Category: Life


The day after receiving my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, I lay in bed, body weight pressed against the white sheets, finishing up an ethnography set in Egypt and India. Even with all the shades drawn, the heat still manages to enter; it muscles in, hungrily sharing the bed with me.

The cicadas, thumb-sized green gems that hang in the trees like ornaments, buzz unceasingly. At this point in the summer, their cries are not an unwelcome distraction, but part of the background noise of a season I proclaim to hate every year, but that I always come to earnestly love. A three-month period of cloudless blue skies and bright red moods. As I read, the flourescent bars that illuminate the neighborhood school grounds begin to flicker intermittently. Their amber-yellow light bleeds in through the folds where my blue curtains nearly converge, but fail to touch.

On the last page, the story takes a dark turn; the author narrates how a friend is lost, presumably forever, in a country at war. I can’t help but feel that this conclusion is left somewhat ambiguous. Not open to interpretation, necessarily, but unresolved. After contemplating for a few moments, silent in my room filled with warmth, light, and insect sounds, a greenhouse of sensation, I roll over, slip off the bed, and flip open my laptop. I navigate to Google and plug in the friend’s name repeatedly, in combination with a grab bag of search terms, on my way to discovering his true fate. “Author,” “friend,” “death,” “what happened” “?”

The search turns up nothing. Another search yields nothing. My immediate confusion at this is derived, not from the lack of obtainable information, but from the search engine’s inability to find what I assume must exist. A daughter of the World Wide Web, my first impulse is to trust that anything can be found by carefully selecting search terms, rearranging their order in the sequence, and clicking through web pages diligently, like a pilgrim organizing relics, in wait of a miracle.

I retreat from the keyboard. I open the curtains and find that the sun has set; the evening sky splashes onto my eyes like a gentle wave. I spot the bicycle belonging to the child next door: seafoam green wheels, a white basket. Its wheel is positioned in the direction of my window, inclining the frame towards me as though in greeting.

There’s mountains of information inaccessible to me. There’s kingdoms of knowledge locked away. Maybe it’s better like that. Not all information benefits from availability. A young man died suddenly, and it’s not possible to learn how, or when, or where, or why. A stranger, I think of him on his last day, threading the needle of his final hours. Walking forward until the path twisted, and then closed off before him.

Mt. Epiphany (II)

I’m not prepared to answer questions about my life, our lives, or life in general. I’ve stopped trying to fit anything into any predictive model, gilded frame, convenient pattern, or conventional explanation. I have always been opposed to self-delusion of any kind, even if comes under the guise of rationality, even if it’s only the embrace of delusion that makes life bearable. I’m at the point now where that trait is enduring its most severe test.

Every day I wake to more bad news. Imagine rising on a battlefield, half-screaming, the jeweled hilt of a Templar’s sword sliding out of your sweaty grip, to find the fight has already ended, and the ground is a fetid, marshy carpet of the dead. The contorted bodies radiating a shy, silvery light in the red haze of the morning sun. Imagine a sleeping child on a raised, protected marble altar while, just below, blood makes thin channels through the packed dirt, trickling patiently toward the center of the Earth. Dreaming in complete, perfect serenity, thumb in mouth, while the the world decomposes in record time.

I don’t try to understand pain anymore. I don’t try to process my reaction to it. I let it drip from me like pus from a wound. I don’t sanctify it. I don’t rationalize it. I don’t try to understand beauty, either. Beauty, which some call reason enough to live, now feels like weak, flabbergastingly trivial artifice. Looking up at the night sky, the constellations seem comically ill-made to me, a scraggly spread of stars arranged like a hobbyist gardener’s first vegetable patch. Looking out at the mountains, the trees are like individual threads in a cheaply made dun-brown carpet, dull, cloudy light squeaking through their stripped branches and blurring the view beyond. Looking at myself, captured on video, my posture sloped like a melting ice cream cone, my face and eyes are distant, murky, and unrecognizable.

My cynicism has reached dizzying heights, but as I peer into the scrying mirror that is self-reflection, looking into that hinterland for the signs and symbols of sadness that were the totems of my childhood, I find that I am denied even the bittersweet comfort of pathologizing the cynicism that has warped all chance of continued, permanent happiness. I’m not depressed. I am a vain and incompetent fighter, a girl who both grew up too fast and never grew up, a consumer of processed goods, an American citizen, a screaming child. I’m at peace with myself, as long as I can be honest about what I am, though I am profoundly unhopeful about the state of the world and the possibilities of my life within it. An upbeat song with bleak lyrics. To sleep, but not to dream. A sunset in a grove once teeming with fireflies, the vista fractured by telephone poles. Hitting play on a reversed timelapse and watching as the rose retracts into itself and the orange, blue, gold, pink stars blink out of life. Paying for healthcare during the leisurely death of the future.

Truth is the daughter

Dirty rain overflows the drainage ditch that bisects the neighborhood. Sewage, rank, richly odorous, rushes through outflow pipes, spraying into the air like sputtering pyrotechnics and forming huge fecal pools in a river christened two months ago with an undulating blush-pink film of flowers.

Then, early summer enters like an outrageously costumed actor bursting out from beneath a center-stage trapdoor. I eat the first kakigouri of the season: chunky ice crystals marinating in a sickly sweet syrup of condensed milk and artificial vanilla flavor. My head pounds from the resulting sugar rush. My mood depends so much on the current physiology of my body. Mind and matter are inextricably linked, to the point that I feel my consciousness most strongly in the thrum of my blood, the cables of flesh that are my limbs, the pulpy mass within my abdomen, the wet tails of my eyes extending via interlocking nerves into my brain, that limp, damp ball of gray unleavened dough. I don’t understand my mind and body as separate entities, but as clay lumps forced together so tightly they become indistinguishable. Maybe the most accurate way I envision myself is by thinking of a ladleful of primordial soup: clumps of hydrogen and carbon glimmering on the surface like streaks of fat, sulfurous smoke rising from the top. No body, no mind. Just a puddle of crushed compounds stringing together spaghetti strands of tortured thoughts that slither out, tadpole-like, after days of bubbling percolation.

The sunlight streams in from every direction, but I walk along the riverfront numbly, unsteadily, as though swimming through fog that fills my mind like a sea of synthetic liquid glue. For the fourth time in as many years, I am leaving one workplace and joining another. It’s not unusual to experience many transitions in a short period of time, and in general I do not fear change. The gig economy is all I’ve ever known. Its shifting sands have been shifting and sighing underneath me all my life. But I start to wonder if the changes I make are symptomatic of an inability to make the final choice, to stick the landing on the final twist of the “life’s purpose” knife. What salvation is available to those of us unable to pick a profession, choose a hobby, maintain a consistent group of friends, or keep a stable self-image? I think the notion of meaning in life is a fiction, but I have dog-eared those pages too many times to coyly play off its effect on me. What to do when you know something is false, but you cling to it more fanatically than the truth?

Mt. Epiphany

The garden facing the windows is a miniaturized paradise of pockmarked cobblestones, potted greenery, and dried, scattered leaves the color of crushed cinnabar, desert sand, and fresh cherries. Red, chocolate brown, deep, dark green, and the ravishingly navy blue of a darkening sky. A backwards glance at fall in windy spring. I nurse a cup of black coffee, rolling it idly between my hands like a hunk of moldable clay.

Desires cycle through my mind like pebbles in my shoe. They stick to my dreams like pink gum smeared onto the underside of an ancient desk of pale and splinter-prone wood. Desires follow me through different rooms. I end one life stage and enter another. I exit one crossroad only to arrive at another crossroad.

Along with April, a new semester comes in with the unrelenting tide. I leave my basement office and find a hearty midday spread outside like a boundless picnic blanket, saturated in green, pallid gold, and cornflower blue. The light outside is far-reaching, balmy, clear, free of haze, dust, or cloud. Students leave their classrooms and filter into the cafeteria, carrying stacks of books in their arms. Head down as I pick through the crowds, I think of the shards of the future they harbor–glittering faintly, gem-like–in their eyes.

A small student band has gathered behind a building to play a cheerful, summery tune composed of pan flute and several guitars. Something about the song, buoyant, clear, brings me out of a stupor and into a new dream, sparking tears from my eyes.


In the gray light of very early evening, the cherry blossoms along the river glow like clusters of tiny moons. A brisk, unseasonably cold wind hums pleasantly through the street. Its voice mingles with the rumbling of cars and the pitter-patter of soft rain, generating a misty, muffled soundscape that feels like standing with toes in the ocean. A half-dozen private security guards stand, in plastic raincoats, at each intersection. One holds a posterboard encouraging would-be flower-gazers to return home.

We walk to Tokyo Tower, a smaller Eiffel Tower-style monument painted in vivid neon red-orange, now surpassed in popularity by many taller, newer, more glamorous buildings. A few people wander idly around the entrance, but I don’t see anyone cross the silver cylinders of the ticket turnstile. Tokyo Tower weeps soundlessly. A vermillion has-been, tucked into a nondescript office district, nestled inconsequentially into the dense sprawl. It’s east to be lost here. Tokyo is formed, like an insect’s gem-colored, segmented eye, into a million corners, blind alleys, broken-down storefronts, rooms seeking tenants, concrete bridges, glittering skyscapers, bustling avenues, cavernous sewers, and secretive, dark-doored basement bars. Anonymity is a staple of identity. Living alone, you can go years yearning for company, without knowing that, just around the corner, not twenty feet away, a man makes the most delicious coffee and the most engaging conversation in all of Tokyo.

A few subway stops from Tokyo Tower, we ascend three flights of stairs to a temple complex. A elderly cat sits on a step, so completely still I am not initially sure if it’s a real animal. A wounded koi fish, gouged flesh protruding like foam from a cut along its back, swims briskly through dark water freckled with lily pads. The temple is located dizzingly high above the road below; I look down the steep steeps, lined in stone lanterns, my pulse shooting through my body in a flood of vertigo. Below us, Tokyo unfolds, the ultimate in urban ugliness. Reinforced concrete, glass, asphalt, and steel: the four twisting strands of its DNA. Daylight seems to bring out the absolute worst in the city’s features: heat-exuding four-laned roads, frantic intersections, blocky, glass-walled department stores, squareish buildings clothed in endless banner ads.

A paradise of commerce, a den of inaccessible subculture, a froth of traditional symbolism, 90’s holdovers, and cyberpunk aspirations. It’s strange to think that Tokyo is where I will have spent the bulk of my twenties. It’s not my home, per se, but it is where I cycle through sleep, dream, wakefulness, and where I live out the days from within my catalog of moods. Each day starts out the same way. I open my eyes in a four-story apartment building at the base of a concrete hill, located by the hip of a canal that snakes through the city before draining into the glassy waters of Tokyo Bay. I open the curtains onto my skinny street, where even small cars manage to skim my sleeves as they inch past. Chunky telephone cables thread the air above, like strands loosed from a tapestry. Crows hop from roof to roof. A few hours after dawn, they swoop down, yelling as vociferously as roosters, their pebble-like eyes catching and scattering the light like cheap rhinestones. When I leave the apartment, I notice where the flowers have fallen and gathered on the dimples in the sidewalk, in depressions leading to the storm drains. Their tiny pink thumbprints studding, for a few more days, Tokyo’s vast, intricate urban body. As the hours pass, the edges of their petals yellow, like old newsprint.

Eggs of Leda

I brush out my braid and rip apart the plastic packaging of a pregnancy test. Plum blossoms grow in scattered patterns of pinky purple along the dark, twisted, mottled branches of the tree outside. I sweat, in chalice-shaped patches, onto the torso and sleeves of my polyester shirt. The dye on the test runs suggestively flame-red, but the oracular square that contains my fate is empty. The relief feels like passion; it overwhelms my mind, bowls me over, saturates my mouth and chest like a fistful of sugar cubes. No part of me wants motherhood, or the maroon-tinted, lab-made prediction of motherhood, or the dreamy possibility of it — not even a little bit. Why? All the usual reasons apply here, plus a few of my own, informed by troubled relationships to family, body, and self. Do I want to be convinced otherwise? Not at this time. I don’t object to feeling differently in the future, but I will resist every attempt to reject my present views simply because they don’t align with the desires of others.

Is it wrong to say that I like life (mostly), but I wouldn’t wish it on another? Living a human life is as pleasurable as a blood draw; distressing, eye-averting, but when the results arrive I read them avidly, contemplatively. Every year, I open another red envelope and receive another revelation. Sometimes, the revelations are howlingly sad. Other times, they are like a splash of coral-pink flowers growing along the split between sidewalk and gutter. Neither type of missive is enough to cancel out the other, but they have allowed me to acquire a range of tastes: bitter disappointment, cloying joy and love, rancid terror, chalky grief. Life is something I have come to tolerate. Via exposure therapy, the tolerance might one day morph into hesitant affection.

My geneaology is freckled with cancerous seeds of indulgent, paralyzing melancholy, and I know perfectly well that I’ve grown into that worldview, the way a daughter might inherit her mother’s body, clothes, and mood. I’ve grown into a woman who is cheerfully sad. Don’t think I haven’t considered how that affects my choices. After all, the only comfort in overthinking is the chance to indulge in the power of honest self-reflection, self-flagellation.

Did I have a bad childhood? Did I read too many maudlin books at too young an age? Was I seduced by nihilism before the age of reason? No, yes, maybe. Don’t I want to feel the total, all-encompassing, love-with-abandon that a mother feels for her offspring? Not necessarily. Aren’t I afraid of being alone in my old age? Of course. Can’t I admit to that fear without fearing judgment? Don’t I want to experience all life has to offer? Definitely not. Life has a lot of evil to offer. Good fortune is rare, but pain is everywhere. There are many belief systems that twist that pain into something worth beholding, like rending an old rag into ribbons, and that idolize pain as necessary, prized, intrinsic to meaning. I understand why these beliefs exist, even if I don’t share them. All I know is that pain is everywhere. In the water, on land, and in the recesses of my body, clotted into flesh and bloody discharge. I can’t protect anyone from it.

Death of the Blogger

My workplace is about an hour from home on foot. As the day swivels into evening, I button up my jacket and exit the building, my hands jammed in my pockets. My thoughts pour from my mind and drain away into the frigid air. The sky is blue-black and dotted with wispy clouds, like white splotches on frayed denim. Cowgirl pants, I think dreamily. I imagine riding a horse through Tokyo streets; the pink neon of nearby signs reflecting off a sleek, dark equine coat.

Midway through February, another year of web hosting for Conscience Round comes due. I have held onto this domain for thirteen years now. As an online diary, Conscience Round has proven to be arable land, though not always fertile. Mostly, it has helped to keep myself accountable to both myself and my desire to write. I didn’t start with the expectation or hope of readership, though I do treasure the handful of emails from readers who have come upon the blog serendipitously, spontaneously, after plugging in a few keywords (a tender offering from a once-upon-a-time generously-optimized search engine).

In 2008, I was a young teenager mesmerized by the huge expanse of the Web. The ready availability of minds and their words, rendered onto the digital canvas, made me feel like I lived in the Age of Discovery. Now, my impression is that old-school blogging has been largely replaced by monetizable spaces, where any hobby, interest, or cottage industry can be strip-mined for readership. My language there is prickly, but I truly don’t take issue with this new world; I’m resigned to the inevitability of change, and I don’t begrudge the instinct to head to greener pastures. And, anyway, the Web is still so vast that I suspect old-school blogging does remain, somewhere, in some nostalgic, tree-lined corner. The fact that I haven’t found it is not proof that it doesn’t exist.

But these transformations in the blogosphere do mean that I have reason to get existential with this blog. Every year, I toy with the idea of ending it all; I can’t really justify the luxury of paying for server space and a unique domain name for such a tiny, tiny blog, though inertia and sunk cost fallacy feel like enough to prop it up. Come February 1st, I stare at the invoice from my hosting provider and wonder idly: Why do I keep this site up? Why do I continue to post? What do I hope to gain?

This blog has been an anchor, a good luck charm, and a scrapbook of times heartless, tender, depressive, joyful, cruel, loving. I only very rarely show it to others; I’ve always liked that only strangers come upon it. Just recently, after nearly five years of dating, I showed Strawberry a post and he said reading it was like “being in another body.” I was surprised at how much I understood; writing and reading really are like experiencing another body. Running, breathing, expelling; all from within another body. An escape, a confession, a conjuring. That’s enough reason for Conscience Round to exist; because it helps me write, and sometimes writing is the only way I can take in a deep breath.

Flood the Rubicon

Winter approaches like a hook angling through cloudy water. But the temperature stays just tepid enough that the leaves can keep their grip on the branches, resisting that final, funereal change. They move in the trees like a whirling, upturned skirt of orange, coral, and amber, and I almost believe they’ll outlast the snow. When they finally fall to the ground, they do it in style: A yellow ginkgo leaf pirouetting slowly from the top of a thirty-foot tree. A troop of a hundred leaves rushing through the street, clinging to the bite of the breeze as one plural form. Leaves shimmering like gems, clogging the stream. Leaves cupping flowers, both slowly greying together. It feels not like decay, but like defiance.

Set adrift by the conclusion of my graduate program and the collapse of my vision of the near-future, I feel feral. I wish to grow wings, scales, claws. I fantasize about vanishing. I watch reviews of videogames in which protagonists inhabit the Wyoming woods, the Alaskan tundra, the outermost reaches of deep space, dense, richly rendered billion-pixels worlds. I begin to take Strawberry’s wilder ideas more seriously. He’s the type to dream profoundly, naively, earnestly. Let’s travel the Pacific on a fixer-upper, he says, and I picture myself yelling into a squall, a thick braided rope tied around my waist, hair slicked down by unbroken sheets of rain. Let’s live on a mountaintop, he says, and I picture him carrying a bundle of lumber up a tree-lined incline, the copper in his beard catching the early morning sunlight, pausing to exhale deeply into frigid air. When I shoot these ideas down, which I must do, it’s not without a pang of longing.

What can the future hold? I wish I could know if my life must be lived within a set of possibilities and if so, how much power I hold over the levers. It’s a desire motivated not by a belief in determinism but by pure fear, because I don’t want to hope for more than what I can achieve. I can’t explain why this is. I’m not afraid of hard work, disappointment, or rejection. I’m not afraid of an ordinary life. The cynic in me, who hates heartbreak, reminds me that storms at sea and mountain lodges likely won’t be in the cards. Evading the banality of everyday pain and high-diving into escapism seems laughable, implausible, gauchely Hollywood. But I find myself feeling jealous of Strawberry’s ability to dream with no restraints. I find myself wanting to protect that starry-eyed inclination from the sting of pragmatism. When I look for jobs, it’s always distractedly. I sit at my desk and stare at the wall as though a portal might open there. I’m waiting for a miracle to happen. I’m looking for that sudden, out-of-the-blue change that will set me on a different course.


I wake from dreamless, cloudless, uninterrupted, nourishing sleep. My brain feels like a freshly swept room. The neurons threaded like purple silk strands through my mind hum pleasantly, soothingly, each synapse on beat with my footfall on the hardwood, the rainfall out the window, the fireball blazing across a face on the diamond eye of the universe, visible from Tokyo in the last week of November.

The burnished, blushing sun makes its exit off the stage. The seasons change. The pattern breaks. Blistered leaves, stripping wind, cloud cover. The dark orange coat my father bought me returns to the closet.

I come into the kitchen to find Strawberry has bought flowers on a whim. In the beige milk jug that serves as an ersatz vase, the bouquet leans heavily to one side, tied up with twine. Is this a desire for spring made manifest, I wonder idly, carding my fingers through the big tufts of bulbous green fuzz, the reedy, soft-touch stems, the microscopically small, starlike yellow blooms, the dazzling burgundy flowers with petals like intricate pleats, folded onto and into one another over and over, the thumb-sized red chalices shaped like artichoke hearts, their heads bowed, the drooping leaves, the thick strip of white buds curved like a scythe, a waxing crescent.

As I touch, one of the tiny yellow flowers drops off. In the center of the palm of my hand, it rests like a thorn. I bring it up to my face to peer inside: at that scale, the smallest details take up the whole of my vision, becoming vaguely unrecognizable, unreal. My fingernail grazes the edge of a petal and the stigma and ovule pop out easily, immediately, as though spring-loaded. The petals crumple and disintegrate. The shape collapses entirely. I arrange the pieces on my desk into a circle, a line; in this condition, what was once a flower could now be anything.

Peace of Mind

A typhoon approaches. Its outer rain bands encircle western Japan, bathing the city of Tokyo for 72 hours in constant, irrepressible rain. At three in the morning, I am awoken by the sound of water gurgling loudly in the drain outside.

Sun for two straight weeks. Working from home in a groundfloor apartment shrouded by trees, I don’t see the light at all until I step outside to run errands. Then, it’s a pure revelation of breezy, gold fantasy: the sunshine pouring out and drenching my senses in warm, hearty waves.

I dream of forests, which I so rarely encounter in my life in a city of tar, concrete, and muddy cement. I go up forty floors in a tower in Ebisu to see the city draped over the land. A labyrinthe of silky-smooth billboards, skinny alleys, and oyster gray high-rises, gleaming like seashells in the sun. The trains snaking through the zippered tracks. The horizon, a magnet for the eye. The mountains, under a crowd of clouds, standing watch.

My attention slips off focus like rain off a flat surface. I work hard to do only the “good” things: I stay off social media, I read more books, I eliminate fructose from my diet, I try to force my mind into healthy patterns. Still, everything about me resists. Desire fractures my willpower, and the ensuing shame splits my motivation down the middle, like a kitchen knife through a perfectly round orange. The fibrous, fleshy veins part and juice beads onto my fingers. Nihilism, gestated not by real philosophical exploration but from maladjusted personal pain, takes control, and I tell myself that it doesn’t matter what I do. The cosmic deck is stacked against me, the stars have fallen out of alignment and into disarray, and other such self-serving rationalizing pretenses. But ever a devil’s advocate, I cannot tell myself anything without immediately flipping to the counterargument. The problem sits in the palm of my hands like a multi-colored puzzle cube, and I analyze every side despondently. What’s so wrong, I think, with spending an afternoon on a website, or wiling away the hours by exploring the richly rendered heaven of a videogame? What’s so wrong with pushing away my responsibilities for thirty minutes, with occasionally ignoring my Pomodoro timer? What’s so wrong with polishing off a box of cognac filled bonbons, and staring at the stripped garden past my window, cradled by the soapy, oil-slick light coming through the dirty panes and slipping onto the grimy sofa, lost in my own cloudy, spiralling mood?

But then again: how transgressive can it be to just have my own way? I think, for the millionth time, about Le Guin’s Omelas, and I sink, for the millionth time, into the horror of knowing I live at Omelas’ sweet center, where I can indulge my arrogance by obsessing idly over my flaws, where I can enjoy luxury, and the cloying desire for more luxury, frivolously, foolishly. Meanwhile, sustaining my life continues to cripple the world entire. My existence makes me complicit in an ample, blue-maroon ocean of horrors, in which each pearl-shaped drop of water captures an instant of grotesque, baffling, extraordinary suffering. Suddenly, the needs of the one are subsumed by reality as a hyper-beastial Omelas is revealed, and I want to rip into my own self-importance, my own voluminous ego, with an animal’s teeth.

It’s painful to know that I am important to my family, my friends, my partner, because these relationships, and the small amounts of good I try to do within them, allow me, perversely, to justify the harms my life–its incidentals, its petalling aftereffects, slung thousands of miles away by an innocent Zephyr–inflicts on others faraway.

Inevitably, I become despondent at the thought of causing pain, and so, in some cynical attempt to resolve the unresolvable, I hurt myself (not physically, unless the mind is a physical thing, which–maybe). I do the things I said I wouldn’t. I relapse into self-loathing and I lounge in it, as though neck-high in filthy bathwater. What good does it do? Nothing. What wound does it heal? None. Do I forgive myself for this? Never. But when I snap out of it, the pieces of my mind fold back into one another, hiding a new scar in their paper-thin creases, and I get back up, because I have to keep moving through the day. The rain and the sun, I know, are interlocked, cyclical, pair-bonded. Both will come again and again. The forest opens. We go there, my mind and I, together.