Before anyone begins reading, these are reminders made by myself for myself. Seek help from friends and loved ones if you don’t find solace here.
This week I received news, from both far and near, of both distant and close, that so-and-so was no longer with us. Five separate incidences from five very different corners of this growing aquarium I view the world in. I let my work sweep me away, I decided to move on, move on, move on… but this wasn’t going to just move on.
Here’s a gentle reminder that moving on isn’t a thought but a process.
We forget, naturally.
Today, I got on a SF Muni bus for the first time in a year. As I sat, staring in agreement at the “May need to make sudden stops” sign, I saw from the corner of my eye a child, sitting on her mother’s lap, eating a cookie.
I became aware of her youth. Will she remember this day five years from now? Will she remember where she was going, what cookie she was eating, or the old man in front of her mumbling Shakespeare quotes and garbled Cantonese?
No, probably not.
Today, I got on a SF Muni bus for the first time in a year. That’s sort of a lie. I don’t remember the exact day I was on a Muni. I don’t remember what I was doing, where I was coming from, or who I was with. I just know it happened at some point, and it was around a year ago.
This is most days in our life. When I learned about photographic memory, I thought that was the best thing ever (The number of history exams I could have aced in high school!). It was much later when I actually met someone with photographic memory that it was more pain than bliss.
She remembered the weather of every single day of her life. Every road she’s ever taken, every meal she’s ever eaten, every word she’s ever heard. She remembered her very first experience with grief with the same amount of detail as her latest one.
I realized then, I had been the lucky one. Programmers might call an average memory like mine a lossy compression. We only keep the juicy details, throw out the rest.
But these details are too hard to look at sometimes. I tried this week to stuff it away into a pocket, before its fat ass began seeping through the seems. The brain begins to slow down trying to do anything else, as it tries harder and harder to compress, compress, compress, boom. Where’s the clean up staff when I need one?
There is a drain for these things. We have the tendency to not use it. We also have the tendency to try to flush everything down at once and end up needing a plunger. I usually stare at a clogged toilet kind of hopelessly (especially when self-inflicted), in utter embarrassment and annoyance. But with time and some patient effort, it solves itself. Usually. Plumbers should really be paid more.
Insert cliché quote here: this, too, shall pass.
Remember love is constant, and reciprocative.
Every viral video I see on Facebook of rescued dogs acclimating into society after abuse and other horrors reminds me of me four years ago, and who knows, maybe n years later.
In her commencement speech today at MIT, Sheryl Sandberg reminded us a quote she was reminded of by the superintendent of the US Naval Academy: Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor.
Franklin D. Roosevelt sat firm in the midst of a war as he said this quote. Bearing on his shoulders was the fate of millions; with one word, hope could turn to misery. Vice versa.
The sea we’re on will never be always smooth, ever, to any sailor. The conditions of a storm can be constant, but so is the sun. The skilled sailor remembers that it is still shining behind the darkness, and that its warmth will be blissful and good, but also remembers that it doesn’t come easily, that they must work for it.
I forget that there are many suns in our lives. I forget to seek them out and relish in the rays, and to remember to let the storm pass. What words make me all warm and fuzzy inside? How often do I say these words to others? How often do I receive them in response?
When times are low, this is hard. It’s like I’m telling myself a lie — forcing myself to be happy, forcing myself to laugh. I’m not happy. But happy and sad aren’t black and white. Just as movies can make us cry one moment and laugh in another, I can do the same. Let myself be sad, but let myself remember to be happy.
to be happy = to spread happiness + to receive happiness
Kyoto, 京都, literally translates to “capital city of all.” It was the first capital city and one of the oldest cities of Japan, teeming with both history and modernity.
Where there are skyscrapers, there are tiled roofs and wooden door fronts. As a traveler exits Kyoto station, they are greeted with Kyoto Tower, illuminated brightly at night. Hiding right behind it is the black and wooden Hongan-ji. I fell in love. This was the first day in Kyoto, 6 in the morning after catching minimal sleep in the cramped night bus, squished into a ball for 10 hours.
I was surprised to find out this would only be the beginning of my infatuation and love for this city —
the start of an adventure I will never forget.
If I could describe the last month in one word, it would be spontaneity. Others may call it stupid, but the two are not mutually exclusive.
But my decision to go to Japan was far from spontaneous, rather, more fortuitous. When I was searching for an opportunity to travel alone, I looked at a list of all the possible countries that wouldn’t risk too much of my own safety as a twenty-year-old-that-looks-like-she’s-sixteen. I wanted to make use of my photography and Japanese language and art history classes this semester. The answer was pretty clear, once I found cheap (free) accommodation. It helped that I love Japanese food.
Thereafter came the random decisions, to walk, to eat, to experience, and to learn.
Living in Korea during high school and as a child, Japan is only an hour or two away. My summer and winter breaks would often contain a three day trip to wherever the package tour advertisement led us. The last trip I took with the whole family was to Hokkaido in the winter of 2012.
Yet the most I remember from that trip is sitting in a bus that took us around to various tourist sites, lingering only an hour or so at a time before getting herded back on board for the next destination. We had little choice on what we could eat, where we could stay, or what else we could do. Thinking back, I’m a little sad to think my experiences were fettered, but I’m still grateful I even had the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures.
I took a lot of time on this trip.
The number of things you can do in three days is limited. In three weeks, I visited the same locations more than 5 times. It was supposed to be the same view, but at a different time of the day, with different company, with different things to look for, everything looked very different.
Below is a picture taken at Fushimi Inari-taisha, a beautiful and famous shrine nesting Mt. Inari and dedicated to the fox god, surprisingly named Inari. I visited this shrine alone shortly after I arrived in Kyoto. The photo is of the thousands of red gates that line the entire path through the mountain. I went on a clear day in the morning, before the crowd.
Here it is again, on a cloudier day, but with company.
My boyfriend TY and his friends, Chow and Jiehao, visited Kyoto for four days. Thus while acting as a sort of tour guide and translator, I was able to revisit a lot of the places I had already been but this time noticing details that I had missed.
On consequent trips, I took time to take more interesting photos, and to really indulge in the scenes. I developed a habit of “looking back” (Shout out to Matt for noticing this!). I think I realized at some point just how occupied all the time we were in life, staring straight forward. We forget how high up we’ve hiked or how far we’ve come down the street.
All throughout the trip, I spent the most time walking around. During days where I was entirely alone, I tried my hardest to walk everywhere. The slow pace was quite literally agonizing sometimes, but my 10+ trips to Japan before could not compete with this one, simply because I took time to take everything in, as much as I could.
Wandering around and getting lost.
Kyoto is a bustling city full of small roads and little houses, so it takes one wrong (or right?) turn to find beautiful alleyways and tourist-free neighborhoods. It’s quite common to find yourself absolutely swallowed by a swarm of people, but only if you follow the main road.
The picture below is an alleyway in Gion, a district known for geishas, or courtesan women, and kabuki, a traditional Japanese style of theater dating back to the 17th century. The bluish street on the other side leads to a major road, packed with people.
Google Maps is a dear gift sent from heaven. It’s probably saved wanderers like myself from stumbling into a dead end or some uninhabited forest more than enough times for anyone to deny its utility. Perhaps, however, this exact technology that gives us the freedom to travel without fear is the exact reason we get bound down, spoiled and afraid to explore outside of the screen.
And thus, I decided that on some of the days I would just let myself free from staring down at my phone and looking up destinations.
I found gems. The best of the days I spent alone were the days I literally planned nothing and decided to simply walk, somewhere. As a consequence, I was able to show friends some locations that you would only know of if you took the weirdest of routes that no tour book or TripAdvisor article would ever recommend.
For instance, I took a weird turn on my first visit to Fushimi Inari. Being one of the most famous sites in Japan, this mountain is almost always completely filled with tourists, many of whom attempt to circuit the mountain via a hike that takes you up many stairs and down many stairs. I struck gold after spontaneously deciding to take a route up a random switchback that no one seemed to even look at.
Below is what I found in this part of Mt. Inari that was basically deserted—a bamboo forest so thick the sun could barely penetrate through.
Being a local.
I’ll be honest, I sometimes would do this to avoid crowds. It’s an eyesore to see groups of 15–20 people take up a chunk of the road, the tour guide flinging some sort of flag or doll up ahead. It’s hard to take photos. They clog the pedestrian traffic. A lot of pushing, a lot of mindless chatter, a lot of stress for an amateur photographer trying to take a photo to get likes on Instagram.
Living costs in Japan is relatively expensive, but only if you make it so. Many of my meals were, to be frank, not the most appealing nor the most decadent. Many days, I ate from the konbini, a convenience store. But I was able to practice reading the kanji off the menu and taste the local food at a local price. I was not distracted by the side comments made by foreigners who think the others around them don’t understand what they’re saying. I never waited in long lines, especially if it were for the same menu item offered by a lesser known place, at a lower price.
That being said, I did indulge in some foods when my Mom and sister stopped by to visit from Korea and decided to feed me.
Meeting people and greeting with こんにちは。
I was lucky to find free housing during my stay. In short, I found a website that lists local hosts all over the world who are willing to provide accommodations in return for volunteer hours. After much searching and many emails, I decided to stay with a few other volunteers at Gojo Paradiso, which is both a restaurant/bar and a guest house for other tourists.
My “job” there was to help out with the social media side of things, advertising Meetups for locals and tourists, as well as updating Instagram and Facebook for the restaurant. During dinnertime, I helped out once in a while with service, but I spent most of my time at the bar just talking with the other volunteers and customers. The bartenders were all from Japan, so it was very easy for me to practice my Japanese. I met volunteers from all over the world — Turkey, Israel, China, Germany, Canada, Mexico — and they all had a story to tell.
The customers I met were the most interesting. Gojo Paradiso is frequented by a lot of tourists who miss American cuisine, but also by locals who want to meet foreigners and practice English. To say the least, every night was filled with laughter. I learned so many new ways to engage in conversation, no matter their background.
I tried my hardest to start every conversation in Japanese. Living in the States, people expect everyone to speak English. Honestly, it confuses me when travelers don’t make the effort to learn how to say even just hello in the language of the country they’re visiting.
Nonetheless, the most fruitful and fun of conversations came when I would speak in broken Japanese to someone that was learning English. Over time our hand motions would get wilder and more creative.
It is a good thing that laughter is a universal word for happiness.
Japan is a very safe country. There are no guns here. There is a police station in every other corner. I dropped a 10¥ coin at the convenience store (10 cents) and the cashier ran a full block down to return it to me.
Still, I am a Korean, twenty year old girl that tries really hard to look like she’s tough. It would be stupid for me to assume that everyone I meet is nice. It would be foolish for me to not stay wary.
At the bar, I introduced myself and was introduced to many strangers, some who became friends, others who were better left strangers. I met those who were distraught, those who needed the familiar accompaniment named alcohol. There were individuals that were simply looking for women. There were individuals who wanted to just talk.
I learned there was a lot more to this world that I was not aware of, and that this was just the tip of a very big iceberg.
Leaving room to learn.
Perhaps fortunately because of my interests in Japan since middle school and a more traditional Korean upbringing, I did not really have much difficulty nor find surprise in Japanese culture. Nevertheless, there was still more than enough room to find something new.
For instance, pedestrians walk on the left side of the road, partly because Japanese traffic is left-handed. At Buddhist temples, a bell is rung 108 times to celebrate the new year. It is extremely rude to pass food to another person using your chopsticks, as such a practice is similar to removing the bones from a cremated body. There are vending machines everywhere, but no trash cans anywhere, and curiously enough, no litter anywhere. The respectful and rule-abiding society breaks down quite intensely when alcohol comes into play.
To put things in a different light, I thought to myself what it would have been like had I been to a country I had close to no knowledge about. Would I read more? What would I do to explore? Would I be as adventurous?
There were a few days in which I missed having someone to talk to. The dynamic during the days I was visited by various friends was very different, to say the least. While I spoke close to nothing on lone walks, every other minute would be filled with some sort of chatter with company.
This is what you say when you enter a restaurant, to indicate you are eating alone.
Hitori-desu. It would be the only thing I would say, probably for the whole day until I returned to Gojo Paradiso.
While slurping my udon or nomming on an onigiri, it would hit me hard how much I missed having a friend to talk to. My meals would take no more than 15 minutes after service.
While waiting for the train, I felt as though the platforms were missing something. Still busy and bustling, but distant and strange. There were no jokes. There were no questions to answer. Just the wind that whipped by with the passing train.
Of the 28 days that I spent in Japan, 13 of the days with friends and family. These were the days that I was reminded of companionship —
walking side-by-side a crowded street, sharing one too many street foods, daring to explore the 7th floor of shops in Akihabara, hiking up a mountain filled with monkeys, taking the wrong metro and blaming someone else, creating stupid poses for the best photos,
just loving the presence of one another.
Thank you everyone, for visiting me, for commenting on my endless photos, for supporting me throughout. That was a blast. I have just one question:
The moment we say goodbye to our mommies and daddies and nannies as we walk into our first day of classes, you are our now our guardian. From here on out you are the one holding our hands; the one to tell us what to do and what not to do; what to love and what to laugh at; what to learn and what to be curious about.
Your every “hello” and “goodbye” and “have a great weekend” are signs we are loved and cared for; even your scoldings are bittersweet ordeals, if met with candy, literally or figuratively, afterwards. You introduce chords and melodies into the orchestra of life; ones we have never heard of before.
Sometimes they sound so beautiful and harmonic, but other times they sound awful or, worse, don’t sound like much at all. Your ignorant dismissals make us feel insignificant. We are not machines that take your orders. We do not produce the same result every time. You sometimes forget that machines are not taught, they are programmed. We are not machines.
Still, you are the reason why some of us willingly wake up at 6am ten or so years into school. You are the reason why on cloudier days we can still find sunshine. Your hand reaches to help us out of ditches in our roads, and you are the guide and pacer in this marathon when we have no sense of direction or speed. You help us build the bridges to cross many rivers, you lend us your shoulders and backs to reach higher peaks.
You are also the reason some others of us forever shove our backpacks into cobwebbed corners. You are also sometimes the reason why the lightbulb dims and the melody turns monotone and sad. You become just as insignificant in our lives as we are to yours. You forget we have lives, we forget you do, too.
Indeed, you are also the one to push us into things as well as push us away from them. We recognize your love and passion for a subject and mimic the same excitement as our heart beats just as rapidly as yours. We are asked to remain curious and inspired with every thoughtful question you hand us. We are challenged to love challenges and to stand back up from falls.
But we also recognize your boredom and distaste. It is difficult for us to remain colorful in dullness. Each of your requests for uniformity and correctness erases a little bit of us. We become machines. Bored and boring machines. Nameless, faceless.
One day, we will have students of our own. You will have told us many things when we were your students, but you will have also told us many other things that we will only understand once we stand in your shoes. Some things, you will not have told us at all, left as a door for us only to discover what’s behind on our own.
When such a day comes that we have our own smaller hands to hold, it is our hope we understand what intentions you may or may not have had.
When such a day comes, we hope to have a hand to offer. We hope to have the same energy that we so delighted in; we hope to learn to love to teach others just as we learned to love to learn; we hope to sing the same beautiful songs and wave just as many “hellos” and “goodbyes”.
So, dear Teacher, please remember:
we will be you one day, so be the You you want us to be.
I once heard Sheryl Sandberg talk about how she wrote 3 things that made her happy every night to overcome her grief over her husband’s death.
Finding a way to write three things every night has proved cumbersome. For starters, I have to think about where to write these three things. More importantly, I forget I have to write three things.
So I figured out a way to do something similar without having to have some form of writing utensil and without having to consciously remember. Let me explain:
1. Mumble “I’m beautiful/hot/sexy/admirable/decent/etc” when you make that last bathroom trip before you go to bed.
I struggled with body image issues for the longest time ever. I admit, I still do. I hated seeing myself in the mirror, yet I proceeded to stare at my naked ass for the next 50 minutes, hating every bit of it. Every time this happened, I walked away frowning and sad.
Well, no one looks good while they’re taking a dump. Or brushing their teeth.
I see myself in the mirror washing my hands or with foam all over my chin. And then I tell myself, I look hella fine. I’m not saying it has to be genuine; just say it out loud. It took time but it built me the self confidence in myself to say it with some meaning. It made me smile because it was stupid. It’s even funnier when there’s someone else in the bathroom hearing you say it.
And as egotistic as this sounds, sometimes I do look hella fine. I look hella fine even if I have a hugeass pimple on my nose. I look hella fine because I found myself in the mirror and was okay with the girl staring back at me, telling me I’m hella fine.
2. When you turn the lights off, be a geek for a sec and think “Achievement Unlocked: [insert achievement]”
For readers who are don’t play games, most xbox games have “achievements” that ping you “Achievement Unlocked” when you achieve those achievements.
I usually think to myself, “I turned the lights off.” Yeah, literally anything I’ve achieved. Lights out. You made it to the end of the day. You made it to your bed. You made sure to brush your teeth. You did something that you made manual, actual effort to do. All you’re doing here is consciously thinking about that thing that you did.
Again, it’s stupid, but it’s stupidly easy to do. And stupid enough, those achievements that you think up are not always the small things. Sometimes, those things are pretty big things, or multiple things, or things you did a while back that you forgot to acknowledge. No matter the achievement, these are all the reasons why you are heading into the bed tonight.
Give it appreciation because you deserve it.
3. As you set the alarm for tomorrow, remind yourself that there is a tomorrow.
Okay, I admit, this is a little cliché.
There is a tomorrow. I mean, that’s why you’re setting an alarm for it.
There is a tomorrow. You may have fucked up a whole lot today, but there is a tomorrow.
There is a tomorrow. You may have won a Nobel Prize today, but you’re (likely) not going to win another one tomorrow.
There is a tomorrow. You may not think much of it.
There is a tomorrow. No matter what, it will happen.
There is a tomorrow. Do what you will with it, but there is always a tomorrow.
I think these are three things that are easy to remember, require no extra materials, and get the right message across. No pressure, no effort.
Have a good night.
Disclaimer: I don’t know how to live life; I just live it doing things that has helped me, and like to spread the word that some things work. I want the best of everyone else as much as I want the best of myself.
Heading into my third year and fifth(!) semester, I looked back at the times I made major mistakes and how I managed to climb out of those pitfalls. Here are three (four) things that I do.
1. Maximize calendar use.
I’m not a very organized person, but the one thing that I have had to learn to do in college was use a calendar for classes. My very first semester, my calendar was just that — classes. I have since evolved, and use my calendar a little differently. This is roughly what my calendar looks like on Sunday night.
The purple marks classes and brown marks campus jobs; both mark events that happen every week. Green denotes random events. Standard, right?
This is what it looks like on Friday night.
Blue denotes what I did during that time, which I add into the calendar every night, after I’ve done those things. I simply write what I worked on for which class, and mark for how long.
This not only helps me understand how much time I spend on each class or activity, but it also helps me understand where I’m wasting time, or how. If I start seeing big chunks of either blue or white, I can visually perceive that I’m maybe spending a little too long on something, or maybe not spending enough time on another thing.
Moreover, this helps me set priority to which to-do items I should be working on, which leads me to the next point.
2. Be a smart procrastinator.
I used to be in the habit of doing things the order they were due, and thought that this had to be the most logical way to do things.
It makes intuitive sense that if I have an assignment due tomorrow versus an assignment due next week, I should work on the assignment due tomorrow first. Some inverse function between time remaining and priority (more time = lower pri).
Except the function should be more like priority = (1/time remaining) + time needed to finish the assignment.
For starters, you should never be in the position where you haven’t even started on an assignment due tomorrow. Why?
if you have an assignment due tomorrow that was assigned to you today, it is highly likelythe assignment takes little time
if you have an assignment that takes a long time, it is highly likely the assignment was assigned to you some time ago.
It’s essentially a vicious cycle. If you devote your attention to the things that are due first, rather than the things that take longer to do, you will run out of time to do what takes more time. And yes, this means I’m telling you to procrastinate, but procrastinate on the things that take less time.
Plus, the real magic of doing this is that you will almost never run into a situation where you are pressed by time. Compartmentalization works; spending 1 hour on a project everyday for a week is indeed different from spending 7 hours in one sitting. I sound like your old high school lit teacher, but that equation makes more logical sense to me than “don’t try to write this paper the night before.” At the least, this is how I found motivation not to “procrastinate.”
3. Have a morning (or night) routine.
Towards the end of last semester, I was in absolute shambles. There were things happening on campus that tore me down. Over the summer, I created for myself a morning routine to help me get back on track.
I’m someone who enjoys the quiet (or fun!) of the 2am night, but does better when I wake up at 5am. In other words, I have a morning routine. If you’re a night owl, make a night routine.
My morning routine sounds complicated but the goal is straightforward: get ready.
I wake up and do a quick workout or run. After a shower I make coffee or tea and eat a full breakfast. While eating, I spend 10–20 minutes doing something that activates my brain (like listening to a science podcast or reading the news attentively, currently I’m learning Hebrew on Duolingo). Lastly, I do something meditative or decompressing, like reading a daily comic strip or doing dishes (that’s just me, apparently) or prepping lunch.
This literally gets my body and brain ready for the day. But this also means I spend anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours preparing and getting ready for the day. Yes, this means I sleep early or sleep fewer hours, but it’s worth it. I feel awake, alive and ready for the rest of the day. Plus I’m also exhausted by 11pm and have a good night’s sleep.
I cheat sometimes and sleep in on weekends, but the morning routine stays the same. It takes the body 21 days to create a habit, so it gets easier with time.
For night routines, I would do something similar, except get everything ready for tomorrow before heading to bed so the moment you get up, you feel rested and not rushed to do anything at all in the morning. Get ready to be ready.
You may ask me: why be so anal? My answer: your time is precious, but it’s entirely under your control. There are only 24 hours in a day, and not surprisingly, most of that time is spent being idle. If you get your body into the habit of doing things on a regular basis, you spend less time thinking about what to do instead of actually doing them. You spend more time being more productive and healthy. Your body naturally expects to do things at specified times, and learns to expect time management. Sounds nearly crazy.
Bonus. Make plans for 10 years from now.
Once in a while, whenever it trickles into my head, I do this ritual that sounds ridiculous at first.
I make plans for:
today, this week, the next 2 weeks, the next month, the next 6 months, the next year, the next 2 years, the next 5 years and the next 10 years.
An example from today (times have been written in Korean):
Yes, the last section is for 10 years, and yes, it says be “fuckn famous” and “box in a match.”
The point here is that I make expectations for myself that are far too high. The things I wrote for today and tomorrow and this week are relatively reasonable. It definitely is just a to-do list of things that I know I have to finish. But as soon as it hits the month-level time frame, the content becomes ambitious: saving money, maintaining some ridiculous GPA, starting new projects. Under 6 months I have: find speaking opportunity. This is more of what I want to do to be the person I want to be in 10 years. Under 5 years I have a long term goal: find a second job involving the work I want to do for nonprofit. Again, long term goals, dreams, things I wish to be.
The goal of this exercise is to stretch my mind and consciously think about what the bigger picture of my life looks like. Especially during the school year, I get depressed by the routine and tedious tasks that never seem to get anywhere. This helps me take a big step back and rethink for myself where I want to be. It doesn’t matter if I don’t achieve these things; I write them thinking they are overambitious for the exact reason that I don’t want to feel pressured, just reminded.
On closing note, this is me and my life.
Time management is difficult. There are times when you simply cannot keep time under your control. In this way, time is a creature that is both yielding and stringent. When unexpected things come up, adjustments have to be made. Morning routines need breaking. Scheduling becomes a hassle and all you want is space to breathe. That’s why I think it’s more important to understand that managing time needs management on its own. No one method will be a save-all, cure-all method. I hope you the reader can take some things I’ve written here and apply bits of it to yourself, perhaps tweak it or make your own. In the end, you want to be less stressed, not more. Be happy, not worried.
He was drowning in something cold and dark when the alarm clock rang at precisely 5:45 am.
He groaned as he got up, stumbling into the shower and flinching at the frost on the floor.
Naked, arms crossed and still half-asleep, he stood with his eyes closed in front of the curtains until the the shower became warm. He flinched once more when the jet of ice-cold water blasted at his chest.
He was in the middle of rinsing his hair when he heard his alarm go off again. He cursed to himself. The neighbor’s dog began barking through the thin walls, at which point he fought back the urge to curse louder and quickly washed out the rest of the soap. He reached for a towel and ran out to slam down on the poor clock. He muttered more profanities and sat down, wet drops dripping uncomfortably down his back. He sighed.
He stood back up and shook his hair like a wet dog, drying out any of the remaining moisture with the towel. He put on a pair of fresh briefs and socks, sitting back down on a drier part of the bed. He was about to turn off the clock alarm when he noticed something odd in the reflection on the small mirror in his room.
What he saw was definitely his own face and upper body, but there was a weird black object hovering above his right temple. He moved in closer, slowly.
He held his breath.
His reflection found a jet black Glock, hovering, pointed straight into his head, about an inch away.
He blinked rapidly, twice. He stared at it, then reached to grab it. It was real. The rubbered grip felt firm, his index finger at the trigger, ready.
He turned pale. He stood rather awkwardly, hand still on the gun, arm poised in an unnatural angle until the alarm clock went off again. He slammed at it again, missing once. 6:10. Quickly putting on the rest of his clothes, he scrambled out the apartment door.
He thought about last night as he turned on the car’s ignition and drove out of the driveway. The radio DJ went on about another bleary day ahead. Memories shot back and forth, searching for anything out of the norm. They halted abruptly and briefly when he saw it again in the rearview mirror. Cold sweat slid down the side of his face.
He got to his cubicle late. He found a granola bar from his desk drawer. He chewed uneasily at some sticky and soggy bit of the bar, and then rose to get some coffee, trying hard not to check his phone. He wasn’t ready yet to look at his reflection again on the glossy black iPhone screen.
His boss’s secretary came in as he was about to pour into the ceramic mug. She greeted him in a cheerful, high toned voice, “Good morning!” Her high heels clicked loudly in the otherwise silent office.
Without looking up, he called, “Ana?”
Her face turned to his. Big, rabbit eyes stared back. Innocent. “Hm? You look a little pale, what’s up?”
“No. I mean, nothing. Good morning.” She nodded, and turned away to find her desk. He did not notice the hot liquid spilling down the side of the mug, burning his fingers. There floated a large revolver, pointed an inch from her temple, swaying side to side alongside her wavy hair.
Work was barely a distraction. All around him shuffled about his coworkers, clicking and typing about, muffled small talk here and there. From the reflection of the tinted computer screen he noticed every person walk by his cubicle. He noticed every piece of firearm floating by. All were aimed just one inch away.
He started drawing them out onto a notepad during lunch. Every gun he saw was a handgun of some sort. He noticed a few others with the same Glock. A .50 caliber Smith & Wesson seemed to droop heavily in the air next to his manager’s glasses. He thought for a moment it could be social status, but then he saw an intern with one.
The sandwich bread was chewier than usual.
In the privacy of a stall in the men’s room, he tried to move the gun away from his head, but it didn’t budge. The only moving part seemed to be the trigger, which gave in slightly, almost eagerly, at his pull. He let go of his breath, a barely audible gasp echoing inside the tiled walls. A few people came in to relieve themselves. After waiting to hear the door close, he held the notepad tightly and walked back to his desk.
The afternoon was not any more productive than the morning. He tried to focus on conversations around him, somewhat hopeful. He had barely produced a couple lines when he felt the winter sun setting and streaming in through the building. It cast long shadows on the gray carpet. He saw there were no shadows from the gun.
He heard the office beginning to empty and Ana saying bye, wishing him a good weekend. The lights began flickering off, starting from the farther corners. In the dim space, his monitor screen blared off-white, as if tired and ready to retire for the upcoming night.
He paced next to the large glass window. Gray, concrete walls lined the bleary view outside. He could hear the whir of the heaters, pouting here and there as they readied to take a break.
Then he stopped, mid step, realizing where his hand was. It was as though there was some sort of magnet in his finger. Chills ran down his neck as his fingers began to dance inside the loop of the trigger. He swallowed.
His nail tapped the underside the metallic shaft, and suddenly it was as though the world had been put on mute. He heard every inaudible squelch his sweaty palm made against the smooth rubber. He felt the heart beating rapidly. Under the rhythm began a miniature dance between the gun and he.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, ending the thrill of it all. He picked it up, recognizing the familiar number. He took a deep breath.
His mother spoke as she always did, every day. She began nagging about how he needed to work harder, to try harder to get a girlfriend or maybe a wife. She began talking about her friend’s sons and daughters, about their glorious lives that he had heard her talking about for however many times before. She spoke of one day having grandchildren of her own. She was about to get to the part about the next promotion when he yelled at her to stop. Except, he didn’t stop at just that. He told her she was full of shit. He told her he was trying, that he deserved more respect. He told her he was tired.
Click. The phone screen told him the other side had hung up.
He threw his phone on the ground, then he threw his face into the clammy left hand. His face flushed red.
A few moments passed, and his fingers reached to find those gentle curves once again. They glided up and down, the stone cold barrel electrifying. They stopped, locking down into position. His face hardened. The monitor went into screensaver mode. Cars honked weakly in the city outside. Someone screamed about Friday.
The world silenced once again. His face contorted.
The phone buzzed. He opened his clenched eyes and stared. He reached down to grab it, his right index finger still pulling hard. He just barely lowered his hand and took the call. He heard a brief sigh, then —
a gun shot. It was deafening. A high pitched shriek rang between his ears.
He felt for his face. A tear slid down his right cheek when he found it, still in tact. He wiped it away, only to find it was growing into a steady stream.
His knees collapsed. He sobbed. The phone showed his mother’s photo, a hearty woman in front of the kitchen, taken right before the Thanksgiving feast. Hands shaking, he dialed. No answer. His sobs grew louder.
He looked up. The glossy window reflection showed no more gun. Instead, there sat a man whose face was half blown away, a single eye searching for the other. Screaming in bursts, he scrambled back to his feet, head clenched tightly. He pressed his face against the icy glass.
He saw people. People holding hands, people crossing streets, people laughing. He saw people sitting in the darker corners, people occupied by phones, people living in other worlds. People were talking, people were driving, people were eating and drinking. Alive — every single person he saw was alive.
On Monday, Ana walked in and screamed. The police report stated suicide, caused by a single bullet, straight in through the right temple. No gun was found on the site of death.
At the funeral, one elderly, plump lady cried her heart out. She gave a eulogy. Her voice choked at every other word, breathy and held back. She could make out just one sentence about how he had been there every day to pick up her call, how they had been the greatest of gifts and most precious of moments in her life.
From Day 0, we are taught to translate from one language to another. No newborn understands what “ma” means until the brain develops the connection to link the sound to the figure that provides us love and care.
And since day 0, we continuously learn to translate. We are asked (perhaps forced) to translate “1, 2 and 3” to the quantities we observe. We are asked to translate “Mary had a little lamb” to a imagination of a figure who possesses another figure of some shape. We are asked to address more complex translations, or translations of translations. Society teaches us how to translate, or more so, what the correct translations are.
Correct. We are lauded for proposing the correct translations of things. 1+1 = 2. A reading comprehension problem on the SAT. The most recent news on why Trump just tweeted what he tweeted.
So then the big question arrives one day: whatiscorrect?
After an awkward moment of silence, some propose a translation for correct: “it’s what’s right,” they may say. It quickly becomes apparent this answer is unproductive, and so is every answer that is an attempted translation for correct. Maybe we can translate such situation as “running in cycles.”
This is a difficult question because we don’t really have an answer. Our entire lives have been based upon translations of ideas, ideas rooted in societal contexts and human observations. Science, as objective as it is claimed to be, is nothing but a human translation of universal observations agreed upon by a good chunk of the population. Thus, science does not hold the key, either.
We can direct our question, then, to what is actually being translated. When we count the fingers on our hand, we are making a “logical” connection. Objectifying and separating each finger first, then connecting it to the translation we learned to associate it with. When we learn to speak full sentences, we identify the subject and the object and establish a relationship. The only “logical” relationship that, again, we as humans have established.
That is to say, logic is entirely subjective. We may say that the particular logic that dominates the current era or even just the environment around us is the logic that determines how we make our translations. It is almost surprising how adherent we are to which logical ideal we entertain. I need say no more to describe the sorts of issues that arise with conflicting ideologies.
Disregarding what I claimed about science for a moment, let us suppose that our current biological viewpoint on the idea that the greatest necessity for most living organisms including humans is survival. Back to day 0, we need our motherly figure for survival. It was necessary to the very core that we learned how to say “ma” to survive. This is where I’d like to believe we have a commonality shared by all — no translation needed.
It is difficult to even hope that we can all agree on anything. At some point, the translations become absolutely meaningless and repetitive. Since we are creatures based on survival, if we feel as though others’ ideas are threatening to ours, instinct tells us to flee or fight; either way, create separation.
Therefore I leave this subject here, merely hoping that one day we can learn to understand why others think differently. Things lost tend not to be found.
my relationship with you is complicated. i need you, and you need me, but our time spent together is not very long, nor always pleasant.
Sleep, you tease me in various ways. it wasn’t fair when you tempted me in the middle of an important lecture out of nowhere. i have priorities too, and you need to respect that.
it wasn’t funny when you decided i couldn’t have you when i needed you so much. you led me so kindly into bed but then left me under the cold sheets. three times, this past week, i waited for you because you promised me you’ll be back. i waited until the clock ticked six o’ clock and then until the sun rose. you didn’t come back.
nor was it funny when you brought back bad memories or messed with my dreams. you know i don’t want to see or hear about Latte dying for the 237th time. you know i pray every night in hope that you’ll gift me with delightful and happy scenes. you know on those kinds of nights i wake up bittersweet that you left me so soon. you know it disappoints me when the movies just never decide to start.
okay, i guess i need to apologize, too. when you needed me, i neglected you for the other stuff in my life. i pushed you away for days without knowing i had pushed you away. i’m sorry about that one time i binged on anime, that wasn’t nice.
but Sleep, i can’t give up on you and you can’t give up on me, either. i find myself so depressed and lonely when you’re not there. i love you, you know that, and on our good days we have such a great time together.
dear Sleep, i write because i miss you. i wish we could go back to the times when our relationship felt so natural and true. i’m no one without you.
Have you ever held a dead cat in your hands before?
It doesn’t feel like the cold hands of your partner in the January chills. It’s not dripping wet, nor is it very hard, like a wooden flooring or a marble kitchen top. Rather, your finger sinks ever so slightly into the skin and the fur until you feel the resistance. Feel the little fleshy bit of skin right next to your elbow bone. Now feel a cold leathery couch. Put the two together. Dead cat.
The feeling is so surreal and so unique that it will haunt you in your dreams. Cat, cat, cat.. dead cat. You will at various times wake up in tears, frantically searching for the warmth and the soft, supple flesh.
At random points on random days of the year, you will remember that blood-draining moment; the dampness you felt as you tried to lift an empty soul into your arms, only to rapidly let go of your grip in its unfamiliar stiffness. There are things that don’t ever seem to wash away on your hands and on the floor where it last lay.
Death is an odd thing. It’s an eraser that leaves a lot of blemishes on the white paper. The words you wrote are supposedly removed, but there are outlines, smears and black shavings all over the place. It’s dirty and ugly. You feel helpless, then frustrated, then resigned, then frustrated again, as you fail to find a different, better eraser.
I try to find dreams where the cat lives, cat. I try not to worry, cat. I try to think about how lovely it is to meet another cat, cat. I hate it when I see you again, dead cat. I wish you wouldn’t appear again, dead cat. Cat, cat, cat. Just cat.
My brother wrote his college application essay on the immigration story of our father and his family. A non-English speaking 17 year old who climbed his way up from rags to riches through the American Dream. A story a lot of us second-generation kids were told since young.
The dinner table monologue always started the same way — “When I was your age…” or “If I hadn’t moved to America…” and back then it was a drag, a lecture that I didn’t have to hear for the 129th time. “I know, Dad, I know.” But I don’t think I really knew what he meant.
If my father hadn’t immigrated into LA at the age of 17:
I would have gone through the regular, disgusting public school system in Korea.
I would not speak English, or Spanish, to this level of fluency.
I would not have traveled and visited more than 15 countries before the age of 15.
I would have a brother who would have had to serve in the military for two mandatory years.
I would not have a younger sister. Likely, I would not have been born either.
I would be busy caring about my physical appearances.
I would be struggling to find a job under a dysfunctional government and a declining economy.
I would not be able to receive grants and scholarships.
I would have been working far more part time jobs and studying far less.
I would probably have been part of the OECD statistics on teenage suicide rates.
I would not be here today, writing this.
The “American Dream” we like to put in quotes is not so glorious, and I’m not trying to say that Korea is horrible in every aspect. But it’s true that the America that raised me despite my immigrant father and my skin color was a kind one. The sheer number of opportunities that were available for me shines light on how lucky I was encouraged to live to look further and to think beyond limits.
It saddens me that I have to constantly think twice about whether I should be using present or past tense. It saddens me even more that I’m having a harder time writing in future tense.
America was great. America is great. America will be —
fuck you, Donald. America will be great without you.