A few weeks ago I looked up from my computer to see a baby racoon stumbling in my patio. Limping with an injured leg and batting the flies away from its battered, festering face, it staggered, disoriented, until it fell from a ledge, landing haphazardly, lacking the energy to brace for the fall. Within the hour, it was curled up on my doorstep, seemingly dead.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the day I found my mom unconscious on this same plot of land, one I’m increasingly convinced attracts death. Ever since, the summer is has maintained an eerie air. The day I found her, it was the perfect summer day: bright blue skies, mid-twenties, a light breeze. The moments leading up to coming home that day appear in my memory like twisted scenes from a childhood horror movie; like evil clowns or demented dolls—deceptively sweet and wholesome. The days and weeks after her death carried the same dissonance. I walked around my Pleasantville neighbourhood with mild PTSD; passing golden retrievers and colourful toddlers with their dripping, candy-laced cones, a total zombie.
Last year, my summertime grief manifested as a frenetic paranoia (thanks to several months of isolation combined with the rise in anti-Asian sentiment). A resident homeless person in my building lobby and suspicious drug activity kept me up all night. But long before the pandemic, I would stay up all night in the summer. As a teenager, it was embracing the late sunsets, drinking with friends. But more often it was just staying up because my mind wouldn’t stop stirring until the blue sun of dawn would peek through my curtains.
For as long as I can remember, summer fuels me with anxiety. Like a viscous liquid, the humidity and heat makes everything feel dense and weighted. While in other seasons, depression has places to hide—under the early sunsets and thick covering of leaves in the fall; behind the light-adorned windows and heavy blankets in the winter—in the summer, we’re stripped of our layers; our emotions are laid bare. The light is bright, and the stillness of nature is suddenly disrupted with busy bodies eager to embrace life. Even worse, it’s especially brief in colder climates, increasing the pressure to enjoy it while it lasts.
After a year and a half of lockdown, this pressure feels especially intense. How can I embrace summertime sadness when I’m supposed to be living out a hot vax summer? Turns out there’s actually a name for what I’m feeling—summer seasonal affective disorder. I always thought the condition was limited to the fall and winter, but apparently the heat and humidity of the warmer months affects our mood too. As Cameron Walker writes, it’s this “social pressure to feel summery when the sun is shining,” that leaves many feeling down.
“While those with winter SAD tend to oversleep and overeat, summer SAD often shows up with insomnia and lowered appetite,” according to Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal as reported by the NYT. Compared to its winter counterpart, it shows up as a more “agitated depression.”
When my mom was still alive, I used to steal sprigs of lilacs for her—every home we’ve ever lived in, there’s been a bush in our neighbours yard. The sight of them blooming every year usually fills me with dread, it marks the beginning of my summertime sadness. But this year—amidst widespread reopening anxiety and this sense that people are more okay with admitting they’re not okay—the purple flowers just are. I stop to smell them, grateful for their colour after a long winter; no anticipation or fear of the grief I know will come with the sun and heat.
I’m still waiting for the day when feeling “summertime sadness” is as normal as having the “winter blues”, but until then, I’ll keep admiring the dead lilacs on my windowsill and tossing in bed until sunrise.
We never know how we’re going to respond to grief, or where we’re going to find healing. As an overly responsible, type-A former caregiver, I turned to social isolation and the pursuit of ‘wellness’ in all forms. Instead of a Hinge date at the local bar, I spent my Saturday nights in NYC at an inexpensive Asian massage clinic. I became obsessed with the touch of one masseuse—Lulu. A session with her was better than therapy—as she worked through the knots, the pain would get so intense all I could was breathe. In the space she created in our hour together, I found myself working through painful memories from my childhood.
It’s always been a dream of mine to submit to The New York Times’ Modern Love column. Once I realized I had a story here, I decided to pursue it. I’ve never poured myself so intensely into a personal essay. Ultimately they turned it down. Bruised by the rejection, I buried the essay—it was written with the column in mind, I couldn’t see it being a fit anywhere else.
Then the Atlanta shooting, and the pandemic, happened. Vogue picked up the story. I resent that it took a massacre for Asian immigrant workers to get the attention they deserve, and a pandemic to make a story about the relationship between grief and touch relevant, but this is how the industry works.
The Vogue essay is about 1200 words short of my original version, so I’m sharing two excerpts that didn’t get published.
“The 20-minute dozy stroll home following my weekly massage became sacred. Lively patios filled with swooning couples transitioning from dinner to drinks seemed buzzier than usual. Fairy tales of warm family dinners played out through the tall lit windows of brownstone walk-ups. It was the one time in my week when I could unabashedly look in on the life I didn’t have the courage to pursue. The world felt alive and full of potential—like falling in love.”
“Another time, Lulu’s hands on the same spot took me to my grandpa gently placing his own hand over the narrow space between grandma’s apron and her beltline as she washed dishes in the kitchen sink. Through a haze of cigarette smoke softened by the morning light, they looked out the window pane together, her hands in their yellow gloves remaining busy in the slosh of soapy water—it was the only time I saw them touch.”
What if we could cure our summertime sadness with food? I don’t mean by eating comfort food (although that certainly helps), but by eating foods functionally designed to shift our mood.
“Hippocrates once said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ And while the relationship between what we eat and physical health outcomes is well-known, a growing field of research known as nutritional psychiatry is finding that what we eat affects our mental health too.” - Excerpt from my Forbes story.
I rounded up 35 snacks that nourish and fuel the body. Here are some of my faves:
🥯 Bada Bean Bada Boom bean snacks: crunchy broad beans in every flavour under the sun. I’m obsessed with the Everything Bagel, Cocoa Dusted and Mesquite BBQ.
🧂 Enspice Seasonings: spice blends enhanced with greens + 21 vitamins and minerals.
🍫 Non Verbal Calm: Not-too-sweet dark chocolate made with adaptogens for winding down.
🍌 On the note of banana bread, GoNanas new instant mug mix is a dream for my fellow lazy bakers.
🍉 Did you know watermelon seeds have more protein than peanuts and almonds? 88 Acres Watermelon Seed Butter is a creamy take on the quintessential summer fruit.
Two books about Korean only daughters losing their mothers in their twenties: The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim and Crying in H-Mart by Michelle Zauner.
The first is a fictional story that alternates between the 1980s, when a Korean mother immigrates to L.A. to Seoul, and 2014, when her American-raised daughter searches to find out how her mother died.
The second explores Korean-American musician and writer Michelle Zauner’s real-life experience losing her mom to cancer through the lens of their relationship to Korean food. While both are stories of grief, their themes of immigration, identity and family will resonate with anyone.
I’m especially loving Zauner’s memoir, I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release ever since reading her viral New Yorker essay in 2018 (the first chapter of the book). A couple excerpts:
“Sometimes my grief feels as though I’ve been left alone in a room with no doors. Every time I remember that my mother is dead, it feels like I’m colliding into a wall that won’t give. There’s no escape, just a hard wall that I keep ramming into over and over, a reminder of the immutable reality that I will never see her again.”
“I had spent my adolescence trying to blend in with my peers in suburban America, and had come of age feeling like my belonging was something to prove. Something that was always in the hands of other people to be given and never my own to take, to decide which side I was on, whom I was allowed to align with. I could never be of both worlds, only half in and half out, waiting to be ejected at will by someone with greater claim than me. Someone whole.”
🛏 Tips for resisting revenge bedtime procrastination.
“I wonder why I don't go to bed and go to sleep. But then it would be tomorrow, so I decide that no matter how tired, no matter how incoherent I am, I can skip one hour more of sleep and live.” - Sylvia Plath.
😴 And general coronasomnia.
⚰️ I didn’t “survive my mom’s death” I just kept continuing to stay alive.
“Without the death of my mom — and specifically the experience of grieving her death — I wouldn’t have emotionally or mentally survived the pandemic.”
👬 Here’s how one of the Atlanta victim’s sons—22 and 21-year-old Randy and Eric Park—are faring without her.
“She was their connection not only to the community but also to their Korean heritage. Without her, even the most basic tasks can become baffling ordeals,” writes Juliana Kim.
🍜 This profile of Michelle Zauner (aka Japanese Breakfast) on grieving the loss of her mom.
“I think grief is something that I will live with forever,” Zauner says.
🇺🇸 Questioning what it means to be Asian American.
“Belonging will get us only so far, for belonging always involves exclusion,” writes Viet Thanh Nguyen.
🦠 For many of them, reopening is not an option.
“Person after person echoed the same worry: There is no vaccine against bigotry,” writes Jack Healy.
✊ But a new wave of Asian American artist-activists are using art to fight the racism.
“Today’s wave of activism seems less concerned about representation than on larger issues like the surveillance of immigrant neighborhoods, income inequality, and criminalization of sex work that put their communities at risk.” -Aruna D’Souza.
Writing my submission for the Modern Love column I realized—grief and love are inseparable. It feels fitting then, to watch Master of None’s Moments In Love at a time marked by grief; while the title implies romance, to me, this season reads as a story about loss—of love, identity, friendship and maternity.
Compared to the first two seasons, Moments In Love is pointedly slow and melancholic. Shot on film, the image is grainy and lush; the colours are subdued, the UK countryside providing the perfect moody backdrop to a tale of break-up. At first glance, it could be mislabelled dark and depressing, leaving viewers searching for “moments in love.” But to me, this is what love is—quiet, mundane, complicated.
In this interview with David Chang, creator Alan Yang says the trajectory of food experiences throughout the seasons reveals how this latest speaks to our current moment. 😂
Season 1: wining and dining in NYC.
Season 2: making pasta in Italy.
Season 3: eating a burger alone in your car.
When the Atlanta shooting happened, writers Jay Caspian King and Ocean Vuong’s inboxes blew up with requests for them to come on talk shows as spokespersons for the Asian community.
“I couldn’t agree to those invitations, it meant getting a cheque because six Asian women were murdered,” says Vuong. “It’s heartbreaking for an Asian creative when you’re most relevant when your people die.”
In this episode of Time To Say Goodbye, Vuong (author of one of my fave books, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous) and King discuss the trap of authenticity that comes with representation; how people of colour get pigeon-holed into being ethnographers—“a bridge to their people”—rather than afforded the space to become creators.
How does the immigrant story get told? Vuong says his work is guided by the question—“What is the use of joy in the aftermath of obliteration?”
“Asian American bodies are expected to be relief from the political,” says Vuong. “Just as how Black bodies are seen as hyper-politicized, dangerous threatening.”
This American Life never disappoints. Their Good Grief! episode explores four unique perspectives of grief: losing a coworker, cumulative grief, communal grieving and writing one’s own obituary. I won’t spoil it for you, but I have to share this quote that captures how I’m feeling on today’s death anniversary.
“When someone dies, they don’t just die, it’s like they keep dying, in pieces as time wears on. The moment of their demise drifting farther and farther away from you, like a raft heading for the horizon. It happened with my mom, I found I didn’t want to leave that temporal orbit of her death before it became just another thing that happened to me.” - Sean Cole.