exactly what I envision in order to share something so profoundly beautiful with you. Admittedly, even with an illustrious painting, something will be amiss. And that something is the exact feeling that is evoked at the exact moment of the experience. While this feeling can be described, described around, or described about, I don't think it can be replicated or re-experienced.

And that statement certainly isn't meant to be a downer. It's a reminder to keep our eyes peeled for the amazing things that can happen at any given moment. We so often interpret from those sad commercials or horrific news stories the very negative connotations of "Anything could happen." This takes up so much of our mental capacity that we forget there's a different perspective to that, too. Something like this bird experience, or something entirely different but similarly wondrous, can happen while Sherry and I drive to Santa Rosa later today, and we could very well miss it if we're on our phones. Or we could very well witness another revelating occurrence which can be fully experienced only in that moment.

Meanwhile, here are a few pictures of yesterday, after arriving in Napa.
 Artesa Vineyards & Winery, our first stop. We were too late for the last tasting, but they gave us a complimentary "splash of wine" since we made the trip. All smiles after a smooth, safe, and beautiful drive.

 The beautiful "fountain" outside of Artesa, just after sunset. I conjecture that this is close to what heaven looks like.

St. Clair Brown Winery, highly rated on Yelp as an urban winery. Very small and cozy, great Sauvignon Blanc.

I also want to note how wonderful yesterday was. Even though we left home an hour later than planned, the drive was much more beautiful and much faster than we anticipated. With the sunroof open and our favorite '90s pop songs jamming on the car's CD player, we had a fantastic time together, and I'm so thankful that Sherry is back and that we and our relationship have grown to enable us to not just tolerate each other, but to enjoy each other's company, for an entire day. Love you, sis.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Love Songs

I feel that a humongous chunk of my life is missing from this blog. The last post was from June--maybe even May--after I started my (no longer) new job. Now, three--four, maybe even five--months later, I feel also at a loss for words to describe those months. I had started a post several weeks ago, and an hour into writing, got distracted and left that window open on my computer for two weeks, only to finally close it out later, admitting defeat to laziness in tandem with busy-ness. It isn't that I've forgotten details about my monthlong travels through Asia or my weeklong experience at Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. It's that, after so much time has passed, all of wanderlust-ful, awe-inspired ooh's and ahh's of travel and all of the magical, heartwarming moments of camp have passed. While I can still imagine particular encounters and occurrences, it's hard to trigger or evoke the precise emotions I felt or expressions with which I reacted--the very things that I told myself I would write about once I got back from wherever I was, whatever I was doing.

So, here I sit on a stool of a tall table in Starbucks, in a feeble, sleepy, and sniffly attempt to write personally for the first time in too long. A while back, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about love, particularly how it's portrayed and expressed through song. Artists/ singers often make it seem like loving somebody is easy.

 
"All of me loves all of you?" Easier said than done. Everyone has "their things" that make them hard to love. Committing all of oneself to love all of somebody else is such a dauntingly grand gesture--promise, really. I don't believe I can ever love absolutely all of anybody: part of me wants to justify that by pointing at the other person and his/ her imperfections that I cannot just ignore. Another part of me acknowledges that it's probably one of my defense mechanisms preventing me from full vulnerability, holding me back from giving my absolute all to somebody. On top of that is the expectation that that somebody will reciprocate--what a perilously presumptuous thought! "Give you all to me, I'll give my all to you"--what else can you then give to other parts of your life? If you've given something your all, can you give anything else your all, if anything at all? How much can one love and how much can one give?


"How can I give you all of me, when all I get is half of you?" This lyric used to resonate very much with me, because I spent--and continue to spend--so much time giving myself to people who didn't always reciprocate. I didn't necessarily give my all, all the time, but I gave enough to eventually begin to question relationships. In any case, it's always been one of my emotional fears that, after giving my all and loving with my all, I'll get only a portion--if any--of that back. And then I'll probably feel like everything I put forth was wasted effort. Valid fear, right? Because who doesn't want to be given to and be loved to the same extent they give and love? Granted, there might be a handful of people who don't give or love with expectations of receiving--but that just isn't me. And I wonder, between "all of me loves all of you" and "give you all of me... I get half of you," which is the better/ more accurate model of love?


"Love don't cost a thing" is a lie. Even notwithstanding the financial woes of dating or any type of relationship, love costs time, effort, emotions... The price to pay for love is emotional vulnerability, first and foremost. You have to open yourself up and share your life, and be open to the other party's as well. You sacrifice things you do or want to do, you might lose touch with people in other social circles, and so on. And when arguments and heartbreak come around the corner, that's at the expense of your well-being, happiness, and sanity. Love costs--a lot. But that's a negative vantage point. Because if you just want to give and you just want to love, then I suppose J-Lo is right--love doesn't cost a thing, if you really want to invest yourself in it and don't have an absolute need to get anything back.

Certainly, love songs abound, but the first two were stuck in my head for those weeks of contemplation, and the last was just a last-minute addition.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Lessons Learned

After having used a MacBook instead of my PC for the past three weeks, returning to the latter seems strangely foreign. And I'm pretty sure that, from lack of usage, several of my keys have gone "numb." I know no other way to concisely describe it--these keys are now much harder to press (it is taking an insane amount of effort to type all of the s's and periods hereby) than they have ever been. And I keep pressing the "ALT" button, thinking it's the "Command" one when really, I mean to go three keys over to "CTRL." When I first started using the Mac for work, I told myself that I would never lose sight of my Toshiba. But alas, my fingers have lost the familiarity. Still, my loyalty to and preference for PC remains (for now).

Prior to finally starting this, I was thinking up a storm--lighting, thunder, and all--of ideas, anecdotes, and jokes to share. You would have been delighted--because obviously, my posts could evoke nothing other than delight--to read all of it, too! But worry not. Delighted you still shall be. Perhaps enlightened, even--just perhaps.

Because I started working full-time (yes, a REAL job!), I could no longer tutor my students. I had a relatively hard time telling them "This will be our last week" and "This is our last session" because I had grown so attached to them, and felt connected with them! But to no surprise, none of them really expressed any sadness or anything... Maybe because they're boys. Yes, I'm going to say because they're boys. Actually, one of them did admit he was a bit sad, saying, "Because you're such a good teacher!" The others just kind of said, "Oh, okay." I suppose I expected them to view each last session as more momentous than just a regular session... Each "goodbye" was almost like a breakup to me! And even though it's been a while and school is coming or has come to an end for all of them, I still think about them and wonder how they're doing, hoping that they're keeping up the progress that they've made.

I texted my Spanish student's mother the other day to check in on his progress in the class. She replied by telling me he had scored a high B on a make-up test (which he originally received a low C or D on), and scored an A on his oral presentation, resulting in a solid B for the class. And the entire time I was tutoring him, I thought that he hadn't listened or paid attention--or cared at all. But it turns out I was wrong, and I'm darn glad of that. I'm so proud of him, and so proud of the other students. It's incredibly rewarding to see results happen, and even more so when they and/ or their mothers acknowledge you for it. (Yes, my ego is definitely coming into play here...)

Although I was the one doing the teaching/ mentoring/ advising as the tutor, I learned one hugely important lesson myself, too. In some ways, this lesson surpasses any that I have given and many that could be given. Through working with these kids and their mothers, I realized at one point--it was an epiphany, really--why my mother is so crazy! Sorry, let me rephrase... I realized why mothers do the things they do. I used to think my own mother (sorry, Mom) was just crazy for making my sister and me do this and that, yelling at us, and so forth. But everything that they do truly is in their children's best interests. They truly just want the best for us, whether that means paying somebody big bucks (not that I got big bucks, sadly) to facilitate time to do homework or signing us up for random after-school and weekend classes. They want us to get into good colleges so that we can do better; they want us to be healthy so that we can be better; they want to help us succeed. Sometimes, their approaches may not be the most tasteful or fun, but often, they really do know best. In elementary and middle schools, my mom always chastised me with, "You'll see one day that I'm right." I never believed it, because how would she know, and how could she know everything? Halfway through high school, I was horrified! As more oncoming growing-up matters ensued, I realized slowly but surely that she was right about one thing after another... Come freshman year of college, I just surrendered and told her, "Remember when you said you'd be right about everything? I guess you are." And of course, that led to nothing less than a victorious, "I told you so!"

Oops, it seems I digressed slightly. But I realized, after having learned the above lesson, that I've been too unappreciative of my mother. There are still many cultural and generational differences that she hasn't accepted or actualized yet, and maybe never will, but she tries so hard. And I don't say that in the condescending "You try too hard. Just stop trying" way at all. I say it with admiration. Despite our attitudes and tempers, she continues to try to appeal to and appease my sister and me. As absolutely taken aback as I was by the fact that she packed a VEGETABLE and two loaves of bread in my bag for our trip to Hawaii, it later occurred to me that she just wanted to cook for us if we didn't feel like eating out, and I came to appreciate that. Still, it was crazy--I still cannot believe she packed a VEGETABLE! And rice... And Spam... And sardines... But ya know. We ended up having to binge-eat everything the day we were due to fly home because we ran out of space because she went crazy on the souvenir-buying. For which I also thought she was crazy. But after haranguing her for going nuts (literally--they bought boxes and boxes of macadamia), my attitude softened considerably, because through all of that ridiculous spending, I saw her generosity. It isn't like she has a bank full of cash to spend, but she has an enormous heart (not literally, because that would be a dangerous condition) that leads her to buy tons of things not for herself and not even necessarily for us, but for OTHERS. Maybe that's why they're called mothers? Mom + others = mothers? Yes, I think so.

And I know I'm not any of your guys' tutor or anything, but if you take away nothing else from this post, take this: appreciate your mother! I'm far from doing it right myself, but I'm going to devote more time and effort toward it. As well as toward my father and sister, and family in general, because family really is important. I wish I had known that and used time to appreciate that instead of throwing my attitude all over the place when I was younger.

Another thing I really appreciate about my mother is that even though she strongly opposed getting a dog for our home, she has come to really care for Avery, and I've even come to believe that she has become her primary caretaker. It took a while for our German Shepherd sweetheart to warm up to my mother--especially since every time Avery was let into the house, she would just take a lap around the living room and proceed to find a random spot to declaratively pee on--but now she voluntarily bathes her! Yesterday when I came downstairs, she and my dad were washing her together, and it was really one of the sweetest and best images I have seen in a while, even considering the fantastic scenery and landscapes in Hawaii last week.

Speaking of Hawaii--it was spectacular. I think it seems every time someone asks and I reply like that, my voice probably sounds flat and disinterested. But it really was and probably still is spectacular. Even though we didn't go to the more remote Maui or wherever else, Oahu was still pleasantly enjoyable. The first evening that we went to Waikiki Beach down the street, I exclaimed as I stepped into the water, "Wow, I can see the sand under the water!" The natives nearby must have thought, "What is she talking about? You can always see the sand." And with my weird jokes and nonstop laughter following that, they must have thought I was crazy. Anyway... the food wasn't as good as I would have liked, though we did have fresh-made udon for dinner one night, which reminded me of all the Chinese la-mien (pulled noodles) carts I saw in Shanghai way back when. I also tried snorkeling, which was a true struggle. I've had two true struggles lately--this being one, and Sunday's half marathon being the other--and I'm not sure which outweighs the other. Granted, I still can't swim, which probably explains the struggle that accompanied snorkeling. I tried, I really did! But believe me--there was something defective with the snorkel mask to begin with, because there's no way I'm that good at sucking in water through my nose through a mask. It was still cool while it lasted, because I saw fish in their natural habitat (instead of on a plate)! After I gave up, I just laid there and tanned like the noob that I am. Another highlight is papaya. Yes, papaya. I've always liked Hawaiian papaya, and it hadn't occurred to me until day 3 out of 5 that I should try Hawaiian papaya straight from Hawaii... Believe it or not, my biggest regret about Hawaii is not having eaten enough papaya from the fruit bar of the $17 (without bottomless mimosas?!) breakfast buffet a few of us went to one morning. Aside from that, the pineapple is rather delicious, too. I am pleased to announce--not that you care, though, I presume--that I am NOT allergic to pineapple! (Background: I spent years avoiding pineapple and anything pineapple-flavored because I used to itch slightly after eating the smallest chunk of pineapple, so the fruit just became a complete turn-off.)

The whole pineapple situation actually is more significant than it seems. It reminds me of the one night that I suddenly and decisively told myself that I would no longer be afraid of dogs--and then just picked up Snowflake (my cousins' chihuahua). It was a victorious night, and I still consider it a victorious moment, because it was one in which I consciously and purposefully overcame a fear. The pineapple moment is another one of those.

Another inspiring (I deem it so, anyway) experience occurred the other day. While I was in line for the Porta-Potties (not sure if that's correctly spelled, hyphenated, or even capitalized, but probably not worth looking into at 1:39 a.m.) at the crack of dawn on Sunday (Rock n Rock Half Marathon in SD), I anxiously looked around the throng of runners, hoping to find somebody who looked like they could help me with my kinesiology tape. I had bought a roll the evening before, and knew that I had taped it on my knee wrong because the pain still bothered me. So I figured I'd, last-minute, just ask somebody to tell or show me how to do it right. After a few seconds of perusal, I noticed a woman and a man sitting on the open grass between lines; she was taping him up in what appeared to be an expert fashion. So I waited until he got up before I headed over and meekly said, "Excuse me? I have this same tape that I bought yesterday, and am not sure how to use it. Would you mind showing me?" The nice woman, bless her soul, actually just told me to sit down and wait for her to finish wrapping herself up so that she could just do it FOR me. Immediately, I expressed my gratitude. Throughout the process, she explained some tips and tricks of the tape and told me that she knows all about knee problems since she herself has had two knee surgeries. I saw her a few more times after she wrapped me up, and thanked her every time. It may have been annoying, but I just appreciated it so much! She actually took the time, half an hour prior to race time, to tape up BOTH knees of a complete stranger.

I was still doubtful that the tape would work, but decided to have faith anyway--paradoxical, I know. So I threw my knee brace back into my bag to check in, and just told myself that if she and others could use just the tape and be okay, I should be okay, too. I had started race morning by telling JH, "I'll just stay here (on the shuttle from parking to start line) and take a nice nap," because I was 80 percent sure that I would not be able to complete the 13.1 miles that day. But I am now confident that I was able to complete it--in just under 2.5 hours--largely because the nice woman helped me out. Until mile 7 of the race, I didn't even need to walk! When I hit mile 11, I remembered something that I had read at work recently: "Give generously. Receive gratefully." And I've been trying to do just that, especially since MC told me a while back that I wasn't very good at showing appreciation. I'm now making a conscious effort to tell people that I appreciate the things they do, big or small, because they should know. It isn't that they absolutely need to know, but if you show your appreciation and acknowledge their efforts, they're more likely to feel better about not just their work, but also about your relationship. Even though I probably will never see that woman again--and honestly, I don't even remember what she looks like--I'm going to remember those few minutes for a long time, because she demonstrated to me the generosity that people are willing to give, especially if you just ask. Which is another lesson I've learned lately--if you really want or need something, it's worth asking somebody. Everybody wants and needs things all the time, and surely, we can't always have or attain all of them, but many people are willing to help and accommodate. I think even if you can't "give generously," you should "give what you can." Do what you can for others; they'll do what they can for you. Even if it isn't evenly reciprocal, so what? Many of us receive a significant amount of just... well, good, in our lives that we really should make the conscious effort to give what we can, when we can, too. I'm starting to see more and more that this is one way to live more rewarding days and lead a more rewarding life.

Anyway... I was going to insert pictures into this post just to make it seem less wordy, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then this post might as well become a research article.
(Yes, that is my half-joke, half-excuse for not posting my fantastic Hawaii and Avery pictures. Also, it's rather late. Pictures to come next time.)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Nice, Warm, Sunny Day

"Please let tomorrow be a nice, warm, sunny day. In Jesus's name we pray, Amen."

That's how I ended every prayer, every night when I was a child. And almost every day turned out to be a "nice, warm, sunny" one, so I thought God must have been real. At some point, I got suspicious, so from time to time, I purposely skipped that part (and felt guilty about it because I wasn't doing the world the favor of asking for good weather); and for the most part, each of those days still turned out to be exactly the way I otherwise prayed. Down the road, I wised up and realized that in Southern California, the bulk of the year consists of "nice, warm, sunny days."

This anecdote does not represent my shift away from prayer. It's just something that crossed my mind earlier while hoping for good running weather for tomorrow's La Jolla Half Marathon. We have to be at the shuttle to get to Del Mar by 5:30 a.m. yet I am still awake, attending to my urge to write.

Running has been quite the challenge lately, both mentally and physically, what with bad knees--and sometimes ankles--and then simple laziness. But the end of every run, from the sweat to the soreness, feels fantastic. I'm starting to believe that, with the recent improvement of my knee conditions (knock on wood), I can continue to run half marathons as long as I properly care for my knees in between each stint. I think. I sure hope. On the other hand, a small, strange, perverse part of me frequently tells me that I should not be going out to run or work out because I don't deserve to feel the endorphin-induced high because I haven't found a full-time job. On the other hand, a tiny, complacent yet caring, part of me doesn't want to have to leave my six students for a full-time job... Per usual, my mind is befuddled with contradicting thoughts that typically end up in mental stalemate and physical inaction.

Thankfully, though, I've been receiving a great deal of support from MC and a few others lately, and that encouragement really helps to remove me from the state of stalemate and inaction, because as I have previously written, we have near complete control over our own lives. Most of the actions that we take or leave are by choice, uninfluenced by any greater power that cannot be overcome or overreached. We can very easily choose to do the better thing, the right thing, to take one path over another, to pave additional paths... And often, whatever we end up doing but don't like, we try to think up excuses to justify the dissatisfaction. Meanwhile, we could more effectively be seeking alternatives to increase overall contentment.

But that brings me the topic of the next best thing. At what point are we to stop actively seeking and pursuing the next best thing? Unless complacent and content, don't we all want the best for ourselves? But then while doing that, aren't we being unfair to those who deserve more than just a sliver of our attention and effort?

Just some food for thought... I should catch those quickly fleeting four hours of sleep now before the half marathon.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Life and Lemons, revisited

Original "Life and Lemons" post (February '13)
Follow-up "Lemons" post (March '13)

Now, what happens when there are no more lemons, when you're standing in the middle of the hill and nothing is tumbling from the top, while everything at the bottom has gone bad?

You could stay put and await another harvest, as I suggested in the conclusion of the original post; or you could walk on over to another hill, pick another fruit, and move on. In the latter case, you must still heed limits and satisfaction, and pick wisely.

But let's address the concern that must be looming in your mind: what if lemons start rolling down that first hill like no tomorrow once you get to this other one? If there are limes rolling down this hill but you've never made lime-ade, what do you do? You could, of course, return to the comfort of sunflower yellow lemons and follow the originally prescribed methods. Alternatively, you have discovered another hill which presents you with plentiful new opportunities: you can explore the new territory of spring grass green limes, and you may enjoy it more if eye-wincing sourness is your scene. Note, however, that you cannot be on both hills at once. It's one or the other, lemonade or lime-ade, yellow or green (notwithstanding the semi-ripe lemons and the aging limes, which one wouldn't use for optimal juicing and consumption anyway).

Although you want to quench your thirst, you must again pick carefully and distinguish the good from the okay, the better from the good. It's a delicate process, really, one that requires dedication. Certainly, you could always just go for whatever passes you by in order to get the job done and hydrate, but you risk losing all of the better, best lemons or limes to the bottom of the hill. Wouldn't it be more effective to apply patience and pick out the prime?

Now let's suppose you could move up and down the hill instead of just transferring between hills. If you're stuck with nothing, what would behoove you more: trekking uphill to reach the entire range of options, or strolling downhill to reach the leftovers?

Lemons--and limes, too, now--are quite the complicated fruits, wouldn't you say so?