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.
*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.
As some or less than some of you may know, after a grueling 9 months in the real world, and perhaps at the brunt of it all in the sweat soaked streets of Manhattan, I sought respite through a 4 month vacation (that is still largely ongoing) beginning in China, specifically Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. For the first few days after landing in Shanghai I felt really good, maybe a little too good. There was something very unusual but also incomparably comforting about entering into a sea of bodies just like mine that made me feel at home even though I was thousands of miles from it. The first week in Shanghai was a national holiday so everyone was off work and on the streets, slowly ambling along the river that separates the old Shanghai from the new. You couldn’t escape the luxuriously slow rhythm both because people had nothing else to do but enjoy the sun and also because it’s nearly impossible to upset the pace of a million people walking in tandem. It’s hard to explain the “at oneness” I felt there, maybe it was the realization of my unconscious habit to give a tip of acknowledgment or self effacing smile to Chinese couples on the street or to groups of mandarin speaking cliques moving inseparably through crowds of brown and blonde hair, or maybe it was looking around and seeing every phenotypic variation of myself without the need for that same reminder of solidarity. The fact that I pored over thousands and thousands of faces in what felt like complete disguise -no one had a reason to look or not look at me- and yet I wasn’t incognito, I just was without any need for explanation or justification. I was just another face in an ocean of black hair and brown eyes, which surprisingly made me feel even more welcome.
But eventually this romantic impression left me for a much less satisfying one. It wasn’t long after these first few days in Shanghai that I became increasingly annoyed with the different cultural norms that showed themselves at every available opportunity. Perhaps it was the brazen lady who shoved her way to the front of a dense mass of people waiting altogether civilly for their turn to get on the subway, or the middle aged man in a tank top barely big enough to cover his pouting belly who hocked a wad of semi opaque loogie right next to my foot, or the woman squatting at the top of a staircase refilling used and thrown out water bottles to resell downstairs while I looked on in horror, speechlessly shoveling boazi into my jaw dropped mouth. Yes, it must have been one or all or a lot more of these moments that made me crane my neck in nostalgic comradeship when overhearing a tourist say “general Ts-oh’s chicken please” or “no American toilet? Never mind then”
But then there were enchanted moments like when Jenny, the restaurants manager at the Grand Hyatt where I was neither a guest nor patron, walked me down deep into the mall to hand deliver me to a box of tampons that was so fortuitously the literal only box that it seemed as if it’d been hand selected and reserved for me, or UFC who drove us two hours to and from a sparsely populated beach framed by two heaps of seemingly floating mountain that looked straight out of the movie Avatar, or distant relatives I’ve only ever met once and ten years ago who treated me like a combination of their best friend and master.
Which leads me to a slew of somewhat obvious and less obvious conclusions. I’ve determined the feeling, maybe even rush I got when I first arrived in China is similar to waking up on a Saturday morning, strapping on my maize and blue and making my way to the Big House for a fall afternoon football game–everyone’s fumbling through the streets as obnoxiously as you, people are hanging off wooden porch beams screaming because everyone else is and no one cares cuz we’re all in this together. That sense of unity is forgiving and justifying, you don’t have to have a reason why you’re laying face down in someone’s lawn, you’re part of a greater shared experience that exempts you from judgement or explanation.
Yet the fact remains that sometimes I think people in China do gross and/or rude and/or strange things, but that’s ok because I’ve realized (and have been realizing through different experiences abroad) that I’m much more than I’d like to admit a spoiled, often ignorant, and entitled American. And as much as I’d like to rage with people wearing the same jersey as mine, I wasn’t brought up with the same school spirit. While I uncompromisingly appreciate, protect, and am proud of my ethnicity & background (and I can’t emphasize this enough), I’m still more culturally American than I am anything else–I’m used to sitting on a toilet that stands off the ground when I have to potty, to people who are polite even if just for formality sake, and to whining and complaining when things aren’t as entirely convenient as I think they should be. I guess for better or for worse that’s what makes me feel at home, even if we’re not all Chinese.
Our first day in Shanghai looked something like this: