Pain in school

(crossposted from Facebook)

I proctored a linear algebra midterm yesterday. The professor and I talked for a bit about the surprisingly high number of students who couldn’t make it because they were sick. Other than possible fakes (they definitely weren’t all fakes, one of my students had a doctor’s note saying he had developed a nerve problem), my sense was that the students just felt susceptible to being sick to me, because of how stressed out / burnt out / depressed they were.

I had a conversation with a student in office hours a few weeks ago which started out with her asking me how to do a homework problem and ended with her telling me that she came to UC Berkeley because it was the most prestigious school she got into and she thought she could handle the math program, but she kept running into things she couldn’t understand in the course, didn’t have much extra time to study, couldn’t afford a tutor, and overall felt like she was maybe too stupid to do math after all, and also maybe she was stupid for not listening to one of her teachers who told her not to go to UC Berkeley. My heart broke. I didn’t know what to tell her or how to help her.

When I feel into what my students are feeling, none of it feels good. Stress. Anxiety. Nervousness. Fear. A sense of not knowing what to do or what their place in the world is. A disconnection from their power. Shrinking away. It hurts to stay with them because I don’t know how to help them; I can’t do it for too long.

I want to tell them that it doesn’t have to be this way. That if they actually understood the insane structure of the game they’re killing themselves to try to win, they’d burn the whole thing to the ground in a night. That they were meant for greater things than sitting hunched over, still as the dead, at 6pm on a Wednesday in a crowded classroom.

My favorite moment of the midterm by far was the moment that it ended. The students came alive again. Suddenly it felt like I was in a room that had people in it.

I hope they had fun last night. I hope they laughed and cried and loved each other. I hope they don’t lose sight of how important that is.

Pain on Facebook

(Crossposted from Facebook)

I’ve been posting a lot of darker stuff about pain and trauma lately, and I’m grateful to all of you for your responses to it. I hope people aren’t worried that I’ve been in a lot of pain lately (although that would be okay); actually this past month has been one of the most joyful in my entire life (and once I understand how that happened I’ll try to write about it too).

I’ve been focusing on pain for a few reasons. One, because it helps me understand and heal myself. Two, because I think there’s a hell of a lot of unacknowledged pain out there, especially male pain, and I hope me publicly naming and holding it can help some of you understand and heal yourselves, too. Three, because I’m done with not saying what I want to say.

But four is specific to the dynamics of Facebook: in the same way that I think talking about pain here can be healing, I worry that talking about joy can be harmful. I worry that it reminds people of what they don’t have in a way that’s not healing, especially the further they are from me socially. And I worry that there’s already an imbalance of people talking about their joy but hiding their pain, which I want to rebalance.

I’m left genuinely unsure about how, if at all, to celebrate the joys in my life publicly on Facebook. I’d be curious to hear opinions, especially from people who do feel hurt by reading about all the good things happening to their friends (message me if you don’t want to write about this in public). Thanks in advance for any contributions.

 

A portrait of a man in pain

(crossposted from Facebook)

(Written after Day 1 of volunteering at the Authentic Man Program.)

A man craves love, desperately, the way a bird craves the sky. But a man’s life is barren of love. The men around him are afraid of loving him and each other; they have never been shown how. The women worry about him, but it’s not the same, or there aren’t any. He dates, or not, but it doesn’t last. If love stumbles its way into a man’s life, unexpected and sublime, he gropes at it clumsily and it slips through his fingers.

A man, thinking of love, feels fear. A man feels grief. A man feels despair. A man feels rage. All of these are unacceptable, and so he disowns them. Who could love a man’s face made ugly by fear, or grief, or despair, or rage? Who could love so much pain in a man? A man locks away his fear, his grief, his despair, and his rage, and sinks them as deep in the ice as he can.

A man wanders through his life, frozen and alone. A man finds it easy to keep doing this. In time his pain can become a distant memory. He can take comfort in the ice. But he is unsatisfied (being unsatisfied is acceptable) about something.

One day a man might follow his dissatisfaction back to the ice. A man might stare at the ice. A man might take a deep breath, and blow out slowly onto the ice. A man might see the ice begin to melt. A man might be scared shitless of the flood to come.

And so the work begins.

The divine

(crossposted from Facebook)

Hunt the divine. Smell its scent on the wind. Strain your ears to hear its voice. See its shadow on the ocean waves. Find the tracks left behind by the divine in mud, in broken branches, in dying birds.

When you find the divine, dash it against the rocks and suck the marrow out of its bones. Fill yourself with the divine. Taste the salt of its blood. Digest the divine. Shit the divine. Smear it on your face.

The divine is radiant power. The divine is blinding horror. The divine is roaring pain. The divine will destroy you. Welcome it.

When the divine looks you in the eye, hold it closer than a lover. Crush the unbearable sweetness of the divine against your hips. Worship the divine with your mouth, your hands, your spine, with everything in you that knows how to love. Fuck the divine. Hold nothing back.

Sing the divine. Dance the divine. Cry the divine. Scream the divine.

An apology to every woman I’ve ever dated

(crossposted from Facebook)

Happy Valentine’s day. I’d like to issue the following apology to every woman I’ve ever dated:

I am sorry for casting you as the love interest in my movie.

● ● ●

For most of my life, my understanding of how romance was supposed to work was centered around four archetypal characters: let’s call them

  • the Jock,
  • the Cheerleader, 
  • the Nice Guy, and 
  • the Nice Girl.

All of these characters are white. The Jock and the Cheerleader are blonde and the Nice Guy and Nice Girl aren’t. The Jock and the Cheerleader start out dating each other and bullying the Nice Guy and / or the Nice Girl. The Nice Guy and Girl gradually fall for each other even though the Nice Guy is kind of a goofy dork, and maybe something bad happens to the Nice Girl and the Nice Guy rescues her from it, and then happily ever after or something. Along the way maybe the Jock and the Cheerleader break up because they deserved it.

I believed that it was my job to

  • never be the Jock (because he’s Bad / superficial / popular / cares about looks / cares about sports and being physically strong / too masculine),
  • never pursue the Cheerleader (because she’s Bad / superficial / popular / cares about looks / cares about being sexy / too feminine),
  • aim to become the Nice Guy (because he’s Good / not popular / sensitive and emotional / looks beyond physical appearance), and
  • aim to “win” the Nice Girl (because she’s Good / not popular / sensitive and emotional / appreciates the Nice Guy).

I also believed that as long as I stuck to this script, my relationships would basically work out fine and I would get my happily ever after. Needless to say, that is not what happened.

I didn’t understand for the longest time how the thing I was doing to my partners was taking me out of contact with them; I couldn’t see them for who they were because I was too busy seeing them as the role I wanted them to play in the story of my life. Even when I was trying to be emotionally sensitive and understanding, in large part it was driven by my need to perform my own role, the emotionally sensitive Nice Guy boyfriend.

(Separately, refusing to be the Jock held me back in a lot of ways, that’s a whole other post: it’s the reason I was not supposed to care about fashion or fitness, and also the reason I was not supposed to ever openly exhibit sexual desire.)

My edge right now is being fully present with a woman, experiencing attraction and affection for her if that’s what’s there, without making it the opening scene of anything, without layering over the moment a tired narrative that draws me into old patterns and blinds me to the full humanity of the person in front of me and the connection we’re sharing.

Representasian

(crossposted from Facebook)

I used to pay basically no attention to representation in the media as a problem, because it didn’t seem to me that lack of asian representation was holding me back personally in any way. If anything – and I thought this very, very quietly, all to myself – it seemed to me that being held back by lack of representation was in some sense a weakness.

I was completely wrong, but I couldn’t see the problem for years because it was so embedded in my background assumptions about reality that I never thought to question it. Here is what I have come to realize:

I never saw someone who looked like me as a romantic lead growing up (the closest I got was Jackie Chan in Rush Hour, which, come on). I have always carried with me a pervasive fear that I in particular am, and asian men in general are, fundamentally ugly and undeserving of love. And these two facts are probably related.

I have been surprised by almost every relationship I ended up in. On some level, I never understood what my partners saw in me. I felt lucky. That sounds almost romantic, but actually it consistently fed in me a growing desperate conviction that I had to get the relationship exactly right because it might be my last chance. I couldn’t help being ugly, but maybe I could make up for it by being the perfect mix between a Disney prince and a romantic comedy lead. That went okay, sometimes; it even led to some beautiful moments, which I don’t regret. But it never lasted, because the desperation underneath always shone through.

Top 8 ways to improve your sex life

(crossposted from Facebook)

8. Shriek into your partner’s nether regions. If this is something you already do regularly, try varying your volume, pitch, and timbre.

7. Automate as much of the process as possible. Set calendar reminders. Use IFTTT to synchronize a remote-controlled sex toy with your email inbox. Replace yourself with a robot.

6. Light candles. More candles than that. More. That’s it. Leave a single break in the circle.

5. Wear everything.

4. Attend a silent meditation retreat. Meditate until you can no longer remember your partner’s face.

3. Blockchain.

2. Do more things together as a couple. Apply to Y Combinator together. Slap Paul Graham in the face together. Howl at the moon together.

1. Steal a boat and sail as far away from civilization as you can in a day. At night, look at the stars with your entire body. Weep.