Reflections on having a “log in my eye”

Getting to know you / getting to know all about you / getting to like you / getting to hope you like me…

Haven’t you noticed? / suddenly I’m bright and breezy / because of all the beautiful and new things I’m learning about you / day… by… day…

Anna Leonowens in Rodgers & Hammersteins’ “The King & I”

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.

Henri J.M. Nouwen

I believe it was middle school that I began learning about multivariable equations—equations where there was more than one variable and unknowns x, y and z to find. The only way to uncover their real values was to look at a second or third equation also provided on my worksheet. This level of algebra was a step up from 2x=4: one variable, one equation, elementary. But with multivariable equations, it wasn’t enough to solve for x to understand the rest. Thus, complexity was introduced. Years later in college, I met a fellow student with a very different academic outlook than mine. He was majoring in mathematics, and I was flummoxed as to what topics he could possibly be studying for four entire years. Math was so straightforward, I thought! What more was there after calculus, I wondered? He then mentioned “The Theory of Zero” was one of his classes at the graduate level and proceeded to explain things that I can’t remember because they connected to absolutely nothing that existed in my brain then (or now). But I was surprised and instantly fascinated. I recall that moment as a succinct example of what it means to not know what I do not know. I think it’s important to note here that I myself had stopped learning mathematics after precalculus, which makes it unsurprising that my mind could go no further than that.

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Friends, fasting & breakfasting, in practical terms

Faith is nothing more—but how much this is—than a motion of the soul toward God. Even the motion of faith is mysterious and inexplicable: I say the soul moves “toward” God, but that is only the limitation of language.

Christian Wiman, “My Bright Abyss”

In February, some Christian girlfriends and I realized that we wanted to observe Lent together. We wanted to see what it would be like to remind ourselves, repeatedly, that a person we have come to love—Jesus Christ—gave something up for us. We decided to observe it the old-school way: a Friday evening fast. We’d replace that time with individual prayer, reading Scripture, or some state of quiet and meditation on God. The morning after, we’d get together and break it.

It was a far more important experience than I had expected. My faith in God is like this inner, bright, warm something that almost illuminates life from the inside out, but more often it’s like this inexplicable thing outside of me, like the awe that crashes on me as I look up into starry skies. It’s hard to knit these two realities together. Upon reflection, though, this difficulty may be a major saving grace. Remember when Neo takes the red pill and escapes the Matrix to find something so much bigger, more intense and complicated than he’s ever known? …And then throws up? The human mind is a bit too small of a package for anything approaching eternity.

This is why real-life practices of faith are such gifts. Praying, serving strangers who are neighbors, a habit of reading the Bible on the phone on my commute. These are the means by which practicing Christians express faith with our own hands and feet, use the language of this tangible world to point to something beyond it.

Fasting is one of those practices. It also seems like one of the least practiced. But, my friends and I experienced something very real and accessible, so that’s the part I’m writing about. I only hope that something of the underlying spirit comes through because, as with every practice of faith, that spirit is the actual substance.
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The costs of a man’s deficit of time

Men in their 40s living in New York City who have good careers and fairly attractive looks, but who have never been married and want to get married, need to stop blaming fate or outside circumstances and hightail it to the nearest competent psychotherapist.

– LNL [pseudonym], New Market, Md., commenting on The New York Times article, “Meet the New York Bachelors Who Yearn for Something More

My little brother knows what I hope for him, which is that he will become a man who knows how to treat all people, including women, with the respect they deserve. As time passes and I watch him mature, I am immensely proud to see him becoming that kind of man. With time, I’ve also begun to see how unlikely this is. Almost every part of our culture discourages him from relating to others with integrity and self-awareness, by the norms coded into social media, the prevailing logic of the market and the popular conception of freedom as being a personal good rather than communal. But, for this blog—a blot on the canvas of this topic—I want to cover just one thing, and that is time. More specifically, the time that men, relative to women, do not get to reflect on their way of relating. Continue reading


Biased for honesty, blind to the facts

What do I value? I value honesty. I’ve known this for a long time. Recently, though, I’ve realized how the value has gotten a bit puffy in my head. It’s become a bias, because that’s how a bias operates: it starts as a healthy appreciation for something before inflating like a balloon until it blocks our view of other equally or more important things. It’s so ridiculous! It makes me laugh. But first, I’ll explain.

There was a guy I met in college who I saw pretty regularly for a brief period of time. We met through my advanced Korean class; I was a junior, he was a grad student in East Asian Studies. I don’t know what else to call it other than a semi-regular thingie because we never ventured off the comforts of campus together and there was neither commitment nor risk involved. It did feel vaguely exclusive and intriguing. We would sit and talk for hours at a cafe outside one of the libraries and he was pretty affectionate. And, now that I’m writing this post, I remember how it all started. He had asked for my phone number early in term to get to know me more. He told me all about a paper he was developing—just a personal project, independent of his degree—about his philosophy on relationships: an intricate model involving levels of intimacy and an interesting labeling system. Looking back, that conversation probably solidified my interest in him because at least one efficient way to my heart is through my head, and discussing interpersonal relationships fascinates me anyway.

After a couple of weeks, I recall him holding my hand by that library cafe and telling me, “I want you to know I’m really interested in you, and once I really start liking a girl, I’ll want to have sex pretty soon.” Okay, but what I actually heard was: “I’m not afraid to broach awkward topics, and you can trust me to be honest with you.” All I heard was quality of honesty, and my attraction to him skyrocketed, which inevitably led to major confusion on my part once he stopped calling, things started feeling tense in class and our connection was clearly cut.  Continue reading


20 Qs on 20s: Question 2, on dating in New York

This is a series of interviews with friends between 20 and 29 years of age. The aim of this series is not to capture anyone’s individual identity, but rather to glimpse the bigger beyond of what it’s kinda, generally like to be a “twentysomething” these days. I’m attempting a word-based pointillism.

Question 2: Great. You’re a woman in your 20s in New York City. What is great and/or what do you hate about dating in this city? Continue reading


Hardship, maybe good soil for friendship

A significant part of my love for this city has been the people who have populated my life in it. What has made them, I wonder, more than acquaintances or strangers with whom I happen to share air? What makes these people friends? Continue reading


The literate city

On my way to yoga one morning, I selected five books for free off the stoop of a neighbor’s brownstone, halting my frenetic walk (I was late) to peruse the unsupervised pile. On my way back home an hour later, I picked up another four books from yet another generous house front. This another-man’s-treasure thing goes on all the time around here, so I’m no longer confused or suspicious (This must be a trick?!) by it. At the same time, I can’t forget how special it is. Around these brownstone neighborhoods, people leave out books left and right. There’s even a house with a standing red receptacle labeled “Lending Library.” I’ve checked it repeatedly; it’s definitely in use. This local circulation of books provides a glimpse into our neighbors’ interior, book-filled lives and still it’s only one of the signs. People here are reading so much that the fact spills out everywhere. It’s a bit of a dream.

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A three-way intersection

“The saddest thing happened today,” she said, remembering something.

It was 9 or 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, a day we normally get together with other friends at our Bible study, but that had been moved that week. In lieu of it: dinner at my place. Something from earlier in the day came back to the top of her mind.

“What??” I asked. Continue reading


The “semantics of love”

“Semantics of love” is not my term. D and I were at our usual downtown coffee shop when she said it. I didn’t understand at first, but she kept talking and it made sense. People say “love” to convey different things and in reference to different histories. For her, in Spanish, in Puebla, Mexico where she’s from, it’s not something she would ever utter to most friends, acquaintances or strangers. She thoughtfully counted on her fingers the number of people to whom she has said it. She explained the physical ache it denotes. Continue reading