2019 international women's day.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

in another world, we might be everything.

this weekend was all about onions.


i have a history of publicly documenting all my crushes, from tony (h.o.t) to keira knightley to freja beha, and my crush on kristen kish has fared no differently. i remember hearing about her when she won top chef back in 2013, but, back then, i was going through a terrible time, dangerously unhappy in law school and trying not to think about dying all the time (and failing), and i didn't have the headspace to think beyond, oh, she's korean? that's cool, as i was dissolving in the cesspool my depression had made of my brain.

when you're trying to stay alive, the only thing you can do is focus on saving yourself.

last year, i finally watched top chef season 10, and it's the only season of top chef i've seen, and i didn't even watch it in its entirely because i only watched the episodes she was on-screen. even then, i didn't watch all of that first episode either, because, one, there were way too many contestants to keep track of and, two, i'm totally one of those people who will watch something for one person and that person only and, thus, have no interest when that person is not present. (sorry, sheldon, i liked you and your food a lot, too, but what can i say? i'm wired this way.)

i watched much of that season of top chef over and over last summer because i couldn't read much, couldn't really focus on books — or on literature, to be precise; i read a lot (and i mean, a LOT) of lucky peach — so i did the odd thing and watched a lot of television. (that's not a diss against television; i'm just not a big TV-watcher.) that's not to say i picked up a lot of new shows; my TV-watching is pretty much relegated to rewatching things, like SVU (until i have nightmares about being assaulted in my own apartment) (this is a real fear) or the x-files (until i have dreams in which i am an FBI agent shadowing mulder and scully) or the first three seasons of the gilmore girls (until all i want is to eat a damn burger) or friends (until i've reached my limit of the fatphobic, homophobic, racist jokes) (friends is a highly problematic show).

top chef, though — i've had friends think out loud that it's weird i never did watch it (or the food network either, for that matter) given how much i love food. again, though, i'm not a big TV-watcher, and it didn't help that top chef started airing a few seasons into project runway, and, by that point, i'd fatigued of the competitive reality TV thing, sick of all the contrived drama, the pettiness that was either genuine or generated for ratings (i still can't decide which is worse), the insufficient focus on the designing and clothes-making, which was the most interesting part.

(i loved season two of project runway and was peeved when daniel vosovic didn't win when chloe's collection was the same shiny prom dress over and over again.)

so, anyway, this is one long-ass introduction to i cooked from the kish cookbook this weekend!, but, yeah, so, last summer, i watched season 10. there wasn't enough cooking. there thankfully also wasn't too much stupid drama (i hear the earlier seasons were worse in the drama department). it helped me get through last summer because it made me smile and got me excited about food and cooking when i thought everything inside me was dead. i don't know why i wrote all that down, but, like i said, i've a lifelong impulse of publicly documenting my crushes.

random fact: i still haven't watched the judges' table when kish was eliminated.


okay, maybe no one needs a series of photos of onions caramelizing over 1 1/2 hours ... or maybe you do. i mean, look how pretty!

to caramelize onions properly, heat oil and butter in a sauté pan on medium heat until foaming. turn down to low heat; add sliced white onions; and cook on low for 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently to prevent burning. your onions will go from white and opaque to soft and translucent before taking on an amber tinge that will darken as your onions shrink and caramelize. they will smell heavenly.

“i love you,” i say.

“do you love every part of me?” (machado, “eight bites,” 164)

over the weekend, i deleted instagram from my phone. i normally don't check twitter or email on weekends, anyway, and i'm not on facebook, so it's easy enough to disconnect if i want. this wasn't an attempt to reconnect with the world at-large, though, because the truth is that california compounds all my lonelinesses, so what i have mostly when i disconnect from the internet is nothing but everything in my brain.

it's not california's fault; it's more the inevitable result of returning to the place you were raised after having failed miserably in the place you consider home — and, not only that, but returning a different person — or maybe who you really were all along; you've simply learned to fit into your skin; and this you is not one the people from your past recognize, and you’re unwilling and unable to go back to that role you played before.

loneliness has been a lifelong struggle, and that, too, is maybe something inevitable because that's what happens when you don't know how to live in your skin. when you hate yourself, when you want to disappear, you make a ghost of yourself, and you can never thrive. you can never live. you can never make connections in any meaningful way, not when you can never be known because who you are has been buried away under all the self-loathing, the self-hatred, the resentment, buried so deep underneath all that crap that you don’t even know yourself, can’t even look in the mirror without feeling repulsed, without being frightened by how your reflection seems to be so ghostly, not really there.

it’s not easy to learn to forgive yourself, to accept yourself as you are, as you look, as you feel and want and hurt.

it’s not easy to demand you be seen as you are, that you be loved in the way you deserve.

it’s not easy to hope you will ever exist in the world as a whole person, not someone damaged beyond repair.

honestly, though? i don’t like hope. i’ve mentioned before (whether here or elsewhere) how much i hate hope, how i expend a considerable amount of energy trying to diminish it, to reduce it because i feel like, the more i hope, the more disappointment hurts, the more it cuts me down.

at the same time, my active attempts to diminish hope are maybe countered by my reminders to myself to live in the present. enjoy current successes. allow myself the joys of possibilities. revel in the accomplishments, big and small, and let myself hope (stupidly) that all this work is leading somewhere.

and, yet, the reminder to stay in the present is also this: stay in present hope; don’t invest in the hope of possibilities. hope in things that have a concrete, knowable foundation. that doesn’t leave me with much.

truth be told, i don’t have a whole lot of hope. part of that is that i don’t allow myself to hope in that future someday anymore; too many disappointments have taught me to avoid that. i don’t hope in things that might happen, not until there is a degree of certainty that they will, indeed, happen. i don’t write or create in the hopes that anything will come from any of this; i do it because i don’t know how to do otherwise — i do it in attempts to find meaning amidst drudgery, to find connections in loneliness.

and maybe that’s bleak, maybe that’s sad, but that’s survival. you could argue that we need hope to survive, but the truth is that, sometimes, all we can do is survive, and there’s no energy or headspace or room in that to hope. hope requires energy. hope, in and of itself, requires hope. it requires faith in something, that there is something better out there, that none of this (whatever “this” is) is for nothing, and, when you’re in that darkest, most insidious place, when you’re trying to extricate yourself from that and just get to stable again, sometimes, there is no hope, there is no faith, and there is no energy to generate either. when you’re trying your damnedest just to stay alive, staying alive in the most basic, physical way is all that matters.

so, i get through my life one task, one book, one meal at a time. i read, and i write, and i cook on the weekends when i can. i look forward to the occasional dinner with friends. i stay active on social media. i try to hold onto all the parts inside me that are still beating, even if that means stupid shit like watching a television show or listening to a song over and over again, and i try. i apply for jobs. i try to write. i think about future travels that have already been booked, to san francisco this weekend, portland next month, baltimore for thanksgiving.

i think about the present things i have to look forward to, but maybe here’s the catch: i never look past the end of this year because the future to me still does not exist. i do not exist in that future there.


the only thing i miss about summer is all the amazing corn ice cream.

in the bedroom there is a queen-sized bed, a raft in the middle of a great stone ocean. on the dresser rolls a light bulb that, if held close to the ear and agitated, would reveal the broken filament rattling in the glass. necklaces rope old wine bottles like nooses, frosted stoppers silence glass decanters. a nightstand that, when opened, reveals — shut that, please. in the bathroom, a mirror flecked with mascara from when bad leans in close, the amoeba of her breath growing and shrinking. you never live with a woman, you live inside her, i overheard my father say to my brother once, and it was, indeed, as if, when peering into the mirror, you were blinking out through her thickly fringed eyes. (machado, “mothers,” 53)

last week, i started reading carmen maria machado’s her body and other parties (graywolf, 2017), her debut collection of short stories that was published to huge amounts of acclaim and was, last week, short-listed for the national book award. i finished reading it on saturday night, and i’m a little of two minds about it — on one hand, i loved it; machado’s story-telling is hypnotic and astute, her prose lovely and haunting, but, on the other, i felt like my intense, burning love for the stories diminished as i read on.

i wrote huh. idk at the end of the last three stories, and i think it’s accurate to say the turning point, for me, in this collection was the longest story, “especially heinous,” in the middle, a story that took episode titles from law and order: special victims unit, wrote short episode summaries for each, and strung together an overarching story. while i loved the way that story was framed, it felt too long, spread a little too thin; i wondered how much more powerful the story would have been had machado done ten seasons, not twelve.

moving on from “especially heinous” (and going past “real women have bodies” which i liked), i wanted to love “the resident,” in which the narrator is a writer who goes to an artists’ residency in the woods, near where she want to camp as a girl scout but, ultimately, felt it lacking. i wanted something more solid from “eight bites,” a story in which the narrator gets gastric bypass surgery and finds a creature in her home, a thing without eyes and bones that is, what i presume, something symbolic of what she casts off with her surgery … but what, i’m still unsure.

and i think that’s the thing that’s left me tilting my head, that machado gives us these things that feel like they’re supposed to be symbolic but leave us wondering in what ways. i was blown away by the first story, “the husband stitch,” but i was also confused — what the hell is that green ribbon supposed to mean? i know it’s taken from another story, and is it supposed to have the same meaning as it does there? what does it mean that it seems to be a thing that other girls also have but on different parts of their bodies?

stories like machado’s remind me of a note my writing professor gave me once: i apologize for not being sharp-witted enough to understand this — and i don’t say this in any kind of diminishing way because i write stories like machado’s, stories that turn on a concept, a conceit, and get lost in the boundaries, that maybe wind around more in the liminal spaces between what is, what was, and what might be — stories that make the reader ask a lot of questions but in a maddening, what the hell?!? kind of way. editing, to me, is always a game in bringing things down from the more complex to the knowable.

oddly, though, none of this is meant to dissuade anyone from reading her body and other parties because it is an incredible collection. machado’s mind is the kind of dark, magical, cerebral place i want to occupy, and her women are the kinds of women i want to meet, complicated, weird, and present with their desires and madnesses (in ways) and bodies. maddening questions or not, these are stories worth your time.

seriously. i shit you not. read machado. let those first three stories in particular blow your freaking mind.


i’ve been baking for years as a way to deal with depression and anxiety, and, this year, i finally started making pasta. i don’t know why it took me so long to get into that; it’s the perfect act, really, for getting a handle on my anxiety when it starts running wild because pasta-making is everything i love about working with any kind of dough — you work ingredients together to make a dough; you roll it; you cut it; you shape it.

the first time i had cavatelli, it was may of this year, and it was at republique, one of my favorite restaurants, and i fell in love. there’s a springy, dense chewiness to it that i love, and cavatelli sops up flavors and pairs well with heavier, creamy flavors. that’s not to say you need a complex sauce; i tossed this cavatelli in butter, freshly-grated parmesan, onion syrup, and a raw egg yolk; and it was divine.

sometimes, the best things really are the stupidly simple ones.

i’ve been running high levels of anxiety all year, and it’s sometimes a little scary, realizing how my sense of what is a normal level of anxiety has shifted in the last twelve, eighteen months. anxiety runs under every hour of my day, whether i’m awake or asleep, whether i’m at work or at home, and it’s something i’m no longer cognizant of all the time, this constant, faithful companion of mine. it’s always there in the ways i’m always uneasy, always restless, always on this brink of feeling numb and feeling nauseated. it’s there in the ways i pick ceaselessly at the skin around my nails until my fingers reverberate with pain with such intensity i can’t sleep. it’s there in the ways i can’t sleep anyway, in the nightmares that whirl through my brain, that wake me to panic and sadness and fear.

some days are better than others. the end of the week is usually the worst, especially when i also find out on friday that kish will be at hedley and bennett for an event the weekend i'm going to portland, and this has been a stupid running joke for the last 18 months, and not one i enjoy. (/end rant.)

anyway, so, over the weekend, i stayed home, took benadryl to sleep, and cooked from the kish cookbook. i read her book non-linearly, reading the introduction backwards, hopping from section to section until i’d read it all and tabbed recipes i wanted to try. this weekend, i made the onion broth, onion syrup, and cavatelli, and i enjoyed how non-simple and slow everything was. the onion broth takes a few hours (it would also take an extra day if you were to make the chicken broth from scratch, which i normally would have, had i the energy and chicken bones). it takes 1 1/2 hours to caramelize onions properly. you have to let pasta dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour so the gluten can do its work.

sometimes, what you need to do is take the time things take.

and that’s the damn lesson of the year, isn’t it? things take time. a book can take 9 freaking years to write. it takes time for things to be considered. it takes time to build an audience. it takes time to learn to live with the shit in your brain.

it takes time to learn to live in your skin.

i called her two days later, never having believed more firmly in love at first sight, in destiny. when she laughed on the other end of the line, something inside of me cracked open, and i let her step inside. (machado, “mothers,” 48)

i believe in a world where impossible things happen. where love can outstrip brutality, can neutralize it, as though it never was, or transform it into something new and more beautiful. where love can outdo nature. (machado, “mothers,” 56)

when it comes to humans in general, i’m principally drawn to one thing: a striving for excellence.

it encompasses so much, i think, and it demonstrates a lot about a person because it asks, what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want, where you want? some people have no qualms sacrificing relationships, love, stability all in that race to be the best, to accomplish what they want, to get to that point of success. some people give up their health, ruining their bodies by pushing them to their limits and beyond. some people sacrifice their integrity.

others manage to balance things better, and, yes, sometimes, that comes with a price. if you have less time, less energy to devote to pursuit of your craft, your success, then maybe you won’t perfect that skill or technique as quickly as someone else. maybe you won’t advance as quickly as someone. maybe you won’t scale that ladder as nimbly.

it’s all about priorities, though, isn’t it?

so what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want?


to end on something awesome: KAZUO ISHIGURO WON THE NOBEL PRIZE.

i shit on awards all the time because, sometimes, they make really weird decisions (remember that year the pulitzer didn’t even award a prize in fiction and gave some stupid, bullshit answer in defense? or last year when the nobel went to bob dylan?), and, yeah, awards don’t ultimately mean that much in the grander scheme of things, but, damn, it’s gratifying when a deserving author wins something.

and, hey, maybe i’m biased here, but ishiguro’s damn deserving of this.

ishiguro was one of the first contemporary authors i read, and i didn’t start reading contemporary literature until 2005-ish, which is around when never let me go was first published. at the time, i didn’t think that much about the fact that he was japanese-british, that he wrote in english and not in japanese, that he was an immigrant. i forget why i picked up the book at all, but i did, and i remember that punch in the gut, the oof that came with every new revelation, the tears that started with ruth’s death and continued until the end of the book.

i still start crying when ruth completes. i still cry all the way through the end.

i read this book every year at least once, and it never stops stop sucker-punching me every time.

but then again, when i think about it, there's a sense in which that picture of us on that first day, huddled together in front of the farmhouse, isn't so incongruous after all. because maybe, in a way, we didn't leave it behind nearly as much as we might once have thought. because somewhere underneath, a part of us stayed like that: fearful of the world around us, and — no matter how much we despised ourselves for it — unable quite to let each other go. (ishiguro, never let me go, 120)

i’ve read all of ishiguro’s work except for the unconsoled now, and i haven’t read that yet because it’s really long and i have a decided aversion to long books. i tend to be loathe to name people as influences, and i don’t even know that i would call ishiguro an influence on me, except that he was the first POC author i read, one of the first authors who showed me that there were people out there writing now, in this present, and getting paid to do it.

and something i just really want to say is, being able to see yourself in the world matters.

in her memoir, blood, bones, and butter (penguin, 2011), gabrielle hamilton is forthcoming about her hesitance to be placed in the group of “female chef.” she doesn’t want that label; she just wants to be a chef; she doesn’t want her gender to matter. to an extent, i see her argument, and, ten years ago, i would have agreed with her. i would have argued it really shouldn’t matter, the color of our skin, our gender, our sexuality; it should just matter that we can do the work we do, whatever that work is, and do it well. we should be able to disappear into our work.

now, though, i see how naive that argument is, how wrapped up in privilege, whether its privilege that actually exists (as it might for hamilton as a white woman) or a privilege that is imagined but desired (as it was for me as a WOC). 

and i can see the desire to escape from these labels, to be seen for the work we spend so many years striving to excel in, and yet, there is also this: it matters. it is important for us to own our labels, to be women, to be people of color, to be queer, to be trans, to be whatever the hell we are because it is important to be able to see ourselves out in the world, in media, in the arts. so much begins in looking out at the world and seeing someone and her/his/their work and thinking, that person looks like me, and that person is doing this. i can do that, too.

so i’m freaking thrilled that kazuo ishiguro won the nobel. he’s an incredible, astute, thoughtful writer, and few people write first-person narrators like he does. he writes books that are just his own, that go against the bullshit that the dominant white industry demands from its writers of color, that narrative that’s pushed on us, and obsessively explores the question of who we are in this world, of memory and its flaws, of what makes human. he does it all in these quiet stories that seem humdrum almost, prosaic, quiet lives lived by quiet characters, and he brings such poignant thoughtfulness to his stories that touch you in gentle but unnerving ways.

and that is important to recognize, that here is a writer of color who was born in one place but grew up in another who is doing good work, but, more than that, recognition is crucial for other aspiring writers of color out there, immigrant writers, writers who are children of immigrants, all of us, wherever we come from, whoever we are, because we carry multitudes within us, multitudes that go against the narratives the majority wants, and it means something to be able to look up and say, hey, i can do that, too.

that might be the kind of hope i do believe in.


(for the record, i love gabrielle hamilton and think everyone should read blood, bones, and butter. also, kristen kish cooking will be published on 2017 october 31 by clarkson potter. this book was not provided to me by the publisher. all thoughts and content and S:DKLFJ:KLDS;OMGILOVEYOU are my own.)

gender traitor, mango eater.

ordinary, said aunt lydia, is what you are used to. this may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. it will become ordinary. (33)

hi! it’s been a whirlwind of a week-and-a-half, filled with emotions and time zones and sleepless nights. we went from los angeles to san francisco to cancún to san francisco to los angeles, and we watched my brother be wedded to my now-sister-in-law, the same weekend that i watched the hulu adaptation of margaret atwood’s the handmaid’s tale (vintage, 1985) and started rereading the novel.

which is a juxtaposition worth noting because it was a weekend of religious, church-y services, and it was a jarring juxtaposition indeed.

(there will be no spoilers for the hulu adaptation in this post. i’m waiting for the halfway point to write about that.) (all quotes in this post, except for one noted below, are from the handmaid's tale.)

it’s the usual story, the usual stories. god to adam, god to noah. be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. then comes the moldy old rachel and leah stuff we had drummed into us at the center. give me children, or else i die. am i in god’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? behold my maid bilhah. she shall bear upon my knees, that i may also have children by her. and so on and so forth. we had it read to us every breakfast, as we sat in the high school cafeteria, eating porridge with cream and brown sugar. you’re getting the best, you know, said aunt lydia. there’s a war on, things are rationed. you are spoiled girls, she twinkled, as if rebuking a kitten. naughty puss. (88-9)

if you want to spend a week feeling terror, read the handmaid’s tale and chase that with rebecca solnit’s the mother of all questions (haymarket books, 2016).

if you’re not familiar with the handmaid’s tale yet, you should be. the novel follows a first-person narrator who is named as offred, though that isn’t her actual name, simply her designation as she is the handmaid assigned to a commander named fred.

a handmaid is a class of women in this city of gilead, and handmaids are women who are still able to get pregnant and bear children, a blessing in this time when the birthrate is down and pregnancy is rare, which, of course, is a fault that is borne entirely by women because men cannot be held to blame.

gilead is a hyper-conservative, hyper-religious city, and, with her novel, atwood gives us hyper-literal interpretations of the bible. handmaids are monthly subject to “the ceremony,” in which the handmaid lays between the legs of the wife, who holds the handmaid’s wrists, while the husband fucks (read: rapes) the handmaid, a literal take of the biblical passage, genesis 30:1-3.

there’s a lot in the novel that takes the bible literally.

given that, unsurprisingly, this is a world in which women have no rights, no money, no property. instead, they are property, and it is illegal for them to read, write, think even, i dare say. it doesn’t matter whether they’re a wife or a handmaid or an aunt — and one of the things atwood does so brilliantly in her novel is to show how women are complicit in enforcing and reinforcing the patriarchy and misogyny and sexism.

gilead needs the aunts with their cattle prods and indoctrination to force the handmaids to submit. it needs the wives to call handmaids sluts and whores while requiring them for childbearing. it needs the handmaids, too, to spy on each other, report on each other, keep them in place. the patriarchy doesn’t keep itself in power simply by the participation and force of men.

and, if you think this is some far-fetched fictional world, think about this — we hold each other to impossible standards; we shame each other for dressing provocatively, wearing too much makeup, acting “inappropriately.” we blame victims of sexual assault and tell our girls that boys are being mean to them because they have crushes on them and encourage each other to stay in abusive relationships for the sake of our children. we tear each other down and keep each other in our proper place, scoffing when one of us tries to break the glass ceiling, wants more than we should, tries to be different and wants more, even if it’s something as basic as equal pay and the right to make decisions about our own bodies.

and think about this — women voted for the cheeto. women held hillary clinton to an impossible standard, despite the fact that she was qualified for the job at hand. women defended the cheeto’s horrific statement of “grab them by the pussy” by dismissing it as men’s locker talk. women voted for him. women did that.


after the wedding, my extended family — all my aunts and uncles on my father’s side — goes to mexico. it’s hard to say we go to mexico, though, because we spend the entirety of the time on a fancy resort an hour from cancún, in this little bubble enclave of wealth and pampering.

while i’m in transit, in these sleepless in-between spaces, i think about a lot of things.

i think about the bubbles these fancy resorts are, the drive from cancún international airport to the resort, this one hour traversed on a highway that crosses through trees and exposes little of the world around us. nature, here, is meant to hide. i think about the stuffy privilege of all this, of cloistering ourselves away on these all-inclusive grounds, our every need being met, greeted with smiles and friendly holas and can-i-get-anything-for-you,-miss-es? i think about the hypocrisy of being uncomfortable about all this but receiving the services, anyway, of enjoying the comforts of my privilege, of my family being one that can have.

i think about complicity, how we’re all complicit in something. i’m complicit by simply having said yes, okay, to this vacation with my extended family. i’m complicit by partaking of these services. i’m no better than anyone else just because i feel guilty — maybe i’m worse because of it — and i think, what can i do about this? what can i do instead of simply feeling badly about it?

i don’t yet have an answer to that.

i think about passports and borders and the privilege and protection my US citizenship grants me. i think about that time i was driving across the country, and i was in new mexico when all traffic was stopped at border patrol. i sat in that queue, wondering where my passport was, if i’d need it, if my california license would be enough to prove my citizenship, but, then, i got to the kiosk, and all the man asked was, are you a citizen, ma’am?

i said, yes, and he said, thank you, ma’am, and waved me through, and i thought how simple that was, how all i said was one word and that was sufficient.

on thursday, i leave cancún to return to the states, and, as i go through the airport in mexico, i think about how my US passport might be considered more valuable than my person. as i land at LAX and head to immigration, showing my passport to security who direct me to the line for US citizens, i think what a privilege this is, to be able to know that i can reenter my country of residence without trouble, that this little book of paper is enough for me to stake my claim.

i think about what krys lee wrote about borders in her novel how i became a north korean (viking, 2016):

i often think about borders.  it's hard not to.  there were the guatemalans and mexicans i read about in the paper who died of dehydration while trying to cross into america.  or later, the syrians fleeing war and flooding into turkey.  arizona had the nerve to ban books by latino writers when only a few hundred years ago arizona was actually mexico.  or the sheer existence of passports, twentieth-century creations that decide who gets to stay and leave.  (lee, 60)

and i think about how borders are lines on a map and passports are books of paper, and yet, and yet.

over the past week-and-a-half, i think, too, about gender treachery, about passing. passing is not something i do intentionally; i happen to be very femme; and we live in a heteronormative society that assumes straightness, especially when one fits into the expected visual of gender norms. i think about that privilege and how it’s not one i necessarily want and isn’t one i’ve pursued, but that makes me think about privilege overall and how privilege doesn’t tend to be something we’ve actively pursued — that’s why it’s privilege.

the other day, my father asked if i considered myself an activist, and i said, no, i don’t. i don’t consider myself an activist at all. just because i like to talk about things, because i believe it’s important to talk about mental health, sexuality, heteronormativity, body positivity, feminism, that doesn’t make me an activist.

what makes an activist, though? i’m loathe to align myself in such ways because i don’t think my talking about things makes much of a tangible difference. i’m not here trying to change policy or trying to advocate for more equal rights or anything; i write these words mostly in the hopes that someone out there will recognize them and maybe feel a little less alone and, in turn, will help me feel less isolated. i hardly consider that activism. 


in mexico, i eat as many mango halves as i can.

the mango halves are only available during breakfast and lunch, so that means i’m eating, like, four mangoes a day because i’m eating four halves at breakfast, four halves at lunch, and i’d eat more if i didn’t think that would be overkill. maybe some people might think four mangoes a day are overkill, but i don’t — i love mangoes, though i didn’t always.

in mexico, the mangoes come sliced the way i like — cut in half, grids cut into them, the fruit still in its peel. you flip it out, so it makes for easy eating because a ripe mango will come easily off its peel as you bite into it, juice dribbling down your hands and wrists and arms. it’s sticky and messy, but it’s mango, and the mess is part of the fun.

it’s kind of like pizza; i’ll never get people who eat pizza with a fork and knife. you fold the slice in half and bring the whole thing up to your face and bite and chew and swallow. likewise, you flip the mango out, bring it to your face, and enjoy the mess it makes, just like you do with ripe, juicy peaches.

i wish i'd eaten more mangoes the two-and-a-half days i was on that fancy resort.

it was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the congress and the army declared a state of emergency. they blamed it on the islamic fanatics, at the time.

keep calm, they said on television. everything is under control.

i was stunned. everyone was, i know that. it was hard to believe. the entire government, gone like that. how did they get in, how did it happen?

that was when they suspended the constitution. they said it would be temporary. there wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. people stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. there wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.


things continued on in that state of suspended animation for weeks, although some things did happen. newspapers were censored and some were closed down, for security reasons they said. the roadblocks began to appear, and identipasses. everyone approved of that, since it was obvious you couldn’t be too careful. they said that new elections would be held, but that it would take some time to prepare for them. the thing to do, they said, was to continue on as usual. (174)

the handmaid’s tale reads like a warning.

do not normalize this president. do not normalize violence against women, the taking of women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies, the denial of consent. do not normalize discrimination and hate crimes committed against people because of the color of their skin, the gender with which they identify, their sexual orientation, the god they worship. do not normalize this administration’s lies and manipulations.

do not normalize. the nightmare of the handmaid’s tale begins with normalization.

this was a travelogue.

never lose the wonderment.

wick tells me we live in an alternate reality, but i tell him the company is the alternate reality, was always the alternate reality. the real reality is something we create every moment of every day, that realities spin off from our decisions in every second we’re alive. i tell him the company is the past preying on the future — that we are the future. (318)

a spot of comfort, a spot of familiarity: this is my bastardization of hainanese chicken rice.

i love hainanese chicken rice; i’d go eat it every 2-3 weeks back home in nyc; and, one day, i looked it up on a whim to see if i could make it at home. i eat mine like soup because i love the broth — it’s gingery, garlic-y, scallion-y — and, though my version isn’t quite like the delicious hainanese chicken rice from nyonya, it’s the dish i crave when i’m feeling under the weather or in need of comfort.

it was the perfect thing to cook last week in an attempt to perk up my appetite.

that’s the problem with people who are not human. you can’t tell how badly they’re hurt, or how much they need your help, and until you ask, they don’t always know how to tell you. (148)

i feel like i’ve spent a fair amount of time in recent months talking about books that are relevant to our times, so it might sound like that’s all i’ve been reading. part of that has been deliberate, given the times we live in, but a good part of that has been unintentional — i’m not necessarily the most intentional of readers. i don’t plan out what i’m going to read when; i don’t make or follow a schedule or reading plan; and, sometimes, most times, this happens — i get super excited for a book, run out and buy it immediately, and don’t actually get to it for months.

(i think publishers might find that annoying, especially when they’ve been generous enough to send me books, especially when i’ve requested them. sometimes, i will just sit on books, though, not because i don’t like them but because i’m not quite in that particular mood or place.)

this was not the case with borne (FSG, 2017), though. i pretty much devoured it once i had it in my hands. (note that i did purchase my own copy.)

what jeff vandermeer does particularly well is build very smart, complex, vivid worlds. reading vandermeer is often like getting drunk on language, the ways he conveys the physicality of his worlds, the strangenesses, the colors, the smells, and, as i was reading borne, i’d get wrapped up in his visuals, these rich, evocative passages, feeling like the words themselves were undulating beneath my fingertips, beneath my eyes.

he’s such a visceral writer, and this is something i loved so much about his southern reach trilogy as well — how vibrant and alive everything is, how much tension seems to throb on the page. his writing fairly breathes, though i do wish that, pace-wise, borne had moved a little faster, had been a little more tightly wound. i did feel that the novel had a slight lag at parts, felt a little too heavy in moments and weighted down for it, but these are small criticisms, i want to say, because vandermeer has created a novel of wonder.

and god damn, that closing passage is so good.

whenever i make this dish, i keep saying i’m poaching a chicken, but that’s a lie. i boil it, but it sounds so much better to say “poached chicken” than “boiled chicken.” i mean, “boiled chicken” just does not sound as appetizing.

there isn’t much to this at all. you buy a chicken, not a giant one, 3-4 pounds is good (it’s terrifying, the gargantuan chickens you find these days). i rub the skin over with coarse sea salt to give it a scrub and buff it out, though i don’t know if i’d say that’s a strictly necessary step, so you could just give your chicken a good pat-down with a paper towel or two, and peel some garlic, chop up some scallions (in thirds), and cut off a knob of ginger. stuff all that into the chicken’s cavity (that you have washed), and put the whole thing into a pot and drown it with water.

and then, boil.

one of the things i love about vandermeer’s novels is that he raises a fair number of questions about what it is to be a human existing in the world-at-large — in the case of borne and the southern reach trilogy (which i loved and wrote about here), the world gone wrong. he asks about the effects of greed and experimentation on the world, about technology, about corporate power and control, and he asks who we are, who we’ve become within everything gone awry.

one key question raised in borne is: what does it mean to be a person? the follow-up to which is, and does it matter?

it sounds like a question with an obvious answer — a person is a human, homo sapien, upright, four-limbed creature with opposable thumbs, individual will, cognitive capabilities, and the ability to feel — and, maybe, by all rights, it should be a question with an obvious answer.

however, as it goes, personhood in itself is complicated. the human race is one that has, since its inception i dare say, sought power and dominion, whether over the earth itself or over each other, which assumes that one group is superior to others. we create Others of people who don’t look like us, want like us, think like us, and we seek out the familiar and create cliques and cause division. to some degree, you might argue that this is natural; it’s an instinctive impulse for survival and for comfort and strength. you might also argue that we are all guilty of snap, surface judgments, of comparing ourselves to each other and creating contrasts in those ways. to some degree, you would be right.

the extreme end of that, though, is that we dehumanize the Other because, by putting ourselves above them, by elevating ourselves and exploiting our positions of privilege and power, we make ourselves superior, and we make them less than human.

we make them not a person.

in vandermeer’s novel, borne is clearly not a person, not physically. he is a creature that the narrator, rachel, finds when she is out scavenging in the post-apocalyptic world (i’d argue it’s fair to describe it as such) in which borne is set. she’s stalking mord, the giant bear monster/creature that has wreaked havoc upon the city, after having been created himself by the company that was the catalyst for all this destruction, and she finds borne in mord’s fur. intrigued, she names the creature borne and takes him home to the balcony cliffs, a former apartment complex, where she lives with wick, a former employee of the company.

borne is not human; he is an entity, a living, cognitive being that can change at will, assume other forms, and mimic via consumption. he can shape shift and cast light and grow, and he can read and feel and be sarcastic and want to be part of a family. his physical form makes it clear that he isn’t human, though, that he is, rather, something that was clearly created, something that came from the company, something that wick wants to take apart and break down into parts because borne is suspect — he could be a weapon; he could be a spy; his physicality automatically renders him a threat, something not to be trusted.

to rachel, though, borne is a person. he thinks. he feels. he wants. she considers him her child, having taken care of him since he was a wee creature and watched him grow, witnessed him experiencing the world, being wounded, learning deception. vandermeer, too, doesn’t challenge borne’s personhood; whether borne, specifically, can or cannot be a person isn’t really the central question of the novel.

rather, it’s the question of what constitutes a person in general. does personhood demand physical familiarity? and, if we were to argue that it’s physical familiarity, what, then, of the people who don’t look like us, who have different skin colors, hair textures, physiques? is it, then, an internal commonality? but what about those of us who don’t share the same worldview, worship the same god (or any god at all), want people of the same gender? is it about sharing the places we’re from, the things we want, the morals we embody?

where does familiarity begin, and where does it end?

with your chicken in the pot, bring the water to a low boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low. you want your soup to simmer for 30 minutes, during which you want to skim, skim, skim. get off the scum that rises to the surface, the fat, the oil.

to be honest, i don’t know why i cook a chicken with the skin on; i throw the skin away, anyway.

season with salt. taste, skim, simmer.

i’d been teaching him the whole time, with every last little thing i did, even when i didn’t realize i was teaching him. with every last little thing i did, not just those things i tried to teach him. every moment i had been teaching him, and how i wanted now to take back some of those moments. how i wanted now not to have snuck into wick’s apartment. how i wished i had been a better person. (191)

sometimes, i think that it’s easy to look at dystopian fiction (or sci-fi or war stories) and think, “oh, i would never.” i would never kill someone to save my own life. i would never leave someone outside to die. i would never do just about anything to survive; i would have limits; i would never cross the boundaries of decent humanity.

and that’s not restricted to attitudes toward fictional characters or war stories or whatever because it’s easy to look at anything, any situation, and think that — oh, i would never get an abortion. i would never physically assault someone. i would never exploit a vulnerable person. i would never be so cruel. i would never do this, i would never do that, i would never.

it’s easy to self-elevate ourselves onto some moral high-ground, when, yet, the truth is that we are all capable of great violence, and we are all capable of committing horrendous acts of harm and damage. we are all capable of giving in to our worst selves and doing all kinds of fucked up shit if it means self-preservation, if it means survival.

and this, too, is a way that we deny people personhood — by saying, “oh, i would never” and constructing false boundaries that create Others and keep them out. it’s a mentality that hurts us, though, because, when we try to block off the uglinesses that inform our own personhood, we will never be better — we will never exist together.

and, yet, it is easier to hide in that i would never. i would never resort to that. i would never act like that. i would never have done this that time if it hadn’t been for this.

i would never.

instead, i lay in my bed in my apartment, doubled over and sobbing until i hurt from it, wanted to hurt from it. i didn’t care what happened to me. mord could have dug me up and swallowed me whole as a morsel and some part of me would have been grateful. and yet there was another part of rachel, the part that had lasted six years in the city, who waited patiently behind the scenes, saying, get it out, get it all out now so it doesn’t kill you later. (187)

the thing about hainanese chicken rice is that you cook your rice in the broth, not in water, which means that you cook your chicken before you start your rice. which is fine because hainanese chicken rice is eaten at room temperature.

roughly 30-45 minutes in, poke your chicken in the thigh. if the juices run clear, it is done. remove the chicken very, very carefully from the broth; i usually do this with tongs and a giant spoon, trying to drain as much broth from the chicken as i can before moving it quickly to the cutting board i’ve placed as close to my pot as possible. rub some sesame oil onto the skin of the chicken, not a whole lot because sesame oil is not a subtle flavor and a little goes a long way. let the chicken rest and cool.

ladle broth into your rice (which you should have washed) (jasmine rice is my favorite for this dish), and cook. chop some scallions while you wait. also watch for for broth puddles emitted by your chicken.

my main takeaway from borne, though, is this — it is important for us to retain a sense of wonder.

no matter how shitty the world gets, no matter how much it falls apart, and no matter how fucked up our lives become, there is always something in the world to maintain wonder, and it is important for us to hold onto that.

when borne is still a child, rachel is taken away by how he finds the world beautiful. the world in the novel is a toxic one, the river poisonous sludge, the city laid waste by mord and riddled with traps. it’s a world of dangers and hazards, where rachel has no idea how long she and wick will be able to continue defending and surviving in the balcony cliffs, where animals and humans are both engineered to be vicious, killing monsters.

it is a world you might look at and see nothing but horror and destruction.

and, yet, borne looks out at that world and sees beauty.

we went out on the balcony. borne pretended he couldn’t see through his sunglasses and took them off. his new mouth formed a genuinely surprised “o.”

“it’s beautiful,” he exclaimed. “its beautiful beautiful beautiful …” another new word.

the killing thing, the thing i couldn’t ever get over, is that it was beautiful. it was so incredibly beautiful, and i’d never seen that before. in the strange dark sea-blue of late afternoon, the river below splashing in lavender, gold, and orange up against the numerous rock islands and their outcroppings of trees … the river looked amazing. the balcony cliffs in that light took on a luminous deep color that was almost black but not, almost blue but not, the jutting shadows solid and cool. (56)

sometimes, i go on twitter and wonder why the fuck i went on twitter in the first place. everything’s a total shitshow, whether it’s whatever’s going on in DC, in korea, in local governments here, and i’m constantly asking myself what the fuck is happening, if this is really the world we’re living in.

similarly, sometimes, given all the crap going haywire in my brain and my body, i get lost in despair, in the swallowing hopelessness that this is forever — my depression, my anxiety, my ADHD, my diabetes — these are disorders and limitations i am going to have to live with forever, and, sometimes, on my bad days, it all becomes too much to handle.

it’s easy to get tired, to want to give up and give in, but, then, i look up at the sky, and it’s streaked in the most marvelous, dramatic colors. i go to the ocean and watch the waves crashing into the shore, look out at that horizon and think, awed, at how magical that line is where the sky meets the sea and the possibilities seem endless. i walk down the street and see spring all around me, the flowers bursting in colors, the sun making shadows dance beneath my feet, the way life comes around full-circle.

and that, i think, is wonderment, not an overblown, grandiose attempt to cast the world in a veneer of false gold or to see silver linings everywhere — i fucking hate silver linings. i don’t mean wonderment in the sense of forcing yourself to look for it, to see it everywhere, to maintain a sunny, delusional attitude that there is always something good to be found in the shit. sometimes, shit is just shit.

however, it is another thing to remain open to the possibility of wonder, and i think that is crucial because wonderment is linked with the ability to hope. we cannot hope if we do not believe that there is something worth hoping for, and keeping ourselves open to wonder is one way of keeping that hope alive.

a few weeks ago, i shared a post on instagram with the caption:

one of the things i will always find hopeful is my ability to recognize and appreciate beauty because that's something depression takes away. and, as much as i love the beauty of mountains, my heart is most at ease by water.

i fully believe this, and i oftentimes believe that the only reason i am still here today is that wonder. it is my ability to look at the world around me and still see it to be a beautiful place, to find that somewhere in me lies a heart that is still beating.

because, even in the worst of my depression last year, when i was suicidal and so close to taking my own life, i would go on these long walks around brooklyn. i’d walk over to brooklyn bridge park, to prospect park, all over park slope and cobble hill, and, as i would walk and walk and walk, sometimes, i would ache so badly inside because it hurt how beautiful i still found the world. at that time, in those moments, i wanted so badly for all this pain to be over, for my life to be over, and i’d sit on a bench somewhere and look at the world around me and breathe in the air and think that, god damn, i was hurting so badly inside, and my world felt so small and so dark and so impossible, but there was this world, this city, outside me, outside my pain and hurt and despair, and it was beautiful and good, and my ability to recognize that and respond to it must mean that there was still a part of me that wasn’t willing to die.*

* by no means am i trying to imply that going on long walks and appreciating the world around you are enough to get over suicidal depression. that couldn not be farther from the truth. it’s taking me weekly therapy appointments, monthly meetings with my psychiatrist, medication, meals with people i love, a lot of generosity and kindness for myself. it’s taking me books and food and cooking, routine, instagram, events, family. it’s taking everything just to stay alive.

when your chicken is cool, carve it or shred it with your fingers or dissemble it how ever you prefer. spoon some rice into your dish, top with chicken, ladle some broth over it, top with minced scallions, and eat with sri racha. there’s a sauce you could make instead of just resorting to plain sri racha, but i’m too lazy for that. oops.

because we have faces.

when i think about beauty, i think about a few things.

i think about this quote by professor elaine scarry: “if people become cut off from the love of beauty, that sabotages their love of the world and increases their willingness to compromise it.”

i think about all the women i find beautiful, how beauty is subjective and not entirely physical, how a personality is really what gives someone that glow that catches your eye and keeps it. i think, too, about how beauty is used to value and devalue women, to build them up and tear them down, to say, “you’re beautiful … but that’s all you are” because beauty is made to be something desirable until it becomes a weapon with which to undercut women and their accomplishments. if a woman succeeds, if she stands out, especially in undeniably male-dominated fields, it must have been because of her beauty.

in that vein, i think about that asinine but telling comment by that food critic to put down dominique crenn, a two-michelin-starred chef, to say that, yes, she might have talent, but she’s also a beautiful woman, which, it is implied, is obviously a factor in her success. i think about what kristen kish said about how much had been written about her, her looks, her sexuality, but nothing about her food when she was chef du cuisine at menton. i think about that ridiculous ruckus raised over stephanie danler being blonde and pretty when her debut novel, sweetbitter, was published by an acclaimed literary house (knopf) last year.

and i think, god damn, it’s 2017. this is so fucking boring.

sometimes, i look in the mirror and wonder what people might make of me, my face, my body.

for much of my life, i felt hyper-visible, even while i tried to disappear myself, because, for much of my life, i was overweight. it was something that was made a Thing of because to be fat was to commit the worst offense. i was called names, mocked for my love of food, told that no one would hire me because of my size, that no one would date me, that, essentially, my life wouldn’t begin until i was thin enough to be accepted by the world. i couldn’t wear dresses or bright colors, anything that would bring attention to me and show off or accentuate my body in any way — the point was to hide, to mask, to cover.

the point was to disappear.

when you spend so much of your life, your entire adolescence and young adulthood, attaching value to your body, hating your body and detaching yourself from it, that kind of thing seeps into every aspect of your life. i see that consequent insecurity, that complete lack of self-esteem, in everything — how i conduct myself in the workplace, how i approach relationships with people, how i regard myself. it’s in the way i regard food, in the decisions i’ve made throughout my life, in the lack of confidence to pursue the things i love and want to do. it’s in the fact that i didn’t start dating until last year, haven’t had sex, haven’t pursued any kind of intimacy because i’m afraid of touch, of being considered repulsive, of not being attractive enough to be wanted or desired. it’s been easier to retreat and pretend to be indifferent than put myself out there to be rejected because of my size.

my history of being body shamed is what makes my recent diagnosis of type 2 diabetes so agonizing. on a cognitive level, i acknowledge that this is not the end of the world; there are worse things with which to be ill. i can manage it by managing what i eat, taking my meds, and exercising. i can bring down my sugar levels and reintroduce foods into my diet, and these limitations don’t have to destroy my life.

however, i have spent much of my life obsessively controlling what i eat (or trying) because i was always on one diet or another, always trying to lose weight, always reading labels and counting calories and logging gym time. i would hate myself when all that effort came to nothing because i would inevitably dive off that diet wagon and binge and gain weight instead, caught in a vicious cycle that just reinforced all my self-loathing and self-hatred and reminded me that i was worth nothing — i couldn’t even maintain the discipline or find the willpower to lose weight; what could i do with my life? if i couldn’t even have the perseverance to maintain my body, then how would i ever accomplish anything professionally? personally? relationally?

and this is what has made this type 2 diagnosis so fucking painful — that i have spent the last four years letting go of all that, of healing, finally learning to love myself, at least to respect and appreciate my body if i couldn’t love it, to be generous and kind to myself. it’s been a process to unload all that self-hatred, to stop conflating my ability (or lack thereof) to lose weight with everything else in life, and i’d finally reached a point where i was fairly comfortable in my body and didn’t hate myself for everything i put in my mouth and was finally able to wear what i wanted, be who i wanted, and be okay with me as i was in the present moment, flaws and all.

to have to come back to a place, then, where i need to read labels and obsess over what i eat, where i feel so guilty when i miss a single workout or eat a bite of something i shouldn’t — i don’t think words can fully express how devastating that has been. no matter how much i try to remind myself that this is okay, this is necessary for my health, this feels like disordered eating.

of course, this restrictive diet means that i’ve been continuing to lose weight (hilariously, the weight started coming off once i stopped giving a shit last year), and, of course, that brings with it the expected chorus of delight around me — omg, you’re getting so pretty! you’ve lost so much weight! — and i hate it all. i wince every time someone compliments me for how i look; it makes me twist and rage inside; and, even now, as clothes fit better and i feel lighter, still, i hate my body.

i didn’t start wearing makeup until last year, when glossier released their skin tint and stretch concealer.

i’d been reading into the gloss for a few years, but i hadn’t paid muchattention to glossier until last january when they launched their milky jelly cleanser. i loved milky jelly, which is still one of my top two favorite glossier products (the other being boy brow), so, when they started launching their makeup products, i was paying attention — and intrigued.

two things about me, i suppose: (01) i hate having things on my face, and (02) i’m lazy. i can’t be bothered with brushes, and i can’t be bothered with makeup routines that take more than ten minutes. i’m also lucky enough to have clear skin and, thus, not require heavy foundation or concealer, which sticks me right in that glossier niche — their products really do work freakishly well on my skin.

i’m a skin girl, in that i’m obsessed with skincare (i do actually do the korean 10-step routine) — and, then, i’m a lipstick and mascara girl. i don’t wear makeup everyday, not even to work, but i’ll usually always apply a lip color because, otherwise, i look pretty damn tired and kind of dead. when it comes to lip colors, i’m obsessed with oranges and reds, maybe some corals thrown in there, and, as much as i try to get into more wine or vampier shades, i just can’t get away from those bright oranges and reds. i love a bright lip; there’s just something so fun and sassy about it.

when it comes to skin, i’m a huge proponent of the double-cleanse — i use an oil (currently, using laneige; previously, used banila co; love/loved both) to remove all my makeup, and then i use milky jelly to wash it all off. then i’ll splash some son & park beauty water on a cotton swab and run that over my face and neck to get any last oil/makeup/residue off, and, then, it’s emulsion, serums, lotion, maybe a pack. every other night, i use the bite lip scrub because all that lipstick makes my lips peel, and i slather on a thick layer of balm dotcom in mint. (i carry all the other flavors around with me for day use.)

in the morning, i use a cleanser from the face shop in the shower, and, in the evening, if i’ve put on my face, i’ll wipe the day off my face with neogen’s cleansing water in rose (on a cotton swab).

and that is pretty much it. simple, no? simple is good. i mean, 75% of the reason i wear makeup is to make sure i wash my face at night.

i’m aware that there is a fair amount of privilege involved in my being able to write this. i don’t think i’m some great beauty, but i know i’m not ugly. i don’t feel super self-conscious posting the occasional selca on social media — or, well, i do, but not because of the way i look, per se. i might be bigger than some, but i can run into any big box retailer and find clothes that fit (the ethics of big box retailers is another topic).

it might, thus, appear a little nonsensical that i might be writing any of this at all, but body shaming is something very real with very real, deep consequences that i have dealt with for much of my life. it didn’t stop until i fought for it to stop a year ago, until i finally found the confidence in me to give voice to all that pent-up rage, to say, no, this wasn’t right, this had to come to an end. that’s not something i developed over night, either; i was well into my late-twenties before that even happened.

even now, i still see the shaming peeking out at me, except now it’s cloaked in praise and glee — oh, you lost so much weight; oh, you look so pretty; oh, do you have a boyfriend? (heteronormativity is also another topic — and, no, there is no boyfriend. there will never be a boyfriend.) some might say that compliments are good, and i wouldn’t disagree, but there is the opposite to everything and that glee is an expression of something far more insidious — this pervasive mentality that prettiness is to be desired, to be praised, that thinness is the baseline for a woman’s, a girl’s value.

and part of me sometimes feels weird for celebrating beauty and beauty products, for getting excited over shit like this because i don’t want to be complicit in a system or a cultural mentality that metes out so much harm upon young girls, upon women. it makes me uncomfortable, sometimes, to celebrate a woman’s looks, to notice her thinness because a part of me still gets jealous, still believes (irrational and untrue though it may be) that life would have been so much easier had i been thin. 

like many (most) people, though, i respond to beauty, not only in people but also in the world around me, and i think it’s worth noticing, celebrating, remembering. and i think there’s nothing wrong with makeup or with beauty products either, that we all (most of us) want to be attractive and have that confidence going into the world. i know that, sometimes, oftentimes, putting our faces on is akin to putting our armor on, and i think that is worth celebrating, too.

and, so, here are some products i like, some things i enjoy and wear on a regular basis, and here are the books i’m currently reading and/or will be reading soon — because, idk, i’m really into these or excited for them, and this space is all about geeking out over shit that gets me going.


  • milky jelly cleanser
  • priming moisturizer
  • stretch concealer (medium)
  • skin tint (medium)
  • boy brow (black)
  • cloud paint (dusk)
  • haloscope (topaz)
  • balm dotcom (all of them)
  • generation g (zip and cake)

other face things:

  • neogen cleansing water (rose)
  • son & park highlighter cube
  • lancome mascara
  • bite lip scrub 


  • clinique chubby stick (heftiest hibiscus)
  • mac lipstick (vegas volt)
  • fresh sugar lip balm (coral)
  • sephora cream lip stain (always red)
  • dior fluidstick (639 artifice)
  • dior addict lipstick (756 my love)