palm springs

The first time I went to Palm Springs, CA was to go to the Palm Springs Film Festival, which was organized by someone I did an indie movie starring very famous people. Like Marissa Berenson was the lead, and the guy playing her husband was in “The Truman Show” as Jim Carrey’s dad and shushed me when I said I didn’t like Laura Linney’s hyper-articulated acting style. (He said she was so lovely. And I didn’t like her acting at the time of “the Truman Show,” but I am freaking obsessed with her now. Have you seen her Lady MacBeth turn in ” Ozarks”? Please. Like she does have this weird, stylized way of talking, but man, does she connect with her material. I bow down.) I was the maid having an affair with this white guy I just mentioned, and this film festival founder was like Marissa’s therapist or something in the film. Man, I had no idea how famous these people were. I was just bopping around my own business, going to wardrobe, getting weird like dust applied to my eyelashes to give the mascara more real estate to land upon, looking quizzically at the camera dude who said “Wow, Korean people are so pretty!” (like what was that? Was that flirting? Should I have tried to “get with that”? Humans are sometimes totally perplexing to me.)

This Palm Springs guy said “oh you should come out to the festival!” I don’t think he meant it. It was just like a nice thing to say to someone, but that year, I had broken up with my boyfriend of four years, whom I had loved for so long, since high school. So I decided, yes, I should go. I shaped like a post-breakup, independent woman itinerary. Yeah! Look how bad ass I am! I booked a flight, hotel. Headed to the West Coast on my own. First part of the trip, Palm Springs, me alone; then later in the week, an old college friend, whom I used to be close to who then had become weird towards me, was going to visit with her boyfriend.

It was a terrible idea. I don’t like to drive, so I bought tickets to films and went alone. The only people who walked were homeless people and people who were out jogging. I’d get to films, the only one who arrived by foot, sweaty. Then I’d walk back to the hotel and cry. I was so desperately lonely. I had not known that’s how I would feel post-breakup. I hadn’t experience many relationships. I’d call my poor parents at night and weep and say how lonely I was, and they were upset with their helplessness.

But then things got easier. The film festival owner was a very kind man. He and his wife kind of took me under their wing, on what was probably the most insanely busy week of their year. I got tickets to the festival’s like most exclusive pic, a lesbian love story called “Aimee and Jaguar” and the festival guy’s wife drove me. I just took the kindness for granted, as a young, inexperienced person would. But when I look back on it now, I so greatly appreciate their kindness. Humans can be so incredibly lovely at times.

The last bit of my trip, my old college friend came to visit. Things had not warmed between us necessarily, but she enjoyed making fun of her boyfriend (now her husband). I remember how he would drive us to movies but in order to get the most affordable (free) parking spot, he had kept a bike in the trunk. He’d drop us off and pick us up, but bike to his car. She has since married him and had four children, and by all social media accounts, seems fine. We were so close freshman year and then she had to leave because of a medical condition. She was distant when she returned and we never returned to that closeness.

Anyway, tonight, I remembered that intense loneliness I had felt as a young person, and though sometimes when you’re young adult, you don’t want the comfort of your parents, I called them anyway. It didn’t comfort me at the time, but tonight, I recall that time with great fondness for the people all three of us were.

so professional

I’ve been called “professional” multiple times in my work life. I think the reason I get this a lot is because I appear calm under pressure. And the word seems to apply to how people conduct themselves — so when I’m told I’m “professional,” it’s also because when I’m around coworkers who are abusive or bullying or in some other way quite unpleasant, I can divorce myself from my feelings and respond as if they are communicating like a normal person.

I think that’s a really crappy definition of “professional” and it’s not necessarily a goal worth the time, but we all do it. There’s one person in power who acts out, and we all ignore it, even though it’s so bizarre and embarrassing and toxic and draining and hurtful too. So when I’m told I’m a professional, or behave so mega-professionally, I don’t necessarily take it as a compliment.

everything everywhere all at once

My mom offered to take me to the Michelle Yeoh film, which I jumped at. Not only did I want to see it, I am having trouble unwinding when I’m not at work. I need to be extremely distracted to get out of the relentless cycle of to do lists that wrack my mind. The quantity of work that needs to get done is overwhelming. I liken it to standing in front of a trembling dam holding back an ocean just ready to rush and run you over.

Mom had heard on a podcast that it was for older people. Not so. It is an extremely stylized take on a middle-aged, immigrant mom who’s got lots of regular life pressure, but in the middle of a meeting at the IRS, gets recruited to rescue a plague on the multiverse. There are multiple relationships in pain in the A story line – mother/daughter, husband/wife, mother/her father. These folks are a mess.

This is not a film for the Baby Boomer generation. Is it even a film for Gen Xers? Depends. I have friends (one) who said she needed go to take a breather from it – there is so much visual stimuli, costume changes, fight scenes, storylines, and two dildos. Mom walked out after one hour.

I loved it. I thought the script was really tight with its A story line, before it introduced B story line and multiple tangents that came together. You get so much insight into the state of all the primary relationships within ten minutes in just cutaways. That’s some efficient storytelling.

The fight scenes – and the acting they required – are remarkable. I love all martial arts films so they didn’t lose me the way they lost my mom. I admired the choreography and the way the actors moved so smoothly (I mean, god, the stretching alone deserves like an Oscar. Is there an Oscar for stretching? Of course not). And is there anyone but Michelle Yeoh who could play that part? (It was originally pitched to Jackie Chan, but honestly, I don’t think anyone else could handle the physical and emotional demands of the part.)

I am mixed about her acting. I don’t love it. I think I really like the American school of acting where it’s over the top and the acting choices at the top of the scene are crystal clear. But that’s not Michelle Yeoh’s jam. She looks uncomfortable to me when I see her in films – however, her gifts in moving are totally deserving of celebration and it is part of acting for shizz – and not only that, the woman is (I think) close to 60, yet moves like a dream, as if she posses a supple, flexible twenty-something machine and she looks strong.

She has one scene where her character accesses martial arts expertise for the first time – her body moves like an expert, while her face has to convey the shock of what her body can do. That’s no mean acting feat. All the Asian characters speak a mix of English and Chinese – that is how people who are bilingual communicate, but dude, if you didn’t grow up like that, how on earth can you pull that off? There is so much about acting that is technical.

But all that granular analysis aside (sorry, bad habit, whenever I want to figure something out), I liked the story. To my surprise, I didn’t relate to the daughter character, but the mother. The mother’s constant criticism has shaped that daughter into being a sad person – that constant barrage of not-good-enough feedback can make you into someone who is permanently defeated. (Luckily, I have healed parts of that my experience for myself and Mom and I can have other colors to our relationship – though I panicked that I would do that to my own daughter. I like went home and apologized in advance.)

The person I related to was the Michelle Yeoh character, the put-upon, stressed-out mother, who is so in the weeds with the vagaries and demands of daily life, that she has no mental/emotional real estate to be present and notice that she hurts her husband and daughter, and is still caught in the emotional trap of trying to please her father.

She starts the movie running around trying to throw a party, cook food for her father, and review receipts for the IRS. She’s absolutely like the rabbit character in Alice in Wonderland, who is constantly feeling late.

Oh no, I thought. That’s me. I’m that. How am I going to detach myself to these relentless, daily tasks breathing down my neck and be present? And then, what’s weird, is the whole thing reminded me of my dad. I bawled for a good half of the film. These missed connections, the speed of life – I mean, I think I was pretty present with dad for the most part, but life still whips by.

Anyway, I liked the film. I thought it was a tremendous work of art, and I appreciated how hard everyone worked on it. At the same time, no way should my mom gone and she should have left earlier. Ha Ha.

i belong here. i deserve to take up space.


I was going to say I don’t think Asian Americans have had a harder time than this recent pandemic spate of hate crimes, except I think, I know, there are have been periods of violence before. Of course, there’s Vincent Chin’s murder, but there were also periods of time in the 1900s or so (sorry, not a historian. I’m worse. I’m past middle-aged, voracious reader with a weak-ish memory, so my recall is not perfect), where Chinatowns were burned to the ground. So. The racism has always been there, but with the pandemic, we are all socially isolated and we actually need social interactions to keep extreme beliefs in check. There’s a reason why there tends to be more conservative views in rural and suburbs, and more progressive ones in urban areas. When you live in a densely populated area, you are forced to interact with each other. (I mean this very generally, and I’m totally stealing this explanation). For some reason, the universe’s crazy frequency is locked in on Asians. But I think this awfulness will die down.

But all that reasonable stuff aside, this has been an incredibly disheartening time. Personally, my anxiety has been jacked up to an all time high. I can tell my choices (like skipping the subway) didn’t make sense to some friends (Asian and non-Asian). I now carry 2-3 mini weapons in my purse when I leave the house. I kind of experienced this in the beginning of the pandemic when Asian peeps were just getting punched, not killed around March 2020. One of my cousins (a tiny female) got sucker-punched in midtown. I ordered a blonde wig and mace (the wig was absolutely ridiculous and was returned). So the anxiety is real. And I know I’m not the first to feel like a moving target because of how I present to the world, but it’s eye-opening. The silver lining is it gives me radical empathy for people who walk around the world with the fear all the time. Jees.

As of this writing, there have been three racially targeted massacres this week, two of which targeting Asians, one targeting Black Americans. Is it guns? Is it racism? How are they going to fix this one?

I have no idea.

nurses

At work, we did a monthlong celebration of nurses with an event where bigwigs shadow nurses. One VIP said “doctors heal your body, but nurses heal your soul.” Others really opened up about their moments of loss and got overclempt and it made me think of the role of nurses when my dad died.

We were lucky with our doctor, who was warm and reassured my mom that she took exquisite care of dad, but that he was dying. She bought us coffee. On the second or third day of dad definitely on his way out, she talked to us about what the waiting process might be like and mom noticed he had stopped breathing (she’s good at that). It made all the professionals in the room panic and they checked his pulse and told us to come forward. It was one of those rare times where my mom and cried at the same time.

Afterwards, we stayed in the room with him for a while. I had already begun funeral arrangements so there wasn’t much to do. We decided to go eat. Hospice called and I said “thanks you’re too late” but in a nice way, I swear. When I came back, it felt wrong to be in the same room as dad’s body. It was okay before, but after we had left for an hour or so to eat, it most definitely was not.

On my way out, a nurse, not even on dad’s case, stopped to say she was sorry for my loss and she choked up and talked about her dad. She said she feels him when she needed him. The good part is you feel their presence in your lowest moment, but that the bad part is you heal and their presence disappears. Both suck, she said.

We hugged. It was so profoundly kind of her to open up an old wound in order to comfort me.

the practice and power to say no

Kim Cattrall, an actress who was part of the original “Sex and the City” who turned down the latest reboot talks about the power of saying no. It’s a good message because I’m try to learn the practice myself. I think one of the blessings of dad’s demise is that I am more acutely aware of my own mortality. There isn’t enough time. I’m not going to get to read every book I want to in the New York Public Library, I’m probably not going to travel outside the country very much (we’ll see what happens when the kids get older). I’m not going to write as much as I’d like or spend as much time as I want with all my friends, but, knowing that there is an end is helpful. An end is actually an excellent organizing principle. (Deadlines, word counts, death, etc.) And gosh, in a weird way, it is very liberating. I don’t really stress over advancement at work or career goals, which took up a great deal of my energy previously.

I’ve been practicing Swedish death cleaning, which is the practice of cleaning your stuff, your house as if you would die — it would probably result in a space very unlike my current abode — but I’m using this with people, not stuff. I cannot fetter away my time, and I’m not going to grow closer to everyone. There is only so many spots in my life boat. I have spaces for my children, my husband, and my mom. There aren’t a lot of extra seats after that. It’s hard when people are nice who express interest in exploring a deeper friendship, but…I don’t like everyone the same amount. And, if I only have a limited amount of time and energy, I am not going to pursue every social invite extended to me (yes, I know, I’m spoiled and lucky that people still invite me to things). But is it worth it to go if I’m bored? Is it worth it to go just so I don’t hurt someone’s feelings? (That’s the primary motivator of my social life in the past. That, and FOMO, or a wild panic that I might lonely later so I should fill up my social bucket now.) Nope. There are even people I like whom I cannot hang with right now. I have to accept there is never enough time and so, I can’t waste it.

Why I said at dad’s memorial is that there is enough time with the people you love. It’s so true. It’s also a total steal from the TV show “The Good Place” — the character Eleanor says that to Chidi when they’re nearing their end, but everything must end. What is there left to do but accept it?

I know. This is like way too dark and like more than anyone bargains for, and if I said this aloud, I probably won’t get invited to parties any more ha ha h ah ah ha hah.

silver lining

With my dad passing, I definitely feel a sense of my own mortality. Today, I told Husband, if we move, we have to make sure we could afford it if one us dies, and he didn’t think that was very strange.

The blessing of when you know that there is an end is that you’re better about organizing. It makes social decisions much simpler. There are a handful of friends I want to keep up with outside the family, and that’s it. There’s no more room on my boat.

Who knows though, maybe I’m wrong and next week, I will be filled with FOMO and fill my time within meaningless exchanges with superficial relationships.

That sounds like me. Not

ashes

On Friday, I picked up Dad’s ashes from the funeral home and brought him the cemetery and oversaw him being installed in his last resting place. I was surprised heavy his remains are. I didn’t think I’d want him resting anywhere. He’s no longer in that body, so what’s the difference? But he has high school friends from Korea who want to come visit, and for myself and the kids, in the end, it turns out I’m glad, actually, we have a place to visit.

His friend Mr. Park visited him yesterday and said he had a good spiritual connection and that dad had a wonderful sense of calm and peace. That’s nice.

That’s not what I feel. I feel like I’m wandering, wondering where he is. I miss him, I think, even though he’s been missing for a while, due to that pesky dementia.

But as I told a friend, death was always intimidating, and by that, I mean the experience of it, but also people who had experienced loss. It seems impossibly sophisticated and grown up, which is never really in my wheelhouse. But now that I’m on the other side of it too, I suppose it’s also ordinary. It seems much larger before you go through it, like a wave about to crash on your head. It seems overwhelming and then it fades away.

Except those stupid feelings. When the guard drove us to the mausoleum, I recognized him — my babysitter’s husband. I asked if he had met my mother and he said “I’ve only met your dad,” I resisted pointing to the bag at my feet and saying “he’s here too.” Why did I censure that thought? It’s not like I come across as that normal. What is Normal?

how to get over the loss of your dad


1. Listen to music
2. Take a lot of walks
3. Take naps
4. Shop
5. Watch TV
6. Have soup.
7. Write about the loss. But don’t cannibalize the experience to turn your pain into an amusing, entertaining anecdotes for others. Or do it, but just be careful.
8. Make jokes.
9. Listen to more music. Really helps soothes those distraught brain waves.
10. Just when you think it’s over, it’s not.
11. Embrace the moments of lightness.
12. Welcome his visits in your dreams.
13. Get massages to unlock the crying trapped in your body.
14. When the guilt and the questioning your past actions comes, it’s okay. Go ahead and work that through.