• The hypochondriac

    The pair of yellow seats are a relatively new addition to the train. What I mean to say is that the yellow seat cover is new, but the seats themselves have always been there. It’s to gently remind people that these are the seats reserved for the elderly, pregnant, or those persons otherwise in special need of a seat. It’s also the seat of shame for those twenty-somethings who absently plop down there when they enter the train who might vaguely think they would get up if aforementioned persons entered the train but in actuality would not because their zoned-out on their phone. It’s a pale yellow color that, to my midwestern sensibility, makes me think “oh that will get dirty so quickly.”

    The yellow seats are situated with backs against the wall and in parallel with the trail. All the other seats are perpendicular. I was seated in the first set of rows next to the yellow seats so our pair of chairs met in an L shape. I was on the short leg of the L and she was on the long part. I couldn’t have had a better vantage point from any where on the train in terms of proximity and angle.

    What first caught my eye was the petroleum jelly container she uncapped. To be fair, I couldn’t quite tell if it was Vaseline or not because she had a wad of tissues rubber banded across the label, but it had that familiar bulging rectangle opening and unmistakeable greasy contents. It was larger than those decent mini-containers they sell as lip balm and smaller than the standard-sized container you might have seen in the Walgreens, so I was curious where it would be applied. She held it steady in her age-marked hand and as she dug into it’s contents until a good smear glistened her finger’s tip.

    The next part seemed to happen in slow motion. With pointed finger well-daubed, she moved towards her face. As if missing her thin lips, but with a certainty of action that said, no sir, this was no mistake, she confidently rubbed it over her nose and before I could wonder why (it didn’t look particularly dry) she penetrated her nostril and swirled her finger around making her nose shift with each thrust. She then ringed the outside of her nostril for good measure. What was I watching? Was it prescription? Had she been blowing her nose so often it was dry? Her nose didn’t look the telltale red-raw from a runny nose, but I wanted that to be true. Whatwashappening? Before I could make any of this out she oiled her flesh brush again and painted in the inside of her left nostril as well, the arc of her finger straining her nose like fingertips through raw pizza dough. Making sure it was it was on all sides of her nose. I swear she might have just given the insides of her nose a light scratching as well.

    I had so many questions.

    This was not the most disgusting, unpleasant, pungent, or unsafe thing I’ve ever seen in public transit. I would not be surprised if there were multiple people clipping their nails in an NYC train right this moment, no matter the time of day this is read. But I feel like I have never felt so betrayed by a fellow transit rider before. I thought I knew what this grandma person was all about—I thought I knew what petroleum jelly is all about —but then your world is turned upside down and you’re not sure anymore.

    Her deliberate actions were hypnotizing to me. I looked at this woman anew, trying to capture details about this creature so that I could prepare myself for future encounters. Thinning skin, some wearily wrinkles battling the good genes of her heritage making it hard to pin down exactly which late decade she was in. Dyed hair that had the intention of being auburn offset on her head because of the white roots made it look like it was floating. Her hair was pulled into a fragile bun at the base of her head.  The loose black coat zippered around her made her look more settled than seated. Light blue cotton pants that looked like hospital scrubs sprouted from her coat and ended the black, slip-on shoes with the rounded toe that mysteriously curved up a bit that were the hallmark of a city grandmother. I noticed she was wearing both branded ankle socks layered with tube socks. Beside her foot rested a metal city cart that had a substantial bundle of tissue paper rubberbanded to the handle. Was it to protect it or her? Was it just for easy-access tissues? I did not know. The cart contained a large white paper shopping bag stacked with another nylon re-usable Minnie Mouse shopping bag, and finally a draw-string bag with outer pockets. It was into one of these side pockets of this bag she tucked her nose jelly away in.

    She was rooting through her purse. After some pushing back and forth of it’s contents, she got a small square packet that, in retrospect had to be a moist towelette since she wasn’t wearing glasses. After some methodical re-arrangement of her belongings (can you tell how entranced by her I was?) she unfolded the  moistened paper to rub her hands clean. This was a some relief to me because after seeing her swab the insides of her nose I thought about all the things she would touch in this train upon her exit, and naturally, all the unpleasant things that had already happened on this train and would happen again until the this train drove me indirectly and with a transfer into my cold grave. Let’s just say she had left just enough time between the nosing and the washing for my imagine to go wild.

    Next, the magician pulled out a plastically bundle and once she unraveled the black hair tie from it and unrolled the contents one, two, three times it revealed a gallon-size ZipLock bag that was frosted from use that held a loan travel size bag of tissues in its corner. She pulled out the generic tissue packet, surely more over-protected than necessary, and released one of it’s contents to wrap the used towelette in. Noticeably unsure of what to do with this bundle of trash quite yet, she put it out of sight somewhere on the other side of her lap. She tugged out another dab at her her nose a bit. Then around her cheeks and forehead.

    I knew intellectually that nothing she was doing was so horrible to warrant my intense starring. I knew this, though I didn’t feel it. I forced myself to look away to let her do her own thing. Live her best life, etc. Or I texted three people about what I just saw (the world will never know).

    By the time my natural gaze drifted back in that direction (let me remind you how close we were seated) she had her head thrown back so her eyes could better receive the eye drops she was administering. Drip, blink-blink, drip, blink-blink. She had another tissue paper in hand to squee-gee the excess liquid into. Because what is a public space but unused time to do all of your bathroom tasks in? Is subway air the best kind of air to be blowing into vulnerable eyeballs? I do not know, I’m not a doctor. We’ve all had the odd situation where we might have had to do something publicly that we wouldn’t have minded some privacy for. The array of convenience store goods this lady had in her purse communicated to me that this was probably one of her preferred locations for conducting her medicinal rituals and privacy is indeed a luxury if public transit is your only transit.

    Dear reader, I’ll be honest with you and let you know that this calm is something only the distance of 24-hours gave me. At the time, I was definitely grossly-fascinated by what was happening.

    I will not tell you how intensely focused I became on the now-sizable bundle of trash containing a collection of human seepings and where she would chose to put it (Pease, God, let her take it with her). Suffice to say that it was ‘very intensely’ to the point where I began directing small dramas in my mind in the scenario were I to discover the lady would not take her trash with her.

    What is clear though, is that I have too much time on my hands.

  • Oh yeah, writing

    Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to meet up with some friends in LA for the weekend. In a moment of recovery from the southern California sun, we sat in the shade of a backyard gazebo doing the quiet catching up that is the mortar of friendships.

    What do you do to de-stress?

    My friend posed this question and we went around the circle  about what we tried. At first I said something about the meditation I do occasionally to quiet my brain before bed. When this was met with glazed eyes I remembered that what I do when I’m really stressed is write. Specifically with a pen on a paper. I’ll just pour out the nagging-mostly-negative thoughts in my head until my hand is cramped and my brain can’t think of one more bad thing to say that I haven’t already written. It’s kind of like giving my brain a good scrub. Like putting the thoughts somewhere else so I can finally feel some relief.

    With this reflection, I also realized I haven’t been writing in months and-isn’t-that-sad? I write of emails. I say more than my share of text in the group chat…but not really writing for fun. To add to this pang of guilt, I’ve been listening to The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher and she’s such a charming writer. She read bits from her diary at 19-years-old and it was so totally impressive. Having articular thoughts on the world? Reflections on your life that are poetic?! How does she do it all?

    I know I can’t say everything that’s on my mind, but why not say more and feel better?

    Here’s to writing about righting oneself.

  • My favorite books of last year

    I don’t watch TV and only watch movies in airplanes and as a social activity. I’ve heard there are some really great TV series out, and enjoy the movies I do get to see, I just never seem to find the time.

    When I walk into the door of my apartment, the first thing I do is switch my headset to my bluetooth speaker to continue the podcast or audiobook I’m listening to. I move around the house listening to stories, from when I wake up to when I go to bed. While I should learn to appreciate the silence because I know the benefits of boredom, the idea of not listening and learning something gives me serious FOMO.

    So bear in mind that’s hard for me to widdle down a list of books to recommend because I’m often like “but that book taught me to look at X thing in Y way!”

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  • 2017 in review

    2017 was a surprising year.

    Last year during New Years Eve I was on a rooftop in India, the election was happening, but I was hopeful. The fact that I only wrote eight (eight!!) times last year tells me that my mind was occupied elsewhere…I’ll spare everyone.

    Highlights:

    01_ I read 45 books. This was one of the things that I was most thankful for this year. Getting to listen to all the audiobooks I wanted from the San Francisco library for free through my phone was my favorite thing (you might remember it as one of my 8 posts). I want to dive further into my favorite books in another post.

    Here are a few from a sweet GoodReads screenshot. 

    02_ I went to three weddings and my entire group chat got married (sans me).

    These two!

    03_ I traveled to Wyoming, Colorado, San Diego, Boston, tourist-hoppin’ in India, France, London, Beijing, and to the tippy top of Half Dome in Yosemite on a 3-day backpacking trip.

    Andrew found a sweet chill spot.

    That sweet sweet princess time we all need.

    04_ Sunny days with sunny people

  • Holding a mirror up to nature (and maps)

    I have thought about this a lot but I didn’t know how to say it. It is clear that time is not going to make me more articulate, but maybe discussion will: We should stop caring so much about truth.

    It’s scary for me to say that considering everything that’s happening right now. I’m living in a climate where we think everything will be fixed with Truth, but we haven’t agreed on what Truth means. There are many wrongs, misunderstandings, and…well—lies—out there that we hardheadedly keep trying to shove Truth at because we think that will fix it. “How can they be so blind? How do they not see the Truth?” both sides think.

    Truth. Facts. Real. These are objective things we rational humans should agree on. Right?

    Right?!

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  • I’d be shunned by Schön right now

    One of the big differences between school and work for me is I have less time to reflect on my work. Instead of the teacher asking you ‘why’ and wanting to hear your answer, you get more of people asking ‘why’ as an opener for their idea. I’ve been working on this project lately and realizing how little mental space I give to let things settle. It’s like when you’re at a party and there aren’t enough flat surfaces to put down your cup. I was reading about a group of designers who wanted to try bring academia and practice closer together so that the research and inspirations from the academic world aren’t so far away from what people are doing at work. I thought it was a neat and a worthwhile project….and then it got lost in a bunch of email and other work.

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  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

    …or good be the enemy of done.

    My co-worker would occasionally warn me “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” when I was getting too caught up on the details of my projects. An unbelievable ~3 months have gone by since my last post. I’ve been thinking about all these big things I want to write about but couldn’t carve out the time or the ability to do so—at least with the thoughtfulness I fantasized about. It felt like, if I am going to take anyone’s time away from thinking about the political garbage fire that’s happening right now, it should be for something worthwhile. So I built up all these topics I wanted to write about in my head until they became more daunting than necessary. (But seriously, is it even ok to talk about normal things in a world so not normal?)

    Here are some things I’ve been meaning to tell you.

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  • Take a look, it’s in a book

    In the beautiful wisdom of of the Reading Rainbow theme song, I’d like to invite you all to take a look, because it’s in a book. A reading rainbow.

    Something magical happened that will change my life for the better ever after.

    I learned that I can borrow audiobooks from the San Francisco library from an app on my phone. Everyone: This is revolutionary for an audiobook fiend like myself. Like a junky, I have spent nearly a year trying to get by on my one measly Audible audiobook a month subscription plan (that I used my adult money to finally subscribe too) and filled in the rest of my days with podcasts (not the worst, but just sayin’). When I discovered that I could borrow audiobooks from the library digitally, I was beside myself with joy. I’ve told nearly everyone I’ve met about it even though they don’t really care. I can get nearly all the books I want directly into my hearing holes! ::TEARS::. (I have already read 10 books since January 1).

    The very first book I checked out? Between the World and Me—they had it! It’s been on my to-read list for over a year now and I was so excited. This is a beautiful, beautiful book that should be on everyone’s to-read. It reads like poetry and I’m so glad I got to hear his story. If you only read one book this year (why would you do that though?), this might be it.

    When I finished, it happened to be February 1st and my app was recommending a bunch of other similar books…oh wait, it was Black History Month. As a terrible human who doesn’t do nearly enough to help others on this unforgiving planet, I thought maybe one small way I could understand someone else’s life was to read books by black authors this month (although it took a little longer to finish them). I realized that I have been reading so many non-fiction science/psychology books lately and haven’t really dove into stories in a while.

    Every bookworm will tell you, books are window into another life. It’s one of the few ways to immerse yourself in another’s experiences and feelings. It’s really incredible how powerful books can be. I haven’t read a huge diversity of authors besides White Dudes so I thought this was the perfect nudge in that direction. I have this belief that if you read and feel for another person’s experience it just has to change how you act in the world. I wonder what kind of story needs to be told in order to change someone’s mind. Statistics are great and help us make hard decisions. But the humanities keep us human.

    Here are the books I read:

    ReadingRainbow

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  • Savory sweet potato & chickpea wraps

    I was complaining to a friend this week about how all the vegetarian recipes I’ve made recently taste people who are diets trying to pretend they’ve made something good. Christy was surprised to hear this because she’s started cooking vegan this year and has had some really delicious recipes.

    Me: please share your secrets with me!

    Christy: Vegan thanksgiving wraps from Minimalist Baker.

    wrap1

    It was so good. It tasted like flavors! It’s the best thing I’ve cooked in a really long time. It also looks really fancy, but isn’t complicated. I feel like I know more about how flavors work now.

    My initial thoughts when I scanned the recipe 1) I was worried that it would be sweet because I saw sweet potatoes, cranberries, and cinnamon (which I associate with cinnamon-sugar, I guess) and 2) that it would be time consuming (though you don’t have to make your own flatbread).

    But then, Christy has never advised me poorly before and: we’re always scrambling to optimize our time, but for what? So we can spend more time staring at our computers? Pish-posh. Let’s do it!

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  • A little crusty…wait, I mean ‘rusty’

    Earlier this month I spent a week talking to people about their goals. I think it was therapeutic for them to kind of discuss their goals and really think about the root cause. I mean, how many times do you really get the luxury of talking and being listened to for hours? To articulate your motivations and your vision for your future? And there’s also something great about getting to spill your guts to strangers who you can trust not to tell anyone and who will take you at your word because they don’t know you well enough not to.

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