Monday, November 16, 2009

three strikes and you're out

Practice run: Write a very short story about an incident that is repeated on three parts of the human body.

There was only one good game every played. It happened the day he shot me three times, lung, heart, and nose.

The notion hadn't even occurred to me until the first shot. I wanted to say something, to acknowledge it had happened and that I was upset about it, but I had no breath to draw from. It was as if the air had broken and crushed instantly to the farthest depths of me, and I thought of the young man who took aluminum cans to the parking lot to smash them, armed with a steady foot and a pencil. Which ceased to be entertaining after the first time around. I don't know why he kept bringing those cans out. There were no surprises, only proofs I suppose, or sheer boredom, and we, we always knew how it turned out, but there is little to do in those situations but watch.

By the second shot, breathing was really out of the question and all I could articulate was warm liquid from the sides of my mouth. I knew that feeling, the unexpected drip down the chin, and I thought I must be concentrating very hard, for concentration has often relaxed what control I have over my tears, my drool, my piss. And when I was able to look, I noticed there was piss down there, and a foul smell, and some ink-dark liquid I didn't recognize. I couldn't dissect it, and by that point I couldn't see anymore, and then I could only concentrate on that smell, which was unpleasant in its immediacy. It felt as though I was that smell, I had been reduced to a smell of piss and shit and puke. I tried thinking about the cans again but I forgot what they looked like, and the young man in the business of smashing them no longer had a name or a face or a presence, and I wanted to panic but I gave up, as I didn't have the energy.

It went on like that for a while. I smelled me everywhere and I hated it, I didn't know how to stop the smell, I didn't have the energy. I wanted to say something and I didn't have the energy. It was disquieting, since I did not feel tired, though I couldn't remember when I had last slept. It went on.

And then I remembered it, the only good game. That must have been the third shot. On a jungle gym, cold outside. There is a boy in a pink jacket; I am grabbing for his ankles, he is leaping out of my reach. Then I am the one, in the green jacket, and he is at it on the ground, and I am dashing, I am slamming my body over this icy rail, I can hear laughter and someone is always saying that someone else is cheating. I can taste ozone. There may have been a team, I don't know. Someone might always have won, I don't know if there was any winning. But it was the only good game. All the rest could have their games. None of them were good like this.

And it is a strange thing, but I thought, that's alright. I made out better in the end. I had the only good game splashed onto my brain, played endlessly on the long trek of a bullet's journey, and he, the one who shot me three times, lung, heart, and nose, he missed it all. I imagine he stopped shooting out of boredom. He knew how it would turn out; there is little to do in those situations but watch.

beat-em-up weather

It's one of those times of reckoning and I feel upset right now.

I co-facilitated a training today where all the ninth-graders kept asking me permission to get water or go to the bathroom (good GAWD, are we teaching ninth-graders to ask permission to do everything now? if you need to take a leak or get a drink just GO, how ridiculous is it that I as a visiting trainer have to bless your departure?) and the only group of girls who genuinely seemed interested in what I had to say merely wanted to hit on me and compare my looks to Marc Anthony's.

I just had another weekend where I got NOTHING done on everything I had intended to do--statements of purpose for grad school, formulations of a second interview of Grace Lee Boggs, long-delayed research and revisions to my piece for the book, getting started on a small grant application for creative writing. None of it happened, and it will now hover over me during my upcoming 11-day break, which is feeling less like a break every passing day.

My older sis went quite apeshit on one of my nieces Saturday for pooping in her underwear, a dear friend is reeling from the shock of getting laid off at one of the worst possible times, another dear friend is abroad and I feel terrible for screwing up arrangements for a relaxed evening with her before she left, and there's a very important MTID (Meeting That I Dread) tomorrow morning which is followed by (FUCK!) a potluck, which will likely not be cheery.

In that training I alluded to, two students were telling me about their civics projects working on gay rights. When I asked one of them what they would do if someone didn't care about this issue and didn't see why it was important to them, she didn't offer up a counter-response to try and reel the skeptics/know-nothings/idiots in. She just said, "I'd beat em up."

I think this mirrors my sentiments exactly.

Friday, October 30, 2009

strike a pose, go through shenanigans, do not collect $200

Nearly two weeks' absence on this and you're probably wondering: what the hell have I been up to that's keeping me so busy?

Why, only shifting to a modeling/acting career, that's all.

The green brings out the eyes, don't it?

But actually, no, I'm quite serious. It all started with an innocently posted photo:

Some of you who keep track on Facebook might recognize that this is my current profile pic. Magic Twin Sis somehow managed to capture me in a particularly gorgeous light while I was visiting in Boston a while ago. So I decided earlier this month it was going up for the world to see, because it is framed well, captures a good smile and that peculiar eyebrows-raised expression which could be mistaken for flirtatiousness, and it's hot.

Though admittedly not as hot as these:

Or this:


But on a quick and important sidenote: you know how bafflingly helpful and annoying Facebook has gotten lately? There are so many battles going on around invasion of privacy, unwanted advertising, censorship of breastfeeding...and what the fuck is the difference between News Feed and Live Feed?! And do I really need this bombardment of information every time my older sis plays Mafia Wars and needs a pineapple or a duck or an Uzi?

Well, it turns out Facebook has something else going on too. Unbeknownst to me, it has been the latest hotspot for talent scouts. From what I gather, all our profile pics are snatched up by large 'talent databases,' are assigned a rough estimate of gender, age, race, height (unless we throw it all out there on our profiles, which I distinctly don't), then blundered through by overeager scouts who must spend obscene amounts of hours scrolling through thousands of photos in search of a few winners. I want to know: do they take all our pics, or only the ones that are just headshots? Do they take only the hot headshots? Who's deciding what's a hot headshot? I want to know: exactly how many legal boundaries do we have over the things we put on Facebook? Or does the number of boundaries equate to nil? Could my photo be used to sell soft drinks in Slovenia or enmeshed with a few dozen others as a collage background for an album cover out of Japan? I want to know: is this all legit? Am I supposed to be pissed about this? I think I am, but I suppose I'm asking for it, aren't I?

But honestly I have maintained mostly ignorance when it comes to these things. So I was quite astonished to receive a friend request a few days ago from this person named Kasie Delacruz:

Not necessarily because friend requests are out of the ordinary, but when it's from someone you've never met at any time in your life, it tends to throw you.

I didn't accept her request. I believe I sent her a message ("Hi, and who are you exactly?") and then got suspicious. Occasionally people do try and friend me and I really don't know them, but it's clear based off of mutual friends and networks so that they at least know of me. Good ol' Kasie here is not the same. What limited profile I can see of her indicates that she has no wall posts, no photos aside from this one, is single and interested in men, is up for anything, and is approximately my age. In other words: Kasie Delacruz may not even exist.

More research turns up more weird shit. After all, "Delacruz" is not exactly a common last name, what with the three Spanish words mashed awkwardly together like that. Google only turns her up once, as another guy's friend on Facebook, only she looks like this:

This *might* be the same person, and the profile is just as sparse as the first Kasie, only this Kasie claims to be five years older than the other. Oh, and her wall isn't empty like the first one; there are three posts on there, all from guys, which read (and I quote): "heyy !!! ?!?!?!"; "hey do I know u?"; and "yah do i know you".

And I thought my message to 'Kasie' was original.

So by this point it seems obvious: Kasie Delacruz is a plant. Someone/something created a barebones profile for Kasie, slapped on a photo of someone hot, and subsequently sent out friend requests to gullible guys. But why?

I got my answer today. Remember I only messaged her, her friend request is still rusting away unaccepted. But apparently this mere bit of interest from me landed another surprise in my inbox:

Oppertunity in New Orleans contact me immediately!!!

Between You and Christopher Gray
Christopher Gray October 30 at 4:54pm Report

Please contact Christopher Gray, Casting Director (323) 833 5461 via Cell
We found you from Explore Talent search data base…
We are currently working on a new “ABC” movie being shot in New Orleans:
Entitled: “The Business of Falling In Love”…Featuring Hillary Duff”

We Love Your Look and Want You to Participate In the Film

We would welcome your to work with us on the following dates October 30, 31…November 1, 2,5,6,7

If you are available for these days Please contact me immediately at (323) 833 5461 via cell…or contact Zac Foppe (818) 415 1048.

The Movie centers on A Young Cosmopolitan Magazine writer, “Hillary Duff”
In New York Who Dates Men in Business Suits

Also…Please send a head shot and photo to:
Looking forward to hearing from you ASAP.
Christopher Gray


Very smart, Facebook scouts. Throw out a hook and fish em into more unexpected shenanigans. "We Love Your Look and Want You to Participate In the Film": great! That string of capitalized words really brings it home! But still: why?

And here's the other weird thing: this Hillary Duff movie is actually being produced, and there will be casting done in New Orleans, and I suppose they offered me the bait because I used to live in New Orleans, I look aesthetically pleasing, and I got duped. And that's the extent of their criteria?

What I thought when I read this: "They can't be serious. They don't even know me. They can't for the life of them realize that, in addition to being gorgeous, I'm also pint-sized, barely own anything resembling a wardrobe, can't speak from my diaphragm, and a freaky radical to boot." But they are serious. I didn't write to Christopher Gray and say, "Yo, this is great, very well done, I'm up for another gag although I'll be more prepared next time. And by the way, no 'e' in 'opportunity' my dear." I mean, I would have, but then who knows how many other Kasies and Sashas and lazy-ass talent scouts would be pestering me then.

And it occurs to me that it must supremely suck to be a model. Apparently they are holding up the bottom echelon in terms of pay and prestige. Even worse to be an extra in a movie. As if you didn't have enough reminders that you are a dime a dozen in your chosen career, you are now facing a surge of competition from hot people on Facebook who don't even know what they're getting into. That's some shit.

Anyway. It was a nice little ride while it lasted, though I think modeling and acting aren't good fits for me. After this, I might just have to go into investigative journalism and uncover more of this Facebook morass. It's so, so juicy. And so very, very unpleasant.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

the one who doesn't know dignity

More bus stories.

Roughly a year ago I had a genuinely disgusted moment on the 84 bus: watching, almost hypnotically, a man gnaw and chew methodically on the palm of his left hand, pause to examine his teething work, and then resume gnawing and chewing, ceaselessly. This is the sort of thing which, when viewed once, cannot be put out of your mind. The mere knowledge that someone was chewing--on? at? bits off of?--their hand publicly and seemingly without concern really threw me out of sorts. I even held up my left arm to shield my face and eyes a bit, to feebly attempt to block it out of my thoughts.

Now, I don't know what exactly I found disgusting by this behavior. I assume you had to be there to understand.

But then I had another moment just a few days ago, and this time I know exactly what motivated my revulsion:

Moments after boarding the 16 bus to downtown, I noticed immediately a young man sitting a few seats ahead of me. Stocky, frumpy guy with a remarkably babyish face and no hint of facial hair, glasses, oily hair, and a thick ornament in his ear that seemed wildly out of place with his personality. An AmeriCorps hoodie, untended khaki pants, white socks and big tennis shoes. Clunky backpack at his feet. Posture awkward, yet not imposing (perhaps this is why it seemed awkward). iPod on and going strong, but no signs of enjoying--or even responding--to whatever he was listening to.

The first description to come to mind--and I really hate this, but it might help to picture him--is 'man-child.' Potentially a college-age student, having difficulty appearing his age. Captivating in his obliviousness to the effect of his appearance, as if it were the last of his concerns.

Now, if this was all there was to this guy, I probably would have forgotten about him by now. But he caught my attention because of a particular activity, done methodically, unconcerned, in public, much like the hand-chewer:

He was eating Lunchables. You know. The previously packaged 'meals' of prearranged crackers, 'cheeses,' 'meats,' maybe some cookies. The sort of meal that (correct me if I'm wrong) is reserved for either the insanely busy, or lazy middle-schoolers.

He ate very slowly, and yet voraciously, through that whole Lunchables package. With his hunting-and-pecking thumb and index finger, he would fish out a cracker, then a block of 'cheese,' then a pre-cut slab of 'meat,' place the 'cheese' and 'meat' on the cracker, bring it to his mouth and take a bite, chew, then another bite, chew, and one last bite to finish it off. The hunting-and-pecking hand moved in a careful triangle, from Lunchables plastic tray to mouth to lap and back to plastic tray, while his other hand was steady as an anchor, holding the Lunchables tray in mid-air. He sat, peered down during the hunting and pecking, looked up and around as he ate, listening to his iPod, consumed with his eating and inattentive to everything else.

Of course, eating is not allowed on the bus. People still do it. All the time. Him eating was not the problem for me.

And he wasn't disruptive. He didn't even chew loudly or spit crumbs on the other passengers. He was freaking dainty as he ate. None of this was a problem.

But it fucken tore me up. I mean, I was so upset, I wanted to scream at him to stop, and of course I didn't cuz I really didn't have a reason for him to stop. It was just something about the whole situation--something--that made me think, in big bold letters flashing in my head, THIS GUY DOES NOT UNDERSTAND DIGNITY. Not that I'm going around being the dignity police. But his entire presence--merely compounded by the Lunchables--made my skin crawl. Maybe it was because, when I saw people's lives devastated in the Katrina aftermath in New Orleans, even my poorest neighbors went to great lengths to sweep their porches, dress presentably, and make their hair gorgeous. Maybe it was because, in countless situations where I've seen friends and strangers end up in situations of pure exhaustion, anxiety, desolation, and poverty (especially during this economic crisis), they have still managed to hold themselves in a way that is striking in its confidence and incredible in its subtle fierceness.

Maybe it was because I really hate Lunchables.

But then, when he had finished off the Lunchables tray and set it aside, licking his fingers and hands of remaining Lunchables debris (which I knew he would do), he pulled up his backpack, opened the zipper, rummaged through one of the pockets and pulled out something that nearly made my eyes pop out: a recently purchased, plastic-wrapped loaf of tomato basil and asiago cheese focaccia bread.

As he rested for a moment with the loaf in his hands, looking around half-interested at the passing scenery--like he had been doing the whole bus ride--I stared at him, prayed at him, pled at him: please don't. Please, please, please don't open up that loaf on this bus. Or if you have to open up the plastic wrap, please at least rip off a chunk with your hands before you eat it. Please, please don't bring the whole loaf up to your maw and chew straight off with your teeth. For God's sake, please don't do this.

But this is precisely what he did. He opened up the plastic wrap, brought the loaf to his mouth, and continued with his meal, methodically and obliviously, as he had with the Lunchables, as if it was the most normal and acceptable thing to do.

And I knew then why I was revolted, why, out of all people I had ever witnessed on buses, he would lure incur inner reserves of hatred out of me, why he would cement a place in my memory, a moment still clear and fresh in my head as if just born: for I was looking at me. I was looking at a me from 6, 7 years ago, riding the bus back to campus after a grocery run where the only thing I ever got was focaccia and hummus. I was the one pulling the bread out of my backpack, tearing open the wrapper, and eating straight off the loaf, eschewing meals, plates, cooking, manners, grace. I was the one with the glasses and oily hair, dressed in hoodies too big for me and unwashed khakis. I was the one who believed I was confident because I didn't care what other people thought of me or cared of me, when the truth of it was that I rarely thought or cared of me. I was the privileged son who never knew failure and didn't know dignity. I was the man-child.

the worst place to be

I've determined that one of the worst places to be in this world is that silence in the midst of a conversation you feel compelled to fill with nothing of substance save your own foundering.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

one of the more pointless requests

"Excuse me. What are some of God's blessings? I'm trying to list them. Can you help me out? I have Freedom, Church, Country, Justice, Mercy, Grace, Trees, Stars, Skies, Schools, Professors, and Public Transit."

--out-of-the-blue request from a young man with a mousy face and a Bible always in his hands, on the 144 bus

My initial reactions:

1) I'm surprised homeboy didn't think of Jesus.
2) This is probably the only time in human history that Country, Mercy, and Professors have been on a list together.
3) He seemed like he was coming from a sincere place. Other passengers offered suggestions like Laughter, Love and Home, and for each one he repeated it back to them, nodded his head, and added it to the list. Impressively noncontroversial.
4) But if he said Prisons, I probably would have punched him.

Also: Public Transit? WTF?!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

today's maxim: nonprofit is the new black

Nonprofit Is The New Black

*in times of terrible economic crisis, nothing says 'hip' like claiming that you're 'helping'*

Today's young, fresh, privileged entrepreneurs are sporting the latest style: nonprofit! From the historic national organizations with big reputations, bigger pockets, and even bigger social movement co-optation to the bright energy of the local, tight service agency that has to keep finding new 'disadvantaged communities' to 'target' so that they can get enough money to last another four months: these outfits are the latest national craze. And talk about attention! People are flocking to nonprofits left and right, priming a seat for themselves in the hopes of carving out their unique take on a mainstream fashion. Want some 'community experience' to put on your resume? Looking towards a corporate executive career with a friendlier, spunkier edge? Anxious to get your hands dirty in the highly competitive world of grant writing? Feeling guilty, despairing, and downright shitty about the world getting worse, the social movements failing to formalize, and you helpless in its wake? You can get your fix--and so much more than you ever imagined!--at a not-for-profit organization.

And in hard times, not making a profit isn't just a style--it's becoming a way of life! It's not at all unusual now for city, county, and state governments to throw in their respective towels and try their hand at the highs and lows incumbent on this burgeoning industry (that's N-P-I-C to you! Non Profit Industrial! Complex!). Why, just the other day, I heard that federal stimulus grant money in the vicinity of $10 million went public and open for the taking here in Minnesota. Can you believe the eruption! You can still feel the tremors of all that typing, pens on paper, and clicks of the mouse as hundreds, thousands of applications launched into cyberspace, riding little more than a hope, prayer, and several pages of statistics that assess the continuing dire needs exposed by a social problem that has shown little to no signs of improvement over the last few decades despite the sincere effort of said application filer. It was a regular nonprofit extravaganza! The latest concepts, ideas, daring provocation and old stand-by's, vying for the chance to have the coolest source of money out there! And those nonprofits weren't alone. No, all these government agencies, public offices, legislatures, the whole range, they got into the action. The result? $90 million in requests! For $10 million available! Think of what a show that was! All the alternative schools, the AIDS clinics, the public works programs, the arts centers, the GLBTQ youth organizations, the housing assistance groups, this regular tapestry of the best nonprofits out there, showing off their threads, duking it out in utter desperation! Think of the drama! Think of the excitement! Think of all the groups that got turned down!

And let me say, as one currently employed in one (and previously employed in one, and even more previously employed in one--hell, I was a trendsetter long before the recession!): this nonprofit world has yet to see its peak! Before you know it, everyone out there will be living by and obeying the intricate rules, norms, and standards of everything nonprofit.

You can see it in the cards. Governments everywhere are severely cutting back their financial support for the poor, for communities of color, and for urban populations, just a worsening of a much longer history of strategic disinvestment to cripple the gains of social movements in the 1960's. The solution? Nonprofits!

The devastation of the economic crisis is provoking widespread anger and betrayal, which various state and capitalist forces will be keen on directing into socially acceptable levels of resistance, grounded in higher access to a shortage of resources, thus encouraging intra-community competition that makes for fewer social improvements. Where can we turn to? Nonprofits!

And as more children grow up to learn that all those cushy jobs their privileged parents and extended family and their connections assured them won't be there anymore, new avenues will have to open up--avenues that not only make these young people feel better about themselves, but also are goddamn high-paying jobs, and that incentive alone may even encourage them to keep these avenues intact. What better opportunity than to manage and direct a nonprofit!

You heard it here first, folks--nonprofit is the new black! So get on board while it's hot, and while there's still a small amount of money available to get you started!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

surprise, surprise

I absolutely love being surprised and I had been missing the feeling a lot lately; from the turns of the world I've borne witness to--repeatedly, in some instances--there isn't much now that genuinely takes me aback, depressing as that is.

But then this came, way, way out of left field:

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

And then this morning, I woke to our first snowfall of the autumn season, which, though expected, still gave me a start. In a good way.

I'll have more on this blog about the peace prize soon. For now, out to enjoy a break from drafts and edits and grad school apps, spend time with friends over in Stevens Square, and wallow in the cold north winds.

Monday, October 5, 2009

the head is a lonely hunter

These last few evenings have been consumed in head work, and I generally do not like head work.

It is akin to trying to slam through a summer reading list that is nothing but nonfiction books.

I know I'm no Grace Lee Boggs. I'm not capable of thinking hard about 300 things at once with ease, articulation, and brevity. I ain't there yet. But, oh, sometimes it would be so very nice.

You know how awful it is to have a good friend ask you "What are you up to these days?" and you realize that any meaningful answer you can provide takes so damn long to explain you'd rather not answer at all? Even my fucken job takes at least thirty seconds to describe, and that's only if I have the energy.

Same goes for "What's your book about?" and "Why are you going into geography?" and so on. It's not even that these are perfunctory questions for people who don't really care what my answer is; they really are intrigued. I am just getting tired of trying to answer this curiosity satisfactorily. It feels like it's all coming from the head and nowhere else anymore.

I'm reviewing this manuscript about white decolonization. And it's, well, 300 pages long. I agreed to do this back when the stress of this anthology and grad school apps was still minimal, but then I put it off (just a month, which is very good for me), and now I can barely put my thoughts together on it. I'll read a snippet, start typing feedback, write for a half a page or more, then stop, realize I've gone off in my little head world, which is totally useless for me and for this manuscript's author, and another hour has gone by to boot. Dammit!

It's situations like these that spur serious doubt as to my commitment to something like 'academic rigor.' I have synapses firing on everything from Deleuze to open source technology to dialectics to societies of control to Asian America to 'indigenous warrioring,' which I still don't really get. I try and talk about these things and almost immediately I feel vacant and unenthusiastic, nothing but mishmashes of things I've read or terminology I pretend to know how to use. This infuriates me but I try and keep at it, as if by continuing I can feel more confident and assured. And I never do.

And why is it--truly, why is it--that when I have finished extracting a song from my guitar, setting a spoon down on plate's edge at the end of a recipe's conclusion, waking hazy and in desperate love with a dream that flew my body headlong down the long slope of a story, why is it that I wait long moments, sometimes hours, before snapping open the case, depositing dishes in the sink, hauling these bones out of a bed, steeling myself for another return to the land of head work.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

ramping up and scaling back

Everyone likes to schedule amazing events in October. You know? It's the happy time, I think. No significant holidays that could interfere with planning, unless you're one of the unfortunate souls who actually celebrates Indigenous Genocide Day (aka Columbus Day), and of course Halloween, which isn't until the end of the month. Everyone's 'around' because they've already done their summer vacations, they're in their 'occupied' time at work and at school, and they're saving their traveling and break time for Thanksgiving and the thick of winter. And because October traditionally signals the gloominess up ahead (that is, if you live in Minnesota), we are unusually primed and excited for whatever vibrancy we can get a hold of, which usually comes in the form of awesome events.

And there are a great many happening right now. Lecture series, conferences, concerts, shows, activism gatherings, spoken word performances, fundraisers, films, dances, plays, heck, even the meetings planned in October look particularly scrumptious. It's really a joy to witness this much activity, all concentrated in one month.

Well, I have a shoe to drop. There are a great many things happening right now in public, but also in private, and they are mostly not the enjoyable kind, but I am doing them nonetheless so that I do not freak out come November and December, when the lethargy of the coming winter really puts me in the procrastination mode. And after making a few lists of those tasks, and weighing them against my general available time to do them, I discovered the other dropped shoe.

Namely, that if there are awesome events happening this month, I will have to bow out of almost all of them.

Oh, don't get me wrong. There will still be another Monochromatic Meal of the Month and I'm all aboard for it (the color orange won't know what hit 'em). And of course, Up In Arms, tonight at 8 pm at Macalester (Kagin), which will draw a big crowd but I will still be doing last-minute recruiting for it today. And when Bao and Juliana's little one comes through, I'll be cooking up a storm to save them some meal-making stress. And if anyone ever wants to arrange a happy hour or maybe a soul food night out at Brasa or what have you, you know I won't resist.

But otherwise I will have to say a lot of 'No' to your invitations. Know this isn't a slight against anything or not wanting to hang out with y'all. Just have to lay down some boundaries. The best thing you can do is not pestering me when I say 'no' the first time around, as that will get me guilty and annoyed pretty fast. No, the best thing you can do is just go to these events with a good crew and a big-ups attitude, and take whatever joy you can get for all it's worth, as that will translate back to me one way or another. I'm serious. It really does work that way.

Now, as the feller Kev always says, it's back to the mill.

See you tonight at Kagin for Up In Arms.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

hat's off

To all you radical community organizers out there: I don't know how you do it. Seriously. There are days where I am just floored at what fantastic things you are doing. And that may be in addition to working full-time, raising a family, fighting legal battles, caring for close friends and fam who are sick and/or elderly (which may even include you), and dodging near-constant threats of violence, rape, sexual assault, deportation, foreclosures, layoffs, and a whole horror house of, well, horrors.

I don't know how you do it but I suppose that's why you're here, in the now. You show us what can be done. You dare us to dream of the impossible. You implore us to have vision, strategy, and clarity. You give us time, oh, so much time, to grow and to learn, to make mistakes and to fail, but your patience is matched with a great urgency that is fierce to behold. You make us powerful. You make us greater than who we are alone. You raise the bar for us. You do a lot, and I don't understand it, but you're here, in the now, demonstrating that it can be done, and that there's no reason the rest of us can't do the same.

And you have my very sincere respect, from the standpoint of one who could have gone there with you, many times. You have my appreciation, as someone who did not fully appreciate you at one time, back when the ease of my transitions into similar--but NOT the same--activity gave the lie that I could somehow claim a piece of your experience, that I could own your terms. An activist, an agitator, a social worker, a networker, a trainer, a facilitator, a nonprofit employee; I have been all these things, useful in some way, perhaps even respectable, but not more, and not inclined for more anyway. Yet I have claimed 'community organizer' as my profession throughout. I even hang onto the terminology as I match it with my roles as a 'writer and researcher.' These are lies, these are lies I have been telling myself, these are lies I continue to tell. But I do nothing to stop claiming what I can't claim.

I understand, though, that my lie is not solely based in insincerity. I am not doing this merely to water down and make useless a powerful profession, though I understand I am having that effect. I am also not doing this just to console myself for how little I really know about organizing and how much less I have actually done in organizing, though I understand that a whole helluva lot of us are doing this, patting ourselves on the back and saying "I'm doing what I can" while the world burns and communities dissolve and lives end before they should.

My lie, as far as I can measure, comes from an intense desire to be such a person. To live an incredible life as you are, radical community organizers. And I know how I can get when that desire is strong enough--it will push me to that place whether I like it or not, it will give me the necessary courage and risk and trust to accept the responsibility I have longed to own. But it seems I have been content to wait for that push. It seems I am pussy-footing around, ducking into a nonprofit here, applying to a school there, telling myself "in a 5 10 years...I have all the time in the world, I'm patient, I still need to grow, I still need to learn," a mantra for inertia (the NON-moving kind). In the face of general despair and a fear of applying myself to the hard, hard life you lead, I retreat and devote my talents to avenues I already recognize will be failures. I want that certainty more than the possible failure of the unknown world being created from your efforts. I find my stupidity in that regard incredible, and yet unsurprising. When our very survival is always in question, stupidity can be an appealing option.

But I also know that not everyone desires to be a radical community organizer. All around me are people trying to find their way, how to contribute, and at this time--despite what the economic forecast says--there are a great many open positions that need to be filled. We need teachers, we need food growers, we need builders, we need mentors, we need caretakers, we need artists, we need lovers, we need community elders, and we need kids, lots of kids. So not everyone needs to be or has to be a radical community organizer. It need not be everyone's lot. And yet, despite all my putting off and delaying and waiting, I cannot shake the notion that this is my lot, this must be it. I have no way of knowing for sure as I have never tried it, never even tasted it. But I see you all in your element. I see you at work. And that desire just builds, and builds, and builds. It can't go nowhere forever. You, of all the people the whole world ever, must surely know: it can't go nowhere forever.

So my hat's off to you, radical community organizers. I don't know how you do it. And perhaps I am not supposed to know. Perhaps I will find out. Perhaps I will be there with you, in it, making it happen. Perhaps.

get your autumn on

Equinox passed and seems the world shifted all a sudden. Gusts of wind fuel frost advisories. Round every tree a squirrel or chipmunk, collecting the rewards of patience and depositing into an underground savings account that must last until the thaw. Days shortened and birdsong dimmed. I don the long underwear I will spot every day for the next six to seven months. I put away the sunglasses, an essential item just a few weeks ago. I wrap the scarf round my neck and take in that familiar smell, the consequence of many months of sweat and body order infused into the fabric. Fall has arrived and it's time to dig in again.

Aside from a book to compile, another book to review, a confoundingly competitive and self-important process known as grad school applications, a summit to plan and a work situation that will likely grow more (ahem) situated in a few months, I am intent on completing two other essential tasks:

1) Finding a spot to watch the turning of the fall colors, and
2) Picking apples.

If you have a recommendation for either I would be happy to field it and toss it around with some buddies of mine.

In the meantime, I have this to look forward to. Come on out and bring all the cats you know and some you don't. I'm counting on y'all.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

doing math like the Asians do

What do the words 'Chinese arithmetic' refer to?

A. A hit song by the band Faith No More
B. A slang term indicating the degree of an erection's tumescence
C. A little-used idiomatic expression of exceeding difficulty (i.e. "as hard as Chinese arithmetic")
D. An actual arithmetic, practiced in China, noted for its challenging execution and substantial differences from traditional arithmetic

If you guessed A, B, or C (or even all three of these), congratulations! You are correct!

If you guessed D, boo on you. As solace I leave you with the tale of my bus trip this afternoon on the way to Bao and Juliana's baby shower. I had all my usual habits: nice clothes, handbag going on five years of use, cell phone, bus card, and a sudoku. Full disclosure: sudokus and similar puzzles have been a staple of mine for many years now and are one of the few surefire obsessions I still possess. Previous attempts to ween myself off of the stuff have failed miserably. It's evolved over time--the jumbles and scrambles of my my youth shifted to the crossword puzzles (I was doing the Friday and Saturday ones before I turned 18), then cryptograms, sudokus, and the real doozy of them all, cryptic crosswords. Aside from the latter of these, all the rest have ceased to be challenging, and I suppose the reason I continue to resolutely tackle them is to keep my brain practicing and in high gear. (Bear in mind, you are hearing this from a boy who was so bored out of his mind staying at his parents' house in 2007 that he taught himself how to solve a Rubik's cube, and then continued to solve it in less than five minutes hundreds of times just because it was something to do.)

At my transfer point on 36th and Lake, an older white man sat next to me at the bus stop. Talky kind of guy, social that way, although it was apparent right off the bat that his relative world was quite small--he had never flown a plane and had never lived anywhere other than Minnesota. After watching me working on the sudoku, he asked, "Is that some Chinese arithmetic you're doing?"

On several levels this was an amazing question for me. Namely, 1) weren't sudokus the big American craze not so long ago, and doesn't everyone recognize them by now? 2) how small a leap is it to go from observing that I'm part Chinese to asserting that the activities I engage in must also be Chinese, as though my computing is Chinese arithmetic, my futon is a Chinese bed, my hair is sculpted by a Chinese shaping clay and Chinese blow dryer, and when I doodle I absentmindedly scratch out hanzi characters? 3) is there even such a thing as Chinese arithmetic?

Thankfully, I've developed over time a calm, cool reaction to such things, on the assumption that my interrogators are relatively well-intentioned and poorly informed. So I politely dismantled whatever stereotypes may have existed by explaining to him that no, this was a sudoku, they came out of Japan and are published every day in the local papers because Americans really enjoyed them and encouraged their popularity, that they're fairly straightforward logic puzzles that have very little to do with arithmetic or the numbers themselves, and as I talked I got the reaction that always results: the man, his piqued hunger for exoticism instantly dashed, nodded a little, grew bored, and finally relinquished his attention upon deciding that I am not very fun or interesting at all. Which is just fine by me.

He did manage to pique my interest, as I had never heard the phrase 'Chinese arithmetic' before. And subsequent research shows that it's mostly a ghost term. If anything it comes from Americans' fascination with the earliest Chinese immigrants and their use of abacuses, which, truth be told, do look kind of freaky and appear to make no sense, which in some circles equals 'difficult' or at least 'different.'

But arithmetic is arithmetic is arithmetic. It's just fucken adding and subtracting and multiplying and dividing. (Unless you're talking 'higher' arithmetic and number theory, which is very difficult from what I can tell.) All the elementary stuff was developed by the Sumerians and they developed the abacus to cement it. But it got a lot of play with the Egyptians, Russians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mayans, and Native Americans before it made its way to China. In fact, abacuses were so effective and easy to use that all these exceedingly advanced civilizations waited a long time before developing a written numerical system that formed the basis of what we call 'traditional arithmetic.'

Of course, I didn't find this out until later. In hindsight, I wish I had told the man, "No, it's not Chinese arithmetic. It's just regular numbers and letters. Much more annoying."

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I would like to briefly call the world's attention to two items nature went and pooped into the world that subsequently wowed a whole crew of us at tonight's Monochromatic Meal of the Month.

Electric Buttons

Electric buttons (plant name Acmella oleracea
) is native to the Brazilian forests. It is known commonly as the toothache plant because it contains a natural analgesic. Think of it as your friendly local novocaine harvest.

Asa offered me some tonight, and when I asked what it tastes like, he said, "Electricity." Which it totally fucken does. Like you are sucking on a battery. It also numbs the tongue, mouth and throat substantially, which I found fairly alarming. Further research indicates that electric buttons has ended up in dishes with lots of hot chiles and peppers, to offset the heat. Which is to say, it deadens your capacity to sense spiciness. Nuts.

Miracle Fruit

The miracle fruit (plant name Synsepalum dulcificum) is native to West Africa. It contains an active glycoprotein molecule with trailing carbohydrate chains. It's called miracle fruit because, when a berry of this fruit is ingested, the glycoprotein molecules bind to the tongue's taste buds, which for reasons unknown to us makes sour substances taste sweet. At least for a good half hour or so.

I didn't get to try the miracle fruit, but a whole swash of folks did, and we have photographic documentation of these folks ingesting small samples of every sour thing in the kitchen--lemons, pineapple, horseradish, mustard, vinegar, lime juice, hot sauce--and then displaying a puzzling range of facial expressions never seen before, akin to how one might react upon stepping outside in a thunderstorm and noticing that the rain drops are, in fact, syrup.

The downside to both items is that their effects stop well before the stomach cavity, so whether you're downing spoonfuls of horseradish after the miracle fruit or chugging an entire bottle of Sriracha while buzzing on electric buttons, you will still be one sorry ass in an hour, and your inner organs will hate you, and you will learn a most valuable lesson: do not fuck around with nature's freaky gifts.

Nature is fucken cool.

Monday, September 21, 2009

things I'm trying to remember

When you apply to a school, you hold back. You save the best for when you're in school.

When you work in a nonprofit for a long time, you do your best job despite how boring it can be and how much you hate nonprofits. You don't realize how strong and how good you are growing until things all of a sudden stop being boring.

When you relive painful memories and shame and embarrassment, you are not doubting yourself. You are reminding yourself where you've come from.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fong Lee fundraiser event 10/3/09

Up in Arms: A Night of Hip Hop and Spoken Word to Honor Fong Lee and End Police Brutality

Macalester College - Kagin Commons (1600 Grand Ave, St. Paul)
Saturday, October 3rd, 2009
8 pm, doors open 7:30
Suggested donation $5-$10. Be cool and give a whole bunch more.

Sponsors include a bunch of awesome Asian American student groups, the Loft Literary Center, the Poor People's Economic and Human Rights Campaign, SOY Shades of Yellow (first and only Hmong GLBT organization in the country, people), and the MN Spoken Word Association, among others.

Performances include fucken Magnetic North, fucken Tou SaiKo Lee, fucken Michelle Myers of Yellow Rage (apologies for so much profanity, but shit, that's a hell of a compendium of Asian talent in the room), Nomi of Power Struggle, local dangers El Guante and Maria Isa, and a lot more.

Context: Fong Lee, young Hmong man out of North Minneapolis, shot and killed by Minneapolis police. They approached him and his peers, he panicked and jumped off his bike, ran away from them and they ran after him. They shot him while he was running with his back turned. Police claim he had a gun, altho tests later suggested the gun was planted because the police had confiscated it from a previous arrest at a different incident. The officer who killed him was awarded a medal, Chief Tim Dolan has stood by him this whole time, and Mayor Rybak has stood by Dolan this whole time. Fong Lee's family is devastated and have failed so far to hold the police or the city accountable, through both criminal and civil proceedings. They have not given up but the financial costs are crippling.

This event will raise funds for them, and bring Fong Lee back to the local, national, and international attention he deserves, and make it clear that the everyday reality of violence of people of color at the hands of authorities is inexcusable and will not be dismissed, for Fong Lee, for Asian Americans, for everyone. We envision a different world. We commit to bringing that world into being, with the spirit of Fong Lee held close in our strivings.

Spread the fucken word. Come on out on October 3rd. And do what you have to to bring a crew of 5 or 10 or 50 with you. I'm serious. High standards, people.

Strengthen the healing work.

Strengthen the magnitude and bond of our Asian-American communities and put em on the fucken map.

Strengthen all of us in all our communities as we act in love, support, and power.

Pull me aside if you want some nice flyers to pass out.

area man laid low by cup of coffee

Call it prudishness or health nuttery, but I seriously had this awful, awful reaction to some coffee I had yesterday morning.

I have not had coffee in at least half a year. But I caved to financial pressure at a coffeeshop (I am always ending up in coffeeshops and I don't even like coffeeshops all that much) where I had but two dollars on my person, not enough for my preferred hot chocolate, but enough for their smallest cup of joe. And I caved to transportation pressure as well because I failed to get a lid for it and Metro Transit does not tolerate open containers of anything, and thus downed it all in less than 10 minutes to catch the next bus to downtown.

I did not have my usual reaction: overblown energy for 3 to 4 hours followed by conking out for the rest of the day. Instead, I had nervous, jittery energy which sapped my appetite, gave me feverish symptoms, and otherwise put me in a crappy mood that was only amplified by crappy events later in the evening.

If you are a fellow caffeine prude and can sympathize with this experience and want to be my friend (well, I'll have to suss you out first), please drop a line. To all the others out there who regularly drink mountains of the stuff (and this includes the twin sis): you have my sincere admiration and horror.

condemnable advertiser OUTED

In regards to the condemnable advertisement I talked about recently--you recall, the condescending shit-eating smugly light-hearted take on this devastating economic crisis: they've been revealed, and we have their name, address, and phone number.

Outdoor Advertising Association of America

Big ups to Asa who tracked them down.

Some info about the Recession 101 billboards:

The Outdoor Advertising Association of America is overseeing an inspirational advertising campaign providing an optimistic take on the global financial crisis. The Recession 101 messages are being presented on backdrops designed to look like lined notepad paper, mounted on digital billboards, traditional billboards, posters and street furniture.

The economic “lessons,” which include such catchphrases such as “self worth beats net worth,” and “stop obsessing about the economy, you’re scaring the children,” started going up in May and now number around 2,000 postings across the country.

Recession 101 is a light hearted and succinct reminder to everyone that the nation will get through these troubled times and come out in the end.

Members of the OAAA have donated printing, materials and billboard space, while the private anonymous donor has paid for the campaign’s design.

OAAA has set up and a special Twitter channel:

The campaign is being developed by Charlie Robb, from Charchin Creative, Port Saint Lucie, Florida. Robb was also involved in the Messages from God billboard campaign of 1999 which also was sponsored by an anonymous donor.

At, there's this jewel of a statement that pinpoints the rationale for the bullshit campaign:

The recession has hurt one of America's greatest attributes--its unshakeable optimism.

Oh snap. And for a moment there I thought that the attribute they were talking about was the 300 million people who are trying to figure out this mess, 7 million of whom are trapped in the prison-industrial complex, 40 million of whom have no health insurance, and a whole shit-ton of whom can't find a job or have given up on finding a job or aren't making enough money in their jobs to live well.

Fuck you Outdoor Advertising Association of America, fuck your callousness towards how badly we are hurting, and fuck your utter disrespect for the dignity of our lives.

If you would like to, ahem, be a bit more polite and a bit less profane in your staunch criticism of this advertising campaign, please, I encourage you, drop them a line, leave them a little note. Heck, go ahead and ring up our man Charlie Robb out of Florida who dreamed this up. He could use some restoration back to this earth.

Now, for those of you who've played this game before and are tired of more strategy-less Activist tactics like these (and I count myself among them), we can do something equally strategy-less but perhaps a bit more fun. Like posting a series of online 'billboards' at the Recession 101 website and the OAAA website, or sending postcards to Charlie in dear old Port St. Lucie. I imagine our reasoning would start with this:

The recession has hurt one of America's greatest attributes--its advertising industry.

And then we can throw them chiding messages to bring the point home! They're just light-hearted reminders, you know. Like:

Recession 101: Stop obsessing about how few things people are buying right now; if it gets really bad and you lose your job, you can always sleep on your friend's couch for a while.

Recession 101: Citizen worth beats consumer worth.

Recession 101: Funny thing about recessions...they put advertisers into such a nervous panic that they air messages of assurance that no one even believes.

I'm sure y'all could come up with much snappier quips than these. Let's hear them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Aniless weekend, discipline, whole milk, Kanyes

Friday is the day to nerd out on Geography, Saturday for badass spoken word via Kelly Tsai and Poem-cees, Sunday a cookout and an Ani show that I will miss and have no qualms about missing.

In the meantime, what takes up all day Thursday? Grad school, book, getting shit done and in order. What happens every afternoon and evening the following week? Same. What will I be doing in all the spare hours in between? Guess.

Twin sis and I both have a penchant for waiting til the last minute; we like the clarity and focus that comes with extreme pressure. I am attempting something like a discipline this time around. All of you: hold me to it. I don't know how exactly. Maybe a reminder every other day, until I get annoyed with you.

I've been listening to P.O.S.'s (of Doomtree) Audition for over a week now. Brilliance enough to beat Manchester U football team with, but I keep running this particular lyric through my head:

So here I am in the Middle West
The Heartland, muthafucka
Sippin' whole milk, muthafucka

That's a great take on Minnesota hip hop. And I don't even drink milk anymore. And whole milk is vaguely disgusting.

Lastly, I don't follow much of anything in teeveeland and really don't understand what's special about the VMA, but I couldn't resist this:

Tip to Paper Tiger, who I don't even know.

Monday, September 14, 2009

youth kick back (2)

"No--no. Men don't kiss men like that. Men shake hands."

A woman is telling her son this after he's been laughing and playing around with his father's arm and hand like they're toys, and then he kissed his father's thumb. That's all it fucken is! I sit there stunned at the sharp terror of homophobia being passed down to the little ones. I want to say something, but I'm on a public bus, and there's another young woman sitting across from me wearing shades with the words "SUCK IT" etched on the lenses, and for whatever reason this has a dampening effect on me.

So I look over at the boy, now staring at her mother, and I can feel my lungs tense.

But then-

He smiles this big-eyed, big-teethed grin at her, shoves his hand in his father's hand, and over-exaggeratedly, shakes it three big shakes, grinning that sloppy grin at her, as if it's the most absurd thing he's ever done in his life.

I nearly busted out laughing.

Youth are fucken cool.

sailors take warning

I woke up early today and vaguely recalled a red sky outside.

This in some way reflects my mood. Things have been thrown into sharp relief at my place of employment, and even though it may still be some time before things settle out, the awareness has given me a strong sense of focus for the rest of this year. I'm banging through everything--book stuff, grad school stuff, appointments, reading, writing--and I'm enjoying it immensely.

It reminds me of something I read out of Kristi Kenney's zine counterbalance, on despair and hope: namely that despair does not necessarily stultify and quash one's usefulness, but that, if engaged directly and acknowledged, can clarify exactly what action to take, can shepherd renewed energy into this action.

So you could say I'm rockin' the transformative despair.

Friday, September 11, 2009

on stories and their writers

The Top 3 on my list of favorite writers could stand some revision, as it was drafted in the days before I read James Baldwin among others, and has not gone through a single edit. But one of the original three is Arundhati Roy, and this is the opening paragraph of a piece of hers, on the occasion of the first anniversary of 9/11:

Writers imagine that they cull stories from the world. I'm beginning to believe that vanity makes them think so. That it's actually the other way around. Stories cull writers from the world. Stories reveal themselves to us. The public narrative, the private narrative -- they colonize us. They commission us. They insist on being told. Fiction and non-fiction are only different techniques of story telling. For reasons I do not fully understand, fiction dances out of me. Non-fiction is wrenched out by the aching, broken world I wake up to every morning.

Seven years to the day later, it is still just as prescient. Do us a favor and read it in full.

Tip to Clare Bayard, who didn't know she put me onto it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

it's not the heat

Today it went from living in a nostril to living in a middle school indoor swimming pool. If ya know what I mean.

Humidity has this weird spurt of vengeance at the end of summer. Here it's taunting us with barely detectable raindrops. Down further south, hurricanes. Other parts of the world, badly timed droughts and monsoons that ruin millions of acres of crops and endanger billions of lives. And Arctic ice retreating to its lowest levels in thousands of years, prompting commercial use of the Northeast Passage for the first time in ever.

May we live in interesting times, indeed.

All in all I'm doing fine. We're doing fine. Which, in the end, says very little about us at all.

sage advice for the weary

Let's save pessimism for better times.*

*Stolen from Eduardo Galeano's Upside-Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World, who in turn stole it from a graffito on a wall in Argentina.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

today's condemnable advertisement: recession 101

Any guesses as to which committed stoker of destructive and delusional capitalism decided to put up a billboard a block from my place that has nothing but the words “Recession 101: Funny thing about recessions…they end”?

It’s Clear Channel-sanctioned, but that doesn’t help me, for several trusted sources have assured me that everything is sanctioned by Clear Channel now.

Who the fuck is paying money to be a condescending asshole? “Oh, you poor dim-witted suffering souls. You don’t get it, do you? You complain now but things will be on the up-and-up before you know it.” If this is meant to be a method of instilling hope or at least consolation…but it isn’t. It fucken isn’t. I suppose what they’re aiming for is light-hearted sophistry. Yes, light-heartedness is sure in abundance today isn’t it. Why not spread the love.

I’m going to quote from Grace Lee Boggs here, as a sneak preview to what you’ll all get in her interview part of the forthcoming book: “The very word ‘recession’ suggests recovery.” Her unspoken questions are thus, What are we recovering to? Do we want to recover to the way things used to be prior to 2008? Who’s to say we’ll ‘recover’ at all? What happens if we don’t? What will we do then?

And I do declare that it is this, more than anything else, that makes this particular advertisement condemnable: the smug certainty in a time of immense uncertainty. We’re grasping at frayed ends here. I suppose this billboard is but one of them, for those who go a-grasping. But what good are we doing ourselves in this ill-placed faith? Would we not do better to withdraw as quickly as possible from as many societal Ponzi schemes as possible and oust their stokers?

We can start with this billboard. I’d appreciate people’s guesses, I’d be even more grateful for a proven ID of the interloper.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

three cheers


It's said that young people have a very strong sense about many things--what's right and what's wrong, what justice is, what hurt looks like, what loss and joy feel like.

So I have wondered quite a bit about what this culture does to young people as they grow. Does it deaden the nerves? Tighten the skin? Indoctrinate into systemic isolation? Is our culture, if allowed to rage with unmet resistance, good at nothing but kicking, kicking, kicking?

I did not get an answer today, but I got a bizarre twist, when I waited at a bus stop and this young boy bounced away from his Dad and sat next to me, and the first question out of his mouth was, "Are you a boy or a girl?" He is not the first to ask, and I am likely not the first to answer. Even so I never know what to say in these situations; I never have a smart-whip rejoinder lined up that can delight and confound, nor do I have stock radical queer responses to draw out and test on the interrogator. The best I could come up with was, "I don't know, what do you think?", fearing the worst. But he didn't say anything. He just looked at me for a half-second, and smiled a big old grin, and I grinned just as big back at him. Maybe he already had an answer in his head he didn't share. Maybe he thought my non-answer was sufficient. But I think it was something else, something in that smile that suggested conniving, conspiring, mischief, revelling in the uncertainty of gender with no desire to move towards more solid ground. And more, his silence. That was a wonderful sound, his happy, unweighted silence. He didn't know it, but that was probably the most respectful gesture he could have given, and one of the best responses out of a long, long line of interrogators that have crossed into my life. And I get excited thinking about it now, cuz it tells me this: our culture can kick young people into submission, but young people, with the simplest gestures and tools at their disposal, know how to kick the fuck back.


I got to have three free meals today--one a rockin' picnic with Claudia in the shade of a tree on the Summit Ave median, one support food at the Como neighborhood headquarters (that would be Crescent Moon Pizza, home to the dazzling Afghan pizza) for UMN Meet & Greet volunteers, and one a generous array of refreshments at tonight's Native Inroads reading at the Loft. And the kicker: every single one involved Middle Eastern/West Asian food. Yay for more portions of flatbread!

(I was going to make this a No Greater Joy Than but that honor roll is already chock-full of entries on food--which is to say, all of them are entries on food.)


I get the use of a laptop for the entirety of the Labor Weekend.

Really. Y'all don't even know (even the ones who think they know me well), can't even comprehend how incredible that is right about now. Just reading that sentence is like sweet music to my ears. "I get the use of a laptop..." Damn.

Thanks JP for the hookup. You sweet.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Sometimes you get tired easily because you're not sleeping enough, and sometimes it's because you're being unhealthy in terms of stress and nutrition and motivation, and other times, it just means that it's time to get new glasses because your eyes are straining too much.

I'm thinking it's the glasses reason.

"you know, those Chinese, they..."

Can someone offer up a possible explanation as to why, when I end up privy to a conversation about contemporary China that non-Asians are having and the attitude is not exactly rosy--like about how so-and-so's cousin visited once and confirmed that they actually eat dogs, or how inhumane and cruel their one-child policy is, or so-and-so's business partner has inside info about how wily and sinister Chinese economic policies are and the associated nightmares should they become the next great superpower--why do I feel incredibly uncomfortable and want to speak up, but don't, because I don't know shit about any of this, and besides I'm Chinese-American multiracial, which does not equal Chinese or Asian in any way? Why do I feel this weird responsibility, as if I'm hearing shit-talking about my people, even though I know in my heart of hearts that they aren't? Is this race and nationality getting confused? How are people's understandings of international goings-on influencing/confusing understandings of race here in the United States?

I wish I could say this is just me being overly sensitive, but I have this creeping notion otherwise. History has shown otherwise, which is how a young man could get killed with a baseball bat to the head by two White autoworkers who channeled their hatred of Japanese auto companies to the Asian Americans they saw here. And he wasn't even Japanese. (More on this from Bao Phi and his great examination of the Transformers movies.)

But seriously. Is anyone else feeling me here? Been through that discomfort? What do you do?

Monday, August 31, 2009

on the last night

On the last night before Miriam left town, we filed into her apartment, stood around in her room. We rummaged through boxes of freebies: books of Malcolm X's speeches, warm scarves, miniature pins shaped like flutes and bass clarinets. We moved into the living room and sat in an easy circle, some on chairs, some on footstools, some on the floor, one of so many circles we have been in. Tom found takers for a batch of peppermint tea. Miriam hauled six different cartons of ice cream from the freezer--vanilla, cookie dough, coconut lime, Rice Dream chocolate, peanut butter cookie, fudge swirl, all sugary scraps and dregs scraping the bottom of each container--"go to town, finish them off." We armed our fists with spoons and passed them round. We kept the conversation light--about eating meals with a 'dash of vegan,' about the annoyances of wearing glasses, about books and how we learned to read. We talked as if we had never ended our earlier conversations, from mere days and mere hours ago, where we reviewed our history of bee stings, the injuries and stitches we wrought on our siblings, the bizarre wonders of naked mole rats, the regionalism of phrases like "Right on" and "Tubular." We kept the conversation light. A few of us yawned, one of us closed her eyes for many long minutes, others stared blank and clearly bored, but we talked and laughed and lapsed into silence and almost came to believe that if we kept this up then there would be no end to the night. And then I checked my phone, made mental calculations, and announced that I had to head back home across the river, had to get up early for work. And almost as if on cue, the circle broke, the dishes headed for the sink, the arms heavy with rugs and backpacks and suitcases and vacuum cleaners and overfilled boxes trudged down the stairs and deposited their wares in the open maw of the van. We stood in the cool night, a smaller circle of us this time, and gave ourselves a pause. And then hugs--one, two, three of them. We moved our bodies as if out of some knowledge, as though this had been previously rehearsed. We knew what the final scene looks like, we knew what to say. And on the second hug--the second of three--caught close, still--unassailable--a sharp gasp and burst of water fresh on two faces. And I looked down and concentrated on the ground beneath me, waiting for the clarity to dissipate, and none forthcoming, looked up, and still in the heaviness, understood change as an often painful progress: dreaming ahead, longing for what's left behind, losing nothing.*

I once used to say that the effect of being around friends and community is like feeling twenty times lighter. But it's during the times of change and transition when you get to know otherwise.

Safe passage Miriam, we love you and wish you the best.

*Language tip to Kushner.

patience, occasional absurdities of

There are times when I feel like I am getting paid every hour for 30 hours a week to sit at a desk in front of a computer and wait for the goddamn phone to ring.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

uncanny twin moment (1)

Those who follow the blog, or at least keep close track of my life, know that these last 2-3 weeks have been a bit miserable. And just last night, as I was in the middle of a very important phone conversation with my Dad, my cell up and died. And I mean dead dead. As in, the battery refuses to be charged. No matter how much I plugged and unplugged the charger, and tried all the outlets in my apartment.

Well, I got word about twin sis (via my private investigator, Mom), and it turns out her last 2-3 weeks have also been miserable. By which I mean hellish. "I feel like crap right now..." And she's in the middle of moving to a new place. And there's a grad school app to send in. "I'm going to die!!! But don't worry. All will be fine." I'm gonna hold her to the latter assurance, not the former.

What she failed to tell me (but what I also learned from my P.I.) is that her phone also died while she was up at Breadloaf in Vermont. That is, dead dead.

These occasional shared twin trajectories are just one of the reasons why we started this blog. To illustrate to all of you that, yes, twin life can imitate other twin life.

Except I'm not moving, and I have at least three grad school apps awaiting me.

Friday, August 28, 2009

and on into autumn

I must say, things are turning.

The night is approaching earlier, my discipline on the book is much better, a going-away party for my dear friend Mimi went splendidly and I got into some intense conversations about burnout, origami, and Leon Trotsky (I believe in that order).

And the monochromatic meals of the month are a hoot. We could barely squeeze everyone in this last time. (Granted, this was the first time we were inside.)

Our next one will be BIV (blue-indigo-violet) and then there may not be many other colors after that before we start repeating. We're trying to add in more interesting elements, like an art crawl, which involves...actual crawling.

In the meantime, one of the best things about these potlucks are the memories. Who can ever forget the candied bacon.

today's acronym: OPOCITR

OPOCITR (oh-PAH-ki-ter): Only Person Of Color In The Room

Okay, this isn't in use yet, Reggie and I just invented this shit. But it has such a range of possibilities.

The OPOCITR's life is a troubled lot, even if only temporarily. I was thinking about how troubling it can be because this ex of mine invited me to a birthday bash in Northeast Minneapolis, at Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit. Apparently they have polka dancing, and that's why it's happening there.

So originally I said yes, and then today I finally tried to research a little into what the hell this place is, and now I know: it's a hypercondensation of everything you did and didn't know about German food, German culture, and German carousing. "It's like Oktoberfest all year round!" gushed one of the reviewers, and they aren't kidding. All the dishes are pork-glazed veal-stuffed beef with a side of other beef. I think the only vegetables allowed inside the place are asparagus and potatoes (much more of the potatoes than the asparagus). They make a meter-long bratwurst and you get a certificate if you successfully finish it--which, by the way, does not seem like it could ever be an appropriate reward. There are accordionists. And dirndls. And boots of beer. And "waitresses to drool over" (this is another reviewer, not my embellishment) carrying wooden slats filled with a dozen shots of liquor. After a full half-hour of reviewing the menus and the many, many photos of gastronomic bliss and alcohol-derived revelry, I thought, okay, I think I get the picture. Although really, I don't.

My general attitude to the truly vibrant, weird, and/or ridiculous that I find here in the Twin Cities is to GET UP IN THE STUFF, if only cuz it makes for good memories, aids your creativity, and if nothing else, always makes you appreciate how interesting humanity can get. And so I am piqued by this German restaurant, where good times supposedly never die.

But I am also filled with this terrible, terrible dread: OPOCITR.

Let's be clear. There is nothing wrong with being an OPOCITR, theoretically at least. I get it, it happens. In fact these days it happens quite a bit, and often with me in the position of OPOCITR, so I'm getting used to it, tiring and uncomfortable as it may be.

There is also nothing wrong with a restaurant that seemingly has no people of color among its managers, chefs, bartenders, hosts, waitresses, musicians, entertainers, and for the most part, customers. Okay, so actually there is a lot wrong with this scenario, especially when it evolves into a White enclave thinly disguised as a celebration of one particular European heritage. Oh sure, there's exoticisation going on, as they do with all the mosques and pho shops; there's also the nagging question of what aspects of German culture are normalized and why the German owners are keen on showcasing a limited range of German culture for the purpose of entertaining folks and making big profits, which of course is the same nagging question for many of us entrepreneurial brown folk (tip: read The Fortune Cookie Chronicles about the bizarre history of Chinese food in the United States, thanks cousin Andrew for the rec). But there's one important distinction between the ventures of the German restaurant and the Thai place just a few blocks away: the former is guaranteed a ladder to the annals of acclaim, comfort, welcoming, defining what is American even if unfamiliar; the latter will be mired in suspicion, foreign, still always un-American even as it grows more familiar each day. For every problem or mistake the German restaurant commits, it is considered an errant throw that does not detract from a perfect and clean record. For ever problem or mistake at the Thai place, it is but further proof of goods already tarnished by their maker.

Also, there is something very wrong when one of the reviewers for Gasthof's says "the crowd is diverse...every age and race every night." White folks have gotten very clingy of that word, 'diversity.' It's the million dollar punch in an honest bout of discussion about how white the institution/neighborhood/community is. "I say it's diverse, so it must be diverse! And when I say every age and race, I mean every age and race--even when some ages and some races are much more abundant than others!" And I know this line of reasoning all too well because I work in Eastside Minneapolis, I've been educated on Northeast for a better part of the last year. I know the community that gave birth to the people who gave birth to Gasthof's. I know that history of early immigration to Minnesota, the huddles of Germans, Russians, Poles, Irish in a small patch along the river. I also know that these ethnic communities fortified into a White community, intent on keeping out black folks, establishing racial covenants, organizing neighborhood 'crime' patrols which continue today and aren't far removed from organized lynch mobs. And I know that they're good at it: Northeast is the whitest part of the city, it has the fewest renters and public housing, these facts are not accidental, they were the products of action. And because of this, Northeast is a nerve-wracking place to be if you're a person of color--or at least disquieting if nothing else--and even worse when you find yourself in Northeast, in a neighborhood, in a beloved German restaurant, at a table, eating and drinking and trying your damnedest to have a good time while everyone else steals a few glances and stares at YOU, the OPOCITR, the one that doesn't make sense. That. Is not. What I call diversity.

All this to say: an OPOCITR is troubled because of how annoyingly self-conscious and alone one is made to be. You can be having a kick-ass time until you become, or you realize you are, the OPOCITR, and then all of a sudden you're in your head and not fully present and your visage is now cloudy and distant. And the thing is, the White folks in the room--especially good friends you can chat up about race and racism no prob--will see that visage, and they'll know it's because you're the OPOCITR, and then they'll get uneasy and distracted and in their heads, which of course makes you, the OPOCITR, feel terrible and guilty for being the problem here, and why did you have to ruin everyone's night so early on?

Other uses:

Generational--"He shook off the WASP tradition, uncomfortable as it was, in exchange for the more uncomfortable prospect of raising three OPOCITR children."
Pride--"You better damn well listen to what I gotta say at this town hall, cuz I'm the OPOCITR and I am one fierce human being to boot!"
Suggestive--"OPOCITR ISO OPOCITR for a little less loneliness and a little more play. Will be discreet."

Potential spin-offs: OGGITR (Only Gay Guy In The Room), OTPITR (Only Transgendered Person In The Room), OPWITR (Only Probationary White*In The Room)

*Probationary White is a lovely term Steven Flusty did not invent but stole from a friend. It refers to biracial/multiracial people who are part White and are accepted into White crowds until they break their probationary requirements (i.e. calling out racist bullshit when it comes up).