much, if not all, of what i’ve been creating this year has been in response to these words shared by meryl streep, an attempt to take my broken heart and make it into art.
2017 started off with moving back to los angeles from brooklyn, with leaving home behind and returning to the place i grew up with my tail between my legs, and i came back because of financial difficulties and brain issues that would become body issues that would feed into brain issues. i was suicidal and depressed and anxious, and, as i drove across the country, from brooklyn to DC to charleston to atlanta to new orleans to austin to el paso to phoenix to LA, the fear churning through my brain was simple: that i would die in california, not from getting stuck there and getting old and dying but because the monsters in my brain would drive me to the point of no return.
and, yet, here i am, halfway into the year, alive and present.
it’s a miracle that i am still alive. it’s a greater miracle that i am still alive and doing fairly well, that i am looking to the future and fighting my way back home. six months ago, i didn't think this present me would even exist.
but then it's not a miracle at all because all i've done these last six months is simple: i've taken my broken heart and made it into art.
my mother doesn’t like that i talk so openly about depression and anxiety because she’s afraid of the impact such openness will have on any future prospects, whether professional or personal. i talk about it, though, because i feel i must, because i know how horribly isolating and alone it is to be locked away in your brain, to carry this damage and feel like you’re the only one in your world who must be going through this.
i know how depression and anxiety and ADHD make you feel like a failure, like a freak, like an already washed-up, sorry-ass excuse for a human being who can’t seem to keep her shit together.
i know how that feels. i know how that destroys you from inside out and makes everything worse.
and, so, i talk about it. i talk about it even though i don’t have a “happy ending” to share; i talk about it even though i’m still going through it, even though i still don’t know if i will “survive.” i talk about it in the mainstream, accepted language i hate because depression isn’t something i’ll ever “survive” — it’s something i’ll live with and will struggle with until the end.
and that is okay.
i’ve said it before and i’ll keep saying it, but i’m not a fan of survival narratives. i understand their place in the zeitgeist, and i understand that, sometimes, we need to hear the stories of people who have “made it through to the other side,” who have “survived.” i suppose that, maybe, it’s that, on some level, i don’t understand that because that’s not the way i’ll ever see mental health or trauma or whatever — we carry these things with us, and we can’t mark a clean end to them. the brain rarely compartmentalizes that way.
life rarely compartmentalizes that way, either, and one of the things i’ve been learning is how messy things are. love isn’t simple, want isn’t simple, family isn’t simple. everything is complicated, and, sometimes, it’s contradictory, and, sometimes, it feels like certain elements of things must cancel each other out, though that isn’t the case. maybe that’s vague and ambiguous, but this is something i’m currently thinking about in relation to roxane gay’s hunger (harper, 2017) and trying to put into clearer language, so i suppose we’ll have to wait for me to sit on that a little longer.
anyway, so things aren’t simple, and that’s fine. i was talking to my therapist about how, now that things are relatively stable, i’m running high levels of anxiety because i’m waiting for something to go wrong. she said that that could be an effect of my ADHD, of my being so accustomed to existing in chaos and instability that i’ve learned to embrace it as a coping mechanism, and i thought, okay, that could make sense. no matter how well i organize things, everything erupts into chaos within a day, anyway.
and that, too, is okay, and this is where we go back to my distaste of survival narratives. one reason i dislike them so is that i don’t like why society tends to demand them, this need for something clean and neat and categorizable. it feeds into how society tends to have certain expectations, how it wants to see certain [arbitrary] criteria met to indicate a certain way of being, how it shoves and enforces certain narratives depending on race, sexuality, gender, mental health, etcetera.
because, hey, here’s the thing: just because some of us live with chaos in our brains that might translate into seeming chaos in our lives doesn’t mean we aren’t functioning human beings who deserve respect and contribute our skills to society and thrive in our own ways, on our own terms. and, hey, here’s the other thing: even if we sometimes fall apart, that’s more to do with the fact that we’re human, and we fuck up, and we all have good days, and we all have bad days, and we are not our mental illnesses, just like we are not the color of our skin or our sexuality or our career. and maybe that’s why i talk about my depression and anxiety and ADHD so much. because, yeah, i might not have clear directions about where i’m going with my life right now, but i function well, get shit done, and write and create and think and read and cook and live.
and you know? i am not the only one with mental health issues to do so, and i am really done with the stigma and bullshit and condescension that wrap mental health in shame and inflict so much harm on real human lives. there is a cost for silence, and it is rarely the people enforcing the silence who pay the price.
sometimes, i think that one of my character flaws (i suppose, depending on how you look at it) is that i can’t do the same thing twice. what works for me once doesn’t work the second time (or third) (or fourth), and i suppose you can just look through this site for proof of that. like, for instance, last year, i was fairly diligent about updating my reading as i went along; this year, it has failed completely.
instead, i’ve been blogging more long-form, getting way more personal and open than i ever thought i would, playing with ways to integrate food and cooking. i’ve stopped caring about cordoning myself off into a niche and started intentionally branching off instead, trying to figure out how to integrate all my interests and bring them together. i’ve been thinking a lot about growth and what that looks like.
so here’s a weird transition to books i’ve loved so far this year because, even if i haven’t been regularly logging or reviewing what i’ve been reading, i have been reading a fair amount.
first, we’ve got rachel khong’s goodbye, vitamin (holt, forthcoming, 2017), which will be published very soon, and which i loved. it was the first book i read this year, and i read it while driving across the country and ignoring the various sadnesses exploding within me, and it made me laugh and made me cry and hit all these nostalgic, soft spots in my heart — nostalgia being kind of a theme with me this year because it's also what i loved about yoojin grace wuertz's everything belongs to us (random house, 2017). i did think the ending to everything was kind of weak, but i loved how wuertz tapped into this notalgia for 1970s seoul, which is weird, maybe, because i wasn't even alive in the 1970s, much less in seoul.
and, yet, the novel brought up all these nostalgic feelings for this era and place that i only know through proxy because my father was a student at seoul national university in the late 1970s. he remembers the turbulent times portrayed in wuertz's novel, and i've recently taken to listening to all the stories from his youth (and my aunts' youth) as i can. it's a project i'm trying to figure out, how to travel to each aunt and get her story, because they are stories that should be told and heard, if only because i find them so interesting. they've lived through a lot, first-generation korean-american immigrants. they've seen a lot.
dear friend, from my life i write to you in your life (random house, 2017) is the first thing i read from yiyun li, and it felt like a hug in book form. (i wrote about it here.) and then there was patty yumi cottrell and her fabulous sorry to disrupt the peace (mcsweeney's, 2017) (here) — i love writers who make me imagine new ways of writing and seeing the world and approaching fiction, and cottrell does just that, and she does it confidently, brashly almost, and hilariously. (jenny zhang is another such author; her debut short story collection, sour heart, is being published by random house in september; and you should all read it.)
and then there was bandi's the accusation (grove press, 2017), and this list is a little weird to me because these are all books published in 2017, but i guess, sometimes, i really keep up with contemporary fiction.
the accusation is the first collection of stories published by a north korean writer currently still in north korea. bandi is (obviously) a pseudonym, and the stories were smuggled out of the country, eventually making their way to the south. it's the first book my online book club read, and, hey, that's another cool thing to come from 2017 — this online book club i founded to satiate a need and loneliness, friendless as i am in los angeles.
and, then, finally, there's roxane gay's hunger, and i'd say more about that, but i have a lot i want to say about it, so we'll hold that off for the next post.
this is longer than i'd planned for it to be.
... and yet we keep going.
and, so, now, here we are, at the beginning of july, and the future is a murky unknown. it’s enough for me that the future has light, though, even if i don’t attach much hope to it, and i'm stringing trips into the next few months to keep me going.
next weekend, i’ll be in seattle with my parents. some time at the end of july or in early august or maybe both, i’ll be back in san francisco, hanging out with my BFF and meeting new faces. in september, i’ll be back home in brooklyn, mostly because i want to and mostly because of the brooklyn book festival, the event i look forward to all year, that marks the beginning of autumn and the wind-down to year-end.
i can’t wait to be back home again, to breathe that air and see familiar faces and feel my heart beating in my body again. i can’t wait to feel home again; i can’t wait to feel fully myself again.
and, then, next year, in late spring/early summer, i’m planning on peru, coaxing my cousin(s) to come with me. some time in the next two years, there will be spain because i’m resolved to travel more, to get out more, to see more and eat more and experience more. i’m resolved to pursue new opportunities,to keep playing with form and content here, to finish my goddamn book and push it out into the world and query it and hopefully see it published and do awesome, fun, scary book things.
because this is how i've survived, and this is how i will continue to go on, by taking my brokenness and turning it into art, by going about the world with my eyes and heart wide open, by seizing whatever it is that i can seize to get out, to get better, to get home.