Monday, August 6, 2012

curious summer

We've covered a lot of ground since leaving Vancouver the first week of June. A lot of literal ground. We drove from San Francisco to Chicago and then to Toronto before turning back for Los Angeles, where we are staying in Westlake for a week. I can't remember the last time I was in Los Angeles, but I'm pretty sure I never visited this neighborhood. It's one of the least diverse neighborhoods in LA, 75% Latino. On my morning jog, I heard someone call me 'Chinita' for the first time in a long while, maybe since living in Washington Heights. Seems like a lifetime ago.
Sometime during our three-week stay in Illinois, I thought of how odd it was to be sitting at my parents' kitchen table in the middle of the day having lunch, like a lazy teenager on summer vacation. There was something extraordinary in the ordinariness of it all. Then Marido came in to join me which seemed to normalize the scene and remind me that I'm not, in fact, still in high school, but then it seemed even more amazing that we were both there, half-nomadic already, preparing for an even longer journey than the almost 5,000 miles we've covered in the last six weeks. On a day-to-day basis, our lives seem mundane, but I'm fascinated by the way we've suddenly switched gears. It's amazing but a little alienating at times.
There's some photography about hermits featured in the NYTimes Lens blog this week, work by the photographer Carlo Bevilacqua. I had this fear that we would become van-dwelling hermits, but then again there is something beautiful about living simply and not having trouble with anyone.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

north before south


Marido and I have been in Vancouver for over a month now. It has not been the mild, Canadian experience that I had anticipated. Everything is more, more, more than what I thought it would be. It is more expensive and more rainy and more sunny and more pleasant and more happy and more productive and more mountainous.

I've been using this time here as practice for life on the road, but it's far too comfortable to compare. Aside from the pared-down wardrobe and lack of friends, this is not what our grand adventure is going to look like. But I have been incredibly productive, something that I was worried that I would not be able to accomplish while in a new city. But in that sense, it has been a great practice. I am seeing that I work well in excursions of this length. It is enough to get to know an area while not having the pressure to sacrifice work to sightsee. When you're in a place for six weeks, you have time to settle into a new routine and then leave before it gets boring. I love it.

Of course it helps that we have a great set-up here that we didn't have to arrange ourselves. Marido gets to walk to work. The one-bedroom they put us up in is appointed with all these modern conveniences that we don't have at home: a dishwasher, heat, and a little gym in the lobby of our 22-story building. We even have a washer/dryer in the unit, which is critical seeing as we each only brought like six shirts for our six-week stay. In fact, it makes our home in San Francisco seem downright rustic.

In ten days we'll be celebrating two years of driving each other crazy. I'm humbled when I think of how much things have evolved--how we have parlayed a fleeting encounter in Buenos Aires into this beautiful, inspirational partnership that has changed me in so many ways. There are the obvious ways--like quitting smoking and really focusing on my work alongside someone who is so supportive of me--but it's the more subtle ways that I think really add up to feeling like a different person. I think my standards have shifted so that I no longer hope and pray for something wonderful to happen to me, I expect it. I expect it every day in little ways and over the long-term, as well. Some people might call this optimism, but I think it has more to do with the confidence you gain when you begin to see results. It's an overwhelming feeling that I'm not quite used to. It makes me feel privileged to expect good things to come my way, and almost a little fearful in the way that when you have higher expectations, you build yourself up for greater disappointment. But I think that this is also what develops from being in a strong partnership. Your performance improves.

In this way I have to say that Vancouver itself is inspirational. The city is highly functional. It's not a party town where people get drunk and stay out all night. It's a place where people are respectful of themselves and each other and the environment. And maybe that has something to do with why my work is going so well here, too. It's not as self-indulgent as San Francisco. It encourages you to work hard and to be humble. I don't know what it is about this place, but I like it and I hope that I can make the most of the next two weeks--and somehow learn to take this sort of focus with me on the road. It looks like things are about to get interesting.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

death and taxes and facebook

My grandmother died this week. She was 97 years old. I found out on Facebook. My parents were in Bhutan at the time and I was extremely stressed out about having to be the one to tell my father. It was the one time I wished we were on the phone instead of a video.

I have mixed feelings about getting this type of news over social media. On the one hand, I understand why it was done this way. We have a huge family, and when you're grieving, the last thing you want to do is to make a hundred phone calls, or even four. It was effective. But even though I want Facebook to be full of meaningful personal milestones, when it's actually used for this, I always feel completely put off by it. It's a complicated relationship we have, me and Facebook.

Anyhow. A eulogy for my grandmother. We couldn't speak the same language. I never learned Chinese and she never learned English. Our interactions were always strange. She would talk at me and someone else would translate, or not. I think the last sentient interaction before her stroke was when I tried to tell her I was studying political science (in Chinese) and she laughed at me. I don't know if she was laughing at such a ridiculous choice of study or at my poor intonation. Probably both. Until then, I had always been afraid of her.

Even though we never had meaningful oral conversations, her presence was powerful. She would reign over family gatherings like a silent queen, but when she did speak, everyone listened and obeyed. I learned from her that if you demand respect, you will often get it. I learned how she commanded her empire of 11 children, 29 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.

As a writer, it's hard for me to admit that sometimes words don't mean a thing. I don't know how our large family is different now, but it is. We're a diverse bunch, spread out and with varying religious and lifestyle views. But the one thing that we all had was this woman and our subservience to her. Without her, everything seems a little less unified.

Friday, March 23, 2012

bad news first

I thought I was going to let this blog die. It was getting too boring trying to maintain people's privacy and then a whole bunch of things happened that I desperately needed to write about. Instead I wrote many emails, addressed to people, rather than just posting things blindly to people who don't follow me anymore because I don't post consistently enough. Then I realized I'm not really writing for anyone but me. Even if I haven't posted in months, I do occasionally go back to try and remember a feeling, a time, an event, for reference. I like this blog. It's mine, and I don't want it to die until I consciously want it to, not because I just couldn't figure out how to make it work.

I have to say that this year started off on a very shitty note, and that it got better, amazingly better. I have gotten better at staying out of trouble, but sometimes bad things just happen and I'm glad that I had the know-how of how to feel better. I got a haircut. I spent time with my family. And Marido kicked me back to yoga. All of these things helped. But also, this blog helped, even though I wasn't writing in it. I looked back at a time--actually it was also New Year's, a new year that got off to a shitty start, and it gave me strength. I have been through bad things before.

Some good things have happened though, too, and they were so welcome after the bad. I guess it is better to get the bad news first. One of my short stories got an honorable mention in a fiction journal. And things with Marido, after being very hard, became better than ever. My writing has been going really well. I am slowly getting the hang of balancing the things in my life that are important to me--it's a work 32 years in the making.

This is a shitty post, but it is better than nothing. When I look back on this time, I want to remember that I was trying, not that I wasn't doing anything at all. Above all, it's not that I've been too busy to write. Writing is what I do. Sometimes I'm bad at it, but I do it anyway. That's what we all do.

And risotto. Yum.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

the end of the world

Sometimes I feel like the only thing that can light a fire under my ass--ever since I quit acts of risk and desperation--is the idea of certain doom. I get the most motivated to write and create when I think of my mortality and how I would like to leave something behind for my not-yet-conceived children to perhaps learn from should I unexpectedly die and leave them motherless.

In some ways, 2011 was an exercise in minimal survival, and in other ways a feast of excess. On one end, my pay stubs from the fiscal year amounted to $200, an amount that I could have smoked away in two weeks, had I not quit smoking. And on the other end, Marido and I spent the entire last month of the year wandering around in Asia, feeling like the most overprivileged people on the planet. In between that last January paycheck and a New Year rung in on the sofa, recovering from colds and jet lag, there has been lots of failure, lots of struggle, lots of change, but also a lot of love, all of which I am extremely grateful for.

The thought that always lingers in my mind when visiting any developing nation is how incredibly hard people work to make ends meet. The sight of people in uncomfortable positions engaged in manual, repetitive, or dangerous labor--particularly the elderly--always provokes my guilt reflex, and I can only imagine what kind of doughy, incidentally lucky person they see when they cross paths with me. In Asia, the feeling is even stranger, because I always imagine there to be some kind of shock at the thought that one of them--once removed--could very well be me. I smile a lot and tip generously, probably just adding to the idea that I'm completely alien and oblivious. I treated my battered body midway through the trip to a $5/hour massage, pounded and kneaded by two Vietnamese girls around my age. "Where are you from?" One asked me. "You look like me."

Returning to my life in San Francisco is equally jarring, with no work to return to, but a certain role that I have settled into, a role of loving and being loved, and working to no avail. I have to play this mind game with myself that involves ricocheting between poles of best- and worst-case scenarios: that I will publish, and that I will die.

Happy New Year.