i'm thinking of visiting home
Mom and I wake up at 8 am. Her, naturally. Me, by alarm. There’s a chill in the air, a fresh and promising one. I put on a sweater. I look at myself in the bathroom mirror and practice my smile. I look older, it scares me, I keep looking. Mom lets me comb through her jewelry box. Shiny things from Dad, Grandma, exes. I pick out small silver hoops. She tells me they look nice on me. Dainty.
Downstairs, Dad is watching TV - the news. This just in, a murder, a burglary, five fantastic new Bay Area cookbooks. Skipper sleeps beside him, tuckered from his morning walk. We’re going shopping soon, I announce. Nordstrom’s. I ask Dad if he wants to come, even though I already know the answer. Not me, he says, scooping Skipper into his lap. He wags the dog’s paw up and down in a goodbye motion. Have fun. Use the VISA Card for points.
These days, I spend all my free time being manic on the internet. I’m scribbling notes on machine learning, I’m pretending that lovingkindness meditation is changing my life, I’m discovering hellishly esoteric Twitter accounts that thrive on the false interpretation of buzzwords for comedy, then letting said Twitter accounts make me feel hopelessly unlearned, out-of-touch, and excluded. It is great fun for my synapses and terrible news for my self-esteem.
On the advice of Sasha Chapin, the author of my favorite Substack newsletter, I am also trying to reconcile with the parts of myself that I detest through a process called shadow work. If you run in spiritual circles, you are likely familiar with this practice. Simply, it involves confronting and making peace with your “shadow self”, the hidden parts of you that cause discomfort and inspire icky feelings. To do this, Sasha recommends a book by Carolyn Elliott called Existential Kink, an offbeat self-help guide that theorizes that many of the painful circumstances we find ourselves in are self-generated. Though we claim that we don’t want to be in difficult situations, we unconsciously act in ways that keep old patterns of behavior alive and functional even when they cause us suffering. By bringing those patterns into conscious awareness - or even better, loving awareness - we begin to reclaim agency over our feelings, allowing us to derive pleasure from unpleasant sensations, or recognize the illogic of our actions and change them. In sexier language, we can cum to our problems until they are no longer problems.
it's a flower tonight
My ikebana class is taught by an enthusiastic woman whose name I asked for once but never learned. I call her Sensei, and that summates our relationship well enough that there hasn’t been a need to inquire again. On days when we have class, Sensei sends a morning message to our LINE group chat to confirm who is coming so that she can purchase the correct amount of materials. The chat has a built-in feature that sends a follow-up message in whichever language you didn’t type in - English is regurgitated into Japanese and vice versa. Translated literally by the AI, Sensei’s reminder that class is happening is delivered stiltedly, “It's a flower tonight."
journal of a runner
Last night, I mapped out my marathon training plan. For the next eight weeks, the Nike Run Club app will track my movement around the Imasaka-cho neighborhood of Kanoya City, starting from my water-stained apartment building and looping around the FamilyMart, the Air Force base, the daikon farms, the cool-damp forest trail, and the stretches of sidewalk that smell like burning garbage on bad days, petrol otherwise, and delightful cherry blossom for two weeks out the 52 that make up a year. The weather will change from a light chill to oppressive summer humidity. My long runs will increase from ten miles to 20. I will casually run a half-marathon distance practically every weekend, which (if accomplished) will do insane things to my ego. I will run four times a week, aspirationally, and at least three times a week as a minimally acceptable floor. My knees will hurt, my hands will swell, and my AirPods will, with frustrating regularity, disconnect during what would otherwise be the best bit of a run. I will enjoy the jumble of sounds that is my running playlist: female empowerment rap juxtaposed with the latest news from AFC Wimbledon and planet Mars, RadioLab episodes, the wisdom of the exalted Nike Global Head Coach Bennett, and the best/worst of 2010's pop. I will continue to manifest and check for abs despite doing absolutely nothing in service of that fantasy. I will run and run and run, and at the end of one of those runs, I’ll find myself on the other side of a marathon finish line. Hopefully.
elegy for san francisco
My first memories of San Francisco are contained within Union Square. My aunt, the one with no children, allowed me to accompany her on shopping sprees around the City. We would start at Gump’s, where she’d ask for my 9-year-old opinion on plateware, and end our excursions at the Westfield Shopping Center food court. My picks were always the same - Loving Hut for vegan Chinese food, then cream puffs from Beard Papa’s, which I’d have for breakfast the next day. I would tear off a piece of the choux, scoop the custard into a soup spoon, eat the hollowed shell, then slowly savor the filling as if it was a pudding. It was particularly tasty with a side of cantaloupe.
All food courts are the same. A child bangs on the table. Parents rest their shopping bags on the chairs next to them or sling them over the back. Someone in a suit scrolls on their phone and shovels food into their mouth with the other hand, not looking at what they’re eating. Custodians spray the tables, wipe them down with white cloths. I try to smile at them, but sometimes I let them pass like ghosts. It makes me sad when they are old, already hunched, but still cleaning because they need the money. When I see them, I have the melancholic sense that all my joys come at the cost of someone else’s hard work.
It’s the metropolitan, I think. It creates this system.
When I was a kid, I would play make-believe that I was lost in the freezing wilderness. I’d shakily slip Goldfish crackers between my lips and pretend that they were the precious few calories remaining from my rations, then “tape record” my final days with solemn sound-bites like “Day 4: I’m not sure I’m going to make it.” I’d envision what it’d feel like to cling to the hope of rescue and derive a strange, thrilling pleasure out of the daydream. It was captivating - amusing, even - to imagine what it’d be like to undergo and prevail through difficult circumstances, all the while knowing that the fun was dependent on it being fake - a world constructed of my own volition.
In my opinion, that’s the appeal of asceticism - overcoming or enduring personal challenges in service of a greater something.