On Patreon and capitalism. On community and artmaking.

((This is a cross-post from my Patreon page.))

Happy new year!

I did a reflection of my 2017 and posted a year-end review to my mailing list, which you can read here (and subscribe here). It includes a handy-dandy list of all the comics I put out last year and some highlights worth celebrating. As I said over there, it was a rough year to make art, to be an American citizen, to just be sometimes. And I’m proud of myself for continuing to show up here again and again.

I launched this Patreon in the middle of last year, and I continue to be humbled and inspired by the fact that you all show up here again and again — for me and for any other artists you support. It may sound like hyperbole, but I truly believe that these are tiny revolutionary acts — the action of showing up, the action of supporting artists directly, the action of giving, the action of participating in new ways of doing things. Maybe Patreon is old hat to you by now, maybe you are used to this model from NPR/podcast sponsorship drives, maybe it doesn’t feel that different to you than backing Kickstarters…but I want to acknowledge that it requires a fundamental mindset shift to pledge money to someone on a monthly basis without a set transactional promise on the other side of it.

It’s a mindset shift for all of us, right, the creators and the patrons and the supporters and the readers and the makers and the audience. And in some sense, in my worldview, we are all those things at once — or rather we all embody those different pieces of ourselves and there is a lot of fluidity as we move from behind-the-scenes to onstage to audience member in the house. Maybe that’s why it makes sense that the people who are earliest to support via Patreon or Ko-Fi or whatever the newest thing is are other artists, because these tools become familiar to them first, because they understand in their bones the idea of throwing energy (in whatever form) behind the things that energize them. The ones who are the most supportive speak this language of community-supported arts because that is the ideal they are building towards, and those are the values they are living into their own lives.

I’ve been reading Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging, and have been rolling these words around in my mind. (highlights are mine)

“The context that restores community is one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather than one of problem solving, fear, and retribution. A new context acknowledges that we have all the capacity, expertise, and resources that an alternative future requires. Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness. The conversations that build relatedness most often occur through associational life, where citizens show up by choice, and rarely in the context of system life, where citizens show up out of obligation. The small group is the unit of transformation and the container for the experience of belonging.Conversations that focus on stories about the past become a limitation to the community; ones that are teaching parables and focus on the future restore community.”

“Community occurs in part as a shift in context, the mental models we bring to our collective efforts.”

It’s these shifts in our mental models of how things could be, that are truly revolutionary.

But I have to remind myself that not everyone speaks this language yet. Just as it took me many years to build up sustainable habits to become a “green girl” and who over time stopped needing to call herself that anymore because it’s embedded into the ways she lives, it takes time to move from a transactional view of artist-as-schiller-of-physical-objects to a Gift (as in Lewis Hyde’s The Gift) view of artist-as-community-supported-emotional-conduit.

Both ‘reduce your carbon footprint’ and ‘save the planet’ might feel lofty and impossible as goals, but in practice it boils down to small steps of transforming old habits into new habits. Keep a reusable bag in your vehicle of choice for grocery runs; turn off the light when you leave a room; bring your empty water bottle through airport security. And eventually your mindset follows your actions, and you find yourself saying no to plastic bags when you can just stash whatever it is in your backpack  and looking for ways to buy less packaging at the store. Hell you even start buying less in general because mending is fun.

Likewise ‘directly support artists’ and ‘create a new(old) gift-economy’ might feel idealistic and impossible as goals, but in practice it boils down to small steps of adding new habits into your rotation of existing habits. I feel like it’s cliché at this point, but when we say, “There are so many ways to support us”…it’s true! Throwing energy behind the things that energize you creates more energy in the world. And that energy can come in many forms:

  • sharing what touches you with your own circles
  • volunteering with the crew
  • buying physical products in-person or online
  • connecting at shows and in-person events
  • generous use of tip jars
  • signing up for subscription services
  • kickstarters, patreons, ko-fi’s >> follow wherever artists go, cuz they’re following you wherever you go
  • becoming a sustaining patron
  • bringing someone a snack or offering to cover their table for 10 minutes when they’ve been sitting behind a zine fest table for hours without a break
  • making fan art/fan zines
  • showing support on your sleeve via merch
  • signing up for mailing lists and following [insert channel here] for updates, so we can get in touch when new ways to support come up
  • sending a note of appreciation
  • engaging in the conversation
  • making your own art inspired by all the art you absorb

It’s magical. When we are tapped into the flow of that energy and the interconnectedness of our communities as humans, it’s electrifying. The time that most embodied this for me from 2017 was the weekend of Long Beach Zine Fest. I not only tabled but was also asked to host a zinemaking workshop around second languages, and I watched as Dear Daughter emotionally move someone to tears. In return, I felt moved to make more art. It was a reminder of why I do the work I do, and the people I met gave me so much that weekend. A true exchange.

And to think about it in this way means it’s not one-way but multi-dimensional; it’s not all on us as creators either. It’s also on all of us as readers/audience members/consumers to contribute in multiple ways. We are all creative citizens in this ecosystem feeding the ecosystem.

It’s still easy for me as a creator to get sucked into the rabbithole of focusing on the numbers and dollar signs — the form of energy that capitalism’s taught me has the most value and meaning. For survival’s sake, I want to keep disrupting the brain patterns that value money energy over all other forms of connection. It’s why I’ve always tried to have a letter exchange or some kind of interactive activity at my zine fest tables that have nothing to do with whether you give me paper money in exchange for paper book or not.

In this interview between poets Vi Khi Nao and Jennifer S. Cheng, Vi asks: When do you feel least alive? What aspect of modern life stops you from breathing? And Jennifer answers:

“When I am in too close proximity to the capitalist/hierarchical/hegemonic machine I feel suffocated (as many do). When I have to socially perform inside this machine, my body breaks down (in the form of panic attacks).”

I think that’s what happened to me in December with this Patreon. When I reminded too much that all this idealistic striving for community happens on a platform that exists squarely within capitalism, I didn’t have a panic attack but I did freeze up and withdraw. I don’t know if y’all heard about the kerfuffle that happened with Patreon in December, but the short of it was that they decided to change their fee structure saying it was better for creators, and creators and their supporters went into an angry uproar on Twitter about it mostly because of undue impact on supporters at the $1-3 levels. This feedback did make its way up to Patreon’s team, and they decided not to update their fee structure after all.

By the time I was halfway through processing what all this meant, and how I felt about it, and wanted to write something on here about it…it was all over. (I probably would have linked to Amanda Palmer and Cory Doctorow; and mentioned that Gumroad is heading toward open source and that Ko-Fi doesn’t take any fees at all.) I think a lot of trust was shattered or lost those few weeks — and sometimes the trust between creator and audience gets tangled up in the mistrust we have for capitalistic systems…which only flair up every once in awhile (because we’re lulled into comfortable complacency most other times).

While intellectually, the whole thing resolved when they decided not to change their fee structure and I decided not to write a post here addressing it…something about the whole kerfuffle worked its way into my body. It fueled the doubts around my value as a creator — just in general, during a year where invalidation lurked behind every tweet and shadowed nearly every way of being in this world. I sort of just shut down.

I find myself feeling paralyzed still by some of these same entanglements. The co-existence of: on the one hand, the ideals of community and artmaking and blank space and co-creation that I want to explore and build and live into, and on the other hand, the ways in which these platforms are still oriented around money and art-as-business and hierarchy and one-way communication.

Writing this, I am coming to the realization that the thing I really want from this Patreon is more multi-dimensional communication. I have loved sharing time with some of you on our Zoom calls and writing circles, and I appreciate every comment or note that appears below. And maybe it is worthy of exploration moving forward as to how to engage here in ways that encourages your engagement back. I have many other channels where I speak into the void and never expect any responses (Twitter always, and more and more my newsletter too, which has been sad), and I don’t want this to become another place where I quietly shout into a void.

One fear that I have is that you’ll go away because I persist in writing so much about these meta-topics of my struggles with how to engage with this Patreon instead of just making my art and sending it to you. But I’m coming to terms with the fact that part of my art right now is wrapped up in figuring out how to live my life as an artist. Building towards the ideals I believe in and living my values into my life’s actions. And likely some or all of the above will work its way into some comic essays in the future.

So maybe I just need to talk to you, to ask you: Why are you here? What do you want from this relationship, from this community, from me? What are your favorite ways to support your favorite artists? And what has been challenging as a fan supporting artists on the wild internets? Am I expecting too much from you; maybe you’re not here for community; maybe you’re just here to receive comics in your inbox every once in awhile? Do you like reading about my thoughts on how I art? What’s been your favorite thing that’s happened here?

Feel free to comment, converse with each other in the comments, or email a reply directly to me.

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Something about Empathy, Something about Trust

So this happened:

And then this happened:

And watching the second video, I literally started to cry. (Which is not an easy thing for me these days.)

There’s something here about empathy.

Of all the topics that are considered taboo and hard to talk about during this interview, the interviewer and Amanda Palmer land on first and for a considerable time is…empathy for people who do terrible things. The interviewer seems perplexed by and almost disgusted at the thought of having empathy for another human being. Which made me sad. But then again, I am having a hard time having empathy for the politicians who are pushing forward with policies and legislation that will harm so many millions.

But maybe it’s because things are too abstract, and they are not hearing the human voices over the din of the lure of wetiko and money.

But I have to remember that they are human underneath it all.

This article has helped me wrap my head around some of the nuances and tensions and historical context of why Chinese immigrants have stumped for Trump, of why my partner’s family would’ve probably voted that way if they had voted at all:

Trump-9
A pro-Trump rally near the Trump Tower. Photo by April Xu.

 

There is also something here about trust.

I played this interactive guide to the game theory of trust by Nicky Case, and his footnotes always stick with me as well.

 

“Because, contrary to popular belief, coming up with Win-Win solutions is hard, takes lots of effort, and is emotionally painful. Heck, I’d go even further – I’d say our culture’s default stance of Win-Lose “us versus them” is the easy path, the lazy path, the equivalent of activism junk food.

“Anyway. Exaggerations aside, I strongly believe “Win-Win” / “Non-Zero-Sum” is something we all urgently need — in our personal lives, social lives, and definitely political lives.”

And then there’s something here about…Is this the work of art?

A few days ago, I went to a U.S. Department of Arts and Culture event in Portland called “Cultural Organizing — Oregon Style”. At the event, there was a woman there who was a longtime resident of Portland and who has seen the disinvestment in East Portland firsthand, and who is now in school for community development so she can help people she went to school with who are now on the streets. She was fully present and wanted to hear our ideas, but she kept repeating that she might leave to go to a Prosper Portland meeting next door to hear about economic development instead. I interpreted this as if she was humoring us artists when the real work was happening next door.

And when I introduced myself as an artist, she said, “Good for you that you are able to self-actualize.” She was smiling really big when she said it, and at the same time I sensed an undertone of resentment or a knockdown…the same way I feel when I say to my friend about a cis white male exercising a lot of privilege, “Good for him for having so much faith in the universe. ^_____^”

A recurring theme/thought that keeps occurring in my heartmind, is that there is a lot of work to be done on the ground (the logistical activism, governing, social change that happens incrementally through coalition-building, policy-making, action-oriented kind of changemaking), AND then there is also the emotional work that needs to be done, to get to a place where we can hear and see and understand and trust each other again.

Which requires a lot of acknowledgement of the hurt that has occurred and atonement and forgiveness of said wrongs.

Something here about feeling the feels we need to feel.

Something here about being able to take the time and space we need to do that.

Which is the micro that I’m writing about with Slowingly, which has a macro lens as well.

But am I willing to legitimize that (art)work that needs to happen? The work I need to do as an artist as complement to the work that I need to do as a fledgling, floundering activist?

There is something here about hope.

The hard truth of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which also brings a release of light shined on it all, an exhale of seeing in words something that’s so un-articulated un-literated in our current day milieu.

citizen.jpg  urbanalchemy.jpg

The optimistic community-restoring, place-remaking, city-reimagining work of Dr. Mindy Fullilove & Co. in Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities.

Fullilove outlines nine elements of urban restoration that will help stop the soruce of injury and restore an “urban ecosystem’s wholeness”.

  1. Keep the whole city in mind
  2. Find what you’re FOR
  3. Make a mark
  4. Unpuzzle the fractured space
  5. Unslum all neighborhoods
  6. Create meaningful places
  7. Strengthen the region
  8. Show solidarity with all life
  9. Celebrate your accomplishments

The video of the protestors that I started this post with, standing on the steps of the Capitol, celebrating a win for healthcare, for humanity. That is why I was overcome with emotion.

Humanity.

There is something here about love.

I find so much inspiration, so many lessons in how to show up from the Little Lobbyists and from ADAPT.

It reminds me of something I read somewhere on Twitter about how no one is more patient in the face of uncertainty, in the face of hardships than the parents of children with disabilities.

Powered and fueled by love.

The Politics of Caring

I think I’m just going to go ahead and post this. I don’t think it’s the most well-written post; certainly it is more ramble-bloggy than structured-essay-y. But it IS a record of some of my current attempts to understand the politics of caring: why certain people try to get you to STOP caring, and why I still value it.

I recently watched some of the play-off games between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. I don’t know much about basketball, but even I could tell that the Warriors are playing a whole new level of ball game. The Cavs are very good, but they are very good at playing the basketball that I grew up watching: one where the teams switch off having possession of the ball, defense is usually 1-on-1, and the game is won based on which team can make the most shots. When the Warriors have possession of the ball, you can see how the traditional gameplay just doesn’t work in the same way against them. The Warriors are agile, super quick, and work together as a team to the get the ball to the net. They make it look like a choreographed dance. It makes any other team look slow and clunky in comparison; it makes the other team look forceful and forced. The Warriors dominated the post-season; no one was coming close. They’ll continue to dominate until other teams start to question and evolve the way they’re playing the game.

When I was talking with some girlfriends soon after the election of Trump, what we kept circling back to was this incomprehension of why certain people were voting for him. We understood the racists, we understood the rural poor who had become disenfrancished within this country, but we didn’t understand this other group, the group who didn’t seem to care that their actions would mean disastrous things for nearly everybody. They seemed to have privilege, and they seemed to not have any empathy for those who would be affected most by Trump’s policies, and they didn’t seem to grasp how those same policies would eventually also affect them. Did they not understand that you can’t burn down the other side without burning down the entire house?

This article by Dale Baren outlines the history of 4chan, and the evolution of the power of its users, to the point where they are now influencing our political arena. After reading it, I understood better. We thought seeing Trump in debates with the other candidates would help people see his incompetencies, his pettiness, his insensitivities (to put it all too too mildly). But we were also assuming that seeing these things would cause people to not vote for this man. We were playing by the rules of the game we were used to: we should as a country elect moral, competent, and smart people into office.

This was a whole new ballgame.

“Pepe [the frog] symbolizes embracing your loserdom, owning it. That is to say, it is what all the millions of forum-goers of 4chan met to commune about. It is, in other words, a value system, one reveling in deplorableness and being pridefully dispossessed. It is a culture of hopelessness, of knowing “the system is rigged”. But instead of fight the response is flight, knowing you’re trapped in your circumstances is cause to celebrate. For these young men, voting Trump is not a solution, but a new spiteful prank.

In other words, we can append a third category to the two classically understood division of Trump supporters:

  1. Generally older people who naively believe Trump will “make America great again”, that is to say, return it to its 1950s ideal evoked by both Trump and Clinton.
  2. The 1 percent, who know this promise is empty, but also know it will be beneficial to short term business interests.
  3. Younger members of the 99 percent, like Anon, who also know this promise is empty, but who support Trump as a defiant expression of despair.”

The scariest part is how this hopelessness, despair, and prankishness is affecting our current political discourse. Film Crit Hulk wrote about this in an article called “P.C. Culture vs. the Big Joke” which traces strains of our current political discourse to nihilism and a generation who (as someone tweeted) doesn’t understand the difference between skepticism and cynicism, having grown up on South Park and 4chan. The figure of the Joker from the recent The Dark Knight trilogies serves as an apt analogy for a swath of people who don’t play by the rules.

“There’s a reason The Dark Knight’s Joker struck such a cord with this populace and it wasn’t just his good performance, it was his mantra: ‘Why so serious?’ It was his ability to reign terror and tear apart hypocrisy. It was the sense power that comes with having such a freeing attitude toward the cares of society. The pure, bleak joy of nihilistic glee. And yes, the way this philosophy was expressed could be as terrifying as when the Joker did it. The lulz is an almost pathological need to undo your seriousness. To undo what you care about. To not make sense. There isn’t a side. There isn’t a belief. The only goal is to burn down your side. After all, ‘Some men just want to watch the world burn.'”

This is scary. They don’t play by the rules because they want to burn the whole game down.

“When I look at everyone. I’m asking ‘What do they want?’ And when looking at anti-PC culture as a whole, from the left-hating alt-right, to the trolls, to the knee-jerk comedian, the aligned message is clear, and whether they mean it or not, the effect of that want is the same:

“They want to tear down people who actually give a shit.

“It’s all part of the upside-down. They are fighting anyone who tries to be protective of marginalized groups and they’ll tell you that they’re the ones who are really marginalized. Fuck man, I will tell you it is easier to find ground in a conversation with an actual KKK member and I’m not kidding. They believe in something so morally wrong, but their goal isn’t to upend the notion of serious conversation itself. And so, with the anti-PC crowd, it becomes part of the reflexive game that goes ever on. We lose ourselves completely in wars of false equivalency, pedantic arguments on ‘logic’ that eschew morality completely.”

It is easier to engage with someone in the actual KKK than to engage with someone in the anti-PC crowd because the former actually believes in something. Remember that thought because we’ll come back to it. But for now, this is the frustrating part because this is what makes is so hard to have logical, reasonable conversations; to rely on facts; to remain civil; to keep playing by the same rules of the game we have always played by.

Participating in arguments with people who are defiantly despairing, nihilist, and who want to tear down anyone who gives a shit…will eventually tear you down, as well.

It leads to frustration and feelings of futility and articles like this one in the Huffington Post, entitled “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.”

“I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see.

“I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.…I can’t debate someone into caring about what happens to their fellow human beings. The fact that such detached cruelty is so normalized in a certain party’s political discourse is at once infuriating and terrifying.”

It leads to giving up.

Which is precisely what those who play the game of “why do you care so much” / “why so serious” want.

Which is something I cannot abide by. While I understand the need to stop butting our heads up against the walls of a now-rigged game, the conclusion that we stop trying to help people see why they should care is something I can’t quite sit with. When we start to dehumanize this amalgam of YouTubers, gamers, harassers, trolls, basement dwellers as ‘losers’, and as we start giving up on them…then we will have become them.

Hell, I am one of them right now in that I am living in my boyfriend’s family’s basement. I understand how little it takes to start to feel powerless and purposeless. I understand how hard those feelings are, I understand how compelling escapism is, and I understand how searingly painful it is to care about something when it feels like you can’t do anything to change it. So I understand that not caring and disengaging are protective self-mechanisms that work. They are about self-preservation, but the question is who then is the self you are trying to preserve?

“Like adolescent boys, 4chan users were deeply sensitive and guarded. They disguised their own sensitivity (namely, their fear that they would be, ‘forever alone’) by extreme insensitivity. The rules, like everything else, were always half in jest. Everything had to be a done with at least a twinkle of winking irony. This was an escape route, a way of never having to admit to your peers that you were in fact expressing something from your heart, in other wordsthat you were indeed vulnerable. No matter what a user did or said, he could always say it was ‘for the lulz’.”

And hell, I am also one of them others right now because we keep having political arguments with my boyfriend’s dad, that keep ending up at the same dead ends. It’s a different strand of the conservative notion of meritocracy, but it’s eerily familiar: if I as an immigrant worked my butt off to pull myself up by my own bootstraps to get to where I am today, everyone else who is on welfare must be lazy. Poor people have no one to blame but themselves. Government is corrupt, nothing is going to change, you already have it so much better than when we were growing up poor, hungry, and dirty in the countryside, you are naïve to think you can change anything, so why bother making a fuss? Take care of your own, and leave it at that.

“Why do you care so much?”

Why so serious?

That is the argument that always crushes my spirit, that makes it impossible for me to continue engaging in the conversation. How do you defend why you care about something? How do you justify something that feels so self-evident to yourself?

It’s difficult because I think the root of the question of “why do you care so much” is actually “who do you think you are to care so much?” Caring about something presumes that you matter enough to 1) be in the arena to feel whatever you’re going to feel about what you care about, and 2) be able to do something or make a change about whatever you care about.

So it makes sense that those who are disenfranchised, who feel powerless, who have been told explicitly or implicitly that they don’t matter will also try to attack you in the same vein — to try and make you believe that you don’t matter. By attacking what you care about. By attacking the fact that you care at all.

Earnestness? Sincerity? Values? Empathy? Caring? Hope?

Those things make us vulnerable.

For my partner’s father, it was a mindset honed to survive the grueling realities of poverty, immigration, and hard work to scrape by. In a way, he has bought into the narrative that America handfeeds to its immigrant workforce: work hard and keep your head down, don’t get too big for your britches. Be invisible to be the model minority. Be grateful.

“The refugee has to be less capable than the native, needier; he must stay in his place. That’s the only way gratitude will be accepted. Once he escapes control, he confirms his identity as the devil. All day I wondered, has this been true in my own experience? If so, then why all the reverence for the refugees who succeed against the odds, the heartwarming success stories? And that’s precisely it – one can go around in this circle forever, because it contains no internal logic. You’re not enough until you’re too much. You’re lazy until you’re a greedy interloper.”Dina Nayeri, “The Ungrateful Refugee”

For the anti-PC, 4chan crowd, it’s a new world where feminists present gender as cultural instead of pre-determined and gender identity as a spectrum instead of biological. (Sidenote: It’s actually a lot more complex than this; Laci Green has a video that examines why both feminists and anti’s have valid views on gender.)

“To the deplorables, whose central complaint is one of masculine frailty, pride, and failure — to deny their identities as men is to deny their complaint. They are a group who define themselves by their powerlessness, by being trapped into defeat. But if they are to accept the left’s viewpoint, they must accept that the problem at core of their being is all in their heads. That is to say, the left’s viewpoint of sexual-difference-as-illusion is exactly what they don’t want to hear — that they have cornered themselves into their mother’s basements.

“The irony here, of course, is the radical idea of sexual-difference-as-illusion is meant to solve the deplorables’ problem. It was created to liberate those who are oppressed by the concept of sexual difference by dispelling it as a cloud of pure ideas. But to these powerless men, it’s as if the left were addressing their issue by saying in an Orwellian manner, ‘There’s no such thing as your problem! Problem solved!’

“Here the notion of sexual-difference-as-illusion is not performing the work it was built to do, rather the opposite. Ironically, it works to convince alienated men that sex/gender has marked them as a unique sort of outsider/failures, who cannot be accepted even into the multicultural coalitions that define themselves by their capacity for acceptance. In this way, 4chan’s virulent hatred of gender-bending ‘safe spaces’, though not justified, makes at least a perverse sort of sense, one tangled in wounded masculine pride.”

Learning how to show up as yourself and engage with the discussion at hand through that vulnerability is hard work. (Which incidentally is what Brené Brown and Love Warrior and Buddhism and meditation sanghas and On Being and so many others — who get written off as hippies, who get written off as SJW pandering, whose work get dismissed as woo woo — have been writing about recently, and so many many others have been exploring for centuries.)

Remember when Film Crit Hulk pointed out that it’s probably easier to have a conversation with a Klan member because they actually believe in something?

There is a two-part Love + Radio episode with Daryl Davis, a black musician who initially interviewed KKK members in order to understand “How could someone hate me based on the color of my skin without even knowing who I am?” He eventually befriended a lot of his interviewees. Daryl Davis talks about the shift in some of the people he met. In their initial conversations, he would interview them and they would answer all his questions but never once ask Daryl what he thought about the issue.

“And as time progressed, then all of a sudden they would say, ‘Well, what do you think?’ Then I realized, ‘Oh my goodness, I have an opinion. I have some value. They wanna know what I think.’ That broke the ice – they’re open to hearing what I’m gonna say.”

We can’t hear the other side until we see the other person as a human being, until we acknowledge their humanity, that they are of value, that they matter, and that they are worth listening to. It’s a two-way street. Although, Daryl Davis proves that seemingly one-way streets can become two-way…with enough time, patience, open-heartedness, people can come around even if it doesn’t seem like they care what you have to say when you first engage with them.

I think we will eventually get there with my partner’s dad because I have to believe he cares about something on a deeper level past the talk of politics. He seems to lack empathy for groups of people who he persists in stereotyping based on his worldview, but he engages in the conversation, and he is willing to listen to opinions which are different than his. I like Daryl Davis’s advice about listening, asking questions, and giving others a platform to express their views honestly without fear of attack:

“Learn from them, because while you are actively learning about somebody else, at the same time you are passively teaching them about yourself.”

But what about the anti-PC 4chan crowds who don’t want to engage, whose goal is to “upend the notion of serious conversation itself”? How do you engage the Joker? How do you get someone to care?

I don’t know. That’s a wall I keep hitting when I think about all of this.

But even within the feminists vs. anti’s communities on YouTube, there are shifts happening. I really admire the work Laci Green, a prominent feminist YouTuber and sex educator who values intersectionality, sex positivity, and skepticism, has been doing recently to open the door to conversations with the anti-feminist YouTube community by having real-life, in-person, in-depth conversations with them. She has been receiving a ton of flack from the feminist social justice YouTube communities for “red-pilling” and being a sell-out and by “whitewashing years of abuse” by merely being in conversation with anti’s, as she has received a ton of real abuse, threats, and pile-on’s from the anti-feminists over the years.

But the pushback she is getting from both sides’ extremes misunderstands what those who are engaging in this conversation are trying to do. Instead of respecting the longer timeframe that having respectful conversations and building relationships with other human beings with multidimensional points of view, the critics are reducing Laci Green and some of the other YouTubers with whom she’s been engaging (like anti-feminist Blaire White) to sides.

Laci Green has said that these conversations are about her own personal healing. One fifteen minute conversation can’t be a reconciliation between the feminists and the anti-feminists. It’s just a step in her reconciliation and potentially having some kind of new relationship with another YouTuber who has in the past caused her a lot of pain, pain from which she wants to heal.

The hardest thing is that when people try to be reasonable and have conversations, to really listen to each other (if you look for it, there are people trying to speak reasonably about complicated public events, while their comments sections remain testament to how stubbornly everyone else wants to draw them into these firestorms)…this moderate approach does not translate well to YouTube or Twitter, which are the battlegrounds that the 4chan crowd continue to use to pile on abuse and shut the conversation down in attempts to try to change the rules of the game.

The trust is long lost. Battlelines have been formed. And it’s hard to break out of that narrative. It’s hard to give anyone the benefit of the doubt when you’ve been burned by others who look and sound so similar to those who are extending olive branches.

There’s a parallel with what’s been going on in D.C. Look at how the Republican-majority legislature twisted the rules of procedure to obstruct and oppose Obama’s platforms for eight years. Should the Democrats learn from this playbook of methods and tactics? If they don’t, the country slides progressively right as Republican policies get pushed through during their terms in power and Democratic policies continue to be blocked during other times. But…

“The biggest danger, of course, is what all of this legislative warfare does to the democratic process. As both parties get deeper and deeper into the muck — and this is something on the minds of many Democrats — there will be growing concerns over how all this effects our ability to govern and responsibly resolve the great problems of the day.” (CNN)

How do we preserve the civility of the discourse, when there are hard conversations to be had across differences, when there are even other groups out there who are trying to subvert it all and burn/troll all of us who are trying to have any serious conversation?

I believe the answer is to continue to engage with any who are willing to show up in the arena with you, on an earnest level. To look for the humanity and go towards it.

So the conversations need to keep happening on a 1-to-1 level. And in-person. Similar to the years of conversations Daryl Davis had in living rooms with (now-former) Klan members. Relationships will evolve.

Over time.

It’s the long game.

Self-care is a series of small actions

Sometimes you go looking for a book,
and other times the perfect book seems to find you.

As if some unplanned hand is guiding you to exactly what you need to read or hear in that moment.

I hadn’t planned on going to the library, but this branch was a few doors down from the lunch spot I happened upon after the hike I chose spontaneously that morning after a couple quick google searches. I wouldn’t have even been out of my house except that they were doing construction upstairs and had turned off the electricity.

I wandered around the stacks for a little while, until I happened upon the memoir section.

A chair had been pulled up alongside the shelf next to Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior. I had heard her interview on Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast “Magic Lessons”, so I plucked up the book to skim a couple pages. But I couldn’t stop. I found myself reading nearly the entire book sitting there in that chair in the library. Her writing is so clear and straightforward that it is easy to underestimate how searingly honest she is being every step of the way.

Later that same day I re-listened to that podcast episode, and when Gilbert asks her why she writes her answer is that she wants to be known. It is truly astonishing how clearly she sees and knows herself, and in presenting us with her most flawed, true, human self that, we are able to see and know ourselves in poignant, touching ways that left me reeling — but also freer.

Here are some of the important reminders from this book that I needed to hear this week:

  • We all learned to hide our bignesses starting in childhood. For the sake of the unspoken rules of the game, we are numbing and running from pain and from our “hot loneliness” (Pema Chodron’s words) when these are the very things we should be running toward. Each of our running and hiding takes different forms (food, sex, work, books, tv, money, positivity, productivity, etc.) but we know when we’re using those things to take us away and out of our very lived experiences. This pain, our loneliness, our struggles are inevitable. They are what make us human, and that means we are not alone. The ‘Journey of the Warrior’ is to stay with the journey, to stay with yourself in those moments, and to feel those things. Every crisis is an invitation to grow.
  • You oftentimes won’t have the answer. It’s not a big puzzle to be solved. All you have to do is figure out your next right action. One day at a time. It strikes me that the nuns at Nuns & Nones also talked about being able to sit still and listen and reflect and the importance of that practice in being able to discern the next right action. The way the sisters talked about it is that the root of ‘obedience’ is to listen. And whether you are talking about God, the Spirit, the Universe, or your own inner wisdom, if you are still and silent enough, that voice is clearer. It usually doesn’t tell you the answer (‘living the questions’ is more interesting anyway). But it can tell you what might be the next right action, right now. What you can do next.
  • You are loved. Just as you are. << It’s not about knowing or learning or coming to that. It’s allowing ourselves those moments when we can strip away everything else and remember that.
  • You can always find yourself home again, via your breath.

And more from the podcast re-listen, which has been so helpful. My belief in my artwork and how I spend my time has been shaky for the past 6 months, but the doubts have definitely been amplified in the past few weeks.

  • Your job is to make the thing and put it out there. Your job is not to defend it afterward, or to babysit it. Just let it go once it’s out in the world and go make more.
  • You are not unique and neither is your message, and that’s okay. That’s more than okay. The way you present it will be unique to you — and that might break through to this person whereas the way Liz Gilbert or Glennon Doyle Melton presents it might resonate with those people over there. Even if all of our messages are the same, we need the chorus of all the voices.
  • The way to grow your following is to deeply serve the following you already have. What an honor that they show up to read your words at all. Give them light.
  • Related to above point about next right actions: “Be still and know.” Listen to the voice inside. The book Love Warrior is ultimately about trusting yourself. When we say we don’t know what to do, more often we just don’t want to do the thing we know we need to do.
  • Stop deeming yourself unworthy of these invitations. Trust the inviter and show up before you’re ready.
  • Stay open / Go back in. It never ends. It’s a practice and an action.

I think my biggest mistake recently with self-care or emotional wellbeing is in believing somehow that there is a finish line. Like if I do enough therapy and read enough self-help and meditate enough and awaken enough and have enough language, that I’ll get to a point where I’ll be okay and that I will need less support then. That I might get to a point where I won’t fall apart, like ever, like ever again. Or that somehow I will have all the tools and capacities to “handle” falling apart better so that even if I fall apart, it won’t, like, affect me. But now that feels off. Because that would be like saying, I will eventually get to a point where I can stop being human. Emotional wellbeing is not an end state; it is a practice, a series of small actions that I need to take in my life to keep myself on track.

Stay open. Go back in. It never ends.

After the move, I was relying on my crutch of workaholism (in this case, working from home and making art) in order to survive. I wasn’t really present, I wasn’t really here. I tried to workaholic through the days, but when that broke under the pressures of too much doubt, I turned inward and shut down completely. I was in a zombie state, zoned out, and escaping into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which I reread in a marathon over 2 days. Sitting and reading for 10 hours straight really hecked up my neck. I realized yesterday that this was all because I was in survival mode and because none of my other support systems were in play.

“For me, I survived because of books. which doesn’t work for everyone, but you have to have something. You have to have something you care about that’s external to you and that isn’t dependent on other people, whether it’s art or music or reading or writing or a combination of the above, or knitting or running.” -Roxanne Gay, from her interview on the Rookie podcast, about how she survived the times that she was profoundly lonely and profoundly lost, those times in her life where she wasn’t sure it was going to get better.

It worked because I survived. Books have been my safe place since I was a little kid. I always prided myself in the story that I found the library the summer after second grade and proceeded to check out a pile of books every single week…but now I wonder if that’s just where I’ve been hiding and numbing all my life.

This summer, I was getting to a point of not recognizing myself. 

And it makes sense that I was running and hiding in my books — it was a very childlike response to my new schedule which mirrored childhood rhythms, alongside the reintroduction of my childhood language. I was falling apart in a new city where none of my normal support structures were in place, so I (re)turned to those old(est) habits that had always worked before. The reasons these self-care practices need to be habitualized and routinized and ritualized is because the stresses of the circumstances that cause you to need them zap you of the very energy needed to pursue them. It’s much more likely that I’ll find myself doing the physical activity that keeps me sane if I know the bike route to the climbing gym, and have biked it a million times before, and the membership is already pre-paid, and I have a routine of doing it every Tuesday and Thursday before lunch. If I find myself in a new city, trying to get used to driving again without any incentive to purchase a gym membership for the 3 short months that I am here, it makes sense that I might find myself sitting at home most days and not having moved much for an entire week…which will eventually lead to a deterioration in my mental and emotional wellbeing. And by the time your legs start to itch that they want to move and you remember in the back of your head that maybe you should go for a run or something?…you may have already built up so many unreleased stress chemicals in your body, that you feel too leaden and weighted down and heavy to even get out of bed.

(But then you get a notice that they’ll be working on the electricity upstairs and that there won’t be any power in your house, so you leave and find yourself hiking through the desert at high noon before making your way to lunch and a library and the chair that has been waiting for you next to the MEMOIR section next to Glennon Doyle Melton’s book.)

What’s hopeful and illuminating is that these support structures can be small actions, like baby steps. And that I can build them back up, one by one, for myself, into practices: find the library, bike to the store, call a friend, take out your yoga mat in the mornings and do just one something, figure out where the ice cream is, look up a hike, go for a walk, subscribe to a local mailing list, listen to that podcast which reminds me where your obsessive-curiosity lies, talk to the people who share your heart’s language, find your local book store, find your tribe…Breathe.

The small actions that I can do for myself that sends a message to my…brain/heart/soul/body/all of the above?…to my self that I matter and that I value myself and that I want to take care of me. 

I need to start infilling my life with these other pillars of care and support, so that I can get back to making art in a more carefree way.

So that it no longer has to bear the weight of serving as a lifeline and can return to being a tool for understanding and curiosity and synthesis and freedom and play.

Because of course I went to a different library today and of course I found a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, which reminded me that:

  • Your art doesn’t have to save the world. In fact, when your quest with your art is to help others…as Katharine Whitehorn says “You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of the others.” Write to save yourself, to heal yourself, to satisfy your own curiosities, and to follow your own fascinations.
  • “Do whatever brings you to life…The rest will take care of itself.”

 

FOOTNOTES

caught / uncaught

The Saturday after the election, I found myself at the East Bay Meditation Center for a daylong workshop about “Courage at the Crossroads: Faith Over Fear.” The teacher opened the day with reflections from the audience about what brought them to the space that morning. There was so much emotion in the room, we had to air it out in the open before settling into meditation. People spoke honestly, and from the heart. Much anger, frustration, sadness emerged. We were a mixed group: gender, age, race, class, ethnicity, ability. I could sense from the outset that this day was going to be both challenging and necessary for our individual — if not also our collective — healing.

I found myself sitting next to a young woman whose community in East Texas was missing her queer black radical voice. Part of me wanted to say hi to a fellow liberal Texan questioning whether she should be in the Bay Area or back home, but I ended up not saying anything: didn’t think my feelings could compare, having lived in a larger Texas city, having faced less discrimination growing up. On my other side sat an older black woman who spoke with palpable rage and frustration, whose presence emanated strength, and grace, and calm. I listened and I felt alongside her. I just wanted to sit in quiet that day.

After our sitting meditation and our walking meditation and our dharma talk, the day ended with small group discussions about how we might view current events as a positive thing: a hard challenge, and a necessary reframe. I was not courageous enough to opt out of the discussion and to stay in my own silence, so I found myself in a group with three other women of color, who were all farther along on the social justice goddess warrior path than I am. They were frustrated. They were hopeful. They were angry. They were tired. They were energized in their strength and groundedness and hurt, as they have been doing this for so long. When it was my turn to speak, I did so in vague abstractions, alluded to my baby feminism, and shared how these times were going to push me into facing the realities of finally putting my body on the frontlines.

The workshop was wonderful, and helped me to heal, and provided much needed context and compassion from which to move forward. I left the workshop more grounded than I had felt all week — but I also left feeling like shit.

I didn’t feel entitled to the same rage and heartbreak of other black and brown people of color that I was feeling because I was at the same time also feeling the guilt and complicity of the white people that they were railing against, who I too was frustrated with. This feeling of invisible frozenness within their in-between was so familiar to me as a yellow person, that I started spiraling, wondering if I was complicit in this self-silencing of myself, feeling tripped up in repressing my feelings and my words because I didn’t feel I could claim any of it for myself, as if there were someone checking claims tickets, but then again who…?

That’s when I realized I needed to stop,
that I needed to write, to at least reflect
this experience of the stuck in the in-between,
before I could move,

move beyond that
into action in solidarity with all marginalized people
into confronting my own privileges and prejudices
into dismantling any learned and internalized oppression
into embodying compassion for all beings
into making concrete the world we imagine wherein these structural oppressions and inequities have been replaced with just systems that operate from a place of full&complex humanity, dignity, and equality for all.

So. A poem.


 

caught / uncaught

For a time,
in the rawness of grief,
when mixed groups can trigger,
it is okay to gather your tribe
To be with your people
To confess your sins
to those who understand
the complexity of living
your skin

This poem
is for any Asian American out there
feeling stuck righ’ now

‘cuz I feel it.

I feel caught.

Caught between grief for an America we thought we knew
and wanting to fight for the country that our families chose

Caught between rage sadness & frustration
and guilt apathy & complicity

Caught between worry for our families’ lives
and shame at their racist homophobic lies

Caught between their vulnerability
and their willful political passivity

Caught between immigrant survival in flight
and never learning how to stay and fight

Caught between wanting to fire back, draw weapons, take sides
and avoiding conflict, peace-strivin’, love and compassion

Caught catching them silencing whitewashin you
and realizing you been invisible all along

Too ‘other’ to belong in white America
Too ‘model minority’ to be in solidarity with POC

Shouldn’t be surprised
this feeling as familiar
as second skin
as the complicity of
cringing at mom’s accent
as the guilt of
losing your mother tongue
as the confusion of
being too American
and not Asian enough
but never American enough
to be Asian in America

It is a good thing
I have learned
how to hold multiple truths
in the palm of my hands
as so much layered sand

It is a good thing
I have practice
holding contradictory emotions
in the chambers of my beating heart
knowing they will move

because emotions are built
to move

if you let them

and so are bodies built
to act

if we guide them

If we can catch ourselves from
turning hate into hate,
we become uncaught.

Take a breath
Step back
Look again
Codeswitch n
Flip it
and Reframe it

We aren’t caught…
but poised

in this middle

space

between

Asian   (and)  American

POC   (and)  majority

old generation honor  (and)  new generation justice

acting against oppression  (and) waking up from delusion

wanting to protect the most vulnerable  (and)  having some power and privilege to do so

between being baby activists in America  (and)  having gandhiji ai wei wei aung san suu kyi thich nhat hanh tiananmen square and the dalai lama in our heritage

 

We have always been uniquely poised

to bridge

different worlds

to bridge

loyalty and love

to bridge

the Asian and the American

within ourselves

both/and

.

 

OMG Vote

I am emotionally exhausted from this election season. This is more of a rant than a well-heeled argument. I could reread and rewrite a few more times to strip it of my cynicism of your cynicism, to be more compassionate and to appeal to your “rationality”, but I don’t care to fight in your designated arena of battle right now. I’d rather play in the field of earnest emotion. I’m just going to use my blog to, ahem, blog. Actually, let’s just add a blog category of “rant” right this fucking minute. Mm, yes. Hey, don’t even read this. Just go fucking vote please.

I finally figured out what I hate so much about the one-liner that you get all the time when people aren’t going to vote: “My vote doesn’t matter anyway; I’m not in a swing state.”

Because you got me har har, it is hard to argue with the weirdness that is the electoral college. And my standard response was always: “Who the fuck cares, go vote for the downballot stuff that affect your local politics, which will affect your life way more on a day-to-day level.” Of course, that stuff’s not as sexy and not as fun and way more complicated to research, that it’s definitely a conversation killer. “It’s so haaaaaard, it takes so much tiiiiiime to get involved in local politics. Let’s just continue fighting and spewing hate on the national stage where I understand how to make hateful comments without concrete plans for making any real change.” (Local = e.g. A-Z propositions on the SF Ballot this time: Here are some handy resources for SF 2016 btw if you need last minute research before showing up at your local polling place.)

Another response which I believe in, but which doesn’t seem to work in changing people’s minds is: “If your vote didn’t matter so much, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep it away from you.” People fought hard for the right to vote, and you’re just wasting yours. But you don’t want a guilt trip today, so you’ll maintain that you’re still not in a swing state.

I have a hunch that we’d have a lot more swing states if we actually increased voter registration and voter turnout, but I have no research to back this up.

Cu_s95SWcAEXyIN.jpg

Instead, you’d rather keep the line of apathy you’re towing because then you can fight it with more apathy! If you don’t vote today, you’re fucking perpetuating this apathy in politics by legitimizing that people should only vote when their vote “counts”. As if showing up to speak your values isn’t important unless someone is able to hand you results on a silver platter for your one-time opinion. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry if you’ve never had to create a movement to get basic rights, to even be heard. Newsflash: there are millions of people and tons of movements who show up day after day, voicing their opinions, presenting visions of a better future, and demanding justice — they know it takes time and commitment and multifaceted approaches and fucking showing up again and again and again. Because showing up for something important means it’s important to you. Because if you don’t show up, people don’t have any reason to pay any attention to you.

(And no, voting is not the only cure-all you have in your toolkit; I know we will have continue to have so much fucking work to do after today. I spoke with one local businessperson and artist who said, “No I cannot register to vote because of reasons, but I am very involved for political change on the local level in other ways.” If everyone who used the electoral college as an excuse for not voting were instead and also on the ground in their local communities working for the change they believe in every single week, I would be absolutely thrilled.)

None of those arguments work. Which is fine; I’m going to keep using them. But this morning, I realized why I am so fucking mad about this electoral college excuse  — and it is a fucking excuse. You’ve found a way to be logical about your apathy that allows you to be high-minded about it: “I understand the system, so I’m going to play the system by not participating in the system.” This also is the undercurrent for people who are voting third party “I’m going to vote third party because my vote doesn’t matter anyway, and I want to advocate for a new system than the one we’re stuck in.” I get so furious on a gut level at these arguments but have up to now not been able to articulate why.

Now I can articulate why: You only fucking do this for systems you have no intention of actually challenging, the systems for which you have no strategic plan for dismantling. You never question or opt out of or cast “protest votes” in any of the other oppressive systems that we swim in, live in, breathe in, have to survive in — that, ahem, we do have strategic plans for dismantling. I don’t hear you divesting funds from banks which support the Dakota Access Pipeline. I don’t see you opting out of work to go protest for anything. I don’t see you “voting with your feet” to work for organizations that promote multiculturalism and inclusion. I don’t hear you upset about the systemic racism that plays out in police brutality and the prison pipeline and housing discrimination. I don’t see you supporting female and people of color in leadership positions, so that they can create and advocate for new systems other than the patriarchal one we’re stuck in.

Make no mistake, this election has been about policy and our values as a country on an uncomfortably visceral level. I know it might be safer to stay on the logical level of “it’ll be about the same no matter who the president is” but “lesser of two evils” is BULLSHIT. Trump has shown you his values. And Hillary has too. Now it’s time to show yours.

Your voice matters; showing up matters. Voting is one way of showing up. I expect you to keep showing up afterward, too. I believe in you. Maybe you’ve stopped believing in your agency to affect change in these kinds of systems, but I believe in the full power of you. This is probably the least sexy least cool argument of all: I earnestly believe in the power of your voice and in your ability to stand up for your values. Fuck, I expect you to do it even if no one is listening. Because that’s how change happens. That’s what it means to be a social justice warrior and an ally and a human being whose itty bitty life here on earth still fucking matters — we just keep showing up.

OMG just please go vote.

(If it’s not blazingly obvious by now, #imwithher.)

Downballot downballot downballot

I voted early today! Got my sticker. Made the line shorter for someone else on Tuesday.

This election cycle has been exhausting. But I do believe voting and engaging with the political process is important. Local and state policies have an outsized effect on your life — and is an area where voting for your values can shape how your city grows. For example, engaging with SF propositions D, H, L, and M has been a learning and reflective experience for me in whether I believe in more accountability at the cost of bigger government on the local level. It also helps to inform my decisions about candidates for local and state positions to see what they’re endorsing and fighting for at the prop level.

Below is a gathering of the resources I found most helpful and least partisan while researching downballot elections this year (for San Francisco specifically, but there are similar resources and groups across the nation).

catsvoting2
(photo by Harry Whittier Frees)

 

Ballot FYI

Ballot.fyi lays out the California propositions in plain English. For instance, it was the clearest explanation of Prop 61 about drug pricing that I found. It also has a good “how does a proposition work anyway?” for those considering strategically abstaining from certain prop votes.

P.S. Video on Prop 60; even just reading the video description is helpful. Ostensibly, Prop 60 is about condoms, but if passed it would put performers’/producers’ real names and addresses in jeopardy which can lead to doxxing.

SF Public Press

San Francisco Public Press has an election guide that breaks down the local city propositions by themes, explains what it would mean if it passed, how much it would cost, and who proposes and opposes it. Good journalism. Really appreciated. They also provide summaries for local races (supervisors, school boards, BART board) and tally up endorsements.

Hoodline

Hoodline provides an “interactive guide to all the other guides.” There are a ton of organizations who put out endorsements and voter guides, and Hoodline puts them all into one chart for you to see which are the truly contentious propositions/races. It’s interesting to see which groups you end up aligning with or disagreeing with as a guide to where to look for more detailed election guides — sometimes it is helpful to look at a group’s very opinionated endorsement 0f a thing in order to decide whether you agree or not.

(During one voter research party, we joked that if both League of Pissed Off Voters and SPUR — who have many conflicting interests — agreed on a prop, that was an easy vote to check off our list. Insert cry-laugh emoji.)

Questionnaires

[Edit: This is a partisan source, and I found out tonight that if you have cookies enabled in your browser, they will be able to get your phone number and will text you about voting and supporting the local candidates they endorse. That feels really gross to me, and part of me wants to unlink the source, but the questionnaires DID help me assess the candidates…so I will leave the link, but give you fair warning about the site.]

RFK Democratic Club sent questionnaires to all the candidates for the local boards (SFUSD Board of Education, CCSF Board of Trustees, BART Board of Directors), and these are the candidates’ answers. This is on a partisan site, but the questions were thoughtful and found reading the Q&A’s more useful than the shorter summaries of candidates.

Good luck in democracying your alphabet soup of propositions. <3

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To delight. To create. To teach.