Saturday, July 4, 2020

WOW, NO THANK YOU by SAMANTHA IRBY

Thank you to Jia Tolentino who tweeted out her love of WOW, NO THANK YOU by Samantha Irby. Given that I loved reading TRICK MIRROR by Tolentino, I promptly bought Irby's book without knowing what was in store within the pages. For me, if the source is credible, I sign onto that source's recommendations, sight unseen.

The tone of WOW, NO THANK YOU is set by the one-sentence dedication on her dedication page, before the TOC, and before the 18 essays about nothing in particular and every little thing in specific. Says Irby:
This book is dedicated to Wellbutrin
Transparency and honesty are things we love to say we love about writers. What I've observed is that authors who claim they are honest and transparent and vulnerable (yada yada yada) are usually hiding something. It's authors like Irby who doesn't say any of that and instead writes about the time she went on a speed dating event with a diaper on and pooped a little in it during the event. It's not just about a little bit of poop, though. It's about feeling mortified at every turn in terms of dating, writing, friending, sexing, eating, drinking, and plain old getting out of bed and not ending it all, to live another day.

Now that I've finished this book, I think I'll go back and read everything else Irby has ever written. I wanna say it's because I like reading vulnerable and transparent writing. But instead of saying that, I think I'll just read more unaffected writers like Irby.

Monday, June 22, 2020

APOLOGIES & REINFORCEMENTS


When my daughter and son were little and got into fights, I forced the one in the wrong to apologize to the other. It went something like this:
Me: "Monica, apologize to your brother."
Monica:  
Me: "Say 'Andrew, I'm sorry I hit you.'"
Monica: "Andrew ..." 
Me: "Andrew, I'm sorry ..."
Monica: "Andrew, I'm sorry ..." 
Me: "Andrew, I'm sorry I hit you."
Monica: "Andrew, I'm sorry I hit you."

Frequently, after Monica got the full apology out, she burst into tears. I think just having those words come out of her toddler body, even if she didn't feel sincerely sorry in the moment, was soul-draining.  The shame, the guilt, the awareness that she had disappointed me. So much for a little one to handle. After the apology and the tears, I forced them to hug it out and say "I love you" to each other. With stiff bodies, they were nudged toward each other until they did it in front of me.

An outsider enforcing purity tests (likely a virtuous non-parent) might have pointed out that a forced apology, a forced hug, and a forced declaration of love doesn't make anything better because they lack sincerity.

To which I'd respond by saying that I don't care if sincerity isn't present yet. Sometimes, if we wait for sincerity to arrive before action is forced, then behavior has the potential to take root and shape values.

By dinnertime, our kids had been doused with reinforcements like "It's never right to hit another person" and "We all make mistakes sometimes" and "It's your job to learn, and love and forgive and look out for one another." And as our little family reflected collectively on the reinforcements, I could feel sincerity literally enter through the front door and sit with all of us at the dinner table. Shaping our values and inspiring sincere hugs and sincere I love yous.

Right now, there's a lot of forced apologies taking place about the ways in which our society has protected systemic racism. A lot of it is awkward. A lot of it lacks sincerity.

Part of the job of our broad coalition, I think, is to bring in reinforcements. There's not a corner of society that doesn't need them. City governments, school boards, neighborhoods, marriages, friendships, sports, art events, crafty businesses. Reinforcements dispensed to shape values that will govern behaviors for the long-term.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown

OARS IN WATER
In college, my favorite professor said to me that if I cared about an issue, I needed to keep my oar in the water. He asked me, are you gonna fight to direct the boat or are you going to let others determine its course? And if not in college, when are you going to practice your strokes? Because it won't get any easier once college is over. In other words, he was asking whether I was going to stay in the discourse during class discussions (especially when it got heated) and use my voice, or give up. Yes, the difficulty.Yes, the exhaustion.

GOLD
THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown is a book about the crew of eight from the University of Washington that went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. And against all odds, this crew out-rowed the German crew, the Italian crew, and every other crew to bring home the gold, and in the process discombobulating Hitler's confidence in his boats.

In telling this story, Brown shares the unique qualities that make up this sport. It's not just about a high number of strokes per minute, but also about how strong and steady each stroke can be.

It's not a sport for individuals to show off individuals strengths. Rather, it's a sport where individuals become one unit by making modifications as needed ... where a rower with a shorter reach learns to reach longer, and a rower with a longer reach learns to foreshorten his/her reach so that every rower can be in synch with one another, causing the boat to attain a rowing nirvana referred to as "swing."

Synchronicity through modifications of individuals doesn't mean every rower is exactly the same. Actually, the diversity of each rower is valued:
Good crews are good blends of personalities: someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve; someone to pick a fight, someone to make peace; someone to think things through, someone to charge ahead without thinking (page 179).
When one of the boys in the boat named Joe was having difficulty finding synch with the other boys, he was advised by a mentor who said to him:
If you don't like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do (page 235).
BLACK LIVES MATTER
I can't help but extrapolate how these truths about rowing apply to life, especially at this moment where our nation is waking up to what it means when we say "black lives matter." A concept so clear that some people uncomfortable with the power of its clarity manufacture absurd complexities about it on purpose.

Through the video footage of George Floyd's murder, privileged Americans are witnessing visual evidence of what has been conceptually discussed about for years. And the video is finally causing a broad coalition to realize that in order for our crew to succeed, it has to be about more than individualism. It has to be about WE.

REGARDLESS
And if my professor from years ago were still alive, he would be saying to we the coalition to keep our oars in the water. Regardless of the difficulty. Regardless of the exhaustion. Because at what other time than now will we have the chance to row such significant waters?

Sunday, June 14, 2020

NORMAL PEOPLE by SALLY ROONEY

It can be argued that the enlightened embrace concepts like:
  • I am more than my story
  • The past does not define me
  • Once this is over, we will get back to normal
Normal People by Sally Rooney is a book where not one word is written unless it's severely needed to tell the story of Marianne (shy and from a rich family) and Connell (popular and from a poorer family). It's minimalist. The words, the plot, the characters, the timeline. 

Perhaps it's the absence of the superfluous that the reader is able to see and feel the gravity of what might usually go unnoticed or be deemed as"no big deal."

Am I more than my story? Maybe. But maybe I am also very much my story. A story with highs and lows. A story with characters of all sorts. The good ones and the horrible ones. A story that exists, even if I shout at it that I'm more than it. Because in my quiet, I know that even if other things are about happen to me, what has already happened will always be so.

Does the past not define me? Maybe. But maybe it influences me. Like the influence that Marianne's father's violence has had on Marianne, her brother (Alan), and her mother (Denise). Maybe it influences me to inflict it (like Alan), to receive it (like Marianne), or to deny it (like Denise). The violence, that is. 

Once the violence is over, or that other weird thing is over, will we get back to normal? Or is the violence, or that other weird thing just embedded into and therefore part of normal? Is there such a thing as a normal person living in a normal time?

But maybe as I learn to survive the normalized abnormality of it all, I learn the beauty of awareness and the power of coping. And in the face of having to endure another painful thing, I realize that I can face it. I can survive it. I can grow from it. Because I've already been through worse. My story tells me so.

Monday, June 8, 2020

REVISE ALONE, CREATE TOGETHER

ON DECEMBER 23, 2018 I READ HEAVY BY KIESE LAYMON AND WROTE THIS REVIEW:
Two days from now when all the Christmas gifts have been opened I’ll probably realize my best gift was actually delivered two days before, when I finished reading @kieselaymon‘s incredible book: Heavy. Nine days from now as I try to name a word or resolution to usher in the New Year as I try to become better, I will remember how Heavy illustrates how easy it is to name and declare and resolve ... but not so easy to actually take the disciplined steps to become better. A better feminist. Better anti-racist. Better eater. Better exerciser. Better wife. Better mother. Better artist. Better than my assorted addictions. Better human. There is one particular point that questions the cliche about “we did the best we could” when we think about our past ... and questioning whether that’s always true. Do we do the best we can in any moment? Not me. Not by a mile. I like when writing unpacks cliches like that. What a great book. 
ON JUNE 3, 2020, I READ THESE WORDS THAT LAYMON POSTED ON HIS INSTAGRAM REGARDING PENDANTS INSCRIBED WITH SENTENCES THAT HE WEARS:
I wear two sentences around my neck. One from Lucille Clifton says, "they ask me to remember but they want me to remember their memories and I keep on remembering mine." The other from James Baldwin says, "The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off." I don't believe in superheroes but I believe in super sentences. People and their sentences save people and their sentences. People and their sentences humiliate, torture and kill people and their sentences. My sentences and my actions have done both. I want us and our sentences to live dynamic lives draped in tender touch. I want us to revise alone and create together ... We need to live. We need to revise. It does not have to be this way.
Right now our country is going through a totally amazing awakening. We are realizing that just because something has always been done a certain way doesn't mean that it has to be done that way forever. We are realizing the urgency to revise and create.

I see us attempting to make all sorts of revisions in how we practice everything: art, business, politics, family, friendships.

Part one is finding a quiet space to think honestly and to identify needed revisions: in my heart, my home, my community. Part two is going into the world to make the case for the revisions as we together create a path forward. In this process, we lose patience for all sorts of reasons: You don't understand. You are taking too long. Where were you years ago when I was screaming about it? What do you mean abolish, that's too extreme. What do you mean reform, that's not enough.

It's difficult to create together with people who are at different stages of understanding, with ideas for revisions as diverse and unique as each human being is.

I am optimistic, though. To be part of a generation where a coalition to revise for the better is broader than it has ever been. I want to show up to the quiet to do the hard work of revising alone. I want to show up to the loud to do the hard work of creating together, even if that involves difficult debates ... including the most important one on the table right now between abolish versus reform.

Revise.
Create.
Revise.
Create.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

MOBILIZATION v ORGANIZATION

MOBILIZATION
I've been reading a book titled No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age by Jane McAlevey. McAlevey is an extraordinary union organizer who has lots to teach about how to bring about change.

The most mind-blowing takeaway for me has been that mobilization is not organization.

Examples of mobilization include: marches, rallies, putting a black square on our social media handles, and protests at airports (to name a few). People can be mobilized rather quickly because people only need to read a headline to get fired up and then to show up. Sometimes, they don't even need to read a headline. I remember when I was a graduate student at UCLA and there was an issue that some of us were thinking about protesting. And one of my colleagues said "Do we want a bunch of people to come and get naked? I know a bunch of people who will do that if I just give them a call."

We saw mobilization happen when Trump issued Executive Order 13769 in early 2017, also known as The Muslim Travel Ban. Thousands of people mobilized in airports to protest this ban. It happened fast and it took my breath away to witness what I view as our nation's salt of the earth decide quickly to come out and stand up for justice. Prior to the airport protests was the Women's March when the entire world mobilized to march and protest the sinful administration.

ORGANIZATION
What makes organization different from mobilization is that it takes a very long time. It takes lots of conversations not only about how nice or mean an individual is, but how functional or dysfunctional systems are.

This morning on The Daily NYTimes podcast with Michael Barbara, I was blown away by the reporting by Shalia Dewan who presented eye-opening information about why it is almost impossible to create positive reform within law enforcement.

When there is a complaint about a cop, the internal affairs division kicks in to investigate. In other words, the police are being left to police themselves. When there is a complaint that is investigated, police use the argument of precedent to protect a bad cop. In other words, if there is a precedent of leniency for a misbehaving cop, that precedent is used to argue for the same leniency for the bad behavior of the moment.

President Obama released his statement about our current crisis a couple of days ago. In it, he said:
"If we want to b ring about real change, then the choice isn't between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform."
This afternoon, President Obama provided comments via television to underscore the importance of both mobilization (which is what we are seeing all around us) and the difficult and arduous work of organization. I think the organization part has many prongs. It's organizing to vote and get good people into office. It's also thinking locally and talking with neighbors about a matter like police reform, use the points that journalists like Dewan unearth, and then latching onto our city leaders and not letting them off the hook for a very long time until reforms are made.

LISTENERS
McAlevey notes that the way to find the true organizers in a movement is to find the ones who are listening, not performing. Organizing leaders listen more than they speak, they read and think and converse in order to understand the complexities of an issue, and they dig into the work with a tenacity that lasts not a day or a week or a month ... but years. A lifetime, actually.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

WHERE'S ANDREA? #blacklivesmatter

When I was a new immigrant to this country, I was the only girl of Korean descent in the elementary school that I attended in Bakersfield, California. Amy B. Seibert School. There was a bully named Andrea who used to slap my face regularly.I told my family about this and Marilyn, from our sponsoring American family, started coaching me with my limited English skills and told me the next time it happened, I should look at Andrea in the face and say "Stop it!" And so I did. But it didn't work.

So the next thing I knew, Marilyn accompanied me to school and asked me "Where's Andrea?" I pointed her out and witnessed Marilyn going over to talk to Andrea and telling her in no uncertain terms that she was to stop slapping me. 

It worked. Part of the reason it worked is because Marilyn was a pillar in the community. A woman of stature. Her husband was also a pillar. They, along with their three children are the Americans who helped us find our footing, doused us with love, and cheered for our success. The Wulfekuehler family. 

Andrea heard Marilyn loud and clear. Even though I was different, I mattered. If someone had said to Marilyn "But what about Andrea? Doesn't she matter too?" Marilyn probably would have said "Of course she matters. But I'm here not because someone is slapping Andrea. I'm here because Jenny is being slapped. And I'm not going to not do or say anything about that." I think that when a nation has a long-standing track record of killing unarmed Black people, it is not illogical for someone witnessing that to speak up. And when the witness stands to speak, they may say something like "Stop it!" Or a collective community of witnesses may say it another way, like #BlackLivesMatter

To me, those three words don't mean that other lives don't matter. Because of course Jenny matters and Andrea matters too. This great nation protects the right for Marilyn to speak up and get involved and it protects a collective group of like-minded and concerned witnesses to stand together ... to state the case and shine light on matters of importance. 

(I am reposting today, this story of mine which I originally posted on July 12, 2016. Today, as our nation is hurting, and as some people STILL don't understand that saying a person's life matters isn't saying that another person's life doesn't matter, I hope this story helps create some understanding. One day much after that fateful day in 1974, I overheard my mom asking Marilyn how we could ever repay her. And you know what Marilyn said back to my mom? She told her to pay her back by passing along the kind of love and support that the Dohs received from the Wulfekuehlers onto another person or persons in need, whoever or wherever or whenever that may be.)