One Year Mark

Yesterday was graduation day for the University of Chicago Law School Class of 2017. That means it’s been a year since I’ve graduated. In this past year, I have:
 
– Moved from Chicago to LA to study for the bar exam.
– Took, and passed, the bar exam.
– Traveled to Philadelphia to help my brother start his pre-med post-bac program.
– Moved from LA to the San Francisco Bay Area.
– Started a new job in San Francisco, in which I directed a legal services program and worked to fight the criminalization of homelessness.
– Participated in a leadership training course with my church.
– Got a new job in Berkeley that I’m starting tomorrow.
 
I’ve also learned some major lessons:
 
– Self-care is important to avoid burnout.
– My attention to detail is a strength, but I need to focus on the big issues.
– If a client yells at me, it’s not just about me.
– Feedback can be painful, but is crucial to growth.
– Mistakes are a given, but learning from them is not.
– It’s OK to be a kid. I don’t always have to be super serious.
– God is good. Life is hard.

A day in downtown LA

Today, I got to explore downtown LA with my family. We live in a suburb, and don’t go downtown much, since driving is such a pain. So this time, we took the Metro.
 
We started with lunch at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse. My mom, dad, and brother had never had Brazilian food before, and they really liked it. We stuck to the buffet, since we didn’t want to shell out for the full “all-the-meat-you-can-eat” experience. I missed eating Brazilian rice, feijoada, and farofa, and found them delicious as always. My dad really liked the cheese bread (pão de queijo). When we told the waiter that we were celebrating my new job, he provided a complimentary dessert, papaya cream (papaya blended with vanilla ice cream). Smooth and not too sweet, it was the perfect way to finish a very hearty meal.
 
We set out for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which my mom has never seen. On the way, we stopped by the Central Library. Inside, we checked out a Mexican art exhibit (it was actually for art used for Mexican textbook covers). I noticed that three men appeared again and again on the covers: Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juarez, and Francisco Madero. I don’t know much about Mexican history, so I made a note to spend some time learning about these key figures.
 
We passed by the MOCA and the Broad (the museums will have to wait for another day) and arrived at the Concert Hall. We ascended the stairs and strolled through the public park. Even though the Concert Hall is right next to a busy street, the park is quiet.
 
After we rested for a bit, we ventured into Grand Park. We came across a large reflecting pool, shallow enough to walk on. I played in the pool with my dad and my brother, kicking around the water. The pool reminded me of the reflecting pool at my law school; sometimes, I would dance in that pool.
 
We left the park and entered the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a beautiful building filled with light. My favorite part of the cathedral is the set of tapestries in the hall (the nave). The tapestries depict saints from throughout time and place, all gazing intently toward the altar. The tapestries remind me of the worldwide community that centers on Christ.
 
Our final stop was Grand Central Market. At this point, we weren’t hungry for dinner, and were ready to head home. My brother got a beer, and I got some ice cream from McConnell’s (black coffee chocolate chip and earl gray tea with shortbread). We finished our snacks, took the Metro back home, and went to get some Korean food at our local Korean supermarket.
 
All told, an excellent day!

This post is about blood

I have a briefcase that I take to work. I carry my documents, my lunch, and an assortment of various items. I have pens, hand sanitizer, a mirror, a cell phone battery charger. I always like to be prepared. I also have a tampon. Specifically, I have a Tampax tampon that I got in the bathroom of a Southwest Airlines plane. The bathroom also had boxes of pads, but those were too bulky for my briefcase.

When I tell people I have a tampon, the first question they always ask is “Why?!” But tampons are pretty useful to have around. They are highly absorbent and sterile, so they are useful for makeshift bandages. Plus, you never know when you’ll need a tampon. I don’t expect women to mention to me that they need feminine hygiene products, but if they do, I want to be ready to help.

The tampon in my bag is also a great way to start conversations. After all, menstruation is a tough topic. As a guy, I still feel a bit uncomfortable simply saying the word “menstruating”. People say that I’m weird for carrying around a tampon. But am I the one that’s weird, or is the way that we talk about menstruation weird?

After all, menstruation happens all the time. It’s a critical part of the female reproductive cycle. It’s not like it’s some rare condition that only happens to a few people. Chances are, someone reading this right now is on her period, and has blood coming out of her vagina. Now, I don’t make it my business to go around and try to guess who is on her cycle, because then I would get punched in the face (and rightly so). And it’s not my place to educate women about “how to menstruate” (and if I did, I would get punched in the face). But I would like to do what I can to help other guys feel less awkward about it. Hopefully, by talking about menstruation, I can help demystify it. I can encourage guys to support women on their cycles, to not feel embarrassed to buy pads at the store, and to quit making quips like, “Geez, you’re crabby. What, is it that time of the month?”

I don’t know…Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I shouldn’t carry this tampon around, and not talk about menstruation like it’s an ordinary thing that happens to so many people. Maybe I should go back to remaining ignorant about menstruation, and treat it with ickiness. Maybe I really am being weird. If there’s something I’m missing, please let me know! I’m always looking to learn.

For the time being, if you need a tissue, an ibuprofen, hand sanitizer, chopsticks, a pen, or a tampon, just ask! No need to feel embarrassed about it. I’m happy to help.

#nofilter

I have a magic button on my phone. This button has the special power to make me feel both happy and sad. Even though I hate it, I still keep on pushing that button.
 
That button, of course, is Facebook. While I’m waiting in line, or laying on my bed, or on the train, I pull out my phone. Without thinking, my finger gravitates to the Facebook app. Immediately, I am flooded with news from people around the world.
 
Some of that news brings me joy. Oh my gosh, they’re finally engaged! Yay, she’s having a baby! Woo-hoo, he graduated! When I read this news, I get to celebrate with another person’s joy.
 
Other news gets me down. Geez, she’s really having a hard time with school. Wow, I didn’t know his dad had cancer. Oh no, she lost her job. When I read this news, I get to share in another person’s tragedy.
 
But I notice something strange. Sometimes, I read someone’s news or see their pictures about some amazing experience they are having. “Look! I’m in Hawaii! Look! I’m at a party! Look! I have abs! Look!!!” And I feel worse about myself. I start to compare myself to those in my news feed. I’m not in Hawaii. I’m not at a party. I don’t have visible abs. The more I look at other people’s lives, the worse I feel about my own.
 
The truth is, I have a good life. I have a family that loves me. I have a new job. I have a great education that opens up a lot of doors. I mean, I even have my health, which I know isn’t true for everyone.
 
If I curated my life on Instagram, it would look pretty great. But of course, my life isn’t always great; there is no filter or hashtag to cover up the painful parts. There’s my body-image issues, and my struggles with my weight and acne. There’s the aimlessness I felt after college, as I tried to figure out my career. There’s my frustration of trying to find a job as a public interest attorney. #blessedbutlifeisstilltough
 
The best I can do is to stop obsessing over other people’s lives and focus on my own. I’m making steps to stop pushing that button on my phone. As a practical matter, I’ve installed Metal on my phone, which has a floating notification bar that lets me see Facebook notifications and messages, but doesn’t take me to the newsfeed. This way, I can check if anything needs my attention, without subjecting myself to a bombardment of unnecessary information. I also need to remember that for every picture, the person taking it curated that moment to show life in a particular light. There really is no #nofilter.
 
There’s plenty of life out there to live. I want to stop wasting time looking at someone else’s experience, and start living my own. Don’t worry, I will keep writing here and sharing about what I experience. Hopefully, my words encourage you to experience life for yourself, too!

Kids these days

A few of my friends have newborn babies. I got to see some of the babies yesterday. I try to avoid taking pictures with babies, though. Every time my parents see a picture of me holding a child, my dad asks, “Doesn’t that make you feel like you want one for yourself?” My reply is, “Well, maybe, but I don’t know if my friends are interested in making one just to give to me”.
 
That aside, kids are cute…but it’s a trap! Kids use their cuteness to trap parents and control them. Kids use their cuteness to get their parents to literally put up with their crap every day. And I guess it works!
 
I don’t have a burning desire to have kids. I know some folks who really do, who see parenthood as a core aspiration. That’s not the case for me. One draw about having kids is that the experience would help me understand the world and understand others better. Is that weird? It’s definitely not enough of an incentive to make me hurry up and have kids now.

Bikes!

Around 2009 or so, I bought my first adult bike, a Fuji Sagres. It was a great commuter bike, perfect for getting around Berkeley. I remember when I worked at Google, I would bike all the way down to the West Oakland shuttle stop, just so I could get some exercise before heading down to Mountain View.
 
When I was in Chicago, I got a Hercules cruiser bike. It wasn’t particularly fast, but it was pretty sturdy. The single speed was fine for the flat Chicago topography. I used it to get from my apartment to class. I learned that my lower temperature limit for biking was 10 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as it was above 10 degrees, I could bike to class and be fine. I would notice that at the beginning of the school year in the fall, the bike racks would be crowded with bikes, but by winter, there would be plenty of space.
 
Now that I will be starting a new job in Berkeley, I bought a new bike, a Dahon Mariner D7. I wanted a folding bike because my current apartment doesn’t have a safe place to park the bike. I also appreciated the flexibility that a folding bike would give me in multimodal transit. I can take it on the BART or put it in someone’s car.
 
What I appreciate about bikes is the sense of freedom that they convey. With my bike, I can go so much further than I can by public transit. Even with Uber and Lyft available, my bike is fun, free, and great exercise.
 
I also don’t take this freedom for granted. Some people can’t afford a bike. Some people aren’t physically able to ride a bike. And some people are deathly afraid of sharing the road with cars. I’m looking forward to a future in which there are more freedoms available for these folks too, whether it’s affordable bike shares or mobility adaptations or safer streets. Because transportation equity means that everyone is able to get to where they need to do the things they need in order to thrive.

Working Moms

One last thing regarding Mother’s Day.
 
On Sunday, I visited my brother’s church. During the sermon, the preacher referred to mothers who sacrifice for their families, for how they have “prayed and cooked and cleaned” for others.
 
To that list, I would add “how they have worked”. Not just worked in the home (which is definitely work), but also worked out in the world. My mom was a working mom. She worked as a pharmacist since I was 7 years old. Some of my friends had moms who stayed at home. I wonder if my mom ever questioned her choices and whether she was a good mom by choosing to work. But I gained a lot from her choice to work, and not just financially.
 
My parents had different attitudes to bringing up work at home. My dad almost never talked about his work as an actuary. His philosophy was to leave work at work, and not bring it home. I respect and honor him for his decision.
 
My mom did the opposite. She talked about work a lot at home. At the dinner table, she would talk about her patients, about how busy it was in the hospital, and so on. Through these conversations, I learned a lot about how to navigate difficult workplace conversations. I learned from her example about how to stand up for myself, to persevere, and to work well with others. She was my first model of the working parent, and I learned a lot from her experiences.
 
If I ever become a parent, I want to think about how my experience with work can inform my children’s experience. I want them to see that work isn’t easy, and can be really taxing, but can also be deeply rewarding.

Mother’s Day 2017

Today is Mother’s Day.
 
Mother’s Day is a good day for many people. Mother’s Day is an opportunity to express thanks for the mothers in our lives, for their strength, love, perseverance, and endurance. I made sure to call my mom today and wish her a happy Mother’s Day.
 
That said, I remember that Mother’s Day is also complicated. I sometimes fall into the trap of associating Mother’s Day with a saccharine, romantic view of motherhood, all soft linens and loving hugs and chocolate chip cookies. But motherhood is not a real-life commercial for Pampers or Tide detergent. Mother’s Day is complicated because motherhood is complicated.
 
For some, their biological mothers weren’t available, either by tragedy or by choice. For some children, they celebrate their adopted mothers or grandmothers or maternal figures, yet feel a longing for their biological mother.
 
For others, their mothers were complex or even painful people. For some children, their relationship with their mothers was toxic, or embittered, or codependent. Even as they celebrate the ideals of motherhood, they wrestle with the realities of their own mothers.
 
For some women, Mother’s Day reminds them of a relationship that they cannot have. Some women are unable to have children, because of biology or circumstance. When they see mothers around them receiving recognition, their applause is mixed with their own heartbreak. In fact, I’ve heard that for some, Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year to go to church, and that some women avoid churches today altogether.
 
And for far too many women, their time of motherhood ended far too quickly. What do you say on Mother’s Day to a mother who has lost her child? What do you say when “Happy Mother’s Day” serves only to remind her of the one she has lost?
 
I know that on days of celebration like today, I feel tempted to avoid talking about these painful or difficult realities, to shut them out. Yet those who are living these realities don’t have that option. I want to celebrate in a way that honors everyone.
 
So I celebrate those mothers that stayed at home and raised their family. May your investment into your children’s lives produce rich rewards for yourself and your community.
 
And I celebrate those mothers that have worked hard, sometimes two or three jobs, to put food on the table. May your children and society honor you for your excellence and faithfulness.
 
And I celebrate those women who were not mothers to physical children, but mothered so many around them. May your heart be filled to overflowing with the love of generations.
 
And I celebrate those mothers whose hearts still break for the children that they have lost. May your souls be comforted, and though life cannot return to what it once was, may you find grace and hope, even in the sorrow.
 
And I celebrate with all those whose relationships with their mothers were rocky or nonexistent. May you have mothers this day to celebrate—if not the mothers that you were given, then mothers that you chose—and find your heart brimming with thankfulness.

Wedding season and grief

We’re entering into wedding season, a time of joy, excitement, and even frustration for some. But it’s also a time of grief.
 
I was talking to one of my friends about transitions in his life. In the past two years, some of his closest friends have gotten married. He’s very happy for them, of course, but he’s also grappling with how their marriages have changed his life. He can’t call them to spontaneously hang out anymore. He can’t just show up to their apartments out of the blue, because they may have plans with their wives. He is still very close with his friends, but he’s learning how to let go of the previous stage of their friendship and enter the next.
 
Grief, after all, is learning to let go of that which you cannot have. And grief isn’t a bad thing or a good thing; it’s a way to respond to changes in life. If he did not grieve, he may still be trying to hold onto that old stage, which could lead to bitterness and resentment. My friend cherishes the relationship he had with his friends when they were single. And it’s not like he’s expecting them to not get married just for his sake. I told him that it’s healthy to process his feelings regarding the change with other people, and maybe even talk about it with his friends. They can plan out how to maintain their friendship in a new season.

My body

I know what it feels like to be embarrassed about my body.
 
In the past, I would worry about my acne. I would worry about my height, that I was too short. I would worry about my hair, that I was going bald.
 
But most of all, I worried about my fat. Growing up, I was a bit of a chubby kid. I remember in middle school, one of my classmates would taunt me and call me a “big fat baby”. That really hurt. I hated going swimming, since I didn’t want to take off my shirt and expose myself.
 
I’m not sure what exactly I was worried about. Was I worried that with my acne, short height, balding hair, and fat body, that no girl would ever like me, that I would never get married? That’s certainly a worry that was presented to me again and again.
 
I guess I just felt embarrassed to be me.
 
Some things have changed since then. I’ve lost weight and gotten more fit. My acne is gone. I haven’t managed to grow much taller or have thicker hair, but that’s OK.
 
What’s changed the most, though, is my perspective. I’ve come to realize that those things aren’t really that important. I look to the heroes in my life, the people who model the qualities that I most admire: compassion, faithfulness, diligence. They may not be embodiments of physical beauty, but they radiate a deeper beauty of love, of honor, of spirit.
 
People talk about the ideal body, about muscles and flexing and GAINS. But what did Jesus say? “This is my body, which is broken for you.” Jesus gave up his body, so that others may live. His body was not for his own glory, but as a vehicle to love others. Because the crucial questions for me will not be “How much can you bench?” or “Did you have a six pack?”, but rather “How well did you love?”
 
Yes, exercise is important. Good eating habits are important. Sleep is important (Lord, yes). Self-care is important. But it’s not the only, or the most, important thing.
 
To be honest, I still feel insecure at times. I see other guys who are taller or fitter or have lusher hair, and I feel a twinge of pity for myself. But I turn my attention away from those thoughts, and turn them to God’s acceptance for me, and His question: “How well do you love?”