2016, acceptance, expectations, foodie, happiness, letting go, seasons

What This Year’s Fig Season Taught Me About Letting Go

What California doesn’t have in seasons, it makes up for in seasonal produce. For as long as I can remember, my seasons have been defined by the fruits or vegetables available to us at the time. Summer was for strawberries and Autumn was for apples. Now, living in San Francisco and buying my produce mostly from local markets, I am exposed to a broader variety of produce, and much more aware of seasonal availability. From springtime apricots to wintertime persimmons, I know what to expect when. By the middle of each season, its respective produce has made itself abundantly present in my diet—a staple. It is a beautiful thing, eating seasonally, enjoying the richest of colors and purest of tastes.

The problem, however, is that seasons don’t last forever.A loving figure

This year’s was a particularly delicious fig season. One weekend in mid-September, I went to my usual market to stock up on my week’s worth of figs (and other produce). “This is it,” the owner told me as he rang up my items. “What do you mean?” I asked, hoping that he didn’t mean what I thought he meant. “The fig season. I think this is the last shipment I’ll get.” “Really?” I asked with slight disbelief. It had flown by so quickly. “Should I get another basket?” He didn’t say no, and so I did.

For the next week, I made the most of my figs — roasted with cauliflower, spread on toast, cut up in yogurt, and just on their own. Savoring every bite of every fig, I tried to memorize their taste and how I felt eating them. “This is it,” I told myself, “Not again for another year.” And so when I was down to my last sole fig, I was ready to say goodbye. I knew the moment had come.

A few weeks passed, and I began to let other produce into my life, like butternut squash, pomegranate, and sweet potatoes.

Then, one Sunday, I went to a co-op with a friend on our walk home from a coffee shop. As she picked up her produce for the week, I mulled around eyeing the greens and nuts in front of me when someone bumped into me from behind. I turned, and there I was, face to face with heaps and piles of figs. Black Mission, Sierra, and Brown Turkey. I gasped as if I had seen a ghost (the ghost of fig season’s past). Now, it was my turn to accidentally bump someone as I excitedly grabbed a bag and filled it with figs. Like an addict, I had no restraint.

Breakfast

My friend and I parted ways and I walked as quickly as I could back to my apartment, the entire time salivating at the thought of these plump, juicy fruits touching my taste buds. Once in the kitchen, I ceremoniously opened my bag and selected a fig. I pinched it for luck and took a generous bite.

I chewed once and stopped.

It was dry. And straw-like. Sweetness was foreign. I spat it out and stared at my full bag. I tested two more straw-like figs before disposing of the entire bag. Call it ambition, greed, or plain foolishness, I had pushed my luck.

Clouding my memory of the dynamic season is its flat finish.

While we’ve all experienced the woes of “too much of a good thing,” and been advised to “stop while you’re ahead,” the concept, in reality, is rather difficult to master. It requires a jedi-like discipline to stop at the height of it all. A pathetic sadism to deny oneself continued happiness. Without context, it is self-destruction at its best.

The thing about life is that our comfort is set by just a hint of repetition. Be it for something as simple as produce or something as  profound as a career or relationship. We build routines around these comforts and we expect them to remain forever fruitful. And whether we recognize them or not, we ignore all indications of natural endings because these comforts make us happy. Or well, they made us happy, once. We pinch and we squeeze for every last bit of what they have to offer until one fine day we realize that they not only don’t make us happy, but they actually make us unhappy. This, in fact, is self-destructive. That which could have ended amicably before instead rots and crumbles helplessly.

Impossible as it may seem, there’s something to be said for taking certain aspects of our lives in seasons. While, like Seattle rains or London fog, some parts are meant to be forever, we should allow that which must end to end. Done in the right way, these endings will be bittersweet, and they will be preferable to those which are only bitter. And know that when you summon the courage to do so, a new season awaits you, with all the ripe sweetness you deserve.

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asking, expectations, gift registries, receiving, success

Anything that’s worth having is worth asking for

If there’s one thing radio talkshow hosts are especially good at, it’s taking seemingly trivial occurrences and spinning them into huge ethical dilemmas or heavy discussions on morals and values. And I’ll admit, I find this to be vastly entertaining during my drive in to work.

A couple weeks ago, the topic was Mariah Carey’s baby shower gift registry. The list was in question due to one particular request: two stuffed animal giraffes. It wasn’t that Mariah had asked for two (she’s expecting twins). The shocking part was the price of each giraffe — twelve hundred dollars. I’ve never been in the market for one, but for that price, couldn’t you purchase a real-life giraffe? Immediately, listeners started calling to weigh in on the conversation. As a person who rarely asks for things, I found the “wish” to be a little absurd.

Astonishingly, the debate elicited by Mariah’s gift-registry was rather thought-provoking (usually I take people calling in as my cue to change the station). There was of course, the predictable side of the argument: How can she make such lavish requests when there are newborns who will be hard-pressed to receive basic necessities? But on the other hand: Her request is not absurd because she can afford the giraffes herself. It’s probably normal to her. And Well, there’s no harm in asking. There are other items on the list. Nobody is obligated to purchase the giraffes. Then It’s a gift registry — it’s meant for people to ask for things versus No! A gift registry is meant for people to ask for things they need, not useless things they want. Riveting.

Despite the fact that I didn’t outwardly ask for things as a kid, I still, in addition to getting things that I needed, got things that I wanted. An occasional new set of clothes waiting for me on my bed when I got home from school. The “it”-toy of the season. Parents have an uncanny ability to read minds. Or, kids just aren’t very subtle.

As you grow up, your wants and needs become less obvious to others. And few people outside your family will go out of their way to make sure you have what you need, let alone what you want. It becomes more and more up to you to make requests you deem appropriate. I typically find myself restricted by a fear of rejection or indecision and uncertainty (as in, “Do I really want this?”). Perhaps there is such a thing as being too philosophical for your own good.

Last week I was in a bagel shop waiting to pick up my order. A mom and her young daughter walked in. Like an insect drawn to a tube light, the child bee-lined it to the pastry window. “I want that,” she said, pointing to a chocolate-sprinkle donut. “No. That is too sugary. This is a bagel shop. You have to get a bagel here,” the mom responded. To the child, this reasoning was irrelevant, and frankly unconvincing. “I want that,” the child repeated. “How about a chocolate chip bagel? It’s like a donut,” the mom offered. As I watched on, I thought Wow. Good for the girl for trying. It’s clearly a bad decision and her mom is obviously right, but good for her for being persistent. She has already mastered the door-in-the-face technique. That will take her far.

Here’s the thing. Once you’re out in the world carving your own path, you cannot expect to get things you want unless you ask for them. And “asking for things” loses that negative connotation that it has when a spoiled child asks for, and expects to receive, every silly thing he or she asks for on a whim. Part of maturing is understanding what you need in order to thrive as a human being. The next step is to go out and obtain those things. You accept that things might not always work out, but if you are practical and patient, there is usually a way to eventually get there. That’s what success is about. Creating opportunities by asking for them.

In most cases, as long as you believe in your cause and have a reason for asking, the worst that will happen is that someone will say no. And most of the time, this will lead to a compromise in which you will eat a chocolate-chip bagel instead of a donut. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is still breakfast.

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counting chickens, expectations, success

Baby, It’s a Violent World

I don’t eat chicken. Never have. But I sure have counted a whole bunch of them over the years. Before they’ve even hatched.

Two summers ago, with my final year of college within touchable distance, I was suddenly filled with regret of not having completed the slew of activities and courses I had planned to pursue when I first set out on that four-year journey. Determined not to have twin feelings nine months later, I took a couple baby steps to change things. On what was the complete opposite of a whim (I had been thinking about doing it for six semesters), I applied for a columnist position at The Daily Pennsylvanian. I had a couple things going against me and was expecting (and fully prepared for) a rejection. When I got an acceptance call from the editor, I remember being overtaken by that awesome feeling of good news that comes out of nowhere. I enjoyed a brief stint as a “newspaper columnist.”

The positions were semester-long and when second semester rolled around, I re-applied and immediately began planning my semester’s worth of columns. Before I even heard back. I figured if the editors had been unhappy with my work, they would have told me. So you can imagine my utter and complete shock when I received a stone-cold rejection voicemail (the voice wasn’t stone-cold, but all rejection is). I probably took it harder than I should have and dealt in my own passive-aggressive ways (refusing to read DP columns, for example). As much as I’d like to blame someone else, it was not the Daily Pennsylvanian, but my own unfounded expectations that had brought me down. I suppose that when it comes to my emotions, I am not especially risk-averse, though clearly, I should be.

It’s these types of experiences that begin to suck the youthful, innocent idealism right out of you. What are those creatures in Harry Potter? Dementors? Like that. And as the stakes get higher (i.e., the dependency of your job), you begin to see that there is more and more risk involved with setting your heart on something, anything really, before it actually occurs. That notion of banking on life before it happens because hey, things usually work out anyway, suddenly sounds naive and childish. This becomes increasingly clear in the corporate world. Just take a moment and think about Facebook from the point of view of the Winklevoss twins.

In a design segment during job training, we were taught the importance of prototyping. Don’t make that first mock-up too elaborate. Don’t expect your design to be perfect the first time around. You’re always going to have to make changes.

The “real world” is all about setting manageable expectations and readjusting them as you deem necessary. As Dennis Wholey once said, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you’re vegetarian.” Strive for the best. Dedicate yourself to success. But save yourself the grief and don’t celebrate it prematurely. And hey, at the end of the day, an unexpected, well-earned success makes the story even meatier. That’s good news — even to a vegetarian.

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Bocce ball, expectations, friendship, Thanksgiving, tradition

“As beautiful as simplicity is, it can become a tradition that stands in the way of exploration.” -Laura Nyro

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my family’s Thanksgiving tradition, one that we have been enjoying for about ten years now. Despite my having posted the article hours before our get-together, my description was exceptionally accurate (Magic 8-ball App. Download it). What in actuality was a prediction was accurate because that is the nature of tradition. As much as we might look forward to those typically annual occurrences in our life, no matter how conventionally happy they might make us feel, the element of surprise and unexpectedness is notably absent. And as someone who goes out of her way to establish routine in her life, I am almost shocked at myself as I type this post.After I started college, my social life with regards to family friends “back home” became depressingly reliant upon the calendar. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Birthday, maybe. Spontaneous social events were a privilege I gave up when I opted for geographical distance. And with that, our friendship became increasingly predictable. At each gathering, we would pick up where things had been left off and fall out of touch in the intermediary.

In my life so far, my most memorable moments have been the ones that were completely unexpected. What made them “once-in-a-lifetime” was much more their random nature and much less the hype around them. The traditional events now bring along their “been there, done that” baggage.

Yesterday, my family participated (or rather, competed) in an organized game of Bocce Ball, alongside the same group with which we enjoy our annual Thanksgiving celebration. To me, though, even with the exact same company, this event was significantly more fun (which I can state at 95% confidence). Together, we entered the courts not knowing what to expect (my philosophical side), not knowing who to fear and whom to taunt (my competitive side). Not knowing how to feel. Untainted, not-(yet-)jaded blank slates.

When Thanksgiving dinner was over, it was over. Ready to move on to their Black Friday shopping, ‘Til next years were exchanged as people scrambled out the door. But yesterday, not knowing when another such opportunity (scheduling, more than anything — we’re busy families!) would present itself, people were reluctant to let go of the night. The group traveled as a pack from the courts to a restaurant to our home. Today’s back-and-forth group email thread only confirms the extent of the fun which was had by all (hey, that’s how you measure anything this day in age).

In my pre-teen years, I participated in the annual Growing Up Asian in America essay contest. Each year, the prompt was almost exactly the same, basically revolving around the contest title. The first year, I spent hours writing and editing. I didn’t win. The next year, I started from scratch. Yet again, I didn’t win. As the years went on, I transitioned from a complete demolition of the previous year’s work to some mere nipping and tucking sparked by a gradually induced discouragement, jadedness, and apathy. I finally realized there was nothing fun about this traditional (read: never-changing) essay prompt, my “traditional” essay, and my traditional loss.

In my rotational program, we associates are encouraged to speak our minds and present our “fresh perspective” to our teams, usually involving employees who have worked at the company much longer than we have. We’re told that ironically, our lesser experience in the field may help the more experienced to see things in a new light.

There is something to be said about the comfort that accompanies tradition. From simple occurrences like the route I take to work or more conventional events like Thanksgiving. It is nice knowing that despite the curve-balls (or bocce balls) whizzing through life, there is the occasional rock keeping things in place. But at the same time, the line between tradition and “I’ve just always done it this way” is a fuzzy one. Every so often, it’s important to break free of tradition, be it for your own personal growth or for the continuing success of some larger institution. To question blind compliance. To shake things up a little. To change everything. And, as Apple would say, to change everything again.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the entire scope of my family’s Bocce skill lies with my mother.

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disappointment, expectations, surprise

I got no expectations to pass through here again

Great Expectations. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. There are two camps of expecting. There are those who will argue that expectation is the root of all heartache and those who will refute that they can’t imagine going on when there are no more expectations.

I wish I knew to which camp I belonged because I feel rather left out.

In one sense, I love having expectations. I love being able to look forward to an event, to imagine various situations and circumstances that may occur at the event and how I would revel in the glory of the happenings.

On the other hand, I have lost count of the number of times I have come away disappointed. Built something up so high that it could do nothing but come crashing down. Been so certain that events would pan out a certain way only for the shutter to slam shut in my face.

But how can we walk through each day completely ignoring what is to come? Does that make you utterly careless and neglectful or does it make you spontaneous and adventurous?

Socially, expectations are the best way to evaluate others. When people don’t measure up to our expectations, we reevaluate their worth and significance in our life. And when they surpass our expectations? We spill over with joy as we applaud and re-applaud their efforts.

But what happens when we expect the impossible of ourselves or others? Our ambitious and overzealous natures may actually be harmful.

I think I have to reconsider. I feel not left out but safe. I am in my own camp, surveying the other two through my telescope. As Charlotte Bronte wrote, “Life is so constructed that an event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation.” Yes, we can and should have expectations. We just have to accept that events will not always pan out exactly the way we want them to. Sometimes they will be worse, sometimes they will be better. In the end, it’ll average out so that things will end up the way you expect.

What did you expect?

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