MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga

My Heart and Other Black HolesI don’t typically observe “book birthdays,” but this one is special. Today is the day that my dear friend Jasmine Warga celebrates the release of her debut novel.

It has been such a fun and valuable experience watching Jasmine’s journey to publication over the past year and a half. More importantly, it has been a pleasure getting to know her, talking with her about writing and the creative process, and bonding over our halfie experiences and immigrant parents. She is always so thoughtful and grounded, so purposeful and generous. Without question, Jasmine has been a positive influence on me, and for that I am immeasurably grateful.

I think her book will be a positive influence on its readers, too. MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES is the story of two teens who feel irrevocably broken, but who find a spark of hope when they meet one another. It’s an unflinching look at sadness of various kinds and degrees. It shows how depression can isolate you and warp your perspective. It’s about not fitting in, and the human need to feel connected.

What I love most about MHAOBH is its authenticity. You can tell that Jasmine poured her heart onto these pages. The book isn’t designed to romanticize the problems that these characters face. It doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulties that lie ahead for Aysel and Roman. It’s hopeful, but truthful too.

You’re like a gray sky. You’re beautiful, even though you don’t want to be.

Beyond the poetry of this sentiment, I also just appreciated the shoutout to “gloomy” weather, which I happen to love.

It’s funny how once you like someone, even the unattractive things they do somehow become endearing.

So true. Andy has one bad habit in particular that I could do without, but mostly his quirks just make me laugh. If you took them all away, he’d be a different person. Or at least, a blander version of himself.

You know, it’s probably worth turning that gentle, appreciative gaze on ourselves too.

Maybe we all have darkness inside of us and some of us are better at dealing with it than others.

I don’t think there’s any “maybe” about it.

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Overall I would say that I’m a pretty upbeat person. (Or at least even-keeled.) But there was one time in my life that sadness threatened to squash me. And for a short while, I let it. I carried that boulder and let it push me down, bend my back, until I was almost sinking into the ground.

Then one day I realized it wouldn’t stop. Not on its own. I had to decide to be stronger than my sadness, because it for sure wanted to be stronger than me.

The decision was instantaneous, but the strength wasn’t. It took months to build myself back up, to push off the boulder, to be happy and healthy again. But I did it. It’s possible. And it’s so worth the effort.

I wonder if that’s how darkness wins, by convincing us to trap it inside ourselves, instead of emptying it out.

I don’t want it to win.

Of course, battling sadness isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. But every victory counts. Every victory helps.

A long way from home

1.

We are two old friends catching up in a busy café. The smell of fresh bread wafts over the lunch crowd, everyone abuzz with pent-up energy from the rainy day and waning holidays. My friend is so tall that I feel like a child sitting across from him. But I listen attentively as he describes the various heartaches and struggles he has faced over the past four years.

Needing distance and a change, he has decided to leave our hometown and strike out on his own. I’m proud of him for making such a bold and difficult decision. I’m excited for him and all the new things he will experience. But I’m also sad that it has come to this, that he couldn’t find what he needed in the place where we grew up, with the people who were supposed to nurture him. He’s strong for all the wrong reasons.

Now he’s taking that strength and heading out a long way from home.

2.

When I left home over ten years ago, it was for college, not forever. At least, not intentionally forever. Now, I don’t know. I don’t know when — if — I will go back. I’m not opposed to living there again, but I’m not drawn to it either. I guess only time will tell.

Meanwhile, it’s harder than I expected to live far away from my parents. I worry about them a lot. About their age and their health. About their house and their cars. I worry about them working too hard and not eating very well. Most of all, I worry about whether or not they’re happy. And I worry about them worrying about me.

If you could put all of our worries into physical form and lay them end-to-end, maybe they would cover the the hundreds of miles that separate me and my parents. Maybe that’s their purpose, in a way. To bridge the gap. To connect us. To keep us intertwined, in each other’s hearts and minds, even when we’re far apart.

3.

This year, my mother and I will return to Taiwan for the first time in over a decade. I’m excited, and I’m scared. I can’t wait to see the teeming capital, taste fresh scallion pancake from a street vendor, smell the damp green mountains and the smoky sulfur pits. But what if Taiwan doesn’t live up to my treasured memories? Or worse: What if I don’t live up to Taiwan’s expectations of me?

I don’t know if everyone has these kinds of complicated feelings about their grandmotherland. I only know that I’ve been battling a sense of inadequacy my whole life, when it comes to my Asian heritage. Yet at the same time, it’s such a strong part of me. My values, my personality, my experiences. I don’t speak much Mandarin, but I sense there’s a deeper sort of language that I share with the place where my mother was born.

Maybe going back will prove that. Maybe not. I have to remind myself that either way, that’s not what this trip is about. This trip is about visiting with family, both living and dead. It’s about walking the same streets that my mother walked as a child, and listening to her stories. It’s about introducing my husband to one of my favorite places on earth. It’s about reacquainting myself with the part of my heart that lies an ocean away.

Hello, 2015

I have, in years past, jumped at the chance for a fresh start, a clean slate. I relished the opportunity to become a new and improved me. New Year’s resolutions seemed like “Get Out of Jail Free” cards, forgiving my failures and allowing me to shed my guilt.

But as I get older, I’m starting to feel less guilt. And I’m trying to appreciate my failures.

2014 was incredible. It was the year that I matched with a great agent and married the most wonderful man. It was a year of partnership and milestones.

Of course there were frustrations and difficulties too, but even so, I don’t want to wash 2014 away. I want to build on 2014.

A year is a useful unit of measurement, but it’s not something that can truly be taken in isolation. Each year is a brick, a step. Put together, one after another, they form the path of our lives.

I don’t know exactly where I’ll end up, but I feel good about the direction I’m heading. I hope to continue on this challenging, rewarding route through 2015, and beyond.

But just because I’m no longer seeking any “Get Out of Jail Free” cards doesn’t mean that I’m not striving for self-improvement. I want to write more. I want to write better. I want to read more. I want to listen better. I want to have more patience with people. I want to be more informed. I want to take better care of my body. I want to volunteer again.

These things aren’t quick or easy to accomplish, so my 2015 resolution is simply this: To put in the work.

That’s the first, hardest, and most important step. Everything else will follow.

If anyone is looking for a fun and easy way to reflect on their past year, I suggest chibird’s adorable checklist.

“15 Things to Stop Doing in 2015″ is an excellent guide toward a happier, healthier mindset.

And just for kicks, here’s my class picture from 20 years ago. Can you spot me?

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Thank you to those who serve

I just watched last week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and I liked how it dealt with the former military IT technician who (mistakenly) felt that she wasn’t deserving of veterans’ services. I’m not sure if they timed that to air right before Veterans Day on purpose or not, but it dovetails nicely.

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My brother-in-law did a tour in Afghanistan for the Marines. It simultaneously feels like forever ago and just yesterday. I had never really known someone on active duty before, and I can’t tell you what a strange mix of emotions it caused. Anxiety about his whereabouts and well-being. Frustration at my own ignorance and helplessness. Hope and faith that everything would be okay. Pride in his service and sacrifice.

Needless to say, his homecoming was a sweet relief.

Now, like before, I feel mostly disconnected from that world, but it did leave an impression that will never fade away. A raised awareness. An immense sense of gratitude.

Thank you to all the men and women who are serving, have served, or plan to serve. In whatever role and capacity. The rest of us may never fully understand what you go through, but we appreciate what you contribute to your team and to your country. Take care.

Our wedding in photos

We got engaged in a book store, and married in a tree house.

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Afterward, we all went on a riverboat cruise for lunch.

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In the afternoon, we enjoyed a private painting class.

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And we capped off the day with an amazing dinner by a fabulous local chef.

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Two weeks later, we held a reception in Andy’s hometown to celebrate with more of our family and friends.

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A week after that, we held a reception in my hometown for the same reason.

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As you can see, it’s been a wonderful whirlwind.

Getting back to normal life is both nice and difficult.