22 January 2020

"How calm, how solemn it grows to ascend the atmosphere of lovers"
Art by Margaret C. Cook, inspired by Walt Whitman's poem, "Scented Herbage of My Breast"


In this poem, Whitman evokes the image of leaves to signify strong, innermost desires. The herbage of his breast are leaves waiting to burgeon out of his chest. His works on Leaves of Grass, the book from which this poem is derived, are often described as representative of Whitman's repressed sexuality after all. And in this poem, it shows.

 The leaves blossoming out of his breast are symbols of his burgeoning feelings. Interestingly, he exclaims about death and love to the beloved — two ideas which are, for him, pure and unyielding.

O I do not know what you mean there underneath yourselves, you
are not happiness,
You are often more bitter than I can bear, you burn and sting me,
Yet you are beautiful to me you faint tinged roots, you make me
think of death,
Death is beautiful from you, (what indeed is finally beautiful except
death and love?)

Imagine being described as being as beautiful as death - the ultimate path to which all things shall go. He is describing the beloved as inevitable, as inescapable. Nothing is more powerful than death. To be so united with the lover, similar to all living creatures' eventual marriage with death — with such finality and peace — is the highest aspiration.

Eventually as the poem progresses, the persona finally acknowledges that there is no use hiding his emotions. He encourages the leaves to grow, to blossom.
Grow up taller sweet leaves that I may see! grow up out of my
breast! Spring away from the conceal'd heart there!
Do not fold yourself so in your pink-tinged roots timid leaves!
Do not remain down there so ashamed, herbage of my breast!
Come I am determin'd to unbare this broad breast of mine, I
have long enough stifled and choked;

By describing this symbol as a part of the natural world and a part of his own physical being — the “scented herbage of his breast” — he was able to emphasize the way in which leaves symbolize the cyclic quality of nature and the persona’s similarly cyclic quality. Life yields to death, which contributes to new life.


This painting jumped out to me the moment I saw it on Brainpickings. The two people ascending to the skies, with their bodies seemingly blending into one. How freeing, and also, incredibly compelling. To be exalted like leaves seeking for sun, to aspire for the heavens like death finally giving sense to life.

15 January 2020

I'm still trying to get my old reading groove back, which was, for better or for worse, altered permanently by law school. I'm only recently easing my way back into my old habits of enjoying sentences, taking my time, and not feeling like highlighting everything in preparation for a recitation or an exam. Reading a new book with the purpose of writing a review about it - instead of being quizzed on it - hopefully readjusts my lenses.

(Photo credit: Porter House Review)

I chose this as my first book for 2020 because I felt like, with everyone closing out the previous year with "End of the Decade" lists and ten-year assessments, I needed a book that could re-calibrate the way I saw — and processed — the world, right in this moment, as a twenty-something woman. Everyone had so much to say, and yet somehow it all felt so shrill and... shallow. I wanted to book-end (hehe, pun intended) the 2010s with something that will hopefully serve as an anchor as I navigate through the 2020s. I was choosing between a powerful icon's memoir, an era-defining novel, or a historical book. Reviews from friends (and strangers) pointed me to the direction of Jia Tolentino's "Trick Mirror" instead.

I have no regrets.

I've already said this in my first post, but I feel like this bears reiterating: So much of our thoughts are already out there — on social media, on our friends' inboxes, out onto the ether — but we rarely ever get to really, truly process them. Worse, we hardly consider their consequences. Likewise, we don't give much thought about how we consume information, and how it slowly affects our choices. It's a cycle of taking in and regurgitating so much about infinitely so many things, that we end up feeling lost when we are confronted by the big picture.

"This??? Is what it has all come down to???" Yes. It's none of our fault, and everybody's fault at the same time.

The best way to describe this book is Jia Tolentino elegantly and accurately articulating what it means to be a person living in the age of the Internet, late capitalism, and scams: one filled with cautious optimism, but also, deep down, dread. In nine essays, she talks about reality television, social media, the financial crisis, the feminist movement — in a way that crystallizes all its crushing impact (be it advantageous or otherwise). These are the things that define our generation; this is how we emerged from the changes in societal and cultural infrastructures. Now what?

We live in a world that always pushes us to be better, to get better. But, as she writes in "Always Be Optimizing":

Figuring out how to "get better" at being a woman is a ridiculous and often amoral project — a subset of the larger, equally ridiculous, equally amoral project of learning to get better at life under accelerated capitalism. In these pursuits, most pleasures end up being traps, and every public-facing demand escalates in perpetuity. Satisfaction remains, under the terms of the system, necessarily out of reach.

And this — this inevitable crushing under the system — is what leads to the allure of both exposing our fears and capitalizing on them. In turn, selfhood buckles under this weight. How much of ourselves do we share to the world? Do we really have any other choice? In "The I in Internet," Tolentino says:

In the absence of time to physically and politically engage with our community the way many of us want to, the internet provides a cheap substitute: it gives us brief moments of pleasure and connection, tied up in the opportunity to constantly listen and speak. Under these circumstances, opinion stops being a first step toward something and starts seeming like an end in itself. 

This is particularly highlighted as she discusses feminism and #MeToo, in two of her essays. While there will always be virtue in raising female narratives, should one story come at the expense of all other stories? She gives a very personal and poignant take on the infamous Rolling Stone article about a rape that happened in the UVA campus, being a UVA alum herself. Feeling conflicted but also sympathetic, Tolentino encapsulates a very real dilemma (and frustration) when it comes to dealing with stories like this, especially when one grapples with the fact that despite the recent dramatic shifts in our broader social understanding of sexual assault, our institutions still mostly fail us. Sadly, good intentions can only bring you so far. In the same vein, "good intentions often produce blind spots."

She also provides a sharp take on how some people have co-opted the feminist movement as something to wave off any kind of valid criticism to other equally important issues such as race and class. “Feminism that prioritizes the individual will always, at its core, be at odds with a feminism that prioritizes the collective,” she writes. I can't underscore this enough, because so many "vocal" people in positions of power and influence forget (or rather, ignore) that looking at the world through the lenses of one ideology is not enough; we always have to be intersectional. Waving the feminist flag is not sufficient; it means nothing when you do so at the disservice of others who are more disenfranchised.

We all want to present ourselves as capable, true. Our generation stands on the shoulders of giants before us; we should already be able to make giant leaps towards better, greater things. And yet, we encounter bigger, sketchier roadblocks. More and more we realize, there is less time these days for anything other than survival. How do we get by?

Some people use religion, others use drugs. And some, just take advantage of other people. (The essay "The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams" is one of this book's highlights.) These are all just ways to survive. She makes a point that nowadays, the cause matters less than the effect — what matters is not the thing itself, but whether that thing moves you closer to success, or closer to damnation.

How sad to realize all this, huh. And quite frankly, Tolentino offers no solutions to these questions. She observed, she articulated, she put it out there for us to digest. Now what? Well, we're not really sure. But I find comfort in seeing the millennial generation in a more personal, realistic light. This is what makes us who we are — broken, jaded, but also, still cautiously hopeful for the future. It's a sobering way of realizing that "it would sometimes be impossible to differentiate between the pretext of an experience, the record of that experience, and the experience itself." I suppose the important thing is we allow ourselves to look back, recall, take what we can with whatever we remember — and learn from it.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the second essay "Reality TV Me," where she recalls her time in a reality TV competition. In one of the rare-off camera moments, they found themselves swimming in a bioluminescent bay off the coast of Puerto Rico. This struck me because I'm reminded of a trip to Donsol, where we navigated through the dark, quiet waters of a lake in search of bioluminescent fireflies. We had to be quiet, and we had to be still. We had nothing on the boat except ourselves, our bated breaths, and the stars. The moment was fleeting, which made it special — but it was precisely this realization that made this small pocket of joy in the trip all the more devastating. It was only a brief moment of transcendence. It couldn't — and shouldn't — last. But precisely in that moment: I felt I was a in a "brief whirlpool of metaphysical accident." These are the things that should keep us going; there still things that should make us feel alive.

"I told myself: Don't forget, don't forget."

I didn't, and I won't.

03 January 2020

Hills to Die On: In which I try to defend trivial, nonsensical things I am entitled to like despite a small but very vocal aspect of society's — i.e. the Internet's — disapproval. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, none of this matters, but it's still fun to pretend that people will care about the things you are only slightly passionate about.

(Photo credit: u/amirkolta from r/vinyl)

It wasn’t until the last few months of 2019 that I realized how much I still liked this album. Forced to listen to CDs again after my old City’s bluetooth transmitter kicked the bucket, I dug up some old albums and decided to give them another chance at life. Songs About Jane was the first CD I popped into the player (because it was the only one whose CD was in the proper case, HAHA.)

Like any other late-twenties millennial out there, once upon a time, I thought Maroon 5 was the beacon of artistry. By that, I mean, at thirteen years old, I found Adam Levine hot. But, even then, I recognized how different their music sounded from the rest of the songs topping the charts. Let me set the scene: It was 2004. R&B was everywhere. Locally, everyone was crazy over acoustic-anything. The more mellow the sound, the higher the chance of it ending up on someone’s burned mix compact disc.

Enter This Love’s pulsating piano and guitar riffs within the first five seconds of the song.

Behold, a sudden rush of hormones. So this is what it feels to have your heart thumping loudly along to pulsating drums. Couple that with achingly sad, yearning lyrics all throughout the album: “I’ll fix these broken things / repair your broken wings / and make sure everything’s alright.”

I am not embarrassed to admit that Maroon 5 was my "gateway" to “accessible” rock. In sixth grade, I already had a feeling that pop and R&B were not cutting it for my faux angst; I wanted something else, something angrier and sadder and louder. But somehow, at the time, I wasn’t ready to fully embrace The Gorillaz and Linkin Park just yet. Maroon 5 hit the mark perfectly with this album, because it had lush melodies, funky guitar lines, and a solid rhythm section — which later on became the foundation of my affinity for rock music. It had lines I couldn’t relate to (yet) but Levine’s soulful wails kind of made me believe that I did. I didn’t know what it was like to be entangled in a love that had taken its toll on me… but I sure as hell could imagine how painful it was. She said goodbye too many times before. Cue faux hysteria.

I listened to this album way too much in sixth grade. But the emotional weight of this twelve-track classic hit me in college. Suddenly, after real heartbreaks, after experiencing what it meant to be trapped in relationships that just slowly stopped making sense, this album just kept firing on all cylinders. Feeling trapped? Harder to Breathe. Another fight? Shiver. A bad decision? Tangled. The calm before another storm? She Will Be Loved. Feigned reassurance? Sunday Morning.The conceit is simple: we loved once, and we loved hard. We thought it was worth saving, until it no longer was. And suddenly we are left to deal with a messy, reluctant unraveling. What do we make of all the things we fought for and all the damage it left behind?

I guess Maroon 5 still makes songs about all these feelings. (Or maybe not anymore, judging by the sad, lame "Memories" I heard on the FM once — because, again the bluetooth transmitter is busted — which is saved only by... drum roll... nothing. It is a terrible song; yeah, I said it.)  But none so powerful (or as earnest) as the ones on this album. Here, you clearly hear Jesse Carmichael’s keyboards acting as the spine holding together each verse. James Valentine is given enough spotlight to allow the guitar to sing alongside Adam. Drummer Ryan Dusick and bassist Mickey Madden do more than enough to give each song a consistent ebb and flow, reminiscent of the pushing-and-pulling that characterizes the bad romances they sing about.

It’s funny — or, actually, sad — to look at this album now, and how much it dwarfs all the succeeding albums in comparison. I liked the band enough to see them in concert in 2011 (Hands All Over era), and at the time they still weren’t that bad. But they were never Songs About Jane-good again. Which sucks, but is also kind of poetic.

Because the last time I truly listened to this album, I had my iPod plugged into some asshole’s car. Now I’m driving my own. And I’m never going to be Songs About Jane-miserable again.

Which isn't to tempt fate and say I'm never going to experience any kind of pain again. But it is to say, I’m a whole different person now. I’m no longer the sixth grader who pretended to hurt over this album; nor am I the teenager still grieving over relationships that were doomed from the start. The wake of each heartbreak eventually led me to a rude awakening: Songs About Jane is not the manual for great relationships. Unlike before, I’m no longer listening to this like a devotee living out the gospel. And thank God.

But I can listen to this album again and feel affirmed that I was young and stupid once. That once, I could claim naïveté, and revel in the invincibility of my innocence. That once, I believed being someone’s destruction also meant being their saving grace. And that once, those feelings were powerful. It made you feel alive. It’s bittersweet to remember the head space I was in when Songs About Jane still meant something to me. But even more so when I think about Maroon 5’s trajectory since this album. I don’t know if they will ever go back to this sound; I don’t even know if they acknowledge that this was the kind of music that propelled them to success in the first place. The longing, the confusion, the defiance, all contained in lush instruments that encapsulate what it means to desperately grasp on to final chances. The story-telling. This album is cohesive. (Since this album, they’ve slowly become a more singles-driven band.) Somehow, their new sound just does not capture all that.

But once upon a time, our fates — my longing and their music — intersected tangentially, and it was glorious. I’ve long stopped liking the band, but this album is a hill I am willing to die on. It’s nice to remember what it’s like to feel invincible, even in the face of a destructive, exhilarating, uncertain love. Yes, Songs About Jane — and everything that came along with it: for all it once was, and for all that it never turned out to be.

02 January 2020

"This is not a devaluing

of your pain but a dethroning.

An adjustment of the microscope’s lens.
Look up. The fireworks have started."

Happy New Year, Sierra DeMulder

So, where to begin.

First, a brief background: The short of it is that I was not supposed to let my old domain go. It's been with me since 2005. But I've been having issues with the host since July (too cumbersome to explain; I’m still getting it fixed but it’s taking a while). So in essence, Bombastarr.com is basically stuck in limbo right now.

Which is devastating, but also, in a lot of ways, surprisingly freeing. It’s the first time in almost fifteen years that I’m starting a new blog.

I don’t even know why I’m doing this again. I feel like over the last few years, I’ve forgotten how to write. Or rather, I’ve forgotten what it means to do it. These days, every idea, every thought, every emotion I feel like sharing is already out there, albeit condensed in 280 characters.

But that's precisely the problem. I never get to think my thoughts through anymore. Often, I just send them out to the universe right away, in order to get them out of my chest, or to make myself feel better and just move right along. Which isn't at all bad, I guess. But it stops me from taking the time to pause, reflect, and write something more meaningful. Something that does not condense every feeling to a mere joke or a punchline. Something that would actually help me heal.

The thing is I cannot say that the last decade has been entirely difficult, because so much of what I am right now was because of the triumphs I've achieved in the past ten years. I graduated from college, I got into law school, I survived the bar, I became a lawyer. These are such huge accomplishments that make up about a huge chunk of this version of Karla.

But my heart has known so many shades of sadness in the last few years too. I've lost six family members since I was thirteen; two of them died in front of me. I almost flunked out of law school. I underwent a major operation that took away some parts of my reproductive organs. I was diagnosed with PCOS. I confirmed that the relationships I grew up seeing were not out of pure love, but maybe just out of convenience.

When I really think about why I started drifting away from blogging, it was because I was always so hesitant to acknowledge the heartaches I had to go through. I felt they were too small, too insignificant compared to the highs of every year. Or at least that's what I forced myself to believe. If I choose to look at the silver lining, the blues should not outweigh the bright reds and the sunny yellows.

Yet, healing isn't a zero-sum game, apparently.


Funny I was asked by a friend on the last working day of the year: "Why do you like Ariana Grande so much?" after the nth time that she entered the room with me blasting the Sweetener World Tour live album.

The easy answer is because her vocals are amazing, duh. And her songs are bops, obviously.

I think - no, I believe - though, it's because I identify with much of her sadness. Dealing with guilt over the Manchester bombing, grief over her grandfather's death, shock and trauma over Mac's passing, anguish over her broken engagement with Pete. All this magnified to a hundred because she is going through everything under the public eye. I guess I saw myself in a lot of what she was singing about. Trying to be fine, finding ways to feel attractive and whole, putting a front of being "dangerous" when all you really want is a hug.

For some of us, putting on a happy face and brushing off our feelings - actually the easier choice. I'd much rather deal with just the positives than focus on things that bring me down. I'm not faking being happy at all; I really choose to sweep off the grief and the sadness and the heartache.

But that's not really ideal, is it.

Because true, what happened to me were not life-shattering, tragic events; life went on and everything is fine. But just because the good outweighs the bad doesn't mean I shouldn't address the latter. I have to stop reducing these things to just mere "lessons." They were difficult, and they are still things I have to deal with right now. My actions are colored by the trauma of these things, and I have to reconcile that with my desire to move forward.


Recently, the Disney Pixar movies I've cried to the most are Coco and Inside Out.

Coco, because it deals with grief, and losing cherished family members. I bawl my eyes out every time Mama Coco remembers her papa shortly before she passes away. And Inside Out, because it really forces you to look at emotions individually: they each function for a purpose. Even and especially Sadness. We cannot appreciate the joys without the blues.

It all sounds like a simple enough message for kids, until you grow up and realize you're twenty-eight and having a very difficult time navigating through all your anxieties.


The truth is: the last decade has been kind. I forged new friendships, renewed old ones, joined a profession I've always dreamed of, gained sisters, traveled a lot, found great, brave love. I am grateful, and happy, and appreciative of the universe's generosity.

But I guess it's okay to admit that the last few years were rough too. After all, Classic Blue is the color of the year. Maybe it's okay to not be okay. Maybe healing means accepting that it all happened and not leaving it all behind - just acknowledging the many ways pain can transform you into something different, something better, something bolder.

As the Sierra DeMulder poem goes, "this is not a devaluing of your pain, but a dethroning." Just a little adjustment of the microscope's lens.


Spotify confirmed it for me a few weeks ago: Ariana is my artist of the decade. (Carly was my most played though!) There's good reason for that.

"But the hard times are golden
'Cause they all lead to better days.

We gonna be alright."

Be Alright (Dangerous Woman)


long story short . Theme by STS.