things i've been reading.


nicole chung, all you can ever know

catapult was kind to send me this ARC back in june, and i sat on it for a week or so before i started to read it. you only get to experience a book for the first once after all, and i knew i was going to love this because i love nicole’s writing — it’s so full of love and grace and heart.

all you can ever know is her memoir of being adopted by white parents and growing up in white oregon. her birth parents were first-generation korean immigrants, and she was born seriously premature, and, overwhelmed, her parents decided to give her up for adoption.

it wasn’t until she was pregnant with her first child that she decided to look for her birth family, and the memoir is as much about her “journey” (god, i hate that word) getting to know her birth sister and birth family as it is about the narratives we’re told, that we tell ourselves. these narratives matter because they’re how we situate ourselves in the world, and nicole isn’t one to skirt away from the uncomfortable topic of race, rather addressing it with her characteristic grace and thoughtfulness.

she’s a smart writer, and i don’t mean anything snooty or stuffy when i say that. she’s astute and observant, and she’s written a book that isn’t just about her story, her experience, because she has things to say, things about race and racism, about the complexities of families, whether we’re born into them or chosen to be a part of them, about being a parent, especially in this current political climate, especially to a daughter with special needs, about the things expected from adoptees, about love and how love wants to protect, to think itself an exception to ugliness and prejudice. all you can ever know is uniquely her story, her experience, yes, but she’s not telling it to bask in her own goodness.

it’s not to say that the memoir is full of moralizing or preaching because it isn’t; nicole’s writing carries no trace of condescension or moral superiority, just a quiet wisdom that says, hi, this is my experience as a woman of color who was adopted into a white family, and here is why it matters for you to hear my story.


emily m. danforth, the miseducation of cameron post

when i first got this book, i was a little holy shit because it’s not short and i have a well-documented aversion to long books because books don’t tend to get better the longer they drag on — they get tedious. i was afraid that that might be the case with cameron post, and i was more hesitant about it, too, because i wanted to love it.

luckily, i loved it.

the first half of the book focuses on cameron’s life before she’s sent to conversion therapy. her parents die in an accident, and her aunt comes to live with her and her grandmother, but cameron is largely left to navigate and process her grief alone.

she’s also left to process her guilt alone because, the night her parents die in an accident, she kisses her best friend in her barn. the best friend is soon sent off to boarding school because her family comes into a lot of money, and she goes for heteronormative, leaving cameron alone to parse her own feelings and desires and eventually landing in the arms of a popular girl. they become friends, then they become more than friends, but this girl has a boyfriend and she’s a good church-going girl, and, when they’re caught, she’s the victim while cameron is sent off to god’s promise.

the main reason i hurried to finish this book was that i wanted to see the film adaptation with chloe grace moretz. i was excited for the film as is, but, when i’d finished the book, i was really curious to see how they’d adapt it because there’s a lot of material in the book, a lot of story that’s crucial to cameron’s experience at god’s promise, the “school” she’s sent to after she’s outed. she has a roommate; the doors are never locked or closed all the way; and the students are all checked in on during the night. they study independently, go to group therapy, draw icebergs that represent their sin of homosexuality.

i love the way the film adapted the novel. the film focuses on cameron’s time at god’s promise, but it also gives us all the important moments that lead up to cameron’s forced enrollment — even while focusing on a small part of the novel, the film doesn’t lose the expansive sense of the book.

and neither does it lose its horrors.

there’s nothing sensational or dramatic about either the novel or the film, but that’s kind of the thing about conversion therapy — on the surface, it’s not necessarily very sensational, and it’s not necessarily outwardly horrific. in cameron post, the people who run god’s promise aren’t cruel, abusive people, not in the strictest sense of either word, and, if you believe what they believe in the way they believe, you’d think them kind and loving, committed to their children’s eternal souls.

but the thing is that conversion therapy does so much harm. it’s an insidious, dangerous practice. it’s banned in fourteen states + DC.

cameron post doesn’t shy away from showing the harm wrought by conversion therapy. cameron herself is lucky to emerge relatively unscathed, at least in the sense that she retains a grasp of herself as who she is and doesn’t self-harm. others aren’t so lucky; there’s a girl who so wants to believe that she’s figured out the source of her homosexual urges and has them under control that i fear for what will happen when she has to confront all her repressed feelings later. there’s the boy with the violent rage. and there’s the boy who wants his father’s approval, who immerses himself in the bible and memorizes scripture and is trying so hard to be able to go back home, that when he continues to be rejected by his father, it breaks him.

i wasn’t thinking of including quotes in this post, but here’s a long one, four poignant, crucial pages from cameron post. i think it gets at why it can be difficult to explain why conversion therapy is so harmful and why people just might not understand, especially if they don’t want to to, if they subscribe to the belief that homosexuality is such a terrible, damning sin. in the scene, someone (cameron calls him mr. blah-blah because she doesn’t remember his name) has come from the child and family services department after a student at god’s promise mutilates himself, and he is interviewing different students.

“do you think you can tell me more specifically what you mean when you say that you can’t trust the staff here?”

that time he did sound like every other counselor who’d ever asked me to elaborate on my feelings. i was surprised at myself for having him to open up to. i was surprised even as i was doing it. maybe i picked him because i thought he would have to take me seriously, whatever i said, he seemed so fastidious and by the book, and he also seemed, precisely because of his position and that fastidiousness, a little nonjudgmental, i guess.

“i would say that rick and lydia and everybody else associated with promise think that they’re doing what’s best for us, like spiritually or whatever,” i said. “but just because you think something doesn’t make it true.”

“okaaaaay,” he said. “can you go on?”

“not really,” i said, but then tried to anyway. “i’m just saying that sometimes you can end up really messing somebody up because they’re you’re trying to supposedly help them is really messed up.”

“so are you saying that their method of treatment is abusive?” he asked me in a tone i didn’t like very much.

“look, nobody’s beating us. they’re not even yelling at us. it’s not like that.” i sighed and shook my head. “you asked me if i trust them, and like, i trust them to drive the vans safely on the highway, and i trust that they’ll buy food for us every week, but i don’t trust that they actually know what’s best for my soul, or how to make me the best person with a guaranteed slot in heaven or whatever.” i could tell i was losing him. or maybe i’d never had him to begin with, and i was mad at myself for being so inarticulate, for messing up what i felt like i owed to mark, even if he wouldn’t see it that way, which he probably wouldn’t.

“whatever,” i said. “it’s hard to explain. i just don’t trust that a place like promise is even necessary, or that i need to be here, or that any of us need to be here, and the whole point of being here is that we’re supposed to trust that what they’re doing is going to save us, so how could i answer yes to your question?”

“i guess you couldn't,” he said.

i thought maybe i had an in, so i said, “it’s just that i know you’re here because of what happened to mark.”

but before i could continue he said, “what mr. turner did to himself.”

“what?” i asked.

“you said what happened to him,” he said. “something didn’t just happen to him. he injured himself. severely.”

“yeah, while under the care of this facility,” i said.

“correct,” he said in another unreadable tone. “and that’s why i’m here: to investigate the care that is given by those who run this facility, but not to investigate the mission of the facility, unless that mission includes abuse or neglect.”

“but isn’t there like emotional abuse?” i asked.

“there is,” he said, completely noncommittal. “do you feel that you’ve been emotionally abused by the staff here?”

“oh my god,” i said, throwing my hands in the air, feeling every bit as dramatic as i was acting. “i just told you all about it — the whole fucking purpose of this place is to make us hate ourselves so that we change. we’re supposed to hate who we are, despise it.”

“i see,” he said, but i could tell that he didn’t at all. “is there anything else?”

“no, i think the hate yourself part about covers it.”

he looked at me, unsure, searching for what to say, and then he took a breath and said, “okay. i want you to know that i’ve written down what you’ve said and it will go in the official file. ‘ll also share it with my committee.” he had jotted something down as i was talking, but i definitely didn’t trust that he’d really written down what i had said, not really, at least not the way that i’d said it.

“right,” i said. “well, i’m sure that will be an effective method for change.” now i hated this guy, and myself a little too — for hoping that i could make something happen just by answering a few questions honestly. for once.

“i’m not sure i understand,” he aid.

and i believe that he really didn’t understand what i was trying to say; i do. but i also believe that he didn’t really want to, because he probably wasn’t so nonjudgmental after all, and maybe he eve believed that people like me, like mark, absolutely did belong at promise. or somewhere worse. and though i knew that i couldn’t explain all of that to him, make what i was feeling fit neatly into words, i tried, more for me and for mark than for this guy’s understanding.

“my whole point,” i said, “is that what they teach here, what they believe, if you don’t trust it, if you doubt it at all, then you’re told that you’re going to hell, that no only everyone you know is ashamed of you, but that jesus himself has given up on your soul. and you’re like mark, and you do believe all of this, you really do — you have faith in jesus and this stupid promise system, and even still, even with those things, you still can’t make yourself good enough, because what you’re trying to change isn’t changeable, it’s like your height or the shape of your ears, whatever,then it’s like this place does make things happen to you, or at least it’s supposed to convince you that you’re always gonna be a dirty sinner and that it’s completely your fault because you’re not trying hard enough to change yourself. it convinced mark.”

“are you saying that you think the staff should have anticipated that mark would do something like this?” he asked, jotting again. “were there warning signs?”

at that i just gave up completely. (398-401)

and here’s one last short passage to think about.

“you’re right,” jane said. “it’s completely fucked. but his dad doesn’t see it that way. he absolutely believes with everything in him that what he’s doing in the only way to save his son from eternal damnation. the fiery pits of hell. he believes that completely.”

adam kept sneering, near a shout now. “yeah, well what about saving him from right now? what about the hell of thinking it’s best just to fucking chop your balls off than to have your body somehow betray your stupid fucking belief system?”

“that’s never what it’s about to those people,” jane said, still calm. “all that’s the price we’re supposed to pay for salvation. we’re supposed to be glad to pay it.” (389)

fuck conversion therapy.


malinda lo, a line in the dark

malinda lo’s ash is one of my favorite YA books, so i was interested to read a line in the dark because, heeeeey, queer YA! by a queer asian writer! i am all over that!

i liked a line in the dark enough. it went quickly. the ending was fairly predictable, but i appreciated the telling of the story and loved the portrayal of young people.

that’s kind of it — and talking about YA is kind of weird to me because i’m not drawn to it, typically find myself feeling more eh about it than not, and my instinct is to get defensive about that, to explain that, no, it’s not snobbishness or condescension — i just am not honestly drawn to YA and have never been.

and then i feel kind of dumb about getting defensive because what’s to get defensive about? not all kinds of books are for everyone, and it’s okay to have preferences. it’s okay not to read everything. it’s okay not to want to read everything.


naomi alderman, disobedience

i saw the film adaptation to disobedience before i read the book, and, to be honest, the main reason i picked up the book is that i was so uhhhh whaaaat??? over the film — and not in the good way.

the cast was stellar (rachel weisz! rachel mcadams!), but the film was choppy and oddly resolved, if you could say it was resolved at all. it was like all the characters finally reached a point of understanding, the climax of the film you could say … but then that was it. they get to the climax of the film, then wake up the next morning, and then one character leaves, and that’s that — there’s no denouement, no follow-through, no indication that anything has changed or will change, just … the ending credits rolling.

there also isn’t much context provided, so, as someone who has very little knowledge of orthodox jewish customs, i was massively confused and kind of put out in one particular scene because i was unaware that it was tradition, what one of the characters does. (a friend of mine explained later, and it made so much more sense.) this is not a criticism, though, because the film did make me realize how little i know of orthodox jewish culture, and it’s on me to follow through on that and try to learn more on my own.

that’s not why i read the book, though — i read the book because i wanted to know how different it was from the film, because, after i saw the film, i started googling reviews and read how the book is more insular, has more sass. i read that we got more from esti and her relationship with faith. i wanted to know if the ending were just as infuriating.

i found the book thoughtful enough; i read both a line in the dark and disobedience on my flight back to LA from new york; and the pages turned quickly. it’s been over a month since i read it, though, so that means my impressions of it have become fuzzier, and, sometimes, i wonder if i should be reviewing these books right away, so i remember more things clearly.

i often like giving books the test of time, though, to see if they have what i call staying power. it’s not a criticism of a book if it fades quickly from memory because not all books can stay with you (and neither should all books have to have that power) — i do believe in the importance of the reading experience first and foremost; it’s why i refuse to shame people for reading whatever they read and why i dislike the term “guilty pleasure.”

that said, disobedience has largely faded from my memory, and the thing i remember most about it is that i wish naomi alderman had gotten less lost in philosophical wanderings about religion and faith and shown us more about how her characters actually live with religion and faith. i wanted more from esti, a lesbian in an orthodox jewish community, about why she might not want to leave her community even if it is grossly homophobic and heteronormative, because that conflict is so, so relatable and so worth exploring. i wanted more of dovid’s conflicts as a default prominent member of the community. i wanted more about all these messy intersections of the secular and the religious, and i wanted more of it as they actually play out in people’s lives, not just in their philosophical ramblings and thinkings because, yeah, theory is great, but, in the end, for it to have value, it needs to be pulled down to the ground and given tangible form in lived human life.


thea lim, an ocean of minutes

touchstone sent me an ocean of minutes early this summer, and i didn’t get to it until last month because i’m such a mood reader. would i call this dystopian fiction? i don’t know, but it’s set in an america where an outbreak has spread rapidly, essentially quarantining parts of the country. a company has developed the ability to time travel, and [healthy] people are able to time travel into the future, exchanging labor for a cure to be administered to infected loved ones, which is what the main character, polly, does, except, instead of being sent 12 years into the future, she’s sent 17 years into the future.

this was another fast read. i could have done without the last ten pages or so, though. they felt like thea lim was too preoccupied with tying things up in a neat bow-tied ending when she could have just left the characters where they were.


bina shah, before she sleeps

i wanted to love before she sleeps but did not, and i don’t know if my disappointment is simply that my expectations were too high. the summary made the novel sound like a dystopia in the lines of the handmaid’s tale but set in the middle east, in an imaginary city where women (or girls, really) are married off to multiple men and made to have child after child after child because there’s a fertility crisis.

before she sleeps has a ton of potential, but, ultimately, the world just isn’t fleshed out enough. there’s a small group of women underground who provide companionship to wealthy, powerful men — not sex, but physical, sex-less intimacy because, in this world, that kind of emotional comfort is rare and desired — and we follow a few of these women and learn their stories. there are also a few men in there because, of course, the safety of these underground women is dependent upon them, and there’s a surprise pregnancy, the fear of discovery, exposure, etcetera.

it could have been so good.

i actually have the same criticism of before she sleeps as i did adam johnson’s the orphan master’s son (it’s still beyond me, how that won the pulitzer) — that the novel relies too much on the nature of its setting to provide conflict and tension, by which i mean that the writer knows that a setting like north korea or a repressive, paternalistic regime like the one in before she sleeps is intrinsically dangerous, that the setting alone automatically means that readers will enter the book already with a sense of unease, and the writer fails, thus, to build out the world fully. it’s not that there isn’t conflict in before she sleeps, but it’s all fairly predictable — of course, something happens that means the women underground are exposed; of course, they have to go on the run; of course, the book ends the way it does.

which is fine! i don’t necessarily look for books to be new as far as plots go because there’s little in any art form that’s truly original, but i do look for emotional truth. i want characters who are fully human, and i want them to exist in a real, living, breathing world. i want active writing that introduces tension and creates momentum, whether that momentum is plot-based or character-based or whatever-based. and, unfortunately, before she sleeps simply doesn’t deliver in any of those ways.


miriam toews, women talking

there was a copy error about halfway through women talking; one of the women leaves the scene, has dialogue on the next page, returns back to the scene a few pages later. i had to read it several times to make sure i was reading correctly, to verify that she had indeed left the scene, and the poop thing about this is that now that’s the clearest thing i remember from this slim, interesting novel.

i read women talking the weekend that kavanaugh was confirmed and sworn into the SCOTUS seat left empty by kennedy (that asshole), and, god, what a weekend to read women talking. toews based this on actual happenings in mennonite communities in the early 2000s — women (and girls!) were waking up in the morning, bruised and sore and bleeding. they were told, by their male elders, that they were making it up, that the devil was visiting them, that it was a plague from god or some other, and, without any clear answers and no other alternatives, they accepted it, and nothing was done.

until two men were caught trying to break into someone’s house.

it turned out that a group of men in the community had been drugging women and girls and raping them for years. one victim was as young as three years old. there’s a great vice article about the aftermath here.

women talking is an imagined scenario following the exposure of these serial rapes. the book is set up as the minutes of these meetings in which women in this fictional mennonite community debate whether they should stay or leave. the minutes are taken by a man because women in mennonite communities are illiterate — girls are not educated — and the man, too, is an outsider, someone who was once a part of the community when he was young before his parents were exiled.

it’s an interesting novel, and it’s one i still don’t quite know how to talk about. toews deftly captures the complexities of these women, shows why it’s not such a simple thing just to leave people (or a community) who have been abusing you, explores the complexities of being a woman (or a girl) with a body. toews also shows how women are different — there is no one singular response to having been abused or raped or assaulted. there is no “correct” response. everyone, every woman, carries her trauma in her own way.

we don’t see much of the men in women talking, and i’m glad for that. a husband makes an appearance at one point because he returns to the community to take animals to be traded so the rapists (who have been taken to the city jail) can be bailed out. there’s the narrator, who’s a man, who’s taking the minutes because the women are illiterate. there are teenage boys from another town. there’s the senile old man who owns the barn in which the women are meeting.

and it’s great. turns out, stories that center women are really damn interesting and compelling, too, even stories in which they do nothing else but sit in a barn and debate whether they should leave or stay or fight.. and, as my reading these last few months shows, it’s really damn easy to read women writers. i did not intentionally set out to read only women and didn’t realize i had until i sat down to write this post.


becky chambers, record of a spaceborn few

I LOVE BECKY CHAMBERS’ WAYFARER SERIES, and i hate series. (again, i have an aversion for long books. that includes series.)

i first learned of these books a few years ago when a long way to a small, angry planet started making its rounds on instagram. the cover is beautiful, and i bought it without knowing what it was about because, hey, i’m not ashamed of that — i judge books by their covers sometimes; hell, i’ve judged books by their type and margins sometimes.

(like, my main reason for picking up and putting down rachel cusk’s outline numerous times? the damn book is set in a sans serif font.) (han kang’s the vegetarian is, too, but it’s in a more subtle sans serif.)

i read a long way in a day, though, plowed my way through it because, holy shit, the world-building is SO well done. chambers built planets and languages and species, and the most impressive part of that is that she built species that aren’t based on the human model — alien species aren’t just alien species because they’re blue or green or have different animalistic features while still walking on two legs and having two arms and hands and a head and a torso and etcetera etcetera etcetera. they’re alien, and they’re different, and, as chambers tells the stories of these characters, she explores what it means to be different and to exist peacefully with those differences.

because one of the key things in this huge, expansive world is that humans are the Other. humans have taken to space because they’ve destroyed earth. they’ve had to come into other galaxies on their giant ships, and they’ve had to learn to depend on other species with more advanced technology, more territorial rights, more power and knowledge and influence. they’ve had to learn other languages. they’ve had to defer.

what chambers shows through her books is that acknowledging difference, that respecting differences and coexisting are possible — it’s actually kind of easy. yes, it requires work, and, yes, it requires effort, but it’s not difficult. it’s certainly not impossible. and the world, the whole freaking universe is so much better off when people, aliens, whatever can learn to exist together with all their unique traits, the depth and beauty of their individual cultures appreciated and respected instead of made to change to fit one supposed ideal.

in other words, screw westernization.

one of the things i’ve been loving about this series thus far is that each book focuses on a different group. the first, a long way to a small, angry planet, is more general, placing us mostly on a ship staffed by members of different species. the second, a closed and common circuit, centers around an AI character. the third and most recent, record of a starborn few, follows a handful of humans — or exodans, as they’re now called.

at first, i was kind of ehhh about record — i thought the pieces were too fragmented, the characters lives too disconnected and separate from each other, that i was almost disappointed. i’d read the first two books with such obsessive glee, fascination, and interest, but i wasn’t having that same intense fervor with the third — at first.

i kept reading because i knew to trust chambers; she hadn’t let me down with the first two books, had already demonstrated her ability to weave together stories and bring all the pieces into one cohesive puzzle; and i felt that, yes, okay, maybe i wasn’t so crazy in love with book number three, but that was okay, too. it’s unrealistic to expect authors to write only brilliant, amazing books, anyway, and it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll like everything an author writes with the same intensity.

but then, things started coming together. all these separate threads began to be woven together, not in cliched, boring ways where suddenly all their worlds are colliding and they’re all dramatically involved in each other’s lives — chambers weaves her narrative threads together with more nuance than that, exploring how an event, how one person’s life, can reverberate in strangers’ lives and affect them.

and it’s really wonderfully done.


jenny han, to all the boys i’ve loved before

i read to all the boys i’ve loved before on a tired sunday afternoon, and it was a fast read. i can’t say i either liked or disliked it, though — the pages turned quickly enough to pass the time, and it was quite pleasant to read with two puppies snoozing next to me, one getting up every minute to flop over into another position.

i enjoyed the film adaptation well enough as well, despite being constantly thrown off by how the sisters didn’t look at all like sisters and only kitty looked biracial. i’m also still working through vague peeves of why lara jean had to be biracial to begin with, though vague peeves of books written by asian-american authors about biracial characters, and i say i’m working through those peeves because i wonder where they’re coming from, if they’re some kind of latent, internalized asianness that makes me roll my eyes and think, of course, of course, there’s this kind of appeasement because there has to be some pandering to a white readership.

does that make me cynical? or does that make me one of those asians? though i’m no purist by any means and don’t give two shits about asian women dating or marrying men or other races and i think any kind of racial purity bullshit is just that — bullshit.

and yet i admit that i am bothered by how many books by asian american writers go for biracial, go for some kind of whiteness, and i am kind of bothered by the fact that i am bothered. i think i’m bothered because it implies that asian stories about asian people can’t be told unless there is whiteness present to make these narratives relatable and/or familiar and/or interesting, and i think i’m bothered because it’s a common enough thing that i can rattle off a list of books by asian american women with biracial main characters.

again, though, i’m all for interracial relationships, so why does this bother me so much to see it so often in fiction? especially when it does reflect the common occurrence of interracial relationships? like, many of these asian american women writers are themselves in interracial relationships and get so much ridiculous shit about it from insecure asian men, shit that pisses me off whenever i see it?

[AK] now, where were we?

hi. i’m sorry i’ve been away. and that i disappeared after that last post, no checking in even to say that, hi, i’m okay, i’m still here, i’m doing better.

i’ve been neglecting this space, and that hasn’t been intentional. the summer has been a difficult but busy one, and it’s been a fruitful, productive one. i’ve been taking a memoir workshop online through catapult, and, every wednesday evening, my heart has been swelling with gratitude and love because i’m in a great cohort, and this has been an exciting journey overall, this whole foray into creative non-fiction, which also just wouldn’t have been possible without this blog space and without instagram.

there are changes afoot, though.

two weeks ago, i set my instagram to private and transitioned a different instagram account into a public one. i’m changing the way i approach content here in this space, though i don’t know yet what that will look like — or, really, more accurately, what that will read like. the new public instagram will focus mostly on books, some food and travel scattered in there but primarily books; i wasn’t planning to keep a public instagram page again yet; but i want to continue advocating for great books and, particularly, for great books by asian diasporic writers and that requires a public space.

i do want to transition this space away from the largely, intensely personal and shift gears a little to focus more on books and travel. that doesn’t mean the personal will disappear because i don’t believe it’s really possible to write well about books and travel without the personal, but i don’t know quite how i mean to practice any of that, just that things are shifting and changing, and that’s exciting and scary and, frankly, necessary.

so, let’s talk books — or let’s talk reading.

i haven’t been reading that much this year because the reality is that i just don’t have as much time and energy for reading as i used to. this summer, particularly, has been a busy, agitated one. my boss at work has been giving me more to do, having me take accounting classes online, so every single day is incredibly disheartening and challenging because i feel dumb as rocks at work. i know i’m not dumb; i have a good brain; but it is not one that does well with financial or economic concepts, which is somehow not acceptable to admit, coming from a world where the mindset is don't ever give up on things we deem worthwhile and "practical," even if you destroy yourself in the process. i think a lot about that quote that says something about putting a fish on land and it’ll think it’s a fool because it can’t walk — i feel like that, and i feel like that every single goddamn day because i’m constantly reminding myself, you’re not dumb, you’re not dumb, you’re not dumb. just because you don’t get accounting doesn’t mean you’re dumb. it's okay not to get this shit and admit that.

it’s too bad i waste so much brain space and energy every day.

that’s one reason i haven’t been reading much.

the other reason, though, is a much better one — i haven’t been reading much because i’ve been writing. i’ve been trying to write.

earlier this summer, i finally launched my food zine, the things left behind, and i post to that twice a month. i’ve been trying to figure out how to do an accompanying newsletter to that. i’ve been editing an essay that looks like it might have a future (omg!). and, like i mentioned earlier, i’ve been taking a memoir writing workshop, which means … i’ve been writing a memoir-in-essays.

all that pretty much explains why this space has gone neglected for so long. i feel bad because my last post was pretty intense, though i don’t feel bad for posting it, for filling it with sadness and anger and fury at a judgmental, condescending world that takes lives. i do feel bad because it’s a heavy thing to leave at the top of a page for so long, to leave without following up to say, hey, i’m okay. i’m still here. i went through a bad depressive, suicidal episode earlier this summer, but i got through it with my puppy, my therapist, my meds, my people, and social media.

and so we go on.


i went to alaska this summer, and i’d intended for that to be my “comeback” post, but it just won’t write. alaska was beautiful, and the trip was fine, but it was also complicated in the way that personal shit is complicated, and there was an ugly dramatic lead-up to the trip that didn’t need to happen.

i also wanted to write about that bullshit SCOTUS cake decision, but i haven’t been able to sit down and parse through my feelings and write down my arguments in a cohesive way.

i also wanted to write a post about glossier and skincare and beauty … but, again, these words haven’t been coming, and i haven’t been able to sit down and try to find them, not when i’ve already been doing the emotionally intensive act of writing a memoir. and so i’ve been thinking — how can i best use this space? what sorts of stories should i tell here?

i’m drafting this in mexico city, and i’m here for a few days. i’ve been looking forward to this trip for months, making lists of things to eat and bookstores and libraries to visit, and i was hoping for it to be a full-on creative holiday, except i couldn’t finish my accounting coursework, so i’ve had to bring it with me. i’m not happy about that, but i didn’t get to it in the lead-up to this trip because i was writing — i have the structure of this memoir-in-essays scaffolded, and i have a few pieces drafted, and it’s in the hands right now of my catapult cohort. i was also working on my posts for my food zine. both these things were due the day or two before my flight, and i’m stupid proud of how much writing i did, how much my output can be.

anyway, so, i’m in mexico city, and i have my accounting coursework that i’ll do in the evenings with beer and mangoes and snacks, and, to be honest, i’m typing out this last bit of this post on the flight in. i’m planning on checking in at my airbnb and going straight for tacos and churros, maybe making a quick pitstop first for water and mangoes at the market that’s supposed to be across the street from my airbnb.

the next few days will hopefully be a blur of food and architecture and colors, all of which i can’t wait to share. it’s a good opportunity to figure out how to tell stories of travel.

i’m doing a fair amount of traveling this fall actually. in two weeks, i’m home in brooklyn for the brooklyn book festival, then i’m planning on hopping up to the bay area at the end of september or in early october. i’ll be in austin at the end of october for the texas book festival and then in portland for 36 hours for the portland book festival. my family’s going for either our usually extended family gathering in baltimore or a smaller extended family gathering in boston during thanksgiving, and that’s a trip that was going to end in boston, anyway, so, wherever the family gathers, i’ll be in boston for a few days at the end of november.

all of this travel is only made possible by the fact that my mum has kindly given me many of her miles and points. and hurrah for airbnb and friends who so kindly let me crash on their spare beds!


nix what i wrote above — i’m writing this last bit of this post in a cafe, and my phone has 5% battery left, and i need to make sure to have enough to get back to my airbnb. i slept like shit last night, partly because of an uncomfortable bed, partly because i don’t sleep well in new places in general, partly because i just don’t sleep well in general. apparently, the altitude here makes sleep harder, too.

this isn’t supposed to be a post about CDMX, though, so maybe i’ll just end things here. or maybe i’ll throw in some book talk while i’m here and while i’ve got you because i have been reading, just very little and not as often.

i read porochista khakpour’s sick (harper perennial, 2018) on my flights to and from anchorage, and it was my online book club’s pick for july. i’m afraid to report that i didn’t love it, that i tried hard to love it but couldn’t, found it fairly shallow and hard to track sometimes because there's a lot in there and because all of khakpour’s boyfriends sound like the same person — he’s always white, always privileged, always has some familial connection to lyme. i did love the rare moments when khakpour becomes more reflective and offers thoughts on her experience instead of simply relating her experience — though, yes, i acknowledge and agree that there is huge value in a woman simply narrating her experience with chronic illness and with being a woman with chronic illness, her physical pain dismissed unless it is somehow linked to the psychological.

that said, i’m not the biggest fan of memoirs that are just narrative tellings because i personally look for more. i want self-reflection, self-awareness, and maybe that’s a lot to ask for, but i wonder what the purpose is in a memoir otherwise — memoirs that simple recount narratives and focus entirely on one’s self feel often like navel-gazing, which maybe sounds more cynical than i actually intend. and, also, which is not something i necessarily think khakpour is doing in sick.

i also recently finished sakaya murata’s convenience store woman (grove, 2018), which was short but so, so smart, deftly capturing the workings of a japanese conbini and commenting on japanese society overall. i don’t know how other people have been reading this novella, but i found it pretty uniquely japanese, that, while there is a universal application, maybe, to the points murata makes, she is specifically addressing japan, directing her criticism to that society.

personally, i find books like convenience store woman and, even, han kang’s the vegetarian interesting because they’re books in-translation and they read (to me, at least) as fairly unique to their respective societies and cultures — and that’s interesting because, clearly, someone in the west found them interesting, too, connected with something, though, sometimes, i wonder if that’s more to do with exoticism and that sense of the Other, which, again, maybe sounds more cynical than i actually intend.  i find there’s a shit-ton to explore when it comes to translation; there’s so much we should question about how books are chosen and decided upon and who these gatekeepers are.

i mean, we should be examining that shit all the time, even when it comes to the books we’re reading that don’t go through the additional hurdles of translation. there’s a reason mostly dead white men are the authors of books we’re taught are “classics” and “the greats," and that's bullshit.

i've also been reading nicole chung’s forthcoming memoir, all you can ever know (catapult, forthcoming 2018), but i haven’t finished it yet because i’ve been sitting on the last twenty pages. i don’t want this book to end because nicole’s writing is just so full of heart and love and wisdom and grace, and i’ve been going around saying this all over social media, but i’ll say it here, too: if you read one book this year, let it be all you can ever know. it is just so. freaking. good.

there are other books i’ve been reading recently that i could talk about, but i think i’ll give my thumbs a break and leave y’all with photos from alaska instead. i wanted to have longer posts about alaska, but i unfortunately keep coming up blank. there will hopefully be a few mexico city posts, though — if anything, there will be quite a few added to the food zine!


here, who you are is enough.


i was going to post a series of blog posts from my weekend back home in new york two weeks ago, but i’m still not quite sure how i want go about doing it. do i want to go day by day, so it’s like a series of daily blog posts that go through my days in order or do i want to do one giant recap post or do i want to do this or that or this or that — and part of this dilemma has to do with finding myself in a creative rut, and another part has to do with my desire to keep evolving.

last year, when i was last home, i did a series of daily recap-like blog posts. i have a history of struggling (or just flat-out being unable) to do the same thing twice.

usually, when i think about blog posts, i think visually first. i think about the visual story i want to tell as i go through my photographs and edit them, and i lay the post out first, creating a draft with a title and arranging my edited photos. sometimes, the first draft works, and, then, i can go about drafting the words to go with it, but, sometimes, i need to mess around with it, rearranging things, removing some photos and adding others, etcetera etcetera etcetera, until i’m happy when i scroll through it and have an idea of the words i want to write to accompany it.

this time is weird. i lay out my visual drafts for all five days, and i’d normally be happy with them, but i want to do something different.

so i’m typing out these words first, hoping this post coalesces somehow as i vomit words onto this google doc.

being home was great, and it was so, so freeing because a literal weight lifts off my shoulders every time my plane lands at JFK. this time was a little weird because i had so much anxiety and nervous energy and stress leading up to my flight, and i took a red-eye, which i swore never to do again, so i landed at JFK at 4:30 in the morning, got a shitty bagel and even shittier coffee (more like coffee-flavored water) at dunkin donuts, and sat around, catching up on the korea summit and waiting for a more sane hour to head over to my friend’s apartment.

i knew i was home because i could feel that lightness, that ease in my body, in my bones, but my brain was so groggy, it was like, whaaaaat, where are we again? are we even awake?

it took a two-hour nap for my brain to catch up with my body.

maybe the flipside to being home when home isn’t where i currently reside is that i have to leave home after my allotted time, and leaving is always hard. i’m not shy about my loathing of los angeles, and i’m not apologetic for it either because, sometimes, some of us have cities that belong to us, just like some of us have cities that have meted out so much damage and harm and pain that it is impossible for us to be there.

los angeles is the latter city to me. it’s the city where i was broken down, my sense of self and identity reduced to my weight and size, the city where i learned to hate and despise myself because i wasn’t thin, and, if i wasn’t thin, i couldn’t be pretty, i couldn’t get a job, i couldn’t be loved. it’s the city where i learned that thinness was first and foremost, that i couldn’t be good or wanted or acceptable as long as i wasn’t a size 0 — or maybe that’s unfair of me; maybe no one expected me to be a size zero, exactly, but my size 14, my size whatever-i-was-before-i-started-thinking-about-my-body was not okay.

i was not okay.

i spent much of my adolescence and young adulthood wanting to disappear my body and, in connect, disappear myself, and maybe that sounds like nothing of much consequence to you, but that kind of toxic shit bleeds into everything. i didn’t date. i couldn’t apply to jobs. i avoided social settings and meeting new people who might look at me and be repulsed and i didn’t want to see that on stranger’s faces when it was bad enough to see that repulsion on the faces of people i knew, people who were supposed to love me. i wore a uniform of long pants and long shirts and dark colors, all day, every day, and i grew up in the valley where temperatures hit triple digits during the summer. i wore long pants and long shirts and dark colors even then.

i avoided any and all kinds of conflict, and i never sent back a wrong order, and i always apologized, always, always, always. i hated flying. i always sat in aisle seats, so i’d never have to ask someone to move or have to crawl over someone. i avoided concert halls, auditoriums, anywhere with that tiny-ass stadium seating and non-existent aisles.

i never gave myself the permission to write or to pursue the things i was actually interested in, like a grad program in comparative lit. i repressed all my interest in and love of food. i learned to count calories instead, hate myself when i didn’t work out, beat myself up mentally whenever i ate something i “shouldn’t have.” i feel so freaking lucky i didn’t suffer from bulimia; i don’t know how i avoided that fate; but, somehow, i did.

there was all that, and then there was my inability to stand up for myself in the workplace, to say, i want this position, and i am fully qualified for it, to express interest and speak up. i’m lucky i never had any employers who took advantage of my spinelessness, but, sometimes, i stop and think of all the opportunities i lost simply because i didn’t have the confidence in myself to believe that i deserved this job or that, to put myself forward as a capable person instead of shrinking back in silence and self-deprecation.

you could argue that that isn’t just because of all the body shaming, but i’d tell you to stuff it and shut up when someone’s telling you about her damage. maybe she knows it’s complicated. maybe she knows it better than you because it’s the life she’s lived.

maybe she knows better than you because she knows who she was before the body shaming started and she knows who she’s become after she fled los angeles and started to heal.


part of me wonders often if maybe i shouldn’t be turning some of this into personal essays and submitting them to publications, but i’m also at a point where i’m wearied and bruised with the whole process. i’ve got an e-mail sitting in my inbox right now, and i should open it, but i’m 99.9% certain that it’s another rejection from another agent because the preview is too formal, too distant, and i recognize that tone. thank you for submitting this, but. you’re a strong writer, but. i like your writing, but.

i don’t take it personally because i know not all writing is for everyone and not all writing is for everyone, anyway. i know that rejection is part of the process. i know writers have walls of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of rejection slips.

at this point, i just want something. it’s been ten, lonely-as-hell years of working on a book, trying to find it a person and a home, and it’s been ten years of thanks, but. and maybe this is where being plugged into a community of writers might be helpful or to have some kind of mentor or something — but i don’t know. i’m starting to think, wow, what a colossal waste of ten years. where do you go from here when this is all you have???

two saturdays ago, my parents and i drove down to riverside to get a puppy. i’ve been looking for a dog to adopt for over two years now, more seriously in the year or so i’ve been back in los angeles, and i finally found this puppy on craigslist, a two-month-old bichon that an older couple was trying to rehome. we had no idea if we’d be coming home with this puppy, but we got all the basic essentials — a crate, bed, food, toys, bowls, snacks, a collar — and drove down two hours, our fingers and toes crossed.

we brought him home that night, and i cradled him as we drove back up, and he was calm and curious, alternating between napping peacefully in my lap and climbing all over me to see out the window, to sniff behind my head, to curl up against my shoulder. my father played some yo-yo ma, and the pup perked his ears and looked around, wondering at the sound. we were stopped in traffic, and the pup sat up, watching the lights from opposing traffic bouncing off the car ceiling. he didn’t pee or vomit or cry, and he didn’t shake either, bouncing up for kisses and demanding more scratches.

we named him (gom, with a long O), which is korean for “bear” because he looks like a bear and because my father’s nickname as a child was “bear” and the pup is technically for him. technically, gom’s supposed to be a companion for my parents. of course, though, gom’s become more and more mine, that right thing at the right time.

what a colossal waste of ten years.


i’ve been thinking about bodies a lot because, while i was in new york, i thought a lot about why i love it so. new york is a city that has always been kind to me, yes, but it’s a difficult city, one that wounds and wounds deeply. i had to leave because i couldn’t “make it,” because i couldn’t find a full-time job or enough (better) freelancing gigs, and it’s an anxiety that’s a constant source of stress, that i’ll somehow find my way back but, still, be unable to “make it.”

that requires the faith, though, that somehow i will find myself back.

the truth, though, is that i ran out of faith a long time ago, and i still don’t have much of it at all. i don’t believe things will change, just like i don’t believe that anything i’ve worked so hard for will come to anything — and maybe all this currently feels dangerous because i’ve been thinking of deleting all my book files, just to put some kind of final end to all this stupid endeavor, except that does make me feel bitter, all this time, all these years, all the sacrifices and reckless decisions just to end up nowhere.

except no one forced me to make said shitty decisions, and thus the cycle of self-loathing continues.

it’s all connected, though, writing, bodies, life, hopelessness, my state of mind. some people like to connect my depression with new york, like it was new york that wrecked my brain, and even i can’t deny that the financial stressors of the city contributed to my descent in 2016. that’s a grossly and condescendingly simplistic correlation, though, because my brain was one that knew suicidal depression long before i moved back to new york, and i clearly remember the first time i thought i’d take my life. i was in middle school. i was kneeling in the middle of my room, leaning on my chair.  i didn’t know much about anything then, thought a x-acto knife could do enough.

i’d carry this through college, gain back a ton of weight my first year in college because that was the only way i could cope, could pretend i was okay, and, then, in december 2009, i’d try again, hate myself for not being able to cut past the pain and for that sliver of hope inside me that said, stay. stay alive. just stay. and then there would be spring 2013, in my second semester of law school (my mother still doesn’t seem to get it; i withdrew from law school to save my life), and then may 2015, december 2016 … and then, who knows, the longer i stay in california, the greater that threat becomes.

because i fled los angeles in 2012, broken and damaged with no sense of self and no ability to speak up for myself and who i was and what i wanted. i spent five years in new york, slowly, slowly, slowly healing, slowly and painstakingly piecing myself together and learning to be kinder to myself, to value myself, to be okay with myself, and, by 2016, even with the suicidal depression and anxiety fraying the threads of my entire self, i was at least a human being then, one who was maybe splintering and falling apart but knew, at her core, at least, who she was, what she was capable of, what she wanted from her life.

and then i had to come back to los angeles, back to a place that continues to make it clear that i am not good enough, not thin enough, not soft-spoken enough, not hetero, christian, gracious enough, and all i can say is that there’s a lot of shit in the world and a lot of shitty people, but, still, nothing makes me angrier than people who berate girls and tear them down for their looks, for their weight, instead of building them up and teaching them to stand tall — their bodies are good enough. they are good enough.


i don’t know why i wrote all that. i don’t actually have that much anger about my past, about what i was put through, because it’s the past and what’s done is done. that doesn’t mean that i stop carrying the effects of such intense, intentional body shaming, though, and that doesn’t mean i no longer have to deal with all the consequences from it. and the fact that i am the one who has to carry the damage means that i want to (and get to) speak out about it, in the hopes that, maybe, if you’re body shaming your kid or your friend or your whatever, even if you have “good” intentions, maybe you’ll take a second to pause and think about what you’re really doing to that person you claim to love, and, maybe, just maybe, you’ll stop before it’s too late.

in new york, i try to see everyone i can. i inevitably can’t because i’m there for five days and i also need time and space for myself, but i see everyone i can, getting meals and coffee and drinks, talking, laughing, catching up. i miss this. i miss having people. los angeles has always been and still is a supremely lonely town.

the first time i cried in therapy, we were a few months in, and i’m surprised it took so long for me to cry. my therapist and i have talked about a lot of crap, too, from body shaming to identity to the stagnancy of my life, but it’s when we start talking about people that i crack.

i think you’re lonely, she says.

sometimes, i wonder, if i weren’t lonely, if i hadn’t grown up lonely because that’s also a natural by-product of wanting to disappear your body, if i hadn’t been so lonely through my college years and early young adulthood, would i even be writing here?

there are a lot of cautions when it comes to writing so personally in a public space. i, too, wonder about this, and i worry about it, too, the kind of impact such stupid honesty might have. i wonder if this space isn’t an additional reason i can’t get a job, but, then, i think that, and that annoys me, this idea that i should hide or be ashamed of this shit i’ve gone through, the shit i live with, like you haven’t gone through shit or live with shit, either. what makes you so much better? you’re no better or more a human because you don’t take meds or get around without assistance or deal with normal levels of depression and anxiety. actually, i kind of think people who look down on people who take meds, need assistance, and live with mental and/or physical illness are kind of shitty people, and i don’t want them in my life.

because that’s related to shame, isn’t it? we’re made to feel like we should be ashamed because we’re not in “perfect” health. and maybe that’s the thing about love — it’s impossible (or, at least, very difficult) to believe in love when there is shame attached to it. like, my cousin is getting married in korea this summer, and no one’s enthused about going because it’s july and korea in july is hot and humid hell, but i’ve volunteered to go because i can swing by japan on my way and because, well, i have my reasons.

i’m not going, though, and it’s not because of financial reasons or work reasons or anything.

my body is too big for korea, and i don’t speak deferentially, demurely, and i don’t eat prettily, and, thus, i would bring shame on my family.

how can you believe in love when that supposed love is so ashamed of you?

what is love even then, and is it worth much at all?


i did open that e-mail, and it said exactly what i thought it would.

on my first day in new york, i get my hands on an ARC of crystal hana kim’s forthcoming novel, if you leave me. it’s a sweeping historical novel set in korea, starting during the war and spanning into the early aughts, and we follow a few characters, though the main character is haemi. she’s a first daughter and an older sister to a sick, much-younger brother. her father has died in the war. she is to be married and have children, and she isn’t educated because she’s a girl, no matter the fact that she has a sharp brain and a desire to learn.

she marries a boy her mother approves her, and he’s a boy from seoul, but he isn’t the boy she loves. she marries him, anyway, and they have children, all daughters, and they’re not exactly hurting, not financially, after the war. her husband is a landowner; she’s a housewife; and one of the things kim gets at so well is the toxicity of an intensely patriarchal culture, one that represses its women and embeds toxic masculinity in its men.

the scary part of all that, maybe, is how all of it is still so relevant today. while i was reading if you leave me, i knew it was a historical novel, but i never stopped thinking about korea today, about the patriarchy today, about the expectations placed on women to marry and breed and defer to their husbands and give up their ambitions and wants for the sake of their families and accept their husbands’ infidelities and egoes and violences because men are men and what are men to do when their wives are pregnant or nagging or demanding? all women have to do is care for the children and cook meals and stuff. that’s nothing like going to work to provide for the family.

women’s work isn’t "real" work.

that sounds like antiquated thinking, but the thing is it’s really not.

maybe one thing that’s changed this year is that i’ve learned to hold my sadnesses close to me again. i’ve never really been the confiding sort, never really prone to open up directly to people, and i’d made a few shifts in recent years to become more open, less closed up.

over the last few months, though, i’ve felt myself retreating, and part of that was very conscious but another part instinctive. when i hurt, i bristle, and the truth, maybe, underneath my reticence, is that i don’t trust anyone to hold my sadnesses for me. i don’t trust anyone not to turn that hurt, weaponize it, and use it against me.

the other thing, though, is that i’ve grown fatigued of being questioned all the time, of having to explain why i’ve got so much fear and anxiety or why i hate los angeles so much or why this, why that, and then being talked down to. i need god, i need to get over it and just learn to like where i am and just this or just that, like it’s all so simple, so easy, as basic as snapping your fingers and voila — everything is sunny and bright, and i’m not having nightmares of being trapped and unable to go home most nights.

and i don’t trust people to hold my sadnesses for me when their lives are progressing just fine, and that’s on me. i remind myself all the time that what we see, whether on social media or even of the people in our lives, is only a sliver of a person’s reality. some people look like they lead perfect lives on the surface — a supportive spouse, a home, a career — and we can never know what’s going on behind that veneer — but, even knowing that, even telling myself that every single freaking day, it’s hard not to look up from my sinkhole and think, how nice. how easy it must be for them.

and i know — i’m sure some people must look at the surfaces of my life and think the same.


what kim does so phenomenally well in her novel is get at the nuances of how a patriarchal society affects its people. she hasn’t written a book that’s screaming about toxic masculinity or misogyny or gender inequality; she’s simply written a book about a part of the world, painting a picture of these people’s war-torn lives; and kim does it all with a lot of love.

she doesn’t judge her characters even when they behave badly, reactive to their culture, maybe, some might argue (oh, that was normal back then), but that doesn’t mean she withholds criticism of the society that allows for such behavior. if you leave me doesn’t make bad male behavior okay, and neither does kim use culture as an excuse for said behavior — and maybe this is something i liked so much about the novel, too, that she’s able to do this without writing an overtly socially aware, socially critical book.

that’s not always the easiest thing to do.

and maybe part of that is to do with the fact that misogyny isn’t just about gross acts of violence. gender inequality isn’t just about a pay difference. it’s also in the quiet comments that maybe go unheard, the snide little putdowns that, on their own, might roll off you, the very idea of gender roles, that a woman is meant to be a mother and a wise and a man can do whatever he wants, so long as he provides for his family in the most basic ways. it’s in the desperate desire and continual attempts for a son.

and kim gets at all that, and you might miss it if you’re breezing through the book, if you don’t know what to look for — and, hey, isn’t that kind of like misogyny/gendered crap in real life? if you aren’t keeping your eyes open, if you aren’t willing to look, you can gloss over it like it’s just a natural part of culture, too.

i also love how the story is told; we hop between narrators but move forward in time; and kim maneuvers us deftly over decades.

maybe my main criticism might be that the first-person narrations aren’t really that varied, that all the characters really kind of sound like the same person, even haemi’s daughter, her voice more an imitation of a child’s voice than a child’s voice itself. in another novel, this lack of differentiation might have (and has, in the past) bothered me tremendously, but i can’t say it did all that much in if you leave me.

which does make me wonder a lot about reading and how subjective it is and how that subjectivity varies even book to book, even if the reader is the same. i think about how i can’t quite pinpoint what it is that i look for most in books; my answer tends to be vague — strong narrative voice, fully-fleshed characters, interesting story — or maybe that’s not vague at all, leaves a lot of room for details and difference. a book with plain prose and fully dimensional characters will generally always be more compelling than a beautifully written book with flat, cliched characters. a compelling story will outweigh weak writing. a unique, vibrant narrative voice will bring out different, interesting notes in the most common story. maybe the rule about good story-telling is … there are no rules.

if you leave me is published by william morrow books on 2018 august 7. this ARC was not sent to me by the publisher.


this post is all over the place, and it’s not the post i intended to write, though what i was intending to write, i don’t really know. in some ways, it’s kind of been a way to process the devastation i feel churning quietly in me, to mourn, in ways, the death of me, of my ambitions, of my dreams. i’m still thinking about deleting all my book files. i’m thinking about not even backing them on an external hard drive first. i’m trying not to feel the empty void in me — the loss of my faith in my book is infinitely more devastating than the loss of my religious faith in 2016.

what a colossal waste of ten years.

within a forest dark.

heim — home. yes, the place one has always been, however hidden from one’s awareness, could only be called that, couldn’t it? and yet, in another way, doesn’t home only become home if one goes away from it, since it’s only with distance, only in the return, that we are able to recognize it as the place that shelters our true self? (71)

forest dark (harpers, forthcoming 2017) feels like a departure from nicole krauss’ previous work, but, then, when i think about her previous work, i think each of her novels also feels like a departure from the one that came before it. like, great house (norton, 2010) follows four narrators — and there’s a fifth character in the mix, a desk that’s made its rounds from person to person, life to life. the history of love (norton, 2005) is this beautiful, heartrending story that bounces primarily between two characters — alma and bruno, one a child, the other a writer and wwii survivor — and that was a departure from man walks into a room (doubleday, 2002), still my favorite of krauss’ books, a straightforward novel about a man who wakes up in the desert one day, his memory wiped by a tumor in his brain.

i don’t know that i loved forest dark in the ways i loved man walks into a room or was entranced by the history of love. (great house, for me, was unfortunately largely forgettable.) i read forest dark in an afternoon and an evening, though, barreling my way through in on a hot, steaming labor day, not stopping until i’d completed it, and i read most of it on the floor, draped over a folded futon and hiding under a fan with the windows open as wide as they’d go and the blinds pulled up to let in as much of a breeze as possible.

the carpet (i hate carpet, but my parents’ house has carpet in the bedrooms) felt sticky and damp from the humidity, and i paused once to take a nap because heat saps me of energy and i’d spent the early afternoon writing, a second time to take a break and read more orange is the new black recaps (i’m still debating whether or not to continue with the show or call it quits), a third time to eat a slice of cold pizza and a banana and a peanut butter jelly sandwich and a glass of milk.

i finished it at night, sweating in bed at eleven p.m, the pillows and blanket shoved away from me, and, when i was done, i dropped the book back onto the floor, onto the scarf i’d laid on the carpet earlier to protect my elbows from the roughness, and tried to go to sleep.

i hate/despise/loathe summer, always have, likely always will.

in forest dark, krauss alternates chapters between two characters, two perspectives — the third-person of jules epstein, a sixty-something retired lawyer who’s spent the last few years giving all his stuff away, and the first-person of nicole, an author from brooklyn in a failing marriage — and they both travel to israel, epstein to donate $2 million in memory of his deceased parents, nicole to work on her new novel, which is supposed to be about the tel aviv hilton.

there’s a lot of philosophizing in forest dark, a lot of talking about writing and religion and things that lie more in the realm of the conceptual, and you couldn’t say that much really happens action-wise in the novel. both epstein and nicole are going through changes in their lives. both of them go to israel, stay at the tel aviv hilton. both have encounters with eccentric men, epstein with a rabbi who seeks epstein out, claiming that epstein is a descendant of david, nicole with a man who claims to have worked for mossad, who is a retired professor at tel aviv university who shares nicole’s love for and fascination with kafka.

(kafka, i suppose, is the third character in forest dark. the novel explores an alternate theory that kafka faked his death and lived on a kibbutz as a gardener until his peaceful, actual death.)

i admit that i was pretty whatever to the epstein chapters — they were good, well-written, but neither were they all that interesting to me — but i loved the chapters we spent with nicole. it’s public knowledge that krauss herself divorced her husband (the novelist jonathan safran foer) a few years ago, that they have two sons together, and she doesn’t try to create clear differences between herself and the nicole in the novel. in the novel, nicole is an author; she’s written several novels about jewishness; she has readers who approach her to tell her how boring her most recent novel was (great house) or how they loved one of her novels so much, they named their infant after a character (“alma” in the history of love). krauss herself spent a lot of time at the tel aviv hilton throughout her life. there’s a lot that is blurred in that boundary between the personal and the written, much of which, i dare say, has been blurred intentionally.

that’s not why i loved the nicole chapters, though; i’m not that interested in the personal or in trying to parse what is “autobiographical” and what is not — nicole spends a fair amount of time thinking about writing, about narratives, and there was a lot i loved about that because, sometimes, i spend a fair amount of time thinking about writing and about narratives.

there were some things i identified with, too, like this bit on dance versus writing:

more and more it seems to me that dancing is where my true happiness lies, and that when i write, what i am really trying to do is dance, and because it is impossible, because dancing is free of language, i am never satisfied with writing. to write is, in a sense, to seek to understand, and so it is always something that happens after the fact, is always a process of sifting through the past, and the results of this, if one is lucky, are permanent marks on a page. but to dance is to make oneself available (for pleasure, for one explosion, for stillness); it only ever takes place in the present — the moment after it happens, dance has already vanished. dance constantly disappears, ohad often says. the abstract connections is provokes in its audience, of emotion with form, and the excitement from one’s world of feelings and imagination — of this derives from its vanishing. […] but writing, whose goal it is to achieve a timeless meaning, has to tell itself a lie about time; in essence, it has to believe in some form of immutability, which is why we judge the greatest works of literature to be those that have withstood the test of hundreds, even thousands, of years. and this lie that we tell ourselves when we write makes me more and more uneasy. (136-7)

for me, it isn’t dance but music, and i think maybe that’s why i’m obsessed with the rhythm of language. it’s what i love so much about ian mcewan and what i loved so much about the history of love, the lyricality and beauty of mcewan and krauss’ prose because music is the thing that’s been with me my whole life, the thing i once wanted to pursue, the thing that has kept me here. it’s been my lifeline in so many ways, standing in for something much bigger than itself, filling the spaces left vacant by dead hope and empty futures.

music is that ephemeral thing somehow holds the center of my life.

and i loved, too, the idea of the lie we tell ourselves about writing as standing up against time, and it reminded me of what jonathan franzen said when someone asked at a reading if he thought about how his writing would exist fifty years down the road. he replied that he doesn’t think about that; he writes in the present, for the present; and i thought, hey, what awesome freedom is that, not to fuss about legacy or futures you might not be around for, but to exist in the here and now, to try to serve and respond to the here and now.

as someone who has spent the greater majority of her life waiting for that one day — one day, i’ll be skinny, and, one day, my life will begin — i understand the futility of thinking about, planning for, writing toward that one day. in the end, it doesn’t matter whether work is rendered a “classic” because it’s still around hundreds, thousands of years down the road; it’s about whether or not work resonates with people today, as they exist today, whether or not work meets people’s needs as they are today.

then again, maybe that’s a perspective that’s easier for me to take because i’m generally not concerned with forever. i don’t worry about what will happen after i’m gone. i don’t want to live forever, and i don’t care about being remembered forever. i don’t give two shits about immortality because, to me, it’s already incredible and incredulous enough that i’m even here today — and, besides, what does a hypothetical future matter if our present is falling apart?

i ask myself frequently these days who i write for. it’s not that i worry about or concern myself with any notion of an audience; i don’t sit and think about who’s reading me and why; and, over the years, i’ve learned not to fret over personal reactions to my writing. much like i have writers whom i love and to whom i respond positively and viscerally, and much like i have writers whose work i don’t enjoy, whose writing style i don’t prefer, i know i am not the writer for everyone. i know that there will be people out there who intensely dislike and disagree with the things i write, and i’ve learned not to worry about how people feel about me, simply to make sure not to give them the power to control or affect how i feel about myself and my work.

(you can’t control how people feel about you. you can control how they let you feel about yourself. don’t just hand over that power.)

however, i do ask myself who i’m trying to address with my writing, not with any kind of specificity but in broad strokes. who is my ideal “audience”? who are the people i’m trying to speak to, to reach? who is the reader i have in mind?

because, as someone who does want to write professionally, i don’t consider my writing to be a solely (or even primarily) personal endeavor. i write things to be read, and i write them hoping that they will be read by a wide group of people, not just people i know, to whom i hand-deliver my work.

and, so, in that sense, i do think about who i’m writing for, and i’ve been thinking about it a lot in regards to this series of daily posts i have planned for national suicide prevention week. i’ve been thinking about it a lot in regards to my book, and i’ve mentioned it before here, how my thinking has changed, how i’ve moved from wanting to help the non-suicidal and non-depressed understand the suicidal person, to learn to see the suicidal person as human, into wanting to speak to those who are suicidal and depressed, who often feel so alone and isolated because ours is still a stigma-ridden, shame-based, guilt-producing culture.

and i think that that’s the perspective i’m taking with this upcoming series of posts, the first of which will be published on september 10, tentatively at 3 pm EST. (the time may be later; it may be earlier; that remains to be seen.) it’s not to say that it isn’t important, valuable work, trying to reach those who are fortunately unfamiliar with these darknesses and this kind of pain, but it’s not the work for me, at least not now. the more i’ve been talking about my own depression, my own anxiety disorder, my own history with suicidal thinking, the more i find that it’s increasingly frustrating trying to talk to people who don’t understand — it’s so isolating, so reinforcing of that sense of us vs. them, no matter how deeply i do appreciate people’s effort at least to try to understand, to be kind, to be supportive.

because, in many ways, ultimately, i write for comfort. i write to scratch the itches in my brain. i write the stories i want to read, the stories i wish were out there for someone like me, and i think that that’s what it means when people say to write for yourself first. because one of the things i’ve learned over the last year or so is that i am not that unique a person. my lonelinesses, my wants, my fears, my insecurities, my sadnesses — these are not things that are unique to me. the things i want are fundamentally simple and basic; i want someone to love who loves me back, who wants me back; and i want to be able to do work i don’t hate that means something, contributes something in some way or to some degree. i want to be able to be independent. i want to know that i’m okay.

and, so, when i write for myself, i’m not writing for some special individual who’s too precious for the world. i’m writing for the lonely child in me who’s bursting with want, who’s looking to connect with others like her because she knows that they exist. i’m writing for the lonely children out there who are looking for these same connections, these same assurances that they aren’t alone, their lives mean something — and none of this was meant to read like a mission statement, but, sometimes, i think it needs to be said.

and i’ll never be the type of person who writes a straight-up book review, but this is what i look for in books — a mirror, not the kind that shows you who you are on the surface but forces you to look, to look deep, and to look in the places of yourself you don’t want to see. and the thing is that these kinds of mirrors can be found anywhere; it’s not about non-fiction or memoirs or stories inspired by true events or fiction that’s intentionally telling stories about the world. there is no “right” or “wrong” book, only openness and self-reflection and the willingness to look yourself in the eye and not look away.

and this is what i loved so much about forest dark, that krauss gives us a story that is very personal, that blurs the lines between public and private, that asks questions of the stories we tell, whether to ourselves or to the world — and, in turn, she’s written a book that asks you to engage, to think, instead of reading blindly, and to ask what it is we tell ourselves so we don’t have to be cognizant of what we’re losing.

the naked bulb sputtered on and off behind his inflamed lids when he tried to sleep. he couldn’t sleep. had he accidentally given sleep away, along with everything else? (14)


i frankly hate descartes, and have never understood why his axiom should be trusted as an unshakable foundation for anything. the more he talks about following a straight line out of the forest, the more appealing it sounds to me to get lost in that forest, where once we lived in wonder, and understood it to be a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of being and the world. now we have little choice but to live in the arid fields of reason, and as for the unknown, which once lay glittering at the farthest edge of our gaze, channeling our fear but also our hope and longing, we can only regard it with aversion. (47)


“we like to think of ourselves as the inventors of monotheism, which spread like wildfire and influenced thousands of years of history. but we didn’t invent the idea of a single god; we only wrote a story of our struggle to remain true to him and in doing so we invented ourselves. we gave ourselves a past and inscribed ourselves into the future.” (friedman, 81)


“this is why the rabbis tell us that a broken heart is more full than one that is content: because a broken heart has a vacancy, and the vacancy has the potential to be filled with the infinite.” (klausner, 107)


narrative may be unable to sustain formlessness, but life also has little chance, given that it is processed by the mind whose function it is to produce coherence at any cost. to produce, in other words, a credible story. (122)


“you think your writing belongs to you?” he asked softly. (125)


narrative may be unable to sustain formlessness, but life also has little chance — is that what i wrote? what i should have written is “human life.” because nature creates form but it also destroys it, and it’s the balance between the two that suffuses nature with such peace. but if the strength of the human mind is its ability to create form out of the formless, and map meaning onto the world through the structures of language, its weakness lies in its reluctance or refusal to demolish it. we are attached to form and fear the formless: are taught to fear it from our earliest beginning. (138)


writing about other lives can, for a while, obscure the fact that the plans one has made for one’s own have insulated one from the unknown rather than drawn one closer to it. (168)


and yet, purely on the level of strategy, he continued, there’s genius in it; as much genius as in the story of refusing a dying kafka’s last will to take everything he’d left behind and burn it all unread. when the world slowly woke to brod’s kafka, he proved irresistible. and though the legend may have been brod’s own handiwork, in the decades that followed, it was expanded and embroidered upon by the border of kafkologists who took up where brod left off, gleefully churning out more kafka mythology without ever once questioning its source. (192)

unruly bodies, unruly lives.

writing this book is the most difficult thing i’ve ever done. to lay myself so vulnerable has not been an easy thing. to face myself and what living in my body has been like has not been an easy thing, but i wrote this book because it felt necessary. in writing this memoir of my body, in telling you these truths about my body, i am sharing my truth and mine alone. i understand if that truth is not something you want to hear. the truth makes me uncomfortable too. but i am also saying, here is my heart, what’s left of it. here i am showing you the ferocity of my hunger. here i am, finally freeing myself to be vulnerable and terribly human. here i am, reveling in that freedom. here. see what i hunger for and what my truth has allowed me to create. (304)

skincare teaches you about patience, and it teaches you about discipline. skincare takes time, and it takes routine and ritual and repetition to see results, and, you know, that said, i guess this post is kind of a lie because this is what my nighttime skincare routine should look like every night but, y’know, doesn’t.

most nights, i just rinse my face with water and call it a night.

when i was younger, i used to be [more] careless about my skin, much in the same way i was careless about my body, though, at the same time, it wasn’t in the same way at all because that’s only a partial truth — i was careless about my body in that i wanted to care less about it, but i couldn’t, so i was careless with it, about it, at least as much as i could be.

to talk about skin is to talk about bodies, and to talk about bodies is to talk about shame. to talk about bodies is also to talk about want, and i think that these are languages we learn, that we learn to speak. my body wasn’t something i thought of much when i was a child; it wasn’t something i was cognizant of, something i had to concern myself with or think about; and i realize only in hindsight what a privilege that was. gone were my young days of being sick all the time, laid to bed in complete darkness and total silence because of migraines and laid to waste by bloody noses so bad clumps would rain out of my nostrils and make me faint, and, as i moved on from young childhood to mid-childhood to pre-adolescence, my body was just a body, something that was there, something that was a part of me.

and, then, my freshman year of high school, i was taught that i had a body, and i was taught that it was something to be ashamed of. it was something i was supposed to make small.

and, so, it became something i wanted to disappear.

i became something i wanted to disappear.


01. double cleanse.

start with cleansing. obviously. i go for the double cleanse, which means you use an oil cleanser and rinse, then use a water-based cleanser and rinse. the oil will remove your makeup and the gunk that's accumulated on your skin during the day, but it won't (or it shouldn't) break you out. one thing i've learned is not to be afraid of oil, whether for my skin or in my food. oil, when used correctly, is great.

the first oil cleanser i used was banila's clean it zero, and i still prefer that because it's solid, not liquid, and melts onto your face. i love that korean companies provide a little plastic spatula with their products, too, because who wants to put her/his/their fingers into a jar, bringing bacteria and other stuff into the product?

when i think about roxane gay, i think about grace.

while i'm not necessarily the biggest fan of her writing style, i love her voice. she writes with so much grace, so much kindness and generosity, even for the people who have hurt her, which doesn't mean that she's a pushover who simply takes the shit she's given — and it's truly incredible, the amount of bullshit she has to contend with on a daily basis.

even in the midst of all that grossness, she carries herself with grace, and it's something i admire, something i aspire to, and i am not the look-at-someone-and-find-something-aspirational sort. i rarely look at another writer and think, hey, i wish i could do that, but, as i was reading hunger (harper, 2017), i kept thinking, this is the book about my body i hope i can write some day.

i mean that more theoretically than anything because i don't know that i'd ever write a book about my body (i don't know if there's necessarily a story there) and because i use "my body" as a fill-in for other topics. there are things i want to write about, things i will write about, things that are difficult for me to broach today for various reasons, and hunger made me think that, one day, it may be possible for me to write the things i need to write with grace and generosity, not fury and spite and resentment.

and i think that as well because i think i have come a long way in writing about my body. even a year ago, there would have been more anger driving this post; today, all there is is what i have; and all i have to offer is my truth. and maybe i'm not the best person to be writing about any of this because, at my heaviest, i was maybe what roxane gay calls "lane bryant fat," too big for "regular" sizes but not too big for plus sizes. or maybe i’m not the best person to be writing about any of this because, today, i may not be tiny, but i can shop comfortably, don't look at narrow seating nervously, can relax when someone takes a full-body photo of me.

and, yet, my body and i have a long and painful history of being at odds with each other, and physical size is no indicator of health, whether physical or mental, anyway. physical size doesn't diminish the fact that i've lived with disordered eating and severe body dysmorphia since high school. it doesn't mean the shaming didn't happen, the obsessing over my weight, the self-loathing and self-hatred and total obliteration of my self-esteem.

because that is damage i carry, damage that bleeds into every single aspect of my life, and that is damage i have had to teach myself mercilessly to unlearn.

mine is not a weight loss story.

02. exfoliate.

one day, i will venture into the world of chemical exfoliants. until then ...

the other day, my therapist tells me that all the cells in our body regenerate every seven years, that we are literally, physically not the same people we were seven years ago. i love that fact, that we are constantly in turnover, constantly changing and becoming new, but, sometimes, in weeks like this, it's also frightening. part of me wants to find comfort in the constant change. i know that i never really will.

because here's the truth — or here's a truth: i write this post at a time of intense vulnerability, in a moment of decline. the last few weeks were generally good, great even, and i was stable for the most part, despite dealing with swirling anxiety that continues to feed my insomnia. however, the fact is that things cycle — i cycle; my moods cycle; and, sometimes, most times, it's out of my hands.

as i struggle not to go tumbling down this slope, i remind myself that things aren't technically bad. i remind myself that i'm lucky. i remind myself that this, too, will pass.

i remind myself of all the things i remind myself of when things start to get bad again. to live in the now, in the present, that the future will arrive when it does, and i will reckon with it then. to maintain perspective, to remember that i'm not the only one suffering, that other people might have it worse — i remember how much i hate this idea of "putting things in perspective," how much i hate looking for that damn silver lining because that doesn’t stop everything from being shit.

but we slough off pain like we slough off skin, and we try to get through these dark moments. i do believe we are built to survive, but, more than that, the fact is that the only other option is not to get through any of it, to pass on and die instead, and, when those are your options, what do you choose? generally, i’m someone who believes in middle grounds and shades of grey, but, when it comes to surviving, i think it's either/or — we survive, or we don't, and that is it. how you define surviving is up to you.

03. tone and use essence.

of course, as these things tend to go, i took these photographs, and, then, i acquired missha's time revolution essence, which many swear is comparable to SKII without the high price tag. that acquisition happened through luck because alaska air decided not to board our luggage when we were en route to seattle, so we were left without our things for a night and day, including our toiletries, and they said they'd reimburse us for anything we purchased.

hence, missha.

to be honest, i still couldn't explain to you what toner and essence are. i've had them explained to me several times, but i still don't know — and i think koreans might approach toner differently from others. like, i know some people are obsessed with witch hazel toner, and i used to use that, too, except, as it turns out, it's not actually that great for skin because it strips the natural oils from your skin and dries it out.

truth to be told, no, i don't understand all the science behind skincare, but i do know that you don't want to strip the natural oils from your skin, and you don't want to damage the skin barrier, and you don’t want to throw off your pH levels. it's when you do the above that you can't regulate sebum production, and that causes your skin to become oilier and break out.

… have i got all that right?

you'd think i'd know better, but it’s like science has wings, flying way over my head every time i try to catch it.

there is a lot gay writes about in hunger that i sympathize with but can’t identify with because she is who she is and i am obviously my own person. she has endured trauma i have been fortunate not to have experienced. i’m sure she could say the same back to me.

i identify with a lot of what she writes, though.

i identify with her confidence in her intellect and her ability to write. i identify with so much she has to say about bodies and being body shamed and specifically being body shamed by your family. i identify with the self-loathing and the self-destructive behavior, with the bile that rises with every “i do this because i love you” excuse, with the way she had to learn to put her foot down and say this wasn’t acceptable, it wasn’t okay to keep making comments on her body.

and i identify with her when she says that she loves her family, that she is grateful for them, that they have always been there for her, supporting her, loving her, catching her when she falls, and i believe her. i believe her when she speaks lovingly, glowingly of her parents — her parents sound like amazing, loving, generous, brilliant, immigrant parents who would do anything for their kids.

her parents sound a lot like mine.

maybe it's one of the great cruelties of life that the people who love you most (and whom you love most) are the people who will hurt you most. it's not a one-way thing, either; the people you love most (and whom you love most) are the people you will hurt most. maybe it's to do with how, the more you care, the more vulnerable you become — the more you open yourself to the possibility (and probability) of hurt.

love is a complex beast, though, and love is complicated. love becomes muddled as it moves between human bodies, between human people, as it gets lost in translation, which it inevitably does because we all have our own individual languages for love. love gets tangled up in individuality. love invariably becomes intertwined with expectations, and expectations always lead to disappointment. love will always be disappointed.

when you're different, when you think differently, look differently, want differently, you start being acutely aware of this. you look at the people around you and wonder, how can you hurt me so? how can you reject me so? because, to you, these differences, whether they be physical or sexual or religious, seem like nothing to you. they don’t seem important enough to you to hang a relationship on, and, yet, so many of us are the ones who have to walk away to save ourselves.

one of the things that body shaming and body dysmorphia have taught me is that love is complex, that love is complicated.

it is possible to be angry at what people have done, and it is possible to acknowledge and confront the harm they have done you, and it is possible to love them fiercely all at the same time. it is possible to be disappointed by people, to be hurt by them, and love them fiercely at the same time. it is possible to mourn and despise the damage you carry and the years of your life you have lost because of people’s destructive behavior and still love them fiercely at the same time.

the existence of one does not negate or diminish the existence of the other.

i use son & park's beauty water as my toner, shaking some onto a cotton pad and swiping it around my face, and then i use essence. i really don't know what essence is. i've just used it for forever, and i will keep using it for forever until someone gives me a really good reason why i shouldn't.

04. apply serum, oil.

i love the ordinary's niacinamide/zinc serum; it’s been brightening and smoothing my face out beautifully, giving it a nice glow from within. i also really like its rosehip oil, and i like these two products so much, i purchased more products from the ordinary, all of which should arrive next week and i am excited to use. one's specifically supposed to help fade hyperpigmentation.

i'm obsessed with trying to fade my hyperpigmentation.

i even tried getting them laser-removed once, which was supposed to happen over two sessions, but, while the first was effective, the second was not, and i am still hyperpigmented all over my face, which annoys me to irrational levels.

i mean, skin is just skin, except it's not. skin is that thing we live in.

skin is that thing we sometimes mark.

in hunger, gay writes about her tattoos, and she talks about visibility when wanting to be invisible. i think about tattoos, how they mark us and make us seen, how they identify us and render us recognizable. i think about how tattoos are choices, exercises in taking control, a way of saying, this is my body, and it is mine. i will mark it as i will.

and, yet, getting a tattoo is also an act of letting go, of trusting your artist to take your vision and make it into reality and leave you with something permanent that will carry with it whatever significance you’re attaching to it, how ever great or small that may be.

there’s something i like about that, about how marking yourself is something you do with another person, and i think tattoos are very literal, visual reminders of the ways we touch each other and leave our marks on each other’s lives. in the case of getting inked, you’re [hopefully] delivering yourself into your artist’s hands, entrusting her/him/them with a part of your skin, your body, but, when it comes to the rest of life, we’ve no idea what we leave behind — we’ve no control over that — or of the impact others will have on us and our lives.

sometimes, we mete out horrible damage, and, sometimes, we do that willfully and intentionally. other times, we try to soothe and to comfort, try to do good, to be positive forces, but, sometimes, that doesn’t succeed and we end up doing harm instead. sometimes, though, we do succeed, and we do provide some healing, some warmth. we just never know.

these marks are invisible, though, not like the tattoos some of us, myself included, bear on our skin, and one of the things i’ve learned is never to assume. there is only so much we can extrapolate from someone’s behavior, and there is so much we project onto the people around us — we take our fears, our insecurities, our hurts and interpret others through those lenses. we see the world through the kaleidoscope of ourselves. there is so much we can’t understand, and, unless we actively seek to listen, not to hear what we want to hear or see what we want to see, we will never be better people, and we will never make a better world.

05. moisturize and/or mask.

i genuinely love glossier; their products tend to work very well on my skin; but i was not a fan of their priming moisturizer. i thought the texture was kind of weird, and i hated that smell, not like it was very strong (not to me) but just kind of ... strange and faint and kind of there but not, kind of unpleasant but tolerable.

when they announced priming moisturizer rich, i was like, pffffft, no thanks. and then this one korean beauty vlogger i love posted about her glossier haul and said she loved priming moisturizer rich — she loved the texture, and she even liked the scent, even if it were pretty strong and even if it did smell of lavender, which isn't the most friendly to sensitive skin.

i am fortunate enough not to have sensitive skin (i also have combination skin for those curious), so i was intrigued, so i went down the google black hole. people seemed to like priming moisturizer rich in general, so i went for it — and, you know, i love it. i love the texture. i love the scent. i love how my skin absorbs it happily, and i love the heaviness of it, especially during these dryass los angeles summer months.

because, of course, there's a reversal here — back home in new york, during the summer, my skincare routine gets much, much lighter because of all the humidity in the air. here, the dryness destroys my skin, so my skincare routine pretty much stays the same in the summer as it does in winter. i might hate humidity because i hate heat, but my skin hates the dryness, and i think i’d rather have happy skin.

priming moisturizer rich comes in a jar but doesn't come with a spatula, which, to me, makes no sense. i use the one that came with my laneige water sleeping mask, which i use occasionally instead of moisturizer when i want to give my skin an extra dousing of moisture. i love this smell, too — i mean, i love good smells in general, even in my skincare. again, i'm fortunate enough not to have sensitive skin.

and this, usually, is where my nighttime skincare routine ends.


06. scrub.

this is out of order because, on nights i use the bite lip scrub, which i do maybe every 2-3 days, i use it right after i cleanse/exfoliate my face and before i start applying anything to my skin. 

i'm all about lips — when it comes to makeup, my fall-back, lazy routine is mascara and lipstick. my really, really lazy routine is just lipstick. (and sunscreen. always, always use sunscreen, even when you're staying indoors.)

lip products might be my giant weakness, and they're why i avoid sephora. it's why i've tried to enforce a rule that i can only buy new lip colors that are more than 3 shades removed from colors i already own — and i tend to gravitate towards oranges and cool reds. it is one of my great joys that i can wear orange lipstick.

i think that one of the reasons i love lipstick so much is that i love color, but i've shied away from color for so long in my clothing choices. i've been afraid of wearing anything bright, anything white, anything that might call attention to me or make me appear bigger than i already was, and that's something that stays with me, continues to linger, the way i stick to darker colors, to neutrals, to greys and blues, despite the fact that my eye automatically goes to oranges and purples and greens, to shades that are less conventional, more odd.

lipstick is a nice pop of color, and it offsets the tiredness that usually lingers under my eyes. i do tend towards chapped lips, though, so i usually apply some glossier balm dotcom under my lipstick (i have all the balm dotcoms; i love balm dotcom), and i use the bite lip scrub every 2-3 days. i don’t need to use a lot (a little goes a long way), and i love the feeling of scrubbing off dead skin, of getting my lips nice and clean but not dry and chafed. the bite scrub is a sugar scrub, too, so it smells lovely, though don’t eat it — it tastes horrible. i’m always careful when i’m rinsing it off and trying not to let it get past my lips.

after i’ve scrubbed, i slather balm dotcom on my lips. i keep the mint flavor in my bathroom specifically for this use. the rest, i carry in one of those pink glossier pouches with the rest of my lipstick.

i meant to write more about hunger in this post than i feel like i actually am.

07. pack.

sometimes, on sunday mornings, i like to do face packs. i’m not that into sheet masks, but i do love a good face pack — and i love these from glossier. (is there enough glossier in this post for you?)  i use them one after the other, first the galaxy greens then the moon mask, and they leave my face feeling fresh and clean and moisturized. i like doing them in the morning specifically, too; that way i can enjoy the renewed springiness in my face all day.

and here is a massive tangent.

in a recent interview with buzzfeed, sherman alexie says:

there’s a fantasy, alexie thinks, that fame means power — or the ability to change things. “it depresses people to think that i have exactly the same vote as they do — that i don’t have power to change oil company policy, that i have not changed a single human being’s mind about environmental policy.”

what about soft power, then? the idea that his books can humanize native americans — and in so doing, quietly change people’s racist minds? “listen, i’ve never met a conservative person whose mind has been changed about natives,” alexie countered. “i’ve never received that letter. my primary power is for the weird brown kid who gets to know that they’re not alone. i don’t mean to undervalue what i do: me and my art can make some people feel less lonely; i exist because of the books that made me feel less lonely. we don’t have power. something like ‘poets against trump’ doesn’t change minds. what we can do is help people get through another day.”

when i first read those words, my immediate reaction was to feel discouraged. i thought, well, that’s kind of sad. if we can’t implement any kind of positive change, then what’s the point?

the more i kept thinking about it, though, the more i thought, what better way is there to change the world than to reach the lonely people, the kids you look like you, hurt like you, break like you? what better way is there than to help some isolated kid struggling with her/his/their personhood, sexuality, ethnicity, differences, etcetera that she/he/they is not alone, that it is okay to be who she/he/they is? that, yeah, the world is still a shitty, dangerous place, but, slowly, very slowly, as we all learn to live in our skin, we can and we will bring about that change?

why wait for the world to change when that change lies within us, within each other?

and i know these are words easier said than lived most times, and i know how horrible solitude is, feeling alone and weird and strange. and i used to think i was writing my book — a collection of interrelated short stories about suicide — so that non-depressed, non-suicidal people could understand what it is to be depressed and suicidal. i used to think i was writing it to help bridge these barriers of understanding, to help fill the spaces where empathy is apparently impossible and basic human decency is too much to expect.

and it’s not that i’ve stopped believing in the importance of dialoguing with people who disagree with you or see the world differently. we all need to learn to do it.

however, the more i think about it, the less important it becomes for me to try to change those people’s minds or hearts, and the more important it becomes for me to reach people like me and let them know, you’re okay. you’re not alone. you’re not broken and damaged beyond repair. you’re not ugly. you’re not unlovable. you’re not unworthy.

so stay.

don’t hide. don’t run. don’t try to disappear.

don’t harm yourself, and don’t take your own life.