11 minutes of the evening

I want to write a poem

Not a poem about butterflies

Or insecticides

Equally disturbing to me

Not a poem about butter or

Cheese

Equally unnerving to my stomach

Though pleasing to the tongue

I want to write a poem

In which worms are good

Compost makers

Bread bakers

Warm in the glow of the little orange

Candle

Handle, if you will

The oddities of the late afternoon

The early evening

And that glimmer of dusky light in

Between

I mean

Who is it who really decides

What gets to become a poem

And what becomes rustiness under a knife

Or dustiness on the cover of a piano

Autocorrected to another image entirely

But maybe it works even better

Than what I had originally planned?

I wanted to write a poem

So instead of pulling out paper and a pen

As so many before me were wont to do

I twiddled my fingers

Over a glass screen

A rectangle of light

A contraption of fright

To those who could not conceive

Of a pocket computer

Like a pocket watch

Serving, really much the same purpose

Most of the time

I’m laughing at the time

When it would have been fine

To sit in a blackout with little fires

Aglow in tiny mirrors all around the room

And, snug in bed beside my mother

She would tell us tales of her childhood

Because now there are fewer and fewer

Of those moments of real need

For the candles

But perhaps more and more

Of those moments of real need

For the light

I wonder

If this poem would write itself

In another location or another mood

The same way

I would write myself

In another vocation or another good

Perhaps

And perhaps not.

This poem flies from the taps at the window

Where the sprinklers are not on a timer

But the time flows by nonetheless

A calm repose of cheerful thoughts

In a new way of my healthy body’s expression.

Suggestion

Time to go to the field of poppies

No, not morbidly so!

Just gently, quietly, spiritedly! Even,

At the end of a long evening

Spent reading and listening

And breathing

By the candlelight.

[This poem was really fun to write! It was one of those things that I just decided to sit down and spew out without thinking too much, and without editing at all. I’ve had a long first few days back at school (they were good but it’s just tiring to adjust back to the schedule), so this afternoon-evening I have just been reading, cooking, and resting. I suddenly felt like I wanted to write a poem, so I did. I came up with the rules randomly as they came to me: I could not stop more than a few seconds to think about what I would write next–I just wrote whatever felt natural–and so a lot of it comes from various ideas in my subconscious from conversations of the past week or objects I see in the room. The other rule was that I could not erase anything I had written–so when my phone autocorrected something, it gave the line an interesting twist! And I could not edit it afterward–and did not really feel the need to! A fun experiment to try if you are into writing poetry too. This took me 11 minutes. I didn’t time myself; I just let the poem go where it wanted to and it naturally resolved itself.]

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Relationships and Resolutions

2018 was a pretty tumultuous year for me in terms of relationships. All these emotional roller coasters and conflict resolution challenges have taught me some pretty basic but apparently difficult to apply lessons:

1. It’s okay to say no.

2. It’s okay to reject people or have other people reject me.

3. It’s okay to express anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, and other negative feelings.

4. It’s important to tell people and show people that you love them and care about them. Consistently.

5. It’s okay if they don’t always love you back.

6. I am loved.

In 2019, I am resolved to quit doing things that are not good for my health. For many people, that usually means quitting certain unhealthy foods or bad habits like smoking or excessive drinking. For me, it primarily means quitting my tendency to overcommit.

I love committing myself to things, usually to objectively good things, like serving the international student population at my school or working with students on their writing skills during lunch. However, I have realized that I suffer from the tendency to overcommit to the point of burnout. I am often involved in too many ongoing projects, and I want to do them all to the best of my ability as if they were each the only thing I had going on in my life. It’s as if I am always trying to bake 10 cakes perfectly but I only have one hour and one oven.

So this year, I’m going to try my best to (again) say no to more things, and just focus on 1-2 cakes, as well as the physical and mental well-being of the baker.

My personal “watchwords” for the year are:

1. Boundaries

2. Self-care

3. Friendships

Finally, I am still pondering more specific New Years resolutions to pursue, but since I am trying to keep things simpler, I will focus on this one first: Prayer.

I am making a prayer list, and if you are reading this then you are most likely on it. The goal for this list is to pray for those I love and care for, to stay connected with them more regularly and know what’s going on in their lives, and to take on a less self-centered perspective of my life. So please feel free to reach out and add yourself to my list or just say hello every once in a while.

I love you and wish you a blessed new year!

Overdue Writing

So… five months have passed and I am overdue for 2 summer posts (a reflection and a poem), and if I wanted to follow my old New Year’s Resolution from 2017, four more posts, one for each month that has passed. Aiya. That makes me feel like there is a lot of pressure to write about everything that has happened to me in the last half of the year, and it also puts way too much pressure on this first post, which is boldly attempting to break the ice/silence/writer’s block/avoidant-black-hole-of-what-is-a-blog-I-have-too-much-to-do-to-pour-my-heart-and-soul-out-in-public-writing-right-now thing.

So… instead of trying to write something super insightful and amazing, I will tell you about the little things I did (and did not do) today as I contemplated writing a blog post, eventually. This will most likely be very honest and unpolished.

    1. I slept in until my dad woke me up to go to a fancy Cantonese restaurant where we ate fancy dimsum. The dimsum was great, but I was very grumpy because I had stayed up too late doing procrastinatey things and also did not get very high quality sleep because my eyes were extremely irritated by the cat (my sister brought her cat down for the holidays and he finally graced me with his fluffy presence at my pillow, so how could I refuse?). Of course, I was primarily mad at myself for causing this state of grumpy tiredness, but I decided to take it out on my family members, because that is what we do to family over the holidays.
    2. I noticed, in an almost out-of-body sort of way, how my tiredness manifested in my being particularly irritable about tiny little things that I would usually not mind: 1) That I had to drive because my dad misplaced his glasses; 2) That my dad had adjusted my seat and my windows in the car last night and I did not notice until I had already started driving; 3) That my aunt was saying racist things about mainland Chinese people again (okay that does bother me normally too, but I was less willing to hear it); 4) That my sister was being picky about the shoe selection at the store I picked and wanted the rest of us to follow her all afternoon as she shopped aimlessly; 5) That I would not get any time to rest or work or write a blog post today because I was being forced to shop all day; 6) That I would have to drive everyone back after these hours of aimless shopping; 7) That the rest of my break would be spent in this mindless drift and mix of anxiety and restlessness and irritation at the people I love most.
    3. I (very uncharacteristically) emphatically voiced my opinion about #4-6 above, and succeeded in convincing the group to split in half so that we could each do what we wanted/needed. I regret to say that I probably did not do so as calmly and reasonably as it may sound now. However, I have been learning to voice my needs and negative emotions when they arise instead of suppressing them, so in some ways this was a good thing.
    4. I went home and passed out for 1.5 hours, at which point my aunt came back to deliver something and I had to look for money in a folder, which I could not find because I was too nap-sleepy to remember where I had put it.
    5. I did not want to spend my whole afternoon sleeping, so instead I looked up the album my friend had recently recommended by Sleeping At Last, where they wrote a song for each of the 9 Enneagram types (except they have only done 1-7 so far). I think they did a really good job overall, though after a while they all started to sound the same and were a bit too melancholic for my taste. The song for Type One was my favorite, though I’m a Type Two.

      Side Note: I highly recommend looking into the Enneagram types! On Christmas Eve, my family had so much fun reading the descriptions for each type and analyzing all 7 members of our family (we have a nice variety, almost all the types!). It’s kind of like Myers-Briggs, but more in-depth and personal. Talk to me if you do this!!! 😀

    6. Some time later, everyone came home and we ate leftovers from the fridge. Yes, our leftovers from Christmas are still going strong!
    7. I found the money in the folder under a pillow, right in the middle of the area where I had been looking for it! Sigh.
    8. I read a bunch of articles about kitty litter because I was led by either Facebook or Instagram to an intriguing ad about a fancy new odorless, dustless, non-clumping cat litter that changes colors if your cat’s urine is too alkaline/acidic/indicates something is wrong with your cat’s health… and learned that all cat litter, no matter what it’s made of or how it is disposed, is terrible for the environment! D: I will have to do more research about this before I get my cat in the future.
    9. The kitty litter research gave me more motivation to look into composting, which I had been thinking about already because I have been considering trying my hand at gardening. Unfortunately, even the “compostable” and “biodegradable” cat litters take forever to compost, and the actual cat poop must still be removed and thrown into landfills (NOT DOWN THE TOILET! Because if you read the article linked above, IT KILLS SEA OTTERS! D:). On top of that, my municipality may not even allow outdoor home composting… I will have to look into that tomorrow. At least I now know the fundamentals of composting, and can try it in a bucket indoors.
    10. I read another chapter of a book titled Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, which I had begun about 2 years ago and never finished–it’s a pretty good book so far, primarily because it reminds me that 1) All relationships are messy, 2) It’s mostly because of how selfish we all are, 3) It’s really mostly because of how selfish am, and 4) It’s okay because God has given us the strength and grace to redeem and transform our messy, selfish selves and our self-centered, messed up relationships.
    11. I tried to keep reading A Tale of Two Cities (I know, I still haven’t read it, and I feel the shame of that fact as an English teacher every day!!! So I joined the “Chill Classics Bookclub” at school this year and am committed to finishing this book by the end of January), but I was distracted by 1) my ongoing anxiety about not doing anything truly productive yet with my day and 2) my sister asking me if I wanted to watch the latest episode of Black Mirror with her.
    12. I ate a second dinner and dessert and talked to my mom and sister about how I think I understand my stress eating habits a little better now: I am stressed by the idea of all the work I have to do, so I do not start it because the big picture is too overwhelming; instead, I eat to make myself feel like I am doing something productive and necessary that conveniently delays the possibility of starting work (because it’s not healthy to work while I eat), and as a lovely byproduct, the food also makes me happy. Temporarily.
    13. I decided that I needed to let go and stop worrying about work for just a few more days, so I watched Black Mirror with my sister. Neither of us follow the show, though I’ve seen 3-4 episodes in the past, all of which were extremely intense and moderately/highly thought-provoking. This last episode was perhaps the most thrilling/disturbing, as it resembled a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game where you can actually make the protagonist choose certain things in the story, and it affects the outcome. I won’t give any spoilers, but it was a pretty cool advancement in interactive film-making/story-telling, and as the show normally does, it reflected some pretty insightful ideas about human nature and technology. I think the main point was the conflict between our human desire to control our lives and the reality that we have very little control over what happens in the grand scheme of things, over what other people may do to us or what may happen to them, over the decisions of the powers that be, and even over our own minds and bodies. I feel like the message is always rather bleak and despairing, because it’s a mirror of the darkest side of humanity without really including the opposing side of light and hope and love, whether religious or secular.
    14. Finally, although it was late again and I was tired again, I decided to write this blog post.

 

 

After going through the events of my day again, I feel like everything does make sense. Today, I saw a real glimpse of my selfishness, my lack of self-control, my need for achievement, my need for the approval of others or the sense that I am doing something good for the world (self-approval?), and ultimately my lack of trust in God as the one who gives me rest, makes me good, and teaches me grace (for both myself and others). Even though I felt unproductive, it has been quite a full day after all.

Thanks for reading to the end. 🙂

Tips on traveling for 40 days in Asia

I was incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to travel to 5 different countries in Asia this summer over the course of 40 days, spending about a week in each country. Here are a few things that I learned:

#1 One should not travel for 40 consecutive days [in Asia] [in the summer].

It is simply too much, and too long, no matter how you break up the time spent in each location, or how much you like the people you are traveling with, or traveling to see.

I had an amazing summer and loved everything I saw and ate and the people I got to spend time with, and I am 100% glad that I did it, but it was nonetheless an overly ambitious endeavor that I would never do again.

There is a good reason why most working people only get 2-3 weeks of vacation a year (besides the needs of whatever industry you work for). We actually cannot tolerate more leisure time than that, at a single time. Whether we are riding elephants, conquering enormous shopping complexes, or simply lounging at home in our pajamas all day, it gets boring, tiring, exhausting, even. Our bodies and minds crave real work! It seems pretty unthinkable that anyone could be wading in an infinity pool in Thailand, gazing at the water sparkling seamlessly into the horizon and think, I can’t wait to get back to work! Yet that is the reality that I experienced after too many days of vacation.

I actually did a lot of work during my vacation, because I was taking a very content-rich online poetry class for teachers and reading books for my new 7th grade class, but it was still unsatisfying because my work time kept getting interrupted by the vacation (people to meet up with, things to see)! And yes, I am a workaholic, but I believe this phenomenon happens to everyone after a while.

#2 One should aim to stay in one place for at least a week, but no longer than 2 weeks (7-10 days is optimal).

Here is the breakdown of my Asia itinerary:

Jun 25 Depart from SFO

Jun 26-Jul 1 Shanghai (6 days)

Jul 1-8 Taipei (8 days)

Jul 9-19 South Korea: Seoul (2 days), Andong (5 days), Ulsan (1.5 days), Busan (2 days)

Jul 19-25 Penang, Malaysia (7 days)

Jul 25-Aug 3 Thailand (Bangkok 2 days–Chiang Mai 3.5 days–Bangkok 3 days)

Aug 3 Return to SFO

The best parts of the trip (for my physical and mental well-being, and general enjoyment on account of the former) were Taipei and Malaysia. I love Shanghai, because it is home, and I love Andong, because it is my Korean home, and there was no end to the fun things to see and do and eat in Thailand, but I really could not enjoy any of those things fully because I was just so exhausted from all the traveling and new experiences (which I’m sure I will still write about appreciatively in my next post, when I have time to reflect on them). In Taipei and Malaysia there was time to relax, hang out at coffee shops, do some work, sleep in, and even get a bit of exercise. Sounds boring compared to touching tigers and swimming with sea turtles (okay, I didn’t actually get to do the latter–I was just going for the alliteration), but it was actually an objectively better experience.

#3 One should eat good food (obviously), but not to excess (everything in moderation!).

Even the best food in the world cannot hold one’s interest if one has gorged oneself for the past 5+ meals. If you are going to eat and enjoy a lot of amazing food over a long period of time, at each meal or snack it is best if you eat slowly, eat sparingly (until you are “not hungry anymore,” not until you are “full”), and eat selectively (I like to try a little of everything once and then go back for seconds only if I really really love that dish). Actually, this is probably a good rule to follow in life in general, just to be healthy and to really pay attention to what you are eating.

School is starting again in less than a week, so I must get back to work now, but I want to make at least 2 more posts for the summer, one on the new things I learned/experienced in each place and one of a poem I wrote near the end of the trip. I am saying this to motivate myself, but please remind me if you don’t see anything a week from now!

10 reasons to keep writing (blogging)

  1. I want to continue the good work that God has encouraged me to start by starting this blog six years ago!
  2. It is summer and I should not have any excuses about time or fatigue from work.
  3. I love writing.
  4. I love rereading past blog posts and reliving these memories.
  5. It forces me to slow down and reflect.
  6. Blogging is a much more curated form of reflecting than my personal diary, and I’m much more likely to reread my blog posts.
  7. It helps keep me connected with the faithful few who read what I write.
  8. It may encourage more people to read what I write in the future… because there will be something to read.
  9. It keeps the creative juices flowing.
  10. Developing more discipline in life.

 

Great! Now I am feeling more motivated (and hopefully some of these apply to you as well, if you are lacking motivation to keep writing!). I also feel good about myself because I just finished my first post in 14 months (and I don’t mean this one)! It’s a general reflection on my first year of teaching English in the US, so I wrote it on my other blog: recent schooldaydreams post

11. It feels GOOD! 😀 (bonus one, just for you)

I have been doing a lot of school-related reading and planning and visiting/meeting up with different friends for the past 2.5 weeks of summer, which is all very good and meaningful and fun, but not really worth writing about, so we will let these early June weeks pass with just this post. However, I will be traveling all around Asia for 40 days starting on June 25 (until Aug 3), which will be very exciting, so stay tuned! (Yes, I am telling you to stay tuned because I want to imagine that people will be expecting me to write, which will give me some pressure to actually write! 😛 In reality, much of my summer travel plans currently consist of reading and cats and coffee shops, so they may not be that exciting to anyone but myself… but we shall see! Ho ho ho! You may be able to tell that I am writing this very late at night because I do not want to sleep. But sleep I will.)

A beautifully unproductive time

What does it mean to truly rest? To “rest productively”? Or unproductively? What does it mean to spend “quality time” with family? I find myself wondering these things as the holiday weekend comes near its close, and worrying about whether I spent my free time well enough, or whether I wasted too much of the break doing nothing.

I spent the last three days of the Thanksgiving holiday in LA with my extended family: aunts, uncles, cousins and cousins-kids whom I love dearly despite not always knowing what to talk about, despite often feeling like we are familiar strangers. For the five years our family lived in California when I was a kid, I remember visiting these relatives during every holiday season and notable birthday, and random weekends in between. I remember relishing the endearing hubbub of endless family banter, greeting strange distantly-related aunties or uncles at my parents’ beckoning, eating home-cooked or market-ordered American and Cantonese fusion meals, and, between meals, picking at randomly potlucked boxes of cookies, pineapple cakes and alligator (pecan) pie.

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Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt S and Uncle L’s house this year–with all the “proper” dishes and sides.

 

When we moved to Shanghai, our family circle shrank noticeably: only Aunt L and Uncle S lived in China, compared to the dozens of relatives in California, and my eldest sister went off to college. We could no longer be a part of those traditional family gatherings. I remember the first Thanksgiving we “celebrated” in Shanghai–Mom and Dad told us that they were leaving for a conference for the weekend somewhere out of town, and that we should make do with whatever was left in the fridge. Due to the lack of pumpkin spice drinks and turkey-themed decorations lining the not-yet-adequately-Westernized streets of Shanghai in 2004, I don’t think any of us realized it was Thanksgiving Day until dinnertime that Thursday night. My sister and I picked gingerly at the leftover scraps of a steamed fish we found in the fridge, then settled for some cup ramen and rolled our eyes sarcastically as we sniffed, “Happy Thanksgiving.” That was when I realized that our “Americanness” was a lie, and, more importantly, that family traditions were dependent upon family. I missed my parents that night more than the turkey and mashed potatoes.

Later–maybe because we complained about that dismal first Thanksgiving meal–I remember us recreating the traditional holiday festivities at Thanksgiving and Christmastime, now held at our house. If they were a little less grandiose, a little less filled with holiday pomp and cheer than the old family feasts, I hardly noticed, especially since after a few years Aunt M and Uncle HK joined us in Shanghai and doubled our guest-list. Since traditional American holiday food was hard to find in the first few years, we made up our own culinary traditions. We substituted chicken, duck, or geese for turkey (depending on what we felt like–one year I think we had all three) and gan bian si ji dou 干煸四季豆 (pan-fried string beans) for those flavorless steamed veggie mixes that no one eats anyway. We added wasabi to our mashed potatoes because one of Mom’s friends recommended it, and we never turned back. We ate Shanghainese da zha xie 大闸蟹 crabs and drank ginger tea, and invited random Chinese church and work friends who had never celebrated Thanksgiving or Christmas before to join our table. Somehow Mom eventually managed to procure a bag of those classic American s’mores-worthy marshmallows from some tiny corner of imported goods at the local Carrefour market, and she was able to make her famous candied yams.

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My mom taught me how to make these last year and I tried my hand at it this year–proud to carry on this tradition, though mom’s still taste better 🙂

 

When I left for college, I did not realize that I would not spend Thanksgiving at home ever again. Since China was so far, and the break so short, I made plans to spend Thanksgiving with different friends and family friends each year: New York with the Liao’s (I almost cried when I got to their house because it was so home-like and reminded me of Shanghai), Boston with my high-school girl-friends, the Seong family’s home in Pennsylvania for my junior, senior, and TPP years. The one Thanksgiving I spent in Korea alone in my room made me feel so incredibly homesick that the vague familiarity of a cabbage pancake was enough to touch me to tears and poetry. Each Thanksgiving was unique and made me feel thankful in different ways, but I didn’t realize until now how strange it is that I have grown so used to being away from family, until suddenly this week I found it strange to be with family–strange, but wonderful.

Although I ended up growing distant (and distantly) from these Californian aunts, uncles, and cousins, and we run out of topics of conversation once they’ve grilled me about the relationship, work, and health status of every member of my nuclear household, they are family, and I love them without reason. After years of the unplanned sessions of intense family sharing that we do in my immediate family (once all the guests have left), where we alternately pour out our hearts and souls over deep-seated childhood scars and emotional vulnerabilities or scream and cry over religious, political, and moral differences (usually the two discussions are linked), I think I had forgotten what it was like to have “chill” quality time. Don’t get me wrong–I love our intense sharings too, but sometimes it is nice to just rest in the knowledge of love and belovedness.

Even though most of the time we were just watching TV, or just matching puzzle-pieces with the kids–and my type-A, overachieving self groaned inwardly at my lack of productivity or meaningful conversation while nonetheless being unable to overcome the holiday laziness (perhaps for the better)–as I reflect on the past three days, the definition of “quality time” becomes less important to me. I cherish all the time we spent together, even–and perhaps especially–the awkward and seemingly unproductive moments.

I will remember Aunt S and me grimacing at the “fruit jello” we made following a friend’s-recipe-that-we-slightly-tweaked, the strange pastel-green color of the base dotted with bright orange peaches resembling a baby dinosaur with the pox more than any palatable dessert–and I will remember laughing as she scooped generous portions of that jello onto everyone’s plate before they could say ‘no, thank you,’ and repeatedly offering to send it home with a neighbor. I will remember trying (perhaps too logically, as cousin C-P said) to explain to five-year-old T (a cousin of C-P’s kids) how he should group all the puzzle pieces with matching colors, only to have him give up, throw nerf darts at everyone, and return later to destroy the completed puzzle 2 seconds after its completion–and I will remember feeling sorry for him because I learned that his parents are never home and his grandparents talk to him so little that his speech was severely delayed until he started kindergarten this year. I will remember the quiet late nights and early mornings where I sat in the living room or kitchen alone with Uncle L and we barely talked–I will remember how we just read, watched, and ate our respective books, screens, and breakfasts, and acknowledged each other with a smile whenever one of us got up to do something else.

All family time is beautiful, because it has that unique quality of being perfectly imperfect. Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope you spent it (or really any time this year, because family time shouldn’t be limited to the holidays) with someone you love, even if you don’t always agree or know what to say to each other.

Farewell to this familiar place

Today I wandered my way back to the place where once, I danced with God–

On the break of dawn,
just as the crescent moon and Venus winked
their final silver winks and faded into the emerging blue and then–

The Sun
Burst magnificence onto the horizon an all consuming fire blinding glorious and warming
the cool spaces between my
toes as they touched the dewy grass–

God touched my shoulder lightly and took my hand,
twirled me around once, twice
and told me to keep looking,
keep looking in His direction–

Four years and the assurance planted in my heart has blossomed and sprung up
Lush and green like the summer grass upon which I now sit and reflect
Tall and strong like the trees have grown,
Full and whispering with the gentle wind like the voice that says,
You see, I was with you then and I am with you now.
You see, how the promises were fulfilled and how trust grows quietly to smooth all anxiety into assurance like a mother’s hand,
soft, but firm–

 

The light touch of the summer evening’s sun is golden and quiet too.

 

Looking at all that has passed between this familiar scene and myself, I love
even the dandelions at my feet that glow quietly, whether trodden or gently woven into bracelets and crowns through the years, they are, like me, nonetheless
grateful to have been here. 

Inhale deeply, and a fresh breeze of thankfulness flutters the curtains
of my heartstrings, the knots having loosened in the wind–
A final look, a slow turn
And a peace that I’ll carry with me as I finally say
Farewell, to this familiar place.
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–                                                                                                                                                                                                         –
[June 14, 2017; Princeton, NJ]

Mid-year Check

MAY 1, 2017–I was drowning in a sea of final-week-of-student-teaching grading work, and mildly traumatized by what I still hope was an internet troll’s vicious comment on an anonymous end-of-semester survey that TPP made me give to my students. For both of those reasons and a general lack of sleep/time/energy, I decided not to write a post.

JUNE 1, 2017–I was blissfully lazing about in a cabin on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean somewhere near Anchorage, Alaska, contemplating when we would make another trip to the buffet. My little sister and I were lucky enough to join our parents on my mom’s Taiwanese high school’s 40th reunion trip. I was so physically and emotionally exhausted from the final few weeks of May that I didn’t want to do anything but eat, read (for fun), sleep, and take pictures of glaciers. Also, there was no internet on the ship, something that I was very grateful for.

JULY 1, 2017–“I just moved into my new place in Cupertino five days ago and I am driving down to LA tomorrow” busyness excuses aside, I really had no good reason to not write something at the beginning (or middle) of this month, except writer’s inertia from not having really written anything since April 1. Now it is Wednesday, July 26, and the only real reason I’ve finally found motivation to write this post is 80% because I am procrastinating on continuing to reread Lord of the Flies for my 10th grade class (it’s so dark!!! And all the more so because I already know what’s going to happen this time around), because I am terrified of finishing the re-read and still not having any clue how I am going to teach this novel (or anything else, for that matter), 10% because I have wanted to write for two months now and kept opening up my blog page and then doing something else instead, and 10% because I actually have something to write about, maybe.

This post was titled “mid year check” because I had originally planned to write it on July 1, to reflect on the first half of 2017 and plan how I wanted the second half of it to go. 25 days later, I’m not really sure what I was thinking of writing even just three weeks ago. I think it was a mixture of wanting to share my excitement–from moving to a new place and hoping to settle here for a while… potentially longer than I’ve lived anywhere else–and my determination to not procrastinate anymore (haha) on, well, anything (I tend to set my goals really high so that I can get anything done at all in the end)! More specifically, I wanted to renew my efforts at disciplined regular devotional time in the mornings, to map out how and when I would read all the books and plan all the lessons before New Staff Orientation on Aug 3 (now only ONE WEEK AWAY), how and when I would reconnect with all my old friends in the area, etc.

I find myself panicking because I haven’t really done anything I wanted to do, and there are spiders everywhere (both literal and figurative, in the corners of my house and my heart). I feel like maybe I’ve been in this place before, not the exact situation, but something very similar. I think I do very well when I know exactly what I’m supposed to do, but I panic when the expectations are unclear except for the expectation I put on myself to do it extremely well, whatever “it” is.

I find myself feeling incredibly grateful for the many ways I’ve been blessed this year, whether through my student teaching placement and amazing co-teacher, my temporary living situation at Terhune Rd (tuxedo cat included), new and first-ever job in the Bay Area (teaching 8th and 10th grade English at a private Christian school), housing thanks to family connections, friends from college, high school, and even elementary school who live in the area, family that lives nearby, or the incredibly-hard-to-come-by reunion of myself and S after two years of long distance phone calls.

I remember all the times that I’ve doubted whether I should be where I am or doing what I am about to do, whether I’ll make any friends or do my job well (whether that be studying obscure works of literature or pouring apple cider for wealthy French concert-goers or making laptop registration tutorials for new teachers at a turnaround school in Philly or trying to explain English grammar to Korean country kids in a fun way), and the myriad ways in which the Lord has been with me and reassured me before, during, and after whatever event or new life stage I’ve gone through. I remember the joy that I experience each time when the world does not come crumbling down around me, each time when, on the contrary, things turn out quite well and I am amazed by how much I love whatever and whoever is before me in that season and I wish I could stay longer where I was, do more of whatever it is I’m doing, love whoever I’m with just a little bit more.

I remember all this and still, I worry. I worry that this time, I will still fail. This time, I will be lonely, incompetent, disliked, unwanted, and useless, or simply not good enough. I worry, so I am paralyzed with illogical fears that keep me from planning, because I don’t want to see my plans flounder or fail. Eventually, maybe, the pressure of an impending deadline (like New Staff Orientation or, God forbid, the first day of school) will get strong enough to trigger a LETSDOEVERYTHINGATONCENOW fight-or-flight type response and I will suddenly be able to pull myself together and accomplish the bare minimum necessary to not make a terrible first impression at school or ruin my first full-year students’ lives (insofar as one year of poor teaching in English can ruin their lives), but I don’t know if and when that will happen. Maybe it is happening today. Maybe this post is an attempt to get the ball rolling again on all the things I think I should be doing. I don’t know.

My dad gave a sermon recently at my aunt and uncle’s church in San Bruno about a sermon we heard together on January 1, 2017. The sermon that drove me to start writing here again. The main message was this: Having no plan is akin to planning to fail. It is the total opposite of my usual illogical fear-frozen procrastination “plan.” Yet I am too often immobilized by the sheer thought of “all the things I have to do” so that I cannot even plan to do a single one of the items on the list, cannot even bring myself to make the list.

I have a feeling that no amount of worldly accomplishment or praise from other people is going to make me believe that I can do it, whatever the next “it” is. I just have to go do it. Sometimes I am confident in who I am and what and whom I love and what I want to do with my life, and I am infinitely thankful. Other times I am endlessly insecure about every single thing in my life and the only thing I want to do is get to work because I know that once I start it will be okay and I will be able to do it, but at the same time there are a million other unproductive things that I find myself doing instead.

I don’t really know how to end this post, because as much as I would like to write an uplifting conclusion, I feel like I should just stop and go back to reading Lord of the Flies. There is a darkness inside all of us that manifests itself in different ways. Currently mine is telling me that my success/goodness is a façade that is too tiring to keep up, is something I never really had anyway, is ill-defined and confusing and confused. I trust that God is still watching over me and will get me through this strange transition phase, as He always has.

Later (maybe tonight) I will edit and publish a poem that I wrote on my last day at Pton (sometime in early June). There was an unexpected moment of real thankfulness, and fond recollection, and trust for the future, and closure for this past school year in spite of all the ups and downs. Going over that again might help me with this cloud of fear-ennui.

Thank you for reading. I think it helps me to just have written this honestly, and to know that some of you will read it, as you always do.

A little tribute to daydreams

I stumbled upon a nice quote today, a little encouragement that I would have liked to hear as a child:

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”
– Edgar Allan Poe


To be fair, I also LOVE my night dreams, and am often inspired/disturbed/befuddled/amused by them.. 😛

Just keep dreaming, just keep dreaming, just keep dreaming dreaming dreaming~

I am awed by this work

My current status: 9 weeks into student teaching, up to my ears in student papers to grade, totally sleep deprived, but also totally fulfilled.

I look up from a student’s autobiographical piece about her difficult relationship with her overly demanding mother and her resulting debilitating insecurities which she has learned to overcome through creative writing, and I cannot help but exclaim to myself: Teaching is such an amazing profession!!!

Why? You get to look deeply into and become an integral part of the lives of 80-100+ individuals every year, and see them and know them more closely than you would most of your regular acquaintances or even friends. The range of people you meet and come to know in this way is an incredible mix (in terms of cultural/family background, life experiences, interests/beliefs/ambitions/fears/struggles/etc.) that you could never have chosen or found for yourself.

You get to pour into their lives and are challenged to love and help them unconditionally every day, even though they may never reciprocate, or worse, even if they begrudge you for not doing enough or for being too strict, or simply give you attitude and don’t do their work. Still, you get to see most of them grow and change, some in little ways, some in unbelievable strides.

You get to learn from them and see the depths of their kindness, their delight in little things, their frustrations and loneliness, their insecurities, their strengths and resilience and unbelievable maturity. Fourteen years old, and yet they have already gone through so much more than you can imagine. Your heart breaks at the injustice and unkindness and unexpected trials they have had to face, but it warms at the little connections they like to make from literature to life, and the optimism and grit they show on a day to day basis. They do quirky things like buy jewelry to commemorate a book they like and you think it’s hilarious, but you also rejoice in their apparent interest in what you’ve been teaching. They write outrageous similes and metaphors that make you laugh and cringe alternately (e.g. “The door to the high school creaked open like a screaming child” or “My mom is a warm, freshly baked muffin”), but in the end you are just proud of them for trying.

They are at the same time somehow both more and less than your family and friends combined: you love them like your own children (as far as I can imagine), you talk about them constantly and think of them as your kids, and every waking moment is spent trying to figure out how to get Will to pay attention, how to get Angie to turn in some homework, or how to get Ying to publish her amazing work; yet after this one year they may never come back, never really recall much of what you’ve said to them, never consider you as anything more than one of the many teachers they’ve encountered on the long journey through their obligatory education.

But it’s still so worth it to see the smiles, the eyes lighting up, the ecstatic “Yes!” of a girl who worked really hard on her last paper and achieved the results she desired, to hear the Chinese girl (an English language learner) who never spoke at all confidently presenting on a complex topic in front of a large class, enunciating each syllable of the four sentences she painstakingly crafted during break with your support. It’s worth it to finally see Chris come to class, to see Emma proud of something that she’s written, to see Yur make a friend. It’s worth it for the realizations that strike a few of them here and there that good things can come out of the bad, that yes, 9th grade is difficult, but that nothing that happens here will be the end of the world and that life’s challenges can be overcome gradually. I love seeing them realize that they can connect to other people and break out of their shells of insecurity and fear, to share their stories with one another and to find that everyone is almost equally scared and in need of a friend.

I love helping my students to connect literature to their lives, and to find their own voices in a world that is confusing, stressful, and often intimidating. Some of them already have, and some are still developing, incredible, unique voices with which to tell their stories, and an astounding depth of reflection and optimism with which to write the next few pages of their lives. If I can touch those pages with just a hint of hope, love, and confidence, I will have done my job well.

[If you want to know more details about what I’m doing week to week as a student teacher, go to my school-focused blog, schooldaydreams.wordpress.com]