defining self expectations

One of my mother’s favorite childhood stories about me goes something like this:

At age 5, we sat you down for something like an IQ test, filled with odd math problems and weird brain puzzles, next to four of your other “talented” peers. There was no time limit to finishing these problems, you just had to do your best to finish everything you could.

And you did exactly that — “your best.” You couldn’t solve the last problem after staring at it for a good few minutes, so you stood up, proclaimed that you were done, and asked to go buy some snacks to reward yourself, while all your other friends sat there struggling for another hour until they found a solution.

The results came back and you ranked number two out of the five kids. And while I was bummed that you could have been number one if you had the patience to solve that last problem, you were thrilled to know that you scored higher than you thought you would, and still had time to eat crackers while everyone else sat desperate to finish this darned last problem.

I was happy then because I really had tried my best, and got more than what I had expected.

Disappointment is by definition the sadness associated to seeing results that were less than one had hoped for. So while my mother was disappointed that I was not number one, I wasn’t. Rather, seeing better results than expected is always associated with positive surprise, accompanied typically with a morale and confidence boost.

As is somewhat typical of talented young Asians,

all my childhood into adulthood, I participated in all sorts of moments that tested for my mother’s disappointment. From reciting 404 digits of pi to national math and chemistry olympiads to Korean speech and debate competitions, there was always some sort of trophy or medal in front of my eyes that my mother so dearly wanted me to bring home.

These trials always ended up in a cacophony of jealousy and vain for everyone involved. My young competitors crying on the podium floors with hands dragging away the tears, mothers and fathers holding the hands of winners and losers alike, others boasting loudly, hands holding high their metallic tokens of pride. All hands that had just been solving problems much too hard for 99% of the world, where expectations should have been just plain confirmation that it is, indeed, quite hard to be in the 1%.

Instead, there were expectations [of mothers and fathers], expectations [of being better than friends], expectations [of scoring top marks, no matter what], expectations everywhere.

Expectations [unreasonably high and undoubtedly accompanied with disappointment].

I told my mother each time she shouldn’t have expectations for me, or that she should have the same expectations that I hold for myself, and that way she will be much happier and prouder.

Naturally, my own self expectations exist. I know what is reasonable for me and that I should always put in the best effort to accomplish them.

5 year old Jenny believed in solving all the problems she could. 5 year old Jenny left the last problem unsolved, seeing it wasn’t worth the hassle. After, 5 year old Jenny rewarded herself with crackers for finishing all the other problems.

25 year old Jenny still believed in solving all the problems she could. 25 year old Jenny was not able to solve all her problems, seeing it wasn’t worth the hassle, and then rewarded herself with wine. In both timelines, there were things she could have done better and things that she felt were out of her reach. Either way, expectations were met or exceeded. Content.

In 2022, my self expectations were both high and low.

It was high in that — I wanted to do well, to show myself that I had what it took to not let external factors affect my wellness or my ability to learn and fit in. I wanted to be the jack and the master of all trades, to be able to break into new shoes with minimal effort. I knew it was in me to be able to do so. To ruthlessly ask for constructive feedback on where I was lacking, and put it into immediate actions for change.

It was low in that — I knew what I was asking from the usual high performing self was unreasonable. I felt swept away by all the changes I had in every core aspect of my life — location, jobs, perceived identity, relationships. With any and all of these changes, I expected fully that I would be crying in plane rides feeling just so tired, or drowning in alcohol trying to find joy in a cramped schedule full of external expectations.

I saw 2022 as a success nonetheless. Looking back, there are many moments where I surprised myself. I achieved a lot, and I’m not letting myself feel disappointed for things that I couldn’t do my best in, or all the mistakes I made along the way.

The 2023 horizon doesn’t seem to have the excuses I gave myself for all the changes. I have belief that I can do even better than I did last year and to surprise myself even more.

And I remind myself that there are no trophies or medals or certificates in the competition of living your own life. There is only one participant, both the judge and the competitor, who is sometimes the winner and sometimes the loser, depending on what expectations were set.

기대가 높아질수록 추락이 더욱이 무섭게 느껴지고 실망이 커진다는것을 잊지않기를.

defining self expectations


I went on all the planes in the last few months that I could not go on during the pandemic, throwing petty fists each time.


Each takeoff and landing reminding of the jitters, each meal and glass of wine a part of a blurry dream, waking me up in places I had flutters for, for what seems like ages ago. Each long haul, I’m reflecting on how time slowed to a pace that makes the last two years, utter nonsense. What even was 2020 other than tear-filled confusion? 2021 was a tease, and 2022 has had its own set of miseries. The mid-twenties crisis for my generation has had a fabulously ugly start.

COVID took many real lives and many parts of lives — it took a part of mine and replaced it with something that I grew into as the new normal.

Something that is more comforted at the still of my own home, something that has lost the need to seek attention for every hobby she ever picked up, something that found two priorities and not forty, something that is perhaps, milder, quieter, emptier.

I’ve also made intentional changes, of course. I’ve upgraded from Coors to cabernets, from a hand me down car to my own ride, from 110 sq ft to 720, from counting every dollar to spending freely for those I care for — making decisions on who I even care for. Being an ‘adult’, lmao.

but walking through New Bond Street or Nachalat Binyamin makes me wander if it even all happened, and where my other part went to die, if it did.

And now the older self is picking and choosing at her older self. She’s unsure whether this drink with an acquaintance is going to be worth it. She’s burning out trying to be that sleep-deprived ball of energy, filled with mostly harmless extroversion and pure joy of company. She misses the silence and the stillness that once haunted her. She misses independent adventure, but also worries if regaining it will cause relapse.

In this blizzard of self-questioning, I’m defaulting to what my mother taught me best to do — ruthless, ruthless prioritization of what matters and what will bring results. Finding a goal, any goal, that will bring me the sweet feeling of self-proclaimed achievement and success. It’s yet again a new normal that I need to ground myself in, to yet again explore and find the skin that I am comfortable in.

and this time, I’m not the sad-eyed child that needs to be held reluctantly, but rather one that recognizes that I need to be held, and wants to be held tightly for the rainy nights to pass.


life is (not really) a sine wave

Fourier series-formed image from Mike Bostock

Well, for starters, it’s just plain cliché to describe life as a sine wave. Yeah sure, it has ups and downs and it’s a perceived never ending rollercoaster.

Fourier analysis (/ˈfʊrieɪ, -iər/) is the study of the way general functions may be represented or approximated by sums of simpler trigonometric functions.


In mathematics, a Fourier series tries to take any periodic and simplify it down to simply sinusoids. Waves that are predictable, rhythms and revolutions that act as monads, constructively and destructively combining to create complexity.

This is how I imagine life is more like — a series of many waves with many ups and down that seem to coalesce and fuse into one another. The weekend for example is a high point we climb to before the low of Monday comes riding it straight down. But every morning, that cup of coffee (a minor constructive interference) gets you just a little more motivated out the door. Somedays, work piles on a little too much (a destructive interference). Add more waves. Did you break up recently? Destructive interference that brings the picture down overall. Did you get a raise? Ride that high for a while.

(I could take this analogy on forever lol. Wow, I miss studying math.)

I got a little too drunk recently and read through my own writings from the last few years, and came to a realization that my mind has fallen into a sort of dull humdrum, my brain in a fog.

I felt reduced to a single wave. And its amplitude wasn’t very big.

That felt weird. It was weird that I wasn’t so furious at the spotlight on Asian hate crimes, or so disheartened about the role Facebook plays in the world with its current events, or just s/mad at all the current events. Where did the misery I was in just a year ago, with the abrupt changes COVID brought, go?

I had thought of myself as a passionate, fiery person, full of opinions, angry at the world and always disappointed in my helpless inability to change it, always on the lookout for the next thing to conquer. I’ve always identified as the 13 year old who wrote a page long letter to the English teacher, rebelling against an assignment for being stupidly long and useless.

If you ring the same set of alarms enough times for a sustained period, eventually the brain drowns them out.

And when my drunk self discovered myself going deaf, I panicked for a bit. Self doubt and questions pinned against my own self worth came in flurries. And, uh, being drunk did not help.

Why am I still at Facebook? Am I even trying to go to grad school? Am I even good enough to? Am I good enough at math to do so? What about wanting to pursue education? What are the jobs like for education? Will that disappoint my parents? Is it right to just be so, idle, and remain where I am? What are my dreams? Am I pursuing them enough? Would my young self be happy to see who I am today?

Thankfully, I passed out and clearly did not put these thoughts through the “be logical and make some sense, Jenny” machine. Also, I’ve committed to sobriety for a month.

Yet these questions have some validity. Stated like the nerd and lover of math I am, I do want more sine functions in my life. Where at first I was saddened that my life had become so dull, I understand now that my brain has rather come to perceive this complex wave of life as a single curve, of which I’ve somehow found comfort in.

(Monster Hunter has inspired this next analogy.) I’m no longer in the haphazard search for the “next main quest” in this RPG, and rather I’ve settled for exploring this open-world gameplay where I’m no longer jumping up and down about every little (or monstrous) new challenge I come across.

I now have the time to breathe and think about the options that are in front of me. Each option requires careful and perhaps long preparation, and most importantly any option requires the acceptance that I cannot take all roads, and that the ending of this game may change forever. In the meantime, I can stay in this routine without grinding all of my stamina. It’s a blessing that I’ve been able to be relaxed on this function, so much so that I am willing to take on more new functions that will take me through bigger turbulence, and not be overwhelmed by that possibility.

and I’m fucking excited about this newfound confidence and surge of energy and need for a new adventure.

So it seems like I haven’t changed. I’m still the one to stir the pot, and there’s a fire still within me. For the moment, instead of being an uncontrollable wildfire incinerating everything in sight, I’m slowly simmering away at something potentially delicious. Maybe just don’t let the stove on for too long.

life is (not really) a sine wave

day 140

Today I want to vent a bit.

This pandemic has taught me of who I am, and can be, in a variety of dimensions. I read somewhere that the seven stages of grief materialized for many during the quarantine. Needless to say, I was nodding vigorously in agreement.

From sheer “what the fuck?” to depression to alcoholism to finally some acceptance, it’s been a weird few months. For all of us.

I’m fortunate to not have known a single person directly related or acquainted to me to have gotten infected. I’m fortunate that I live in privilege with a very well paying job, graduated, and in a part of California that isn’t totally full of batshit crazy or dumb. All I’ve had to do was wear a mask to go grocery shopping (a new hobby for this techie used to free food). All I’ve had to do was realize that I can’t travel anywhere and pout every few days. All I’ve just had to do was sit here in my home office set up and type, type, type away my complaints to friends that I’m can’t be at a house party or in Hawaii.

So in some ways, the pandemic has many times felt like such a distant reality to me, and the “social responsibility” that I’ve had to take up was just sitting my butt at home.

Thus, it enrages me when I can’t help but feel frustrated about staying inside, not being able to be with anyone outside of this impromptu notion of a social bubble. I keep telling myself I should be able to handle this, and be glad I’m not in any other situation. I used to half joke that this pandemic was an extrovert massacre, and cringe at my own weakness because the lack of face to face was indeed eating me inside out.

When protests broke out across the country for the killing of George Floyd, I was further faced with my own pitiful self. Where I was burning with anger at the incredulity of systemic racism and its deeply burrowed roots in this country, I couldn’t even raise my own voice against my very own mother, who chastised me for wanting to attend the protests, followed by stereotypical racist remarks of an Asian mother. Just thinking about the myth of model minorities, and how exactly my parents are the individuals that perpetuate racism make my eyes flow with hot tears. At the same time, I’m ashamed of myself, because secretly there was a part of me that was definitely using the pandemic as an excuse to declare that I can’t attend the protests, when in fact I was just scared of police, when in fact I was strolling down equally crowded aisles at the Korean supermarket, when in fact I was just the silent racist as well.

r/pics - I created a painting based on the recent events in Minneapolis
Art by Andrew Dat Tran (IG: @doctaword)

Thus I’ve come to be angered and depressed at my own realization that I’m a coddled child that craves to pay thousands to tour sites of still-rampant racism in Israel or Japan, while biting my lip as I’m donating a mere few Benjamins to BLM.

Where this ends up today for me is an open ended conversation with my own conscience and moral compass about what the right things to do and to feel really are. It is not a crime for me to have been born privileged and non-Black, to have experienced the delightful feeling of a plane touching down in a different continent, to feel conflicted with following my Korean traditions of being respectful to my elders while wanting to dismantle injustice.

It is a crime for me to be ignorant of my community and stagnant against what is wrong. It requires constant effort to not be idle.


by Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.


Thanks for reading.

To me, educate yourself, act where you can, and continue the fight.

day 140

Why We Love Animal Crossing

I sunk about 12 hours of playing Animal Crossing just this last weekend, and came across an extremely interesting video about Why We Love to Play Animal Crossing. This video is in Korean only unfortunately, so I wanted to roughly translate the video here. All ideas and theories are credited to 승우아빠, with some of my own research and opinions added here and there.

If you look at twitch today (April 1, 2020), there’s about 91.1K viewers watching streamers playing Animal Crossing. This is in comparison to 138K for Fortnite, and 180K for League of Legends.

Annotation 2020-04-01 182440

If you don’t know what this game is, it’s essentially a single player game (can be multiplayer with shared friend codes) where the user goes around doing various activities like fishing or finding fossils, as well as interacting with the numerous NPCs who befriend you and participate in events.

A few of the NPCS: Blathers, K. K. Slider, Tom, Timmy, and Tommy Nook, Isabelle, and Mabel

So what makes this game so interesting?

1. You get a house, and it’s easy to make money.

One of the first things that happens when you move into your island (or town) is receiving a house. It’s your own house to decorate, invite friends into, to upgrade, and more. Only catch? It costs money, and what seems like a lot in the beginning.

But don’t worry, Tom Nook is a generous man, and he tells you you don’t have to pay back quickly – but that you shouldn’t forget about it.

It’s not too difficult to pay off, either. There are many ways you can make money, mostly by selling your catch (fruits, fish, bugs, or literally anything other than trash), but there’s also an aspect of a simple buy and sell stock market based on turnips. In fact, players have dedicated an entire subreddit tracking turnip prices, not to mention its similarity in dynamics to bitcoin.


In reality, finding a job is hard, and making money isn’t easy. You often need a degree for things, or prior experience is highly recommended. Job searching and interviewing is stressful and you may not even love the work you do. Animal Crossing doesn’t have jobs, just tasks that you do as favors for your NPC friends.

On top of that, we all want to be homeowners. I’ve always had the dream of decorating and making my home just the way I want it. Is it realistic that I’d buy one? Sure, in the next 10 or so years, given Bay Area prices. Is it realistic that I’d pay it off that easily? Hell no.

2. You have friends.

Yes, you have friends.

No matter what you do, what course of actions you take, you will always have friends that come up to you and say hello. If you write them letters, they’ll sometimes send you presents. Do favors for them, and end up with a rare furniture piece or a snazzy shirt that sells for quite some Bells (the currency in AC).

While a bit sad, having friends may come across as new to some people in reality.

3. You get bragging rights.

Animal Crossing wouldn’t be fun without having a million tasks and accomplishments available for you. You can catch new fish and insects and donate them to the local museum. It’s completely empty at the start, and watching the displays fill up is a joy on its own. There are random tournaments like biggest fish or butterfly where users can compete to win.

Blathers loves donations.

If you catch a fish, no matter how small, while a NPC friend watches you nearby, they’ll clap for you and tell you you’re amazing. You can design clothing patterns and put them up for display, for viewing worldwide, exercising those hidden talents as a tailor.

No negativity here, you’re always doing a good job.

4. You have no manager.

So I have to admit, this is somewhat more pertinent to East Asian cultures where a strict top-down hierarchy exists in many companies. I don’t want to propagate stereotypes, but it’s largely true in my own experience that there exists a significant amount of stress from management to employees.

In this world, you don’t report to anyone. Yes, you are to pay Tom Nook your 100,000 bells of loans, eventually, but he doesn’t pressure you. He tells you it’s okay to be slow in paying back.

In fact, you never have to pay him back to continue with the game. But, it does mean for you that you’re stuck with a small house that fits only a few things, and the Happy Home Academy will come by to say a few things about how you might want more room for more furniture.

Aside from that, no one’s telling you to do anything, and the consequences for saying no is never permanently negative. You can go back to happily digging fossils or shaking trees for money.

It’s all up to you whether you want to make your house three times larger, to finish all the collections for the museum, or to make the space pretty.

Okay.. so what?

Here’s one way to rephrase these 4 things:

  1. You get a house, and it’s easy to make money: You have security of money, resources and property.
  2. You have friends: You have friends, and you are loved.
  3. You get bragging rights: You earn the respect of others and your self-esteem.
  4. You have no manager: You are own your own in controlling your morality, and thus your own self-actualization.

Sound familiar?


This is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Animal Crossing doesn’t even bother with the first and most foundation human need – physiological. You never have to sleep, drink, eat, or go to the bathroom.

Otherwise, it crosses literally every level of the pyramid – providing a feeling of safety, love, esteem, and even self-actualization.

This is why everyone loves to play Animal Crossing, whether that be non-gamers, your mother, kids, or yourself. We want our needs and this game provides it for you, easily.

The Youtuber says it in his video: “it’s a god-tier game.” I can’t help but agree after seeing this phenomenal breakdown of the game’s meta-level analysis.

“Wait, but I don’t play Animal Crossing.”

Well, that means you either don’t have a way to play it (lack of a console and/or the game), or you are happy with everything in your present day reality.

That was fun, I’m going back to fish some more koi.

Why We Love Animal Crossing

what a year it’s been

This year was one of many changes and adventures for me. In some ways, I could easily draw parallels to when I first entered college. In other ways, I felt and experienced and learned things that I would never have imagined myself going through. Here are four themes that defined 2019 for me, and in the spirit of belated Thanksgiving, why I’m grateful for each.

1. Travel.

In just these last 11 months, I traveled to 8 different countries outside of the States. It was as though there was a real travel bug that had infected me; I couldn’t sit still. Every month, I was itching for yet another look into the world outside. At times, it came out of boredom, other times out of curiosity, and other times, a craving to fill a void in my soul.

With each journey, I saw and tasted and felt both novelty and familiarity. In London, I climbed the spire of St. Paul’s twice to take in the sheer size of the city. In Seoul, I walked up and down the streets that defined my teenhood, reliving bittersweet memories. In Tel Aviv, I sat down on the stillest beach I’d ever seen for hours, a solemn mood so different from the beaches of LA. In Taipei, I devoured eight shrimp balls and found a home in a place I’d never been before.

I was exhausted every time I returned to San Francisco. But with each journey, I felt like I had seen a piece of an iceberg that would only reveal itself to be bigger and bigger each time, pushing me to wonder how much more gargantuan it could be. I was liberated from the tendrils of life that would twist me into stress and headache.

I’m grateful that I’ve had the luxury to travel and hope to dear god I don’t get fired; I’m not looking to stop anytime soon.

2. Communication.

At work many times this year, I faced challenges with communication. As a student, communication is a thing that happens during group projects and assignments. You do your part and then you’re done. It doesn’t bite you back after the due date, nor does it determine your (and your peers’) promotion status.

Oh how little did I think about how work would be a massive, never ending group project. I am outspoken. If I have opinions and questions, I don’t let them sit in the back of my throat. I want to be in the center of attention, but stress out with the sheer amount of responsibilities that I unknowingly take on. It has been truly challenging understanding how I influence others, and every day I question myself on how my words and actions affect others around me.

It’s hard to know the answers unless I receive feedback — and giving feedback is stressed at Facebook. For this culture, I am eternally grateful. As both an engineer and a person I’ve grown so much in less than a year, thanks to the comments and criticisms I received.

I was the kind of kid that would finish the entire group project on my own if I was failing to communicate with my team. You can’t do that, Jenny, this isn’t school; there’s no due date, and these people aren’t going to just suddenly cooperate. I’m still learning to trust and learning that communication is not one-sided. I have a long way to go, and the process so far has been frustrating, but I need to remind myself I am not the only person in this world.

3. Tears.

I’ve been very open about my struggle with depression this year, and I’m glad I was. I’ve found myself in the arms of many considerate and loving individuals who could both console me and lead me to believe that things will be better.

I’m not going to fool myself anymore, thinking there are no outlets or sources of help. Most importantly, I’ve learned to cry, to let my feelings be free without feeling weak.

And as life does life, it has been better. For that, I am grateful for the sunshine during the rainstorms.

4. Friends.






This year was the first year in a long time since I’ve prioritized friends in my life.

I’m grateful for every single soul that has shared a bite, an inside joke, a tear, a drink, or a smile with me this year.

2020, I’ve got some high expectations.

what a year it’s been


a brief apologies to my non-Korean readers; this is a post in Korean for no particular reason other than that Korean leaves a better taste in my mouth for certain topics.

힘든 날이었다.

이리저리 미팅에 끌려 다녔더니 집중해서 책상에 앉아 업무 진행도 제대로 못했다. 그래서인지 하루 종일 바쁘게 무언가를 했다고 생각 되면서도 돌아보니 시간만 허비한 느낌이다.

오늘 같은 날은 모두들 저녁밥을 먹고 퇴근 하러 가는 시간, 혼자 회사에 남아 잔잔한 음악을 틀어놓고 일을 본다. 뭔가 이렇게라도 안하면 남들 보다 딸린다는 느낌이라도 드는걸까, 육체가 피곤해도 정신적인 불안감을 떨쳐내는것이 덜 피곤하다.

피곤하다- 피곤하다- 속으로 칭얼대다 보면 학생때와 많이 비교가 된다. 고등학교 시절에는 매일 새벽에 등교후 법적으로 허용된 밤 10시까지 학원에 쫓기듯 다녔고, 이후로 카페에 앉아 새벽 1-2시 까지 공부를 했었다. 공대를 다닐때는 그저 주어진 숙제와 과제만 끝내는데도 하루에 잠을 서너시간만 자며 좀비처럼 강의를 들었다.

그것에 비해 현재 나는 많이 다른 삶을 살고있다. 정해진 출퇴근 시간이 없다. 흔한 상사들과 트러블, 괜한 회식이나, 지나치게 눈치 보며 행동을 자제 할것도 없다. 먹고 싶은것, 사고 싶은것을 다 만끽 할정도의 월급과, 누릴 수 있는 혜택이 수도 없이 많은, 말 그대로 꿈의 직장에서 근무 중이다.

헌데 힘들다고 하다니. 학생 때의 내가 현재의 나를 보면 비웃을 것만 같았다. 쌍코피 터뜨려 가며 같은 교과서를 암기 하듯 3번 이상 반복 필기를 하고, 지칠대로 지친 몸으로 알바를 5개 뛰며 2배 수당 받으려고 악착같이 해냈던 내가. 놀아주고, 먹여주고, 재워주는데, 무엇이 힘들다는거지?

졸업한 후 취직하고 한 동안은 무엇이 달라진 건지, 왜이리 흐물흐물 해지고 엄살이 늘었는지, 생각이 많아졌다.

달라진건 많았다. 시간과 돈에 쫓기지 않는 대신에 꿈과 미래에 대한 불분명함에 쫓기고 있다. 내가 하고 싶은건 많지만, 어떻게 해야하고 어떤 길로 가야 할지는  더이상은 정해져있지 않다. 꼭 봐야 하는 시험도 없고, 꼭 들어야하는 강의도 없다. 꼭 만나야 될 사람과, 꼭 참여해야 될 일도 없다. 억압된 사회가 싫다고 생각 했는데, 나를 묶고 있다 생각 됐던 쇠사슬은 되려 내 두 손이 붙들고 있었다.

나를 당기던 사회적 요소들이 없다는걸 처음으로 알아채니, 두근거리던 마음이 설렘에서 두려움으로 변해가고 있었다. 그저 신나서 파란 하늘만 바라보던 아기새가 펼친 두 날개는 아직 약하고 부들부들 떨렸다. 날고 싶다, 어떻게 날아야 하는거지? 날고 싶다, 잘 날고 있는거겠지? 날고 싶다,  다들 어디로 가는거지? 나는 어디로 날아야 되는거지?

힘든 날이었다. 학생때와는 다른 힘듬이다. 정답이란 것이 없는데 아직 정답란은 채워지기를 기다리는 마냥 비어있다. 풀이 방식을 찾아볼 수 도 없고, 한두시간 들어 끝나는 강의도 아니다. 끝나지 않는 이 수업 동안에는 많은것 을 배워야하고, 들어야하고, 마음에 새길것 버릴것 따져가며, 운도 따라줘야 한다.

무엇보다 이런 과정을 겪는 동안엔 행동 하나하나가 완벽 할 수는 없다는걸 기억해야한다. 또, 완벽하지 않아야 배울것도 많으니, 실패에 대한 자책의 굴레에 갇히면 안되는걸 알아야한다.

저멀리 떨어진 산의 정상 만을 바라보고 있다면 목도 아프고 가까워지지 않는 목표가 답답하기만 하다. 가끔은 길 옆에 핀 꽃도 예뻐해주며, 어떤 날은 몇 걸음만 걸어도 된다. 평탄한 길이 아닐수록 더욱이 칭찬해라. 멈추지 않고 걷는것은 충분히 어렵고 고단 하다는 것을 상기 시켜라.


a long update

Content warning: depression, suicide.

“Where do you want to start?”

This is the hardest question to answer when beginning your first session with the therapist.

As I’ve answered before, let’s reel it back to high school, spring semester of senior year. I was in a very bad place in life, hopefully the worst to ever be.

I had severe depression and loneliness, resulting from factors in life both uncontrollable and controllable but in a viciously negative feedback loop of addiction and dependence. I had outcast myself at school, giving condescending stares at my fellow classmates thinking I was better, feeling trapped in an education system of mundane and pointless tasks. Without friends of my age, I turned toward the rest of the world and its people. They taught and showed me how the non-elitist society I did not grow up in worked and lived. Physically, I was at my worst. I was frequently injured, recovering from an year long fight with anorexia, relying on alcohol as a method of coaxing insomnia to stop nightmares. There was a sort of impenetrable wall that I had built to try to hide it all. Only few knew much more than the tip of the berg. And of the few, one led himself to his suicide after a relentless night of drinking over shared miseries, in front of my very own eyes. This was April 19, 2015, my 18th birthday.

When my parents found a peephole in this wall, maybe a cigarette in my bag or a failed attempt of discreetly coming home drunk at 4am, and caught the hedonist in me, I threw a tantrum. I lost conscience from the panicked thought that I had been caught in my hiding. It tore me away from them. I couldn’t tell them anything; they wouldn’t understand. I knew they didn’t, because my mother sent me to a psychiatrist that scoffed my behavior off as adolescent angst. I lost the little trust I had in society, with my innocence tested and stripped off.

Then I went to college.

Mudd is, well agreed among us Mudders, not the place where mental health tops priorities. I was met with mountains of assignments and classes, social temptations to drink and party, pressure to be politically correct with peers that came from so many backgrounds so different from my own, relatively homogeneous and sheltered one, etc, etc. Most importantly, there was no time for things like self-reflection.

This was the perfect environment for me at the time. I built an even higher wall, but one that was easier to disguise and tuck away, perhaps even make a part of my true self. The people I had chosen to run away from were now 6000+ miles away. I could choose to not pick up that phone call, and to therefore really cut myself off from those that decided to care about me.

I was beyond distracted. Every crevice of time I found, I filled with work and work and work. I gave zero attention to my past, and there was not much to remind me of it, besides some Facebook photos and a tattoo. I passed out in bed every night, exhausted. And for many, many moments, I was really happy. I thought I had found parts of myself to love and parts of the world to enjoy without reason. I thought I had forgotten what made people miserable other than endless deadlines. School drama and problem sets simply could not compare to suicidal friends and tattered relationships with society. With distance and time, I was able to mend my relationship with my parents, who had either semi-given up on fixing their daughter or chosen to focus on my achievements that they were proud of instead. I began to try to love people, and to trust them. It looked like things were going to work out, after all.

In retrospect, this was the perfect environment for my past traumas to fester and grow into a hideous monster, waiting for me to peek outside.

I repeat: there was no time for things like self-reflection at Mudd.

Finishing school, time was all I had. My environment had yet again changed itself completely. I no longer had the excuse of work, which had once seemed neverending. I was bored and lonely on weekends, no matter the number of hobbies or parties I attended. I became hyper aware of details in life that I had no capacity for before. In particular, I found myself becoming sad.

Upon feeling this creeping sense of dread as my birthday neared, I decided to consult a therapist. Despite my previously extremely negative experience, I thought it would be the best for me.

The first session I had with the therapist came around and I was anxious. During the 1 hour session, I stared at the clock for just about all of it as I tried to patiently relate my experiences and problems. Her responses, her questions, they all seemed pointless and expected. I wasn’t sure how she, a complete stranger, was going to even start helping me.

By the time we were done, I had told her more than I had ever told anyone. Tried to strip down the wall as much as I could. I thought it would be helpful, yet I was left further perplexed. It had been my first time, ever, to tell anyone about my life to this extent, even less so to a complete stranger whose name I had already forgotten.

And from this, the monster seemed to have been awoken from its sleep.

I began silently digging into myself. I found again my inner thoughts, my memories, my instincts, and ultimately at the heart, I found a twisted and neglected child. I despised what I had had to go through but I despised even more how I had almost forgotten such things. I asked whether I deserved the happiness I felt; I was horrible for the harm I had caused to both myself and others. When fate started pulling strings in ways I had not planned or wanted, I noticed it more and with greater effect. I told myself it was punishment for being prudent and comfortable of my fortune. Sometimes, I told myself it was not enough, that I needed something worse and more real to remind me of what pain was like. I started drinking a lot more, and alone. These nights reminded me of the still-existent youth and immaturity that I so detested.

Let’s pause, skip ahead to today for a second.

I am not fine. It would be a blatant lie to say that I was. Rather, I am sad, but grateful and perhaps hopeful. I have the time to take to understand myself. I’ve had the opportunities to jump into fire in frustration at my own mental state and come out, alive but burnt. I am trying hard to be patient with myself, to take emotions and impulses under control and moderation.

I am talking. I have been fortunate to have found new friends to discuss and explore my life with. Yet I am talking with no fruition if I cannot find help within myself, or if I cannot find anyone that is able to relate to me at a deeper level. Writing this post is an attempt for me to barf out my experiences and my feelings, perhaps to find some sort of catharsis. Writing in general has always served that sort of purpose for me, but this particular post has taken me many teary nights to write, and it has taken me many more to find the confidence to actually publish it.

Okay, unpause.

Nearly every night, debilitating feelings of what I could only describe as a mixture of loneliness and helplessness swarmed over me. I cried more times than I could count in the last two months. I hated feeling ill inside. I was being mean to my body.

I found refuge at work and at the gym, always returning home very late, afraid of being alone again. I traveled, I partied, I wandered around, finding excuses to do things that would distract me.

I was no longer running away from anyone else. I was running away from myself. I tried finding someone to depend on, to relish in the fake sanctuary of these walls. I tried and failed and thought twice, laughing at my own pity and fallacy in falling in the same traps again. If anything, I needed to stop building any more walls, to stop trapping myself in being afraid of trusting others, and to start tearing them down and releasing the monster back out into the wild where it belonged.

I know that when I set a goal that I see as important, I can and am able to see it come through to reality. The stinging pain of the mistakes and stupidities I’ve committed have driven me to try to get better. To work on a mentality that is less vicious and more open to negotiation. The scars that I’ve left are good reminders of the imperfect self that I have to come to live with and love.

If you’ve read this far down, thank you. I am a creature that craves attention and love from others, and my writing, with the intention for others to read it, fulfills that bit of neediness in me. This is not a post of resolution, or conclusion. It is an update of a story that won’t just end with a fairy tale happily ever after.

I just want myself to know and promise that I’m trying to do the right things.

a long update

Now Entering – Interstate 5

This last weekend, I took a trip to LA.

Driving up and down the 5 is a meditative experience, to be extremely euphemistic. An infinite stretch of brown-green nothingness is all it is, sprinkled with cow dung and crazy drivers, probably just as impatient as I am to get 12 feet ahead.

I’m sitting as comfortably as I can, feet making automated movements thanks to a largely disconnected brain. I can’t help but think for the four hundredth time about the destination, how much I crave it.

I remember the first time I braved this drive; I stopped by Kettleman City to grab drive thru and some bitch in a Mercedes flipped me off for driving too slowly as I tried to have a bite at my burger.

I remember the first time I saw a trucker swerve at 2am and get nearly knocked off into the Grapevine. I remember the one time I cut off a white pickup in haste, which led to maybe 20 minutes of him chasing me down for what seemed like my mortal mistake. I remember the first time I observed SoCal get snowed in, adding an extra 4 hours of back-breaking misery. I remember the first time I was accompanied by a passenger, and the last time he accompanied me.

I apparently don’t like this drive at all, since I’m only remembering the negatives.

Sometimes, the idleness of it all is broken to think about life. Blasting music that I would listen to only if I were alone, I enter into a deep middle school kid moment of what I’m happy or unhappy about. I think of the things I should do, or fantasies that somehow the empty skies remind me of, or how much I love my car, etc. Sometimes, I think about the people I wish were in this car, or friends I’ve not seen in years. It’s kind of embarrassing really, the number of mindless thoughts that enter and exit as though they’re from a dream.

Man, driving is weird.

Recently, I thought about how it seemed like my life just hit that intersection between the 101 and 5, ticking the cruise control ON. It’s starting to become a straight line whose destination is so far I can’t see it. The boredom is setting in and I’m starting to hate it. My butt is beginning to be numb, lower back sore. Sometimes, I want to take that random exit off 152 on Pacheco Pass and just sit and stare at the reservoir. Other times, I’m pissed off that I’m only going at 80 mph when I want to step a 110.

Likewise to an impatient and tired driver, I’m starting to grow exceedingly aware of the smallest events that happen on the sidelines or up ahead. One day, I’ll be droning in on the latest work gossip; another day, all I want to do is figure out how to efficiently spend the next 15 minutes between two meetings. Every mile I drive sucks; every minute I spend idly, equally so.

I’m thinking about the hiccups that I’ve made in the last few months I started working, and I’m bracing for the ones I’m bound to make from here. I think about whether they would have ever happened had I had the choice to fly instead. I think about whether this is even worth it.

I’m sitting as comfortably as I can, working with $350 noise-cancelling headphones typing away mindlessly. There’s a pdf of algebraic topology open in some tab, somewhere. I crave it, and I know where I need to be. This is just the drive to get there.

Now Entering – Interstate 5

Being one and both.

I went on a hike with my mom, perhaps for the first time in my life. An actual hike, one where the path was sometimes unclear, shrouded in the shadows of spring foliage and old autumn leaves. Maybe 3 miles.

She complained 70% of the way: Jenny, this is a jungle; can we turn around over there?; there’s too much dust here; you tricked me, sigh.

It made me laugh. When I joked that she could walk more than 10 miles if this were a shopping mall, she smirked and smacked my back playfully.

She turned to chat with her sister, my aunt. I skipped by, soaking in what resonated with my childhood, full of mountains and seas.

My mom and aunt in a quiet forest on the island of Jeju.

Unlike the last time I visited Korea, this visit was a decision made in a whim, when my mom asked to come by. Thus, unlike the last time, my purpose of visit was a little unclear. Perhaps that’s why I had time to think.

To me, Korea is the ex that you dated for years, sharing both the beautiful memories and the most painful ones, influencing your future experiences and reminding you of what it had once been like. That ex that you cringe at, but you still miss a little bit when you scroll past their name on Facebook.

I hated Korea with a passion when I left for college in the states, for reasons both superficial and personal. It hurt to live there; I always felt my arms and legs were bound so stringently. Leaving, I saw scars that dug deep. An immense relief and wave of freedom helped me grow into someone that my 18 year old self could not have imagined to become.

Thus, when I returned, I couldn’t help but hold on to a skepticism that would follow me through every interaction I would have here.

Skyscrapers of Gangnam

Throughout this week, I felt unsure of my Korean identity. I could hold a conversation with my father about the state of regional politics. I drank every drop of soju delivered to my hands with joy. I even bought a $250 jacket that was “in” on Garosugil. I meditated at a temple, praying and bowing the way I was taught to since 4. I knew by heart and felt sentimental down every alleyway and side street that I used to sneak a cigarette into. I slurped down raw, seasoned crab, a classic side dish in seaside cities, as my mother watched in mild disgust and awe.

Yet, I was unsure.

I despised the comments my father had for Korean politics and his economic decisions. The morning hangovers served a constant reminder of one reason I had gotten sick of this country. I saw the same jacket maybe five times during a 15 minute walk down Gangnam. I felt fake when I sat down to pray, as if the towering, golden Buddha were staring through my soul. I walked down one alley, but saw afar an old friend that worked nearby and ran away avoiding eye contact.

Up Exit 10, Yangjae Station.

I think I’ll still miss the raw crab.

Korean society gears around reading subtle behaviors and judging based on appearances. This comment:

“You got chubbier.”

is not meant to be shameful. It is a statement that they care about you; they want you to look the best for others. It is not uncommon to hear my dad judge the thickness of someone’s legs walking by. It is not uncommon to see my mom point out the amount of plastic surgery done on a young woman’s face. Thus, it is only in their best interest that their daughter not receive those same comments from others.

Dressed as I always do, in careless, boyish clothes with no makeup, flashing a forearm tattoo, I don’t fit in anywhere. Eyes land on me, look me up and down. I wish I could just tell them to fuck off. I was in relief when accompanied by an English speaking friend. Only then would the stares avert — oh, she’s a foreigner.

I missed work, a lot. It gave me comfort, taking me back to the streets of California. I couldn’t wait to return to a place that valued freedom of expression and didn’t ask for your age to determine how to treat you.

Typical “outskirts” town in Seoul. Guui.

Despite all that and more, I’m unsure because something always brings me back here, to speak the language and to crave the food, to maintain cultural practices and remember its history.

Being from a family born in the countryside, which in Korea means a seaside town, my mom and aunt took me to various older and more historical places, far away from Seoul. While traveling the southern island of Jeju, we feasted. Korean cuisine is all about variety and harmony. There is a “main” dish but it is accompanied by tens of side dishes, called banchan, that is meant to be as equally delicious and important to the meal. Koreans consider rice a key player, as it serves as the mediator for all the bold flavors.

But the reason I love eating Korean food is the people. My aunt ordered a special raw fish plate, nonexistent on the menu, which the waitress responded with, y’all know how to eat! and came back with an extra bottle of soju, on the house. She became instant friends with us, and offered delicacies on little dishes. For my queasy mother who dislikes raw foods, she brought out fried shrimp.

It wasn’t just this one place. Everywhere we went to sit down, a friendly comment or conversation ensued. When my aunt boast about her American niece, they stared at me through different lenses, perhaps awe, other times, envy. They gave an extra abalone or served me a shot of rice wine. They smiled and waved us good-bye, wishing me a safe flight back. Tipping is not a thing in Korea, by the way. I don’t know any of their names, neither do they care.

This is jeong (정). It means affection, but from stranger to stranger, as though they were treating family. It stems from the hardships that Koreans went through in their war-torn days and constant conflicts with neighboring nations that dates back thousands of years. To survive as a nation that is less than a quarter the size of California, its people had to be merciless, both loving and fierce. With enemies all around, Koreans saw themselves and one nation, one family.


That bond is clearly and uniquely Korean. Like unconditional love, I can be expected to receive it and to reciprocate it. In a world where I often feel alone to venture into the difficulties and hardships, I find myself thinking about jeong from an old street vendor’s hand that shoves another piece of warm fish cake in my mouth.

The memories that stick are the details that are subtle but genuine. I think this is why I’m drawn back, again and again, why I continue to take pride in Korea and being Korean. It’s really the worst kind of ex, ever.

Rock-side fishermen.

To clear a brush of its paint when painting with a different color, one would swish it around in a cup of water. The first few times, the water takes on the vibrancy of one hue; after a few more, it turns into a murky brown, and the brush no longer emerges clean.

Yet this cup of water holds the same set of colors that were used on the canvas; the only difference is that one became a muddled mix while the other held composition and structure. One is waste; the other, beauty. Lack of effort versus sufficiency.

Like so, it’s an effort to hold on to an identity, and to remember what makes mine unique. I’m going to try to not let mine brown over and go boring again, down the drain. A clean cup and canvas, ready.

All photos taken and edited by me.

Being one and both.