Would You Take A Dollar Now, or Get Ten Dollars in a Year From Now?

How does a baby learn to latch at the sight of a nipple? Why do New York commuters tirelessly gaze to the left, when standing at the subway tracks? Why, upon reading these words, do you expect this sentence to end as a question?

It is in human nature to anticipate.

In a lifelong endeavor of identifying patterns, we draft mental connections between such linked phenomena. To every effect, we search for a cause. Did I sleep poorly because I drank too much coffee? We act, to cause an effect. I will avoid it today, so I can sleep better tonight. It can easily be said that our ability to form a predictable chronological order is the basis for learning.

It can even be argued that experts, in any specialty or field, have become experts precisely by mastering the art of pattern recognition. It goes beyond Wall street, beyond science. Just as the best taco man in the West Coast has discovered which beef to lettuce ratio draws in the most customers, it is implied that the best soil yields the best crop.

And like these experts, we use our ability to predict the near and far future to determine the next best choice of action. Why? Because it is in the best interest of any individual to operate in an economy of effort in relation to time: two of our most valuable and priceless resources. Surely, some things in life cost more self-investment than others.

Everything we do, every person we choose, and each seemingly insignificant decision whittles down to intrinsic calculations — Will this produce a profit? Do I have to apologize to my boss?  Should I microwave the hot pocket with the paper cover on? Does this person push me to be better? Do I stay in this relationship? Should I sleep in another hour? Why am I here? Is this worth it?

As a long term planner, you debate the disparity between what you anticipate and what may actually happen. You are more likely to sacrifice the present for the future. You are, to put it simply, an investor. However, as a short term planner, you act upon instinct. You recognize the far future but appreciate the present much more. You are a gambler of action: a doer. You are passion over logic, thrill over safety. Most of us fall somewhere along this spectrum.

 

 

* * * * * *

 

I’m not the kind of person that has a near death experience and decides to, from then on, “live for the moment.” No, I’m not going to quit my jobs, get a cliché tatted on my arm, and dedicate my life to an unfulfilled bucket list. It all comes down to finding a balance.

Ambition is a great trait to have, but sometimes, I get so caught up on doing things for others and my future self, that I neglect what I want right now. I think this happens to many of us, especially those who have goals to reach within certain time constraints. I’m not here to self pity, or to create a diet plan of what I can or can’t do. Rather, I’m allowing my desires to guide me, even if it leads me beyond reason or comfort. You know the little guy in the back of your head that tells you when it’s a bad idea? I’m putting him on mute, because in moderation, new is good. New is becoming.

The take home point is: if you are an investor, become a doer. If you are a doer, become an investor. Do not remain a static point on a dynamic spectrum of planning. Your mind is three dimensional.

Which brings us back to the million dollar question: Would You Take A Dollar Now, or Get Ten Dollars in a Year From Now?

One choice over another may bring you greater success, but you’d benefit more by supplementing your repertoire with a new way of thinking, of anticipating & doing. Fuck what you’re used to. Choose the other. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood; why not take both?

 

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Dear Johnny (Part 2)

Maybe you could call it apathy. Comfort?

I don’t think that’s what it is.

Johnny, I’m knee deep in responsibility these days, and I feel like I’m wading. It’s not that I don’t want to be here. I really do. I have so much going for me that I can’t seem to put it in words.

But when you’re constantly surrounded by intense, driven academics who thrive off approval and grading and measurement of successful outcomes (after all, that is the quintessence of physical therapy), there’s this incredible pressure to prioritize every test, every little detail. And that’s what I’m lacking. Yeah it’s perfect timing, just in time for finals and the busiest time at work. I’m dragging.

It’s almost been a year since you’ve been gone, and I still talk to you in my head… when I think of how transient and unpredictable our lives are, it’s hard to believe that a GPA, or praise, matters as much as we’re led to believe. How inconsequential it is whether I get a 100 or an 80 — because I talked to Anna and Jason and Jay the other day, and it scared me shitless that people like them could be gone in a second. People like you.

But maybe it matters. What do you think? Maybe it should matter.

It’s conflicting, because a part of me is feels like I’m at the tail end of a dream; it’s like I’m playing tag with my dreams and it’s so close I can almost feel it. But at the same time, I’m wondering why I’m not –um, I don’t know– on a boat buck naked with a pina colada this second. I think, if you were alive, you’d see how much I’ve changed. You’d say I don’t need a distinguished career to help others –and you’d be right, I know.

It’s weird talking about you in past tense, like you only used to exist.

 

Like I said, I still talk to you a lot. But you know better than anyone else, there’s a difference between being listened to, and being heard. Sometimes, I get frustrated talking to you. It’s like being surrounded by others but feeling completely alone.

I talk to you the way I used to talk to God, back when I had one, at least. I question, I provoke, but I never get a reply. I have to use my imagination, but what’s the fun in that.

I’m really happy these days, though.

I don’t like that there’s some sort of trade-off between being truly happy and keeping perfect grades in perspective, but it is what it is. I’m pretty sure no patient has ever said, “My physical therapist changed my life; did you know she got a 4.0 in college?” and I’m banking on that.

Otherwise, I might be screwed.

 

Oh, by the way, Trump is president.

know.

 

Miss you bud.

Jane

The 30th Time I Saw Myself Die

“Are you fucking crazy?!”

He grabbed me with firm hands, jerking my shoulders to square up to his own. I could see his lips moving, his eyebrows were screaming, but all I heard was a deafening white noise. People were screaming, pointing at me. A woman was covering her mouth with both hands. Like I had done something wrong. Like I had killed a cat with my bare hands.

I pressed pause.

The bodies around me froze in place. Their gestures were still yet piercingly loud, hands and arms spread open to match their fury; the man gripping my shoulders had so much tension between his eyebrows I wanted to dig a finger into his skin. Help the guy relax a little. Good god, man, you’re going to pop a vessel. 

I poked at his forehead, but it didn’t work. His face was  scrunched into a rock solid, mean expression. 

I clicked rewind, and watched the events play back. I could see myself jogging from down the block. I had on thin spandex shorts and a heavy black hood, and peaking from underneath were two green cords that coalesced together to plug into the phone in my pocket. My head was nodding to some Kendrick bit, and I was lightly bouncing to the rhythm, taking note of the blinking red crosswalk light. I still had time to cross. I waved to Jose, the neighborhood fruit stand man, and smiled at the little old lady at the end of the block, swiftly jogged onto the pavement of West 157th —

And BOOM. 

Like a homerun slugger splintering from impact, the metal body of a black Caddy caved  against my frame. It dent sharply, like the exhale of a collapsed lung, cloaked in tar and years of bad habit. At maybe, 60, 70 miles an hour, the fuming machine rammed directly in my side, flipping my lifeless body in circles like dice in cupped hands. It crushed bone into dust as easily as a giant would a flea. As the screech of braking tires overtook the orchestra of horror, I pressed pause once again. 

Resume.

The Cadillac blared its horn as it barely missed my back. It skimmed so close to my body I could feel the whip of my clothing as the wind snapped my sweatshirt against me. I didn’t gasp. I didn’t react. I just kept running… until he stopped me in my tracks.

I faced the man then scanned the crowd once again. Their terror had quickly dissolved to anger, to shaking heads and disgusted faces. He let out, “Are you fucking crazy!?”

I mean, I think that’s what he said. (I was never really that great at reading lips.)

I removed my headphones in time to hear the rush in his voice, “You almost died. YOU ALMOST DIED.”

My heart was a steady 50, maybe 60. I shrugged. “I’m fine.” 

I tugged my hood over my eyes and casually resumed my jog. The crowd shook their heads in a bitter grumble, and I left them in the cold clutter behind me.

I pulled up at the next red light, and removed my headphones once more. I almost died. I almost died? 

There, standing alone, I shuddered. 

I shook with fear — not because I was an inch from death, but because close calls have happened so many times they no longer phase me. This comfort I feel, is uncomfortable. My apathy makes me reckless. 

After all, I’m the protagonist and the narrator — I can’t die. I have chapters I haven’t gotten to yet.

The signal turned white, so I returned the beat to my ears and my feet to the streets heading to Harlem. As I slipped past the row of cars stalled at the red, I could feel their headlights following me, testing me, watching the litter of emotion I was tossing behind. 

The Text Message Break Up

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“I’m never going to talk to you again. See you never,” the message read.

Following a delay just long enough to process what he had sent her, in attempts to subdue the passive aggressive anger railroading through the text –because God forbid he actually let her have the satisfaction in knowing she got under his skin– he quickly typed and sent another: “Lol.”

Because Lol says Hey, I don’t care.

Lol means You don’t phase me, though she really really does. Without even trying. Damn it.

Upon receipt of the message (she had briefly glanced at the text from the sudden glow of her screen), her long, slender, unmanicured fingers clicked the power button on top of her iPhone to hide the message from view.

Seriously? she thought, eyes rolling north to a blanket of lids. Must you be so dramatic. 

The coarse brush of annoyance was enough for her to immediately decide: this kind of demeanor is not worth a response. She thought, can’t we resolve our issues like grown fucking adults… In person? Using words? 

How many times —she reflected on previous encounters that all too similarly left the same sour taste in her mouth– am I going to get dumped by a friend through a text message. 

She could not determine whether it was her that had become too insensitive, or if the modern digital culture forced others to grow soft, to wrongfully take 100-something character texts, in the absence of context and any sense of real human connection, to heart.

When you live in a world where lives, though consciously filtered, are put on display, it is incredibly easy to jump to conclusions that reside far from the truth. So, could she blame him? No. But the disappointment came from the fact that there exist people who breed a hatred from a subjective assumption and go the extent of cutting ties, void a conversation. Just a bitter, premature See-You-Never.

Never? Good grief. Never is hasty, you silly child — an impulse quite often regretted. 

To leave the opportunity of a text reply as the ONLY venue of communication… How does one reason with an irrational mind, in words that must again suffer the path of interpretation?

You don’t. 

You can’t, she just knew. This is why an argument on the internet has no end. This is why you cannot put sense into the head of religion. THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T ARGUE OVER TEXTS.

Was she lacking empathy or were they lacking maturity? She could not say it was either, because the former wasn’t true (or so she truly believed) and because there wasn’t enough juice in her superiority complex to sway her to the latter.

Good luck with your life, he added soon after. A miserable touch. It was surely meant to provoke, or to prod a response. But such petty behavior warrants dismissal.

I know you want me to, but I will not plead, she mentally noted. Why in the world would I chase after something that allows no explanation. Effort, in all scenarios, deserves reciprocation. Don’t you think? Of course you don’t. Your head is steaming, and elsewhere.

Over the years, she had learned about the brevity of relationships with the emotionally rash, but more importantly, the undeniable insignificance of such. They come, they go, like uprooted flowers in the wind –mere visitors caught in a passing storm, leaving the slightest trace of their beauty and a lasting impression of their hideous rage.

Who’s Your Daddy?

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“Excuse me,” he called out, extending an arm towards a freshly ironed blazer hurrying in the opposite direction, “do you have a light?”

Startled, the young suit backed away. “Um, what, no–” he began to say, but upon noticing the lit cigarette pinched between his own two fingers, he realized his cover had been blown. He dug through the clutter in his pockets as small clusters of tourists and business men worked to dodge their stagnant presence in the middle of the busy sidewalk. “Shoot, hold on, I have it here somewhere,” he said. He pulled out a receipt, a crumpled dollar, a set of keys.

The other man waited patiently, tugging at the loose strings of his worn clothing, smiling meagerly at the effort. The corners of his eyes wrinkled when he smiled.

“There,” –with the flick of a lighter, a weak flame appeared at the young man’s hands– “do you need a smoke, too? I might have an extra.”

Before he could reach back into his jacket pocket, the gentleman in rags shook his head and reached down for a box by his feet. He carefully unconstructed a light green box, wrapped with pristine care and a silky bow. As passing bystanders craned their heads back in curiosity, the man removed from the box a small cupcake with a candle on top. Leaning in towards the young stranger to light the candle –the suit had forgotten about the flame in his hands– the older man smiled proudly and said, “Happy Birthday, son. Now make a wish!”

The Unharbored Harbor

15H

In a trembling hand, I held the broken edge of a coffee cup. It was stained, not with coffee, but with streaks of blood.

Glowing specks of heat –mixed pieces of ember and ash weightlessly cascading through the thick air like snowflakes from Hell– illuminated the walls of dusty ravines around us. A deafening blast from behind had struck my senses numb, diminishing my perception of the world to a muffled residue of what it used to be. I could see her silhouette shifting to view from underneath the pile of wreckage; her face, splattered by war, defined agony in textbook form.

I drunkenly stumbled sideways, submerged by a deepening ring resonating in a spiral of disorientation and chaos. When the body is faced with shock, it either gears into action or shuts itself down. Mine seemed to linger in limbo, undetermined whether to pursue the former or the latter. Had I been trained, or had even expected the slightest bit of danger, I could have been better prepared.

But I wasn’t.

It was early Sunday morning, and I was sitting across the patio table from the woman I’d like to call my wife. As the silk of her robe danced with the gentle breeze, I admired the soft curvature of her womanly frame. Her features were mild, but pleasant — even the fragrance in her hair cast a hypnotic serenity over me.

As I drew the mug to the edge of my nose, I consumed a large waft of coffee vapor, but the fumes of espresso turned to fumes of burnt flesh before I could process the slight of hand.

“Glenn, darling!” she cried out to me, pointing to my periphery. I turned in time to see a flock of bombers headed directly our way. The aircrafts were shedding lines of missiles in a similar manner of water droplets trailing a wet bullet against the wind.

I knew, in that moment, the house was not enough. The naval base, the doberman. Oahu was supposed to be our home in paradise. I had promised her a sanctuary for our child, but it dawned on me that he will only know the inside of his mother’s womb.

Clutching both shoulders, I dragged her lifeless body behind a pile of bricks and held her up to my chest. She had fallen unconscious. I could feel her breath slowing, so I grabbed her tighter, as if somehow I could contain the oxygen within her body using the width of my own. If I could give her life, I would.

Panic shrieked as missiles struck around us; in a crumbling terror, I closed my eyes and guarded the only two in the world I was too late to save. To this day, I am still afraid of the dark.

December 7, 1941

Why the Asian Kid With A Trophy Didn’t Actually Win

“I’m happy for you,” she smiles, swiveling in her seat to face me. It skids to a stop as her small toes drag in circumference across the hardwood floor. “I didn’t want to say anything before you made up your mind, but I was hoping you’d pick Columbia.”

Quickly nodding an eyebrow in acknowledgement, I say, “I’m just glad it’s over. Weighing professors and comparing curriculums, it was driving me crazy. I was more stressed about making the right decision than going on the interviews. Once I settled on a choice, it seemed so obvious, like I only had one option all along.”

An incoherent jumble of Korean voices drone from the computer speakers behind her. This is how our conversations usually happen – abruptly, at odd dusk hours if and when our time at home coincides, and usually in the midst of her melodramatic soap operas (the inevitable obsession of tiny, little Korean women across the globe).

“Your Dad wanted Columbia, too.”

A sigh leaves my chest. “Dad knows nothing about the programs. He doesn’t even know what I do for a living. He’s only about Columbia,” I joke, knowing every joke has a bit of truth to it, “because it’s Columbia. Because he gets to tell people it’s Ivy League. Is it really that big of a deal? Don’t you think if I were going for the name, I’d be going for the wrong reason?”

In a lowered voice, my mother mutters, “Do you want to know something, though? It is that big of a deal.

“Look at how prideful Asians are. We push our children harder than most to get the best grades, to get into the best schools. Do you know the real reason? It’s a competition. It has been engrained in our minds to measure success through our children. If your child doesn’t excel, the whole community views it as a reflection of your own capabilities.”

In a sudden flashback, I think back to all the times my grandparents favored my brother and me over our cousins, who — despite being smart, charming, and well spoken — weren’t as academically “successful.” One of my last vivid memories of my grandpa is of him crying and chasing after us in a car, repeating, “You’re all I have. You’re all I have.” He had a wife, 6 kids (as far as I know), and even more grandkids — so what did he mean by that? We didn’t necessarily bond with him any more than the other grandchildren did, yet he elevated us to a higher pedestal. It was later explained that since we had the most potential (on a scale of A through F), we stood out as his pride and joy.

“Why do you even care?” I shake my head, and a disgruntled noise slips from my lips. “You know, there are so many things I can’t stand about the our traditional outlook. There are a lot of people, but the community is so small. It feeds off of bragging rights, gossip, and judgement. At family reunions, for example, why do we greet each other with comments like, ‘You’ve gained weight?’ instead of ‘How are you?’ We take excessive pride in beauty and academics; the nation’s standard of success is twisted. You are a good mother. If I fail, it is because I let myself fail. It’s not on you.”

She clears her throat, ridding a shaky voice. “When Koreans look at me, they assume I do what I do because I am stupid. When I was a nurse, I was highly regarded. Now, they see me differently. They look down on me, because the bigger wallet gets you a higher seat, and I am silent about it. But when I get to say I have a daughter who attends Columbia, it’s like I’ve made it. I get respected. I’m no longer bottom of the totem pole. They think — wow, she raised such a smart daughter. She must be somebody.”

My heart hurts a little from hearing this. I feel an undeniable shame. So, I pick up my pen and write the following words that encase my incomplete grasp of the culture that raised me:

It seems to me that pride and respect are two of the few core principles that hold the most weight in many Asian cultures. I can speak, through experience, of a Korean viewpoint: my viewpoint. There is an installment of a social hierarchy, as implied through diction and mannerisms. Formally, we rank people by age, dishing out a gradience of respect that begins with utmost respect for the highest elder. There are obvious distinctions in speech formality, and our physical etiquette extends even into casual settings.

For instance, with alcohol use being introduced and encouraged at a younger age than the Western culture, elders teach the young how to drink while the young show respect in return. The younger person must receive drinks with two hands, pour with one arm supporting the other, and consume while facing away from the elder. There are clear behavioral and lingual displays that insinuate: age demands respect. I remember being told to bow before I even knew what bowing was.

In more traditional homes, displays of affection are nearly absent. The first time, post childhood, that I hugged my family and said the words ‘I love you’ was in my second year of college. For my brother’s graduation, I could see other families hugging and laughing, but all that was going through my head was, “So… do I give the guy a handshake or what?”

For a period of time, it felt so natural to fall into formality, but so awkward to express love, yet I never acted that way around my friends. It was as if (and sometimes I still feel this way), I am wearing a mask around Korean adults. The more traditional the person is, the more guarded I stand. I’m not one to care too much what others think of me, but I have such a vivid subconscious recall of the conservative Asian perspective that I cannot let go of my tendencies. We aren’t subject to becoming the product of the environment we are raised in, but we sure are heavily influenced, as reflected in our unconscious conduct.

Less formally, judgment is passed based upon financial status, personal affairs, self presentation, physical appearance, and as my mother mentioned, the success of the offspring. There’s this superficial expectation to look a certain way (which is why plastic surgery is a staple rather than a luxury), dress a certain way, behave a certain way, etc. The shallow judgment is surely not unique to the Asian culture, but it is heightened to a point where it is cringe-worthy noticeable.

I actually fear returning to Korea, because I look fully korean but my tongue is not. If a Caucasian spoke as fluently than I, it would be impressive. But if I converse at my level (I don’t have an accent, but my vocab is limited), the more traditional folks give looks of disgust and disapproval. Back when I was serving at an Asian restaurant, I overheard people referring to me as “whitewashed” or “embarrassing.” What’s embarrassing –I wanted to say– is the fact that you’re a grown adult and you tip like you have the allowance of a 16 year old. But through conditioning, respect is given to strangers and elders even when it isn’t due, so I would bow and walk away with my tail between my legs. Even in times of impulsive fury, I am bound by cultural habits that reflect the peachy pale hues of my skin. 

I, of course, wouldn’t say this extends to every Asian home, just as the All-American white-picket fence doesn’t reach every house in America. It’s a  matter of parental choice on what is included in upbringing; like corporal punishment and summer camps, there is no conclusive evidence on what is right for a child. However, I bring attention to the principles many Asian families adhere to that promote critical judgement, tough love, and competition.  It pushes us to our potential and helps us succeed the same way it hinders us from addressing emotions and conflicts in what is supposed to be the most intimate and open setting: our own homes.

I don’t feel shame for being Korean. I feel ashamed for the way the critical outlook within our own community gives excess value to superficiality and materialism. I feel let down by the racist and sexist attitudes that have yet to recede the front lines of our culture. And most of all, I think we could do more, as new generations take heed of upbringing, to understand respect can coexist with affection. My parents love us more than anything in the world, but it took me over 20 years to realize that. And it took just as long to understand that the criticism amongst Asians isn’t derived from hatred, but rather the influence of cultural paradigms that shape our being.

The culture we are born into gives us a foundation. The culture we are raised in shapes the exterior. But the culture we determine, through combining our formed beliefs with the ones we encounter, is what gets passed to the generations beyond us. Let’s make it a good one.