The Privilege of Learning History That Isn’t Your Own

L’shana tovah!
Today is Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish new year.

Rosh Hashanah Apples And Honey GIF by Lawrence Family JCC

My Jewish friends often get a kick out of me β€” a Chinese-American, and more key here, non-Jewish person β€” keeping up with major Jewish holidays. But I grew up in a school district where Jewish holidays were school holidays, due to what I’m assuming was a large Jewish population in my town. I still remember moving to a different school district and expressing surprise at having school on Yom Kippur, a high holiday!

Recently, The Guardian published findings from a study that found a startling amount of ignorance about the Holocaust among Americans:

  • Nearly 2/3 don’t know 6 million Jewish people were killed during the Holocaust
  • More than 10% believe Jewish people caused the Holocaust
  • Almost 25% think the Holocaust is a myth or exaggerated or weren’t sure
  • 1/8 said they hadn’t heard of, or didn’t think they had heard of, the Holocaust

These findings have been shocking, to say the least, to learn about one of the darkest legacies of modern human history. There are still Holocaust survivors among us.

Read More »

Work From Home Strategies (6 months late)

I kind of hate working from home.

There are a variety of reasons why working from home has never been ideal for me: I’m an extrovert who thrives better in social environments, the external (if imagined) accountability of people around me keeps me too guilty to slack off, my home environment is full of tempting distractions like tidying and organization.

In simplest terms, being at home puts me in a home mindset, and personally, going to a physically different location for work helps immensely with putting me in a working headspace. Ever since I started working full time, I keep work and home very separate, very rarely touching work after leaving the office.

So the last 6 months have been, admittedly, a huge challenge. If you’re like me, they may have been a challenge for you, too. I have long understood that trying to be work-productive in the space I strictly reserve for my home-headspace is really difficult. But I’ve had to do the best that I can, given what I understand about myself. It’s been 6 months, so here’s hoping that we have learned a little bit about how we work from home, even if it’s just what doesn’t work well for us.

My personal strategy boils down to 3 main things:

  1. Getting in the work mindset
  2. Staying in the work mindset
  3. Leaving the work mindset

It seems straightforward but it’s hard, especially because I really don’t want to be in the work mindset at all when I’m in the comfort and safety of my home. I don’t hate my job at all but I don’t want it in my home. The hardest step of my strategy is step 2: saying in the work mindset. (I sometimes struggle to get properly or quickly settled into my work mindset even when I go into an office so the struggles I have at home are not new, and I shut myself off from work so strictly ordinarily that it comes more easily for me to do so at home.)

man in white sweater sitting on chair using Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
Photo by Charles Etoroma

Note: Alice Goldfuss has written a really great guide to working from home during this pandemic, and she wrote it at a more helpful time at the beginning of the shutdown. Honestly, I recommend reading that before reading on here, but if you want to know more about what works for me, personally:

Read More »

19 years later

We’re living in unprecedented times right now, but what preceded current times changed drastically 19 years ago, on 11 September 2001.

There isn’t a lot I can say about my personal experience that I didn’t discuss 6 years ago, but I would like to recommend a book that I picked up last year.

The Only Plane in the Sky provided me an intimate look at the stories from survivors and surviving stories from the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93. I checked out the ebook last year and was shaken by how raw the emotions were of these stories from 9/11. Although I now rarely purchase physical books, I knew this was something I would revisit at least once a year to remember these stories and the emotions that have been buried or faded. It feels special to be privy to these very personal stories and memories, and I’m very grateful for the privilege.

In particular, since I was in a suburb of New York on 9/11, this book helped connect me to the stories of the attack on the Pentagon and of Flight 93, which were largely overshadowed by the Twin Towers that day but especially for those of us whose families and friends were directly impacted by the attack on the World Trade Center.

I won’t lie, this book was really hard to read at times. Reliving the horrors from the perspective of survivors, from the perspective of surviving family members, was hard. Choking down tears on the subway was embarrassing and awkward. But it feels important to me to not let myself become numb to the these feelings, and to keep working towards something better, so that all that we’ve suffered since isn’t in vain.

Little ways to work towards something better:

  • Donate to an organization serving 9/11 first responders or victims’ families, many of whom are still suffering 19 years later
  • Listen to the reading of the names of the 9/11 victims, which was not done by the families this year in order to maintain social distance
  • Check in on your Muslim friends (and your Sikh friends, your Arab friends, your South Asian friends…), whose lives have been so much more difficult the past 19 years
  • Make sure you are registered to vote

Take care of yourselves and take care of each other. Never forget.

One year ago today at the 9/11 Memorial

It’s been half a year

Today is day 183 since I began sheltering in place in my apartment due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

This means that I have been quarantined for over half of one calendar year.

Every now and then, I find myself laughing out loud because, the first week my office closed, I asked if we should expect to be back in the office the following week or would we not be able to return until April?

(I also am laughing out loud more often because I’m not sure I can regulate my emotions anymore? It is very likely I have become feral and am unable to be tamed for society again…)

Despite what appears to be a large chunk of time passing… it still feels unreal to me some days. Each individual day drags on, but the weeks and months pass in the blink of an eye. I can remember how my own stance on COVID-19 and how dangerous it was changed during the course of a single workday, when I packed my desk with the intention of not returning to the office a few days in advance of it closing. But the months since… are a blur.

There are a lot of things I wish went different for me personally during quarantine, but this pandemic has been much, much bigger than me. And one of the more productive things I’ve been able to do is to try to help others where I can. When I am having trouble taking control over what’s happening in my life, it helps to try to at least contribute some positive change somewhere in the world.

Spread Positivity - spreading yellow spread with a happy face, putting a yellow coin with a happy face into a can that says "Donate", a text exchange responding to 3 frowning faces with 1 smiling face, a spray bottle spraying yellow happy faces
Image created by Alissa Azureen for the United Nations COVID-19 Response

Here are a few ways I have been trying to help:

Read More »

Summer Staycation in the City

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, my partner and I have erred on the side of extremely cautious. We stopped going to the office several days before our offices closed, which was already on the early side compared to the rest of New York. We literally did not leave our apartment building for weeks until we finally stepped out to get tested for coronavirus and its antibodies. We didn’t go out again until a few weeks after phase 4 of reopening had begun in the city, and only to pick up food from local restaurants in lieu of asking someone to deliver it to our apartment.

But we have been burning out… pretty hard. I think we have been mentally checked out for over a month, to be honest. Every single day was a huge struggle, and for me, I was sinking into a familiarly bleak place: small pleasures were no longer pleasurable, I wanted to sleep all day but when I finally went to bed I couldn’t fall asleep and then I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, keeping up with conversations was tedious and difficult, I had no appetite for the comfort foods I had stocked up on.

It became obvious that time off was necessary. Many of my coworkers had come to the same conclusion around the same time, and I suspect many of you and yours did as well. We have been living this new reality for months now, and summer brings with it a hazy lethargy during a normal year, but this year it was just exhausting to not experience it as usual.

Actually “getting away” was essentially out of the question for us. We had only just started getting comfortable venturing out of our building on foot, so trying to rent a car or even board a train felt like a really big leap that we weren’t quite prepared to make. This especially factored because we were so mentally depleted that we honestly couldn’t spare the brainpower to think about the risk management with trying to leave the city for our precious week away from our responsibilities.

baked bread
Photo: Stephan Mahlke

At the end of the day, we really only need to get away from the obligations that burden us to make it a successful vacation. Getting away physically is a privilege that most do not have and that we don’t feel comfortable taking advantage of at this time. So, in addition to sleeping on the air mattress in the living room to create that ~away from home~ feeling, here’s how we spent our little staycation in the city.

Read More »