Day 31: The Man and the Secret Identity

SonofMan.jpgOne of my favorite parts of travel is the privilege and luxury of anonymity. I’ve been in a different city every day and in each one I am presented with the opportunity to reinvent myself or to disappear into the fold. No one know who I am and the ‘me’ I am in the city can be completely different regardless. It’s exciting and intriguing, albeit a bit lonely at times. You do sometimes miss the genuine connection with someone who has known you for a long time when you are constantly surrounded by strangers.

Anonymity is something that eludes us nowadays with all of our options of connecting to others.I maintain a relatively small digital footprint in the world and really am not that active on social media or anything aside from this blog and the Twitter account linked to it. Sometimes I wonder what I would say if I were to strike a conversation with someone during my travels. Who would I be. What would I do for a living. What kind of things would I care about. What would my priorities be. I’m more sociable when I travel for work on my own. For some reason I’m more inclined to smile and nod at the person next to me at the bar and maybe even start a conversation. I’ve met people and exchanged food stories. Hell I talk to my cab drivers more.

The most interesting secret identity I’ve maintained however…has been this one. I have very purposefully and deliberately maintained a separation between who I am in the real world and who I am here. That’s why I’m Man. Why my photos are all blocked. I wanted to write and investigate these feelings and attitudes towards relationships and not have any sort of…outside interference or influence. I wanted real honest interactions to be able to write about and reflect on.

Take my friends for example. They have no idea I have this blog. They have no idea how much this exercise has helped me get over the breakup and move on with a new purpose. To them I am still the same me, but they see a stronger version who has been able to handle himself and move on with relative ease. They don’t walk on eggshells around me and they don’t feel I need to be consoled or shielded from the reality of the situation. I like that I am able to be an example of strength and fortitude to them. They’ve seen me through breakups and some I have handled less than well. Some recklessly. They see me now, moving forward, entertaining, living, working, and perhaps they can begin to sense how I have moved beyond that seeking, craving, relationships.

My family and relatives definitely have no idea. What is notable about everyone in general is how they view me. I remember when my cousin was staying over last week, my mother very non-jokingly asked her if she had any friends in the Philippines who I might be able to date when I visited. My grandmother is visiting this week and she wants to know all about my love life. My other cousin who already lives in the city was shocked that I wasn’t in a relationship or not out seeking one. It seems my romantic escapades have been a hot topic of discussion back in the Philippines! Most people who know me, define me by my relationships. I have always been that person. This journey of reflection and maybe eventual transformation is mine and mine alone to have. So I made the decision to not let anyone personal know about what it is I am doing. It makes the act so much more natural and more rewarding. Every person who finds themselves here, every word read by others, something I wrote or speak to or try to express speaks to them on a very real level, not one of obligation or familiarity.

I do plan however at the end of this experiment to let everyone know what I have been up to. I would explain to them that a year ago someone broke my heart almost entirely and forced me to realize I needed to shift my entire priority and work on myself and ask questions I had been avoiding or didn’t even realize needed to be answered before I could seriously handle a relationship of the level I wanted. And that through a year of reflection and introspection I would catalog and capture all of the observations, insecurities, victories, and defeats of a year of being single and alone.

For now I enjoy the anonymity. I enjoy knowing that every experience I have now is able to be captured and that I afford myself the time and a space to actually reflect and grow. It is a little secret I keep in my back pocket, and keeping secrets is just so much fun sometimes. I don’t feel any weight or responsibility, and I get to write openly and honestly without fear of outing anyone or offending them. And no one can read my blog out of some vain pursuit to see how often I might or might not mention them, as I know many people who know bloggers are wont to do. And I can write about people like Beautiful and Bird and, though it might not be directly to them, it is out there and it is in some physical form so that I might relieve myself of the burden of those thoughts weighing down on me forever.

For now I remain, blissfully, Man.

Day 31

Man: 24 Loneliness: 7

Day 30: The Man and the Lobster

A little rain never stops my group when we make plans. Annual summer lobster boil didn’t exactly go as planned with on and off rain and intense humidity in my slice of NJ.

It’s crazy to think how much can change in a year. The lineup was a little different for sure. I had just started hanging out again with one of my best friends from elementary school. We had grown apart in middle school and hadn’t seen nor heard from him since, but my other friend went to college with him and brought him back into the fold. I was also seeing a different girl and this was the first time I introduced her to my friends. The relationship ended about a month later after she went crazy in Atlantic City during a school trip, and just to further illustrate how relationship crazy I was/am, in the year since I’ve dated four others. That number is going to be significantly less by next year’s lobster boil. I was working as the manager for one of our family’s ice cream stores. I hadn’t even considered being a travel agent yet. So I know I’ve already stated that I am the real food enthusiast and culinarian in the group but that doesn’t nearly elaborate enough about how little some of my friends know about food. Hahah. In fact I remember last year when we decided to do the lobster boil two of them the week before watched non-stop videos on YouTube to learn trips tricks and hacks on how to crack and peel lobsters and crab legs. I guess they didn’t want to have to ask me to do it for them. It was fun seeing them try their new techniques. We had a cooler full of beer, a pitcher of white sangria, a gallon of sweet tea, and afterwards we built a bonfire and just relaxed outside.

Those were simple and fun and beautiful moments. You don’t forget nights like that. Nights that engage every sense of your being. You remember the sound of cracked shells. The smell of the butter and the beer we used to boil the seafood. The bright reds of the crab and lobster, full and rich and plump. The taste of each salty sweet piece of meat. How tough the shells were in your hand and the satisfying reward of breaking through the armor. I was blissfully happy and simplistic. No experiment. No blog. No thoughts. No worries. I don’t know if I’d want to go back to that. Sometimes a little awareness, no matter how painful, is worth it.

I think I did much better yesterday than I did the first time my friend brought his new girlfriend over though. I didn’t let myself dwell on what I did or didn’t have. I didn’t concern myself with the world turning without me. I focused on my passions and joys. Cooking. Enjoying good food. Being a good host. Entertaining and being entertained by friends. It was a great night and I didn’t let anything affect my enjoyment of it. No negative thoughts here. Just good times. I have to admit, it is nice to have someone new in the group. I can bring out all my old jokes again!

No matter what changes, the lineup, the weather, our statuses, what doesn’t change is my time-honored perfect lobster boil recipe. This relationship blog is about to delve into food blog territory, but bear with me. I know what I’m doing and maybe one day someone will pay me for it too. Until then this one’s on the house.

Annual Lobster BoilLobsterBoil
For 5 people (or more depending on who’s in your group and who starts dating). Next year we might have to cook for more.

A lobster per person (I usually go 1 ½ lbs)

Snow crab legs (1 – 1 ½ lbs per person)

Clams (I prefer the smaller little necks but you can also do cherry stones). This year I did cherry stones because they were on sale. Depending on which, ½ dozen to a dozen per person.

Potatoes, corn. Sausages (I do a mix of Polish kielbasa and French andouille). Know your group and love your appetite fillers.

In your largest (and I mean largest) pot, start by melting a stick of butter. Sautee some chopped garlic. When fragrant (but not brown) add the chopped sausages and cook until they begin to brown. Add the potatoes, washed and quartered, and corn, split in half. Pour around 18 oz of beer (I do one bottle of lager like Corona Extra and one bottle of a lighter sweeter beer. In summer the Schofferhoffer Hefeweizen, a grapefruit beer, is an excellent choice not just for cooking but for keeping cool and refreshed. Cover and let simmer until potatoes are almost fork tender and corn is a vibrant yellow. When potatoes and corn are almost ready, add the lobster, crab legs, and clams. Pull off heat when lobster and crab legs are bright red and the clams begin to open. Let cool, and serve with reckless abandon right on top of your super amply wrapped and waterproofed table. This is a) for the sheer look of serving a mountain of seafood right on your table like a feast from Neptune himself and b) for easier cleanup: when you’re all done just wrap and roll up the table covering and trash.

This is very important: RESERVE the broth left in the pot! Begin by ladling some into small bowls and serve alongside the feast as a dipping sauce. More flavorful than butter. Can’t speak to its health but…definitely more flavorful. With the rest, well, it’s an incredibly strong and powerful broth with the most intense and pure flavors of seafood. I’m not entirely sure what to do with it yet. Open to suggestions. But if not I’ll find something and when I do I’ll do a supplemental for it. I’ve poured the broth into quart containers and frozen it for now.

Day 30

Man: 23 Loneliness: 7

Day 29: The Man and the FOMO

Funny how things sort of flow into other things. My near-fatal brush with time yesterday inspired the blog post for yesterday (which yes, ironically, is a day late), which then inspired the supplemental about how time has been a part of my learning curve with relationships, which then leads to today’s actual post about relationships which was inspired by my morning commute listening to my favorite morning DJ.

On today’s show the DJ was speaking with one of the show’s interns who had some very exciting news to share with the world. In a couple weeks she was going to the airport to meet for the very first time a girl she had been talking to on Instagram and the two of them were very seriously into each other and wanted to meet up and see if something would happen. Our show intern lives in NJ but our intimate Instagram infatuation lives in Oregon. Okay it’s cute, it’s a modern ‘You’ve Got Mail’ which was at the time a modern version of Parfumerie and its many other incarnations. I’m not being bitter or a curmudgeon here. In fact I thought it was exciting. Yes it was fun to hear the eagerness and anxiety of a woman who has never physically met this person she is so into now. And the whole situation certainly makes for good, keep you entertained but not too engrossed radio. But I was fascinated by how everyone else, the other members of the morning radio show and all the listeners who called in, reacted to the situation. Everyone was so ready to cram these two strangers into a relationship. One of the other hosts was already asking their intern if she would be willing to move to Oregon! People, they haven’t met yet. They’ve exchanged texts, Instagram….things (I don’t do much social media), and FaceTime’d each other. Call me old fashioned, but digital bytes a relationship does not make. But yes I am rooting for them and I’m hoping for the best for them but do we need every caller to call in saying ‘oh I met my spouse online’ or ‘oh my god it’s the best meeting story ever and you have to get together’?

Until I had started purposefully and explicitly avoiding relationships, I never realized just how much exposure and influence relationships had on literally everything I did. I turn on the radio and it’s either a song about a relationship or the DJ is talking about who’s dating whom, who they should or shouldn’t be dating, or at night you get those lovelorn listeners who call in to ask our wise nighttime DJ for help. My movies all end up with some form of romantic subplot (except Pacific Rim, you go guys, that was such a hugely surprising departure from the norm) and my TV shows and novels follow suit. But I never minded before because just like everyone and everything else, I was part of that machine. Now that I have removed myself from the running, I sometimes feel like there’s no space for me. It’s different having never been in a relationship, you never put your name on the ballot and never had to worry. But I was there, I tasted it all, and now I’m pushing against the current to try and get my head above water again.

The constant reminders are weighing on me. I haven’t yet learned to shield myself or handle the barrage. And let’s not forget that I am honestly and truly happy for one of my best friends as he begins his first relationship with a wonderful girl. Aside from tiny, painful, stinging moments, I don’t really miss Beautiful. There are too many other emotions and thoughts to process on top of everything else before I can even consider something like missing her. No, I miss being in a relationship. I miss the companionship, the feeling of belonging, the ticket to the inner sanctum that everyone and everything wants me to believe is the secret to happiness.

FOMO. Fear of missing out.

What experiences or journeys am I missing out on because I am not in a relationship. Are there any? What if I’ve just been duped, fooled into thinking there are. What am I barring myself from enjoying. Friends and friends of friends are finding people. My best friend. Bird. Another friend’s wedding two years ago. I don’t need the movies and the music and the shows to tell me what it’s like to be in a relationship, to portray what I’m missing. I know because relationships were part of my life-blood for the majority of my life. But now I have become acutely super-aware of it all, like how the road suddenly looks a lot rougher when you’re driving a car you can’t afford to damage.

I would never consider living in a way where I have to hide myself from all these things. I could never be so weak as to just choose to abstain myself from participating in life because I’m afraid a picture of two people happily in love together will reduce me to dust. Though I know there are certain people, certain couples, who would definitely do that to me. I know my limits and I know to try and protect myself by not seeking the things that would destroy me. But I do need to learn to live in the regular world. I have to understand that I don’t have to feel like I’m missing out because no one is missing me. Relationships are everywhere, and when I am more cognizant of what it means to me and what I want, I know I will be able to jump into the water again. The current keeps flowing. It never stops because one person isn’t in. I need to make peace with the fact that the water I left is going to change, flow out into the bigger wider world, leave me behind. I will make a new place for myself.

But right now, I miss everything, and it just really hurts.

Day 29

Man: 22 Loneliness: 7

Day 28 Supplemental: The Man and the Time before a Date

Since the breakup and starting this experiment I haven’t really given myself any time to consider or even think about any future relationships and what I may or may not want or be looking for. Thinking back on what I had will depress me and just bring up old hurt. And trying to think about what I want makes me anxious and unsure of how I will hold up for a whole year. But talking about time management and how integral control or lack thereof becomes in our lives reminds me that it is also an essential part of relationships and making sure they work.

As I mentioned, my untimeliness does not limit itself to just work engagements. I’ve been late and will be late to hangouts with friends. Even though we almost exclusively hang out at my place, I’m still responsible to pick some of them up since they don’t drive and yet still for things I am hosting I can end up being late. This of course then means it was a point of contention for my relationships as well. I am an old-fashioned bleeding heart romantic. I love love and being in love and the entire ritual and persona of one who is in love. So you can bet I never approach a beautiful woman’s door without a beautiful red rose. No bouquets, no dozen blooms, I believe in the simplistic elegance of one bright full red long-stemmed rose. Maybe a little bow around the middle of the stem. Hidden behind my back. Procured with much enthusiasm only at the very last second. Let’s just say the florist and I have a very familiar relationship. She’s probably wondering where I’ve been the past month. Hahah.

Aside from one very very bad relationship, all of the women I’ve been fortunate enough to be with have been considerably understanding and forgiving of my lateness. Initially there were some issues as is the case when two people start to get to know each other better. We go into relationships our raw selves because we only know what works for us as individuals. It is through time and care and attention do we learn how to adapt to other people we care about. So most of the girls lived in a world where people were on time and punctual and everything worked according to plan. I lived in a world where all the clocks in the house are ten minutes fast so we at least have a ten minute buff. It doesn’t really work as planned because well…we all know the clocks are ten minutes fast. And we have phones and watches. So instead we always think we have more time than thought of and we end up…being late.

The first date always goes well, because first impressions are key. I am timely and punctual and everything goes off without a hitch. Things go well, we plan a second date. I will usually end up being 5-7 minutes late. No big deal. Not a major detractor, I smile make a small apology, and we move on with our lives. The girl and I will find we really enjoy each other’s company, so we go out again. The third date I am excited, I’ve planned something great, but I am getting comfortable with her now so I begin to relax and not worry as much. This is by the way a compliment and speaks well of the person. But I’m bordering 15-20 minutes. I am courteous and respectful. I send her a text or give her a call. She is a bit frustrated but hides it well and is gracious about the situation. We’re beginning to feel each other out here, and expectations are being set. If things go well, this goes on for longer and we begin to see something more substantial form. As in all relationships, we start off in the world that only we inhabit, with our rules, our expectations, our ways. When two people meet and try to be together, two worlds collide.

You remember those first initial stages. The fun and excitement and thrill of it all. But think of how unnatural you were, how many half-truths and assumed characteristics you put on. We want to make good first impressions I get it, but we aren’t really able to be our true selves the first few times we are with someone. So you start in the smallest, least common denominator version of yourself. The crowd pleaser. And everyone loves a crowd pleaser. Then it gets to become more. And we go off the deep end. We push our limits. Test our boundaries. We want to know who we are with. Our behaviors and habits become more natural. We want to see how much we can get away with, how much of ourselves this other person is willing to entertain, to care for. I am self-centeredly late. They are concerned only with their schedules and their procedures. It’s in this phase where things become serious and we really see the strength of the attraction and the relationship. Some people can’t budge for others in certain areas. I know this firsthand. Maybe not with time, but with other things. Hobbies. Interests. Values. Priorities. We are all responsible for being fully formed people with our own aspects and we bring a lot to the table when we think about relationships and think about how we can still be ourselves and yet still fit into something with another person’s world.

When it comes specifically to time, the better relationships I’ve been in have been able to reach this point of pushing ourselves to the very outer borders of our selves and then learn to reel back in, or move borders, change the shape of our boundaries, to allow the give and take for two very different people. She becomes understanding, flexible, and understands I am a unstable mix of noble intentions and poor execution. If she can find it cute, I’m golden. I am respectful and appreciative of her forgiving nature. I limit myself to the single digit schedule deviations. 9 minutes tops. I am courteous and aware and immediately notify her of any sort of unforeseen circumstances beyond my allowance. I’ve never been opposed to the idea of working on myself to be better with someone else.

It feels like I’ve lived for myself for a very long time. And after a year, I will definitely have lived only under my own rules. I don’t know yet, and I hope to spend some time this year to investigate, what it is I’m looking for in a woman and in a relationship. One of the biggest goals of this experiment is to move myself past simply craving a relationship and to define what it is I seek and learn to find it, cherish it, and make it last. But I know she will have to understand who I am, and what I am and am not capable of. I know she will be kind and caring, and that within respectful means, she will, more than anything, just be happy to see me. Running. Across the parking lot. I’m already beating myself up enough about being late. She will have a beautiful smile and a warm embrace. She’ll freeze time. I’ll have been en route for 26, going on 27 years, but when I find her, I will be on time.

I do miss that sensation. I do miss the thrill of learning another person.

Day 28: The Man and the Clock on the Wall

I just had to break down my next week (southern NJ and Philly area store training visits) down to the minute because the stores all have consultants in and out and want to schedule all hands on deck for when I’m there. Time management and timeliness is going to be important because I will be traveling a minimum of four hours a day and will only have at max an hour and a half in each store. The irony of the situation is not lost on a man who is, to quote The Lumineeers, ‘late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life’.

Untimeliness is engrained into my genetic memory. I come from a cultural identity of consistently late people. A Filipino party that is scheduled for 6 doesn’t start until 8. 30 minutes late is ‘sharp’. To be quite frank, I had no chance at all of ever being a punctual person. It gets even worse when you consider my direct family heritage. On my father’s side, being late, and covering up for it, has become an art form.

Consider: We are getting ready for a family gathering that has set instructions to be at the restaurant for a reservation at 7:00pm.

6:40pm – my father decides to take a shower because, as he states, ‘washing my face and washing my body take the same amount of time’

7:05pm – my mother, brother, and myself are all fully dressed, with shoes on, waiting by the door; my father, in his underwear, peeks his head out from upstairs to tell us ‘let’s go’

7:15pm – as we lock the door, my father instructs my brother to text our relatives saying vaguely ‘we’re on the road now’

7:30pm – we are halfway there; another textual misdirection as my father texts ‘we are arriving now’

7:40pm – with 5 minutes and about 5 miles to go, the text reads ‘parking’

7:50pm – HOW ARE WE STILL THE FIRST ONES HERE?!

The only thing of it is, because our relatives and other Filipinos are so used to this borderline sociopathic disregard for punctuality, they receive it with a laugh and a cheer. Filipinos are happily and proudly late, and my father’s relatives are unapologetically jovial when they arrive 50 minutes late to their own functions. After all, time is just time but the party is the people. This kind of behavior can’t be sustainable long-term, right?

The reason of course is that there has to be some form of pushback. Someone is always watching the clock. I know what my cultural heritage is, but consider I was born and raised in the US. A culture that lives and dies by the clock. It doesn’t matter how much work you actually have to do, how long it takes to finish it, or when you finish it, we sit in our offices from 9-5. Late-comers are shunned and early-leavers are outright expelled. ‘That’s not being a team player’. You can’t get a McGriddle at 10:01am. Thank god they started that all day breakfast program. And then there’s my mother and her family. You know the atomic clock in Boulder, CO? They sync that to my mother’s relatives’ schedules. I have been with them on instances where we were earlier than the people who worked at the location. We used to joke that my grandfather (mother’s father) had to wake up the priest to open the church for him. Their timeliness and punctuality is meticulous and precise. They are demanding, impatient, and rigidly scheduled.

So where does that leave me. How do I reconcile a paternal lineage and cultural heritage with a maternal lineage and national identity. I am a neurotic bundle of permanent lateness and impatient frustration. Try as I might I remain constantly and consistently tardy but in the process I am filled with self-hate and anxiety and aggression. I begin with noble intentions. I love to plan and schedule and account for time. But something always happens. I oversleep. There’s a really good program on. Traffic causing unexpected delays. A distracting conversation. I don’t like how my shirt looks. I am an equal opportunity offender and accuser. Work, dates, friends, personal outings, they all have to eventually account and allow for a good amount of deviation. I find myself equally hating myself, other drivers, ducks crossing roads, alarm clocks that aren’t aggressive or invasive enough, all as equal contributors to my tardiness. I can’t be on time but I also can’t forgive myself for being late. I am my mother’s and father’s child after all.

I swear I thought I was going to lose my damn job yesterday. All on account of my horrible time management. The story actually starts on Wednesday. First day in the new corporate building and not used to having the standard schedule again when I’m not on the road. I arrive twenty minutes late. No big deal in the old office, I could sneak in and just act like I was speaking with someone before. No such luck in the new building. It’s gorgeous, by the way. Arcade, full bar, treadmills, showers, and a mini viewing theater with two large floating TVs and bleacher seating. But it also requires IDs to get into the building. An ID that I never got to pick up in the old place while I was on the road. An ID that is waiting for me inside the building. And the only person I can call to let me in and also show me where the hell I am sitting in this maze, is my boss. Naturally I get ‘the talk’. Parents talk to their kids about sex. Bosses talk to their lazy employees about ‘we start here at 9 and you need to show you can be part of the team’. So I’m already on thin ice with this scheduling thing. Now I’m used to working on the road and working alone with no oversight. I find out that for Thursday, I will be having one of our phone support guys shadow me to see what problems are going on in the field. My boss gives me a shovel and asks me what time I will be meeting him at the first store. I break ground and begin digging my own grave. ‘Oh, 9:30 I’ll be there no problem’. Dig dig dig.

Of course this doesn’t happen. The store is at best, with no interruptions, a minimum of an hour away. I am not able to leave my house until 9am. So many things went wrong between the night before and the morning of. And at this point I hit huge traffic at one of the main junctions, a toll plaza that squeezes a five lane highway into a three. At 9:20, with a good forty minutes left in the drive, I message my partner for the day that I am ‘only about twenty minutes away’. He misunderstands, calls his boss, and says I told him I was an hour away. His boss calls MY boss and now I get a call in my car from a woman who has already chewed me out for tardiness ‘why do I have X’s boss telling me you said you were an hour away’. Dig. ‘Oh no no no Donna, you totally misunderstand. I told him I was only TEN minutes away’. DIG DIG DIG. I have a guy who thinks I’m twenty minutes away. His boss who thinks I’m an hour away. My boss who thinks I’m ten minutes away. AND I’M STILL FORTY MINUTES AWAY. Man, meet grave. Now I am anxious, frustrated, I am cursing silently (and not so silently) at drivers left and right. The ones in the left lane are too slow and not moving fast enough. The ones in the right lane are equally frustrated I assume but are driving too fast to let me in so I can pass the ones on the left. In ten minutes, my entire career could be over. How would I explain this to my parents. My friends. How will I support myself. Who’s going to pay me to blog about being single and lonely?! In ten minutes WHAT IF my boss, already noting my pattern of tardiness, calls me back to see my status. Or calls my partner. Or calls the store. WHAT IF my partner corrects his boss but then she decided to check in on me in TWENTY minutes. How do I tesseract the distance between my point and the point where the store is.

I still have my job. No one called anyone. I can’t keep living like this.

Day 28

Man: 22 Loneliness: 6

Day 27: The Man and the Domestic Goddess

Domesticity is independence. Freedom. Self-reliance. Just like any other child when I was younger I used to kick and scream and weasel my way out of of every chore. The mundanity and the banality of it all was an assault on my young self. There were Power Rangers to be watched for crying out loud why am I collecting garbage or folding laundry.

Somewhere between Power Rangers commercials and today, my mindset and attitude towards domesticity changed dramatically, and it hadn’t been until this blog and helping my cousin with her quest to become a domestic goddess that I realized how much enjoyment and pleasure I now derive from things I once hated.

I think the first major shift was when I started this new of position. Living out of hotels every night and eating at restaurants or take-out places has made me realize how much I miss having my own space. I want my bed, made the way I like it, surrounded by the decor of my choosing. Hotel rooms, no matter how luxurious or well-appointed, are always so…sterile. Safe. Impersonal. But I love to decorate. I love to collect and then to display. A shot glass from every major city or show or event of my life. Memorabilia from my travels in Asia, the Caribbean, North America. My books. Movies. Posters. I appreciate a warm, home-cooked meal now that I am out every night, sampling some of the best regional restaurants, feasting on crab or steak or seafood. Home-cooking tells a story. There is a heritage and identity in a family meal that I miss. There is a self-directed sense of purpose when you decide your own meals.

Domesticity for me is the ultimate expression of self-reliance. I hated making my bed when I was younger because I couldn’t see any benefit or gain on a personal level. I felt like I was doing this more for my mother than for myself and for that I felt there was no value to be had. Now I take a moment when I change my bed-sheets to appreciated how the fabric billows up as I fan and spread it across the mattress. There is that cool, clean, crisp smell of freshly laundered sheets to look forward to that first night. I take pride in my possessions and the myriad stories and experiences they allude to. I can’t display  them any sort of confidence if the area around it is dirty or unkempt. So I choose to clean my room. I choose to maintain my space to a level that I am comfortable with and confident in. Independence and choice. They are not what you usually first associate domesticity with but the association is there nonetheless. Without the constant supervision of a parent or partner, how do YOU decide to keep yourself and your space. Domesticity is the ultimate expression of ‘I choose to be responsible and maintain my surroundings’. No one says you have to. You can leave everything a mess. You can leave it as it lies. And for many the initial temptation and joy is there in the reckless abandon of responsibility. But hopefully for most, there is that ultimate moment where enough is enough, and you realize that a little maintenance is very much a necessity. And then hopefully for most of those people, there is then much later the moment where you realize there is pleasure to be had. Maybe not in the act, maybe not in the labor, but in the expression and the result.

I grew up in a house where there were chores and expectations and routines and I hated it until I got to a point where I had the choice to abandon it all and I realized how much I needed it to focus and align my life. Conversations with my cousin illuminated a completely different side. One that didn’t hate domesticity and then come around to it, but one that never had to worry about it and is now suddenly thrust into the thick of it. See most families in the Philippines live with a form of live-in help. Domestic helpers who would take care of food, laundry, cleaning, and any other domestic tasks in exchange for room and board and a small salary. Many are students while others are lifers who choose to help take care of their host family rather than pursue their own. So my cousin grew up in this environment where there was no opinion about laundry or cooking or cleaning because the assumption was that it would always be done. She’s flying completely blind with her own apartment and now her own piles of laundry and the responsibility to feed herself. I am here to help her and guide her in learning how to do basic tasks but it is interesting to see a different attitude towards domesticity: one of fear. Of never having had to face it before in any form, not even the small chores our parents would make us do to prepare us, and now suddenly to be responsible in the fullest, final form. She will have to go through the phases of learning and hating and appreciating at a much faster rate. I am trying to impart to her that there is an enjoyment and zen to be had in domestic tasks. For someone who’s had so much of her life decided for her, to have been so minimally involved in her own growth, and now to be so brave and so independent and resolved as to move to an entirely different country to pursue her own passions, she should see that in the smallest role of being responsible for taking out her own disgusting trash, she is further cementing her right to claim her own space in the world.

Domesticity has also been a huge benefit in my relationships in the past. I have to admit that a lot of what I know (how to cook, clean, repair, etc) has stemmed from addressing a desire to be as desirable as possible. How many times do we see or hear women talking about their partners not contributing in the household, not having any skills to contribute to the daily tasks, or even just wanting for once to enjoy a meal not of their own doing and not from someone else. I wanted to be different. I wanted to stand out. I learned to cook, really, because I wanted to cook for a girl. By luck or perhaps fate, I loved learning and it became a legitimate personal passion of mine. I still derive so much pleasure and pride in cooking for those that I am with but even without, I know I can cook for myself, survive for myself, and feed my own soul when I need. In truth yes all of my skills and abilities were learned for others, but now during my grand experiment to live for myself, I am so very grateful I learned it all to help take care of me. I can enjoy and reap the benefits of my knowledge for now and when I am ready and when I am fortunate enough to find someone again, I know they can too. These abilities will not go to waste just because I can’t do it for a beautiful woman standing next to me. I am free to live the life I want because I gave myself the abilities to chase after that life.

The next time you are trudging a way too full garbage bag to the curb, or are on your hands and knees scrubbing a bathroom, or sweating in your own hot kitchen, realize that there were so many other alternatives. You could have given up a long time ago. You could have just lived with it. But you didn’t. There was a choice made. To be domestic. To be responsible. You aren’t free because you take out the garbage. You take out the garbage because you choose to be free to.

This is what I miss most on the road. Being responsible. Having my own tasks. Not living as a guest or a patron but as a self-sustained main. Domesticity is bliss.

Day 27

Man: 21 Loneliness: 6

Day 25 & 26: The Man and the Weekend with Family

Oh blog, how I have missed you. If I haven’t given you the attention and care you so rightly deserve please believe it’s not for lack of want. I am still in the process of making blogging a part of my daily life, but the imprint has definitely been made already. Eventually I imagine, and hope, that to blog would be like to breathe. Essential to every day life. The same thirst for life and adventure that fuelled my experiences before so I could share with my partner, I want to feel again to investigate and flesh out here on the pages of this blog. I am slowly replacing all those external motivators with more internal ones, reminding myself to life for my own purpose and my own growth. In the process I am also conditioning myself to make blogging and writing a reflex. Just like anything else though, it takes time and practice. Like learning to catch a ball. Slowly. Surely. The hand gets more conditioned, the eye becomes quicker, the action becomes second-nature. Soon I will be able to call myself a real blogger and I am excited for it. I’ve never so regularly and consistently exercised and stretched my mind.

Thank goodness for the warmup and the routine though. Otherwise how would I have been able to get through this weekend. It wasn’t a bad weekend at all by any means. In fact I’ve had an incredible past two days. But if it weren’t for this blog, those memories and thoughts would have been blurred, weakened, lost forever. Without this blog I wouldn’t have had a place to safekeep everything I’ve learned.

I am slowly becoming less and less of a stranger to those around me. Still working on the feeling of being a stranger in my own company, but this weekend I felt more familiar and connected to family that I very rarely ever see and ever thought I would get a chance to really know. Saturday and Sunday I got to spend some great times with family and friends.

A new escape room experience opened up in the next town over so I took my cousin and aunt there to try it out. I discovered an intensely self-assured and competitive side of my normally very reserved and withdrawn cousin. We were 99.5% done with the puzzle, and just failed the very last lock to open the door because of a frustrating triviality. C’est la vie. Everyone enjoyed themselves and turns out we make a pretty good team. Dinner was at a hibachi place with myself, my cousin, and friends. They all learned just how much sake I can take in one gulp as the chef squirted sake from across the room into my mouth and I learned that my brother has the best eye-mouth coordination I’ve ever seen. Those zucchini didn’t stand a chance. And then playing pool at my favorite pool hall. The Japanese food, the pool, I was grasping at what straws I had from my minimal interactions with my cousin back in the Philippines. With some degree of luck all these straws had held up over the test of time and were still interests so overall I’d say a successful and fun night. But the craziness didn’t happen until we got back home. I invited her to have drinks with my friends as we are wont to do on our Saturday nights and to my pleasant surprise she took up my offer. It started innocently enough. An Orange Blossom to begin with for everyone: gin, honey, orange juice. Simple. Sweet. A nice digestif, the acidity helps to cleanse the palate after our hibachi meal. Then we kick it up a bit. The strongly named Blood and Sand. Scotch, Maraschino liqueur, sweet vermouth, and orange juice (I like to work in themes). We’re talking, sharing stories, and then we decide to play some drinking games. Then the night gets blurry. There are a lot of games and a lot of shots. I take a good amount, and my cousin does too. She doesn’t like to lose, which fuels even more games, which she then loses. I see a whole new side of her. We are loud, excitable, laughing. I share stories about Las Vegas, the drunkest my friends and I have ever been. We go into the late late hours of the night, later than I’ve ever been up with my family, but a norm for my friends and I. For one night, I feel like there is an actual connection between my cousin and I. I don’t see a stranger or feel like one either. Definitely one for the books. And the wallet. One bottle of tequila, one of Canadian whiskey, and one of vodka down.

Sunday is all about the power and the pleasure of domesticity. I take cousin #2, the older one who’s been here now for about a year already for her own school, grocery shopping to begin her culinary education. There is a beautiful circularity here. I started cooking when I was in middle school, learning to make a traditional Filipino breakfast of egg (itlog), sausage (longanisa), sweet cured pork (tocino), garlic rice (singangag), and shrimp chips (kropek, cutely named for the crackling popping sound it makes in the pan). Now here I am teaching my Filipina cousin to make a French omelet. We do the whole gambit. Grocery shopping. Going over how to choose fresh ingredients that are in season, what essentials to always have in a well-stocked pantry, even going through picking up some kitchen appliances and wares. Hopefully also sharing some knowledge and appreciation. See she and I are of different persuasions. For me, domesticity is freedom, strength, independence. Domesticity is living. She still sees it as an obstacle, a necessary evil in order to get on with her life. The point I’m trying to illustrate to her is that there is a great sense of joy and accomplishment to be had in being a domestic goddess. Hahah. I am visiting her in her apartment in the city this week to continue the culinary education. Next step: stir-fry and braising. It’s a six-floor walk up with no air-conditioning. Today it was 98 degrees. I’m going to be miserable. The things we do for family, eh?

I’ve never denied the importance of family. But I never missed the family I never knew. Now I have the chance to actually get to know some of my cousins. I’m grateful for that because it is a relationship I didn’t have before and that I can now grow. And if it weren’t for this blog, no one would know, and I would forget, and maybe I wouldn’t chase this experience as readily and enthusiastically as I do now.

Day 25 and 26

Man: 20 Loneliness: 6

Day 24: The Man and the Extended Family

Let’s hear it for extended family! Yay.

Okay I admit there’s a bit of sarcasm there. But I do have extended family over this weekend and I am learning to enjoy and appreciate the opportunity.

Aside from my parents and my brother and a few distant relatives, the majority of my relatives are all still in the Philippines. We’ve visited maybe five or six times in the past, but I haven’t been back in maybe four years now and I’ve never really felt…connected to my relatives whenever I travel there. Part of the reason is I always feel like a passenger, a passive observer, rather than an active participant. It doesn’t matter what kind of career I have back at home, or what form of independence and self-drive I enjoy here, when I am there I revert to this teenage version of myself, self-aware and insecure, a stranger in a strange land, and always at the mercy and itinerary of others. Because of that I’ve never really been able to experience my stay on my own terms.

It’s different on this side of the world though. I have my cousin visiting for a weekend before she heads off to Cornell to pursue her MBA. I was able to take her and my brother to lunch this afternoon, and tomorrow we are going to do an Escape Room, hibachi dinner, and play pool with my friends. I’ve been able to sit down with my cousin for once and actually exchange stories, learn about each other. In suburban New Jersey I’ve been able to learn more about the country where my family is from and the family we left behind.

We have a lot of family back in the Philippines. And I mean a lot. It doesn’t particularly bother me whether or not I get to know them well. But for those I have a chance to I certainly don’t want to feel I’ve missed out. There are now two cousins, both from the same family interestingly enough, who are here for their advanced degrees in their respective fields. These two could not be more different. One a practical business major, the other an artistic soul with her head almost always in the clouds. It has been quite the experience getting to know them both. Definitely goes a long way in my goal of nurturing new and existing relationships while I remain single. It’s nice to have the comfort of familial relationships to add to the very small circle I maintain here back at home.

Day 24

Man: 18 Loneliness: 6

Day 23 Supplemental: The Man and the Jet-Blues

Ahah. GET IT?! THE JET-BLUES!

Because let me tell you…my experience with JetBlue yesterday was one for the books. I made friends, got free food, got home like five hours later, and received some future travel credits. Oh yeah. I’m no cheap date.

Let’s go through the timeline of events together, shall we?

JetBlue Flight 506 is scheduled to depart Fort Lauderdale at 5:30pm on Wednesday. I arrive at the airport rental car center at 2pm. I’m a very responsible traveler, as you can see.

Checking into the flight is actually quite painless. With the TSA lines at new record highs, it was a pleasant surprise to be able to stroll straight up to the agent and get through the checkpoint. From returning car, to security checkpoint, to waiting terminal, it takes no more than 45 minutes. Around 2:45pm I find myself with little more than two hours before my flight.

Warning sign number 1: Fort Lauderdale is not a JetBlue hub. They have limited flights in and out of FLL and as I approach my gate, I notice almost all of them are currently experiencing delays, each a minimum of at least an hour at this point. The anxious crowd next to me have been waiting since 2pm for a flight to Philadelphia which is now being displayed as departing at 5:55.

With this much time at hand I am tempted to avail myself of some of the airport’s services. They have a Pei Wei, a Chili’s, Shake Shack, and this new Food Network Kitchen featuring recipes from their network stars. Ooh it’s tempting but that would just be eating out of boredom. They invented Pokemon Go for that. I am able to use the service for about an hour until the battery drain combined with poor GPS signal stop my quest to be the very best that no one ever was.

5:00pm: Boarding process begins. No real complications here. The only benefit of being seated two rows from the rear of the plane is I get to board sooner than the other passengers, after those requiring assistance, Mosaic members, families with children, active service members, and Priority Legroom passengers. I make my way to my seat (always an aisle) and notice that only the window seat is taken. I cross my fingers, hoping for an empty middle seat to enjoy some more freedom and space.

5:18pm: Boarding is almost complete and still I am sans neighbor. Until THEY show up. A couple of middle-aged gay men saunter onto the plane, late. As they get closer to the rear I figure one of them is probably going to be seated next to me. No biggie. But apparently one of them feels otherwise. He begins to freak out, exclaiming loudly ‘oh no this is not going to happen’ ‘I do NOT fly without him next to me’ ‘how could the airline even THINK of allowing this to happen’. Now, as a former travel agent, frequent traveler, and overall decent human being, I know airlines are under no obligation, unless paid for, to honor or adjust seat reservations. Any number of things could have happened that would end up with them being seated separately. Either they or their agent did not make reservations when booking. They could have been standby passengers just lucky enough to get on. They  have booked last minute and had no reservations anyways. Either way, get on the plane, accept your fate, and let’s all try to be friends on this otherwise supposed to be short, simple, and sweet flight back home. No drama for three hours, please? I’m hoping that the more sensible one is the one I am seated next to. The next part is kind of a surprise and happened quite quickly. The flight attendant very politely, expectedly, and respectfully inquired what the problem was. Hostile #1 is belligerent and upset that they are not seated together. A very routine question, ‘are you supposed to be traveling together’ is proposed. Now Hostile #2 who was otherwise sensible is in on the action. ‘How dare you ask that’ ‘what is that supposed to mean’ ‘what do you think’ ‘why wouldn’t we be’. Iono. I think they’re fishing for a scandal. But here’s the kicker: Hostile #1 says to Hostile #2 quite loudly and for everyone to hear ‘don’t pay attention to her, she’s obviously from JAMAICA’. Now, to be fair, we all know that Jamaica is not known for being the most friendly to homosexuals. But this is completely out of line and she has shown no sign of prejudice. She has been nothing but professional and accommodating. Next thing I know the gate agent is back on the plane escorting the two off. Silver lining: the seat next to me is available again.

5:55pm: The whole debacle has caused an additional delay, but at least now we are taxiing on the runway. Our flight attendant is in the middle of the safety briefing and has just gotten to the ‘if the plane should suddenly experience a drop in pressure’ part when the captain speaks. ‘Uh…ladies and gentlemen, our grounds crew noticed a leak on the plane as we were taxiing, we’re going to uh…need to bring the plane back to see if it’s a short problem or a long problem’.

I’ll give you a moment to guess what kind of problem it was.

No really, go ahead, ponder. Take bets.

Are you ready.

It was a very, very, LONG problem.

‘Uh…ladies and gentlemen our uh…mechanics are telling us it’s a hydraulic leak in the landing gear, this plane is actually not gonna be able to take off anymore. We’re going to have to deboard everyone and get everyone on a different flight.’

Did you get it right? Good for you.

At this point we are now deboarding, and as I was seated at the very rear of the plane, yours truly wasn’t getting off anytime soon. My view was basically this.DeboardingWorse, the mob at the gate all flooded the poor agent at once. And because I was at the end, the line for the gate agent at E10 stretched to E6.

AirportMob

JetBlue1It’s time to leverage some social media and harness the power of a good Tweet. So, I started with this.

 

Which resulted in this.JetBlueReply1At this point resolution was clearly not going to come from the gate agent miles away. So I called the 1800 number and cooler heads prevailed. I was able to secure a seat on the next flight home and get one of those coveted extra legroom seats for free.

I was actually happy this resolution so I did say so. And they responded. But the next part was hilarious. I off-handedly tweeted that while I was happy with the situation, I was hungry and could use some Terra chips. Next thing I know I hear my name being called to one of the gates and I can’t imagine for what reason.

It was actually to give me Terra chips! The airline had seen my tweet and informed the gate agents to get chips from one of their planes and hand me four bags along with meal vouchers. I felt like a VIP. They knew my name, shook my hand, made sure I was alright and comfortable, and gave me my snacks.

Sometimes it’s okay to ask for something. Sometimes you don’t have to be afraid to see what you can get. If I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have received. What a crazy ordeal. Oh and my flight? Scheduled for 8:30. Didn’t leave till 11.

But still. A shoutout to JetBlue. They saw a situation that was clearly in the wrong, and they worked to fix it. I’m happy with the turnout. In fact I think they went above and beyond. I’d gladly and readily fly them again, and it’s nice to know they’re out there listening.

Day 22 & 23: The Man and the Power of Routine, Executing a Plan P.2

FLLAirport.jpgWritten at 4pm in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport waiting for my flight back home.

Well, day 2 and 3 in Fort Lauderdale, and this time when it comes to my delay, I was more busy dying than I was living. To be honest the days themselves weren’t that bad. But the after effects leave a bitter taste in my mouth and I am none too proud of how I’ve spent my time. In relation to goals, plans, and priorities, I fell completely by the wayside. And for what. In pursuit of temporary fleeting comforts and indulgences.

We begin with the night of the 18th, end of Day 1. I can’t sleep. Thinking too much of plans and schedules and as the night goes on, my mind wanders to thoughts I’m better off pushing back til daytime. Why is it that the night brings up so many of our fears and insecurities. What is it about the night that I love and live for and thrive in that, given the chance, it would turn on me and punish me with past memories, past hurts, future worries. To stave off the impending panic I go online in search of movies. I remember last week in Massachusetts I caught a bit of the animated film ‘Book of Life’ and it looked interesting. So at 3am I begin ‘Book of Life’. It will run for about two hours, and I am supposed to be getting up at 6am.

This obviously does not happen. In fact I do not wake until 9am, on my own accord. I have missed my morning exercise on Tuesday and breakfast at the hotel has already finished as well. I am left with naught but some of the cookies I took courtesy of the hotel lobby the day before when checking in. I get up and prepare for my day and check my emails. Apparently the store I visited the day before has asked for an additional visit today, and my fatal mistake was letting them know my schedule. They know I am available and demand of me like it is their right. Maybe it is, I’m not sure. I don’t really know how to classify my position in the company anymore. I am no longer a consultant, I’m off the front line and part of the bigger corporate machine running in the back. In some ways I believe I am supposed to be higher than them but if the nature of my position is to be their support, perhaps I am nothing but their lackey, a glorified IT guy whose purpose is to continually coddle and babysit and hand-hold them through all of the new changes. I find my patience recently has dramatically decreased. When the program first started I understood that the nature of my position was to coach teams with the new systems. I knew the stores I was visiting were just starting the new system and so would need my help and guidance to navigate the changes. But it has been two months. It is unbearably irritating and grating to walk into a store of people who have still yet to touch the new program. That to me is unacceptable. It is unprofessional and shows a disregard for any proper work etiquette. I do not want to reward this behavior with the same full thorough walkthrough I provided in the beginning. The nature of this, and next, month’s visits are supposed to be to review CatfishDewey.jpgand strengthen an already existing grasp of the system, no matter how weak. It just must already be there. This frustrating and unforeseen obstacle, compounded by the extra store visit, pushes back my schedule by three hours. I find myself lacking the time and energy to commit to the afternoon session in the fitness center. Yet, for the sake of my happiness and self-indulgence, I still go to Catfish Dewey’s for their AYCE specials.
That night I opt for the AYCE snow crab legs. It comes with two sides and with a variety of choices like steamed broccoli, coleslaw, corn, collard greens, string beans, and the like, I shamefully go for mac and cheese and hush puppies. In what I perceive to be a futile attempt at balance, I do not go for some beers and instead drink unsweetened iced tea. How reasonable. The mac and cheese is incredibly decadent, with thick al dente noodles and that rich baked cheesiness. The hush puppies are light, fluffy, crisp and pair perfectly dipped into the melted butter that accompany my crab legs. The crab legs are brought out fresh from the steamer, warm and bursting with flavor and juices. They are clean and fresh and the flesh slips readily out of the shell. I pride myself in how expertly I can extract whole legs with no breaks cleanly from the shell. I alternate between pure sweet crab and dipping into the luxurious melted butter. Again, at the sake of some long term goals and benefits, I have proven how good I am at answering my needs and wants to be happy in the moment. For truly, in the moments of my meal, I was enjoying each cluster of legs as they came out of the kitchen. I feast for a good hour and a half, until the flesh, originally salty-sweet and complicated in its taste, is nothing more than soft salty flesh, lacking of any pleasure. Still in the moment I have no regrets as I have eaten to my heart’s content and stopped at the precise moment that the routine of cracking the legs becomes more burden than Zen. I at least have made sure to stop at the peak of enjoyment. I return to my hotel room and still there is the opportunity to exercise, as the fitness center is 24 hours. But I am full of crab and am enjoying the lull of a food coma. Amazon Prime recommends some great classic Stephen Chow films, and I oblige. It is 2am by the time I fall asleep, and yet still I believe that my day of indulgence will be reconciled with my 6am wake up Wednesday to visit the fitness center, avail myself of a warm breakfast, and then enjoy a movie before my flight.

Shallows.jpgNope. I wake at 10am to the persistent knocking of the housekeeping. No fitness center. No breakfast. Well, let’s be honest here. No breakfast because they stopped serving. No fitness center because my movie is at 11:30. Now here’s the situation: the fitness center is still there, still open, and as a Gold status member I have a late checkout for 2pm. Plenty of time to exercise, shower, leave the hotel, and arrive at the airport with time to spare. The option was there. I just…didn’t take it. I brush my teeth, pack, and sans shower, head out to catch my movie because a morning movie reminds me of the freedom I used to have and it makes me feel good. But I feel groggy and slow and I cannot wait to get home to take a long shower. Until then, I arrive at the movie theatre and am pleased to find that no one wants to watch The Shallows a month into its run at 11:30am on a Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale. I’ve hit the jackpot of movie watching experiences. For an hour and a half I enjoy Blake Lively’s performance, though ‘single woman seeking adrenaline on her own’ rings a bit too true to Beautiful and I am reminded, watching her struggles and how she obliviously walked into EmptyTheatre.jpgher own danger, of the life that Beautiful wanted that I could not condone nor join her for. Still it is enjoyable and not too tiredly clichéd and I have a sweet iced tea and shrimp carbonara flatbread to pair with it. The AMC was a dine-in. With some extra time to spare I wander about the mall, catching some Pokemon and visiting a few stops before heading back to the airport to return the rental car and await my flight.

I have been waiting at the airport now for about an hour, and my flight is about to board. And with the end of this trip I have to realize…I’ve done nothing, accomplished nothing, followed through with nothing. The self-indulgence has to end. The pursuit of momentary pleasures needs to give way to more structured long-term goals and priorities. With tremendous effort and growth, one day I hope to not just be a single, lonely, heartbroken man. And when that day comes, I want to be better than the man I am today. There must come a time in every person’s life when they realize the horizon is further than just what their eyes can see. I know I am an expert now of personal indulgences and self-care. If I want to treat myself there’s no doubt in my mind no matter where I am or what I am doing I will find a way. But what do I have to show for it. How am I better today than I was on Monday. How have I grown or improved. If anything, I’ve taken a few steps backwards. I am fuller, bigger, and the truth of the matter is my past behavior of self-indulgence has now left me with feelings of disappointment and regret. I must be better than this. The question I ask myself is, how have I made myself better? Do I know more than I used to? Am I more experienced, worldly, healthy in mind or body? There is a recovery stage, to be sure, after a breakup. I need to lick my wounds and slowly learn to get up. But I think I am past that stage now. I know I haven’t been able yet to fully comprehend and process the events and my emotions but I can do that along the way, on my road to betterment. The truth of the matter is the best thing I’ve done for myself long run so far has been starting this blog, and even then, I could devote more time to it. I will. I will be better. Not for her. Not for anyone else. Not for any future. But for me.

Day 22 and Day 23

Man: 17 Loneliness: 6

P.S. After a bunch of complications I am finally on the flight home, posting this from on-board WiFi…AT 11PM! Supplemental will explain the madness that ensued.