Do you know the story of your name?
Today: remembering each other, no-bones days and the perfect grilled cheese.
Here we are, five weeks in, and I have found that the hardest part of this for me is not the writing, not the balancing of school and life and existing (though this has certainly not been easy either, I should say), not even the reflecting on some of the corners of my life that I sometimes race past. It’s hitting the send button.
I have always (and likely will always) hung on to the idea that my writing must be perfect before I share it, even though I know that — no matter what — tomorrow or ten years from now, I will look back and wish I’d used a comma instead of an em dash (or actually, likely the opposite, because who doesn’t love a good em dash?)
Hi, (and also sorry), my name is Julia. I was born with my mother’s last name. Better put, I was born with no name, like we all are. Better put, my mother’s surname was a gift. What a privilege to be named for a woman. What a weight to be questioned each day.
Mom’s last name is Lin, and dad’s is Holland. Kids on the school bus ask if I’m adopted. Some applaud that I hold the mark of the woman who carried me. I sit and wonder who I’d be if I hadn’t grown up Chinese.
In another world, there is a girl named Julia Holland. In reality, she’s the same as me. But Julia Holland can choose when she is Asian. Can hide behind double eyelids and a smile. She doesn’t live in fear of going to the nail salon. I think I would just blend in either way. To be mixed, in my eyes, is to drift between your parents. Maybe that’s why I have an obsession with clouds. Things that look light are heavy on the inside. Google says a cloud can weigh a million pounds.
I exist between two parallel women. Sometimes I wonder if either of them are real. Maybe that’s not the answer you were looking for. That the name on the top of the page is just as good as a blank.
But what does it mean to be searching for certain answers? Maybe that the question need not be asked at all. Or maybe without questioning, we’d all just sit in silence. I think not though, we care too much about ourselves. In a world with no questions, would we observe or self-obsess?
Read this closely, and you’ll see none of it means anything. Often times, I write to fill the space. Often times, empty words just mend the margin between what I have to say and the silence in which I sit. Often times, I yield to the rhythm of the page.
Here, I’ll announce like I should have at the beginning: I’m internally (or eternally) preoccupied. Obsessed with disappearing into space. Obsessed with every word that hits the page. It took me two hours to write my name.
OCD is a diagnosis and a doctrine. I stare at my handwriting on the paper. I write only in pencil; a pen is deadly. I’m disgusted by forced metaphors about impermanence. I’m a hypocrite, if I ever met one.
I value two carrots, skinned and diced; thick udon noodles, boiled that then float; shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated from plastic packaging; and the gas which, with two clicks, lights the stove. I value the hands that stir the pot. Those same ones that tuck me into bed at night, that leave the room before I start my prayer.
I hope my family stays together. I hope my parents love each other. I hope my brother is safe. Mantras repeated three times ruin your childhood. So does the news, and so I punish myself in pursuit of a degree. I have no religion besides the voice in my brain anyway. Tell a twelve-year-old she’s sick when she turns twenty. Tell her she didn’t have to knock three times to stop a fire. That fires will burn down forests either way.
In my ideal version of life, I just sit there. I enjoy a silence that isn’t scattered with my thoughts. My brain tells me you are lucky you are careful. I check locks, the stove, and windows every night. If I could, you know I’d sleep with both eyes open. I’d take tired over endangered any day.
I live in fear of arriving at an ending. Not “the” end specifically, but just any end, per se. Of the day, when dusk takes over and darkness settles. Of my patience with myself when I write clumsily about my childlike fear of the night. Of an email, in which I’m supposed to have something clever to say.
I think ending an essay is mostly thoughtful for the reader. I could sit and write my life away. I’d be safe just hiding in my bedroom. But what I leave is how they’ll remember my mother’s name.
Interview time ft. Gabby Fernandez :)
When winter settles in — though my parents will make fun of me when they read this because they don’t think 60 degree fall days in Los Angeles qualify as any sort of real season change, (and maybe they are right) — I find myself, yes, reflecting. Maybe it’s because it gets dark so early here and the night makes me feel infinitely more alone than the day; or because I feel the calendar closing and another year creeping to an end and I realize oh shit I’m not a kid anymore or oh shit I’ll always feel like I am small; or maybe it’s the burnt-out-student thing, and really I’m just delusional. Whichever it is, or whatever you feel, this week (like always, really), I’m thinking about my family.
So, in honor of that, today’s guest is someone who knows a little something about family, about finding community and about life in this big city called Los Angeles.
Gabby Fernandez is an audience engagement editor at the Los Angeles Times, a native Angeleno, and an all-around internet innovator.
Gabby also just gets it:
In essence, Gabby is awesome. Thanks for being here, Gabby!
Writing can be so vulnerable. Writing about family can be even more so. Almost one year ago now, you wrote and shared a really beautiful piece about your brother, Ricardo, with the world. A few weeks ago, I talked to foodie Jasmine Pak about the way cooking can be so tied to family and memories. Though dairy — in all honesty — does not always treat me well, there is still almost nothing as comforting to me as a good grilled cheese. What would you say is the secret to perfecting that classic sandwich?
I, too, have beef with dairy, but am willing to suffer for an excellent grilled cheese. The secret to perfecting it all is as much butter as your heart desires.
Now, beyond food (though we love it so), I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the ways we remember each other. The other day, you shared a really beautiful Los Angeles Times project on Twitter with a digital Día de Muertos altar. Your current job as an audience engagement editor at LAT has a lot to do with storytelling and connecting with communities. Did your family or upbringing play into your motivation to do the work you do today?
Thank you! That project is so special and I really recommend it to everyone. The thoughtful responses will stay with me for a very long time.
The power of storytelling and connection is something I’m extremely fond of. Some of my best memories involve reading stories with my brothers, growing up hearing the Telemundo newscasts every evening, and staying up into the early hours of the morning to watch movies I can still quote. My dad also used to deliver the LA Times so this position has been a very full circle moment for me. It’s awesome to do digital work considering my early start to being online with MyScene, Runescape, Neopets, and Millsberry, and then Myspace and Tumblr.
Next, I really value the importance of connection to place and information. It’s a huge responsibility to share what’s going on in the world in a way that makes sense to a wide range of people. When I was younger, I’d always wanted to see more of the places and people I grew up within news and media in general so I take that very seriously now.
When it comes to news, I understand that storytelling brings language to life and helps people contextualize the world around them and what better way to do that than on social media? There are little influences throughout my life that have contributed to what I love to do in my current role and inspire me daily.
I know you are a pop culture connoisseur, so I have to know — what is your favorite way to take care of yourself or keep yourself present on a no-bones day?
I’m so glad you asked this because I truly think it’s so important to take breaks and ask for help. It can seem like such a buzzy thing to be like “self care!” but taking the time to recognize what you need can be life saving.
I have various levels of a no bones day. When I want to keep myself present, I love to take walks. Fresh air and a well-curated playlist does some magic on my brain. On a true no-bones day where I do not feel like walking, I light some candles and cozy up with snacks and either read fiction or giggle to my FYP on TikTok.
Some other welcome distractions I recommend are calling a long-distance friend, baking Oreo white chocolate chip cookies, or journaling.
And, finally, what is one question you wish you could ask your mom, or someone else in your life?
I would love to be able to ask my mom what her favorite child memory was in Mexico and how that differed in terms of how I grew up in the U.S.
Also would love to know where she’s always wanted to go that she hasn’t been to yet
And maybe also what she thinks she’d be doing now if she had zero responsibilities (no kids, could do anything, etc).
Question to ask your mom:
Let’s try something new this week! If you ask your mom, your self or anyone else in your life this question, send me an email, shoot me a text or leave a comment with the story of their name so we can record our histories together <3