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.

Rose

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“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

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.

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.

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.

Grad Classes

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First semester of grad school classes are over.

A classmate pulled me aside today and asked me, in private, how I seemed so relatively calm and ways I avoided burnout. And I said that, a few days earlier, I was thinking of cake, and how, rather than eating a cake all at once, or eating a cake absentmindedly, it was better to eat a cake slice by slice, in advance, and while focused. That was how I approached work. In bits and pieces. And I said that, in the grand scheme of things, what matters are not grades but moments and relationships. I think that drive is healthy–it’s motivational–and if it adds value to one’s life, then to embrace it. But there are times that drive overwhelms, and it takes a toll on our mental health and whatnot. That is negative. I maintain my equilibrium with perspective: grades don’t really matter, but happiness does. I also have a sense of what I’m willing to sacrifice and what I’m not. Sleep, for one. And rest. I enjoy downtime a lot.

That being said, I’m tired of school. I’ve been bored of school. I don’t think I’ve ever particularly liked school–I’ve enjoyed learning, and I’ve had incredible professors in the past, but the whole process of school, of being in a classroom, of taking tests and writing papers, has wavered in its appeal. I value education, but the process does get dull over time. Being in school is an absolute means to an end. When I teach or speak or communicate, I do it with the notion that listening or paying attention is boring. I don’t pay attention. I never have paid attention. It makes the time go by a lot slower, but my mind is always going a mile a minute, and I get irritated when professors don’t get to the point or make things unnecessarily long-winded.

I’m really only in graduate school because Psychology requires, at minimum, a graduate degree to formally enter the field, and it makes maneuvering the field smoother. And I knew that I had to pursue Psychology because it was just one of those things you know you have to do if you ever get the chance to do it, and I’d avoided it for so long for all the wrong reasons. When I had a breakthrough to pursue Psychology, the people in my life just said, “duh.”

And so I’m happy to finally be pursuing the field I’ve always loved, the subject I’ve clung onto ever since I was 10. There’s something about formally and officially pursuing a field you’ve always loved since you were a child, of feeling as though the stars have aligned. I have my caveats, my wariness, my expectations, my passions, and this field somehow brings it all together. It addresses my concerns, it propels my drive, it lulls me to flow, and there’s something to be said about that.

Swinging Away, This Childhood

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written November 2008

I went over to my friend’s house this Friday. At the park, I walked over to two kids that looked about eight and six at the park, asked what they were doing, and invited them to a game of tag.

It ended up in a swinging contest. I was the judge.

I called the picture Swinging Away, This Childhood, because I know being a kid isn’t going to last, and you’re just swinging in the air, all free and happy with the wind messing up your hair. And then, before you know it, you have to get off and your childhood’s gone.

Maybe it’s not like that. But maybe it is. I’m not the one to speak. After all, I’m still swinging.

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On The Train to Santa Monica

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On the train to Santa Monica, I was suddenly overwhelmed with sonder, “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—

an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

Summer Rain and Cigarettes

 

Cigarette smoke makes me think of China. I remember the way it’d fill up the room in my Uncle’s absence, then stay still, holding its breath for several hours. In the streets, in the markets, in the restaurants, there they’d be, the cigarettes clutched-clasped-dangling between people’s fingers.

Last summer we got caught by Mei Yu. The plum rain. The constant downpour of gloom that cooped us up at home. Monsoon season? I asked. No, responded Wiki: the East Asian Rainy Season.

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So I cut my hair. I painted. After the rain, I ventured outside in some grey oversized sweater (so poorly underdressed in a city where women tottered around in heels over broken concrete and construction) to photograph people, strays and the occasional chicken.

String of Thoughts

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A string of thoughts, in no particular order:

  • The mind is the strangest thing. One of my favorite books reminds me that we’re all stuck in our heads, projecting our own distorted notions of reality onto the screen of our minds. It’s all constructed, pieced together by attention, a weird believable 3D fabrication that we call reality. Like Rorshach blots. We see what we choose to see. And the things I see make me panicky. But then I’ll become aware of this, that we’re all making this shit up, and feel calmer at the thought.
  • Thoughts are what brought me here: October, February, July–have you ever felt so listless you wanted to die? Moments like that. Sprawled on some surface by a window pouring sunlight and periodic existential crises. Then I’ll just want to watch comedy shows at hotel lobbies in Florida, where I can moan about how much I hate traveling, god, just take me home.
  • Even so, I miss New York so much. I couldn’t tell you why. Everyone gets so excited when they visit New York, inundate their social media feeds in it–look, the Empire State of motherfucking dreams. For a moment I thought New York became less sparkly–it’d lost its glitz and glam, become drizzly and cold (stuffed in a cab full of chatty ambitious strangers). Evidently it hasn’t. I miss the wide streets, the energy, the movement, the noise. It’s overwhelming, but remove the source for a while and I start to miss it.
  • A stranger in the city with a giant bouquet flowers once told me that we’re all looking for somebody to listen, that strangers just want to be listened to. I believe her. Half a year later I emailed her saying hello, and she said that she sometimes looked for me in the city. Isn’t that odd? To be looked for, even if only briefly? I became so accustomed to searching in the sea of moving faces that it never occurred to me that somebody would ever look for mine.

January 2017

Disposable Diaries: Tale of Two Cities

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Hopping from the East to the South draws each region into sharp contrast. Against the tall and narrow East, the South seems wider. Twangy recorded voicemails, the norm, strike me as peculiar (“hah-lo, yoo’ve reached–“) Cityscapes turn to landscapes and steel structures melt to lake water. Welcome home, where it’s hotter, quieter, sunnier, brighter, lazier, slower, flatter and bigger.

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These photos highlight a juxtaposition of spaces, between the urban and suburban, the vivacious and quiet, the homey and adventurous. The bright green Fujifilm camera skid from one airport scanner to another, the film remaining undamaged.

The photos turned out surprisingly well–it can be pretty hit-or-miss when it comes to film. Unlike digital, I’ll have no idea how disposable photos will turned out ’til they’ve been sent off, processed, developed and printed. Sometimes a shot of the living room turns out as washed-out black grain. Other times, a shot of a sneaker turns out to be weirdly artsy. It’s fun. It’s experimental. Generally, though, after a handful of mishaps, I’d say you can’t go wrong with landscapes on film.

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Up until yesterday, when I got the photos, I’d forgotten that I’d carried my camera from one city to another. It’s interesting seeing images of the East juxtaposed with those of the South, watching them go from gritty & grey to saturated in blue.

Mango Poppers

img_4760Lately, I’ve been flooded with memories. Vignettes. The sight of a person early morning, blue polo, by the coffee machine. Sunday runs with friends and pastel chalk we’d line ourselves with. Fifth grade secrets about love once unrequited, reversed, now going unrequited. Hallway hugs and devious plans, being called on our shit by the guy who got expelled. These images, vivid and clear, are like bursts of yellow mango poppers. Syrupy and strange. Abrupt and angry. And then they fade, quickly, only to make way for another.

With Eyes Like Butterflies

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December  10th, 2013 // 12:50:00 pm

On the car ride home I detected, from the smoky poof of our deep conversation, wispy strands of respect in your eyes.

I really like people who have kind eyes. People with kind eyes are compassionate, and compassionate people have kind eyes. And kind people are beautiful and nice to talk to, and you can see it in their eyes. -trails off into a tune due to wordy redundancy-

But people can have normal eyes. People can have snarky eyes. People can have flat eyes that hover between life and lifelessness. And people can have sly eyes or suspicious eyes or cold, hard and dull eyes.

As my art teacher once cried: “Eyes are the window to the soul. Serendipity!”

I thought it was spelled “Sarahn Dipity” and wheeled around. “Who’s that?”

Sometimes I’ll miss people for their eyes. Whenever I have little moments of peering into people’s eyes, I’ll take a small creepy note of the types of eyes they have: far set, close-set, deep-creased, light-creased, blue or black or green or tan. Search for clues of their soul window decor. Like curtains of kindness or meanness or tiredness, or sadness.

Those with kind eyes are the ones who emanate the wisps of respect. Those with unkind eyes are the ones who pretend nothing ever happened.


Perused through my old Tumblr and found this old post from 2013. I remembered the exact moment I marinated in these thoughts. Again with the winding roads and a heart full of resentment.

But less than three years later, puedo decir con confianza: all hail the force of forgiveness. They will sweep through your heart’s city and burn down houses of bitterness. For the better, ‘course, and I’m glad they did.