how to live a life.

this post has proven to be inordinately difficult to write, and i’ve drafted it multiple times, then thrown away my draft every time. part of it is that i feel the need to write this well. the other part is that i am still terrified every time i talk about mental health because i can’t talk about mental health without talking about my mental health and i’m currently looking for another job (or more freelance work — either one), and i can’t help but fear that my openness about living with depression (for starters) will make me an undesirable employee, full-time or contract or freelance or otherwise.

i write against that fear, though, because that fear is responding to the very stigma i’m fighting to pull apart and eradicate. i write against that fear, too, because i know it’s stupid — i have a full-time job that i show up to every single damn day, that i do the work for, that i then go home from and do all the other work that means something to me. i work a full-time job, and, still, i create content for this site, do freelance writing and editing projects, read, cook, care for my puppy. i work a full-time job and do all that stuff, and i wrote a full-length novel-in-stories.

my mental health has never stopped me, so i don’t understand why i should shut up about it just because a hiring committee has a warped view of it. so here it is.


it was 6 am in los angeles when i learned of anthony bourdain’s death by suicide.

i was pulled to the side of the road, scarfing down a bowl of oatmeal because i was running late to soulcyle and needed to eat something so i could actually make it through the workout. as is habit, i opened up instagram, and the app opened to a black square, a new post by david chang, nothing but lyrics in the caption.

a black square means some kind of grieving. the comments said it was anthony bourdain.

the first weekend of may, my parents and i drove down to riverside to pick up a puppy. i’d been looking for a dog to adopt off-and-on for about two years now because i wanted my parents to have a dog, and i’d intensified my search last year, trawling the internet and searching for adoptable dogs that fit our criteria: small, hypoallergenic, young.

my parents wanted a bichon because my aunt has two bichons, but i didn’t want to go through a breeder because i don’t believe in the need to breed dogs unless for very specific purposes. it’s hard to find an adoptable dog when your search is so narrow, though, so the search went on. we went to see other dogs once or twice, getting closest with an abandoned litter of poodle/terrier mixes that almost passed muster, except they still shed too much.

and, then, i came across a post on craigslist for a bichon puppy. he was 8 weeks old. we didn’t know his story then, but there was a phone number, so we texted and called and arranged to go see him and bought a crate and bed and food and a toy and bowls just in case. it turned out he was with this older couple whose sister had a bichon pair who had had a puppy, and they’d been keeping him alone in the garage, this little eight-week-old floof-ball who’d only very recently been weaned and removed from his mother, who shook with fear when i first picked him up, easing into my arms as i scratched him and let him lick me.

he didn’t cry or throw up or pee the entire 2-hour ride home.

we named him 곰 (gom, with a long-O, korean for “bear”).

when i first heard of anthony bourdain’s death by suicide, the first thing i felt was sadness delivered as a punch in the gut, but then the next thing was anger. deaths by suicide make me both profoundly sad and profoundly angry, and it’s not anger directed at the one who has died by suicide — no, i can understand him, understand how acutely he must have hurt to take his own life — it’s anger at the world that allows this to happen and then sits in judgment when it does.

i firmly believe that we should not be losing lives to suicide, that we would not be losing lives to suicide if society, if people as a group could get its shit together and stop actively and willfully stigmatizing mental illness, depression, and suicide and enshrouding them in shame — and, if you’re opening your mouth to argue, but, na, it’s not fair to blame other people for people taking their lives!, let me stop you right there.

(i’m going to talk specifically about depression and suicidal thinking here, but this goes for any kind of mental illness.)

depression, as it is, is a silencer. it locks you in isolation and solitude and makes you curl up inside some dark corner in your brain, and it shuts you off to the world. it shuts you off to yourself. it taps into your mental reserve of all the negative shit anyone has ever said to you, picks out the things that target your softest spots, and blares them on loop on maximum volume, so that you know you’re worthless, a failure, a loser who deserves to be alone because who would love you, want to be with you, when you’re a burden and don’t bring anything of value or worth?

then add in the condescending, judgement shaming by the people around you and by the world-at-large, and there's where why i have zero tolerance for shame.

it is not anyone’s responsibility to keep people alive, but it definitely falls on people’s shoulders if they’re benefiting from and contributing to a system or a worldview that directly harms others. you might think this is a stretch, but that’s complicity, whether we’re talking about racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia or, hey, the shaming of mental illness — and mental illness is part of a system, and it is about power and who gets to tell their stories and the stories that get to be told because that all has to do with acceptance, with what is deemed acceptable and not.

as in pretty much every other situation involving a marginalized group, i don’t really care to hear from people with “normal” brains about mental health because no matter how many academic papers you read or how many “mentally ill” people you know or interact with, you will never know the unique hurdles and struggles the mentally ill face. on a related note, it actually really pisses me off how many narratives we have from people who have lost people to suicide, not because they’re writing about their grief but because they’re trying to tell the stories of the people who’ve died by suicide, like writing these stories will somehow answer that question “why.”

(to be blunt, you’ll never find an answer to that question.)

it pisses me off because it makes me think how much of a difference it would make if people would learn to listen to the mentally ill, the suicidal, the depressed while we’re alive. sometimes, i understand why mental illness might scare “normal”-brained people so much; mental illness, after all, feels so unknowable because brains are still so unknowable; and i kind of, sort of (not really) get that fear of the unknown. that’s all an excuse, though, and it’s one that we’ve accepted for so long, perpetuating this notion that the mentally ill should be feared, that the “crazy” should be avoided or locked away or hidden away, and look where we’ve ended up — we live a world where we’re losing lives we shouldn’t to suicide.

and don’t get me wrong — you do not have to be famous or well-known to be a life worth living and knowing and valuing. you do not have to be a public figure or influential or whatever to be a life that should not be lost. as much as i mourn the loss of public figures like anthony bourdain, choi jinsil, lee jonghyun, i also mourn and fear for the lives of “regular” people, and maybe part of me admittedly mourns for all of us more, fears for all of us because the truth is it doesn't matter how much you have or how well you're known — the loss of any single one of us to suicide is one loss too many.


going back to complicity, though: see, every time you laugh at a joke about mental illness or suicide, you reinforce shame. every time you write someone off as being crazy, you reinforce shame. every time you dramatize a situation by saying, oh, i’m so depressed, or oh, i’m so anxious, every time you conflate moodiness to bipolarity, you reinforce shame.

because, hi, words matter, and, when you render something laughable, you suck it of meaning. when you diminish something by making it banal and everyday, you suck it of meaning, and, more than that, you remove from it the seriousness with which it should be treated.

depression is not sadness. it is not the blues. it is not a mere emotion you sit with for a while and move on from with ice cream or friendly faces or whatnot. depression is a debilitating illness that totally alters the way you see the world and affects your ability to function. sometimes, on good days, it just makes living harder. other times, on bad days, it makes everything impossible — and here is where i protest the opening to this blog post, despite the fact that i wrote it: i do not need to be a high-functioning depressive in order for it to be okay for me to talk about this.

i’m going to pivot a little here to something i hear a lot about suicidal thinking because it’s connected. there’s this idea that people who are “really” suicidal won’t ever talk about it because they don’t want to be saved. sometimes, yes, it is the case that we won’t talk about how suicidal we are, though there are often a lot of reasons behind that — maybe we don't want to be talked out of it, maybe we don't want to be condescended to, maybe we're sick of being asked "why," maybe we don't want to talk, period, maybe we just don't trust you. whatever the reason, that has nothing to do with how suicidal someone “really” is; if you’re thinking about dying, if you’re thinking about ending your life, if you’re thinking about a plan and figuring out steps to achieve that end, you are suicidal, and talking about it, voicing your fears that you might take your own life does not suddenly delegitimize the fact that you are suicidal.

because, hi, i’m suicidal. i’ve been severely suicidal for the last six weeks. and i’ve been making myself talk about it. if you want to question if i’m “really” suicidal or not, then, well, fuck you.

and that’s where we loop back to the fact that i do not need to be a high-functioning depressive for it to be okay to talk about this, just like i don’t need to live past this suicidal episode for it to be okay for me to talk about it. honestly? screw survival narratives. screw this idea that we need to “survive” shit to be able to talk about how shitty it was. screw this mentality that we have to have some kind of message to share in order to talk about this shit we live with.

because honestly? sometimes, this is it. sometimes, the really cold, brutal truth is that we don’t survive. and, if anything, that is why we need to tell our stories now, in this time that we are here and we are alive.

we brought our puppy home as i was sliding back into a suicidal, depressive episode, and this puppy has been keeping me alive these last few weeks. i was talking to my therapist about him the other week, and she made the point that emotional service animals aren’t considered emotional service animals just because they make us happy — they’re emotional service animals because we need to take care of them, and taking care of them is one way of caring for ourselves.

in other words, self-care looks like a hell of a lot of things.

it’s true, though. on days when i can’t get myself to care for myself, to get out of bed or shower or eat, my puppy still needs to be taken out to potty, fed, and played with. my puppy needs to be bathed and groomed, his teeth brushed, his nails clipped. my puppy needs to be taken to the vet, and he needs to be taken on car rides to meet other people, other puppies (now that he’s vaccinated) because socializing and traveling are essential things he needs to learn.

caring for him makes me care for myself because i can’t care for him without caring for myself — and, while we’re talking about self-care, let’s talk a little about what we can do if we’re living with mental illness, whatever it is. (though, again, because depression is the topic here, i’ll specifically refer to that.)

i firmly believe that treating depression is doing everything. it’s going to therapy (if able) and taking meds (if needed). it’s learning to be honest and open about the shit that’s going on in your head — you are your best (and, sometimes, honestly, your only) advocate because what you’re feeling, how you’re hurting and despairing and giving up, those things are knowable only to you, and no one can help you unless you speak up first. it’s exercising, going outside, getting sun and fresh air and feeling the goddamn wind on your skin. it’s seeing people, even if all you can do is sit at the end of the table, nursing the same cup of coffee the whole bloody time. it’s caring for your pup, your cat, your plants. it’s doing something nice for someone, and, y’know, yeah, sometimes, it’s looking at the shit going on in the world and writing an email or donating to an organization or retweeting something to give it a boost.

trying to dismantle depression is doing everything you can that might work.

personally, i see my therapist and take meds and meet with my psychiatrist every few weeks. i take care of my puppy, and i make pasta by hand and blanche and peel a stupid amount of tomatoes to make sauces and remake the same goddamn potato brioche over and over again even as it keeps failing. i listen to a lot of moody music. i cry. i go to bed early even if i can’t sleep, and i do pilates and soul cycle, and i say yes to everyone who’s kind enough to ask if i want to get food or coffee and stop by a bookstore. i try to reach out and ask people if they want to get food or coffee and stop by a bookstore. i reply to all the DMs i get on instagram, and i go on long drives. i follow my crush on instagram and smile every time she does (or i used to, until that started making my depression worse, so i unfollowed, which is also something i do to care for myself, unfollow people who make things worse). i do everything — hell, i even go to work. i go to my shitty disposable day job that i hate because that sticking to that routine is, in itself, a form of fighting the suicidal depression i live with.

usually, i’ll draft these posts and edit them, but this is just going up before i can sit here and overthink everything. this isn’t a post i really intended to write (i’m trying to write a post breaking down the bullshit SCOTUS decision on the colorado cake case), but i don’t know — this has been weighing on me the last few weeks, and the last few weeks have been difficult.

so, hey, i’ll leave you with this: be kind to yourself, and be kind to the people around you. depression doesn’t discriminate; it doesn’t care how much you have or don’t, how much you’ve earned or haven’t, how famous you are or are not; and a little bit of kindness goes a long way. you never know what someone is going through just by observing her/him/them, and no one will ever know what you’re going through until you give voice to it, express it in words, and try to be understood.

there is no shame in living with any of this, and living with a mental illness doesn’t make you any less human. it doesn’t make your life any less valuable, and it doesn’t make you any less worthy of love or respect. you are just as human and precious and wonderful as anyone with a “normal” brain, and you’re here on this earth at this moment because you should be. i firmly believe that.

so here’s a stupid number of photos of my puppy because he's adorable and makes me smile, and here’s that thing i’ve been saying over and over again and will keep saying over and over again: stay. stay because you deserve to be here. stay because you are someone to be proud of. stay because you are fully deserving of love and kindness and generosity. stay because you are fully human. stay because only you can be who you are.

do whatever you to do to stay alive, and stay.


[PDX] i'll keep you here.

how can you be so many women to so many people, oh you strange girl? (sylvia plath, the unabridged journals, 137)

in portland, i think a lot about social media, about instagram specifically, and what it means, what i want from it. i started using instagram roughly seven years ago, and i used it casually, for fun here and there when i had my ipad on hand because, then, instagram was for iphones only and iphone had yet to come to verizon.

in the beginning, it was nothing more than just another online account for me, something i toyed with from time to time, as amusement when i was home and procrastinating studying. for some, instagram might have been an introduction to taking photos, but i’d been taking (and sharing) photos of food long before instagram, just like i’d been reading and writing about books. if anything, instagram simply made me more aware of the world around me, giving me a more immediate means through which to share the ways i see the world, and it’s surprisingly taught me to appreciate the present moment more, making me more aware that beauty is fleeting, the world around me is constantly changing, and this moment will never be here again.

i will never be here in this moment again.

i wonder when instagram started to become a more widespread social thing for me. i’d had public interactions via online platforms in the past, albeit in more narrow ways, but social media, for me, was largely a private thing. my instagram account was actually set to private for years, and i only unlocked it around 2013-2014 when i started posting and sharing more about books, using hashtags and tagging people and making more connections. from 2014-2015-ish, i tried more consciously to “grow” my account, to be more consistent and “niche” with my posts in order to gain an audience and more followers and blah blah blah … but all that frustrated me because my life (my brain) is not so compartmentalized, and i don’t believe books exist in a bubble on their own, anyway, but rather in relation to everything else.

that kind of attempt at branding is exhausting and boring, too, so, around 2016, i stopped giving a shit, and, now, i post what i want when i want, sometimes with ridiculously long captions. i’m trying to use less hashtags. while i think about engagement sometimes and puzzle over instagram’s bizarre algorithms, i don’t fixate much on likes and comments and follows. somewhere along the way, instagram has ceased to be a tool through which i hope to build some kind of professional thing and has primarily become a means of communication and connection. i want to get to know people, people as people, not as authors or publishers or chefs, but as people, and i want people to know me, too.

i want people to be able to see me for me, as me, not just a wall of pretty photos and thoughtful quotes.

i know this, too, is a kind of personal brand.

i was in portland with a friend, and, as we talked over the weekend, i realized that i don’t actually follow many bookstagrammers on instagram. i think the majority of people i follow are actually in food or people with more personal accounts; i have little to no interest in highly-curated photos of books, especially those that don’t express personal opinions and/or shy away from critical opinions — and, especially, even more, when the books selected remain pretty firmly and narrowly within the white hetero mainstream.

to break that down, i suppose: i’m going to be honest — whiteness bores me. straightness bores me. sameness bores me.

when i was younger, i’d often wish i wasn’t so different from everyone else i knew. i’d wish i wanted to get married and have children. i’d wish i was as into boys as my friends were, so i could take part in those frenetic, hyperactive conversations with friends that mark adolescence. i’d wish i wanted to have that house in the suburbs, live within the boundaries of my christian community, stay home and be a housewife and homeschool my children. i’d wish i could give my parents the things they wanted, the things they hoped for me, that they sacrificed so much to give me.

i remember crying myself to sleep during high school and college, wishing so much for all this.

and then there was this: i remember standing on the platform at hoyt-schermerhorn, waiting for the G around midnight in 2013, and it slamming into me — that, no matter what i accomplish as a writer, no matter what i achieve, my family will never understand that, not because they don’t care but because it’s simply unknown and unknowable to them, this whole writing thing. to their credit, they try. they ask questions; they support me; and they comfort me when i’m disappointed. it means a lot that they try.

i’d maybe mark that as the turning point when i learned just to embrace the fact that i was different, that i want different things from my life. it still made me profoundly sad for the next year or so after that realization, but, now, four years down the road, i’m okay with all that. that acceptance has filtered into the rest of my life, that, sometimes, we (whoever “we” are) will never see eye-to-eye, that that is okay, that it is enough to start from the point of loving each other and caring for each other and trying to understand each other.

because i am not someone who expects perfect understanding from the people around me. i don’t believe in perfect communication; trying to know someone, to be known by someone, is often an exercise of going round and round in circles; and, sometimes, we communicate in that ideal way that feels magical and painless, that feels so effortless and easy. 

most times, though, it doesn’t work that way, and the sheer effort that goes into being known and knowing someone in return counts — it counts for a lot.

i believe in the merits of criticism, and i disagree with the notion of not criticizing books or avoiding negative reviews because a book might not resonate with you but it could with another reader. negative reviews don’t negate that fact, and i tend to believe that engaging with literature (with anything, really) requires critical thinking — it sometimes demands that we turn a thinking, critical eye on things, and maybe sit in that discomfort.

which isn’t to say that people have to be critical because this is social media, no one’s obliged to do anything, but one of the reasons i’m anywhere on the internet is that i want to hear people’s thoughts, the positive and negative.

anyway, so that’s a lot of what i look for on social media — thoughtful opinions, critical thinking, personality. personhood. don’t just give me pretty; give me something that counts, that says something. give me someone who’s vibrant and present and alive.


i say i’m going to portland for wordstock, but the truth is that i’m going to portland to eat. the other truth is that i initially meant to make this a trio of posts, to talk about plath extensively, to delve into disappointment, but i don’t think that’ll happen.

december is the hardest month of the year for me, and it’s rarely a month i walk into with much confidence. even now, i can’t look into 2018 because i don’t walk into the year-end with any measure of belief or faith that i’ll be around to see the new year rise, which means that, inevitably, as we head into holiday season, the fear becomes a storm again: will i survive this year?

sometimes, talking about mental health feels like talking in dramatics, but i’ve a feeling some out there will understand what i mean, that these aren’t dramatics at all but real fears we spend much of our days quelling, fears that intensify during certain parts of the year.

for me, these last two months of the year are always the hardest. the holidays, my birthday, etcetera, all of it compounds all my fears and lonelinesses and reminds of the things i want, that i’ve wanted for so long, that i will never have. i want people of my own. i want a place of my own. i want to be seen and known and recognized.

i want to be within that insular glow of cheer, instead of existing in the dark spaces on the peripheries. light exists only within darkness, and maybe i feel constantly like that party pooper always reminding people of those on the fringes. mother’s day hurts for those who’ve lost mothers, have never known mothers, have left mothers. thanksgiving has whitewashed and romanticized the horrors white people wreaked upon native people (and continue to wreak upon them). christmas is dark and empty for those without, whether it’s financial lack or personal lack or physical lack.

the new year means nothing for those who can’t see themselves in the future somewhere.

for me, my brain goes dark once it tries to enter december. there’s no hope, no brightness; there isn’t even drudgery and monotony, the image of myself making that drag of a commute through horrible LA traffic to and from work. there are no lights, no tree, no laughter. there is nothing.

there is no city to anchor me anymore, no home to comfort me with the kindness only a home city can offer. there is no future hope to hold onto. there is no future me because the me i am now is a self who misses the girl she once was, the girl she feels has died, the girl who will never become the woman she hoped so much one day to be.

there is nothing.

i am human enough to want to be talking to the only other human who matters in this world. (220)

the thing i resent people is when their lives seem so full they don’t need to see other people. they have their people already; they have their support systems, their best friends, their circles; and they don’t need anyone else to fill any blank spots.

my therapist reminds me that no one’s life is ever truly like that, that there really aren’t people with such full lives in the world — they just seem to be so — but that seems beside the point to me sometimes. what does it matter to remind myself constantly of how things supposedly aren’t when i don’t know that? i know that, theoretically, it must be true, that people often appear to be what they’re not, that we project onto people our insecurities and wants and loathings, that i’m not so uncommon or unnatural — my lonelinesses, thus, by that awareness, aren’t unique to me.

when things are feeling extra shitty, though, and i’m feeling the loneliness keenly, those are simply words i tell myself. i know, objectively, i’m projecting onto people, and i know it’s true that people and their lives often aren’t as they seem to be.

i also know that it isn’t true, that i might not have a close flock of people around me at all times, but i do have people, that the most surprising thing i am so grateful for from this shitty year is that there have been people who have shown up, who continue to show up. they’re a motley crew of people, too, from family to friends to writers to strangers on the internet, people who show up in my life, at dinner tables and coffee shops and book festivals, in my inbox and comments and DMs.

i know i have people who, for some bizarre reason, believe in me and want to be around me.

it’s weird to me that anyone wants to be my friend, and i still carry doubts that anyone even really wants to talk to me or hang out with me, that it’s not a pity thing. i have a hard time reaching out and asking if someone wants to get coffee or a meal or something because i’m so afraid of imposing, of forcing people to spend time with me when i’m sure they could be spending that time with someone more fun, less awkward, less eager for their friendship. i have a hard time asking for help. i have a hard time asking people to read my work, not for fear that they won’t like my work but for fear that i’m wasting their time and energy because time and energy are not resources i have in excess, and who am i to impose?

i find it weird that anyone is out there reading these words right now. i mean, there are so many more interesting things on the internet to be read.

and, so, hey, i want to say thank you to everyone who has read this space, is reading this space. i want to say thank you to everyone who’s there on instagram; some of you have been there with me for years — so, thank you. thank you for being a part of this intense roller coaster of a year, for meeting me in my vulnerable places, for not running away from the darknesses.

thank you for seeing me.


going back to posting not going as planned — like i said, december is the hardest month for me, so i’ve been thinking of some kind of project i can do to give me something to do, to help keep me from sliding down that spiral. vloggers have vlogmas, so i’ve been trying to think of some kind of short-form, daily blogging i can do, and i think i’ve decided on a project.

which is why i’m going to wrap up the portland posts here, save plath for later (i’m reading her letters slowly as it is), and get a baltimore/DC travel post up in the next few days, and kick off a month of blogs on december 1.

i have no idea if 2018 holds anything for me, but let’s get there, anyway, and find out.

mother wrote today with a good letter of maxims; skeptical as always at first, i read what struck home: “if you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter - - - for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself … beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. you are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” (215)

the next time i’m in portland, i will eat at beast.


we are rockets / pointed up at the stars.

p!nk has been getting me through the last few weeks. p!nk and cooking.


i rarely read a cookbook that makes me want to cook from it.

that’s not a diss against cookbooks; it’s just that i tend to approach cookbooks more as aspirational reading material than cooking inspiration; and i love the stories people have to tell about food, whether it’s the food they cook, the food they ate growing up, the food they crave and pursue and want. given all that, it’s not much of a surprise that i liked kristen kish cooking (clarkson potter, 2017) as much as i did, though, at the same time, it kind of is to me — i walked into this book a little nervous that i wouldn’t like it because i’m wary of personal brands, public figuredom, and celebrity, not because they’re bad things per se, but because there’s a level of something there i find inherently inaccessible and undesirable.

i don’t know. it’s one of those things i’ve been trying to put words to for months, but words continue to elude me, to the point that i haven’t even been able to read for the last few weeks because my ability to focus has gone to shit.

when that happens, i cook.

i’ve spent the last three weekends cooking from the kish cookbook, and this has been surprising because i assumed i wouldn’t cook from this book at all because kish is all about technique and the book was touted from the beginning as being technique-driven. say “technique-driven,” and i automatically go, well, shit. i can cook, but i don’t know anything about technique, soooo …

kish’s food isn’t simple; that might as well as be said upfront. if you’ve watched top chef, if you’ve read or seen (or eaten) her food, i think you’d already know that. she pays intense attention to detail, and that comes through in the book, whether in the photography, the plating, the design work, layouts, recipes — there’s nothing about this book that wasn’t done very intentionally.

that intention comes right out in the writing as well, and kish paired up with cookbook author meredith erickson who does a spectacular job capturing kish’s voice and perspective, condensing her story and background into a short introduction and brief headnotes while keeping her alive and buoyant throughout the entire book. her voice is there in the recipe instructions, in the index of techniques that follows the introduction, and i obviously don’t know exactly how the writing broke down between the two, but they worked very well together. the book is testament to that.

because the book is a highly personal one, but it’s one that thankfully avoids the trap of getting lost in or self-obsessed with the person. kish isn’t attached to a restaurant; she’s not tied to a show or a program; so this book is entirely about her food, the personal coming in only as needed to lay a foundation for that, to give insight to what inspires her, how she approaches food and, ultimately, how she cooks.

and, holy shit, i love what she does with food.

i’m always a little bummed when people don’t do events with their co-authors. i’d love to hear more about that collaborative process, but, because i can’t have that, here’s an interview erickson recently did with the globe and mail.


some dumbass left a comment on an eater post talking about kish’s book, and it asked if she’d ever opened her own place, why people should buy her book if she couldn’t get people to invest in her ideas, and that made me think, … what???

it sent me down the spiral of wondering how we define our worth, how we attach value to the work we do. in this social media world, it’s easy to get lost in numbers — in followers and likes and comments — and, in this capitalistic world, it’s easy to fall back on money. we want the highest bid. we hear about the book deals that sell for six, seven figures. we talk about the net worth of people in the public sphere. in this competitive world, we want those macarthur genius grants, those michelin stars, those pulitzer prizes. we want that prestige. we want that recognition.

the greater majority of us will never get it.

so where does our value come from? what makes our work worth paying attention to? is it about book deals and film rights and bylines? status and renown? restaurants? is it about investors and venture capitalists and funding?

i wrote a book; does that work have no worth until an agent signs it, a publisher buys it, and the public adores it?

my desk is basically stacks and stacks of books with a tiny little space cleared out for my macbook and a mug of coffee, but i’ve been struggling to read these last few weeks. i’ve been struggling a lot with focus, my brain feeling foggier and more muddled than usual, and i’ve maybe made it through a few pages here, a few pages there, before setting my book aside — and, at first, it was that one book, then it was another, then another and another, and here we are.

this weekend, my psychiatrist started me on concerta, which is in the ritalin family, simultaneously to deal with ADHD and to attempt to lift my mood, which has been collapsing in recent weeks after a few months of stable normality. maybe this is the frustrating thing about mental health, the ebbs and flows, though it’s not much different from physical health because even physical illnesses have good days and bad days — there’s just the added social stigma when it comes to brain stuff.

because maybe here’s the thing about mental health: it’s not much different from physical health. despite the mysteries enshrouding the brain, it is still a part of the body, and mental illnesses exhibit with physical symptoms as well. we’re simply ingrained to write them off as laziness, as mood swings, as petulance and immaturity and weakness, when the brain is screaming at us that it’s malfunctioning, it’s dying, it’s ill and it needs medication and therapy and care, just like the body does when it’s ill.

where’s the shame in that?

i admit that, when i write about my brain, i’m constantly quelling the impulse to go on the defensive. i always want to add some kind of note that none of this, not the depression or anxiety or insomnia or ADHD, keeps me from living a full, productive life. it doesn’t affect my ability to work; it doesn’t impact my capacity to make friends and meaningful connections and keep them; it doesn’t diminish my value as a human being.

i always want to explain that, like it needs explaining.

i always want to explain that because i’m afraid no one will think i’m worth investing in, in whatever capacity, because i often feel defective, broken in ways that mean i will never be whole or fully functional in a way this world demands.

maybe brain stuff just feels scarier because the most alarming symptoms happen inside your head and people can’t see that. people interpret behavior through their own filters and interpretations, and, so, the symptoms of depression and suicidal thinking and anxiety go ignored or unseen or misinterpreted for whatever reason — people are too busy; things are tense in relationships already; no one wants to believe someone she/he/they loves and cares for could be in such a bad mental state that she/he/they could be thinking actively of killing her/him/themself.

it’s too bad that doesn’t stop the deterioration of a brain. that doesn’t make mental illness go away.

that all just makes everything worse, and we’re the ones who pay for it.


here is this, though: you are your best advocate.

i ask myself constantly why i do this — why do i keep writing about my brain? why do i keep sharing all this? why can’t i just write about a goddamn cookbook and about the experience of cooking, and why can’t i just keep my personal shit to myself?

but maybe the thing is that my biggest takeaway from the kish cookbook was totally personal because i walked into it thinking, pfft, technique, i won’t be able to cook any of this, and realized that, wait, i can cook this — i can cook a lot of it, actually. i know the language of food; i know what it means to braise and blanche and reduce, the difference between chopping something into a brunoise and mincing it, how to work with yeast and gelatin. i can laminate dough and roll pasta by hand and crimp a pie crust, and maybe i can’t do any of these with extraordinary brilliance or skill, but i don’t have to doubt my ability to feed the people i love and to do it well.

that might sound like nothing to some, but it means a lot to me.

when you’re stuck in a place where you feel like you’re constantly sinking, like you’ll never be free of all the disappointment and self-loathing and self-hatred, knowing you’re capable of something means a lot, and food for me is intensely personal. i attach a lot of meaning to it, maybe more than i should, and, if there’s anything that really stirs up my longing to belong somewhere, to be a part of something, it’s food.

maybe it’s the necessity of food. maybe it’s my complicated history with it, one that continues to be complicated and messy given my type 2 (that i have admittedly willfully ignored the last few months). maybe it’s how food just naturally brings people together, how some of my best memories are grounded by meals, how the thing i miss the most about home are my monthly book club meetings when my friend would cook and i’d bake something and everyone would bring wine and beer and babka and fruit, and we’d sit around in a living room and eat and talk and maybe discuss the book for a few minutes.

because, like i’ve written before, california compounds all my lonelinesses, and, as the end of the year draws closer, i get more and more afraid that these silences are it, that i will no longer be able to fend them off anymore.

about being your best advocate, though — i mentioned this in one of my posts for national suicide prevention week, but i feel like it’s worth repeating, that no one can help you in ways that you need until you start speaking up and, at times, pushing back.

as someone who’s naturally non-confrontational, this has been an exercise these last few months, trying to make myself heard and understood and known. it hasn’t helped that i also come from a stance that talking is kind of a waste of time, that it’s just wasted breath, and i can’t say that my opinion on that has changed all that much. sometimes, i say things, and they go totally misinterpreted, and, sometimes, people say something, and i totally misinterpret — and there we go, round and round, in this cycle that drives me mad and saps me of my limited reserve of energy.

maybe that’s the point, though, that we try. if we don’t try to speak up at all, we’ll never have a chance to be known or understood. if we hide away in silence, all we have are the echoes in our head. if we run away from potential conflict, we’ll always be on the run, and people will always fall away.

so maybe that’s why i’m here; maybe that’s why i do this at all; and it’s no different from the reason i cook. cooking, too, is communication; it’s a way of saying, i’m thinking about you. i care about you. i love you. it’s a way of fighting to survive, to stay alive, when everything seems like it’s going to shit and you might not outlive the year. it’s a way of saying that you’re here, that you consume, that you aren’t just empty form to be glossed over, unseen.

it’s a way of belonging, of being a part of something, and that, to me, is the thing i love so much about food and one reason i cook so much in times of mental distress.


kristen kish cooking is published tomorrow, 2017 october 31. it retails at $40, and i do recommend it.

i’ve loved everything i’ve cooked so far, and, if you want a list, i’ve made her braised potatoes (which includes her vegetable broth), creamy barley (which includes her onion broth and onion syrup), cavatelli (twice in two weeks) (just the cavatelli, though — it is not currently the season for corn), whole wheat tagliatelle with champignon sauce, crispy chicken thighs with chili honey, and matcha green tea custard with sablé crumbs and macerated fruit (she uses berries; i used persimmons because i was experimenting with the idea of macerating persimmons; and i think the experiment has failed). altogether, not bad for three weekends. there’s a pork dish with bae and chamae i want to make soon, and i’ll be trying her basic pasta dough (i’m thinking of making the tortellini in the book?), but that probably won’t be for another few weeks because i’ll be out of town these next two weekends.

i’m looking forward to the break, though, because this shit isn’t cheap. i mean, i spent $6.50 on potato flour. what else can i make with potato flour?!?


progress report (may is mental health awareness month).

the most valuable piece i took away from top chef was that i was able to do something i didn't think i could do. [...] once i realized it was kind of okay, and i got positive feedback for being exactly who i was and keeping my head down and just cooking, i was able to be who i was. so that's what top chef did for me. all the other things — the shiny things — are just bonus. (kristen kish)

hi! so, may is mental health awareness month, and i've been back in california for five months now, in therapy for two-and-a-half and on medication for a little over one, so i thought, hey, why not post a progress report?

for the uninitiated, i have major depressive disorder, recurrent episode, panic disorder, and ADHD. i have a history of suicidal thinking and ideation, and i've lived with major depression for my entire young adult and adult life. i've only very recently started getting help for it.

it terrifies the fuck out of me to be so open about this. it's frankly unnerving to put so much of me out there to be seen, to be consumed, and to attach my face to it (at least, on instagram), to say, hey, this is me, this is what i look like, this is the shit i carry.

i ask myself constantly why i do this, and i suppose it boils down to a few things. one is that i want to be known, to be recognized. another is that i'd rather be rejected for who i am, flaws and deficits and all, than for this idea of a perfect being i could pretend to be. yet another is that i think it's important to talk about all this shit, not only after we've "survived" it but as we're going through it, in these dark moments when the future is uncertain and unknowable. i don't believe that only stories with survival clauses are worth telling because the bleak truth is that, sometimes, there are no happy endings, and, sometimes, these demons in our brains and bodies lead us to take our lives.

that's not the point, though. the end isn't the point. the point is that we try.

here is a list of lessons i've been learning as i've been seeking professional help.

it's not just about going to therapy or taking meds or seeing your psychiatrist. a pill is not going to fix everything; a therapist isn't going to put your life in order; and a psychiatrist is not going to keep you alive. it's about everything. it's about making the effort, being kind to yourself, letting people love you and care for you and support you. it's about showing up, whether it's to therapy sessions or doctor's appointments or lunch dates or special events or the gym. it's about listening to your brain and your body, knowing when to step back and rest, letting yourself have bad days. it's about everything.

it takes time. an anti-depressant takes a few weeks to start working, and they're not always the most pleasant few weeks. my first week on an anti-depressant, i was so nauseated, i couldn't sit up. my second week, i was so out of it, i couldn't focus on the smallest, most inconsequential task. my third week, my inability to sleep and stay asleep got even worse — and stayed worse.

when it started working, though, the anti-depressant (i started on citalopram, or celexa) did stabilize my mood, and, other than the nausea and insomnia, i did start feeling better. celexa totally exacerbated my sleep issues, though, so my psychiatrist and i decided last week to switch anti-depressants, to try good, old prozac and see if that will do away with the nausea and sleep issues. this is going to take a few weeks, too, though, and i don't know what the side effects will be yet.

so, again, it bears repeating: it takes time. it takes everything you've got. and it's not easy. i still wake up to panic; i woke up absurdly early this very morning because i was having a panic attack; and, still, hours later, i feel physically sick and nauseated and uneasy. i have nightmares almost every night, all around the themes of rootlessness, homesickness, and loneliness. i go to therapy every week, email my psychiatrist with concerns if my side effects are really bad, and take my meds as prescribed. i try to eat well, exercise regularly, keep a routine. i do everything i can, and some days are better than others, and some are worse, but they're all days to get through.

by all accounts, i'm a high-functioning adult who is, at least in this moment of her life, managing her anxiety and depression and ADHD fairly well. i get up in the morning, work out, eat breakfast, and go to work. i have meaningful social relationships; i create content regularly; and i read and write and think and function and, on some days, thrive.

which goes to my last "lesson," the thing i will say and repeat over and over and over again — mental health issues, mental illnesses, seeking professional help and/or taking medication — none of these diminishes your humanity. you're not crazy or psycho or subhuman, no matter what it is going on in your brain and/or your body; you're simply human. don't ever let anyone make you doubt that, that you are a sentient, thinking, feeling human being, deserving of respect and decency. people who make you feel any less are shit.

on saturday, i went to hear kristen kish, a chef from boston. she's currently doing a tour with macy's for asian pacific american heritage month (because may is also APA heritage month), and she was in los angeles for an afternoon taste and talk, and, obviously, i went.

i sat there thinking, god, you're fucking cute as hell, adorably fidgety with that smile, that ease, and i thought about visibility, about the comfort of being yourself, about the confidence and security that come from being out and open about who you are, as you are, and being okay with that. i thought about how it's kind of strange and kind of sad that that's something that we have to learn to be okay with, to learn to see ourselves for who we are and accept ourselves — and, consequently, to learn to be okay with the fact that people will see us as they wish, will project on us their own fears and insecurities, and we can't control that.

we can't control what people think of us, but we can control how they make us feel.

she said:

up until my mid-twenties, i projected what i thought i was supposed to be. [...] once i let go of all that, that's when things really took off.

kish also said:

[the attention] is absolutely fascinating. for the majority of my life, i'm slinging in the back of a kitchen and working my butt off and living my life, and, suddenly, now i'm out there, and i think my responsibility is to continue to put my life out there. it's the fact that i am who i am, and, hopefully, what you see and what you can relate to is helpful.


if you don't feel fearful in some ways, if you don't feel nervous, then it's not something worth doing.

and i think, okay, fine, maybe there's something to all this, to being so confessional and at least making the effort to be my true self and be known. i will never be able to share my full, whole self on this website, just like i will never be able to share my full, whole self on social media or in my fiction or, even, in person-to-person relationships. there will always be limits to how fully and deeply we can be known, even by the people directly in our lives.

we make the effort, though. we try to express ourselves, and we try to listen. we try to be there for each other, and we try to connect. and i believe that the discomfort and fear i often feel when i share so much about my mental and physical health, about my fears and anxieties, even about the things i love — i believe that, somehow, in some way, it is a discomfort that propels me on because it tells me that it is something worth exploring. all this shit is worth sharing because the thing i learn over and over again is that we are not all that different, that i am not alone, that these things — whatever they are — need to be talked about.

fundamentally, i believe in breaking stigma, in ending the shame and guilt that keep us silent about mental health, sexuality, body image issues, doubt, etcetera, and, if anything, i am here to say to someone out there, whoever you are, whatever you struggle with, that you are not alone. for what it's worth, here is a human being who is doing everything she can to stay alive and thrive, even though her mental and physical limitations scare the shit out of her every single fucking day, so fight. hold on. stay.

kish also said, "my culinary influences are every single thing that has happened in my life, from the fun to the hard to the whimsical — but the underlying thing under all my food is proper technique."

and, "my style of cooking is a general tasting menu. not one dish is supposed to stand out," and there's an arc to it, an exploration of different textures and tastes, and, "at the end of the meal, you should feel full and satisfied."

and, "i struggled a lot with self-identify and self-worth and who am i and what am i going to do."

and, "the one chef i get starstruck by every time — and i don't get starstruck — is gabrielle hamilton [of prune in nyc]."

and, she never cooked at home, but she wanted to cook for her ex-girlfriend, and "learning how to navigate a home kitchen was quite difficult."

anyway, all of which is to say that i fucking love her and am glad she's out there doing her thing, and i had a great saturday, then i woke up having a panic attack on sunday, feeling sick to my stomach because of anxiety-induced nausea. i gave up on sleep and took lorazepam in hopes that it would help quell the anxiety, which it did a little but didn't stop the effects of my early morning panic attack from incapacitating me for the rest of the day.

i managed to get out of my head to make dinner reservations for my parents at republique, one of my favorite restaurants, scrounged up enough energy to shower, get dressed, and drive out to la brea for one hell of a dinner. the kusshi oysters were sweet and creamy and so good; the grilled octopus was tender and succulent, though the salad had too much mint for me; and the brussels sprouts with friseé and bacon and a soft egg were awesome (and made for great fried rice the day after). the new york strip was perfectly medium-rare, dry-aged for 45 days, in this beautiful sauce, but the winner of the night was the spinach cavatelli with porcini and morel mushrooms and ramps.

(ramps. it's the season for ramps, y'all. and i'm starting to like mushrooms.)

i love a good handmade pasta; there is little that gives me the depth and fullness of joy and happiness that a bowl of great handmade pasta delivers. it's just so comforting and soothing, and i love it more because i love making pasta myself, understand what goes into crafting a bowl, though, of course, the pasta i make is nowhere near as great.

and, anyway, all of which is to say that mental well-being is about more than just therapy or meds or psychiatry appointments. those are important; i'm not diminishing how crucial it is to get help; but it's also about getting out of your head, doing nice things for other people (when you are able), finding enjoyment and pleasure in the little things. it's about meals and literature and women you have crushes on and think are badass, people who model the kind of life you'd like to live, the kind of person you'd like to be (while remembering that they are still humans, and they are not perfect, and they fuck up and have flaws and insecurities, too).

it's about being the best you can be and learning to live within limitations, and it's about remembering that everyone struggles, everyone flails, and everyone kind of fundamentally wants the same things from life. it's about remembering that you aren't alone, no matter how much the monsters in your brain and/or body try to convince you otherwise. it's about reminding yourself that you are stronger than you think you are, that the fact that you have made it this far to this point in your life is the very evidence of that.

it's about telling yourself, making yourself believe that you are worth it, so get the help you need, reach out to the people around you, and live.

[dec 5] here's to the good days.

this, too,
will i get used to it all?
even the way i am now,
after it’s all passed,
will it be a memory?
- nell, “habitual irony”
이것도 언젠가
모두 익숙해질까 그렇게 될까
지금 이러는 것도
모두 지나고 나면 추억인 걸까
- 넬, “습관적 아이러니”

today was one of the good days.

i didn’t wake up with a pit of nausea in my stomach, wanting to vomit and willing my heart to stop racing. i didn’t have an anxiety attack. i didn’t spend hours mired in depressed despair, my mind churning over stress and unease. it wasn’t a perfect day, and i still had anxiety constantly gnawing away at the peripheries of my brain, but, regardless, it was a good day.

one of the reasons i’m trying to post every day this week is that i want to get better at talking about these things. anxiety and depression are so difficult to talk about, partly because to do so is to get intensely personal, to make myself vulnerable in ways that scare me. it’s also difficult because it requires that i maybe lay out more details of my life than i may be willing — or maybe it’s that i’m not quite ready for that yet, am still unsure where to draw the lines between where to be transparent and where to maintain my privacy.

i’m still trying to negotiate these lines.

i do this, however, because i think it’s essential. there are topics i want to write about, and they include depression, suicidal thinking, body shaming. sometimes, i wonder if there’s a way to write about these topics without writing about myself, but i think that it’s necessary, in many ways, to talk about myself, about the ways that i’ve wrestled with these issues, with the damage that has shaped me and the path of my life — and this isn’t because i think i’m special but because i think i’m not.

there are so many people out in the world who also struggle with depression and suicidal thinking and also carry the scars from body shaming, and i think we need to break down the stigma around these issues and work towards healing, whether as wounded individuals or as a culture-at-large that perpetuates this damage. i think the first step we can take is for us to start talking about it because talking about it is a way to start creating connections that help us know we’re not alone, that we need not live in pain, with pain alone.

so i’m trying. and i will keep trying.


one of the reasons i like to cook/bake is that it helps me work things out of my system, whether they be stress or anxiety or just general restlessness. (it also helps me procrastinate.) i’m not a particularly good cook — i can bake fairly well, and i have a general, basic understanding of how to make food, but that’s kind of it.

(though maybe that’s all anyone really needs on a day-to-day basis. i just wish i knew more, but i always wish i knew more of everything.)

i’ve been trying to get better at cooking, though, and to challenge myself more in terms of what i cook. i can be really lazy and eat nothing but hot dogs and eggs over rice for days, maybe throwing in some roasted brussel sprouts when my body starts revolting, so i’ve been trying to think more consciously about what i’m eating and, in connection, what i’m buying at trader joe’s and why.

i’ve also been trying to cook more because, again, it gets me out of my head — and, see, this is where daily/regular posting feels weird, especially because it’s not like i’m coming into this space with a specific book or theme i’m tackling in an essay-ish form of greater length. i feel like i’m writing a journal, and i don’t have anything against journaling — it’s just weird for me, especially here. i don’t know why.

moving away from my discomfort, though: i used instagram stories for the first time tonight, honestly because i needed to let my chicken brown and that meant letting it sit there and brown for eight or so minutes on each side. i also had to do it in two batches because my dutch oven is only so big, which meant a fair bit of downtime, even after i’d chopped up my leeks and green beans and done the dishes and made coffee and swiffered the floor.

i like social media, especially instagram, and i appreciate it, too. i’m super grateful for the community on instagram, for everyone who follows me there and/or visits this space and takes the time to read or comment or even just like — i promise that none of it goes unnoticed, even if i am stupidly slow at relying to comments.

for some, this might sound absurd because social media (and even blogging) might seem like a superfluous, kind of self-centered thing, but, if you know anything of loneliness and isolation because of who you are, if you have a brain that retreats into itself because of anxiety or depression or any other condition, if you have a body that leaves you in constant pain and exhausts you with the smallest of tasks, social media and the community on the internet really mean a lot.

like many things, social media is an easy thing to dismiss when you function “normally,” but, sometimes, to some of us, on our worst days, it’s kind of all we’ve got — that and books and, for me, food.

this is dad’s chicken + leeks from julia turshen’s small victories. she mentions that her dad sometimes throws in carrots and creamer potatoes, so i threw in some green beans because i felt like i should eat something green. i used leftover homemade chicken broth from the last time i made my bastardization of hainanese chicken rice, and i ate this over rice with a side of kkak-du-gi, and it was a very simple but very satisfying meal.

(this post was partly in commemoration of my first instagram stories — heh, not really, but this is not a form i’ll be adopting for this space. follow on instagram for more of this? idk.)