journalling while covid-19

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I started writing this entry on a typical Saturday evening for the summer these days: it's still and quiet, and all of my neighbors are home — not at bars, not at clubs dancing, nor at the karaoke bar. I'd much prefer to be at a karaoke bar, but here I am, sitting on my couch plastered with the shape of my ass, writing this long-delayed piece of writing that I know I've been wanting to start for the past few days, weeks, months.

Today was especially exciting in these recent days: I got to spend the morning sitting on the airy, back patio of a beloved book/coffee shop with an Americano and new book I'm reading (Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong; would recommend 100%). It's been only recent that I've begun revisiting pastimes — the past before COVID hit. These days, I can actually read. But in the beginning of the quarantine, the only thing I could read was the news. As much as I would have liked to not consume myself in graph charts depicting growing hospitalization counts and ICU bed availability, that was what consumed me most of March and April. I don't know what happened in May and June, except that I went outside more and escaped into the outdoors. I thought I'd prefer being completely alone in the outdoors than completely alone in my 1-bedroom apartment by myself. I'm happy to be rambling; this miscellany is what my brain holds.

Along the hours that have ticked away unceremoniously over the past few months, I've done a lot of thinking about all realms of my lives. For a long while - even before the quarantine, before the world stopped, I thought about how much I miss blogging and having my own place on the internet. One that didn't sit within another platform. Where I could post pictures of my kittens and hiking trips without ingratiating for likes and comments from the people I follow digitally but don't talk to IRL. Where I could share my candid, messy thoughts without worrying about its professionalism from those in my tech network. A place to be scrappy and unorganized and honest and human.

I used to have a place like on the internet. I'm thinking back to the days I used Xanga and LiveJournal and Myspace and AIM. There was definitely a sense of self-curation and consciousness around how my crushes would perceive me in this middle-school era. There was also an unravelling and truthfulness to how they served as digital journals for people to eat up. People could really get to know me — if I let them. If I dared shared my Xanga handle with them. Here it is, now devour me. I'll share this much with you that I may not share IRL.

I think I want to make this personal website more like that for me. Now that I've somehow managed to learn the web design and development skills to do this, I want to make my website less a purely professional space with my online design portfolio, and more a blended space of who Lisa is. She is neat and messy. Candid and planned. Professional and personal. You're welcome.

Watching America From a Distance #BelieveChristine

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Yesterday was a hard day to sit in France and to be away from America. It was Thursday, September 27, 2018 — the day of Senate hearings around Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of being sexually assaulted by Judge Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school.

With France’s timezone six hours ahead of that of the east coast, and nine hours of the west coast, it took me awhile to internalize the solidarity with all of my friends, family, and communities in the United States. It was during my mid-late afternoon here in Lyon that morning began in D.C. with the Senate hearings. It was when my Instagram and Facebook began to flood with hashtags like #WeBelieveSurvivors and #CancelKavanaugh and with articles, video clips, excerpts, readings, and other formats focused on the issue. Since I don’t have any American friends nor really know any American here in Lyon, I went throughout the day not really talking about this with anyone. It was weird to acknowledge that a monumental proceeding that will live in history books for decades to come was happening back at home, while I was here strolling through the typically European cobblestone and narrow pathways, past people nonchalently enjoying their smoke, wine, and conversation that buzzed about. And rather than seeking out a new concert or bar to try out in the evening last night at 11pm, I opted to buy a bottle of wine and just sit in the kitchen of the apartment to stream the hearings.

I imagined the parallel version of yesterday had I been in the states. I would have gone into work in the morning, and this would have been a major topic of watercooler conversation with my colleagues; we would have mentioned the severity of it and have scheduled meetings around the hearings so that we could stream it remotely from our computers, all the while continuing to concentrate on the day’s work, if we were successful, at all. At some point during such a shitty day, I would have likely texted a few of my friends to try to meet up in the evening to decompress and to support each other. Maybe we would have gone to Telegraph because of their ample, communal patio seating with a decent selection of beer and burgers. Emphasis on the word “communal”, for it would put us in direct, physical contact with others who’d palpably feel as we did; even if we never spoke to them, we would know that the whole crowd felt equivalently tense, disappointed, nervous, anxious. After a few hours, I would have driven home and stumbled through my front door and plop myself in front of my laptop computer, checking Facebook, the news, Twitter, and Instagram again for any new updates, insights, and conversations.

It’s easy for me to imagine what it’s like to proceed through a day like this in America. A day where you go about your normal routine with work and personal life, set against the backdrop of a major political and social events elsewhere (or everywhere?) in the country. It’s because we have a lot of those days. For some, those days cut them directly, whereas for others, they feel more like a bruise. With struggle and oppression come resistance and empowerment. I think that is why the entire nation gripped itself to the courage and heroism of Dr. Ford’s confession.

It’s hard to follow the dialogue around Kavanaugh’s possible confirmation to the highest court of the country because it reiterates the despicable privilege that white, straight, male America strives desperately to maintain. It makes me angry, and also sometimes powerless. Nevertheless, I felt proud to also learn about the various protests and acts of resistance echoing and rumbling through the multi-faceted, varied landscape that is our country. The people who risk their safety to speak out about experiencing sexual assault and violence in the workplace, on college campuses, in intimate corners of a home, and elsewhere. Those that listen and support, even if the ways in which one supports may not always be clear. Those that begin to acknowledge how their current or past behaviors have perpetuated misogyny or sexual violence, and seek to unlearn and untrain such habits. Those that begin to see what a more just world could look like, and then slowly walk towards that path.

Being far away from America on a day like yesterday reminded me of the heart and soul that people posess so deeply to fight even despite the seemingly insurmountable hierarchy undergirding our entire society. I’m nervous about the results of today. But to help me deal with it, I want to focus on what I’m capable of doing for my country in the skill I know best: drawing. So I’m going to continue to try to draw and make art to help spread messages and build awareness and empathy.

On Stumbling

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During one of my many aimless strolls the other day, it dawned on me that I have been in France for 6 weeks, which is the midway point of my sojourn here. Encountering this realization left me with a lot of mixed feelings: shouldn’t I have drawn or written or eaten or met more people or spoken better French or done more of this or that? I was catching myself comparing my expectations of how I thought things would be like when I planned this trip months ago, to how things were panning out.

It reminds me of myself when I was in college. I’d have this urge to express the fact of the moment out loud. Even while in the midst of it — holed up in Olin Library at 11pm with another 30 pages to read, walking across snow-blanketed Foss Hill in the heart of winter after a blizzard, having the first heart-to-heart with an acquaintance that’d turn out to be a true life friend — I tried to actively acknowledge the unique, time-boxed ephermality of the quintessential American college experience. How? I would blurt out to whomever I was with:

“you guys, we’re in college!”

And I keep having a similar feeling while I’m here in France (except I don’t exclaim anything out loud because these moments occur most often when I’m alone). Such quiet moments feel like any other I’d have in the states, but they feel different simply because I’m living amidst the backdrop of a foreign country.

Knowing that my stay in France has a clear end date makes me feel guilty for not doing “more.” Right now, I’m sitting in my apartment and writing this blog entry, instead of being out and taking in the lively European nightlife. And perhaps I feel guilty about not having eaten at enough fine dineries here in the reputed food capital of France (though my wallet certainly doesn’t feel guilty about that!).

The way these minor pangs of guilt coalesce with other hiccups throughout my stay — trying to find housing last-minute, getting lost in translation with complete strangers — feel like stumbling. To think you’re moving forward, until something grips you in your tracks and trips you up. Like when you begin to have more comfortable interactions with strangers in French, yet suddenly, when a young woman at the gym accidentally bumps into you and apologizes with a French “pardon”, you find yourself startled, voiceless, inarticulate. The moment passes and you didn’t respond to her apology.

Stumbling is moving along confidently, only to slip off from an unforeseen crack on the sideback. To advance towards your destination, only to miscalculate how you’ll get there or how long it’ll take. Stumbling can feel like a lot like stillness.

But here is the thing about stumbling too: it opens new possibilities. When you misstep, you’re poised to observe an ordinary situation from a different angle. There have been many instances in which someone has bumped into me and apologized, to which I’ve subsequently responded: “no worries”, “no problem”, “don’t worry about it”, “it’s okay”.

How easy is it for me to automatically conjure these idiomatic English phrases. Perhaps it's because I had already stumbled through this exact scenario before: I can’t recount when, exactly, but perhaps maybe when I was 3 or 4 and was learning how to express manners in English. When I reflect on not having responded to the French woman at the gym apologizing to me what I fear most is having come off as rude or impolite.

This distinct moment of a minor stumble reminded of me of own values and principles. It's inevitable that I'll uncover more of the worldview I've already constructed and probably take for granted as I continue to stumble, particularly during the second part of my stay in France.

I'm not sure what I will unfold in next few weeks, nor do I want to imagine that they'll materialize as something conspicuously grand or dramatic or thrilling. I want to be open to anything in my path - big and small, loud and muted. I hope that as I stumble, I can rise again and continue on the path that I am on and, in fact, have always been on.

Why France?

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Ever since I decided to go to France, people haved asked me:

Why France?

… And everytime I answer the question to a different person, my response modifies slightly as I tacitly reflect upon my reasoning through quiet moments here.

I linger on this question because each time I think about it, I acknowledge the contractions within my reasoning. Half of me is in France because there are many aspects of French culture that I appreciate: its food habits, its language, its art movements and its philosophies. I love easily picking up rich, affordable baguettes from the plethora of available boulangeries, as well as how people seize the moment and taste of their meal and their drinks. I love the sound and grammar of the French language, despite the frustration that the countless verb tenses cause me. My first art history class happened in the 3rd grade, when my teacher introduced the class to Claude Monet and to Impressionism. Moreover, I romantize how some of my favorite artists and writers are either from France, or have spent time in France, including James Baldwin, Angela Davis, and Henri Matisse. Is there something hidden within the melange of the food, the language, the art community, and the way of being that enabled such revolutionary thinkers and artists to develop and refine ground-breaking truths? I wanted to see what they saw, to feel what they felt, hence why I decided to come to France.

I can acknowledge all of this and recognize how this culture has molded itself over centuries from its absorption and willful domination of other peoples, given its position as a dominant Western European country. In "Cultural Identity and Diaspora", Stuart Hall asserts that cultural identity is "not an essense but a positioning." And I'm interested in comparing how the two countries' positioning of one another shapes its inhabitents' understanding and embrace of the other culture. Having grown up and been educated in the United States, I have observed America’s admiration of French culture — perhaps something I have also internalized. As twin peers of Western hegemonic power, the United States and France straddle a similar level of global dominance — economically, politically, culturally. Perhaps it is this ability for United States to regard France as an equal that such porous exchange of the cultural value (shall we say — democratic?) exists between these two countries.

To materially trace the beginnings of my Francophilia is to revisit moments of my youth in which France’s cultural values had already permeated my education — from the public classroom, to what I listened to and watched in the media, to the laws under which I was governed.

Case in point: from my observation, the typical art history course in an American high school isdominated by the stories and portrayals of mostly white, Western male artists (unless you specifically sought out the “specialized” histories of those in Asia or Africa, for example). That’s perhaps why it’s been easy for to gravitate towards Monet, Renoir, and Cezanne as models to follow: because my Western education has been shaped by white, straight male hegemony to prioritize and diffuse the stories of those like them, all the while portraying other voices — those of women, people of color, queer, immigrant — as exotic “others” that remain on the outskirts of the creative canon.

Conversely, I've observed how American cultural dominance has also penetrated that which people choose to consume here. Sometimes, I find myself in conversations where other French peers my age know more about certain American movies and TV shows than I do myself! When I went to an underground, alternative, music event, I was amused to find that all of the musicians sang their song in English. All in all, there is a demand and appetite for embracing American culture --- because for all the negative reputation that American has deservedly garnered, it still uploads itself as a beacon of progress and democracy, constructioning and spreading evidence of such political and cultural capital through Hollywood and other popular media.

I'm continuing to observe, experience, and understand my time here as an Asian-American woman from California in France, but that deserves its own post.

Two Weeks Living in Lyon, France

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Today marks two weeks since I’ve been in Lyon, France. People have asked me how it’s been and what I’ve been doing. Frankly, it’s been quite mundane: getting groceries, drawing, going to the cafe to read, climbing at the gym. Here, I do all the things I was already doing at home. However, the mere fact that this all takes place in a foreign country has accentuated such quotidien experiences. Here are some musings from my life here so far:

The language barrier is frustrating, but it’s not insurmountable.

Even though I’ve taken about 4.5 years of school French and have practiced on-and-off over the years, I struggle a lot with conversational French — mostly in my listening comprehension. As someone who prides herself on being a warm and attentive listener to her peers, it’s been a huge blow to not be able to always understand what people are saying and to misinterpret the context. Often this leads to frustration, but then I remember that this frustration stems primarily from the pressure I put on myself and from my ego to escape shame or embarassment. In moments where I remember this, I try to laugh about it with the person I'm talking with as well.

And so, in order to improve my French, I’ve sought out language conversation exchange partners, and have been watching and listening to French media on YouTube, Netflix, and podcasts with subtitles and transcriptions. I’ve also been reading more in French in order to augment my vocabulary and grammar comprehension. Lastly, I will begin a 2-week crash course in French starting Monday at Alliance Française.

Slowing down feels foreign.

I came to Lyon in the middle of August, which is the time of the year when locals go on vacation and businesses close down for the summer. With the city quietly resting, I've experienced bouts of restlessness in this stillness. As an American who was living a fast-paced life back in the Bay Area, I wasn’t acclimated to a pace where people take time to feel the moments of a moment, to enjoy the espresso while looking outwards with no specific goal or vision in mind, to create space for conversation and for dining. My favorite part of the day is apéro — the time of the late afternoon/early evening when people join their close ones to enjoy a drink and snacks before dinner.

While this slowness has perturbed my over-active, over-stimulated brain, I also think it's been healthy for me to internalize an approach of living that isn't always goal-oriented.

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Despite having 100% of free time, priorities and structure still reign.

I’ve found it helpful to build some structure into my day in order to have some sanity. I organize my days into 3 main chunks: the morning, the afternoon, and the evening.

Mornings

I spend my mornings working on my art practice (en plein air or on other projects), reading, writing, and hanging out at the local cafe. I’ve always loved mornings, and that doesn’t seem to change even in a new locale.

Lyon

Afternoons

I can’t quite recall what I’ve done in my afternoons, but it’s been filled with miscellaneous activity: going to the museum, shopping for groceries, running errands, and apero! When I start my French course next week, I will be spending my afternoons doing that.

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Me with my two friends, Jorge and Amy, at Musée des Confluences.

Evenings

After apero, I might do a number of things: meeting up with a friend, getting dinner with people, watching a free music show at l’Opéra de Lyon, enjoying the sunset, sitting by the river. When the city picks back up, I look forward to watching more live music and other entertainment.

Conclusion

Overall, it's been quite lovely, and also mundane and true and simple in the way life just is. Everyday I wake up surprised and grateful that I get to have this experience that I've thought about for so long.