budding luv

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Happy Day After Valentine’s Day! This is the day I head over to CVS on my lunch break, scoop up the non-Conversation-Hearts candy on clearance, and adopt the stuffed animals that didn’t find a home this year. I know V-Day is a sort of meh, and that we shouldn’t spend our time and money celebrating such a commercialized holiday (down with capitalism!), but I think it’s still kind of fun to dedicate a day to love—whether it be friend love, self-love, or relationship love. Today, I am dedicating this to the latter, and will tell you a story not many people have heard before.

People ask me all the time about how my dude and I met. I usually say at our campus job at USC, where we drove drunk students to parties, and international students to their homes 2 miles away from school because they didn’t know any better to not live where there are no street lights. But the truth is, it’s much more nuanced than that, and a few coincidences had to be strung together to make us happen.

We met in Fall 2011, but were not on each other’s radars at all. Like, at all. For instance, I once got a concussion that left me with poor short-term memory and nasty headaches, but I went to work anyway, and he told supervisors I should probably go home and not be responsible for peoples’ safety—but he doesn’t remember ever doing that.

In Spring 2013, I became fast friends with a girl because we were both scholarship recipients, Asian-American, and from the San Gabriel Valley. Months later, I walked into a large class, and that same friend called me over and told me to sit with her, as I was trying to get settled in the dark corner by myself. My dude just happened to be sitting with the girl’s group of friends (along with his ex, who tried to ruin my life on multiple occasions, but that’s a different story), and from then on, we were forced to acknowledge each other every Thursday night in USC’s Norris Cinema Theatre from 6 to 10pm.

After chatting during class and at work for weeks (in part, thanks to this event), he invited himself over to my apartment, where I was in my Jonas Brothers: Burning Up Tour t-shirt, getting ready to watch “Helvetica”—the documentary about fonts. He said he’d be over at 3am, after he got off work. Tooootal “Netflix and Chill” move, which I’m now rolling my eyes over, but at the time, I agreed.

He made his way over, but we never got to watch the documentary, because we were busy talking until the sun came up, which is when we left to pick up breakfast burritos at 23rd Street Café (a gem!). We then came back to my apartment, but didn’t eat because I saw that my favorite episode of Supernatural was playing on TNT. (It was the season 5 finale where Sam jumps into the devil hole and Castiel resurrects Bobby, FYI.) I started dozing off, and my dude told me I should probably just go to sleep. So, I went in my room, knocked out without saying anything, and woke up alone hours later, with my breakfast burrito safely tucked away in the fridge. The rest is history! And burritos. Except that time we both went gluten-free—it was the inside of burritos only.

I’m sure we all have a delightfully quirky story about some kind of love, and I’m dying to hear yours, so share yours in a comment below!

new intentions // 2018

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I’m pretty sure most of us have things we want to accomplish this year. You know, typical things, like losing weight, accomplishing a career goal, or laying off the spells you’ve been casting on that one girl that tried to ruin your life in eighth grade by telling everyone you were a poser and didn’t even like screamo music.

Though we set intentions to achieve commendable results, I find that most resolutions are quite negative, in a literal sense. They involve taking away—whether it’s food, free time, or the simple enjoyment that comes from chanting while surrounded by nasty Myspace wall posts you printed out, while Underoath plays in the background—and that can make it harder to achieve. This year, I propose we focus less on the negative, and more on the nourishment of mind, body, and spirit; to fill up on the good, so there’s less room for the things we wish to change. My thought is, the more we fuel ourselves for growth, the more naturally the positive will fall into place.

Food

As someone with a history of disordered eating, food is important to me. Like, really important. Like, I think about food 90 percent of the time important. I’ve researched almost every diet from high fat to low fat; no-carb to eh-carbs-aren’t-that-bad; high-protein to you-can-forage-for-berries-in-your-backyard, and have realized that they all have to do with eating less of something—whatever that may be.

In the past three years, I became so obsessed with limiting my food intake that I gained weight from not eating enough. I gradually started to feel and look weaker, which was accompanied by a myriad of health issues, including joint pain and low blood pressure. It’s been incredibly frustrating to feel like I’ve been working so hard, and still have things start to fall apart. Throughout this process, though, I’ve begun to realize how important food is, and not just in terms of limiting it.

The times I’ve felt strongest recently are the times I’ve focused on fueling—on adding more food. Food that’s good for the body. Food for nourishment. Food that helps me grow. If you intend to eat better this year, instead of obsessing about limitation, it may be helpful to focus more on adding good, so there’s less room for the things you wish to avoid. Also, I’m not a doctor, so don’t sue me if you eat so many leafy greens that you turn into a head of romaine.

Work

It is 100 percent okay to strive for more and chase your dreams in 2018. Go for that promotion. Be the last one to leave the office. Improve your personal assistant efficiency by 43 percent. Other job stuff (that I wouldn’t know because I don’t really have one??)!

I think it’s great to be on that work grind, but sometimes when we devote ourselves to more work, we lose track of taking necessary time for ourselves to recharge. If you’re rolling you eyes at this, I get it. I work four part-time jobs, and only half of them provide stable income. If I’m not at work, I’m applying for a fellowship, or sketching a book, or chauffeuring children, or updating my website. I understand that we’re all busy trying to accomplish things while still faced with the task of paying our student loans, rent, and bills from the one time we decided to see an endocrinologist that said nothing was even wrong and it was all in our heads.

As a fellow busy person, I realize that it can often feel more stressful to take a break than to keep working. I also realize, though, that if you don’t take time to rest, you can burn out, and then you won’t be able to work or pay rent. And then you’ll starve and/or freeze to death, probably.

If you’d rather not die, let’s tackle this together. When we’re writing things in our shiny new planners with our colorful pens, let’s be sure to throw in a quick lil 30 mins of reading, meditation, or even a quick Netflix break. Then, when the time comes, we’ll set an alarm, and get lost in whatever we’re doing to relax, and won’t check our phones until the buzzer goes off.

Taking this time might sound kind of stupid, and like it’s not doing anything, and yes, I’ve fought with my therapist over this numerous times before she eventually quit on me, but it works! Happy us = more productive us = a “more efficient at coffee runs” us.

People

No one likes toxic bitches in their lives. That’s just true. It may seem like it’s easy to just cut them off, but it’s become increasingly challenging to do so because of how we’re all connected through the internet.

I’ll be honest—I have a social media problem. I can easily just not go outside if I think the girl who did me dirty is going to be around my neighborhood, or stay away from Panera because I know a bitch who loves white people food, but staying away from them online is a whole different thing. Sure, I can block people, but if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to roll my eyes at their dumb af Instagram stories, stalk their current location via the Facebook mobile app, or screenshot their tweets with pronoun agreement errors. (This isn’t just me, right?) The issue with these actions is that by continuing to do things like this, I haven’t cut them off at all; I still let that negativity seep into my screen and affect my life. And I’m trying to stop it.

In 2018, I invite you to spend more time with people who are not toxic bitches, and I’ll try my best to do it, too. We will satisfy our hearts with friends who would never talk behind our backs and tell everyone that, “like, actually, I think her hair is ugly and weird.” We are going to hang out with family members who make us laugh, and would never start a passive-aggressive Instagram war where if you like something first, she won’t like it after that. We will go outside and connect with people in our communities who are doing good, and not trying to turn all of your mutual friends against you by telling everyone you (justifiably) called her a racist.

If we fill our days with positivity and light, we won’t have free time to hate-stalk, and that’s best for you, those around you who would benefit from your undivided attention, and especially that chick that called you a poser.

visible // invisible

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For me, the year 2017 was full of moments of feeling seen and unseen, often juxtaposed in a way that made me both hopeful and frustrated. As I recapped my year, I started to realize that, at the center of my highs and lows, was the issue of identity. In this essay, I explore who I am as a person of my craft, and as a member of my community, and I’d love for you to do the same (if you’d like!). I think we all have a pretty good sense of who we are in general, but to delve deeper is something from which we may all benefit. So, as you read through this, you can keep these questions in the back of your head:

 – How does your work reflect who you are, and when, if at all, is it necessary to change your work to reflect who your audience is?

– When do you personally feel visible and invisible, and how does that affect you/how you interact with others?

-How does your craft and your community shape who you are? Is there an intersection of the two?

Or, you totally don’t have to, and you can just read! xx

 

craft

I released my first self-published book in April, a project that was 100 percent mine—my vision, my mistakes, and, overall, my unique learning experience. On the night of my book release party, I sold out of copies to a full house. I connected with folks I hadn’t spoken to or seen in years. I ate tacos, and got to take leftover watermelon-cucumber agua fresca home. This was a high point that was only outshined by the fact that the official release day had yet to come.On that release day, I had the opportunity to table at Tuesday Night Café and connect with new people and artists (and also got the flu, which destroyed me for two weeks after). Through the relationships formed here, I was able to table at more open mics and connect even more with likeminded members of the Asian Pacific Islander community. I talked to people about their stories, and how that related to the story I had just put out, and how we could help more people tell theirs. I felt inspired. I felt like I was making a difference. I felt visible as an API artist.

Since, I’ve felt the buzz from these events naturally dwindle until silent. In that time, I’ve taken meetings that left me questioning if I’m good enough to be seen.

I’ve felt the attention in the room dissipate when I say that I’m fourth-generation Japanese-American. I’ve seen people not want to hear my experience because I’m not an “immigrant” in the way they think of the word. I’ve felt unheard when they ask what I’m writing, and I tell them about my pilot that explores anti-blackness in the Asian-American community—their eyes glazing over because they aren’t the ones out there experiencing what this means. Many aren’t aware these stories exist, and aren’t interested in hearing more, if it doesn’t fit their idea of what the Asian experience is.

It’s a frustrating thing, to be Asian and American at times when people see you as either, or. The fact that I am both, but am often unacknowledged as both can make me feel invisible as both an API and an API artist, and I am just starting to learn how to navigate this strange af space.

community

Let’s be real. The internet is a great way to connect activists to others, organize events, and start social media movements. Through Twitter and Facebook, we pass on the phone numbers of representatives whose votes can be swayed, disseminate information about rallies and protests, and increase awareness of causes that need more attention. Sharing and participating in these conversations can make us feel like we’re making a difference, and often times, we are. However, keeping our activism limited to what we do online and through the phone can be mentally draining and can feel unrewarding at times.

It can be frustrating to call senators and ask that they vote against a bill, and have that still not be enough to stop it from being passed. It’s frustrating to share a hashtag in hopes of raising awareness of police brutality, only to have police officers be acquitted again. It’s frustrating messaging a friend on Facebook about their problematic views in hopes of changing them, but have them go right back to reposting Breitbart articles. It’s fucking frustrating. And it’s easy to feel like you’re working your butt off to make a difference, but when the results are not tangible or instant, you can feel like you’re losing yourself in a sea of twitter users fighting alt-right bots and conservative housewives, with the only satisfaction coming from the “likes” you get when you tweet gifs @realDonaldTrump. It’s so easy to feel invisible.

I’ve found that when I’m overwhelmed by all of this, it’s refreshing to ditch my electronic devices and go out into the community to interact with people face to face. And, to be honest, it’s weird to speak about this because it’s something that’s pretty new to me. Yet, in the short amount of time I’ve been involved, I feel a change in the way I perceive others and the ways in which I approach how I try to make my voice heard.

When you go outside, you get to see the faces of the people you’re fighting for, and those you’re fighting alongside. It’s helpful to see how your actions direct real, human beings, taking you out of that “what I’m doing isn’t affecting anyone” funk. It’s not always fun to get in a car and drive to a community meeting, find free parking in a loading zone after 6pm, and look for a seat next to someone you don’t know, when you could just sit at home and retweet Shaun King and John Lewis.

I get it. Been there. I am always Team No Pants and Tweet and Chill.

With that said, some of the most rewarding experiences of this past year have happened because I decided to go outside and make myself uncomfortable. I’ve gone to a mosque to support my Muslim brothers and sisters after they received death threats. I’ve spoken to others about how I use art as activism, and how they can, too. I’ve simply listened to stories of those who feel oppressed in a very different way than I do. No matter how big or how small an action is within the community, I’ve found it worth it, and I let it inspire me to keep fighting and to take those steps outside into the world to make a difference.

I’m not saying it’s easy or the wrong approach to sit behind a computer screen. In fact, the way social media is used today calls for, and inspires change, and I think we should keep using it. However, when you start to feel invisible, it’s a great idea to go out there and make yourself visible, while at the same time, putting yourself in a position where you’re able to see others. Plus, you might make a friend or two, and we all know you could use more friends.

 

final thoughts

I would ultimately love for these newsletter essays to be about how we can become more comfortable in our own skin, and challenge ourselves to recognize ways that we aren’t, and ways that we already are. With this confidence, I’d love us to go out into the world and make ourselves visible. Grow as a person of your craft. Grow your community that will support you, and you, in turn, will support them. Grow as a human being.

That’s the goal. There is always a chance that I won’t have something to say in a month, and will have to document a story of how I peed myself in public again. Fair warning.

Balance

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I’ve always struggled to find balance in my life.

I like to work. I like pushing myself. I like trying things that people don’t expect someone to be able to do. It’s not because I was taught to strive for perfection by my parents as a child (my therapist just couldn’t understand this one) or because I want to be the best human being in the world at everything that was ever invented. I just like doing things.

Years ago, I saw an interview with James Franco in which he said that sleeping was useless, and that he got as little shut-eye as possible to stay productive. I tried this, and found out that sleeping is not useless, and that you will actually turn into a grouch who can’t stay awake in a class that you thought was “basic science” but actually turned out to be a crash course in astrophysics.

So, maybe that as a wash… but once I figured out what schedule worked best for me, I stuck to it. I spent the majority of college waking up at 5:30am, heading to Starbucks, writing until 9am, going to class, working at my campus job, and then coming back home to sleep so I could repeat everything again. During this time, I was also not drinking water, not eating regularly, and was probably a little bit miserable.

When I graduated, I decided to take a break from work. I made the conscious decision to not apply for a full-time job because I wanted to create, but instead of writing, I ended up busting out my Nintendo 64, and played Pokemon Puzzle League for hours a day. I did eventually get a part-time job, if only to supplement the snacking I did when I worked my way up to becoming a Puzzle League Champion. My balance shifted away from work and more towards relaxation (though let’s be real: PPL was actually anything but relaxing).

Two years passed, and I still hadn’t created anything like I had planned. I started feeling guilty. When people asked me what I was doing, I would say “nothing,” but in my head I screamed, “not enough!”

That’s when my Wallagalore journey started. I set out to just make something. I wanted something tangible that I could hold in my hands– to prove to myself that I could get something done. I had been playing around with the story idea for a while, but made excuses to put it off (aka I got really into taking walks on the beach in the middle of the day and looking at famous instagram cats).

When I finally did put myself to work, my balance shifted again. This time, it was like being back in school. Up until recently, I was working three part-time jobs while writing and illustrating Wallagalore in between shifts. I was also exercising for at least two hours a day, not eating enough to a point where I damaged my metabolism/suffered from joint issues, and just felt exhausted all the time. I felt guilty when I wasn’t being productive–still afraid that I wasn’t doing enough.

But it was enough. It was always enough (Except maybe when I was playing Puzzle League and couldn’t beat the Elite Four). I know this because I got the flu the day Wallagalore was released, and got absolutely knocked off of my feet. I couldn’t sit up, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t do anything. And absolutely nothing bad happenedNothing combusted. Nothing was destroyed. It was okay to take time off. I actually think I needed a little break; I just didn’t realize it.

As of now, I work two part-time jobs, have two rest days from workouts, and illustrate and write for projects part-time, but take breaks when I need to. I still feel a little guilty when I spend a few hours riding Mission: Breakout! at California Adventure instead of sketching comic panels, but I’m starting to feel better about it. If this is balance, it’s a little weird, tbh. But I’m working on it.

2017 Resolutions

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I will not hate-stalk people online

Three years ago, I became obsessed with my boyfriend’s ex girlfriend (we’ll just call her The Devil). It started off innocent enough–I just wanted to know where she was from, her height, her weight, and her aspirations of life. That escalated into me needing to know where she lived.

Instagram used to have this cool thing, where on someone’s profile, you could click a map icon and see where all of the person’s pictures had been taken. It’s supposed to be used so you can see the different countries and states the person has traveled to… but if you zoom in enough, you can see the cross streets of places that pictures was posted from. I knew that the location on the map with the highest number of posted pictures was typically where that person lived. So, from there, all I had to do was two-finger zoom as much as I could to see where The Devil resided.

Unfortunately, her profile was set to private. But fortunately enough, I knew her friends’ names, and they were not set to private. Like anyone else would do, I found all of the pictures of The Devil on other profiles, and made a note of where these pictures seemed to be posted from most often. After enough time and dedication, I was able to determine, with confidence, that she lived on the corner of Wilshire and Warner in Westwood.

Now, what was I going to do with this information? Would knowing what restaurants she reviewed on Yelp make me a better person? What could I have done in the time it took me to set my Linkedin profile to private just so I could see where The Devil interned in 2011? Why am I still doing this to myself, even though I found out she lives in New York now, and will have no further impact on my relationship? So many questions, and more, which is why in 2017, I will put an end to my hate-stalking.

I will stay off conservative social media

Y’all heard of fake news. It’s that thing where “writers” will come up with an attention-grabbing headline with a couple words in all-caps (like “DEADLY” and “BELIEVE” and “CHRISTIANS”) to get you to click on the link. Once you’re there, your met with a poorly-written article with spelling errors, completely bonkers conspiracy theories, and ads for penis enlargement.

This past election, up until now, I’ve been using this as a source of entertainment. I sometimes like to search through the #deplorable and #trump hashtags on Twitter just to find out what these people are sharing for the day.

I’ve learned so much about how Bill Clinton has this thing called “Sex Slave Island” where he keeps prostitutes, and how Obama is actually converting America to Islam and replacing our currency, and how Trump has literally been sent to us by god. It’s super entertaining until you realize that half of America isn’t in on the joke, and some “writer” is capitalizing on their refusal to use critical thinking skills. Plus, it’s an incredible waste of time.

I’ll be trying to get some work done, see that someone has posted another “article” from a clickbait “news outlet” and I’ll be done for the afternoon. I get stuck in these cycles where I keep clicking on their “sources” (usually just another article from the same website with absolutely no proof of anything) for hours until I get so frustrated that I have to stop myself and walk away from my computer. And if I do happen to be able to pull myself out of this hell hole, there’s always the comments section, where people have managed to come up with ten million names for Obama, like OldBummer, O-Bore-Me, and of course, the n-word.

So, not a real good use of my time. And in 2017, I’m giving it a rest.

I will be kinder to myself

I consider myself a kind person. I tip well, am polite, and generally try to not hurt anyone’s feelings unless I’m subtweeting on Twitter. But sometimes, I can be not-so nice.

For instance, whenever someone asks me to go out and I don’t want to, I’ll tell them that it’s my mom’s birthday dinner that night. Almost every time. By this logic, my mom had 10 birthday dinners last year. And I’m not even making an excuse so I can do something with other people; I’m saying this because all I want to do is sit on my couch and watch The Goldbergs on a Wednesday night.

Also, sometimes, when I’m bored, I like to report The Devil’s Instagram profile as “inappropriate” to spite her for being set to private and making me work harder to stalk her. My bad.

Also, also, sometimes I stare at people will judgment-filled eyes because I know they voted for Trump. Oops.

But the person I’m the worst to is probably myself. I’m tough on myself and don’t like to make mistakes, but I’m working on it. And I’ll start by showing myself kindness when I inevitably mess up all of these resolutions.

When I accidentally spend an hour trying to figure out what The Devil was doing in 2008, I’ll give myself some slack.

When I get sucked into an afternoon of leisurely reading about how Hillary is actually dead and has a body double because the Clintons want to unleash satan on America, I’ll be forgiving.

And when I don’t want to go out with people and would rather sit around in sweatpants and see what Barry Goldberg is up to, I’ll give my mom another birthday dinner and won’t feel guilty for putting myself first. Yay, 2017!

 

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I’m not a sensitive person.

I spent four years of college in a room full of writers giving each other “notes” aka when you sit and listen to everyone tear your script apart. I have a high pain tolerance and once refused to go to the doctor, not knowing that my wrist was fractured. I’m, like, 90 percent sure I can right-hook my way out of a potential mugging because I take kickboxing once a week. (I do also have an unhealthy amount of empathy for inanimate objects and often cry when I see children taking care of their stuffed animals, but that’s not the point.)

That being said, men make me uncomfortable. (And I hate to give them credit for it)

I tend to avoid going on walks by myself with my arms and legs exposed because I’m scared or street harassment. I’m afraid to smile or take off my sunglasses because I don’t want to hear the sexist, unwarranted comments from strange men. I’m afraid of how some remarks and actions are being normalized, and are considered “not a big deal.” I’m afraid of that thing that’s happened multiple times, when I ignore a man’s “compliment” and he calls me a bitch for not saying thank you or wanting to drop to my knees and suck his dick. I’m afraid of even saying anything about this fear because people will tell me that this is just “boys being boys” or “locker room talk.” To that, I say a polite, “Fuck you.”

You’re telling me it’s just something that happens that we should accept because boys can’t be expected to control their penises.

You’re telling me that I should just “get over it.”

You’re telling your children that they’re being too goddamn sensitive if a man on the street wolf-whistles at them, or even lays a hand on them.

No one, especially men, should be able to make women feel powerless.

This is not about the “issues” in politics. It’s not about guns or the economy or taxes. This is about being a decent human being. This is about being good role models for young ones. This is about stopping this cycle of men making women feel uncomfortable, and people just accepting it as a part of daily life.

I’m sick of people brushing off this behavior as normal.

I’m sick of those who divert attention away from it, like it’s something we should just move on from because it’s not convenient to address.

And I’m fucking sick of thinking that I have to wear a sweater when it’s 90 degrees because I don’t want to be honked at by a goddamn douchebag in a fucking Dodge Charger.

American Idiot

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This is the first entry in a series in which I talk about what albums have had the biggest impacts on my life. First up is Green Day’s American Idiot. 

In 2004, my grandparents had just gotten Fuse– a television channel dedicated to playing rock music and shows about rock music. Around this time, MTV and VH1 also created channels that would play only music videos 24/7, and would play My Chemical Romance’s “Helena” at least twice an hour.

My mom kept Living History by Hillary Clinton on her nightstand, and my dad still refers to George W. Bush as “Dick Cheney’s Puppet.” We’re from a suburb just east of Downtown LA. My high school was pretty liberal, with 97 percent minority students, and I knew zero white kids until I went to college. I could tell that people around me felt disillusioned about the country and the war around this time, and I had no idea what was going on.

Then “American Idiot” was released in September.

The music video for the titular song took place in a warehouse with a green american flag hanging as the backdrop as the trio played through the angsty pop-punk song. Halfway through, the flag started bleeding and a rush of bright green liquid flooded the warehouse, soaking the band in, what I assume was, Nickelodeon slime. Chaos. Plus in the first 30 seconds, they said the word “fuck.” This shit was cool, and I could watch it every 10 minutes if I switched between the music video channels with enough finesse and luck.

The lead singer, hunky Billie Joe Armstrong, sang about things like political tension, poor leadership, media, propaganda– all words that I’d been hearing, but Green Day made it all make sense. People around me, and around the country, were angry and frustrated and felt disillusioned and I finally got it. All it took was a punk rock opera about a suburban kid who runs away and finds drugs and a girl and eventually ends up back home where he started.

American Idiot is the first CD I remember buying with my own money at the old Tower Records near East LA College. My dad took me (like he did on Friday nights), and to my surprise, he didn’t say anything about the “explicit content warning” on the front. I gave him my money to pay for it as I hid, thinking it was illegal to purchase a CD with bad words if you were under 18. As soon as I got home, I put it in my pink Hello Kitty portable, anti-skip CD player and let it consume me. The words, the story, the political commentary. I didn’t take it out until I’d memorized the words to all 9 minutes and 8 seconds of “Jesus of Suburbia.”

The album made me rename my Myspace username to Billie_Joe_Obsessed, and to use good ol’ HTML change my profile colors to black, red, and green with a heart grenade as my custom cursor. I took the CD booklet out of the plastic cover and stuck it in the front of my binder, so everyone could see how fucking punk rock I was. I wore a studded belt and bucked it to the left side to be more like BJA. I hated myself for not having anxiety and panic attacks because that meant I couldn’t write badass songs about my experiences (In hindsight, I probably did this to myself). I gave the radio two middle fingers for playing “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” when “Letterbomb” was clearly sooooo much better.

This album changed who I was, how I dressed, and solidified my thoughts on politics, and life as a girl from a lower-middle class neighborhood with dreams of sticking it to the higher-ups. Don’t worry–  I’ve mellowed since, and not just because you can’t alter the HTML on Facebook or Instagram.

American Idiot is anti-establishment, but in a badass Bernie Sanders way. It called for change. It got me thinking. It got me involved. It made me want to make cool shit that could change minds. And I still feel that way to this day, when I listen and sing along the whole time, from the start of “American Idiot” all the way to the end of “Whatsername” (or “Governator” on the deluxe release).

Pen Island

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I grew up in a safe environment I’ve come to know as Pencil Town. Here, I was constantly surrounded by wooden, mechanical, and even those push point pencils that were so popular in elementary school. To complete the set, I always had an eraser on hand, whether it was one of those gray Magic Rub ones, or one of those retractable contraptions with neon colored tubes and flaccid eraser sticks that we used to pretend were floppy wieners.

Sometimes we even got creative and combined the two by pushing a piece of spare lead into an eraser and pretending it was a pencil. These two school time essentials worked hand in hand. The pencil would let me scribble away without fear of making mistakes, while the eraser served as a security blanket to let me know that if I wrote “a” instead of “the,” she’d be there to make it all better and no one would even know, unless they looked hard enough or if the eraser was shitty. It was a comforting time, but it was also one during which I developed a fear: writing in pen.

In middle school, small steps were taken to wean us off of pencil dependency. Teachers required projects to be submitted in ink, so it was common practice to write out everything in pencil, and then trace it in the forbidden, permanent substance. Even though the training wheels were still on, it was still a scary thing to hold a writing tool so uninviting in hand. One nudge of your seat partner’s elbow or twitch of the wrist could send the line of ink flying to an unwanted place on the page, and you’d be forced to use white out to cover it up. Then everyone would know you were that kid that fucked up big time.

It was in high school where pencils were eliminated and my fear hit an all-time high as we moved from Pencil Town to The Real World: Graphite is for Babies. Dreaded short answer quizzes were now to be taken in ink, as I can imagine AP teachers were done with trying to read smudged, non-number-two pencil bullshit. I suppose this was to help prepare us for real life, in which no self-respecting adult would take out one of those shaker pencils, spare led, an eraser, and spare pencils at the grocery store to write a personal check, but that didn’t mean I liked it. Suddenly, everything I wrote was so bold and clear and susceptible to mistakes for all to witness.

Perhaps it was the exposure therapy or just a preference for not having to open up and inspect mechanical pencils every time they did that thing where the lead keeps going back into the tip, but I eventually started to become more comfortable using pen. I liked being able to see how I struck through three words before finding the right one, or how I turned an accidental squiggle into a drawing in a journal entry. I loved all signs of the messy, beautiful process of self-expression.

As I progressed through school and life, typing became the thing to do. Discovering this Computer Canyon allowed me to get out my thoughts quicker to meet a deadline, all while avoiding inevitable hand cramps, but there was also something missing. With computers, you only get the final product, albeit laden with spelling errors that technically aren’t wrong because “well” is still a word, even though you meant to type out “whimsically.” There are no signs of the thought process that I adore so; no room for the doodles that happened when I was supposed to be writing dialogue or crafting an argument about why the series finale of “Lost” was perfect enough to move me to tears.

Making mistakes is a very human thing to do, and with a pen I could try to cover up the fact that I spelled “separate” with three E’s instead of two, but there are still going to be obvious clues that a blunder occurred, and I liked that. Computer Canyon was not like this. It was a place where mistakes could be permanently deleted with a few clicks on a keyboard, with no traces of former life left behind. This was not somewhere I wanted to be for long periods of time. It was cold and dark and filled with obstacles like “Googling your boyfriend’s ex ten different ways” and “amateur porn,” obviously put in the way to distract me from working.

Now that I’ve escaped, I make my own rules about where I dwell, and I’ve chosen to settle down in Pen Island. It is here where I am surrounded by scraps of paper, half-filled journals, and one-sentence ideas that went nowhere, but might be something one day. I leave occasionally to submit articles and update my blog and “accidentally” get distracted by reading conservative comments on NPR articles for entertainment, but for the most part, this is my home.

I’ve grown to love the once-frightening process of putting myself at risk of making mistakes that can’t be undone by an eraser phallus and have learned that pens are not death traps designed to make me fail miserably. Hiding my errors isn’t going to make them disappear, but leaving them out in the open helps me see that everything is a learning process, and that with enough scribbles and strikethroughs, something kind of cool can be created. Plus, if I chose to erase every dumb or embarrassing idea I’ve had over the years, I probably wouldn’t have anything left to write about.

**I was just informed that “Pen Island” is a thing that boys liked to write out in middle school because when the spacing is rearranged, it spells “Penis Land.” When I saw the words, I merely thought, “what a fun place to be!” Thus, I am keeping the name as it is.

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The Time I Learned to Smile with My Eyes

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I have Asian eyes.

If you don’t know what I mean, let me fill you in. They’re often called “squinty,” “small,” “chinky.” Aka something undesirable that you avoid like the plague in your instagram selfies with cheesy-ass white girl captions.

In pictures I used to hold my eyes so wide open that a fly could’ve buzzed into them, and I wouldn’t dare flinch in fear of people writing the blink off as “oh, her eyes just always look closed.”

As evidenced by all of my high school graduation pictures, such as this one, in which I look excited af but also like I am in pain on the inside:

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Clearly, it didn’t matter to me if I looked like an actual human being having fun instead of a rent-a-robot hired to dance at fifth birthday party. All I cared about was not looking like I had those ugly, chinky eyes. They say you should be able to tell if a person is actually smiling when you cover their mouths in pictures and look at their eyes. If you do that in any of my pictures from 2007-2013, you’d think I was constantly miserable.

But maybe I was.

Some people don’t like to get their picture taken because they look “fat” or “bald” or “completely fucking stupid.” But I didn’t like getting my picture taken because I looked Asian. As in, my race. As in, one of the few things I can’t change about myself. As in, what I should not have been ashamed of by any means.

Maybe I was miserable because I’d been conditioned to think that just looking Asian is bad.  I get that I let the media and my social acquaintances make me think that the definition of beauty is wide eyes with no crow’s feet and no squinting. But it’s also not entirely my fault  that if you google “pretty eyes,” you’ll see every different color on earth, but you won’t see a set of eyes that would be considered “small.” Or that as I was growing up, I’d hear all the time that a picture needed to be retaken because someone had “Asian eyes” (Sometimes even from Asians). Or that the Japanese have made these goddamn sticker photo booths that automatically make your eyes look bigger. Seriously.

Whatever the reason, it happened. There’s plenty of photographic proof. And it took me up until recently to undo.

Honestly, it’s exhausting trying to keep your eyes as round as possible without blinking or squinting as a picture is being taken, and getting mediocre results that make you look like the most unpopular wax figure on display. No one wants to see “The Amazing Asian Girl Who’s Trying to Look Like She’s Not Asian Because She Let the Societal Pressure to Look Like a White Girl Get the Best of Her.”

So, I let it all go. No more holding my eyes open until they watered, no more worrying about people betting on whether I blinked or if my eyes are just like that, and no more desperation of trying to fit some sort of Google-Image-approved beauty standards. And suddenly, I looked like I was having real, human being fun in pictures (because I was having real, human being fun!). I looked a lot less miserable, and lot less like I was trying to focus on controlling the wind, sun, bugs, people, and animals that could compromise the shape of my eyes in a silly picture that a maximum of 9 people would see on Facebook.

It feels good to just relax in pictures now. So, you may not be able to see my eye color in photos because I was caught laughing as food came out of my mouth or because someone fell or made a fart noise. But that’s okay. I already worry about lighting, hair, collar bones, makeup, and food in our teeth. There’s no need to worry about my eyes, too.

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The Time I Foiled an Evil Plan

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On the same day that my therapist decided to ditch me, she also left me with a *super cool* bonding activity to complete with Bee. We got questionnaires to fill out for each other to supposedly prove how close we are, and in what areas we could still learn more. Personally, I think this was strategic, evil scheming. She knew I’d never be back to talk about the shitstorm she caused. Nonetheless, I convinced him to do it, and here’s what he had to say, along with my commentary:

What is your significant other’s favorite food? Ice cream/broccoli. He forgot soft pretzels, tabouli, and salsa that’s spicy as balls. 

What is your significant other’s favorite band? Fall Out Boy Panic! at the Disco. I turned down someone who wanted to buy my #FallOutBoyHiatusIsOver ticket for $400, and he still second-guessed himself. 

What would your significant other change about themselves if they could? How she thinks about her body. More abs, probably. Maybe boobs that could fill out an A-Cup. 

What is your significant other’s biggest fear? Losing the motivation she has to get things done. Jellyfish. It’s jellyfish.

What is your significant other’s greatest strength? Her creativity and sense of humor. Triceps and hamstrings, tbh. 

What helps your significant other relax? Knowing that there aren’t any more chores that have to be done. If he knows this, then why did I just spend the afternoon taking out the trash and vacuuming?

What arouses your significant other? Making her feel wanted. That’s cute. 

To be fair, my answers for him weren’t exactly spot on, especially because I used this as an opportunity to keep pointing out that his favorite band is Slipknot, and that he needs to eat more greens. There were a few important takeaways, however:

1. It’s been over two years, and we’re still learning about each other, despite thinking that we couldn’t possibly know more (except that I will literally puke if I see a jellyfish IRL, apparently).

2. Bee’s aware that he should be washing the dishes, putting his socks in the hamper (and not in a pile next to the TV), and scrubbing old food off the floor, but still leaves these things for me to do, knowing damn well that I can’t relax until they’re done.

3. He’s too embarrassed to write the word “dick” on paper.

4. His favorite band is Slipknot. Never forget.

5. My therapist’s plan to turn us against each other and be “conveniently out of your insurance network when you need help” was thwarted by myself, as well as the guy who thinks I’m 50 percent ice cream and 50 percent broccoli.