Friday, January 16, 2009

Living, But Feels Like Waiting, to Start

Following is that long and self-absorbed update I wrote up but did not publish at the end of last year and here it is and it is a bit out dated, for example, Inauguration excitement or Miracles on the Hudson are not covered. I posted it here more for documentation purposes. I only added the sub session titles to make this painfully long thing to smaller sections, so you, the three of you, can use them as Index.

I don’t know whether it is wise or stupid to have chosen to come back in winter, in early Nov, to New York.

It gets cold quickly, and the city is mostly cloudy. I have lived silently on a walk up apartment in Upper West side, on 78th street, that street that led to the natural history museum, to the bar where I danced with so much happiness once with someone. The bar is now closed.

I quit my job to go on this much needed break from work and away from the city, to be peaceful with myself, on many levels, and to be with my family.

Or as what Kierkegaard said, “Stand still in front of the mirror”, so that you can see yourself.

I do that a lot these days, literally.

So I found the theoretical support in Kierkegaard’s writing, of why I did right in quitting my job, to avoid being so busy that one doesn’t think of the meaning of life, so that I can really understand what I am and what do I want to be.

Besides personal reflections, totally flexible schedules, lot of time to read, getting limited hours of daylight since I stayed up really late, write and stare too much at computers, I am enjoying the extended me time when i am not anxious.

I have longed for horizons. All these years, I remembered once when I was really young, seeing a print of a Dutch Landscape painting, I believe, an old man pointed to the horizon to the little boy, longing for that places some where else where dream can be bold and world is new.

I have been searching for that painting when I strolled in the museums in New York, Amsterdam, Paris or DC, so far, I have not found it.

Right now is that time when longing for the new horizons is strong again, and courage and interest to face life is back and courage is needed.

I don’t think I am trying to reinvent myself, but I am happier as a person, as a matter of fact, this year probably marks the time of me being the most happy with myself, free of guilt, total honest with myself and others, and able to laugh and feel again, even with the invisible wound that we all carry.

1. Trip Back Home

The break brings one thing back to me, the senses to life itself. I put down some baggage that I have carried with me for a long time during the trip: a perpetual guilt I felt toward my family, since I was the one who fled from them since I was 18, I was luckier and thus I felt never could be doing enough for them, dreading of making them sad or disappointed.

When I was guilty I was miserable. When I was in fear I was miserable. I did not realize what kind of a miserable person I was until I understand what a non miserable person feels like, like now. How could I make anyone happy when I was with so much internal misery myself, and with that an inability to take actions?

So it takes an extreme measure to fix it, it takes facing up straight in the face of my burden or cripple, it takes loss of love I did not deserve but know to be beautiful, it takes being someone that does not have masks or fancy but meaningless titles to be true and to know truth, in myself and in people around me.

My father went through a major surgery in March. Ever since I remember things, I had the fear of losing him to illness that tortured him from a young age of 38, when I was 8. And that fear has been paralyzing, as if life had no reason of joy but fear of death and poverty. Maybe that is why I was so afraid of losing someone I love, in many ways that can be lost.

And my father recovered well from his surgery. I am so happy that I chose to go back home at this time, as if I am answer some kind of calling, which comes from no other place but from inside of myself.

I pray to talk to him again, to hear his voice, I feel I lost the chance to talk to him as an adult since 2002. Silence is one way of loss, silence from words being lost, when I tried to communicate to my father and when he could no longer talk fluently, but it is exactly the love of life and a funny and pleasing nature, if overshadowed by the fear of loss, that marked the similarity of me and my father, and our love of books and words.

And loss that can come from silence that is from the shut-off of a heart that was once close, that can pains deeper than I know possible. Someday I will talk about it.

So spending 4 solid months with my parents and sisters and being truly part of their life have given me the sense of regaining a love and a connection that is so important to me and also gain back the freedom in being free to live my own life.

It was not alwasy easy to be there in hometown. The whole summer the apartment went through some sort of rennovation. The road outside the building were being widened. The machinery shook the building at night like it was an earth quake. I could not sleep. I was in pain, shaken in the first several weeks, lost and tired. One night I got up at 3 am to walk in the courtyard. The gate keeper walked out and checked on me. Then he realized that I was the one back from the US. He might think I was a little crazy. It was too hot and too noisy, I told him. He nodded.

I felt like a rebirth, like a re-start, like being put back from the starting point. And I need that shake up to face the reality, a reality of being totally alone and independent and whole, and being possile to try new things in life. Like in the film of Revolutionary Road, you can dream of living a different life, but the point is to truly live it.

I am feeling life again from this trip, reconciled with the land where I am from, and having enjoyed the cities I visited, a soul cleansed by the purity of human heart in Cambodia, a shared joke and fun time with my parents, and the chore of daily life in my hometown with my sisters, to be the good sister they never really had for the last 14 years, and in between the nightly swimming and daily personal training, I lost 10 pounds that made the most difference.

2. Trip to Vancouver and Portland

And I went to Portland in early July. It is beautiful, heart-achingly beautiful and green and with roses. I saw the firework there for the July 4th day, on the bridge, over the river. There are many bridges in that city, I forget which one, it is downtown.


3. The dream of the Red Chambers

Now I am back to the city that is my home for the last 10, happy with myself for the first time in my life. I was happy before, very happy, but never with myself. I took that happiness from being with people that can make me happy, like a vampire bat feeding on other’s blood (I am not that evil, just want to make a point, and bat is dear to me), and nobody can takes so much responsibility or should to be the sole source of your happiness, if you are not firstly happy with yourself.
2 days before Election day, when two of my friends picked me up from the airport in their red infinity sedan and dropped me at this 2nd floor Brownstone walk up on a quiet side street of the Upper West Side, I know I am about to do something I have been so dreaded for, facing up to the city I have abandoned in a rush 7 months ago, in an area that is full of loving memories of the past and thus with huge potential to hurt after the fact.

And I came back in time to see Obama win, to see something that matters come into reality as I have wished, as lot of us have wished. That is a good start.




Not going to work means I don't really have to get up early in the morning. My rental walk-up apartment is facing north, dark in the mornings, narrowly escaping to be gloomy with its supper high ceilings, large mirrors on the wall, and red curtains, creating an atmosphere, according to my friend who found the apt for me, sexy and sentimental.

I don’t know about that yet, how sexy and sentimental it can get, I mean, large mirror definitely helps and red curtains, but it is dark in the morning and I can sleep my luxurious undisturbed morning sleeps like a baby.

“You were like in a cave”, my friend yelled at me when we are on G video talk, yes, there is no major upward lighting source in the living room. I tell myself it is like Northern Europe, so I can be sophisticated in my thought, as K was.

What is up with the Walk-Up in New York, it has that sense of intimacy to the city and loneliness to your self. No door man checking the things and people you take home with you or greet you with smiles every day. Your guard your own door behind it after locking it behind you.
As a furnished rental apt, the furniture is bleak and worn out. I managed to cover up whatever I don't like with cheap sheets or table cloth from triple B, so I got myself still a little red place.

The chair I sit to write bloggs hurt my back. All chairs hurt my back, I remember now. I have wi-fi and a little separate sleeping chamber, the latter is kind of naughty. The bed is noisy too even you just move slightly.

It reminded me of the apartment in Paris in movies. Poets or artists with no job and have lot of sex tend to stay in such places. I am yet live up to that second bar, nor have I really created anything meaningful yet.

I have been used to hotels and strange short term places in the past 7 months and I am used to make a home out of something way less permanent. It is in the blood. Maybe I am nomadic, rare for a Chinese. There is a reason I loved my expatriate life here in this land, it is a selection bias, I may love to be an outcast.

When friends come to visit, they say, it is cozy. But I think I heard oppressed coughs of mouse at night, when everything else is quiet.

I lay awake one night listening to the noise that I was sure to be mouse behind the kitchen walls, there is a condo building construction across the street, and animals are on the move, people say. My heart was aching and I did felt lonely at the same time when I felt peaceful. I would have been crying for help if I was the me 10 years ago, 3 years ago, or even 8 months ago, but I dealt with it calmly this time.
I don't see myself live here for much longer, it is pricy and temporary, but it is cosy.

4. The Upper West Side as You Live here
So I am living in the Upper West Side, where new condos is sheltering the sky, in a bad and distasteful way, where lot of people are senior and badly dressed and looked a bit crazy (in a loving way).

I am in a new neighborhood, trying new Deli and its cunning Indian owner, new Starbucks and new routes to the park, being a stranger to a whole new set of passers-by.
I have enjoyed particularly my proximity to the bookstore on 82 and Broadway. I used to buy so many books and they turned out to be problematic when I pack and move. Since I am not yet finalized with my next step in life and since economy is bad, I have decided to not purchase any books since last Friday. Instead, I will go read in the book store. I can't stand public library during the day time.

It has worked very well so far. I force myself to read at lease one business related book before moving on to philosophy and literature and art like comics or photography, every time I am there.

I forgot who said this to me, but I am like him, I am most comfortable in bookstores, it gave me anchor and calm and comfortable company. So my dream job for the longest time when I grew up is to be a Liberian when the archeologist one did not work out with my father, I am thinking I can always open a small book café somewhere in China one day.

I do feel like to meet interesting people out of that not-working-daily-loneliness. Whenever I feel a shadow moving closer and I raised my hopeful eyes to meet the eyes of someone attractive and seems with a good purpose, I was met with only the variation in the shade of the senior and eccentricity. Mothers, the other species that abound in UWS, do not go sit in bookstore cafes. And at day time, mostly senior people, those who look like retired actress or actors, walk around.
You are in the wrong area (Upper West Side), (or maybe the wrong time, during working hours) to hope to meet your own kind, my friends say.

But what is my own kind, maybe they are scarce.

I even began to cook, and pay attention to my diet, not only to save cost but to keep the great shape that is 10 pounds lighter than when I was last in the city. All jeans from 2005 are fitting again. What a triumph and I had no intention to gain them back. All that swimming and personal training or simply sweating trips in tropical areas paid off.

I feel attractive again, for the first time in a long time. And I know I am true, that more than anything else gives real lasting charm to a person besides all other physique feature you bring with you and cultural gadgets you put on over time.

West side market is down the street, I am blending in with the other shoppers as if I have and will live here forever.

Sometime I go run in the park after changing into my sporty outfit and dash across the streets around Natural History Museum toward the park.


When I passed under a big tree the other day when the leaves were still on and shining its yellowish glow, little nuts like distant cousins of that one in Ice Age, fell like stars before I could get a good look at them, as if someone was shaking the branches. I looked up, birds were rushing in and out of the upper branches, fully devoted to whatever they were up to.

Squirrels, at least six of them were busy in the grass with the falling foods from heaven. I picked up one nut that tabbed on my shoulder and then tried to disappear in the grass, and I hold it in my hand and continued to run.

Somehow, I feel clam and tranquil with it and very lucky of enjoying the early afternoon run in a park that is so colorful, quiet and inviting. I remember the best time I had in this park once, after the rain with someone. Like the little nut that fell off the tree while I passed it by, it found me and I found it, so randomly yet with all its certainty.

I am choosing to forget those heart-broken days when I walked toward the Sheep Meadow and felt the pain of loss was cutting me in half or wrapping me up in a bubble through which I could only see but can not hear or touch. The feeling of self-pity and longing that paralyzed me, the justified and unjustified miseries from growing up.

I have signed myself up in the Jewish community center for gym usage, primarily for their pool. But family class in the afternoon discouraged me a bit - children are advised to wear diapers. I have also identified my favorite treadmill, the newest one with built-in TV and touch screen controls, best of all, it is on the corner near the floor to ceiling window, so when I jog, I feel I am on top of Amsterdam Avenue, that is a nice feeling at night, as if I am jogging in the night traffic of the city.

5. Are People Doomed to be Alone

I found amusement in simple things, a good run along the Bridal path (yes, that is the name), in meeting with people from whom I am more careful to draw small tokens of humor and warmth rather than writing off for they are not totally on the same wavelength with my kind, in finding update about life of those I care about deeply, in reading a paragraph by Kierkegaard which I hope I read 10 years ago and firmly believe my life would have been different if I did.

When you travel, there is no chance to feel lonely. Your days are full or intentionally quiet so that you enjoy the beach or mountain or a seat in the afternoon café. When you are back in the city you are suppose to work, things are slightly different.

Not working right now makes me feel a little guilty, but more than anything else, the problem is it is too quiet sometime. I am Ok with it, since I am pretty good to get along with myself, but still, you need to break out the day by going out, by going to the gym, window shopping, meeting friends for lunch, coffee, drinks, or watching a movie, seeing an exhibition.

Maybe we are doomed to be lonely since we are choosy with our company, but in the crowd, it is less obvious.

I did not appreciate enough the part of social benefit that comes with working in groups, in the past, but again, if the work is miserable, then it is not a social benefit but a nuisance.

But overall, this is peaceful and blessed days compared to same time last year, when I worked until 11 pm every night and had to come back from my trip in Europe, with a broken heart still, although I did like some of the people I met working there.

It has also been a time for me to reflect on my relationships with friends or people I know. And one thing I know for sure is that there is no time to be wasted on people who are not interesting or inspiring or true. I know that makes my little world even smaller, but hey, finally, I am very comfortable to make that choice and be picky, because I am holding that standard now to myself, finally.

That being side, I am actually more tolerant as a person since I am not miserable with myself anymore, thus more patient to give people benefit of the doubt, because inspiration comes in many forms as well and sometimes, good things take time to show its quality. And only when you have a firm anchor with yourself that you can be patient and giving.


6. First Art Purchase for Charity

In that spirit and also because I am so touched by this cause, I went to the annual photo Auction Event for Freinds without A border, the charity that supports the Children's hospital in Siem Reap.


I met Mr Kenro himself in person. It is the cause that really touches my heart and I bought my first real art work in my life, while not currently employed, which is a courageous thing or crazy thing to do, but the proceeds goes to the hospital and I feel it is worth it.





I am out bid on this photograph in the silent auction, and then became the single bidder on this one below, one of a series about Taiwan in 1970 to 1980. Culturaly those of us who grew up in the 70s are perpertually indebt in our soul to some of the artists and writers in Taiwan of that time and I feel the subject close to me.

Yes, I am spending a significant percentage of my asset on this, and I do not own a house yet, with or without furnitures, either I am a fool or an idealist. I live with short sights but proud of it.
7. Your Reward
To say I don’t fear anything anymore is an overstatement, I am under pressure to start working again soon, to support myself and to stop letting life pass me by. But that paralyzing misery from subconscious calculation, subsequent worry and guilt is gone. My inner self is peaceful and with clarity, which gives me a happiness and tranquility that I have not known before.

I say I am finally happy with myself, but I never say I am perfectly fine, or perfect. There are things that is dear to your heart that still pains you. But I am a complete me for the first time. And I am truly funny and witty again (to not humbly put it), which is always a good thing.
To end this long and self-absorbed monologue with fun and to reward your reading up to this point, following are two recipes I tried lately, very good and healthy and simple:

Firm tofu, a touch of sea salt, slightly fried in Oliver Oil with Pine Nuts and Fresh Basil. I love and love Fresh basil. It put magic in everything it touches.

Bitter melon with Chinese black bean chilly sauce and mini dried shrimp, it is complex and seductive in taste.

I wrote up this on many snowy and icy winter nights in late 2008. I still love snowing winter night in this city. I still do.

And I will always remember.

5 comments:

Albatross said...

I spent 30+ mins reading this post - believe me, I haven't spent so much time on a single post for a long time - and I don't know what to say -

Viv said...

Thanks for spending so much time on this monolugue. So why you don't know what to say? I hope it did not bore you. ;-)

Baomin said...

Growing up to be oneself often proves to be a long and sometimes painful process. But once you can truly hear, see, feel and think of yourself and by yourself with clarity and calm, often do you deem it a worthy process nevertheless. It is never too early or too late to find the real being inside.

Anonymous said...

V - I believe "the real self" is a collage put together by all previous life experiences, and it changes all the time. That being said, there are some core pieces that don't. I am glad (and slightly jealous) that you have the time to yourself now to ponder on things that most people don't have the time to do. (Or perhaps we do have the time but choose other things such as work or children as higher priority items in life.) Life does not stop for us to have time to ponder or smell the roses. We have to stop ourselves to recalibrate. As time goes by I realize that although everything we choose to do means a trade off from other possibilities, it is really seeing the meaning of the true calling and pursue down the path that makes life meaningful. By the way, I love the picture of the tree... KC

Viv said...

Thank you Baomin and welcome KC for first comment, ;-)

thanks all of you for spending time on reading this long and not well formated post, and thanks for your encouraging words. I do feel lucky and worthwhile and glad to know that i am sharing it with you...VJZ