Saturday, September 11, 2021

Realizing & Revising


Once in a rare while, I find myself in the company of white people who use the N-word as if it's no big deal. They are also usually quick to reveal their love of people like Dave Chapelle to perhaps establish some kind of street cred—like they're using the word not because they're freaks but because they're cool, progressive, and free. And I say to them: "STFU. You're not Dave Chapelle. And you're the opposite of cool." 

Some might argue I am the unreasonable in such scenes, imposing restrictions on people's right to free speech. After all, even the couhl should be free to say whatever they want, whenever they want.

In the first chapter of On Freedom by Maggie Nelson, I learn about a classroom scene with instructor Catherine Opie at UCLA where a student criticizes the work of another, accusing it of being colonialist. The criticized student: 

"appears dejected, and mumbles from the corner, 'Damned if I do, damned if I don't.' Opie then hectors him kindly: 'Stand up for your work! ... Open it up! Don't shut it down, man.' Opie is not counseling the student to become a rigid, narcissistic jerk unable to absorb any deconolonizing critique. She is just reminding him that if you truly think your art is worth it, you've got to be willing to stand beside it and up for it, rather than slink into the all-too-familiar postures of woundedness, defensiveness, paralysis, or retaliatory aggression."

I just bought tickets to go see Louis CK in a few weeks at Long Beach. Yes, he's touring again. And yes, I can't wait to hear what the first words out of his mouth will be, after this long stretch of silence. Not that he's been COMPLETELY silent. I've kept up with his occasional funny missives and endearing podcast with his French girlfriend that he released for people who have stayed on his mailing list (like me).

Some people express disdain for my continued interest in Louis. And the point I try to make is that maybe he has realized that in this day and age, taking his penis out in the company of others is not ok. And that we ought to allow one another the opportunity and space to realize things.

The other point I try to make is made by referencing The Art of Cruelty, also by Maggie Nelson, where she cites philosopher and composer John Cage who argues against The Golden Rule: "I think the Golden Rule, which is often thought of as the center, really, of Christianity, is a mistake: Do unto others as you would be done by. 'I think this is a mistaken thought. We should do unto others as THEY would be done by."

In other words, who is anybody to say that everybody should be treated or behave a certain way based on anybody's preferences? At the grocery store, the office, the theater, and of course in bed. What is the Golden Rule in bed? Slow and gentle? Or rough and tumble?

I think what Professor Opie is saying to the criticized is to not cower away from robust debate. Take the criticism and potentially revise OR push back with intellectual honesty as you influence a critical mass to see the genius in your masterpiece.  

Like Sarah Silverman, I wouldn't have been upset if I had been in that room with Louis. But because some did get upset, it means that it's upsetting to some. And if Professor Opie would have been in that room, she might have told Louis to fight for his right to do whatever he wants with his penis OR she might have counseled him to make realizations about the times and The Golden Rule. And then to revise. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Some will call it a miracle. I will call it science.

Did you know that UCLA Health conducts approximately 440 liver transplants every year? That's more than one transplant a day. Did you know that nationally, there are more than 14,000 people at any given time, on a waiting list hoping to be matched with a new liver from an organ donor? There are many other mind-blowing facts about organ transplants that you can find out about online, if you're interested. 

Gerardo and I have been spending much time at UCLA Health as he has had to undergo numerous tests required before he is either accepted or rejected to the UCLA liver transplant program. The tests are what inform the medical team whether the rest of his body is ready to receive a new organ. (His failing liver is related not to alcohol, but to bile duct cancer that he had removed in 2013.)

Today, July 16th, has been on calendar for some time, as the date when our caseworker would present his case to the UCLA medical board to determine whether he would become accepted. I'm more than happy, jubilant really, to report that UCLA Health has officially accepted him into the program. For that reason, we are celebrating and feeling grateful for the team of UCLA doctors, nurses, and administrators who have provided and will continue to provide us with the highest of care. 

There are many more mountains ahead of us, including the most daunting one which is that his liver needs to become much worse (as measured by the MELD score) before he moves up on the priority list and then into surgery, followed by recovery. As his full-time caregiver (and part-time everything else), I shudder to think that he will suffer more as he moves up to the top spot on the waiting list. He has suffered so much already.

It's better not to fixate on that too much as we take one moment at a time. One breath in at a time. One breath out at a time.  

I like to imagine surmounting every mountain and hoping that maybe one or two years from now, he will have a new liver, with no more days of acute suffering, with the coffee brewing, the sun rising, the trees rustling, and the birds chirping. That's my hope. I suppose if all this comes into fruition many will call the transplant a miracle. But I will call it science. And I'll give credit to the brilliant doctors and scientists who instead of squandering their God-given talent, they applied it to study and practice their specialties in medicine for the benefit of humanity, no matter the outcome.

Per learning about organ transplants, I've decided to become an organ donor when it's my time to leave the earth. It's been freeing to realize that burial and cremation aren't the only two options at the end of life. As an organ donor, my parts could help many humans experience more life and less suffering. It's important to note that more important than checking the box at the DMV or registering at assorted donor registries, the most important way to be a donor is to make my family and all of my doctors know that that is my intent and desire. 

I will be providing periodic updates here as we continue on this journey. And as I meditate on the wisdom of I Thessalonians 5:18, I shall IN all circumstances, give thanks.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Reading Lab: Free Speech & Activism


When we think of the concept of freedom, do we value only the freedom TO?
To speak.
To think.
To act.

Or do we also value the freedom FROM?
Freedom from harassment.
Freedom from intimidation.
Freedom from violence. (The kind that the Asian American community has been experiencing a lot of lately and other moments in history.)

When we think of freedom, is it something that belongs to an individual or also to a community?

When we start to notice harassment and demand that it stop are we cancelling the harasser or is the harasser feigning censorship because they’ve not been kept accountable before?

We will pursue these questions and more in my new online class in collaboration with Professor Lonce Bailey, titled The Reading Lab: Free Speech & Activism. Class begins April 9th. Details and enrollment info can be found here.

Everyone welcome.

Monday, March 1, 2021

THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS by Isabel Wilkerson


Approximately from 1915 to 1970, the servant class of America took action to leave the southern states of the United States as they embarked on a journey that would land them in northern and western states. About six million Black Americans took this action not by first asking for permission or announcing that they would. This historical truth of The Great Migration comes to life as Isabel Wilkerson, author of THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS, focuses on the stories of three specific black Americans who took this action:

  • Ida Mae Brandon Gladney took action to leave Mississippi and settle in Chicago
  • George Swanson Starling took action to leave Florida and settle in New York
  • Robert Joseph Pershing Foster took action to leave Louisiana and settle in Los Angeles. 
The research that Wilkerson conducts in order to present the pushes and the pulls associated with why blacks left the south is epic.

The big push to leave had everything to do with the indignity of living under Jim Crow laws that protected the practices of white people -- from segregation to abusive work environments, to lynchings. Pershing  Foster knew firsthand, about the indignity of living under Jim Crow. A man who would eventually become a medical doctor with a thriving practice in Los Angeles knew before the migration while growing up in Louisiana how he had to swallow his rage in order to survive Jim Crow. The need to do bide his time, and to do whatever it took to survive the oppressive eye of his white bosses ... in the streets, in the fields, in his dreams:

"Sometimes" he said, "you have to stoop to conquer" (page 117).

The big pull of the migration contained the stories of more enlightened northern and western states, where Jim Crow was reputed to be less overt and dignity for blacks reputed to be more attainable. Wilkerson presents fascinating research that documents migrants as having an unparalleled will to survive. Though they didn't cross bodies of water or actual borders separating nations, the hardships they endured by making this move caused them to do whatever it took to survive -- including working longer hours, taking multiple jobs, and taking jobs that others didn't want.

As an immigrant myself, I get that to my bones. 
And I get the value of:
  • delaying gratification
  • swallowing the rage, and yes, 
  • stooping to conquer.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Word for 2021 :: BODY

It's been a brutal year for bodies everywhere. For my partner, the brutality has been related to the ongoing ways in which bile duct cancer survival becomes compounded by new complications, new challenges, new crises. 

"I'll pray for his complete recovery and healing" is spoken to me with good intention but I am left speechless when such words come at me because there is no such thing as complete recovery and healing from this. There is love and support and awareness and care that can be given so that extended survival can be had with as much joy, intelligence and dignity as possible. 

Other words also leave me speechless. And I've learned how to preemptively silence them when I feel them coming my way by explaining to the almost offender that it is my honor. It is my privilege to be his life partner and that I get to help maximize his day-to-day hope and dignity as we take it one day at a time and manage all interventions. It is a role that gives me profound purpose.

As I relish in the purpose of supporting the survival of someone else's body, I find a depth of purpose as I continue caring for mine. Every morning I wake up and exercise (as I have been doing for the last couple of decades) either by myself or with my boxing coaches (Tee and Corey) or my strength/nutrition coach, Victor, who reminds me that the body doesn't care how it looks. It cares about surviving. My ego appreciates that the byproduct of how well I nourish my body with clean foods and how well I train it to be strong is that it ends up looking great. 

I like that. Leading with a pursuit of survival and allowing my ego to enjoy the byproducts of that main pursuit. 


Friday, December 11, 2020

Art & Activism During Covid

Yesterday I delivered my final lecture to the undergraduates enrolled in my Fall 2020 Art & Activism class at UC Irvine. This was my third year teaching this course at UCI and the first time teaching it at UCI via zoom. Throughout the quarter I have felt immense compassion for this cohort as they have had to accept and utilize work-arounds to continue pursuing their education in spite of the limitations that Covid-19 has caused for the university.

Usually, I like to take a group picture with students all huddled together in the classroom or in Aldrich Park at the end of the quarter but instead, we took a group screen capture via zoom.

After the lecture, the students all lifted up thank you notes that they had secretly planned. I was surprised and deeply moved with their coordinated expression of gratitude, and found myself in tears ... which caused my daughter Monica to come into my office from the other room to see what was going on. She was a fast thinker and reached over to capture the screen in that moment.  

I have also been touched by students' written expressions including one student who shared her appreciation for the structure and requirements of the class. In spite of the challenges, they were required to consistently read, think, and astonish me with their writing. They were also required to be in attendance and participate via discussion and most of all: to be on time. It felt good to hear that the structure was helpful during these uncertain times. 

I am proud of these brilliant young people for figuring it out and making in happen in spite of Covid-19. I predict that with their creativity, critical thinking skills, their heightened awareness of important matters (e.g., practicing virtue instead of signaling it, collaboration, compromise, meeting deadlines, being on time, etc.) they will become creators of important context as they listen deeply to this hurting world and activate the best in humanity. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Nullius in verba


In chapter 3 of FREE SPEECH ON CAMPUS by Chemerinsky & Gillman, we are reminded of Italian astronomer Galileo (1564-1642) who dared challenge the orthodoxy of the church by arguing that the earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around. For saying this, the church accused him of heresy and placed him on house arrest for the remainder of his life. Some 300 years later, on October 31, 1992 the church issued an official apology to Galileo for having reacted to his factual scientific findings the way it had.

We are also reminded that "higher education was not founded on free thought but on indoctrination" as inquiry and discussion were confined to theological orthodoxy. In spite of its origination, higher education has aspired to evolve away from a place of indoctrination to a place of critical inquiry:

"If one starts from an assumption of already knowing the truth—religious, political, or otherwise—then higher education is merely about instructing students to become disciples."

The earth, the sun, the church, the apology, the university ... thinking about all of this makes me want to make a delineation that won't go over well with SOME. That SOME are the ones who take the phrase: Nullius in verba (which in Latin means "take nobody's word for it") not just out of context but into absurd contrarianism. That SOME are the ones who today believe that by taking nobody's word for it means believing in ridiculous ideas like—the world is flat. That SOME align themselves with the genius nature of Galileo—as if just by challenging orthodoxy they are as brilliant as the Italian astronomer.

The freedom to speak doesn't mean the babbling nonsense of the unstudied weighs the same as findings of a studied and practiced person. It simply means that babbling isn't forbidden. This point is made by musician Wynton Marsalis in his book, MOVING TO HIGHER GROUND, where we learn of a time when he taught shy young musicians to start improvising. He did so by encouraging them to make stuff up and just loudly play anything that intuitively came out of them. After getting them to produce a cacophony of painful-to-hear sounds, Marsalis said to the kids: "I told you it was easy. It's only hard if you want it to sound good."

Galileo didn't make stuff up through cliches and intuition. He made sound assertions after years of disciplined study. Marsalis doesn't just go on stage and miraculously make great music. He does so after years of study, practice and collaboration. 

In the book FROM ETERNITY TO HERE by theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, we learn how through entropy (disorder), our universe continues to expand. We have more disorder today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow. That's how the universe has been and will continue to be as it continues to expand ... as trees fall, eggs crack, tears shed. Entropy makes us ponder that a long time ago, there was less entropy and more order, which begs the question ... what is the origin of such order? Isn't order evidence of God? 

The elegance of entropy is what reels me back from pure atheism to agnosticism. What doesn't reel me back in is the babbling of that SOME who love to say things like "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" or "If I can stand in line at Walmart, you can stand in line at the voting booth."

It's easier to babble than to study.