The Catalogue: No. 1

Friday, May 4, 2018

This week in difficult conversations, finding your calling (maybe), and some fun bits for Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month (which for me is a lifestyle, not a month).

Emilie Wapnick: Why Some Of Us Don't Have One True Calling | TED Talk
Posits the idea of the multipotentialite, the Renaissance person who can do many things and be brilliant in many ways, who sees variety not as a characteristic of life but the very purpose of it. Growing up around people who were extremely successful at linear paths, I craved the security of knowing where I wanted to go and how to get there. For the longest time, I felt like wanting to experiment meant that I didn't have my shit together, that I fundamentally did not know who I was. Even today, my resume and transcript are a cornucopia of the many directions I've tried to take (nuclear energy, luxury fashion, econometrics, poetry, sociology). I'm very slowly learning to just roll with it. Frankly, I don't even have it in me yet to say something optimistic like "and that's okay!" I just know that I couldn't live any other way.
I worried that there was something wrong with me for being unable to stick with anything. I worried that I was afraid of commitment, or that I was self-sabotaging, afraid of my own success. [But] ask yourself where you learned to assign the meaning of wrong, or abnormal, to doing many things.
Mark Berkson: Calling in Confucianism and Daoism | Interview
I attended Berkson's lecture at Illinois State University a few weeks ago, where he considers vocational calling in Confucian and Daoist traditions. If you follow me on Snapchat, you might vaguely remember my post-event ramble about being able to identify my "higher callings" -- those of service, of filial piety, of the "greater good," but often being distracted by "lower" obsessions -- wealth, envy, power. Something I think a lot of us struggle with our entire lives is having ambition of mobility (both social and economic, especially as children of immigrants), but wanting to lead more radical lives of purpose and impact. It's hard to be seduced by disruptive and groundbreaking work when you would literally never forgive yourself for denying your parents stability and security. And yet -- what is it that you truly and selfishly want? Is it possible to have both?
For the Confucians, you are called by your tradition, by your ancestors, and particularly your parents. It is important that you try to live out the thing that your parents want and hope for you -- and that you live with a sense of responsibility to your descendants and the future. The narratives do not begin and end with your life. They start before you are born and continue long after you die. 
The Daoist framework calls into question the internalized narrative structures that we are given by culture and by society that says, "if it's this stage of life, this is what I should be doing now. This is the point when I've got to settle down and get a job. Or when I start a family, get a house, and have a mortgage." Every culture will give you a structure or narrative that you are supposed to live out, and you work on yourself that way. [But] instead, what Daoism says what we should do is find a set of practices to see through these categories, to question them, and be able to subvert them. When you are no longer prisoner to these categories, then you are able to discern the movements of your own nature.
Michelle Kuo: How to Disobey Your Tiger Parents, in 14 Easy Steps | The New York Times Opinion
I couldn't catalog some thoughts about balancing personal pursuits and filial obligations without a Michelle Kuo article. Here, 14 ways of approaching your parents' expectations from a place of both compassion and personal conviction. "Disobedience" is a weird word in Asian cultures, because often our acts of subversion are also huge demonstrations of courage. We wish we could do good, while still being good. It's a tricky one, I know.
13. I wish I could say: You can disobey them and win their love. I wish I could promise you that your choices are the right ones, and that you won't come to doubt them. But winning and certainty are actually not the point. The point is: do you believe that failure is yours to have, rather than theirs to fear?

I tried so hard to get into podcasts last summer when I had this whole little "self improvement" routine planned out (it involved waking up with the sunrise and listening to podcasts while cooking vegan breakfasts, and needless to say, it was trash in practice). But I finally started committing to them during my long (and rainy and cold and generally awful) walks to the art school, and I wish I'd taken them more seriously earlier.

Books and Boba by Potluck Podcast Collective | The wittier, more in-depth version of Asian American Book Club, in podcast form! Monthly book club dedicated to discussing books written by authors of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. Their May pick is The Leavers by Lisa Ko, which I've also read and enjoyed. (I love being "in" on this shit. I'm often left out of highbrow poetry discourse because I haven't kept up with that genre as well. Also I'm bad with names.) Plus there's a cute intro song that reminds me of High School Musical.

Taiwan This Week | Featuring Chieh-Ting Yeh of Ketagalan Media and Brian Hioe of New Bloom. Both powerhouses and incredibly smart men.

Taiwan Indie Picks Playlist (Spotify) | This is real nice.
No Borders (Spotify) | "Celebrating the best from artists of the South Asian Diaspora; across genres and borders." Would pair nicely with Desis in the House: Indian American Youth Culture in New York City if you're into that sort of thing. An important tiny excerpt below (at this point, I'm ashamed to say "quote," because I know I need to learn to pare those down).
For many second-generation Indian Americans, authenticity is still tied to a vision of India that is based on classical arts, selected historical traditions, and religious orthodoxy. This ethnic orthodoxy is based on a definition of culture filtered through the socialization of immigrant parents, whose desire to preserve an "authentic" culture overseas has led to the selective importing of elements and agents of Indian culture, with religious specialists, classical musicians, dancers, and film stars touring the United States and performing at community events. Thus, while a hybrid popular culture circulates in the diaspora, a parallel transnational circuit has helped reify images of Indian identity overseas. The production of nostalgia is predicated on absence, a cultural anchor that is both missing and missed, and on the assumption of an earlier time of cultural wholeness that is now at risk of fragmentation, if not dissolution. 

Gold House A100
Every year, the A100 list honors the most influential Asian Americans, from athletes to entrepreneurs to chefs and everything in between. A special little nod to the Taiwanese Americans featured, including producer/filmmaker Alan Yang, Boxed CEO Chieh Huang, actress Constance Wu, producer/journalist Lisa Ling, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, and Wong-Fu Productions' Philip Wang.

NBC Asian America: A to Z
More celebration of dope Asian Americans! A little "oh, the places you'll go" moment for the rest of us. My heart! I love May!

And finally, as part of my lifelong celebration of writers and creators of color:
Why Korean Americans Love Alexander Chee | Electric Lit
I find the way Alex writes about his ambition, too, to be wonderful. I know more than a few Asian American writers, including me, who have a B.A. in economics for no good reason, but also for the very good reason that we wanted stability, health insurance, little things like that. When I was in college, it was harder for me to let myself reach for that dream of being a writer — it was less present, I think, less visible, than other life options. In How To Write an Autobiographical Novel, there’s a certainty in Alex’s voice, and in the way he saw himself, that I loved.
On Diaspora & Culture as a Plurality: A Conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen | De-Canon
We could do that too. But the real opportunity with a double burden is not to try and pretend that it doesn’t exist, or long for the majority privilege of being unburdened, but to invent an art that’s strong enough to carry that double burden. Because then our art will fully embrace our complicated selves and communities, and will challenge the majority on our terms, not on their terms. We have to do this complicated work of creating as if we were the majority–which the Kinh Vietnamese can do in Vietnam–while not renouncing, indeed embracing, what makes us a minority. It’s very hard to do. But if we succeed, we will produce more interesting, compelling, and urgent work than what an unreflective artist of the majority can do.

Read on, and do all things with great love.


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