you don’t get to talk to me about my dad

I wrote this post at the end of January, right after the nineteenth anniversary of my dad's death, and I sat on it for a while because I was angry (and also it was the middle of the night and I needed to go to bed), but I watched the new Pixar movie Onward on Sunday evening and the whole dead dad plot upset me, so I decided to revisit this post. Right now, I'm mostly sad, but fair warning: there's a lot of anger (and strong language) in this post, so if that kind of thing offends you... sorry not sorry. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

January 27, 2020

I was trying to fall asleep, and I was turning this conversation I had with my mom earlier in the day over in my mind, and I had to get up and fumble around in the dark for my laptop at 1 a.m. to open up a WordPress draft and get all this out before it melted away in my sleep.

Saturday marked nineteen years since my dad died.

My family is from a small town in upstate New York, the kind of town where it seems like everyone knows everyone or has at least heard about them through the grapevine. So there are a lot of people who knew my dad. And a certain number of these people, who play a very, very small role in my life have this really annoying habit of wanting to talk about him on the rare occasion when I'm in town. Specifically, they feel the need to talk to me about him.

Case in point: I was back home last summer to attend a funeral for someone I really loved, and more than one person felt the need on this occasion to tell me, apropos of nothing, how much they loved my father or how much they missed him or how my sister and I are the spitting image of his side of the family.[note]And don't get me started on how after the burial, one of my aunts asked if my sister and I wanted to "visit some graves," since the burial took place at the same cemetery where my grandparents and my dad's ashes are interred. I haven't been to my dad's grave since 2002 and I wasn't about to break my record. (I'm being sarcastic, but seriously, the whole thing makes me so damn uncomfortable.)[/note] I can count on one hand the number of people I don't mind talking about my dad with: my mom, my sister, my dad's closest brother and his wife, and one of my dad's cousins that he was really close to. These people I'm referring to do not fall into that select group.

How, how do they not understand how selfish this impulse is?

There I was, already emotionally compromised and grieving another person in my life who had met an untimely death, and suddenly I'm surrounded by people launching emotional grenades at me with no warning whatsoever. And all I could think was: How dare you? How dare you bring up the most traumatic experience of my entire life like it's fucking small talk? You barely know me. You haven't seen me in at least a decade. What makes you think I want to talk to you about the worst thing that ever happened to me? How dare you project your grief onto me when mine has been following me around like a second shadow for nearly twenty years? How dare you?

I got in the car afterwards with my aunt and uncle[note]The cool ones I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago[/note] and just sat in the back seat stewing and rage-texting my mom about the whole ordeal. (She tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, but she came around to my way of thinking in the end.)

I was reminded of the incident again after a conversation I had with my mom over the weekend. We ended up talking about stuff he hasn't been around for and won't be around to see and how much that sucks. It's always in the back of my mind every time something big happens. My high school graduation. Getting into college. My college graduation. My grad school graduation. Moving to South Korea. Moving to Boston. Getting my first apartment. Starting my first real grown-up job. Editing a book for the first time. Softball games, award ceremonies, choir concerts, school musicals, big exam results. I don't know if I'll ever get married or have children at this rate, but he wouldn't be here to see that happen, either.

So, the point is: my family—my mom, my sister, and I—don't need you to bring him up because we're always thinking about him in one way or another. I really could not care less how well-meaning you are. This is not about you. Don't patronize us with platitudes about how he'd be proud of us. You don't get to put words in my dead father's mouth. And we're not here to hold anyone's hand for their little walks down memory lane. You wanna do that? Get a fucking therapist. It's what the rest of us have to do.

You think I sound angry? My father died when I was twelve years old from an entirely preventable cancer because he couldn't give up smoking. I get to be as angry as I want. I spent fifteen or sixteen years trying to ignore my feelings on the subject, and ever since I finally opened that can of worms, the only emotion I seem to be able to summon is anger.

March 25, 2020

I would like to be able to let go of all of this anger at some point. I don't know how to do that without actually having it out with him, though, and I don't have a wizard staff or a magic spell to bring my him back for a day like the two brothers in Onward, so... I'm kinda stuck here.

I was thinking about what I would want to do if that were a possibility, though, so here is my little list à la Ian's from the movie:

  • Immediately punch him in the arm (the one with the ugly-ass eagle tattoo) and probably spend the first hour unloading almost two decades' worth of pent-up rage by hysterically crying and throwing a lot of breakable objects[note]Not at him, of course. He already died once—I'm sure as hell not going to be the one to kill him again. I rarely get seriously angry; it usually blows over pretty quickly (lol Aries Mars lol). But when I do, it feels like my head is going to explode unless I scream bloody murder and/or smash things. I never actually end up breaking anything, though. I was in a screaming fight with my mom once (I think it was the summer of 2008, when there were no jobs because of the recession and I was super depressed after having a really bad spring semester of my freshman year), and I was so spitting mad I almost picked this teacup up from the shelf next to me to throw it at the floor, but I ended up flinging the slice of pizza I was holding (it was a Friday night so she had brought it home for dinner) at her instead because the teacup was too pretty to break. She was Not Happy about it, but she recognized that I was clearly Going Through It because I never go off like that. We patched things up within the hour, and we can laugh about it in hindsight, but I felt so horrible about it at the time. I still feel a little bad about it. I don't like losing control of myself like that.[/note] and enumerating the many ways he failed as a father. I don't remember if he ever apologized to me for putting me through this,[note]He very well may have—I think I saw him a couple times after they moved him to hospice the week he died, but I was so uncomfortable being there that I blocked all of it out aside from the last thing I asked him, which was to please not die on Thursday or Friday that week because I had my first midterm exams (in sixth grade, good lord) those days and I was worried that it would distract me. (He died Thursday. I went to school because I thought that's what he would have wanted. You can see why I turned into a school-obsessed monster in the six years that followed.)[/note] and I feel like deserve an apology.[note]And I don't mean just because he died. I was well into my late 20s when I realized that my dad always played the role of the Cool Dad™ to distract us from the fact that he wasn't a Good Dad™. It kind of sucks to realize your dad was an absent parent even before he died. (I don't think he'd disagree with this assessment—I think he came to the same realization right at the end, far too late for anything to be done about it.) I'm not saying he didn't love me and my sister, and I don't think he was a bad person—he had a lot of great qualities—but being a parent means you sometimes have to sacrifice your wants and needs for the good of your kids, and my dad could be very self-centered. I mean, we never went on vacation anywhere unless the trip happened to coincide with a poker tournament taking place near our destination, and after we moved to Vegas, he spent many (if not most) weekends playing poker downtown. He took me and my sister to get a puppy the week after we moved into our brand-new house, and when I—a total worrywart, even at the tender age of nine—asked if my mom knew about it (spoiler: she did not), he told me to shut up because "kids should have a dog" (read: he wanted a dog). I have a laundry list of other examples I could pull out, but I won't. All I'll say is that I regret that I didn't appreciate my mom more before his death. I always favored my dad when I was a kid because he was fun and would let us get away with a lot of stuff and bought us treats and Pokémon card booster packs; I think he was unconsciously (?) compensating for all the time he missed when he was off doing his own thing. So my mom was always saddled with the bad cop role because someone had to lay down the law and make sure we didn't grow up to be spoiled brats. I hated it when I was a kid, but I am so grateful for it as an adult. Of course, I would much rather have two parents and be "normal," but if it had to shake out this way, it's better that he was the one to go. I can't even fathom the alternative. (I can't even type the words. My eyes are swimming with tears at the mere thought. Ugh.)[/note]
  • After we got all that out of the way... I dunno. Unlike with my mom, I was never able to get to know him as a person outside of his role as my dad. I'd probably just want to talk for a while, ask some questions, stuff like that.
  • He was a big Star Wars fan, but I didn't get into it until after he died. He took me and my sister to see The Phantom Menace in '99, but obviously he never got to see the other two prequels, so maybe we could watch those and razz them MST3K-style.[note]I'm honestly not sure whether he would hate them or like them. Ep. II in particular is so eyeroll-worthy and schmaltzy I can barely stand it, but he was a weirdly sentimental guy; my mom says she caught him crying when they were watching ET once.[/note]
  • I know my Uncle Jimmy was into Lord of the Rings—he was the one who recommended that I should read The Hobbit when I was twelve or so, though I didn't get around to it until after I saw the Fellowship of the Ring movie a couple years later—but I don't know if my dad was into it, so that would have to be a conversation.

I dunno. It's hard to think of anything else because I've lived so much of my life without him. I mostly just want to get all this crap off my chest and  get some closure so I can stop feeling so wronged all the time... but I think I am just going to have to come to terms with the fact that I will never get closure, and that's what happens sometimes. Holding a grudge against a dead guy hurts me more than it hurts him, I know, I know. But I think it's going to take a little more time for those words to be more than lip service.

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A Decade in Review: 2010–2019

I guess I should have done this earlier in the week, but I didn't really start thinking about it until I was on my way to a New Year's Eve party. I've come a long way in the past ten years,[note]Most of that growth has happened in the last three years or so. Nothing like a global political shitstorm to make you want to make some changes in your life, eh?[/note] and I thought it would be nice to commemorate some of that growth in this blog, which apparently I only get the urge to write in once a year.[note]Thank goodness I can use my web hosting costs as a tax write-off, I guess.[/note]

I started this decade at the age of 21, and I'm 31 now, so my 20s are now firmly behind me. Good riddance, I say. Being in your 20s is bad and exhausting and as much as I am constantly filled with existential dread about aging and mortality, I don't know that I'd like to repeat that particular stretch of my life.

For most of the decade, I suffered from poorly controlled depression and anxiety, undiagnosed attention deficit disorder, and a lot of negative self-talk and general feelings of self-loathing and low self-esteem. I went to therapy for a few months during my senior year of college (late 2010–early 2011), mostly because I was stressed to the point of having an actual nervous breakdown while trying to write my senior thesis and juggle all of my classes and extracurricular activities, but I dropped it after college because of my lack of regular health insurance and because I wasn't really ready to sit down and do a deep dive into my psyche for a really long time. I started going to therapy twice a week in April 2017, then down to once a week about six months later, and since I switched to my new therapist in October 2018, I've been seeing her every other week. My first therapist and I clashed in some ways, which is why I ended up switching to a different provider, but I'll always be grateful to him both for his insights, which illuminated many of the root causes of my struggles, and for putting me on the right medication regimen after eleven years of taking a drug that wasn't right for me. I always feel a little uncomfortable talking about my mental health, but I'm also a strong believer in destigmatizing the pursuit of treatment and being honest about it, because maybe it'll give someone the push they need to make a change in their life. The person I was before therapy and the person I am now are two radically different people, and I'm not perfect by any means, but I like this version of myself a lot better than the old one.

We started the decade in the midst of a recession, and for the first few years I really despaired of ever finding a career or doing anything with my life. That's a large part of why I decided to take on a year-long teaching position through South Korea's English Program in Korea (EPIK) in the fall of 2012. I think that was one of my best decisions of the decade. It was hard, and I don't think I was as prepared for it as I needed to be, but more than any other big move in my life, living and working in a foreign country for a year taught me to adapt. I threw myself into work, into Korean language classes, into eating new foods and learning about a culture I had limited experience with,[note]Aside from having spent two years as a K-Pop fan, but that's one very insular aspect of Korean culture that doesn't have very much to do with day-to-day life in Korea. It would be like being from another country and enjoying American pop music and thinking that every nugget of cultural information you got out of that experience was the basis of American culture. (There are definitely K-Pop fans who think like this, and they are exhausting to interact with.)[/note] and as much as a significant portion of my time there was colored by depression and homesickness, I wouldn't have it any other way. It remains the most interesting year I've spent on this earth so far.

Toward the end of my time in Korea, I decided I wanted to go back to school and that I wanted to get into publishing, which led me to Emerson College's master of arts in publishing and writing. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have done things differently. You really don't need a master's degree to be in my field, and although it enabled me to move to Boston and that's how I landed my job, I really deeply regret putting myself in so much debt. That was probably my worst decision of the decade,[note]Although, if I'm being honest, most of my financial decisions during this decade were decidedly Not Great[/note] but I didn't really know what else to do to reach my goals. (That being said, I am really grateful for all of the friends I made during my time in the program.) If I could do it over again, I would have saved up and just done a copyediting certificate course, read some of the books I read in my book publishing overview course, and maybe taught myself how to use Adobe InDesign. That's pretty much the only information I ended up needing for my job, honestly, and all I had to do was pay a cool eighty grand for it. 🙄

That particular regret aside, I may not have been totally financially responsible in other aspects of my life, but at least those expenditures were entertaining. Here's a bunch of concerts I saw:

  • Muse (March 2010, October 2010, August 2011, September 2013, May 2015, January 2016, Lollapalooza 2017,[note]Partial—their set was canceled three songs in because of a goddamn thunderstorm. That's when I really quit going to music festivals.[/note] April 2019)
  • Lady Gaga (September 2010)
  • Metric (as opening band for Muse in October 2010 and for Imagine Dragons in June 2015, and as main act in March 2016 and February 2019)
  • Super Junior (March 2013, both days of Super Show 5)
  • Dream Concert (giant multi-group K-Pop concert in Korea, May 2013)
  • Girls' Generation (June 2013)
  • Fitz and the Tantrums (May 2014, November 2014, November 2015, June 2016, November 2016)
  • Lorde (Boston Calling 2014, Governors Ball 2017, and as headline act April 2018)
  • Big Data (as opener for Fitz and the Tantrums in November 2014, as main act March 2015)
  • Airborne Toxic Event (March 2015—got a free ticket from the band's manager because they were staying at the hotel I was working at)
  • Florence + the Machine (June 2015 and October 2018)
  • Sondre Lerche (April 2016, April 2017)
  • Ellie Goulding (June 2016)
  • Haim (Governors Ball 2016, as main act May 2018)
  • The Killers (Governors Ball 2016, Lollapalooza 2017, January 2018, February 2018,[note]In their hometown of Las Vegas![/note] Boston Calling 2019)
  • Flight of the Conchords (July 2016)
  • Ingrid Michaelson (November 2016)
  • Harry and the Potters Yule Ball (December 2016, December 2017)
  • Regina Spektor (March 2017)
  • Bastille (March 2017, September 2019)
  • Franz Ferdinand (Governor's Ball 2017, as main act June 2017 and April 2018)
  • Phoenix (Governors Ball 2017, as main act July 2018)
  • Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton (December 2017)
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Live (April 2018)
  • The Kooks (May 2018)
  • Red Velvet (February 2019)
  • Vampire Weekend (September 2019)
  • Tiffany Young (November 2019)
  • SuperM (November 2019)

And some stand-up comedians:

  • Jim Gaffigan (October 2014)
  • Nick Offerman (October 2015)
  • Margaret Cho (October 2015)
  • Liberal Rednecks (October 2016)
  • Trevor Noah (February 2017)
  • John Mulaney (November 2017)
  • Hasan Minhaj (September 2018)

And some musicals, plays, and ballets:

  • Mamma Mia (Boston, October 2014)
  • The Book of Mormon (Boston, September 2015)
  • Spring Awakening (Deaf West revival on Broadway, October 2015)
  • Hamilton (Broadway, October 2016)
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (London, March 2017)
  • Rent (Boston, April 2017)
  • 1984 (Broadway, June 2017)
  • The Nutcracker (Boston Ballet, December 2017)
  • Romeo & Juliet (Boston Ballet, March 2018)
  • The Sleeping Beauty (Boston Ballet, May 2018)
  • Les Misérables (Rochester, NY, November 2018)
  • Cinderella (Boston Ballet, May 2019)

I also saw a ton of concerts at Symphony Hall, either by the BSO or by the Handel + Haydn Society:

  • Mozart's Requiem (BSO, October 2015)
  • All-Haydn Program: Symphony Nos. 8 and 84 ("Le Soir") and Violin Concerto in A Major (H+H, January 2016)
  • Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica") & Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, February 2016)
  • Shakespeare night: Strauss (Macbeth), Dvořák (Overture to Othello), Tsontakis (Sonnets, Concerto for English horn), and Tchaikovsky (Romeo & Juliet) (BSO, February 2016)
  • Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral")[note]MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE!!![/note] (H+H, February 2016)
  • All-Bernstein Season Opener (BSO, September 2017)
  • Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 ("Choral")[note]Look, I really love Beethoven, okay?![/note] (H+H, October 2017)
  • Incidental music to Beethoven's Egmont + Grieg's Peer Gynt (BSO, October 2017)
  • Amadeus Live (H+H, November 2017)
  • Handel's Messiah (H+H, December 2017)
  • Bach Christmas concert (H+H, December 2017)
  • Méhul's Overture to The Amazons, or the Founding of Thebes, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (BSO, January 2018)
  • All-Mozart Program: Symphony Nos. 34, 36 ("Linz"), and 41 ("Jupiter") (BSO, February 2018)

Notable cool things that happened this decade aside from all of these events:

  • I got into K-Pop in October 2010 after a friend in the Muse fandom linked me to the music video for the Girls' Generation song "Genie." It's sort of like when I got into Tolkien in 2002 in that it had such a lasting impact on my life. I always joke that I saw The Fellowship of the Ring one time and life as I knew it was over, and being introduced to K-Pop was a similar experience. It put my life on a totally different trajectory than I could ever have predicted, and as annoying as the fandom is sometimes, I've met so many wonderful people through it and I'm so glad to have them in my life. My favorite groups are EXO, Red Velvet, and Girls' Generation, but I have a soft spot for SHINee and Super Junior as well.[note]If anyone asks me one more goddamn time about that other three-letter acronym group, I swear to god I'll lose my mind. Every time I mention that I like K-Pop among people who don't know much about the genre, they always assume I like BTS, and I'm just like... you realize there are hundreds of groups out there, right? Just because that's the only one you know doesn't mean I like them. Ugh. Just a pet peeve of mine. Nothing against them, I just... fundamentally don't care about them, lol.[/note]
  • Being a super curious person who likes to be in the know about everything,[note]Look, both my sun and Mercury are in Sagittarius—I never stood a chance.[/note] I started studying Korean pretty soon after I got into K-Pop. I taught myself how to read and type in 한글[note]Hangeul, the Korean alphabetic writing system[/note] all by myself and did a little studying on my own before I moved to Korea, where I took intensive night classes twice a week for about nine months. I tried to study on my own again when I came back to the US, but Korean is one of those languages where you really need a native speaker's guidance once you start learning the more complicated grammatical structures, so I didn't get back into it until I started taking classes through the Advanced Study Program at MIT in the spring semester of 2019. I'm about to enter my third semester in the program in spring 2020, and although it's been challenging,[note]I really struggle with speaking because I get so nervous it's like my brain completely goes dead whenever I'm asked a point-blank question, ugh.[/note] I've really enjoyed getting back in the classroom. (It is weird to be taking it alongside undergraduates, though!)
  • In July 2013, while I was living in Korea, I managed to get into an album signing that my favorite group, EXO, was holding in the city I lived in (Daegu), so I have a copy of their first full-length album, XOXO, signed by the original 12-member group. It's one of my most treasured possessions and I still smile whenever I think about how Kim Jongdae told me I was 대박 (awesome).
  • Got into the viewing gallery for a second EXO fansign about a month and a half later when I was visiting Seoul for the weekend with some friends. No signing, but it was nice to see them again!
  • I also got to see a handful of K-Pop artists perform at music show recordings that summer: EXO for "늑대와 미녀 (Wolf)" at Show Champion, and Henry Lau for "Trap" and f(x) for "첫사랑니 (Rum Pum Pum Pum)" at SBS 인기가요 (Inkigayo).[note]I was also asked to stick around to fill in the audience for 2 PM's "하.니.뿐 (ADTOY)" and CL's "난 나쁜 기집애 (The Baddest Female)" prerecordings at Inkigayo, so that was cool.[/note]
  • Set out on my own and moved to Boston in August 2014! So far, I've lived in three different apartments, all in different neighborhoods, and I like where I'm at now (West Somerville) the best.
  • Made lots of new friends, whether online or through grad school or my job. Feels nice to actually have a pretty wide social circle for once in my life!
  • Got a job with a retirement account and a pension and a bunch of vacation time and sick time!!!
  • Went to the UK for the first time and got to see lots of cool sights (Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle, the Harry Potter studio tour, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on stage in the West End, some of the colleges at Oxford University as well as J. R. R. Tolkien's house and gravesite and the Eagle & Child pub, the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, etc.).
  • Went to a bunch of author events at local bookstores and book fairs (Book Expo America in 2015, London Book Fair in 2017, several iterations of the Boston Book Festival) and got books signed! Notable meetings include Lindy West in 2016 and Tamora Pierce in 2018.
Me and Lindy friggin' West at Boston Book Festival in October 2016!!!

I'm sure there's other things that happened that I can't quite remember at the moment, but I just wanted to jot these down and focus on the positive stuff that happened in the past ten years. Things have definitely been slowly trending upward for me since the beginning of the last decade, and I hope they keep doing so!

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Thoughts on Star Wars—Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (UNFINISHED)

NB (1/1/20): I started writing this two years ago and never finished it and now some of my thoughts and questions are irrelevant, but it has some good writing in it and I'm proud of the work, so I'm backdating it. ‾\_(ツ)_/‾ The Last Jedi has been thinkpieced to death already. I meant to finish this post, like, a month ago, but unfortunately I've been buried under an avalanche of work, and throwing away all of this work[note]It's a lot of work. My notes alone clocked in at five thousand words.[/note] would probably kill me, so even if nobody reads it, at least I know it's seen the light of day. I made a second post about my general observations and things I really liked or that caught my eye; check here for that stuff. Obviously, there will be spoilers for The Last Jedi and other films in the saga, but if you haven't seen it by now, that's sort of your fault, isn't it? (more…)

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The Best of 2017 (in Pop Culture, Anyway)

In 2014, I sent my old LiveJournal gently into that good night, and since then I haven't really had an outlet for keeping track of the good things in my life. Sure, I could journal by hand, and I do have one that I write in from time to time, but a) it's mostly for personal stuff, and b) it's mostly about stuff that bums me out. Plus, you can't put fun stuff like GIFs or videos or music in a written journal. The point is, I've missed writing and I thought it would be nice to have a positive reason for doing so. In that spirit, here's a giant list of the best things about 2017—things I saw, things I did, and things that just made me happy. (more…)

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