On communal living and sharing space

Illustration by Louisa Bertman

Last summer, an article with the astonishing headline — “Seven Chinese girlfriends buy mansion to retire and die together” — went semi-viral, proliferating on my social media timeline like mushrooms popping up overnight. Rather than rely on husbands or other support systems in their old age, the seven women, all close friends, decided to buy and refurbish a house in rural China, preparing themselves to live in community in their retirement. Photos accompanying the article depict the property, surrounded by rice paddies: huge windows, sun-filled rooms. A tea pavilion, a swimming pool, shared spaces with low tables, floors cushioned with…

Thoughts on gratitude

Illustration by Carmen Johns

For nearly two years, the pinned tweet at the top of my profile has read: “boring and grateful, same as always.” I’d sent it out from a rooftop in Mexico City in February of 2018, imagining my words beaming out into the sky in a rush of brilliant particles. That was how I felt — radiant with gratitude, and rendered absolutely uninteresting by it. I didn’t mind being boring. It was amazing just to be alive. And there I was, surrounded by bougainvilleas, with love in my heart.

My journey to finding a practice of gratitude — and I realize…

On sex, metamorphosis, and inconvenient desires

Yesterday I learned that the butterfly obliterates itself before being born again. There is one thing: the caterpillar. And there is another: the chrysalis. And then there is a third, which is the butterfly—a monarch or something else with symmetrical wings. But who knows what happens in the chrysalis? For a while, there is only a glittering fluid. Then there is something. Then it has a name.

I began this year wrapping up Cum Shots, a newsletter I’d started writing June of 2015, because I thought I was in love and it certainly felt like I was and me being in love seemed like a fitting conclusion to the narrative I’d been trying to arrange, in fragments, for the previous eight months. All my letters from January are a mess of ecstasy and hormones and feelings. The final letter was titled “The Garden.” It went out in late February. It was supposed to be the end but also a beginning. Here is the last sentence:

I would…

My day job is in trauma and anti-violence, so I’m always keeping tabs on what happens to who and where and when and how, and if hate is involved, which it often is. Since starting to work in advocacy, I’ve thought a lot about who I am and when I should speak, and what I should say, and when it is better not to speak. I have realized that silence is deadly, and that in Asian America especially, silence is often complicity.

Violence occurs on a spectrum. It does not always look like death, though it is, eventually, death. What…

At some point over the summer while I was putting an event into the calendar on my phone, I realized that the way Apple does it, an entire year can shrink into the palm of your hand — all twelve months lined up next to each other like dominos.

I’d say that’s when I first realized that time and death would come for us all, but I actually realized that at the end of 2014, when my undergraduate mentor and dear friend Robert Reed died of colon cancer, and again when my grandfather — my most favorite man in the…

coke painting, oil on canvas, larissa pham, 2014

What happens when by the time you publish an essay it’s a part of you you can no longer access?

Without looking very closely, you can see a few specters that haunt my work. One, of course, is my mother. Another: depression, bad worm, et cetera. The last specter changes its name, is usually a boy and almost never more than an initial; moves in glimpses out of the corner of the narrator’s eye and rarely merits physical description.

Many essays masquerade as pieces about ideas but they’re full of concrete details. They must be — it’s what makes them relatable. Descriptions of food, of the weather, what you wore, where events take place. Ages. Names. Pets? Sure, if you…

Nobody likes crying in public, especially if you’re crying alone.

Today I was informed of some facts while at a coffee shop that made me cry. I won't tell you what kind of facts they were because you can a) probably infer and b) Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get paid to write about such things, so more on it later. If ever. Probably not. Anyway, I was sitting on Gchat, reeling a little bit, also being a general snotty mess, and... my immediate response was to tweet.

So I did. Here is the tweet. It is funny! I was being funny while crying! There are more tweets which detail…

“I miss fucking you” is a loose end. “I miss you” is a loose end. To leave is neat; to stop is narratively satisfying.

This story spans almost two years. It might span longer.

When I tell this story, I start it like this. My first memory of him is from a drinking game. It wasn’t flattering to anyone: the shouting, the wine, the vomit on the floor. I remember most clearly the way he had looked at me as I walked into the room—how he had sat up in surprise, said: “Larissa!” as though he didn’t know what I was doing there. I didn’t know, either.

We had been acquainted with each other for a few months before then, attending the same lab…

Larissa Pham

Larissa Pham is a writer in Brooklyn.

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