1. What is beauty?

I remember deciding I was beautiful after a particularly rough day when I believed the world did not.

I remember seeing beauty in line for in-n-out when two girls with olive skin and light eyes walked over to the counter and asked for fries.

I remember realizing beauty when my best friend sat and talked with me for hours in-between the aisles of the local target.

I remember feeling beautiful when my date to the homecoming dance dropped his jaw and said it while looking into my eyes instead of at body.

I remember being beautiful when my mom took me in her arms and called me her child.

I remember when I tried to determine that I would not let myself be swayed into categories of what beauty should be and should not be, but growing older doesn’t seem to make it easier to grow wiser.

He told me he liked me even more when I made a reference to a metallica song and it made me blush.

Why? It’s not like I had learned it to impress him, or that the fact had been cool before he noticed it.

I feel it is easier to accept that you’re beautiful when you’re being told by someone else. But I know that I am beautiful because I decided I would make an effort to be, inside and maybe out– and sometimes that’s just the best you can do.

But sometimes I wonder: if I believe I am beautiful and the world does not, am I beautiful against the world or deluded?

Is the dog I pass on the street beautiful because it is innocent and does not know by our standards how to critique its owner’s casual-dog-walking-attire?

Are white supremacists beautiful for being alive, human, and passionate?

Were we beautiful when we declared war on the homes of children foreign to us in the name of honor and patriotism.

Are we still beautiful when we are privileged and educated enough to see the terrible realities of the world and still choose to sit and drink coffee? Is it wrong to enjoy coffee and privilege?

I wish that my biggest concern with beauty was about what I look like.

3. Recall A Time When You Felt Judged

So I was going to Denny’s with my family for a late night snack, as all middle class SoCal-asian families seem to do– getting really excited to have enough fat and sugar enter my body to last me a short happy, albeit uncomfortable, lifetime. Oh the joys of being American.

I was getting out of my mom’s Lexus.. or my dad’s Benz, one of the two (not too shabby, don’t you think?), when we were approached by a man stationed outside our local diner* asking for change.

**Yes somehow the Denny’s chain has made itself a homey staple of late night talks and memories instead of being considered a chain that ruins dreams or something millennial like that.

He spoke to us with an endearing and reasonable, “Hello, could I please have a dollar?” For some reason, we did not want a confrontation with the scraggly, smelly, homeless man sitting at a Denny’s parking lot at 11pm, so we walked by with a calm nothing. Sure it tugged at my heartstrings a little, but what’s the point in feeling empathy, right?

Suddenly I hear words that feel like a smack to the back of my neatly-pony-ed head.

“Go back to Japan!”

If I weren’t so busy being shocked I would have been impressed that he didn’t opt for the usual China.

I don’t know if this counts as me being judged, and I wonder what he would’ve said if we looked more like him: white and male.

But this question didn’t plague me long, as seasoned fries and nachos and lava cake and coffee and milkshakes and chicken quesadillas made way to my table.

I wonder what that man is doing now, and if he ever found kindness in some asian family like mine.

I could hear it now:

God Bless You, Thank you So Much.

“Writing is a Form of Resistance”

When I was younger I loved to perform on stage. Any small school production, whether it be a play or talent show, I was always in line to audition–excited for the chance to convey to people how I believe the given material should be presented. Somewhere between puberty and high school suddenly I found myself choking to speak even plain English on a stage. So instead of trying to face my fears and become a triumphant underdog in my own mind, I decided to spend my time on the internet watching other people perform. Admirable.

It was when I first heard Sarah Kay’s “If I Should Have a Daughter” that made me love slam poetry. I was in tears by the time she had spoken the first line of the piece.

ThisĀ is something people have to hear.

I did not know how or when, but I knew that I wanted people to hear her words. So when the end of senior year approached me and I didn’t feel that I was ready to go, I realized saying goodbye with the poem could help me have a final hurrah before I moved on to “bigger and better” things.

At the audition I held my phone up and read the words and people cried.

On the stage of the actual event I saw a recent ex-boyfriend, forgot all the lines and stood confused and frantic.

It’s funny now, and to be honest I’m surprised at how okay I was that this happened.

Because I realized that writing is a form of resistance in that no matter how large the scale, it can push you to feel and do things that you might not be comfortable with and find power in it.

During the given class time instead of writing about the prompt I sat and wrote the lines of Sarah Kay, finally getting to perform it for myself.

B (If I Should Have a Daughter) by Sarah Kay

If I should have a daughter, instead of ‘Mom,’ she’s going to call me ‘Point B,’ because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

And I’m going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, ‘Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.’

And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you hard in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry.

So the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself, because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried. ‘And, baby,’ I’ll tell her, don’t keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick; I’ve done it a million times. You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him. But I know she will anyway, so instead I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby, because there is no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix. Okay, there’s a few that chocolate can’t fix.

But that’s what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything, if you let it. I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind, because that’s the way my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this.

(Singing) There’ll be days like this, my momma said. When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises; when you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape; when your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment. And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you.

Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away. You will put the wind in win some, lose some. You will put the star in starting over, and over. And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life. And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.

‘Baby,’ I’ll tell her, ‘remember, your momma is a worrier, and your poppa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.’ Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things. Always apologize when you’ve done something wrong, but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining. Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street-corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.