new year’s realizations

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on my computer i keep blog files neatly organized in folders, labeled by month and year. this morning i created a new folder for january 2014 and realized it was folder #49, the beginning of year five. five years! in some circles i’m a blog veteran. in other circles i’m relatively young (grechen and jennine have been blogging longer than anyone else i know). in big circles i’m a triangle (little tin who?) and that’s alright with me.

i don’t always make new year’s resolutions because i usually choose the exact same ones: eating better, exercising once or twice a week, buying with purpose, relaxing, or vacuuming pug hair. they are bits of my daily conscience and sometimes one yells louder than the other. our house is mostly (loosely) tidy and our health is good. my closet is getting full again— i have a specific number of hangers to limit the amount of clothes— but it’s full of things i wear more than once.

so at the end of every dozen months, i arrive at realizations instead of resolutions. they’re neighboring cities: one of them is modern, always changing, and the other is classic and still like a whispered truth. for realizations i speak of the latter.

as i grow older i realize more and more that i don’t want to be an it girl. when i was twenty-two, yes, that’s who i wanted to be. when i was twenty-six, yes. even when i was thirty, yes. but i feel like it weighs you down. as much as i want the cutest new shoes or the brightest new lipstick or the quirkiest new print, it’s too much. and then after you get all those amazing things, they’re not cool anymore, and you start over. again and again.

i want to be a plucky, creative woman: plucky meaning brave and full of heart, and creative meaning never forgetting the beat of my own drum. i will wear clothes from last season and the past seasons before that last season. i will not squeeze myself into unflattering pants. i will write about experiences that changed my day or my life. i will refine my artwork. i will get rid of shoes that make me smile and say through gritted teeth, oh these don’t hurt at all! i will ignore any “things you should blog about to get more traffic” articles. i will make a wooden dollhouse. i will analyze fashion on hit 1980’s television shows (i already have some drawings of vanessa huxtable). i will wear clothes; clothes will not wear me.

besides, plucky is perfectly fun to say. if i can’t start 2014 with a good word, then i can’t start anything.


mismatched christmas

our fir tree no longer drinks water. i suspected he would dry out a few days after christmas; we bought the tree after thanksgiving. the vibrant green needles now resemble a dull shade of pear though the little lights keep twinkling.

as a child i hated taking down the tree. we didn’t always set up a tree— it depended on my mother’s mood— but i relished the years when we assembled our funny, lopsided, faux evergreen. we were a buddhist family trying to include american customs. like many lao and thai immigrants of the 1980’s, my parents dutifully brought their children to temple and expected us to be still and listen to chanting monks. like typical kids, we fidgeted madly and eventually adults sent us outdoors. being outside meant buying treats from an ice cream truck (the temple attracted many ice cream trucks for some reason) and sitting on a grassy hill where the chants faintly drifted upwards and away.

i remember going to school and feeling embarrassed because we didn’t go to “church” in the traditional sense. i went to church occasionally with friends but at nine, eleven, thirteen, or fifteen i lacked the confidence and eloquence to explain that temple was church, too. sure, we consumed snow cones, played unsupervised at times, and scowled at the good kids who sat with their moms and dads without getting bored. but we also helped our parents carry baskets and bundles of food or rice to share with others. we listened to families give thanks and pray for more good blessings. we observed the silent grief of people who lost their parents or brothers and sisters far across the seas. we watched familiar grown-ups and strangers collect money for those whom the year had not been kind.

and in december, we celebrated christmas in our house with or without a bristly, plastic tree. with an abundance of christian classmates, i knew the story of the christ child and the reason for the season. the messages of faith, giving, and kindness weren’t unknown to our family. i heard the messages at temple and heard them again at home. my brother and i received two or three gifts, always sensible items like a sweater or pajamas or a toy that wasn’t super expensive. i drew stars, bells, and wreaths on notebook paper and hung them with scotch tape on the windows. my mom made a turkey or whole chicken with sides like papaya salad or coconut pudding. we brought a large apple pie and a card every year to our elderly neighbor, mr. john.

when i got to college, i made friends who came from many cultures and religions. some of them celebrated christmas; some of them did not. and a few of them were like me; they grew up with a little of this and a little of that. for the first time, my heart swelled for our mismatched christmas. christmas didn’t have to be, look, or feel exactly the same to everyone. in the end, what mattered was the warmth in your heart.

and now we return the fir tree. we’ll remove the ornaments and lights, and the city will recycle him into mulch. i’ll probably grumble like my nine-year-old self. but i’ll carry on its magic and fond memories of decembers past.


Tags: stories

art to me

it may not come as a surprise that i drew on the walls as a little girl. i repeatedly scrawled my name and added giant pots of stick sunflowers here and there. i scribbled in zigzags from left to right and up and down. after my mother found my handiwork i secretly drew inside my closet. in my tween years i surmised it was a good idea to keep a journal on the walls behind my clothes. yes, i was that child.

i collected different kinds of paper and envelopes, nicked from my parents’ meager supply drawer or handed down by sympathetic teachers. my allowance disappeared at the drug store where i bought pens and permanent markers. i enjoyed school but always counted the days until art class. in art we worked with clay, pastels, paper maché, watercolors, charcoal, and tempera. the words rolled off my tongue like an exotic symphony. soon i discovered sketchbooks, books you were supposed to draw in (not library books and certainly not “that brand new book we just bought you”). eventually i ended up studying design in college and i kept digital doodles of my ideas and projects.

on tuesday night, i sat at my desk drawing reindeer for my students. i saved them and started on matching sleighs. then the unthinkable happened— nothing at all. nothing in a bad way. the screen froze. i rebooted the computer multiple times only to find the infamous “white screen of death” as it’s affectionately called by mac owners. my dear computer with all my art, all my hours of work, suddenly hated me. i put on a brave face for my husband who promised to take it to work and examine it with his technology guy.

in the middle of the night i cried. i chided myself for not backing up my files as often as i should. i chided myself for not keeping a separate drive of prints. i chided myself for being a thirty-two year old woman blowing her nose at one a.m. for art’s sake.

what is art? is it a gallery painting? is it a bronze sculpture in a spring garden? is it a group of letters jumbled together? is it a brooding photograph or a jubilant song or a happy story? is it a tangible object or a series of abstract feelings?

to my parents, art was a cheap hobby that kept me out of trouble and happily in my room. to my teachers, art was a passion they shared with others, kids with runny noses and all. to me, art is the rube goldberg machine for my ideas: some silly, some terrible, and some quite good. i am constantly enchanted by the rolling marbles, churning gears, unexpected explosions, tinkling bells, and everyday leaps of faith when a new idea skips with a jaunty step into my brain.

unfortunately my old i-Mac could not be saved, but michael was able to pull most of my files off the computer onto an external drive. i closed my etsy shop for the time being, and i may not blog as often (not that i published daily anyway). please know that i’ll do my best.

in the meantime, i’m craving a clean sheet of paper…


Tags: stories

all our lives

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TxSC 2013 Staff: Jess, Indi, Rachel, Kristen, and me.

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Fun photos from the Bonlook booth.

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Coming soon to theaters: Linda and Rachel’s Summer Vacation.

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for the past three years, i’ve attended texas style council— once as the new kid and twice as staff— and every time i often overhear the same sentence from guests in conversation: “i feel like i’ve known you my whole life.”

blog conferences are funny in the way that they bring together women (and some men) who know each other from the internet. if texas style council met in 1997, rest assured someone would have said, “you are spending too much time online!” before setting parental controls on our computers. but the funniest thing is that we’re not complete strangers. we get little glimpses into each other’s lives and closets. we serve up meals, crafts, and sass (when needed). we share advice (good and bad) and memories (joyful and heartbreaking). through words and pictures we forge communities, business relationships, and friendships.

i’m not saying all of these mushy things because i’m a staff member. i don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count how many people that i feel like i’ve known forever. they’re people who make me laugh. they’re people who drag me on a dance floor and convince me to boogie (in silver clogs no less). they’re people who forgive me when i forget, encourage me when i feel down, and tell me to take a break when i am frazzled. they’re people who inspire me. most of all, they’re people who believe i can always be better.

if you came to texas style council, i hope you left with a little sunburn, a lot of business cards, and a bunch of new friends that you feel like you’ve known your whole life.

p.s. thank you to my registration gals tanvi, toyosi, kirsten, and april for being such hard workers. thank you to kristen, jess, rachel, and indiana for being the beauty, brains, and bravado of TxSC. thank you to our sponsors for backing our conference!

staff photo by peter tung. photo of me and rachel via lulu*s. other photos with kendi, kelsey, and nicole via bonlook.


Tags: txsc stories

be still

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when christmas break began, i made a mental to-do list full of posts, projects, and other fun things. i completed a few of them (a fox print, a friend's blog makeover) before succumbing to a nasty cold. i spent the bulk of time on the couch or in bed nestled under layers of blankets. i read the hobbit again, watched movies, drank tea, and coughed all over my sweet family (sorry michael and sophie).

all the while it seeped in— restlessness. it’s the feeling i get when i’m doing nothing, not so much a feeling of guilt or boredom, but an expectation. the expectation that what i’m currently doing (even if it’s blowing into a kleenex) isn’t what i’m supposed to be doing. i should be tending the blog, making crafts for school, drawing awesome pictures, planning a spectacular wedding, etc. there is never enough time and surely less time to be still.

but if i make any resolutions or pinky swears this year, being still should be one of them. being still isn’t the same as being idle, being silent, or being lost. being still means remembering a line you’d forgotten from your favorite book, smelling needles on a fir tree, noticing the hum of the wind in the car, and listening to a pug snore. being still means taking a couple minutes (when you don’t have any) and enjoying a simple moment. being still means inhaling a slow, steady breath and realizing that above working, above blogging, above “things i should be doing” is a meager and warm threshold called living.

so in 2013, i’ll be busy. i’ll be creative. i’ll be loud. i’ll be mischievous. i’ll be happy. when i need to be, i’ll be still, and then i’ll be back to myself.

happy new year.


the lost world

take attendance, recite the pledge, read, write, do math, eat lunch, play, work a little more, and go home. rinse and repeat. this is the life of a typical elementary school teacher.

but beneath the cloud of a seemingly monotonous schedule, there is more— every morning, we step into a very special world. it’s a world where we all belong, and even on days when we feel like we don’t, our name tags and cubby labels tell us yes, you do. when we venture out to gym, library, or recess, the world patiently waits for our return. it’s a world that forgives whatever happened at home and forgets whatever troubled us at night. it is a world where boards, slates, dates, and spills are always wiped clean by the last bell.

it’s a world i know well, and you may know it, too. we all have worlds. they are our bubbles, our sanctuaries, our safety nets, our escapes. we enter them at home, school, and work. as much as we shield them with our love, faith, and sheer will, they are as fragile as a moth’s wings.

when a bubble shatters, we immediately ask, why? how? we feel angry, sorrowful, confused, and frightened. we might point fingers, name names, and cast blames. we will mourn publicly and privately. some of us will move on quickly while others will meander, lost in their grief.

there are two candles in our living room window. the first one burns for newtown, connecticut in memory of the heroic teachers, staff, and students who died on friday at their school. the second one burns for anytown, anywhere as a reminder that life is precious. talk more. care more. listen more. help more.


Tags: stories

home is wherever i’m with you

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before M— hereafter called michael— and i bought our house, i fell in love with a different house. i named her “little blue”. she was a craftsman style home with a serene paint scheme, small rooms, and a doggie door leading to a quaint yard.

michael liked little blue, but he said she wasn’t the right one. after hearing his remarks, i pursed my lips a bit. we saw more houses in more neighborhoods, and i proceeded to compare every house with little blue. she was perfect for us, i told him. she’s just perfect. other houses were too large (5 bedrooms, really?) or too grand (20-feet ceilings, no thanks). some were too small (where will people sleep during christmas?) or too plain (think of all the things we need).

after several weeks of homes-to-homes and heart-to-hearts, it struck me. i realized that i wasn’t looking for the “right” house. i was looking for a “right-now” house. yes, little blue was cute and modern, but in a few years, we would outgrow her. she was wonderful for a couple, but eventually, we wanted a family.

we discussed making an offer on little blue the day that we found our house (up the street from her). he had been on the market for two days. i didn’t like him at first. his owners painted the rooms shades of yellow, orange, green, and royal blue. his rocky backyard, unfenced, led back to a wooded area. his fireplace, topped with a maroon mantle, looked awful.

but he seemed like our house: calm, quiet, comfortable. i could picture us cooking meals in the kitchen, playing games with our friends, chasing sophie, or getting up in the middle of the night to comfort a child’s bad dream. we could paint him and make him look the way we wanted him to look. he already felt the way we wanted him to feel.

he is our home, and with great joy, we’ll share with you how we keep his heart beating.


Tags: home stories

where are you from?

growing up, kids and adults often asked me, “where are you from?”, a question that puzzled me because i was from, well, virginia, like everyone else. i realized they asked me because i looked different, and my family looked different. in first grade, i clearly remember being pulled for ESL testing with nelson, a classmate who parents immigrated from puerto rico. we both spoke perfect english but spelled imperfectly like most six-year-olds. we sat in a small grey room with pencils in our little hands, looking at each other and likely thinking, these people are bonkers. (note: nelson and i ended up not needing any language services)

in college, i met friends who were asked the same questions as kids, and i met friends who had done the asking. but i didn’t feel under interrogation. we openly spoke of our childhoods, whether they took place in small town pennsylvania, india, or korea. we took each other home for lunches and dinners for the sole purpose of trying someone’s mom’s you-gotta-taste-it food and later comparing spice levels.

i told my mom that i wished i’d known girls and boys like them all my life, though i did have several amazing, hilarious, and kind friends from high school. i would have felt better about my eyes, dark hair, and skin that ranged from being golden to brown through the seasons. i would have felt better explaining where my parents used to live, why they came to the united states, and what languages we spoke. i would have felt like i wasn’t as alone as the girl in the mirror said i was.

but i’m glad i experienced those emotions and memories, especially now that i’m a teacher with a diverse classroom. we speak about our families, traditions, and foods.

when we complete self-portraits, i pass around small mirrors and watch them giggle at their reflections. sometimes they goad me and say, “now you look in the mirror.” then i proceed to make exaggerated faces, and we laugh. it’s the sound of happy children who belong with me, with each other, in texas, and in america.


Tags: stories

beyond the blog

in 2011, i attended the texas style council for the first time, feeling a lot like an awkward kid going to a middle school dance. i showed up alone to brunch (we ate before the symposium that year), but julie quickly befriended me and invited me to eat breakfast with her and a few other bloggers from dallas. during the panels and breakout sessions, i met incredible bloggers and business owners, and i made a core group of friends that i would keep in touch with through email, twitter, and girls’ dates like shopping trips or events. as strange as it sounds, i couldn’t imagine my time in texas without these women.

here’s a perfect segue: the 2012 TxSC focused on life beyond blogging. it boils down to this three-syllable word: connection. as blogs continue to evolve, encapsulating small-town writers, part-time-models, haute couture muses, and countless others, we easily forget that real life exists offline. by real life, i mean laughter, sorrow, mistakes, stumbles, jobs, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, kids, colors, smells, meals, and drives. life is everywhere, and it’s much more beautiful when your monitor is asleep or your phone is silent.

when indiana asked me to join the TxSC staff, i immediately said yes. if you’re reading my blog for the very first time, i’m linda from the registration desk! i met indi through our style blogs; i emailed her in 2010 asking if she wanted to exchange links. we quickly discovered that we both loved thrifting, cheeseburgers, and quirky printed dresses. we bonded over growing up with asian tiger mothers who hated our fashion choices. i thought of indiana as my blog mentor. now more than ever, she’s also a dear friend.

i can tell you similar stories of how i met sydney, grechen, sharon, kendi, laurel, or kelsey. i can even tell you about friends like rosa and angela who live back east that i’ve never met in person, but i feel like i’ve known them for ages. the list goes on. as c.s. lewis famously said, “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘what? you, too? i thought i was the only one.’”

last year, my biggest takeaway from TxSC was finding and nurturing a voice for little tin soldier. i added moments from my day to outfit posts, and i published short stories when the words felt right. i joined twitter, sharing life (and pug news) in 120 characters or less. twelve months later, i’m still as happy as a clam, and i owe that glee to simply being proud of who i am, and being thankful for the genuine friendships that i’ve made.

i know this year’s conference wasn’t perfect. we misplaced people’s badges, experienced a few moments of sheer frazzle-ness, and welcomed a group that doubled in size from last year. rachel (indiana’s assistant) and i survived by sneaking snacks behind the counter, greeting everyone with a texan smile, and pretending our heels and platform wedges didn’t hurt our feet after standing in them for hours. we hope you disregarded the rainy weather, learned a lesson or two (or ten) from our impressive line-up of speakers, and made connections of your own.

at the end of the day, we are all the girl next door who has awesome shoes.

p.s. thank you to our co-organizer elissa for her help and hard work, and a big toast to our 2012 sponsors.


Tags: stories txsc

ghost writer

my mother believes in ghosts. she lost her father as a teenager, and years later, when my grandmother remarried, she vividly remembers waking up in the middle of the night hearing footsteps on the back porch. they sounded like her dad’s steady climb, but the yard remained empty.

i heard these stories along with others from my parents, their friends, and my own friends of different faiths. some attribute spooky incidents as coincidences and others take them as signs. i never took a stance in either direction, but the tales intrigued me.

in october of 2011, M’s grandfather passed away. we reminisce about his faded denim shirts, leathery skin from the florida sunshine, and fondness for barbecue. we usually saw him when he visited M’s mom, staying in a room that appeared in all of her homes as she moved around pennsylvania and later to texas. pop’s room always contained two twin beds with cornflower blue comforters, a mirrored dresser, and a television with cable or at least one channel showing sports. he slept in one bed and put towels on the other.

a few weeks ago, pop would have celebrated another birthday. M’s mom woke up in the middle of the night to the overhead lights going on and off in pop’s room. she flipped the circuit breaker, but they continued to dim and brighten, brighten and dim. after more fiddling, the lights turned off and stayed off.

i wanted to write this post the night she told me about it, but i didn’t know what to say besides i knew it was pop. it was pop’s room, it was pop’s birthday, it was pop’s sign. she asked me, “if you’re right, why didn’t pop visit your house?”

good question. but pop never saw our house. i wish he did. he would have told us that tile floors are too slippery, sophie is too greedy, and the yard is too rocky. he would have asked about my children and M’s job. he would have done a lot of things.

so pop, in return for your flashing lights, i will share your story, not as a skeptic or a staunch believer. i am just someone who misses you.


Tags: stories

loss and hope

since i’ve known pop, there have been whispers about his time left on earth. he was sick on and off, and he always seemed to bounce back. he worked part-time at a bait shop, watched every u.s. open, and became a great-grandfather. he drove a small SUV (albeit slowly) and lived alone in a pretty house decorated with photos of his wife, children, and grandchildren.

he passed away on wednesday in his sleep in hospice. the doctor had given him one more week, and being an optimistic fool at times, i thought he might give us one more christmas and one more summer.

now, what can we give pop? there will be no more sunday phone calls or gossip about the williams sisters, nadal, and federer. there will be no more playful quips about pop’s denim shirts or fondness of red lobster.

i believe the afterlife is for both the dead and the living. those who pass cannot share details on their journeys, but those who live can dream that they find peace, redemption, or joy. hope is never quite lost.

so pop, i hope M is right. i hope you’re bowling. i hope you’re driving around in a convertible. i hope you’re eating barbecue sandwiches. i hope you found her again. i hope you know we miss you.


Tags: stories

lost in translation

talking to my mother involves a series of hits and misses. i speak to her in perfect english and broken lao, and she speaks to me in perfect lao and broken english. then we become frustrated with each other. i sometimes tell her, “mom, you don’t understand what i’m saying,” to which she replies, “i don’t understand what you’re saying.” we both grumble and sigh deeply, a gesture equivalent to but more polite than rolling one’s eyes. after a few minutes, we patiently resume our conversation.

for those of you with bilingual parents or friends, you may relate to my story. yes, words often become lost or misunderstood. we correct people (even strangers) because we believe in a “right way” to speak english. occasionally we feel angry because time— months, years, decades— failed to improve their prose. but the most important question remains: are we truly listening?

there are three things that my mother treasures: family, mr. B (her black, mischievous cat), and twenty-four karat gold. in her mind, twenty-four karats are the real thing: pure, valuable, and beautiful.

years ago, she gave me gold bracelets for my birthday. the delicate chains, flanked with small charms, felt cool and light. she put them on my wrist saying, “this how you wear it. you wear two. it’s good luck.” she meant, don’t lose them. they belong together. i love you very much.

her charm bracelets will always be my prized possession. when i wear them, i remember family, mr. B, and twenty-four karats. i remember to be patient and hear what others have to say.

*this post is my contribution to the IFB project. for more information, click here.


Tags: IFB stories

20/20

thirteen years ago, my mother took me to the eye doctor and i grudgingly picked out my first pair of glasses. the frames were simple and translucent. i wore them as seldom as possible. in college, i chose another pair (skinny, black, and hip) and slowly warmed up to them. i sat in the back during most lectures and copied notes with ease. but after class, i put them away with a small twinge of embarrassment.

in may, jen (of jen loves kev) introduced me to warby parker glasses. i checked out the WP site and instantly fell in love with sinclair, a pair of navy blue frames.

love /l/ /u/ /v/ n. a state in which i keep mentioning sinclair to M, recapping my updated eye exam, and stalking the UPS truck.

my best friend said, “welcome to the four eyes club!” you know what? i feel welcome for the first time. i truly have four eyes: two eyes that see the world clearly, and two eyes that finally see i’m the same person with and without glasses.


Tags: stories

in her bag

in college, my friend laura and i worked at a small boutique toy store. we sold groovy girl dolls, ravensburger puzzles, and all the playmobil a child could ever want. for mother’s day, we always promoted a pink plush purse for girls called my mommy’s purse or my first purse. it included make-believe lipstick, a soft phone, and a set of plastic keys among other mom things.

when i was a little girl, my mother’s purse contained different curiosities: tiny chinese silk pouches hiding earrings or necklaces, large packs of mint chewing gum, tiger balm, and a wallet brimming with a checkbook (remember those?), cards, worn slips of paper with people’s telephone numbers, and terrible school pictures of me and my brother.

i enjoyed sneaking in her purse and removing a single check. i was seven and had no plans of cashing it for money. i took a ballpoint pen and scribbled nonsense across it, signing my own name in a messy flourish. i continued to pickpocket lone checks and hide them in my room until she noticed check number discrepancies in bank statements. “hmmm…” she said to no one in particular (which meant someone in particular).

her purses themselves were usually hand-me downs or “louies” from friends’ trips to bangkok or vientiane. when my brother and i grew older and needed her less, she worked part-time and bought herself a classic dooney and bourke bag. at thrift stores, i now see these bags with their raised brown duck logos and fondly think of her.

i called my mother and wished her a wonderful mother’s day. we talked about mr. B (her overweight cat), dad’s home improvement projects, and my brother’s inability to return borrowed items (she loaned him her car two weeks ago).

thinking she would enlighten me with a witty response, i asked her, “what’s in your purse?” she said, “my purse? oh, i don’t know.” nevermind, mom, unless we can go back in time and give my second grade self a check for three zillion dollars.


Tags: stories

thirteen going on thirty

at thirteen, the world wasn’t much bigger than the covergirl compact stashed in my backpack. i dressed like a hot mess (along the lines of claudia kishi’s capsule collection if one existed), dreamed of attending FIT or parson’s, and hacked my magazines to pieces, only to create new magazines (thanks to looseleaf paper, gluesticks, and ballpoint pens). at thirty, i would be a fashion designer. i would own a chain of boutiques around new york called coalition and sell frothy chiffon gowns, oversized sweaters, and stretch pants.

i turned thirty over the weekend. bad news for thirteen-year-old linda: i have no boutiques, no pre-fall collection 2011, and no fashion degree. in college, fashion turned into a hobby, and i majored in art direction, only to realize i thrived as a schoolteacher. this happened conveniently after graduation, of course, causing much tsk-tsking from my mother. i left behind the great I-95 corridor and moved to texas because i fell in love with a guy— a dude who didn’t skateboard, play guitar, or wear baggy jeans (although his thirteen-year-old self did).

but i’m happy with the twists and turns of my life, and i’m happy with myself. and i am really, really happy with cupcakes.


Tags: stories