creative, poetry

springsong (we hold where we study)

this is not a documentation of our love.

of the time we switched the electricity off
afraid of dark places, i picked a constellation and brought us there
the light smelled of smoke and linen
and you were every other star i had yet to visit –

or of yawns hid behind calloused lips
replacing good-bye with good-night
knotted in the liaison of you-me
i’ve known too long to reach a revelation

or of the night moonlight rustled the curtains, a faux fairy tale
frayed at the ends, bruised by tampered ink
but midnight strikes as a man does a woman
and i choked at your fingertips

this is not a documentation of our —


image: we hold where we study, wu tsang

 

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poetry

wintersong, a symbiotic lesson

it slid upon your shoulders, heavy and wet, in the crevice where the sky made itself a home. the weight made you numb. like the first time you kissed her in the elevator,  bodies half a feet apart, and her eyes glossed over yours for a week. in return you received her drowsy warmth, and it thawed your hibernation.

i doubt she ever believed you were asleep.

you let her flutter past your skin. put a magnifying glass over your most fatal fractures. told her, look, these are the twigs kindling within me. let her pick them apart, radiate heat where it became empty. but how vast this emptiness was, for your promises to occupy?

before the first spark, her flint turned you into ashes.

when the night erupted into tangerine, and the wind intercepted my morning music, i started shoveling a road. believe me, there were no hesitations, but the only weapon i have ever weld was a spoon, too bent from trying to carve into you. when a few layers above surface was the most it could scape, my cheeks froze. she outran me.

normally i’m too self-indulged for hero’s complex, but your snow was piled so, so high

(once, you told me a hundred die from shoveling every year. a fun fact, in the moment
oblivious to the whirlwind ahead.)

drawing: the iceberg, frederic edwin church

 

 

 

 

 

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half-philosophical, journal

a story of two ghosts

Here I am, in my room on a Halloweekend night, trying to make sense of what “having a good time” really means – and how much the societal definition pressures high-school goody two-shoes to believe the quintessential college experience is getting shitfaced on a weekly basis.

I came to [insert east coast college with no school spirit] unsure of the person I would become. Dropped off at 113th St. and Amsterdam with two suitcases, some tear-blotched letters, and a scratched ukelele, I timidly approached an upperclassman at the gates and introduced myself as Skylar. Not the name I’d picked at five-years-old with my mom because it meant “bubbly”, hid behind whenever my Chinese name brought me embarrassment, grown to embrace despite its slightly outdated ring; with a new label I’d only decided on a few hours before moving in, I was trying to leave behind something monumental that I couldn’t comprehend. Skylar was still a stranger to me at that moment.

Over the past two months, I’ve come to learn more of her weaknesses than strengths. Unlike [old name], Skylar is prone to insecurity, like walking into an interview with a BS resume and a suit three sizes too small. The constant dread of failing to play an ideal character becomes a compass. It breeds irrational choices beyond my old comfort zone; it calls my authenticity into question. As I swing precariously between party-goers and the unapologetically abstinent, I still find myself seeking solace in spaces where I’m allowed to simply exist, unidentified and unattached. These places are rare, if not practically non-existent, unless I’m asleep. But even she is anxiety-stricken with social pressure in my dreams, and I wake up haunted by a question: how do you stop pretending when the authentic self is so bland?

Perhaps this is the consequence of being untethered in an unfamiliar sphere. There is no precedence to base a judgement upon, no general plot to follow. I cannot offer myself to this world because I do not know her yet. But if so, how can I justify the relationships I’ve formed here? People come together by recognizing parts of ourselves in others, and stay linked through shared experiences. People connect through honesty, because there is a limitation to which you can fake a certain energy level before returning to your own. When we cannot match these levels, we find approximations that leave us a little uncomfortable, just enough to spur development in turn. I see my old self scattered among my surroundings, but I don’t know whether to maintain those pieces. These connections become looser and looser, more convenient than inspirational, until it becomes only reflections of a broken identity.

As I write this, I realize I’m probably not the only one undergoing this heartless experience. At [school with too many privileged kids], “having a good time” is to hypnotize our inevitable loneliness into oblivion, find self-worth through substances, and pretend that proof of our existence at this institution is more than a color-changing dorm window and four $80,000 checks. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone – if anything, I fall victim myself. But the tragic reality of being in college is that you’re likely to spend more time losing sight of yourself than finding it, and even that version might deny our perverse attraction to the public eye.

After this post, I will fall asleep to the bumble and buzz of inebriated conversation on 114th, neither wishing I was in the crowd or as far away as possible. I will meditate on the promise of a quiet Saturday morning, hopefully where I am left to my own thoughts, as tasteless as they may be. And by tomorrow night, I will take my pick of one persona or the other, and leave the rest to natural instinct.

Or maybe, I just need sharper opinions. Surely college will give me more of those.

– a skylar, for now

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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half-philosophical, journal

i like to make myself small, because my biggest insecurities are the things i can’t change.

islands make me hopelessly sluggish. maybe it’s the periodic come-and-go of the waters, shops that close simultaneously at 5pm, or just a general bout of lethargy floating in the air – as long as it guarantees me seven hours of sleep everyday, i’m not complaining much.

but since coming to teshima, i’ve realized something critical about working in tourism: you’re constantly sleepy, but also a little bugged all the time, especially during peak season. standing in the heat for hours, cleaning lavatories / mopping floors twice a day, barring kids from crawling under rope barriers while dealing with half-intoxicated adults – daily – takes another level of fortitude. which doesn’t mix well on an island, where the only source of night entertainment is drinking wine and playing smash bros at the local hostel bar (this is why people in general party on beaches, not work on them.)

naturally, everyone ends up too preoccupied for workplace drama. instead, they subconsciously seek release through complaining about tourists, lamenting over their lack of manners and sharing top-annoying-moments of the day. as an innocent newbie to the service industry, i was shocked. surely these sensible people weren’t expecting every guest to pay for their expensive-ass admission, buy their expensive-ass merch, and remain perfect angels all along? for an area once rocked by an industrial waste scandal and massive depopulation, so many were quick to forget the magnitude tourism has had on the island’s restoration. the way they spoke of customers felt unnecessarily deprecating at times, a toxic stress-pride culture i just couldn’t agree with.

what troubled me most wasn’t the staff’s incivility, but the demographics they were often specifically directed at: chinese tourists. it only took a week to notice the air of deprecation towards them. during morning meetings, the staff would report incidents from the previous day so to take precautions in the future. someone’d report some bungling incident, and the manager would ask, “were they japanese or foreigners?”

“foreigners…chinese, i think.” upon hearing this, everyone would start nodding and ahh-ing as if, all of a sudden, everything made sense.

in these moments, the first emotion i find isn’t anger. if anything, i sometimes wonder if i should be angrier than i am (tbh, the job itself was tiresome enough without hitting the ceiling over every hiccup.) instead, i fall silent, tempted to agree but put on the defensive in the same breath. born and raised in japan, i’m no stranger to the media’s perpetuation of chinese tourist stereotypes: rude and obnoxious, often unhygienic, traveling in herds while taking selfies in front of everything and anything. it’s despicable how isolated cases of poor tourist behavior are blown up, encouraging prejudice against an entire race of people. at the same time, i’ve also met many sadly embodying these very views, and have admittedly felt ashamed to be associated with them. such experiences ought to help nurture an objective view, when instead they’ve embedded within me an unshakable cognitive dissonance, since impeding the usual audacity with which i raise my voice against prejudice. i always end up running away from controversy, not despite understanding both sides of the argument, but because of it.

the fact that my coworkers (who are relatively well-educated, if that makes any difference) would vent so candidly in front of me, a foreigner with a stereotypically chinese surname, also gave me a glimpse into my social conformity. reinforced by a fluent tongue, the similarities between the tourists and i could’ve well been reduced to physiological features – or even less. i can’t count the number of times my chinese relatives have commented on how japanese i look / act, pushing me more towards the confusing land of in-betweens. yet, even without being a visible minority in either country, even without being the direct receiving end of racial slurs, the possibility of being poked at keeps me anxious. my background may just be an object of curiosity to others, but that doesn’t save me from feeling personally attacked over every background question. i want to stop padding self-introductions with ‘but’s and ‘technically’s, desperately trying to prove i fit in. i want to do away with a deep flaw, one that haunts me and worries me almost every day: judgment. one of the biggest reasons i hesitate to embrace my cultural roots is because of the stigma surrounding chinese people – the exact attitudes i’ve indirectly experienced here on teshima. at the bottom of it all, i fear of switching from spectator to victim.

to feel lost in the ocean but constantly adrift; occupying both of each and none of either – it’s a widely shared narrative in our globalized contemporary. but when you’re caught between two communities, one widely loved (even fetishized, but that discussion deserves a post of its own) and the other overly ostracized, finding a sense of security in your identity becomes nearly impossible. deep down, i know that i’ll never be satisfied by how others perceive me. maybe it’s time to stop being emotionally invested in unshakable reputations, straighten up, and confront the world on my own terms−even if it means staying in the grey.

– a dissociated lucy


photo: thomas beaujoin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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in retrospect, journal

t’was the night before college decisions

with the last of my college decisions quickly approaching, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the disillusion that the past eighteen years of my life has built up to the next few hours. for years, i had no idea what path i wanted in life and, in all my naiveness, still grasped onto the faint thread of hope that it would somehow end up being the right one. of course, there was always a je-ne-sais-quoi appeal to the road less taken, and even in my most prolonged moments of self-doubt, the prospect of breaking new ground made the uphill battle seem worthwhile.

but was it really worth it? while brushing interpersonal skills and messaging strangers on facebook (in a totally non-creepy way, ofc), i’d neglected some of the most important relationships in my life, taking them for granted. while meticulously planning for the all-too-important future, my life became less and less dimensional until it folded neatly into a 64-page schedule book – downsides i’m readily aware of, but unwilling to admit. after all, i’ve worked way too hard only to feel even more anxious, alienated, and insecure…right?

the morning of february 19, i somehow received my first acceptance. i remember rolling over like a banana slug to the sound of the toaster going off, yanking the charger cord off my phone and scrolling through my gmail app until the sudden “i am delighted to inform you” bomb landed. unexpected as it was, there was no screaming, no sobbing, maybe some yelling to call over my parents – but that was it. the next few days were a whirlwind of firm handshakes with every teacher i’d ever made eye-contact with, watching my parents restrain themselves from telling the entire family tree, and then inevitably skyping said relatives after three hours. i was happy because everybody else was.

once the initial exhilaration had passed, i began noticing the void where a college acceptance had warranted to fill. on my computer was a ticket to a great school, more than i’d realistically hoped for and certainly ideal in my family’s eyes, but my heart had unconsciously rolled over to anticipating the next best thing. thinking back, it wasn’t humility that’d maintained my surface deadness. it was my penchant for apathy, to deem joy as a byproduct of complacency, that had backfired.  yes – i had the emotional range of a teaspoon.

for our generation, feelings like these are commonplace. nowadays, commitment seems like a double-edged sword. we dissattach ourselves from the present and minimize the risk of being hurt, only to find bleached emotions when we’re most desperate for them. even in an age of the rampant tortured-artist aesthetic, with the word ‘anxiety’ paraded on pastel-colored shirts and sylvia plath poetry set to blackbear music, we non-empaths are far from displaying our vulnerabilities. by tuning the norm to emptiness, we exclude ourselves from the taxing process of emoting.  perhaps, we embrace cookie-cutter feelings because we are scared of our own.

one month after that likely letter, i was rejected from mit. the unsurprising news hit me like a jagged stone nevertheless, but refusing to open the letter for almost the entire day had blunted its edges. with a 16-hour hiatus for emotional preparation, i’d been drained of disappointment by the time my gut-feeling had reified.

i slept. for a long time. then, i woke up, looked at the mirror and prided myself on not having puffy eyes. the day drifted by without paying much attention to my surroundings, as i filled my time with pointless conversations and episodes of “girls”. after dinner, my mom handed me her ipad open on a typical chicken-soup-for-the-soul article about failure, and asked me to read it out loud. i got to the fourth line, recited something i now have no recollection of, and burst out crying.

in hindsight, my tears weren’t for any specific school – not mit, not anywhere. i cried because i was finally allowing myself grief, and it felt cathartic. i cried because i could, and all of my hiccups and wrinkled tissues celebrated that. i was heartbroken, yes, but because i had tried – foolishly, unabashedly, utmostly. most of all, i was thankful that this long and toiling process, however flawed as it may be, could unravel so many threads from an eighteen-year-old.

the past almost-two decades have not only built up to the next few hours, but the days, weeks, and years beyond that. they’ve brought me to the realization that the interest rate on happiness is too low to save up, but also that it’s okay to be empathetic to ourselves. kiss or cry, it won’t be the two-page application outlining oh-so-impressive prestigious achievements that i’ll carry forth from tomorrow, or the promise of clout in an impressive degree, but the knowledge that i had kept my mind/heart open and allowed myself to be seen – by parents, teachers, essay-editors, and total strangers across the sea – and that, in and of itself, is self-confidence if i ever knew it.

so good-night, everyone – i can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings us. ❤
– a very teaspoon-partial lucy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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creative, poetry, Uncategorized

to drown with you

creature of water

at four, i rebuked
three-fourths of myself
wailed salt onto fresh unto cheek
like an unrested babe;
a cannoli on frostbitten steps
unlike her mother, mine laughed
and clenched me into the
water

kicking into twigs and arrows
flinted to scour my naked body
this is the obituary of dinosaurs
of tides devouring open mouths
we are amphibians
and we remember this pain

when it thrashed my hair
shriveled my fingertips
shrieked into the shower curtains
time to spit volcanoes and rise,
whispered, i am made of fire
lit where rivers turn to streams
watched steam scar the ceiling
tried to carry a diving bell −

at eight, i surrendered to density
sought the dynamics of afloat
(i am a creek, i am alive.)
nosediving into muteness, blinking embers
lungs spread to leak empty
simulating what it feels to di-
gasp (i am oceanborne, i am alive, so alive.)
tube-baby in a desalinated home
i searched, how long does it take to explode?

then
the explosives arrived
buzzing

one, two –
shouted, it’s coming anytime now, evacuate to higher grounds
three, four –
shouted, leave me, you are young, your life is worth much more
five, six –
shouted, take nothing and run, i love you, creature of water
seven, eight –

loss tucked neatly into ten meters
corporeal gasps drawn in wisps
and a thousand erased by sea salt
plunging amidst screams, blinking darkness

i saw my mother’s arms
clenching me out of the
water

at twelve, i swallowed ancient waters in gulps
denominator of firsts, in-betweens, and ends.


 

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