perspective shifts / (sweet music)

I started a new job last week. It's taken a lot of mental work for me to be comfortable talking about it.

I felt like a failure when I moved home. I felt ungrateful. I felt lost. But mostly, I felt like a failure. I had graduated from a top university, landed a decent job, rented my own apartment alone, and gained independence in every sense of the word. And yet, I was miserable through the core of my being in a way I'd never been before. I couldn't even identify it at the time. It is only in retrospect, now, when I am aware of the happiness and gratitude I can feel on a daily basis, when I notice how much more easily smiling comes to me, that I am aware of the darkness of the past year.

I've been reading a lot. Books are what I gravitate towards when I am lost. I seek guidance from authors whose words have the power to embrace and heal me. JB MacKinnon's The Once and Future World provided a healthy dose of optimism and perspective-shift about the changing planet. In They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib's exploration in music and culture gave me a deep appreciation for Carly Rae Jepsen and the power of essays. Both he and Michelle Obama (Becoming) revealed the deep confusion and uncertainty they felt in their 20s, and I've held onto their words with great hope. They made my confusion feel normal, maybe even positive. Ken Liu has inspired me to write, although my struggle with fiction seems eternal, as my own true stories constantly push themselves through.

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I felt like a failure for moving home because I was afraid that it seemed like regression. More accurately, I felt like a failure because I thought of it as a regression. It took a few books, but I've finally realized that the decisions I've made in the last six months have led to more personal growth than I've experienced in years. I feel more open and vulnerable to the human experience, to questions of history, identity, and purpose. I feel compelled to learn about a variety of subjects, take on personal projects, write, exercise, and engage in my community. In the context of a logical career, perhaps I've regressed, but I've gained so much more.

I went from working at a design consultancy in Boston to working at as a film processing technician at a small photography lab in Irvine. The former required a degree from a top university, internship experience, and a significant amount of luck in timing. Landing that job was difficult, and for a few months, I felt spoiled and ungrateful for walking away. The job that I have now requires a high school diploma and a passion for film photography--both things that I had before I left for MIT more than five years ago. This fact alone makes it difficult for me to explain what I'm doing now to other people, particularly those who I don't believe will take the time to understand my decisions (or are unable to due to their own life experiences).

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For now, I've given up a nice salary, a sense of independence, a clear career trajectory, and the status of a steady corporate job. I've gained proximity to family and friends, knowledge about an aspect of photography that I'd otherwise never be exposed to, experience in a job that requires mostly physical capability, comfort of living at home, time to pursue my own hobbies and passions, and an increasing sense of clarity about what matters to me in the world. I've been able to spend time with friends, old and new, in ways that challenge my perceptions and intellect. I love being able to eat dinner with my mom on a daily basis, to see my grandma every weekend, and to hike in the mountains whenever I want to feel sunlight on my skin. Maybe it sounds like I'm running from real life. Maybe I am. But maybe I've just decided to choose a slightly different path than the one I thought I was meant to take, and maybe that's okay.

Mary Oliver wrote in Upstream: Selected Essays : "The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time." For the first time since high school (when I promptly squashed it), I feel the call to creative work, and for the first time in my life, I'm allowing myself to give it both power and time.

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what i need / nerd updates

New Ben Howard and this video made it hard to pick a song for this post, but this video gives me life and also this song is definite summer jams. Also it's Pride month, so this is more appropriate. 

And it's summer!! It's hard for me to fully grasp that the weather is actually consistently nice and my heating bills won't be more than $200 dollars anymore... This month has been pretty exciting overall. I finished my first project at work, which was generally rewarding. I definitely learned a lot about the design process and about my own working/learning style. I'm realizing more and more how much my personal passion matters to me in my daily work, which makes me feel like general design consulting might not be the place for me. I'm lucky to have incredibly supportive and caring coworkers though, so I'm still very much enjoying my current work environment.

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I went to New York City for Memorial Day weekend, which was a welcome escape from Boston. I always love visiting New York - everything feels so much more alive, and also the food is incredible (special note of love to Absolute Bagels and Buddha Bodai). It was nice to just walk around and feel life in the city, and also to catch up with some old friends. I finally went to the American Museum of Natural History as well, which made me think about my small existence in the universe. 

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Other than that, I've been cleaning out my apartment a lot and really thinking about what I want to do this summer. I have a lot of film rolls that I'm excited to develop - I recently trialed a Bessa R3m, which is a M-mount rangefinder camera made by Voigtlander. I got it from KEH new in box, but the metal shutter was a huge turnoff and I found it very jarring to shoot. That was a shame, because the 1x viewfinder and other mechanics/feel were quite delightful. I ended up returning it and scoring a Leica M2 on eBay for $600 after some crazy discount codes and things. It's supposed to be in working condition, but even if I have to send it for some repairs, I'm pretty psyched about it. I've had a picture of a Leica M2 on my wall at home since 11th grade. I cannot really afford true Leica glass at this point, so I'm waiting on a 7Artisans 35mm f/2 to hold me out. 

I have been shooting digital a lot less, which may explain the lack of photos in this post. I ended up returning the 0.95 aperture lens I talked about in my post from March. My Fuji kit only contains the 18-55 and 23 at this point. It's very functional, but even after all this time, I recognize that my joy in photography mostly comes from shooting film. I've been using the Olympus XA4 extensively, which is by far my favorite point and shoot camera. The 28mm view, easy zone focusing, and tiny size make it the best everyday carry camera I've found (and I've tried too many to count).

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I've picked up (or continued, I guess) more nerd hobbies and acquired a new mechanical keyboard. I got a cheap blue switch 60% keyboard (MagicForce 68) a few years ago because I'm all about the tactile things, but that thing is super loud and I wanted something I could potentially take to work or use in a busier environment. Since I'm all about compactness and efficiency, I opted for a 40% ortholinear keyboard. As you can see from the picture, this means the keys aren't staggered. I was a bit worried about typing ability, but I've had about a week to practice and am pretty much at my normal typing speed. It takes a few minutes to adjust when I go back to my work laptop, but it's been really fun programming specific keys and making new short cuts and things. This will probably make zero sense to the majority of people reading my blog, so I'll stop now. Brown switches are way nicer than blues though, fyi. 

Looking forward to...

  1. Haux concert! (Thursday)

  2. Colorado trip with family (Starting next Sunday)

  3. Summer nights and bike rides (ALL SUMMER)

  4. Leica repairing and refurbishing (Probably right before Colorado)

  5. Vegan sushi in Montreal (mid July)

  6. Visiting Grandma in Ireland (October?)

  7. Moving closer to home (Late October???)

thin, lady bird, crippling self-doubt

It's probably posts like these that will one day convince me to make my blog more private, but I'm pretty sure I know the few people who actually keep up with this regularly (love you all), so I'll just go with it. 

I've been thinking a lot about life lately. It's a very normal thing, I'm told. So much of life has been spent going through school, with little time to think about much else. Graduation felt like being fired out of a canon, the summer a blissful freefall. And now I feel like I've landed in an empty field. The dust has slowly settled, and I am lost.

Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I'm brought back to a room. My old room at 1425 Lyndon St, in South Pasadena. This, as I am realizing, was such a defining space for me. It was here that my various dreams were both hatched and buried, where broken hearts were mended, and where I slowly began to learn who I am. 

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I've been feeling so indescribably lost lately, and it took a movie for me to find the words. I watched Lady Bird back in November, mostly due to excitement about a few of the scenes being filmed at my high school and the local coffee shop where I went often (and where I had my MIT interview). Leaving the theater, I didn't really think that much of the movie. It was definitely good, but I focused a lot on the embodiment of the characters and setting, not about the emotional responses, which were the heart of the whole film. I joked that it was a really "white" movie. And that was it for a while. 

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I got incredibly homesick in January. I sort of expected it, with the miserable Boston winters, lack of sunlight and all. I missed the sunshine, the beach, the moonlit drives, the feel of a longboard on smooth concrete. I missed the warmth of friendships, the exquisite pain that comes from laughing too much, and the feeling of wanting to bottle up beautiful moments to save for later, and for forever. 

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I see my past so visually and so vividly. It's painful and lovely at the same time. Memory and photography are so inherently tied for me that it's hard for me to explain the difference at all. I guess the major difference is that I press a shutter to take a picture, but there exists thousands of clips in my head that never make it onto a film strip or sensor, whether real or imagined - strangers' smiles, sunlight reflecting off buildings, ocean waves, drifting snow. 

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In 9th grade, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to make movies. I spent the majority of my free time reading about screenwriting techniques and watching cinematography reels on Vimeo. I dreamt about going to USC film school and becoming a DP - making the visual nuances that make me so happy come to life for everyone. I made a few random videos on my own or for school projects, but I never allowed myself to fully immerse in a world where this dream seemed like a feasible reality. I started taking photos as a less serious alternative, deleted my video editing software, and went on to search for new dreams. Did I want to be a dentist? Yes, until I had to wash people's mouths for 8 hours a day. A biologist? Oh, I never took biology. I went to an MIT summer camp, became interested in mechanical engineering (because I started fixing cameras), and the rest happened how it happened. 

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MIT was an incredible place, for many, many reasons, but it's also the place where I felt like I lost myself the most. I made some truly wonderful memories and met some of my favorite people in my life, but in retrospect, I felt forced to believe that I wanted something I didn't. I feel horrible writing this because I know that MIT is a lifelong dream for so many people. I really wanted it, too, and I was lucky to have genes from incredibly smart parents and also parents that created an environment for me to build a strong work ethic and intense self-discipline. I wasn't sure about engineering when I went to MIT, but I wanted to be sure about it. I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps, to show him how well I turned out, and to prove my own value to myself. I wasn't sure about engineering when I was at MIT, but I didn't have anything that I really liked that much more, until I started taking more social science classes towards the end of my time there. I got into product design, which was something I liked because I could use the engineering I didn't really want to do, and combine it with the social science parts that I did enjoy.

And now here I am. 

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I went home last weekend since I was out in Palm Springs for a work trip anyway. I rented a car and drove back on Friday, right through sunset. The shades of pink, yellow, blue, and purple in front of the sandy mountains was more than my heart could really bear. I smiled the entire way home. I suddenly thought of Lady Bird - the last scene, where she calls home and asks her mom whether she got emotional the first time driving through Sacramento. The memory of that scene just hit me so hard. 

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I got home, and was able to spend a few days in Irvine and around South Pasadena. I saw the aforementioned coffee shop, and scenes from the movie came back to me again. It was weird, because the locations were just triggers - I started identifying with the subtle emotional trajectories of the characters, months after I had seen the movie. And then I would recall the way it was filmed - the colors, the sunflares, the tonal quality - and it reminded me of the ways I construct my own memories. 

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There's another scene that hits me really hard from the movie (sorry for anyone who hasn't seen this movie, it's hard to explain how the delivery changes the meaning, or how spectacular Saoirse Ronan is): 

Mom: I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.
’Lady Bird’: What if this is the best version?

This scene kills me. I've never had this sort of conversation with my mom, but this sentiment is something I struggle with internally on a daily basis. Not the idea that I won't be better, but the sense of crippling self-doubt. 

I've always prided myself on being able to go for things that I want, and my ability to be willing to pick up new skills and try new things. While I still think those things are true, I'm coming to terms with the fact that I've never actually tried that hard for the things that I genuinely love doing with all of my heart. I'm actually really scared of putting my all into something and realizing that I'm not that good at it, or that I'll never make a difference with it. Since college, I've been working towards things that provide stability. Job security, good income, ability to support myself, insurance, etc. I was convinced  that once I had those things, happiness would follow, but...

Money is not life’s report card. Being successful doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. It just means that you’re successful. But that doesn’t mean that you’re happy.
— Marion McPherson, Lady Bird

It's weird - I never really understood people that loved their jobs, or wanted to work more than they had to. This judgement, I've realized, comes from a bitterness within myself. I think, deep down, I just really envy people who work just because they love it. This doesn't apply to people who have to work for financial stability or people who attach their self-worth to a paycheck or external validation - I feel for those people. But working for enjoyment? That's completely foreign to me, and it's only now that I realize that it's because I've never let myself even try to turn something I love into a job. Yes, I've done some freelance photography, but not before I grossly undercharge to eliminate any real expectations from me, and this just worsened during my time in college. I'm so terrified of disappointing myself by trying too hard and failing that I've built an entire separate track of my life that walls off life productivity from personal happiness. As a result, I'm judged for things that I don't feel that strongly about, so if I fail, it's easier to move on from. It's easier to pursue the things I love in my free time, away from any actual responsibilities or ability to make a real impact, and that's sort of cowardly. And I convinced myself that this was desirable. 

We’re afraid that we will never escape our past. We’re afraid of what the future will bring. We’re afraid we won’t be loved, we won’t be liked. And we won’t succeed.
— Parish Priest, Lady Bird

To be honest, I don't really know where to go from this realization. I'm proud that I'm able to support myself with my education and skillset that I built for my career, but I want to push myself to take more risks, expressively. I'm working on my photography a lot more now, and eventually do want to become a well-established photographer. Shooting for a magazine or a website would be really cool. I want to make a documentary one day. Maybe even work on a film. I want to use the food knowledge that I'm gaining to make systematic change. Most of all, I want to empower people through the way I see the world. And one of these days, I want to be able to let go of an expected 9-5 job to pursue, in full force, something that doesn't have me checking the time every half an hour. I want to be someone who gets up excited to do something with their day, even if that day is challenging as hell. I want to think about something 24/7, not because it's stressful, but because I know that it truly matters to me. To be honest, I just want to feel some of the fearlessness I used to feel, before logic, fear, and an expectation of what my life should be led me to a very stable emptiness. 

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terraform / frustrations, questions

I feel like every blog post starts with a realization of how much time has gone by since I last posted. I've been trying to write for a while now, but life can be...overwhelming, and I find it difficult to write unless I have a clear direction. 

I've been working full-time for more than 2 months now. I like my job, so it's actually what happens after work that stresses me out more than my 9-5. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, I started a personal learning project about food. As someone who grew up vegan for health reasons, awareness of food was necessary. I was often on the outskirts of food culture, and was able to observe habits that were so drastically different than mine. My mom conducted a lot of research about diet and health as I was growing up, and, whether intentionally or not, also developed more sustainable living habits that I accepted as standard (ie. eating local/organic food, avoiding plastic waste, recycling carefully, reducing material consumption). I never thought I was "environmentally friendly" - I took AP Environmental Science in high school and enjoyed it thoroughly, but it was really just another class to me. I don't think, in retrospect, I became passionate about the environment at all until I was confronted with a staggering amount of apathy and willful ignorance when I started college. 

I've been reading about fishing for the past five weeks. I don't eat fish, didn't know anything about fish, have never been fishing in my life, hate boats, and get really seasick. I have no direct interest in the ocean, but I wanted to learn more about the impact humans were having on the world. I learned a lot of fascinating things about the ocean, but my main takeaway was...how come I didn't know any of this earlier? And in general, how come I only know a small handful of people that are even interested in talking about pressing environmental issues? Why is caring about the environment an "interest" or "hobby", as if being invested in what is going to inevitably devastate the following generations of life on earth is the same as playing basketball or watching a new TV show? 

I want to blame individuals, but I can't. The societal baseline for caring is just too low. We pat ourselves on the back for everything, even actions that should really be the baseline. We refill our water bottles at the water fountain, where it kindly reminds us of the number of bottles "saved" from the landfills. Yes, refilling that bottle does replace a disposable plastic bottle, but why doesn't every bottle say "one more piece of plastic added to the landfill"? Why do we give out plastic bottles, straws, and cups in absurd amounts at every social event? And what's the difference if we collect reusable water bottles like they're disposable, anyway? Why do we feel good when we recycle, but don't really notice when we toss plastic into a trash bin just because it was closer? Society doesn't lead us to actually make a difference, it just wants us to feel like we're making a difference. 

I'm surrounded by amazing people who care greatly about an impressive variety of things. I went to school with people who were incredibly hardworking, passionate about technology, and left with dreams of making the world a "better place" (I use quotes here just because I think every person has a different definition of better). For many, that meant newer, faster, more reliable, more advanced technology. More innovation. I share many of my peers' passion for technology, and ways it can be harnessed to  better the lives of humans. I love well-designed products, cool tech, and I am constantly in awe of what humans are capable of creating and understanding. And yet, I'm also constantly frustrated, because in tech, sustainability is often a buzzword, used vaguely on websites to check a box and move on with it. Actually caring about the environment is delegated to hipsters and crunchy granola types (ie. Patagonia), or so my experiences have led me to believe. But the environment is the one thing that will affect all of us. No matter where you live, how much money you make, what you studied, or how many cars you own, whether you are religious or not... what happens with our environment will affect all of us. 

We are imagining and building the future, but blissfully ignoring it at the same time. I'm not asking for everyone to drop their jobs or personal passions and dedicate their lives to environmental causes - that would be hypocritical of me. However, I do believe that we can all spend a little bit more time thinking about the less glamorous parts of our future - pollution, climate change, ocean resource management, sustainable agricultural production, trash... We don't think about it because we're taught that humans are incredible, adaptive beings that can use our big brains to solve any problem we're encountered with. I think that's quite egotistical, but I can put some trust in it. Yet, I can no longer maintain comfort in that thought, because around me, there are very few big brains that I see working on these issues. 

These are issues that will (and already are) affecting our lives. These are issues that will burden the lives of humans for generations to come (if nuclear war doesn't kill us all by then). We imagine the future as such a colorful world filled with wonderful technology - we have no trouble talking about self-driving cars and fearing about the implications of AI, but we cannot forget about our physical planet. We cannot forget that there will soon be 8 billion people on this planet, each one fighting for food, water, infrastructure, and energy (and scrambling for the quality of living and rate of consumption that Americans have taken completely for granted). 

I think it's easy to think about the future and dismiss it as something to deal with later on, but it's important to realize how much can be at stake if we don't find viable solutions. If you love sushi, think about what it would be like if your favorite sushi no longer existed in the world, because the fish it came from went extinct due to poor fishery management. If you get really bad seasonal allergies, think about what it would be like when year after year, increased CO2 and longer spring seasons make allergies even worse.  What would it be like if our drinking water became a significant health risk? What would it be like if droughts led to a severe scarcity of water, let alone clean water? What would it be like to fear "once in a lifetime" type of hurricanes every year?

The future scares me. It's not really these "what if" questions that scare me, but the lack of people who are willing to think critically about these questions. I really don't know how to get people to care about these questions. We can talk about our future homes, how many kids we're going to have, where we want to travel, what kind of pets we want, our career trajectories, our retirement plans, but we don't talk about what we can do to make sure the world we're retiring in is the one we imagine. Why?

Maybe I'm being too pessimistic, too critical. I don't know. I would love to talk about this - please comment or email me if you have thoughts.