Proud to have helped edit this essay. ✊
Those of you who follow my blog (and know me in real life) know that I moved to San Francisco from New York back in the fall of 2009. I was lucky enough to have the support — financially and emotionally — to quit my boring corporate job and pursue writing full-time.
In the almost six years since then, a lot of good things have happened. My writing career has taken off. I found a job where I can put my love of words and stories to good use. I made some friends (MGP for life!). I learned how to throw a decent punch and an even better kick. I had the chance to travel to Paris, London, Madrid, and Barcelona, as well as Orlando, Seattle, L.A., Atlanta, Boston, and of course New York and New Jersey. I moved into a fabulous apartment with a gorgeous view.
But some tough things happened too. My grandmother passed away and my dad got injured (he’s okay now). A relationship ended. I realized I suck at making new friends and I missed the ones I already have. My parents keep getting older (how dare they) and I feel just too far away. That was when I knew it was time to move back home.
I’ll certainly miss the Bay Area. I’ll miss the weather — the mild summers, mild winters, and of course Karl the Fog. I’ll miss the calmness and seeing the Pacific Ocean on a daily basis. I’ll miss my fabulous apartment. I’ll miss the wild turkeys that live in my apartment complex, and the goats and sheep that graze on the grassy hill nearby. I’ll miss the million Asian restaurants (which seems silly since it’s not like I’m moving to Idaho). I’ll miss my new friends and being able to see my brother so easily. I’m sure there are a hundred other things I’ll miss, and which I’ll only think of later.
Change is scary, but luckily for me, some things will stay the same. I get to keep my job and work remotely. I’ll still be writing. The online me will still be here. I’ll still be watching tons of TV, running, and traveling the world (next stop, a return to Paris later this month!). But some things have changed, and not just the fact that I actually cook now (well, “cook”).
My writing is stronger. And not just my clip file. Before I left New York, I was having a hard time breaking into the writing biz. Now I feel much more confident. I’ve honed my skills and have a lot more contacts. Not only that, I’ll be back in the center of the writing universe.
I’m much better about being on my own. I’m pretty independent so it feels weird to say that, but for those few years I was living alone in New York, I wasn’t very good at being by myself. I enjoyed my alone time sometimes, but mostly I was pining for a relationship, which I had almost always been in one since I was 21.
These past two and a half years have really been the first time I’ve been completely on my own, not in a relationship, nor just out of one, nor starting — or trying to start — a new one. It’s been just me and my own interests and ambitions, and I’ve really enjoyed it (maybe a little too much).
I’m more appreciative. I was telling a friend that years ago, right after my divorce, when I was finally living my dream of being on my own in Manhattan, in close proximity to several friends whom I saw regularly, I was still lonely. I’d be coming home from a party, walking to my apartment, and I’d be filled with loneliness.
Now I want to shake that person and say, “What’s your problem? Don’t you know how good you had it?” because while now I’m very good now about being my own, it’s not something I want that all the time.
I’m excited to be the person I am now returning to a place I once lived. It almost feels like a do-over.
~ ~ ~
In a few days I’ll be on a one-way flight to Newark. I’ll spend a few days at my parents’ house in New Jersey before moving into my room in Brooklyn. Then just another few days later, I’ll be off to Paris.
My friend asked me if I feel like I’m ending a chapter of my life. I do feel that way, and I’m a little sad about it, but where one chapter ends, a new one begins. I can’t wait to see what it says.
I’ve been working in San Mateo for a few years now, and I’ve grown to really like it.
Less than 30 minutes away on the CalTrain, it has a surprising amount going for a little town. For instance it has tons of great places to eat, like Curry Up Now for modern Indian street food plus yummy cocktails; Sozai Corner for excellent — and cheap — Japanese curry; Saigon City for really good pho; and much more.
But one of my favorite places has to be the Japanese garden.
Less than a five-minute walk from my office, I head out there when I want to stretch my legs, convene with nature, clear my head, get some peace, or all of the above.
I love seeing the different birds, like a mother duck with her babies —
A snowy egret:
And a kingfisher:
When I was dealing with relationship stuff, I’d come here every day. I’d walk, listen to the water, and watch the birds, trying to figure things out, and then after I realized there was nothing to figure out, to get past it all.
It’s a place I’ll really miss.
Lately I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about troubled relationships — couples separating, thinking about separating, questioning their futures.
Most recently are two writers I admire. Admittedly, I think it’s more their lives I admire than their writing, of which I’ve only read some blog posts and many Instagram descriptions.
From their pictures they seemed to have the perfect life. A loving marriage, two beautiful little girls, successful writing careers, the woman especially (her book is being made into movie with a very popular young actress). More than once I’ve thought, I want her life.
But then I noticed a change. They stopped appearing in each other’s pictures; they stopped commenting and liking. There were no family shots.
Then the kicker: they spent the holidays apart.
I worried. Isn’t that silly? I was worried about two people I didn’t even know. I worried as though it were my own relationship.
Last week the woman finally came out and said that they had been living apart for a while.
It bummed me out, a lot more than it should have. I’m not sure why. I mean, they’re strangers, right? Why should I care? But following people on Instagram or any social media, keeping up with their lives, you feel like you know them.
It also made me wonder why some people break up and others stay together. Those of us who’ve had relationships that haven’t worked out — did we make the wrong decisions, are we not satisfied with something less than it once was, did we not work hard enough to fix things? Or are other people fooling themselves?
I know it’s useless to wonder. It doesn’t change anything.
It’s been more than a year since my own life status change. While it certainly doesn’t feel new anymore, I do feel like I’m in a holding pattern.
That was one of the cards that came up during my tarot card reading with YP: the Hanged Man, which in its position meant that’s how I look to the outside world, as though I’m in a stalemate.
Then again, while it may look like I’m in a holding pattern, in some ways I’m not. I’m enjoying living on my own, doing exactly what I want when I want, not constantly worrying about what someone else thinks. Because of my personality that’s what I always do. It’s hard for me to turn it off. The only way I can is when I’m on my own.
I met my ex-husband when I was 21 and was pretty much with him for 12 years. After we split up, it was only four months before I started dating someone. I dated that someone for two months, we broke up, and about five months later I started dating someone new. He and I dated for six months, broke up, and four months later I met someone else. I dated that guy for two months, we broke up, and five months later I met MB.
Before last year, the longest I was single was five months (which seems so weird to me because I’ve always thought of myself as a wallflower), and during those times I was single, I spent much of it getting over a guy, trying to date, or actually dating. This past year and two months, excluding the time I was grieving my relationship, is really the first time I’ve concentrated fully on myself.
Maybe that’s why I’m so reluctant to give it up, at least for now.
In other news, a few months ago, I finished this paranormal teen romance novel I’d been working on since last March. I was loving it but now I’m a little discouraged. I queried a bunch of agents, and I’ve gotten several rejections so far, including one very kind, personal one from someone who had requested the entire manuscript.
Now I’m wondering if the book wasn’t quite ready. I think the premise is there but maybe the story could be stronger. But I’m not sure yet what I want to do, if I want to revise the book or plow ahead with the sequel — or sequels — which might help me go back and improve the first installment. The advantage of plowing ahead is that it would keep me creating for a long time, instead of trying to sell. Creating is much more fun.
In the meantime, I’m still working on short pieces. I had my first article published at Quartz, “What 21st-century libraries can learn from this 19th-century institution,” and continue to write for the Wordnik blog, most recently about horse racing terms, selfie variations, Heathers slang, and when a thing isn’t “a thing.”
I’m still loving my new digs, which seven months later, aren’t so new anymore, although not according to the neighbor I rode the elevator with other night. She eyed my suspiciously before finally asking, “Are you new?”
I said not really, that I’d been living here since August.
“Oh, that’s new,” she said.
I had thought I’d stay only one year, but now I want to stay at least another one. In the beginning I wasn’t used to not living within walking distance of everything I could possibly need. But I’ve gotten used to it. While I can’t just pop out to pick up food or whatever, I can make sure to stock up things when the opportunity arises.
Plus I’m totally spoiled in other ways. The gym right in the complex, my own washer and dryer, all the space, the quiet and beautiful surroundings.
While at my old apartment, I had to wear earplugs every night because 1) my neighbors were super-noisy and would come home at two AM and fight, have sex, or talk on the phone for three hours, 2) the floors were hardwood so you could hear every footstep, and 3) the walls were so thin you could hear everything else, here I never have to wear them.
The only things that ever wake me up are birds in the wee hours of the morning and, get this, a full moon on a clear night. Like, the sky is so clear that the light of the MOON wakes me up.
I’m not ready to give that up either.
Lifehacker recently had a good article about the science behind why it can be difficult to break out of your comfort zone, and the reasons it’s important to do so.
Your comfort zone is a place “where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk.” I get stressed out pretty easily so I love my comfort zone. However, if things are too easy, I get bored, which explains why when I’m busier I’m more productive.
This is called Optimal Anxiety, and “it’s just outside our comfort zone,” says Lifehacker, “a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal,” but not too high, otherwise “our performance drops off sharply.”
My brother Greg took himself out of his comfort zone (sometimes way out) every day for a year. He’s said it’s not necessary to do what he did, that even small challenges are good, but sometimes I forget that. The Lifehacker article reminded me of Greg’s points, that sometimes it’s as small as doing an everyday activity differently.
While YP and I were in Paris, he asked me what I hoped to get out of the trip. I realized then that I had no idea. “To have fun?” I said at the time. That was true. To get away? Not really. Even with recent struggles, I love my life. I love my job and writing; I love where I live. I love my routine.
Ding! ding! ding! I wanted to go to Paris because, well, Paris, but also I wanted to change my routine, no matter that the trip would be slightly stressful what with leaving work for so long, spending money, and being in a brand new place with a language barrier.
Now I realize that those slightly stressful reasons were partly why I wanted to go. When I returned to my comfort zone, I knew I’d feel great. I’d be physically tired, but mentally and psychologically re-energized and more creative. (This is probably why I like vacations that require effort, rather than, say, a cruise or resort.)
This weekend I broke my usual routine, and I’m so glad I did, although when I planned it, I didn’t think, I need to break out of my comfort zone. What I wanted was to be a tourist here in San Francisco the way I was in Paris, and see some things I’ve been wanting to see.
How I bailed
Let’s get this out of the way first. I did bail on one of my planned activities. The night of July Fourth, I was supposed to go to the Exploratorium. Every first Thursday of the month, the museum stays open late for adults only and has special programs. This month it was about the science behind fireworks. Cool, right?
But the later the day got, the less I wanted to go. Then I started hearing firecrackers in the street, and remembered that there’d be tons of drunk people out, and I wanted to go even less. In the end, I stayed in.
The Winchester Mystery House
Going to the Winchester Mystery House was scary, but not because of ghosts.
I was going alone. I’m not someone who always needs to do stuff with people. I love going shopping, to the movies, and museums by myself (although I love doing those things with friends too). But I’ve been wanting to go there for a while, and the timing was perfect.
However, when I got there, I kind of felt like everyone was looking at me like I was a freak (ironic considering the freakishness of some of the people there). Was it because I was Asian? Or because I was on my own? But they didn’t necessarily know that. Anyway, what these random people thought made no difference in my life so I ignored them.
Next I had to brave being in a tour group as a single. After they checked our tickets, they made us take a picture with props, which they’d try to sell to us afterward. GOOD GOD NO. I was not going to be made to stand there by myself with everyone watching. Sure, that would have taken me right out of my comfort zone, but I was already there, wasn’t I?
While the photographer was distracted, I sneaked in behind him and avoided it all together.
It was in a place I had never been before. The house is in Santa Clara, which is not far from San Jose. The Caltrain goes straight there, which was a comfort to me, but once I got there, I had to figure out where my bus was, and then get off the right stop.
Getting to the house was easy (although the bus ride was much longer than I expected, about 20 minutes, and I kept thinking was, Where the fuck is this place? [off the highway and across a mall, that’s where]), but returning to the train station was another story.
I assumed the bus stop would be on the opposite side of where I first arrived, and so that was where I waited. And waited, and waited. The schedule said the next one was due to arrive at 7:51. That time came and went, and that was when I started to panic.
I ducked into a nursing home and asked the man behind the counter if he knew anything about the bus. He said it came in more like 40 minute increments. I went back outside and tried to calm down. Sure enough, it eventually arrived, and I got to the station in time to catch the next train back to SF.
Was it worth it? Yes, in that I’ve wanted to see the house since moving here back in 2009, and I overcame my fear of going to a new place on my own. But the house itself? Not really, I’m afraid to say. It was neat but pretty cheesy and not worth the 1.5 hours on the train, plus the 20 minutes on the bus, plus waiting 40 minutes for a bus to go back.
Alcatraz and Angel Islands, or How I Almost Bailed Again
I know, I know. But these were circumstances beyond my control. And I said “almost.”
I woke up early Saturday morning to get ready to catch the 9:30 ferry to Alcatraz. First thing I checked my phone – Instagram, Facebook, email, Twitter, and Words with Friends (in that order) – as I do every morning. That was when I discovered my internet wasn’t working.
Long story short, I called my provider and they said the earliest someone could come was between 8 AM and 12 PM that day. At first I thought, Screw Alcatraz, I can’t be without internet. But after a few minutes I thought, No, I want to ride a ferry to see a cool prison. I don’t want to sit at home for four hours. So I wouldn’t have internet for a couple of days (I still had cable TV). Living on the edge!
I rescheduled for the next afternoon, but in the end I didn’t even need the appointment because by the time I got back that same day, the internet was working again.
I’m really glad I didn’t skip Alcatraz and Angel Islands. Alcatraz was the opposite of the Winchester House: gritty, dirty, smelly (large flocks of seagulls STINK, even the cute fluffy baby ones), and real. In other words, I freaking loved it. Other highlights:
- The ferry rides. Who doesn’t love a ferry? Even when they’re freezing cold.
- The park ranger who led the Escapes tour. I can’t remember his name but he was nerdy and awesome. Made me want to be a park ranger.
- The audio tour. The narrator is a former guard and has this gruff voice. “Now walk down this hallway. Turn left. You’ll see a photo. LOOK AT IT.”
The tour on Angel Island wasn’t as exciting. It was an hour-long tram ride. The scenery was beautiful, but I’d rather hike there. In fact I hope to return and do just that. More Danger Zone!
The Lifehacker article mentions that the comfort zone is neither good nor bad. It’s a natural state for most people and shouldn’t be thought of something that’s holding you back. It’s a place of recovery after stepping into a more dangerous zone, a “head-space where we’re least anxious and stressed so we can process the benefits we get when we leave it.” That may be my favorite part of these danger zone adventures: returning to comfort to remember them.
While sometimes you need to lie on the couch and watch Beyonce, sometimes you need to get away. Hence, a quick trip to Los Angeles to visit my brother Greg.
Black Dog Yoga
Greg has really gotten in yoga lately, as have I, but while I might be slightly above beginner level, I’d say he’s advanced. Yet I still dared to go with him to his class at Black Dog Yoga.
It wasn’t hot yoga, but the room was very warm. Man, was it hard. I couldn’t do about a third of the poses, but the teacher was really nice (afterward she told my brother I had really good attitude) and I so much out of it. I sweated a lot during class, and was so calm afterward. It was exactly what I needed.
We also went to the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys. While not as lush as the one in rainy Portland, it was still peaceful and beautiful:
A good place for thinking and trying to figure things out.
One night we had dinner with a couple of Greg’s friends at this Roy Choi establishment. We saw the man himself when we walked in. Greg knows him slightly (he’s the brother of a good friend) so we said hello and my brother introduced us. That was exciting. And the brussel sprouts and pork belly were to die for.
Search terms that consistently bring people to my blog are “I hate marketing job,” “I hate marketing careers,” and “why apply for marketing.” It’s because of this post I wrote back when I was applying for any kind of writing job. That post recently received a comment:
Ah, the artist’s conundrum, working a job you don’t believe in. I’m doing the same thing.
I feel for you, man! That was me for many years, although it wasn’t so much that I didn’t believe in the work but that I was being pressured to do work I didn’t want to do. I was perfectly happy being more marketing operations than marketing marketing. It was a job that needed to be done, and I was good at it.
But it wasn’t valued, at least not by my last marketing boss. When I left the team, he wanted to give my projects to his secretary. First of all, FUCK YOU. Second of all, his secretary did not want to do that stuff. That was why she had chosen to be an administrative assistant. And what was extra stupid was that there was an administrative assistant who was interested in those sort of projects, but she had been shut down so often (by this same boss) that by the time I left, she had left too.
I was so scarred from my experience at my old job that I vowed never to do marketing again. However, I’ve recently realized that “marketing” doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere. At my old company it meant, “Do a bunch of stuff that costs a lot of money that may or may not increase sales of things that are unrelated to the stuff we’re marketing.” Our team was, shall we say, a special case, and because of this, I think some people felt the need to overcompensate and put on a show of doing a lot of stuff. There was a lot of stress and pressure to meet arbitrary deadlines, and freaking out over mistakes that only mattered to the higher-ups.
Luckily, three years ago I found a job that I love with a company that I adore, and so while I’m no marketing expert, I thought I’d try to think of some tips for those, like the commenter, who are currently in marketing and hating it.
Play to your strengths. Duh, right? At my old company, I had just one boss who told me it was okay to want to be in operations. “Play to your strengths,” he said. My strengths at that time were being highly organized, efficient, meticulous, and process-oriented, all skills you need in a field that involves multiple players per project (marketing manager, marketing agency, a review committee with several members, the actual marketing operations person, etc.).
Those four words made me realize it wasn’t me, it was them, those who were pressuring me to do stuff I didn’t want to do, and that I should emphasize those strengths while applying for new jobs. While I never got a job in marketing operations, I did eventually find a great position (at the same company) as a communications manager.
Your hobby, your job. Since I was 12, I’ve wanted to be a writer. But I was always reluctant to write for my nine to five because I thought it would take energy away from my more literary pursuits. However, after freelancing for six months, I realized that wouldn’t be the case.
(Full disclosure: I was able to quit my shitty New York corporate job, move to San Francisco, and write full-time because my boyfriend was supporting me financially. I know not everyone has that option. However, I also realize now that I had enough money saved up that I would have been okay without a full-time job at least for a few months.)
I applied for blogging gigs and writing jobs, part- and full-time. It was pretty discouraging at first. I guess without professional blogging experience, I couldn’t even get a bite. Finally, I expanded my search to outside San Francisco, spotted my current workplace’s job listing, and the rest is history.
In my current job, I’m technically part of the marketing team, but my job is more writer/editor than marketer. I LOVE my job. I can’t emphasize it enough. The strengths I use every day are my writing skills and creativity, but also organization and efficiency. I blog about almost anything I want, do some author wrangling, edit, and tweet. Keep in my mind that in addition to writing, I was already blogging and tweeting well before I got this job. I’ve had a blog in one form or another since 2005, and have tweeted for fun and to market my book and other writings since 2009.
Believe in the product. It really helps. And I don’t mean force yourself to believe in it when you don’t. I mean look for a job with a company that makes something you like. Easier said than done, sure, but at least look.
What marketing really means. Another post that comes up with those “I hate marketing” search terms is this post by Remarkablogger, who says it so well:
As a marketing channel, blogging and social media are NOTHING like traditional marketing. They are the opposite of it in almost every way. You don’t have to sound like a marketing brochure. In fact, it’s way better if you don’t. Just be yourself. You don’t have to sound like Crazy Eddie the Used Car Salesman or Precious Roy (bonus points if you know who Precious Roy is).
I admit I don’t who Precious Roy is but I love this explanation of blogging and social media as a marketing channel. This is why I love my job so much. I get to be myself and write about stuff I’m interested in (which happens to fit the brand of the product). Writing this way gets readers to our blog (and by extension, the products) and creates a brand and a voice.
I don’t know if these points will help people at all, but writing this post helped me understand marketing in a new way.
I saw this article today about making only one New Year resolution. Poppycock! was my first response. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
Last year my plan was to adjust my expectations, celebrate my accomplishments, and have short-term goals in mind but to not write them. I don’t know if that worked, but I was able to form a couple of good habits mostly because of the $10 deal I had with my boyfriend, MB:
- If I didn’t work on my novel at least five days a week, I had to give him $10. But if I finished my novel before reaching $100, I could have all the money back.
- If I didn’t go to krav maga at least twice a week, I had to give him $10.
I’m a cheapskate so I hated handing over the money. Still, my debt racked up to $70. Then on Christmas Day I finished the first draft of my book and I got all the money back. As for krav maga, I ended up getting my yellow belt in September.
I’m going to continue these two $10 deals – work on personal writing at least five days a week and go to krav maga at least twice a week – perhaps with the added goal that one of those two krav maga times, I have to go to a level 2 class. I’ve been awful about going to level 2. It’s much more fun and comfortable to stay in level 1.
My other short-term goals are to work out at least four times a week and to read one book a month or so. These have also become a habit for the most part so I’m not too worried about those.
So what do I want my one resolution to be? I thought it might be to submit my writing more often. Back in 2011, I tried to do a 12 months, 60 rejections project and failed. Sixty submissions in a year is too much for a slow writer like me. I thought maybe 12 would be more doable, one a month, and even came up with a plan and submitted one piece just now,
But then I started to execute on my plan – check listings for magazines and upcoming contest deadlines – but immediately became overwhelmed. There are just so many contests and magazines, and I don’t have too many things to submit.
What I need is to write some short pieces during this break I’m taking from my novel (at least one month, maybe two), and to get the momentum going to be able to work on short pieces and revise my novel at the same time. So working on short pieces is built into the whole “work on personal stuff five days a week” or pay up.
So if not submitting more, how about meditating? It’s something I’d like to do more consistently. I get pretty anxious about stuff (often made-up stuff) and want to be able to handle my anxiety better. I meditate when I do yoga at home and in yoga class, and sometimes on the train to work if I remember. But usually I completely forget. For instance, I haven’t meditated at all during this holiday break.
The article goes on to suggest three more steps after picking your one resolution:
- Come up with a specific action plan.
- Avoid previous resolutions.
- Tailor your action plan to your personality.
What works for me is when something becomes not just a habit but something I feel I need. If I go more than two days without working out, I just feel blah. The $10 helped motivate to keep working on my novel and krav maga-ing, but I also grew to love getting in a little personal writing after dinner instead of just watching four hours of TV. I grew to like practicing punching and kicking, as well as socializing with my classmates.
But first meditation needs to become a habit. I’ve looked online and all the articles say the same thing: start off with just a few minutes, pick a trigger, reward yourself, blah blah. But I always manage to find an excuse: I have work to do, MB is around, MB might come home any minute (he’s all for my meditating, but I’d rather be alone). The only thing that seems to work for me is the $10 deal. Would it be somehow anti-meditative to have to pay $10 for every day that I don’t meditate?
Well, the article does say to tailor my plan to my personality, and apparently my personality is “cheapskate.”
“She decided she would base all of her decisions on whether or not the outcome made her happy. She didn’t want to exercise but if she did, she would be happier. She didn’t want to write, but if she did she would be happier. She didn’t want to seem rude passing this slow woman on the street, but if she did she would be happier. So she did. She exercised. She wrote. She passed the slow woman. She was happier.
Not worrying would also make her happier yet she worried all the time. She worried when she didn’t know how things would turn out. She worried when there was nothing else she could do. Worrying, she realized, was a form of control. In order to be happy, she needed to relinquish control. She needed to surrender.”