“Wife Mode”

“I’m in husband mode, not dating mode,” she said to me, regretfully. It rocked me back a little. But instead of thinking that she was too serious, I wondered why she didn’t consider me husband material.

My heart has been up and (mostly) down these past few months, but I’ve found some answers about who I am as a person along this journey that light the way ahead. One of these answers has been to the perennial question, “Why doesn’t Brian have a girlfriend?”

I always knew that I didn’t date casually, and that family was incredibly important to me, but it wasn’t until I met my friend’s newborn baby that I put the two together. All of the stories that I hold dearest to me are stories about my family: my parents, my siblings, my cousins. They are the very core of my being. When I found out that my brother was gay in high school, I felt that the biggest betrayal was that my kids wouldn’t have cousins to play with, as we had when we were growing up. There is nothing more important to me than family – and starting a family of my own.

So when it comes to relationships, I am extremely reserved. My friend explains this as the Asian Dude Narrative, in which mate selection doesn’t just have to do with superficial characteristics like beauty or brains, but also elements like thoughts on child-rearing, family situation, and other factors involved in raising a family. Bingo.

When I think of whether I would date a woman, I think of the relationship as it would play out over years. I date in order to start a family – which is to say, I don’t date. Because the stories and narratives that played out as I grew up are so important to me, I am attracted to women for whom I could see those same kinds of stories playing out with us as the principle actors. Hence my obliviousness to women’s interest, whether forced or not, my tendency to immediately think of a long list of incompatibilities if I’m even the slightest bit attracted, and my inability to enter into relationships on a whim.

I have been in “wife mode” my entire life, and it’s because my family is pretty much the foundation of my personality and objectively the best thing that’s ever happened to this world.

As a corollary, unless I somehow manage to reject this notion, I don’t think I could ever be a player or sleep around. And I’m perfectly okay with “only” having been in two relationships before. In some sense, I’ve always known who I’ve wanted to be with. I’ve just been more selective than a lot of my peers.

But I also wonder if these limitations are too stringent. If I’m waiting too long for some perfect image of a woman to show up. I can and do meet women, but I don’t go out of my way to investigate who they are because some little thing here or there will put me off and I’ll lose interest. I will even quash my own interest if it doesn’t seem like it will work out in the long run.

So, understanding myself as being in “wife mode” helps answer some questions, but it also brings up questions of its own. I know I would be emotionally more stable, more fulfilled, and happier in a relationship. Am I doing myself a disservice by being so picky? Am I waiting when I should be more proactive?

~

Miscellaneous:

  • I’ve always ignored the dating game in favor of self improvement and becoming more awesome. And let’s face it, I’m fucking awesome. It’s a long term play for a long term committed relationship as opposed to smoke and mirrors in the short term.
  • When I am in love, I love so strongly it transcends space and time. There’s no distance I wouldn’t go, no period of time I wouldn’t wait if I was assured that love waited on the other side. This is why, even though it’s not rational, my heart believes in a soulmate and love that lasts through lifetimes (I loved The Myth and Air). Rationally, I don’t hold to any of that – reincarnation, least of all. But rationality takes a seat when it comes to love.
  • Love is also my savior. By myself, I can’t see myself living past the age of 29. But when I’m in love, it’s like a window into a future where I am old and frail, sitting side by side with my wife in a circle of friends as the grandkids play in the yard. Love means sharing a life, and there’s so much life to share that there’s no way to fit it all in a mere 29 years.

Entering the Flame

The more I wrestle with being in love, the more I realize I have no control. Like a moth to the flame, I am burned and I retreat, but it remains integral to what I am to be drawn to the light.

Last night, I was talking to a friend of mine, explaining my various neuroses, my fears and the illusions I had painted to explain the decisions I was – or wasn’t – making. What I wasn’t doing was living. I had believed I was living a thousand lives in my imagination of the future or alternate realities in which I had chosen differently. What I wasn’t doing was living my actual life. Somehow during our conversation, I remembered what it was like to love courageously. It was less like dancing around the flame out of fear and more like choosing to enter it.

During one skiing trip, I remember standing at the top of my first black diamond slope, the hardest category of routes. It swiftly disappeared into what seemed like a sheer cliff. I was terrified. But I convinced myself that the first few feet of the course didn’t look that bad. Even then, knowing what that first step would lead to, I had to acknowledge that I was doing something potentially suicidal.

Relationships scare me far more than any ski slope. The potential for pain, the questions that inevitably arise to pierce to the very heart of my identity (and my partner’s), have always kept me from any sort of relationship, really. In this, I am as cautious as my Chinese zodiac animal, the rabbit. In the past, I had only been in relationships in which I was chased, more or less. I have very little experience with, or inclination toward, chasing a romantic partner. But I’ve never felt so attracted to someone before, never so pulled to chase, regardless of the circumstances. Hence my conflict. I dash back and forth, afraid of uncertainty, but called to the flame. I guess in this metaphor, it’s crossing the road without being squashed flat by a passing truck.

This back and forth has been killing me. I did something that made logical sense at the time, according to what my brain said was the right and proper course of action. It made sense, and still does. But my heart has punished me unforgivingly for it. I’ve never been in this much pain for making a rational decision that I still agree with. Even now, it will catch up to me and force me to face my inadequacies, and in response I will just shut down and go to sleep.

But realizing my neuroses and remembering courage lets me move forward, even if it is into a less than perfect world. That’s the nature of the world, and of relationships. Remembering courage lets me take the next step, even if it is a painful one. I may be entering the flame, but it is a transformative flame, nonetheless. I will survive and become something else; I will not die in a stasis of a million different possibilities and alternative realities. I will open myself to reality and dance with fate, knowing that nothing is for certain. I must still live my life.

I must enter the flame.

Uncertainty

A great deal of my life recently has been fraught with uncertainty. Love, first and foremost, but my finances and aspirations are at stake as well.

I don’t know where I am in the world, or whether I have the ability to make my own way in it. Uncertainty has become a constant companion to me – the biggest mystery being myself.

Upon leaving Aggrego, I had originally planned to do three things – apply for a software apprenticeship at 8th Light, pursue my friend’s startup, and to pursue my education in dance with Chicago Dance Crash. I have done none of those things and I don’t think any of them are along the path that I’m taking. At least, not immediately.

Instead, I’ve been sitting on Don Bora’s question, “Why wait?” and realizing that I can’t wait any longer. I’ve been sitting on this idea for three years. Until I do something about it, I feel like it is a huge road block in the rest of my life. Like my self predicted expiration date at 29, I see nothing beyond it.

But the thought of fully extending my wings in pursuit of it is, by far, the most exciting option I can think of. The only question remaining: am I good enough? Can I become good enough, technically? Business-wise? Can I attract the right team?

Only one way to find out. Dive in headlong.

That said, I am completely in love and not knowing where this is going is killing me. This is really what I’m worried about. Everything else is just life. It can come or go.

Wabi Sabi

A friend and I were talking about how lucky we were to have found such a good group of friends in Chicago. Even though it’s been two years since I graduated and started living in Chicago, I hadn’t really found a core group of people who I could call my own. Being the well-known (and generally well-liked) drifter is a recurring theme in my life. Despite feeling like I’m well-regarded, the life of a drifter still means coming back to no one. It is a path through the high school cafeteria, smiling and waving, but never having a usual spot at the table. It is the excitement of doing something new all the time without the comfort of returning to the same landmarks.

I was lonely. I was pursuing my passions, but I felt like I was emptying out.

That changed recently. These last few months have been a treasure. I’ve gotten closer to old friends, made new ones, and circled back with them time and time again. Making new traditions, exploring Chicago, and memories that we will carry with us throughout our lives.

But at the same time, I feel melancholy. The Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi is basically an acknowledgment that things will change. And so this moment, though it burns as brightly as any in my memory, will fade and flicker out, giving way to something new…but not the same.

It’s bittersweet, but that makes me cherish it that much more.

Raised Up Low

Once, my ex-girlfriend scolded me for my dinner manners. I had suggested that a friend scoop rice into a serving platter to capture all the sauce. I pictured my grandmother eagerly sifting the rice around in the sauce and apportioning it out her hungry grandchildren around the table.

“No!” my ex snapped, “that’s what poor people do!”

That truly confused me. Food was food, right? Especially, I thought, for Chinese people like myself and my then girlfriend. Love and food were almost synonymous in my family, and I expected that relationship to extend to the rest of my Chinese brethren, no matter how distant.

But nearly nothing is universal, and this was no different. I swallowed the next ball of rice with nearly equal portions of shame and resentment.

I once spent a semester living in my car at college because I figured out that I could do it and save money. Shortly after that, I spent a lot of time hanging out with one of my friends, sneaking into a college apartment complex to do laundry for free. She and I got along really well with our penchant for all things free and cheap. Later, after undergrad ended for both of us, we hung out in a Potbelly’s Sandwich restaurant by my work and she said something that made the shame and resentment fade away. She said something along the lines of “I was raised poor, and that’s okay.”

I felt like she rang a bell rang inside my soul, resonating with memories and habits I didn’t even realize were related. Being forced to eat every last bit of food off of my plate. Calculating the per unit price of everything from cans of beans to dollars per hour of tuition. The urge to buy a good deal just because it was a good deal.

I felt like she was talking to me: “You were raised poor. That’s okay.”

was raised poor. And it was okay. And the shame and resentment began to fade.

Getting to know my grandparents has been an education in what it takes to rise out of true poverty. From the nauseatingly old leftovers that my grandmother refuses to throw out to my grandfather taking his last moments to teach me about real estate, I see everything a little clearer now. I was raised poor because my family was poor, my grandparents most of all. With each successive generation, we made huge strides away from poverty and grew a little further from that mindset. But we are still firmly rooted in it.

I was raised poor. This is a fact. But I was also raised with love and pride and family. And those are the basis for real wealth.

Rest Well

My grandfather (外公) passed away yesterday at 9:56AM. It was a hard fought battle with cancer, one in which he only grudgingly gave ground. I have been staying at his house these past few months, but it has been a while since we started worrying about him. I think the first sign that he was anything other than indestructible were the stairs. They became difficult for him to go up and down. But that was just age, I thought. It happens. Then it was the stroke. And then the cancer. And from there his health kept on tumbling.

It wasn’t until I reached the top of the stairs did I break down. His smiling face beamed out of the photos in the alcove, from across the years. There was a photo from his wedding to my grandmother (外婆), to a family photo with his children, and then all the way to a photo of himself and my grandmother surrounded by his grandchildren – all of them at the time! It is so shocking that we all fit into one 4×6 photo at some point.

I fell to my knees, tears welling in my eyes, and suddenly he was there. He was climbing the stairs, clutching the guard rail my father and I had installed for him after the stroke, with my grandmother’s ever-present aid. He was sitting on the couch watching Chinese TV. He was on the computer, searching Yahoo for “chinese music youtube” to get to the songs he loved to sing along with.

I had heard the phrase before, but I never knew what it meant when people said, “I keep thinking he’s going to be there.” For me, it’s not that I rationally thought that he was going to be there. It’s not a matter of thinking, really. It’s a matter of remembering so strongly that he was there that time coiled itself over and over in that moment until I felt the weight of his presence throughout the years, etched into the fabric of my history. He didn’t need to physically be there for me. He always had been, and so he still was, and so will he remain.

I’ve been thinking about death lately, because, after all, I have been living with my grandfather in his last moments. And I’ve come to realize that, in many ways, people are collections of stories. Not literally, of course – we are blood and bones, carbonoxygenhydrogennitrogen – but to each other. The fabric of cultures, the transference of tradition, the knowledge that let us survive and thrive from generation to generation – all stories. Data, if you wish to feel cold and analytical, but data alone is not enough. No, we need to tell stories with that data. We need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, even if we don’t know that ending. We guess and attempt to change the outcome.

Who is your lover to you when you’re not with them but a series of stories? Is he faithful? Then he remains true to you even when tempted. Is he smart? Perhaps you tell yourself that he is the smartest in the room. Is he beautiful? Then maybe he turns heads wherever he goes. These are stories that you tell yourself about his traits. And sometimes, your lover doesn’t even need to be gone to be nothing but a story. Perhaps it’s the story of the unfaithful lover. The story that he is thinking of someone else. In this sense, people can draw near each other and grow distant simply through the stories they tell themselves about their relationships, whether or not it’s true.

And when we die, all that’s left are stories. Stories that hurt, stories that heal, stories that sing and stories that laugh.

I stepped back into the my grandfather’s real estate magnum opus tonight, his house on Quinn, after the sun had fallen. I was immediately chilled. Being in a dead man’s house brings about dark thoughts. How can it not? I once again reached the top of the steps and fell to my knees. This time I felt fear, not the space and time bending truth of his presence. Thoughts of a ghost dissatisfied with his grandson fluttered about. How was I supposed to spend the night here? But then I remembered the picture of my grandfather, surrounded by his grandchildren. I couldn’t remember seeing him beam a smile that wide before. But he loved us. His love, his ingenuity, and his hard work had propelled us to the privileged position that we occupied today. To remember him as a hateful, dissatisfied wraith would be a disservice to the reality that he had lived and tried to teach me even up until the day that he died, telling me what to look for in a piece of property.

All I have of my Gong Gong are stories. I wasn’t going to make myself the victim of his death by imagining him as a vengeful ghost. I wasn’t going to make his story about me. For my Gong Gong, the story was about how to help his family thrive. And he did. This is the story I am proud to honor him with: He loved us, and his love for us drove him to use all of his ingenuity and a lot of hard work to help us get to where we are today, from taking my mother to the United States of America (and helping a lot of others do it as well, including my father’s side) to hugging little Bailey, his great grandson and my sister’s firstborn. He didn’t just make do. He made great. This, too, is a story I am proud to make my own: Love, smarts, and hard work.

There are no true stories but the ones you decide are true. Whether they hurt or help mean the difference between being haunted or heaven-touched. My grandfather gifted us with his presence for so long. He worked miracles with little resources. And he fought hard, through the cancer, through the pneumonia, through the pain and the weakness. “Take me off chemo! I can last a few more weeks.” He was true to himself to the end.

I hope my stories will be as full. But now it’s my turn. Now I know I need to fight to make my stories worth hearing.

Gong Gong, I love you. I miss you. I wish I could have lived more of my life with you. But I am so thankful to have had you. And I’m proud to be your grandson. I hope I can make you proud.

Rest well.

公公,我爱你。

a short update

I spent a few hours this morning (I mean “now,” if “now” means the past two hours) watching dance videos. Then I moved on to tricking. I had actually intended on learning some guitar (which I did, thanks to Michael Beverly – going to practice those bar chord shapes), but ended up getting sidetracked once I figured out what I wanted to drill on the guitar.

I’m staying at my grandmother and grandfather’s house these days (婆婆公公). After a bed bug scare at my cousins’ condo, we moved out to fumigate and just never moved back in. One of the requirements was that I not bring any of my old clothes, as my grandmother was adamant that I not bring any of the bed bugs with me. Even though they should die in the wash / dry cycle, I complied and took the chance to do something I’ve been wanting to for a while. I went to Target and bought all the clothes I would need. Ever. It turned out to be about three sets of clothing and roughly $200. My biggest single clothes purchase ever. Until I went to Trunk Club and got a single pair of jeans for the same amount. This makes me cry a lot internally. I’m going to try to make up for this by abusing their free open bar. No, I don’t even like alcohol all that much.

Which brings me to this weekend. I don’t know how the idea came to be, but a few friends and I thought it would be a great idea to pregame before heading off to Big Joe’s for a night of turtle racing. I thought it would be a nice gesture to get a bottle of vodka for our host, Cassie, who we could then leave the remainder for. Except that we drank all of it. “We’re not making it to the bar,” was a common refrain. Cassie and I lost pretty badly at Mike’s drinking game (high / low), and then hailed a cab to go to the bar via Uber. I have to say, we were a very friendly bunch of drunk people. Sebti, our first driver, was Middle Eastern (Paki? Afghani? I don’t remember) and put up with us.

At the bar, we only saw two turtle races, which were very confusing to get into due to the fact that we were drunk and had never taken part before. Apparently, you get raffle tickets to be entered into the race by buying beers. I’m not sure whether it was the beer or the entire bottle of vodka that we had downed, but it ended up being a bit too much. The ride back was significantly more fraught with hazard for our return trip driver, Miguel. Drive smoothly, friend, or else the results could find themselves along the insides of the cab.

Forgot to mention that we played that violent Korean slapping game, “ABCD,” with a bunch of white people at the bar. Basically, the concept is that you have four shapes that you can make with your hands, with corresponding labels. Whoever’s turn it is chooses one shape on “Go!” and everyone else chooses their own as well. Anyone who matches the current person’s shape gets their hands slapped. It’s much less painful when you’re drunk. Jose was concerned that my hand looked fucked up the next day, until I explained that that was just how my hand looked all the time. Thanks, Jose.

I spent most of the following day slowly making my way back home whilst making the occasional visitation upon toilets and trash cans along the way to fill them with goodies. Except that by “goodies,” I mean “vomit.” A rather pathetic tour of the city, I know.

Life is interesting. Learning to chill has been good.

But learning to busk would be better.

:D

Forgetting Joy

I had begun reading The Walking Dead comics upon settling myself on the train, having just installed a comic book reader on my laptop. About halfway through the ride a thought percolated through my brain:

This series isn’t even done.

I paused before loading up the next issue. I thought of Naruto and Bleach, both comics that I had begun reading in High School, one of which I was still reading. I rolled my eyes in exasperation.

I don’t want to do this forever, too.

I closed my laptop, magnetic latch closing with a note of finality. I had just quashed my inner child under a mountain of skepticism and disappointment.

As I stared out of the train into the landscape whirring by, I realized that I had forgotten what joy was. It wasn’t about calculating returns. It wasn’t about the past and it wasn’t about the future. A few years ago I would have jumped, stumbled, or cautiously crept into a new show, book, or comic, but I would have done so without any such premeditation. Joy was in the moment rather than the payoff.

I thought back to all the things that I had been denying myself lately – dance, books, art – and it came down to joy. It came down to experience for its own sake. I had forgotten it, and now I was intent on rediscovering it.

I’m getting so old.

I got on the train the next day with a sci-fi book in hand.

My Father’s Hands

Are cracking.

He comes home clenching his fists, unclenching, clenching, unclenching and then shakes them off. They have borne decades of twisting bulbs, cabling wires, fixing and lifting and placing and crimping. He massages the base of his thumb, first one, then the other, and gingerly peels off the tape – his nails are coming off from working at his temp job, and the tape keeps them attached – and sprawls out on the couch to watch TV. Some things have stayed the same.

My father’s hands have built walls and torn them down, subdued criminals and coddled babes. For nearly 30 years, his hands have held the roof over our heads. Now, they are working as hard as ever, but they are also older than they have ever been.

I drove up to the train-station one February night to pick him up and waited. The likeliness of his being there rated somewhere among the geese flying south for the winter and the sun rising tomorrow. He kept to his schedule. The sheer silver wall of the train trundled off with a huff and he emerged, as I had known he would, from between the train tracks and the building.

The first thing I noticed was his hands and the plastic grocery bags they held. For years, I had helped him throw out trash in bags like them. He shuffled toward the car, opened the back doors and placed the bags in them carefully, settling them with a pat. I readied a joke as he got in the car but he paused before shutting the passenger door and it died in my throat. He looked deep into the dashboard, his hand still on the door.

“I got laid off.” Then he looked at me to make sure, as though my hearing his words made them real. They were. They settled into my stomach like tossed trash. There was nowhere to put them so I just turned to the wheel and drove.

“If I had a choice,” he would often tell us, “I wouldn’t do anything! I would just watch TV. But I gotta work.” He commuted 3 hours a day to make sure we could attend school in good districts. He gladly worked overtime to pay for our college tuition. Thirty years of service at the Merchandise Mart had come to an end.

My father’s hands are tough, thick from work, and dexterous. But they are cracking.

I work so my father doesn’t have to.

Olympics – the Art of Movement

Dancers are the athletes of God.

-Albert Einstein

The 2012 London Olympic Games have been on my mind lately, no doubt because they have also been playing on TVs everywhere. When a friend contended that sports do not benefit the human species whatsoever, I immediately rose to the defense. I was so incensed that I surprised myself. When I thought about it, though, it made perfect sense.

If dancers are the athletes of God, as Einstein said, then Olympians are dancers among athletes. Nobody needs to contend at the levels that they do. The fact that they do, the fact that they compete with the best in the world is inspirational all by itself. But it also elevates their pursuit to an art. The Olympics are a celebration of the art of movement.

Art deserves another post altogether, but the Art of Movement is the lens through which I see the world. A thought is a movement of a synapse or an idea flashing through your mind. Can you catch it? Life is movement: the pulse of a heartbeat, the first step out of a warm bed, the budding of a spring flower. Music moves the heart, math moves the mind, love moves us to cherish each other and nudge the best parts of life toward one another.

As a tricker, I have always known that the mind holds the body back. My fear was always the limiting factor. But it isn’t until recently that I fully realized that there is no mind/body divide. The body reacts to the mind immediately, consciously and unconsciously. It also changes itself to suit the tasks the mind sets it to, growing stronger and more resilient. It is an extension of the mind. On the other hand, the mind is highly sensitive to the body’s disposition. Whether injured, sick, under the influence, there is no doubt that the mind is an extension of the body.

Mind and body are one.

That’s why I appreciate the Olympic athletes to the extent that I do. They are artists operating at unbelievable levels. To be that alive is incredibly inspirational. As I said to my friend:

Without mental acuity and dedication, you cannot stand among Olympians. They represent the best qualities of humankind – that, despite knowing their success won’t last beyond their lifetime, or perhaps even their 20s, they will still fight to redefine the limits of what’s possible…not just for themselves, but for all of us.

Some people become doctors, some artists, some scientists. The breadth and depth of human achievement is incredible, but in order for any of us to make a dent in the universe, whether it’s saving lives, scientific discovery, or breaking a world record, one must have dedication. Nowhere is that dedication more obvious than in athletics.

I’ll end on this note, because I know I must end – whether gay or straight, scientist or artist, writer or a programmer, we are all human, participating in the universe through our remarkable human bodies. Some decide to employ that gift to its fullest, and it is a joy to behold. Is it not wondrous to imagine what we might be capable of, when we put our minds to it?