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:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Danny Sucks at Dating - How to Avoid a Broken Heart

"...that just leads to false hope and expectations and I won't put myself in those positions again. Just, why put yourself in that position of being let down again after having been let down many times? Close that door and he [or she] can't hurt you anymore..."

A conversation with a very important person to me helped me write this one (her quote above). Consider this a primer (which you do not need to follow in any particular order) on how to avoid sitting around with your best friends, nursing an aching, broken heart, which lies deliciously at the bottom of an ice cream carton most times. So, put up your walls, and avoid the following:

Step 1: Begin your dating life by growing up next to your childhood sweetheart. Make sure you carry her books as you walk together to and from school every day. Then, as quickly as it all began, part ways at your 8th-grade commencement, never to see each other again. Trust me, this one works every time.

Step 2: Start dating someone you really like, only to find out a couple of weeks later that she also started dating your best friend. At the same time she was dating you. Eat brownies and ice cream at will. You deserve it.

Step 3: In an attempt to salvage all of your previous failed relationships, fall for a girl who lives hundreds of miles away. Spend the next few years getting to know her, but dating other girls, only to go back to her every time your relationships fall apart. Definitely drive hundreds of miles to ask her out after you realize that you really like this girl, thinking a grand romantic gesture will change her mind after she tells you that she has a crush on a co-worker. Drive home in solace. Cry a little. You deserve that too.

Step 4: In another attempt to salvage your failing dating life, fall for another girl and start dating her. We'll call her Girl 1. Then, because your parents think your heart is still broken, have them set you up with a ridiculously good-looking and wealthy girl from Shanghai. We'll call her Girl 2. Tell Girl 2's family that your parents made a mistake because you're spoken for, but you appreciate how they can actually put up with you. Have Girl 2's family counter that rejection with an offer of a new house, a couple of Rolls Royce's, and a Rolex (or two). Reject counter offer in hopes that you found the one in Girl 1. Realize very soon afterwards that you're tired of competing with Girl 1's other boyfriend, and break up with her as well. Stand out in the rain with absolutely no girlfriend, no house, no car, and no fancy watch. I believe more ice cream is in order.

(It was at step 4 that I realized I may have a slight case of poor judgment, or just really, really strong optimism about life. You choose.)

Step 5: Really fall in love with a girl for the first time. Spend your free time with her sleeping in at bed and breakfasts, cooking for her, taking her to watch her favorite sports team, watching sunrises and sunsets, and just lying around eating pizza and watching tv. Tell each other you love each other, and carry her up her stairs as often as you can. It's a charmed life. Hang up your running shoes to spend as much time with her as possible. Then, turn into a jealous fool, and throw it all away. Be broken up with through email. This one deserves a beer, or five.

Step 6: Decide you're going to put up a wall and not tell another girl you love her again. Vulnerability is for the weak, and you are not weak. Fall for another girl, and tell her you love her all the same because she's worth it.

As much as I love the person who said the quote above, as you can tell, I really don't believe in any of that. Sure, I'm slightly reckless, and I don't try to hide my feelings. However, it's entirely easy to put up walls and live your life without getting hurt, but we should not aim for easy. We should applaud the ones who constantly go out there and get their hearts trampled on, grinding through heartaches and break-ups, undeterred and forever brave. Making yourself vulnerable, not knowing what might happen, but trying anyway, that takes real courage, especially in light of all the scars you carry. Remember this: as much as all this might hurt in the short term, you only have to get it right once. That's it. Just the once.

Monday, December 8, 2014


This one's short. I don't have much to say. I just feel it needs to be said because of how many people I've watched quit recently, whether it be on relationships, now-lost-passions, or school. None of these things should come easily. They wouldn't be significant if they did.

That being said, it is entirely easy to love someone/something because of x, y, and z. Wise does not mean real when it comes down to it. Love in its purest form comes when you love someone/something despite x, y, and z. There is no reason, there is no logic, there is no pros and cons list; when it comes to love, there is only your heart. To know and accept the flaws, potential pitfalls, and problems that could arise ten miles down the road and want to at least try, that's brave. That's a matter of the heart, and when it comes to matters of the heart, you will not find an answer at the bottom of a list of positives and negatives.

Anyone can love someone/something after deciding that it's the wisest course of action, but that's not love. That's a premeditated decision that comes from your brain. Maybe that career choice doesn't work out, maybe you get incredibly sick from running through torrential downpour, maybe you find yourself nursing a broken heart with your closest friends at your favorite bar. Or, maybe you find that what you have doesn't make any sense at all, but it was the best decision you could have made because you tried to make it work despite x, y, and z, just like you do with your family. They come with their flaws and shortcomings, but you love them despite all that. There will be many important life decisions that you will have to make with clarity of mind, but sometimes, you just need to trust yourself.

(Photo creds to my wonderful friend, Celeste Noche)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Making a Life, Not a Living

Growing up, my mom told me over and over again, "Make sure you save your money. Don't spend it frivolously." Ten year-old me didn't know what frivolous meant (in Chinese or English), but I did as she told me for many, many years. I kept piggy banks, clipped coupons, and didn't spend a dime on myself. I saved and saved, and I didn't know what I was saving for, but I knew that my mom told me to do it, so I did it. Again, this is the part of the story where my brother jumped in and played a crucial part in my development. My mom chided him (and still does) frequently about how he never tried to save money, how he spent so much of it on his girlfriend or me, and how he wasn't trying to be fiscally responsible. How is a good, traditional Chinese boy supposed to get married, buy a house, and have kids while living in such a reckless manner? So, I became the good boy who listened to his mom, and Will turned into the bad one who couldn't stop procrastinating or squandering his cash.

However, as I ran this morning through the biting, cold rain which ended up cutting my face, I stumbled upon another one of my brother's well-kept life secrets. By now, I should just come to accept that he's full of them. All these years, he's been trying to teach me to make a life, not a living. Every time he pulled me out of bed and paid for a night of drinks (especially after break-ups, because I tend to have a lot of heartaches), or bought me a random, expensive present, or forced me to walk up to a girl at a bar to buy her drink, he was trying to get me to understand another simple life lesson. It wasn't about being frivolous, squandering money, or living life in an expensive fashion. He wasn't reminding me about carpe diem. Even when he bought me a plane ticket and rented a car for me so I could see about a girl, he was trying to reiterate one important point - in the end, the only things that will matter will be the relationships you nurtured and the people you kept close by treating well. Sometimes, that involves buying them a round of drinks, snagging the first plane or train ticket you can to see her/him, or just checking in with a phone call. You take care of the ones you love, and you make an effort for them.

In the past month, I packed up exactly one backpack to fly out to New York for a long weekend to see my cousin because I love her, I rented a car to drive down to LA to see one of my best friends, and I purchased the most expensive round of Christmas gifts I've ever purchased. I regret none of it. You can put away money for a mortgage or a retirement account for as long as you live, but none of it will mean anything if you aren't actually living. You can save up for fifty years, fearful for that rainy day which might never come, and even if it does, it will all amount to nothing if you forgot to focus on people and relationships. This doesn't mean you just throw away your earnings, but money comes and goes. The people you love will not be around forever, and neither will you. So, if I've ever bought you a round (or five) of drinks/meals, given you random, expensive presents, or snuck away to see you, you should know that I love you, quite a bit. My brother taught me that one.

The three most important people in my life. The relationships that I'll nurture for the rest of my life without reservation or hesitation.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Danny Sucks at Dating - The One who Started It All

If you're looking for the story about the one who broke my heart and got away, that is not this story. I keep that one close to my heart. This story is about how I have no ability to understand or pick signs from the opposite sex, and even though this story takes place over nine years ago, nothing has changed. It's probably why this blog series exists. Also, I kind of lost the other posts in this series when I transitioned over to this new layout, but hopefully, I can still keep you entertained with my blunders.

When I was in high school, my parents didn't let me date, so naturally, I professed my feelings for every girl I had a crush on, even while knowing that I stood no chance with any of them. Super confident? Sure...Let's just say that my failure rate was a smooth 100%, except that one time when best friend decided to date the one girl who actually had feelings for me too. Classic. I probably should have quit right there and then. Signs from the universe, that sort of thing, but what can I say? I like to challenge myself/be stupid.

In any case, this meant that I had zero experience going into college, unless you count the endless hours I spent watching super realistic romantic comedies and Asian dramas. Clearly, I was ready. So, when a girl took interest in me (we'll call her Elle) and started hanging out with me, doing laundry and homework with me, and walking with me to class without me initiating a thing or saying a word, my natural response was, "Uh, hey guys, what's Elle's deal? Why does she keep following me around?" I mean, I don't like to brag about how well I read people, but let's just say that I'm a bit of an expert.

This lasted for several weeks (over a month) before I finally asked her, "Hey, uhm, do you want to go do something sometime? You know, other than study?" People, give me a break. I was a first-year college student. I could not have properly asked a girl out on a date if my life depended on it. I probably still can't now. We ended up dating for a shorter period of time than it took me to realize that Elle had feelings for me. But! To be fair, the latter period of time was quite protracted...mainly due to my own stupidity. I don't think it helped that I had no idea (probably still don't) how to date someone, which meant that I spent the majority of my time with her studying for history exams and doing calculus homework. I know, I'm such a romantic. It was definitely one of those storybook relationships.
(That face is the same one I had through all of this)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Present is Your Present

When I was in middle school, my brother nicknamed me "play it safe" and for good reason too. If you've known me and my brother for a while, you know that we're polar opposites. I was the kid that brought a jacket with me in case the weather changed, and I did it without my parents having to tell me do it. My mom actually still praises me for that. It's kind of embarrassing. In college, I made (and I still do with my grad school assignments) tables with all of my due dates for papers and exams. My brother was (and still is) the kid who wore a t-shirt everywhere, even if it were a snowy New York day. He'll also randomly shove himself and you into foreign situations without warning. When he left to go back to New York in the summers and winters, he would pack a couple of hours before his flight. As he's moving into his new apartment now, we'll figure out how to load our cars with items packed the day that we're moving them.

Here's what he's taught me so well these past few years, though: the present is your present. It is a gift, not something to be feared, and it is yours to do what you want with it. No matter how hard you try, you cannot calculate what will happen five years, five weeks, five days from now. Doing that will only stop you from living. Without my brother teaching me this, I would have continued to spend my time shying away from challenges and giving up opportunities to do great things and meet new people. It would have been entirely easy for me to stay stuck in the habit of seeing the ten thousand things that could possibly go wrong down the road, and I would have stayed stuck in my cocoon because of that.

For so long, I didn't understand what my brother was doing, but I get it now. He knew that one of the best-kept secrets to life was a simple word: yes. Both of us have definitely made a few mistakes while saying yes these past few years, but we've also made some pretty great memories doing it too. The positives definitely heavily outweigh the negatives. What's the point of having all these great destinations and interesting people around you if you're just going to pass them up every time you get the chance to escape your comfort zone? That comfort zone is nice, but at some point, it won't be able to sustain growth anymore. So, every time he asks me now, "One more spot before we turn in?" or "Road trip?" or "Hey, why don't you go talk to her?", I shrug my shoulders and just do it. And, if you know me now, you know that I always have three or four new stories ready every time I see you. This isn't to say that you won't be scared out of your mind while saying yes more, but just because something seems daunting or unfamiliar, it doesn't mean that it isn't worth it, so I'll see you all after I come back from New York, because, well, someone asked me to go, and I just shrugged my shoulders and said yes.
(Can you tell who's who?)

Sunday, October 5, 2014


"You don't get it. I don't have a choice." I've heard those words quite often in my life. I used to say them myself. Destiny, fate, kismet, whatever you call it yourself, I used to believe that there were so many things that couldn't be helped. Maybe it was because my parents constantly told younger me, "There are some things that you just have to do, whether or not you want to." And so I believed them for a long time. I finally understand now they weren't talking about following any sort of set trajectory and being unhappy or happy because of it. They meant that I was going to be confronted by a lot of difficult decisions, and in those moments, I will have to choose between what is right and what is easy, even if what's right is the exact opposite of what I want to do (sometimes the third option is to charge with reckless abandon, and I like choosing that one).

When I went back to Terra Nova this year, someone said to me, "And the prodigal son returns! Just like you were meant to," as if I were destined to be there. If I were a year younger, I would have believed him. I would have conceded that there were some things that couldn't be changed, and that destiny had engraved an unalterable path in front of me, but I'm a year older, a year wiser, and a year slightly more frayed at the edges. Life showed me that the "prodigal son" always has a choice. The best laid plans of mice and men are just that: plans. You ultimately get to choose everything. If you don't want to live in isolation, you choose who you let into your life. If you decide on the exact opposite, you choose to keep your defenses and walls up. You choose who breaks your heart, who fills it, who keeps your secrets, who isn't worth your time, and who you shower with your love and affection. Your life is a progression of choices, some far more difficult than others, but you're never powerless. You are not a product of circumstance.

My little sister says to me all the time (yesterday included), "You can't make me choose. You know I'm not good at that." But I will. I will keep making her choose, because she's strong, and I want her to show that strength. I want her to forget the word "can't" and all of its derivatives. I want her to go after what she wants without being impeded by fear or hesitation. Because, even if she or you make a poor choice, if you've made a lot of good ones in your life and you chose to let love in, there will always be people waiting to support you, bolster you, and help you.