My first impulse after our presentation ended was to pick it apart. What I wish I had said or done differently or how I left out this important thing. I found myself wanting to talk to each and every person to explain what I wish I could have changed.
A part of this is an openness to continue to learn and improve, but I think a lot of it is tied to the urgency and pressure of representing communities that have been erased, excluded, targeted, and often misrepresented. There’s a fear of perpetuating these patterns and being a part of the harm, trauma, and oppression, as well as an insecurity that if I too am a work in progress, how can I claim that anything that I produce is a finished product?
Another part of it is being an Asian woman taking up space in a society that tells me to be small, un-abrasive, and exponentially humble. We designed our presentation to directly confront and contradict these messages about ourselves, about people who look like us, about others whose oppression is tied to our own.
And yet I wonder if we did enough.
Matters of the mind
This week I am reading Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements by Chris Dixon. The way my professor explained it, the author Chris Dixon traveled across the North America interviewing activists in various movements about their practices and philosophy within leftist, radical politics. The book, published in 2014, constructs the basis for “another politics” by compiling the common threads and best practices derived from these interviews.
What I have enjoyed about this book are the ways the interviews from those on the ground lend credence and practical application, as well as opportunities for critique, of ideas that are usually presented as wholly aspirational and often abstract. For example, while talking about the value of “being nice” and providing “healing spaces” there is also a frank discussion of the limitations of internal healing — that internal work only challenges systems of oppression as much as the internal is a site for oppression, but is not the only location of resistance. Internal healing arguably does little to actually change society. What I found is that through the combination of various voices constructing this idea of “another politics” we get a rich look at both large ideas and the nuances that emerge when they are put into practice.
Find my newest linocut print up at The Smudgery! At this point, it’s more of a reminder to myself of the long game. If you’ve been reading my posts recently, you know that I have been feeling overloaded and always in need of more time. But I don’t plan for this to be the norm. This is just a part of the journey and as Blue Scholars say, “that’s why we call it a struggle — you’re supposed to sweat.”
But back to the print. It took me two years and two apartments, from carving to printing to cleaning it up to re-printing. And then finally I had a day off when I could take product photos in the daylight. A crisis over my paycheck and tuition led me to list it in my shop in a fit of desperation. But despite the seemingly-fraught and rushed actions, it had been a slow-crafting process all along and I couldn’t be happier. Sometimes we just need that extra jump to finish the job.
I didn’t think I was going to dress up for Halloween this year. I had thrown around a few ideas and tried to convince J to go in on them with me, but no bite. I’ve also been feeling overwhelmed and overstretched recently, with midterms ending right before Halloween weekend, so I knew it would be tough to pull anything together. But a couple weeks before Halloween, I opened up my email to find this message:
Yaaaassssss, I whispered to myself.
In my favorite Harry Potter book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and his friends learn to confront a boggart. A boggart takes the shape of its adversary’s worst fear and is banished through a spell and laughter. Under Professor Lupin’s capable tutelage they emerge victorious. The boggart cycles through each student’s immediate, internal fear before they render it riddikulus.
I can only imagine that my professor took a page out of the Harry Potter series when constructing his lesson plan. On the first day of class for Clinical Practice with Groups our professor passed out notecards and told us to answer the question: “When it comes to working with clients in a group setting, what is one situation that terrifies you?”
Last Fall, in my first semester of graduate school, I wrote in a reflection assignment for class about how I planned to manage it all. “It all” meaning a full-time job, what feels like more-than-part-time school, and providing some semblance of an adequate life for myself (involving a number of s-words: sustenance, shelter, sleep, social life?). I said a few nice things about maintaining a regular schedule and blogging as a creative outlet. My professor commented, “What a great idea!”
On Friday morning there was an incident on the subway that left me really shaken. It had been a long and exhausting week at work and I was so glad to have made it to Friday. On the subway I took my backpack off and nestled it between my feet. I held onto a pole at the center of a long bench of seated passengers as the car filled with people. As usual, I opened up my NYT crossword app and started solving the mini. As the train pulled out of the station, I heard a loud and clear male voice halfway down the car telling a young woman to take her off backpack or move it or something like that. I shrugged because I knew better — seriously, take your backpacks off when you’re on a crowded train. I kept one ear trained on the ruckus because it seemed like this guy was trying to move through the packed train.
To celebrate J’s new job, we decided to cross another item off of our bucket list and jet to Seattle. We lived like kings for 2.5 days in the Emerald City, eating whenever we were hungry (often) and pretty much walking everywhere in between. It rained for most of the time we were there, but on our last day we were lucky enough to get some blue sky and sun.
At some point in my education I realized that, if I just stay quiet in class, people will often assume that I am smarter than I am. People reveal their stupidity all the time by speaking up, but I look like I would be good at schoolwork. I am East Asian and I speak English well. I found that if I quietly hit the markers of intelligent-enough, study up on the side, and try to figure out what the instructor is asking for, I can pretty much sail by, class participation be damned. I’m starting to feel the strains of this in grad school — my reticence to raise my hand, to take up space, to risk answering a question wrongly and reveal that maybe I too have faults. I can contribute this also to pressures as a young Asian female to not make waves. Everyone loves an amiable Asian girl, but one that rocks the boat? I can already feel the disgust and judgment. In the end, though, nobody questions my presence in class, at a university.
My mom once told me that she wondered, when she was at college, about whether she was an Affirmative Action student. She felt the questioning gaze of others, of whether she rightly belonged. Her advisor asked her if she was there to find a husband or take school seriously, because she wasn’t doing that well in class. I don’t know if her advisor knew that college was also a ticket out of the family flower farm, where she had worked with her siblings on weekends and evenings after school as long as she could remember. These are experiences that are difficult for me to grasp. I understand on an intellectual level what that means, but personally is a different story. I will never fully know how being a second generation college student has shaped my experience and helped propel me across the country to attend a private university, to fight for a space for myself and people like me — people of color — and to continue to be involved in this system professionally and academically. How would my experience have been different if I was the first in my family to go to college? Where would I have focused my efforts if I didn’t have this basis of knowing that, in the end, I deserved to be there?
I had a sudden panic attack after J and I made our first offer on an apartment. We had been looking for few weeks and saw an apartment that hit all of our main criteria — two bedrooms, spacious, decent kitchen, amenities (elevator building with laundry), manageable distance from public transportation, and it was in our price range. It even had a friendly doorman and a gym! We went back again during the next week’s open house to check it out and speak some more with the realtor, who was warm, helpful, and made us feel incredibly comfortable. J and I decided to go in without negotiating and offer the asking price. An hour later our offer was accepted and that’s when I panicked.