If you want to know how this all started, the short version is this: three years ago, chrse and I refused to be friends. But now she’s met my entire family, microwaved my pizza rolls, and agreed to take the bus alone just so I could have something to write about. The zine was her idea (she’s extra) and the theme In Love Alone was my idea (I’m emo), but together, we both do too much, feel too much, and know too much about how dull life can be if you settle for doing less than what you’re capable of. FLASH THRIVE is our excuse to curate and create content while exploiting our inexplicably talented friends and colleagues. The title has a dual meaning — one, of course, is a pun on “flash drive” (because you know how much I love my puns), an excuse for us to store these fleeting memories, fossilized in a brief moment in ink — or online, because printing is damn expensive. The second meaning is a little more existential (because I’m pretentious and an English major), and sews a common thread between myself, chrse, and nearly everyone we know in our lives right now, whether they’ve documented it in this zine or not. We’re all just pretending to thrive. No one has it entirely figured out, because none of us have lived this life before. We can all give and take each other’s advice, but in reality, there is no way to know if we’re doing things the right way. You can look around and assume that everyone else has it together while you feel like an isolated lost cause, but the truth is, no one is thriving all the time — even if their Instagram seems to say otherwise. So yeah, maybe this zine makes it seem like we have our lives together. But the truth is, the night before we broke ground on this project, I spent an hour crying to Adele while chrse drew flowers on our pictures. Trust me, nobody has their shit together. And yes, we are definitely extra. But you can read all about it.
When I was in 5th grade, I fell in “love” with a boy. (“Love” is in quotation marks because “love” in the 5th grade is basically the first person you laid your eyes on after Cupid’s backwards cousin Puberty shoots you in the butt with her rusty, crooked arrow.) He was pudgy and resentful. After he found out that I liked him, he drew a picture of a giant circle and gave it a tiny, tortured head, creating a being that looked like an overstuffed hippopotamus after Thanksgiving dinner. He drew an arrow on a piece of lined paper (wide-ruled, because we were children) pointing at the picture, and wrote my name on the other side of the arrow. I was in love, and he thought I was fat, and so I went home and wrote him a love letter on wide-ruled paper, because we were children and “love” in the 5th grade is basically the first person you laid your eyes on. I closed my bedroom door after dinner and pored over each clumsy word, cursive pencil scratches and gray eraser marks. I don’t remember the exact contents of the letter, but I remember saying something along the lines of: “I don’t know what to do anymore. I think I’m in love with you.” 13
My parents are both Asian and so they feel no cultural obligation to knock. My dad says something about growing up with no doors, and my mother says that this isn’t my room because she pays for it, and therefore privacy is forfeited due to a lack of a financial burden. My parents burst through the door and in a frenzy, and I shoved the piece of paper under my pillow. I wasn’t fast enough — growing up, I was never fast enough — and I saw my parents’ eyes go wild, the kind of crazy eyes that parents get when they see the worst-case scenario flash before their eyes. When you don’t answer your phone after one missed call. When you don’t come home until after your curfew. When you fall into the town well and Lassie has to go find you. Shit like that. Those eyes. My dad demanded the piece of paper and I burst into tears. He took it and read it in disgust, handed it to my mom and said, “Your mom will handle this.” I was already crying and my dad was angry and he kept mumbling something like, “You’re not supposed to be doing this.” He turned red and stormed down the stairs and I could feel him light a cigarette as soon as I saw the embers’ reflection from my bedroom window. I know now that anger is my father’s way of dealing with change, of dealing with growing up, of dealing with growing old. But at the time, I thought he was angry at me for wanting to be in love, because we were children and “love” can only be written on wide-ruled paper. My mother tried to handle this, but she was frantic as well. My parents always knew that I could write my way out of and into anything, and I wonder if they anticipated my ability to write myself in and out of love at any given moment. She sat on the foot of my bed and I cried, and she scolded me: First, for keeping secrets; and second, for making the first move. When you are in 5th grade and in “love,” the most terrifying thing is telling your parents. I haven’t been in love many times since then, but I feel like that feeling — that terrifying, gut-curdling feeling — does not go away in adulthood. My mother’s heeding words stayed with me throughout adulthood, her attempt to say the right thing in completely the wrong way. She was trying to comfort me but she was frantic too — she wasn’t ready for her daughter to throw herself into the fire. She wasn’t ready to deal with heartbreak in the third degree, because mending the broken 14
heart of someone you love is almost worse than trying to salvage your own. She sat on the foot of the bed, orange (not red — red was reserved for dad) with a shaking voice: “You’re not supposed to be doing this, anyway. Girls don’t make the first move.” I still don’t remember the exact contents of the love letter, but I remembered my mother’s words. I remembered them when I was dateless to my first homecoming dance, after a boy tangoed with my affections via a game of telephone with my best friend. I remembered them my senior year when the boy I liked and had been spending time with asked me to help ask another girl to be his senior homecoming date. I remembered them when I fell in love with the boy who asked me to set him up with my best friend, and spent the next 4 months being a beard until he broke my spirits with insensitivity and decided he didn’t need me anymore. I remembered them three days ago when I saw a photo on Instagram of the boy I was contemplating a crush on pressing his lips against with his alien-haired girlfriend while I was in a Bath & Body Works shopping for soap and candles with my mother. “Girls don’t make the first move,” she said. And since then, I haven’t made any. In 5th grade I fell out of “love” with a boy and out of love with my sense of confidence and authority to “love,” and now lack the confidence and authority to love. And I know now this was not my mother’s intention — mothers tend to have the best intentions, after all. But it’s hard to read between the lines when the spaces are so wide that all you can see are the words you had written in the 5th grade: “I don’t know what to do anymore. I think I’m in love with you.” But it’s comforting, I guess, to think that I never quite knew what to do.
Individual songs are nostalgia set in amber. They’re hints of romance, archival footage tinged with a vague hue of maroon and fondness. For four or five minutes, I’m propelled back to these past feelings. Specific events are soundtracked by individual songs. A friend once told me that, even after the loss of love, I’d get back the music I lost. I didn’t. The songs are fossilized, memories and melodies and all. But they’re layered on top of another, piles of sediment buried upon the weight of the past. They’re inextricable, the event recalling the song and the songs helping me recover fragments of previous loves in solitude — loves lost in the whirlwind of anger or spite or regret. They’ve amalgamated into one entity by now — I don’t think I can listen to any of these songs without feeling a bit of anguish for a past self. Still, I’m grateful, even if I can’t get either of them back.
She had a boyfriend. She was sweet, coy in that unintentional way that she (and, surely, countless other women) later explained to me as just friendliness. Which, yeah — she wasn’t a temptress or succubus or maneater, and I’m ashamed that I dove headfirst into that misguided misogyny. I didn’t know any better. To me, her flippantly telling me “I like you” was a flashing green light into the temptations of young love, so I liked her too. It didn’t matter that she had a boyfriend. It didn’t matter that, upon playing this song for her on my beat-up iPod (an ode to her, I thought), she giggled and remarked that it was a crappy song. It didn’t matter that my private reality was consumed by undesirable want, either. (I developed a habit for admiring photographs of handsome male celebrities on my laptop. Some things don’t change.) She wanted me, and that was all that mattered.
He was a lot of firsts for me. First kiss, first boy I liked and could consider loving, first person that I decidedly felt anything beyond friendship with. In retrospect, our relationship was “Netflix and chill” before “Netflix and chill” transformed into the silly, ubiquitous meme of 2015. It was Domino’s and making out and Pulp Fiction, which, as far as paramours go, was flighty and fruitless. Objectively, it amounted to little beyond friendship with a hint of mutual lust. The ritual we devised was tenuous, one in which we glanced at each other across a room and occasionally gave each other a cursory wave. It felt more urgent that way. I conflated physical desirability for emotional yearning, secrecy as passion biding its time, unleashed within the comforts of his bedroom. I played this song for him during our first time, candles and the two of us sprawled against his sheets. We spoke occasionally about his exes and his pets and his family matters. I felt invested in the details of his life, as if I was the only member of his audience, or, better yet, the only one he wanted to broadcast anything to. Still, I never told him “I love you” out loud because I knew I wouldn’t hear it back. 21
He was unbelievably handsome. I likened him to Andrew Garfield, adorable and bespoke with horn-rimmed glasses concealing his doe eyes. (Maybe I just watched The Social Network one too many times when I liked him.) He was well aware, fawned over by my friends en masse. He likened himself to Timberlake, the debonair heartbreaker for an untold many. He wasn’t wrong. Being in his presence was a reward in and of itself, stowed away and gleaming just for me. We laid on my bed and cuddled a lot. He coiffed his hair in the bathroom while I awaited his touch. We kissed, maybe twice. I couldn’t tell if he was asleep or not mid-kiss. He hid so much of himself, his life stowed away for no one else to find. I envisioned his pent-up want manifest into his lips shoved against mine, desire and longing for the things he told himself he couldn’t have. I knew little about him, but this was his favorite song. Playing this for him through my tinny laptop speakers, I forged a connection with him through rhythm and verse. I thought it him expressing feelings he couldn’t otherwise. I wish I could’ve deciphered Timberlake’s suave croons into a tangible expression. 22
He wrote this line in the spaces of a beat-up Moleskine placed on his desk. He showed it to me once, and curious of what he was hiding from me. Inevitably, the song was a warning call — the minimal drone of Barnett’s guitar a siren of his woes catching up to him. Once, he played it for me while we sat in bed. His eyes were closed and I spent the following six minutes counting the freckles speckled across his nose. I kissed him. I wanted to take in all of him, but I figured that would suffice. He told me that he loved me, a month after I did. I figured that would suffice. But that’s the thing – my childish certainty never petered off, even as he distanced himself from me. I believed his words to be gospel. They were set in stone, and I got carried away in the thrill of hearing my first “I love you.” Words are never imprinted, never certain. It’s easy to get lost in the seeming permanence of ink and sentiment. I understand now why he wrote this line with ink. He didn’t — doesn’t — forget the past.
i think about you when my breath lapses in the ins and outs of my veins the same way i think about the x’s of earthquake bracing they put on the buildings that i don’t trust. hopes dreams fears and pains you didn’t know you sheltered come out of the cracks and the most you can do is call and hope this time you have something to say when the everyday has run its course. you called last night and i know now your fingers wander and betray your mind as do mine, sometimes because when i picked up you whispered a name other than mine.
we live and die in boxes. i want to die in a nice box, though, one where the wood gnarls and curls in places where someone i don’t know has cut into it. when i’m dead i’ll look at it and admire the work that life has put into it and it will make me smile. but maybe wood might bend and crease with the ache of love. i don’t want to remember the things that i yearn for the most. here, i am a prisoner of the things that i have forgotten and the boxes that i have built and begged for, and i love it as i love the toil of my fingers bending to touch the age and the grain in this cord of wood, automatic.
i write just to keep my thoughts in a line but today theyâ€™re all over me all over you wrapping and unwrapping like a blanket lazily tossed over the ebb and flow of shoulders. i hope you know this isnâ€™t about you in the same way that everything i tell you about me isnâ€™t about me i hope that the rain today will last so that i have time to walk in it and think about nothing.
the days are shorter now. i find feelings where i shouldnâ€™t, buoys marking something deeper deeper on an endless water, and it scares me sometimes to think that all the things iâ€™ll ever say to you are half-remembered, stolen. you are half-remembered, stolen, and your comfort gives me darkness of the softest kind.
He said that falling in love with me wasn’t a choice, but something that was bound to happen. But there were hundreds of little voices in my head telling me otherwise. Being with me had to have been a choice. Because I wouldn’t be with me if I had a choice. “Have you ever considered that I do all of this because I care about you? Because I care about you more than I care about myself.” Stop. No one should ever care about you more than you care about yourself. And if you can’t reconcile the feelings of self-doubt and selflove, then you are not nearly ready for other-love. He says it isn’t a choice, and sometimes I believe him. Because caring isn’t a choice. If it was, I would choose to care day after day after day, but I don’t. No matter how hard I try, I can’t.
“You wouldn’t believe how much I wish I cared.” The words choke me ever so slightly, then let go for a moment, loosening their grip so I can breathe, teasing me with a moment of oxygen then tightening their chokehold once again, and now only he’s speaking and I’m listening but my ears feel the way they do when I’m drowning in pool water, which doesn’t happen often, but for some reason feels all too familiar. “Then I will be here until you do care.” But what happens when I start to love myself again? Is that when you leave? Will I not miss you? Or is this your way of making sure I stay weak, making sure that you stay by my side for always? “What happens after that?” And I tell myself that “after” is always better than “before.” I convince myself that “after” is the outcome, and out of struggle comes a new chapter, a better chapter. I’ve been frantically turning pages for years, hoping for a better chapter. But it feels like I’m turning pages on a never-ending epilogue, like I am my own afterthought, like I was doomed from the start because my start was meant to be an end. “After that?” He struggles with his words. I can see his eyes frantically focusing on anything else in the room, anything else but me, anything else but our hands intertwined in this moment of unreliable honesty. He is searching for the words he thinks I want to hear. They are not the right words, but he says them anyway. “I’ll still be here.” There’s something deeply sad about not being able to reconcile different parts of yourself in order to become whole again. There’s something so palpably misunderstood about loving everything about the waking hours, but not having what it takes to stay awake. He kisses my fingertips. We have survived another storm. But maybe I won’t, I think to myself. Maybe I won’t.
I think I’m like a sponge, constantly absorbing knowledge. Absorbing content, absorbing lies, absorbing doubts. I’m so full; I think I might burst. Luckily, I’m porous. The terrible things get a chance to leak out of me. (Once I let them.) Drop by drop. Affirmation by affirmation. Pat pat. There there. Rick rolled by life’s crucibles, I am alone. Stuck between loving the person that I thought I was. And hating the person that I’m becoming. But it’s all in my imagination. Under this sea of confusion about the future, I am lost. I am the captain of a wayward ship. At least the darkness can dispel some truth. Loving myself is not easy. Brooding over the intangibles, I just realized that I’m living between a rock and a hard place. Stars that shine bright feel fleeting. Flopping like a fish not sure of her place, I retreat back into my safety zone. A pineapple is my cocoon. Peering out between the leaves, I see myself hiding from their gaze. My jet black hair is like squid ink, obscuring the vision of my biggest enemy: myself. Spiky thorns ward away the people I’ve been trying to avoid. But if you step closer, they’ll realize that they aren’t sharp at all. Smack dab in the middle of naivete and brutal reality, There is a constant weight, a constant worry. With nothing else to fill the disquiet, I ask myself this: “How can I love myself if I don’t even know who that is anymore?” Perhaps I can squeeze out all my insecurities until my knuckles are white. Or maybe, I can wring out all my faults until only my virtues remain. Maybe I’m spewing out nonsense again. Or maybe, you can find the truth in all these misconceptions. But at least I know I can try. 39
when dolphins are born, they burst into the water tail first. within minutes, their mother herds them up to the surface for a first breath of air, sharp and dry, as they exhale a spray of water into the sky. when dolphins are born, they are born smiling. when i was born, i opened my mouth before i opened my eyes and screamed for thirty minutes straight, my young lungs choking on the unfamiliar taste of air, sharp and dry. by the time i blinked through my first spray of tears, my mother said there were enough to fill the pacific ocean twice over. she said she hoped that it would be enough to last me a lifetime. in 1966, a twenty-four year old brian wilson began recording a teenage symphony to god. smoke in his lungs and fire in his heart, he transcribed the california dreams that kept him up at night, held his breath underwater until he saw constellations in the pool, built a sandbox beneath his grand piano just to bring the surf inside. even after wilson shelved his SMiLE in favor of pillbox teeth and bedsheet sunsets, the world never stopped searching for it. in high school, my nickname was â€œsmilesâ€? because itâ€™s all i ever seemed to do. i navigated campus like i was being showcased in a tank half full, jumped through hoops of 40
fire, boys, and college apps alike without ever showing an ounce of discomfort, like perfect was indeed possible without practice, or even possible at all. it became easier to dive deeper, move quieter, bury my insecurities beneath a wide-eyed grin. no one notices an overabundance of skin or body or words when confronted by a hundred-tooth barricade. i went through boys like storms go through ships, my fingers springing accidental leaks into each of their sides until they fell, captivated, captivating, capsized, spiraling into the depths below. yet i was always the first to hear their cries when the tides withdrew, the only siren in the world capable of regret, the eye of the hurricane that granted them safety. even after i emerged from the fray, soaking and breathless and alone, my eyes were dry, my smile buoyed in place. staring out over the wreckage behind me, i did not know it was possible to feel anything but relief. it is 2016 and brian wilson is seventy-three years old. he has felt every vibration, good and bad, and now chooses both, now understands that every summer must eventually come to an end. on the days he feels alone at his grand piano, he wanders down to the beach, buries his toes in sand still warmed by the sun. when he smiles, the ocean roars in approval. as he closes his eyes, it calls for an encore. these days, i have stopped ornamenting myself with illusions, though sometimes i can still feel them tug at the corners of my mouth. i am too wary, too large, too loud to be sealed behind glass anymore, to either save or be saved. some days, i wake up and there is not ocean enough in the world to 42
contain me. when dolphins are born, they are born smiling. that doesnâ€™t mean that they are always happy. even when tossed by a sea of its own blood, surrounded by the gaping jaws of mothers and brothers and daughters who can no longer sing back, a dolphin cannot frown. i have long learned to be grateful for my ability to. my smiles come and go, brought on tides i can no longer control. but each time one washes ashore, i cradle it in my arms before letting it go. just another wild thing that needs to be free.
special thank you to joshua bote for the extra help editing our content & to justine law for her incredible illustrations. also, thank you to all of our contributors for submitting their work for something they had little to no information about (thatâ€™s super unsafe for you, but great for us). and finally, thank you for reading. itâ€™s lit.
FLASH THRIVE is a zine made by and for people who are pretending to have their lives together.