in search of lost time

For a long time, I would go to bed late.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this: It’d be three in the morning, and I’d plunk down onto my dorm room bed, always face-first into the pillow, and lie there limp before shuffling around a little and falling hard asleep.

Before the bullet train of this past fall semester hit, I looked forward to coming back each night feeling a good kind of tired: The eustress of knowing I’ve done my best, helped people out, and learned something meaningful—but more than not, this wasn’t it.

A friend shared with me a vision she had of a vase of water that she would pour and pour and pour, and the vase would be still just as full at the end of the day. My vase was broken. Because I lived out of a mindset of scarcity, I failed to show up for others. I failed to show up for myself, even if feeling worn out intimated otherwise.

I can’t make up for lost time, but I can start this season anew from a place of self-forgiveness. Scripture shows me that God restores and provides (Romans 15:13, Ephesians 3:19, Psalm 16:5), and I’m grateful for how grace abounds, even as I nurse a hurt ankle right before this new uncertain, hopeful semester starts.


This winter break was the break I needed, and it was the break I deserved. I got to spend time with people I missed (how lucky I am to have people to miss and come home to), and I got to catch up on books:

Two books I’m rounding off my last couple days of winter break with:

The most profound thing about being back home this winter break was seeing how quickly everyone had grown up, how we got on with each of our lives. My close friends were talking about graduating early, moving to other cities and traveling the world, anything to escape a sprawling suburban utopia where the grass was too green but the minimum wage couldn’t increase fast enough.

It happened more than a couple of times, just like the Pearl Jam song: I’d walk into an eatery or bookstore, see someone hauntingly familiar behind the counter, and burst into recognition that this was someone I had last seen three, four, six years ago. We’d chat, I’d remember past kindnesses they had blessed me with, and we’d walk outside of each other’s lives as quickly as we had reentered them.


Columbia requires 124 credits to graduate, and I’m going to finish my senior fall semester with all of my requirements completed and exactly 124 credits to show for it.

I don’t have to graduate early, but there’s something wonderful about giving myself the option. There’s something encouraging about working hard this and next semester so it remains an option.

From now on, I’m going to bed early. The thing about the vase is that even if it’s filled to the brim and even if it’s not cracked anywhere, the water’s going to evaporate and dry up if you don’t do anything with it. I can make the choice to pour, pour, and pour: If each person is an opportunity for kindness, each resting hour a lifeline for rest, and each waking one fertile ground for doing some good, I’d best rest up so I can wake up, eyes and hands wide open.

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on a september’s night a dream

I wrote about turning eighteen two years ago, and if eighteen is a poorly drawn line, then twenty is no different. Twenty is twenty-one’s awkward littler cousin, more en dash than em dash, and would be no less unremarkable or arbitrary if it were not for the lifetimes that have passed in between since eighteen.

I’m about to turn twenty, and my dorm room desk is no different save for the bottles of cacao Soylent I’ve made part of my survival here. I’ve still got books where space for a proper lamp or alarm clock should be: Serve the PeopleRadical CitiesPlanet of Slums, and Radical Candor (the least radical, yet most immediately helpful of these books).

I need to remake my bed (properly this time), get back on unpacking (boxes as much as emotions), and find another outlet (for a power strip and also for academic imposter syndrome). My judo uniform doesn’t fit or hang well anywhere, and the clothes in the closet hang uncomfortably low by way of a misaligned rack.

The past four months in San Francisco, a full third of this year, did not feel like an intermission: They were a summer’s sketch of a mirror universe, a glimpse at what my life could look like post-graduation.

Living in a house with four other roommates in the Mission District, missing NYC public transportation yet embracing the MUNI bus lines, and fulfilling every techie and Silicon Valley stereotype. Jumping into the wrong Lyft Lines, catching the 12 bus up Folsom, making the late-night taqueria pilgrimage when all else is closed after nine. Debating coworkers about every single buzzword: AI, NLP, machine learning, deep learning, blockchain, universal basic income, disruption. Watching the tech bros on their hoverboards to Dolores Park or Mission Cliffs, Philz Coffee mint mojitos in hand, glide past the unceremonious homeless encampments on the sidewalk. Four months of this was overwhelming and invigorating and nauseating. To do this on repeat for years on end, how do the adults keep at it?

San Francisco was a warm summer afternoon’s nap cut short as quickly as it started. I never got to say goodbye to some of my coworkers, who like me, took off early my last day like any other Friday, only that I wouldn’t be coming back that Monday. I didn’t get to write my team a thank you or farewell message either: My work email and Slack account were deactivated as soon as I turned in my work laptop, and my badge failed to register not long after.

I think back to bible study, for which I’d jump on the Richmond line from Montgomery right every Friday before the evening rush and ride it all the way to Berkeley and eventually back to 24th and Mission. I think about how I entered the lives of everyone I got to know from Berkeley InterVarsity, and how quickly I disappeared from them—memorialized only by an Instagram post from Fentons Creamery and crumpled receipts from CREAM and other Downtown Berkeley eateries. Friendships suspended by distance, reanimated, are now once again in suspended animation, ready to pick up wherever it was we left off in the Uber outside Rockridge BART, a hasty goodbye and a sprint up to the platform the last of it.

One by one, my housemates flew back home until I was the last to remain in the Victorian that had housed our late-night conversations, pizza-making, and other assorted merriment, only to finally feel oversized and empty enough to barely justify the rent. A delayed flight and a short while later, I spent a week hibernating back home and woke up in a taxi from JFK back to Manhattan. Everything only moved faster from then on.

I wrote about moving around, moving forward, and moving fast last winter break. Being on transit was as fascinating as being in transit: Taking BART as far as it goes to East Bay, driving across the Bay itself en route to and from Yosemite, making stops at rusty fuel stations we prayed took Zipcar gas cards and brightly-lit self-service wash stations. I got better at predicting how quickly MUNI buses would crowd up before peak commuter hours, and got comfortable with seeing so many aunties riding the buses, large grocery bags in tow and knowing every single other auntie who stepped onto the buses. The aunties, they are sacred. In light of tech and NIMBYism and imperialist Australian megachurches destroying the city’s soul, they are perhaps the last sacred thing about San Francisco.

BART rides during the golden hour and waiting for your transfer on a BART platform above a highway at night have a dreaminess the New York City subway will never match, best hinted at via Angel Olsen (the soundtrack of every late night BART ride). My housemates were the dream themselves: We floated through every ice cream shop in the Mission, the gentrifying ghosts we were, snuck up starlit hills and dodged street fireworks, and pilgrimaged up Muir Woods, Castle Rock, Crater Lake, and Yosemite to be transfigured by the views that met us above. As ephemeral this summer was, I hope to prove myself wrong when I say I don’t think I’ll ever have such amazing housemates ever again.

This past summer crammed a lifetime into four months, but I’m glad to be back on campus. However long junior year will feel or stretch along, I owe it to myself to live out multitudes. I’m back in a city where a MetroCard swipe costs $2.75, never less and never more, but still never quite know when I get up in the morning where each day will take me. SF’s six BART stations don’t compare to NYC’s 472 subway stations, and the combinatorial possibilities of being here will never be co-opted by a tech-fueled echo chamber. Being twenty is awakening from a nap and plunging into another one where the skyscrapers are taller and the lights brighter. It’s still hitting snooze on finishing that problem set due tomorrow, and still waking up to how I’m an upperclassman halfway done with college. After all of this, what am I waking up to?

diaspora pt. ii

I’ve only been home three times since first flying off to college. Calling Southern California home is remarkable for a place I’ve only gotten to come back to only about twice a year, but it’s nothing surprising for a place where for years of being driven around and driving around on them, the roads and street signs are at once familiar, automatic in their embrace.

How did Kevin spend his winter break? The first thing I did going into break was die of dysentery come down with the flu, and it sucked. The one upside was having very little else to do but read, so I read about the history of how my people came here to America, of where I can trace myself back ti. I first caught Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America: A History in the corner of my eye on a table in The Strand, and I’m grateful for how well it ties together the grand intertwining of all of our collective diasporas that form Asian America.

We all carry the diaspora within us. It’s not hard to see it as a marathon, our forebears passing onto us the grand baton of our heritage; in spite of the awkwardness of feeling generationally out-of-touch or perpetually in-between, we make the handoff anyway, and we carry it all forward. I’m still navigating this handoff myself. I’m ABC (American-born Chinese), and I’ve gotten to know how messy the tangle of familial and personal obligations that comes with this identity can be.

We came from everywhere, and we find ourselves everywhere. The history of Asian America includes the cramped boats ferrying los chinos and coolies from South Asia and the Philippines to Latin America, the Cantonese immigrants who paid Canada’s hefty head taxes or endured Angel Island’s grueling screening, the Hmong people displaced by a conflict waged not too far back in our history, and so many more convergent narratives and histories.

How did anyone ever get used to moving around so much? Moving with hope and hearts clutched toward something better at best, moving toward something, anything, somewhere, anywhere, moving however best they can.

I like it a lot, moving fast: feeling the express train make its way uptown, riding a bike downhill, weaving through traffic and into the carpool lane. Being in transit from one place to another, though, where are you really but in between? Not where you were, not yet where you’re going.

Mitski, whose music was one of the best things to happen to me in the past year, writes in “Texas Reznikoff”:

From the water, from the home that I’ve wanted to make
It somehow, in the city, you make it there and you make it
Anywhere, anywhere

But I’ve been anywhere and it’s not what I want
I wanna be still with you

Being still and in one place with people I love is always the best part of break. Home gave me some of my best friends for life, and these kind of relationships have lately felt like the only honest threads holding up my universe. Home gave me a point from which to launch myself into the world, as well as a place and people I can always come home to.

It still being break, I spent some time one evening walking downtown.  The towers, the lights, the heights, they’re still magic for me; I still can’t help but tilt my head upward, even when I tried not to. The things I can do for fun in New York City—watching a world-class opera at Lincoln Center or seeing some of the greatest masterpieces of Western art at any museum, not even an hour away on the subway—it’s different from back home.

Even then, walking around in Trader Joe’s or Target with friends (walking around in Target, for fun!), playing arcade games or belting out karaoke at Round One, or laughing over boba/ramen/popcorn chicken, even driving people back home—all of this has its own special kind of communal thrill. This kind of friendship resonates as much as does standing on 5th Avenue under the sunset with the regal Empire State Building to the north and the glittering Freedom Tower to the south.

I read through a thread of suggestions from Columbia alums on how they would’ve done college differently. The biggest theme was that there’s this “sad friend diaspora” that occurs after graduation, one that I’ve experienced a lesser version of following high school. My favorite comment:

Just keep sitting on roofs and talking to cool people, all day everyday, all night every night, because soon those cool people will be scattered all over the world and it will be difficult to sit on roofs with them.

Ever since first flying off to college, I’ve met a lot of cool people, and a lot of them will be flying back for the start of spring semester. How many of them will I keep in touch with after graduation, theirs or mine? How much about them don’t I know? I’ve rarely took the time to peer forward into what life might look like after graduation beyond anything general, but I was fortunate enough to have a really good preview over the past summer.

My summer experience was a lesson in adulting and a faithful reassurance of how things will work out after college. An incredible roommate, close friends within arm’s reach, and the kindnesses of countless strangers. Having an actual daily commute, working in a building downtown, shopping and feeding myself. (You know you’re growing up when going to Trader Joe’s is something you really look forward to.) Rooftop parties, summer concerts, fun and fireworks—who knew I’d have so much fun? The promise of the summer of 2016: that I’ll be alright in the end, even when all of this, these four years, are over.

The most precious part about summer was having the time to be with friends, untethered to classes or extracurriculars or studying or whatever makes community so hard to find at Columbia. Who will these people be in the future, when I’m out of school and working? Where will I end up after college? Once I’m there, who will I be spending warm summer nights with? Who will I get to sit on roofs with?

It’s a new year, and I can’t expect to form or keep strong relationships just because I exist. It’s a new year, and I’m almost halfway done with college and I honestly don’t know how I’ve come to the point where I can type that. I know where I’ll be for the time being, but I’ll be out the door before I know it. Who will I get to sit on roofs with this year?

nancy drew & the public library

“I had a place to stay, but the library kept me warm.” The woman in front of the green screen looked off to the side and broke down in tears at this point, closing her video interview on her relationship with her neighborhood library. She moved to San Francisco in hopes of starting over, and the library was the first place to welcome her. She relied on her branch for books, as well as applying to online job postings, frequenting public lectures or poetry readings, and attending mayoral debates.

Her story was recorded among others as part of a people’s history of the American library, and the professor writing it came to give a talk to a room in which everybody seemed to have come straight out of Mrs. Doubtfire. After crawling through thousands of digitized newspaper records and recorded interviews, he let us peek into what public libraries mean from the standpoint of the people who use them.

Growing up in Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr. would pop up at the counter and start reciting a couplet (“When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see”), stopping halfway so the librarian would finish the rest (“Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be”). The Wright Brothers documented how an ornithology textbook pushed them to study flight and wonder when humans could start taking after birds. 14 year-old President Obama researched his father’s Kenyan heritage and Mau Mau involvement with the his librarian’s help in Hawai’i. Thomas Edison would sneak out of his lab to unwind in the municipal library. Harry Truman claims to have read every single thing in his childhood library by the time he was 13, encyclopedias included. Everybody has some kind of relationship with their library.

A few more anecdotes (the speaker was writing a people’s history, after all): the Jackson 5 (before they were the Jackson 5) competed at a talent show in an Indiana library. (They didn’t win, but little Michael was the crowd favorite.) Ronald Reagan devoured Horatio Alger as a child (which explains a lot of things), Pete Seeger credits his social awakening to a book he read as a seven year-old about a boy who runs away from an abusive household and is adopted by a Native American reservation family, and Oprah grew up with “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and the comfort that Francie Nolan’s tenement life wasn’t so far removed from hers.

Sonia Sotomayor’s favorite was the Nancy Drew series, as it also was for Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. During the talk, I started to think there was some cultural conspiracy against the Nancy Drew books, listening to how one of the San Francisco public libraries refused to carry Nancy Drew, resulting in community protests that ended when an especially concerned citizen threatened to “alphabetize [the manager’s] internal organs” if she didn’t call in a shipment of the books right then. Nancy Drew gave young women who didn’t care about Prince Charming an alternative; these books gave them an independent, young, intelligent, and female role model to grow up with, but for a strange time, they appeared on the San Francisco and New York public library blacklists. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case.

Fiction as a genre became popular because of the public library. When Benjamin Franklin started the first American library in Philadelphia, the first batch of books consisted solely of technical and agrarian manuals, in keeping with Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack vision of an American built upon ingenuity and craftsmanship. However, as the audience for libraries and their access grew, the mechanics of supply and demand dictated that fiction of all sorts came to readily populate the shelves of libraries and bookstores alike. (Interestingly enough, 95% of romance genre sales are via e-book; the speaker suggested that was because people didn’t want other people to know what they were reading, but take of that what you will.)

It’s only ugly when curators try to segregate fiction, as with the case of Nancy Drew. Stories in all forms are important: we heard another interview from a gay Southeast Asian immigrant who relied on the zines and pulp fiction in the back shelves to teach him how to survive in America. His story is a testimonial to the importance of public access. The boundaries of access shift, often for the better. Queer literature is no longer considered pornographic, for instance. Birmingham (formerly “Bombingham”) holds one of the largest public collections of civil rights memorabilia and literature. What used to be one of the poorest and most segregated towns in Illinois built three libraries to prove that they too deserved to read. The homeless man curling up with a newspaper, taking his time (because every minute inside is a minute away from the blizzard), isn’t a problem as much as the library can be a solution.

Stories are central to humanity. Books, especially when it comes to having lots of books in one place, provide a shared collective mythos for readers. These “commonplace stories” build community around shared values and offer a loose canon of popular culture and knowledge that’s constantly shifting in relation to person, place, and time. We saw a photograph from the day Order of the Phoenix became available at the Toledo county library. The lobby, awash with people, was the definition of diversity. “In no holy book did God say what a library should look like. People determine what their libraries should look like,” the speaker said, citing a social neuroscience paper on the “village effect” of public spaces. Libraries were never just places to store books; they’re places were kids learn to read, where adults remember their creativity, and where anybody can find shelter from the rain or snow. He concluded that barely any social science research exists on exactly what libraries do for the health of the people and communities using them, but across the 17,000+ public libraries that exist in the United States, it’s not hard to start imagining.


¹ A 2013 Pew research study reported that almost every public institution or service associated with the government plummeted in public approval in the last few decades. The only exceptions, in addition to public libraries, were emergency first responders and the military. People like their libraries, because unlike in the courts, you don’t ever have to do jury duty in a library.

² I love libraries to the extent of having gotten locked in one over the weekend and having had no choice but to escape through the basement tunnels. At this point, I’ve written more words here than I’ll need for either of my two essays due next week, but unpacking my relationship toward libraries, whether it’s the coziness of the libraries I’ve called home back in California or the dizzying redefinition of everything libraries are starting to become, is something that deserves more writing.

eighteen

Eighteen is a poorly-drawn line that shoves behind it weekend cartoons, soccer practices, and backseat car rides, drawing back only to reveal an infinitely confusing sliver of what’s supposed to be adulthood. I’m spending the last few hours of childhood pressing hot chocolate to my lips, listening to my favorite Broadway musical numbers, and not knowing how I’m supposed to feel sitting in tomorrow’s chemistry lecture. I don’t know what eighteen feels like yet, but I know how it feels at 17.9. My guess is that 18.0 won’t be so far removed.

Eighteen is about looking outward, looking forward. Eighteen is kaleidoscopic; it is Sylvia Plath’s green fig tree. Eighteen also straddles the dividing line between childhood and adulthood, the line that tells you to reflect on all the times spent just waiting for something to happen, the inexact liminal spaces of being caught in between something and nothing, or the in-betweenness of not quite knowing.

Eighteen means looking back on when I’d get lost in the supermarket or department store, walking faster and faster through the aisles and clothes hangers, searching and scanning and trying to find something familiar, and having probably never fully outgrown that fear. Sometimes, like right now, it’s about feeling fortunate enough to have somebody to run to, however far away, and remembering how lucky I am to have somebody to miss.

diaspora

The man sitting next to me on the plane ran a sports museum in Stamford, Connecticut, home of one-time Dodgers batter and Mets manager Bobby Valentine, pre-doping A-Rod, and retired post-World Series Jackie Robinson. The exhibit he curated didn’t feature any of those baseball legends; rather, he chose to showcase a cadre of hometown heroes whom had never achieved Hall of Fame status, but were still memorialized in clippings of local newspapers, batting average tabulations, and traveling team rosters of Double-A minor league championship gunners. Before Technicolor, a bunch of boys would gather on a dirt field and play ball, getting together after school every single day to bat and pitch and slide “before anybody had a chance to put the hate into them.” These playdates turned into high school team practices, state school skirmishes, and eventually, league championships as these same players followed each other through the hoops of amateur and professional baseball, plenty of them sticking together into the national level or trading into other Eastern League teams as free agents. Some even traveled onto some of the earliest NBA-regulation basketball courts across the country, further branching out Stamford, CT’s uncelebrated impact on decades of sports history.

He himself was the descendant of the Irish potato famine and the Garibaldi revolution, his grandparents defying their rung on the very bottom rungs of the European migrant ladder in the tenements, storming out of an angry church and into the city clerk’s office to reclaim what legitimacy their marriage could scrape together. He was flying to New York to meet up with the side of the family that stuck it out and stayed through it all, white flight and whatnot notwithstanding.

Diversity is hard to define and easy to take for granted. In high school, diversity became relevant mostly when it came to picking photos for the yearbook and making sure enough people got interviewed, and if not then, when it came to complaining about diversity, or rather, the lack of it. At any time or place, brushing away diversity sweeps aside the myriad intricacies of the stories that do exist under the giant umbrella term of ‘diversity’ and erases the incredible fact of everybody’s journeys and the need to honor the places we have come from. Diversity matters more than ever in a university, and in this city and school, diversity takes on a beautifully broad definition, if any.

A class made of people who have already left fingerprints, footsteps, and lost pencils in nearly every corner of the world defies categorization. Students are already more than test scores to begin with, and here, students are most definitely more than their resume accomplishments or test smarts.

I’ve met somebody who trudged through every single school day up to the sixth grade with her mother in hand to help coax her way through her anxiety, working through speech drills and therapy to become a nationally-ranked debater and dancer; somebody who drove for five days before move-in day because the whole entire family was moving east, and to make sure their dog had a home with family down south while they fought to secure rent and a reasonable commute in D.C.; somebody who, under the Spanish education system, was forced to preemptively declare a major two years into high school, and is no longer sure what the rush was all about after all.

New student orientation was filled with awkward, unsatisfying, and forced interactions, yet it’s incredibly refreshing being able to sit down and learn of the places people come from. People are worth believing in. People and places and places and people—what are we if we have nowhere to come from?

playlist: packing for college

less than a week till move out! as far as moving out emotions go, I’m vacillating between the frustration of last-minute packing (you mean I can’t bring a whole entire suitcase of books??) and the raw anticipation of getting on a plane and never coming back (at least for a few months)

  1. “Grace (Love on the Block),” Bran Van 3000
  2. “New Direction,” The Black Lips
  3. “NYC Bitche$,” Awkwafina
  4. “Send It Up,” Kanye West
  5. “On the Regular,” Shamir
  6. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” Beastie Boys
  7. “i,” Kendrick Lamar

alt. titles: “moving out for nyc in like two weeks!!” / “FUCKING COME @ ME COLLEGE” / “can’t believe snow monster is going to be so far away”

miracle mile

A miracle mile, where does it lead to? ¹

Dairy Queen runs Miracle Treat Day every year in partnership with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals nationwide—the perfect excuse to grab a Blizzard treat in the name of charity. ² I broke the tradition today, finding out too late after blistering SoCal heat turned into freak flash rain, but I’m not at all crestfallen—today’s been a miracle onto itself.

A moon and the morning, masquerading as night. Lights lining the path: lanterns in the dark, fireflies illuminating the way. A city asleep, restless traffic lights eternally awake. Peddling, flicking gears, racing the slumbering sun. A hill, a fence, an expanse—the pastures of heaven. Words, silence, and warmth. I’m yours, I’m yours. Windswept, spinning and splashing into a well-deserved extended nap.

Second breakfast, first lunch, a whole lot of catching up. Well-meaning advice, well-done fish, and well—well-intentioned well wishes. The delight of hearing names I haven’t heard in a long time. Things I’ve learnt, old friends getting turnt, my bread crispy, although visibly burnt. Old friends being old friends, growing up, getting jobs, getting “swole.”

Rows on rows of paper balloons strung up above the checkout lines at Costco. Memory, hurt, forgiveness. Gratitude for doctors, nurses, therapists, EMTs, goodie bags, hand-sewn blankets, therapy puppies—these amenities often depend on charitable funding—surgery dolls (X marks the spot), stuffed comforter pillows: the ones I received and held close; the ones I stitched in defiance of a past I never chose. ³

The most beautiful child, straddling the front basket in a cart. The spitting image of the Gerber Baby, Asian and some months older. The silkiest skin and the wildest eyes, pink-striped socks and blue corduroy vest. Matted black and curious, wide-open brown. Not a worry in the world except whether the new applesauce formula will taste alright and if she’ll need to cover her eyes outside to adjust to the falling daylight.

The rain’s hushed up nearly as soon as it had first began. Pink cirrus, falling ultraviolet, fading blue. Brushstrokes on a perfect sky on a perfect day.


¹ Cold War Kids’ “Miracle Mile,” one of (un)said glaring omissions from this playlist

² DQ has raised over $100 million for pediatric trauma prevention since 1984. 20% of revenue (or was it 20¢? the difference a symbol could make) from sales of USA Today at McDonald’s locations go to the nearest networked Ronald McDonald House Charities house. Target’s still unique corporate responsibility philosophy allows it to donate to the tune of millions of dollars a week to fund education and community-building in the neighborhoods it operates in. Corporations are under no obligation other than to deliver on their fiscal responsibility to shareholders; companies aren’t obliged to care about anything other than profit and the bottom line. Companies, however, are made of people, and people have the ability to care. People run corporations, and they are more than capable of choosing the hard right over the easy wrong.

³ I still suck at ribbon lei making, but it’s not hard to stuff a pillow or a doll!

happy songs

Some songs I can count on to perk me back into wakeful joy, that stretch the definition of “guilty pleasures,” and have been tried and tested out in the heat of anxiety or inertia. Anything to put me back into the thrill of being handed the AUX cord in a friend’s car or jamming out alone in the driver’s seat to the car stereo.  A glaringly short and incomplete list¹:

  1. “Budapest,” George Ezra
  2. “Cecilia and the Satellite,” Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
  3. “Diane Young,” Vampire Weekend
  4. “Dog Days are Over,” Florence + the Machine
  5. “Dreaming,” Smallpools
  6. “Float On,” Modest Mouse
  7. “Geronimo,” Sheppard
  8. “I Lived,” OneRepublic
  9. “In the Sun,” She & Him
  10. “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N,” Noah & the Whale
  11. “Royals,” Lorde
  12. “Shut Up and Dance,” Walk the Moon
  13. “Unwell,” Matchbox Twenty
  14. “Walk,” Foo Fighters

Additionally, half of all the songs on Foster the People’s Torches, most things Arcade Fire, and p. much anything Mumford & Sons.


¹ Overwhelmingly biased toward recent pop hits; I’m more than capable of putting together diverse and eclectic playlists when I want to!

parks make life better

Driving my sister to summer classes has always been the perfect excuse to go off somewhere and explore, even if it’s the nearest park just a turn down the street.

Behind the aquatics center and beneath screams and squeals from the USA Water Polo junior olympics tournament, my stroll saw me being swarmed by a descending mob of ducks (the closest thing to an avian murder, never mind them not being crows); encountering the strangest, nondescript, and eerily uncomfortable neo-Brutalist concrete building at the edge of the park and subsequently shuffling away from the black iris of the affixed security camera; and sneaking a detour through the adjacent high school, its rooftops and rooms being dissected and disemboweled by summer cleansing and construction work.

Parks make life better. Two summers ago, I worked a stint with the city’s community services department and helped out with implementing the state’s “Parks Make Life Better!” campaign, which taught me more than anything that parks serve increasingly vital purposes; they’re not just escapist spaces for somebody looking for a Walden-esque waltz through the “tonic of wilderness.” Each year, just about every California household visits a park; furthermore, almost half of all California residents are regular park-goers who visit their neighborhood park several times a week. For these residents and the communities they live in, access to parks becomes not just a matter of natural aesthetic, but also a question of public health, crime reduction, youth education, civic life, and family economics.

Well-maintained (and well-funded) recreation areas don’t just provide spaces to immerse patrons in nature. These parks are also spaces that host sports and activities promoting the health and well-being of a city’s residents, offer positive places for youth to spend time in (better a well-manicured soccer field than a hazy back alley), facilitate camps and programs that introduce children to the arts, allow for congregation and conversation in open, public spaces, and represent a safe, low-cost avenue for families to spend time together or even to drop off the kids before heading off to work.

Parks are freaking awesome. The Irvine Fine Arts Center’s open exhibit (“Structure Synthesis: Rob Brown & Melissa Manfull”) was an additional treat. (Art in public spaces is always a treat!) Cool experiments with geometry, (a)symmetry, and entropy in Brown’s video art and Manfull’s gauche ink constructions.

ifac: structure synthesis
Melissa Manfull’s mathematical and architectural compositions display vibrant and fantastical geometries, bringing to mind an aesthetic informed by sci-fi and game design.

In the facility’s open studios, you can imagine a kid attending a day camp—a young Rembrandt in his own right—fiddling around with watercolors, propped up on a tiny young artist’s stool under the cool wooden ceiling lights, straining for the edge of his canvas against the room’s casual air-conditioned breeze. Down the hall from the (then-empty) day camp studio, I interrupted an adult artist working in the printmaking studio, probably disrupted his entire artistic vibe, apologized, and quickly got out—perhaps for the better, because his artistic process somehow incorporated listening to strange, demented aural compositions with the most chilling screams and sounds as he bashed out his work. (I breathed a sigh of relief when Brahms’ Intermezzo No. 2 greeted me in the car—what an incredible contrast.)

Last stop before picking up my sister: I dropped by the Heritage Park Library for the first time in years, and although familiar, my perception of the interior seems to have completely changed. I never quite noticed the rows of students and adults alike, immersed in their novels, textbooks, or Excel spreadsheets. I never appreciated how much could fit into one small building.

Of course, I had to stop by the friends of the library bookstore (note to self: much better selection than KWL), and in between finding an incredible and cheap stash of books to take home, I helped a woman unload her pile of used books she was ready to donate. Summer, an expectant mother, was a graduate from Irvine High (from “many, many years ago”) and found work as a teacher somewhere nearby. I told her to check out 500 Days of Summer when she had the time. She had an enormous stack of textbooks and assorted texts to unload, but I couldn’t help but notice the mixture of English classics and writing manuals alongside heaps of ancient MCAT prep materials and anatomy reference guides—the perfect way to tease me about my upcoming advising appointment and whether I really should consider taking up the pre-med route or not.

But perhaps that’s for another long-winded blog post. After wheeling in all the books, scavenging for any last gems in the stacks, and forking over barely even ten dollars for yet another pile of books to add to my shelves, I texted my sister to let her know I was coming, stopped by TapEx and bought two of the most watered-down taro milk tea drinks I have ever tasted, and silently whispered to the street signs a word of thanks.


After picking up my sister, I absentmindedly drove past where I was supposed to turn and ended up in a park sandwiched in between my part of the city and a trailhead adjacent to the shopping center. In all our years of living in this city, we’ve never once stepped in this park. We couldn’t help but get out and explore.