Materialism

244242C6-8776-41FA-9330-F51D2C490E8E.gif

When I had gone to the vision board party, one of the tasks was to dream big and find pictures that represent our wishes and paste them onto the board. We had piles of magazines that ranged from gossip to golf to science. Leafing through them, I could find pretty much anything my heart desired. But there was a problem. Leafing thought the mags, I saw nothing that struck a cord. Except a picture of Jason Momoa as Aquaman because I want more tattoos. But that’s within my reach. In other words, I didn’t need a vision board to help me manifest this.

I had a feeling that this was going to happen. Having it played out in front of me confirmed that I strive to live more like a minimalist; someone who doesn’t need excessive materialistic things. To be clear, I have things: caR, I’m Appled out, an iron horse. So in that respect I’m a hypocrite. In my defense, I enjoy all of the things that I own. However, they do not bring me happiness. To me joy and happiness are two different things.

I see so many people buy things for no real reason except maybe to fill some emptiness that lies within. Instead of addressing that emptiness, they buy things to try and fill it. I think there are two basic problems with this approach. One is that the emptiness is within the individual. Second, buying something gives people that endorphin rush. I’ve been addicted to new stuff. I totally get it. But it can hurt the wallet.

My sister has five different ways of heating food up. The oven. A microwave. A toaster oven. A hot air oven. And she recently bought a portable steamer.

A7C993B9-1FDA-4FCF-A67D-442AC7411974.gif

An acquaintance of mine asked me what I had thought about the new iPad Pro. I told him that I went to an Apple store and played with it. Very nice. But my original iPad Pro that I had bought three years ago still works well. I do almost everything with it. Writing. Blogging. I watch all my streaming services on it; I don’t have a TV. The new iPad wouldn’t do anything different for me. He said he was thinking of upgrading.

Why, I asked.

The processor is faster, he answered.

What do you do on it that you need a faster processor?

He shrugged. I draw on it sometimes.

Dude, how fast do you draw that you need a faster processor?

Another acquaintance came up to me in Starbucks a few weeks ago. He looked excited and told me he had good news.

You get a blow job, I asked.

His eyebrows lowered against his eyes. No, I bought a new car.

Don’t you have two already?

Yeah. I traded the SUV in.

He has a sports car that he daily drives and had bought and financed a new sedan. Because he needed more room than his sports car could provide? Which is why he got rid of the SUV? Or he needed a smaller car because his SUV was too big? I was a bit confused at this point.

43C28631-C91B-4BFF-883A-E63D9B02835F.gif

The issue is that the emptiness within a person is bottomless. That person could buy everything in the world and still have that emptiness within them because they’re not trying to find out what is causing that emptiness. Instead they’re trying to fill that emptiness with stuff, and that hole is devouring it up.

The new Netflix special, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, shows how stressful people can be when they have a lot of stuff. After getting rid of the shit they don’t need, the people on the show feel relaxed and serene. We as Americans have too much stuff. I mean, it’s not a surprise that we have to either buy bigger homes or rent storage spaces in order to store our endless junk.

Hypocrites, raise your hands.

99D2192B-288A-48E6-8888-52047D4E6213.gif

I’m guilty. I have two cars. But at least I didn’t go into debt buying a second car.

The question should now be: What is this emptiness?

It could be anything. Lack of confidence. Loneliness. Living a purposeless life. The game is to explore yourself and find out. Honestly, that’s the fun part. For me, I knew I was a creative. So I explored different outlets before settling on writing and storytelling. That took a lot of time. For example, I delved into acting for three years before jumping out of it. But, man, that was fun. I learned so much about myself going on stage and acting. It was one of the big steps that opened me up to me. Since then, I have never left the deep end.

Why Do You Want To Lose Weight?

 "I refuse to go back up to that weight again," a friend of mine stated on Facebook. He'd lost around 30 pounds or so through exercise, diet and the help of a personal trainer. He asked the FB community to give him suggestions on furthering his weight loss. He must have gotten 80 different answers.

I posted, "Why do you have to weigh a certain amount?" He never answered. Though, I doubt he was open to learning the meaning behind the question.

Sometimes when we chase something, we bombard ourselves with failed expectations, and then pursue other solutions to meet the expectations, only to find disappointment yet again. Our minds can swirl in a never ending accumulation of thoughts that collapses in on itself like a dying star to a black hole. As we all know, even light can't escape black holes.

image.gif

But we can escape the black holes of our minds once we stop feeding it more mass, i.e. thoughts. That's why meditation is touted as a stress reliever. The basis of meditation is the silencing of our minds.

But forget that for now. What is the meaning behind my question? What's the real reason he wants to lose the weight?

To get a woman.

I had dinner with him last year when he started this process, and we talked at length, which is how I know. The way I see it, he'll always fail in regards to his weight. He'll never be satisfied because he thinks that achieving the ideal weight, whatever that is, will bring throngs of women to him. But that's not how women work.

Ask any woman what they want in a guy, and they’ll always say confidence and a sense of humor. I'm not saying women aren't superficial. But they're way more forgiving of men's looks than men are of theirs. Take my word for it. I've benefitted from that fact.

image.gif

I had told my dear friend to work on being honest with himself. Know thyself, the good and the bad. Say what he wants, feels. Don't take thyself so seriously. Have fun. Joke around.

I don't think he heeded my advice, since, from his perspective, he hasn't reached his ideal weight. And I totally get that. I still fall for that trap. When I see a woman checking me out at the gym, my mind immediately surmises that I'm getting more cut, defined. The truth is, she could be looking at me and thinking to herself, "Yeesh. Yuck," or "Did I turn off my curling iron?" or "Ugh. I can feel Aunt Flo coming." All of those thoughts are made up because I have no real proof what she's really thinking. And knowing this allows me to pay little to no attention to those made up thoughts. I don't want to be pulled into my own black hole.

If my friend does reach his ideal weight and finds that women are still not attracted to him, then he'll blame it on the one thing he thinks he has some control over. His situation. He'll think his body isn't good enough, so he'll workout harder. Or he'll find a way to earn more money, buy a flashier car, dress snappier, all in the pursuit of impressing women. Again, he'll continue to fail because good women want a confident man. And a man isn’t confident if he has to rely on superficial things to attract women.

That’s why my main pieces of clothing are t-shirt and jeans. Or maybe I'm just lazy.

image.jpeg

Then how should my friend approach weight loss? Or how should anyone for that matter?

I remember as a kid when I had to do my homework that time seemed to know. So it decided to slow the clock, where each tick felt like a lifetime. Then when I went outside to play with my friends, the day melted away like an ice cube sitting in the scorching hot desert. Time flies when you're having fun. That's the key. Fun.

There are two basic components to changing your body composition, which is way different than losing weight. Diet: the number of calories we take in. Calorie expenditure: what we do to use those calories. I want to focus on the expenditure portion.

A lot of people go to the gym. But that isn't necessarily fun or the best way to burn calories. I love hikes, especially urban hikes. I trek though San Francisco a lot. All over. Other people love dancing. Recreational sports such as basketball can be great fun with friends.

image.gif

Fun is an essential ingredient to becoming healthier because it'll make it easier for you to make the activity a habit. And time does fly, though I wouldn't put a schedule on changing your body composition. That'll often lead to failed expectations.

And changing our focus from weight loss to body composition is important. Body composition is the mix of fat, bone, muscle, and water in regards to physical fitness. People generally want less fat and more muscle. However, muscle weighs more than fat. So someone could weigh more by gaining muscle and losing the same amount of mass of fat, making the scale the worst measure of health.

Coming back to my friend...if he wants to date more, then his pure focus on looks is wrong. Take showers. Stinking like you haven't been is a huge turn off. He should wear clothes that fit him. Definitely have clean shoes. Now, he won't win any best in show contests. Neither would I. So he should be his real self. This is where he's lacking. When he talks to a woman he's attracted to, he's not himself. He needs to trust that being real is what confidence truly is. Unlike photography, filters like the Nice Guy, the Bad Boy, the Rico Suave, the Hipster Who's Too Cool to Care will hide who he is as a person, making him look fake. And if people are repelled that he has no filter, some will be, then they won't include him in their circle of trust. My response to that is simple: Real friends are rare.

The Death of a Butterfly

I like to ask uncomfortable questions. Especially when people are in relationships. You can tell a lot about a person by how they date. Just like you can tell how a person will treat you by how they treat the waitstaff. But if your lovers tip you after having sex, then that might be kinda awkward.

When I meet people, I naturally start thinking about what character traits they may have if they were to be written in a story. Character traits shape how they see the world. So if someone is insecure, then they'll value themselves below everyone else, for example.

A friend of mine is seeing someone that lives out of state. I think her character traits look like this:

She works with kids, loves them. She's insecure, and I'd imagine because she doesn't know herself well. She has lived a sheltered life, but is trying to stretch her wings and explore the world and, as a result, herself.

Now I've met her man once at a get together at a bar. But we didn't have deep conversations because he was withdrawn, uninterested. However, from what little I've gathered, this is his character chart:

From a writing standpoint, this triangle would collapse on itself, making this person seem very one dimensional. Someone who is autistic might not like being around people he doesn't know.

So how does a writer separate this autistic trait from shyness? They tend to look the same, making it hard for the writer and reader to separate the two.

The better question is how would I make this character more interesting? I could make the third character trait be charming. That's the last thing people would think an autistic person would have, so the distance between charm and autism feels huge.

image.png

Dimension in the physical world can be measured. If I say you have to sprint one mile, you may feel that's a great distance for a full max effort. There's an inherent understanding there. With character traits, measuring the distance between them is difficult, so doing something unexpected like coupling charm and autism can give a character depth. Or imagine coupling kindness and hatred.

Now, here's the story: The girl has lived a sheltered life, and she realizes this. She wants to explore herself in the world by doing weird and crazy things. Her guy is afraid of people due to his autism, despite being high functioning, so going out into the world isn't the most comfortable thing.

Will their relationship work out? I mean, opposites attract, right?

I'd imagine their love story has a lot of push/pull in it. For example, she has to give in to his fear and plan things for them to do, which is to stay in and make many a Blockbuster nights. You youngens might not know what that is. He has to compromise by going out and meeting new people. The end scene would be him not talking to anyone and running away, alienating her and her friends. Of course, this being 'Merica, after much tribulation, they end up living happily ever after.

Yay. Boring.

But since this is a real life couple, could a relationship like this work? My knee jerk reaction would be No. However, I've seen some crazy couples, and they seem to be doing fine. I think the more interesting question would be why an attractive woman is working so hard to be with a man who seems to be resisting moving here and meeting her friends? That character study would make for a better story. Too much energy is placed on the end story both in real life and writing, which isn't the purpose of life. Looking at the why we do things is definitely more engaging. So...

If we look at her character chart, we can see that insecurity plays a big part. Does she not see his unwillingness to participate in her life says something about how he feels about her? No, because her insecurity blinds her to the truth, and she thinks that this guy is the best that she can get. Here we begin to understand why she can't move on. Now let's put a small twist and have them take a break from the relationship.

She goes on endless dates. Show montage of crazy dudes being idiots. We can deepen the story by writing about her co-dependency where her desperation to be married forces her to have sex with any guy that will have her. And this causes issues like self-loathing, the loss of connection with friends and family, an unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, drug use that leads to a miscarriage. And if you thought we were too nice, then we hit her hard with the death of her grandmother who had taken care of her when her own mother was on the fritz with her life.

At this point, our story can become a tragedy. After all this, how can it not be? Well a tragedy is when a character fails to become the person she should become. In this case, she fails to realize that her insecurity is something that she believes herself to be, entrenching herself deeper into worthlessness, depression. In other words, she's like a caterpillar who never becomes the butterfly. She tries to break free of her cocoon, but the man she's hung up on comes back into her world. She attaches her self-worth to him, never giving herself the chance to bloom. We see this as her not having her own thoughts, opinions, but being controlled by a man who needs to keep her down so he can feel better about himself. And his worsening treatment of her forshadows her life. 

Obviously, this is just an exercise of light character study. My friend still has her whole life ahead of her to grow, which is what people naturally do when they don't think they're worthless in any way.

Confidence

A bunch of us shuffled into a 1920's themed bar that faced the Pacific Ocean. Ornamental crown molding and dark brown wainscoting framed the gold leaf walls. Red velvet booths and seats lined the bar and the long sidewall, all filled with patrons that ranged from casual to dressed to the nines. A live band was playing next to the entrance.

We headed all the way to the back of the bar where there was still room for us to stand and sit. Shots were ordered. I had a beer and avoided the shots, and enjoyed our conversation about nothing. Well, we were talking about what to do for New Year's Eve. So we were spending our free time talking about what to do with the coming of more free time. I'm not belittling my friends, but I was a bit bored. Then a dude strolled out of the men's room, dressed in a bright red suit. His head was up, posture straight, and he strode like bullets shot from a Tommy Gun would miss him.

"He's wearing that suit with confidence," my friend said. "Very sexy."

"Who?" her friend asked.

She pointed. "Him."

"Maybe he feels confident wearing that suit," he said. This peaked my attention. "Otherwise, why would he wear that?"

"Why wouldn't he?"

"I choose clothes that I feel confident in."

I leaned in and said, "But that's not confidence."

His brow furrowed. "Why?"

"Confidence comes from the inside, not from what you wear."

He scoffed and went silent. Sometimes I can be an imposing personality, but at this moment I wasn't.

Confidence seems like a very misunderstood concept. Clothes can say things about your wealth, whether you're conservative or loud, what you do for work, but, more importantly, they can make you look good. And if you feel good because you look good, then people may read that as confidence. The issue comes when you're not wearing those clothes. Will you still be confident?

Have you seen me nekked?

Cars can have a similar function. Why buy a very expensive European automobile when a cheaper and often more reliable Asian version is available? Because if I drive an Italian supercar, I'm assuming it says something about me. Like maybe I have a small penis and I need to compensate for that. That's what I think when I see a dude driving a Ferrari, but that could be my jealousy speaking...nah...OK...jealousy. But still...

If someone did derive confidence from driving an extremely expensive sports car, what happens when he's not in it?

"Ladies. How you doin'? You wanna ride in my red Ferrari?"

Women would see right through that.

Real confidence comes from within no matter what you have. That's not something that can be taken away like clothes or a car. Using those things to gain confidence is like using a crutch to walk around when nothing is wrong. You'll limp your way through life with a false sense of confidence and you won't know it.

In saying that no one is 100% confident all the time.

I have no filter when I talk to people. Even at work. Actually, I do have a filter. It just has really big holes. And I do read the group that I'm in. A lot of times I don't care because I wanna say what I wanna say. I've lost friends because of that, and that's fine. I'm also aware that I hadn't said anything outlandish like, "Dayem yous gots a nice bum. Can I slap it?" I don't need to be punched more than once.

A lot of people perceive me as confident because I have little shame. But if they've lived with me as much as I have, they'd know that there are many moments where I want to crawl into a dark hole because of insecurity.

There's nothing wrong with being insecure at times. Unless it stops you from pursuing your dreams, for example. I'd recommend just letting the feeling pass, and then go on with your life because the natural state of human beings is confidence.

When kids express themselves, even when that expression seems impolite, we need to encourage that because they're being their true selves. And I'm not talking about bullying. Those are kids being assholes. I'm talking about allowing kids to say what they mean without taking their power away.

My little niece was told to give me a hug when I had visited, but she didn't want to. More prodding only made her scowl. So I said, "It's OK. Don't force her to do something she doesn't want to like hug me, essentially a stranger." Because when she's older and goes on her first date, she may question her instincts to defend herself if a boy forces himself on her. Parents should guide their children on things like schoolwork, cleaning of rooms, eating healthy foods. Keyword being guide.

But when we force them to hug a stranger, we're taking their power away and instilling a level of insecurity because at this point kids will begin to question their intuition. That's why the saying "Do you" has so much truth. Within our true honest selves we find real confidence. And no one can take that away but us.

Light the Way

Driving down the street, I turned right and felt my car labor up the hill. I dropped the stick shift into second gear and sped up before I realized I had passed the house I was looking for. My tires crunched the gravel until they halted. I stepped out of my car and saw a set of stairs that led up to what I thought to be the front door.

This part of Oakland seems nice, I thought. I wasn't sure why that thought buzzed in my head. Maybe because I opened the trunk and brought out hitting pads and didn't want to start a fight. Not that I couldn't take care of myself. My car could be a good getaway vehicle.

I walked up the stairs and remarked at how quiet the street was. Once at the front door, I could see through the screen door an old Chinese gentleman sitting in his cushy chair. His trim hair was as white as the white marble rocks that paved the front of the home. His wife, I assumed, approached the door. Her hair complemented his, but permed. I think. What spurred in my mind was her impending accent. In fact, there was no doubt that she would greet me with an old thick Chinese accent. I wasn't afraid of not understanding her as much as not liking Chinese accents. Especially thick ones. Don't ask me why.

She smiled. "You must be Jimmy. Tony is waiting for you. Common in," she said in perfect English.

There wasn't a drop of an accent. If I closed my eyes, the last image I would expect to see was an elderly Chinese woman. The next thought in my mind was that her English was probably better than mine.

Tony's grandfather stood from his chair and shook my hand and welcomed me in. Also in perfect English. Was I in the Twilight Zone?

No. But this assignment was about to teach me three life lessons.

That was my first: What I see in contrast to what really is can and often be two different things.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous. Taking on a paying client was new to me. Not only that, but I had to figure out how to imbue this Tony with confidence while teaching him how to be a lethal weapon.

Down this narrow hallway that splintered off into bedrooms strolled a skinny thirteen-year-old Chinese boy, standing about five feet tall. His eyes were heavy and hair matted from his nap, which I eventually found out to be a daily habit. We greeted each other, and Tony led me down a steep set of stairs.

We had met once before at my best friend's going away party, Tony's former martial arts teacher. And mine. Penn was chasing his Hollywood dreams and was leaving for London to study theatre and drama at the famed The Old Vic. His departure had been dramatic for me because I was losing a close friend, and he gave me little guidance of how to continue the martial arts training of his clients he had gifted me. This added to my nervousness. Why? Both Penn and I had been throwing around the idea of opening our own school that not only delved into self defense, but also addressed issues that these kids might be facing. That of course went out the window when Penn had decided to go to London. Now, I didn't want to screw Tony up as a person. I had issues of my own with no concrete idea on how to solve them. So I had been trusted to solve Tony's? Good luck kid.

"This is where Penn and I would have our lessons," Tony stated.

We ended up in the basement that was filled with a lot of nick knacks that only an old couple who had been together for decades could collect. Toys from the past were stashed in shelves along side old books. Boxes and crates were shoved against the wall, and an old Chinese calendar hung along side faded pictures. There was so much stuff, I couldn't recall what color the walls were. What floor space we had was enough to run basic drills, which was fine, but when we shifted to movement drills, I would need more room.

"Oh, they can move their car from the garage if we need more space," Tony said, referring to his grandparents.

I didn't really know what to say except for, "Fabulous."

What peaked my interest was a door on the back wall. It just sat there, waiting to be opened. For some reason it looked ominous because nothing blocked access to it, despite all of the stuff packed into this tiny space.

Since this was our first official lesson, I wanted to spend time assessing his abilities, which helped lower any student's guard, so I could converse with Tony and try and figure out who this skinny kid was. I slipped my hands into my striking pads and held them up a little higher than his height. He struck the pads with pretty good efficiency and power for his size. His pad work filled the small basement with explosive sounds like firecrackers. I wanted to say he could beat up little girls now, but this was our first lesson, and I didn't know if he could take my sarcasm. Yet.

The door kept stealing my attention. It was a few feet off the ground. So to step inside, someone would have to climb in. And it wasn't a normal door like those that led into bedrooms or bathrooms. It was squarish. Why was that?

"What's behind the door," I asked.

A veil of coldness draped down Tony's thin face. His eyes seemed to darken and his shoulders tightened toward his chest. "I don't know. I don't go in there."

Images of dead bodies sparked in my mind.

"Where does it lead?" I prodded.

Tony shrugged. "Under the house?"

"Have you seen what's in there?"

Tony took a few steps away from the door and gazed at it as if he was seeing a long dead tormentor come back from the netherworld. "Someone might be living under there."

What was interesting was there had been no easy way of getting under the house other than through that door. So where did this poor kid get the idea that someone could be living under there like a troll?

As my weekly lessons continued, there was one simple truth I had found out about this kid. Fear was a very real thing that he had been living with for a large part of his life. It had to have originated from somewhere. Tony lived in a very safe neighborhood where the idea of a robbery was sinister. I mean, he attended private school. His parents were well-to-do. He had friends.

What gives?

Tony was close to his older sister who had Hollywood aspirations as well. Crystal had talked shop with Penn when he was Tony's teacher. She seemed well adjusted, aware enough to know what she wanted, and had a healthy social life. He often talked about her and had the normal brother/sister conflicts that all siblings have. During times of struggle, he would go to her for advice. It's heartwarming to know that he still does to this day.

His father was a restauranteur at a well known eatery. He was a tall man of six-feet, the shortest among his brothers. His demeanor was gentle and friendly and giving. I had never heard a harsh word come from his mouth. Except when talking about his daughter's then boyfriend. If anything, Tony inherited his father's temperament and eventually, his height. Yes, Tony would outgrow me. Then I met Tony's mother. Talk about ominous doors. I'm not referring to Norman Bates kind of relationship. But...

Tony's mother worked as an assistant D.A. for the City of San Francisco. She had prosecuted people that horror movies were based on. And like any civil servant, she was overworked and stressed. But both parents were on top of their kids' needs and education. The mother more intensely, like the military's Apache helicopter. To say she was overbearing was understating things, like saying Bruce Lee was some Asian dude. I understood, coming from a Chinese family myself, that overbearingness had come from a deep love and want for her kids to be successful in life.

This was when I learned my second life lesson: Children are people too. I watched Tony struggle with the constraints his mother placed on him. And I watched the struggle she had with her son, trying her damnedest to mold him into the man she wanted him to be.

All of this was to say that Tony had learned and lived with a lot of unnecessary fears that came from somewhere, and I inherited the simple job of showing him most—if not all—of his fears were created in his own mind. In other words, not real.

Another twist had shown up during one of our lessons. We were in the middle of a drill, and I slapped the back of his hand. He cradled that hand with the other, brought it up to his mouth like a mother would, and kissed it.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm kissing it to make it feel better."

"Are you serious?"

Tony nodded.

Lord. How does anyone teach toughness? The fastest way? By throwing that person to the wolves. Knowing his mother was a prosecuting attorney prevented me from doing this. Also, I was taking a shine to the kid. But an idea popped into my head. One that would possibly get me sued. Again, I reminded myself what his mother did for a living.

In our next lesson, I walked through the door and greeted Tony with a smile. He turned around to lead me to our training area. I targeted his back. He suspected nothing. "How are you?" I said. And slapped his back hard. Really hard. So hard that it could be heard a mile away.

"Ouch! What was that for?" he cried.

"What? It's just a friendly pat on the back."

Next lesson. I enter Tony's home, greet him with a smile. He turned around. Slap!

Next lesson. I enter. Smile. He turned around. Then looked back at me.

"How's school?" I asked.

Tony put his guards up.

"What?" I said, giving him the most innocent look I could muster.

"A lot of homework."

"Ah. Are you done with it?"

Tony turned around. "Not yet."

Slap!

The boy learned to have his guard up, to be more aware. But that didn't stop the slaps. Sometimes they would come during a drill. Sometimes after the lesson. Other times I would slap his shoulder because he would never present his back. In the end, he didn't kiss his hand when he got hurt. At least not in front of me. And hopefully Tony learned that he was a lot tougher than he gave himself credit for.

The ominous door stared at me.

I had been teaching Tony for around a year. The slaps ended. Naturally. But Tony still had irrational fears. So in the beginning of our lesson, I told him that he had to open the door in the basement.

"Will you be here?" he asked.

 "I'll be here."

Tony stepped up to the door and hesitated. "You're not going to trick me and stuff me in there? Right?"

"Would I be that mean?" I assured.

He gave me a look to remind me of the slaps he had received.

I found a flashlight from the piles of nick knacks in the basement and stood about a few feet away from the door.

Trembling a bit, Tony reached for the door handle and let a moment pass. He closed his eyes and took a breath, then opened them. He pulled the door open. Cool air entered the basement, bringing an earthy smell. The concrete foundation expanded under the house into the dark. More nick knacks were packed off to the sides. Some lumber. But there was enough room for a person to hide with evil intentions. That was what I read from Tony's eyes.

"Let's go in," I said.

"Serious?"

"Yeah. If there's anything in there, then you and I will handle it."

"You're not going to just lock me in there, right?"

I didn't bother asking if he thought I could do such a thing. "I'll be here."

Surprisingly, he climbed in first, trusting that I wouldn't shut the door behind him, forcing him to suffer alone. I climbed in after with the flashlight. There wasn't much height between the foundation and the bottom of the house. So we had to squat. We shined the light around different crevices so Tony could see nobody was lurking, hopefully dispersing his fear like a shadow.

"I'm gonna turn off the light."

"For how long?"

"Fifteen minutes."

Tony's eyes widened to almost round-eyes. And that was a feat. He had very slanty eyes. "Serious?"

"How long then?"

"A minute."

I smiled and agreed. I turned off the flashlight. And we waited, squatting like old Chinese men in kung-fu shoes, smoking cigarettes.

"You OK?" I asked.

"I think so."

"Nothing to be afraid of."

"But you're here."

"So?" A moment passed. "You could have done this alone if you wanted to."

"You think?"

"Don't you?"

Tony didn't answer. "Is the minute up?"

"Don't you?" I asked again.

"Probably."

"Want to try?"

Tony thought for a moment. "Next time."

I opened the door and stepped down. Tony followed.

We never tested that fear again. Maybe because I knew he could do it. Or that he had outgrown that kind of train of thought because he could reason it out, that most of his fears were fake.

Five years had gone by. I relished our time together because we became friends, much like how Penn and I had been. As all kids do, they grow up, graduate from high school, then move out-of-state to attend university.

He had been at university for a year or two. He was talking to his roommates who were going through their own growing pains. And he realized something. In one of the rare times we saw each other, he said that he had been thankful for having me help him through his issues. That he was glad he was beyond them. Truth of the matter was that Tony was more than capable of moving beyond his own issues. Sometimes people need a flash light to find their way.

And it's not like he would never have problems again, or that sometimes life shits on people. But it's how we handle it that shows how far we have grown. And it was at this moment that I knew Tony didn't need a person like me anymore. That was my third life lesson. I would have failed as a teacher if he did. But I hope he knows that I'll be here.

You Have a Small Penis

Pick an apple. Put it in a barrel. Pick another. Put it in the barrel. Do this enough times and you'll get a bad apple. That's just the nature of life. So it is with friends.

"He's highly insecure," I said, remarking on a friend of ours who had went off on us for a very severe problem. What problem you might ask? Forget about a bear chasing you. Forget about a gunman holding a gun pointed at you. And forget about the terrorism happening in the world. The problem: Halloween party. My girlfriend asked why some of us needed to bring food and drink when other guests would only bring food or drink for the party. I know, first world problems. 

Our gentile friend got really pissed off and berated my girlfriend. So she left our long-running group chat because she didn't want to read his rants. I wanted to attack him (verbally...ok...physically too) but I simply asked for the reasoning behind why the core group needed to contribute more versus others. His answer made complete and total sense: It was his party, he made the rules, if you don't like it, then don't come.

This obviously didn't go over well with us because we were his friends, and none of us would treat each other in that way, let alone go on a tirade about such a small and stupid issue.

Another in the group, I'll call him The Politician, talked to this reasonable fellow, and he professed that we attacked him, that we didn't appreciate his efforts for putting the party together, that he spent a hundred dollars of his own money (your choice bud), so the fact that we wanted clarification upset him. He wanted to disband the group chat, and the Politician said, "This isn't your group. Even if you disband the group, the rest of us will reform it without you." Our former friend shook his fists at the gods and lamented and demanded that this was his group. But eventually he decided to leave the group chat, and several days later unfriended me on Facebook. Oh, the horror!

So when we all came together to discuss this very important issue, I had made the statement, "He's highly insecure."

"Everyone has insecurities," The Politician said. And he's right.

But here's the thing. Our former friend is insecure as a person, a human being, maybe even as a man. Because I'm Chinese, he kept poking fun at me, saying I have a small penis. I guess it would be funny a few times, but he mentioned this to me almost every single time we hung out. I don't know why he was obsessed with my penis, but maybe he's a latent homosexual and has yet had the courage to come out of the closet. And this isn't a sneaky way of calling him a fag. That would be too good for him.

And every chance he had, he'd tell me if he was single, he'd have this girl in the bathroom, or that he's slept with many women, or that it was his girlfriend who had asked him out. Yes, he has a girlfriend. And, no, she didn't ask him out. Her culture is known to be very conservative, so she wouldn't have been the aggressor. Hell. American women rarely find themselves the aggressor. And that's the other thing. He continually makes fun of his girlfriend's culture.

I know. He ain't dat brite. 

His girlfriend tried to help by saying that he has a lot on his plate. Sorry, my lady. But we are all adults. We all have a lot on our plates. And having a lot of plates let alone heavy ones doesn't give anyone the excuse to treat anyone like shit. This is a telltale sign of insecurity. People express it by attacking friends, loved ones, putting down friends, or covering them by drinking, binge eating, doing drugs, or unfriending people on Facebook.

I bring this issue up because insecurities are a norm for all human beings. I feel short sometimes. Other times I feel unsuccessful because I've yet to be published while others younger than me have found huge success in the publishing world. But I don't attack anyone because I feel this way. Eventually, these feelings will go away because that's the nature of being human. Waves ebb and flow. We wake from sleep, and sleep after being awake. Flowers open in sunlight and close after sun fall. Our feelings change, we get over stuff, we move on. Confidence isn't just the absence of doubt. It's the ability to go on while being mired in it.

Compare and Contrast

A hallmark of a good story, outside of the story arc, is the character arc. We wanna see our character transform to the person they should be. Despite our dislike for change, Newton’s law I suppose, we want to improve, grow, get better, become greater than what we think we can be. Even people who aren’t storytellers know something is missing if nothing changes in a story, whether it be the overall or character arc, because we’re asking ourselves, What’s the point?

ChoppedLiver

ChoppedLiver

Over the weekend, I was hanging out with a few friends and a bunch of new ones. We were enjoying the rare warm sun of San Francisco with everyone teeming the streets with their dogs, boards, and wheels in the midst of the many picnics and people soaking in the rays. During the hustle and bustle, two acquaintances scurried up to my friend who said, “I’ll forward his info to you.” One of the girls thanked her and gave her a grateful hug. I’m standing there thinking, What am I, chop livah?

Dadudadudaaduuuu...Hawaii Five O

Dadudadudaaduuuu...Hawaii Five O

The guy they were referring to was tall, athletic, good looking, had a great career and a great personality to boot. So I get my imaginary list: I’m short, excuse me, height challenged; no one can tell whether I’m Filipino or Vietnamese even though I’m neither of those, but who can tell in the first place; still working on my five pack, I’m missing one, genetics I guess; I have a day job with no want for advancement; I tend to rely on humor too much and wonder if it’s a defense mechanism. So I understand the excitement over the new guy, who I’ve gotten to know, and is a cool dude.

Stress and self-loathing bubbles in my chest, a victim mentality wells in my mind, and I feel like nothing. At this point, my confidence is dead and dying. Uh. Right.

They all look like me

They all look like me

When I taught kids, one of the main things I imparted was not to compare oneself with any other. We are all perfect in our own way because there doesn’t exist one ideal perfection. In regards to nature, and the arts, if there was one ideal, then we’d die out pretty quickly because we wouldn’t be able to adapt. Art would all look the same. It’d be a horrible, horrible thing. Sorta like Hollywood movies. Oooh. No I didn't! Comparing ourselves to something else is pointless; we don’t wanna be like someone else, we inherently wanna be us, but accepted as well.

So what do I do about the above situation? Nothing. There is nothing to do because I know myself, I know what I offer, and like all other humans, I have many facets that lend well to whatever it is I want to do or be. It doesn’t make for good storytelling, we wanna see the trials and tribulations of self discovery, but I’m not the story here. My characters are, though, I have gone through the trials and tribulations, as it lends well to writing. At least that’s what I tell myself.