Category: rk

a birthday post: If not now, when?

rosejumpingpuddles.GIF

I often forget my age. People still indicate their surprise at it, tell me I look “so young.” Which I don’t mind, I hope they will always say that. The edges of my eyes have deeper creases now, but I am happy that they have been carved by the ridges of joy. I still feel young, I still run into the water and leap across puddles when wearing rain boots. The main thing is that I fight harder to get to a place where fear isn’t so large anymore.

Hope is larger.

****

I love the summer: the never-ending daylight, the it’s-too-hot-not-to-eat-ice-cream weather, everything in the middle of bloom.

This is how I feel about my age now. The middle of bloom, and filled with the sort of hope balanced and made wise by the clumsiness of past seasons. It will be a strange, beautiful decade. I am approaching a time when it’s very possible that the life behind me is as much as the life I have ahead of me. I’m more aware of mortality: my family’s and mine.

I’ve arrived at more crossroads than I care to count. This has been a groundbreaking year filled with change and uncertainty. In some ways, I have never felt more grown-up and ready. In others, I have never felt like such a novice.

I keep a list of ongoing resolutions on the last page of my notebook. I don’t make new ones for my birthday, but the one thing I’ll say for this year is: spend time on love. Say it out loud and more often before the day you won’t have a chance to.

As we get older, the number of trials that love puts us through increases. I stumble a lot in finding patience, and I dwell on the past. Forgiveness is difficult, vulnerability sometimes even more so; yet love asks you for both. The awkwardness and tears and stiff moments during which silence hangs in the air like a brick wall: they will all be worth it. No condition lasts forever: the friction we face, the disease that a loved one may survive or not, the agility of our bodies, the argument we initiate, the exhilaration of novelty, this life, this body, this heart, this youth. What will you hope to be (for your loved ones, for yourself) on the other side of it all? Dear Forgiveness, if not now, when?

In the past, I have often let my fear get in the way of love. Not sure who wrote it, but this note captures it well.

“Very often the things we fear most are not only bearable, but transformative.

We will all, many times over, have to reconcile the life we planned with the life we’ve got. And usually the life we’ve got is better.”

My life at 32 is so different from what I planned it to be, but I would not exchange it. I’m taking the leap, I’m all in.

***

Rose Kuo super Mario

Vulcan

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

― André Gide

The air carried something damp and anxious, waiting to pounce. The feigning of its innocence was aided by the sun, but we could see right through it. We brought our own shelter, mended it, inspected the stakes. The stakes were too high (so we found a mallet to drive them closer to the ground). I repeated, “The stakes are too high.” Is it better to abandon this shelter, find something apart, something easier, sturdier? Something we won’t have to think about, something we won’t remember but won’t regret either?

We make synonyms out of “heart” and “shelter” and then you point to your chest. You are the window, I have been the door. One day perhaps we can both become the light that falls across when the window and door are open. I remind you that it isn’t just you and me. The whole world is out there, and I stumble across words and history that could break me apart. We wonder if, with what we have built together, we can succeed at shielding ourselves from the tumultuous elements.

So we will try. We crawl in, with the agreement that we are just testing it out. We decide on a backup plan should our shelter not hold up. Inside now: it is dark and dry, your skin is humid, your eyes glisten like a North Star. We lie down side by side. You take my hand in yours, and we stare upwards into the orange darkness while listening to the pounding of rain on the thing we call a home.

Carl Phillips writes:

I have seen how the earth erodes differently
from the way that trust does. Likewise,
I know what it means, to come to love
all over again the very mistakes I
also know, looking back, I might better have
strayed clear of.

What have I achieved with my mistakes, with love, anger, fear, hope, despair? With careful capitalization and punctuation? With the damming of emotion? There is so much I want to tell you about how I feel, but we humans are “civilized” now, we must strive to be calm and collected and productive and rational and calculated. Women are asked to be “more like men” in order to “succeed” in this world.

Yesterday I read about science fiction robots who long to become more human; in this case, the robot decided to take up painting as a way to get closer to humanity. Though we as a species value logic and that which is rational, let us not forget the value of our humanity. We possess the unique ability to feel, to see and create beauty, to despair so that we know what it is to hope.

I am familiar with the color of our trust but I have noticed that it changes when seen from too much distance. From this distance, you tell me I have met the quota for being emotional for today. You say: okay, no more. You say: time’s up. You say: you only get a few chances, and you’ve used yours up. You say: someone else is waiting so I have to go now. You say: I am going to dinner. You say: this was not scheduled on my calendar, to talk to you.

I blink. I feel myself becoming the closing door, not yet the light that falls through it.

I wonder what Rothko would have thought about the robot that takes up painting to be more human. “Untitled,” is what he would have thought about it, maybe. “Brown and Green.” But when you look at the thing that is labeled untitled, the light becomes the story. The story changes, and sometimes it was not scheduled on your calendar to change. So you don’t expect it. But here are the colors as they are right now, at this hour, in front of you, looming. There are things you never noticed before, but it is still the same painting. I try to remind myself that perhaps even fragility can have resilience. That something delicate is not the same as “not strong.” There is a sense that the stories that need telling are hardest to tell, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

How can I combine urgency with delicacy, the way Ocean Vuong does? The stakes are high. To determine whether our shelter can hold, you bring along your roadmaps, measurements, and tallies. There is data, there are ratios, there are cardinal directions, there is a start and an end. As for me: I don’t think we simply strive to arrive. What about how we feel along the way? I threw my compass away years ago. 

There’s a light that can make
finding a thing look more than faintly
like falling across it—you must kneel,
make an offering. I threw my compass away
years ago. I have passed through that light.

My very first TED conference

Over the past few months, I’ve started multiple drafts to explain why I joined TED and how much I value the organization’s mission, but never had time to finish writing a complete post. Suddenly, it’s already a year later, and here I am after attending my first TED conference ever.

I am fascinated by how connections happen via technology and art, and I’ve always been inspired by TED’s work to spread important and beautiful ideas around the world. TED is headquartered in New York City, and as a company it is over 200 people small. It’s daunting how quickly we have grown, and there are always whispers of cultural change within any rapidly-growing organization. But what I see is opportunity: we all joined TED because we believe in the possibility of ideas to change an individual, an organization, a world.

Being present at TED2017 last week was a thrilling journey. Over 1900 people attended this year. I love being a part of TED’s tech team (read about some of our mobile app work, how we stay connected as a distributed team, and how we use technology for concierge-style communication and support). I posted up at my daily shifts at the built-by-TED-tech-team TED logo booth. When approached for suggestions, I dutifully gave multiple options for the best poses (see below). “Very applicable,” responded the 6’2″ guy when I said that some people like to pose in the space between the T and the E. “So easy,” said the group when I jokingly suggested yoga poses or the splits while J. photobombed me. Nothing is impossible, you know.

I was lucky enough to see (and be a part of) all the work and sweat and tears that went into the preparation for the conference. Sometimes the dialogue that happens at these types of conferences and events that have been happening for over a decade goes something like this: “Oh, I remember ten years ago when the conference was better because _____ and _____ and _____.” Often people like to reminisce about the good old days: when things were not “overproduced” and maybe therefore more authentic. While it is certainly true that things at TED have evolved and inevitable that things will be different from year to year, I can only speak from my own little tiny perspective of someone attending for the first time.

A recurring thought that many conference attendees shared with me: everyone felt that the people attending the conference were open, honest, and non-judgmental. While I was working all week and did not have a chance to attend all of the sessions, just being in the presence of the energy of ideas made me feel more optimistic about the future. Elon Musk closed his interview with: “I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior. I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.” We need to save our planet, we need to build a future we want the next generation to be proud of.

As I walked the Vancouver Convention Center’s outer loop hundreds of times, I was amazed by the surprise and delight that occurred throughout the week (including watching sessions from a huge jungle gym, handing out (and eating) handmade maple bacon chocolate bars, becoming a Ghostbuster in virtual reality, and meditating in a dome). Thousands of people were coordinating behind the scenes to put together all the complex parts of a huge event. There were mistakes, there were victories, there was progress and improvement. Now, with sore feet from walking that aforementioned loop so many times, I am humbled and honored to have been able to be part of the ripple that touches (and changes) people’s lives. I am painfully aware that at this point, TED talks can often incite eye rolls or quips about pithy statements. But also, I am impressed at the great impact an organization or person can have on the world, as exemplified by TED Prize Winner Raj Panjabi’s talk about his mission to bring healthcare to remote communities. We have come a long way and we still have a lot of work to do — but still I can’t deny the power I felt from being a part of the conversation around difficult yet poetic, concerning yet action-oriented, diverse and artistic, hopeful ideas. Our world is filled with so much tragedy and beauty at the same time — Anne Lamott reminded us that life is “filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

So how can we be better? How can we remind ourselves that we’re all connected? How can we use technology for good? How can we work together to save the world? Even finding just a tiny glimpse into the answers is a pretty good start. Pithy, I know.

“People are mistaken when they think that technology just automatically improves. It does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better, and actually it will, I think, by itself degrade, actually.”
― Elon Musk

“Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude.”

― Pope Francis, Why the only future worth building includes everyone

“I love how the English language is strewn with little signs of tension between the desire to be comprehensible and the limitations of the technology available at the time. Something as small as the dot on an ‘i’ symbolizes how technology influences form.”

― Helen Zaltzman

“You may use your power to build walls and keep people outside, or you may use it to break barriers and welcome them in. You may use your faith to make people afraid and terrify them into submission. Or you can use it to give courage to people, so they rise to the greatest heights of enlightenment.”

― Shah Rukh Khan

“Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared. Even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to other people’s outside. It will only make you worse than you already are!”

― Anne Lamott

** PS: The full speaker lineup of TED2017 can be found here. The video recordings of TED talks at TED2017 will be posted on TED.com over the course of next year. Up-to-date summaries and coverage of this year’s conference can be found on the TEDBlog. Thank you to all of the incredible TED teams for making the seemingly impossible, possible.

how LiveJournal made me feel

Some recent conversations about blogging have re-conjured some questions that I’ve pondered for years. What holds us back from hitting the “publish” button? Seems we are a bit worried that blogging has evolved from “share daily personal stories” (LiveJournal and Xanga style) to “write something useful with a conclusion you can justify” or something like that. I have had a lot of conversations with people (family, friends, coworkers) who express their desire to blog or write more, but they are paralyzed by others’ (or their own) expectations of what should be written, and therefore they end up writing nothing at all.

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“A Little Life” (or, more straightforwardly: “Taiwan”)

“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole–like the world, or the person you loved.”

— Stewart O’Nan

It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.

— John Guare

阿姨 sits down next to me and notes admiringly that I have been glued to my book the entire trip. “You’re so studious,” she said. I’ve always loved to read, I confessed. My parents would scold me at breakfast and dinner and in the car. “Stop reading at meals, pay attention, your eyes will go bad if you read while the car is moving.”

I told her I am currently reading an excruciatingly sad novel. “Doesn’t it color your mood?” she asked. “Of course,” I responded.

“Why don’t you only read happy things then?” I laughed and shrugged. I’m reminded so much that I am too emotional anyway, why not face it head on? Someone once told me that the world is wrong to frown upon emotion and vulnerability. So many people deem it weak, but perhaps it can be considered bravery that one opens herself to feeling. I admit I probably also want reassurance that writing about sad things doesn’t preclude becoming a good writer.

I know I will always be a person who thinks about feelings too much, but there are worse things to be in this world (as we are reminded daily by the news). The sad literature and events in life are what provide contrast for us to know what contentment is. The adversity we face is what prepares us for what we need to do to attain peace.

I guess the thing about the sad novel is that it reminds me of the obscure details, the tiny things that make waves. The tiny obstacles that can turn ships, but also the tiny miracles that can turn tides.

***

For months after I bought the plane ticket, I was anxious. I was convinced that my family in Taiwan would scold me:
1. Tell me that I’ve gained weight (which is senseless to say since: of course I was going to look different. The last time I was there was over a decade ago).
2. Comment with dismay about how I am “still single” and childless.

The way I’ve learned Asian families do.

My mom insisted that my arrival to be a total surprise to everyone. I was concerned about this, too. What if grandmother is out somewhere else when we arrive? What if I give her a scare? My mom reassured me. “Don’t worry, grandmother is always there. Where would she go? And don’t worry, her heart is very healthy.”

***

Grandmother was sitting in the yard with her friend when my father and I first walked up. She did not see me at first. When it became clear the visitors were here for her, the friend helped her to stand up. Her face was cloudy, her eyes squinting through the distance to see. I called out “Grandmother, it’s me, 樂樂.”

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