20-Something Swag

(forever young, sometimes broke, and always snarky)

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This Is How You Lose Us: an open letter to religious institutions of higher education

I completed my undergraduate education at an Evangelical Christian university, and my master’s degree at a university in Britain. The latter was so large and liberal enough not to keep much of a tab on the personal lives of its students or to feel like its students’ personal lives had much effect on students’ academic performance. It was pretty well observed that skipping lectures and seminars due to hangovers was a stupid idea. At the latter I was also told by an undergraduate student that if I wanted to flirt with academic staff members, undergrads, or to watch academic staff members flirt with undergrads, the philosophy department reading parties were the place to be. This was surprising knowledge coming from my undergraduate institution, where I later worked as an adjunct instructor, and where there are people I love and people with whom I have tense relationships, and people with whom I have faith those relationships will someday heal.

The world of Evangelical Academia has faced a lot of potential challenges and changes in the last few years—mostly social and political—regarding racism, sexism, religious exclusion, and inequalities leveled at undocumented persons and at gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people. When I was an undergraduate student almost ten years ago (gulp), we were having these conversations even then, as were classes before me. There are alumni groups from multiple religious institutions that have come together to advocate for inclusion and equal treatment of students, faculty, and staff. Years and years of graduating classes. We are smart, we are hard working, we are willing to speak up for those who may not have the resources to do so, and we are tired of having to prove that we belong in universities that claim they want smart people, world-changing people, loving people. We grow weary. And they can’t expect to keep us.

Dear religious institutions of higher education, This Is How You Lose Us:

Make only some of us prove we belong here in non-academic ways. There are gay people, trans people, non-white people, undocumented students, and even women who are smart, kind, and hard working. We want a solid education. We can contribute to an intellectual community. We have money, or otherwise qualify for funding. If you want to refuse queer people because they’re sinners or undocumented persons because they’re breaking the law or not support women in spiritual leadership, then I shouldn’t have been admitted, because I once shop-lifted popcicle sticks from the craft store (accidentally), and I consistently lied to my parents about brushing my teeth through much of first grade. Oh, wait. I graduated with the top grade in my major, studied at Oxford and St. Andrews, and hold a distinction on my post-graduate degree, AND I’ve never had sex with a woman? Okay. No worries.

Throw us under the bus, because funding is more important than integrity. The arts and sciences are both avenues for further thinking. They’re what we’re here to learn, to be a part of, and even as students, we are here to speak into the existing discourses and further scholarship. When you censor our work, say a controversial theatre production or findings that humanize non-Christians, because you’re afraid donors will pull funding, you are essentially not trusting us to learn. You are withholding our opportunity to be responsible with our own findings, and to tell meaningful stories. You are fearful of what we might do with the truth. Fearful that we, in our learning, will lose you money. Don’t short-change us. Don’t underestimate our hearts and our minds.

Foster an environment of exclusion. Why must we who are not white straight cis-gender males face added scrutiny in our work, or be called “diverse students” rather than “students”? (I was actually at a luncheon where a high-ranking academic official referred to students of color as “diverse persons,” and if one person could be diverse.) Why do female pastors at many of your institutions still face disrespect from their students and colleagues on the basis of sex and gender? You should protect those you employ from harassment. It’s national law. Why do non-white students still juggle deeply personal questions about their ethnic heritages upon first meetings? Why do trans and otherwise queer students have to stay closeted or face expulsion or “no room at the inn” when it comes to on-campus housing with their friends? You are a community that by definition is about thoughts manifested in action: in scholarship, culture creation, medical advances, and social development. Don’t tell us you can’t proactively work towards creating awareness and inclusion in your administration, faculty, and student bodies.

Don’t anticipate change. React against it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. The world is changing, yes, and it’s hard to keep up, granted. But here’s a not-so-secret secret. There have always been people who are different from you. There have always been multiple possible outcomes, perspectives, and ideas. You can’t pretend them away. When you close your eyes and think of England, they’re still here. We’re still here.

Be inconsistent. I didn’t know until after graduating that students of my Evangelical alma mater did, in fact, party.

“Like birthday parties?” I asked.

“Yeah, some of them were birthday parties.”

“With cake?”

“Sure, Koh, with cake.”

Some students had sex, smoked, and drank even though all traditional undergrads and faculty weren’t allowed to consume alcohol or tobacco or have sex outside of marriage. And to this day these behaviors continue. But, if you are one of the university’s best and brightest, you can get away with a don’t-ask-don’t-tell sort of deal. In the meantime, students who are outwardly queer face the Hammer of God. Way to encourage honesty and way to go on cutting down on student drunkeness and pre-marital sex.

Encourage shame and ignorance rather than personal growth. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie asks his friend Patrick why he sees his boyfriend, Brad’s, painful outing so positively. Patrick replies, “Because at least he doesn’t have to be drunk to love me anymore.” When you foster shame for normal human experiences, you also foster secrets being kept in darkness, and ignorance and fear of these experiences as well. I know of three recent Christian college grads whose first sexual experience was post-graduation, induced by heavy alcohol consumption, and completed without protection. Now I’m not blaming these unfortunate experiences on their college environments alone. But as I think back to recent discussion panels on sexuality at some institutions, I remember shame and holier than thou currents in equal measure, neither of which able to understand each other. If you truly are grace-filled institutions, why is it that I know faculty members who have shared their stories about sexuality—who were open and brave—only to be shut down and discouraged? Why do many students graduate ashamed of their bodies and their choices, ready for self-harm rather than knowing appropriate steps towards healing?

Keep us in the Anger Stage. I cannot tell you how many people have told me they don’t like feminists, because the only feminists they have encountered are fresh from the Evangelical Uni. experience. They’re angry, militant, and loud. I tell folks, “Well, they should be. For a while.” It has been my experience that Christian universities have some very progressive-thinking people who nurture students who want to see equality. But when we come up against a culture and implicit and explicit rules that don’t allow us to make changes and to grow, we stagnate. We stay angry. So, if you don’t want a bunch of angry activists running around your campuses, hear us. Let us put our egalitarianism to work. We promise, it won’t hurt anyone.

Stop being brave for us. Private discussion groups in the upper room of coffee houses are great. They give us an outlet for our anxieties and our hurts, and a safe space to talk about important things. Telling us God loves us just as we are helps. But don’t stop there. If you have the power to rock the boat, rock the boat. We know it’s a risk. But aren’t we worth the risk? Aren’t the people we are and who we represent something to be brave for? Thank you for treating the symptoms of inequality. Please continue to stand with us against the disease.

Sincerely,

a disenfranchised student

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Gov. Jan Brewer

Dear Governor Brewer:

I grew up in Arizona. I was one of the only girls of color I knew who wasn’t born either in Arizona or the U.S. I was adopted, when my family lived in another state–Washington of all places. Moving from a community accustomed to international adoption to Arizona brought with it some very hurtful experiences, hurt compounded by the passing of Senate Bill 1070 a few years ago. (My brown skin still smarts from that, Governor.) I currently reside in Oregon, and have lived in the U.K. multiple times. And while you will probably be able to discern from the following sentiments that I am more culturally attuned to the Pacific Northwest, I still think of Arizona as home in many senses. Sunday afternoon I was boutique browsing with a friend–candle smelling, as Oregonian yuppies sometimes do–and I smelled a candled scented as prickly pear blossom and mesquite. Oh, Governor, it was the most lovely thing. I was transported to the desert in the evening, when the cacti bloom. I passed the candle to my friend, stating, “This. This smells like home.” She asked me, “Kohleun, how did you ever leave?” “Well,” I said, “the current legistration just legalized private fireworks use, so the entire state might go up in flames at any moment.”

You see, Governor, I did leave. I have left Arizona several times, and unless there are some big changes in the near future, I will keep leaving. There are a couple verses in the bible that say homosexuality is a sin, and others people use to support this belief. A big problem with that is, and there are many problems with that, I grew up believing that to be a “sin” a certain act or thought had to be a choice, a desire one could will away. A lot of folks, specifically Christians but others, too, would like to tell you that being gay or lesbian–having sexual and emotional attractions to a person of the same sex–is a choice. But let’s shoot straight here, Governor Brewer. You’re an educated woman. You’ve been a lot of places, and have met people different from yourself. Do you honestly think that a person would choose, in this century or any preceding, an orientation that almost guarantees they will be bullied, told they are going to burn in eternal torment, that their sex life is like having sex with an animal, that somehow God and all the rest of us have to learn how to love them despite their sexuality? 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying being gay in America is unlivable. That’s like saying being a woman of color in America is unlivable, and I know that it’s not. But I am saying that being queer in America is safer and more humanized than it used to be, but it could stand to be so much better. Until all humans are treated as equals, it’s not good enough. LGBTQ persons should be free to express themselves, to embrace who they are and to foster supportive communities, outwardly. Because they choose to like themselves. I have faced many reasons not to like myself, not to like being Asian or a girl. Anyone who has experienced childhood knows what I’m talking about. Now I enjoy being a woman, whatever that means, though it brought me heartache as a young adult growing up in ConservAmerica. I do this because I identify with a long history of pain and second-class citizenship, but also with talented writers and politicians, activists and artists, who I admire, and who help me be more okay with being me. Queer people, just like any other people, have made those contributions, too, and no matter how they identify, they have a right to living into that history, even if that means exchanging stories at the Historically Disenfranchised Table. That’s where I’ll be sitting, because I want to share those stories.

I know that you are contemplating approving the recently passed Senate Bill 1062, which states that governing authorities cannot interfere with an individual’s exercise of religion. I’m grateful for religious freedom, freedom to put what I believe (or don’t believe) into action. But I challenge you, and others, to look at the implications of this definition: “Exercise of religion” means the PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.

Governor, when I was a kid, we listened to Adventures in Odyssey. Maybe you’re familiar with it? It’s a children’s radio series that Focus on the Family puts out. And while I bristle a little at many of the organization’s values, one line from an episode has stuck with me for over twenty years now. “We don’t serve your kind here.” That was something a white cafe owner said to a black would-be-patron, who wanted to get lunch with his friend. Has anyone ever said that to you? Has anyone ever called you a certain “kind”? Like a breed of dog? It is more degrading than if they just came out and called you a monster or freak. Have you ever been considered a monster in your own community? Has someone ever refused you service or kindness based on the most personal aspects of yourself? If they have, you might be able to understand the implications this has on minorities and queer folk in Arizona.

If the government can’t even serve as a buffer to the “ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief,” how can we be saved from Jim Crow 2.0? Because, did you know? Racism had many religious arguments backing it. How can we be saved from religion-inspired hate crimes? And, Governor Brewer–Jan–how can we stop the death, and the fear, and the hurt, and the loss?

Being refused building your own Fro Yo on McClintock & Elliot isn’t that big of a deal if we’re just talking Fro Yo. But the burrowing sense of self-hatred and dehumanization that accompanies those discriminations is a big deal, the biggest. Frankly, I don’t care if a shop owner is uncomfortable doing business with a queer person or a person that messes with their dreams of ethnic cleansing and a New Jerusalem. Because they would enjoy the money, and people are dying, Jan. They’re still beaten to death in dark streets or driven so far to a feeling of worthlessness and despair that they kill themselves. And I just want that to be done now. I’m tired of losing friends and friends of friends. I’m weary of losing people I’ve never met to causes other than the powers of aging.

I am not a begging woman, Jan. I am a spitfire with Quaker leanings, who does not bow or doff her metaphorical hat to titles and offices, because we are all human. We’re both human, you and I. And I beg you, I beg you as one human to another, please don’t sign SB1062. My religious conviction, the deepest conviction I have running through my veins, compels me to plead for the rights of my fellow human being.

Respectfully,

Kohleun A.

Valentine’s Day 2014: In Which I Bite the Hand that Feeds Me (strong language)

Last week, in preparation for the upcoming international love day, a fellow floral designer and I familiarized ourselves with the shop’s updated website. We scrolled through the monochromatic images in pinkscale—images of recipe-designed roses, lilies, and you guessed it, more roses and lilies. We noticed quite a startling tag line under many of these order-online arrangements. With a little fire blaze, it read, “Send & Score.” Score what, exactly? we wondered. We explored the naïve possibilities first: true love? Lifelong bliss? Someone who really understands you and values you for you? It had to be. Nope. What does it mean in our cultural discourse to “score” in the world of dating and flower-plying? Why, land a shallow but hot lay, of course. That’s right, folks, for 59.95, you can send a lovely bouquet of red on pink and receive sexual favors in return. Or, at the very least, stay out of the dog house. Whatever that metaphor is supposed to imply. . .

But wait, there’s more. I don’t always listen to the radio, but when I do, it’s exactly when floods of adverts for jewelry companies try to convince me that if I—presumably a man trying to woo a woman—“want to show her how much I really love her,” I will buy her a highly discounted diamond, starting at only 299.99. Gulp. But I’ve gotta do it by February 14, or my love is void and I’m screwed (or not screwed, as the case may be). Double-gulp. Because love is a carbon sediment the wholesaler could discount only because they hired someone to risk their life to gorge it out of a mountain somewhere in Africa to fund wars between humans who also have people who love them. Don’t get me wrong, I like small sparkly things, but aren’t parts of the diamond biz a bit paradoxical? What kind of thought goes into buying “cheap” conflict diamonds for love? Flower buying can be problematic on its own level. The majority of customers I see or talk to ordering Valentine’s flowers express to me that they are giving this gift out of obligation, social expectation, or the fear that without this particular gesture they “won’t get some,” or more dramatically, their relationship is at a risk. And I say, fuck that noise.

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I’ve noticed people can get pretty defensive about Valentine’s Day and blame skepticism like mine on singleness or never receiving flowers or diamonds in the past. Nope. Don’t project on me. That’s not the only reason to be critical of plying (mostly women) significant others with expensive gifts as surrogates for love. In fact, positive experiences with relationships make me even more critical of Valentine’s Day fever. I figure, gifts given without obligation or contingencies, even if they are flowers, are wonderful expressions of affection and kindness. I love flowers. But when affectionate gestures become a means of getting something back, maintaining your stereotypical gender status, or to “score” in one way or another, you’re buying into the ancient practice of paying for sex, or whatever. Yay. And on top of that, you’re paying for sex and pretending it’s a gesture of love, which is dumb. Just call a spade a spade, folks. If we’re going to legalize prostitution in all 50 states, why limit it to a day that was once reserved for expressing affection? And we really ought to regulate that profession in that case, while we’re at it.

The hagiography of the historical Saint Valentine is a bit spotty; historians aren’t even 100% sure who the true Saint Valentine was. But basically, he illicitly joined Christian couples in marriage when being a Christian and helping Christians was outlawed under Claudius II ages ago. So, please, tell me, how on God’s green earth we got from working towards marriage equality (the third century edition) and creating sanctuary for a couple’s right to state a commitment, to spending millions of dollars on rings and chocolates and flowers and balloons and lingerie and hotel rooms and fancy dinners? And all for what? To save a relationship, as if a relationship that relies on a dozen red roses isn’t already doomed? To prove you’re a man? To prove you’re a woman? To prove our love?

Rather than turning Valentine’s Day into a flaming hoop of shit we have to jump through year after year, hows about we let it be a day, a day of being more aware of how we love people, even. Why don’t we mark the day by creating a safe space for people to express love just as they are, to whomever they love? Whatever happened to a hug? Or a phone call? Call me a romantic if you will, but why can’t the ways we express love every single day—whether to family, friends, or significant others—be good enough for Valentine’s Day? Or, maybe the problem is that we all need to step up our game. Maybe we all suck at love. Of course I’ve shot back a text like, “Oh, sorry you had a rough day, honey, but I’m really struggling with inserting this invisible zipper.” I know I’m not always as supportive or affectionate or present as I should be. But that’s probably why I have, like, a huge thing for people who show kindness, patience, and empathy. Because we all need to find a home in that, don’t we, especially on a day when much is expected of us.

Minding the Gap: Why Long-Distance Sucks and I’m Grateful for It

This summer, while I was crying about a boy, figuratively of course, my flatmate said, “Koh, you should write a book about relationships.” I laughed, because I’m pretty sure nobody who watches American romantic comedies or who thinks Valentine’s Day is a valid holiday would want my relationship musings. (And isn’t that the main relationships-blog readership?) But with the big buy-me-things-for-love posters going up in the flower shop, I’ve gotta join the masses of relationship bloggers, because flowers make a terrible Band-Aid, you might as well know now. There’s always a new blog post out by someone in the gaga-glitter-rainbows phase of a new relationship, telling readers (i.e. their grandma and new significant other; demographics are a bitch) all the wow-shiny-new things they’re learning about being in a relationship now that they’re actually in one. It’s earth-shattering stuff. And I’m like, yeah, no duh, Sherlock. You just figured out “people are complex” and “nobody’s perfect”? Name five flaws you can actually perceive about your significant other. Right now. Just five. Five. Well, this is another blog post like that. Kinda. Sorta. There are fewer emoticons, and more cussing. (Here’s my disclaimer. I hate it when people try to tell me all relationships are the same, so please, I invite you to consume this with salt.)

I for one have learned a lot about relationships by not being in them, or by being in and out of very short ones, or by having poorly defined casual ones, or by watching other people’s fall apart. And I am sheepishly humbled to the finish on this hardwood cafe floor to say that yes, I too, am already learning about relationships by being in this–specifically long-distance–relationship. (Seriously, sheepish. It took me thirty minutes to write that intro.) I was just joking with friends, that because my significant other and I live in different states, he probably doesn’t exist. And I just go to Powell’s and buy myself books, saying “This one is mine. This one is from ‘Boyfriend.’ Hehehe.” While sometimes I do envy friends whose significant others live nearby, I’m learning a few things about relationships in general that proximity blurred in the past. Get ready. My first “chapter” in the Koh’s Book about Relationships (a.k.a. WTF Am I Doing? and Other Questions You Ask about Love).

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Open communication is everything. I mean open OPEN communication. Especially when you live far away, words are all you have, so use them and be careful with them. I don’t mean you are entitled to know everything your partner does. That’s just weird, guys. So are surprise interrogations, like, “You were out with attractive people last night? Tell me all about it, but if you admit that they are attractive, I will interrogate further. P.S. No attractive friends for you, Glenn Coco.” I do mean I’ve learned that if something doesn’t work, it’s best to say, “This doesn’t work for me,” or “I have anxiety about this.” And if something does work, affirmation lets a good thing you’ve got going keep going. This requires creating a space where honesty is a safe thing. I know that’s probably a common sense area, but it’s hard, friends, especially in a culture of mistrust and jealousy. I told a friend the other day that I was hit on pretty unabashedly by an older man on my lunch break. She said, “Your boyfriend probably won’t want to hear all those stories. Keep that one to yourself.” Too late, I thought, already told him. And I told him about the cute barista who totally flirted with me in McMinnville last week, so there. It’s scary to tell people things they might not want to hear and maybe more scary to be openly affectionate. It’s also scary to be on the listening end. But we don’t get to edit our partners. Nope. In my case–a pairing of writers–we already have editors: writing groups, colleagues, our own inner-critic. It’s too late to edit our life stories. And what would be the point of that? The truth always finds its way out, whether or not that’s in words.  When you say, “You made out with three people at one party? What’s the story here?” you better be ready for the story. ‘Cause it’s a good one.

We don’t own anybody. I’ll say it again: we don’t own anybody. “My man” isn’t really “my man,” unless we want to reinstate slavery or something. Which would be disgusting, so let’s not. (And please don’t call him that.) In any relationship, people do things for each other and are accountable to each other, so it’s super easy to assume that someone is putty in your hands and therefore yours to command. What a dumb idea. I have to stop myself from expecting certain “girlfriend privileges,” because–come closer; I have a secret–those privileges are not actually mine to expect, nor do I have any right to demand them. Clearly stated boundaries are important, but those are catered to us and what we need to feel secure and well loved. The kindnesses and loyalties, I think, hold more power when they are given in a space of freedom rather than obligation, just like cat hugs. (You guys, I miss my cat, okay?)

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I like doing my own thing. Even when I have free evenings, I don’t have free evenings. I make stuff, like dresses and brownies, or dinner with the bffs. And my days off often look like today: errands, coffee, writing time, and phone/skype dates with my friends. The geographical space in a long-distance relationship imposes the metaphysical space it’s all too easy to omit in local relationships–really important space I need to grow and develop with the particular skills and opportunities I have right here, right now. And I like it. I like it a lot.

Time is precious. Doing my own thing sometimes includes getting to spend time with that cool guy I like. On the phone or in the same state. And when I do, that time is precious, just like having my solo time is precious. And this is protected time, much like the time I set aside with my other friends. I admit that I have trivialized time or been bad at protecting it in the past. A person I was dating could, like, just show up. That time became unintentional, sometimes smothering and overwhelming. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Don’t neglect your other friends. Seriously, that is the dumbest, douchiest move ever. Ever. Ever. Your friends love you. They’re the ones who let you talk for hours, ad nauseam, about how you weren’t sure if you’re ready for a relationship, but this one’s really special, blah blah blah. They will encourage you and cheer you on with your special someone, because, get this, your friends want you to be happy. They are also there for you in everyday situations, like doing your taxes or cleaning out your garage. They have invested time into your life, and only an asshole would turn their back on that, even temporarily, for a good lay (or the love of your life). Anyone who thinks they get to smoosh your friendships can say hello to the curb. Was that harsh? Good.

I’m learning we don’t and shouldn’t get to take anything for granted, is what I’m saying. Even when we live nearby, we don’t have an on-demand hug dispensary. We can’t expect one person to fulfill or singlehandedly change us into a better, more complete person. We can’t expect them to know us, to anticipate our issues, if we don’t communicate them. Being consumed or owned by a relationship doesn’t close the cracks, physical or metaphysical; it only pretends to pull the pieces together. The truth is, those spaces and silences matter. The sometimes-seemlingly-daunting gaps between us matter.

The Things You Won’t See on Facebook

Prolific.

My activity on Facebook could be described as prolific. I update my status at least once a day with anecdotes about my life, I post pictures of places I’ve been and weird sights I’ve seen, and I share 50% of George Takei’s memes. I have a few things categorized as my “favorites,” and the abridged version of my CV. When I’m approaching a design or writing deadline, everybody knows it, and when my roommate and I exchange witty banter, everybody knows it. I admit it at parties with old friends, shrugging sheepishly with eyes averted: “Yes, I am very prolific on Facebook.” For a long time, I refused to write about my relationship with Facebook, because it seems like such a petty thing, right? And god forbid I should write about Facebook on WordPress; it’s like putting milk in your gin.

When I was a first-year college student, it was a huge deal when Facebook finally had a network for my alma mater. A huge deal. My roommate signed me up, and then used her access to my account to create a secret gag album called “Boys that Make My Butter Melt,” a delicious geek fest of Star Trek characters and ancient philosophers with supersexycaptions. It’s still in cyberspace somewhere. In the year that followed, I started dating a guy and as soon as we were official, the relationship status update went live. And by the next morning, a young woman who I thought was my friend had blocked me on the Facebooks. It was so painfully obvious that this had something to do with my new relationship.

After several months of the silent treatment from my former friend, and observing her flirt with my then-boyfriend in social settings, I finally sent her a card asking if I had hurt her, telling her I was sorry if there was some way she felt I had betrayed her, asking to talk. Two nights later she approached me in the school cafeteria with a big hug and asked me to get coffee with her. I still remember exactly watching her steep her rooibos tea, and walking through slushy January snow with her back to campus afterward. In short, I learned that night that Facebook is kind of a big deal. Sure, social scientists observe astutely that it is indeed a facet–and a big one at that–of our discourse. It is both mode and content of much of our communication. It seemed so simple and abstract to make that relationship official on Facebook: click a couple buttons, hit confirm, and I had a boyfriend. Super. We argued later about taking down the relationship status, letting the relationship exist and grow outside of cyberspace, but it remained. But that abstract declaration had feelings attached, more feelings than even then-boyfriend and I had anticipated. It had our feelings for each other, the friend’s feelings for then-boyfriend, and my feelings for a lost friendship. It was, in fact, something to protect, as Cara Joyner recently wrote on Relevant. Joyner says,

When my son crawls into my lap, he doesn’t want me to take his picture and shoot it across Facebook. He doesn’t care who else thinks I have a cute kid. He just wants me to hold him and see him. To feel his soft, chunky arms and to focus on the way his eyelashes move when he blinks. . . 

Not every great moment needs to be shared. In fact, some of the best times are most enjoyed privately. If we suspend the present in an attempt to capture its beauty in 140 characters or less, we sacrifice our experience of the moment itself. We also rob each other of something that has been lost in our digital age—keeping a handful of memories between us and those we are closest to, or even just between us and God.

Looking back to my early days with Facebook and the ways that coincided with my college dating life, I realize I did a terrible job protecting what was special, most of us did. We would flirt, and ask people out, we would beg our baby to take us back, declare undying love, post pictures of making out or going out or coming out. But it’s true, not all moments need to be shared on the interwebs, as great as they are. Once we share them in a public forum, we lose control of them. I gifted my mum and dad a poem I had presented at a literary conference a few years back. I gave them the final draft that some day I might get my act together and submit for publication. She asked to record me reading it. I told her, “You can’t post this on Facebook or e-mail it to your friends. It’s a final draft, and if it’s published the journal should have First American Rights. It can’t already have been publicly accessible.” That was my pragmatist way of saying, this is special, Mom. This is my gift to you. Only you. And nobody else gets to click the “share” button. Only me.

But haven’t we developed the culturally pervasive fear that if there is no “share” or “comment” or “like” button, then that area of our life doesn’t exist within a social context? If we don’t post our weekly pregnancy picture, the baby’s growth stalls? If no one “likes” my New Boyfriend! announcement, they disapprove and it’s about to get all Romeo+Juliet up in here? If I don’t tell people I’m eating at Applebee’s, I can’t possibly be eating at Applebees. Sure, not everything needs to be shared, but does not sharing them online imply that they aren’t worth sharing? Hell no. Some moments need to be shared, intimately, quietly, privately. They don’t need to be kept a secret, but they also don’t need to be reincarnated in pixels and glowing lights. Like Joyner watching her child drift to sleep in her lap, like me playing mermaid-pirates with my nieces, or talking with my boyfriend, reading a poem for my parents, or comforting a friend. These happen. Look, I admitted all of them in this blog. And the world can know that I have these relationships. I might even tell people about some of these special moments. But these moments are mine, mine and theirs. They have feelings attached, and histories, and commitments that no one else gets to take part in. And you know what, these moments are the most worth sharing, the most “likeable,” and most real. So you won’t see them here.

Baby Got Back: Thoughts on a Year

Last night I killed a 16 oz. coffee at the table by the window in one of my old haunts with a new but dear friend. We realized together that, despite a few false starts and intermediate life lessons, we’re doing exactly what our childhood selves wanted for us. He’s a teacher and writer, married to an artist who always dreamed of being an artist, and I’m stepping back in to the design world and writing again. A year ago last night I bet I was sitting in that same coffee shop, scared of the future and the fact that I chose just 24 hours before not to be an academic—not to pursue the dream for which my 18-year-old self committed to working her ass off. As I turn twenty-seven, I have the nagging feeling 18-year-old Koh would write me a nasty letter, probably in verse, about how disappointed she is in me for giving up the dream. She has no idea.

My year at twenty-five was a period of slow losing. By the time I reached twenty-six, I didn’t feel like I had much left to give or to be taken from me. It certainly wasn’t all bad. I lost things that made me better for the losing. I was a walking Elizabeth Bishop poem. It seemed like Twenty-Six would be a continuation of those losses. And for a while it was. I lost a lot of trust in friends. I lost the last bit of hope I had in relationships and people’s ability to build healthy ones. But because of the preceding year, I also lost that last layer of inhibitions that had told me for the past twenty-six years, “Don’t do that.” “Don’t say that.” “Don’t risk it.” So, I step in to Twenty-Seven open to new things and to getting things back. Because sometimes, though we don’t deserve it, we do get things back: dreams, energy, ideas, people, and the fortitude to try. So instead of my usual list of new experiences I resolve to have in the coming year, here are twenty-six things—small and tall—that I got back this year.

  1. Clothing and costume design. I got to design one of my favorite period productions with some old friends (who in that way I also got back).
  2. A sewing machine.
  3. College friends who are now my post-college friends.
  4. The experience of writing for pleasure.
  5. The experience of writing for money.
  6. Hope for Veronica Mars. You guys, the movie comes out March 14.
  7. The last bit of hope I had in relationships and people’s ability to build healthy ones.
  8. A sense of place, though I won’t be here forever.
  9. Gardening!
  10.  Time to cook.
  11. Creative evenings.
  12. A sense of direction.
  13. People to bake for.
  14. Venues for wearing pretty dresses.
  15. Sleepovers with my BFFs.
  16. Someone Special.
  17. San Diego.
  18. A coffee press.
  19. Quiet mornings.
  20. Daily hugs.
  21. Laughter.
  22. An orchid plant.
  23. Sunshine. On many days.
  24. Sleeping soundly through the night.
  25. An unshakable feeling that I am enough.
  26. Feeling loved for exactly who and what I am.

 

Family Planning: Some Thoughts and Convictions

By all appearances, she was the type of woman you would want to have in your corner and certainly not in your opponent’s: she was big, black, and brazen, and chatting up every other woman in the waiting room. She wore thick grey sweatpants and an old tie-dye T-shirt with clunky sneakers. Another woman who looked like she was a couple years younger than me ducked into the room, sat two chairs down, and pulled a lime green hood over her sleek blond hair. Her composed posture suggested I was quite possibly the first person ever to see her cry.

One by one, women were called back by the nurses. My friend went to the counter to retrieve her final bout of paperwork as I settled in to a corner chair with a high cushioned back and cheery geometric upholstery. As I sat opposite the talkative stranger, a back issue of The Economist became insatiably interesting. My friend returned and, interrupting my foray into the world of financial sound bites, the woman across the room asked, “Are you her friend?” My first thought was, Oh, dear god, what did she do? Instead I squeaked out, “Yes?” “That’s good,” she replied, “it’s good to have friends. I’m just tired of feeling weird and not knowing . . .” she trailed off.

At this point, I knew it was all over. Steve Jobs tried to beckon me back to The Economist, but it was useless. “Are you waiting to figure out if you’re pregnant?” my friend asked just before her name was called by a woman in scrubs bearing a clipboard. “Yeah, this would be my second,” the Perfect Stranger answered. Slowly, I migrated several chairs closer. “Do you have any family in the area?” We were no longer facing each other, but she still dropped her gaze: “No, some in California but mostly back in Detroit. It’s just me.” We continued to make small talk, because, really, what else was there to talk about? Did I want to know what this stranger would do is she were pregnant? I’d lose sleep over any outcome in her situation. So we stuck to discussing the room’s paint job and the art on the walls. On the wall where the foyer met the waiting room hung an airy mesh sculpture of a pink ombre sundress encased in glass. It looked so light and delicate that despite its steel fiber content, I wanted to slip into that dress and walk out onto the Portland streets letting the June-sun kiss my shoulders.

Instead, I continued to wait. Perfect Stranger was called away. When my friend emerged from her exam, a brown bag of birth control pills under her arm, we walked out silently. And even though I had sat alone in that abandoned room for two and a half hours, I never saw the Perfect Stranger find her way back to the waiting room.

That was my first visit to Planned Parenthood.

I’m not a parent. There’s tonight’s big reveal for you. I have never been a parent, or come close to being one. Neither am I exactly pining to have my own organs smooshed up toward my ribcage, and call me crazy but I don’t particularly crave wailing-induced insomnia. Natural birth is physically painful, adoption is expensive and complicated, and either way family weighs a lot. That’s just the nature of family. But here’s my secret. I want to skip baby kids, because there are too many sharp edges and coffee table corners to navigate for any of us to have lived beyond two feet tall. Too many clean sliding glass doors to run through, too many tree houses to tumble from. There will never be enough bubble wrap for me to be okay with raising children in this world. And don’t get me started on bullying, racism, violence, messed up gender roles, and materialistic value systems that imply things make us happy. Which they don’t. So, unless someone invents a douche-baggery repelling force field, I just want to skip that part, and go right to having adult children to joke with, to swear with, to argue with, and to make plans with.

My sign read in big black print, “Adoption is the better option.” Susanna, Laura, and I sat in the back seat of my parents’ minivan, each holding a white picket sign we had received from church. At the time, I felt uneasy about hoisting the “Thank Your Mom for Not Aborting You” or “Abortion is Murder!” to the height of my six-year-old 4’ stature. So I opted, as the token adoptee, for the most diplomatic sign. A few hours later I stood on a sidewalk holding that sign, standing by my mother and several other similarly convicted people, declaring to passersby that I was anti-abortion before I really knew what abortion was. Before I knew what pregnancy and birth and parenthood were.

That was my first abortion protest.

My Grammy fell earlier this week and my aunt and mum texted all of us grandkids, all well into our twenties and early thirties, and we rallied—either visiting Grammy or phoning her. I know I sometimes sway to the side of morbid, but that’s what I’m looking forward to in my hypothetical/imaginary/future parenthood. When, god forbid, my mom falls or has a stroke, I want to be able to call my children. I want them to march in and set the doctors straight. I want them to make me dinner, to make me laugh, to distract me. But I realize that you can’t have adult children—let alone be friends with your adult children—without having baby children then toddlers and kiddos and, Lord-have-mercy, teenagers. So, maybe someday I’ll make that decision with a partner who eases my anxieties and buy a shit ton of insurance first.

We sat around a table with a candle, and toasted to a dear friend, who in her thirties announced she had had sex for the first time. Because life’s milestones must always be approached with light. This experience took my friend by surprise, and with a small measure of uncertainty, she said she wasn’t on birth control and wasn’t prepared if the situation presented itself again. “Condoms!” the other two of us shouted in unison. 

That was my first time shouting the word “condoms.”

“Teenagers are gonna have sex. They do that,” my dad said just a couple Christmases ago. “But they’re the last people we want reproducing, so they should double-bag it if they do.” I stared with wide eyes. You see, that Christmas it seemed like there was a pandemic of his friends’ children getting pregnant unexpectedly and prior to marriage. Dumbfounded, I listened to him continue. “I just want you to know,” he said, “that if you’re ever in trouble, or if you’re pregnant or something, you can come home if you need us, and we’ll take care of you.” I realized in that moment how infinitely blessed I am, and the older I get, the more I see of the world only confirms this. I’m not financially secure enough to support a child. I’m still way too busy to afford one the time little persons need. And most of my books are of the non-bedtime-story variety. But I’m smart, educated, skilled, I know what one ought to do to have a healthy pregnancy, and I have communities of people—including my family—who would have my back, whether I started a family now or married years from now.

But other people, like my Perfect Stranger in the Planned Parenthood, might not have those resources. To the point of unavoidable mortality. So, I’m outing myself. Some day I want to support Planned Parenthood and organizations that offer reproductive health and counseling resources to people who need them. Without shame. Without judgment. But with compassion. And after a lot of research and thinking on souls, bodies, and human spirituality and metaphysics, I can say without guilt that I think making early abortions illegal would do humanity a great disservice, which I cannot support with good conscience. I wish every pregnancy could be vital and safe and lead to a family where no one will starve to death or from exposure to the elements or due to neglect. I want that to be a reality so badly. But until then I have to live in the only reality available and try to make it better. Starting with my hypothetical/imaginary/future children. A friend said a while back, “I hope you’re that parent who tells your children all your stories like Ted in How I Met Your Mother,” and I promised I would, when they’re old enough.

Like the First Time

The first time I colored my hair I think I was fourteen. And that started a long string of low-commitment flings with blond, bronze, auburn, blue, fuchsia, and purple highlights or full-color. Even so-called “permanent” color officiated at the salon grows out and fades. But, you know, it’s been a while. I am proud to say I have reclaimed virgin hair. It’s a thing; I asked my stylist. My hair feels, like, all shiny and brand new.

Whether we’re talking about first love, first kiss, first house, first sexual experience, first kid,  first job, or first broken heart, life is a series of first-time stories. They’re best shared among friends, or strangers, with good food and wine nearby. Nowadays, as a member of the mid-twenty-somethings club, I find myself amongst company who has already crossed a lot of firsts off our lists. At our age, we certainly can’t expect someone to have held out on a first-time when we haven’t, or even when we have. We can’t expect to be a first love or even a first spouse. That said, raise your hand if you have ever felt first-time-anxiety. I’m talking specifically from the context of an evangelical upbringing and college experience, but we recovering evangelikids are not alone in feeling disappointed or anxious when we don’t get to share a first with someone, either because we’ve checked that box or because someone else has. And while One Direction thinks they can request to be someone’s last first kiss, there are no guarantees–only commitment and hard work.

My friend Tiffany recently (and graciously) responded to a blog post by Diamond Diploma that basically spouted a bunch of unsupported reasons not to have sex before marriage. This is my favorite: “It is a man’s secret desire to marry a virgin. Sadly, most girls today are no longer virgins by the age of 16, but that doesn’t unhitch a man’s emotional longing. Men have been conditioned to suppress it, and deny it, but they feel it just the same.” First of all, why no mention of being someone’s first love? Oh yeah, because what you do with your pussy is infinitely more important than your heart, your affections, and your commitments. Second, what kind of Neanderthal is going to make that a deal-breaker unless maybe he’s a virgin too (in which case, I can understand the sentiment, maybe)? I think many men (and women) have been conditioned to think that they want or need to marry someone who has never had sex before. For many, this stems from religious reasons, and for many from emotional protectionism. Allow me to be the voice of practicality when I say, Good luck with that. On so many levels, good luck. Diamond’s Grammy (this particular entry’s writer) goes on to say that once a man has sex with a woman, he loses interest in her and moves on to find greener pastures or some such nonsense. If that’s true, do married men also want to hit it and quit it? What? I really want to ask, Diamond’s Grammy, WHO HURT YOU? Who shamed you? Who treated you poorly and blamed it on you? I’ll give ’em a talking to. But you know what? This isn’t another post about Purity Culture. I promise it isn’t even about sex.

This is about expectations. And shame. And anticipation. And terror. And bliss.

Because, truthiest of truths, first times can be terrifying times, whether you’re sharing an experience with someone who has been there, done that or you’ve been there, done that. Surprisingly, being “the one in the know” to another’s “green in the teeth” can be ridiculously scary. I say surprisingly for two reasons: 1) because in my case there aren’t a lot of things I’ve done that others have not, and 2) because it’s easy to assume that with experience comes perfect poise. Not so. Actually, you could be handed a heap of responsibility you might not be prepared for or shouldn’t have to carry. Story time. (Don’t worry, Mum. You’ve heard these stories before.) I found myself in a casual make out situation. Okay, it’s not like it was an accident. I strongly advise avoiding accidental make outs; they’re confusing. And when it was over I fielded some slightly anxious post-make-out correspondence that I didn’t expect because, frankly, I’d never encountered it before. We communicated about what that was beforehand and I didn’t really know what to do or say, so I kind of insensitively brushed the experience off as “I didn’t think it was a big deal, so you shouldn’t either,” and that wasn’t fair of me. I shrugged under the pressure. That wasn’t even this person’s first casual snog. Yikes. Now, imagine being someone’s first love, or someone being your first love who pulled a “Koh” and said something like, “Well this is great and all, I really do like you, maybe even love you, but I’ve been in love before and I don’t think it’s a big deal, so you shouldn’t either.” I would break up with myself on the spot and have a good, silent cry in the shower. Then blog about it. That’s a lot to take on, you know.

I remember my first kiss. We were in the entryway of my campus apartment and it was just a short peck on the lips, closed mouth, because, well, it was new, I was new, and I was inwardly freaking out. It was also awkward, but it was perfect in that. Then he walked home with a little swagger in his step and I turned around to face my housemate who didn’t think couples should lip kiss till they’d been dating at least six months. Oops.

To be honest, I don’t remember any kisses with that person after that point. Because they were special and we’ve moved on, so those get to exist somewhere else I think, like a few other experiences–kisses, dances, embraces, conversations, even casual make outs–I’ve had. I’ve had some negative first-time experiences, like first-time accidentally ingesting bleach, first-time missing a flight in a strange city, or my first time learning someone was using me to cheat on their partner. Those were pretty below-seascum-level-awful, but they’ve happened. I’ve also experienced unrequited love once (like for reals) and I’m hoping not to do that again. But on the flip-side, it’s nice to love someone. It’s good, human grit. Also, he’ll never read this, so we’re good. Knowing all these things have happened doesn’t make me want to relive them, but I would never-ever-ever take them back–heart hurts and all–and I couldn’t expect that of anyone else. In fact, I wish everyone a life of rich and varied first-times with opportunities to hit “repeat.” Even with the possibility of comparisons, remember, each time–each first time–gets to be all brand new. Besides, certain things are made better with practice.

(The only reason it matters whether my hair has reclaimed virginity is that, after achieving my usual long-hair-Koh phase, I can chop it off and give it to Locks of Love without some hair collector pitching a fit about hair shaft damage.)

Love is Devastating

Growing old must be devastating. Love must be devastating. Growing old in love must be devastating.

Image

I work in a flower shop. I am the young designer in sundresses and silk scarves in that shop you sometimes pass on the corner but never enter because you don’t have someone to buy flowers for. That’s okay, because that means you will save some money and heartache. Maybe that’s just me being cynical, but for good reason. This Valentine’s Day I arranged five separate dozens of red roses in one hour. Men would walk in to the shop, see the roses on my desk, point, and say, “I’ll take those,” and be on their way. After a 14-hour day, my forearms ached, my fingers were swollen, and my palms were worn and dry. One friend actually texted me throughout the week to verify that I was, in fact, still living, and another critiqued the unusually papery texture of my skin when I got off work, skin depleted of moisture by all the funky chemicals that go into processing and preserving the natural wonders we know as flowers.

Not long ago a man came in to the shop hoping a dozen red roses would issue him a get-out-of-trouble-free card with his significant other. I asked, “I don’t know if this will take care of it. What did you do?” I don’t know,” he responded, unwrapping a peppermint. “Have you asked?” I nudged. “Nooo, I can’t do that. That will make it worse,” he said. “Well,” I shrugged, “How will you know whether you did something you can actually fix or she’s just being passive-aggressive?” He didn’t really know what to say to that. Perhaps it never occurred to him that he could be an equally aware partner in his relationship. When I placed an arrangement of twelve crimson roses in front of him, he said, “Thanks, I’ll be back! Or, if these work, I won’t!” I mumbled after the door closed, “Maybe that’s your problem.” Due in one part to my current occupation, one part to my former occupation in gender studies, and a third part to personal experiences and a suspicion prone personality, I have for years thought bouquets of red roses are, in general, clichéd. Clearly, I’m not very quiet about it either.

Well, I’ve changed my mind. Kind of. I’m the Saturday girl. That means, I catch the weekend crowd all by myself: anxious homecoming and prom moms, unscheduled wedding consultations, timed funeral deliveries, and the man with a bicycle. Last month I was feeling especially cynical about love, mostly stemming from my healthy fear of co-dependence and irrational fear of emotions in general. I was, as usual, at my work desk wiring roses when a weathered looking man walked in wearing an old T-shirt, grubby jeans, and skin that probably had a fabulous time back in the hay days of Burning Man. “Hi there. How can I help you?” I asked, stepping ‘round my table. “’I need a dozen red roses,” he said, obviously in a hurry. I groaned inwardly and maybe outwardly. “Well, I don’t have enough fresh reds with long enough stems to make you a dozen, but there are nine in that golden vase and I can add three more. I just made that one this morning.” “I’ll take that one,” he said.

I am a schmoozer, folks, a sweet-talking introvert, so while I crinkled tissue paper and hunted for a car seat friendly box for these perfect red roses, I asked, “Is this a special occasion?” awaiting the usual “I forgot about my anniversary.” I was wrong. “It’s my wife’s birthday. I’m taking this over to her at the nursing home. The box isn’t necessary. I’ll just carry it.” I pointed at the rack of tiny cards, “How lovely. Would you like to put a little card in there for her? I can find a birthday one for you.” “No,” he said, “that’s okay. She won’t know who they’re from anyway.” He paid for his roses, smiled at me, walked out the chiming door, and rode down the street, one-handed, on his bicycle.

I walked home through the park during late summer magic hour and bawled my fucking eyes out. I went to the grocery store and bought everything necessary to make a beautiful meal, I made said beautiful meal, which I was planning to eat alone, when a couple friends dropped by to say hello and saved me from my overactive internal processing and from consuming five butter-whipped potatoes all by myself.

Later I cried some more. I’m not sure why exactly. I’m only twenty-six, so unless something crazy-unexpected happens to me, I’m far too young to start worrying about dying alone or experiencing Alzheimer’s or dementia. No, the crying wasn’t fear-based or singleness-inspired. As I watched the man ride away with those roses for a woman who had to be reminded of his name every time he saw her, I felt the weight of complete devastation. Don’t talk to me about The Notebook. That’s a novel, a film, the product of Sparks’ death-obsessed imagination. This man who bought roses from me is real, his wife is real, and she doesn’t know each morning when she wakes up who the man who visits her every afternoon is. And it’s devastating.

He came in again last Saturday and bought a single rose this time, because she gave him a hard time about spending so much money on her birthday. “She’s worth it, though,” he told me after running to the gas station a few blocks away to break the hundred dollar bill I couldn’t. This single rose was a moving present, because she got to go home a few days later. “I’m so excited for you,” I said. “Me, too,” he replied, “I’ve been visiting her every afternoon and it will be nice to have her home.” I asked again, “Do you want a little card?” Again he answered, “She won’t know who they’re from anyway,” and rode through the rain with the biggest smile on his face.

So, I take it all back, friends, every eye roll and half-concealed snort. Sure, I have little hope for tools who buy roses to get laid or as a poor substitute for communication, but I get it now. All my fears about love are completely grounded and simultaneously irrelevant.

 

That Thing I Really, Really, Really Hate to Do

Tonight I am thinking about risk.

risk-game-of-global-domination

Not the board game, which in my family is currently called “Kohleun’s Game of World Domination,” because I won the last time we were all together. Nah, I’m thinking about that thing I really, really, really hate to do.

I hate taking risks, because I am very security oriented. If I don’t have a sure thing lined up, I at least want two backup plans and two backup-backup plans for each backup plan, or at the very least, a couple extra bucks in my bank account. Not because I will ever have enough money to pull myself out of an emergency but because I want to be able to drown my sorrows in a good cup of coffee.

On January 6, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to an anxiety attack. I was signed on to teach a class that semester with a community college in the area in addition to my floral design job. But I hit a psychological wall. I realized that every morning at 4:20 I woke with the sensation of holding up a million disparate pieces that I would, inevitably, drop. Then I would talk myself down, fall asleep for another hour and be back at fighting the world from six in the morning till after midnight many nights. I had to admit to myself that academia, while in many ways a passion of mine, was and is the central source of my strongest anxiety and it has been since I started college.

For several years I felt like an imposter. I decided at the end of my first year of undergrad that I didn’t want to be a screenwriter and film costumer. I wanted to be a professor, a philosophy professor. I dove headlong into studying philosophy. I went through a very painful feminist/intellectual/religious awakening, wrote a lot, consumed ridiculous amounts of coffee, and battled what I am now convinced was undiagnosed depression.

Around my junior year I had seemed to hit my stride, with lots of positive feedback from both philosophy and English faculty while I continued to design costumes for the university’s theatre program and write prolifically. While I don’t think the imposter syndrome ever goes away, I realized then that I could let go of the nagging feeling that I was not good at academic work—that I did not belong. I traded that anxiety for the sense that yes, I do belong in academia, but I didn’t belong anywhere else. I had let myself lose touch with other skillsets. Not that I couldn’t do them anymore; I just tied so much of my identity and self-worth to academia because I knew that was something I could do well. Although it didn’t offer job security or peace of mind, I could be secure in knowing that I knew how to read analytically, how to conduct research, how write an essay, how to fall asleep at my desk. Naturally, that meant investing another year of my life and another thirty thousand dollars into a master’s degree in St. Andrews, and two more years into teaching for adjunct pay. Naturally.

So, when 5:00 a.m. on January 6 came along, I completely fell apart. I waited two and a half hours to call my mom, since it was a Saturday morning, and I was raised to be polite and shit. She picked up the phone, clearly confused. I squeaked out, “Mom, will I still be a real person if I’m not an academic anymore?” “Of, course,” she replied. “But will I be okay if I’m not an academic anymore?” She said, “Sometimes it’s okay to just be a florist.”

And so I was just a florist for a few months, until I found myself turning back to old habits of writing fiction, drawing fashion illustrations, and sewing. I remembered why my mom taught me how to sew: because as long as I didn’t know how to sew, she and her friends would be constructing the doll couture and outlandish 18th and 19th century period dresses I would sketch in my math notebook. A friend recently asked what my favorite subject in school was. I replied, “18th and 19th century corsetry.” He quipped, “In elementary school,” to which I shot back, “Is sixth grade elementary school or middle school?” Yeah, I made a corset and two crinolines. So what?

But even though I love what I’m pursuing now, it’s intensely scary. I put my last fabric order on my already well-used credit card, which terrifies me. I have an interview for an unpaid internship with a famous designer, which also terrifies me. I don’t actually know how to be a designer. I don’t know how to do a lot of things. I spent the past year reconfiguring and doubting my intuitions regarding relationships, so I don’t even know how to ask someone out. I don’t know how to debone a duck. I know that seems like a superfluous skill to a six-years vegetarian, but it’s something I’d like to know how to do, whether or not I ever do it.

I don’t know how to pick up and leave a place or people or routine I’ve grown attached to. I don’t know how to risk more than I already have, and I feel like I’ve already risked a shit-ton; I’ve risked my own understanding of my identity and worth as a person. I just want to feel brave for a while. To feel wise, rather than completely foolish for making such a drastic change in direction. I want to feel like the risks are worth it, that life will inevitably turn into Kohleun’s Game of Life Domination. But if I knew that, it wouldn’t be a risk, would it?