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9 Years

Dear Eva,

Today you are nine years old. As I write this, I have just finished making your birthday video, and it's strange to look back over the past year and see how different the beginning of it was from now. And I wonder what you will remember from this time. You'll remember the time we've all spent at home together, and the time we've spent apart from others, I'm sure. You'll probably remember distance learning, too—it's not your favorite thing, but you've still been getting your schoolwork done almost entirely on your own. What else? Virtual sleepovers, sourdough bagels, instant noodles, Roblox, painting. It's been challenging, but I hope you'll have some good memories to take forward from this year, too. I think you will.

But that's all yet to come still. However you remember this time later, right now you are nine years old, you are excited for your birthday, and you are a great kid. You're smart and funny and fun to be around, and I'm so glad that I get to be a part of your life, and that I have you in mine.

Happy birthday, my girl! I hope this day and the whole year to come bring you so many good things.


Soundtrack: "Wanderlust (Instrumental)" by JB Lucas. Licensed from Marmoset Music.

#MatteredToMe - September 17, 2020: Three Podcasts

  1. This conversation between Jeannie Vanasco and David Naimon about Vanasco's book Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl was thought-provoking and nuanced on a difficult topic.
  2. Brandon Taylor and Garth Greenwell are two of my favorite people to hear talking about art and books and writing, and their "Queer Beatitudes" talk from this year's Tin House summer workshop was such a joy to listen to.
  3. Finally, Scene On Radio re-ran their season 1 episode "Hearing Hiroshima" last month. It's about the legacy of war, about cultural memory, about peace, about atrocities committed by and upon Japan. Felt very relevant to right now in the US.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm trying very hard right now to both keep perspective about my life and privileges and honor my feelings and struggles for what they are. If you're having trouble with that, too, just know you're not alone.

Thank you, and take care.

New KTCO: David Adjmi

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with writer and playwright David Adjmi. In his new memoir Lot Six, David tells the story of how he found himself through art and the theater, growing up feeling like an outsider as a gay, atheist, artistic youth in a small and insular Syrian Sephardic Jewish community in Brooklyn. In our conversation, David and I discussed the craft of memoir, the process of constructing one’s own identity, and why his book isn’t structured like the typical gay narrative. Then in the second segment, we discussed how the pandemic is affecting our ability to make narratives, and how art can function as a community.

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 Lot Six at your local independent bookstore, or via bookshop.org. If you'd like to help support David's work, leave a review of his book on Goodreads.

#MatteredToMe - September 4, 2020: And Yet You Do

  1. In his newsletter a couple of weeks ago, Jamelle Bouie wrote about the ineffectiveness of non-voting as a means of pressuring political candidates. This may be obvious to many people, but in case it isn't, I thought he laid out very well why it doesn't work.
  2. I spent some time recently catching up on podcasts from earlier in lockdown, and this episode of VS with Chris Abani was great. Such an interesting discussion of how language shapes one's understanding of space and time.
  3. Alexander Chee wrote about the Japanese occupation of Korea, and how the scars of that time are still felt, both in his family and in Korea and the Korean diaspora. For me, learning about the occupation of Korea changed a lot about how I understood Japan and Japanese-ness and Japanese American-ness. Reading this, it deepens that new understanding, but also makes me think about how our understanding of America and American-ness is changing and must change.
  4. In a recent installment of his newsletter The Reading, Yanyi wrote about acknowledging the pain of living through world change, and the need and desire for community. It was exceptionally generous, I thought.
  5. Hai-Dang Phan's poem "My Father's "Norton Introduction to Literature," Third Edition (1981)" is about language and migration and family, the power of literature and (I think) its limitations. Such a beautiful, amazing poem.
  6. Finally, Jesmyn Ward wrote about personal loss and collective grief, about how the pandemic and protests and our responses to them are both individual and shared, intimate and massive. What a gift this essay is.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. It is a lot, this feeling of being broken by the world again and again, and more and more. It is a lot, and too much, to where we feel we cannot go on. And yet you do. I see you.

Thank you, and take care.

New KTCO: Jessica Eaton

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with photographic artist Jessica Eaton. At first glance, the minimalist compositions in Jessica’s images might seem simple, but the process behind their creation is anything but. Using a series of color filters and a painstaking multiple exposure technique, she is able to use light to construct color. In our conversation, we discussed her photographic technique, her impulse toward iteration, and why her work is not abstract. Then in the second segment we talked about coming to big life changes during a pandemic.

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.

#MatteredToMe - August 21, 2020: Leading from the Ground Up

Well, despite everything, it is still Friday. So, here are some things that mattered to me recently:

  1. Layli Long Soldier's poem "Obligations 2" is made to have many readings. I think the one that hits me the most deeply is reading it straight across.
  2. I was catching up on my podcast queue this week and listened to an episode of LeVar Burton Reads from back in March, reading Toni Morrison's story "Recitatif." How it utilizes reader expectations to do what it does is, I thought, quite amazing.

I also wanted to break format for a bit and talk in a bit more depth about something else that mattered to me recently, if that's alright:

As I'm sure you must know, the DNC was this week, wrapping up with Joe Biden's acceptance of the nomination last night. I hadn't really watched the convention—I've already made up my mind to what I can to support the Dems and Biden in particular, and I didn't see what watching the convention would really add for me. During and after Biden's speech, though, I started seeing people praising it, and him. NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie said on Twitter, "my initial thought was that biden was going to give a merely servicable speech but while not a piece of oratory, this was very well done. the speech of a confident, veteran politician who has been waiting his whole life to do this one thing." That may seem calm, but from Bouie it seemed like fairly high praise. One of J's friends was even more effusive, texting her to say that it was the one of best speeches she'd ever seen.

So I looked it up later and watched. For the most part it just seemed like a speech to me. It was serviceable as a campaign speech, but as I passed the halfway point it still hadn't struck me as particularly impressive or moving. But then toward the end, I did find myself getting a little emotional. It was when he was talking about Charlottesville, and the line where I got a little teary-eyed was this: "Remember the violent clash that ensued between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it?"

I didn't understand at first why I was getting emotional. But then I realized that I wasn't feeling proud or moved or motivated by Biden. I felt proud and moved and motivated by the people he was talking about. The ones who had the courage to stand against hate. That is what this moment is to me, and it is what this time will always be when I remember it in the future. It'll be the time when people of courage took a stand.

A bit later he said this, and again I found myself welling up a bit: "America's history tells us that it has been in our darkest moments that we've made our greatest progress. That we've found the light. And in this dark moment, I believe we are poised to make great progress again."

I know that some people watching this speech were comforted, even moved. And who could blame them? After four years of watching things get worse than we could have imagined, and then continue to get worse, it makes sense that many of us would look to a speech like this and see an appeal to our better angels after four years of ever more violent calls to our most base and selfish instincts. People, many of them, saw leadership and vision. But that's not what I saw.

What I saw was an acknowledgment of the leadership that has already risen all over this country. We have seen dark times. In the past four years we have seen struggle and sacrifice and even death. And because it's been so bad, it has also been the occasion for real heroism as ordinary people step up and take action, some for the first time in their lives. To me, that is what is inspiring. Not the words of this man who we must elect—who, indeed, I and many others have pledged to help elect—but rather the words and deeds of all of the people who have found their courage and taken their stands. These are the ones doing the work, the ones leading. And I am comforted and inspired by that.

If we are to prevail, not just in November but in all the days and years ahead, it will not be because of a President, not even a good one—and I do have hope that Joe Biden can be a good President. But, no, if we prevail, it will be because of the real leaders, the ones here on the ground, who have pushed and fought and struggled for every inch. I believe in them, and I believe in you.


As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I know that there is so much going on. Too much. But if you can, please consider donating to the Monterey County Relief Fund or the Food Bank for Monterey County, to help the communities affected by the River Fire, the Carmel Fire, and the Dolan Fire.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - August 14, 2020: Anime, Activism, and Contemplation

  1. I recently watched the somewhat unfortunately titled anime series Mob Psycho 100, which I think is a really interesting deconstruction of the shōnen anime genre. I really appreciated the way the show and its protagonist focus on simple decency, vulnerability, and self-knowledge over combat and the acquisition of power.
  2. The latest double episode of Ross Sutherland's podcast Imaginary Advice explores the dark side of the movie Groundhog Day, imagining what it would be like to be stuck in the same day for 10,000 years. Part 1 is an audio essay considering the movie and its background, and part 2 is a series of short stories, each a day in the life of Phil Connors. Dark at times and weird (in a good way), and excellent in the way that Imaginary Advice always is.
  3. Journalist Anand Giridharadas interviewed Noam Chomsky for his newsletter The.Ink this week, and it included some perspectives on Joe Biden and leftist activism that I hadn't previously considered, and that I found quite interesting.
  4. Carl Phillips's poem "In a Low Voice, Slowly" seems to me to consider legacy—or, if not legacy, then perhaps the measure of a life, or something else. It's difficult for me to get my arms around, but the poem is contemplative in a quiet way that I find beautiful, and in a way that suggests something profound just out of reach.
  5. A few years back, I shared Amal El-Mohtar's story "Pockets" in one of my weekly lists. It has since become one of my favorites of her stories—she, of course, being one of my favorite writers. This week, LeVar Burton read the story on his podcast, and it was such a lovely way to revisit such a lovely story.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Things are scary in the world, and so often I see people lashing out—understandably. But everywhere I turn, I see people wanting and trying to help, too, and that helps me get through.

Thank you, and take care.

New KTCO: Matthew Salesses

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with writer Matthew Salesses. Matthew’s new novel, Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear, is darkly funny, unsettling in the best way, and wholly original, the story of a Korean American man struggling simply to exist as he feels himself literally disappearing. In our conversation, Matthew and I discussed his book, the trap of the first-person perspective, and what it means to take responsibility. Then in the second segment, we talked about the meaning of love.

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 Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear at your local independent bookstore, or via bookshop.org. If you'd like to help support Matthew's work, leave a review of his book on Goodreads or Amazon.

#MatteredToMe - July 31, 2020: Endings and Beginnings

  1. Nikki Wallschlaeger's poem "Real Snakes" pushes against metaphor, and yet metaphor remains so seductive in it. I've read it over and over again just today, and I'm still caught by it. Amazing.
  2. Alan Pelaez Lopez's poem "On the occasion that i die before i'm thirty" has a joyousness to it, which to me makes it all the more poignant.
  3. Also considering endings, Margaret Wack's poem "Happy Endings" is melancholy, but with a sort of bittersweet hope sprouting through it.
  4. Finally, the late Rep. John Lewis's last op-ed, written shortly before his death, is a testament to the power and beauty of ordinary people taking a stand, and a powerful call to action. I hope that we can live up to his legacy.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I don't know what the future will bring, and there is an anxiety to that. But I know that we will get there together, and I'm grateful for that.

Thank you, and take care.

6 Years

Dear Mary,

This evening as I was drying you off after your shower, you leaned in toward me and said "I can't wait until after dinner!"

"Oh?" I said. "What happens after dinner?"

"Bedtime!" you said, and I laughed. You just wanted to do whatever you could to make your birthday arrive sooner. And, sure enough, you went to bed remarkably easily when it was time.

This is the thing about you—or anyway it is a thing about you: you know what you want, and you go for it. Sometimes that brings you into conflict with the people close to you—and, yes, that is a thing we are working on, how to say what you want without being rude. But it's also something that I'm happy to see in you, and that I hope you hang onto, because I love that you are unafraid to take up space in this world. There will be times when people will tell you to make yourself smaller, but you already know how to stand up for yourself, and I think that will serve you well. I hope so, anyway.

You are an amazing kid. You have so many talents, whether it's reading or writing or singing or drawing or dance. I like just getting to talk with you, and hearing what's on your mind—your mind which is always going. This time of quarantine has not been easy for anyone, and it hasn't been easy for you. But you've adapted and found a new groove, and it's pretty great seeing how you fill your days.

You're six years old now! I hope the day brings you much joy! Happy birthday!


Soundtrack: "Roller Coaster (Instrumental)" by Kid Prism. Licensed from Marmoset Music.
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