The freedom of loneliness

Tonight’s the last night I’m alone, so I thought it best to finally get these thoughts out while still alone.

This year was the first time in over 4 years that I’ve lived by myself. I’m talking about no roommates at home, no parents or siblings, no one else around. The last time I seriously lived by myself was back in 2012 when I was in La Jolla for grad school. We’re 39 days into 2017, and I’ve spent almost half of them (19, to be exact) living by myself at home because Zach’s been traveling for work.

On the one hand, it’s rather lonely to come home to an empty house – especially when it’s winter, and 90% of your time at home is when it’s dark outside. There’s a silence that permeates the halls, and I feel like there’s always a subtle force pushing me along to do something such that the house doesn’t feel stale. I’ve been coming home and instantly going to my bedroom and holing myself up there because at least it feels less empty when you’re in a smaller enclosed space.

On the other hand though, I’d completely forgotten about what the freedom of loneliness felt like. The independence, the flexibility, and the control over one’s time – I forgot just how satisfying the freedom of loneliness can be.

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When I lived in San Diego & La Jolla for two years, I worked 50-60 hour weeks, made very little money, and had few friends outside of the lab. That being said, I also managed to train for my very first marathon, learn some things about chemistry, and figure out how to chip away at a long-term goal in a way that feels productive and satisfying. If you ask me at which point in my life I’ve felt the most focused and honed in on a single task, I’d say it was in the couple of months leading up to me running my first marathon.

I got into this habit of going to work, eating dinner on the earlier side, and then later after the sun set, I’d jog over to the UCSD campus to go running. I’d mapped a one-mile path from one end of campus to the other, and I’d just run it back and forth. I’d pass the same library, the same gym building, the same lamp posts over and over again, racking up the miles. When I finished, I drove home, and that was that. Rinse, lather, and repeat the next day.

The mileage added up, and oddly enough the loneliness of being in a city far away from my significant other, family, and friends started getting pushed out of my brain by the feeling of accomplishment and actual progress.

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At the end of the day, like my mom says, you want to spend life with another half. Your other half. And I love my other half.

But the 41.75 miles I’ve run this year put me on pace to try and finally knock out a resolution of running 365 miles in one year, and maybe check off a sub-two hour half marathon as well. And I have the freedom of loneliness to thank for that progress.

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Pen & paper

Since I graduated college, I’ve flown a lot of flights. They started off CA to TX and back and forth, and as I’ve acquired more disposable income in the bank and found more work excuses to fly than I had while in graduate school, the destinations have included more international cities.

I don’t remember when, but at some point in time I decided that writing in my journal while on a plane was a pretty good use of that time. Too cheap to pay for wifi, brain too tired to read a book, not enough time left to watch an entire movie — why not journal?

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In the last couple of months I’ve ramped up on my journaling frequency. I’m trying something new at work for the first time in 2 years. My little brother is graduating high school in the spring. More and more people around me are having babies. So many things to journal about.

Putting pen to paper and furiously scribbling my thoughts, emotions, and fears on paper at least extracts them from my brain for good. Why let them take up extra space in my mind when I can encapsulate them in words?

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It’s almost time to come up with new year’s resolutions for 2017. I started writing my list in my field notes booklet. I’m excited about them.

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volleybALL

Currently I’m trying to pursue a teenage interest of mine (that has continued to be an interest even long after I stopped being able to state my age as “-teen”).

Earlier this calendar year I noticed that someone was selling volleyball kneepads for $5 in a work “for sale” group, so I figured that if I bought them, it would be good incentive for me to finally do something about wanting to play more volleyball. In the 6th grade I remember that they taught us the basics of volleyball in gym class and back then I was not coordinated, nor was I athletic, so of course I was not any good at it then, and thus in 7th grade when I tried out for the team I wasn’t good enough and just stuck around to be the team manager instead (which was great for really learning the basic scoring principles of volleyball).

Fast forward to being 28 and a tad more athletic with some actual disposable income, and earlier this spring I convinced Zach to sign up for a 5-week volleyball class with me on Monday nights. The tl;dr of this class is: people twice my age are twice as good as me, I have somewhat low self-esteem when playing with people who aren’t much better than me but not encouraging, and it is fun (nonetheless).

The class coincidentally started around the same time that the 2016 Rio Olympics happened, which meant watching a lot of sand and indoor volleyball. Since the school year just started, this means that college volleyball season is now here, so we’ve gone to a couple of those games at Stanford as well.

I’d say we’re basically on our way to becoming volleyball junkies/groupies… the only piece that’s remaining is to get a lot better (and to feel a lot better about my ability, as well).

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Great days

I want to write more, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I should write about things in here that I would want to come back and read at another time.

So with that, I’m going to start writing about great days. When I have a great day (and have the wherewithal to remember most parts of it), I’m going to write myself a note about it here.

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Yesterday (Sunday 4/24) was a great day!

Zach and I woke up pretty early around 8am (which feels so early by weekend standards, but because we’d had guests with a kiddo the day before, we went to bed early on Saturday and woke up leisurely on Sunday) and for breakfast I made us an egg scramble using a lot of leftover food we had in our fridge. Zach’s parents visited last weekend, so we had 5 eggs, 3 pieces of sausage (from a cajun crawfish boil entree I ordered at a place near our house), half an onion, and a couple pieces of cheddar cheese that got turned into a some morning calories.

The first task of the day was to apply teak oil to our new patio table. (I bought it on a one-day sale that The Home Depot had, that I saw on slickdeals.) Two coats on six chairs and a rectangular table later, we were done — just in time too! We changed into climbing clothes, packed our cycling clothes (and almost forgot our cycling shoes, but Zach remembered last minute!), and headed out to Planet Granite. The gym wasn’t too crowded, and it wasn’t too cold, so I felt like I was going to have a good gym session.

Ten routes later, I still wish that taking five months off from climbing didn’t regress one’s climbing strength as much as it does, but I’m slowly getting back my climbing muscles… We left PGSV and sped off to Palo Alto, which is where the closest SoulCycle is to us. (There is a club at work that reimburses you for two classes a quarter as long as you are going to class with another FB employee… conveniently, I live with one 🙂 ). We barely made it to class in time, and on top of that, the girl at the front desk told me the wrong seat, so there I was in seat #7, front and center, next to a very sweaty guy on my life.

45 minutes later, I still am horrible at being coordinated at tap backs, and I think my favorite things about SoulCycle classes are: sweating a ton, drinking a ton of water, and stretching after class. As we walked back to the jeep, I asked Zach if the teacher played a lot of Prince songs during class, which spawned into a quick investigation of what the most popular Prince songs are. There was a bike demo event going on in part of the Stanford mall parking lot (which made parking really tough); it looked interesting, but the sign-up line was really long, it was really windy outside, and I was wearing a dress, so we just left. Our next errand was to stop by Mountain View to feed Zach’s uncle’s pet lizard – 6 mealworms and a water dish refill.

 

Our next stop took us to Yamagami’s Nursery where we needed to pick out seeds for planting in our garden box! We picked up 10 packets of seeds and two bags of blended compost. Next up was a series of quick stops: Gong Cha (for much craved bubble tea), European Wax Center (to take advantage of a sale they were having), and CVS (to finally pick up our honeymoon photos from a waterproof camera we used that had film).

After making all these stops, we headed home with a couple hours of sunlight left and got to work. We mixed over 7 cubic feet of planting mix (equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and compost) and filled up over half of our raised gardening box. We are following the ‘square foot garden’ planting method (Zach borrowed a book about this from our local library). We finally finished mixing the soil and planting seeds right before complete sunset, heading inside to escape the cold.

We were both ravenous; thankfully we had plenty of leftovers from the last week and a half. I reheated a large helping of pasta, melting a couple more pieces of cheddar on top in the microwave. We reheated one last piece of pizza in the toaster oven and then I cut it up into small pieces and tossed it into the pasta as well. We had one pre-made kale salad bag that Zach prepared, and finally we sat down to eat around 8:30pm. We watched half of an episode of Shark Tank (my guilty pleasure for pure showy entertainment), and finally it was 9pm and time for the Game of Thrones season premiere.

We settled into the couch, covered ourselves in blankets (it’s still awkwardly cold here even though winter ended a while ago), and ate up the hour long GoT premiere and 30 minute Silicon Valley premiere. Also worth noting: we snacked on some spectacularly large grapes while watching tv – what a great snack and end to the day.

Sleep definitely came easily on Sunday night.

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Skiing

I consider myself to be a decisive person. When I go shopping for clothes, it’s very binary: either I like the colors or I don’t, either I like the way something fits, or I don’t. No waffling. I’m the same way with my hobbies- either I do it and try to get better at it in earnest, or I might as well not do it. For 20+ years of my life I grew up listening to friends’ stories of ski trips with their families, and although I wondered what moving on snow felt like, I had no serious means to practice skiing at any reasonable frequency, so skiing was never an athletic activity I considered.

The first time I went skiing was in February of 2012. My grad program had a one-day deal where, for $80, I got bussed to Big Bear Mountain for a morning lesson in “how to ski” and a lift ticket that was good for the rest of the day. I don’t remember much about that day other than the fact that I spent a good amount of time stationary at different spots on the mountain. That season, I skied 4 days total.

In 2013, I didn’t ski at all (I was unemployed, and skiing is not a hobby you enjoy when you have very little disposable income).

In 2014, I got it in my head that skiing was just something you got better at by willing yourself onto the mountain. So the first day back on the slopes, there I was remembering how to use my ski legs, and more importantly, remembering how to use my body as a crash pad (when you’re a crappy skier, the best brakes you have are your hips— so I had trademark purple hip bones the first ski trip that season). After my third day skiing that season, I committed and bought skis (soon followed by poles, a helmet, and a few other snow-friendly items I snagged at REI used gear sales — all purchased at discounted rates since it was already March). I skied 6 days last season.

The thing I’ve struggled most with, with regards to skiing, is the feeling of sliding down the side of a mountain at the mercy of gravity. Most of the athletic activities I’ve taken on are sports where I have 100% control over the speed at which I do them (running, climbing, hiking, swimming) – but when skiing, you are moving at speeds that you’ve never moved at before, and you’re reaching said speed in the span of seconds. Zero to zoom. Swallowing my nerves and learning to embrace the wind interfacing with my skin is something I’m still not great at, but figuring out how to calm myself down and just GO has been the best thing for my skiing level.

This season, in 2015, I’ll have skied at least 10 days when all is said and done (I’ve already skied 7, so a new record!), and I think I’ve finally figured it out. This season is the first where I’ve been able to ski serious blues without stopping, where I’m able to stop on two skis when I want to without having to resort to falling over, and where I’ve begun to really hit my stride on the slopes. I actually set a new year’s resolution for 2015 that I wanted to be able to ski a black run from start to finish with out stopping, and I’ve done it! Woo!

I’m still easily spooked by ice, steep slopes, and that horrid crunching-clawing sound that results from your skis meeting some rock-tree-ice combo, BUT I’m getting better. And sometimes, improvement is just the push you need to get back out there and get at the slopes.

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Future blog topics

I don’t want to stop blogging, but I haven’t been making time for this blog at all. I spent some time thinking about how to rope myself back into a routine of blogging, and I think what I realized is that I need to have explicit topics/events/situations to blog about. So, here’s my brainstorm blog post– these are topics/events/situations I want to/will write about:

  • skiing
  • working with my hands
  • monthly resolutions
  • wedding planning and binary decisions vs. chain decisions

Okay. I’ll write a post today too.

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About the value of paper and pen

(Here’s a blogpost I finished writing on the plane ride from the US to Taiwan.

When I was in grade school, I was obsessed with online journaling. I opened my first EasyJournal (the blogsite doesn’t exist anymore, so those entries are gone forever 😦 ) and wrote about the random thoughts that come along with passing through your teens. I talked about going to movies with friends, sleepovers on the weekends, and each two-sentence conversation at school was a potential multi-paragraph blogpost waiting to happen. I moved over to Xanga as high school rounded the corner, and I kept a highly curated ‘Subscriptions’ friend list.

I got my first digital camera in the 10th grade with money from my sixteenth birthday, and from then on, I’d chronicle all of the moments from marching band to Mu Alpha Theta. Each pressing of [post] was perhaps a relief of pressure that “Okay, I might never be ‘popular’ like cheerleaders are, but hey, at least I have fun with my friends!”

I especially loved the concept of Xanga’s “Protected” posts. There, I unloaded mountains of words about teenage angst, relationship worries, and heartbreak. I had my own Dell computer in my room, so some night I’d finish my homework and then stay up another hour pouring out words into a Protected post that I knew only 10 people would read. (Xanga was crafty; you could only have 10 people on your Protected list, and I’d often agonize about what warranted each of my friends on my list because I always felt like I was leaving someone out.)

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Anyway, then college rolled around, and with its growing social network, Facebook increasingly became the place I’d deposit my photos and passing thoughts. I blogged less often, but I still kept it up. With the exponential growth of Facebook photos, I saw an equally steep decline (which carried out to an eventual limit of zero) in the frequency of blogposts I’d make that included interspersed photos. I’d spend time crafting up good blogposts, but I think I found it hard to put a voice to my words when it was so much easier for people to put my face with my photos.

Thankfully, I haven’t [entirely] given up on blogging. I actually think the biggest factor that’s kept me blogging online is that I still write in a paper journal. In the 8th grade I made a new year’s resolution to keep a diary (since then I’ve adopted the more mature noun of “journal”, haha), and since I was 14 in the 8th grade, that means I have paper journals covering the last 13 years of my life. I’m completely mesmerized by the fact that I’m a living, breathing, evolving experiment-of-a-human-being, and keeping a journal is one of the most bonafide ways to see how I’ve changed. There’s something about reading your own words scribbled in ink dotted with blurred spots from tears describing breaking up with your first serious boyfriend, arguments about having to come home earlier than all of my friends after hanging out on Friday nights, or trying to discern my rushed print-script describing discussions with people in college that are the start of lifelong friendships, the overwhelming anxiety that comes with being unemployed when you have three degrees, and the list goes on and on.

There’s something about putting pen to paper that makes me pause for a second longer and thoroughly contemplate what in my life I actually want to have a record about. I think the act of writing is pretty cathartic, soothing, and satisfying. (I still hand-write holiday cards and thank you notes, and at work I regularly carry around a paper notebook.) I get that in today’s technologically-driven world we’re able to capture more using digital forms of writing, but there are some things that will always warrant putting pen to paper.

I think there’s a part of my thought process that can only be captured with writing utensil in hand, and I’m striving to keep that part of my brain’s neurons active and firing frequently. I’ll be sad if there comes a time where the 24 hours of each day are consumed by activities that leave me no time to journal on at least a weekly basis. I’ll probably have to resurrect my 14 year old self’s “keep a journal” new year’s resolution, but for now, here’s to pen and paper.

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