Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Only Human

This is a long one, so I apologize in advance, but the majority of it is thanks. It's been a long year. I haven't had a single month, or even two-week stretch, this year without finding out that I've lost another family member or friend to illnesses or violence. And, while I've been angrier and more hurt than I've been in years past, I haven't externalized most of these feelings. Instead, I've spent a lot of my time feeling frustrated with all these pent-up thoughts, but as the year progressed, these events served as reminders that at the end of the day, we are only human. We cannot control everything that happens to us, and we have little say over when we go.

While we are often "too busy" to talk, lost in a quagmire of work, or failing to honestly connect because of our phones, we are reticent to express ourselves or disconnect from that which matters little to actually connect with those who matter most. You're never too busy to say thank you, I love you, or I miss you. Work or school will always be there the next day; those things are constants. People who matter won't stay around forever, especially if you neglect to let them know just how much they mean you.

To my brother William, you will always be the first on this list. You are my role model and my inspiration. I am understanding, loving, forever patient, creative, athletic, nerdy, neurotic, over-zealous, etc., etc. because of you. I am my best because I never want to let you down. You have supported me and my dreams my entire life, and this year was no different. Your advice and love mean the world to me. There's no person that I respect more than you. You are my front line and my pillar.

To my other brother, Michael, you come to my side at the drop of a pin, and you ask for nothing in return. I can't thank you enough for picking me up over and over again. You've seen me at my worst, and you've never judged me. I've been a poor friend over and over again, but you have been unwavering. My only wish is for the two of us old Trojans to live to a ripe, old age and share many, many more memories.

To my sister, Emily, I never knew I wanted a sister, but now that I have one, I don't ever want to lose you. We've put up with a lot of heartache and pain these past few years and despite the many, many tears that have fallen between the two of us, we have genuinely stood by one another as siblings should. I can't believe what an amazing young woman you've become, and I can only say thank you for all the times you've listened as I've talked your ear off. I can't thank you enough for the unconditional support you've shown me.

 To my cousin Carly, we grew up as close as two people on opposite sides of the country ever could, and I could not imagine where I would be this year without you. You showed me love when I couldn't love myself, and you held me up when all I wanted to do was give up. You know all my secrets, all my weaknesses, and all of my greatest aspirations. I don't know what I'd do without you.

To Fred, one of my newest, but best friends, you are a genuine human being, and that is very difficult to find today. You play no games, and you are the definition of honesty. Thank you for being such a great support system for me this year, even though we haven't known each other for very long. We are kindred spirits, and I'm glad we found each other.

To my wifey, Laney, I have been incredibly blessed these past few years not just to have been able to work alongside you, but to have had you by my side as a good friend. Your advice has kept me calm, and the example you set reminds me to try to empathize with my students. You are one of the good ones. Don't let bureaucracy or the system pull you down. I will always be here for you like you've done for me for so long.

To my fellow amazing educators, Meredith, Erick, Alex, Alma, and Nichole, your drive to do the best you can for your students gives me faith in humanity, and it reminds me daily to treat my students with respect and compassion. I know our profession is often a thankless one, so here's one from me: you are all wonderful and strong people for choosing and staying in this field. There is no greater calling than dedicating yourself to bettering youth, and you are all doing a phenomenal job, not just for your students, but in setting examples for budding educators.

To David Rink, the best running buddy I've ever had: not only were you an amazing teacher that the students and I looked up to, but the times we shared, runs we conquered, and conversations we had all made me a better person. I'm sorry that we didn't hang out as much after you left Terra Nova, but that last 10-miler we blazed through this summer reminded me of all the great times we had together. When I run now, I constantly think about how great it would be to find another you, but I know that there is only one Senor Rink, only one teacher friend that I connected with so heavily because of our life goals, mutual interests, and running passions. Thank you for being such a great friend all these many years.

And, finally, to my baby, you are more than I could ever ask for. You make me a better man every day. I'm constantly reminding myself to be patient, loving, and caring towards everyone that comes into my life, and while I may go home exhausted every night, I hope you know that you're always my priority, that I'll do whatever I can to make sure you're happy. You're always the first and last person I want to talk to, and you're first thing on my mind every morning. When I wake up, I think about how I can be a better boyfriend than yesterday, what will come up at work, and how I can deal with all of the madness of the day, but it's always you first. <3

Friday, October 16, 2015

Break in Case of Emergency

I haven't been able to sleep this week. It's been a continuing episode of tossing and turning with no relief. My mind keeps coming back to one thought - life is fragile. I've lost count of how many friends and acquaintances have passed since this school year began, some to violence, some to natural causes, but it disheartens me when I think about how diminished the value of life has become. We're quick to open our mouths or leave an abusive comment online when it comes to gossiping or putting down others, but when it comes to spreading love and positivity, we keep a vice grip on our hearts and our mouths until it's too late or there's been some sort of calamity. It's as if our feelings are locked inside of an impenetrable case labeled, "Break in Case of Emergency".

Last week, I put myself in harm's way to protect someone whom I care about. After the incident, he said to me, "I want to say thank you for doing that, but you're just a kid. I'm almost twice as old as you are. You shouldn't have had to do that. You don't know what could have happened." He was right. At some point, I figure I'll make an error in judgement, hopefully while trying to do the right thing. It might be a small injury, but it also might be a large one, so I'm going to take the time right now to write my future self (and everyone reading) a letter. It will be both a prescription for life and a reminder to live it:

Dear Future Me,

Between October 7 and October 15, 2015, you faced the fragility of humanity in a way that you never have. In this span of a week, you lost two friends to gun violence and an incredible mentor teacher to a broken heart. You also put your life in danger without thinking about the consequences. I hope you haven't had to do it since, but considering the line of work you've chosen, I can only assume that you've done it many more times now. Also, owing to the fact that you're re-reading this a long way off in the future, I'm going to assume that you've faced more difficult hardships than the ones you encountered this week, and I'm also going to assume that you've slightly (but hopefully not immensely) lost your way and need to find a road map that will take you back to here, to October 2015, when you were pushing yourself to be a stronger educator, top-notch student, and semi-decent boyfriend.

If you have indeed lost your way, here's what I want you to remember: First, you're damn fortunate in that there's no dearth of "I love you" or "I miss you" between you and your girlfriend. Don't lose that; not everyone will be so fortunate as to even hear that once a week. Some call you two gross and cheesy, but you just call yourself lucky. You're also fortunate that she would ever fall for a workaholic, reckless git like yourself, so I hope you've kept your heart open and continued to do spontaneous things, like telling her to pack her things because you're going to Disneyland or driving thousands of miles to see her. I hope you've continued to listen to her and write things down and show how much you appreciate her because feelings are not meant to be tucked away, even if you get "too busy".

Second, there is nothing deeper than the bond between siblings. I hope you're still as close to yours now as you were in 2015. If you aren't, try to remember how they stood by you and made sure you were okay, even when you couldn't look after yourself. Remember how they picked you up again and again without ever judging you. And, above all else, remember how they made you a better man, one who loved deeply, laughed freely, and gave openly. You owe them quite a bit.

Above all else, I hope you remember that you once believed in making a difference. You went into work every day, believing that you could help the students in your hallways. Some days (most days), they gave you headaches and kept you up at night, but you never gave up on them, and you loved them and your staff fiercely. I hope you at least kept this part of yourself intact, but if you haven't, and you're no longer in education, I'll tell you right now that you need to find your way back to helping people. It made the long nights and early mornings worth it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Part 3 - Knowing (To Be Continued)

"How do you know?"

I'm not sure how many times I've been asked this question in the past month, whether it's been by people who are unsure of their partners, people thinking about breaking up with their significant others, people thinking of proposing (or thinking their significant other is going to propose and how they should answer), or people just looking for dating advice in general, but here's my answer: I have no answer for you. Let's be honest. I'm a fairly booksmart person, and I'm sort of creative when it comes to dating, but you're asking a guy who has a blog series about how much he sucks at dating. You might be going to the wrong person for advice.

When it comes to dating, I don't pretend to know much, or anything at all really, but here's what I do know: when simple things like spotting a gingko tree, eating an oatmeal raisin cookie, drinking boba, hearing the "bom bom bom" part of Shake It Off, cutting raw vegetables, or seeing a Chinese drama play in the background of a cafe (anything that could carry even the tiniest association to you and your significant other), when everyday things like that remind you of that person you're wondering about, you probably already know the answer to the question. I don't know a lot, but I do know that.

Here's the thing. You're going to wake up tomorrow morning, and you're going to be 60, and you're going to come to one conclusion: "I wish I had spent less of my life worrying." You're not going to know everything. You're sure as hell not going to be 100% positive about all of your decisions, especially when it concerns matters of the heart, but as far as those questions go, your heart knows what it wants. I've been saying that for years, and I'll continue to stick by it. There's only so much you can do and know, but when you know, you just do. Sure, you'll make mistakes, probably plenty of them. And, maybe what you want might change a year or five down the road. Maybe it changes a week later, but you can't anticipate that. I certainly couldn't anticipate that the time and distance I spent apart from my girlfriend made me a better and more appreciative man. All I know is that I'm happy now. That's as best as I can articulate it.

So, what ever happened to that dense boy and the split with his crush? That's a story still in progress. But, I'll say this - they've had several more adventures since then, and there are several more lined up. Some of them will involve more nerdy things like building Gundam models, but the fair majority of them will be accompanied by plenty of ice cream because what's life without dessert?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Part 2: Pieces

This story has several parts. This part is about how the dense boy finally found the courage to tell this girl how he felt. Unfortunately, he did so when they had less than a week left on the same continent. You can see how dense he is. Initially, he was planning to do it the night of the big concert. He made her dinner and surprised her with tickets to see one of their favorite artists, but as he drove her home, the words stuck in his throat. And, as he pulled up to her driveway, he lost his resolve and shied away from saying anything at all. Instead, he just smiled and said goodnight. He kicked himself all the way home that night. If you're yelling at him from your seat, don't worry, he did a lot of that too on the way home.

After berating himself all day, they went to a ballgame together the next night, where he stuttered and mumbled through nothing of importance again. After driving her home again, she left his car and walked up her stairs as she usually did, but this time, he decided that enough was enough and ran out of his car after her. You know that scene in the movies where the really attractive guy runs up the his crush's steps to proclaim how he feels, and he's either holding a boombox in the air or about to say something incredibly endearing and charming? It was kind of like that, except imagine it happening with an awkward Chinese boy wearing Giants gear on a foggy San Francisco night instead of a chiseled white male wearing a pea coat in the middle of a light winter snowfall. Also imagine that he has no clue what he's going to say, even though he's practiced it over and over again in his head, so it just comes out as halting, fragmented thoughts. Perfectly well executed stuff, people.

As always, his timing was impeccable as well, because after waiting the entire summer to tell her how he felt, he left for a race in Tahoe, and she flew halfway across the world for a three-and-a-half week vacation. Again, dense. So, he gave her pieces of him, like his college t shirt, to remember him by , and, she made time to talk to him every day, even if it was just for five minutes on a bus with wi-fi. For the next 3.5 weeks, they shared with each other as many pieces of their lives as they could while they were separated by an ocean and 7,000 miles of distance. Time flew by through 3am Skype calls and voice messages to wake up to, and when they reunited, she had brought back socks and puzzles and coins and bits and pieces from her time away. But, as summer faded and he returned to work and she to school, they separated. They didn't talk, they didn't text, and they didn't call. It felt like they had their moment, and the moment was gone.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Story: Part 1

This is a story. Actually, it's more like the story, and it's being written by a workaholic boy who had the absolutely unexpected fortune of meeting a wonderfully amazing girl. As usual, this boy was a bit dense, and he didn't know how to tell this girl how he felt. So, instead, he made her waffles, because she preferred those over pancakes. And, he sent her sand dollars while she was away at school, because she couldn't find any whole ones the last time they were together at the beach. And when she came home, she made him green onion pancakes and kale chips because they shared the same love for all things green. And, she held her hands out of his car window to use as cooling mitts for when his ears got too warm. (She didn't know that his ears only warmed up around her.) And, these things filled his heart, and he felt lucky just to have her in his life. He never expected that she would ever like him back.

Together, they spent a summer searching for ghosts in the park after dusk, driving through fog walls above the city lights, and passing post-it notes to each other at work. Still, after the many errand runs at Target (really just excuses to spend time together), the nights spent sneaking glances at her during Giants games at AT&T Park, and even after watching Justin Timberlake perform in concert, he still failed to find the words to fully articulate to her how he felt. It was a long summer of waiting and hoping and wishing. Before it had even begun, though, the summer ended, and those unexpressed words hung heavy in his heart.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Most Important Things

"Listening is loving." - It's one of the simplest, yet most elegant things anyone has ever taught me. No matter how wealthy you become, the greatest thing you could ever offer someone is your time.  I spent the past five days with some of the best people I know, carousing, exploring, and running through Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I have exactly two pictures from those days. Don't get me wrong. I wish I had documented more of these adventures with my closest friends, and I did take a bunch of temporary shots, but when I was 19 years-old, I learned some important lessons from two of the best mentors I could ever have had the fortune to meet and learn from as a petulant and immature young man. They taught me that there are a few choice words and displays of affection that cannot be replaced. Those words/acts include: thank you, I'm here for you, I love you, and I'm listening. They taught me to be present and give my time and attention to the people around me. So, I snapped a few images to at least share a couple of my feelings and escapades, and then I returned my phone to my pocket, not face-down on a table.

On the way back from Vegas, there came was a moment when I had a choice. I could have reclined my seat and taken a nap as one of my closest friends of 14 years drove, or I could have kept him company. I thought, "I haven't slept in days, but how often am I going to get to shoot the shit with this guy?" And, it was then that I realized we had already been talking for two hours, and we still had so much more to say. It might have been the highlight of that trip for me, just learning more about a guy I have now known for over half my life. Today was much of the same. After talking to one of my best friends for two hours straight on a last running adventure for us, we talked for another two hours over a couple good beers and plates of food. We could have both been antisocial and buried ourselves in our phones after talking for so long, but what would have been the point of hanging out if that were the case?

There will rarely be anything on your phone that could be as important as that friend or significant other in front of you. You can give that person the greatest compliment with your undivided attention, or you can stay mired in your phone. And, this is coming from one of the worst workaholics you will ever meet.

Friday, March 13, 2015

On Finding Happiness

If you asked ten different people from ten different cultures and backgrounds on how to find happiness, you would probably get ten different answers.The clich├ęs of living in the present, not coveting others' lifestyles, and/or enjoying life to the fullest would probably come up, but you've heard all that a thousand times before. You don't need any more of it.

In the Vietnamese language, the subjunctive tense does not exist. There is no way to say could have, would have, or should have. If you wanted to refer to hypotheticals in the past or future, you would find it impossible. In their language, there is no mulling over regret from non-existent events that didn't happen. There exists only the indicative tense, the present and what actually happened.

I don't pretend to know a lot. I'm 27, and I don't have much to my name. I am fairly booksmart, but I'm not well-traveled or well-versed in the ways of the world and the wealthy. I was raised poor, and I still have much of the same mindset I did when growing up, but here's what I do know: the best things in life are the simplest and they are free. But, you will have to earn them. Money won't help you here. Nor will any sort of drug or escape.

The past may be the past, but living a world where you cannot imagine the beauty of tomorrow also doesn't appeal to me as a very good way to live, and that's really the beauty of the subjunctive. The Vietnamese are right in that you cannot allow what didn't happen to hold you back, but I refuse to live in a world where I don't forward to tomorrow, where I don't cherish what I have today. In that world, I could still enjoy what I have, but I would not know that I can take it for granted because there are no hypotheticals. I cannot regret things I didn't do, such as never telling someone that I appreciate him/her.

I want to live in a world where I appreciate everything that I have on a daily basis. In this world, I also want to look forward to beauty of tomorrow. In this world, there is nothing better than thinking...and hoping that I will come home to a handwritten letter from a very special person...and then walk up to my room, only to find that there is in fact a handwritten letter from this person, and it's waiting for me on my valet. That's happiness. I have a lot of friends who believe that bigger is always better, and they continually escalate in order to feel like they're happier, but for me, it doesn't get any simpler than this: