there are ghosts of you all around this city. there are ghosts of you all around many cities, places you've been, places you've lived, places you’ve never been, and, as i turn these corners, i wonder where you went, where you ate, where you slept. who were the people with you? who are they today?
who are you today?
and so it is that we populate the worlds in our heads, and i'm actively thinking of a story while in seattle. it's not a story specific to this city but one i've been letting percolate somewhere in the recesses of my brain for over a year now because, last february, i launched a web project that sought to marry fiction and food. while that fizzled out, like many projects, especially those in first iterations, inevitably do, it twisted and mutated into another idea, which twisted and mutated into this idea, fed and developed by the content i've been creating for this site.
and so it is they say that it's only in the doing that we learn. no project turns out the way we planned when we walked into it; we change, and we grow, and we evolve; and with us goes our work. it’s what makes work simultaneously so exciting and so maddening, the constant do-overs, the impossible standards we set for ourselves, that we strive to meet over and over and over again. we tell ourselves, the point isn’t to meet these impossible standards; the point is to try. the point is to get close.
the point is to do the work and trust that it will take us somewhere good.
but, anyway, the point is that i'm thinking about this story as i'm in seattle, and it's a love story, and it's about you. it's about place and travel and food. specifically, it's about place and travel and eggs, and it's a story i'll shoot images for, images i've had sitting in my head since last february, images i know i'll shoot again and again and again until i get them right.
because that is work — that is the work i do, and that is the work i will continue to do until my brain or my heart gives out on me, whichever goes first.
one thing we learn is that nothing is truly wasted work.
in the last few months, there were weeks when i'd take a photograph of every egg on toast variation i made in the morning, and that's content that will likely never leave the privacy of my hard drive, but it's not for nothing.
i mean, there are so many photograph stories sitting on my hard drive that i labored over, that i shot multiple times, that will also never see the light of day, but that's not all for nothing either. we create and throw away, like, ninety percent of everything we do, and we do that over and over and over again with every new project we begin. it's the nature of the work; it's that process of learning and discovery that brings value to it.
sometimes, i wonder if that’s just something i’ve learned to tell myself to mitigate some of the frustration that comes with so many drafts, so many hours and words and images. as i’ve learned, though, life goes that way, too — like aaron burr sings in hamilton, we rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes — and, yeah, sure, we could look back at certain moments of our lives, certain decisions, and think, oh, what a waste; oh, the time i could have saved.
however, we would not be the people we are today had we not gone blundering through life the way we did. we would not be who we are without the heartache, the disappointments, the years spent meandering and deliberating and starting down the wrong paths. we would not be who we are without the people in our lives, the people who were in our lives, and we can lose time regretting the past if we want, or we can keep moving, keep going, keep bettering ourselves.
where did you come from? how has your heart been broken? what is this story i am trying to write?
in seattle, i go to a cafe (general porpoise), and there’s a couple on line ahead of me, and they’re selecting a filling for doughnuts. one is ordering coffee, while the other decides which doughnut they’ll eat, and there are five flavors offered — two seasonal, three permanent — and the lady behind the counter is talking about each flavor, saying, we just launched strawberries and cream this week, and it’s really good.
the one selecting the doughnut flavor says, it sounds good, but i’ll go with chocolate. it’s his favorite flavor.
i think about you.
but, anyway, so, there are ghosts of you all around this city, and there are ghosts of you all around my mind. sometimes, you're one type of human, and, other times, when i'm in a different mood, you're another kind, but, at all times, i think you're one and the same because that's what we are as humans, shape shifters, strange and contradictory to behold when seen in parts, in moments, but whole and complex and full when taken together.
i like this complicated you.
i like meeting people off the internet, and i'll rarely (if ever) turn down an invitation by an on-line friend to meet up in person.
at first, there was a fair amount of anxiety involved, a fear that i would be "discovered" not to be as smart, as clever, as well-read as i might seem on-line. i still juggle that kind of anxiety, and, sometimes, i think i'm not cool enough, not personable enough, not articulate enough. i wonder why anyone would want to meet me, why anyone would want to befriend me (this is something i’ve been working on), but i like meeting people, so i go, and i hope for the best.
last weekend, in los angeles, i meet a woman from the boston area, and we sit and talk about boston and brooklyn and books. we talk about places we like to eat, books we’re reading, things we miss about brooklyn. we talk about career changes and phds and future plans. we talk about traveling. we talk for longer than i think we might, and the time goes quickly, and we say, let’s do this again. let me know if you’re in brooklyn for the brooklyn book festival.
what would we talk about?
in seattle, i meet up with a friend from new york who moved to seattle for school last year. the last time i saw her was in june 2016 when we went to hear roxane gay together, and we’ve been keeping in touch via email here and there, which in and of itself is a personal feat for me. i’m terrible at keeping in touch with people, just like I’m terrible at answering emails in a timely manner or replying to comments, like, ever, so, for me, one of the coolest things about the last six months has been how many of my friendships haven’t been lost to distance.
we talk over food, share what we’ve been learning in the last year, and we talk about asian-americanness and the diversity of that experience. we talk about personal challenges, personal growth, personal struggles, and, afterwards, i go over to her apartment and dabble in art projects and chat with her flatmate and classmate.
and i think how nice all that is, how refreshing, how much i miss this. i miss my community in new york city; i miss my book club; i miss my friends. i miss all the literary events; i miss the easy access to beautiful, wonderful bookstores; and i miss feeling like a part of something.
and i think about how i’m trying to chase that here in los angeles. my online book club gives me a whole lot of joy; i go out and meet people whenever i can; and i go to readings, not as many or as frequently as i would back home, but maybe more selectively, more intentionally. i engage with people on instagram as much as i can; i look forward to growing these connections, to growing this space, to being more open and communicative and productive.
and i think about you.
when traveling, i have different approaches to different cities when it comes to food.
sometimes, i have a city earmarked in my head as a place i want to visit because i have specific places i want to eat already (i.e. charleston), and, sometimes, i have just a general idea of what i want to eat but not where (i.e. new orleans). sometimes, as with seattle, i have no idea about anything.
i do some googling before we leave for seattle, and i make a few reservations, one of which is at joule. (i’ve become a reservation maker.) (fun fact: i hate queueing for food. like, i love food, but i will not wait ridiculous amounts of time for it.)
the idea of joule appeals to me because it’s by a korean-american chef doing different things with korean flavors, and i’m always interested in that. i love seeing what asian-americans are doing in general, how we’re all negotiating our relationships with our heritage and ethnicity and how we’re all doing so in different ways, demonstrating the many various ways of being asian-american on a broad, wide spectrum. i find that more and more to be such vital work.
i don’t know that i love my meal at joule, but i appreciate it. the short rib is fantastic, marinated like kalbi and cooked a perfect medium rare, and i love that it comes with gochujang and grilled kimchi. i love the chilled black sesame noodles, how it fuses something korean with something vietnamese, an herb and flavor i can’t quite pinpoint that bring a freshness to the dish and make me think of vermicelli noodle bowls.
everything is too salty, though, but i think i have a palate that is simply more sensitive to salt because, to be honest, most dishes taste too salty to me, and i know my own cooking tends to use less salt because i’m sensitive to it. i bloat easily, and a salty meal puts me in a daze, sends me right to sleep, no amount of caffeine able to counteract it.
if we were to eat a salty meal or one laden with MSG, i’d fall asleep on your shoulder within an hour.
what is this story i’m trying to write?