thoughts on self-care: I have a lot of them

This is an intro post to a multi-part series (of an indeterminate number of parts) on self-care and community care that started as one post, and then it was too many words, so now it is more than one post.

This year has been … a lot of things. A huge part of me wants to curl up into a ball (maybe surrounded by puppies and kittens, also curled up, resting their fuzzy little faces onto their tiny fuzzy paws) and take a break from everything. I am tired, and it feels like people in my communities are also tired.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about self-care and trauma, with links to resources, for at least the last 6 months. I’m recognizing in finally writing this post that I have been thinking “I need to write that self-care post,” while my heart and life have been traveling down a different path of “What does community care look like?”


By the way, this is my favorite hobby/self-care practice (working on my photo book “Hey, can I hold that?”)

Thankfully, this hard and tiring year has also been amazing and rewarding in many, many ways, in large part because I have met and deepened relationships with so many rad, radical QTPOC organizers. I have learned so much from reading their status updates and blog posts, from talking through trauma and #organizerproblems over meals, from observing how folks hold space.

I’ve learned about what I want care and access support and communities to look like, how I want to show up for folks, how to ask for support and articulate needs and boundaries. These are all things that I recognize are ongoing practices, things I hope I will strive to be better at for the rest of my life.

So. I am accepting that I don’t have all of the answers, which is like, probably important to growth? And part of my self-care process and accepting imperfections? I guess?

My original post had paragraphy subheads to help break up the text, so I will leave them here as a preview of what I think follow-up posts will be, with links added in once other posts go live:

  • Context matters: Maybe we should be thinking about why we need so much self-care. (OR the world we live in is often a deeply fucked up place and instead of feeling guilty about not being more grounded, maybe we can shift the blame outside of ourselves)
  • “Self-care for sustainability” is part of the problem. If we’re only doing self-care so we can work more, how can we disentangle our self-worth from the work? Hint: I don’t think we can. (Also, this is capitalistic and ableist.)
  • “You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more. (But I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later.)
  • What does the opposite of a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness actually look like?* Moving from self-care to community care.
  • [Something about trauma, secondary trauma and therapy, which I had already decided to break out into a separate post.]
  • Here is an oddly curated list of resources.**

* This is particularly odd without the context of the section that comes before it, which might not make it through edits.
** I may break up the resources a bit to go with each post, and then create a final post with all of the links, along with any additional suggestions I gather from the comments or Facebook. Please comment with resources you’ve found helpful!

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall a partial list of things that help me maintain perspective:

  • my hobbies: baking bread and picking up animals and taking pictures with them
  • journaling, even if it’s only for 10 minutes at a time (if 10 seems daunting, start with 5; if it helps, try promising yourself that you won’t go back and read what you wrote for a month, or 6 months, or ever, and find a good hiding spot for your journal)
  • QTPOC workouts: being able to move in a space that is affirming and inclusive, that welcomes all bodies, openly encourages modifications, and where folks are actively respectful of pronouns and thoughtful about how they are communicating feels almost unrealistically magical but it’s real
  • Chani Nicholas’ weekly horoscopes
  • Lucille Clifton’s short, powerful poem “won’t you celebrate with me” (full text, video, skip to 30 seconds in)

And some additional things I’d like to share:

getting to the other side 

A year ago, I channeled rage and grief into a blog post called “discussing white supremacy at the dinner table,” which is basically a bunch of links to articles breaking down white privilege, anti-Black racism, and tactics for navigating conversations about race and how to get by some common derailing tactics.

Writing that post and trying to put it into action over the past year has been part of a constant process of unlearning and relearning. As a non-Black person raised in a country founded on white supremacy, I know I have so much more unpacking and unlearning to do. I say this as someone who for decades wanted to run for office, as someone who believed in American exceptionalism and meritocracy and equality of opportunity, as someone who has benefitted from the model minority myth (to the extent that East Asians are most privileged from the ways our diasporas are consolidated into one monolith) and by extension, from my complicity in anti-Blackness.

My identities as a queer and genderqueer non-Black person of color and child of immigrants don’t exempt me from my class privilege or relative race privilege or from benefitting from anti-Blackness.

Saturday Night Live recently created a digital short called “A Thanksgiving Miracle” that is being hailed as a perfect solution to racist and/or otherwise problematic dinner conversation — play Adele’s “Hello,” and magically shut down the conversation as everyone starts singing. (Full disclosure, I think this song is very overrated and kind of boring, sorry.)


Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 5.10.27 PM

(This is a screencap, not an embedded video. Image shows a group of mostly white people sitting around a table full of Thanksgiving food. A white woman seated next to a young white child points an accusing finger at a Black man, the only person of color present.)

(This article recaps the video.) On the surface, I get why this is supposed to be funny. It worked well when they did a similar sketch with everyone crying to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” but as a card-carrying SJW I am duty-bound to tell you your fave is problematic. Even setting aside my many other critiques about this skit for a moment,* this video annoys me because a bunch of cisgender white people ignoring oppressive statements with karaoke does nothing to fix anything.

Ok, so maybe Thanksgiving dinner is not the time when you’re going to your racist Aunt Sally/Zhang Ahyi. And often, Thanksgiving is already a traumatic experience. As I said last year, Thanksgiving is a hard time for a lot of reasons — how do indigenous folks commemorate a holiday that literally celebrates the attempted genocide of their people? For queer and trans folks who have been cut off from their families, what table do we sit down around? For folks who don’t have access to class privilege or the ability to support themselves financially or other systems of support, being cut off from family is dangerous and violent.

That may be the case for you, and I am not here to make judgment statements on what your activism should look like or how you approach social justice, but my point is that letting these comments go unchecked is a choice, and when you are not a member of the oppressed group being targeted, being able to turn away from these conversations is a privilege.

It’s hard enough to go into these dinners, but it helps to think through these conversations ahead of time. Some guiding questions:

  • What are my stakes in this conversation? What comments am I not going to let go by unchecked?
  • What are the consequences of letting those comments slide? (Are there youth present who will hear and internalize these comments, without seeing anyone offer a counter narrative? Will you regret not having said anything to defend your friends, loved ones, chosen family, whether or not they were present?)
  • What topics are likely to come up, and is it possible to plant a seed of noting your discomfort, so that you can have a follow-up conversation later?

And let’s face it. Fighting for our liberation is not just about saying the right things — reductionist critiques of political correctness focus on this idea that SJWs are saying some words are bad and can never be used. It’s not just the words — finding different words to say the same harmful things and uphold the same systems of oppression is nothing new. (See, for example, the use of “thug.”)

This work is about changing people’s perspectives and shifting things for long-term change. For folks who are giving themselves an ally label, do the work at home. We can’t just dismiss people because they’re old or they’ve always been that way; things “always being that way” is what has brought us to the present day.

hello from the other siiiiide

I must have tried a thousand times
to tell you that’s racist, everything that you’ve said
but when I comment you never seem to take accountability for your facebook posts

Think about what it means to turn away. We are not on the other side of this. As Shaun King laid out, “more unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.” Armed white supremacists in bulletproof vests fired upon peaceful protestors in Minneapolis, and then walked away from a crowd full of police. The KKK has been openly recruiting in Portland and surrounding cities, where police also put up a billboard saying “Having enough police matters,” directly across from a church that has been displaying a #BlackLivesMatter banner. Shooting an unarmed Black person doesn’t lead to jail time, but protesting these murders by police does. Police have literally been targetting and arresting Black organizers who are leading protests and direct actions. 

Across the country (and in other nations), Black organizers are drawing attention to the open war on Black folks in this country.

Having “a conversation about race” is not enough, by far. But right now, we as non-Black folks, need to take on the labor of these conversations in our own communities, with our own families.

* Specifically, this is a perfect example of casual racism and transphobia, in that “progressive” cisgender (mostly) white folks get to make racist and transphobic statements (which the video also reifies by drawing on drag tropes which are often if not always transmisogynistic) for laughs. See where the laughs come in, and see also Dave Chappelle’s comments on taking a break from “Chappelle Show” after hearing a white person’s laughter at “the wrong moment.” (I have many thoughts about comedy and the limits of its usefulness.)

read more books by people of color

Oops, I started this blog post 9 months ago. (I started writing on a lunch break and realized I could export my GoodReads data, and then I spent the rest of my break formatting and analyzing data. ~little nerd things~) In the interest of the “open-source” part of open-source mind, this is what the post outline looked like: 

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 7.02.23 PM

Near the end of 2014, I decided to read 50 books of people of color in 2015, partly inspired by Victoria Law’s post “I Read 50 Books By People of Color This Year.” (“Parly inspired” as in, I read the headline on a few people’s news feeds, thought “huh, yeah, I should do that,” and then didn’t click through to the article until months later, when I started writing this blog post. Victoria’s post includes a long list of recommendations, yay! And also, Victoria is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, which is on my to-read list, so yay again!)

Here are some numbers from my past reading challenges:

omg i love data

2015 data current as of Monday, Sept. 21.*

Background on reading challenges:
In 2013, I decided I wanted to read 50 books, but I didn’t set that number until December, so I read 7 books that month, including 4 books on Dec. 30 and 31. (I was literally late for a New Year’s Eve party; I left my apartment late with a chunk of book I figured I could finish at the bus stop/on the bus, and ended up reading the last few pages under a streetlight outside of my friend’s building.) Also, speeding through The Time Machine because it was already on my Kindle and I could tell it was short seemed kind of not in the spirit of a reading challenge.

In 2014, I raised the goal to 60, and then was funderemployed, so I had time to read a lot. You can also tell from the numbers that about halfway through the year I semi-intentionally started reading more books by BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color). A huge factor in that shift was living in Portland and feeling surrounded by whiteness, and also being more intentional about carving out space and time to be in community with QTPOC and wanting my personal time to reflect that commitment, too.

But even thinking about last year’s reading compared to this year’s, when I have a more ambitious goal of reading 50 books by BIPOC writers, I can tell that there’s a huge difference. Not only am I intentionally seeking out authors of color, I’ve also tabled reading books by white authors because I was behind on my reading challenge. It’s also, incidentally, made it more jarring when I’ve made exceptions to read books by white authors. I read Alison Kafer’s Feminist, Queer, Crip in May, and wanted to love it, but the race analysis throughout her text often felt inauthentic and/or tacked on and/or appropriative, in an aspirationally intersectional feminist way.**

I am bored of writing this blog post, and I keep not finishing posts (the last thing I published was last November), so the rest of this post will be bullet points.

  • Here’s my “authors of color” bookshelf on GoodReads. Here’s a bookshelf based on Facebook friends’ recommendations (it unfortunately doesn’t include books that were recommended that I’ve already read because they are already on other shelves and I’m not feeling that ambitious/generous at the moment.)
  • Reading nonfiction by authors of color was incredibly refreshing, and I was surprised how much of a difference it made. It is really, really nice not to be racially microaggressed or erased and invisibilized in the middle of a chunk of otherwise great analysis. It’s also pushed me to read nonfiction that has been languishing on my “To Read’ shelf for a long time.
    • Some of my faves:
      • Redefining Realness, Janet Mock
      • The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, Grace Lee Boggs
      • Assata, Assata Shakur
      • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo (I would have been very stfu if this book was written by a white person)
      • Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawaii, Ed. Candace Fujikane (technically read last December)
      • The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Alexander (I will love this book more when Alexander finally decides that she is a prison abolitionist and releases a second edition editing out some of her more reform-minded passages)
  • I’ve read everything Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has published and am sad.*** More sad: Realizing there are a finite number of Octavia Butler works and that I have to pace myself because I can only read her books for the first time once. (In related news, I pre-ordered Octavia’s Brood, and have been hoarding it to read on a special occasion.)
  • Things I love about libraries:
    • Did you know you can freeze holds? If you’re going out of town or behind on reading, you can suspend your book holds so they don’t come up when you’re not ready to read them!
    • If you have a library card, you can check out ebooks even when you’re not in the city. (I prefer paper books, but the Kindle is light and my brother bought it for me, and it’s nice to be able to preload a bunch of stuff instead of taking 9 books on a week-long trip.)
    • Theoretically, if you always manually downloaded your ebooks and kept your Kindle on wifi mode, your Kindle would not know to automatically return your library ebooks after the three week checkout period.
  • For a while, I considered doing a “rereading the canon” project and revisiting and critiquing books that I’d loved when I was younger, but so far that has just made me sad. (i.e. Being more aware of the colonialism, imperialism, and racism in Cat’s Cradle, rereading the passage in Fahrenheit 451 where Ray Bradbury calls “political correctness” the root of censorship.) Of course, it’s also nice to reread things and be able to recognize my own growth and evolution; and I also think it’s important and valuable to have a concrete understanding of how and where I’ve internalized problematic and or toxic messages, and to reflect on how my perspective has shifted and how I need to intentionally and consciously unlearn internalized oppression. Maybe this line of thought will grow into its own blog post.
  • I’ve also been thinking a lot about how writers who are not in oppressed groups can be better about writing diversity. I appreciate the work of We Need Diverse Books (and that they include disabled and queer characters as part of their definitions of diversity instead of solely focusing on race), but I also wish they were more critical and pushed back a little harder on problematic representations of diversity. There’s been a really awful trope (always, really, buy also it seems to be gaining popularity?) of cis writers revealing characters’ trans identity as a surprise plot twist, and it’s really, really gross and lazy to have that be the explanation of someone’s entire pathos. Or look at the anti-Blackness in Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians. Or male writers in general sometimes forgetting that women are people.
    • Roxane Gay spoke at UCLA on Monday (I literally left work in the middle of the afternoon, but I was still late, so my live tweets are mostly of her Q&A), and one of the many fantastic things she said was “Don’t be lazy when writing difference. … People who get excoriated for writing difference poorly don’t have good intentions.” That seems like a great starting place.
    • I have many, many more thoughts about the politics and burdens of representation and the importance of intersectional feminist analysis and also ~art~ and “censorship” and etc., etc. For now, I will say that reading writers of color obviously doesn’t eliminate the potential for problematic or oppressive writing, but being intentional about curating what I choose to read has let me enjoy reading time a lot more.

This is blog post length now, right? I will live you with some other faves from the last two years;

  • Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler — I’ve heard this described several times as “if The Hunger Games acknowledged that POC exist” and also if the writing and political analysis included an understanding of racism and intersecting systems of oppression, plus it’s based on post-apocalyptic LA and then the road up to Portland
  • On Such a Full Sea, Chang-rae Lee — future Baltimore, with race and class and science and community engineering
  • Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — hence reading everything she’s written; the intertextuality of the narrator’s blog posts is fucking brilliant, and also the way she talks about race and also there are hilarious moments
  • Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin — owned for years, read in preparation for Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I started today, thank you LA Public Library! I did not have to wait as long as I thought I would.
  • Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, Sara Farizan — technically I gave this book a 3, but it is melodramatic queer YA featuring an awkward fat Persian high school girl, and it was very rewarding to read
  • Ash, Malinda Lo — a queer YA retelling of Cinderella! And it’s dark! Some passages are brilliant, and I loved the feel and pacing
  • The Painted Drum, Louise Erdrich — intergenerational Ojibwe family narrative with multiple kinds of storytelling woven in
  • The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri — Interpreter of Maladies is still my favorite, but have I mentioned that I love multigenerational interwoven family narratives? (see also Zadie Smith’s White Teeth)
  • Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie — see note on anti-Blackness above, and also I think some of Alexie’s writing is misogynistic, so this is with a big asterisk, but “Flight Patterns” and “Can I Get a Witness?” are two of the best post-9/11 short stories I’ve read.
  • Other short story collections: Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, Yiyun Li; Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the Vona/Voices Writing Workshop; A Good Fall, Ha Jin
  • Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay — ❤ and now I have a signed copy!
  • chapbooks: Narinda Heng‘s what is precious and Tk Le’s The Labor of Longing (it’s not out yet but will be soon, and you will be amazed and cry many tears)

* Technically it’s current as of today, because I just started a new book on the bus ride home and have only read 22 pages. (I put a footnote in a caption just because I could.)

** (I had the same critique for how she addressed neurodivergence, though I feel less comfortable making that argument as an able-bodied person.) Also, the appendices include great resources.

*** Shout out to Beyoncé for making the waiting list for all of her books exponentially longer.

Brain mush: Unintentional puns in translation

Kate and I drove past this poster on our way back from a late-night snack. The ad was at a bus stop, and it was pretty dimly lit, so my brain scanned the poster and went “intime” in French. (Click the word for pronunciation; I did not do well in the phonetics part of linguistics.*) I just got carried away with that footnote. Where was I?

Ah yes, I loved that my brain gave me a split-second reminder that I used to speak and see French on the regular. I hadn’t seen this poster before, and as it flashed by, my brain made a logical assumption that it’s an ad for a debonair cologne.

Another unintentional pun came up on Friday when I was having lunch with my aunt. We went to Cafe Surfas and she insisted that we order pretty much everything we thought was interesting from the menu (beet salad, lentil salad, a Lobster Sensations** panino and a lamb burger — and both entrées came with mixed greens). I was surprised that my aunt held her own, and she pleasantly reminded me that she’s not my mother (who has the stomach capacity of an average-sized toddler). I was all, “Oh yeah, you told me that she was never excited to eat when you had a 夜 餐 ( cān).”

I think my aunt responded first to my comment, then stopped and asked what phrase I’d just tried to use. I repeated it.

“You mean 宵夜 (xiāo , late-night snack)? There’s no such thing as 夜 餐 ( cān, which theoretically would translate as late-night meal, which, if we can say ‘second breakfast,’ should damn straight be a real phrase).”

My aunt, apparently, used to have my mom sit at the table to keep her company when she made midnight snacks.*** As she was telling me that, I asked her how to say “picnic.”

It’s “野餐 ( cān, ‘wild meal’ or ‘open-space meal’).” We both figured out where my mistake came from. Laughter ensued.****

I had a conversation a few years ago with a 外國人 (wài guó rén) about studying Chinese, and we started talking about visual and aural puns. He loved seeing and making visual puns — Chinese is built out of a series of pictographs, so radicals are placed together to create a type of accretive meaning (again, not good at this part of linguistics, ask an expert) — as he learned how to write. Since I’m functionally illiterate in Chinese, I tend to hear puns, and a lot of phrases in my mind have secondary layers of meaning created through associative relationships that someone who reads Chinese wouldn’t necessarily make, since Chinese is practically all homonyms. (Words are each one syllable, with one of four tones,***** so there are literally dozens of characters that represent the same sound, but have different meanings. Try typing in “you” in this dictionary.)

As another long-winded example, I’ve been trying to write a short story for years about how you’re not supposed to give Chinese people clocks as presents, because the phrase that means give the gift of a clock sounds like the name of a ceremony you go through when someone dies. Also for years, I thought that it was a symbolic thing, that giving someone a clock was a representation of how much time they have left to live. (This is, by the way, not an illogical conclusion — you’re not supposed to give Chinese people knives, either, since it might symbolically represent cutting off the relationship.) Spoiler alert! On the off chance I ever get around to writing that story, the twist is going to be that the main character got rid of everything that reminded him of the passage of time and completely disconnected from the conveniences of the modern world because of a misunderstanding.

These are the things that go through my brain. Multi-lingual friends, tell me I’m not alone!

* In case you couldn’t tell, I’m much more of a semiotics-type gal. I do, however, love the word “infixation” and what it means, although Wikipedia is now telling me that inserting a word instead of an affix into another word is technically “tmesis.” It’s, like, a whole ‘nother thing. Fan-bloody-tastic.

** I guess “Lobster Sensations” should have tipped us off that we weren’t getting real lobster. Oops. It was still a decent panino, but there was some mild chagrin on my aunt’s part.

*** She wasn’t interested in the food. I don’t know, maybe she’s not my real mother. Just kidding, Mom, I love you! I am also 97 percent certain that you will never read this footnote unless someone tells you about it.

**** This whole conversation was in Chinese, I just do not have the patience to look up each word on a Chinese-English dictionary. (That’s the nerdiest alt-text joke I’ve made yet, btw.) Also, I encode the bulk of my foreign-language conversations in English in my memory, so there’s this weird re-translation process that goes on, unless the phrasing of a sentence was particularly unique. Or I make a mistake and someone points out what I said.

**** There might be a fifth tone: I think it’s a kind of “and sometimes ‘y’ type thing.” This is why I’ve written poetry about feeling guilty for studying French.