This Happiness is My Own

Tonight. We sat across the lake to live music. The sun set to rock classics. I dangled my toes over the brick wall, occasionally dipping them in cold lake water. Look! I’d exclaim. And I leaned back, prickly grass against my elbows. Rock and roll!

Can you bring me a beer? He did. I finished the IPA he brought me. By the end of it, I was tipsy dipsy. Still sturdy. But loopy. I wiggled my way over the brick wall.

The band played classics from the 80’s. And it all just felt so summer quintessential. Light and muggy. Grass on your thighs, and you’re swatting at bugs, filled with heavy heady happiness. That presentness feels like what the movies look like. Being here, in the now, swaddled in music, oldie tunes, beer, cool breeze of summer.

Has summer always been so beautiful? My memories of summer are scorching hot. Beads of sweat within seconds. It was “fry an egg on the sidewalk” type heat, where I wouldn’t step foot outside unless I had to. Has summer changed? Or have I? Have I discovered, for the first time in my life, the blissful coolness of post 8 PM summers?

This happiness is my own. There were moments I found myself lost in the music. I watched each wave. Patterns of white reflection blinded me. As the sun lowered, the neon signs by the lake glittered louder than ever.

“No Justice, No Peace”

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I unintentionally semi-attended one of the protests for the death of Floyd, murdered at the hands of police brutality. Unless you are Patrick the Star, you know who I am referring to (Floyd and countless other victims), what I am referring to (systematic racism and police brutality in the US), the evolving situation (peaceful protests over the span of half a decade whistling into frustration; people taking advantage of the situation, bringing UHaul trucks to a protest); and how many people may or may not feel on social media.

We had gone into the city to observe the apparent damage from last night. This was after we mosied on through the rich and poor neighborhoods, a mere ten minutes apart. Here, in the heart of the city, cop cars lined every street. They parked in groups of ten. They huddled together, breaths close, adjusting their tear gas masks, apparently forgetting that while it was a period of protests, it was also a pandemic. We glanced at street troopers deeply inhaling each other’s air particles.

All of the windows, for streets on end, were boarded up. Not because they were broken, it turns out, but for preemptive measures. We circled around the blocks several times, peering at the graffiti that spat from every wall. Every corner. Chants I have heard many, many times. No justice, no peace. A different energy permeated the street. As we passed by people with signs and masks, we sensed that there was a new person in the chat: tension. Fear. You could feel it. Whisps of it. Floating above the cauldron of anticipation.

We passed by a screaming ambulance. And it pointed us towards the hundreds of protestors, who suddenly showed up overnight. They were not here ten minutes ago. But now they were, an itching crawling mass of ants, a rhythm of outrage, sadness, defiance. We ended up parking right in front of the protestors as they all crossed. We honked our horn, because we were inside, and le beau held a fist, and they saw, and they did too. And in the video footage, I see now, the collective fists rising, rising, rising in unity.

I have always loved attending protests, capturing the raw energy, swollen and real. Collective effervescence was the term my professor had once used. And even though I was not in the protest myself, I felt it, if only briefly. Again. And then I remembered the incredible sadness and tragedy and numbness that accompanies every other headline. The same old story. For so long, people have turned a blind eye. This protest–this was different. The posts I see on my feed–they’re different. How so? Not the content, but the people who are posting them. By God. The message seems to have gotten through to more of the masses than before. That is the smallest sliver of hope.

This is all straight out of a USA textbook. Times from the 1960’s. The L.A Race Riots. Dates of sit-ins and names of groups. Malcom X, MLK, Black Panther, Emmett Till. We memorized these names. These faces. Rotely. Sang their names in songs. Unaware that as we bristled about, naive and young, the world outside was very much the same as the one in the textbook.

It feels as if there is nothing I can say to add to the discourse. There is nothing I can say that will change the past or reality. There is nothing I can say to change the world as it presently is, or once was. My desire to see no evil and hear no evil, a privilege I cradled like a baby’s blanket, was ripped from me today–silly girl. It’s somewhat relieving and exhausting and overwhelming to see that this dominates every single news feed. People know. People who would have normally waved it off five years ago, when it was Trayvon Martin, are noticing a pattern. And they feel some type of way about it.

That being said, I can hear both sides of the argument for and against violence in the context of protests. Outside the context, I do not condone violence. I strongly dislike violence. It makes me nauseous. It’s sickening. We got here because of violence. Because of countless murders. Because of regular brutality. I can hear that peaceful attempts have been ignored for far too long–I can hear that violence only perpetrates violence. Here’s my cop-out, no pun intended: I take no stand. The sad thing about violence is that what makes it violence is a victim. Usually dead or maimed. And we may support violence in the abstract, until that victim is our mother, father, sister, best friend, cousin, uncle, co-worker, husband.

There is no happy ending to this post, no conclusive remark. Just as there is no happy ending for Floyd’s story, a familiar U.S tale. Racism is America’s cystic acne, I said today. It continually flares up. And when you think you’ve cleared out most of it, it just crops up again. Who knows what’ll be the miraculous Clean-n-Clear to America’s racism? I sure don’t.

But so long as there is no justice, there will be no peace.

From all sides

Dr. Stephenson and his study of incidences of reincarnation ...

He had to learn from all sides in order to truly understand. We all do. We change religions, races, and nationalities. We experience lifetimes of extreme wealth and of abject poverty, of sickness and of health.

We must learn to reject all prejudice and hatred. Those who do not will simply switch sides, returning in the bodies of their enemies.

No-Screen Sunday

I opted for no-screen sunday yesterday.

That meant no phone, no laptop, no television. For 24 hours. And for the first time in a long time, I noticed the world around me. I hadn’t noticed the way nature sounded: birds chirping, swaying branches, whispering wind. I hadn’t noticed the way green looked, the way the trees expanded on the streets ahead, how light fell across all hours of day. I hadn’t paused to smelled the air, the actual air, to inhale a space fragrant with garlic, seasoning, the outdoors. I hadn’t remembered what something other than my greasy keyboard had felt like. Feathery pages of a book, soft fur of my pigs, linen cloth.

And like a millennial monk, draped in privilege, I meditated throughout the day. This is the present, I repeated to myself. This is the present. Shoo, thoughts. I repeated it to myself until it registered: that all there was to this existence was this very moment. That we accumulate musings of the past, trauma, become lost in waves of yesterday, when it is all in the mind. When all our anxieties, worries, concerns–engulfed towards the unforeseen future–are of the mind. That even as we mire ourselves in thought and feeling, which feel real, and are, all that there truly is is the now. And it’s something I had a hard, hard time wrapping my mind around until one day, while meditating, it registered.

I still get lost in thought, tangled in musings, hamster-wheel running on the cycle of news, news, bad news. But meditating, even if it’s only for a few minutes, bowls me over in brief realization.

10:58 AM

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It’s very strange, because she had been on the periphery of my life in many ways, but I had never let her in. It was as if my heart were a shuttered home, and she was in the yard, seeing the panes fly off, the many construction workers on the roof. But she never knew the floor plans, renovation ideas, what was ever going on inside. And so she’d bring up the old house from five years ago, describing the shifting exterior, never having known was what inside the interior.

Accidental Date

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In the evening, we visited the bar x bookstore x coffeeshop with the fat bright bulbs in the back and edgy writer Meetups behind us. This was an accidental-date. Hours earlier in the grocery line, I had remarked that I was officially tired of dates, having gone to a fancy French restaurant three days ago. Despite it, here we were.

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He grabbed an overpriced bear. I spent a good 20 minutes taking photos on my 3 cameras. He dreamt about the cross-country road trip he would one day take. I eavesdropped on the writers behind me. He mused about sailing through cities, passing by mountains, and seeing grand lakes. I told him to plan it.

Tipsy on coffee-flavored beer, we ducked out onto the streets where people swam the streets and danced to live jazz and strays eyed us lazily, warily.

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We walked from one side of the street to the other, weighing out the available food options, and after I, indecisive, chose 2 twice (“Choose a number between 1 and 3.” “There is only one number between 1 and 3.”) we went to the burger joint. The chipotle sauce dripped down my chin and I used up 8 wads of napkins.

After the burgers, we got a scoop of cookies and cream ice cream on a waffle cone and sat outside on the swing set. We had come in the summer and spring before. We swung back and forth on the rocking chair and people-watched, taking turns to finish the waffle cone.

Peanuts

Our souls are like peanuts, our bodies, the shells. I remember thinking this the night we came home from burning incense. We burned paper money. I think we bowed. Me, in my gangly western body, oversized and overstretched. Metal lockers. Ashes. Peanuts.

Light enthusiasm for existence has been coupled with a headachey down-to-earth boredom. While driving, I waver between extremities of thought. I think about the person driving behind me. I think about god. I think about cruise control. I think about the cycle of life. There’s no in between. Then I pull up to the parking lot.

I read and I read. It started from a halloween movie. It turned out to be half real. I know travel can expand the mind and whatnot. But here I am, afraid of flights, strangers, disease and the unknown. Fear, fear, fear. To be honest, I’m okay with it.

And I trust the tidbits of knowledge and insight that occasionally sprout from the hazy morning of wake. Like: your soul lets go when it’s ready to let go!

I read about the differentiation between emotional learning and intellectual learning. It resonates. Only those specific experiences could have taught me the things they taught me. Only through rumination and crumbling brick-overflowing-vats could I have taken away something. Some things you can easily digest. But other lessons, lessons of the heart, are tailored through relationships, formed and broken.

I don’t really know what else to do with this, though. I do, but I don’t. How do we translate abstractions of the heart to tangible actions? And how do we, issue-riddled humans, overcome the countless things we might never overcome?

I have no idea.

Silly Musings

I accidentally broke my 50mm camera lens last Fall while setting my tripod on bricks. Two mini-shoots later, I decided to buy another one, but not the Canon one for $120. Despite the price, it’s still the cheapest of the Canon family, and I end up breaking one every 3 years from overuse or clumsiness. So I got this one for $50, a knock-off brand made of, seemingly, the exact same parts, and so far, it’s performed beautifully. We’ll see how long it lasts. To be honest, I rarely pick up my digital cameras. But after last weekend’s shoot, I’m itching to get back into it.

At the moment, I feel weirdly paralyzed by all the creative outlets I have but can’t choose between. I am most indecisive about the things that matter least, and at the moment, I cannot decide among film photography, digital photography, archiving photography, or sketchbooking. But it makes no sense. I am simultaneously bored, weeks ahead on grad school assignments because I am bored, and also paralyzed between these creative options. Technically, I could divert my boredom onto one of these, but I can’t. These are the silly musings of a silly girl.

Speaking of creative projects, I’ve been continuing my Project 365, polaroid style. I’m posting one post with 6 images every 6 days and plastering it onto my Stories. It’s an easy way to manage and share my project without overloading myself with tasks and reminders. When I first attempted a Project 365 about 10 years ago, there were no iPhones and apps and what-have-you’s. We had our digital cameras, yes, but also our USB cords and digital time stamps we right-clicked to check. It was a lot harder to keep track of photos, especially when I took them on 3 different cameras at once, and there were no filters to beautify the lazy ones. I appreciate the photo-technology we have nowadays.

Also, I ended up getting rid of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom because somehow my little brain forgot that I was paying over $10 a month for those–$120 a year. Not worth it. They are purely recreational. But for a few days I felt weird without them, even though I barely use them. I felt as though I could do nothing at all anymore, when in reality, I could do plenty with VSCO. I don’t know: I need to figure out my editing workflow. I can do it with free technology.

So that’s what’s been on my mind, aside from some menial grad school tasks and homework assignments. I heard back from an old student this morning and it warmed my heart. I said a few goodbyes to students last week. I feel particularly fond of some students, because we just jibe. I said, “how are you feeling now?” And they said they were sad. We wouldn’t see each other any more. Isn’t that sweet?

Dear diary,

I am at a boba shop, curled into the corner, taro boba and book by my side. I am reading Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras and finding comfort in the italicized Spanish and descriptions of Colombia. It reminds me of the books I read by Dominican writers, when they’d mix two cultures with the ladle of immigration.

This taro is too sweet.

Last night we made a whole slew of good food. I was tiny master chef. Le beau was my sous chef. He chopped. He peeled. He cut. His cherry tomatoes and Yukon gold potatoes were even, small. He minced the garlic, peeled the onions.

I remembered when, not too long ago, I was him, and my best friend was me. She’d instruct me to peel the potatoes. Wash the salad. Peel the shrimp. And I, who had always been averse to food preparation, who’d long seen food as something I had to eat rather than experience, learned a thing or two.

I learned that romaine came in fat stalks and if you let butter sit on the pan, garlic would add deep fragrance. I learned that shrimp skins were like shrimp jackets you’d have to dig to rip off their backs. I learned that Vietnamese soups had a deep umami back flavor, and to achieve it, you boiled bones overnight. And I learned that making food was part following steps, part intuition.

I never liked baking because I hate following instructions: I’ve grown to love cooking because I can, as I declare loudly over questionable couscous, follow my heart.

:-)

IMG_1306.PNGHe took me to see a play. An interactive play, a wild play, a play where audience-goers could munch on fudge sundaes and toss popcorn whenever. Wherever! At whomever.

In all the time I’ve been here, I never knew such a scene existed. Plays were overpriced, heavy, weighty, nursed in fat auditoriums of Friday night old city life. But this–this was spunky, young, fresh and vintage, a place where theatre-lovers, high school thespians, people who’d loved the stage–maybe just not enough to run off to Broadway–performed. The topic at hand: zombies in the heart of Louisiana.

We arrived an hour and a half early, ordered our dinners and a pitcher of cider. I was, of course, tipsy one cup in. After lots of head-swiveling and peering around and letting the scene soak in, the play started. We watched the scenes unfold in three parts, two intermissions, during one of which we ordered a cup of hot fudge sundae with caramel and nuts.

I remembered the first play I’d gone to in college that’d been similar. My best friend had brought me. There was an element of high school theatre, too, except cranked up with older, more dramatic, more seasoned actors, and more expensive props, and stranger plots. It was also interactive. In that play, we’d gotten up to visit rooms of the crime scene, the home, the actors’ spaces.

We finished the pitcher by the third act. The detective’s children paddled onto stage as the lights dimmed and we finished clapping. I felt happy.

Briefly

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Another year, another decade, another planetary spin: another mark of survival.

The past decade had its moments. There’s been a lot of education: in 2010, I started to care about school. Over the next few years, I graduated Valedictorian, went to the dream school Ivy with the magazine photos I’d quietly tacked onto construction paper, pursued what I really loved and began graduate school in Psychology.

I found my best friend. I found my boyfriend. Friends came in and out of my life.

I learned to feel after I stopped feeling. I let myself feel. That was halfway through the decade. And that, for me, was momentous. There was that seemingly never-ending vat of emotional capacity I was too terrified to touch. And then it filled, filled, filled. Spilled over. Humanity. That’s what we carry with us.

There was love. There was loss. There was indifference. There was, to be frank, a lot.

 

It was a good decade. It was a really good decade. It was rich and filled with happy moments, realistic lows, healthy grapplings, and good people.

There is, and always has been, so much to be grateful for.

Paradoxical

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It’s weird. It’s almost 2020, but 2010 feels like yesterday. And why do I look the exact same? I look as old as I was in 2010.

I thought about making a video with snippets from the past decade, but it’d just be filled with people who aren’t in my life anymore. And it’d be kind of weird to make a video filled with people who fluttered in and out of my life. Fluttered is too light of a word. Many of these people were good friends, best friends. Most of these relationships ended quietly. But these relationships were too close, too intense, at times, to have truly faded away. The memories were good, but a 2020 video wouldn’t be right.

The most lasting people in my life thus far have been my best friend and my boyfriend. The longest consistent friend has been my best friend, since 2014. My boyfriend and I have wavered in our closeness over the years. I think only one or two people from 2010 have stuck around until now, in the sense that we’ve had a consistent relationship in the past decade. Those types of friendships are usually medium-level, where there isn’t a huge amount of personal, mutual sharing. Most of the time, I feel like an incredibly hard nut to crack, even for myself, because I can’t even crack myself open when I want to. And those one or two friends are people I seldom truly crack open for, but whose company I still enjoy. There’s not much intensity, which can be a good thing.

I mean, I don’t know. I want to pay homage to the past decade in some way, but I’m not entirely sure how. I think I’ll finally get around to that 2010-2020 photo album I started back in the summer. I don’t know why I’m so drawn to archiving these minute details of my life. Project 365s. Videos. Little DVDs. Photo albums. Photo books. Silly, silly. And yet they mean so much to me.

On the car ride home, I realized how paradoxical it was, to feel as though this life was so paramount, so fixed, and yet to realize that it is, in the grand scheme of things, just another dust speck. One life in the sea of many. But it’s all part of a bigger picture, isn’t it? Just one piece of the puzzle. But it’s insane: we carry this puzzle piece as though it means the world, because to us, it does. Oh, but these 10 years of my life have been nothing. And yet they have been something. I’m still reflecting on it.