East Coast Revival

Of all my vacations, I had to work myself into this one, as though bigger girl panties were required emotionally. I wasn’t feeling particularly strong for various reasons, but I eventually found my footing due to familiarity like my family home and quite frankly my second family, as it were, of friends. I had intentionally focused my time with them on this trip—so much life has happened since I was last there in 2014.

Even on the first leg of my journey, there was a tinge of sadness. New York City, while still electric, seemed quite frankly deserted due perhaps not only to the stifling heat and humidity in July, but also the steep cost of living residing there. My consolation, though, is I had more of the city to myself. On my last evening, I happened to go into a local Target in Gramercy Park and mixed with ordinary Saturday shoppers and neighbors, some strutting shirtless on the sidewalk, absorbing the early evening sun before nightfall. It was like any other urban neighborhood I had known, and it felt like home. Only fitting, raindrops fell on the morning of my departure.

But my hometown beckoned, and I was on an Amtrak train heading for the Burgh as I had done on previous trips before. However, as I do more traveling solo, it’s more and more about me and how I evolved since 2014, ergo the mandatory bigger girl panties. I am a lot more at home in the world than not, and being more in charge of my destiny is my constant wish.

It has occurred to me that coming home this year, my friends and I are facing challenging situations, like ill parents, struggling marriages, death of a spouse. After all these years, we are still connected as adults as we were in our younger days. As if by design, the states of our unions remain strong. In other words, we are in this lifeboat together until it no longer exists.

To be sure, it was a short homecoming, and I left Pittsburgh well-fed and entertained. It is always personal with opportunities of going deeper. But I somehow prevent myself from diving too deeply for fear of never resurfacing. However, as years go by and I grow older, there’s no avoiding it.

Averting Death

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Poolside: MLK weekend getaway before a brief scare on the return flight.

I was taking off in a plane last month on a windy morning from Palm Springs, and before the critical 30 seconds when the aircraft would have reached a safe level, it started to bounce violently like a puppet being willfully pulled by invisible strings. Obviously, I survived, however, the event nudged me to think how final moments are never shared after the fact because, well, one would not have lived to tell them. Once we disembarked, my travel companions and I reunited and immediately debriefed to comfort each other. Later, I also texted my siblings.

I was seated in the last row, where one could feel every bump and disturbing noise expressed from a plane’s gut, when it started rocking in a not so pleasant manner. I turned toward my sole row mate, and he looked about to lose it, including all his saliva, judging how he was cupping his mouth. With little assurance there, I took hold of the arms of my seat, curling mine around them, imagining I would have some kind of protection if separated from the plane in a hard, vertical fall.

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My nephews are babies no more but still raison d’etre.

Then my phone popped out of the pocket in front me. When I had a chance to grab and pick it up, the top screensaver of my two nephews around two or three at the time, lit up, as most phones sensitive to any touch or movement are want to do, and glowed in the gray well of my row. I locked into their angelic faces that were increasingly coming into sharp focus, as I brought my phone closer to me. I thought if this is my final moment, then I am at peace and good with whatever follows because these boys, whom I consider at times my own, were the last images I would have seen.

But I dodged the grim reaper again, and well, I guess, at this juncture, the directive is more or less the same as time immemorial–live like there’s no tomorrow–but also speak of what’s in my heart, especially when without any notice, it may suddenly be on its last tick.

G’Day!

While pictures often tell the story in our Instagram culture, just a few words about my trip to Sydney and Melbourne in Australia last March: In my first overseas trip in 10 years, I realize how much I miss traveling abroad. Like anything that hasn’t been done for a long time, I was naturally anxious at first, even dreading it. Fortunately, I pushed through the fear and with my last trips to Italy and France in mind, it was like riding a bike.

Experiencing the world provides perspective that couldn’t be gained stationary in one’s comfort zone or permanent residence. Although I am three months removed, I am no doubt changed, infused by my time there yet being present here, a thread I am following and exploring. But articulating it is another matter, given my long absence from this page, so please enjoy the snappies in the meantime!

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On Golden Pond

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I am wrapping up a month-long sabbatical of self-reflection fitted in with two quick nature-filled trips to Tahoe and Point Reyes. At this point, I must first reference a New York Times article, “The Meaningfulness of Lives,” I alluded to six years ago. I want to do the things I used to love so passionately, like tennis, dancing and even writing (well, maybe not all at the same time) that seemed so superfluous when preoccupied with other stuff. I literally felt I couldn’t afford to invest in them because of self-preservation until I realize I couldn’t justify it anymore. My self-worth and a worthwhile life hang in the balance.
I’ve come to know that it’s not a matter of being morally superior or even over-the-moon happy. Rather, it is whether I am thoroughly engaging in something, and it may not always be so pleasant as I spent some of the month healing the wounds of past unfairness and indiscretions and confronting such basic impulses as the inability to relax and unplug. My sojourns to Tahoe, which I hadn’t visited in 17 years, and Point Reyes, where I had never been, put me in touch with some emotions I had ignored and wasn’t aware of–this was the time to push those to the surface and tackle them for as much as I could tolerate it, fully understanding they may crop up again. I am human after all.
As my friend Angela had eloquently chimed in when rain and later hail descended on the lake, “Sometimes rain is best because people scatter, and you can enjoy a moment of solitude in beautiful nature.” Driving in a canopy of firs, cruising on a riverboat from Zephyr Cove to Emerald Bay, hiking street level toward the edge of Lake Tahoe, my mind was empty in a Zen-like state I may have never known existed. It was that deep.
On the eve of a new job and chapter and the cusp of Autumn, my favorite season of the year when things come into fine focus, I am of this mindset: There will be parts of my journey that remind me it’s so much bigger than me; but I have an active role to carve out space and bring meaning to bear on my life that I promised will be one well lived. 

The Richness of Weekends

If there’s anything these last two years have taught me, it is this return to me and being comfortable with the things I love and a weekly routine inculcated when I was small. It brings me to this notion of how precious weekends are, especially when a birthday lands on them. This long holiday weekend, I’m discovering the music between the notes of an open road and a small-town charm with which I was first acquainted five years ago with a dear friend. While city-dwellers have now altogether swarmed Pescadero in California, at least for this weekend, I am still quite determined to hear those musical strains in the present in a newer context, with a little more bravado.

Personal Effects

I wasn’t sure if I could travel by myself, since I often go with a friend or family, especially if it’s for vacation. Last month, I went to Santa Barbara, and more than a long weekend getaway, a time of the year I don’t even typically go for a break, it was a reset of the relationship with me.  No sooner was I back in San Francisco, and it was as though my arrival cued in a kind of Spring awakening, one I wouldn’t have imagined as this.

I am effectively getting off that proverbial circular wheel most people I know are on and looking toward the next 20 years with more genuine optimism. A friend told me as long as I am facing the right direction–assuming it is toward the sun–while being introspective and letting the external circumstances take care of themselves, then I am on the right track. I am in the midst of its throes. After all, Spring has only just begun.

The Soul in Architecture

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A plaza opened before us on our way to the Academia museum in Venice.

I read an article last year about what architecture means to some well-known practitioners in the industry, and it made me reflect what drew me to my current situation with an interior architecture firm.  I wondered why I hadn’t pursued design in the first place, what took me off track.  When I was 11 and I had my own room, I decided to be creative with some corrugated cardboard and reclaimed toy pieces to create tables.  But it felt more like a passing fancy.  As I got older, a new passion took over and held my interest to this day. Maybe discovering and articulating the soul in architecture is the purpose of being here, while working on the financial and legal side.

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It is said architecture is an expression of one’s world view.  It speaks to me none more so than in the confluence of cultures in restored Venetian building facades, and Venice’s plazas, San Marco being the ultimate manifestation of the public “living room” in an increasingly socially isolated world. Its cozy alleys that smack of claustrophobia, which if you let the discomfort pass, offer a level of intimacy that is rather personal, homey even. venetian-flag

Like the bustling under the windows of our pensionado during my 2008 trip there with my mom and sister, the pitter-patter of foot traffic was more a soothing murmur, not the profane cacophony of a major metropolis.  It was rather welcoming, the ambient sounds that would lull me into an eventual nap that afternoon.Serenissima room

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photo by Rhodora Ayuyang