traveling on

this is my last day in santa barbara.
all my worldly possessions are packed up in my car, ready and waiting for the four hour trip north.

the sun is shining. the sky is radiant deep perfect blue.
aka perfect walk weather.

I have two and a half wide-open hours before I leave.
and I am sitting here writing instead of taking one last look at my dear friends or campus or the ocean or any of the other places I have loved so deeply for so long.


I am not very sad at all about leaving.
it is time.

yes. very strange.

a week ago I was thinking about sight and the leaving and the living and then the coming back. how your sight changes each time. how no matter how often you revisit a scene and linger there, looking long, breathing deep, committing the curves and angles and colors and faces and laughs to memory, there is always something hidden that emerges from the woodwork and reminds you of how little you actually know of this place and people.

I haven't even left yet but what I miss is not this place or these people but the way we lived, all the promise and the hope. the time when all things were new, before the tired repetition and reenactments of the old things. what fills me with sadness is not the leaving but this feeling I can't shake that I am not leaving much behind.

good thing, at least, that I am traveling to a far distant land where no one knows my name and where I can start all this over.

and yet a friend of mine told me some things: to stop running away before I run out of places to run to, and even though the grass may seem greener on the other side, it's only greener where you water it.
but the grass really is greener is England.

"Nothing Gold..."
Marilyn McEntyre

The road not taken is taken. Beyond the bend
it stretches on in the mind, well-traveled
as the one on which we set our feet.

An untold, imagined story
mingles with memory; actual
and possible paths cross and at each crossing
we pause, not to regret, but to remember
that to choose is to keep choosing.

The after-image of a face beyond a half-open door,
the felt warmth of a room beyond an uncrossed threshold,
the lingering sounds of a conversation that never happened,
leave their record, too, on the heart and in the bones:
fourth dimension of the life we choose and live.

You can lose what you never had--
mourn the unborn child,
the unspoken confession,
the friendship foreshadowed
that drifted away on the next tide.

You can lose what you only imagined having:
evening hours sipping wine over an open book;
walks that wind beyond the routes of responsibility,
the luxury of dailiness: "Oh, it's you again--
I wondered when you'd come."

The good-bye hard upon hello,
the embrace that renounces even as it receives,
the same breath caught in anticipation released
in resignation, confuse the opening heart.

By a strange mercy we are allowed
to practice the final paradox--to love and let go,
learning in each release to listen to the voice
that asks, "Do you see yet?" Do you see
how to love the wave already breaking
because it is a wave?
because it breaks?


The Song of No Coming and No Going

Thich Nhat Hanh

When I left home, I was a child.
Now I return an old man.
Villagers still speak with the same accent,
but my hair and beard are completely white.
The village children see me but don't recognize me.
They look at each other and giggle,
"Where have you come from, old sir?"

Where have you come from, old sir?
"I have come from the same place you have,
yet you don't know there is a link between us."
I stroke my snow-white beard this morning.
The young leaves on the trees are new and green.
They see no link between themselves and the seed
that took root so many years ago on this very land.
Villagers still speak with the same accent,
but after so many years, the village has become your village.
To your puzzled eyes, I am only a strange, old visitor
arriving from some unknown world.
To come or to go, to depart or return--
who among us is not a wanderer?

Where have you come from, old sir?
You don't see. How could you?
Even if I sing to you the old songs I learned in the village,
I would still be a stranger in your eyes.
When I tell you, "This is my village,"
your eyes dance and you laugh.
And I laugh too, when you say I am just telling a story.

The bamboo trees, the riverbank, the village hall--
everything is still here.
They have changed, yet they haven't.
A new bamboo shoot, a new red-tiled roof,
a new small lane,
a new child--
What is the purpose of my return?
I don't know.

There is a haunting image of the past.
The traveler has no real point of departure
and no point of arrival.
Who is he, this explorer of the triple worlds?

As if to a former life--
the sweet potatoes and turnips, the hay, the cottage--
I come back to my village.
But those with whom I worked and sang
are strangers to those I find today.
Everywhere are the children,
the red-tiled roofs,
the narrow lanes--
The past and the future look at each other,
and the two shores suddenly become one.
The path of return continues the journey.


today I am a quintessential old woman

sitting on the porch with aching muscles, a blanket spread across my knees, and needlework in my hands


Getting It Across. U.A. Fanthorpe.

‘His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things.’
St. John 16:29-30

This is the hard thing.
Not being God, the Son of Man,
—I was born for that part—
But patiently incising on these yokel faces,
Mystified, bored and mortal,
The vital mnemonics they never remember.

There is enough of Man in my God
For me to construe their frowns. I feel
The jaw-cracking yawns they try to hide
When out I come with one of my old
Chestnuts. Christ! Not that bloody
Sower again
, they are saying, or God!
Not the Prodigal fucking Son.
Give us a new one, for Messiah’s sake.

They know my unknowable parables as well
As each other’s shaggy dog stories.
I say! I say! I say! There was this Samaritan,
This Philistine and this Roman
What did the high priest say
To the belly dancer?
All they need
Is the cue for laughs. My sheep and goats,
Virgins, pigs, figtrees, loaves and lepers
Confuse them. Fishing, whether for fish or men,
Has unfitted them for analogy.

Yet these are my mouths. Through them only
Can I speak with Augustine, Aquinas, Martin, Paul
Regius Professors of Divinity,
And you, and you.
How can I cram the sense of Heaven’s kingdom
Into our pidgin-Aramaic quayside jargon?

I envy Moses, who could choose
The diuturnity of stone for waymarks
Between man and Me. He broke the tablets,
Of course. I too know the easy messages
Are the ones not worth transmitting;
But he could at least carve.
The prophets too, however luckless
Their lives and instructions, inscribed on wood,
Papyrus, walls, their jaundiced oracles.

I alone must write on flesh. Not even
The congenial face of my Baptist cousin,
My crooked affinity Judas, who understands,
Men who would give me accurately to the unborn
As if I were something simple, like bread.
But Pete, with his headband stuffed with fishhooks,
His gift for rushing in where angels wouldn’t,
Tom, for whom metaphor is anathema,
And James and John, who want the room at the top—
These numskulls are my medium. I called them.

I am tattooing God on their makeshift lives.
My Keystone Cops of disciples, always,
Running absurdly away, or lying ineptly,
Cutting off ears and falling into the water,
These Sancho Panzas must tread my Quixote life,
Dying ridiculous and undignified,
Flayed and stoned and crucified upside down.
They are the dear, the human, the dense, for whom
My message is. That might, had I not touched them,
Have died decent respectable upright deaths in bed.



yesterday when you were young
everything you needed done was done for you
now you do it on your own but you find you're all alone
what can you do?

I know that you think you're not good for anything
the world makes you feel so small...
and oh isn't it strange how things can change you

isn't it strange how we change orbit in our lives?

no bread crumb trail to follow through your days

all it takes is a little faith and a lot of heart


we grow a lot faster than trees

he said
so we miss a lot of stuff


I will try | Mary Oliver

I will try.
I will step from the house to see what I see
and hear and I will praise it.
I did not come into this world
to be comforted.
I come, like red bird, to sing.
But I'm not red bird, with his head-mop of flame
and the red triangle of his mouth
full of tongue and whistles,
but a woman whose love has vanished
who thinks now, too much, of roots
and the dark places
where everything is simply holding on.
But this too, I believe, is a place
where God is keeping watch
until we rise, and step forth again and--
but wait. Be still. Listen!
Is it red bird? Or something
inside myself, singing?

-Mary Oliver


talked with an old old friend today

who once knew me so well

he said
your words don't sound like yourself anymore

have the past few months really held so much change
that my cadences, the way I tie my words together
sound like a stranger's?


it seems that all my bridges have been burned but you say that's exactly how this grace thing works

This morning I am thinking of the multiple faces of grace, one of which is traffic tickets.

First day of finals week my last semester after baking for thirteen hours straight for a bake sale and not sleeping and running on stress and anger I ran a stop sign on purpose. In all my four years of college, there has never been a cop at that intersection, but this time, the one time I didn’t stop, there he was, waiting for me.

I had planned on writing two papers that day, but spent an hour staring blankly at my computer screen through watery eyes. I packed my bag and walked and prayed, clutching a ball of tissues in my hand. Here I was, on the threshold of adulthood, wanting to prove myself strong and independent and responsible, and failing, so soon, so tangibly.

The tears subsided; I called my parents finally, and their voices and words held no judgment or blame or anger towards me, just grace, forgiveness, complete acceptance.

The past few days my mind has been an impossible knot of memories, images, emotions. The words that slip from my mouth reveal themselves to be half-truths, meaningless. But this story keeps surfacing in my subconscious, as though there is some metaphor within that will be the key to unraveling these lies, this knot in my head and my heart.

It seems this scene has been reenacted for me over and over in small ways the last few weeks. I am amazed by how thoughtlessly I hurt the ones I love the most, by my tendency to always say the wrong thing and leave so much undone. These people I have taken for granted, taken advantage of, treated unwell—they meet me daily, time and again, with so much grace, so much forgiveness, so much patience, loving me in spite of myself.

I am humbled. I deserve none of it. Even more, this grace leaves no room for guilt or shame or self-pity; instead, it makes room for healing and growth, pronounces you clean and lovely and perfect, even when you are bruised and bleeding, with scars of infidelity disfiguring your face.

Mumford and Sons, in concert. I expected to come out refreshed, renewed, and empowered; instead, I came out weary and emotionally drained, hanging fragilely to hope. With each song, they took my heart, ripped it into slivers, then pieced it back together again, singing truth that burrowed into the depths of me, calling up forgotten memories and emotions, ringing my soul. I prayed their lyrics as they sang, shades and layers of new meanings emerging and fading. Yet somehow, their words, their music felt too small for the room, the truth they were getting at too evasive, too large to fit into letters and words and sounds and chords. And it was too much for me to hold inside my small, fragile being, made me feel lost and little and afraid and lonely, paralyzed, incapable not only of living, but of facing anything—the world, home, my friends, myself. There is so little that I understand, so little that I can do; I cannot even look inside myself and into my past and understand who I am or how I have arrived here. What good can I bring to a world that is starved for significance?

But beneath it all, I can sense the Spirit at work. And I am seeing not only the mysteriousness of how she works, but the complicatedness, the paradox. I can feel the numbness slowly slipping away, replaced with something that feels sad and heavy and difficult but at least it is honest and real:

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

For Christ came to save the weak and wounded, the broken and the battered: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Yesterday and today, I have been practicing being not okay, letting all the sadness and pain I have denied flood in. And I think I am beginning to catch a glimpse of the mystery, swallowing in small baby-sized bites of meaning these big inscrutable words—faithfulness and absolution and love and rest and peace.

Lord, I curl in Thy grey
gossamer hammock
that swings by one
elastic thread to thin
twigs that could, that should
break but don’t.


I do nothing, I give You
nothing. Yet You hold me

minute by minute
from falling.

Lord, you provide.


everybody's doing it...

bucket list:

1. play all of Chopin's Nocturnes and Preludes
2. play jazz
3. live on Prince Edward Island in a house with a wrap-around porch
4. keep some bees
5. write a family history
6. document my grandparents' recipes
7. get on a bike again
8. make collages
9. make as many things as possible from scratch for a month: bread, jam, soap, clothes, paper, etc.
10. sew a quilt, maybe communally?
11. backpack through Europe
12. spend at least a few months in each of the following places: Northern Ireland, Portugal, Greece, the Pacific Northwest, San Francisco, Greenwich Village, my grandparents' village
13. cultivate my own little orchard/vineyard
14. laugh daily
15. sail
16. tattoo
17. purchase books from only local or used bookstores
18. speak Chinese fluently
19. write my own nocturne
20. furnish my home with findings from thrift stores and garage sales
21. drink one full cup of coffee
22. take photos and develop them myself in a darkroom
23. learn the art of book-binding
24. walk everywhere/use public transportation
25. live through the winter
26. wash feet in a Maundy Thursday service
27. attend a Pentecostal church service
28. open a community frozen yogurt coffeeshop


these grey days

Suddenly it’s like winter. And with the turning of the weather comes a shift within me. This is what it feels like: dark grey cloud cover hanging low and ominous, pressing down on my head, releasing no rain; the walk back to Holland House through the long, dimly fluorescent-lit hallways and out into the penetrating cold that carved an aching hole in my center, between my ribs, below my heart; the lights in the trees that revealed the swirl and shine of fog as it rolled back in, draping the branches like wisps of cotton.

I am thinking of my sisters and me sitting on the heater eating breakfast with a blanket over our laps before 7:30 piano lessons, where our songs called up the sun to scatter the darkness. I am thinking of sitting on radiators, thawing out our feet and hearts after getting caught in the rain. I am thinking also of just last year, how our heater was broken more often than not, and how we wrapped ourselves in blankets and stood in front of the oven, mugs of tea in our hands. I am thinking of pumpkin bread, butternut squash soup, roasted sweet potatoes, carrot cake, hot apple cider. And I am thinking of a beautiful, heart-breaking book called the Meadow, which details a history of neighbors living through the lonely winters of Wyoming.

Generally, I like the somberness that comes on me like a veil, uncalled-for and unexpected. But it makes me unproductive. All I want to do is stare at the ceiling, trace patterns with my eyes or count all the cracks. I want to close my eyes, put fallish/winterish songs on repeat: William Fitzsimmons, Rosie Thomas, Gregory Alan Isakov, Damien Rice. Or walk on the shore for hours on end, sit on the edge of the wharf, and stare into the breathing mass of grey mystery until my mind is empty and clear. I want the world to be still enough so we can speak in whispers and all be heard.

For a few days last week, when the sun was shining, I carried a blanket and a pile of books everywhere I went and read with an abandon I haven’t had since I was twelve, losing my name and identity in other worlds. It started me dreaming and daydreaming again, beautiful vivid dreams full of color and laughter and adventure. Now I wake up breathing deeply, trying to catch the last bits of dream-air, full of hope. Then my eyes catch sight of the grey light, and the hope and optimism trickle away.

Yesterday, I pulled R.S. Thomas down from the shelf and found myself suddenly there, with him, in a dark chapel, morning sunlight filtering in weakly, my knees resting on the cold stone floor, the air heavy with presence, my heartbeat my only prayer because the words wouldn’t come.

R.S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great rôle. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.


how did it go so fast, we'll say as we are looking back, and then we'll understand we held gold dust in our hands...

Today, I know exactly what it is I want. I spent the day yesterday with almost all the people I love together in beautiful places eating excellent food and laughing until the tears ran down our faces. And even though I have had friends and laughter and good food and perfect landscapes all summer, finally, this time the equation was right.

Yesterday it suddenly became clear to me that the restlessness I have been feeling stemmed from the absence of these people in my life. I only see it and feel it now that I remember what wholeness is, now that I have seen all of us gathered back together again.

We know each other so well—what we love, what we hate, our families, our pasts, our faults, our tics—that when we bring to light the recent messes of our lives, we end up just laughing at ourselves and how absolutely ridiculous and silly and stubborn we all are. All our defenses come down; we have seen each other at our worst and at our best, and yet here we are still.

But what surprised me most about yesterday is how natural and organic it still feels. We didn’t get caught in the rut of catching up; it felt like living, real living. I am reminded of my reasons for staying in Santa Barbara this summer…because this community I have here is rare, and I want to live in the presence of these beautiful and wise women for as long as I can.

I stopped and looked around the room several times, tried to hold on to these fleeting moments, catch snatches of all the conversations going on around me…but they were going so fast, so naturally, without silences, no awkwardness. And for some reason, I started looking at everyone’s hair—the blacks, the reds, the browns, the blondes, the curly and the kinky and the straight and the braids and the frizz…and saw something so beautiful I got a shiver down my spine. How messy and individual and quirky we all are, but so beautiful, more beautiful together in the contrasts than we are separately.

Well, this morning, I woke to see all of my roommate’s belongings in a little corner of our bedroom, stacked neatly in three piles. So many people have been walking out of my life lately, without any promise of seeing them again in the next few years. And every time a wave of sadness washes over me for all the times I’ve been too caught up in my head to see the good that has surrounded me and embraced me so consistently these last four years.

And so I’ll say now what I never said enough: thank you, I love you, and Godspeed, my dears.

may the road rise up to meet you
ay the wind be always at your back
may the sun shine warm upon your face
and the rain fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand


come on, skinny love, just last the year...

Earlier this summer, I read a poem about envying those who have two homes:

there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot

or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope.

For most of my life, these have been my sentiments exactly. Rarely have I felt the desire to remain in one place for more than a few months. My internal compass—my impatience, my fear of commitment?—pulls at me when I have been in one place too long to go somewhere, anywhere, new or well-known.

But this summer I experienced the opposite. I was living that poem, moving between home and home every few weeks. But each time I left, instead of anticipation, I felt a pang of guilt for not staying longer. It seemed I was wanted and needed more in the place I was leaving than the place I was heading for. Then I would arrive, walk through my front door, get tackled by my brothers or offered a freshly-baked lemon bar from my roommates and realize again the strange and beautiful grace of being welcomed completely, simply because I am myself and I do belong here, too.

Well, this is the season of goodbyes. Some reunions, but mostly goodbyes. And I am surprised by how callous my heart is most days, how I live in a numb stupor of routine, how my thoughts turn gray and despair takes hold when I stare up the face of the mountain called Imminent Decisions and Changes. Not because of sadness or regret or fear but out of resignation—because it’s time, because there has been so much good and to stay any longer would feel forced and fake or selfish. Something in me would rather go quickly and break all my ties so I can side-step the emotions and bypass the ceremonies, knowing I’ll be okay no matter what happens or where I’ll end up.

But honestly I think those are just my tried and true defense mechanisms clicking into place: turning to cynicism, numbness, and self-reliance instead of vulnerability, healthy emotion, and community because it’s easier that way, easier to stay neat and respectable when your heart isn’t breaking fifty times a day.

Strangely enough, I don’t want that anymore. I want the messy, the sobby and the snotty, the dirty, the abused, the sad and lonely things, and I want them to pierce my heart and constrict my breathing as though they were my own. I want the bravery to face the elusive sadness and loneliness and inferiority complex hiding deep within me, and my small, sickly, self-absorbed love to grow strong, grow wide wings of understanding, forgiveness, and grace. I want to drink the bitterness of this life, so I can taste how sweet and how good and how perfect is the love of God that covers all our brokenness.

Come, let us return to the Lord;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.


2 am can't sleep

so many things that don't matter race through my head.

I've lost something since getting a job...
I miss that feeling of insecurity where I ran towards God with open arms begging Him to hold me and let me rest in His presence, trusting completely that He would provide for me.

life is good lately. everything is right in my life.
family relationships are healing. home feels like home, more like home than it has since I was four years old. my roommates make me laugh harder than I have laughed in probably two years. twice this week I have choked on water, and several more times this week I have cried from laughing too hard. and we have been eating very well. there is a deepness in my friendships here in santa barbara; we are living reality I think, not too fearful and not too disillusioned but happy and honest and hopeful. old dusty friendships from high school and junior high, even elementary school, are being renewed, and I am surprised by how much I have to offer them, and how they too can fill my life with joy and richness.

really there is nothing lacking in my life. all is as it should be, as I've always wanted it to be.

and yet...I can't quite explain it.
just this feeling that has haunted me my entire life, living daily knowing I have been given so much and falling so often into guilt for all the good in my life and all the heartache I have been spared and especially for all that I have left undone. gratefulness is not enough, it seems.

there is this strange pressure I feel within me to be someone or do something important because of where I come from and what I have been given...but the fear is too large for me and so I do nothing.

mumford and sons is daily changing my life. they teach me to feel honestly whether that is irrepressible joy that runs through my veins and makes my heart beat faster and makes me want to run and leap and dance...or whether that is deep melancholy and sadness that makes me want to huddle in a little ball in my bed and cry til I can cry no more because the world is too big and life is too harsh for someone so young and fragile. but mostly they have been teaching me to hope even so.

but there will come a time you'll see with no more tears
and love will not break your heart but dismiss your fears
get over your hill and see what you find there
with grace in your heart and flowers in your hair

listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqUsAHTUPTU


but I will hold on hope

I would be false if I failed to mention the loneliness. 15 hours of this past weekend were spent driving, over half spent alone, spent turning over in my mind the same old questions and doubts and fears. Then I came home to a silent dark empty apartment after living in a house of twelve for three days, and felt completely unknown.

I remember high school when I craved solitude, feigned sickness for one golden hour of silence and peace. Somewhere in the past four years, all this has changed…now solitude has multiplied and the quiet thunders in my ears. Even though I am surrounded by this communion of soul-sisters and brothers who love me and who do know me, sometimes that doubt creeps back in: that we are all just faking it, that what binds us together is not love but fear of the cold.

Today I realized I pray best when walking. My heart falls into rhythm with my steps, breathing out pleas and gratitude freely, my mind not quite so easily distracted. Alone, I walked farther today than ever before, asking God for a little clarity and a lot of hope.

There is no question about it; I am like St. Thomas, waiting—always waiting—to see and touch and feel and taste before commitment and surrender, before allowing myself the luxury of belief. And there is always the weight of shame that still I cannot believe, I who have witnessed with my own eyes miracles and transformation, I who have seen and have touched and have felt and have tasted that the Lord is good.

But something changed in me today. A word spoken, a reminder from outside of me that affirmed this season of soul-searching and not knowing who I am or why I am. So freeing to hear these same words that I have been saying and saying and trying to trick myself into believing coming from another mouth, spoken not as self-justification, but as words redeemed, spoken to me simply, with authority and power and grace.

As usual, nothing has actually changed. But at least there is a little more courage and a little more hope.

Wild Geese
Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good. 

You do not have to walk on your knees 

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves. 

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 

Meanwhile the world goes on. 

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 

are moving across the landscapes, 

over the prairies and the deep trees, 

the mountains and the rivers. 

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 

are heading home again. 

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 

the world offers itself to your imagination, 

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--

over and over announcing your place 

in the family of things.



For a little while yesterday it felt like light was running through my veins and flowing from my fingertips, my heart about to scatter into pieces from trying to hold in too much happiness. There was a whistling tea kettle, and blue sky and sunlight peeking through eucalyptus branches, and a mistyness hung over the ocean. And all of it made me want to run—hard and fast and long, hair whipping in the wind—and dive into the ocean, taste salt, and let the waves carry me.

The days which are empty are so full; I lose time like an absent-minded child, moving slowly from wonder to wonder. I think on this past week, and I have done nothing really, except perhaps practice the art of waiting well. It’s the small things that fill my hours, the unexpected, rediscovered things: lunch dates and coffee dates and dinner dates, long walks to the ocean, the smells and faces of roadside lavender and Mexican sage bush and jacaranda trees…and other things, nothings, forgettable but beautiful and surprising.

And I have been taking little mind-journeys into my past, stepping back into that old, hazy time. It feels like myth to me, like I’m looking into someone else’s life through someone else’s eyes. I find myself detached, questioning whether I was really there in these shaded memories that appear and fade again in my head.

Like those days when we laughed daily, loud and long, and never cried except from laughing too hard. That is not who I am anymore. Now I cry more and laugh less but I am happy, my joy is more honest, goes deeper than it did then. A sense of rightness has arrived in my life; I feel free, unpretentious, natural, just…here, in a time when living is good and breathing is easy.

I am wary, however, and humbled by the fact that even a few weeks ago, fear and anxiety were my closest companions, whispering lies of self-doubt into my ear. How grateful I am for these friends of mine who know me so well, see me more truly than I see myself, and point me towards the way of hope. They have helped me live not in the anxious emptiness but in the openness of this time, teaching me to not grasp at anything that seems secure, but to open my heart and my hands to receive what gifts and surprises come my way.

All that to say: there is still within me that restless girl who wants to live like a dreamer, exploring, chasing hope, doing wild, outlandish things…but at the same time something else is rising up in me: gratefulness that this reality I am living now is so much better than my dreams.


four years makes strangers

tonight i am thinking of lounging around in the basement of a jazz bar in edinburgh, doused in red light. we drank magners; our conversation came in snatches, drawing attention to the organist’s mustache or the solo on the upright bass. there was a thunderstorm outside; we walked back quickly down princes street, sharing an umbrella, our jeans soaked halfway up our calves.

we were sitting around a table, and i looked at each face, realizing sharply and suddenly how much we have changed. it’s true, we’ve aged. in good ways. like a cheese or wine. and like an aged cheese or wine, we’ve grown deep into ourselves, each with a strong and distinct taste. and some of these tastes don’t complement each other as well as we would have hoped.

this place is so strange: how the smallness makes us think we know each better than we do; how the fear of being unknown leads to saccharine niceness; how easy it is to accumulate insta-friends. how we live so much of our lives together and are still strangers; how we live so much of our lives alone and can still meet face-to-face, cry together, laugh together. how, suddenly, one thing shifts, and you realize: i don’t know you at all.

and i am thinking of the woman i thought i would have become by now. realizing twenty is not as old as it seemed. that, really, all this life is just one huge balancing act, and some are just naturally more graceful on their feet than i am.


I belong with the salt and the sea and the stones; save them all for me.

When I think of him, I see him in a white wife-beater and blue shorts, skin deep dark brown, heavy wrinkles. I see him leaning against a brick wall, cigarette in his mouth, distance in his eyes. A few years back he caught pneumonia, and gave up smoking cold, after smoking a pack a day for fifty or more years.

When we speak about him, he’s the cool grandpa, the one who wakes early and does fifty push-ups each morning. He has this uncanny knack for making the perfect amount of food, so everyone is fully satisfied, no one has over-eaten, and there is nothing left on any dish—a real achievement in a household where the number of mouths to feed varies from eight to sixteen depending on the day.

He speaks a little Spanish, a remnant of his sailing days, traveling from port to port in Southern America. The first time my dad met him was at age seven, and only briefly before he left for another sailing trip. He jumped ship and swam to shore, lived in the States for a few months before being deported back to China, then jumped ship again and became a naturalized citizen.

Back when I was in high school, we had a little family reunion on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. My grandpa would stand for hours on deck, a cigarette balancing between his lips, looking across the sea, looking into his past. Towards the end of the trip, he told us, jokingly, “When we get back to America, I’m going to stay on the ship. I’ll be a waiter or scrub the floors or anything. I just want to stay on the ship.”

But I think he meant it. These days I often wonder what would have happened if circumstances had been different: if there hadn’t been three families living under his roof, if there hadn’t been an autistic child and a schizophrenic child placed under his care.

This semester, I have spent more time by the ocean than ever before, waking early and eating oatmeal in the morning light, or spending afternoons there, reading Faulkner or Eliot or Mary Oliver. And when the days are long and weary, I’ll sit out there alone, and let the darkness engulf me, stare out at the lighted oil rigs creating patterns on the shifting water, breathe, in and out, in and out, and all is well.

There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.

Something there is in the ocean that draws me back again and again. Maybe it’s the constancy, the continual rushing up and washing away, rubbing the stones smooth. Maybe it’s the newness each time, the thick swirling fog one morning, and the clear white light another; the pelicans swooping head-first into the water, and the snowy plovers running in when the tide goes out, pecking at the sand, then running out again when the wave comes creeping back up the shore; the orange and purple and pink of sunset, the silver of twilight.

All I know is that it is here, by the ocean, that I understand my grandpa most easily, when the wanderlust tugs at my feet and the memories tug at my heart.

I’ve been steeping myself in the music of Gregory Alan Isakov these last few weeks, who sings of the sea, and makes me want to build a raft and drift off to the middle of the ocean, far from any sight of land, where I can be with God sending us all the big waves and I wish I was a sailor so I could know just how to trust, maybe I could bring some grace back home to the dryland for all of us.

But the other day God taught me a little bit about trust from the safety of shore. My cheeks were already salty from tears, and I turned towards the ocean. It was fishing time, a large fishing boat anchored in front of me, the pelicans hovering, waiting to strike, then diving with alarming speed headfirst into the water with a splash.

Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a dorsal fin, and, for a moment, hoped for a dolphin, looked for a dolphin, but dismissed it as a diving pelican. Then I thought of impetuous Peter, whose toes and insteps, just before sleep, would remember their passage on wave-tip towards the Messiah. And I thought of mustard seeds, and friends of mine who have prayed specifically for dolphins and seen them.

So, despite a deep sense of foolishness, I prayed for dolphins. I waited, and whispered: “I believe; help my unbelief.” And suddenly there they all were: dolphins all around, at play, dancing in the light, for me alone, simply out of God’s good grace. And what I felt was not scalding pain, shame for my obstinate need, but light, light streaming into me, over me…my question not answered but given its part in a vast unfolding design lit by a risen sun.

And now: I am grateful, almost giddy, at peace. God has been good to me, even in the moments when the unknown looms large and close. And I think of my grandpa, his bravery, his sense of adventure, but mostly his attitude of surrender and resignation, the letting go of dreams for the good of all his people.

and oh that full bellied moon she’s a-shinin’ on me
yeah she pulls on this heart like she pulls on the sea


I ♥ New York

The other night I slept on the couch and dreamt of being four years old again, sleeping on my grandparents’ living room floor on East Broadway. There, the sounds were multiplied and magnified: buses and semi-trucks rushing past, taxis honking horns, drunken men staggering home rolling expletives off their tongues.

A deep red (for prosperity and happiness and longevity) fluorescent light buzzed and cast an eerie glow from the top of a cabinet, illuminating the shrine in the corner, complete with pictures of my great-grandparents, fruit and little offerings set in front. The heavy sacredness exuding from the altar softened briefly only by the headlights of passing cars.

The trucks and buses and taxis rumbled past hour by hour; by early morning, those noises faded into the fabric: the daily garbage truck first, before sunrise; then, the metal scrape of iron gates and bars being pushed aside, their nightly duties fulfilled; yelling Chinese merchants unloading a fresh catch of fish or hanging up new ducks in the window; finally, humming conversation punctuated with the taps and clicks and clacks of business shoes and stilettos on the sidewalk.

My two sisters and I would sit in a semi-circle around the dining room table with three identical glasses of milk, digging the smooth, creamy don tot and the flaky crust out with a spoon, or squeezing and rolling the mon tow into little shapes before popping them into our mouths, or dividing the char siu bou into four equal bite-size sections, or counting how many chews it took to swallow the sweet, sticky, chewy, peanut chay my grandma had made.

My grandparents took us on walks daily: my grandpa in his tweed jacket, my grandma in her patterned sweater. Our path took us under the smelly, noisy, echoey, puddley bridge, past the fish-markets with fish that stared back at you with large glossy eyes, past the meat markets where you could buy any meat imaginable—chicken feet, pig ears, cow tongue, intestine, heart, gelatinous blood, abalone, snails, jellyfish, sea cucumber—a right turn past the junk yard, take a stop at the newspaper stand for the World Journal and a pack of Bubble Yum, then across the street through the park where the community’s grandparents met for tai chi or Chinese chess or pigeon feeding, then finally to the playground with the tallest slide in existence and see-saws.

In the subway, we dropped tokens into the slot for the adults, then ducked underneath the turnstile because children rode the subway free those days. We were experts; we knew to stay far behind the yellow line and we knew the pattern. First, you could hear it coming, then the lights turning a corner, then the great rush of wind as it slowed to a stop. We hopped onto the train, slipped into one of the hard bright orange graffitied seats, kept track of the stops on the maps overhead, then hopped off again.

Some days we spent snaking through the packed Chinatown streets; I clung on to an adults’ hand out of terror of being trampled by the crowd. In less crowded parts of town, I often trailed behind, staring up at buildings that stretched forever, really did seem to scrape the sky.

But mostly our days revolved around food: meeting relatives for dim sum, drinking bubble tea at Sweet N’ Tart Café, buying zeppole and knish from street vendors, or cheesecake from Junior’s Cheesecake, or cannoli and cream puffs and éclairs from Ferrara’s. And at night, the kitchen would buzz with adults and the scent of garlic and ginger and soy sauce and sesame oil and hoisin and oyster sauce. The adults would roll out a huge circle of wood and place it on the dining room table to seat at least twenty for dinner, then play mah jong late into the night, long after my bedtime.

These days, when we go back, we stay with the other side of my family, the ones I always remember back in Amish country, sitting on the deck in the backyard, with a barbecue and a farmer’s market watermelon, playing games like Dingo and Turtle, fascinated with my uncle’s fish, my grandpa jokingly trying to color my grey knees and elbows and blue birthmark with a brown crayon, catching butterflies in the afternoons and fireflies at night.

These days, when we go back, we don’t stay in the center of town anymore; we stay in Long Island or Queens, where it takes a bus ride and a train ride to get into Manhattan, but far enough away that the fireflies still come out at night.

These days, when we go back, the once black-haired aunts and uncles and great-aunts and great-uncles, whose Chinese titles I’ve never been able to remember and whose real names I was never privileged enough to know, are arthritic, graying, losing teeth and mental capacity, or are simply gone, have died.

These days, when we go back, we go only in summer, missing Central Park in the fall, and the Christmas tree and ice skating rink in Rockefeller Center, and the colors of spring. We go only in summer, when the heat is oppressive, and the air so thick with moisture you sweat like a popsicle melting in the sun, even when the sky is filled with thunder and lightning.

Even so, there is something of home there, something familiar I can put on like an old comfortable pair of shoes with the soles worn through: I can feel the ground beneath my feet when I am there.


teach me to be a turtle

If it’s true that home is where the heart is, then my heart is broken and scattered across the continent.

Pennsylvania came first, with the funnel cake, and strawberry fields, and fireflies, and wide-open spaces.
Then Chinatown in Manhattan, with the fish markets and bus fumes, tai chi in the park, graying men and women playing mah jong deep into the night, fish eyes and chicken feet.
And my house with the persistent smell of garlic, sitting on the roof, my brothers who love me so well and even now pick me flowers and send me valentines.
Then: the mornings by the ocean, the afternoons in the courtyard, the nights on the rock by the library, hours in the practice rooms.
England and Ireland and Scotland, where feeling came first and life was like a fairy tale, where strangers lived like family, wounding and forgiving each other.
And now this little white apartment with cranes and leaves and maps and frames and candles and handmade books and (now) blue and purple and pink and white flowers.

This is the way it goes: my heart tied by strings to all these places I have lived in and to all these people I have loved, each one tugging at me since I left, waiting for me to come back home. My life is one of discovery, redefining myself in new places, and again when I move on. Always I feel the absence of these places, begging me to remember what it is I have lost in myself.

Is it true that home is where you start from? that you can never get back, that home becomes just some shadowy nebulous past place of strange familiarity?

There is no rest in music until you reach the tonic again, until you find home. But even when you find it again, it’s never exactly the same.

Now I am exhausted by being known in this place—I have outgrown this school, I think—and I feel sixteen again. My only fear then was growing up too fast, but my longing for anonymity was far greater than my fear. So I left.

I am torn between wanting to go far, far away to a new place where my face fades into the crowd and wanting to stay here, with this sense of home, rooted, surrounded by these people I love in this place I love. But I am restless, with conversations that bounce back and forth between what awaits after May 8th and what has happened here these past four years.

I wish I were a turtle, slow-moving, semi-aquatic, perfectly happy on land and in sea. All I want is to carry my home and these friends of mine with me wherever I go, protecting me, growing with me.

I'm afraid I'll be homesick for the rest of my life.


sometimes the weather here is like me:

sunny and warm and blue and right one moment then grey and stormy the next



Sometimes I feel like Kate Nash: 'sometimes when I'm at a busy train station somewhere big with noisy trains like Kings Cross I feel like putting down my bags and shouting out because I have something to say'

But most of the time my feelings just don't fit into words.

Lately I've been remembering how to be alone. It's hard to find solitude here, even living away from campus, and more difficult to settle into solitude when it comes.

But this past weekend, away from everyone, alone, finally, I found...what I had been missing. Not peace, or joy, or happiness exactly, but itself: a sense of deepness, right and good. It was that moment entirely free from the pressure to be anything but myself, to stop performing, do nothing but exist in my skin.

I found myself, wrapped myself in myself like a blanket. Borrowing from dear Annie: 'I slid into myself perfectly fitted, as a diver meets her reflection in a pool. Her fingertips enter the fingertips on the water, her wrists slide up her arms. The diver wraps herself in her reflection wholly, sealing it at the toes, and wears it as she climbs rising from the pool, and ever after."

I found the butterflies, a park with a creek too, wildflowers and clover. Time suspended, light suspended. All I could think of was how I could never work an 8-5 job in a cubicle because I would miss the sunlight too much, and Gus following the salmon down the river. Maybe I will live my life as a lobsterman's wife. Or a fisherman, or bee-keeper, or lighthouse-keeper's wife, any of those would work for me.

The Men's Chorale is singing Innisfree this semester, and every Monday and Wednesday around 3:45, I get chills. They don't sing it perfectly yet, but the words, the harmonies, their enthusiasm, the fact that Yeats wrote it while homesick for Ireland...it moves me, stirs a longing within me to go back to that place where the light is white and still, the green hills broken up by crumbling walls of stone, the sound of raindrops greets you every morning.

And maybe all I want is to sit by a lake for hours, watch the sun trail across the sky, drinking tea and eating bread and cheese, letting the water lick at my toes, knowing the right names for things: birds and fish, trees, all the sky's shades of blue.

But maybe that's not it at all. Maybe that's not what I want at all.

When I Am Among the Trees
Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."


I never thought this would be me

talking so fast so much so pointlessly to fill up the emptiness.