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January 13, 2023

All the People We Love Are Here

G and I generally spend NYE quietly, going away to a remote town when we can and reserving time to talk about goals and look at our photos from the past year. This year we celebrated it in the airport as our flight back to New Mexico was delayed for six hours. We spent our day at the airport doing end-of-the-year errands. This for me includes backing up all my photos from the year, and in the process of doing that, I was reminded that I never wrote about our wedding. As far as reflections on 2022 go, I can't really do that without processing this event. Here are my most treasured elements of the day.

Sharing Our Families

Undoubtedly I am most grateful for the opportunity to share parts of my family with everyone else in my life. My parents and brothers are so much the core of how I've become who I am, and any friend of mine has heard endless stories about them. My biggest wish for the day was for my four brothers, so very different and so very much from the same fabric, to give a speech while standing together. All avidly against being the center of attention, they were each incredibly nervous about it, and they each did an incredible job. Hoang talked about raising me (he was often mistook for my dad) and shared tidbits of the many letters I wrote him over the years. Stephen wove a narrative that captured so much of our bond: our shared love of specific novels, the deep value we hold for our family, and the hard work it takes to nurture relationships. This was my biggest cry moment of the day. Duy chronicled our many travel adventures--summiting Kilimanjaro, camping across Iceland, sky driving and hiking glaciers in New Zealand; and how in these challenges and those in life we were always there for one another. Binh read a poem that rhymed through our connection from childhood until now, traversing the sibling relationship which for me has evolved the most. Our friends are still quoting back to us lines of his poem (Gabe, he is from France / like my sister, he only eats plants). It meant so much to hear from so many guests that this was a standout moment for them, and that people received a small glimpse of the relationships that have defined my childhood and growth into adulthood.



Gabriel's sister was the last person to speak during the ceremony, and she was the only one to speak in French. It was an intimate moment to feel like amidst so many people she was speaking only for him, and the closeness juxtaposed to their physical distance was such a moving moment for him, and all of us as witnesses.


Our niblings surprised us with a song that chronicled moments we had shared with each of them over the years, and we were blown away by their talent and thoughtfulness. Ayden has an unparalleled memory so he conjured many details of our moments together, and he also wrote both the music and lyrics. Ally, a natural performer, shined as the singer. And Ethan, shy as he is, braved it and defined the catchy refrain of the song. Chloe bopped around happily as they sang. 



G's mom narrated his life from beginning to end, and I loved seeing the red of their hair and green of their outfits complement one another.


Our other parents preferred to remain in the background, but I hope that people know that everything in the day comes from their love and sacrifice. 



Homage to Our Communities 

One friend wrote to us after the wedding: "What struck me the most was not just what people thought of you, but rather your love for everyone in the park that day. Every person was important and valuable, if you've known them for 3 years or 30."  (Letters and sharings like these are our favorite kind of celebratory gifts, so thank you to everyone who took time to share reflections like these with us). Our number one goal for the day was to give thanks to all these loving, generous people who have been in our lives at different periods, all leading us to our capacity to give to each other. So it was such a gift to hear that this resonated with our guests, and to know that in an event where you aren't able to spend much time with any one person, people felt valued.


We had eight groups of people come up during the ceremony to speak for a few minutes about our connections, and each placed a puzzle piece into a puzzle that G had made. We were a little worried that with so many speakers, people might get restless or bored, but so many shared how much they enjoyed hearing from everyone. 


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It was so special to have people travel to be with us. It's not easy to journey to the desert, and so we were so grateful to Gabriel's family coming from France, family of mine coming from Australia, friends of ours coming from New Zealand and different parts of Europe and from all over the US. It feels like it's not so much the celebration itself, but all that it takes for people to be present, that makes it wondrous: for people with kids and challenging life circumstances, and really for anyone, to make the time and effort to celebrate our community.



The Details

G and I decided early on to spend very little time and expense on decor. Instead, we focused on details that felt more meaningful to us - namely, sharing little things that we hold close. For that reason I especially loved hearing from people the small details that they appreciated. One friend mentioned how much they loved the ceremony music. The entrance song was a song by Hot Chip, a band that Gabriel and I both love and have seen in concert together. When he proposed he referenced them by asking me to have a one life stand, an album and song we'd listened to together many times over. The song we chose for our walking down the aisle song was a song he introduced to me, "Crap Kraft Dinner." He'd told me he played it over and over during a particularly moody winter when we first started dating. The title belies its moving and loving feel. The beginning refrain sings over and over "All the people I love are here" and we loved that sentiment for the gathering of all our loved ones. 

The exit song was "Santa Fe" by Beirut, another artist we both love (we discovered later that he is actually from Santa Fe, which moved the song even closer to our hearts). We love the fast, happy feel of the song, and of course we'd listened to it on our first explorations of Santa Fe, and seemed fitting to be shared as we gathered our friends and family in our new city.

Several friends commented on the caliber of the pastry desserts, which made me very happy because they were from our favorite bakery in NM--Burque. I've always loved that G and I share an extreme sweet tooth, because indulging in sugar is all the sweeter with a companion equally relishing it. Having tried dozens of bakeries here, we were excited to share the uniqueness of this one - the perfect texture and sweet flavors. Having bought ten pounds and a dozen varieties of cheeses, I also loved hearing about the specific cheeses people enjoyed. The bread was from G's favorite bread place in NM--Wild Leaven. As with music, I feel like the best sort of food is the kind that speaks to you so much that you long to share their amazingness with others. It was such a pleasure to share our local favorites, cheese and bread and pastries, with everyone.

One table of guests were especially enamored with our dinner food - Jamaican vegan food from a local food truck. We knew this food choice wouldn't go over that well with my family and many of our Vietnamese guests (my dad said of the wedding: "It was great, even though I didn't like the food"). But we wanted to support both plant-based eating and the unusual story of a Jamaican family coming to New Mexico to open a small business. Our local vegetarian friends loved it and told everyone else at their table all about the food truck, and one of those guests told me how this local history made the dinner really unique. So we loved that the narrative behind the food touched some of the guests.


Friend-Crafted

We tried to use the bits of decor we did have as a way to incorporate more of our friends. Our friend Victoria designed and illustrated a map of New Mexico which detailed climbing areas and other landscapes where we've adventured, which served as our guest book for people to sign. Our friend Julia designed and drew the imagery for our party favors, capturing the mountain silhouette that gives daily definition to our lives. 


G crafted our lantern centerpieces, and the cutting boards for the bread and cheese, which we gave away as gifts to our friends and family who helped us with the wedding. Our friend Tara, a genius in festive decor, put together the cocktail hour spread and made it look so much more polished than I imagined it would be with the haphazard supply of baskets and cloths I provided her. 

 



Our friend Caitlin made my bouquet from pieces she found at the Santa Fe Farmer's Market, and our friend Bonney made gorgeous boutonnieres for our families, transported and kept fresh across state lines. Not being artistic myself, I so value the beauty our friends imbue into my life with their creations, and loved having this reflected in our wedding. 

Having our best friends Christine and Nick emcee the event was so emblematic of the ways they've carried us in our lives. 

We were also lucky to have our friends perform the father-daughter song and first-dance song. I see memories of my medical school years through a filter of spontaneous music sung and played by my good friends Peter and Ali, who would randomly break into song in public and private. I knew I wanted the warmth and joy of that feeling in our wedding. After much practicing, Ali unfortunately couldn't make it due to COVID, and literally two days before the wedding our amazing friend and co-emcee Christine stepped in to take his place. Their song led us to forming a circle of parents and children, and I loved this ring so much. 

 

My Spanish teacher, Sofia, who I have gotten to know virtually over the past two years of regular lessons, blew everyone away with her soulful voice and piano skills for our first dance. It was the background for one of my favorite moments: G quietly crying on my shoulder.



Sharing Ourselves & Our Home

Two big parts of our relationship we wanted to share were our intersection of cultures, and the cultivation of a new home in NM. I loved seeing our friends and family dressed up in Vietnamese ao dai and eat banh mi in the park for the Friday welcome dinner, and particularly loved G in his getup.




Moving to NM together has been such a treasured part of our relationship for me; I'm so appreciative of G's openness and his love for the strange and wild. I loved that some people were able to stay longer and experience the beauty of the desert, and it was unexpectedly moving for me to have our guests from all over in our home. Our co-emcee Nick teared up at the Sunday brunch, telling us how much it meant to see the home we'd created together. He talked about how when you know people, and can see how a place reflects those people, the coming together and visual manifestation of all that, is so meaningful. I know exactly what he means, and it was so sweet of him to articulate.



Us

When we talked to our officiant, our close friend Natasha who had introduced us, about the ceremony we talked about the focus on family and community. She encouraged us to also emphasize our connection because while we wanted it to be about all the people in our lives, getting married is also obviously about our relationship. 

Neither of us wanted the wedding planning to be stressful which is why we tried to pare down a lot of its elements and keep a tight low budget. But aside from wanting to minimize stress, I didn't have other expectations for the planning. I didn't anticipate that it would be such a valuable way for us to reflect on our relationship, improve communication about our varying desires and needs, and create something together. I loved the day for the visceral culmination of that journey we ventured on together, as well as the longer journey of our relationship.


I also loved the day for the space to bask in how much I love this guy. Being 33 this past year, it was his "Jesus" year, a year in which momentous things happen. And indeed it's been a big year for us, getting married (expected) and getting pregnant (a bit unexpected haha). But aside from us, on his own G has progressed in his work (he received two raises and so much respect from his colleagues); broadened his craftsmanship (he made metal & wood bookshelves, nightstands, a stand for my vinyl player, and his favorites - a cubby for cat litter supplies and our toilet paper roll holders...yes, we didn't have any for a year and a half); in his typical quiet and humble way crushed climbing (sent 11a on trad and continued flashing my 12a sport projects); baked the perfect loaf of bread and helped me through first trimester nausea with a constant supply of homemade pizza. Through all his endeavors he always makes me feel first before everything, supporting me through a tough pregnancy and family illness. I'm just so proud of you, and so lucky to have gotten married to you this year.



When I was younger, I'd always envisioned eloping because I didn't understand the pomp of weddings. But as I've gotten older and loved watching others get married, I've come to love them for all the layers underlying the tradition. In writing this, I realize how difficult it is to encapsulate all the people and experiences, and this very long post doesn't do close to justice to everyone who has made our lives so full. I feel so lucky to have so many layers to pull back and grow upon in reflecting on June 11, 2022.




Photography by the unparalleled Chris Bowman Photography

May 18, 2022

World : Home on Fire

(A photo taken by G from Highway 25)

One of my monthly resolutions is to organize my photos, to prevent the surprisingly mentally taxing process of going through them years later. I was talking to visiting friends about this process, and how I choose items to print to place into physical albums. We talked about how because everything is digitized, photo albums aren't necessarily that first answer to the question of what would you retrieve in case of a fire. This made me think about how little I own that is irreplaceable - would I rush for anything in particular in case of a fire? I couldn't really think of anything I'd need or want to save. 

Later that same night, we went out for paletas (Mexican popsicles made of real ice cream), and when we came home an hour later, our kitchen stove was in flames. 

It's hard to describe the sudden terror of seeing your home alight in fire and awash in smoke. Needless to say, those few minutes between discovery and disappearance of fire are seared in my mind. (A PSA to check the expiration on your fire extinguisher - the safety officer at my clinic had recently recommended I do this during my orientation and G had literally just gotten a new one for us a month ago).

Everyone, including our cats Bishop & Monty, were safe and while there is significant damage to our stove, what I had thought earlier that day was true - nothing material is irreplaceable. 

But the corollary that I thought would reasonably follow - that replaceability signifies a lack of attachment - didn't feel as fitting for my emotional state after the fire. I was and am extremely attached to this house. I thought about how much effort we'd put into creating this home together: the dining table and bookshelf library G labored to design and build, the secondhand pieces of furniture I'd slowly collected, the few plants I managed to keep alive, all the frames that went up piecemeal over many months as we decided on which images we treasure and where to place them. I would have been so, so sad to lose all of that.  I was surprised to find myself so devastated at the thought of losing things, when we've tried hard not to accumulate.

I realized that I love our home the way I've loved the wedding planning process - not for the objects themselves, but for what we put of ourselves into them. When we first started planning the wedding, we both knew we didn't want a lot of decor because for us it didn't have a lot of personal meaning. But as we thought of ways to put what we find meaningful into physical representations, it became a loving process of creating something personal together. 

And that's what our home has been, and was envisioned to be for a long time to come. Luckily, it is all still in tact and ultimately it was a very tiny catastrophe. But the thought of more loss struck me, in how much I felt we could have lost. 

When I expressed this to G, who is undoubtedly the least materialistic person I know, he said, "Hm. I haven't really thought of that. I just keep thinking I'm glad that you and the cats are okay." And for this I love him so much.

When difficult things happen - injury, illness, accidents - what I find most absorbing is this privilege we have to process. I have space to consider my attachment and feelings of loss, because while it is definitively frustrating to recover and repair, we have the resources to do so. And even if we had really lost more, we'd be fine. I'm attached to things for sentiment, not out of necessity; how lucky we are to have the room to own sentimentality. And so I am incredibly grateful for how these events foster gratitude. 

It reminds me that we have so much, and that emphasizes the continued need to share. It also reminds me of the idea of renewal - how in Ecuador they burn effigies called monigotes at the end of the year to make way for the new one, how in Japan they purposely burn temples and rebuild them. While all these possessions represent personal journey and investment, they don't encase them. That is always still there, even if it requires healing and digging back up and remaking. We're still the people we are individually, and together; and maybe we're also a little different, a little more mixed up and stronger now.

I was compelled to write this post after the fire made me contemplate loss in a different sort of way, and I noted that the last post I wrote here that was explicitly about loss featured a painting of a multi-colored fire by my multi-talented friend Sarah. That loss - of a spirit and soul, and of all that sustains a meaningful life - is so much more real. In so many threads I think of you every day, and of how your kind of fire - the kind that breathes and gives - outshines all others. 


After writing the above, I left this post simmering in drafts for over a month. G asked me if there was something I was waiting for before posting. I'm not sure, but I think that everything in the past few years has made me reconsider the value of these individual musings, that maybe they are helpful to me personally but not that relevant to people outside my small sphere.

Then New Mexico became alight in unrelenting swathes of forest fires. Hundreds of thousands of acres burnt, hundreds of homes destroyed, thousands of people evacuated. The natural character of the desert, dry and hot, turned disastrous by what we've done to the climate - dried out our water, ramped up our sun. The devastation of this beautiful, lush land and the roots of so many families has been heartbreaking.

I see even more how extremely lucky we were, to have fire foster gratitude, when it is causing so much loss for others. In so much of this, recovery is not possible. We're not going to see these lands grow back in our lifetime or that of the next generation. Wildlife is permanently altered. The lives of people, already sustained on the edges in rural areas with few resources, have collapsed.  

Despite the beauty of this state which has captivated G and me with such fast fury, or maybe because the beauty here is so wild and remote, few people have had the chance to witness it. It makes me so sad to think of how much of it is now lost, remaining unseen to those who haven't been here and mourned by those who have. 

With all the loss of land and life here and around the world, I look back on the value of building and doing what we can in small ways to foster growth. It feels so important to make use of what we have, minding how to savor and sustain it, at the same time we accept its transience. 

Donate to people affected by the NM wildfires here.

February 3, 2022

World : Mummies & Idealists

When it comes to museums (and most things), I value smaller spaces with a narrow focus. I get overwhelmed by large buildings packed with items. I also like following the narrative of intimate, themed museums, like Boston's JFK Library and the Anne Frank House where through small pieces you traverse the trajectories of one person's life (and how that one life impacted so many others). And generally, I like collections that I can see in an hour or a little more. Santa Fe has re-ignited my interest in these spaces because it's full of cozy galleries and museums.  The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian generally has just four exhibits. The New Mexico Museum of Art, while broader in scope, is still relatively small given the size of this state. I find that I can more deeply remember several single images from these places because of the intense, compact time I spend there.

When I was in Guanajuato Mexico by myself for a couple weeks, I had a lot of free time. After Spanish class in the morning, the rest of the day was unplanned and unstructured. So I went to a bunch of museums. I visited the Museo Casa Diego Rivera, the Museo de Los Momias de Guanajuanto, Alhondiga de Granaditas, Museo Iconográfico del Quijote, and the Museo Palacio de los Poderes.  My favorites were definitely the Don Quijote museum and the Museo de Los Momias (mummies), neither of which I thought I would especially enjoy, both of which left me with images that will linger (I think, forever).

**A heads up here that if you are uncomfortable with the idea or image of death and deceased bodies (though I don't post any images here) you can scroll past this to the happier images of Don Quijote as seen through many different mediums of art. 

The Museum of Mummies contains bodies that were naturally mummified that were buried during a cholera outbreak in Guanajuato in the 1800s. Apparently the climate makes for an ideal natural environment to preserve bodies without embalming. I'm not squeamish about these sorts of things, but the experience hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. The museum contains a little over a hundred mummies. Before seeing them, I wasn't sure it that would feel like a lot or a little. It turned out that the number didn't matter so much, because the museum did an exceptional job of emphasizing the individual, and giving glimpses into each person's story (as much as could be abstracted from concrete details). The exhibits posted cards next to the mummies with narratives written in the first person, imagining the lives lived by these preserved people. I was particularly struck by a collection of three mummies who died by accident (Muertas Trágicas) - one that was mistakenly buried alive, another who drowned, and another whose body was pierced by some sort of spear or tool. Their means of death were determined by abnormalities in their body position and lung volume.  Probably the most universally poignant, disturbing, and vivid exhibit is that of a mother and her unborn child, the smallest and youngest mummy known to exist in the world. It's thought that poor nutrition contributed to the premature deaths of mother and child.

In reading descriptions of the museum, people reasonably call it "gruesome" and "horrific." For me personally it doesn't feel appropriate to label any natural process that way. It is definitely strange, and incredible, to be able to see people long after they are alive. I'm not sure how I feel about the lack of permission, but I don't think the museum capitalizes on the sensational aspect at all. It's more concerned with the way in which death can bring life into blur or focus. It reminds me too that our lives can reach beyond the boundaries of days lived, whether intended or not. One could argue that this sentiment is just part of the natural hope we all have against nihilism. But it is also a very real phenomenon when seeing the body of someone who lived almost 200 years ago makes me consider how I want to live my life. Seeing our visceral future makes me think that everything means something, and also that nothing means anything. I suppose that for me, living is the fulcrum and spectrum between these philosophies. Feeling the full weight of both ends makes it easier for me to ground myself in the middle.

I was similarly moved by the Don Quijote Museum, which is quite different on paper and in actuality to the Mummy Museum but gave me the same sense of wonder at how much one story can find its way into so many other narratives. I was staying right next to this museum, so it was one of the very first things I noticed in the city. I didn't think it would be particularly interesting, but it was so close and free on Tuesdays. This museum contains over 700 pieces of art inspired by the fictional story of Don Quijote, a man who is born of the lowest class but aspires to become a knight. The themes of the value of idealism, individual conviction that clashes with societal structure, and the falsity of assigning people to classes have spoken to so many different people in so many cultures and generations. This universal impact is palpable when seeing the shear amount of art depicting Don Quijote fighting against windmills. The art is so diverse, because the people absorbing his story are so diverse. I loved seeing the story shaped by different hands over time, like a game of telephone. And it's a comfort in these times (and all times) that so many people through time and place believe in "su idealismo porque él puede salvar el razo humana."

I love the childlike nature of these:


The powerful chaos of these:




The epic grandeur of this room, emanating from the source of just one small figure:


The dimensionality of these mediums:


The darkness of these:

 

The colors in these, that surround him but seem to not quite make it into him:



And the cross culturing of these:



Maybe in the same way that I realized we're all just turtles crawling into the new year, this museum impressed upon me that Don Quijote is unique and we can't all be Don Quijotes in the way we inspire and impact others. But the point of Don Quijote is that really, we are all like him, believing in universes unseen and spaces bigger than those we occupy. I love discovering that vastness in these tiny corners of the world, and taking it home with me. 

January 27, 2022

Self : Turtling into the New Year

In most recent years I’ve been weary of the end of the year and really embraced the new year. It may be an artificial thing, in some ways, the turning of a calendar page. But it is marked by a physical change in the universe, which I feel significant in no other way other than intuitive. (As I’m not hip, smart or woo-woo enough to know much about our connections to the physics or astrology of how the stars might align us). I also like the communality and parallel play of it - everyone experiencing a newness together, contemplating ways forward together. Anyway, all this to say that I love the openness a new year brings, and I love using that time to consider the next year ahead and make resolutions.

That isn’t to say that I have ever been into NYE celebrations. In fact I’ve had many terrible New Year Eves, most notably during my residency when I was generally working. Maybe my favorite worst NYE was when I was sick with adult hand-foot-mouth, contracted from not being able to resist cuddling my niece and nephews who had it. I’ve never had such a bad sore throat that even eating ice cream was too painful. Then the sores sequentially sprouted on my hands and feet, and they burned as badly as they were ugly. The few times I tried going out on NYE, it felt anticlimactic and boring compared to my internal image of NYE celebrations (formed by external images from TV and social media). Also, as anyone who knows me knows, I cannot stay up until midnight. In spending the last few NYEs with G, I have realized what I actually want and love about a good NYE: quiet time with cheese and someone that I’ve spent the last year with and will spend the next year with. And who also makes it a late night by going to bed by 10:30.


We do have a mobile tradition of getting fancy cheese and fancy food items, treating ourselves to a charcuterie board of items we wouldn’t normally buy. I enjoy this because it means that we don’t have to go out, and because we can do it mostly wherever we are. The first year, we were in a fairly dingy airbnb in Sonora where we spent the holiday climbing. The second year was COVID and we were quarantining at my brother’s home. The third year, this past year, we were in a somewhat run-down and very much quirky town called Truth or Consequences in New Mexico. It was actually very hard to find any “fancy” food items at the local grocery store, but we made do. We looked at all our photos from the year, and then we went to see the Turtle Ascension - this small town’s version of dropping the ball in Times Square. 


In this version, the new year happens at 10 PM because the town runs on my kind of time (they say they want to accommodate “old folks” and “young children” and I without shame align myself with the former). The turtle refers to Turtleback Mountain, which overlooks the town. I imagined a lighted turtle being pulled high up a tower, to be marveled at by us below. As we walked up, G heard the countdown happening and started running. I ran without much urgency because I figured it would take awhile for the turtle to slowly ascend. In fact, when we arrived three seconds later, the turtle had already reached its destination: above the head of some man who simply held the turtle in his hands and raised it from his waist level to the length of his arms above him.  


We thought this was HILARIOUS, and I also find it very fitting for my life, and maybe most of our lives. I think this miniature turtle journey is what a new year really is for most ordinary people: a small, slow path. It doesn’t have to be big and flashy relative to everyone else, but it fills the space of each person for themselves. 


After the whirlwind of the holidays, I have been lucky to have a lot of time to myself to consider that space, as I’m in between jobs and spending a couple weeks in Mexico taking Spanish classes that are just a few hours a day and leave me with a lot of free and solo time. 


Last year brought a lot of change for me - a move to a new state after almost a decade in my home state (and leaving my entire community of family and friends), a new job after being at my first job post-residency for five years (and leaving the best possible work community I can imagine), getting engaged and buying our first home. I’ve really loved the purposefulness of it all, being deliberate with our decisions and making choices based on our needs rather than circumstances. It’s also consumed a lot of my time and mental space, so my main goal for 2022 is to re-develop and sharpen routines (you all also know that for better or worse I’m a very structured person). I find it easiest to feel free, and open to newness, when I have a routine for fitting in my basic needs. So I have a daily routine that includes exercise, meditation, and practicing Spanish; a weekly routine that includes a check-in with G, writing, and responding to emails; and a monthly routine that includes playing a piano song, organizing my photos, and checking my finances. Change at the pace of turtle ascension variety, with all its glamour (none). 


Then there are less one-time bigger goals, one of which was to clear my email inbox. My brother once said, why delete email when gmail has so much space that it’s like unlimited? It took me years to question the benefit of this practice for myself. As a result, I accumulated about 15000 emails since 2005-ish when I first got gmail (back when I told someone “I think this ad came up on gmail because we emailed about this” and they were shocked). I didn’t want thousands of emails anymore - I find myself unnecessarily scrolling and I’m definitely a person where external clutter creates internal chaos. So I got at deleting.


The first few swathes of deletions were extremely satisfying, dumping advertisements and list-serve emails. I filtered by email addresses from administrative people in college, med school and residency. Then I filtered by all emails from certain people (exes) which gave me interesting pause but ultimately felt very right. I also cleared all my draft emails, which for awhile served as a journal of sorts (generally during arguments with exes). This made for a fast clearance. 


Then I was left with thousands of both substantive and non-substantive emails from all my friends and family over the years. I again filtered by person, remembering all the lovely people with whom I’m corresponded to varying degrees of frequency - the yearly as significant as the daily. It was like re-living our relationships, and those very different periods of my life.  It was at times hard to choose what to delete and what to keep, and I probably made some decisions that I would’ve made differently at another time in the day, and I imagine I kept a lot for now that I may feel ready to delete later. I kept emails where there was a deep sharing of a person’s state of being (or mine) and deleted emails that were more concrete updates of what we were doing. I kept emails where there was a sharing of formative experiences (particularly frequent in med school), reflections on transitions, and funny exchanges that encapsulated a person’s character or our dynamic. Sometimes I kept something small and silly because it captured a unique feeling pertinent to that time in my life, like when I wrote about how a friend “drove me around pretty Connecticut and we had an amazing almond croissant and talked to some farmers and I fell asleep in the car outside the waterfall, feeling less worried about babies.” (I had been having nightmares about babies dying, and also found several emails detailing quite vividly these dreams to another friend…I deleted those).


Because I almost always have the resolution to write more (usually unsuccessfully, but will keep trying), I also kept emails where I wrote about something I’d like to return to in the future, or other people’s writings where they shared their travels or impressions of something where I’d like to learn from their styles of expression and from seeing what other people absorb and observe in their environments. 


That sounds like a lot, but in actuality I cleared the majority of emails. The empty space in my inbox, which I have never seen, also inspired me to change the background. I have kept the same background of stones since gmail first introduced themes (I had an email where a friend and I shared our respective choices), and never thought to change it to an image more specific to me. Given how much email I have, the background barely registers to me. But now, I have this:






At first I looked at landscapes and labored for a few minutes over what would be most fitting, but then I thought less about finding something representative, and just something recent and present. So I looked at the photos I’ve taken in Mexico, and the bright simplicity of this image resonated with me, as well as how images like this always prompt me to take a picture. Serendipitously, I can only see the pots if my emails are kept at a low level so it’s a nice reminder to keep things in focus. 


I also have folders to sort emails as to-do and to-respond, so that they aren’t right in front of me every time I open my email, and I can go to the folder when my weekly routine calls for it. As someone who tends to respond to every email right away, and am constantly thinking about what I could be doing, this decluttering resolution has been a great foundation for everything else in my routine.


Nothing in my routine or my plans for 2022 can ever be fully certain, but I always appreciate the transition for the time to consider intentions and how to remain in them regardless of what actually happens. The most wonderfully heavy part of clearing my email was the presence of people - a fluctuation in who I engage with and to what degree, but steady regardless of how unsteady our lives and concrete interactions may have been. I love being turtles alongside one another, slowly ascending in small spaces everywhere.



August 1, 2020

Vision Board


It was a new year's resolution to make a vision board. During this time when I suspect we are all losing some sense of self, I felt compelled to finally complete this.

I knew I wanted it to be fairly minimal, as it's pretty easy to pare what I want and value to a few major things.

From top left working clock-wise:

Stories and images: When I was little, I had a tiny plastic yellow chair on which I placed my "prized possessions." I didn't use it as a chair (when I tried, it cracked).  It didn't serve any function other than being a display for what I loved. The rest of my room was a mess, but I neatly arranged everything on the chair. As an adult, I generally don't have many things. As anyone who's been at our place knows, much of what I own are gifts because I often don't consider buying items that might add more function or ease to my life. This desk was my friend Diana's and we kept it when she moved because I loved its antique and artsy feel, and how it's an old thing in a very modern apartment. We don't actually use it because it's rickety, but I've put all my favorite creative items on it - photo albums from when I used to print photographs, a Holga camera, all the moleskin journals I wrote obsessively in during med school (one for each clinical rotation), G's painting materials and journals, a couple envelopes from my best friend in high school with delicate lettering and stamping, a portrait of G when he did his solo JMT trip, some books whose aesthetics and languid language I love, and a box that used to be vibrantly colorful and whose backside turned blue in the sun so I rotated it in the sun until all sides matched blue. It's not so much any one thing, but a representation of how much I value words and images: capturing my own, gathering ones others create, and absorbing and sharing stories.

Sharing ice cream: I google imaged "sharing" and felt this image was pretty perfect for how I feel about sharing: the importance of giving what we have. It's not always easy to be mindful of the immensity of what I've been given, even in work where we have constant interaction with people with less, so I want a good reminder that there is nothing more to do with our gifts than to give them. A white boy sharing with a little girl of color is pretty fitting for being aware of personal privilege and the vulnerability of others. And ice cream is my favorite too.

G Looking into a Georgia O'Keefe Sky: I love this picture of G and the moment of capturing it. I've never met anyone who has given me as much space as G, who lets me have so much room for everything I hold on the surface and keep underneath. When I brought up the idea of living in New Mexico, he came with me to explore it with openness and curiosity, and I like how this comes across in this photo of him peering into a picture. I'd like to give him the same space, to be as open and sensitive to him as he is to me, to value him as a person independent of what he gives me.

Blank Space: Though I'm moderately minimalist with things, I cram a lot into my life. With people and endeavors I love, but as an introverted overthinker I could use more emptiness. I made this the center of the board, and when G saw it he asked if it represented space for more to come. I think yes, and also space for nothing and a reminder that that is okay and important.

A Cheesy Community: This photograph is a collection of name tags from my last birthday party, in which each of my friends brought a different cheese to share. So the tags have each person's name with the cheese they brought. I hold my friends very close, as individual people and as a community, and this image captures how much each one gives me and also the connection they create when they come together. It will remind me of the nourishment of friendship. And because cheese is my other favorite.

My Parents in Vietnam:  I thought a lot about how to best represent my family and what I value and want to sustain about them. I chose a photo of my parents, because everyone else I love stems from them - my brothers, nieces and nephews. But also they are what we have in common.  My brothers don't always get along, but they each love my parents more than anything, in their own ways. Growing up, they always impressed upon me how much my parents did and do for us, and it has been the driving force for everything I have and want and share.  I also want to see more of who they were before us, which is why I chose a photo from their wedding. I want to know their history and infuse my future with it. It will remind me of the privilege of coming from another culture, one that has rooted into us a faith in family and sacrifice.

Panorama from Red Rock: This is a view from my favorite place where I first climbed outside. There is so much to love about climbing, but if I had to describe it in one sentence, it would be that it gives this wide spectrum of perspective, experience and emotion. This spectrum is what I want in every part of my life, and climbing makes it very visceral and easy to see when I forget it in the midst of my day to day.
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