[travelogue] eat eat eat eat eat.

i do regret leaving the south without eating fried chicken. and i also regret not eating more grits.


back in los angeles, at my parents’, and here’s a last travel post, a few other things i ate, a few things i’ve been thinking about since i left new york ten days ago.

01. we carry heartbreak in our bodies. i feel it literally in my heart, the way it feels like my heart is physically trying to squeeze itself out of my body. i feel it in my stomach, too, the way it churns with anxiety, wakes me in the morning with nausea, reminds me of loss by making me want to vomit all the time. heartbreak is not simply a matter of emotion; i think we forget that we feel with our bodies.

02. as i was driving, i thought a lot about borders, about spaces. i thought about how things started to feel different once i crossed the virginia border into north carolina, even though maybe that was more in my head than anything else. i thought about wanting to drive through north carolina without stopping because HB2 has yet to be repealed. (i similarly thought about wishing i could avoid texas because of SB242 and a similar bathroom bill and restrictive abortion laws.) i thought about being in charleston and feeling my asianness, my queerness, and i thought about being in the south and experiencing that southern geniality and hospitality but constantly having that fear underneath my skin, wondering, what do you really think of me? i know i pass as very straight, so what would you think if you knew who i was, what i was?

03. here’s a truth: that i know that we can’t make sweeping generalized statements about any region, any group of people, anything, really. that i know that there are open-minded, loving people to be found everywhere, that there are allies in hidden spaces, that we speak in code that’s there to be deciphered by those of us who speak the language.

04. and here’s another truth: that we must learn to speak these languages, that they are languages we carry, too, in our bodies.

05. and here’s yet another truth: that i know i can’t make sweeping generalized statements about the south but that my uneasiness was, is still a real thing. maybe it’s more easily explained in the context of religion because religion makes me very uneasy, and all the churches and the billboards blasting bible verses and the trucks done up in declarations of god’s existence made me queasy. it started once i crossed that virginia border into north carolina, and it’s something i wasn’t able to shake all the way into california. i don’t know why it surprises me how religious this country is.

06. like, when i was driving through mississippi, en route to new orleans, i exited the 10 west once because the sign promised a sonic. i ended up going 2.3 miles off the freeway and passed no less than six churches, no promised sonic in sight.

07. i am not, do not want to be the type of person who gets limited by my fears, who is afraid to head into spaces that make me uncomfortable, that make me look at the people around me and wonder, what do you think of me? do i make you as uneasy as you make me? if you could, would you throw the first stone?

08. i thought a lot about safe spaces, too. i thought about the criticism we sometimes face, that we live in these liberal spaces on the coasts (or on some body of water) and fail to see the rest of the world. i thought about the criticisms voiced after the election that went the wrong way, that we would have, should have, seen this result coming, had we only thought to look outside our liberal bubbles. i thought about the smugness that sometimes comes laced with these criticisms, the sort of, ha! all you liberals are getting what you deserved!, except that makes me sad, and then it makes me angry because, yes, maybe we congregate in our liberal bubbles, but do you understand this fear of walking around with a target on your back because of the color of your skin, the non-christian religion you practice, the orientation with which you identify?

09. that made me wonder, though, as to what makes a safe space. because, like everything else, spaces are complicated, too. a city can be liberal; it can be open and committed to protecting the diversity of its citizens; but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be safe for you, for me, for everyone. we all have baggage, and spaces that should otherwise be safe become fraught with other things. it’s like me and california — this should be a safe space for me, but it’s not. i’m still afraid i’m going to die here.


a. before i came back out to california, i kept reminding my parents: don’t take it personally. this is not about you. my depression is a real thing, and it’s something that i have to live with — and it’s also unfortunately something you have to learn to live with.

b. and how do they learn to live with it? how does anyone learn to love and live with someone who struggles with suicidal depression? a few tips: remember that it’s not about you. it’s not in you or up to you to save us; you can’t. remember that we will have good days and we will have bad days. we will have days when we seem “normal” and “okay,” and we will have days when we’re catatonic, when every tiny little task seems like a giant, impossible thing. we will have days we do nothing but cry. we will have days we laugh without sadness tugging at our eyes. all you can do is take it in stride, treat us with patience and tenderness, and be present. just be present. always be present.

c. and how do we live with it? how do i? i eat; i cook; and, when i can, i read, and i write. i carry books with me like habit in the hopes that i will want to pick them up and lose myself in them. i think about what i’m craving. i think about what i want to cook. i keep my eyes open to the beauty all around me because the fact that i can see beauty at all is an indiction that there is a part of me that is holding on. therapy is good and all, but habits and routines are what get us through the day-to-day, and i cling to what i know has worked in the past and continues to work. i eat; i cook; and, when i can, i read, and i write.

01. the only novel i took with me cross-country (at least in easy access) was rachel khong’s goodbye, vitamin (henry holt, forthcoming, 2017). i read it in pieces while on the road, a few pages here and there when i had the energy and needed words to refill my brain. i loved it, loved the prose, loved the way it seeped into my heart, loved the comfort it surprisingly delivered, loved the warmth and tenderness it fairly oozes.

02. in the novel, the narrator’s father has been diagnosed with alzheimer’s, and, so, she returns to her parents’ house in southern california for a year. she’s avoided visiting as much as she could, not wanting to encounter the realities of her parents’ problems, realities that her younger brother was privy to because he was still a teenager at home to witness them while she was away in college, in the bay area, in her own life.

03. the novel is told in short sections over a year, and the narrator is thoughtful and honest with a wry sense of humor (and offering many mentions of food). at first, i thought i might not like the short sections because, sometimes, that style drives me a little crazy, not being able to dwell in moments and being whisked into next scenes too quickly, but goodbye, vitamin thankfully works its rhythm deftly. the pace works; it takes a story that could be heavy and bleak and excessively dark; and it gives the novel a lightness, space to breathe.

04. there was a lot familiar in this novel, too. in 2012, my paternal grandmother passed away from alzheimer’s. we cared for her at home, and the novel brought all those memories to the surface — the ups and downs, the unpredictable sway of my grandmother’s emotions and actions, the struggles and pains and heart-wrenching sadnesses of watching someone you love deteriorate. also, like the narrator, i have just returned to my parents’ house in southern california under not-so-positive circumstances. in a way, all the familiarity was comforting, especially during that 3,400-mile drive across the country. i don’t know if maybe that’s a strange way of putting it, given the topic matter, but i miss my grandmother intensely at times, and i was glad to remember her while reading this novel.

05. in the novel, there are little bits taken from the father’s journal when the narrator was a child, and those may have been my favorite parts, even if they left me ugly-crying in public spaces. i’ve been thinking a lot these days about how much hope parents must have for their children, how sometimes all that hope is for nothing and how we disappoint the people who have loved us and cared for us and wished so much for us.

06. writing about books again feels really fucking good. and it also makes me laugh because all this reminds me how disappointing it is when questionable book decisions happen to good people. like the cover of jonathan franzen’s purity — i’ll never let FSG off the hook for that bizarre cover, especially given that the designer was the fabulous rodrigo corral (what the hell happened there?!). and, now, the title to kristen kish’s forthcoming cookbook because, come on, clarkson potter, the cover is beautiful, yes, though i was hoping she would not be on it, but, god damn, you can do so much better than that title.

07. next, we’ll be reading naomi pomeroy’s taste & technique (ten speed press, 2016) and ronni lundy’s victuals (clarkson potter, 2016). and hwang jung-eum’s one hundred shadows (tilted axis, 2016). look out for khong’s goodbye, vitamin this summer; holt is publishing it in july.

x. do i need to mention that rachel sent me the ARC to her book? that has no bearing on my thoughts, though, except for gratitude that she sent it to me to read. i’m always grateful when people send me books; it surprises me that they would want to do that at all.

x. the grits on the top are from callie’s hot little biscuit (atlanta); the shrimp and grits in the middle are from surrey’s (new orleans) (and easily one of my top three favorite things i ate; seriously, it was so fucking good); and, below, we’ve got hawaiian food (or hawaiian-inspired?) from solid grindz (tucson) followed by breakfast from king’s highway (palm springs).

x. eating my way across the country was great, and i’d do it again in a heartbeat. hopefully, i will get to do it again soon, just the other way, back home.


california (or, really, los angeles).

aka, the land of 100+ degree heat waves at the end of the september, with weather so dry and punishing that my sinuses, lips, and skin revolt. it's autumn in new york city now, and i am pleased as punch.


i spent the last week in california with family, which, as it turns out, mostly means that i spent last week eating. i was born in queens but grew up in the suburbs of los angeles until i moved back out to nyc in august 2012, so going back to california always feels like going back in time — and i keep calling it california, like california isn't a massive state with vastly different poles and middle. i just like the word "california;" i like the way it fits in my mouth; and i have little love for los angeles, anyway, that barren land of heat and tinsel and traffic ...

... which might sound like an unfair statement because i do sincerely enjoy my time in LA.

seriously, though, if LA were a person, despite all the good times, we would not be friends.


los angeles is all about the familiar; i rarely deviate from what i already know. i go to the same restaurants and eateries, seek out the same food, buy the same salad from trader joe's, and part of it is that i am a creature of habit and, thus, gravitate towards what i know and crave, especially when my time in LA is so limited.

LA, to me, means comfort:  tacos, korean food, jack in the box. it means gogi and sushi. it means mum's cooking because mum makes the best korean soups and marinates the best kalbi. it means a whole lot of fruit because fruit (aside from apples) tastes better and is cheaper in california, and my parents eat a lot of fruit.

it means driving a lot and trying to avoid traffic and going around blocks looking for parking. it means hot days and chilly evenings; it means sticking a tissue up one nostril because of course only one nostril is congested because my sinuses hate the dry weather. it means craving chocolate all the time, and it means crazy beautiful open skies because all that flatness of los angeles is good for that at least, for opening up that blue and making it a canvas you can't ignore because you're stuck in traffic and what else are you going to do but marvel at the colors?

LA is a reminder of where i come from, where i've left, where i've rooted myself. it's a reminder of how place shapes us, of how places can be kind to us or reject us, and it's a reminder of the people and things that ground me.

ultimately, it's a place i can't seem to shed, at least not while my parents are still living there.


hello monday! (150316)


alex ross’ listen to this (FSG, 2010) is giving me pure joy.  pure joy and pure pleasure.  i think i’m almost done (again, not reading it in order but hopping around and reading what catches my fancy), which makes me sad, and i really do mean sad because i’m enjoying it so much — but, then again, i can simply go to the new yorker and browse the archives, so there’s that.

in his preface he writes,

“So why has the idea taken hold that there is something peculiarly inexpressible about music? The explanation may lie not in music but in ourselves. Since the mid-nineteenth century, audiences have routinely adopted music as a sort of secular religion or spiritual politics, investing it with messages as urgent as they are vague. Beethoven’s symphonies promise political and personal freedom; Wagner’s operas inflame the imaginations of poets and demagogues; Stravinsky’s ballets release primal energies; the Beatles incite an uprising against ancient social mores. At any time in history there are a few composers and creative musicians who seem to hold the secrets of the age. Music cannot easily bear such burdens, and when we speak of its ineffability we are perhaps protecting it from our own inordinate demands. For even as we worship our musical idols we also force them to produce particular emotions on cue: a teenager blasts hip-hop to psych himself up; a middle-aged executive puts on a Bach CD to calm her nerves. Musicians find themselves, in a strange way, both enshrined and enslaved. In my writing on music, I try to demystify the art to some extent, dispel the hocus-pocus, while respecting the boundless human complexity that gives it life."  (xi-xii)

(i copy-pasted this from my ibook, hence the capitalization.)

i dare say ross succeeds in his intentions, and i appreciate the lack of condescension or pretension that sometimes creeps into discussion about classical music — or about music in general.  ross doesn’t seek to elevate one form of music over another, which i find to be incredibly refreshing, especially as it allows music, in whatever form or whatever discipline, to shine and be seen in all its richness and complexity and adaptability.  the last sentence of the essay, “the music mountain,” says, “the remarkable thing is the power of music to put down roots wherever it goes” (264), and one of the things that makes this collection so fun to read is that it demonstrates just that, how music travels and takes root and shifts and grows, rubbing against different cultures and new technologies and changing and taking new forms.

music is such a visceral thing, and i call it a “thing” because it is so many things.  it’s an experience, an emotion, a discipline, a practice, a thought, an art, a way of life, and it’s a living, breathing thing that’s made new with every performance.  musicians bring different experiences and interpretations to music, just as listeners bring different predispositions and energies to music, and, when all these things come together, it’s like magic, the way the head and the heart collide.  in many ways, i suppose, to me, music will always be the highest form of art, but, then again, music is the thing that’s been with me longest and my memories are created and stored largely in sounds and songs.

in his art of fiction interview in the paris review, jonathan franzen said, “i’m more envious of music than of any other art form — the way a song can take your head over and make you feel so intensely and so immediately.  it’s like snorting the powder, it goes straight to your brain.”  i agree, but i’m more inclined to take it a step further — music goes straight to the heart, and therein does its incredible power lie.

(speaking of franzen, september is — april/may/june/july/august — five-and-a-half months away?  feels like for-e-ver.)  (i finished reading the kraus project over the weekend, so now im fully out of franzen.)  (this is weird.  i think the only other author whose entire backlist ive read is nicole krauss.  and jeffrey eugenides?  but they each only have three books out  right?)

on saturday night, i was going through my shelves, looking for something read when my eyes landed on rebecca mead’s my life in middlemarch (crown, 2014).  i picked this up when it was released last summer because (one) it has a beautiful cover and (two) i’m intrigued by the role of books in our lives and (three) i love mead’s journalistic pieces (her profile of lena dunham is the only thing, whether interview or otherwise, that has made me somewhat like dunham) (at least while i was reading it) (then it reset me to having no regard or interest for her again).

i never got much into it last summer, which shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of the book as i’m in the habit of starting books and pausing them and picking them up again later (books, like many other things, speak to us when we’re ready) (or we need to be ready to receive certain books) (sometimes, we pass those moments, like with me and salinger’s the catcher in the rye and, to a lesser degree, plath’s the bell jar).  i picked it up again on saturday night, though, and loved this passage from the introduction:

“reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it’s a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book.  but a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself.  there are books that seem to comprehend us just as much as we understand them, or even more.  there are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree.

this kind of book becomes part of our own experience, and part of our own endurance.  it might lead us back to the library in midlife, looking for something that eluded us before.”  (16)

and, so, my week’s challenge, i suppose:  to read george eliot’s middlemarch with mead’s my life in middlemarch as a “supplement” of sorts.  

not that mead’s book is meant to be a supplement.  i know myself, though, and my tendency to fizzle out, especially when books are long, and i also know my reading memory, so i’m going to try out my little reading experiment and see how it fares.  i would try to come up with some kind of blogging accountability, like i’ll give myself three days per section and write a post, but this week is ishiguro week (HELL YES), and i have other things like work and writing to do, so, uh, i suppose y’all will have to check back next monday to see how it’s gone.

things i miss about california:  driving.  family, friends, and long conversations in cool los angeles evenings about art and craft and publishing dreams.  korean food and tacos, tacos and korean food.  philz and its mint mojito iced coffee.  long drives at night when there’s no traffic and the music’s turned up and i'm alone with my thoughts (long drives are good for detangling story problems).  the pacific ocean.  the easy-going nature that comes hand-in-hand with all the goddamn sunshine.  the way california, to me, is locked in time, a place i can slip into with ease temporarily, like an old skin i've shed but return to for comfort every now and then.

things i love about new york city:  walking.  friends and catching up in coffee shops, small loud restaurants, four and twenty.  four and twenty.  easy access to great coffee.  redeemer.  easy access to great independent bookstores and all the amazing book events held year-round.  the brooklyn book festival.  the new yorker festival.  long rides on subways with earphones or not, a book or not, losing myself to the rhythm of the moving car and watching the people around me (long subways rides, also, are good for detangling story problems).  brooklyn.  the city and all its constant motion, the way it fits my heart and treats me with kindness and reminds me time and time again, hey, you’re home.