All posts by Kathy Khang

The Privilege of Isolation in the Age of COVID

 

A bowl of oatmeal topped with mixed berries.

My son promises me this is a single packet of instant oatmeal.

 

 

I’m supposed to be writing chapters about other things, but, My Dear Readers, what is procrastination if not diverting energy to other equally demanding endeavors? AND to do it whilst isolating, thanks to finally meeting Rona after all these years.

Rona is not nice.

Yes, five days in the master bedroom.

Day 5 of isolation is over – free of fever, feeling more like a cold than anything else, but still testing positive. The handy CDC quarantine and isolation calculator tells me that I can leave isolation but masked when in the company of other humans. The other humans I live with would prefer I stay isolated a little longer, which is totally understandable since my brain swab lit up like a Christmas tree.

Instead of breaking free, I am typing at my freshly dusted childhood desk that serves as a vanity in my master bedroom.

I came home Sunday evening with symptoms that came on fast and furious.

Monday morning I tested positive for COVID19 (Day 0). I promptly took over the master bedroom, which is bigger than some NYC studios so I’m grateful for the king bed (singles and couples, BUY THE BIG BED) and bathroom. The double sink vanity and my mirrored closet doors came in handy when I had a burst of energy two days ago; we keep cleaning supplies under every sink so I cleaned the vanity, the mirrors, and lightbulbs. 

The first 48 hours were the worst with fever and a sore throat I haven’t experienced since who knows when. I ran a fever for four days but I never had trouble breathing, never turned blue, which I often do when I am super cold (anyone remember Emmy’s wedding?).

This is the privilege of vaccination combined with upper middle income status. I am vaccinated with one booster. I actually got vaccinated earlier because I could take time off and volunteer with my county at mass vaccination sites in early 2021 when vaccines were just rolling out. That feels like a lifetime ago. Volunteers had early access.

And even though the boosters are widely offered, there are side effects so privilege means being able to have a buffer with work and time off if reactions require it.

Until you have COVID19 you don’t fully understand what “mild” means. Mild means you might not have any symptoms, you might experience what feels like a seasonal cold, or you might be really sick but not sick enough to require a doctor or hospital.

My innocuous posting online about isolating surprised me with the number of DMs from people commiserating privately with me because they had either already had the infection or were also sick.

For a bunch of folks who like to be authentic online I realized there is still a strange stigma about having caught the virus. 

No shame.

It’s a virus.

I think for those of us who rode the high horse about vaccination and masks are rather embarrassed to find our best efforts are just that. Nothing can fully protect you unless you never ever venture out.

Also, many of us stopped wearing masks in public. I did. I teach yoga. I teach yoga in a heated studio, and for months I wore a mask and then I didn’t because it was no longer required. I sometimes follow rules, and when there were no rules about wearing masks I took it as permission to save the good ones for the airport.

And to be perfectly honest I’m not sure when I’ve tested negative and have the stamina to return to teaching I will wear a mask when I teach because y’all can complain about wearing a mask but try doing it while cueing a one-hour power flow in a room heated to 90 degrees. Super not fun. 

We all take risks and sometimes we don’t calculate the risks correctly. And sometimes we take all the precautions and still nature takes over and reminds us that we cannot control everything. That’s right. Even here in the effing United States of America the most cautious of us cannot control everything, especially a global panini that dropped the collective “us” to our knees in the spring of 2020.

So if you are coconut positive or were and didn’t share it with your socials even though you share everything else, IT’S OK. I just want to invite us to figure out why we/you didn’t share your COVID status when you’ve shared your lunch, your black squares, etc. and to address the strange and inconsistent ways shame grabs a hold of us/you.

So how bad is it?

Day 0-2 were the worst. It was a combination of the flu and strep throat, and I haven’t had strep throat  in years. In fact, I haven’t been sick like this since before the spring of 2020 because masking, social distancing, and hand washing works.

I had a fever. My throat was raw and sore. I lost my voice. My sense of taste and smell remains intact. Food wasn’t the priority, but I drank water in hopes of soothing the incredibly raw throat. I drank ice water instead of hot tea, which goes against every Korean sensibility but I am not postpartum so ice water is allowed. I think.

The fever broke on Day 4. I now sound and feel like I have a cold that will morph into bronchitis. I am feeling waves of fatigue and headaches that make me want to cry (I have a very high pain tolerance, folks), but remember I also have the privilege of isolating.

I haven’t taught a yoga class in more than a week and probably won’t for another week or so. That’s lost income that I can afford. 

My adult-ish sons are home and feed me “son-sized” portions of food. Two days ago I called C and asked him if the bowl of oatmeal he had just left outside of my bedroom door was really only one packet of oatmeal. He laughed at me and promised it was just one packet. I’m not sure I believe him.

C eats two packets…along with two eggs and a cup of egg whites with spinach and smoked salmon and sometimes a side of leftovers so his sense of normal portions is…off.

I also have a husband who checked in before he left for work and when he arrived back home.

My son’s girlfriend made soup and mango sago so I love her the most.

Friends are texting funny and beautifully mundane snippets of life. I read two books. I wrote more than 1k words but not for the deadline I am about to miss. This is mild because the vaccine works.

But this entire time I kept thinking about friends and strangers and the more than one million people in the U.S. and the more than six million globally who have died as a result of this pandemic. People are still dying.

So it’s not that bad. But it is. It really is. 

29 Things I Learned During 29 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

This is our third anniversary celebrated during the global pancetta. It’s surreal to think that in April 2020 all three of our children were home perfecting our personal athleisure style, doing puzzles, and naively believing that it would just be a few more weeks of sheltering in place.

Today is our 29th wedding anniversary. We had a big fat Korean immigrant wedding with 1,000 people – friends, family, and church members with a buffet dinner in the church basement. He was 28 and I was 22. This year we can start making withdrawals from his retirement accounts. (Fortunately we don’t have to and won’t.) We were incredibly young and naive. It bothered Peter, but I often said I was young and stupid. It was true. Now I’m older and definitely stupid, and I know it.

I wrote my first list of this kind in 2013 to mark our 20th anniversary. The rules are simple. I don’t look at the list from the previous year. I sit down, and I write. I write what I learned about marriage, myself, and love.

THE LIST

  1. Sometimes being the sacrificial mother and wife is stupid and actually harmful.
  2. The finality of menopause is a lie. There are no more eggs in the basket yet I’m still hot-flashing and night sweating. It’s hard to feel sexy and attractive when your body suddenly feels like a burning house.
  3. Love is a discipline and a choice. 
  4. Saying “I love you” can be a lot easier than actually loving my husband. Hearing “I love you” isn’t as important as feeling loved by my husband.
  5. I’m grateful to be aging with someone.
  6. It took a lot longer for me not to care about farting in front of Peter than it did for Peter to not care about farting in front of me. Now we either don’t care or our hearing is starting to fail and we just don’t hear it. Yes, sometimes we still act like we are in middle school.
  7. We each have separate blankets instead of fighting over one. GAME CHANGER.
  8. I regret having waited so long to buy a king size bed.
  9. I’m glad we have the terribly produced wedding video. It took years before I could laugh at it and appreciate it.
  10. Money doesn’t make you happy but it sure is helpful.
  11. I have never regretted keeping my “maiden” name.
  12. I regret not going back to school.
  13. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you can’t still feel hurt.
  14. Purity culture really messed up the early years of our sex life.
  15. Marriage and parenting have a lot of similarities. There is a lot of deciding “is this the hill I want to die on?” moments.
  16. A coffee drinker and a non-coffee drinker can stay married.
  17. Peter can’t read my mind.
  18. Sometimes I can read Peter’s mind.
  19. It’s never too late to start therapy, get a mental health diagnosis, take a sleep study, get a CPAP, or start medication.
  20. You marry into another family and that means double the fun and double the baggage.
  21. Your spouse’s habits, hobbies, and interests can become your own. I now read and watch sci-fi and he likes to go thrifting. For a few years I stopped making the bed because Peter never made the bed. Then for awhile I just made my side of the bed. And then I just stopped. Now that we have our own blankets I have gone back to making my side of the bed.
  22. That probably means sometimes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Yes, I am the dog in the scenario. It also could be Peter and learning how to fold and put away the linens. 
  23. Having sex when the kids were little was challenging because being parents of young children was exhausting. Now, having sex is challenging because we are tired because we are getting older. Also, our 22-year-old son lives at home, and clearly I haven’t shaken off all the purity culture baggage.
  24. I’m not sure if streaming services have been a good thing for our marriage or a bad thing.
  25. Maintaining good friends – singles, couples, our “own” separate friends has been as important for me as my marriage.
  26. Over-communicate not only your needs/wants but also what you love and appreciate about your spouse in ways they can understand and receive.
  27. I really enjoy cooking and feeding my family until about Wednesday night.
  28. In my most honest moments, I wonder what it would’ve been like if I had gone back to school or gotten divorced when our silence was so loud or put my name in the hat for the job that would’ve required more travel and time.
  29. I still hope to grow old with Peter and be that old couple who holds hands on walks.
An Asian American woman and man wearing disposable surgical face masks while sitting inside a large stadium.

It seems appropriate that I share a photo of the two of us in masks. We were waiting to watch #RunMySon graduate.

Why Virtual Church Services Should Be the New Normal

Suggesting churches should drop online services as we move into the third year of the global pandemic is ableist AND racist.

It’s a matter of accessibility for ALL people, including the complicated issue of whether or not a congregation can afford to have a physical space and/or resources to livestream a church service. It’s a matter of not only opening physical doors that often go locked during the week but also creating and imagining spaces without doors, at the very least, different doors, so that all can enter and exit. It’s a matter of addressing the reality that the Church and the pandemic are GLOBAL and not just situated in the U.S. or North America and not just around the comfort around a theology enmeshed with white supremacy.

I don’t like teaching virtual yoga or preaching to a screen

I am a yoga teacher, and March 2020 impacted yoga studios in similar ways to churches. Our “audience” had always been in person, sometimes uncomfortably close to the person next to us. Honestly I found myself moving my body much more in yoga studio than in church, and for the talk around embodiment being about physically being in a room together the most movement I often experienced in a white-centered church service was the passing of the peace (I hate that part, TBH), the occasional swaying from side to side and awkward clapping or raising of hands during musical worship, and communion if the congregation was invited to walk through the center aisle to receive the elements.

In the yoga studio everyone is invited to move together, breathe together, rest together. We turn, twist, invert. We balance and sweat. We listen to our bodies and our breath. Sometimes, students linger and ask questions about a posture or a cue, and they mill about not unlike fellowship time in church spaces.

But back to March 2020 when the world felt like it stopped and so many of us learned to use and hate the word “pivot”. Pastors and yoga teachers learned the intricacies of a virtual space and how to translate community into a virtual space. What I would argue is that as a yoga teacher I learned more than the average church pastor or worship leader about translating embodiment not only of individuals but of a community into a virtual space and how to maintain that over time.

In June of 2020 as the “racial uprising” caught the attention of media, I started a virtual yoga space just for BIWOC because that’s the community I saw being most impacted and in need of something I could create. I thought that space would last a few weeks, a few months tops. We still meet weekly, most of the women who come to class I’ve never met in person. We have established rituals and expectations. We have cried together and created a space to talk or type or sit in silence. We have seen each other’s backgrounds – bedrooms and living rooms, and watched children and pets and housemates walk into the room. Everyone is free to turn off their cameras, and I am learning how to guide this incredible group of BIWOC while keenly aware of our diversity – size, ability, age, mobility, etc. We will never be in a physical space together and yet there is community.

Community is embodiment.

There is an “I” in embodiment but that’s not the point

Embodiment isn’t limited to our individual bodies and the sharing of physical space, especially as people of faith, Christians who believe God’s love and care for the universe and humanity transcends time, space, and our understanding. As Christians we say we are the body of Christ, in fellowship with our siblings across the globe, but if we cannot ever be in their physical presence does that make that fellowship less than what one might experience in person? If the Church and church is to love God and our neighbors as the New York Times op-ed author Tish Harrison Warren writes (and I agree), how can we possibly love our neighbors if churches shut the virtual door?

Let’s be clear. Choosing a place of worship has always, ALWAYS, involved a degree of personal preference. Let’s not kid ourselves, my Dear Readers. Denominations. Style of musical worship. Location. Convenience. Sound of the preacher’s voice (yes, we checked out a local church and I could not handle the preacher’s voice.) Children’s ministry options. Time of worship service. (And again, there are so many parallels to how students choose a yoga studio but I digress.)

And for people of color our choices have always been limited because of WHITE SUPREMACY that was built in to the foundation of the United States AND the churches established in this country. For the disabled the choices have always been limited. For those on the margins of what is deemed “normal” and “good” in the world we live in and most often in the church, OUR CHOICES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN LIMITED. 

So to point to the virtual door that was opened out of necessity should be seen as an opportunity for church leaders to pause and reflect. Who walked through your virtual doors who would never have been able to walk through your physical doors? Are we not worthy of being your neighbors because you met us through a screen? 

The body of Christ in wine and stale crackers

At some point in the global panini, my virtual community started sharing photos of what they pulled together for communion. It was a beautiful table of elements that reflected the body of Christ in one of the most embodied ways because it reflected individuals and families, what they were going through at the time.

No time to shop for wine or grape juice and crackers? Fine, how about sparkling water and chunks of a bagel? Or tea and some rice? Juice box and goldfish crackers? Coffee and gluten-free brownies? None of that was shared in person, and if our understanding of embodiment is limited to always sharing physical space then there was a whole lot of breaking church rules and theology in those virtual communion services.

I didn’t reach my hand into the plate of broken matzo that my neighbor in the pews had also just reached into. I didn’t breathe over the tray of non-recyclable plastic communion shot glasses with grape juice and pass it to my neighbor. I didn’t walk up the center aisle and receive the elements from a pastor or lay leader who could look into my eyes. I sipped my coffee and ate my danish as I watched others take the elements they were able to find in they pantries and refrigerators, an intimate look into their homes and lives. Did we not meet God in an embodied way?

Not all churches, Kathy

I’m not writing this to argue the minutia of why YOUR church can’t afford to keep streaming services or why YOUR church never got the hang of virtual church. Again, the reality is complicated because not all churches could afford their own buildings in the first place, let alone afford the technology to run a slick livestream service. The reality is very few churches ran slick livestream services period, wink, wink, and there is beauty in that. Dropped streams, being on mute, poor lighting all point to the challenges of embodied INDIVIDUALS doing and being something collective. It’s a different way of being embodied outside of a communal physical space but within the imagination of what could community look like when it’s not bound by walls and geography.

Opening the virtual doors gave churches an opportunity to see who wasn’t able to join in physically, even before the pancetta, and an opportunity to learn how technology could add closed captioning and allow individuals to turn up the volume or just follow the audio stream. People could join from their beds or backyards across time zones and man-made borders.

Some church leaders found virtual services as an opportunity to learn new-to-them technology – perhaps from younger congregants or congregants whose interests and gifts were in untapped spheres. Churches invited new voices to preach from the pulpit. How many times have we heard church leaders say they would love to invite diverse speakers as guest preachers but don’t have the funds? If you are still running a virtual service option you can still pay guest preachers well and skip the plane ticket and hotel. Fewer excuses, but maybe some churches want to keep that as an excuse? How many times have you as an individual wanted to hear from diverse, global voices but can’t get to that conference or buy all those books? Virtual services allow you to do just that.

I’m not suggesting churches do away with physical, in-person services, but this is a chance to rethink community to consider how our physical bodies and needs and the holy space of church can be one that works towards welcoming all to the table by creating new tables of virtual breakout rooms and physical spaces. If having a physical nursery is supposed to welcome families with infants into church as an option, why not keep the virtual sanctuary open because even when this pan flute is relatively under control we will still have siblings among us who would benefit from that virtual sanctuary and because they benefit WE BENEFIT. Without them we are incomplete.

Not all churches and not all people will want a virtual service, but what has been made clear is that there is a need and desire for this kind of creative access to church and it is embodied, just not in the way our limited understanding has conceptualized and executed it to date. 

Can the Church and church hear, see, taste, smell and touch that kind of community beyond the limitations of a physical shared space? Isn’t that part of the invitation for all churches and the Church? 

 

 

 

 

Ji-Young, KyoungAh, and the Assumption of Whiteness

I learned to speak English by watching The Electric Company, Zoom, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. Mr. Rogers, Big Bird, Count von Count, and the Twiddlebug family were my first tutors teaching me about self-addressed stamped envelopes, grammar, numbers, and hints of “American” life where adults had first names – Maria, Luis, and Fred – and moved about the world with an ease my parents and I did not experience.

My parents and I immigrated to the US in the spring of 1971, joining thousands of Koreans leaving a then-developing nation that was still rebuilding after the Korean War had left the peninsula divided with a US military presence that remains to this day. My mom had a few dresses made out the fabric gifted to her by her in-laws – Jackie-O-esque silhouettes with hemlines right above the knee. The US was the land of opportunities and upward mobility. I never saw my mother wear any of those dresses. My dad bussed tables at a Japanese restaurant and rode a bike to and from work. I was eight months old, and when I started kindergarten my primary language was Korean. 

Dreams in Korean

It’s hard to imagine a time when I thought in Korean, dreamt in Korean. If you don’t speak a second language, you may have no idea what I’m talking about, but when you’re bi- or multi-lingual you may have the ability not only to translate language but also “think” and process the world in those languages. I am certain my parents do not dream in English, and at one point in my life my dreams were in Korean.

When I was in high school I spent part of a summer in Korea without my parents, and I remember navigating the streets of Seoul on my own without my cousins. There was a moment when I realized I was thinking in Korean instead of reading a sign and trying to translate it into English. I was THINKING and processing in Korean, even though the moment I opened my mouth to speak Korean my pronunciation would betray me. 

The chasm between my English dreams and my parents’ Korean dreams continues to grow, but every now and then I wonder what five-year-old me dreamt about. What did KyoungAh dream about in her Korean dreams?

The Default

My name is Khang KyoungAh – family name first, given name second. My sister, the only female cousin on my father’s side, and I share the second syllable – a generational marker that wasn’t traditional for girls. When my parents enrolled me in public school – Waters Elementary on the north side of Chicago – I became Kathy. Before we go on, my Dear Reader, I invite you string my names together.

Kathy KyoungAh Khang.

Wait for it.

Do you see it? Do you notice it?

A Black colleague of mine mentioned how he couldn’t understand why my parents would give me a name with THOSE initials. Is that what you were thinking?

My parents are Korean. They had a better grasp of the English language when they immigrated to the US than most US-born people will ever have of another language. But they are Korean. They gave me the name “Kathy” because the initial sound was similar to my real name. They gave me “Kathy” not to whitewash me. They gave me the name so I could survive in 1975. Sure, I wish that hadn’t been the case, but here in 2021 I’m still correcting people on the pronunciation (and spelling) of my last name while Timothée Hal Chalamet is totally ok. 

But back to my initials. I told my Black colleague that the world did not revolve around US history and that while I as an adult understood my initials, the assumption that Korean immigrants in 1975 should “know better” was equally offensive. The US is not the center of the world, but “American” history, “American” life is the default. I go back to this idea often in the anti-racism work that I do. Racism is not limited to the US, BUT as folx in the US we need to be humble and mindful about our own centering and assumptions.

Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?

Ji-Young is Korean American and loves to play the electric guitar and skateboard. She is the first Asian American muppet, and I have a lot of feelings about this. I’ve watched the video over and over – Ji-Young talking to Ernie. I am tearing up just writing this, BUT….

WAIT. A. MINUTE. Some of you, My Dear Readers, may be excited and cheering this on AND wondering if any of the other “human” muppets had racial or ethnic identities.

They did. The default, even on Sesame Street, is that unless otherwise noted the human muppets are white because whiteness IS NOT JUST ABOUT SKIN COLOR. White supremacy isn’t just about skin color. People of color can perpetuate the lies of white supremacy that make US history and present day the center of the universe. It’s about the way people operate (particularly here in the US for the purposes of this blog post), how you are treated, what is assumed about you and your family and where you are from and where you learned your English. I do not speak English with an accent like my parents do and YET PEOPLE STILL ASK ME WHERE I LEARNED TO SPEAK ENGLISH. I learned to speak English here in America. Duh. 

Yes, Bert is yellow and Ernie is orange (too much self-tanner, methinks). How can they be white, you ask? Because they are American and the default in the US is always whiteness. Think about it. Before colorblindness there was the “I don’t care what color you are – Black, white, purple” type phrases. “American” by default is associated with whiteness. Even on Sesame Street.

That’s why it’s a complicated big deal. Ji-Young has more in common with my children who are third generation, born with both “American” and Korean names with meanings that are drilled into them because for them the default will be BOTH/AND because being Korean American with each generation brings another level of beauty, complexity, similarities, and differences. Ji-Young tells Ernie how she can’t wait to share about her food – banchan, kimchi, and jjigae. 

It will take me more time to figure out and name all of these feelings but for now I can’t wait for Ji-Young to share some kimchi with Bert and Ernie. 

 

So You Want to Write a Book.

Get ready to die a little.

Last week I received my annual royalties check from my portion of “More Than Serving Tea” (MTST from here on out) and from “Raise Your Voice” (RYV). I cannot tell you how MTST changed my life with deep friendships, an ocean of tears, and a mission to see Asian American Christian women’s voices to shape and influence the world. I am still in touch with most of the other authors, and four of us are part of a women’s group that met annually until the pandemic. We still marvel at the book that I kept as a desktop file titled “Project Snowball”. Why a snowball? We were told in so many words the book had a snowball’s chance in hell to make it to print and even then there was a question of how long it would stay in print. I still remember a male colleague, Asian American male (younger because in my culture that’s also important), told me the book would be irrelevant in a few years. 

The book was published in 2006, and last week I received a small royalty check.

But becoming a published Christian author killed my soul a bit. My Dear Readers, it’s a business. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s only a calling, an invitation from God. Yes, I have felt “called” to write, which is why I first became a newspaper reporter. I have kept a journal since the first or second grade. I have journals I have kept for each of my children since they were in utero. They are now 25, 22, and 20 and will receive those journals when I’m ready. Yes, I will write another book eventually some day in the future perhaps maybe. But Christian publishing is still a business.

Why are you telling us this, Kathy?

The royalty check last week and the signing of a new contract this week has me all in my feelings. (I have gotten very good at burying the lede.) I thought about the work put into both MTST and RYV – the emotional work before, during, and after, and the hours spent outlining, writing, editing, more editing, more editing, crying, apologizing for missing deadlines, and promoting. I thought about a recent thread on Twitter about the hurdles to getting published, and I wanted to thank all of you for your encouragement through the years when I blogged about my middle school children and being a Korean American Christian woman navigating ministry and evangelical/evangelical adjacent spaces. I wanted to thank all of you for SHOWING UP when it came time to promote and launch RYV. I wanted to remind myself that I didn’t do it for the money.

I really didn’t. Part of the problem with publishing as a whole, and I think Christian publishing specifically because it’s supposed to be Christian but it’s capitalism, is the lack of transparency. For example, I know my life looks super glamorous and amazing. I mean #jamvent and #snowglobe life on IG is pretty amazing, and my family is freaking beautiful. Writing and getting paid for my words is an honor, but it’s also work. For RYV I wrote about 30,000 in the final copy. I actually wrote many more words but many were wisely edited out, and there were several versions of every chapter. At the end of the day I earned about 18 cents per word. 

I’ll wait for you to do the math.

My new contract involves an amazing co-author and that person’s agent so the math is better because it’s half of a book, but again this is capitalism, My Dear Readers. I’ll be sure to share more details when we are ready.

But God’s economy, Kathy.

Publishers are still companies and corporations, and they don’t actually operate in God’s economy. I guess that’s why I’m writing this. To remind all of us that we need to keep imagining better, doing better when we can, and be aware of the reality. We can say God’s economy has room for all the books, but the reality is only so many books will be published “traditionally”. Publishers can only publish so many books (and with the current paper shortage it’s gotten even more complicated and frustrating), and they can only afford to lose so much money. 

And this is again where I thank you, My Dear Readers, for making sure RYV didn’t lose money!!!! Getting a royalty check means the book sold enough copies to cover the advance and get me royalties. That was what every single pre-order and sale since 2018 did. That is exactly what you want to happen as an author. It gives you a leg up when you pitch your next book because we all need to have numbers and followers and a platform. Again, Jesus doesn’t talk about platform. He talks a lot about loving our neighbors and enemies and the widows and orphans but he says squat about the number of followers and mailing lists (many of you have signed up for my non-existent email updates and that is why I keep your email, btw). 

As a Christian writer I keep God’s economy in mind, but I also need to pay the bills involving three kids who went or are currently attending college on student and parent loans. I keep in mind the privilege of writing and teaching yoga for a living and the cost of that privilege as an Asian American woman who recently was named in an email sent to my place of employment. Racism is everywhere including in Christian writing and publishing. Just ask any Christian publishers how many editors and decision makers are POC.

I can wait again.

But I still want to write a book.

So if you want to write a book and get it published traditionally you will need a few things. You will need a platform – followers on several social media platforms, an email list of people who willingly shared their emails with you for, in my case, non-existent additional material, and influencers who already have all of that who will vouch for you. If you are a POC you will need influential POC and influential non-POC who will promise to write endorsements, help promote you, etc. 

I don’t share this for pity. It was exhausting, but I LOVED promoting my book and getting my launch team together. I made maybe 100 bracelets and wrote notes. Every time I saw someone on my launch team post a photo, I cheered in gratitude and prayed for that person. 

But part-time marketing is not what I had in mind when I imagined being a published author. Even as I sit in the exciting privilege of having signed another contract, I am humbled and terrified.

I am a little hopeful because between 2018 and now there are MANY more POC and specifically WOC in the Christian writing sphere who have gotten agents, become agents, and signed bigger deals and sold more books! BRING IT ALL ON!!!! Just remember, and this is for me as much as it for you, not all of us will receive the five-figure deal with one of the big three houses. Many of us are happy and honored and smiling all silly while I type this to get what I/we get, but I will be honest. A part of me died with RYV. It’s humbling work. Thank you for being a part of it, My Dear Readers.

Botox + Anger

I had 15 units of Botox injected into my “elevens” – the two frown lines fighting to take permanent residence in between my thinning but microbladed eyebrows. I’m certain at several points in my life I swore I would never succumb to vanity in this manner, but I wasn’t 51 at the time. I didn’t wake up looking like I was angry or worried or scowling. Maybe 20 years from now I will chalk up this decision to my youth, but for now I’m just going to keep walking over to a mirror to see if I can still move those facial muscles.

Do you have a tattoo? 

It’s one of those things people think about doing but don’t want to readily admit thinking about it, or they do it but don’t put it on blast and may even deny having it done even though it can sometimes be pretty obvious to other people what is going on. Tattoos and body piercing have lost their stigma, even in religious spaces. Skincare regimens are so normal that my sons who are in their 20s asked about moisturizer and sunscreen. (My Dear Readers, if you are not using a facial sunscreen daily AND year-round we need to talk.) During shelter-in-place there were many social media threads about dyeing hair at home to cover roots and the increasing number of gray hairs popping up. I see requests for just about every personal care service on local moms’ FB pages but I’ve yet to see anyone ask about injections and fillers. Facials? Dermatologists? Microblading? Eyelashes? Aluminum-free deodorant? Bikini waxing? ALL THREADS ON MULTIPLE FB PAGES for working moms, community moms, etc.

But I noticed that the one self-care topic that was solely for word-of-mouth meaning an actual conversation or text and never publicly solicited information was around injecting chemicals into your body. (Wink, wink.) And because I am also prone to being Judgey McJudgepants why would anyone talk with me about paralyzing their facial muscles?

So why do it?

I actually think I look good “for my age” whatever that might mean to you. My mom and grandmother did not use expensive serums or get facials, but they drilled the importance of cleansing and moisturizing. I added the sunscreen years after already damaging my skin with baby oil burns. I have great genes to boot. I want to minimize those lines because they remind me of my anger and the loud inner critic.

There is nothing wrong with anger. Somewhere between Sunday School, sermons, and home I learned that emotions and specifically anger was bad. I have since unlearned that toxic lesson instead holding on to the energy and passion I feel and experience when I encounter injustice – anger. Anger has levels, stages, types and it’s all related to how we are experiencing a person or situation in relation to our safety. For example, as a Christian and as an Asian American I feel a great deal of anger when my faith community inflicts pain against another group of people or when my AAPI community is the target of harassment and violence. I am still learning how to deal with my anger in healthy ways, but there was one thing that continued to bother me.

But what about not letting the sun go down on your anger?

BE ANGRY [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], YET DO NOT SIN; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down. Ephesians 4:26 Amplified Version

First, let me just say that this verse created unnecessary havoc in the early years of our marriage. Married people, if you are angry at each other and it’s time for bed, go to bed. You need to rest to think, listen, and love well. 

Second, the version I grew up didn’t explain how anger could be ok and the emphasis was on the sin. I know. Not surprising. So somewhere in there it gets translated and taught as being angry is sin so don’t be angry and if you are angry make sure you get rid of that ickiness before bedtime.

Maybe I’m the only one who internalized it that way, but there it is. And every time Peter and I couldn’t resolve our conflict before sleeping I felt like a failure and increasingly sleep deprived. That is what I had to unlearn and to honor the anger I feel at immorality, injustice and ungodly behavior. But I still struggle with what it means to not let my anger last until the sun goes down. The morning usually doesn’t hold new answers so much as a continuation of whatever it was that makes me angry.

Which brings me back to my elevens. This isn’t about looking younger. That might come later. I can’t help but wonder if it’s like getting my first tattoo, which lead to my next tattoo. The gateway.

Those lines aren’t really wrinkles so much as they are a reminder of every moment of anger and frustration. They are reminders to me of the anger I feel in my emotions and in my body, reflected outwards to those looking at me, those who might never know me. I already feel the anger, but to see it reflected back at me every morning? I am tired of the reminder. I don’t need another reminder of how angry this world makes me feel. 

Asian American woman wearing a face mask with white markings on her face to guide a nurse for Botox injections.

My face marked up for potential injections. We opted just for the three spots in between my eyebrows.

 

28 Things I Learned During 28 Years of Marriage

My Dear Readers,

The annual list is here. For newbies, I’ve been writing a list like this for the past few years, and it’s the one thing I remember to blog about. I don’t look at the lists from prior years because that’s cheating. Not really. I don’t look because it really is an “off the top of my head” list.

Backstory: Peter and I were living in the same area and introduced by mutual friends Scott and Irene. They are Peter’s youth group friends and my college friends. They thought he would make a good “Oppa” or older brother because he is seven years older than I am. We met, fell in love, and got engaged… in six weeks. As in met and then had an official engagement party/ceremony with almost 100 people present for our engagement. And then we were married four months later with about 1,000 guests for a buffet of Korean food in the basement of Peter’s church.

  1. Marriage is hard work. There is a lot of joy and heartache, and it is A LOT OF WORK. It’s good work, but it’s work. That’s why we celebrate even if it’s dinner in a restaurant, which still feels weird because of COVID and feels small because it’s 28 years. Thanks, COVID. You can also put in all the work, and your marriage may still not work out with a fairytale ending. Do you know why? Because fairytales are lies. 
  2. The marriages in your family of origin are not a predictor of how your marriage will look or be. You are not by default your parents’ best and worst patterns of relating. You can choose to emulate the best and break the worst patterns. Again, it takes work.
  3. There are some things that will make you cry in the moment that over time will make you laugh…and maybe still cry. (Remember, I was 22-year-old Kathy up against my future mother-in-law during wedding planning. If you’re lucky enough to have seen our wedding video #3 makes perfect sense.)
  4. Spend money on amazing photographs of you and your spouse on your wedding day because video formats will change. VCR anyone? 
  5. “Married a long time” sex is better than honeymoon sex.
  6. Sometimes sitting in silence doesn’t mean you are comfortable with silence. Sometimes it means I’m really pissed off.
  7. Marriage and/or your spouse will not complete you. You are a full human.
  8. If you think marriage will complete you, go to therapy first. 
  9. Marriage therapy doesn’t have to be a crisis thing. It can be a normal thing. It should be a normal thing.
  10. Individual therapy doesn’t have to be a crisis thing. It should be a normal thing.
  11. You really do marry each other’s families whether or not you or your spouse is close to said family. Those family issues and ties show up EVERY DAY in big and small ways.
  12. The way you “fill-in-the-blank, i.e. did household chores” growing up doesn’t have to be the way you and your spouse do it in your marriage. 
  13. Having children doesn’t complete a marriage. It makes your family bigger.
  14. Having sex when your kids are babies, toddlers, etc. can be challenging because one or both of you are always tired.
  15. Having sex when your kids are teenagers or college-aged can be challenging because they keep weird hours. This does not apply if you don’t care if your kids know or hear you are having sex. I am still a bit prudish. Leave me alone.
  16. Buy a king bed as soon as you can afford it. It doesn’t mean you want to be far apart. It just means that you are prepared for when you want to be far apart because you’re mad, you have kids or fur babies who crawl into bed with you, or you need the space because of peri-menopausal night sweats.
  17. Talk honestly about money. I don’t know if money is the root of all evil but remember #9 and #10. There’s a lot to learn about each other when you talk about debt, spending, time, etc. Peter knows I have fun money stashed away because I have a really, really, really hard time spending money on myself. He doesn’t have to have a stash because he doesn’t have the same problem.
  18. It’s important to have common friends and your own separate friends.
  19. Same with hobbies and interests. He had bowling and I had book club.
  20. You do start picking up each other’s best and worse habits. Case in point? For me: flossing. For him: moisturizer.
  21. When he tells me I am beautiful he means it. He may want sex, but he still means it.
  22. When I tell him he is handsome, I mean it AND I want him to finish some project around the house.
  23. After 28 years he still can’t read my mind so I’ve told him that I really love it when he occasionally buys me flowers for no reason at Trader Joe’s. I have also circled things in catalogs.
  24. This is particularly important for women because it’s 2021 and the patriarchy: establish your own credit history.
  25. It’s never too late to apologize or to forgive one another, but you also can go to bed angry. Staying up late past your bedtime to argue doesn’t make for better arguments. It makes for cranky adults who have to go to work in the morning with unresolved feelings.
  26. You don’t have to make every decision together – big or small – but you have to know you’re on the same page about which decisions fall into that category. For example, I really don’t care about the exact make and model of our next car, which actually will be my car. He enjoys this much more than I do. 
  27. Over communicate because back to #23 none of us are perfect at mind reading.  
  28. Say “I love you” every day even when you don’t feel it. Love isn’t just an emotion. It’s a decision. An action. A choice of movement towards each other. Every damn day.

Happy anniversary, Peter! Here’s to another year of learning and loving!

Vitamin L Diaries: I’m Depressed. Are you?

I’m working with my happy light just off to my right. I will let it do it’s thing – bombarding my brain via my eyes with fake sunlight minus the bad UV rays. It’s one of several tricks up the sleeves of those of us with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) where the lack of natural sunlight can impair and impact our mood and mental health. This year has felt like a triple whammy – clinical depression, a global pandemic and SAD. Oh, I forgot to add the unprecedented events including and leading up to an attempted coup so that makes it a quadruple whammy. 

Mental health talk is slowly losing its sting, but there’s still a sting. How do I know? Because whenever I mention it anywhere publicly I get public comments AND private ones from Dear Readers who don’t feel comfortable sharing in a public comment about their own depression, whose loved ones and community still do not understand that we all should care about our mental health, whose churches will encourage them with toxic positivity to pray it away. Just because you talk about mental health doesn’t mean you have a problem, but if you can’t talk about mental health you won’t have any tools to help bring yourself or loved ones back to health.

So let’s talk about mental health

I want to be clear. I have no thoughts of self-harm. We need to make statements like that normal, normal and healthy for people to say them and for questions about self-harm to be normal and healthy.

For those of us in places will actual seasons, the December, January, February and sometimes March and parts of April are not all a Winter Wonderland (I’m looking at you my Dear Readers from warm, sunny places that think shoveling snow would be fun). They are cloudy, gloomy, cold and isolating. Because of the COVID19 pandemic isolation has taken on new levels. Our family has not entertained inside our home since February 2020. We haven’t had friends or family gathered around our kitchen table, a table that has uncomfortably fit 18 people. We haven’t hosted high school pre- or post-dance parties like we did in the fall of 2019 when 30 high schoolers feasted on carbs and left a trail of glitter, sequins, and corsages (parents we need to talk about how much money we spend on flowers for these kids) and socks from when the guys in the group slept over in the basement. 

So the happy light brings fake sun to help regulate our brains and sometimes we add Vitamin D supplements for added measure. For some of us, and definitely for me, medication (10 mg of Lexapro daily) keeps the other things going, and when I’m on top of it I do the other things – exercise, stay hydrated, limit screen time (ok, I’m not so good at this). 

But sometimes doing all the right things isn’t enough. It helps us keep from sinking further, but it isn’t enough because we can’t checklist our way out of depression.

It can feel a little like falling – that split second you experience the sensation of losing balance. But that split second is split into days and weeks and months of that sensation of losing your equilibrium, of losing a sense of balance and direction, of losing trust in yourself to make the right decision that could possibly break your fall but also break a bone or two in the landing. It’s feeling like you’re moving in slow motion as you are trying to right yourself and no single movement feels like it’s going to keep you from the inevitable crash because you can’t feel your body completely, you can’t see your surroundings completely, you can’t always understand your body or your surroundings at all.

Sometimes you…

  • Start missing deadlines or forget things or flake out, and then you feel horrible about yourself and want to crawl into a hole. So then you try to make up for that but that exhausts you or you stop trying. You can’t sleep or sleep too much and that makes you feel horrible and that horrible feeling can lead to anxiety or a deeper depression. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Hit a wall. Last week I put on make up, dressed up, chilled a mini bottle of champagne, and celebrated the inauguration of our first but not last woman of color vice president – Madame Vice President Kamala Devi Harris and her running mate Mister President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. But for all the emotions and thoughts running through my mind and body I could not for the life of me cry. For me, that is a sign that my mental health is not tracking with my body and my emotions. And even my emotions felt numb, which I also fully recognize is part of healing from the grief and trauma of but not limited to the past four years.
  • Have to name it. I was telling myself it was a passing day of clouds, but the passing days have been weeks and months. I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Trouble falling asleep and then once I am finally asleep wanting to stay in bed for as long as I can get away with. The things that usually help (exercise usually perks me up) don’t help after days of trying and then the trying gets exhausting. I put on some extra weight during the months of sheltering in place, and that has made being comfortable in my own skin a challenge. It becomes a vicious cycle. I wanted it to just be in my head but that’s the thing with depression. IT IS IN MY HEAD. IN MY BRAIN. And I or anyone with depression can’t think it away. We have to name it and treat it.
  • Reach out. I told my husband and my friends that I’m on the struggle bus with my depression. I told them not because they were going to offer solutions and cures but because they could keep me in their actual, real, sincere thoughts and prayers. They check in, leave messages, send memes (please send all the Bernie memes, please), and text about the mundane and the daily realities. It helps me get through today’s six inches of snow and lack of actual sun.

That still didn’t make it go away

I haven’t written in months, in part because I was slowly slipping into this depressed space where the depression is as alive and present as I am. Words require patience with and for myself, and when I’m depressed my inner critic becomes even louder. Another vicious cycle. After I hit “publish” I will get back to an overdue writing project that stalled in my mental darkness. I will teach a virtual yoga class and reconnect my mind and my body. But I’m finally writing to give space and voice to those of us who keep on keeping on in a state of depression, in a small or big corner of clouds and darkness. Some of us aren’t able yet to reach out for help or who haven’t yet been able to name what it is we are going through or who are still wrestling with the stigma of depression, anxiety, and mental illness. I’m writing this to remind myself and others that no matter where we are in our journey we are still here fighting, even if it’s with a whimper, to please stay present even in the clouds and darkness.

The Complexity of Being and Becoming Hmong American #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Today we have the privilege of learning from Kathy Moua, a Hmong American woman, daughter of refugees, sister, and auntie. Minister and teacher during the day, truth seeker at night. Coffee drinker on the beach during off days.



George Floyd was killed by a white police while an Asian American policeman stands by and does nothing to stop it.

 This was the headline and photo that was being passed and posted around in the greater Asian American community all week after George’s murder. My heart sank and my body shut down because though it wasn’t noted, I knew he, the Asian American policeman, was Hmong.

 

I was sad that another Black life was taken. I was angry at Tou for doing nothing. 

I wanted to immediately disown and disassociate with him.

I was ashamed and wanted to share his photo and say, “Don’t be like him.”

Yet something from my gut stopped me from reacting in that way, and instead I wept.

I wept for George and then I wept for Tou.

 

George, your humanity was taken away from you. You suffered while one of my people did nothing. You cried and no one helped you. My soul grieved for your life.

 

Tou, what were you thinking and feeling? Did you even care that George was crying out, “I can’t breathe?” Were you afraid of your White counterparts? Are you so comfortable with the system that allowed you that badge that it didn’t matter that George was being killed? I don’t want you to go to prison because of what happens in prisons, but I also hate that you did nothing to help George. What is your story? Did you think about George’s story? Why did you do nothing?! 

 

I wept because I felt a piece of me in George and I felt a piece of me in Tou. To be clear, the humanity I saw in Tou does not justify his complicity in George’s death. These complicated feelings reminded me what my friend, La, wrote in her piece yesterday; that we are all interconnected. I realized that what Hmong Americans might be feeling during this time relates to some of the Hmong/Black violence against one another. When our parents arrived as refugees to this country in the late 70s, they entered into a Black/White race binary under white supremacy. With no knowledge of the English language while working to make ends meet, a lot of the Hmong ended up in Black neighborhoods. The Black communities were rejected to receive loans for homes and businesses which lead to severe poverty. Under the pressure of these conditions our communities fought to survive and sometimes ended up viewing each other as enemies. Our communities need healing. My hope is that as we meet one another in the streets, we can change this narrative. 



As I was reading my feed on Facebook, two stories stood out to me.

The first was a post by a Hmong American woman named Tracy Yang. These are her words, “Every time I hear about a police killing, I always experience a bit of PTSD. I never talk about it much, but now is the time I tell it publicly. On September 27th, 2002, St. Paul police officer Michael Thurston shot my father, Ki Yang, 9 times in the chest and left him to die in my mother’s arms. He got to keep his job and received a two-week paid leave. Thurston claimed self-defense. Till this day, Michael Thurston walks around, living his life. Meanwhile, my family and I have had to move on with our lives with a hole in our hearts that will never heal. Justice matters. Change needs to happen. For peace, love, and unity. #NoJusticeNoPeace #JusticeforFloyd

 

The second was the story of Youa Vang, a 60 year old Hmong mother, who went out to the protests to show her solidarity in Minneapolis. Her 19-year-old son was killed by the Minneapolis police in 2006. Black leaders shared their platform with her at the protest and she cried out for justice for George and every life taken from the MPD. 

 

A ripple effect of stories like these seem to be surfacing to remind us that this too has happened in our community. As we listen to each other’s stories, may we see that our fight is not against our Black siblings. Do we not see that the Hmong community have been oppressed by the systems of white supremacy similar to our Black siblings? Hmong Americans, is it perhaps that we have been blind to this from being racialized under the Modeled Minority Myth? White supremacy says, it’s a black and white conversation when it comes to the social construct of race. It has disembodied us.

 

Our fight is against the infiltration of white supremacy in all its forms. It has us questioning each other’s humanity and dignity rather than seeing and believing each other’s realities. There is room for all the complexities of how we are related to one another. When we rely on the labels and narratives given by white supremacy toward one another, we will find it hard to stand in solidarity. 

 

Understanding our histories and identities is complex and takes a lot of work. I get it. I’m tired too. But do the work anyway. Have hard conversations. Read books. Ask your Hmong siblings who get it for help. Do it daily. Complexity is not an excuse for your anti-Black racism. 

 

Because you know what isn’t complex? The fact that Black Lives Matter. 

Do you know what is beyond exhausting? Centuries of fighting against the senseless killings of Black Lives.

 

 

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.



Dear Hmong Christians, A Love Letter #AmplifyMelanatedVoices

My Dear Readers,

Today we have the honor of listening La Thao, a Hmong American woman born and raised in the Midwest and a sleep-deprived minister, thinker and creator.

 

To my Hmong Christian family,

We need to talk about racism and our complicity when it comes to violence toward marginalized communities, particularly in the Black community. I won’t quote a Bible verse to tell you what I’m going to say. I definitely will not quote a popular, White American pastor. Do I really need all of that just to ask for your compassion?

Last week when we discovered that a Hmong American police officer, Tou Thao, was involved in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Hmong community was pushed into the conversation of racism, this time as oppressors. We were called to confront the anti-Blackness in us and seek justice for George while others were afraid of backlash toward the local Hmong community and others defended Tou Thao. As I watched Hmong Americans become divided over the death of another Black man by police brutality, I am reminded of the ways we are more connected than we think to people beyond the Hmong community.

Years ago a friend gave me a new word to describe one quality of the Hmong people after listening to me share about our culture. The word is “interconnected”. Interconnected is about having multiple links or connections between multiple parts. It is more complex than “connected”. It’s a word that has stuck with me and a word that I believe describes one of the most beautiful things about us. We want to know each other and how we’re related. We all probably heard someone joke about how all Hmong people are related to each other. When we meet another Hmong person, we’re prepared to answer questions about who our parents are and which city we reside in. We do this so we can find out how we are related and to honor each other by properly using the right title to address each other. Are you my aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, or niece? 

For the younger generation who are unfamiliar with parents, we make connections differently. When I meet another Hmong person, I tend to ask where they’re from and whether they know someone I know from their hometown, church, school, clan, etc. I feel closer to someone because we have mutual friends. I work with college students and I realized one day that a student I worked with is the niece of my cousin’s wife therefore, making me her aunt. Suddenly this student wasn’t just a student that I worked with. She was family. For others, this might seem like strange behavior. Asking about family is too invasive, especially personal details like names. For us, this is normal. This is our way of hospitality and to make each other feel seen, and I think this is beautiful. 

What is beautiful is also broken. We are so interconnected to each other that it keeps us from seeing our relations to people beyond the Hmong community. With the recent events, we are not connected to it simply because one of the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd is Hmong. If that is true, then we wouldn’t have all these divisions about how to support the protests. We have gone so long taking care of our own that we fear our pain will become more invisible if we focus our attention on others. I get it and I feel that tension, but other BIPOC communities are not against us. They are with us. Our experiences are not the same, but connecting our pain with the pain of other BIPOC will help us to see that the ones who are against us are those who support white supremacy and systems of oppression. If we embody who we are as an interconnected community of people who want to be anti-racist, we should be able to look at BIPOC communities and say we understand oppression enough to wish that none of us would ever have to experience it again. We are all connected.

For my Jesus-loving Hmong Christians, our community is even more narrow. Our churches tend to be focused on members than serving the needs of the wider Hmong community. This is why I am not surprised to see Hmong American churches doing business as usual on Sunday mornings while their neighbors are hurting. This is a corporate sin we need to confess and repent. We have a long way to go to understanding the pain of other communities. Let’s do better. Confess and repent our ignorance and anti-blackness. We are capable and should do more than saying one prayer for the Black community as if this is only their problem. We are all connected.

Let’s move on from needing theology and biblical evidence to convince us to be compassionate and to hear the cries of the oppressed. If you can’t bring yourself to protest systems of oppression and racism right now, I understand. Maybe where many of us need to begin is to remember where we come from and protest to God. Cry out that our stories are not heard. Lament that after all these years we’ve lived in the U.S., we are still unknown. Weep that we only know a history of suffering. Protest to God that this is not how it should be. Once we start to lament our own story and receive healing, we could begin to see how our relations extend further than our own people. We are all more connected than we think. I’ll wait for you.

 

My Dear Readers,

Some of you may have posted a black square on IG or used #BlackOutTuesday as a show of solidarity with the Black community. This week folks also were encouraged by @JessicaWilson.msrd and @BlackAndEmbodied to #AmplifyMelanatedVoices – 

In the spirit of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices we have the honor of listening to and learning from three Christian Hmong women. If you don’t know anything about the Hmong people, LMGTFY . Remember, you don’t have to limit your learning about the Asian American diaspora to the month of May.

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