Monthly Archives: January 2011

When My Mom Was My Age

There is an interview series called When My Mom Was My Age. I’ve wanted to participate, if only as an excuse to ask my mom some questions about her life at my age (37).

My hopes were that I would learn something from her, and gain some insight into my mother. I was going to post the interview up at my irl eponymous blog…but after hearing my mother’s answers, I balked. I didn’t even know if I wanted the answers up at all, because her answers felt so dark and filled with regret. It was, in sum, depressing to me to hear that my mother wasn’t happy at all at the age of 37, and was living, psychologically, day to day.

She regrets the many decisions made then–and coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, one of my life mottoes is, “Do not have regrets.” Listening to her, as I sit in the housekeeping years of middle age, I felt a deeper resolve to keep my life a happy adventure. I also noticed her child-centric answers, as I navigate my 30s unable to have a child and without child. Was it her children who held her back? Or her children who saved her? At the current age of 67, she still feels trapped by the decisions she made (or rather, didn’t make) in her middle age.

Which makes me feel awful. And yet enlightened. And awful. And yet enlightened. Who wants their own mother to feel their life is a cautionary tale?

And yet–I learned, even as my heart broke. And so, I’m posting the interview here on WUP.

I did decide to post a picture of my mom, when she was in her late 20s (I may remove it, later). She’s wearing her nursing uniform, back when nurses were required to wear hats on the job. She’s wearing eyeglasses–but she didn’t need them; she wore them because my dad wanted to obscure her youth and beauty. Or, as my mom put it once, “Daddy wanted me to look ugly, because sooo many doctors around me.” She’s smiling–and after you read the interview, you might think as I do, “What does that smile belie?”

Otherwise, there are no pictures of me and my mother, posted here on this anonymous blog. The interview is pretty much unadorned. She doesn’t go into details at points, and I know the dark context. It’s stark. Kind of like how I felt as I listened to her words, her voice creased and weary with time.

Where did you live?
I lived in Arcadia, California. I worked at Garfield Hospital.

What was a typical day like?
In the morning I woke up, I went to the hospital to go to work. I worked fulltime that time I was fulltime, working in the ICU, then coming home. Grandma was sitting on the sofa, and I had to cook, spend some time with you and your brother. Make dinner. Sleep. Then go to work again.

What did you worry about the most?
That time–ahhh, it was a tough time. Everyday, people picked on me, and give me a hard time. Grandma everyday was tough on me. Everything was a headache.

I only liked you and R. Everybody a work asked why I was smiling all the time; every time I don’t feel good, I just think about my kids, then smile. I was most happy face in the hospital. You two make my face so bright. I was the one, they called me the Happymaker because even though I have a lot of headache at home, my kids made me smile.

What did you think the future held for you?
My future. No. Just my children. Good school, and hoping when they grow up, they become doctors. Actually I wanted you to be a doctor and go to a good college. At that time, I was just thinking about your future, all the time. I didn’t think about my future at the time. Just my 2 kids.

How do you look back on that age?
If I had to do it again, I would have studied. Even if I fight with Daddy about school, I can study and make my life better at that time.

Do you have advice for anyone else at that age?
Advice. Just think of yourself for the future. Of course, children are there, but concentrate, do what you can do for your kids. If you’re hungry, don’t make your kids hungry. Do your best. Also, if Mommy goes to school, there are good effects to the children, because they can see Mommy study so hard, working so hard, making a good example for kids.


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Day 18: annnnd hello, rental market

Unexpected addendum to Day 18. I think I have to enter the NYC rental market, something I’ve been lucky to have avoided until now (we’re lucky to be renting from friends right now–we never even had to look for a place to live). I haven’t shopped for a rental apartment in over 12 years, and definitely never in Manhattan. I hope it’s not as terrifying as I think it will be. I know–princess problems, but I think I’m about to cry (because that’s what princesses would do).

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Day 18: differences

Day 18, and I’m noticing the differences between life in Berkeley and life in NYC. Differences other than the snow/weather, of course…

If NYC could get on the recycling bandwagon, wow–what an impact on the world. Our NYC apartment building has recycling bins, but recycling isn’t enforced like it is in San Francisco, both by law and social order. (If you go to a party in SF/Berkeley, EVERYONE will come up to you with their empty bottles and ask, “You recycle, right? Where’s your recycling bin?”) Nevermind the fact that you can get FINED if you put your compostables in your regular trash bin!

I have a compost bin in Berkeley–all compostables (vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells, coffee grinds) go in my compost bin. I cook a lot–and over the course of a week, I’m tossing several big bowls of compost into that bin. It makes me feel virtuous to know I’m relieving burden on the environment, turning organic material back into soil…

But in New York? There’s no compost bin in an apartment in a sea of apartments. And there’s no green compost bin in the refuse room, either. Those compostables? They go in the trash. That makes me sad.

Which leads me to…The Refuse Room:
I hate taking out the trash. Hate.It. The only time I could bear taking the trash out was when I lived in a high rise Berkeley dorm, where there was…a trash chute. All I had to do was walk out in the hallway, and throw away my trash and shuuuuup! it would go shooting down the chute down to whatever depths below.

(Actually, I know the depths–one time, I threw away my rice cooker pot insert, and had to rifle through the building’s trash myself).

In Berkeley, there are trash cans that I have to (ick) touch and then roll out to the curb each week. In NYC? The aforementioned Trash Chute phenomenon. There’s a picture above–trash chute to the left, and recycling bins. I love the trash chute. It’s as close to the Jetsons as my life has gotten.

Hospital designs are all about hiding the corpses. I think NYC apartment buildings are all about hiding the trash.

Service in NYC is…da sheeit. Repairmen not only arrive early, but they CALL you to tell you if they can arrive early. And if you tell them to arrive 15 minutes later, they say sure! And then 15 minutes later call you and say, “Is now okay?” Heaven.

You go to the store–whether a big chain or a local place…and 90% of the time, you can have that stuff delivered to your house, so that you don’t have to carry a zillion bags on the way home. (I have developed some serious shoulder muscles in the few weeks I’ve been here). You can pick the timeframe for delivery. It’s amazing.

Walking walking walking:
Biggest difference: you don’t need a car. Walking suffices. You walk all day. You can walk most anywhere. I can’t be sure (I have to go get a tape measure, because this new weight scale I got is maddeningly inaccurate)…but I think I’ve lost a few pounds since being here.

As a consequence of walking, I notice the details of the City (e.g., all the remnants of dog shit, for starters). I rub shoulders with other people. I don’t just drive around in a “bubble” (aka the car), driving past the sections I want to rush through, only to focus on my destination. It’s an entirely different process.

I love the walking.

Berkeley Bowl (otherwise known as, “Where are the good grocery stores?”):
I miss Berkeley Bowl. I miss it. A. Lot. I knew that when I left Berkeley, I’d miss that store–but never did I think I would miss it this much! Berkeley Bowl is a one stop shop–it has international groceries, mainstream groceries, organic groceries, frou frou gourmet groceries…all top notch PLUS a bakery PLUS a deli PLUS a great butcher + fishmonger PLUS amaaazing and diverse produce.

We’ve driven to Jersey, we’ve tried no fewer than 12 grocery stores in Manhattan…and so far, the only thing that comes close is Whole Foods and Fairway Market. For the record, Whole Foods doesn’t hold a candle up to Berkeley Bowl.

I haven’t yet checked out the greenmarkets, so maybe it’ll get better. But for now–I miss you, Berkeley Bowl.

Smush Face Dogs:
New York loves its smush face dogs: pugs, French bulldogs, and English bulldogs.

Writers Room:
At The Writers Grotto in SF, each writer gets a private, dedicated office in which to write. There’s an enormous wait list, and everyone is eager to get on the “sublet list,” which gives a writer access to the occasional sublet opportunities.

Here, in NYC, there are a number of writing rooms, like Paragraph and The Writers Room. Whichever you choose–you’re unlikely to get an office, let alone a dedicated desk (although the The Writer Gym at the Asian American Writers Workshop offers dedicated desks). I kind of prefer the NYC option–to be in a sea of writers, so that you hear the collective work going on (it’s silent, but not without the occasional gulp of water, rustling of polyester jackets, and the sound of typing). If you don’t have a dedicated desk, you’re all the more motivated to get to the space early.

And lastly…:
And lastly–I love that there is NO RAMPANT HIGH TECH TALK here in NYC. It’s nice to go through a meal at a restaurant without hearing “Java /Javascript /JVM /Python /Ruby /Ruby on Rails /VCS /SAN,” etcetera, either at your own table or at the table one over, or the table on the other side of the restaurant. It’s a nice break. And I love that writers abound.


Filed under Life, New York City

Day 10 in the NYC life: Evolution of Snow

Evolution of NYC snow:
Yesterday evening, it began to snow in NYC…the night sky turned milky white with falling snow.  This morning, I woke up to pillows of the ivory stuff everywhere; by news accounts, 9 inches of snow fell in Central Park. By noon, there was a snowman in our apartment’s courtyard. By mid-afternoon, strong winds and snow blowing off rooftops. By late-afternoon, the white stuff turned to gray slush on the sidewalks and crosswalks.

Another reason I love NYC:
Did not write. Got my hair cut. I got to indulge my diva self; I received a personalized hair consultation, and experienced a transformation of my mane. My new hairstylist kindly tore the Vogue magazine from my hands and told me I had to watch my haircut this first time. I have a decades-long habit of reading magazines while getting my haircut, sometimes to my hair’s great detriment. I totally admired her for separating me from my magazine.

At one point, she asked me, “Do you like it so far?”

I said yes.

She asked, “What part do you like?”

Daaaamn. I fell in love with her at this point. She wasn’t letting me get away with platitudes. Man, I love this city. It calls me on my own bullshit, because I’m from this city. I pointed to the layers on the sides of my hair.

“I like that part, too.” And she continued to cut. Until she gave me the best haircut I’ve received in 10 years.

Yet another reason I love NYC:
Afterwards, I walked north, past men hired to shovel the streets of Tribeca. Where did they come from? Did the City hire them for the day? And why was I not seeing them anywhere else? Did the cobblestone streets of Tribeca require manual shoveling to clear snow?

I met a good friend for chocolate treats at Jacques Torres. I was wearing a Star Wars tshirt. Why is it that my husband gets mad props for the tshirt, but I get zero comments? (I’m now wearing it, because it shrunk in the dryer and it no longer fits my husband).

I love Jacques Torres. I use his chocolate chip cookie recipe. I love my friend. Best chocolate in the world + amazing friend = awesome time.

We walked towards the Village afterwards. Picked up Raffeto’s for dinner. Where I saw Vodka tomato cream sauce. Again. NYC is obsessed with:
1) Hamburgers (and does them extremely well)
2) Cupcakes (the overly sweet kind)
3) Vodka tomato sauce

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Day 9 in the nyc life: where I sit down to write

Today was my 9th full day in NYC.

I found this blog called A Year In New York, where writer David Ferris documented a year in NYC as a writer (like me, he’s also from San Francisco). I’m addicted to his blog. I’m one who loves insight to the future, even if totally improbable; hence, my obsession with weather forecasts and fortunetellers…and blogs about a year in NYC.

And reading his blog reminded me: I need to update this blog more often.

I’ve been writing in my moleskine–but haven’t felt compelled to post online, partly because I haven’t blogged here for awhile, partly because I’m still absorbing this exhilarating whirlwind of change.

I signed up for awhile back on my irl-name flickr stream. sends you a few photos on a monthly basis, of photos taken a year previous. I quickly discovered that:
1) I DO the SAME STUFF EVERY SINGLE YEAR (going to see the golden aspens in Tahoe! making pumpkin bread! vegetable gardening!)

Ohboy. Time for a change, I thought. And then an opportunity to live in NYC came along. We pondered the opportunity–we decided to go for it, and told ourselves that if we hit a roadblock in planning, we’d reconsider. No roadblocks whatsoever occurred; we found a place to live in an act of ultimate kizmet, and the timing was such that I could take a semester off from teaching. Additionally, other logistics fell into place. Like magic.

All of the above happened inside of a month. I didn’t even know what to pack. I ended up throwing everything in a box and sending it off to NYC (where we met the box, disheveled and falling apart, after driving to NYC in the car).

So we’re here in NYC–we braved Arizona blizzards (does that state have ANY snow plows?! We saw 5 spinouts and flipped cars inside of 30 minutes at one point) in our tiny MINI, and then outran the storms as best we could across New Mexico and Texas, until we reached New Orleans, where we spent NYE (amidst tornado watches). We love New Orleans. We pondered just staying put and refusing to move on to NYC. We ate at Jacques-Imo’s for NYE dinner, and vowed to return.

We ate at Waffle House (my first time! AMAZINGLY delicious) somewhere in Alabama, at Cracker Barrel (blech worse than dorm food) in Virginia, and I watched my husband eat a 24 ounce steak in Amarillo, Texas. The wiener dogs settled into the backseat of our car and snuggled for thousands of miles, happy as clams through aforementioned blizzards.

We got to NYC–and found a parking spot right in front of our apartment building. One of my friends called it a total Doris Day moment–too bad I was wearing the same pants and tshirt I’d been wearing for 5 days…if I’d known there would be a Doris Day moment, I’d have changed into a Dris Day shift dress and wool peacoat and put on some foundation and mascara.

It was magical. Surreal, even, to drive through the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan, and then walk through the doors of our apartment building. And stare out the windows at Manhattan, the Empire State Building lit up like a Bomb Pop popsicle in green and red.

We…were…here. I had realized a dream.

It’s now Day 9. We’ve settled into a routine after checking out no fewer than 7 food stores (Fairway, HMart, Sunrise Mart, Food Emporium, Whole Foods, Citarella, Ottamanelli’s Meats, just to name a few). I’ve seen 2 rats (one living, one dead), a falcon in the sky, a kazillion cupcake carts/trucks/stores, hundreds of naked post-Christmas Christmas trees awaiting garbage pickup, mountains of garbage (the city was behind on garbage pickup, post-blizzard), and had 8 bloody noses from the dry air.

And yesterday, I signed a contract at The Writers Room. It was hard to decide, but in the end I chose the Writers Room over Paragraph in an emotional decision; I woke up everyday imagining myself writing at the Writers Room–no matter how I tried, I could only imagine myself writing at the Writers Room and nowhere else.

Today, I sat down to write at the Writers Room–I could hear every gulp of water from the other writers, and I could hear that one writer was on a roll, typing with mad abandon. Every once in awhile, the radiators would hiss and rattle.

It was good. It was really really good.

(Also: I love NYC, but I miss my Bay Area friends. I miss you!)


Filed under Life, New York City