Underwhelming

I recently returned from a work trip. And I was reminded, once again, that I’m not a conversationalist. Those who know me well, and even those who have met me once, know this. Compared to other kids, I was quiet when I was little, but as I grew up, I came out of my shell — a cheerleader in junior high, student body secretary in high school, constant partier and socializer in college. I’ve wondered, though, if all the drugs I’d done through my late-teens, 20s, and early 30s ultimately mellowed me out, or even rewired my brain. But there was always a reservedness there, an observant nature, and a belief that I didn’t think it was necessary to speak unless I had something meaningful to say. Small talk has never been my thing.

Meeting me in person is underwhelming. A handful may not agree, as over the years I have clicked with some people on this earth. But for the majority of people I meet, especially over the past decade, I leave no real impression, except maybe for the fact that I seem more interesting on my blog or Instagram or something, and in person am incredibly disappointing. Sometimes I want to apologize to people, or warn them in advance the moment I meet them — I just want to let you know, this is all there is to me, just this moment right now, as I smile or shake your hand or give you a hug. Nothing more. I’m not witty, lovely, outgoing. So please, let’s get that out of the way so you’re not disappointed later.

I might be quiet, and it’s not that I’m shy, or bored, or angry. Oftentimes, the more articulate and affable people around me — like my husband, for one — say things that I might have said, so I don’t have to say them. And sometimes, I think my thoughts are uninteresting, so why bother saying them and calling attention to myself?

Most often, however, I’m quiet because it takes me a while to absorb information. I have a hard time shaping and articulating responses during conversation, and I think it’s gotten worse with age. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve formed a response to a question or discussion days later. My thoughts flow better on paper, but telling stories in person? I can’t. I don’t retain information and remember things I’ve read — I can’t for the life of me tell you the key points about an article I read yesterday, or the essay I edited for work recently, or share details of events or stories that have happened to me in an engaging way.

I’ve mentioned some of these challenges to my husband, but I’ve never written about them, nor admitted them to anyone, really. I’m not sure why, but I suppose it’s because I’ve succeeded so far in many aspects of my life — school, friendships, work — that these deficits haven’t seemed to hold me back or impinge on my success.

My current job allows me to work remotely full time. Teams communicate primarily via text-based communication like Slack channels and asynchronous discussions on private group blogs — and now increasingly through Zoom video meetings, which mostly make me anxious, and remind me of all the meetings I used to attend at my past jobs. But our general approach to distributed work and text-heavy communication is one of the reasons I applied to the company over five years ago — it seemed like a work environment that allowed people to communicate in different ways, and as I reflect on some of my bigger career and academic decisions — like proofreading marketing materials in solitude at a college campus, or enrolling in a low-residency writing MFA program that I completed mostly at home — I have unconsciously gravitated toward roles and settings that have made it easier for me to communicate, and thrive, in my own way.

I’m glad to have had these options. But as I get older — and the grooves in pieces of wood get smoother and deeper — it’s quite easy to stay cozy in my shell.

Awake

I had the most vivid dream the other night, the kind where I could feel every sensation in my limp body, where I twitched and perspired and curled my back so I could feel every bit of what was happening. Nick was with me in that world, and I felt a mix of pleasure and fear, but overall strange — it had to be strange — but then I lost him in the darkness, among the crowd, and looked frantically for him everywhere. And that was the rest of the dream, as we know how dreams tend to go: fixated on one thing, determined but unable to reach a goal, unable to find him. So I woke up, pulled off my mask, and immediately reached to the right side of the bed, his side, to touch his face. He woke up, and I said, “I couldn’t find you. I lost you, and I couldn’t find you. But you’re here.”  Continue reading “Awake”

Work of the body

I love books, and I can’t imagine how I’d have ever gotten into woodworking, let alone kept developing skills, without libraries and magazines and television and the internet. But I can’t help thinking we’re hamstrung by relying so heavily on all these visual and intellectual means of instruction for what is, after all, work of the body.

“Some thoughts on learning together”

After googling something garden-related, I discovered the blog of David Walbert. There’s thoughtful writing here on a variety of topics — cooking, woodworking, history, and more. But this bit in particular has really resonated with me, as I’ve never been very good with my hands and making things on my own, and am learning each day while out in my vegetable garden.

Goals

I’m remembering the time when my husband and I first talked about living in a tiny house at the end of 2013. It was a baby step that would move us toward achieving longer-term, would-they-ever-happen goals — like living on a plot of land in the country, for instance. At the time, we were living in an industrial-style condo near downtown San Francisco, newly married and both working for companies headquartered right there in the city. Sounds comfy and convenient for two young professionals: why would there be a reason to leave? Continue reading “Goals”

Sabbatical

It’ll be my five-year anniversary at my company, Automattic, this fall, and I’m eligible to take a three-month paid sabbatical — a benefit I’m very grateful for. It feels funny to compile a To Do list for time off, but a bit of planning will help me make the most of it.

Here’s a list of things I’ve thought of, so far, that I’d like to do:

  • Go to the gym at whatever time I want, even — or especially — those awkward times like 10 and 11 am.
  • Spend more time one-on-one with my three nephews and niece, who are growing way too fast.
  • Spend time in our soon-to-be garden, which should be planted by mid-summer, pending this still-rainy weather.
  • Cook a lot and try out new recipes, expanding beyond my comfort zone (aka my beloved Le Creuset dutch oven). Start baking.
    – Take a soft pastel class. Or get back into watercolors, which I enjoyed in middle school.
    – Take a surfing lesson — somewhere in California, if possible. (I plan to take a class in Hawaii this summer — this may be a better opportunity.)
    – Do a self-directed silent retreat at a Trappist monastery up north.
    – Attend a yoga and vipassana retreat in Marin County.
    – Continue with my taiko class and practice my form.
    – Restring my violin and take private lessons.

I’ll try to squeeze in visits to New York and Los Angeles to visit close friends and family, but for the most part I want to travel as little as possible — and enjoy being and doing right here at home.

Piercing through the fog

Shared this on Instagram and Facebook last month, when I got another tattoo:

For most of my life, I’ve been drawn to Sutro Tower, which sits atop a hill in San Francisco. While it’s iconic, it’s often overshadowed: not necessarily pretty, and certainly not golden. For me, it has a presence much like the fog, which is ever-present and something I’ve always felt connected to—and in my mind, one could not exist without the other. When the fog rolls in, it covers the city, yet the tips of the tower are often visible, piercing through the haze. Of all the structures that rise into the sky or span across the bay, Sutro Tower is at once a relic, representing what I once loved about San Francisco. And yet, as an antenna tower, it’s also a mark of now, of the future. Continue reading “Piercing through the fog”

The cursor

The cursor is many things:
a megaphone,
a friend who listens,
that space deep inside you.

It meets the blank page:
where you ignite,
and change,
and feel your power.

A tool to share your joy:
your highs displayed for all to see,
your lows swept off the screen.

Through it your selves appear:
the enlightened,
the wistful,
the proud,
the vain.

Such a slender thing
through which we are born
over and over again.

Ready for spring

After going on trip after trip after trip, my husband and I always say we’ll stop traveling for a time, so as we entered 2017, we had clear, travel-free calendars through the spring. And then somehow, I agreed to go on a work trip to Salt Lake City last week. And in a few days, we’re driving up to Lake Tahoe for the holiday. Then I’m off to Nashville for a team meetup in April and then a bachelorette weekend for a dear friend in May. That takes us into early summer, when we’ll be off to the Mediterranean.

This is what a travel-free 2017 looks like. And I’m not complaining, but it’s just funny how traveling just happens. There is no need to plan.

* * *

I’m looking forward to spring — these Northern California storms and atmospheric rivers from the Pacific have been surprisingly severe, and while it’s great we’ve gotten so much rain in the past few months, Mother Nature has dumped it on us all at once. Part of a tree fell on our house during one of the first big storms in January so we had to fix a hole in our roof, and we also dug a temporary trench in our yard to divert floodwater from our neighbor’s property. Fortunately, though, our little lot has held up relatively OK compared to all the damage we’ve seen throughout Sonoma County, caused by massive flooding, downed trees, and mudslides.

I’ve started a few posts here and there over the past month that I’d abandoned — mainly about how we adopted two adorable cats last month, or anxiety over the state of the US and the world, or the familiar feeling of apathy in my “professional” life, and whatnot. It’s gotten harder to string sentences together for a blog post, and I’ve noticed I don’t feel that urge to share my thoughts — or my life — online, with both people I know and don’t know. When I sit down at my laptop to post something, whether on a blog or Facebook, it increasingly feels like I’m in a phony, forced moment — like I’m siphoning what’s left of my thoughts, and the words that appear on paper are residual.

I have never really felt this way with Instagram, where I post regularly, which — I suppose — is a testament to its instantness. But even there I find my habits evolving — growing bored with pretty travel and tiny house snapshots and opening up to sharing simple moments around the house and during my week. Perhaps those more frequent mundane shots are a way to fill in the holes created by my thinned blogging presence, I don’t know.