Why I Have a 19-Step Skincare Routine

My face a few days ago. Check out dat glow.

Since I got back from Paris a few weeks ago, I haven’t blogged, despite having a lot of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I blog to figure things out for myself, and sometimes I wait until after the dust has settled to share things with the world. I guess this is one of those latter times. That’s the partial truth. The other reason is that I haven’t really wanted to think about Paris since I left Paris. Paris for me is an oasis, somewhere that feels so much like me and so much like home that I couldn’t possibly be unhappy there. It’s somewhere that lifts me out of my daily anxiety and depression and changes me into the person I would be if I didn’t have mental health struggles. I’m sure those of you with mental health issues can relate. I know that a lot of people with mental illnesses turn to drugs not to chase an ephemeral high, but to simply experience normalcy. Paris for me is that normalcy — an escape from the self-doubt and fatigue that plague me in my daily life. Unfortunately for me, drugs are much more accessible than Paris is. This was my first time back in five years, and I don’t know when the next time will be. There is always the possibility of moving there, but I honestly cannot imagine living in an apartment with Juno, and his happiness is my utmost priority. Anyway, it’s obviously a bit depressing thinking about how different I felt in Paris, trying my best to recreate that feeling here, and failing most of the time. So I haven’t wanted to think about that.

This was about a year before I started my routine. You can see how dehydrated my skin is in this picture. Even my lips are dry! And this was the middle of summer.

Instead of talking about Paris, then, I’m going to talk about something related to mental health: self-care. I’ve always been horrendous at self-care, and I still am for the most part. I hate going to the doctor, buying things for myself, taking a nap or a hot bath. This month, however, marks one year since I began engaging in a form of self-care that has become a part of who I am now — skincare.

This was maybe a month in. Moisturizer made a huge difference. Then things got worse before they got better again.

I absolutely love it because I can see the results of my hard work, it’s something that makes me feel a little better every night, the routine helps me stay centered, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Plus, it’s good for my health. Before I started all of this a year ago, I was the last person I expected to have a skin routine. I had been blessed with perfect skin all through my childhood and adolescent years. Seriously, I got one zit a year as a teen. I never used sunscreen or moisturizer (oh, the horror). After graduating from college, my skin became a problem for the first time in my life. It was frequently dry, parts of my face would peel, and I had intermittent acne. I started washing my face daily and using moisturizer, but I didn’t really care enough to seriously research skincare. For some reason, last summer, I decided enough was enough and committed to investing in my skin. After an entire year of trial and error, I have my routine 95% down. As I go through my products, I’ll try other things out. As my skin matures, I will look into more expensive options. For now, though, I’m extremely happy with my 19-step routine. Here’s what it looks like:

AM routine

  1. Garnier Micellar Water — This stuff is amazing for me in the morning. Since my skin is dry and sensitive, I only cleanse at night. In the AM, before I discovered micellar water, I used to just splash water on my face, but even that would dry my skin out. Micellar water not only cleans my skin better than regular water, it leaves it moister than it started out. Love it.
  2. OST Original Pure Vitamin C20 Serum — I’ve tried a handful of Vitamin C serums, and this one is definitely the best so far. I can’t say yet whether it fades sunspots or hyper-pigmentation, but it definitely leaves my skin soft and supple.
  3. Skin Food Peach Sake Toner — I don’t always use this in the morning, and it’s definitely not a necessity, but the more moisture the better. It helps my facial oil absorb better.
  4. Shea Terra Argan Oil — I recently discovered facial oils, like last week, and this has made the most difference in my routine out of anything I’ve tried. The idea of rubbing oil on your face seems crazy. And I disliked the idea of argan oil because I’d seen it in so many shampoos and lotions. I thought it was marketing gimmick, but I assure you the 100% pure kind is not. I’m not sure if argan oil is the best oil out there, because I haven’t tried any others yet, but this stuff is doing wonders for my skin. My skin has been moist and dewy without being oily 24/7 since I started using it. Seriously, my face is glowing because of this thing. Once I finish this bottle, I’m excited to try other oils, like rose hip and blended ones.
  5. Bioré UV Aqua Rich Watery Gel SPF 50+ — It blows my mind that I have worn sunscreen every single day for the past year, at least on my face. Sunscreen is so important, people! It is the #1 anti-aging key, besides genetics. This sunscreen has made it possible for me to actually wear SPF, because it has no smell, isn’t greasy, and is super cheap, considering that one bottle lasts me half a year. I’m still bad about wearing sunscreen on my body, though, because the only sunscreen I like for that is La Roche-Posay Anthelios, which is just too expensive to justify spreading all over my body. Instead, the Roche-Posay in our house goes on Dan’s sensitive, expensive face. The alcohol in the Bioré irritates his redness-prone skin.

PM routine

  1. DHC Deep Cleansing Oil — This is the only oil cleanser I’ve tried, and I like it a lot. I like it too much to try something else, for fear that it won’t be as good as this one, but I really should, especially because it’s a bit pricey. It cleanses extremely well without drying out my skin, and it comes right off with water.
  2. Biologique Recherche Lait U Cleanser — This is my holy grail cleanser. I went through A LOT of cleansers before I realized that I needed a milk cleanser, which was the only thing that didn’t dry out my skin. Before I discovered BR, I used Mario Badescu Cleansing Milk, which was pretty good for my skin, but contains a problematic ingredient, Methylparaben. Plus, I didn’t know what its pH was. Ideally, all products should be under a pH of 6, to preserve the natural acidity of the skin. Lait U has a pH of 5.0. BR is an upgrade over MB in every way, and that is enough for me to justify the fact that it’s the most expensive product in my routine at $32.
  3. Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant — It took my skin many, many months to accept AHA. At first, it would get very dry and irritated, so I would only use it once a week or less. Just when I was about to give up on it, I used it again on a whim and was amazed by how soft and moist my skin was after using it. Now, I can use it daily without any dryness or irritation. Besides my argan oil, I would say this is the #2 product in my routine in terms of making an immediate impact. It’s so fun seeing dead skin fall off my face.
  4. Stridex BHA Pads — This BHA is one of the cheapest and is known for being harsh, but for some reason my skin has always liked it. Sometimes I can go a little overboard, and then I take a break from it for a few days. I tried Paula’s Choice BHA before Stridex and found that Stridex worked better for me, but that was a long time ago, so I will probably try PC again sometime in the future.
  5. Leejiham LJH Tea Tree 90 Essence — I just started using this essence, so I can’t say that it’s life-changing yet, but it makes my skin feel calm, soft, and moist after I use it.
  6. Skin Food Peach Sake Toner — This toner does exactly what a toner should do: prepare your face like a canvas so that your following steps can absorb better. Kind of like a primer for moisturizer. I’ve tried acid toners before and found those to be too harsh, but I would like to try them again now that my skin isn’t as dry.
  7. Mizon Collagen Power Lifting Emulsion — I have no idea if the collagen in this does anything, but it’s a perfect follow-up to my toner. It has the perfect creamy texture and provides a good amount of moisture.
  8. Shea Terra Argan Oil — Yay more facial oil! My favorite step in my nighttime routine.
  9. Biologique Recherche Creme MSR-H — I really shouldn’t put this in my actual routine, lest I get any ideas about ever purchasing this cream for $325. I got it as a sample with my Lait U, and I have to say it feels like silk on my skin, but I will stick to the samples until I get super rich. Plus, I’m not quite convinced there isn’t something better out there for less money.
  10. Tony Moly Intense Care Dual Effect Sleeping Pack — This stuff is great. I love the smell, and it’s cheaper and works better (in my opinion) than Laneige Water Sleeping Mask. It’s richer than Laneige, but still feels gel-like, as a sleeping pack should. It absorbs completely by morning, no need to wash it off.
  11. Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream — This isn’t a cream, but a gel with a less viscous consistency than the Tony Moly sleeping pack. I felt like it made a huge difference when I first started using it, but now it’s hard to tell with so many moisturizing heavy-hitters!
  12. Cerave Healing Ointment — I got this as a sample too, but I’m planning to buy some when I run out. It is like vaseline without the gross greasy texture. Right now, I use it only when I have an especially dry spot or when I over-exfoliate. In the winter, though, I’ll probably put it all over my face.
  13. The Face Shop Character Mask — I only do these once a week because I’m not sure that their effects are truly lasting. But they do help my skin absorb the layers of moisture underneath, and I like the way they feel on my skin. These masks are the only ones I’ve tried that actually make my skin feel better the next day. I like using them at the end of my routine, though, because I would prefer that my skin soak in my other products first.
  14. Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10 — Last step!!! I use benzoyl peroxide as spot treatment on active breakouts. I find that acne goes away the fastest if you use BHA to kill the bacteria, benzoyl peroxide to dry it out, and then lots of oil/moisture to heal the skin.

This seems crazy to me now that I’ve listed everything. I’m sure it sounds crazy to anyone who hasn’t tried it. I think of it this way: your face is something that you have to look at every day, and everyone else looks at it too. In my opinion, good skin makes more a difference in someone’s appearance than any kind of makeup. I’ve never worn makeup, because I don’t enjoy wearing it, so it makes sense for me to invest in skincare. What’s more, applying my products at the end of a long day feels like taking a hot bath. You feel relaxed, ready for bed, and excited to wake up to better skin.

Of course, my skincare journey has just started, and my skin is nowhere near perfect. But it’s getting better every day, and I look forward to trying out new brands and products. For someone who can’t always find the motivation to get out of bed, I somehow always have the energy to do my 19-step skincare routine. That’s the beauty in it 🙂

Having a Stay-at-Home Wife is the Dream

When you’re a (temporary) stay-at-home wife, you get to do things like this: impromptu mid-afternoon photo shoot with the kids!

First off, a little disclaimer: no, this post is not about how I’m going to be a stay-at-home wife, though it has become a viable back-up plan. And no, I’m not implying that all men want a stay-at-home wife. But for certain couples in certain situations, I’m beginning to realize, it’s the dream.

Okay, with that out of the way, let me begin by saying how much of a shocker it is to me that I would ever associate being a stay-at-home anything with something positive. Sorry, all the stay-at-homes out there. It’s just that the way I grew up, and my former commitment issues, taught me that to be financially dependent on another person was the dumbest thing you could possibly do. And that your career mattered more than anything else. After all, anyone can get married and have kids, but can anyone become a lawyer? Make six figures? Actually, I never really cared about money back in my college days, as evidenced by my fairly useless double major in Romance Languages and International Studies. It was more important to me that my job mean everything to me. I wanted to change the world; I wanted a job that I would die for. I wanted everyone to look at me and respect me and think that I was changing the world. It was an incredibly young, naïve, and ultimately egotistical desire. What’s more, it came from a position of incredible privilege, where I didn’t have to worry about finances. Though I grew up poor, it had been a long time since I experienced that personally, and my mom shielded me from a lot of our financial struggles. I never appreciated how much money mattered and how much impact it had on a family’s wellbeing. All my life, I struggled to find emotional security in my relationships, without realizing that financial security was just as crucial.

Law school beat the naïveté out of me, brutally. It crushed my hopes and dreams and forced me to face the reality that the prestigious, high-power job I previously sought was merely a mirage. Even publication, which had been my dream since I was a kid, wasn’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow it once was. I realized that the books I was writing were good, good enough to be published, but probably weren’t going to make me a living, and would be forgotten in a year’s time. Was publication all that I wanted, or was it to publish a certain kind of book? I decided that publication for publication’s sake was stupid, and I would wait for the right book to come along, no matter how many years it took. Coming out of my second year of law school, I only knew a few things: 1) the cost of living in Norwalk is insane, and I refuse to live here on less than $200k family annual income 2) given that we are above $200k, in order for working to be worth the toll on my mental and physical health, I must make at least $60k and work no more than 40 hours a week. If you just threw up a little bit at my financial privilege, I reassure you that I 100% acknowledge how lucky I am, and that if we had less, I would have no problem moving out to Podunk, Iowa and becoming a sustainable farmer. If you just scoffed at my job requirements, I reassure you that I am well aware how few jobs like this exist in law, which brings me to my following conclusions.

My plan is to start my own solo practice out of law school. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, I will look into other fields perhaps. If all else fails, or if my health worsens, I have a fantastic back-up plan — stay-at-home wife! Unless you’ve had to take care of a house and family before, you probably don’t understand why this is such a great idea. Certainly, I had no idea what I was getting into when we got a house, a teenager, and a dog. Suddenly, it was like I had a million things to do all the time, and everyone always needed something from me. I sacrificed a lot of time at school to be there for my family, and somehow got the best grades thus far in law school fall semester, but I think it definitely came at the cost of my health. When we went on vacation a few weeks ago, it became clear how much work I was putting in at home every day. Our dog-sitter was over 6-7 hours a day taking care of the house and of Juno. Typically, I’d be running errands, driving Billy Bob around, and cooking dinner too, which adds up to a very full day. If you factor in things like being at home when the piano tuner comes, taking kids to the doctor and pets to the vet, and more, I start to wonder how any family gets by without a stay-at-home. I suppose you’d have to pay someone else to do all those things. Or, I guess, you just have to do all of it at night and on days off.

The absolute greatest part of having one spouse stay at home is the time you create. The older I get, the more I realize that money adds nothing to your life, as long as you have enough to live comfortably. But time? Time is everything. When I’m at home taking care of chores and cooking dinner and keeping Juno well-exercised, the moment Dan walks in the front door, we get to relax. We get to spend our weekends hiking and taking road trips. I get the satisfaction that our wooden floors are always spotless, despite Juno’s best attempts at shedding — I am extremely OCD about floors. We take away the stress of paying someone else to do the work that I could do faster and better. Most importantly, I get the joy of being the one to train Juno and spending quality time with my sister that I would never have otherwise. I’m not saying that staying at home is necessarily better than working, which certainly has its advantages. But it is actually pretty damn awesome, and I get why people do it now. And if I were to stay at home, I wouldn’t feel like a failure or like any less of a feminist and equal partner.

25

Me at 18, looking at snapshots of my future. Can’t believe this was more than six years ago.

Today, I turn a quarter of a century old. It’s reasonable to think that I’ve only lived a quarter of my life. When you put it that way, I feel incredibly young. To think that I might have to live my life three times over makes me feel like that’s too long! I’ve had so many experiences in my short life — sometimes I feel that if my life were suddenly taken away from me, I would be okay with that. Life has been plentiful and beautiful and exhausting. Looking back, I don’t have any regrets, and I feel like I’ve seen most of what life has to offer. I always say that the one hallmark of the human experience I haven’t known personally is profound grief, but perhaps I’ve felt that in my own way. Death isn’t the only way you lose somebody. Of course, I still have a lot to learn, and there is plenty that I don’t know, but I don’t feel the way I used to when I was younger, when I was so afraid of missing out on some unique, once-in-a-lifetime feeling. I used to picture scenes of my future life, where I would make hot chocolate and look out the balcony of my New York City apartment on Christmas Eve. Where I would travel across the world and meet a stranger and exchange our life stories. Where I would show up to my very important job in a suit and converse with colleagues in foreign languages. Gradually, each of those scenes unfolded in real life. It always surprised me how much they were exactly as I had envisioned, and then, how little I needed to have them again.

Maybe I’m jaded, or maybe I’ve just grown up. Sometimes, I wish that I could have grown up in this way later, but perhaps it’s for the best. I don’t want to end up having a mid-life crisis later and realize that everything in my life was meaningless. The truth is that I still have dreams, and my life has so much meaning. My dreams are simply different, and the things I find meaningful now are also different. I just think 99% of what society says is important is bullshit. People might think I’m crazy, and I certainly doubt my sanity at times, but I can’t change how I feel. This past semester, after taking a puppy maternity leave, I realized that staying home with my puppy and protecting him from the dangers of this world and being there for every new sight and sound trumped any law school lecture. I love my dog more than I ever thought I would, and his wellbeing is paramount to me. Besides my fur baby, my human child AKA Billy Bob also means everything to me. This time in her life is so important, and it’s an incredible privilege and responsibility to be in a position to change her life for better or for worse. Every day, I think about how I can better prepare her to live a happy and fulfilling life once she no longer has us. That’s your job as a parent, isn’t it?

Instead of continuing to wax poetic about an arbitrary birthday, I’ll leave you with some things I’ve learned in my 25 years:

  1. You don’t have to be a Good Person™. I feel like there’s so much judgment in academic and liberal circles (cough, Yale) about what you choose to do with your career and whether you’re helping to change the world. Let’s be real — not a lot of jobs actually better the world. Some just appear to change the world more so than others. A lot of jobs that aren’t saving lives or protecting human rights can have an enormous impact on others. More importantly, your job doesn’t have to be the primary way in which you help other people. Personally, I believe that the people who always treat others with empathy, compassion, and kindness are the truly rare good people in life. I have one Facebook friend who takes an interest in others’ lives without expecting anything in return, just leaving positivity wherever she goes, and I aspire to be more like her. In contrast, another Facebook friend has a PhD and is always traveling to Africa for some humanitarian reason but ignores my attempts to connect with her.
  2. Money matters. Again, I feel like there is too much judgment about people who value money. Money freaking matters! Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy freedom. Freedom is one of the most valuable things in our short lives where we are often stuck in an office 40+ hours a week. Money means you don’t have to work more than 40 hours a week. Money means when you leave the office, you don’t have to think about work anymore. Money means you can invest in hobbies and self-care and the things that truly matter in life. Money means you don’t have to choose between healthcare and putting food on the table.
  3. Relationships matter. Even more than money, relationships matter. I mean family, friends, and romantic partners. Not everyone needs or wants to be married, but I think the vast majority of people benefit from a stable, long-term romantic relationship. That kind of relationship, a good one, is so much harder to find and maintain than anyone ever lets on. Contrary to popular advice these days, which is worry about your career first and then your dating life, I would tell my kids that they have their entire lives to figure out their careers, but they only have a decade or two to figure out the most important decision of their lives — who to marry. Assuming that they want marriage and kids, of course. I would tell my kids to take dating as seriously as their calculus homework.
  4. Enjoy pre-adult life. You will never, ever, ever have this much time ever, ever again! Also, you’re not an adult until you’re living on your own and financially independent. I think you’re not really an adult either until someone else is dependent on you.
  5. People suck. I used to think that adults had their shit together and people were generally nice. Nope. People are selfish and vain and irresponsible. This has become abundantly clear to me since getting a dog. You would think that dog people would be better than the general population, but I’ve had dogs attack Juno while their owners were nowhere to be found. I’ve had owners bring their aggressive dogs to dog parks. I’ve had to catch runaway dogs and bring them back to their owners because their owners let them off-leash. They’re the same people who don’t train their dogs and then yell at them for being poorly behaved. Ugh, don’t even get me started on backyard breeding and the people who dump their dogs on the street. Now, I’m sure that there are good dog people and good people in general, because I’ve seen them on the internet (I love, absolutely love, the reddit community). But seriously, I never meet them in real life. I really hope that people are nicer to their kids than their dogs.

    A page out of a book called Adulting that gave me a good laugh. I know a lot of people who should read this book. 😉

  6. People won’t understand. Along the same vein, people are judgmental and mean and critical. They don’t understand mental illness, chronic but invisible illnesses, the effects of sexism/racism, etc. People will always judge you, so stop caring what they think. Treat others the way you would want to be treated, and then simply walk away.
  7. Just be happy. This one is the #1 piece of wisdom I hope to pass on to my kids. Nothing, absolutely nothing, matters if you’re not happy. I don’t care if you’re smart or dumb, pretty or ugly, successful or not, single or married, rich or poor. The most challenging and the most important task of your life is to find your happiness. I’ve seen so many smart, attractive, successful, married, and rich people make horrible life decisions that lead them to depression, addiction, and worse. I’ve watched someone who was all of those things die a little inside until he wasn’t even the same person anymore. Nothing matters if you’re not happy.

After Five Months of Marriage, I’ve Let Myself Go

…and I’m loving it. Before you get concerned for my well-being or call Dan to ask if he’s okay with this, yes, this is a joke. In fact, I’ve asked him before how fat is too fat, and we’re in agreement that I can gain around 20 pounds or so before he buys me a gym membership. In case you’re wondering about that, no, I’ve actually lost weight since getting married. Somehow, though, I’ve changed in a lot of other ways since last December. I don’t really think marriage was the main reason for these changes, but it’s kind of hilarious how they corresponded with my nuptials. It probably has more to do with the fact that I’ve become a gigantic homebody since moving in to my house, I often don’t have time to shower because I’m running around with Juno, and if I leave the house it’s usually to go to a dog park. Most days, I wake up and throw on whatever clothes are weather appropriate and comfortable, and I head out with my doggie. Depending on what I have planned during the day, I either shower and change out of those clothes or I just wear them all day until nighttime, when even those clothes aren’t comfy enough, and I take off my bra and change into PJs. For those of you who haven’t had this pleasure, taking your bra off at the end of the day is literally the best feeling in the world.

My favorite drapey shirt + one of the last times I wore jeans.

And let me tell you: this is amazing. I haven’t worn jeans in months. Anything that has seams or stiff fabric or a waist that cuts in to my stomach or a low-cut front — no thanks. Over the winter, I lived in black leggings. I don’t really care that a lot of people hate leggings, and maybe I’m too old for them, but as long as I can pass as a college student, I’ll keep wearing them. My go-to outfit consisted of black leggings, a drapey long-sleeved shirt, and a fuzzy blanket vest. That vest is both the warmest and softest piece of clothing in my closet, and it makes me feel like a baby kangaroo in a kangaroo mama’s pouch every time I wear it. Now that the weather has warmed up, I’ve been exclusively wearing cover-up clothing. I’m so obsessed with my new Madewell shorts and pants, and I want to get them in every color and print. They are so comfortable it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing clothes, and nobody can even tell they’re cover-ups. My new litmus test to see whether I should purchase an article of clothing is 1) can I wear this over a bikini? and 2) can this go in the wash? I already have to hand-wash all my expensive Polish bras, which admittedly happens less than it should, so no more hand-washing for me. And I just hate the idea of dry-cleaning…I feel like only my fancy suits are worth that kind of money. I still haven’t gotten my wedding dress dry-cleaned, and maybe I never will. It’s like a museum artifact, you know? Like maybe I should preserve that stain from my red velvet wedding cake as a memento.

Besides shunning half my wardrobe, I’ve also de-accessorized. Before my wedding, I wore three rings on a daily basis. One was a copper ring with a horse engraved on it, which was my favorite since it was particularly special to me. I picked it up at this little shop in St. Augustine when I went there with Billy Bob a few summers ago.

Bye bye, horsie ring.

That was the first time I took Billy Bob out on my own, and I felt so adult doing it. She remembers that trip in great detail, everything from the live birds in a clothing store to the songs we heard on the radio. The other two held a lot of meaning, too. One of them I picked up at an antique store for roughly $7 somewhere in the middle of nowhere on our road trip west. The other Dan got me as a present in an artisan market in Omaha. At first, I stopped wearing the ring on my left index finger, because I felt that it looked too clunky with my engagement ring and wedding band. Then I stopped wearing the rings on my right hand too. The thing is, I just didn’t need them anymore to feel complete. Before, my rings were like my armor. I put them on every day and felt safer, because they said something about me, and people would notice that without my having to explain. But now, I don’t need that form of expression. I absolutely love my engagement and wedding rings — they’re so beautiful and so me. I kind of just want them to have the spotlight. I’ve also stopped wearing necklaces and watches for the most part, for comfort more than anything else.

The husband could not have done better.

My current style. I’m dying to get my pants in that print! And that hat.

I guess what all of this means is that I’m happier with myself than I’ve ever been. I don’t need form-fitting clothing to show off my body, armor to protect me from the world, objects to mark my identity. Before, my style was an important form of expression for me, because I needed the world to know that I was different, not like everyone else. My style said: I’m not that college freshman in leggings and Uggs. I’m not that trophy wife who got the biggest rock her husband could afford. I’m not that girl in crop tops and bralettes and cold-shouder sweaters. I’m definitely not that rich lady who wears lululemon to do her grocery shopping. Look at me, I’m so alternative. Now, it’s still important to me that my clothes aren’t too “mainstream”, but I care a lot more about my comfort than my appearance. I don’t know what my new style says about me, probably somewhere between divorcée having a mid-life crisis while touring India and trust fund baby on vacation in the Hamptons.

Maybe marriage has something to do with this after all. I know who I am, Dan knows who I am, Billy Bob doesn’t like my style anyway, and Juno couldn’t care less about my clothes. I’m not letting go of myself, but I’m letting go of something.

Dear People of Color, I’m Sorry

My previous post was one of my most popular to date, and the feedback I’ve received from people of color has convinced me that I should write more about race. I guess the first question is: why haven’t I written more about race? There was a time when I cared a lot more about the Asian American experience in white America, but my foray into thinking about race critically never got much deeper than that. For the past five years or so, my understanding of racism in this country has been completely stagnant. Why is that? Part of it is that I devoted almost all of my intellectual efforts to my writing, and I think it’s telling that I wrote about Asian Americans in all of my novels — I did want to be part of the Asian-American narrative. But I still didn’t think deeply about what racism meant to me or how the Asian American experience could be connected to the Black, Latinx, etc. one. I didn’t write about Black Lives Matter, I didn’t express outrage at the fact that white America voted Trump into power, I chose not to get involved in the people of color community at Yale.

To all my fellow people of color, I’m truly sorry. If you would allow me to explain myself, though, there is another reason for my lack of participation. I have been and still am self-racist. Well, that wouldn’t be the accurate term anymore, since there has been a movement in the academic and activist circles to redefine racism as prejudice plus power. When a person of color discriminates against a white person, that is racial prejudice, but it is only when a white person discriminates against a person of color that such discrimination becomes racism. So, since I’m not white, I cannot be racist against myself. Instead, what I have been is a participant in and a victim of white supremacy culture. Let me explain. White supremacy culture is the predominant culture in our society. Its traits are definitely not limited to white people or even to America, but those particular traits are used in our country to shut down minority voices and perpetuate the dominant status of white culture. All my life, I’ve grown up within white supremacy culture, and its effects have been lasting. When I was in high school, I wanted more than anything to have white friends. Unfortunately, white people saw me as a goody two shoes, as someone who spent all her free time studying and playing piano. They never saw me as an equal, and they would often look through me as if I didn’t exist. Well, not all white people. White girls. White guys, on the other hand, sought me out to talk to me, maybe because it gave them a thrill to lure a straight-edge girl into darkness, to see if they could crack my sexuality.

In high school, I cared about things like how many white people were in my Facebook pictures. The more the better. I highly doubt that white people have ever looked at their friends, noticed that they were all white, and wondered if something was wrong with them. I looked at Asian Americans who had mostly Asian friends with disdain. The few Asian Americans who had majority white friends, I looked at with awe and admiration. How had they managed to do it? How had they cracked the code? What did they have that I didn’t? Fortunately for me, in college I dated my first Asian American man, who patiently taught me to embrace my Asian side. And he was tall and handsome and charming, defying the American stereotype of the quiet, skinny, nerdy Asian guy. After dating him, I never saw Asian men the same way again. I developed a newfound attraction to and appreciation for Asian men, because they shared so much of my experience and my culture.

Despite that I started allowing myself to indulge in the Asian part of my culture, however, I was and still am very “self-racist”. I’ll admit, it continues to offend me to this day when someone comments on how Asian I am. I often claim proudly that I am interested in Asian culture the way white people are interested in it — I like the sightseeing and the food and the raw feeling of a developing country, but I’m not at all connected with Asian current events or pop culture or politics. I love visiting Asia, but only as a tourist, and I’m happy when Chinese people think I’m Korean because I fumbled so much asking for one coconut in Mandarin (I ended up asking for yige zhege). When I traveled in Asia with my dad, I let him do all the talking for me, even when I could easily have spoken up. I really struggle to speak to anyone except for my mother in Mandarin. That’s not something to be proud of at all! It’s shameful. If I really think about it, I am incredibly grateful that my mom forced me to speak Mandarin to her, and my Mandarin is good enough to communicate most things. If I really think about it, I’m really proud that my Mandarin was good enough that I translated an entire personal statement about my immigration client’s domestic abuse. If I really think about it, I’m really proud that I was able to overcome my fear of talking to Chinese people in Chinese when I was in China last, because my siblings depended on me.

I would be remiss to say that I have any real understanding of what it means to be a Chinese person. My experience of China has mainly been cheap massages in fancy massage parlors.

So why does a part of me still believe that being a white-washed Asian American is a good thing? Let me tell you why: white supremacy culture. Dear white people, racism isn’t just the KKK or your senile anti-semitic grandma or Donald Trump and his supporters. That kind of overt racism is certainly harmful and can lead to death. But subtle racism can have more long-term effects, simply because it’s easier to recognize and reject overt racism, but subtle racism unknowingly changes how a person of color sees herself. Dear white people, every time a person of color writes about her experience with white supremacy culture and you are offended and imply that she shouldn’t write like that, that is racism. Every time a person of color writes about racism and white privilege and you call her racist and deny having white privilege, that is racism. Every time you try to argue with a person about the definition of racism and white privilege, that is racism. Every time you try to flip the conversation and accuse people of color of making you uncomfortable, that is racism.

Every time a Jewish person makes a joke about eating Chinese food on Christmas, that is racism. Jewish people may think that Chinese restaurants are open for Christmas because, like them, Chinese people don’t celebrate Christmas. That’s not why. Poor, uneducated Asian Americans are among the most underprivileged groups in the United States. They do not benefit from the model minority myth. Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas because they’re open on every holiday, including the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Day, National Day. They’re open on every holiday because they need the income and now, because of white supremacy culture, they’re expected to be.  You are essentially making a joke about people who are a cut above slave laborers and victims of human trafficking. I know for a fact that some of them are literally mail order brides, because I’ve represented them in court. Instead of making jokes about Chinese food on Christmas, try avoiding Chinese food on Christmas. Go on another day. If you must go, instead of laughing about it, try expressing sympathy for the workers who, unlike you, have to work on Christmas.

Dear people of color, I’m sorry. I’ve been silent too long for fear of upsetting my very white community, for fear of uttering the two words “white people”. I’ve been ignorant too long of how white supremacy culture has affected me. I’ve been too slow to join my fellow people of color in the fight against oppression. But I promise to be better. I have to be better, because white America is so, so racist and it’s only getting worse. I have to be better, because my children will grow up surrounded by racism, and it’s highly likely that they will be racist themselves. Can biracial children be racist? I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out.

When You’re Married to a White Guy

My white guy.

The fact that I am in an interracial relationship isn’t something that I think about a lot. It helps that I am as white-washed as Dan is yellow-washed…if you took away the color of our skin and the people we know, you would have a hard time telling us apart. When we travel in Asia, I often forget that Dan isn’t Asian. The other night when Dan, Billy Bob, and I were at a Vietnamese restaurant, Dan commented that we were the only white people in the place, and I laughed at him. Since when have you self-identified as white? I asked him. But the truth is that Dan will always be white, even when his Mandarin is better than his English. And I will always be Asian, even though my English has always been better than my Mandarin. Since we’ve gotten married, I haven’t really thought that much about being in an interracial marriage, but I have begun to realize what it means to be married to a white guy. When I say white guy, I don’t mean any Caucasian male. I mean white, upper-middle class, American, possibly Jewish guy who was born to a mom who baked and a dad who raked the yard and who had 1.5 siblings.

I never thought that I’d end up with a white guy. In fact, Dan is the only one I’ve ever dated. Back when I was single, I thought white guys were boring. Compared to the guys I dated, who were the product of statutory rape, whose parents didn’t speak English, whose families were constantly getting evicted, those white guys and their privilege were a turn-off to me. What did they know about suffering? When had they ever truly felt like an outsider, their white skin making them stand out in a bad way, not good? How would they know how to raise a biracial child? I stayed away from Taiwanese Americans and Chinese Americans like me, though. They always seemed too similar to me, like I was dating a sibling. As a culture junkie, I loved dating men who spoke a different native language than me. If I hadn’t found Dan, I probably would’ve ended up with a Korean American — it’s easier when you both speak English fluently, and Korean culture is just different enough from Chinese/Taiwanese to be interesting. When Dan and I started dating, I didn’t mind so much that he was a white guy, because he seemed to be an exception. He had lived in enough foreign countries and dated enough crazy girls that I assumed he had suffered. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of white privilege I would gain solely by virtue of being his wife. And how much, at times, I would hate being a part of it.

There are things that Dan knows because he’s a white guy. When we try to do a crossword puzzle together, he starts saying things that sound like a foreign language. Every time someone old dies and everybody cares, I’m like who the hell is that and he’s like you don’t know who Chuck Berry is? Although I know more words than he does, he knows how to pronounce them — words like “stability” and “macabre” and basically anything that English borrowed from French and then butchered. These are the small things. And then there are the things that Dan knows to do, like getting lawn and leaf bags to fill up with leaves from the yard. I had so many questions. Why are there bags specifically for leaves? Will trash bags not suffice? What is the point of raking anyway? And then there are the big things. Like yesterday, when Dan accompanied me to my doctor’s appointment and the rheumatologist spoke directly to him about my health. Of course, there was a good amount of sexism involved there, but I get the feeling that the doctor wouldn’t have been so chummy with Dan if he hadn’t been white.

Everywhere I go with Dan, white people like me more because I’m with him. He understands them and he knows how to play his role in their song and dance that is small talk. Whereas me, I’m just baffled by small talk. If you’re not one of my closest friends, I have zero interest in hearing how the customer service was on your last transcontinental flight and how your toddler is coming along in his potty training. Even with my closest friends, I would not expect them to listen to me talking about something so mundane, unless it was somehow relevant to their life. What do I prefer in place of small talk? Silence. Or normal introductory questions that you ask when you don’t know someone. Where did you grow up? What did you study in school? What’s your favorite color? Since I was introduced to Dan’s world, I have had to learn small talk, which is probably an important skill for me to have professionally. To be perfectly honest, though, I hate it. I hate that people who love to small talk force themselves on others, content to blab on about their lives without regard to whether the listener is enjoying the conversation. I hate that they use small talk as a crutch to never say anything personal, never show any vulnerability, never actually get to know someone.

Maybe this post is about how I hate white, upper-middle class American culture — the nepotism, the elitism, the egocentrism — and how I hate that I married into it and am now enjoying the benefits of it. I hate that my doctor takes me more seriously because of my hedge fund Jewish husband dressed in Gant and Cole Haan (I take full responsibility for the clothing…and I guess his job too). I hate privilege, and I hate that I have so much of it, but I don’t know what to do with it, short of throwing it away or moving to another country. I feel incredibly conflicted about the reality that I now have more white privilege than I ever did before, and that my children will have more white privilege than I ever will. How do you teach incredibly privileged children, who have received that privilege through sheer luck, to have perspective? What if they grow up thinking that having a full-time nanny and a cleaning lady and a luxury vehicle is normal?  I’m already raising one spoiled brat — Juno has no idea whatsoever that other dogs don’t go to the dog park every day and consume $500 of raw meat a month. What if I raise many more? Shudder. These are the things that you think about when you marry a white guy.

The Things You Have Not Done

One of my first trips to Florida. I will never understand how you can leave your kid. I’m going away for a week this summer, and I’m already freaking out about leaving Juno.

On my Facebook newsfeed recently, I saw a quote that went something like this: “You can’t destroy someone else and decide how hurt they get to be.” Like most things on Facebook, it’s a little overdramatic and it’s an overgeneralization. But the idea behind it is something that everyone should know — you can’t hurt someone else and then dictate how hurt they should be or how long it should take to get over that hurt. To me, this quote also means that no matter how many things you do to try to make up for it, it is up to the victim to decide when to forgive you and whether the offense is forgivable. Over the past week or so, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. In general, I like to think I’m a forgiving person, especially when it comes to family. As long as I see any possibility for improvement of our relationship in the future and that person is putting in as much effort as I am, I am willing to forgive past transgressions. But when the offenses are so great and the hurt so deep, and the person shows no sign of changing, what then?

This question is made more difficult by the fact that he and I come from such different cultural backgrounds. Which is right? If I asked a Chinese relative about this, they would tell me that I’m being ridiculous. He doesn’t beat you, he doesn’t show preferential treatment to his sons over his daughters, he visits you when he can, he brings you gifts, he paid for your education. What more can you ask for? Of course he left you when he and your mom got divorced. What could he have done, taken you with him? A child needs her mother. Of course he moved away to Florida and then to China in search of better career opportunities — that’s what a man does. Can you imagine your life if he hadn’t done that? Could you have attended the universities you did? Have you thought about how much better your life is because you don’t have student debt? Plus, many fathers who divorce and remarry don’t even stay in contact with their children from previous marriages. He went above and beyond. Now you owe him your gratitude and hospitality as long as he lives.

On the other hand, if you asked a random American off the street, they would probably disagree with my Chinese relative. You would be perfectly justified in never speaking to him again simply because he cheated on your mom and left you with her, they would say. Even if you were to forgive him for that, what about the fact that he married someone you despised and didn’t invite you to his wedding? What about the fact that while you lived in Ann Arbor, he visited you twice in your entire childhood? What about the fact that he didn’t come to your high school graduation? What about the fact that he openly dated his girlfriend (while he still had a wife) for more than five years before he admitted that she was his girlfriend and he has yet to formally introduce her to you? What about all the times he has lied to you? What about the fact that you’re doing him a huge favor raising the child he neglected and he questions whether it was the right choice because now that child is resentful of him? What about the fact that he comes into your home, leaves the toilet seat up wherever he goes, and complains that there are dishes in the sink and not enough food in the fridge? What about the fact that when you went to visit him as a child, there were cobwebs in the bathtub and the toilet was clogged and the house hadn’t been cleaned in a decade? What about the fact that when your high school boyfriend went to visit his house, you were the one who had to vacuum dead lizards and cockroaches out of the guest bedroom?

What about the fact that he congratulated you on your engagement and then turned around and said that he didn’t think your marriage would last? What about the fact that, two days before your wedding, he said he thought you were too unstable to be married? What about the fact that his excuse for not knowing anything about you is that he never lived in the same house as you? What about when he was getting a divorce and he made you tell your siblings about it? What about when he was hacking his then-wife’s computer and he made you create a spreadsheet of her properties? What about when he was too tired from staying up all night talking to the private investigator he hired to stalk his then-wife so he threw the car keys at you and told you to re-park his car? What about the fact that all he’s ever said about your blog is that he wishes you wouldn’t air the family’s dirty laundry? What about the fact that every time you try to tell him about your work he says that artificial intelligence will replace your job in a few years? What about the fact that he cannot remember anything you tell him because he is never listening to you? What about the fact that he never smiles or responds to anything you say to him? What about the fact that he can barely offer a grunt when you talk to him about the things most important to you but he will turn around and laugh and joke with a business partner?

This is one of the last times I saw Billy Bob smile like this — openly, vulnerably. Your kids don’t smile anymore. I wonder if you’ve noticed.

To my father, I would say: it’s not the things you have done, it’s the things you have not done. It’s not my fault that Billy Bob doesn’t want to talk to you anymore and hides in the next room to avoid sitting next to you. I never told her how to feel about you, and I almost never talk about how I feel about you. The only time I spoke negatively of you is when she asked me why I thought she needed therapy. And I was honest. Because she was neglected for years. I have simply encouraged her to work through her feelings about you in the safety of a therapist’s office. She has run away from those feelings for years. When I let you stay in my house, it is for her benefit. I invited you to her choir concert, to her golf lesson, to her therapy session, even though she did not want you there. Why would I do those things if I wanted to sabotage your relationship with her? Her anger and disgust towards you is hers alone. If I were her, I would hate you, but she is her own person and she forms her own opinions. Maybe you should think more about why she acts the way she does towards you instead of blaming that on me. She talks to us all day and all night but she doesn’t have more than two words for you. Trust me, I don’t have anything to do with that. As for me, I refuse to be another minion in your life that you take advantage of. Your ego is the size of a planet and until you stop blaming others for all your problems, you will never repair your relationships. I’ve been your therapist and life coach and nanny since I was ten. I quit.

Dreams

My dream is to look out my front porch and see something like this.

Today I want to write about something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently — what a career means to me. I feel super strange to say this, almost ashamed, like I’m betraying my parents, generations of feminists, and my own intellectual ability. Here is my confession: lately, I’ve been pondering if a career in the traditional sense is worth it to me. This is coming from someone who had the stereotypical Tiger Mother, was convinced that my job would mean everything to me, and did what I had to do to get accepted into Yale Law School. For many years, my ambition defined me. My self-worth was comprised of 4.0s, academic honors, and prestigious internships. When I arrived at Yale, I was such a stereotypical first-year that I look back and cringe at myself. I wanted to practice international human rights law and save the world, I wanted to clerk on the Supreme Court, I wanted to become a federal judge. Slowly, as I looked around and saw people who were further along those paths, I began to question why I wanted these things.

Someone once said in a TED talk, pretty sure it was Alain de Botton, that if two jobs are equal to you and you are having trouble deciding between them, you should choose the less prestigious option. Prestige is nothing but the opinions of other people, he says, and will not bring you happiness. When I look at things that way, the world suddenly makes a lot of sense. Yale Law School is full of people chasing prestige, because it is full of people who care very much what other people think about them. There is nothing wrong with that, and many of them will go on to do great things, but it’s just not me. While it would be a lie to say that I’ve never cared what other people think about me, I think that I simply care less than others, and I value my own happiness over prestige. Yes, it would feel great to be a world-renowned lawyer or judge. A part of me would enjoy being that, and I would probably be good at it. But at what expense? International law is a romantic concept, and you have to be passionate about international law itself to enjoy it. If you actually want to make a difference in people’s lives, being a diplomat or politician or even Peace Corps volunteer would be more effective. At one point in my life, I considered all of those options, but I know myself enough to know that I don’t want a career that will relocate me every few years or require working more than 40 hours a week.

I think millions of lawyers just collectively laughed at me. Fifty might be feasible, but 40? Forget it. And you know what? They’re probably right that I won’t find a job as an attorney working 40 hours a week and making reasonable money. The only one I know of is in Omaha, Nebraska, and I’m pretty hesitant to move my entire family there. That’s why I’m starting to accept and even embrace the possibility that I will never use my J.D. The only kind of legal job that I would want is to start my own practice, which I haven’t investigated enough to say for sure I could do it. So what could I do if I didn’t practice law? Apparently, lots of things! I just applied for a teaching position that would pay $100/hour, allow me to make my own hours, and has offices all around the world (including Ann Arbor!). I loved teaching in college, and if I get this job, it would be extremely hard to turn down. I could work part-time, take months off to travel the world, move back home to Ann Arbor, and still make a better living than I could as an attorney. And the best part? I would have enough time to write, take Juno to the dog park every day, train my horse, and create new recipes. Recently, I was looking for a horse to lease, and there are so many of them owned by people who don’t have enough time to ride them. I don’t want that to be me. What’s the point of owning an animal that costs more than $1000/month if you’re not going to ride it?

I have many dreams. I want to keep a hobby farm full of chicken and goats and rabbits. I’m not sure if I could stomach raising livestock for meat, but I like the idea of it — they can have great lives while alive and you can ensure they are treated humanely. I feel like that’s the most ethical thing I could do as a meat-eater and owner of an obligate carnivore who consumes two pounds of meat a day. (At this point, you might as well classify me as an obligate carnivore too, considering my dietary needs.) I want to have land, enough land for a farm and garden and stable. There is nothing more important to me than to give my animals the absolute best in their too-short captive lives. And, when the time comes, I want my kids to grow up next to nature, away from technology, letting their imaginations run wild. I want to teach them to ride, to ski, to track deer. I want their idea of a fun Sunday afternoon to be a competition to see who can lasso cattle on horseback. Basically, I want to raise a bunch of cowboys and cowgirls. Who also speak four languages and have lived in four different countries. Who are confident in their identity and intimately familiar with their Chinese, Taiwanese, and Jewish heritage.

I’ve never felt more at home than when I put on my cowboy hat.

My dreams are so, so much more important to me than a job. I want a job that will not only allow but support me to do all those things. I’m not picky about what the job actually entails, as long as it’s not doing evil and it challenges me and fulfills me. If that means I never use my J.D., so be it.

Why I’m Not Ready for Kids

Putting together Juno's play pen felt a lot like preparing a nursery.

Putting together Juno’s play pen felt a lot like preparing a nursery.

Some of our friends wondered aloud if we were having a shotgun wedding. I laughed and told them no, absolutely not. I was not at all offended, because if I were them, I’d probably wonder the same thing. After all, getting married at that time was super out of character for me. As some of you might know, commitment has been a longstanding obstacle in my life. Looking back, I’m still a little mystified as to why I chose to do it. But I am very, very certain that pregnancy — past, present, or future — had nothing to do with it! Before we got married, though, we did start to discuss when we’d like to have kids. On days when life was overwhelming, we’d discuss whether we wanted to have kids. I think we’re at the place now where we’re fairly confident we will want kids in 3-5 years, but we’re open to life taking us down another road as well. I certainly don’t think we would be devastated if we never had biological kids. We joke about continuing our trend of adopting 14-year-olds. You know how some people love the newborn stage and others love the little kid stage? We are teenager people. There’s something so amazing about your baby sister or your kid becoming your very best friend.

Before Juno joined our family, we were leaning towards having kids in three years. After we brought him home, we’ve been thinking more like five…or ten…or never. He has taught us so much about the sheer weight of having another living being depend on you. How paranoid you become of losing them, how you fear that death is around every corner, how you can’t sleep without re-calculating the nutritional values of his meals. He also made us face the fact that I have a sleeping disease. It’s not a real thing, but that’s what we call it. I absolutely need 9-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, or else I get really sick. I was on night duty for one night and I died the next day, passing out for 16 hours and developing bronchitis that lasted two weeks. After witnessing that, Dan never asked me to stay up again. Thankfully, Juno started sleeping through the night after a week. I’ve heard that babies don’t do that. There is absolutely no way we can have kids unless we can afford a nighttime nanny or Dan takes several months off from work. That might be financially feasible in a couple of years, but even then, I’m not sure I could handle it emotionally.

Taking care of Juno has been the most difficult task of my entire life. Most days, I don’t get a single break. I don’t have time to shower, eat, or talk to other humans. Every second that I’m home, I’m either potty-training, crate-training, walking Juno, cleaning, or reading everything I can about huskies, training, and raw feeding. Yesterday, I spent a few hours on Craigslist’s Farm & Garden looking at ads for Boer goats, black Angus cows, and roosters to take to slaughter. Ideally, we’d keep one mama goat for raw milk (goat’s milk is the closest thing to dog’s milk and helps put on weight), raise one buckling for meat, raise one doeling to replace mama and to breed, buy a bigger freezer, get a quarter of a cow, maintain a chicken coop for eggs and meat, and be set for the next year! The only problem is that we don’t have acres of land. Bummer. Anyway, that’s just one example of how crazy I get when I’m determined on finding the best things for Juno. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life, but thankfully every day it gets a little easier. I can’t wait for him to grow up so that I can sit back and relax, knowing that I’ve done my job. That takes anywhere from 1-3 years, I’ve been told. Kids (not the goat kind), on the other hand, take 18 or more. Jesus.

How adorable is our kid? First day as a volunteer.

How adorable is our kid? First day as a volunteer.

Even if I could handle having kids financially and emotionally, I don’t think I’m mature enough yet. I’m not strong enough or good enough or selfless enough. Since I was a kid, I had a vision of how I wanted to be as a parent. I wanted to volunteer at least monthly at the Red Cross or a home for the elderly or Habitat for Humanity. I wanted to donate 10% of my income to charity. I wanted to cook dinner most nights and pack yummy lunches with smiley faces and cute notes. I wanted to host exchange students from all over the world. I wanted to bake all sorts of goodies. Needless to say, none of that is happening right now. The idea of cooking for another potentially picky mouth is about as appealing as a root canal.

The best I can do now for Billy Bob is go with her to volunteer orientation at a nursing home, chat with her golf coach once in a while, and make sure we spend quality time watching Bachelorette reruns at night. Though I know she is happy, I want to be able to do more for my kids. Certainly, they will need more from me while they are young. What? You can’t just tell 5-year-olds to Uber home? 

I don’t want to have kids until I’m ready to be the best parent that I can be. I don’t know when that will be, but not anytime soon. To all of you twenty-somethings out there, I highly suggest puppies to train you for parenthood. They also serve a secondary function as birth control.