My incredibly forgettable first post was published 20 years ago today. The rather unoriginal title “I’m Done” betrayed myself because I was actually just starting. I had only just set up my website a few months prior and I was filled with so much excitement that I was able to publish content online. Even more so, I was so proud of all the work I put into the backend site software that allowed me complete creativity and control. So much has happened in these past 2 decades and unfortunately very little can be gathered from reading anything on this site. I could go into detail about all my technical or geeky endeavors but I’ll commemorate that some other time.
In the past 7,305 days I’ve lived a rather wonderful life. I’ve had a family who has loved me. I have been gainfully employed, led brilliant teams and built useful things. I’ve traveled the world and seen so many breathtaking sites. I’ve had crazy fun times with friends. I’ve tasted spectacular whiskey’s and unique cuisines. I’ve gambled and won more times than I’ve lost. And I’ve experienced true love and heartbreak.
My life and career never took off like I imagined it would 20 years ago, and I’ve definitely had my share of setbacks and painful losses. At times I’ve questioned my life choices, but looking at myself right now I’m okay with how things turned out. I have so many things for which I’m grateful. I have more genuine friends today and in many ways I’m closer with my family than I was for significant parts of my life. I’m financially secure for the foreseeable future. And best of all I’m very happy I have someone to share my joy and success with.
So I feel like this post should be titled “I’m Starting” because I genuinely feel like I’m starting my life anew and I’m excited for the next 20 or 40 years.
It seems rather inadequate that out of the whole year, the appreciation showed to our mothers is often left to a single commercialized holiday. A brunch, flowers, maybe homemade breakfast and for some people only a phone call - and then that’s it. Check mark, obligation met. Someone gave you life and nurtured you at such a personal sacrifice and it’s just so easy to take that for granted and not take a moment to realize what that must have been like for them.
I don’t know what dreams or aspirations my mother had growing up, but she was wholeheartedly invested in raising a family. If there ever was a vision God had for a mother, she matched it perfectly. Imagine having 5 children without any guaranteed career stability, all while relocating your life across the globe in the hopes that you would find a better life. Also taking a gamble that all of the struggles would we be worth it in the long run. I can’t imagine what that was like (for either of our parents). When my siblings and I were young, our mother would wake before all of us at 5am, cook breakfast, dress us for school, then go to work (sometimes on public transit), work a full day, only to come home and cook for 7 people again. Feed, clean and then … get up and do it all over again. Tirelessly. For years. To think even today, there are days I sometime cannot do that for myself. What an amazing mother.
About 4 months ago, shortly after New Year’s, my mother was feeling a little sick. After a few days she became feverish. Terrified by possibility of a COVID infection from the holidays, I took her into the emergency room. I didn’t think for a second that she would never come home again. Several years ago, she had been diagnosed with a blood condition. The doctors assured her it was under control and I thought it was being managed. She did have discomfort at times, but it didn’t really hamper her quality of life. She lived comfortably on her own, travelled and for the most part was happily figuring out her retirement in the absence of her husband, my dad, who had died 6 years prior. Somehow that condition had, without any clear warning, escalated into a rare form of leukemia. In the time it took to complete the precise diagnosis and arrange a suitable treatment, her body had become too weak. She had been a fighter all her life, but the universe didn’t even give her a chance to fight this challenge. There just wasn’t any way she could endure the intense regimen of chemotherapy. It will probably be one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life to make that decision. But all I can think it that reducing her immense suffering was the final act of love we could have showed her. I’ll tell myself that but I honestly feel terrible that was all anyone could do for her.
It’s taken me some time to come to terms with the shock of what happened in January. Truthfully I have not completely processed it and I know I still have a journey ahead of me to grieve and adjust to life without her. I had made a decision about 8 years ago when my father was battling cancer, to help my parents downsize and support them living on their own. Less than a year after they moved into a condo, my dad would be gone. And in the subsequent years I became the principal support for my mother. From helping with maintenance, her car, finances or just listening to her talk about her week, her simple joys or regular frustrations. There were times I wished I was doing something else, but then I thought I can make this sacrifice. It was only on the weekends. I’d take her to church, have a meal with her or just sip some wine and reminisce. I personally don’t believe that we should do things for our loved ones in “fairness” or because we “owe” them. We do things out of love. I happen to be the person there to help and whatever burden it was for me, I made the choice to be with her and never for a minute will I ever regret that. I feel it was the right thing to do to help her financially, emotionally or in whatever way love is shown. I know she was appreciative. I do. She told me and showed me. Taking up the task of the past 8 years for my parents and mostly my mom will probably be one of the best decisions of my entire life.
And what now? Since her death I have been somewhat of a recluse: disconnected from the world, void of social media, all news source and in some case out of touch with many people. However I have been making strides in the past few weeks to figure out my new life. The reality of the decisions of the past few years was that my mother’s wellbeing was an anchor for me. And I say that without any disdain. My choices of living, employment and other non-trivial matters were all influence by commitment to support her. (Though arguably I should have taken a more balanced approach and better prioritized my needs over time.) Now that she’s no longer around, the shift is forceful and rather drastic. I have been feeling untethered and somewhat uncomfortable thinking about just me for a moment. There’s an amazing freedom I’ve been granted, and as much as it may seem like it on the surface, this was in no way at the expense of my mother’s life. I keep reminding myself that. I also have to tell myself that it’s not being selfish for wanting to put myself first in my life and doing things that I want. I guess maybe when you’ve been thinking about the care of someone else for so long, it’s easy to forget to partake in some self-care. I’m working on it and will continue to work on it.
Since her departure, I’ve been handling estate matters, sifting through her belongings and even made the tough decision to sell my condo and move into her former residence. All these changes are a bit tough to deal with currently, but I’ve been making tiny steps of progress and really hope that by mid-summer I will be “settled” (whatever that looks like). I’m not completely committed to staying where I am, keeping my job/career or even if Michigan will be my final “home” location. However I do plan to give myself a little time to think things through and work through the grieving process. I don’t know what the future holds.
If by chance you heard my eulogy for her (you might find it online somewhere), I took a moment to say that we shouldn’t look at how unlucky her death was, but rather how lucky we are for her life and that we shared it with her. I can only say I’m lucky that she was my mother. She had faults, like any human, but she did her best. Whatever may come after our physical life, I truly hope she is rewarded. I have been doing my best to think about lucky I still am. How grateful I am for my life, my career, my wellbeing and most of all for the people in my life. My family and my friends have been so supportive and listened to me and helped me through the craziness of the past few months. Thank you all so much. Seriously I can’t express enough gratitude.
And though I wrote about my mother and this was about her, everything I say about appreciation and sacrifice isn’t restricted to mothers or even parents for that matter. There are so many people in your life who care for you and love you and you need to take a moment to remember that. To be thankful for them. To appreciate them. Don’t wait for a holiday or birthday to tell someone how you feel. There is no wrong time to show someone love. Nothing in our lives is certain and every moment we share with another person should be seen as a gift. And amidst thinking of all the other people in your life, don’t forget a very important one: you. You matter and your wants and needs are valid.
I will forever miss my mother and my life has been irreparably altered, but it would be wrong to not continue to seek happiness and joy and share it with others. And most of all it would be truly wrong to not try and enjoy the fruits of all the past sacrifices made that brought me to this day.
A year ago today when our director told us to grab our things and work from home, I told myself there’s no way this could possibly last a whole year! Silly me!
It was a real struggle at times, but I guess I survived. I know I’ve shared more emotional responses in a previous post and many times on Twitter, however I thought it would be interesting (maybe fun?) to look back at some (positive?) changes, observations and reflections regarding the past year. So here goes, in no particular order …
- Alcohol - I definitely enjoy a good cocktail and I for sure thought I would drink a lot more, but the exact opposite happened. It may have been the feeling of depression earlier or perhaps I wasn’t impressed with my reserve, but my overall alcohol consumption dropped drastically. No regrets though, I don’t think it was all bad. And recently in the past 2-3 months I’ve begun taking a few more sips but otherwise I’ve been rather dry.
- Random tidbit: Comparing to the previous year, money spent on drinks dropped 97.4%
- Sleep - My sleep patterns were just a crazy roller coaster ride. There were weeks I would wake at 5am sharp without any explanation. And there were several months where I never needed an alarm clock. Lately I’ve made some tweaks and found that slightly later bedtimes gives me more regular (and a bit more satisfying) sleep. I’m happy to say that I seldom feel drowsy during the day.
- Random tidbit: After a great deal of tracking and experimentation, my approximate ideal sleep duration is 7.5 hours.
- Routines - I’ve had many women in my life tell me that I’m quite regimented. Perhaps in some of those instances that may have been an underhanded compliment, but I’ve found that I’ve thrived on routines and schedules through the pandemic. Other than a few breaks/holiday periods, almost every hour of my 7 day week has been fairly identical. In many cases down to the minute. Sure sleep and occasional pandemic fatigue would mess things up but the faster I got back to the routine the better I would feel.
- Snacks & Food & Dinners - I’ve always been terrible at snacking. Even when I want to eat something I might forget and then just wait for the next meal. This was bad at the start of the pandemic. I originally thought I was eating more at first, but as it would turn out, I’m still within 1 lb of my pre-pandemic weight. It could be the drop in alcohol or increase in fruits. Not sure. … As for dining, I’ve never really ordered food (other than pizza) my entire life, so this was new. I’ve been ordering food to support the local economy but honestly between late deliveries and cold food, I much rather eat home cooking or just wait to dine-in again.
- Random tidbit: Comparing to the previous year, money spent on dinners dropped 73.2% (mind you pre-pandemic that was all dine-in)
- Exercise - This has also been a bit of roller coaster. While I did stick to the same number of hours of working out each week, I kept experimenting with different activities/exercises (outdoor when possible). I honestly had no idea what I was doing (too many bad YouTube suggestions) but I felt okay as long as I kept moving. I’ve somehow arrived at some variation of circuit training that I’m satisfied with. I finally got around to buying some quality equipment and I’m already feeling the positive effects of a more serious workout.
- Video Games - I thought I’d treat myself to playing video games. It was fun for a minute, but its been weeks since I’ve picked up the controller. I do want to play more and just have some mindless fun, but I guess I’m just not wired for video games. (Some games are still in their wrappers for 6 months)
- Driving - I’ve been lucky to have worked close to my home for the past few years, so my driving has always been low. (People who know me know that I never really liked driving in the first place). For the entire pandemic year, I only drove outside of Ann Arbor a total of 4 times. And the most frequent place I visited was to spend time with my mom.
- Random tidbit: Comparing to the previous year, the amount of miles spent in my car dropped 60%
- Streaming - I lost a great deal of interest in watching TV over the past year. I won’t go into the causes, but the end effect is that I just watch a lot less mainstream content. It took me forever to go through some popular shows on Netflix and HBOMax that interested me. I did do a month of Disney+ and after Hamilton and some other hyped movies, I decided I would never make it through all the MCU and Star Wars content. I still have a year of Apple TV+ that I haven’t watched (and expiring in 5 months). I did however find myself watching way more YouTube. Initially it was just from researching things, but soon after I realized it was nicer watching something short and simple that isn’t part of a multi-series/multi-season epic story. I still want to watch some of those epic things, but they’ve just become super low priority.
- Writing - I have been writing a little more. Some personal things. I finally started using my Moleskine (that I bought in 2010). In fact, I bought quite a few colored pens and just started writing all sorts of things down. Somehow seeing these tiny tidbits on paper in different colors makes me feel more productive. Even the conclusions from trivial items I’ve researched end up there. It’s bizarrely satisfying.
- Finances - I’ve been fortunate to have had little to no financial impact from the pandemic. Looking back at my expenses, I’ve spent less on everything, with the only exception being Amazon. And even that was marginal. I couldn’t explain my reduction in grocery costs other than eating a little less and perhaps having more of my mom’s food. I did donate more to humanitarian and political causes in the last year than I had in the past 5 years. I finally got around to cleaning up some of my investments.
- Organization - After watching Marie Kondo I did finally embrace tidying up a lot of things around my home. I’ve decluttered a great deal of my possessions, kept more floor space clean and even have a very strict laundry and folding routine.
- Technical Projects - I’m really proud of this. I caught up on dozens of coding projects that I’ve sat on for years. I built a few tools to help me with my finances and organize my files. I even managed to clean most of my pictures (though the last 10% is still lingering). I was also happy to migrate both my personal home server and webserver to more modern software.
There’s probably a few other observations that I’ve neglected to mention, but I’m rather surprised I got here and have something to show for it. This took some effort to identify positive things and that’s not something I do very often. (I should note that I’ve kept some meticulous tracking of my expenses and activities, and looking back its all rather surprising - even to me.)
Anyway, with the rate of vaccination improving I’m hopeful there will not be a Pandemic Year 2, but maybe I shouldn’t make any bets on that. And while they don’t entirely offset the struggles, a lot of these improvements in my day-to-day make me feel good about myself and more so have given me some perspective on my priorities and what I want when things open up. Hopefully I won’t lose these good habits when they finally do.
Every single job I’ve had since graduating from college required some sort of lab setup or equipment that made remote work practically impossible. That changed 5 years ago when I accepted my current job in research. My director allowed (actually recommended) working from home at least 20% of the time. At that point in my life I had just left a demanding and high-stress environment and I felt that being trapped in the office was a source of my problems. All I desperately wanted was to have a personal life and thought that maybe an employer with a good work-life balance would finally enable me to pursue that. Making matters more complicated however was that my father was dying of cancer at the time. In some ways the desired work flexibility was more of a requirement than a perk to me. But soon after I started that job, it all somehow came together. The occasional remote work allowed me to help with my dad, actually have a little fun in my life and once in a while log in some tasks while traveling. The benefit was absolutely worth it and I regretted that I had never seriously considered it in the past.
But alas, things do change. Eventually after some major life events, I found myself back in the office full time. The “being remote” option was relegated to that rare exception when a “not-quite-an-emergency” occured (like a home delivery or inconveniently scheduled doctor’s appointment). I was only at home when I felt I was forced to be. Though to be honest, I genuinely preferred being at work. Talking to co-workers in person resolved issues faster. It was more helpful to give guidance to my interns. People were social. And most of all, having a defined space where I could specifically focus on work helped me to compartmentalize. At the end of the day, I could close the door to that space and completely check out.
And today it has been 100 days since I last closed that door. A hundred long days since my workplace informed us that the building was ramping down in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. A hundred confusing days since I had to develop a new work-life balance. A hundred frustrating days of trying to figure out how to be productive and how to check out. A hundred painful days of feeling trapped .. at home.
“Trapped” in a home that I purchased exactly 4 years ago. I really have a hard time believing it’s been that long. And in all the time I’ve been here, I never once took the time to make this place an actual home. I never changed the things I didn’t like when I bought it. I never sought out the comforts that I always dreamt I’d have. I never even put up a damn picture or any form of decor on a single wall. Not one. On the first day of quarantine I optimistically thought about how I would remedy these things. And now that I’ve had a hundred days, I’m not closer to even a basic plan. It’s not that I dislike my home or that I don’t want to improve my living, it’s just that currently nothing truly inspires me to change the material existence around me.
Before this pandemic, I was outside my home every single day of the week interacting with other people. Work, gym, friends, family, night life, whatever. My life was outside these walls. This residence was (and still is) just a place where I rest my head. Being outside and around people gave me energy and the motivation to improve aspects about myself: my health, my relationships, my productivity.
Being home by myself, I can feel my spirit slowly atrophy. I can’t focus on work or I work too long without being productive. My sleep has become wildly erratic and of poor quality. I’ve lost interest in most of my TV shows. I’ve more or less stopped enjoying the casual sip of scotch. It’s been increasingly difficult to exercise. I miss so many people much more than I’m willing to tell them - and the last thing I want to talk to anybody about is my own personal hell. To be fair I do have an incredibly small circle that I exclusively see once or twice a week and a few close friends with whom I video-chat regularly. They are all great and wonderful and I’m lucky to have them in my life. I guess that’s some consolation but day-after-day I’ve been finding it more-and-more insufficient.
I know the world is going through some incredibly difficult times. I often feel guilty for having such intense feelings of dissatisfaction. At the end of the day, I still do have a secure job and food and yes, a physical home. I recognize all of that. I feel for all the people who are suffering at this moment: Black people, the countless unemployed, the soon to be homeless or worse: those sick from COVID-19. There are a lot of people struggling in various ways, many in silence and alone. All I can say is be kind, try to be caring, maybe say hi to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. I don’t know how to fix things, especially not for myself, but I’m really going to make an attempt. My starting point is here and I hope for the better in the next 100 days.
by Mauriat Miranda
as we walk together, the hurt grows more
holding hands, the bonds never fall weak
the weight of the feather burdens to the floor
washed in an ocean where subdued are the meek
our ship stands silent in a flood of words
driven by the needs of forgotten times
when the talking parents have never heard
the sweet sensation of their childhood rhymes
the dying embers screaming for fire
the cries in the darkness longing for light
hoping for better, ashamed by their desire
the never learned their wrongs were right
laughter in the midst, simplifying our pain
the broken pieces held together by fate
falling apart they will cure the insane
with the time that we have it's never too late
and all our tomorrows are forgotten in our past
looking at each other, we are far, far part
those who finish first forget those who are last
to live one's life, one must kill the heart.
This is a poem that I wrote somewhere in the spring of 1997. I don't know where the original handwritten copy is, but I submitted it for my high school literary magazine "Full Circle" and it was actually selected for print. The only online record I could find was on some Geocities archive.
On the surface the words seem to describe a failing relationship. The editors of the magazine at the time were certain it was about a girl. And while there was a girl at the time, there is no way she deserved even a fraction of the creativity I put into writing this. The truth was much more simple: I was just trying to be "provocative". Of course I mean from my silly high school perspective. I was even just hoping someone would think its about my personal experience. ... I'm such a fraud. Regardless, I was somewhat impressed with myself when I pieced it together some 19+ years ago!
Reading it now: everything feels so forced, the meter is inconsistent and it just doesn't flow. However if I pause from being critical, there is one thing that I find interesting today: It's that even though this was written void of any true sentiment, parts of it do evoke some emotion for me now. Kinda crazy.
I'll have to take a note to remember to read this again in another 19 years or so.