Fellowship of the Emoji Ring
10 Year Challenge
The first thing you need to know about Maya is that she doesn’t like dogs.
The second thing is that she doesn’t like sports. The guy can play a sport. A soccer player is sexy. But a man who spends a Sunday afternoon wearing a shirt with another man’s name on his back and worshipping that namesake like a religious figure is unattractive. For the record, it’s not unattractive to me, but right now her tastes are the ones we need to enumerate.
She won’t surrender her feelings about dogs and sports quickly. In fact, she might not say anything at all. Maya isn’t shy or passive, nor does she skirt the truth to appease someone. But it’s just not in her nature to voice these opinions so directly, especially before getting to know a person, before carefully assessing how they might react. Nevertheless, right here right now, her feelings about dogs and sports are front and center. It might be the veil of a smartphone, or the fact that a surrogate is the one presenting you this information. But online dating has made defining such deal breakers so easy and outwardly expressing them so normal.
According to the data I collected by sifting through hundreds of Hinge profiles and by fielding many puns, the majority of straight men 5’10” and taller between the ages of 28 and 37 within 5 miles of Brooklyn who identify as any of the race options available will have a photo of themselves with a dog or wearing another man’s jersey somewhere on their profile.
The summer after freshman year in college was a summer of transition: moving into my first apartment, declaring a major in chemistry, and switching personal email addresses to one that had my full name. Any monicker with “tgn” was extinguished. Also, that summer I deactivated my Facebook account because it was distracting and intended to reactivate it a few months later. I was practicing a social media cleanse before there was even a term for it. For a reason that I don’t remember, though, I couldn’t reactivate my profile.
I was reminded of this event during the flurry of “10 year challenge” posts that flooded the social media channels that I have since cleansed and restored many times over. Wanting to participate and looking for the perfect 2009 photo, I scrolled through my Facebook albums only to find that the earliest pictures of me on there are from 2010. I eventually created a new Facebook profile after discovering that I couldn’t simply restore my old one. I suppose the latter part of that year was dedicated to rebuilding a network of online friends, and I had never gotten into a habit of uploading photos of myself in any consistent manner. I was at a school where I only really knew one other person before starting there, and I maintained contact with my hometown friends online. Ten years ago, I often felt disconnected from the world.
Deep Valleys Make High Mountains
This year I set my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge to 50 books, and on Christmas Eve I finished the 50th book! I didn’t read all of them exactly because I’m modern and also listened to a number of audio books, but still this is a year-end goal that I’m proud of.
Although, 2018 wasn’t successes all around. My only expressed New Year’s resolution was to learn how to shuck oysters. I bought the knife and the cut-resistant gloves, but when I found out that buying raw oysters from the fish market in Upper East Side was more expensive than happy hour at my favorite oyster bar in Greenwich Village including the train fare, motivation levels went down. Does watching oyster shucking YouTube videos count as learning?
Book 46 was Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks. I had read all of his novels since I first heard about him in college, and I guess at some point during that time I signed up for his email list. When I was notified that he was coming out with a nonfiction book about storytelling, I was curious and preordered it. This year I became a podcaster, and I thought that learning how to tell stories better would help me. I don’t craft stories to tell in front of live audiences in the way the author does at The Moth events, but I can say that I learned a lot reading Storyworthy.
In his book, he advises budding storytellers not to tell vacation stories. “No one wants to hear about your vacation.” Last year I wrote about my trip to South Africa, and well, looking back at 2018, I realized that my highlights were reflections while I was on vacation. Sorry, Matthew.
The Man Who Holds Trash
What about suki kirai? Is there a word for that in English? It literally means “like dislike”—or maybe “love hate.” The phrase refers to someone who has a lot of preferences, and I usually ascribe this trait to food. People who have suki kirai are picky eaters.
I shouldn’t have suki kirai, my mom taught me that.
It usually happened like this. I would be sitting on the floor of our study, probably playing Diablo II, and my mom would call out from the kitchen that dinner was ready. I was sitting on the floor because I moved my desktop computer to a low table. Not Indian style, but I was into seiza, which literally means “proper sitting,” or kneeling butt-to-heels like they do in tea ceremonies. I had this setup throughout middle school, and it may or may not be the reason that in my adulthood my knees don’t touch and I feel the need to get cupping therapy to fix my back. If I didn’t instinctively yell back “Chotto matte!” (“Wait a little!”), I would hop downstairs to the dinner table.
My Side Hustle
“I follow Bernese mountain dogs on Instagram!” I approached a man and tugged on Jayden’s leash gesturing, Is your dog friendly? My black lab made his usual nose-to-butt introduction.
The owner smiled and responded, “My dog is on Instagram.”
I smiled back.
“Do you post things in the first person as if your dog is talking?”
He laughed embarrassingly and also realized that I was being serious. “Well, my girlfriend does, yes.”
Jayden nudged to explore a nearby tree, and I could tell the man was eyeing the countdown timer for the crosswalk. Furthermore, I didn’t know what else to say after that. “OK, well, have a nice day!”
Being an idealistic, left-leaning 27-year-old working in scientific research can be frustrating. From a young age, my parents and teachers pushed me to study math and science, assuring me of a well-respected and lucrative future. Despite having earned degrees in science from two of the world’s top academic institutions, I seldom feel that my dedication to chemistry and biology has helped me garner the social or financial capital that appeared self-evident 10 years ago.
I want to say that I wasn’t disillusioned by some pretense that pursuing science would guarantee social status and financial security and that I do what do because I enjoy it and feel that I’m contributing to the advancement of humanity. But it’s difficult to be optimistic when scientists’ collective hard work is challenged and often misrepresented by people who don’t understand how science works. Denial of climate change, the fear of genetically modified organisms, the anti-vaccination movement, the improper use of antibiotics, and an altogether indifference to the facts of the natural world are pervasive. As a chemical biologist who has perched his pipets and beakers in the fortresses of the ivory tower, I question how what I do helps society.
I called my dad. “Hi, Papa. I’m at the airport in Chicago.” I was on my way back from a weekend trip to the Bay Area, and during my layover, an email from Bank of America alerted me that there was less than $25 in my checking account. The taxi fare was something like $30 from Boston Logan to my dorm in Cambridge. “Would you be able to transfer money to my bank account?”
In many ways, this phone call marked the beginning of my adulthood. Three months out of college, two weeks into graduate school, one day before my first paycheck, I was returning to my new city after a weekend of wine at the first wedding that I would ever be invited to. I was 22, and my college classmates and I laughed about how broke and grown up we felt.
By the time I landed in Boston, my dad had transferred me money, and I took a taxi home. This happened before public transportation from the airport was free, before that one time they tried to extend T hours past 12:30 am, and before Uber. On the ride to Cambridge, I was going through a mental to-do list for the next day: prepare for recitation section, set up an appointment with the professor whose lab I was interested in joining, and respond to a message from a middle school friend who had also just moved to Boston and wanted to meet for dinner the following week. The MIT campus lights shimmer in the Charles River the brightest at 2 am.
“Are you connected to the wifi?”
Startled, I turned around to see a redheaded white man standing next to me. His eyes were sunken into freckled cheeks.
In between a morning tourist activity and a lunchtime yoga class, I got into a routine of sitting at the window bar seats at a restaurant in City Centre, people watching, and drinking a smoothie. I replied to him, “What? No.” I was connected to the internet but wasn’t sure what he meant by the wifi—the restaurant’s, probably? I was also nervous that there was a stranger talking to me.
He quickly fired, “How do you get around the city? Do you take Uber?” This time I noticed that he had an American accent.
Over a year has passed since the inaugural post to this website, and I wish I could declare something here that musicians sometimes say about a hiatus between releasing albums. “I had to live some life between this record and my last one.” Usually they refer to having a child or going through a divorce, which gives them material to create songs. I indeed lived some life, a year and a month or so, and maybe you could say that this and future entries represent some of that life. Nonetheless, no kids and still no relationship to divorce.
I’ve been hesitant to publish a post—I call “personal essay”—mostly because of a matter of branding. Among Facebook updates that are meant to be inspirational, Instagram photos that commemorate/brag about where I’ve traveled, and quotidian Snapchat videos that say, “Hey, I do cool stuff sometimes,” I still struggle to figure out what message I’m trying to convey exactly through the internet. My work as a researcher doesn’t require my having an online presence, at least in a social way. I don’t have fans to reach out to. I do it to connect with friends and family, but phone calls and text messages also accomplish that, and perhaps better.
Last week, I received a friendly Facebook message from a stranger named Toshiki Nakashige. He, who I learned had attended a school called Yamaguchi University, was thrilled to have met—or the online equivalent of meeting, I’m not sure if there’s a term for that yet—another person with his name. I assumed that he had recently joined the social media platform because, just as I knew where he went for university, I saw that he only had four friends. I know that people who share the same names sometimes create online communities to congregate, and perhaps he was curious to see if he could find someone else in the world with our name, maybe even interested in starting a group of our own. His message read, “I was so happy to find you. Nakashige is an uncommon family name. So I have not met same name even in Japan!” I guess he figured out that I lived in America, and he probably also knew where I went to school.
I responded saying hello and telling him that it was my first time meeting someone with my name, too. Since Japanese names can be represented as kanji or Chinese characters, I wondered whether Japanese people only considered names with the exact same kanji characters technically to be the same, or whether it mattered, that sameness at the phonetic or Romanized level was sufficient. I know that users can set their Facebook names to be written in different languages, but Toshiki Nakashige of Yamaguchi University had his in the Roman alphabet. I then wrote a note to myself in my phone to ask my mom, “Are there ways to write the names Toshiki and Nakashige in other kanji characters?”