another lifetime / light leaks

Happy First Day of Spring! Thank you to all those who have left me subtle or not subtle messages about reading my blog.

Hope is a belief that what we do might matter, an understanding that the future is not yet written. It’s an informed, astute open-mindedness about what can happen and what role we might play in it. Hope looks forward but draws its energies from the past, from knowing histories, including our victories, and their complexities and imperfections. It means not fetishizing the perfect that is the enemy of the good, not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, not assuming you know what will happen when the future is unwritten, and part of what happens is up to us.
— Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises
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I accidentally light leaked the roll of film I shot at Big Bear, which was disappointing but also resulted in some intriguing images, like the one above. These were taken with the Leica M2 and 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 on Fuji C200 (pretty much my go-to film) over the past few weekends. I’m still obsessed with the colors and textures of California, and I sincerely hope that I never get over it. Also, mountains, lakes, and my grandma are basically my top 3 favorite things, so it’s been a good time.

The last 2 weeks in books:

Educated by Tara Westover

It feels like everyone has heard of or read this book by now. It’s one of those memoirs that reads like fiction because growing up in a Mormon fundamentalist household in Idaho probably won’t be too relatable. Westover’s life is incredible, and she writes about it incredibly.

1984 by George Orwell

Slightly ashamed to not have read this book until now. I’m not really going to try to write a review of this book because that seems daunting, but I’ll say that it was unnerving to read because it is disturbingly relevant at times.

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

I have so much admiration for Michael Pollan. The way he is able to engage readers in the food/plant world is incredible, and I owe much of my interest in the food industry to the first time I read The Omnivores Dilemma a few years ago. This one was a fascinating history of potatoes, apples, tulips, and marijuana. It’s about plants and food, but it’s ultimately about the symbiosis of life.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I read this after some reviews of Wild by Cheryl Strayed suggested this book. Bryson is amusing, but it felt more like a long, entertaining trip than the epic physical and emotional odyssey that Strayed took. Still worth the read for anyone interested in long-distance backpacking. Oddly motivational.

Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li

This book is an imagined conversation between a mother and a teenage son that committed suicide. I think it’s important to know that Li’s child committed suicide, and she wrote this the months following his death. It’s a lot, but it wasn’t depressing. It’s a confrontation of loss and unanswered questions, but it’s also a fascinating discussion of language. Li has such a unique voice.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I don’t think I’ve adequately digested this book yet. I don’t know how to talk about it. There’s so much within it’s pages about family dynamics, regret, racism, trust, afterlife, and the unbreakable bonds of reliance and gratitude. I’m not sure how I feel about the way the characters developed (or didn’t develop), but Ward crafts an unforgettable story.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I was honestly a bit disappointed by this one given how much I’ve heard about it and how many “best of” lists it’s been on. At its core, this book makes you think. There are so many sides to take, so many perspectives to consider, and I love that there are no clear answers. Everything is a little bit of a debate. It’s a complex web of moral ambiguity. Beyond that, I wanted a little bit more out of the characters. Maybe I’m placing unreasonable pressure on Ng, but as a woman of color, I wanted her to make her Asian characters more interesting. I wanted some sort of indication that this wasn’t written by another white author, but she never really got me there. For that, I was disappointed, especially because she does make the effort to Chinese characters. They fell flat. Still, it’s a very well-written book, and definitely worth a read.

Response prompt for you if you’re still reading this:

When was the last time you felt pure happiness (even for a split second), and what triggered that feeling (if anything)?

perspective shifts / (sweet music)

I started a new job last week. It's taken a lot of mental work for me to be comfortable talking about it.

I felt like a failure when I moved home. I felt ungrateful. I felt lost. But mostly, I felt like a failure. I had graduated from a top university, landed a decent job, rented my own apartment alone, and gained independence in every sense of the word. And yet, I was miserable through the core of my being in a way I'd never been before. I couldn't even identify it at the time. It is only in retrospect, now, when I am aware of the happiness and gratitude I can feel on a daily basis, when I notice how much more easily smiling comes to me, that I am aware of the darkness of the past year.

I've been reading a lot. Books are what I gravitate towards when I am lost. I seek guidance from authors whose words have the power to embrace and heal me. JB MacKinnon's The Once and Future World provided a healthy dose of optimism and perspective-shift about the changing planet. In They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib's exploration in music and culture gave me a deep appreciation for Carly Rae Jepsen and the power of essays. Both he and Michelle Obama (Becoming) revealed the deep confusion and uncertainty they felt in their 20s, and I've held onto their words with great hope. They made my confusion feel normal, maybe even positive. Ken Liu has inspired me to write, although my struggle with fiction seems eternal, as my own true stories constantly push themselves through.

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I felt like a failure for moving home because I was afraid that it seemed like regression. More accurately, I felt like a failure because I thought of it as a regression. It took a few books, but I've finally realized that the decisions I've made in the last six months have led to more personal growth than I've experienced in years. I feel more open and vulnerable to the human experience, to questions of history, identity, and purpose. I feel compelled to learn about a variety of subjects, take on personal projects, write, exercise, and engage in my community. In the context of a logical career, perhaps I've regressed, but I've gained so much more.

I went from working at a design consultancy in Boston to working at as a film processing technician at a small photography lab in Irvine. The former required a degree from a top university, internship experience, and a significant amount of luck in timing. Landing that job was difficult, and for a few months, I felt spoiled and ungrateful for walking away. The job that I have now requires a high school diploma and a passion for film photography--both things that I had before I left for MIT more than five years ago. This fact alone makes it difficult for me to explain what I'm doing now to other people, particularly those who I don't believe will take the time to understand my decisions (or are unable to due to their own life experiences).

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For now, I've given up a nice salary, a sense of independence, a clear career trajectory, and the status of a steady corporate job. I've gained proximity to family and friends, knowledge about an aspect of photography that I'd otherwise never be exposed to, experience in a job that requires mostly physical capability, comfort of living at home, time to pursue my own hobbies and passions, and an increasing sense of clarity about what matters to me in the world. I've been able to spend time with friends, old and new, in ways that challenge my perceptions and intellect. I love being able to eat dinner with my mom on a daily basis, to see my grandma every weekend, and to hike in the mountains whenever I want to feel sunlight on my skin. Maybe it sounds like I'm running from real life. Maybe I am. But maybe I've just decided to choose a slightly different path than the one I thought I was meant to take, and maybe that's okay.

Mary Oliver wrote in Upstream: Selected Essays : "The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time." For the first time since high school (when I promptly squashed it), I feel the call to creative work, and for the first time in my life, I'm allowing myself to give it both power and time.

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