Latest Posts

My Fashion Evolution (and the Lessons I Learned Along the Way)

For most of my early life, there was nothing I dreaded more than going shopping for clothes.

The whole process reminded me of how awkward I felt in my own body. You only had to take one look at teenaged me to guess that fashion ranked pretty low on my list of priorities. While my peers sported the latest Abercrombie, I rotated through my punny T-shirt collection, week after week.

My actual T-shirts from high school. I couldn’t resist a bad pun.

A lot has changed since then (except my sense of humor). Over the last decade, I have developed a personal style that I love. Here’s how I did it — and what I learned along the way:

Lesson #1: You must believe you’re worth the effort.

Looking back, I realize that my resistance to fashion wasn’t really a matter of disinterest or defiance, but something else entirely: a lack of confidence.

I didn’t believe that I deserved to wear beautiful things, because I didn’t feel beautiful. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself with the clothes I wore, because I didn’t feel deserving of that attention. What if I tried to wear nice clothes, and I STILL looked bad? It felt safer to not try at all and chalk it up to a lack of effort.

Once I allowed myself to sincerely try, I found that fashion has actually enabled me to recognize and celebrate my beauty.

Lesson #2: Pay attention to the pieces that make you feel great.

In college, I met my fashion fairy godmother in the form of my roommate. She wore cat-eye glasses, miniskirts, patterned tights, and velvet Doc Martins. She could make even the most basic student organization T-shirt look like a cool thrifted find.

It all started with one skirt.

One day, we ventured to a boutique in Westwood. My roomie helped me pick out a floral miniskirt that made me feel quite pretty, which I hadn’t felt often.

The thought of reinventing your style can feel especially daunting if you try to tackle it all at once. I’ve learned that it all starts with one piece. For me, it was the skirt, and that one skirt gave me a direction to shop in.

As you can see in these photos, I really leaned into the floral:

Then, on my 19th birthday, I walked by a kiosk at the mall and spotted a black, wide-brimmed hat. I’d never considered adding accessories like this before, but once I tried it on, I was hooked.

My beloved floppy hat, captured on film.

Now, I have a bin of hats and headbands. Again, it all started with one piece.

Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid to turn heads.

In high school, I’d trudge around campus feeling invisible. If I received attention, I assumed it was because I did something to embarrass myself.

One day, in college, I walked to class in the outfit pictured below. I got a lot of double takes, so many that I grew a little self-conscious. Most people attended class in loungewear. Maybe this was too much, I thought.

Me, dressed in the floppy hat, a white blouse, navy blue skater skirt, and a pleather red belt accented with a bow.

When I arrived at the lecture, I sat down next to a new friend and whispered, “Please be honest. Do I look ridiculous?”

“No,” he said with a smile. “You look amazing.”

A lightbulb went on in my head and, ever since, I’ve intentionally used fashion to help me take up space and assert my presence. I realized that for me, being stylish isn’t about fitting in; it’s about standing out.

Lesson #4: You don’t have to pick one look.

Below, I’ve featured some of the outfits I’ve worn over the last few years. Each outfit exudes a distinct character and energy, and yet, I believe they all feel distinctly me. I don’t think developing a personal style must mean you have to create a uniform for yourself. (Unless that’s what you want. To each their own!)

Experimentation can enable you to add new flavors into your wardrobe, to keep it fresh and interesting. One day, I’ll be in a polished blazer and slicked-back bun. The next, I’ll rock a leather jacket and combat boots. And then I’ll throw on a flowy sundress.

Lesson #5: There’s no such thing as “overdressing.”

The occasion may only call for a ratty T-shirt and leggings, but if I feel like a denim jumpsuit will make me shine brighter, I’m going to wear the darn jumpsuit! Not to mention, my best outfits are usually the ones where I momentarily ask myself, “Is this a bit much?” (That’s when I know I’ve got it right. 😉)

After all, why be ordinary when you could be extraordinary?

I’ve never regretted a good fit, but I have regretted missing an opportunity to show off a good fit.

I hope this lil’ blog can provide encouragement and inspiration as you develop your own personal style. If you have any insights to share, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Till next time,


How I Took My Fitness Routine to the Next Level

I’ve seen more gains in the last six months than I have in the last *eight years* of my fitness journey. Here’s why.

When I started going to the gym in college—the first time in my life that I exercised voluntarily—I shed at least 15 pounds and uncovered baby biceps that I flaunted with pride. More importantly, my confidence blossomed, as I pushed the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of, bit by bit.

Left: Me, circa 2013. Right: Me, circa 2015. As you can see, I went through a teal phase.

Ever since I started my fitness journey, consistency has been my strength. Incorporating movement into each day has helped me maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit overall. For some, maybe most people, that would be enough.

However, over the last year, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to be in maintenance mode for the rest of my life. I wanted to GROW. I knew that I could be stronger and faster; I knew that I could build more endurance and resilience.

So, I “rebooted” my fitness journey with a whole new strategy and mindset. I’m not a trainer, and I’m still learning. That said, this is what has worked for me so far — and I hope it’ll work for you, too!

4 Tips for Leveling Up Your Fitness Routine

Six month transformation. Left: Me, in June 2021. Right: Me, in December 2021.

1. First, shadow a more experienced fitness buddy to learn proper form and equipment usage.

I used to avoid a lot of machines and equipment, because I didn’t want to figure them out in front of an audience of gym rats. I cheated myself out of gains because of it!

For the first few gym sessions in 2021, I tagged along with a friend. He showed me how to do a proper squat with an Olympic barbell; how to bench press; how to perform a lat pulldown. It helped to have someone check my form along the way, to avoid injury and boost effectiveness.

After I gained basic familiarity with the tools available to me, I walked through the gym with more confidence.

You could also hire a personal trainer, if you’re willing to pay the rate.

2. Follow a workout schedule and plan.

Previously, I would hit the same full body circuit everyday. Not only is this ineffective; it’s boring!

Now, I break up my weekly fitness schedule by muscle group. This allows me to push each muscle harder, while allowing enough time for recovery.

A typical week looks something like this:

  • Monday: Legs
  • Tuesday: Chest, Triceps, and Shoulders
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Back and Biceps
  • Friday: Full Body
  • Saturday: Legs
  • Sunday: Rest

I sprinkle abs and cardio throughout. As you can see, I’m prioritizing legs…after neglecting them for years. 🙃

For each day, I follow a plan using fitness apps like Alive by Whitney Simmons and The Sculpt You by Katrina Wright. Apps like these are super helpful, because they include programs and tutorial videos.

3. Don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable.

In the past, I would select weight (i.e. dumbbells, machine settings) based on what I knew I could lift, push, or pull for all of my sets without fail.

I didn’t realize that failing is kind of the goal. In order to build muscle, you need to gradually increase the weight until you can’t go any further—without sacrificing proper form, that is. This is often referred to as “progressive overload.”

When I first started squatting, the barbell alone (45 lbs) felt incredibly heavy. However, after implementing progressive overload, I’ve worked up to squatting my bodyweight.

4. Treat food as fuel, not as a reward.

For most of my life, I’ve had a troubled relationship with food. As a teenager, I would binge on junk food, feel horrible about myself, and then binge more to cope with the shame. Then, when I started going to the gym in college, I’d treat exercise and food as part of an ongoing exchange: I ate X amount of food, so I need to burn it off with Y amount of exercise.

I’ve finally begun to heal my relationship with food. I used to associate healthy eating with deprivation (because, you know, the diet industry). These days, I link healthy eating with nourishment: the proteins, carbs, and fats on my plate are essential to my muscle growth and performance.

While I’ve made some changes to my diet, such as increasing my protein intake, I’ve decided against tracking calories and macros for the sake of my mental health. My approach is more intuitive; I pay special attention to how various foods make me feel physically, favoring those that energize me and digest easily.

Instead of trying to control my body, I listen to it.

I plan to document and share more of my journey, so stay tuned! I wish you all the best of luck as you go after your own goals. If you have any tips to add, share them in the comments below.

Till next time,

– Jo

Why I Left My Dream Company

Two months ago, I left my dream company. 

When I submitted my two weeks notice, I asked myself: Am I making a big mistake? 

I remember the thrill I felt when my journey at The Walt Disney Company began in 2016, the year I received my offer letter for an internship with their corporate technology department. I nearly cried on the phone with the recruiter as she shared the news—and I definitely cried on orientation day, as they showed us the sizzle reels about the company’s history and accomplishments, which had all of the emotional punch of a Pixar movie. I was fully pixie dusted, as Cast Members call it.

The name badge I received on orientation day.

The years that followed were filled with incredible opportunities. After my internship, I landed a product management role at Walt Disney Imagineering, where I built new software tools for the design and construction of theme park projects. I worked alongside the best of the best to make magic for people — to bring happiness into the world. I mean, how cool is that? 

Throughout it all, I had an acute awareness that many people would “kill” for my job. I used to be one of those people. Sometimes I felt unworthy of it. How did I trick these recruiters and managers into hiring me at one of the world’s most well-known and influential companies? When I told people (friends and strangers alike) that I worked for Disney, they seemed so impressed. After years of listening to people doubt my potential for professional success as an English major, as a writer, as a creative person, I found relief in the prestige that the company (and not to mention the technical job) gave me in the eyes of others. 

I was afraid to let go of that. I thought that if I lost that name recognition, I would lose value…and even a piece of myself. The more this fear grew, the more I knew I had to make the move. Attaching ourselves to big brands can make us seem more powerful. However, surrendering my sense of self to my employer did not, in fact, make me feel more powerful. 

The famous Walt and Mickey statue at the Burbank studio lot, featuring me as a giddy intern.

Working for Disney was a dream come true that I will forever be grateful for. What a way to launch my career! However, now that I’m several weeks into my new job at a small but mighty game company, I can say with confidence that I made the right decision. I think I needed this opportunity to show myself that I am more capable than I’ve given myself credit for — that my accomplishments have not only been a result of sheer luck, but my own hard work and talent, too. Sure, that company name opened a lot of doors for me; but I have a lot to offer as well. My skillset is the real stunner.

Plus, there’s still so much for me to learn from other companies and colleagues. Adapting to a new culture and industry has already pushed me to grow tremendously over the last couple months. Who knows? Maybe I can bring these learnings back to “the mouse” someday.

To anyone else out there making a big career transition: I’m rooting for you!

Featured image by JACQUELINE BRANDWAYN on Unsplash

Tattoos and (Im)permanence

I resisted getting a tattoo for a long time, because I felt the pressure to design something profound with long-lasting, regret-proof significance. But now, just a couple weeks after getting inked, I’ve grown to recognize that “meaning” is multifaceted, dynamic, and ever-changing.   

To me, the design I chose (two koi, yin and yang) embodies the duality that exists in nearly all things, including myself. They also symbolize the potential for balance within all conflict. I find calm in this concept: when I feel anxious, I look at this image, and it tells me to breathe and surrender to the flow of life.

Truth be told, I landed on this design just a day before the needle breached my skin.

I was in Maui. While my boyfriend had intended on getting a tattoo on our Hawai’i vacation, penciling it into our itinerary weeks in advance, I didn’t think I’d get one, too. I assumed that when the time came, I’d chicken out. I’m not the type of person to get my first tattoo on vacation from an artist I know virtually nothing about—or at least that’s what I told myself.  

Before this trip, I often defined myself by who I wasn’t and what I couldn’t do. I’m not adventurous, I told myself. I’m not a risk-taker. I’m not spontaneous. But after two weeks of exploring waterfalls and volcanos, swimming with manta rays, and catching sunrises and sunsets—pushing myself out of my comfort zone on several occasions—I realized that these ideas I had about myself weren’t hard truths. I didn’t have to keep living by them if they no longer served me. So by the time we walked into the tattoo parlor to see if they had openings for the final day of our trip, I thought not in terms of what I could or couldn’t do, but what I wanted to do.  

This tattoo is proof that I’m capable of so much more than I give myself credit for. It’s also a reminder that no matter how much (or how little) I plan, life will find ways to surprise me; and no matter how well I think I know myself, there’s always more to uncover. 

In short, this tattoo contains multitudes. Each day, it offers something new to me, and I can’t predict what it will mean to me in the years to come. Surprisingly, I’m okay with that.

I suppose permanent ink has helped me come to terms with impermanence.  

As the saying goes: the only constant in life is change. And sometimes, change is a blessing.

Art as Meditation

I live in a near constant state of restlessness. Always occupied with something, anything, but unable to focus on any one activity for too longOnly a few idle seconds pass by before I’m on my phone, tumbling down a social media rabbit hole. Some nights, I find myself scrolling until the wee hours, soaking my face in blue light until I pass out from screen exhaustion, because lying there in the still, quiet darkness is too unnerving. I used to look forward to that sweet spot between lights out and slumber, time that I once used for ideating, daydreaming. These days, I feel overpowered by my own mind, as it relives past trauma or rehearses future devastation, refusing to anchor in the present moment. 

The other week, I drew for the first time in months. I felt called to it that day, almost like a craving: an instinct deep in my gut told me that an art session would make me feel better. “Better” as in calm, relaxed, and present. I could best describe my mood for the preceding days as distracted. I didn’t feel engaged at my day job; and in the morning and night hours, instead of diving into creative projects, I doom-scrolled, binged vlogs on YouTube, and shopped online.  

Drawing a portrait keeps me off my phone and out of my head for several hours. When I draw, I don’t even feel the urge to jump on Instagram, and all the worries from the day slip away. I’m too fixated on the curves of my lines, the angle of my pencil, the hues I must mix to achieve that very specific shade of skin from my reference photo. In other words, I am too immersed in each moment, too enthralled by the physical thing in front of me, to be bothered by my virtual or imaginary worlds.  

In fact, this may be why I enjoy drawing straightforward portraits based on photos, as opposed to metaphorical pieces packed with meaning: it does not require much imagination. Rather, it compels me to truly acknowledge, examine, and process what is actually in front of me. Some people intend to make art that sends a message, that aims to change the world, or at least someone’s worldview. I don’t believe that my drawings say much, aside from celebrating the beauty and humanity of the people I portray. My art isn’t really about the art as much as it is about the exercise of creating it. Art-making gives me the opportunity to reclaim my attention and use it with intention. 

I haven’t yet adopted a meditation practice in traditional terms – you know, sitting still, inhaling and exhaling, just being. But drawing feels meditative to me, for the way that it pulls me into presence. This is why I don’t typically do commissions: drawing for others would drive me to worry about the end result (Is this good enough? Will they like it?) and distract me from the joy of the process.  

There seems to be an expectation to commodify our talents, to transform hobbies into side hustles. But I’ve found a sacredness in art for pleasure, art for art’s sake. I suppose my art gives more to me than it does to anyone else. Inner peace, pleasure, beauty, aliveness, creativity, satisfaction – all mine, all priceless.  

Reframing My To-Do List

I have a love/hate relationship with to-do lists. On the one hand, the structure they lend to my day can ease the mind. As unsexy as it sounds, I gravitate towards predictability and stability. To-do lists offer a roadmap, a track to follow. On the other hand, seeing all my tasks stretch down the page, screaming at me to DO MORE, MOVE FASTER – well, that fills me with dread and anxiety, too. There’s a point where the checkboxes make me feel controlled instead of in control, and I grow resentful. Even something like purchasing a birthday gift for a loved one can start to feel like just another thing I have to do.  

Lately, I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to shift my focus towards the things that I do have control over, as opposed to agonizing over the things beyond my reach. While I don’t always get to decide which tasks sit on my plate, or how much I must accomplish in a day, I can (for the most part) choose my attitude. I don’t want to look around at my life and see tasks. I want to see blessings and possibilities. I hold an immense amount of privilege; it’s about time I actively recognize it.  

In an attempt to change my mindset, I rewrote my to-do list as a list of opportunities.  

“Get Mother’s Day gifts” turned into an opportunity to show the mothers in my life how much I love and appreciate them. 

“Edit client’s personal statement” turned into an opportunity to use my skills to help someone else achieve their goals. 

“Grocery shopping” turned into an opportunity to fill my kitchen with delicious, nutritious foods to enjoy throughout the week.  

Cheesy? Yes. But did this exercise help me feel more excited about my day? Absolutely. I transferred the emphasis away from loss (what the tasks took away from me, like energy or time) towards gain (what I could offer to myself or to others). This exercise also compelled me to stop victimizing myself over the littlest things and to start acknowledging the power I actually have in each situation. In nerdy grammatical terms, it’s like living in active voice instead of passive voice.  

I may not do this every single day or for every single task. But for those moments when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I’ll turn to this practice to reset, reframe, and reclaim my day.  

Featured image by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

On Vulnerability

If you couldn’t already tell (*gestures around at the blog*), I’m not a particularly private person. I’ve written about my insecurities, my identity crises, my heartbreaks, and much more on the internet. These most raw pieces of myself are out there, for everyone and anyone to consume and judge as they please. My habit of oversharing crosses into my personal life, too. Friends and family have gotten used to seeing the darkest corners of my inner life, the basements and closets that most people keep locked shut. I call it a habit, because it’s not always conscious or intentional. It’s like the filter that should sit at the base of my throat, separating private from public, is missing.

Despite my candor, I still feel exposed when I share my most sensitive thoughts and feelings with someone else. I still feel that fear that I’ve said too much, that I’ve burdened others with my emotions, that I’ve revealed an ugliness that’ll make me less likable or lovable. (This is what research professor Brené Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover.”)

Sometimes, I wonder if my openness cheapens or downplays my vulnerability. Brown posits that not everyone we encounter deserves to bear witness to our stories:

Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” 

Brené Brown

For the most part, I agree that you can’t trust everyone, and that trust must be earned. I’ve received my fair share of disappointing responses from the people that I’ve confided in. That said, I think some folks take self-protection to the extreme, using it as justification for building a wall between themselves and the world. They think, now you can’t hurt me, as if strength is the absence of vulnerability. I believe all this hiding from others—from hurt, from criticism—may eventually lead us to hide from ourselves, until we no longer feel connected to our own stories, to the experiences that have made us who we are. While we don’t owe anyone our vulnerability, we owe it to ourselves to accept our humanity, even the parts that ignite shame, fear, and doubt.

If we expect open-mindedness and acceptance from others, perhaps we need to look inward and take note of our own judgments. We can’t always know whether someone “deserves” to hear our stories before giving them the opportunity to do so. Vulnerability requires a leap of faith. To share our truth with the world, we must trust in the goodness of others—and, more importantly, our ability to persevere regardless of anyone else’s opinions. To me, THAT is a demonstration of strength.  

I may overshare here and there. But I will continue to pour my heart out into the open, because that is my truest mode of being. Life is too short to spend it in hiding.

Featured image by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

How to Put Self-Love into Practice

Recently, I had a conversation with my boyfriend about fitness goals.  

“Who would you consider body goals?” he asked me.  

A hot defensiveness rushed through me, and I launched into a tirade about how I’m trying to refrain from comparing myself to other women (which I still stand by), and how this entire conversation was incredibly triggering for someone like me, who has struggled with body image since childhood, and how he should know that by now, after all the conversations we’ve had about my insecurities.  

“Every time beauty or fitness comes up, you get upset,” he said. “I understand you have these insecurities. The question is, what are we going to do about it? How can we move forward?” 

At first, I felt shut down. Yet again, I’m too sensitive, too emotional—these feelings are too much of a burden for someone to deal with. But his questions marinated in my mind for several days after that. I’ve already done a ton of self-reflection over the years to understand why I am the way I am. I’ve identified the peer and family dynamics that fueled these insecurities in my youth; I’ve investigated my relationship with Eurocentric beauty standards as a biracial woman; I’ve highlighted the hurtful words that had been thrown at me in my former romantic relationships; and I’ve recognized how Instagram pushes me into the depths of toxic comparison. I used to think that if I dug deeper and deeper into my psyche and got to the root of my insecurity, I’d be able to grab ahold of it and yank it out of me. Alas, it’s not that simple. 

My boyfriend was right: almost every time beauty or fitness comes up in our conversations, I get upset. All my worst insecurities creep up, and instead of shooing them away, I invite them in, naming them, introducing them to him. Again and again, I position past relationships, beauty standards, and social media as not only the cause for my low self-esteem, but the justification, to the point where it seems logical and inevitable to feel this way about myself. The more I tell these “origin stories” about my insecurities—to myself and to others—the more I believe this is how I should feel about my face, my hair, my body.  

Awareness is the first step to meaningful change—but awareness alone is not enough.

Clearly, understanding the “why” is only half the battle. So what comes next? 

I think I’ve figured out what needs to happen: I must change the narrative.  

The way I talk to myself and about myself plays a key role in shaping my self-image. That considered, it’s time to stop recounting those “origin stories,” so that I don’t give them any more power over me. Whenever I feel the urge to pull out the skeletons in my closet, I will pause and remember that I have an opportunity to tell my story in this moment. Which story do I want to tell? 

Next, I will work on self-deprecation.    

“Your love language is words of affirmation,” my boyfriend reminded me. “Why do you speak this way to yourself?”  

I make self-deprecating comments on the daily, either mentally or verbally. It’s as if I’m training myself to handle these insults—as if it’ll make them hurt less when someone else says them. But of course it doesn’t, and if anything, I’m much more likely to believe these things when I hear them. Textbook confirmation bias. From now on, I will replace these harmful criticisms with affirmations. I want to treat myself with the same kindness that I extend to others. To help build a habit, I’m going to record daily affirmation videos and/or voice memos. Yes, it sounds cheesy and cringey, but it will force me to make space for this practice each and every day. I don’t necessarily plan to publish any of these recordings publicly, but I may write a follow-up post to share my progress. (Accountability!)  

Awareness is the first step to meaningful change—but awareness alone is not enough. Real change arises from action. That said, I don’t expect to transform my self-esteem overnight. I’m in this for the long haul, because despite all my doubt, I know I am worth the effort.   

I’m Taking This Problematic Book Off My Shelf

I visited my parents’ house recently, where my teenaged bedroom is still, for the most part, intact. The Green Day and Fall Out Boy posters no longer stretch across the walls, but the bookcase is filled with my favorites from middle school and high school. I devoured young adult books by authors like Sarah Dessen and Meg Cabot throughout my adolescence. I connected to the coming-of-age stories about girls like me, struggling to figure out who they are and where they fit in. Before I discovered these treasures, I didn’t care for reading that much. Now, I can’t imagine not having a love for books.  

As I reminisced, thumbing through the book spines, I noticed how virtually all these books were written by white women about white women, entangled in heterosexual romances with white men, in middle class suburbia. I pulled out the few books that featured characters of color (usually love interests or sidekicks) and flipped through the pages. Rereading passages, it was obvious to me that these characters were written from a white perspective, too. One in particular stood out to me: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  

When I first read Rowell’s book years ago, I was just excited to see a biracial, mixed-Asian character. I didn’t often see that part of myself reflected in the books, TV, and movies that I consumed back then. However, when I revisited this book, the racism jumped off the page. I felt angry at myself for not immediately throwing the hardcover across the room when I first read it, all those years ago. I think I even wrote favorably about the book on a blog at some point. (I’m cringing as I write this. I’m so disappointed.)  

Here are a couple of excerpts. Below, co-protagonist Eleanor describes Park’s eyes. Park is half-Korean and half-white.  

Park’s eyes got wide. Well, sort of wide. Sometimes she wondered if the shape of his eyes affected how he saw things. That was probably the most racist question of all time.

From ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

Yeah, Eleanor. It is. Not to mention, she compares Park’s mother to a China doll.  

His mom looked exactly like a doll. In The Wizard of Oz—the book, not the movie—Dorothy goes to this place called the Dainty China Country, and all the people are tiny and perfect. When Eleanor was little and her mom read her the story, Eleanor had thought the Dainty China people were Chinese. But they were actually ceramic, or they’d turn ceramic if you tried to sneak one back to Kansas. Eleanor imagined Park’s dad, Tom Seleck, tucking his Dainty China person into his flak jacket and sneaking her out of Korea.

From ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

There’s more where that came from, including a ton of internalized racism in Park’s character.  

In a Goodreads blog post, Rowell reveals that she took inspiration for Eleanor & Park from her father, who fell in love with a Korean woman while serving in the Army overseas. They didn’t last.  

What if fate and circumstance and the U.S. government had come together to deliver my father across the continents to his soulmate – and he just left her there. He could have stayed, I thought. He could have brought her back. Omaha is a military town; people bring wives and husbands back from all over. […] So … in Eleanor & Park, Park’s dad gets sent to Korea because his brother has died in combat in Vietnam. He meets his soulmate there. And he brings her home. 

By Rainbow Rowell on Goodreads

The part that disturbs me about this post is the way she laments how her father didn’t bring a wife back to the States, as if this woman were a souvenir. It gives me the same vibes as that “China doll” excerpt: in both, Rowell strips the Korean women of their agency and humanity, turning them into things that white people can own and take. 

How could I let this slide upon my first read? (*Screams into a pillow as the delayed rage hits me.*) Here’s my best guess: I think I wanted to see more multiracial characters in books so badly that I held onto that sliver of so-called “representation” and tolerated the rest. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people who don’t fit perfectly into whiteness have done the same thing with a book, movie, or TV show at some point. We’ve been conditioned to believe that this is just the way it is.  

Representation isn’t just about the presence of diverse characters. Writers (especially those who don’t fall into the category of #OwnVoices) must create these characters from a place of deep respect and understanding—and at the very least, grant these characters the same level of humanity and complexity that you’d give to their more privileged counterparts. This sounds basic, and yet, we’re living in a time where books like Eleanor & Park are rewarded with movie deals. Writing harmful stereotypes into books isn’t a trivial matter; YA books play a key role in shaping the worldviews of young readers. I know they did for me.  

I may be kicking myself now for my past passivity, but I’m encouraged by these realizations. I’ve raised the bar for myself and for what I expect in others. I can’t suck it up, look the other way, or let it go anymore. That’s not how change happens.

Photo by Radu Marcusu on Unsplash

Learning to Love My Own Company in Lockdown

While it may sound strange, I feel far less lonely now than I did before the pandemic. 

Over the past year, I’ve felt conflicted about acknowledging silver linings—as if doing so dismisses the horror of it all. But the truth is, amongst the profound grief and anxiety and despair, I’ve discovered pockets of positivity for myself. Little joys and meaningful growth. I’ve made some changes to my priorities that I intend to keep alive, even when the world “opens up” again.  

Pre-pandemic, I felt a pressure to pack my calendar, weekends filled with hikes, concerts, bar crawls, and brunches. Every time I went out, I documented the event on social media, to make it seem like I had an active and exciting social life. And yet, I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough or that I didn’t have enough friends—as if being perceived as interesting, adventurous, and popular mattered more than the reality of my life. (Frankly, I think being a loner in my adolescence fueled my need to redeem myself online as an adult. Sounds pathetic, but at least I can admit it.) Fixating on other people’s opinions left me with a near-constant feeling of inadequacy and loneliness.  

I no longer felt shame for spending time alone.

When the world shut down, a lot of us were forced to spend more time at home, in solitude. Fortunately, I don’t live alone; I have an amazing roommate, and together, we could entertain ourselves endlessly. That said, I adapted rather quickly to the relative quietness of lockdown life. Now that there wasn’t a pressure to be doing things with other people all the time (a pressure I imposed on myself), I no longer felt shame for spending time alone. I started writing more, reading more, drawing more. I felt like me again. I hadn’t quite realized that I’d felt so disconnected from myself.  

Don’t get me wrong: I miss people. I miss seeing my extended family. I miss basic LA brunches with my friends. I miss striking up conversations with kind strangers in coffee shops. I miss the hustle and bustle of walking down city streets, people watching every step of the way.  

At the same time, I love how comfortable I’ve gotten with myself. The more I enjoy my own company, the more confident I feel that others will enjoy spending time with me, too. I don’t feel like I have something to prove anymore, which allows me to live in the moment. I used to document every outing for the consumption of others. These days, I often forget to take pictures; or I take pictures and choose to keep them to myself. I prioritize the experience over the “content” I can generate from it, as I should’ve all along.  

Now, the interactions I do have with other people feel even more authentic and powerful.  

As we inch closer to reentering public spaces, I’m nervous that I’ll forget these revelations and fall back into my old insecurities and habits. (Tbh, I’m nervous about reentering the social scene in general. Please tell me I’m not the only one.) That said, I’m hoping this blog will help. While I’m still curating content for someone else to consume (hello reader), I’m trying to focus more on how my experiences feel and less on how they appear.  

Photos are valuable keepsakes. But what matters more to me are the stories behind them.  

Featured image by Anthony Tran on Unsplash