outfit: hem and haw (+ what I’m reading)

ootd 2018-02-26 at 5.31.14 PM

I usually show you guys what I wore to work during the week, but today I didn’t wear this outfit to work.  I put it on when I got home actually, after I picked up this shirt from the tailor/dry cleaners.  I got this Trademark top from TheRealReal for like $30 a few months back (the MSRP is probably around $300-400; they no longer manufacture clothes btw).  I had prior good experiences with Trademark and try to stick with brands that I know make high quality garments when shopping secondhand, because otherwise, it’s a real crap shoot.  But when I received this top in the mail, I was disappointed to find out it was shaped more like a tunic and bulged out in unflattering ways when I sat down.  There were still a lot of winning qualities about the garment though so I fussed over it for a while debating if I should return it or try to make it work.   Continue reading “outfit: hem and haw (+ what I’m reading)”


Aging has been on my mind lately. This dreaded topic was brought on by a lot of big changes in my life:  another year has just past, a new job, a new title, plans to settle down somewhere else, palpable changes in my health and body, new commitments to regular exercise and the resulting total body soreness.  Aging has also been a hot topic all over the internets lately, with the progressive changes to the way we talk about aging, and the move away from the term “anti-aging” when we talk about skincare for example.  Some of the bloggers I follow have written honestly about their struggles with aging too– All this has brought the topic of aging to the forefront of my mind lately.

Simultaneously I’m thinking about how I want to lay the foundation for the rest of my life.  I’ve never before been in a position where I felt like I was laying down roots in a place and life situation.  With so many years of school and training, I’ve always lived somewhere with a finite expiration date.  So naturally I want to learn how to approach my next life phase in a way that brings contentment and in a way that is in line with my true self.

So as I said before I had been looking to secular Buddhist teachings to ease some of the anxiety I felt over the aging process, and that led me to dig deeper into the concepts behind wabi sabi.  The philosophy behind wabi sabi is expressed pervasively in all aspects of life: spiritually through a heightened sense of interconnectedness, impermanence; through our state of mind, how we relate with others, in the way we look at ourselves in the mirror;  it’s expressed physically in our environment, in the materials found in our homes, and in the clothes that we wear.  I’ve read a ton about minimalism; and I do believe it has it’s virtues, but especially lately, it seems inadequate, sterile, and kind of soul less on it’s own, especially taken from a female point of view.  Wabi sabi carries within it, tenets of minimalism but it has so much more.

Wabi sabi is an intuitive appreciation of a transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, rustic, imperfect, or even decayed, an aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholic beauty in the impermanence of all things.”     

— Andrew Juniper

Today in one sitting I read the entire book Wabi Sabi: the Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper.  It’s a very good read.  I learned so much from this book.  It’s changed the way I perceive aging, in objects and people. It’s key to accept  aging and change as inevitable, so the only option we really have is to change the way we perceive it.  Easier said than done for sure.  And also, what the hell do I know?  I’m only 32 for God’s sake.

There are two parts to wabi sabi.  Wabi is about simplicity and minimalism and we all know about that already.  Sabi is the part that I found more interesting.  There’s no exact definition to it but sabi connotes the quiet beauty that comes with age, when the life of an object or person persisting through time and its impermanence is evidenced by natural wear and tear.  It’s the patina on an old leather bag, the rust on a cast iron skillet, the wrinkles around her eyes.  Sabi is the acceptance of the “decorations” that come with age.  Furthermore, sabi are the changes that can only come through aging.  It cannot be manufactured, unlike shabby chic, where new furniture is carved, manufactured, painted, and then sanded away at the edges to give the false appearance of age.

The concept of sabi reminds me of photos I took in Vietnam of my grandmother’s sister and her two elderly daughters that you see here.  I never really had grandparents of my own so the experience of meeting someone in my family two generations back was extra special.  When we arrived at a remote village in the countryside of Vietnam to meet my grandmother’s sister, there was something magical about her.  I felt a subtle sense of longing for something I couldn’t really define.  Her calm demeanor, gentle smile, foggy eyes, missing teeth and those ears!– it made my heart melt.  I half jokingly said to my mom “She’s so cute.  Can we adopt her and bring her back to the United States?”.  My mom replied in Cantonese, with full seriousness “We can’t.  She’s old and too accustomed to life here.”   We don’t speak the same language.  She didn’t say a single word, yet I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her.  It’s hard to describe that feeling she gave me.  No words needed.


She lives in a small village with maybe a hundred people from the same family, so the entire village was all distantly related to me. When it’s time to find a partner they have to venture out to far away villages. Her children served us food on two foldable tables pushed together in a medium sized room that also contained a bed, TV, and a few chairs.


The food was made from fresh ingredients harvested from their farm.  The rice was milled that morning in preparation for our visit.  The chicken was slaughtered just hours before our arrival.  It’s a completely different world.


We met her two daughters who were both probably in their sixties.  They both worked on the farm and had probably seen a lot of sun in their life time.


When I look at them, the concept of ‘ugliness’ and ‘beauty’ loses all meaning.  And yet at the same time, I know I’m witnessing something beautiful.

“If one had to suggest one common thread that is able to link all wabi sabi expressions, then it might be said that those sensitive to its mood should, when coming into contact with wabi sabi expressions, find themselves touched in an indefinable yet profound way. They have a sensation of yearning for something that defies articulation and a sense of peace brought by the reaffirmation of our impermanence.”

— Andrew Juniper

I think the unspoken message in wabi sabi, very simply, is that we can’t just tell ourselves we should see beauty in aging.  It’s not enough.  We must intentionally put it into practice, in our daily lives, through our behaviors, and by surrounding ourselves with organic materials, that on their own are beautifully imperfect and show signs of age with the passage of time, so that these objects can evoke a positive feeling in our minds and bodies as we bare witness to their natural decay, so we can more readily accept and appreciate the same inevitable aging process occurring within ourselves.

The physical decay or natural wear and tear of the materials used does not in the least detract from the visual appeal, rather it adds to it. It is the changes of texture and color that provide the space for the imagination to enter and become more involved.”

— Andrew Juniper

A few good links.


image: etsy golem designs
  1. I stumbled across this Vice article about 22 year old model Jazelle from the instagram account uglyworldwide.  Have you seen it?  There’s a compelling message conveyed through her photo library.  She comes out full blown “ugly”, loud and proud. But I can’t help but wonder if being exceptionally beautiful affords her the privilege of going viral while looking “ugly”.  But still, I like her.  She talks about having a rough childhood, growing up in Detroit, and learning to not care about what others think.   There are dark undertones of depression in her photos as well, some I found disturbing.  It got me thinking about how intentionally looking “ugly” is empowering, especially for a young woman who probably got noticed a lot for her striking “beauty”.  She used to dress “normal” and didn’t start experimenting with make up until her teenage years, but eventually shaved off her eye brows, shaved her head, and expressed herself powerfully through make up and clothes.  All eyes have always been on her, but at least now, it’s on her terms.
  2. Been thinking about dresses (in theory) a lot lately and was struck by all the beautiful dresses in the new Rodarte 2018 spring/summer line.  A lot of them would make really pretty wedding dresses, especially toward the end of the show here.
  3. I’ve been window shopping for a new apartment in my old neighborhood of Echo Park Los Angeles and have been thinking long and hard about the aesthetics of my next home.  Wabi Sabi really appeals to my sensibilities. Above is an example of a Wabi Sabi vase. I’ve been listening to “In Praise of Shadows” to get a better sense of this design philosophy.  It’s a short book, more like an essay, written decades ago by a Japanese novelist, Tanizaki.  He basically sounds like an old man grumbling about how modernization was ruining the traditional aesthetics in Japan at that time. The essay isn’t directly about wabi sabi, but I think it carries a lot of its ethos in its imagery.  I think wabi sabi can teach us how to see beauty in the aging process and how to honor our own imperfections.  I’m starting to worry that I will become extremely distressed about aging in the future, so I’ve been looking to Buddhist teachings to prepare myself early.

a fast fashion holdover, my personal finance homework + other updates

levis 501 ct at 11.06.14 PM

This is an old photo, but I posted it because it’s finally cold enough to break out the old wool socks + Birks combo.  Yes, I know it’s ugly, but I’m shameless, and for casual days lounging around, walking the dog, it’s not too offensive.

I’m wearing one of my favorite sweaters here.  It’s a 5 + year old cotton knit from Zara.  I think it’s true what the Luxe Strategist has said about fast fashion– they don’t all fall apart quickly.  Some do last, if you choose carefully and properly care for your clothes.  But I do think the quality can vary to the extreme at fast fashion retailers.  And quality is only one factor when deciding on what brands to buy from.  At this point, ethics and the environment drive my decisions more than anything else.

I just got back from a week in Cali where I gave a talk at a conference.

I was shocked to discover that the Forever 21 headquarters is now located in the very same neighborhood I grew up in (boooo!).  I’ve heard some terrible things about how they treat their employees, a culture of women bullying other women in the work place.  Why am I not surprised?

But anyway, since being back in NYC, I’ve been busy doing homework that my personal finance coach assigned to me.  She had me total up everything I spent in October and calculate the percentage of my take home pay that I spent on each category.  This is the breakdown of how much I should be spending in each category according to my coach:

housing 25-35%
savings 5-20%
utilities 5-10%
personal 5-10%
recreation 5-10%
food 5-15%
transportation 10-15%
clothes 2-7%
medical 5-10%
misc 2-5%
unsecured 5-10% (student loans, credit cards)
charity 10-15%

Turned out my biggest expenditure was on food.  I was shocked to find out I spent the same amount on food as rent!  Eek!  I don’t go out for fancy dinners, but I guess all those seamless orders + tip add up.  My coach challenged me to not order from Seamless at all in the month of November and cut my food bill in half.

Tonight I made cauliflower tacos (vegan) from the Thug Kitchen website.  It was really good.   I bought pre cut cole slaw to save time on food prep and toasted the tortillas on a frying pan instead of microwaving them to get a crunchier texture.  Tomorrow I’m trying the mushroom tacos recipe from NYT, for something a little different that will still use up all the leftover ingredients from tonight’s dinner.  Cooking every night is going to be a challenge but it will force me to be more creative and actually plan out my meals the night before.

I just finished reading The White Coat Investor, a book two friends from med school recommended.  I highly recommend you read if you’re also in the medical field.  And I just started reading Ikigai  (a japanese version of Hygge) [update:  I just finished reading it; it’s not well written; not a book I’d recommend unless you are very interested in the topic] and Why Buddhism is True  by Robert Wright, who was recently on the Secular Buddhism podcast, which if you have not listened to yet, you should.  It’s gold.   One of the most helpful episodes for me has been the podcast on perfectionism and the problem with comparing.

[outfit:  old zara knit sweater, levis 501 ct*, vietnam wool socks, birks]


A Few Good Links


There is so much going on in the world right now.  Sometimes I just want to bury my head in the sand.  Just tell me when it’s all over.

I almost never talk about my work here, but the other day I was asked to see a woman for anxiety.  She was dying of cancer, had gone through a horrific bout of pneumonia and was on a ventilator.  Because of the ventilator, she could only communicate by writing.  The first thing I said to her was “with all that you’ve been through, the cancer, the chemo, the pneumonia and now the ventilator, it’s understandable that you’d feel anxious… but is there something making you feel particularly anxious right now?”  Her arms were weak; she could barely lift her pencil to the notepad.  Very slowly, in faint squiggly letters she spelled out:  T R U M P!  We both sort of just looked at each other.  I shook my head, sighed, and she knew I felt the same…

So with all this terrible stuff happening, I took extra care to share some enjoyable things with you this week:

This week, I read this beautiful short story in the New Yorker called “Likes” by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum.  It’s a modern story about a father who struggles to communicate with his teenage daughter as she is consumed in the world of social media, instagram, and “likes”.  After I read it, I immediately wanted to know what message the author wanted to convey with the story, and was happy to find they interviewed her about it here.

Have you listened to the Secular Buddhism podcast yet?  It’s my favorite podcast of all time.  I’ve learned so many valuable concepts from Noah Rasheta.  He has this wonderful ability to take abstract concepts, that no one is actually able to put into practice, ie. how to stay in the present moment, how to let go of anger, how to forgive, etc…  and turns them into simple practical actions that you can incorporate into your daily life.  If you are new to the podcast, listen to the first 5 episodes in order, then listen to this recent one about anger and hatred.  There’s another amazing episode on how to teach your kids mindfulness.  It involves turning meditation into a game!  How clever!

And lastly, the new Bjork music video is genius.  I’m just blown away by the artistic vision and technical execution of it all.  It’s created by artist Andy Huang, who was actually in my college class.  We took a couple painting classes together and worked on a post modern video project for art theory class during our senior year.  He seemed like a nice guy.  Very quiet and humble.  I always knew he’d make it big.