Monthly Archives: December 2015

  • Fixing Misery

    After flying into DC on Monday, I spent the two days leading up to Christmas hanging with my dad. Honestly, I’d been dreading this trip home for a long while. In the past year, every time I’ve spoken to dad on the phone, he has not sounded well. About a week ago, he asked me to research a few things, and I gave him pushback, telling him that he ought to be Googling these things on his own before asking me for help. My reluctance to help upset him. In my defense, my point was that he’s a smart, resourceful person: he is entirely capable of typing something into Google to locate initial info. He responded, explaining that he’s not in a good state mentally… I, of all people, understand how a shitty mental state can be debilitating and paralyzing. But fuck man, how long is this going to continue without him trying to change the situation? He’s given up on life, but you know what? Life is not over yet, so unless death is coming very soon, figure out a different approach to change the result. Sure, maybe all these tasks are actually ways for him to create some kind of conversational topic with me. That’s certainly very possible considering we don’t really have engaging talks. Still, something’s gotta give.

    For my visit, I set a few goals in my head to 1) try and get him out of the house to do new things and explore new places 2) get him exercising again 3) discuss reaching out to his old friends to refresh his old networks. In the two days, we got along pretty well and got a lot done. We handled my grandfather’s car– getting it towed, serviced, and then driven back to Frederick in the pouring rain, tried some new restaurants, walked around the neighborhood, and did some Chinese calligraphy together. I realized that my father is actually a very solitary person: he enjoys introverted activities like reading Chinese history and philosophy, playing Sudoku and Chinese crosswords, watching Chinese soaps, and following Taiwan politics.

    In true conflict-seeking fashion, we did talk a bit about his unhappiness. As I suspected, it’s related to failed/unmet life expectations. It always blows my mind how potent the desire is to have a family and grandkids. I know that this wish is not limited to my dad. I think in both cultures, it’s a really strong force. On one hand, the defiant part of me is quick to dismiss this high value being placed on something that is overly controlling and unfair, but the truth is: dad’s not unhappy bc he wants to upset me or blame me. He just truly values family, and the thought that neither child will continue a legacy strips meaning from his life, bc that was so much of what motivated him to accomplish and succeed in the first place. For me, in some overly simplistic view, I acknowledge being directly responsible for thwarting his dream. It’s a burden that I just have to bear. Sure, I feel frustration and anger that his happiness depends on my and Johnny’s actions. And yet, if I reflect on my own issues this entire past year, similarly, I have chosen to let external factors (say, my shitty job) dictate my mood and happiness. If I chastise him for choosing misery, I must blame myself for doing the same.

    The other day, we were out in downtown Frederick, where I saw all these people walking their dogs. I so wanted to touch and pet all these cute fur balls. Seeing these sprightly pups made me miss my Marty and also think about future doggies I might adopt. When I see kids, I don’t really have that same instant affinity. Sure, sometimes those kiddos (esp the interracial ones)  are fucking adorable and cute, but generally, I don’t gush about kids. I realized that my reaction to seeing/having dogs is probably just as strong and natural and instinctive as my parents’ (and most people’s) feelings about kids. Likewise, my (non) reaction to kids is like my parents’ disinterest with dogs.

    When I was a child, I never planned on being child-free. I do think witnessing how my parents raised my brother and seeing other very complicated parent-child relationships in my family, I just got really turned off. As an adult, the allure of kids simply doesn’t exist. With my parents, they don’t understand why anyone would invest the time, energy, and money into raising pets– esp since they live such short lives. Frankly, I don’t understand why people commit to kids– they are such a gamble and then the whole situation lasts a lifetime AND is totally irreversible!!

    It’s hard to see my father unhappy. He probably thinks that having a grandchild would cure him of his misery, just like when I was a kid, I thought all would be right in the world once I got a dog. If only life were so easy. I’m sure that if he had a grandchild, something else would be unfulfilled or worth complaining about. That’s the thing about unhappy people: they fail to really appreciate all the good things in their lives; rather, they just obsess over everything that is wrong. I feel sad that I have disappointed my parents and my family, but what can be done: I don’t want children, and this has been true since my early 20s.

    All I can do now is try to change my own actions and outlook to improve my own happiness. I am hopeful for 2016.

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  • Seeking and Accepting Help

    Among my many flaws, I am not good with old people. I’m sure none of you are surprised by this confession, given my long history of being an impatient beotch ass. This past year though, between my maternal grandparents, my in-laws, my own parents, and my aging Marty, I realize that I really am awful at taking care of fragile people and animals.

    I mean, it’s a known fact that my parents are neurotic and paranoid, that my father is an efficiency/accomplishment-obsessed control freak and my mother is a slow and illogical fearful person paralyzed by catastrophic thinking. Still, despite my knowledge of all this and our lifelong history together, every interaction with my parents remains a major struggle and test of my patience. My parents just always feel so damn preachy and naggy and micro-managey! Sadly, rather than our connection easing over time, the opposite seems to be happening. And now that my dad sighs and moans and groans all the fucking time, I grow even more frustrated. Was he this unhappy before? If so, he certainly had work to distract him for his misery. Now he stays somewhat busy, but he has more free time than before to wallow in self pity. Then my mother, being in a new place (Kaohsiung), could have used this opportunity to learn new things and become more empowered. But no. It makes me uncomfortable to see how much she relies on others for help.

    My bud K recently offered to drive Bubs and me to the airport. I mean, a tremendously thoughtful gesture, but we live 20 minutes from her, and our house is another 40 minutes to SFO. Doing the math, we’re talking a min of one hour each way, not to mention an early morning drive (leaving the house before 7) AND awful rush hour traffic on her way back south. To me, this is a huge inconvenience that’s easily avoided by grabbing a cab or self-parking. But maybe in big/close families, inconveniences just don’t deter you from seeking, offering, or receiving help?? In the past, I always felt like my family in Taiwan was way too involved, too intwined with each other’s lives. For example, before my parents got a place in Taipei, whenever they’d travel to the capital, they would stay with my cousin and her family in her small 2 BR house. In my mind, why not just get a damn hotel room so people aren’t squished? But no, my cousin insisted on having my parents stay with them for like weeks; Similarly, my parents preferred that level of accommodation. I always thought it was rather inappropriate and disruptive. And definitely, whenever they’d visit us in California, they would NEVER ever consider renting a car/taking a cab or staying at a hotel (no matter how small our space). I dunno: maybe it’s a cultural difference with respect to personal space? I find their self-imposed (artificial) lack of choice strange.

    So, what happens now is my aunts in Taiwan buy meats and produce from the farmers’ markets and deliver them to my mother. They have been doing this for months, and they live at least 30 min away. I mean, maybe I’m just being a Bay Area yuppie, but shit, isn’t there a grocery buying/delivery service for this? I dunno. Just seems excessive and personally, I would like to see my mother leave the house (I think my grandparents can be alone unchaperoned for a few hours) and run her own damn errands. Partly, all this help only reduces her own capability bc it enables her to be overly reliant. Anyway. Clearly, I have issues about “help.”

    Another example? Poor Marty. He is slowing down considerably. The appetite is definitely getting less consistent, and his sundown syndrome comes on super strong at night. I often awake from him scratching his bed obsessively, or I’ll notice him just standing there in the dark, zoned out, with his back end sloping severely (kidney discomfort?). Last year, finding him doggie care over the holidays was a mad scramble. Finally, I got our neighbor’s pet sitter to do it, but in the end, I think she lied to me and didn’t really sleep over. This year, due to the elevated level of care Martin requires (doggie door access, meds, subq fluids, homemade food, etc.), I tried Rover. I must have asked 7 people, including my students who in turn, asked their friends. Nothing. Fucking A. Argh!! Finally, I asked J&J. Even though we’re super close friends with them, I was so reluctant to ask, bc they have the kid and both are working and then they have Helix… It just seemed like too much to pile onto a sleep-deprived family. But John argued that they are super observant, have a doggie door, are familiar with geriatric dogs, and Jess has medical training… Plus, with the kid, they spend more time hanging out at home now. Thankfully, they agreed, and they keep saying it’s no big deal. We’re so relieved, but I’m also wondering now if maybe I need to ask for and accept help from friends more often.

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  • Dropping the Mother Load

    On December 1, I informed my boss that I wanted to start transitioning out. Yup, after trying to force a connection that’s been missing since the very beginning, I finally had the guts to hit eject. For me, there are so many factors that come into play when assessing a job, but ultimately, what made this move so damn difficult was my sense of duty/responsibility AND my loyalty to relationships, in this case, my boss. Sure, like all of us, she has her flaws and quirks but in the end, she supported me and championed my work. For someone who chronically feels “not good enough,” her opinion of my job performance means something. Interestingly, it doesn’t erase my own assessment of how I could be better or how someone else might do this job better, but that’s a different issue.

    Anyway, she immediately tried to offer alternatives: part-time work, project specific consultancy, etc. I told her I didn’t have anything lined up, and I wasn’t leaving tomorrow or anything, but I wanted her to know this was where the path was leading. Yes, there was some crying involved. Fuck man, I dunno why I treat such things with so much goddamn gravity. Ridic. That said, as soon as I told her, I felt so much lighter. It’s that damn radical honesty: when I have to keep things secret, it requires tremendous energy. I’m so much more at ease after I can just tell all. Haha. Our meeting concluded with this: you consider whether there’s any capacity where you might continue to work here, and let me know.

    After I got home, Bubs and I ran through the scenarios. Part-time was nixed almost immediately. As it is, I can’t seem to limit myself to 40 hrs/wk, so part-time would most likely end up being me working full-time at half-time pay. As for the consultant opps, the big project coming up is the 24-hr day of giving. Having worked that massive project last year, I’m not impressed with the team nor the university’s continual insistence on cheaping out (without downgrading their expectations). Since last year’s campaign, we’ve had multiple meetings for this year’s event, and despite the university expressing SOME interest in new tools, it seems the decision makers are leaning cheap and conservative this year yet again. No thank you.

    The strongest impetus for leaving is my strong distaste for the current interim AVP. Yes, I have a history of becoming disillusioned with leaders. Leadership is something I require, and even though my track record is shitty (asshole managers and execs are everywhere!), I know good ones are out there. I can’t even begin to express how disappointed I am with the current situation. I wrote about it before, where she came in via a very sketchy, conflict-of-interest scenario. She immediately proposed a drastic plan to whip our department into shape. We all knew the department was dysfunctional and messed up. But her approach and more than that, her attitude… I don’t want to go into all the details here, but basically, she comes in, shows no appreciation for what has been accomplished (in spite of the dysfunction and lack of resources), insists on throwing around buzzwords that she can’t seem to adequately explain, drags ass implementing the changes, and then does a half-ass job in executing the vague plan, blaming executive indecision and lack of resources all along the way. Sure, maybe she took on the job not expecting so may problems and roadblocks. Fine, but the answer isn’t to just continue plowing through, answering people’s concerns with “this is a high ambiguity situation, and it will be like that for a while.” People are ok with change if you earn their confidence, create incentives, and/or if you show them a timeline and a path. When pressed for a timeline, no answer. When she talks about the department ultimately reaching its peak performance status though, the words that emerge are “years.” Here’s the thing: your pay is shit, your org is highly dysfunctional, your leaders are hypocritical and uninspiring, and now you are demanding major structural change plus new work in addition to the existing massive pile of responsibilities? Hello, Change Management 101: what is the employees’ incentive to put up with all this? Throughout the whole process, she keeps touting her high tech background, saying she’s running this place like a tech startup– with “best practices.” Uh, do you have any concept of where the fuck you are? Startups offer cool culture, opportunities for advancement, reward for strong performance, and the chance for a payout. Please. Know your client; know your audience.

    The thing is, in the beginning, I wanted to like this woman. While rumors swirled that she was being brought in to oust our AVP, I thought those people were just overreacting and being paranoid. To our one-on-one meeting, I came with an open mind and with honest answers. She hardly even paid attention to my responses to her questions. I thought maybe she had had a long day and was just tired.

    The sad truth is, a woman in leadership is such a goddamn rarity. So when I see it, I want it to succeed. But I’m not about to be used and abused and disrespected. She’s not even sincere about anything she says. Whatever. Ultimately, her tactic of dangling a “you get to keep your job” over our heads just isn’t going to work for me. Fuck you. I am someone who, as a preteen, chose welts and bruises and lashings with a leather belt over a simple verbal apology to my mother. If I feel you’re in the wrong, you won’t get an apology out of me. In some cases with people I love, I make exceptions, but I don’t dole that shit out like hot cakes. I would rather work at See’s Candies and sell most of my creature comforts than be handcuffed to a shitty job dictated by someone I strongly dislike. Yeah, I actually value my freedom to choose where I work and how I spend my time. So, I’m out. And yes, that message is also accompanied by a hand gesture or two. Like I said, defiance with a capital daddy-fuckin’ (why do we always say “mother-fucking”) D.

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  • Eternal Misfit

    I was thinking the other day about how my whole life can be summed up in one term: misfit. I mean, how many times do I use “my parents are immigrants” as a way to explain my eccentricities? If you think about it though, being American-born Chinese really has put me in this odd space. For example, growing up in Frederick, there were less than 10 Asians in my high school (close to 1000 students?). I was always harassed for being Asian, small, and scrawny. People made fun of my parents. People bullied me. Then whenever I went back to Taiwan as a child, I never fit in there either: my skin was too tanned; I was too big-boned compared to my cousins; I didn’t speak the Taiwanese dialect; my Mandarin was too basic or whatever; I was too unruly and defiant. When I went to Duke, there were more Asians but I was the underachieving one with my mediocre grades. In Shanghai, my “yellow face” prevented me from getting teaching jobs despite my training and experience. My relatives there described my Mandarin as elementary or awkward. When they heard me speak English, they insisted that my American accent wasn’t the same as John’s. Meanwhile J would say a few words in Mandarin and suddenly, he was super advanced. 

    Now, in Silicon Valley, I’m either the “soft” engineer (civil) with the social skills at a tech startup, or I’m the comm person with the engineer’s social awkwardness at the non-tech workplace. Everywhere I turn, there is some part of me that isn’t quite right. I think of my friend J who grew up moving to a different state every two years. She has incredible awareness and social/emotional intelligence. She credits her ability to read people and adapt quickly to this upbringing. I suppose I can credit my resiliency to my history of being an eternal misfit. On good days, I think I’m pretty adaptable: I have a high tolerance for discomfort, and I’m not afraid to push myself despite the natural fears of rejection or exclusion. But on my bad days, I feel tired. Tired of trying. Tired of pushing. Tired of not having the ease of being immediately accepted and welcomed. In these moments of self pity, I remind myself that these struggles are minor compared to “real” troubles people without privilege face. I try not to complain. So instead, I have days and maybe weeks where I feel overwhelmed by the constancy of being a lifelong misfit. I wonder what is wrong with me. Why are certain conditions so absolutely unbearable for me while for others, it’s simply no big deal.

    Yesterday morning, I received an email from my Duke roommate. She is a successful, high ranking OB/GYN in the military. In the last two years, she met the love of her life, got married, bought a house, got a dog, had a kid… anyway, she was in town for a friend’s wedding and wanted to know if I was free for lunch. It had been a long time since we’d hung out one-on-one, and I was kind of looking forward to catching up. As we hit all the key topics, she asked about my job and I admitted that I hated it. She agreed that she thought social media was a weird fit for me, and then she made this comment like, “What job number is this for you?” I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Everyone’s got a puzzle they’re trying to solve. Not everything lines up at the same time.” We went onto other topics and then her friend joined us. Then it was all about child-rearing and that person’s soap opera drama (seriously, she was dating her best friend’s soon-to-be-ex). On my drive home, I just kept replaying my friend’s comment. I get so disappointed when people say the most insensitive things. I’m a sarcastic person, so sure, I get that not everything is so goddamn literal, but fuck man, words also matter.

    I mean, she was unlucky at love for almost 20 years: failed relationship after failed relationship. Did I EVER say to her, “what relationship number is this now?” When I was at Duke, I had nervous breakdowns bc of my grades. To make matters worse, I had my parents calling every damn week harassing me about my test scores, giving me advice on how to study harder or better… The transition from high school valedictorian with all my awards and extra-curriculars and Chinese school accomplishments to sub-par undergrad was a difficult period for me– a paralyzing culmination of expectation, pressure, privilege, and disappointment. I remember once when I didn’t agree with her strategy for taking classes just for the “easy A” as she described it, she said, “well, unlike you, I’m not trying to get the lowest GPA possible.” It’s weird bc I’ve always had so much loyalty for that friendship, and now reflecting on the last few encounters, I really don’t know why. To be honest, things have never really been the same since graduation, and maybe that’s my own damn naive fault. Through the years, she was awful at keeping in touch. I wasn’t even sure about going to her wedding in September 2014. Ultimately, I was glad I went bc I really wanted to celebrate her milestones, but maybe now I can just let things go. After my visit with her, I drove home, stepped in the door, and just started to cry.

    J keeps saying that 2015 has been a shitty year for me. Aside from the work dissatisfaction, he always points to the shifts in my friendships as playing a key factor: the openspace people moving away, changing jobs, or retiring, G& J being in Seattle, J&J having a kid… I always rejected his theory. Then, over Thanksgiving, I felt like I couldn’t really have a conversation with J&J without them being distracted by the baby. And we’ve certainly seen less of them now that weekends get filled with playdates and kiddie camping trips. I don’t begrude them of cute lil’ H, but for some reason, I had an epiphany. 

    A long time ago, I read an interesting essay about friendships: the article likened them to catalysts and enzymatic reactions. You need proximity, attraction (through common interests), and frequency. In the past, when I had lost touch with S from grad school, I chalked it up to just us not having things in common anymore, bc she was a housewife living in the South. She had had two kids and that life was exhausting, and we had fewer and fewer things in common. Maybe that’s what’s happening now. Slowly and esp bc the kids are in their needy years. I dunno.

    J has suggested that we focus on getting more child-free friends AND maybe we need to move to the city where there is a higher concentration of like-minded people and things to do. The thing is, I rather like my Houseboat. But I also agree, life in suburbia is rather boring and everything is really centered around kids. This makes me think about my single friends. God, it must be so frustrating for them to hang around homebody couples!

    Sigh, these are the things that keep me up late. Turns out, I don’t just need a job overhaul, I need to overhaul so many other areas: family, location, friends…  Now I’m suddenly tired and ready for bed!

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