A cheerful, happy coworker startled me with a “BOO!”
"You scared me," I said so.
"Darlene, you weren’t even surprised!"
Inside, adrenaline rushed and my heart beat quickened. Outside, I looked like another day, another day, another day at work.
"This is what you did…" She imitated me looking up from my computer with ennui. She laughed.
"I promise you, I was so scared." Nonchalant, but still a little shook up.
She sighed. “I’ll have to do a better job next time.”
"Please don’t." I smiled. "How can I help you?"
Sunday, I went to the UCSF library to finish editing my resume and (attempt) to start writing my personal statement for grad school applications. I picked a table beside this large window, which allowed for a take-in of beautiful San Francisco scenery. I sat, opened my laptop, and rather than working, I fell victim, once again, to the intention of this window. And so, I stared and longed for the outside that belonged to this window.
Now, it seems innocent, but it wasn’t an entirely ideal situation. An older man slept on a cushioned chair just below the window. I felt self-conscious for staring at the window, because to others, it looked like I was staring at him. (At worst, it looked like I was checking him out.) When he stirred, I averted my eyes and pretended to work.
Well, after much staring and longing and dodging potential shade from others, I decided that enough is enough and now is the time to work.
An hour later, the cadence of events was regular: I continued to work and the older man continued to sleep.
Occasionally, I glanced above the top of my laptop to meet the windowed sky, a little treat for the work I put forth. Awkwardly, but just as occasionally, I met the sleepy eyes of the older gentleman. My eyes bounced up a few inches upward and kept my gaze there until, from my periphery, I could sense him fall back asleep.
The more this happened, our spontaneous affections, the faster I typed, the more I worked. Awkward situations breeds a great work ethic, it seemed.
When I finally finished my work, the older gentleman finished his nap. He unsettled himself from the chair, now imprinted with a rough outline of his body. I kept my eyes at my computer, until I noticed he chose to take the exit that passed by my table. Don’t be rude, Darlene, nod your head or something.
I looked up as he passed, and he locked eyes with me, stopped, and said:
"You’ve been working too hard. Take a break, beautiful."
You heard my laugh, while my heart sung a sweet song.
"I’m from southern California." I tell most coworkers who start to tell me about their destination weekend. "Where is <northern California location>? I don’t know where that is.”
Later, I chasse my way back to my desk. I google map <northern California location> and educate myself on the northern California geography.
I enjoy this act of discovery, if only so far in the form of googling. Due to my peers’ weekend adventures, I feel encouraged to visit new cities and experience local favorites. (I liken it to telling people about visiting small-town Solvang for their breakfast and danishes.)
In my mini discoveries, behind a computer or steering wheel, I find it so lovely to orient myself here in relation to the Bay. Marin and wine country are north of the bay. Silicon Valley is the South Bay. The East Bay is… east of the bay.
Besides, it’s charming to say “the Bay.” I’m tickled by the thought of this still, body of water that unify all its surrounding cities, of which are not far between. The Bay’s bridges make it so. More beautiful than mere commute, the bridges represent such a romantic notion of connection.
(Don’t get me started on bridges. A feeling of sublime stuns me when I’m in a bridge’s presence. I think of those whose lives were changed by these constructions and the engineers and architects who’ve dreamed them.)
Southern California is landmarked differently. In southern California, we orient ourselves by freeways. Follow the 10 west to the end and you’ll find Santa Monica. Downtown LA is the orgy between the 5, 10, and 101. Santa Barbara, Malibu, Orange County, and San Diego are all LA’s better-looking siblings: they look like LA, but they’re far better off not being LA.
I’m ragging on southern California, but truly it’s the one place that will always feel like home.
A lot of people, especially here, ask me: “Which do you like better: Norcal or socal?” And to that question, I disappoint them. Invariably, I answer with “both, but differently.” (Hell, I know it’s a cop out answer, but it’s the truth.)
While I’m forever loyal to southern California — donning LA hat, Kobe jersey, not even a legendary sports team rivalry can deny me from seeing the beauty of the Bay Area.
She and I sat on the couch, facing toward each other and catching up from the months we had apart. A single bottle of red wine shared between us, we listened to an album from a Spanish musician who played the banjo.
Between each song, she mentioned something new about her love interest, also a Spanish musician. (“But sans banjo”, she reassured.) Beyond his lack of banjo, I couldn’t remember what else she said. I thank the wine for serving its duty.
I sunk into the cushions of my couch and fell under the spell of the Spaniard’s song. I closed my eyes and heard her humming between sips. Wordless to each other, we let the Spaniard tell his story.
The song ended, and our Spaniard abandoned us. Left only with the quiet now, I noticed the humming deserted me too.
I felt a bustling at the end of my couch and opened my eyes. She was fighting with her blanket for her arm’s freedom. Trapped like a child searching for sleeves in a shirt, she gave a loud, breathy sigh. There it is: her resignation to the blanket. Her sigh turns itself into a sleepy yawn.
I looked into her eyes, brown but foggy from our wine, and sipped the last bit of mine.
“I’ve missed you.” She broke our wordlessness.
WIP: incomplete draft.
"No. 1 Party Anthem" by the Arctic Monkeys.
First question’s always easy to answer. It’s a fact. So far in 2014 alone, I’ve answered:
But after reciting the current read, I’ve dreaded the predictable, follow-up question: “What’s it about?”
This question pries at you and demands attention to you, the reader of this book.
Previously, I considered reading a private affair. If reading is worship, then my book is sanctuary. And this question, asked by someone secular to my practice, breaches an established sanctity.
Does it not follow, then, that a current read is a reflection (or even extension) of yourself? There is some reason, at least one reason, why of the hundreds of thousands of books in all of San Francisco, you chose this one. Think about it. For this reason, and for any book lover-reader/severe introvert, this question is anxiety-inducing. I’ve thought before:
The “What’s it about?” question, like one inquiring your SAT score or MBTI, is a litmus test to gauge personality, provide context, and for better or worse, pass judgement.
Admittedly, I’ve been stumped more than a couple times. Visibly, I’ve appeared uncomfortable. I’ve fidgeted with my hair, my phone, my book. Eloquence abandoned, leaving long pauses and staggering “Um”s and “Like”s, I’ve tripped through explanation. Strings of apologies: “Sorry, I think I’m explaining this all wrong.” (Usually, I am.) “Sorry, I think I should just—” Stop. “Yeah.”
In one experience, my anxiety reached new heights when trying to explain Lolita. Speechless, blank stares were common responses. And if you’re familiar with the novel, you can imagine the cringe levels for all parties involved, perhaps most of all for my inquirers. What did Lolita say about me? I thought.
Chuck it to recent experiences, “growing up,” or simply overcoming self-reflecting insecurities, I’ve adopted a healthier (read: less psychotic) mentality to combat such fears.
Of all the things that I could be judged by (my ethnicity, gender, weight, education, etc.), I’d much rather be judged by the novels I read.
Novels should be an extension of myself. In the novels I’ve read, I found pieces — even small, seemingly insignificant pieces — of myself. Regardless of whether I loved or hated a book, all my reads helped shape me. My reads act as a living bibliography to my life.
Looking at it this way, I am open to share my love of reading. Goodreads.com serves as an excellent agent for me to be even more proactive about it. Now, friends, family, and strangers alike, can review my reads, ratings, and recommendations.
For any practice, whether it is cooking a meal or playing music, life is better shared. Reading and book-loving should be no exception.
And in case I didn’t make it clear, PLEASE ask me about my current read. I encourage and welcome it. Just be assured that I’ll ask too.
Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, for anyone who asks, is my favorite novel. This is how I describe Norwegian Wood below:
Norwegian Wood, titled after the Beatles’ song, is a coming-of-age novel set in Tokyo, Japan in the ’60s about how three teenagers (mainly just one teenager’s) drift through the trials of relationships, abandonment, grief, and self-identity.
I love a bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) because it captures the hot pot of curiosity and self-discovery that I loved about being a teenager. There isn’t much I romanticize about being a teenager. However, there is a nostalgia, a sad romance between yourself now and yourself then. Coming-of-age is the feeling of finding out not only who you are, but who you want to be in this world.
Although living in different times and circumstances, Murakami’s teenagers are relatable to most readers because of the common experience of growing up. Among us all, we share the nostalgia of adolescence.
There’s a reason why Norwegian Wood is revered among youths in Japan, and more recently, internationally. Considered the Catcher in the Rye of Japan, Norwegian Wood is gaining popularity here in the States with rave reviews coming overseas. Murakami’s unique style and ability to capture emotions in his stories makes Norwegian Wood a favorite to those who are undergoing (or maybe just craves) the emotional roller coaster of transitioning between adolescence and adulthood.
Although Norwegian Wood is probably his most popular work, it is his one-off. If you want to get into Murakami, I’d recommend starting with a work more representative of his overall style. Kafka on the Shore, my second favorite, is a good place to start.
"Help Me Lose My Mind" by Disclosure
The comfort of red wine cradles me while my thoughts of you flow in and out of my muddled mind. I wear your shirt and sleepy eyes.
Certain, I watered my confidence and felt it grow with every mile I escaped from where you are. Left behind, our city and familiarity disappeared into a strange foreignness.
In its place, my city reached for me and offered freedom. City streets — uptown and downtown, new, repaved, or dilapidated — provided a new playground, a solace away from you. Turning corners and meeting alleyways, I discovered and thrived.
Here, in San Francisco, I’m ever only reminded of you when I meet dead ends.
Just finished cooking, I ladled a small bowlful of the lentil soup. Rather than wait until properly sitting and consuming like a lady, I stood and held my hour-and-a-half creation and now — too eager, too hungry — I demanded a taste.
A bridge of tears formed along my lower lashes.
No, the soup wasn’t bad; actually, the soup tasted great. (Thank you, Jamie Oliver!) But it was hot. Like, beyond “Fuck, is my tongue okay?” hot and more toward, “Do I still have a fucking tongue?!!??!111” hot.
My mouth felt scalded. I mean, as it should. The lentil soup was boiling off the burner and into my mouth in a hot ten seconds. What the fuck else was I to expect? A senseless and impulsive action that garnered every bit of my shock.
Through blurry eyes, I blinked away stray tears and pouted at my steaming bowl of soup. I crossed my arms, officially forming a standoff between this soup (of which is not cooling fast enough) and myself (hungry, bossy stomach included). Patience, I thought.
My eyes darted around the kitchen, the setting for which my patience is tested. Rogue vegetable choppings decorated the counter, and dirty dishes needed to be cleaned. Empty shot glasses by the sink tell a story of the weekend. I am tired and hungry, and the clock on the oven showed it was a little past seven o’clock. A quick calculation of my total cook time compelled me to end the standoff.
That, and Patience, which I invited lovingly into my kitchen, is being an uncommitted little bitch.
Patience is waiting to find a good lentil soup recipe, instead of choosing the first Google result in-between assignments at work. Patience is waiting in a line at Trader Joe’s during a mad rush of middle-aged San Francisco mothers, who’ve grown to become experts of patience through their diligent practice of childrearing. (In fact, such patience displayed by such mothers in comparison looks foreign on my face.)
Further, patience is the careful dicing of the vegetables and the churning of Jamie Oliver’s recommended red and green lentils until they softened. Most important of all, patience is choosing not to order food-to-go (read: a juicy cheeseburger) in favor of the virtuous task of cooking myself something nutritious.
But, somewhere between adding more water to the thickening soup and serving myself a bowl for dinner, I outgrew such patience. Patience has blood on its hands now, for my seemingly charred tastebuds render me incapable of enjoying the fruits of my labor.
What little ounce of lady-like behavior left in me now evaporated by the boil of my anger. Appropriately, my tongue — although burnt — remained knife-sharp and yelled for Patience to go fuck itself.
Bravery fueled by impatience, I attempt another spoonful. Gloriously yum, but painfully ow.