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.

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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 ourselves 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/their 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.

09-mask.jpg

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.

stay.

[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.

[quinault] green hearts.

i’ve been trying to come up with words to accompany this post, but, for some reason, i keep coming up empty. i feel like i’ve got so much swirling around in my brain right now that i can’t seem to focus, but there’s also this — that, sometimes, the world sweeps you away, and, sometimes, you just need to stop and soak it all in and stop trying to fix particularities to it.

in seattle, we drive two-and-a-half hours to the quinault rainforest and two-and-a-half hours back, and we do some hiking while we’re there, which, to me, feels like getting drunk on color and textures and light, and i think, sometimes, we don’t need to imagine fantastical worlds.

sometimes, we just need to get out and open our eyes.

[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.

sea-tac.jpg

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?

halfway to everywhere.

much, if not all, of what i’ve been creating this year has been in response to these words shared by meryl streep, an attempt to take my broken heart and make it into art.

2017 started off with moving back to los angeles from brooklyn, with leaving home behind and returning to the place i grew up with my tail between my legs, and i came back because of financial difficulties and brain issues that would become body issues that would feed into brain issues. i was suicidal and depressed and anxious, and, as i drove across the country, from brooklyn to DC to charleston to atlanta to new orleans to austin to el paso to phoenix to LA, the fear churning through my brain was simple: that i would die in california, not from getting stuck there and getting old and dying but because the monsters in my brain would drive me to the point of no return.

and, yet, here i am, halfway into the year, alive and present.

it’s a miracle that i am still alive. it’s a greater miracle that i am still alive and doing fairly well, that i am looking to the future and fighting my way back home. six months ago, i didn't think this present me would even exist.

but then it's not a miracle at all because all i've done these last six months is simple: i've taken my broken heart and made it into art.

my mother doesn’t like that i talk so openly about depression and anxiety because she’s afraid of the impact such openness will have on any future prospects, whether professional or personal. i talk about it, though, because i feel i must, because i know how horribly isolating and alone it is to be locked away in your brain, to carry this damage and feel like you’re the only one in your world who must be going through this.

i know how depression and anxiety and ADHD make you feel like a failure, like a freak, like an already washed-up, sorry-ass excuse for a human being who can’t seem to keep her shit together.

i know how that feels. i know how that destroys you from inside out and makes everything worse.

and, so, i talk about it. i talk about it even though i don’t have a “happy ending” to share; i talk about it even though i’m still going through it, even though i still don’t know if i will “survive.” i talk about it in the mainstream, accepted language i hate because depression isn’t something i’ll ever “survive” — it’s something i’ll live with and will struggle with until the end.

and that is okay.

i’ve said it before and i’ll keep saying it, but i’m not a fan of survival narratives. i understand their place in the zeitgeist, and i understand that, sometimes, we need to hear the stories of people who have “made it through to the other side,” who have “survived.” i suppose that, maybe, it’s that, on some level, i don’t understand that because that’s not the way i’ll ever see mental health or trauma or whatever — we carry these things with us, and we can’t mark a clean end to them. the brain rarely compartmentalizes that way.

life rarely compartmentalizes that way, either, and one of the things i’ve been learning is how messy things are. love isn’t simple, want isn’t simple, family isn’t simple. everything is complicated, and, sometimes, it’s contradictory, and, sometimes, it feels like certain elements of things must cancel each other out, though that isn’t the case. maybe that’s vague and ambiguous, but this is something i’m currently thinking about in relation to roxane gay’s hunger (harper, 2017) and trying to put into clearer language, so i suppose we’ll have to wait for me to sit on that a little longer.

anyway, so things aren’t simple, and that’s fine. i was talking to my therapist about how, now that things are relatively stable, i’m running high levels of anxiety because i’m waiting for something to go wrong. she said that that could be an effect of my ADHD, of my being so accustomed to existing in chaos and instability that i’ve learned to embrace it as a coping mechanism, and i thought, okay, that could make sense. no matter how well i organize things, everything erupts into chaos within a day, anyway.

and that, too, is okay, and this is where we go back to my distaste of survival narratives. one reason i dislike them so is that i don’t like why society tends to demand them, this need for something clean and neat and categorizable. it feeds into how society tends to have certain expectations, how it wants to see certain [arbitrary] criteria met to indicate a certain way of being, how it shoves and enforces certain narratives depending on race, sexuality, gender, mental health, etcetera.

because, hey, here’s the thing: just because some of us live with chaos in our brains that might translate into seeming chaos in our lives doesn’t mean we aren’t functioning human beings who deserve respect and contribute our skills to society and thrive in our own ways, on our own terms. and, hey, here’s the other thing: even if we sometimes fall apart, that’s more to do with the fact that we’re human, and we fuck up, and we all have good days, and we all have bad days, and we are not our mental illnesses, just like we are not the color of our skin or our sexuality or our career. and maybe that’s why i talk about my depression and anxiety and ADHD so much. because, yeah, i might not have clear directions about where i’m going with my life right now, but i function well, get shit done, and write and create and think and read and cook and live.

and you know? i am not the only one with mental health issues to do so, and i am really done with the stigma and bullshit and condescension that wrap mental health in shame and inflict so much harm on real human lives. there is a cost for silence, and it is rarely the people enforcing the silence who pay the price.

sometimes, i think that one of my character flaws (i suppose, depending on how you look at it) is that i can’t do the same thing twice. what works for me once doesn’t work the second time (or third) (or fourth), and i suppose you can just look through this site for proof of that. like, for instance, last year, i was fairly diligent about updating my reading as i went along; this year, it has failed completely.

instead, i’ve been blogging more long-form, getting way more personal and open than i ever thought i would, playing with ways to integrate food and cooking. i’ve stopped caring about cordoning myself off into a niche and started intentionally branching off instead, trying to figure out how to integrate all my interests and bring them together. i’ve been thinking a lot about growth and what that looks like.

so here’s a weird transition to books i’ve loved so far this year because, even if i haven’t been regularly logging or reviewing what i’ve been reading, i have been reading a fair amount.

first, we’ve got rachel khong’s goodbye, vitamin (holt, forthcoming, 2017), which will be published very soon, and which i loved. it was the first book i read this year, and i read it while driving across the country and ignoring the various sadnesses exploding within me, and it made me laugh and made me cry and hit all these nostalgic, soft spots in my heart — nostalgia being kind of a theme with me this year because it's also what i loved about yoojin grace wuertz's everything belongs to us (random house, 2017). i did think the ending to everything was kind of weak, but i loved how wuertz tapped into this notalgia for 1970s seoul, which is weird, maybe, because i wasn't even alive in the 1970s, much less in seoul.

and, yet, the novel brought up all these nostalgic feelings for this era and place that i only know through proxy because my father was a student at seoul national university in the late 1970s. he remembers the turbulent times portrayed in wuertz's novel, and i've recently taken to listening to all the stories from his youth (and my aunts' youth) as i can. it's a project i'm trying to figure out, how to travel to each aunt and get her story, because they are stories that should be told and heard, if only because i find them so interesting. they've lived through a lot, first-generation korean-american immigrants. they've seen a lot.

dear friend, from my life i write to you in your life (random house, 2017) is the first thing i read from yiyun li, and it felt like a hug in book form. (i wrote about it here.) and then there was patty yumi cottrell and her fabulous sorry to disrupt the peace (mcsweeney's, 2017) (here) — i love writers who make me imagine new ways of writing and seeing the world and approaching fiction, and cottrell does just that, and she does it confidently, brashly almost, and hilariously. (jenny zhang is another such author; her debut short story collection, sour heart, is being published by random house in september; and you should all read it.)

and then there was bandi's the accusation (grove press, 2017), and this list is a little weird to me because these are all books published in 2017, but i guess, sometimes, i really keep up with contemporary fiction.

the accusation is the first collection of stories published by a north korean writer currently still in north korea. bandi is (obviously) a pseudonym, and the stories were smuggled out of the country, eventually making their way to the south. it's the first book my online book club read, and, hey, that's another cool thing to come from 2017 — this online book club i founded to satiate a need and loneliness, friendless as i am in los angeles.

and, then, finally, there's roxane gay's hunger, and i'd say more about that, but i have a lot i want to say about it, so we'll hold that off for the next post.

this is longer than i'd planned for it to be.

... and yet we keep going.

and, so, now, here we are, at the beginning of july, and the future is a murky unknown. it’s enough for me that the future has light, though, even if i don’t attach much hope to it, and i'm stringing trips into the next few months to keep me going.

next weekend, i’ll be in seattle with my parents. some time at the end of july or in early august or maybe both, i’ll be back in san francisco, hanging out with my BFF and meeting new faces. in september, i’ll be back home in brooklyn, mostly because i want to and mostly because of the brooklyn book festival, the event i look forward to all year, that marks the beginning of autumn and the wind-down to year-end.

i can’t wait to be back home again, to breathe that air and see familiar faces and feel my heart beating in my body again. i can’t wait to feel home again; i can’t wait to feel fully myself again.

and, then, next year, in late spring/early summer, i’m planning on peru, coaxing my cousin(s) to come with me. some time in the next two years, there will be spain because i’m resolved to travel more, to get out more, to see more and eat more and experience more. i’m resolved to pursue new opportunities,to keep playing with form and content here, to finish my goddamn book and push it out into the world and query it and hopefully see it published and do awesome, fun, scary book things.

because this is how i've survived, and this is how i will continue to go on, by taking my brokenness and turning it into art, by going about the world with my eyes and heart wide open, by seizing whatever it is that i can seize to get out, to get better, to get home.