A New Era?
A little over a week ago I posted on instagram about an interview I did with Youngmi Mayer and Brian Park, creators and cohosts of the podcast Feeling Asian. We recorded it weeks ago, but the episode came out on March 17, the day after six Asian women were murdered in massage parlors near Atlanta, a hate crime that took eight lives. If it was any other interview, I probably would have skipped the self-promotion (which I am still stupidly uncomfortable with) but honestly I was grateful for the timing. In the midst of a devastating week that threatened to flatten the richness of Asian Americans into easily digestible, short-attention-span stories of tragedy filled with stereotypes, it was comforting to point people to a long conversation among three Asians where our anxiety, intelligence, joy, and complexity are all in play. It felt right. I just want people to see us. Posting about it felt like a small way to take people's attention--whether it was due to guilt or curiosity or a real desire to know more--and direct it towards the f*cking vibrancy of Asian American life.
The episode came out on a Wednesday. I know this because on Wednesdays nights we have dinner at our quarantine co-family's house. (I don't use the word "pod" because I kind of hate it/it feels insufficient for these four people who have become kin to us over the last year. At some point, I'll write more about this--and reimagining community, family abolition, and "a politics of friendship," a term someone I recently interviewed used and I am now obsessed with--but for now, if you want, you can read this basic love letter I wrote to them for The Kitchn.) That morning our quarantine co-dad Jondou, who is Taiwanese, texted to see how I was doing. He was looking forward to cooking and hosting us, he said, but only if I felt up for the company. I did. (In fact, I was desperate to be with other Asians). He made us fried chicken, split pea soup with ham hocks, and homemade scallion pancakes, He processed his feelings by cooking, obv, and I processed by eating myself full to the point of discomfort. Despite the palpable emotion between us, we barely spoke about the shootings.
This week we hosted our co-family at our house. What a difference a week can make. At the table it was impossible to contain all our thoughts and feelings--the grief; the desire for--and discomfort over--people's attention; the anger over the fact that it didn't seem like that many people were actually talking about it; the shamelessness of wondering how we might best "take advantage" of this sudden interest in Asians; the impossibility of reconciling immediate naive shock over what happened with the knowledge that it is directly tied to a long history of US imperial violence throughout Asia; the anger over people's ignorance of the this history; the impulse to scream about the massive wealth divide among Asian Americans; the resentment that we are viewed, if we are seen at all, as either high achieving nerds or invisible all-look-same service workers. The simple, inescapable sadness. I was embarrassed to find myself admitting that, of all things, I felt guilty. Guilty for maybe not doing or saying enough when elders were slashed in the face and beaten, for the fact that my daughters seem to better understand Black Lives Matter than anti-Asian violence and xenophobia.
This has gotten longer than I intended. I haven't written a newsletter in six months, so I was thinking in the hopes of writing these more regularly, I'd try something different--maybe shorter letters and sharing a few links to things that I've been reading or listening to that stick with me. I want to stay in touch with you more (thank you for subscribing!) but I also want to make sure writing these only ever feels fun and freeing. I have a tendency towards perfection (and this tendency sometimes stops me from writing anything at all), but I am working on letting go of that.
On a related note, this feels like a good time to tell you that I am working on a new book! It is not the book of essays about human bodies that I have been struggling (unsuccessfully) to write for the last 2+ years, but a new idea that came to me in a flash of inspiration after publishing this piece in The Cut. It also has a lot do with ideas in this profile of Silvia Federici. It's the book I am certain I need to be writing now. My very kind editor Julie is letting me sub in this new book for the old one, which I still hope to write in some form one day. I'm not trying to be coy and I'll have a lot more to say when things are officially official, but in interest of transparency and accountability, I will say that my manuscript is due this November (insert 1000 cringe/crying face emojis). So, yeah, letting go of perfectionism to get words down on the page--this is my new jam. I may not even spellcheck this baby!!
I'll leave you with a few things that are hanging around in my brain this week:
A visceral barnburner on intimacy, risk, family and marriage by Mary H.K. Choi: "The truth of my own hideousness is disgusting even to me. As unassailably repellent as the smell of an earring back. The ugliest parts of me revel in the craven parts of him. Because so far there are no conditions by which he doesn't love me, no matter his reluctance." Like, damn. (Side note: I've read her magazine work, but never her novels. Should I?)
I feel grateful to Bettina Makalintal for putting the grossness I feel when I see signs that say LOVE US LIKE YOU LOVE OUR FOOD into words: "...the implied logic is that the value in Asian immigrant lives stems from what we provide to outsiders—whether that be an exchange of knowledge, or an exchange of cultural experience. When it comes to addressing racism, commodification and consumption are flawed methods of appreciation."
And to come full circle, the latest episode of Feeling Asian, which is just Brian and Youngmi talking and crying and raging about their feelings in the aftermath of the shooting. I found listening to it cathartic and hard and comforting.
Thanks again for reading. Feel free to drop me a line, I love hearing from you even if it sometimes takes me forever to write back. xx