[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.


[PDX] cross my heart, hope to die.

perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing. there are two opposing poles of wanting nothing: when one is so full and rich and has so many inner worlds that the outer world is not necessary for joy, because joy emanates from the inner core of one’s being. when one is dead and rotten inside and there is nothing in the world: not all the woman, food, sun, or mind-magic of others that can reach the wormy core of one’s gutted soul planet. (sylvia plath, the unabridged journals, 193-4)

i don’t remember when i first read plath, but i know i was in my twenties. i didn’t start with her poetry either or with the bell jar — my first exposure to plath, as i remember it, was with her journals. i read them slowly over the course of a year-and-a-half, and i loved her language, her words, her thoughts and ambitions and struggles, but the thing that struck me most was that intense sense of recognition that strikes you sometimes and resonates within you. i see you. i know you.

i recognized her — i recognize her still because, in her, i see myself.

it’s not just the shared literary ambitions or frustrations with being a woman in a patriarchal world, carrying the burden of a specific set of expectations she’s to fulfill, and it’s not just that we’re both plagued by sinus colds. it isn’t just the depression, the suicidal tendencies and actions, the mental illnesses. it’s all of it.

it’s her rage, her desire, her hunger. at times, it’s her despair and hopelessness.

it’s how she’s so alive and vibrant and humming with want.

saturday exhausted, nerves frayed. sleepless. threw you, book, down, punched with fist. kicked, punched. violence seethed. joy to murder someone, pure scapegoat. but pacified during necessity to work. work redeems. work saves. baked a lemon meringue pie, cooled lemon custard & crust on cold bathroom windowsill, stirring in black night & stars. set table, candles, glasses sparkling crystal barred crystal on yellow woven cloth. making order, the rugs smoothed clean, maple-wood tables & dark tables cleared. shaping a meal, people, i grew back to joy. (310)

the night before i fly up to portland, i clumsily make tortelloni for the first time. i caramelize onions on low, low heat for two hours, and i make my dough, cracking my eggs into my well of flour, storing unused egg whites in a container in hopes that i’ll figure out some use for them in the future so as not to waste them. (i end up making a lot of mostly-egg-white omelettes. i still have egg whites to use.) my dough is stickier than it usually is, maybe the stickiest pasta dough i’ve made yet, because i thought i’d outsmart my previous attempt by adding a third whole egg because this is cooking, too, experimenting, thinking you’re smarter than you really are, making dough that’s too sticky it won’t come cleanly off the plastic wrap when it comes time to roll.

sometimes, i think it’s cooking that’s taught me best that it’s okay to make mistakes. it’s okay for things not to turn out perfectly, especially the first few times around. it’s okay as long as you keep trying because you will get better.

plath has an appetite as a child, often listing everything she’s eaten at camp in letters home to her mother. it’s pretty impressive, the amount she’s able to consume, and this is something that doesn’t change much as she grows older — if anything, it starts exhibiting, also, in the meals she cooks, once, even, on a tiny little burner stove when she’s honeymooning in spain with hughes.

i love that. i love that she’s expansive not only in her literary ambitions but in every sense. she wants to travel and experience the world. she wants to love, be loved, have sexual adventures. she wants to live her life, and she wants to have a family, and she wants to be published, and she wants this and that and this and that — she wants everything.


the last few weeks have been an exercise in hating myself and trying to talk myself out of that spiral. i’ve been hating myself for not being more level-headed, for having zero chill, for being effusive and open and unbridled about the things and people i love. i’ve been hating myself for having opinions, high standards, expectations and for having the outsized whatever-ness that makes me express my criticism instead of just shutting up and playing nice.

i’ve been hating myself for not being able to network, for being awkward with people, for not being personable, likable, desirable.

i’ve been hating myself for wanting.

i want so obviously, so desperately to be loved, and to be capable of love. i am still so naive; i know pretty much what i like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who i am. “a passionate, fragmentary girl,” maybe? (165)

the days leading up to portland aren’t filled much with excitement, more with weariness than anything else. i think about hurrying from the office to the airport on friday night, of taking the light rail downtown, of arriving in cold and wet and hunger. i think about waking up at 3:30 am on monday morning, hurrying to the airport, then from the airport to the train station to the subway to the office. i haven’t even left los angeles yet, and i’m already exhausted.

i think about want, about wanting to be a part of something, instead of constantly on the outside looking in. i think about wanting to connect with people, to be friends with them, to be someone more than a casual hello or on-line comment or like. i think about wanting to create something of meaning. i think about wanting to be seen.

recognition, visibility, relatability — these aren’t things i thought about often, at least not conscientiously. i’ve never been the kind of reader or film-watcher or media-consumer who’s wanted to see herself reflected in the culture she inhaled, but the more i think about that in relation to my youth, the more i realize that that was because i was a young person who came up on korean pop, korean dramas, korean media culture, despite having been born and raised in the states.

because i didn’t feel a lack of recognition in my media, i didn’t feel the need to seek it in my reading. i grew up on the “classics,” that bastion of white, predominantly male figures celebrated as figureheads of greatness, of writing to aspire towards, and i never questioned that. i never questioned what i was reading, who i was reading, because the “classics” were safe, they were “classics” for a reason, tested through centuries and maintaining their staying power. i never learned to examine that, not until around 2004, 2005, when i stopped reading, found myself bored with these books i’d loved so much all along, and didn’t read seriously for around a year.

and then i picked up ian mcewan’s atonement. and then daphne du maurier’s rebecca. and then kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go.

this, maybe, is a tangent from where i started, but we’ll stay with it, anyway, because i think it’s important that we remember to question what we read, who we read, and why we read. we need to step out of our comfort zones from time to time, try to see the world another way through another person’s eyes, and, if we only stay within the safe, mainstream zones, we not only do ourselves a disservice but we also do nothing good for publishing at-large.

i don’t believe in living in bubbles, and i don’t believe in abstaining from the world. i don’t believe that things are apolitical — food is political; books are political; and they can’t help but be because policy is influenced by politics and policy determines what people can eat, what they can or cannot have access to. to deny that food is political, to deny that books are political, is to be so shielded by your privilege that you can pretend you aren’t complicit in the system when you’re contributing to the problem.

and this is why i love going to events, to festivals, why i love participating in the conversations swirling around. it’s why i love interacting with people, talking to them, hanging out. it’s why i love spending time with other writers.

because all of it reminds me that this is something. i come from a world that’s always dismissed (and still casually dismisses) literature as being pointless. the korean word often applied is “쓸데없다,” which literally translateㄴ into, “it has no use.” literature is cast off as something for young people; we’re supposed to “mature” into essays and philosophy and non-fiction, leaving the world of make believe for adolescence.

if we are to write fiction, we should write children’s books because those, at least, serve a purpose.

here’s the thing, though: we build our lives on stories. we build our identities on stories. we build our faith, beliefs, worldviews, practices, principles on stories — and many of these stories are fictions that we write in our minds of other people. that’s where prejudice comes from. it’s where stereotypes come from. it’s where bigotry and homophobia and racism and sexism come from.

just because we don’t all write them down in novels doesn’t mean we don’t spend every day spinning them in our minds.

and here’s where fiction, as it is written, comes in — that all fiction is true, that it reflects someone, some part of the world, some set of beliefs, that it has the power to take us away from the tiny little bubble of the world that we know and maybe make us see something new. fiction often gives us the space to say things we can’t say otherwise for whatever reason, and it allows us to imagine an alternative, whatever that alternative may be. it makes us sit in horror, sometimes, because good fiction is a mirror that reflects us back to us, and, sometimes, often i dare say, what we see isn’t pretty.


a brief recounting of wordstock? it was incredible to hear ta-nehisi coates speak; he’s just as eloquent, smart, and funny as you might imagine. a few soundbites i noted from his talk with jenna wortham:

  • re: “the cult of smartness”: the art of being an intellectual obscures the actual work.
  • i think about not embarrassing black people a lot.
  • the guilt of power and recognizing that guilt of power is being used in an unjust way
  • re. w.e.b. du bois: what [he] [an african-american congressman] didn’t get was that what white south carolinians were afraid of wasn’t bad black power. it was good black power. bad black power would reinforce white supremacy, but good black power …
  • they hate the fact that [obama’s] the embodiment of everything a black person is not [supposed to be].
  • i think a lot of writers think their credibility is rooted in being right. i think people expect me to be sincere.
  • chief among all of those is curiosity, and, when you’re chasing your curiosity, you’re going to be wrong.
  • every human life ends badly, but what happens in-between matters.
  • you have to figure out how to angle the thing you love toward the things you care about.
  • people want their king. when people vote, you see who they are.

anyway, that’s all for this part. two more portland posts to come, with more about plath, more about writing and social media and stories.