All right, here goes. On Nov. 5th, I am running the NYC Marathon for Legal Services NYC. A spot opened up last minute, and I decided to seize the opportunity to be the change I want to see in the world. That means I’m fundraising at least $3500 to fund legal defenses and advocacy for immigrants, tenants, women, students, workers, veterans, the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses. More
I have a small confession to make: I’m face-blind.
It’s basically what it sounds like: I have a lot of difficulty remembering and differentiating people’s faces. I’m sorry I don’t recognize you, but it’s nothing personal, I swear.
I’ve mentioned it to some of my close friends, but only if it comes up in context (usually out of concern that I’ve offended someone by not recognizing them).
Sure, you’re thinking, I’m bad at remembering faces too, lots of people are, no big deal! That’s reassuring, and for a long time I thought I was just “bad at faces” like everyone else, but after analyzing it over the years, I’ve concluded that I’m significantly worse than average at facial recognition.
My mom tells me that when I was a young child, I would reach for any Asian man with glasses and call him Dad.
Things are usually fine if the other person has unique physical characteristics, like their hair or body type, unusual scars, a particular tenor to their voice. It’s also easier for me to recognize people that I see frequently in person. Otherwise though, I have to make a concerted effort if I want to remember what a new acquaintance looks like, by studying their face, or more frequently, by memorizing their clothing or glasses so I can get through the evening.
A room full of beautiful people induces mild panic in me because everyone looks so generically similar to each other. It’s a sea of symmetric faces, with no distinguishing features that I can latch onto. Events like a dinner hosted by the Korean Tourism Board or someone else’s family reunion also make me nervous. How am I supposed to figure out who’s who when everyone looks the same?
Here’s some of the ways it affects me:
- Movies: I struggle with movies and TV shows with lots of characters because I can’t tell the actors apart. If the plot involves characters in disguise, spies, clothing changes, etc. I am particularly at a loss. This rules out the Ocean’s Eleven movies for me, and I had to watch Love Actually two or three times before I felt like I really understood what was happening.
- Meeting Acquaintances: If it’s been a long time since I last saw you and we’re not that close, I will probably struggle to recognize you, especially if we’re meeting in a busy place like a street corner or a train station. Rather than flag someone down by mistake, I sometimes just look away or study my phone, waiting for the other person to approach me first.
- Meeting New People: I might wait for you to introduce yourself first because I can’t remember if we’ve met before, and I’d rather not introduce myself and have you tell me that we’ve already met. Earlier that same night, in fact. This is most awkward in professional settings, like a job fair. Luckily, I’ve never had a job that required me to meet and remember lots of people at once, like teaching or public relations.
- Running into people randomly: You know how sometimes you’ll run into friends you haven’t seen in years at a cafe or in the park or back in your hometown? I don’t. Unless you proactively approach me, I will never realize we passed each other. On the plus side, it means I’m never awkwardly running into people I’d rather avoid.
- Running into people out of context: Placing people when I see them out of their normal setting is hard. I run into my landlord periodically around the neighborhood, and it’s always a surprise to see him waving me down on the street, in the park, at the Food Coop. This was a particularly prevalent problem for me in college, where I was constantly meeting new people and I couldn’t remember how I knew them. Once, I was sitting in a play, and an older man tapped me on the shoulder and began talking to me as if he knew me. I carried on the conversation as if I recognized him, but couldn’t determine where we had met. Days later, I realized it was someone who had been attending my chimes concerts.
Once, I met a friend of a friend who casually mentioned being face-blind. My eyes lit up; it was the first time I’d heard anyone talk about face blindness outside of the Internet. We swapped stories for a bit, joking that we were going to have a recurring meeting for face-blind people, where you’d have to reintroduce yourself every time.
For the most part, my face-blindness is just a minor inconvenience. I simply don’t watch Game of Thrones and I will never spot a celebrity in public.
On the flip side, I think I’m less judgmental about physical appearances, both for other people and myself. I probably won’t notice if you’ve gained (or lost) weight, I won’t make hiring decisions based on implicit beauty biases, and the idea of being instantly attracted to someone based on their looks is rather foreign to me.
Maybe we’d all be a bit less shallow and a bit more kind if we couldn’t see people on the outside.
“When you’re running… there’s a little person that talks to you and that little person says, ‘Oh, I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. Oh, I’m so hurt; I’m so tired. There’s no way I can possibly continue.’ And you want to quit, right? That person… If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running, you will learn how to not quit when things get hard in your life.”
– Will Smith
My general philosophy in life is to try to say yes, as much as possible (so long as it’s not something patently illegal or something I’ll obviously regret). Sometimes this leads me to faraway safaris in Sri Lanka. Sometimes this leads me to running in circles.
Back in late April, a friend said that he was going to sign up for a marathon, and asked if I wanted to do it too. Without thinking too much about it, I said yes. After all, I bike regularly, and go for a short run every week…er, month or so, how hard can running a marathon be? Step 1, you start running. Step 2…there is no step 2. Am I right??
So I logged into the Runkeeper account that I’d set up years ago and used once, and signed up for their beginner marathon training program. Four runs each week, with the first week starting with manageable 4 mile runs and a long run of 8 miles on Saturday. I added the next month’s running schedule to my Google calendar, highlighted in red, and tried really hard to either schedule activities on nights when I wasn’t running or shift runs to alternate days if I knew I’d be busy. Each week, I checked the weather and if conditions were challenging for running (thunderstorms), I would slot time in other parts of the day, like early mornings or late evenings. Sometimes I would end up skipping runs, but it would be anticipated and unavoidable, not due to poor planning.
In July, the furnaces hit New York, and running became a sluggish, molasses-paced crawl to the finish. I realized that switching my runs from late afternoons to early mornings would mean more tolerable running temperatures. The only problem was getting out of bed. I’d tried setting alarms in the past to get up early for a run, and had failed every time. This time though, I forced myself to go to bed earlier (10:30 pm at the latest) and when the alarm went off, I reminded myself that while getting up now was painful, running in the brutal summer heat would be even worse. So I’d best stop dawdling and get going.
By November, I had the opposite problem. Temperatures were dropping precipitously, and an ever-lengthening night meant that it was doubly difficult to pull myself out of bed when it was cold AND dark. I’d hit the snooze button once, sigh, then force myself into the chilly air, where no amount of layering could prevent my fingers from being numb after 120 minutes outside.
But I kept doing it. And every time, it got a little easier. Running a marathon, as it turns out, is less an accomplishment of physical training and more a feat of psychological endurance. While you can certainly push yourself to run until winded, for the most part, running a marathon requires a lot of long but slow runs, done at a comfortable pace where you can easily hold a conversation with someone. In other words, running is not the difficult part. The real challenge is the discipline to manage your schedule and get out of bed.
Continue reading On Running, or How To Do Anything in Life
Like many restaurants, my kitchen was staffed largely by cooks/runners/dishwashers of Latin American origin, particularly Mexicans from the state of Puebla. This made sense, given that we were cooking Latin-influenced food, but you’ll find Mexican cooks everywhere in New York, from diners to Chinese restaurants to fine dining.
There are many great cultural exchanges to be had from hanging out with Latino cooks, from hearing the latest reggaeton to learning the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo. (Turns out it’s not just about cheap margaritas.) But as you while away hours peeling yucca in the slow afternoon, sometimes the conversation takes a turn for the serious. You ponder aloud: what you’re doing with your life, what your dreams are, who you love, where it all went wrong. You share your hopes for your family, your fears that you’re not good enough, your ambitions to go to college. You tell your life story, how you came to the US and found your footing here. You do all this while crammed into a closet-sized space, with tweezers in one hand and a fish fillet in the other. This is the trench.
For those of us who aren’t first generation immigrants, it’s easy to forget that this country is built on immigrants and a dream for a better life. For those of us who can afford to go to culinary school, who have a college degree, have no family members in the military, live near a Whole Foods and have never been arrested, it’s a cold bucket of water to remember that we are part of the privileged class, even if we think we’re not.
Here’s a couple of the stories I heard:
S: I came with my dad when I was 13. Why? I don’t know, it just seemed like the thing to do, I wasn’t doing much else at home. I’ve been living and working in NYC for 9 years now. I’ve been a busboy, runner, dishwasher, oyster shucker, and now I’ve been working here for one year. Started off doing dishes here, then moved to the cold station, and now I’m on flat top and grill.
My dad died 3 years ago, and I spent $12k on his funeral. It wiped out all of my savings. I want to go to school, get a college degree, but I don’t know how or where to get the money.
What do you want to accomplish before you die?
Well, I would really like to take care of my mother, make sure she is comfortable. That’s the first thing I want to do. Secondly, I want to take care of my girlfriend, because I know she loves me a lot. Then maybe after that, my sister. But she has her own family, and she’s ok I think, she doesn’t need me. So really, I want to take care of my mother, that’s my #1 goal.
Continue reading Tales from a Mexican Line Cook
This list was inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s series of birthday notes, written annually from when she was 23 to 33. You can see these candid, intimate glimpses of her life on display at the Brooklyn Museum until March 16th.
The Park Slope Food Coop
My office “family”
Learning obscure skills (blacksmithing)
Traveling to foreign countries
Efficiency (though not at the cost of human relationships)
Handwritten letters, and making time to write them
Carbs: bagels, pizza, pasta, rice, beer
Sherlock Holmes (BBC)
Sleeping on the floor
I’m bored with:
Hunter x Hunter
Game of Thrones books
Trying and failing to get Cronuts
Not being able to recognize people readily (face blindness)
Cockroaches in my building
Too damn high rent in NYC
I’m proud of:
My ability to emotionally move on (after a breakup)
My ability to physically move on (since everything I have can fit into one car)
My family, who accomplishes crazy feats, feeds me well and behaves with rational insanity
Friendships, many of which hit their 10-year anniversary last August
Decisiveness, ripping off bandaids and not looking back
Zen, achieving inner peace when NYC tries to make that impossible
To again write words that will spur laughs, inspire wonder, incite anger or change lives
To evolve from being a cook to a chef
To live in East Asia someday (Hong Kong?)
To be in love again someday
About five years ago, I graduated from Cornell. I picked up my diploma from the economics department, took another walk around the Arts Quad, and drove 4.5 hours back to MA with stinging eyes. My undergrad days were over, I was cast out into the cruel Real World, and nothing would ever be the same.
But you know what they forgot to tell you in college? Life is even more awesome AFTER college. After spending Labor Day weekend at Cornell, I can confidently say I have no desire to go back to my college days.
One major change: you’re no longer stuck on a student budget. Now, I was never eating ramen for meals (unless I wanted to) or really strapped for cash (thank you slightly-above-minimum-wage chimesmaster salary), but I did have to be pretty conscientious about money. I still am, but having worked for a few years now and become accustomed to New York-level prices, many things in Ithaca that once seemed luxurious are now quite affordable. $9 cocktails at Stella’s? You can easily pay double that in Manhattan. Appetizers, drinks and an entree at Maxie’s? I used to limit myself to just a po’ boy because I was a um, po’ girl. Shortline Bus for $107 or the snazzy new roomy, wifi-enabled Campus-to-Campus bus for $160? You get free snacks and drinks on the latter; the choice is clear.
Continue reading Return to Ithaca: 5-Year Nonreunion Edition