01 October 2014

an ode to autumn

Despite what the weather in San Francisco might indicate, I consider today the official start of my favorite season. Call me basic, but I love sweaters, pumpkin spice everything, and all the readily available candy. If I could draw, I'd doodle intricate leaves swirling in gusts of wind or massive mugs of mulled cider with steam curling enticingly over the rim. But since I am utterly unable to do so, I shall instead talk about something at which I excel: scaring the shit out of people.

I'm not sure when I started this hobby of mine, but since I can remember, my first instinct whenever someone leaves the room is to determine the best place from which to jump out and scare them. I'm working on controlling that impulse, I swear. It's not going well, because I am just a bad enough person and it's so much fun.

My favorite victim is my sister, partly because she's the one with whom I've had the most opportunity and partly because it's just so easy. I don't have to put much effort into scaring this quintessential Hufflepuff, and have even managed to scare her unintentionally. That's not to say that I don't exercise my creativity and devise elaborate ways to startle her, of course.

One of the most memorable times I frightened someone involved one of my very best friends (you know who you are). We were hanging out in another friend's dorm room, and she left the room for one reason or another. As soon as she shut the door behind her, I leapt into the closet directly adjacent to the entryway and waited patiently for her return. Upon her arrival, I burst out from behind the curtain with a sudden shout.

Now, I know you're probably wondering why this is one of my favorite instances of scaring someone I love, especially considering how pedestrian my technique was. There was no finesse, no planning. But, this particular friend of mine is a treat to startle because of her reaction. Naturally, when surprised, she tenses up and moves as if to strike back (luckily she didn't punch me this time, but she did make a fist). What makes her truly special is something that I like to call the "dual scream," wherein she screams because she's scared, and then screams louder and at a slightly higher pitch because she registers that she was scared. This instance was one of the finest examples of the dual scream I've heard to this day. I doubled over from laughing and nearly peed on the floor.

While this practice can be done at any time of the year really, this season is my favorite because of the added drama that comes with costumes and a generally scary atmosphere. Once, I dressed up as Samara (the girl from The Ring) and crawled out of a dark room to scare a friend, weird contortion-y angles and all, and apparently it was convincing since I made her cry. I felt a little bad, of course, but it was really funny. The main thing you have to consider when planning to jump out at someone is your target. For instance, I have a friend that I would never dare to scare. Not only is she almost a foot taller than me and could probably snap me in half if she felt like it, but her fight-or-flight response leans more toward fight than flight. As in, she once broke an actor's nose in a haunted house. So, no thank you. I may have poor impulse control, but I'd prefer to keep my face in one piece.

Happy October! Don't get your face broken!

It's time to get spoopy, everyone.

23 June 2014

swinging it

Yes, this is yet another post about me getting back into the swing of things, but it's also a post to show how much I've grown as a person. Lots of things have happened and lots of things have changed, but I think the thing that has affected me the most is that I've had to find a new coffee shop. Yes, I'm serious. This is a huge life change for me, one that has shaken me to the very core.

Maybe I should back up a little. There isn't a sinister reason behind switching coffee shops. Nothing happened at the old one that made me swear them off forever. I am actually stupidly attached to the other one, and still feel a little bit like I'm cheating on it when I go anywhere else. No, it was an amicable breakup that was made necessary because we moved offices. Instead of in my beloved Mission, I now work in SOMA, joining the cornucopia of startups in the area. And, as much as I love my old coffee shop, it's not practical to visit it every day (even though I totally want to). So I had to make a change, and I suppose it's going okay.

The problem, as you would expect from me, is that I haven't quite figured out the seating politics here. I've sat at the same table a few times now, but I'm not sure if it's a fluke or not. I like this table, even though it's not anywhere near a wall and there's enough space for a couple of people to join me if they were so inclined (gross). Plus, it isn't super close to an outlet. Not that that's a necessity, but if I ever write there in something besides one of my battered notebooks, I like the security of knowing that I can conveniently charge if the need arises. 

But the issue I have is that the layout isn't intuitive, and requires people to possess some semblance of spatial awareness (which is shockingly rare).  The layout is conducive to dithering awkwardly in the center of the room while feeling as if constantly in the way of everyone else. There are too many variables (furniture that seems to wander, people that definitely wander, and a non-streamlined purchasing process) for me to figure this place out, and maybe that's okay. Maybe I need to insinuate myself somehow into this madness. In a way, maybe I already have. This table isn't my corner table next to a window as far away from everyone else as possible, but it's starting to feel a little bit like something I can call my own. Maybe I need to let go of my former haunt, as much as it pains me. The coffee at the new place is sort of amazing, however, so it softens the pain a little bit. I can console myself with a delightful mint mojito iced coffee and the joy of fresh people-watching opportunities.

So, the point of all this is that, yes, I am resolved to write more (I actually have a backlog for once, which is crazy), and that yes, I am capable of adapting to change and only letting my discomfort with, well, everything, affect me a little teeny bit. I swear, the coffee here helps.

22 May 2014

only amateurs use pencil

Something potentially dangerous has happened. Not super dangerous, mind. Just something that will most likely severely jeopardize any hope for productivity from me in the near future. I'm talking, of course, about sudoku.

I was somewhat of a sudoku addict in the past. Maybe (definitely) still am. But it was way worse before, trust me. I used to go through books and books of puzzles (this was before smartphones, obvs) to the point where I would stay up half the night with a pen in hand while working on the most fiendishly difficult games I could find. And, at any given point in time, there would be a sudoku book under my pillow, one in my bag, and at least three on my bedside table. When in the shower, or even whenever I closed my eyes, I would see tiles and numbers and would try to solve those imaginary puzzles in my head to see if the games I envisioned were actually solvable (they were).

So yeah, things were bad. I would get frustrated if they were too easy, but doubly frustrated if I couldn't figure them out. I'm not sure when I stopped playing obsessively. It just sort of faded to the background as other things, like life, emerged and demanded my attention. Eventually, I forgot about it and moved on.

The event that sucked me back in, however, is finite and still makes me laugh a little to myself when I recall it. Last week, by some miracle, I managed to snag a seat on BART while commuting to work and ended up next to a woman playing a comically large sudoku puzzle. As in, the numbers were about the length of my pinky finger. And, not to be a dick about it, but the puzzle was so easy that I couldn't help but stare at the page and solve it for myself. But she couldn't do it, and by the time I was ready for her to turn the page to the next puzzle, she had only filled in a couple of tiles. Rather than wait for her to finish, I whipped out my phone and immediately downloaded the first sudoku app that popped up so that I could play it for myself. I realize that that might make me kind of an asshole, but it was like waking a dormant volcano, with the expulsion being my suddenly overwhelming compulsion to play again. It couldn't be stifled or ignored, and I had no choice but to cave.

Upon rediscovering sudoku, I realized how rusty I had gotten in the interim. I used to be able to know at a glance which number was missing and could even use my peripheral vision to fill in the gaps, but I found myself having to consciously account for what numbers were where (as in, counting and tapping the corresponding numbers). But that sense of accomplishment when I correctly solved my first puzzle after my unintentional hiatus was just as I remembered it. After that, I knew its hooks were once again deeply embedded. There are few things as satisfying as filling in that one tile that sets off a chain reaction of filling in the rest, not unlike pulling a thread in just the right way that a giant knot unfurls and smooths itself out. Every number has its position, and its reason for being there is unequivocal. Ambiguity has no place in this game. The placement of every number makes sense. And, in a world that seems to revel in the fact that nothing really makes sense if you think about it too hard or for too long, sudoku is a welcome reminder that some things can be concrete.

Of course, playing on my phone is a drastically different experience from playing in a book. For one thing, there's a timer. I hate the timer. I don't need that extra stress in my life (edit: I found out that I can hide the timer. It still records the time, unfortunately, but at least I can pretend it's not there. I think that's a pretty good strategy to life as well.).

There's also a feature where, if you select a number on the board, the other tiles with that same number light up, so you quickly determine where they are. This new feature can certainly be helpful, but I find that sometimes the glowing distracts me to the point where I don't notice that there's a row with only one number missing because I'm so fixated on the light. I'm not going to blame that on the game, though, because the issue stems from my inability to focus when there's something bright or shiny around.

One thing that isn't my fault that I dislike about the app is that there is no differentiation between which numbers were on the board originally and which ones I filled in. This feature doesn't have a detrimental effect on the gameplay, but it still bothers me because, especially when I'm stuck, I like being able to retrace my thought process for why I put some numbers where. I like being able to see the logic behind each move. Plus, if there's a really obvious move available, I like being able to determine whether that move was there from the beginning or if that opportunity arose because of changed circumstances on the board. It makes me feel a little better if I know that I wasn't completely oblivious to something so easy.

My point is, I'm back on the horse. Or off it, depending on your perspective. At least I haven't started playing tetris again, right?

17 March 2014

flowers aren't worth tissue rash

I'm going to be real with you for a minute. I hate spring. Spring and I are not friends. Sure, it's an opportunity to wear coral lipstick (not that seasons ever really dictate my behavior), but I find that spring is not worth the amount of suffering I experience.

Okay, so maybe suffering is too strong a word. But spring is unpleasant for me. The main culprit is allergies. I'm not sure what exactly I'm allergic to — the pollen, the sunshine, cheeriness of the general populace (kidding, sort of) — but whatever it is, it triggers an unfortunate response that, at this point, I can only joke about. I am plagued with itchy, watery eyes and a congested yet runny nose, but what bothers me most about these symptoms is the asymmetry of it all. Usually, only one eye and one nostril are affected at a time. Luckily, the afflicted eye and nostril tend to be on the same side, because otherwise that might actually drive me crazy.

(Side note: the only allergic reaction I've had that was symmetrical was that time when both my eyes were swollen shut, which was...fun. Not as much fun as when they started peeling, though.)

Then, of course, there's the dilemma of how to deal with these symptoms. I've covered sneezes before and still favor the Dracula method, but sometimes other measures must be taken. I'm talking about choosing sniffling versus blowing your nose. Both options are pretty gross. I detest sniffling, both because of the noise and what sniffling entails (WHY), but if my only other option is letting my nose leak everywhere, you can bet I'll be sniffling. I won't like it, though.

Not that blowing my nose is any better. Again, it's noisy and distracting and gross. Also, I don't care who you are or how old you are, but there's always the temptation to look at the contents of the tissue. If you deny it, you're a liar. I've figured out a way to blow my nose silently, but it isn't nearly as effective as the traditional nasal-trumpet method.

Re-reading what I've written, I realize how disgusting I am. I'm also entertained by the fact that the original notes for this post were (unintentionally) written in green pen. But, yeah. Spring is not my favorite.

27 February 2014

mouthing off

It probably comes as no surprise that I adore makeup. I find the colors, textures, and consistencies endlessly fascinating, and, since I cannot draw or paint for the life of me, I figure that this is as close to successfully creating visual art as I can get. As with most things, my love of makeup is driven by curiosity and observation. I've honed my skills by both becoming intimately familiar with my own face and determining exactly what it is about other people's faces that I would like to emulate. I am by no means an expert (eyeshadow still baffles me, and don't even get me started on contouring) and my face continues to surprise me as it evolves on a seemingly daily basis, but I like to think that makeup and I are on fairly good terms.

(Quick thingwhen people act superior as they express that they prefer people "without makeup," I have to wonder whether they mean legitimately no makeup or if they mean "no makeup" makeup. Plus, how am I supposed to respond to a comment like that? "That's terrific. I'm glad you're so deep and special that you think it's a novelty to not like makeup on other people." I'm not going to even attempt to speak for everyone out there who wears makeup, but I personally do not wear it to appease other people. I wear it for me. Because it's my face and I like it. And, to the people who claim that makeup is inherently dishonest and "tricks" others, I can honestly say that, when applying my bright red or neon pink lipstick, my logic behind that action is not "this looks totally natural.")

I could go on for ages about makeup in general and could do series featuring a different product with each installment, but I am compelled to discuss lipstick today since we have a tumultuous history.

I've always been something of a lip product junkie. They absolutely dominate my battlestation, and, as you can see from my previous post, I usually have at least three variations in my bag at a given time. As a kid, I started out with clear glosses and flavored lip balm, but always looked to bold lips as my ideal. But, because other people around me didn't harbor that same fantasy (or, at least, didn't act upon making it a reality), I gravitated toward eyeliner and mascara instead, leaving my lips with maybe the tiniest bit of tint and shine.

For a while, it was fine. I drew liquid liner wings sharp enough to cut the throats of my enemies, mastered the art of the mascara wand wiggle without opening my mouth, and rocked a power brow that probably (definitely) verged into Frida Kahlo territory. But it wasn't enough.

And then, true to form, I decided that "fine" wasn't what I wanted anymore, and the amount of bright and borderline obnoxiously colored lipstick (because if I decide I'm going to do something, I do it) in my possession seemed to reproduce asexually and exponentially. It was alarming. After doing the obligatory swatches and wearing them in the safety of my bedroom, I finally built up the courage to leave the house with a vibrantly red mouth and slightly subdued wings. I mean, they were still sharp enough to inflict harm, but I didn't want them to take attention away from my blood-red mouth.

The beginning of the day was awesome. I felt fierce and powerful, like I was taking ownership of my face and my day and my life, really. I know that it sounds vain, but I promise you I am not being overdramatic about how serious this rush was. It was that good.

Of course, I didn't have constant access to a mirror that day, but I felt so amazing that it didn't really matter. It wasn't until several hours (and meals) later that I happened to glance at myself in a storefront window and was subsequently kicked back down to earth. Imagine my horror upon discovering that my mouth, rather than remain a pristine beacon of femininity, had morphed into a faded spider-witch monstrosity. I viciously scrubbed the crimson remnants from my lips and wondered how many people had seen my face and had chosen not to mention it. Defeated and devastated, I went the rest of the day with a bare mouth and a sullen expression.

The thing is, I was always under the impression that putting on lipstick was as simple as swiping it on and calling it good. After all, I feel like we're all naturally predisposed to make life look as easy as possible to an outsider. It wasn't until much later that I learned that the process is much more involved than that. To make lipstick last and look perfect is an ordeal. A commitment. It sometimes requires me to exfoliate, moisturize, prime, line, reverse line, apply, blot, and repeat for insurance. Now, I may love lipstick, but not as much as I love putting in minimal effort for a successful outcome. So, for years, I fiddled with the process to figure out how to eliminate steps, and am finally at a place where it's a three-step process at most, but it certainly hasn't been easy. There have been multiple spider-witch moments, which never stop being mortifying and serve as a useful, if painful, reminder that I am only human.

I know that I could switch to something sheer or neutral to reduce the probability of a mouth malfunction, but I also know that that isn't in my nature. And that's okay. If making myself happy means that I have to put in a little bit more effort, I will do it. I've even started expanding my range to include more unconventional colors. I'm not at the point where those new colors are as familiar to me as my classic reds and pinks, but I know they'll get there. And, until that time comes, I'll be sure to keep my bag stocked with a mirror and makeup remover wipes.

12 February 2014

in the bag

As someone who consumed far too much media as a child, some of my fondest memories consist of me sitting on the floor, surrounded by magazines, taking notes on how to improve myself or on what I found interesting and why. I figured that if I took enough notes, I would become the most perfect and intelligent person in the world; I would know exactly how to conduct myself in an interview, coming off as charming as opposed to a regurgitation of whatever talking points I had memorized beforehand, while remaining unhindered by trivial things like "stubborn belly fat" or unsightly blemishes because I had read about how to prevent them from making an appearance. Those days of optimism and naiveté have been replaced by cynicism and disenchantment because I have lived longer than five years, so I have amended those images of perfection to simply mean that I am doing the best I can and am proud of what I can do and have done. There's room for improvement, sure, but there is also a lot to appreciate.

But I digress. The reason I bring up magazines today is to talk about one of my favorite, yet underutilized, article formats. I'm talking, of course, about the "What's In Your Bag?" articles. The bag itself is less important in these pieces, but the major draw for me is the intimate look into what a person deems essential and worth carrying around. Naturally, nonessential items creep in, but such is life and we deal with those things as we see fit, throwing them away, hiding them from sight, or simply letting them hang out and do their thing. For me, those items are receipts, and I usually fold them up and shove them into my notebook until I get home, at which point I put them in a pile and ignore them.

The essential items are where things gets interesting. Clutter is eloquent, and far more adept at revealing who we are than we could ever consciously hope to be. We can learn so much about a person by how much stuff they carry, what condition that stuff is in, and how it is organized. For example, a person whose everyday essentials can fit into a tiny clutch is very different from someone who requires a massive and overflowing tote. Likewise, a person carrying a dinged up phone and broken eyeshadow palettes is very different from someone whose phone is pristine and somehow manages to keep their eyeshadow from crumbling in the pan. And it goes without saying that someone who takes advantage of compartments and little pouches within bags differs greatly from someone who lets everything mingle and wander around. A bag is just for the the individual carrying it, and a look inside can be shockingly intimate and informative.

There's also the issue of how the contents of the bag are photographed. Very rarely do we see it in its natural habitat, unedited and unfiltered.

Rather, we are presented with an image of items artfully placed so that everything is visible. But, we have to question what is not included in this picture and why.

This is my attempt at the staged shot. I've got my wallet, my makeup pouch with the makeup on display, my keys, a book, my notebook, pens, sticky notes, gum, eyedrops, little samples of lotion, and headphones. This is what I carry every day. I just ran out of tissue and I usually have more candy. Sometimes I'll bring a water bottle or thermos, and there's usually a scarf tied around the strap or stuffed unceremoniously into the bag if I'm not wearing one already. My things seem to be in okay condition, though the gum packet is slightly crushed and the sticky notes sometimes have folded corners.

I've shown you mine, now show me yours.

04 February 2014

simultaneously over- and under-caffeinated for this

I have a topic that I need to revisit, as its importance in my life has increased since graduation. It's about seating arrangements, and it has begun to dominate my brain function. I've talked about it before in the context of classrooms, but, as it turns out, this topic has become even more pressing in the real (whatever that means) world. On a side note, I should probably revisit this topic again in the context of public transportation, because I have quite a bit to say on that subject. But let's save that for another time.

I spend most of my time alone, which contributes greatly to my efforts to keep my sanity intact. For, surely, if I didn't dedicate time to quiet reflection and reading, I would have snapped by now. My favorite place for this sort of activity (besides my bed, naturally) is a small coffee shop a couple blocks away from my office. The coffee is strong, the pastries are delicious, and the music is conducive to my thought process. All in all, it's ideal, especially since its decor is spartan enough that I don't get distracted or too comfortable. I learned early on that reading in an armchair in a dark room means that I will undoubtedly be asleep in twenty minutes.

Another reason why I love this coffee shop is that there is an overabundance of seating. Unfortunately, there are only a few places where I would even consider sitting, which immediately makes me tense up when I enter.

But before I get into that, I should probably explain the layout so you understand what I'm talking about. The wall opposite the counter is completely lined with barstools facing the wall. Next to the counter is a large rectangular table that seats twelve. This table is fairly low to the ground and the chairs do not have backs. At the front of the shop, there are two large windows that each have a small round table in front of it, and each table has a couple of short stools. One of these little round tables is essentially in the corner, and the other is next to the door. There are also a couple of tables outside, but for the purpose of this exercise, they don't matter.

As you can probably guess, my favorite seat in the one in the corner. I like being able to see everything both inside and outside, plus I enjoy being able to lean back against a wall. Call it paranoia or whatever, but I like knowing that there isn't anything behind me. The barstools are my worst nightmare. If my favorite table is occupied, I like sitting at the large rectangular table at the corner closest to my favorite table. My back is still to the wall and my visibility is still pretty good. It also allows other people to sit at the table without sitting next to or, god forbid, directly across from me, thereby shattering the illusion of privacy I like to create. If that seat is taken, I gravitate to whatever seat is furthest from anyone else and try to take up as little space as possible.

Before you ask, no I do not like sitting at the other little table at the front of the shop. Even though it is small and discourages anyone from sitting near me, it's right next to the door, which means that I get a faceful of cold air any time anyone enters or exits the shop.

The question I have to pose today is whether or not it's okay to move seats if someone vacates one of my preferred choices. This morning, I was forced to sit in the middle of the large rectangular table facing the wall because the other patrons had already occupied my preferred positions. But, before my drink was ready, the person sitting in my second-favorite seat left, so I moved. After I had settled in with my drink and my book, the person in my favorite seat also left.

If I were alone in the shop, I would have moved without hesitation. Unfortunately, during the interim, the other seats in the shop had filled up with people who had seen me move once already. I'm fairly comfortable with my neuroses, but it was a bit early in the morning to incur looks of judgment and confusion from strangers who clearly needed caffeine as desperately as I did. So I stayed, settling for second-best and quietly seething when another customer moved from sitting at the large rectangular table to my favorite seat while I was considering moving.

I suppose the moral of this story is that Foucault's theory on governmentality and bodies in space has a real, observable foundation in everyday life, and I need to get over myself and sit wherever I damn well please. Or, you know, stop caring so much about where I sit.

(I was going to draw the layout of the coffee shop to better illustrate my woes, but then I remembered that I cannot draw to save my life and the inaccuracy of my drawing would probably just upset me.)