[seattle] take heart, take care.

so, while i'm in seattle, i meet up with a friend, and we talk about a whole lot of things, one of which is self-care. i feel like self-care has become this trendy word, this idea that's being thrown about casually — or maybe not so casually — it just sometimes feels that way because it usually leaves me wondering, okay, so what the hell is self-care?

what does it look like?

self-care is important, though. it's important and crucial that we learn to care for ourselves, that we nurture ourselves and are kind to ourselves, but words are words, and theories are theories, and the question comes down to, how do we practice that then?

again, what does it look like?

we exist in a culture that's all about constant motion, one that likes to chart progress and success like they're quantifiable things. we should hit certain milestones in our lives at certain ages, and we should always be moving forward, always going on to the next thing, always moving up and up and up. we should always be running; to be still is to falter — it is to fail.

it's a pervasive mentality. there was this horrible ad i saw once on the bart in SF, and it had something to do with being a doer, and being a doer meant that you never slept, drank coffee for lunch, were aways on the hustle. the ad made all this sound positive, like it was desirable, like, if you weren't a doer in this crazed sense, then you would never amount to much — you were already a failure; you weren't a doer; you were a nothing, no ambitions, no drive, no potential.

and i thought how stupid that was, how inane, how damaging. i thought how stupid it was that we live in a culture that's so fixated on the go go go, so obsessed with the idea of motion that it'll willingly and masochistically fester in this deception that motion is the same as productivity, that motion is some kind of measure with which to determine someone's skills or passion or determination.

it irritates me because it feeds into this idea that there is one way to be. success must look a certain way; ambition must exhibit in a certain way; and we must fit into our assigned narratives and hit all the milestones that will lead us on the path to a good, meaningful life.

the fundamental problem with that, though, is that there is no such thing as one way to be. there is no one life to live. there is no one "good" and "meaningful."

the more fundamental problem with that is that there is no one kind of human in the world. we're all different, and we come in different shapes and sizes and styles with different ambitions and dreams and passions, and we come in different bodies.

we come with different brains.

that means that we come with different limitations, different priorities, different wants, and that further means that we come with different skills, different abilities, different strengths. like, my weaknesses might be that i’m shit with organization and ascertaining the most direct route to any task, but my strengths are that i can think out of the box, have a strong visual eye and creative perspective, and am flexible, able to adapt and change and run with it, whatever “it” is. i might have issues with maintaining strict order (or, uh, following it), but i can solve problems and come up with creative solutions. if my weaknesses are others’ strengths, then my strengths are others’ weaknesses.

and that is crucial, i believe, and that is where i’ll always argue against the idea that there is one “right” or “best” way to be. there are many “right” and “best” ways to be, and there are so many ways that we all contribute to society. we can’t all be hyperactive “doers,” just like we can’t all be corporate ladder climbers or artists or stay-at-home parents. we can’t all be planners, and we can’t all be accountants, and we can’t all be musicians.

however, we all need each other for society to thrive, and we need to respect that we are all different, that we have different needs, that we have different ways of hustling and struggling and persevering — and i’m feeling kind of blah about this post so far because i feel kind of preachy, but i don’t know — this has been sitting on my chest, and i wanted to get it off.

in seattle, we eat really great sushi.

a few random things, then, i suppose:

i like staying at the w because i like that their toiletries are sourced from bliss. i love the smell of bliss products, how clean and not cloying the scent is, and i love the quality (except for the conditioning rinse; that does nothing for my hair) — but, more than that, i like that i can sample bliss products because, body butter withstanding, i still can’t commit to purchasing any of them.

i always hate that hotels give you bars of soap, though. who uses a whole bar of soap? unless it’s during a super extended stay? it feels like such a waste. can you recycle soap?

seattle is supposed to be a coffee town, but i don’t drink a single cup of seattle coffee there. or maybe i do — i’m not sure where little oddfellows in the elliott bay book company sources its beans from, but i don’t go to any “iconic” seattle coffee shops, nor do i try any of their roasters, nor do i have any coffee that blows me away.

part of that is time and laziness. part of that is also that i’m still thinking about the beans i brought back from reykjavik and wishing i could find those again … those were damn good beans.

next time i go to seattle, i’ll drink more coffee.

i think it’s adorable how frequently animals seem to factor into the names of eateries in seattle. you’ve got the fat hen, the wandering goose, general porpoise, the walrus and the carpenter, etcetera etcetera etcetera. i love it.

going back to self-care, though — i’m still working on it. i’m still working on figuring out what it looks like — and, specifically, what it looks like for me. i’ve figured out a few things, like, that learning to be kind to myself is learning to be okay with myself, to remind myself that, hey, i’m okay right now as i am, flaws and all. that taking care of myself means listening to my body, my brain, and knowing when to take an easy day and when to be more ambitious. that self-care ultimately means balance; it means trial and error; and it means having bad days and having good days and not attaching more to either than necessary. a good day is a good day, and a bad day is a bad day, but they are all days to get through, to survive, and that is what we strive to do — to get through, to survive, and, hopefully, to thrive.

[seattle] you.

there are ghosts of you all around this city. there are ghosts of you all around many cities, places you've been, places you've lived, places you’ve never been, and, as i turn these corners, i wonder where you went, where you ate, where you slept. who were the people with you? who are they today?

who are you today?

and so it is that we populate the worlds in our heads, and i'm actively thinking of a story while in seattle. it's not a story specific to this city but one i've been letting percolate somewhere in the recesses of my brain for over a year now because, last february, i launched a web project that sought to marry fiction and food. while that fizzled out, like many projects, especially those in first iterations, inevitably do, it twisted and mutated into another idea, which twisted and mutated into this idea, fed and developed by the content i've been creating for this site.

and so it is they say that it's only in the doing that we learn. no project turns out the way we planned when we walked into it; we change, and we grow, and we evolve; and with us goes our work. it’s what makes work simultaneously so exciting and so maddening, the constant do-overs, the impossible standards we set for ourselves, that we strive to meet over and over and over again. we tell ourselves, the point isn’t to meet these impossible standards; the point is to try. the point is to get close.

the point is to do the work and trust that it will take us somewhere good.

but, anyway, the point is that i'm thinking about this story as i'm in seattle, and it's a love story, and it's about you. it's about place and travel and food. specifically, it's about place and travel and eggs, and it's a story i'll shoot images for, images i've had sitting in my head since last february, images i know i'll shoot again and again and again until i get them right.

because that is work — that is the work i do, and that is the work i will continue to do until my brain or my heart gives out on me, whichever goes first.


one thing we learn is that nothing is truly wasted work.

in the last few months, there were weeks when i'd take a photograph of every egg on toast variation i made in the morning, and that's content that will likely never leave the privacy of my hard drive, but it's not for nothing.

i mean, there are so many photograph stories sitting on my hard drive that i labored over, that i shot multiple times, that will also never see the light of day, but that's not all for nothing either. we create and throw away, like, ninety percent of everything we do, and we do that over and over and over again with every new project we begin. it's the nature of the work; it's that process of learning and discovery that brings value to it.

sometimes, i wonder if that’s just something i’ve learned to tell myself to mitigate some of the frustration that comes with so many drafts, so many hours and words and images. as i’ve learned, though, life goes that way, too — like aaron burr sings in hamilton, we rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes — and, yeah, sure, we could look back at certain moments of our lives, certain decisions, and think, oh, what a waste; oh, the time i could have saved.

however, we would not be the people we are today had we not gone blundering through life the way we did. we would not be who we are without the heartache, the disappointments, the years spent meandering and deliberating and starting down the wrong paths. we would not be who we are without the people in our lives, the people who were in our lives, and we can lose time regretting the past if we want, or we can keep moving, keep going, keep bettering ourselves.

where did you come from? how has your heart been broken? what is this story i am trying to write?

in seattle, i go to a cafe (general porpoise), and there’s a couple on line ahead of me, and they’re selecting a filling for doughnuts. one is ordering coffee, while the other decides which doughnut they’ll eat, and there are five flavors offered — two seasonal, three permanent — and the lady behind the counter is talking about each flavor, saying, we just launched strawberries and cream this week, and it’s really good.

the one selecting the doughnut flavor says, it sounds good, but i’ll go with chocolate. it’s his favorite flavor.

i think about you.

but, anyway, so, there are ghosts of you all around this city, and there are ghosts of you all around my mind. sometimes, you're one type of human, and, other times, when i'm in a different mood, you're another kind, but, at all times, i think you're one and the same because that's what we are as humans, shape shifters, strange and contradictory to behold when seen in parts, in moments, but whole and complex and full when taken together.

i like this complicated you.

i like meeting people off the internet, and i'll rarely (if ever) turn down an invitation by an on-line friend to meet up in person.

at first, there was a fair amount of anxiety involved, a fear that i would be "discovered" not to be as smart, as clever, as well-read as i might seem on-line. i still juggle that kind of anxiety, and, sometimes, i think i'm not cool enough, not personable enough, not articulate enough. i wonder why anyone would want to meet me, why anyone would want to befriend me (this is something i’ve been working on), but i like meeting people, so i go, and i hope for the best.

last weekend, in los angeles, i meet a woman from the boston area, and we sit and talk about boston and brooklyn and books. we talk about places we like to eat, books we’re reading, things we miss about brooklyn. we talk about career changes and phds and future plans. we talk about traveling. we talk for longer than i think we might, and the time goes quickly, and we say, let’s do this again. let me know if you’re in brooklyn for the brooklyn book festival.

what would we talk about?

in seattle, i meet up with a friend from new york who moved to seattle for school last year. the last time i saw her was in june 2016 when we went to hear roxane gay together, and we’ve been keeping in touch via email here and there, which in and of itself is a personal feat for me. i’m terrible at keeping in touch with people, just like I’m terrible at answering emails in a timely manner or replying to comments, like, ever, so, for me, one of the coolest things about the last six months has been how many of my friendships haven’t been lost to distance.

we talk over food, share what we’ve been learning in the last year, and we talk about asian-americanness and the diversity of that experience. we talk about personal challenges, personal growth, personal struggles, and, afterwards, i go over to her apartment and dabble in art projects and chat with her flatmate and classmate.

and i think how nice all that is, how refreshing, how much i miss this. i miss my community in new york city; i miss my book club; i miss my friends. i miss all the literary events; i miss the easy access to beautiful, wonderful bookstores; and i miss feeling like a part of something.

and i think about how i’m trying to chase that here in los angeles. my online book club gives me a whole lot of joy; i go out and meet people whenever i can; and i go to readings, not as many or as frequently as i would back home, but maybe more selectively, more intentionally. i engage with people on instagram as much as i can; i look forward to growing these connections, to growing this space, to being more open and communicative and productive.

and i think about you.

when traveling, i have different approaches to different cities when it comes to food.

sometimes, i have a city earmarked in my head as a place i want to visit because i have specific places i want to eat already (i.e. charleston), and, sometimes, i have just a general idea of what i want to eat but not where (i.e. new orleans). sometimes, as with seattle, i have no idea about anything.

i do some googling before we leave for seattle, and i make a few reservations, one of which is at joule. (i’ve become a reservation maker.) (fun fact: i hate queueing for food. like, i love food, but i will not wait ridiculous amounts of time for it.)

the idea of joule appeals to me because it’s by a korean-american chef doing different things with korean flavors, and i’m always interested in that. i love seeing what asian-americans are doing in general, how we’re all negotiating our relationships with our heritage and ethnicity and how we’re all doing so in different ways, demonstrating the many various ways of being asian-american on a broad, wide spectrum. i find that more and more to be such vital work.

i don’t know that i love my meal at joule, but i appreciate it. the short rib is fantastic, marinated like kalbi and cooked a perfect medium rare, and i love that it comes with gochujang and grilled kimchi. i love the chilled black sesame noodles, how it fuses something korean with something vietnamese, an herb and flavor i can’t quite pinpoint that bring a freshness to the dish and make me think of vermicelli noodle bowls.

everything is too salty, though, but i think i have a palate that is simply more sensitive to salt because, to be honest, most dishes taste too salty to me, and i know my own cooking tends to use less salt because i’m sensitive to it. i bloat easily, and a salty meal puts me in a daze, sends me right to sleep, no amount of caffeine able to counteract it.

if we were to eat a salty meal or one laden with MSG, i’d fall asleep on your shoulder within an hour.

what is this story i’m trying to write?