how to live a life.

this post has proven to be inordinately difficult to write, and i’ve drafted it multiple times, then thrown away my draft every time. part of it is that i feel the need to write this well. the other part is that i am still terrified every time i talk about mental health because i can’t talk about mental health without talking about my mental health and i’m currently looking for another job (or more freelance work — either one), and i can’t help but fear that my openness about living with depression (for starters) will make me an undesirable employee, full-time or contract or freelance or otherwise.

i write against that fear, though, because that fear is responding to the very stigma i’m fighting to pull apart and eradicate. i write against that fear, too, because i know it’s stupid — i have a full-time job that i show up to every single damn day, that i do the work for, that i then go home from and do all the other work that means something to me. i work a full-time job, and, still, i create content for this site, do freelance writing and editing projects, read, cook, care for my puppy. i work a full-time job and do all that stuff, and i wrote a full-length novel-in-stories.

my mental health has never stopped me, so i don’t understand why i should shut up about it just because a hiring committee has a warped view of it. so here it is.

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it was 6 am in los angeles when i learned of anthony bourdain’s death by suicide.

i was pulled to the side of the road, scarfing down a bowl of oatmeal because i was running late to soulcyle and needed to eat something so i could actually make it through the workout. as is habit, i opened up instagram, and the app opened to a black square, a new post by david chang, nothing but lyrics in the caption.

a black square means some kind of grieving. the comments said it was anthony bourdain.


the first weekend of may, my parents and i drove down to riverside to pick up a puppy. i’d been looking for a dog to adopt off-and-on for about two years now because i wanted my parents to have a dog, and i’d intensified my search last year, trawling the internet and searching for adoptable dogs that fit our criteria: small, hypoallergenic, young.

my parents wanted a bichon because my aunt has two bichons, but i didn’t want to go through a breeder because i don’t believe in the need to breed dogs unless for very specific purposes. it’s hard to find an adoptable dog when your search is so narrow, though, so the search went on. we went to see other dogs once or twice, getting closest with an abandoned litter of poodle/terrier mixes that almost passed muster, except they still shed too much.

and, then, i came across a post on craigslist for a bichon puppy. he was 8 weeks old. we didn’t know his story then, but there was a phone number, so we texted and called and arranged to go see him and bought a crate and bed and food and a toy and bowls just in case. it turned out he was with this older couple whose sister had a bichon pair who had had a puppy, and they’d been keeping him alone in the garage, this little eight-week-old floof-ball who’d only very recently been weaned and removed from his mother, who shook with fear when i first picked him up, easing into my arms as i scratched him and let him lick me.

he didn’t cry or throw up or pee the entire 2-hour ride home.

we named him 곰 (gom, with a long-O, korean for “bear”).


when i first heard of anthony bourdain’s death by suicide, the first thing i felt was sadness delivered as a punch in the gut, but then the next thing was anger. deaths by suicide make me both profoundly sad and profoundly angry, and it’s not anger directed at the one who has died by suicide — no, i can understand him, understand how acutely he must have hurt to take his own life — it’s anger at the world that allows this to happen and then sits in judgment when it does.

i firmly believe that we should not be losing lives to suicide, that we would not be losing lives to suicide if society, if people as a group could get its shit together and stop actively and willfully stigmatizing mental illness, depression, and suicide and enshrouding them in shame — and, if you’re opening your mouth to argue, but, na, it’s not fair to blame other people for people taking their lives!, let me stop you right there.

(i’m going to talk specifically about depression and suicidal thinking here, but this goes for any kind of mental illness.)

depression, as it is, is a silencer. it locks you in isolation and solitude and makes you curl up inside some dark corner in your brain, and it shuts you off to the world. it shuts you off to yourself. it taps into your mental reserve of all the negative shit anyone has ever said to you, picks out the things that target your softest spots, and blares them on loop on maximum volume, so that you know you’re worthless, a failure, a loser who deserves to be alone because who would love you, want to be with you, when you’re a burden and don’t bring anything of value or worth?

then add in the condescending, judgement shaming by the people around you and by the world-at-large, and there's where why i have zero tolerance for shame.

it is not anyone’s responsibility to keep people alive, but it definitely falls on people’s shoulders if they’re benefiting from and contributing to a system or a worldview that directly harms others. you might think this is a stretch, but that’s complicity, whether we’re talking about racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia or, hey, the shaming of mental illness — and mental illness is part of a system, and it is about power and who gets to tell their stories and the stories that get to be told because that all has to do with acceptance, with what is deemed acceptable and not.

as in pretty much every other situation involving a marginalized group, i don’t really care to hear from people with “normal” brains about mental health because no matter how many academic papers you read or how many “mentally ill” people you know or interact with, you will never know the unique hurdles and struggles the mentally ill face. on a related note, it actually really pisses me off how many narratives we have from people who have lost people to suicide, not because they’re writing about their grief but because they’re trying to tell the stories of the people who’ve died by suicide, like writing these stories will somehow answer that question “why.”

(to be blunt, you’ll never find an answer to that question.)

it pisses me off because it makes me think how much of a difference it would make if people would learn to listen to the mentally ill, the suicidal, the depressed while we’re alive. sometimes, i understand why mental illness might scare “normal”-brained people so much; mental illness, after all, feels so unknowable because brains are still so unknowable; and i kind of, sort of (not really) get that fear of the unknown. that’s all an excuse, though, and it’s one that we’ve accepted for so long, perpetuating this notion that the mentally ill should be feared, that the “crazy” should be avoided or locked away or hidden away, and look where we’ve ended up — we live a world where we’re losing lives we shouldn’t to suicide.

and don’t get me wrong — you do not have to be famous or well-known to be a life worth living and knowing and valuing. you do not have to be a public figure or influential or whatever to be a life that should not be lost. as much as i mourn the loss of public figures like anthony bourdain, choi jinsil, lee jonghyun, i also mourn and fear for the lives of “regular” people, and maybe part of me admittedly mourns for all of us more, fears for all of us because the truth is it doesn't matter how much you have or how well you're known — the loss of any single one of us to suicide is one loss too many.

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going back to complicity, though: see, every time you laugh at a joke about mental illness or suicide, you reinforce shame. every time you write someone off as being crazy, you reinforce shame. every time you dramatize a situation by saying, oh, i’m so depressed, or oh, i’m so anxious, every time you conflate moodiness to bipolarity, you reinforce shame.

because, hi, words matter, and, when you render something laughable, you suck it of meaning. when you diminish something by making it banal and everyday, you suck it of meaning, and, more than that, you remove from it the seriousness with which it should be treated.

depression is not sadness. it is not the blues. it is not a mere emotion you sit with for a while and move on from with ice cream or friendly faces or whatnot. depression is a debilitating illness that totally alters the way you see the world and affects your ability to function. sometimes, on good days, it just makes living harder. other times, on bad days, it makes everything impossible — and here is where i protest the opening to this blog post, despite the fact that i wrote it: i do not need to be a high-functioning depressive in order for it to be okay for me to talk about this.

i’m going to pivot a little here to something i hear a lot about suicidal thinking because it’s connected. there’s this idea that people who are “really” suicidal won’t ever talk about it because they don’t want to be saved. sometimes, yes, it is the case that we won’t talk about how suicidal we are, though there are often a lot of reasons behind that — maybe we don't want to be talked out of it, maybe we don't want to be condescended to, maybe we're sick of being asked "why," maybe we don't want to talk, period, maybe we just don't trust you. whatever the reason, that has nothing to do with how suicidal someone “really” is; if you’re thinking about dying, if you’re thinking about ending your life, if you’re thinking about a plan and figuring out steps to achieve that end, you are suicidal, and talking about it, voicing your fears that you might take your own life does not suddenly delegitimize the fact that you are suicidal.

because, hi, i’m suicidal. i’ve been severely suicidal for the last six weeks. and i’ve been making myself talk about it. if you want to question if i’m “really” suicidal or not, then, well, fuck you.

and that’s where we loop back to the fact that i do not need to be a high-functioning depressive for it to be okay to talk about this, just like i don’t need to live past this suicidal episode for it to be okay for me to talk about it. honestly? screw survival narratives. screw this idea that we need to “survive” shit to be able to talk about how shitty it was. screw this mentality that we have to have some kind of message to share in order to talk about this shit we live with.

because honestly? sometimes, this is it. sometimes, the really cold, brutal truth is that we don’t survive. and, if anything, that is why we need to tell our stories now, in this time that we are here and we are alive.


we brought our puppy home as i was sliding back into a suicidal, depressive episode, and this puppy has been keeping me alive these last few weeks. i was talking to my therapist about him the other week, and she made the point that emotional service animals aren’t considered emotional service animals just because they make us happy — they’re emotional service animals because we need to take care of them, and taking care of them is one way of caring for ourselves.

in other words, self-care looks like a hell of a lot of things.

it’s true, though. on days when i can’t get myself to care for myself, to get out of bed or shower or eat, my puppy still needs to be taken out to potty, fed, and played with. my puppy needs to be bathed and groomed, his teeth brushed, his nails clipped. my puppy needs to be taken to the vet, and he needs to be taken on car rides to meet other people, other puppies (now that he’s vaccinated) because socializing and traveling are essential things he needs to learn.

caring for him makes me care for myself because i can’t care for him without caring for myself — and, while we’re talking about self-care, let’s talk a little about what we can do if we’re living with mental illness, whatever it is. (though, again, because depression is the topic here, i’ll specifically refer to that.)

i firmly believe that treating depression is doing everything. it’s going to therapy (if able) and taking meds (if needed). it’s learning to be honest and open about the shit that’s going on in your head — you are your best (and, sometimes, honestly, your only) advocate because what you’re feeling, how you’re hurting and despairing and giving up, those things are knowable only to you, and no one can help you unless you speak up first. it’s exercising, going outside, getting sun and fresh air and feeling the goddamn wind on your skin. it’s seeing people, even if all you can do is sit at the end of the table, nursing the same cup of coffee the whole bloody time. it’s caring for your pup, your cat, your plants. it’s doing something nice for someone, and, y’know, yeah, sometimes, it’s looking at the shit going on in the world and writing an email or donating to an organization or retweeting something to give it a boost.

trying to dismantle depression is doing everything you can that might work.

personally, i see my therapist and take meds and meet with my psychiatrist every few weeks. i take care of my puppy, and i make pasta by hand and blanche and peel a stupid amount of tomatoes to make sauces and remake the same goddamn potato brioche over and over again even as it keeps failing. i listen to a lot of moody music. i cry. i go to bed early even if i can’t sleep, and i do pilates and soul cycle, and i say yes to everyone who’s kind enough to ask if i want to get food or coffee and stop by a bookstore. i try to reach out and ask people if they want to get food or coffee and stop by a bookstore. i reply to all the DMs i get on instagram, and i go on long drives. i follow my crush on instagram and smile every time she does (or i used to, until that started making my depression worse, so i unfollowed, which is also something i do to care for myself, unfollow people who make things worse). i do everything — hell, i even go to work. i go to my shitty disposable day job that i hate because that sticking to that routine is, in itself, a form of fighting the suicidal depression i live with.


usually, i’ll draft these posts and edit them, but this is just going up before i can sit here and overthink everything. this isn’t a post i really intended to write (i’m trying to write a post breaking down the bullshit SCOTUS decision on the colorado cake case), but i don’t know — this has been weighing on me the last few weeks, and the last few weeks have been difficult.

so, hey, i’ll leave you with this: be kind to yourself, and be kind to the people around you. depression doesn’t discriminate; it doesn’t care how much you have or don’t, how much you’ve earned or haven’t, how famous you are or are not; and a little bit of kindness goes a long way. you never know what someone is going through just by observing her/him/them, and no one will ever know what you’re going through until you give voice to it, express it in words, and try to be understood.

there is no shame in living with any of this, and living with a mental illness doesn’t make you any less human. it doesn’t make your life any less valuable, and it doesn’t make you any less worthy of love or respect. you are just as human and precious and wonderful as anyone with a “normal” brain, and you’re here on this earth at this moment because you should be. i firmly believe that.

so here’s a stupid number of photos of my puppy because he's adorable and makes me smile, and here’s that thing i’ve been saying over and over again and will keep saying over and over again: stay. stay because you deserve to be here. stay because you are someone to be proud of. stay because you are fully deserving of love and kindness and generosity. stay because you are fully human. stay because only you can be who you are.

do whatever you to do to stay alive, and stay.

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here, who you are is enough.

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i was going to post a series of blog posts from my weekend back home in new york two weeks ago, but i’m still not quite sure how i want go about doing it. do i want to go day by day, so it’s like a series of daily blog posts that go through my days in order or do i want to do one giant recap post or do i want to do this or that or this or that — and part of this dilemma has to do with finding myself in a creative rut, and another part has to do with my desire to keep evolving.

last year, when i was last home, i did a series of daily recap-like blog posts. i have a history of struggling (or just flat-out being unable) to do the same thing twice.

usually, when i think about blog posts, i think visually first. i think about the visual story i want to tell as i go through my photographs and edit them, and i lay the post out first, creating a draft with a title and arranging my edited photos. sometimes, the first draft works, and, then, i can go about drafting the words to go with it, but, sometimes, i need to mess around with it, rearranging things, removing some photos and adding others, etcetera etcetera etcetera, until i’m happy when i scroll through it and have an idea of the words i want to write to accompany it.

this time is weird. i lay out my visual drafts for all five days, and i’d normally be happy with them, but i want to do something different.

so i’m typing out these words first, hoping this post coalesces somehow as i vomit words onto this google doc.


being home was great, and it was so, so freeing because a literal weight lifts off my shoulders every time my plane lands at JFK. this time was a little weird because i had so much anxiety and nervous energy and stress leading up to my flight, and i took a red-eye, which i swore never to do again, so i landed at JFK at 4:30 in the morning, got a shitty bagel and even shittier coffee (more like coffee-flavored water) at dunkin donuts, and sat around, catching up on the korea summit and waiting for a more sane hour to head over to my friend’s apartment.

i knew i was home because i could feel that lightness, that ease in my body, in my bones, but my brain was so groggy, it was like, whaaaaat, where are we again? are we even awake?

it took a two-hour nap for my brain to catch up with my body.


maybe the flipside to being home when home isn’t where i currently reside is that i have to leave home after my allotted time, and leaving is always hard. i’m not shy about my loathing of los angeles, and i’m not apologetic for it either because, sometimes, some of us have cities that belong to us, just like some of us have cities that have meted out so much damage and harm and pain that it is impossible for us to be there.

los angeles is the latter city to me. it’s the city where i was broken down, my sense of self and identity reduced to my weight and size, the city where i learned to hate and despise myself because i wasn’t thin, and, if i wasn’t thin, i couldn’t be pretty, i couldn’t get a job, i couldn’t be loved. it’s the city where i learned that thinness was first and foremost, that i couldn’t be good or wanted or acceptable as long as i wasn’t a size 0 — or maybe that’s unfair of me; maybe no one expected me to be a size zero, exactly, but my size 14, my size whatever-i-was-before-i-started-thinking-about-my-body was not okay.

i was not okay.

i spent much of my adolescence and young adulthood wanting to disappear my body and, in connect, disappear myself, and maybe that sounds like nothing of much consequence to you, but that kind of toxic shit bleeds into everything. i didn’t date. i couldn’t apply to jobs. i avoided social settings and meeting new people who might look at me and be repulsed and i didn’t want to see that on stranger’s faces when it was bad enough to see that repulsion on the faces of people i knew, people who were supposed to love me. i wore a uniform of long pants and long shirts and dark colors, all day, every day, and i grew up in the valley where temperatures hit triple digits during the summer. i wore long pants and long shirts and dark colors even then.

i avoided any and all kinds of conflict, and i never sent back a wrong order, and i always apologized, always, always, always. i hated flying. i always sat in aisle seats, so i’d never have to ask someone to move or have to crawl over someone. i avoided concert halls, auditoriums, anywhere with that tiny-ass stadium seating and non-existent aisles.

i never gave myself the permission to write or to pursue the things i was actually interested in, like a grad program in comparative lit. i repressed all my interest in and love of food. i learned to count calories instead, hate myself when i didn’t work out, beat myself up mentally whenever i ate something i “shouldn’t have.” i feel so freaking lucky i didn’t suffer from bulimia; i don’t know how i avoided that fate; but, somehow, i did.

there was all that, and then there was my inability to stand up for myself in the workplace, to say, i want this position, and i am fully qualified for it, to express interest and speak up. i’m lucky i never had any employers who took advantage of my spinelessness, but, sometimes, i stop and think of all the opportunities i lost simply because i didn’t have the confidence in myself to believe that i deserved this job or that, to put myself forward as a capable person instead of shrinking back in silence and self-deprecation.

you could argue that that isn’t just because of all the body shaming, but i’d tell you to stuff it and shut up when someone’s telling you about her damage. maybe she knows it’s complicated. maybe she knows it better than you because it’s the life she’s lived.

maybe she knows better than you because she knows who she was before the body shaming started and she knows who she’s become after she fled los angeles and started to heal.

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part of me wonders often if maybe i shouldn’t be turning some of this into personal essays and submitting them to publications, but i’m also at a point where i’m wearied and bruised with the whole process. i’ve got an e-mail sitting in my inbox right now, and i should open it, but i’m 99.9% certain that it’s another rejection from another agent because the preview is too formal, too distant, and i recognize that tone. thank you for submitting this, but. you’re a strong writer, but. i like your writing, but.

i don’t take it personally because i know not all writing is for everyone and not all writing is for everyone, anyway. i know that rejection is part of the process. i know writers have walls of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of rejection slips.

at this point, i just want something. it’s been ten, lonely-as-hell years of working on a book, trying to find it a person and a home, and it’s been ten years of thanks, but. and maybe this is where being plugged into a community of writers might be helpful or to have some kind of mentor or something — but i don’t know. i’m starting to think, wow, what a colossal waste of ten years. where do you go from here when this is all you have???


two saturdays ago, my parents and i drove down to riverside to get a puppy. i’ve been looking for a dog to adopt for over two years now, more seriously in the year or so i’ve been back in los angeles, and i finally found this puppy on craigslist, a two-month-old bichon that an older couple was trying to rehome. we had no idea if we’d be coming home with this puppy, but we got all the basic essentials — a crate, bed, food, toys, bowls, snacks, a collar — and drove down two hours, our fingers and toes crossed.

we brought him home that night, and i cradled him as we drove back up, and he was calm and curious, alternating between napping peacefully in my lap and climbing all over me to see out the window, to sniff behind my head, to curl up against my shoulder. my father played some yo-yo ma, and the pup perked his ears and looked around, wondering at the sound. we were stopped in traffic, and the pup sat up, watching the lights from opposing traffic bouncing off the car ceiling. he didn’t pee or vomit or cry, and he didn’t shake either, bouncing up for kisses and demanding more scratches.

we named him (gom, with a long O), which is korean for “bear” because he looks like a bear and because my father’s nickname as a child was “bear” and the pup is technically for him. technically, gom’s supposed to be a companion for my parents. of course, though, gom’s become more and more mine, that right thing at the right time.


what a colossal waste of ten years.

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i’ve been thinking about bodies a lot because, while i was in new york, i thought a lot about why i love it so. new york is a city that has always been kind to me, yes, but it’s a difficult city, one that wounds and wounds deeply. i had to leave because i couldn’t “make it,” because i couldn’t find a full-time job or enough (better) freelancing gigs, and it’s an anxiety that’s a constant source of stress, that i’ll somehow find my way back but, still, be unable to “make it.”

that requires the faith, though, that somehow i will find myself back.

the truth, though, is that i ran out of faith a long time ago, and i still don’t have much of it at all. i don’t believe things will change, just like i don’t believe that anything i’ve worked so hard for will come to anything — and maybe all this currently feels dangerous because i’ve been thinking of deleting all my book files, just to put some kind of final end to all this stupid endeavor, except that does make me feel bitter, all this time, all these years, all the sacrifices and reckless decisions just to end up nowhere.

except no one forced me to make said shitty decisions, and thus the cycle of self-loathing continues.

it’s all connected, though, writing, bodies, life, hopelessness, my state of mind. some people like to connect my depression with new york, like it was new york that wrecked my brain, and even i can’t deny that the financial stressors of the city contributed to my descent in 2016. that’s a grossly and condescendingly simplistic correlation, though, because my brain was one that knew suicidal depression long before i moved back to new york, and i clearly remember the first time i thought i’d take my life. i was in middle school. i was kneeling in the middle of my room, leaning on my chair.  i didn’t know much about anything then, thought a x-acto knife could do enough.

i’d carry this through college, gain back a ton of weight my first year in college because that was the only way i could cope, could pretend i was okay, and, then, in december 2009, i’d try again, hate myself for not being able to cut past the pain and for that sliver of hope inside me that said, stay. stay alive. just stay. and then there would be spring 2013, in my second semester of law school (my mother still doesn’t seem to get it; i withdrew from law school to save my life), and then may 2015, december 2016 … and then, who knows, the longer i stay in california, the greater that threat becomes.

because i fled los angeles in 2012, broken and damaged with no sense of self and no ability to speak up for myself and who i was and what i wanted. i spent five years in new york, slowly, slowly, slowly healing, slowly and painstakingly piecing myself together and learning to be kinder to myself, to value myself, to be okay with myself, and, by 2016, even with the suicidal depression and anxiety fraying the threads of my entire self, i was at least a human being then, one who was maybe splintering and falling apart but knew, at her core, at least, who she was, what she was capable of, what she wanted from her life.

and then i had to come back to los angeles, back to a place that continues to make it clear that i am not good enough, not thin enough, not soft-spoken enough, not hetero, christian, gracious enough, and all i can say is that there’s a lot of shit in the world and a lot of shitty people, but, still, nothing makes me angrier than people who berate girls and tear them down for their looks, for their weight, instead of building them up and teaching them to stand tall — their bodies are good enough. they are good enough.

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i don’t know why i wrote all that. i don’t actually have that much anger about my past, about what i was put through, because it’s the past and what’s done is done. that doesn’t mean that i stop carrying the effects of such intense, intentional body shaming, though, and that doesn’t mean i no longer have to deal with all the consequences from it. and the fact that i am the one who has to carry the damage means that i want to (and get to) speak out about it, in the hopes that, maybe, if you’re body shaming your kid or your friend or your whatever, even if you have “good” intentions, maybe you’ll take a second to pause and think about what you’re really doing to that person you claim to love, and, maybe, just maybe, you’ll stop before it’s too late.


in new york, i try to see everyone i can. i inevitably can’t because i’m there for five days and i also need time and space for myself, but i see everyone i can, getting meals and coffee and drinks, talking, laughing, catching up. i miss this. i miss having people. los angeles has always been and still is a supremely lonely town.


the first time i cried in therapy, we were a few months in, and i’m surprised it took so long for me to cry. my therapist and i have talked about a lot of crap, too, from body shaming to identity to the stagnancy of my life, but it’s when we start talking about people that i crack.

i think you’re lonely, she says.

sometimes, i wonder, if i weren’t lonely, if i hadn’t grown up lonely because that’s also a natural by-product of wanting to disappear your body, if i hadn’t been so lonely through my college years and early young adulthood, would i even be writing here?


there are a lot of cautions when it comes to writing so personally in a public space. i, too, wonder about this, and i worry about it, too, the kind of impact such stupid honesty might have. i wonder if this space isn’t an additional reason i can’t get a job, but, then, i think that, and that annoys me, this idea that i should hide or be ashamed of this shit i’ve gone through, the shit i live with, like you haven’t gone through shit or live with shit, either. what makes you so much better? you’re no better or more a human because you don’t take meds or get around without assistance or deal with normal levels of depression and anxiety. actually, i kind of think people who look down on people who take meds, need assistance, and live with mental and/or physical illness are kind of shitty people, and i don’t want them in my life.


because that’s related to shame, isn’t it? we’re made to feel like we should be ashamed because we’re not in “perfect” health. and maybe that’s the thing about love — it’s impossible (or, at least, very difficult) to believe in love when there is shame attached to it. like, my cousin is getting married in korea this summer, and no one’s enthused about going because it’s july and korea in july is hot and humid hell, but i’ve volunteered to go because i can swing by japan on my way and because, well, i have my reasons.

i’m not going, though, and it’s not because of financial reasons or work reasons or anything.

my body is too big for korea, and i don’t speak deferentially, demurely, and i don’t eat prettily, and, thus, i would bring shame on my family.

how can you believe in love when that supposed love is so ashamed of you?

what is love even then, and is it worth much at all?

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i did open that e-mail, and it said exactly what i thought it would.


on my first day in new york, i get my hands on an ARC of crystal hana kim’s forthcoming novel, if you leave me. it’s a sweeping historical novel set in korea, starting during the war and spanning into the early aughts, and we follow a few characters, though the main character is haemi. she’s a first daughter and an older sister to a sick, much-younger brother. her father has died in the war. she is to be married and have children, and she isn’t educated because she’s a girl, no matter the fact that she has a sharp brain and a desire to learn.

she marries a boy her mother approves her, and he’s a boy from seoul, but he isn’t the boy she loves. she marries him, anyway, and they have children, all daughters, and they’re not exactly hurting, not financially, after the war. her husband is a landowner; she’s a housewife; and one of the things kim gets at so well is the toxicity of an intensely patriarchal culture, one that represses its women and embeds toxic masculinity in its men.

the scary part of all that, maybe, is how all of it is still so relevant today. while i was reading if you leave me, i knew it was a historical novel, but i never stopped thinking about korea today, about the patriarchy today, about the expectations placed on women to marry and breed and defer to their husbands and give up their ambitions and wants for the sake of their families and accept their husbands’ infidelities and egoes and violences because men are men and what are men to do when their wives are pregnant or nagging or demanding? all women have to do is care for the children and cook meals and stuff. that’s nothing like going to work to provide for the family.

women’s work isn’t "real" work.

that sounds like antiquated thinking, but the thing is it’s really not.


maybe one thing that’s changed this year is that i’ve learned to hold my sadnesses close to me again. i’ve never really been the confiding sort, never really prone to open up directly to people, and i’d made a few shifts in recent years to become more open, less closed up.

over the last few months, though, i’ve felt myself retreating, and part of that was very conscious but another part instinctive. when i hurt, i bristle, and the truth, maybe, underneath my reticence, is that i don’t trust anyone to hold my sadnesses for me. i don’t trust anyone not to turn that hurt, weaponize it, and use it against me.

the other thing, though, is that i’ve grown fatigued of being questioned all the time, of having to explain why i’ve got so much fear and anxiety or why i hate los angeles so much or why this, why that, and then being talked down to. i need god, i need to get over it and just learn to like where i am and just this or just that, like it’s all so simple, so easy, as basic as snapping your fingers and voila — everything is sunny and bright, and i’m not having nightmares of being trapped and unable to go home most nights.

and i don’t trust people to hold my sadnesses for me when their lives are progressing just fine, and that’s on me. i remind myself all the time that what we see, whether on social media or even of the people in our lives, is only a sliver of a person’s reality. some people look like they lead perfect lives on the surface — a supportive spouse, a home, a career — and we can never know what’s going on behind that veneer — but, even knowing that, even telling myself that every single freaking day, it’s hard not to look up from my sinkhole and think, how nice. how easy it must be for them.

and i know — i’m sure some people must look at the surfaces of my life and think the same.

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what kim does so phenomenally well in her novel is get at the nuances of how a patriarchal society affects its people. she hasn’t written a book that’s screaming about toxic masculinity or misogyny or gender inequality; she’s simply written a book about a part of the world, painting a picture of these people’s war-torn lives; and kim does it all with a lot of love.

she doesn’t judge her characters even when they behave badly, reactive to their culture, maybe, some might argue (oh, that was normal back then), but that doesn’t mean she withholds criticism of the society that allows for such behavior. if you leave me doesn’t make bad male behavior okay, and neither does kim use culture as an excuse for said behavior — and maybe this is something i liked so much about the novel, too, that she’s able to do this without writing an overtly socially aware, socially critical book.

that’s not always the easiest thing to do.

and maybe part of that is to do with the fact that misogyny isn’t just about gross acts of violence. gender inequality isn’t just about a pay difference. it’s also in the quiet comments that maybe go unheard, the snide little putdowns that, on their own, might roll off you, the very idea of gender roles, that a woman is meant to be a mother and a wise and a man can do whatever he wants, so long as he provides for his family in the most basic ways. it’s in the desperate desire and continual attempts for a son.

and kim gets at all that, and you might miss it if you’re breezing through the book, if you don’t know what to look for — and, hey, isn’t that kind of like misogyny/gendered crap in real life? if you aren’t keeping your eyes open, if you aren’t willing to look, you can gloss over it like it’s just a natural part of culture, too.


i also love how the story is told; we hop between narrators but move forward in time; and kim maneuvers us deftly over decades.

maybe my main criticism might be that the first-person narrations aren’t really that varied, that all the characters really kind of sound like the same person, even haemi’s daughter, her voice more an imitation of a child’s voice than a child’s voice itself. in another novel, this lack of differentiation might have (and has, in the past) bothered me tremendously, but i can’t say it did all that much in if you leave me.

which does make me wonder a lot about reading and how subjective it is and how that subjectivity varies even book to book, even if the reader is the same. i think about how i can’t quite pinpoint what it is that i look for most in books; my answer tends to be vague — strong narrative voice, fully-fleshed characters, interesting story — or maybe that’s not vague at all, leaves a lot of room for details and difference. a book with plain prose and fully dimensional characters will generally always be more compelling than a beautifully written book with flat, cliched characters. a compelling story will outweigh weak writing. a unique, vibrant narrative voice will bring out different, interesting notes in the most common story. maybe the rule about good story-telling is … there are no rules.


if you leave me is published by william morrow books on 2018 august 7. this ARC was not sent to me by the publisher.

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this post is all over the place, and it’s not the post i intended to write, though what i was intending to write, i don’t really know. in some ways, it’s kind of been a way to process the devastation i feel churning quietly in me, to mourn, in ways, the death of me, of my ambitions, of my dreams. i’m still thinking about deleting all my book files. i’m thinking about not even backing them on an external hard drive first. i’m trying not to feel the empty void in me — the loss of my faith in my book is infinitely more devastating than the loss of my religious faith in 2016.

what a colossal waste of ten years.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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color me purple.

PURPLE APRON ALERT!!!

i’ve been following hedley and bennett pretty intensely for a few years now, pretty much since ellen bennett launched the company, and, on february 20, they released this gorgeous purple apron (named “fig”) as part of their new pantry collection. of course, i had to have it, never mind that i have four other aprons (omg, seriously), but it’s! purple! such! a! gorgeous! purple!

i love purple.

this is not a sponsored post.

i really like the material this apron is made of. it’s an 8-oz taiwanese stretch denim that’s been custom-dyed (in 5 different colors), and it’s reversible, which is something i don’t feel much about either way, but you get a darker shade on one side, a brighter one on the other, and, hey, i like options. i don’t typically like stretch fabrics or light (in weight) aprons (my favorite apron is the dusty pink one in my previous post, and it’s double-layered, which makes it heavier), but this taiwanese stretch denim is soft, durable, and comfortable.

i do wish the ampersands had been stitched along the edges, though, and placed closer to the neck strap, but that’s a tiny complaint, and i hope this isn’t the only purple apron h&b designs! i keep dreaming about a brighter, grape-hued apron with cantaloupe straps — and, while we’re talking about colors, one of the funnest things about having followed a company like h&b for so long is that they’ve played a part in helping me embrace my love of color.

because honestly? i didn’t always love color so much. i used to hide from it, rather, because, as they say, black is slimming and bright colors would make my larger body stand out too much — and why would i want to draw so much attention to myself?

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a few weeks ago, i went down a twitter blackhole and spent hours obsessively reading blair braverman’s feed. she’s a musher, which means she races sled dogs, which means her feed is filled with stories of dog-racing adventures and photos of dogs, athletes really, wiry and muscular but no less affectionate and filled with characters of their own.

(her feed is one good thing to come of that annoying thing twitter does of showing you the tweets people you follow have liked.)

i knew that blair had written a memoir, and, after spending days on her twitter feed, i decided to pick up her book, thinking, naturally, that it’d be similar to her twitter feed, happy and lively and full of dogs. a friend warned me in advance, though, that the book is more intense, not quite like her twitter, but i wasn’t sure what to make of that because she didn’t tell me anything beyond that.

she was right, though, and i’m glad to have had the warning — welcome to the goddamn ice cube (ecco, 2016) is not the book you might expect because it’s not about dog-sledding or mushing or surviving in the arctic. rather, it’s a book about being a woman in the world and learning to carry all the burdens of what that entails and to be as you are, who you are, even when fear keeps you awake through the nights.

blair takes us to her youth, to her formative years that led her to dog-sledding, and she grew up a happy child in suburban california, though that isn’t where her family was supposed to be. her mother grew up in oregon, and her father was a new yorker, and their move to the suburbs of northern california was supposed to be a temporary, two-years-max thing that stretched into four that stretched into a decade. there was a year’s stint in norway, blair’s first taste of living in the cold, and, hungry for more, she went back alone to study abroad for a year in high school, though that didn’t necessarily turn out as expected, stuck as she was with a host family with a threatening host father.

there is a danger and unease all women have known since girlhood.

she avoids anything serious from happening, though, but what does that even mean? it’s enough for a girl to be placed in a situation where she feels constant fear, where she’s always on edge, on guard, because she doesn’t know if or when the scales will tip and that thing she can’t name but knows to fear will happen. it’s enough to have to carry that; that, in and of itself, is a serious enough thing to endure.

and maybe that’s where i feel like maybe we get stuck when it comes to conversations about sexual violence, racism, bigotry, that it’s easy to point at people’s obviously terrible actions and say, that’s bad. we need to condemn that. rape is clear (or it should be); physical assault is clear (or it should be); and open discrimination is clear (or it should be) — but we can’t forget about the everyday acts of micro-aggression. we can’t ignore those. we can’t dismiss them and say they’re not serious because, oh, she wasn’t assaulted, oh, he wasn’t hospitalized, oh, they can still get married, don’t be so petty and obsessed with such minuscule details.

because here’s the thing: shitty behavior doesn’t have to, shouldn’t have to, escalate into disgusting acts of human violence to be called out. it’s enough that a grown man thinks it’s acceptable to loom over a girl and cast a shadow into her life. it’s enough that white people think it’s okay to follow black customers around a store. it’s enough that straight people think it’s morally fine for them to turn queer people away, to refuse them marriage licenses and business services, all on the flimsy grounds of “freedom of religion.”

it’s enough because, yeah, maybe you might be inclined to say, oh, they’re not really doing anything, though, but no one starts off with murder. behavior escalates, and a man who is physically abusive is more likely to pick up a gun and commit mass murder — he doesn’t start with mass murder — so, yes, it matters, and micro-aggression is serious enough for us to pay attention and call it out and demand that it stop.


wonder if i’ll ever pair words to photographs in a way that matches? i do, too.


two sundays ago, i made scallion pancakes, and this recipe is from molly yeh’s fabulous molly on the range (rodale, 2016). molly is the only food blogger i read, and i love her — she’s so bright, so sunny, and she loves snow and sprinkles as much as i do.

molly on the range is filled with personal stories, from her experience at camp, at julliard, at home on a farm in north dakota where she lives with her husband (who grows sugar beets and plays the trombone). molly’s recipes are this mish-mash of cultures, taking inspiration from foods passed down from her jewish mother and chinese father and somehow mashing flavors together in ways that work in really cool ways. like scallion challah bread or hawaij in everything — and those are really shitty examples, i know, but you can go read her blog and/or get her book and get a better idea of what i’m trying to say.

these scallion pancakes, though — in recent weeks, all i’ve been craving are grungy italian-american food, indian food, and scallion pancakes. these were pretty good, especially once i’d gotten the hang of rolling them into more circular shapes and rolling them flatter and thinner, but i may play around with mixing APF with rice flour to get more of that glutinous chew i so crave when it comes to scallion pancakes. that said, that’s me being super particular. these were fun and easy to make, and the flavor was excellent, and i’ll definitely make them again.


i find it weird to refer to people here by their first name when i don’t know them, but i’ve called both blair and molly by their first names. i don’t know either of them, though i wish i did, but there’s something about them that makes them feel personable and approachable, like using their last names to refer to them would feel oddly impersonable and, almost, rude.

maybe it’s the way blair tells her story, drawing you in and making herself vulnerable, and she’s a fantastic writer — and an astute one as well. one of my peeves when it comes to memoirs is when authors lack any kind of self-awareness, filling pages with anecdotes that read more like acts of self-indulgence than anything else (it’s one reason i didn’t finish erica garza’s getting off), but welcome to the goddamn ice cube doesn’t fall prey to that, being a memoir, instead, that flows narratively and positions itself within the world at-large. there’s no moralizing, either, no preaching, no ego-driven self-flagellation, and it’s a book filled with warmth, appreciation, and strength, a book about bravery, really, not bravery in the romanticized, inflated way of dramatized heroism, but bravery in the rather banal, everyday ways of simply showing up, being uncomfortable, and learning to say no and to say it again and again when the first ten “no”s go ignored.

it’s about a woman’s life as she’s lived it, as she’s learned to move about the world and find her place and her people within it, and i highly, highly recommend it. i also highly recommend following blair (and her husband!) on twitter. go bask in all the adorable photos of dogs they post and share in their dog-racing adventures.


when chopping scallions, make sure to use a sharp knife. if you use a knife-that-is-not-sharp, you’ll end up with slimy green strings with notches cut into them, not chopped scallions.

when chopping things, also use a proper cutting board. those cheap plastic things are awful and will dull your knives and absorb smells and accumulate bacteria — and i doubt they’re environmentally friendly. invest in wood.

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there’s a passage from rebecca solnit’s the faraway nearby (penguin, 2013) that i go back to every so often. incidentally, it’s the opening passage of the book, and it sets the tone, setting the stage for a book that will feel at once concrete and not, grounded in solnit’s memories while also floating away on the whimsy of stories and story-telling and the fancy story entails.

solnit is a deft, intelligent writer, but she doesn’t lose herself to her smarts. i’m not much a fan of such writers, writers who feel the need to blare their intelligence on the page, writers who try too hard to be clever, to be witty, to be smarter than their readers and let that be known — and, like i said before, intellectualism doesn’t impress me.

(it’s one reason i had issues with maggie nelson’s the argonauts [graywolf, 2016], which i loved in the beginning and loved less and less as the book went on. nelson gets lost in the tangles of whatever it is she’s trying to say, and it all simply made me think, well. i’m sorry for being too dull for you — but, then again, maybe i am dull, or maybe it’s just my impatience for theory flaring up again. maybe it’s my allergy to hype. maybe it’s all of the above.

whatever it is, ultimately, the argonauts has completely faded from my brain.)

solnit is gracious, though, warm and generous, even when she’s being critical. in another writer’s hands, her essay collection, men explain things to me (haymarket, 2014), would have been scathing and bristling, but, in solnit’s, the essays are thoughtful, well-considered, fleshed-out. that isn’t to say she isn’t scathing or that she’s soft in her criticism; solnit doesn’t try to cushion any blows or shy away from the brutal realities of the consequences and realities of patriarchy and toxic masculinity; but she does it all in such measured ways that the truth falls even harder and heavier.

that’s not meant to sound like tone-policing, by the way. sometimes, it’s necessary to shout and scream and snarl.

going back to that aforementioned passage, though:

what’s your story? it’s all in the telling. stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. to love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.

which means that a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. what is it like to be the old man silenced by a stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the roller coaster, the person you’ve only read about, or the one next to you in bed?

we tell ourselves stories to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment. sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop. not a few stories are sinking ships, and many of us go down with these ships even when the lifeboats are bobbing all around us. (solnit, 3-4)

i don’t judge people who don’t read; i know reading isn’t something everyone likes to do; and there are plenty of things people like to do that i don’t. i do, however, tend to roll my eyes when people like to act like they’re above stories, like storytelling is something in which only children participate. i can’t help but roll my eyes at people who try to downplay novels, implying that maturing means leaving the novel (and, in connection, fiction) behind and moving onto more “serious” writing like essays and philosophy and biographies (aka non-fiction).

because the problem beneath all that snobbery and faux-intellectualism is this: stories are the foundation of who we are. they provide the foundation of our beliefs, define how we see the world, and directly influence the way we consider other people. they tell us who we are and how we position ourselves in the world. stories are the means through which we conduct our lives.

stories are in everything, and story-telling is the framework on which we build everything. it doesn’t matter whether you’re an artist or an engineer or an attorney; you tell stories for a living, whether it’s through a creative medium, a structure, a legal case. if you’re an accountant, you might work in numbers, but you still look for the stories embedded in financial and income statements because they tell you all about the life and health of a company. if you’re a doctor, bodies tell you stories, and you carry the stories of your patients. if you’re a chef, a coffee roaster, a baker, you take the stories from your life, your farmers and butchers and fishermen, and you turn them into sustenance.

when you go home at the end of the day, kiss your partner, say hello to your children, your flatmate, your parents, you tell them the story of your day.

when you introduce yourself to someone new, you share the story of who you are.

when you see someone, you tell yourself a story of who you think that person is, and you act accordingly.


one thing i’ve been doing less of since 2017 is reading from korean authors. i miss that. i hope to get back to that this year.

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my way of cooking is usually to go into a recipe and kind of just take from it what i want. (my apologies, recipe developers and writers.)

here’s the chicken poulet from kristen kish cooking (clarkson potter, 2017), except it’s just the chicken, no sauce, no gnocchi, and no thyme or rosemary either because i didn’t have either on hand and all my herb plants died. (i have black thumbs.) i also didn’t use the kind of chicken her recipe calls for either because she says to use skin-on, boneless chicken breasts, but i have yet to find skin-on, boneless chicken breasts because i don’t actually have a butcher, just the butcher counter at whole foods (omg i can’t quit whole foods; DAMN YOU, AMAZON), and it’s still just a thing on my list, to learn how to break down a whole chicken.

that’s a lot of words about how i deviated from the recipe …

anyway, so, i used the technique from her recipe, but i used skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, and i added garlic to the pan, and i made adjustments to the cooking time as necessary, and i ended up with really juicy, flavorful chicken breasts and super, super crispy skin.

i never grew up eating chicken skin.

it’s too fattening.


i have a complicated relationship with my body, and i have a complicated relationship with food.

when i see photos of myself, i cringe, seeing the lumpiness in my face, the chub in my arms and fingers, the bulges around my stomach. i see my double chin, the little shelf of fat that squeezes over my bra under my armpits, the paunch around my midriff. i see the pounds i should lose. i see the lunch maybe i shouldn’t have eaten.

i see shame.


the movie that stands out to me most from my adolescence is cool runnings, and i haven’t seen it in almost two decades, so i don’t remember much of it, just the memories associated with watching it. i watched it for the first time at a sleepover with my discipleship group, and that in and of itself was pretty cool, the act of sleeping over at my discipleship leader’s apartment, of lining up in a row in our sleeping bags in her living room at night.

at the time, it felt very grown up.

anyway, the point is — so we watched cool runnings, and the scene that has always stayed with me was when one of the characters is taken into the bathroom by some other dude who asks him, look in the mirror; what do you see?

the guy isn’t sure and rattles off something or another, and the dude says, no. when i look in the mirror, i see power. i see strength. i see … etcetera etcetera etcetera, and this is a terrible summary of this scene, but i think you get the point.

and i think you get where i’m going with this.


i like to believe that we can’t control much in our lives and in our narratives, but we do get to choose how we approach the shit we’re given. we don’t get to choose how people see us or judge us, but we do get to choose how we feel about and judge ourselves.

one of the positive things to come out of a decade-plus of intense body shaming by people i love is that i’ve learned to slough off shame. i’ve learned to embrace myself as who i am and to be okay with people not being okay with who i am. that doesn’t mean i don’t have bad days when i catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and immediately look away, days when i’m wearing something that’s a little too tight and sink into unhappiness and angriness at my inability to lose weight.

and that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy or simple process to get here to this point where i can say, it’s okay; i’m okay, where i can post photos of myself that aren’t just perfectly angled photos of my face, nothing shown from the shoulders down, the selca shot at the perfect angle that makes my face appear narrower, sharper, less lumpy.

that doesn’t mean i have a good, healthy relationship with my body now, either, or with food. i still hate my body most days because it’s not a healthy body, and i still have a complicated relationship with food — but maybe that’s the other positive thing that came out of a decade-plus of intense body shaming. i know that healing takes a shit-ton of time and whole lot of pain and that it, too, is massively complicated. nothing is black-and-white, either-or. nothing is that cleanly, clearly defined.

and that’s okay. that’s okay as long as we’re still trying.


“poulet” means “chicken” in french, so this recipe is really called “chicken chicken.”

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over the the last few weeks, several women have come forward with allegations against sherman alexie, arguably the prominent native-american writer, though that also feels not-so-correct to say because, hello, louise erdrich. 

a week or two ago, alexie released a statement in which he wrote, “there are women telling the truth about my behavior and i have no recollection of physically or verbally threatening anybody or their careers. that would be completely out of character.”

overall, the statement is a pretty shoddy non-apology, one that takes no responsibility for his actions and tries to brush everything under the rug with a standard, i’m sorry if i hurt you, but the thing is — i do believe him when he writes that he has “no recollection of physically or verbally threatening anybody or their careers” — and that’s the problem.

some people like to argue that we’ve become too “PC,” that we’re too sensitive or that we’re overreacting, that, if [insert supposedly innocuous statement or behavior here] is sexual harassment, then where does it end? then men won’t be able to talk to any women, and it’ll be impossible for them to be friendly or to show concern or care because, oh no, women are such snowflakes and they must be so dumb that they can’t parse innocent friendly behavior from dangerous creeper behavior.

which then leads to this asinine idea that the solution is to go back to completely male-dominated spaces.

the problem isn’t that women are dumb and can’t tell the difference between a man being friendly and a man wielding his power (because, believe or not, women can). the problem is that men have no idea about the structural power imbalances in place that inherently benefit them. the problem is that men move about the world totally oblivious to their privilege and the toxicity it unfurls. the problem is that men can’t seem to wrap their brains around consent or accept that, no, they are not entitled to women, whether to women’s attention or time or bodies.

and, so, i do, to a degree, believe alexie when he claims that he doesn’t remember ever explicitly threatening women and their careers because the thing is … he doesn’t have to threaten anyone explicitly. he doesn’t have to grab a woman’s arm or trap her in a corner or say the words, have sex with me, or you’ll never write again. he doesn’t have to menace her or stalk her or spread rumors about her.

all he has to do is make an advance and refuse to walk away when the woman signals no.


men can complain all they want about how they didn’t set up the system and it isn’t fair that they’re lumped together in this mass of shitty human behavior, but, hey, here’s the thing: if you actively benefit from a toxic system (which all men do) (and which all white people, men and women, do) and you do nothing to try to change that system, then, hi, you’re complicit.

no one says it’s easy, and no one says it’s fun. it’s not pleasant confronting your own shittiness, and i’ve got plenty of experience in that area myself. it’s taken me years to dismantle my internalized misogyny; i readily admit that, seven years ago, i was that person who went around disavowing feminism because i was about “humanism” or some bullshit like that. i had to come face-to-face with the racism and prejudice i’d long carried against other POC, and i know — it sucks. it sucks to realize that you’re a shitty human being. it sucks to admit that and reckon with it, but the only other option is to deny it, and denial allows toxicity to fester.

and here’s the thing about power, and here’s where this all comes together: all of this has to do with the stories we tell ourselves about what the world should look like and how power is structured and where we figure ourselves within it all. a man’s entitlement comes from the story he tells himself about a world in which his supposed masculinity is everything and he deserves to get what he wants and, if he doesn’t get it, if he is denied, he has the right to lash out in whatever way he so wants. an abuse victim believes the lies in the stories her abuser tells her, stories that say she deserved what she got, that she provoked him, that no one will believe her. women internalize these stories, too, invest in the narratives of the patriarchy and prop up toxic masculinity, repeat these stories to their daughters and continue the cycle.

colonizers buy into the stories of their greatness, of the supposed inferiority of the Others they colonize, and, sometimes, it’s funny how people inherently recognize how important stories are because the victors go about white-washing history, trying to erase their wrongs and pretend they didn’t exist, plastering pretty wallpaper over the bloodshed and violence and exploitation.

you don’t censor a story unless you’re afraid of it, and you're not afraid of something unless you believe in the power it contains.


chimamanda ngozi adichie gave an entire brilliant tedxtalk about the danger of the one story, so i’ll leave that for her, and i’ll end this ridiculously long post with this: the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies, our identities, are connected to the stories we tell ourselves about power because body shaming is about power — it’s just within the sphere of the private, not the hugely public.

there is systemic power that we’re trapped by, that requires mass movement to change, and then there is personal, individual power, the power we have over ourselves. i worry often that that’s a power girls are taught to give away too easily.

blair talks about this in her book, maybe not in the same terms, but in sharing her experience with her first boyfriend, a man older than she is who thinks he’s entitled to her body, shames her for not finding pleasure in sex with him, isolates her when she finally breaks up with him — and i love the way she writes it here:

for years afterward, dan would maintain that i had changed, gained some new or darker side that was, as he once explained in a letter, ‘without a doubt, not beneficial to who you are.’ i was young, starting college; of course i changed. i changed my clothes, my eating habits; i made new friends, tried yoga, worked as a telemarketer. but the change dan meant was less obvious: the fact that i no longer went limp and let him touch me; the fact that, when forced to choose between the bitter protection he offered and the exhaustive work of shielding myself alone, i knew that i could not be with him. and yet the decision burned. turning down dan — choosing jurisdiction over my own body — felt like choosing exile from the very things in which his approval had granted me legitimacy. what role did i have, really, on the icefield, or even in dogsledding? who had i been there? i didn’t remember. though i couldn’t explain it at the time, leaving dan felt like leaving everything i’d been working toward, all the ways i’d been trying to prove myself. and for a while, that’s exactly what it meant. i left him and i didn’t come back.

the change dan lamented was that i had started to trust myself. but the way i saw it, i had flunked out of the north. (175-6)

luckily, blair learns to trust herself and continues to do so, working through years of doubt and fear and faltering confidence, and the passage above goes to show what i mean about story, how the stories we tell ourselves matter. all it often takes is a small repositioning of ourselves to see a story from a different angle and shift our worldview entirely, and maybe that’s where the real power of story lies, in its ability to change and to change us along with it.

and maybe that’s the one thing that gives me a measure of hope in such a bleak, often terrifying world — that there is a shift in the wind, that women are reclaiming their narratives, that, even in the midst of the destruction the current administration is trying to wreak on marginalized, immigrant, queer communities, even in all that, we are still telling our stories — and, by doing so, slowly, we will shape and grow and change the world.

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get this gorgeous apron for yourself at hedley & bennett. i can personally vouch for their aprons because, erm, i’m a home cook, and i own five of their aprons. i, uh, kind of have a problem …

2018 international women's day.

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  1. hye-young pyun, the hole (skyhorse, 2017)
  2. han yujoo, the impossible fairy tale (graywolf, 2017)
  3. patty yumi cottrell, sorry to disrupt the peace (mcsweeney's, 2017)
  4. samhita mukhopadhyay & kate harding, eds, nasty women (picador, 2017)
  5. shobha rao, girls burn brighter (flatiron, 2018)
  6. carmen maria machado, her body and other parties (graywolf, 2017)
  7. kim fu, for today i am a boy (HMH, 2014)
  8. jessica b. harris, my soul looks back (scribner, 2016)
  9. rowan hisayo buchanan, harmless like you (sceptre, 2017)
  10. ayobami adebayo, stay with me (knopf, 2017)
  11. jenny zhang, sour heart (lenny imprint, 2017)
  12. julie buntin, marlena (henry holt, 2017)
  13. molly yeh, molly on the range (rodale, 2016)
  14. yoojin grace wuertz, everything belongs to you (random house, 2017)
  15. kamila shamsie, home fire (riverhead, 2017)
  16. kristen kish, kristen kish cooking (clarkson potter, 2017)
  17. kim thuy, mãn (PRH canada, 2014)
  18. chinelo okparanta, under the udala trees (HMH, 2015)
  19. julia turshen, small victories (chronicle, 2016)
  20. sylvia plath, the letters of sylvia plath, vol i: 1940 - 1956 (harpers, 2017)

here's my annual stack for 2018 international women's day, and i love making these stacks so much. i love that i can populate them with predominantly women of color, that finding queer women (and, more importantly, queer WOC!!!) is not like hunting for that needle in a haystack, that i'm left thinking, ah! i should have added this title and this title and that one, too!

diversity makes my cold, little heart warm and swell, and i'm not interested in any celebration of womanhood that celebrates only white women or straight women or mainstream women. in relation, i'm not interested in feminism that excludes certain economic classes, feminism that says that we can be a part of their community only if we have the means to gain admittance into their playground. i'm not interested in feminism that only pays attention to the marginalized when they fulfill a specific need, more often than not a PR one.

and i know that i have to do better, too; i'm not trying to claim that i'm perfect or so much better off than anyone. i know i need to widen my geographic scope and read more from women all over the world. i know i need to read more from trans women. i know i need to read more from women who are not able-bodied.

that said, if you want to start reading more from women who aren't white and/or straight, here's a place to start. for full disclosure, i haven't finished every single book in this stack, and i didn't love them all equal amounts, but i stand by them. there are definitely a few books i've been pushing harder than others — like, oh my god, if you haven't read patty yumi cottrell's sorry to disrupt the peace or julie buntin's marlena or jenny zhang's sour heart yet, i highly, highly recommend you hurry up and do so. if you want to get your heart wrecked, read shobha rao's girls burn brighter and kim fu's for today i am a boy. and, if you're wanting to get into the kitchen more but are kind of intimidated, julia turshen's small victories is so freaking fabulous — and julia's so worth following on instagram and twitter because she actively boosts other women, especially WOC, using her platform to bring attention to issues and pressing concerns and needs.

should i not be spotlighting a few books over all the others? but, wow, i shamelessly admit that i'm stealing time between tasks at work to get this post up sooner than later.

so, hey, to keep this short and sweet: to all my women out there, WOC or not, queer or not, keep telling your bombass stories. keep putting your voices out there and sharing your strength. keep being the heroes of your stories.

and keep listening to the stories of your fellow women and keep supporting your communities and keep lifting up the voices of your fellow women, especially those marginalized among you.

together, may we continue to thrive.


find my stack for 2017 here and 2016 here.