Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Oregon State University, Fri, 1/23/09

Sorry for the late notice yall--we'll be performing at Oregon State University this Friday. Please see details below.

Would love to see you if you can swing through!

MLK, Jr. Celebration 2009

Social Justice Through Hip Hop

Friday, January 23, 2009 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Come celebrate MLK, Jr. through the form of hip-hop. Enjoy this free concert featuring socially conscious hip-hop artists from across the country as they perform and inform about social equality. A performance group from each of the main ethnic minority groups will be represented in these festivities. Co-sponsors: Intercultural Student Services, Ethnic Studies

Memorial Union (campus map)
Shannon Warren
1 541 737 0708
warrensh at
Ethnic Studies Office

Friday, January 16, 2009

Seeking Resolutions: Hopes for Happiness in the New Year

"How wonderful it is that no one has to wait, but can start right now to gradually change the world." -Anne Frank

"The finest thing we can do in life is grow a soul then use it in the service of humankind." -Mary Pipher

So live love life, give love,
Live love life, give love,
Live love life, give love,
'Cause who are we anyway?"
-Alicia Keys, "Sure Looks Good to Me," As I Am

So another year stretches before us, and as I do every year, I'm having a hard time looking forward because I feel like I'm dealing with so much unresolved stuff--but, of course, the new year is only a trick, you know, because we didn't actually cross over magically into a new year that erases all the troubles, mistakes, insecurities, trespasses, etc of the previous year. And while we aren't really starting over, we are carrying an unfathomable amount of old crap, and no contrived list of so-called "New Year's Resolutions" can ever actually provide resolution for The Crap.

I didn't really mean to start this blog post off so pessimistically. But like one of my colleagues insisted at lunch the other day: the pessimists are the ones who are truly hopeful because, for some non-despairing pessimists anyway, the desire to want things to change indicates a desire to want things to be better--and a recognition that it can be so. And I believe that I operate or act from that kind of a philosophy, for although I am a self-professed cynic (making me several more degrees negative than your run-of-the-mill pessimist), I hope for goodness and I advocate for goodness and I work sincerely to try to bring goodness within my space and to people around me.

Don't misunderstand: I am not professing to be a do-gooder or, worse, a "saint." I've been an extremely selfish and opportunistic person in my lifetime. I've used people, manipulated people, been mean to people, and coldly turned my back on people who have given me everything they could, from time to money to material objects to friendship to love. I confess myself to be a reformed manipulator. And not to excuse it, but it really was a survival mechanism of sorts because I had experienced so much abuse and betrayal growing up and in my young adulthood that I didn't believe that anyone could act nice to me out of sincerity--that they HAD to want something from me, something that I didn't have or wasn't willing to give. So I tried to throw punches first. But I have hurt good people along the way, and I do have many regrets.

Change is a vulnerable process. It forces us to expose our shortcomings and insecurities, if only to ourselves, and act contrary to all of the defenses we've put up to maintain our comfort level. On some level, too, we're also admitting that we've been wrong--or could've done better--and pride often prevents us from humbling ourselves in this way. For me, death, lost friendship, and the unsettling knowledge that I'll never be able to make things completely right drive my desire to make a positive difference and to spread some unconditional love.

The holidays stir these thoughts and feelings for me because I've experienced deep loss during the holidays. This past Thanksgiving/Christmas marked the 8 year anniversary of the death of my friend Howie. This is something I never talk about, but I felt Howie's absence more than usual this year, and I wanted to share Howie with you all.

I had known Howie since high school. He was one of those people who was just SO nice--and you knew he was sincere but you always wondered if he was for real. It just seemed like Howie had no flaws: he was a good student, he was a star athlete (cross country and track), he was active in extra-curricular clubs and activities. And he had an unwavering faith in God. It was the one thing that made it hard for me to take Howie seriously because I did not have that faith. But I tried to be respectful of it as best I could.

I always suspected that Howie liked me as more than a friend, but I tried to act dumb about it. I mean, even though on the surface I seemed to be like Howie (good student, active in clubs, etc), I really was not a good person, and I was always mixed up with questionable people doing questionable things. And I didn't want Howie coming along like he was going to save me or something. And, I guess, on the other hand, I didn't want Howie to see or know that bad side of me b/c there was a part of me that did want someone to see some good in me. So I kept Howie at a distance, but he was somehow always there--after high school, through college, during grad school. And things managed to stay platonic.

Until eight years ago. We hadn't talked in a while and then I saw him at our 10 year class reunion. It was right around Thanksgiving because a lot of folks who moved away came back to PG to visit family, so it always seemed like the best time to schedule the reunion. Anyway, Howie was there and he wanted us to get together before he had to drive back down to Texas, which is where he was living at the time. So we met up a few days later.

I don't want to betray Howie's confidence by sharing specifics of what he told me. We talked about family misunderstandings, we talked about personal struggles, we talked about feeling alone. And a few days after we had our conversation, I was afraid I had made some kind of promise that I couldn't keep. That maybe I had led him on. So I did what I always have done in that situation--I shut him down. No apologies. No explanation. He had already left for Texas, and I sent him an email saying something that I don't remember--but it was something cold, probably something mean. And when he responded, I could tell he was angry and hurt but I didn't care. I didn't respond. I figured I'd let him stew about it and get back to him in my own good time.

But "good time" was exactly what I didn't have because about 2 weeks later, I received a phone call from another high school friend. She called to tell me that Howie had died. She told me that he had had an undetected brain aneurysm and that it had burst. That he had pulled over the side of the road to help some complete stranger who had broken down, and while he was helping this person, he collapsed unconscious and was gone.

I don't know how to describe how I felt when I first heard this news. Within a span of seconds, I went through so many emotions: I was in shock, I thought it must be some kind of joke, and sadly, deep down inside I was a little relieved. Then I was ashamed for feeling that way and became a bit hysterical. My high school friends kept calling, telling me what they wanted to do to honor his memory, and I was just like "whatever"--tell me what you want and how you want me to contribute and I'll do it. And I did--they wanted money to buy a plaque in his memory which would be placed in the new track field, and I gave money. But I did not go to the funeral. I couldn't face him--I couldn't face his silent immobility, an echo and reflection maybe of my own unresponsiveness to his last email. I didn't contact Howie's mother or father and give them a message from Howie, a message that I'm sure now I was supposed to give since I was the last person, I think, who Howie opened up to before he died. I couldn't face their pain for fear that my own shame and guilt would be palpable. Instead, I slammed in Philly for the first time with Yellow Rage. Instead, I went to NYC to audition for Def Poetry with Yellow Rage. Instead, I made a choice to go for self. Instead, I sold away a bit of my soul to be able to blog to you all today.

For the longest time I kept Howie's email--I would read it and imagine what he was thinking and feeling when he wrote it. I wondered how he thought I would respond. It became a sort of punishment for myself; staring at that email knowing it would be fruitless to hit "Reply" and "Send"--that our last emails to each other would forever go unanswered and unresolved. For many months, I would read it and cry. Eventually, I deleted it.

I want to say that Howie's death initiated a great epiphany in me and that I changed and became this selfless, generous, kind person--but that's not true. It would take a near-death experience of my own and the death of another tremendously loving and giving friend--my friend Brenda--for me to remotely move in that direction. But I will save these stories for another post, perhaps. Right now, I want to remember my friend Howie--I always think about how he died doing exactly what was in his nature to do and be--spreading kindness and helping others in need. I was blessed to have known him, but I can't honestly say the same for him about me.

I don't really know why I felt compelled to write about Howie on a public blog. Like I said, I never talk about this. I just wanted you all to know a little something about a truly kind person who dedicated his life to making the world a better place through a willingness to give and to spread love. And I hope you all "Pass it forward" in your own way--take a moment to show some unsolicited kindness and that you appreciate special people around you.

I've been listening to Alicia Keys' album As I Am a lot lately, and maybe that's why I feel like I should write this post. We take for granted too much just how much time we have to live and love and give. One song in particular resonates for me deeply on this point; it's called "Tell you Something." I hope you'll try to hear it if you already haven't. I've copied the lyrics below.

If you ever meet/see me, please don't mention this post or Howie to me. Let's just keep it unspoken between us, but I hope a little bit of Howie came through and touched you.

I wish you all a loving and happy new year.

Many blessings,

"Tell You Something (Nana's Reprise)"

Get so caught up everyday
Tryna keep it all together
While the time it slips away
You see I know nothing last forever

Imagine there was no tomorrow
Imagine that I couldn't see your face
There would be no limit to my sorrow
So all I can say

I wanna tell you something, give you something
Show you in so many ways
'cause it would all mean nothing if I don't say something before it all goes away
Don't wanna wait to bring you flowers, waste another hour let alone another day
I'm gonna tell you something, show you something, won't wait till it's too late

[2x] (I can't wait, I can't wait, I won't wait, I don't wanna wait)

Just a simple conversation
Just a moment is all it takes
I wanna be there just to listen
(I wanna be here)
And I don't wanna hesitate

Imagine there was no tomorrow
Imagine that I couldn't see your face
There would be no limit to my sorrow
'cause there's nothing that could fill that space
I don't wanna put it off for too long
I didn't say all that I had to say
I wanna take my time and right the wrong before we get to that place


Just lean on my shoulder,
It's not over till it's over
Don't worry about it cause
I'm gonna make sure our bond gets stronger
I don't wanna wait till the storm and something wrong and now you're gone and I can't find you

[Chorus x2]

[x4] I can't wait, I can't wait, I won't wait, I don't wanna wait

Wednesday, January 14, 2009 and Gran Torino

I stumbled upon through Adriel's blog. These two chicks have lots to say on all things in Asian American pop culture, so if you're way too tired to figure out who's who in the Asian American entertainment world you can follow their blog and see whats going on.

That being said I also wanted to highlight a film review they did for Gran Torino, you know that movie with Clint Eastwood where he plays a racist Korean War vet living next door to a Hmong family in Michigan? Yeah, my editor really hated it - the storyline, the acting, the afterschool special-like melodrama of understanding race and gang life, etc. The Disgrasian chicks also gave their own bad review of the film (it was posted on 1/6/2008), and no I havent seen it yet either but I think I will wait until it comes out on DVD to give you my honest Laotian American opinion. In the meantime enjoy the trailer.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Repost: Please Support Project Michelle

On November 8, Catzie and I had the honor of being the Keynote Speakers at the F.U.E.L. Leadership Conference (Forging, Understanding, Empowering, and Leading) held at the University of Maryland-College Park. Not only did we meet some wonderful students repping the Asian American Student Union and other orgs on campus, plus some high school students, but we also met Ide who told about his friend Michelle and his mission to save her life.

See, we kept seeing folks walking around the conference with these t-shirts which said "Project Michelle" and it was kinda jolting to see my name walking past me all afternoon. Then Catzie asked about it b/c she kept getting distracted by seeing my name everywhere too, I guess, and Ide told us the story about his friend Michelle. She has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant, but b/c so few Asians register as donors, she's having a hard time finding a match.

So Catzie and I signed up as donors. It's very simple: you fill out a donor form and then do a cheek swab procedure--you use 4 swabs and it takes just a couple of minutes. Just don't eat anything before you do it--we had chocolate chip cookies before we swabbed. Enough said.

Here is Michelle's story and more info about how to get involved, including a donor drive taking place at the University of Maryland-College Park Campus on Tuesday, Nov. 18:

Michelle is 26 years old.

Diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in February 2007, Michelle underwent chemotherapy for seven months but relapsed in May 2008. She now needs to find a bone marrow match o save her life. You could be that person.

What you can do to help Michelle or others like her.

The first step in becoming a hero requires a cheek swab and and ten minutes of your time. If you are a match, the transplant can often be done entirely through the blodd. The outcome is simple--someone lives because of your donation. You could be the one to save Michelle or one of thousands of other people like her.


Many thanks to Ide, Dien, Neha, Dharma, Sharon, and all the other students we met. Hopefully, I'll get some more pictures soon and can give a more complete thanks.

Peace and love always,