My August Preoccupations: Summer 2019 Edition

From my full-time job to to Taylor Swift to my new fitbit to Hong Kong

Hello from Chicago! It’s a rainy day in August and I’m reading Catherine Barnett’s poem “The August Preoccupations,” which begins:

So this morning I made a list
of obsessions and you were on it.
And waiting, and forgiveness, and five-dollar bills,
and despots, telescopes, anonymity, beauty,
silent comedy, and waiting.

It’s a beautiful poem, and you can read it in full here. Like the speaker in the poem, I make lists (and tend to obsess over things). I’m writing today to share some of my recent obsessions (in bold), which run the gamut of being productive, time-wasting, devastating, and wonderful.

Since I graduated in June, I have been the *freest* I have ever been in years. I did first have to continue enduring my soul-crushing (I might be exaggerating, but it was stressful) job search, which concluded happily when I was hired by the Creative Writing and Poetics Department! I’ve been attending Creative Writing events and taking classes through the department since I was a first year, so am very fond of the community here. Last Monday, I officially started working as a Student Affairs Administrator for the department, and that’s what I’ll be doing for the next year. It’s exciting to transition from a student-role into a full-time student-supporting role, and I’m thankful that my postgrad job enables me to work with people I already know and love. It’s been a productive week and I’m so excited about having an office (I feel so grown-up).

Before I could officially get “hired,” however, I had to first wait for my EAD card to arrive in the mail. My EAD card, a work permit for fresh-out-of-college-non-US-citizens like me, finally arrived on August 2, almost four months after I had applied for the OPT (“Optional Practical Training”). It’s weird and demoralizing to watch some of the important documents in your life expire the second you graduate from college; my F-1 visa, which had allowed me to enter and exit the US for the past 4 years, did just that on June 15, the day I received my diploma. On the day I was freed from my academic obligations, I was also “trapped” in a state of waiting for my employment authorization card to arrive. Without it, I couldn’t work/get hired/get paid. It was challenging for me to apply for jobs back in March/April and tell potential employers that I wasn’t sure when I could start working, and that I could not stay in the US for longer than one year. In the first stanza of Barnett’s poem above, she says that she was obsessed with “waiting,” and so was I. I would log onto the USCIS tracking page daily to see if there were any new updates on my visa application, and my friends and I would look at real-time graphs of OPT processing times. I’m incredibly thankful that I had a place to live and saved-up money to spend during my period of unemployment. I’m also very grateful that my employers were willing to vouch for me and hire me despite my not-so-ideal visa status. Due to delayed processing times caused by the Trump administration, international students who wish to stay in the US for one more year have been having a particularly rough time. I’m sending speedy processing vibes to anyone who is still waiting for their authorization to clear.

Because I’ve been in a waiting limbo state for the past month or so, I’ve had some time to develop a healthy list of obsessions. After my mom returned to Hong Kong in mid-July, I moved into my new apartment (right across the street from where I used to live), where I’ll be living for the next year with my boyfriend Kevin and his three roommates (who are also my friends, and now also my roommates). I spent a good chunk of time cleaning and Marie Kondo-ing my life, which felt very productive. I did a lot of cooking, and made my own lasagna and curry for the first time. Kevin, Albert (our roommate) and I have also started watching Kim’s Convenience religiously, around two episodes a day (13 episodes per season, 3 seasons). We’ve just started season 3. It’s a wonderfully funny show that also masters the art of Hitting You In The Feels.

Every summer I decide to “get fit,” and this summer I invested in a short gym subscription so that I could take yoga/pilates/zumba classes, go swimming (the zennest thing), and occasionally run. What’s more, I am officially the proud owner of a fitbit!


I’ve low-key wanted one for a while, because I find the slim ones super Aesthetic and also because Kevin has one. Now that I have one, I’m properly obsessed with meeting my step count, keeping tabs on my heart rate, and so on. I’m very much a watch-wearing person, and I guess I’m now also a tracker-wearing person.

My life as a Taylor Swift stan is also flourishing; her new album Lover drops on August 23, and I am sooooo excited and already obsessed! The title track “Lover,” which was released a few days ago, is the most beautiful song I’ve heard in a while. It takes me right back to her early discography, which have been with me for the past 11 years. She truly went to Bridge City with that song (see the meme I made). I’m teary-eyed and happy that Taylor has found her magnetic muse. So, yes, it’s a wonderful time for Taylor Swift fans everywhere! Expect a long review of the album to appear on this blog next week…

I’ve also been trying to get some writing done, and have been working on translations, book reviews, and old pieces of writing that I might want to get published. I just finished writing a review of Hai-Dang Phan’s Reenactments, which is a stunning collection of poems and translations. Truthfully, I imagined that I’d be doing a lot more writing in my spare time. But I haven’t actually been as productive in my writing life as I’d like to be. What I have been doing unfailingly every single day, however, is working as a Social Media Manager for Asymptote. I’ve been volunteering with the literary journal since May/June to share the latest literary translation news on its social media channels. It’s demanding but rewarding work, and I’ve enjoyed learning about what’s going on in the translation/literary world. I post on Twitter daily, and have therefore become obsessed with Twitter. I learn so much from it every day, and am beginning to think that 140 characters is all you need to convey a cleverly constructed, cogent claim.

Twitter has also been my go-to-place for learning about the Hong Kong protests, which is the last obsession I’ll be writing about today. Hong Kong has been plunged into police v.s. protesters chaos for the past month-ish, and it’s devastating. It’s devastating to see police fire tear gas on civilians who have no means of protecting themselves. Recently, police released gas into an underground railway station, effectively turning it into a gas chamber. Videos surface of little kids crying because of the gas that’s in their eyes. Mobs and triads have been doing the government’s dirty work, entering protest zones to beat and attack protesters (in at least one case, a pro-Beijing lawmaker was directly responsible or the triad involvement). I saw photos of triads attacking protesters in North Point, which is just down the hill from where I live. A woman lost her eye. A man’s face was brutally bloodied by police officers who were caught on camera being relentlessly violent. Chinese media outlets have been crafting fake news articles that distort the reality behind the protests. The government is saying and doing next to nothing. It’s a dark, dark time for Hong Kong, but the protesters’ resilience is testament to the unquenchable democratic energy of Hongkongers. As a city, we will not go gently into that good night, even if our means are gentle. And here’s the proof:

august 18 china extradition (10) (Copy)

So that’s all for now… what are your August Preoccupations?

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