COVID and Contemplation


There’s nothing like a pandemic to make you think, is there?

I mean, I assume. I wasn’t around during the Spanish flu.

I’m a constant thinker by nature – I’m going to assume that it’s in my genetic makeup, because I can promise that I have tried and failed since I was a small child to get my brain to shut the hell up for once. Over time, you just kind of accept that there’s never a break in your internal monologue, so you eventually just start trying to get some use out of it.

I already feel every moment of my life that I should be thinking about something – about my life, my future, my relationship, the ways of the world, the impermanence of life and power, the fragility of capitalism, and so on into deeper waters that I don’t really want to plunge into here, or I’ll never get a moment’s peace. So it’s only logical that when the pandemic hit and I was relegated into semi-permanent isolation in my apartment that I would do a lot of contemplating, particularly over what I wanted with my own life, because life for me since I was a kid has been figuring out how to achieve The Dream.

Oh, I know I’m not the first millennial to write about how The Dream is no longer achievable. Skyrocketing cost of living, stagnant wages, political apathy – the unholy trifecta that has created a new normal in which most millennials outside of the tech sphere cannot hope to achieve what most of our predecessors consider to be “normal.” Health insurance? Nah. A home you own, instead of rent? Nope. Retirement? Try again.

We are striving for normalcy in a world that is no longer (and probably never really was) normal.

Again, I’m not here to delve into how this is the new normal. What I’ve come to realize, in my six or so (I lost count) weeks of sheltering in place, is that I might be guilty of still trying to pursue The Dream, and I use “guilty” quite deliberately. I’ve long since accepted that my path to The Dream is far different than the path my parents and grandparents took. But I’m only now realizing that the destination has changed, too. The Dream no longer exists. The problem is we haven’t created anything to replace it.

We are in a steakhouse asking for the vegetarian options. Yeah, they’re probably there, but every single one of them is an afterthought, and none of them are very good. So why are we still trying to eat there?

We can get into the specifics about how the COVID-19 pandemic upended everything the privileged believed about capitalism, and revealed what the unprivileged already knew to be true, but it would be pointless. What COVID-19 did was sandblast away the last few layers of gilded plating to reveal a world made of lead and asbestos, and with it, any delusion that we could ever have of living on that world as we did before, including my own. Yes, I’ve already accepted that I will never be content holding a conventional 9-5 job and I managed to find happiness in my small bit of unconventionality, working as a writer. I assumed my determination to travel was going to be a weekend gig, something I could wedge in between drafts and final edits – furniture in my house, rather than the foundations. I figured that I was just taking a different path towards the same destination, something I desperately wanted to believe was still there, waiting for me.

It’s not. I’ve accepted it

When the pandemic ends, we’ll never be able to unlearn what we’ve learned from it. We can’t go back to the world that existed before it struck, because that world died drowning in its own fluids. It’s buried in a mass grave next to The Dream.

And where The Dream died, there is merely a void that very few of us have tried to build on. Maybe that’s our own fault, for living under the delusion that we could raise it from the dead like some benevolent zombie (Jesus?!). All I know is, I have no idea what to build there, and I suspect very few of us really do.

Perhaps that’s something I’ll have to contemplate for the next six or so weeks. My brain never shuts up anyway.

Simplify, Simplify

life, Tea Time Philosophy
It’s hard to figure out what you want from your life when you’re constantly comparing yourself to everyone else. It’s even harder when you don’t keep in mind that a lot of the people who portray themselves as having the perfect life on social media are just really good at hiding their shortcomings behind a few moments of success. I wear my heart and my subsequent failings on my sleeve, so for anyone to be able to do that sort of baffles me.
It’s taken me a long time to figure out who I am and what I want, and I had to find all of those missing pieces in the quagmire of Bay Area life, where the mixture of high living costs, low wages, and limited opportunities for non-techies comes together to form a quicksand that just drags you under no matter how hard you fight against it. It always means reaching for whatever possible rescue you can, whether that’s a low-hanging tree branch that threatens to snap under your weight, or a rope that ultimately isn’t tied to anything on the other end. But you learn when they fail how to recognize them, and how to find salvation that is strong and true, even if it takes longer than those who have already managed to escape the pit, or somehow avoided it entirely.
I guess I’m bringing this all up today because Father’s Day reminds me of the first big step I had to take towards happiness, and that was accepting that my father was never going to be what I needed, a decision that took me over twenty years to make and that I still have a difficult time accepting. It also coincides with the end of a week where I’ve finally managed to come to a conclusion, through years of trial and error, on how to balance the work life I want with what’s possible for someone with my education and experience who lives where I do. I’ve decided to go back to contract work, not because I have any love for the system, but because the kind of work I enjoyed the most is basically only available through contracting agencies in the Bay Area now. Freelancing is leaving me with fewer options than ever, and having yet another contract give me grief conveniently when it’s time to pay me is furthering my disillusionment with the industry as a whole. California doesn’t have the same sort of freelance protection laws that New York has, and frankly, the cons have finally completely outweighed the pros. Thankfully, I’ve gotten leads on some great opportunities, with better pay and benefits. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my job at Crazy Maple, just so that I can make extra money doing something creative, even if that something is transcribing YA romance to a game app, and it’ll be a solid backup between contracts if needed. But I’m swapping out four part-time jobs for one, and a full-time, if I can snag it.
Being largely unemployed for the last two months has put me extremely far behind in terms of finances and my long and short-term plans for this year. I think that’s why I jumped so quickly on the first set of available part-time jobs that came my way, because I needed to get out. I don’t advise it – it is not sustainable. Mentally, it’s taxing, and it leaves you completely dependent on the precarious balancing act that is multi-job income. It’s made harder on me now because in the past, I honestly would’ve just scrapped my apartment and moved into a rented room and figured out things from there from an easier position, or default to my backup plan – I’d get my ESL certification, hock all of my stuff, and go live abroad. But I can’t now because I have a partner who depends on me to bring in half the rent. Whatever path I’m on, I’m committed to, because I want to make this relationship work, and that means accepting that I have to try even harder, no matter how great a toll it is, because it’s not just me, it’s us. I’m not used to sacrificing for other people, and one of the biggest detriments to my mental health was accepting it because it would otherwise destroy my relationship. When I was single, I was barely scraping by on my own, but I had a way out. I can’t do that anymore if I want to keep the man I love, and that means coming up with a new plan, which, as I and I’m sure everyone else knows, is much easier said than done.
I kept waiting for the perfect opportunity to show up and open the door to the type of life that I wanted. It would be work that I found meaning in, that was solid and secure, and afforded me the opportunity to travel, which was always my dream. Now I have to accept that I have to be content with what’s available, even if it’s not everything I need. Contract work is terrible in many ways – it’s not permanent, it’s often uncertain, and more often times than not, it’s exploitative. But the work I had, I enjoyed, and I could stomach doing it forever, which was a quality I had yet to find elsewhere. I suppose just like in all aspects of life, it’s about finding the balance. I just needed to figure out how my scales worked.
Thoreau said “Simplify, simplify.” It’s an obvious solution with no real obvious process. It’s a simple statement. But it’s not a simple task. It took me years to figure out I could just tie the rope around the branch and pull.

A False Sense of Security, and Other Stories

life, Tea Time Philosophy

Being in my thirties in the Bay Area has taught me one irrefutable truth about the world.

There is no such thing as security.

Security is born of purpose, and purpose is the white rabbit that we’re expected to have snared by adulthood. I’ve long since learned that purpose is something that everyone strives for, but cannot be handed. Most people who seem to have figured it out are the ones who find their purpose in religion, marriage, and/or parenthood, with few finding it in their work, if they’re lucky enough to be born knowing what they want.

So where does that leave me? I’ve long since abandoned religion as little more than spoon-fed ideology espoused by those who can’t or won’t think for themselves, and vis-a-vis marriage/parenthood, frankly, I’ve never seen the appeal of such crushing ordinariness (she says as someone who is hoping to get married within the next two years). I don’t consider myself special, but I do consider myself unordinary, or at least marginally unconventional. Unfortunately, that’s still a broad and meandering path to purpose, one with many different crossroads, and I’m still stumbling along with no map to navigate it. And I’m approaching middle age with no more certainty of myself than I had when I was leaving my teens.

Well shit.

I’ve been pursuing purpose for as long as I can remember with no sense of certainty of where I’m going or what I’m capable of, and as a result, I have no sense of security. I live and work in an area that has no sense of loyalty, that costs more to live in than the average English major can reasonably earn, and loves contracts and not contract workers. I basically spent the first two-thirds of my life building my home and foundations, with my family, friends, and memories, only to have the major tech companies of the world swoop in and knock it all down to build a new campus on it. I hear the food is excellent, but the parking is garbage.

I remember growing up with the expectation of a job I could start out in and grow up with as part of a company for 30+ years, the parameters set by the claims of my parents and grandparents. Instead, I wound up in a world where job security is afforded to the privileged and employee loyalty is a rare commodity thanks in no small part to the fact that employers who actually care about their employees’ livelihoods have become mythological creatures that you read about and hear stories about, but never actually see. Sailor’s yarns only to be woven after a long day of drudgery washed away in the comfort of liquor, which we all seem pretty dependent on these days. I cannot build a foundation. I can only chase after purpose, but it keeps escaping down a hole I don’t have the wherewithal to keep going down, especially knowing how those stories often end.

I also do an awful lot of complaining. I just don’t know what else to do with myself.

I’m a Millennial in America. My Generation has Forgotten Me.


I know what the overarching perception of millennials is. It’s hard not to, considering there are daily news articles about whichever industry millennials are killing. We’re lazy, we can’t stop looking at our phones, we’re flighty in the job market, we demand free lunch at the office, and we’re snowflakes who can’t handle real life.

I’m going to conveniently forget that the group that has this particular set of beliefs about my ilk is the very same group that raised us. Moving on.

Apart from our glaringly obvious personal faults, we’re also responsible for the tech takeover of the modern world, building our kingdom of circuit boards and social media on the foundation laid down by Gates, Jobs, and Wozniak. We speak several programming languages, we can code operating systems, we can build artificial intelligence. We’ve transformed the world into something almost unrecognizable within a single generation, with all the instantaneous force of a meteor impacting the surface of the Earth.

Well, maybe you did. I, unfortunately, made the grievous error of choosing to be an artist in an increasingly tech-heavy world. I’m college-educated with a Master’s degree and over a decade’s professional experience. And I cannot afford to live in the kingdom that my generation has built.

I represent a curious middle ground in the millennial spectrum, in that I’m neither particularly tech-savvy, but I also don’t work in a so-called unionized trade. I’ve seen tech bros jet through Silicon Valley streets in ridiculously expensive cars while plumbers laugh as they go by because their unionized job pays them over $100k a year and they don’t have student loan debt. And I’m expected to laugh along with them while I’m taking home less than half of that at the job that tech bro has hired a contracting agency to hire a subcontracting agency to hire me for. With minimal pay, no benefits, and no long-term security.

In short, you’ve allowed the artists of the world to fall through the cracks. To be forgotten, until you realized you needed us as stilts to stand on so that your position in the world can be just a few feet higher, so that everyone else can see you better.

The plumbers need artists to design their logos and paint them on their trucks. The tech companies need writers to churn out user-facing content that non-tech bros can understand. They need musicians to compose jingles and songs for their soundbites and advertisements. They need catchy fonts and slogans for their advertisements. And meanwhile, the plumber is using a music app to stream the songs for less than what the song is worth to the musician, while everyone tries to pay their creators in “exposure.” Because we do this for fun, right?

You’ve recognized the need for people like me, but you won’t pay us enough to live in your world. You’re allowing us the crumbs you drop on the floor. You are forgetting us until you need us. You plant yourselves in our backyards and overrun it until we can no longer live there. And everywhere we run to hide, you follow, like a perverse game of cat and mouse.

Just stop. Enough is enough.

I am an artist in the Bay Area. I am a millennial. And I am not a consumable commodity. You need us to interface your business with the common man. We are as essential to your success. We are tradespeople deserving of respect and protection. We understand how your businesses work and how they appeal to the masses because as artists, we are more sensitive to the human condition. You need us just as much as you need a plumber when your golden toilet breaks, or tech support when your iPhone stops working. We are worthy citizens of the kingdom.

It’s time you started acting like it.


Holy Gender Roles, Batman!


Hey, sometimes I feel the need to rant about my personal views on life. M’kay.

So, for those of you who don’t know me (HA!), I was raised to be extremely self-sufficient. My grandmother sometimes tells me she’s worried she’s too hard on me because she’s determined to make sure that I’m smart enough to make my own way in the world. My mother raised me pretty much single-handedly and she only had a high-school education, but she’s certainly not stupid and worked her ass off. So, suffice it to say, there will never be in a time in my life where I will ever need anyone else to support me, and that’s how I think it should be. But I was in the car with a dear friend of mine the other day, and we got onto the topic of her sister-in-law, who is a dear, sweet girl, but ran into a marriage at the first conceivable opportunity, and has never in her entire life supported herself in any way, shape, or form. To preface the remaining bit of this rant, let me just state that I know her life is her own to lead, and her choices are her own cross to bear, and I have no right to pass any judgment on how she lives her life. But women like that just baffle me, and the entire conversation got me thinking about the dichotomy between men and women when it comes to self-sufficiency.

We live in a day and age where a marriage is supposed to be an equal partnership, with no one person supporting the other more than vice versa. At least, that’s the theory, and I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s part of the reason why the divorce rate is so high. But I don’t see that as often as I’d like to. I’d like to think any marriage that I ever get myself into would involve equal support, equal contribution, and that if something should happen, I would never be in a position where I would be screwed out of comfort or the ability to take care of myself. I don’t ever want to need alimony or child support or to take half of his money because I didn’t earn it. Again, this all goes back to how I was raised – a woman makes the choice to marry, to bear the children, and to support herself. If I couldn’t do the latter two on my own, I would certainly not get myself involved with the former. I’ve heard too many stories of women who boast of their husband’s financial status, who live under the impression that he is going to take care of her for the rest of his life, and is absolutely baffled, not to mention royally screwed, when he hits the cliche midlife crisis and runs off with a twenty-year old. All the usual mistakes are made – the man assumes the younger woman loves him for his personality, not his money, the now ill-to-do wife is left with nothing but broken promises and nothing to fend for herself with. There have been women in my life who have never worked a day in their lives because they went straight from their parents’ house to the marriage bed, and when the marriage crumbles, they are left with nothing – no work experience, no ability to maintain their lifestyle, nothing. 

Now ask yourself a question – how often do you see that with men?

How often is the man the submissive partner in the relationship, who feeds off of his wife’s breadwinnings? How often does the wife dominate in the money-making end of the marriage, and then leave her husband for a younger man when she gets bored with him? Not particularly often. So really, people can talk about equal roles in a relationship, but as far as my observation goes, women are making a pretty poor name for themselves when they get themselves into situations like this knowingly, living under the fairy-tale illusion that marriage equals their permanent protection. That they have no need to protect or support themselves because there’s a man who will be there to do it.

The fuck is this? The fifties? I thought feminism was supposed to have progressed! But these stories are still common. Before, it was my grandmother telling me about an aunt of hers who was so certain of her place in the world because of her husband’s money. When he divorced her and left her with nothing, her certainty didn’t save her. She had no work experience, no savings, and nothing to save herself with. She ended up having to live with her daughter. And now, it’s my friend telling me about her sister in law, who’s over thirty, ran into marriage with a guy she knew for six months who makes a good amount of money that allows him to buy her a house to move from her parents’ place into, and has never worked more than 15 hours a week in her entire freaking life. The writing on the walls is all there. In the beginning of a marriage, all of the intentions are good. But the divorce rate didn’t reach 50% because people kept their promises. It is true that a man should be more faithful to his wife, and his promises, than his need to prove his virility, or whatever the hell the reason is for leaving her for another woman. But a woman has her own role to play in her protection. A woman should be able to work a forty hour a week job. She should be able to get health insurance for herself, and any children they may have. She should have a nest egg, and all the preparations she can get if, for whatever reason, she finds herself without her husband there to save her. All kinds of things happen, besides divorce. He loses all the money in a ponzi scheme, he loses his job and there’s still a mortgage to pay, or, heaven forbid, he dies and there’s no life insurance. What then? What on earth are you gonna do to help yourself? These are all the questions that have been drilled into my head since childhood, and as a result, I find the idea of being dependent on a man absolutely repugnant. It actually made me cringe when the sales clerk at the consignment store made three burly moving guys take my tiny, 20 pound tea table to the car. Something I’m sure they did for insurance reasons, but it doesn’t change the fact that I felt completely repulsed by the notion of someone else doing for me what I could easily do for myself, had I simply made the effort. So maybe, in many ways, I’m lucky that my grandmother was so hard on me. Maybe it did suck a bit of the romance of marriage out of my brain, because I have to look at everything logically and I always have to prepare for the worst, which is not conducive to a romantic outlook. I have difficulties with dating men because so many of them wanted to take care of me, which I don’t want. I want to take care of myself. The idea of being someone like my friend’s sister-in-law makes me physically ill. I’m not trying to hoist myself and my way of thinking onto any kind of pedestal – I know plenty of women married to good men who respect their independence, women who know how to take care of themselves if the worst should happen. Strong women. But it makes me sad that despite all of our advances into gender equality, this is still a one-sided scenario.