I took myself out on a date.* “We” (me and my many opinions, appetites, fictional lives, etc.) went down to the promenade where I normally go at night to run and make weird faces while my lungs try to draw breath and my body invents new ways to sweat.
It was a date – last minute, but a date nonetheless – so I wore a nice bra, a dress, and perfume. I bought the best bottle of wine that Club 711 had, grabbed some Ritz crackers (my addiction and appetizer) and took off to have a think. I found a bench that faced the horizon, sat alone but not lonely – it’s always packed on a Friday night.
All week I had asked people to hang out but everyone was out to dinner, on dates, having friends over. I don’t have a partner, a flatmate, a best friend, a default pair-making, so my singleness makes odd numbers, which is the benefit of the doubt I give a lot of friends. And Covid restrictions have made public and group events near impossible.
But out on the waterfront, with a thousand people around, so much to look at, with the best of 711, I was okay.
Okay watching the grannies performing the odd but endearing public exercises of “slap your thighs, slap opposite shoulder, then hip thrust in all directions.” Okay giggling at the children that had been so knock-kneed and shaky on new wheels at Christmas now swerving confidently around me on rollerblades and scooters.
Recent grads of something coordinated a photoshoot. There was a stork taking a rest and 9 out of 10 people stopped to take its picture and it made me wonder what animals think about. There were boxing classes, yoga, Krav Maga, making me feel a little self-conscious just ambling out to drink some sauv blanc and watch the sun go down. A group of aunties performed a coordinated dance routine to a Youtube tutorial they’d set up on an iPad. Some wore matching homemade tutus. Uncles with their shirts rolled up above their bellies in the heat fished along the piers. I’ve seen them drag up crabs, squirming fish, once an octopus that changed colours slowly against the concrete as her ink bled out and I had to look away to stop from crying.
I had brought myself out for some sundowners and to soak in the sea and the sky and feel small and get grounded. I often come here to find a bit of perspective when I feel confused, unsure, lost. So . . . yeah, I come here often.
It’s the end of the school year, so I’ve been crafting reflection activities for my students, recognizing that we’ve spent a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime year of learning together through all the online, in class, hybrid combinations we’ve adapted to. It should be recorded. I’m in the habit of recording – I’ve been blogging since 2006 and often look back to help me remember the moments and the feelings that otherwise would fade. Is this part of getting older? Forgetting everything all the time? I can recall every lyric to Incubus songs from high school, but what I had for lunch today has already completely erased itself. I’m just gonna assume it had salsa on it.
This year has been a landmark as a teacher and as a person, especially as one living single, alone and abroad. I want to remember the moments that made it so different. How it felt to live with emotions so close to the surface. Like that time I was feeling super cool and confident, went to the grocery store, wandered aisles, got up to pay and Merli at the register gently pointed out I was not wearing a mask. I burst into tears. For 17 months we’ve worn masks in public in Hong Kong, and this was my first time forgetting. I was so embarrassed. That’s not a cool memory, but it’s a moment. And so indicative of the highs and lows of the last year and a half.
I want to remember that I’ve started a side-gig hosting children’s birthday parties for crazy rich Asians. The most recent was a princess party, and I performed as a fairy godmother. A six-year-old asked me in all seriousness if I knew the Tooth Fairy. “Absolutely,” I promised. “We’re neighbors back in the fairy kingdom.” She asked me to pass on a message that she’d just lost a tooth. She stuck her tongue through the opening and wiggled it. It was delightful.
I want to remember demonstrating science experiments to my fourth graders, and how patient my students have been as I show from the front of the class what they can’t do themselves because of social distancing. How I once put my Birkenstocked-foot in front of the doc camera to figure out how to position a piece of paper, and they all freaked out at seeing my toes on the big smartboard screen. How one screamed “This is illegal to see you like this!” and covered his eyes. (Same kid yells “fire the nukes!” whenever I announce a new assignment. I love him.)
I’ll remember the absolutely draconian Covid rules in Hong Kong. Being vaccinated but still having to book a two week hotel quarantine. And Tinder profiles with masks on, which is the new “hot with a hat on, and then it all changed.” The taglines that read “vaxxed and waxxed.”
One day I’ll reminisce about constantly checking Hong Kong government updates – vaccine appointments, travel bubble rumours, working out in a mask, the slowly opening happy hour and dinner options – open after six pm, tables of four, tables of six, open until midnight!
The million hours at home – I’ve learned to make exquisite salad dressings with my blender that was previously only used for margaritas and the occasional health-kick smoothie, been a good mom to almost 40 plants on my patio, and my fish have been close friends.
I want to remember living in this pandemic in a foreign country with superstitions I don’t understand and a crumbling democracy. Working on a slowly sinking ship. Getting older and actually feeling it and occasionally acting like it (which I promised I would never do). Even as it all changes (looking at you, sneaky grey hairs), some things are still constant. I still paint my toenails like a 5 year old in an earthquake, am scared of birds, and consider chicken nuggets a food group. I still want to be home and not home all at once.
The other day my students were getting quite noisy, above what even I can tolerate, so I asked for “inside voices” (cringe, I know). A shy but cheeky one sidled up next to me, an accusatory look in her eye. “You know, Miss W8,” she said, “you always tell us to have inside voices, but I’m not sure you even have one.”
She’s not wrong and yet
I actually have a lot of inside voices. Voices that ask me what in the world I think I’m doing. That wonder if something’s wrong with me for not being married and having babies yet, that ask how I expect to get a man living life the way I do. It seems like everyone else I know has their next steps in life figured out. Why don’t I?
Inside voices ask why I haven’t heard from that friend in a while, why I wasn’t invited to that brunch, why am I sitting alone on a bench on a Friday night but also – why am I generally really content with it? Am I missing something?
Inside voices accuse me of taking myself and my talents and situation in life and opportunities too seriously, but also not seriously enough. Voices think that 37 year old women should be married by now (especially Christian ones), and shouldn’t want to karaoke, or wear costumes, or day drink on boats, or order Happy Meals. Sometimes all on the same day.
Inside voices that wonder why I write this all down for anybody to see and judge it in their own inside voices.
One of the gifts of getting older is that while I do hear all those inside voices, there is a one that’s growing louder. It’s a voice that says we’re all on a journey, on different paths, aiming for joy and peace and love and understanding, and my life’s journey looks like me – smells like cake, splattered with glitter, circling back in zig zags, with a loud soundtrack playing while I’m making a million bad decisions.
Another gift of getting older is knowing and loving myself better. Being confident enough in who I am to have an inside and an outside voice that says “hey – we’re all strange and lucky and weird and blessed. So go have a real good time just doing you.”
The journeys of others may go in straight lines from college to marriage to motherhood while mine goes in different directions all at once – but as it weaves in and out, it’s connected to people around the world and it fits who I am. No journey is less important.
God sprinkled out some extra shamelessness when he made me, so I happily put myself out there and try to empower anyone who might be listening to be who they are; to listen to voices of encouragement and wisdom and ignore any voices of criticism. I’m getting better at it and am much, much happier because of it.
I say and write this all now from my cozy studio in Hong Kong, at the end of a chaotic school year, four weeks of vacation ahead, sun shining out my face. I’m headed home to California and I’m so excited.
However, in the spirit of transparency, I should admit my greatest fear in going home is running into someone from high school with their white picket fence house and 2.5 beautiful children while I’m wearing yoga pants that have never been to yoga and purchasing underwear and boxed wine at Target and having to make small talk.
When that inevitably happens, I promise to celebrate their lives and not compare it to mine. And you’ll probably hear all about it. (as we are still actively working on that kind of inside voice that experiences things without having to share them.) (and because transparency.) (kloveyoubye)
*who remembers the “I’m a little acorn brown” song??