My Next Thirty Years

The last couple months have been pretty eventful. A few of the highlights:

  1. I went to the wedding of my math grad school besties in Canada! So beautiful. I wish I could move back up there.
  2. I spent a week in Seattle for an environmental statistics workshop. I got to see some old friends and hang out with new ones.
  3. I spent a week at home, during which I saw The Book of Mormon at the Pantages Theatre. Amazing and so hilarious!
  4. I turned 30.
  5. My roommate started teaching me to cook. So far, we’ve made an omelet, pancakes, and pan-fried steak!
  6. I (finally) started the Ph.D. program. I’m one week in and I’m incredibly stressed out already.
  7. I’ve continued seeing a therapist. It’s been helpful to acknowledge my issues and slowly work through them.

When I turned 30 about a month ago, I did a lot of reflecting on my life, where I’ve been and where I’m going. I grew up a lot in my twenties. I accomplished a lot (on paper) and became a lot more comfortable in my own skin, but I still have a long way to go. I know that my thirties are going to be even better than my twenties.

I love this song by Tim McGraw called “My Next Thirty Years.” I made sure to listen to it on my birthday this year, as it seemed especially appropriate.

Out of the Past

Ten years ago. I was 19.

I was at a summer math research program many states away from home. I fell in love (or what I thought was love) with another student in the program (let’s call him Guy). I didn’t know he was gay until there were only three weeks left in our program.

We had some fun together for a couple weeks. The long hugs and cuddling for a couple hours in the afternoon were the best. But Guy didn’t want a relationship. We went to school in different cities, and he was against long distance relationships (he had been cheated on in the past). I tried to convince him to try (I certainly wasn’t going to cheat on him) but it’s hard to argue logic with a math major. We reverted to being “just friends” for a while.

July 26, 2002. We both got a little drunk at a party (there was a lot of drinking that summer), and things heated up again. We ended up alone in his room. Here is an excerpt from something I wrote the next day, in an old journal I used to keep:

So I asked Guy if he liked me and he said he did. But I think when he’s sober, he likes me as a friend. When he’s drunk, he likes my body. Nowhere in there does he like me for me in a more romantic sense. I finally began to realize that as we were making out last night.

Guy wanted to take things a little further but my body and my mind were telling me not to. Like, my body refused to feel what was going on, and my mind was thinking about our relationship and how it could never work. So I wasn’t feeling sexual, and Guy was getting frustrated at me. I wanted to make Guy happy, but my body didn’t let me. He called me a 13 year old child and said that I’m not a man. He also said I’m not gay, because being gay means I want to have sex with men and all that stuff.

I thought I had buried this experience a long time ago, but the ten year anniversary of that summer somehow stirred up a lot of old feelings. I think a big reason why I still consider myself a boy and not a man stems from that night.

I started seeing a campus therapist last week. I think seeking counseling has been long overdue. It’s been good to talk through a lot of my feelings, both past and present. I hope I can finally move forward.

The Next Three to Five

Another typical Thursday night. I’m in my office, doing homework. The unusual part is that this is my last homework assignment of the academic year and thus of my master’s program. That’s right: by this time next week, I will have fulfilled all the requirements to earn a master’s in statistics! Yay!

My graduation is in mid-June, only about two and a half weeks from now. My brother, sister, and parents are all coming in to see me walk across the stage. My brother will only be able to stay for the weekend of graduation, but my parents and sister will stick around for an extra few days so we can take a mini-vacation, probably to a nearby lake or national park (and by nearby, I mean two to four hours away by car).

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. If only it were that simple. I spent a good portion of the last year debating if I want to pursue a Ph.D. or not. With all the high hopes my advisor has for me and all the opportunities that my advisor has given me (and continues to give me), it’s difficult to walk away from continuing to work with him for the next three to five years.

Therefore, I’m not walking away. My advisor is jointly appointed between the statistics and environmental science departments, so when I was applying for Ph.D. programs, I was given the option to choose to earn my Ph.D. in either department. After a lot of debate (with myself), I eventually decided to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental science instead of statistics. Since I will still have the same advisor, I will undoubtedly do Ph.D. level statistics research either way. However, as part of the environmental science department, I will get to learn where my data comes from and how it was measured. In a sense, I will become a more complete scientist, rather than just a data analyst.

After my week off with my family after graduation (and after attending a wedding in North Carolina the following weekend), I will be right back to work at Prestigious University for the summer, getting a head start on my Ph.D. research.

In other academic related news, remember that I was preparing over last summer to be the TA for a new class that my advisor was teaching? The class was last term (January – March), and it was a huge hit! I worked extremely hard (one big reason why my blog posts are so sparse this year), but it all paid off: I won a teaching assistant award! Yay! There will be an award luncheon/ceremony the day before graduation where I will receive a certificate and a modest sum of money. My family is visiting a day early so they can all attend the luncheon too!

I’ve been a teaching assistant for many years, but I had never won an award before. There was only one teaching assistant award given in the entire environmental science department for the whole academic year, and I was the lucky winner. Not a bad way to start my Ph.D.!

Two Dates In Two Weeks

Back in late January, not long after my last post, I started emailing with someone on a popular online dating website (reminder: my old boss/friend gave me the remaining paid time on his account). The online guy (hereafter called Online Guy in this post) and I had similar values (like education and not rushing into sex) and some overlapping interests (like anime and boy bands), so we were able to connect on both superficial and deeper levels. We emailed back and forth every day for a couple weeks before I asked him to come visit me at my school and have a lunch date.

Online Guy and I met around noon at the center of campus on an unusually beautiful sunny Saturday in early February. Because we already had talked about many different topics by email, it felt like I was meeting a friend rather than a stranger. There wasn’t any initial awkwardness that usually accompanies an online date (or any date for that matter). I took Online Guy to my usual spot on campus for lunch. We sat outside and had paninis and coffee. We then went up to the top of the campus clock tower to get a view of the entire campus.

We walked and talked for quite a while. At some point, Online Guy mentioned that he traveled to Europe a few times and always enjoyed going to museums there, so I took him to a large museum on campus (my school has a really big campus). We looked at nearly everything in the museum until the museum closed. We made our way back to the center of campus, where we sat on a bench in the middle of a large open field and talked for another hour. Eventually, I walked Online Guy back to his car. The date ended around 6pm with a hug and an exchange of phone numbers. It was a great day.

Only about an hour or two later, Online Guy texted me, saying how much he enjoyed the day, and that we should get together again soon. We ended up making plans that evening to meet the following Saturday. We had just finished one date and made plans for second one almost immediately!

Online Guy lives somewhere between my school and The City. Since he drove to see me at my school, I figured the second date should be in The City. We both had the same idea to meet at a particular Japanese restaurant for lunch. I found out later that driving from his house to either my school or The City takes half an hour, whereas it takes me two hours to take the bike/train/subway to The City. Oh well. The City is more interesting than my school anyway.

The second date seemed even more comfortable (less awkward) than the first date (which already wasn’t awkward at all). We ordered our favorite dish from the Japanese restaurant (we both had the same favorite dish) and caught each other up on the events of the previous week. We both have an incredible sweet tooth, so we each had two desserts (ice cream crepes and cupcakes) after lunch. Online Guy then took me to a few Japanese discount stores (like dollar stores with exclusively Japanese stuff) and bookstores that he likes to frequent whenever he’s in the area. At some point, I remember thinking that the date felt more like two friends on a routine shopping trip than a date (not that that’s bad necessarily).

Online Guy drove us back to his neighborhood, where we had a third dessert (boba) for the day. At the end of the day, again around 6pm, Online Guy drove me to the train station. The next train was scheduled to arrive only a few minutes later, so we awkwardly hugged in his car before we parted ways. While I was still on the train, Online Guy texted me again, saying how much he enjoyed the day.

From our conversations, I knew that he was busy for the following two weekends, so we didn’t make plans to meet up right away. In the end, we never made plans again. While Online Guy and I got along really well, I never felt a spark between us. Perhaps if we had met under different circumstances (not on an online dating website), maybe we would have been good friends. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like there was any romantic potential. I never initiated another conversation, and neither did he. As Valentine’s Day was only a few days after our second date, I texted him “Happy Valentine’s Day” (I wanted to send an e-card or something, but I ran out of time that day), and he replied “Back at ya,” and that was it.

My New Years resolution was to go on two dates in the entire year, not necessarily with the same person. Even though nothing came out of my time with Online Guy, I can at least say that I went on two dates in two weeks, both before the middle of February, and both with the same person! That’s progress, right?

Saturday Will Be Date Night

Making resolutions seems to get harder every year. Last year, I only had one:

1. I would like to finish another book this year. I cheated a little last year because I had a specific book in mind when I made the resolution. I was already eagerly waiting to read it. I want to see how I do if I don’t specify the book. Finding a book to read will be part of the challenge. If I can do this one, maybe I’ll up the 2012 resolution to two books!

I did read a book last year! I read the complete Bone graphic novel. It’s not a major work of literature, but it is a 1300 page epic with an amazing story and both depth and humor. Once I started, it was hard to put down. I finished it in about a week in September, which is pretty fast for me, even for a graphic novel.

For my new resolutions:

1. I would like to make an effort to spend time away from my office. When I’m studying/working, it’s so easy to spend every night, seven days a week, in my office until 12am or later. Whenever I spend even just an evening with my friends and/or family, I remember what it’s like to take a break from work. As much as I enjoy what I do, I need to find the balance between work and non-work.

2. Related to the previous resolution, I need to be more social. It’s been a long time since I went out on a date. I tried online dating a few years ago, but it didn’t go anywhere (partly because I didn’t drive on the freeway at the time). My old boss/friend (who now has a boyfriend) gave me the remaining paid time for his account for a popular online dating website, so I should use it. My goal for the year is to go on two dates, not necessarily with the same person. Two dates doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a big deal for me.

Even my advisor told me not to come in to the office on Saturdays, so maybe Saturday will be “date night,” or at least “social night.”

I’ll try to add more resolutions if I think of any. I graduate with my second master’s degree in five months, so this will be a year of change, regardless of what resolutions I make. It should be interesting to see what I’ll be doing at this time next year.

To Earn A Ph.D.

The last couple months have really flown by. I spent most nights staying in my office until midnight or later. I’ve been keeping busy with classes, research, and applying to Ph.D. programs. I still haven’t decided if earning a Ph.D. is really what I want, but applying to Ph.D. programs keeps the option available. The decision to stay in academia or reenter the “real world” is not far away, though.

I’ve been on winter break for the last couple weeks. Because I’m doing so many research projects with my advisor, as well as being his TA next term, I had to bring a lot of work home with me. I hate the idea of having to bring work home during a “break.” How am I supposed to enjoy my “time off” if I constantly have to think about work? When I’m hanging out with friends, I feel guilty for not working. I haven’t made plans with a lot of my friends during this break because I feel like I can’t afford the time. I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for not working when I’m on break, right?

Every time I spend time with my friends and family at home, I always reevaluate my path. Does earning a Ph.D. mean that all of my “vacation time” for the next five years will be ruined by having to bring work home every time? The whole point of going back to school for my second master’s was to do what makes me happy. But what kind of happiness will I have if I can’t have a life outside of work too?

Muscle Epiphany

My university is very large. The vast majority of students ride bikes (and the rest drive) around campus. I never learned how to ride a bike as a kid, so I walk everywhere. Even though I live on campus, it easily takes 20-30 minutes to walk from my apartment to my office. The campus shuttles only run every 20 minutes and they stop running around 8pm, so they’re generally unreliable, especially since I stay late in the office almost every day. More often than not, my advisor drives me home at night.

A few weeks ago, my advisor said that my hour (round trip) commute was inefficient and (strongly) suggested that I learn how to ride a bike. He was willing to help teach me or have someone in our research group teach me. My first task was to get a bike with which to learn, so I went to the campus bike shop to either rent or buy one.

I don’t know the first thing about bikes, other than that they have two wheels. My first trip to the campus bike shop was so overwhelming. There are three general types of bikes (mountain bikes, road bikes, and hybrids), and each has their advantages and disadvantages. Then there are different frame sizes for different people. Having never even sat on a bike before, I had no idea what size frame I was supposed to get. I’m incredibly indecisive even when I’m well informed, so trying to buy a bike by myself would have been impossible. I asked one person from my research group (i.e., another one of my advisor’s students) to come with me and help me choose a bike.

Back story: The person I asked to go with me had heard that I was going to learn how to ride a bike from our advisor, and he was more than happy to help me. As most people do, he thought it was crazy that I never learned how to ride a bike. He is ridiculously cute/hot. He has strikingly bright eyes and a dimply smile that makes me melt. And, as all the people who I tend to crush on always are, he’s straight. I’m going to refer to him as my cute/hot friend.

Anyway. When my cute/hot friend went with me to the campus bike shop, he knew all the right questions to ask. In five minutes, he knew that we needed to go off campus to find a suitable and affordable bike for my size and level. We went bike shopping the following morning. My cute/hot friend took control of the entire process; he was like a parent (or perhaps a big brother) buying his kid’s first bike. Long story short, from my cute/hot friend’s recommendation, I bought a mountain bike with a 16″ frame (I’m pretty small, apparently). During the process of finding the perfect bike, I sat on a bike for the first time ever.

A couple days later (this is now Sunday, October 23rd), I had my first bike lesson with my cute/hot friend (my advisor joined us halfway through the lesson). There’s a fairly steep hill behind my office building. At first, my cute/hot friend held onto the front of my bike while I got the feel of sitting on the bike. After some basic training in braking and stopping, my first goal was to coast straight down the hill, without pedaling. Basically, I had to learn how to balance on the bike. I was out there for a little over an hour, and I could probably coast about four feet before I lost my balance and had to stop. Basically, I couldn’t balance at all. I kept leaning too far to one side. I stopped with my feet/toes a lot, my butt kept hitting the seat when I started and stopped, and my arms were tense from holding onto the bike so hard. I was hot, sweaty, and sore everywhere (and not in a good way). It was incredibly frustrating. I felt like I would never learn how to ride a bike.

My cute/hot friend told me that riding a bike is about muscle memory. As frustrated as I was after that first lesson, I needed to make sure that my muscles didn’t forget the feeling of being on the bike, so I was determined to practice at least an hour every day. I didn’t want to have another formal lesson with my cute/hot friend until I felt like I wasn’t wasting his time, so I practiced by myself. Since I couldn’t ride my bike anywhere yet, I kept my bike at my office building. Every night (usually around 10pm), I stopped working for an hour and practiced riding my bike on the hill behind my building. Here’s how it went:

Monday: Still tried to coast down the hill but to no avail. I stopped too hard once and halfway toppled over my bike. I didn’t fall completely, but I knocked the bike chains out of alignment. Not knowing at the time what I did, I freaked out and called my cute/hot friend for help. He came and fixed my chains. He said my balance on the bike was improving, even if I couldn’t tell. Later that evening, I ran into my officemate/ex-roommate (he stopped staying with me that night, actually). He gave me a mini-lesson by having me hold onto his shoulder while I slowly pedaled around the courtyard in front of my office building. I couldn’t balance without holding onto him, but it gave me the feeling of pedaling.

Tuesday: For about half an hour, before my choir rehearsal, I tried again to coast down the hill. I still couldn’t do it. After choir rehearsal, I gave it another shot and finally was able to coast down the hill. I have no idea how I did it the first time. I must’ve had some sort of muscle epiphany or something, because my body was able to balance the bike and I can’t explain how. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I coasted down the hill at least five times before I texted my cute/hot friend about it. He was really excited and wanted me to show him. Of course, under pressure, I couldn’t do it. Darn performance anxiety.

Wednesday: My coasting downhill improved a lot. I couldn’t pedal on flat ground yet, but if I started from coasting downhill, I was able to pedal and stay balanced. There’s a small hill at the bottom of the big hill behind my office building. After coasting to the bottom of the big hill, I got off my bike, turned around, coasted down the small hill, and pedaled up the big hill. I couldn’t turn at all though. I could only coast downhill or pedal uphill if I was going straight the whole way.

Wednesday was also the day that I had my first fall. I must’ve been too confident with my coasting or something, but I went too fast and didn’t brake in time and actually fell off my bike to the ground. I caught myself with my hands, so I didn’t hit my head (I wore a helmet by the way), but I hurt my legs. My right leg had a medium sized scrape with blood, while my left leg hurt when I twisted it the wrong way. Both leg injuries are mostly healed now (two and a half weeks later), but they aren’t 100% just yet.

My biggest fear after I fell was that I would be afraid to get on the bike again (much like how I avoided driving for years after I was the passenger in a car accident). Knowing myself, I forced myself to continue riding my bike immediately after I fell. I think it was good that I fell early on, because I’m now very conscious of how easily I can fall. I’m very cautious when I ride my bike (much like I am when I drive).

Thursday: I graduated from the hill behind my office building to the courtyard in front of the building (flat ground). I was able to start pedaling from a stopped position (i.e., I didn’t need the added velocity from the hill), and I learned how to turn. It was another muscle epiphany. Turning requires a slight shift in balance with minimal arm movement, but I have no idea how I did it at first.

Friday: Improved pedaling and turning.

Saturday: Improved pedaling and turning.

The following Sunday (now October 30th), exactly one week after my first and only official bike lesson, I showed off my bike riding skills to my advisor, my cute/hot friend, and my officemate/ex-roommate. I stumbled a little bit (darn performance anxiety), but it was obvious that I had improved by leaps and bounds. Everyone was very proud of me. The last milestone occurred the following day (October 31st). I rode my bike all the way from my office building to my apartment for the first time.

I seriously thought I was never going to learn how to ride a bike, and now I ride my bike to and from my office every day. I bike between classes and bike to the student union building to grab lunch. My commute time is now about one-third of what it was before; it only takes about 10 minutes to bike from my apartment to my office. I still need to gain some experience though. I haven’t ridden off campus yet. I also get a little intimidated when other cyclists are around. I feel like a baby just learning to walk who is trying to play with the big kids. I’m growing up fast though!

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