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Thinking About Kindness (Again)

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness for the past couple of weeks, mainly because I’ve seen so many people talking about the need to be kind, to forgive, to build bridges and extend an olive branch to the people who voted differently from us. As an organizer, I know that it’s important to leave the door open for people who want to find their way into a movement, that it’s important to welcome newcomers instead of berating them for taking so long. But this is key: in this example the new arrival wants to join you.

I know I’m not the only one thinking about this, of course:

And:

The thing is, I do believe in kindness and compassion for everyone. I really do. I’ve written about having compassion for my abusers. But I’ve also written about how kindness and compassion are not the same as deference or politeness. I don’t believe that answering cruelty with cruelty is either moral or practical. Moreover, I believe that allowing someone else’s cruelty and callousness to make me cruel and callous hurts me more than anything else—only I can decide what sort of person I want to be, and letting someone else turn me into someone I don’t want to be isn’t okay with me.

But having compassion, being kind, listening, leaving the door open—none of these mean that I’m obligated to continue letting people have the power to harm me, nor do they mean that I should stop advocating for my own rights and protection.

There’s a lot more to say about all of that, of course, but I’ll leave it there. I hope you’re well, or at least as well as can be.

New KTCO: Jordanna Kalman

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with photographer Jordanna Kalman. Jordanna’s work explores loneliness, femininity and individuality, and the images are highly personal. In her series Little Romances, she rephotographs prints of earlier images of hers which had been stolen and misused. By considering the prints as objects and adding new elements, she creates a new narrative, examining the anxieties of being a woman and creating a form of protection for the image. In our conversation we discussed prints as still-life subjects, what anger can accomplish, and our mutual dislike of “mean” photography. Then in the second segment we discussed a recent Instagram dust-up between two photographers, and how it’s relevant to our larger society.

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

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

You can purchase a copy of Jordanna's Little Romances book as well as select prints at her BigCartel shop.

#MatteredToMe - November 13, 2020: After

  1. Jeopardy was a staple of my young life, so losing Alex Trebek this week was hard. I saw Parul Sehgal's recent review of his memoir going around, and it was such a loving tribute to the man, a balm to my sadness on the day I read it.
  2. I’ve long been a fan of Helena Fitzgerald’s griefbacon newsletter, so I was very happy to see her start it back up again after a long hiatus. This week she wrote about election nights and living through historical moments, the large and small details, and how we tell these stories.
  3. Lyz Lenz wrote “Dispatch from a Red State” for her newsletter this week, about living in a space that may not be safe for you, about claiming that space anyway. I'm struggling with staying and fighting, too, and this meant a lot to me.
  4. Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote about why choosing a path of moderation and incrementalism would be dangerous for the Biden administration. I agree, and I think she lays out her reasoning very well, and the articles she linked were also useful.
  5. Finally, Ada Limón's poem “It Begins With Trees” was just lovely. I wish I had something more insightful to say about it—it deserves more. I've been reading it over and over and sighing and smiling.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. My emotions have been oscillating wildly this week, but I think I'm trending toward resolve. In any case, I hope you can find a moment of peace soon.

Thank you, and take care.

A Kind of Optimism

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the fact that so many people voted to re-elect the President, what that means for us going forward, how the work is not done yet. And all of that is true. By the latest count, almost 70 million Americans voted for Trump, and they did that having seen hundreds of thousands of people die of COVID while the President undermined doctors and scientists, having seen the President egg on white supremacists, having seen his Administration separate families and put children in cages, having seen him do his damnedest to subvert and destroy American democracy.

But.

What I’m choosing to think about this morning is that almost 74 million Americans voted for Biden. And they did that having seen Biden and the Democratic Party call explicitly for listening to scientists. They did that having seen Biden and many prominent Democrats admitting the reality of systemic racism, acknowledging that Black Lives Matter. They did that having seen Biden talk about the existential crisis of climate change.

We may not be able to say that every one of the 74 million people who voted for Biden supports defunding the police or BLM. But we can say that none of them were so turned off by the idea of racial justice that it prevented them from voting for a Democrat. And that, to me, shows a glimmer of hope for our future.

What I see in Republican voters is a strong current of “I don’t want this to be true, therefore it is not true.” And, yes, I understand that one can’t talk about large groups in monolithic terms. Nevertheless, movements are a result of patterns that are observable, and its useful to take note of those patterns. Again and again, what I’ve seen from conservatives is a refusal to engage with ideas that, if true, would require them to experience discomfort. Despite all sorts of available research, I’ve seen people deny the existence of racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry; deny the reality of climate change; deny the need to take measures to control the virus. And there is a logic to this refusal: if these problems are real then not only do we have to make big and potentially difficult changes to the way we live, but we must also reckon with the ways that we, ourselves, have been complicit in the problems. Nobody wants to feel shame, and in that way it is understandable if not excusable that so many people would respond well to the message that they have nothing about which to feel shame.

Over the past four years and especially the past five months, Americans have been talking about bigotry more than in any other period of my lifetime. These conversations have been happening in the media, from our politicians, and in our homes and between friends and family. And we know that this national discussion has provoked a conservative backlash, one that has even become violent in its denial. We know this without question—Republican politicians have made opposition to BLM, gay rights, and feminism centerpieces of their messaging. It is dismaying that nearly 70 million Americans voted for a man who rode that backlash to the White House and doubled down on it at every turn.

But if we must reckon with the fact that so many Americans rejected the needs of marginalized communities, we must also be buoyed by the fact that so many more Americans heard these same conversations and didn’t turn away. This doesn’t mean that we are done talking about bigotry in America, but it means that we can and must continue talking about it, and we can do so with the knowledge that at least 74 million Americans watched this conversation unfold and then voted for Joe Biden. I choose to see this as a demonstration that although we are not done with bigotry, we can at least see the path ahead of us and feel hope that we can move in the right direction.

That path is shown to us most clearly in states like Arizona, where Native and Latinx organizers have been hard at work. It is shown to us in states like Michigan and Georgia, where it wasn’t the white moderates who swung those states but Black organizers who built strong enough networks to overcome voter suppression the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations. It is shown to us in states like Texas, that may not have flipped yet but where grassroots organizers, especially in Latinx communities, have pushed a former conservative stronghold into a competitive battleground. As I write this, my social media feeds are full of liberals singing the praises of Stacey Abrams, and rightly so. And what Abrams has shown us is that it is possible to build a base of power without compromising our ideals, without abandoning Black and brown people—that when people come together in power, we can win.

The road ahead of us is still long and difficult. We know that we will have little opportunity to rest—indeed, organizers are already gearing up for the Senate run-offs in Georgia. But I am letting myself be optimistic about what’s coming. We can’t stop pushing, but I think what we’re seeing right now is that when we push together, we can move something even as big as America.


It is Friday today, and normally I’d be delivering you a list of things to read or watch. As you might imagine, I haven’t been able to concentrate on much besides the election this week.

Still, as I’m always saying, the articles and poems and podcasts I share in my weekly round-ups are just a portion of what has mattered to me. I am deeply grateful to the grassroots activists who have worked so hard to get us this far, especially my colleagues in the activist community here in San Diego—it has mattered to me a great deal to get to work with them.

And, in case you didn’t know, you matter to me. Thank you so much for spending your time with me.

Take care.

#MatteredToMe - October 30, 2020: Reconsidering

  1. Sarah Keller wrote about hunting and finding their way to a new understanding of queerness and rural-ness and self. What I appreciate about this piece is how it allows for a kind of synthesis of values, rather than a simpler rejection or separation. I grew up with hunters in my life, too, and reading this essay gives me the opportunity to re-examine how I think about rurality.
  2. Matthew Salesses has written a lot this year about desire as a way of understanding Asian American-ness, and it is always illuminating—if at times challenging for me. In this piece he talks about Asian American masculinity and how its construction is related to the model minority myth. It's very good.
  3. I listened to David Naimon's conversation with Natalie Diaz this week, in which they discussed the limitations of language, the extractive nature of empathy and certain kinds of knowledge, and more. Many of these ideas push directly against things I have held as values for a long time, so it's not the easiest thing for me to be receptive to. But I've been thinking about it a lot.
  4. Shing Yin Khor's latest comic for Catapult is about Route 66, the violence that lies beneath nostalgia, and holding both love and anger at the same time.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I know you are tired right now. I am, too. I see all of you who are still trying, still pushing, still fighting through that exhaustion. You matter to me, too.

Thank you, and take care.

New KTCO: KTCO Book Club - The True Deceiver (with Alyssa Harad)

On this week's episode, the KTCO Book Club returns with a conversation with writer Alyssa Harad about Tove Jansson's 1982 novel The True Deceiver. Despite the slimness of the volume, Jansson’s novel yet contains a  surprising degree of depth and complexity, not to mention psychological  tension, in a story that challenges the reader to consider the nature of  truth, honesty, and different forms of deception.

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 at the episode page at the KTCO website.

You can purchase copies of The True Deceiver at your local independent bookstore, or via bookshop.org. If you'd like to help support Alyssa's work, purchase a copy of her memoir, Coming to My Senses, and leave a review via GoodReads.

#MatteredToMe - October 9, 2020: Connecting

  1. Hanif Abdurraqib wrote about You've Got Mail, about the excitement of falling in love. It's nostalgic and, I thought, very romantic. It made me happy.
  2. I read Jenny Erpenbeck's 2018 Puterbaugh keynote last weekend, which is about borders and disparity, how capitalism and nationalism create a willful ignorance of those from whom we are separated. It's quite potent, I thought.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I hope that you get a chance to rest soon. I know there is much to be done still, but we all need down time, too.

Thank you, and take care.

New KTCO: Maggie Smith

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm pleased to welcome poet Maggie Smith back to the show! Maggie’s new book Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change was born out of a difficult life change; it both discusses and is an example of resilience and hope in the face of an unknown future. In our conversation, we talked about the book’s origins in a series of social media notes-to-self, about becoming an essayist after having been a poet for so long, and about finding agency through language. Then for the second segment, we talked about community and connection via social media.

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

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

You can purchase copies of Keep Moving at your local independent bookstore, or via bookshop.org. If you'd like to help support Maggie's work, consider leaving a review of Keep Moving on Goodreads.

#MatteredToMe - October 2, 2020: Past and Future

  1. I absolutely loved this new season of the Lost Notes podcast, reflections on the year 1980 and what it meant to music. Hanif Abdurraqib is my favorite music writer, because he never just tells you what the music is like. Rather, he always tells you what the music meant to him, and why, and how. These episodes contained both elegy and triumph, pain and defiance, and they were such a wonder to listen to.
  2. I signed up for Sarah McCarry’s newsletter future recuperation after reading her latest, “setting sails.” It’s about working on a tall ship and the anxiety of living through this time, what it feels like to be watching what’s happening in your home country from the outside. I’ve never had the experience of being on a sailing ship, being constitutionally not well-suited to boats or their motion, but nevertheless a lot of what she wrote about felt so familiar to me, and I appreciated getting to read it.
  3. Finally, this 2019 conversation between Eve Ewing and Mariame Kaba, which is about how organizing is fundamentally about relationships, about interdependence, about creating conditions where a future can happen. I’m still not as good at being an organizer as I am at being an activist, and not as good at being an activist as I’d like. But I’m grateful to get to read and learn from people like Mariame Kaba.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I’m anxious about the future and I don’t know what will happen. But that’s always been true. I hope whatever comes brings us closer to healing and justice.

Thank you, and take care.

New KTCO: KTCO Book Club - Human Archipelago (with David Naimon)

For this week's show I'm pleased to introduce a new feature: the KTCO Book Club! From time to time I will be inviting writers, critics, and friends of the show to pick a book that we can discuss on the show. In this inaugural KTCO Book Club episode I’m joined by writer and podcaster David Naimon, host of the literary podcast Between the Covers. For our conversation, David selected Teju Cole and Fazal Sheikh’s hybrid photo/prose book Human Archipelago. In their collaboration, Cole’s writing and Sheikh’s images support each other in a way that expands the form of the traditional photobook and provides a potent exploration of human migration, national boundaries, imperialism, the connections between people, and our responsibilities to one another.

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 at the episode page at the KTCO website.

You can purchase copies of Human Archipelago at your local independent bookstore, or via bookshop.org. If you'd like to help support David's work, subscribe to his Patreon campaign, or leave a review of Between the Covers on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser.

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