end of the year thoughts

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Today, I was looking through my planner and realized that I barely wrote anything for the months of November and December. Which makes sense because they were the most challenging times for me this year. Early November, there was a devastating typhoon in the Philippines, where the rest of my family still lives. Then I organized a successful online fundraiser with my friend Mai. December came, all the stress must have taken its toll on me, and I got very sick that I couldn't work for two weeks. It's all a blur really.

I am feeling much better now, though still not fully recovered, so I had to cancel my holiday travel plans and stay home instead. Once again, I learned the hard way, to never take my health for granted and take care of myself first. Which is exactly what I've been doing these days - reading, taking naps, writing, and reflecting on everything that happened to me this year.

Despite all the challenges, 2013 gave me the very best gifts. I've read the most beautiful books and met some favorite authors in person. I also attended film festivals and screenings and saw a lot of great movies. I've written letters, gone on long hikes, watched spectacular sunsets, and spent meaningful time with friends and loved ones. There were so many little moments that took my breath away this year, some of them I captured on my Instagram, and it warms my heart to look back at them now.

And perhaps the most important gift of all, is a story that came to me last spring, and I have been working on it ever since. I don't know yet what's going to happen to it, but when I went to the Conservatory of Flowers last Friday, I tossed a coin in the fountain and made a birthday wish. And my wish was this: to write the book I need to write, as best as I could.

Happy New Year, my dear friends. See you all in 2014. Cheers!

P.S. As my tradition in this blog, here are some photos from my birthday.

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Photos: birthday latte / sweet puppy outside the cafe / reading at the park / all bundled up

twelve twenty-seven

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One of the best gifts one could ever receive, is to fall in love, so wholly, with literature. I'm still on the first chapters of Stoner by John Williams, and I am quiet certain it will be one of my favorites. Such simple and honest prose, it's already starting to pinch on my heart. And it must have been providential that it found me today, on my birthday.

While reflecting on a certain passage from the book, I kept thinking about this poem:
 
You came one day and
as usual in such matters
significance filled everything -
your eyes, the things you
knew, the way you turned,
leaned, stood, or sat,
this way or that: when
you left, the area around here rose
a tilted tide, and everything that
offers desolation drained away.

-- A.R. Ammons, "Everything"

We often don't have words to explain why we love the things we love. A book, a poem, a place, a person - each carry their own weight and significance, that is inexplicable. Suddenly, our lives are fuller, and we feel connected to ourselves, and the world around us, once again. It's a wondrous thing, and I am grateful.

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Some of you may remember that I started this blog on my birthday, 8 years ago. Here's to another year of beautiful books, movies, sunsets, and everything that inspires us. As always, thank you, for visiting and reading this little blog of mine.

With love and gratitude,
Odessa

winter prayers

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This afternoon, I walked by someone's garden and saw these flowers. "They're so pretty." I said. The lady turned around and asked, "Do you want them?"

Before I could tell her yes, she was already cutting a few blooms with her garden shears. "Be careful, they have thorns," she warned. I said thank you, we chatted for a bit, and I walked back, flowers in hand, and a spring in my steps.

Later, while I was driving back to the city, I could smell the sweet fragrance of the flowers next to me. I thought about Emily Dickinson, her life, and her "envelope poems" I saw at the bookstore. These poems, written on flattened envelope scraps, were reproduced in full-scale facsimile and compiled in a stunning hardcover called The Gorgeous Nothings.  I opened the book to a random page and fell in love with these lines:

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"In this short Life
that only/merely lasts an hour
How much - how
little - is
within our
power."

December, my birthday month, is often bittersweet for me. There is so much beauty that keeps me grounded here, even if the days are too cold, and I start to miss my loved ones, or long for places I've never been. There are gorgeous sunsets. Kind strangers who give you flowers. Hot apple cider and cookies, while folding paper cranes. The gift of poetry, and stories you can always come back, to keep you warm.

Have a listen to this beautiful song, by Iron and Wine.

Poem from The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems.

because joy is meant to be shared

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Such heartwarming photos sent by our friends, from their relief operations in Doong Island, Bantayan. This tiny island is one of the worst-hit areas, directly along the path of Typhoon Haiyan, and yet, when you look at these photos, there is so much joy in their faces. Amazing.

*UPDATE 10/28: Our small fundraiser had such an amazing turnout! We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support from all over the world! We couldn't have done it without you.

Truly, THANK YOU. It really means so much.

Odessa xx

what happiness looks like



With support from UNICEF, (clean) water supply is now back at full capacity in Tacloban, one of the worst-hit areas by Typhoon Haiyan. I can watch this 15-second video over and over, and still have the biggest smile on my face.

Thank you, UNICEF. And thank you to all the people who are on the ground helping survivors in the Philippines right now.

(Video repost from UNICEF Instagram)

a little space

"And we are put on earth a little space, / That we may learn to bear the beams of love"
-- William Blake

I've only just begun to understand the true meaning of these words. These days, it feels like my heart is about to burst at the seams. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness and generosity for my typhoon-ravaged homeland. People from all over the world, who rushed to our aid, helping in whatever way they could. I've never felt this much emotion, this much gratitude.

Then I see images of devastation and shattered lives, and I'm plunged into a deep and aching sadness again. I want to cry. I want to yell in frustration at the inefficiency of some government officials. I want so badly to go home and distribute the relief goods myself. I want to hug each child, tell every survivor that he/she is not alone.

Indeed, this must be how it is, to bear the beams of love.

let's make this happen!

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Dear friends, we started a grassroots fundraiser to support our friends, who are on the ground, doing relief work to help typhoon victims in the Philippines right now. I would really appreciate it if you can click on the image above, take a moment to read our campaign, and where and how our funds will go. And please share this to others, if you can.

Every little bit helps, no matter how small, to our brothers and sisters who are currently suffering in the Philippines right now. Thank you so much!

(Special thanks to my friend Melania who made the graphics above)

after the storm

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This post is very difficult to write. I've been struggling to control my emotions these past few days and it's not easy. But writing has always been the one thing that keeps me from falling apart, so here I am.

You may have heard about the super typhoon in the Philippines 3 days ago, one of the strongest ever recorded in history, and the devastation left in its wake. As of today, local officials estimated 10,000 fatalities in one city alone and so many more still unaccounted for (read here). And while I'm very grateful that my family is safe and our home island of Cebu was spared from the brunt of the storm, my heart bleeds for our neighboring islands who were completely ravaged.

Our country is used to natural calamities. Because of our location in the Pacific, the Philippines is the most exposed country in the world to tropical storms, with an average of 20 each year. In fact, when I was finally able to get a hold of my family on Friday night, my dad calmly reminded me that we've been through this before. "Life goes on. We do what needs to be done," he said.

Come Saturday however, after the storm left the country and we started getting reports on social media from initial rescue operations, I was getting more and more worried. On Facebook, some relatives and friends are desperately waiting to hear from loved ones who are still missing. I feel so utterly helpless, living on the other side of the Pacific, and watching my country grapple with the storm's aftermath from afar.

"I feel like I'm under a nimbus cloud," one of my closest friends said, after we started reaching out to each other to figure out ways to send help to the Philippines. I knew exactly what she meant for I could feel myself on the verge of sobbing uncontrollably at any given moment. Reading stories from survivors, watching videos of children hungry and displaced, it's all too heartbreaking.

Then I saw a photo of the two girls above and I just wept. It reminded me of my sister and I, years ago, when we also had our picture taken after Typhoon Nitang destroyed our coastal town. We were standing on top of a fallen tree, our neighbor's roof was completely torn apart, but like the girls in the photograph, we also had our arm around each other.

I can only imagine the tragedy and desperation in the worst-hit areas of the Philippines right now. Missing family members, without food, clean water, or shelter, I don't know if I can bear it. But I must stop thinking this way and remind myself of hope and resilience of the human spirit. I need to remember the girls in the photograph; despite all destruction, love and beauty still exists.

If you are able to, and want to help those affected by Typhoon Haiyan, here are organizations confirmed to be on the ground with their relief and rescue efforts right now. Click on the links to read more and how you may contribute:

(Photo via Buzzfeed Twitter)

dusk, lake tahoe

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Some disposable photos from my last visit to North Lake Tahoe.

I've been listening to spoken poetry these days. I downloaded the iF Poems and The Love Book app on my phone so I can listen to classic poetry whenever I want to. The selection of poems in these apps are great, some are read by well-known British actors, and you can even record your own voice reading poetry.

And let's face it, how can one not help but swoon over John Keats' Bright Star? Especially if it's read by the oh-so-dashing Tom Hiddleston? I certainly can't. In fact, I can probably recite this one in my sleep by now. Have a listen here.

heima

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Heima means "home" or "at home" in Icelandic.

I've been thinking a lot about home lately. In my mind, it exists in two places at the same time, the country and the culture where I grew up that I'll always carry with me, and the spaces I've created for myself that makes me feel most at home. Often, these spaces have something to do with the ocean and being out in nature, or spending time with people who share my passion for movies and books.

A couple of days ago, I drove to the East Bay to attend a gathering of writers and readers. I was stuck in traffic and arrived 30 minutes late and when I entered the bookstore, I was surprised that it was an intimate event of less than 20 people. Everyone was already engaged in a discussion with the panel of authors and if it had been anywhere else, I probably would have turned around and said forget it, especially since I didn't know anyone there. But for some reason, being around people who love books was enough to make me feel welcomed, so I stayed and introduced myself.

I ended up meeting one of my favorite YA authors who also happened to love Melina Marchetta and before you know it, we were both gushing about On the Jellicoe Road and Jonah Griggs. I had such a great time that afterwards I just walked around seemingly in a daze, skimming book spines inside the shop. They had closed early for the event and it felt like a gift to be there.

This weekend, my friends from D.C. came to visit and we drove north to Point Reyes. It's been a year since my last trip and as soon as we got there, I immediately felt my entire being relax. This place always feels like coming home to me, with its unspoiled beauty and sprawling landscapes. We walked along the shore for awhile, took some pictures, and battled with the wind. When we came back near the entrance, we saw a family setting up a picnic. They had a barbeque grill, a picnic basket, tons of cozy blankets, and colorful kites. Despite the cold, I had the feeling that those kids will remember that day for the rest of their lives.

I'm listening to Sigur Rós (and dreaming of Iceland) while I'm typing this, hence the title. Have a listen to this song. I think it's one of the most beautiful and moving pieces I've ever heard.

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All photos taken by me. See previous posts about Point Reyes here.

october thoughts

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Our little beach corner, taken during one of the warmest weekends in October. We hiked from the Presidio to the ocean and spent an afternoon here, all the way until sundown. Afterwards, we climbed up a lot of stairs to reach a vista point so we can see the entire bay, walking along a group of guys who happened to play one of my favorite songs on a portable music player. I squinted at the setting sun, then closed my eyes, letting the familiar lyrics wash over me: "It's been a long time, long time now, since I've seen you smile." (listen here)

Last week, I was put through an emotional wringer when I saw the news that our island in the Philippines had a massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake. I had a hard time contacting my family because the phone lines were dead and it's always like this, your mind goes through all the worst case scenario first, you feel a deep panic inside your chest, then you try to console yourself the only way you know how. I finally heard from my brother and felt such gratitude when he confirmed that everyone I know is safe and well. That night, I couldn't fall asleep so I picked up a book of poems, snatching words and phrases to fill my dreams.

And you, how are you? I hope autumn (or spring) is treating you well.

what kind of times are these

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So, the U.S. government has gone into shutdown. If there is a good time to practice the "keep calm" mantra, now is certainly one. And as someone who works for public schools, this really sucks. Big time. Special education, which is the department that I work for, is one of the two exceptions that will continue to receive federal funding despite the shutdown, so I guess we are "lucky" (if you can call it that). Still, according to this article, there are programs that are at risk from a lengthy shutdown including Head Start for preschool children and the National School Lunch Program.

I really can't believe it has come to this. The children, most of all, don't deserve this. Especially if a group of men in the Congress is acting like stubborn kids themselves. They remind me of those playground bullies who throw their weight around just because they think they can. Unbelievable. I'm getting a headache just thinking about the number of people that's going to be affected and the trickle down effect that will happen if this will go on for a longer period of time.

Deep breath.

Let's talk about poetry instead. Here is a poem that is very apt for today, along with the tree photo above. It was taken a year ago and I've always thought of it as a reminder to try and find humor in everything. And boy do we need that right now.

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What Kind of Times Are These
by Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

*Watch Adrienne Rich read this poem here.

one afternoon i met a magical cat

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The cat looked at me and my disposable camera and turned her head away as soon as I clicked the shutter. Afterwards, when I had already put my camera away, she came up to me and we stayed there, in the middle of someone's courtyard, surrounded by wild roses and all that golden light.

I need to remind myself of these moments, especially on days like today when I'm running on 4 hours of sleep and feeling so exhausted that I have no time for anything else when I get home from work. I need to remind myself, after reading this series and feeling sick to my stomach that we live in such a world where people can be so cruel and heartless. I need to remind myself that there is still beauty, goodness, and moments of simple joy.

Today is Mary Oliver's birthday. The Poetry Foundation shared this poem in her honor.

"I am thinking/ that language / is not a river / is not a tree is not a green field / is not even a black ant traveling / briskly modestly / from day to day from one / golden page to another."
-- Mary Oliver, excerpt from Forty Years

palace of fine arts

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I've spent some of the best moments with my favorite people here. Sunny afternoons napping on a blanket, reading a book, or watching the swans go by.

One lovely summer day with my mom, we had a small picnic under a tree, I brought my copy of Jane Eyre and opened it randomly to the scene at the library when Rochester talked to Jane for the first time and said, "You examine me, Miss Eyre...Do you think me handsome?"

I might have sighed aloud and my mom just smiled and shook her head. She does not read books but she understands how I live in them sometimes. 

i follow oceans

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Labor Day 2013, Ocean Beach.

What you don't see in these photos:

A red-orange bridge, hidden by a playful fog named Karl.
Rows of sand dunes where one can sit and dream. And dream some more.
Lots and lots of birds skimming the water's edge.
Surfers, out far, riding the waves.
A group of friends, playing music and drinking beer.
A girl, perched on top of a sand dune, lost in a book.
Young children, running down hills as fast as they can.
Chipped red nail polish on my toes, against the ocean blue.

It was a lovely afternoon.

back alley, corte madera

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Sometime last spring, my phone was broken so I drove to a Verizon store to get it fixed only to find out that they had closed early (it was Sunday). Frustrated, I walked back to my car and saw this alley completely illuminated by the setting sun. It was almost like an outdoor stage with the string of light bulbs above and mountains in the distance.

So I went to a nearby pharmacy and bought a disposable camera. The guy behind the counter was taking his sweet time and telling me how people rarely use film camera these days and I just wanted him to hurry up so I can still catch the light. I don't know why it was suddenly important for me to take a photo. Then I ran back to the alley just in time before the sky turned to dark.

seamus heaney

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The world lost a great poet last Friday. Seamus Heaney's last words, a text message to his wife, were in Latin: 'Noli timere' – 'don't be afraid.' Indeed very fitting for a brave and generous soul whose life and works had touched so many people's hearts.

Here is one of my favorites of his poetry. So vivid and tender, it hit me like a punch in the gut when I read it for the first time. And oh, that last stanza!

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Mossbawn: Two Poems in Dedication
for Mary Heaney

I. Sunlight

There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed

in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall

of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.

Now she dusts the board
with a goose's wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.

And here is love
like a tinsmith's scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.

Have a listen to Seamus Heaney read this poem here.

(Image credit: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

the girl who reads

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It's our second week back to school and I'm mostly exhausted at the end of a work day. I have the cutest kids but man, they are so full of energy it's hard to keep up. I haven't had the chance to pick up a book since school started and it's making me antsy. One night I was so tired so I pulled out my planner and started copying poems. Then I read them aloud until I fell asleep. It's amazing how the written word and poetry calm me, keep me grounded.

Today I woke up and found out about this Ultimate Literary Calendar from Flavorwire and just like that, my day is so much brighter. Bless you, lovely person who made this calendar.

Here's some of my favorite entries:

March 5. Charlotte Bronte writes to Reverend Henry Nussey to his offer of marriage, claiming to be too "romantic and eccentric" to be a clergyman's wife, 1839

April 1. Jane Austen responds with scorn to a letter from the Prince Regent suggesting she write historic romance, writing "I could not write down a serious romance other than any other motive than to save my life," 1816

June 12. Anne Frank gets a diary for her birthday, 1942

October 26. Seventeen-year old Hans Christian Andersen enrolls in a second form classroom with a bunch of 11-year-olds, which might shed some light on his future misfit-heavy stories, 1922

You can see the rest of the calendar here.

Image above: Anna Karina from "Une femme est une femme", one of my favorite French New Wave films by Godard.

one last poem for richard

by Sandra Cisneros

December 24th and we’re through again.
This time for good I know because I didn’t
throw you out — and anyway we waved.

No shoes. No angry doors.
We folded clothes and went
our separate ways.

You left behind that flannel shirt
of yours I liked but remembered to take
your toothbrush. Where are you tonight?

Richard, it’s Christmas Eve again
and old ghosts come back home.
I’m sitting by the Christmas tree
wondering where did we go wrong.

Okay, we didn’t work, and all
memories to tell you the truth aren’t good.
But sometimes there were good times.
Love was good. I loved your crooked sleep
beside me and never dreamed afraid.

There should be stars for great wars
like ours. There ought to be awards
and plenty of champagne for the survivors.

After all the years of degradations,
the several holidays of failure,
there should be something
to commemorate the pain.

Someday we’ll forget that great Brazil disaster.
Till then, Richard, I wish you well.
I wish you love affairs and plenty of hot water,
and women kinder than I treated you.
I forget the reason, but I loved you once,
remember?

Maybe in this season, drunk
and sentimental, I’m willing to admit
a part of me, crazed and kamikaze,
ripe for anarchy, loves still.

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Tonight, I'm reading some poems aloud.
I really, really love this one.
The last six lines is perfection.

my heart is here

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Some photos from my disposable camera:
Half Moon Bay / Bolinas / Mill Valley / Ocean Beach

Northern California is so gorgeous it breaks my heart sometimes.

Today I received a lovely card from a writer whose work I truly admire.
And I thought about how words can make such an impact in a person's life,
how a simple handwritten note can turn one's day a thousand times better.

My friends, here's to hoping we will never stop writing by hand/heart.

summer night, riverside

by Sara Teasdale

In the wild soft summer darkness
How many and many a night we two together
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson
Wearing her lights like golden spangles
Glinting on black satin.
The rail along the curving pathway
Was low in a happy place to let us cross,
And down the hill a tree that dripped with bloom
Sheltered us,
While your kisses and the flowers,
Falling, falling,
Tangled in my hair....

The frail white stars moved slowly over the sky.

And now, far off
In the fragrant darkness
The tree is tremulous again with bloom
For June comes back.

To-night what girl
Dreamily before her mirror shakes from her hair
This year's blossoms, clinging to its coils?

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This poem is like a gentle summer breeze, I love it so.

I'm slowly making progress with my manuscript although today was emotionally difficult
and I started getting teary while writing inside a coffee shop.

"Write hard and clear about what hurts," said Hemingway. I guess I'm on the right track.

hopeless wanderer

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Then let me be always migrating,
en route to summer feeding grounds, nests,
to winter mates gathered where the streams
still run, where stream melts the ice
and hidden hot springs sustain.

Yes, I arrive, but I go again.
I have appeared and will appear, the habitats
strange, and sometimes I will be lost:
sidewalk of a foreign city slapping uphill holding your hand,
a small inland pond fed by nothing but rain.


-- Christina Hutchins, The Stranger Dissolves

In the past couple of days, I've had very interesting conversations with strangers about my name. At a coffee shop, a friendly barista, who is half-Russian, told me all about my namesake city in Ukraine and made me promise to go there one day.

"You have to go. My grandma is from Odessa and I have fond memories of my summers in the Black Sea", he said. Then he taught me how to write my name in Russian, both in manuscript and cursive. "You read it as ah-DYESH-uh." It's rather sweet how excited he was.

Then I met this elderly man in Marin who told me about a novel he read in the 70's that took place in Odessa. He wrote down the name of the author and insisted that I should read the book. "It's about spies and secret organizations and you will learn a lot about your city", he said.

Last week, I went to a bookshop in Santa Cruz and met this lady who got so enthusiastic when I told her my name. "Oh, like the female form of Odysseus!", she exclaimed. Then she told me how she always wanted to write a book similar to Homer's. "But this time it's the women who will go on an epic journey to the ends of the world and leave the menfolk behind."

I told her that I haven't read The Odyssey and find it's size rather daunting. "It doesn't matter. As long as you know that your name means going on a long journey. Isn't that what life is all about?"

Yes, I suppose it is. I haven't thought much about what my name means to me but perhaps all these years I've been doing just that.

This month, it's going to be exactly 10 years since I left my country and my family to follow my own journey. A decade. I can't believe it's been that long. And when I think about my 23 year-old self nervously clutching my passport and student visa at the airport one hot August day in 2003, I can only smile at how brave and determined I was. I barely knew what I was doing but that didn't stop me from taking the leap anyway.

Where did all that strength came from? And how much have I changed since then? I'd like to think that in a lot of ways I am still the same person. I'd like to think that I've learned many things and have a deeper understanding of who I am. That perhaps I've grown into my name, wanderer, seeker of unknown seas.

Have a listen: Hopeless Wanderer by Mumford & Sons
Photo taken in Stinson Beach, CA.

august first

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Can you believe it's August already? This was going to be the summer that I will work on writing my manuscript but all I can show for myself right now is an epilogue and a notebook filled with notes and random dialogues. I know I shouldn't be too hard on myself because this is my summer break after all but oh dear, we go back to work in less than 2 weeks! Sigh. I do try to write everyday but I also want to be outdoors which is often not good for me because there are too many distractions and before I know it I'm already pulling out my phone and taking pictures.

Yesterday I was in Santa Cruz, writing inside a coffee shop when a group of young girls, probably 13-15 year olds, came in and sat at the table right next to me. I didn't even notice them at first but their voices got louder and pretty soon I was already eavesdropping. It turned out that there was this really cute boy outside and one of the girls was discretely trying to take his picture with her iPhone by having her friends pose when really her camera was actually zoomed in to the boy.  

"Why don't we go over there and sit on the bench next to them," said one of them. "But that's too obvious!" chimed in another. I had to smile. This scene could easily have been me and my friends 15 years ago, minus the iPhones. Soon the girls left and a group of teenage boys came in. Again, I couldn't help but overhear their conversation. They talked about beach volleyball, improving their game, and exercising. Then someone suggested that they grab some tacos so off they went to the Mexican restaurant next door.

Ah, to be young and carefree. Sometimes I just want to be a hippie and live in a beach town like Santa Cruz. How about you, how is summer treating you so far?

from sixteen to here

"Sometimes you’re 23 and standing in the kitchen of your house making breakfast and brewing coffee and listening to music that for some reason is really getting to your heart. You’re just standing there thinking about going to work and picking up your dry cleaning. And also more exciting things like books you’re reading and trips you plan on taking and relationships that are springing into existence. Or fading from your memory, which is far less exciting. And suddenly you just don’t feel at home in your skin or in your house and you just want home but “Mom’s” probably wouldn’t feel like home anymore either. There used to be the comfort of a number in your phone and ears that listened everyday and arms that were never for anyone else. But just to calm you down when you started feeling trapped in a five-minute period where nostalgia is too much and thoughts of this person you are feel foreign. When you realize that you’ll never be this young again but this is the first time you’ve ever been this old. When you can’t remember how you got from sixteen to here and all the same feel like sixteen is just as much of a stranger to you now. The song is over. The coffee’s done. You’re going to breathe in and out. You’re going to be fine in about five minutes." -- Kalyn RoseAnne, via Erica Lorraine Scheidt

This. The author expressed exactly how it feels to be in that moment, that "five-minute period" when you suddenly ask yourself, how did I get from sixteen to here?

All those years, they flash through your mind in a blur. Your first heartbreak, your first interview, or that one time when you felt so alone and you picked up the phone only to put it back down immediately because you're afraid your voice might start breaking. That night when you're 19 and you took a boat ride with your friends, singing songs in the dark, drinking cheap alcohol, falling in love with a boy who may not love you back.

Then you realize that all of it matters. All those bad decisions, missed opportunities, mistakes and procrastinations, they all help to get you here. You listen to the song again and smile because you know that everything is going to be okay.

This song, from a favorite band when I was 16 or 17, inspired this post.

tell the wolves i'm home

wolves

Author: Carol Rifka Brunt 
Published: June 2012, PanMacMillan UK, Dial Press US

I waited a few days to write this post because I'm afraid I might start bawling again. And believe it or not, I'm not the weepy kind. I may have shed a tear or two when words or stories moved me but it takes a very special book to break me down to pieces.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home is that kind of book. Simply put, it read me. Understood those thoughts that I never dared say aloud, my fears and dreams, the dark corners of my heart, all of it. I saw some parts of my younger self in the book's narrator that at times it was painful to read just how much she resonated in me.

Set in 1987, June is an introspective and shy fourteen year-old who feels like she belongs in a different time. She wears long skirts, goes for walks in the woods, and imagines that she lives in the Middle Ages. The only person who truly understands her is her uncle and godfather Finn. So when he dies, not only was June devastated by the loss of a best friend, she also has to deal with the truth that he may have kept some aspects of his life hidden from her.

"…once you had a friend like Finn, it was almost impossible to find someone in high school who came anywhere close. Sometimes I wondered if I might go through my whole life looking for someone who came even a little bit close."

Oh yes. I know exactly what she is talking about. To lose that one person who was absolutely in your wavelength and feel like a fraction of your soul was ripped apart when he was gone.

But it's not just about grief and sadness, for Wolves is so richly drawn and complex. There is June's relationship with her parents and her older sister Greta. And her reluctant friendship with Toby, the mysterious man that she saw at Finn's funeral. It's a story about losing and finding love, all told by such an unforgettable voice of a young girl.

"I wasn’t interested in drinking beer or vodka or smoking cigarettes or doing all the other things Greta thinks I can’t even imagine. I don’t want to imagine those things. Anyone can imagine things like that. I want to imagine wrinkled time, and forests thick with wolves, and bleak midnight moors. I dream about people who don’t need to have sex to know they love each other. I dream about people who would only ever kiss you on the cheek."

“I used to think maybe I wanted to become a falconer, and now I'm sure of it, because I need to figure out the secret. I need to work out how to keep things flying back to me instead of always flying away.”

June is the kind of storyteller who will tug at your heartstrings because she's so real and unapologetically herself. I was reluctant to put the book down when I finished it because I wanted to spend more time with her and her story. And it might be too early to say but I think this is my best read of the year.

postcard from lake tahoe

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"the sun on your arms naked against my cheeks
hello I said to you
the day of quatorz’juillet"

--from Bastille by Pierre Martory, via Poetry Foundation

Dear friends, I'm currently in North Tahoe visiting my cousin. Cellular reception is spotty here so I'm not sure how this post will turn out. I hope you will have a wonderful week.

And to my French friends, Happy Bastille Day!

the sky is everywhere

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"The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet."

A beautiful summer evening in Pacifica. It was one of those times when I wished I had a better camera to capture how the sky was reflected on both ocean and sand, how tops of the waves shone brightly with golden light, making everything mirrors for each other. Even the surfers looked like they were one with the water. So lovely.

And every once in awhile I get an Instagram update that really warms my heart. This time it's from the SF Ballet and their new harpist. Read the story here, I promise it will make you smile.

Quote is taken from this book by Jandy Nelson. I read it awhile ago and love it to bits.

we built a fort

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Last summer, Stinson Beach.

And no, this is not our fort but it did remind me of a childhood memory. Growing up in an island, molding wet sand into castles, forts, hills.

As much as I loved being in the water, I much preferred being near it, comforted by the thought that it is always always there. That I can make sand castles, swing on a hammock, read a book, daydream of faraway places, and the sea is constantly watching over me.

Since summer school started and our work day has been shorter than usual, I've been more and more indulgent of my ocean-loving heart. The downside is, I'm rarely home and so behind on the practical side of things. But this is what I need to do right now and it feels right.

“The cure for anything is salt water - tears, sweat, or the sea.” ― Isak Dinesen

a poem, for you

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Summer Solstice
by Stacie Cassarino

I wanted to see where beauty comes from
without you in the world, hauling my heart
across sixty acres of northeast meadow,
my pockets filling with flowers.
Then I remembered,
it’s you I miss in the brightness
and body of every living name:
rattlebox, yarrow, wild vetch.
You are the green wonder of June,
root and quasar, the thirst for salt.
When I finally understand that people fail
at love, what is left but cinquefoil, thistle,
the paper wings of the dragonfly
aeroplaning the soul with a sudden blue hilarity?
If I get the story right, desire is continuous,
equatorial. There is still so much
I want to know: what you believe
can never be removed from us,
what you dreamed on Walnut Street
in the unanswerable dark of your childhood,
learning pleasure on your own.
Tell me our story: are we impetuous,
are we kind to each other, do we surrender
to what the mind cannot think past?
Where is the evidence I will learn
to be good at loving?
The black dog orbits the horseshoe pond
for treefrogs in their plangent emergencies.
There are violet hills,
there is the covenant of duskbirds.
The moon comes over the mountain
like a big peach, and I want to tell you
what I couldn’t say the night we rushed
North, how I love the seriousness of your fingers
and the way you go into yourself,
calling my half-name like a secret.
I stand between taproot and treespire.
Here is the compass rose
to help me live through this.
Here are twelve ways of knowing
what blooms even in the blindness
of such longing. Yellow oxeye,
viper’s bugloss with its set of pink arms
pleading do not forget me.
We hunger for eloquence.
We measure the isopleths.
I am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.
The air is fragrant with tiny strawberries.
Fireflies turn on their electric wills:
an effulgence. Let me come back
whole, let me remember how to touch you
before it is too late.

-- from Zero at the Bone  via The Poetry Foundation

(Photo taken last summer at Mission Ranch in Carmel, CA )

because it's monday

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I can't write a cohesive post because everything hurts, my sunburnt back from staying out too long at the beach this weekend, my eyes from crying (no, heaving sobs) because I may have found that one book that understood the young me perfectly and it's so, so devastating and beautiful all at the same time.

Yes, I recognize that we should only read books that wound and stab us, but my God, this one rang so true, it was almost like looking at my 14-year old self and reading what's inside my heart.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home, you own me. I hope I can write a review later but to be honest, I'm not even sure if I can do it justice. All I want to do right now is curl up in a ball and think of June and Finn and Toby, all of them really. It will take a long time before I will forget these characters.

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These two pictures were taken last summer when I was laying on the grass at the park, pointing my disposable camera at the sky and the pastel colored houses nearby, dreaming of Japan. It's amazing how much difference a year makes. Last summer I was sure I'd be in Japan by this time and now here I am, the sky is still so blue and has been for days now.

----
I had started making a summer mixtape this morning but my choice of songs didn't feel right so I'll have to redo it and share later.  Meanwhile, I have been listening to this song over and over, I think it is perfect for the mood that I'm in right now.

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Lastly, I want to thank those of you who took time and shared your results for the Myers Briggs Test. It's interesting how almost all of you are either an INFJ or INFP, which I believe are very similar personality types and also two of the rarest. And I've said this before but if there's one thing that I'm really grateful for keeping this blog, it's because it introduced me to like-minded souls that I wouldn't have met otherwise. Thank you, truly.

books and INFPs

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Yesterday was the 60th Anniversary celebration of City Lights Books and I was surprised at how emotional I felt about it. Yes, it is true that my initial exploration (read: getting lost) around North Beach and finding City Lights for the first time was one of the reasons why I decided to move to San Francisco, but over the years I've already found other book spaces to love and spend hours in. And yet there I was, clutching the goodie bag that they gave us, walking up to the Poetry Room upstairs and feeling a sudden lump in my throat.

For me, this bookstore represents history, the power of words, the legacy of the Beat Generation, and on a more personal level, it is also one of the very first places that I felt really at home. I know it may sound strange to feel that way about a bookstore but it's true. There's a certain magic in the air when I came here for the first time and I recognized it instantly. It also warms my heart that in this era of digital books, an independent bookstore is still thriving and very much alive.

Speaking of books, the subject of Myers-Briggs personality types came up lately and while I'm often skeptical about these tests, I do believe that I am an INFP through and through so I started laughing when I read in a blog that one way to attract an INFP is to "know your literature". Come to think of it, every INFP that I know is a bookworm. And except for my friend Mai, whom I've known since high school, I met all of my INFP friends through blogging (most probably talking about books and literature). Isn't that interesting?

Which brings me to a little experiment. Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test and if so, which type are you? Here is an online test if you like to take it and share your results. I'm curious how many of you are introverts and/or book lovers.

band of horses

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They came out of nowhere and spiced up our beach afternoon. It was rather romantic, yes. And one guy was napping away, totally oblivious to what's going on. I wonder if his girlfriend will tell him about the horses when he wakes up. Or who knows, maybe he was dreaming of horses.

Hope you are having a wonderful summer weekend!

last day of spring

(or first day of summer, for some of you)

This afternoon, while I was driving back from the coast, I felt panicky for a moment. I don't know if it's that 'full feeling' that you get when the sky is too blue and the light is so dreamy that it is almost too much, or it might just be that summer is already here and I want to do so many things and I'm afraid that I won't get anything done, but I definitely felt it in my chest and I had to roll down the windows, turn off the music, and take a deep breath. Then the moment passed and I was feeling like myself again.

Meanwhile, that manuscript I'm writing, I'm lucky if I can get a paragraph or two down each day. I have this notebook where I write down scenes and dialogues, character sketches, plot ideas and key phrases but I'm still trying to establish a routine so I can get the actual writing done.

Meanwhile, my Instragram is now ought to be called flowergram, with all the flower photos that I have been taking lately. I can't help myself, I want to stop for every blossom that I see. Today I was taking photos of these pink roses when the most beautiful cat came out of nowhere and into the frame. What is it about cats that make them so mysterious and wise? (Here is the photo)

Meanwhile, I have yet to catch up on letters, e-mails, and phone calls. Ever since I read this piece by Jonathan Safran Foer at the New York Times, I've been thinking about how technology have affected my relationships and emotional connection with others. In a lot of ways, the internet made it possible for me to connect with kindred spirits that I wouldn't have met otherwise but at the same time, it is also a huge distraction and a black hole of mindless browsing. This is the reality of the world that we live in now and finding the right balance is key.

And in all these, there are the little joys:
Borrowing books from the library again.
Watching a screening of a short film made by my former student.
Finding this Pride and Prejudice copy at a used bookstore.
"Talking" to one of my favorite authors on Twitter.
Feeling giddy while writing a scene between my main characters.
Camera Obscura and their new album, Desire Lines.

sharon olds

"The room is dim around us,
ivory globes, pink curtains,
bound at the waist - and outside,
a weightless, luminous, lifted-up
summer twilight."


--Excerpt from The Promise by Sharon Olds

These words. I carry with me lately.
Her line breaks are always perfect. 

(And I really miss using line breaks)

you are my fave

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"One poem / per blossom is not enough / for a peony"  --Ryumin

It's kind of ridiculous how these peonies make me so happy but they really do. I can't decide which ones I love the most, when they're still in tight buds waiting to open, or when they finally unveil themselves in all their wild and fluffy glory. Or maybe it's the in-between, when they are tenderly starting to bloom. I just love waking up to see what the blossoms look like each morning.