"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

make believe

love is real-life magic. it is made of the same dreams and imagination that animates and personifies fictional characters in stories, or stuffed animals you talk to when you're young. it is the ability to communicate invisibly and share secrets no one else understands. but sometimes it can take on the appearance of being very lonely.

two long-distance lovers communicating via satellite from opposite sides of the world look the same to an outside observer as a child playing with a toy: as i slump over my laptop camera talking to my boyfriend, my face inches away from the screen, i completely forget that we are not actually in the same room, that we are not actually inches away from one another's faces, that we are not actually holding each other but using our laptops as proxies. i can immerse myself in conversation for hours like this, emerging only later to resume life in all its ordinary ways.

i think love is one of those neotenous traits overlooked by the majority of the population because of its mythification in popular culture. that is, we fail to see how the make-believe of child's play can bear any resemblance to true love because we see one as childhood whimsy, while the other is considered one of those sacred "truths" holding society together. really, we must learn to accept that they are mirrors of the same belief, that something beautiful and magical can, must, exist beyond this ordinary surface.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

don't lose this again.

this song [mp3] disappeared from the airwaves after my harddrive crashed, but stayed in my memory.

and tonight it creeped back, demanding to be heard.

it's not the lyrics, but the phrase, "soon enough," that today, seems to be all i need, all i want to hear. enough to remind me that some things return, some things you retain, some things you never lose.

soon enough. soon enough. work. love. soon enough. 

8 more days.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

year of the ox

it is Chinese New Year. i spend it with my uncle's family and a group of his college friends, who work together at a construction equipment wholesale factory. the party takes place in the warehouse/office building of their company.

the space is confusing. i wander around trying to figure out what this place is. i observe: a pool table. a poker room/office. a dance hall/karaoke lounge/bar (where i currently write my notes). living quarters (i learn later that the workers stay here one night of the week). poker cards lie on a desk next to a stack of business cards, a pool table doubles as a desk. the building seems corporate, but screams "PARTY!!" and there are no definite lines between the two. i decide i like this approach to business, and stroll back towards the party.

as with any Chinese holiday, the food is central to the celebration, and each with its own symbolism. there are trays of glutinous rice balls, noodle dishes of various combinations (the long noodles signify long life), and every imaginable meat of the land and sea: chicken, pork, beef*, fish (for good luck in the next year), shrimp, squid and octopus. fruits a-plenty too: citrus of every imaginable size (clementines, mandarins, tangerines, navel oranges, kumquats), big shiny grapes, and pineapple (the mandarin word for pineapple – "fon li" – sounds like the word for "good fortune").

my aunt takes me around the room, introducing me to everyone as a teacher in the LA school district. one of the older ladies looks on me in disbelief, remarking that i look like a "xiao pengyu" (literally "little friend", meaning "a small child.") one of the older men she introduces me to knows my father. they are about the same age. when my aunt asks me if i think he looks "nyen chien" ("light in years", "young") i say yes, and he jokes that he has had many facelifts. he pulls his cheeks back with his palms, and grins. he then points to the belt holding up his pants, telling me, "this belt i'm wearing is made of all my old skin!" he guffaws and wanders off to eat something sweet.

i befriend the small old man sitting to my right. he is shrunken, but has a fine set of teeth, a strange combination. i get him hot water and soup and and offer him a mandarin, of which he only eats half (it is sour, he squeezes his face together in disapproval). i imagine the two of us make a funny pair, the oldest and youngest in the party, friends b/c no one can understand what we say and b/c we do not wish to talk, just sit, eat, and watch. i overhear my little friend talking later with a group of men about visiting Vegas and going to strip clubs. my companion is, apparently, familiar with the "classy" ones. he is a man of scrutinizing tastes in women and oranges.

i notice the old men across from me laughing, touching cups and enthusiastically finishing off their drinks. later i realize they have been hiding a jug of whiskey under the table, mixing it into their drinks. i've witnessed at least 4 rounds by this point.

the party eventually reaches a critical point – when just the right balance of food and alcohol has been consumed and the spontaneous karaoke begins. i sit in a leather couch in the back of the lounge/bar, remembering how earlier during dinner i heard one of the drunk men across the table declare that he was "ready to sing!" he tells everyone that his musical reprisals aid his digestion.

after observing many eager karaoke renditions of The Carpenters and Chinese oldies, it occurs to me that karaoke is never spontaneous, but always the sensible conclusion to a new year's party. the party-goers gradually take to the mic to sing their favorite songs. i watch 2 women begin to timidly dance, one leading the other around, alternating between tango and foxtrot.

i sit in the back, smiling, regretting those wasted years of Chinese school – never learning enough to be functionally literate to read the karaoke lyrics.

*edit: i realize now, that there was actually NO beef served yesterday. i wonder if that is b/c this is the year of the ox, and to eat beef would be negative symbolism and a bad start to the new year.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

post-Inauguration Day notes

post-Inauguration Day realizations:
-i remember being extremely turned off by the strong Christian fundamentalist undertones in the speeches and ceremony, and especially by this guy:

(edit: and how fitting. the video, like the man, just doesn't seem to want to shut the hell up. it starts without you wanting it to, one of my ultimate peeves when it comes to internet usability: the automatic video that creates loud obnoxious sound when you don't want it)
(edit 2: fixed! - 1/25)

Warren's invocation made me extremely uncomfortable, thinking how the separation of church and state is really just an empty promise. and the part about asking forgiveness from Almighty God when we disgrace our fellow human beings and the environment made me extremely upset and angry, as we are fully aware a war (a genocide) is raging in Gaza, and we are content to just "ask forgiveness," shrug off any awareness of reality, as if it was all in God's plan. that kind of rhetoric is dangerous and had me gritting my teeth the whole time.

-the hope/change sheen is wearing off pretty quickly, too. i've been a huge cynic/buzzkill since november anyway, but i can pretty safely say that i am ready for the novelty of the moment to wear off so America can quit fantasizing and day-dreaming and snap back to reality. things do not change overnight. i don't know why i'm not as excited as everyone else seems to be about the new administration, i guess b/c i don't see substantiating empirical proof for the improvement, and i honestly cannot grasp the significance of having the first Black President. i know, i know, it must be absurd/impossible for other ppl to understand, but i, personally, do not feel that sense of awe and wonderment that everyone else seems to have in seeing a Black man as President. it does not surprise me that Obama is President now, and it makes perfect sense, so i guess i just don't get what all the fuss and pageantry and adoration is about, b/c frankly it just makes sense. i dunno, call me racist if you want to, the funny thing is that i think i feel this way precisely b/c i don't see race as any factor in it.

-i remember being surprised by how charged and passionate my students were around Election Day. i noticed many of my students taking vehement opposition to one another's political views, showing off their limited knowledge of campaign slogans and parroting rhetoric in transparent efforts to back up their support of a candidate they'd chosen to represent a deeper-seated world view and political affiliation. i noticed all my Black kids were for Obama, wore shirts with his face emblazened on the chest, would yell his name as if it were a cheer, would cheer at the mention of his name. the interesting thing about this was that usually, my Hispanic kids would grow silent, look sullen and sink down in their seats, would tell me later when i could hear them whisper, "i wanted Hilary to win." the braver ones would pretend to joke in class, "McCain for President!" what i came to realize later was this stance was chosen not out of opposition, but as reaction. true, some of my Hispanic students' parents probably legitimately supported Hilary and her pro-Hispanic community campaign. but what it came down to, perhaps, was a sign of bitterness towards what had obviously become a race race. when the nomination and the election came to be framed as a race issue, it became less about issues, and more about identity and belonging. who was going to be recognized and included, and who was going to be left out? when it seemed like Obama would win by indisputable margins, the election discussion in my classes became about control, and controlling who gets to stand for one's identity: "if this Presidency is supposed to represent me and my country, i want someone i choose, not someone thrust upon me. i want someone who can understand being the outsider, i want someone who can understand being left out, i want someone who can understand being misunderstood, i want a woman, i want an underdog, i want a Republican..."

cherry blossom

i emerged from the shower this evening, and opened up a bottle of lotion: "cherry blossom."

the name is misleading, it causes me to think more of fruit than flowers, so the smell seems surprisingly, almost overwhelmingly florid, rosy, clean. it is feminine, a womanly fragrance.

the smell reminds me of my mother, and watching her get ready for dinner parties when i was a little girl, standing in the bathroom of my parents' bedroom in her bra, her hair recently blowdried and swept to the sides of her face and ears. she has not yet put on her glasses, and i can see her face clearly, she never applies makeup. i watch as she gently pats lotion on her face, her cheeks rosy and flushed from the steam of the shower. the only beauty modification my mother ever used was perfume: she would dab it gingerly on her wrists, her neck, the crook of her arm. the scent would waft from the bathroom to the bedroom, and follow her wherever she'd go. after my parents left the house, the smell of my mother would always remain in the air, a trail of fragrance up and down the stairs, hanging in the air by the kitchen, lingering by the door where she stepped into her shoes.

since i was a little girl, my mom would always offer her perfume to me to try, to smell, to dab on my hands. she loved to buy me little packs of perfume, or obtain miniature bottles from the department store as trinkets, as if for fun. i always refused them. it wasn't necessarily the smell itself i adored. it was that image of my mom, standing in the bathroom, clean and void of any pretense in her appearance, my first idea of female beauty, and what i thought beauty (and my mother) smelled like.

so tonight, as i was applying dollops of this cherry blossom lotion to my skin, i was reminded of all these things and had to put the lotion away in a drawer, because the smell was just too close to that distant smell i remember, that it made me too sad to use it, and reluctant to grow into womanhood myself.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day notes

end of an era?

i had the unique pleasure of experiencing Inauguration Day at school, with my 6th graders.

in retrospect, it was a better experience than if i had been alone in my apartment. something about the public school environment has a way of making tangible momentous occasions (9/11, Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine). maybe it is the atmospheric effect of all those pairs of eyes focusing on one thing at the same time. the sense of unity in experience among the disparate and disconnected.

a sample of my observations:
-homeroom, Brandon says, "i'm gonna be the first Latin-American President!" (aaww...)
-Orlando interjects, "i heard Obama's gonna turn the White House black!"
-while watching Inauguration in auditorium: quiet settles over the entire space (which NEVER happens!) then, at first sight of Obama, cheering swells over the students, i smile, chilled.
-moments later, the assistant principle blows 3 sharp blasts on her whistle, yells into the microphone to stop. too much of a good thing.
-was that stock footage of the Grand Canyon (during Aretha Franklin's song)? weird.
-tears welled up while contemplating this moment in history. soon ceased as i have to snap to, reprimanding a student for chewing gum and smacking a girl in the head.

Change may be coming to Washington, but things in School stay pretty much the same.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

future past

i had a dream that i was back on Miami's campus, and it was the future because everything was so old looking: the brick streets had cracks in them, little wiry grass blades growing up through the fissures. the bell towers looked dilapidated, rusted, verging on collapse. everything was gray and sepia-toned.

the other futuristic thing was that they had erected a huge saloon/ movie theatre on the edge of campus – a center for tawdry activities. men in britches and high hats, with unruly facial hair and mean swaggers. i was walking over treacherously uneven sidewalk to meet a friend at the theatre and buy a ticket for whatever was showing. and it occured to me how funny it was that no matter how "future"-like the future can be, there always remains some connection to the past, some nostalgia or fetishism. and it doesn't seem odd, these lingering glimpses of past, but right, so very right.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


listening to my little cousin make bird noises as he sleeps. i am cradling a book of short stories in my arm, drowsy from drinking too many glasses of milk. it is not yet 10:30 and the house has grown quiet with weariness.

it is finally the weekend. we are free to fall asleep early.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

layer cake

night-swimming has become the one indulgence i allow myself every week. and it’s a good choice: it’s exercise that’s good for my bad hip. i like to secretly race the older macho men in their speedos, observe the human body as it moves underwater (the water aerobics class in the shallow water brings to mind images of elephants swimming, clumsy limbs thrashing through water), everything illuminated and given a milky glow by the underwater lamps, like submarine headlights. and at the end of my laps, i like to float on my back, my ears submerged in water, imagining myself out at sea in endless darkness, navigating by the stars.

the delightful thing about swimming, and perhaps swimming in a pool in particular, is that it heightens your senses. you feel reconnected to yourself, notice the movement of your own body, feel your spine lengthening, listen to and feel your own breath. you feel graceful and amphibious. and the low resistance silence provides such a stimulating contrast to the other 95% of my waking day.

the most alluring and troubling heightened sense? smell. chlorinated pool water has the magic ability of collecting all the smells from the surrounding day, and stacking them on the water, like layer cake. as my face skims the surface of the water for a breath, i open my mouth and suck in the potent smells of the day: sunlight and sunscreen, burnt tire rubber from LA traffic, manure and mowed grass, the charcoal smokiness of the barbeque down the street, leaves and a smell i associate with crickets, sweat, skin, b.o.

sometimes the smells are so thick and rich, i crinkle my nose, sneeze underwater, or get teary-eyed, like i’ve just sliced into an onion. other times, they remind me of the way it feels when you’re at summer camp, heading back inside over tall grass after a day in the sun, the mixture of grass and dusk creating a haze, and you feel safe lingering in it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

super powers

i'm beginning to suspect my students have some sort of "despair radar" installed in their brains. just when my mind starts flirting with resignation, they show me they can be the perfect students i've always wanted and always hoped they'd be. they are attentive, excited about PEMDAS, begging for more homework, and surprise me by correctly answering a challenge problem on their own. they stay in their seats and take notes eagerly, looking up at me when finished with a task to let me know they are ready for more.

of course, the converse is always true, too. just as i started to have a wonderful day, just as my sense of possibility was on its way to being restored, the next batch rolls in, hollering, whacking furniture, shaking booties. after disrespecting me and their peers, i yell at 2 boys to "get out of my classroom!" thankfully, the bell rings. i lock the door behind them, i don't want to deal with another child until after i've had a lunch break and a walk-around.

somehow, things always end up coming back to equilibrium. i am no more grateful or anxious than i was this morning, or yesterday. so it goes, i guess. all things in their right place.


Sunday, January 11, 2009


i reluctantly returned to LA last night. felt sick from high altitude, bad tomato juice, and separation anxiety. went to bed late, dizzy and alone, and woke up early, roused awake at 5 am by screaming from the apartment next door. still alone.

i uploaded photos and videos to remember the last 3 weeks i had, as a sort of cheering tactic. included: this video from my birthday. penguin-like moves. my brother yelling "save it for the club."

birthday dance from stephan!e lee on Vimeo.

hoping this semester goes quickly,

Thursday, January 08, 2009

this digital life can be tough to keep up with...

this break from school has been blissful. i've been staying up late eating and drinking with my parents, reading and writing creatively for the internet, looking at beautiful pictures and sharing music with my bro, watching strange movies my mother picks out just to share a warm space in the house with her, playing tennis with my dad. and i bought a swimming cap with a pirate skull on it, hilarious. i am dreading my return to LA, a lonely existence, meals by myself, traffic, tons of school and work. i'm going to miss laughing and smiling so much and being immediately happy when i wake up.

another day and i'll be gone. back to empty echoes in this large house.

i wish i had more time to write and think, read and write, read and think. i've been collecting as many thoughts and memories as i can, hoping to piece them together like a quilt of my life. i imagine collecting these stories in a small book i'll make over the summer, and shop-dropping them all over the country (and Europe!?) when i'm travelling with Ben before returning for year 2 of this ill-advised stint in teaching.

i'll begin posting some of these short, Brautigan-style stories here, very soon.


UPDATE (1/14/09): i've decided to name the future book/zine "ey!Q" – a phrase with no particular meaning, but i like the combination of letters, aesthetically, and i like that it was a typo (intended to say "hey!"). you could read it "eek!", or "I. Q." as well. anyway, writing from ey!Q labeled with the tag "eyQ." check it.\

Sunday, January 04, 2009

i am in a battle with time.

notice i did not write "race." this is not a race against time. it is a battle.

since i have been home, i've been remarkably productive. reading a lot, writing a lot, drinking lots of tea. i can't recall being so happy doing so much in a long time. i'm sure there is something to say here about the nature of work and motivation, and i could reflect on this further, but why? let's move on. besides, Alfie Kohn has written a book about it already, and he's far more witty with such observations.

i'm happy at home because i do not need to worry about cooking constantly in order to eat, don't need to clean up after anyone other than myself, my room is overtaken by stacks of compelling fiction rather than stacks of student papers. movie ticket stubs litter my desk, rather than bills and gas receipts. in the absence of reminders of work, i am free to forget obligations and pretend i have the luxury of free-time and the privilege of hedonism. it's miraculous.

my mind un-cluttered of work, creative ideas gained space to grow. it was as if everything was suddenly a trigger for a short story or a memory. a common sight from my window, a sound in the distance, a combination of foods. everything seemed alive and vibrant!

i am trying to enjoy it, while using the time to churn out as much writing as possible, while i still have the energy and the passion for it. since i started, with the commencement of the new year, i have written 14 short pieces (found here). not too bad, and time still remains!

more soon,

English majors

i am beginning to wonder if my interest in significant others has found basis largely in the fact that, on some level, i know what i want and i know what i lack.

it's my way of interpreting the knight-in-shining-armour myth: i'm not looking for someone to rescue me, but to provide those things i'm missing in my life.

it occurred to me this evening, as i was reading a book review written by a fresh-out-of-college English major, a little older than myself. i found myself envying her, spending her working life reading books and writing snappy articles about them, this is the life i want. her writing seemed easy, relaxed, honest. i read my blog posts from the last three years and sense distress. my writing has taken on the clunkiness of function: burdened with academese and pent-up sentiments. never really beautiful. i wish i had the literary rhythms of someone who spends her days and nights reading and writing about literature and poetry. i spend (most) days and nights studying or teaching from textbooks, examining education law, feeling miserable.

then i found out this person whose article i was reading was recently "laid-off." and i recalled my mother's voice telling me when i was a teen: "you can't be an English major. you need a specialized skill no one else has. anyone can read and write." fast-forward: i find myself getting certified to teach special education. it's tedious, aggravating, soul-sucking work, but at least it is specialized.

when i think about all my relationships – only 3 so not enough to be conclusive, but enough to suggest a pattern – the allure, in all three cases, was that they were literary. the first boyfriend was a poet, the second a journalist and creative writer, my third and current boyfriend a rhetorician, creative writer, English teacher, aspiring journalist.

this somehow makes perfect sense. i always wanted to be a writer, my oldest and most consistent memories are of writing short stories, carrying hand-made books and pamphlets around in my pockets, trying to start novels. but now i will never be a writer, not in the literary sense, and so my fascination seems to have found other outlets. my early lust for literature, redirected.

i'm sure there's a Freudian interpretation for such a phenomenon, but i'll settle for Lacan instead, who used to say: That missing love—that lack—is a wound that drives you to fill its emptiness. None of this drive has anything to do with true love, except for the fact that, in all the arousal, true love is missing. (source)

Saturday, January 03, 2009


i just spent 30 minutes on the phone with my old piano teacher, miserably detailing every daily routine and responsibility i'll resume when i return to LA: "yep, i teach classes and then i go to grad school... no, i don't really eat dinner on those days... yea, i teach 70 kids... math and science... no, there's not a lot of support from the administration... oh, it's ok, i'm used to being alone now... yea, there's not much time for anything else..." making excuses so my life doesn't sound so sad, and then wondering how pathetic i must sound on the phone. i've never been good at hiding my tone.

i realized during these 30 minutes that i hate talking about my work, almost more than the work itself. i do not want to go back.

meanwhile, i am flipping thru a travel magazine, thinking about a summer in Turkey, clicking thru my tumblr blog and labeling my writing, thinking about a shop-drop project i want to begin working on, if only i didn't have this job to go back to...

(this blog has become such a drag, apologies. the other day i came close to starting over, again. it's been 3 long years, can you believe it? hard to change a tone, you know? i recommend my tumblr for quick pieces of writing that are candid and unfiltered, and some pretty great images, too.)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

and my memory is so fucking unclear

this Unicorns video made me smile so much i almost squeezed some tears out. it made me think of my friends, and dancing in an apartment in the summer in the dark, and how much i wish we could go back a few months and relive certain moments.

some things should last forever.

who was i with? what time was it? where did you go?