I. fortune cookies

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Starting a new project as of today. Each week, I’m going to try to post a picture accompanied with short prose about an event, a passing encounter, or a mood.

Currently the last week of 1L. S and I took a practice exam, and fatigued by the intensive fact pattern, we decided to head over to this Chinese restaurant before returning to the library. It’s the kind of gimmicky establishment adorned with red lanterns at the entrance and ornate gold tablecloth overlaying circular tables spread throughout the spacious (but mostly empty) interior. A tourist trap for the Greenwich Village passerby, or perhaps a pit stop for the drunken crowds swelling in and out of the bars on West 3rd. It’s the kind of place you stumble upon without forethought, because you meandered too far into this area or you forgot to make a reservation at a Yelp-approved venue in the East Village.

It’s the kind of place that gives out golden-orange colored fortune cookies wrapped in plastic that read “Fortune Cookie” with a depiction of the fortune cookie on the front. And when you crack open that fortune cookie, there is a fleeting exhilaration of revealing the unknown contained in that small token of cultural idiosyncrasy — only in America. Then you share the profound wisdom printed onto that thin, white rectangular piece of paper with your friend, and after exchanging the wisdom you’ve gleaned from these valuable documents, you both ponder over the poignancy of its words.

I don’t know if my fortune will ring true. I’m two exams away from finishing this long, challenging year. Perhaps the profound wisdom that this fortune cookie has really taught me is that I can share the fortune with the best companions. After scoffing at our fortune cookies, S and I went back to the library, struggling together over our practice exam and sounding like two crazy girls postulating over criminal law. If I could rewrite that fortune, it’d probably read instead: “You are lucky because you have chosen great companions.”

 

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the existential identity of america

the week i turned twenty-five, my life was rooted in the ordinary. even the existential questions concerning identity, the questions that are supposed to arise when one reaches that quarter-century-mark, didn’t quite faze me. i was mostly preoccupied with figuring out the nebulous rules of bluebooking for my upcoming legal research memo due the day after my birthday, with outlining for final exams, and with pre-empting any further coffee and tea stains on my leather-bound casebooks.

above all, i was assured in my moral values: of empathy, tolerance, respect, kindness, and inclusion. i was confident in this value system and in how i perceived and related to the world.

that was the first week of november. the air was becoming crisp, the leaves had taken on golden-orange and copper hues, and new york was settling into that season of wistful optimism meets nostalgia between autumn and winter.

on election day, november 8, i was barely able to focus in class because i was so excited about the election. i genuinely believed in the possibility of being able to call a woman the elected leader of my country — a woman who had dedicated herself to public service and fought tirelessly for this nation’s ideals. i had, however, become so desensitized to all of the negative and hateful remarks in the media portraying the campaigns over the past several weeks and months that much of my excitement and passion for the election had been diluted. these were personal and hurtful remarks by and against both sides, engulfed in a sea of negativity that i found discomforting. for me, the prospect of  america moving on from the election so that  “normal” life could continue largely overshadowed the prospect of a woman elected to preside over the world’s leading liberal democracy.

at around 4 pm, i met my friend in washington square park to head over to javits center, where hillary’s official election viewing party was held. as law students with pages of reading we had yet to finish, we (or at least i) had contemplated whether we should go to the convention center at all. he persuaded me rather convincingly that we had to see the historic glass ceiling for ourselves, and en route to this architectural and metaphorical feat, i couldn’t help but take in the sights of new york city that night and create an abstraction of my experience at a symbolic level. here i was, i thought, walking past the stone arch at washington square, to riding the subway, to passing the beautifully lit empire state building adjacent to the new yorker sign in the sky, where these symbols represented a progressive world of opportunity and change, and it was in this world, this amazingly beautiful and fast-paced and entrancing world that i was going to witness history.

the security surrounding the periphery of javits center was incredible. i had never seen a political spectacle of that scale, and the number of people, the sheer energy, the helicopters overhead and news trucks at ground, and the NYPD officers and sand trucks in the area astounded me. my excitement and passion for the election were returning and growing by the minute.

after returning home early, with the intention of getting some work done, i proceeded to check the new york times and five thirty eight forecasts while playing CNN’s coverage of the exit votes. that excitement soon turned into anxiety. as the meter showing trump’s chances on the new york times forecast continued to increase, my sense of apprehension rose. the rest of the night is history. somehow, in the middle of the night, the veil of the world i thought i knew had shattered.

i woke up the next day in another world. new york was grey and its clouds were distressed with tears that rained down onto eeringly quiet streets. in a city where the hustle and bustle is accentuated by the purposeful and aggressive rhythm of new yorkers, it almost seemed as if these tears were shed for a broken and divided america.

in hindsight, the question of how the world had appeared to have undergone an utterly cataclsymic  metamorphosis was clear. this year had been a precipice for transformation, one so profound that a revolution was bound to take place. in my own life, i moved to a new city and started a new chapter, while in the rest of america and the world, small events had been taking place all along that solidified the birth of what felt like a deeply traumatic scar. i guess the changes for me and for the world came before we could even rationally perceive them, as we fervently tried to hold onto the vestiges of the past that still remained.

home, for me, is california. in the aftermath of the election, the california i called home had isolated itself in polarizing anti-trump rhetoric. people were furious, upset, and despondent, and some protested by taking over highways to forcibly demonstrate. their fundamental disagreement with the election outcome made evident the intensity and rawness of their fear for their livelihoods under the president-elect. i hurt for those people at home, many of whom i call friends. immigrants, racial minorities, LGBT, and women felt a fear so raw that it shook the very  core of their beings. they denounced the bigotry and hatred exhibited by the president-elect and his campaign as a danger that threatened their existence and safety.

yet as much as i hurt for those back home, i soon realized the day after the election that the isolationist dialogue in california had blinded me from the discussion in the rest of the nation. it took something as simple and profound as talking to my classmates who shared heartfelt personal anecdotes of their family and friends from places they called home, where there were others who were celebrating the outcome because they sincerely believed that the president-elect they voted for through the elaborate democratic process of america’s political system could represent them and address their concerns. whether that entailed his promises on abortion or on jobs, there was something fundamental about the opportunity he represented to these relatives and friends of my classmates.

for a girl from the liberal heart of california, this was a powerful lesson. i saw my newfound friends in law school struggle with the dichotomy between their personal convictions and the political leanings of their loved ones. friends who came to law school out of the dream to reform civil rights and become government prosecutors suddenly found themselves in an alien world where it didn’t seem as feasible to pursue these passions. when we graduate in a trump administration, would we still choose to work in government in the pursuit of justice — whatever that means a few years from now? meanwhile, i saw how the calls for california’s secession and refusal to accept the outcome of the election only further secluded my home from the rest of the world. it was, and still is, a stark and disturbing dichotomy in which the battle lines have been drawn in ways where fellow human beings have become the heroes and villains by a mere measure of political belief.

new york city  — and law school — have taught me that the world is a far bigger place than i had ever envisioned. voicing our opinions and standing up for what we believe in are rights we can and must practice affirmatively.  turning twenty-five, in turn, has handed me a sobering yet empowering realization of the world i live in. with these sacred rights we have, we don’t turn to flee and cower from a confrontation. we fight. we use our rights as tools to work tirelessly for what we believe is the greater good. i know all this sounds incredibly sappy, but it is in times like this year, in which there have been such profound moments of breaking and falling apart, then reflection and healing, that we understand the depths of our passion, vulnerability, and finally — strength.

to another year of learning, growing, and loving.

the bum life

i recently came across these articles regarding the blog writer’s decision to quit her job, and her experience has helped to validate my own.

http://lindaeliasen.com/version-history/2015/9/28/on-quitting

Two months without a job taught me what I really want from my career

during the first few weeks of unemployment, i was ambitious with how i wanted to structure my time. i thought i had to rigidly discipline myself in crafting new skills and gaining knowledge in areas that i thought i was supposed to pursue, and not necessarily ones in which i found personal meaning. i thought i had to enrich my life and surround myself with people who could push me towards new frontiers, challenge my comfort zone, and encourage different activities.

but what i’ve found is…it’s okay to do only the things i love and with which i feel comfortable. it’s okay to stay within my comfort zone instead of constantly taking spontaneous risks that i don’t intrinsically want to pursue. my happiness, i discovered, centers on stability and staying grounded in the people and activities that naturally lie within my comfort zone. and it’s okay for me to be happy that way, without radically pushing against the limits of familiarity towards new experiences. i learned that it’s okay to be a comfort-seeker, homebody, and a low-energy introvert. it’s okay to spend long stretches of time by myself doing things i enjoy such as reading at cafes and bookstores, exploring random neighborhoods, and going on long hikes alone. it’s more than okay to passionately devote myself to new cooking experiments, listening to music for hours, and painting in a uniquely impressionistic fashion because such activities are not extraneous hobbies, but rather important units of time invested in creative self-expression. these are the things that make me happy, and i shouldn’t have to seek what external conventions deem are required for a twenty-something when i am already conscious of my intrinsic sources of happiness.

i’ve also learned that patience is an essential virtue, particularly during one’s twenties. patience is integral in the development of a relationship, in the timing of particular circumstances as they unfold, and in the slow but inevitable growth of character and understanding of self. patience is also intricately connected with faith, and i’ve begun to see the importance of having faith in and trusting in myself and in others over time. people, relationships, skills, values, and hobbies — all these must be nurtured, not coddled; respected, not threateningly undermined; and gradually cultivated, not aggressively transformed overnight. while some feelings and interests may fleetingly come and go, those passions that are meant to stay, will stay. fortune does not occur out of sheer luck or coincidence; instead it is built upon a foundation of patience, hard work, and trust.

in the the past few weeks, i’ve clearly spent a great deal of time with myself while engaging in an internal monologue that has been both ridiculous and quintessential (such as — how can i achieve a meaningful life? can’t i have another decade between my twenties and thirties to get better at this adulting thing? am i even allowed to postmates anymore while i’m unemployed?). at times, i’ve desperately wanted to get back to work, questioned moving to new york, also questioned going into law, questioned a whole series of life decisions, and generally, cried and had a few too many meltdowns.

being funemployed is hard. it seems like a blast, but suddenly launching yourself into a stage in your life in which you have the complete ability to manage your own time (aside from financial circumstances that may externally affect that capacity) can be overwhelming. self-discovery is a tedious process and making the conscious decision to quit your job in order to actively control that process is as admirable as it is daunting. leaving a job towards uncertainty, especially, can be the equivalent of starting a new career that I’ll sappily entitle “Finding Myself”– in which you are the employer, the employee, the client, and multiple other roles, while overseeing an investment portfolio consisting of assets allocated to achieve the best possible you.

taking the time to evaluate self-growth is necessary and important, but i think the mental and emotional hardships associated with this process are often underplayed. it is no easy task, and certainly it is a continuous process that, ideally, evolves constantly. to all those who have, are, or even may be contemplating taking a break to pursue this process, i commend you and support your endeavors with much respect.

slow jams & jumbled thoughts after dark

listening to Snakehips – Fly High 002: SFTB Valentines Special

i’ve been meaning to write more lately, yet articulating my jumbled thoughts has been a thorny process. there are a myriad of events and topics that i want to write about, particularly personal ones. putting these thoughts into some tangible form, however, and further conveying them into a public space, are acts in which i am not entirely confident.

as i listen to this slow jams mix, i am reminded of one of my favorite pastimes in childhood. around bedtime, my mom would come into my room, tuck me in, and turn on the radio to 96.5 FM, assuring me that its “love songs after dark” program would lull me into serenity. i grew up listening to 90s r&b, falling for their soulful beats and smooth-crooning melodies, and even more, falling in love with the idea of romantic songs for lovers after dark. slow jams were mom-approved (a special endorsement from a tiger mom who typically would only let my sister and me listen to classical music and npr). slow jams were also nostalgic and hopelessly romantic.

these are qualities that i zealously guard in my own character. i am nostalgic and hopelessly romantic. i am a lover of slow jams. i started writing poems at age eight, maybe younger, and that marble composition book was my proudest achievement at the time and remains a prized possession. even at that age i was somewhat aware of the power of poetry, like music, to capture emotions in a way that simple conversations or long-form prose cannot. i suppose i grasped the importance then of the incredible intensity of emotions and the need to express them through abstract channels like poetry and music. i also guess i often feel things so intensely that i find the individual need to understand my own emotions.

one of the hardest emotions i have grappled with is love. the compassion i have for others can be overwhelming, and i have fought to temper that compassion from its full potential of possessive, unyielding infatuation. in the process, i have retreated significantly, but at a cost: it has become more difficult for me to openly and generously offer my love because it feels as if i am giving up a physical piece of myself that will be trampled on and hurt again.

a few recent events have made me question the way i have become reserved in my compassion and the rationale i have for protecting what i consider a sense of self. encountering individuals who bear their hearts openly and value the expressiveness of their affection has taught me to explore my jumbled thoughts about love. regardless of whether these thoughts are part of a mid-twenty-something’s crisis, i want to move forward in an action-oriented manner.

to love freely, to give and share pieces of myself without fearing the pain, to think creatively, to explore the depths of my passions and to discover new ones, to act courageously, to learn with and from others, to uphold values dear to me: these are acts i aspire to follow as a twenty-something still nostalgic for slow jams after dark.

Mandela’s Patience

As the world reflects on Nelson Mandela’s iconic legacy, one major narrative of his heroic story is his patience. We revere his superhuman strength and tenacity throughout his struggle to achieve the Herculean task of building democracy and peace, liberty and equality.

But what is often missing from this narrative is what patience means. We know what Mandela did — what he dreamed, how he struggled, and what he achieved. And we understand the extent of his plight to carry out his vision for South Africa, and the world. Yet the patience that Mandela exemplified was not merely a matter of time and effort. Mandela’s patience cannot be simply summarized as the ability to tolerate and wait.

Linguistically, patience is derived from old French pacience (“quality of being patient in suffering”) and Latin patientia (“patience, endurance, submission; quality of suffering”). What this etymological origin tells us is two-fold. First, patience involves more than just waiting. Second, patience has been associated with the experience of suffering. In other words: patience is neither enjoyable nor kind to us, and its existence gives us a great deal of pain.

However, we do not need to perceive patience so negatively. We have misunderstood the nature of patience, and in doing so we have wronged the virtue of patience to our character.

Patience is also more than just the negative experience of suffering. Patience is not a singular emotion or process: it embodies a great number of attributes.

Patience is faith. Patience is courage. Patience is hope

Patience is tending to one’s garden, watering a row of fragile, young plants day after day until their roots become firmly established in well-nourished soil and the sprouts bloom into flowers. Patience is making a meal, preparing an eclectic assortment of ingredients and standing over the stove, coddling those distinct ingredients to blend into a mouth-watering dish. Patience is working out in the gym or outside, pounding that treadmill, that pavement to achieve the 5k, shed those pounds, or simply stay healthy.

Patience is forgiveness. Patience is compassion. Patience is selflessness.

Patience is supporting a loved one, investing in tolerance and unconditional love even when all the deposited trust in the relationship has become bankrupt. Patience is attending to oneself, cheering on and fulfilling one’s own dreams and desires.

Patience is conviction. Patience is sacrifice. Patience is discipline.

Patience is acknowledging what can be achieved and what cannot be achieved, distinguishing between the possible and impossible in one’s personal life and in society. Patience is working towards the seemingly impossible, even in the recognition that perhaps one will not be able to see the impossible that will very well become the possible in the future.

This is what Mandela’s patience teaches us about the complex nature of patience.

But a Moses does not live to see the promised land—and maybe it can never be found.

(Philip Gourevitch in The New Yorker)

Learn to Love

It is peculiar indeed that the enabling condition for freedom is a force that compels: a compulsion, a necessity. Unconditional freedom appears to be conditioned by what contradicts it.

— Simon Critchley, “When Socrates Met Phraedrus: Eros in Philosophy” (The New York Times)

One of the best decisions I made in college was a compulsory requirement I dreaded. It was a great decision because I learned that I was wrong about my dread, and I learned to love what I thought I dreaded.

I suppose, then, that this decision wasn’t a decision at all. Because it was a requirement, I didn’t freely choose to make this decision. Of course the decision itself was an act of my own volition, but the decision-making process was by no means voluntary. I was coerced, and I learned to love the unexpected merits of that coercion.

Isn’t it the best when we are pleasantly surprised by the unexpected?

I was required to take a course on political philosophy for my major, and yet I avoided this requirement until my very last year of college. By then, the pickings were slim: there was only one such course available. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. Ancient texts. Ancient guys engaged in fancy talk that probably was no longer relevant.

Probably.

I’m not saying I thought that ancient philosophy is irrelevant to today, or that it is unimportant. I knew it was relevant, and that it was important…but I just didn’t know. I saw the word “ancient,” and immediately assumed I would be averse to the course material. It’s not that I have a stigma against anything ancient (and I mean that strictly in terms of chronology). I really thought that I would not be able to relate to the ancient philosophers’ texts.

Because I didn’t know.

I hadn’t read, I hadn’t understood, I hadn’t learned. Even if I had read before, I hadn’t read. I perused one of the texts before (The Republic), but I never dissected the text piece by piece. Line by line. Word by word.

And when I began to disentangle the intricate assembly of ideas in the ancient texts, I began to read. And then I began to understand. And that’s when I learned.

Without a doubt, I wasn’t innovative enough on my own to disentangle these pieces by myself. I had an amazing professor, and to be honest I’m not sure if I would have had the same interaction with the ancient philosophers had I taken the course with another professor.

So…I learned. I learned about what the philosophers were saying, in ordinary talk.  I learned about how fascinating and fun — yes, fun — it is to analyze and decode the dialogues that masterfully discuss real people values. I learned a lot about these values, concepts, and ideas. Perhaps most importantly, I learned to love what I thought I would fear and dread.

I learned to love philosophy, and particularly the ancient kind.

China’s Workers

I was initially skeptical of Leslie Chang’s presentation because of her journalistic background — not because I believed her to be unqualified (she is extremely qualified, as a former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal), but because I distrusted anything the media had to offer beyond anecdotal evidence. But as she explained the story behind her Coach wallet and the stories of the factory girls she met, I slowly realized that I have been stuck in academia for too long. Sometimes, anecdotal evidence can be the best reflection of the reality of the situations of ordinary people.
What struck me the most about her talk is not only that the Coach bags and iPhones come from somewhere, but also that the production of these gadgets for our developed market isn’t necessarily a detriment to the people in developing countries. For them, Chang says, factory labor has changed the way Chinese people think, the way they live, and the way they interact. This last point was most resounding for me. It affirms to me the power of businesses, that technology and production has the capacity to change not merely the food on the table, but also societal norms, values, and attitudes.
Some inspirational food for thought.