What’s in your cup?

February 17, 2017 | sippin’

My mother, like many excellent Chinese mothers, brings me some sort of health supplement each time she visits me in my new home. Last time, I got a bag of red goji berries to steep in hot water or tea.

Goji!

Her explanation is never scientific, and frankly it doesn’t have to be if your mother says it’s “good for you.” However, I did have to draw the line once at sea cucumbers. I take this at face value and while I don’t know what the exact effects are, if any, I make my tea and feel grateful that I will forever be her growing child. Never mind my fancy pants corporate business card.

So it upsets me that despite never enduring the trauma of non-(East) Asian peers wrinkling their noses at my lunch food, I experience a dampened version in my adult life. (Granted, I am a rare case and went to a public school with faces from across the melanin spectrum.) Of all things, someone wrinkled their nose at my goji berries. They don’t smell, they’re not furry with fruit fuzz, and their color is a bright, happy red-orange.

You might say that it was a simple, one-off question. “Ew, what are those things?”

But it also could’ve been even simpler, less shrill sounding. “What’s in your tea?”

Call me sensitive, call me a snowflake, but I was a touch annoyed and called it out. Of course, I did so in a light-hearted way that’s safe for consumption in a work environment. It’s a skill I’ve honed having been a first-generation college student and now a first-generation member of corporate America. I’ll continue sippin’…

A New Year, A New Gen

January 29, 2017 | post-chowing

We’re on the second day of the lunar new year. Kids rejoice at red envelopes filled with money. Ancestors are honored and remembered. For the fortunate, tables are plenty with carbs and meats and sweets. In a legal zone, firecrackers go off, scaring away malicious spirits. These are facts I know about how Chinese new year is to be celebrated. And sadly, this is about the extent of my knowledge about the occasion.

This is a natural occurrence of assimilation into American culture and being removed from the country of my heritage. But even so, when my mom called and told me to cancel my haircut appointment, I did. Why?

“You’ll cut off all the good luck and longevity!”

Well, logic be damned, superstition wins this time. (It is logical that since my hair is long, it symbolizes my longevity…?) I can’t afford to cut off any luck, especially this year and the next few to boot. When could I reschedule it for?

“In about two weeks.” The lack of precision was made up for her utter conviction in this statement. I couldn’t argue with her. She meant well.

So here I am, counting down the days until I can get my sorely needed haircut. You see, I would love flowy Hollywood hair, but I’m at a stage in life where I can’t be bothered to spend much effort on dead keratin. My brain needs the work.

Slightly younger author knocking heads with a guardian lion.

 

After, After, After, Always

December 28, 2016 | kickin’ and screamin’

My childhood home will soon be rented out and eventually sold. I am a millennial, although I’m also slowly creeping towards the middle of the age bracket. We are often described to be itinerant and unattached. Seeking the next place to move our careers forward, for those of us lucky enough to be on that path. Swiping right and either unable to decide or decide so quickly that we hope to forget the next day.

So perhaps it’s slightly against my generational grain to feel so strongly about this old home as to bare my feelings to the Internet. You’re welcome, since I originally envisioned this as a poorly made film, or conversely, I’m sorry. I haven’t lived full-time in this house since I left to go to college where people wear UGGs un-ironically. However I quickly learned that the truly useful footwear was a pair of those hilariously named “duck boots.” This house protected my family for so long, but a few years ago when another one of us left, they never came back. (Note to self, I pledge to take my last breath somewhere other than in an ICU.) I’ll never be an iconoclast just for the sake of it, but in this case I can’t help but be very, very attached.

I will always remember the sounds of my backyard gate and garage door, for they meant saying goodbye to guests sure to return or hello to my parents coming back from work. I like to think they enjoyed me sticking my face up against the glass as a greeting.

I will always love the carpet that my mom kept so clean because of all the couches and beds I could lay on to read, I always ended up on the floor. This Christmas, I made sure to lay down a yoga mat at least.

I will always treasure the light pink walls of my bedroom, soon to be occupied by another lucky child, because my parents kept their promise that after we moved out of the townhouse, I’d get my pink walls. I regret removing the Rainbow Fish border.

I will always be impressed with the kitchen even though it doesn’t boast granite countertops or brushed steel appliances. That’s fine because if I’m eventually able to afford these in my own home someday, it’ll make me feel like I achieved intergenerational prosperity. Boo-yah!

I will always worry about the little crannies where I know spiders and other crawlies…crawl out of. When I killed my first spider in the house, I grew a little but also might’ve pee’d myself. Although I’m sorry, spider sir or madam, I panicked and forgot about the paper and cup technique that time.

I will always think of the quiet and peaceful park further up our street. And the pecans my grandma and I pilfered when fall came around. I probably owe some of my cavities to her candied pecans. Worth every one.

I will always wish I can hear my dad’s snoring in the master bedroom again. It’s the most comforting thing to know that you can be sitting and reading in another room, but not completely alone.

I will never forget turning onto this street after a long while away, after a dinner at Outback, after a day at the Galleria, after playing at a friend’s house, after a shitty day at my top-rated and therefore very competitive high school (go Rangers!), after, after, after.

And so I will always remember and love this house. This home. I hope the next family or non-family living unit cares for it like mine did. I hope it treats them well, much as it did my family. As I come upon my second year of the Rooster (quelle horreur), I know it’s time to finally write this and let it go.

Goodbye house, and thank you.

NaNoWriMo, Or NaNoReviMo For Me!

I’ve known about NaNoWriMo for about as long as I’ve been a reader. It’s been a personal dream of mine to write a book that someone will close with a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment, much like I have felt in the past. I also don’t think I’ve seen many (young adult) stories with Asian-American leanings, so I hope I can turn this draft into something beautiful for a younger me out there. Lofty goals? That’s what great books are made of, right?

With that said, I admit I’m cheating a bit as I plan to use this month to revise a draft of 70,000+ words. There will be a significant amount of rewriting though!

Since you have to be logged into the NaNoWriMo.org site to see a user’s novel synopsis and excerpt, I thought I’d share it here. It’ll help keep me accountable knowing that people know I’ve started this project. Hopefully, it’ll also inspire someone who’s wanted to bang out 50,000 words to do the challenge this year or in the future!

Working Title: Adjustments

Synopsis:

After a summer of sorrow, Irene and her mom return to the routine of school and work, work and school that had seemed so regular before. Her sister Iris is back at college, right where she wants to be, but not where Irene needs her to be. When your dad passes away, you hold onto everyone you can. What if they slip away, too?

Her best friends Dan and Misty made her watch bad but funny movies, try new bubble tea combinations, and did just about everything they could to distract her from her pain. Once school starts though, everyone has their own life to busy about. Some lives tend to intersect more than others do though, and Irene quickly feels like she’s getting left out. Or is she keeping herself out? With Eric from chemistry suddenly taking an interest in her, maybe it doesn’t matter…

Irene finds that when life surprises you, for better or worse, you have to make some adjustments.

Excerpt:

Misty and Irene looked like twin swans with their heads bent down as they scanned their notes for last-minute minutiae to memorize. Numbers for years and too many names swirled in Irene’s head. This happened before every semester exam. She needed to calm down before the bell rang.

Eric was nowhere to be found. Irene had expected him at the table this morning. He knew she had an exam and would come early to cram. She suddenly felt incredibly silly for thinking of all the things he could want to ask her and how she should respond.

Or maybe he was just being considerate. The thing he needed to ask could wait until after their exams. She tried to remember not to find little things to not like.

But he would at least have come to study with her and her friends. She checked her phone again. There wasn’t a good morning message or anything from him at all.

Misty elbowed her softly. “Hey, you’re making that face you do.”

“Come again?”

“It’s this.” Misty did her best impression of Irene. Mouth set, eyes widened just a little.

“You know this stuff better than I do. Don’t be nervous.”

“It’s actually not that. Eric was supposed to ask me something today.”

Up in Skyspace To Get Out Of My Headspace

This past weekend, Los Angeles welcomed its newest attraction the Skyslide atop the OUE Skyspace LA observation deck. (Yes, I read that as “Wee Skyspace,” too.) The deck sits atop the recently renovated U.S. Bank Tower, and I learned that the building is the tallest one west of the Mississippi river while waiting in line for the slide.

As someone fortunate to have traveled to many places, I’ve been to the top of my fair share of tall buildings. I’m happy to say that the awe I feel each time has yet to be dampened, since I just find it utterly incredible that humans can build so much so high. Maintaining a sense of wonder, oddly enough, keeps me grounded.

tokyo tower
Tokyo Tower, seen from Roppongi Hills Mori Tower.

I think it’s the same reason I didn’t hesitate to buy a combo ticket for the Skyspace and Skyslide once I scrolled to a targeted ad in my Facebook feed. It goes to show that as strange and creepy as advertising has become nowadays, it sometimes works. In my daily life, my body rarely travels more than four stories up from the ground. And a shot of adrenaline was something I sorely needed. What better way to get it than sitting on a mat and sliding down a glass slide from the 70th to 69th floor? 🙂

IMG_8115

Besides getting a hilarious souvenir photo of myself, my ticket also provided a reality and perspective check. A trip to the Skyspace is not cheap. Between the ticket itself and pre-paid parking, it’s about $40. (Believe me, pre-paid was worth it. DTLA parking? Good luck, bro.) Of course, if you go with multiple people in a car, the parking fee seems trivial. But realizing that I could afford this small luxury? That was a rush in itself.

Here’s my view from just before the actual slide…

about to slide
Holy 2^*#$)@#

They said that if you wanted to get the biggest thrill, you could look to the left out over the expanse of Los Angeles. Most sensible people kept their eyes straight ahead. I was not one of those people. I dared to look and scare myself, and for the brief four seconds I felt like the daredevil I always imagine myself to be but seldom execute against.

I spent the rest of my time on the observation deck. My friends who work in tall office buildings probably wouldn’t understand why (or might think the opposite), but I felt invigorated being so much closer to the sun than I usually am. My current work is rather elevated yet in the weeds at the same time, and sometimes I lose sight of the “why” of it all. I’m so focused on desperately trying to understand the numbers and check all the footnotes that the details wear me down instead of painting a clearer picture. Perhaps it’s just professional infancy that I’ll grow out of. It’s definitely why I eschewed Starbucks during the week for this ticket, and it was well worth the trip to get out of my headspace.

Bolstered by the Beyhive

Here’s something crazy. I had tickets for Beyonce’s Formation tour that stopped in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, and I almost didn’t go.

What?

Yes. I almost didn’t go because I didn’t want to go alone. Stupid, right? Granted, parking fees at the Rose Bowl could deter anyone, but once you’ve spent upwards of $200 on a ticket, you shouldn’t be pre-occupied with that marginal cost.

I acknowledge that I didn’t have to go alone. I could’ve asked my new friends in LA if they wanted to go. I could’ve broadcast my intentions on Facebook and gathered a group to buy tickets together. I could’ve done all these things, but I just didn’t feel like they’d happen, whether due to scheduling snafus or their general disinterest.

I was prepared to feel alone in LA. It’s a sprawling metropolis, and everyone’s busy with their own lives. I still haven’t made a ton of friends here, and those I can call new friends, I don’t know very well yet. I’m doing my best to change that though.

As a consequence, I leaned on my friends from high school a lot. When I needed to complain, and it happens more often than I’m proud of, they were the ones who got my Facebook messages or texts. (Side note: I should buck the millennial stereotype and call people more…) Over time, I began to take for granted how much negativity a person could take, no matter how close of a friend they are to you. I was using my friends as “trash cans,” if you will. And that outweighs any success I feel like I’ve managed in my first year as an adult. (By “success,” I mean paying my bills on time and managing my road rage.)

Ironically, it is one of these very friends who slapped verbal sense into me and encouraged me to go to the concert. I’m very glad I did.

Beyonce’s set, a giant LED-covered cube that opened and closed to reveal her and her dancers, projected her magnificence so that everyone in the stadium could see. The guys behind me abandoned their chill and turned into blubbering fangirls.

beyonce singing
Queen in action.

At first, I felt self-conscious as a solo attendee sandwiched between drunk middle-aged women gal pals and a son and his (probably confused) father. I wanted to bop along to Snoop’s surprise performance of “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” I wanted to go crazy and wave my arms and scream, “Yas, yas, YAS!” But I was alone, and I contained my crazy.

I spotted another girl a few rows in front of me, who I later realized was also attending the concert alone. Carefree and decidedly not self-conscious, she jammed along to the beats. Suddenly, I felt silly. I had thought all along that I would be one of the minority coming alone, but right there was another example.

Bolstered by the Beyhive around me, I started letting loose during “Run the World (Girls).” And then Beyonce delivered just what I needed that night.

beyonce formation tour
Benelovent queen Bey.

She spoke about being there for yourself and loving yourself first, and then…

“Me myself and I, that’s all I got in the end, that’s what I found out and there ain’t no need to cry…”

She is an omniscient queen indeed.

An Economic Life: Un(der)employed Talent

As with any first love, figure skating never truly left me. Or rather, I never really left it. Every four years I sometimes morph into a pretend pundit for the edification and entertainment of my friends, who are gracious enough to listen to my commentary. However, I’ve had other suitors foisted on me before, by my own parents no less.

Male parent threw out a thought, “What about trying equestrian or golf?”

And I appropriately responded with, “Huh?”

I say appropriate because I had never expressed an interest in either of these activities before. I loved unicorns as much as the next 90’s kid who collected Lisa Frank stationery, I was devastated to be over the socially (and physically) permissible age to ride a pony, but equestrian is serious, no rainbows or ponies allowed. And need I say more about golf?

I would hear him out, since I understood that there must be a rationale. After all, as an accountant in his former life, numbers and logic always had to add up.

“You’re going to be in high society someday, and people in those circles do things like that. You didn’t like tennis, but it’s not too late for these sports.”

My dad was being gracious, for my tennis instructor knew I wasn’t going to be his Li Na after the first lesson. We respected each other’s time and parted ways amicably. My figure skating coach was not so lucky; I stuck around for almost a decade.

My dad continued his explanation, my mom nodding. (Though she likely masterminded broaching the topic.) “If you’re good at golf, you’ll have the respect of other businesspeople and then you can build relationships on the golf course.”

He offered some optionality, another fork in his reasoning. “Equestrian is more athletic though, so maybe you’d enjoy that more. And we live in Texas. There must be somewhere to learn.”

At this point I understood him completely. This was all coming from the same place that prompted him to shut down a passing joke from his colleague that I should start hostessing where they both worked. “She’s not going to work in a restaurant like me.”

Like me. There was a lot embedded in those words.

Like me, who used to be an accountant in one of the best hospitals in Shanghai. Like me, who may have been more than blue-collar middle-class in a country that could be hospitable at times and hostile at others. Like me, who may have become one of those businesspeople playing golf. Like me, who didn’t and who will not let his child feel that she belongs anywhere but in “high society.”

Fortunately, no one in my family has been unemployed for long, but perhaps worse is being underemployed in a job whose requirements one’s education or skills may surpass. (Don’t start about millennial baristas, don’t.) My parents didn’t let it show much, but it would’ve described their status accurately. However, the way they dressed and carried themselves betrayed their convictions that they were of a more “sophisticated” class. (This is also admittedly a side-effect of being Shanghainese; you can verify this with people familiar with the personalities of China’s regions.) On weekend outings with my family, you would never guess that they were waiters. 

I’ve picked up many of my dad’s mannerisms in particular. Regardless of his day job, he wanted to look and talk like a boss. Stand tall, shoulders down, speak clearly, show ‘em wass-up. (Latter is entirely my addition.)

Source: adeekt.fr
Source: adeekt.fr

Of course, I acknowledge these are all my hypotheses, but I have gathered enough data points to feel confident. These examples aside, my parents proved their executive abilities were as good as any F500 CEO’s by running a household while working long hours. My dad was particularly proud of his neat record and bookkeeping, true to his accountant past. He would use his former training where he could in his life now.

I can’t say for sure, but I guessed that my college admissions provided non-insignificant vindication for years of feeling insecure or inadequate compared to other family and friends. They opted to start waiting in a restaurant immediately instead of trying to redo their education here, but at least I was on the path to joining “high society.” And with a tidy office job now, it would seem that way. Seem!

Without a doubt, I will “disappoint” my parents in one way. I am still not interested in golf, and being thrown off a horse could end any further career I have, equestrian or otherwise.

I prefer to write dinky little blogs.

—–
Thanks for reading! This is the fifth in my series “An Economic-ish Life,” where I write to educate and entertain while attempting to remember and apply my liberal arts education. 🙂 And yes, the series title has changed.

An Economic Life: The Opportunity Costs of Flying

Fearless. Driven. Tenacious. Ambitious. I repeated these words in my head over and over and faster and faster the closer the plane got to landing in Los Angeles. They were my wishes for the type of person I desperately wanted to become while living in the sprawling metropolis, where dreams go to grow beyond one’s wildest dreams or to sputter out. As much as I tried to inundate my mind with positivity, a creeping sense of loneliness mixed with the trepidation of being a newly-minted “adult” also lodged itself in.

Could I be happy here? Would I? Or would the all-hours traffic slowly drive me insane? (Badum-tiss.)

—–

The opportunity costs of moving to LA were clear from the start. Driving would have to become as reflexive as bee-lining to the office kitchen for a coffee. Friends would be far removed, in San Francisco at best, and most likely be reduced to profile pictures liked and chat stickers exchanged. Overall, I would give up feeling a sense of belonging and familiarity for, at the start at least, discomfort and bumpy roads.

You cannot get something without giving up something. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything has a price. Bang only comes from relinquishing bucks.

You can say it a thousand ways, but the economic concept is simple. To rapidly advance its economy, China has given up the opportunity to have clean air. To fund other items, schools have cut budgets or entire departments for arts and music education. But as we all know, concepts we study on paper will never be as strong as the ones we directly experience. To go to college among brilliant peers, I gave up being able to drive home on the weekends when things were just too much.

Everything felt just a bit foreign and strange in a new city. You can drift past the white lines to wait for a left turn? Why are juices and coffees so expensive? (Correction, why is everything so expensive?) Parking isn’t free? (Come again, that much for 15 minutes, really?)

I wanted my suburban ease and quietude back. I didn’t want to hear sirens and loud motorcycles ripping by my window. I wanted to be able to run home instead of flying home.

http://www.thereelroundup.com/2014/12/KikisDeliveryServiceBluRayReview.html
Source: The Reel Round Up website.

But to grow, Kiki taught me that I had to fly away. From the creators of Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of a young witch who completes her rite of passage by striking out on her own. On a night that feels right for the occasion, she and her wise-cracking cat Gigi kick off her broomstick and end up in a quaint seaside town. She finds gainful employment, makes new friends, and overcomes personal challenges. If that’s not an inspirational movie, I don’t know what is. And that’s the script I’m trying to live by.

I’m very fortunately employed. I’ve surprisingly made new friends. The emphasis there is on the word “made.” (I have to get dressed? And make small talk?) I force myself to go on solo romps and have happily discovered that LA is a la-la-land of donut shops!

I don’t have a broomstick, though I sure wish for one when traffic is bumper-to-bumper. Just like Kiki, I’ve slowly found places and ways to fit myself into this town. There are still nights where I mope because I feel disconnected from everyone I used to know. There are still times when I wished I had tried harder to live closer to my friends. But then I wouldn’t be writing this because I would have nothing to reflect on. And to me that would be more disappointing than anything else.

—–

Thanks for reading! This is the fourth in my series “An Economic Life,” where I write to educate and entertain while attempting to remember and apply my liberal arts education. 🙂

An Economic Life: An Undesired Trade Surplus

“You’re keeping score. And that’s a recipe for resentment and disaster. Don’t do this.”

This is what I thought as I stared at my phone and did it anyway. I tried to summon the latent psychic powers I knew I had. (I don’t care if I’m past the right age; I know my Hogwarts letter is coming.) I would will the person at the other end to reciprocate. To say they wouldn’t mind, to express their happiness to do something for me for once.

My neck and back were sore from hours at a desk, and my right hand experienced the niggling pain that comes from too many repetitions of small movements like swiping to unlock my phone and scrolling with my thumb. Though it didn’t compare to the soreness of disappointment. I doubted the multiple uuuuu’s in their “thank youuuu” were proportional to the depth of gratitude they felt.

How could they not see how much of myself I put out for them? Why didn’t they understand that I did everything because I so valued their presence in my life? Did they not value me nearly as much? Was I wasting my time?

No doubt many a romantic partner has cycled through the same list of questions and scuttled any hope of a mutual future. But countless friends who never made it to “best friends” must have as well. I had no excuse. I had read the advice articles that said keeping score was poison. Relationships don’t operate according to a balance of trade, but I didn’t want to keep feeling like I was generating a surplus.

—–

My fruitless and silent staring at my phone for a sign was the latest in a rout of bruisings. More and more, I felt like acquiring the heavy crown of being the “friend you can always count on” wasn’t worth it.

To my mom, the answer was simple. I created my problem and made things bad for myself while making good for anyone else. It’s not the sweetest advice, but when do we ever need advice when all is going well?

“If you feel like you don’t receive the same care in return, then you should stop, I don’t know, being so much for them.”

“But they’re still my friends.”

“Daughter, this is why people walk over you. They know you better than you do.”

“I’m just trying to be a good person. But now I feel petty.” I could cite the incidents lately where I had done something for someone else; I had sunk that low.

“But you need to be smart, too. For your own sake. Don’t go out of your own way for someone who won’t do the same.”

I ended the phone call when I heard everything she could offer. I reflected on her words, but it seemed like such a utilitarian way of evaluating my relationships. How could I say no to people if I was able to help, to listen, to just be there, even if it wasn’t convenient for me?

Maybe the answer to my questions traced back to growing up as an only child. I understood even then that friends were not blood siblings, so if I wanted to hold onto them, I needed to give them reasons to keep me. I rarely thought of it the other way around. That would be selfish, wouldn’t it? That’s not how I was raised.

No, maybe that was the problem with my thinking. Personality traits rarely manifest in absolutes. Sometimes we are selfish, and sometimes we are generous. It may be possible, but like my mom believed, it certainly wasn’t practical to give someone 100% of yourself all the time.

So how much was I to give then?

—–

Slowly, the fragments of my thoughts knit themselves into a net of understanding. I don’t call it a compromise because that implies giving something up to get something else, which was exactly the kind of thinking I wanted to avoid.

It really was simple, but not in the way my mom thought (as a caring mom would). I needed to be more forgiving of myself when I couldn’t be the super-friend I aspired to be. And I needed to have more faith in my friends for understanding no.

You’d think that when I figured this out once, I could just apply the same philosophy to romantic relationships. But as we’ve seen lately, history does repeat itself…

—–

Thank you for reading! This is the third in my series “An Economic Life,” where I write to educate and entertain while attempting to remember and apply my liberal arts education. 🙂

An Economic Life: (Not) My Comparative Advantage

“I’m not trying to look weak!” My gloved hands flew back onto my hips, but the trembling of my lower lip betrayed me. Even though it was a late night session with few people on the ice, I didn’t want my frustrated huffs to attract an audience.

My mom crossed her arms in reply. “Then stiffen up your arms! It’ll help you land your jumps!” She unhinged her elbows and straightened hers out on either side of her as a demonstration.

I sucked in a deep breath and pushed away from the boards near her seat. I needed to calm down before I attempted another run-through of my routine. Unlike a professional at all, every little thing could mess me up. And nothing was going right tonight. My gloves had holes in the fingertips, my blades weren’t gripping the ice enough, and my first competition was just a few weeks away.

I started the night confident that I could deliver a great practice performance for her to watch and record for my dad. Work would probably prevent either of them from getting to see me skate in the pretty, expensive, rhinestoned dress they bought just for the occasion. (I just want to sparkle like the other competitors! You want me to look good, right? Oh yes, I was unfortunately a manipulative little…)  

A skating dress by Del Arbour, similar to the one I had.
A skating dress by Del Arbour, similar to the one I had.

I threw a few single jumps to get back into a groove, any groove, and looked back in my mom’s direction. She was reading something on her phone. I couldn’t blame her; I wasn’t impressing anyone at the moment. But maybe I shouldn’t have expected to in the first place.

—–

At five-foot-seven and not exactly the most svelte, my body didn’t fit the ideal figure skater profile. Super aware of my higher center of gravity, I couldn’t force myself to be fearless and throw jumps over and over again until I landed one. Faster, push more, my coach would urge me, but speed terrified me more than it carried me to any success on the ice. Suffice it to say that figure skating wasn’t an area of comparative advantage for me.

Yet somehow, I stayed with figure skating for almost a decade. I never experienced breakout results, rarely passed the level tests with any sort of colors, and often wasted time being upset over my practice one day instead of progressing on my math homework. My parents told me I could quit anytime and do something else, but I would not budge. I would love skating until it loved me back.

—–

Home from college one winter break, I tagged along to my friend’s jazz and ballet classes. I had just started dancing recreationally in college and quickly became envious of my new stage-veteran, recovering bunhead friends. Like many of my peers, I had been shepherded to dance studios as a kid, but it just didn’t stick with me at the time.

After we stretched, the teacher looked at my physique and said, “Oh, I could’ve made you.” I asked for clarification. She admired my height and long (really?) limbs. I could’ve parlayed my natural resources into being a beautiful ballerina. Could’ve. The word stung. It reeked of lost opportunity, lost potential.

—–

I went home that night with a simmering anger. Why couldn’t I have known this sooner? Why didn’t my parents try harder to get me to reconsider my obsession with skating? Why…not? Why not? The realizations burrowed themselves in my mind for months and leaked into other areas of my life.

In grade school, my talents manifested in classes like social studies and history, English, and foreign languages. Math and science? With the odd exception of chemistry, to say I wished, craved, cried for those subjects to feel “easy” would be a wild understatement. But unlike skating or dance, I didn’t have a choice but to do well in all academic areas.

I wanted the advantages that I didn’t enjoy. I felt like those things were more impressive. Things I was good at? They were nice, but not so much in light of the increasing importance of STEM. And I was never going to be a Michelle Kwan. 

—–

In basic macroeconomics, you learn that countries should focus on producing things that they have a comparative advantage in. For example, Southeast Asia started to manufacture products when their cost of labor became more competitive, sometimes known in corporate speak as “cheaper.”

But you also learn that economies can grow by investing in areas they are deficient in, such as Singapore’s attracting of an international workforce responsible for much of its service industries or South Korea’s early investments in entertainment and pop culture that became precursors for the “hallyu wave.”

So I began to apply these principles to my own life. I would invest in learning things I didn’t know and needed to know, without neglecting to nurture my natural talents.

—–

Come winter of freshman year in college, I had almost had it with “investment.” I was trying desperately to bring my intro math class grade back up after disastrous midterms, and the former valedictorians around me never seemed to slow down. I transferred my skating skills to a student dance troupe, where I was good enough but always aware that there were even better.

For a study break, I went skating on an outdoor rink for the first time at Boston’s Frog Pond. I glided easily among the awkward first dates, tweens goofing off, and parents who were regretting bringing their kid. Every bone in my body felt a newfound appreciation for the years I had spent falling and slipping and tripping on frozen water. As I exhaled and watched the tendrils of my breath uncurl and float away, I looked up and muttered a silent thank-you to my past self, for not giving up and for getting me this far. The decade had not, in fact, been for nothing. In a way, it had given me everything I needed.

Credit to Boston.com
Credit to Boston.com

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Thank you for reading! This is the second in my series “An Economic Life,” where I write to educate and entertain while attempting to remember and apply my liberal arts education. 🙂

Also published on Medium.