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KTCO Re-Run: Rizzhel Javier

For the last KTCO of 2020, I'm revisiting my 2017 conversation with artist Rizzhel Javier. Rizzhel Javier is a photographer and installation artist based in San Diego, CA. I first met Rizzhel when we were both participating in the portfolio reviews at the Medium Festival a few years ago, and her stop-motion, flipbook-style pieces immediately caught my attention. More recently, Rizzhel was named one of the 2017 emerging artists by the SD Art Prize for her "Unmentionables" project, creating new art out of old mementos. We had a great conversation for the show about her artistic process, what she loves about making mistakes, and her experience as a teacher. For the second segment, Rizzhel chose the Philippines as her topic.

Since we recorded our conversation, Rizzhel has become the Managing Director of the AjA Project, a community arts education organization here in San Diego. You can support the AjA Project by buying one of their STEAM OnDemand workshop boxes, and for each box you buy, the organization will donate one to a student in the community. Or you can make a donation directly. Donations in any amount are appreciated, but if you can swing it, a $500 donation will cover workshop boxes for 30 students:

Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:

You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.

50 Things That Mattered to Me in 2020

Today is, among other things, the last Friday of the year. It is my habit to take the end of the year as an opportunity to look back at the things I read, watched, and listened to, and I imagine it comes as no surprise that that would feel particularly necessary this year. It’s been a hell of a year—a year of anxiety, of grief, of boredom, fury, exhaustion, and of just getting through. But I’ve also had opportunity to laugh, to feel connected, to learn, to be moved. Putting this list together each year is always useful for me, and I hope it’s useful for you as well. So, here are 50 things I experienced this year that mattered to me:

  1. The first movie I watched this year was an anthology anime film co-produced in China and Japan, called Flavors of Youth. It features three shorts by three different directors, all of them dealing with themes of memory, nostalgia, and coming of age. There’s a bittersweetness to each story that resonated with how I relate to my own youth. Also, it had some of the best-looking food I’ve ever seen in an animated movie.
  2. Season four of the excellent documentary podcast Scene On Radio aired this year. Titled “The Land That Never Has Been Yet,” it’s a deep dive into the history of American democracy and the anti-democratic forces that have been baked into our system since its inception. I think this is a must-listen for anyone who wants to better understand how we got to where we are, and how we can do better.
  3. Brandon Taylor’s short fiction is always a highlight, and that was as true this year as it is every year. I read three of his short stories, “When We Will Get What We Deserve,” “Local Economies,” and “Even If All Fall Away, I Will Not,” and all of them were exquisite. I cannot wait for his forthcoming collection, Filthy Animals. (CW: sexual violence)
  4. The title of Melissa Crowe’s poem “When We’re in Bed and You Take Out Your Mouth Guard, I Know It’s On” is very funny, the poem itself is sexy as hell, and taking both together suggests a love that has grown and changed over time but is no less intense for being long.
  5. I first read Dawn Davies’s poem “Mailing a Letter” back in January and was struck by the way the speaker imagines her way into a stranger’s life, and by the way the final line frames the whole rest of the poem. Reading it again now, after 9 months of pandemic, it hits a little differently. It’s amazing how much of a poem’s impact comes from what we bring to it as readers, I think. (CW: death)
  6. In the first half of the year I found myself branching out a lot in my podcast listening, especially in the audio fiction/audio drama genre. One standout was George the Poet’s Have You Heard George’s Podcast?, which mixes audio drama, spoken word, hip hop to create a show that sounds like nothing else I’ve heard, and which talks about politics in the UK and Uganda, class, race, and even the creative process.
  7. The quiet menace of Gabrielle Bates’s poem “The Mentor” has come back to me over and over since I first read it. (CW: sexual violence)
  8. Kaitlin Prest’s 2018 audio drama The Shadows traces the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship. The writing, performances, and audio production are all so well-done and so real-seeming that at times I found myself forgetting that it was fiction.
  9. Another audio fiction podcast I was introduced to this year was Paul Bae’s The Big Loop, which is an anthology show that is sometimes funny, sometimes fantastic, and sometimes tragic. The show is consistently excellent, but I think my favorite episodes were “The Studio” and “You.”
  10. Andhika Ramadhian’s Instagram is full of images with striking colors and minimalist, subtly surreal compositions. I find them quite soothing, and maybe that’s something you could use a bit more of these days.
  11. Carrie Fountain’s poem “Will You?” captures so perfectly the feeling of being a parent—or, at least, the way I experience parenthood: the way it is both profound and kind of annoying, the way I want both to protect my children and to turn them loose, the way I both see them and don’t.
  12. I’ve been reading Monet Thomas’s Away Again newsletter since its beginning in 2018, and I think it’s great both as personal writing and as travel writing. One of her letters from February, “Vietnam, Part 2: Halong Bay,” is pretty amazing for how it collapses different moments into one, just in the way that memory does.
  13. I first experienced Mary Szybist’s poem “Girls Overheard While Assembling a Puzzle” read aloud on the podcast The Slowdown, so I didn’t realize until some time later that it’s an abecedarian. What I loved, and still love, is the innocence of it, and the way that it feels like the universe is trying to reveal something to the poet.
  14. I read this New Yorker feature on Deanna Dikeman’s “Leaving and Waving” series about a week before lockdown started in my city. Looking back at them now, I still find the series lovely in the same way that I did before, but it is also now bittersweet and filled with longing in a way that I couldn’t have anticipated at the time.
  15. The single most joyfully satisfying podcast episode I heard this year was Reply All’s The Case of the Missing Hit.” Just trust me on this.
  16. My kids and I started watching Steven Universe together in 2016, and it’s something I’ve deeply appreciated for how it centers simple decency and gives us an entry point to talk about complex things while also being just a ton of fun. This year gave us Steven Universe Future, a 10-episode coda after last year’s finale and movie, which I found incredibly moving. Moreover, watching it with my kids sparked some conversations about mental health and PTSD that I thought were really valuable.
  17. I’ve had a lot of occasion this year to think about and revisit Clint Smith’s poem “When people say, ‘we have made it through worse before.’” I expect this won’t be the last year I think about it, though.
  18. It may be cheating a bit to include something of mine in this list but I hope I can be forgiven—besides which, I do think of this one as a collaboration—but a highlight of my year was getting to have a virtual panel discussion with Rachel Zucker, David Naimon, and Dujie Tahat about the craft of the literary podcast interview. I suspect I’m going to be riding high on that one for a while to come.
  19. Mary Neely’s quarantine musical re-enactments were such a joy. I don’t even know how many times I re-watched them.
  20. I sincerely doubt I am the first (or the last) person you will hear raving about Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but that’s okay. I have a suspicion that this is a movie that will continue to be watched and talked about for quite a long time. That the movie could have such intensity with so little action or even dialogue is a pretty extraordinary thing, I think.
  21. Matthew Salesses called his novel Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear “the most Asian American thing [he’s] ever written.” It’s such a strange, unsettling book, in much the same way that being Asian American can be strange and unsettling. I think it’s brilliant.
  22. Sarah Gailey’s YA fantasy novel When We Were Magic is wonderful for so many reasons. It’s literally a story about hiding a body. It’s got that Gailey freshness to it. It’s about taking responsibility and being held accountable. But more than any of that it is a deeply kind story about self-acceptance and many kinds of loving relationships.
  23. Another podcast I started listening to this year is the BBC’s Short Cuts, which in structure you can imagine like a British This American Life insofar as each episode is a collection of segments organized around a theme. But in terms of sound design it is much more eclectic and experimental than TAL has ever been, and it is just so much more… wonderful. A few standout episodes for me: “Civil Disobedients,” “Dreaming,” and “The Interpreter.”
  24. I have been a fan of Danez Smith’s poetry for a few years now and their latest collection, Homie, is both a continuation of their past work and an evolution. As in their second book, Don’t Call Us Dead, there is rage and grief. But there is a turn toward joy in Homie that both sharpens the painful parts and becomes a balm.
  25. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get my arms entirely around what poetry can do. Ada Limón’s poem “The End of Poetry” seems to me to ask that question, too, and manages to be both an acknowledgment of poetry’s limitations while also being an embodiment of what poetry does best.
  26. Shing Yin Khor’s comic “Of Mufflers and Men” looks at the history of a particular icon of mid-century Americana, the muffler man, as a way of understanding themself. The specific line that made me go “Oh shit” was: “I want to be touched. I want it to be slightly painful to touch me.”
  27. Historian and professor John Edwin Mason wrote an excellent essay for National Geographic this year about how photojournalism isn’t neutral, how photographs can lie even while purporting to show the truth. It’s a topic that’s important for everyone to understand in our image-soaked culture, though it’s particularly urgent for photographers to understand. That the essay ran in National Geographic, a publication whose images have long had a problematic relationship to those depicted in its pages, is something I take as a hopeful sign for the future.
  28. Taylor Harris’s essay “Whiteness Can’t Save Us” is about being in spaces of care that often fail to care for or about Black people, about loving her sons and also fearing for them. I read a lot of powerful and moving essays about race and America this year, and this was one that I came back to a lot.
  29. Bluegrass musician Rhiannon Giddens and cellist Yo-Yo Ma released the song “Build a House” to mark the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. It’s a beautiful arrangement with a haunting melody, and I found it particularly moving to see these two artists—one Black and one Asian American—collaborate to create this particularly American music.
  30. Noah Cho’s column Bad Kimchi continued strong this year, talking about food and identity. Two that I particularly loved (not only for their titles but not not for their titles) were “Gettin’ Jigae With It” and “Kalbi, Maybe.”
  31. One of the many difficult losses this year was civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis. His final op-ed, written knowing that he was near his end, was a powerful call to action, one that I’ve carried with me in the months since his passing. It has mattered to me a great deal to know that there are many people trying to answer that call and carry his legacy forward.
  32. I wasn’t able to read nearly as much as usual this year, but one thing I was able to do a lot of was watch anime. One of my favorites was Mob Psycho 100. The show’s creator, ONE, is known for his satirical takes on manga genres and this one was very funny but at its core was about how power is less important than self-knowledge and emotional maturity. Over the past few years I’ve been seeing more and more pop culture embracing gentler and more sincere forms of masculinity, and I’m finding it very heartening.
  33. Journalist Anand Giridharadas started up a Substack this year called The.Ink, which has featured some of the best and most interesting political and social interviews I’ve read this year. A few highlights: linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, organizer Vincent Emanuele, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and economist Mariana Mazzucato.
  34. Writer Ross Sutherland has continued to do some pretty amazing things with his experimental fiction podcast Imaginary Advice, not least of which was his six-part series “The Golden House.” One favorite of mine from this year was his two-part miniseries “Ten Thousand Years,” discussing and then extending the movie Groundhog Day.
  35. Writer Yanyi’s newsletter The Reading is, as I see it, an act of profound generosity for the literary community. A perfect example to get you started: “I Can’t Bring Myself to Write Anymore.”
  36. David Naimon’s Between the Covers continues to be one of the smartest, best, most interesting literary shows out there. A few of my favorite episodes from this year: Garth Greenwell on Cleanness, Jenny Offill on Weather, Philip Metres on Shrapnel Maps, and Jeannie Vanasco on Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl.
  37. I’ve been following photographer Jordanna Kalman’s work for a couple of years now but only recently got around to buying a copy of her photobook Little Romances. In this work, Kalman took the experience of having her work stolen by porn blogs and transmuted the anger and hurt of it into some of the most tender, loving images I’ve seen recently. I think that is an impressive and amazingly strong thing to do.
  38. 2020 was terrible in so many ways, but if you were to measure it solely in terms of web videos set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” it was a banner year.
  39. One piece of advice that has never steered me wrong: never sleep on any piece of music writing or podcast appearance by Hanif Abdurraqib. The latest season of KCRW’s Lost Notes podcast is both of those things, and it is excellent.
  40. I started reading Sarah McCarry’s future recuperation newsletter with the fourth installment, “setting sails,” then immediately went back and read all of the previous ones. I love personal newsletters, I love stories about life at sea, and I love good writing. This newsletter has all of those, so, you know, it’s a good fit for me. Maybe for you, too.
  41. Kazim Ali’s new poetry collection The Voice of Sheila Chandra is three long poems interspersed with four short ones. The poems are formally inventive, playing with sound and language in interesting ways. And they do things with time and memory, layering history and personal experience, past and future, that are at times difficult to understand while also showing you that you already know them.
  42. I’ve already mentioned the following at several points in this list: kindness, generosity, decency, sincerity, gentle masculinity. So it likely comes as no surprise that Ted Lasso was exactly my jam.
  43. It was wonderful to see the return of Helena Fitzgerald’s newsletter Griefbacon recently. Right away she wrote about the election and the pandemic in ways that are very Helena Fitzgerald, which is to say very good and very different from how anybody else writes about anything.
  44. Alexander Chee started a Medium blog this year, beginning with an essay about a black jeans. This only sounds prosaic if one doesn’t remember or know that Alexander Chee is one of the best essayists working today. (If you aren’t familiar with his essays, I would point you to his 2018 collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, which is one of my favorite essay collections, period.)
  45. After several years of seeing people excitedly shouting about the indie game Night in the Woods, I finally got around to buying it this year—and then proceeded to wait five more months to actually play it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long. It’s visually beautiful and a wonderfully poignant rendering of young homecoming.
  46. Lyz Lenz’s newsletter Men Yell At Me has been great again this year. Two that stood out to me were “Dispatch from a Red State” and “A Crisis of Empathy.”
  47. I recently read Sofia Samatar’s 2017 short story collection Tender. Substack is telling me I’m almost out of space so let me just say: it’s great.
  48. I was happy to see Rachel Zucker’s Commonplace podcast come back recently after a long hiatus, and the conversation was personal and very relatable.
  49. I’ve been loving the new season of Star Trek: Discovery and I really loved getting to hear Callie Wright’s recent conversation about trans and enby representation on Trek.
  50. Finally, it’s not particularly deep but watching the anime Haikyu!! with my son this year has been a ton of fun, and has made me get excited about volleyball in a way I never would have expected.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me this year. I would love to hear what’s mattered to you this year, so please drop me an email or leave a comment.

#MatteredToMe - December 18, 2020

  1. While researching for an upcoming episode of KTCO, I came across this Q&A with Kazim Ali by the Poetry Society of America, which I believe is from 2010. The questions are about what it means to be an American poet, and what, indeed, makes American poetry "American," but the way Ali answers challenges some of the premises underlying questions like that, in a way that I found both thought-provoking and satisfying.
  2. Earlier this year, José Olivarez published a short essay called "An Ode to the Supermercado," which is about Chicago's Mexican grocery stores. Mostly what it is about is that feeling of familiarity and belonging that you can find in certain places and with certain people, something I think about a lot.
  3. On this week's episode of Callie Wright's podcast Queersplaining, they talked about trans and nonbinary representation in the latest season of Star Trek: Discovery. As a Trek fan, myself, something I've always loved about the show is how it has always had a progressive vision, and I found this conversation about what it meant to trans and enby folks to see members of their community on Star Trek to be just a joy.
  4. Margaret Atwood was on the New Yorker: Poetry podcast this week, reading and discussing a poem by Saeed Jones. Jones's poem was haunted and haunting, and Atwood's poem was dark but darkly funny, too. And the conversation Atwood had with host Kevin Young was one of the more delightful ones I’ve heard recently.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Right now I’m trying to learn to make peace with uncertainty and change. I hope you’re able to find some peace, too.

Thank you, and take care.

Acceptance

There’s a thing that people say sometimes about writing as a way of finding out what you’re thinking about. I’ve known for a while that photography is like that for me, I take pictures every day, almost entirely on instinct, and it’s only in looking back over what I’ve been photographing over weeks or months or years that I discover a theme emerging. I hadn’t realized that writing could be that way for me as well, but the exercise of writing a weekly newsletter is showing me my patterns. Looking back at the titles of my last few letters—“Not If, But When,” “Irrevocability,” “The Party of Stasis”—it seems I’m on a bit of a theme here, and of course today is no different.

I spent part of my Tuesday morning pleading with my Congressman—a centrist who continues to rise in the ranks of the Democratic establishment—to use this term to push for bold changes. My fear, I explained, is that unless people see real, meaningful changes in their day-to-day lives, 2024 (and maybe even 2022) are going to be a bloodbath for the Democrats, one that this country might not survive. He, unsurprisingly, used that as an opportunity to talk about rejecting socialism. Even on climate, supposedly his number 1 issue, he downplayed the urgency of the situation, saying on the one hand that we only have ten years to get a plan in place (a misleading statement—decarbonization needs to be in full swing by then, not just beginning to ramp up) but saying on the other hand that we need to work with Republicans to pass what we can while also recognizing that people are still going to drive to work and cook on gas stoves. This is a man who claims to have read the IPCC reports, which lay out in great detail the necessity for dramatic changes to land use, agriculture, and every sector of the economy, but who still found time to scold climate activists for scaring off centrist voters by telling them that they wouldn’t be able to have on-demand commercial air travel in the future. It’s all the sort of thing that manages to be completely unsurprising while still also managing to shock me.

Yesterday morning I listened to the latest episode of the podcast Reply All. The episode was called “A Song of Impotent Rage,” and the first ten minutes or so was basically a deep dive into one of the hosts’ anxiety and depression about climate doom. This was, as you might imagine, not great for my own climate doom-related anxiety. Later, during my lunch break, I got to record a wonderful conversation for my own show, a discussion about art and poetry that was both intellectually stimulating and affirming of our shared humanity. It was lovely, but as has been happening more and more often lately, afterwards I found myself wondering how much longer I’ll get to do this.

Podcasting as a medium cannot exist without our massive technological infrastructure, of course. The way my show in particular is structured, most of the conversations are recorded remotely, with my guest and I often separated by thousands of miles. I keep the video stream disabled in order to save bandwidth, so most of the time we don’t even see each others’ faces. In a lot of ways, the show has been a lifeline for me, and not just during the pandemic. Before my show, I rarely got the opportunity to talk about art or literature at all. More recently I’ve been able to make more connections locally, so I could in theory access some of what I get from the show. But I wouldn’t be able to reach nearly the same range of artists if not for my podcast and all of the electronic interconnectivity that enables it. Already people smarter than I am are talking about a world without things like cheap, fast transportation or round-the-clock electrical power—which, admittedly, already describes life in many parts of the world. Surely in such a future, art and literature and conversation will still exist, but I have trouble imagining podcasts will.

What I mean to say is that I understand the desire to hang on. I have always had difficulty with change. Even something as simple as moving to a new house has been emotionally challenging for me; losing my entire way of life is almost more than I can bear to contemplate. So when I look at someone like my Congressman, who has hung his hat on the idea that things won’t really need to change, I get it. Honestly, I want that, too.

The instinct to preserve is something we all experience to one degree or another, and for the most part it is an instinct that served our ancestors well. Stability for our ancient forebears meant survival; change often came with the risk of deprivation or death. Holding on to our way of life is the most natural thing in the world. But when our way of life is the thing killing us, holding on only accelerates the end. When change is inevitable, it may only be in letting go that we are able to save anything.

I and my colleagues have spent the past four years in resistance. It was the right thing to do. In many ways it still is—there are people in positions of power who want to make things worse, and it’s necessary to prevent them from doing so. But I think the real work ahead of us is not in resistance but in acceptance, and moreover in finding ways to teach others to accept. The world is going to look different whether we want it to or not, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than we’re currently prepared for. The sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can figure out how to make that new world a liveable one.

KTCO Re-run: José Olivarez

This week on Keep the Channel Open I'm revisiting my 2017 conversation with poet José Olivarez. In our wide-ranging conversation, José and I talked about how his podcast The Poetry Gods came to be, toxic masculinity in the poetry world, and how discovering poetry allowed José to find his artistic voice. In the second segment, we talked about beginnings and endings.

Since we recorded our conversation, José has released two books: his debut poetry collection Citizen Illegal, and the anthology he co-edited, The BreakBeat Poets, Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. You can order either from your local independent bookstore, or you can buy them directly from the publisher, Haymarket Books, who is having a 40% off sale through January 4, 2021:

Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:

You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.

The Party of Stasis

In a few days, I and several of my colleagues will be meeting with our Congressman for the first time since the election. I believe this will be our 17th meeting with him over the past four years, though to be honest I’ve lost count. That’s just to say that I’ve met him enough times now to know him and his positions well, and how these meetings go. My Congressman is a centrist through and through, not out of practicality, as he likes to think, but out of ideology. This has led to a lot of frustration on my and my colleagues’ part, and in the aftermath of the election it’s making me extremely worried.

Last month, Senator Joe Manchin said in an interview that “Democrats have to be better at defending what they stand for.” I don’t agree with Senator Manchin on much of anything but I do sort of agree with that, though I’d go a bit further: Democrats don’t need to just defend what they stand for, they need to define what they stand for. Right now it’s not clear that the Democratic Party actually stands for anything, and I think that’s why they have so much trouble with so many constituencies.

That is, Democrats talk a lot about healthcare and working families and diversity and climate and stuff but the policies they as a party actually work toward are mostly small tweaks to the existing system. The fundamental ideology of the centrist Dem is that the system is mostly fine as is. I think this has a lot to do with why Democrats struggle so much in so many parts of the country and why there’s so much in-party fighting. They struggle because the system as-is doesn’t work for a lot of people, and they don’t actually present an alternative. Moreover, they don’t really want to present an alternative.

But people whose lives are in danger from racist cops, mass incarceration, and the by-products of segregation are not going to be helped by new police training standards. People whose communities’ economies have been tanked by dwindling natural resources and corporate greed are not going to be helped much by things like wonky tax credits and minor tweaks. People who are being threatened by climate change are not going to be saved by things like tax credits for electric cars or streamlined permitting procedures for new hydro plants. The system as it is just doesn’t work for a lot of people, especially not the people who are the actual core constituencies of the Democratic Party. It’s hard to turn out a vote from those people when what your party demonstrates is a commitment to the status quo.

Whatever else we can say about the Republican Party, they are actually committed to changing things. They’re committed to changing things for the worse, of course, to making things more racist and sexist, to taking from the poor and giving to the rich. But it’s something.

Centrist Dems all over the country have been screaming that they lost (or almost lost) because Republicans are tying them to stuff they don’t actually support from the progressive wing of the party and from activists. But if it were clear what they actually stood for, you couldn’t do that. That is, if somebody lies about you and a lot of people find that lie plausible, I think it’s worth taking some time to understand what it is about your character and behavior that is leading people to find that lie plausible.

This is fundamentally what electoral politics is about. You need to define what it is that you stand for. You need to make it clear. You need to demonstrate why your way is going to help your constituents, both in your messaging and in your actual governance. If you say one thing and then do another, people aren’t going to trust you. And they shouldn’t. Right now the Democrats only real redeeming virtue is that they aren’t the Republicans. “Same” is, at the end of the day, better than “worse.” But that’s not ultimately sustainable.

Really, what both parties are doing right now is looking backwards. Trump explicitly calls back to a pre-Civil-Rights-era America in his campaign speeches, and we rightly denounce him for it. But it seems to me that a lot of the Democratic Party messaging is calling back to the Clinton ‘90s or the Obama years—Biden did that a lot during his campaign. They’re making an appeal to some imagined past when everything was better and more decent. But were we ever decent? Maybe our political rhetoric was less obscene, but Obama still deported more people than any President before him, climate change was already underway and accelerating, and billionaires were still looting public instutitions—they were just quieter about it and most Americans were comfortable enough to look the other way.

I know that when I sit down for that meeting next week, my Congressman is going to talk about the need to avoid alienating Republican and moderate voters, about the need for bipartisanship, about not being too extreme. But we are past the point where incremental changes can solve the problems we face—if, indeed, there ever was a point where incrementalism was sufficient. My fear is that if big changes aren’t made in the near future, the kinds of change that meaningfully affect people’s actual lives, the backlash in 2024 will be more than we can handle, and certainly more than what centrists like my Congressman are expecting.

Things aren’t hopeless. Even somebody as milquetoast as Chuck Schumer has acknowledged that we need more. I just hope we have time to get there.

#MatteredToMe - December 11, 2020

It’s Friday, so here are some things that mattered to me recently:

  1. Helena Fitzgerald wrote about small rooms, about repetition, about time, about how our stories aren’t what we think they are. It’s about the pandemic, of course, but it is mostly about longing, and mostly about unfulfilled longing.

  2. I was catching up on past episodes of LeVar Burton Reads this week, and listened to Rebecca Roanhorse’s story “Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her Death and, Subsequently, Her Best Life.” The story itself was great, a Western that centers on a Black lesbian couple. But also, Burton’s monologue at the end, in which he talked about race and policing and the importance of sitting in our discomfort as a path to growth. It was personal and deeply moving.

  3. Episode 80 of Ross Sutherland’s experimental fiction podcast Imaginary Advice starts off with a discussion of his recent series The Golden House, which was a form of alternate reality game. He talks about the way ARGs play off a certain form of paranoia, and talks through the responsibility of making something like that. Then in the second part he showcased a collaboration between himself and Emmy the Great, which involved writing two pieces of fiction with the exact same soundtrack. I loved how both segments got me to thinking about my own creative process.

  4. This week on Anand Giridharadas’s newsletter The.Ink, he posted an interview with grassroots organizer Vincent Emanuele. They talked at length about the ways the Democratic Party is failing to reach the voters they need to, prioritizing fundraising over engagement with the people that make up their base, and why that’s dangerous for the future. But, importantly, they also talked about the alternative and how to build real community and make real change.

  5. I was so happy to see Rachel Zucker’s podcast Commonplace return this week, and extra happy to see that she was talking with David Naimon of Between the Covers. These are two of my favorite podcasters, and a lot of the insecurities and frustrations and shame that Rachel described were things that felt very familiar to me.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Try to remember that it's okay to ask for help when you need it—something I've been working on, too.

Thank you, and take care.

Irrevocability

On the night of my youngest’s sixth birthday, when the house was quiet and everyone else was asleep, I wrote in my journal, “I will never put you to bed as a five-year-old again.” That was months ago now, but I am still thinking about it. It is in many ways—most ways—a small change, and yet it is one that nevertheless feels profound in its irrevocability. Change is, of course, inevitable, and though in this case I feel the loss of a part of my daughter’s childhood that will never and could never return, I’m fortunate that in return I get the opportunity to know her as a six-year-old.

Though, of course, not every change comes with an opportunity to offset the loss, at least not in a way that provides any comfort. I’m increasingly aware of my good fortune in that, still, no one I know personally has died of the virus. But as I write this, 276,000 Americans have died and more than 2000 are dying each day, a number that is only going to continue to accelerate as we see the effects of Thanksgiving get-togethers, and then Christmas. It seems inevitable that at some point I will lose someone to the virus, it seems just a matter of time. One in 1200 Americans have already died from it, and I have surely known more than 1200 people in my life—I have more than 500 “friends” on Facebook alone, many of whom have, themselves, lost family or friends.

I don’t know what will come. I don’t know what tomorrow will look like. It seems like most people I know want simply for things to get back to “normal,” and, to be sure, there are things I miss that I look forward to doing again some day: visiting family, spending time with friends, eating in restaurants, browsing in bookstores (or even just taking my time strolling through Hmart). But so much of “normal” didn’t work for so many people, whether you were queer or a person of color or a woman or an immigrant or even just working a shitty job. Our leaders failed us, and we failed each other, so often and so profoundly, it’s hard to understand wanting to go back to the way things were.

Of course, I say that, but is it so hard to understand? After all, there’s a part of me, too, that wants to be comforted. All it requires is to look away from that which is discomforting, and that’s such an easy thing to do. And I do, all the time. We do.

But next year isn’t going to look like last year, or like 2016, or 2008, or 1996, or 1960. Those we’ve lost are not coming back. I’m never going to put my daughter to bed as a five-year-old again. Things change, and all we can do is choose how we respond to those changes, choose what kind of people we want to be in a world that so often refuses to give us good choices. I’m doing my best. I’m sure you are, too.

KTCO Re-run: Esmé Weijun Wang

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm revisiting my 2016 conversation with writer Esmé Weijun Wang. Esmé's debut novel The Border of Paradise was one of my favorite books of 2016. A multigenerational epic centered on an interracial family, the Nowaks, this book touches on so many profound topics, from mental illness to intergenerational trauma to culture clash to the very question of what it means to be a family, all done in stunningly beautiful prose. Esmé and I had a great conversation about her book in the first segment, and in the second segment we chatted about our favorite social media platform: Twitter.

Since we recorded our conversation, Esmé has also published an award-winning collection of essays, The Collected Schizophrenias. If you haven't read her books yet, I highly recommend ordering copies from your local independent bookstore. You can also order them via the following links:

If you're interested in supporting Esmé's work while also learning about restorative journaling, you can purchase Esmé's guided e-course The Rawness of Remembering via her website. Through the end of 2020 you can get over 30% off by using the coupon code GOODBYE2020 at checkout.

Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:

You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.