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.

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

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.

realness.

If we’re being perfectly honest, it’s been a little hard for me to find the time or emotional capacity to write here lately.

I’ve never wanted this blog to be some meticulously curated, rose-colored vision of life. I’ve struggled with representing myself here genuinely — between providing consistent content (light-hearted anecdotes, poorly-photographed recipes) and capturing the true breadth and depth of my experiences. Most of the time, I’m happy to keep my inner life private: to selectively share the cheerful, on-topic bits while holding tightly onto the dimmer and sadder parts. Lately, however, I’ve felt it difficult to continue the charade, so to speak.

Every day, I wake up and question what I’ve done and how I’m feeling. Why am I giving up everything (my home, my relationships, my happinesses) in pursuit of my PhD? Is this truly what I want? Am I fixing what’s not broken? This entire process has exposed my vulnerabilities, neuroses, and fears. Now more than ever before, I am afraid… of the unknown, of failure, of loneliness. Lately, these three demons follow me every step I take, whispering worries into my ear even as I sleep.

One year ago, my life was bright and full of contented attachments: date nights, dinner parties, workouts, Whole30s, CSAs and cooking. Simple, fun, and only a little bit unfulfilling. I had been living in the Bay Area for nearly five years. I’d built communities with whom I could watch The Bachelor, escape to Russian River, hike on the weekends, wait in line for brunch. I’d built a comfortable home with my partner, who anchored and grounded me. I’d come to know and love San Francisco, sinking my roots into my surroundings and drawing strength from the rich, wet earth.

And yet? I found myself wanting more. I’d stare despondently out of my office window, watching the omnipresent gray mists of Land’s End, and wonder what I was truly doing with my time. My existence was happy, yes… but I wanted to be more than just happy. I wanted it to be whole and meaningful. I needed to challenge myself and achieve meaningful goals. At first, I struggled with this desire, trying to neatly compartmentalize it, afraid of disrupting my idyllic lifestyle. Soon enough, though, I stopped fighting it; I let my dream expand and take shape. I respected my ambitions, knowing I’d regret never acting upon them. I gathered as much information as I could, applied to graduate school, made an informed decision. I am now poised to begin that journey to self-actualization.

I should be excited. Is this not exactly what I wanted?

Standing at the edge of the precipice, I need to remind myself of a few important things. California, my beautiful home state, isn’t going anywhere. My people, those beautiful beings who I love and who love me back, will always be there for me. I can always cut my fall short. I have a safety net, now and always.

Now: to jump.

Dispatches from the Grad Apps Egress

Dear friends,

It’s nice to see you again. I’ve been lost in a fugue these past two months. My birthday came and went with hardly any fanfare, save for a quiet dinner and one fabulous ice cream cake. For weeks, I’d have a slice each night before checking my email for the thousandth time, despondently getting into bed and pulling the covers over my head. Only yesterday, I crawled out of that dark, dimly-lit metaphorical tunnel to stumble into the blinding light of day.

I did it. I officially accepted an offer from my top choice program. Come fall, I will formally begin my studies at William Marsh Rice University… and, one day, god willing, I’ll become Yours Julie, Ph.D. (at which point you will all be expected to refer to me as Dr. J).

😭

You (or rather, I) might be asking: what does this decision mean?

Continue reading

Dispatches from the Grad Decisions Abyss

Warning: melodrama ensues.

At every stage in this grad school process, I’ve thought to myself: Well, this has been really hard. It can’t possibly get worse.

  • After I wrote my personal statements.
  • After I submitted my applications.
  • After I visited every school and stayed on my very best behavior.

Well, I’m here to confess: I was wrong. It has gotten worse. It is currently The Worst.

Ironically, I’m in a position that one colleague called a “prospective student’s dream”: I’m holding multiple offers from remarkable grad programs. I feel very fortunate to be here.

However… I’m now at the tail end of the experience, during which I need to sit myself down and think through, very deliberately, my next steps. Cue: the acute agony of choice.* With so many viable options, I have to close some doors in order to (eventually, presumably) walk through one. This, from someone who spends half an hour deciding what to order at a restaurant? I can’t pick between fries or a salad,** let alone School A or School B. There are so many factors to consider: school and program ranking, research fit, mentorship style, cohort culture, location, funding, academic/applied balance, graduate placement, etc. I’m constantly thinking about all the pros, cons, and possibilities.

What’s worse? I thought I’d have a clear picture of my options by now. I don’t. The reality is that my offers haven’t all hit the table. I’m still trying to figure out funding and pin down moving targets. It’s excruciating and exhausting. I’m constantly refreshing my email inbox and second-guessing correspondence with faculty. I am literally sick to my stomach living in this state of limbo.

It should be simple, right? I’ve heard from so many people that, at the end of the day, it comes down to fit and where you intuitively feel most at home. I’m overthinking all of this… and yet, I can’t help it. It could be that I’m taking this too seriously. However, there are few moments in a person’s life where one decision can shape so much of the immediate and distant future. This is one of them. No big deal. Curls up into a ball and cries.

This should end in exactly two weeks. I’m praying I make it until then.

* See highly relevant articles on choice overload and the paradox of choice here.

** Fries. Obviously.

Dispatches from the Grad Interviews Abyss

The only reason I’m ever happy to fly with United: access to Fraiche’s froyo in the airport terminal.

… I went a little MIA there. I’m now a little less than halfway through my grad school interview circuit. Two down, three (and potentially more) to go!

I’ll confess that I’d approached this whole “visiting weekend” thing with a total opportunist/cheap Asian/aspiring jetsetter’s enthusiasm. An expenses-paid trip across the country? Sign me up! The reality, however, is that:

I am not flying to glamorous places. My god, why can’t these graduate programs be in more appealing locations? Who wants to live in a college town in Middle-of-Fucking-Nowhere, USA? Don’t even get me started on how I’m feeling about leaving San Francisco. I’ve now basically seen the rest of America and it blows. I’ve been so very spoiled by California. I say this with complete honesty: the thought of moving makes me question how badly I want this Ph.D.

Being in transit for 8+ hours at a time is so exhausting and uncomfortable. During my last trip, I was seated between between two very beefy men, one of whom I’m 99% sure was a juggalo trying to pass as a normal human being. I was clued in by the Insane Clown Posse tattoos.

It is super disruptive to be traveling every weekend. Next month, I’m spoken for every Thursday through Saturday/Sunday. When I am home, I’m working like a dog and trying to squeeze in time with family and friends. It’s been difficult to maintain healthy habits, like eating well and exercising and not being stressed.

It is very expensive. Although most of these programs are reimbursing me for (at least some of) my travel expenses and food costs, I’m inevitably spending gobs of money throughout the course of these trips. I’m also losing income since I’m not working and using paid leave while I’m out of the office.

The food is not that great. I wanted to sample different regional cuisines, but program catering is usually limited to Costco finger sandwiches and potato chips. I usually don’t even get the chance to explore cities (restaurants and otherwise) on my own, since my schedule is usually packed with recruitment activities.

Yup… these are definitely not the fabulous vacations I’d envisioned at the beginning of the year.

Nonetheless, having complained a whole lot, I’ll acknowledge this is a really crazy exciting time for me. It is absolutely insane and flattering to think that schools want me. What’s more, they’re giving me money to make myself smarter. What a position to be in! I get to study what I want (for free), add three letters after my name, and become the Boss Lady I’ve always wanted to be. God help me if my parents aren’t proud of me at the end of it all.

A Ph.D., however, is not without its downsides. I’ll have to sacrifice a number of things for a few years: living in an amazing city, having a disposable income, being around family and friends… And, as has been well-documented, academia often doesn’t pay off. I’ve been doing plenty of thinking — both assessing/reassessing my goals and gaining perspective from other people who’ve trodden this same road. I’m trying to pay close attention to my motives and emotions in this process. This article was particularly helpful in elucidating the need for achievement; I’d recommend it to anyone considering graduate education or, really, any type of professional development. This is all part of a continuing conversation I’m having with myself.

In any case… onward I go. I’m off to the East Coast for the third weekend in a row. This time, I’m making sure I’ll be eating well.

Friday finds

I thought I’d have a nice, long break before the next step in the grad school admissions process — but this was (pleasantly, shockingly) false. I’ve already received acceptances to some incredible programs, and am slated to attend a few other schools’ visiting weekends! This has, of course, resulted in a lot of anxious re-scheduling (including the unfortunate inability to attend my dear friend’s bachelorette party)… but I am excited about all this forward motion. My future’s about to change in a big way!

But. Before then, I’ll be squeezing every last bit of R&R I can out of this weekend.

Harold McGee breaks down MSG for ya.

Yearbook.

My lovely wife in the psych ward.

Bourdain Market is real!

Portraits on steroids.

Make waffles. Turn into pizza.

7×7’s Eat + Drink winners.

Bopping my head to the newest Sleater-Kinney.