politics

Two weeks ago, I proudly marched into my local polling station, handed over my voter’s ballot — and then realized that I’d forgotten my government ID. … Thirty minutes later, having returned home to grab my passport (just in case my California ID didn’t fit the bill in Texas), I cast my ballot.

I began writing this post early on election day, optimistically. I wanted to write about how meaningful it was for me to be part of the electorate, especially at this point in time. Up until now, I’d largely taken for granted my right to vote in this country; I didn’t think twice when I turned eighteen and sent in my voter registration form. This year, however, the privilege felt indescribably important.

Moments after leaving the polling station, I called my mom and asked her if she considered herself an immigrant or refugee. “Refugee,” my mom responded matter-of-factly, without a moment’s hesitation. I barely held back tears. My parents had fled a war-torn country, faced immeasurable danger on the open seas, and struggled to establish themselves in a foreign land, so that their children could grow up in a safe, privileged, democratic nation. They persevered so that I could, in a devastatingly effortless fashion, walk across the street and punch a few buttons into a polling machine.

In the weeks leading up to the election, waves of emotion would spontaneously overcome me. What an honor to play my part in electing, in 2008, our first black president — and now our first female head of state. I will be able to look back and say that I helped, in my infinitesimally small way, move our nation towards progress. I can advocate for my people (women, people of color, immigrants) and for those I love from marginalized communities.  Perhaps it was self-congratulatory and self-inflated, but I felt sincerely proud — not necessarily of myself, but of my family and my country (truly, my country) for empowering me, for making all of this possible.

Let’s be clear, though. Even if I felt positively about my heritage and my role in this democratic process, this was still a dirty, demoralizing race. It called into question many aspects of the political machine in DC and bred polarizing hatred in the constituency. On election night, having done my part, I was more than ready to disconnect and put this whole ugly mess behind me. I ran a bath, put on calming music, and was all set to decompress — when my phone started going off with distressed texts. I was taken aback by what my friends were saying, but tried to put it out of my mind as I soaked. There was always the West Coast, right?

As we know by now, things never got better.

Later that night, I laid limp in bed; in the morning, I woke up and felt, for the first time, that I was living in a nightmare. I walked to work and looked at all the strange, blurred faces on the street. I wondered: who had voted against the rights of my loved ones? who didn’t consider themselves a racist or misogynist, yet put a cruel man in the Oval Office? who had prioritized their pocketbooks or prayers over their sense of humanity? I felt traumatized, as though my personhood, my legitimate membership in this society, had been directly attacked.

(I’ve thought a lot about writing about my ideology. I can try to feign political neutrality, but it’d be almost insulting to one’s intelligence: I am too much a bleeding heart liberal. I never mean to be offensive or accusatory, but I’d be doing myself a disservice if I was dishonest about my beliefs. I want to be diplomatic without being disingenuous. People much less emotional than me were also powerfully moved by this election. So much was at stake.)

Incredibly, life has gone on. I went to class, sobbing while watching Hillary’s concession speech with my beloved professors and classmates. I conducted research, commiserating with interviewees before starting the session. I went to parties, donating money to nonprofits in honor of the birthday hosts. In short: I’ve talked this election to death, taken action, grieved and processed it the best I could. And now, I memorialize this moment in time — so pivotal in my life and others’ — so that I can make sense of, and make peace with, it.

Finally: I don’t think I’ll ever regain that sense of pride and patriotism (and naivete?) I felt on election day… but I do take some comfort in knowing that I have my community. Now, more than ever, I am so grateful to be surrounded by like-minded, compassionate, and radically fierce people. This Thanksgiving, I do give thanks.

Colorado

So — summer is over. I won’t make empty promises and say I’m going to recap that lovely period (because, honestly, it wasn’t that exciting anyway! I spent nearly all my time lying around, with nothing to do and loving every malaised moment of it).

It is now undeniably fall, and I am halfway through the second semester of my second year of graduate school… and I am struggling to stay afloat. The downside of making progress in your career is that people actually start pressuring you to be productive. And that sucks.

Naturally, because I am stressed out beyond belief and have insane deadlines on the horizon, I’ve decided now is the perfect time to revisit my trip to Denver. If not now, then when, right? (Nobody ever said grad students were smart.)

(Really, though, I’ve been meaning to start documenting life more often. I’m especially inspired by this recent post by a blogger I’ve followed for a long time. I, too, am feeling the siren call of travel. As much as I’ve grown to love Houston [eek! the L-word], I’m acutely, intensely missing being in nature — and that found in the Pacific Northwest, most of all. I miss the salty breezes of the ocean and climbing over the feet of enormous, ancient trees. I miss traipsing through fields of wildflowers, hiking up peak summits, and smelling the fresh air and dirt underneath my shoes. I even miss my daily commutes to my workplace in San Francisco — feeling the fog hit my cheeks as I walked past the many colors of the city: the gray of Ocean Beach, the greenery of Golden Gate Park, the pastel of outer Richmond’s ticky-tacky houses, stacked on top of hills and each other.)

… and, now that I’m thoroughly homesick, I think it’s time to think about another place that pressed all those nature-loving buttons for me. In April, we spontaneously found cheap airfare and, a few weeks later, ourselves in Denver.

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done with one

… And, just like that, my first year of graduate school is over.

I’ve rambled at length about the major life change this whole process has been, so I won’t bore you with details or existential questions anymore. I just wanna document some cool things that have happened, complete with poorly/casually-shot iPhone photos. Without further ado…

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ice cream cake

My ice cream cake, in all its un-iced glory.

Perhaps it speaks to my nature that, on the eve of my 27th orbit around the sun, I am posting about a cake I made for someone else’s birthday. But — onward.

This has been a year of insane growth, in which I’ve reinvented myself several times over. My friends have come to know (and name) my alter egos.

There’s Bad Jules, or BJ for short. Formerly known as Party Jules, BJ is the wild mustang who comes out after a drink or two. She is responsible for many fun nights, Ubers of shame, hungover mornings, and one (relatively uneventful) experience blacking out (oops). I embrace BJ with all my heart, as she is the person I once was in my younger, study-abroad years and have since neglected. She is the id to my ego, the Sasha Fierce to my Beyonce, the Miley Cyrus to my Hannah Montana.

There’s also Productive Jules (PJ), that version of myself who actually gets shit done. You can find her in one of a few beloved coffee shops, at a corner table, earbuds in, typing notes frantically, papers strewn all over the table. It is thanks to PJ that I’ve passed classes, written book chapters, and (mostly) checked all my emails. She is the functional piece of me who does all the adult-ing of which I am capable.

Finally, there is Mama Jules. This, perhaps, is the alter ego truest to my real self: the person who loves to take care of others. My lab knows to expect baked goods with every birthday. My colleagues know that I will make a signature batch of roasted broccoli for every event. My friends know that I will heat up leftovers for them if they come over (and Mama Jules always has leftovers). As I was told recently, cooking for someone else is the ultimate form of affection, in that it involves actual nourishment of a body. That lovin’ maternal instinct is what drives me to make and share food.

It is with great care, then, that I made an ice cream cake for a birthday. I’d considered baking an actual cake, but my (school-dominated) schedule and (grad student stipend-funded) pantry are not what they used to be. I gotta say, though… Though I personally thought this ice cream cake was a misshapen cop-out, everyone else in the room seemed duly impressed when I brought it out. People were mystified at how I managed to transform gallons of dairy into a big ol’ birthday dessert. It still comes up in conversation months later. I guess that’s what happens when you do anything involving ice cream.

My own birthday festivities will certainly involve indulgence — hopefully involving an equivalently copious amount of ice cream, in addition to beer and pizza, at a sweet new biergarten here in HTX. More importantly, though, I’ll be ringing it in with people who I’ve come to care about and vice versa. Late twenties… I’m ready for ya. I think.

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2015: a retrospective

We are nearly finished with the first month of 2016, and only now am I getting around to  posting my reflection on 2015. It’s cliche to say, but it really has been a whirlwind. I can’t believe how drastically my life has changed in one semester, let alone an entire year.

I spent the last few weeks of 2015 all over the map, both emotionally and geographically. After clawing my way out of statistics hell via 100-page final, I immediately dove into writing a 40,000-word textbook chapter. Fortunately, I was able to do so in my beautiful home state — in Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Strikingly, however, I couldn’t wait to return to Texas by the end of break: to the new home I’ve built in a new place with new people. Life is full of surprises, y’all.

This year also marks the 10th (!!!) year in a row that I’ve completed the same survey. Without further ado… Continue reading

thankful

A few weeks ago, my mom sent me an email out of the blue:

Bí, don’t bake for thanksgiving dinner.  I want u to relax and enjoy the time home.

Ugh. She knows her girl.

The sad truth, however, is that I wouldn’t have been able to muster up the energy if I tried. My life has been consumed by grad school, such that any free time is spent frantically downing wine and/or uselessly laying in bed until noon. This time last year, I was spending entire nights baking mass batches of chocolate chip cookies. Now? I spent my first vacation day at home sitting in front of my computer, troubleshooting statistics problem sets for hours. (Technically I was still in the kitchen doing this, but the fact remains: things have changed.)

That said, I’m still able to do some “normal people” things this year. Chief among these: practicing gratitude.

As always, I am thankful for the unending, unconditional love of my friends and family. These past few months have truly tested the strength of each and every one of my relationships — and what necessary trials those were. They’ve also required that I open myself up to others, to create the opportunity and space for new friendships. It has been incredibly reaffirming to know that I have so many gracious, generous people in my corner.

Unlike previous years, however, I am also grateful for change. Radical, all-consuming change.

I have never been a risky person. I enjoy, for the most part, dreaming from my bubble of safety: romanticizing lives separate from my own, safely ensconced in the world I’ve created for myself. This year, however, I closed my eyes and stepped out (or maybe sky-dived) of my comfort zone. As has been documented here, it has been terrifying, taxing, traumatizing, tearful… and so transformative.

Beyond all reason, I’m enjoying — or, at the very least, valuing — the life I’m building in Texas. I will always hold San Francisco dear, but, in hindsight, it seems a vision now: a mirage that would fall apart it I looked beyond the surface. Houston feels authentic and true, misshapen and solid and forged in fire. I clung (and continue to cling) to California out of fear. Texas makes me brave. As deeply painful as 2015 process has been, I am so grateful for it.

Other things I am thankful for this holiday season, in no particular order:

  • My car. Nine years goin’ strong now (including a semi-cross-country trip). What a fuckin’ champ.
  • Carbohydrates, and my newfound ability to eat all of them.
  • Frank Ocean. Miguel. Blood Orange. Music by babes for baby-making.
  • Snapchat.
  • My beloved Houston homies, formerly known as “the Goobers” and now referred to as “Julez and the Virgays.”
  • Spooning.
  • Master of None, particularly its excellent use of the fig tree analogy. Very honorable mention to You’re the Worst.
  • Valhalla.
  • My little sister, without whom I’d be utterly lost (even if she doesn’t know it).
  • Spotify Premium. So, so worth the chunk of change.
  • My huge bedroom windows, which bring so much lovely light into my space/life.
  • Sleep. Oh god… sleep.

And, of course, this little haven here. Thanks for listening.

peak grad student achieved

We were in lab when I got the text from N: “Free food in Farnsworth Pavilion at 6pm.”

I excitedly broadcasted this news to A & B and wrote back. “What kind?”

“Mediterranean.”

A’s eyes grew wide. “Im so hungry. I want that.” I furiously texted N back asking for more details.

  • Yes, it was for an event.
  • No, we didn’t have to stick around for it.
  • Yes, I could bring a few friends.
  • No, I couldn’t just bring my entire lab.
  • Yes, we should get there ten minutes early to grab the food.

We scheduled our walk over, down to the minute. “Would you like to sign in?” someone at the reception table asked. I stammered a bit before N strode over and spouted off some nonsense about our belonging there. In an act of mercy, he made us look less useless by “volunteering” us to open up the trays of food.

Um… Where the fuck is the dinnerware? I wondered as we surveyed the (delicious-looking) spread. We need to grab the food and get outta here. I began panicking at the prospect of the room filling with actual event participants, who would then witness us, in our yoga pants and unwashed hair, scavenging for food. My soul sister A read my mind and immediately went on the prowl for plates, running over to the coffee shop and convenience store across the way. Whoa. We are desperate as fuck, I congratulated ourselves.

Back in the event ballroom, someone had finally brought out the dinnerware. Unfortunately, now people were too polite to break into the food, including myself (a total fucking trespasser). Exasperatedly, I turned to N and put on my most pitiful puppy dog eyes. “Could you please be the first one to start eating?” He looked amused. “Okay.” I happily trailed him as he made his way across the buffet, low-key filling my plate with four times as much food. Shameless.

Moments later, as A, B and I sat in the student center stuffing our faces with chicken kabobs and hummus, we spotted a nearby hallway emptying of business school students. In their wake, they left behind buffet tables full of food. Wordlessly, my friends and I made eye contact.

“I nominate B,” I said. She nodded.

We got up and entered the hallway, B leading the charge and shout-asking, “Can we have some food too?” The servers stared at us for a second before handing us take-out containers. I flipped open my Styrofoam box and proceeded to fill it with approximately three pounds of gourmet catering.

A few hours later, N texted me again from the event ballroom. “There’s more food left.” I told him about our second raid. His response made me beam with a bizarre sense of pride.

“What a grad student.”

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XO from TX

James Turrell’s SkySpace, an art installation on the Rice campus. You can gaze at the color-changing canvas from two decks.

Every now and then, driving around the pot-holed streets of Texas, I’ll catch my reflection in the rear-view mirror and think: Whoa. This is me/my life now.

I mean, I look the same (+ 12 unfortunate pounds of stress weight). I act mostly the same (+ the occasional hangover). Behind these sleep-deprived eyes, though, there’s been a sea change in my soul – in the deep well of emotions that dwells within me. A week ago, I would’ve told you that graduate school was everything I wanted it to be. I spent 45% of my time drinking Topo Chico at the grad-student-run bar, 23% working out, 15% thinking about my grant proposal, and 38% failing to understand statistics. It was luxurious. Now, though, shit is getting real. Deadlines, projects, exams, fears of failure, are piling up.

Before I completely get sucked into the abyss, however, here’s what I have learned in my first month of living in Houston.

My building on campus borders beautiful outdoor spaces and houses the art gallery.

Pros

  • My ‘hood. My house. My roomies. Everything about my living situation is lovely. I’m located in the hip “gayborhood” of Houston, which, compared to the SF Bay Area, is pretty tame — but it’s still got lovely little pockets of counterculture, trendy stuff, shady shit, etc. It reminds me a lot of Long Beach. My apartment, too, reminds me of the craftsman home I rented in Berkeley: creaky hardwood floors, floods of natural light, and lots of character. My roommates are like-minded and kind… and we’ve got the sweetest pup in the house.
  • My program. My cohort. My friends. They say the people make the place. Fortunately, I’ve very quickly found my community at Rice. They’re my family here. (I have actual family here, too, which is nice — but they’re not the ones putting up with my stressed-out shit on a daily basis like my labmates!)
  • The weather. Some may hate the humidity, but it’s been pretty manageable for me. Then again, I’m the kind of person who likes to sit in a warm car like a cat sunbathing in a windowsill. Anyway, I get to wear sundresses and sandals all the time, which has been doing great things for my psyche and wardrobe (less so for my wallet).
  • Tacos and Tex-Mex. I now understand the difference between Baja Californian cuisine and… Mexican food that is not that. I’ll never forsake El Chavito or Alerto’s back home, but there’s something to be said for the artery-clogging hybridization of Texan and Mexican food here.
  • Valhalla. My friends and I basically congregate at this aforementioned on-campus bar every week. Nothing is nicer than sitting underneath the willow trees with a drink after a long day at lab.
  • The social scene. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I no longer have a significant other (a story for another day, or maybe never?). This has drastically changed my lifestyle. Since being here, I’ve been so, so social. I’ve “crashed” a Taylor Swift concert, walked late nights along the Buffalo Bayou, went dancing super-drunk, hosted wine and taco dinners (a far cry from my elaborate SF parties, might I add), closed down coffee shops, and loitered at countless bars. In other words: I’ve had a lot of freedom and fun.

Houston sunsets can be pretty magical. Also: please ignore the fact that I totally took this picture while driving.

Cons

  • The weather. Again, though I can put up with the heat, this does result in a few unfortunate side effects. I thought I was impervious to mosquito bites but, um, definitely not. It also means that I can’t really enjoy the surprising number of green spaces in Houston. Outdoors isn’t really a “thing” until winter. (This is fine, however, considering that my options leaving California were the arctic Midwest, untenably expensive East Coast, or Texas. I’d still pick the latter, even now.)
  • Transportation. This is no San Francisco. I definitely miss walkability and consequent accessibility. Luckily, I’m enjoying driving more than I thought I would (especially after 5+ years of biking and taking MUNI/BART). Blasting hoodrat music while swerving around the streets makes me feel 17 again/like a true Houstonian. However, when I’m not driving, I have to Uber — and, embarrassingly, I’ve had to call for one whenever I’ve had one too many beers (which is, um, exactly one beer).
  • Urban planning. Houston is the wild west. Warehouses can pop up next to houses next to restaurants with abandon. It’s a jumble of glitter and grit: Pottery Barn blocks away from the projects. The streets that thread through these areas are pockmarked with potholes and brushed over with faded lane dividers. It’s workable, but pretty shabby if you compare it to the charismatic beauty of my previous location.
  • The social scene. Though grad school has helped me find my tribe, Houston still has a pretty different demographic from my West Coast roots. Every time I find out someone is from California (and especially from OC or SF), I feel an automatic, unbreakable closeness with them. I’ve become intensely aware of how strongly I identify with my home state — how much it has shaped me. As they say, you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
  • School. Oh, right. That’s why I’m here.
  • Time management. I hardly have time to eat food, let alone cook/document my meals and write about them here. Which brings me to an important point…

My favorite place to study on campus: a glass-walled cafe.

I’m guessing that the format of this blog is going to change quite a bit. I’ve even considered putting yoursjulie to rest — it is so entrenched in a life that is no longer mine. I look through the posts and feel like I’m looking into someone else’s experiences. There’s a deep disconnect between the girl who spent entire weekends baking cookies and the bedraggled grad student who furiously codes on her laptop at a picnic social.

All the same, this blog has been such an outlet for me. I can’t abandon it. I will obviously not be posting as often, and definitely not about elaborate days-long baking projects, but I’ll still be here.

I can promise you, too, that despite the radio silence, I am doing just fine. Sure, I am a homesick Californian. Yes, I am a poor graduate student. Yup, I’ve got barely any time and even less money. However, there are countless moments when my heart brims with gratitude and contentment. When I walk out of my lab after an afternoon shower and see the trees dripping with rain, the sun lighting up each translucent leaf. When I roll into my lab late with a (not basic at all) chai latte in hand, having had the entire morning to myself. When I grab last-minute late-night milkshakes with my friends, so delirious and happy I forget about the impending stomachache. Even, amazingly, when I stay five hours after class to work on stats, because I’m trading snacks and stories with my lively and lovely cohort the entire time. As my adviser likes to say, I’m working hard and playing hard. Somewhere along the way, Houston has started to feel like home.

My food photog skills remain A+.

P.S. The one food photo I’ve managed to snap: kolaches, a beloved Houstonian treat, are a Czech pastry that come filled with sweet or savory ingredients. This here is a boudain (Creole sausage) version from Mornings Kolaches. Dangerously good.

hi, again.

Hi. I’m alive… I think (??).

I’ve obviously completely forgotten to update this blog since I’ve been back. When you have an international trip and cross-country move on your mind, these things tend to fall on the wayside. I’ve been trying to think of the best way to summarize my past few weeks, and I believe I’ve hit upon it.

Places I’ve Cried in Public

Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’d said goodbye and was walking through the security check, turning around every few often to see a slowly-diminishing figure through a blur of tears. I walked around confusedly sobbing before mustering up enough energy to buy a cup of noodles from an airport cafe. I was actually pretty impressed at my ability to function/eat. It sounds melodramatic in hindsight, but it broke my heart.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. We were sailing through craggy, mossy islets at sunset. I watched the sky turn unimaginable shades of warm pastel, throwing the silhouettes of local fishermen into sharp relief. The air was warm and the waters calm. I wanted, more than anything, to turn to someone and exclaim, “God, this is beautiful, isn’t it?” — but I was alone on the deck of our junk boat. Intense sadness and happiness, in equal measure, spread through me as I accepted that this moment was, really and truly, all my own.

San Francisco, California. I sat on the bus headed for my parents’ home, watching familiar landmarks pass by: my friends’ apartments, my old neighborhood, the gently sloping hills and glimpses of ocean. This is the last I’ll see of SF in a while, I thought to myself. I imagined my loved ones, only a few miles away in their homes. I yearned to wrap them all up, and the entire city itself, in one big, all-encompassing, eternal hug. I then put in my headphones and listen to the below song on repeat, feeling so truly that I belong to you, California.

Tucson, Arizona. On our road trip to Texas, I’d planned a stop at the famed Pizzeria Bianco. My mom balked at ordering more than one pizza, which somehow initiated a total meltdown of the sitting-there-and-silently-tearing-up variety. So many hormones and so many mixed-up feelings: grief, at leaving California; anxiety, at moving to Texas; irritability, at how much my mom reminded me of myself; and lost-ness, at the state of my entire life. My poor family sat uncomfortably as I dabbed at my eyes with a napkin. Eventually recovered enough to eat a bunch of pizza.

Houston, Texas. Once again, I found myself at the airport — this time, to drop off my gurlz. I clung to my mom, so teeny-tiny in the circle of my arms, before my sister came over and wrapped us up in an extra-big hug. I tried not to lose my shit and squeaked by with a reasonable amount of tears. I got back into my car, attempting to watch them walk through the doors, but it was futile. I drove off into the literal thunderstorm of my new city and ~into my new life~.

So, um… A lot has happened. The good news is that, beyond these experiences, I’ve been mostly even-keeled and self-aware during these past few months. In the thick of the most radical change I’ve ever undergone, I have somehow managed to assume the pose of a zen master. This was even true last weekend, when I found out that I’d had $600 stolen from me in debit card fraud & that someone had mistakenly served me a court summons in San Francisco. I’m cool, y’all.

An update on my Actual Life in Texas to follow. Good news: I kind of love it so far.