Excellent Sheep

I read this book with great interest since I am obsessed with thinking about the education I received and how the heck I’m going to try to fake-guide my children in their pursuit of higher education. (If my mom was a “tiger mom,” then I would be considered “sloth mom.” Somewhere between us is probably a healthy model.) The author, who taught English at Yale (I think), summarizes the joylessness and intense anxiety he observed among his students. He takes down former colleague Amy Chua, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom,” for education approach of all-or-nothing excellence, calling her out for not seeing that the excellence she demands from her daughters is so much about proving herself to her own mother that she is profoundly handicapped at excelling at parenting herself. (Damn. I will never publicly call out a former co-worker, but also? It made me feel gleeful and a bit vindicated.) The author makes this sad observation that more than half of the undergrads of Yale go into consulting, a third go into banking or financing. Like, is my alma mater producing the least interesting humans ever?

There is an emphasis in college, overall, on being pre-professional, being hire-able. The book says kids often apply with five to six extra-curriculars and get perfect SAT scores and pitch in at the local soup kitchen, while performing as a world-class violinist. (Eww.)

I have worked with people from fancy consulting firms and heard them speak disparagingly of the liberal arts degree. (“We don’t need another barista with a liberal arts education.” To which in my mind, because let’s be real, I say “Really? Maybe that’s the job they can get in this garbage economy where there are fewer low-skilled jobs.) Through those projects and witnessing what gets funded through my kids’ schools (science, engineering, advanced manufacturing, STEM, STEM, STEM), I keep hearing how science and its cousins are so worthy ALL THE DAMN TIME.

But you know what, cutie? The world needs English majors. The world needs writers, actors, and creative types. If we are really going to get taken over by robots (and by all accounts, this is totes true. The reason why this latest industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 gives economists agitata is that computers that can make decisions now exist – that quality was once considered a uniquely human trait. Now, not so much. Oh well. But can a robot juggle? Can they overeat to the point of pain even though they know better? Yeah, I DIDN’T THINK SO. #HUMANPRIDE.) All of these trends, to me, further reinforce that we all need to learn how to develop the skills related to the right brain, the creative part, the weird part. As thought leader (is that title?) Daniel Pink has hypothesized, the right brain is the key to make us distinct as job seekers and work creators in this competitive job market.

Reading this book made me feel madly lucky. While raised by a quasi-tiger mom, I have always been myself. As an undergrad, I took whatever classes I want, including ones I failed abysmally. My grades ranged from A- to W, as in “withdrawal.” I would drop classes to not get an F, but I was okay with the D on Introduction to Psychology freshman year. (As mom said, I got every letter in the alphabet (not very happily, I might add. “I regret letting control go over your college years,” she says. “But Mom,” I say, “what is life without regret.”) (She hates me.) Junior year, I decided I needed to take classes outside my comfort zone so I took Military History with a bunch of guys with baseball hats with bulldogs on them and Old English, which I nearly failed. I acted for the first time. Like, I felt free to experiment, in a way that contemporary college students don’t seem to feel comfortable with. Poor things, lucky me.

RuPaul for President

I could say that our current president is a Nazi but I’m afraid that some people would think that’s a compliment. It’s a strange, strange time. It is a discouraging time. Some in my circle still believe in the path of focusing on the sure-fire, electable candidate, whereas I feel like we need to go big or go home. Look, I get that mindset of “we have to stick to tried and true or we will be shut out completely.” That was my mindset too, especially when the question of Hillary versus Bernie came around, but guess what? We tried that. We failed. You know why? Because we need a real leader, we need change. We need RuPaul.
I said it as a joke to my friend. We need a black drag queen president to counter all the negative Republican toxicity that has pervaded since Agent Orange (only mildly clever but keeping it anyway) elected. My friend was like, “Really? You want RuPaul for president?” And I said “hells yes, I want RuPaul for president.”

Drag queens are pretty tough and are authentically themselves at risk of death. Pretty goddamn ballsy. But it’s not so much my love of drag queens that leads to that answer than that I am ready for something completely different. Democracy is an experiment, and right now, in my opinion, it’s all kinds of funkified, and not in a good way. And now what I’m looking for is someone who can create a solution – not based on anything we’ve seen before, but something completely different. Many of my cohorts still dig lifelong Demos who have been in DC for decades. They are fine. They are smart, work hard, and are not that evil, but their positions are not manifest destiny/royal birth right, despite what they might believe. What I really want to say is we need someone who has the imagination to see something outside what is currently going on. Someone who can go in and work the system can no longer cut it in my opinion. I am looking for something completely different. A visionary. I no longer believe that this person is coming from my generation. It’s too late for us (maybe that’s ageist) but people my age are so entrenched in “establishment,” can they think outside of it? I am excited about the Parkland kids, I am excited by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Let the young have at it. Let them show me something I have never seen before.

As I said, these times are odd. CEOs make 500 times the amount of salary than their entry-level staff. Illegal immigrant babies are in baby jail. Criminals have positions of power. The wealth and power in our country are concentrated in this tiny, wee-wee group of men. I’m over being ruled by a small powerful few. When you have money instead of morals as your compass, you gotta whole lotta stuff in your house and no soul. And, as I tell people ad nauseum in this boring, if we are not on earth to help each other, what the f are we doing here. I have never had these feelings before like this week, where I am not upset due to personal setbacks; I am upset because of the state of our country.

This recent presidential election and all of its the horrific aftermath has radicalized my point of view. I was more of a centrist Dem, but I no longer believe in maintaining “The Machine.” Let it break down. Let’s reset. These are my feelings and they mark me as different from the people I interact with every day.

Guts (ESPY Courage Award)

The ESPY Courage Awards are wild because they actually choose people who demonstrate genuine courage. Why am I surprised? I think I see events where wealthy people just award each other for being awesome so to witness a giant corporate entity recognize a genuine quality feels a bit weird. Last year, the ESPY Courage Award went to Colin Kapernick, presented by real world goddess Beyonce, for his work with taking the knee during the national anthem at NFL games to bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement. His gesture, though physically humble and was self-described to being akin to praying, was interpreted as defiance, impudence. (I never before realized how much our country still has still not dealt with the effects of the Civil War and slavery. It is still so present in the current fabric of daily life. In the US, black people do not have agency over their own bodies. Why do you think that is? To me, that is directly connected to their history as being considered property, etc. etc. I digress). He gave up a multi-million career, he gave up having a job in a game he loved, but he has said he loves people more. (Um, I’m not so selfless, but you’re awesome.) So like the “courage” in the award title, is real, you feel me?

This year, the ESPY Courage Award went to the female athletes, self-titled “Sister Survivors,” who came forward to accuse their doctor of years of sexual abuse that began when they were children or teens. There more than 150 women who were sexually abused by disgraced USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor Larry Nassar. They were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for their “strength and resolve” and for bringing “the darkness of sexual abuse into the light.” One of the key athletes, Ali Raisman, said in her acceptance speech that she had complained for years and no one had believed her. “If only one adult believed me, he would have stopped. He would not have abused other girls.” HOLY MACEDONIA. The official count is 140, but on stage, it felt like there were HUNDREDS of women on that stage. HUNDREDS. And you know with these sexual abuse/assault cases, those are the only ones we know about.

How horrible and burdensome on these women, like they not only have to survive and deal with the traumatic experience, then they have to go deal with filing a report and relive it, testify and not be believed. It is a complex, multi-layered burden, especially when the perpetrator just keeps getting promoted, more famous, more successful, more untouchable in society. Like watching the women accusers in the courtroom after Bill Cosby was pronounced guilty of sexual assault, they flung their bodies down on furniture and wept hard. I didn’t see relief there. I felt the terrible quality of their existence. Not only did they have to deal with the violation of their intimate body, they had to deal with being disbelieved. The disastrous Kava-NAH hearings this week have triggered many in my circle. It makes me wonder who among my friends and acquaintances have been assaulted but are not able to tell me yet. As I argued at work the other day (and god, I try not to), for someone who is raped, they think of it every moment, every minute they’re awake. That’s the nature of trauma, and then to have pony up and talk about it publicly? These women have guts. There are people with tremendous courage in the world. Their suffering makes me want to eat something disgusting like Hostess products and pull the covers over my head, but their ability to stand… I’m just in awe. There are strong people on earth.

favorite humans

Do yourself a favor and read these two recent wonderful interviews with amazing humans Emma Thompson and Sandra Oh.

Sandra Oh was interviewed recently as the first actress of Asian descent to be nominated as a lead actress for the Emmys. She discussed quite openly how for years she struggled with a bit of the low-self-esteem Hollywood seems to inspire in most, and how meditation has given her space to act from a place of joy. She talks about the first breath — the first quarter of that first breath in meditation contains an entire world where it’s just about you, and there’s no racism or sexism or things that hurt you, and that’s the place she tries to act from. For her nomination, she seems filled with joy on behalf of her fellow actors. For herself, she wonders if awards are really healthy.

Emma Thompson just seems like someone who just run an internship program so I could apply. She is so educated, articulate and honest. One thing the interview discusses is her nail color as Goneril in a recent King Lear production, and she said Mike Nichols had taught her that characters are either metallic or porous (wild. Such a creative approach to character building.) She also comforts the interviewer saying, “oh young people are so sad and confused. There are many things that have gotten better from the old days. For example, dentistry.”

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Reboot

I have watched the Queer Eye Reboot Season 1. I wept quietly on my couch for about half the episodes, which is the absolute best. The show chooses the most remote communities, rural enough to make me nervous that I’m about to watch five gay men get gay-bashed, but fortunately, the show has profiled subjects who are much more open-minded than they seem. (Um, I should look at my own biases, maybe.) These unassuming men receiving makeovers are humble, warm, and grateful to these five experts, and I love seeing the five experts show off their professional skills! (ahem, the representative for cooking is very cute but maybe doesn’t know much about cooking since he mostly shows people how to cut an avocado).

The episodes have been nice because it’s men taking care of these burned-out men, showing them how to care for themselves both superficially and more profoundly. I love the show for the tremendous compassion I see the cast shows for the featured man in each episode. The grooming representative, in particular, is fully himself, tossing his hair in a theatrical fashion that makes me fear for his physical safety, but I like him because he often chokes up hearing about others’ pain. My other favorites are the fashion expert (who is of English nationality and Pakistani heritage. I love him for his exceptional eye but also because he is remarkably handsome in a way you normally don’t get to see in media) and the culture coach, because that guy has been hustling with the advice because he knows “culture coach” is vague and always about to get cut. Season two, of course, is not as strong as season one. They got some interesting men, including one trans guy, but the show is more famous and the subjects were more guarded, therefore fewer opportunities for couch weeping, and without that, what is the point?

more like beyonce, less like gwyneth

I don’t really understand the point of accruing enormous wealth unless you use it to make the world better. (My personal mantra: Make the world a little less sh*tty! This motto reflects my heritage of Korean pessimism, sets the goal low, and is easy to remember!) Like how much money does one need? Stephen King in his book On Writing says that all you really need is enough money to take your family to the movies, and that makes sense to me (though publishing friends have pointed out, he is an extremely costly author to keep happy.) Sometimes, “more money, more problems.” (I learned this from Tim Gunn’s book where he complained people are always hitting him up now that he’s well known for “making it work” on “America’s Top Model”…I know that’s not his show title but “runway” was in it….”top runway,” “runaway fashion,” “runaway cakes,” I cannot remember for the life of me.)

Regarding Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyonce, here’s a case study of two enormously successful, young/approaching middle-aged entertainers who are exiting the life stage of focusing on individual achievement, entering the seventh stage of human development. This is the stage where you begin to focus outwardly onto your community. (The psychologist Erik Erikcson developed a theory that we all have eight life stages, and community is number 7. Does that make number 8 death? Just curious. Also, if you look it up, I have the life stages all wrong, but go with it for now. Maybe we can form a study group to assimilate this information on this guy’s approach and we can quote from it together.)

To that end, Beyonce has invested heavily in college education – she has a bunch of scholarships available for ladies at Historically Black Colleges, she has given a lot of cash to rescue efforts in her hometown of Houston. Her art reflects her newfound politics, or rather, she has taken her political point of view public and integrated it into her art. She really thinks about using her platform to elevate others who may not have her opportunities, and on top of all that, she and her husband are supposed to be huge funders of the Black Lives Matter movement. She is an icon of African American excellence. And even if she didn’t any of that, she just, on a basic level, just gives people so much joy from her ability to perform, dance, sing, and write (she is supposedly a musical genius, which I love. Her only flaw, in my opinion, is she has terrible taste in clothes, ha ha ha ha)

Gwyneth Paltrow has also stopped focusing on her personal achievement and turned her gaze on her community. She launched a lifestyle company that has come under fire from the medical community for selling over-priced goods that are, at best harmless and expensive tchotchkes, but other times, actually harmful to her customers. So, she has turned to her community, but she is making money off them and their envy and insecurity. (She doesn’t actually seem to me like an evil person, but someone who is misguided and does not understand how she is pursuing a highly immoral path.).

Anyway, you can read these recent pieces yourself on B and on G and make up your own mind. In the end, I don’t think profit or money is a value that can serve as a trustworthy north star. It’s totally okay to make money. It’s not okay to profit off of the suffering of others or to sell goods and services on false pretenses.

In short, be more like Beyonce, less like Gwyneth.

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

This summer, I read Wave because everyone in my family was getting on my last nerve. (I continually fantasized about spending time in a sensory deprivation tank where no one would ask me of anything and I was just always cranky.) Wave is the story of a 2004 tsunami that wipes out this woman’s husband, two young sons, and parents on a Christmas time vacation in Sri Lanka. It is a well-written, brutal story and I have no idea how she came out of it or actually was able to write about it. People go through so much, and somehow, they can come out the other side. She speaks frankly about the horrific accident itself, the disbelief, the despair, the nonstop drinking. She goes through a long period of being blocked by family and friends from suicide attempts. Gradually, she rebuilds her life. She starts writing, she moves to NYC from London, takes antidepressants, goes to therapy (her shrink is like the ultimate awesome Buddhist shrink Mark Epstein), and eventually, begins to write about her ordeal. Her rough draft even gets a thumbs-up on her manuscript from her Sri-Lankan literary hero Michael Ondaatje. The story doesn’t end on a happy note exactly but I was left amazed. By digesting her tragedy and all the other steps mentioned, she has begun to rebuild her life. It is absolutely staggering. Any loss or traumatic event, I think, is in your thoughts almost the entire time. I don’t know how she does it. This book is a testament to the power of therapy, meditation, Buddhism, the incredibly healing benefits of writing and the exceptionally resilient spirit of this writer, because she does not think of this book as a story of grief, but a story of love. And that, my friends, makes me want to stab myself.

meal plan for working parents

I got it. I ask subscribers to send me $60 a month and in return I send them a box of Ritz crackers to serve their children for dinner. I will also sell Ritz-inspired jewelry.

Cool? Shall we crowd-fund this?

Husband has occasionally wondered “why do you complain about cooking? I have always enjoyed it. It’s a creative outlet and you’re nurturing people.”

And I’m like, yeah, you think that way because it’s not your family job. (His is laundry. I have not really done laundry since 2010.) When you cook for five people and you put in a few hours a day in the kitchen, with a lot of effort getting rejected or if it works, the food (which I call my work) gets eaten so quickly, you don’t love it so much. Five people eat a lot, and it’s not the type of hustle that results in anything lasting….so Ritz cracker earrings? Anyone?

everything will be alright (written 2011)

When things seem impossible, those are the only words I want to hear. You know, it’s funny, whenever I run into a tough situation, I call my mom and I tell her all about it. I probably shouldn’t. My friends tells me not to. She is a worrywart and starts feeling anxious immediately. She usually says the exact last thing I want to hear — either voicing my innermost fear, focusing on all the worst possibilities, or emphasizing the most trivial point of the situation. I call her because I want the type of mom whom I can tell stuff to when I need to. Friends always warn me to keep my mouth shut, and yet, I usually don’t.

This weekend, she’s headed to Turkey. I worried.

But I tell myself that Everything Will Be Alright.