Category: gratitude

a birthday post: If not now, when?

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I often forget my age. People still indicate their surprise at it, tell me I look “so young.” Which I don’t mind, I hope they will always say that. The edges of my eyes have deeper creases now, but I am happy that they have been carved by the ridges of joy. I still feel young, I still run into the water and leap across puddles when wearing rain boots. The main thing is that I fight harder to get to a place where fear isn’t so large anymore.

Hope is larger.

****

I love the summer: the never-ending daylight, the it’s-too-hot-not-to-eat-ice-cream weather, everything in the middle of bloom.

This is how I feel about my age now. The middle of bloom, and filled with the sort of hope balanced and made wise by the clumsiness of past seasons. It will be a strange, beautiful decade. I am approaching a time when it’s very possible that the life behind me is as much as the life I have ahead of me. I’m more aware of mortality: my family’s and mine.

I’ve arrived at more crossroads than I care to count. This has been a groundbreaking year filled with change and uncertainty. In some ways, I have never felt more grown-up and ready. In others, I have never felt like such a novice.

I keep a list of ongoing resolutions on the last page of my notebook. I don’t make new ones for my birthday, but the one thing I’ll say for this year is: spend time on love. Say it out loud and more often before the day you won’t have a chance to.

As we get older, the number of trials that love puts us through increases. I stumble a lot in finding patience, and I dwell on the past. Forgiveness is difficult, vulnerability sometimes even more so; yet love asks you for both. The awkwardness and tears and stiff moments during which silence hangs in the air like a brick wall: they will all be worth it. No condition lasts forever: the friction we face, the disease that a loved one may survive or not, the agility of our bodies, the argument we initiate, the exhilaration of novelty, this life, this body, this heart, this youth. What will you hope to be (for your loved ones, for yourself) on the other side of it all? Dear Forgiveness, if not now, when?

In the past, I have often let my fear get in the way of love. Not sure who wrote it, but this note captures it well.

“Very often the things we fear most are not only bearable, but transformative.

We will all, many times over, have to reconcile the life we planned with the life we’ve got. And usually the life we’ve got is better.”

My life at 32 is so different from what I planned it to be, but I would not exchange it. I’m taking the leap, I’m all in.

***

Rose Kuo super Mario

on the nature of maps

Marfa Texas

The skies of Marfa, Texas

A space “without” seems strange: in today’s world, we are so accustomed to more rather than less. More buildings, more cars, more people, more things. Things everywhere.

The desert and open skies expand something in the heart; the apparent endlessness feels both intensely personal and coolly insouciant. Empty yet simultaneously so full of possibility. I referenced a friend’s tattoo once: a Chinese character that means “emptiness” but is idiomatic because it connotes “a space waiting to be filled,” which is arguably different from emptiness. There is a beauty in the waiting, in the pause in between. Sometimes when we see or feel emptiness we feel rushed or anxious to put something in it, rather than exploring the space. Stillness and space are necessary for us to find ourselves. Pico Iyer says, “I began to think how much we need space in those we love, space enough to accommodate growth and possibility.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to embrace the uncertainty of the future despite a past that is laden with preconceived notions of how things will go. I stumble a lot, take a lot of wrong turns in life. I try to preempt disappointment and protect myself by following the maps I’ve already made, but in staying in the harbor, I may pass up that one turn that will take me to the view I’ve been searching for; the one that will change everything that the past has programmed in me. I worry a lot about knowing the right path ahead of time, when really we are still the explorers of the path. Not everything is known, and that is ok. Epiphanies rarely repeat themselves. Rolf Faste’s “On the Nature of Maps” can be interpreted as double entendre, a metaphor of how to charter the new; he acknowledges the usefulness of the maps we already have, while also recognizing the space beyond that which is familiar.

  1. Maps are useful.
  2. Maps are useful in inverse proportion to their completeness.
  3. “The map is not the territory” – Korzybski
  4. Maps of known territories can be purchased.
  5. You can’t buy maps for unknown territories.
  6. Explorers go into unknown territories.
  7. In the absence of maps, explorers outfit themselves in other ways.
  8. The future is an unknown territory.

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

— Pico Iyer

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“A Little Life” (or, more straightforwardly: “Taiwan”)

“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole–like the world, or the person you loved.”

— Stewart O’Nan

It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.

— John Guare

阿姨 sits down next to me and notes admiringly that I have been glued to my book the entire trip. “You’re so studious,” she said. I’ve always loved to read, I confessed. My parents would scold me at breakfast and dinner and in the car. “Stop reading at meals, pay attention, your eyes will go bad if you read while the car is moving.”

I told her I am currently reading an excruciatingly sad novel. “Doesn’t it color your mood?” she asked. “Of course,” I responded.

“Why don’t you only read happy things then?” I laughed and shrugged. I’m reminded so much that I am too emotional anyway, why not face it head on? Someone once told me that the world is wrong to frown upon emotion and vulnerability. So many people deem it weak, but perhaps it can be considered bravery that one opens herself to feeling. I admit I probably also want reassurance that writing about sad things doesn’t preclude becoming a good writer.

I know I will always be a person who thinks about feelings too much, but there are worse things to be in this world (as we are reminded daily by the news). The sad literature and events in life are what provide contrast for us to know what contentment is. The adversity we face is what prepares us for what we need to do to attain peace.

I guess the thing about the sad novel is that it reminds me of the obscure details, the tiny things that make waves. The tiny obstacles that can turn ships, but also the tiny miracles that can turn tides.

***

For months after I bought the plane ticket, I was anxious. I was convinced that my family in Taiwan would scold me:
1. Tell me that I’ve gained weight (which is senseless to say since: of course I was going to look different. The last time I was there was over a decade ago).
2. Comment with dismay about how I am “still single” and childless.

The way I’ve learned Asian families do.

My mom insisted that my arrival to be a total surprise to everyone. I was concerned about this, too. What if grandmother is out somewhere else when we arrive? What if I give her a scare? My mom reassured me. “Don’t worry, grandmother is always there. Where would she go? And don’t worry, her heart is very healthy.”

***

Grandmother was sitting in the yard with her friend when my father and I first walked up. She did not see me at first. When it became clear the visitors were here for her, the friend helped her to stand up. Her face was cloudy, her eyes squinting through the distance to see. I called out “Grandmother, it’s me, 樂樂.”

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What else could go right?

We have not touched the stars,
nor are we forgiven, which brings us back
to the hero’s shoulders and the gentleness that comes,
not from the absence of violence, but despite
the abundance of it.
We are all going forward. None of us are going back.

— Excerpts from “Snow and Dirty Rain” by Richard Siken

I’m sitting in the sunlight in a tiny town in Portugal with someone who is terrible at sitting still.

We are (attempting) to read our books while stretched out in front of the Mondego river. It’s been a day of driving with the top down singing loudly to Travis Scott and my hair is tangled, scented with sea. There’s this fountain that’s rising and falling in all directions almost comically, teasing us against the backdrop of the sun stubbornly continuing to set in one direction against the mountains.


“How do Europeans do absolutely nothing all day?” he asks me when looking up from his book.

I laugh and shake my head at my you’re-such-a-typical-New-Yorker friend. “Because maybe they are the ones that really know how to live.”

In New York City, I’m always writing things feverishly while walking up subway steps. There’s always such urgency, never enough time to sit still and do nothing. I think to myself: god, I could trip and fall and die. And there’s that part of me that thinks: writing is one of those few things that would make me fold my hands in my lap in the afterlife and say, “Well. Good thing it was worth it.”

A few months ago my friend came to visit, all memories and lines and bait — like a good fisherman. I talked like he was going to move back here, and he said quietly, “Man, New York City takes so much effort though. You seem like you love it. Is it really worth it?”

The good things are worth the effort. This past year, we’ve been challenged to put our hearts, minds, bodies, relationships — everything — on the line for the kind of world we’ve told ourselves we believe in. But let’s remember: there are a lot of people who’ve been fighting these fights most of their lives, not just this year. So many of my friends have faltered this year at the absurdity of fighting for what we believe in. Or what we love. We’d all like to lose ourselves in something big, gigantic; but more unfortunately, it seems, something we are absolutely certain we can win at.

We are here now. Even if the odds are (obviously) that we can’t win every time, struggling in our convictions for what is good and right seems to be a worthy cause.

I could go on about 2016, but I think everyone else pretty much has the negative side covered. Every blog post and tweet sums it up: “2016 was shit. Good riddance.” I thought about the posts I could write: summarizing the books I read, new jobs, new loves, my travels, how it felt to meet my goal of writing in my Day One journal every day, the number of steps I’ve taken since getting a Fitbit; while they are all things I’d like to expand upon, nothing seemed to fit for the final entry of the year. I thought about writing nothing at all. Or just quoting from the greats. There are endless relevant quotes from James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Hannah Arendt, Margaret Mead, W.E.B. Dubois, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Maya Angelou, Junot Díaz, and on and on.

 I don’t think I’m the only person who has been paralyzed about what to write (or what not to write) — what if people get angry with me because I leave out important issues? What if people get angry with me when I do write about important issues? Is it worse to be silent than to write incompletely? Is it frivolous to write about love and hope in a time of terror and despair? Is it ok to quote poetry instead of more politically-relevant works? (Many of the same questions I asked myself last year.) It took a lot of courage to act on the thought I had: What any of us writes will always be incomplete. Write anyway.

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Did any world not begin with love?

Love, by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason rather than its rarity that it is not only apolitical but antipolitical, perhaps the most powerful of all antipolitical forces.

— Hannah Arendt

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Did we not walk through the woods side by side, our hearts bursting with as much light as there was shining through the trees?

Did we not meet on an airplane, our ears popping, but speaking louder to each other in Spanish about literature and South American poetry?

Did you not put your arm around me for the first time while walking down Crosby Street?

Did we not kiss with the Empire State building watching us?

Did we not grow up together, under the same sky? Are we not growing old together now, walking the same earth?

Did we not run through the leaves together, marveling at the sound?

Did we not break bread together, bandages on fingers and coffee in hand?

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Did I not think of you while watching the city skyline from a distance; the shadowy outlines of Manhattan coming to life in the morning after shedding itself from the mist and fog of the night?

Did you not surprise me with flowers one spring day?

Did you not disappoint me with your absence one summer night?

Did we not wake at the same time to hear the owl’s song?

Did you not send me a quiet message-in-a-bottle: “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. That might be the opposite of love, as well.”

Did you not sit on the other side of the door while I was weeping, your voice reaching for mine?

Did you not sing to me as I fell asleep?

Did we not stand, a river apart, wondering how the other was sleeping?

Are we not countries apart now, thinking of the same thing?

Are we not all of different skin colors and religions and even political beliefs, yet marveling all the same at these little details of love?

Did any revolution not begin with hope? Did any winter not end with spring? Did any change not begin with doubt? Did any world not begin with love?

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