Two years ago, I visited San Francisco alone for the first time. I fell in love with the potpurri of colors, old and new, pastel and brilliant. I knew this had to be place for me.
Two days ago, I rode the shuttle to work and fell in love yet again as we sat in the morning traffic on Oak and Buchanan. I watched the cyclists go by the beautiful houses, the multi-storied and multi-shaped gables jutting out here and there, painting a unique landscape I’d never seen elsewhere. I pulled at my fleece sleeves, smiling despite by the chill of a late July morning.
In a way I can describe in no other, I found it oddly comforting to be in the rather uncomfortable breezes that kept my nerves somehow both awake and numb. It’s like the feeling you get when you think you’ve changed. You don’t know if you like it, you don’t know if it’s good. But something has gone off its former railings and steered away, and inertia pushes back.
This summer, I changed.
One, I began muting the noise.
I’m walking with my head down on Mission. An indeterminable orchestra ensues: glass clinking, distant sirens blaring, cars honking, homeless men swearing at young techies, young techies swearing at homeless men, Chinese tourists, fancy bar doors opening..
and then I stop looking at my phone, it’s not much different online. There are problems here and there, online and offline. At some point, I was passionate about learning the news, and spreading what I thought I knew to others around me, like it or not. Like putting on the $350 pair of noise cancelling headphones, I became less so concerned about the details of someone else’s life. No longer seeing it necessary to apply stress where it did not belong. I learned it did not bring happiness to others by bringing in a megaphone in a world where megaphones ran rampant. It was not effective, bringing more noise.
So, I muted myself.
I thought I was being a role model, and so I thought I had to put myself really out there. It was easy being loud; I had a lot of opinions and facts that I wanted to share. Sitting in meeting rooms, painfully aware of stereotypes. As an Asian female intern, I convinced to myself these could not be true here, in the epitome of Silicon Valley companies. I had always been one to raise my hand in school, so I raised my hand here. That was fine. I talked as I would at every lunch and dinner I had with my team, convincing myself that being the only girl meant my speaking up would somehow strike as being a strong independent woman. It didn’t matter; I had a lot to say.
But at some point, I was tired of putting reason to my behavior. I wanted to be able to listen to others and process, to filter and sort out what others thought without having to respond. I didn’t want to pick a fight with myself, but I knew I was sick of being the intern, the female, the whatever.
When I stopped talking, I made less mistakes. A few months ago, I would have told myself that making mistakes was how I learned. True; still, something told me it made me feel incredibly vulnerable. I hated sounding young, knocking over societal walls, dumbly staring at what mess I had made. When I stopped talking, I could correct myself after hearing what others said. When I stopped talking, I learned to stop interrupting.
I was scared, initially. What if I couldn’t say what I wanted?
I found the answer when I saw my manager stopping himself to let me or others speak first, multiple times. He was patient with what others had to say, and then proceeded to deliver his opinions. Zero loss of meaning. It was as though he was standing on higher ground, patiently waiting for the enemies to tire until he gently pushed the boulder down its graceful trajectory. Effective communication.
Then, I let myself loose.
My mother described to me at some point in high school how stingy I was. It was true, instead of paying $2 more to ride a bus to the transferring metro stop, I walked 30 minutes. I worked anywhere from 20 to 30 hours a week during school, always opting for the coffee of the day and plain bagel without cream cheese option for breakfast ($3.25, with tax), staring down the $4 smoothie or the $5 breakfast sandwich.
This summer, I took $5 Lyft rides (not Line, either *gasp*) for a destination 1.5 miles away, asked for extra guac, bought coffee four times in a day, and drove to work instead of walking 15 minutes to the shuttle stop.
I thought I was more comfortable. Less hungry, less thirsty, less tired. But oddly, I was more cranky. I was impatient at the bus driver when I could not go above 75 in the fast lane on the 101. I didn’t want to go outside. I got to work at 10, left at 10, feeling miserable. Every day I questioned my habits, and every day I failed to answer them properly.
I was stressed, and I didn’t know why, until I was told:
you need to work less.
There was something about work that occupied my thoughts, leaving no space for worry. I would work long hours to simply try and forget about all the other responsibilities. I came home and crashed into my sheets, refusing to put on an alarm.
But monsters don’t go away simply by not thinking about them. Like weeds, the longer they’re left alone, the harder they are to deal with. I wasn’t working on holding the monsters down, rather, I was ignoring them by working on what I could do mindlessly.
When weekends came by, I couldn’t work, nor could I take down the beast of responsibilities. I wanted to watch anime, or draw, or play games, but it didn’t help having my own self tap my shoulder from behind, holding up my unfinished thesis.
I realized I had changed into a lazy procrastinator, someone I would look at with terror in my eyes. I wanted to cry, and I did.
When I was told I should work less, I misinterpreted the meaning. It was not that I was working too much, but rather that I was ignoring everything else about my life, equally important and crucial in leading a less stressful life in the near future.
I learned that blindly ramming my head into one wall to forget all others would only come down on me as the wall crumbled. I learned that straining myself to be someone was not okay, but I also learned that letting myself go wasn’t either. I learned that not every change was good, but to realize the change had happened was.
I’ve been asking myself, what should I do?
I’ve been running at full speed, coming only to an abrupt halt and crashing down onto the ground. I’m sobbing and in pain, but my stupid ego doesn’t want to admit I’m tired. I need to rest, properly.
Yesterday, I stopped on Irving and looked at the run down Muni tracks. The roads each train had taken hundreds of times were long due for repair. It wasn’t enough wear to derail the cars, but the driver’s ass had been bruised enough. It was time to fix things.
All photos by me, taken in SF over the course of the last few months.