My skin has baked under the unyielding sun and turned a plump dark color. A recent morning trip I took to Brighton Beach for a yoga class might have enhanced my tan even more. That was my first time doing yoga outdoors in direct sunlight with my mat on the sand.
I expected other people to be there for the class too but somehow I ended up being the only one there besides the instructor. I thought, Why me?? I feel extremely awkward when it’s just me and another person who I am meeting for the first time. I spent the class being instructed by the teacher and she even corrected me when my poses were off by a little bit, which was a nice change from the classes I’ve had at Yoga to the People, where the instructors very rarely do any correcting.
No idea if this is just me, but I always feel weird asking questions. After the class was over, I asked her if she only teaches within the meetup group or if she also teaches elsewhere. I was genuinely curious to hear her answer, but after I got it, I didn’t know what else to say in response! Awkward. I remember nodding my head in acknowledgment of her answer before I lapsed into silence. She commented on how hot it was and took off her sunglasses to wipe her face. I joked that I would probably take a dip in the water soon.
Soon we both stood up to begin shaking the sand off our mats. It was quiet then. My mind was racing. I had at least four different questions I wanted to ask her but I held my tongue instead, wondering if I would become across as invasive or annoying. Do you live in Brighton Beach? How long have you been teaching yoga? Is this your full-time job? Do you have any other plans for the day? As I type this now, I’m recalling the questions she asked me, too, during the class. How long have you been doing yoga? What studio do you go to? They were questions related to the class, yet each time I was prompted for an answer, I felt scared of being seen and I responded with the most to-the-point answers in the hopes of ending the conversation as soon as possible. That’s what my instinct is always telling me to do when I want to avoid being seen, which in hindsight, this logic makes no sense if I analyze my own behavior. I’m already being seen by the person when I’m in the person’s presence, so what’s the use of trying to hide? Now if only I could remember this every time I feel afraid… Somehow I mustered up the courage to ask her how she usually cleans her mat (since I have yet to clean mine). I knew the class was donation based but asked anyway if she accepts donations, mostly because I didn’t know how to give her money without being timid about it. After she said yes, I handed her a folded up bill. We got to talking about the other people that signed up but didn’t show up for class, and how we both assumed the class might be canceled since it looked rainy earlier in the morning. At some point before she left, I told her I really enjoyed the class. I had wanted to say this directly after the class concluded but the words I hold in my head never come out at the exact moment when I want them to.
On Sunday, I spent a staggering two hours recording and re-recording a 60-second video of myself on my phone because I kept messing up on camera. It was a video interview for a dog walking company called Wag. The question I had to answer, in video format, was to describe how I would approach a dog I was meeting for the first time while the owner is away, with an additional question about what kind of supplies I might bring if I was walking a dog. 60 seconds doesn’t seem like much, but I swear, every time I saw the countdown go past 20 seconds, I would lose my train of concentration and forget what sentence I was on. I must have gone through at least 30 failed videos until I finished a 59-second video that I deemed sufficient for submission.
This was not an easy thing for me to do because I am very insecure about my own voice and having to watch myself on video. I have always thought my voice sounded too masculine. This fear stems from an incident during my teenage years when I answered the home phone and my brother’s friend on the other end of the line mistook me for my brother. It happened again, at a different time, when one of my cousins thought she was speaking to my brother. I have no clue why these two situations stood out to me so much to the point I started to feel self-conscious about my voice. However, I was floored (upon replaying the video interview) to hear that my voice actually sounds like a woman’s voice. I was so convinced a preconception I had about myself for years was true and it took until I heard my own voice for it to be disputed. It’s funny (in a dark way) to realize I might not have held onto such a long-standing belief had I just heard myself on video several years earlier. But instead, I spent years willingly avoiding this and I couldn’t ever relive old home movies of myself when I was a child.
Every day when I have to use my voice to even speak, I hate that I have to. The self-loathing is still kinda there even after the shock of realizing I don’t sound as masculine as I assumed. I also have a terrible habit of speaking in a low tone as my nature vocal “tone”. I’m acknowledging for the first time that I do this because I hate my own voice and would generally prefer if I wasn’t heard at all so I wouldn’t be seen. So every time someone tells me to “speak up”, I feel embarrassment and yearn for time to stop or something to happen that will allow me to slip away unnoticed. I’m not sure if I can believe that when people talk to me that they actually want to hear me out. It also depends on who I am speaking with.
I have yet to figure out why, but around my father in particular, I am irritated sometimes when he asks me a selection of questions. It’s almost like I feel put on the spot when he asks me questions I am sensitive about answering. I get a sense that my privacy is being invaded upon but also that I don’t want to give away my “power” by sharing more specific details about myself. He could be asking me where I’m headed for the day or who I hung out with but I’d prefer to give some short, vague answer and be done with it. Partially I’m afraid of being judged for how I spend my time. The other part of me is a mixture of frustration and exasperation, whether my father deserves my ire or if I’m giving my inner conflict a target to hit so I can continue to avoid dealing with my own feelings. The frustration comes from my pre-notion that my father seems to think I only interact with other Chinese people. His most asked question whenever he knows I went to some social gathering or event is, “Were there other Chinese people there too?” or “How many people in your group were Chinese?” I cannot understand his fixation at all. Does he expect or assume I mostly stick with my own race just because my mother, he, (and to a certain extent) my brother do? There could be thousands of reasons I could speculate for why he might focus on the race aspect. Or I could be imprinting my own perception of his questions and drawing wrong conclusions. I hate these questions so much that I’ve started feeling anxiety or annoyance when I come home even before he asks me anything. Then there is his seeming indifference about trying to remember names and every time it’s “that white guy” or “tall woman”. He works for mostly Jewish people and he even has different nicknames he refers to them by in Mandarin.
As for the exasperation I feel, it has to do with my perception that both my parents care when I go out. And I’m not saying they can’t care but it’s annoying because I don’t feel like I have my freedom. It’s always, “Don’t stay out too late” and that line alone gets on my nerves. It’s not like I stay out till 2 AM and even when I arrive back at 7 or 8 PM, the first question my mother asks me is, “Why are you so late?” I also hate receiving texts from them when I’m not even remotely getting ready to make the trip home and they write to me, “Are you coming back yet?” I feel indignant since they don’t have any idea how far I’ve come in trying to overcome my difficulty in leaving the house. At the same time, I feel they don’t see that I have my own life and I’m not just going to stay home all day.
Neither of my parents are very social people either. My father mostly works and if he’s not working, I can tell he’s bored a lot but his problem is he doesn’t do much recreational stuff for himself. My mother no longer works and I believe she’s even worse than my father because aside from occasionally going out to buy groceries, heading out to Chinatown for tax or medical business, and the once-a-month group hangouts she does with her circle of friends, she stays home the rest of the time. I get the sense my father feels like he needs to compensate by keeping her company sometimes, like biking or taking long walks together. I guess what I’m trying to emphasise by explaining all this is I perceive that both my parents do not really explore the world or meet new people and I feel pressure to be like them when I am trying to be different by being open to going to meetups and attempting to make friends. Money is always a concern for them. They are so hung up about even using their MetroCards and wasting money that sometimes when my brother happens to drop by, my father actually asks to borrow his monthly card so he can get a free ride.
This past Sunday evening, I also stayed in Manhattan to attend a group showing of the season premiere for one of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones, in a bar with other fans of the show. I went home at 10:30 PM and of course I texted my mother to say I was on my way home. I can’t help if the subway ride was long so I got home at midnight. Maybe I should have also texted to say I had the keys for the door so no one would need to stay up to open the door for me. Yet somehow I suspect even if I said this, either my mother or father would have still stayed up to wait for me. They’ve done this with my brother too when he used to live at home, even the times he would text to tell them not to wait up for him or that he had keys to the house. I get that they worry, but what do they expect me to do? Not stay out past daylight hours? I am not going to put that kind of restriction on myself. I already signed up for this coming Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode viewing too and while I admit I am afraid of my parents opposing it, I doubt they will dare outright forbid me from going. I am not a child, I am 27.