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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Admissions  §

© 2011 Aron Hsiao

I saw a picture of New York and froze in my tracks.

I really, really, really miss NYC.

Miss.

— § —

It takes a certain amount of courage right now to admit that to myself or anyone else, given that I will not be back anytime soon, and will likely never call NYC home again. That particular phase in my life is over.

— § —

It has been a hard move.

Yes, there are parts of me have still been “moving” even a month after arriving. There are parts of me that are “moving” still, and there likely will be for months to come.

— § —

The biggest difficulty, being back in Utah, has to do with feeling motivated or ambitious. There is, quite simply, no energy or ambition here anywhere. If you want it, you have to generate it out of whole cloth; you can’t absorb it from the atmosphere, and as you display either of these in public, you will be disliked.

— § —

We finally have (unofficially) health insurance after a month spent on the phone at least twice, and sometimes ten times, a day, with dozens of faxes, letters, and forms to fill out, hours of computer time and research, and multiple companies involved.

All of this for three healthy individuals with no pre-existing conditions that had been continuously covered until the moment we arrived in Utah from NYC and that were willing (and even desperate) to pay out-of-pocket on a monthly basis for coverage.

If it is damned near impossible and this incredibly labor- and time-intensive for us to get covered, how impossible must it be for anyone that is older, hasn’t had coverage for a while, has a medical condition of some kind, etc.?

— § —

The unofficial coverage is just in time; our daughter has been ill this week and the last few nights she became very ill, with a fever in excess of 105 degrees. We were finally able to take her to the pediatrician, who seems nice, even if he has the distinctly Utahn habit of talking past children directly to their parents, since children clearly aren’t there yet.

Predictably, given the massively dominant faith in the area, they will start talking to her, instead of through her, around eight years of age. Until then, she will have to live without the incredible social connectedness and gregarious social life that she had in New York.

— § —

I want to find my ambition once again. I left Utah in the first place because I felt stagnant here, as though I Would Never Amount to Anything if I stayed. I begin to feel that way again, but I have to fight it.

There must be opportunity here.

All I have to do is fight.

Fight the local culture.

Fight the local religion.

Fight the anesthesia that hangs in the air.

Fight the conventional wisdom and incredible conservatism that is the hallmark of the place.

I have to connect with outsiders and reconnect with the outsider that I have become. I must be a foreigner in this land if I am ever to feel at home here; to the extent that I allow myself to feel like “the boy from Utah that is home again,” I Will Never Amount to Anything.

— § —

Now if only I can help those around me to understand this and be supportive of it, things may yet be well.

— § —

But I must admit to myself that tonight, at least, I desperately miss NYC.

Miss.

 

Life as Montage  §

© 2011 Aron Hsiao

Caught up on the email messages that have been hanging around since August 24th (the day the “move part” of the move began). Three weeks to catch up on email—even critical messages. That’s sort of a long time.

— § —

Even so, there are a lot of things that haven’t been done. Much of the basement hasn’t been cleaned yet. There is still furniture here that we don’t plan to use. There is still wiring that’s acting a bit faulty. There are a few other random maintenance issues and safety hazards that are on the “to do” list but have now been demoted to a lower priority. The car, too, needs some attention. Maintenance was virtually ignored in New York.

— § —

There is, of course, administrative stuff, too. Despite the fact that I already spent an entire day changing the address of record on various and sundry accounts, memberships, and so on, we keep coming up with more. The list has grown again. There are state issues to handle—things like drivers’ license and registration changes that increase in cost and complexity the longer you wait—and federal issues to handle—things like immigration documents and so on.

— § —

I telecommute right now (as much as online teaching can be called that) to New York, and the way that I do it involves seeing and interacting with people there. Sitting in Provo hearing and speaking New York is an uncomfortably surreal experience. They simply cannot both be real. I refuse to believe that both are real.

— § —

A decent number of books on my bookshelf that seemed like method or case-oriented documentation in New York seem like grand theory sitting in Provo. It’s clear that not just the location, but the words, the cover, the trim size, and the authority of each book have also magically changed. Nothing is the same here.

— § —

I, too, have gone from being a respectable, responsible professional to being an irresponsible man child. While in New York stubble and a wrist tattoo are simply personal style, and in academics can be seen as a particular affective practice conventional to academic personas, in Provo they are specifically forbidden personal characteristics. Not forbidden by culture in the squishy way that social scientists often use the term. There are excluded by printed, codified regulations that circulate freely in this town and that guide not only religious practice but academic and policy practice as well. I am a violator of the law when I don’t shave. I am a violator of the law as the bearer of a tattoo that is visible. No, not national law or state law, but local law, which is often much more socially powerful.

— § —

PBS has returned to my life. Yes, television is a scourge and all that, only it isn’t. It’s rather a beautiful thing, when done right. PBS and specifically the University of Utah PBS station does it right. In this development there is a bit of the sense of a homecoming mixed in amongst the surrealism and outsidership.

— § —

I am trying to work without losing the very close relationship I feel with my daughter. This cannot be done.

It will still be a few days before I can ramp work up to the level at which I was before we left. There is still to much left undone. It was only yesterday that I finally got the other half of the wireless network and wireless printing going. Before that, we were unable to print and unable to network properly when upstairs (which is where we actually live).

— § —

We began our stay with three windchimes hanging at the edges of the patio. We unpacked one from our former living room (the stuff of fairy tales) and then there were four. We discovered another as we have continued to excavate this estate. That brings us to five, the most recent of indeterminate age and made, so far as we can tell, from copper and ancient fishing line.

— § —

The “members” have begun to turn up and apologize for the treatment that we have received at the hands of other “members.” See how they turn on each other, as they vie for the favor of the outsiders. I wonder sometimes whether some of these typical cultural practices from the area are also in my behavioral DNA, me helpless to avoid or overcome them by virtue of my socialization here.

— § —

Before we left we had been bedtime-reading In the Shadow of the Sun for some time with Mirai. Now the book has gone missing, despite its having a place of prominence and importance in the packing process. A number of other books, too, seem to have disappeared. I suppose that’s what happens when one moves. The question now is whether to replace them. On the one hand, the practical argument is clear. We have already read them; it is unlikely that we will immediately fall upon new copies like lions upon prey. Why waste the money?

At the same time, to lose a book is something like losing an appendage or a family member: the loss leaves a lack, an emptiness in its wake. I suppose not everyone feels this way. But I certainly do.

— § —

Just now on daytime childrens’ programming on the PBS station I chanced upon a reading of That Book Woman as I was in the living room by myself, my wife and daughter having gone for nap time. Impossible to tell whether it was the voice of the reader, the clarity of our television, or the writing and artwork of the text that left me choking back tears. I suspect the latter, as when I think about similar moments in life, the vast majority of them for me have likely come as I have been reading or writing.

— § —

We have been twice into the lower canyons at the south end of the metropolitan area. Saturday will make thrice. We have yet to hit altitude or any of the “home canyons” in the north valley. It may be some time before that happens.

— § —

There is an art to this stage of our lives and to keeping the peace and the happiness. It lies in being judicious about what goes said and what is left unsaid, about sharing dreams and keeping them back, about understanding what others need and using discretion and care in attempting to act with awareness of both these needs and of our own.

— § —

We also have rather a lot of fruit, suddenly. Pears, several kinds of apples, cherries, and a large quantity of grapes all inhabit the property, though a great deal of this fruit is on the grass.

— § —

Picking the fruit has become one of our daughter’s great pleasures. If she could, she would simply go outside and pick fruit all day, savoring the magic of the earth, the air, and the sun in all their fertile productivity.

— § —

I sound like a hippie, which is why I am a fierce modernist.

Utah  §

© 2011 Aron Hsiao

The Local Culture, Part I

We were invited to a barbecue by our next door neighbor, nice enough guy, who says he wants to welcome us to the neighborhood. He’s pretty insistent—”Please come!” he says, over and over, and it stops by several times in the days beforehand to ensure that we turn up.

On the day of, we arrive to find a packed backyard. Right after “Hello, Aron!” he asks, “So what religion are you?” When he introduces the crowd, it turns out that it’s his church group, who have been invited for us. He speaks, telling us that he knows that “the church” is true, then introduces us to the crowd:

“Everyone, these people are non-members. So please, fellowship them. Visit their door often. See how they are doing. Tell them about your beliefs. Bring them into the fold. Oh, and dig in, everyone.”

Amongst the crowd are multiple missionaries, members of the lay clergy, and all of the neighbors around us (all members of the dominant faith here).

A Utah welcome.

— § —

The Local Culture, Part II

A man comes to our door today, introduces himself, and tells us he is running for city council. His big schtick? He is a true, far-right conservative and he is the only one running. He is surrounded by progressives! At least three other candidates that are progressives! So it’s imperative that we all pull together as a community to ensure that we don’t end up with progressives running the place.

Given the demographics here, and his clear assumption (though he’d never met us before) that we were true, far-right conservatives like him, I highly doubt three or more actual progressives have emerged from the woodwork to run for city council.

If they have, I don’t suppose (again, demographics in mind) they have a chance in hell of winning, anyway.

— § —

The New Yorker that arrived today has a sketch on its cover of the exact view from the subway platform I used to wait on every morning at 125th Street and Broadway.

It made me instantly nostalgic.

— § —

Tonight, feeling increasingly overwhelmed, I resurrected my task list. It was about time. Task lists disappear or go to sleep when one moves, but eventually they always have to come back again.

The task list is right now longer than it’s ever been before in my life, even at the height of things in New York while teaching five courses and working multiple jobs. I don’t quite know what to make of that.

What I do know is that a lot of things simply aren’t getting done because it’s humanly impossible to do them. The solution (if you can call it that) is simply to prioritize.

In practice right now, this means drawing a line between things that “get done today,” things that “get done eventually” and things that “probably won’t ever get done” (but that last designation is unofficial).

The overriding heuristic is a regrettable one: “Can this person or these people hurt us or negatively impact our future? No? Then ignore the promise that you made to them; they are expendable.”

This is not my nature. But right now the ruthless “juggling and management of priorities” (keyword: ruthless) is absolutely necessary simply in order to survive the moment.

Things from the Wasatch Front  §

© 2011 Aron Hsiao

Never tell anyone that you will “work through your move.” You won’t. Tonight, for the first time, I have a space and equipment to do actual work. Tomorrow, for the first time, I will do actual work. Even then, it will be difficult. It takes a while to settle in. You will not work through your move.

— § —

Grocery stores in Astoria at 9:00 in the evening: ghost towns. You’re lucky, on some nights, if they’re still open. At most there is one register running. Grocery stores here at 9:00 in the evening: hopping. Every single lane is open with a line. Most of them won’t close until midnight or afterward. Love the 24-hour-ness. People outside of New York call it the city that never sleeps, but once you’re there you realize that it goes to bed between 5:00 and 8:00 every evening. Not Utah.

— § —

Home Depot, Lowes, and other home improvement stores in the middle of the day in New York are full of contractors. Here they are full of moms with kids in tow. There are more kids running around the home improvement warehouse on a weekday than you’d see in Manhattan in a week.

— § —

Downside: nobody says “hi” to my daughter here. You’d think that having an 11-month-old little girl with an adorable smile wave at you and say “Hi!” with delight would get people saying “Hi!” back. In New York, absolutely. One of the earliest skills she learned was how to make friends, and she made us a lot of friends, too. Every time we went out we got to know new and interesting people. Here people just stare and keep walking. Most of the time they don’t even smile. Dozens of “Hi!” exclamations from my daughter have netted her maybe one or two tepid hellos in return. The parent in me dies a little bit each time I see that tiny, enthusiastic smile turn slowly into a frown in bewilderment as she stares after them, disappointed and ignored, unlearning what she’s learned about the basic goodness and friendliness of people. I fear that in Utah she will learn to be more socially like me (aloof, closed, suspicious, isolated), less socially like her mother (generous, open, trusting, gregarious). Certainly that’s what the place offers to her.

— § —

Number of stay-at-home or daytime dads seen here so far: ZERO. In NYC you’d see them on the street, on the subway, definitely at the park—several of our playmates were daytime dads. In this place of much more traditional gender roles, the grocery store and the park during the daytime are the territory of women only, and they seem vaguely violated or somehow suspicious when they encounter a man engaged in domestic errands during the daytime much less a man carrying a daughter.

— § —

More than half of the cars on the road are pickup trucks. Not sport utility vehicles, which are enclosed, but open-bed pickup trucks, often with diesel engines, high-sitting suspensions, and knobby tires. There are also a lot of mullets, moustaches, wrangler jeans, etc. I haven’t seen another Volvo yet.

— § —

People notice the New York plates. At least once a day I’m asked where in New York I’m from and what “brings me out here.”

— § —

On the radio, there was a call-in charity program. A considerable amount of time and energy was spent emphasizing that donations would go to people “just like you” that “live in Utah,” not “strangers” living elsewhere. That would never happen in New York.

— § —

Office supplies: much more expensive. Gasoline and groceries: much cheaper.

— § —

Within about a mile of the house we have: McDonald’s, Sonic, Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell, Del Taco, Arby’s, Panda Express, 7-11, Wendy’s, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, Papa Murphy’s Pizza, Wal Mart, Target, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Office Depot, Babies ‘R’ Us, Walgreens, Rite Aid, AutoZone, and probably several other national chains I haven’t stumbled across yet, and that’s all without entering either of the two malls, and all with a population density that’s a tiny fraction of the density you’d encounter in New York. For all the presumptive localism implied in the “help us, not them” charity drive sensibility, there is precious little in the way of local business here.

— § —

Meter readers just open the gate and come right into your backyard to read the meter, unannounced. Then, they leave again. Kids come right up your driveway and into your carport on their bikes, then back out again, just playing with one another and not even noticing you, the resident in the house. That would never happen in New York.

— § —

At the 7-11 this morning, the touchscreen on the credit card terminal wouldn’t accept my presses at first, making it difficult to enter my debit pin. The twenty-something girl behind the counter said, “That’s our woman card reader. Just like a woman, she looks good but she’s super moody, kinda incapable, and pretty uncooperative unless you’re really handsome.” That, too, would never happen in New York.

Confusion, Finally  §

© 2011 Aron Hsiao

After weeks of “the process of moving,” we have finally “finished” our move. That is to say that we are actually sleeping in a new place where we will be sleeping for the foreseeable future, and that we have completed all of the manic tasks of carrying heavy items about, installing, renovating, purchasing, and any major cleaning that was to be done. What remains is minor cleaning and unpacking, along with the “long term” projects that always go along with dwelling—cleaning the rain gutters and so on.

— § —

We are living in a house. After four years in an apartment with my wife and more or less continuous apartment living since 2003 before that, living in a house is a decidedly novel sensation. In many ways, I feel as though I have suddenly “grown up” by virtue of having a building for which we, and only we, are responsible—even if that building doesn’t actually belong to us.

— § —

It has been the longest, most difficult move of my life. We started packing the second week of July. It is now nearing the end of the first week of September. That is a long time to be in limbo, liminal, unfinished, uncertain, unsettled. For a decent chunk of it, we were apart, even. Then, for another chunk (the most recent week) we have been effectively isolated as we each carried out days-long series of individual tasks related to making the place livable.

— § —

Have we done the right thing?

— § —

I saw a photo on Facebook of daughter and daddy at the park—our park—the one where she played every single day, with all of her friends, and where her mommy and daddy tagged along—and for a moment I thought I would die with regret at all of these changes.

— § —

Have we done the selfless thing, sacrificing everything we had in New York to bring her to a better life and to her grandparents and family?

— § —

Then, I pulled myself together and confusion returned. It’s difficult to evaluate the change when it’s so complete, so total. Every facet of life has changed, down to the most minute detail—down to the very metaphysics of being. The sky is a different size and hue, the days a different duration, the moments of the day meaning different things. It’s another planet entirely. We are interstellar travelers, homeless amongst forgotten stars. Or rather, homesteading in a galaxy long, long ago and far, far away.

— § —

Or have we done a selfish thing, telling ourselves that we were making big sacrifices for her when in fact she has been made to sacrifice for our well being?

— § —

I haven’t managed work time very well. The difficulty had something to do with the condition of the destination when we arrived (each via separate means of transport, at separate times). There was a lot to be done before we could dwell here; the place was in something approaching disrepair. Certainly there were hundreds of dollars in purchases to be made at various and sundry home improvement stores and many hours (days, in fact) spent with tools and in filth applying blood, sweat, and tears to this project of “making it livable.”

— § —

Is there even any way to tell, to decide? I simply can’t see the forest for the trees right now. There is a lot to love. There is a lot of upheaval. There is a lot of exhaustion. There is a lot of work to make up

— § —

Aside from all the rest, I can’t avoid the nagging imagination of my lifestyle to come, as soon as I manage to achieve it: working full-time, meaning having less time with my daughter than I have ever had thus far in her short life. The one thing that made the adjunct life worthwhile was all of the time that I was able to spend being a father. That will soon be gone.

— § —

What I can say is that I am in love with the patio, the windchimes, the prices, and the smiles that she puts on for the family that now seems to be everywhere around us. I am, at the same time, utterly and despondently lost without the park, the routine, and the teaching career.

— § —

Time will tell.

Two paths diverged in a wood?

How about we clear-cut the wood, flew to another continent, took up new identities, and had our appearances altered?

There is nothing here of our old selves. The furniture that arrived in the truck is more us than we are right now.

The new us is waiting to emerge.

— § —

All I want is to see her smile a lot and to know that she is okay and that she gets quality time with both mommy and daddy. The rest is so much bullshit.

— § —

In short, the news of the day is that the manic part is mostly over and we can now settle in to the long-term confusion that always follows radical life change.

We are home. Sort of. As is always the case in life.