Category Archives: prose

Dream Notes

Dreams from the last 7 months

  • A younger Asian American poet asks me for help with getting their work published. I help somehow and remember the feeling.
  • A body lies on the ground. A body sits near it. The sitting body begins to levitate. I am the one sitting.
  • I was working for the ACLU and hosted a social/work party.
  • I explain the Asian American class to Rushi. I play a video about it.
  • Dreamt that I visited Ian, Elizabeth, and Dannon (former housemates). Ian had a long, complex poetic letter for me. I felt weirdddddd.
  • Sid is on a talent show like American Idol, but the skill is cooking. I’m there to support him, which means I make out with him. For the finale, his parents are there too. I’m sitting between the two of them.
  • I visit SF but end up accidentally going on what seems like a date with an Indian man, the wrong one. He was a man sitting next to me at the bar in a restaurant while I was waiting for my real date. The man invites me to dance. I dance and on the dance floor, Sid shows up. I dance with with Sid and it feels so good, so right. I want to be with him, not the stranger. The other man notices and I explain who Sid is. The man leaves. I want to spend time with my real date but he is upset as well. He storms off. I cannot reach him. Eventually I do, but he avoids the topic. I go to see him and knock on his door late at night.
  • I got married to a Viet guy I didn’t know as well as I wanted to. But he was great. The wedding was interesting… like we posed for pics at the altar. We had great sex in the courtyard honeymoon suite of the hotel. I was surprised.
  • I am in a science fiction/alien movie, but the Black/POC version. Mostly, the dream devolves into me and Tony Jack walking around and eating gluten free cookies while analyzing why the department is not as successful as it could be. People are beginning to run away, maybe there are predators after all. I’m afraid.

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Filed under humor, prose

Thank you from an almost thirty-year-old

When I was 16 going on 17, I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. When I was 16 going on 17, I tried to read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. That year in AP English, my teacher’s comment requesting that he keep my homework musings on home kept the tender embers of desire to be a writer alive. Thank goodness.

4 years later, I re-read Beloved in a Black Studies and literature course. The other young women and I marveled at our brilliant professor, especially as she was young, black, female, and did I say brilliant. That year I was applying for a teaching program and ripping down Teach 4 America posters on campus. My mentor and advisor stopped our meeting to make copies of bell hooks’ Teaching to Trangress. I didn’t know it then, but he was handing me yet another mentor. Thank goodness.

About 9 years later, I was teaching and learning about excerpts of Pedagogy of the Oppressed with middle schoolers. I had them playing with Morrison’s language to learn about poetic line breaks. These writers and thinkers paved the ground I walked on, and I kept their work alive, while stoking the fires in my young charges. They taught me how to break open my heart and let them in. They flood me to this day, and I have cried more than ever. Thank goodness.

About 13 years later, I am teaching undergraduates, and today I tacked up a collage of Kendrick Lamar reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes at my desk. Morrison was a poet, who became a professor, who wrote novels, who changed us. I ponder now about my work, my writing, and what’s next for me.

Age is a funny thing. While I am so ready to be 30, I am still 16 going on 17. Still eager, still social introvert, still reader, still laughter, still nervous and moving. But also, I am so not 16 going on 17. Not pining after some baseball player, not wishing to fit in with the right clothes, not wondering about college, not crying under the sheets, not anguishing about my thighs, not writing poems in a secret notebook. Nope. Now I talk too much sometimes. Now I risk not fitting in more. Now I cry in public—all the time. Now I love my body more than ever. Now I don’t wait for no man. Now I write poems in journals and journals and journals. Even read them aloud. Might even call myself an artist or something, sometimes.


Age in a funny thing. When my mother was 3 years older than me, she gave birth to my brother. About a year later, she gave birth to me. When I am 33, I may give birth to a book. About a year later, another. In her thirties, Toni Morrison raised two boys and wrote her first novel.


Age is a funny thing. Sandra Cisneros might call age an onion, layers on layers that you feel at times. I think it’s more like leaves on a tree, shimmering all at once in the wind. And as these leaves flutter and I stare—mesmerized in the sun—I am full of wonder, joy, appreciation. Disbelief.

When I was a toddler, I would cry when given gifts. I would overwhelm myself. I don’t know exactly why I cried at 3. Now at 30, I know I cry because I feel so much. I am full of all those who made me me, as I am becoming me. I am full of immense gratitude that my body cannot hold without release. So I cry. I cry because I am 3, I am 16 going on 17, I am 30. I cry because—thank you.

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Filed under age, essays, love, memory, prose, writing/writers

Love and its Recent Journeys

In it

Love makes me a hotbed of tears

I am a prayer turned inside out

A god with fire

A holy crown swallowed

I am here

the most constant and stable of flames

-July 2016


I journaled this summer: “How lucky can a person be to love deeply, take risks, and follow their hearts. One of my greatest fears in life is to not be able to follow my heart, to not be true to who I am. 2016 has already provided countless, unexpected opportunities to do what’s right for myself, break my own heart, fall in love, and follow my feelings in scary and challenging ways. Tears come to my eyes to think about what a lucky human being I am. I am so grateful to be in community with people who support my big, heaving heart. What did I do to deserve so much goodness?”

This year has included ending a relationship that truthfully had been unhealthy. Not in some big way, but unhealthy in the small, repetitive ways we lower expectations and accept a love not big enough for our whole selves. I accepted less time. I accepted waiting. I postponed my own happiness. Somehow I reached the hump in the hill, and on the other side I was strong enough to say no more. He agreed.

Months later, suddenly in a new relationship and yet in another country investigating my feelings for someone else, my new love wrote me that he trusted me. Essentially, be safe and do what you need. I trust you, he said. I cried so hard. How could I possibly be hurting someone and their response be that they love me, that they believe I will be who I need to be, that they accept me. Even now, I cannot write this without tears in my eyes.

This old friend whom I was visiting was the subject of strong, unspoken dreams and feelings that had lasted 6 or 7 years– concentrated by the force of distance, time, and mystery. You can only imagine how haunting these feelings are to a romantic like myself. Unrequited and silenced love is unacceptable, so I made this journey over countries and seas. And yet, dare I be bold to say, I knew my feelings quickly. I knew who’s loving I was going to choose. This didn’t make my trip easy, of course. I needed a chance to feel the dimensions of this relationship. My friend and I struggled over how to spend time together. There was laughter, silent looks, and our usual good conversation. There was a reconciling of my understanding of who he was with who he is. And ultimately we left it at “I’ll miss you” and once again those unspoken words, which I could understand now. Upon leaving, I cried so hard and in a way so involved that I missed multiple announcements about my flight and almost missed it altogether even though I sat at the gate.

All this had happened, testing and building my strength and courage, reminding myself I could tear apart– even in my own hands– and still be whole again. Now back home, in conversations with me and my many feelings, my man tells me it’s okay. When I judge myself, he is still there. With this radical acceptance, I try to hold my heart gently. Again, it has not been easy and has already been the work of my almost-29 years. Yet, his consistent presence and strength makes it simple enough. I try hard to accept this love and to love him even better and harder. I know it is changing me.

So I write this now for myself, to mark my feelings. And maybe I even write this for the heartache of others. I do not make any promises or offer advice. I just intend to celebrate my hardiness and to do for you what I want for myself– to hold you gently and love you fiercely.

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Filed under love, prose

For the Women

There has been so much going on at work lately. So much, that I can only say, “I cannot even tell you. It’s confidential.”

I can tell you, however, it’s been tough. In all this, I reflect on the people I have leaned on. So this entry is all about the women. The ones who have made this slice of hell not only bearable, but a place for me to walk through the fire with my head held high, principles clutched tight.

I think of my friend who made the time to talk on the phone. Who asked questions to prepare me for the ones I would be asked. Who clearly said, you are doing the right thing.

Another friend who said the students will thank you, eventually they will understand what a big thing it is for someone to stand up. And I smile to think of her tough-as-nails attitude, when she said, if you need lawyers, give me a holler.

Yesterday, I went out with another friend, and we reflected on our positions as Asian-American women. She began to reflect on her experiences as a middle school student in a private school and her experiences with teachers and parents there. It brought us closer to think about how migration, language, and other forms of social capital have shaped us. And when my friend saw the chamomile flowers a student picked, she reminded me, one day that student will look back and remember you.

(Also, we both got to dress up, and there is nothing better than feeling good one’s own skin. Oh, to be in a body.)

I even think back to the professor whose class involved blogging, which led to my current WordPress account. I thank her for pushing the boundaries and offering classes that no one else could think of nor facilitate the way she did. I remember our shy tongues when we saw how she graced the classroom. I imagine the fires she’s walked through to arrive at her magnificence. I think about my 6th grade math teacher and her tough love. But always, we knew it was love. I picked flowers for her on my way to school and cradled corn snakes in her class. I think about how important it is to know that you are cared for because others work for you.

Oh yes. There are great men in my life too. Thank you to my colleague who has been a solid rock at work. Whose politics and morals extend into every fiber of his actions and words. To my friend this morning, who I drove to the airport, finally taking a long-awaited and much-deserved trip into the future of his dreams and fight for food justice. This friend’s gentleness reminds me to be there for myself, and when I am ready, the work will be there. As he handed the keys to the car to me, he handed me my own trust that I can always get myself back home.

Thank you and peace.



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Filed under education, gender, love, non-fiction, prose, race

Thin Rope

The sun rises and lays its long, lean fingers across the city. It strokes the tops of trees. It ruffles pigeon feathers. It does not smooth the hair of the early-morning worker, the folks up to work for you on a weekend. It does not glint like gold off their knit caps or their thick beards. It does not penetrate their wool jackets. Little light reaches them. These light fingers do not caress their lips as they wake, as they cart boxes of potatoes into restaurants, as they walk backwards down truck planks, hammer hard to finish your new condo, in your new playground.

The cars keep moving. The workers wait for a break in morning traffic to cross with their loads. Little notices them. The world does not stop, though without them, it might.

I woke today to the words, “Life is nothing. It is held by a thin rope.” What is thinner, I ponder, the will of workers or the light from a finite sun.

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On Age: The Wisdom of Youth

“You know you look like you eighteen, right?” said the store-owner skeptically. Without knowing it, I was speaking to Regina Y. Evans, the owner of Regina’s Door, which is a social enterprise, vintage shop in Oakland that I was peaking into when our conversation began. I was happy that she noticed that “Black don’t crack” applies for Asian folks.

After we parted, I thought about my age and walked down the construction-ridden Webster Street passing 18th, then 19th—for this is the view in Oakland’s downtown now. The ripping up of old buildings, the invasion of hipster art and white-owned shops. It is getting even more personal to me now that the edges of Chinatown are being engulfed.

Like this disrespectful gentrification, I can learn from the layers of the past that was there. In this case, I reflect on myself. Age, experience, and purpose have been on my mind recently. On my brother’s birthday a few weeks ago, I thought he was older than he was because I had it fixed that I was 28. For whatever reason, I have been collapsing these last years of my twenties. Maybe wanting my uncertainties to finally reach clarity. Or for desires and needs to be better met. For a sense of confidence I still crave. With all these conditions and the sense of being that I wanted, I sometimes lose track of what I have achieved and who I have become—as I continue to become even more.

I started to think about the younger versions of myself. While there are wounds to be studied, cleaned, and healed, there was a liveliness and strength I sometimes forget and can still learn from.

For instance, as I ponder and plan intentional steps for entering graduate school, I found myself so careful to the point nothing seemed to fit what I wanted in a program. I wanted a school that did not isolate itself from the surrounding community, students and faculty of color, a school large enough and a program supportive enough of taking classes outside the writing department. I wanted an Ethnic Studies program and an Asian American Studies program. The list goes on, and I actually think it is a reasonable one and well-informed by past experiences and current goals. However, this thorough list was keeping me from going for it.

Interestingly, my older self wants to be cradled in a world not made for me. Yet my younger self would have not have been so hesitant; it has been ready to break the cradle and reach for independence.

For example, I forget my courageous 17-year old self. The one that did not question the fact that learning and college were made for her. (And it was. And it wasn’t.) The one that assumed she could do anything rather then be filled with caution. (Travel across the world? Check. Make new friends? Check.) The one who fought for what she needed rather than feel full of fatigue, heavy with grief, or cringing from cynicism. Looking back, I feel that my younger self demanded these experiences, knowing I could find what is worthwhile in them.

As I approach 28, I desire those experiences but wait and think them through. I imagine my hesitation, caught between biking down a hill and thinking about biking down the hill. The thinking is often more frightening than the act itself. As I get older, I want to find myself caught in the act more often—present and demanding of the world. I want to ask myself what I want and what to do to get there. To shrug off the sense that time has shortened, that my next steps need be painstakingly planned, that there is no room for risk-taking.

In giving value to my younger self, I won’t downplay the growing sense of nuance, knowledge and sense of self that comes with more experiences. Yet with awareness, we can benefit from all the parts of ourselves, playing synergistically. As living more may temper the fires of youth, youth can fuel the embers of wise living. Being wiser and gaining experience shouldn’t mean we stop still in our tracks, frozen in fear of what’s possible. I want the growing wisdom to clarify what I want and need, and the strength to help me communicate and achieve it. I need the younger versions of myself to inform this wisdom and strength.

I am so grateful for this more complex awareness of myself and the concepts of “young” and “old.” I am my 17 or 18-year old self. And I hear the wisdom of old age saying There will be pain and the spirit of youth screaming I will survive!

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Filed under essays, memory, prose


Reasons why–


1. Aunt– full of love, hugs, the power to be so different in this world that tells you not to cry. In this place that tells you that you cannot be– hide your feelings!

Aunt. There is a spirit in you that keeps me going. I honor you.


2. Water meeting land. There is so much that people think when they arrive at this place where water reaches land. They say thank you for the peace. A chance to feel themselves be small and powerless. A chance to see such power. To see what it means to bear witness to movement. Comings and goings. People see this place as a chance to take their lives. Jump from bridges, or the water pulls them in and in and under, over and over. For me, water meeting land is what holds family together. It is a place of possibility. One can combat time by crossing waters. From one shore to the other, just one leap. This place where water meets land is what connects home to home, Viet Nam to California. Just water. As thin and as vast as water.


3. There are 3 persimmon trees my father planted in front of our ancestral home. Just 3 trees. 3 trees bearing sweet fruit, ripening in monsoon winters. He chose them because of love and money. He loves his family so much– his ailing mother and generous sister– that he thought about how these plants would mature, become plump and fill their income. It reminds me that love creates and love works hard, even when it seems like it is not there.

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, love, memory, prose, third world, viet nam