disassociation

keywords: job hunts, screenwriting, mild PTSD

I’m in Los Angeles with Kareem for the week. What am I going to do otherwise, stay in Miami by myself for his birthday? For my, what, imaginary job?

It’s pretty humbling as he paid for my trip out here. Usually, I’m the breadwinner. I’ve prided myself on being the person who makes money while the significant other has a job in the arts, the non-profit arts, no less. It probably comes from a lifetime of seeing my mom, the housewife, with dad, the HVAC engineer who worked 25 years at the same job. I know it’s like comparing apples to oranges, but having a job was one of the few things I didn’t have to worry about. I was allowed to be a hot buttered mess otherwise.

Again, I’m trying my best to take everything in stride. It’s only three weeks since I parted ways with my last job, I tell myself, even though it has been eleven weeks since I’ve last had a steady paycheck. There has been a string of job rejections recently, which hint to me I need to stop my mind from going into double overdrive during tech interviews, or that I’m interviewing for the wrong positions, that I should be looking for jobs I’m good at, but just miss out on because I don’t have enough years of experience. I tell myself I’m not my rejections. I repeat this to myself, like a mantra, as Kareem is typing away at the laptop next to me, following his dreams.


Kareem is working on a movie here in LA full of people in the film industry formerly from Miami. Tonight we’re hanging out with more people here in the film industry previously from Miami. At this point, I’m pretty convinced LA is mostly former Floridians working on movies, and I’m the weird Chinese salmon who swam upstream.

They ask me how my script is going.

So here’s the interesting thing I’ve learned about writing a script, especially an auto-biographical one in nature: there are some parts of the process where I think I’m really, really good. A couple of weeks ago, I tasked myself to open up some scriptwriting software and to write a scene, like, any scene. It got a chuckle out of Kareem, and he’s the type to tear your art piece apart, never mind if you’ve spent the past ten years in a relationship or not.

It turns out, however, that like two scenes do not an entire screenplay make. It turns out there are many, many scenes that need to be written. Even crazier, they all have to lead into each other to tell a cohesive, overarching story. It turns out that’s how all narrative storytelling works, whether it’s writing books or movies or whatever. After a couple of years of short-form blogging and tweeting, I’ve gotten really good at writing things funny, so long as they’re less than, say, 500 characters.

According to Google, the way to get around this is by writing a plot, or an outline. Just a couple of sentences of each scene to get the point across, so I do, right?

(All, like, actual things that happened a couple of months ago, by the way.)

But now I’m in a tailspin because I’m basically disassociating myself from the Ernie on paper, trying to figure out how the Ernie on paper resolves his problems from the first act. How the fuck do I do that when I can’t do that in real life? Also, how do I write down my father’s incoherent Chinese babbling due to dementia into words? In English? Which family interactions do I edit out, for the sake of moving a plot along? Keeping in mind that as I write this stuff down, as much disassociating as I try to do, I’m simultaneously reliving this in my head, over and over again.

Seriously, writers and/or storytellers: y’all have any advice for me? Because this has been a mental block in writing auto-biographical stuff for a while now.

Eventually, it becomes too much, and my mind wanders: shouldn’t I be looking for jobs?

And then I close the document and start studying data structures for interviews again.

Miami anecdote #283

In which I've been pronouncing the lunch place I go to wrong all this time

Earlier today, I met up with a friend for lunch at a cute little spot on Biscayne. And when I say “cute,” I don’t necessarily mean that to be cliche, but it’s one of those places where the exterior is pastel, and all salads have some sort of fruit in it, so all the food is super Instagrammable. That’s Miami: one big Instagram stock photo of beautiful people drinking cocktails to dancing to tropical house in a scene full of warm colors. The lunch itself was fine; good conversation, the salad had goat cheese, the couple the table over had their giant show dog lying on a blanket beneath them, one of those designer breeds that look like a poodle was put through a hormone injection program. I later learned the woman - sun hat, summer dress, and all - was feeding the dog scraps of raw meat. I’m going to assume she brought it from home, and didn’t, you know, demand raw meat from the kitchen to feed to her dog laying on the floor.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she did, though. Peak Miami, right there.

The biggest issue I have with the place is the name of the restaurant. Question for you, especially for the people who do not live in Miami: How would you pronounce this sign?

Maybe it’s because I’m from California, maybe it’s because it’s all capital letters, but when I see that sign, I say “LA Social.” You know, like Los Angeles. LA Lakers. LA Gear. Okay, sure, it’s a kinda douchey name of a restaurant, but not as bad as the now-closed Wynwood restaurant literally named “Mmmm,” so things could be worse, I guess.

I punch the address into Waze on my drive there. “In 500 feet,” the audio GPS says to me, “you’ll arrive at your destination: Louisiana Social.” Haha, I say to the GPS, you’re wrong!

Turns out I was wrong too. The restaurant isn’t LA Social, but La Social. As in, Spanish language for, um, “the social.”

This annoys me right now more than it probably should. Hey babe, I ask my partner, how would you pronounce that cute place on Biscayne where it takes too long to get our omelets, and everything’s served with raspberries?

You mean, La Social, he says? Perfect Spanish pronunciation: so-see-AL.

“I thought it was LA Social.”

“What? No. Why would you think that?”

What? Why wouldn’t I think that? Would I pronounce LA Fitness “la fitness?” Actually, now that I think about it, does everyone here call LA Fitness “la fitness,” and I’m just the last person to know? I probably am. This place, man, it’s weird.

Ain't no mountain high enough

The interviewing continues

I’m still interviewing for tech jobs, mostly as a software developer.

Applying for software developer jobs is akin to auditioning for, like, American Idol. First, you submit your resume with dozens to thousands of other resumes, depending on the size of the company.

You get a call from a hiring manager who makes sure you answer questions in coherent sentences and don’t require an H-1 visa from them. They ask why you want to work at said company, and you gush over the company’s tradition of excellence and give your employment backstory in a distinct three-minute pitch, which you have down pat because you’ve been doing this a lot the past couple of days. Your back is straight when you say this, even though it’s a phone call.

Then come the actual developer interviews. This is where the American Idol part comes in, the part where a bunch of producers leads you into to room with a video camera to sing a couple of bars of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Sometimes you’re out of breath, or your pitchy or god forbid, your voice cracks, no matter how much as you warm up beforehand or point at the note like Christina Aguilera.

Other times, you have your good days, and you go on to the next round where the whole process happens all over again with a new group of producers. Repeat until you get it, or you don’t.

In a way, that’s how I feel right now with interviewing; just replace being able to sing “Ribbon in the Sky” to writing code on a webpage your interviewer can see — and judge — in real-time, while you talk out what’s going on in your head. I’ve been thanked for my time in some cases; in others, well, I’m still talking with people, I guess. This is the first time in a while I’ve had significant time in between jobs, so I’ve been studying and trying to learn the hot programming language is at the moment and trying my best to beat my Impostor Syndrome down with a nail-studded baseball bat. I’m reminded by friends to also apply for tech adjacent positions such as management or Product, even though I have never interviewed for those positions before.

It’s a little unsettling for sure, but I’ll get my break. I’ll make it to Hollywood Week soon.


Mom, on the phone changing the subject: Did you find a job yet?

Me: No, ma, I’m still interviewing.

M: Well, make sure you wear something neater. I’m not there to iron anything for you so—

E: Not yet, ma. Most of these current interviews are on the telephone or the computer.

M: Oh. Then you need to talk slower.

E: Okay.

M: Sometimes, you talk really, really fast —

E: Okay.

M: And your voice gets higher and higher and faster and faster, and no one can hear what you’re saying.

E: Mm-hmm.

M: Okay. Well, I’m going to go. Eat something, so you have the strength to talk.

If nothing else, all of this is making for a much needed distraction topic when I have my daily phone calls with mom, because “I feel inescapably hopeless because I’m too scared for my personal safety to evict my schizophrenic daughter” as an answer to “how are you doing tonight, ma?” gets really tough to answer on a daily basis.

To be fair: mom doesn’t actually say the above. She just says, “I don’t feel good anymore,” and all of those comments are inferred. She did, however, tell me to go eat something so I can talk.

Soldiering on

There was a hurricane, then there was none. Then I was sick, then I was not. Then my sister moved back home.

Hurricane Dorian has, for the most part, passed Miami. Kareem is in LA this week and I’m tending to the house alone, but my anxiety was less about the roof of the house blowing off and more about the aftermath. Naturally, it’s my imagination we’re talking about, so I imagine The Purge enveloping a powerless Miami while I surround myself with votive candles brandishing the shotgun that I don’t own because I’m Californian.

Things are okay. They could be worse. I am beginning to understand why friends who have grown up here can be ambivalent about hurricane warnings - they are big and scary. We “kind of” know which direction they’re going or if they’ll grow in strength and worsen. But for now, we lucked out, and here we all are, trying to resume everything we put on hold for a couple of days.

So, the past couple of days. What has happened? Ho boy.

One, I thought I got strep throat. I certainly had all the symptoms, including the spots on my tonsils, including the fever. Compounding all the stress is that I am officially without my company health insurance. But the tests for strep came back negative and my temperature just went down one morning. You know that I’ve made some pretty drastic changes to my diet. I know keto flu is a thing, and I legitimately have no idea if the fever, body aches and whatever streppy thing my throat was doing was all part of that. I am, however, down eight pounds in two or three weeks. That’s good.

What else? Oh, my mentally ill older sister moved back in with my elderly parents.

Should I have led with that? Probably.


Mom casually dropped that bombshell on me over the phone a couple of days ago, the same way that Angela plainly told mom that people in the house were trying to kill her and she was moving back home with nothing else, just the clothes on her back. No medication. She had stopped taking her medication for the past two or three days, apparently.

Another month, another family crisis. Angela was in a boarding and care facility only because it was mandated from a restraining order, a restraining order I had to help set up for my mother when Angela hit my mother on the head with a TV remote after arguing over what to watch on the television. After an eviction notice letter, written by mom on the recommendation by her case manager, that Angela blatantly ripped up, and we all knew in our heart of hearts wouldn’t get enforced anyway. After the restraining order was instantly declared null and void when Angela showed up every Wednesday to watch television using a house key which was never surrendered, and mom allowed it because she was her daughter.

The end game is to get her back to where she was before but I don’t know if she’s been evicted or if she left on her own accord. I feel I have the right to know what’s going on - I pay for part of her monthly fees. Voicemails have been left to the facility. No one has called me back. I’ve tried looking for Angela’s current caseworker. Her original caseworker left in 2016, I learned through a Google search. Left social work and entered private practice in psychotherapy. I’m angry at her for a second but remind myself that it’s not her fault. “Good for her,” I even manage to say to myself out loud. I am no longer on the list as an authorized contact, I am told, when I call a different organization. Angela must verbally agree to get any information. It’s another set of hurdles. Didn't I just go through this?

Mom tells me all of this matter of factly. In a throwaway comment, she remarks how she doesn’t eat throughout the day, takes her heart medication to prevent the heart attack she feels she will have, is afraid to make any sudden moves or actions for fear that Angela will lose her shit and assault her with a remote control like all of those years ago.

And then, the next sentence, it's standard mom fare: Enough about me, she says. Have you eaten yet? Is it late there in Florida? Have you taken your walk? You need to go for your walk. I tell her I’m fine, skip over anything related to fevers or hurricanes or not eating rice. There are enough burdens for her to shoulder right now.

I have already accepted a possible future where my sister is homeless. There’s a very probable chance things won’t work out the way any of us want, least of all mom. She’s gone from living by herself to living with two people, one of whom she lives in fear. I try to think of solutions more… extreme: Could mom live with me in Florida? Could I leave Florida to live with mom?

After coming to the realization months ago that I need more self-care, I know all of these options are, literally, the fucking opposite of self-care. Then again, I drew some extraordinary cards in this deck of life. The majority of my life has involved my sister's mental illness and cognitive decline.

It sucks. It all fucking sucks. A couple of years ago, if I were writing about what was going on, I'd probably end this piece with something dramatic like, “the storm has passed Miami, but I’m still bracing for impact.” And while it’s true, fight or flight instincts have a way of tiring a person out. I need to continue whatever rituals I’m trying to create, with writing, eating right, looking for jobs, keeping it together until everything around me falls like a house of cards.

Until then, we soldier on.

I'm okay, I swear

But I think my subconscious may be freaking out in the middle of the night

Hello, friends! For the three or four of you that I am not friends with on Facebook, or we don’t follow each other on Twitter, Saturday was my last day working at WhereBy.Us. The goal of this personal newsletter isn’t to gossip about friends, family*, or former coworkers and to be honest, everyone at WhereBy.Us are good, talented, smart, engaging people. I’m now looking for new opportunities, throwing caution to the wind and seeing where the next career leads me.

As most of you know I had been on an eight-week unpaid sabbatical previous, it technically doesn’t really change anything day to day; just the knowledge that those changes are in the horizon and my resources are finite. I’m channeling my inner Asian dad, giving myself some structure.

I’m surprisingly calm, even though this is the first time in a while where I’ve left a place of employment without already finding a new job. 

That said, my sleep patterns have been trash. 

For example, two nights ago for dinner, I had steamed mahi-mahi and two cups of broccoli. I’m going low-carb and that sounds reasonable, right? Healthy even! Then I went to bed dreaming of cooking saag paneer over an open flame, to the disgust of the group of South Asians I was preparing for. This is disgusting, they say; too spicy! I wake up at four in the morning to the agitation of my partner, drink a glass of water, go back to bed, and then have a variation of the same dream again. This time it wasn’t spicy enough. They may have also thrown a wok at me. Look, dreams are weird, alright?

Last night I had the same type of sleep, but this time, the dream centered around JavaScript programming. Hours before, I got an email from a company where to apply for jobs you submit programming homework, and they “decided to pursue other applicants who more closely reflect the needs of this position.” Of course, they’re “unable to provide specific assessment feedback to individual candidates.” That night, I dreamt I was at a laptop, repeating my homework submission, failing all over again. It had the classic dream elements where you’re back in college, and you’ve slept through your chem final. It was like I was trying to make up for any mistakes I made. Wake up again, use the bathroom, fall asleep to visions of JavaScript promises hastily edited with a red marker.

My theory is that it’s my subconscious, telling me that maybe I should look into tech positions that don’t solely involve pure development. I mean, I’m getting older now. I don’t think my special sauce comes from just programming. There may be thousands of better programmers, but is any of them as zany as I am? No. On the other hand, no positions exist that are, say, 20% web developer and 80% rodeo clown, otherwise I would have cornered that market years ago.

Oh man. Maybe I do need sleep.

* Okay, maybe it exists to talk trash about my family a little bit

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