Yearly Check-Back

The last time we last talked, I was blathering on about renovations I had planned for my apartment. This has been almost a year ago now. The renos are done, and I love the new place. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to take any photos. But if you use your imagination, I’m sure you will take a deep breath and congratulate me.

It was a rough few weeks, but in the end, absolutely worth it. Tina Tuna, who had ended up a casualty from all of this as she stayed with Trung’s dad for the most of it, has gained an inexplicable amount of weight. Trung’s dad essentially gave her non-stop treats and free-fed her Fancy Feast for a month.

“I don’t think she wants to leave,” Trung’s dad said quietly in Chinese on the day we came to take her back home.

People now think she is pregnant and she has trouble rolling over her big belly when she cleans herself. I feel mostly guilty, but not really ashamed. Her portly shape is quite cute.

In other news, I’ve also been meaning to talk about some other little revelations. Particularly, one that has spent a large amount of time swimming in my head.

I’ve been thinking about life priorities for the past little while. I think it’s because I’ve been forced to rethink and overhaul my financial plans. It started with whether or not a renovation was worth it, and it had somehow become a year-long reflection on what it means for me to be happy.

For the most part, I think I followed more or less the same variations of footsteps as people my age. Graduate school, get a job, fill a house with garbage from Ikea. Maybe save up for a car.

One of the things I’m proud of, despite the weird grown-up-old-lady image it conjures, is my mortgage. I still have a long way to go, obviously, but I am more than aware that I’ve been very blessed with being able to carve out a tiny piece of Vancouver for myself.

It’s a strong reminder of my decision to grow roots here in Canada, and a realistic indicator of how much it takes for me to be as responsible as possible. It weighs me down by just the right amount. Enough to make me feel grounded, but not so much to make me feel trapped.

This year put a lot of that into focus for me, as I went home to Manila again twice. Last year was both for Ivan, a year of very harsh revelations and stark conversations with people I love, and people I didn’t even know I loved so much.

In contrast, this year’s homecoming trips were for two happy occasions. Two weddings: one, of Ivan’s older brother, who is much like a brother to me also; and another, my oldest sister, who I thought deserved so much of the pomp and pageantry her wedding entailed.

The decisions to come home for family instilled various bouts of reflection for me. Perhaps due to the 15+ hour flights to Manila, where you sit in the darkness and static amongst others, lost in the sea of weird interconnectedness surrounded by various degrees of emotional separation.

It was maybe during those flights where I thought the most about what I wanted to get out of my work and life. The same way I had asked myself questions like, “Do I really need these three jackets, none of which I have worn in the past five years?”

Did I really need to work to get to a million dollars (as a random, outrageous number) a year? What the hell would I even do with a million dollars?

After all of what’s happened in the past two years, the shit inside my house just didn’t seem as important or felt like they deserved dramatic decisions anymore. I found myself wanting less stuff and looking for more things to achieve.

What were the main things that were important to me at this point?

  • I wanted to be able to fly to Manila at least once a year.
  • I wanted to be able to pay off my mortgage each month at a minimum.

And one of the things I realized was that these were relatively simple goals for a year. If I just shut up about getting a new sofa or getting a bigger television, I’d immediately have enough funds to put towards a two-week trip to Manila. All the rest could go to my mortgage, and I’d be looking at a 10 year amortization rather than 30.

And that was pretty much it. I didn’t want a fancy Lexus car. I really hate driving anyway. I’ve given up the idea of owning a giant 60″ television because that is crazy. Like, actually crazy. I didn’t need a matching dining table set because the $240 table I got from Craigslist is a beautiful piece on its own, scratches, rusty legs and all.

Even my battle with this fucking sectional sofa had lost its zing.

Things around the house get old. I’ve done enough laundry and ruined enough shirts to know this now. After a while, wool sweaters lose their rich blackness, the chrome rubs off metallic edges, and the glass chips in little unnoticeable pieces.

In contrast, being able to fly to Manila with Trung for the first time was one of the best experiences of my life. He got to meet my loving family, my fantastic grandparents, and witness things that I could only tell him about (and he assumed I was lying).

The other day, as he and I lounged around the apartment watching Netflix, he turned to me absently and said, “It’s weird because it’s only been a few days since we got back, but I kind of miss the Philippines.”

I looked up from my knitting and gave him a big smile.

“I don’t know,” he continued. “It’s just that a lot of things about you finally make sense to me.”


I’m Renovating My Apartment

“Here’s what you should do…” is probably one of those beginnings to sentences that will set me off and land me in a fistfight. I’ve come close a few times, especially with people I love the most, and we all deal with our triggers differently.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I know it has and will be received with mixed reviews. I haven’t been very vocal about it because of this, but I’ve decided to do renovations on my apartment.

I get the impression that my friends think I’m wasting my money or that I just really hate my money or something. Why spend the money on a perfectly useable space? Your apartment isn’t leaking. It fits your things. Sure, some of that stuff is old, but it still works. Why bother?

“Here’s what you should do. Save your money for something else. Nobody cares about a new kitchen sink.”

Dudes, you know what? I care. A lot.

I work from home. It’s a happy joke that I am willing to play along with, but the truth is, I spend 23 hours a day on average in this apartment. I know every inch of this place by heart, and I do a lot to keep it well-maintained and loved.

I also come from a family and culture of people who love their homes. My family in Manila, we invest time and energy in our homes because it’s one of the most important things in our lives. It carries our memories and our eccentricities, physical manifestations of our habits and flaws. Our homes are a reflection of who we are. My family and I aren’t fucking nomads like the people who travel and find themselves and do whatever. I’m not Julia Roberts. I don’t do that Eat, Pray, Love shit.

Decorating and designing a home for me isn’t just a fun thing that lonely housewives or bored celebrities do. It reminds me of my mom a lot. She loved doing this shit as much as I do. I remember when she did a renovation on our first Manila house.

We had shirtless workers in and out of the house for weeks. Our shit was all over the place. I even remember being tasked with peeling off bits of wallpaper from the room I shared with my brother. She transformed this house that was originally a 1970s bungalow for a newlyweds into a family home for six.

And my sister, bless her, went slightly over-budget with renovating our new Manila house, but you know what? It’s fucking glorious. It’s a beautiful space that she worked hard to decorate, and when I saw it on my trip back, I was immediately comfortable. It was a decent house when we purchased it, but now it’s actually our home. And therein lies the difference.

She put in touches and details that considered my shirtless father (shutter blinds in his room and a full-wall built-in for his trinkets and collections) and my brother (large desk space for his computer work station and drawing area).

Our kitchen is now open and inviting, and makes you want to have breakfast with each other in the mornings. It overlooks the back yard where we can have our cousins over for BBQ’s and pool parties.

Now that I’m older, I feel like I’ve stepped into the same shoes, and our feet are the exact same size. Now that I’m actually able to accomplish this, I’m so excited to do it. If not just for the shirtless workers. But this is Canada. People here don’t work shirtless, unfortunately.

I’m not putting in a stripper pole in the middle of the room or adding an extension for a bowling alley. I’m just updating my apartment to how I’d like it to be. Sure, there are cheaper ways to do it, but I want to do it the proper way. You go spend time re-sanding and re-finishing that weirdo Craigslist tabletop with the gargoyle feet. I don’t give a shit.

Some people get new fancy cars or nose jobs, or they go travelling around the world to find themselves (again, Julia Roberts). Well, I don’t want a fucking Lexus, Trung thinks my nose is cute, and I hate flying.

This apartment helped me grow up and out of being a shitty baby from Emily Carr. It’s given me a wonderful place to appreciate Vancouver and all its fine points. It’s helped me host many dinner parties and family guests over the years. It’s a milestone that marks my responsibility and obligation, both financially and emotionally. It’s become mine.

This is something just for me, and I don’t think anybody has much of a right to tell me what I should do.

Mostly the Loss

A few major things to happen this year. Some have been painful, others have not. A few wins and a few losses, but if anything, it makes me all the more excited to get to 2015.

It’s a bit tough to talk about it, but my little cousin passed away late this year.

Well, he wasn’t little, but he was definitely young. Twenty-four is not a ripe age. It’s an age of potential and possibilities, of excitement and mistakes. It’s the age where you figure out most of what you are, and solidify any wavering judgements you may be too afraid to speak about as a kid.

You discover girls and deodorant in your teens. Then you discover hard work and sacrifice and love after that. Nobody was ready for Ivan to go. That boy is so fucking special, I’m not even exaggerating a little bit. He only got to taste that first little bit of adulthood, post-deodorant and acne cream. I still get a little angry when I think about it.

Death is a sobering experience, and it feels odd going through it almost seven years to the day my own mother passed.

The crazy thing is seeing it happen again, and feeling it now, where I am again, a little bit older and a little bit more sober. Once again, perspectives shift, realizations rear their heads, and for a brief moment, there is a crack in the realm and space where you exist.

It becomes a conversation between survival and sentiment. Especially when family is involved. While some petty things are let go, others become a means to cope. There was a lot of “Fuck this, I’m doing it” decisions made, and I regret none of them.

People are constantly evolving. And I don’t mean that in just a Darwinian sense. It’s not just the physical attributes you shed, like fingernails or exfoliated skin cells, but things like bitterness and greed. Granted, these exist like fucking barnacles on some people, but even everyday penchants and persuasions can change over time. Maybe that’s why Facebook loves their algorithms, snapshots of hours, days, years before. The same day this year. The same Bat-time and the same Bat-channel.

I went home twice in a month for Ivan. First to see him in hospital, and the second for his wake. And even in the span of those two weeks, I saw extraordinary transformations within the people I loved. From small gestures to grand ones, every little thing became definitive of who they were and are at that point in time. Tragedy, an ultimate test of character, sits front row and center, and there isn’t much to do but sit alongside it and watch things unfold. Your heart swells and breaks at the same time, as all these different pieces play into each other.

And once the currents die down, you pick up what’s left and try to make sense of it all. Things slowly start towards what normal could be, albeit a little redefined, and you start acting accordingly again. It’s a little awkward at first, mainly because you’re just so fucking tired. But slowly you get a sense of where things are. They are pretty much the same, but just maybe arranged a little differently.


Ivan’s passing hit me pretty hard. But Hugo went a few weeks after that, and it just capped off the year with an immediate sense of, “FUCK THIS FUCK THIS IT DOESN’T MATTER I’M WEARING MOM JEANS AND EATING BONBONS ALL DAY.”

The post-Hugo stuff can be saved for another day. I don’t want to spill too much candy in the front lobby this early. But suffice it to say, I am really, really looking forward to 2015.

#AEASea: “Faster Decisions With Style Tiles” by Samantha Warren

Samantha Warren. What a cutie-pie. Anybody who starts a talk with a story about bananas and monkeys is a gold star in my books.

Design tiles are her way of building a pattern library for clients.

In her talk, “Faster Design Decisions with Style Tiles,” Samantha brought up a really big shift in how we handle websites today. I don’t know exactly when this thing exploded, but D-I-Y has stretched itself from handymen and Martha Stewart floral arrangements to how we all manage ourselves online. Whether it’s a personal blog, portfolio, or a giant conglomerate’s website, we all want control over our content.

It’s not enough to have a static HTML page that you set and forget like a Ronco Rotisserie anymore. And with good reason. We’re all realizing what we’re capable of, and long gone are the little lines of text that say, “Questions? Contact the webmaster.”

We’re all fucking webmasters now! (I mean “fucking” as a gerund, not a verb.)

In her talk, Samantha points out that we aren’t just putting together mock-ups for people, but systems for them to work with.

Websites aren’t just store-fronts to display our wares. They’ve now become actual platforms for communication, and that’s what’s so exciting about it. I love this idea because it’s a focus on exchanging information and growing together, rather than just throwing your hat in the ring and hoping for the best.

There is push and pull content, not just push alone.

It’s easy to fall back on blaming the client for their lack of creativity or imagination. And I know there are tough discussions about that. But the more I think about it, the more I think it a poor excuse for doing a bad job.

In most cases, projects can go to hell because everyone is looking out for their own best interests. And of course if something is always someone else’s fault, then everyone ends up sucking monkey balls on a hot day.

Her suggestions about abstracting a website’s look and feel goes much further than avoiding “franken-comps” and fights with the client. Style tiles and other such methods give value to the designer-client relationship, in my opinion. It becomes less about giving someone a product, and more about engaging them in an actual conversation.

We then allow ourselves to reflect and consider different options, rethink certain decisions, and maybe get to better solutions than what we first pitched.

I like the notion of working with your clients as people who have their own thoughts and ideas, and giving them the platform to share this—not just giving them a product in a box. It makes the job sound less stupid and a little more meaningful.

Just as we are realizing that the web is fluid and alive and organic, I think we should be transferring that idea into how we treat the people we work with, too.

The client shouldn’t be some kind of cartoon in a suit talking to a car-phone. The same way designers shouldn’t be thought of as pixel-pushers and drones in black turtlenecks.

How much confidence and good will can you foster with this approach? I think a lot. The same way you have charities and organizations empowering women, kids, minorities that change social perspectives; giving anyone a great set of tools and the opportunity can set so many things in motion.

While design can ultimately seen as a service, I think it also helps to see it as a relationship. There is trust needed and guidance involved from both parties. It isn’t one person pushing their expertise on another, but equals with each something to offer.

And if we start with that common ground, instead of “I am here to fix things for you,” then we all get to have a nice time at the party. Nobody wants to talk to that asshole who thinks they know everything. And nobody wants to be said asshole, either.

#AEASea: “The Future of Responsive Typography” by Nick Sherman

If there were two things to take away about Nick Sherman, they were that he liked pizza very much and that he liked to complain. This was how his introduction was prefaced, and there was something fantastic about this man’s grievances.

Here’s the great thing about what we’re doing, which I think is what Nick’s talk helped me realize:

We’re in an industry that has the ability to address dissatisfaction, and we have the means to make these solutions totally universal.

Just take a second to think about that.

If the default calendar app on my phone looks like shit, which it does, I have the means and resources to build a new one for myself. If this Dolly Parton ultimate fan site is not to my satisfaction, I can create an entirely different interface for it and make the woman proud.

And as long as our version of this is out there, as a free reference for another dissatisfied person, he or she can then take it version and make it better. They can take Calendar App V2 and create Calendar App V3. They can make it’s own native app.

It’s a world where your concerns are legitimate, as long as you actively address them. Knowledge will always run free, and the only thing to stop you is your own fears and lack of common sense.

How empowering is that?

When responsive web started blowing people’s minds a few years back, I remember having a conversation with my buddy Ross about it and mentioning some slight concerns I had about the effect it had on the fluidity of measures. If the measures of a page are unknown, how do you… what does… golden ratios… Bringhurst, I… how do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

Coming from a print design background, this made me nervous. It was a specific thing, and it seemed nitpicky to pursue it. And I knew that if I did, there was a very huge possibility that it would lead to more bad things to make me nervous and I didn’t want to take that pill. I, the awful coward that I am, decided to stay inside the Matrix.

Because responsive web and fluid grids were so amazing. The hype was REAL, dudes!

And then I ate a sandwich and carried on with my life.

But each time I would think about this idea of fixed type size on fluid measures, I would just kind of groan inwardly. Whenever I would test out my type sizes on websites, I could feel my butt clenching as I saw things break on smaller viewports.

Rivers formed, terrible rags that hurled widowed women and orphaned children off their awful, crooked edges. My paragraphs turned into the Mt. Pinatubo landslides of the 1990s and in my mind I knew there was nothing to be done about it.

I’m not proud of it at all, and I know it makes me look really bad. Like, wearing sweatpants and Uggs kind of bad. But guys, I did it. I compromised the design because I didn’t know how to deal with it.

I was Jodie Foster and I was trapped in that panic room of fluid walls with that chick from Twilight and everything was terrible but I didn’t know what to do.

And suddenly, ideas from people like this pizza man started popping up. Different people from all over the world were discovering new things to try, and setting the world on fire with them. They weren’t all perfect, and a lot of them were in beta mode, but it was there.

Some people were addressing widows and fixing them. Others were looking at resizing type on headlines. Other people cared about this shit as much as (or perhaps even more than) I did!

And it’s like how the cops bust in and everyone starts yelling and everyone has guns pointed and there’s something on my shirt I don’t know if it’s blood or BBQ sauce FLUSH THE WEED, LORNA—it’s mayhem for a moment, and then everyone gets a grip on the situation and then we all start thinking, “Hey, maybe this can work.”

And from this idea of banding together and knowing people who are smarter than you at other things, they made interesting things happen. With Math. And interpolation. And the Pythagorean fucking Theorem. What. The.

Like THIS:



Life size type. YES IT'S RELEVANT.
Life size type. YES IT’S RELEVANT.

Suddenly there is hope. And really, all you need to do is ask. But ask nicely.

Hey, this kind of sucks. Can someone help me make this not awful?

It is this constant dissatisfaction that should really help drive this vehicle. It makes for better work, and helps idiots like me not forget what we went to school for.

So that’s kind of what I wanted to say, Nick Sherman, when I tried to start an awful conversation with you. Thanks for reminding me that it’s okay to be dissatisfied with how things are, even though everything seems amazing. Because that small bit of unease is always a gateway to something even better.