Nathan – Chicago

January 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of January and what caused you to feel that way?)

I woke up on the 31st in a whirl of travel and overall daze. I was finally going back to Korea for the first time since leaving last summer, making good on my promise to attend my students’ graduation ceremony and to get the closure I needed after deciding to work in Chicago for the time being. I technically took off from Chicago on January 30, but because of the time difference and the long flights, most of my first 2020 reflection day was lost in the travel time warp. Even so, the few hours I had awake and moving around were really valuable for reflecting and figuring out where I was in my head space. Flights longer than eight hours are usually pretty miserable for me, being a 6’5” guy with majestically long legs, but the one consolation is that I sleep well during spouts of travel in any moving vehicle. The thing that struck me most about my Air Canada flight to Seoul was how terribly little legroom I was provided, how jam packed the overhead bins were, and how despite my excitement for the trip, I was quick to judge other passengers sitting nearby. Will get into more detail about that shortly. 

Of course, blessed with the middle seat, I was sandwiched in neatly between two smallish Asian women. Usually sitting next to petite passengers is a blessing in its own right, but we were all forced to place our personal items under the seats in front of us, restricting the amount of viable leg space even more. The woman to my left was a short Filipina who had a massive backpack that the flight attendants wouldn’t allow her to put in the overhead bin. I didn’t think much of it until about an hour in when I realized she was infringing upon my middle seat legroom, basically playing footsie with me to vie for space. She also was hogging both of her armrests, a big no-no for anyone who knows travel etiquette. In my mind, I kept thinking, “who is this fucking lady?” and “doesn’t she realize I’m like double her size?”  The woman to my right was folded up and staying in her lane, so why was this other woman man-spreading like nobody’s business? At one point, she had crossed so far over into my space (while half-asleep or in a stupor) that I jabbed her leg with mine to send a signal like, “Hey! Don’t you realize what you’re doing?!”

I normally don’t get angry at people easily, but personal space is one of my most sacred boundaries and I wasn’t having any of it that day. Later on, after about eight or nine hours had passed, I think the woman could sense my negative energy that I was throwing her way with stabbing mental waves. She got my attention and started some small talk. Oh no, she was humanizing herself. How could I stay angry at someone who so kindly apologized and then told me her life story about moving from the Philippines to Canada and now she’s getting married?  Then the woman on my right also woke up and the three of us started talking about everything from life in Korea, to immigration, to having kids and job security. The other passengers probably weren’t happy that we were the only ones talking on the plane, but I could live with that. It’s not every day that people actually step out of their shells to talk to strangers so candidly. The icing on the cake was that the Filipina woman then gave me a Snickers bar and all my prior judgment just seemed so harsh and unnecessary. It’s fascinating how much you can dislike a person before actually talking to them.

After disembarking in Korea, my reflection became even deeper and I focused on why I was back in Korea in the first place. Sure, I had to close my bank account and get all my money. Sure, I had to visit the phone store and cancel my LG U+ contract. I had to go to my school’s graduation. Visit my homestay family. Visit my friends. But overall, I needed the validation that I had made a good decision to stay in Chicago and not return to Seoul for work. My two years in Korea are so special and I’ll always consider Korea my second home, but maybe the feeling would be different now. Everything in the airport felt familiar, like dug up memories. I was tired and cranky from the long flight, so when my phone wifi wasn’t working and I couldn’t access my friend’s address to write it on the Customs form, I got a little snippy with the Customs lady. 숙소 주소가 왜 중요해요? Why is the address even important? She insisted it was, told me to go to the back of the line (THERE WAS NO LINE), and then I literally wrote down a fake address and strolled back through customs. Oh Korea.

            Once out in the airport lobby, I started to feel at home again. Hearing Korean everywhere and speaking it when buying a bus ticket felt utterly normal. My Korean was rusty, but I didn’t feel awkward much. People tend to stare a lot at me in Korea, especially when I speak Korean, but it’s a feeling I’ve gotten used to. The society is so judgmental and I found a way to make it seem like they were only judging me for the good parts of myself. On the bus to my friend’s apartment in Gimpo, I remembered what it was like to survive in Korea three years prior without phone data. I remembered seeing English everywhere on signs and being surprised by that. I remember people treating me like a baby because of the language barrier and then me becoming self-sufficient in so many ways from living there. When I met Yongmoon for dinner, I remember what it was like to build so many positive relationships over two years in Korea. I smiled a lot remembering these feelings. I was also a little sick thanks to my parents bringing their germs into the house, but let’s focus on the gushy emotional feeling. I went to bed that night exhausted, but at peace with my decision to revisit and my overall life decisions. Everyone was excited I was back and I had a lot of adventures to unfold over the next two weeks.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

Dear Stranger,

January 31, 2020 was not such a normal day for me. I started the day on a 13-hour flight from Chicago to Seoul, South Korea. You may be wondering what took me there, so I have to go back a little bit and provide context.  I first moved to Korea in the summer of 2017 and lived there for two years teaching English at a public high school. I moved back to the US in the summer of 2019 and decided to stay in Chicago for work. It was a tough decision because I had developed so many relationships abroad and leaving them behind was not an easy decision. I also recently started a new job in Chicago and it felt strange to start it and then immediately take an extended vacation (not PTO hehe), but that was something that couldn’t be avoided. On long flights, I tend to get restless and pass the time by catching up on all the movies I didn’t see throughout the year. I also like to stretch and move around a little, but this time I was trapped in the middle seat and actually quite peeved because the passenger next to me kept encroaching on my personal space. She would move her feet into the space in front of my seat until I shuffled my feet around and forced her back out. This tug of war for space seemed to last almost the entire flight, but I thought without a doubt that I was entitled to that space. Most of my thoughts during the flight were about how shorter people should never man-spread and how bad “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was.  Eventually, I ended up having a friendly conversation with both of my fellow row 35 passengers and despite my former feelings of disdain and anger toward the legroom thief, I realized I had rushed to a hasty judgment of her.

Upon landing in Korea, I was flooded with feelings of nostalgia and flashbacks. Being surrounded by a language that I’d adopted and seeing such familiar words and brands and sights brought me back to my former life there (even though it wasn’t that long ago). I felt the familiar, not positive or negative, gaze of curious Korean people and even more so when I opened my mouth and spoke their mother tongue. I was taken back especially as I rode the bus to Gimpo to visit my friend Yongmoon, remembering my first few weeks in Korea the first time around. Everything was familiar and yet foreign because I had already adjusted to being back in the U.S. for six months. This day was especially conducive to reflection because I spent most of the day stuck in transit with hours to think and think and think. And when I finally emerged from the plane with options for places to go and things to do, I immediately had to adjust to the new non-plane environment and was flooded with thoughts that I might not encounter on a normal day. I can only hope that each new day and each new month continues to bring these types of novel thoughts and room for growth and introspection.

Question 3: What are some aspects of your routine now (daily/weekly) that you think should be changed (for health reasons, stress, etc.) and what are some things you do that you would recommend to someone else? What are a couple things you would want to add to your routine to enhance your lifestyle?

My life has been in flux over the last six months after I moved back to Chicago from South Korea. A lot of my time and energy was invested in the move and my readjustment. I had to find a job, make a plan for the future, and reconnect with loads of people here while figuring out how to stay connected to people far away as well. In general, I am very proud of myself for how I maintain relationships in my life and the amount of energy and interest I put into these relationships. I feel like I am able to make time for people even when others might use the copout of being ‘busy’ to avoid making or following through with plans. I am still trying to find a balance in my work/life time and I hope to find better ways to stay energized to do exercise, hobbies, and other day-to-day items without feeling like the next day of work is looming. There are certain activities that I want to reintroduce into my schedule like yoga and cooking that are important to being autonomous and functional, so that is a priority for me. Let’s see where the year takes me and just how many things I can accomplish.

February 29, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of February and what caused you to feel that way?)

Every four years, we are given a magical 29th day in the month of February. Leap Day appeals to me from a scientific perspective because the Earth actually revolves around the sun in 365.25 days and Leap Day is like our societal calendar’s safety net for staying on track with the celestial plan.  2020 is already a year that I don’t think I’ll be forgetting in the near future, but Leap Day made it even a little more special. 

I began Leap Day already out and about in Chicago in the wee hours of the morning/late night.  It’s been interesting for me to balance work and a social life while adjusting to my new job so far, even more so because living in the suburbs complicates the scheduling of my Chicago plans. When the clock struck midnight to signify the start of Leap Day, I was in Boystown with my friend Michael, his friend Drew who was visiting from Idaho, Michael’s coworkers, and another good friend, Nicole. The bar started filling up as Leap Day got underway, but our group’s energy changed from bar energy quickly to apartment couch energy. Drew had maybe imbibed a little too much, and since the outing was mostly for him, we decided to go back to Nicole’s apartment in Lakeview to end the night.

         There was no way we could head home without making a stop at the 7-11 across the street from the bar, so Nicole and I went in to get snacks while Michael stopped Drew from wandering off into the night. I bought two pints of Ben & Jerry’s (one for me and one to donate to Nicole’s freezer) and the 7-11 clerk had probably never given anyone else such a judgmental look in her whole life. I didn’t even mind because I never have regrets when it comes to ice cream.  When we returned to Nicole’s place, I was happy to see her cat Paul enthusiastically waiting for us at the door. These kinds of nights help replenish my energy when I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed like I have been recently due to work. I think it’s really important to plan quality time like this with friends and be able to read the energy of not only yourself, but the group as well.  We had fun staying out, but also knew when to go back and end the night with snacks, couch cuddling, trashy reality tv shows (shout out to Love Island) and Mario Party.

         After waking up on Saturday to officially kick off Leap Day, never have I had a day be more exemplary of how I balance non-stop and go-with-the-flow in my schedule. I woke up specifically to Paul, the cat, hovering over my face clearly up to no good. Normally I’d be alarmed by such a furry presence appearing so suddenly in my face, but I’d already survived living with one monster cat in Denmark. Nicole and I continued watching the sloppy season of Love Island well into the morning before I headed out to have brunch with my dodgeball team. I enjoy getting to know my teammates outside the *intensity* of the games and the brunch was actually quite fun. However, I want to vent a little about what I see as a larger societal problem of people depending on alcohol to enjoy social settings. I’m not a heavy drinker and I’ve always been able to create my own happiness and contentment without relying on alcohol, despite acknowledging it helps me loosen up occasionally. In no way am I judging specific people for how they choose to spend their time, but I wish it felt like less of a weekly weekend routine to drink and make plans that center on drinking. There’s my PSA for the month, but I’m starting to realize this kind of behavior is tied to the American working lifestyle and I myself am trying not to slip into similar habits.

         After the brunch (that somehow raged on until 4pm), I had one key plan left for Leap Day night and it may be one of the stranger events I’ve ever attended. My mom’s high school friend is the owner of a popular bar in Chicago called The Hideout and they sponsored a Square Dance event at the Irish-American Heritage Center.  Don’t try too hard to process the previous sentence because the event was simply random. My mom’s friends from high school, people she’s been close with for almost 50 years, came and I had a blast interacting with them and seeing how their close bonds have lasted and grown for decades. I can only hope that my friendships continue on like that when I sit down and ponder the path I’ve navigated getting to 60 years old. 

Overall, I’d say Leap Day was a really good step into spring. Well more than a step, I guess I could say I line-danced into March, but I’ll leave the puns for when I’m older and more versed in dad jokes.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

If you saw me out tonight, you’d say, “Wow, he’s tall and somehow both awkward and kind of rhythmic at the same time.” Hopefully you’d mention my energy and see me enjoying myself with friends, despite not always feeling comfortable in bars or social settings. I try to be respectful of others’ space, but I apologize if I’m feeling myself too much and one of my lanky appendages accidently hits you. I hope you made eye contact with me and remember my smile, because I was genuinely enjoying time with my friends and I think people should smile at each other more often.

If you saw me at the 7-11, that ice cream I bought was well-deserved after a long week of work. I’ve been more stressed out lately than I’ve been in a long time and please allow me time while I figure out the best ways to deal with my stress. If you met me at brunch, I really tried my best to talk to you and give you my time and attention. I don’t always come out of my shell in social situations, but I try to push past my reservations when possible. If you want to make me feel comfortable, then approach with a smile and know that I’m an open book. I don’t try to front as someone I’m not and I’m working on being less judgmental in general.

If you saw me at my mom’s friend’s house in Evanston, then you saw me in a really good spot. I admire my mom’s friend group and my parents in general. Although we disagree over a lot of small things, I don’t think they’ll ever understand how much I appreciate and respect them.

If you saw me at the square dance event, I hope you weren’t scarred by my dancing. I had no expectations that night, but I enjoyed it so much. Dancing gives me energy and I sometimes think I hold myself back because of my height and size; I’ve spent so much energy trying not to take up space, so I’m starting to understand it’s okay to take up an appropriate amount of space. There’s something magical about being able to enjoy yourself with a huge group of unfamiliar people and I did my best to immerse myself in the moment.

Dear stranger, I hope you enjoyed Leap Day and hope for good things to come moving forward.

Question 3: Two paths diverge in a yellow wood… which do you choose? One winds into a dark canopy headed towards a beautiful valley, and the other heads straight for the top of the mountain. Choose wisely 😉

There are two paths, two choices, but only one seems right to me. If the wood is yellow, it must be getting colder outside; nature has a way of telling us when it’s almost time to hibernate and prepare for the harshness of winter ahead. So, given my natural propensity to feel cold and not regulate heat very well, there’s no way I’d head to the top of that mountain. The dark canopy may seem scary at first, but it sounds more appealing to me than freezing to death at the top of a mountain. And once I’ve made it through the canopy, the beautiful valley may still show signs of warmer-weather life for weeks and weeks to come.  These types of choices will arise often, and as much as I’d like to choose with my heart, I think too much to not choose with my head. If the two paths diverged in a lush, green tropical rainforest, I’d be much more inclined to head to the top of that mountain and enjoy the view.  For now, I’ll lead with my head (at least in hypothetical scenarios where it’s easier to).

March 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of March and what caused you to feel that way?)

I started off March 31 with meetings, Zoom being a daily staple during this work-from-home era. It’s been over three full weeks of work days straight from the living room with no signs of this virus shutdown slowing down yet. One of the biggest challenges for me has been finding a work-life balance now that work has latched on even deeper into my normal routine at home. It’s also been a process for me to feel comfortable with the work and environment of my new job. Consulting is very fast paced and time intensive, so even as much of the country is slowing down economically, I surprisingly haven’t felt a lot of that. Every day I have a long to-do list and enough to keep me busy for the entire week. I’d say that normally my time management skills are pretty good, but it’s hard for me knowing that all I need is more time to adjust and assimilate.

The last day of March specifically feels like a good indication of how I’m still working to overcome feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, obligation to be working, etc. with my new full-time schedule. My first meeting of the day was with a large group of TV network VP’s, which I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Three months ago I was technically unemployed and now I’m an integral part of a large national corporate initiative.  We are now in the busiest phase of this project and we continue to have follow-up meetings for follow ups, mad rushes to finalize design documents, and a lot of client stress and frustrating indecision on their part.  Our team is doing our best to facilitate this project for the client and to accommodate their needs and wants, but I’m still learning about how unique (and political) client relationships can be.

In particular I feel like I’m learning a lot, but there’s still a long way to go. I am trying to be more patient with myself in processing and executing tasks that are given to me that don’t come easily or quickly.  By the end of today, I’d focused too much on all the things that were assigned to me and the stress got to me. They want me to teach myself HTML coding and design something with no prior knowledge of that and no instruction?!  I’ve learned that it’s always better to sleep on it and wake up the next morning refreshed and tackling problems from a new angle.  I shut down early, not wanting to expend any more mental energy on stress than I already had today.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

Here are some haikus to describe my final day of March 2020:

I woke up today

To work from home yet again

What a strange routine

Log in to Zoom now

The life of a consultant

Meetings never cease

The work day’s over

Yet my to-dos are many

Stop. Must sleep on it

Constant waffling thoughts

Am I doing all I can

To succeed in this?

Question 3: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from social distancing?

I.e., Thoughts about how to feel connected during this time/How are you spending all this (presumably more than before) downtime?/How do you feel about the worldwide impact of COVID19?

My biggest takeaway from social distancing and the COVID-19 pandemic lifestyle is that I can deal with this unnatural and almost movie-like scenario and not let it affect me too much mentally.  I’ve kept busy and still managed to be productive and not feel too alone, but I noticed it’s taking a toll in other ways.  I still need to be deliberate and make time for exercise and to not channel all my stress and pent-up energy into work. I also want to make sure that I’m spending ample time on my hobbies and the things that normally keep me sane.

Not having the option to play sports and meet people outside is one of the most challenging aspects of this. I’m used to being active and running around to recharge myself; COVID-19 has taken that away from me until it’s safe and comfortable meeting others in public again.  I think this situation has given me extra time for certain things, but I miss socializing, dating, exploring, and all the other things that are fun about living in a complex society.

I’m fortunate to keep my job throughout this crisis (as are my parents and brother), and it sucks to see how the world is suffering. The worst part is that we’re forced to sink even deeper into the hole of technology while we wait for the virus to slow its spread. Normally, people can congregate in public to address societal problems, but this pandemic is forcing everyone to be more creative in how to overcome large-scale unemployment, recession, and healthcare inequality.

I am hopeful that 2020 will start to rebound by at least the late summer, but a lot of that hope involves me putting blind faith into people.  People should be staying home and respecting the severity of the situation, but I’m not sure if everyone grasps that.  Well, I’ll take a step back now and continue to plug away at my goals, but there’s no telling where 2020 will leave us.

April 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of April and what caused you to feel that way?)

As quarantine continues on as this undefined period of being trapped in the house and looking for new ways to fight boredom and be productive, I wouldn’t say I’m doing all that badly.  The month of April has been stressful and busy, but I’m through the worst of it and made it out alive (more like May-ed it out).  Something I’ve always dealt with in work is needing to feel like I’ve put as much effort into something as possible in order to think of it as complete. I can be detail oriented and meticulous, but this sometimes leads to me spending too much time on something that shouldn’t take long at all. 

I enjoy being thorough and this has translated well to learning and mastering elements of my new job, but sometimes efficiency is much more important. Time really is money and the paradox of quarantine is finding ways to use all the time we have to be productive, maintain mental health, and get all of our s**t done.  Today is one of the first days since working from home in quarantine when I felt like I was starting to regain the work-life balance that I’m comfortable with.  Most days this month I was in meetings for hours and had so much work on my plate that I felt like I didn’t have time to even go outside for a walk or take a 30-min mental health break. And now, FINALLY, after a very grueling phase of our project, I have recaptured control over time and scheduling in my health.

The greatest part of today was a one-hour Zoom call in the middle of the afternoon. And no, it was not one of my many client meetings. However, I did block out the time on my calendar in order to make sure no one could double book that time slot (hehe, sneaky me).  My good friend Laura, also the mastermind behind a two-year research study I was part of in Korea, defended her PhD thesis; the coolest part of hearing her inspirational presentation was being able to relive aspects of my life in Korea through her reliving our shared research moments.  Laura’s project focused on how first-time english teachers in Korea come to find their teaching identities and how the process can be guided by shared reflection.  Hearing Laura tell our stories, the Fulbright ETA collective story, was truly a special way to break up my increasingly predictable work day. 

This also relates to the thing that is keeping me most sane through all of this 2020 madness, the ability to maintain long-term quality relationships with the people I care about the most.  And the greatest part is to the extent that the previous sentence is a superlative, I can still continue to make new meaningful relationships and care about those the most too. I’ve now stopped making sense, which means it’s time for dinner and a break.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

At exactly 2pm I hopped on a Zoom call right in the middle of the workday and I didn’t even have to say a word.  The theme of today’s call was listening and appreciating the hard work that my friend Laura had put into her research.  Laura’s completion and subsequent defense of her PhD was really a beautiful and proud moment for me to witness. When I first moved to Korea in 2017, I joined Laura’s research group with no clue how much of a difference it would make in growing into my teaching job and embracing Korean culture and education. Over two years, we bonded over meals and end-of-semester interviews and really supported each other as we worked to integrate and thrive within our schools. And it all came full circle today as Laura not only completed her education but also spoke on behalf of all of us who at some point struggled with identity and trying to feel competent. It was a beautiful homage to our experiences and the critical eye that people should use when trying to better themselves and feel more connected to their environments.   

Question 3: If you could choose one musical artist that you believe everyone should listen to critically at least once, who would it be and why?

Lauv — One of my friends once described my music taste by saying that I have an obsession with soaring ethereal voices. I think she meant soaring as in hitting all the high notes, but part of it also relates to how the melodies soar and tug at the heartstrings. I use music as one of the main ways I process emotion and express myself. Artists who really connect with their music and their listeners on an emotional level inspire to try to be more in touch with my emotions. 

I chose Lauv as the artist I believe everyone should listen to, specifically the song ‘Breathe’. Something about the longing and hope in his voice is a beautiful mixture of emotion that I myself am still trying to access within my own experiences. His music has become more and more popular recently, but I’ll never forget hearing one of his songs for the first time while running around Champaign-Urbana. And then when I was able to see him live in Seoul, South Korea I’ve never felt more at peace with the world. Listen to his stuff and tell me it doesn’t conjure up memories of all the amazing people you know and have ever known.

May 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of May and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today was one of the first weekend days in a long time that didn’t feel restricted by quarantine. Illinois is undergoing a five-stage plan for re-opening and we’re currently in stage 3 ‘recovery’. The overall Restore Illinois plan was meant to flatten the curve and slow the spread of Covid-19, but times are strange and I feel like we all have a lot more that we need to ‘recover’ from. 

I woke up early with plans to head back into the city and actually do things with other people, which sounds idiotic as I type it out but this kind of simple day-to-day occurrence felt almost impossible a couple of months ago.  It’s strange to be in a city of over three million people and see people confused about whether to wear masks or not, indecisive (or ambivalent) about what their social responsibility and how to feel fulfilled. 

For me, playing tennis has been one of the best ways to stay active and have an outlet for my energy. It doesn’t feel great to be cooped up and I think most people now know how hard it is to feel trapped and anxious. The sun on a bright spring day, the calm breeze of Lake Michigan, and the ability to play tennis with friends I haven’t seen since the start of March all combined to provide a great release for my stress.

However, even as we start to recover from Covid, which will take a long time, there are other events that continue to push society to evolve and grow and recover in other ways. The quarantine period has made it feel like time is at a standstill. Well the caveat being… a standstill for all of us who are fortunate enough to be able to work from home and hole ourselves away from the disease. But the truth is that there are plenty of people who have continued going to work and can’t afford to stay home or have their business/job shut down.

After I left tennis in Roger’s Park (northern Chicago), I was making my way downtown (insert Vanessa Carlton pun here) and faces certainly were not passing quickly. All of Lake Shore Drive was shut down due to protests and looting that were occurring in response to recent police violence against black citizens. George Floyd was yet another victim of police violence and ingrained racism and to me, it’s wild that the madness of the world continues on even as we’re all collectively facing an invisible enemy like the novel coronavirus.  

I finally arrived in Gold Coast after a lengthy drive down smaller streets and I was surprised to see everyone acting so cavalier, walking their dogs and enjoying the sunshine. Just last night, stores had been looted and gatherings had gotten pretty incited, but you’d never be able to tell in the light of day. I spent the afternoon with a potential romantic interest (who I had met before the quarantine period) and it was simultaneously nice to remember that normal growing pains like dating still existed and weird to think that things may be returning to “normal” after a 2.5 month stall.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

The sun shone brightly all over Chicago, but not bright enough to magically light up a Chicago street parking spot for my benefit. Thanks to my usual tardiness and the collective want of Chicagoans to finally get outside again, I was only a mere 20 minutes late to my tennis date.

And after the tennis date, I managed to even have a real date. I don’t know why I would play tennis first and then go hang out with a guy I’ve been interested in for a while all sweaty and gross (maybe I’m subconsciously self-sabotaging). At this stage of life and this point in societal growth and change, I don’t know what’s normal for dating anymore. I’m also not sure what I really want out of it, but hopefully the second half of the year will give me some clarity that I need to be more productive with my dating life.

Long story short, I’ll keep trying with dating and putting myself out there (as much as I can), but tennis will be my main focus for now.

Question 3: What’s on your “quarantine ending/life returning to normal” bucket list and what are unique things on your overall life bucket list?

Quarantine Ending Bucket List

  • Take a cooking class with Michael and successfully make something edible
  • Take a trip out the west coast (Oregon) with close friends and relax along the beach for a week
  • Explore Chicago (because I’m probably moving :D)
  • Spend more quality time with the people I love
  • All-you-can-eat Korean bbq in Chicago

Life Bucket List

  • Learn more languages and continue improving Korean and Spanish
  • Learn how to love and accept love
  • Join more activities and talk to people with more than just small talk
  • Figure out how I can best use my talents to shape the world and my own path and happiness

June 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of June and what caused you to feel that way?)

The year is halfway over and I’m starting to be more at peace with the state of the world. By that I don’t mean I’m satisfied with the way things are in every sense of the word, but it doesn’t feel like everything is slipping wildly out of control anymore. Across the U.S. Covid cases are rising (due to everyone’s bull-headed notion that they’re invincible), but things are gradually opening up here and I’m having more opportunities to interact with others. I’m also making some life moves (including my impending physical move to a new apartment in Chicago) and these changes keep me motivated to push forward.

My job is nothing to rave about, however it presents several interesting trains of thought for me to ponder. I feel like I’ve learned a lot, and not only in terms of consulting subject matter or procurement in general. The most value has come from learning about the strange ways that people communicate in corporate America. The successes, the failures, the inefficiencies, the shortcuts. People spend a lot of time in the day trying to be productive and finish what they’re tasked to accomplish, but it seems like that are better ways to run a business than what I’ve been exposed to so far.  It takes a lot of energy to dig down to someone’s essence and plug into what makes them uniquely motivated and special, but taking that time and energy is the key I’ve found to success in my life so far. 

Today I continued working on a task that is immensely laborious and makes me want to throw my computer at the wall, but I think I’m fairly competent at getting through things that other people wouldn’t want to take the time to do.  My prize for sticking with it today was going out to eat in a restaurant for the first time in almost four months! 

I met up with one of my old coworkers from the mosquito lab back in Champaign and it was really nice to reconnect in person, especially given the lack of social interaction I’ve had in recent months. We talked and ate garlic-heavy lobster rolls (strange enough coming from the heart of the Midwest) and our dinner lasted almost 3 and ½ hours on a Tuesday night.  I forget often how these little distractions and unplanned interactions can make a long day feel worthwhile, so I’m extremely excited to return to a daily routine where anything is possible.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I wake up some days with an immense energy and longing to go out and tackle the world. I wake up other days with a slow-leaving lethargy that weighs me down until my brain is awake. When I’m assigned to do something, I want to do it well to the extent that I can. I’ve been working on some testing scripts for my job lately and there are many ways to cut corners and copy previously existing material to get the job done, but I want there to be a little Nathan stamp on my finished product. The hardest thing is making sure I have enough energy and drive left at the end of the day to keep pushing forward with my personal projects and hobbies too.

Question 3: Describe something that you believe in, but there’s no concrete proof of that thing/idea existing (you don’t have to justify the belief).

What makes you continue to believe in it? The feeling? The principle behind it?  Someone else instilled the belief in you? Elaborate in your own way. 🙂

There are some things, many things actually, that feel better being left unexplained.  It’s hard to pinpoint the time in someone’s life that they have definitively formed their values and belief system, but everyone comes to believe in something and live their life according to what they find right and wrong or valuable and unnecessary.  One thing that I’ve always believed in, for no rhyme or reason, is magic and destiny. The amount of mental energy I put out into the world has always come back with interest. And when I direct a large amount of mental energy and thought toward a specific person, it always seems to reach them one way or another. 

At my core, I’m probably a hardcore romantic and that plays into my notion of destiny as well. The idea that two souls can become intertwined through the mere chance of becoming acquainted, then growing together, and ending in a total commitment to the other soul. It’s romance on a whole other level and something that I strive for.

There’s nothing sexier than taking the time to get to know someone on a level that implies a complete understanding of their essence.  

July 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of July and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today was a good way to finish one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in my entire life. Not only do I have a seemingly endless list of work stuff, but my dad also had surgery yesterday morning, my brother moved to California earlier this week, I’m in the process of moving into the city, and there was a visitation for a girl I went to high school with that took her own life last week. There are definitely times (they seem to come in waves) where life events pile up and I’m smack-dab in the middle of one right now.  But, despite all the chaos the week has ended on a positive, albeit a little guilty, but definitely positive note.

My friend Tanya is getting married in the time of Covid and despite the rules and social distancing, she’s still finding ways to celebrate her love with friends and family. The wedding is technically tomorrow, but tonight there was a pre-wedding dinner party out in Naperville. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a wedding or any social gathering at this time, so you won’t be shocked when I arrived at the house to find a large tent and a fairly big group of people already gathered outside. I was already hesitant to go to the wedding, but I decided that I should still be able to find ways to spend time with loved ones and celebrate all our milestones. 

It made me happy to be around people and share in all the positive energy of the event, but I was definitely uncomfortable seeing people without masks on at all times and doing things like dancing in close quarters that we’ve been told to avoid for the last 5 months.  I feel like I’ve been really responsible thus far and hope that choosing to go to this wedding isn’t a bad decision.  Overall, this weekend is about change and celebrating our lives and I think the happiness of the moment will outweigh the Covid guilt or potential risk of virus spread.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

Picture this, a tent in the middle of a big suburban backyard. The grass is lush green, the kind that comes with summer rainstorms and a dedicated family watering effort. A big white tent stands tall next to a wooden deck that winds down to ground level from the house’s second floor. The wooden stairs leading up to the deck are decorated with pretty lights for the pre-wedding dinner. Some people are wearing masks and some are walking around with big smiles clearly visible, not something you see often in public in the time of Covid.  

About ⅔ of the guests are wedding colorful Indian clothing and I’m reminded of how unique this wedding experience will be for me.  I feel excited to see the bride and her friends and family and celebrate her blossoming future and remember all the fun times we had back in college. After a few glasses of sangria, I’m ready to dance to the Punjabi music – I don’t understand the lyrics, but the music has a reliable rhythm and everyone finds it easy to dance. 

I’m not sure how everyone feels individually, but I find it hard to not feel irresponsible being surrounded by so many people I don’t know.  I wear a mask for much of the night, but I do take it off to eat and drink and remember what it’s like to not live away from other people. The summer comes and goes and the white tent will be gone by the end of the week, but the memories of this night will stand out amidst the year of craziness.

Question 3: When do you feel most social and comfortable around others? Covid has taken away a lot of opportunities to be around the people we love, but what are some qualities about another person (that you know or don’t know) or situations that make you feel like you can be yourself?

I’ve never struggled to be myself around others over the long term, but sometimes I do find it hard to be comfortable with someone the first time I meet them. It depends on the vibe in the room and the energy I’m able to muster up. The one thing that always helps me feel comfortable is something extremely intangible. Certain people seem to have an inner light inside them that shines through in their personality, and this is something I’ve always latched onto.  The light is better expressed as a capacity to make genuine connections with others and channel their energy into a conversation or a relationship.

August 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of August and what caused you to feel that way?)

The summer is almost over and it feels as if it never arrived.  A month into the new Chicago apartment life, I feel really good about my decision to move.  Thinking back to one year ago, I was still gainfully unemployed and contemplating a return to Korea.  Fast forward 12 months and we’re living through a global pandemic, BUT I’m finally out of Western Springs.  There was nothing wrong about being at home and being with family again, but I just felt in my heart that it was time to move on and make for a change.  One of the aspects of living abroad that I miss was the constant effort I was putting in to grow and maintain my solo lifestyle.  Now living in Chicago, I can regain more of that feeling of independence and start to make strides in other aspects of my life.

Though the pandemic is still fully in motion, mentally I’m so much more at peace with the whole situation than I was just months before.  One of my motivations for moving out, whether I actively thought about it or not, was wanting to put myself out there again and try to date.  It’s definitely not easy to make new connections during the quarantine, but being at home made it all the more challenging.  It’s definitely nice to be in the city and feel the energy of all the people around – even if everyone is more pent up than they normally would be.  Though the summer is on the way out, the sun is still rising over my Chicago life.  Let’s see if 2020 can still be turned around through sheer force of will power.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

Good evening, beautiful stranger.  Today was another day of wonder and splendor, magic and uh… well it was a Monday.  Nothing can mask the familiar feeling of waking up on a Monday to the long week ahead.  It’s interesting hearing people at work always making jokes about working and just surviving the long days.  Nothing makes me feel older than having to listen to the predictably repeatable jokes that everyone makes about being busy and overworked.  The funny thing is that no matter how crazy (at times) my teaching experience was in Korea, I never felt like I was just constantly working toward the weekend.

And now in the present, I didn’t think that I’d always be feeling that way either, but the whole effect of 2020 has forced me to make sacrifices.  Sacrifices to quell my desires to go out and explore, to meet people, to live the way I want to live. But these are the times when sacrifice is important and I don’t mind making adjustments (as hard as they may be).  And despite the craziness of the year, I think that I’ll be able to keep adjusting and staying happy by leaning on my friends and loved ones.  The month of August may be over, but the last quarter of the year may prove to be the best opportunity to turn things around.

Question 3: Since we’ve all been writing our monthly reflections as if we were sharing them with a stranger, what’s the best recommendation you could give to a stranger and why? Make it an uncommon one, something that they probably wouldn’t already be exposed to.

2020 is the year of strangeness, but not very conducive to meeting strangers.  When I do get a chance to meet some new people, I try to share and connect as much as possible because it’s hard not to miss human interaction.  People normally like to recommend the music they like or recipes, but I’ll go a little out of the box with this one.

Have you ever tried going to a Korean bathhouse?  It might be uncomfortable at first – with the whole being naked aspect and all – however, it’s one of the most refreshing and reviving experiences out there.  You move from pool (of water) to pool and are able to try different temperatures and water pressures.  There are also saunas and other specialty rooms like salt rooms and cold rooms.  I highly recommend going to one when it’s easier to access those kinds of public places again.

On another note, try to just get out there and do things that you think you’re bad at.  The other night I spent two hours trying to learn a K-pop dance from the music video and I had a blast dancing my heart away.  Don’t be complacent with doing things you already know you enjoy and excel at, but rather try to force yourself into the discomfort of seeking out new experiences.

September 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of September and what caused you to feel that way?)

Some weeks during Covid blend together to create blurs of time, holes in my memory where it becomes difficult to distinguish one day from the next.  Today, September 30, 2020 however, was one of the exceptions.  First of all, it just so happens to be two of my cousins’ birthdays.  Last night was also the first presidential debate leading up to the election in a month’s time.  It was tough to see the way both men were acting and ever harder to imagine that such behavior was reflective of the highest station achievable in our country.  I spent the first half of the day mentally recovering from whatever choice words anyone might have for that debate.  

Around mid afternoon, I had a scheduled performance review with my managers and it was nice to finally get to talk to all of the people at my company who I work under (some more than others).  For a while I’ve received positive feedback and been working hard to contribute as much as possible to my projects, but I’ve been waiting to see when I’d be able to take the next step and move up to the Consultant position.  I’m on the verge of growth within the company and also feel like I’m on the verge of being ready to pursue the next step professionally.  I’m more comfortable now with the idea of taking on responsibility and trying to make a bigger change in the world.

After work and still with the lingering positivity from my review, I went out on a fall run with Michael.  We both try to encourage each other to get out and breathe the fresh autumn air after work, and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Running around the city, I always feel like great things are out there to uncover, if we just open our eyes and other senses.  Going along that same line of thinking, I’ve been putting myself out there recently – out in the dating pool that is.  I took myself off the market for the first months of Covid, but now I feel like I’m ready to feel out the energy of the city and hopefully make a meaningful connection.  IT’s easy to feel holed up and siloed away during this year, but being open to dates is a reminder that the world continues on and I can still develop and grow despite the wild traumas of 2020.

At the end of the day, I wasn’t expecting it to take any other turns, but again I was proven wrong.  I normally don’t get calls from my mom at 11:20pm, so I knew something was off right away.  And unfortunately, when my mom told me that my grandma had passed away, I already knew deep down.  I had visited her just days before and seen how ready she was (her body truly just a vessel at that point) to pass along peacefully.  I sang the Five for Fighting song ‘100 Years’ and although she didn’t show any signs of recognition, I think the music was able to get through somehow.  As the year goes on, I feel like I’m becoming more connected to my thoughts and emotions and I know in my heart that life is ours for the taking.  By the end of 2020, I want to be proud of the choices I’ve made and the person I continue to become.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

To the strangers out there listening, looking at me from behind their face masks, potentially judging or potentially curious because we have far less opportunities to interact with people we don’t know well, I have this to say.  Today was an emotional rollercoaster, but I made it through in one piece.

Through the good and the bad, the simple pleasure of enjoying a nice fall day to the poignant jolt when my mom called me to tell me of my grandma’s passing, we continue to face 2020 head on.  With such an unprecedented year, we must keep going as if it were normal, with our heads held high and our minds very open.  *With the additional care and precaution that comes with surviving a pandemic of course

Question 3: When you close your eyes and pause your heavy thoughts for 30 seconds, what do you see?  Where does your mind take you when you finally get a chance to slow down and breathe?  Where do you want to go and what might be holding you back from reaching that place?

When I close my eyes, the colors come and go in soothing waves.  I stare up at the ceiling, past my eyelids, past my ceiling, to the places I wish I were right now if only I could be.  I can be.  I go to the random city streets of Korea pretending I’m still there finding my way in the world.  I go to the coast of Menorca where I’m living out my predestined love story.  I go to places not that aren’t that far away, but in times that feel a lifetime ago.  And what’s holding me back from actually visiting these places?  The pressure of living a life that the world makes us want to live, when I know I’ve already lived the way I want to and should continue to.  The only thing blocking me from reaching that place is me.  Fear and indecision and me.  And Covid.

October 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of October and what caused you to feel that way?)

This is Halloween. This is Halloween. Halloween. Halloween. Covid Halloween. The month of October has been very different from the rest of the year for multiple reasons, namely all the days off work I’ve had for both short weekend trips and also family reasons. I expected Halloween to be a brief opportunity to visit friends and try to regain some semblance of normalcy and culture for 2020, but again the fates threw a curveball into the year’s plan.  

I spent most of the day at home out of necessity to rest my ankle and also a short quarantine.  Not only did I sprain my ankle during my recent trip to Kentucky  (and the swelling is down from the size of a baseball to something much more manageable), but Michael was also exposed to Covid earlier this week at work.  With the number of cases rising drastically and no test results back yet, the only option was to relax this weekend and wait until we confirmed our negative status.

It’s been a battle internally to determine how to position myself to be responsible and respect the nature of the virus that’s turned our year and society upside down while also respecting my need to be social and spend time with people.  Staying in this weekend was definitely the right decision, but it mentally takes a toll to miss out on social opportunities, especially when I’m already physically hindered and trying to heal my ankle.

The end of the year is fast approaching and my mind is quickly chasing down these last 2020 milestones.  The presidential election, holidays without gathering and without grand festivities, and the end of a year of downward spirals.  There has got to be a way to do it all, but I haven’t quite found that perfect recipe yet.  Step one is to heal and recover physically, step two is to follow up with good habits and feel comfortable with myself and everything going on, and step three is to keep executing my future plan and moving forward.  Cheers to forward progress.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

Dear stranger, it’s the spookiest night of the year and I’m bundled under a blanket watching Hereditary with my roommate.  It’s been a day of roasting pumpkin seeds, drinking hot tea, rekindling the passion of playing video games, crisp fall air, and icing an injured ankle.  I’ve been having more angsty days recently and am not afraid to talk about it, but there must be a point when I can channel the angst into something productive to deal with it.  That time is coming, but I have a little more self exploration left to fully figure out what my next steps will be.  The biggest source of stress is Covid and not adapting my lifestyle in the best way to deal with everything, but work is definitely up there as well.  It’s such a strange feeling to be complimented for doing something that doesn’t ignite any fires in you and almost feels transactional.  Maybe with the end of 2020, we’ll see some big changes in the life of Nathan.

Question 3: Describe a person that you vividly remember seeing on the street or in passing, but never met.  What do you remember the most about them and write a little story about their life – what do they do, what are they like and what makes them uniquely them?

I remember this guy that I once started chatting up on an app and we then added each other on Instagram.  What a millennial love story hehe.  But actually, we never met in person and to this day I only occasionally make short comments on one of his interesting Story posts that happens to pop up.  I do not know him and he does not know me, but I vividly can imagine what his life is like and how his aura interacts with the world around him.

It’s interesting how dating takes some of that personality away from us because of the immense amount of expectation we put on ourselves to be someone that others will like.  I can tell he’s into plants.  He likes nature and frolicking outside.  He likes baking and trying new recipes, especially during quarantine season.  There’s a book on his nightstand table and others on his coffee table.  He’s got a great group of friends that support him in his quest to become a doctor and excel at his hobbies.  He’s probably put romance on the back burner while he focuses on building a career.  There’s a twinkle in his eyes when he stares down a scrumptious looking cheesecake.

These are all things I can assume about him, but I’ll never know.  And he’ll never know about my quirkiness or eclectic tastes and random talents.

November 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of November and what caused you to feel that way?)

‘Tis the end of ‘No Shame November’.  Is that right?  Something sounds a little off, but I’ll stick with it. The 11th month of the year has come and gone just like the ten before it and I can definitively say that I feel like a different man.  I’ve started to make habits that are good for me and decisions that I know will benefit me long term.  The rehabbing of my ankle is going well and all these 7am PT sessions are getting me out of bed earlier than my work from home lifestyle has been forcing me to.  My end of work day ab workouts have me feeling stronger each day, like I’m working toward the best version of myself.

Thinking about change and the future carries me through these testing moments of my career and these darkening winter months.  On the other side of all of this I’ll be ready for a new adventure and a path toward achieving the balance of work, life, and maintaining meaningful relationships that I’ve slowly been building up for years now.  

This section will be an easter egg for future Nathan, but I’m also the closest I’ve ever been to finding someone I could legitimately envision spending the rest of my life with. And the crazy thing is that it doesn’t seem all that crazy to me. I’ve always thought that things happen for a reason, when they happen to happen.  Who would have thought that a byproduct of this unprecedented year of social distancing and giving each other space that I might come out on the other side with a strong relationship?  Just like you, I too will have to wait and see how this continues to unfold over the next few months, but I may quickly be finding a good reason to not leave Chicago at the end of my lease next summer.  

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

[Dear stranger, here’s a poem to describe the warmth I’ve felt recently when thinking about a certain someone.] 

I woke up today remembering my dream, somewhat of a strange one.

Stranger yet that I roll over and can share it with you, unexpectedly right there.

It’s early and the sleepies are blinding my right eye, but 

I still see the outline of your face, accented by your dark facial hair.

And I can’t help but smile wondering how we got here.

Then you open your eyes and smile back and there’s no way I’ll ever fall

Back asleep when you’ve got my heart racing like this.

Question 3: If you had all the resources possible (time, money, motivation, etc), what are some things you would do or learn to do? Make a list.

Jared Diamond taught me that resources are what make the world go around and can either make or break a civilization.  When you boil it all down to all the intricate little ways that life plays out for an individual person, we have to account for times in our lives when resources (in some capacity) are scarce.  However, if I had unlimited resources in terms of money, TIME, and opportunity, these are some of the things that I would do.

  • Go back and re-learn all of my Spanish and Korean grammar and vocabulary
  • Then talk sexy in multiple languages
  • Write monthly letters to my favorite people around the world
  • Travel abroad to visit friends in countries like Spain, Korea, the UK, and Colombia
  • Run and play tennis or do an ab workout every single day
  • Cook a new recipe every other day
  • Build my own furniture (bookshelves or a coffee table)
  • Record music to upload on a regular basis
  • Write a book and really develop the plot in ways that can only come from deep deep thought 
  • Create little art project books for friends and family
  • Undertake the writing projects I started with friends and feed off each other’s creativity
  • Take cooking classes and impress the instructor
  • Spend more time learning how to invest and manage my money
  • Journal every day
  • Learn and improve at a new sport
  • Play in intramural sports leagues and satisfy my competitive hunger
  • Explore the city with friends and/or boo thang

December 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of 2020 and what caused you to feel that way?)

We’ve made it to the end of 2020!  It seems like the popular trend has been to shit on everything that’s happened this year and lament everything that should’ve but didn’t even have the chance to happen.  And even stranger, of all the things I wouldn’t expect to happen given the majority time spent isolating this year, I’ve happened upon my second relationship.  Having a boyfriend has never been a priority of mine, but I do think of navigating serious relationships as a sign of maturity and self-awareness.

I woke up today at his place; Harry lives in the South Loop, an area that I’ve become a lot more familiar with in recent months.  I can’t tell you how nice it is to wake up to the sun streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows on the 24th floor.  What a stark contrast to my small cramped bedroom in our characteristically aged Lincoln Park house.  I knew 2021 would start off well given that I had a few days to ease into the year without stressing about work or feeling like I had to accomplish anything productive.

After a reflective New Year’s Eve morning and some lunch with Harry, I decided to bike back to my place on a Divvy.  It was masochistic to ride one of those clunkers halfway across the city over frozen, slick roads wearing my obnoxiously large and insulated down coat, but no pain no pleasure, right?  On the bike ride I sweated out all the toxins of 2020 in preparation for a hard reboot.  Over the course of a wild year my mind and body, my attitude and essence ended up slightly out of whack, but there’s always a chance to realign.  

The rest of the day I spent grocery shopping for a 2020 NYE extravaganza (aka video games, dinner, and some holiday libations with a close friend, Vincent).  It didn’t feel right ending the year with no celebration even though we knew we weren’t going to be doing anything overly social or actually extravagant.  Beating a tough Sekiro boss, playing a manic round of Overcooked overshadowed by Michael’s onslaught of throwing tomatoes, and having sips of a strange newly discovered chocolate wine was the perfect end to a very imperfect year.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

(In the form of a limerick)

Through twelve months there has been so much change

Loss of freedom and hope, oh how strange

Near the end of it all

Although hurt, did not fall

To our future, ‘bout time we arrange

Question 3: This year has been the most consequential year of our lifetimes. What have you learned? What have you learned about yourself? About society? What do you hope to bring with you to 2021?

I’ve learned a good mix of positive and negative life lessons this past year, starting with what it means to commit to something and realize that it’s not the best fit. 

I’ve now spent a year at my current job and through all the growth and learning, I can’t reconcile just how different this position is from my life goals and my interests. It’s been a good run, but procurement and business process analysis and all the small quirks of consulting just can’t stimulate my brain and creativity in a way that makes me happy. 

There are moments when I truly enjoy the work, but many more that are overshadowed by stress and a constant thought that I should be doing something else.  At times I felt guilty about thinking of looking for new work, but this is the definition of personal growth.  I gave it my all and now I’m giving myself an out.  Thanks 2020, it was one helluva ride.

On a related note, I’ve learned just how much I need people and passion and steady outlets for stress to be happy and healthy.  This year has put so many outlets on hold that it’s become easier to identify what I can and can’t live without.  Living in the city has rekindled this electricity within me and I know that the year to come will be riddled with even more personal growth moments than this one.