NaNoWriMo 2017: Why, What Now, and Welcome

Happy New Year, all! This NaNoWriMo recap post should’ve come right after I completed the grueling month of churning out a first draft of a novel (holy moly, right?), but I couldn’t bring myself to write about my experiences. The post would’ve been a lot of complaining about the back pain I’d acquired pumping out about 1,700 words per day, and nobody should have to sit through that. 😛 To learn more about NaNo however, please follow the link to the official page!

So why the delay? Come December, I launched right into reading my draft. Okay, technically I took a break for two days, but that’s as long as I lasted. Generally, a longer break is recommended. It wasn’t that I was super excited to read my draft, if anything I was apprehensive because I knew it wouldn’t be exactly what I wanted, but more because I’m on a self-imposed deadline to self-publish my first novel this year. I can do a separate post on my decision to self-publish and not find an agent and publisher. (Long story short, my story isn’t necessarily something that will rake in big bucks by getting a movie adaptation, and that’s not my primary goal.) Let me know if that’s something you’re interested in reading!

I attempted NaNoWriMo in years past, like many people, but this was the first year I “won,” or finished 50,000 words over a November. For me, the target length of my book is 70,000 words, so I actually started writing in October. Before I say anything else about the lessons learned over this month, I truly marvel at people who win while working full-time jobs. They are the ones who deserve big super-writer capes!

Why NaNoWriMo?

Every person has their reasons for dedicating themselves to their stories during NaNo. Like many, I have always wanted to write a novel, having treasured books by other authors for so long. My actual writing journey started well before this year’s NaNo, but it was accelerated then. Without launching into my life story (no need for that eh), I took a break from full-time work halfway last year in order to embark on my writing dream, to bring a story fueled in equal parts by personal experience and imagination to a reader like my younger self somewhere out there. Of course, I carefully considered my circumstances and had prepared financially and mentally for the leap, so I am in no way recommending that people carbon-copy me. It is not at all necessary, and like I said above, there are people who win the month while working. For me, this decision coincided with an inflection point in my life, and I figured that now was the time to dedicate myself completely to this novel endeavor. I knew I had to do this because the weight of wondering whether I could write a novel would weigh on and distract me for the rest of my life otherwise. Dramatic, I know, but hey, I am trying to create a work that evokes emotion in people, right? 🙂

From reading all the blogs about previous winners and attempters (no losers here!) and what they learned about themselves and their writing during NaNo, I knew the month would force me to do the difficult work of creating a first draft. I can’t understate the importance of being willing to cringe at your screen (or page) and just start putting words down. The desire for perfection often stops or slows people (myself included) down from their personal path to greatness. Even if you do not hit the 50,000 words, the official goal for the month, any number of words is more than zero. During my slow days when I felt like I couldn’t write more than a sentence, my kind friends reminded me of this simple fact (a true mathematical statement) over and over. Two months later, I’m a more resilient writer, instead of telling myself that I’m a failure on any given day I don’t get as far in my story, which I’m now rewriting, as I wanted to.

What’s Next? (Or What Now?)

As I mentioned above, I took a first read of my novel and am rewriting it now. (Cue tears, many tears. Some happy tears, I swear!) My word count goal for today, after finishing this blog post, is about 2,000 words. At first, I thought I could embark on a NaNoReviMo (a month of revising), soon to polish and release my work, but at the end of the day, I realized my story had a lot of weak points. Coming to terms with this and barreling on with the work of improving it has been humbling, but I wouldn’t trade the discipline I’ve honed so far for anything in the world. Like going through any other monumental challenge, once you come out the other side, you grow and appreciate your past self for putting you through the discomfort and pain to become a better version of yourself. I remind myself of this daily as I mold and mold my new draft.

jwang's laptop at cafe
Not writing in my room for once! 😛

Hopefully, by the end of this January, I will be able to hire an editor to help me with the next step of preparing my work for self-publishing. I try not to think too far ahead about getting a cover designer and book formatter, as exciting as these steps are, but I do let the thought of them motivate me.

Another reason for my rewrite, besides my desire for a quality narrative, is the simple fear of being negatively judged. Having really thrown myself into the process of creating a whole darn book, I find it hard to truly criticize any work I know someone has put their heart into. However, I know that my story will not work for everyone who reads the genre I’m targeting, so there will be people who point out things they didn’t like about the book. I won’t lie, I’m still preparing for the first bad review I get, but I try not to let this limit me in my day-to-day work. All I can do is write my tail off and hope the story resonates with someone else. I’m confident it will, and I hope it could inspire that someone else to tell their own story because one book can’t be everything for one person. This I know, since it’s what drove me to create my story.

Is NaNoWriMo The Only Way to Write a Book?

The answer is, of course, absolutely not. You can begin writing anytime. I think aspiring writers, myself included, often forget this, as simplistic as it sounds. Remember that you can file away (never throw away) those first few sentences or pages if you don’t like them, but if you have a story to tell, begin now. There is no way to be completely ready, and as with many things in life, you learn as you go. Your story can change as you go, but once you settle on an idea and find yourself needing a period of time to turbo-charge it into fruition, remember that NaNo and a community of like-minded, supportive storytellers is waiting to welcome you, including me.

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?

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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…

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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. 🙂