All that I know now

Growing older has taught me how to mark the end of the seasons. I watched the brilliant blue of a summer sky become grotesquely marked by wildfire, felt the suffocating heaviness of heat waves succumb to cold breezes that blew through me as sharp as daggers. I watched as tree canopies transformed from lush greeneries to impressionist mosaics of dandelion yellow and burnt orange, until all that remained were the black and barren branches of their naked forms, forlorn and elegant.

The transitions from summer to fall to winter have only become more familiar, and yet they seem to change more quickly, the time passing faster every year. I mourn too much the departure of the seasons, cling a little too desperately to these chapters that I never feel I had enough time to fully savor. It is a bit like catching a glimpse of a hummingbird in a garden: just as you are truly taking in the grace of its beauty, it has already disappeared the moment you stop to blink.

This fall I said goodbye for an indefinite amount of time to the grandmother that raised me. The woman who wiped my tears and made me snacks and picked me up from kindergarten. As I got older, the role of caregiver and care receiver reversed, and like the passing of the seasons, it somehow happened without me realizing. It is even strange now, to think she is not a part of my life everyday — though I suppose she still is, because I think of her, and am grateful to her everyday of my life.

As I get older, I always find myself wishing I spent more time with family. I am constantly beating myself up over things I think I should do, even when it isn’t my first instinct to do them. I ruminate a lot over this: my tendency to suffer from internal negative feedback over every action I take.

I buckle so often under some perceived pressure from others, to show up more for them, to be more for them, internalizing and creating unnecessary guilt that dampens the quality of my relationships. I am learning to trace this back to my own insecurities about being good enough, to stop second guessing how well I am treating others, to stop doubting my own worth.

Every day is a step forward in my evolution of self. Here is the thing I continue to learn with age: as you fill it, the metaphysical cup of life only gets larger. You try to balance what you hold space for, with all your passions and career choices, your friends and your family. Despite the fact that our families created the foundations for who we are, the nuances of what shapes our lives grows infinitely beyond them. And as we grow, we become so attached to the idea of progress — to be able to make concrete comparisons that who we are now is qualitatively better than who we were before.

But I don’t believe there is such thing as linear development of growth. Not like the facts and figures and direct causations you can find in the immaculate truth of science and math. Growth in how we change as people is a phenomena that never really becomes clear until you’re past it, can turn around and see the clear reflection of who you used to be. Even then, so much of what catalyzes change is not fixed but fluid, as the actions of your past self continue to affect the decisions you make in the present, ultimately shaping the person you are actively becoming.

In many ways, growth has turned into this criminal line up of all my past selves standing in a room, shoulder to shoulder. I look at all these previous iterations of myself, and love them so much more now than I did when I was them. So maybe that is actually what growth is: honoring every version of who you used to be — their dreams, desires, and their mistakes — and learning what it means to take all the best parts with you as you keep moving forward.

It’s all a rigorous balancing act, trying to understand yourself. Wanting to know why you are the way you are, striving to understand your purpose, to once and for all know what you need to do to make yourself “happy”. But here is what we forget when we think about happiness: at the end of the day, you will live and die alone in the body you were born in. I don’t mean this to sound defeatist in anyway, but the hard truth is that our existence is ultimately a solitary one. This is where the misconception comes in — or maybe it is the very nature of being human — that we strive for structure or a sense of meaning in the ways we construct the world around us.

If we have the right amount of money, the ideal family, the prestigious job title — if we travel to breathtaking places or own beautiful things, only then will we be complete. But none of those things will ever offer you a guaranteed happiness. You will continue throughout your life making different choices that change the outcome of your circumstances. Throughout the ebb and flow of those experiences, you will encounter not just happiness and sadness, but also monotony and routine. Life itself, the day to day goings on of it all, even when you discover something new, will inevitably become boring. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t some affliction that must be immediately remedied. It’s important to discern the difference between stagnation and restlessness. Because in the end, it is your choice whether or not you are content with your circumstances. Nothing outside you will grant you the peace you are looking for. I say all these things in no way to discount the autonomy we have to construct the substance of our lives. I mean to say, there is no point in focusing on material things or goals that you hope will grant you some eternal, permanent happiness — because it doesn’t exist.

There is no actual way to convey the complexity of life’s experiences through social media. Three years ago I ran away from a routine I grew to despise, what felt like the all-consuming mediocrity of an unfulfilling life — and to this day I have no regrets. But more than ever, life is an uneven road.

Just because you figure out what makes you happy doesn’t mean that you have it all figured out. Life is not as simple as finding your passion and then going out and doing it. We live in a world where the infrastructure of society requires you to be complicit in systems that perpetuate consumption, frivolity, and destruction — and reconciling this with needing to financially support oneself is no easy feat. It’s not about being able to over-idealistically “follow your dreams”, but having the freedom to live a meaningful life, one that creates more harmony than discord, more equity than inequality.

I do not live my life or make the choices I do because I have the utmost clarity that it is the right thing to do. I do them, because I don’t know what else to do, besides follow the intuition of my own heart. I still suffer from my own self-machinations, insecurities, and constant procrastination. But the greatest gift life has granted me, whether simply a consequence of age or through experiences I chose to have, is an understanding of myself. Even when I stray, when I become fixated on things that ultimately don’t matter, I remember what motivated the choices that brought me this far.

It was love. Love for the world, that it was worthwhile to go out and see it, to try and create change in it, even amongst fears that I’d lose time or was choosing the wrong path. Love for me, that I owed it to myself to try and do something that I at first didn’t know I was capable of.

My extended time in California has reminded me that I am anchored by a deep foundation of love, instilled in me by a family more resilient and nurturing than I’d ever realized. I have also rediscovered what it means to be emotionally vulnerable, and to share intimacy with another person again, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

So this is where I stand now, with all the acuity of self-awareness brought about by age, and yet still buoyed by a sense of childlike wonder for this world, and all that I continue to discover on my journey through it. I am on a path of becoming more in tune with myself, of trusting the people I love, of creating powerful intention with my words and my actions instead of passively experiencing a world that appears drowned in chaos.

Time will continue passing, the seasons will come and go — what matters is not what is left behind, but what you continue to create for yourself moving forward. I hope you remember you have the power to make the world better, by simply loving who you are, and not accepting the reality that others force you to believe. We are the makers of our own reality, we are the sole owners of our truth.

If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read all this.

The real price of freedom

It is strangely fascinating
how much freedom we barter away
for the sake of
comfort and convenience
how easily we count up currencies
yet the conversion we care least about
is the cost of time

You are not your habits
or your attachments
your shiny objects
your wants
or your fears

I spent so much time
boxing myself into
an idea
of who I thought I was
and now here I am
trading in 8 years
worth of blackened lungs
for a breath of fresh air

When you actively decide
to change yourself
you realize that everyday of your life
is a choice
there is so much power
in the time you take back
to do what you really want
to be someone different
than who you were yesterday


I never thought I’d be writing about this for people to read, but it struck me as one of the few things I might actually write that would benefit someone reaching a similar crossroads. 17 days ago I smoked my last cigarette, and I believe it is the longest I’ve gone without one in, give or take, the last 8 years. For anyone that knows me, my relationship with tobacco is my longest and most committed. Hell, I obviously love them so much I included them in the title of my poetry book. Cigarettes were not just a “bad habit” for me, there was something ritualistic about it that I always loved — the moments I took for myself to be alone, to think, and to usually write. And no, I was never not aware of the health risks — people do worse things to themselves everyday — and I do believe we have the autonomy to make our own choices over our bodies.

But recent circumstances have reinforced the one thing I thought I knew all along: that it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how accomplished you are, if you don’t have your health, you literally have nothing. So no, this isn’t a New Years resolution or some patronizing PSA, though I’m sorry if it sounds like one. What I mean to bring attention to, is the concept of choice.

Making a commitment to lose weight or eat better or not smoke — and in an even more meaningful sense, when we make commitments to make more art, to be more outspoken, to get more in touch with ourselves — it is not about the actual intention you are setting forth, as much as the power of making that choice in the moment. Discipline isn’t about being hard on yourself, but realizing that as the creator of your own reality, we are actively choosing what we do, every moment of our lives. “Depriving” yourself of something you think you need, or something that has come to define an aspect of your life, is not easy. However, it is more feasible than we sometimes allow ourselves to believe.

On that note, I am actively interested in healing my relationship with tobacco, by educating myself on the history of it amongst indigenous peoples as plant medicine. Rather than abuse it, I would like to incorporate it into my life as a form of sacred cleansing and ritual. For friends who have information or contacts about this kind of practice, please forward whatever you can my way. As always, if you got this far, thanks for reading.

Nepal’s universal lessons

The novelty of this country’s beauty will likely never be lost on me. I have seen head high stalks of golden wheat waver in the afternoon breeze, marveled as they caught a reflection of light that made them sparkle like ocean water on a sunny day. I’ve watched as mist cast itself like a blanket over boundless mountain ranges, fell asleep to the lullaby of a thunderous rainstorm. I’ve seen day by day saplings grow into trees, caterpillars into butterflies, the land morph from winter to spring.

I have walked numerous miles through these mountains for countless hours, for reasons that even now are not perfectly clear to me. Did I come here to find my life’s purpose? Or to find something as trivial as adventure? Undoubtedly, I have a found share of both.

People had asked me quite insistently why I was coming back to Nepal, and I always had the strategic response prepared for when they did. There’s of course, the easy answers that are deeply true. My commitment to this project, my love of this land, my connection to the village, and to all the people I’ve met while here. But in many ways, those are surface level answers, that only address the singular meaning within the context of my singular life.

It would be disingenuous of me if I didn’t admit that I returned for selfish reasons. Here, in these illustrious hills, I am hidden from a certain type of reality. The expectations and niceties of modern society do not intrude on my life. But how privileged and close-minded of me, to hide within the real-life circumstances of impoverished people on the other side of the world? I am no stranger to my own pretences.

Doing this work has pushed me to ask difficult questions, ones that I am still not fully equipped to answer. Such as: what does it mean to help people? How do we definitively know when we do? What does it mean to bridge cultural divide? How do you find proof of it? What does it mean to truly trust one another? How do we create change within the systems we’re given? Do good intentions amount to much in the grand scheme of the world’s conflicts?

Despite the destruction of barriers, I am aware that I come from a world that the community I serve does not fully understand. This goes both ways. I exist in a realm of acute individuality, while many of their lives are intrinsically entwined with the lifebloods of their families. I am forever in awe of these dichotomies, of the separate realities that exist side-by-side, to allow a melding of understandings from opposite sides of the spectrum.

Nepal is so much more than enamored mysticism and prayer flags. It is a land of both intense poverty and generous abundance, deep divisions and shared fanatic national identity. Its people are both astoundingly passionate and at times jadedly apathetic. It is both beautiful and destructive, as flawed as it is perfect. Nepal is a metaphor for humanity in more ways than I can begin to convey — but I suppose as are the behaviors of any people, in every place, anywhere in the world.

But for a funny little foreigner like me, there is a magic here that reminds me so sharply the arbitrariness of my existence, the happenstance of my birth, of being able to experience the world as I do. I am so profoundly enraptured by this place so fundamentally different from the reality I once knew. And at the same time, my ability to discover patterns and parallels in human behavior, across cultures and continents, fascinates and fulfills me in ways I’m still learning to understand.

Living in different places for months at a time has taught me a lot about the tendency of human behavior to move towards polarity. Though it’s internal happenings don’t gain as much international attention, the country is shuddering under the same pressures of industrialization, polarized political conflict, and extreme wealth disparity as much as the rest of the world.

I have learned to recognize the insidiousness of patriarchy in all its forms, how it transforms itself into an easily palatable poison to the point that many don’t even notice. Like in the US, there are persistent preconceptions and prejudices against poor and working class people. There is such a level of government corruption that many people are discouraged from fighting for accountability, and at times lack motivation for civil engagement.

Like the Philippines, Nepal struggles from the destabilization of work diaspora, families split apart in search of greater opportunities; young people choosing to work abroad because ultimately there are few relevant financial prospects at home. This is also a consequence of imbalanced socio-political dynamics established through history, with much of the country’s abundant resources under the vice of Chinese and Indian government control.

Like nearly everywhere else in the world, Nepalis are disillusioned by their government. Asking people in this country to not just trust in the work we do together, but to believe that they themselves are capable of creating change, is sometimes a constant uphill battle. Many people in my own country don’t even believe this about themselves.

But here’s the thing: when you choose to believe you are not capable of creating change, you then evade your own responsibility to help others, simply because you don’t think it is actually possible. You then continue to perpetuate the same systems that destroy the earth, that create apathy, that allow things to continue as normal.

The struggle here is universal. How do you convince people to care about the greater good? To be willing to work hard and make sacrifices, not for their own self-advancement, but to improve the livelihoods of others? For a community? For a country? For the world?

Nepal hasn’t taught me how to convince non-believers, but has showed me something else more important. That there are people who have lived entirely different lives, experienced far more difficult realities than I could ever fathom, and yet also share the same vision for the world as I do. Narayan Bhatterai, or Mama as we lovingly call him, is not just one of the longest employed members of Conscious Impact, but also one of our deepest inspirations. He is the type of man who not only wants to fight for the same world I do, but has taught me more about it than I could ever learn in a classroom.

Jenisha, my partner who ran the Girls Empowerment group with me these past few months, is one of the most inspirational and loving women I’ve met, and her connection and passion for empowering young girls in her community blew me away. Both Jenisha and Mama exemplify willingness to lift others up, to see another person’s individual happiness and security to be as important as their own.

My work is not about coming here and helping Nepalis with my knowledge, as if I know what is truly good for a country I am an outsider of. My work is about uplifting the people here who believe in change, and are truly capable of it. Who understand that by sharing our abundance, we bring ourselves closer to the source of our humanity. Their friendships have taught me that the limitations and boundaries of language and lived experience do not restrict the depth of connections possible between people — not when you are willing to open your heart.

I am now driven by this desire, to continue building mutual bridges of understandings between realities — to find common ground in our desires for meaning and love and family, in our deepest despairs and sadnesses, in shared ambitions and achievements. Because isn’t that what it means to be human at the end of the day? To achieve true understanding between beings of consciousness, however futile it may actually be?

Rather than end this with my own words, I’ll leave you with something Mama had said not too long ago, and has continued to resonate with me. If you’ve made it this far, I hope it does with you as well.

“The benefits we receive as individuals are not large. We are not taking any things with us, yet we try to earn so much to have sufficient things. We come into this world with empty hands, live in nature, step on this earth, breathe the air, drink the water, get warmth from fire. And when we die, we leave empty handed. We reach again the water, and are burned by the flame, mixing our soul back into the fire. We take only the satisfaction that we drew from our own lives, and the thoughts that others had of us, when we die.”

The threads of brown identity

For more than half my life I have been confused about where I am from.

I once wrote “FILIPINO” as my nationality on a student visa application form, and had my mother hurriedly correct it before I turned it into the embassy official.

I have memorized how to recount, “My family’s from the Philippines, but I was born in Texas,” to every inquiring stranger since I was a child.

I do not speak my “mother tongue”, and have been asked on more than one occasion to justify this.

I experience a myriad of pride and distaste, when strangers try to connect the dots for me about my own history.

I am inherently upset by the same corruption, poverty, and religious zealotry that probably drove my parents from their home country decades ago. But I latch fervently to my inheritance of unbridled hospitality, familial loyalty, and a universal perseverance to retain culture no matter how far we are spread around the world. In the face of constant struggle, Filipinos exert light-hearted humor and improbable optimism, an ability to laugh at life’s hardest moments. I see this inherently in my own family, and in the smiles of uprooted Filipinos I have met all over the world.

My time spent abroad has taught me the duality of self-perception against global understanding. Being identified openly by my race was something I became more familiar with once outside the comfortable bubble of the Bay Area. In many ways I have taken back the perception of who I am on the outside with the ink I’ve engraved onto my body, with the tone of voice I use when I speak.

But I have found myself asking, what is it makes me Filipino?

And what is it that makes me overwhelmingly more American?

I read somewhere that the best part of a country is also what makes it the worst. In the case of Filipinos and the Philippines, an ability to retain happiness in the face of adversity has also normalized suffering. Like those in heavily corrupted developing countries, Filipinos will retain the status quo that gets them by rather than upending the system, perpetuating immoral societal structures that exacerbate gaps between the wealthy and poor; they remain frustratingly attached to Western influences, the twisted vestiges left behind from centuries of colonial occupation. Maybe in a lot of ways, my own identity crisis mirrors that of my collective kinfolk.

There is a consensus in popular culture about the selfless demeanor of Filipinos; hardworking people whose natural tendency to give care has developed  into an expansive diaspora of Filipinos abroad. Popularly, many Filipinos working abroad raise other peoples’ children, take care of their elderly, tend to patients in crowded hospitals. Just as with all of reality’s dual perceptions, this humble work ethic can also be seen as learned docility, a toxic reframing of our willingness to work in a system of unfair power dynamics.

I have seen how twisted cultural norms degrade a country I’ve hardly spent any time in. I have met many women and men who left everyone they knew to do backbreaking work, away from their families in order to support them.

When I lived in Paris, I stayed briefly with a distant aunt who I fought with constantly over the course of a year. Time has given me the power of forgiveness, because I finally recognized what caused the sharp edge of resentment in her voice whenever she looked at me. Bitterness from years of dealing with an alcoholic husband, of not having been able to raise her own children, from doing the emotional labor for a rich family that did not value her. Even then, this conclusion is very one-sided, observations drawn from such a brief time spent together, one that could never truly reflect the complexity of one woman’s life.

I rediscover new appreciation for my roots everyday. Yet I also find myself finding new reasons to be outraged, to bristle at the fact that an entire people has spent so much time under the vice of colonialism that assimilation now comes second nature. A rejection of indigenous roots, animist traditions that date back further than the tide of Spanish control. And I am unapologetically exasperated at an inability to see institutional Catholicism as nothing but a historical consequence of colonization.

My adolescence took me on a strange journey of acceptance, as I constantly rearranged the way I prioritized my ethnic identity. I have reconciled my hang ups over the years, while simultaneously realizing there are some things I may never make peace with. This especially applies to my perception and understanding of myself as a first world American citizen. I can’t help but balk at every backpacker that drawls on about the beauty of Philippines, their love for a tropical paradise that I never really felt authentically extended to the people living there.

But I digress since this can be said of any exotic country westerners choose to find refuge in. I am quick to accuse myself of the same behavior when I think of my attachment to Nepal.

What has fascinated me about life, especially in recent years, is the resurfacing of themes from my childhood that have manifested again in more nuanced and complex ways. My desire for purpose. My connection to my family. My power as a woman. The origins of my history.

Part of growth is realizing you cannot make homes inside of other people. The obvious secret one forgets is that you never have to feel homesick for the inside of your own skin. Despite our culture’s pernicious reverence for white skin, I have learned to love the darkness of my melanin, how it allows me to soak in as much light from the sun as I please. I have learned to celebrate my smallness, and to venerate that my beginnings trace to a time and a place out of reach from my realm of perception.

I may never truly know “what” makes me Filipino. I do know what it is that makes me my mother’s daughter. That I have inherited my father’s good nature. That I have my grandfather’s calloused hands, my grandmother’s enduring spirit. Even if, at the end of the day, I do not speak the language of my ancestors, I have found a deep sense of harmony between the identity I was born into and the one I’ve chosen to create. And maybe, at the end of the day, this is enough.

My grandmother Rosario.
My grandpa Andy on the left, in a brown suit. Dated Feb 11, 1979.
My grandmother and her 3 daughters, including my mother.
My father, as a young boy.

How to learn to embrace uncertainty

As someone who has chosen to dedicate a formidable amount of time to volunteering on a development project, I have been asked many a time to sum up as simply as possible the nature of this work. The world of humanitarian aid is quite complex, in ways that I have even yet to scratch the surface of.

Though I go through phases of posting on social media, I realize I sometimes do little to inform people of the actual work I do in Nepal. So here goes:

In June of last year we finished constructing a 6 room primary school with CSEBs (Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks). This is a sustainable building method that uses soil and a small amount of cement, and can be produced locally by hand with relatively cheap machinery. Our team of paid Nepali staff and volunteers produce these bricks because older, traditional methods of building homes with stone and mud is not earthquake safe, as well as the fact that the more the ubiquitous Bhaktapur bricks 1) cannot be built with re-bar to create earthquake resistant buildings, and 2) contribute to the major deforestation problem in Nepal due to being cured by wood fire.

At present we are constructing a community center using the same building technology, as well as a local orphanage that will house 18 children who lost their family in the earthquake. In partnership with another earth building team called Back2Earth, we are constructing an office for a women’s cooperative using rammed earth technology, which will function as a skills-building and micro-finance center in our district. In the very near future, we will begin constructing an earth bag home for a local widow a few minutes south from where we currently live.

Equally important, our agriculture program aims to provide a space to practice experimental permaculture technologies with traditional Nepali farming methods. We aim to support local farmers in cultivating more financially viable crops, such as fruit trees and coffee. We hope to empower local farmers by partnering and mentoring them on successfully growing these plants. We have the privilege of learning from hundreds of years of traditional Nepali agricultural practices and implementing them in ways locals have not had the opportunity to try, considering they rely solely on the income from crops they’ve grown for generations (like corn, millet, flour) that produce consistently high yields.

Over time, we’ve also developed an education program, where we engage local primary schools with weekly lessons that give particular focus to sustainability and environmental awareness, as well as creating an environment for young people that encourages critical thinking, creativity, confidence, and teamwork outside the engrained rote style of government teaching.

Whew. Okay, there’s your pretty, bullet-point style elevator pitch.

And it is all undeniably great, life-fulfilling work. My decision to be here, to live in this country for months at a time, to have asked for your support and your money, means that not only have I asked you to believe in this work, but I have asked you to believe in me.

But there’s something I want to be honest about. The truth of the matter is that there is no sure bet everything will go exactly according to plan. Since the beginning of our time here, we have hit road blocks, time and again. Rather than overcoming them completely, we have learned to adapt to the given situation, to let go of attachment to what we thought or hoped would happen, and in this, discovered more fruitful paths for us to walk.

There has, and always will be, a level of uncertainty. This is because we are not here as saviors to help people. We are here to work together, to build a better future for one another, with shared values and shared hard work. It may be us as foreigners who have the privilege to raise money, to work and live here without pay — but it is the intensely humble, always gracious, and immensely kind Nepali people who have chosen to trust us and take risks with us, which has allowed this project to flourish into something deeper and bigger than we could have ever imagined.

While explaining some of the complexities and conflicts we’ve encountered to friends and family at home, I was met with some indignant responses, posed with the question, “Why don’t people want your help?”

Building in the way we have chosen is a foreign technology. Some of the ways we’ve chosen to grow plants seem quite strange. Engaging children in non-structural, play environments is something most village teachers have never been exposed to before. To ask people who have lived a completely different reality, who have only known what it means to work to survive rather than to live for themselves, is asking a lot.

Other times, people have asked me with skepticism, whether we are actually helping people. The truth is, we may not have concrete proof that validates any lasting difference we’ve made in this community for years to come. Development work is not a simple or one-dimensional trajectory. You can come distribute supplies after a disaster (which is still critically important immediately after), but what happens to the people in the years following? How do you create sustainable infrastructures that don’t just give someone a temporary fix, but allow someone to empower and support themselves for the rest of their lives? As you may realize, this is not an easy question to try to answer.

We can continue to measure, as best we can in the coming months and even years, with numbers and statistics. Even then, the human element of it all is a bit more complex than a scholarly report can convey.

In choosing to be here, I have learned to let go of attachment to one desired outcome. I don’t choose to be here knowing that everything will go exactly as we hope. There is a necessary self-awareness in this work, in questioning the motivations for my actions everyday, in being cognizant of what I am capable of, in giving all of myself in a way that is both selfless and self-serving at the same time. There is a fine line between recklessness and bravery, and I walk that line with both appropriate concern and intense contentment.

And if you have taken the time to read all this, you may wonder how any of it applies to you. Yes, you!

Because at this point in time, you may be weighing a plethora of your own decisions. I’ve had countless conversations with amazing people in the 20 days I’ve been in Nepal, many times about how painstakingly consumed we are with wanting to make the right decisions — not just for ourselves, but for our careers, for our relationships, for our families. I have struggled a lot in my life with wanting things because I thought it would give me exactly what I wanted. I know I mention this a lot and at this point might sound a bit like a broken record, but I can’t get over how important this lesson has been throughout the past 2 years of my life. It’s a lesson I continue learning, in different contexts that continue to surprise me, time and time again.

Will that job make you happy? Will moving to a new city help you grow? Will investing time in your chosen passion make you talented? Will that person love you back? Will the work I do here create the lasting change I want to see in the world? The uncomfortable truth is that you will never know before you decide to try. And you need to be willing to, or you’re never going to find out.




What does it mean to make “the jump”?

People always ask what it took for me to make “the jump”. I’ve had many friends express their admiration for some of the decisions I’ve made over the past year, and in these interactions, intrinsically always attest that they could not do the same in their own life.

I feel a lot that in these moments, there is an innate recognition of my happiness that has caused others to project an idea of what their happiness should look like.

I did not know before what my happiness looked like. Sometime again the future, I know I will lose sight of it, until I go out and search for it once more.

Life paths are not a one-size fits all. I’ve spent a lot of time chasing things that I thought would make me happy because it worked for someone else. And I’ve spent a lot of time mourning the person I didn’t turn out to be, because I was not taking enough time to focus on the person that only I could be.

If we are privileged enough to attempt to do so, we owe it to ourselves to live as authentically as possible.

As anyone knows without me having to say, fulfillment can be found in anything and everything — in being passionate about your job, especially if you’re talented at it, found in a loving relationship, where your companionship encourages the personal growth of your soul, and in crafts and interests — like music, writing, dance, art — hell, even in roasting and brewing your own coffee.

A connecting theme I find in many of my encounters with friends is a hesitation to pursue what they want out of fear. And I’ve been there.

Fuck, I’m still there. More often than I’d like to admit.

I struggled for a very long time thinking the life paths I wanted for myself were out of reach because I didn’t spend enough time laying the foundations early enough, didn’t take the right job, didn’t discipline myself enough to be as talented at the art forms I’d always wanted to pursue.

But that’s the thing. It feels like many of us have allowed mainstream culture to define what it means to be good at what we love. The truth is, doing something you love doesn’t mean you have to be “the best” at it. The idea that the outcome has to be momentous and grand stops people from even trying. And yet, the beginnings of these journeys never are. Sometimes it’s just about giving yourself the space to try, and to discover whether or not you are capable of carving a path that is all your own, or realizing that there’s another one out there that’s even better.

More importantly, many of us struggle with knowing what exactly even makes us happy. That requires asking yourself the hard questions.

Who are you? Separate from the identities constantly thrust upon you in daily life — as a daughter or son, sister or brother, lover or friend. Because in the end, you are all, and none of these things.

Are you comfortable in your solitude? In the silence of just yourself?

It’s not about what makes you happy. When you cut out the noise from external variables attached to status or convenience or expectations from yourself and other people — do you know what lights your soul on fire?

What makes you feel like you’re really living?

Especially in this world where our sense of time and communication is warped by the internet, we’ve become conditioned to look for external validation and affirmation of our actions. That to be good at something, or to be anything at all, it has to have been recognized and documented for someone else, quantified in physically nonexistent computer code. You’re scared no one will hear the tree fall. That you are fully capable of doing or creating or being an amazing, gut-wrenchingly wonderful thing, but no one will ever know.

But I think that the most beautiful, strange, and awe-inspiring things about us, are the things other people may never truly know. The act of being human and having consciousness is a universal, yet deeply isolating experience. The only reality that is real is your own. So don’t wait for anything outside of yourself determine who you are, what makes you happy, and what makes you feel alive.

We compartmentalize each others’ happiness, thinking that we can originate it to one action or one thing that catalyzed it coming to fruition. We attach a sense of identity to singular things, like our titles or salaries or relationships or passions, not recognizing how intensely multi-faceted and complex we are. We don’t give ourselves the space to discover fulfillment and happiness in different places, or once we do, we struggle to peacefully let them go when they no longer serve us.

Living your life to the fullest is not easy,

We are always going to be, at the end of the day, instinctively resistant or fearful of change. I don’t think getting older means becoming an adult, I think it is just the process of becoming more and more yourself. And there is always mourning in this growth, in letting go of childhood, in letting go of previous versions of yourself as you constantly change, in realizing how different and the same you are from the people and places that have shaped you throughout your life.

Growing more into yourself means knowing yourself, means being alone with yourself, means realizing you are not like anyone else. And not letting that knowledge scare you, or make you feel lonely — but enrich you, enliven you, excite you.

“There has never been anything like you, there is nothing else like you, and nothing else will ever be like you.”

I had to learn what it meant to write for no one but myself. I agonized when I was young, to know what I could write to make me successful. I would write white lead female lead characters, would write story lines that I thought would be popular. Eventually I stopped writing altogether, only to rediscover it the way I do now. As a way to breath, rather than to be recognized.

Being your authentic self means being okay with being vulnerable. Open and honest with yourself about the things you want or don’t want, the things that don’t serve you, how you feel about the people in your life, and most importantly, how you feel about yourself.

None of this is simple. I speak from personal experience. People have often asked me for advice, as if I have the key to my own eternal happiness. But I am just as confused and lost as the best of us. I am still up to my ears in debt in student loans, I rely on my parents for support and barely afford the lifestyle I have now. I worry a lot about amounting up to the type of person I’ve set myself up to be in my head, getting easily stuck in vicious cycles I thought I’d grown out of.

But I stop and perceive the beauty in the lessons learned from these experiences. During my time at home, I took a part-time job working at a restaurant. Though I found myself on the end of questioning and wise cracks about working near minimum wage after spending $80,000 on a degree, I found myself unexpectedly happy with the nature of my job, not confined to a desk, and getting to have authentic interactions with my co-workers and customers daily. Being humble enough to accept and receive the support I do from my parents has brought a new depth of appreciation to what it meant for them to bring me into this world, for them to wholeheartedly support the pursuit of my happiness. And while being forced to confront things about myself I thought I’d overcome is not comfortable, going into that space has led to discoveries I did not ever expect. That deep down, there are things I never gave myself the space to want, because I was always too scared to try. Even now, I have yet to know what to do with these discoveries. But this is my gold, my greatest treasure.

The anxiety over not knowing whether you can trust your own decisions is always the hardest part. But it’s not about making “the jump”. It always starts small. And this decision, the act of taking a small step in an intentional direction — one that you know feels right to you — will be the easiest thing you ever do. You are not the person other people think you are, and you never have to be.

And bringing this all back to how the story started — the universal and intrinsic and very privileged desire to know who we are and what drives us — if you ever thought that buying a plane ticket or writing a book or being alone could help you learn about yourself — then you should probably do it.

In the case of traveling, it is all hilariously easier than you’d imagine. It’s not easily attainable, as anything that requires financial stability never is — but if you have the resources, all you have to do is as follows: 1) buy a ticket 2) find a bed to sleep in 3) let the universe take care of the rest.

You won’t regret it. And even if you do, at least then you know you had the courage to try.

Which is all any of us can do, and owe to ourselves, for the short time we get to exist on this earth.

What it now means for me to be “political”

It is true that I’ve had moments where being home has left me disillusioned. What did it mean for me to come back to a place that is inherently wasteful, where people deliberately shield themselves from discomfort in order to carry on their merry way?

More importantly, I found myself asking the question, “Am I proud to be from this place?”

Every individual human functions within their own constructed reality — and that truth has never been more apparent to me now with how divisive everything in our country has become.

Our Facebook feeds are nothing more than statuses and articles curated by algorithms to match our opinions. I remember when I was in India a week before going home, I decided to read through the timelines of people whose opinions were contrary to mine, let’s say for the sake of research, but more out of a sense of morbid curiosity.

What I found particularly unsettling was the re-appearing archetype I encountered: people who are libertarian-minded, support gun ownership, are openly critical and wary of Fundamentalist Islam and terrorism which sometimes borders on Islamophobic, and highly critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve noticed 3 different individuals who I’ve met on different occasions from different parts of the world quote Milo Yiannopoulous, and use the exact same wording of describing BLM as equivalent to the Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t see that as a coincidence.

I also don’t think these people are explicitly racist, or are “bad” people in any sense. They are people that also have perfectly curated methods of consuming news and information, have their own trusted sources, have found their own credible testimonials from people who reinforce the reality that comforts their opinion — it’s not like I haven’t done the same. These people aren’t hardcore Trump supporters (at least I hope), who support feminism and are against rape-culture, and who are generally empathetic of the refugee crisis.

But these are people who are also highly critical of what has been dubbed as ‘coddling millennial Social Justice’, who do in fact feel attacked by the growing social consciousness to be progressive about feminism and diversity. I’ve been condescending about this in the past, but I’ve realized now that doesn’t really do much in bridging the gaps in how we understand one another. So no, this isn’t a defense of conservatism — this is more a dissection of it, in a way that I really just want to understand. In a way that I’ve never tried before.

I think about impoverished people from rural parts of the midwest who have suffered from economic ruin in the shadows of forgotten America. I think about the black, Latino and Asian people, and especially women who support Donald Trump for president, amongst other things. What reality do they live in that I have completely failed to grasp?

While traveling I had the privilege in taking parts in workshops that revolved around the importance of holding space for people. At times, people share things that are uncomfortable, things that others may disagree with, things that in our normal everyday lives are too “deep” to bring out into the open.

I walked away from those experiences in awe of the power of empathy — what it meant to truly put ourselves in each others’ shoes, if we open ourselves to situations where we can relate to one another without preconceived notions of what we think the other person is like. That has also been a hard transition for me while being home, and one I try to take with me into interactions with everyone in my life, whether they be acquaintances, close friends, or family. Don’t waste your breath on small talk. Talk about the things that matter, and the things that are worth sharing, to make our understandings of each other that much deeper. That much truer.

Now, I don’t expect anyone to love someone pointing a gun at them. I don’t expect anyone to try to love anyone that they feel inflicts violence against them, whether with their opinions or with physical actions. When I think of the last time a strange man tried to put a hand on me, or someone said “Ni hao,” to me while I walked alone on an empty street at night, my first emotional impulse was not love and forgiveness.

But I think a lot about the divisive lines that we’ve drawn in the sand. Whether they were encouraged by a media, that does not necessarily have an agenda meant to polarize, but is only feeding into the emotions/anger/rage that we ourselves now produce based on our logical reactions to the violence in the world around us.

I always find myself deeply disturbed and internalizing of pain, in a way that feels personal, when I realize that there are friends/acquaintances/people around me that actually see the world in a very different way. Which is unfair. And just another consequence of realities being shaped by completely different variables.

More than anything the party warfare of Republicans and Democrats seems so intensely myopic. There are real stakes with this election, the difference between imprisonment or freedom to many. And in the past, I’ve laughed and said things that I felt wholly justified when criticizing conservative movements, because I see their opinions  as violence against me and against people I love and care about. But it’s the likelihood and simplicity of someone I interact with on a non-political basis having similar views. And being able to recognize that they’re still a good person, with good intentions, at their core. Me passing judgement on the fact that I think they’re only trying to make it better for themselves, or intentionally mean to do harm to me, is something that encourages this divide. And in the media and on the internet especially, I find the back and forth vitriolic on both sides. I wouldn’t say in equal amounts (but again that’s just my opinion), and all of it just feeds and feeds and feeds into itself until it completely warps our sense of understanding of the world and all the people in it.

Maybe these ponderings are quite damning; maybe I’m being convinced to dismiss bigotry in the hopes of alleviating my own personal anxiety and tension I’ve built up over the past few months. These are just illogical rationalizations so I can sleep at night, because I’d rather think people who vehemently disagree on an controversial topic can still understand each other as humans and use that middle ground to reach a sense of peace. Or even love.

There’s just so much hate in the world, and it’s gaining traction. And maybe there are people on opposite party lines that you believe truly support and preach hate. But I’m realizing more and more, beyond comments on the internet or the plethora of articles we are inundated with everyday, is that there are people that are just like me that happen to fall on different ideological lines. And our media and party wars have pushed us into further, compartmentalized boxes that label us in a way that we no longer see the things about ourselves that make us the same and allow us to relate to one another.

I’ve lost count of the number of terrorist attacks that have occurred across the world in the past few months. When I wake up to headlines, I wonder if my heart can take anymore pain. And then I am exposed to the differing reactions to that pain — the increasing xenophobia, the hatred, and heartache of those who are lost. And I see how these men act alone, how they feed off the pure violence and hatred that ISIS preaches; it’s become the perfect avenue and opportunity for them to act out their personal desires. I see how angry people have used movements to release their hatred. With Brexit. With Trump. And in a way that I can’t perceive, someone has easily said the same thing about the movements I support, like BLM.

I take a step back. I am privileged enough that I got to spend almost the whole last year of my life out of the country. In that time, I’ve seen worlds and realities that exist light years away from anything I previously knew. Good, honest, amazing people, who live in realities far untouched from the one I feel consumed by everyday when I read the news. But in an insidious way, our problems are still all the same. It’s ignorant to think that ways of life across the world go unaffected by the goings on of the globalized world. Every economic policy, sanction, lack of environmental protection, changing power dynamics between super powers, influx in immigration patterns — everything that happens has a domino affect and creates links of changes that we don’t even really notice until we have the retrospect of time.

One of the most formative experiences for me in 2015 was visiting the Philippines for the first time. In those 3 weeks, more than connecting deeply with my ancestral roots, I learned to appreciate at a visceral level what my parents did for me, in order for me to have the utterly amazing life I have now. I am the manifestation of my parents’ American dream. I may not necessarily be proud of America, but I am proud to be an American. And my duty as an American isn’t just to vote tomorrow. The problems that continue to divide this country will not go away after Tuesday Nov 8th. Maybe I am just another overly idealistic optimist who will continue to be disappointed by the trials of history. But I will not stop believing that there is an inherent goodness in people. I will not stop working for a better America. And most of all, I hope that you won’t either.