October 3, 2013
Today, I turn 26 years old. And my birthday wish is this:
Starting now - and for the rest of my days - I want to celebrate you and everyone I’ve been fortunate enough to have in my life.
I may have just met you, we may not have spoken in years, or we may have stories we laugh about from when we were growing up, but you’re here because I want to thank you. You’re here because you’re important to me. Because whether or not you knew it, at some point in the past 26 years you’ve helped me, inspired me, challenged me, made me laugh or cry, made me think differently, changed me, and however small the contribution, essentially made me as I currently exist at this moment.
It’s been over 3 years since I’ve made anything with honesty, with joy, with passion. I’ve been looking for ideas to fill the pages of artists books and moments to capture in light, but after laying bare my personal life in my first and only exhibition (see contain.her), I wasn’t sure how to move forward. I didn’t know what else I could say, and even more, I didn’t know if there was anything meaningful I had to say. So what happened?
I graduated, a relationship ended, I left San Diego, a relationship began again, I moved to Oakland, I got my first real job, my niece was born (to add to an amazing nephew), ballet, my father died, I moved in with 2 strangers into an apartment in San Francisco, I fell in love with a city, a dance studio began to feel like home, my grandmother passed away, good friends moved away... and in between all of these, many more friends, acquaintances and philosophical strangers have made a mark on my days, tempered the sadness, and brought so much more joy. In the past year and a half especially, I have been floored by the pain of losing loved ones and raised higher than I would have thought possible by family and unfamiliar faces alike.
I stopped trying to name my world for awhile and just lived in it, in ever-changing, rapidly moving newness, where it wasn't about being an Asian American artist or cultural histories and identity, but just about being. Growing into a different person. Forgetting what I learned. Re-learning it in new ways. Changing my mind hundreds of times. Making mistakes. Being scared. Experiencing tremendous loss and love. Holding myself together, holding others together, and allowing them to do the same for me.
After all of that, it finally feels like there's room again to step back and reflect on the last few years. I want to thank you for being part of the reason that I have something to say again, for being part of the story I tell when I talk about who I am now and who I hope to be.
Project 26 is about gratitude and all the faces that belong to the people I’m thankful for meeting - all the people that have gotten me to this point - and more, all the people I have yet to meet that I’m sure will change my life. It’s about reconnecting and finding reasons to record the people I’ve missed. It honors the past, is thankful for the present, and eagerly embraces the possibilities of the future. Moreover, it’s about reclaiming a number that more people have told me to fear rather than celebrate. It’s about a change in perspective.
Yes, Project 26 is a lot of things, but essentially, over the next year, and really for the rest of my life, my goal is to take photographic portraits of all of these people - you included - as a way to map the places that life has taken me and to express gratitude for every person's influence, however small, that has nudged me in surprising and beautiful directions. The photographs will all find their way to this site (with your permission of course) as I take them.
So if you would, please allow me to thank you in this way, to make a visible record of the intangible change that you’ve made in me.
A year ago I celebrated a quarter century of my life and thought it a major turning point, and the amount of living that’s happened in the past year truly was more amazing than I could have imagined it would be. But today I’m deciding that 26 means even more; it's years I can be thankful for in a way I didn’t fully understand before, 26 years of amazing people, conversations, adventures, comedies, tragedies, healing, mistakes, apologies, questions asked, grand ideas and so much more. I'm not the first person to practice gratitude in this way, and this may not be the big project I’ve been looking for, but I think it’s a good place to start.
Because nothing has inspired me more in the last 4 years than the people I've met. I’m so thankful our paths have crossed, even if it was for the shortest moment. Thank you, a million times, for adding to the collection of moments and memories I draw my being from, and for being another reason that today is a very happy birthday.
If you're not nearby, I look forward to the moment I see you again. I know this project will take time, but the best part is it gives me another reason to find a way to you, keep in touch, and meet so many more people for the first time. My hope is that this becomes a living, breathing project that evolves as much as I hope to.
So here’s to our old selves, new selves and the people that change us for the better.