Sunday, October 15, 2017

Vulnerability and Me, Too

Earlier today, my husband and I were driving home from the grocery store. I casually mentioned the "Me too" movement in response to the recent spotlight on the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment that women and men face.

I commented on how brave the women were to step forward, that each time I saw a colleague, a friend, a schoolmate's status read "Me too," I felt red, angry, and proud of their ability to speak out.  That, for so long, just the idea of being vulnerable and allowing myself to cry in public over something beautiful, or something sad, made me feel anxious, even scared.

"Will you make it your status? Will you say, 'Me too,'" my husband asked.  I said I didn't know. That it felt like too much. That it wasn't something I wasn't ready to admit.

The act of writing those two words were on my mind all day today. Yes, it was me, too. I was fresh out of college, working at a crappy factory as a receptionist, and I had a creepy supervisor, only a few years older than me, make upsetting, inappropriate, and sexual comments to me on more than one occasion.  Even as I thought about updating my status, I thought, "Well, it was never so blatantly terrible. Thankfully I was never assaulted.  There are people who have experienced worse." At that point, I knew I was, in some way, excusing the behavior, and even feeling guilty about another person's behavior.  I knew the guy was wrong but I couldn't admit it publicly somehow.

About thirty minutes ago, a co-worker of mine updated her status, and it said "Me too." I teared up but at that moment, felt the strength I needed to update my status.  The fact that I know so many women and men who have updated their status with the same refrain, is alarming, upsetting, and eye opening.  We have each other.  We need to be vulnerable, to show the world, as cheesy as that may sound, that this type of behavior, the act of hurting another person because some people feel they are entitled to abuse their power, is not ok.  That we will support one another, be vocal, and not ignore the inexcusable behavior of others.

Tonight, I am extremely proud of  the women and men who have stood up and said "Me too." You gave me the strength to add my voice, and you have no idea how much that means to me.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Confederate Flags and Pancakes

On our way home from meeting friends in Tennessee, my husband H turned to me and said, "You are so brave to date a minority."  I looked at him and told him that I wasn't brave at all.  That in every way possible, I still benefit from white privilege, and that no matter how caring or great he thought I was, I could never fully understand what it's like to be an Asian-American living in the South.

The night before, we were looking forward to taking a day trip to Gatlinburg to see friends who were there doing the same thing, taking the weekend to go somewhere new and explore a new town.  We met our friends at the Log Cabin Pancake House and had a normal breakfast.  We ate pancakes (big surprise), drank coffee, and caught up on life. H is a classmate with our friend so they talked about school while my friend's husband and I listened.  Our friends are both white, but the topic of racism was brought up pretty early on in the breakfast.  On our drive out to TN, we went through a few small towns, many of which proudly displayed the confederate flag on front porches and businesses. The sight of the flag still jars us, as if it's a personal note written to us that states, "We don't want you here." It's alienating and hurtful. Our friends commented on the huge confederate flag on the next door business and we all were sort of baffled, that someone feels so certain that others agree with their stance, their love of the flag, that they are free to place it in the front window.  The store even had a confederate flag bikini, which I found extra curious.

H and I, both proud Northerners, have had a challenging time adjusting to life in the South.  We mostly live in a tiny bubble where we know we are accepted and feel safe.  I have a great job with wonderful people who are progressive and open minded.  We have made friends with like-minded people here.  While small and limited, we have places where we feel relatively free and accepted.  So, when we travel outside that bubble, even to places less than 2 hours away or to the local grocery store, we feel agitated, nervous, and even out of sorts. In retrospect, I understand why H and I get crabby when traveling to unknown cities, why he can get short and why it takes him longer to laugh at my jokes.  But, as a white person, I can get irritated with his inability to just snap out of it. Snap out of it! The fact that I can even say to him "Try to not let it bother you. Let it go. Let's have a good time" is an example of how I will never fully understand what he goes through, how he feels when in uncomfortable environments, or what it is like to be constantly aware of his own ethnicity.

Here's the thing, it's easy for me, when I am by myself, to ignore and even momentarily forget about my own privilege. So, that's not being brave, that is me still being the recipient of my own privilege.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review of "Under the Kaufmann's Clock" by Angele Ellis and Rebecca Clever

It's been over a year since I've written here but I am excited to share my review of the new poetry book, Under the Kaufmann's Clock by Angele Ellis, photography by Rebecca Clever.

Upon opening Under the Kaufmann’s Clock, Angele Ellis takes you to the streets of Pittsburgh where you immediately feel at home.  The narrator seamlessly interweaves the characters and relationships in her life with the city, and insists that you sit down with her at the local cafĂ© to study the ground beneath.  To compliment the gritty and oftentimes stark moments of pain, are photographs by Rebecca Clever.  Clever captures the vulnerable and iconic elements of Pittsburgh without pretense or ego.  Community and relationship drive both the works of Ellis and Clever.

Ellis walks us through the four seasons which take on a unique tone in the city.  The first poem, “Landscape,” from the “Spring” section of the book, vibrates with a sense of longing and beauty that can only be found when entering the city from the Tubes.  The author respects the city but also has a deep love for it.  Pittsburgh not only informs the work of Ellis but also the relationships she fosters within the confines of her home base.  It is as much a celebration of the rhythmic changes of life as it is a portrait, delicate and honest, of the city itself.  Whether or not you have ever traveled to or lived in Pittsburgh, you will walk away feeling like you know the culture of the town and will end up wishing you were there.  Like the mica found on the streets and in the ground of Pittsburgh, history and renewal embrace and invite the reader to absorb the words and photographs, one more time.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The "Never Will I..." List

When I was in my twenties, I had a list of things I swore I would never do. A lot of my choices stemmed from my studies in college and had a lot to do with feminism. I wasn't militant, or even radical, but I held firm beliefs that I thought I would never change. Then, along came my thirties, and I found myself revisiting my list and realizing much of it didn't speak to me anymore. The list of "Never Will I Ever..." included:

1. Get married
2. Stop being a vegetarian
3. Move to the South
4. Have kids

By the time I turned thirty-six, I had checked off more than one "never" prediction on my list.  In fact, I was already living items 1-3. I had made a comment in one of my non-fiction classes that in my twenties, I swore I  would never get married, and there I was, engaged and getting ready to marry.  A student, in her late-fifties, replied, "Welcome to your thirties, hon.  It's the time in your life where you do everything you said you wouldn't. It's ok, that's just how life is."  I had to laugh, because I was happy about all of the choices and new chapters in my life that were unfolding, but I wondered if everyone went through this.  The one thing that made me uncomfortable, was the thought that I had somehow become soft, that I was no longer politcal or defined by my feminist beliefs.  I still considered myself a feminist, I still believed in equality and human rights, but what did I really do to convey my beliefs?  I told myself that since my friends all had similar beliefs in regards to feminism and equality, and that we had regular discussions about injustice and politics, that I was doing a small part by putting my own philosophies out into the world, that they would somehow reverberate without my having to do any work.  But, wasn't that just my tendency to take the easy road?

When we arrived in North Carolina, I interviewed to be an assistant teacher at a local Montessori school.  The school only has 50-60 students from preschool-5th grade, and it is located in a renovated home that has little room or space to spare.  I immediately fell in love with the people at the school and their philosophy towards teaching: give kids as much knowledge and love of learning as they can absorb and teach them to become peaceful and compassionate citizens of the greater community.  I was offered the assitant position in the elementary aged classroom and jumped on the opportunity.  Now, I am surrounded by kids who have a strong sense of self and an age-appropriate knowledge of how the world needs to change. On a daily basis students come up to talk with me about how we need to protect the environment, help endangered animals, and make the world a place of equality.  Students are annoyed and can't understand why there are so many books about men who have made a difference in the world but a disproportinate amount of books dedicated to women who have also made a difference.  They have real ideas, solutions to make a difference that sound simple to adults, but clearly are well-thought out. My students now inspire me to be a better person. I see them on their good days, and their bad days when they have outbursts and moments of frustration, but, at the very end, the next day is a fresh start and we all begin again with a smile on our face.

My choice is to stay put, with this school, with these students, and do all I can to become a better person and educator for them.  I choose to further my training and learn all that I can. I choose to continue learning and become more confident in speaking my own beliefs, even if the other person disagrees or thinks I'm foolish.  I choose to become vulnerable and admit what I do not know. These are small but difficult tasks, ones that I hope culminate in to a greater desire to be bold, to speak loudly, and to live authentically.  It is the only place I know where to start.