It’s funny and strange how a city changes through someone else’s eyes. I scroll through my phone one day and am struck by a familiar scene a convenience store I pass every day to the office or home or somewhere hurrying by and never noticing the carved angels atop the building, misplaced among offices and cafes. I scroll further and see my subway stop a crowded and sweaty hell that I erase from my memory as soon as I escape has become a collage of textures and colors and shapes, a harmony of the contrasting lives.
I pass by the store the next morning and see the owner, who promptly at 8 hoses down the sidewalk and whistles Canon in D and I wonder which city he sees Is it the same hazy blur of employees and passerby’s and no ones? Or does he wash the canvas blank every day to make room for the next self-portrait?
I just finished watching Tiffany Ferguson’s video “I’m Not Like Other Girls” and it brought such strong feelings that I have to interrupt my highly prolific Alaska series that I’m definitely still working on and write about my experiences with individualism and internalized misogyny.
We have all seen posts like this scattered across Facebook, Twitter, and if you’re extra not like other girls, good old Tumblr. The nerdy, quirky girl who doesn’t wear makeup or care about fashion but is still somehow flawless and beautiful without much effort. She drinks beer and jokes around with the guys and doesn’t really fit in with Sorority Sarah because other girls are so vapid and dramatic! She doesn’t need flowers or chocolate, just buy her pizza and touch her butt.
I was guilty of being not like other girls. I read books and carried them around in the crook of my arm so my middle school peers could see that I didn’t care about Forever 21 (not just because I didn’t fit their clothes), I wore my brothers’ band t-shirts and played video games. My interests and hobbies during my early teenage years bordered between genuine interest and a feeling that I had to enjoy things apart from what typical girls enjoyed. Because to take part in those rituals of makeup and shopping and accessories would bring the risk of subjecting myself to the typical ideas of femininity and womanhood. And who would want that? Nay, I was a quirky snowflake who rejected girly things because girly meant not what men like. And to not be what men like is bad.
Looking back now at my thoughts and feelings as a tomboyish teenager, I wonder if my snowflake syndrome was the direct result of internalized misogyny or of a fear that trying to be attractive and pretty would simply highlight the fact that I was not either of those things. It was probably both. If you read my earlier post on my relationship with my appearance and makeup, you’ll know that I spent a good third of my teenage years looking like an actual boy. I guess I took the ~i’M nOt LiKe OtHeR gIrLs~ thing too far and teetered off the edge of looking like a girl at all.
In case you haven’t read the post and don’t care to, this is what I looked like:
And if you had read my post and are sick of seeing this picture, too bad. It is here to haunt you forever just as it haunts me.
Whether my snowflake syndrome stemmed from either hatred or fear of my fellow women, it does boil down to the fact that it was influenced by a system we all know and love to mention in our feminist slam poetry:
The oldest and most generic definition of the word is:
a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line.
What does this have to do with my life in 2019 and why do these dang feminists always want to smash it, you say? Well, the idea of male lineage has constructed a social dynamic in which men and the typical traits that we ascribe to men are the default. Men are typically strong, aggressive, stoic, bearded and burly and eat flapjacks aside their trusty blue ox, Babe.
Wait, no, that’s Paul Bunyan.
Because of these internalized prejudices that we have towards typically masculine behaviors like stoicism, pragmatism, and wearing flannel shirts, we almost automatically denounce the attributes that are typically feminine. Putting effort into looking pretty means that you are frivolous and don’t care about the real issues at hand, like how to out-argue someone in a debate or how to chop down trees. Wearing false eyelashes and curling your hair means you hate democracy and don’t care about the Amazon burning to the ground.
And god forbid you like to take selfies. How can someone be so vapid and self-centered that they fill precious phone space with pictures of their own faces??!
It seems as though as soon as a personality trait or hobby or interest is connected to the female population, it is deemed stupid or unnecessary. Teenage girls get the worst of it. From the dawn of man it seems that anything that young girls or women take interest in is considered foolish. Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House was constantly ridiculed and belittled by her husband because of her spending habits and because she liked eating sweets. The entire conflict is based on her husband’s inability to fathom that his little songbird was capable of getting the family out of financial ruin. Because isn’t it automatically the devil’s work if a woman does anything worthwhile?
Young girls are constantly ridiculed and chastised for everything they do. From pumpkin spice lattes to pop music to makeup to genuine nihilistic dread about the fact that life is a meaningless void, whatever girls come up with is just stupid.
Now we have the VSCO girl. I get it, making fun of trends is funny and not at all a cheap joke. But if reusable water bottles and comfy clothes are becoming trendy then I’m all here for it.
VSCO girls are a new internet phenomenon that I’m particularly interested in because it entails an intriguingly meta self-study of teenage girls reacting and dissecting their own trends. It seems like a self-parody of the ~i’M nOt LiKe OtHeR gIrLs~ trope and a possible light at the end of the tunnel that is internalized misogynistic hate we’ve instilled into our societies.
I’m not going to tell you to stop saying it, because you should have stopped after graduating middle school, if you did say it at all. But I will tell you, because it is still an annoying trope that persists when people want cheap laughs without taking the time to think of actual jokes, to stop relying on teenage girls for your humor. It’s old, overused, and frankly a little weird how society seems to be so obsessed with young women’s interests. Drink your Starbucks (with a reusable straw, of course) and wear that scrunchie on your wrist, or wear a flannel and frolic through the woods. Girls are awesome and strong and spunky, and I’m proud to be like other girls!
My first glimpse of Alaska was through the airplane window as we touched down in Juneau, just in time for the 10:30pm sunset. I had expected and looked forward to these late night sunsets and the feeling of basking in sun for a majority of the day, but I didn’t realize how jarring it would be to see the sun peaking out in the dead of night. Alaska was peeking her eye at me, daring more than welcoming the weary traveler to explore.
Our first activity was a guided eight-hour hike to Mendenhall Glacier, with Above & Beyond Alaska. They picked us up at our hotel near the airport and drove us straight to the trailhead, where we had a short orientation and gear-up session. We had brought our own backpacks and jackets but our two tour guides advised that it would be a muddy day with a good amount of gear, so we opted to switch to their provided hiking backpacks and windbreakers. Inside each person’s backpack was a helmet, crampons, hiking poles, some intimidating ropey-looking climbing gear, and a bag of snacks! Yay snacks.
Our group was quite large and while most of us were fairly young, there was also a mom and her ten-year-old daughter. There were some gaps as we hiked along the trail but our guides were attentive in making sure there was one in the front and one in the back to make sure the group stayed together. It was about four miles of hiking through the woods and moraines to get to the actual ice. While it was beautiful and lush, the mosquitos and flies were also enjoying the warm weather. Bring bugspray! Being the totally prepared and savvy hiker that I am, I forgot mine in my luggage. Luckily our guides had some on hand but the general rule I learned on this first activity was to just always have bugspray on my person at all times.
After the beautiful buggy hike we came upon the grandeur that is Mendenhall Glacier. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s blue, and it’s receding at faster rates every year. There are sign posts every few hundred meters to mark the year in which the glacier had been in that exact same spot. Sadly but not surprisingly the sign posts drew closer as the years crept towards the present.
We were very excited to explore some ice caves but unfortunately due to the extremely hot weather, there were none accessible enough that the guides felt comfortable bringing tourists to. This was a big disappointment but it was just another reminder that 1) Nature is not a theme park and if it were, one must get in line with the expectation and acceptance that the ride may or may not be functioning that day, and 2) the earth is dying at a rapid rate at the hands of capitalist industrialization and tourists not being able to see some ice caves is but a minor inconvenience in the grand tragedy that is human-influenced climate change. Although to be fair, someone in my group was really looking forward to the ice caves and had to rearrange his plans due to their inaccessibility (more on this later….)
Despite this minor disappointment, we had a great time on top of the ice. Our scary climbing gear and helmets were mostly safety precautions in the event that anyone slipped and needed help getting back up, and also set up for some really cool photo ops:
I had just finished Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which takes place on a planet called winter and in which the main character goes on a trek across hundreds of miles of glaciers and icefields. Having read this right before the trip was incredibly meta, as I gazed upon that gigantic block of blue and blinding white and wondered at its cold beauty and indifference to my puny human life.
Anywho, besides the day-long hike, we also wandered around downtown Juneau and went back to Mendenhall Visitor Center to check out Nugget Falls. A word of advice on this: when calling for a taxi, ask before booking if you will need to purchase the Glacier Pass from the driver. Our first driver claimed this was a mandatory $25 per person that we would have to pay in the taxi prior to entering the visitor center, otherwise he would have to drop us off two miles outside. We called another taxi company and they said that was some baloney–they dropped us off about 10 minutes outside of the visitor center.
From Mendenhall Visitor Center it was an easy 1-mile walk to Nugget Falls. The waterfall came upon a small beach from which we had a beautiful view of the glacier from across the lake. There was an adorable dog and baby playing in the water and Ratik, Jennylee, and I skipped some rocks. It was a serene, yet sobering place because while the glacier, lake, and waterfall were breathtaking, one could not enjoy the view without worrying about its rapid decline, and whether it will even be here for our grandchildren to enjoy.
And on that chipper note, we headed back to Juneau airport and flew to Anchorage.
Anchorage is a huge city, especially compared to Juneau. We didn’t do much here except sleep in between driving to our other destinations and walk around the shops downtown, but it was a relief of convenience with big supermarkets and gas stations galore to fill up on roadtrip snacks before we headed to each destination.
Our first destination was about a 7-hour drive from Anchorage, to the remote town of McCarthy. The last leg of the road from Anchorage to McCarthy is an unpaved, dirt road on which one drives for a few hours, eyes peeled for sharp rocks or ancient nails leftover from retired train tracks that crept along the road. If you decide to drive around Alaska, I highly recommend renting high-clearance and 4-wheel drive. It can be a little more expensive and not as environmentally friendly as a cute Prius, but you will thank yourself when you make it through a winding dirt road with no amenities leading into a town in the middle of the wild, Final Frontier.
I have a friend, Matt, who had grown up here and I remember him once telling me that his hometown didn’t have internet or phone lines until 2008. I never really understood this until we stayed in John Adams’s (yes that’s his real name) lovely bed and breakfast on the edge of town. The property resembles a summer camp with detached cabins of varying room sizes and each with their own bathrooms, and a common breakfast cabin with a full kitchen. Despite the heat, our cabin was quite comfortable and John even upgraded us to a 2-bedroom instead of a 2-bed single room. Breakfast was the star of the show, featuring regular Costco comforts like oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, cereal, milk, and fresh fruit, as well as homemade banana bread that John’s wife had just made the day previous. One thing I would like to note about this place is to be ready to lug your stuff from the front parking lot to your cabin. There is a platform connecting them that makes it easy for rolling luggage, but you will still have to pull them through a short dirt patch to get to the platform. It’s not backpacking up Denali, but it’s good to know ahead of time, especially if you are a crazy overpacker and have 90 pounds of just-in-case underwear and Walmart-sized hair products.
Getting into the actual town of McCarthy is easy, but it does take a bit of planning. There is a footbridge that goes over the river, before which is a parking lot ($10 a day). If you want to opt out on paying, you could park about a half-mile before that parking lot at a small visitor center and walk across the bridge. From the footbridge you could either walk a mile into town or wait for the shuttle.
There are things I should note about getting into McCarthy:
1) The shuttle is not so much a shuttle, rather a large van with a cracked windshield, driven by one of the locals. They will warn you about bumpy parts on the road (and there are many) and are completely nice and accommodating, but don’t expect an air-conditioned bus where you can put your feet up and relax before and/or after your glacier hike. Most likely you will be cramped amongst sweaty bodies and backpacks, consciously grooving your body against the movements of the van so as not to smash your head into the window/your neighbor/their muddy hiking poles poking out of their backpacks. That being said, cracked windshields and muddy hiking poles mean adventure, and that’s what you’re here for! Here’s the website with times and pricing.
2) The walk from the footbridge into McCarthy is short but beautiful, passing through a swimming hole and different spots along the river for skipping rocks or dipping your feet for a while. It’s quite dusty, but at this point in your Alaska trip I trust that you’re wearing clothes that you don’t mind dirtying up a bit.
This area is part of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the country’s largest national park and home to a large historic mine town and Kennicott glacier. We rode the shuttle from McCarthy’s town center to the visitor center in front of the mine town; from there visitors can explore the abandoned buildings (which still hold the mining and processing equipment) and hike a 4-mile round trip to Root Glacier.
Ratik, Jennylee, and I brought our own crampons and hiking poles so we opted to hike this on our own (props to our fearless leader Ratik for thinking of buying our own gear and avoiding inflated tourist prices to rent them). The hike itself to the mouth of the glacier was fairly easy, although the very end does involve some rocky slopes. We spent about a few hours here, exploring the icy surface. The surface of the glacier extends for miles towards the mountains; I think this was the best place to really understand the physical enormity of glaciers and how they really are rivers of ice.
On our way out of McCarthy we stopped by my friend’s family cabins at Currant Ridge. Matt is currently living the dream in Hamburg, Germany, but we did get to meet his brother, Robert, and hang out while our fearless leader figured out our lodging for the night (we had planned on driving to a remote town called Whittier but their tunnel would have been inaccessible at our late ETA). Robert was a great temporary host and gave us a tour of their house and the cabins on the property. He had just come in from a hike to some ice caves, and we all bonded over fantasy novels and actuary science, which he’s studying in school. Thanks again for the water and the tour, Robert, and good luck with school!
McCarthy was definitely one of my favorite places in Alaska, not only because of the remote, wild beauty that made me feel like Bear Grylls, awesome glacier hike, and fascinating mining town, but because of the relaxed chill and nonchalant hospitality I saw in the people who lived there. Matt is an incredibly cool dude but he’s also genuine and kind, and now that I’ve explored his hometown I can see why and how he’s turned out that way. I may be overromanticizing my vacation because I’m writing this whilst eating an overpriced salad in my cubicle in the middle of the Financial District, but it seems like most of the Alaskans I’ve met are exceedingly chill and are always up for adventure and friends.
I’m currently working on remembering and journaling the rest of my trip, so stay tuned for more cheesy and overly sentimental recollections of the Last Frontier!
“What’re you gonna do with that?” I heard this question many times throughout my educational career as an English major — eventually I would just respond with a blank smile and allowed the inquirer to speculate on their own. “Ooooh, a teacher?!?!” They would smile wide and nod: a self-congratulation as they had brilliantly rationalized why anyone would choose to gruel over the humanities as their field of study. And of all humanities studies — English! You can’t write code or do surgery or found the next brilliant tech innovation with an English degree!
“I’ll just be broke or homeless, I guess,” I would say sometimes, watching the look of inquisitiveness move into either mild shock or annoyance. After all, that’s what it seemed their question was leading into. Why put myself through 4 long years of school just to read?
No one is ever asked what they’re going to do with a Computer Science or Medical degree, because those indicate specific career fields after graduation. Even some art degrees have logical trajectories: the exploding world of technology and entertainment will always have a designated home for designers, illustrators, and musicians. But for the humanities it’s not always quite clear. I’m looking at you, students of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and of course, English. If you look so disdained and irritated at the thought of teaching, what the hell are you going to do with your life? You can’t highlight and discuss Dostoevsky for rent or bulk quinoa, you know. In this economy??
During the very last months of college I found myself wildly panicking over what was to come after graduation. I had seen the light after long, stressful nights of postcolonial essays and cursing Descarte, but what exactly was it that awaited me outside the tunnel? I had worked at Starbucks and as a math tutor for most of my time at university, but now I had to leave the lull of part-time work and join the work force as a full-fledged, blazer wearing adult. I began the arduous task of filling out applications and writing enthusiastic-but-not-desperate cover letters. The more company websites and Glassdoor reviews I read, the more I began to doubt and question myself. Just who the hell did I think I was, trying to penetrate into these money-flooded, world-changing industries with but a mere English degree?
The first thing I learned was that job applications are nothing but a numbers game. That posting on LinkedIn might have been there for weeks by the time your grubby hands clicked on it — imagine all the other souls that have already applied and posted their resumes and cover letters and hopes and dreams.
So you’re probably 189th in line to interview for a decent paying job in the Financial District with great benefits and catered lunches, and I’m sorry to say that statistically you are unlikely to even get an in-person interview. Maybe the recruiter won’t even see your profile. Don’t fret, dear friend. Remember the numbers and do not put all of your eggs (and your hopes and dreams) into one catered lunch basket. Take advantage of the “Easy Apply” button and up your game. The more applications you put out, the more likely you’re going to get a call. The more calls and interviews you’re granted, the more likely you’re gonna get a job.
If you’re feeling as insecure as I was about your major, don’t. The education section in your resume is only what, 3-5 lines? There is an entire 8 1/2 x 11 sheet (or A4 if you’re not American) on which you can paint the intelligent, competent, and hard-working individual you are. The skills you learn as a humanities major are useful and important, but you have to know how to market them to fit corporate expectations and needs. For example, my long, grueling nights over analytical essays and presentations became:
Efficient and thorough analysis of written text
Effective written and oral communication on different scopes and levels of detail
It’s all about selling your skills and customizing your resume and cover letter to fit the job application. Technical writer? Emphasize your quick and accurate copywriting/editing skills. Project coordinator? Highlight your communication skills and the high- and low-level detail work you put into that senior thesis.
That being said, I’m going to have to get honest with you, fellow humanities major. Unless you’re intensely brilliant and prolific, Hermione Granger incarnate, or you were able to land and work unpaid internships during college, I’m sorry to say that you are probably not going to be a tenured museum curator at the Smithsonian or a publishing editor at Random House right after graduation. If you have the financial means to do so, put in that entry-level time at creative companies and work your way up. If you do need to make that cash, maybe take some time in another industry while you keep working on your creative pursuits. I say this because unfortunately, you will probably have to weigh in between having a higher, secure salary versus lower pay while working on your passion project and dream career.
I personally had to choose between taking a lower paid entry-level position at a small publishing company and a higher paid position in an industry I don’t love. Call me a sell out, but I chose the higher paid position for now because I want to build up financial security while I keep looking for better paid creative work and endeavoring on my own passion projects (like this godforsaken manuscript). At first I felt guilty because I gave up the opportunity to work in literature for a corporate job, but I can still love books and writing while paying my bills and building my savings.
So yes, I did get a real, big-girl job with my English degree! I am not finished with my education and constantly scour free classes on Udacity and Coursera to learn new skills (Mandarin and Python just because they’re interesting) but I am proud of my education and what I’ve learned. I like the work I’ve found and admit to settling, but I’m also on a constant lookout for transitioning into creative work. Do not fret, dear English major. The world is abundant and full of jobs: careers that you will either love or careers that you can take for the time being while you gain more editing experience and/or finish that manuscript (finish it, dammit!).
Upon reaching home this evening, I noticed the violet peeking out above apartment roofs in its very last moments before fading into the dark. I was worn after driving through a rainy rush hour on 101, and before that a full day of answering emails and phone calls while my mind wandered to Hawaii and Alaska and beyond. After arguing with myself if it was worth it to stay out longer to see that violet, I called you from outside and told you to come with me.
We’ll have been living in Pacifica a whole year this April, but we still get lost to our sunset spot. Panicking over GPS, we circle around neighborhoods and hills, watching the violet begin fading away. We give up on our sunset spot and instead settle for the post office before a sandy cliff, parked with emergency lights on the red zone. There are others who have stopped in the end of their day, when they are weary from work and parenting and school and life, to see the violet fade into the sea. I step out and walk to the sand and see and smell the waves crashing upon one another. The ocean does not roar today, rather hushes me again and again. Not quiet or calm but sure of itself, comfortable in its cycle. The waves are high, reaching and failing every time to reach the moon, hiding behind clouds. It is cold and drizzling and I am in my work clothes, but we stand with others with our cameras pointed, trying to catch the remarkable violet.
I endeavor to capture this scene, playing with scales and buttons but never quite getting it. You get a few pictures of me — blurry and unfocused. But within the pixels and awkward posing there is that violet, now fading into the last explosion of reds and pinks as the sun makes her way down under the sea. The others fade away, drawn to the rest of their lives after getting that perfect shot. We sit in the car with the emergency lights still blinking and watch out the window, catching last glimpses of that violet as it fades into black.
There was a moment in my life where I never let the sunshine touch my skin. Before I stepped out into the world, I needed to paint over my acne scars, flick a wing at the edge of my eyes, and color in where the hallows of my cheeks should be. I played with pinks and reds and purples and spent unfathomable amounts of time and money on figuring out how to look flawless, chiseled, highlighted in order to make myself feel powerful, fierce, capable, beautiful.
For a bit of context, I spent most of middle school looking like this:
I was in the midst of the existential turmoil that comes with puberty, and looked up to punk icons like Sioxsie Sioux and Brody Dalle, thence the awful haircut that definitely broke my mom’s heart. There were many instances where it was me versus the daughter she had imagined: a daughter who would have had long hair and worn clothes besides her brothers’ band t-shirts and the godforsaken Jack Skellington hoodie I refused to take off. I remember crying one evening before church because my mom insisted I wear a green and yellow floral top; we begged each other without much avail to understand the opposite sides of that blouse. On another instance, she confided in me the painful embarrassment she went through over how I looked, all because someone had mistakenly referred to me as her son. This was also the time where I was beginning to explore my sexuality and gender identity: I started researching about the LGBTQ community and came to realize that not only was I queer, I didn’t really identify with the standards placed onto women. I wasn’t beautiful or feminine and didn’t want to waste my time on striving to be either of those. As the sole girl in a litter of 4 rowdy kids, I had abandoned my Barbies in 3rd grade and turned to WWE, Tekken, basketball, and all other things that frustrated the hell out of my mom and dad. So I abandoned society’s preset principles of femininity and embraced the fact that I just happened to look like a pudgy teenage boy. But freeing myself of these expectations didn’t make me happy — quite contrarily I was still miserable about being ugly even though I had already accepted it as my fate.
The melancholy of middle school began to wear off towards the end of 8th grade. My friends and I, the Nerd Cave Crew, shunned the idea that girls had to be petite and cute and have shiny long hair while we proudly rocked our completely-punk-and-NO-my-mom-did-NOT-buy-this-from-Hot-Topic identities. I comforted myself from the fact that I was not conventionally attractive by completely disregarding society’s expectations of attractiveness, but I still avoided mirrors and stooped my head in social situations in the hopes that I would not be seen.
The first time I remember actually studying my face and seeing that it really wasn’t that bad was the night of the 8th grade formal dance. Having no makeup of my own, I used one of my mom’s Estee Lauder palettes and swiped a pale glittery purple on my eyelids, then smudged a bit of eyeliner on my lower lashes just like the girl on YouTube showed me. After applying mascara and curling my eyelashes with the terrifying metal contraption, I looked in the mirror and saw a girl. It was the first time my Nerd Cave friends saw me in a dress or wearing makeup, and the first time in my teenage years that I felt pretty. I couldn’t help but feel a bit more human because I finally resembled what I assumed society, my mom and dad, what the world expected from me.
At first makeup was liberating because it gave me control over how I could look like. I was never the pretty girl, so to finally have these tools to emulate some sort of beauty felt like finally grabbing hold of mjolnir after a long battle where I had been fighting naked and vulnerable.
I began buying my own makeup and religiously watching beauty videos on YouTube during my freshman year of high school. I experimented with eyeshadows and lipsticks, developed a detailed face routine with foundation, contour, and blush, and perfected the art that is winged eyeliner. High school was pretty fun for me: I still wasn’t skinny or as pretty as the other girls but every morning I sat in front of the mirror and studied the canvass of my face, thinking Yeah, I can work with this.
Of course, plastering one’s face every single day with cheap foundation and powders in the throes of puberty is going to be rough on anyone’s pores. My skin had never been the greatest, but throughout high school and my freshman year of college it was constantly a cycle of covering up those swelling, pus-filled bumps on my face, scraping off the makeup at the end of the day with expensive acne-fighting products and desperate hopes, then finding new inflamed bumps the very next morning. Makeup was my tool to feel human and deserving of social interaction, but what good is hammering a few nails on a wall with no foundation?
Studying abroad in high school and college did wonders for my self-esteem because I had proved to myself that I was smart and brave enough to explore the word. I lived in cities I had never even dreamed of visiting, and met and befriended people of different walks of life. But being the teenager that I was, neither intelligence nor courage sufficed. I still felt like the one in the friend group who had to be funny and outrageous to make up for what I lacked in looks. Looking back now, I can’t help but regret all the time, money, and space I wasted lugging around my makeup to different parts of the world. I would wake up in my dorm at school or whatever hostel we were staying in and rush to the bathroom to put on my face. Without the comfort of foundation, contour, and eyeliner I didn’t want others to see me, see the red mountains lining my jaw, the bulging lack-of-cheekbone, and the short and straight eyelashes that left my eyes dull.
It was after I had dropped out of NYU, started working at Starbucks while finishing school online at Arizona State, and discovered my love for the outdoors that my relationship with makeup began crumbling. At first it was sheer laziness — the early mornings and 6-8 hours of steaming milk and pouring espresso shots just didn’t seem to call for any makeup.
Then, seeing my bare face on a daily basis began to desensitize me to the insecurities I had garnered over the course of puberty and my young adult life. I found that the shape of my eyes were actually quite pretty, and that I do indeed have cheek bones. My features are not as sharp or defined as others’, but why do they have to be? After years of abusing it with pore-clogging concealers and powders, and harsh chemicals to negate the effects of the former, I began taking better care of my skin and body. In turn it thanked me by clearing up the acne that had riddled my face and self-esteem for so many years — the less makeup I wore, the more beautiful I realized I actually am.
So here I am at 23, with a full-time “big girl job” at an office and a dream to travel the world while helping others while I do it. One of the ways I want to help you is to open up a discussion about makeup and insecurities. Sure, makeup can be used as a medium for self-expression and empowerment. AOC’s iconic red lip and hoops are a way of paying homage to her Bronx background and a big “Fuck you” to those who don’t think fashionable or pretty can exist alongside intelligent and strong. Frida Kahlo was known to accentuate her unibrow and facial hair despite the ridiculous expectations that women should not grow hair anywhere besides where society has deemed appropriate. Drag queens bake and highlight and carve out impeccable eyebrows while questioning gender identities that are forced upon us by social norms. These are just a few examples of how makeup is freeing and empowering.
But when it becomes the crutch upon which one desperately leans in order to feel worthy to face the world, I’m afraid it’s the makeup that is wearing you.
I was a bit afraid of going to work without makeup, terrified that people would think I don’t take myself seriously or care how I present myself. While I do reject what society says how I should dress/act/feel/speak as a woman, I also care deeply about the image of myself that I put out into the world. But I can paint myself just as well and even better with words, action, and work as with some blush or eyeliner. So I am dumping you, makeup. As the title suggests, this is my official breakup letter.
We have had a long and complicated relationship over the past few years. I discovered you when I was young and quite vulnerable, and you embraced me with open arms and showed a side of me I had never thought to look for. Thank you for helping me find and accept my femininity, and thank you for being on fleek for so many years.
Having said this, there were parts of our journey that weren’t so great. I spent so much time and resources on you, time and resources that could have gone to things that make me feel happier. I missed out on precious sleep and countless breakfasts because I was so dedicated to you and thought you were the only thing that could help me face this world.
What I have come to realize is that I simply don’t need you anymore. I can’t say I’m sorry that I’m ending it like this, so I just want to you to know that we’ll still be friends. There are still weddings and parties in the future where I might reach for you, but only because I want you. Not because I need you.
So thanks again for making me look skinnier when I thought that was an important thing to strive for, thanks for making me feel powerful when I wore red or purple lipstick, and thanks for the fierceness I found with winged eyeliner. I am so grateful you helped me find these things, but I am beginning to realize that I can feel powerful, fierce, strong, capable, and beautiful without you.
The first glimpse of it is almost shocking. After miles of winding greenery and fruit stands, the highway begins twisting around hills and hugging the coast. At first, the water is subtle. It peeks between hills and trees and you roll down the window to see if you could smell the sea. The subtle hint of salt teases your nostrils, just as the small glimpses of water do. The car makes a final turn around a hill and suddenly it’s a blanket of brilliant blue to your right. From the passenger seat, you stick your right hand out the window and move it up and down through the wind, feeling the waves of the ocean riding with you.
Your first weekend getaway with him was in Big Sur. You made up a story about sleeping over at Abby’s and packed your backpack and rode off in his rickety Honda Civic. The awkward first weeks of dating had passed, and you were wondering where this relationship would take you. This first place was paradise.
In the Julia Pfeiffer State Park, there is a small trail that starts at the edge of the road and begins taking you down through a short tunnel and then onto the side of the cliff. The ocean is larger here than it was from your window, up on the road. You are suddenly reminded of how small you are, how the tiny creature that you are is standing on the edge of the continent, staring into a sea that eventually grows into others, together blanketing the earth. The trail leads you to a viewing platform. Down below, on the other side of the curved edge of the cliff is a small beach with the McWay Falls. The water comes down from crevices on the mountain and hits a pool in the sand, less than a mile away from the waves coming in and out.
He parked the Civic on the side of the road and you both slept in the back, drunk with supermarket whiskey. Every so often a car would pass by, shining through the windows and waking you up. Sometimes you would forget sleep and look up through the windows. He had chosen a spot under a mass of trees, but in between the branches you could see the stars, so plentiful in comparison with the city sky under which you grew up. You imagined how the ocean must look, mirroring those small, twinkling lights, the waves crashing against the cliffs and lapping at beaches now abandoned for the night.
You woke up in the early morning as the sun was still peeking in the horizon. The stars that had shown through the trees were gone, but you saw the premature rays of daylight sparkling in the dew. Your phone blinked with unread messages and missed calls from Mom. She had checked with Abby and found that you weren’t there. He drove to a gas station where you had service and you called, explaining where you were and who you were with. It was the first time she’s ever heard about any boy. There was a feeling of regret, of shame for lying and getting caught. But as much as you felt sorry for sneaking out and lying, you couldn’t help that feeling of satisfaction. Satisfaction that your overdue teenage rebellion had brought you to an Eden, just hours away from home.
The next time you see Big Sur, it is after you two had moved in together. The rickety Civic has long since retired, and you drive in your shared white Honda Fit. Night time hasalready fallen by the time you set out from home, so the winding hills stood dark and glaring against the moonlit sky. The car twists and turns around the dark sentinels. Where small scenes of brilliant blue had shone in between turns and trees, you see glimpses darker than the sky. Finally, the familiar turn comes up. The car curves around the final hill and you are surrounded by black ocean. It is violent this night, sending wave upon wave against the cliff side. But every so often it subsides and the water is still for a few moments. And it is just as you imagined that first night: the stars twinkle in the still water, shining from above and below you. You open the window and stick out your hand, letting it ride in the chilly nighttime wind.
Admit it, we are all whirling into the craze that is decluttering and have the urge to pick things in our lives that will either spark joy or will spark the donation bin. Every other Youtuber and Instragrammer has picked out the worn Forever 21 sweaters and five-year-old single tube socks from their drawer, but I have also come across some articles from the web that talk about decluttering the more abstract parts of life.
As I take heed of Marie Kondo and her ruthless demolition of all things unnecessary or unsparky of joy, I’m beginning to reflect on the things I want to be known for or what I want myself to focus on as I become (dare I say it ) a real adult. So here is a list of things of big picture things that I still care about. General life aspects that spark that anime joy in me or that I know are good for me even though I don’t wanna go to the gym dammit:
Health: I’ve always been fat. I was a fat toddler, a fat kid, a fat teenager, etc. etc. While I appreciate the incredible and charming personality that came with having to compensate for my looks, I have realized in the past years that my body just wasn’t responding to my lifestyle in the way that I wanted it to. My legs couldn’t carry me up the mountains I wanted to climb, my lungs wavered at the thought of running or jumping or swimming. My boyfriend helped me immensely by reintroducing vegetarianism into my life (more on that later) and becoming my adventure buddy. While he led me to this new path, I developed my own rhythm by learning how to cook, joining the gym and finding a routine that I like, and focusing on foods and movements that nourish me.
Deeper Relationships and Understanding: at the risk of sounding like every other aging Berkeley hippy, I must say that this is so important to prioritize now that we live in such a fast-paced, social media age. Our minds are becoming more attuned to novelty rather than deeper relationships and understanding. I have found that it’s gotten a lot harder for me to focus on one task as my mind has been conditioned to await a new notification or shiny new post. We’ve all read enough articles on Facebook (ironically enough) that social media will rot our brain and is the ultimate doom of the human relationship so I won’t go into that. And I won’t go depriving myself the bliss of scrolling through puppy Instagram, but I am also taking an initiative to be more present and selective with what I choose to spend time on.
Writing! Here it is, my big goal for this year. Since I was about nine-years-old and reading aloud my stories about android 4th grade teachers, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I have always been a storyteller — one of my famous numbers was composed at the tender age of three, when I spun a tale about the paniking kalbo, or bald-headed bat, who flew into the mall and wreaked havoc. I’m sorry to say my ideas have become a lot less adventurous, but they are there nonetheless. After years of conditioning myself to search for a practical career path just in case writing doesn’t work out, I realized that it never will if I don’t give it the dedication it deserves. I’m making this promise to write once a day, either on this blog project or on my manuscript and you, my friend, or the 2 people reading this, are here to hold me accountable.
I made a goal last year to finish the first draft of my novel and to start a blog and while I did write a few posts, I am not proud of the time and effort I had put into writing. This is something that brings me joy and something with which I feel I can make a contribution to the world, so it deserves more than a few scrambled posts.
In order to juggle my endeavors to get healthy, work on my relationships, and write more, I’ll have to sacrifice a few things. I am limiting the amount of time I consume in order to make time to produce and create. This means that I’ll have to spend less time watching TV or the black hole that is YouTube, which seems daunting now because GAME OF THRONES TRAILER JUST CAME OUT!! But relax, Dina. Everything in moderation, even moderation. When you deprive of yourself you truly start craving it — I learned this the hard way when I tried going vegan and spent those two weeks eating more cheese than I ever have.
That being said, I am also reaching out to you, family and friends, to support my passion by reading and sharing my posts, and also giving me feedback! I will take constructive criticism, suggestions, requests, whatever you have to say about my writing as long as it drives me to work on my craft and will not piss on my hopes and dreams.
Chess was the first love of my life and my first encounter with the daunting abyss of infinite choices, infinite cause and effect. An important strategy of the game is to analyze the possible outcomes before making one’s move. Carelessness with even the simplest piece could open an advantage for the opponent and alter the course of the game. But as most matches are timed, there must be a limit to the analyzing: the predicting and planning. Every move has a number of outcomes that branch into more outcomes, so the possibilities multiply exponentially and it becomes dangerous to ponder, to let time tick by as one tries to map out the infinite intricacies of possible futures.
I learned how to play in 3rd grade and almost instantly fell in love with the methodical chaos. For most of the day I was a normal 7 year old girl, trading Hello Kitty stickers with Tracy and Sabrina and giggling over Zac Efron. But by the time Chess Club began I was completely transformed. I was Napoleon, setting traps and feeling fiery satisfaction as my victims fell into them.
One late spring afternoon towards the end of 5th grade, my teammates and I were on a bus to the state championships. My school had been reigning as the #1 elementary school for years. We rode into the venue with our black team visors and sponsorship Clif Bar t-shirts, ready to continue the reign of the Cherrywood Charger as well as setting our own rankings on the state ladder. I crushed my first two matches, fueling the fire with Hot Cheetos and Gatorade.
My third match was different. A typical strategy, a no-brainer, is to gain control of the center of the board by moving the center pawns early in the game: this allows the stronger pieces, such as the knight, queen, or bishop to come out and take positions in or around the middle. Pawn to E4 is ingrained into every chess player’s mind. But my third opponent that day, a scrawny boy with silver wiry glasses and a furrowed brow, did not follow the silent rule. Instead, he opened the game with his peripheral pawns. They stood at A4 and H4, taunting me, daring me.
At first I dismissed his choices as that of someone with no skill. I figured it would be an easy victory. But by the time he had developed his other pieces’ positions, it was clear that he knew what he was doing. I was losing, and with a tightness in my gut I began to scrutinize every single moment, considering at least five different ways he could go for every one move I made. I could no longer map out different strategies; there were far too many, and I was running out of time. Our tournament clocks kept track of how much time we each had: he was still at 4:32 when I realized mine read 0:30. And I froze, staring at the ticking second hand, too paralyzed to even lift my my own.
“Hey, are you gonna go?” He asked, nodding at my diminishing time. I was at 0:12.
At 0:07 I realized the match was over. I let it go to 0:00 and watched him raise his hand. The volunteer judge came and wrote Forfeit on my chart, Victory on his. We shook hands, exchanging a polite “Good game” and went our separate ways.
Thought had gotten the best of me in a game that was supposed to revolve around thoughtfulness and deliberation. I had gone too far in my mind and lost myself in the labyrinth of What Could Be’s and What Could Happen’s. The maze of outcomes that had previously been my joy and solace had betrayed me.
There is a line between thoughtfulness and rationality, and instinct and spontaneity. The missing strategy of chess that I never quite grasped during my competitive days was to plan one’s course of moves, but to also embrace the infinite void as just that. We could all sit there and plan out every outcome and every outcome of that outcome; it’ll make us feel secure in our decision making but it’ll also eat away at time. It’s taken me eleven years, but I finally understand the courage and insanity of that furrow-browed kid’s opening moves. He rejected rational strategy and instead embraced the infinite future that had paralyzed me, trusting instinctual skill over careful deliberation. He stared into the abyss square in the face and laughed as it stared back.
We can all sit here and deliberate every single move and plan out every outcome, but our clocks are ticking. Some decisions need that extra contemplation and planning out, but sometimes you just have to trust yourself and go headfirst into the darkness.