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.

My Auntie’s Confession

We were having brunch together at Cora’s in Richmond. It was right after I had told a joke about all four of us (my aunt, uncle and cousin) being third-born children and how we were pretty much better than our respective siblings. My aunt then looked up from her poached egg and toast and lightly touched my arm. “Ginger, I will be honest.”

That worried me a little bit, but she continued. The last time she sounded like that, she told me I was gaining a lot of weight and that I had to work out more.

There was some hesitation in her voice, as it was obvious that she was trying to find the right words. “You are very different now from when you were at Emily Carr.”

“Now I think, ah, I think you are more… mature.”

Guys, I can’t even explain how big this moment was for me.

In the midst of forks and knives clattering on plates and servers whizzing by with coffee pots, my aunt had basically just told me that I wasn’t a little piece of shit anymore.

And before going any further, I will make it clear. I have no excuse for it, and neither do I want to deny it as a truth. I really was a little piece of shit. Particularly when I was in Emily Carr.

I don’t know what it is about being that age. Right about the time I got out of high school, it was as if a monkey had immediately strapped itself to my back and suddenly the world shifted. After a flash and a bang, I was out to prove something. I didn’t know what the fuck it was I wanted to prove, but the push was there—this weird motivated restlessness to be the biggest asshole in the world.

I picked fights with my mom and never listened to her advice. I refused to willingly take part in any family outing with my aunt and my cousins. I never called home and always kept it short and quick when my parents would phone me. I knew they missed me, but I didn’t care.

I suppose it was just being around other kids who had so much independence at Emily Carr. You try to find yourself in the midst of it all, being alone in an unfamiliar city with a totally different culture. It was exciting and fresh, and I didn’t want the trappings of my sheltered Filipino-Chinese upbringing to hold me back.

I kept wanting to go at it alone. I refused to ask for help for anything, constantly turning to people who didn’t know me very well, and probably cared about me even less. It wasn’t so much as a warpath I was on, but a refusal to acknowledge the idea of family.

I thought I was smarter and better than everyone I knew.

AND IT WAS SO NOT TRUE. ;_;

I’m sure it hurt a lot of people, and when I look back at it, I always feel a phantom bruise being pressed. It makes me physically gag and I get embarrassed all by myself. It’s terrible. Along with the clothes I used to wear, particularly when I discovered the Salvation Army and Value Village. Oh God, I looked like a fucking hobo. I was a shitty, bratty Asian girl who looked like she was homeless and hung out with people who smelled like the underside of a couch.

And so sitting there, with those words hanging in the air, I felt a huge rush of awkwardness and gratitude. Gratitude for them noticing the effort to change as well as the change itself. I’m not a parent, and I don’t have a lot of experiences with young teenagers. Just imagining myself in their shoes at the time, having to deal with this shitty kid, really puts things into perspective.

My excellent mother passing away was the unfortunate catalyst for this change and I know it. I have so many regrets when I think about my mom, and I’ve always sort of beaten myself up for it. And rightly so. It isn’t so much a call for pity, but more of a statement or suggestion. It’s said over and over, but it’s so different when it actually happens.

Guys, real talk. I know it may not be the same for all of us, but if you even have even the tiniest suspicion that your parents kind of love you, my God, don’t waste any of it.

I’m glad to be able to sort of make amends now, and to be able to talk like normal people. Normal adults. I feel like I’ve been allowed to stand up to my full height, and they are now able to see me at my full posture. I don’t have anything to hide from them anymore, and that feels really wonderful.

Now I look at people differently. I look at family differently. I don’t want the same regrets to apply to anyone else, if I can help it. When that happened, another flash and a bang went off, and this monkey loosened its grip and fucked off as quickly as it showed up. My selfish endeavours immediately dissipated, and all that was left was this want to be a better person. I just kind of wish that it didn’t have to happen with such circumstances. But then again, sometimes you don’t know that you’re on the wrong path until you’re halfway in thick of it. You just have to suck it up and find the strength to go back to the beginning.

Restlessness & Youth & Independence

So I have to admit I went a little bananas. I never thought I would, but over a year and something of working alone in my home office, but okay—I totally went apeshit.

I don’t know if that is a bad thing or a good thing, but I do know that there was one night where I was talking to my manfriend and just totally burst into tears. I didn’t even feel it come up. One second I was talking normally, and when my manfriend turned to get something from the fridge, I was already bawling.

And suddenly I was looking at flights to Korea to see my sister, looking at fitness classes at the community centre, and attempting to make peanut butter cookies at ten to midnight. Oh, and I think I moved some furniture, too.

It felt like I was stuck in this one pace and place, where I just let things happen over and over. I didn’t notice the gnawing feeling until it felt similar to how you let go of taking care of an ulcer.

I would wake up, go to my corner, feed the cat, work until dinnertime, and then Netflix and then go to bed. Washing, rinsing, repeating, and suddenly I’m in the tub, having scrubbed myself raw and I’m bald.

While solitude is still something I very much enjoy, there are also times where I really miss my family. I feel so grown up admitting that, and would never had expected it from myself five, ten years ago.

All that mattered then was my independence, and this illogical need to make that point. That’s why teenagers are so shitty, for the most part. And I like to think that I earned my independence at a much earlier age than people like me. That is, sheltered, Chinese-Filipino, middle-class and trained in a Catholic School with Jesus biscuits as treats.

And then, I suppose I got lazy.

It's like we don't talk anymore, Hugo.
It’s like we don’t talk anymore, Hugo.

I guess it takes a toll on you, being alone. I still don’t mind it, and I really don’t think it was totally because of the home office situation. My family is across the Pacific Ocean. My good friends were all moving to different cities/getting married. It just hit me how quiet things were all of a sudden. And without that noise, I succumbed to keeping to myself like the natural mountain man that I am.

It’s also more the matter of missing this place, rather than being there. Perhaps it’s a common thing for Third-Culture Kids, but there’s a weird mix of dissatisfaction with where I am and longing for it at the same time. I like to move around so that I get the opportunity to miss it. You stay in a place long enough and you start taking it for granted.

I went home to Manila recently, and it was a bit of a surprise to see how different I had become from when I first left at seventeen/eighteen years old. Anything we leave behind gets stuck in a time-warp, I think, and all that usually holds up are your memories of it. Some are bad, good, totally inaccurate, but somewhere in there lies the truth of how you feel about the place.

I sound like a fickle housewife, forced to choose between a loving husband and the pizza delivery guy.

Routine is a struggle for me sometimes, as I’m not happy with seeing the same thing over and over. Perhaps this is also just residual feelings from youth, and something that I’m still growing out of. I’m not that old yet, and really, if there’s anything I’ve learned, there doesn’t seem to be a threshold for youth anyway.

And so I’ve taken it upon myself to build on new routines, ones that don’t feel too contrived, and am more aware of creating options throughout my day. The feeling breaks once in a while, but independence really is something we need to maintain, not just achieve. Because when we get lazy, we kind of stop deserving it.

Free Agency Turned 10

Ah, Free Agency’s 10-year anniversary office-warming.

What night with FAC is not complete without me saying at least seven idiotic things?

Here’s one:

Me: Congratulations, guys. You are awesome. Man. How long has Free Agency been around?
Don: (long pause) Ten years.

(pan right, to a sign at reception right behind me, where it says “THANK YOU FOR THE LAST 10 YEARS”)
(cut to, weeks prior, where I was opening my email and a giant e-vite pops up, “JOIN US IN CELEBRATING 10 YEARS”)
(cut to, a small collection of books that say, “WE WOULD NOT HAVE LASTED 10 YEARS WITHOUT YOUR SUPPORT”)
(cut to, a plane hovering past, with skywriting, “HAPPY 10TH ANNIVERSARY, FREE AGENCY!”)

Free Agency has been such a huge part of my life here in Vancouver. There have been so many memories and stories, and their beautiful office space was alive and abuzz with these that evening.

I’ve said it before, but I really do love FAC. Part-big-brothers, part-mom-and-dad, Don and Tak have always taken care of me. The night was a reflection of how far they’ve come in the past decade, and as I’m super self-centered, I found myself looking at how I fit into all of it.

I can’t look back on my years here in Vancouver without thinking about Don and Tak. I don’t know if anyone else feels the same way about them, but I tend to cling to people I admire. It’s important to recognize that point where you have no fucking clue what to do. It’s more important to seek out the individuals who will point you to the right direction. And I’m not the only one they’ve done this for.

Essentially, Don and Tak were the ones who got the memo early on, and they were kind enough to relay the message to me. They were in line when they were passing the brains out, and they generously passed some of that shit over to my direction.

Okay I’ll stop.

I feel like one of their young veterans, talking about “the old Water Street office” and meaning “the big one, when Don used to live there.”

There was a time in FAC where everyone who worked for them was gorgeous, and the office basically felt like a modelling agency. I swear to God. It was beautiful women designing Home and Garden Show collateral, and me in the corner, 20 years old and desperately trying to figure out how to turn on a computer without looking like an idiot.

I also did not look like a model. I looked like a half-baked turd sitting in the sun, just waiting to be stepped on. Nowadays I just look like a teenager. Or worse, my mom.

For the past few years I’ve known them, Free Agency has really cultured a way of gathering great students under their wings and training them really well.

What I also found that evening is that this training ground has started a weird but awesome sub-culture.

There were complete strangers talking about the same things and I found myself building a common understanding with them. When I mentioned specific clients, a couple of eyes twinkled and a few smiles crept in. Not because of anything remotely negative, but anyone who has worked on a couple of their larger projects knows exactly how much collateral and how much production goes on during the summer months. And of course we all shared and exchanged stories about the hilarity that ensued for each of us.

When I mentioned Tak and K-OS (the rapper), a few heads turned around to laugh. Because they also knew what that meant.

I think being the reason for these connections is an amazing thing. They’ve told me before about how they started in Don’s basement kitchen, and I’ve seen first-hand how hard these guys work. The fact that they are able to pass on that kind of experience and develop that work ethic among their students, my colleagues and peers, that takes some pretty serious commitment to what you want to do.

They haven’t just been doing it for themselves this whole time. Haha and whether or not they have planned that deliberately, I know I learned shit tons of lessons from Free Agency, and I don’t feel obligated to reciprocate anything. I genuinely want to extend the same courtesy, respect and faith to my other homies in the design biz. Whether you’re a student or a colleague, we’re all in the same community. And being able to grow that community is a fantastic privilege, bros. We can’t waste that or take it for granted.

These guys are serious about giving back. Not just because they love doing it in a Mother Teresa kind of capacity. They understand the idea of investing in people and seeing those returns later on. It’s a smart, kind and exciting way of doing business—a way that I first learned from them.

I’m grateful and sincerely happy for Free Agency, and I can only hope that there will be another time where we see Don put on Tak’s tiny track pants for another office laugh. Or order 20 cheeseburgers from McDonald’s so we can all eat family-style in the middle of a big table, drinking beers.

Congratulations on your 10-year-old baby, guys. Soon it will go into it’s teenage years and start mouthing off. I hope you’re ready when it turns 20.

Sportsbutter 2012

Some snippets of illustration work from the past few months of working with Mainsocial’s collection of fantasy sports apps, Sportsbutter.

nb. I didn’t create the awesome Sportsbutter logo.

Icons for the fantasy pool apps in the Facebook environment
Excerpt from the 2012 Media Kit
Excerpt from the 2011 Holiday Emails
Excerpt from the 2011 Holiday Emails
Background for Sportsbutter’s 404 Page (“Sorry, Cat Got Into the Butter”)