2017 in books and 4500-ish words.

today, when i told you to behave, you roared angrily: I’M BEING HAVE.

today, after i took my socks off, you touched my ankles — the impressions that had been left.

today you put my hand on the impression left by your sock. my hand could circle your whole miniature ankle.

today, after you lost a tooth, you cried that you looked like a pumpkin.

today i had to stop by the post office, and you looked around and said, aghast, “this is errands?”

today, while i was changing your brother’s diaper, and putting baby powder on him, you burst into tears and begged me not to put too much salt on him.

today you were so readily impressed by me. (khong, 101-2)


let's talk 2017 and books.


i started off 2017 with rachel khong’s goodbye, vitamin (henry holt, 2017), which i read mostly while i was on the road and trying to ignore the way my heart was breaking. i drove from brooklyn to los angeles in january, leaving behind my home city to return to the city in which i was raised, the city i’d been trying for so much of my life to flee, and i left brooklyn in disappointment, my tail between my legs. new york city is a tough city, even for those who love her and find solace in her streets.

goodbye, vitamin is a novel that sneaks up on you. it’s not a book that hooks you and keeps you reading maniacally; it’s a book that crawls onto you and sinks into your skin and settles in your heart. khong’s writing is warm and funny and wise, and the premise is so totally human — 30-year-old ruth returns to her parents’ home because her father has alzheimer’s. she’s recently broken up with her fiancé. she’s in this in-between.

i tend to believe that, sometimes, books find us when we need them, and goodbye, vitamin was one such book. january kicked off 2017 brutally, and i was in a horrible place, grappling with heartache, insomnia, anxiety, the worst and most prolonged bout of suicidal depression i’ve had yet. i didn’t know what the hell i was doing with my life. i felt like i’d failed at everything, unable to find a full-time job, to make enough to make ends meet, to finish my book and find an agent and sell it. needless to say, i didn’t much feel like reading.

when i drove across the country, i had a van full of books, but goodbye, vitamin was the one i carried with me. i read it during solitary meals at momofuku ccdc (DC), xiao bao biscuit (charleston), surrey’s (new orleans), solid grindz (tucson), king’s highway (palm springs), and i read it in snatches because i couldn’t focus long enough on words, on story — everything still hurt too much. it was comforting, though, tapping into bittersweet nostalgia because goodbye, vitamin, at least to me, is steeped in nostalgia. ruth, too, is returning to los angeles, to her parents’, and, at the time i was reading the novel, i was as well.

there was a lot that i personally identified with, too — my paternal grandmother passed away from alzheimer’s the summer of 2012. i didn’t live at my parents’ at the time, but i was in school an hour away, and i’d come over on the weekends to stay with her so my parents could go to church. she’s the grandmother who raised me, who doted on me, who loved me most of all her grandchildren, and she’s the reason i’m bilingual, bicultural. maybe it’s wrong to pick favorites, but she’s the grandparent who meant the most to me.

the thing with illness, as i’ve learned, is that it brings out the great in people sometimes. i’m not trying to romanticize illness at all; as someone who lives with depression and diabetes, i am not someone who would ever sentimentalize or romanticize or put a stupid silver lining on illness. at the same time, i can’t deny that the reason i have survived this year is that the people around me have shown up and shown their goodness constantly, and i am so humbled and so grateful for all the generosity, love, and understanding i’ve received.

books are part of that, too, and i believe that writing, also, is an act of generosity, and i am grateful — always grateful — for all the writers out there who write and put their stories out there, so saps like me can read them and weep and feel known. because that’s how i felt when i was reading goodbye, vitamin, and it was the perfect first book to read in what would be a tumultuous, rocky 2017.

on my way home i stop at the grocery store and buy a head of garlic and a can of tomatoes. canned goods are forbidden, of course, but i am feeling defiant, and how is mom going to find out, anyway?

mom’s thrown everything out but a glass baking dish. she claims she’s shopping for safer cookware. i spread the tomatoes on the baking dish, with salt and oil, brown sugar, slices of garlic, and ancient dried oregano from a sticky plastic shaker.

while the tomatoes are roasting, i rinse the tomato can out and boil the water in the can itself. i cook the pasta in batches in the small can. i toast the almond from the pantry and blend them with the garlic and the tomatoes and the herbs. suddenly there is pasta and there is sauce and the semblance of a real meal. i set the table for two. i head upstairs and knock on his door and call “dad?” (khong, 60)

there is no ladder out of any world; each world is rimless — my friend amy leach writes. a ladder is no longer what i am seeking. rather, i want one day to be able to say to myself: dear friend, we have waited this out. (li, 201)

2017 is the year i finally got professional help for depression and anxiety, and it’s the year i finally started seeing a therapist and taking meds.

i’ve known for years that i needed to do this, that depression was just something i was going to have to learn live with, part of which entails getting the proper help for it. i can’t quite say what it was that kept me from getting help, though, maybe a combination of insurance and shame and fear that, once i was diagnosed, that diagnosis would follow me around everywhere and i’d never find a job, never find a partner, never be more than my depression.

which is all bullshit — one of the things i’ve realized about myself when looking back at 2017 is that i’ve never let my depression stop me. even in the worst of it, i was still trying to write; i was creating content regularly for this blog; i started a full-time job and finished my book and have posted regularly and thoughtfully on instagram. there is no doubt about it; i am more than my depression.

and that’s not to make myself sound better than other people who live with depression and can’t get out of bed, can barely muster up the energy to eat something, take a shower, sit up straight. i’ve been there, too. i still have days when i’m so low-energy, i go straight home to bed and sleep ten hours. i have really shitty days when my brain fog is so bad, all i can do is have a cry in the bathroom and chug a stupid amount of coffee and chat with my coworkers until i’m powered enough to get through the rest of the day.

what meryl streep said at the 2017 golden globes has stuck with me all year, though — “take your broken heart and turn it into art.” and maybe that’s where my sense of purpose comes from, that, yes, i’ve been nursing a broken heart all year, and i’ve been worried and stressed about my broken brain, but, hey, i’m still here, and, somehow, i’ve made it through. if i can, so can you.

what does this have to do with yiyun li’s dear friend, from my life i write to you in your life (random house, 2017)? dear friend is li’s memoir about her experience living with suicidal depression, and li herself has survived two suicide attempts. this book was published at such a timely moment for me, but i don’t really want to get into it all here again, but i wrote a post dedicated to it if you’d like to check that out. the link is here.

i took rebecca solnit’s the mother of all questions (haymarket, 2017) to the bay area as a talisman of sorts the weekend of my brother’s wedding. i’m an outlier in my family in that i don’t want kids, have never wanted kids, still don’t want kids, and i like that we’re finally at a point in time where women can say they don’t want children, and, no, it’s not selfishness, it’s not self-absorption, it’s not some kind of malfunctioning on our ends. it doesn’t mean we’re defective or faulty or not fully-formed or incomplete or whatever just because we choose not to spawn.

i love the way solnit writes about all this, partly because she does it with so much more generosity than i can. she writes about womanhood, about being a woman in this world, with such intelligence and poise, and i find myself blocking off passage after passage because i’m agreeing so hard, i feel like i’m nodding my head off.

such questions [why don’t you have children?] seem to come out of the sense that there are not women, the 51 percent of the human species who are as diverse in their wants and as mysterious in their desires as the other 49 percent, only Woman, who must marry, must breed, must let men in and babies out, like some elevator for the species. at their heart these questions are not questions but assertions that we who fancy ourselves individual, charting our own courses, are wrong. brains are individual phenomena producing wildly varying products; uteruses bring forth one kind of creation. (4)


some people want kids but don’t have them for various private reasons, medical, emotional, financial, professional; others don’t want kids, and that’s not anyone’s business either. just because the question can be answered doesn’t mean that anyone is obliged to answer it, or that it ought to be asked. the interviewer’s question to me was indecent because it presumed that women should have children, and that a woman’s reproductive activities were naturally public business. more fundamentally, the question assumed that there was only one proper way for a woman to live. (5)


our humanity is made out of stories or, in the absence of words and narratives, out of imagination: that which i did not literally feel, because it happened to you and not to me, i can imagine as though it were me, or care about it though it was not me. thus we are connected, thus we are not separate. those stories can be killed into silence, and the voices that might breed empathy silenced, discredited, censored, rendered unspeakable, unbearable. discrimination is training in not identifying or empathizing with someone because they are different in some way, in believe the differences mean everything and common humanity nothing. (36)

also, LOL, it’s only when i was collecting quotes for this post that i realized that i didn’t actually finish reading this. i got halfway through and apparently was emotionally wiped.

here’s something random: i read patty yumi cottrell’s sorry to disrupt the peace (mcsweeney’s, 2017) because i saw a photo of her and was like, whaaat, she cute.

i’d been seeing the book around social media and had been intrigued by the title and cover, but i typically avoid books about people who have lost someone to suicide. theirs is not a narrative i’m interested in, much like i’m not interested in the narratives of adoptive parents — i’d rather hear from the suicidal and from those who were adopted, and that put me in a bit of a quandry because sorry to disrupt the peace is told by helen, a korean-american adoptee who learns about her adoptive brother’s death by suicide and returns to their adoptive parents’ home, assigning herself the mission to learn why he died.

and, so, it’s a book that sat in the back of my brain as something i’d pick up and flip through the next time i was in a bookstore, but, then, there was the photo thing, and, then, i was in mexico after my brother’s wedding, and, somewhere in between eating all the mangoes i could find and rereading the handmaid’s tale, i was like, omg must. find. the. cottrell. NOW.

so, once i was back stateside in SF, i visited two bookstores to find it.

and then i devoured it.

and abso-freaking-lutely loved it.

it isn’t often that i come across writers who make me think, holy shit, you’re doing something really cool with narrative and voice here, but that’s how i felt as i read sorry to disrupt the peace. helen’s narrative voice is unique and individual, and she’s a little weird (to put it one way) and kind of abrasive, though not intentionally, because she’s clueless and has no sense of self-awareness, occupying her own headspace without the ability to read other people and situations external to her.

some have read sorry to disrupt the peace and tried to diagnose helen, but i don’t know — when i read it, i didn’t get the sense that cottrell is trying to make any kind of statement about mental illness. i don’t think that was the point, which might ask the question, then what was the point? which in turn makes me ask, do books have to have a point?

because why do we read? what are we looking for when we read? do we look at authors to make statements, deliver commentary? and should we even be making armchair diagnoses, anyway, because i hate those because armchair diagnoses are often people making snap judgments about mental illness and staying within their misguided prejudices and gross stereotypes — and, omg, does it make a difference either way, whether helen is mentally ill or mentally stable? does it make her any less credible a narrator? does her experience become any less authentic and fully-lived?

and, wow, that was a tangent, but sometimes it peeves me when we get lost in these roundabout discussions about a character’s (usually a woman’s) likability or credibility or knowability, particularly when it comes to books like sorry to disrupt the peace because, holy shit, this book is phenomenal. it’s raw and dark and funny, and helen is earnest and kinda really messed up and sad and angry, and the novel will make you laugh and cry and think about what it means to be known, to know yourself, to exist in a world that is at odds with you, that doesn’t seem to have a place for you even though you try — oh, you try, but, sometimes, trying isn’t good enough.

you try, but, sometimes, the loss you carry is not just your own.

a lot of people kill themselves, i said, but it seems like most of them do it when they’re older, like after they’ve reached middle age. we try everything we can to preserve ourselves and yet eventually something catches up with us, something dreadful creeps up, and we just can’t do it anymore. then we throw our lives away, into the trash heap of suicides. (cottrell, 70)

do what you want is a zine from the UK that features writing about mental health and nothing else. i learned of it because esmé weijun wang (author of the fabulous the border of paradise [unnamed, 2016]) contributed an essay to it, and i’m glad i did — i’m all for more candid writing about mental health by people who live with mental illness.

the significant traumas in my life have passed, and yet my physiological and psychological responses to them have only begun to truly interfere with my life this year. i’m used to becoming isolated by my mental health, and by people’s reactions to it: the depression and psychosis that i live with carry a great deal of stigma. but when it comes to trauma, and discussing the symptoms and triggers of my post-traumatic responses, the isolation is unlike any i’ve ever felt. and that’s without even going into the details of the actual traumatic events that scarred me, which even the saintliest soul likely finds hard to stomach. trauma, and in particular sexual trauma, has profoundly isolating effects in western culture.

we find it difficult to talk about trauma. it is difficult to be a human and to learn about the brutality that other humans are forced to endure.


i try not to be angry when others turn away. one way of coping with this social blanket of silence is a sort of absurd humour in which i laugh and don’t expect anyone else to laugh. i did it when, in a group of writers who decided to go around the circle and share the hilarious stories of losing their virginity, i said, “i was raped.” i may have laughed, because i’d ruined the game — at least for that moment. i can’t say there wasn’t a bit of bitterness to my actions. i did it again when, in that hospital in new orleans, with my partner and a doctor leaning in to catch my every word, and pneumonia in my chest, i blurted it out — “rape” — and fell about laughing.


[…] sometimes the only way we can bear to react is by filling the silence with laughter, even if we’re laughing alone. (esmé weijun wang, “laughing about pneumonia,” 70-2)


however, just because medication which increases the levels of neurotransmitters in our brains can help relieve our symptoms, it doesn’t mean that all mental illness is necessarily caused by a lack of these chemicals in the first place. the onset of mental illness is more complex, and often involves an interaction of lifestyle, environmental and biological factors. to put it simply: taking paracetamol helps to relieve the symptoms of a headache, but that doesn’t mean the headache was caused by a lack of paracetamol! (becky appleton, “sweeten the pill,” 105)


“i feel” does not have to mean “i am.” (eleanor morgan, “plastic minds,” 145)

i have really strong emotional sentiments when it comes to bodies.

no one’s going to be surprised when i say hunger (harpers, 2017) is one doozy of a book. roxane gay writes candidly about her trauma and her body, about the ways people see her body and judge her by it. she writes about girlhood and the ways boys violently took it away, and she writes about the gang rape that led her to eat and eat and eat, to hide herself in a body no one could hurt again.

i think about bodies often; i’d say i think about bodies every day. i think about my body, about the bodies of people i see around me, and i think about how something so common to everyone is weaponized to destroy so many of us and shred any sense of self we may have. there’s little that angers me more than a woman putting a girl (or woman) down for her body, calling her fat, criticizing her looks, commenting on what she’s eating, and, all along, basically teaching her that her value and self-worth are directly tied to her body, that she is only as worthy a human as her dress size.

and don’t even get me started on men doing that shit to women.


it doesn’t matter what has brought you to the body you inhabit. it could be trauma; it could be illness; it could be choice, the result of decisions you’ve made for whatever reason. it could be genetics, and it could be lifestyle, and it could be financial situations. it could be a whole lot of things, none of which gives anyone any right to shame you for your body.

one of the more valuable things i’ve learned over 2017 is that i can’t control how other people feel about me but i can control how i let them make me feel about myself. i can let someone make me feel like shit, like i’m stupid or ugly or unworthy to be seen because i’m not thin, or i can say, screw that. i’m fine the way i am, and i’m going to live my life. that’s power, i think, that’s where power lies, so don’t give that power to people who demean you and put you down and tear you to pieces (then have the audacity to turn around and wonder what your problem is, why you have no confidence or self-esteem or sense of identity). people will think what they do, and, yes, sometimes, they’ll think really ugly things, but you can’t control that, so don’t waste your life — the one life you have — trying to please people who will never be happy for you, for whom you will never be good enough because you’ll never be thin enough because, when people are stuck in that mentality, no size is small enough to be good enough.

celeste ng’s debut, everything i never told you (penguin press, 2014), was my favorite book of 2014, and i’m almost annoyed that it only took her three years to publish her sophomore novel. it took me nine years to write one book and god knows how long it’ll take me to get that one published, and, already, celeste ng has published two stellar, phenomenal books.

because little fires everywhere (penguin press, 2017) is just as good as her debut. it’s hard for me to summarize because i’m shitty with book summaries, but the novel is set in shaker heights, ohio, which is an actual place, the city, actually, where ng grew up. there’s a suburban family with a nosy mother who writes for the local newspaper and fancies herself an investigative journalist; there’s a single mother who moves into town with her daughter and cleans house for said suburban family. the mother doesn’t disclose much (if anything at all) about her daughter’s father, and her presence goes against everything shaker heights stands for and turns things upside down.

i love how ng writes about suburban america, and i love the way she writes about race. she writes about it by not obsessing over it, by acknowledging that race is a thing, that we do not and cannot live in a colorblind world, that people of color are more than the color of their skin.

(i hate this notion of colorblindness; when someone claims, oh, i’m colorblind; i don’t see color; i see people, my brain interprets that as, oh, i see everything through the filter of whiteness, so i think all cultures should just be white and conform to white POVs and standards and expectations and wants and boringness. my brain also interprets that as, hi, i’m totally blind to my own privilege as a white or white-passing or i-think-i’m-white person.)

i love how she does all this by writing people because i think that’s what ng does so well — write people, people who are fleshed out and alive, who exist and want and hurt. she writes with empathy. she writes people i can’t help but care about, and she also writes people i totally loathe, but, basically, the point kind of is — you don’t passively read an ng book.


i’d say i have this massive giant soft spot for jenny zhang, but that sounds gentler than it actually is because, whenever i see her book or anything she’s written, my immediate impulse is to yell, HI JENNY ILU.

i’ve written about jenny before and how i came across her (and esmé’s) writing and how it was pretty damn formative for me. i’d grown up reading just dead white people, mostly dead white men, and i don’t think i’ll ever forget that first HOLY SHIT! moment when i came across their blog, fashion for writers, and realized that, hey, there are asian-americans out there writing things and they’re writing things that are humming with life and want and grossness and displacement and everything.

sour heart (random house, 2017) reflects all this.

i’ve read the criticism that all the stories in the collection read the same, like it’s the same narrator over and over again. i can see where that’s coming from, but, for me, i kind of liked that — i thought it kind of made the point that, yes, maybe, on the surface, we might seem the same — immigrant children with our immigrant parents and our immigrant lives. maybe we might all seem to have lived the same story, but, when people manage to look beneath that, they might find that we’re different, that, much like white people with whiteness, sometimes, the only thing we have in common with each other is our asianness, our Otherness.

i loved this about being in new york, realizing that there are so many different ways of being asian-american. growing up in the valley, near LA’s koreatown, i thought there were only a handful of different kinds of koreans — fobs, ktown koreans, valley azns, banana koreans, and people like me, second-generation korean-americans who were bilingual and bicultural.

getting out of this bubble and getting out of my loathed familiar zones, out of a city of life in cars and into a city of subways and walking and public transportation, i had to reassess asian-americanness. the best thing moving to new york did for me was open up my mind and make me at least a little less judgmental and more accepting. i don’t believe there is one way to be asian-american; i believe there are as many ways to be asian-american as there are asian-americans; and i don’t subscribe to the notion of a “good” asian-american or a “bad” one. i believe we all individually negotiate our relationships with our ethnic heritages.

part of me wishes i could say i believed this when i was younger, too, but the truth is i didn’t. i was kind of a snoot about my koreanness, the fact that i could speak, read, write korean, the discomfort i felt at not feeling korean enough or american enough. i held it as a sort of pride that i walked this line between cultures, like that was some kind of accomplishment of my own, and, now, years later, at least, the thing i can be grateful for is that, as humans, we are growing and changing creatures, and we can always come back from bad places. we can be better people. we can be kinder, more generous, more open-minded. we can be more loving.

we just have to try.

… my absolute favorite thing, starting around the age of five, was watching discovery channel’s great chefs of the world. seeing alain passard make cassoulet, raymond bland creating cakes and confectionaries, and takashi yagihashi working acrobatics (purpose, no wasted movement, efficiency) with his mind-bending noodles — though i didn’t know their names then, i was mesmerized by the mix of global chefs and of places i could only dream of visiting. a great calm washed over me while watching hands work so confidently with what seemed to me then to be innate skill. seeing the chefs’ agility in the kitchen, the buzz, whisk, stir, and pour, and the little pots was very soothing to me. it was the only time in the day i’d be completely focused. after dinner i would run into our yard to create my own kitchen from twigs, stones, and dirt. i’d collect dried leaves by the handful and sprinkle them onto my tennis racket — my pan. pretending i was in whites, a little great chef, i would shake the tennis racket like i watched the great sauciers do. i imagined the sizzles and the smells.

as i got older, i stayed indoors and traded my tennis racket for an actual sauté pan, and leaves for vegetables and chicken breasts. home alone, i would throw whatever i could find into the pan and cook the shit out of everything, until it was basically sawdust. i was going through the process of cooking long before i had a concept of what went together or how to properly execute it. (kish, 10-1)

hilariously (idk why it’s hilariously, but let’s run with it), it’s thanks to instagram that i found kristen kish last year. i don’t watch top chef or follow it at all, so i had no idea who she was until she started popping up on my instagram explore page and i was like, heeeeeeeey, yer hella cute.

i was excited to learn that she was doing a book, but i was also a little apprehensive because i really didn’t want her to go down the celebrity chef route because, as hypocritical as this might sound, personal brands make me uncomfortable. i don’t like personal brands. i don’t like the falsity they conjure up.

when clarkson potter released the title and cover to her book in january, i started to get more apprehensive because everything about it was too celebrity chef-y for me. to be honest, i still don’t like the title and rarely say it (if you haven’t noticed yet), referring to it as the kish cookbook, and i’m not the biggest fan of the cover as it went to press (the one initially released was more striking and interesting, at least compared to this) (i think they should have gone with what they put under the dust jacket, though — imagine that fish done in foil, the letters pressed into the board in white — can you picture it?! that’s a striking visual that would have stood the hell out).

that said — i do see where the title comes from. kristen kish cooking (clarkson potter, 2017) is a very personal book; it’s one that goes into her history, her inspirations, her food; but it does so in ways that aren’t cloying or overly sentimental or false. the biographical introduction is brief, the headnotes to the point, and her personality comes through, not only in the recipes but also in the photographs, the plating, the design. everything is very clean and polished and refined, and i really liked that kish didn’t shy away from plating her food the way she would in a restaurant. does it look “accessible” to the average home cook? no. but does it have to? no.

the pleasant surprise has been that i have cooked a fair amount from this book and will likely continue to do so, and i am not someone who cooks from cookbooks all that often. i read a whole lot of them, yes, but i can count on one hand the number of books i’ve cooked from. as i was reading her book, though, i kept tabbing recipes that sounded curious to me, things i might like to try, and i loved each thing i made, so i kept going and will keep on going. kish’s food takes time, and it’s not very simple, but it’s well worth the time and work.

if anything, the kish cookbook has made me venture out of my comfort zones and want to try out new things, and it’s taught me that i can trust my instincts. i know generally what i’m doing in a kitchen, and i don’t need to worry about being able to feed the people i love and to feed them well. it used to a point of insecurity for me almost, and i’d feel so embarrassed about my awkward knife skills and my difficulty with seasoning, but, once i started letting go of that and being comfortable in what i can do and branching off from there — that’s really when cooking opened up for me, and this book came at a fitting time when i needed that boost and emotional support.

i love the way carmen maria machado writes about womanhood and queerness like they’re just totally normal parts of life — BECAUSE THEY ARE.

her body and other parties (graywolf, 2017) was kind of a strange book for me because i started off loving it intensely. like, i loved it. i loved her writing; i loved the weirdnesses; i loved how nitty-gritty and disturbing the stories could be. halfway through, though, starting with the long SVU story that should have been half the length it was, the collection started faltering. the stories had interesting ideas but didn’t quite achieve their potential, and they started feeling rushed, not quite fully-developed. i started liking the collection less and less, but the thing is, i’d started off with such an intense love for her body and other parties that, in the end, overall, i still loved the book.


i ended the year with julie buntin’s marlena (henry holt, 2017), which i’m still reading, and this, too, is a novel i’d seen around and wondered about. i admit i wasn’t initially curious because of the cover; i thought it might be a coming-of-age story; and, maybe, it really kind of is — it’s just darker and grittier and less sentimental and sweet than the cover led me to believe.

(i do judge books by their covers. i do not apologize for this.)

i heard julie buntin as part of two panels, though — the first at the brooklyn book festival with jenny zhang and the second at wordstock in portland with rachel khong and edan lepucki — and i had to read her book. buntin is smart, well-spoken, put-together, and i love how she talked about girls, the complicatedness of girls, the pain caused by addiction. in portland, she also read the opening passage from her book, and it’s one hell of an opening passage, and it’s with this that i will finally leave you. thank you, as always, for reading.

tell me what you can’t forget, and i’ll tell you who you are. i switch off my apartment light and she comes with the dark. the train’s eye widens in the tunnel and there she is on the tracks, blond hair swinging. one of our old songs starts playing and i lose myself right in the middle of the cereal aisle. sometimes, late at night, when i’m fumbling with the key outside my apartment door, my eyes meet my reflection in the hallway mirror and i see her, waiting. (buntin, 3)

unruly bodies, unruly lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i became something i wanted to disappear.


01. double cleanse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mine is not a weight loss story.

02. exfoliate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

03. tone and use essence.

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

hence, missha.

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

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

… have i got all that right?

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

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

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

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

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

her parents sound a lot like mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04. apply serum, oil.

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

i'm obsessed with trying to fade my hyperpigmentation.

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

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

skin is that thing we sometimes mark.

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

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

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

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

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

05. moisturize and/or mask.

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

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

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

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

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

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


06. scrub.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07. pack.

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

and here is a massive tangent.

in a recent interview with buzzfeed, sherman alexie says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

so stay.

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

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


a story of a sandwich.

so many of us are reaching out, hoping someone out there will grab our hands and remind us we are not as alone as we fear. (gay, bad feminist, "feel me. see me. hear me. reach me.", 3)

it’s saturday now, you say, where is the thursday post? as it goes, i am in san francisco this week, and, last weekend, i was hit with some bad health news, so i, again, fell prey to poor planning. which is a long-winded way to say that there is no thursday post this week.

that said, though — on tuesday, i landed in san francisco, and my cousin and i went to hear roxane gay speak. it’s always a huge pleasure to hear her; she’s funny, well-spoken, and gracious; and she doesn’t take shit, which was well-demonstrated when a white man brought up milo whatever-his-name-is and asked in that male privilege way how simon & schuster [finally] pulling his book wasn’t an act of censorship.

(for more of gay’s thoughts on that, read her tumblr post here.)

she said many things that were wise and hilarious and thoughtful, and one thing that stuck with me was something she said about symbols. she was asked specifically about pussy hats (the asker of the question had hated them), and gay responded first by saying that she didn’t get them, had thought they meant pussy like vagina and just did not see how the hats looked like vaginas until she was standing in line and saw one from behind and was like, ohhhh, pussy like cat!

she went on to say that symbols are fine, and symbols can be good in that, sometimes, we need them, but it’s important to move past them. it is not enough to wear a symbol, to embrace it without moving into action, into awareness and knowledge. symbols are not inherently bad, but neither are they good, and they are not enough.

that made me think how one of the things to do post election was to wear a safety pin on your clothing to show that you were an ally to marginalized people, and, at the time, i remember thinking that, okay, yeah, fine, maybe the gesture is nice but huh, what, why? (also, who has safety pins just sitting around? can you buy individual safety pins? or do you buy them in a pack and distribute them to friends? and, again, huh, what, why?)

i don’t disregard the meaning behind a gesture, and i appreciated the attempt post-election to make some kind of visible show of support to help mitigate some of the fear that had, overnight, taken over us in new, heightened ways. i appreciated that there was a gesture being made to show us that they, these safety pin-wearers, didn’t need to be feared, but, at the same time, i did wonder if the gesture was more for them than for us, for them to show the world what side they were on.

maybe that’s cynical of me, but maybe here is where my personal experience intersects with all this because the truth is that i don’t give anyone a whole lot of credit for embracing a symbol. in the end, it doesn’t mean that much, and it doesn’t reduce the threats being made on our bodies, our rights, our lives. also, i might be conflating things too much here, but i don’t give anyone credit for his/her intentions. i’m not interested in the intentions behind someone’s actions; i’m interested in those actions and their consequences because the truth is that it doesn’t really matter what anyone’s intentions were when her/his actions cause or contribute to tremendous damage.

we all have history. you can think you're over your history. you can think the past is the past. and then something happens, often innocuous, that shows you how far you are from over it. the past is always with you. some people want to be protected from this truth. ("the illusion of safety/the safety of illusion," 150)

i often wonder where i’d be today had i not suffered over ten years of intentional, routine body shaming.

i wonder if i might have fallen in love and gotten married. (i wonder if i’d have trapped myself in that heteronormative world, having assumed straightness for three decades.) i wonder if i might have graduated college the first time around, gone on to a doctorate program, have an established career. i wonder if i might have had the boldness to take my writing seriously and been published by now. i wonder if i’d be skinny or if i’d look the same or if i’d still have gone on to hate my body and hate myself.

i wonder most about where i’d be in regards to food — would i have gone to culinary school like i wanted once? would i have pursued photography and bought a camera and made a space for myself in food photography or food styling? would i have ventured into food writing? how much time would i have saved had i not felt so ashamed and uncomfortable for so many fucking years for loving food and wanting to know how to cook it and to photograph it and to share it?

i’m not one to spend a lot of time on the what ifs; i think it’s a waste of time to indulge in hypotheticals because it doesn’t matter what could have been when life has progressed the way it has. however, we do have to engage in a fair amount of reflection on past actions, whether as committed by ourselves or by others in our lives, in order to look into the future and change accordingly, to better ourselves and to be better people to those around us.

sometimes, that takes us to uncomfortable places. sometimes, it takes us to places of anger, and i admit that this is something that continues to make me angry: that we will tear down the people we are supposed to love, that we will defend it as being something we did because of love, and that we will never fully understand the extent of the damage we have caused and live, oblivious, to the lives that we have wrecked.

there’s a lot more i want to say about food, about bodies, about shame, and there’s also a lot more i want to say about anger and rage and resentment. there’s a lot i want to say about hopelessness and this general sense of futility, that it doesn’t matter how hard i try to heal or piece myself back together because there is always rock bottom beneath rock bottom, and there is always another blow waiting to fall.

i’m not quite ready to get into it right now, though, this most recent blow that struck me where it just really fucking hurts. i’ve been having a hard time processing it, which means i’ve been at a loss for words, because i’m currently dealing with a whole lot of fury and bitterness slithering constantly just under my skin. i admit that i’m pissed off these days, that i think that none of this is fair, and i admit that i’m letting myself have these little mental temper tantrums because it’s the only way i know how to cope in the immediate present.

one of the things i’ve been learning is not to be afraid of my feelings or of expressing my feelings. saying this is how i feel is not a confession of weakness; it’s a statement of humanity; and it’s a way of saying that here is something that is informing how i am approaching something or someone or some shitty situation. it is a way of saying that i am just a person, and i hurt and flail and cry and laugh and feel because that is what we do as human beings — we feel, we process, we act.

and, so, maybe, here is a story of a sandwich: that tartine is a bakery that i have been wanting to visit for years, that they’ve recently opened a new location with food options, that this is their fried egg and porchetta sandwich. i first saw it on instagram, and i’ve thought about it since because i love food and i live to eat and this sandwich was something for me to look forward to, for me to hope for as i adjusted, poorly, to being back in california.

this sandwich fits into the greater story of me because i have survived this far because of food, because i deal with stress and anxiety and help manage my depression through food. i make pasta; i bake bread; i make pastries. i eat. i lose myself in food, melt inside in happiness at the way a croissant shatters in that perfect way when your fingers press into it to tear it apart, the way an egg yolk bursts open and oozes down a sandwich. i smile from the bliss of a mouthful of juicy porchetta, crispy skin, egg yolk, and arugula. i love the way my fingers are buttery and smeared with chocolate after a croissant has been eaten, so much so that my fingers leave track marks on napkins, faint grease stains on everything i touch.

and it makes me furious that, now that i have finally reached a point where i don’t feel guilty or ashamed of this love, now that i have finally embraced my love for food and banished any self-consciousness in expressing it, the bomb hidden in my genetics has detonated, and my body is taking all this love, turning it into poison, and using it to destroy itself.

bad feminism seems like the only way i can both embrace myself as a feminist and be myself, and so i write. i chatter away on twitter about everything that makes me angry and all the small things that bring me joy. i write blog posts about the meals i cook as i try to take better care of myself, and with each new entry, i realize that i’m undestroying myself after years of allowing myself to stay damaged. the more i write, the more i put myself out into the world as a bad feminist but, i hope, a good woman — i am being open about who i am and who i was and where i have faltered and who i would like to become.

no matter what issues i have with feminism, i am a feminist. i cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. like most people, i’m full of contradictions, but i also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman.

i am a bad feminist. i would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all. (“bad feminist: take two,” 318)

roxane gay!


2016 may 1 at the pen world voices festival:  roxane gay was invited to deliver the arthur miller freedom to write lecture, after which she was joined by saeed jones.  i didn't take notes during her lecture (which was incredible), but i did during the conversation, which was obviously amazing.

saeed jones is a poet and the culture editor at buzzfeed, and he's currently working on a memoir.

saeed jones:  i want to say thank you because your work is about freedom, and it does come at a cost.  and i was wondering -- in moving from an untamed state to bad feminist and, now, to hunger, how have you worked to deal with negotiating the vulnerability [in the undertaking of this offering]?

roxane gay:  every time i write something, i tell myself no one's going to read this.  for a while, that delusion was perfect.  i try to have boundaries about what i will or will not write about, and i allow myself to have responses to criticism about my work.

RG:  when you put yourself out there, you'll be criticized both for your work and how you present yourself.  [...]  i'm constantly trying to work against the way the media tries to represent my work.

RG:  i read a review of hunger ... that i haven't turned in.

RG:  i try to make sure to remind people that i'm not in control of the narrative that's put on my work once it's out in the world.

RG:  i don't mind being someone people can look up to.  i very much respect that.  it's uncomfortable and weird because i'm me.  and i watch a lot of HGTV.  i tweet about HGTV so much that someone from HGTV emailed me.  it's like, oh, now i'm living the dream!

SJ:  something i was thinking about [beyonce's] lemonade -- how she willingly puts herself in the context of generations.  do you see yourself in a lineage of writers who have regarded their body as a text?

RG:  oh, absolutely.  especially toni morrison, the way she writes about the black woman's body.

RG:  one of the challenges of when you're an underrepresented person is that certain people believe that there can only be one.

RG:  money doesn't buy you freedom from pain and from ridicule and from being distorted, and money has never bought a black person freedom from being a target.

RG:  i think it's important to recognize that, when you've achieved a certain amount of respect, that you [have to pay it forward].

RG:  if your creative world is only you ... then you're not very creative.

RG:  first of all, i'm reading because i'm like that's my competition.  [laughs]  but also, you have to be aware of the conversations because you can't be part of the conversation if you don't know what's going on.

SJ:  [white men are] praised as though their offerings are the shoulders upon which civilization rests.  the best praise women get is that, oh, she's following in his footsteps.

RG:  [re:  knaussgard and how his confessional writing is praised as literary genius when it would be looked down upon had he been a woman]  i mean, it's fine -- if you want to read him, do you.

RG:  we have to continue pointing out that the rules are different, and we have to do something about that.  and we're in the problematic position [where women can only be experts on themselves].

[she gave an example of a woman who might be an expert on a scientific field, but, still, she would be told something like, "can you write about that scientific field and menstruation?"]

SJ:  people are eager to say we're in this transformative moment.  we certainly are in a moment of a lot of conversation about diversity ...  do you think things have changed in a way that will matter in a way five years from now?

RG:  not yet.  [...]  why do we keep talking about the problem when we know it's there?  publishing needs to do something about it.

RG:  what's also frustrating is that all the people i know in publishing are great.  so i just don't know where the disconnect is.

SJ:  even in hollywood, it seems like people are smart enough not to go up to actors and ask how to solve problems of race or gender.  they at least go to directors and producers.  if you were to design a better roundtable or panel, what would you do?

RG:  i would not [do that].  [...]  what i would like is for publishers, for the next year, to hire only people of color.  and pay them a living wage.  you can do targeted hires, and i think publishing needs to start doing targeted hires.

RG:  i'm so done with the diversity question.  i'm more interested now in problem-solving and making people feel bad.

SJ:  [asked a question about roxane's willingness to be herself], which we're often told that we can't do if we want to be a successful writer.

RG:  it's a little easier because i get to do more of what i do without having to justify it.  in grad school, i remember reading derrida and lacan and just being like ... ughhhhhh.  and they were brilliant, but no one's going to read them.

RG:  culture exists on a spectrum.  i think that, if we can change pop culture, we can trickle up because trickling down has never worked.  but maybe, when we've changed the culture, people will look and see there's diversity on television [...] and it keeps moving upward.

RG:  i love ina.  she's so amazing.  her hair's so shiny, and she has her perfect little bob, and she wears the same shirt everyday, but it's a different color, and she gets them custom-made but she won't say where.

RG:  i love being open about what i love.

RG:  the best advice i ever got -- i'd just gone on the job market, and my friend told me, "just be yourself because you don't want to have to pretend to be who you were in the interview for the next twenty years."  because academia is forever.  ish.

RG:  these things that people call lowbrow but i call awesome.

SJ:  i know you're still working on hunger --i'm working on a memoir now, too, and it's an incredibly transformative experience.  have you learned anything?

RG:  i think the book forced me to be honest with myself.  [and to realize i needed to change.]  and i don't know what that change is going to look like, but i know that i'm ready.

RG:  it's the hardest thing i've ever had to write, but i think it's also the best thing i've written.  [...]  i think it's the only memoir i'm ever going to write.

[audience Q&As]

RG:  you can't control what other people think.  you just have to do you.  there is literally nothing you can do.  you can [change all you want], but there are people who are going to think of you as stereotypical.  so you're asking the wrong question; you need to ask how you can be more comfortable being you.

RG:  we're not the problem.  the problem is the people who want to do harm.  there is nothing more that we can do to establish our humanity than by existing.

RG:  [re:  kim kardashian's posting of a nude photo -- is it body positivity or what?]  i think it's a marketing ploy.  kim kardashian is one of those people who got famous for doing nothing but being very enterprising.  [...]  of all the kardashians, kim is the most attached to kardashian-ism.

RG:  the only thing you can do to help yourself is to write and to be relentless about putting your stuff out into the world.  the only person you need is you and then you need a little luck.

RG:  it's easier to be who you are than you you've pretended to be.

RG:  [re:  the small, boutique publishing houses that have popped up -- is that a solution to the diversity problem?]  no.  i think that lets big publishing off the hook.

march reads!


fifteen.  allie brosh, hyperbole & a half (touchstone, 2013).

(no quote because i don’t have the book, sorry!  i borrowed it from a friend.)

read this in an afternoon in los angeles, and there were no surprises here — what you see on her blog is what you get here.  the book felt a little long, though; i found my interest significantly waning as i got closer to the end. 


sixteen.  asa akira, insatiable:  porn — a love story (grove press, 2014).

i stormed off set.  it takes a lot to get me that mad, but dan had done it.  i was tired of people trying to tell me the sexual orientation of my boyfriend.  no one was going to tell me my boyfriend was gay anymore.  in an industry where we were so often shunned from society because of our sexuality, you would think people would be more open-minded and understanding.  it made me sick.  ("penis envy")

asa akira’s a porn actress, and she wrote a memoir about, well, being a porn actress, and this was an easy read.  her writing is simple and casual, and she’s very frank and open and doesn’t try to cater to an audience — i got the feeling that she was writing insatiable more for herself than anyone else, though, at the same time, there wasn’t a cloying sense of “this is a diary,” either.

i’ve read reviews/comments about insatiable being shallow or lacking in introspection or deflecting from deeper thought about issues like asian fetishization or homophobia in the straight porn industry or personal things like her family, and i’m torn about this.  on one hand, yes, it would have been interesting if she’d delved deeper, but, on the other, i don’t know — as far as her relationship with her family’s concerned, we aren’t owed that, and, as far as issues in the porn industry are concerned, do we need that — or, from another perspective, why do we require that?

i didn’t feel that the book was lacking much because of the lack of introspection, but maybe that’s because i went into insatiable expecting a fun, breezy read with blunt sex talk.  i will say that i found the last bit (her letter to her future child) a little too flippant and defensive (and most telling, in ways) for me, but, otherwise, i enjoyed it for what it was, a casual memoir by a woman who works in porn and enjoys her work.


seventeen.  joy cho, blog, inc.  (chronicle books, 2012).

authenticity simply means writing in a voice that comes naturally to you, and posting things that you simply want to share with others — not what you think they want to see.  (39)

i picked this up because i spent a lot of the last few weeks thinking about what to do with my blog and wondering how the hell people made money off their blogs and, yes, if i might be able to do something more with my little corner on the internet.  a lot of the stuff about blogging in blog, inc., wasn’t new to me, but i was glad for the chapters about monetizing blogs and what things like analytics or SEOs and such were.  i love cho’s blog, oh joy!, and her sunny, approachable personality is very present in this book, which is also laid out well and designed beautifully and filled with interviews with other bloggers (these were my favourite parts).  in the end, i still don’t know what i’m doing with this blog, but that’s okay — i’m glad i picked this up and have it as a resource.


eighteen.  jonathan franzen, the kraus project (FSG, 2013).

sex looks like nothing or like everything, depending on when you look at it, and it must have been looking to me like nothing in munich, at the predawn hour when you’re finally exhausted by unsatisfied desire and only want to sleep a little.  not until i was back in my clothes and standing on a train platform in hannover, a few hours later, hurling pfennings, did it look like everything again.  (250-1)

this is a book of franzen’s translations of karl kraus, along with annotations and commentary from himself, paul reitter (kraus scholar) and daniel kehlmann (austrian novelist + kraus fan) — okay, so, i’m going to confess to a sort of bad thing and say that i didn’t read all the kraus essays.  :|  i started reading the kraus project when it was published in autumn 2013, but i put it down until march 2015, and i have a habit of not going back to reread things to refresh my memory, so … i never went back to figure out where i’d left off in the kraus essay and merrily proceeded to read all the commentary.

… i’m sorry, franzen.

i thought the kraus project was kind of cool, and i loved the dialogue in the annotations between reitter, kehlmann, and franzen.  there seems to be a deep camaraderie there, which i enjoyed; they approached kraus seriously, thoughtfully, intellectually without being pedantic or teacherly; and i liked how they sometimes build on each other and ultimately created this living, communal project that encourages the reader, too, to engage (yes, even without having read all the kraus).  i found the kraus project to be an interesting experience, and i look forward to revisiting it and maybe giving the kraus essays another go.

also, this was one beautifully designed book.  (cue:  whathappenedwithpurity.)  (and cue:  five months to purity!)


nineteen.  roxane gay, an untamed state (grove/atlantic, 2014).

"it is often women who pay the price for what men want."  (mireille)

read this on oyster books (which i am loving) — i wrote about this in a hello monday post, and i don’t know if i want to expand on it more.  except maybe to say that, wanting better writing does not mean wanting flowery, beautiful writing.  it just means wanting better writing, and i wanted better (much better) writing from an untamed state.  not beautiful writing.  better.


twenty.  miriam toews, all my puny sorrows (mcsweeney’s, 2014).

on the way back to the hospital i thought about my crazy outburst in the parking lot.  it’s my past, i say out loud to nobody in the car.  i had figured it out.  i was sigmund freud.  mennonite men in church with tight collars and bulging necks accusing me of preposterous acts and damning me to some underground fire when i hadn’t done a thing.  i was an innocent child.  elf was an innocent child.  my father was an innocent child.  my cousin was an innocent child.  you can’t flagrantly march around the fronts of churches waving your arms in the air and scaring people with threats and accusations just because your family was slaughtered in russia and you were forced to run and hide in a pile of manure when you were little.  what you do at the pulpit would be considered lunatic behavior on the street.  you can’t go around terrorizing people and making them feel small and shitty and then call them evil when they destroy themselves.  you will never walk down a street and feel a lightness come over you.  you will never fly.  (177-8)

this is a novel about two sisters.  the elder is a brilliant pianist, and the younger is “ordinary” — she’s been twice married, twice divorced, with two kids and a decent (basic?) writing career.  the brilliant pianist is suicidal and wants to die, and her sister struggles to come to terms with this, whatever “coming to terms with this” means — and all of this meant i was, one, instantly interested and, two, intensely wary.

i’m wary of portrayals of depression and suicide because i’m wary of reductive caricatures, a lack of sympathy/empathy, dismissive condescension.  i also generally avoid writing of/by people who’ve lost loved ones to suicide, so i walked into all my puny sorrows with a whole lot of reservation, ready to close the book and move on at any given point.  the voice sucked me in, though — the novel is told by the younger sister, yolandi, and there is so much personality and vivacity in her voice that i couldn’t help but be invested in her story, in her relationship with her sister and mother, in her conflicting emotions and thoughts about what to do for her sister.

toews’ portrayal of suicidal depression is remarkably nuanced and human, withholding in judgment and simply portraying the person within, but, surprisingly, i think i appreciated more how she conveyed the complicated nature of caring for someone who’s suicidal.  yolandi is faced with heavy questions, questions whose answers might have seemed obvious in hypothetical situations but become more complex in the face of her sister’s real desire to die, and her grief, too, is complicated, not a static thing but one that goes through cycles and emotions, rage one instant, deep sorrow the next, normality in yet another.  it’s this humanity that grounds the novel and pulled me in and left me at the end satisfied, even though the book did go on a little long.


twenty-one.  alice munro, the beggar maid (vintage, 1991).

the most mortifying thing of all was simply hope, which burrows so deceitfully at first, masks itself cunningly, but not for long.  in a week’s time it can be out trilling and twittering and singing hymns at heaven’s gate.  and it was busy even now, telling her that simon might be turning into her driveway at this very moment, might be standing at her door with his hands together, praying, mocking, apologizing.  memento mori.  (“simon’s luck,” 173)

i also wrote about the beggar maid in the same hello monday post linked above, and i don’t know if i want to write more about it here.  i’m not being lazy, i swear — i honestly don’t have much to add to it, which leaves me feeling conflicted and leads me to …

it’s been a weird reading year thus far.  i find myself hungry to read constantly, and i’ve been reading a lot and consistently, but, while i’ve been having several strong, intense reading experiences, i’ve found much of my reading kind of falling away from me once i’m done.  an untamed state was like that; the beggar maid also fell away from me once i’d completed it; and hyperbole and a half, too, had zero sticky factor (though i wasn’t much surprised by that, to be honest).  i’ve admittedly found it a bit discouraging, that i can be so invested in a book while i reading it, only to emerge from it and essentially forget about it.

though that wasn’t the case with the beggar maid, so maybe i should have brought this up after writing about it …

to be honest, if i hadn’t been reading the beggar maid for book club, i wonder if i would have finished it.  it’s not that i don’t see the merits in munro’s writing, but there’s a staticity and flatness to her stories that wear me down and leave me wanting more.  i thought about marilynne robinson when i was reading the beggar maid, and particularly of lila, how there’s a provinciality to robinson’s gilead, too, but how robinson’s stories feel bigger than that, seem to encompass so much more and transcend the narrowed focus of her characters and stories.  i don’t think it’s a novel versus short story thing because i still found much of the beggar maid static, but i wonder if it isn’t a tone thing because there was a distance to munro’s writing in the beggar maid, a lack of connection that kept me at arm’s length from rose and made me see her more as a series of actions/movements than an emotive, expressive person.

which isn’t to say that all characters should be emotional or expressive, just that i couldn’t get a gauge for anything below the surface or the sense that rose was simply a quiet, reserved woman or even that she was suppressing things.  she was simply there on the page doing things, so there wasn’t much there for me to hold onto as a reader.  i do like munro’s writing, though; it’s quite lovely.

april thus far has been a great reading month.  selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed has given me plenty to mull over, and the book of strange new things haunted me for days (and still fills me with despair when i think about it).  the ghost network was loads of fun and excitement (though let’s see about the sticky factor), and i’m absolutely loving the faraway nearby (and can’t wait to acquire/read a field guide to getting lost next) — and i’m not sure where i’ll go after that, so we’ll see!

as always, thanks for reading!