When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

June 2nd, 2016

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My favorite passage from this book:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Bodies

June 2nd, 2016

bodies Today during a meeting I remembered this blind date I went on during the 90s. He was Korean and in med school, someone introduced by mom, like one of her friends’ kids, so this was a dream match in every which way you can think of for my mother. In fact, she occasionally bemoans the fact she never married this short doctor her dad set her up with in the good old days. My date was nice enough, definitely richer than I was. I noted a fancy car, clothing, etc. At the time, I was in my bohemian publishing days, wearing a lot of dresses paired with vintage mens suit vests, platform shoes, and big earrings. When I was in publishing, everyone wanted to tell me a story that they thought would be book-worthy. That night, this young man told me a story about how he and his friends played a joke by taking one of the bodies from the lab (morgue? Who knows? Where do med students get bodies?) and snuck it into his friend’s bed, so that when the girlfriend came home, she would flip out while they hid in the closet. My date thought this was hilarious.

Sigh. Unfortunately, I was not destined to live out my mother’s greatest wishes. In response to the story, I think I had a good handle on an icy, righteous tone and death stares. I remember talking a long time, saying things like “that’s not why people donate their bodies to science” and “I don’t think it’s funny when you get in your bed expecting your boyfriend and finding a corpse instead.” I doubt I deflated the guy’s ego but he was very quiet after that.

Tough Asians Vs. Soft Americans

June 2nd, 2016

team-usa_2270673b My mom has been taking a free writing workshop in a local library. In response to “Describe one of your first trips as a kid,” she wrote about fleeing from Seoul to the countryside to escape the Korean War when she was four.

Me: Oh my god, that is so funny and awesome.
Mom: What are you talking about?
Me: Because normally to topics like that, people are expecting something like “oh I remember having ice cream on the boardwalk” or “flying a kite with my grandparents.” No, you straight up to go to “There was the Korean War. I was scared to go on the ox cart because the wheels were shaky. I was four, we were fleeing the city.”

My mom likes to say how Americans are very soft compared to tough Asians, that we think too much and are easily discouraged. This is usually after she hears me kvetch about life. I used to hear this sentiment as an insult, but I’ve recently countered that yes, tough Asians truly are tough! Americans truly are soft! But whom would you rather have a beer with? Who’s going to be a better listener? Thank you. One point for us Team Soft Americans. USA! USA!

Aging Out

June 2nd, 2016

K2,_Mount_Godwin_Austen,_Chogori,_Savage_Mountain I’m editing my mom’s essays and this paragraph cracked me up so much:

In old days in Asia if grandma or grandpa reached the time to go, their son bring them to deep forest in mountain and leave them there.”

I just am wild about that sentence. I love it to death. This matter-of-fact, harsh way of dealing tickles me endlessly. Ugh, what a gem.

Here’s the solution to our aging population crisis in the U.S. you guys! See you on that mountain, Mom!

P.S. It might be one of those things that only I find funny.

eggplant

May 24th, 2016

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One of my favorite foods is eggplant. I love eggplant parm; pasta dishes with tomato; ricotta and eggplant; roasted eggplant, whatever.

I once took my folks to Moustache, a Middle Eastern place in the West Village, years ago where we had babaganoush. They both enjoyed it. There, Dad mentioned how his family hid out on a farm during the Korean War where they ate eggplant until it was safe to come back to cities, and he said he now hated eggplant as a result.

I always felt sorry for him as a result. Then years later, Dad and I went to a wedding of one of his high school friends’ daughters at a fancy Manhattan restaurant (le circ maybe), after one of his chemo rounds. I encouraged him to have a martini, which may have been a mistake since he gulped it down and turned bright red immediately (oh dear. I cut him off). At lunch, one of his friends’ wives raved about the salad, how endive was her favorite food on earth, how once her son ordered an endive salad and she had ordered a plain salad, and how she was so jealous the entire time. I told her about my dad’s eggplant story and she said, “hey, he was lucky to have eggplant to eat.”

dementia sandwich

May 24th, 2016

download My dad very kindly dropped off some sandwiches for me. Two omelettes between sourdough toast with…a layer of peanut butter. Those elements do not go together, but I figure, what the heck, dementia sandwiches are better than no sandwiches, it’s a gross sandwich, but I’m kind of a gross person, plus I don’t want to hurt his feelings. It is nice of him to keep considering me at all during the chaos. But this time when I ate them, I got sick, so no more polite eating for me.

easter tears

March 28th, 2016

Easter-Eggs-iStock_000016098556Small-630x235 We warned First Son, but he didn’t believe us. He insisted on having an easter egg for dessert. When he opened it to discover egg and not chocolate, he was devastated and wept bitter tears. It was a little cute and sad. He is so very innocent.

the signature of all things by elisabeth gilbert

January 28th, 2016

is You know, there’s so much cult of personality with Elisabeth Gilbert, but the woman write like a goddamn demon. Here are my favorite excerpts of this book:

Arresting though these images may have been, the dreams somehow did not disturb Alma. Instead, they filled her with the most astonishing sensation of synthesis—as though all the most disparate elements of her biography were at last knitting together. All the things that she had ever known or loved in the world were stitching themselves up and becoming one thing. Realizing this made her feel both unburdened and triumphant. She had that feeling again—that feeling she had experienced only once before, in the weeks leading up to her wedding with Ambrose—of being most spectacularly alive. Not mere alive, but outfitted with a mind that was functioning at the uppermost limits of its capacity—a mind that was seeing everything, and understanding everything, as though watching it all from the highest imaginable ridge.
She would awaken, catch her breath, and immediately begin writing again.

“I will tell you why we have these extraordinary minds and souls, Miss Whittaker,” he continued, as though he had not heard her. “We have them because there is a supreme intelligence in the universe, which wishes for communion with us. This supreme intelligence longs to be known. It calls out to us. It draws us close to its mystery, and it grants us these remarkable minds, in order that we try to reach for it. It wants us to find it. It wants union with us, more than anything.”

“You think me naïve,” Wallace said.
“I think you marvelous,” Alma corrected. “I think you are the most marvelous person I have ever met, who is still alive. You make me feel glad that I am still here, to meet somebody like you.”
“Well, you are not alone in this world, Miss Whittaker, even if you have outlived everyone. I believe that we are surrounded by a host of unseen friends and loved ones, now passed away, who exert an influence upon our lives, and who never abandon us.”

–A Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert

“wild” by cheryl strayed

January 28th, 2016

quote-Winston-Churchill-never-never-never-give-up-88526 I resisted this Oprah-sanctioned book, its mainstream appeal is repellant to me, but then I caught a bit of the film. It intercuts images of the past across the screen while the character has a voiceover about ordering a bagel, or whatever, and that feels much like life to me — where you know, time goes out of order in your brain. So, the book, my god, turned out to be the most encouraging piece of literature. The descriptions of the physical and mental challenges of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, her feet shredding nails, etc., but it reminds me of how hard some parts of life are, and it introduced me to a whole slew of great Winston Churchill quotes, for which I am grateful. Who knew that guy was so positive? I always want to give up but he says NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP. sheesh! Just what the doctor ordered.

age of innocence

January 28th, 2016

The_Age_Of_Innocence when I read this novel in my twenties, I was so struck by the tragedy of this story — that two people who feel true love to not pursue it for the sake of propriety and their families. I reread that book as a middle-aged woman, and this time, I was like, Big Whoop.