July 25, 2014





On a good day, when the sky is blue and there are no cars on the road, it takes fifteen minutes to get to Vi’s house. I drive down Laguna Boulevard, past the overpass where it changes into Bond, and past the high school where I turn left on Bradshaw on the outer flanks of the suburb. When you get out far enough, the boundaries of the new developments and decaying farmlands jut up against one another like shifting plates. The miles of tract housing reach out and imposes itself over the decaying and slowly abandoned farms and ranches. This process takes the form of cows and horses creeping towards the wire fence to observe, I assume, the Honda and Nissans gathered at the stop sign intersection. Where are you going? Why the hurry? The bulging eyes and slack jaws ask me over the iron barbs. To Vi’s house I say. 

I drive north, past Sheldon, and turn right onto Calvine. Vi’s house is off of Vineyard Road. Maybe some time ago, there were actual vineyards there.

On Google Maps, the route makes a seamless and angular S shape from my house. Here are the exact numbers: Vi’s house is 8.8 miles from my home. Taking the bus, the distance is still 8.8 miles although the route is not as smooth. As charted, the path resembles more of a bedroom key and to follow it to the end, the required time would be anywhere from 1:39 to 2:19 hours depending on the time of day. The bus does not run a constant schedule in this part of town.

Walking, the way is smoother. After all, you are not beholden by the rules of the bus schedule, just your own pace and level of fitness. In the summer, you are only beholden to your tolerance of the valley’s dry summer heat, and in the winter, the valley’s biting cold. But the path looks nice. Like a person climbing a small mountain. Or the incline blip if you are on the exercise bike. Thinking about it now, I’ve never ridden my bike to Vi’s place before. It’s something to consider. I think about her singing She & Him, “Alone … on a bicycle for two.” 

Still, I like the drive. I put my window down, feel the breeze blow into this grey bread loath of a car and watch the suburbs sweep itself out from underneath the road in front of me. I watch the landscape transition from Spanish missionary beige into dusty yellow. Like watching the strands of a straw broom stretching itself out on the cold tiles of our kitchen floor. Vi calls it Steinbeck yellow. Vi is full of sayings and jokes. Sometimes, I can feel the puns forming in the air between us and all we have to do is look at each other after the opening semantic links have been established. We both mind a lot. 

The distance from my home to Hong Kong is thousands of miles. Three thousand? Four thousand? Three thousand five hundred? I have already forgotten. All that I can remember now is that it was an unfathomable distance and yet somehow, I was able to make that work for a time, condensing those months and hours into nothing but a small trip into the country side instead out of the country. Unfathomable. Phantoms.

When I input Hong Kong into Google Maps, there is no route. No bus timeline, no walking path, no driving directions. The points of transit stop and end where they begin.

June 17, 2014

A letter from Willa Cather to her younger brother, written July 8, 1916:

My Dear Douglass…

I shall always be sorry that I went home last summer, because I seemed to get in wrong at every turn. It seems not to be anything that I do, in particular, but my personality in general, what I am and think and like and dislike, that you all find exasperating after a little while. I’m not so well pleased with myself, my dear boy, as you sometimes seem to think. Only in my business one has to advertise a little or drop out—I surely do not advertise or talk about myself as much as most people who write for a living—or one has to drop out. I can’t see how it would help any of my family any if I lay down on my oars and quit that rough-and-tumble game. It would be easy enough to do that. I’ve had a very hard winter and have got no work done except two short stories — one very poor. Judge McClung’s death and Isabelle’s marriage have made a tremendous difference in my life. The loss of a home like that leaves one pretty lonely and miserable. I can fight it out, but I’ve not as much heart for anything as I had a year ago. I suppose the test of one’s decency is how much of a fight one can put up after one has stopped caring, and after one has found out that one can never please the people they wanted to please. I suppose it’s playing the game after that, that counts.

However, the truth is usually gloomy, and one doesn’t have to talk about it all the time, thank goodness… I know I’m “trying”. Most women who have been able to make over a hundred dollars a month in office work, have been spoiled by it in one way or another. It is bad for all of them and it was bad for me… I won’t sit around and weep. I can’t be hurt again as badly as I was last summer. After this I’ll be more philosophical; I won’t expect too much, and I mean to enjoy any goodwill or friendship I get from any of my family. I enjoy every single member of my family when they are half-way friendly toward me. I enjoy them a great deal more now than I did in my younger days when I kept trying to make everybody over. My first impulse, of course, is to think that my own way of seeing things is the right way. But my second thought is always to admit that this is wrong and that I have been often mistaken. I even think I’ve grown a good deal milder in the last year — I’ve had trouble enough and losses enough. Three friends died during the winter whom it seemed to me I could not get on without. And perhaps the disapproval I got at home last summer has been good for me. I am quite a meek proposition now, I can tell you. I think I’ve had my belting, and it has taken the fizz out of me all right — and I’ll tell you this, it’s positively shipwreck for work. I doubt whether I’ll ever write anything worth while again. To write well you have to be all wrapped up in your game and think it awfully worth while. I only hope I’m not so spiritless I won’t be able to make a living. I had two stories turned down this winter because they had no “pep” in them. The editors said they hadn’t and I knew they hadn’t…

Time is good for violent people.

Yours with much love


May 27, 2014
Writing Letters

I received a set of Adrian Tomine postcards from Kenneth today in the mail. Though I’m a great fan of Tomine, it was Kenneth’s words that were more valued and appreciated. Sometimes people write letters about you, so that you’re reading about yourself from somebody else’s eyes. Other times, they write you letters about themselves, their daily lives, making you not the center of focus, but the center of their empathy and trust. These letters are also about you. I prefer these latter letters. Kenneth’s a great friend, a friend I don’t deserve, but still a friend.

I knew it was over between D and I on the morning she told me to stop writing her after five years of having written her. Writing about her, writing for her, writing to her, writing in place of her. She read all of it until she told me that she didn’t want to read it anymore (she said she didn’t have time, but what people mean by time is actually desire). And that was the day that I knew it was over. Vivian’s right, words have weight. And I’m sure Kenneth would say the same. That’s what I appreciate about letter writers and why it was over when D told me to stop writing about her, for her, to her, and in place of her. But that’s okay. I received a set of postcards today in the mail. Though I’m a great fan of postcards, it was the words that were more valued and appreciated. Sometimes people write letters about you, other times, they write letters about themselves …

April 17, 2014

12:47am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZUQVKx1DHn_rb
Filed under: sartorial denim 
April 17, 2014

I spent all night looking for this photo. It’s one of the most amazing denim jackets I’ve ever seen and my mom wore it without even being conscious of how niiiiiice it was. She wore it to the Ranch 99. She wore it to the TK Noodle. She even wore it to the hospital on the day that one of my brothers nearly bled himself to because of two-week long ulcer. She wore it on the morning that her and my dad drove out to Marin County to pick me up after I totaled my car and myself in the process. This denim jacket, I will remember forever. Look at that thing. 

Growing up, I never paid attention to my parent’s sartorial choices except to feel embarrassed about them. It’s FOB fashion at its finest right? Thinking about how they’ve aged at the same time that I’ve been aging (on a relative scale, but in a lot of ways, in the same way), these denim jackets, these Pooh corduroy shirts, and completely fit-for-the-occasion urban safari outfits, somehow gain new meaning. 

Besides being ahead of their time, which they always are, what I used to feel embarrassed about (I grew up in a predominantly white upper middle-class suburb, until white-flight happened, with its own sartorial codes that dictated your rank and position in the community, which is brought to bare in the looks that other parents and classmates give you when said parents roll up to the sidewalk to pick your ass up from school) is actually a testament to their willful ignorance (and not only being aware of their willfulness but also standing on it) of the various wants and desires that make wrinkled women drop tens of thousands on a Botox plan with a clutch on the side, make grown men cry because the stitching’s not right on the passenger seat of their Bimmer, and of their kids (who my brothers and I wished to be in their family, for a time). Because they had to be willful. 

Because they had to. And they did it. And that’s what they prided themselves on. There’s a beauty in work and making do against the odds. There’s a beauty in the want to work. And I don’t mean the “beauty” that’s reserved for talking about the human conditions of the slum squalid (because that is the only condition that we should concern ourselves with, or so they say from their position of sentimental economic distance), but an aesthetic beauty. Take this denim jacket for instance, when worn by mom, who is doing dishes. You want to talk about swag. You want to talk about who owns cultural capital. 

So when I see gramps in Chinatown with silk on silk on silk. It’s because she had to. She willfully layers silk on silk on silk, despite of it all. Don’t ask her why she doesn’t find it as special you do. What a question to ask: how do you feel lacking appreciation for yourself? 

So while I was gone, trying to tell them about finding myself and all this talk about the beauty of the world and its art and cinema, going to see about a girl and all that, they didn’t really find that, that special either. But they let me do it anyway because they knew all about what it meant to be willful.

12:46am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZUQVKx1DHnwEA
Filed under: parents journal