Starry Nights

Most days, my classes end as night begins. I walk out to softly, glowing oranges and dusky blues. The dimming environment becomes a comforting blanket after the stresses of the day. It is usually a brief respite though. There are club meetings and the omnipresent threat of work still to be done. But as night advances, your sense of time elongates. I am usually absorbed by the computer screen, its glow lighting up the darkness. It is so easy to lose hours as there is no deadline for a long time yet. The consequences of staying up are also quite far away. By 2:00 in the morning, everything falls silent and still and its only me left typing at my laptop.

The night is intoxicating to me. I drink it in because it is my time. During the day, I am forever a slave to my schedule, shivering from one classroom to the next. Reflection in between is rare. There is always something to be done. So even as my head begins ache dully, I realize that I achieve greater clarity in the silent hours of the night. I can slow down and give voice to my thoughts. I perch on the edge of my seat, floating in a bubble of light. It is loneliness, but not an uncomfortable one. There is no longer any pressure to do anything other than sit and work. But it’s also a false hope. As the hours pass, the urgency of day begins again clashing with my idling brain. I am practically asleep, but I want to cling on to consciousness. Occasionally, my eyes drift toward the darkened window and wonder about the parties, the drinkers, the vivid adventures lived out only when the sun has gone. But I can’t worry about that too much. There is statistics homework to do.

Two hours pass and I’m already imagining the next day. It will drift, my mind obscured by the fog of the night’s non-excursions. I can see it, hear it too loudly. And suddenly, I am. I’m not in my bedroom, I’m sitting in a crowded lecture hall. My bleary eyes search out the rest of the students sitting around me. How many of them are fighting through confusing weariness? Frankly, I’m too tired to care.

The college experience is as much about what happens at night as what occurs during the day, although they are never represented equally. The bright and glossy brochures arrive in the mail, hinting at nothing. There are classes to go to, but the real work happens afterwards. Even clubs usually meet under the cover of darkness. It is what truly differentiates life at the University of Michigan and all the years before. There are no more parents sleeping upstairs or younger siblings in their prying eyes. The only curfew is the sunrise creeping closer as the hours pass. Only fear prevents you from wandering through the quiet streets. The liberty of becoming an adult, coming to college, is only truly realized at night. Sleepless nights. Peaceful nights. Nights lit with the neon glow of a club’s sign. Nights are without boundaries and without routine, without even the obstruction of time. Outside, the glint of the rounded street lamps is omnipresent. Here and there are sparks of blue. Up above, the stars.

The Little Place on the Corner

My earliest memories are of a brightly lit restaurant wall. It is an unnatural red that catches the eye. But what holds my gaze is the golden dragon. For a mythical beast, it is strangely friendly looking with its bushy, comical eyebrows. It swirls to meet up with yet another creature, a phoenix with a feathery tail. Both figures are clearly formed from a plastic mold that has produced thousands like it to be placed in thousands of other Chinese restaurants. These places are so common in the United States. They hide in plain sight, small and insignificant on the street corner or in the middle of a strip mall. They use small, dirty signs as their disguises. So perhaps this restaurant, that still holds a place in my heart, is not that special. But I don’t care. There is something extraordinary in those little spaces.

I grew up sitting at the dim sum table, even before I can recall. Dim sum is a tradition from Hong Kong, traditionally composed of many small appetizer dishes, shared among just as many. It is not the “Chinese” food like Americans would typically experience it. Its bean curd and intestine and strange textures. There is rarely cheese and always rice. Its served in bamboo steamers, wrapped in banana leaves, and even in clay pots. Served with it all, is hot Oolong tea. But is not even the strange products that differentiates Chinese food to me. Unlike the typical conception of what Chinese food is, it is slow. It is not take-out in little white boxes. Rather I remember taking home containers of leftovers, excess from a long meal with my family, a reminder of good times.

The funny thing is that even that doesn’t even begin to summarize what Chinese food has become as it has been translated and moved to a new continent. China is a vast country with the world’s largest population and it has resulted in a variety of food culture. This has only grown as it has traveled to a new locale. Mostly, it has been food that has originated from southern China that has been introduced to Americans. Pan fried noodles and potstickers are both southern products. But the transfer goes both ways. During the British occupation of Hong Kong, many European traditions were translated too. The breakfast café rivals dim sum in popularity, serving baked spaghetti and pounded, pan fried steaks. It doesn’t matter, in the end, it doesn’t matter if I’m eating at a café or at a dim sum restaurant, I end up content and not the tiniest bit hungry.

My favorite part of the meal is the beginning. It is the special type of anticipation waiting for a meal that ends. One that forces you to talk just to stop your imagination from yearning too much for the awaited food. It is a rhythm, talk interspersed here and there with sips of tea. Moments linger longer than they should. My mom smiles from the other side of the table. My sister and dad are talking about the Chinese variety show playing on the TV. The dragon looms over my shoulder as I raise my porcelain cup and drink.

Multiple Choice

I like apples and oranges. They are delicious, colorful, and above all, fruity. One is crunchy and good in pies. The other is juicy and good in popsicles, as well as being considered by many (read: me) as the best candy flavor. I’ll let you guess which is which. I have room to love both in my heart (and stomach), but I still can’t help but compare them. It seems to be a constant refrain in my life. What do I like? And what do I like better? Everything becomes a choice between one thing or another, especially when it comes to how to spend my time. Every minute is precious as I rush from class to class, but I find that can spare more than a few when I curl up to procrastinate on my homework. My economics professor would call this concept, opportunity cost. Every time we choose, we are giving up the value of the next best alternative. Unfortunately, this mindset only sends me down a wormhole of absolute despair. Every situation becomes a loss. Every situation becomes a terrifying game of “what if….”. All this flashes through my head, as I stand in front of the baskets of fruit in the dining hall. The hustle and bustle of my fellow students mock my unmoving indecisiveness as I switch my gaze from apple to orange and back. I sense the impatience building up behind me, and grab a banana instead.

After several unsatisfying bites of banana, I am at another crossroads. Now, I want to go back and grab another fruit. The unknown is the most terrifying effect of choice. Perhaps that is why there has been so many periods of time where people have given up on choice all together. When everything seems bleak, there is an instinct to gift the responsibility and the regret that comes along with it to someone else. Personality driven governments rise because the people believe that a charismatic leader has all the right answers. However, there are times where you cannot shift the blame. President Truman famously had a plaque declaring “The Buck Stops Here” placed on the Resolute Desk. A mere seven months after he took office, he was faced with the most impossible choice of all, whether to drop atomic bombs on Japan. In deciding to go forward with the plan, he set off an unknowable chain of events that would lead to decades of Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Perhaps Japan would have surrendered anyway. Perhaps millions of American soldiers and Japanese civilians would have died during the inevitable land invasion. There is no way to know for sure. That ignorance is haunting.

I think that is why I find time travel so fascinating. It is a device that was made for indecisiveness. If only life could be as easy as picking up a remote control and flipping through the options. But there remains a choice. Even if I knew every possible future, I would still need to make a value judgement on which one was the most worthwhile. I think the critical mistake is thinking that a choice as a definition instead of a fluid thing. Life is a result of continues choices. I can’t just let one stop me in my tracks.

A Cup of Tea


The tea blooms before me. Tendrils of color deepen the previously clear water until it reaches a comforting mahogany. Everything about a cup of tea seems to have a softening effect on my being. Even sensation fades as if the steam from the cup has enveloped everything. My eyes, which had been stinging with tiredness from a late night study session, felt rejuvenated for a few moments. All before I took a single sip. In a day with a thousand and one tasks, it was a fleeting event, but somehow, the most memorable. Most of my days flash by minute after minute. I wake up to the jarring screech of my alarm clock and the overcast light creeping its way through the window. I fall asleep when it gets dark. Class, homework, class, sleep. Sometimes to break up the monotony, I sleep during class. I do so much, but seem to get nothing done. So as I stare down at the simple cup of tea, I feel a strange sort of peace that only comes with reflection and a little bit of silence.


The world has become very noisy. There are a thousand things calling for our attention. Even now, while I’m writing this very blog post, I have four other screens open, not including the Spotify player pumping music through my earbuds. The three other people in the room are plugged into their computers as much as the computers are plugged into their electrical outlet. Even when I walk down the street, I do so in a bubble of artificial sound. I get to hear people from across the country talk about pop culture, politics, and my personal favorite, sports. The effect is distancing. I walk past people without seeing them, I eat food without tasting it, and it is never silent. There is no awkward chit chat or even an acknowledging nod. The earbuds are a signal as glaring as a flashing red light. Don’t approach.

Ironically, filling our worlds with endless noise has become a type of sedative. The constant blare is a distraction from deeper reflection. Doing twenty things at once becomes a parody of usefulness, a way to feel fulfilled but to fulfill nothing. Often, I find myself sitting in a chair for hours on end, clicking, stopping for a moment, clicking again. When I do look away, I am surprised at what I find. It usually includes an endless number of people, with faces I can barely recognize, clicking away. It is usually lonely. But I think it would be the same even without the screens. When all is silent, all you have left is yourself. And all that is left of yourself is a scheduled routine, a set number of tasks to do in a row.

The best type of silence, then, is the one in the morning. It is when the day is still full of endless potential. I still think about all the tasks I need to complete though, all the places I must go at a certain time. But perhaps while I’m walking to those places, I may see something new. Maybe before I finish those tasks, I will stop for a cup of tea.

The Movies of 2016

There has been a strange trend recently at the cinema. The growing struggle between escapist, populist, entertainment, and grim, but practical realism is apparent especially as awards season culminates with the Oscars show later next month. The two frontrunners, “Moonlight” and “La La Land”, are fundamentally different movies in their depictions of the world. “Moonlight” revolves around the struggles of Chiron, a young African American, as he comes to terms with his own sexuality and identity in a society that openly despises him. Brilliantly shot, vibrantly lit, it never shies away from the reality of Chiron’s situation. His father is never seen and his absence is never explained. It is simply how things are. The movie revolves around Chiron as he accepts himself as he is. Thousands of miles from the humid neighborhoods of Florida where Chiron resides, two dreamers in Los Angeles refuse to accept anything as it is. In a city filled with fallen hopes, Mia and Sebastian are rejected at every turn. The movie La La Land, matches their stubborn, romantic idealism with its own whimsy. One spectacular sequence even sees the two lovers fly into the sky and dance among the stars. Every moment is filled with a sense of hope, of a brilliant future awaiting If they could only stretch a little further. “La La Land” is loud and sun drenched. Its heart is singing. “Moonlight” lives on the quiet beaches empty of the usual tourists, filled with only the sound of the waves. They are as different as night and day. Yet, in the end, both movies confront the necessity of sacrifice in realistic terms. The level of realism is expected. Both are films with smaller budgets that do not need to pander to audiences to make money. They have the freedom to tackle difficult issues faced by everyday people. The truly interesting phenomenon has been as blockbusters have followed suit.

Star Wars Opening Weekend in 1977

In 1977, “Star Wars” was released. To say that it was well-received would be an extreme understatement. It was the first true blockbuster and it revolutionized the cinematic experience. Suddenly, every studio wanted to follow suit. At its core, Star Wars was always an idealistic fantasy with a handsome rogue, a daring princess, and an evil empire to be defeated by the heroes. It was the perfect, escapist package. Yet, this year, a new film in the Star Wars universe was released and radically diverged from the squeaky-clean path established by the previous films. The result was not entirely satisfying. Conceptually, it was an interesting idea. I’m sure that the everyone in the corporate boardroom nodded enthusiastically. “Let’s make Star Wars, but dark.” This new Star Wars movie tackles the desperate hope of a rebellion. Instead of focusing on a maniacal emperor, it focuses on the ordinary people opposing him. In this ground-level approach, “Rogue One” becomes far more like “Moonlight” and “La La Land” than any of its predecessors. This chameleon-like effect has largely occurred because one studio characteristic: They love proven brand names. Rather than risk investing in a new project, they’d rather paint on a coat of fresh paint. This has happened repeatedly. It worked in 2014, when Marvel changed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” into a political thriller of the 70s and again in 2015, when the ridiculous sounding “Ant-Man” became a surprisingly fun heist film. Previously these types of plots would have been reserved for middle to low budget movies. Now, they are slipped like medicine with our spoonful of escapist sugar.

Ashton Sanders as teenaged Chiron and Jharrel Jerome as Kevin in “Moonlight”

These two types of movies, the prestige flick and the blockbuster, define the current cinematic landscape. There is little to no middle ground. Most are simply priced out of the market. Their profits are simply too small to justify their larger budgets. Now their plots are given to the superheroes and jedis. It has been especially interesting as franchise films aim to be more than merely popcorn entertainment. Either way, I’ll be eagerly buying my ticket.

Dear Carrie Fisher,

It feels strange to write to you like this. After all, I did not really know you by your true name. No, I, like millions of others knew you from the silver screen first. I didn’t watch the original Star Wars Trilogy until I was in high school. Like all teenagers, I was convinced that it would be too child-like, too unsophisticated. Somehow, you could take this fantastical premise and fill it with wonderment and imagination. You were our Princess, unlike any we had seen before. Leia may have been royalty, but she was also a rebel. When Han and Luke burst into her cell, she shows that she is more than able to hold her own in a fight, entirely usurping both Luke’s and the audience’s preconceptions. In the second and best movie of the trilogy, it is always the relationship between Leia and Han that captures my attention. It was a romance that didn’t apologize for its nostalgic charm, because your caustic vulnerability made it surprisingly refreshing. In the middle of an enormous galaxy, Leia was a beacon of defiance against both the Galactic Empire and stale Hollywood stereotypes.

I also remember where I was when I learned that you had passed. I had just woken up, but as I scanned my phone, I swore it was like I was still trapped in a nightmare. Some might say that it is silly to react this way to someone you only ever saw in the movie theater or on daytime talk shows. Frankly, I don’t care. I am not sure you would either. After all, you had an acute sense of the power of celebrity. You never sought the spotlight, instead it effortlessly chased you. That is what made it especially special when you did choose to embrace the bright lights. You brought awareness to social issues by willingly exposing your personal struggles with drugs and mental illness. There are so many celebrities that seem to chase fame crassly. You managed to achieve a universal presence in our lives, just by being yourself. Your honesty was always impossible to ignore.

It was a very solemn breakfast that day. My sister and I had first watched Star Wars together. We even started a new tradition two years ago, of going to the theater to watch every new release together. We didn’t eat much that day preferring to talk. There was a surreal quality to that conversation, to that entire morning. After all, memorializing the dead is always a difficult task. Everything fades too quickly, flickering like a mirage in front of our eyes. Everything feels transitory, as if I could blink this reality away and exchange it for another. I guess that is why I’m writing to you still. I hope that you knew how much you meant to all of us. I hope that it wasn’t painful. I know you are in a better place now. Hopefully, we will meet again, in a galaxy far, far away.



Corrina Lee