Growing Pains

Old ghosts sometimes come back as you start something new. The street you walk down to get to work reminds you of somewhere you were last year. The man who waves hello to you reminds you of someone you once knew well before. The ghost plays hide and seek. Memories replay in your head.

You may think it’s like a movie or like The Carpenters’ song – “when they get to the part where he’s breaking her heart, it can really make me cry.” But then the lyrics of Regina Spektor’s “Birdsong” come to mind – “Hearts always hurt more while they are learning.”

When we first experience pain it really does feel unparalleled. But when we experience it the second time – whether it be a scraped knee or a broken heart or bruised pride – it doesn’t seem to hurt as much. We grow calluses atop our scars.

And that’s the irony of life. We need this pain that we so assiduously try to avoid. We need to touch the fire to know what not to do and to have the burn marks as a reminder. We need our ghosts.

Advertisements

Understanding Via Ambiguity

“What is the meaning of life?” is obviously the most cliché philosophical question you could ask.

To rehash for the umpteenth time what the existentialists said, life has no meaning if you aren’t religious. A lot of people turn to religion in order to imbue meaning into life as part of some bigger plan by God, which Sartre scorned as defeatist.

The next biggest cliché is that if life has no meaning, you have to create your own meaning. Sartre called this l’engagement. Camus took it a step further and suggested that the best sort of engagement is one that derives meaning from creating meaning for others. In other words, being a humanist as a hobby.

The logic seems sound enough, if not a little cruel. The purpose of life is to self-impose a purpose of helping others create a purpose out of something meaningless. It’s kind of a vicious cycle.

Yet perhaps the existentialists and the religious alike were both wrong. Maybe it’s not a dualistic “to be or not to be” type of question. There is and never will be an answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” The only answer with which we can content ourselves is that we do not know.

We have to be okay with unanswered questions. Even Hamlet’s question was answered with “the rest is silence.” Life is not a math problem or essay graded by your professor. Ambiguity is uncomfortable, but once we realize that there is no definitive answer, maybe we really can choose the response we want.

Continue reading “Understanding Via Ambiguity”

Changing the Road Signs: Adulthood, Women’s Roles, and Resilience in “You’re Aging Well”

Listen to this song on Youtube.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to always keep a batch of CD albums in the glove compartment of her Honda minivan. She’d play them on repeat whenever she drove us to playdates or appointments. Nearly every day, I’d hear “You’re Aging Well” by Dar Williams. At 7 years old, I didn’t quite grasp the meaning behind the lyrics. At 20 going on 21, I can now start to appreciate its message.

First released on her album The Honesty Room in 1993, this song deals with the process of maturing, especially for women, in a contradictory modern world. It also celebrates her relationship with mentor Joan Baez, who served as a primary source of encouragement in both her professional and personal life. The two recorded a duet version as well.

The song begins with a lament: “Why is that as we grow older and stronger the road signs point us adrift?” She declares that she will repaint the road signs, defying the paths society ushers us down if they are to leave us continually doubting – “You never can win. Watch your back. Where’s your husband?”

These lines encapsulate some of the contradictory issues that women face. We should be feminist, but can’t be too feminist for the sake of a relationship. Our friends might stab us in the back. We should have significant others, but we need to keep an eye on them. And if only our “lower calf, upper arm were half what they are.” Yet still we are tempted believe that these will lead to a “road of enchantment.”

These kinds of narratives rampant in our culture leave us “with a collection of sticks,” with which to “fight back the hundreds of voices.” We become cynical, absurd – well aware we can only eat “the poisonous apple… not a story we are meant to survive.”

But Williams offers us not just hope, but the promise of companionship in a world that seems indifferent. The refrain of the song is “I’m so glad you finally made it here. You thought nobody cared, but we did, we could tell.” With age, we discover that with suffering comes empathy and understanding. Above all, while hardships can seem abnormal in a world where everyone is walking the road of enchantment, in fact, making it through to where we are today is a sign that we are maturing just as we should be.

It is the the final verses that I feel the most keenly. Sometimes, the “language that keeps us alive” that we’ve been searching for on this endless, misguided roadmap is given to us by someone unexpected or found in unexpected places. And when we’re lost, we’re frustrated. But some things can only be achieved through simply living life as it is, and the fact that we’re right where we are now is a sign that we are, indeed, aging well.

I’m so glad that you finally made it here

With the things you know now, that only time could tell

Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are

And oh, you’re aging, and I am aging.

Oh, aren’t we aging well?

Rebuilding London Bridge

London Bridge is falling down, falling down…

London, like 2018, is complex for me.

Two years ago, I came to London on a 3 day trip with my once-friend. It was a rich cultural excursion filled with lots of fun activities and sites, but it was also a lesson. I lost someone whom I once considered close and started doubting myself on that trip.

2018 was similar in that sense. It was an emotionally turbulent year, but filled with unique, unparalleled experiences. I did not doubt my choices – on the contrary, I built my confidence in them back up – but I started doubting other things. Dreams. Identity. Relationships.

It’s now 2019 and I am starting off the year in London.

Continue reading “Rebuilding London Bridge”

“You threaded your fingers through my hair”

You threaded your fingers through my hair, kissed my jaw, and said,

“It’s a shame time was too short, space too long.” I was hushed

By your butterfly lips that quivered on my neck, and shushed

By your weaving arms around my waist. I wanted instead

For you to say, “No matter the oceans between us to tread,

No matter what storms, crowds, chaos be spread, I’d rush

Through the cosmos to reach your side. I’d crush

The hourglasses to shards and sweep the sand, so I could dart ahead

Of time itself to the point where our lines once more converge

For when we are together, timing doesn’t matter.”

Yet when your hands tangled in mine I cared not about forever,

But rather if you thought that then was right and meant to be as well?

With a knotted kiss and coiled legs, the chance and urge

To ask fluttered away, and now, only time will tell.

Continue reading ““You threaded your fingers through my hair””

詩歌: 繋がらない

青い目が

鳥居の途中で

神社の外

散る葉を見る

「お祈りしようか?」

Approximate Translation:

Blue eyes, standing in the middle of the torii gates, watch the falling leaves outside the shrine. “Shall we pray?”

Continue reading “詩歌: 繋がらない”

“When we said goodbye on Beacon Street”

When we said goodbye on Beacon Street we hugged.

I smelled must on your jacket, lemon-mint in your hair.

I would have sighed, nested my chin in your shrug

In another universe, but all I dared

Was smile before walking away. In another universe

It may well be that we’d’ve kissed as lovers will,

Embraced, laced hands, awoken side by side, traversed

Deserts, mountains, planets, and shooting stars until

We’re at the moon river’s end, just to go back and return

Again. In another universe, maybe

We’d hug and not go, or we’d never have met and I’d not yearn.

But in this universe we said goodbye on Beacon Street

And though in another universe, I’d be a lover if I could,

Perhaps in this universe, “goodbye” is just as good.

Continue reading ““When we said goodbye on Beacon Street””

Racial identity in Mongolia as a foreigner

My final article at the UB Post, unedited version. My boss requested that I write an article detailing particular impressions I had of Mongolia as a foreigner, but this wound up being a piece on Asian-American identity and the ambiguous place of Asian adoptees in ethnic communities. Link to original is currently unavailable.

When I first arrived, I hopped in a taxi with a Mongolian cab driver who spoke no English. He was a cheery fellow, blasting and humming along to 1960s radio tunes.

While we were waiting in traffic, he asked me something in rapid Mongolian. I shook my head and said I didn’t understand. He said more slowly, “Bi, mongold. Chi?”

“Bi mongold bish,” I replied, the only sentence I knew at the time. He demanded, what was I, then – Japan? Korea? Mexico? I told him, “American.”

Continue reading “Racial identity in Mongolia as a foreigner”

Bayarlalaa & bayartai

I’m very sad, for today I’ll be leaving Ulaanbaatar.

At the UB Post, I wrote an article on my first impressions of Mongolia for my internship. For that article, I concentrated on my overall experience and addressed it from the a racial perspective. However, I didn’t address many other things that shaped my experience here, such as the people, the food, and outside trips/locations. There was a lot of good and admittedly there was some bad, but overall this has been such an empowering experience that has helped me grow and flourish in unimaginable ways. Thank you so much to everyone who helped make this happen again – you guys are amazing! Here are some highlights of my trip that I feel were key in making the experience what it was.

Continue reading “Bayarlalaa & bayartai”

Another face in the crowd

A brief contemplation on a naive young woman’s first sexual encounter and the meaning of intimacy – whether physical or romantic.

When they first met, to her, he was just another face in the crowd, standing at the top of the stairs, waiting, looking out at the mountains sprawling beyond the traffic of the city.

But the night he brought her home and kissed her, he whispered against her lips that he wanted her. It was only at that moment that she really saw his face for the first time.

Continue reading “Another face in the crowd”