There lies a certain tension that comes with rekindling a return to in-person learning after nearly a year and a half of screens and stone-cold breakout rooms. Tension over catching the right bus and finding the right class and showing up not too late and not too early and finding the quintessential sweet spot in every lecture hall and even the best, most private places to cry because to cry is to be human. And where do we go when things get to be too much and too fast? Where do we seek refuge and comfort and, mostly, predictability in a world that is anything but predictable? Where do we find the most perfect clean-cut lines and palatable sweet things that make us feel not too much and not too little?
We first start with finding it all in Emily Mariko.
Most TikTok “For You” pages have been bustling with the classic salmon, rice, Japanese mayonnaise, sriracha, avocado and seaweed bowl that found itself skyrocketed into mainstream popularity through lifestyle vlogger Emily Mariko. At first, there wasn’t very much to like about Emily Mariko, because who cuts their vegetables that close to the screen and why is she leaning down that low in the frame to butter a slice of toast and microwaving her rice with an ice cube and how does she manage to cut her peaches and pears and onions just right without one ounce of mess. It simply isn’t natural. Her counters are sparkling clean and she doesn’t just shove groceries into the back of her fridge like the rest of us and hope they don’t rot. She even organizes her eggs by size and cuts her carrots in perfect little slices and stores them in mason jars of water and quarters her kale and fish in squeaky clean plastic bags and bins. And perhaps more than anything else, with women like Emily Mariko, and more so, with the inception and commodification of life as a means of capital — to share and sell aspects of living — there comes first dislike, then sullen bitterness derived from intimidation because to cut your farmer’s market bread loaves into neat little slices is to sometimes be grievously and shockingly threatened. Then soon after, there follows reconciliation, peace, a willful grace even, because Emily Mariko had mastered the most arduous, daunting, taunting burdens of life, the icky, sticky tasks we sometimes cannot bring ourselves to do, and there is joy in watching someone else accomplish them in the most refined, beautiful, polished way possible.
We have been embroiled in a global pandemic for nearly a year and a half. I lost my aunt last week to the virus because it has not yet finished wreaking violent havoc. And the return to college is no different because it can quickly fray and fall apart as things pile up onto other things and other things, and even more so, at a school like the University of Michigan with the Leaders and the Best looming around every corner, it becomes even more difficult to convince ourselves that imperfection is okay, to sometimes reconcile with falling short and failure. And women like Emily Mariko help us put one foot in front of the other.
Emily Mariko’s greatest success lies in far more than the salmon and rice dish, that perfect ratio of tangy to sweet and sour that has been a household staple across Asian households for generations, but also because she arrived when we needed her the most. Emily Mariko in her entirety is a tangible reminder that life moves forward, a means of closure and understanding because her farmer’s market hauls, her rice and cupboard restocks and her tomato sorting are the strongest testaments to the notion that we can find the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference. And we can still love and live because Emily Mariko did it.
MiC Columnist Sarah Akaaboune can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.