This is the first Thanksgiving that I’ve spent alone, as in, completely alone. The circumstances for this are complicated (ok not that complicated), but aren’t depressing nor worth explaining. Also, not really the point of this short blurb of a post. The point, actually, is this: though this Thanksgiving was spent alone, uncelebrated, I have so much to celebrate, so much gratitude for the people in my life, who give me meaning and hope, laughter and warmth, who make this really weird, random chaos of existence make sense. And so maybe there was no turkey or cranberry sauce, stuffing or pumpkin pie this year, but there was a turkey bundt cake (in the likeness of, not made with or flavored as, though I would’ve enjoyed that too) that a most precious bb had left on my doorstep. There were messages exchanged with said precious bb and a few most dear friends. There was a face-time call with DD, who’s in Washington DC with our Aunt Anna and Uncle Mike, with my dad, who had just gotten home from a Thanksgiving lunch before heading to the hospital for a long, sleepless night of work, and with my mom Stephen Dean and Melinda who were in the thick of a multi-hour car ride from Southern California to slightly less Southern California and delayed by monsoon-like downpour on the 5. And then there was me, walking through the deserted Palo Alto streets that on any other day are bustling with techies and students and families and long-time Palo Altians who are probably sick of us all. Me, washing dishes and tidying my frigid, messy apartment. Me, fighting my way through Thanksgiving day crowds to stock up on, contrary to everyone else, groceries for everything but Thanksgiving.
And though these events were disjointed across towns and states and countries, I’m moved beyond words, thankful beyond comprehension, for all of these people I’m so lucky to share in these moments with! Though I may have been alone, though I may have only eaten eggs and english muffins today (sacrilegious, I know), I’ve celebrated a million times over, and am absolutely full full full <3.
Found out last week that my little big brother, Deedz, is gonna come live with me this summer while doing an internship out here in the Bay! In anxious anticipation for his arrival–for what will be frolicking in the sun, binge eating cookies by the bucket, conversations about girls and boys and art and tech, bellowing laughs that fill my tiny (but less tiny than the last) apartment’s walls, and an infinity of other Gao-like traditions–I’m posting a few overdue pictures from my latest trip to NY this past spring; pictures that bookend the passing of spring and usher in an always-welcome summer, that serve as witness to Dean and my trip to visit Deedz in his Brooklyn enclave.
Pictured are an incomplete but nonetheless full assortment of things and people and places visited during these few days–old and dear friends, my brother’s ridiculously well-adorned grad student apartment, and, of course, the endless insta furnishings, for your insta pics, at the insta office. How meta.
A few random details about the trip, for posterity:
DD, Dean and I tried to do as all the NY things, namely hours of endless walking, eating, subwaying, and endless pursuit of lox.
I met Lisa’s boo, Dom, for the first time, and Andrea’s, Taylor, for the second. We celebrated Lisa’s tenure at Bloomie’s, as she was soon to pivot into a new space, with small pastries that were more satisfying to look at than to nom nom. I melted in the warmth and love of seeing these two best friends of mine and their lives with these most beloved partners! The night wound down with Taylor & Dom watching Seinfeld while Andrea, Lisa and I watched Benito Skinner’s horoscope parodies on insta on the next couch.
We helped Deetz shop for his house party, a soirée that was thrown with his downstairs neighbors/owners of the house who were moving to the West coast because Ken, the husband, is starting a design architecture firm in Portland.
Dean and I walked around all afternoon and evening Saturday, before returning back to Dd’s party, dessert in tow. During this walk we: got big gay ice cream directly followed by serious consideration of yet more ice cream at Davey’s, got Bahn Mi at St. Mark’s, bopped around the East village and LES and Chinatown, got the best motherfing maple coffee I have ever had, bought a tub of banana cream pudding for the party, talked about some serious things and some not so serious things, cried (me), laughed so hard it hurt, talked, listened, held hands. Relished in these most special moments–the banal, the everyday, but still somehow the most magical, the most meaningful, the most Real and Important.
Saw friends from college! Mike and Melanie! Both of whom I haven’t seen in years, but who live in NY and came to Dd’s party. I was so happy to see them and was reminded of all the things I love and miss about college/in my life: all my RC weirdos–weirdos because they defy convention, weirdos because they haven’t grown out of their idealism and integrity, weirdos because Melanie brought a big plastic dildo-like back scratcher that she and Mike found on a trash can on their way over, something I could only imagine myself or an equally weirdo friend doing–who remind me of my humanity and community, from which I have felt to varying degrees estranged since college.
Met Dd’s friends from school and Dean’s friend from the bay, an interesting, eclectic, and funny bunch. Talked with a few, laughed even harder with a few others. Met Malcolm, enough said.
And lastly and least notable, spent a lot of time at work; made and drank a lot of hot chocolate and matcha (by far the most notable perks of the NY office).
I just visited my parents, on an epic 36 hour trip to Texas. Epic, for how many conversations, how many laughs, how many nibbles, how many hugs and kisses and laying-in-laps were exchanged in such a short time! 15 cups of tea, 4 meals, 2 walks, 2 runs, 1.5 movies, 1 bike ride, 1 joy ride in my dad’s “GT-R”—according to him, a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” at which my mom scoffed and sighed, somewhat playfully, before eventually obliging by piling into the driver’s seat.
But what is really once in a lifetime, the occasion really worth cherishing, is spending time with my parents. And witnessing, feeling how our relationships change with time, how they ebb and flow, like watching the sun shimmer and float on the breathing ocean surface—so beautiful it’s hard not to stare and smile. Picking up with conversations we’ve had thousands of times, yet each time somehow new and not quite like the last. Sharing thoughts we’ve shared before, but hearing them differently now with time and new experience; sharing thoughts we haven’t shared before, and smiling because there’s still so much to learn about this person! This person I’ve known and loved my whole life, this person who is home, comfort, and familiarity, but changes and evolves just the same as myself.
It’s 4:38 am. I’m in the Abilene airport. I’m tired, but so, so happy.
I walk into my Palo Alto apartment, not many hours from when I left it Saturday morning. It feels like I’ve been gone on an expedition to the stars and back, but the physical evidence brings me back to earth: the same flowers I had bought earlier in the week greet me when I walk in the door, smiling as if they’ve been waiting.
I take these photos around noon, 2/18/19, in a state of delirious calm. I make a salad, cook some vegetables, make some hot chocolate, pull things from the shelves, unpack groceries I just returned from getting. And turn to see this chaotic spread of beautiful mess and clutter. A beautiful mess that feels like home, because it’s sunflower oil left over from the holidays with my family, eden soy—my preferred brand of soy milk because Marilyn convinced me of this years ago—apple cider vinegar that I yelled at her for buying too much of, Kirkland brand Himalayan pink salt and tellicherry black pepper that our whole family has gotten into the habit of buying en masse, the same, but new greenpan pan we’ve used at home for years, a wonky cutting board Marilyn sent me from Williams Sonoma, a felted wool trivet Stephen and Melinda got each of us for Christmas. The sun’s beaming in through the windows, and I feel so good, as I look onto this beautiful mess of my home.
Before you go on, you should know this post has been adapted from a literal diary entry I was writing i.e. unfitted, not-so-sexy-stream-of-consciousness style; but then again, aren’t all my blog posts? 😉 TL;DR: it is a summary of (some of) the things I’ve been thinking, what I’ve been doing, reflections on where I am and where I’m going.
Now that that’s out of the way, where was I? Ah yes: being a millennial is really weird.
I guess not necessarily being a millennial, per se, but being at the point in my life where I’m starting to get some things together, but at the same time if not by virtue of that “progress” I’ve become estranged from the things that have defined me, that mean so much to me, that are, well, me? How can that be? How can it be that I am both progressing but also regressing, improving but degenerating, confused out of my goddamn mind about who I am, who I’m working towards becoming, and figuring out whether these are linear paths that become intractable with time and motion.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just tired.
I just got back to Palo Alto after what was a restorative and joyful two weeks with my family in Northern California (even further north than this godforsaken town). Dang, I don’t mean that, really. But I do! Ah here comes the crazy. I’m laying in bed–correction, on my mat on the floor that has served as my bed for the past 9 months. In my $2400/month apartment, one of 5 in an old converted Palo Alto house that has no (perceptible) heat and is, according to my downstairs neighbor who is as trustworthy a source of local gossip as any, infested with roof rats. Maybe goes without saying that I’m deflated (to say the very least) to be here again after such a nice break with my favorite people. But! in an unexpected plot twist, weirdly reassured that I’ll feel differently soon enough–that work will bring a welcome if not somewhat unexpectedly energetic sense of fulfillment, eroding the memory of my current despair and emotional lethargy. In short: feeling the feels, feeling like I should write something down. It is, after all, the start of new year.
Photo break: said Palo Alto apartment, in the near present
Let’s back up a bit. I’m 26, soon(ish) to be 27. I work at Facebook. I live in Palo Alto, CA. Prior to that I was living at home in Michigan, working towards a degree that came at the onset of a quarter life crisis. This was, if not utterly clear from previous blog posts dated circa 2014, induced by what was one of the most discombobulating years of my life living in New York City, where I was working at a photography studio on the Upper West Side (special s/o to Steve Friedman who owned the studio, became a great friend, taught me so much about New York, exposed me to all the great NY things, etc.). But, cutting right down to the gnarly chase, during this 2014 year I spiraled into a deep situational if not melodramatic depression characterized by an inconsolable post-college disillusionment—what to do with my life? where did all my friends go? why don’t they teach you that money is real? and that you need it to pay rent and buy food?!! yadda yadda yadda—I sought out to make a career change. In retrospect, it’s amazing where and what I’ve stumbled on given that at that particular juncture I knew just as much where I was going and how I was going to get there as I did where I wanted to be going in the first place, which is to say zero none at all I didn’t. I just knew that I was so completely desperate for an escape that was 180 degrees from where I was at, but beyond that was shooting in the dark praying that one, just one stray arrow would stick.
Photo break: 2014 in NY, at the time
So, for the sake of getting back to the more immediate point, suffice it to say: that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working. I’ve been trying to “figure it out.” I’ve been doing everything to distance myself from the things and places that made me so unwell. And in some ways, it really worked. I’m no longer questioning my existence in the same ways (those ways being: should I?). I’m certainly no longer fantasizing about how wicked and satisfying it would be but also terrifying-to-be-entertaining-the-thought of jumping out my window to bring reprieve to the mind-numbing predictability of Saturday brunchers happily, if not foolishly, enjoying their insta-worthy patio brunch. On the contrary, now I am one of those brunchers. That’s gotta be progress, no? Sarcasm aside, I’m no longer sad beyond belief or bitter beyond reason. Yet still, I worry that somewhere between being that morbid 22-year-old and being this salad-eating, fitness-fiend, altogether balanced 26-year-old, I’ve lost part of my soul. And before you say it’s not healthy to “fetishize sadness”, as I was somewhat understandably told recently, hear me out.
Am I missing part of my soul because I’ve become too complacent? Complacent with the choices I’ve made and the impact I have on the world, with my general “I’ll get to that later” attitude about so many values that I Morally. Ethically. Spiritually. Believe in. Hold dear. ? Complacent with the same unhealthy psychology that afflicted me 5 years ago, just now justified by a bigger paycheck? Yes, I no longer have fantasies about jumping out of the window, but my god did that experience force me to learn about myself and identify what, past all the bullshit, is important to me. That year, I discovered these things about myself:
I care about my family. A lot.
I care about community. A lot.
I cannot survive without the previous two bullet points.
Leaving home, “flying the coop,” doesn’t de facto make you successful. There is no shame, and in fact there is so much beauty, in being with the people, around the places, that raised and love/d you.
I need to see nature. I need to hear nature. Every day.
I want to be constantly learning and get bored very easily. But constantly learning is:
Talking to new people
Seeing movies I haven’t seen before
Listening to music I haven’t heard before
Reading things I haven’t read before
Staying open-minded, engaging with the world remembering that I am no better than any other person.
I cannot live in an environment that promotes so much vanity, so much materialism, so much consumerism. I am susceptible to it, and it destroys my soul. The excessive advertising of product, of fame/celebrity, of oppressive lifestyles is the means by which I had learned to hate myself in order to create profit (not for me, and if it were, at whose expense?), had learned to hate myself in order to create profit (not for me, and if it were, at whose expense?). It is truly the definition of Stockholm syndrome.
And to date these remain the most steadfast, most real things that I know about myself. It is undeniably a great thing that I am in a better headspace now than I was then, in 2014, when I started to discover these things more fully for myself. But what have I sacrificed to get here, to stay here? Have I been moving closer towards my values, or have I just been thrashing aimlessly, making a whole lotta noise? In some ways, I’m more fulfilled than I have ever been, but in others I’m still spiritually starving—starving for family, for community, for culture art people energy, for growth towards the reality that external validation does not make life meaningful, having a good job does not make life meaningful, making money does not make life meaningful, updating your Instagram does not make life meaningful.
Being a good friend makes life meaningful. Being a good sister, daughter, partner, niece, granddaughter makes life meaningful. Being curious about and engaged in the world and in people makes life meaningful. Being good to and patient with yourself makes life meaningful. Having values and standing up for them, even when they are unpopular or make you unpopular is what makes life meaningful. *correction: apply “imperfectly trying to” to all of the above
So ok I say I love my job. I’m happy. But I’m also not happy? I’m “spiritually starving?” Ugg, stop it already. But, well, erm, what I can say is 2018 was a really great year, in part for these reasons:
I really, truly, genuinely love my job.
I’m not so fretful and scared of “where I’m going to be in 5 years” anymore. I’m actually kind of…excited? If for no other reason than I kind of kind of believe in myself. ?
I love the community of people I work with–because they are engaged, they are curious, we are working towards something together, they teach me new things daily. In some not so trivial ways, this community is my antidote to the vapid, vanity-obsessed messages constantly being shoved down our throats as 1. people in general and 2. young millennials who are still impressionable, still trying to figure our shit out and 3. young women who could use relief from all this toxic patriarchal expectation. What do you mean what do I mean? I wear a sweatsuit to work daily and no one says shit to me about it. Case in point. *(Though also not trivially, sexism in tech is A BOOMIN’)
I saved money, for the first time in my life.
But at the same time, 2018 was not so cool for the flip side of same exact reasons:
I kind of kind of believe in myself these days…because I got a job that society finally signed off on
I am provided the conditions and environment, work and autonomy that allow me to love my job as a direct result of the fact that big corporations, big governments, big anything with a lot of money, are able to accumulate so much resource off of the very people who are left in the shadows of these towering monoliths.
I have prioritized work over friends, over family, over relationships.
I didn’t buy a car (or furniture!) that would bring me one to many degrees closer to nature to more culture to a life, because I was so focused on saving money.
So here we are, lists drawn out, feelings splattered all over all of our brain canisters. And as is promised of any good cathartic journaling, I’m starting to finally see what I’ve been meaning to say but unable to understand…until…now ?, which is this: I guess life–living with joy, integrity, purpose, and meaning–is not about scoring the perfect line-up of actions (or in my case over-corrections) that make you rich, successful, envied, attractive. Maybe it’s about identifying the attitudes and psychology that bring you suffering and heartache, and building up the defenses to counter them, whether they be negative self-talk, unrealistic and arbitrary societal expectation, de-prioritization of your own true self to accommodate someone else’s definition of you (someone who doesn’t care about you no less!), etc. Maybe it’s about practicing how to honor yourself and trusting your will and strength to unlearn all of the shitty things society teaches us about what it is to be worthwhile, what it is to be kind and conscientious, what it is to be worthy of love—your own and from others. Maybe, even if we’re not desperately depressed, we have to force ourselves to stop and ask the Really Hard Questions that make us better, that align us closer to our values, that pick us up and put us not on the path of least resistance, but of greatest heart and conviction. 2018 was the culmination of (years of!) lots of self-reflection, lots of over-correction, lots of work, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, the things I’ve experienced; I try to and do reflect on that with positivity, not just criticism and negativity. But I also don’t want that to dictate my whole sense of self—my sense of purpose, value, direction, worth, and personhood. I don’t want to think I’ve become everything I could hope to be or that eurka! I’ve made it and am happy as an unthinking clam just because according to society I should be. I am hoping that this new year may be full of conversation—with myself, with family, with friends, with unacquainted but welcome company—conversation that, little by little, makes me more human, makes me more me.
And on that note, finally, goodnight. Thank you to anyone who made it through this blogpost lol. I love you too.
*A thank you to Deets for unknowingly introducing me to the song that inspired this post.
I’m walking down the stairs of a building that I’ve known my whole life, a place I’ve known better in the past seven years than the previous 17. I feel strangely nostalgic, but this is no stranger of mine. I’ve felt this way before. I’ve been exactly here before.
I’m hit deep in my gut . I can feel a wave about to break and crash down forcing tears to surface. Tears that feel like the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen—the dreamiest fall day where all the leaves in their changing colors sway because they have nowhere to be and all the time in the world.
It feels like loneliness and completeness together at the same time. I can see everywhere I’ve been and everywhere I’m headed, all the people I’ve loved and those I’ll love until the end of time. In this moment I think I feel loneliness, that I’m missing someone to know me through my life, who has been there most intimately as I’ve existed in one way, and with me again when I’ve grown into new skin. Who has known my thoughts and felt my feelings, who knows not just my present embodiment but the entangled sum of all the kinetic force that has brought me here. But this feeling, this craving to exist beyond myself with someone to defend its truth is the exact sense in which I feel complete.
I’m moving through this world, through the places that have held me and seen me through my most extraordinary and banal moments. The agnostic buildings, streets, steps, lights, and trees that have bore witness to my entire life existing before them, each day only slightly different from the last but each year unrecognizably new, just as the summer leaves change hour by hour, day by day, until you turn just in time to find them sleeping under a blanket of snow.
I’m alone in this moment, but how beautiful this life has been. The places we’ve called home who don’t think, feel, or know, but have undeniably been. Who have watched us grow, watched us love, watched us cry, watched us yearn, watched us laugh, watched us change. The places who have listened to the millions of words spoken between friends, family, and partners. Who have seen these words for what they really are—us, looking at each other, seeing each other, and sharing in love. So precious these moments have been. How incredible it is to be, if only just to feel the world pass through us. If we stop to feel, we can see the magic in the life within us—the life that has held us and hurt us, that has promised and betrayed us, that, in the end, is nothing more and nothing less than simply, us.
I’m walking down the stairs of a building that I’ve know my whole life. Here I am. Alone, but moving.
*35mm film photographs taken during my senior year of college, 2013.