I don’t know if you know this, but Jewel (yes, the singer) wrote an amazing memoir called Never Broken and you should definitely read it. I started re-reading parts of it recently in order to find one specific detail and it felt harder to read this time around.

I’ve been struggling to write this post for like, an entire two days, so basically forever. I keep getting sucked down this rabbit hole of thinking about care—what it is, what it looks like, what it means, why it makes me feel so incredibly vulnerable.

I want to get it right. But this is writing, there is no “right”—not really. Or that’s what I keep telling myself.

Jewel writes about busking her way all the way to and through Mexico as a teenager, hitchhiking alone, playing the guitar at bus stations, living off tips, etc. etc. And you might think, “Wow, what a free spirit, what a badass, good for her!” But I saw it differently: She had an unstable and abusive childhood. She was emotionally and physically neglected, and so she took risks that no sane person would ever let their own child take.

Her parents treated her like she didn’t matter, and so she treated herself the same way.

In so many ways, fear is a survival strategy. It keeps you alive.

If no one’s ever worried about your safety or well-being, you don’t know how to worry about yourself—and you put yourself in these unsafe situations, not because you WANT to be harmed, but because you don’t have that innate fear, the sense that you might be something of value worth protecting. And it doesn’t make sense to you that other people see you as vulnerable.

No. I’m just REALLY, REALLY independent. And I don’t need your help.

There’s still fear, of course, but it’s more this fear of screwing up or fucking up or being wrong.

I wasn’t taught to fear for myself, but in some ways I was taught fear of myself, that fear of doing something shameful and bad—that persistent fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.

When I think about the moments of care that have killed me—they have to do with having a body, with being physically vulnerable, needy even.

Do you know what happens when you don’t fear for yourself?

You do some dumb shit and you put yourself in some unsafe, stupid situations.

Fear is an acknowledgement of vulnerability—when we see another person as physically or emotionally vulnerable, we tune into their inherent value. But somehow I learned to equate my own vulnerability with weakness, and weakness with worthlessness, so that what makes me most vulnerable is to be shunned and despised.

I don’t know why it’s so easy for me to see the vulnerability of others as endearing and lovable but to see my own vulnerability as shameful and better hidden and denied.

Jewel writes in the foreword to her memoir: “I should probably not be here today.” I think it all amounts to a feeling, maybe it’s an instinct, a thought: “I shouldn’t be here.” Which really boils down to: “I shouldn’t be.”

Maybe one of the reasons care can feel so terrible and wonderful at the same time is that it closes the distance between me and being a person in the world. It reminds me that I am human, that I need food, air, water to survive.

It reminds me that I exist.



I’ve been trying to write for a while (my entire life?) about not feeling at home anywhere. Call it third-culture-kid syndrome. Call it being a child of divorce. Call it being ethnically ambiguous (where are you from?). Call it whatever.

When I was studying abroad in college, I couchsurfed with this guy in Glasgow, Scotland over break. He had accepted my couchsurfing request, but seemed pretty ambivalent about my actual stay. Sort of a, “Yeah, sure, you can stay with me, or not, that’s fine” vibe.

When I got there, he had two other guys from Poland staying with him too. And maybe it was because I was a woman traveling alone, or for some other reason, but my host seemed genuinely concerned for my welfare.

It was already night, and he and the other two couchsurfers went out to go light writing, while I stayed behind to read my copy of Shakespeare’s complete works because I’m an English major, introvert and complete nerd.

When they got back, he tossed the guys some sleeping bags to sleep in the living room and asked if I wanted to sleep in his roommate’s room instead of sleeping out in the living room (all the roommates were out of town).

His roommate’s room was utterly wrecked and there were clothes completely covering the floor and even all over the bed, so I felt right at home. I made a little nest right in the middle and curled up like Rose on the door in the middle of the freezing Atlantic.

And I cried, overcome by a grief I didn’t even know I had.

I don’t know how to tell this story. I don’t know how to explain what it felt like to have this complete stranger show more care and concern for me in a few hours than I felt from my own family.

Earlier this year, I found myself in the type of shitty power dynamic I was pretty sure I had escaped for good.

And of all the people in the world, I feel like I should’ve known better. I mean, c’mon, I practically wrote the book on shitty power dynamics (I’ll take toxic jobs and relationships for $1,000, Alex).

But there I was, again, fumbling around in the dark with a constant low hum of guilt, shame, resentment and fear.

I’d been here before, more times than I care to admit. I think that’s what kills me the most, that sense of repetition, as if I’m doomed to repeat this shitty dynamic over and over again. Worse, I’m angry at myself for falling for it again.

I’m almost scared to go back and re-read the texts—to see how little it took to put me back in my place. Part of me wants to break down the diction, the syntax, the tone, the metaphors and similes, as if I can close-read my way out of shame.

I feel like this is the part where I should talk about not giving away your power, you teach other people how to treat you, don’t let anyone bully you over how much sunscreen you use, blah blah blah. But there are some narratives that hold so much power in our lives simply by virtue of their familiarity.

It’s impossible to exercise hyper-vigilance all the time, and as I’ve written about before, hyper-vigilance doesn’t protect you. I’m coming to believe that it’s basically the flip-side of shame, this idea that you can control how other people treat you or even how they see you.

When I write, I feel like I have so much power, but so little control—power to write into the unknown and the inexplicable, into those “Titanic” moments when I’m lost and adrift. And as much as I want to believe that I can control how other people “read” me (or leave me on read), I really can’t.

It feels simultaneously terrifying and freeing.


I’ve thought a lot about how love is particular: how it exists, like writing, in the details. You love someone not because they embody some platonic ideal of “friend” or “partner” or “parent” or “sibling” or “Chipotle server who gives you an extra scoop of chicken.” You love them because they are this specific human being, singular in the plurality of their peculiarity (sorry).

There was this one person—I had to suppress a smile every time they said the word “jam.” They always used it in the sense that I was least expecting and it was so adorable I could not cope. But I didn’t want to say anything because what if they stopped doing it!

Oh my God, I sound like a romcom: “Your hair. Your smile. That faraway look in your eyes when I try to talk to you about Blake on ‘Bachelor in Paradise’—HE LOOKS LIKE A WALKING BROOM OKAY I SAID IT.”

When someone notices details about me, it can feel like love—either that or they’re trying to Half-Asian-White-Female me, you never know.


I’ve recently started coming to terms with a pattern of emotional abuse in childhood involving shame and control about specific, everyday things. Do you wanna know what it feels like, as an adult, to realize that you have very strong feelings about how to load a fucking dishwasher, feelings that suggest that if you do it wrong WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE??

I think one reason abuse is the opposite of love is because it erases the particular. When you think about the cycle of abuse, it’s not based on the person being abused, who they are or what they’re doing or not doing. It’s about this engrained pattern that keeps getting repeated over and over again by the abuser, often with different people or in different situations.

But the thing is—it feels specific. It feels like it’s about you. I’m bad. I’m wrong. There’s something uniquely flawed about me that means I will never load the dishwasher correctly and therefore never be good enough or worthy of love.

It’s this perfectionism that holds on so tightly, thinking, this time, it will be different. I will finally get this right.

And when you inevitably encounter another person or entity who tells you, “You would be better/happy/successful/accepted/healed, if you only ______,” it feels like another shot at redemption.

And that’s what sucks about trauma too—you lose the particular. Instead of responding to this particular person or situation as distinct and different from all the other people and situations in your life, you end up projecting onto them patterns from the past that might have nothing to do with the present.

But that’s okay. That’s where I am now, trying to be okay. Yeah, maybe my coping strategies were/are imperfect, maybe I have irrationally torrid feelings about dishwashers, but my survival strategies got me out of a jam.

And now, maybe I can stop just coping.

Maybe now, I can be free.


I recently wrote a comedy pilot about my church trauma (c’mon—you don’t have one too?). I wasn’t planning on writing this pilot. It just sort of happened to me, kinda like trauma itself (jokes!). Writing can be such a funny thing—not in the “haha” sense, more in the “what the fuck am I doing?” sense.

I felt pretty lost. I didn’t really know where the edges were, the boundaries. But like with most forms of creativity, you just have to let all that go at some point and do the thing.

There was this one scene I was feeling especially insecure about. I wanted it to work—I really did. I just wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. It was like the double-double dismount of my script, and I’m no Simone Biles. Not even close.

Writing this script brought up a lot for me, primarily guilt and also grief. It made me remember the person that I used to be, the person I was before the traumatic thing happened. Writing this, I felt like I had lost my faith—and that in losing my faith, I’d lost something beautiful. Maybe that self who had faith was naive or immature, but that version of me also seems, in retrospect, oddly endearing.

In Christianity we talk a lot about before and after—we emphasize the never-the-same-ness of life after salvation. I wonder if trauma works in reverse, a reverse-salvation of sorts, where you are never-the-same after.

I don’t know if it’s our culture’s emphasis on bright-siding that makes it seem taboo to admit that I’ve lost something, particularly something of value that I can never really get back. There are moments when I feel powerful and free and whatever post-traumatic growth is supposed to feel like. And there are other times where I still grieve what I once had, the person that I once was. Turns out, you can both/and that shit.

We did a table-read of my script in class and one of my classmates praised the one scene that I had struggled with the most, that I wasn’t sure if I could pull off, but that I fucking did pull off (HA! HA!!!!!!!!! Sorry, just had to go hubristic for a second).

And I think it’s a different kind of faith at work in me—faith that I can connect with other people in this space, that they might find resonance and truth and connection in something that I’ve written. Faith that I am not alone.

I wonder if it’s not unlike the same faith that I had before—the kind of faith that I never really lost in the first place.