tw: self-harm. This is a public journal entry. Some of the following writing may contains information that you might find disturbed. Please treat it with kindness and care should you choose to read it.

This is 2023. A letter to myself. I will start with a mere nostalgic reflection filled with the goods and not so good, and ends with what I wish to accomplish for 2024.

To 2023 self,

Per tradition, your year began with a visit from your parents. We decided to do SF-NY, with good food, shopping, and visiting relatives. Living on a different continent, you’ve longed for the simple joys of home – those weekend returns, the comfort of a home-cooked meal, the tender gesture of cut fruits like in your younger days. Now, these moments are treasured yearly reunions, a home-away-from-home gathering, where relatives journey across the globe to rekindle familial bonds. Despite finding these gatherings overwhelming, in your heart, you cherish these visits, holding onto the warmth of your parents’ presence.

Returning to San Francisco was like stepping back into a vibrant painting, a city pulsating with life and a myriad of experiences. It was here, amidst its dynamic streets and scenic vistas, that you found writing and reading, surrounded by a community of inspiring individuals. And it was San Francisco, that you and J crossed paths.

Running became a rhythmic solace amidst sleepless nights and turbulent thoughts. It was a discipline that anchored you, a steady presence in the chaos of young adulthood. You would find yourself lacing up for a run, whether it was pushing through work until dawn or embarking on a 5-mile run along the Bay regardless of how tired you were. In a sense, running offered a sense of stability, a means to channel your energy and thoughts, though often at the expense of your physical and emotional health, under the guise of youthful resilience.

“You are young; you should be fine,” you would tell yourself, perhaps a bit too cavalierly.

Then came the spontaneous decision to go backpacking in Yosemite with S. Despite not being in the best shape, the allure of adventure was irresistible. It was a journey of firsts – your inaugural backpacking trip, your first visit to the awe-inspiring Yosemite, and your first encounter with the chill of near-freezing nights outdoors. Each moment was a revelation, an invitation to embrace the unfamiliar and challenging, a vivid reminder to savor every new experience life offered.

Quoting Nietzsche, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in suffering”.

I don’t know about you, but the moment life hints at normalcy and tranquility, a restless itch starts to stir within me. It’s like K often says with a knowing smile, “you are a messy gyal.” There’s a peculiar comfort in chaos, a familiar embrace in the whirlwind of change that I’ve always gravitated towards. Now, as I stand at this crossroads in the Bay Area, that restlessness is more pronounced than ever.

I had taken a leave from school to move to the Bay for work, a decision that now hanged in the balance. The Bay Area, beckoned me to stay. Here, life, was a beautiful mosaic of experiences – doing what I love, being surrounded by friends, and cherishing those weekends with J. Yet, it was shadowed by the looming uncertainties of visa statuses, a constant undercurrent of anxiety about the future.

The alternative, returning to Canada, loomed like a storm cloud. It’s a retreat into a past that’s drenched in discomfort, a reversal into what I’ve always perceived as a life of constraints and unfulfilled potential. The very thought of leaving J, hitting pause on our shared dreams in San Francisco, sends a pang of sorrow through me. Canada isn’t just a different location; it’s a return to a version of myself that I’ve struggled to leave behind. The visa challenges remained, a familiar yet unwelcome companion, no matter which border I call home.

In the quiet moments, your mind wrestled with these paths, each fraught with its own set of fears and what-ifs. “Stop, don’t leave. You can do it. Stay,” a voice within you whispered, a blend of hope and desperation. It was a plea to cling to the life you’ve started to build here, to not let go of the joy and love you’ve found. This internal dialogue became your constant soundtrack, a reflection of the turmoil that dances within your heart.

It was a Sunday afternoon, you and J were enjoying a cup of coffee, in the Marina. Like whispers of the gentlest breeze, the wind danced through J’s hair, each strand a melody, weaving tales of love in the air. It carried J’s scent, a tapestry of rose subtly entwined with earth’s warm embrace, a tender symphony barely touching the senses. You whispered in her ears, “I have to leave for Toronto.” Her hair, once a playground for your fingers, now swayed to the rhythm of a compassionate wind, each strand moving with the grace of unshed tears. The air, perfumed with the delicate scent of roses and spices, seemed to hold our memories, cradling them gently as if to soften the blow of parting. Our eyes met, yet tinged with the inevitable sorrow of farewell. Words were unnecessary; our hearts spoke in silent verses, each beat a soft adieu. It was a parting not of anger or regret, but of two souls acknowledging their journey together had reached a tender, inevitable end. We both sit there, cried in silent. The gentle wind, a compassionate witness to our farewell, carried away the last whispers of a love that was as beautiful as it was ephemeral, leaving behind a calm, poignant tranquility.

It was now sunny July, you found yourself back in Canada, slowly acclimating to the new life. The makeshift bed, consists of two fitted sheets, a duvet, and a pillow, while waiting for furnitures to arrive back from SF, offered a modest comfort yet lacked the essence of home — a feeling that remained elusive, a sense of displacement that gently lingered.

This wasn’t your first rodeo. Relocations has somewhat become normalcy for you: leaving Hanoi for boarding school seven years ago, then moving across Canada for university and lived in campus housing, to moving into student housing, alone amidst 2020’s misfortunes, returning to Vietnam shortly after, then moved back to Canada for online-university living in an overcrowded unhygienic household filled with strangers, followed by your determination to leave Canada once and for all to SF, to chase the “American dream”. However, this time, the feeling stirred differently. Gone was the wide-eyed public school kid who first stepped onto Canadian soil, filled with aspirations. Faded, too, was the image of the bewildered freshman adrift in a sea of unfamiliar faces at university. And the weary, drained engineer who sought refuge in San Francisco, seeking an escape, had evolved.

Now, as you sat amidst the quiet of your new space, you grappled with a curious blend of familiarity and foreignness, a paradox yet to be unraveled. It was as though each move had subtly reshaped you, leaving you at this juncture—a point where the past’s reflections and the present’s realities were gently converging, weaving a tapestry of your journey, both unique and universal. In this moment, you were at the cusp of reconciling these myriad selves, each a chapter in the unfolding story of your life. Staring into the abyss, you wonder what would unfold in this next chapter of life…

There, in the quietude of your new surroundings, you embarked on a pilgrimage of the self. It was a journey marked not by physical distances but by the rich, inner landscapes you traversed. In the company of books – those silent yet eloquent companions – you sought refuge. The philosophers, with their timeless musings, the historians narrating tales of yore, and the modern sages offering insights of the present, became your guides in this quest for understanding. You also rekindled old friendships, those that had lain dormant in the wake of your sojourn to San Francisco. It was as if you were gathering scattered pieces of a once-familiar mosaic, each friend a fragment of a life you once knew.

There was a sense of quiet accomplishment in the quiet transformation of your apartment. Each piece of furniture, was a testament to a life being patiently rebuilt, piece by piece. Physical exertion, too, found its place in your routine – climbing gym, disciplined rhythm of your runs, a pursuit of wellness that contrasted with the less tangible journey of the mind. The runs, though lacking the scenic vistas of San Francisco, offered a subtler, more introspective landscape.

Work, too, assumed a new significance with OpenLLM. It demanded of you a pace and a depth of understanding that was both exhilarating and daunting. The ability to assimilate, to adapt swiftly, became what you accustom to. Then there was HackTheNorth. Convincing S to sponsor HackTheNorth, and your subsequent workshop on language models, was not merely a professional victory, but a reconnection to a vibrant belief in hacker culture, filled with anticipation and excitement for building technology.

You showed up. You showed your love and affection for your friends through the warmth of a home-cooked meals. Potlucks, tasting menus - they were your ways of nurturing the bonds of friendship, a respite from the pressures of student life.

Remember that Halloween, when you cooked a feast, ensuring your friends were well-fed and ready for a night of revelry? Surrounded by the sizzling skillet and steaming hot mashed potatoes, you found a sense of belonging. You’ve never seen yourself as the quintessential party-goer, often feeling like an observer on the fringes of the festivities. But you went, drawn by the camaraderie, even as a part of you remained reluctant. At the party, a familiar sensation crept in – a detachment, a subtle unravelling of your connection with the scene around you. Your inner id, usually so deeply buried, surfaced to whisper a stark truth: you didn’t quite mesh with this crowd. This realisation triggered a rush of anxiety, a feeling that swelled like a wave, urging you to escape, to find solace in the quiet of your own space. So, you left. You left the noise, the laughter, and returned to the silence of your home. There, in the aftermath of the evening’s earlier warmth, you were greeted by the remnants of your culinary endeavours – the pots, pans, and utensils bearing testament to the meal shared in love and friendship. In the stillness of your kitchen, a profound sense of loneliness enveloped you. You sat there, amidst the silent witnesses of your earlier joy, and tears began to fall. It was a poignant contrast – the joy of cooking for others and the solitary ache of feeling out of place, misunderstood.

Remember that breakup with J? The summer was a portrait of heartbreak, painted in shades of sorrow and restless nights. It’s funny how we try to mend ourselves, isn’t it? With a schedule as a plaster over a gaping wound. I had it all mapped out, or so I thought. But life, in its infinite jest, has a way of upending even the best-laid plans.

It was on a nondescript day, November 13th, that I found myself on a date with a woman I’d met in the digital maze of online dating. The evening was unremarkable, tinged with the effort of trying to reconnect with the world. We ended up at her place - an encounter that was at best, mediocre. In the midst of the intimacy, memories of J invaded my mind, unbidden, like ghosts from a past life.

J and I, we were polyamorous. Unorthodox, yes (but not really in SF), but to each other, we were anchors. My reluctance to move back to Canada was rooted in her – she was my ‘it’, my endgame. And then, as if summoned by the universe, a message from J pierced the night. Her words, simple yet loaded, unravelled me.

We had agreed to silence, to give time and space for healing. But there I was, haunted by the love that embraced my most authentic self, the part of me unshielded by the armor I’d forged over the years. That night was a symphony of restlessness, the presence of another unable to fill the void. 3:30 am, my phone shattered the silence – it was J. Panic and longing intertwined as I answered. What harm could there be?

What followed was a mosaic of late-night conversations, spanning many weeks. J’s voice, laced with tears, spoke of longing and loss. Our talks were a roller-coaster of emotions – laughter quickly drowned by arguments, smiles eclipsed by sorrow. I was a cocktail of anger and sadness; I had moved on, or so I had convinced myself. Why now, in the midst of this? J’s behaviour was a mystery, a deviation from her usual sensibility. And there I lay, sleep eluding me, troubled by the thought of her distress. It was a pain that seeped deep into my bones, a relentless reminder of a love that refused to be buried.

One morning, you found yourself seeking refuge in kitchen. It’s curious how, in times of turmoil, we gravitate towards the mundane, the ritualistic. There’s a certain healing power in cooking – the methodical chopping of vegetables, the hiss and dance of ingredients in the skillet, the rich tapestry of scents that fill the air. But even in this culinary cocoon, the spectre of J haunted you, infusing your silent tears with the bitterness of memory.

As you lost yourself in these reflections, a momentary lapse in attention brought a sharp pain – a startling intrusion into your reverie. A drop of blood bloomed on the cutting board, a vivid contrast against the muted colours of the vegetables. The sight of it, coupled with the realisation that you had inadvertently cut your finger, brought a wave of lightheadedness. Yet, even as the shock set in, you instinctively reached for a towel, pressing it firmly against the wound. With a calm born of necessity, you navigated your way to the first-aid kit. Your hands, guided by a survival instinct that momentarily eclipsed the overwhelming thoughts of J, worked diligently to clean and dress the wound.

After tending to the injury, you slumped against the fridge, your gaze drifting aimlessly to the ceiling. In an instance, a thought flickered through your mind – the notion of ending it all. But just as quickly as it surfaced, it dissipated at the thought of your mother. The image of her, perhaps unaware of the depths of your current struggles, yet invariably intertwined with your existence, acted as a grounding force. In the quiet of your kitchen, with the pain in your finger a sharp but grounding sensation, you were left to confront your ‘ego’ – the pain, the emotion, the longing, the love, and the indomitable will to endure.

Navigating the aftermath of a first serious relationship is akin to finding one’s way through an uncharted wilderness, especially for someone who had always embraced solitude. My relationship with J was a journey into unexplored emotional depths, a discovery of a love both profound and transformative. Yet, when it ended, I was adrift in a sea of emotions, overwhelmed like a teacup caught in a relentless downpour.

In relationships, we often find ourselves surprised by the depths and complexities of those we hold close. J was a revelation in this sense, a mirror to parts of myself I hadn’t known. But as the emotional turbulence continued, my logical self, long subdued, finally asserted itself. It whispered of the need for closure, for the sake of my own well-being. The final call to J was a bridge between past and future, a necessary severance, blocking all lines of communication going forward.

This decision, difficult as it was, felt like the only way forward, a path to healing for both of you. Sharing experiences with Mom did lift a weight off your shoulders. It marked a turning point, a chance to truly move on. And before you knew it, Christmas break was upon you.

Your return to school was marked by a fresh perspective, one shaped by your stint in SF. School is now a place for you to explore your interests and have the joy of learning, as it should be. For the first time, you found joy in the very structure of academia.

2023’s Aaron did:

  • Work-wise, OpenLLM, we actually made revenue this year, and got to work with some very, very cool companies!! You also did buildspace S4
  • Favourite movie that I cried has to be Past Lives. The quintessential symphony of my journey so far.
  • Favourite restaurant is CIMA. The food is amazing and I love the staff there. I have cried here many, many times.
  • I found philosophy somewhat cumbersome before, but this one class in university did change my perspective on the subject. Read Nietzsche’s work, did exploration on metaphysics, and found Beyond Good and Evil my favourite for 2023.
  • Expanded my vinyl collections, including Daft Punk, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin.
  • Made some house tunes, very much inspired by Fred again, Four Tet, and Peggy Gou. You still find your tone, but keep working at it. The following was hacked together in an afternoon: ID 1
  • Also, that one YouTube video I kept playing on repeat is this one from the Lot Radio, or anything from this query
  • Favourite object is this 10-inch pan. I kid you not having a stainless steel pans feels like a hack. Absolute love this bad boy. Second favourite object is this turtleneck. I wore this pretty much everywhere. If you see me IRL chances are you saw me wearing this.

Looking back, twenty-twenty-three was filled with moments of joy and sorrow, of love and loss. What I want for 2024:

  • atelier with friends, where you can pay what you think the meal is worth. I want to do at least 10 this year.
  • Continue in the rabbit hole of philosophy: Deleuze and and Camus
  • I want to tend to my garden a bit better. There are too many draft and noindex notes that needs to taken care of. Mainly because 2023 was pretty much turmoil galore 🤗
  • Learning to let go, and boundaries.
  • Finish that G2. (ok I do need to get a driver license)
  • Apprendre le français


Your present self