Haikus to get me through the winter

Last winter was rough. Upon my arrival after the holidays, the city welcomed me with 9° F weather and an apartment with no hot water. This was the prelude to what became a very long January, full of an unforgiving sun (so bright – but where was the warmth?) and dull moods, as I had such a muddled sense of purpose as a rookie at a new job, and the relentless cold made me want to stay in my bed forever.

This January, I’m determined to super-charge the season. How? Through soups (my friend made this recipe for our small group last week, and it was DELICIOUS), prayer (because if I have the option to get help from a loving God, I will certainly take up the offer), and haikus, which I’ve started to jot down in order to capture every beautiful thing about the winter whenever they appear. Here’s my start.

 

1.

Sunny winter days

All of the vitamin D

None of the gross sweat

 

2.

Keep going, dear one

Just a few weeks until spring

Give or take some weeks

 

3.

I just have three words

Rollover. Vacation. Days.

Keeps the winter warm

 

4.

Cold days are good for

Smelling bacon in the air

Shout out to food carts

 

5.

Summer’s got the warmth

But winter is blissfully

Free of trash fire smells

 

6.

Winter teaches you

The colder it feels outside

The fresher the air

Books that made me miss my subway stop [2018]

There were a good number of reads that made me pause in my tracks last year, but these were the ones that I couldn’t stop thinking about, even months after having finished. Here they are:

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Reading this masterfully crafted saga was damn near an other-worldly experience. For starters, this was the first time I saw myself represented in a novel, which is a kind of magic of its own. There was so much that was eerily familiar, intimate, and even sometimes uncomfortable as I got to know the main character Sunja, her sons, her in-laws. Throughout the book, these characters make decisions (whether for survival or for desires) that are difficult, sacrificial, prideful, fearful. And in all these things, people from the dusty corners of my life were suddenly resurrected. Be it my mother’s five-steps-ahead thinking. Be it the kimchi man who sold massive jars of kimchi outside the parking lot of the church we attended. Be it my grandma’s capacity for the most selfless warmth, and the sternest admonition for me to hold fast to my dignity, even as a young girl. Crazy what fiction can do, right? I couldn’t keep my hands off this book, and in fact sobbed everywhere I went reading these pages – on many an uptown 6 train, a 5-hour flight to JFK, a jjimjilbang.

I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
Full disclosure, I’m a part of the editorial team that published this book. But for what it’s worth, I didn’t join the team until long after this manuscript was complete, and just about heading for the printer. This book felt like everything the church needed: words of truth for white Christians (which so often felt like a massive sigh of relief to see articulated) and a literary hug for those who have been impacted and hurt by those with power. It takes a lot emotionally, mentally, and physically to confront a brother or sister who has wronged you, and what makes this ever more exhausting, frustrating, and angering is when the response is a series of reactions and remarks that downplay, minimize, and/or defend the person’s actions, or when the conversation suddenly becomes a therapy session for that person, instead of an acknowledgment/apology/ask for forgiveness. Austin’s message comes back to me often in my life, especially when I feel ignored and excluded at work: on any given day we will die a million deaths, and still we hope, because it isn’t the people around us who determine and give us our dignity; it’s Jesus.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Upon reading even the first page, I was immediately taken by the characters’ voices in this one. Tayari Jones delicately crafts the voices of two beautiful and solid humans that comprise Celestial and Roy, a young, newly married couple embarking on exciting careers as an artist and an executive, respectively. The chapters oscillate between their perspectives (as well as those of other characters, eventually), chronicling their dreams for their lives as well as the shock, heartbreak, and the subsequent haunting reverberations when Roy is suddenly accused and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. I fell in love with the way the characters literarily draw out their desires, fears, challenges, and musings. This book instilled within me a deep, deep hunger to write, in a way that I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah [AUDIO]
The sample size is small, but this may be one of the few books I’d recommend listening to over reading. For starters, Trevor Noah has a beautiful voice, and he also speaks multiple languages and accents in a way that you wouldn’t get reading through the pages. This story captures so much: the nuanced, hard-to-talk-about immense pain albeit undoubtedly rich, unconditional love that comes with family; the laugh-out-loud funny scenes from the author’s childhood and mischief; and the heartbreaking and angering reality of how racism has reared its brutal head in South Africa – and, more specifically, how viscerally this has played a role in the author’s life. Chapter after chapter, I was convinced that Trevor Noah is indeed a masterful storyteller, and I felt waves of gratitude to hear him share his story. Listening to this book made even the roughest 7-hour MegaBus rides enjoyable.

Forgive me, New York

Forgive me for the sunny April day in 2016 when I succumbed to the morning commute’s mob mentality on 58th St. (between 8th and 9th) and entirely ignored the four foot high fire blazing in the sidewalk trash can. Forgive me that I ended up being early to work that day and very much could have paused to report the incident. 

Forgive me for the judgments to which I leap upon seeing seated before me, sitting side to side, a middle-aged woman with tired eyes combing through Our Daily Bread and a young man, ostensibly my age (23) watching a music video featuring the bare legs of several faceless women.

Forgive me for all the things I choose to ignore about you. Forgive me for all that I hate about you. Forgive me my blindspots; forgive me for how they limit my love for you.

Forgive me my infidelity towards all your fragmented prophets and teachers. The two noisiest ones come to mind: ambition, suffering. Forgive me for how I hate that you so worship one and silence the other. Forgive me for how and when I do the same.

And for all the bandwagon trends, causes, phases onto which I’ve clung. Soho brunches. Rainbow bagels. LES cortados. Mere withering cultural moments, artifacts.

Forgive me for all the cheesy hallelujahs I sing to the rhythm of my steps on the sidewalk after quintessentially city moments. Baby bursts of endorphins and glee.

Forgive me my easy infidelities to which I grasp by way of instinct when I take in a whiff of the urine-fish-rat feces-sweat olfactory compote in the Times Square/42nd St 2/3 platform. (In my meager defense, it smells really, really bad).

And for every instance when my head tells me to invest locally by eating at the mom and pop joint a few blocks away, but my heart craves Bareburger. Forgive me for how I follow my heart in these ways.

Forgive me for all the moments when, in a fit of rage or bitterness, the only redeeming thing I see about you is a bacon egg and cheese.

Forgive me for all the finance bros I’ve glared at on the subway.

And for all the times I opt for indulgent, interpretive speculation. Why’d those around me clad in suits suddenly look my way when the 6 arrived at 14th St.? Am I dressed the part of “girl who exits at Union Square”? (I make no apologies nor forgiveness pleas for incidentally dressing like an NYU undergrad).

On that note, forgive me for never quite being able to name my role here. I know I love you, but what am I to you? Sometimes I feel the warmth and the rewards and it seems like you want me here. Other times I feel tolerated; still other times blatantly needless.

Forgive me for how I’ll inevitably wrong you. Forgive me for all that I know is unwise and unkind and ruthlessly unloving about you. Forgive me for my unwaveringly unapologetic commitment to calling you out on these things. Forgive me for not always feeling like I like you. Forgive me for being relentless with my devotion to you. Forgive me; regardless of how I think you think of me, I could love you for a lifetime.

What Will Happen

You’ll live in a city for a year, maybe two. It’ll take a lot for you to move, but once settled, you’ll do the requisite two-to-three-month stint of loneliness and doubt and “Did I make the right choice moving here?”-ness and then, gradually but before you know it, you’ll make friends. You’ll make friends, and your friends will make friends, and soon you’ll have a solid network of people – enough on the inside, enough on the periphery – and things will finally feel like home, and everything around you suddenly become confirmations and affirmations that You Made The Right Choice Moving Here and how could you ever leave when it took so much and so long for this city to become home?

And that’s when, after a moment of weakness, or after the final straw in a long season of post-honeymoon-phase strife, the questioning begins again. And you begin to flirt with the idea of applying to another job, or fantasizing about another lover, or – (and here’s where you really begin to indulge the impending infidelity) – moving to another city. After an ostensibly long, grueling period of applications and deliberation and Saturday morning coffee shop talks with your friends (of both the Close and Far variety) —

It begins. The “Thanks for applying. Can you visit the office sometime next week to chat?” emails trickle in and things start to get real and at this point you’re bookmarking available apartments and scoping out neighborhoods via Google Maps and romanticizing via Airbnb. The gig with the second-best-salary-offer but first-best-looking office (with the 4.4/5 Glassdoor rating and free coffee) congratulates you and the position is set in stone and it’s all happening and the goodbye brunches/dinners/parties roll in, and you think how often does one find all this love just like this soon and now you’re in the era of More Doubts and More Questions and you wonder if you should even leave but

It happens. And soon you’re on the plane from JFK to Heathrow, sobbing in your seat, trying to make it through a New Yorker article on the city you’re leaving, uncomfortably aware of the saccharine ridiculousness of this scene, but nonetheless broken hearted at your departure. Missing all your friends. Wondering if this is worth it. Thinking it won’t be. Missing being missed. Highly doubting you’ll ever find friends again who cherish and love and could miss you as much as those in New York. Mildly (but really, more like ‘loudly but on mute’) disappointed in yourself for succumbing to and becoming one of Those Transient AF Millennials Who Call NY “Home” But Leave After Like Two Years.

It’s all too late – it’s happening.

You move and you’re at this great new gig that is easy to love, but takes time to really like.

The “Miss you so much” texts come often, but patter away soon. Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and all the other new channels indicate that life is back on its regular scheduled programming in New York, your friends all move along, and your friends are still living and loving and the city and the universe and life in general keeps moving along as if you never existed, as if you never made a dent in anyone’s life, as if nothing and no one ever needed you in the first place.

Because no one really did.

And this is how you feel forgotten.

And this is how things end.

(Unless/until they begin again).