[NSPW19] where we go falling down.

meal number five is the big group meal. there are six of us, and we come prepared to eat.

i’ve budgeted the meal out to roughly $60-80 per person, including tax and tip but not including drinks. i have an idea of what we’ll be ordering, and i half-jokingly let them know in advance that i’ll be setting the menu. whether in deference to that or because they trust me, they tell me, order whatever you want!

one of my friends has a soy and sesame allergy, which makes it tricky. soy and sesame are all over korean food, and i’m not entirely sure how much they’ll be able to accommodate—even if a chef is willing to accommodate, sometimes, there are limits to how much she is able to do so. they’re kind, though, and work it out. the server comes back with a list of foods that are available to her; he comes back later with an i’m sorry, there’s actually tamari in the spicy tuna kimbap. he isn’t an asshole about it. i always get nervous because, honestly, you never know. people can be assholes about allergies and dietary restrictions.

we order drinks, then we order food, and i become the asshole who asks, laughing but in earnest, if we could order the biji jjigae on its own without the rib eye. the server goes back to the kitchen, consults the chef herself. i look away. he comes back and says that, yes, they could do that, and i’m happy for it but also uncomfortable. i’m not someone who likes asking for favors, even favors i’d pay for. i don’t like to be noticed.

all i want is to be noticed.


people don’t typically think i’m korean. when i was in college in california, people would ask if i were cambodian, and then, later, it became, are you chinese? half chinese?

it’s happened on many occasions that i’ve been waiting for the subway and older chinese adults have come up to me and started talking in chinese. i always smile, say, i’m sorry; i’m not chinese, and they pause, give me That Look that says bad chinese girl! not knowing chinese! as they walk away.

i always want to protest, don’t give me That Look! talk to me in korean! i can speak korean just fine, thank you very much.


there’s a chicken dish on the dinner menu at kawi, and it’s served two ways. the breast is served as a jeong-gol, in a broth with glass noodles, mushrooms, vegetables, and tofu. it comes with two sauces. the rest of the chicken is tossed in a cajun seasoning and fried. they don’t waste any part of the chicken, so the head and the feet are fried along with the legs and thighs. we eat the feet, but none of us is brave enough to eat the head.


in 2012, my paternal grandmother passed away. she was my closest grandparent, the one who raised me and spoiled me rotten because i was my father’s first child and he was her only son. it didn’t matter to her than i was a daughter. she still loved me more than she loved my brother — or, at least, we were closer because i spoke korean, read and wrote it, too.

i forget who asked, but i was asked to give a eulogy at her funeral, and i wrote it out in korean. i gave it to my dad to read to make sure it sounded okay because, sure, i can speak korean but my vocabulary is weak, my spelling atrocious because i can never figure out the rules — is it ㅏ-ㅣ or ㅓ-ㅣ, and, god damn it, how is anyone supposed to know which is which, what are the rules?!?

my dad sat and read what i’d written and promptly burst out laughing. i stared at him until he finally explained, where did you pick up these words? you have the strangest vocabulary.


it’s a great group meal, one i’ll hold onto over the next few weeks. i’ve brought together five friends who’ve never met each other before, and the dinner has gone beautifully, everyone getting along, loving the food, eating to the point of being happily stuffed. there was none of the awkwardness that could occur with a group of strangers.

at the end of it, though, part of me feels off. i wonder if we stayed too long, if we were too loud, too boisterous, if i’ve been coming to this restaurant too often. i wonder if i’d worry about any of this if kawi were any other restaurant.

i don’t know that i would.

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three weeks pass before i make it out to kawi again. this is a quiet lunch, just me and a friend, but we don’t really hold back, starting with the tofu and roe and cured madai, then splitting the oxtail and brisket jjim and wagyu ragu. we finish the meal with the blueberry bingsu. luckily, i didn’t eat a full meal at fuku right before kawi this time.

the tofu and roe is incredible, the tofu made in-house. it’s smooth and creamy, the roe adding a gentle brininess, and there’s a caramelized soy sauce as well to bring salt and sweetness. the wagyu ragu i’ve had before; the ragu reminds me of bulgogi marinade; and it’s served over rice cakes. that dish, plus the rice cake dumplings—rice cakes served in a cheesy sauce with parmesan and summer truffle—makes gnocchi feel non-essential, which is a statement i should maybe follow up with, i love pasta, but i’ve never been that enthusiastic about gnocchi.

later, as we’re leaving the restaurant, my friend says that the chef seems like a kind person, that she was watching her interact with her staff in the open kitchen. i say, yeah, she seems like it. i don’t remember if we say anything more about her. i wish i could stop being the person noticing others and start being the person who’s noticed. i wish i could be someone worth seeing. i really wish this didn’t feel like the theme of my life.


recently, i have been learning how nice it is to read books and recognize myself in them. i didn’t grow up reading asian writers, but i also didn’t grow up thinking much about it because i grew up watching korean dramas and listening to korean pop. i grew up in suburban los angeles, where asian people didn’t feel like a minority, and i went to schools where many of my classmates were asian, increasingly so as i got older and started taking mostly (if not entirely) honors and AP classes.

i didn’t need to see myself in the books i was reading.

it’s only now that i kind of see that as a privilege, not to have that added to my plate during my formative years. that’s not to say my adolescence was easy; i was body shamed starting my freshman year of high school, to such an extent that my entire sense of self was destroyed and disintegrated by the time i went to college. i was already so detached from my identity, unable to attribute any kind of value to myself, wanting so badly to disappear myself and my grotesque, oversized body.

spend over a decade of your life wanting to disappear and maybe you’ll learn how to be invisible. maybe that’s the irony of it. i’ve become so practiced in disappearing myself, at least in my mind, that i don’t know how to be visible.

i don’t know how to be someone worth seeing.


the blueberry bingsu is layers of soft, creamy shaved ice and whipped creme fraiche. there’s blueberry syrup that has a tang to it that borders on vinegary. there are macerated blueberries. when they first introduced the blueberry bingsu, they topped it with pancake croutons, i’m told.

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my seventh meal at kawi wasn’t supposed to happen until maybe september, but, during my sixth meal, the server tells us that crabs are back in very, very limited edition. the crabs are marinated in a spicy sauce this time, not in the soy sauce-based marinade they were earlier this year, and there are only so many of them available — if they’re available at all. i debate coming back to kawi the next day to see if i can get the crab. she advises that i call before i come to make sure they’re on the menu.

it’s disgustingly hot and humid the next day, and i almost don’t go because it’s disgustingly hot and humid. i can’t get the crabs out of my head, though, how badly i wanted to try them earlier in the summer but missed them, so i head into the city, anyway. i try to take her advice calling before i head over to hudson yards again, but the call doesn’t go through. i almost go back home. i step out of target at hearld square, hear the flash flood warnings on hundreds of iphones go off, and i think, fuck it, and start walking over to the 7 at times square/42nd street. i get to the station just as fat raindrops start falling from the sky, and, fifteen minutes later, i get out at hudson yards to a torrential downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. 

they have the crab, though, and it’s one of the last ones. i’m soaked through with sweat and some rain because i got impatient of waiting and ran through the rain once it let up, and i look like shit, and i’m sorry to everyone around me because i’m feeling self-conscious in my body, in how gross and damp i feel. 

the crab is delicious, though, and it’s raw, called 개장 (gae-jang) in korean. i don’t typically like raw marinated crab, so i’m surprised at how much i like this, the gochujang-based sauce spicy and gingery, the rice, i suspect the same rice used in the hwe-dup-bahp. there’s a lot of crab in this bowl, and it’s a messy dish, three crab halves intact, meant to be eaten using your hands.

this is my last time at kawi over the summer, and i think it’s a great way to see the season out. as i’m leaving, i see the chef sitting at the bar, chatting with someone. typically, i’d walk along the bar, past her to get to the restroom and leave the restaurant. instead, i look away before we can meet eyes, speed-walk down the other aisle, leave the restaurant, and use the restroom on some other floor of hudson yards. i don’t know when i’ll be back. i’m afraid of having overstayed my welcome.

i’m afraid of having become visible because, even though i want so badly to be seen, i am also terrified of it.

i’m terrified that it’ll turn out to be true, that i really am not worth seeing but that it has nothing to do with my body but everything to do with me.

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[NSPW19] the ghost in this love story.

there’s a scene i think about constantly.

it’s from the korean drama, my name is kim sam-soon, which was a huge hit when it aired in 2005, and i’d provide a summary were it relevant. the scene i think about, though, requires no context: the secondary character, played by jeong ryeo-won, returns to seoul after years abroad where she was being treated for stomach cancer. in this scene, she’s taken her doctor (and love interest), played by daniel henney, to eat 산낙지 (ssan-nak-ji) and 낙지볶음 (nak-ji bo-kkeum).

she’s excited to eat the foods she’s been craving while away; he’s worried because he’s new to this kind of food and because he’s a doctor—he’s concerned this will upset her stomach.

she laughs, though, tells him not to worry, and i forget how the conversation pivots (as well as the exact dialogue), but she’s still smiling as she starts to eat and says, “see, the thing is, i think i used to shine, but, somewhere along the way, with all the treatment, i think i lost all that. but i used to shine.”

he tells her in all seriousness, “you still shine,” but she shakes it off, tries to shake off the mood, and points at the food, saying they should eat, but it’s still there in her eyes, the sadness and disappointment and longing.

i think about this scene almost every day.

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over the course of summer 2019, i go to kawi seven times. 

kawi is the momofuku group’s newest restaurant, situated on the fifth floor of hudson yards and helmed by a female korean american chef. the first time i go to kawi, it’s for lunch, three months after they’ve opened. i’ll go back later that same day for dinner because i’ve spent the week examining the menu, trying to decide when to go and what to eat, the problem being that there are items i want to eat on both menus.

at lunch, i go for the rice cake with chili jam, a beautiful take on 떡볶이 (ddeokbokki). the rice is imported from korea and milled in flushing—on one of my later visits, a server tells me that they’re family-owned, that the chef wanted to bring them some business—and they extrude the ddeok in the kitchen themselves. i’m not the biggest fan of 떡 (ddeok) (i’m a “bad” korean that way), but i’m a sucker for ddeok freshly made in house.

i’m a sucker for a lot of things made in-house.

typically, this kind of ddeok is called 가래떡 (ga-rae-ddeok), and it’s typically cut into long strips. at kawi, they coil and smother it with a chili sauce then smother that with a furikake that pops in your mouth. there are paper thin slices of benton ham. the whole thing comes with giant tweezers and a pair of scissors (aka kawi) for you to cut and eat.

it’s a lot of ddeok for one person, especially a person who is not the biggest fan of ddeok to begin with, but it is delicious. it’s good ddeok with that proper balance of softness and chew, and the sauce is flavorful with a light sweetness but not very much heat. it’s the kind of sauce i want to spoon over a bowl of hot rice and eat with a fried egg, which is more or less the greatest compliment i can pay any kind of sauce, to want to spoon it over rice and eat with an egg.

ddeok is not a meal, though, so i also order the mackerel set. i’ve only recently started learning the names of korean foods in english, and mackerel is one of the few fish i know (it’s 고등어 in korean). it’s also one of my favorite fish; when my mum makes it in LA, she buys it fresh, gives it a generous dusting of salt, and cooks it on a hot pan outside in the yard. we eat it hot, as soon as she brings it inside, and i love it with rice (obviously) and ripened kimchi.

the mackerel set from kawi is fascinating to me (still, weeks later) because the smell has been somehow entirely eradicated from the mackerel. it’s not that the dish lacks flavor—the mackerel is meaty, soft, oily, just the way mackerel should be, and it has a nice hit of salt. the oily smell that’s so unique to mackerel, though, so pungent and so overpowering that my parents do not cook mackerel indoors but outside in their backyard—the smell that might offend and put people off is gone.

this is one of the things that will continue to fascinate me about the chef’s food—how her food retains all the soul of traditional korean food while being its own thing, while removing some of the elements of korean food that might put people off. like strong smells.


i never know how i should approach korean words anywhere, whether it’s here, on instagram, in a piece i’m writing to pitch. when i’m in the mood, i provide all the information—the 한글 (hangul), romanization, and translation—but, most days, i just want to provide one thing, sometimes the hangul, sometimes the romanization, and leave it for readers to figure out.

today, i suppose, you’re getting the hangul and the romanization, and that’s it, though i have zero consistency in hyphenating. i’m still figuring that out.

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dinner is all about 회덮밥 (hwe-duhp-bahp).

i love hwe-duhp-bahp, even if hwe-duhp-bahp in most places is a giant mound of shredded lettuce over rice, the leftover ends of sashimi tossed haphazardly over the mix. at kawi, it’s a beautiful bowl of generous cuts of 회 (hwe) arranged over rice mixed with perilla and other things scooped over finely shredded cabbage. it comes with a side of 초고추장 (chogochujang) and toasted 김 (geem),

typically, you mix the chogochujang into the rice/fish/lettuce combo, but, at kawi, i start by simply dipping the hwe directly into the chogochujang, wrapping the rice in the toasted seaweed, and, basically, eating the whole thing piecemeal. i like that the seaweed has been cut unevenly, some of the pieces large and unwieldy, others the perfect size. when i’m halfway through the hwe, i mix my remaining chogochujang into the bowl, and i always wonder, whenever there is rice to be mixed, which is the right way to do so? with a spoon or with chopsticks?


it is rare for me to find a space where i feel comfortable; i always feel either like i am too much or not enough wherever i am—like, if i am in a room of korean koreans, i am too american, not korean enough. in a room of korean americans, i am too korean, not american enough.

and then there is also the layer where i often feel like too much, like i feel too much, want too much, whatever too much. i don’t exist in the middle but on the extremes, and i am too loud, too irreverent, too effusive. i am too obsessive.

earlier today, i stop by the strand to look for YA books—or, at least, i go into the strand intending to go upstairs and look for YA books. instead, i make a beeline for the cookbooks, though i have nothing in mind, and find myself in the “asian cooking” section. i start flipping through an, then the mission chinese food cookbook, then hawker fare, and, as i stand there telling myself i can’t really afford to buy books right now, it kind of hits me.

there is an extreme intensity to the food industry. chefs and cooks are known to work brutal hours for shitty pay. they work through holidays, miss family celebrations and milestones, don’t get nearly enough sleep. cooking itself is intense physical labor, and cooks are on their feet all day, exposed to extreme temperatures, can be susceptible to injury. there’s a tendency to romanticize all of this, to package it as some kind of dedication to craft, as passion, and i suppose, yes, it is passion because passion is obsession. passion exists on the extreme, and, sometimes, the singular drive that pushes some of these chefs to the top best exemplifies the obsession and, honestly, the sacrificial ugliness that passion is.

and the thing is, i feel most comfortable in that extreme. it is only when i think about that world that i feel at ease, like i’ve maybe found the place where my “too much” is just fine. 

and yet, i also feel entirely invisible because i’m still only ever looking in—i don’t have access to the space that makes me feel okay as who i am.


i haven’t talked about the kimchi at kawi, have i? i wish they sold their kimchi by the jar. when i’m in new york, i crave good kimchi all the time because it is impossible to find, and the kimchi at kawi is, one, delicious and, two, perfect ripened.

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the third time i go to kawi, it’s not exactly planned—a good friend is in town, and we decide to go for dinner because it’s been a month since i’ve last gone, and i miss it. i haven’t been so excited by one person’s cooking in … ever, i don’t think, and i want to keep coming back because i want to keep eating the chef’s food. i want to keep tasting what she serves next.

we split the fried cod with yuzu and the oxtail and brisket 찜 (jjim). the fried cod is hot and crispy without being heavy or oily, and the oxtail and brisket jjim has a really great heat to it. the spiciness is not overpowering (not for me, at least), and the oxtail is so tender, falling off the bone, the brisket soft and meaty. it’s a lot of food for the two of us, which isn’t helped by the fact that i arrived at hudson yards forty minutes early, was starving, and decided to eat a spicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries at fuku. i forget—or choose not to believe—that i can’t necessarily eat like i used to when i was younger.

we still get the blueberry 빙수 (bingsu), though. over the summer, i’ll eat the blueberry bingsu four times.


at one point, the chef makes a round of the floor, and i look up just as she approaches, make eye contact. i think i smile. my stomach goes flipping all over the place as my brain seems to short-circuit. all i want to say is, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, hi.

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this post (and the one that will follow) was supposed to be about something different. i originally started drafting it for national suicide prevention week, but i admit i’ve recently become very cagey about talking openly about mental health, especially given the potential consequences of doing so. if we’re open about our mental health, we could be fired, we could be rejected, we could be written off as liabilities, not as smart, creative humans worth investing in.

that’s partly why i find myself growing more and more angry when i think about how people just don’t know how to talk to or “handle” people who are suicidal. i find myself making lists of things i’d tell people not to do if they have someone who’s suicidal in their lives. like, don’t ever imply that suicidal thinking is something we can just think our way out of. don’t insinuate that we’re not trying to “get better” because we enjoy this pain. don’t treat us like projects, like problems to fix. don’t charge in thinking that you’re going to do this and this and this; meet us where we are; ask us what we need. don’t be offended when you aren’t showered with profuse thanks.

don’t give up on us, and don’t write us off.


i go back to kawi for the fourth time a week later, and that’s not exactly pre-planned either. i’m finally able to schedule a meal with another friend, and we decide to go to kawi because i’ve been talking about it non-stop and she was supposed to go a month before but couldn’t. we talk about everything from law school to plastic surgery to growing up asian american. the server gives us a complimentary flank steak kimbap. i wonder if that means i’ve been coming here too often, if that means the chef maybe knows who i am.


what else, what else: don’t approach us as people to be saved; you won’t save us. don’t tiptoe around us, afraid of saying the “wrong” thing and somehow sending us over the edge—stop centering yourself because this isn’t about you. don’t simply insist that we “get help” because, often, the best we can do is just stay alive, because therapy and medication require time, energy, and money, all of which we may not have at our easy disposal. and, by god, don’t report us to HR, especially if you don’t have a personal relationship with us.


the spicy tuna kimbap may be one of my favorite things on the kawi menu, and the kimbap, in general, maybe best exemplifies why the chef’s cooking is so damn cool. she’s not reinventing korean food; she’s not deconstructing it or trying to do something totally new, not in an obvious way, at least. she’s keeping the structures and forms of korean food intact and playing around with it from the inside—and that’s interesting if that’s something you’re interested in, but, if you’re not, that’s fine, too, because her food is delicious.


if you have someone who is suicidal in your life, just show up. let them know that you see them, that, even if they feel like they’re locked in darkness, you can see them in the light. be there and hope for them and believe in them. love them. meet them where they are, and, if they are in a place where they don’t appear to respond, let them know that’s okay—you’ll be there when they’re ready to reach out. you’ll be there, and you’ll get through this together. 


the fourth time i go to kawi, the chef’s executing. every time she calls out a dish, i feel sparks go off in the back of my head. how do you articulate to someone how much her food means to you, how much she does?


what is it like to shine?

where i've been.

it’s been a while. let’s catch up.

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when i first started planning this post, i thought i’d run through the books i’ve been reading these last few months. it’s not like i’ve been reading a whole lot of books; i have very little time or energy to do a lot of reading these days; but i’ve been reading a few truly stellar thought-provoking books i wanted to talk about. i’ve also been reading pretty much entirely from WOC — like, i’ve only been reading from WOC, except for jessica valenti’s the purity myth, which i read half of then stopped because i grew up in purity culture and don’t feel the urgent need to linger in that experience.

which is not to say that the purity myth isn’t worth reading. if you didn’t grow up within it, it’s an illuminating read. whether you grew up in it or not, it’s an important read. i’m glad it exists in the world, but it doesn’t mean i want to spend time submerged in it when i am intimately, personally familiar with so much of that bullshit mentality that does so much harm to girls.

it’s honestly when i think of purity culture that i’m almost glad for the body shaming that kept me so distanced from my own sexuality as an adolescent. i avoided much of it because none of my youth leaders felt they had to press it upon me with much insistence because i was so focused on school, on my SATs, on getting into a good university, and i wasn’t sneaking out to meet boys or go to parties and start drinking and/or dabbling with drugs — and that lack of attention sometimes alarms me because i think there are underlying issues when any adolescent becomes so fixated on one thing to an extreme, whether it’s boys or partying or, even, yes, academics.

then again, maybe i just played my part well. i played out my requisite crush on a boy. i was active in youth group functions. i guess, in ways, i seemed normal enough, and i went to all my discipleship groups, was close friends with the other girls in my class, attended every friday night youth group and every summer/winter retreat and all the fellowship dinners at people’s houses.

what was there to worry about?


i feel like i’ve gotten very dull and uninteresting in the last few months because all i do is work. i’m often too tired to do much on the weekdays after work, and my weekends have become very quiet, my saturdays often spent lolling around my apartment, doing some reading, some napping, some youtube-watching.

i’ve been watching a lot of youtube, a lot of the try guys, actually.

maybe my crush on eugene is cliché, platonic though it is, but there’s a lot about him i find refreshing — he’s korean american, openly queer, weird and brilliant and driven and exacting and open-hearted. he’s demonstrated maybe the most growth amongst the try guys. he doesn’t like babies. i wonder constantly how different public reception to him would be had he been a woman.

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publishing still has a long ways to go as far as diversity is concerned, but it’s been refreshing and just so bloody nice to see more writing by asian american women not only being published but also being pushed more into the spotlight, their brilliance being more and more celebrated.

as has been the case with susan choi.

susan choi’s trust exercise (henry holt, 2019) reads on the surface like it’s a story about high school students at a performing arts school, but, really, at least the way i read it, it’s a novel about the ways we shape our memories to fit the narratives we want to tell about ourselves, about our roles in other people’s lives. maybe it’s instinctive for us to be revisionists; maybe it’s actually unavoidable because memory is flawed and malleable, anyway; and we’re all prone to nostalgia, to regret, to ego. maybe it doesn’t matter how we try to revise our narratives because our revisions will always run up against how other people remember us, how we fit into their revisions of their narratives.

we could go down some twisty turns talking about trust exercise.

i’m intentionally not giving many details about the novel because i think it’s a novel best approached with as little pre-knowledge as possible, even of its plot and its structure — honestly, the less you know, the more interesting it is, the shifts choi makes.

choi is often described as a writer’s writer, and i wonder sometimes if that isn’t a way to make a writer feel better about not having more mass marketable appeal. when i read trust exercise for the first time, i thought that i liked it very much — i liked how thoughtful it is, how smart, how complex — but i also think that trust exercise might not be a novel for everyone. it’s not a book i think a whole lot of people might typically  enjoy; it’s more cerebral, more in your head, less action, even less character-driven.

to be clear, i don’t mean anything condescending or snooty when i say trust exercise might not be to everyone’s taste. it really is kind of a particular book, not one i’d go running to recommend to everyone, and that’s not meant to be a criticism or a negative point against the book — trust exercise is unique, i think, one of those books i’m still processing and thinking about, and it’s been over a month since i finished it. maybe that’s the best damn thing i can say about a book, that it has stuck with me, that i am still mulling it over, that i am still thinking about it because i found so much of it so interesting and thoughtful. that’s not something i can say about many books.


in no way am i holding eugene’s gender against him — i think he does phenomenal work, and i think he has an unfair burden to shoulder as a highly-visible queer korean american man, as one of very few highly-visible queer korean american men in media. white people love to make one or two POC representatives of their entire ethnicity or minority group or what not, and i often wonder if he feels the pressure of that, especially as the one try guy of color, as the one queer try guy.

gender roles do exist, though, and, even now, there are still strong gendered expectations of women. it is not as endearing or cute or funny not to like babies when you’re a woman, and i say this as a woman, as an asian american woman, who likes babies about as much as eugene does, possibly even less. i have held maybe two babies in my entire life. i do not find them cute, and i don’t like their baby smell, and i generally go out of my way not to have to interact with them. i have never wanted children of my own.

when i was an adolescent, the response to that was a condescending, oh, you’re still young; you’ll change when you get older. when i was in college, i was told i was just going through a phase. now, i’m constantly told that i just need to “meet the right man” — my mind will change then, and i’ll want to have babies with him because i’ll love him so much.

there’s a lot that’s wrong with that, but i don’t often stop to clarify that, no, i. just. don’t. like. babies. because, one, my plans to reproduce or not are none of anyone’s goddamn business and, two, i frankly don’t have the energy to deal with the wide-eyed, judgmental, but how could you not like babies?! what kind of woman doesn’t like babies?! don’t you have any maternal instincts?! besides, you don’t know what you’re talking about; how could you when you’ve never had a baby?, like i don’t know myself or who i am or whether or not i like babies. (also, i don’t think anyone needs to have a baby to know whether or not one’s a baby person. that’s a terrible gamble to make, to hope that, oh, your dislike of babies and lack of desire to get pregnant were a fluke.) it gets exhausting as a woman. it gets exhausting to be asked if i’m dating, when i’m going to get married and start having kids, like spawning is the only way for my life to be worth anything, for me to find fulfillment.

sometimes, i feel bad about it because my parents love kids — they’ve been waiting to be grandparents for as long as i think my brother and i have been of marriageable age, and, sometimes, i feel guilty because it’s been hard for them to watch as their friends have had grandchildren galore. i know they want to share in that, to go around showing off photos of their grandchildren, to have grandchildren to dote on and spoil and love. i fully understand how difficult it can be to have to swallow deep-seated longing and yearning that can sometimes turn into resentment, and, sometimes, i feel guilty because i can’t — or i won’t — give them what they want so much, especially after all they’ve done for me, all they’ve sacrificed for me.

guilt, though, is a terrible reason to reproduce. guilt, also, does not change who i am or what i want from my life.

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this is not coming out in the order it was supposed to.

before i read trust exercise, i spent much of january and february slowly making my way through esmé weijun wang’s the collected schizophrenias (graywolf, 2019). graywolf was kind to send me the ARC way back in october last year, but i’ve a habit, sometimes, of sitting on books i’m really excited to read. i’m scared of disappointment; i’m scared a book won’t live up to my high expectations and standards. i’m scared, sometimes, that i expect too much from the authors i love.

but then there is also this — as a fast reader, i can get through books really quickly, and, at one point in my life, when i was younger, that was the goal, to read as much as i could, as fast as i could. recently, though, i’ve been trying to slow down, to stop inhaling pages, to stay with the writing instead of moving through it.

esmé’s writing is very much worth sitting with. in the collected schizophrenias, she talks about her diagnoses, the illnesses she lives with and how they have shaped and colored her life. she’s frank about her experiences, her hospitalizations, her fears of being perceived in certain ways and her ways of compensating for that, and she balances the personal with research and the scientific and medical.

the thing that constantly strikes me about esmé’s writing is that she writes with so much grace. there’s a lot in the collected schizophrenias that could have been laced (rightfully) with anger and resentment, anger at a judgmental, patriarchal, fearful world that doesn’t take women’s pain seriously and continues to malign and mistrust the mentally ill. she reminds us through these essays that the mentally ill are human, that they deserve to be treated with respect and granted dignity, that they shouldn’t have to dress stylishly or appear neurotypical or have a résumé that includes vaulted academic institutions like yale and stanford (that also routinely fail their mentally ill students and force them into indefinite academic leave instead of providing them support to help them thrive) to be treated as human. at the same time, she also gives credit to the work that nurses, therapists, social workers do. it’s often thankless work, and they’re only human, too, and they can get worn down by patients who slip off their medication, have outbursts, etcetera.

the collected schizophrenias is a reminder that it’s easy to approach certain groups of people with whatever set expectations we have already decided of them, whether it’s maternal instincts in women or certain behaviors in the mentally ill. it’s easier to see how that harms those of us who exist outside the “norm,” those of us who aren’t neurotypical or hetero or white, but i think, in ways, these essays help us see how it harms the people who hold onto these prejudices and these expectations. maybe they don’t see it, though, because they mete out the harm — they don’t experience it, and they certainly don’t carry the trauma — but, sometimes, i think about how narrow their worlds are, how trapped they are in their heteronormative, neurotypical, privileged bubble. i think about how much they will never know and how they will never be better people, and i think that that’s kind of sad because how wonderful we are, those of us who exist outside of the “norm.” how wonderful and beautiful we are. what a privilege it is to know us and to love us.

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another person i watch a lot on youtube is lia kim — specifically, i watch a lot of her dance videos.

the chief choreographer at (and co-founder of) 1million dance studio in gangnam, she’s worked with prominent idols, including those from SME, YGE, JYPE, and here’s where i’d write more about her dance style if i knew anything about dance. as it goes, i do not know a thing about dance; i just know that i like to watch it, that i think it’s super cool what people can do with their bodies, that part of me wishes that i could do it.

i lack hand/feet coordination, though, but that’s been my easy excuse whenever the thought has crossed my mind. i’m not very coordinated. i don’t have a sense of rhythm. my body doesn’t move that way — and i know they’re excuses because, yeah, i’ll never be an incredible dancer or maybe never even a very good one, but the body can be taught and trained to do a lot of things. my body can learn to move sufficiently for dance to be a hobby. if i can learn to do the basics of boxing, i can learn to do the basics of dancing. and yet.


the character who stands out the most to me in catherine chung’s forthcoming the tenth muse (ecco, forthcoming) is a woman named henrietta, henry for short. she’s a friend of the main character, kathy, a friend who shows up far into the book when kathy goes to germany on a fellowship. a mathematician, kathy has left behind her long-time lover, a professor who is angry that she has even decided to go, disrupting the rhythm of their research. kathy, however, makes her decision to go to germany not only to study but also to look for her past.

henry is also in germany for research, and the two women quickly become friends. henry is the opposite of kathy, less buttoned-up, less guarded, and she is kathy’s first real asian friend. her vibrance jumps off the page, and i immediately pictured her as a woman who’s comfortable in her body, who occupies her body with ease, because she knows who she is — a queer asian american woman.

her queerness is really only brushed upon briefly and heavily implied, and the trajectory of henry’s life is a disappointment, not because of who she decides to take as a partner but because none of it makes sense when we think of henry as a character. she is alive, vibrant, confident, but then she kind of gets reduced down to a plot point to move kathy’s narrative along, and the funny — or maybe telling — part of my mini-rant is that henry comes along late in the book, is only a small part of the book.

the tenth muse is honestly about so much more than henry, but, damn, if henry isn’t the thing that’s stuck with me from the book. that maybe just goes to show how starved i am for queer asian women in stories.

it’s a strong novel, though, set in the 1960s when women are still being newly-admitted to higher education, and kathy unsurprisingly faces so much gendered bullshit as she tries to pursue an academic career in mathematics, having to juggle both the challenges of academia and the struggles of striking the  right balance as a woman in a male-dominated world, one in which it is not matter that she is brilliant and competent because she’s a woman, she should be getting married and having children and supporting her husband. a feminist novel that doesn’t try to be a feminist novel, the tenth muse taps into questions of identity and belonging, and it’s a strong second novel from catherine chung.

i absolutely loved her first novel, forgotten country (riverhead, 2012), which was a total punch in the gut, hitting me in some of my softest spots because it tapped into one of my greatest fears, my parents getting sick, and the tenth muse is certainly worth keeping an eye on. i just choose to think of a different story for henry.


and then i spent all of march very slowly reading t kira madden’s long live the tribe of fatherless girls (bloomsbury, 2019).

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in march, i went back to LA and spent four blissful days with my puppies, though i suppose gom isn’t a puppy anymore. he turned one on march 10, so he’s technically no longer a puppy, but he’ll always be my little baby.

i still worry that his personality changed when we brought som home.

som’s feisty and has no problem demanding attention or food or things. he wants whatever goms has, and goms doesn’t often fight to keep what’s his. he doesn’t bully soms or try to steal his things back; instead, goms will sit and whine and cry while soms doesn’t give a shit; and i’m always telling goms to fight back, get his bone or toy back, it’s his!

my mum’s main takeaway from our pups is apparently that i’d be great with children of my own because i’m great with gom, to which, if you’re a human with a child but no dog, you might be thinking, uhm, what? raising a puppy can teach you a lot about yourself, though. when we first got gom, he was a two-month-old puppy, and he needed to be taken out every three hours to pee, which meant i was getting up multiple times at night to take him outside. i’d often sleep on the sofa after taking him out the first time, and he’d sleep on my stomach or on my chest, curled up happily until it was time to go out and pee again.

we bonded intensely because of that, maybe, because i was the first human who spent a lot of time with him after he’d been weaned and taken from his mum and put in a dark garage all by himself. i opine that’s why goms has such strong separation anxiety, why he hates to be alone — he was the only puppy, no siblings in his litter, and he went from being the only puppy with his mum to being the only puppy alone, left to himself in a new, lonely space.

i come up with a lot of stories even when it comes to the lives of my puppies. like, i think goms has gotten quieter and more sensitive after we brought som home. goms was seven months old then, and, when we went to pick som up, gom spent the whole drive staring at the backseat, at this floofy puppy in my mum’s arms, wondering what this thing was, why it was coming to his home with his humans. he seemed to transition decently to having a younger brother, but goms still often looks more sad and quiet now, pushed aside by a younger, feistier puppy who has zero chill.

and then i, his human, left him because i got a job that brought me back home to brooklyn.


i still think constantly about dropping everything in brooklyn and going back to my puppy. i know — i can just bring goms with me to brooklyn, but i have so much anxiety around that, anxiety about my long hours, about goms having to adjust from a big suburban house to a small city studio, about having to “prove” that goms is my emotional support animal. i feel guilty about separating him from som, not because i’m worried about goms — goms and i are still very bonded — but because i’m worried about soms and how soms would take the separation.

i feel guilty and anxious about a lot of things. i already feel stressed thinking about the additional financial cost.

thinking about going back to my puppy, though, is thinking about going back to what feels like a simpler, safer life. life in new york is so much more expensive, and i’m alone in the city, even if i have extended family in cities close by. there seems to be greater risk here because i’m pursuing the thing that i want, and pursuing the thing you want often feels more fraught because it often feels like you have more to lose. going back to my puppy is to return to my safety net, to opt for what is more secure, so, yes, i do still think about it often even though i know i won’t actually do it — new york is home, and, here, i feel more myself, more my best self, and that is what keeps me here.


when it comes to children, i don’t necessarily doubt my ability to care for another human being — having goms has given me some faith in my ability to take care of another life. having goms has taught me, too, that i don’t necessarily need to doubt my ability to love another life, to be fiendishly protective of it, though having goms first then bringing soms home has fully made me doubt my ability to love a second child as much as the first.

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i think a lot about bodies, which is why i’m currently working on three essays that have to do with bodies or things related to bodies, like plastic surgery and body shaming. it’s kind of strange to revisit that period of my life when i was being shamed so intensely and so intentionally for my body because i honestly don’t have much anger when i think about it now. i’m not interested in writing angrily about that experience, in cursing or even faulting the people who did it to me.

because, yes, body shaming is terrible, and it is something i have little patience or tolerance for, and, yes, i do still bear all the scars and trauma from the experience. at the same time, though, i can say i’ve grown enough that i can recognize that it wasn’t done out of malice or hatred, that maybe they had their own share of self-loathing and insecurities that fueled the body shaming, and i can also acknowledge that there have been remorse and regret after they finally understood what they did, how deep the consequences of their actions went.

i have spent the last seven years healing from the experience, and, honestly, i think it’s only because i have moved on fully from a place of anger that i can start to write about it. i’m glad for that, too, because i do think body shaming is something to talk about candidly, especially as, for me, it really goes hand-in-hand with severe body dysmorphia. i am also glad for it because, like i said above, one of the things that constantly strikes me so much about esmé’s writing is that she writes with such grace — and that is the kind of writing i aspire to.


halfway through my freshman year of high school, i started being body shamed because i had an overweight body and, apparently, it was unsightly and unseemly. until i started being body shamed, i wasn’t aware of my body as a thing i had to think about, whether in positive or negative ways. i had never really been into fashion or my appearance or anything related to the physical, and, from as much as i can remember from my patchy memory, i simply moved about the world as i did, unaware of how anyone external to me perceived me.

(there is actually little i remember from my youth; i have had several people close to me comment on how my memory is like a sieve, how there is much i do not remember.)

i suppose i should have known this body intervention was coming. in middle school, i got super into k-pop, in love with h.o.t, my adolescent boy band, which then led to a general love for k-pop, specifically for idols from SME. i wanted to dress like them, talk like them, act like them. i wanted to dance like them.

for a while, i tried. i wore wide, baggy white pants. i tried to watch interviews (pirated from someone at church who would record them for me onto videotapes) to mimic the ways they talked and moved and lip-synced. i tried to learn their choreography.

from what i remember, i wasn’t very good at it because, again, that lack of hand/feet coordination, but i tried. i really, really tried. i didn’t stop to think how people might think of me, this over-enthusiastic, chubby middle schooler who had no sense of how to control her body, because that wasn’t something i even knew i should be aware of. i didn’t stop to wonder if people were secretly making fun of me, laughing at me, mocking me — not until i was pulled aside one sunday during some fellowship event with my youth group, told to stop dancing, to stop making a fool of myself, to stop embarrassing myself and my family. i was told to stop looking like such an idiot when i didn’t even know what i was doing. it was the first time i realized i was someone to be ashamed of, that i was too much.

i never tried dancing again.


maybe that’s why henry stands out to me so much from the tenth muse, because she seems so comfortable in her body, in who she is. it doesn’t matter if she’s too much — she is who she is, until she pulls this totally out of character move that throws me off, that i still can’t reconcile to the henry i’ve already built up in my head.

she’s comfortable in her body.

sometimes, when i think about envy, that’s what i think about. i envy women who are comfortable in their bodies, not thin women, but big women, women who have probably been told over and over again that their bodies are grotesque, they should be covered up, starved until they’re thinned down. i see them all the time on the subway, on the street, and, every time i do, i can’t help but stare. confidence rolls off them, and i want to bathe in it.


in the hulu adaptation of shrill, aidy bryant is annie, a big woman who’s not at ease in her body. she’s been shamed for it, too, and discomfort means that she lacks the confidence to occupy space, to assert herself while having sex, to let herself go in public spaces.

there’s a scene in one of the episodes when she’s crossing the street when a woman crosses ahead of her. this woman is big, curvy, tall, but she strides ahead like she owns the world. she’s dressed in something form-fitting, wearing red lipstick, daring the world, look at me. look at how beautiful i am.

annie follows her with wonder, awestruck, envious. i followed along with her, awestruck, envious.

later in the episode, annie goes to a pool party for big women, and this is a scene that’s made its rounds on twitter — annie, standing at a table, watching this group of big, confident women in bikinis, dancing their hearts out, not caring if anyone is watching. these are their bodies, and they’re curvy and strong and beautiful, deserving of love and respect, and these women know — they are not monsters. they are not grotesque. they’re just women, and they are wonderful to behold.

annie watches enviously until finally she starts to move. she does a little shimmy, then another, then she’s in the center of this dance floor, her shirt still buttoned up, her jeans still on, but she closes her eyes, smiles, and keeps moving. she dances; she lets herself go; and she pulls off her top, her jeans, revealing a cute bikini. she dives into the pool. i’m crying because i understand her hesitation, her fear, her envy, and then i’m crying because i envy her for being able to let go when i still can’t.


the really stupid thing about all this? at my biggest, i was maybe a size 16, maybe 18, at 5’8”.

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i still haven’t talked about t kira madden’s long live the tribe of fatherless girls. or about han kang’s the white book and my problems with deborah smith as a translator. or about eugene and why it’s so refreshing to see more asian americans out there, to see more asian american writers getting published.

i think this is long enough, though, so maybe we’ll leave things here for now. hopefully i’ll come back with another blog post picking up where i’m leaving off, but i think i’ve also learned better not to promise things like that.

thank you, as always, for reading. i am so grateful you’ve taken the time to do so.

2019 international women's day.

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march 8 is international women’s day, though, as far as i’m concerned, every day is women’s day. usually, i’d post a stupidly tall stack of books by writers who are women of color, but, this year, i thought i’d maybe try something different, try to be a little more intentional about this and talk about seven books by asian women i recommend — and why.

maybe the thing really is that i miss talking about books. hell, i miss reading.

(i know; this post is 12 days late.)

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t kira madden, long live the tribe of fatherless girls

i’m currently reading this, and i. love. it. so. much. madden’s writing is so beautiful and thoughtful and haunting, and i’m not very far into this because i’ve been so busy, i haven’t had much time to read, and also because i want to savor this, don’t want to rush through it, but i already know it’ll be a favorite from this year.

these cookies, though … i am not a cookie baker. i do not bake cookies. i swore off baking cookies six years ago after i went through my spate of obsessively researching cookie-baking and trying so many stupid recipes in an attempt to get my perfect crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside chocolate chip cookie. all my cookies invariably turned out like cookie pucks, rising too much and resulting every time in a cookie that had slight taste variation but zero difference in texture, whether i had more butter or a higher brown sugar ratio or longer refrigeration time — whatever the recipe, i still always got the same puck-like cookies, and, so, i swore vehemently never to bake another goddamn chocolate chip cookie again.

until a few weeks ago, apparently, because i became curious again — and because i want to try to bake with alternative flours for some reason. (the reason is my health.) i will not, however, be baking cookies with alternative flours; i’m already annoyed that i can’t get that perfect chewy, crispy texture with regular flour (aka gluten); and i know it’s going to be impossible without gluten.


t kira madden is not only a wonderful writer; she is also a delightful human being; and i want to be friends.

she and her partner are so cute together.

there is no period in her name.

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angie kim, miracle creek

(FSG sent me this ARC months ago, before they changed the title to miracle creek, so my ARC title is not the publication title.)

i read miracle creek a month ago, and maybe this is lazy, but here’s what i wrote on instagram in my review:

the novel follows a trial after a tragic accident, and, ultimately, if i were to sum it up briefly, i’d say that miracle creek is a story of good people who make not-so-wise decisions that end up having some dire consequences. it’s a story about mothers who make difficult decisions for their children every day, about motherhood and the desire for it, about mothers with disabled or non-neurotypical children and the unique hardships and emotions that only they can truly know. it’s a story about the wisdom of withholding judgment; it is impossible to know a human’s story or motivations or fears or trauma or pain. it’s a story about human meanness, the necessity for human kindness, the lengths to which a little empathy (or lack thereof) can impact someone’s life. it’s about love, tough love, forgiving love. it’s about a whole lot of things, and the writing is smart and introspective and cinematic (this would make a fantastic mini-series), and i highly, highly recommend you add this heart-squeezing, thoughtful novel to your reading lists this spring.


i wonder who gave FSG the memo that they really, really, really needed to start diversifying their list, but whoever did, i’m glad. FSG is the publisher i apparently have read the most from — i have enough books by FSG to fill almost two whole shelves, not counting the books that are published in paperback form by picador. that goes to say that i have always loved FSG’s taste in writing, though my interest had waned in recent years given the blinding whiteness of their list … until the last year rolled around, and, suddenly, there was eugene lim’s dear cyborgs and ling ma’s severance and now angie kim’s forthcoming miracle creek and chia-chia lin’s forthcoming the unpassing, and the really fun, cool thing about that is that i’m fairly sure there are a few titles i’m forgetting.

in the grand scheme of lists, it’s still a small percentage of asian american writing.

in the grand scheme of publishing, it’s not an insignificant change, and i absolutely love it.


miracle creek is a smart, deftly written book. it jumps from character to character, while moving the story along in time, but it’s not a tiresomely ambitious book. in the hands of another writer with a more headstrong writerly ego, miracle creek could easily have gone the way of a tiresomely ambitious book, but, in angie kim’s hands, it is a novel that just wants to tell a nuanced story about the complexity of human love.

because human love is deeply complex. it is twisted up in contradictions, and, while it doesn’t have its limits, human love does get tired. it makes mistakes; it often makes those mistakes because it runs so deep, it can get reckless. human love also has the ability to trap us in a narrow place, creating a bubble around us and our love because that is the only way we can protect our love. it closes us off to greater possibilities, greater potential, greater hope.

and, yet, still, human love is a wonderful and powerful thing. it is the reason we are able to make sacrifices for the people we love. it is the thing that allows us to empathize with and understand other people. human love helps us keep each other accountable in the hopes that we will emerge as better people, and, even now, two months after i finished miracle creek, i’m still stunned at how incredibly and deeply angie kim depicts all this.

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eugenia kim, the kinship of secrets

i have not read this yet, but i am sticking it in here because i have actually never seen this around since it was published in november and i am super excited to read it. the kinship of secrets is about two sisters who are raised in two different countries — their parents decide to immigrate to the US, but, at the time, they can only take one daughter with them, choosing to leave the other with her grandparents in seoul. as life goes, though, especially when there’s a major war (aka the korean war) involved, they’re unable to send for her in the timeframe they anticipate, so the two sisters grow up on opposite sides of the world.


i’ve recently been craving some rich, vivid korean historical fiction set during the japanese occupation. i would be very surprised if there weren’t any such novels that have been published in korea, but, as far as i know, none has made it into english translation.

one day, i’ll get back to seoul and spend a week or so leisurely browsing bookstores, checking out the food scene, and trying all kinds of skincare. i’m so curious about what’s getting published and which products are being used in korea because everything we get stateside (or that we even hear about stateside) has gone through numerous gatekeepers who filter what’s actually being talked about on the ground in seoul.

i’d love to get past those gatekeepers and experience things for myself.

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han kang, the white book

i also haven’t read this yet, but it’s my online book club’s pick for march, and i am excited to read it. i do wish i was reading it in its original korean instead, though, so i did go out and ordered 흰, which means i might dump this translation and just do the slow, laborious process that is me reading in korean.

i admit that i have a fair amount of reservations when it comes to deborah smith’s translations, to the point that i haven’t been able to read much of anything she’s translated recently. i’ve been trying to read bae suah’s recitation since it was published, but i keep wondering how accurate the translation is, how much we can even reasonably expect as far as “accuracy” goes in translation, and what that even means. is accuracy in translation simply getting all the words right? is it about taking liberties with words and structure to capture the quirks in a writer’s voice and tone? or does translation also entail taking more liberties in order to make things more “understandable” or “accessible” to a foreign reader who will likely not be familiar with the cultural and social context of the novel being translated?

i admit that i am also wary of a translator who is so new to a language and culture, and i’m also wary of the kind of inflated confidence that leads someone to think that she’s capable of adequately translating complex novels after six years of exposure to a language and culture. unlike others who may be impressed by the short amount of time deborah smith spent learning korean before diving into translating, i’m actually made wary by that fact. maybe it’s the korean in me being protective. maybe it’s the writer and reader and translator in me who knows how difficult it is even for me, a korean-american whose first language was korean, who is intimately familiar with korean culture, to translate something and minimize the amount of things that are inevitably lost in translation. i don’t know. whatever it is, i am wary and cautious.


glossier’s milky jelly cleanser is still my number one go-to cleanser. i was honestly planning on bringing more skincare talk into this post, but, heh, that’s not happening.

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nagata kabi, my lesbian experience with loneliness

i find this title to be louder and more sensational than it needs to be; this manga is a pretty damn universal story of loneliness, depression, insecurities, and fears — but, by this point, all i keep focusing on is how this blog post feels so choppy that it’s irritating me. i’ve fallen out of the habit of blogging (if you haven’t noticed yet), and, last year, it was because of a bad depressive episode then because of my puppy then because i was working on a memoir-of-sorts-in-essays, but, this year, it’s my day job. i’ve been blaming a lot on my day job, but it really has been a black hole of energy — and positivity. despite what the depression and anxiety might have you think, i am, in general, a positive person.

i hate whining and complaining, and i hate that kind of behavior all the more in myself. i’ve found myself doing a lot of it these last few months, and i’ve been trying to stop, to complain less, to focus on the positive side of things — i like my job itself, love that i’m back in new york, am super stupid grateful to be on my own with my own place.

and the thing about complaining about shit is that i’m always reminded that there are people who have worse jobs than i do — and maybe you’re thinking, well, tell me more about this manga, not about your stupid life! — except, i don’t know, that’s kind of it — this manga isn’t just for lesbians or for lesbians with depression — it’s for anyone who has ever felt lonely, scared, anxious, and depressed.

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jang eun-jin, no one writes back

when people ask what they should read in korean literature-in-translation, jang eun-jin’s no one writes back is the one i recommend. someone asked me recently, why?, and i think i said something about how i think no one writes back reads as very korean without being too weird, too foreign, too distant. there’s nothing “exotic” about the novel — it’s about a young man who’s drifting around korea with his dog, befriending strangers and writing them letters. something has sent him away from home, but we’re not quite sure what, not until later.

there’s a quietness and somberness to no one writes back that i find very korean, but that’s honestly all i could tell you. there’s something in the tone, in the melancholy, that just feels very korean to me, and i know i keep saying — it’s “very korean” — but i’m not explaining it. i’m not trying to be mysterious or anything, though; i genuinely do not know how i should explain what i mean by that, just that that is my lasting impression of this novel, which i read a few years ago and still about time and time again.

no one writes back was kind of my gateway into korean literature-in-translation, which is true and isn’t because i’d definitely read other korean books (in translation) before. it is, however, the novel that kicked off a flurry of dedicated reading of korean literature, and it’s also the novel that introduced me to the tremendous work being done by the dalkey archive press that has this library of korean literature that has many, many books across a pretty wide range of authors. it is fantastic, and i am truly grateful for what the press has been doing.

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susan choi, trust exercise

susan choi is one of my favorite writers; she’s so smart and insightful; and i finished trust exercise almost a month ago but have not yet reviewed it because i’m still processing — i’m still mulling it over.

i didn’t come out of trust exercise bouncing off the walls and wanting to shout about it from the rooftops. i came out of it thinking that it wasn’t necessarily a book for everyone, but i couldn’t explain what i meant by that. i don’t know that everyone will love trust exercise, though that kind of feels like a dumb thing to say because not everyone should love every book, anyway — books that are “universally” loved always seem suspect to me, like what i this conspiracy that has led people to band around any particular book and overlook its flaws and quirks and particularities? maybe that’s why i tend to be more open about my “negative” opinions; i want to put some kind of “balance” out there.

anyway, i didn’t come out of trust exercise wanting to run up to everyone and say, read this read this read this! i did, however, come out of the novel with a lot to chew on — susan choi raises a hell of a lot of interesting questions about narrative, memory, the ways we revise our narratives. she follows a group of theatre kids from a precious arts high school in southern america, and she takes us through three parts, though that’s all i honestly want to say about form. the less you know about this book going in, the better, i think. the more interesting it is when you can’t anticipate even the basic shape of what will happen.

so maybe that’s where i’ll leave this? because the book is not published yet, and i don’t want to go on and on about it because maybe i do think this is a book people should read. it makes you ask yourself about how you revise your narrative, how you revise who you are as the character in your life’s narrative, how you choose to remember things.

and maybe those are all things worth asking ourselves every so often.

dog person misses dog, unpacks a stupid number of books.

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as my parents pulled away from the curb, my dog stood in the passenger’s seat, paws propped on the door, looking for me. i like to think he saw me through the window, through the glass, because his ears perked up with recognition, but the car was pulling away into traffic, and he was disappearing from my line of sight as i was disappearing from his.

i cried on my way up the escalator, through the security checkpoint, to my gate. i cried off and on during the five-hour flight. i pulled up photos of my dog from puppyhood to now and cried over those i edited them.

two days later, i started my new job, and it was a lonely first day. the company is tiny (so tiny), and i didn’t really talk to anyone and found that weird and disorienting and discouraging. i tried not to stay too late because i could feel the onslaught coming, because i didn’t want to cry in the office on my first day, and i managed to make it out and onto the subway before i started crying. i cried on the train ride home. i cried in the market where i went to buy some basics. i cried when i got to my apartment.

i cried so much that night, my eyes were painfully swollen the next morning, that i had to sit and ice my eyes before i could put my contacts on, that my eyes were red-rimmed the whole day. i cried some more that second day, too, on the street outside my office, in muji, in the office bathroom.

that first week, i thought a lot about quitting, about just screwing it and going back to LA — hell, i hadn’t shipped any of my stuff yet; i hadn’t signed a lease; and i hadn’t received my relocation bonus yet. it would have been easy enough, resigning and packing my suitcases back up and hopping on another flight across the country, and i thought about doing just that so many times, i don’t honestly know what was stopping me from doing it. i could have easily, and, maybe, a few years ago, i might have.

the thing is, though, that that same week, i went to dinner with friends for my birthday. i had brunch plans for that weekend and dinner plans. i had a reading i was going to the next week. i had more people to schedule catch-up meals with, DMs and text messages going back and forth of, we should meet up! when’s good? i was talking more with my coworkers and realizing that initial weirdness was that my boss had parachuted me in over their heads, had never put us in touch for them to have a chance to vet me and get to know me, and i really liked them.

because, yes, i did like my new job and the work i was doing, and, yes, i was happy to be back home in new york city, but the thing that kept me here was that i have a community here — i have people, and, as it goes, i love people.

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after three weeks at this new job, the holidays roll around, and our office is thankfully all working from home. i fly out to LA, taking a stupidly late flight that gets delayed for hours because i want to see my dog sooner than later, want to cuddle him and his soft fur even if it means arriving at 1 in the morning, which, really, becomes 3 in the morning becomes 4 in the morning.

he seems hesitant to see me, and i wonder if the punk even missed me at all. i spent the last three weeks crying because i missed him so much, but he doesn’t seem that happy to see me, and i wonder if he’s forgotten me — but, damn it, aren’t dogs supposed to remember you even years later? something about your scent? no?

he’s more excited to see my brother later that morning, and i’m offended. goms! i love you! i tell him while he’s happily in the back seat, wagging his tail furiously while trying to climb on my brother’s lap. i’m in the passenger’s seat, alone because my dog abandoned me to greet my brother ecstatically.

maybe, though, it was hesitation because gom soon re-attaches himself to me, sleeping at my feet when i’m working, whining at me to sit on the floor so he can climb up on my lap with his toy, sprawling out against my leg at night. he follows me around everywhere, sitting outside the bathroom, wanting to go on car rides, pawing at me for whatever i’m eating and acting offended when he doesn’t get any.

som follows gom, so som gets in on the cuddles, too, jumping out of his crate in my parents’ room in the middle of the night and running down the hallway, pawing at my door to be let in. he runs over to where i’m sleeping on the floor on a futon, ignoring gom’s possessive, annoyed growls and barks, and curls up on my left shoulder, away from gom who sleeps on my right. there’s little that feels safer, more comforting, than two puppies curled up on either side of you, one (som) flopping around dramatically every time he wants to change positions, the other (gom) happily content to stretch out against your side because you’re his human and you’re right here where you’re supposed to be, and, yes, he missed you.


one of the biggest lies i told myself for over a decade is that i was a misanthrope, an introvert. i told myself that i didn’t like people, that i liked being alone, going things alone, and that was all my way of protecting myself.

for over a decade, i hated myself because i hated my body because i was told over and over and over again that my body was too big — it was grotesque, monstrous, and it needed to be whittled down in order for it (and, in extension, me) to be made acceptable. one of the consequences of that was this lie i told myself, this wall i built around myself so i didn’t have to feel like i had to put myself out there because that would mean opening myself up to rejection. what if people really were repulsed by me? what if no one wanted to be friends with me because i was so big and ugly and disgusting? what if i really were a monster?

instead of facing what felt like inevitable rejection, i retreated. i read a lot, saw movies alone, sometimes went days without talking to anyone other than small talk with baristas and cashiers. i always had roommates, and, sometimes, we’d chat, but i’d soon shrink back to my half of the room, plug in my ears, and pretend to study.

it’s not that i was totally friendless — i had two close friends whose friendship was invaluable, one of whom is still my best friend today. i had a handful of friends from high school i’d see every so often, even though we’d been scattered across the state for college. that was pretty much it, though, and, for years, for over a decade, i convinced myself that that was enough, that i was fine, i’d be fine, i could ignore the fact that i was often crying myself to sleep because i was lonely, that i felt so much sadness when a day, two days, three days had gone by and i hadn’t had a real conversation with a human being.

to be honest, i don’t know what changed. i moved to brooklyn for law school. i made it one year in law school before withdrawing from school because i was so depressed and suicidal, that was the only way to save my life. i’d spent that year retreating, too, because i still felt so monstrous — i’d just spent a month in japan and korea, had fled korea a week before planned because i couldn’t take the open judgment about my body anymore — and i hadn’t even wanted to be in law school, anyway.

i withdrew, moved out of law school housing, and maybe that was the change because withdrawing from law school was the first proactive step i took into pursuing the thing i wanted to do, the thing i knew i did well, and that was writing.


having a dog is a great way to meet people.

when you take your dog on walks, you’ll meet other people taking their dogs on walks, and not everyone is the same, but most dog owners like to stop and chat. if you don’t meet other dog owners, you’ll meet other dog lovers, especially when your dog is like mine and loves people, wants to meet all the people, flops over almost immediately for belly scratches.

i like meeting all the people, and i’ll stop and chat with anyone who wants to stop and chat and give my dog scratchies. so far, though, my dog has not been successful in getting me any dates, but maybe one day soon he’ll learn that that’s why i take him on walks. heh, am i joking or not? >:3

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