all or nothing

Time stretches and bounces at will.

There have been times in my life, months on end, that still haunt me in how slowly they crawled. Weeks and weeks when the knots in my stomach never unraveled, when all I could taste was fear and anxiety in my mouth. Waiting, and hating the fact that all there was to do was wait. The helplessness — the powerlessness — gnawed at me constantly, eating me up until I didn’t think there was anything left, and beyond even that. My mind would pace back and forth, aimlessly — there was nowhere to go, but I had to keep moving.

And there have been other times when, for better or worse, the stars align. Everything happens at once. An election, a promotion, a graduation, a move, an interview, an acceptance. Life-changing news attract more life-changing news, and their ripples send shockwaves to different corners of my life. I get whiplash. This is interesting, exciting, and much better than the crawl — but not necessarily or wholly good. It’s unsteady. Sometimes great, sometimes not. Always a lot.

Somehow right now I’m caught between the two. Everything is happening, but cautiously, conditionally, potentially. It’s hard to make something of anything when nothing is guaranteed. I’m postponing thoughts and feelings — I think that’s the key.

Ride the wave, eyes closed. Let it take you and then see where you land.

new york my way

Last year, I found myself crying over missing out on the cherry blossoms at the Botanic Garden. By the time I found the opportunity to go, they weren't blooming anymore. It seemed silly, but it wasn't about the flowers — it was my whole relationship with New York City.

I had never been to New York until I moved here for college. Everything was so fresh and new and dazzling. I wanted to experience everything I couldn't in my home country: world-famous attractions like the Met, smaller wonders like 24-hour dollar pizza, and absolutely everything in between. The idea of nonstop entertainment was dizzying — at any moment, I could be doing something new, something exciting, something life-changing.

Which meant that every moment I didn’t do something life-changing felt like a waste.

I started stressing out at my own downtime, whether or not I needed it. Taking a nap in between classes, scrolling through social media before bed, watching Netflix on weekends — all I could think was I could be doing something greater. When friends and family would visit, they’d make comments like, “It must be amazing to just be able to go to Central Park every day.” I’d feel so guilty for not taking advantage of that.

Today, I haven’t been to Central Park in probably two years, and I’ve accepted that that’s okay. I can’t live my life in New York as if I’m a tourist all the time. I have a full-time job to do, an apartment to clean, errands to run, just like anyone living anywhere else. I thought I was taking New York for granted by not running around checking off items on a bucket list — but really, I’m showing my love to this city every day by sticking around and building a life in it.

I still feel anxious sometimes, late on Sunday nights when I’ve spent most of the weekend at home. But I try to put that energy into something positive — instead of beating myself up over it, I plan something new for the next week. The cherry blossoms will be here next year, and so will I.

on succeeding and faltering

I was about to write a post about how I got the hang of going to the gym when things seemed to unravel.

It’s been a tough week. I can’t say exactly why — I can’t pinpoint any one reason. It’s the weight of a dozen little things slowing me down. That makes it hard to shake it off, because I have to tackle them one at a time with little progress in between. It feels silly, for example, to have your evening completely ruined by a mistake in your commute that cost you half an hour — but that’s where I was at last night. I haven’t gone to the gym since Sunday, and now I have to go four straight days if I want to keep my average this week.

Since the new year, I’ve been going to the gym (or heavily exercising, like the week I went skiing) four times a week. Twelve weeks straight. It’s the most reliable I’ve been my entire life, and it’s a major accomplishment for someone who unironically bragged about being sedentary as a teen. And so I was going to write a post about how I succeeded, except right now I’m not as sure as I was about my ability to keep it up.

So I’m going to write about how I succeeded in the hopes of reminding myself that I can keep it up.

#1: I kept it simple

I created a routine in three parts: stretching, running, and weightlifting. I hate stretching and running, which is why I start off with it — to get it over with quickly. I stretch for five minutes and I’m done. With running, I started off at 10 minutes and worked my way up to 16. My weightlifting routine is always four exercises long, in sets of 2x12 or 3x6. I never increase the number, only the weights. This is infinitely easier to memorize and stick to — I can make a beeline from one machine to the next. I feel more confident knowing exactly what I’m doing and what’s coming next.

#2 I kept it fun

My dad kept telling me I should do more cardio like he does. He suggested at least 20min nonstop. I told him no thanks, I would never work out if I tried doing that. I hate cardio, and forcing myself to do more of what I hate is only going to give me an excuse to avoid the gym like the plague. It’s better that I run little, but often, than to set out an annoying goal and only will myself to complete it once in a blue moon. 

#3 I didn’t consider it

This one’s harder to force because it’s just a mental switch — and it’s the one I’m struggling to maintain. At some point in the second or third week, I just stopped thinking about going to the gym as something to decide. It became a fact of life. I don’t have to consider going into work five days a week, or brushing my teeth every day. I shouldn’t have to do the same with this.

#4 I got gud

I have biceps and the shadow of a six-pack for the first time in my life. When I went skiing last month, I was never out of breath or too tired to keep going. I can run faster to catch the bus, and I can carry heavier groceries. It is awesome. Feeling results is incredibly motivating — so is seeing them. I got nicer athletic wear, and it feels good to look good in it. It’s a powerful feedback loop.

I’m wearing my sneakers and have every intention of going to the gym after work today. I hope I can go the three days after that, and another 156 times by the end of the year like I planned. I know I can do it — let’s just see if I will.

on missing and farming

Getting back into Stardew Valley got me thinking about the ebb and flow of things. 

I’ve been introspective all week as certain turns of events reminded me of different times in my life, like a weird deja vu where everything is the same except for me. I had difficult conversations, both as venter and ventee, that reminded me of days when I couldn’t get a single word about my feelings out. I saw my friend Amber three times this week, which reminded me of our college days when I got to see her every night. And I played a few too many hours of Stardew Valley, which reminded me of the end of last summer when this silly game was one of the few things keeping me together. 

Understandably, I’ve been nostalgic. I miss so much from different stages of my life — friendships I thought would last longer and places I haven’t visited in too long, for the most part. Sometimes I miss smaller, odder things, like waiting in the car while my mom bought groceries on our way back from school. I miss abstract feelings — the anticipation of a plane ride back to college, the excitement of a wide open Friday afternoon in middle school, the comfort of a cozy winter morning in Gramado. Most of all I miss being carefree, the way I was at age 5 when I had no homework to do; the way I was at age 14 when I had no extracurriculars; the way I was at age 18 when I wasn’t employed; the way I’m sure I currently am and will look back at with a fond, sad remembrance in a decade or two.

I don’t mean to be grim. In other times, the nostalgia would be crushing me. Right now it isn’t. Somehow I have enough emotional strength to acknowledge it, feel it, appreciate it the best I can, and try to look forward to something new. I know it isn’t always like this. And silly as it is, I have a farm to look forward to.

It’s currently Fall in my Stardew Valley farm. The leaves are orange, pink, and burgundy, my new crops should be ready for harvest in a few days, and my little family is thriving. I’ve worked my way through most of the game’s achievements, but I won’t be fully satisfied until I finish them all. I’m closing in on the Gourmet Chef star, and Full Shipment should be within reach too. Other achievements will probably be painfully hard and mostly based on luck, but I’m not worrying about them yet. 

The joke usually is that playing this game will make you want to abandon your life to become a rancher in a quirky little town. I think what I crave most about this virtual life I built myself is the forgiveness I allow my in-game self to take it one day at a time, to do the best I can with the time I have, and to not worry so much about the rest. There’s always time to go back to Pierre’s store tomorrow if I’m too late today. 

There will be times in my life that are better, and times that are worse. Some days I’ll have the perfect commute, and feel productive at work, and come home to my loving husband, and cook a delicious meal, and bask in the glory of these adult accomplishments I’d never have appreciated a couple of years ago. Sometimes I’ll be dazed, grumpy, restless, and weak. Some nights I’ll catch a rare Super Cucumber on the shores of Pelican Town and feel that bizarre real-life joy from something as small and as simple as a game. I can’t ask for it all to be good. I just wish to enjoy what I can.

on writing, and not

In the ways that really matter, I have not written since my graduation. I’ve tried a bunch of journals and I’ve completed a couple blog pieces, but it’s all felt superficial. The reason, I think, is that the year and a half that followed my graduation featured some of the worst times in my life — an excruciating move between apartments that made me lose my sanity over a three-week period, a drawn-out immigration filing that gave me relentless anxiety for months, and a forced sabbatical summer that left me feeling hopeless, graceless, useless.

That year and a half, of course, also had good moments — first and foremost, my wedding and every tender memory with the man I love, but also wonderful little moments with my friends, my family, my interns, and so on. But when I look back at that time, it’s hard to focus on the bright spots when I remember the darker blurs.

The truth is I didn’t want to write anything down. In bad times, I didn’t want to reflect on my distress — I didn’t want to remember it any more clearly than I thought I would (and I do). And in good times, I just wanted to enjoy myself — I didn’t want to waste a precious moment thinking about things. I tried to shut off every introspective impulse I had, and just go through the motions. And I reveled in my own misery, both hating and pitying myself all at once.

I say this in the past tense, thankfully, because I’m in a better place than I’ve been in two years. I’m forcing myself to do things that will make me healthier in the long run, like reading every day, cooking more often, taking some vitamins, going to the gym, and writing. I don’t always want to do these things, but I treat them like chores while telling myself I’ll be happier for it. And I am — not in the sense that I am skipping around all the time, but in the sense that I’m content in myself, I’m proud of what I can do when I put my mind to it, and I sometimes jam out on the treadmill.

It’s been four weeks now, and I hope the habits start to solidify. I hope they get easier and I hope spring comes soon. I hope I write and share more, even when it’s not good, and even when it is. I hope I have the strength to keep going no matter what happens, and I hope you do too.