I’m a Sister

My siblings are my world. When I first found out my stepmother at the time was pregnant, I was filled with a flurry of emotions. Having been my father’s only child for nine years, I didn’t know what a sibling would be like for our relationship. They told me that I would have to get rid of the family cat, since she might hurt the baby. I remember feeling sad and anxious. From the moment my brother was born, though, it was easy to love him. I adored him, I marveled at everything he did, he couldn’t possibly disappoint me. One of the proudest moments of my life is when he learned how to say jie jie, sister in Mandarin. When my sister followed a year later, I was apprehensive again. I was the only girl in the family…how would her birth change that? Things actually didn’t change much once she was born. While my brother was a goofy, outgoing toddler, she was just a blob. She was always crying, and she didn’t seem to like anyone very much. It took me much longer to bond with her than with my brother. Even as she grew older, she wasn’t fun the way my brother was. While my brother and I threw coconuts at the house, trying to dislodge the boomerang that was stuck 20 feet high, my sister was crying a dozen times a day. I didn’t really know my sister until we both grew up a bit.

Back when we all looked like dorks.

Back when we all looked like dorks. We’re 14, 4, and 5.

Let’s call my sister Billy Bob. That’s my nickname for her. She calls me Bear. Billy Bob is my best friend, and she has been for years, even though she’s only 14. We understand each other in a way that I’ve yet to find in anyone else. Somehow, despite growing up in completely different families, we have the same morals, values, likes and dislikes. We both enjoy painting, knitting, and mocking hipster trends despite secretly liking them. She is a lot like me when I was 14 — she has her own ideas about how she wants to live her life, and she doesn’t listen to anybody. In other ways, she is different. She is more stubborn than me, which I didn’t think was possible. She is so stubborn that peer pressure doesn’t seem to have any effect on her, which I find admirable. Billy Bob wears what she wants, eats what she wants, listens to what she wants. The only way to get her to do anything at all is to convince her that it’s what she wants for herself. I love that about her, her independence.

She is also different in that she’s a child. When I was 14, I had retired from a competitive individual skating career only to get into a competitive synchronized skating career. I had helped raise my siblings and served as my father’s therapist. What I wanted most was to grow up, so that nobody could tell me what to do ever again. Billy Bob, on the other hand, wants to be a kid for as long as society will let her. Just a few years ago, she was still crawling into my lap. She’s had a tough transition into puberty. She doesn’t know what to make of this world that places so much emphasis on a girl’s looks. Why do I have to cover up my shoulders in school? she says to me. There is nothing sexual about my shoulders. She is naïvely and genuinely unaware that she could become someone else’s sex object. At 14, I wanted to become someone else’s sex object. I wanted to be wanted, and I didn’t care who it was that did the wanting. It’s a miracle that I came out of my teenage years and early 20s relatively unscathed.

Happy about her Christmas present.

Happy about her Christmas present.

Since Billy Bob became a teenager, I’ve seen changes in her. Some of them have scared me. I’ve seen that innocence fall away from her, and I’ve seen anger replace some of her naïveté. I’ve seen her struggle with society’s expectations, and I want nothing more than to be a role model for her. To show her that you can be a woman who likes to be sexy for herself, and nobody else. Being a role model for my siblings is something that I’ve always taken very seriously. Until recently, though, there was only so much I could do. I flew down to Florida every Christmas, and I tried to bring Christmas with me. I flew to China every summer, and I tried to entertain my siblings while my dad was at work. As their parents went through a messy divorce, I tried to explain to them what was going on and to shield them from it. Through the years, though, I often questioned my role in their lives and whether I was making a difference. I loved that every time I asked my brother about his favorite memories, he always picked a time when I was there. I know that he did it unknowingly, because that boy is dead honest.

Last month, I had the chance to make more of a difference than I ever have before. And I took it. I fought for it with everything that I had. I’ve never wanted anything so badly. Next week, I have a court date. It’s just a formality, since both parents have already signed the consent forms. As of next Friday, I will be my sister’s legal guardian. As of today, I’m already a full-time mom to a teenager. In the past week, I’ve taken my “daughter” to the dentist, cooked a dozen pescatarian dinners, helped her with her math homework. I’m doing her summer reading for Honors English with her, so we can discuss the novels together. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Last night, Billy Bob already had to remind me: “I’m not going to be here forever, you know?” I know. But four years is enough memories to last a lifetime.

Girls just want to have fun.

Girls just want to have fun.

Why I’m Not Having a Wedding

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter...

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter…

This isn’t about how I have something against weddings, or the institution of marriage. In fact, I very much plan on getting married. Recently, a close friend and her boyfriend have been at a crossroads — she wants to get married and he doesn’t. While giving them advice about their relationship, I’ve found myself really thinking about marriage and what it means. In the past, when I was young and idealistic and enjoyed writing essays on Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, I liked to tell people that marriage was meaningless. It was a piece of paper, and it represented nothing. Instead, it was the bond between two people, choosing to be together, but not forced to be, that was truly beautiful. Over time, my view on marriage changed. As a law clerk at an immigration legal aid center, I saw how much marriage meant to the government. Just to apply for naturalization, we had to list all of the applicant’s prior spouses, including their birthdays and dates of marriage and immigration statuses. My clients would never remember, obviously. They would have to call up their ex that they hadn’t spoken to in years before they could apply. Not to mention, if you were married, your spouse could be automatically attached to every kind of application for immigration status. Often, our Latin American clients liked to refer to their long-time boyfriends as “mi esposo” or “mi marido”, and we would have to ask them to clarify: ¿están casados o no? Are you married? Though clearly not to them, to the government, there was a huge difference.

So I told my friend that marriage means something. Whether it is antiquated or not, it means something to the government and it means something to our society. The LGBTQ community didn’t fight so hard for marriage just for a piece of paper. The legal benefits of marriage are many, though almost all of them you can achieve through roundabout ways. Personally, I believe that the most important benefit of marriage is societal respect. The words boyfriend, fiancé, and husband have very different connotations. You can move across the country for your fiancée or your wife, but girlfriend? That sounds ill-fated. You can take time off work to care for your fiancé or husband, but your boyfriend? He should be able to take care of himself. Marriage legitimizes your union to the public; it’s something that almost everyone can respect.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a long tangent. Back to weddings. Yes, when I was a kid, I always thought I would have a big, beautiful wedding. When I started dating my first boyfriend in high school, I fantasized about that wedding. I wanted a big tree, with lights strung up, and I was going to walk down the aisle to Book of Love by the Magnetic Fields. My first dance was going to be Leanne Rimes’ Unchained Melody. And then, because I have a morbid sense of humor, I wanted Creep by Radiohead. And You Know I’m No Good by Amy Winehouse. I’ve always found the saddest songs the most romantic. More recently, I’ve added details to my dream wedding, like riding down the aisle on horseback, against the backdrop of the Canada’s Torngat Mountains, while the first snow fell.

And now? I’ve realized that I don’t want any of it. What happened, you might ask? Moving in to my first house happened. Well, technically I haven’t moved in to it yet, but I’ve been virtually moving in from 1,000 miles away, which is infinitely more stressful. I want my first house to be perfect in every way; I want every corner to give me a little joy when I pass by. For the past few weeks, I’ve been stalking Amazon, Zulily, Craigslist, and estate auctions for the best deals for everything ranging from custom-made club chairs to steam mops. I learned what valances are and how many panels of curtains you need for different sized windows. I bought diffusers and essential oils and two bird feeders for Blueberry. Most of these things I bought were 30-50% off. The few pieces of furniture we picked up from the auction are more than 80% off their original retail prices. Dan is obsessed with his Italian leather recliner. I’ve told him that it’s gonna have to go in the basement, but for now he’s put it in the living room and has been enjoying it in all its glory. The fabric on our club chairs is softer than a baby’s bum. We have crepe makers and Korean stone bowls and a fire pit. How could I be anything but insanely happy?

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don't worry -- those valances are coming off.

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don’t worry — those valances are coming off.

Let me tell you why — I can’t get over the one thing I lost. I had my eye on a stunning distressed white solid wood table at the auction. Full retail price would be in the thousands. The final bid was $225. And I lost that motherfucker because I entered my credit card information wrong! Since then, I’ve been devastated. I really needed that table to come home with us, not only because it was the best deal we could have gotten, and I can’t find any table that I like better than that, but because holy crap I need this process to be over. That would have been by far the heaviest piece of furniture in our place, and it would have gone a long way towards making me feel like we’re almost done. Instead, there’s still an empty space in the dining room where that table should be. The only other tables I like as much as that one are custom-made and cost around $1000. Dan says we should just get one, but I don’t know if I can spend that kind of money. That’s what all of this comes down to, money. Well, not really money, but feeling like I don’t deserve to spend money on myself. I never let myself buy anything at close to full retail price, even when I could easily afford it. When I get something more than 50% off, I feel better, because technically I saved more than I spent, which means that I almost didn’t buy anything for myself.

In her book on anorexia, Peggy Claude-Pierre wrote about her own daughter’s experience with the disease. One of the most painful scenes to read was the one where she drove her daughter for hours and to a dozen grocery stores in search of the “perfect” banana. To her daughter, the perfect banana was the one that was bruised, black, nearly rotten. To her daughter, that was the only banana she was good enough to eat. This anecdote resonated with me. Though I’ve never withheld food from myself, I’ve withheld almost any kind of guilty pleasure. My version of that disgusting banana is 80% off furniture. Buying all of these things that I love hurts me, because ultimately it’s an act of love towards myself. I’m creating the home that I’ve always wanted and never had, full of everything that will make me happy. And I still don’t believe that I deserve it. I still don’t believe that I deserve to love myself in that way. So I’m coping by holding myself to the highest standard — buying the “perfect” things at the “perfect” price. When I fall short of that standard, I torture myself.

I don’t know if there’s anything more self-loving than throwing yourself a wedding. As far as I know, there are no 80% off wedding invitations, photographers, florists, venues. If I had to have a wedding, I would probably buy someone else’s wedding from them for a discount and give up my big tree, my Torngat Mountains, my snow. I would stress over every expense the way I am now for our house. I would blame myself for not being “perfect”. And then, what would be the point? I’d much rather take a helicopter to the Torngat Mountains with Dan, 420 miles away from the nearest road, and see if our love can survive a complete lack of civilization.

I Love My Cat

Blueberry ModelingMy cat is my best friend. Until I ran into Blueberry at the Huron Valley Humane Society, I’d never really had a pet before. When I was a little kid, I distinctly remember my mother promising that I could get a pet once I was older and could take care of it. When I was a big kid, I asked her again about the offer and she claimed to have forgotten saying such a thing. She did say that she wasn’t going to go back on her word, but she added a condition: every single day for a year I had to clean for 30 minutes, and I had to pass my level 9 piano test at the end of the year. I kept up the cleaning for six months and our basement had never looked so clean, but soon it became apparent that I wasn’t going to pass the level 9 test. I’m not sure exactly why — I think maybe I had taken the level 7 the year before, so I was skipping 8. I ended up taking the level 8. As I stumbled through the sight-reading and music theory portions of the test, my dreams of getting a silver, amber-eyed Husky dissipated.

I sort of had a cat via my father and my stepmother. On a whim, my stepmother decided that she was going to get a purebred persian kitten. When it came home and she realized that it wasn’t just going to sit at her throne and purr all day, she disowned it and left my dad to take care of it. When I visited, I would rescue the cat from the walls of the sun room after she’d chased some lizard. I would carry her in my arms outside to breathe some fresh air. Once, I got too close to the pool, and she flipped out and scratched me. She was a smart cat. She learned to recognize my stepmother by the sound of her slippers — they would slap methodically across the tile floors and echo through the vacant halls. On the rare occasion that she allowed my stepmother to approach her, she would soon regret it. My stepmother enjoyed stomping on her tail with those slippers and laughing maniacally at her pain. One day, in a fit of anger, I stole one of my stepmother’s slippers and threw it down the vase next to the master bedroom that was as tall as I was. I’m pretty sure she never found it.

The summer I decided I was old enough to get my own pet, I was living alone for the first time. I had just flown across the country to see an ex that I still loved with all my heart. Leaving him, all the while knowing that it wouldn’t work out between us, left a gaping hole in my chest. I didn’t know who I was without him. The first week back, I felt as if the loneliness would drown me. I sought out a friend with benefits, even though I really only wanted the friendship and he only really wanted the benefits. And then I scrolled through the adoptable cats at the Humane Society, and one of them caught my eye. She was the prettiest cat I’d ever seen — it was love at first sight. I got in my car, drove to the Humane Society, and looked through every cage for a calico kitty named Blueberry. When I didn’t find her, I almost settled for another cat, but I mustered the courage to ask someone for her. The girl directed me to an individual room, and there she was, perched on a tree. I walked over. She let me pet her a few times before she batted my hand away. Inside, my heart was purring. The worker at the front desk let me know that Blueberry had petting-induced aggression and asked if I could handle that. Chuckling to myself, I wondered, Isn’t that every cat? Yes, I said.

Doggy BlueberryFrom that day on, Blueberry has been my greatest joy. She has never left my side, never let me down. I never fail to smile when I watch her do ridiculous things. She has a habit of laying like a dog, sitting like a fat old man, sleeping like a drunken frat boy. When I call her, she comes. When she relocates in the apartment, she likes to squeak to announce her movements. When I was in my old place, I had to walk Rebecca & Blueberrydown stairs to get to the apartment. Every time I came home, she would be waiting at the bottom of the staircase. She loves being close to me. As much as she hates the idea of water, when I shower, she’ll come and sit on the floor. When I cook in the kitchen, she’ll come and rub against my legs, at least until I turn on the fan. She is the biggest fattie ever. If I let her eat freely, she’d be obese. She’s been on a diet off and on ever since I got her, but she’s never once complained.

In return for her companionship, I exclusively feed her high-protein, grain-free wet food. When she’s a really good girl, I give her eggs, milk, or chicken breast. I buy her more toys than I buy myself. I make most of my life decisions in order to make her happy. If she’s not happy, I can’t be happy. Dan knows that he comes second to Blueberry. She’s my baby, and I love her so much.

The Girl I Used to Be

This is the house I will call home in a few short months.

This is the house I will call home in a few short months.

WTF is adulthood? This question has been on my mind probably since I graduated college, but lately it’s become more and more apparent that I’m losing the struggle against adulthood. That sets off all kinds of alarms in my head. The reality is that, for most of my life, 22 years precisely, I was not an adult. The life skills that people tend to correlate with adulthood — paying bills on time, texting back your friends, washing your sheets, paying for parking — I lacked miserably as a teenager and college student. For years, I avoided getting a credit card for the sole reason that it made me nervous. Thanks to my hesitance, Dan now has a better credit score than me. That and he had 7 more years to accumulate good credit, so I’m pretty sure I win in the end. I’m still bad at texting back my friends. Washing sheets was not something my family did regularly growing up, and I still don’t know how often an “adult” is supposed to do that. Now, I draw the line when the sheets have been exposed to someone’s — human or cat — bodily fluids. In high school, I liked to arrive at school two minutes before class started, so I would park in the visitor’s lot and dash to the auditorium. Every once in a while, I would get ticketed, but it was worth the ten more minutes of sleep to me. Even now, I never pay meter parking on the street where my therapist’s office is because 1) I never have coins and 2) I’ve never gotten ticketed.

I guess what I’m really saying is that I’m irresponsible. But it’s more than irresponsibility. It’s hard for me to keep enough tissue, toilet paper, lotion, etc. around the apartment. This whole year, I’m proud to say that yesterday was the first time I completely ran out of tissue. This morning, I had to use a tampon as a cotton ball, which is what I typically use tissue for because purchasing cotton balls is way above my skill level. This year is also the first time I’ve started getting good about taking out the trash. Even then, it takes me several days to take out the trash. First, I have to notice that it’s getting full. Second, in a peak of mental strength, I gather up the drawstrings and set the bag outside my door. Third, on a day when I’m not rushing to class, I’ll take the trash down to the dumpster on my way out the apartment.

It might surprise you that my apartment is always clean. I can’t stand having tissue paper or dirty plates lying around. When the floors start getting dirty and I can feel lint sticking to my bare feet, I have to sweep it. I don’t mind having books, notebooks, shoes scattered around, but I contain them to various corners. The litter box gets cleaned every day because Blueberry deserves to poo in peace. This cleaning habit is also a recent development, though. The first time I even owned a mop was when I moved in to my own apartment after graduating. You don’t want to know how disgusting our apartment was my junior year when we didn’t clean the floors at all for a whole year. I’ll give you a hint: four girls, hair.

I dressed up as an adult so that the realtor would believe that I'm the kind of person who leases a house.

I dressed up as an adult so that the realtor would believe that I’m the kind of person who leases a house.

Given my history, other things might surprise you. The past few weeks, I’ve gotten myself a job, found an apartment in Omaha, applied for rental furniture, drove out to Norwalk to sign a lease on a house for next year, set up my own health insurance for the first time, found out what my credit score was, bought Blueberry an airline-approved carrier, figured out how to certify her as an emotional support animal, and hand-washed all my bras. These things are all good, things that I want, but I can’t help but feel that they’re not me. I can’t help but feel that I’m falling down a slippery slope of adulthood, and the next thing I know I’ll have a mortgage and a husband and commingled finances. You might ask what’s wrong with those things. There’s nothing wrong with them — they are what I want for myself, eventually. But I can’t help but feel that by getting everything I’ve ever wanted, I’m betraying the girl I was for 22 years. It’s hard to move on, because the truth is that I feel so sorry for her.

She was irresponsible because she’d never been taught differently, because she was experiencing the onset of mental illness, because she was in so much pain. Let me say something to you that I’ve never been able to say before: I love her. I love her because she never gave up, she never stopped trying, she made it possible for her to finally cease being. But my heart breaks for her, that she will never be able to experience the happiness that I will have. I almost don’t want to be happy, because I feel so guilty. It’s not fair that she had to suffer so much. I hate that I have to leave her behind now, to move onto what she wanted so badly for me. I’m afraid that she will be forgotten. I want her to know that I haven’t forgotten her, and I will never forget her. Now, as I walk slowly down the path of adulthood, I’m stopping to cry, to grieve her. Maybe when I get up again, then I will get around to being happy.

Goodbye, 18-year-old me.

Goodbye, 18-year-old me.

I Did It

Growing up as an only child of a single immigrant parent, I knew certain truths. First, I would go to college. To this day, it surprises me that going to college isn’t the norm for many Americans, not just for That Guy in high school who runs over baby chicks with his Hummer. Second, I knew that going to any school lower-ranked than the University of Michigan was failure. It was always assumed that I would get in to Michigan — Michigan State University never passed through my mom’s lips. Third, I knew that getting in to college was the sole purpose of everything I’d done for the first 18 years of my life. Especially after my mother and I realized I wasn’t going to skate in the 2010 Winter Olympics, all the years I’d spent on the ice now served another purpose: the line on my resume that read “Huron High School Figure Skating Team, Co-Captain and Two-time State Champion”. I never thought about what would come after I got in to college. My first semester at Michigan, for God knows what reason, I decided that I wasn’t going to graduate school (ha), and I would maintain a 3.0 GPA. Thanks to a B- in Econ, I achieved a perfect three-point that fall.

My confusion about the point of college continued. As my grades languished, I let my chances of getting into business school slip away. I randomly applied for a State Department internship just because the counselor said it was the most competitive. When the Chief of Mission told me how he had to justify the Iraqi war, I realized that I was too irreverent to be a diplomat. At some point, I decided to apply to law school. As I’ve said repeatedly in recent job interviews, yes, I did apply to law school because I wanted to make an impact on people. But it was also to buy myself time to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life. I thought that law school was the one graduate program that wouldn’t force me to specialize and would allow me to change my mind every other month. Thank God I was right about that. Since starting school last fall, I’ve bounced from career path to career path. On December 1st, in the midst of my complete confusion, I emailed out five summer job applications.

Yesterday, I flew to a city I’d never visited before, in a state I never thought I’d end up in, and I came home with an offer from my dream company.

Somehow, after starting my summer job search looking for a job, I ended up with the job I’ve always wanted. It wasn’t an easy road to get there. In the past few months, I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching, shedding a lot of naïveté and idealism along the way. I weighed all of the things I thought I cared about — “saving” the world, prestige, money, location, work-life balance.

I never want to drive to New York ever again.

I never want to drive to New York ever again.

Some of those things began to matter more, and some less. As I passed in and out of New York’s BigLaw offices, money surged ahead of work-life balance. Then, in a moment of clarity, I bopped myself in the head, “Rebecca, your goal in life is not to work more than 40 hours a week. Are you crazy?” My first offer was for a public interest organization, but it would force me to relocate to D.C. with no pay. When I found out I was ineligible for Yale’s public interest funding, I put my foot down on that one. My second offer was in the perfect location, but would involve liaising with the NRA. I was open to doing that as an intellectual exercise, but I certainly wasn’t excited about it.

And then I hit the jackpot. It’s an in-house position at a Fortune 500 company that will hire me back next summer and the summer after I graduate, assuming everything goes well. The actual work combines everything that I’ve loved in law school — Property, Contracts, and Torts. I get my own office in the 82,000 square foot building.  My coworkers are amazing. The first attorney I met won a reality TV cooking show, and I’ve been promised cookie dough samples. Another attorney is also horse crazy, and she offered to give me recommendations on the many barns in the area. All of the attorneys assured me that they worked no more than 40-50 hours a week. The office is heavily bipartisan along pro-dog and pro-cat lines, with healthy sparring from both sides. I get the feeling that I won’t ever need a professional catsitter again. Did I mention this is a city where you can buy 7-bedroom mansions for half a million dollars and the school districts are top-notch?

This house is half a million dollars?!

This house is half a million dollars?!

Before I started my summer job search, I was told that this job didn’t exist. Even now, it’s hard to believe that it’s real. I could never apply for a job again. I could never interview again. I still haven’t earned a real grade in law school yet, and I may never be asked for my transcript again. That blows my mind. It seems almost unfair, a “windfall” as law professors would say, but I know that I have worked for this. This is why I didn’t drop out of law school, even though the past eight months have been the most challenging ones I’ve ever faced, in terms of mental health. I have felt like the pain and suffering would never end, I have wondered if law school would literally kill me, I have questioned my judgment in continuing it. Even my mom asked me why I didn’t just quit. But I held on, in the hope that it would all be worth it in the end. This summer, that hope could become a reality.

I did it — I figured out why I went to college.

To My Former Friend

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One of the great life lessons you taught me.

I have a favorite café in New Haven. Maison Mathis serves consistently good coffee and food, and it’s conveniently on the path to law school. I didn’t want to like it at first, because it’s too perfect, and I like things to be a little rough around the edges. You would roll your eyes if you saw me there, and say, “Of course.” I’m also not a fan of places that brand themselves as European so they can throw around words like “patisserie” and “du jour”. I guess Maison Mathis isn’t a terrible offender on that front — at least its owners are actual Belgians. You never see the owners, though, so maybe that’s all a marketing scheme too. The cashiers and baristas who work at Maison certainly aren’t Belgians. Besides the food and location, Maison leaves a lot to be desired. Its workers always seem to be having terrible days. You know I’m not usually one to complain about customer service, but the Maison cashiers just look so miserable that they make me feel bad too. I wonder if they’re being overworked, or if their manager is an asshole.

The other day, there was a new cashier who actually smiled at me and said, “Have a nice day.” As I took my receipt from him in shock, I noticed that the other workers were also smiling. They were even talking to each other. The new guy reminded me of you. I could picture you there, knowing everyone’s names from day one, handing out high-fives, getting people to come out of their shells. You’re someone who lights up those around you. You so easily bring joy to other people’s lives; it’s just a shame you could never see that. It’s a shame you could never do that for yourself. Nobody would ever know that, though. From the outside, you’re always unabashedly yourself, always in pursuit of the many small things in life that make you happy, always focused on what really matters.

It was so good for me to be friends with you. I wish we were still friends now. You wouldn’t understand Yale Law School, or anything that its students find so important. It would be so refreshing to see your confusion, to realize that this isn’t the real world. Though we fought constantly about our differences, I loved that we were polar opposites. Every day that we were friends, you made me a better person. When everyone else saw me as this intimidating, successful person, you saw that I was lost and poor. I always had more money than you, but I had little else. I was terrified of people, I had no idea how to interact with them, I often felt like an alien among humans.

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That time I went to buy beef jerky and thought the cashier said $2.99/lb when it was $29.99 and was too embarrassed to say “no thanks”, so I walked out with $59.98 worth of jerky. You laughed so hard, and so did I.

You saw all of my flaws, and you accepted me despite them, and you loved me because of them. I can sometimes hear your voice in my head, teasing me about my failures as a human. I’m bad at walking, folding laundry, opening packages. Basically any life skill that didn’t involve sitting in classroom and answering questions, you could do better than me.

It’s too bad that our society doesn’t value those things. It doesn’t care that you have amazing people skills, that you are a leader, that you would be successful at many things if someone gave you the chance. Society only cares that you don’t have your college diploma, that your GPA is conspicuously absent from your resume. You don’t even know how to write your own resume, because you are too honest and too humble. It doesn’t come naturally to you to talk about yourself, to recognize your own accomplishments, to sell yourself to others. Why would I do that? you think. If I’m a good, honest worker, then my work will speak for itself. Maybe a hundred years ago, you would’ve been right. Unfortunately, our world is full of people who over-embellish and lie on their resumes. Unfortunately, people like you fall through the cracks today.

I want you to know that you’re one of the people I respect most in life. When we were friends, I learned to ask myself, “What would you do?” whenever I was lost. When we stopped being friends, I asked that question even more, because I was terrified that I’d lose the influence you had on me. I was scared I would regress to the person I used to be before I met you. Lately, I ask that question less, because all those things you taught me have become a natural part of my every day. I want you to know that annoying you was one of my greatest pleasures in life, and being annoyed by you was one of my greatest privileges.

I wish nothing but happiness for you. I wait for the day when we might be friends again. In the meantime, I’ll make fun of myself on your behalf. Of course, I understand why we’re not friends right now. Because you’re not just a former friend — you’re an ex.

Homesick

IMG_3392I really apologize for not blogging with more frequency, but it’s been hard to write to all of you. It’s been hard to write when all I want to say is how much everything sucks. The 1L summer job search sucks. Long-distance relationships suck. And after giving New Haven many chances, I can honestly say that it (mostly) sucks. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gotten harassed on my walk to and from the law school. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing; it doesn’t matter if it’s day or night. They generally start off by saying hello, and I always say hello back, because I don’t want to anger them. And there’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to be presumptuous. But then they want to know my name, and they’re walking towards me. So I smile and walk to my apartment building as fast as I can, breathing hard and wondering what will happen if I can’t find my keys in time. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. Back home in Ann Arbor, this only happened once in a blue moon, usually west of 4th Ave. Here, I’m walking through the busiest street in New Haven, and a middle-aged woman will yell at me, “Damn, nice legs.”

The street harassment is just one of many things that remind me daily that I’m not home. Other things are the sad absence of Korean food, Jimmy John’s, and Potbelly’s.

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Comfort food.

Despite my best efforts to avoid it, I’m homesick. It’s not an all-consuming heartache that I feel constantly. Contrary to what this post suggests, I don’t complain often about New Haven. I don’t reminisce often about Ann Arbor, either. Some days, I don’t even remember what home was like. Every once in a while, though, I just feel like something is missing. It feels like a part of me is missing. Since I left, I’ve realized that Ann Arbor is this magical place where every part of me is reflected in the environment around me. It’s beautiful and green, and there are people everywhere. In the summer, if you wander through the Diag, you’ll find people sunbathing, throwing frisbees, slacklining. In the winter, you’ll have the help of your whole neighborhood if you ever get your car stuck in snow. All year round, you’ll run into the harmonica-playing professor, the Violin Monster, the pink bra man.

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I took this photo while biking from my mom’s house to Barnes and Noble on the bridge overlooking Gallop Park.

Ann Arbor is an incredibly diverse place. It’s more of a mosaic than a melting pot, but I don’t mind that so much. When I feel like entertaining my baguette-and-salami Parisian ways, I head to Babo. (PSA: they also have the best grapes ever.) I always feel slightly guilty when I’m there, though, because it’s undeniable that Babo attracts a juice-cleansing, pretentious crowd. I like going straight from that to the Chinese grocery store I’ve frequented since I was three. The food is cheap, they carry everything from ear picks to vases, and everyone there is happy to experience a home away from home. In addition to Babo and the Chinese grocery store, there’s the Kroger in my hood, Sparrow Market down the street, Trader Joe’s for the lazy days, Whole Foods for the best coconut water, Lucky’s for Dreaming Cow yogurt (until they stopped stocking it…), Korean grocery store #1, Korean grocery store #2. And CVS! Some of the best times in my life were hiking to CVS at 9 pm for Funyuns and Gatorade.

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I promise, Mom, my groceries don’t usually look like this.

I guess what I really care about in life is people and food.

Books Have I Loved

My Narnia.

My Narnia.

As I’m preparing to edit and query my manuscript, I’ve been thinking about all the books that have influenced me over the years. I read voraciously as a kid. When I didn’t like what I saw when I looked around me, I buried myself in printed pages, and the hours would go by. Books were my drug. In elementary school, every report card I took home said that I had “poor time management skills”. I still laugh when I think about my teachers who wrote that. Of all the things I’m bad at, I don’t think poor time management is one of them. If anything, I had excellent time management skills. It was a choice between finishing a captivating novel and reviewing the multiplication table that my tiger mother had already drilled into me. I think I made the right call. It wasn’t until junior year of high school that I developed the willpower to put a book down and pay attention in class. When I think back to that moment, I feel somewhat sad. After that, responsibilities and fear of failure took over, and I never read the same way again.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen may have spawned my fantasy of winter survival. In elementary school, my best friend and I created a hideout beyond the fence we were forbidden to traverse. On a tree branch, I hung a plastic bag that I’d filled with a clock, a few books, and other “survival tools”. Continuing the winter survival theme, I devoured the Julie of the Wolves series. I wanted to get wolfdog until I realized that you practically need a zoo to house them. Then Jean Craighead George did it again with My Side of the Mountain. I didn’t know if everything she wrote was realistic, but I wanted desperately to believe it. Like everyone else in my fifth grade reading class, I got my heart broken by Where the Red Fern Grows. Everything about that book has stayed with me — the Ozarks setting, the random facts about raccoon hunting, the bond between a boy and his dogs. A few weeks ago, when I was driving up to a ski resort in Vermont, the woodland landscape and log cabins reminded me of the book. Jacob Have I Loved

The Giver by Lois Lowry, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson, and Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand were three books that blew my mind the first time I read them. It wasn’t until I reread them a year or two later that I felt like I understood them. The last scene of The Giver was both disturbing and comforting. As a kid who didn’t enjoy a lot of my childhood, I wanted there to be something else out there for me, some parallel universe I could escape to. I remember feeling guilty while reading Jacob Have I Loved. Though I didn’t understand why, there was something stirring about the erotic imagery describing the young protagonist falling in love with an old man. I was nine when I read Seabiscuit for the first time, and I’m curious now what I actually understood. There’s a scene in which a prostitute in a Tijuana brothel smokes a cigarette out of a “creative place”.

I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was somewhat older, in high school probably. Though C.S. Lewis’ writing style often bothered me, like his frequent use of the second person, I loved Narnia. I knew it was supposed to be an evil world, but the idea of permanent winter didn’t seem all that bad to me. To this day, my favorite part of skiing is when you’re high enough on the mountain that you can’t see the base, and you’re surrounded by trees weighed down by heavy clumps of snow. Narnia, I think to myself.

When I was 12, I got baptized, and my mom was supposed to get me a Christian book as a present. Of course, I then went and picked out the most scandalous book in the store, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. The cashier gave my mom a look and asked if she was sure. It was probably the first adult fiction book I read. I got a pretty quick education in prostitution. From there, I continued the theme of twisted love affairs with The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. In eighth grade, I discovered Jodi Picoult, and I read everything she’d written and would write for several years. That year, I also read The Da Vinci Code, which was so riveting I couldn’t put it down through my entire piano recital, only stopping briefly to play a Bach fugue. In high school, there was also the requisite Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham and James Patterson, but I can hardly recall a single detail from any of their books.

Looking back at the most memorable books of my childhood, I’ve noticed that they aren’t spectacular literary works. I recoiled at my first taste of Shakespeare, and I have yet to acquire a liking for it. Out of the classics we were assigned to read in school, the only one I truly read was East of Eden. Even then, I skimmed all the boring parts. How to Kill A Mockingbird just didn’t do it for me. Neither did Huckleberry Finn or Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby. My favorite books were the ones that told a great story and didn’t allow their writing to get in the way of that story. Keeping that in mind, I’m trying to take some of the pressure off as I edit. I’m not trying to write the book that English teachers assign in a century. I’m trying to write the book that people will remember in 20 years, the one that people will want to read with their friends and family. What excites me most about parenthood is the opportunity to share my favorite books with my kids. I guess, when the time comes, that might include my own books.

What were some of your favorite books?

Our Stories

Minerva and the Nine MusesI finished my novel. It’s weird to type those words out and even weirder to say them aloud. The reality is that I don’t feel anywhere near finished. Though the last chapter has been written, the word count is more or less static, and the ending is as good as I could have hoped for, I don’t feel like it’s over. Maybe that’s because of the tall task of editing that awaits me in the coming month. Or perhaps it’s because I don’t want it to be finished. I feel incredibly sad that I have to now leave this world.

I’ve never felt like this after putting the last period on one of my novels. Before, the last few chapters were always a sprint to the finish line. More than I wanted to have written my best work, I just wanted to be done. That’s sort of how I feel about my final exams. It’s a dangerous way to stick a landing, though. As a reader, you can always tell how an author felt about her own writing. You skip the parts where she probably yawned as she wrote, you wonder what the hell happened to the plot twist she forgot about, you know when she wrestled with the ending and gave up on it. As a reader, you learn about the author, even if the work is far from autobiographical. You can tell by the way he treats his characters if he is sympathetic or dead inside. You can tell by the way he throws polysyllabic words at you if he takes himself very seriously. You can tell by his use of clichés if he’s lazy. And you can be damned sure if he rushed the conclusion.

This book is different from all the others because I was patient with it. It’s the book I’ve been trying to write for more than two years (according to Microsoft Word, I created the first version of this story on October 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm). The first draft stood at nearly 114,000 words — it was monstrous, nearly double my first novel. When I got the first comments back from my agent, I realized that I had underestimated the amount of editing it needed. I rearranged the whole thing, chapter by chapter, filling in the gaps as I went. That wasn’t enough, either. One of my agent’s readers suggested I scrap the entire first half of the book. I did not take to that suggestion kindly. My agent’s last email regarding this manuscript was lukewarm. I cried when I read it, and I decided that it was time to move on. A part of me knew that this story was too much for the green writer I was at the time. I had taken everything I had and poured it into the novel, but it wasn’t enough.

I started the first draft of this novel days after I finished this painting.

I started the first draft of this novel days after I finished this painting. Maybe I got too excited about writing, because I completely forgot about the horse’s bit. 

So I waited.

I wrote a fourth novel, something light and age-appropriate. I thought that it was a good read, for the genre it served, but my agent disagreed. When my agent and I finally broke up, I took a long break from novel-writing. Instead, I dabbled in poetry and avoided contemplating my literary career. When I felt ready to pen that opening chapter again, though, I knew that I wanted to go back to the story that had eluded my grasp for so long. I thought maybe I could salvage some of the first manuscript, but in the end I only incorporated one scene into the current draft, and that’s the one I’m going to efface as soon as I start editing. Now, I’ve got nearly 110,000 words and most of them are going to stay. Because this time, I’ve given everything I have to this novel, and I think it might be enough.

Many people have asked about my creative process, but the truth is that I don’t have much of one. Most of the time, I don’t feel like anything more than a transcriptionist, waiting for the Muses to dictate. I didn’t sit down and create these characters and throw them in different scenarios until I found one that stuck. Instead, they each invited me into their world, showed me who they were, and blessed me with the privilege of telling their story. This novel is full of things that I couldn’t have imagined in a million years. It’s full of people who I’ve never known in real life. It’s full of history that isn’t mine.

Because it doesn’t feel like I ever owned this story, I have no problem handing it over to friends, strangers, and foes. It feels perfectly natural, obligatory even, to share this book with all of you. If I could somehow disseminate a copy of it to every single person in the world with the guarantee that most of them would read it, I would. And that would be all that I needed. Unfortunately, it seems that readers care about things like publishing companies and a New York Times Bestseller label. In a month or so, I’ll begin the whole process of querying agents and editors all over again. Then, if all goes well, someone will bid on it and claim ownership to it. For now, though, this story is all of ours. I hope that someday, it will be all of ours again.

If you want to read it, shoot me a message. All I ask for in return is that you tell me what you thought of it.

Fainthearted Rebellion

Why is the sun always setting here?! If only there were horses in the horizon.

Why is the sun always setting here?! If only there were horses in the horizon.

I’ve had a really rough month. One by one, all the things I thought I wanted began to fall flat. Part of it was the depression that blankets my every day like the heavy sun that sets at 4:30 pm here. The other half of it was that the goals I’d set for myself since starting law school seemed so empty, aimless, meaningless. As I sat in class, I could not bring myself to care about anything I was learning. In the halls of the Sterling Law Building, I heard the usual buzz words tossed in the air along with strings of collective stress — class selection, clerkships, finals. But I just didn’t give a damn. Every time I found a reason to be in law school and tried to follow it somewhere real, I realized I’d fallen down the rabbit hole. So you like international law, huh? law school goaded me. Let’s see how you like spending ten years working on a case with no enforcement mechanismSo you want to be a judge? Well, first, don’t ever admit that to anyone. Also, don’t plan on ever having a writing career, lest your fiction be used against you. I changed my class selections for next semester three times, increasingly disillusioned with what law school had to offer me. At last, I settled on the courses that 1) I didn’t have to submit any statements of interest for and 2) were the furthest from what people were telling me I should want. A part of me wants to shoot myself in the foot, so that I won’t end up trapped in a conventional box of misery.

Despite what my friends and family might think of me, I am not a rebel. I try my best to be, which is why I never quite fit into the paths that others find so comfortable. But there’s a reason why I’m attending Yale Law School, why I joined a religious cult in college, why I don’t have any piercings or tattoos. I’m a fainthearted rebel; I’m afraid. If I weren’t afraid, I’d be in the middle of nowhere in Iowa, complaining about the lack of civilization, rolling my eyes at my pretentious classmates’ interpretations of the Millennial experience, and loving every minute of it. If I weren’t afraid, I’d be in a village outside Aix-en-Provence teaching French children English. If I weren’t afraid, I’d have kept the company I started and spent my days redesigning tea packaging.

Yes, please, can I go to school here? Photo courtesy NCPR.

Yes, please, can I go to school here? Photo courtesy NCPR.

Now, for the first time in my life, I’m more afraid of my own fear than of Failing to Achieve My Potential. I’m terrified that my fear will forever cripple my ability to choose the life that I want instead of the life that others want for me. My fear of what my classmates, potential employers, and professors think of me has stopped me from writing this post, which is my tactful way of saying that I hate law school. I’m saying it now because I can’t live like that. I can’t live under a watchful, judgmental eye. It reminds me too much of my childhood, of my previous religious life, when I couldn’t fall in love without the entire congregation praying over my sin.

I know that I’m not supposed to be here. In a way, that is freeing. I’m not stressed about finals, summer jobs, grades. My priorities for next semester are finding a good agent to represent me and a good horse to lease. I haven’t been satisfied with my experience riding with the Yale Equestrian Team, and I’m looking for a barn where I can ride the way I want. I’m also creeping on the barns in the area to see how they’re run, because my dream has always been to have my own stable. In the past, I always thought of it as a far-fetched idea that might come to fruition if I married a millionaire or retired rich. But now, I’m thinking, why not? After I graduate, I can save up for a few years, draft a business plan like I once did so many years ago, get a loan from a bank, and voilà horse farm. Of course, it won’t be that simple. It could be a total failure, and I could lose my savings. But I’m going to try, because I’m goddamned tired of being a fainthearted rebel. Months ago, when he was trying to get me to jump off a mild cliff into Lake Superior, Dan shouted at me, “Don’t be a pussy!”

I jumped in there! Well, not quite there exactly, but the same lake...

I jumped in there! Well, not quite there exactly, but the same lake…

In addition to my long-held moral belief that it’s better to be sorry than safe, “don’t be a pussy” shall be my new life motto. It starts with meeting a big bay Clydesdale-Thoroughbred cross next weekend to see if we’ll make a good team. I might fall off, but I’ve never been afraid to hit the dirt.