i do regret leaving the south without eating fried chicken. and i also regret not eating more grits.
back in los angeles, at my parents’, and here’s a last travel post, a few other things i ate, a few things i’ve been thinking about since i left new york ten days ago.
01. we carry heartbreak in our bodies. i feel it literally in my heart, the way it feels like my heart is physically trying to squeeze itself out of my body. i feel it in my stomach, too, the way it churns with anxiety, wakes me in the morning with nausea, reminds me of loss by making me want to vomit all the time. heartbreak is not simply a matter of emotion; i think we forget that we feel with our bodies.
02. as i was driving, i thought a lot about borders, about spaces. i thought about how things started to feel different once i crossed the virginia border into north carolina, even though maybe that was more in my head than anything else. i thought about wanting to drive through north carolina without stopping because HB2 has yet to be repealed. (i similarly thought about wishing i could avoid texas because of SB242 and a similar bathroom bill and restrictive abortion laws.) i thought about being in charleston and feeling my asianness, my queerness, and i thought about being in the south and experiencing that southern geniality and hospitality but constantly having that fear underneath my skin, wondering, what do you really think of me? i know i pass as very straight, so what would you think if you knew who i was, what i was?
03. here’s a truth: that i know that we can’t make sweeping generalized statements about any region, any group of people, anything, really. that i know that there are open-minded, loving people to be found everywhere, that there are allies in hidden spaces, that we speak in code that’s there to be deciphered by those of us who speak the language.
04. and here’s another truth: that we must learn to speak these languages, that they are languages we carry, too, in our bodies.
05. and here’s yet another truth: that i know i can’t make sweeping generalized statements about the south but that my uneasiness was, is still a real thing. maybe it’s more easily explained in the context of religion because religion makes me very uneasy, and all the churches and the billboards blasting bible verses and the trucks done up in declarations of god’s existence made me queasy. it started once i crossed that virginia border into north carolina, and it’s something i wasn’t able to shake all the way into california. i don’t know why it surprises me how religious this country is.
06. like, when i was driving through mississippi, en route to new orleans, i exited the 10 west once because the sign promised a sonic. i ended up going 2.3 miles off the freeway and passed no less than six churches, no promised sonic in sight.
07. i am not, do not want to be the type of person who gets limited by my fears, who is afraid to head into spaces that make me uncomfortable, that make me look at the people around me and wonder, what do you think of me? do i make you as uneasy as you make me? if you could, would you throw the first stone?
08. i thought a lot about safe spaces, too. i thought about the criticism we sometimes face, that we live in these liberal spaces on the coasts (or on some body of water) and fail to see the rest of the world. i thought about the criticisms voiced after the election that went the wrong way, that we would have, should have, seen this result coming, had we only thought to look outside our liberal bubbles. i thought about the smugness that sometimes comes laced with these criticisms, the sort of, ha! all you liberals are getting what you deserved!, except that makes me sad, and then it makes me angry because, yes, maybe we congregate in our liberal bubbles, but do you understand this fear of walking around with a target on your back because of the color of your skin, the non-christian religion you practice, the orientation with which you identify?
09. that made me wonder, though, as to what makes a safe space. because, like everything else, spaces are complicated, too. a city can be liberal; it can be open and committed to protecting the diversity of its citizens; but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be safe for you, for me, for everyone. we all have baggage, and spaces that should otherwise be safe become fraught with other things. it’s like me and california — this should be a safe space for me, but it’s not. i’m still afraid i’m going to die here.
a. before i came back out to california, i kept reminding my parents: don’t take it personally. this is not about you. my depression is a real thing, and it’s something that i have to live with — and it’s also unfortunately something you have to learn to live with.
b. and how do they learn to live with it? how does anyone learn to love and live with someone who struggles with suicidal depression? a few tips: remember that it’s not about you. it’s not in you or up to you to save us; you can’t. remember that we will have good days and we will have bad days. we will have days when we seem “normal” and “okay,” and we will have days when we’re catatonic, when every tiny little task seems like a giant, impossible thing. we will have days we do nothing but cry. we will have days we laugh without sadness tugging at our eyes. all you can do is take it in stride, treat us with patience and tenderness, and be present. just be present. always be present.
c. and how do we live with it? how do i? i eat; i cook; and, when i can, i read, and i write. i carry books with me like habit in the hopes that i will want to pick them up and lose myself in them. i think about what i’m craving. i think about what i want to cook. i keep my eyes open to the beauty all around me because the fact that i can see beauty at all is an indiction that there is a part of me that is holding on. therapy is good and all, but habits and routines are what get us through the day-to-day, and i cling to what i know has worked in the past and continues to work. i eat; i cook; and, when i can, i read, and i write.
01. the only novel i took with me cross-country (at least in easy access) was rachel khong’s goodbye, vitamin (henry holt, forthcoming, 2017). i read it in pieces while on the road, a few pages here and there when i had the energy and needed words to refill my brain. i loved it, loved the prose, loved the way it seeped into my heart, loved the comfort it surprisingly delivered, loved the warmth and tenderness it fairly oozes.
02. in the novel, the narrator’s father has been diagnosed with alzheimer’s, and, so, she returns to her parents’ house in southern california for a year. she’s avoided visiting as much as she could, not wanting to encounter the realities of her parents’ problems, realities that her younger brother was privy to because he was still a teenager at home to witness them while she was away in college, in the bay area, in her own life.
03. the novel is told in short sections over a year, and the narrator is thoughtful and honest with a wry sense of humor (and offering many mentions of food). at first, i thought i might not like the short sections because, sometimes, that style drives me a little crazy, not being able to dwell in moments and being whisked into next scenes too quickly, but goodbye, vitamin thankfully works its rhythm deftly. the pace works; it takes a story that could be heavy and bleak and excessively dark; and it gives the novel a lightness, space to breathe.
04. there was a lot familiar in this novel, too. in 2012, my paternal grandmother passed away from alzheimer’s. we cared for her at home, and the novel brought all those memories to the surface — the ups and downs, the unpredictable sway of my grandmother’s emotions and actions, the struggles and pains and heart-wrenching sadnesses of watching someone you love deteriorate. also, like the narrator, i have just returned to my parents’ house in southern california under not-so-positive circumstances. in a way, all the familiarity was comforting, especially during that 3,400-mile drive across the country. i don’t know if maybe that’s a strange way of putting it, given the topic matter, but i miss my grandmother intensely at times, and i was glad to remember her while reading this novel.
05. in the novel, there are little bits taken from the father’s journal when the narrator was a child, and those may have been my favorite parts, even if they left me ugly-crying in public spaces. i’ve been thinking a lot these days about how much hope parents must have for their children, how sometimes all that hope is for nothing and how we disappoint the people who have loved us and cared for us and wished so much for us.
06. writing about books again feels really fucking good. and it also makes me laugh because all this reminds me how disappointing it is when questionable book decisions happen to good people. like the cover of jonathan franzen’s purity — i’ll never let FSG off the hook for that bizarre cover, especially given that the designer was the fabulous rodrigo corral (what the hell happened there?!). and, now, the title to kristen kish’s forthcoming cookbook because, come on, clarkson potter, the cover is beautiful, yes, though i was hoping she would not be on it, but, god damn, you can do so much better than that title.
07. next, we’ll be reading naomi pomeroy’s taste & technique (ten speed press, 2016) and ronni lundy’s victuals (clarkson potter, 2016). and hwang jung-eum’s one hundred shadows (tilted axis, 2016). look out for khong’s goodbye, vitamin this summer; holt is publishing it in july.
x. do i need to mention that rachel sent me the ARC to her book? that has no bearing on my thoughts, though, except for gratitude that she sent it to me to read. i’m always grateful when people send me books; it surprises me that they would want to do that at all.
x. the grits on the top are from callie’s hot little biscuit (atlanta); the shrimp and grits in the middle are from surrey’s (new orleans) (and easily one of my top three favorite things i ate; seriously, it was so fucking good); and, below, we’ve got hawaiian food (or hawaiian-inspired?) from solid grindz (tucson) followed by breakfast from king’s highway (palm springs).
x. eating my way across the country was great, and i’d do it again in a heartbeat. hopefully, i will get to do it again soon, just the other way, back home.