Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I have to admit that before my email landed on Above the Law, I had read one blog in my life. A few years ago, a friend started a blog, and I read it out of a sense of obligation. And because I was curious to find out what was going on behind that thick skull of his. On the whole, though, I never felt that I had time to read blogs. I am incessantly behind on my regular reading. I am usually in the middle of at least five different books, which are piled up on my bedstand for many months with bookmarks sticking out at varied stages of progression. (I obviously have commitment issues when it comes to books.) I have a pile of New Yorker waiting for me. I canceled my subscription to Harper's Magazine last year because I found it too painful to throw away the beautiful issues that sat unread for months. And I haven't even listed the newspapers and fluff magazines I love to skim.

Yesterday, I poked around a little to see what blogs are out there. I clicked on one blog someone sent me, then clicked on the other blogs listed on her blog, ran across lists of links to even more blogs, and before I knew it, I found myself falling into a hole cluttered with words, thoughts, rants, gossip, advice, gibberish... I was suffocating in words, words, and endless words. I couldn't take it. I clicked the x on Firefox, pretended I didn't have internet access, took an advil, and focused on my contract work for the next few hours.

Later that afternoon, I cautiously went back. This time, I started by clicking on the blog of someone who had commented on my blog. As I started reading, I found myself reading the words of an attorney who had suffered a miscarriage last year, who grieved for the following months, and who is now eight months pregnant. I couldn't pull myself away. I saw me in her, her in me. I was so grateful to read the honest words of this real person who took the time to tell me she exists on the other end of this country, who cried as much as I did, who feared for the unknown future and came out smiling on the other end. I want to give her a hug for giving me this buoy to latch onto.

So onto my now growing list of good things that have come out of my stupid job fiasco, I am adding this community of bloggers. I imagine them, huddled like mice in their small cubbyholes with their thoughts, intentions, dreams, gossip, and advice, clicking away when the rest of the world is busy doing its thing, believing that the fruits of their efforts will eventually be found in the light of day. Won't you make room for one more mouse?

Monday, July 28, 2008


Time's long, sinewy fingers are locked around my neck. I can see the blood vessels popping out of its hands, criss-cross of thin blue lines dividing into infinity into smaller and thinner branches. Its blood does not flow into mine. It intersects through me, like the piercing of a knife.

Its grip gets tighter and tighter with each passing day, and it will be the one to decide when I can no longer draw my breath. Its cold touch is no comfort, but it reminds me to hurry, to hurry, to make something out of this nothing. And I am a slave to its urgings.

Friday, July 25, 2008


When time slows down on Saturday mornings, we set out after a cup of coffee, after we've watered the plants, fed the dog, and done enough little things to free ourselves from the small anxieties that can fill the day. We step out of our green hobbit house, dressed in layers for a San Francisco summer day, with just the thought that we'll walk on whatever street beckons, although we find that the hilly ones don't beckon very often.

We form a posse of three, the one with the biggest nose in the middle. In a row, we plow down the street, slowing down whenever anything catches our eyes. A holistic center beckoning a new way to live, a raw food eaterie boasting a new way to eat, a tattoo parlor promising a new body, a gelato stand as an attraction in and of itself. On Valencia, we pass a guy clad in black with black disc earrings as large as quarters inserted into his enlarged earlobes. A man with Arnold muscles saunters down the street in a hot pink spaghetti dress. Straights, gays, young and old, yuppies, hippies, liberals, and even more liberal liberals sprinkle the streets, taking in the morning, talking in cacophony.

We talk about nothing and everything, the Marxist bookstore, the skeletons, bird wings, and flesh eating plants at Paxton Gates, the Superman mannequin at the thrift store, the row of bongs at the tobacco shop. Sometimes, we don't talk. We walk, holding each other's hands, noticing the granny waiting patiently on the corner with a pyramid of churros on a tray propped in a pushcart, the lush bougainvilleas crowning out of benches on a street strewn with broken glass, crumpled paper bags, and half eaten burritos, a little girl in a strawberry dress waddling toward Bombay Ice Creamery. Sometimes, we just sniff at the smell of fried dough wafting out of the Chinese Food Donut Shop, a pairing we still wonder about.

Like gardeners tending to their garden, we probe every inch, corner, and curb of this city. We want to see what's growing here, what's growing there. But it's the overgrown weeds that delight us, a poppy sprouting from the hidden crack, a dandelion that casts a shadow on the vacant lot. What is it that grows when you give it a little air, some sunlight, and a patch in the corner? What flies over and germinates where you least expect it?

We roam this city, our city. It is a place built by man's prescription but kissed by god's touch, where holiness resides in a luscious strawberry, the palpable fog, the guy dancing down the street on his rollerblades. We walk, not as much to leave an imprint as to step where others have stepped before. We know we belong because no one told us otherwise.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


How could you write about such private things, she asks, sitting across from me, arms folded across her chest.

It didn’t occur to me that they should be hidden. How else do you communicate, I wonder. Yes, we can talk about the movies, the newest restaurant in town, the sale at Nordstrom’s. And then what? What about everything else? Where do those thoughts go if they have no where to land? Don't they evaporate and return in a torrent?

I don't want to live like a stranger among foreigners, timidly wading through a field wondering where the mines are hidden. I get restless in a corner by myself. I want to reach out, recklessly if necessary, and find the voice that says, no, no, it isn't just you. You're not alone. How can they hear me if I don't speak? How will they find me if I lie low?

I’ve lost patience for niceties, platitudes, double speak. Say what’s on your mind, I want to scream and shake her until a pearl of truth falls off of the necklace chocking her. What do you see through those eyes of yours? Take those plugs out of your ears and nose. If it tastes rotten, you don't need to chew it until someone tell you so. Spit it out.

It's nothing new. I could have told you that. Anyone can, because they taste it too.

How can you bear to stand alone? Why do you?

Have you so little faith in the rest of us?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Test

We're in the five day window. I checked the calendar yesterday. And the day before. I left it out by the sink last night, so that I wouldn't forget. It's what I think about as I am awakening. Entangled in my dream, a piece of driftwood in a clump of seaweed.

I'll just check, that's all. Like checking to see if we have enough milk in the fridge. Or checking the roses to see what needs pruning. Just an every day checking. Not a what if I fail the test, how could I live with myself kind of test.

Besides, I already know the answer. I was feeling a little bloated yesterday, wasn't I? And maybe a little crampy? That's a sure indication that I'm not. But what about the drowsiness? Isn't it similar to the drowsiness I felt a few months back?

I pull myself out of bed and throw out, I'm going to try the test. Oh, is it already time? Jeff asks. I think so, I respond. I thought you smelled like you're having your period, he says. And my heart drops. What if I am getting my period?

I walk down the hall, double check the box to make sure it's the kind that works five days before, and tear open the plastic wrapping. After the test, I put it on the shelf above the sink and hardly look at it as I brush my teeth. Still one horizontal bar. But it's just doing its thing. It takes a minute or two to kick in, right? I start undressing for the shower. Jeff shows up at the door. What does it say? he asks. Negative. Oh, Sweetie, he says. It's fun trying, right? And he's too quick to smile, to reassure me, to hide his own disappointment.

After the shower, I check again, in case it changed its mind. Still a negative, a clear blue negative. And I don't let my mind interrogate me. What if I am too old, what if we had our only chance, what if I took too much for granted? It's a good thing, I tell myself. If it were a positive, could I brace myself for another possible miscarriage so soon? It's better to wait. It really is. And I need more time at the gym to lose the weight that I haven't yet lost. Another month would be good for me. Really.

It now feels like a dream, those couple of months. When I walked around, wondering if everyone could see through my smile that there was life growing inside of me. When every step taken, every bite eaten, every extra minute dreamt felt like a secret ritual, a series of small celebrations.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I had to wait until I was called. Right outside room 215, back leaning against the cool tiled wall, my legs jutted out like stilts, propping myself into an isosceles triangle with the wall and the floor. Rolling my eyeballs if I had to, scratching my neck when itchy, digging the dirt out from my fingernails, sighing but not too heavily in case they could hear me from behind the closed door. I slithered down the wall until my butt hit bottom, and I bounced back up like an accordion playing to my internal rhythm. Just as I started to think about quickly running to the bathroom because I really, really had to go, I heard her screech out my name -- or a decapitated version of it.

- Shin, are you there? Shin?? Would you come in please??

I bolted upright, brushed the dust off of my hands, smoothed out my clothes, straightened my backpack, reached for the doorknob, pushed it open trying not to make a creak, and slid my neck out slowly like a turtle weary of its surroundings.

- Yes, Mrs. Millman... I'm right here.

She was sitting behind her teacher's desk, her face caked with enough foundation to support her bird cage buffon that diminished her already beady eyes, her thick arms encased like sausages in a multicolored top, and her thighs in black polyester pants, jutting out like dolphins from behind the desk. My old second grade teacher, Mrs. Gettleman, sat across from her in one of our fourth grade chairs. She wore the bleached blond clown wig that fell off once during our arithmetic exercises when her inch long manicured nail got caught in one of the curls while she gesticulated in the air. As I approached, I could smell the thick perfume that always gave me a headache.

I inched closer, but they hardly bothered to turn their heads to see me as they continued with their conversation.

- Oh, no, Barbara! Don't go there. They have much better prices at Woolworth's. I got mine for only $19.37. By the way, do you want onions on yours?

Mrs. Millman scribbled as Mrs. Gettleman adjusted her hair one more time with her fingers poised in the air, and I saw her candy sized rings glimmer through her wig.

Mrs. Millman finished scribbling and handed me the piece of paper folded in half with a $20 bill.

- Now, Shin, run straight to the store and please bring back the change.

- Yes, Mrs. Millman.

I pushed the folded note and $20 carefully into my back pocket with a flap and button and buttoned my pocket. I ran my hand over it to make sure that I could feel them through the fabric. And then I headed back out, taking a quick peek behind me to make sure I hadn't dropped the note or the $20.

I walked down the hall, down the stairs to the first floor, across the bathrooms, and thought about stopping by the bathroom because I still really, really had to go, but what if I drop the note or the $20, and won't I really, really be in trouble? I checked my pocket again to make sure the note and the $20 were still there, and I kept walking, extra quickly past Principal Bratton's office, and out the front door and down the front steps. I crossed across the basketball court that was also a handball court and then past the big slap of concrete that was our playground. I saw Tina and Mei from my class playing jump rope and Sun and Penelope playing jacks. They waved at me, but I just waved back quickly because I didn't want to stop.

I stopped at the corner and when the light turned green, I crossed and stepped into Sal's Deli. There was already a line past the deli counter, and I quickly got behind the man in a brown uniform. I prepared by taking the note and the $20 out of my pocket. I held the $20 firmly in my left fist, and opened the note with my right and practiced how to say the order when it became my turn. When the man behind the counter finally got to me, I said my order with perfect pronunciation. One pastrami sandwich on rye with onions and mustard and one turkey sandwich on wheat with swiss cheese, mayo, lettuce, and tomatoes, please.

After placing my order, I ran to the refrigerator to grab two Italian sodas, one cherry and one raspberry. I ran back to the counter while the man rang up the prices, and it came to exactly $11.28. When he gave back the change, I asked for a receipt so that I could show Mrs. Millman exactly how much they cost, and I put the receipt with the change back into my back pocket with the flap and the button. After I buttoned up the pocket, I ran my hand over it make sure they were in there safely.

I hugged the brown paper bag with the two Italian sodas, the pastrami sandwich, and the turkey sandwich to my chest, and I ran out of the store, back across the street and toward PS 20. Just a short walk across the playground, the handball court, up the stairs and up to room 215. And if I walked really, really fast, I would be back in less than 15 minutes. I could then have my lunch, and maybe Tina and Mei would still be jump roping.

I was selected out of the entire class to run this important errand. And even though I didn't know it, maybe that is when my training began...

Monday, July 14, 2008


You entered through the automatic sliding doors like a guest on an episode of This Is Your Life. From half way across the globe and now fifteen years later, you looked more or less the same, with the same nonchalant grin masking the quiet Germanic seriousness, a stilted gait that swayed you from side to side, and a backward tilt that kept you lingering in the moment that had just passed.

Like a yo-yo, I was flung back to the days we roamed the campus, trying to map out our lives, planning for near perfection, even as we struggled to catch up with our everydays.

There was that morning I overslept after finals week. I called you, desperate to catch my flight. You abandoned your half cooked ramen to fetch me in your Corolla and whisk me to the airport. We ran to the counter only to find out that my flight had already left and that the next available flight would not be for another four hours. You sat with me, in the black vinyl chairs under the dome of O'Hare, helping me to salvage the hours as you so often did. You went hungry because I didn’t want to admit that my wallet was empty and I had $19.91 left in my checking account that let me draw only in $20s. And because I refused your offer of food, we sat and talked about other forms of hunger.

Having read somewhere that one's gait can reveal one's soul or at least character, you up turned the soles of your shoes inviting analysis. I leaned over slightly to undertake the examination. They were worn along the outer sides, as if the middle was too hot to handle and you walked on the periphery of yourself. We wondered what it said about your essence and all that you were meant to be. When you asked to see mine, I shyly shook my head side to side, dug my fingers into the edge of my seat, curled my toes, and planted my feet firmly on the ground to hide the gaping hole.

Now, here we were, in a musty lobby of some hotel just outside of Palo Alto surrounded by equestrian mementos on wooden stands. I didn’t ask what happened to those seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years in between. Instead, we talked of kidney stones, investment strategies, careers changes, and other things people talk about when they are trying to catch up.

When we talked about my recent events, you asked what I planned to do now. I looked at you blankly, and quickly blurted out an I don’t know because how do I explain, over a glass of lemonade, the goals, hopes, worries, and needs that clash and conflict and beg for logic in my one human body? And you turned to Jeff, as if handing over the reins, and said with a smile, She's always been like this.

Maybe you're right, that's the way it has always been. Could we have known that fifteen years later, we would still be in the process of arriving? Perhaps, just perhaps, no matter where we are, we are always in the process of arriving...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Who knows?

There are moments that overwhelm me because they seem too good to be true to be a part of my life. I find myself holding my breath and slightly clenching my teeth, my heart pitter patters a little more rapidly, my head feels tight and tizzy, my nostrils flare, and my stomach feels as if it's slowly rounding to its original shape after someone squeezed it like a ball of silly putty. It's as if there isn't enough room in my head and body to absorb the sensation, and all the nerve impulses are pinging around looking for a place to land. Along with the sensation comes a deep gratitude to whomever or whatever that this thing is happening to me out of all the people in the world.

I had one of those moments when I met Jeff -- or shortly after I met him when we started realizing this is it. I spent the first half of my thirties bracing myself for the possibility that it may never happen, that I would have to spend my life alone and that would just be damn okay. And then after turning 35, when I had resolutely given up, I met Jeff. In the beginning, I didn't even want to let myself believe that it could happen even as it was happening because I didn't want to jinx what I secretly wanted so desperately. It felt too good to be true, and I feared that life would smack me down for being so presumptuous or greedy if I let myself want too much. But when it finally did happen, I still couldn't believe it, at least not right away, and I had, and I still have, a lot of those moments when I marvel that this really is my life.

Well, I had another one of those moments this week, and I'm almost afraid to write about it. A part of me can't believe it even though nothing has really happened, at least not in an actualized kind of way. But it's keeping me up at night, the kind of night when you close your eyes with determination and try to will yourself into clearing your mind of all the thoughts and voices creating a racket in there even though you know they will overpower you.

But there is this spark, this inkling of possibility, that this could be the beginning of something I've been waiting for my whole life... That's what I tasted when I saw an email pop up in my gmail inbox earlier this week. The sent column listed a name I had never seen before. It had an innocuous re line: "Book." And when I glimpsed the first line before I double clicked on my mouse, it had the usual beginning: "Dear Shinyung."

When I opened it, curious to see who this was, I found myself reading and re-reading its five sentences over and over again. Then I sent it to my husband to make sure I had read it correctly. Then I sat frozen for a few minutes. Then I read it again.

This email was from a literary agent. She had read my blog and wanted to talk about a possible book project. A book, a book --- me, an author?? People all over the world dream of writing books, and how many people have manuscripts sitting there waiting to be read by a literary agent? And here is this woman contacting me from one of these established literary agencies, and she wants to know if I want to write a book.

One part of me says, oh, this is just a soap bubble. It'll burst, so don't get so worked up. And you haven't even written a word apart from this blog. And even when you write it, you still have to get a book deal, dummy. Besides, what do you really have to say that's worth saying that someone hasn't already said?

And the other part of me says, oh, my gosh, this could be it. This is what I would have dreamed of had I let myself dream this big. And who's to say which direction my future has to take? If others can do it, why not me?

So I ran out yesterday, invested in a copy of Dummies Guide to Getting Your Book Published, picked up some books on how to write along with some of my favorite authors that I had lost along the way of doing my legal thing, and plunked down $57.83 at Border's in Union Square. I want to bathe in them so that they permeate through my pores, cleanse the clutter inside, and work their magic.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


They were typical Saturdays for my parents, but mine were supposed to come around only every third weekend because they had three children, one for each rotating Saturday. Those days started at six thirty in the morning even though every other fourteen year old I knew snoozed a few more hours before deciding whether to spend the day at the pool, the roller skating rink, or the mall.

Around that time, from somewhere between asleep and awake, I would hear my mother's soft footsteps go past my room into my brother's to shake him awake. Come on, wake up, we have to go, I would hear her whisper at a volume that wouldn't count as a whisper if she didn't speak in a hoarse throttle. More whispers, creaking of the bed, and then my mother's footsteps walking away. Then from the kitchen, my mother's whispering and then my father's footsteps gingerly treading to my brother's room. Let's go, wake up, wake up. Silence.

I would lie in bed with my eyes shut, fists clenched, angrily muttering to him, wake up, wake up, it's your turn. I would then try to will myself back to sleep so that I really would be asleep if they came for me. Despite myself, I would listen to them walk away, back to his room, and then back out. Then their steps would stop outside of my room. More whispering, the sound of the knob turning, and then the light beaming through the opening door. Soon, I would feel the soft touch of my mother's hand on my back. Would you mind, she would plead. We need your help... I would burrow my head deeper into my pillow, curl up into a ball, put my hands over my ears, and she would keep pleading, please, won't you come? Just this time?

After listening but trying not to listen to her cajoling, I would turn to face her with tears streaming down my face and make my case. It's not my turn, I went last Saturday, why can't I have a Saturday like everyone else, why do I have to go again, I am tired, I want to sleep. And through my pleading, she would usher me to the bathroom, where I would shower, back to the bedroom to dress, and then to the car, where I would plunk down in the back seat.

An hour later, we would be at our Mr. Charburger's, where we would unlock the back gate in the cool of the morning, walk into the familiar smell of onions, grease, chili, cheese, char, and begin another day. I would start by cleaning the counters, refilling the napkin holders, the utensils, and the condiment trays, clipping more bags of chips onto the rack, loading the soft ice cream machine, and then joining my mother to chop the onions, slice the tomatoes, and then prepare the chili, the onion rings, and the chicken fried steak.

When the customers started arriving, I would take down their orders in my perfect middle school handwriting, prepare their shakes, bag their burgers and fries, and dispense the cherry cokes. Along with hundreds of burgers, mounds of fries and onion rings, rows of chili dogs, and crates of chicken fried steaks, the day would pass in a blur as we fed hundreds in order to feed ourselves. Past ten pm, after we had cleaned the grills, the floor, the ice cream machine, the counter, after we had put away all the ingredients and taken out the trash, we would step outside of the back gate and pile into the Oldsmobile for the drive back home.

In the dark, when we would be too tired to make the kind of conversation we should have as a family, I would once again lie in the back, lamenting another lost day. And I would try not to look at my mother, who had lost thirty pounds in the past year, now dead asleep in the passenger seat snoring with her mouth open or my father with his newspaper waddled up next to him, waiting yet again to catch up with the world and slapping his thigh occasionally with the palm of his hand to keep himself awake.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


We were divided across the desk. The day was winding down, and the retiring sun threw its last ray of incandescence. Minutes before, we were colleagues, part of the same enterprise. Now, I suddenly found myself an outsider, someone who did not belong. And a handful of words made it so: "We've decided to terminate the relationship."

The words fell, and I kicked it around on the dusty floor of my mind before dealing it a lethal blow. It was over and done, and I had to pack up and leave.

But like Lot's wife, I took a second to look back. I wasn't sure what I was looking for. Perhaps a signal that the "we" terminating the relationship did not include him, at least not really. A whisper or a knowing look that says, I'm sorry, I wish it could have been otherwise. Or a letting down of the guards, so that we could be ourselves for one final exchange of warm wishes.

Instead, we stayed as still as pillars of salt, faces shut, shoulders hunched, lips pursed. The line had been drawn, and there was no turning back.

I could have reached over and said, I know we are not family or friends. We are just two people who frequent the same market as we sell our wares. True, we had chatted about this or that, and there were times that I had looked to you for guidance. I've helped you unload your goods and you've helped me with mine. But at the end of the day, we knew what was yours and what was mine when it was time to go home.