A Little At A Time...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

While much of NYC (and the East coast in general) is experiencing the intense ramifications of tropical storm Sandy, I am here safe, with power, and all my amenities. I feel extremely blessed that the storm just scared me, but didn't affect me much otherwise - our part of Manhattan is on a hill and fairly secure. I would like to extend my sympathies to all the people that are going through a much harder time right now.

I was definitely reminded during the storm of all the things that we take for granted. Although nothing was physically changed for me, I thought about all the ways in which we hold ourselves back or wait for the right moment to do The Big Things. I think that for a while now, I've been ignoring my own personal Big Things in favor of getting through the everyday things - work and school and whatever else. It reminded me to start small.

I'll be coming back to writing in the next few weeks, but perhaps on a different production schedule. As much as I love trying to get a daily blog post out, it's just not conforming to my everyday life. So I'll be experimenting for a bit and see what happens. For now, stay safe and dry!

Midterm Hiatus

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I'll be taking off the next week or so due to midterm exams and papers rearing their ugly heads, but in the meantime you should check out some of my previous posts! Here are some of my favorite categories:

Lessons (they're good for your health!)

Visual: Kola

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kola = banana.

The Voice of Dreams

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"The present tense is the voice of dreams."
- Richard Panek (my creative non-fiction professor)

5 Myths About Leadership to Bust

Thursday, October 11, 2012

1. You have to be loud/extroverted/good at socializing.

2. You have to "know it all."

3. You can't ask for help.

4. You can't express weakness/stress.

5. You always are in your leadership role.

Got any leadership myths to add to this list? Leave 'em in the comments!

One Good Paragraph

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I've been writing creative pieces during my classes recently - listening and contributing (of course!) but also furiously penning everything from blog posts to goal lists and recipes to try out. It hasn't been easy to get myself to a place where I can write; I have pockets of time and materials and stories to write, but when I declare it Writing Time, I freeze. Performance anxiety. My thoughts are abuzz with stock phrases like 'need to finish, need to work, need to concentrate.'

Forcing creativity doesn't really work, even when you have it pent up. It has to flow out of you - sometimes in a trickle and sometimes in a flood. For me, it means that sometimes I need intense quiet, and sometimes I need my working brain to be distracted by people talking about Virginia Woolf or character development. The trick is to dislodge the creative brain stuff at the same time. My analytical brain gets caught up in its usual dalliances, getting me through school and the next hour of class. Meanwhile, the creative part of me can break from its stable and charge ahead.

It's probably not very respectful, but I hope that my writing teachers will understand.

Notes from the ELLA Retreat

Monday, October 8, 2012

Check out the Sadie Nash Leadership Project by clicking on the image above!
Whenever I get out of the city, I feel a mild distress - I'm missing so much! I have so much work! - but upon arriving at the ELLA fellowship retreat location (a kindly staffed but rather creepy church in White Plains), that feeling began to gradually ease back.

I had planned for disappointment about this fellowship. The decision announcement deadline had passed and I didn't get any 'yay' or 'nay,' so I sent off a shy follow-up email. It was like easing off a Band-Aid; I knew that my disappointment would heal, but I had wanted it so badly. Imagine my surprise when I received a prompt reply: they had misplaced my application! They wanted to do a phone interview! The next day. And their retreat was on Saturday, so could I make that?

Needless to say, I received the fellowship and had to race away this weekend, packing a small backpack for the night. My project - on connecting Asian American social justice activists and youth online - was added to the melange of projects on everything from surviving police brutality to resisting gentrification through public art.

But as much as I was happy and excited, I still found myself nervous cleaning our kitchen late the night before. My thoughts went on the familiar track: would I have enough time and was my project good enough and when would I finish all my homework!? I feel confident now, but would I be in a few months?

When the newly minted fellows got to our rooms in the mildly-Exorcist-reminiscent church with its tiny low-lit rooms, we approached each other very cautiously. By the end of the first day, we were bonded in worksheets and sharing the struggles that our projects hoped to address. By the next night, we were already making plans to hang out beyond that weekend. Why was I nervous again?

I love meeting down folks and learning new skills, so it's a wonder. The Band-Aid had already come off. But I also owe my regeneration at least in part to being out of the city - I could eat shepherd's pie till my stomach burst and not have to care about cleaning dishes afterward. There weren't any meetings that I had to run too after the long day was supposed to be 'done.' Although it's a cliche, the tense energy of my city life wicked itself away even after just a night away. And most excellent, my kitchen is spotless.

Visual: What We Are

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Blueprint on Mastery

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"I expressed to Rare Groove that, to me, music is like a beach.  If you were to go to the beach and pick up as much sand as possible with your hands, that would be the most music knowledge and experience that any one person would ever have.  Just as you can never pick up all the sand, you can never learn all there is to know about music.  But instead of letting that fact discourage me, I use it as inspiration to go back to the beach every day and appreciate it for what it is and the breadth of knowledge it has to offer.  I can’t quit going to the beach that music represents because I love it, and because I will never master it."

Op-Ed on the Pool

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Taking another small break today! In the meantime, you should read my piece about why the Barnard pool is important not only to the students who use it, but as a statement to the administration about their financial transparency. Check it out on at the Columbia Spectator. Here's an excerpt:

"When I tell people that I am heading the Save the Pool Campaign at Barnard, folks often look at me with excitement and a little disbelief. I get questions ranging from, “Why would you put your energy into something that’s already been decided?” to “Isn’t it already closed?”

To all of these, I reply that until the sign is on the door and the concrete is filled in, I am going to keep trying to save the pool in any way possible. I am not a new swimmer. I know what it’s like to run a tough campaign. And, as a student that is very much invested in the Barnard community, I have both my feet on the ground and invite others to stand with me in keeping the pool open past the end of this year."

5 Small Assumptions to Cast Away

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

1. You should edit as you go.

2. What you're doing is not the right thing/not done in the right way.

3. Small accomplishments don't need to be celebrated.

4. It's always your mistake.

5. Questions are the same as criticism. Criticism is the same as judgment.

Humility in Environmental Science Class

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My environmental science professor asks hardball questions.

I finished presenting on environmental justice movements - thankfully slowed down from the double speed I had while practicing it - and was waiting for the silence to break with questions and comments. My professor started to ask about prioritizing a sewage pelletizing plant for the whole city over moving it away from vulnerable communities. I was prepared to jump up in the defense of the untold masses of jobless people of color that have to live near all of NYC's sewage treatment. After all, no one wants to live near that. But as he went on, I started to see that he was asking a much more complicated question than that.

The plant is already there; sewage needs to be processed. These are two irreducible facts. The latent question is "What should be done? How do we make it right?" Someone in the back suggested regulation (which I am also a big fan of) rather than creating a blame game. But there's more to it than that. Systematic oppression, yes, but also the needs of small communities and whether they should be taken over the needs of a larger group. Somewhere in my notes I have it written down as "the tragedy of the commons" - resources for some "must" be sacrificed to suit the larger needs of others.

It's complicated. My instinct is to fight about it, to ask why there isn't one in such and such neighborhood. But then where? Environmental justice work can't simply say let's spirit it away from the Bronx and put it in Brooklyn. But what I took away from this class presentation was not even really about environmental work at all. It was the idea that sometimes the simplest-looking things have the most complicated solutions. And, more importantly, that we can't just believe we're right.

That simple proposition, the idea that it's necessary to have this be somewhere, made me stutter step as I thought about what could feasibly be done. And I realized that in some cases humility is needed, even when fighting for social justice and other venerable causes. Sometimes it's necessary to just listen and consider.

Re-learning Forgiveness

Monday, October 1, 2012

When you're busy, everything feels like a miniature crisis. Didn't turn in an assignment on time? Horror! Didn't send that email to the right person? Madness! Every moment is part of an efficient machine and any small deviation feels disruptive. But you always know that those things are the small ones, the ones that can be fixed. This week, the crises I faced were not those small inner demons of inefficiency or time crunch - they were deeper and more fundamental.

"Emotions don't follow rational logic," my friend told me last week. She was comforting me after the latest email chain came in, when my anger and frustration had come to a head and I needed someone to rage with and not just text. Having lost two people who were close to me in the last year, I felt I was letting them down. I wasn't being strong enough. Another person might not feel so affected by the words of others. I was wasting my tears. But even though I resisted, I knew my friend was right. Emotions don't follow a rational logic. Neither do people in crisis.

I've been trying to be gentle with myself, to forgive my own personal failings or that I can't be all things to all people. But in some ways, that's the easy part - I can feel wronged all I want, but that is only useful for so long. Emotions may not need to follow rational  logic, but actions should. Send that email. Make that meeting. Ignore the tug towards staying bitter that feels satisfying but immature. At the end of the day, the work is the most important part and that's what must be the focus when others have acted poorly to you. I am very good at holding on to negative feelings, but perhaps now is the time to un-learn that instinct.