The art of losing

Almost exactly 3 years ago, I wrote my 500th blog post here on “rose in midair.” The blog I  wrote on immediately before that was “,” which I took offline. I’ve since written about 500 more posts here.

Three years ago, I was living in the green hills of Pennsylvania. Falling in love with men who wrote me heartfelt letters. Dancing a lot. Pretty much my life on repeat.

I practice reading back on my paper journals and blog entries — to remember, to forget, to indulge in knowing that nothing lasts, to know that pain is temporary, and that despite the odds, I am still here (!)

Memories are a funny thing. My most recent TinyLetter was about the art of losing that which we love.

An example of the universe converging: the day after I sent that TinyLetter, I read Josh Wagner’s Instructions for Life addressed to his 18-year-old self. Wagner writes:

You thought you loved this thing but really you loved the arrows that burned around you. And now your entire focus becomes how do I get rid of what took me so long to achieve? Because it no longer feels like the end-all-be-all of your entire life. Now it feels like guilt and confusion and naturally you have to wonder if you’re completely broken as a human because aren’t we supposed to want something and then have it and then we’re happy? But what you’ve forgotten is you don’t actually have it. We never have anything.

Here’s the painful truth you already know. Nothing lasts. Everything ends. The only eternal element in life is change. We call phrases like this cliché and roll our eyes when we hear them because we hate it. We hate that we’re going to die. In the morning we’re pushed out of the airplane and by sunset we’ll be a memory on the sidewalk.

So what to do on the way down?

If something has an expiration date you can let it spoil or you can turn it into fuel. What you have now in your arms, what you’ve struggled so hard to achieve, is ready fuel. You know you can’t keep it so you have two options: you can put it in a landfill or you can set it on fire.

Don’t be afraid to love. But first make sure you don’t think you know how.

Stop putting all that work into agonizing over the imminent loss of everything you love. Simply love. While it’s still right there in front of you. Time not spent burning is draining, every bit of it trickling away at one second per second. Do you want a landfill piled up over your bones or do you want a trail of fire through the sky?

And when you do fall in love—and you will, again and again and again—don’t stop falling just because you hit the ground.

Recently, the thought of loss has followed me quietly. Maybe it’s the feeling of getting older. Maybe it’s my heart flexing, preparing for the inevitable. Maybe it’s the habit of having lost so many times before, and the desire to protect my heart from it again. A discussion about love not being a zero-sum game haunts me, because it’s difficult to accept grey in a world where binary definitions make things easier:

In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s).

I don’t know what compels me to continue writing similar stories two decades later.

Italo Calvino writes, “Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”

I did once think this, and I would sometimes stay silent for fear of losing the thing I wanted to speak of. It’s a particular kind of vulnerability, to speak of something out loud, to address it. But now, I don’t know if I agree — because maybe by speaking of cities, my capacity to keep them grows stronger. While speaking of other cities, New York City patiently awaits my faithful return.

Like those scenes in the movie Inception in which buildings come apart in dreams, I imagine my losses to be just as prevalent and devastating. Everything good in this life comes more slowly than we have patience for — our urgency makes every small step seem a catastrophe, because we haven’t yet arrived at the destination we are reaching for.

I guess this is still the age-old thought: let the journey fill your arms, you know. Let optimism startle you, even convince you a for a little while. This has been the theme. Write on. Love on, through the windy nights. Love on, through the stormy ones. Love on, for this can be our sunlight — our trail of fire through a constant sky.

To make the world my home

Note: Written in 2012 before my move to New York City in February 2014

The trips during which I stayed in New York City for longer periods of time created awareness for me. This time created a sense of self outside oneself, and a sense of chaos that was uncontrollable at times. The effort it took to try to control the chaos resulted in a realization that while control isn’t always possible, it may not even be necessary. New York City taught me the art of being by myself, and helped me cultivate an exploration of possibility rather than limitation within vulnerability. It taught me the beauty of being uncertain, and, beyond that, the beauty of the willingness to be uncertain.

Walking down the empty city streets at night taught me fear and confidence at the same time. Dancing among the greatest dancers in the nation taught me humility.

I could write similar lessons about life from the perspective of so many places.

I think back to 8th grade, when my mother gave us permission to board our first flight. I think back to freshman year of college, when my mother gave me permission to go to another country with a boy she had never met. To sophomore year, when my mother waved goodbye to me as I left to live away across the Atlantic. To junior year, when my mother listened patiently as I cried over the phone from across the Pacific about culture and language shock.

Perhaps my movement (my state of being in midair, if you will) creates an illusion of instability, of flight, of volatility, of inconstancy. When we think of the word “home,” we think of stillness, peace, contentment.

Contrary to what it may seem, it is because of my movement that I feel more certain of my place in life than ever before. And regarding the thought about what it means to be home – often I consider that I will never take for granted how I have had the chance to make the world my home, and to give the world a home within me.


Adjectives for the night

“You know it is you I see at evening /
Before the light goes.”

— Sara Berkeley, ‘Less Than a Hundred Hours’

Where do I begin? The roses growing everywhere, even next to the drive-through windows of fast food joints — their ubiquity as persuasive as subliminal messaging.

The dusty steps upwards, racing impending dusk. The fallen trunks of trees, and the curious cracking sound of ones still standing against the wind. The rushes of colder denser air accompanying disappearing globes of gold light. A distant blue, the color that has haunted me as the physical form of longing. The unaccountable and unattainable quality of seemingly unchanging mountain ranges on the horizon. Sweet and sour laughter and overheard conversations on bicycles. The suddenly shy streetlamp, turning off as the dark settled across the wooden bench.

Then the night. Fragrant with the deepest shades of green. Colors turning binary. It was a gentle lack of light rather than a cloaking darkness, perhaps. My misplaced yet paralyzing fear, and in response, your belonging yet incapacitating touch.

“Men,” you grinned. “We always use all our adjectives.”


Leaping Tiger

I remember sitting on a rocky ledge overlooking the canyons of Tiger Leaping Gorge (hu tiao xia). It was immediately after a heart-rending trip down to the actual tiger leaping rock, and I was peacefully pressing foliage in my journal as I do when I’m crouched on mountainsides. I often get teased for having the added weight of a notebook in my backpack, and sometimes I never write a single word during an entire trip. But it has always given me comfort to have it there.

As I was sitting there, Old Mr. Lao (one of the two Malaysian men who saved me during my suddenly-alone travels across Yunnan) asked me if he could borrow my journal.

He disappeared for a good 45 minutes, and I clambered around the rocks until I found him, perched on another ledge, drawing quietly with an ink pen. He had reproduced the stunning view with black ink on paper, and I begged him to sign it.

I heard later of his passing away not too long after that.

I sifted through all of the bookshelves at my childhood home and found the drawing. When my fingers flipped to it, my heart jumped. While staring at the penned drawing, I at once could feel again the coldness of the river, the wildness of the Mordor-like fog, the wonder of the village children, the generosity of the farmers, the weakness in my knees.


During that same trip to Yunnan, I stayed at a farmer’s home for a few days. We bathed next to the roosters and donkeys, and ate eggs for breakfast by candlelight. I dropped my camera during a hike to a glacier, and mourned the loss of this inanimate thing. I felt preoccupied by this loss. I had spent my hard-earned money, and suddenly I wouldn’t be able to take photos for the rest of the trip.

I wandered into one of the tiny village plazas one night, and heard singing and guitar. I didn’t understand any of the words, but felt an unspeakable nostalgia overwhelm me. It turns out, they were singing in min nan hua, the language of my ancestors that I have never had a chance to learn. The troubadours had abandoned most unnecessary material luxuries, and were living in harmony with the land. They only used what they needed, and grew everything themselves. They saw I was alone, and held me in their light and love for as long as I needed it.

I forgot about the camera, and had an ink drawing to remember by.


That was the year I turned twenty one, during which I struggled with many of the same questions as I am struggling with currently (almost a decade later).

Even now in my travels and movements across the world, I contemplate what drives a people. I think and write about it daily in New York City, where each individual is occupied by a myriad of dreams and struggles and trivialities. Even friends I have known since childhood will sometimes ask, “How can you be so patient with your ever-ready smile in the face of so many irate people?”

Usually I joke, “It’s because I’m from Texas,” but I know there is something deeper there.


My mother proclaims to people that out of all “the kids,” I keep everything from the past like a little history museum. She was laughing on the phone with me the other day, that sometimes she considers starting her own journal to remember all that has happened — but then she thinks in her head, “It’s ok. I can just ask Rose, she will have it written down, and she will tell me the whole story- she will tell me everything.”

This life is short. Maybe some of us travel to fulfill bucket lists. Maybe some of us travel to run away. Maybe some of us travel to run toward.

I worry a lot about my direction- whether I should worry more about money, or my career, or hunting down a willing husband to have a family with before I’m 37.

Shoko writes:

“Life is not about money,” my dad told me on the phone a few days ago.“Or jobs. Or things. Life is only about loving people.”
I thought about this… maybe, then, it’s also about pushing to experience as much as possible, and to let ourselves feel as much as we can, so that we’re prepared to receive — and understand, and relate to — others, no matter how well we know them or how different we appear.
The tools we pick up along the way help us speak to those around us, and hear them when they speak to us. What we learn, we use.

And so it is. I worry less about the things I have. There are no shortcuts, and this life’s love story is my bucket list.

The tools I’ve picked up (including a smile on a crowded subway ride) may be simple. But this is being human, you know? Experience as much as possible. Feel as much as we can. There isn’t much time.

Notebook in tow, the uncertain fog and canyons in front of me, the sun warm on the backs of my knees.

God of the sun

Even his name was reminiscent of my past- of feuds that burned and still glow quietly. It means “god of the sun.”

We rode the train halfway across town. He sat next to me and never asked for my number. I laughed quietly as I waved, stepping off the train to his tortured expression of shyness. I realized later that he had gone 10 stops past where he needed to go.

A friend whispered to me with that mischievous glint in her eye that she had passed my number along to him.


Your room was equipped with only the following: a mattress on the ground piled with mismatched blankets, thick and dark curtains drawn at a weak attempt to ward off the light and noise from the streets, and books tastefully stacked all around the room. Which really are the only requisite things that I look for in a man’s room, obviously.

You’d labor over the kitchen counter to serve us caipirinhas that were sticky with sweetness and too much cachaça, and I’d flip through the books that you had carelessly left on the tiny dining table as you ran to Duane Reade to buy too-expensive limes. You’d quiz me on the concoctions- on whether the batches were too sour or too sweet- with all the seriousness and exactness of the mathematician that you are. I love men who measure things, because I measure nothing and spend my life on estimations instead. Which is why I constantly find myself trying to correct my errors in calculation.

That night we snuck a shitty bottle of red wine and two mugs up to the rooftop that said “entry prohibited” – the rooftop that creaked with our steps and stained our clothes black.
You ran downstairs to get an old towel for us to sit on.

I scooted towards the edge and swung my legs off the side of the roof while staring at the lights of the Empire State Building, looming large enough to reach out and put in the palms of my hands.

You are wary of heights so you sat awkwardly a foot away from me, eyes kind of yearning for the bravery to get closer. I threatened you with that silly habit of attempting yoga poses in precarious places – and you dove for me in panic, almost pushing us both off into the middle of Macdougal Street’s revelry. We laughed while you placed my head on your lap to kiss me in such a casual manner that I almost believed you were cunning enough to have planned it. You continued kissing me beyond the relief of not falling- over and over, as if to desperately forget your fear of heights by falling in other ways. You fumbled with the rubberband and couldn’t stop touching my hair in that way that said you’d waited months to do just that.

Later, on the mattress in your room filled with books, I leaned back across your pillow with my hair twisted back up and watched the orange of the streetlights filter across my legs.

Secretly, you watched me with equations in your eyes, god of the night.
Secretly, I smiled back with the solutions in mine.

For some things, there are no wrong seasons.

I love basking in the words of the ones that can’t bear to hold it in, the ones that actually talk about it. Out loud, on paper, to my face.

I’ve always stumbled and struggled with speaking, talking, articulating out loud. My damp eyes betray me, my voice shakes, my grasp of the English language wavers.

I write, though. Not well, though sometimes I write in the face of rejection. Sometimes I write in the face of non-response.

But mostly I hold in too much, for fear of being unable to keep anything at all of myself.

All writing will tend towards what’s important in our particular worlds. A lot of news stories report on risk, tragedy, doubt, war, anger, threat, defeat. Perhaps we must be patient and look closer, or even beyond — perhaps we can break through the negative and create a different examination of what is happening.

In photography, a negative is an image in which the lightest areas of the photographed subject appear darkest and the darkest areas appear lightest.

I don’t think of it as repetitive to talk about heartbreak again. It’s truthful and compelling because it’s one of the unavoidable human conditions.

So is love, though. So is joy.

There is that.

* * *

I remember that sunny afternoon, walking past the abandoned warehouses, the rusty door locks, the broken windows. Wandering toward the water (ever towards the water and light). J crooned, “Baby let’s not ever get that way, I will drive you to the ocean every day,” and I thought to myself that I would be ok with that particular kind of forever.

You took photos of the buildings, the sky, the boats, the walls, the horizon. Aimed yourself attentively towards everything but me. A purposeful exclusion, I suspect. We walked home amicably at orange dusk, flower petals falling around us, the sun burning holes into whatever was left unsaid.

* * *

Despite my very best efforts lately, I still feel all this sadness wrap around me, this sense of how the last flower petals feel when clinging to the branch while all along knowing what comes next.

The tree whispers quietly, “You are part of me. Stay awhile.” But it’s only for a season, we all know this. The flower petals sigh with the weight of that gravity.

There is a man blowing soap bubbles on the street corner. They float in the air awhile, luminescent in the full sunlight. The wind blows them towards me as I pass by. They are beautiful for awhile. They even fly. I feel them collapse gently and disappear with barely a sound when hitting the backs of my knees. 

Another man is creating horses out of clay that thought it was shapeless two minutes before.

A little girl is cartwheeling down the hill. She falls a lot. My friend whispers, “Now that I know that I’ll fall every time I try, I don’t do cartwheels anymore.”

A man at the grocery store walks up next to me with his headset on and says quietly into the microphone, “How can I make you feel better, love? I’ve got pears for you. The sweet kind that you like. The organic kind.”

The organic, sweet kind, isn’t that what we hope for? In growth, love, life. The passing of days.

It’s hard here. I don’t want to compete with the pretty girls in expensive gowns with youthful, perfect bodies and eternal nights. It can be tiring, you know, the feeling that it will never be enough. I like to wander outside with my head in the clouds in my old shoes and ratty T-shirts, belly getting soft from homemade bread and too much poetry.

I feel unstable in my footing, perhaps ever stretching beyond my reach — but as Carl Phillips says:

Let those plants
that can do so lean away on their stems, toward the sun.

A friend wrote this recently and deleted it. I’ll borrow her anonymous words and hope she forgives me:

The thing about the boy is that I can see how hard he is trying. Trying to love, trying to be good. But it’s hard work, having to convince yourself of something like that. It was easier when we were apart, because there were fewer questions to ask. Just dealing with it. Now there is the question mark of a future; no light at the end of a tunnel.

You know, it is harder to keep somebody around than to just get rid of them.

So what can we do? Try harder in the direction of where we hope light exists. Bloom anyways, despite not knowing when we will fall. Open until we break so that we may stay open. Make our own light at the end of the tunnel. Dig ourselves outwards so that there is no more tunnel. Remind ourselves of sweet potatoes and pineapples, of cold midnights during which the sun never sets, of the blue hues that expand as time passes.

The organic, sweet kinds.

As Miranda July says, “What a terrible mistake to let go of something wonderful for something real.”

And every night before sleep, Mary Oliver helps me in my attempts to swallow harder my penchant for letting go of the branch before the season is done.

For some things
There are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

* * *

Also I wanted to be able to love
And we all know how that one goes, don’t we?

The depth and mystery of you has ruined me

The depth and mystery of you has ruined me —

Like the liberty (luxury) of jumping in the deep end and not having to fear that I’ll hit the bottom;
trust me, you beckon- there are great barriers and reefs to swim past yet.
The kiddie pool just won’t do, we’ve grown out of it —
And the shallow end, I can see down to the floor —

What use would I have then of diving?

It’s all impossible:
Humidity that doesn’t glisten upon the waves of our summer bodies’ heat;
Perfect shades of sky that disallow us from taking it all for granted;
Time that doesn’t pass in the blink of an eye when you’re by my side;
Sunsets that don’t eventually turn into unseeable darkness;
Hope that isn’t wildly misplaced;
Irises not growing in anticipation at looking into yours;
Loving you;
Letting you love me.

“Bear with me,” I ask.
“Bare with me,” you plead, perhaps not knowing I am already here drowning in your sea, bare and vulnerable. All of me.

Siken reminds us, “Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.

“It’s ok,” I whisper back. “You need not tell me anything about ruin.”

I don’t need reminding. You’ve already finished the job, and I’m willingly lost at sea.

More of an exhalation than an entire breath

“And in the end, we were all just humans… Drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald


There was a boat, and there were only small amounts of wind. the water was too cold and the air was barely salty enough, and we paused too long for lack of breeze.  But, well, nothing worth anything ever happens without some amounts of interruption. There was music at night, my toes against his thighs. We walked and stood in line, we ate pastries and pasta in the wrong but ever-so-right order. At night, the dark knight appeared as well as so many questions in our fingers. 

And, well, there was only one way to find out the answers.



It was more of an exhalation than an entire breath– 

We were unprepared for it. but we folded it until it felt small in our hands and held it quietly in our mouths while exchanging questioning glances. 

It felt too late. but really, it was exactly how i had hoped. it was gripping, the humor and the exaltation. no roof, stars, impatient water, interminable road, infinities that felt familiar, unbearably tangled hair, warm hands, muddy dashboard. And blue. 


“If something anticipated arrives too late it finds us numb, wrung out from waiting, and we feel – nothing at all. The best things arrive on time.”
– Dorothy Gilman