Smallness

The bagpipes start playing. Girls in white and boys donning green and white ties walk down the hot pavement in pairs. I bring my phone up to take a picture and I feel a chill go down my left side. Muscle memory? Is that what they call the visceral reaction to the sound of graduation? Two days ago, I wrote in my journal, “I know when this weekend is over it won’t take me a few days or weeks to process – it will simply feel like it never happened at all.” And as I sit in the airport, waiting to board a flight to Lima, Peru, that’s exactly what it feels like – like nothing at all.

I used to feel different every time I stepped onto my boarding school campus. Larger than life the first time, smaller the next, forgotten at one point, but always trying to prove I was still relevant or somewhat “worthy” (although of what heritage I am not sure). This time, I stepped onto campus and stepped off feeling completely in my own skin. It was nice, for the first time in a long time, to feel like I was my own person. I didn’t belong, never really did, but this place was something that put its footprints on me. As much as I wanted to make my imprint count, perhaps it is the former that matters more.

I sat in a row with my entire family, watching as my infant sister walked up to receive her diploma (unlike our year, they actually got real diplomas rather than fake ones so they could throw them). I felt old. Normal. Tonight all these high school graduates will be doing silly things pretending to be old and I’ll be on a flight to Peru, and it’ll be as if nothing ever happened at all.

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open

dancing houses lean

onto each other’s feet

do the two-step, attractive

high heels spinning across

linoleum, word infinitely young

student loves for the sake of loving

a man recognizable in the corner

of her lip, tip of the brow, big toe

(items only noticed by a boy

who used to know these things)

dances with his age, the song

ending along with the feet

leaning, swirling rubber

into the ground it will cry

when the music breaks

Go to the places where you are loved

I am often sitting on the peak of a mountain after a long, arduous hike when the same thought comes to me – then I was there, now I am here, soon I will be elsewhere. Staring down at the base of the mountain from where I started climbing, the cars and the people look so small. I feel just as small, and yet so much larger. This morning I woke up to the sound of garbage trucks in my New Haven apartment; now I am sitting in a white New York chair watching the CNN channel report on Saudi Arabia. If the simple act of hiking up a mountain is speed enough to baffle me, then the act of speeding along in a car or travelling around the world in an airplane is unfathomable. I have found it most healthy for me to have my mind and my body move at the same pace, that I am not leaving one or the other behind.

This morning I was walking through campus as it began the rumblings of commencement, and now I am far away from school or what it means to be youthfully old in an institution that swallows people whole and spits them out in chunks meant to fit together again.

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This afternoon, I was lucky enough to go with my mom to the Lilly Awards, which honor women in theatre. We heard some beautiful women speak including Lupita Ngyong’O, Danai Gurira, Gloria Steinem, Mia Katigbak, Genne, and many, many others doing work in theatre that is hopeful for women. Hopeful for me. (This is Mia, who I worked with last summer, being honored. She was one of the first people to make me believe I could, as an Asian woman, work in this field).

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I was sitting with my family today for lunch, eating my favorite pasta of all time, which makes me so happy  – food makes me so happy, and thinking about how lucky I am to have family that feels like home. Danai mentioned in her speech as advice to young writers, to always go to the places where you are loved” and I am happy and grateful to have heard that because I am trying to figure that out myself too. What it means to find places where I am loved.

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Family that is weird, and quirky, and strange, and uncomfortably home. I thought about the weekend I spent at the O’Neill retreat with the kids and the other mentors (Genne who was one of them won a Lilly award tonight!) and how lucky I was to be able to be there for that and to have the time, space, and desire to write. While we were in Sedona, we talked a lot about what it means to be grateful, to have gratitude and give back to the earth you are walking in. I don’t know how to be grateful, I’m not very good at it right now. I try to be better at it. Being in nature, looking at bigger expanses than I can imagine helps me find humility and smallness that allows me to fill the space that I hold. Not empty, not hollow, just space.

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Fool’s Gold

Blogging without the validation of social media feels just like the way it did when I first started doing it when I was ten: the only people who read this were and still are the people who I know love and stalk me the most, and that’s fine by me. Which is also to say that most of the people reading this blog post will be people who went on the trip with me to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

I’m sitting in my bedroom in Waterford, Connecticut, writing this blog post, from the Briar Hill cottage at the O’Neill Theatre Center where I’m part of a playwriting retreat helping out twenty high school students along with other writing mentors. It’s been a really good experience being here, being able to write and walk along the beach, and think, and be with other writers. It’s the closest I’ve come to any semblance of a residency. But right before coming here, my days were filled with early wakeup calls, hikes, food, and a lot of Arizona sun.

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We spent a week travelling in the desert, from the Grand Canyon to Sedona, where we hiked everyday, swam on most, and ate all the time.

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My dearest roommate and best friend Sherry wanted to tag along, not knowing her involvement would have to include actual physical activity. I spent the first day hiking down the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. The hike down and up was supposed to take 12+ hours but being competitive the way I was I booked it down and basically ran back up with the company of a man I met who had travelled to hike from Holland, Bart. We raced through in the rain and made it back half alive but still pleased with ourselves.

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The times when we weren’t hiking were spent taking photos pretending like we were hiking. Or something. Or looking at very petrified family members who didn’t want us to die from falling into the abyss.

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Or just watching Sherry eat McDonald’s in bed like a raccoon. Or a beast.

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Or pretending like we were contemplating life. (I did contemplate some of my life.)

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That was what a lot of Sedona was for us: hiking but also going to different places called vortexes, which are places of concentrated electromagnetic energy. They say these areas, which are sometimes rock formations you can hike or other formations, are able to heal, or create creative flow, or simply energize you. It all depends on what vortex you go to. We went to Cathedral Rock, the Cocina Woman, and the Airport Vortex). The photo above is from Cathedral Rock, and we went to see the sunset at the Airport Vortex by driving instead of hiking so we could catch it on time (also because we were running so low on gas we had to quickly leave so we wouldn’t be stranded.

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My favorite vortex, however, was the Cocina woman. I hiked up the Woman three separate times, each time getting higher and higher. The first time I went with my Mom, who organized the entire trip. It was so lovely being with her, my aunt, Maya, and Sherry, all the people that I care so much about. When I was on the Cocina Woman rock formation I felt very at peace, alone but not lonely, happy but not rushing to do anything. It made me feel content with myself, which is something I’ve been struggling with recently.

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At the end of the trip, after everyone except Sherry and I had left the region, we managed to both hike to the very top and got a snapshot of what it looked like, our tiny bodies floating on top of this mound of energy. I hope to go back someday soon.

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We did lots of amazing hikes, including Devil’s Bridge, which I only understood the name of when we got there and I saw what it looked like:

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My mom refused to look at me as I climbed down into one of the deeper crevices I saw someone exploiting:

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And we, of course, went on swims and explored what it would be like to just laze around all day long:

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My mom looks lovely in these photos but she kept telling me I was missing the view by walking too quickly (zou ma kan hua)

But one thing that made me really glad is that I got to celebrate my mom’s birthday a little bit ahead of time with her! With my Auntie Suzette’s birthday on the Sunday and then my mom’s on Thursday we got free dessert twice, and free dessert in the desert is nothing to take for granted:

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After my mom left, Sherry and I got into total generic form: Sherry getting two massages in a row and me hiking the most strenuous hike up to the top of Bear Mountain where I met a Canadian couple who grilled me on my love life and had the funniest banter. Meeting people is my favorite part of travelling, including Ralph, the German man who moved to Arizona for the oil industry and who was wheezing up when I was going down and was in shock at the rate I was jumping down (I had to get back to catch our flight back to New York).

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By the time we got into the car to go to the airport, Sherry was drained from being pampered so much and I was basically a dying animal.

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So for anyone looking for any of those things: hiking, sun, food, pampering, or just a lot of really good energy and love. Sedona and the Grand Canyon are both worth the visit. Seriously. Go. I might still be on the Cocina Woman listening to the flautist playing at the top.

Sunrises 

New York at six in the morning is much less beautiful than you’d imagine. The sun rises without having risen at all, just the bare light behind gloom. I think of El Camino often these days, having been on it exactly a year ago. Those were truly sunrises. I stand at the side of 49th street waiting to see the cab with a familiar face to pick me up. The Grand Canyon. In seven hours. Plus four hours of driving. I hate travel. I travel so often. I hate travel. I complain too much about something I love and am able to do so often. I recently deleted all my social media – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, the works. No one actually knows when your digital self disappears. Your digital self and your physical self are two different beings, if the former can be counted as one at all.

This summer, four people I know are setting off on El Camino and I am both so happy, because it’s what I’ve wanted everyone I love to understand, and so territorial, if I even can be of a place that is not a place at all. I miss certain people these days. I miss certain versions of myself more than others. I know they won’t come back, the versions of myself or others that I miss. There are parts of the world I want to see and parts I haven’t, and the ones I have are imprinted with versions of myself I only vaguely remember now. The Grand Canyon will be one of those too. Sunrise and all. 

I Wrote a Poem I am Too Embarrassed To post

I often see shows or read books and cannot speak about them for awhile after or I speak about them repeatedly until I feel that I can speak about them fully and then I stop. So today, though I did see Lupita, I will not mention how I feel about Eclipsed because I am still learning how to process. At the end of the play, they honored two girls who have been missing for 764 days in Liberia, and one of the lines I cannot forget is: “Remember their names. There is power in naming. Join us in speaking the names of these girls.”

There are a few words I have a problem with. Those include, “missing,” and “forgotten.” The word forgotten in Chinese is made up of two characters, the one for heart at the bottom and the one for death at the top. Forgetting is an act of a part of your heart dying in some sense or form. The funny thing about the human brain is that we remember the beginning, and the end of most things, and not much in between. It’s how we manage to survive without our memories exploding into minutia and details we don’t want to recall. Sometimes that’s how I treat my body, like it only needs a beginning and an end, like a cup of water or head of cauliflower is enough to satisfy an entire meal.

I think I will share the poem another day when I feel like I am forgetting.

How to Cope with Feeling Alone at Night

Wikihow tells me there are 3 ways to cope with How to Cope with Feeling Alone at Night, one of which is staying busy, and the other two, finding someone and/or learning how to be alone. Wikihow is the most useless self-help page or book I have ever consulted. Sometimes the graphics are impressively useless as well.

Recently, I’ve taken to listening to various soundtracks from The Color Purple because Cynthia Erivo, Jennifer Hudson, and Danielle Brooks are absolutely stunning and it’s been gotten me through a lot of random junk in the way of life – such as not being able to cope with Feeling Alone at Night.

Wikihow tells me one of the ways to stay busy (while trying to Cope with Feeling Alone at Night) is to “try exercising, dancing to your favorite songs, jumping on your bed, or learning karate on YouTube.” I have no idea why I would get out of bed to learn karate on YouTube at 2 in the morning. OR, if that’s not your jam, go ahead and “browse Pinterest or Google for inspirational quotes to paste as a wallpaper on your phone or profile photo on social media,” because social media will make you happier about loneliness. Doesn’t suit your taste? Want some human contact? Then email someone! All of which is to say, “embrace yourself and being with yourself!” They even give it a damn good picture.

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I think this graphic is terrifying. So instead, I’m going to listen to Cynthia and JHudson one, or five, more times and try to go to sleep, without the karate, without the futile emailing, and definitely without Pinterest quotes to keep me going.