Stay True: A Memoir about Friendship and Death by Hua Hsu

These were my favorite passages from Hua Hsu’s Book about friendship and death called Stay True: A Memoir.

“Passengers had different personalities. Some called shotgun with a neurotic intensity, as though their entire sense of self relied on sitting up front.”

“Later, when photography became ubiquitous, pictures were evidence that you existed at all, day in and day out. They registered a pattern. Looking back, you began to doubt the sequence of events. If, in the absence of proof, anything had happened at all.”

“Even then, they understood that American life is unbounded promise and hypocrisy, faith and greed, new spectrums of joy and self-doubt, freedom enabled by enslavement. All of these things at once.”

“Suburbs are about the leisurely conquest of space, an alternative to the uncomfortable density of the city. They seem to run free from history itself, offering a sense that nothing was there before. But the illusion of tranquility frays at the edges: the neurosis required to maintain so neatly manicured a lawn, the pristine sidewalks that nobody walks on, the holy wars fought to keep one municipality from oozing into the next. Suburbs suggest stability and conformity, yet they are rarely beholden to tradition. Rather, they are slates that can be wiped clean to accommodate new aspirations.”

“The first generation thinks about survival; the ones that follow tell the stories.”

“There comes a moment for the immigrant’s child when you realize that you and your parents are assimilating at the same time. Later, I understood that we were both sifting, store to store, for some possible future—that we were both mystified by the same fashions, trends, and bits of language. That my late-night trips to the record store with my dad had been about discovery, not mastery. Later still, I came to recognize that assimilation as a whole was a race toward a horizon that wasn’t fixed. The ideal was ever shifting, and your accent would never be quite perfect. It was a set of compromises sold to you as a contract. Assimilation was not a problem to be solved but the problem itself.”

“He often implored me to apply some of the energy I spent memorizing sports statistics or writing record reviews to my schoolwork. I just had to study my textbooks the way I studied my cherished magazines. I could tell you what albums were slated for release next month, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, pass the written portion of the driver’s test. “Don’t take this as a negative comment. Only we love you and know your weakness, so we like to guide you. Your goodness and strong points are always in our hearts although we are not always saying them.” Whenever he wrote something that came across sterner than intended, he quickly followed up, unprompted, to clarify:”

I thought I had a lot to say, but I felt timid about saying it. Making my zine was a way of sketching the outlines of a new self, writing a new personality into being.

“Last Friday, I overemphasized the toughness. Don’t be scared. The life is full of excitement and surprises. Handle it and enjoy it. Just like you said that you like the cross country exercise. After climbing the hill, looking downward, you feel good. That is the point I would like to make. Don’t feel frustrate climbing climbing, also don’t pick a too high mountain to climb in begin with. You need drill the small hill first. Learn from the exercise. Even a tumble can teach you how to climb next time. It’s sweating, but enjoy the process. Mom and I have been proud of you. Not only on your accomplishment but more on your happy personality. We’ll support you whatever you choose (most time! Ha!). Don’t feel bad if sometimes we are too nervous. We just hope to give you all our guidance and help to make your decisions simpler. We might put too much pressure on you but that’s not what we mean. Be relax but arrange your time to handle priorities. I feel sorry that I cannot be around all the time to support you whenever you need. But I feel comfortable since mom can do good job and you are quite mature. But if there is any thoughts or problem, call me or fax to me. If it’s class work and you cannot get my timely help, please tell us. We can arrange some tutoring. 10th and 11th grade take more sweat but I hope you enjoy them. Love, Dad” 

“One day, my dad faxed me. It was raining in Hsinchu. “California’s sunny day also influence the ‘thinking and behavior.’ Make people thinking ‘bright.’ Do you think so?” I didn’t get why he was always writing me about my moods. Maybe he was concerned that I would succumb to the American disease of boredom, or worse.”

“When Cobain really did die, I wasn’t particularly surprised because his health had seemed so precarious in the preceding years. He often spoke of his debilitating stomach issues. A history of depression ran through his family. The pressures of fame and all the nonstop touring seemed to exacerbate whatever it was he was feeling. His ragged voice and hunched frame weren’t just affectations; they were physical manifestations of his discomfort. It’s said that his heroin addiction became a coping mechanism for all of this. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Seattle. His passing seemed instantly significant, like when our history teacher subjected us to stories about Kennedy’s assassination. Cobain had been representative of something, but maybe not something of which I felt a part. He was outside the system, only I felt further outside it. I faxed my dad the night it happened. I couldn’t understand Cobain’s death by suicide. My dad wrote back:”

“I agree it’s a society tragedy, too much pressure. If he felt that it’s beyond his control or creativity or else, it sometimes led to the conclusion of suicide, especially for talented artists. He felt that the sense of living disappeared. So sometimes, the “normal” people is more easy to adapt to the reality which fills with not ideal situation and needs compromise. That’s the dilemma of life: you have to find meaning, but by the same time, you have to accept the reality. How to handle the contradiction is a challenge to everyone of us. What do you think?”

“I believed there was something exceptional about our time, the pressures we faced, the struggles to remain content in aimless times. There were all these terms that seemed unique to us, like “dysfunction,” “dystopia,” and “angst.” I tried them on, but nothing stuck. I watched the news and saw fans dressed in black, maintaining a vigil in a park near his house, crying for days in the arms of strangers. That was a deeper level of feeling I couldn’t grasp. Still, I was a persuasive enough writer to concern my father. I think your article do have many good points. Important one is whether a person is loving the life or sometimes hates himself and can not take it. Every generation has its own problem. For the young, being idealistic and feeling helpless at the same time is normal and necessary for the society to progress. But the problem is that life is and has to go on. Every generation has to face the problem and live through and try its best to overcome the frustration. In the 60’s, society is quite rich but the immoral Vietnam War triggers the problem. Liberal thinking is a positive force for the society. Desegregation, human right, and anti-war were also very “frustrating” situation. Some survived and still active like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Neil Young. Some didn’t, like Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison. What I want to say is that we have to have ideal thinking, heart, feeling about the society, environment, etc. But we also need to accept that there must have a way to change the world, or surrounding, to be better. It might take many years, or even generations, or many deaths. But still, emotion alone will not change the situation. Real work will. Kurt is talent. No doubt about it. And he is important. His death need to be analyzed very seriously. Our society to have problems. But don’t paint the generation with stereotype such as “lost.” I think that’s true for all generations during a certain period of their life. What do you think? In reading your article, I found that my English is very poor. What’s the meaning of “dysfunction”? Again, we have to have emotion that differentiate human being with machine, robot. But we also need to know how to control it and will not be carried away by it. Do you agree?”

“Straight edge was a hard-core punk subculture that emerged in the early 1980s, premised on the principled, quasi-political rejection of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes—vices that could be taken to a banal extreme. I knew none of this at the time. I knew only that being straight edge involved listening to music that was loud and preachy, and casting judgment on anyone who was having too much fun. This seemed vaguely rebellious to me. A showy, disciplined zig to everyone else’s sloppy zags.”

“When you’re young, you are certain of your capacity to imagine a way out of the previous generation’s problems. There is a different way to grow old, paths that don’t involve conforming and selling out. We would figure it out together, and we would be different together. I just had to find people to be different with, a critical mass of others to flesh out the possibilities of a collective pronoun.”

“He was a genre of person I actively avoided—mainstream. Ken was flagrantly handsome; his voice betrayed no insecurity. He lived on the fourth floor, just above us, and his room was filled with reminders of who he had been in high school. A photo of his girlfriend back home, white and blond and conventionally pretty. One of him with his friends, dressed up like refs, heckling their crosstown rivals at a basketball game. He had good manners, which served him well at his after-school job selling children’s shoes at a department store. He was adept at charming both sticker-shocked parents and their impatient children. He could treat a hangover, and he opened the door for others. He knew how to order at restaurants. He seemed eager for adult life.”

“My first class in college had about five hundred other students. You instantly realized the challenge of retaining whatever sense of uniqueness got you here in the first place. My smallest

“Californians often grow up with a sense of entitlement simply because they get to live in California. It’s where people dream of ending up. There’s always been a mutual suspicion between people from Northern and Southern California, and 99 percent of the people at Berkeley seemed to be from one or the other. The only unifying element was that everyone wore Adidas slides. I thought people from Southern California were superficial and unserious. They spent too much time in the sun. Where the Bay Area was known for politics and counterculture, they were known for Disneyland and Hollywood. It sounded ditzy the way they referred to the highway that ran through the state as the 101 rather than just 101.”

“They sounded like a typical, all-American family, bright and optimistic in a way I found suspect. My wariness about Ken was compounded by the fact that he was Asian American, like me. All the previous times I had met poised, content people like Ken, they were white. It’s one of those obscure parts of an already obscure identity that Japanese American kids can seem like aliens to other Asians, untroubled, largely oblivious to feeling like outsiders. They gave those feelings up long ago. Japanese American families like Ken’s have often been in the country for several generations. The children of recent immigrants feel discomfort at a molecular level, especially when doing typical things, like going to the pizza parlor on a Friday night, playacting as Americans. We are certain you’ve forgotten our names. The Japanese Americans I’d grown up around had parents who were into football and fishing, grandparents whose stories of the internment camps were recited with no trace of accent. Some of them had never even been to Japan, and some, too, had family who fought against Japan in World War II. We all look alike, until you realize we don’t, and then you begin feeling that nobody could possibly seem more different.”

“There are many currencies to friendship. We may be drawn to someone who makes us feel bright and hopeful, someone who can always make us laugh. Perhaps there are friendships that are instrumental, where the lure is concrete and the appeal is what they can do for us. There are friends we talk to only about serious things, others who only make sense in the blitzed merriment of deep night. Some friends complete us, while others complicate us. Maybe you feel as if there were nothing better in the world than driving in a car, listening to music with friends, looking for an all-night donut shop. Nobody says a thing, and it is perfect. Maybe your lifelong fascination with harmony finally began to make sense in those scenes, packed in your family’s station wagon, singing along to “God Only Knows,” waiting in the parking lot until the song was over. Aristotle remarked that friendships among the young always orbit the possibility of pleasure. The lives of the young, he observed,”

“are guided by emotion, and they pursue most intensely what they find pleasant and what the moment brings. As they advance in years, different things come to be pleasant for them. Hence, they become friends quickly and just as quickly cease to be friends. For as another thing becomes pleasant, the friendship, too, changes, and the pleasure of a young man changes quickly.”

“The first time I actually met Ken, he asked me to help him buy clothes. Students had returned to campus after winter recess; Irami and I were hanging out in the lobby of our dorm. I politely nodded at Ken as he walked in with two suitcases. The elevator that serviced the building’s eight floors was broken, as usual, and he sighed, but in a gallant, movie star way where his inconvenience was just part of the day’s role. Irami, an aggressively thoughtful philosophy major who lived on my floor, tapped me on the shoulder. “Let’s help him out.” I seethed inside. There were people in our dorm I wanted to befriend, where the inertia of proximity, I was certain, would one day result in closeness. I’d find an empty seat in the dining hall and admire your thrift shop T-shirt, your ironic pin; maybe we’d start going to see bands together. Perhaps we would cross paths in the foreign section of the video store; I would stay up late, listening to your problems, and then I’d share my secrets in return. I’d spent enough time in Ken’s periphery during the fall to conclude that he wasn’t one of these people. He seemed so self-assured and normal, nothing drew me to him. I grabbed a suitcase and did my best to huff and puff as theatrically as possible as we went up the stairs. I didn’t even like this person, and now I was doing physical labor for him.”

“I had no interest in parties, and I could think of nothing less cool than frat houses. But I was surprised, even impressed, by Ken, since he was clearly more perceptive than I’d initially thought. He noticed intentionality where others might have guessed I could only afford mismatched, multigenerational hand-me-downs. I still didn’t trust him; this was the longest conversation I’d ever had with him, or, for that matter, anyone in the Greek system. But I was willing to teach him how to be cool.”

“I wondered whether I was really unique. Maybe the thing that made me uneasy was realizing that we weren’t very different after all. He often prodded at the persona I had built for myself. Why did I insist on being so weird? What compelled me to always order the most unusual item on the menu? Wasn’t it all a ploy to be noticed by others? Especially, he would say accusingly, “artsy, alternative” girls? And hadn’t I briefly owned the first Pearl Jam album, too?”

“He just nodded. Attraction is more than physical appearance, I continued. I think calling someone “hot” is reductive and dehumanizing. The humane thing for Ken to do was to let me keep talking, because I’d eventually run out of straws to grasp at. I appreciated that he was too kind to put me out of my misery and point out my insecurities. Maybe this is what it meant to be known, this feeling of being exposed and transparent.”

“The thing you learn in college is how to live with other people, and Ken understood this at an instinctive level. The next day, he bought us all hoagies, which we ate on the benches across Bancroft from the rival frat so we could snicker at the lone, boarded-up window. We might as well have won the Super Bowl. Ken knew how to use people—not in an exploitative way, but he understood what key you sang in. He could inspire you to do strange things, and he knew when to defer. Derrida remarked that friendship’s driver isn’t the pursuit of someone who is just like you. A friend, he wrote, would “choose knowing rather than being known.” I had always thought it was the other way around.”

“Modern life, theorists like Derrida explain, is full of atomized individuals, casting about for a center and questioning the engine of their lives. His writing is famously intricate, full of citations and abstruse terminology. Things are always already happening. But reflecting on his own relationships tended to give his thinking and writing a kind of desperate clarity. The intimacy of friendship, he wrote, lies in the sensation of recognizing oneself in the eyes of another. We continue to know our friend, even after they are no longer present to look back at us. From that very first encounter, we are always preparing for the eventuality that we might outlive them, or they us. We are already imagining how we may someday remember them. This isn’t meant to be sad. To love friendship, he writes, “one must love the future.” Writing in the wake of his colleague Jean-François Lyotard’s death, Derrida wonders, “How to leave him alone without abandoning him?” Maybe taking seriously the ideas of our departed friends represents the ultimate expression of friendship, signaling the possibility of a eulogy that doesn’t simply focus attention back on the survivor and their grief.”

“I had met Anthony through Paraag and Dave, who often hung out with a group of friends who’d gone to Saratoga, one of our rival high schools. Anthony was a business major. One of the first things he put up in our apartment was a framed picture of piles of cash with the words “My First Million” underneath. I decorated my room with anti-corporate zines and flyers I’d picked up at the left-wing bookstore. Yet I appreciated Anthony’s entrepreneurial streak. In high school, he had lived by himself in downtown Saratoga, so he clearly knew how to take care of himself. Freshman year at Berkeley, he found a job as a delivery boy for a coffee shop, and he funneled his earnings into a run of bootleg T-shirts he sold at Cal football games. I had no idea how he knew the racer-architect-DJs who used to live in our place, but it didn’t surprise me. He was a hustler. Importantly, he also knew how to cook.”

“Soon, people would lose their relationship to something called free time. We would no longer be bored, for there was always something to do or buy, something new to look up and learn about, some conversation to crash. But, at the time, there was nothing better than a Friday with no plans, alone to tinker with my zine. The expansiveness of a free night, writing so that I might appear in my own lines, even if nobody would ever read them. A series of one-sided crusades, all these manifestos that circulated among a cadre of two or three. It was only in my zine that I admitted to dreaming of anything great. In real life, I feared stepping into too large a world and failing. But I wrote things that were earnest and open, that I would never dare say out loud.”

“I had no idea what rhetoric was, only that it was a word I’d apparently been misusing all throughout high school. That’s just rhetoric, I would say, whenever someone tried to pass off opinion as fact. The department’s course offerings didn’t abide by any obvious logic, spanning everything from Aristotle to television to structures of meaning, the nature of selfhood, the futility of language. A dictionary entry defined “rhetoric” as the art of persuasion. None of it made sense to me. Maybe I was right after all: everything is, literally, just rhetoric. This was very exciting to me.”

“Ken no longer wanted to become an architect. Now he wanted to go to law school, and the art of persuasion seemed a useful skill to hone, so he tried some rhetoric classes, too. I was glad to have an ally through these strange journeys, as well as someone to measure myself against. We took an intro course on language that focused on what it meant to “perform” a promise. I doodled pictures in Ken’s notebook of our instructor, who straddled his lectern in an almost erotic fashion. We took an upper-division class on the philosophy of time. Each meeting sounded like a conversation you might have on drugs, or so I imagined. We read Heidegger and Wittgenstein, applying the bits we understood to science fiction stories, reveling in the infinite delights of forking time lines, paradoxes, and loops, the catastrophes that would ensue if two divergent paths met. Maybe there was a way out of these puzzles that nobody had thought of yet. I was eager for a future that might take place anywhere else, a new scene where my awkwardness would be mistaken for nonchalance. School was easy and I was surrounded by people who liked or at least tolerated me. But I was stridently noncommittal to them. I always left myself an out, an escape hatch in case someone offered me a new adventure, the adventure I thought I deserved. I looked forward to a time when I would be the finished article, my sense of the world innate and effortless, with no evidence that there had been any rough drafts.”

“You make a world out of the things you buy. Everything you pick up is a potential gateway, a tiny, cosmetic change that might blossom into an entirely new you. A bold shirt around which you base a new personality, an angular coffee table that might reboot your whole environment, that one enormous novel that all the fashionable English majors carry around. You buy things to communicate affiliation to a small tribe, hopeful you’ll encounter the only other person in line buying the same obscure thing as you. Maybe I, too, will become the kind of person who has books like Infinite Jest casually strewn on his cool, angular coffee table. Maybe I’ll become the kind of person who seems as if he should have that book but chooses not to. I spent hours at Amoeba Music, walking back and forth in the same few sections (“Rock,” “Indie”). There was an entire other wing devoted to jazz and something called world music; I looked forward to one day becoming the type of person who understood these genres and, by extension, the world. One day, I bought a jungle 12-inch based purely on a description I’d read in a magazine. At first, I thought the record was defective, since it was nothing but jittery drums and a bass line that kept making the needle skip. Where was the rest of the song? But then I realized it was supposed to sound this way, that this bass line was a portal to somewhere new, and I couldn’t wait to hear more. I started picking up rave flyers at coffee shops and record stores. It was electrifying to think about how much more music there was in the world left to hear.”

“felt a little bad excluding Ken from this world I was discovering. He told me he wanted to meet people who knew people in bands, too. But I figured there was little I could do to truly shake his confidence. He saw people as innately good and open-minded. I saw a bad CD collection as evidence of moral weakness. This part of me never rubbed off on him. Instead, he took my gentle ridicule and asked for me to tape him Mojave 3 and Push Kings songs. I later wondered what he got out of my zine. Whenever he expressed skepticism toward the status quo, I felt a tiny measure of victory—Join me on the side of cynical despair! Maybe it was my influence, with the red star I’d cut out of felt and pinned to my jacket, telling anyone who asked that I was a Marxist.”

“We felt the rush of trying to grasp something lofty and difficult, grafting our basic understanding of physics to our even more basic understanding of Heidegger. I was captivated by Marker’s ability to do so much with so little. The film mainly consists of a series of still black-and-white images with minimal voice-over. I believed that I appreciated his resourcefulness on a deeper level; it reminded me of a zine.”

“It returns to him in flashes: a beautiful woman waiting at the airport, a man dying just short of her arms. They are fragments of a story he feels but can’t tell. But the power of this memory seems to draw him through time, offering him a kind of resiliency that other travelers lack. He doesn’t realize that this memory is a warning—that he is the one who dies, because those in power will have no use for him once he saves the world. He’s caught in a loop, and whatever is fated to happen will happen. We watched it and then watched it again; each time, his world ends.”

“Ken taught himself to light a match with one hand, curling one out of the book and flicking it aflame. I practiced until I could do it, too. We became proper smokers, delighting in the ritualism of it all.”

“One time, during a cigarette break from studying, he told a story about seeing his ex-girlfriend. They had once been sweethearts in high school, but after a few semesters of college that was an entire consciousness ago. They were sitting on the dock of a lake house, their toes skimming the water. She felt the sun to be radiant and generous, and she wanted to bask in it. “My life has always been a dream,” she said to him. She was popular, kind, and pretty; she was comfortable but never spoiled. Not that any of that was the problem. After all, he had once loved her, loved all the goodness that she embodied. It was something else. “Can you believe she said that?” Ken said to me.”

“I didn’t follow. Are you still into her? Do you want to get back together with her? No, that’s not it, he said with a sigh. Now he seemed disappointed in me, too. He took a drag from his cigarette. “My life has always been a dream,” he repeated. “A dream.” He was mystified that she thought he could relate to this feeling. “My life has never been a dream.” Friendship is about the willingness to know, rather than be known. Ken sometimes tried on my old, disintegrating cardigans or thick, polyester shirts, an attempt to understand why I looked like a hobo. It was his way of reckoning with what I saw, why I stood the way I did. Hearing about his disillusionment disturbed my sense of who he was. I delighted in being the playful cynic, comfortable in a constant state of not belonging. He was the least cynical person I knew, to the point where I assumed his life had, indeed, been a dream. I thought about making a joke about the hazards of falling in love with white people but decided to leave him there, wherever he was. I realized how wrong I’d been to assume that his life was a breeze, shot through with invincible golden hues. I even felt protective of him in that moment, surprised, and slightly awed, by the fact that he held on to such grand visions of what life could offer.”

“We were part of something. In November 1996, Californians voted on Proposition 209, which sought to eliminate affirmative action from school admissions and government contracts. That semester, I’d gotten a job at the campus tutoring center, where I worked with fellow undergrads who needed help with their written work. I first came to admire our campus’s diversity while sitting at my drop-in desk, watching the future business leaders and engineers alongside the football players and first-generation students from Oakland who’d grown up in Berkeley’s shadow. Some of us were here for talents that were legible and bold, others were here for their potential, and we all had a lot to teach one another.”

“The zine no longer existed as a way to scam free CDs from people; I now saw it as part of this broader political ethos of self-determination and free expression.”

“I thought this explained why we were so different. He felt some claim to American culture that I couldn’t imagine. He joked about how different his life would have been with a name like Hiroshi Yamasaki, not the easy, mainstream Ken. I had no problem toiling away in the margins, mapping out a smaller world inside the larger one. Dreams of becoming a proper, widely read writer were dashed during my first year, when my submissions to The Daily Cal, our campus paper, were ignored. Early during sophomore year, I came upon a flyer for Slant, a long-standing campus Asian American newspaper that a couple seniors were trying to relaunch. I finessed a semester’s experience with Slant into an internship at a community newspaper in Chinatown, where I wrote about film festivals, art exhibitions, and local theater performances. Working for a newspaper that normal people had actually heard of seemed impossible. But I was unbothered, happy to paint myself into a corner, so long as it was mine.”

“Everyone was in the living room, trying their best to exude a mysterious yet accessible air for the people from MTV. Instead, Ken asked the casting agent why they had never had an Asian American guy on the show. The Real World had gone out of its way to represent various identities and personality types. What about us? “She told me we don’t have the personalities for it,” he said to me.”

“Ken wanted to see himself in the world. It was as though he were just now discovering that such a thing might not happen. “I am a man without a culture,” he said, and I was surprised at both the dramatic tone of the sentiment and the fact that he already saw himself as a man. We spent a lot of time in those days talking about sitcoms, trying to remember all the weird ones that lasted just a season, identifying all the tropes or character types that had made TV so pleasingly predictable. Short lists of all the times we remembered seeing an Asian delivery boy, maybe even a tertiary Asian acquaintance orbiting the main friend group. I thought we were just goofing off and passing time. But Ken was piecing together a theory about the world.”

“we were always in the process of self-discovery, self-creation, and revision. For some, this manifested as a kind of endless drifting and searching; others found the possibility of claiming one’s own identity empowering. But we were all in search of the same thing, that quality that made you yourself. Taylor called this authenticity, and it became the unreachable horizon of modern life. It’s a concept that makes sense only in its absence; we recognize inauthenticity, phoniness, when someone’s clearly being a poseur. Yet the struggle to feel authentic—this is very real, even if we know better. In Taylor’s telling, everyone becomes a kind of artist, creatively wrestling with the parameters of our own being. He described the outlook as one where “being true to myself is being true to my own originality, and that is something that only I can articulate and discover. In articulating it, I am defining it.” Even though all this sounds very navel-gazing, being true to yourself cannot happen in a vacuum. Constructing your personality is a game, one that requires you to joust with the expectations of others.”

“Authenticity, Taylor explained, presumes dialogue, and it is born out of engaging with those around us. We seek recognition, even if what you want to hear from a close friend is that you’re a one-of-a-kind weirdo that they’ll never truly understand.”

“Within a few months, I would understand that being in public, shouting, chanting, singing, calling out evil—it wasn’t always about trying to accomplish something. Sometimes it’s just about your voice blending in with those of others. The anonymity of being in a crowd, knowing you are there for one another. More feelings than you know what to do with, so you scream at someone, even if they’re the wrong ones. But, in the moment, we weren’t sure what to do, so we just walked through the gate.”

“Maybe I could become a graphic designer when I grew up. This time, Ken’s housewarming gift was a modernist clock with no numbers, just a white circle with the minute and hour hands poking out. I was an absolute baby about presents that I found insufficiently thoughtful. One year, a bunch of friends pooled together to get me a pager, even though I was clearly the type of person who resisted things like pagers. It was a constant reminder of how misunderstood I felt, each month, as I paid my pager bill. Ken felt the clock suited my style. It was cool in a way that felt aspirational and grown-up, and I adored it.”

“But if college was just a way of reproducing privilege, one of my friends asked, why offer higher education as the answer to their problems? Why should we encourage them to go to college? Berkeley was 40 percent Asian at the time, but this mainly consisted of middle-class students whose families had come from Japan, South Korea, India, or the Chinese diaspora.”

“Our students in Richmond had been identified as at-risk youth. But they weren’t just at risk of succumbing to specific ills, like gangs and drugs, which were ever present. The more general risk was that they would step into too much of the world too quickly—that they would never have the chance to discover their potential on their own terms, whatever that meant.”

“At first, perhaps it was just to annoy me, three young men singing, one begging them to stop. But then it became a noise that felt safe, possibly better than the original. In the immediacy of the song, as its seconds tick away, you’re experiencing it as a community—as a vision of the world vibrating together. It tickles your ear, then the rest of you, as your voice merges with everyone else’s. The violent dissonance when someone, and then another, slips off-key, and everyone ventures off toward their own ba-ba-baa solo. I finally felt in my body how music worked. A chorus of nonbelievers, channeling God. A harmonic coming together capable of overtaking lyrics about drift and catastrophe, a song as proof that people can work together. We would sit in the parking lot until the song ended. The donuts weren’t very good, but at least they provided a destination for our moving choir. We were sharing something, a combination of delirium and fraternity.”

“He had just gotten the Cornershop CD, which I liked and which irritated his sister. When “Crash into Me” by Dave Matthews Band came on, I rolled my window up, in case anyone pulled up next to us at the light. It was dreadful. Still, I admired the way Ken got lost in his music, his life force mingling with Matthews’s mumbles and sighs.”

“Friendship rests on the presumption of reciprocity, of drifting in and out of one another’s lives, with occasional moments of wild intensity. When you’re nineteen or twenty, your life is governed by debts and favors, promises to pick up the check or drive next time around. We built our lives into a set of mutual agreements, a string of small gifts lobbed back and forth. Life happened within that delay. I started a Secret Santa exchange, only I was anti-religion, and I didn’t want to call it that, so it became known as the Secret Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Gift Giver. “We celebrate goodwill and brotherhood,” I wrote, so no girls were invited. I scanned in all our pictures and made a flyer with the rules: no CDs and nothing that could be scammed from work, like “a spool of fax paper or children’s shoes from Nordstrom.” We were also supposed to pool together some money for charity. I imagined keeping this up into our forties.”

“Everybody likes something—a song, a movie, a TV show—so you choose not to; this is how you carve out space for yourself. But the right person persuades you to try it, and you feel as though you’ve made two discoveries. One is that this thing isn’t so bad. The other is a new confidant.”




books Learning Purpose

davidsonhang View All →

Purpose: I create an empowering context for curious and hungry people looking for fulfillment, experiences, and creativity. We do this by developing their growth mindset, introducing self-love, and powerful group experiences. It results in people with strong boundaries, resilient mental health, and practical life skills

People leave with the ability to land their dream job, have autonomy and flexibility with their lifestyle, travel the world, and create from their heart and soul.


Davidson was once broke, insecure, low-confidence, and frustrated by doing all the wrong activities. Addicted to drugs, validation, and wallowing in self-pity. No relationship to family, and at the mercy of other people’s suggestions and opinions.

It was hell.

After spending $100k hiring different coaches, traveling the world doing workshops around the world, reading>1000 books, and through curiosity, have created the most effective system to remove people from that situation. My life’s work is to bring joy and abundance to people who as on a similar path as I was and bring back the joy and abundance of their life.

Through shared experiences and storytelling, I inspire and model behaviors that lead to a richer, more fulfilled life full of joy, experiences, passion, and ecstasy from the richness of relationships and being able to experience the depths of the human experience.

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