Farewell, 2020

I want to say I want to forget 2020, but I realize that would actually be a lie. I don’t want to forget any part of my experience of this worldwide pandemic. I don’t want to pretend it never happened. I don’t want to deny reality or facts or data. What I do want to say is that I learned a lot this year… about the American electorate. About how terrible it can be to be employed by an employer that is not yourself. About exactly how ruthless and cold the American healthcare system is. About how people still refuse to accept reality and truth and data. About how selfish people really can be (how hard is it to just wear a fucking mask?!). About how selfless people can also be (healthcare workers and essential workers). The world is not as terrible as I sometimes say it is, but it’s also not as great as I want it to be, as we deserve it to be.

Relative to myself, my social media following has grown quite a bit for YmF. I barely had 70 followers as of the end of 2019, and at the end of 2020, I have over 815 Instagram followers. No, I’m not breaking any records or bragging at all about this because in the grand scheme of things, 815 isn’t a lot, but again, it’s all relative to myself. I had about 98 subscribers on my YouTube channel at the end of 2019. At the end of this year, I have 416 subscribers. That’s pretty decent growth if I’m increasing by over 4x, right? I think I deserve a little bit of credit here… And Chris, well, he thinks he deserves a lot of credit as the self-proclaimed “CE fucking O.”

I’m still trying to learn to balance, to stop negative thoughts, to be more positive. I’ve started meditation and am trying to devote at least 10-15 minutes every day to this practice in an effort to bring more calm to my life. I’m trying to be less obsessive over productivity and efficiency and trying to live more in the moment. I still have a lot to learn and lot of areas where I need to grow. Hopefully, that will be happening more in 2021 as the world, fingers crossed, begins opening up again.

High end cuisine at home

A friend of mine had recently posted on Instagram about a fancy Japanese meal she had enjoyed while at home. A famous Japanese chef who normally works at the super famous (and extremely $$$$) Japanese and Michelin-star rated restaurant Ushiwakamaru is offering both catered Japanese meals for small parties as well as individual a la carte dishes for pickup downtown on 23rd Street. I stared at her fancy bowls of ikura don, or salmon roe over rice with salmon, and anago don, or sea eel with Sancho pepper and Japanese yam over rice and actually salivated. I can barely remember the last time I had a high-end meal out… Was it for my birthday in January this year? I really do not know. The fact that I cannot even remember this made me feel even more down.

Just the thought of having something so delicate and decadent like salmon roe or snow crab made me feel both excited and miserable at the same time. All these experiences that we were once able to enjoy in restaurants… is no longer happening. I looked at Chef Abe’s website, outlining amazing photos and his weekly updated menu, and thought about when I could order this. Maybe I will do it for my birthday weekend coming up. I deserve this treat, right? I deserve to have a fancy meal regardless of whether COVID is happening. Indoor dining is no longer allowed here. A restaurant like this would not want its patrons freezing their asses off in “outdoor dining” setups in this cold winter. Plus, this helps struggling restaurants and restaurant workers!

Chris was not a fan of this idea. “No, we can go out for that after the pandemic has ended. I’m not going to enjoy eating something like that at home.”

I rolled my eyes. Really? AFTER the pandemic has ended? You mean, like in 2030? It has nearly been a YEAR of working from home and not being able to live life the way we normally would want to. I do not think I can wait until the country gets its shit together before I can finally have a splurge meal. Life goes on. The world goes on. I WILL STILL GET OLDER. I am going to have my ikura don.

Exploring culture, language, family, and place

In the last few days, I’ve been spending some time reading This Is One Way to Dance: Essays by the writer Sejal Shah. I actually found out about the book reading my quarterly Wellesley alumnae magazine because Sejal is a fellow alum. While many people wax nostalgic about their high school and college days, I look back on those times with a lot of stress and anxiety, mostly because of how mediocre I always felt next to my high-achieving, insanely smart classmates, as well as how grueling and challenging my classes were. My “heyday” that I tend to look back on with fondness and fun was middle school, but even then, I felt like I had outgrown middle school before it had even ended.

Oddly enough, I have more fondness for identifying as part of the Wellesley community and alumnae network now than I did as a student then. This collection of essays immediately intrigued me, as it explores culture, language, family, and place and how all these intersect with each other when you are an individual living in a country that does not really accept you as “one of them.” She touches upon a lot of the topics I’ve been reading a lot about this year in light of a racial reawakening given George Floyd’s murder: white centering with all non-white views and perspectives being considered “other,” racial and gender tokenizing, and how personal and colonial history are intertwined. We live in a world that wants to give one, single, one dimensional voice to all Indians, all Chinese, all Black, all X, all people from different countries. It’s apparently too complicated for White people to understand that one Indian American experience could be vastly different than another Indian American’s. And unfortunately, that’s what is forced upon you when you decide to pursue a BA or MFA in writing…. you have White professors, White instructors, 99% White classmates who are all drilling you about who your audience actually is and what voice you are actually trying to showcase. The irony: when White writers want to write in a voice of a person from another race, no one seems to question the “authenticity” of this portrayal… yet when an Indian American woman is trying to portray a child of Gujarati/Kenyan immigrants to the U.S., she gets questioned endlessly about how “representative” this experience is and whether it will actually resonate… with ANYONE.

I never thought about this when I was considering majoring in English literature at the end of high school, not even for a second, and what it would mean to be an Asian American writer in White America. But I have a feeling I would have been destroyed under all this pressure and never been able to survive this kind of scrutiny, racism, and White centering. It takes some serious grit to pull through this and use your voice the way you want to use it.

Other highlights:

*Her name is Sejal Shah. In Indian culture, particularly of Gujarati descent, her name is just as common as Sarah Smith would be in a White town in the U.S., yet throughout her entire life, she’s been told by White people, “Wow, your name is so strange/unusual/interesting/bizarre.” Are they even remotely aware how common her name is in her own community?

*Why do White people always come to her, asking for Indian restaurant recommendations in the area? She’s not a chef and at that time, she barely knew how to cook. She ate Indian food, which she called “food,” only at home with her parents or relatives, who would cook it. Do they think the food will be “authentic” just because the recommendation came from a brown person…?

*Her brother got so sick of people mispronouncing his Indian first name that he renamed himself to “Mike” as an elementary school child. One day, another boy knocked on their front door, asking if Mike could come out to play. Their mom, who answered the door, said no one named Mike lived there. Her brother ran down the stairs and underneath her through the front door and yelled, “I AM MIKE!” and ran out.

I did not grow up in a suburban White neighborhood with no one who looked like me outside of my family. I also am not South Asian. But I identify with a lot of the experiences and thoughts that Sejal has had. It was almost like I developed a kinship just reading her essays that she’d wrote over the course of the last 20 years. This is why writing in the moment is so important — to capture that moment and those feelings in that moment.

Discovering new music via TikTok

Around the time of my college years, I stopped following music or specific singers and groups because it just no longer interested me. I stopped reading tabloids and celebrity magazines, even though my friends continued to discuss and read stuff like that. All that stuff bored me to tears. Why do I care about what a bunch of strangers are doing with their lives when I should be focused on my own life and where it’s going?

But given I don’t really listen to the radio unless I’m in a store, the rare time I’m in a car, or at another person’s home, this makes it hard to discover new music. Welp, in a day and age of TikTok, now I seem to be finding new songs I like through TikTok. And I’m apparently not the only person. The other day, I was briefly scrolling through my TikTok feed at different Christmas videos, and someone posted a video that had a Sia song called “Snowman” playing, and in just 15 seconds, I was hooked. Something about the tune and the raw sound of her voice just caught my attention, so I went to add it to my YouTube and Spotify lists, and also went on YouTube to see the lyrics. I scrolled through a few of the comments, and someone wrote, “Who else found this song on TikTok and came here to listen to the whole song?” And at least 90 people gave this comment a thumb’s up.

All of our habits are becoming the same thanks to social media.

While listening to “Snowman” over and over in a very Ed-esque style of listening to music, I realized that unlike other artists, I actually had no idea what Sia looked like. So I quickly looked her up and found that she purposely hides her face with big wigs. She apparently was very overwhelmed with her rise to fame and spiraled into drugs, alcohol, and depression. While out for coffee with a friend one day, a fan interrupted their conversation to ask for a photograph with her… all while her friend was trying to reveal to her that she had cancer. She was left traumatized by this experience.

I think that if Ed were alive today, he’d like Sia’s sound and music a lot. He would likely be hooked on “Snowman,” too. He probably wouldn’t like her wigs very much, though.

Freezing NYC

It’s been quite cold in New York, so cold yesterday that it was under 32 F, or freezing. That didn’t keep us inside yesterday, though, as we spent about 3.5 hours walking all the way down near Lower East Side and taking the train back up… all for three pounds of kimchi, some tofu, and other random little things at HMart in East Village. Yep. This is what our life looks like during freezing days in COVID-ridden New York City — long walks to get kimchi while bundled up.

Inconsequential dreams

In the last few days, I’ve had all kinds of strange, inconsequential dreams. Chris says that I tend to have negative, menacing dreams because my subconscious is disturbed, and I apparently “choose” to think about annoying, frustrating things. In recent dreams, I have been getting hit on by random friends and acquaintances, looking for lost items in the closet, or preparing food for events. They are all pretty boring things to remember I dreamt about, but, well, they are all inconsequential and did not leave me puzzled as per usual.

But maybe that’s what I need more of. Maybe I need more “boring” in the same way that the U.S. needs more “boring” from its president. The more soap opera/theatrical crap we have to deal with, the more we realize our government is a total sham. The more “boring” I have in my dreams could be a sign of how stable my life is. Sort of.

Christmas 2020 reflections

Well, Christmas and Chris’s birthday have officially arrived this year, and somehow, this whole year seems to be awash. In many ways, it’s felt as though life has been on hold this entire year, waiting for 2020 to end and 2021 to begin. It doesn’t seem to matter how many new recipes I try out, how many videos I shoot and edit, how many books I finish reading (I’m already at 31 with a 32nd coming along), how many podcasts I finish listening to…. this year just feels so bleh. I have no other words for this year other than bleh. Go away. Good riddance. Just end, damnit.

I’ve come to realize a number of things this year, for better or worse. I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter how much I’ve accomplished on my check list or how efficient I have been, but I will never really feel “satisfied” with what I have done. Part of that is because I am anal retentive, and the other part is that my over-achiever side may just be coming out of hiding. I’ve also realized, thanks to a new food friend I made over Instagram, that oftentimes, your closest friends will not be your biggest supporters, that actually, acquaintances and new people you meet will end up being the biggest supporters of side hustles and businesses you try to run. Part of that is due to skepticism and cynicism that you won’t succeed (“haters gonna hate…”). The other part of it likely due to jealousy, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. It’s like this street art I took a picture of while in Brooklyn a few months ago: “If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.” Not everyone can make money and create a livelihood following their passion. And the people who do… well, they will have haters simply because others wish they could have done the same thing, but frankly lacked the grit and willpower to get there.

I’ve also more starkly realized that I am just getting more and more impatient with seemingly superficial things. I don’t want to have conversations about stupid cat clocks or drives to get boba when there are bigger things to discuss, like a pending Senate race or a COVID vaccine or even my own shitty health condition with my elbows. Why do people choose to have conversations about totally inconsequential things that we’ll forget about in five minutes rather than issues that are actually persistent and lasting? Is this what people do to “escape” now — lead superficial lives and fill their closets and apartments with a bunch of junk they will never use? The friends I’ve made as a child really are not sticking as well to me as the ones I’ve made in recent years. And the more Zoom conversations I have, the more painfully obvious this seems to ring true.

Or, hey, maybe I’m the one getting senile. That may be true since I am turning 35 in a few weeks. I even found another white hair on my head a few days ago.

Christmas Eve stroll down Fifth Avenue

One of the traditions Chris and I have every year during the holiday season is we see the Christmas decorations and lights in Midtown, and we also visit the Rockefeller Christmas tree. This year is obviously a very different year for us all, and we’re actually here in New York to do this on Christmas Eve. There was actually a queue of people to safely at a distance view the Rockefeller tree and get a photo op. And to my pleasant surprise, there were a lot more Christmas lights than there normally are. Fifth Avenue NYC put together a number of Christmas light installations along Fifth Avenue, ranging from a dreidel, a teddy bear, a hot air ballon you can actually go into (kind of), a truck full of toys, to a NYC taxi (of course). And at the plaza right across from the Plaza Hotel, they had a number of larger than life Christmas ornaments and decorations bedazzling the entire area. It was a really beautiful early evening stroll and so fun to see, especially knowing that we are stranded here this Christmas.

It’s sad that we haven’t been able to do what we originally wanted for Christmas this year, but after experiencing how beautiful this all was, it made me realize that New York City really is quite far from the worst place to be during Christmas. This city really does do a spectacular job getting decked out in Christmas decorations… even during a global pandemic.

Treats galore

In a holiday season when a pandemic continues to loom over us and we cannot travel while still being socially responsible, we are unfortunately home bound… with no line of sight into when we will be able to safely get on a plane. Being unable to see family and friends, not to mention travel, has been pretty awful. Yet somehow, they’ve still thought about us and have sent us delicious gifts. Yesterday, Chris’s cousins sent a cheese and cracker gift basket. Today, we received Magnolia Bakery cupcakes and banana pudding from Chris’s parents. I still have Levain cookies and brioche I got with my team bonding credit from yesterday, plus our leftover baked goods that I made for our building staff. We have endless treats in our apartment, but with just the two of us to eat them…. who know when we will ever get through all of this?!

Virtual escape room

For our end of year team event this year, my team and I broke into two groups and did a “prison break” virtual escape room. As someone who has done a real-life escape room four years in Little Rock, I really had no idea what this experience would be like, but our host and informant from the company we worked with did a really great job in facilitating, planting clues, and making this a fun and enjoyable event for all of us. And, I’ll definitely say this escape room experience was NOT easy at all. My group was able to escape with about six minutes to spare (you get 60 minutes).

It’s amazing how nimble companies like escape rooms have been in evolving with changing times and the pandemic. I’d definitely recommend this experience for a team building event. I feel like our team was extremely open and communicative. It was definitely a good way to “build the team.”