I Waited All Day

I wake up to the usual procession of two immaculately timed alarms. Blinking hard, I rotate the knob on my pink Himalayan sea salt lamp to counteract the already-dawning dose of S.A.D. or seasonal affective disorder (self-diagnosed, of course). The curtains open at my command and bring streams of light tumbling into the otherwise shaded and stale room. Reaching for my phone, I brace myself for the several dozens of notifications and reminders silenced during my slumber.

“Okay, Facebook (nothing but a few odd event invitations), Twitter (only necessary to get that red notification button off my screen), Emails (deal with them later), Instagram…,” I scroll, tap, stare, and sigh. Like most mornings, I find myself double-tapping images of size 0 swimsuit models with perky tits and huge asses. I often play the game “fake or real” to determine just how much envy I should be devoting to a particular individual, or even how hard I have to push myself that day. Knife-edge abs, golden complexion, pursed lips, tiny physiques, I dig deeper into the pit of misery and self-loathing.

After what seems like the entire morning, I chuck my phone to the side and roll clumsily out of bed. I have a plan for the day, and you can bet that getting a workout in is a top priority.

“Yoga isn’t until 6:30 tonight, so I should probably hit the gym now to get some cardio in.” I calculate.

While a research paper for graduate school is threatening the course of my day, I decide to put that on the back burner until I can come to terms with staring at my computer screen for hours on end. The day goes on with lackluster: breakfast as fuel, read those emails I postponed, then drive up to the club gym.

You see, I’m expecting this revolutionary workout that completely alters the course of my fitness career and catapults me into insta-worthy stardom. But that’s not the case, far from it. I’m tired: my shoulders shift hesitantly under my weight, my ankles wobble to and fro, and my energy level is between “just one more rep” and “why am I even here?” I realize that I’ve been on, on, on for the past month and really haven’t allowed my body to rest and just be.

Yanking my earbuds from their homes, I glance at myself in the mirror.

“What the fuck am I doing?” I question, brows furrowed.

Just the other day I was chatting with a friend about the imperceptible effects of social media on our actions, our motivations, and our thoughts, especially concerning our own self-worth. While I’ve never been one to necessarily act upon the candid ruminations of others, it dawned on me that I’ve been my own worst enemy the whole time. That little devil sitting on my shoulder mocking me and taunting my sanity was in fact, myself. I immerse myself in the image of “perfection” through continuously scrolling pages until my eyes blur and I can’t even make out my own reflection.

This has to end.

Unless there’s a legitimate aesthetic I’m interested in or an individual that instills a mantra of pervasive love and self-acceptance, I begin by unfollowing any account that does not follow these guidelines. I make it my personal vendetta to uphold the yogic way of life that I often overlook, to care for my soul and to be kind to this borrowed body. I immediately feel a shift in energy.

I’m not too sure if I’ve ever been confident enough to say, “I love my body!” but I’m working hard to get there. Yes, some people are born a size 0 with perky tits and huge asses, but the vast majority are not. I know that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, races, colors, heights, and proportions. And that it is in these differences that pure beauty endures. It has never and will never be contained within a handbook or a diet plan or even in a mobile application.

I conclude the day with an hour and a half long yoga session with integrated meditation. I choose “release” as my intention as I begin to shed this skin I’ve outgrown for far too long. I fly through the asanas and vinyasas, and class concludes in what feels like just one breath cycle. My palms meet at the heart as I bow my head reverentially.

I respect and honor the divine light within myself and in all beings, the matter of the universe with which I am comprised of, and I bow my head in gratitude for this body I call home.

I wish you all peace in whatever journey you’re currently embarking in and an unwavering spirit toward self-love.

Thank You, I Love You

The essence of life is learning when to hold on and when to let go.

I typed this quote furiously into my notes the other day as I began planning my journey home to the Bay Area, dashing across the room in a sudden haze. When your life is a constant state of limbo that’s neither here nor there, believe me when I say, there is always a heavy nagging pull from all directions.

Ever seen the movie Chocolat? Well if you haven’t, here’s a brief rundown of how the main character and her daughter live their lives: cursed by the will of the wind, they uproot their chocolate shoppe in search of the next unsuspecting village. I’m just now starting to think that perhaps the plot line of my life runs congruent to this heartwarming movie. From the moment I left home for college in Boston, I’ve been plagued with five-hour plane rides that made for three-hour time differences which meant my fair share of miscommunication and “I can’t deal with the distance”. And I despised my parents for this: brooding over the implications of the duality of my reality.

As the end of my undergraduate career crept near, I, the unsuspecting victim, bathed in the perils of a scattered heart. A heart divided, sprinkled, carved, and etched. A heart willingly offered to and shared amongst the most earnest people and places.

Since May of this year, I’ve left friends back east to return to my western roots. And in doing so, continued on my journey to the southern-most end of California, San Diego. For the duration of this month long escapade, I’ve trained hard to become a certified yoga instructor, met a few more soul sisters, eaten enough Mexican food to hold me off for a little while (who am I kidding, I’ll never be satisfied), and sprained my ankle (badly) at Woogie Weekend. Although I would have liked to have spent this last week scaling the cliffs of Black’s Beach or just doing a few sun salutations, I’m taking this as a blessing in disguise: a time to heal and reflect.

My heart is heavy but filled with love. The moon is full and bright, just as it was upon my arrival nearly a month ago. I feel a tug at my soul: an uncontrollable urge to start crying and to tell my parents that I’m never coming “home”, that this place of beauty and majesty has somehow felt more “home” to me than four years in a snow-drenched suburb. But as with the wind in Chocolat, the ebb and flow of the tides, the seasons of plenty and the seasons of want, and even the phases of the moon, I too, must learn when to hold on and when to let go.

To my new friends here in San Diego and to the unfathomable amount of thunderous laughter shared between us, thank you. Thank you for showing me that life cannot be lived without passion nor the inexplicable drive for growth and love. Thank you for becoming new branches of an ever-changing tree, seamlessly intertwined within my heart and soul. And as for the future, I know that distance makes such a trivial difference when faced with such a resilient bond. Thank you, I love you, but I must go, just for now.

Falling In Love With Strangers

I wanted to write this down before I forgot about our 21st-century love story–of sorts.

To be honest, it’s difficult to read between the lines we diligently set for ourselves when communication comes in the form of blue, sometimes green, bubbles and read receipts and hello’s across ambiguous telephone lines and sometimes seeing your face through glowing screens. I’ll keep this brief but meaningful, just like our time together. One month was all it took, and little did you know, I could fall so damn hard and so damn fast for someone I had never met. I’m sorry we never got to share that spoon; I’m sorry we found each other at the wrong right time; I’m sorry life had other plans.

It was as if we were acting out the storyline of Before Sunrise, except I stayed on the train as you got off. There’s a profound sense of emptiness left–like everything is folding in on itself and I’m left to bathe in something that resembles silence, but more like a steady breathing that I’ve never quite heard so loudly before. It’s like plucking splinters out one by one. There aren’t many, but every once in a while I get poked, and I’m reminded that something doesn’t belong anymore. It’s more like too much space all too suddenly and more like back to square one.

I’m hoping this gets lost somewhere in the midst of love and life, only to be found by another type of stranger, someone who needs it the most. But for now, I’ll be treading water, not quite drowning, and dreaming sweet navy blue dreams.

Before I Graduate

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, on my way to something really grand, I’ll sit in silence and peer out the window.

It’s nice to bathe in the moments that come right before the finale: the burning in my chest, the sparks in my eyes, even the tingle just beyond the belly. This part’s always my favorite.

Ever since I was about five or six, my parents would count down the years until both my sister and I left for college. It was a number I found myself dreading… 12, 11, 10… though, it was never about my parents having to let go. I’d like to think it was a reminder that the time we spent together was precious and that the effort I put into my life really mattered. What did I want to learn? Who did I want to be? College had always seemed like this far-off concept that never quite arrived. Until the day that it did.

Moving out was hard.

Moving three thousand miles across the country was even harder. I left friends that I admired, family that I loved, and palm trees that graced only my dreams. Home became a multiplicity of things. If you know me at all, you know that perhaps I wasn’t fully devoted to my life out in the East. Yes, there were so many highs, but there were also handfuls of lows that boggled my sanity. Like many others, there were times I considered leaving. To this day, I can still remember the frantic calls made at one in the morning in the basement lounge as I muffled back tears.

But what good would that have done? Would I have met better mentors or more supportive friends? Would I have been a better person? The grass always seemed greener even though I was standing in a field of marigolds.

Four years later and here I am, right before the finale. Exactly fourty-seven days out. But graduating doesn’t necessarily mean bigger and better things. For some, it means infinite nine to fives that are spent staring out looming glass windows and reminiscing over days when all we did was lay out on the greenspace and pass around carafes of twisted teas. For others, it means gripping that diploma for dear life and wishing we could shake the meaning out of it.

And just like we did in elementary school, and middle school, and high school, and college, we’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Mistakes are what make us human. But if I leave you with one word of advice, it’s to never make excuses. Make mistakes and make them deliberately. Be decisive. At least, you’ll have a goddamn backbone.

I don’t want these years to be the best years of my life.

I want every year to be the best year of my life. I want passion and I want truth and I want long contemplative conversations over gin and tonics, and I want love. Most importantly, I want love.

I wish love to each and every one of you in your future endeavors. And I truly hope you found fragments of yourself within the folds of then and now; the parts that burn in your chest, the parts that sparkle in your eyes, and even the parts that tingle just beyond the belly.

There Is No Time To Grieve

I used to sit and dream of these moments.

I used to light cigarettes in hopes that the smoke would push my memories of you deeper into the abyss. But I could still feel them, lingering there like the faintest whisper of my name. I prayed—prayed to whatever was worth praying to.

I was a fool for you.

But heartbreak makes for good poetry material.

There is no time to grieve.

Life keeps going no matter how slowly you breathe, no matter how long you stare at those pictures: the ones of us holding hands, the ones of us smiling, the ones of you pretending you were in love.

I hate thinking about the time that has passed. Not because I dread the memories, but because they were all too sweet. Four years is a long time.

Four years is an eternity in the blink of an eye, it’s the moment your lips meet mine,

it’s every breath I could not breathe.

Sí, Io Sono Cinese

There is scrambled shouting, explosive laughter, elders sitting calmly at the head of the table, and an excess of food.

Between heated conversations concerning career paths and the whereabouts of long lost relatives, it’s clear I am at a family gathering located at an overly embellished banquet hall. Aunts and uncles whose names I cannot recall are reminding me of how little I used to be and how I may not remember the precious bonding moments we shared. I turn a blind eye to embarrassing jokes by my father and laugh hysterically at my cousins’ attempts at keeping up with the Joneses. As a twenty-year-old quickly approaching her senior year in college, I now crave times like these where dozens of relatives are able to spend one rowdy evening together around the dinner table.

The majority of my adolescent life consisted of early Saturday mornings at Chinese school and the constant nagging of my mother to speak my native tongue, Mandarin.

While my parents tried their best to integrate their heritage into American traditions, the scales tipped rapidly to and fro. My reluctance stemmed from the inconvenience of speaking two languages and the unforgiving realities behind Asian stereotypes. Fortunately for this hyper-emotional budding youth, growing up in the Bay Area bubble meant Asian supermarkets and popular Boba joints were plentiful and no one thought twice about the color of your skin. I was raised in a house where everything new had to be tried at least once (including all sorts of questionable foods). My best friends at school were Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican; the list goes on. Race was never an issue in a world where minorities were abundant.

Almost immediately after heading East for college, I noticed a dramatic shift in perspective.

Dumbfounding questions were thrown my way from strangers in alignment with their generalized ideals of the Asian culture. Being inept at most types of mathematics, snide comments about how I wasn’t really Asian if I was bad at math left permanently stunned creases along my forehead. Was being a Chinese female raised in America really that outrageous? I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Despite the blaring differences between my physical appearances and that of others, many people would tell me—but you’re not like most Asians. And they were right. But I’m also not like most people. I enjoy red and purple hues in my hair, yoga and long hikes for fun, and ear-splitting electronic music. I quickly began to question my motives. Had I deliberately created a barrier between my heritage and myself?

During my time abroad I experienced racial prejudices far beyond the run-of-the-mill jokes.

Being harassed by locals in several European countries clouded my initial excitement of true cultural immersion. In order to combat the slanderous chants and surly glares in what would be my home for the next few months, I quickly picked up the Italian language and used it habitually. When my family came to visit at the end of the semester, it was as if the locals had upped the ante. I could always feel their eyes prying us apart from the hundreds of people walking by. There were close encounters but we managed to return home safely, tongues raw from biting back our words. There was no reason for me to be ashamed of my genetic makeup, yet it stung that these people saw me as nothing more than a color.

Being Asian by heritage means I am the one responsible for bringing about change.

People will put you down based on their petty misinformed bias, but there is never an excuse for ignorance. I am Chinese by birth, American by choice, and if you only see me for how narrow my eyes are, I only see you for how narrow your mind is.

Finding My Groove

Originally Published on March 24th, 2015

I’m consumed in a shroud of darkness.

Students in pleated skirts, shiny cufflinks, pressed ties, and black monogrammed binders flutter anxiously to and fro across the campus quad. Like marching bullet ants, I catch glimpses of furrowed brows and muffled conversations concerning summer internships and the like. On days like these I feel trapped in the leather bound coffin I created around myself, listening intently, palms sweaty, as the locks click shut.

I’ve been creatively inclined since before I can remember.

My aspirations as a child strayed far from academics while gravitating towards anything involving construction paper and colored pens. To my parents’ frustration, every favorite subject line in the About Karen section was always art. As I progressed through the adolescent years, I immersed myself in whatever I thought seemed fit: makeup artistry, fashion design, studio artwork, and even modern dance. While friends, faculty and my greatest supporter, my older sister, reinforced my efforts at school, the looming shadow of disappointment from my parents fell heavy upon my ego.

My gears began to grind as I reached the ripe age of 17 and it came time to choose a university for the next chapter of my life.

I was catapulted into the realm of college counseling, SAT’s, subject tests, AP’s, campus tours, and endless essays describing why I felt worthy of attending X University. The problem was—I didn’t even know what I wanted. East Coast or West Coast? Large campus or small campus? Liberal Arts or a specialized degree? People demanded answers and I was in no position to give it to them.
Conveniently enough, my older sister had been accepted into Bentley University a few years prior and raved about its prime location and small class sizes. While I must admit Rachel and I often act like the poster children for the idiom “two-peas-in-a-pod”, we couldn’t be more unalike. I admire her ability to excel in areas I could never enjoy, specifically accounting, but my vines reach far beyond the boundaries of a textbook.

The pungent stench of my overworked motor infiltrated every nook and cranny of my senior year, quickly spreading to my bitter attitude and disdain for my parents.

Art school was out of the question and dinner table conversations turned sour at the mention of my future. Since I failed to provide a good reason for staying close to home, my parents were set on me heading east. After several months of dead-ended arguments, my fate was sealed in a padded blue and white envelope labeled “Bentley University”.

Suppressed by the horrors of GB’s and directionless Gen-Ed’s, my preliminary years were filled with the relentless banter of my inner conflicts.

Peers and mentors always asked me the same probing questions, and each time I gave the same lackluster response. “Yes, I am from California. No, I don’t know why I chose Bentley. No, I don’t know what I want to study. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed by my answer.” Confused looks from strangers were prompted with the stinging phrase, “Then why are you here?” Without the security of a background in accounting or finance, I felt the net unravel from beneath me. I was lost in a world I didn’t recognize.

It wasn’t until the beginning of my junior year here at Bentley that I finally found my groove.

With the opportunities presented by my study abroad experience, my fire for graphic design and writing rekindled, giving me new hope in potential career endeavors. Like misplaced pieces shifting in a jumbled Rubik’s cube, I can hear the gears begin to readjust. The opportunities were there all along; I just had to work a little harder to uncover them. While I chase longingly at new aspirations, I am comforted by the fact that I’m not completely alone. Though I still fear the day my multicolored hair resorts to its natural hue and the shards of metal are removed from my ears and face, support from loyal friends let me know these acts of individuality have not gone unnoticed. My efforts to stand out in a crowd make me the odd one of the bunch, but if that’s the case then hey, so be it. At least I’m living on my own terms.