MOSF Vol. 15.5: Queer and Black, Asian and Young; Drama Del Rosario, Tchoupitoulas and Ocean Vuong

MOSF Vol. 15.5: Queer and Black, Asian and Young; Drama Del Rosario, Tchoupitoulas, and Ocean Vuong

By Ravi Chandra

October 5, 2020

Subordination, silencing and scapegoating are central traumatizing processes. Regaining our power lies in breaking silence, and in gaining receptive and collaborative capacity with our own emotions and narratives. This article focuses especially on the needs of Black, Queer, and Asian American youth, who have all experienced dramatic increases in suicide rates in the last decade or more, but suicide rates are also high for older Asian American men and women, and Pacific Islanders, among others. We need to make space for all of us to be heard and supported.

 

“Even masked, Naomi Osaka breaks silence and inspires compassion.”

How many silences must be broken?

“The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.”

“He who speaks doesn’t know. He who knows doesn’t speak.”

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

“He who keeps silent makes a fortune.”

“Don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.”

“Silence is golden.”

“Talk is cheap.”

Many of us Asian Americans are not used to talking. We’ve been silenced and we silence ourselves. We sometimes police each other into silence and avoidance of conflict. We are too often cowed by others we think more powerful, and bottle our feelings and perceptions thinking they will ghost us. They don’t. They live on as a ghost in the machine of our mind/heart, our motus ex machina, waiting to attach themselves to new life. The bush we beat around keeps getting bigger and bigger in our imaginations, until it becomes a wall, instead of a doorway to belonging.

Expression is not always encouraged by our families, and emotions take a backseat to the perceived needs of survival, safety and fitting in, as opposed to belonging. All that silencing means there’s a lot we haven’t worked out, in our inner space and the space between us.

A Chinese woman I met at a conference said “I would rather figure out what I want to say in my head and then say it right.” I responded that usually we don’t even know what is in our heads until we hear it.

 

“AAPI Suicidality, from lectures in references”

All that feeling and uncertainty gets compressed into a dense, highly pressurized lump of string that sits in our suppressed mind. The cat gets our tongue. We stay mum. We walk around half dead and half exhausted, trying to forget all that mess, those things we wish we would have said, the people we carry in tension and grief, the moments we’ve given up on and let go, but somehow won’t let go of us. We carry around certain knowledge that we fear would trigger the anger of a rejecting culture. We carry around uncertainty in a society that tells us we must conform to its own delusional certainties. We forget, we think we forget, we move on. We do our best to live and grow, to keep going, and somehow silence becomes survival, instead of a stilling loss. We are afraid to speak. We are too numb to break silence. Where would we even begin? Who would hear us?

When we fled our vulnerability, whom did we leave behind?

Whom did we leave behind? Who calls for attention, for remembrance, for space and life? Whose absence leaves us empty in our lonely moments, our COVID times? Should we let go, forget? Can we bring ourselves to mourn? Can we mourn those we cannot voice, who cannot find place or voice in us, whose presence hides in the darkness beyond the blinders we’ve donned, just to struggle on?

Have we left ourselves behind?

Our inner child?

Our open, curious selves, warm to fellow man?

Can we drop out of linear, scheduled time and to-do lists into the deep time that holds and steadies us, the deep time where mourning becomes love?

We need to hear each other, we need to hear ourselves. The ones we left behind need to hear us, to come to life in us. We need to voice ourselves to remembrance, voice our past, voice ourselves into the present, and voice our way to the future. If we avoid our voices, we cannot be ourselves. Our silence will weigh us down with brooding stone. A void within. We must fill our lungs and breathe to give birth.  We must voice this pregnant void. We must be speakers for the dead, the lost, our losses. Speakers for the lives we make together, now, anew.

What happens when we feel safe enough to speak? Isn’t speaking always a risk? One day, we cough up a bit of that ball of string whorled around cerebral gyri, breathe in and out, and start spooling it out with our tongues into someone’s ear, or onto a page. The sounds we spill make our ears and heart feel safe and heard. We speak to be safe and to make others safe. Does it matter if anyone hears or witnesses us? I think so, but I’m not sure. At the very least, we need to witness ourselves. When we breathe our words into the atmosphere, the atmosphere hears, and that may be enough.

“AAPI Suicidality, from lectures in references”

A young Southeast Asian American immigrant once told me she agreed with my assessment of her needs: she needed to express her opinions more. “But I have to say them in a respectful way.” I gently recognized, “I guess that means you’re carrying around some disrespectful opinions!” She laughed. We talked more. “Who says you need to do all the emotional labor of making sure you are respectful to people who are disrespectful? I do the best I can, but sometimes it just needs to come out the way it comes out.” But these choices are all different for a woman living in this world of vulnerability, and different for a man aware of his own vulnerability and the vulnerability of others. Words may be welcomed by the atmosphere, but unwelcomed by fearful or rigid ears.

We avoid our own anger because we want to avoid conflict and blowback. That may have served us well, more or less, in Asia where communities or families may have been more attentive to unspoken needs. But a lot gets suppressed in Asia too, and what gets suppressed must be metabolized. On a relatively small island like Japan, I’ve heard there is a high need to keep conflicts to a minimum, and thus Japanese have developed highly rich psychological inner lives and a seemingly wide acceptance of private individuality. But I know some feel constrained and silenced there. Taiwan, with a history of multiple colonializations (Dutch, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese) and internal political trauma (the White Terror and martial law lasting until 1987), has generated a dislike for oppressive silencing, and has evolved a vigorous and outspoken democracy, leading, for one thing, to its becoming the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Taiwan seems an extraordinarily people-centered, expressive country to my eyes, a country where love can win. Its giant neighbor to the north has an uncomfortable inner life and many, many dead. No room for remembrance inside, it now re-enacts a century or more of trauma on Hong Kong and all diasporic offspring perceived to dissent, instead. Grief and loss and shame turn outwards into entitlement, carnage, rage and oppression. Volume supplants values, especially in online discourse. People coming into or holding onto power don’t seem to take kindly to critique or even observation. Everything feels like blame to those unwilling to deal with the fellow passengers they’ve silenced or attempted to slough in their out-of-control cruise-ship-to-nowhere. Sounds all too familiar within our own shores as well, but oh, do the Chinese know scapegoating and silencing of dissent. Their most famous tale, The True Story of Ah Q by Lu Xun, is about blame and mob violence, and was published in 1922, 5 years before the beginning of their Civil War, 45 years before the Cultural Revolution.

“Out, damned spot! Out I say!” – Lady Macbeth

Why can’t we all just get along? Why can’t we just all listen, and speak? When will we learn that we can’t just “move on”, we can’t just “get over it”? When will we turn the cruise-ship-to-nowhere into a rescue boat?

“From Being Black is Not a Risk Factor, see references”

The Philippines has one of the most vibrant film cultures in Asia: films are creative retort and counternarrative to its own history of colonialization, subjugation, and dictatorship. The creativity of the Pilipinx peoples seems to leave no stone unturned. The arthouse stuff can get a little dark and brutal sometimes, from what I’ve seen, but they’ve been dealing with dark and brutal. Somewhere in this madness, I know they’re creating freedom and art. I’ve heard Manila is a city for poets, and I can understand why. Poetry convalesces suffering, and inspires a way out.

Free your mind, and the rest will follow.  – En Vogue

In America, the on-the-edge West Coast culture has leaned heavily into self-expression since the 50s, 60s and 70s, and now the whole country has followed our lead online, but there hasn’t been the continuous receptivity of relationship, compassion, and understanding. About 42% of Americans seem quite committed to amnesia, delusion, and support of an authoritarian bully antagonistic to democratic principles and compassion and reason themselves, according to poll numbers at the time of this writing. Even his own staff was silenced by his autocracy, to the point that they surrendered their masks to please him, with consequences in full view now. (Karni A, Haberman M. A White House Long in Denial Confronts Reality. New York Times, October 3, 2020.) Silencing is a central oppressive process, and America has cultivated a culture of abusive power for 400 years.

And if you don’t know, now you know… –  from “Juicy” by Notorius B.I.G.

Writer Tom Wolfe called all this expression a “narcissistic Great Awakening” in 1976. Recently, all our expression seems to have spun out into the air where it gets caught in our brains and we’re left chewing on the gumballs of emotional overwhelm. As an empathic person, I feel like I’m an amoeba for other people’s problems. It just lands on me. Luckily a lot of good juju lands too. But some days I feel like a Spongebob for Discontents. I can be a kind of Dropbox for the undigested downside uploads of American dreams. My rolling stone has nowhere to roam. I gather moss in the shadow of abusive power. I know I’m not alone.

Sometimes the moss catches a spark, and sets the stones ablaze.

“Image from Twitter. We break silence and inspire with our very identities.”

“Hello, I am Marcus Del Rosario of 7-Campion from the Ateneo Grade School. I will sing the song “Breaking Free” because I find the song very expressive and I really like it.”

Marcus (aka Drama) Del Rosario’s short film IN THIS FAMILY screened at 2019’s CAAMFest and just won the Juried Prize in the 2020 PBS Online Short Film Festival (streaming on PBS online and the PBS app). I wrote about Drama’s remarkable film along with other films centered on family conflict and connection last year in Memoirs of a Superfan Volume 14.9: Family as Metaphor, Family as Reality, beginning with a reference to Tim Chau’s tenuous coming-out story as documented by Barna Szász and Ellie Wen in SHARE, a co-winner of the 2019 InspirASIAN Student Film Award.

Loni Ding Award Winner in Social Issue Documentary IN THIS FAMILY (dir. Drama Del Rosario) might be a sequel of sorts, featuring Marcus Del Rosario’s long arc to parental acceptance of his gay identity as well. We hear the hateful comments directed at him and gay people in youth, but then witness his parents’ affection and support after he comes out and they come around. “This entire thing of me coming out, it wasn’t just me. Our entire family went through that. And I am proud of myself, but I think I am prouder of my parents, because – whew! omigod! I’m not gonna cry – as a child, to see your parents grow…is just an amazing thing.” The LGBTQ+ experience, particularly as seen here in Asian and Asian American families, offers a template of possibility, the possibility of change, growth, understanding, forgiveness and healing, despite a seemingly impassable wall of ignorance and even hatred, put up not just by families, but by an entire culture. And these stories happen in real life, in real time, not just in narratives created by an omnipotent director. These are hopeful films for our times, sending us the message that, well, love will, or can, keep us together, and even take us to a place we could scarce imagine before, if we let it. If we let ourselves. “Heart” beats “Wall” and all other hands played, in our real-life Rochambeau. I know, these tales aren’t the full 360 of our experience, but they are more than silver lining on dark clouds. They are sunlight.

Drama begins his film with his vibrance and joy in self-expression through the performing arts, but when he is outed to his parents by his 7th-grade teacher, his father is overwhelmed and becomes repressive and physically and verbally abusive. His sister and mother offer refuge and some protection. Eventually his father comes around, traveling outward beyond the hidebound fears and antagonisms of his traditional Catholicism and generalized inexperience with gay identity.

“From Being Black is Not a Risk Factor, see references”

Drama’s parents were initially skeptical of his wish to be a performer and artist, preferring he take a more secure path as a doctor. And they were right, in a sense, there is risk and uncertainty in artistic expression. But there’s greater risk in silencing expression and exploration. I have traveled a long path towards comfort and clarity in both reception and expression of my own inner life, and it’s never a done deal. The inner life has a way of hanging us up, weighting us down with that pressurized ball of string wrapped around tensed gyri, or sometimes lighting us on fire. As we travel the compass directions, we also move inward and outward. The world inside finally rests on the tip of our tongues. The world inside wants out.

All it needs is a pipeline.

The Ross Brothers spent seven months aimlessly “roaming the streets of New Orleans at night” with their cameras in the process of making the wonderful 2012 documentary (or docudream) TCHOUPITOULAS, available for streaming on Amazon and the Criterion Channel. From an Indiewire interview:

“We set out with very silly hopefulness that we would find kids in this town to follow around at night and see the town through them. And for seven months, we looked and we found no one, but through that whole time we were shooting around town and filming landscapes,” Bill said about their approach. “After seven months we didn’t have anybody, and we got extremely fucking lucky and those three guys walked right past us.” As for how they knew the three brothers who serve as our perspective in the film, Bill said they knew they were the right ones almost instantly, “when they walked past, it took 20 seconds of looking at them and how they were interacting that we knew just listening to William we had something there.”

The three young Black brothers (William, Bryan and Kentrell Zanders) roam a New Orleans dreamscape, and the Ross Brothers follow. The boys have freedom in their childhood domain, freedom to be themselves, freedom to experience and express. The film opens with William, the youngest, relating a dream:

“I don’t really have dreams, but last night I did. It was actually a closeup of my future, though. It was like a flash coming up. Like a flashback, except a flash to the future. I was dreaming I see me in the NFL, and I was playing for the New York Giants. I have like six Super Bowl rings – all six of ‘em on one finger. After I was done with football, I actually went to became a lawyer. And after I retired that, I became an architect, and I was like, life ain’t gonna be always what it seems. So, gotta keep movin’ on.”

Vibrant and sometimes lurid scenes of New Orleans nightlife mingle with a boy’s life. A woman dressed as a kind of fairy godmother plays the recorder in the night and teaches a smiling William. A woman and man flirt on a bench. A burlesque dancer entertains a crowd. Musicians play. The boys talk and talk and watch and play their way through it all on one warm New Orleans night. William delivers another monologue, saying that some call this planet “the devil’s world,” and that he hopes to be reborn as someone who isn’t bullied by bigger kids, that he hopes to go to a heaven where people are better to each other. “But there’s always a downer.” As morning comes, the boys are seated next to the riverbank, playing with their dog, Buttercup, and watching the tide and ships. William has the last words.

“Or else I could just get sucked up into the sea. Just like that.”

William is a child of wonderful imagination, fully expressing and creating throughout this magical night, probably not unlike many of his days and nights. He’s been bullied, his family is clearly not well off, he has to make do with what he’s got. His words seem dissociated, alienated and surreal, as if they were a needed escape from his reality and uncertain future.

It’s a modern comic trope for children to be more adult than adults, but William’s flights of fancy and invention make him the child philosopher of the floating world of New Orleans’ hedonistic pleasures and visible, if romanticized, brutal edge. He practically invents reincarnation, a heavenly afterlife, and nihilism on-the-fly as an adolescent. Thousands of years ago, adults actually took all of these fantasies seriously, invented religions, and then tormented each other with them, as if they knew what’s what. I imagine a 10,000 year-old William, reborn as a child, shaking his head and laughing at the gullibility of grown-ups.

The true story is that this kid has not gotten a lot of breaks, and he’ll need a lot of caring adults in his life to survive and have a shot at thriving. He’ll need a caring society. That’s my personal reality principle expressing itself, the brooding stone that I want to breathe into birth, the stone that’s gathered moss and is ready to burst into flame.

“From Being Black is Not a Risk Factor, see references”

My last two posts were about delusions. White Supremacy and much of Christianity are self-centered and thus delusional, because they ignore the reality of interdependence, are highly conformist and hierarchical, and represent an escape from the vulnerability of genuine relationship. They have caused genocide, countless atrocities, and a deadlocked, seemingly impassable state of ignorance about suffering and its causes. They both devalue those not deemed “acceptable,” whether Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, Queer or non-Christian.

Identity, belonging, and wellness are needs across the lifespan, but they begin in childhood. The Ross Brothers’ documentary is a loving portrait of one night in the lives of three youth, but it left me with questions and sadness about the possible futures for Black and other marginalized young people. I frequently think of my Black friends of my own boyhood, in Tuskegee, Nashville, St. Louis, and Michigan. What happened to them? How has America’s racial violence marked their lives? How can I be true to our friendships, all these years later?

If we are to dream our way to a future for all, we must ground ourselves in the reality of our being and times.

Empowering the growth of children and youth such as young Marcus, William, Bryan and Kentrell depends on recognizing their strengths and challenges, and fostering a culture of support, exploration, expression, validation, compassion and an unshaking belief that all lives, but especially Black and Queer lives, matter. Black and Queer lives have been most at risk, as demonstrated by suicidality rates, and suicide rates among Asian American youth as a whole have also soared in the last decade or more, (Qiao G. Why Are Asian American Kids Killing Themselves? Plan A Magazine, 2017) though this has been practically ignored by media and research. Marginalized youth and those youth living in-between cultures are creating identity in the shadow of neglect and abuse of power, and those identities do not fit in the narrow entrance of the all-too-white house of America.

“From Dr. JaNaè Taylor @Mindingmyblkbiz on Twitter”

Even whites are struggling with the differentiation of White Supremacy, whiteness, and individual and communal identities. The house does not suit them either. The suicide rates for youth age 10-24 inclusive of all ethnicities and orientations, has risen some 56% since 2011. The millennial suicide rate rose by 35% from 2007 to 2017. (See also Wan W. Teen suicides are increasing at an alarming pace, outstripping all other age groups, a new report says. Washington Post, October 16, 2019)

The causes are obviously manifold. UCSD psychologist Jean Twenge pins the tail on the ubiquity of smartphones beginning in 2010 (Twenge J. Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? The Atlantic, September 2017). I think smartphone use is primarily a marker for superficial and haphazard relating. When we relate onscreen and are not grounded in the totality of relational experience, we have less buffer for the conflicts and stresses that normally come up in relationship. We also become more self-conscious about whether we belong. Bullying becomes even more harmful, and there are indicators that bullying has increased in our schools, especially during the Trump years.

Asian Americans, Black and Queer youth already face challenges to acceptance and belonging in a hetero- and white-normative culture. Moreover, the educational system all too often reinforces hetero- and white-normativity, history and culture. This gives our youth less air to breathe themselves into. When they are unable to breathe themselves to life, they feel silenced, misunderstood, and suffocated by apathy, indifference and hostility to their true identities. The young are prone to all-or-nothing thinking, and feelings of unbelonging become all-encompassing. How do you even imagine yourself into a world that doesn’t include you? A house without room for your kind, or even kindness, these days? Compassionate leaders have started campaigns like “It Gets Better,” but this message of hope and inclusion hasn’t reached everyone.

Still, when 40,000 diverse youth around the world were polled, the Gates Foundation found that young people, particularly those in lower- and middle-income countries, were more optimistic than adults. That’s my experience as well, when talking to an admittedly select group of teenagers applying to my undergraduate college. I’m always buoyed by contact with young people who see their own possibilities for growth and helping others grow. If only all of us grups (Star Trek for grown-ups) were focused on helping them do what they’re capable of.

Emily Ngo on Twitter and me.

All they need are pipelines to adulthood. It’s sheer luck and the happenstance of just enough caring hands and whatever gumption I managed to keep in me that I myself made it out of my teens and 20s alive. I lost several friends along the way, and their names still haunt me. Naveed Kashaf, my brilliant high school friend, who would have surely reset the world and casually won Nobel Prizes for peace and science. Rich Walker, caring surgeon-in-training at Johns Hopkins, my medical school friend. Itzolin Garcia, my friend from Locus Arts in San Francisco. Yali Peng, my Twin Cities friend, hit by a truck, or did she walk in front of it? The young Indian American woman I met at a wedding in Atlanta; we traded numbers on scraps of paper, before the age of smartphones, but never called. I heard of her suicide a year or two later, but can’t recall her name, though even now I weep at her memory.

The loss of their lives has taken a big bite out of the world that we could be living in right now. Maybe they are some of the ones who left us, when we fled the vulnerability of youth and uncertain emotions that don’t map into a country that went whole hog for the myths of individualism and certainty and power, that tells us we must take care of ourselves, we must look out only for number one, that admitting vulnerability is a sign of weakness and invites attack. A country where all too many easily forget how we need, how we depend. On earth, on trees, on plankton, on wilderness and ocean, on rule of law, on the commons and the commonweal, on sun and moon and stars. On each other. A country where we’re told our American dream is for our individual attainment, where we’re not really awake to the needs of others.

When we forget that we need and depend on each other, we create fissures of apathy and antagonism, cracks in the sidewalk of life. And actually, it’s not that we avoid cracks in the sidewalk to be alive – it’s that life stretches across a yawning chasm, and we walk a tightrope. We might be able to call a safety net into being. But we must open our mouths, and that is more frightening than the chasm of death, for all too many of us. Who would believe us, when we admit we need them? That we miss them? That we care? Would they even care? Would they need us?

Sometimes, we just need to see the grief and loss in that yawning chasm, we need to face it, to begin repair. We just need to hear voices caught by that chasm in order to weave a net of words, emotion and care. To let the motus ex machina be misericordia, compassion, the feeling of hearts beating universal time in the chest of the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Ocean Vuong is such a voice. Vuong burst into cultural view, seemingly fully formed, with his debut full-length collection of poems, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, which won him praise, accolades and awards almost unheard of for debuts. His second book, called an “auto-novel,” On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is based loosely (or tightly, it’s unclear) on his life, thus a blend of autobiography and novel. Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam, the son of an Amerasian Vietnamese woman who faced severe discrimination. She fled with him to a refugee camp in the Philippines when he was 8 months old, and then to U.S. when he was two years of age. His book describes emotional, verbal and physical abuse from his mother, his grandmother’s mental illness and PTSD, and intergenerational trauma, perhaps even transhistorical cultural trauma.  A love affair with a young white man is both exhilarating and alienating, as it’s not enough to stanch the flow of unbelonging, and in some ways, reinforces it.

I read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous almost immediately after publication, interested in my fellow Asian American’s life and work, and concerned about the well-being of my fellow travelers on planet Earth. I am, I’ve joked, after all from South-South-South Vietnam. My first notes after reading the book were “what’s darker than The Glass Castle but brighter than a black hole? Ocean Vuong’s novel.” In the opening pages, he notes instances of menace and threat, reactions of fear and the seeds of resilience.

“To bake a cake in the eye of a storm; to feed yourself sugar on the cusp of danger.”

Vuong doesn’t sugar-coat his messages of alienation and solitary pain. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was unrelentingly bleak, almost monotonously so. I advised a grieving, depressed patient to put the book aside until she had her feet back under her. Vuong has found power as a writer in observation and expression, but his narrator finds no such relief. There’s only loss, despair and an event horizon approaching nihilism. I know that Ocean Vuong is not his book, but I found myself hoping he had help for his inner life with friends, loved ones, and therapy. He’s coughed up a lot of string, and he’s pulled me in with it.

There has been a noted surge in nihilism amongst millennials, leading to the creativity of memes, absurdist humor, and despair. (Olsen D. Why millennials are making memes about wanting to die. Salon, February 11, 2018.) One could view Vuong’s work as the pinnacle of millennial nihilism, a giant social media share garnering likes from followers eager for hard truths from the immigrant and refugee experiences, and an emo pop-apocalypse that puts us on the cultural map. But where do we go from here?

Viet Thanh Nguyen public Facebook post

There’s obviously good reason for despair. Vuong thinks and feels deeply. This is a young man who spent hours in cemeteries as a teenager, catalyzing his mind’s movement as medium for death, loss, and darkness in transhistorical memory.

The philosophical position that suggests life is meaningless is understandable. Given the prevalence of the worldview that devalues Queer and Black, non-white lives and indeed, many white lives, the kind of world that makes compassion its bad object, scorned and derided as weakness, no wonder we feel despair. Is an unloved life worth living? We get to our emotions honestly. The danger is that we take the wrong message from our emotions, that we make a story from them that takes us away from our human reality.

“From Asian American Literary Review’s Tarot Card Deck ‘Open in Case of Emergency,’ available at https//www.aalrmag.org”

Some move to a position of nihilism, extreme pessimism, cynicism, detachment and apathy, and even antagonism to kindness or vulnerability. This is how they make sense of the gap between their needs, the needs of others, and what seems available. And the Western intellectual elites deem such positions as superior and smart, looking down on tender emotions as “sentimental,” cloying, simple-minded and nostalgic. American culture is built on the delusional mirage of individualism, and the proposition that we must all be totally and singularly responsible for our own emotional regulation and well-being. We must all “take care of ourselves,” ignoring the reality that we all have dependency needs. America delivers these f-you’s to relationship quite regularly, and we see where they’ve gotten us. I’ve felt an annihilatory rage and disapproval aimed at me from the culture, and this is in fact what felled George Floyd and so many others. We’re not dead yet, but some who call themselves proud, and others who call themselves president, aim relentlessly at our psychological and physical death. To quote Mother Audre Lorde, as I did four posts ago, “to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call America, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson – that we were never meant to survive.”

 “mudfire by Ravi Chandra, written one month after the murder of George Floyd, beginning at 8:50”

I try to remind myself that those who aim at our murder are human too, and only devalue and objectify us because they have been objectified and devalued away from common humanity by machina America. They too are victims who think that victimizing us will win them a bit more life.

This is the battle for meaning we face, against sociopathy, nihilism, narcissism, despair, regret and an endless, pointless blame-game. In COVID times, in the time of Trump, just a few words of moon language might save all our lives. Perhaps that’s what that Autumn Moon was trying to say last week.

Maybe we can surprise each other. Maybe a little more moon language can give us room to breathe ourselves back to light, life and relatedness. Maybe it starts with a vote, a word derived from “vow” and “wish.” Voting is a moon language mudra, a sign language gesture signifying “I love my neighbor this much!” I love them so much I want them to live, too, even though we might disagree, because my life depends on theirs, and theirs on mine.

I hope Trump lives, not because I like him, but because he suffers, and by living he could validate our systems of care, despite himself, though it may be care for the most privileged. He is at the very least validating vulnerability by example. MAMA: Make America Mask Again.

We have been saddled with misshapen codices, monuments of our benighted past, invisible algorithms of race, gender, sexual orientation, creed and caste, that tell some they must cast votes against our lives in order to “win.” The suicide-homicide pact of the Mad MAGA Hatters is a language I still don’t understand, except as expression of a nihilistic death cult afraid of change, a cult more willing to incarcerate us emotionally and physically rather than view us as human beings worthy of, and bearing, love and care. But deep down, I know that they spew their vitriol because it’s all they’ve known. From mudfire: “my murderers have been murdered too.”

The medium is the message, and the most important medium is our mind. Ocean Vuong, Lama Rod Owens (MOSF 15.2) and others are mediums for transhistorical grief and rage, but the medium of the mind needs also the steadying and growing force of life, of survival, of the heart’s deepest truth. Ocean is not an island, none of us are; but we all need reminders, don’t we?

“From Being Black is Not a Risk Factor, see references”

***

But back to that ball of string: cough it up. Spit it out. Start. It’s time we talked. It’s time we expressed our way to relatedness, not from it; to inclusion, not to self-centered delusion. The goal of language is conversation, the goal of conversation is understanding, the goal of understanding is relationship, and the goal of relationship is love. There is a beaten path here, but one that has become a road less traveled.

It’s time to talk, it’s time to vote, it’s time to roar. The future is as fluid as tears, as sweat, as spoken word, as thought and emotion and love and identity and belonging and wellness, as fluid as the mighty stream of us.

Us. We, the people.

References:

  1. Chandra, R. SF Love Dojo 2019 Lectures on Asian American Psychology, available online

  2. National Black Child Development Institute. Being Black is Not a Risk Factor: A Strengths Based Look at the State of the Black Child. Available online.

Author’s Bio:

Ravi Chandra is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco. For fourteen years, he was lucky to have his MOSF posts published by the Center for Asian American Media, and now looks forward to broadening and building a diverse creative community and coalition through reflecting on culture and psychology for Eastwind ezine. Sign up for updates here, and see all the posts here. He writes from the metaphorical intersection of The Fillmore and Japantown in San Francisco, where Black and Asian communities have mingled since the end of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. He literally works there, between two Indian restaurants, go figure, though one has permanently shuttered during COVID. You can find him on Psychology Today, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud, or better yet, in the IRL.

Cover Photo:

Ocean Vuong. Photo by Tom Hines.

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