Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Imaginings of Quarantine Letters, or Rather Essays, Monologues?

As I read more of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and 1993 essay E Unibus Pluram: Television and US Fiction, I feel as if I am morphing into a white man. His characters are troubled skinny white boys who smoke copious amounts of marijuana and have existential crises concerning their erudite brilliance. Of course the tennis academy's skinny white drug dealer reads books entitled Cambridge Refractory Indices of the Camera Lens, 4th Edition or something along those lines; and the skinny white author self-insert has an interest in Byzantine erotica; and the not-so-skinny white older brother regards women as inconvenient objects, pieces of furniture to serve his character; and of course they all have issues with fatherly disappointment and social anxiety and glory. White boy problems. 

I, personally, would love to be concerned with my own brilliance if I could bring myself to give an unhealthy shit. At times I do feel discernment, or rather pride, towards my own wit that can translate to dry humour that can translate to the complex funniness of my entire being. I have taken on the priorities of an overthinking white boy who simultaneously watches the Kardashians and 'that girl' videos on YouTube. 

In my admiration of Wallace's writing, I have become inspired to expand my vocabulary. Nobody does the internal monologue better than Wallace - with his essay-like structure backed up by nil evidence and a paragraph finale of a colloquial, jesting sentence that is inappropriately out of place.

A word: 

solipsism (n) - the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist

If this does not scream overthinking white male, I don't know what does. The word also accurately encapsulates the experience that is quarantine, social isolation, solitude. No mind seems to exist outside the entity that is my own anymore. She is whirring of her own accord, desolate, uninfluenced, going rampage.

Another:

dilettante (n) - a person who cultivates an area of interest without real commitment or knowledge

Synonyms include dabbler, dallier, myself in each new phase of quarantine

As I read Wallace's outdated essay regarding the US population's addiction to television, as I read the fact: The average American watches television for 6 hours a day over and over again because he writes the phrase incessantly, I feel guilt toward my own perpetual media consumption here indoors. However, to Wallace I must say, I would love nothing more than to be living my very real exciting life if I were allowed to live it. My dear dead brilliant friend, you could not have predicted this global pandemic. You also could not have predicted the predicament that is social media as it is today - inclusive of all its addiction, anxiety and vanity - though you came close, and your imagining of the way such an invention would affect people was almost spot-on, and you would be frightened if you saw society today; but that is a whole essay in itself.

***

Working on my thesis is so mind-numbingly boring that I must blast music to get through the transferring of references from this side of EndNote to that. In 2021 there has been the release of Kanye's Donda (very thinks-he's-brilliant-esque, but I do love music with a God complex), Halsey's If I Can't Have Love I Want Power (I think the title says it all), Lorde's Solar Power (very disappointing), Drake's Certified Lover Boy (eh, it's just Drake), and the soundtrack of Shang-Chi (so underrated). My personal favourite noises, however, have been the blasting of Charli XCX and Grimes, and my latest playlist consisting of angsty 2000's teenage music. I kind of wish I were a teenager in the 2000's - like Julia Stiles driving her car to Bad Reputation or Cher giving Tai a makeover to I Wanna Be a Supermodel.  I think you can tell what mood I'm in.

One day as I was perusing through Spotify, I noticed three boys I had previously hooked up with all listening to the same song at the very top of the activity bar. Okay, they weren't actually listening to the same song, but this is my analogy for the fact that I came to the realisation that they all have similar music taste. Perhaps I have a type. As I had a quick scope of each of their playlists I came to the conclusion that their tastes seem to chronologically improve.

We begin with the first boy, who listened to an abundance of Tyler The Creator. He was symbolic of the aforementioned skinny white boy - the one who does drugs and ruminates on his white boy problems. The second had neatly organised playlists, more relaxed, more endearingly revealing; only slightly cringe but still respectable, admirable even. And the third had playlists thirty hours long. Who has playlists thirty hours long? They were playlists of a variety of genres, playlists of somebody who clearly loves sound, playlists of somebody who I now recall asking me, "do you ever just empty your mind, and like, think of nothing?" God, his Spotify almost makes me wish I weren't so horrendously depressed when I met him. 

I'd have loved to turn my telling of these boys' Spotifies into a David Foster Wallace-esque commentary on pop culture, but alas, I cannot make fun of them (and myself). It feels too disrespectful. Perhaps there was no interesting story here to begin with either.

***

Spring commenced with bike rides with my father. Canberra truly is the city of lakes, cycling and hiking. I recall a high school friend of mine once describing Canberra as a valley between mountains, with seven peaks from which you can see the whole city. I'm not sure if that number is correct. I recall her driving us up to secluded lookouts with views in the middle of the night overlooking the speckling lit city after a party or post-KrispyKreme runs; or on a scorching languid summer's day, where we would sit and gossip about irrelevant people and things.

There are differences between riding back then and riding now. The hills surrounding the lake used to feel insurmountable, but I can now ride the kilometres without even changing gear. I guess that's what happens when your legs are a little bit longer, when you're a little bit stronger. While I used to ride in front of my sister, I must now ride behind because I cannot help but slam the brakes when encountering a downward slope or remotely sharp turning. I guess that at some point over the years I must have developed fear.

We rode past that red slide that used to seem so gigantic, but now appears rather quaint. We rode past the bench at the top of the hill where I used to always complain of thirst, but now instead look over the lake at the tower while taking an appreciative breath of fresh air, Eat Pray Love style. Being Spring, it is swooping season, and there is a single stretch of road in the suburb called Ainslie guarded by one menacing magpie. Head down, unthreatening, fearful but quick, you must cycle through the dangerous stretch. I feel bad for refusing every cycling trip with my dad throughout my teenage years. 

Love,
M

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Paris Hilton and David Foster Wallace


My book club is reading Infinite Jest at the moment, where-in-which at our last meeting I characteristically had not read the allocated pages and sat nodding dumbly as I stared at my reflection in the Facetime camera (I looked cute that day). A girl commented that the book made her wish she could write, to which I thought to myself, perhaps I should actually read said book instead of mindlessly skimming pages of Wallace's psychobabble. To be honest, it is psychobabble. Infinite Jest reads like the monologue of a ridiculously intelligent, spiralling man who took the time to sit down and write the most epic, inner-voice-replicating autobiography slash character study slash society study that he could. He wrote the world as he knew it into a book, with fun footnotes and all. His voice is satirical and ironic, yet somehow you know he means every word he's written - in all its absurdity. It all probably really happened to him. He seems narcissistic enough that he'd write specifics as they happened to him. Real life is absurd like that, after all.

I cannot think of any way to describe the book besides... reflective of the modern condition, as cliche as that sounds. The author has a cyclone mind. He makes me think of that character from Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends - another one of her silly elitist female Irish characters who is probably pale and drinks tea while staring at the ocean - or are the ocean-watchers Scottish? Anyway, her name is Frances, and she narrates, "I fantasised that I was smarter than all the teachers, smarter than any other student who had been in the school before... I'm going to be so smart that nobody understands me." Wallace's cyclone brain is whirring within his skull as his expression remains placid. I doubt his words came out in real life as they do on the page. I mean, he introduces the novel with silent words and a seizure in the middle of a college-admissions interview. As a friend messaged me, in anxiety-inducing social situations she is like :|. A realisation I've been coming to recently is that respect must be earned, and minds cannot be read. 

Last night I painted my toenails, with little pink toe separators and all, while watching Paris Hilton open her glittering notebook filled with recipes written in colourful texta. "This is so you," Kim Kardashian-West chuckles. "I swear travelling with Paris is just... do you remember? You'd bring all these stickers and we'd sit on the plane and all we'd do is collage for the entire trip." As absurd as the specifics of Wallace's characters (or should I say, Wallace himself) are, the specifics of Paris are both endearing and filled with personality - from her stiletto shaped spatulas to her pet pig, Princess Pigalette. Paris has never tried too hard to demand respect from the public. Instead she's always milked the blonde bimbo persona. She built an empire out of not caring and being dumb.

Paris has a barbie voice on Cooking With Paris, with her on-brand quotes lighting the screen: "Couture in the kitchen means dry cleaning bills." You get the gist. Yet occasionally her guest of honour will share a serious detail about themselves, and her voice will slip into normalcy - not just normalcy, but the deep intelligent voice of an introspective girl friend and the founder of an empire. On The Simple Life (2003-2007), Paris is relatively conservative compared to her more brazen co-star, Nicole; and on her podcast This is Paris, her opinions are almost entirely neutral. Her only nuggets of wisdom are given as bedazzled anecdotes: "Be like that Chanel bag that nobody can touch. Don't be the fake on Canal Rd. that everybody can put their hands on." Paris doesn't offer us anything. The world floats around her: a seemingly simple-minded star who may or may not have a cyclone circling within. I mean, she doesn't strike me as easy-going (I have yet to watch her documentary).

To have a mind like Wallace but instead write it like Paris. That is how I'll conclude this Thursday night brain fart.

Disclaimer: We'll never really know about Paris. As @kardashian_kolloquium's theory goes, oversharing can be a form of defence. Make so much noise that the world doesn't know what's really going on.

Love,
M

Monday, 14 June 2021

God Complex

The boredom used to creep in ever so slowly. I'd strategically empty drying racks and take down washing lines in intervals, breaking up the never-ending idle hours. I'd decide that I would paint as if by numbers, or cook the most tedious dish, just to kill time. When did I become somebody who needed to kill time?

I now sit on the floor at 11pm with a charging cable too short to reach the desk, which is sprawled with unstudied mandarin characters anyway. The cable is too short because I bought an iPad, for sleek new notes and databases. I also cut my bangs, renewed my idolisation of Christina Yang, and decided I want to become an orthopaedic surgeon, for now.

I felt such detachment from this person I used to be. There was once a version of myself who had something to prove. Her identity was pure ambition, goals and independence, and she was known for it. Oh, to be rough around the edges, and bossy, and perceived as capable. Oh, to want to play the game, to be vindictive, to have glory. When did I stop wanting glory?

Competition is ugly, I said. To be competitive is to be desperate and ruthless. It's like a cat scratching its way up the side of a well, snarling and scraggly as it reaches over the top, accomplished against all odds.

In the car, I sat quietly in the back as a group of girls spoke about feeling imposter syndrome. The next morning, I whispered to a friend, "Do people actually feel that way?" Despite no sound evidence of my intelligence, and no approval from my seniors, and no effort on my behalf, I somehow have always assumed that I am impossibly capable of anything. It's called a God Complex.

Also, I listened to Lorde's new song and she sings I'm kinda like a prettier Jesus. I love her. She is like a prettier Jesus. The song has grown on me.

Love,
M

Thursday, 20 May 2021

The Tornado Calms for a Second


Or rather is calm in general. Or rather does not calm at all.

I attended an art exhibition yesterday; not one of those modern ones about the human condition and whatnot, which is usually my thing, but one of those with biblical depictions, European portraiture and Van Gogh's weirdly bright sunflowers. By weirdly bright, I mean positively glowing.

There were a few paintings that caught my eye: 

A depiction of Genesis 24: A servant stands by the central well, tasked by Abraham to find a wife for his son, Isaac. He devises a test, awaiting a woman with the kindness to draw water for himself and his ten camels. That woman is Rebecca. 

A blurred golden rendition from Homer's The Odyssey; the scene in which Ulysses escapes the island of the one-eyed monster. If I recall correctly from my bedtime stories, Ulysses introduces himself to the cyclops as Nobody, only to injure the cyclops' one eye. The cyclops then stumbles about, crying "Nobody hurt me. Nobody hurt me." This story used to make me laugh and laugh at the sheer simple ingenuity.

And a painting of Saint Margaret. Her expression is formidable. She knows her worth, her importance, her significance. She is dressed in traditional Spanish robes. Where she would traditionally be wearing a tiara, she is wearing a straw cowboy hat, a Spanish equivalent. And melding into the darkness of the background, at her feet, is Satan disguised as a menacing creature. He is snarling, and she is un-phased.

There is something eternally graceful about history. In these stories, the world seems bigger, time seems longer, and the present seems completely insignificant. I almost want to throw a splattering orange at the modern art in the middle of the foyer, or spill juice on the book I am reading. Adults: an obsession with Instagram, modern relationships and today's hustle culture. I read an article about the lonely pandemic. By this I don't mean the coronavirus pandemic that sent us into isolation (which was/is awful), but the pandemic that started in the last century, where-in-which we all seem to be paying for individuality, privacy and studio-apartments to live all alone. Modern culture is the bane of my existence. It is graceless, Facebook is stupid, and Tinder sucks. I feel as if I've done a 180 on my persona, or want to, anyway.

***

If we are to return to the whirling tornado, we are referring to uncontrollability. As my stupid, stupid book about the modern human condition writes, we need the courage to control what can be controlled, and a therapist to work through what can't. Perhaps this is how normalcy works: Complications will occur either way, but the harder you try to be normal, the closer to plan things will go. But I have never tried to be normal. In fact, I have always actively played in the other direction. I never realised that life would make that happen all on its own.

I listened to a podcast by a couple of acquaintances this morning, and they spoke about being irreplaceable. I love that idea: to be irreplaceable based on your experiences, your uniqueness, your hard work. I haven't felt that motivated in a while.

The tornado is exciting, if you let it be.

Love,
M

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Things I Want To Be

I read an article about personal branding this morning. The gist of the article followed the idea that capitalism is the worst! and we shouldn't try to monetise our personalities. That's irrelevant though. I took  this whole personal branding concept as a challenge for self-improvement. I'd like to think that how I am perceived is irrelevant, but at the same time, often people can be see-through. Well, often I can be see-through; and when you're see-through, how you are perceived rings some truth regarding who you are. Hence, working on perception is adjuvant to working on myself, etcetera etcetera. 

I'm at home at the moment and it's freezing and I don't like myself. I'm seated in the same spot where I would pore over Margaret Zhang's blog throughout high school. On a side note, she has now become the editor in chief of Vogue China - the youngest editor in chief of Vogue ever (of course she has). Her blog entries always rang personal yet private; emotional yet classy. Amongst an impossibly aesthetic collage of images, she could somehow write truthfully, and deeply, about her career and the social issues she cared about. Yet, she never revealed a piece of her personality. To have something to share yet be private is something I have always envied. How does one draw the line between being passionate and being too personal?

Everything is relatively empty though. With an idle year staring me in the face, there is not much food for thought beyond the personal. Two days ago I sat on the bus with a boy who had an impossible amount of hobbies. He described hiking, and fishing, and fixing his motorbike - which all seemed like incredibly boyish things to do - yet he seemed grounded just by keeping busy. Speaking to a boy my age with different priorities to myself and those around me felt like a breath of fresh air. He asked me if I had any hobbies, to which I asked for suggestions. 

A high school friend patted me on the shoulder and asked me what happened. I used to be the queen of hobbies and personal projects, she said. She's right.

My immediate thought when thinking about new ways to fill my time was of a colleague of mine who has been posting videos of herself figure skating. She spins, and she falls, then spins, and falls. It's all such a pretty work in progress. Rather than finding bouts of inspiration, I instead envisioned myself in the act of working on something - glasses on, using my brain like I haven't in years; or physically exerting myself with glowing skin; or playing a sweet-sounding instrument with the discipline of a small Asian girl. Visualising the aesthetics of a project rather than actually doing it is rather shallow, but at least it's a start. As I said, working on perception is adjuvant to working on myself, etcetera etcetera.

The one personal project I do come back to time and time again is writing things down. While diary-keeping has been a constant - the teary non-sensical entries don't quite make for anything productive. I want to sound pretty like Margaret Zhang. However, at a party three days ago, I recall speaking to a girl who writes impersonal pieces for Vogue. Completely tipsy, I blurted out the name Tavi Gevinson. I remember the way her eyes lit up either due to nostalgia or some deep emotional connection with Tavi's work. The personal essays of Rookie Magazine meant something to us. They weren't necessarily pretty or deep. They were conversational, relatable and rife with emotion. 

By the end of this party, the girl looked me in the face to see that my eyes were puffy from crying in public. I think I have always wanted to be seen as someone hard and untouchable, so the shame from showing so much emotion eats away inside of me. However, have I not been showing too much emotion this whole time, my whole life? I am a see-through person, after all. I am beginning to wonder whether I could deal with my emotions on the inside without disclosing how I feel too quickly and too soon. My mother always told me that I don't owe anybody an explanation. Yet, friends also tell me to not change the way I am. Perhaps showing emotion displays vulnerability and brings people closer together.

My mother brought back the same thing she's told me time and time again: that I am never content, continuously reaching for the next thing. I think of the final page of Jessie Tu's A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing. Her mother describes her personality as hungry. It's not something that can be changed, but perhaps something that can be worked on. A personal essay-ist wrote about how she has started to stray away from personal essays and write about other things. There are so many ideas and events outside those in our small tiny minds, but being caught up in my own has always been a terrible habit. Being self-focussed is difficult, more so for some than others. 

But I am home now, and here to practice empathy and living slow. I hope to be softer, kinder and less confused. I hope to be there for others the way they have been there for me. And I hope to feel settled, for once.

Love,
M

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Homage to this blog's beginnings: A Muddled State

I've been trying not to journal lately. I decided that writing down my thoughts was my bad habit - too self definitive, too limiting. Yet on the phone to a friend last night she described her steps to self improvement: You should journal she said. It helps with emotional awareness. To which I thought, what about manifesting to the moon or God or the universe, and believing that fate has your back? I've tried to make that my mantra lately, with eyes squeezed shut, telling myself to stop planning and writing and vocalising my thoughts.

Yet I came home, reversed into the bush behind my house while listening to Lorde, sat in a cafe with my high school friends, and watched television from my childhood bedroom (I can't seem to sit still for long enough to watch television anywhere else). I wrote in my diary again, in a planned essay-like manner rather than the sporadic erratic entries my notebook has been receiving for the last few months. While my essay entry ultimately ended up ~inconclusive~, the whole ordeal made me feel grounded.

I think about this blog's beginnings; the way I categorised my posts into 'books' and 'travel' and 'ramblings'. Almost all my posts ended up under ramblings. From the glass table in the dining room, to failed attempts to write on the dusty windy outdoor table, to the empty study room below the science building at school, I would type my uncensored thoughts and sort life out systematically like the mini mathematician I was. 

And I sit here with things I should be writing instead: meaningless articles I've committed to, notes I've been intending to write for weeks - but the only thing I want to write about is myself. I used to love writing about myself as if I were a special journal girl with special thoughts, as if everything in my life had a higher meaning. I get nostalgic driving past places I used to despise, thinking there's some divine symbolism in every aspect of my uneventful life. 

But writing about myself is so unsexy. I feel lame, confined and un-mysterious. Lucy, the protagonist of the book I am reading, describes the single women at her love-addiction therapy group as diseased. My high school friends with their serious boyfriends describe choosing a day curled up at home over a loud meal with friends. They seem so settled, so grounded.

Coming home to buildings of wide-spaced interiors with earthy tones, surrounded by green grass, red leaves, wattle trees and pink spiky flowers, I can feel my mind soften. I can feel the contrast to in the city where I visualise my psyche as a tangled conglomerate of wire - hard and muddled. But perhaps to be unsettled is what I've always wanted - with big dreams of a forever spontaneous, ambitious life. Perhaps to be unsettled for longer is in my nature. But I wish for something different now. I wrote that I want to get 大 (big) tattooed behind my ear in an almost masochistic way - because I wish to be seen as small but feel anything but.

Even after writing, I still do not feel content or clarity. I believe I have been subconsciously vocalising less because I am more unsure of what exactly I want to explain now more than ever before. As a consequence I have been listening more, though. I've always wanted to be able to listen more. Perhaps for now I can give and give and give for a change, rather than receive and receive and receive as I always selfishly have.

As per usual, I feel I must level up. This cannot be it. Yet for once I am not sure what the next level is, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Love,
M

Monday, 27 July 2020

The Chinese Cab Driver


He began with: "From the ages one to ten they follow their parents, then from ten to eighteen they begin to gain independence, and then once they're eighteen they're gone." and we all laughed. Then he continued, "But that's only white people. Asian people, we're different. But now, here we are, in this country, and our children are over eighteen and they hate their father." and the mood instantly dropped. "We raise them for eighteen years, and now are left with nothing."

Prior to this my father had overtly expressed his concerns about my sister and I living in a different city, and that we were unhappy to see our parents visit for the second time in three weeks. Due to his tendency to speak in black and white terms, he said "my daughters hate me," which set our immigrant cab driver off into his preaching spiral... a spiral that hit a little too close to home.

Of course our circumstances are different. Our world views are different. My sister and I believed in leaving home and forging our own paths, and our parents were forced into being okay with that. To us, this was reasonable. The Chinese cab driver's university-aged children were living at home with him, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Our parents are thinking of moving to a different city altogether. The Chinese cab driver was a strong advocate for remaining in the same city, even if it meant my parents should upturn their lives to follow us here, for fear of abandonment. To this, my sister responded in her bratty eighteen-year-old manner, "We didn't leave to make new friends. We left because we wanted to get away from you. You coming here would defeat that purpose."

I can say we have a different worldview all I want. I can say that we no longer live in the era of the three-generation household - of children never leaving home, of the same neighbourhood for generations, of no aeroplanes and immigration. The Chinese cab driver was yearning for something that I tragically cannot see being possible given our circumstances, and in a way that makes him right. My sister and I are too far flung, too focused on our own trajectories, and according to Asian values, that makes us selfish. We have no consideration for our parents in our lives. They are always welcome, but they are not considered. The welcome into our homes, the promise that we will support them if they come to us, is the Asian compromise. But the sacrifice I see in the prior generation of uncles and aunties, who designate a child to remain home and deny a life in the developed world, to fulfil the responsibility to take care of their parents, that's gone.

Last night I began reading Min Jin Lee's Free Food for Millionaires. The novel opens with a Korean family sitting around a dinner table in Queens, New York City. There is a fight between the father, Joseph, and his westernised eldest daughter, Casey. The Chinese cab driver was less assimilated than my father; Joseph was less assimilated than my father; and the pain they seemed to feel watching their children - their misunderstanding of Western values, their sadness at the loss of their own values - makes me feel both guilty and angry.

The Chinese cab driver advocated for the simple life. He wished for a world living pay cheque by pay cheque. He wished for a world of always thinking ahead - find a house before it's too late, find a job before it's too late. He understood a world where you must work to get by, and that is all. He will forever live on the third level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Who cares about finding a job filled with passion? who cares about success and prestige? who cares about enjoyment? Who cares about finding the meaning of life? when the most important thing is family.

Casey in Free Food for Millionaires heads to the roof to smoke after Joseph tells her she must leave the house by morning. She contemplates where she will go - will she follow her rich, white friend to Italy and find a job there for a while; or will she bunk in with her white boyfriend? She thinks of the first time she saw the stars outside of New York and the awe she felt. She looks into windows of the buildings around her and studies the lives of others. She explains to her sister what sex feels like, and her sister studies Casey's impulsive, headstrong, raging personality - one that opposes the safety of Asian values in all their conservative and disciplinary glory.

In the last week I have seemingly exited my quarantine reverie. Suddenly I feel the need to do the chaotic and unexpected. I want to meet new people. I want to go on adventures. I want to try new things. I want drama and excitement and stupidity. Over lunch with a friend I felt suddenly invigorated, and left with a head full of plans. I felt like I was in a new and improved world - like I was a college girl once more, except this time with autonomy.

And then I got in that cab and I could feel my mood crash and burn. My face mask felt too hot and heavy, and my eyes were slowly closing, resolved after attempting to defend my generation to an immigrant man who would never understand. As the first-generation immigrant girl I feel as if it is my right to live the Western life our parents always dreamed of. That's why they moved here, right? They wanted us to assimilate, right? 

And before Joseph slaps Casey at the end of their fight, she thinks "As her father, he deserved respect and obedience - This Confucian crap was bred into her bones." Because it is. These values will forever be a part of me, and it's all so conflicting. I believe it is my right to live my life to the fullest - being one full of the individual, one that implements the selfishness of both the socialist and capitalist views of the West, of looking out for oneself. Meanwhile, the Eastern values of living, which do not fit into this Western way, are sitting in the background. 
And there they may collect my residual guilt.

Love,
M

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Latest Obsessions #4

I've been leaning into the binge - the satisfaction of knowing full well that you are over-consuming, and grabbing the soft roundness of your belly like the prosperous fat woman you are. The gluttony of resting Ferrero Rochers, one by one, across the surface that is your abdomen, and the dichotomy between the fullness of your stomach and the sweetness on your taste buds... and being totally okay with it. Lean into the binge.

I feel that lately I have been consuming only the world's finest creations - the culture-forming, the most iconic, the ones that are inescapably on my newsfeeds...


Keeping Up With the Kardashians
Beginning with season one: Kim is on the brink of fame, Rob Kardashian is my age and sublimely somehow both cute and hot, little Kylie Jenner is an absolute crackhead, and Bruce Jenner is unfortunately born a conservative with an obvious discomfort towards his own identity. Everything about the Kardashians warms my heart. Throughout all their ups and downs and endearing stupidity, each episode ends with the ultimate lesson that family comes first, always, which is perhaps the feel-good feeling that makes the show so addictive.

While episodes are filled with sisterly yelling and valley girl accents, accompanied by a questionable trashy version of 2000's fashion, there is something very realistic about this reality TV show. Sure some events seem to be exacerbated for the sake of drama, but everything has a sense of uncensored realness, as if the Kardashians are saying, "Watch me. I'm all yours." I am fascinated by how this family came into fame at the brink of widespread social media. The stars were aligning just for them. The world wanted to watch real people in all their realness and people-ness. 

I am fascinated by how this family singlehandedly managed to change beauty standards and culture as we know it. Season one is filled with Khloe's snide comments towards Kim's butt, and come season two Kim's butt is suddenly something to be envied?, and come 2020 the majority of people who seek plastic surgery in Hollywood refer to a photo of Kim Kardashian? Keeping Up With the Kardashians, in all honesty, is a show in which Kim and her family run around just being them. They have no message, they are unpolitical, they do not critically think about their cultural influence... They simply run around being pretty and famous, only they redefined both prettiness and fame. It's the Kardashians' world and we're just living in it.



Hamilton
I never thought that the day I'd ask for my sister's DisneyPlus password would be to sit down for three hours to watch a political musical. Hamilton is pure genius. It somehow consists political rap battles and all the complexity and nuance of history, while retaining that classic over-expressive, thematic dynamic of musical theatre. Alexander Hamilton is rich with words and perspectives, with the recurring inability to just 'speak less, smile more', as people look at him in envy. "How does he write like he's always running out of time?" Oh, what an ode to passionate people with one-track minds who want to live a life bigger than themselves. And his wife is kind and loving and feminine, and while I was never rooting for her, I see power in softness with the show's conclusion. And the one song from this musical - there's always one song from a musical - is Satisfied. I mean... just listen to those lyrics.



Portrait of a Lady on Fire
To me, this film portrays everything it is to be feminine. It is not a Matisse 'paint me like one of your French girls' because the painter is a woman. The film illustrates how a woman perceives a woman, in all of her fiery personality, in her laughter, in her sadness, in the things that move her. To be loved is to truly be seen, to feel understood, and to still feel beautiful in spite of this vulnerability. To love is to be hurt by how another imagines you. To play the role of a poet rather than a lover is to truly see a person in this present moment, in all their breathtaking glory, and to want to remember them this way for the rest of your life, even if you never see them again.



Flesh Without Blood - Grimes
When a friend told me that Elon Musk courted Grimes because he saw this music video and thought she was smart, I knew I had to watch it. Grimes is interesting in that she is the imagining of a small blonde Canadian girl who talks like a nerdy teenager. She is an otherworldly character with no inhibitions; with coloured hair and massive sunglasses; a masochistic Marie Antoinette, a menacing angel, a dark basement gamer girl. Claire Boucher says that Grimes is not sweet. She is not cute and she is not pop. She is meant to be scary, and she is fun, and I love that.

Love,
M


Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Latest Obsessions #3

Every morning I wake up, make a smoothie and a cup of tea and read. I sit at the dining table with my roommate's plants (God forbid I ever own a plant), sunlight streaming through the balcony windows, and that mirror we have from my old college dorm room, reflecting myself straight at me. My reflection is actually quite sobering, and as a result I've started to make my face presentable, just to appease this reflection me each morning. This homely life with a surprisingly adequate sleeping schedule needless to say results in plenty of time to scour the internet for new things. Here's the latest:



READ: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Of course it takes a book I'd always assumed was about an oppressive strict Asian mother to feel such deep love for my culture. You see, the book isn't a "how to" for torture after all. Instead it's a memoir highlighting the nuances of Asian values and their place in the Western world. Yes, Amy Chua has the same unreasonable psychopathic tendencies as my own mother, but like, on steroids - with the same kind of nonsensical rules that made me want to shake her and scream "Why won't you understand" in the heat of my teen angst. However, the way Chua speaks of pushing her children to be their best, unapologetically expecting them to achieve first place because she holds them in such high regard - that's true respect. And then her children succeed, and are driven and ambitious, and teach their mother a few lessons about happiness and rebellion - and then I read articles about the ultimately delusional Western socialist view of "everyone's a winner"; and Chua's description of the violin as a symbol of excellence, refinement and depth, in contrast to the brashness of American consumerism, fast food and Facebook - and I feel myself swell with pride.

For my creative writing class today I wrote a passage about a jade necklace resting against my chest. It was carved into the shape of a rabbit, my Chinese zodiac. The necklace was a symbol of regality and femininity, of control and poise, in an almost Joy Luck Club elusive intergenerational Asian mother-daughter way. The writing prompt was 'treasure'.



WATCH: Scrubs

My friend once told me that Scrubs, unlike Grey's Anatomy, is an accurate depiction of working in the hospital. And from that moment, I vowed that I would not watch Scrubs until the year I become an intern. If the show is a sitcom about hospital life, then I want to be in on the joke. But with the virus wiping away my first clinical year, I caved. I have been living vicariously through John Dorian - as he gets yelled at by residents, as he encounters patients from all walks of life, as he develops crushes on girls way out of his league - and I am left with nothing but anticipation for my own future, when I will be let out to finally buy coffee from the hospital cafeteria and be exhausted every day like I oh so crave. But for now I live through the comical, endearing life of JD, snacks in hand on my couch laughing out loud. It's just a genuinely good show.



ART: @247.k tattoo artist on Instagram

I made another Pinterest board, about, like, my Instagram feed. I was envisioning a mix between a soft girl and an ABG, like small floral uber feminine dresses and trays of croissants but also completely badass. I'm not sure if I'm playing with a dichotomy between two different aesthetics, two different personalities, but that's besides the point. In the process I discovered this tattoo artist, with her delicate zodiac designs and outlines of sitting tigers. It makes me want to impulsively get a meaningless, pretty, yet somewhat masculine tattoo on my side or my back. Other tattoo artists I've found include @tattooist_basil and @keshna.sana.




The Netflix show starring Ben Platt, Gwyneth Paltrow and Zoey Deutch, to name a few, is amazing in itself - perfectly intense, socially and culturally relevant, chaotic and entertaining. But its soundtrack... the amount of times I've unsuccessfully attempted to use shazam on snapchat, then paused to google 'that song from the politician episode x' is countless. It began with the theme song - the first time I forewent clicking 'skip introduction' was to listen to Chicago by Sufjan Stevens. And then of course, expecting nothing less after last year's obsession with Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Platt belting his solo River for the death of his friend, the impossibly attractive David Corenswet. And then came Yes I'm Changing by Tame Impala, to which I announced to my roommate, "this song is amazing." And then came a fond throwback, with Astrid dancing to Clearest Blue by Chvrches, my favourite jogging song of 2016, one that cannot help but expel bursts of spontaneous energy. And as I scroll through this playlist for songs that have yet to come, I see Troye Sivan, the picture of pretty teen angst; Charli XCX, Dua Lipa, queens of pop; and many many songs I cannot wait to discover from this newfound library.



BEAUTY: blush!

I like the colour pink, almost like an anime character drawn with youthful rosy cheeks. I dust the powder over my cheeks with a small smile, then across my nose until I look positively sunburnt, glowing and girlish. I've been thinking with my new skincare routine, of foregoing foundation altogether. Instead I envision myself buying a liquid blush, adding colour to my skin the same way I massage in my moisturiser and sunscreen each morning, with effortlessly satisfying self-care.

Love,
M

Friday, 12 June 2020

Time Is Passing


My notebook is running out of pages. While my diaries usually span a year, if not more, this dark blue leather notebook is barely going to last me until the end of June. I flipped to the first page in horror, to see that my entries began within the four walls of this apartment and are destined to end within the same four walls. Nothing has happened. And so, on a whim, I fished another two notebooks out of my drawer and decided to title them in permanent marker. 2018 I wrote on the plain black notebook, followed cheesily by consisting the summer I moved out of home and my first year of university - the transition from a high schooler to a girl living in the real world. Then, 2019 I wrote on the soft brown notebook covered in golden outlines of woodland animals, with another corny title: consisting an insecure girl finding her place amongst the people around her.

I've noticed a running theme in the material I've been consuming - of time passing in phases, in people coming in and out, in changing philosophies and careers and passions.

I spent the last two days bingeing that new romantic comedy series starring Anna Kendrick, Love Life. While the show is light-hearted - another one of those meaningless stories about a twenty-something girl living her life in New York City - its timeline spans almost a decade. I follow as she meets her first real boyfriend, gets married and divorced, becomes a mother, and finally finds herself with the job she's always wanted. I watch as her friends end up in their various places, in relationships we never predicted, with problems that only show their heads with time. And I watch as her priorities change, as she matures and learns to validate herself.

I spent the last month reading Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, following four boys from their time as roommates in college, through their various relationships, through their various careers, until their deaths. I watch as the people in their world bottleneck, their circle getting smaller and smaller, and the different ways they deal with this. Just yesterday a friend messaged "as you grow and mature in life, I think you discover more and more what kind of people you like, and by virtue your friends get fewer and fewer," to which I replied that the idea makes me sad. 

As I keep reading, each boy's philosophy of life changes, and time seems to pass like water - so naturally, so tragically, until I'm at the end and the journey is breathtakingly over.

During quarantine I've been reading personal essays, scouring sites like Nearness Project, Uniquely Aligned and BobbleHaus, perhaps searching for some form of individual understanding in these disengaged times. Over the past few months I've read many essays speaking of the 'lack of control' the corona virus has sprung onto peoples' lives, and the anxiety that stems as a result. While I appreciated authors bearing their emotions and souls onto the page, I can't say I particularly related. What did they mean a 'lack of control'?

Today though, I came to the realisation that yes, the corona virus has left me in an ultimately uncontrollable situation. I would never have fathomed that I would be spending 6 months with no real structure to my life, with nowhere to formally be besides this apartment. Obviously the virus has left me in its fateful wake just like the rest of us. But no, I never felt anxiety or anything but a complete, delusional control. I've realised that delusional optimism just seems to be my coping mechanism, my mind stubbornly unshakeable, chanting "You are doing just fine."

And with this understanding that the virus has in fact altered my life in ways I would not have personally chosen for myself, my mind is clinging to this idea of life moving in phases - unpredictable and out of our control whether we like it or not. And so, on my blue notebook that is running out of pages, I wrote 2020 - the corona virus. a time of contemplation. In the grand scheme of things, this 6 months is another phase, one in which we have been blessed with much needed quiet and self reflection. And around us, the world is contemplating too - as people learn to be with their families, be with themselves, tune into injustices external to themselves during this lull in their lives, and simply experiment with a different way of living.

And while this has been an important phase,
life will then return to normal, and this phase will be over and a new one will begin.

Love,
M


Saturday, 23 May 2020

Latest Obsessions #2

In the never-changing environment of quarantine, my only stimulus from the outside world comes via the internet. So I wonder, is this becoming a series?


ESSAY: The Story of Caroline Calloway & Her Ghostwriter Natalie

The nine lives of Caroline Calloway never fail to entertain and intrigue me. There was her 'creative workshop' which ended up being a complete scam but was still honest work (it was so Caroline), her new OnlyFans account (again, so Caroline), and that drama about her breaking quarantine to hang with her new e-boy 20-year-old boyfriend (I die). I'd always likened Caroline Calloway to Tana Mongeau - like, insane but in a bad bitch self-aware way. But this article blew the doors open. Caroline Calloway is NOT self-aware in the slightest. She's like that friend we've all had - the narcissistic, unreliable one who always tells you about their fantastic plans and fantastic stories when you know that's not how it happened, and you know they'll somehow never pull through. But then their entire character is just SUCH A VIBE so you choose to admire them anyway. Like, if Caroline has managed to paint herself as this random-ass famous creative bitch who can do whatever she wants, and her fan-base believes it, then who's to say she's delusional? Like, if everybody thinks she's this person, then doesn't that make her this person? I guess social media can be utilised to solidify an identity in this way, and honestly, it's kind of a great asset. A girl replied to my Instagram story saying, "I just think her whole self aware idiocy is kinda chic sometimes."



FASHION: Peggy Gou's clothing brand, Kirin

I don't think it's so much that I like the clothes than that I like Peggy Gou's entire persona. In her latest Q&A at the Oxford Union she talks about why she left design school: "I realised that I only like styling myself. Styling other people is a different story," she laughs. But now she's a major DJ with a truly amazing Instagram filled with winged eyeliner, arm tattoos, and bright printed button-down shirts and kimonos and jumpers. She's in Bali, then Japan, and she's from South Korea, and apparently she lives in Berlin? She describes her clothing line as effortless. "They look like pyjamas." "They make you feel confident." F*ck she's so cool.




YOUTUBE: Hyram on skincare

This week I did a full 180 towards self care. I began by making the Pinterest mood board above, then proceeded to eat three (and only three) meals per day, wake up by 10am, and ambitiously jog 5km before religiously following my latest Chloe Ting workout challenge outdoors. After relaying these new-found habits to a friend, she told me about her new obsession with Hyram. So of course, the next day, I spent 6 hours watching Hyram's videos, researching, and impulse buying an entire new skincare routine. I feel self-loved already.



ESSAY: How Street Culture Shaped Asian-American Identity

THIS! ESSAY! I love how it talks about how "much of what it is to be Asian-American is still up in the air" because we've always had this immigrant culture of 'keep your head down and assimilate'. We never tried to aggressively fight against racism or define ourselves. History doesn't talk about our major struggles because we didn't have any, or perhaps we just didn't speak up about the injustices we were facing. We never saw them as injustices in the first place. We're worker bees. But street culture changes that. It's a creative space where we, subtly, have a voice, creating an identity through pure aesthetics. My favourite part of this piece describes Anti-Social Social Club as probably the most Asian-American brand around, with a quote from ASSC founder Kyle Ng: "It speaks to the Asian condition. You're anti-social social! It's kids wearing supreme, but they're quiet and shy. How many nerdy Asian kids have you seen that rock the craziest fits?"



FASHION/ESSAYS: Bobblehaus

And going off that essay, there's a new streetwear brand in town. I first discovered Bobblehaus because of its blog. It's a brand bridging East and West youth culture, with a multitude of essays on their website doing exactly that. And then there's their clothes - androgynous, block colours, simplistic, effortless, confident. I freaking love this website.



MUSIC: Here's the last few songs I added to my 'pop music I run to' playlist
  1. Forever - Charli XCX
  2. In Your Eyes remix - The Weeknd, Doja Cat
  3. Waves - Kanye West
  4. Friends - Justin Bieber, BloodPop
  5. Detonate - Charli XCX
  6. Adore You - Harry Styles
  7. Faith - The Weeknd
  8. Physical - Dua Lipa
Love,
M