Finding comfort

Comfort Food

The semester is finally coming to an end, but there’s still too much to be said and done. There are unchecked boxes on my to-do list waiting to be acknowledged, Facebook events yet to be confirmed and attended, term papers to write begrudgingly and new friends to make memories with.

But I’ve reached a point in the semester where I’m engulfed by laziness and lack of foresight. I’m trapped in lethargy and can’t find motivation to do anything.

I skimped out on too many experiences that I could have conceivably shared with my future adopted kids in the name of self-care. I beat myself up for the days where I let myself nap for four hours or skip discussion, because the work caught up with me. I fell behind drowning in coursework, actual work-work, club work and everything else in between.

If Google Calendar were a person, they would most certainly slap me across the face, nagging me about missing too many morning lectures, too many work meetings and too many face-to-face conversations with actual human beings.

Surprisingly, the one thing that hasn’t felt like work is this little column. It was stressful and irritating at times, and I hated myself for not being able to effortlessly articulate my thoughts into words. But despite it consuming a large chunk of my time, I’ve enjoyed expressing my thoughts on a platform accessible to strangers. Mind you, it was scary, forever documenting online an intimate glimpse into my life, because that opinion was only a limited understanding of my reality at a given point in time. Nevertheless, I learned a lot. 

I titled this column “Comfort Food” on a whim, because my editor and I couldn’t find a catchy slogan. To fix this, we embarked on an extensive Google search, googling idioms, until we came across “Comfort Food.”

We stuck with it, and I couldn’t have asked for a better title. Food has been integral to my upbringing, and it subconsciously cemented my decision to write this spring.

While I was briefly visiting my parents over winter break, my friend Alice convinced me that I should write — about myself, about my family, about my aspirations — while we drove to the local 24-hour Mexican food joint in town.  

I remember sitting in the passenger seat when Alice and I shared how college was shaping our Korean-American identities. We talked for a while about our traditional Korean parents — the frustrations we felt when they couldn’t empathize with our decisions or beliefs, the incompetency we felt when not meeting or exceeding their expectations and the conflicts of interest between us and them.

At the end of our conversation, she mentioned that our parents, especially our mothers, loved us unconditionally. Even when our mothers were upset with us to the point of not wanting to talk with us after a bitter argument, they made sure we were always fed — fed damn well. Their way of bridging our cultural and generational differences was through one simple thing: food.

Alice was right. I couldn’t remember a time when my mother didn’t use food as a form of reconciliation. She always used food to embody her love, whether this food was her own cooking or some fancy food she purchased at a restaurant. Whatever the dish was, it temporarily resolved whatever problems we had between us.

My mother was content with these ephemeral solutions, but I wanted something more permanent. I found that comfort through writing.

I never envisioned that writing would enable me to understand my parents, especially my mother, but it did. It helped me connect with her and find the intersections between our lives: our love for art, nature and history. She and I are returning back to my childhood home in Seoul this summer for a month to document the oral histories our family cherishes. We’re visiting the galleries where her art was once displayed, the countryside where her father grew up and passed away and the little knick-knack store that my siblings and I frequented as children.

This trip may seem minor but it feels monumental — just two years ago, I was crashing on couches at friends’ apartments and living with strangers, estranged from my parents.

Now, I’m traveling with one of them for an entire month, and I couldn’t have done so without finding a safe space at the opinion desk. It’s been a place to confront my thoughts and emotions, transpose them into words and heal through the process.

Though I’m stressed out like every other UC Berkeley student, contemplating changing majors, cramming for finals and juggling extracurriculars and work, I haven’t been burdened writing this column. It offers me a catharsis like no other, and I can say without a doubt: Writing has become my comfort food.

Lauren Ahn writes the Friday blog on inedible nourishment. Contact her at [email protected].

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