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

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

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

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

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color me this.

here is the lip that started it all.

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there are several stories to be told here, but i suppose let’s start with the simplest. in 2012, flower boy next door aired on TVN. the main character, go dok-mi (park shin-hye), is a recluse who doesn’t leave her apartment unless she has to, working as copywriter and doing everything she can to conserve her resources and keep her bills low. her next-door neighbor (oh jin-rak [kim ji-hoon])  is a webtoon artist, and he has a crush on her, though he never talks to her, leaving an illustration on a post-in on her milk carton every morning. the illustrations, together, make a flipbook, which dok-mi has been accumulating on the wall of her entryway.

their quiet existence is tossed upside down with the arrival of enrique (yoon shi-yoon), a wunderkind game designer who lived in spain and is now moving to seoul. he’s exuberant, outgoing, and friendly, almost too friendly, seemingly with no sense of personal boundaries or personal struggles — he’s young, cute, successful, and life seems to unfold easily for him.

his presence brings noise into dok-mi’s quiet, solitary life, and he draws her out of her shell and out into the world. that, in turn, brings noise into jin-rak’s quiet life, drawing him out and throwing him actively into dok-mi’s life, no longer allowing him to remain as a quiet outsider who cares for her in silence from afar. inevitably, as they get to know each other, they start to learn more about each other and the hurts that have brought them to the quiet lives both dok-mi and jin-rak were trying to live before enrique rolled into their lives.

it’s a fun, poignant drama with a strong cast.

it also features some great lipstick, namely go dok-mi’s “signature” peachy-pinky-orange.


on december 1, i’m moving back to brooklyn and starting a new job. it happened quickly, but it didn’t, my interview with the CEO having happened in may, a freelance project completed, then silence until october. i’m glad for the delay, though, because i don’t know that i’d have been fully ready for the cross-country move then, if i’d have had the confidence for it.

because, yes, despite my desperation to move back, there’s been a lot of fear keeping me in place, which isn’t something i like to admit, that i carry a fair amount of fear with me. i’ve wanted to think of myself as fearless for so many years because i wanted to think of myself as invincible, as capable of being alone and on my own, and somehow that was related. fear would mean i would need people in my life; that, in turn, would mean that i would need to open myself up to people; and that, in its own turn, would mean that i would need to be vulnerable and face the possibility of rejection.

that was the fear that defined me for over a decade, and that’s the fear that fed and reinforced the principle lies i’ve been telling myself for so long — that i’m a misanthrope, an introvert, a solitary soul. as it goes, i am none of those things — i like people, i like engaging with people and being around them, and i dare say — people like being around me, too.


i was never much into makeup as a teenager or as a young adult, and i’m still not, really. i don’t wear makeup every day, and, when i do wear, i stay very minimalist — concealer under my eyes and on my spots, boy brow, mascara, lipstick.

it’s go do-kmi’s lipstick that started it all because i readily admit that i now have a problem when it comes to lipstick. i got into lipstick before i got into any other kind of makeup, and i got into it because i wanted to find this peachy/pinky/orangey shade go dok-mi wears throughout the drama. the closest i got was bobbi brown’s valencia orange, though that was still too dark, too orange, which was still fine because i learned that i can actually wear orange lipstick — it doesn’t make me look sallow.

finding that go dok-mi shade was impossible, though. all the shades i could find that could be a potential match were either too chalky, too pale, too this or too that. if not that, they would wash me out or made me look pallid or something similarly odd and unflattering and weird.

that means that i’ve been looking for this shade for five years now, that this has been on my mind still, even tens of lipsticks later, even as i’ve been amassing a sizable collection of lipsticks mostly along the red or orange spectrum. as i’ve discovered, i like bright lip colors because i like how they brighten my face, especially when i’m exhausted and showing it, and i’ve recently been drawn to dusty pinks. i went bold and got a fabulous gold lipstick. i have a good selection of strong reds. it’s this peach/pinky/orangey shade that’s been eluding me for so many years, even as i’ve kept my eyes open, swatched so many possible shades on my hand, dried out my lips trying different products. five years later, i still haven’t given up, even as the shade has felt more and more nonexistent as one i’ll be able to wear.

enter, then, bite beauty’s lip lab.

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a friend tells me bite’s opened up a lip lab on larchmont, and i ask her the next day if she wants to go. i don’t know that there are two tiers of service — the first lets you personalize a lipstick by choosing from 200+ preexisting shades and selecting a finish and scent. the second lets you customize your own shade, mixing up to three shades, and selecting a finish, scent, and name. i assume that there is only one thing, the second thing, the customizing thing, and i think, wow, it’s so cheap, $55 for a customized shade!

the second tier, though, is $150 for two lipsticks, and it’s not a thing you can split with a friend. it also comes with a lip kit that includes bite’s cherry lip scrub, a mini lip mask, and a lip primer. the artist asks us what we’d like to do, and my friend and i look at each other, hem and haw. i’ve got this very specific color in mind that i’ve been looking for for so long. she’s wanted a coral, has never been able to find one she can wear because her skin tone is more yellow, doesn’t wear orangey hues well. i’m moving back to brooklyn in two weeks for a job that actually utilizes my skills and is in a direction of my long-term career goals, and i’m feeling celebratory.

our artist’s name is samantha, and we’ll spend the next two-and-a-half hours with her. she’ll listen to the shades we have in mind, reach for pots of colors, think up ratios in her head. she’ll notice that my friend’s lips tend to bring a strong pink hue to everything whereas mine are more like blank canvases, wearing colors as they appear. she’ll be patient with us when we ask her if she could make the same shade in a different finish; she’ll be honest and blunt when a particular shade doesn’t work with our skin tones.

i’ll realize for the nth time that i like bright, vivid colors, that i have very strong opinions about colors and little qualms expressing said opinions in nice but blunt ways — and that’s another not insignificant thing i’ve learned about myself this year, that i can trust my taste and my ability to critique and to do it well. i’m a smart reader, and i have an eye for color and design and photography, and i’m better at providing feedback and insight than i used to think i was. more than that, it’s okay to be confident; confidence is not ego — it is not arrogance.

and that, in turn, leads to the biggest thing i’ve been learning these last few years, especially these last two years in LA — it is okay to like myself. it is okay to like what i see in the mirror. it is okay for people to disagree and think otherwise. it is okay if it’s people close to me who disagree.

the unexpected effect of being body shamed is that it has taught me that people’s opinions mean shit because everyone has a bloody opinion. it doesn’t matter if it’s a family member or a stranger on the street or a date — they’ve all got opinions about you, and all those opinions are secondary to the one you have about yourself. and i say that because i’m going to quote stephen chbosky’s the perks of being a wallflower here: “we accept the love we think we deserve.”

i’ve learned that i deserve a lot better, and, more importantly, i’ve learned to expect better and remove myself from people who can’t or won’t deliver.

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i know — that’s all easier said than done, and it’s a constant fight to remind myself of all these lessons learned. healing’s a process, as is personal growth, and it takes time, and, more often than not, it feels like taking one baby step forward and one giant step back. the thing to remember is that, even if you move forward one inch at a time, you’re still moving forward.

that’s essential to remember.

change doesn’t often look like what we’d expect, and neither does growth. i tend to think that an essential part of the healing process is accepting that and learning to be okay with it. you are going to falter and stumble and get triggered and fall into the same habits and negative thinking, and you are going to make the same mistakes. you are going to mess up. you are not perfect, and that is okay because the thing that counts is that you’re trying.

it’s okay to have a moment when you’re yelling at yourself again as long as you have that moment and let it pass. it’s okay to cry. it’s okay to feel like shit every once in a while. it’s okay to feel the same self-loathing washing over you again. it’s okay as long as you recognize, this is a moment. i am going to feel this, process it, and keep going. because that’s the thing — feelings are fleeting, and the bad moments pass. at the same time, yeah, that means that good moments pass, too, but the good moments wouldn’t be good if we didn’t have the bad to contrast them.

and another lesson? just like it’s okay to feel the negative shit, it’s also okay — and essential — to feel the positive. when something good happens, sit with that and exult in it. celebrate the happy. congratulate yourself, and do something nice for yourself. sometimes, that means taking a nap, hugging your dog, going out for a nice meal. it can also be taking an afternoon off to go to the beach, the bookstore, the gym. or something nice can also look like paying a stupid amount of money to spend two-and-a-half hours with your best friend creating two custom lipsticks because you’ll be living on different coasts again and you won’t be able to see each other as often anymore.


if you’re going to pay to get custom lipstick made, you should go for something you can’t find easily in stores. my friend goes for a coral and a dark pinkish brown, something she wouldn’t typically wear. i make my go dok-mi shade and a shiny brick red, and i leave with other colors i’d come back to create, like the first pink-brown samantha makes for my friend — it’s too light on her, on her already pink-hued lips, but, on me, it’s the perfect pink-brown, a shade i’ve been looking for recently.

i figure i’ll keep looking for a pink-brown in stores, see if there’s one that’s readily available, but, if i can’t find it, i’ll come back to bite’s lip lab to create it. i might also come back for a glossy true orange. i also want to create a variation of my go dok-mi shade, make it more orange, less pink, but just as soft and pastel. pastel orange-based shades can be hard for me to find because they look too chalky, too white, too uneven in application.

that’s some time later in the future, a few months down the road. for now, there is this cross-country move to make, a new job to transition into, and an apartment to furnish. i’m planning to bring my dog across in three to six months, so i’ve also got to figure out how to manage that, what to do with my dog if i’m working longer hours, how to make sure the transition is goes smoothly for him. i’m thinking that it’s time for me to stop thinking so transiently, to start investing in pieces, whether they’re furniture or clothes or, even, bags, and to stop living such a disposable life that i can get rid of and pack up every few years.

i’m thinking, i’m moving back home, and it’s time to lay down roots and really make it home.

it’s time to stop running.

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things i've been reading.

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nicole chung, all you can ever know

catapult was kind to send me this ARC back in june, and i sat on it for a week or so before i started to read it. you only get to experience a book for the first once after all, and i knew i was going to love this because i love nicole’s writing — it’s so full of love and grace and heart.

all you can ever know is her memoir of being adopted by white parents and growing up in white oregon. her birth parents were first-generation korean immigrants, and she was born seriously premature, and, overwhelmed, her parents decided to give her up for adoption.

it wasn’t until she was pregnant with her first child that she decided to look for her birth family, and the memoir is as much about her “journey” (god, i hate that word) getting to know her birth sister and birth family as it is about the narratives we’re told, that we tell ourselves. these narratives matter because they’re how we situate ourselves in the world, and nicole isn’t one to skirt away from the uncomfortable topic of race, rather addressing it with her characteristic grace and thoughtfulness.

she’s a smart writer, and i don’t mean anything snooty or stuffy when i say that. she’s astute and observant, and she’s written a book that isn’t just about her story, her experience, because she has things to say, things about race and racism, about the complexities of families, whether we’re born into them or chosen to be a part of them, about being a parent, especially in this current political climate, especially to a daughter with special needs, about the things expected from adoptees, about love and how love wants to protect, to think itself an exception to ugliness and prejudice. all you can ever know is uniquely her story, her experience, yes, but she’s not telling it to bask in her own goodness.

it’s not to say that the memoir is full of moralizing or preaching because it isn’t; nicole’s writing carries no trace of condescension or moral superiority, just a quiet wisdom that says, hi, this is my experience as a woman of color who was adopted into a white family, and here is why it matters for you to hear my story.

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emily m. danforth, the miseducation of cameron post

when i first got this book, i was a little holy shit because it’s not short and i have a well-documented aversion to long books because books don’t tend to get better the longer they drag on — they get tedious. i was afraid that that might be the case with cameron post, and i was more hesitant about it, too, because i wanted to love it.

luckily, i loved it.

the first half of the book focuses on cameron’s life before she’s sent to conversion therapy. her parents die in an accident, and her aunt comes to live with her and her grandmother, but cameron is largely left to navigate and process her grief alone.

she’s also left to process her guilt alone because, the night her parents die in an accident, she kisses her best friend in her barn. the best friend is soon sent off to boarding school because her family comes into a lot of money, and she goes for heteronormative, leaving cameron alone to parse her own feelings and desires and eventually landing in the arms of a popular girl. they become friends, then they become more than friends, but this girl has a boyfriend and she’s a good church-going girl, and, when they’re caught, she’s the victim while cameron is sent off to god’s promise.

the main reason i hurried to finish this book was that i wanted to see the film adaptation with chloe grace moretz. i was excited for the film as is, but, when i’d finished the book, i was really curious to see how they’d adapt it because there’s a lot of material in the book, a lot of story that’s crucial to cameron’s experience at god’s promise, the “school” she’s sent to after she’s outed. she has a roommate; the doors are never locked or closed all the way; and the students are all checked in on during the night. they study independently, go to group therapy, draw icebergs that represent their sin of homosexuality.

i love the way the film adapted the novel. the film focuses on cameron’s time at god’s promise, but it also gives us all the important moments that lead up to cameron’s forced enrollment — even while focusing on a small part of the novel, the film doesn’t lose the expansive sense of the book.

and neither does it lose its horrors.

there’s nothing sensational or dramatic about either the novel or the film, but that’s kind of the thing about conversion therapy — on the surface, it’s not necessarily very sensational, and it’s not necessarily outwardly horrific. in cameron post, the people who run god’s promise aren’t cruel, abusive people, not in the strictest sense of either word, and, if you believe what they believe in the way they believe, you’d think them kind and loving, committed to their children’s eternal souls.

but the thing is that conversion therapy does so much harm. it’s an insidious, dangerous practice. it’s banned in fourteen states + DC.

cameron post doesn’t shy away from showing the harm wrought by conversion therapy. cameron herself is lucky to emerge relatively unscathed, at least in the sense that she retains a grasp of herself as who she is and doesn’t self-harm. others aren’t so lucky; there’s a girl who so wants to believe that she’s figured out the source of her homosexual urges and has them under control that i fear for what will happen when she has to confront all her repressed feelings later. there’s the boy with the violent rage. and there’s the boy who wants his father’s approval, who immerses himself in the bible and memorizes scripture and is trying so hard to be able to go back home, that when he continues to be rejected by his father, it breaks him.

i wasn’t thinking of including quotes in this post, but here’s a long one, four poignant, crucial pages from cameron post. i think it gets at why it can be difficult to explain why conversion therapy is so harmful and why people just might not understand, especially if they don’t want to to, if they subscribe to the belief that homosexuality is such a terrible, damning sin. in the scene, someone (cameron calls him mr. blah-blah because she doesn’t remember his name) has come from the child and family services department after a student at god’s promise mutilates himself, and he is interviewing different students.

“do you think you can tell me more specifically what you mean when you say that you can’t trust the staff here?”

that time he did sound like every other counselor who’d ever asked me to elaborate on my feelings. i was surprised at myself for having him to open up to. i was surprised even as i was doing it. maybe i picked him because i thought he would have to take me seriously, whatever i said, he seemed so fastidious and by the book, and he also seemed, precisely because of his position and that fastidiousness, a little nonjudgmental, i guess.

“i would say that rick and lydia and everybody else associated with promise think that they’re doing what’s best for us, like spiritually or whatever,” i said. “but just because you think something doesn’t make it true.”

“okaaaaay,” he said. “can you go on?”

“not really,” i said, but then tried to anyway. “i’m just saying that sometimes you can end up really messing somebody up because they’re you’re trying to supposedly help them is really messed up.”

“so are you saying that their method of treatment is abusive?” he asked me in a tone i didn’t like very much.

“look, nobody’s beating us. they’re not even yelling at us. it’s not like that.” i sighed and shook my head. “you asked me if i trust them, and like, i trust them to drive the vans safely on the highway, and i trust that they’ll buy food for us every week, but i don’t trust that they actually know what’s best for my soul, or how to make me the best person with a guaranteed slot in heaven or whatever.” i could tell i was losing him. or maybe i’d never had him to begin with, and i was mad at myself for being so inarticulate, for messing up what i felt like i owed to mark, even if he wouldn’t see it that way, which he probably wouldn’t.

“whatever,” i said. “it’s hard to explain. i just don’t trust that a place like promise is even necessary, or that i need to be here, or that any of us need to be here, and the whole point of being here is that we’re supposed to trust that what they’re doing is going to save us, so how could i answer yes to your question?”

“i guess you couldn't,” he said.

i thought maybe i had an in, so i said, “it’s just that i know you’re here because of what happened to mark.”

but before i could continue he said, “what mr. turner did to himself.”

“what?” i asked.

“you said what happened to him,” he said. “something didn’t just happen to him. he injured himself. severely.”

“yeah, while under the care of this facility,” i said.

“correct,” he said in another unreadable tone. “and that’s why i’m here: to investigate the care that is given by those who run this facility, but not to investigate the mission of the facility, unless that mission includes abuse or neglect.”

“but isn’t there like emotional abuse?” i asked.

“there is,” he said, completely noncommittal. “do you feel that you’ve been emotionally abused by the staff here?”

“oh my god,” i said, throwing my hands in the air, feeling every bit as dramatic as i was acting. “i just told you all about it — the whole fucking purpose of this place is to make us hate ourselves so that we change. we’re supposed to hate who we are, despise it.”

“i see,” he said, but i could tell that he didn’t at all. “is there anything else?”

“no, i think the hate yourself part about covers it.”

he looked at me, unsure, searching for what to say, and then he took a breath and said, “okay. i want you to know that i’ve written down what you’ve said and it will go in the official file. ‘ll also share it with my committee.” he had jotted something down as i was talking, but i definitely didn’t trust that he’d really written down what i had said, not really, at least not the way that i’d said it.

“right,” i said. “well, i’m sure that will be an effective method for change.” now i hated this guy, and myself a little too — for hoping that i could make something happen just by answering a few questions honestly. for once.

“i’m not sure i understand,” he aid.

and i believe that he really didn’t understand what i was trying to say; i do. but i also believe that he didn’t really want to, because he probably wasn’t so nonjudgmental after all, and maybe he eve believed that people like me, like mark, absolutely did belong at promise. or somewhere worse. and though i knew that i couldn’t explain all of that to him, make what i was feeling fit neatly into words, i tried, more for me and for mark than for this guy’s understanding.

“my whole point,” i said, “is that what they teach here, what they believe, if you don’t trust it, if you doubt it at all, then you’re told that you’re going to hell, that no only everyone you know is ashamed of you, but that jesus himself has given up on your soul. and you’re like mark, and you do believe all of this, you really do — you have faith in jesus and this stupid promise system, and even still, even with those things, you still can’t make yourself good enough, because what you’re trying to change isn’t changeable, it’s like your height or the shape of your ears, whatever,then it’s like this place does make things happen to you, or at least it’s supposed to convince you that you’re always gonna be a dirty sinner and that it’s completely your fault because you’re not trying hard enough to change yourself. it convinced mark.”

“are you saying that you think the staff should have anticipated that mark would do something like this?” he asked, jotting again. “were there warning signs?”

at that i just gave up completely. (398-401)

and here’s one last short passage to think about.

“you’re right,” jane said. “it’s completely fucked. but his dad doesn’t see it that way. he absolutely believes with everything in him that what he’s doing in the only way to save his son from eternal damnation. the fiery pits of hell. he believes that completely.”

adam kept sneering, near a shout now. “yeah, well what about saving him from right now? what about the hell of thinking it’s best just to fucking chop your balls off than to have your body somehow betray your stupid fucking belief system?”

“that’s never what it’s about to those people,” jane said, still calm. “all that’s the price we’re supposed to pay for salvation. we’re supposed to be glad to pay it.” (389)

fuck conversion therapy.

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malinda lo, a line in the dark

malinda lo’s ash is one of my favorite YA books, so i was interested to read a line in the dark because, heeeeey, queer YA! by a queer asian writer! i am all over that!

i liked a line in the dark enough. it went quickly. the ending was fairly predictable, but i appreciated the telling of the story and loved the portrayal of young people.

that’s kind of it — and talking about YA is kind of weird to me because i’m not drawn to it, typically find myself feeling more eh about it than not, and my instinct is to get defensive about that, to explain that, no, it’s not snobbishness or condescension — i just am not honestly drawn to YA and have never been.

and then i feel kind of dumb about getting defensive because what’s to get defensive about? not all kinds of books are for everyone, and it’s okay to have preferences. it’s okay not to read everything. it’s okay not to want to read everything.

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naomi alderman, disobedience

i saw the film adaptation to disobedience before i read the book, and, to be honest, the main reason i picked up the book is that i was so uhhhh whaaaat??? over the film — and not in the good way.

the cast was stellar (rachel weisz! rachel mcadams!), but the film was choppy and oddly resolved, if you could say it was resolved at all. it was like all the characters finally reached a point of understanding, the climax of the film you could say … but then that was it. they get to the climax of the film, then wake up the next morning, and then one character leaves, and that’s that — there’s no denouement, no follow-through, no indication that anything has changed or will change, just … the ending credits rolling.

there also isn’t much context provided, so, as someone who has very little knowledge of orthodox jewish customs, i was massively confused and kind of put out in one particular scene because i was unaware that it was tradition, what one of the characters does. (a friend of mine explained later, and it made so much more sense.) this is not a criticism, though, because the film did make me realize how little i know of orthodox jewish culture, and it’s on me to follow through on that and try to learn more on my own.

that’s not why i read the book, though — i read the book because i wanted to know how different it was from the film, because, after i saw the film, i started googling reviews and read how the book is more insular, has more sass. i read that we got more from esti and her relationship with faith. i wanted to know if the ending were just as infuriating.

i found the book thoughtful enough; i read both a line in the dark and disobedience on my flight back to LA from new york; and the pages turned quickly. it’s been over a month since i read it, though, so that means my impressions of it have become fuzzier, and, sometimes, i wonder if i should be reviewing these books right away, so i remember more things clearly.

i often like giving books the test of time, though, to see if they have what i call staying power. it’s not a criticism of a book if it fades quickly from memory because not all books can stay with you (and neither should all books have to have that power) — i do believe in the importance of the reading experience first and foremost; it’s why i refuse to shame people for reading whatever they read and why i dislike the term “guilty pleasure.”

that said, disobedience has largely faded from my memory, and the thing i remember most about it is that i wish naomi alderman had gotten less lost in philosophical wanderings about religion and faith and shown us more about how her characters actually live with religion and faith. i wanted more from esti, a lesbian in an orthodox jewish community, about why she might not want to leave her community even if it is grossly homophobic and heteronormative, because that conflict is so, so relatable and so worth exploring. i wanted more of dovid’s conflicts as a default prominent member of the community. i wanted more about all these messy intersections of the secular and the religious, and i wanted more of it as they actually play out in people’s lives, not just in their philosophical ramblings and thinkings because, yeah, theory is great, but, in the end, for it to have value, it needs to be pulled down to the ground and given tangible form in lived human life.

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thea lim, an ocean of minutes

touchstone sent me an ocean of minutes early this summer, and i didn’t get to it until last month because i’m such a mood reader. would i call this dystopian fiction? i don’t know, but it’s set in an america where an outbreak has spread rapidly, essentially quarantining parts of the country. a company has developed the ability to time travel, and [healthy] people are able to time travel into the future, exchanging labor for a cure to be administered to infected loved ones, which is what the main character, polly, does, except, instead of being sent 12 years into the future, she’s sent 17 years into the future.

this was another fast read. i could have done without the last ten pages or so, though. they felt like thea lim was too preoccupied with tying things up in a neat bow-tied ending when she could have just left the characters where they were.

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bina shah, before she sleeps

i wanted to love before she sleeps but did not, and i don’t know if my disappointment is simply that my expectations were too high. the summary made the novel sound like a dystopia in the lines of the handmaid’s tale but set in the middle east, in an imaginary city where women (or girls, really) are married off to multiple men and made to have child after child after child because there’s a fertility crisis.

before she sleeps has a ton of potential, but, ultimately, the world just isn’t fleshed out enough. there’s a small group of women underground who provide companionship to wealthy, powerful men — not sex, but physical, sex-less intimacy because, in this world, that kind of emotional comfort is rare and desired — and we follow a few of these women and learn their stories. there are also a few men in there because, of course, the safety of these underground women is dependent upon them, and there’s a surprise pregnancy, the fear of discovery, exposure, etcetera.

it could have been so good.

i actually have the same criticism of before she sleeps as i did adam johnson’s the orphan master’s son (it’s still beyond me, how that won the pulitzer) — that the novel relies too much on the nature of its setting to provide conflict and tension, by which i mean that the writer knows that a setting like north korea or a repressive, paternalistic regime like the one in before she sleeps is intrinsically dangerous, that the setting alone automatically means that readers will enter the book already with a sense of unease, and the writer fails, thus, to build out the world fully. it’s not that there isn’t conflict in before she sleeps, but it’s all fairly predictable — of course, something happens that means the women underground are exposed; of course, they have to go on the run; of course, the book ends the way it does.

which is fine! i don’t necessarily look for books to be new as far as plots go because there’s little in any art form that’s truly original, but i do look for emotional truth. i want characters who are fully human, and i want them to exist in a real, living, breathing world. i want active writing that introduces tension and creates momentum, whether that momentum is plot-based or character-based or whatever-based. and, unfortunately, before she sleeps simply doesn’t deliver in any of those ways.

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miriam toews, women talking

there was a copy error about halfway through women talking; one of the women leaves the scene, has dialogue on the next page, returns back to the scene a few pages later. i had to read it several times to make sure i was reading correctly, to verify that she had indeed left the scene, and the poop thing about this is that now that’s the clearest thing i remember from this slim, interesting novel.

i read women talking the weekend that kavanaugh was confirmed and sworn into the SCOTUS seat left empty by kennedy (that asshole), and, god, what a weekend to read women talking. toews based this on actual happenings in mennonite communities in the early 2000s — women (and girls!) were waking up in the morning, bruised and sore and bleeding. they were told, by their male elders, that they were making it up, that the devil was visiting them, that it was a plague from god or some other, and, without any clear answers and no other alternatives, they accepted it, and nothing was done.

until two men were caught trying to break into someone’s house.

it turned out that a group of men in the community had been drugging women and girls and raping them for years. one victim was as young as three years old. there’s a great vice article about the aftermath here.

women talking is an imagined scenario following the exposure of these serial rapes. the book is set up as the minutes of these meetings in which women in this fictional mennonite community debate whether they should stay or leave. the minutes are taken by a man because women in mennonite communities are illiterate — girls are not educated — and the man, too, is an outsider, someone who was once a part of the community when he was young before his parents were exiled.

it’s an interesting novel, and it’s one i still don’t quite know how to talk about. toews deftly captures the complexities of these women, shows why it’s not such a simple thing just to leave people (or a community) who have been abusing you, explores the complexities of being a woman (or a girl) with a body. toews also shows how women are different — there is no one singular response to having been abused or raped or assaulted. there is no “correct” response. everyone, every woman, carries her trauma in her own way.

we don’t see much of the men in women talking, and i’m glad for that. a husband makes an appearance at one point because he returns to the community to take animals to be traded so the rapists (who have been taken to the city jail) can be bailed out. there’s the narrator, who’s a man, who’s taking the minutes because the women are illiterate. there are teenage boys from another town. there’s the senile old man who owns the barn in which the women are meeting.

and it’s great. turns out, stories that center women are really damn interesting and compelling, too, even stories in which they do nothing else but sit in a barn and debate whether they should leave or stay or fight.. and, as my reading these last few months shows, it’s really damn easy to read women writers. i did not intentionally set out to read only women and didn’t realize i had until i sat down to write this post.

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becky chambers, record of a spaceborn few

I LOVE BECKY CHAMBERS’ WAYFARER SERIES, and i hate series. (again, i have an aversion for long books. that includes series.)

i first learned of these books a few years ago when a long way to a small, angry planet started making its rounds on instagram. the cover is beautiful, and i bought it without knowing what it was about because, hey, i’m not ashamed of that — i judge books by their covers sometimes; hell, i’ve judged books by their type and margins sometimes.

(like, my main reason for picking up and putting down rachel cusk’s outline numerous times? the damn book is set in a sans serif font.) (han kang’s the vegetarian is, too, but it’s in a more subtle sans serif.)

i read a long way in a day, though, plowed my way through it because, holy shit, the world-building is SO well done. chambers built planets and languages and species, and the most impressive part of that is that she built species that aren’t based on the human model — alien species aren’t just alien species because they’re blue or green or have different animalistic features while still walking on two legs and having two arms and hands and a head and a torso and etcetera etcetera etcetera. they’re alien, and they’re different, and, as chambers tells the stories of these characters, she explores what it means to be different and to exist peacefully with those differences.

because one of the key things in this huge, expansive world is that humans are the Other. humans have taken to space because they’ve destroyed earth. they’ve had to come into other galaxies on their giant ships, and they’ve had to learn to depend on other species with more advanced technology, more territorial rights, more power and knowledge and influence. they’ve had to learn other languages. they’ve had to defer.

what chambers shows through her books is that acknowledging difference, that respecting differences and coexisting are possible — it’s actually kind of easy. yes, it requires work, and, yes, it requires effort, but it’s not difficult. it’s certainly not impossible. and the world, the whole freaking universe is so much better off when people, aliens, whatever can learn to exist together with all their unique traits, the depth and beauty of their individual cultures appreciated and respected instead of made to change to fit one supposed ideal.

in other words, screw westernization.

one of the things i’ve been loving about this series thus far is that each book focuses on a different group. the first, a long way to a small, angry planet, is more general, placing us mostly on a ship staffed by members of different species. the second, a closed and common circuit, centers around an AI character. the third and most recent, record of a starborn few, follows a handful of humans — or exodans, as they’re now called.

at first, i was kind of ehhh about record — i thought the pieces were too fragmented, the characters lives too disconnected and separate from each other, that i was almost disappointed. i’d read the first two books with such obsessive glee, fascination, and interest, but i wasn’t having that same intense fervor with the third — at first.

i kept reading because i knew to trust chambers; she hadn’t let me down with the first two books, had already demonstrated her ability to weave together stories and bring all the pieces into one cohesive puzzle; and i felt that, yes, okay, maybe i wasn’t so crazy in love with book number three, but that was okay, too. it’s unrealistic to expect authors to write only brilliant, amazing books, anyway, and it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll like everything an author writes with the same intensity.

but then, things started coming together. all these separate threads began to be woven together, not in cliched, boring ways where suddenly all their worlds are colliding and they’re all dramatically involved in each other’s lives — chambers weaves her narrative threads together with more nuance than that, exploring how an event, how one person’s life, can reverberate in strangers’ lives and affect them.

and it’s really wonderfully done.

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jenny han, to all the boys i’ve loved before

i read to all the boys i’ve loved before on a tired sunday afternoon, and it was a fast read. i can’t say i either liked or disliked it, though — the pages turned quickly enough to pass the time, and it was quite pleasant to read with two puppies snoozing next to me, one getting up every minute to flop over into another position.

i enjoyed the film adaptation well enough as well, despite being constantly thrown off by how the sisters didn’t look at all like sisters and only kitty looked biracial. i’m also still working through vague peeves of why lara jean had to be biracial to begin with, though vague peeves of books written by asian-american authors about biracial characters, and i say i’m working through those peeves because i wonder where they’re coming from, if they’re some kind of latent, internalized asianness that makes me roll my eyes and think, of course, of course, there’s this kind of appeasement because there has to be some pandering to a white readership.

does that make me cynical? or does that make me one of those asians? though i’m no purist by any means and don’t give two shits about asian women dating or marrying men or other races and i think any kind of racial purity bullshit is just that — bullshit.

and yet i admit that i am bothered by how many books by asian american writers go for biracial, go for some kind of whiteness, and i am kind of bothered by the fact that i am bothered. i think i’m bothered because it implies that asian stories about asian people can’t be told unless there is whiteness present to make these narratives relatable and/or familiar and/or interesting, and i think i’m bothered because it’s a common enough thing that i can rattle off a list of books by asian american women with biracial main characters.

again, though, i’m all for interracial relationships, so why does this bother me so much to see it so often in fiction? especially when it does reflect the common occurrence of interracial relationships? like, many of these asian american women writers are themselves in interracial relationships and get so much ridiculous shit about it from insecure asian men, shit that pisses me off whenever i see it?

everything is political.

today, dr. christina blasey ford testified about her sexual assault by brett kavanaugh in front of a senate committee — and, well, the whole damn world — and, while it was encouraging and inspiring to see, once again, the courage of a woman to stand up for what she believes is right, even though she knows the system she’s up against is too powerful, it’s been an ugly day and a disappointing one. kavanaugh’s confirmation is an inevitability (or it feels overwhelmingly so), and the sham that was the 2016 election continues to reverberate even now, almost two years later, in this sham of a hearing.

but that’s not what i want to talk about, not right now.

this morning, i went to work and opened twitter and glanced at the news, then i opened instagram and started scrolling through my feed and stories and explore page. now, tonight, with my dog at my feet and crisp night air sifting in through the windows, i feel the need to put down in a post what i said in my instagram stories this morning. (they’ve also been pinned to my profile.)

to put it shortly: food is political. books are political. fashion is political. and, if you’re a public account, whatever your niche, the greater your following, the greater your responsibility to speak up and be clear about what you stand for.

i’ve been open about how my patience for instagram, specifically for influencers on instagram, has been dwindling, and it kind of blew up today as i was going through my feed and my stories and seeing the same old — book hauls, exorbitant product unboxings, fashion parties — and largely silence about the goings-on in DC. maybe there’d be a token post, a screencap with a quote, nothing personal given. maybe there’d be a tiny gesture, just enough to squeak by safely, so the poster could have something to point at to say, look, i’m paying attention! here’s something that’s been circulating on the internet that fits with my brand! i’m not saying that people need to be posting about political and social shit non-stop all the time, but today was particularly jarring, this blatant disconnect between food/books/etc accounts and dr. ford’s testimony and the GOP’s disgusting responses.

it’s also been jarring given that it’s banned books week, and we’ve been seeing plenty of photos of banned books, which makes the silence from prominent bookstagrammers ring even more because those books they’re so keen to show off have often been banned for telling stories of people whose rights are under threat today, whose lives kavanaugh’s confirmation makes even more perilous.

and, yes, i do mean lives, actual, physical, mortal lives, because don’t delude yourself for one goddamn minute that people’s lives aren’t at stake here..

because lest you forget, women die without access to safe abortion. they die because of sexual and domestic violence. they die because their pain is dismissed and ignored because they’re women and women’s pain is diminished, not heard and taken seriously.

queer people die because of violence committed against them, because they have the audacity to exist and love. they die because they’re so bullied, so dehumanized, so isolated that they take their own lives. they die because they’re chased out of their homes, cut out of their families, forced onto the streets with no support system.

people of color die because of racism, because the color of their skin carries prejudice and stereotypes that erase their humanity. they die because they’re denied refuge, even though they came to this country to flee violence and deportation means they will be killed — there is no doubt about that. people of color die doing the work in this country that white people, no matter how desperate, will never deign to do.

these are all things those banned books are about because writers write in response to the shit that goes on in the world. those banned books people are stacking so proudly, so prettily, were written to illuminate something about the world because writers know — books exist in dialogue with the world, because nothing — NOTHING — exists in a vacuum. you cannot separate art from the political because art is political, just like you cannot separate food from the political, not when it is the political that mandates what kind of food is made available and accessible to which groups of people. don’t forget that this country produces enough food to feed all its people and more. it is the political that means so many people, so many children, in this country go hungry.

so don’t give me your excuses, and don’t you dare sit there trying to claim that food isn’t political, that books aren’t political, that you can somehow detach yourself from the political. have the decency and courage to make it clear where you stand because silence is damning and privilege is an ugly thing that reinforces this toxic, patriarchal, classist white society that is meting out incredible amounts of harm to women, POC, queer people, immigrants, people of faiths other than christianity.

when you have a platform, whether it’s to a following of a few thousand or hundreds of thousands or millions, and you refuse to make it clear where you stand, your silence makes you complicit.

[AK] now, where were we?

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

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

there are changes afoot, though.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and so we go on.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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