How to Fall Back in Love

October 19, 2015

It’s easy to do. We all take for granted the one we love.

Year after year, we look at the same ol’ face and forget all the things that once mesmerized. Our enthusiasm seems reserved more for the “new” than for the more-deserving tried-and-true. Where did the heat go? Where’s the excitement? We forget that it’s our responsibility to keep looking past the known. How presumptuous we are, to believe there are no more surprises to be had; to believe we know everything there is to know.

Then, something comes along to give us a kick in the pants to remind us how lucky we are blah blah blah grateful blah blah. That will last for about a day. We are flawed and selfish and doomed. But I digress.

Over the weekend, Open House Chicago 2015 gave me such a kick.

200 sites. Hidden gems. Behind-the-scenes access. Free. All motivating words.

I had forgotten how much I love my love: Chicago. Too many long days at work, too many trips, and too much of the “busy” had driven me indoors during my free time. To recharge, I told myself. All the while, neglecting my love.

My friend Anne and I decided to make a day of it. Starting with:

Lakeside Development, South Shore

Rainbow Beach
OK, not necessarily part of the Open House Chicago site list, but since we were nearby, we explored.

Windsor Beach Co-Op Apartments

South Shore Cultural Center

Stony Island Arts Bank

Then, after a hearty hearth-to-table lunch at Promontory in Hyde Park…

New Regal Theater (Avalon Theater)

2015-10-18 14.54.59

I didn’t take any pics inside this gorgeous structure because it was dark and a flash is just obnoxious.

Meyers Ace Hardware (Sunset Jazz Cafe)

Not much to see here in terms of its legacy, save for a box of old menus, sheet music, and partially visible original murals on the wall. More satisfying to read about the history of the building, but I’m glad we went. Also, I love a hardware store and scored a cast iron skillet for $20.

Illinois Institute of Technology, S.R. Crown Hall

I would have missed this one were it not for Anne and her love of Mies van der Rohe. But I went straight for the models.

Swift Mansion, now Inner City Youth & Adult Foundation
I didn’t take any pics here to respect the privacy of the Foundation. The tour was less about Swift Mansion and more about the current occupants and their inspiring initiatives.

And finally, we ended in Bridgeport to introduce Anne to my beloved Bernice’s Tavern and to Mr. Stingo himself. While there, a local chap stopped by with Mira, and falling madly in love with her was the perfect way to end the day.

2015-10-18 17.38.31

I have no idea how long the OHC links will be live, so I linked to the site URLs whenever possible. Obviously, I have barely scratched the surface of the 200 sites offered by #OHC2015, and the thousands of other sights available to us every day. I promise to do better.

That’s all it took for me to remember my love, and my duty to her.

So, thank you, Chicago Architecture Foundation for reminding me how much I love this city. The next time I forget, I promise to remember that she gives me plenty. The rest is up to me.

1 week

6 days

9 hours

34 minutes


The Rhino Principle

February 4, 2014

I did not write this.

But I read it often, reminding myself to shut my trap, put my head down, and get done what needs to get done. Highly recommend you give it a gander.

“There’s a certain rule in life that I’ve found worth considering. It particularly applies if you’re confronted by a crisis. I call it the Rhino Principle.

Now, the rhino is not a particularly subtle or clever animal. It’s the last of the antediluvian quadrupeds to carry a great weight of body armor. And by all the rules of progressive design and the process of natural selection the rhino ought to have been eliminated. But it hasn’t been. Why not? Because the rhino is single-minded. When it perceives an object, it makes a decision–to charge. And it puts everything it’s got into that charge. When the charge is over, the object is either flattened or has gone a long way into cover, whereupon the rhino instantly resumes browsing.

Few people think of learning from a rhino. But I have. And when I hear of an author who cannot finish or get started on a book, I send him (or her) a rhino card. I paint a watercolor of a rhinoceros on the front of a postcard–something I do well, as I’ve practiced it a great many times. And in the space next to the address I write: “Stop fussing about that book. Just charge it. Keep on charging it until it is finished. That’s what the rhino does. Put this card over your desk and remember the Rhino Principle.””

The author continues by applying the principle to politics and business, if you are so inclined. You’re welcome.

By the way, I’ve missed you, gentle reader.


I recently read a story about Li Ching- Yun who supposedly lived to be 256 years old. He attributed his longevity to one thing: inner quiet.

I have never enjoyed inner quiet.

I was an anxious child, plagued with worry about anything I couldn’t possibly affect, much less control. Sister Mary something or other always told my mother that I was 5 going on 40.

When I was 8, we moved to a small town where my brother and I were the sole Asians in a literal handful of minority kids and I was often the subject of ridicule.

Once, I walked into the girls’ locker room where a conversation was in play.

“And I heard that her father was a GI in the war, and her mother was a prostitute…and that’s why she lives with her dad…”

Nonplussed, because it couldn’t possibly be about me, I strode in to hear more of this salacious gossip. The silence was instant and deafening as the beautiful storyteller froze, and pretended to investigate an offensive thread on her sleeve. The realization that the prostitute’s daughter had just entered the room spread across the rapt audience of tween cheerleaders with perfect hair and local lineage, who leaned back and, as if on cue, fell into benign conversations of boyfriends and football games and anything but this, anywhere but here.

I wish I could say that I laughed it off, and confidently said, “I’d be happy to tell you the truth of my upbringing and my birth in Vietnam to a happily married civilian contractor and a respected embassy translator. Gather ‘round friends!”

But I was not confident or mature.

I am ashamed to say that I folded into myself, or tried to, in order to be as invisible as I desperately wanted to be.  But I never forgot. I remember utterly, everything about that room and every person sitting in that circle because it was brutal and humiliating and cruel.

And then there was the time that my 6th grade crush, annoyed by my not-so-well-disguised love glances proclaimed aloud in front of many, “Why don’t you go back to your own country?”

Now, these recollections are of cruel children who had no idea what they were saying, I’m convinced. They were simply repeating to some degree what adults in their lives had been speculating ever since we arrived in their town. Their town. Not mine.

But ignorance doesn’t end in small towns or with age.

About 5 years ago, I was at the Ravenswood Pub in Andersonville (Andersonville!) when a patron sat next to my friend and me, and asked, “Where are you from? Your English is excellent.”

“Alabama,” I snapped.

I can still taste the bile.

Because I can’t forget it. Or won’t?

I had friends over the other day, and we were discussing something about minority lending, and my dear, dear friend gleefully exclaimed, “Oh God, remember the time…”

Less than a year before, we had attended a happy hour gathering of friends and acquaintances.

Apparently, one well-intentioned acquaintance said to me, “You should apply for minority lending,” and then proceeded to lift her hands to her face and pull apart the outer corners of her eyes in a mock-demonstration of traditionally Asian features.

Apparently, I turned to my dear, dear friend and discreetly whispered, “Did she just do the ‘Chinky Eyes’ at me?” Apparently, this sent my friend over the edge into peals of laughter.

I wrote “apparently” thrice (deliberately, mind you, if you are editing as you read) because I do not remember this at all.

I remember the cheerleaders. I remember the bar patron. I remember the bile.

But this? Nada.

A quote comes to mind that I’ve been trying to incorporate into my constitution, which is more inclined to catalog every personal slight, analyze, seethe, and plot revenge against. I’m a Scorpio on the cusp of banshee, after all.

“Remember every kindness forever, and forget every slight immediately.” Aristotle? Shakespeare? Jesus? No idea.

I want to be this quote.

I want to be light, and still, and capable of inner quiet. Perhaps, in my unending quest to become an adult, I have achieved it.

I have no recollection of this comment, or even of the conversation. Therefore, I am free of its effect.


Or maybe I’m just getting senile.


February 8, 2013

Apparently, I’ve been on vacation from this blog.


Although this time, I say it fondly because I love my work intensely. The keen eye might spot this unfolding in dusty old posts as I was discovering my place in the world. Finally.

Last week, I went on an actual vacation, which is not really my thing. I come from immigrants and entrepreneurs. Time off, while important, is not paramount to the likes of me. As a result, my few bona fide vacations (two, to be exact) were not earth-shattering.

I am happy to report that I had my first real vacation, and it was divine. Turns out, a stellar travel mate + zero itinerary = meandering through cemeteries and exploring tourist-free fish markets = my kinda vacation.

I’m hooked.


September 18, 2012

Are you pro- or anti- Instagram? All I know is, I am pro-Emily.

RIP Java, My Teacher.

May 19, 2012

“Sorry to share sad news, but we unexpectedly had to put Java to sleep this morning…Thankfully, it was Saturday and we were all at home and the vet was open, so I rushed the kids over and we all got to say goodbye. 

Thank you for giving us such a wonderful gift.”

This is the text I received at 11:16 this morning.

There were more details, including the obvious part about how she would have called me if she could stop crying. A fact I completely understood.

Let me tell you a little bit about Java.

May 31, 2001. I was in love and living happily in Houston with my beau of one year, so naturally we decided to get a dog. If you have never been to an animal shelter, here’s a little nugget no one tells you:

They know why you’re there.

The dogs call to you and dance for you and do everything in their power to win your love in a glance. On this particular day, a litter of pups was brought in while we were there falling for every animal and wishing we had a farm to which we could bring them all.

Every dog in the building was singing a deafening, soulful tune.

Except one.

This white blond, 8 week old empress was oddly still, sitting amidst her manic brothers and sister, just looking about as if horrified by the spectacle. She was silent and positively regal. And then she looked at me.

And I was gone.

A year later I was married, and a year after that I was in Chicago. And a year after that, I was divorced.

Java remained with me and enjoyed Gold Coast living for a while. I can’t pass Oak Street Beach without remembering her sleek yellow lab/greyhound-looking* figure soar over the sand dunes in the early morning sun. She was excellent off leash. Except for the occasional lapse (“Squirrel!”), returning on command was one of many in her arsenal of tricks. Sit, down, heel, settle, dance, shake hands, and the ever popular playing of deadness to name a few. Strangers were often invited to point their gun-fingers at her and say “Bang!” to which she would immediately roll over and play dead in an overload of cuteness.

She was simply the best dog ever.

As my job started to require more travel, my neighbors Jen and Greg would dogsit for me, and since they were an active, athletic couple, Java got more exercise with them than she ever did with me. Apparently, dogs like Java want more than a spin around the park followed by four hours of diligent television-watching.

One day, Java came home to me and I distinctly heard her say, “Oh, you again. Where’s my real family? You know, the fun ones.”

I offhandedly asked Jen one day if she would ever consider adopting Java. “If we were to ever have a dog, we’d love one like Java but we’re seriously too busy these days to…”

Now, I wasn’t really thinking about giving Java away. I mean, she was my dog and a great one. When you’re a dog person like I am a dog person, you sometimes wonder if you love dogs more than people. And when you’re newly divorced in a relatively new city, coming home to unwavering enthusiasm for your face is good for the soul.

But I kept hearing that voice.

And then one day, it just made sense to all of us. Any objections they had disappeared and my sadness at losing her paled in comparison to her utter joy in her new home. Besides, I wasn’t losing her at all. And I wasn’t releasing her into the streets for selfish reasons.

I missed her but I could never be sad, knowing that she was so happy.

Jen and Greg have three children now, and Java was in their family longer than she was physically in mine. They lovingly referred to me as Java’s “birth mother” and I occasionally dog-sat for them too. Her reaction to me, they say, was reserved only for those that Java loved best. I like to believe that she knew me and was letting me know how grateful she was for the incredible family she had. I like to joke that, while happy to see me, she would warily ask, “But, I don’t have to go back home with her, right? RIGHT?”

I still catch shit from some friends who can’t believe I would give my beloved dog away.

But here’s the thing about love: if you’re doing it right, it has nothing to do with being loved. Dogs don’t love us in order to be loved back, or to get food, or treats, or attention. They bask in it when it’s given, yes. But they love us just because they love us. The hardest lesson to learn is how to love without requiring love back. Welcome it, value it, and bask in it. But don’t require it in order to give it. And don’t regret it just because it leaves. Love that is given is never, ever wasted. Love people like that and you’ll never be heartbroken again.

I learned that from Java. 

*Doggy-DNA testing proved that she was other breeds but whatever. She ran like the wind.


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