November 20, 2020 | Feature
people, places, and things
what are we thankful for in 2020?
In a year spent motion sick, it’s the things I could grip onto.
A pencil, at first, tucked in a new notebook, sheathed in black matte leather. For thoughts and their consequences, words.
The hard spine of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. A story that, for the first time, invited me to join it on its pages, representing me as a queer Asian American. How it said you can write too. How Ocean’s storm was my weather.
Resulting: the first piece I ever submitted for publication. My first pages of pride, processing the story of my grandmother entering quarantine as she sheltered from a novel coronavirus just across her city’s bridge to Wuhan.
Pages—turned into handlebars—as her story became mine, and then new pages to reprocess. Still short of direction, though, as I grieved my community fleeing.
Whispered goodbyes into necks, fleeting.
A replacement: the neck of my guitar, into which I sang to cure my vertigo. Crooning, careening. The only stable point: a pen firmly on paper.
I was gifted a beautiful teal Moleskine journal as a high school graduation gift. Three-and-a-half years later, I’m embarrassed to admit that only six out of the 240 pages have been filled.
I had plans for this journal: I entered college with the intent to document my not-so-wild life, a goal of reflecting at least every week. Clearly, this was wishful thinking.
The journal’s emptiness is not for a lack of noteworthy events. The journal has been everywhere. It’s been stowed in my luggage and carried across the country with me when I started college in Providence. It accompanied me halfway across the world on my study abroad adventures in Amsterdam. It was hauled home with me to Seattle when COVID-19 struck in March, sending the world into disarray. I even brought it on my first-ever backpacking trip to the White Mountains two summers ago, sealed carefully in a Ziploc bag as protection from the elements.
As I enter my final semester at Brown and prepare for the post-graduation future, I will make one last-ditch attempt to fill these pages. I’m not sure I’ll succeed—I’m always distracted by each new event as it happens, having convinced myself that living in the moment is more important than logging it. But maybe jotting down my memories will help me preserve them; maybe reflection is just what I need.
The first picture I saw of the apartment freaked me out. Were we sure we’d like the wood paneling? Could we imagine ourselves locked inside it for weeks or months, if need be? Would we resort to murder due to household conflicts, wondering who would do the dishes and mad about people drying our one knife wrong? Instead, almost a whole semester in, we have created a home, and a family away from our families. My housemate’s art lines our walls. Every night someone cooks a dinner that we all eat around our beat-up table. At exactly 7:30 p.m., crazy hour starts and we laugh so hard we nearly throw up. In the darkness, we turn on lights that make everything golden; in the mornings, sun streams into the living room glinting off the Persian coffee table sourced from my basement.
There are so many things to be grateful for this year—the editor who took me out for birthday coffee, the friend who insists on hiking and makes us join her despite our inability to plan, homemade lemon liqueur out of thermoses in Blackstone Park as the leaves change, conversations about love, my parents who answer my phone calls every day and seem to enjoy them, and each cat I see through Providence windows—but our apartment and the people who have made it a home are at the top of my list.
In a year spent at home, it’s the places I could fully rest.
The first night—my childhood bed. Eerily, then comfortably, familiar. A return to form for my spine.
Then, a window, full screen, displaying miniatures in my friends’ likenesses. A feeling of relief, like finding my keys.
Not the keyboard, onto which my wrists relaxed and nothing else, but its consequences—words, which I used as tethers.
The crook between Philly and Boston, as my boyfriend and I tried to pull the two closer together.
The crook between his neck and shoulders, at some point.
Imagine yourself sitting in a vast, eerily silent room. The slightest noises—the rustle of pages, the drop of a pen—draw glares. Ceramic busts of dead white men surround you, staring into your soul. Unsettling, right?
I’ve heard every imaginable criticism of Brown University’s John Hay Library: it’s not open on Saturdays, it closes too early, it’s too quiet, it’s just plain creepy. But to me, it’s a place where time just stops, bathed in mahogany wood and a soft yellow lamplit glow.
I often found myself at the Hay in my spare hours—before class, after dinner, between meetings. It was a place of transit, a place I rarely intended to go. Yet it was the place I simply gravitated toward, where I chose to be when I had nowhere I needed to be.
I haven’t set foot in the building for the entirety of 2020, but I make a point to walk past it occasionally, if only to stare longingly at its elegant exterior. Although, my senior thesis has yet to be completed, so maybe I’ll finally see you again in 2021, old friend.
In a year spent in isolation, it’s the people I found ever closer.
My grandmother, with whom I’ve found a new vocabulary as we check on each other’s health.
My mom, with whom I made an old house a new home. Pouring each other coffee before work.
My pod, like back support, as we’ve made another new home—new beds, new rooms, a fresh coat of pink paint.
My Keys—finding them again, no longer miniatures. Once more singing lullabies, behind cloth masks, but in front of each other.
My first partner. Grasping his wrists to pull myself back up. A release of hands as we broke apart, and then when reaching out was right, a stable bridge, still.
And last, my peers here, with whom I share this paper, and an editor-in-chief who so generously opened up this community to let me read (and now write).
I left my final in-person production night in December 2019, knowing that the post- staff would look different when I returned from my semester abroad. For much of my time at post-, the editorial team consisted of familiar faces, but I left that meeting understanding I’d said farewell to post- as I knew it, with much of our staff graduating that spring.
Over the past two years, post- became a reliable routine in my life. Yet I was hesitant to accept a managing editor position this past April, knowing that not only post- had changed, but the world as we knew it had, too.
I was nervous about stepping into a new role on a team of new faces and feeling like I was intruding on an already tight-knit group, with 195 Angell replaced by the harsh impersonality of Zoom. One semester, ten issues, and countless laughs later, I know now that I didn’t need to worry. I’m grateful for the moments spent together in this alternate reality called virtual prod night.
I’m not crying, you’re crying. Not because we post-its are going to miss you loudly interrupting the serene silence of our Extremely Focused editing or simping with us over the trials and tribulations of quarantine. No, the thing that makes me sad is that this is the last week I will be able to lurk on your editor’s note.
Thanks to my truly shameless creeping on your sacred note-writing process pre-COVID, when it was invasive rather than logical to hop on someone’s Google Doc during an in-person meeting, this has become a tradition. It began as a light roasting to pass the late hours of prod, but I hope we’ve come to a point where you can reasonably accept at least one suggestion per note. I guess this is the point in the paragraph where (if I’m following your incredibly formulaic structure) it’s time for me to drop the quirky humor (no one can ramble about the agony of being perceived like you) and confess an emotional truth: stalking you (only at prod, I promise) has taught me a lot. I mean, I guess, like, you’ve inspired me.
Yes, it’s hard to believe. This note definitely has undertones of someone gleefully usurping your position of power. And you know that I’m already planning a hundred ways to roast your post-ghost next semester. But in this week’s spirit, I can’t deny how grateful I am for the space you have given me at post-. From my first prod, you brought me into a magical six hours (magical because I have no other explanation for why I volunteered so much time each night) of laughter, comma debates, strawberry-cream cookies, and groovy tunes, not to mention limitless warmth and a deep love of post-. I’m talking deep.
Ugh, I was hoping I’d keep my word count to an acceptable length to set an example for you. But maybe that’s the point: You put hours and patience and time-capsule-for-the-aliens-worthy emails into post-, and I feel only the occasional twinge of self-doubt that I can match your energy and dedication. Believe me when I say I have changed by learning from your example: widening my circle, twisting words into wit, and listening to people exactly as they are. Thank you for showing me the way. Don’t trip on the way out.
Happy to have been your minion