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.
I've always told myself that I'm a "private person". For years, I've used that as an excuse for being evasive when I don't want to talk about certain things or just to avoid giving away details about my life. But the truth is I'm not even sure I know what being a private person really means. While it's true I don't like to expose too much about myself, there have been people with whom occasionally I have admitted to things (though never everything). And even so, it's always been very calculated. Reflecting on it, most of my comments made in public have been purposeful almost staged at times.
But why? Because I'm a self-absorbed fraud? A little, maybe ... I'm being safe? Possibly, I guess ... I'm fearful? Yeah, that makes the most sense. I sincerely thought for the longest time that revealing too much would make me vulnerable. That people would judge me, gossip about me or somehow I wouldn't fit it in somewhere.
But really who the hell cares? Probably no one. I'm not that important. And there most definitely are some people out there who will judge me or do some unkind thing to me behind my back - but that's life. And more so, I'm now seeing the irony of being shackled by the opinions of some small subset of people who I am allowing to have so much control over me.
Even realizing that, there are some other aspects to my foolish mindset. As much as I would like recognition and appreciation for things in my life, I often doubt people's sincerity when they say nice things to me. I don't even know why. Maybe because I personally never felt proud of myself so at times it just feels easier to be skeptical of everyone else's motives. And then this pessimism feeds into itself. I don't want others to question my intentions, so I don't give praise or encouragement all the times when I do genuinely want to. And then people who I care about, think that I don't care or I'm insensitive or worse: that I'm refusing to join in their happiness. And now writing that all out, well, it just reads like a total farce.
No really, I'm just a coward, just hiding my emotions because I'm scared I'll get judged or hurt. I've been hurt before and will again. I've been disappointed by people and been judged. But those are all poor reasons to always have to hide the things in my life and constantly build pointless defenses.
I don't know what purpose this "confession" of sorts really serves, other than to help me re-evaluate my "old ways" and to try to become a better person. Life is just too short to wish you could have told someone that you're happy for them, or to miss out when someone else really just wanted to share in your happiness.
Almost 2 weeks ago, I had a major personal disappointment that really affected me. Unfortunately it happened the night before the first year anniversary of my father's death. While the turn of events were incredibly upsetting, I didn't think at the time that it was anything that I couldn't deal with alone. I didn't want to outright tell anyone I was overwhelmed, but I did have the urge to say depressing things on my social media accounts, Twitter especially. As struggled to avoid sad tweets, I was having trouble concentrating at work. I became increasingly distracted and found myself just staring out the window or at pictures on Facebook. In a brief moment of clarity, I thought to myself that I would just quit social media for a while and try to deal with my personal turmoil. I firmly decided that if I had to say anything then I would say in person it to someone who cared. And if I had to write anything then it wouldn't be short tweets or posts - I would it write it down in complete thoughts.
And ... so I did. I signed off Facebook, killed Facebook Messenger. Signed off Instagram. Disconnected Twitter on all my computers and devices. No more Snapchat. Even stopped Google+, Untappd and BuzzFeed just to be thorough. The world became dark. Man, was it ever. But in that darkness I could hear myself think - or rather I could filter my thoughts from the constant random comments, pictures, rants or political jests.
So what was it like? Well everything went by so slowly. So painfully slow! I literally had no idea what was going on in the world or even my backyard. I don't have cable TV, don't listen to the radio much and haven't spent too much time talking with co-workers recently. True, I was trying to get over my personal issues and didn't show much interest, but I was still curious. I did wonder if anyone even noticed I stopped tweeting. I did feel some emptiness as it occurred to me that some of my family and close friends don't often text or call, but do constantly communicate or share info over social media. And I was missing that. Even as I write this, I feel anxiety about what all happened while I was "out".
I noticed for the first 3-4 days that I would habitually pick up my phone, turn on the screen, realize I had nothing to check, then I put it back down. There were some long days that I was excited to see a text or email (even from work). However now that I made to 10 days, I've almost completely stopped looking at my phone. In fact, the only time I did recently was to check the time. I'm worried that when I sign back on I might relapse into constantly reading Twitter. Of course, for almost the entire time I was disconnected, I wanted to tweet or post about what it was like to be disconnected. I even started keeping mental track of smart things I was going to tweet when I signed back on.
So looking back, I'm glad I did it. I did find it easier to get through my troubles by not being glued to a tiny screen. I did get a good break to reflect on my life and priorities. I talked more on phone with some of my friends in the past week or so, than I've done in months. I did rediscover that I have a (very) crappy blog which I really haven't spent any time on in years. All the notes I wrote down (on paper or electronically) were definitely therapeutic - and I'm not done writing things down.
I was surprised seeing how poor I had become at writing, but even so, I'm sure I want to write more. Does it help with the sadness? Yes, a little. Am I over the sadness? No, not really. I will write just for me. I hope my future self stumbles upon these words one day and realizes what a journey he's made from those 10 long and sad days.
At this time 30 years ago, my parents were bringing my siblings and me into the United States to start a new life. They came with a few suitcases, limited money and 4 kids under the age of 8. They derived their strength from nothing other than the support of their family and their faith in God.
For all the times I've thought my parents did not take any chances or feared risk, I cannot imagine what courage it took to make such a difficult journey. To leave their home, family and friends and travel 8,000 miles to other side of the world. On this Father's Day I thank both my father and my mother for their immense sacrifice. Sadly neither did ever see their parents again.
At times I wonder if I could ever do what they did. Thanks to them, I don't think I will ever have to.