My students have come to roast me during class because I apparently introduce every book, author, and article in class as "my favorite." Which is true; they really are all my favorites. At the beginning of classes, I like to introduce a "quote for thought." They'll range from a quote within a science fiction book, or an excerpt from a random article I read, or an Instagram post or tweet I liked. Last week, I brought N.K. Jemisin's "Broken Earth Trilogy" because I had used the following quote (which I screenshot from my slides):
It was the perfect way to start our week of "Research Foundations in Higher Education" with our adventures with phenomenology, narrative inquiry (and speculative storytelling), and portraiture. And the Broken Earth Trilogy really is one of my favorites— as my class has very lovingly pointed out. And I find this absolutely hilarious because I had no idea I did this for a while. And now I keep qualifying every book and author with, "I know I say everything is my favorite, but y'all, this one is really a favorite." And I stand by it. These are many of my favorite things 💖
The first week of October is done, and with that, the 7th week of the semester in year 2 as faculty. I'm not sure where the summer went, nor where the beginning of fall went, but here we are. And here I am, in a very different stage and place in my life.
The first year of faculty life was a lot, as my reflection about the first-year dossier indicated. The best way I can describe last year, within the larger context of the (ongoing) global pandemic and continued racial violence, is that I spent most of the first year thinking I was bad at my job and deeply convinced that I wasn't cut out for faculty— that I was in the wrong profession. How did I come to this conclusion? I'm too sure, but by the first set of course evaluations (which were brutal, as all the literature has confirmed), I knew that this was not it. And so I spent the rest of the year feeling as though I was continuing to fail, was being set up to fail (as I did indeed fall into many of the traps Women of Color faculty experience at predominantly white institutions), and that no matter what I did, I couldn't improve the conditions, my position, and so I felt like I kept failing.
The summer was important. I spent time away from what became a personal and professional sinkhole: my home. During that first year, I spent the entire time in my apartment, taking every meeting at home, every crushing moment of writer's block at home, crying after reading my course evaluations at home, all of it... at home. Home was no longer sacred; home was no longer restful; home was the painful reminder I was bad at my job. I bought plants to distract, invested in hobbies to try other things, and redecorated often. Spending a summer away was exactly what I needed to regroup and reframe who I was going to be moving forward.
The second year is different. I did not realize how much I had missed the physical classroom (while still recognizing the inaccessibility it forces). I have an office, which I very much enjoyed decorating. Yes, I put plants in it. And I have distance— literal, with my hour commute each way that gives me time to enjoy a podcast, listen to some songs, catch up with a friend. But the biggest reason why the second year feels different, is because I know I want to remain a faculty member. To be clear, I am not magically a better professor this year; I am more or less the same (although, like I told my students, I am WAY more funny and charming in person). However, I've reframed last year as growth and also changed my stance with the job. I do want to be and enjoy being faculty—perceived failures and actual failures in all. I didn't make the wrong choice, and that even if, hypothetically I did, I'll have learned a ton to better prepare me for whatever is next. And, I do think I am marginally better at the job this year (which make sense), and that maybe I actually can do this job in the ways I had always hoped.
Oh, I'm also happier in this second year because I also stopped working 7 days a week. I know, I know: neoliberal capitalism and grind culture at its worst and I very much folded into it, but I also strugged in teaching two classes on Mondays so Sundays became work days, and Saturdays had already been writing days. Thus, I quickly evolved into a system where I was working every day. I no longer do that. As I tell my students often— in part, as a way to manifest it for myself— I have a robust life outside of academia; we all should.
I will speak this into existence for this summer, which truthfully doesn't quite feel like a summer. My goal: to go on vacation, and not bring my laptop.
Whew. I am starting to get anxious just thinking about not bringing my laptop. I have a tablet, with a keyboard, which I know I'll bring with me. But even so, the idea of NOT BRINGING my laptop, feels so very much different.
My friend Debbie, who I met while at UCLA, used to complain about me (in a loving, joking way) because no matter where we went to explore on the weekends, I'd always bring my laptop. Cute cafes, amazing locations, delicious brunch spaces (all pre-pandemic), always included my metaphorical but actually quite literal, physical baggage that is my laptop. For many of those times, I actually never wound up opening it. (And Debbie would, like a true friend, tease me about why I hauled it around LA in the first place). Even during multi-day vacations, I'd really not spend a lot of time using it— usually just answering emails which (1) I shouldn't have been doing anyways, but also (2) could easily do on my phone.
And yet, the idea of not taking my laptop, feels like a commitment I'm not quite ready to make: a commitment to not be so tied to my work. To be clear, I am certainly not making the argument that people who bring their laptops everywhere have bad work-life harmony; (thank you Dr. Fred Bonner II for that reframe from work-life balance). Instead, as I'm slowly starting to travel (i.e., see my family for the first time), I'm wondering what my life might be like where I just... don't take my laptop. I'll still be able to do work off my tablet of course, and my parents have computers for me to use too in case I really need it. So I am thinking, and wondering about this idea, this vision, this tantilizing dream of not bringing my laptop... that feels like something that maybe I can actually try for this summer and commit to taking some time off.
And through it, I've come to meet some of my most favorite worlds, learned about authors who have now become some of my faves, and picked up new anthologies and books because I wanted to read more. Here are some of the episodes I've especially enjoyed (links and descriptions from Stitcher and in no particular order):
"Valedictorian" by N.K. Jemisin
A smart, stubborn high school student sets her own rules in a near-future dystopia. This story appears in N.K. Jemisin's collection HOW LONG 'TIL BLACK FUTURE MONTH? Content advisory: language.
"What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky" by Lesley Nneka Arimah
A mathematician has discovered a formula that explains the universe and makes it possible to manipulate human bodies and emotions. "What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky" is the title story of Lesley Nneka Arimah's collection from Riverhead Books.
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken LiU
An immigrant mother tries to bond with her American-born son by creating a magical paper menagerie. This story appears in Ken Liu's collection THE PAPER MENAGERIE AND OTHER STORIES, available now from Saga Press.
"Childfinder" by Octavia Butler
A telepath uses her skills to mentor children with psionic ability. "Childfinder" is available in e-book format in the collection UNEXPECTED STORIES, published by Open Road Media. The story is copyright Ernestine Walker-Zadnick.
"Pockets" by Amal El-Mohtar
"Cuisine des Mémoires" by N.K. Jemisin
The first story I listened to was Lesley Nneka Arimah's "What it means when a man falls from the sky." And when I finished listening, I couldn't believe that it ended there, so I went out and bought the book immediately. I did the same after listening to N.K. Jemisin's "Cuisine des mémoires." And I cried during and after Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie"-- it was a little to close to home for me.
Part of why I like the podcast is because of how Burton adds in special effects with his incredible reading, so it really feels like a transportation to another realm. It's why I feel jarred when stories end "too soon" for me, or when things feel too close to emotions I've pent up. But, part of why I wanted to share about podcasts for this random round-up is because of the two stories I had wanted to include, but won't.
If folx have been following the news over the past couple of years, we've seen several cases of how scholars, researchers, and organizers have pretended to be a race that they are not and reaped the benefits of doing so-- which is especially damaging, horrible, and frustrating given the already scare resources for minoritized groups. The most recent in 2021 is Andrea Smith and I recomment reading Sarah Viren's incredible article about it. Viren's article unpacks the multilayered complexities of claiming ancestry with Native American tribes. I can't really do it justice so please just read it :)
I included it because of how, after listening to "Takeback Tango" on the podcast, I was enthralled and decided to look up Rebecca Roanhorse. And in doing so, came across this article: Acee Agoyo 's (Ohkay Owingeh/Cochiti/Kewa) article, entitled, "'The Elizabeth Warren of the sci-fi set': Author faces criticism for repeated use of tribal traditions." Whew. What a title right? But in it, included several troubling conclusions that felt similar to what I had been reading with Viren's (yet, also very different). I was of course, shocked and disappointed in reading the article, and now I don't know quite what to do-- I really do love Roanhorse's work. And yet...
In reflection on the past two weeks (which is when all of this came to play), I've realized that while I try to do my due diligence to read about authors I cite and include in my academic work (because citations are very much political), I have been less discerning in my other areas of life. To be clear, this isn't about wholesale boycotts or cancel culture (which is a different thing to unpack in it of itself), but a reminder for me that my time, money, and interests should be spent carefully and deeply in consideration of how harm is reproduced and the ways I contribute to it.
Earlier today, Inside Higher Ed published an article entitled, "Legislating Against Critical Race Theory," by Colleen Flagherty. Colleen asked me earlier last week to talk and we had about a 40-minute conversation (give or take). I'll likely write a post about this later in the "Me-Sourced" section about media training (and how important it is to learn how to talk with media), but for now, I wanted to reflect about the experience and other troubling trends we're seeing as related to the article.
I've appreciated African American Policy Forum's #TruthBeTold Campaign where they've been documenting the attacks on Critical Race Theory (CRT). And one of the things that they've clearly outlined and what Colleen and I also spoke about (and can be seen from other CRT scholars), is just how many misconceptions that exist about CRT. As mentioned in the article:
Cho said that two common misperceptions dominate discussions about racism in the U.S.: the “interactional,” as in, “As long as I am not doing racist things, then racism is false,” and the “comparative,” as in, “We're not as bad as we used to be.” And in keeping the discourse here, she said, “we miss the ways that racism may no longer be, for example, graffitiing terrible words in front of somebody's store, but can be much more covert."
One of the things that we're observing is the interpretation of CRT as "attacks" on specific groups such as white conservatives, who argue that they are being villiafied. But what I want to clearly emphasize here and what CRT explains (see Derrick Bell who helped found CRT in legal studies), is that racism isn't just about racist interactions but really about the embedded ways our policies, structures, and even organizations reify racism. (This is also why I appreciate Victor Ray's article about theorizing racialized orgs). This also points back to our education systems and what we are— and just as importantly are not— teaching. For that reason and more, programs and initiatives like Dr. Nikole Hannah-Jones's work with the 1619 Project are huge because part of these anti-CRT attacks reflect a lack of recognition (*cough* hypocrisy) about our history. Recent comments from Vice President Kamala Harris in Guatemala to "not come" to America very much overlook how the U.S. has contributed to the political instability and migration, particularly in Central America.
But what these attacks also reveal are the ways that C. W. Mills (1959) describes our lack of "sociological imagination." In short, we reduce systemic concerns and struggles to interpersonal conflict and personal behavioral changes. We see this in deficit-oriented language and programming— think of the rhetoric of parents not caring about their children's education because they are not showing up to parent-teacher conferences, but overlooking that these conferences are scheduled during the work day that many parents (especially low-income) cannot (literally) afford prioritize. In the same way, we fall into the trap of thinking of racism as interactional, individually focused behaviors that we can "fix" through diversity trainings and workshops, without considering the political structures (think housing and redlining or gerrymandering and voting).
All this to say, I'm grateful for the opportunity to have been able to share my thoughts and am also grateful for Dr. Abbie Bates and Dr. Nolan Cabrera who talked me through my initial concerns and reminded me not to ramble (as I usually do— exhibit A are these entries).
Graduation was on Saturday and it is complicated. I, like many of my peers as part of the class of 2020, have a complicated relationship with graduation because we cannot help but continue to mourn the loss of celebrations and be a bit salty about the cancelled graduations we experienced.
I think because of these feelings, I was especially sensitive to the class of 2021 and my students, who were really hoping to have a graduation of their own. And so I volunteered to spearhead graduation and plan it with a great group of students (some who were graduating, others who will be in future years). We worked together for six intense weeks to make our socially-distanced in-person graduation (with pods and markers for guest seating) with a joint (virtual) live-stream! We had speeches, programs, hoodings, gifts, goodies, websites, Polaroids, and more to celebrate the students in love and in style. It was a lot. But it was also everything.
As part of the ceremony, I got to hood my amazing incredible advisees who have GRADUATED 🎉🎓🎉🎓🎉🎓 #ClassOf2021. They are a special bunch, as I wrote to my message to them on the graduation website I created (through Notion, of course):
Congratulations Class of 2021! As the class that welcomed me to Miami when I came for my campus visit, you all were a formative reason for why I wanted to join the Miami SAHE program as a faculty member. The group advising times, meetings, 1on1s, ProDevo events, and observing you all transition from graduate students to Student Affairs Professionals— all of these things have been highlights for me this year. Thank you for the work you have done, continue to do, and will do in your next steps. I am excited to continue supporting you all in your respective journeys and eagerly anticipating the ways you will make our field and our campuses more liveable, authentic spaces. Cheers and congrats!!!! 🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉
I'm so proud of them and was so honored to hood them. (Admittedly, I was also incredibly nervous to hood them and practiced on quite a number of people just in case).
I'm not quite done with my first year as a professor. I still have what feels like a mountain of grading to do and a graduation to help execute. But today felt like one of those days of "almost" so here are small snippets with no connection except that they all happened today. No big "moral" or takeaway at the end, just small bits of prose.
Snippet 1: With Covid-19 vaccinations and improvements with weather, some of my students and I have been able to see each other outside-- distanced, of course. Today was one of those days and it was lovely to 1. see people's heights which is always hilarious given the different angles my head will now turn; and 2. just being in shared (non-virtual) space. It felt like an apt wrap-up with the student group I've been advising and a wonderful celebration of the year. We also took some polaroids; my selfie polaroid game has not improved in the slightest.
Snippet 2: With graduation around the corner, the students and I who have been the graduation committee did a run-thru, which also included my practicing hooding my advisees. (The experience was both incredibly sentimental and something I'll explore later, given that with physical graduation being cancelled for me last year, I have yet to be hooded by my own advisor. Luckily, I watched a lot of videos to practice). The run-thru has been a culmination of 8 weeks of very intense planning with a team worthy of their own event staff company as we grappled with outdoor venues, livestreaming options, decorations, programming, and a hundred other details I am forgetting. Thank goodness they're running the show. I'm looking forward to celebrating the class of 2021.
Snippet 3: I went to my office. I don't go often given that it's relatively empty and I'm still hoarding my books at my home workspace, but going made me realize that once the semester is over, I'll make the transition from home space to my office space. I saw and dreamt a bit of how the end of the semester will quickly mean the preparation for the next. The wheels keep turning., especially as I look at the goals of my summer planning. Do I even want to cross the finish line? (Yes, obviously and I will celebrate plenty when I/we do).
I feel like all I'm doing is writing statements. And I mean that in two ways: (1) the tragedies and cruelty have been unrelenting so I feel like I am writing again and again and again— it's what I feel like I am doing all the time. But also (2) in doing this, I am exhausted, tired, angry, frustrated, in continuing to experience and observe structural systemic oppression manifest again and again and again and again. And in it, I feel defeated because in writing these statements, is this all that we can do? (The answer is obviously no; we can, need, and will do more). But in all of this, I wrote, again, to my students this past week. But wrote something a little different if you want to read it here.
The following are portions and updates of the statement I wrote for the program in which I am a faculty member. I pasted it here for folx who might want resources, learn more, need a base for how you might write something, or because maybe you own institution didn't write one and this can be affirmation. The one I sent to my students was a bit longer, including some brilliance that was generously shared from Dr. Dian Squire, whose own example was instrument in how I crafted mine.
Some of you might be following closely to the news, while others of you will be learning about this for the first time. Last night (March 16), a white, 21-year-old shot and killed 8 individuals in Atlanta, Georgia— six of whom were Asian and Asian American and seven of whom were women. In the reports detailed by Korean newspaper, Chosun, some of these individuals include elders and grandmothers.
A year ago, many of you received an email from me regarding anti-Asian rhetoric and hate regarding the discourse around Covid-19. In that email, I described how the reporting and rise of Anti-Asian (and especially anti-Chinese) violence was both related to the now-former president's harmful rhetoric but also related to a much longer history of stereotyping and associating disease with Asians as well as the construction and history of Yellow Peril. Since then, the organization Stop AAPI Hate has documented over 3,795 incidences from March 19, 2020 to February 28,2021 and includes the following disturbing and concerning conclusions [read full report here]:
Even further, we can take another step back to think about how Asians came to the U.S. and the larger global economies of imperialism and war (see Dr. Catherine Ceniza Choy's Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History) which even then trickles down into how we are socialized to think about food (see Dr. Mark Padoongpatt's Flavors of Empire: Food and the Making of Thai America). This same week, the U.S. deported 33 Vietnamese refugees; all of this is deeply intertwined. To learn more, in addition to the books and articles I've recommended, consider watching PBS's "Asian Americans" series, reading and looking at organizations like AAPI Women Lead and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
What this means for us, especially as student affairs professionals and faculty, are three things:
Writing this statement is especially difficult for me as an Asian American woman, and frankly, felt almost impossible for me to write as I am still processing and still grieving. Your Asian and Asian American friends, classmates, and colleagues may be feeling similar, and additionally feeling invisible considering the (general) lack of news coverage about Asians and Asian Americans and the geopolitical history of invisibilizing Asians in the midwest (see Dr. Jason Chan's dissertation). Consider reaching out to them and check-in. And as this statement might have shared new information to you, consider reading and learning more of the history that was not taught to us— read about Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people; learn their histories; and hear their stories. And in doing so, consider how we might be more intersectional in our analyses and the ways we are challenging for student affairs, higher education, both as a field and in our respective positions, to do and be better.
Dr. Katherine S. Cho
[A/N: March 18, 2021]
In a previous version of this statement, I did not include the Page Act of 1875, which is earlier than the more well-known Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In including it, I have been reflecting on how for the little I learned about Asian American history, I was only taught the latter and not the former, which (again) reifies the relatioship between race, gender, and immigration.
In Korean, there's a phrase folx use with "Latte" (라떼; just the way it's pronouned in English), as a play on words with "Natte" (나때; rhymes with latte), which essentially translates to "back in my day." People use it to tease the older generation to stop referring back to their "good ole days" or how they had it much worse, etc.
The number of times I've already used "back in my day" as a faculty member is hilarious. And even more hilarious because the "back in my day" was literally 6 months ago. That's all for today - just a coffee-time story with a splash of my ridiculousness.
Earlier this week, I submitted my dossier. Also known as a tenure report, this document outlines a faculty member's efforts and accomplishments in research, teaching, and service. Dossier components, requirements, structures, and formats will differ by institution and even by department. Mine was a 20-pager with specific outlined sections and guiding considerations, while others have shared with me that theirs are 5-pager or outlines or even modified CVs with a bit of explanation. (As an FYI: the three-year dossier and the one you submit to go up for tenure are known as "the big ones," but many institutions ask pre-tenure faculty to submit one annually).
What I didn't expect the dossier to be, as I worked on mine, was a rollercoaster of emotions in two ways. First, despite me consistently reminding my students to give ourselves grace for the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing racism; adjusting requirements for classes; and supporting students in modifying their expectations for themselves, I did not do the same for myself. Instead, I quickly spiraled into the "Well, I should have been doing" and "I can't believe I didn't do" self-talk that helps no one. I know many of you can relate and have done the same. Second, the process was emotional because I actually did do a lot. And you'd think that the second point would counteract the first point, but it didn't. I did a lot in things... I hadn't been counting. I didn't count them because I didn't count me. At some point during the semester, I stopped thinking I mattered. I cannot overstate how hard this transition has been, while recognizing that I have not written about it much either (in part, because I'm not quite ready to). I spent the past semester, my first ever semester as a faculty member in a new city, new institution, feeling like I failed at every aspect of my job. I know and know and know that I didn't fail. And yet, I still felt that feeling of failure to my core.
Yesterday, I learned that the term "imposter syndrome" was originally coined as "imposter phenomenon." I'll be sure to use the latter from now on, in the continuous reminder that my feelings of failure, a reflection and manifestation of imposter phenomenon, is a construction.
Of course it is.
As so many brilliant scholars have stated, higher education wasn't built for me, for people of color, for women, disabled folx, for trans folx, for so many many identities. Writing the dossier was grappling with how far I had convinced myself that I didn't belong. Despite my best efforts and even ironic ways I study and critique and analyze dysfunction, the dysfunctional socialization of academia, and even via the communication I have with students reminding them how much they belong here (because they do!), I had wrapped my identity in this 20-page document. What a ride. I obviously finished the document. Because I had to (ha!). AND because of a tremendous community that refuses to let me be less than, even when self-determined. Today, marks the halfway of week 2 in the second semester (still in the first year). In some weird way, I'm thankful in how the year 1 dossier gave me a solid moment of reflection, despite the rollercoaster. I'll carry these lessons a little closer to my heart as I finish out my first year and start working on the year 2 version.
P.S. As a pro-tip from Dr. Kakali Bhattacharya, make sure when writing a dossier, to have a conceptual framework that guides the narrative of who you are as a scholar.
It's December and almost 3 months since I wrote here. And this timing makes sense because my ability to write has been difficult at best, impossible at worst. Friends, femtors, mentors, colleagues, have all told me that the post-dissertation slump is real. And naturally, I heard it, nodded my head, and immediately thought that it would not apply to me or even if it did, I could just, "get over it."
I did not. And have not. I expected the transition to be difficult. But what I didn't realize was that the ways I finished and then immediately moved to faculty (both physically across the country and positionally with a new college/department) has led me to love writing less. I have not recovered from this heartache. Writing and my writing goals (which admittedly I did not adjust enough in light of everything), have been a containerized pressure cooker— all the more pressurized with all the language of "being on the clock" with tenure and impact factors and publications and and and. And I've spent most weeks feeling like a failure, despite appearing to "produce"... and feeling worse knowing that each week is another week I am further behind. An endless, horrible cycle.
I am also teaching a yearlong class on dissertations right now. And oddly enough, despite the constant feeling of never "doing/being enough" for that class and for my students either, it has offered a precious, consistent reminder of the beauty in writing. We spent class time reframing introductions as world-building, borrowing from science-fiction and fantasy to nerd out about how quickly a world can be constructed and inviting for us to join. I spent weeks reading incredible drafts, being inspired by my students, and also rereading some of my own favorite authors to provide extra resources and examples of beautiful writing. And... I do the exact same things my students and I have discussed as what harm our writings: the endless negative self talk about our own ability; calling our writing bad or not "academic enough;" chasing after perfection; writing a sentence and then rewriting it (over and over again); feeling like we did nothing because we were "just reading"... an ever-present spiraling cycle...
A week ago, I wrote a sentence that made me giddy— you know, the sentence you read aloud to your friends with the pride of knowing, "damn, this is a great sentence." And yet, I have not written another like that since.
I am slowly understanding that is okay. I am still healing. Elizabeth Acevedo was on the podcast, 88 Cups of Tea (highly recommend) and talked the necessity to relearn who you are during this pandemic. Back in September when I listened to the episode, I again, nodded and let that advice flow in one ear and out the other. But now, in reflecting on how I am trying to fall back in love with writing (and in some ways, back in love with myself), I realize I need to relearn who I am: who is this post-dissertation me and enjoy this journey of self and healing, amidst of and in resistance against the spirals and cycles that actually point to the much larger issue of academic production, neoliberalism, capitalism, and white supremacy— a post for another time.
I tried making bath bombs the other day. The adventure is part of my longer exploration in trying new hobbies outside of academia. While these figurines (a penguin, an ice cream cone, a cloud bubble saying yay, a dolphin, and sphere), look pretty, don't let that fool you. After sitting out for two days, they have still not fully dried out (versus the directions which say five hours). Also, the scent of kiwi-strawberry (an ode to my youth) still lingers quite strongly in my home. And the whole process reminds me again, why I'm a terrible baker, chemist, and not-so-great cook.
In Korean, there's a word called 손맛 (pronounced "sohn maht"). 손 translates to hand and 맛 translates to taste. Essentially, the word signifies the ability to measure without measuring— your hand can "taste" the measurements. After decades of honing the craft of cooking, we see elders wield this and be able to whip up dishes with a "pinch of this" and a "dash of that." Well... I have long desired 손맛 but have not invested the time nor acquired the skills to have it. Also, I don't have measuring cups or spoons. As a result, I "eyeballed" and "approximated" every measurement in the bath bomb process. Naturally, the end results are fizzling out. HA! (yes puns, no apologies).
I'm about a month into my faculty job. And with the transition, I've debated quite a bit about how to move with this blog (which in part, explains my absence in posting outside of the Random Roundup). With the new role, a new degree, a new place, and everything else that comes with these things, I feel like a lot of things have changed (and materially, of course they have).
And yet, I also feel remarkably the same. One of my friends and I talked about the Ph.D. a while back and about its anti-climactic nature: one day you are a graduate student, the next day you are a doctor. Nothing has changed fundamentally in who we are, what we believe, what we can do, and yet to the world, everything seems to be different with those three letters. This anti-climactic-ness is similar to how I'm feeling in the present, and where I struggle with the purpose of my blog.
When I was a graduate student, writing about my experience was something I wanted to do as a form of reflection and as a way to normalize the struggles of graduate school. It felt low-stakes because who was actually reading these posts? But now as a faculty member, I think about if I should be writing with the same intentionality, although again, who is actually reading this?
As a form of procrastination, I tend to read lots of books when stressed and/or in a time of transition. Thus, in the months of May, June, and July, I've devoured over 30 books and counting (as the other Random Round Ups have also shown). I also watch a lot of the same shows over and over. Yet, for this round-up, here are three new things I got to do~
A dear friend recommended the "Brooklyn Brujas" series multiple times. And finally, during a random night when I was going for a "light read" before sleep, I picked up Zoraida Córdova's Labyrinth Lost, and promptly stayed up all night reading it. I loved the book for the incredible world-building that happened, and the unapologetic use of language without translation. There are other gems to gush over, but it's definitely one not to be missed and even better: there are two more to read after you finish this one!
Friends know I'm an avid fan of Korean dramas but I've realized that over the years, my tastes have shifted. One of the areas I've grown to love are "slice of life"-type dramas— no dramatic plot line, no horrible villain— just people living their every day life. Hospital Playlist is exactly one of these types and one I've so very much enjoyed. As an added bonus, my shifting tastes have matched my mom so we got to binge this together. And, for folx who want to know where to watch this, they're on Netflix!
Minor Feelings. Whew. I have been eagerly anticipating Cathy Park Hong's Minor Feelings since reading Jia Tolentino's book review. I cannot talk about this book enough. I adore this book; I adore Cathy Park Hong; I adore all of it. And I think, beyond just feeling seen, while reading, I love the writing: the sentence construction, the evocative words, the sharp commentary, the ways the words on the page pierce my very heart and soul. I feel like my life changed while reading this book and is changing still, as I continued to reflect. Can you tell I'm a fan? ;)
I've done a couple of other things too, during this month of a new job and transitioning to faculty life, but for now, I'll highlight these things as my random roundup. Stay tuned for later updates~
It is official. I have completed the requirements of the doctoral degree. I am still having a hard time describing how I'm feeling. Crossing the "Ph(inishe)D" line and being "Ph(inally)D(one)" feels both elating and somewhat of a shock— perhaps I am still expecting for someone to jump out and say "gotcha!" and revoke my degree. I might also be in shock given that the school year is starting in two weeks and I am knee-deep in lesson planning and that transition as well.
But to go back to the dissertation, whenever I read my old posts or look through my Instagram regarding the doctoral journey, I realize I must sound like a broken record because my posts all talk about how important my community has been. And yet to stay a broken record, I can't help but think how true this is. I would not have made it here without the friends, colleagues, femtors/mentors, and family in my life. Several of my committee members laughed and remarked how my acknowledgments might have been the longest they ever read. ... which makes sense, give that they were 19 pages— longer than some of my of my actual chapters. (For background, I wrote them over two years whenever I had writer's block with the other sections of the dissertation). The pages were warranted because this dissertation is truly a labor of love and such an incredible testament and reflection of the relationships that carried me.
Admittedly, dissertating often felt lonely and lonelier still as the pandemic necessitated distance and caution. My community rallied around me with texts, virtual cafes, encouragements, phone calls, and "kat"ch-ups as a way to remain connected. Maybe that's also why this feels... not quite. I crossed the finish line during a (seemingly never-ending) pandemic which means we aren't a crowd of mass communal celebration. But today, with texts and celebrations, and a video round of libations with family, I am slowly getting used to the fact that I have indeed Ph(inishe)D.
I am almost always tuned into noise. I listen to music while I write; I listen to a podcast when I get ready in the morning. I'll likely listen to an audiobook when I'm back driving to places. My life is full of noise and commentary and sounds. I have always liked noise, from ambient white noise to kpop to classical music to coffee house backgrounds to discordant cacaphony.
But over the past couple of months, I found myself having a hard time: writing, thinking, being, all of it. I mean, I've had writer's block on and off for quite some time (as this site can attest). But it's been especially difficult now (... which of course makes sense given the double pandemic of covid and the world continuing to reject that Black Lives Matter). And so I've found myself gravitating to silence as a way to slow down, decompress, and quiet everything around me to be by myself: with my thoughts, my dreams, my ideas that are drifting that I slowly put on paper. It's nice... in a way that is unfamiliar.
So for this post, in addition to talking about some of the things I've enjoyed since my last "Random Round Up," I'm also going to weave in a couple of related articles for some food for thought as well. I am a huge fan of romance books, so I have been counting down the days for Talia Hibbert's "Take a Hint, Dani Brown" to be released. It's the sequel to "Get a Life, Chloe Brown" which was incredible. (Sidebar: I really appreciate the finesse of how Hibbert writes about chronic pain and disability). Also Dani Brown is a PhD student and it was so refreshing to read the struggles of writing and academia. Jasmine Guillory's "Party of Two" also came out on the same day this week (!!!!), and is the fifth book in her series. I've adored every single one of them, including this one where I've especially appreciated how the book described nuances about decision-making. Hibbert, Guillory, (and also Mia Sosa and Courtney Milan) are some of most favorite romance authors (not that you asked, ha!). Yes, I read both books in 24 hours.
As I've been continuing to read (mostly) Women / Womxn of Color, I'm constantly reminded how especially the romance industry is dominated by white authors. Vox's Aja Romano's and Constance Grady's piece masterfully examines the problematic, racist under (and over) tones within the romance industry of publishing and specifically about the Romance Writers of America (RWA). I also highly recommend reading McKenzie Jean-Philippe's piece from Oprah's Magazine, which includes interviews with Jasmine Guillory, Beverly Jenkins, Kwana Jackson, and Alyssa Cole. And within romance, the regency/historical genre is also egregiously white (white authors, white characters) and I've loved Talia Hibbert's blog post critiquing the embedded and assumed whiteness as well as subtle and not so subtle ways authors are anti-Black. All of this feels more apt than ever, along with Twitter threads like #PublishingPaidMe that highlight the gross difference in pay (and book advances) between authors of color and white authors.
While I haven't finished, I'm about halfway through Souvankham Thammavongsa's "How to Pronounce Knife" (here's an excerpt for a sneak peak). I was drawn to it because of this review by Electric Lit's Angela So— especially this part:
...in Thammavongsa’s work, refugees don’t have to be just tragic or sad but can be imbued with humor, complexity, and the unexpected. Most importantly, Thammavongsa doesn’t write for a white audience.
Oof. The review pierced my heart in ways that I knew I needed to read this book. And again, speaks to the ongoing critiques and problems of the publishing industry. I loved Kat Cho's tweets about point-of-view writing (the author, not me). And lastly, to round out this "Round Up" (which I just realized is ALL books), I just started Leah Johnson's "You Should See Me in a Crown," and it has been so great. Poignant, funny, relatable, and overall, such a wonderful read. I'm sorely tempted to blaze through the book, but am trying to pace myself since I am finishing up projects and writing on deadlines.
Let me know what you think about the books and/or if you have any recommendations, and if you're buying any of these books, check out one of these Black-owned bookstores! Oh and for a random non-book thing I've enjoyed, I just finished the last four seasons of Bob's Burgers (tv show). And as the last sidebar: the Random Round Ups have no scheduled posts; I just create one when I have four or five things I want to share.
Today was my graduation. After listening to student protests and angers about its cancellation, my school decided to have it be virtual. We filled out slides, recorded how to pronounce our names, uploaded photos. And today, we were shown a website of pre-recorded videos (some of which included fantastic speakers like our student speakers!). I had friends text me screenshots of my slide and congratulate me. Friends sent me cards, sent me beautiful gifts, called, celebrated over Zoom, and I felt so loved.
It feels weird. For one, I have yet to defend so I am not quite Ph-inishe-D. And for another, the part that is taking up the largest part of my heartache, is that I am still mourning. I know there are so many things going on right now-- the continued violence against Black bodies, the continued existence of Covid (despite people wandering around maskless - please wear your masks!). And in all the global grief, pain, and anger, is also my very personal and localized sadness. This graduation was... nothing like what I had been dreaming about for the past four years, and had been planning for the better part of a year. Even well before this period last year, I had told friends how I was planning the week, preparing how to seamlessly fit my dissertation defense and graduation so people could attend both. I knew the venues I wanted, the activities to do (because you can never get rid of the Student Affairs in me), and the ways I wanted to thank my community. The graduation was as much for everyone, as it was for me.
And I can still do the last part: the gratitude, the thanks. And I will. I will so hard. But today, for just today, I am giving space for my sadness and letting myself mourn "what was suppose to be" while knowing how fiercely loved I am by my community. Which is why I'm so sad to be "celebrating" without all of us in person or closer to one another.
I've had a couple of conversations with friends about how we show up on social media for Black Lives Matter. Do we post? Does it look performative? What should be doing? In reflecting with this myself, I'm sharing this article by Holiday Phillips with an excerpt below:
Sometimes real activism requires us to step up and shout. But far more often, it requires us to carry out simple daily acts that no one will ever see. If, on reflection, everything you do is public, it’s likely you’re a performative ally. Challenge yourself to do things quietly, like changing the things you buy, giving your platform to a BIPOC, or educating yourself on the history of racism without telling everyone about how educated you now are. That way, you know you’re really down for the cause — and not the cause of looking like a woke person.
I appreciate this article in holding the multiple tensions of what activism looks like amidst very visible platforms. And one of the things I appreciated this article gently reminding us is the critical necessity of impact. Yes, we (including me) need to be learning and especially unlearning anti-Blackness, AND, we need to remember that racism, police brutality, anti-Blackness is steeped in the continued divestment of Black communities. So as we post and share, we should (re)invest in Black Lives Matter, metaphorically and materially and concretely. (Here are some resources to do just that).
Note: I posted this in on a different social media platform but wanted to post it here. I'm sure there's another blog post waiting to happen about navigating and managing across different spaces... but this isn't that one.
In understanding what has happened with the death and murder of George Floyd, I am reminded again, of the anti-Blackness that is deeply entrenched and embedded within the Asian and Asian American community. And what I want to stress, is that the complicity ranges. We can easily point to this horrific violence and condemn it when it is an officer standing by as a murder happens, but it’s also much more pervasive.
Anti-Blackness is steeped in the respectability politics we do, where we argue someone is not “professionally dressed” without realizing the history of how things like hair and clothes have been raced and classed (e.g. the discrimination against natural hair). Anti-blackness is perpetuating ideas of assimilation and meritocracy where we believe, deep down in our core, that it was our sacrifices work and effort that brought our successes. (And to clarify: yes, that is true, and also equally true is the systematic divestment of communities of color, especially Black communities; the practice of redlining and refusing housing loans; and even now, the differences in public funding for schools and the related segregation). Anti-Blackness is the individualized focus on people’s behaviors, actions, and missing the bigger system of racism, white supremacy, and how Asian and Asian Americans are used a foil, veil, and weapon to harm Black communities. They are the moments when we agree that a Black colleague was “too aggressive,” without understanding how the trope the Angry Black Person is a strategy to shut down concerns. It’s also the ways we don’t differentiate between racism and anti-Blackness, which are related but also uniquely distinct.
I am still learning how to unlearn these things myself. In researching institutionalized racism for the better part of 4+ years, I have benefited from this system: from racism, from anti-Blackness, while still being harmed and experiencing racial violence . Have Asians and Asian Americans suffered, endured racism, have our own unique struggles as such as being marked as a perpetual foreigner? Yes. We have and we continue to, and Covid19 has revealed it more thoroughly. But this is not the oppression Olympics of who has it worse. This is about shifting the attention from asking “why are certain plants not doing as well or dying in the garden” to understanding “the soil is poisoned.”
I decided to write this because as I am unlearning and relearning, I know many of my peers and friends are doing the same. For my Asian and Asian American friends who don’t quite know/understand, don’t know how to ask, let’s unlearn and relearn together. Please be mindful/do not ask your Black friends, colleagues, peers to explain anti-Blackness. Please do not repost or share videos of a violent death, that because of technology, autoplays on people’s feeds. And even if the tech adjusts to stop doing this, please do not share because death is not something to consume as media or entertainment.
Lastly, I want to note that there are tons of people who say all of this way better than me, have been saying this, and have amazing tools and resources. Check out the BLM resource landing page. And read Soya Jung's "The Racial Justice Movement Needs a Model Minority Mutiny"
Having spent 2019 intentionally reading Womxn of Color, I'm carrying the same intention into 2020. Check out my bookshelf of some of my faves and send me recs!
When I'm trying to concentrate, I like having background music that's super dramatic. For some reason, instrumental music is instrumental (pun!) in helping me concentrate. Most of the songs are Korean-drama OSTs (original sound tracks), w/ a few classical music scores in the mix!
I don't categorize anything other than my "random round-ups" because it takes too much work (insert laughing emoji).