To myself

[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 are 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 them. 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 ultimately 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 when you didn’t know that you were allowed to have nice things. 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 you to remember that.



“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 trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.

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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

May 17

What I’ve been really into these days:

  1. Buying tea to solve all my problems
  2. Saying No
  3. Making my therapist laugh
  4. Teaching my brother AP Biology
  5. Leaving spaces
  6. Watering my chamomile seeds
  7. Splurging on sashimi for my Neko Atsume cats
  8. Sleeping with a little purple eye pillow
  9. Pretending to go to the gym for exercise, then just going to the sauna
  10. Hanging out with doctors more than friends
  11. Crying in my car
  12. Watching sad Chinese lesbian films on YouTube
  13. Meeting people who have left the Movement™
  14. Hovering over the telephone, then deciding not to call my grandmother
  15. Fighting my inner demons & sometimes winning
  16. Sifting through garden dirt to find earthworms, then strategically releasing them next to my precious heirloom tomatoes
  17. Concocting  rooibos lattes variations at home
  18. Dreaming vividly
  19. Going to acupuncture and taking a mid-day nap
  20. Pretending that life decisions don’t have deadlines

On Trauma & Resilience

There were an eclectic mix of plastic school chairs, rolly office chairs, and little stools all huddled together in a circle around the gallery. The gallery opened to a high lofty ceiling enclosed by smooth white walls, each decorated with a series portraits of Minneapolis residents. Their photos warmly peered down on us like protectors of the space, and it might have felt cold and unwelcoming had the core of the room not been softly filled in with a knit blue rug and a heap of colorful pillows. And of course, there was that freshly brewed coffee smell encircling the space. No Saturday morning healing workshop would have been complete without it.

“I once was powerful. I still am powerful. I will be powerful again. We are powerful together.”

Our workshop started with a collective chant and continued on the theme of power through the opening question: What is the first moment that made you feel powerful? It took a couple seconds for me to rewire my brain and cast aside the moments of powerlessness that I often replay in my mind. But it came to me: “At age 14, going back to my mother’s country and seeing what a powerful woman I came from.” My moment of power took its place in the hat along with other slips of paper. We each took one and read it out loud for all of us to hear.

When I made my brother stop crying.
Picking out groceries at the grocery store for my family.
When I refused to pledge allegiance to the flag,
and they couldn’t do anything to make me.

The Restoring Power: Trauma & Resilience for Organizers workshop had been advertised on Facebook — my only network here in Minnesota — and to be honest, I had gone in with very low expectations. I think a part of me had (wrongly) believed that “radicalness” existed outside of Minnesota. And another part may have been that I was just wary of another trendy workshop on “healing,” “collective care,” and “ancestors” in some uncomfortable manner that fetishized traditional practices, to ultimately leave me feeling empty and hollow.

I can honestly say that the entire six hours of the workshop left me feeling energized and full. The workshop didn’t aim to give me knowledge or skills in a didactic manner; rather, it helped to unearth and discover things that were already inside of myself. It was an incredibly thoughtful workshop — and I think that’s what caught me off guard the most. Accessibility wasn’t done for good ally points or for “those” people, but with the mentality that they themselves would be recipients of others’ care someday. There was plenty of food and coffee to keep participants well-fed, and everyone was free to walk around or sit on the ground during the workshop, as they felt comfortable.

Ricardo and Molly were the facilitators for the workshop, and they were incredibly wise and generous, seeming to believe in my body’s capabilities much more than I ever had. Scattered in between stories and discussions about healing were acupressure point demonstrations to keep our bodies at the same pace as our minds. I think it’s very rare to get an opportunity to feel your body and become aware of its pain & breath outside of a medical office. At times, my body still feels like a long lost cousin I haven’t seen since childhood. It’s always an uncomfortable and clumsy meeting, an awkward “hey remember me?” reintroduction. But gradually the tension softens with each touch, and this time was no different. I had the opportunity to explore the “letting go point,” which can be found if you cross your arms in an X on your chest, which each arm pointed towards the opposite shoulder, and then you press down with a couple fingers from each hand, and then the “speak your truth” point found in between your clavicles on your chest. Molly walked around to gently guide our hands in the right direction. The facilitators also noted that we could look to the earth as an extension of our bodies and for inspiration around our own healing abilities. Our bodies know how to heal itself, just as the soil knows how to cleanse itself over and over again. It just required that we trust our bodies and recognizing the histories & wisdom it holds. The body is the way we know everything we know.

***

At the very core of healing trauma is that trust we have to develop with ourselves. Trauma is an act of violating our boundaries (physically, emotionally, mentally) and being put in more danger than we can handle. The traumatic experiences may result in hypovilgilence (the feeling that nothing is dangerous or threatening; a numbing of sorts / ex: oppression feeling normal) or hypervigilence (the feeling that everything is dangerous or threatening / ex: little things setting you off) as mechanisms of coping. Often times, the trauma becomes embedded in our bodies and held in silence, only rearing its head when triggered and exploding in unpredictable ways. Opening up that bottled silence by speaking your truth is a powerful act of reclaiming power that trauma once held over you.

However, it is also important to recognize that healing does not come from continually retelling that story of trauma, but rather simultaneously working towards reframing the experience. Healing lies in this process of discovering the light on the other side of darkness / in speaking about our survival, not only our trauma / in telling a different story about yourself than the one assigned to you as the “victim” / in realizing that the struggles of recovery are also a testament to the great resilience and power that your body holds. It was difficult for me — and it still is — to look at my body and not focus solely on its crooked spine, spiraling dark thoughts, and aching knees that frequently give out from underneath me. But more frequently now, I can also notice the tight bundle of determination that arises in my chest every time I make time to exercise my body and the discipline I needed to build greater control I have  over my breath to ease and soothe my mind. In those small moments, I feel a sense of awe at the realization that wounds and pain are not a sign of defeat for my body, nor the end. That there is more that can come after the pain.

I believe healing needs to be discussed more in organizing circles, because it is a framework that can be used to organize communities in a more revolutionary way. Healing allows you to shift the focus from the pain (i.e. oppression and victimization) to identifying the survival methods that communities have developed for themselves throughout time, as well as the possibilities and potentials of what can arise from this struggle. During the workshop, Ricardo told a story of how Ojibwe children, who were forcibly sent to boarding schools, were not allowed to speak their own language on the campus grounds. Instead, they would go jump on the trampoline to speak Ojibwe to each other in short clips — in the air, and not technically on campus grounds — as a way to sustain their relationships and language. It was a reminder to honor the ways that our communities already do “resilience.” This type of re-framing immediately places more agency and power into the hands of a community formerly defined only as “oppressed” and “marginalized.” It also allows you to challenge the type of “victim determinism” that pervades current political discussions — a type of thinking that the actions or situations of people are entirely determined by their oppression or traumas (i.e. she acts that way because she’s a survivor of intimate partner violence and grew up in a low-income immigrant Korean family). We all know that it’s more complicated than that.

I believe that larger social movements could learn more nuanced ways to hold both the oppression and resilience of our people, if we were able to draw more from healing justice work. After all, organizing isn’t about lecturing at people about the revolution; it is about making possibilities visible to people and willing them to shift our society. The possibility that I could become something more than my broken pieces — that we would not have to be constantly defined by our traumas and oppression, that our world could mend and heal into something softer and more gentle. That is the reason I joined the movement, and also the reason I left it.

For more information on the Restoring Power: Trauma & Resilience for Organizers workshop, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RestoringPowerMN.

6 Ways to Boost Your Mental Health

List 3 gratitudes (everyday)
When I was 13 and still a church-going Catholic, I had to write down three things we were thankful for and turn it into our Sunday School teacher. I learned a decent number of things in Sunday School (including basic sex education: “Okay, Mary didn’t have sex, but there’s other ways of having babies, right? Right?!”), but this is possibly the most helpful today. It is and continues to be a powerful tool to shift perspective. For more structure, try using the Secret of Happiness app, which has set reminders.

Subscribe to happy news
I can no longer log onto my Facebook without some mental preparation. Nothing on my newsfeed is ever good (because that’s the state of our world right now #crisismode). But also a line has to be drawn for my own mental health. Join me in subscribing to random “happy” sites, like DIY crafts, baby instagrams, horoscopes, artist drawings, fashionista children, & spiritual blogs (most of which have questionable appropriation practices, but gotta pick my battles). Share some of your favorites!

Listen to some upbeat mixtapes
I’m a sad song kind of person, as evidenced by my most-played playlist titled, Ghost Voices (true story). But it’s good to be mindful of what environment I’m placing myself in. Turn up some happy tunes to tune up your mood!

Make commitments
Schedule meals with your friends, or make a public promise to accomplish something today. Often times, this is how I get myself to eat regularly or stop myself from being isolated when things get really tough. Funnily enough, I keep promises to others better than promises I make to myself (need to work on that).

Imagine a dialogue with a friend
Envision one of your good friends sitting in front of you. Tell them your situation or dilemma. What would they say? How would they react? What advice would they give? Often times, I realize that other people practice way more compassion for my mistakes and challenges than I do. It’s a helpful exercise I do to remember self-compassion.

Get emotional support
This can mean through formal therapy (which is hit or miss) or just by reaching out to your friends. Then when there are those moments when I feel like I need an anonymous ear, I open up my 7 Cups app and talk to random emotional supporters. I’m pretty wary of strangers, but they have been helpful each time I’ve used it.

From the Earth

I spent this past weekend at a farm with our korean drumming group. We all packed in to a yurt, drank swigs of 막걸리 / korean alcohol, and played our drums for the opening ceremony of the queer farmer’s festival. We unraveled our rhythms on a land that was not our own, with people that were not our own. To bring on the harvest for this year, with our sounds of moving clouds (북 / buk), rain (장구 / janggu), thunder (꽹과리 / gguang gari), and wind (징 / jing). Ah, the complexities of diaspora.

We were followed by a ceremony by an Amah Mutsun tribe member that left The small, round patches of dirt on our snowy white 민복 / minbok knees. Have you ever kneeled on the earth and spread your palms on the earth? There is something powerful about rolling grains of dirt between your fingers — knowing that this is what feeds you & what takes you in at death. It pulls up thoughts about the people we have buried in its depths — those who were taken, those who left, those who were forgotten. And the power of the world to do so at its will.

***

Perhaps it was the “life” aspect of being on a farm, but the weekend felt so vibrant and whole, as if life was pulsating through everything — from the round ends of my drum mallet to the tip of my toes.

We walked between rows of red ripe peppers & bountiful tomatoes and stared out into broad fields of corn stalks. 40 acres worth of farmland — neatly lined up in green rows. I can’t remember the last time that I’ve seen the flat earth edged up so close to the sky like that. It’s so amazing to stand witness to the earth’s plentiful nature. How the earth constantly nourishes, how its energy cycles. How it gives & receives, how it heals & endures. How it brings the sky, water, plants & people together. How it hides and reveals / buries and unearths / feeds and extracts — but never doing one without the other. It makes me realize that there is no giving without receiving, that there is no actual loss or gain because ultimately, we all belong to the same earth. That’s some stuff out of high school physics. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. First law of thermodynamics.

I remember thinking that earth’s flow of energy feels a bit different than that of water. It fills me with a different kind of awe than the vastness of an ever changing sea. Earth has a wholeness & fullness to its fluidity, rather than a steady rhythm or motion like the water. The earth is like a constant stream of energy that feels complete, that has an eerie sameness, like drawing a circle without lifting up the pencil, then retracing its lines over and over again.

I felt like I was given enough space to think & breathe / to eat, laugh, drink / between my rapid-fire arguments and grueling organizing. The earth teaches me to savor the fast-wilting beauty, but also hold onto the knowledge that it will come around again. It gives endlessly with both the trust & age-old wisdom that I will eventually return all of it to its underlayers. The earth gently opens up my mother’s bundle of childhood stories from her village — memories of her elementary shutting down for every harvest and long-held collective knowledge about 품앗이 / a practice of an entire village rotating from one family’s plot to another to help with sowing seeds. I think about how the land is fundamental to our sense of belonging, how we nourish ourselves, how we conceptualize creation & destruction. Both physically and figuratively, the revolution will occur on this earth.

IMG_20151004_155747

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

The Fiction Writer Kind

I shut the book, having finished the last bits of it out of obligation. Octavia’s Brood. Sitting at the dining room table, I thought about the multitude of people that wrote this book and wondered if the book existed more for the writer or the reader. Bringing in social justice activists (many with no science fiction writing experience) probably allowed them to explore not only breaking down, but also creating and imagining — but with some pieces, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer bluntness of the writing. This is the future, they would tell me. End of conversation. The un-subtlety of certain pieces made me slink away from the writing, and made me feel like the book lost its potential, its magic, and its revolutionary spirit.

I understand the purpose of inviting social justice activists to write speculative fiction, even if they have not yet written before. I also strongly believe in the power of speculative fiction. It’s just that I believe that power & magic lies in the reading in-between the lines, the liminal space, the multiplicity of interpretations, the silent cues and the hints, and the potential for the new and mysterious. And I believe that this quality of fiction can be, and must be brought into movement spaces more broadly. For example, in social justice circles, when there is conflict or oppressive behavior, the affected person is always asked to voice their needs. “What do you need?” And the rest of us sit there quietly blinking, waiting for the answer that will get us out of that situation. We just need to do what they tell us to do, right? We follow this tell-and-do model.

I recognize that asking the person what they need is an important practice of consent & empowerment of the speaker. In some situations, it’s important for the affected person to have space to voice their needs. Often, they are silenced and ignored, instead “supported” in ways that feel easiest & best to those who inflicted pain. Then they wash their hands clean of the situation. However, it’s also important to recognize that with that question (“What do you need?”), people may be assuming that everyone currently knows exactly what they need. What if what I actually need is not something that I’ve felt before? What if what I need is not something I can articulate? What if I ask for things that are unknowingly self-harming because I only know ‘care’ within an abusive context? What if what I need has no words in the English language? What if I have no idea what it is that I need — just not this?

We need space. Not an empty space, but a charged electrical one where we sit with the electrifying potential. I believe that new non-oppressive modes of care and love are created in those liminal spaces. Like fiction, this is the space between the present & the future, the reality & the dream — and the hurting & healing. Before we bluntly ask what it is that someone needs, we need to sit in this in-between space. We need to watch and observe more, connect with our bodies and feelings more, trust that you innately know how to apology, loving, and kindness more.

Maybe that’s the type of organizer I want to be. The fiction writer kind — the one that doesn’t imagine for you or create for you, but rather someone whose own thought processes leave enough room for others to insert themselves into the story line. The “read between the lines” kind. The “open to multiple interpretations” kind. The kind that sparks heated conversations. The empty pages and silent words kind. Someone who compels another to take up the pen in the middle of the night to draw out their dreams. Someone capable of creating a world with multiple worlds inside. The person that rubs the present up against the fabric of the future, causing the friction erupting into bolts of revolutionary potential.

Childcare & Intergenerational Movements

I’ve always had an interest in building intergenerational movements. Working in an organization where majority of the folks I see are 65+, having grown up under the same roof as my grandparents, and having semi-raised my youngest sibling, I see the gaping holes that exist in our movements. The social justice spaces I see are usually 18-30 (with very young or no children). Very few of them think about the hours of day that we’re meeting. Even fewer provide childcare, until explicitly asked. We are leaving huge amounts of people behind — and I am simultaneously afraid to be lost to the movement when I get older. That I will “age out” of this type of engagement in society. When will marches be too fatiguing? When will my children call to me stronger than my fellow organizers? When will mid-day conference calls be impossible to hear with children packed in the soccer mom car? It’s not that people suddenly lose interest or simply the problem of being “too busy” with children; it’s also the fault of the organizing spaces — the pace, the location, the time, and the lack of childcare.

I attended a radical childcare collective orientation today to learn more about ways to tangibly contribute to an intergenerational movement. The collective here in the Bay grew out of a white solidarity work to support low-income immigrant women of color organizing efforts, and envisions an “intergenerational movement where people of all ages and abilities have the power & support to determine what happens in their communities.” They provide childcare for certain partner organizations, so that folks can have the space to organize in their own communities. I appreciated their belief in young people and their determination towards providing politicized childcare.

As someone who has never participated in their childcare collective or seen it in action, I can’t speak to the actual work of the collective. However, I think the existence of such a group and the reading of their guiding principles made me think a lot about the power of children, youth, and elders, as well as the intense need for an intergenerational movement — one where a child’s energetic, playful skip syncs seamlessly with the steady-paced, gentle steps of an elder. What would that look like, and how are we going to get there?

One of the values that they listed were around the right for low-income people to have families and to have support raising their children, which aligned well with why I was initially drawn to reproductive justice work. I think about whose families are not deemed “worthy” enough to stay together (i.e. deported immigrant parents, Black/Latinx parents in jail), whose bodies are seen to need State-sanctioned control (i.e. Maximum Family Grant Rule in CA, which denies financial assistance for new children if parent is already on welfare), and whose children are gunned down each day without reason, cause, or warning.

Another value stated, “We believe that childcare is a collective responsibility. We believe childcare is a practice in interdependence.” I’m still sitting and thinking about this one, trying to articulate how I think we can learn from the ways that children connect with one another and the ways that a healthy caretaker-child relationship models interdependence. I think most people can understand why a child would need a parent, but perhaps not see the relationship the other way around. I believe parents learn about their own stressors, their boundaries, their inner trauma — all of these things are reflected back upon themselves when parenting. Their actions are amplified in their quick-learning children. I’ve also heard my grandmother talking about how she used to be more active and happy when she was helping raise my younger cousin; she would keep my grandmother on her toes, teach her to engage with the world in a different way, spark conversations with strangers, and eat healthy meals regularly. I am a strong believer in the value of interdependence, and also recognize the greater need for explicit, tangible forms of it playing our in our movements.

The final thing I want to highlight before closing out this post is the coloring book that the collective made, in collaboration with artists and volunteers. Here is a selection of different coloring books, including a page from the Bay Area Childcare Collective’s “Land for the People.” I love that something like this was created to sustain the childcare work, but also build relationships amongst the volunteers and partners. I hope more work like this is created & shared.

Photo Credit: Rosa Y.