October 31, 2007

Still rolling along

Last night I was still at work, along with three co-workers, trying to finalize a Captain Chaos project. My first thought was that a train was going by, but then I realized I was on the third floor of a building far away from the train track. Captain Chaos, an L.A. native burst out of his office, "It's a big one, folks!" Gentle Man hurried over to a doorframe. I huddled near a cubicle divider. It felt like the room was gently rippling. Nothing fell off the walls or even shifted on our desks, just a rolling motion. Even after the big rolls ebbed there were tiny ripples that continued.

My phone rang, "Did you feel that?!" Jrex exclaimed.

"Yeah, we were all huddling for safety. Are you at home?"

"I was just about to leave to head back into lab for something. I think I'd better stay home for at least another 20 minutes or so, Muttola is whining and wandering the apartment freaking out. I just thought it was the train, but then I realized there was no horn. Um...we are planning on moving back east, right? I'll take a blizzard over an earthquake anytime."

The Californians in the room at work were all excited, "That was a good one. What fun!" One coworker tried to call his Mom and had trouble getting through on the landline though his cell phone ended up working. "That was big"

I said to them, "I HOPE that was a really big one, cause if it wasn't, I don't want to know how much worse it could get!"

One looked it up on line and called out, "It was a 5.6!"

"What!? That's not high enough!" They laughed. Mocked my pain. Sigh.

Then we all went back to work. I'm starting to understand why most Californians just shrug and say, "Oh, you get used to it" when I ask about earthquakes.

Not that I'm used to it yet!

October 23, 2007

What have I gotten myself into!?

Tomorrow morning I'm meeting with two of the creative heads of Ad0be to plan their 25th anniversary party.

I know nothing about parties!!

Don't panic, it's not just me, the meeting also includes our creative director (aka Captain Chaos) and another experience designer (aka Writer Man). I'm supposed to just be a fly on the wall, giving them a subliminal message that we have a full stable of designers at their beck and call not just five of us...

The outfit? Black brocade skinny pants, a black knee-length Matrix-style jacket, cool shirt and boots with killer heels. "Hello, dahlink. I am zee mahster design guru, how can I help you zhow your genius to ze masses?"

Candlelight seems to foster these kinds of conversations

I am constantly amazed at the impact seemingly small choices can have in shifting relational direction.

Two nights ago, Jrex and I chatted over yet another amazing dinner he’d crafted. As I shared some of what I’d done during the day, I was surprised to find myself feeling emotional. I often try to figure out those feelings out loud, but unfortunately, say it too strongly or from a sideways angle. “Unfortunate” because so much of my life is filled by and surrounded by Jrex’s impact and presence. Not unfortunate to have him, but unfortunate since while I’m feeling sad and trying to figure out why, it can easily seem like he’s the problem, when really, I’m just trying to dig down into the surprise emotional rush and figure out what’s really going on. At times, he feels attacked and gets defensive. Soon we’re trying to figure out where the landmine was and figure out how to piece us back together, my initial emotion tucked away.

I’ve tried to tell him that I need him to ask questions in those moments. No problem, right? In the midst of a fight or flight moment, choose research! Not surprisingly, it’s been difficult for us to figure out how to navigate our way through such moments.

As I got weepy, I hesitated, unsure if it would be safe to continue. He gently asked, “Is there anything I could be doing differently to help in those situations?” It turned out the issue wasn’t at all about him, or at least only tangentially. He kept asking questions. Kept listening.

When we married, for my part, it was because we were truly best friends. In life’s busy-ness and pain it’s been easy to turn to other relationships to try to process my emotions. As I told him after his gentle listening, I’ve missed him as a friend and was really grateful that he asked questions instead of getting upset.

He smiled quietly, “It was a choice.” Which made it an even more profound gift.

October 19, 2007

Why Graphic Design?

In college, I studied fine art (drawing, painting and literary journalism). All my life, both Dad and Mom whined about what they could have done artistically with the right encouragement. I didn't want to inflict such rants on any future children, so I decided to see how far I could go. I found out that I'm good, but I don't have the drive to be a fine artist. I like structure and deadlines.

As graduation loomed, I thought about what I could do for a job that would let me get my fill of people, yet not be so draining that I wouldn't have energy to paint. Throughout high school I cut my family's hair, in college I cut all my friends' hair--so naturally, as a college grad, I went to beauty school. That is a WHOLE 'nother post. Just visualize this: two white women in a mostly African-American scene. Doing hair. I can straighten, wrap, weave and finger wave, girlfriend! (snap)

After graduating from beauty school, I worked in my college town in an Aveda salon. I always felt like I was playing an extended game of dress up, but it was fun. Poor Jrex, though. He started dating me at this stage. Not only did he have to tell his Mom he wanted to date a white woman, he had to tell her she was a hairdresser. She felt a little better when she found out my Dad went to Harvard Law and my Mom had a Masters in Theology, but still...

I usually don't tell people about the hairdressing. Not because I'm ashamed of it, but because then I have to do a hair consultation. Being a hairdresser was great training for becoming a designer. It's the same emotional arc, but compressed into 30 minutes: client's dream countered by a diplomatic reality check, intelligent/artistic interpretation, happy ending.

After a couple years of hair/dress-up, I needed to figure out what to do when I grew up. I knew I was great with kids and had always wanted to do foster care. I figured I should get training in the field, so I volunteered my way into a job at a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed kids. Also another post.

When Jrex was going to start residency I knew it would be a good time to go back to grad school. I thought about doing family therapy or social work, but Jrex said, "I keep thinking you should do graphic design." Inside me something clicked, "You mean I can have fun? As a career!? Cool!" I talked my way into the core curriculum for graphic design at Rochester Institute of Technology and then did a one year Masters in Printing with a focus on Graphic Arts Publishing.

I worked in a printing company for a year after graduating. I'd intended to do 6 month at the printer and then do 6 months at an ad agency. However, 9/11 happened and the advertising industry collapsed.

When we moved to Baltimore I did an info interview at a small company that produced large format digital printing. The owner kept suggesting jobs she heard about and then decided to create a design position for me. I got to do all sorts of fun, crazy assignments there. She just assumed I could do anything, so she would have me doing restaurant interiors one day and then exhibit design the next.

Here in the Bay area it's been a bit strange since the overall scene is contractor based. Through a visual placement agency, I had three long-term contract jobs: a pharmaceutical company, a scientific equipment manufacturer and a game design firm. This job as an 'experience marketer/designer' came via a headhunter who found me through my portfolio on creativehotlist.com. I still love design and still cut Jrex's hair though I don't have many occassions for doing physical restraints...

Are there any other questions you want me to answer?

October 17, 2007

Was it hard to marry cross-culturally?

Yes. Though my Dad has always pointed out that every marriage is cross-cultural.

It wasn't as hard for me as for my husband. My parents didn't care about race. His parents wanted their son to marry a Korean. Every time he went home to visit they set him up on a blind date, "You'll like her, she's studying medicine at Yale." They hadn't met me at that point so I didn't take it personally.

I dragged him home within four months of us starting to date. My parents were two of my best friends, so if they didn't like him, I knew it wasn't going to work. Of course they loved him (everyone who gets to know him loves him). During that visit my 92 year old grandfather was also visiting. I completely horrified Jrex as I verbally sparred with Grandpa. In Korean culture you treat the elderly with complete deference and here I was treating him as a peer. Of course, Grandpa loved it. I had that kind of relationship with both my grandfather, my Dad and now with my husband. Ironically, how I treated Jrex totally threatened my Dad at first. See, Dad married an amazing woman who did NOT understand sarcasm. At. all. So, despite the fact that I quipped right back at Dad, he couldn't handle me quipping at my husband. A wife doesn't DO that! He's since adjusted.

One of the many tragic aspects of my mom dying 6 months into our wedding was that she LOVED Jrex. She was his biggest fan. She never let me complain about him. Sure she could whine about my Dad to me, but if I even tried to do the same she'd jump all over me in Jrex's defense. The building is burning, who do you save? I think she would have grabbed him first! ;-)

We dated two years before I finally met his parents. His parents came up to Rochester for a weekend. We met them at the hotel. The whole drive there I nervously practiced "On yong ha sey yo" over and over. At dinner his mother gave me some lovely porcelin vases. I gave them nothing. Because. No. One. Told. Me. About. Koreans. and. Gifts. No one apologized profusely as he drove me home. He'd forgotten about gift giving! I learned then that I'd study Korean culture on my own since I couldn't assume I had a cultural guide at my side...

As much as we both communicate well and analyze everything, there were aspects of how he was that I thought were just him. It wasn't until we attended a 2nd generation Korean church in Baltimore that I realized how many things were elements of Korean culture. I receive love most effectively through verbal affirmation (thus the addiction to comments on the blog...). He never thought to compliment me. I found out, that's just Korean. In fact, if he were being culturally correct, he would insult me whenever someone else complimented me. Maybe that's just a parent's job, not a spouse's, but all my Korean friends have examples of how their parents "kept them humble".

For the most part, our core values are very similar. We value family and quality time. We believe in saving money but also buying good tools ("tools" being a tent, or a cool new waterproof messenger bag made of recycled bike tires). As Jrex told his parents before they met me, "You're idealizing a Korean woman and have horrible assumptions about American women. She's more Korean than most of the second generation Korean women I know."

The biggest asset we've had, aside from our friendship and mutual respect, has been two sets of parents who (in the end) were willing to bend toward each other's culture and try to understand and accomodate the other side.

October 12, 2007

How did you meet your husband?

Part 2 of The Introduction Cards Project

I was a first-year student and he was a senior at a college down the road. My school had no Christian fellowship, so I went to the one at his school. Spring semester I ended up in a Bible study that he led. It was just him, me and a sophomore woman, but it was a great group. I'd grown up in a Christian family so I knew the 'right' answers; Jrex took us to places and concepts in the Bible I'd never wrestled with before. He would say, "Let's talk about what it means to have faith" and then two hours later my brain would feel like it was going to explode.

We were just friends with zero romantic interest in each other until I'd graduated from college. He'd left for University of Rochester after his college graduation and came back east for a retreat. During those few days, one night we chatted from 10 pm to 4 am. At the end of that conversation we both started thinking, "hmmm..." At the time I was getting fairly burned out and cynical (at the OLD, OLD age of 21). Except for one guy (husband of frequent commenter "k"--a guy who truly was my little brother. Love him), most of my guy friends had ended up wanting to date me. After I said 'no', I ended up losing them as friends. I just wanted to take a vow of singleness and get on with my life without all the emotional trauma of dating. After that conversation with Jrex, I thought, "huh. maybe it IS possible to find the package deal." I still wasn't thinking it might be him specifically, but I thought, "I respect him, he's funny, he's smart, he's attractive, we can talk about anything and we share a similar way of thinking about God."

He came back three weeks later for a wedding and I stalked him. Or at least, did subtle manipulative things to be around him. Chatted with him outside the church until it was time to go in, thus ensuring I could sit next to him. Ditto at the reception. At the end of the weekend he asked if we could talk. Inside I gulped, "Uh oh, he's going to tell me to stop following him around!" Instead he wanted to check if I was interested in thinking about a relationship.

We talked and prayed for 6 months before starting to date. He knew that his parents would have a hard time with a non-Korean woman. They did. (more on that Monday).

In that first conversation about possibly dating, Jrex made me the core promise of our relationship, "I have no idea what life has in store for me, or for a woman who is involved with me. The one thing I know for sure is that it will never be boring."

October 10, 2007

Mi Familia

I'm the oldest of three kids: me, then a brother and sister. OTRsis, seen frequently in the comments is, in fact, my fabulous, gorgeous younger sis. Wave to the crowd, carisima! She is another graphic designer (she got into it before I did, lest you think she followed me). She has two young kids and a wonderful husband who is a high school teacher.

My brother is a professional disc golfer by day and bartender by night. He doesn't sit still long enough to read a blog...

Our parents chose to be downwardly mobile and raise us in Cincinnati's #1 poverty community. Mom chose not to work and stay home with us while Dad operated a VERY non-profit housing firm. We survived 6 months on food stamps and years of donated clothing and cars.

Mom died 10 years ago. She'd been the director of drama, and first female professor at a conservative midwestern college before marrying my Dad. She fulfilled her drama urge through numerous performances for our church and for retreats. I grew up being on stage, in gospel choirs, marching in protests, eating carob chip cookies and bean sprouts--all because of my Mom. She was also someone who worried all the time, carried lots of bitterness and was usually frustrated by our family dynamic (lest you think she was a saint. I mean, she is one now, depending on your theology, but she was a very human, complex woman when I knew her).

Dad is still in Cincinnati. Dad is 72 and has been writing plays for years. He's recently decided to try for a second income in a theater related job. His goal is to become a stage manager so he's now training as an assistant production manager for a theater company. Our house in the inner-city has become a communal space which he currently shares with a married couple. He's had various ex-cons and assorted misfits in the house; I never know who is going to answer the phone. My father is "anonymous" in the comments. Not because he is afraid of being noticed, no it's cause he's the classic absent-minded professor type and can't recall his log in info. Take a bow, impressario.

Those who know me would recognize me as an oldest. The scary thing is to think, I could have been even MORE bossy than I already am. Mom was the oldest of 10 kids so she knew the pain of being the little extra parent. She didn't let me take on that role. Anytime I started to boss my brother and sister she would say, "OTRgirl, stop. That's my job, not yours." I was always hurt by that since I was 'just trying to help'--but now I am grateful for her wisdom. She also never made me babysit them. Instead, when I was old enough to know how to handle an emergency, they would leave us with these instructions, "We're going out for three hours. When we return, if the house is in order and you have nothing to tell us, we'll split the babysitting money between the three of you." As a result, OTRbro and I would get into two-round knock-down, drag him over the back of the couch in a headlock, split my lip fights. Then clean the house together. Talk about training in conflict resolution!

What truly makes us weird: we grew up without a television. My father maintained that he was an addict and couldn't have it in the house. The main impact of this has been that I can't participate in conversations that are about a television show. Which has maybe impacted 2-5 percent of my conversation time. On the positive side, it meant our parents had to be very creative with how to occupy three hyperactive children. We built indoor forts, created puppet shows (and some puppets), played dress-up for hours, fought (see above), read books, played cards, went to church events, talked, drove each other crazy, giggled, explored the neighborhood and spent every summer day at the public pool down the street.

We weren't, and aren't, a perfect family, but we can talk about anything that's bugging us and usually find something to laugh about in the midst of our pain.

See, it's the stuff you probably know already if you've read here or known me long. I love telling the stories, but it's almost rote with new people. Of course, if I did this as a card, it would be more visual and far less wordy...

October 9, 2007

Getting to know you

I love how keeping a blog allows conversations with distant friends to skip the catching up stage and just get to the heart of things. My cousin closest to my age (anyone want to suggest a pseudonym?) came to visit last weekend and she already knew about our lives here. Two nights ago, I called one of my ex-boyfriends who has since become a good friend. He reads the blog and so could ask questions like, "You mentioned in a post that you and Jrex have differences in vision. For anyone who doesn't know you, there was a whiff that you might be considering divorce. Tell me more about what you meant." I LOVE being able to just start talking in the deep end and skipping all the "what have you been up to?"

The problem is that I need to process my daily life without catering to my inner editor. As a result, I usually only tell long-distance friends and family about it. It's been a good policy, but it means that with new friends here I have to go through all the start up conversations. I'm so impatient with having to tell the same stories again and again. This past weekend another new friend, Art Facilitator, picked me up to go to San Francisco. We watched Helvetica--a movie for designers and type geeks. I LOVED it, but if you don't know who Matthew Carter is and don't care who designed Meta, it might not be for you. Then we checked out the "Hardly Strictly Bluegrass" Fest in Golden Gate park. Wonderful adventures, but our conversation was filled with all the early friendship questions. How did you end up in California? Do you have siblings? How did you meet your husband?

When we first moved to Baltimore, I seriously considered making info cards that I could hand out:

"My family? Hold on, let me find that one. Oh, ok, here it is..."

In preparation for those future life story cards, I'll 'give' you one each day for the rest of the week.

October 3, 2007

Greening the city

One of my ongoing interests is sustainability. I thought about going back to school for architecture so I could build low-income row homes in Baltimore that were 'off the grid'. Solar powered, green roofs, using gray water for irrigation, radient heat, etc.

This morning we had a brainstorm at work for an upcoming event in February. Apparently San Frncisco, Amsterdm and Se0ul are working together with C1sco to try to further sustainable cities. We are running the event and are charged with creating a green-friendly experience. San Fran will host up to 50 mayors and their entourages for the event. Our ideas ranged from wrapping BART trains with a welcome message (not so green friendly, though the part about taking public transport from the airport is), using laser projections to create signage, to giving each delegate an iPhone with maps, program guide and agendas already installed.

What do you do to be 'green'?

October 2, 2007

Only in San Francisco

We picked up Gentle Man at 7:40 at his home in Bernal Heights, San Francisco. Bernal Heights is surging toward full gentrification after a seedy past. As we drove through I tried to give Jrex character sketches of my coworkers, “Gentle Man is in his forties, I think. He’s one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met. Not that it matters, but I’m 90 percent sure that Gentle Man is gay. Like you, dear, he’s very soft-spoken, so I’ll sit in the back so you can hear as he navigates you to the restaurant.”

We drove up to the Mission to meet two of our current and two previous co-workers at a Senegalese restaurant. Eeyore had NOT been invited. Gentle Man had suggested that was not the kindest thing to do, but had also quietly confessed he wasn’t sure he was up for an evening with her. Most of us had our significant others along for the fun.

As we shared pitchers of tamarind margarita, mango cocktail, and sampled each others delicious meals, someone mentioned the Folsom Street Festival and asked who was going. Gentle Man laughed and said, “Definitely.” British Designer also nodded and said he and his girlfriend were going. People started talking about what they’d seen at the fest in years past. My third co-worker, Fireball started laughing at the look on Jrex’s face. He told me later that he’d overheard British Designer say, “I have a leather mask, should I wear it to the festival?” and someone answered, “I wouldn’t get dressed up unless you’re willing to be an active participant. People take the fest very seriously.”

After dinner as we drove Gentle Man home, we somehow started chatting about Halloween on Castro Street and all the drag queens that come out to party. I laughed as I said, “One of my friends in college was horrible. When he dressed in drag he was more gorgeous than any of the women. Well, he was gorgeous either way.”

Gentle Man smiled and softly said, “Well, most of the people in the office know about this anyway, but I do that occasionally. Mostly for Halloween on Castro Street.”

I asked, “Does it feel mostly like dress up, or does she become an alter ego?”

He nodded and said emphatically, “Definitely an alter ego. We rent a hotel room right by Castro so we can just have fun and not worry about driving home or anything. But last year there was a shooting there. It’s just not safe anymore. Too many people just watching and not enough people there to participate. The street doesn’t even want to have it anymore and the city is actively discouraging the event. It’s very sad.”

After we dropped him off, I looked at Jrex, “OK, so make that 100 percent.” He grinned and nodded.


The next day I reflected on the fact that only in San Francisco would a dinner with co-workers have involved a discussion of teaching in bi-lingual schools, a recent honeymoon to Vietnam, drag queens and S&M.

Then I thought about the fact that when he was in Israel, Jesus horrified the establishment by the people he chose to be around. He was often accused of partying with sinners. I was struck by the notion that if he were here physically, he’d be hanging out with the drag queens and loving them. It made me glad to know him.