When I was very young, I wanted to be just like my mom. She was so smart and knew the answer to everything. She kept our family together and scrawled all of our appointments, basketball games, girl scout meetings and school dances on a calendar that hangs in the kitchen. She was strong. She kicked the ball hard during our mother-daughter soccer scrimmages and was really good at tennis. In our lunch boxes, my sister and I would find thoughtful notes written by her that morning. She was the first to wake up and cooked us a hot breakfast everyday before school. With her, I knew everything was going to be okay. I thought she was beautiful. Sometimes, she would come volunteer in my elementary school classes. Every time she walked in, I would get up in the middle of any activity or assignment, run to the door and give her a big hug. I wasn't embarrassed. I was proud of her.
When I grew older, we fought more. We disagreed about almost everything. Sometimes I said things that I regretted - things I didn't really mean. We were hard on each other and hard on ourselves. We pushed each other. We made each other cry. We couldn't be less alike.
As the years pass, we fight less and understand more. I've seen her put her whole heart into keeping our family together, something she believes in to her very core. I've seen her give so much to those around her and expect nothing in return. Some of the hardest days were seeing her in pain, seeing her vulnerable. But it was these days that made her more human to me than she has ever been before. She pushes through everything. She is so strong. She has taught me to know my worth and is always there to lift me up. With her, I know everything is going to be okay. She is beautiful. She is not afraid to speak her mind. She is so smart and, though she might not know all the answers, she sure knows a whole lot. Sometimes, she knows me better than I know myself.
Somedays, we will walk down the stairs to find that we are wearing matching outfits, or I'll cut my hair and it will end up looking just like hers. "You want to be just like me," she'll tease. The truth is, I do. I want to be just like her.
I open my eyes and close them again. Some days it is harder to wake up than others. I hug my sheets closer to me. Each morning promises to be colder than the last. That in-between moment in the morning darkness when the dream you just had still seems like a reality. My heart flitters. It's just a dream, I whisper. It's just a dream...
Old letters and trinkets in a box. I find myself storing away the past. But I like to hold onto things. I like to look at them from time to time. Feel the paper and the ink, the rose gold chain and pink stone. I sit at my desk and stare at my wall. It's papered with a wrinkled map and botanical prints now. Remember that time when everything was warm?
I climbed to the top of a peak yesterday. I looked down through the trees and wandered three hundred sixty degrees. The sun was out, but the wind whipped at my bangs. My bangs. "Why did you cut your hair?" they ask.
Today is a new day, as will be tomorrow and the day after that. I make my way up a new peak. It is still cold and I can feel the numbness running through my fingers and toes. It makes its way to my core. But the sun is rising and its beams stretch through the trees. Soon it will be warm again. The sun will rise and everything will be warm again.
The first quarter of dental school is tough. Defined by snipping and sifting through fascia in anatomy lab, learning how to wax a pretty cusp of Carabelli and mastering the nooks and crannies of the PP Fossa, fall quarter at UCSF is notorious for its difficulty. It was a high altitude marathon with many steep peaks. And yet, somehow, we all made it through. Here are some lessons I learned along the way...
Hit the reset button. Let yourself breathe and take a step away from school. Whether it was going home for Thanksgiving break, cooking dinner with friends or visiting an art museum on a rainy day, I made a promise to myself to set aside my waxing kit and histology slides to be 100% present during my time off. Taking a moment away from work helps us recharge and we are then ready to hit the books with a fresh mind and revitalized motivation.
Keep your home cozy and neat. After a long day at school, nothing feels better than coming back home. The smell of a burning candle. A room lined with leafy plants, their vines cascading down the sides of my bookshelf. Trinkets from my friends and framed photos of our memories together welcome me in. Twinkling lights radiate a soft glow. Surround yourself with things that bring you joy. A cozy, clutter-free home helps me unwind and maintain focus when I need it the most.
Stay in touch with loved ones. Dental school can become quite the bubble. Don't lose touch with the outside world. Grabbing dinner with, writing letters to or even just FaceTiming friends and family has helped me maintain perspective and keep in mind that there is life beyond UCSF.
Go outside. The student lifestyle is a sedentary one. Though not physically strenuous, such a way of life can really wear on us. Take the time to go outside and get some fresh air. A trip to the beach to watch the sunset, a walk through Golden Gate Park or a weekend hike in Marin...outdoor adventures have a way of reinvigorating us like nothing else.
Sleep. Sleep solves everything. No longer do I have that youthful energy that got me through those all-nighters in undergrad. After hours of studying and feeling the burn out, sleep is the answer to all of life's problems. Some good shut-eye helps us synthesize the information that we have learned. We can awaken with a new outlook on a topic we were studying the night before and perform with heightened awareness throughout the day.
Celebrate your victories. After our first anatomy practical, my lab partners and I treated ourselves to a celebratory brunch. We ditched our scrubs in our lockers, dressed up, and stuffed ourselves with avocado, house potatoes, bacon and omelets galore. We are going to make it a tradition.
Remind yourself that you don’t have to do it all. As much as I love making my endless to-do lists,
sometimes I need to remind myself that I just can’t do it all. Learn when to
say “no.” Only get involved in the extracurricular activities that you love. It
is so easy to compare yourself to the amazing peers that surround you, and
think that you are not doing enough. But you are enough. Always remember that.
Special thanks to my friends Sammi and Michael for the first two photos in this piece.
Each autumn is a time of transition and this year is no different from the rest. After moving to a new city and finishing my first month of dental school, I've found that it has become difficult for me to break out of the bubble. School, study, sleep, repeat seems to be my recipe for the day, and it has become easy to forget what is important to me.
Then, a close friend recently reminded me of something. "Sometimes we need to find a way to be human again," she said.
To be human again. To remember the things we love. So often, we get caught up in our studies and work and keeping all the pieces together that we lose sight of parts of our lives that once brought us joy. We forget to slow down and take time to take care of ourselves and remember all that we have to be thankful for.
As the season of exams and the upcoming holidays approach, I would like to renew my dedication to doing things that are important to me. To take a sunset run through the park and make dinner with my roommate. To chat on the phone with my grandma, sister and mom. To mail letters to my friends and water the leafy plants in my room. To read poetry with a cup of tea. To write for my blog and take pictures of beautiful things...
There are so many joys in life to experience. We just need to take the time to be human again.
“In pursuit of
magic.” I walked through the neighborhood of SoHo in Manhattan and passed by these
four words, delicately spray painted onto a brick wall. Though simple, the
phrase was fitting as I wound my way through the charming cobblestone streets,
lined by trendy boutiques and cafes. My pursuit was toward a bookstore, McNally
Jackson. Indeed it was a magical place.
Old paperbacks, tattered and worn, floated high in the air and the smell of coffee mingled with that of crisp book pages. Walls were papered with pages from famous works of literature. A book printing machine turned its gears and spit out freshly bound publications. A wood sign hung from above. "60120 BOOKS PRINTED HERE," it read.
I found myself spending hours in this bookstore and others around the city. I skimmed memoirs, flipped through the pages of today's most popular novels and got lost between lines of poetry. I picked out quirky greeting cards created by local artists and sat down to write letters to my friends and family.
Surrounded by this peaceful quiet, I felt a sense of comfort. In an era of text messages and tweets, the bookstore offers an escape from the virtual world of technology that we have come to live in. Though Kindles and tablets have made it easy to access a book at the touch of a button, there is just nothing like exploring rows of bookshelves and feeling the pages between your fingers on a quest to find a good read.
Take your time to wander through the bookstore. Find that perfect novel. Sit down with a nice cup of tea and get completely lost in the pages. Sometimes it's these simplest of pleasures that bring the most joy.
Maybe this is the most beautiful thing I've seen in my life. A whiteout. The pine trees generously dusted in frost. Lacey little snowflakes gather on my coat. Breathe in the chilled air. Breathe out a puff of steam. We ski down the slopes, through the powder. For a moment, the clouds part and Lake Tahoe lies down below, its glassy waters reflecting the scene, doubling the beauty. I want to bottle up this moment and keep it forever. The new year has already been filled with wonderful moments. Reflecting on the only twenty days that have gone by, I find myself smiling. Rainy days spent eating ramen and winding through the shelves at an old bookstore. We pick up our childhood favorites and find warmth in the worn pages that hold memories from years ago. Cutting vegetables and sipping on wine, exploring new recipes. A newfound obsession with Star Wars. Competitive games of Battleship. A walk along the river, the air fresh with the smell of rain. The water below ripples and curves around the stones that line the bank. It's quiet right now. But sometimes the quiet is just right.
It's a stormy night in the city, but it sure is cozy in here. String lights hang from the ceiling. A disco ball glitters and sends sparks dancing across the walls. Bodies sway to the ethereal pop that plays in the background. A crisp beer and a little lemon. It's nearly midnight, but the headlining performers have yet to step out from behind the curtain. We wait. The lights go down, a deep bass. A familiar R&B-flecked tune plays, a dash of keyboard, a pinch of soft drum. Anthony and Josephine of Oh Wonder, the British song-writing duo, appear. The night whirls by, the the neon "OW" sign in the backdrop pulsing to the beat of the music. We sing along. We dance. Josephine twists and twirls her hands in the air, as if conducting all of us below. The duo, the crowd, the lights, the instruments all in synch to the mellow grooving melodies. "We have performed on five continents," Anthony says, "But this is the best show we have ever played."