a letter from new york

to michael.JPG

June 25, 2018




Sometimes I have good days & sometimes I have bad ones. Stupidly obvious, I know, but I was thinking this particularly on the train ride home from my internship the past Tuesday (we went to the Noguchi Museum together because this year, Japan Society thought the interns ought to become better friends). At first, I was annoyed at the fact that train service was ridiculously bad that day—it took nearly an hour longer to get home than usual—but then I realized all the time I spent underground and without internet made great time to write back to you. Responding the instant I receive your letters sounds good in concept, but I realize I need to process things for a bit and find somewhere to start anyway. 


That said, I say I have good days and bad days because Tuesday—even though nothing spectacular happened—was, in comparison to the week before it, much, much better. I was able to help the nurse & translate a little of what she was saying to my grandma (I just didn’t know how to say “constipation medicine,” but Google Translate never fails me in these situations), I think my supervisor liked the short animation I showed him that I had been working on (staying awake until nearly five in the morning seems to have paid off), I got to know my fellow interns a little more, and, I actually didn’t even realize the train I was taking home had been stuck in the same station for so long because I was having an interesting conversation with one of the other interns. And I suppose it was because I had a pleasant day that I thought it appropriate to begin writing this letter, because I wanted to share some of my happiness—even if in small increments—with you. 


Last week, and for some days of this summer break so far, I would wake up in such a funk. I don’t know if I was particularly upset about something—maybe it was an accumulation of things—but for some reason, I was in a constant volatile state. My grandma would do something so little as to accidentally drop her pair of chopsticks and I could cry right then & there. A breakdown sort of like a bomb: waiting for the flame to consume the last of the fuse, I think, before detonation. I also had no appetite: I went to my favorite ice cream place Sundaes and Cones the other day, got my favorite flavor lavender, and the act of licking, of swallowing felt so mechanical. I had to force myself to finish because the ice cream just tasted cold, an absence of the light floral sweet, and it was simply a mushy feeling on my tongue, which only made me more upset—what do you do when your favorite food doesn’t taste good to you anymore? Doesn’t taste like anything? 


My mother says that the life span of the artist is an ephemeral one. My uncle, her older brother, worked for some years as a writer & photographer before he realized they couldn’t amount to very much if he didn’t “make it” in China, let alone America where he understood virtually no English. Their father—my grandpa whom I’ve never met because he died premature—had long bouts of creative blocks, bore both a physical & emotional burden, and when he was not writing, he was drinking. My mother doesn't bring him up frequently, but when it is just the two of us eating dinner and the house is very quiet & seemingly listening, she recalls with solely tenderness. Then, perhaps as a caution: “I know you always like to stay up late to do your work,” she said once, “but don’t you know that’s linked with depression? With dying young?” And I looked at her with what felt like the most bewildered expression.


In Chinese—or at least, according to the way my mother talks—anything can be made a metaphor via death. To illustrate, when the air is sweltering & suffocating (as it was this past Monday & Tuesday) that your sweat practically serves as an adhesive to your shirt, you’d say, “[It’s] hot [enough that] a person [could] die!” Or: when the D train cannot afford to fit another passenger inside and the next one doesn’t come for another twenty minutes, you might want to yell, “[I’m so] angry [that my anger could] kill a person!" In my case, so my mother says: "Sylvia, you're going to think [yourself to your own] death!" Having said that, perhaps what makes the difference between this past week & the previous one, what is contributing to my improved mood as of right now, is that this week involved more interaction with others, was more eventful, and I had less time to think myself silly. Having an entire week off from work sounded wonderful at first—all this time I could spend on me for once—but it became nauseating relatively quickly. We are supposed to be social beings, after all, no matter how much I convince myself that I can go long periods of time alone; I also notice that, for the most part, after meeting up or talking in-person with a friend or someone new, I feel a sense of gladness for having gone through with it, despite any initial desire to bail out (it's much easier to just stay home & to yourself, you know?). Funnily enough, while my knowledge of business jargon is largely nonexistent, my father is always trying to get me to think in terms of tradeoff, and I believe it is actually applicable here: I have to expend the energy, the effort in order to achieve the happiness I am striving for. I wonder—since you are in Chicago now & in the company of your friends—are you feeling happier too?


It's weird how often I forget—especially during the times I feel absolutely hopeless & lethargic—how easy it is to derive happiness from even the most seemingly trivial of things. Yesterday, I made it to the platform right when the train doors closed, but because the conductor saw me just as I reached the top step, he opened them for another few seconds so I could board. Then, some time before that: during our lunch break at work, because the break room was too crowded, my friend and I decided to instead eat outside, where she played some mellow tunes on the public piano in the plaza across the street from our company, while I leaned & listened on, basking in the sunlight which was so inviting, the kind of warm that delicately embraces your skin. And two days before: I was at the Kinokuniya in Bryant Park (as I usually am), the bottommost floor with all the fashion magazines & the knick-knacks & the lovely stationery, and I saw the cutest letter paper (the one I am writing on right now, actually), and I thought, how lucky I am, how wonderful it is to have someone to write to, and therefore buy this paper for. The universe is endlessly kind to me, and so I hope it is to you as well.