[cdmx] i'll be back for you again.


i’ve been sitting on this post for weeks because i’ve been trying to come up with words to pair with it, but, you know, sometimes, photos tell their own story, too.

and, besides, this is a space that’s visual, too, that’s as much about photos as it is words, so here are a bunch of photos from mexico city because i went to mexico city in august and totally, completely fell in love.

i’ll definitely be going back — and exploring more and more of mexico, too.


[AK] now, where were we?

hi. i’m sorry i’ve been away. and that i disappeared after that last post, no checking in even to say that, hi, i’m okay, i’m still here, i’m doing better.

i’ve been neglecting this space, and that hasn’t been intentional. the summer has been a difficult but busy one, and it’s been a fruitful, productive one. i’ve been taking a memoir workshop online through catapult, and, every wednesday evening, my heart has been swelling with gratitude and love because i’m in a great cohort, and this has been an exciting journey overall, this whole foray into creative non-fiction, which also just wouldn’t have been possible without this blog space and without instagram.

there are changes afoot, though.

two weeks ago, i set my instagram to private and transitioned a different instagram account into a public one. i’m changing the way i approach content here in this space, though i don’t know yet what that will look like — or, really, more accurately, what that will read like. the new public instagram will focus mostly on books, some food and travel scattered in there but primarily books; i wasn’t planning to keep a public instagram page again yet; but i want to continue advocating for great books and, particularly, for great books by asian diasporic writers and that requires a public space.

i do want to transition this space away from the largely, intensely personal and shift gears a little to focus more on books and travel. that doesn’t mean the personal will disappear because i don’t believe it’s really possible to write well about books and travel without the personal, but i don’t know quite how i mean to practice any of that, just that things are shifting and changing, and that’s exciting and scary and, frankly, necessary.

so, let’s talk books — or let’s talk reading.

i haven’t been reading that much this year because the reality is that i just don’t have as much time and energy for reading as i used to. this summer, particularly, has been a busy, agitated one. my boss at work has been giving me more to do, having me take accounting classes online, so every single day is incredibly disheartening and challenging because i feel dumb as rocks at work. i know i’m not dumb; i have a good brain; but it is not one that does well with financial or economic concepts, which is somehow not acceptable to admit, coming from a world where the mindset is don't ever give up on things we deem worthwhile and "practical," even if you destroy yourself in the process. i think a lot about that quote that says something about putting a fish on land and it’ll think it’s a fool because it can’t walk — i feel like that, and i feel like that every single goddamn day because i’m constantly reminding myself, you’re not dumb, you’re not dumb, you’re not dumb. just because you don’t get accounting doesn’t mean you’re dumb. it's okay not to get this shit and admit that.

it’s too bad i waste so much brain space and energy every day.

that’s one reason i haven’t been reading much.

the other reason, though, is a much better one — i haven’t been reading much because i’ve been writing. i’ve been trying to write.

earlier this summer, i finally launched my food zine, the things left behind, and i post to that twice a month. i’ve been trying to figure out how to do an accompanying newsletter to that. i’ve been editing an essay that looks like it might have a future (omg!). and, like i mentioned earlier, i’ve been taking a memoir writing workshop, which means … i’ve been writing a memoir-in-essays.

all that pretty much explains why this space has gone neglected for so long. i feel bad because my last post was pretty intense, though i don’t feel bad for posting it, for filling it with sadness and anger and fury at a judgmental, condescending world that takes lives. i do feel bad because it’s a heavy thing to leave at the top of a page for so long, to leave without following up to say, hey, i’m okay. i’m still here. i went through a bad depressive, suicidal episode earlier this summer, but i got through it with my puppy, my therapist, my meds, my people, and social media.

and so we go on.


i went to alaska this summer, and i’d intended for that to be my “comeback” post, but it just won’t write. alaska was beautiful, and the trip was fine, but it was also complicated in the way that personal shit is complicated, and there was an ugly dramatic lead-up to the trip that didn’t need to happen.

i also wanted to write about that bullshit SCOTUS cake decision, but i haven’t been able to sit down and parse through my feelings and write down my arguments in a cohesive way.

i also wanted to write a post about glossier and skincare and beauty … but, again, these words haven’t been coming, and i haven’t been able to sit down and try to find them, not when i’ve already been doing the emotionally intensive act of writing a memoir. and so i’ve been thinking — how can i best use this space? what sorts of stories should i tell here?

i’m drafting this in mexico city, and i’m here for a few days. i’ve been looking forward to this trip for months, making lists of things to eat and bookstores and libraries to visit, and i was hoping for it to be a full-on creative holiday, except i couldn’t finish my accounting coursework, so i’ve had to bring it with me. i’m not happy about that, but i didn’t get to it in the lead-up to this trip because i was writing — i have the structure of this memoir-in-essays scaffolded, and i have a few pieces drafted, and it’s in the hands right now of my catapult cohort. i was also working on my posts for my food zine. both these things were due the day or two before my flight, and i’m stupid proud of how much writing i did, how much my output can be.

anyway, so, i’m in mexico city, and i have my accounting coursework that i’ll do in the evenings with beer and mangoes and snacks, and, to be honest, i’m typing out this last bit of this post on the flight in. i’m planning on checking in at my airbnb and going straight for tacos and churros, maybe making a quick pitstop first for water and mangoes at the market that’s supposed to be across the street from my airbnb.

the next few days will hopefully be a blur of food and architecture and colors, all of which i can’t wait to share. it’s a good opportunity to figure out how to tell stories of travel.

i’m doing a fair amount of traveling this fall actually. in two weeks, i’m home in brooklyn for the brooklyn book festival, then i’m planning on hopping up to the bay area at the end of september or in early october. i’ll be in austin at the end of october for the texas book festival and then in portland for 36 hours for the portland book festival. my family’s going for either our usually extended family gathering in baltimore or a smaller extended family gathering in boston during thanksgiving, and that’s a trip that was going to end in boston, anyway, so, wherever the family gathers, i’ll be in boston for a few days at the end of november.

all of this travel is only made possible by the fact that my mum has kindly given me many of her miles and points. and hurrah for airbnb and friends who so kindly let me crash on their spare beds!


nix what i wrote above — i’m writing this last bit of this post in a cafe, and my phone has 5% battery left, and i need to make sure to have enough to get back to my airbnb. i slept like shit last night, partly because of an uncomfortable bed, partly because i don’t sleep well in new places in general, partly because i just don’t sleep well in general. apparently, the altitude here makes sleep harder, too.

this isn’t supposed to be a post about CDMX, though, so maybe i’ll just end things here. or maybe i’ll throw in some book talk while i’m here and while i’ve got you because i have been reading, just very little and not as often.

i read porochista khakpour’s sick (harper perennial, 2018) on my flights to and from anchorage, and it was my online book club’s pick for july. i’m afraid to report that i didn’t love it, that i tried hard to love it but couldn’t, found it fairly shallow and hard to track sometimes because there's a lot in there and because all of khakpour’s boyfriends sound like the same person — he’s always white, always privileged, always has some familial connection to lyme. i did love the rare moments when khakpour becomes more reflective and offers thoughts on her experience instead of simply relating her experience — though, yes, i acknowledge and agree that there is huge value in a woman simply narrating her experience with chronic illness and with being a woman with chronic illness, her physical pain dismissed unless it is somehow linked to the psychological.

that said, i’m not the biggest fan of memoirs that are just narrative tellings because i personally look for more. i want self-reflection, self-awareness, and maybe that’s a lot to ask for, but i wonder what the purpose is in a memoir otherwise — memoirs that simple recount narratives and focus entirely on one’s self feel often like navel-gazing, which maybe sounds more cynical than i actually intend. and, also, which is not something i necessarily think khakpour is doing in sick.

i also recently finished sakaya murata’s convenience store woman (grove, 2018), which was short but so, so smart, deftly capturing the workings of a japanese conbini and commenting on japanese society overall. i don’t know how other people have been reading this novella, but i found it pretty uniquely japanese, that, while there is a universal application, maybe, to the points murata makes, she is specifically addressing japan, directing her criticism to that society.

personally, i find books like convenience store woman and, even, han kang’s the vegetarian interesting because they’re books in-translation and they read (to me, at least) as fairly unique to their respective societies and cultures — and that’s interesting because, clearly, someone in the west found them interesting, too, connected with something, though, sometimes, i wonder if that’s more to do with exoticism and that sense of the Other, which, again, maybe sounds more cynical than i actually intend.  i find there’s a shit-ton to explore when it comes to translation; there’s so much we should question about how books are chosen and decided upon and who these gatekeepers are.

i mean, we should be examining that shit all the time, even when it comes to the books we’re reading that don’t go through the additional hurdles of translation. there’s a reason mostly dead white men are the authors of books we’re taught are “classics” and “the greats," and that's bullshit.

i've also been reading nicole chung’s forthcoming memoir, all you can ever know (catapult, forthcoming 2018), but i haven’t finished it yet because i’ve been sitting on the last twenty pages. i don’t want this book to end because nicole’s writing is just so full of heart and love and wisdom and grace, and i’ve been going around saying this all over social media, but i’ll say it here, too: if you read one book this year, let it be all you can ever know. it is just so. freaking. good.

there are other books i’ve been reading recently that i could talk about, but i think i’ll give my thumbs a break and leave y’all with photos from alaska instead. i wanted to have longer posts about alaska, but i unfortunately keep coming up blank. there will hopefully be a few mexico city posts, though — if anything, there will be quite a few added to the food zine!


take my breath away.

something i’d love to do more in my near future is travel internationally.

my list is always changing; i want to go back to japan, backpack through vietnam, road trip around korea in the autumn. i want to go to london, edinburgh, brighton, make a pilgrimage to where plath is buried and experience the moors that inspired the brontë sisters. i want to go to barcelona — oh! barcelona! — and copenhagen and berlin, and i want to go to johannesburg, cairo, marrakech.

and that’s only the tip of my list.

for now, i try to narrow my list, focus on priorities — where do i want to go first? i’d like to go back to japan within the next twelve months, and i’d also like to go to london in the next twelve months, too. i’d like to go to spain in the next twenty-four — and vietnam (and maybe singapore and malaysia while i’m down in that part of the world) — and all of this still feels impossible and unattainable because (01) money and (02) time and (03) money.

i can’t complain too much, though. i’m going to mexico city in august.


in 2012, i went to japan for the first time and spent three weeks backpacking on my own. it was my first solo international trip, and it was the first trip i paid for all on my own, saving up months of shitty below-minimum-wage law office wages and sitting on those funds for the following academic year, refusing to touch that money because it was going to be for japan and the two weeks i was planning on spending in korea after.

i planned and arranged the trip myself, at least as much as i plan or arrange anything. i called a korean travel agency to book the cheapest flights i could, and i blocked out my days, planned out my cities. (a year later, i'd get these cities tattooed on my wrist.) i made reservations for hostels for my first few nights in tokyo, purchased my JR pass, bought a ticket to the studio ghibli museum. i learned how to get cash at the 7-11 ATMs using my usual bank of america debit card. i got books on japan, read them, marked up what i wanted to see.

all the planning in the world can’t exactly prep you for the realities of traveling, though, and especially of traveling alone in a country whose language you do not speak.

all that said, i am not a planner. i like flexibility, and i tend to make a plan so i’ll have something to fall back on, not so i’ll have a plan to follow. i booked hostels a few days in advance, so i could have the flexibility to, say, stay in sapporo a few more days instead of heading down to kyoto because i loved hokkaido so much and wanted to do more exploring. i often had no set plans for anywhere except to take stupidly long walks, eat all the food i could, and just soak everything in. i spent a fair amount of time in cafes, drinking matcha frappes and writing in my travel journal and working on a story.

that’s not to say that i didn’t go to museums or shrines or whatnot — i did my fair share of sightseeing — but maybe the thing i’ve realized about myself is that i love the meandering part of traveling. i’m not a frenetic see-everything-i-can-because-i’ll-never-be-back sort of traveler. and i know that’s because of two things: (01) i recognize that i can’t see everything, anyway, so i don’t see the point in burning through energy that way, and (02) i have enough privilege to have some measure of faith that i will be able to come back someday.

it took me a good week to get used to traveling alone, and i still don’t think fondly of tokyo because of how overwhelming those first few days were. i cried quite a few times, in a cafe in shinjuku station, on the train, in a bathroom in a hostel, cried because i was lonely and wanted someone to talk to. there’s nothing like traveling to make me wish i had a partner, someone to travel and see and eat the world with, and i think that sentiment really started when i was in japan alone, feeling my aloneness pressing in around me.

and yet — i’d do it all over again. i’d travel alone again, no question about it. i learned a lot about myself when i was in japan, and i learned a lot about my ambitions, my dreams, my goals. i learned a lot about my curiosities. i learned a lot about my fears, too, and my failings.

when you’re stuck with just yourself for three weeks, you have to look yourself in the eye.


the truth is that you can’t talk about travel without talking about money, about privilege. i don’t mean to imply that you need to be swimming in money (or privilege) to travel because you don’t, but that doesn’t mean that travel and money/privilege don’t go hand-in-hand.

practically, travel requires dispensable income. it requires being able to take time to take vacations. it requires having enough access to extra money and leisure time that a passport is worth its $110 fee.

i recently had to renew my passport, and the process was simple and no-nonsense, yet it reminded me so much of my privilege. it was simple to get passport photos taken, to fill out the form, to send in the $110 fee with my form and about-to-expire passport, and the only thing i worried about was that it might get lost in the mail, this old passport or the new one i’d receive.

and then there’s the fact that “the united states of america” emblazoned on my passport still affords me a certain degree of safety, and then that the possession of a passport of my home country means that i don’t have to be afraid to cross borders because i know that i’ll have no problems re-entering the US. i’m free to complain all i want about how long it takes to enter my own goddamn country.

i used to take it so much for granted, though. i got my first passport some time around middle school when my parents wanted to take me and my brother to korea for the first time, and, of course, at that age, i wasn’t thinking about anything at all, just that we were going to korea and we were going to see our grandparents and that was kind of it.

i don’t remember much about that first trip either, except that it was cold (it was december) but there was no snow (not until the day we left) and we couldn’t find clothes that fit me because my limbs were too long. i remember walking to my grandparents’ apartment in ilsan with my brother and being stopped by an elderly gentleman who kind of meanly wanted to know what language we were speaking (english).

i remember going to dinner with a bunch of relatives i didn’t know, and i remember them watching the way i used chopsticks. you’re not supposed to cross your chopsticks; we call it “애기 젖가락, ae-gee jeot-ga-rak” for “baby chopsticks” because, when you get older, you’re supposed to use them the proper way, chopsticks held parallel, the bottom chopstick held in the cradle between your thumb and index finger, the top maneuvered by your index and third fingers. it’s easier to eat that way, to pick up granules of rice. i came back to the states, shamed and determined to learn the proper way. i couldn’t demonstrate what baby chopsticks look like to you anymore.


a passport doesn’t mean you always feel safe, though, just like you don’t have to cross international borders to feel the color of your skin or the gender you present or the sexuality you do or do not demonstrate. often, the most uncomfortable spaces i find myself in are comprised mostly of korean-koreans or korean-americans because those are the spaces that often remind me that i am neither/nor, that i occupy some liminal space in-between. the city in which i’ve felt the most uncomfortable is charleston; i’ve never before been so acutely aware of my asianness; and i go to a lot of book events. i still can't shake the oddness of being in a city, a region, where plantations are being whitewashed and romanticized as beautiful wedding venues when they were run by slavers, maintained by slaves who were brought here to this country, traded like animals, and refused basic, decent humanity, all of which continues to have real-life consequences today.

and i don’t think i’ll ever forget standing in a biscuit shop, asking the white woman behind the counter what i should see while i was there and having her respond, as friendly and cheerily as could be, that there were all these nice, artist stands at the old slave market, not blinking an eye at the bizarreness of that statement.

the confederate flag flew over the south carolina state capitol building until 2015. nine african-american churchgoers had to be slaughtered for people to reckon with the disgusting racism and history that flag represents.

when i talk about travel, i don’t mean to sound snooty, and i hope i don’t come across that way. i don’t book travel easily, and my prioritizing of travel means that i don’t indulge on other nice things — i don’t buy nice clothes or expensive bags, and i’m agonizing right now over a $60 moisturizer (damn you, drunk elephant). i buy more books than maybe i should, but i buy most of them for discounts (without resorting to amazon or book depository, if i can help it), and i don’t eat out at fancy restaurants more than a few times a year. (i do occasionally splurge on a nice kitchen item, maybe once or twice a year.)

when i travel, i don’t stay in hotels, opting for airbnbs (aiming for $50 at most a night, usually coming in at $30-40) and crashing with friends whenever i possibly can. i don’t mind hostels at all, though i do definitely spend a lot of time scrolling through all the reviews because, while i don’t need luxurious spaces, i do like clean spaces. i try not to take cars, try to walk or take the subway (if available) everywhere. (buses make me so, so motion-sick, so those are a last resort.) (cars make me so, so motion-sick, too, so that's another reason i try to walk.)

because, i mean, sure i’d love to stay at hotels, and i’d love to hang out on resorts, and i’d love to have the option to take lyfts everywhere, motion-sickness be damned, but i don’t have that kind of money and don’t anticipate that i ever will.

i still want to go back to charleston because it is a beautiful city and the food scene is incredible. i wonder what that says about me, if that says anything about me at all, this willingness of mine to walk into spaces that are openly hostile to marginalized people. like, i want to go to singapore, but homophobia runs rampant there. LGBTQ people aren’t given the same legal rights as non-LGBTQ people. same-sex marriage isn’t recognized. it’s illegal for two men to have sex.

i want to go to morocco, and homosexuality is illegal there, too.

i want to go back to korea, but i do not have a body of which korea approves.


the truth is that i was supposed to be in korea for two weeks, but i fled after ten days. i got horrible food poisoning the night before i hauled my ass to incheon to put myself on standby, and i couldn’t even enjoy that airport because even drinking water made me run to the bathroom because of diarrhea.

do not eat shellfish in seoul in august.

as disturbing as this sounds, i’m used to being shamed about my body. i’m used to koreans giving me That Look, and i’m used to being called names, to having my chubbiness and fat pointed out, to being given unsolicited advice about how to lose weight. i’m used to korean waitresses giving me diet tips while they cook my sam-gyup-sahl.

korea takes things to a whole other freaking level, though, and i admit i buckled under it. i noticed all the up-and-down looks strangers would give me as i went up the escalator, stood on the subway, walked down the street. i didn’t bother going near any kinds of clothing shops because i knew what would await me there. i didn’t go into any cosmetics shops, except for once when i was literally hauled in with a friend by the fake-cheery shopgirls outside.

i hated myself for it, for my size, for the humidity and heat that made my already big body swell and retain more water. i hated myself for not having tried harder to lose weight before i came to asia. i hated myself for being so sweaty when all the skinny korean girls around me were walking around in perfect makeup, perfect hair, not a drop of sweat to be seen.

i didn’t gain any weight in japan because of all the walking i did, but i lost weight in korea because i felt so self-conscious eating — and then i got food poisoning, which lasted for a week after i came back to the states.

and, yet, i’d go back. i’d go back to korea in a heartbeat.

maybe the benefit of not speaking the language of the country you’re in is that you aren’t privy to the gossip of people. i speak and understand korean, so i know what’s being said to me, about me, but i don’t speak or understand much japanese, so, if anything was being said, it was beyond me.

i was determined to go to okinawa when i was in japan, and, while i was flying down to naha, i figured i might as well fly further down to ishigaki. in ishigaki, i took a ferry out to taketomi, a tiny little island off the small little island, and i rented a bike, went to find the beach.

it was hot, so hot, and humid, and i didn’t have enough water on me. i also didn’t have an actual map on me, figuring i’d find my way somehow, and i did eventually, parking my bike under trees and walking down the path to the most incredible white sand beach and the clearest, bluest water i have ever seen.

there were families around, but it was mostly empty, and i got a coke from the little truck (a cold soda is so good on a hot and humid day, something about the coldness and the fizz and the sugar) and walked a little ways down to where it was more secluded. i didn’t have a bathing suit or shorts because i didn’t wear bathing suits or shorts then, wanted to hide my body in long-sleeved shirts and long pants, but i rolled my pants up as high as they’d go and waded out to as far as i could go.

i still think about that day. i still want to go back.

when the sun and heat became too much, i went back to my bike, cycled back to the bike place. the owner gave me a ride in an air-conditioned shuttle to the ferry, and, as we waited to board, clouds began to roll in. in japan, in the summer, rain comes in an instant, and, by the time we were back on ishigaki, it was starting to rain, heavy drops slapping against the warm concrete.

i ducked into a random soba shop because it was there, ordered a set of soba with a maguro-don. it was the best meal i had in japan, and i went back the next day and ate the same meal a second time.

(i don’t remember what i took these photos on, but they’re from 2012, and they were not shot on an iphone or on a “proper” camera.)


[DC] the practice of being better.

last week, we fly out to baltimore because it’s thanksgiving, and that’s what we do for thanksgiving — we descend upon my youngest aunt’s house and eat and laugh and drink sangria and hang out with their dogs.

the lead-up to thanksgiving, though, feels like a whole mess of wrongness. usually, my brother flies into JFK and rents a car, and we have lunch with my maternal aunt before driving down to baltimore. he usually takes a red-eye, and i’ve usually been up too late the night before, so he’s usually asleep in the car for the first hour or so, and we usually stop once for coffee and cinnabon and the bathroom. usually, usually, usually — so then there’s the part of me that just feels wrong because this isn’t just usually, it’s how things should be had my life not gone so horribly wrong.

but what’s the point losing ourselves to everything that should have been? lots of things should have been.


or, at least, those are words i tell myself, and that’s all they are — words i tell myself, words i don’t quite believe. 2017 feels an awful lot like a string of words i tell myself — that i will be better, that i will find my way back home, that i will get a job that will be a career that will mean something, that i will do this and be that, that i will still be alive when 2018 dawns, that i won’t have died in california like i’m still so terrified i will.

sometimes, i think it’s strange that i try to make my business be one of words but often find words to be just that — words. other times, i think that makes sense, that being a purveyor of words means that i understand both how invaluable and how empty they can be, that words carry both strength and emptiness depending on circumstance, situation, and speaker. words, like so many other facets of life, are not inherently good or evil — they are what we make them to be, and to try to make them more than they naturally are is to do us all a disservice.

moving on to other things, i suppose.

i’ve been back in LA for all of five days, and i’m already itching to leave again. i’m starting to think this isn’t just plain old wanderlust; it’s rooted in something deeper, something that sometimes feels more sinister because there’s a fair amount of malcontent admittedly woven in there; but, whatever it is, the fact remains that i’ve always been the anywhere-but-here kind of human, the one who’s always had feet that long to carry her away to every corner of the earth and the appetite to try and experience everything.

because, hey, i think the world is this stupidly beautiful, vibrant, interesting place, and i want to learn it all and taste it all and know it all in its madcap diversity. i want to eat everything i can. i want to experience everything i can. i want to walk amongst strangers, hear their stories, and capture all the colors the world has to offer. i want to know how the seasons differ depending on where you are in the world. i want to see how the sky changes. i want to feel the whole spectrum of what there is to feel when you’re aware of being someone different no matter where you are in the world.

because, hey, there’s this, too — that i inevitably move through the world in a way a straight white woman does not and, consequently, that i experience it differently. that the general world of food writing and travel writing bore the shit out of me because they’re both so white, so straight, so freaking boring. that it’s about time that the narrative is shifted, that publishers start seeking out writers of color who don’t fall into clean binaries, that white people stop being allowed to exist under the illusion that they are somehow more qualified to speak for cultures that are not theirs, that they are able to consume and appropriate only because of their whiteness.

and this isn’t something that applies only to whiteness and “exotic” cultures. it’s about time the narrative is given to adoptees, not martyrs of adoptive parents. it’s about time the narrative is given to queer people, trans people, people who identify as non-binary. it’s about time the narrative is given to those who live with mental illness, with depression, with suicidal tendencies.

it’s about time to stop being so goddamn afraid of the Other.

wow, none of this is what i came into this post to write.

this was supposed to be a kind of travel blog, or maybe it is a travel blog — or, at least, an attempt to suss out what travel writing looks like to me and, in connection, what travel means to me.

i think we tend to put travel on a pedestal, to elevate this idea that traveling results in more open-minded people, but i don’t know, i kind of feel about that like i feel about how we put literature on a pedestal, automatically assume that people who read must be more gracious, less provincial, less prone to bigotry and racism and misogyny.

i keep thinking about that essay kevin nguyen wrote last year, and i keep thinking how true it is. just because we’re in the business of books doesn’t mean we’re inherently doing good. just because people read a lot doesn’t mean they think outside of their narrow, ingrained mentality. just because people are well-traveled doesn’t mean they see outside of their bubble; it doesn’t mean they’ve experienced anything outside of what and who they know. travel, literature, whatever other thing we want to elevate — these things can keep us in our comfort zones and ignorance as much as they can challenge us and make us uncomfortable and help us become better people.

the opportunity means nothing unless we have the courage to step out of ourselves while also looking into ourselves and seeing the uglinesses within.


on saturday, we drive out to d.c. 

before we flew out to baltimore, i’d floated the idea of me going out to d.c. for a day because i have friends in the city and i thought i might get restless, stuck in suburban baltimore. i wondered if i could rent a car, was discouraged from it because my brother would probably rent a car and we didn’t need that many cars, and i wasn’t quite sure i’d tag along when my brother and sister-in-law said they were planning to go out to d.c. on saturday.

my little cousin decided she wanted to go, too, though, so off we went. we’d gotten a recommendation for the holocaust memorial museum, so there we went.

the thing that terrifies about the holocaust memorial museum is how prescient it all seems. it’s easy to approach museums as things that stand in record of the past and to put distance between us and those moments in time, like these things happened back then, and back then is removed from now.

and yet — walking through the holocaust memorial museum felt almost like deja vu. watching video footage of nazis walking through city streets with torches felt like seeing images from yesterday because, shit, it was like seeing images from yesterday. just a few months ago, nazis marched in charlottesville, waving torches and shouting white supremacist bullshit. the cheeto was put into office in the same way hitler was, by being a laughingstock no one took quite as seriously as everyone should have until it was too late. the nazis were able to implement their horrible genocide and acts of violence against non-white, non-straight people with the complicit silence of so many ordinary white citizens.

history repeats itself.

maybe the thing that dismays me so much about cheeto voters is that they have shown themselves to be who they are, not only a year ago during the election but also (and maybe more frighteningly) now, a year since. they dig their heels in, defend their choice by saying, i like how he tells it like it is, never mind that he has proven to be as ineffective, incompetent, and dangerous as we always knew he would be.

and maybe there is a kind of reassurance in the i like how he tells it like it is because there is a part of me that would rather look danger in the eye, exposed in all its insidious ugliness than hidden under niceties and illusions. there is a part of me that says, okay, it’s good that the bullshit of we live in a post-racial world that white people loved to spout during the obama presidency has been exposed for being just that, bullshit, that the same people who loved to pat themselves on the back for electing a black president have had to look themselves in the eye, whether individually or as a community, and see that they’re not all that progressive, they’re not all that great, in fact, they’re part of the goddamn problem.

or it could be a good thing, had there actually been that moment of reckoning. self-reflection, though, is too much to ask of most, and no one wants to admit to complicity.

one of the more sobering captions at the holocaust memorial museum came in the section that talked about resistance. this particular caption talked about ordinary citizens, and it ended with the paragraph:

factors such as the intensity of german occupation policies, local antisemitism, and proximity to a safe refuge often influenced the success of rescue efforts. in denmark, 9 out of 10 jews were saved; in norway and belgium about 1 out of 2; in the netherlands, 1 out of 4; and in lithuania and poland, fewer than 2 in 10 survived. when ordinary citizens became rescuers, jews had a chance of survival. (emphasis added)

this isn’t unique to jews during world war ii, either. slaves were able to escape the south through a network of ordinary citizens in america who hid them, ferried them to the next home of safety, fed them, risked their own lives for them. muslims from the countries on the cheeto’s travel ban, especially those who were already on flights when the ban was announced and airports thrown into chaos, were assisted by ordinary citizens who showed up at airports to protest, offer legal and/or interpretation services for free, provide support to families who were anxiously awaiting news of loved ones.

history repeats itself.

and maybe that’s another thing i’ve been learning this year — that we often forget our capacity to do so much even when we’re just “ordinary citizens.” by calling our congresspeople and holding them accountable, we can stand up for each other’s healthcare, for immigrants who risk deportation, for whatever fresh hell the gop tries to shove secretly through the government. by showing up, we can express solidarity for native people trying to protect their land. by donating as much as we can spare, we can help communities ravaged by disasters get basic things like hot food and drinkable water and clothes and sanitary napkins while they try to rebuild and recuperate their losses.

and the key word there is “we.” no one single person saves the world, despite the preponderance of superhero movies in the last decade (and, even then, justice league and avengers, anyone?). no one single person makes a difference. we all do it together, and we don’t do it by just making huge, grand gestures — we often do it by doing the least we can do. we do it by showing up. we do it by donating five dollars. we do it by being present, by keeping our eyes open, by defiantly and intentionally saying, never again.


the main reason i wanted to go to d.c. was to go to momofuku. momofuku ramen isn’t my favorite ramen, although momofuku noodles are my favorite — i love their noodles — but momofuku hits all the nostalgia points in me that makes it one of my favorite bowls of ramen.

unfortunately, ccdc doesn’t have momofuku ramen anymore?!? they have other noodles but not the ramen! and apparently momofuku la might not have the ramen either?!? that makes me sad. i’ve literally been debating a vegas trip just to get some momofuku ramen, and i don’t gamble or go to clubs or enjoy going to shows, so i’d literally be going to vegas just to get some momofuku ramen and that seems kind of exorbitant, even for me.

i just want a taste of home.


[PDX] i'll keep you here.

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

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

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

i will never be here in this moment again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

there is nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thank you for seeing me.


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

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

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

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

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