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#MatteredToMe - September 24, 2021

  1. Yanyi's recent letter, "How Do You Write About Joy" was a wonderful reminder. "The truly imaginative act, in catastrophe, is letting go of the promise of its end. It is to stop waiting for after in order to have now; it is to pause enough at existing where I am so I can acknowledge, and have, true joy."
  2. I think Chloe N. Clark's poem "Yesterday I realized I wouldn't die" made a nice complement to Yanyi's letter. I love the idea of small wonders you keep in your pocket.
  3. Hanif Abdurraqib and Pineapple Street Studios did a 2-part deep dive on The Fugees and their album The Scorev that was just magnificent.
  4. David Naimon's conversation with Pádraig Ó Tuama was so good. The whole thing was great but I was particularly moved by how they talked about engagement without trying to change minds, and what real dialogue might look like.
  5. There is a sadness I feel underneath Michelle Poirier Brown's poem "Praise," which just peeks out a little in the first and fourth lines. The whole thing feels to me resilient and hopeful in a wistful sort of way.
  6. Sarah Freligh's poem "Wondrous" was on The Slowdown today and the way it turns at the end, revealing the wonder that can come on the other side of grief, that goes hand-in-hand with the sadness, was lovely.

As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I get to spend some time with family this weekend, and I'm looking forward to it. I hope that you can connect with the ones you love, too, whether in person or remotely.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - September 12, 2021

Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:

  1. The Movies With Mikey episode “Nihilism & Howl’s Moving Castle” talks about how the characters in the movie react to being swept up in situations beyond their control. I first watched it back in April, and if anything it means even more now.
  2. By coincidence Ada Limón’s poem “The Hurting Kind” just a couple of weeks before my own grandmother died. In it, her speaker says, “I am the hurting kind. I keep searching for proof.” I think I am, too.
  3. Jonny Teklit’s poem “On Some Saturday, After All This” is cathartically joyful. Perhaps that might be something you could use right now.
  4. Megan Pillow’s flash nonfiction piece “Instructions for Fucking Your Postpartum Wife” has this ache to it, this weariness and resentment and desire, desire for freedom, for newness, for intimacy, for rest. I loved so much about this piece, how it moved through different emotions and tones, how at times it feels like a flying-apart and at times like a coming-together.
  5. I don’t know if I’m reading W. S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” right, but it feels to me that it embodies both the futility of gratitude and the sincere power of gratitude. It seems both frantic and ecstatic, both grieving and joyful. And isn’t that just where so many of us are right now? I am, at least.
  6. Last month on the New Yorker Fiction podcast, Ann Patchett read Maile Meloy’s story “The Proxy Marriage.” I can’t remember the last time I read a literary story about love that was well-crafted and profound and not a downer or fundamentally misanthropic, which is probably why I loved this story so much.
  7. I’ve been feeling a fair amount of burnout and despair lately, for obvious reasons. Adrienne Maree Brown’s “The Darwin Variant, and/or Love of the Fittest” looks right at the despair and grief, acknowledging the feeling of futility so many of us are feeling in the face of catastrophe. The way Brown turns toward love, reframes activism in terms of love, reframes movement in terms of connection, strives to find the possible in an out-of-control situation—well, it’s what I needed.

As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I’m grateful to you for being here with me. I hope that what you need today will find its way to you.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - April 23, 2021

  1. Helen Zaltzman recently released an episode of The Allusionist titled "Additions and Losses," which is about the ways that people's attempts to express sympathy are so often really just conveying their discomfort with disability or loss. (Content note: the conversation includes mention of ableism, cancer, and child death.)
  2. A friend recently shared the video for No-No Boy's song "The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming" with me. The song is about the singer's "Japanese Grandma," Joy Teraoka, and her bandmates in the George Igawa Orchestra, who performed around the state while incarcerated at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, from 1942-1945. As someone who grew up on stories of the Internment, I found it very moving.
  3. Anne Helen Peterson wrote about labor shortages and how they're being driven by more than just temporary burnout but actually demoralization, and how this is a sign that our economy is deeply broken.

As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. In case no one has told you lately: you are enough, just as you are. You are not a problem to be solved. You are a person, and you matter.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - April 16, 2021

  1. Anne Helen Peterson wrote about burnout and permission structure and American work culture. "If you struggle with your own relationship to work, you understand this: your best and gentlest intentions for yourself are readily compromised."
  2. I think Lydia Kiesling has a particular talent for writing very specific descriptions of very specific anxieties in ways that are specific and specifically personal but still feel like she could be dipping into my own personal stream of consciousness. She did that in her novel, and she also did it in this recent piece for The Cut about fearing the pandemic will end and everything will just go back to being garbage, the way it always was.
  3. Jess Zimmerman's "twisty little passages" does something amazing with its form, using a very old game to invoke nostalgia and the structure of exploration to tell a story about regret and longing and being unable to let go.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. For whatever it's worth, I believe you can get through this—I believe in you.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - April 9, 2021

It's Friday. Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:

  1. Lyz Lenz wrote about the loss of a beloved pet, about facing unexpected pain and sorrow, and choosing what kind of person you want to be.
  2. Anne Anlin Cheng's essay "A Dilemma of Intimacy" is about interracial love, the dance of familiarity and strangeness, the double bind of being an Asian American woman. I found it insightful and poignant.
  3. Min Jin Lee wrote a tribute to her late uncle, and about the world of books that he introduced her to, and how she found her own voice through reading. There's so much love in the piece, I thought it was beautiful.
  4. I got pretty choked up reading this NYT feature of Asian and Asian American photography, both Celeste Ng's essay and the wonderful, beautiful images from so many Asian and Asian American artists. There's a certain defiance in turning toward and depicting tenderness and love in a time of isolation and hate, which I found meaningful and moving.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I hope that some time soon you can find something that nourishes you and get your fill of it, and then some.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - April 6, 2021

It's Friday. Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:

  1. Jad Josey is so good at writing wistful flash stories that are full of longing. His story "You Will, You Will, You Will" was just lovely.
  2. Beth Nguyen wrote a nuanced and very personal essay about choosing a name. I know others have made different choices with their own names, but this seems just the point to me: that it is a choice. I'm glad and grateful she shared hers.
  3. Noah Cho wrote about his grandmother's hands, and how things can be unsaid but still communicated and understood. As always, I loved it.
  4. Jason Fitzroy Jeffers wrote about Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero," apocalypse as revelation instead of ending, and what true freedom might look like.
  5. Finally, Maggie Tokuda-Hall hosted Sarah Gailey in a Drunk Safari IG Live last night. It was the hardest I've laughed in recent memory, and exactly what I needed.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I just noticed that my shoulders were pulled up toward my ears. Check in with yourself: is there a tension you can release? If you can, I hope you will.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - March 19, 2021

It’s Friday. Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:

  1. The line at the center of Gabrielle Bates's poem "Time Lapse" stopped me in my tracks, as I think it's intended to. How that functions in the poem, breaking and connecting the beginning and end, is breathtaking to me. (CW: reference to gendered violence)
  2. I always like Brandon Taylor's letters. Being someone who also came to the arts haphazardly and on my own, I related strongly to the discussion in this week’s letter of finding "where you fit in the constellation of the culture." I'm also very interested in the ways that our views of sentimentality and Romanticism may be changing in art and literature, so this is really hitting all the notes for me.
  3. I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: Yanyi's letters are remarkable for their consistent generosity. Here he talks about community, fear of intimacy, reciprocal kindness, and love.
  4. I also very much appreciated Yanyi's letter from Wednesday. I think the feeling he describes of being so tired of having to write about death, and yet feeling a responsibility to do so, is something many of us feel and have felt if we are from vulnerable communities.
  5. Finally, I finished reading Anahid Nersessian's book Keats's Odes: A Lover's Discourse this week. I thought it was fascinating and moving in how it combines scholarship and personal storytelling. It felt, in a way, like a poem, itself.

As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. I've been thinking a lot about how kindness is necessary for a better world, but not sufficient to get us there. I'm grateful to everyone I see doing the work.

Thank you, and take care.

I Don't Want to Have to Talk About This Again

So, yes, I have been thinking about anti-Asian violence. I’ve been thinking about it all year, and after the shooting in Atlanta, I am sad and scared and so, so tired. It’s on my mind, of course. But I haven’t been talking about it much online.

Partly, I rankle at the idea that I as an Asian American need to talk about anti-Asian violence in America. I’ve talked about racism a lot over the course of my lifetime, and I’ve talked about it a lot more as an activist over the past few years. I think it’s important to talk about. And certainly I know that waiting around for white people to fix racism is untenable. But I still feel that the time it’s most important for me to speak up is when my own communities are the ones perpetrating or benefiting from injustice. It shouldn’t need to be Asian people speaking out about anti-Asian racism, just like it shouldn’t need to be women speaking out about misogyny or queer people speaking out about homophobia.

But also, I find myself just getting tired of yelling about things online, and wondering how much it ends up mattering in the first place. There’s a conversation to be had about bearing witness, I think. And I think that there are ways that increasing awareness can affect the world in more material ways. But shouting on Twitter isn’t the same as organizing or activism, and at least for me it’s not even particularly cathartic anymore.

What I want to know is what can we do on a practical level to actually make things better? Donating to a GoFundMe for a victim’s family or to a grassroots organization working in vulnerable communities is a good thing to do, surely, but I’m thinking about how often small orgs end up being overwhelmed by donations after a tragedy, and, even more, how many people let a small donation be the end of their involvement. What’s the amount of money you can donate before it’s okay to stop thinking about an issue? And is it okay to just throw money at a problem and hope that someone else will do the work? My point here isn’t to shame anyone else or discourage you from donating, these are questions I’m trying to ask myself, too.

I’m skeptical of calls for more policing or hate crime enforcement, not only because of the ways that our law enforcement and criminal justice systems so often treat white suspects so differently from BIPOC suspects, but also because of the ways that our criminal justice and immigration systems are often the sources of violence against marginalized communities to begin with.

I’m skeptical, too, that just talking to our racist uncles is going to stop racist violence. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t talk to our parents or uncles or spouses or kids—I think we should have those conversations, assuming we can do so without putting ourselves or others in danger. It’s just that I don’t think the people who most need to hear these messages are likely to be open enough to receive them. Maybe I’m wrong about this, and I’m glad people want to try, but I just don’t have it in me most of the time to be the one to try to educate people about why racism is bad, or what racism even is.

Maybe it’s just because my activism focuses on legislation and public policy, but more and more I find myself thinking that the best thing we can do is make policy changes that materially help marginalized communities. And not through things like hate crime laws or increasing police presence, but rather things like immigration reform or healthcare reform or policy to address wealth inequality. In California right now there are, for example, bills to provide universal healthcare regardless of immigration status, and to establish a pilot program for community-based alternatives to policing. There is a bill to provide food assistance to all residents, regardless of immigration status. There are a number of bills to try to provide affordable housing. Those are all things we could advocate for to our elected officials—and I plan to do so. It’s not that immigrant and BIPOC communities having access to housing and healthcare and education and other resources will stop a racist gunman from opening fire. But it makes more and more sense to me that racist attitudes change after material conditions change for marginalized races, not before. That racism is not the cause of inequality but a tool invented to justify inequality, and so by addressing the inequality first, we provide a path to addressing attitudes.

But, look, I am tired of having to talk about racism and injustice. I want to talk about art and books and podcasting and interviewing. I want to talk about nostalgia and longing and the bittersweetness of watching my children grow up. I want there to be a good time to talk about things that aren’t dire and global. Maybe it’s a selfish desire to have and insensitive to admit it out loud—probably it is, I don’t know—but I am just worn out. The world goes on being awful no matter what I want, of course, but sometimes I need to look away for a while.

And I think that maybe what drives my feeling of resentment is that even still, the people who should be taking responsibility and should be the ones looking and speaking up, many of them aren’t. It’s not to say that none are—indeed, I’ve been glad to see lots of white and other non-Asian people speaking out over the past few days. But as heartening as it is to see non-Asian allies stepping up, I still have to know and even see that there are so many people who think America doesn’t have a racism problem, who throw around the model minority myth, who are just shut into their little bubbles and refusing to see what they don’t want to see.

I don’t have a big conclusion to wrap all this up. I’m tired and angry and sad and scared. I’m heartbroken for the victims and their families. I want people to be better. I’m trying my best.

#MatteredToMe - March 12, 2021

Hello everyone, it's Friday. Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:

  1. I found myself quite struck by these four short poems by Victoria Chang, but particularly by the first one, titled "Thanks." I've read the three lines and sixteen words six or seven times in the past few minutes and each time they've seemed to me different.
  2. I don't know a way to say this that makes more sense but there is this sense of hopeful desperation, or perhaps desperate hope, to Devin Kelly's poem "Self Care in the Land of a Thousand Horses" that I found both compelling and familiar.
  3. Nina Li Coomes's 2018 piece "On Jellyfish" is about depression, and it contains a particularly intimate depiction of depression. It's not a topic that I've been actively seeking to read about but somehow I've managed to find my way to several such pieces recently. What strikes me about this one is the way that it looks right at depression, it doesn't look away, and in doing so it manages to find a way through to something like relief or resolve or gratitude.
  4. Marina Lostetter did a guest essay for Sarah Gailey's newsletter this week, about aggregate storytelling from folk tales to the Arthurian legend to the show Supernatural, and how storytelling can be an expression of community. I loved it.
  5. Amber Sparks's 2019 flash story "Everything is Terrible but You Should Read This Story" fascinates me in how its use of negation makes all of the terrible things it negates visible, and yet also makes visible the act of care that the story is.

As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. If you're reading this, you've made it through a particularly difficult year. I want you to know: that's an accomplishment.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - February 27, 2021

Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:

  1. Marissa Lingen's short story "So your grandmother is a starship now: a quick guide for the bewildered" starts off with a light tone and a fun premise, but gradually and inexorably shifts to something more. I thought it was wonderful.
  2. I was so happy to see a special episode of The Big Loop drop this week. "Memory of a Dress" is, like so many of the stories on The Big Loop, wistful and beautiful, with superb writing, voice acting, and production.

As always, this is just a portion of what’s mattered to me recently. I’ve been starting to feel some glimmers of hope recently, starting to feel like things might get better in the future. We’re not there yet, but maybe it won’t be too much longer. I hope so, and for you, too.

Thank you, and take care.

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