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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[DC] the practice of being better.

last week, we fly out to baltimore because it’s thanksgiving, and that’s what we do for thanksgiving — we descend upon my youngest aunt’s house and eat and laugh and drink sangria and hang out with their dogs.

the lead-up to thanksgiving, though, feels like a whole mess of wrongness. usually, my brother flies into JFK and rents a car, and we have lunch with my maternal aunt before driving down to baltimore. he usually takes a red-eye, and i’ve usually been up too late the night before, so he’s usually asleep in the car for the first hour or so, and we usually stop once for coffee and cinnabon and the bathroom. usually, usually, usually — so then there’s the part of me that just feels wrong because this isn’t just usually, it’s how things should be had my life not gone so horribly wrong.

but what’s the point losing ourselves to everything that should have been? lots of things should have been.

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or, at least, those are words i tell myself, and that’s all they are — words i tell myself, words i don’t quite believe. 2017 feels an awful lot like a string of words i tell myself — that i will be better, that i will find my way back home, that i will get a job that will be a career that will mean something, that i will do this and be that, that i will still be alive when 2018 dawns, that i won’t have died in california like i’m still so terrified i will.

sometimes, i think it’s strange that i try to make my business be one of words but often find words to be just that — words. other times, i think that makes sense, that being a purveyor of words means that i understand both how invaluable and how empty they can be, that words carry both strength and emptiness depending on circumstance, situation, and speaker. words, like so many other facets of life, are not inherently good or evil — they are what we make them to be, and to try to make them more than they naturally are is to do us all a disservice.

moving on to other things, i suppose.

i’ve been back in LA for all of five days, and i’m already itching to leave again. i’m starting to think this isn’t just plain old wanderlust; it’s rooted in something deeper, something that sometimes feels more sinister because there’s a fair amount of malcontent admittedly woven in there; but, whatever it is, the fact remains that i’ve always been the anywhere-but-here kind of human, the one who’s always had feet that long to carry her away to every corner of the earth and the appetite to try and experience everything.

because, hey, i think the world is this stupidly beautiful, vibrant, interesting place, and i want to learn it all and taste it all and know it all in its madcap diversity. i want to eat everything i can. i want to experience everything i can. i want to walk amongst strangers, hear their stories, and capture all the colors the world has to offer. i want to know how the seasons differ depending on where you are in the world. i want to see how the sky changes. i want to feel the whole spectrum of what there is to feel when you’re aware of being someone different no matter where you are in the world.

because, hey, there’s this, too — that i inevitably move through the world in a way a straight white woman does not and, consequently, that i experience it differently. that the general world of food writing and travel writing bore the shit out of me because they’re both so white, so straight, so freaking boring. that it’s about time that the narrative is shifted, that publishers start seeking out writers of color who don’t fall into clean binaries, that white people stop being allowed to exist under the illusion that they are somehow more qualified to speak for cultures that are not theirs, that they are able to consume and appropriate only because of their whiteness.

and this isn’t something that applies only to whiteness and “exotic” cultures. it’s about time the narrative is given to adoptees, not martyrs of adoptive parents. it’s about time the narrative is given to queer people, trans people, people who identify as non-binary. it’s about time the narrative is given to those who live with mental illness, with depression, with suicidal tendencies.

it’s about time to stop being so goddamn afraid of the Other.


wow, none of this is what i came into this post to write.

this was supposed to be a kind of travel blog, or maybe it is a travel blog — or, at least, an attempt to suss out what travel writing looks like to me and, in connection, what travel means to me.

i think we tend to put travel on a pedestal, to elevate this idea that traveling results in more open-minded people, but i don’t know, i kind of feel about that like i feel about how we put literature on a pedestal, automatically assume that people who read must be more gracious, less provincial, less prone to bigotry and racism and misogyny.

i keep thinking about that essay kevin nguyen wrote last year, and i keep thinking how true it is. just because we’re in the business of books doesn’t mean we’re inherently doing good. just because people read a lot doesn’t mean they think outside of their narrow, ingrained mentality. just because people are well-traveled doesn’t mean they see outside of their bubble; it doesn’t mean they’ve experienced anything outside of what and who they know. travel, literature, whatever other thing we want to elevate — these things can keep us in our comfort zones and ignorance as much as they can challenge us and make us uncomfortable and help us become better people.

the opportunity means nothing unless we have the courage to step out of ourselves while also looking into ourselves and seeing the uglinesses within.

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on saturday, we drive out to d.c. 

before we flew out to baltimore, i’d floated the idea of me going out to d.c. for a day because i have friends in the city and i thought i might get restless, stuck in suburban baltimore. i wondered if i could rent a car, was discouraged from it because my brother would probably rent a car and we didn’t need that many cars, and i wasn’t quite sure i’d tag along when my brother and sister-in-law said they were planning to go out to d.c. on saturday.

my little cousin decided she wanted to go, too, though, so off we went. we’d gotten a recommendation for the holocaust memorial museum, so there we went.

the thing that terrifies about the holocaust memorial museum is how prescient it all seems. it’s easy to approach museums as things that stand in record of the past and to put distance between us and those moments in time, like these things happened back then, and back then is removed from now.

and yet — walking through the holocaust memorial museum felt almost like deja vu. watching video footage of nazis walking through city streets with torches felt like seeing images from yesterday because, shit, it was like seeing images from yesterday. just a few months ago, nazis marched in charlottesville, waving torches and shouting white supremacist bullshit. the cheeto was put into office in the same way hitler was, by being a laughingstock no one took quite as seriously as everyone should have until it was too late. the nazis were able to implement their horrible genocide and acts of violence against non-white, non-straight people with the complicit silence of so many ordinary white citizens.

history repeats itself.

maybe the thing that dismays me so much about cheeto voters is that they have shown themselves to be who they are, not only a year ago during the election but also (and maybe more frighteningly) now, a year since. they dig their heels in, defend their choice by saying, i like how he tells it like it is, never mind that he has proven to be as ineffective, incompetent, and dangerous as we always knew he would be.

and maybe there is a kind of reassurance in the i like how he tells it like it is because there is a part of me that would rather look danger in the eye, exposed in all its insidious ugliness than hidden under niceties and illusions. there is a part of me that says, okay, it’s good that the bullshit of we live in a post-racial world that white people loved to spout during the obama presidency has been exposed for being just that, bullshit, that the same people who loved to pat themselves on the back for electing a black president have had to look themselves in the eye, whether individually or as a community, and see that they’re not all that progressive, they’re not all that great, in fact, they’re part of the goddamn problem.

or it could be a good thing, had there actually been that moment of reckoning. self-reflection, though, is too much to ask of most, and no one wants to admit to complicity.


one of the more sobering captions at the holocaust memorial museum came in the section that talked about resistance. this particular caption talked about ordinary citizens, and it ended with the paragraph:
 

factors such as the intensity of german occupation policies, local antisemitism, and proximity to a safe refuge often influenced the success of rescue efforts. in denmark, 9 out of 10 jews were saved; in norway and belgium about 1 out of 2; in the netherlands, 1 out of 4; and in lithuania and poland, fewer than 2 in 10 survived. when ordinary citizens became rescuers, jews had a chance of survival. (emphasis added)


this isn’t unique to jews during world war ii, either. slaves were able to escape the south through a network of ordinary citizens in america who hid them, ferried them to the next home of safety, fed them, risked their own lives for them. muslims from the countries on the cheeto’s travel ban, especially those who were already on flights when the ban was announced and airports thrown into chaos, were assisted by ordinary citizens who showed up at airports to protest, offer legal and/or interpretation services for free, provide support to families who were anxiously awaiting news of loved ones.

history repeats itself.

and maybe that’s another thing i’ve been learning this year — that we often forget our capacity to do so much even when we’re just “ordinary citizens.” by calling our congresspeople and holding them accountable, we can stand up for each other’s healthcare, for immigrants who risk deportation, for whatever fresh hell the gop tries to shove secretly through the government. by showing up, we can express solidarity for native people trying to protect their land. by donating as much as we can spare, we can help communities ravaged by disasters get basic things like hot food and drinkable water and clothes and sanitary napkins while they try to rebuild and recuperate their losses.

and the key word there is “we.” no one single person saves the world, despite the preponderance of superhero movies in the last decade (and, even then, justice league and avengers, anyone?). no one single person makes a difference. we all do it together, and we don’t do it by just making huge, grand gestures — we often do it by doing the least we can do. we do it by showing up. we do it by donating five dollars. we do it by being present, by keeping our eyes open, by defiantly and intentionally saying, never again.

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the main reason i wanted to go to d.c. was to go to momofuku. momofuku ramen isn’t my favorite ramen, although momofuku noodles are my favorite — i love their noodles — but momofuku hits all the nostalgia points in me that makes it one of my favorite bowls of ramen.

unfortunately, ccdc doesn’t have momofuku ramen anymore?!? they have other noodles but not the ramen! and apparently momofuku la might not have the ramen either?!? that makes me sad. i’ve literally been debating a vegas trip just to get some momofuku ramen, and i don’t gamble or go to clubs or enjoy going to shows, so i’d literally be going to vegas just to get some momofuku ramen and that seems kind of exorbitant, even for me.

i just want a taste of home.

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[PDX] i'll keep you here.

how can you be so many women to so many people, oh you strange girl? (sylvia plath, the unabridged journals, 137)
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in portland, i think a lot about social media, about instagram specifically, and what it means, what i want from it. i started using instagram roughly seven years ago, and i used it casually, for fun here and there when i had my ipad on hand because, then, instagram was for iphones only and iphone had yet to come to verizon.

in the beginning, it was nothing more than just another online account for me, something i toyed with from time to time, as amusement when i was home and procrastinating studying. for some, instagram might have been an introduction to taking photos, but i’d been taking (and sharing) photos of food long before instagram, just like i’d been reading and writing about books. if anything, instagram simply made me more aware of the world around me, giving me a more immediate means through which to share the ways i see the world, and it’s surprisingly taught me to appreciate the present moment more, making me more aware that beauty is fleeting, the world around me is constantly changing, and this moment will never be here again.

i will never be here in this moment again.

i wonder when instagram started to become a more widespread social thing for me. i’d had public interactions via online platforms in the past, albeit in more narrow ways, but social media, for me, was largely a private thing. my instagram account was actually set to private for years, and i only unlocked it around 2013-2014 when i started posting and sharing more about books, using hashtags and tagging people and making more connections. from 2014-2015-ish, i tried more consciously to “grow” my account, to be more consistent and “niche” with my posts in order to gain an audience and more followers and blah blah blah … but all that frustrated me because my life (my brain) is not so compartmentalized, and i don’t believe books exist in a bubble on their own, anyway, but rather in relation to everything else.

that kind of attempt at branding is exhausting and boring, too, so, around 2016, i stopped giving a shit, and, now, i post what i want when i want, sometimes with ridiculously long captions. i’m trying to use less hashtags. while i think about engagement sometimes and puzzle over instagram’s bizarre algorithms, i don’t fixate much on likes and comments and follows. somewhere along the way, instagram has ceased to be a tool through which i hope to build some kind of professional thing and has primarily become a means of communication and connection. i want to get to know people, people as people, not as authors or publishers or chefs, but as people, and i want people to know me, too.

i want people to be able to see me for me, as me, not just a wall of pretty photos and thoughtful quotes.

i know this, too, is a kind of personal brand.


i was in portland with a friend, and, as we talked over the weekend, i realized that i don’t actually follow many bookstagrammers on instagram. i think the majority of people i follow are actually in food or people with more personal accounts; i have little to no interest in highly-curated photos of books, especially those that don’t express personal opinions and/or shy away from critical opinions — and, especially, even more, when the books selected remain pretty firmly and narrowly within the white hetero mainstream.

to break that down, i suppose: i’m going to be honest — whiteness bores me. straightness bores me. sameness bores me.

when i was younger, i’d often wish i wasn’t so different from everyone else i knew. i’d wish i wanted to get married and have children. i’d wish i was as into boys as my friends were, so i could take part in those frenetic, hyperactive conversations with friends that mark adolescence. i’d wish i wanted to have that house in the suburbs, live within the boundaries of my christian community, stay home and be a housewife and homeschool my children. i’d wish i could give my parents the things they wanted, the things they hoped for me, that they sacrificed so much to give me.

i remember crying myself to sleep during high school and college, wishing so much for all this.

and then there was this: i remember standing on the platform at hoyt-schermerhorn, waiting for the G around midnight in 2013, and it slamming into me — that, no matter what i accomplish as a writer, no matter what i achieve, my family will never understand that, not because they don’t care but because it’s simply unknown and unknowable to them, this whole writing thing. to their credit, they try. they ask questions; they support me; and they comfort me when i’m disappointed. it means a lot that they try.

i’d maybe mark that as the turning point when i learned just to embrace the fact that i was different, that i want different things from my life. it still made me profoundly sad for the next year or so after that realization, but, now, four years down the road, i’m okay with all that. that acceptance has filtered into the rest of my life, that, sometimes, we (whoever “we” are) will never see eye-to-eye, that that is okay, that it is enough to start from the point of loving each other and caring for each other and trying to understand each other.

because i am not someone who expects perfect understanding from the people around me. i don’t believe in perfect communication; trying to know someone, to be known by someone, is often an exercise of going round and round in circles; and, sometimes, we communicate in that ideal way that feels magical and painless, that feels so effortless and easy. 

most times, though, it doesn’t work that way, and the sheer effort that goes into being known and knowing someone in return counts — it counts for a lot.


i believe in the merits of criticism, and i disagree with the notion of not criticizing books or avoiding negative reviews because a book might not resonate with you but it could with another reader. negative reviews don’t negate that fact, and i tend to believe that engaging with literature (with anything, really) requires critical thinking — it sometimes demands that we turn a thinking, critical eye on things, and maybe sit in that discomfort.

which isn’t to say that people have to be critical because this is social media, no one’s obliged to do anything, but one of the reasons i’m anywhere on the internet is that i want to hear people’s thoughts, the positive and negative.

anyway, so that’s a lot of what i look for on social media — thoughtful opinions, critical thinking, personality. personhood. don’t just give me pretty; give me something that counts, that says something. give me someone who’s vibrant and present and alive.

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i say i’m going to portland for wordstock, but the truth is that i’m going to portland to eat. the other truth is that i initially meant to make this a trio of posts, to talk about plath extensively, to delve into disappointment, but i don’t think that’ll happen.

december is the hardest month of the year for me, and it’s rarely a month i walk into with much confidence. even now, i can’t look into 2018 because i don’t walk into the year-end with any measure of belief or faith that i’ll be around to see the new year rise, which means that, inevitably, as we head into holiday season, the fear becomes a storm again: will i survive this year?

sometimes, talking about mental health feels like talking in dramatics, but i’ve a feeling some out there will understand what i mean, that these aren’t dramatics at all but real fears we spend much of our days quelling, fears that intensify during certain parts of the year.

for me, these last two months of the year are always the hardest. the holidays, my birthday, etcetera, all of it compounds all my fears and lonelinesses and reminds of the things i want, that i’ve wanted for so long, that i will never have. i want people of my own. i want a place of my own. i want to be seen and known and recognized.

i want to be within that insular glow of cheer, instead of existing in the dark spaces on the peripheries. light exists only within darkness, and maybe i feel constantly like that party pooper always reminding people of those on the fringes. mother’s day hurts for those who’ve lost mothers, have never known mothers, have left mothers. thanksgiving has whitewashed and romanticized the horrors white people wreaked upon native people (and continue to wreak upon them). christmas is dark and empty for those without, whether it’s financial lack or personal lack or physical lack.

the new year means nothing for those who can’t see themselves in the future somewhere.

for me, my brain goes dark once it tries to enter december. there’s no hope, no brightness; there isn’t even drudgery and monotony, the image of myself making that drag of a commute through horrible LA traffic to and from work. there are no lights, no tree, no laughter. there is nothing.

there is no city to anchor me anymore, no home to comfort me with the kindness only a home city can offer. there is no future hope to hold onto. there is no future me because the me i am now is a self who misses the girl she once was, the girl she feels has died, the girl who will never become the woman she hoped so much one day to be.

there is nothing.


i am human enough to want to be talking to the only other human who matters in this world. (220)

the thing i resent people is when their lives seem so full they don’t need to see other people. they have their people already; they have their support systems, their best friends, their circles; and they don’t need anyone else to fill any blank spots.

my therapist reminds me that no one’s life is ever truly like that, that there really aren’t people with such full lives in the world — they just seem to be so — but that seems beside the point to me sometimes. what does it matter to remind myself constantly of how things supposedly aren’t when i don’t know that? i know that, theoretically, it must be true, that people often appear to be what they’re not, that we project onto people our insecurities and wants and loathings, that i’m not so uncommon or unnatural — my lonelinesses, thus, by that awareness, aren’t unique to me.

when things are feeling extra shitty, though, and i’m feeling the loneliness keenly, those are simply words i tell myself. i know, objectively, i’m projecting onto people, and i know it’s true that people and their lives often aren’t as they seem to be.

i also know that it isn’t true, that i might not have a close flock of people around me at all times, but i do have people, that the most surprising thing i am so grateful for from this shitty year is that there have been people who have shown up, who continue to show up. they’re a motley crew of people, too, from family to friends to writers to strangers on the internet, people who show up in my life, at dinner tables and coffee shops and book festivals, in my inbox and comments and DMs.

i know i have people who, for some bizarre reason, believe in me and want to be around me.

it’s weird to me that anyone wants to be my friend, and i still carry doubts that anyone even really wants to talk to me or hang out with me, that it’s not a pity thing. i have a hard time reaching out and asking if someone wants to get coffee or a meal or something because i’m so afraid of imposing, of forcing people to spend time with me when i’m sure they could be spending that time with someone more fun, less awkward, less eager for their friendship. i have a hard time asking for help. i have a hard time asking people to read my work, not for fear that they won’t like my work but for fear that i’m wasting their time and energy because time and energy are not resources i have in excess, and who am i to impose?

i find it weird that anyone is out there reading these words right now. i mean, there are so many more interesting things on the internet to be read.

and, so, hey, i want to say thank you to everyone who has read this space, is reading this space. i want to say thank you to everyone who’s there on instagram; some of you have been there with me for years — so, thank you. thank you for being a part of this intense roller coaster of a year, for meeting me in my vulnerable places, for not running away from the darknesses.

thank you for seeing me.

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going back to posting not going as planned — like i said, december is the hardest month for me, so i’ve been thinking of some kind of project i can do to give me something to do, to help keep me from sliding down that spiral. vloggers have vlogmas, so i’ve been trying to think of some kind of short-form, daily blogging i can do, and i think i’ve decided on a project.

which is why i’m going to wrap up the portland posts here, save plath for later (i’m reading her letters slowly as it is), and get a baltimore/DC travel post up in the next few days, and kick off a month of blogs on december 1.

i have no idea if 2018 holds anything for me, but let’s get there, anyway, and find out.


mother wrote today with a good letter of maxims; skeptical as always at first, i read what struck home: “if you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter - - - for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself … beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. you are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” (215)

the next time i’m in portland, i will eat at beast.

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[PDX] cross my heart, hope to die.

perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing. there are two opposing poles of wanting nothing: when one is so full and rich and has so many inner worlds that the outer world is not necessary for joy, because joy emanates from the inner core of one’s being. when one is dead and rotten inside and there is nothing in the world: not all the woman, food, sun, or mind-magic of others that can reach the wormy core of one’s gutted soul planet. (sylvia plath, the unabridged journals, 193-4)
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i don’t remember when i first read plath, but i know i was in my twenties. i didn’t start with her poetry either or with the bell jar — my first exposure to plath, as i remember it, was with her journals. i read them slowly over the course of a year-and-a-half, and i loved her language, her words, her thoughts and ambitions and struggles, but the thing that struck me most was that intense sense of recognition that strikes you sometimes and resonates within you. i see you. i know you.

i recognized her — i recognize her still because, in her, i see myself.

it’s not just the shared literary ambitions or frustrations with being a woman in a patriarchal world, carrying the burden of a specific set of expectations she’s to fulfill, and it’s not just that we’re both plagued by sinus colds. it isn’t just the depression, the suicidal tendencies and actions, the mental illnesses. it’s all of it.

it’s her rage, her desire, her hunger. at times, it’s her despair and hopelessness.

it’s how she’s so alive and vibrant and humming with want.


saturday exhausted, nerves frayed. sleepless. threw you, book, down, punched with fist. kicked, punched. violence seethed. joy to murder someone, pure scapegoat. but pacified during necessity to work. work redeems. work saves. baked a lemon meringue pie, cooled lemon custard & crust on cold bathroom windowsill, stirring in black night & stars. set table, candles, glasses sparkling crystal barred crystal on yellow woven cloth. making order, the rugs smoothed clean, maple-wood tables & dark tables cleared. shaping a meal, people, i grew back to joy. (310)

the night before i fly up to portland, i clumsily make tortelloni for the first time. i caramelize onions on low, low heat for two hours, and i make my dough, cracking my eggs into my well of flour, storing unused egg whites in a container in hopes that i’ll figure out some use for them in the future so as not to waste them. (i end up making a lot of mostly-egg-white omelettes. i still have egg whites to use.) my dough is stickier than it usually is, maybe the stickiest pasta dough i’ve made yet, because i thought i’d outsmart my previous attempt by adding a third whole egg because this is cooking, too, experimenting, thinking you’re smarter than you really are, making dough that’s too sticky it won’t come cleanly off the plastic wrap when it comes time to roll.

sometimes, i think it’s cooking that’s taught me best that it’s okay to make mistakes. it’s okay for things not to turn out perfectly, especially the first few times around. it’s okay as long as you keep trying because you will get better.

plath has an appetite as a child, often listing everything she’s eaten at camp in letters home to her mother. it’s pretty impressive, the amount she’s able to consume, and this is something that doesn’t change much as she grows older — if anything, it starts exhibiting, also, in the meals she cooks, once, even, on a tiny little burner stove when she’s honeymooning in spain with hughes.

i love that. i love that she’s expansive not only in her literary ambitions but in every sense. she wants to travel and experience the world. she wants to love, be loved, have sexual adventures. she wants to live her life, and she wants to have a family, and she wants to be published, and she wants this and that and this and that — she wants everything.

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the last few weeks have been an exercise in hating myself and trying to talk myself out of that spiral. i’ve been hating myself for not being more level-headed, for having zero chill, for being effusive and open and unbridled about the things and people i love. i’ve been hating myself for having opinions, high standards, expectations and for having the outsized whatever-ness that makes me express my criticism instead of just shutting up and playing nice.

i’ve been hating myself for not being able to network, for being awkward with people, for not being personable, likable, desirable.

i’ve been hating myself for wanting.


i want so obviously, so desperately to be loved, and to be capable of love. i am still so naive; i know pretty much what i like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who i am. “a passionate, fragmentary girl,” maybe? (165)

the days leading up to portland aren’t filled much with excitement, more with weariness than anything else. i think about hurrying from the office to the airport on friday night, of taking the light rail downtown, of arriving in cold and wet and hunger. i think about waking up at 3:30 am on monday morning, hurrying to the airport, then from the airport to the train station to the subway to the office. i haven’t even left los angeles yet, and i’m already exhausted.

i think about want, about wanting to be a part of something, instead of constantly on the outside looking in. i think about wanting to connect with people, to be friends with them, to be someone more than a casual hello or on-line comment or like. i think about wanting to create something of meaning. i think about wanting to be seen.

recognition, visibility, relatability — these aren’t things i thought about often, at least not conscientiously. i’ve never been the kind of reader or film-watcher or media-consumer who’s wanted to see herself reflected in the culture she inhaled, but the more i think about that in relation to my youth, the more i realize that that was because i was a young person who came up on korean pop, korean dramas, korean media culture, despite having been born and raised in the states.

because i didn’t feel a lack of recognition in my media, i didn’t feel the need to seek it in my reading. i grew up on the “classics,” that bastion of white, predominantly male figures celebrated as figureheads of greatness, of writing to aspire towards, and i never questioned that. i never questioned what i was reading, who i was reading, because the “classics” were safe, they were “classics” for a reason, tested through centuries and maintaining their staying power. i never learned to examine that, not until around 2004, 2005, when i stopped reading, found myself bored with these books i’d loved so much all along, and didn’t read seriously for around a year.

and then i picked up ian mcewan’s atonement. and then daphne du maurier’s rebecca. and then kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go.


this, maybe, is a tangent from where i started, but we’ll stay with it, anyway, because i think it’s important that we remember to question what we read, who we read, and why we read. we need to step out of our comfort zones from time to time, try to see the world another way through another person’s eyes, and, if we only stay within the safe, mainstream zones, we not only do ourselves a disservice but we also do nothing good for publishing at-large.

i don’t believe in living in bubbles, and i don’t believe in abstaining from the world. i don’t believe that things are apolitical — food is political; books are political; and they can’t help but be because policy is influenced by politics and policy determines what people can eat, what they can or cannot have access to. to deny that food is political, to deny that books are political, is to be so shielded by your privilege that you can pretend you aren’t complicit in the system when you’re contributing to the problem.

and this is why i love going to events, to festivals, why i love participating in the conversations swirling around. it’s why i love interacting with people, talking to them, hanging out. it’s why i love spending time with other writers.

because all of it reminds me that this is something. i come from a world that’s always dismissed (and still casually dismisses) literature as being pointless. the korean word often applied is “쓸데없다,” which literally translateㄴ into, “it has no use.” literature is cast off as something for young people; we’re supposed to “mature” into essays and philosophy and non-fiction, leaving the world of make believe for adolescence.

if we are to write fiction, we should write children’s books because those, at least, serve a purpose.

here’s the thing, though: we build our lives on stories. we build our identities on stories. we build our faith, beliefs, worldviews, practices, principles on stories — and many of these stories are fictions that we write in our minds of other people. that’s where prejudice comes from. it’s where stereotypes come from. it’s where bigotry and homophobia and racism and sexism come from.

just because we don’t all write them down in novels doesn’t mean we don’t spend every day spinning them in our minds.

and here’s where fiction, as it is written, comes in — that all fiction is true, that it reflects someone, some part of the world, some set of beliefs, that it has the power to take us away from the tiny little bubble of the world that we know and maybe make us see something new. fiction often gives us the space to say things we can’t say otherwise for whatever reason, and it allows us to imagine an alternative, whatever that alternative may be. it makes us sit in horror, sometimes, because good fiction is a mirror that reflects us back to us, and, sometimes, often i dare say, what we see isn’t pretty.

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a brief recounting of wordstock? it was incredible to hear ta-nehisi coates speak; he’s just as eloquent, smart, and funny as you might imagine. a few soundbites i noted from his talk with jenna wortham:

  • re: “the cult of smartness”: the art of being an intellectual obscures the actual work.
  • i think about not embarrassing black people a lot.
  • the guilt of power and recognizing that guilt of power is being used in an unjust way
  • re. w.e.b. du bois: what [he] [an african-american congressman] didn’t get was that what white south carolinians were afraid of wasn’t bad black power. it was good black power. bad black power would reinforce white supremacy, but good black power …
  • they hate the fact that [obama’s] the embodiment of everything a black person is not [supposed to be].
  • i think a lot of writers think their credibility is rooted in being right. i think people expect me to be sincere.
  • chief among all of those is curiosity, and, when you’re chasing your curiosity, you’re going to be wrong.
  • every human life ends badly, but what happens in-between matters.
  • you have to figure out how to angle the thing you love toward the things you care about.
  • people want their king. when people vote, you see who they are.

anyway, that’s all for this part. two more portland posts to come, with more about plath, more about writing and social media and stories.

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