From the Other Side – Pt. 3

“From the Other Side” is a series of posts dealing with burn-out, healing, trauma, and a critique of current movement practices. It stems from my past year trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing (nonprofit and volunteer-based) and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.

[one time during therapy, I started thinking about all the things that I wished my mother would tell me, then said fuck it and wrote it to myself.]

I just wanted to let you know that you are a genuinely kind person. You so thoughtful and constantly striving to grow. You are brave and courageous, always taking the jump to figure out things and stepping into new and sometimes uncomfortable situations. You are open to new things, accepting people as they are. The way that you don’t judge things when you hear about them. How you give people the benefit of the doubt and hear people out. I think that’s one of the things that I admire the most about you.

I know that there have been mistakes in your past about how you have treated others, how you have held back and been afraid to open up, how you have been in codependent relationships, but I think it’s really telling that you are where you are now. That you have a much clearer sense of where you end and another person begins. How you have been able to build the kind of relationships that you have with your friends. And they aren’t the ones doing all the relationship work like you think. You are also being a good friend to them.

I know sometimes things get hard and all of these things get forgotten. There are so many things that feel like they are shifting underneath your feet. It’s so hard to see the pain ingrained on your mother’s face when you tell her that you aren’t going to live the way she wants, even in the face of her listing off all of the sacrifices that she made for you. I know what it feels like to have that constant buzz of internal dialogue inside of you, with all these people who still constantly haunt you. It feels like they have power over you and that you will be hurt, left, and unloved if you don’t do what they say, but know this: you are valuable regardless of what they say. Yes, truly. Even if you are not loved by your mother, even if C gets upset at you for not directly communicating with her, even if you don’t have the right queer aesthetics, even if you don’t know all the right things to say to support your friends, even if other people think acupuncture is bullshit, even if your father will be disappointed in you, even if S never told you why they pulled away the way they did, even if you don’t attend protests, even if you don’t do the most radical things all the time, even if you make mistakes, even if you are working from a place of trauma, even if you are not a good daughter, even if you don’t really know what you’re doing, even if you’re not fun or drinking or sleeping with people, even if you don’t dance bachata the way that M wants you to, even if you don’t want to sleep with anyone ever, even if you aren’t ever planning to come out to your relatives, even if you are living off of the support of your family, even if you are not the best at all things. you are still worth it.

Isn’t that the radical love that people preach? The idea that you don’t have to “do” or “be” anything to be loved. The idea that you can be loved, always. That you could be loved regardless, because, and even though. I wish you could be loved like that more.

you know that your resilience is something that I also admire? you have been in so many situations where you were rendered powerless and unable to speak up, but you still found the power to move away from it. I don’t care how long it took you, I don’t care how you did it, I don’t care that you didn’t write all the most radical analysis about it, or that it took a long time to recover afterwards. you did that. you left situations that were hurtful and sought out something better for yourself out there, even when you didn’t know that something like that could exist or that you were allowed to have good things like that. you always believed yourself out. If you look at that and don’t think it’s resilience, I don’t know what resilience would be.

Try to hold onto the memory of that resilience. Recall the place where your power comes from when things get hard. and remember: Do not hand over your power. Do not hand over your safety. Do not hand over your freedom, your worth, or your being. You are worth the fight. I want your to remember that.

garden

From the Other Side – 2

“From the Other Side” is a series of posts dealing with burn-out, healing, trauma, and a critique of current movement practices. It stems from my past year trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing (nonprofit and volunteer-based) and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.

I was talking to a friend about how he felt like he couldn’t make a mistake in the Movement. He was always in a constant state of fear, wondering if he was doing the “right” thing. I had carried that anxiety once. Being frozen by the fear of not doing the “most radical” thing, of making mistakes, of hurting other people. How did you get out of it? he asked. I had nothing to tell him. It was (and still is) an all too convoluted of a process for me to come up with a clear answer.

1.
My first Spanish class assignment was to submit a short paragraph introducing myself. I didn’t know what to do with the gendered a/o endings, so I just stuck in ‘x’s for all the endings like I had seen my genderqueer Latinx friends use, and then sat there wondering what I should tell my professor. The formality of the situation and my status as her student almost made things easier. I wrote a short note in the comments, telling her that I chose to use ‘x’ endings for personal reasons around my gender and then cringed while I pressed submit. The next day, she wrote me a nice note with a smiley face, saying that she understood and supported the decision. And that was that. The simplicity of it all blew me away.

She pulled me aside after class the day after and apologized to me, saying that she didn’t know that much about alternatives to o/a gendering in Spanish and that she would look into it in her other graduate classes and resources back home in Spain. Throughout the rest of the semester, she intentionally switched back and forth between ‘o’ & ‘a’ endings when referring to me. At the end of the semester, I received an email from her:

Last thing: I did not have the chance to tell you that I started a conversation with my department and other smaller departments about gender in the Spanish class, and about why it is important to develop an awareness that some students do not identify with either gender. I had never thought about this reality before (at least not very carefully), and I started doing research about it and got in touch with a couple of associations in Spain that work on this. I will visit them this summer when I am in Spain and I will go to a workshop in the Basque Country. Again, thank you for making me think about this.

I could not believe that it had been so simple.

2.
It was perhaps the ninth or tenth time attending her yoga class. We were all lying there on our backs,with our knees up and stably resting against each other, “like they could stay there forever,” she said. She walked through the aisles and stopped to ask me if I had been doing yoga outside of her class. No, not really. The only other thing I’ve been doing is physical therapy. She told me that she could still tell that my body was being honored. “It’s so great to see,” she added with a smile, and then turned to the class to give the next instructions. I laid there silently processing it all. It was just a passing-by moment, but also probably the first time that someone had recognized all the work that I was putting into my body. All those hours of acupuncture, physical therapy sessions, reading herbalist blogs, googling back pain strategies, and daily stretches. Looking back, this random White yoga instructor had been the only one to truly witness the change of my body and its movement in those last couple of months. And it was powerful to have that work be recognized by someone and to be so seen.

.

I wish I had told my friend to seek out generosity, forgiveness, and understanding in unlikely places. To find people who made him feel safe. To find spaces that loved him as hard as he loved the Movement. That those were the things that brought me to where I am now.

sky

From the Other Side – 1

“From the Other Side” is a series of posts dealing with burn-out, healing, trauma, and a critique of current movement practices. It stems from my past year trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing (nonprofit and volunteer-based) and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.

It’s almost autumn again, and I’m nearing the end of my sessions with my therapist. I remember the first time I went to her back in February, when the roads were still slick and the skin on my knuckles were cracking from the dry Midwest winter. At the end of that first session, I carefully asked her how many more sessions she thought I would need to be “better.” “Usually with other patients, we start with six sessions then see how it goes,” she replied, already penciling in our next appointment. My eyes widened in surprise. Six sessions? That’s such a long time. But it is only now — nearly 20 sessions after that initial estimate — that I feel like I’ve reached a place where I have temporarily outrun my demons.

I don’t know how I got that far down into that ditch, initially; there was never really a starting point for it all. It was probably somewhere between the guilt-inducing nature of the Movement, her yelling at me over the phone on that crisp San Francisco morning, and feeling like there was never “enough”/ enough time, energy, or space for each other in the Movement. By the time I realized that something needed to change, I had already crumbled underneath it all.

I remember how I used to have a panic attack every two weeks, like clockwork. I remember when I always immediately apologized for everything – to ease over her anger, even when I didn’t really think it was my fault. I remember how I broke down crying in front of 40-some tenants at a meeting that I was helping to run, how my mind went blank and I bawled on the street curb for nearly an hour, ignoring all the concerned stares from passerby. I remember how numb I felt when I noticed how respectful and kind she was to others, how it was so different from when she was alone with me, and how I always felt myself shrinking around her. I remember sitting in my grandmother’s place and wondering how someone could love me so much for the simple reason that I existed.

I remember when I would wake up in the middle of the night from a flashback nightmare and a pounding heart that would not believe me when I told it that it was not real. I remember when I realized that it had been quite a long time since I had felt safe and that I didn’t remember what that felt like anymore. I remember blinking back coldly when a friend claimed that they “couldn’t possibly imagine her doing something like that” and the moment when I had begun to doubt my own truth.

I remember the war that I waged with everything inside of me and everyone around me. I remember the surge of fear, shame, and violent denial I felt when the therapist told me that it had been emotional abuse. I remember when my response to everyone and everything was, “What’s the point?” I remember myself choking on the righteousness of radical people around me. I remember when I felt something snap inside me during an argument with my mother, and I screamed alone in my room and pounded my head against the wall until a blissful pain choked out all the other thoughts.

And those days sitting at a red light on Zachary Avenue / holding my breath and pondering how I could disappear myself so completely from this earth — that it would be as if I had never even existed.

grass

Stories of Capitalism

1.
Last summer, we were sitting at Cathy’s favorite Vietnamese restaurant — the only one she vouched for in NYC — after a day of wheeling free office chairs through the NYC subway and chatting about why we do movement work. We were getting ready to dive forks-first into the dishes she had ordered for us, when she muttered, “Capitalism literally made my family sick.” She said it so quickly and off-handedly that I almost missed it. It sounded like a rehearsed prayer recited before meals. I looked up, already mid-chew, and felt her words slowly wrap itself around my throat.

For the next couple of moments, I merely picked at the bánh xèo, not knowing how to continue the conversation. I know the sickness of capitalism too well, having seen too many of us beaten down by it. I wondered exactly how many families capitalism had worn through, how many it had displaced and tossed, how many it had locked up behind bars. There is a sunken heaviness in the bodies of those who drag around the wounds of capitalism. Familiar lines of fatigue etched around their eyes, giving them an eerie look and prompting me to turn my head for a second glance, wondering why it reminds me of the hollowness of my own father’s eyes.

If capitalism sickened her family, it scattered mine. It is the reason my family exists in our current fragmented state — with my father working 12-14 hour days at a corporation in China, my grandparents aging isolated and alone in Korea, my mother and siblings in a Midwest suburban town pursuing the American Dream, and me usually off in big cities across the U.S. trying to financially make it work.

Perhaps all of this is why I’m so focused on getting “home.” A part of me believes that finding “home” would bring all of us together, back in one place and eating rice over the same table. Home, where children could sit in grandparents’ laps and take lazy summer naps. And perhaps in a home like that, the overly wary and calculated relationships that we’ve constructed as defense mechanism could slowly fade. There would be no tally system of the give-and-take. We could dilute each other’s pain. And perhaps then, we could begin healing our wounds.
2.
Another argument with my mother in the kitchen. About money. Our fights always seem to be about money. How she didn’t have enough growing up. How my father is throwing away his life trying to make enough for us. How much they invested in me. How I need to give them a return on that investment. And how I’m not doing that now.

She hates when my anti-capitalist rhetoric flares up — worker’s rights, living wage, how I don’t want to be valued only by my job title. Sometimes the latch releases, and my unformed thoughts about worker’s co-ops, free education, and communal living within an alternative economic system flow out in a jumble of Korean and English phrases. That’s around the time that my mother tells me to go to North Korea, since I hate capitalism so much.

네가 뭐라고. 네가 뭔데 그런것까지 바라냐.
Who do you think you are? Who are you to want those kinds of things?

네가 그렇게 싫어하는 그 더러운 돈으로 널 먹여 살렸다. 어쩔건데?
We fed you and clothed you with that ‘dirty’ money that you hate so much. How about that?

I try to feel out the faded line between self-care and First World overindulgence / between courage and arrogance / between demanding my rights and not devaluing the lives of those who could not make those same demands. Often, after these kinds of exchanges, I escape away to our backyard and lie there with the grass tickling against my skin, genuinely wondering if I what I want from this world is simply too much.

I wonder if backyards are a luxury. If clear blue skies and occasional summer showers are a luxury. If affordable healthcare is a privilege, then perhaps my safety or sense of belonging, too. Sometimes it feels like I am greedy to want all these things. Good health, a sense of togetherness, and maybe even an occasional meal together over the dinner table with my family. They have all become things that I dare not wish for. I wonder if in the process of trying to curb the greed of capitalism, we have made luxuries out of human things.
3.
I am on the phone with S, a soon-to-be labor attorney who will have a hefty sum of student debt upon graduation. Being from a working class single parent household, she is hoping to help financially support her family when she graduates, but the nonprofit jobs lined up all make around 40k. If she stays at a nonprofit job for 10 years — being overworked with no weekends and high rates of staff turnover — her debt will be forgiven by the government. By then she will be in her mid-30s. When I casually mention that she could consider going corporate to make money, she immediately repeats back all the lines we have been taught. That would be selling out. I want to serve the people, not corporations. There is a pause of silence before I open my mouth. “I’m serious. If you have to go corporate to support yourself and your family, it’s okay.” It’s okay. It really is. I know plenty of radical friends that would call me a sellout for even saying that, but I still stand by it.

Since when did striving for financial stability become forbidden in this work? Sometimes it seems as though being in The Movement (or being a “good” person, as defined by The Movement™) means living on a below average salary while working around the clock, having all of your emotional boundaries pushed to its limits, straining relationships with family, not having time to breathe let alone relax, and not being able to afford decent health insurance. It seems as if our dedication to The Movement is measured in how little we sleep and how much pain we endure. But what told us that working class people are not allowed financial stability or organic food? What told us that true organizers should reside in pest-infested housing and live on food stamps? What told us that being dedicated to the Movement as a lawyer means drowning in student loans? Is that what we’re fighting for?

This is a race to the bottom. Soon, there will be nothing of us left.
4.
These days, I think about how to live guided by abundance rather than scarcity

To remember how a single scoop of rice with my hands always makes enough for two. How a single flame can light an infinite number of wicks. How a fruit is both the final product and the seed to begin anew. It feels as though we are trying to remember things that we used to know once, long ago.

I am fighting for the breaths of fresh air.
The grass between our toes.
That sweet tang of the first fall strawberry
picked straight off the vine, and
friendly chatter with the neighbors
who always carry a stock of our tupperware
from the latest exchange of food.

I want it all / to bring us closer to ourselves
and keep reminding us of where we are going / how we can all become free.

 

dahlia

꽃은 바람에 흔들리며 핀다 / 김정원

꽃은 바람에 흔들리며 핀다 / 김정원

마음에 담아두지 마라

흐르는 것은 흘러 가게 놔둬라
바람도 담아두면 나를 흔들때가 있고
햇살도 담아두면
마음을 새까맣게 태울때가 있다

아무리 영롱한 이슬도
마음에 담으면 눈물이 되고
아무리 이쁜 사랑도
지나가고 나면 상처가 되니
그냥 흘러가게 놔둬라

마음에 가두지 마라
출렁이는 것은 반짝이면서 흐르게 놔둬라
물도 가두면 넘칠 때가 있고
빗물도 가두면
소리내어 넘칠 때가 있다

아무리 즐거운 노래도
혼자서 부르면 눈물이 되고
아무리 향기로운 꽃밭도
시들고 나면 아픔이 되니

출렁이면서 피게 놔둬라
꽃은 바람에 흔들리면서 핀다

___

Flowers bloom swaying in the wind / by Kim Jung Won

Do not carry it in your heart

with the things that flow
let them flow on by
Carrying the wind will sway you at times
Holding onto to the sunlight
will scorch your heart black at times

Even the clearest dew
becomes tears held onto in the heart
Even the most precious love
hardens into scars when it passes on
Just let it flow on by

Do not lock it up in your heart
What is coursing, leave it to glisten along
Even water will overflow when it is confined
Rain will splash over when it is caged
Even the most pleasant song
becomes tears when you sing it alone
Even the most fragrant flowers
leaves pain when they wilt

So leave them be, to surge and to blossom
For flowers bloom swaying in the wind

On Black Lives Matter

Note: Both English and Korean subtitles available

I made a video last week in Korean about my perspectives on Black Lives Matter work and how I think it connects to my parents’ Korean immigration stories. It’s based on conversations with my parents and other Korean elders about police violence. It’s not perfect, and it’s not a video of the most “radical” political speech. And I still believe that it’s the most important to tailor the message to each person and that no video can actually have the conversation for others.

But I still went ahead with it. The video stems from a place of trying to establish connections and gentler forms of understanding with Korean families/relatives/friends, rather trying to push a political agenda on others. Often times, the intimate sphere (where Korean may be spoken more frequently) can feel separate from the political sphere (where protests/vigils/political action takes place and English is the dominant language).

My intentions for the video are: 1) to provide another tool for organizers (esp. monolingual English-speaking) to bring their political work closer to their Korean-speaking intimate circles and 2) share my thoughts and experiences as an organizer, as to make political movement work less intimidating or distant to viewers. I hope that the video is something you can share with Korean-speaking folks in your life.

_____________________________

[Korean Transcript]

지난 주, 연달아 두 명의 흑인 남성들이 경찰에 의해 살해 당했습니다. 그들의 이름은 알톤 스털링 (Alton Sterling)과 필란도 카스틸 (Philando Castile)입니다. 뉴스나 인터넷을 통해서 사건을 이미 접하신 분들도 많겠지만 그 두 사건들에 대해 간단하게 설명드리겠습니다.Read More »

Link Roundup 7/13/16

The most powerful art from #BlackLivesMatter movement | Washington Post
Featuring a wide range of art pieces on police shootings and reality of Black lives in the U.S.

26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets
A list of different ways to support the movement apart from physically protesting, esp useful for broadening accessibility and approaching “labor” with a disability justice lens.

Jamila Wood’s new album HEAVN
Her voice is airy and yet full at the time, as she sings about the legacy of Black freedom fighter women in “Blk Girl Soldier.” A much needed voice and song for these times.

Abolish The Police | The Nation
“When people ask me, ‘Who will protect us,’ I want to say: Who protects you now?”

My Revolutionary Suicide Note | Melissa Harris Perry
A performance piece about Black death as suicide and freedom.

What to Do Instead of Calling the Police
A Google Doc resource list of articles and toolkits on how to not rely on police

6 Ideas for a Cop-Free World | Rolling Stone
Suggestions for ways to replace the police when we finally abolish them

Healing & Wounds

Yeah, I know. Healing is not linear. I just wish it would be fucking done already.

I’ve started and erased this post so many times, trying to get down in writing what I’ve been doing for the last year — since leaving a stable nonprofit salary, health insurance, and comrade friends behind. I’ve flown under the radar since then, trying to reserve my energy and not overextend myself for people who do not put in the same effort to share their time or energy with me, and as a result, people don’t really know where I am or what I’m doing. It’s kind of freeing in a sense, to be away from the constantly interrogating gaze of the “successful” and to be the only one responsible for holding all the parts of myself together.

Today, I just want to share a brief list of unconventional “self-care” tips that I have collected throughout time, especially around family trauma and movement burn-out. It’s different than just focusing on the fight against the inner demons, because sometimes I feel like the more I force it to go away, the more it clings onto me. Rather, the goal is to focus on strengthening and building up resilience, as well as a safety net, so that when the hard periods come, I will be more prepared to weather it out.

  • Acupuncture for depression & anxiety, which is now largely covered if you have insurance. I have found it one of the most effective things I do. Even without insurance, there are many community acupuncture clinics with sliding scale fees.
  • Try life coaching. There are other options for life coaching, but I received 12 weeks of free life coaching through Grad Life Choices, which is a program for unemployed/underemployed college grads. I would highly recommend.
  • Drink plenty of water. If you need help keeping track, try using the Plant Nanny app.
  • Cut caffeine intake, if you have anxiety, as it stimulates your central nervous system even further. Instead, try rooibos lattes and other alternatives!
  • Take omega-3 supplements, which have been shown to decrease mood fluctuations and help with depression (source).
  • Join a childcare collective (NYC / Bay Area / DC / WA / Chicago), which provides volunteer-based childcare to organizations working on liberation for working class parents of color. It’s a tangible way to support movement work, and plus interacting with kids has got to be one of the most magical things!
  • Fill your Facebook with good things, including my favorite FB page, QTPOC Mental Health, which is always chock full of inspirational reminders and helpful tips.
  • Meditate in guided group sessions, which are usually offered free through local community centers. Some even offer people of color only meditation groups.
  • Pick up a good fiction book, which helps my brain can focus on something other than its own downward spiral thinking and instead imagine something outside of our existing world.
  • Light a candle for some aromatherapy. Certain candle scents like lavender, vanilla, cinnamon, sandalwood, and jasmine can relax and help relieve stress.
  • Reading poetry salt by nayyirah waheed is always good for the soul.
The real post about healing will have to wait, because it’s a long winding story folds back onto itself, again and again, so that there is no beginning or end to tease out. And it’s ongoing. The work that I’m doing now of undoing the trauma in my family, as well as the parts that have lodged themselves deep within me over the years — I also kind of consider it a form of anti-imperialist, anti-violence work. After all, what is movement work but building the foundation so that our people may shed their trauma and become fuller beings. #healingjustice
queer

For the Queereans

I’ve compiled a short list of queer Korean (“queerean”) resources that I’ve collected over time and wanted to share, in both Korean and English. You can scroll down for Korean language resources. The post will be regularly updated over time.

***

N A R R A T I V E S  /  우 리 들 의   이 야 기

Personal Stories / 개인적 경험담

For Parents of Queer Children / 성소수자 자녀를 둔 부모님들을 위해서

***

I N F O R M A T I O N A L  /  정 보 마 당

Organizations in the U.S. / 미국 한인 성소수자 시민단체

Organizations in Korea / 한국 성소수자 시민단체

Media / 미디어

Writing / 잡지 + 책 + 에세이

Hopscotch Alley

“Time stops at the point of severance, and no subsequent impressions muddy the picture you have in mind. The house, the garden, the country you have lost remain forever as you remember them.”
— Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation

New Doc 54_1

When I was younger, we used to live in my grandparent’s house, situated on a backroad in Seoul. And across from our house was the opening to a small alleyway, where all of my other friends lived — or at least where we all met to play. I guess I never really knew where they lived. They probably came from all over, but in my mind, our childhoods all existed in that alleyway space, and we never saw each other outside of it. I took a peek into it when I went back last year, on a spontaneous trip after quitting all my jobs and booking a one-way ticket to Korea. I didn’t have it in me to step into the space and explore it again, now almost 20 years since I had left, but I did sneak a quick look as I walked by, and it’s quite a small alleyway. I recall it feeling small even back then. It was a wider-than-normal walking path between two 빌라 / “villas” (which is what Koreans call 2-3 story apartments) that faced each other, and then at the end of the villas, there was a sharp L-shaped bend in the alley, which opened out into a bigger road that we used to use to get to our elementary school.

My mother disliked me going through the alley on my own or playing there. It was quite dark and narrow, without any streetlights, and I suppose it was a dangerous place for a kid to walk through alone. But to me, it felt like the dark warm crevice of a familiar space, and I used to run through it on my way back from piano lessons, just to see if anyone was out playing. I still remember the hopscotch board that we used to draw out for ourselves (a different one than the square ones here) and how we would jump rope together, eventually ending up tired and rolling around on the brick-paved alleyway till dusk.

I don’t remember their names or their faces, just that we spent that parts of our childhood together. Sometimes my grandmother pulls out a name and asks me if I remember running around with them when I was younger — usually after this person has gotten married or goes abroad, probably something that was brought up in the local gossip circles — and I just shake my head. They all remain a clump of warm feelings and nostalgic memories in my mind, and I think actually meeting them against the backdrop of our parents egging us on to be best friends again after nearly 20 years would be incredibly awkward. Plus, they became reshaped and remolded so frequently in my memories that they’re more figments of my own imagination than actual people. I know from experience that retouching old memories sometimes shatters them beyond repair. And so, they will always remain in that alleyway as long as the place continues to exist within my mind — skipping hopscotch in the approaching dusk.