Foreign And Domestic

Last August. One last time between the window panes of our 35th floor high-rise, in Seoul.

I often get asked about how the girls are adjusting to living in the US, and whether they miss Korea. The answer is, they just hit the ground running/gliding. Already veterans of international travel, the girls don’t seem to need adjustment to new time zones or contexts like we grownups do. They didn’t experience the international move as major transition, but rather, as just one of the many new things in their young lives. For them, I don’t know whether a new country is internalized that much differently than a new school.

Isa (the three year old) misses her old teachers and said to me this week, “I will go back and say hi to Miss Hailey” as if it did not require a 12-hour flight to the other side of the world.

Eva, the eldest, is imprinted with some internationalism: She can hear the difference between Chinese, Korean and, of course, English. Today she said she needed “two green monies” because she experienced having currency that wasn’t all green. When we talk about what day of the week it is, she will note, “It’s Sunday afternoon here which means it’s Monday in Korea.”

Luna’s Korea references are all superficial: She sleeps with Kakao character pillows (Ryan the Lion and Apeach the peach) and her Pororo characters, Poby and Krong-Krong. But she and I have maintained the tradition in which only Koreans cut our hair.

La La Land

Today in my exercise class I made my first porn star friend. This came after a surreal Saturday night at a premiere and Q&A to celebrate IDRIS ELBA (who is even more dreamy in person). Earlier that day, I hung out with a mom friend who is a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger-turned-cosmetics-entrepreneur. So I think this is about as cliche LA as I am going to get.

My new friend the porn actress was a research scientist in her previous life. She is now really focused on trying to be a voice for women in porn and is even starting to direct, largely so she can make some stuff that’s “less obviously made for the male gaze.”

I asked her if she prefers the term “adult film star,” as Stormy Daniels is sometimes labeled, but she goes, “Well, adult films are porn, so I don’t care.” I also asked her what question she gets most often when she’s recognized and invariably it’s, “How does your husband feel about this?” which is, incidentally, VERY MALE GAZEY so, ugh.

All I need now is for Eva to come home with a copy of Dianetics and I think we will have hit peak LA.

Millennial Midlife Crises

Something is happening in my friend circles, and I believe it’s called midlife. Last month, one of my best friends, who is the most outwardly successful of my squad, had a mental breakdown requiring hospitalization. This month my college roommate, who works insane hours and is always in a rush, slipped down a flight of stairs and broke her face.* Another close friend called recently to say his partner has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease — at age 38 — and he’s in a tailspin. Several friends whose weddings I attended ten years ago are divorcing, or it already happened and I only just learned about it because you don’t advertise these things.

For me, my main issue is I don’t know what to do next — I already did the things I wanted to do “when I grow up.” Now I’m off the breaking news treadmill, which I wanted, but it removed the constant external reward system of deadlines and delivery that journalists get fixed on, so it requires me to be ALONE WITH MY THOUGHTS, shudder.

It feels dissonant to be going at a moderate speed, but also satisfying, as I get to reconnect with … me.

A couple weeks ago I was in Sonoma Valley with old, hyper-smart friends. I’ll shout out in particular Colin Maclay, who lives in LA but on the East side of town, which feels like such a hurdle that we hang out more when we’re both in a city we don’t live. And Eli Pariser, who I’ve known since the days the filter bubble was just one of his brain’s many thought bubbles.

Eli told me he pitched an idea to his therapist about “The Millennial Midlife Crisis.” The idea is not about a generation of us feeling burnt out, while that may be true. He wants to explore what a midlife crisis looks like — how it manifests — in those of us now in our mid-to-late-thirties.

“It’s not muscle cars or superficial stuff like trophy wives,” he says, of the stereotypical boomer midlife crisis.

Instead, he posited, it looks exactly like what many of us are doing: a bunch of meditation and therapy and time away from striving and screens. (I realize that to have resources and time to do this is a privilege in it of itself.)

I decided to try slowing down and looking inward because midway through last year everything felt like it was going too fast and I couldn’t reflect and process what I was going through, emotionally. It was like a Shinkansen of new assignments and stupid bureaucratic fights and constant change, a train I couldn’t get off until I moved back home.

Two thoughts about this, early into this chapter of stillness. (Well, relative stillness.)

One, we have got to be brave enough to lean on one another for help. And to reach out when you sense someone you love might need you. The only thing that’s gonna get us through the challenges that come our way is our relationships, which give us meaning. It’s the timely and evergreen message of the Netflix show Russian Doll, which you really should watch if you haven’t.

Two, we should be more curious about our feelings. I’m coached to do this, but I’ve also learned from my own parenting. When I have a child in meltdown mode, I’ll try to empathize first and say, “You are really angry, I see you’re so angry” so the child is heard (this works to varying degrees). But then I try to get them to talk about it and dig in, so they can learn to be self-aware.

I realized sometime along the way that I hardly ever do this for my own anger or dread or whatever it is, so now I’m doing the work on myself. Especially during my quarterly existential dread.

SCENE

Me: [In tears, playing Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ in a loop]

Stiles: Ahhhh, is it time for your quarterly existential dread?

Me: Oh, god. Don’t talk to me. [Eyeroll, more tears, more Radiohead]

I find it’s useful to be less hard on myself when I’m cycling through my ennui. I’m trying to be more curious about my feelings and what they’re saying. While we all have an internal voice, we get a little disconnected from it sometimes.


*This did not stop me from sending her flowers with this card …


I’ll show myself out now.

Come Celebrate

This poem by Lucille Clifton found me at just the right time, on another birthday:

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

The O.J. Tour Exists And, Like The O.J. Saga, It Is Everything

Here stood Mezzaluna, the Italian restaurant where Ron Goldman worked and Nicole Brown and her family ate dinner on June 12, 1994.

The O.J. Simpson spectacle is the defining news story of my childhood, a series of events so indelible in my mind that I still recall even the minor characters, like Faye Resnick (Nicole’s friend) and Dennis Fung (one of the investigators accused of mishandling the crime scene).

I remember where I was when Al Cowlings led police on the white Bronco chase. I remember where I was when Judge Lance Ito asked for the trial verdict heard ’round the world — in school, in a class called “Academic Stretch,” where a television was wheeled in on a cart so we could watch the conclusion of a trial that had been televised every single day.

The O.J. story is American history, one I experienced by virtue of being a middle school student exposed to television in the 90s. Because it happened during formative years, it’s remained a constant current in my consciousness, irrespective of the recent film/TV reboots. Friend Sarah, with whom I’ve gone on some eight vacations since we met in 2015, once pointed out there isn’t a time we get together in which I don’t somehow bring up O.J. Simpson.

Now I live in LA, so for my first birthday as an Angeleno, my husband got me…THE O.J. TOUR, where you’re driven to the victims’ homes and OJ’s stops on the night of June 12, 1994, when his ex-wife and waiter Ron Goldman were brutally knifed to death in front of his wife’s condo. The tour is run by Adam, who grew up in the area and went to grade school with O.J.’s son, Justin Simpson. Adam picked us up in a 1994 white Ford Bronco (natch) and leads the tour with precision and speed, stopping only for questions at the very end.

“This was not my aspiration,” he says, of his O.J. tour. “I was not like, this is gonna be a small business one day.” But interest in this case is enough to keep it going.

You can take the tour during the day or at night, but Adam recommends the night option, “Because that’s when all the crime happened.” It starts and ends at a McDonald’s in Santa Monica where O.J. and Kato Kaelin grabbed food just before the killings, according to the prosecutor’s timeline. (O.J. ordered a Big Mac. Kato got a takeout grilled chicken sandwich, which he planned to eat from O.J.’s guest house while watching The Larry Sanders Show on HBO.)

“Whatever you think about the verdict, O.J. is a wife beater at least,” Adam says, as we cross San Vicente Blvd., a dividing line between Santa Monica and Brentwood.

Ron Goldman’s Brentwood apartment.

Other stops:

  • The school where O.J. and Nicole’s daughter Sydney had her dance recital, which the whole family and grandparents attended
  • Waiter and victim Ron Goldman’s apartment (still exists, completely bro who waved at us from his window)
  • Nicole’s place on Gretna Green, where she first moved when she separated from O.J.
  • Nicole’s place on Bundy, where she and Ron were slashed to death (doesn’t exist in the same form but there is still some of that Spanish tile that was in the crime scene photos) 
  • The alley behind it where O.J. is believed to have parked during the double murder
  • O.J.’s house on Rockingham (torn down in 1997, but you can still visit the lot which is now behind tall hedges)
  • The site of the long-closed Mezzaluna, the restaurant where Ron worked and Nicole ate her last meal (she had rigatoni). We learned of rumors Mezzaluna was a drug front because another waiter who worked at the restaurant was also killed in years following Ron Goldman’s death, coincidentally.
Adam leading the tour from the driver’s seat of his Ford Bronco.

The best part of the tour is when Adam wrapped everything up at the end, telling us about the time a Danish school teacher booked the tour for his thirty students. Adam chartered a bus to take them around and asked the teacher why he was so interested in the O.J. case.

“Oh I teach a whole unit on it,” the Dane said. “It’s the perfect introduction to America. It has race, police, celebrities, sports, crime, the media, the legal system, the freeway, McDonald’s. Everything about America, distilled into one story.”

The side entrance to Nicole’s apartment on Bundy (the crime scene), some of that old Spanish tile still exists.

Endnote: In the car on the way to the tour starting point, Matty proposed a self-amusement mess-around scheme: “Do you want to pretend we’re from Arkansas and act like we don’t know anything about this case?” Good thing I forgot about it when we got on the tour, because that was when a third eager O.J. tourist joined us and hopped into the Bronco. I introduced myself, asked him if he lived in town and he goes, “No, I’m visiting from Arkansas,” in the deepest drawl I’ve heard in years.

Can’t make this stuff up.

Just as there were two Katos (the man and the dog), there were two Broncos. O.J.’s Bronco was a 1994 model, like this one. Al Cowlings’s Bronco was a 1993.

They All Count

I like Chuck Klosterman a lot, even though his take on the nemesis thing is sexist and he got bounced as The New York Times Magazine ethicist for I don’t know why.

One of my favorite Klosterman books is the not-critically-acclaimed Killing Yourself to Live, which features Chuck ruminating on his exes while completing a cross-country assignment for SPIN Magazine, visiting the sites famous rock musicians died by suicide.

In it he makes a useful point about romantic partners in general while writing specifically about “Lenore,” the pseudonym for one of his exes:

“The problem that has always been between us: Lenore wants me to be a slightly different person than who I actually am, and I can’t force myself to care about the things that are important to her. So even when we both ‘win,’ nothing really changes.”

Moral: Don’t try to make it work with someone who will always want you to be a slightly different person than who you actually are.

And since it’s Valentine’s Day, here’s a more sentimental one, about the templates for who we love.

“We all have the potential to fall in love a thousand times in our lifetime. It’s easy. The first girl I loved was someone I knew in sixth grade…The last girl I love will be someone I haven’t even met yet, probably. They all count. But there are certain people you love who do something else; they define how you classify what love is supposed to feel like. These are the most important people in your life, and you’ll meet maybe four or five of these people over the span of 80 years.

Heart-shaped meat box, and other metaphors…

But there’s still one more tier to all this: there is always one person you love who becomes that definition. It usually happens retrospectively, but it always happens eventually. This is the person who unknowingly sets the template for what you will always love about other people, even if some of those lovable qualities are self-destructive and unreasonable. You will remember having conversations with this person that never actually happened. You will recall sexual trysts with this person that never technically occurred… This is because the person does not really exist. The person is real, and the feelings are real — but you create the context. And context is everything. The person who defines your understanding of love is not inherently different than anyone else, they’re often just the person you happen to meet the first time you really, really want to love someone. But that person still wins. They win, and you lose. Because for the rest of your life, they will control how you feel about everyone else.”

LA Is Really A Small Town, With Excellent Bar Trivia

Chance encounters are the best. I get more than my fair share of good ones.

Yesterday, I had just flown back from a conference/retreat in Sonoma when I got a random message from my high school friend Bryan, who I hadn’t seen since 2001.

Bryan introduced me to blogging nearly 20 years ago by setting up my LiveJournal as part of building elisehu.com for me. (That site got even fancier when Friend Justin added Flash!) Besides websites, our times spent together consisted a lot of Cici’s Pizza (all you can eat for only … 2.99).

So, the reason Bryan reached out is because his Tuesday night bar trivia team only had three other members who could make it, so he took a gamble in asking me to go (not knowing if I could even be helpful at a trivia challenge … little did he know I EFFING LOVE BAR TRIVIA).

Upon joining the team, which we named “Alexa, Sue The National Enquirer,” I met Kat and Kevin.* How did Kat and Kevin meet? Good question. It turns out they met through a matchmaker, and their first date was recorded in full on, wait for it, NPR for a Morning Edition piece that aired a year ago. NPR? Hey that’s where I work!

I am happy to report they are now engaged. And our trivia team CRUSHED IT, coming in first place, winning fifty dollars off our bar tab. But perhaps we should have slacked a little because the prize for second place was a copy of the book, “Conflict Resolutions for Couples.”

*Kevin really showed his chops on a question about the common name for the medical condition ‘circadian dysrhythmia.’ Answer: jet lag.

The Great Garage Organization, aka, Finishing Unpacking

Mishele is a professional organizer.

Moving my things from South Korea, a separate shipment from Washington, DC, and a stash of my parents stuff from their old place in St. Louis into my smallest house ever, here in LA, was too much for me to handle in September. So I left a bunch of boxes unpacked and piled up in my garage. I made a New Year’s Resolution to finally go through those things and couldn’t face it on my own, so I hired a professional organizer, Mishele, to do it with me.

She was fantastic and now that our three hours together are complete, I feel fantastic. The garage is sorted.

Most of the stuff that’s staying is memorabilia, like my twenty years of handwritten journals recorded between age six and 26 (I was a weird kid/am a weird person), all my parents art that will soon go down to Orange County where they have bought a new condo as a US home base, and my husband Matty’s old stuff, like his YEARBOOKS. (This was a particularly exciting discovery for me given how yearbooks seem to keep getting old white guys in trouble.) I found nothing incriminating in Stiles’s yearbooks but a girl named Mandy did sign his 1994 edition saying “If you don’t take me to Legends of the Fall I am going to beat the shit out of you” which, c’mon, Legends of the Fall was a snooze, let’s not assault anyone over it.

That time we got suckered into buying our photo stuck onto a tequila bottle because we are suckers

Mishele works with a lot of hoarders and said that in her business I am considered a “normie,” as in, a standard issue disorganized person and not someone with deeper attachments or psychological reasons for having a bunch of stuff. As it turns out I didn’t have that much stuff, even, I was just putting off dealing with it. Anyway it’s done.

Ridiculous items I have been suckered into purchasing like bottles of tequila with our faces on them have been Marie Kondo-ed out of my life, and I will remember to stop making impulse purchases henceforth.

Related: Moving to California

A San Francisco Trip Down Memory Lane

The joke goes that for the New York Times to consider something a trend, all it takes is three instances. I don’t know how many times it takes to make a tradition but after Friend Matt dropped down to Costa Rica for one night for my 30th, and I went to Las Vegas for one night for his 29th, I suppose it became a fun trend/tradition/trendition(?) to skip town for a night for one of our birthdays. This time we’re all older, as Young Matt’s already 35.

Popping up to a SF party from LA was a snap compared to the time Eva was 10-weeks old and I’d leak milk if I wasn’t near enough to feed her but Friend Liz and I still spontaneously flew across the country for for the Vegas shindig. There was a moment at the club at 2am when I yelled over the music to Liz, “WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE OR ELSE I WILL HAVE TO PUMP IN THE BATHROOM OF TAO.”

Matt has collected an eclectic bunch of high-achieving friends in his 35 years. Being San Francisco, a lot of them work in fields like venture capital or tech or finance. A few of his friends are actors. So there’s a certain amount of posturing at these parties, but the posturing is more merry and less irritating than it is in DC. (If I never go to another book party where everyone I talk to is looking over my shoulder to find someone cooler to talk to, I will be just fine.)

With BFF Erin one day after school in 9th grade, and 22 years later, last week.

For Friend Erin and me, the crowded soiree became an experiment in trying to learn interesting things about a string of strangers as quickly as possible because there were a lot of awesome people to squeeze in. An incomplete list of them, by the shorthand names we gave them:

The scuba-diving neuroscientist
The “lesbian” who’s actually not a lesbian
Something about robot waiters
(Not) Tom from MySpace
Lawyer who rode a horse that was on The Bachelor
97.9 percent back-in-the investment guy
Dude who runs a high tech circus: “It’s a micro-amusement park”

My high point was probably when we started talking to a guy with a British accent and I wasn’t sure if he was faking it, so I decided to fake a British accent in case he WAS trying to mess with me. This went on, an absurd conversation in a British accent, until he proved he was actually British and I had to give up. He was impressed I used the term “lorry” though.

Wade scoots around in his Vespa.

Anyway. San Francisco is special because I got to squeeze in one-on-one time with people who have known me for 20+ years. Not one but BOTH high school besties — Erin and Wade — now work and live there with their respective husbands. So does my old Plano Senior High School golf teammate, Chris, who I later became closer with, in college. “I’m playing the best golf of my life these days,” he reports. “I could join the tour. I think it’s because I stopped giving a damn.”

Erin and I partying together again marked maybe the thousandth-or-so party we attended together since we first met in 9th grade. Being from Texas, those parties involved a lot Taco Cabana, Aaliyah music and dark fields with kegs in the backs of pickup trucks. And for some reason we saw Sister Hazel live three times in high school, even though they really only had that one hit song.

“Finally I figured out, but it took a long long tiiiiiime….”

Children’s Books I Love

DSC05017
My chunkiest baby, Baby Eva, pant-less, planking and reading at once, 2013.

A commenter on my recent book post asked about children’s books and surprise, I read a lot of them. It’s a crucial part of the girls’ bedtime routine, and Isa, my second daughter, always wants more stories than reasonable. I wind up spacing out while reading because at some point I go into the zone of thinking, JUST GO TO SLEEP, CHILDREN, SO I CAN GO OUT AND EAT SECOND DINNER.

That said, quality children’s literature is so delightful. Here are few of my favorites to read with the girls:

A Squash and a Squeeze,
Monkey Puzzle,
Room for a Broom, all by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
This author and illustrator combo are best known for The Gruffalo, a modern classic. Julia Donaldson’s rhymes are brilliant and the hidden lessons in these books tug at my heart. The first time I read Squash, which is an allegory about abundance, I teared up a little bit. I love Monkey Puzzle because it’s a quest to find the small monkey’s mom and at the end there’s a happy reunion. We always really over-dramatize the end and do big hugs once the monkey dad takes the monkey child home to mom. And Room on a Broom is just an awesome story with an adorable dragon at the end. Also they made it into a perfect half-hour length film to show your kids if you need to distract them for 30 minutes.

Triangle, by Mac Bennett and Jon Claussen
Triangle is the first in an the immensely popular series that’s followed by Square, also by this duo. I like the relationship between Triangle and Square, as well as the subversiveness of their behavior.

The Knuffle Bunny Trilogy, by Mo Willems
Each of the Knuffle Bunny stories builds on the previous one. The main character, Trixie, grows from blathering baby to an elementary-aged child. Together, they comprise a love letter from father to daughter, and the last one, while the longest, also feels most close to our family, as Trixie goes to visit her Oma and Opa in Amsterdam, which is also where the girls’ own Oma and Opa called home for five years.

Lucia the Luchadora, Cynthia Leonor Garza and Alyssa Bermudez
In the Lucia books, heteronormative notions about who can be a luchador are subverted and Lucia and her sister Gemma are such little firecrackers that the girls can’t get enough of these stories. They also utilize a lot of onomatopoeia, which the kids get into.

Poppy Pickle, by Emma Yarlett
I got this from one of the free book shelves we have at work, which are the overflow copies of the stacks and stacks of books sent to us by publishers. It’s a fun tale about a girl with an outsized imagination. You can read it the fast way by skipping all the things she thinks up, or the slow way by identifying all of them.

Chu’s Day, by Neil Gaiman
A lovely board book by the great author. So good to read aloud because of all the AAAAAAHHHCHOOOOOOS!

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst
A classic! I heard this as a child and my friend and mentor Kinsey would read it to his (now adult) children when they were little. He and his wife sent me this and some other classics to Korea after Isa was born. You don’t appreciate the smooth writing of these sentences until you read this aloud.

The Book with No Pictures, by B.J. Novak
It’s true, there are no pictures are in this book. It doesn’t need them. The girls love it so much they memorized it.

Asides:

I read all Peppa Pig books in a British accent.

Anything by Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss are easy wins at our house.

When I am in airport book shops I always pick up a book that’s location specific, so we have a ton of board books like, “Good Night St. Louis” or “San Francisco Baby.” They are hit-or-miss in terms of quality.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales was among my favorite children’s books as a child. I was so excited to read to the girls my original copy (which I kept in pristine condition because I was a very organized small person). But they were not impressed and did not think it was half as funny as I did. Bummer.

I love that children always, always notice more little things in the illustrations than you will. Eva was tracking a tiny snail that was hidden on every single page of one story one time and I didn’t realize it was even there until one time I turned the page too quickly and she freaked out because she hadn’t located the snail yet.

I also love how they bring the stories to life with their imaginations — the questions I get about the reading material remind you how constrained and boring adult frameworks for thinking can get.

What are YOUR favorites to read to children? Please share, as I am always trying to find new stories that won’t have me spacing out. 🙂