Jerel Says, ‘Love is a rebellious bird’; Edible

Carmen

L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird)

Que nul ne peut apprivoiser (That none can tame)

Habanera, from George Bizet’s Carmen

LightningThere’s no warning to a lightning strike. If you’re lucky, you might feel the change in pressure in the air, the hairs on your arm standing on end, and you might at least get an idea of what’s about to happen, but there’s no anticipating it. No predicting it. And certainly no preventing it. When lightning strikes all you can really do is hang on, and know you’ll have one hell of a story afterwards.

This past Saturday, on my way to fixing my craving for some authentic Japanese soba (buckwheat noodles) at a restaurant near my home, I was struck by lightning. But instead of a bright and blinding light and electrical shock running through my body, I just ran into a small, lovely, incredibly friendly and entertaining Japanese woman.

From the parking garage to the soba restaurant is about a five minute walk crossing two very busy streets. As I’m waiting at the first one this tiny little Asian lady walks up and waits beside me. The lights change, and change again, and nothing happens for us, so she says in fluent English with a strong Japanese accent, ‘I don’t think this light works. I’m going to run for it.’ Look I have no doubt she could make the crossing no problem, but I’m not about to risk being the guy standing at the crosswalk while his Asian aunt gets run over by some unaware driver. So I pace out onto the street with her and just make sure I’m between her and traffic. We get to the second crossing and this time the light actually behaves for us and, I notice, we just keep continuing on in the same direction.

Seeing as we just survived a near-death experience and we seem to be kindred spirits on the same path for at least a little while, we strike up conversation. I forget who started talking to whom, but friendly chatter and some casual facts are shared. We both hate that the new garage is further from all the restaurants and actual main part of town. We both go into this town often but are from other areas (me from a different part of north Jersey and her from Manhattan). And we’re both right now heading to lunch.

Soba Noodle Azuma

Okay, I think as we continue walking in the same direction together and my soba restaurant comes into view, now I actually do want to know where she’s headed.

‘So where are you having lunch today?’ I ask her.

‘Oh every Saturday I like to drive here and then have lunch at this soba restaurant.’ She replies.

No way! I’m actually headed there as well!’

‘Well then, why don’t we just have lunch together?’

A bright flash. A crackle of white. A boom of thunder.

First of all, when she said she came here every Saturday, I believed her. I come to this place often enough to know it’s good food, authentic handmade soba prepared in the restaurant (which is incredibly rare), and that the owner is a charming elderly Japanese man. She not only knew of the owner, but immediately greeted, and was greeted by, him in Japanese and straight away had a table prepared for the two of  us. She greeted every member of staff personally and shared some of their details with me.

She has family in Tokyo, and she’s the only one here right now.

He used to be just a busser but look now he takes orders!

She’s going away to the University of Hawaii next week! It’s her last day here and I didn’t want to miss saying goodbye.

And to each one of them she happily joked, ‘Look! I’m taking my grandson out for lunch!’

We browse the menus, even though being the obsessive foodie that I am I’ve already studied this menu over and over for the past three days thinking about and fantasizing about my order already. I wait an appropriate amount of time to pretend like I just came to my decision. She gives me some extra Japanese tips, like which dishes were just added because of the season, and which ones are best to have during the hot or cold months. We both order and now we have a chance to really get to know each other.

Waiting at that crosswalk ten minutes ago I had no idea who this woman was, or what her story was, or how incredibly fate works in getting the right people to the right place at the right time.

Her name is Emi, Emi Peluso, and I don’t think she or I would mind putting her name out there because she’s lived a good deal of her life in the public eye to begin with. She was Shikokuborn in, and grew up on, the island of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. Though her family was primarily Buddhist she alone converted to Catholicism at an early age because, as she said, ‘she fell in love with how beautiful little Catholic girls looked like in pictures and paintings, their hands clapped together in prayer’. She studied to be an opera singer and graduated from the Tokyo College of Music. After performing in Japan she moved to New York to continue to pursue her singing career, though this was before recordings could have preserved her performances. She told me what it was like being the third daughter among four children, all girls. She was, as she put it, ‘the forgotten one’, the rebel who had to piece her life together on her own. She was the only Catholic, the only musician, and she was the only one who left Japan, left their island of Shikoku, where they all are still. I got to hear stories of what it was like growing up in Japan, studying opera, how hard she had to work to get her parents to accept all these things that made her different. How her study and passion had led her to New York. What it was like moving to a new city not knowing a word of English, only having opera to get doors to open for her.

She told me about her family and her home, but the real spark was how much she talked about love. Two years ago her mother passed away, and her father (going strong at 99) picked up the practice of writing daily haiku (Japanese short poems) in memory of her and their love. Last year she was in Japan for his 99th and as a surprise for the family, he Frank Pelusoread aloud some of these haiku. She was so happy and animated to tell me how sweet and loving and beautiful they were, and how writing them seemed to save her father, keeping his mind sharp and his spirit strong. Her own life has also been a fascinating and beautiful story of life. Obviously this Japanese girl from Shikoku did not originally have the surname ‘Peluso’. At an audition just two months after moving to New York, while waiting for others to finish, she heard the most beautiful tenor coming out of this young, handsome, Italian-American boy from Brooklyn. With his charming smile, young good looks, shiny slicked back hair, and his love for fine-tailored Italian suits, she pegged him for a playboy. And the one main warning her mother gave her before moving to America was, ‘stay away from the playboys!’ So she did. But they both got parts in the same production and she would listen to him sing and be amazed, but they never spoke a word to each other. Until opening night, after the final curtain fell, when he came up to her with a bouquet of flowers, and said the most incredible, unbelievable thing she’d ever heard. ‘I’ve been talking about you to my family non-stop, and they’d really love to meet you’.

I died laughing. It was just so awkward, so beautiful, so romantic. They had never spoken, never went on any dates, but apparently he was so smitten with her he just kept babbling about her to his parents that they thought they were already dating. Obviously, Central Park Nightshe said no. But she did agree to go out on a date with him to get to know this ridiculous young man. On their first date he took her up to his apartment on 66th Street, walking distance from the Lincoln Center (where they would have countless dates at the opera) with an incredible view overlooking Central Park. She joked that apart from the man, she could have fallen in love just from the view. Two weeks later, she moved in with him. ‘He treated me like a princess, I felt in my heart really special and important’. Whenever they fought he would stay home with her, talking to her, consoling her, never leaving her side until she felt better. They had their wedding and honeymoon in Hawaii. For their ten year anniversary, he surprised her with a beautiful painting he had commissioned of a photo of her in her wedding dress looking out into a Hawaiian sunset.

Three years ago he passed away. They tried, but never could have any children. He was twelve years her senior and had married before, leaving behind a daughter and four grandchildren. She still lives in the same apartment, with the same view she fell in love with, surrounded by memories of the man she loved. Turns out this building was a hotbed for performers and singers of the time. Imagine my shock when I learned that some of her best friends and neighbors were the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Marilyn Horne! She was casually listing off some of the greatest and most famous singing talents the same way I’d talk about the family who lives next door. In fact Marilyn was at her husband’s funeral, and surprised everyone there with the honor and pleasure of an impromptu performance. She sang not only for the memory of this man, but for her love of Emi and the desire to comfort her and give her something beautiful to take some of the pain away. Below is a video of Marilyn Horne singing Habanera from Carmen. This was one of her most famous roles and even according to Emi, one of her best. Since then she’s kept busy, taking French lessons in the city and occasionally meeting with old friends. But, like this Saturday could have been, most of her days are lonely, and she says that sometimes she goes whole days without saying a word to anyone.

What absolutely struck me was how memorable and how vivid their relationship was. It seemed like if I had given her the opportunity she could have gone on forever about how much she loved him and how much he loved her. Nights spent together. The good times and the bad. And it amazed me how connected she still was to the memories. Often times I see people, after experiencing loss, try to distance themselves from the reminders. Good and bad relationships alike, some people just aren’t strong enough or willing to put themselves through the process of remembering all the time. Yet here was this woman dedicated to the memory of her love. In fact she told me that this  past summer she went back to Hawaii, looked up the judge who married them, and found him again and visited him! He was 89! But she wanted to retrace the steps of their honeymoon. See familiar places and faces. Watching her mannerisms, her expressions, listening to the rise and fall of her voice, I could tell how happy she was to be sharing these stories and how much it meant to her. The same way I might talk to you about food, she would talk to you about love.

I’m never one to shy away from meeting new people, and making friends out of strangers is an important skill to have when you travel, especially alone, like I do. But I make ‘friends of the moment’. I share brief but intense bonding experiences with kindred souls at bars or wander city streets with the equally inquisitive. I relish them for what they are, personal mementos of trips, a soul connection souvenir. But there was something very different about having this completely random happenstance lunch with Emi. I wanted to learn more about this love she had. Wanted to know where a love like that could come from, grow from, and grow into. There was just so much I could learn from this story. Her life just fascinated me. Inspired me. Thrilled me. As a storyteller, there is nothing more exciting than a good story. And I knew she had plenty.

The soba we had was delicious, as always. But this was more than just an edible encounter. Between satisfying slurps of soba I was surrounded with stories. EmiAfter our lunch she took me to this Japanese bakery right around the corner. I had been coming to this restaurant for a long time and never even knew this bakery was right there. We had a few pastries and some coffee and she continued to tell me about herself. Afterwards, knowing I couldn’t let this opportunity go by, I suggested that we keep up this newfound friendship of storyteller and storytellee. We exchanged numbers, and I told her the next time she was in the area and looking to have lunch, she should let me know and I’d be more than happy to join her. She could tell me all about this love that she’d had for so many years and was very clearly enthusiastic about sharing. We even took a commemorative selfie (which I never ever take ever to begin with) to mark this new friendship. I carried the bags of pastries she bought from the cafe back to her car and we hugged and I saw her off while I continued on with the rest of my day in solitude but I had that tingling feeling. That anticipation. Like maybe I was hoping sometime in the near future, lightning could strike again. I don’t know if we might ever actually get to share another lunch. I’m not sure if we’re ever allowed more than one of these perfectly aligned moments of kismet. This random person, waiting at the same light, going to the same restaurant, with no prior connection, sharing this brilliantly illuminating experience. I’m hoping I get to hear more. Learn more. I’m hoping I made a friend.

Jerel says, ‘love is a rebellious bird’.

Jerel Says, ‘Eat the Uni’; Bumble

Sushi Banner

First or second date, I would always take a woman to a really good sushi bar and I would order uni. If she didn’t eat the uni, that relationship was pretty much over. If she’s immune to the charms of sea urchin row or unwilling to try it, there’s no hope.

-Anthony Bourdain on dating

We all have our dating quirks. Relational eccentricities that, beyond any real rhyme or reason, we still look for, or look to, in a person. Even though I’ve definitely changed, Relationship Testlearned a lot, and hopefully shifted some of my priorities and desires when it comes to relationships and the kind of person I want to be with and the reasons I would want to be with them for, I still have these dating ‘tests’ from before that I have used and will still probably always use when I’m dating someone new. Some of it makes sense to me, some of them are about matters of compatibility or the importance of sharing similar interests. Others are just there to help me feel better, more confident about a potential relationship. Now take these for what you will. Obviously I sometimes tend to speak in hyperbole. Would I really consider scrapping an entire potential relationship because a girl might ‘fail’ one or two of these tests? Of course not.

I mean…probably not.

But definitely, maybe.


Jerel’s New Relationship Dating Tests

THE SUSHI TEST

This is of course, inspired by my culinary and lifestyle role model, Anthony Bourdain. He Sushi Jumphas stated in numerous interviews and various episodes on No Reservations and Parts Unknown how important and integral sushi is to him not only in terms of food but in matters of the heart as well. I have always loved sushi, but I’ll admit I was a young naive ignorant fool compared to the master, Bourdain. I wasn’t even good enough to get a white belt in his dojo. But over the years and through extensive study and application *coughs*allyoucaneatsushibuffets*coughs* I too learned the secret ways. I learned that sushi is a finger food first and foremost. Or that sushi should be dipped fish side down into the soy sauce. And don’t you EVER, EVER, EVER let me catch you mixing the wasabi into your soy sauce. And that really great sushi is about the rice, not the fish. It’s 90% in the quality and attention and care to the type of rice and the preparation and seasoning of it.

So what’s the test? It’s part knowledge and part sense of adventure. I usually like to take a girl to a sushi restaurant on the third date. It’s a little more into the relationship than Bourdain, but then I don’t have Bourdain money, so I figure there could be other red flags worth noting before really investing in the sushi test. So by the third date, I’m Sushi Lovemaybe kind of already hoping it’s gonna work out alright. First off, it’s major negative points if I’m with someone who can look me straight in the eye and say ‘oh my god I love sushi’ and then order nothing but California rolls or shrimp tempura rolls or the absolute worst, deep fried sushi. First of all, there’s no way in hell if I want authentic genuine high quality sushi that I would take someone to a place that even has these on the menu. So if she’s searching for it when we order, I’m searching for the exit. While I would be absolutely thrilled and enamored if I found out the person I was with was just as into sushi and knew all the best pieces and ate them with confidence and style and all the right etiquette, I would be just as happy to see them at least interested and adventurous enough to try. Yes, uni would be on the menu. As well as squid, octopus, and raw scallop. Don’t lie about how much you know about sushi and at the very least be interested and open enough to try. Though I would also note, of all my past relationships, the worst have this in common: the girls did not like sushi. So yeah, it might be important that someone I want to spend a good portion of my life with should probably like my absolute favorite food.

Pass: Basic interest/knowledge in sushi or willingness to try/learn

Fail: Lying about their interest in sushi or not having any to begin with

Extra Credit: Orders the uni first and eats it all with her fingers

THE IKEA TEST

I was doing this before (500) Days of Summer! I never thought the deep dark secrets of my dating world would be plastered all over the big screen with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. The Ikea Test comes after the sushi test. This girl is now more than Ikea Fail.gifjust someone I’ve seen a couple times and want to date. This is like, girlfriend territory waters we’re not dipping our big toe in. Like the way they test their furniture, I’m going to use Ikea to stress test this relationship. It’s gonna have to last longer than 1000 open and closes. We start at the Ikea Cafe, which to me is not celebrated nearly enough for the quality of the food and the price. Great Swedish meatballs with that rich creamy gravy and mashed potatoes, sweet and tart lingonberry jam, smoked salmon with mustard and dill, and some of the best fries. Crispy crunchy crusty surfaces with soft fluffy insides. But be honest. The moment I mentioned ‘we’re going to be eating at Ikea’, how did you really feel. Because that’s what I’m gonna want to find out about the girl I’m dating. Look, anyone can take anyone to a five-star top quality first class restaurant and have a great time and enjoy the food and the company. Now I’m not saying I’m taking someone to some unmarked shady hellhole of a restaurant. It’s a bright and well lit and clean cafe with practical, affordable, yet well made Swedish furniture. And the food is good. It really is. We can even get some soft serve ice cream on our way out. They have strawberry topping too if you’d like. The point is, life isn’t always going to be top of the tops. Anyone can enjoy that. I want someone who can see beyond that, to simpler and humbler things, and not only find joy in that, but add to it too.

Then we wander and walk off our meal on the Ikea showroom floor. And we get into conversations that honestly, I don’t know why so many people in relationships avoid. They think that those uncomfortable topics like, what kind of place do you want to live Ikea Datein, what kind of family would you want, where would you want to live, etc are taboo or that they’ll scare a partner. But let me tell you, even on first dates, it’s sometimes nice to break the barrier and get to those kinds of questions because you bond sooner and because really, who the hell wants to talk about the weather, or what they think of the city. No one ended up with their lifelong partner because they both liked the weather. In fact, a dating study found that when they forced couples on first dates to ask more ‘controversial’ topics (number of sexual partners, any history of STDs, if they’ve ever been broken hearted or broken someone’s heart) by the end of the date both the questioner and the replier felt closer and more satisfied with the other person. So here is this opportunity, in a very non-threatening, non-committal, and informal manner, to jokingly but also honestly imagine what a future would look like, and ask those questions responsible people should ask of each other.

Pass: She enjoys the Ikea date in good humor, and is comfortable with the ensuring showroom communication.

Fail: Her upturned nose poo-poos the Ikea date.

Extra Credit: Not only is she so familiar with the dishes she can order them in Swedish, but on the showroom floor she names the furniture she wants us to get.

THE MOVIE TEST

Oh this is way way waaay more than ‘Netflix and chill’. No self-respecting adult should Better Off Deadever utter that phrase unironically. Now it’s obvious I’m a huge cinephile. But this isn’t about finding another film nerd, or quizzing some poor girl on movie trivia. Even I wouldn’t enjoy that. As I’ve mentioned in the past, movies are portals for our emotions, and great movies awaken the Better Off Deaddeepest and most filling and profound expressions. So to save us years of having to dig to find moments of equal emotional depth, I figure I could just have us watch certain movies and see how we (she) will react. I’d like to see how compatible our senses of humor are. Would we be able to find humor in the same things. (Good god I don’t have much, if she doesn’t find me funny I’ve got even less.) Do we share the same outlook and opinion on things like love and relationships. Do we feel emotions on similar levels, is there that sense of empathy that could help us understand each other better. We would actually have to focus and you know, watch these movies, rather than just have it playing in the background and making out.

I love a thousand movies. And in the course of  my life I’ll probably love a thousand more. But two essential must watch films for me are Better Off Dead and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both, interestingly enough, have breakups as the catalysts for the Eternal Sunshineplot. Obviously one is more humorous and the other more dramatic, but both are about how we deal with separation and how we move on in search of love and forever. They’re also both filled with absolutely stunning visuals. Eternal Sunshine has incredibly beautiful natural landscapes and scene-scapes, from the dramatic dismantling of the beach house scene to the wide beautiful sweeping shots of the beaches of Montauk and the frozen waters of the lake. The dream world scenes and the memory wipe scenes are beautiful and done so simply with minimal effects but lasting impression. Better Off Dead is visually overflowing with subplots, visual gags, and extra treats to unlock with further viewings. I remember the scene in Lane Meyer’s math class when his teacher asks everyone to take out their homework and there are a series of brief close up shots of various students bumbling about in their desks and bags. You’ve got one boy who is printing an entire thesis on an old dot-matrix printer, another girl has a metal accordion file that expands to like twenty sections of work. And you’ve got Lane (played by John Cusack) taking out a single folded piece of paper that’s stuck together with old gum and all it says is ‘do homework’. It’s visual gag overload, and there’s even a slightly creepy completely out of Eternal Sunshineleft field claymation scene with a Frankenstein-esque burger that freakishly comes to life and starts singing Van Halen. To me, both are excellent examples of their genre. Eternal Sunshine never fails to bring up these feelings of heartbreak and sadness but also nostalgia and optimism. And it evokes conversation about how we deal with loss, and what we view as the value of a relationship, regardless of it succeeds or not. Better Off Dead is so much more than just silly humor. It’s coming of age, it’s innocence, and it’s the joy and excitement of discovering new opportunities. It is also full of timeless cultural references, and I’ll always want my ‘two dollars!’

Pass: She enjoys the movies in much the same way, and I can tell we share the same sense of humor and outlook on relationships.

Fail: She falls asleep or doesn’t laugh/feel anything.

Extra Credit: She brings her own blu-ray copies.


Relationship Test 2So yeah, these are three of the relationship tests. Don’t know when my next chance to do them will be, but there they are waiting for the next soul. How did you do? Would you have passed some of these, or even gotten the extra credit? And do you have your own innocent little ‘tests’ when you date someone? I’d love to know!

Jerel says, ‘eat the uni’.

Day 364: The Man and ‘The Big Sick’; ‘Jangle’

My friends don’t understand why it is I’ve always been so obsessed with relationships and romance and love. And I used to always tell them that once they were finally in a relationship, they’d understand. They’d see everything for how much brighter and more colorful and more vibrant they become when they’re with someone. I just got out of the movies, and rushed home, to start writing this very late post, because I think I got that illuminating ‘a-ha’ moment wrong all this time.

I was a kid living and watching through the golden age of cheesy romances. Many were, WhileYouWereSleeping.jpgand still remain, some of my favorite movies of all time. If You’ve Got Mail is playing on TV it doesn’t matter what time it is or what I’m doing, I will stay glued to that TV to finish it out. I happily sing along to the  energy and fervor of Moulin Rouge. I remember watching While You Were Sleeping with my mother during the day, and how for a span of like, three months she used to have Leap Year on endless loop playing in the family room. Who could forget the Titanic marathons women would subject themselves to, watching this movie over and over in theatres. I swear, if the sheer demand didn’t keep it in cinemas, Kleenex certainly would have. And all these movies, for as wonderful and cheesy and heartfelt as they are, they all have this one thing in common that I thought was the end all be all for love and romance. They all built worlds and stories and characters around just that one moment where two people fall in love and…end. Credits. Every time. And what waaays they ended up together though. Oh, the heart melts. Who can forget Meg Ryan looking tearfully at Tom Hanks, saying ‘I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly’. It YouveGotMail.gifwas always about two people realizing they should be together and then just being together and then credits roll to Hollywood happiness. And because of that, for the longest time I thought the most important part of a relationship, the part you learn the most from, was the getting together. That that must have been the hardest part in the entire process. Two people finding each other in the chaos and randomness of the world and being each other’s soulmates and the search was the obstacle and the soulmate and the life of ease and comfort was the reward. If you weren’t lovesick, it just meant you hadn’t found the right person, and it would just take the finding and the being to make a lifelong convert.

But that’s not exactly true, is it? In fact, it’s not even remotely true. It is the complete Summeropposite, the antithesis. And over time, people began to realize that. We had, or have, the rise of the ‘anti-romcom’. Smart, witty, deliberate attempts at subverting the romcom tropes we grew up with. And I’ve seen so many this past year. Don Jon was a self-aware movie that purposefully poked holes not only in the ridiculousness and excessiveness of pornography but also in the unreasonable expectations and demands of romcom relationships. I’ll admit it wasn’t this year I saw it for the first time but it was this past year that had me constantly revisiting and reexamining (500) Days of Summer first as life model, then source of hope and optimism, muse for love and relationships, but most importantly, a reminder of Swiss Army Manwhat it is I’m actually supposed to be looking for. Swiss Army Man caught me by surprise because it did such an incredible job of masking its actual identity of a romance and love film with all the nonsense and distraction of a farting, shooting, Daniel Radcliffe corpse. The Way Way Back was one of the first movies I saw last summer that really made a lasting and important impression on me for its own much more mature and yet lighthearted take on pure, young love. And now, to add to the list of these new wave of intelligent romantic comedies, there is the semi-autobiographical but fully humorous, entertaining, and heartwarming The Big Sick.

I didn’t really know much about this movie, or that in particular it was actually based on the true circumstances of the first year of Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his now-wife. Is that a spoiler alert? She’s fine, everyone. She gets out of the coma. I saw an interview of Kumail on ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ and they showed that clip of him in the hospital cafeteria with his girlfriend’s parents when he’s asked about 9/11 and I just knew I had to see the whole damn thing. And I’m so glad I did, and I definitely think if you have the opportunity you should as well. It’s a limited release movie so it isn’t showing in nearly as many theatres as it should, but seeing as it is an Amazon production, I imagine it’ll be on Stream soon enough. (What what get that Amazon Prime y’all.) There are such great moments of comedy and they’re written with such sharp wit and they’re delivered with perfect timing and pacing that it’s hard not to find yourself lost in laughter. And there’s certainly a lot to say about the particular skill not only in writing but in acting and perceiving to take what I don’t doubt was a scary and stressful time and reaching beyond that to the humor and heart that makes it a story worth sharing. It is a funny movie. And it’s a real story of real love. And there’s risks taken and hearts to be won and obstacles to overcome. But even the old guard, those 90s and early 2000s throwbacks, could have that and make us want to laugh. It’s these newer ones that have something else in common that to me, make them more ‘authentic’, more ‘relatable’, more ‘real’. They make you cry.

There’s this misconception in high school English classes all over the country (and maybe the world) that we read Shakespeare and Hemingway and Twain and Joyce and whatnot because we want them to know about Hamlet or fishing or the deep south or Ireland. And I would always tell my students that I don’t care if in ten years from now they remember what Hamlet’s father said to him or the symbolism of his soliloquy. I barely cared in the moment about how much they could recognize metaphors and references to southern politics and society in Twain’s depiction in Huck Finn. We read these novels because they are supplements to knowledge we don’t yet have. I want them to read Othello because a classroom and fictional characters are safe environments for young minds to develop mature attitudes towards loyalty and friendship and envy. They know so little when they’re young of great and significant issues and we use literature as tools to exercise and hypothesize and figure out slowly and gradually the kinds of people we are or want to become. And to me, movies are the same way when it comes to emotions. Great movies that are the golden standards of their genres are such because of how they awaken emotions in us that we might not normally feel. Good horrors scare us to the bone, they make us question everyday objects and feel a primal, instinctual, survival type of fear. Great dramas show us just how deeply we can feel for others, constantly pulling on our hearts to greater depths and unlocking levels of humanity and understanding. Action movies make us feel nobler and braver and stronger than we are, inspiring some of us to be heroes. And great romances, real, true, authentic romances, take us way beyond just that sheer ecstasy of the beginning. It shows us past that illusion into what really tells us why love is so important, why we search for it, why we crave it. It shows us loss.

I’ve cried more in movies this past year than I think I ever have. Way Way Back, Swiss Army Man, Big Sick, Kubo, La La Land, even Guardians 2. (Hey I never said they’d all make sense. Sometimes I’m just an emotional mess.) But the romances, the Way Way Backs and the Swiss Army Mans of them all, I was glad to have them to make me cry. Those were tears I think only people who’ve felt love and lost love could cry. You know for as happy as I’ve been this past year, I don’t think anything ever has made me as happy as losing love has made me sad. And sometimes I am afraid of that. And it’s for that reason that sometimes I feel bad for people who have never dated not because they don’t know that relationship lovesick happiness, but because they don’t know that soul crushing yet soul affirming depth of sadness of love loss. A lot of things can make me happy. And a lot of those are not dating or relationships or love. I can find it much easier and in equal or greater portions in so many other things. But nothing like love can make me feel as human as its sadness. I love these newer modern romances because the good ones add that loss. Some, like Swiss Army Man, are even brave enough to stop it at that loss. But I don’t blame most for still wanting to give us that happy ending. It’s there for everyone to have and to relate to. But those scenes of loss, of reflection, of appreciation, those are for the ones who’ve known heartbreak. To feel it again. To remember.

I look back at this year, and I think, I’m glad I had those sad days. I’m glad I could feel how big my heart is and could be, by reaching out and touching the empty expanse of where I wanted my love to be. It’s a measure some people just don’t get to know. I don’t want everyone to go through heartbreak, mind you. If a good enough movie or song or book or piece of art can get you to understand that loss, all the better. I just don’t want to see so many people never appreciate or understand their love because they’ve never had it or because they’ve forgotten what it feels like to be without it.  I still enjoy my cheesy romances, but they stay strictly in the movie world. I’ve had my fill of happy endings and stories that ended at the beginning. I like the romance movies that can make me laugh and cry. That poke and prod at the sore spots to remind me not of the hurt, but of the fact that they are there. I don’t keep pursuing love because of the happy happy joy joy mushy gushy stuff. I can get that. I can do that.  I do it because I know how much my heart misses it. Oh how happy am I that I could ever afford to have been so sad.

Oh right. The daily prompt. Jangle. Like, what in the fuck even is that?!

Day 364

Man: 331 Loneliness: 33

Day 363: The Man and the Impostor; ‘Quill’

Oh No Baby

There is Man, there is Me, and then there is the Impostor. He’s a fairly new identity, and Impostorhe only comes out in one very particular circumstance and situation, and I don’t really like him, and for as much as I feel the end of the year and opening up my blog to friends and family and opening up my personal life more to the blog will create new opportunities, I also feel like this might be one of the last few times I get to talk about this.

Particularly because it has to do with a friend of mine. And I mean, who knows. Maybe no one I know will be interested enough to read all of this, but maybe they will, and I won’t have that comfortable mask of anonymity anymore. But I still feel like there’s so much more to gain from opening up than there is to keep this all private and closed for just one reason, one person.

I’ve mentioned before that my incurable addiction to love has in the past alienated pretty much all of the friends I had who were women. Either by dating them or not dating themSick and losing interest or trying and making it well you know, awkward, I really don’t have many female friends. That is to say, save for just one now. (That I regularly spend time with and see, as one of my best friends lives in Montreal with her husband so I don’t get to see her or them as much.)

But I’ve known this particular friend since college, when we met in our Public Speaking class (so much fun, I love to make people listen to me) and we went to the same clubs (Chinese Student Association and, for a time, fencing). So we’ve known each other for almost a decade now. Since then we’ve both gone through relationships and heartbreak, we’ve grown and changed, started careers, changed careers, we’ve traveled together in groups, had plenty of late night conversations about families and dating, and turned to each other for advice and guidance. We share much of the same interests and hobbies. If I need a second for a night of drinking, I know it couldn’t be any one of my friends but her. Exciting new restaurant that I want to share with someone who can talk ‘food’, her. Movies, constantly going out to watch new ones and sharing what our ‘must watch’ lists are and meeting up for the ones we both want to see. Aside from me she has the second highest sense of adventure and willingness to go beyond comfort zones in our group of friends. Recently I’ve been spending more time with her and her family, getting fairly comfortable and familiar with her brother and her mother, as we’ve gone out to see Cirque shows in the area altogether. Ever since college she and I have had this tradition at her expense. Whenever we go to a new restaurant, I always sneak away to tell the staff it’s her birthday. She gets so embarrassed having an entire restaurant sing to her, and I love watching her reactions. It’s made for some great photo opportunities.

So yeah…I think you know where this is going.

And I don’t want it to go that way.

This is maybe one of the first major decisions I make as Me, and not as Man. This isn’t about an experiment or blinders. It’s about not wanting to lose a friend. It’s about putting Chicken Runto work, in practice, what I’ve been so passionately and eloquently putting to quill and paper. And so I’ve had to do something so uncharacteristic. Yes, I’ll admit, more recently I’ve been thinking of her more. But for the first time I’m really trying not to do anything. Calmer, cooler, heads should prevail and for the most part, there is a huge part of me that knows nothing good can come of this, or more specifically, knowing her, and knowing me, nothing can come of it, period. Let’s just say her past relationship history will prove I’m really not her type. Not knowing really how to handle this, I don’t like the person I am sometimes when I am with her and others. I get jealous more easily, and unlike John Lennon, I’m not ‘just a jealous guy’. Jell-O doesn’t get jealous. It’s such a stupid and childish feeling in my opinion. And yet…we went to karaoke, and I got so jealous of how much she liked someone else’s song choices and wanted to sing with them. (I get a small sense of pride whenever she asks about a new song I’m listening to because she wants it as well.) In silly things like talking about ‘who can eat the most noodles’ I get jealous when she picks someone else. (In truth, I don’t think anyone wins at those.) When she messages me about seeing a movie together I get excited, and then disappointed and jealous when I see another one of her friends shows up as well. But then, I know there was no promise or indication otherwise. This wasn’t anything more than just going to see a movie. Yet I feel indignant, and I make myself distant and moody. I’ll sit purposely away from them because ‘I want to sit closer to the screen’. I’m trying soHorrible Person hard to deny these thoughts that a lot of times I have to make myself think of all her shortcomings and focus on those more. She’s honestly very terrible with time. But then, as a Filipino, so am I. Yet I know I am sometimes curt and brusque with her when she arrives. I have to calm and cool myself, but in the time it takes, I know I can feel myself sending off these harsh negative vibes. I create unnecessary tension that she, in her patience, lets me dissolve and bring it all back with some jokes. We’ve never actually missed anything because of her. I don’t like how I am when I’m trying not to like her. This isn’t me. And unlike when I am with someone I am attracted to and actually want to attract them, I often lack self-confidence, I feel like less than I am. I never feel less than when I feel myself in her eyes. Maybe again as a defense mechanism, that I focus on my own shortcomings as much as I try to focus on hers.

I can handle being a terrible person. I’ve been that before. But there is something about all this that doesn’t sit well, that unsettles me. And it’s that at times…I feel like a liar. An Officeimpostor. I didn’t write about this when it happened, but I did speak about it to my cousin, who I’ve shared a great deal with this past year. During the holidays my friend invited me to be her +1 to her company’s Christmas party.  Of course, I was more than happy to attend, and that wasn’t just because of the free food and open bar. I knew this was just two friends at a party, one there to help make the other feel less awkward. But I also knew in the context, that I could ‘pretend’ a bit more than usual. For the first time in all the years I’ve known her, I got to see her in a dress. She looked incredible.  At the party, I had more than  just a little bit of fun pretending to be her actual date, and sometimes I relished the joke for more than what  it was worth. There was a photo booth where you could take pics with different props and costumes, and I had fun posing there, with my arm around her, pretending. Around her coworkers and her supervisors I did my best to make her look good, being the fun and attentive date. I chatted up her group and got them laughing with my usual party self,  I’d always very cheekily enjoy getting another drink for her when hers was empty. ‘Oh no dear, you keep mingling  with your friends, I’ll get you another, boo.’ On the surface it was all just in good fun, but there was a part of me that did enjoy living that impostor’s life for a moment, but I knew I was lying, to myself and to her. I don’t like that feeling of always finding something when I know there isn’t anything there. I don’t want to always look, like this is some really badly written romance. I’ve mentioned that this month I’ll be going to the Eastern Traditional Archery PugRendezvous, and I’m very excited about that.  And I’ve off-handedly mentioned it to my friend, as we are both into archery, that she might want to attend and we could go for the weekend. I know I’d have a great time just going with a friend to make it easier and less awkward and at least I’d have someone to talk to before making new friends and trying to find new groups. But…is there a part of  me that sees more than just that in this opportunity? And am I not a liar for hiding that.  Don’t get me wrong. I am a decent and good human being.  I’d never take advantage or take some  opportunity that wasn’t afforded to me.  But just knowing I have these feelings to wrestle with, and knowing there is nothing to make her think such, and yet putting us in those situations, I feel like a liar.

The best thing I can say I’ve learned this past year to apply to this situation is that the previous me would have been foolish and brash, saying ‘you can’t pass this up, what if she’s the one!’ Knowing now that, there are plenty of ones out there. I know that there must be plenty of women out  there with the same or similar interests and backgrounds. I know that I could be equally happy with a great number of other people. And more recently I know that even then, there’s no guaranteeing that this type, this particular sort, would have led to anything more or less significant. I’m not fooling myself with delusions of destiny or fate. And a very practical voice is telling me a lifelong friendship is better than a brief glimpse of love. And for however much difficulty I may have in convincing myself not to feel for one person, I know it would be equally easier to find someone else to feel for. I just have to keep working this new muscle until it gets easier. And as I do, I hope I don’t keep hating the person I am in the process.

But man…she’s great. Hahah.

Day 363

Man: 330 Loneliness: 33

 

Day 362: The Man and the Ship of Theseus; ‘Tether’

First, I would like to introduce to you the paradox known as the ‘Ship of Theseus’.

The ship, wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete, had thirty oars and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place. So much so that this ship became an example among the philosophers for the logical question of things that grow: one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.

-Plutarch, Theseus

It basically comes down to this. Is an object that has had every single part of it replaced, Theseusstill the same object? It’s a classic paradox since ancient Greek times that has been used in various forms in philosophy, politics, literature, religion, and even pop culture. I don’t even recall exactly when or where I first heard of the ‘ship of Theseus’ but of course I was intrigued to see if maybe it could be used in relationships as well. Relationships change and grow, just like, or really even more so than, boats. There are so many moving and changing parts, yet so often we feel like somehow we’re just caught in a loop. We fall for the same people, our relationships encounter the same pitfalls. In the endless infinite number of people there are in the world, we keep repeating. Why is that? What is it about finding something so different that they all end up…the same?

PersonTo me, this comes down to really a question of identity. After all, to answer this paradox we have to answer what we think the ‘ship’ actually is. Is a ship’s identity its individual parts, or is it the form of it? So we have two separate entities. The ‘parts’ and the ‘form’. For Relationshipme, that means I have to separate the ‘person’ and the ‘relationship’. Since the question for me is, does the person make the relationship or does the relationship determine the person?

Let’s take the person first, for example. Often times when we imagine the kind of person we’d like to date, we like to think up a certain persona, our ‘type’. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  We all have our certain particular attractions, things we look for, our own way of measuring up a romantic interest. It My Type.gifcould be anything from physical (we like them tall, short, long hair, short hair, fit, lean, curvy, etc.) to the more personal (tomboys vs super feminine, good guys vs bad boys, partiers, readers, playboys, or poets). I’ll be the first to admit that I have a type as well, but I have noticed that over time my ‘type’ has changed, differed, evolved. Personally, I think I’m on the cusp of another ‘type’ shift as I think about dating again in the future and who I might want to be with. But is there any credence to ‘types’? Can we trust this blanket general assumption? How closely can we correlate the success or failure of a relationship to the type of person in it? I mean, if we think of it this way, up until the very final moment that we actually end up with the person we end up with, up until that ultimate, final, most successful relationship, haven’t most of us always gone after our ‘types’? So, mathematically speaking, what’s the success rate of going after types? I don’t think I’ve ever dated someone I didn’t think was my type so that makes my own personal success rate, oh…0%? Let’s say 0 for 7. Ish. It’s interesting to me to see that often we attribute relationship success to seeking our ‘type’ and yet, despite the fact thatAddams.gif we meet failure more often than success, we never think to apply the same logic to saying maybe juuust maybe a certain ‘type’ can lead to a certain outcome, that being of failure and sadness and heartbreak.  And yet, the most important statistic, the one that sticks out, isn’t the six times we went after someone we thought we’d like and it didn’t work out. The most important is the one time we did and it was incredibleLife-changingLasting. So really, who’s to say in this sense? Can we safely and reliably predict the result of a relationship based on the person, and if that’s the case, for so long as we keep going after the same type of person, do we then also assume it’s going to be the same relationship?

And let’s talk about that relationship for a second. Because some of us don’t have types. PortlandiaBut most of us have an idea of the kind of relationship we want. We might not know, or have, the individual ‘parts’ just yet (the person) but we certainly have in mind the ‘form’ (relationship) we want it to take up. So is this more or less important, more or less reliable as an indicator of any sort of success or failure? We want a relationship that is stable, loyal, satisfying, in whatever ways and measures and metrics we’ve decided are important to us. Indeed in conversations with some of my friends, I know that at least some of them have given little thought to the person they might end up with. It’s almost as if ‘who’ the person is, is of little importance compared to ‘how’ they fit into this form. New or old planks, original or renovated, as long as it is the same form, it is the same ideal. The thing of it is, as humans, I think we’re naturally designed to never be quite satisfied enough. It’s that itching, nervous twitch in the back of our mind that constantly asks us ‘is this enough’ that drives us either to great success, or to go mad. Some of us use it to continually grow and develop, to adapt and achieve great results. Others become paranoid, self-destructive, our own saboteurs, uncomfortable with happiness or satisfaction. So what is there to guarantee that once we find the person who fits this ‘form’ that we are going to be happy, with no regard for ‘who’ the person is?

The only truth we can safely arrive at, is that there is no answer to this. That’s why the ‘ship of Theseus’ is a paradox and not just a pub trivia question. To whatever aspect of Jeannot's Knifeour life we find the ship to be relevant to, we’re not meant to arrive at a conclusion. We’re meant to reflect and ruminate, to ponder with patience and perseverance. It keeps us aware, mentally and physically, and tethers us to reality. I’m no more ready to completely disregard types as I am to simply walk around with a cookie cutter and see who fits into it. And if I ever get tired of thinking about relationships (perish the thought), the ‘ship of Theseus’ has become such an important philosophical conundrum that I can find examples of it everywhere. In France there is the proverb of ‘Jeannot’s knife’, basically if the handle and the blade of a knife are replaced, is it the same knife? In movies, animation, and comics, the Japanese title Ghost in the Shell often wrestles with matters of humanity and soul when humans,Shrine.gif almost completely replaced with cybernetic enhancements and prosthetics, wonder where their humanity actually lies. In Japan, Shinto shrines have a very beautiful and sacred symbolic ritual wherein the entire shrine is dismantled and, on the same foundation, it is rebuilt with entirely new wood. This is meant to symbolize a cycle of renewal and rebirth, yet it remains, in spirit, the same shrine, built with wood from the same sacred woods. In 2013, the Ise Grand Shrine, one of the most famous and notable Shinto shrines, was rebuilt for the 62nd time.

I am anxious to ensure that I don’t just fall  back into old habits, or continue to pursue the same relationships with the same results. I will keep these thoughts and lessons in mind, and hopefully if at least the Man is different, the path will be as well.

Day 362

Man: 329 Loneliness: 33

Day 356: The Man and the Soulmate’s Identity Crisis; ‘Magnet’

My cousin and I were chatting the other night when she excitedly told me about a riveting new book she was reading that was about modern love and romance titled, surprise surprise, Modern Romance, by comedian Aziz Ansari. Setting aside the bitter burning jealousy I may or may not feel about a celebrity having the resources and clout to gather his own private team of historians, sociologists, psychologists, and ghost writers to publish his own musings and reflections on the idiosyncrasies of modern dating while I try to collect and gather my own thoughts with naught but Google and a library of personal failures, a few of the excerpts she read to me really did speak to the unique obstacles and problems of modern  love. In that honest yet humorous style characteristic of a talented comedian and actor, the book of course delves into the common stand up fodder of dating. Not knowing when it is appropriate to text, call, or, as the book says, ‘when to just drop everything, stand outside someone’s window, and serenade them with your favorite nineties R&B tune’. He also has this to say about bowling that, in the context of a stand-up routine I’m sure gets plenty of chuckles but, as a big proponent of the advantages of a bowling date, I think is just contrarian for the sake of being contrary.

It is fairly common knowledge that nothing gets a girl more turned on than a bowling lounge. Between watching fat guys tossing bowling balls and the dulcet tones of The Simpsons arcade game, I can’t imagine those encounters not ending in a marathon boning session.

-Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance

First of all, I wonder when the last time was that he stepped foot in a bowling alley. There are plenty of nicer ones nowadays with decent menus and good bars playing the same music you might hear in dance clubs with the same modern interiors and lighting. Bowlers themselves are far more diverse than just ‘fat guys tossing bowling balls’ and while it may not always end in a ‘marathon boning session’, I do still really like bowling or mini-golf or any sort of fun, low-stakes, cheesy corny yet slightly competitive environment for dates, especially those important few first dates. (There are plenty of studies that show that competition and rivalry under friendly terms are proven effective in creating bonds of companionship and romance. They’re also great for playing games of ‘truth or dare’.) If modern dating consists solely of chic boutique coffee shops with judgey ‘baristas’ and $15 craft beers at rooftop bars, I might just stick a magnet in my brain and dive headfirst into scrap metal.

But there are bits in there that do get the ol’ noggin turning. Like the ever-relevant Jerry.gifgenerational question of, ‘is love better or worse now than it once was’? See I think we often have this dual, contradictory, at times paradoxical view of ‘old love’ and ‘old romance’. On the one hand we modern day lovers want to pride ourselves in our passion and amorous adventurousness, the modern reemergence of pure, romantic love compared to the dry, chaste, almost ‘practical’ image we have of ‘traditional, old world’ love. Yet it is that traditional, old world love that sets the standard for loyalty, longevity, and legacy that our modern, often fleeting relationships, lack. We want to think our relationships now are more love driven and open and passionate and ‘happy’ yet for all our dating apps and sites and tools, we lack the strongest indications of successful relationships, that of lasting satisfaction and contentment. And I think it boils down to a case of a strong identity crisis.

Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise. And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that. Ideally, though, we’re lucky, and we find our soul mate and enjoy that life-changing mother lode of happiness. But a soul mate is a very hard thing to find.

-Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance

Now I’ve mentioned this before in previous posts, and maybe I just can’t say it often enough, but I think the most dangerous contribution to modern romance is our obsession with ‘soulmates’. It isn’t even that I debate whether or not a soulmate for us actually exists or that we wouldn’t in fact be quite happy indeed were we lucky enough to find our soulmate. No, my big thing is that a) we are ill-advised to spend our time obsessing over finding our one true ‘soulmate’ and that b) we’ve done no justice to the world and to love by failing to give ‘soulmate’ a proper definition.

In an ideal world, at the end of what I can only hope would be a long, fulfilling, and Choose.gifultimately satisfying life, I would hope to be able to look back and reflect on a great many signs of success and a good use of my time. Not the least of which would be to reflect back on the love and devotion and passion of a life shared with someone special who I can say I loved with all my heart and who loved me back equally. In an ideal world, I would look back and know that I had spent my life loving one who was deserving of everything. Yet at the same time, in an ideal and practical and very real world, I would also know, and be comfortable with knowing, that if I didn’t have that one person, another would have probably, definitely, sufficed. The sheer number of people in the world now, before, and in the future, make the odds of finding our ‘one true soulmate’ near impossible. And to think that something as simple as ‘going to the same high school’ or as trite as ‘having compatible online dating profiles’ would find us our ‘one true Comics soulmate’ after just a few tries in the scope of eternity, is really wishful thinking. The truth is, and I think one of the things old marriage and old relationships had to their benefit, is that nowadays we have become so spoiled for choice that we have become too comfortable, too obsessed, with choosing. Back then we didn’t have the world at our fingertips to swipe left or right  endlessly, tirelessly, expecting love and romance and successful relationships to come to us in preformed prepackaged human beings. We’re rarely barely good enough as it is for ourselves, let alone trying to be perfect for someone else. Yet we are expected to be so now just to even get our foot in the door.

It reminds me of a comic song by comedian Tim Milchin, ‘If I Didn’t Have You’. I really strongly encourage you to listen to it below. You see, I don’t think the reality that we very well may not end up with our perfect ideal soulmate isn’t discouraging or takes away from the magic of a real love that we can have and share in our life. In fact, I think it further empowers it. It removes the idea of fate and destiny and places the success (yes and failure) directly in our own hands. How we grow and foster and care for one another and for the love we share. It becomes less about ‘it was going to be only you’ to ‘it was about choosing and making it about only you’. It encourages us to be open to life and romance and opportunities and, when we face obstacles or ultimately separation, it comforts us to know that outside of our soulmate, of the rest of the 99.999% of the world, we are bound to find something that is, and this is important, equally as good.

My other objection to ‘soulmates’ that I think makes it harder and harder for us to find lasting love is that if you ask one hundred people, you could very well get one hundred different answers for what a soulmate actually is. I mean good god, if I showed an object to a hundred people and a hundred people called it a hundred different things, I wouldn’t  think the object had something wrong with it, I’d think it was the people. Take Pluto for example. It takes Pluto 248 years to make one orbit around the sun. Between now and its first discovery, Pluto has yet to complete one full orbit yet it’s undergone two name changes. At less than one Pluto year old, it has gone from celestial body to planet to not a planet to dwarf planet. And in all that time, Pluto has done nothing different. It Pluto.gifdidn’t suddenly change orbit or size or characteristic. What changed was our definition because when we came up with the idea of ‘planet’ we didn’t know any better, or know of the infinite number of variables, and for the longest time we pushed forward with our original definition even though it got harder and harder to classify what we’ve found. We’ve wanted ‘soulmates’ for so long yet we struggle to really figure out what it means to have one. We want to believe ‘soulmates’ are predetermined predestined preprogrammed perfect fits for our own unique personalities. It is appealing because it takes all the impetus for change and effort and growth off of us and onto them. But what of the countless successful marriages and relationships  who have become so because of hard work, communication, growth, and sharing. Are they lesser because they weren’t soulmates, and are we to believe that despite the immense happiness they have built and shared together, they’d be immediately and automatically happier the moment they met their soulmate? Is this why wandering eyes and hearts are such a problem these days? Why we are disloyal and prone to infidelity or self-doubt or so afraid to commit? Are we so convinced that there is something so much better on the horizon that we never try to see what is right in front of us? We might never find our soulmate not because we didn’t actually find them but because our definition fails us in so many ways that we’ll never notice them when they are there. But even worse, notice the very real opportunity for love with 99.999 percent of someone because that .001 percent just isn’t soulmate material.

Ultimately, at the end of the day I’m not looking for my soulmate. I want happiness and romance and passion and love and understanding and compassion and all those things, but I know more than one person can give me each of those things and that each of those things can be found altogether in more than just one example of a person. Whether or not there is a soulmate out there for me or for anyone is not going to deter me from looking for someone who I can be incredibly happy with and who I would want to spend my one life, one love, with.  That she might not be my soulmate does not take away from the very real possibility that through commitment, communication, dedication, understanding, compassion, and empathy I will have found someone, but moreover made something, worth feeling like it was one in a billion.

Day 356

Man: 323 Loneliness: 33

 

Day 348: The Man and the Blinders; ‘Loop’

For  those of you not mathematically inclined, 365-348 is 17. That’s three weeks. Now that might not mean much to you, but for me, it’s a milestone so incredible not because I didn’t think I’d make it, but because a year ago I never even knew I’d be setting it for myself to begin with. I was honestly floundering after the breakup. I was making do, doing the same thing I always did, piecing things back together the only way I knew how.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.

Forty-nine weeks ago, I didn’t know what to do or how to go about it, but I did know that the usual way wasn’t going to work for me anymore and I had to break out of this heartbreak loop. I’m not entirely convinced I’ve figured out what does, but I think I’ve got a better idea of what doesn’t, aside from just ‘everything I did before’. So a lot of readers, when they first come across my blog, ask about the numbers or what I’m counting up to or down from. When they find out, the usual question, and one that has popped up the most often, is ‘what happens after day  365’.

Over the course of the past year, the purpose of this blog has changed and shifted. A very Countdown.gifearly question was ‘can I be happy alone and not looking vs alone and always looking’. And I think I answered that really early on as I discovered new interests and hobbies and delved back into old ones. I’ve picked up archery, switched martial arts schools to one that is more satisfying, and started going out to more social events to meet new people. But I also spent a lot of time by myself allowing myself to live the life I thought I would reserve to share with someone else. I took the dream vacation to Canada I’d been planning in my head since I first went to Toronto. Started a new career, knocked off a lot of firsts, and made damn sure that when I did finally meet the woman I would be with, whoever and wherever she may be, I’d have plenty of  stories to tell, because I have to think during all this time, she’s been doing the same.

I thought a lot of this was supposed to be about answering questions.  ‘Can I be alone’, ‘can I be happy’, ‘what am I looking for’. I’ve done a lot of thinking and reflection, and I’ve learned a lot also not just from my own thoughts, but from the conversations and dialogues I’ve had with people as well. Whether here as Man, or in real life as Me, I’ve wanted to learn from and talk to as many people as possible. I’ve realized though, answers can’t come when the questions aren’t clear.

So while I’m not entirely sure the whole world is going to change in three weeks, I do know three things will.

  1. My friends and family will be made aware of the existence of this blog and what I’ve been up to this past year. I made the decision when I started all this a long time ago that I didn’t want to involve anyone who knew me personally. At least, not until the end. Part of it was the appeal of having this blank state and presenting myself and my thoughts and problems in a completely unbiased way. I didn’t want people automatically on my side or echoing my own thoughts. Who knows, maybe a forum of strangers were going to reveal to me that I’m actually a jackass and really need to change. I don’t see this being a big deal, except for maybe a few people who will be surprised that I write. But I’m hoping it’ll spark new conversation also, and for that I’m excited.
  2. Part of this melding of the two worlds, Man and Me, is while my friends and family discover Man, my blogging world will get to know more about Me. I don’t entirely know what that means yet, but I do know it means whenever relevant I will show my face and stories will be much more personal. I won’t be including names or whatnot of others obviously out of respect, but what I’m hoping it does mean is that personal stories or reflections etc might be shared more often. Different kinds of posts, and maybe some new projects. So yeah. Face pics.
  3. The blinders will be lifted.

And that’s the big one. The one that’s really got me thinking and gets me all excited and anxious like a giddy little schoolboy all over again. You know there was that whole ‘noRejected.gif dating for a year’ thing and I was realistic, I knew this didn’t mean I’d be batting away and rejecting proposals left and right. Really what it meant is that I couldn’t be doing anything to try and date. So after 365 it doesn’t mean the flood gates will be open and suddenly I’ll be fielding requests in waves. It means I’m not going to have this blog, this purpose, as a buffer against dating anymore. So far, when I’ve met women I might be interested in or been tempted to go back to some online dating sites or go out with friends to bars or parties and see these crowds of women, I’ve barred myself not for lack of interest, but because I just…couldn’t. Had the blog to think about. Had the journey and the experiment. Now it’s going to be all over.

It’s not that I’m in any great rush to start dating again. I haven’t been itching and scratching at the door just waiting for it to finally open. I think that’s one of the big changes. I’m not so ‘feeling incomplete’ anymore. Really it’s that now, if an opportunity comes up, if a person comes my way, I’m not going to have an arbitrary reason to say no, Belly Flop.gifbut I’m going to have to really think more about if, and when, and how, and why, to say yes. See I’m hoping that after all this time, I’ve learned not to look for answers, or to think of any relationship or person as one. I’m hoping the questions have gotten better, clearer, more purposeful. I’m hoping that as I now meet people and reconsider relationships and romance, I’m going to ask better questions of myself and of her than I used to. I think, in the past, the only question I’ve ever asked is ‘is she into me’. Hahah. A previous reader commented in my last post that there’s this certain point where being single goes from ‘by choice’ to ‘by fear’. And I think that point is right around where how good a person is at being able to discern for themselves an opportunity when it presents itself. Herself. Himself. Whatever. I’m not so single and content to not remember or realize how much I still want to be with someone. I’m not so much wanting to be with someone that I’ve forgotten the value of solitude and contentment. I’m not yet so suspicious or paranoid to ask too many questions, but not so naive as to ask none (but I certainly used to be). But I mean talk is cheap. Actions speak louder. I’ve got no excuses anymore, and so the big change isn’t that I’m jumping back in, because for the most part I always knew how to swim. It’s that now I know to check the water first.

Day 348

Man: 315  Loneliness: 33

Day 347: The Man and the Deal with Exes; ‘Meddle’

In my best Jerry Seinfeld impression…‘whaaat’s the deal with exes?’

In all honesty though, what do we do with exes? I don’t think we ever firmly established any sort of groundwork or code of conduct. No treatise signed, no coda created. Exes are a miserable, messy, miasmic byproduct of relationships. There are always questions related to exes. Is it possible to stay friends. What do you do with friends you made as a couple. Could it ever work out again. I don’t know, for the most part a ‘scorched earth’ approach seems to be a pretty effective catch-all. You can’t worry about handling any sort of complex emotional or relational problems if you burn every constant reminder and connection.

Of course, it’s harder to burn a digital network. And so one of the most tragic ironies is Headlights.gifthat the generation with the most advanced social connection technology, the same generation responsible for ‘Tinder’, ‘ghosting’, and the overall decline of relational maturity, is also the generation who has to handle the most persistent presence of exes and ex interaction. Like a ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ game from hell, you may unfriend an ex, but chances are somewhere down the data family tree, is someone else who is friends with someone else who is still friends with her and then…boom…there’s a post of them together on a vacation, or a comment on a photo with a profile pic of the happy couple. And that’s the biggest question left unanswered for me. The one thing I just can’t seem to make sense of or process.

How do we feel about our exes in new relationships?

For context, no this is not ‘THE’ ex. A different one, just one of many. This ex didn’t sting. It was the reason for the breakup, and the nature of the relationship, that did. See, she was in college at the time in DC, and of course I was living and working in NJ. Working my first year of teaching, a highly stressful and emotional job that maybe just maybe did take me away emotionally and mentally from the relationship at times. And here was a young college girl experiencing life away from home for the very first time and exploring all her opportunities and one of those happened to be a fellow classmate who ‘ had a better body, had more money, and was also Chinese (like her)’; her words, not mine. Getting over her was pretty easy. Getting over the newfound insecurity, not so much. But, there she was, years and years and…counting on my fingers…yeah, years after, and there’s her in a vacation pic with friends of friends of friends, but there’s her profile picture and god almighty the two are still together.

It wasn’t jealousy that ran through my veins. Not even anger. No, it was something more akin to…disbelief. Here I am, after the two of us broke up, having had more relationships, more breakups, more failures, and there she was, with the same guy this entire time. I can’t believe after everything, I’m the one who couldn’t get his shit together well enough to conjure up a relationship that could’ve at least lasted half as long as hers has.

What do we do with exes in relationships? And before you worry, I don’t mean actually ‘do’. I wouldn’t stoop so low ever as to meddle in these people’s lives. I just mean…where do we store that information in our heads and how are we supposed to feel about it.

First, there’s the person to consider. Could this reaction be in someway caused by lingering feelings? Perhaps. I could see in some cases this happening. It’s hard, when you care about someone, to be happy for them when what makes them happy isn’t you. Best thing for anyone in this case is to just acknowledge those feelings and then move on. After all, jealousy doesn’t look good on anyone. And then there’s the relationship. Sometimes, it isn’t about the person. This could be the most toxic, noxious, incompatible boob you’ve ever been with. But when you’re in that vulnerable state where you’re just feeling that uber-loneliness and wondering why you can’t find someone, seeing someone you were with, with someone else, makes you feel like the biggest failure.

These are honest, human, emotional reactions. I would never fault anyone for finding themselves feeling like that at least a couple times in their lives. I get that. But they’re about dealing with certain people or with our own attitude towards relationships. I’m talking about, as a functioning human adult, mature and well adjusted, how does one deal with seeing an ex in a relationship.

Calmer, better, gentler, and overall more noble and honorable ones of us will tell me that it’s of no matter, and perhaps the most admirable of us could even feasibly muster the decency to be genuinely happy for the other person. But the truth is, having no feelings towards this person, and no current desire for a relationship or concern for not being in one, I genuinely hated seeing that picture of these two people. That’s, like, really not healthy right? I don’t think I have it in me to be happy for these people. I’m not stopping them, but I’ll eternally hope that if loneliness doesn’t find them, then the bleakness of a mediocre subpar relationship does. No one is denying that sounds messed up. I’m not denying it sounds messed up. But yes, maybe I do tell myself that these two deserve each other because they’ve got the emotional depth of a kiddie pool. It sounds harsh, and I doubt it makes me the better man. But we are all human, and we are all entitled to our faults and vices. I guess this one is gonna be mine for a while, maybe always. Some of you are much, much better people than me in this regard. I applaud and admire and respect that. But for me, if the scorched earth doesn’t burn away every last remnant, there’s probably gonna be a little bit of bitterness. Now, considering this blog, this reflection, is in a major part about the pursuit of growth and improvement, could I move beyond this?

It Won't.gif

Day 347

Man: 314 Loneliness: 33

Day 231: The Man and the Dangers of Ladders and Vases; ‘Baby’

So here’s a thing that’s a thing now. I’m kinda tired of talking about my ex. Like, I saw the prompt was ‘baby’ and yeah I immediately thought ‘oh, you know, she used to call me baby‘. That was her nickname for me. She’d always call me that, and for a very long time before we got back together I missed being called that.

But that was it. That’s all that came out. A brief memory, but nothing attached. No nostalgia, no drive, no desire. Like walking through a cloud. It fills you but it dissipates almost as soon as you inhabit it. And with a little puff of breath, it’s all gone.

obama-dropWhen it comes to getting over something or someone, you need that, I think. That moment where you go, ‘I’m exhausted by recalling all this every time’. I think I hit that point a while ago actually, but you know there would be times when it may have been relevant or poignant or maybe even to some extent necessary, to bring it up and talk it out for some reason or other. I know NaNoWriMo really helped me out with that one, fleshing out every part I held onto. And over time my posts have become less and less about her or my past relationship, and on the advice of readers I’ve really stopped even calling her on her or referring to her by her old nickname too. I think it’s a natural progression, a healthy one and a necessary one, for myself, but also for others. Who wants to be around someone who beats a dead horse. You want to know what else they can think about, what other stories they can share, what other worlds they live in.

So I do put it out there, to anyone who might be going through heartbreak or has experienced it, no matter where you are in your timeline, keep looking for that moment on the horizon when you can think to yourself ‘okay, enough of that, I’ve exhausted this, it’s exhausted me, I want to be more than this one thing’. And like passing through a cloud, you can’t hold onto it, you can’t keep its form, let it pass.


Besides, there is a muuuch better use of today’s prompt than rehashing old wounds.

My man, doing it like no one else can, baddest man in all the land, Jaaackie Chaaan!

No he didn’t recently have a baby. And as far as I can tell he’s never called me that either. He has done movies with babies though. One of my favorites is his film Rob-B-Hood where he plays a cat burglar who becomes an unwitting accomplice in the kidnapping, and care, of a wealthy family’s newborn baby. Good movie if you haven’t seen it, definitely try to catch it somewhere. When my local Blockbuster went out of business I made sure to buy up every Jackie Chan film they had in stock.

What I love about Jackie Chan in his films is he’s unlike any other action star out there. He never puts himself in a completely invincible position. He is always the underdog. In fact, some of the best bits of his style of action/comedy are when he’s either hurt or, being in a disadvantageous position, is forced to get creative to work his way back to the top. More than just a hero or a star, that’s the kind of person I want to be. We have too many Rambos and Terminators and solo stars running around out there. These characters that are so perfect that they are unflinching and unbeatable. It takes away the humanness of it all. I like seeing my heroes hurt, because then I get to see them rise. Take for example, Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the famous MI6 agent James Bond. Far more than any of his predecessors, Craig takes multiple beatings. He gets hurt. He gets brutal. He’s in the thick of it. And I appreciate that because only Craig’s Bond could take a brutal beating with heavy duty rope to this groin and near-fatal poisoning and still get the girl. Around hisball-death bright, baby-blue eyes might be scars and bandages but he still disarms with that boyish charm. Which means I’ve seen him work for this. I believe he’s earned it. That puts him above Connery, Brosnan, and definitely Lazenby (who likes Lazenby?) In the same way, I root for Jackie Chan’s eventual success because I’ve seen how much he’s had to overcome to beat the bad guys. He’s deserved the big finishes he gets. In Mr. Nice Guy he runs over the evil gang leader with a hovercraft. In his first Police Story he descends from the top floor of a shopping mall in a hail of electricity and sparks as he slides down a lighting wire. In his first real big hit, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, he claws the evil Eagle Claw master to death. (In the same film he also grabs this Russian mercenary’s balls. To death. He dies from that.)

So one of the best iterations of this underdog mentality is this long-running internet inside joke that the most dangerous fighter in the world is a Jackie Chan holding a baby who doesn’t want any trouble. (He only narrowly beat out a Jackie Chan fighting inside a ladder factory.) He’s also done some great work with priceless vases that he can’t let be destroyed. I think if you’re a fan of his work and have ever seen any of his films, you would appreciate the humor in the idea of how dangerous Jackie Chan would be as an underdog if he had a baby in one hand and was just trying to get away from the fight. And you’d know his favorite weapon of all time is most probably a ladder. It’s that creativity and adaptability that makes Jackie his own unique style of hero. Undeniably human yet limitlessly resourceful. In many ways, this is how I want to be as well. I don’t want to present myself as invincible or untouchable. I don’t want to always come off as pristine and perfect. I like getting down to the nitty gritty and making a mess and you know, making something of the disadvantages I may have to deal with. And so, I leave you with one of the best examples of fight choreography I’ve ever seen. It is by no means his best film or even best fights, but definitely shows off the sheer adaptability Jackie has in a scene and his incredible use of the strangest weapons. Yes, there’s even a ladder.

Day 231

Man: 198 Loneliness: 33

Day 227: The Man and the Half-Baked Mentality; ‘Glitter’

Over the weekend I ran into not one, but two girls from my past. They weren’t exes or anything, but these were people I used to know backmorning-face in high school who I may have flirted with every now and then. They were underclassmen and we were in the same clubs so we’d see each other every other weekend whenever we were doing club activities. Funnily enough I saw them on separate occasions, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. From having not seen them in like ten years to back to back in the same weekend. On Saturday I had just gotten out of practice and was going to buy a new video game to feed my obsession. But this meant I was smelly, in sweaty post-exercise clothes, and also hadn’t shaved yet. Ugh. And on Sunday I was cooking for my family who had just gotten back from the Philippines (and brought this lovely cold I now have as a souvenir) when I needed to run out to our local Asian market for some last minute ingredients. Jeans, a house shirt with some silly Filipino pun on it, my ‘no one is going to see me’ glasses (I don’t wear my contacts at home), and a wildly unkempt head of hair. So, yeah. Talk about feeling unprepared.

But I gotta tell you, you know, it wasn’t feeling physically unprepared to see them that bothered me. I’ve seen, and been seen in, worse. But mentally, mentally I was so unready for that. The one on Saturday, she saw me first so there was nowhere to run or hide. So I had to grin and bear it and do the catching-up small talk expected of productive normal members of society. On Sunday I saw her first and was so mentally not at ease with the situation that I ducked and hid between aisles as I furtively grabbed whatever it was I needed and tunnel-visioned at the register. Didn’t look left or right lest a wandering eye might fall on her and hers on mine.

That really took me by surprise; I didn’t think I’d be running and hiding like a shy little ramsay-rawschoolboy with a schoolyard crush. Here I am, working towards bettering myself, talking about these big ideals and plans and self-realizing and reflecting and all that jazz, and this ‘opporunity’ if not for love at least for interaction comes my way and I avoid it like the plague. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being ‘unfinished’. That’s what kept coming up in my mind whenever I was thinking about those interactions. I was an ‘unfinished’ product. Like taking something out of the oven too soon. It’s ruined if you rush it.

I guess that just kind of comes with the territory of having to admit to yourself that you may have a problem. I had a problem with love and relationships and being secure with myself to be okay either in or out of one, and because I set out to fix it, until it is, I began to see myself as someone ‘under construction’. I’m not the kind of person to broadcast my intentions or plans, really. I think I’ve mentioned that before on here. I much prefer to keep all that to myself and only talk about it once it’s done and I am successful. I don’t need the encouragement or seek the validation and I don’t like to post ‘progress’ or set myself up for that kind of accountability and potential for failure by getting everyone involved. That’s why almost no one in my actual private personal circle knows about this blog or what it is I’m trying to do. I want to just emerge from the year a better, wiser, stronger person and let people know what I’ve done and how I’ve done it, after I’ve done it.

bread-baking

Of course, this also means that during the process I might not be able to shake this ‘half-baked’ mentality and will feel even worse when I run into people. I’m suddenly scared and insecure in the face of possibility or potential before finishing this process. At the same time though, I wonder what exactly is supposed to happen at the end of the year. Do I dare be so bold as to say ‘I’ve done it, I’ve completed the task, I am finished‘? Will I at the very least feel completed enough to be confident enough to look a woman in the eye when I’m interested. Will I feel like enough of who I want to be to think of being who someone else might want also.

I will admit, I feel lonely. It’s not a bad thing per se. I am living a completely satisfactory life and I am, to a certain extent, content. Currently I am working on improving myself, stick-a-forkmy career, and my interests (like writing). They keep me busy and engaged throughout the day but still leave me time to relax, reflect, unwind, and indulge. But at a certain point, I would really like to have someone to be with. I just feel unfinished, unprepared, and unable at this point to be able to pursue that. I didn’t think I would feel this way. I thought during the year I’d simply turn it off, like a switch, and go about my day. It was just a somewhat humbling shocker to have these sudden chance encounters and realize that you can’t turn that desire, that want, off. You remove yourself from it, try to prepare for it, but life is unpredictable and you never know who you’ll run into at a grocery store. I’m not saying that at the end of the year I’ll be all wrapped up with a pretty bow and glitter will burst out when you open me up, but I’d like to think, hope to think, that at the end of it all I will be more confident again, more prepared, more willing. Come see me again and I’ll still try and chat you up in shorts, flip-flops, and a torn shirt. Hahah.

Day 227

Man: 194 Loneliness: 33