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Day 29: Coast to Coast

A few hours separate one coast – and one world – from another. This morning, I braved gutsy hurricane-like winds in San Francisco, now I’m warmly tucked in to my Brooklyn nook. Air travel, akin to time travel, will never cease to amaze.

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So there I sat at 4:30 am PST, my thoughts dripping steadily like the rain drops coalescing on the airplane window. My SFO – – > JFK flight was delayed. We had been stuck on the runway for nearly 2 hours before the pilot was forced to head back to the gate to refuel and wait the storm out. Storm gusts blew at more than 15 knots per hour. (know what that means? neither do I)

For 72 hours before, I took in San Francisco like a vagrant. I stayed at a humble artist’s hotel with morbidly beautiful paintings adorning the wall (my first two room options consisted of one: a crying geisha, two: a stripper staring me down). I finally settled on a more calming bedroom backdrop reminiscent of a Japanese ‘Starry Night’.IMG_1489

Night time brought walking escapades through the city, often with nary an idea of where I was going. Thankfully there were friends who led the way through various neighborhoods. Interesting to observe their tendencies. Just like some New Yorkers shudder at the mention of certain neighborhoods (ahem Williamsburg), San Franciscans have similar reactions to particular areas (Marina?) Ultimately, each neighborhood has a distinct character and way of life that makes San Francisco what it is. In addition to downtown, there are neighboring suburbs: Palo Alto, San Jose, Cupertino, Oakland, Marin County etc. which collectively comprise the Bay Area, a whole other world to itself.

I jotted mental notes comparing San Francisco to New York. Each is arguably the ‘golden’ city on its own coast so, of course, I was evaluating the potential of each as a future home.

The main differences I noticed:

Residential: San Francisco, while urban, is markedly more residential. You’ll see long stretches of houses and apartments even in the thick of downtown. In Manhattan, aside from maybe the Upper East and West, that’s unseen. And even in neighborhoods like those, Manhattan retains an utterly cosmopolitan environment.

Style: San Franciscans are more casual. Admittedly, I spent all of my time at startups (one in downtown, and another in Palo Alto) but even around the more corporate Financial District I sensed a greater level of openness and earthiness. New York, while scrappy in ways, is all business with its swank and suits.

Health: San Franciscans veer natural. They are close to the outdoors with hiking paths, access to mountains and actual room to breathe. Living in New York, meanwhile, might take a year off your life. Physically and mentally, you drive yourself sick between riding the subways, battling anxiety and other neurotic souls, while being lured into oil-dripping street Halal food. But…it’s New York.

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I spent most of my time in the more touristy parts of San Francisco: Union Square, Ferry Building, Financial District. Next time, I’m intensely interested in understanding the people, values, and pace of the city. This visit was far too short to get at the city’s real essence. But from the few people I did encounter (including the good samaritan who paid my MUNI fare because I didn’t know you needed exact change) –  I’d say it was quite nice.

Other highlights:

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– seeing my childhood best pal and longest friend to date, Diana

– eavesdropping on “big ideas” at Ground Up Cafe, a shared space for employees in the AOL building (which houses several startups and Stanford’s startup incubator)

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– touring the ZeroCater office and shadowing their account managers for a very accurately depicted “day in the life”

– eating cioppino and sea dabs for the first time at a homey family-owned Italian restaurant in North Beach

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– exploring the bar scene. Local Edition (located in the Hearst building; the displays of old San Francisco Chronicle editions with typewriters make this a news nerd’s heaven) and Bourbon & Branch (prohibition-style bar with great whiskey & gin cocktails; there’s an old-school library too)

– being a tourist and eating overpriced hamburgers and martinis while overlooking Union Square. Totally worth it.

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“Look at all those fish swimming in a fish bowl down there.”

Thanks for a great time, San Francisco. I hope I get to spend more time with you one day.


Day 20: Singlehood and (in)Dependence

Many of my friends are in relationships. It didn’t occur to me exactly how many until today, when I was talking to my Mom about my plans to visit a friend and her boyfriend. They’ve found jobs in the same city and now live close enough to see each other regularly.

“Are you jealous of her?” she asked.

“Jealous? That she lives in San Francisco and has a stable job?”, figuring that if I had to go on the defensive about my employment and living choices once again, I might as well beat her to the punch.

“No,” she sighed. “She has a boyfriend she can see all the time. You don’t. Aren’t you…lonely?”

Subtlety is not her niche. I’ve been prodded by my Mom about my weight, intellect, and inability to cook before. But hearing her hint at my loneliness was possibly one of the most piercing truths my single 23-year old self has heard in a long, long time.

—-

I’ve dated and been in quasi-relationships before, but nothing serious. It’s not that I’m against relationships. And it’s not even like I’m one of those girls with absurdly high standards, waiting for “the one”. I have no checkbox criteria.

To the chagrin of feminists, Cameron Diaz made headlines for saying, “I think every woman does want to be objectified. There’s a little part of you at all times that hopes to be somewhat objectified, and I think it’s healthy.” I couldn’t agree more.

I think the reason I’m still single is precisely because I don’t think about it a lot, despite how it’s now made increasingly apparent by my mother and number of committed friends.

I’ve been called independent, intimidating, asexual even? So, let me make this clear. I’m none of that. Maybe a little independent, but not to the point where I want to stand solitary for the rest of my life. I also don’t mind being objectified. I love my body; straight men probably do too, and I feel empowered by that. I am single, straight, and willing to mingle. But in the right ways. Ultimately, I value certain things in life including God, my time, career, and dignity. Anyone who unnaturally imposes on any of these I probably won’t be able to comfortably date or be in a relationship with.

Some have said that my somewhat fickle relationship complex may be a sign of something deeper. By never being taken seriously as a child, I’m now trying to overcompensate by acting like super independent woman. Perhaps. But enough psychoanalyzing. All I know is that when the right person comes, everything else in life should flow seamlessly. There are no doubts, little compromise, niente stress. I don’t think that’s too high of a standard. Until then, I will continue enjoying my (in)dependence.

And Mom, no jealously on my part. The third wheel on a tricycle is the best part.


Day 18: Reunions

Some things never change.

My friend Kristin who has been out of the country for 18 months returned to the States this weekend. Before going home to Florida, she made a stop in New York City where she was greeted with big hugs, kisses, and a rousing homecoming from close-knit friends. We ate cupcakes, shopped, and hair-flipped our way through New York City like an obnoxious group of sorority sisters. It was almost like college again 🙂

Kristin and I traveled together last summer when we both taught English in Italy through a program called ACLE. We have always shared a strong connection through our mutual love for traveling and culture, but it was our OBSESSION with gelato that really solidified our bond. (One scoop? Try two or three…per day.) I left Europe after 3 months but Kristin stuck to the peripatetic life for another year and a half. Her travels took her from Italy to London to Paris to all throughout  Asia (Taiwan, China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia).

Over dim-sum on Sunday, Kristin shared stories about her travels, ranging from her run-in with Asian girls at karaoke ‘gangnam style’ to the incredible hospitality she experienced in Malaysia. Kristin has always been an adventurous spirit but she has now surpassed everyone within our circle of friends in sheer bad-ass status with the number of far-fetched tales she has.

She is that girl, the cultured one, the one who has friends everywhere because she’s actually been to those countries. She’ll begin a story with “This one time, my Dutch friend…” On a practical level, she can tell the difference between a good macaroon and a bad one, and has developed a strong inkling for when someone is ripping her off. She appreciates hole-in-the wall authenticity over flashy tourist traps. As a plus, she can probably educate you on all the details of the various visa application processes since she’s faced several interesting experiences with that herself. Read all of her helpful travel tips on her blog, Lost Abroad.

A year and a half seems like a long time. But as Kristin said herself, it’s really just a spec. What matters more than all of her worldly stories is that she can still snort a big laugh and engulf several slices of American pizza with a smile on her face.  Some things never change…and they never should.


Day 16: Sleep

Even on the sunniest of days, it can be difficult to stay upbeat.

As I rushed from one arrangement to the next, my mind waxed incoherence about the purpose of it all.  There were simply too many people and not enough space. It was cold. My feet hurt. I was tired.

At a coffee date later, I found myself turning zombie-like. I might as well have. Eyes rolled to the back of my head, synapses mis-navigating, and me thirsting for…sleep.

Truthfully, it was a great day.  I supported a friend/mentor in a social media lecture at SUNY and got the chance to meet with an awesome company about a potential partnership. I saw 2 friends over coffee and dinner. I ate, conversed, and laughed (albeit deliriously).

And I’m in New York, where places like this are commonplace. Pinch me. Sometimes I fail to remember.

You fail to see the beauty in things when your mind is struggling to stay awake. I have deprived myself of so much sleep this past week tying up loose ends – attending a late networking event, sending last emails, writing these posts – that I forget about the larger vision behind all these tasks. The key to unlocking big ideas is not to keep your eyes open all the time; it’s to close them regularly so you can achieve grander things when awake. As Arianna Huffington says, sleep your way to the top.

There you have it. Rather than belabor the point, I’m going to heed these words and head to bed. It’s a Friday night and temptation is out there. Thank goodness for a friend who just sent me this text:

Gosh, I am blessed. I’ll sleep to that!


Day 8: MOWAndering

What am I actually doing? People ask me that a lot. I don’t have a straight answer. I am making no money, am essentially “jobless”, and have no particular path. One could say I am a freelancer, though that’s really just a euphemism for being unemployed since I float between various projects at minimal (sometimes zero) pay. Furthermore, I’ve skipped the few money-making opportunities I have to focus on fledgling ventures that may tank.

Logic questions my decisions, but I’m stubborn. I fill my time with projects that have little traction because a.) they challenge me, and b.) I learn from the visionaries behind them. There is a time and place for everything. Money and security are safe but my current priorities are personal growth, experience, and relationships. The wise wanderer holds off and restrains. My ultimate goal is to get on a rocket ship; until then, I wander.

I’m working with a team called MOWA. MOWA is a mobile photo-sharing game that partners with up-and-coming fashion brands and rewards socially-savvy media users with unique prizes. We aim to create a network of fashionable trendsetters to help brands advertise in this fast-growing mobile photo-sharing and gaming space. The app is currently pre-beta, but you can check us out at www.mowa.me and get on the subscriber list in the meantime. We are looking to test the Beta version of the app with 100 trendy, fashion-forward 20somethings so if you meet that criteria, leave a comment. (You get free stuff!) 

I’m charged with user acquisition and media outreach which puts me smack in marketing/PR. Coming from journalism, this could be considered complete sell-out status. But here’s the thing (and a significant reason why I skipped work yesterday to join the MOWA founders): I enjoy it. Our communication approach is open and real and based on building real relationships by providing interesting content to the next stylistic generation. It’s not gimmicky. We’re connecting people to brands they love. All marketing jokes aside, that cuts straight to the reason why humans exist – to connect.

So, what am I doing again? I’m experimenting, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I’m dirt poor, unreasonably idealistic, and hungry. But I figure as long as I am constantly evaluating where I am and feeling satisfied (even with a lack of answers), no one can question my actions. Not even myself.


No FOMO

I turned 23 yesterday. In the days leading up, I was asked what I wanted, to which I altruistically responded, “Oh, nothing at all!” Hm. A friend hinted that I write a wish list. Sp I jotted just a few things:

  • personal trainer
  • juicer
  • the new Mac OS
  • iTunes gift card
  • leather wallet
  • skinny jeans (coral color)
  • replacement pair of Gucci sunglasses
  • bonus: a handsome smart young man

What a saint.

It’s not difficult to come up with things we could have that could make our lives better. There is always room for improvement. However, the second I start thinking about all the things I need, I start viewing life through a scarcity lens. An entity lacking this, needing improvement in that, and at its core, not good enough. Before I could finish my wish list, I had descended into a spiral of anxiety about everything I did not have and had not become.

I’m 23. There are many things I have yet to see or experience. Thinking about all the possibilities makes my mind whirl!  The pressure to “make a difference” seems engrained in our generation. There is even an acronym for this affliction, outlined in this article by Priya Parker, “Millennials paralyzed by choice“. FOMO, or fear of missing out, stems from our hungry ambitions and desire for optimality. It happens when the media shows us cool images of what others are doing and where we could be, which almost always seems better than our own state.  This is more than just an evil marketing ploy; FOMO trickles into our social media updates – “look, I”m doing this – how fun!!!” – tapping into our envious desire to one-up each other in life interestingness. Arranging our adult lives in optimal fashion is becoming a generational obsession. How do you get the best job in the best city, while keeping all options open?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to live in New York. But every once in a while – usually while I am stressing about running late or how my dress is squeezing tight in the gut, – I remember an old man in Vietnam. He sat on the side of the road, dirtier than dirt, beaming dimple to dimple, crooked missing teeth and all. While complaining about the heat and voraciously fanning myself, I barely paid him any attention. He smiled at me, which struck me as supremely odd, for what had he to smile about? It was hot and disgusting. He had nothing and I wasn’t giving him anything. Yet in a single moment, ever so fleeting, I realized how wrong I was. Indeed, the man had nothing but he, in fact, had everything simply because he was happy with what he had. My life, ever abundant in tourist pleasures, was intrinsically starved. I continued fanning myself.

That was three years ago. Yesterday, I spent my birthday with my parents. We went grape-picking, ate dinner at a local Italian restaurant, and attended a classical piano concert. I got calls, messages, and cards from a handful of friends. The day was a hodgepodge of simple moments with the people who mean the most to me. There were times when I wondered what I’d be doing if I were in New York. A night out in the city would have surely been a birthday production…and what a shame if it weren’t, with all the options available! The operation would have been documented, yielding picture-perfect moments against a beautiful New York City backdrop (perhaps with a touch of Instagram editing) – – surely worthy of double-digit likes.

Yet back in Tennessee, I was wading through thorny bushes, spider webs, and buzzing bees (only to find rotten grapes). For a few minutes, I yearned for some city grandeur.  Then I heard my Mom’s Chinese shrieks. She had found a perfectly ripe batch of grapes. Her cute little visor bobbed in the trees ahead. Lest the vineyard owners call the cops on her for disturbing the peace, I had no other choice but to see what she was referring to. So I stormed through more spider webs, tripped, and got caught in laughter, wondering why I would ever in my right mind trade this comical experience for uncomfortable heels, birthday shots, and exorbitant tax fares.

I was in bed before midnight, which was glorious. As I went to sleep, I came to the conclusion that when faced with choices, I want everything. It’s selfish and causes unnecessary stress, not to mention incredibly self-deprecating.  So, what do I really want? To be content with my one life, the way it is, the way I am- simple, true, and loving.

So, that is what I am giving myself: freedom. Freedom from FOMO. Freedom from the should-haves, could-haves, would-haves. Freedom to know I am not missing out and that, in fact, I have everything I already need.

Thank you to all my friends, family, and well-wishers who are shining reminders of life’s abundance.


Why NY

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 Tell me one last thing. Tell me why New York. You could be anywhere with what you’re trying to do – find your place – but why NYC? L.A., Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, these would all work just as well. So tell me what it is about New York that you love. Why it speaks to YOU. Don’t give me a watered down Woody Allen script either. 

Dear MW,

I decided to write you about New York, strategically, in its absence. I’m not there now; in fact, I’m situated smack in what you may call its antithesis along a windy path bordering the Smokeys, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Here it seems like God is about to turn the seasonal switch, with time teetering gently between the late night shouts of children enjoying Summer’s last call and the swaying trees beckoning Fall’s cool breeze.  It’s beautiful.

So, why New York?

Being somewhere else has forced me to recognize its intangible value. Let’s be real – nothing absolutely pertinent to my existence is strictly in New York. I can find anything I need in any other big metropolitan city (with the exception of a really good slice of pizza and the view from the Brooklyn Bridge) but even then, there are suitable (albeit sub-par) replacements.

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So, the real question then becomes, why do I belong in New York? Because at the end of the day, all we really want in anything – a significant other, a friend, a career, a city – is a sense of belonging.

It boils down to a few things:

1. Ownership

In NYC, I have two walking limbs – rusty and badly in need of a       massage at the end of the day – but dependable. They’re just like the New York subway – slow, dirty, and always running late – but they get you where you need to be.

NYC is a city for walking simply because you canIf you really   wanted, you could walk from the northern tip of Manhattan (Harlem) to the southern end (Wall Street) – all 16 miles – and be back in time for dinner. What a sight you’d see along the way! In New York, I have to place my feet on the pavement, feel the hard concrete beneath and the subway rumbling below.  Jumping in a car is not an option, unless you’re rich and can afford a car or a hefty cab fare. In other cities, there’s the luxury of escape, A/C, silence. IN New York you walk because you have to, and it’s sometimes (actually, usually) really annoying because all you want is to sit and go for a drive and listen to your music in peace without all these barking wannabe comedians, pesky tourists, beggars, germs, not to mention the unmistakable smell of crap at the Chinatown subway stop…but you walk anyway.

In the griminess, you are forced to face an unfair world. There’s no easy drive to the gated community. Rich and poor, you see it all and with each pounding step, you hurt for the city. And so, you own it.

2.  Character

Better than the public transit system are the people you see on it. One night, near midnight, I was nodding off on the train when an odd-looking trio entered. They looked nothing short of the Circus Freaks from Big Fish: a morbidly obese woman, a dwarf, and a gangly man (who looked all the more gangly next to the dwarf) with a scruffy beard. Within minutes of stepping on the train, the man began to howl like a wolf (in fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised had he turned into one) while the woman sang like an opera singer and the dwarf awkwardly stood there. There were 2 other people on the train who didn’t even look up. I pinched myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream; the only other possibility was that I was going crazy. Eventually they got off, but it was one of the most bizarre things I ever witnessed.

I’m not saying that you should move to NYC to catch this midnight act. I’m sure there are similarly odd characters residing in other cities. But New York has a higher proportion of them. You’re bound to see an energizing and most interesting collision of cultures in the most densely packed American city.

Other memorable New York characters include the fashion-forward pink-haired women, the break dancers providing unsolicited stress relief on the N while crossing the Manhattan bridge, and the jovial Caribbean men spouting newspaper pickup lines. Seeing such off-the-wall characters means I cannot possibly be ashamed of my own weirdness because someone is sure to have already outdone me. Normalcy is relative; the city has seen it all. New York’s identity is neither classy Cambridge nor star-studded Hollywood; it’s all of the above, a hodgepodge of everything. I belong, simply by being me, a patch stitched next to the suited-up corporate executive overlaying the pink-haired fashionista sewn next to the Wolf Man. New York is a colorful quilt.

3. Possibility

It’s what we crave. Brett Nelson sums it up best in 50 lessons he’s learned from living in New York.

Whatever shape the economy’s in, millions of people continue to pay an absurd premium to toil and escape in New York City. That’s because deep down—more than any specific satisfaction or vice—we all crave possibility. In that sense, NYC might be the world’s greatest brand: It makes you feel (goofy as it sounds) like anything can happen.

New York, Boston, L.A., Miami, Chicago – they are all stellar cities. Wherever you decide, you can’t go wrong, for your needs will be met. But my question to you – is life about meeting needs? Choose the city that makes you come alive. For me, it’s New York. I said it 2 years ago in this post, and I’ll say it again:

There has to be a reason I feel so happy every single time I come here.  I feel alive. It’s not the same high I get when traveling; this feeling is more realistic, more sustainable.  I still waver between feelings of sadness and exhilaration, exhaustion and caffeination, drunkenness and sobriety like a swinging pendulum. But I think the unpredictability is more manageable because my surroundings are….well, unpredictable. Walking through the streets, I skim through tongues, cuisines, and faces around the world; my stress dissipates in the bubble of anxious energy surrounding the city. 

Now sitting in Chattanooga, things are calm and good. I can live here just fine. But this age does not call me to be just fine. When I’m back in New York I’ll fall in love all over again. That’s my NY.