2017 Year in Review by Cassandra Lam

I attribute my inspiration for this post to the annual tradition of being digitally bombarded with all sorts of lists about the moments, people, and media that defined that particular year. As someone who personally struggles with remembering what she did last weekend, nonetheless 6 months ago, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to document some of my discoveries, works-in-progress, and reflections as I begin to set my intentions for 2018. I'm already looking forward to reading this one year later as I'm hopefully drafting my 2018 Year in Review. There's a really weird adrenaline rush that comes with observing a temporally bounded chapter of your own life from a distance with an outsider's perspective. 

I've never believed in New Year's resolutions because why not live your best life daily? But I do believe deeply in designing the life that you want, including the unsexy work of laying a solid and strong foundation for your dreams to unfold. You can't reap what you sow if you're planting your seeds haphazardly in shallow and unfertilized soil! And with joyful exception to the experience of being hangry and wondering when your Seamless order will arrive just as the doorbell rings, nothing great ever happened by making a wish while sitting on your ass.

Theme of the Year

One theme has emerged over and over in my life this year - the importance of disconnecting to reconnect. I first mentioned this on Instagram when I returned from the Amazon Rainforest because it was topical after a couple days without cell service and WiFi. I knew in advance that would be the case during our stay and in fact welcomed the brief reprieve from hyper-accessibility. What I didn't expect was that it would be harder than easy breezy. The funny thing is that it wasn't the actual inability to contact or be contacted that bothered me; it was the in-your-face realization of all the ways I rely on my smartphone as a crutch. Rendered useless except for photos or journaling, my sneaky phone still found its way into my hands at unexpected moments. Sometimes, it would take more than a few seconds before I even noticed. I recognized then that my smartphone is a habit and a reliable source of distraction that my autopilot brain has been trained to crave. I've read and scoffed at many articles claiming the dangers of being slave to your devices, but I never believed it could be me! It's humbling to be proven wrong.

To extend this concept beyond devices, I've been personally exploring the art of purposely breaking life as we know it apart, especially when we recognize that it no longer serves us in its current state. Change can be uncomfortable, but shattering routine, normalcy, and comfort frees you up to rearrange the pieces into something new of your own making. Whenever I feel internal turmoil and friction bubbling up, I know I'm about to face a great shift. I consider the discomfort a reminder of our innate unknowable power and potential to create, build, and empower our future right here, right now, within ourselves.  It's a profound exercise in willpower and fortitude, but incredibly inspiring if you can overcome. 

Evolution comes in many forms and many times over the course of a lifetime. Sometimes it's forced by fate, but many times, it's the consequence of decisions we make. There’s infinite power and potential when you recognize that you need not wait for it - whatever it may be - to simply happen to you. At any given moment, we can choose to let what is old, stagnant, or toxic die to make space for the future. Rebirth is within our two hands and always just around the corner. 

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Highlights

  • Traveled throughout Brazil (my first jaunt in South America) with my best friend Reena Choudhry, where we developed a penchant for caipirinhas, witnessed the most intense thunderstorm in the Amazon Rainforest, and met Chef Alex Atala after a spectacular meal at D.O.M
  • Completed an 18-month fellowship with Revive the Dream Institute, an education nonprofit that develops emerging community leaders into education advocates
  • Authored a case study on the politics of public school funding in Vermont that was published by Edbuild in Making Change: Favorable Conditions for Education Finance Reform
  • Competed in Opera Open Semifinals (my company's internal innovation competition) where our team presented an app-based solution to provide electric vehicle drivers with optimized charging station recommendations
  • Took a leap of faith to pursue my first big passion project with Akin: digital storytelling platform that collects and elevates anonymous short stories 
  • Piloted and launched Communally by Akin: an intentional dinner series to bring Akin's mission to life by building community centered on practices of vulnerability, empathy, and storytelling
  • Recorded a fun interview with my friend Matt Scott for Let's Care where we discussed unexpected career trajectory changes, finding purpose, and the ups & downs of growing your passion project
  • Befriended the lovely Karen Mok, a fellow creator + storyteller + community builder, who is now also my partner behind a soon-to-be-announced initiative for AAPI women focused on tackling the question, "What does it look like for Asian American women to flourish and thrive?"
  • Maintained a dedicated yoga practice as I entered my 4th year as a lifelong student, found my wellness/spiritual family through Woom Center, and contemplated the right time to undergo yoga teacher training 

Lessons

1. Treat gratitude like Sriracha and put that shit on everything!


Think of your favorite sauce or seasoning. How does it change the taste of your food? What's enhanced or elevated in your experience of eating? Everything is somehow better, even if the kitchen made a mistake and your mashed potatoes were a little cold, right?

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I began treating gratitude as a serious and intentional practice this year. It stemmed from a feeling of finally hitting my stride in New York, which emboldened me to put myself out there in a ways I had never done before. Three years ago, I could not have done any of the things I did this year. I simply wasn't capable given my physical, mental, and emotional state of affairs. So what changed?

I realized that the people I surround myself with are my source of power.

They are endlessly inspiring, funny, talented, creative, supportive, and best of all, seriously fun to be around. By being themselves and sharing their lives with me, I am empowered to be myself too. When I started to notice how good this all felt, it became easy to recognize how my community impacts me and how many teachers I have all around at any given moment. Taking the perspective that I am and will always be a student, willing to learn from anyone and anything in front of me on my journey of self-discovery, I can't help but overflow with thanks. It's become my personal duty to inject love into each hug, handshake, or smile I share with the people who make me feel abundant.

In most things, there is virtue in moderation but when it comes to gratitude, I'm shamelessly overzealous. Seasoning my life daily with it has been life-changing and I believe it shows in my demeanor. If you need a visual, imagine those frustratingly crappy pepper shakers that release just 5 specks per shake. They're annoying and useless because nobody wants just 5 specks - you always want more! Rip off the top of the shaker AKA the barrier keeping all those wonderful specks of gratitude pepper out and shake happily away! 

2. Time and attention can be created, but never taken back. Use with care and good intentions!

 

Whatever your creative outlet or side hustle, I learned this year that if you're working on something outside of your full-time job, your concept of time, free or busy, will radically change. It simply must be spent a lot differently than before. Sure, this sounds glaringly obvious, but in reality, it's pretty freakin' hard to adjust to. I waved the transition away easily at first because I likened it to cramming for finals week in college while friends who finished exams earlier got to enjoy the break.

However, unlike college which provided a structure to follow, your 5-9 time slot is what you make of it. No one's holding you accountable except yourself, and self-discipline is hard because you can push the guilt away for later. In practice, it requires daily sacrifices - saying no to others in order to say yes to yourself, using weekends as work time, scheduling phone calls and hang outs in advance, and being a bit more unreachable than you might like to carve out space to create.

Naturally, I frequently found myself feeling drained, lonely, or exhausted. But I also discovered a new appreciation for the concept of time and attention that made me more mindful, thoughtful, and present. Now, whenever I make plans with people, it feels extra special because it's a decision I am consciously making in alignment with my goals.

3. Self-care is not a joke; it's a survival tactic.


I'm a chronic over-committer who constantly struggles to strike a balance between what I need to do for myself and what I want to do for other people. I've always known that being around people makes me happy, but I'm still trying to figure out what that ideal composition of personal vs. social should be. There were a few times this year when I had to last minute or near last minute pull out of a commitment that I realized was a disservice to my well-being or an overextension of my energy. I really dislike doing that to other people out of respect for their time so I'd like to continue fine-tuning this balance.

I'd also like to factor in time to process and formulate opinions on various aspects of my life as part of my self-care routine. I tend to careen headfirst in the fast lane as that's my default pace for all things in life. It can be an exciting way to live but, as it turns out, really shitty for reflection and learning.
 

4. Sleep is not for the weak; it's for the wise.


It's official and I can no longer deny what my body needs - I realized this year that I need 8-9 hours of sleep per night to operate at my optimal level. Given the nature of my full-time job, my unwillingness to give up my evening yoga practice, and the projects I'm involved in, it's proven awfully tricky to get into bed at a decent and consistent hour.

I started using the Sleep Cycle app to monitor my sleeping patterns and train myself to wake up on the right side of the bed (i.e. not in REM state). It's improved my mental focus and chances of being clear-headed enough for creative work in the hours before my full-time job. However, as a naturally nocturnal person, I struggle with putting things down in the evenings and pay for my stubbornness in the mornings when I'm chugging caffeine like nobody's business. My sleep schedule should reflect my priorities or else I'm choosing to operate at less than my full potential, which sounds outright silly when I say it aloud.

5. The most important job you'll ever have is to become yourself.


Everything that's happened this year forced me to look inward for strength and ultimately, peace. I am as Type A as they come and am used to operating with a belief that I can plan for everything that life hurls at me. So it took a tough year like 2017 to really clarify a truth that I've been in denial of since birth - we can't control anything in the world except for ourselves. This includes how we choose to perceive things that happen to us, how we react vs. act, and what we hold onto vs. let go of. Contrary to belief, surrendering to this ultimate truth is not a sign of weakness or giving up. It's an embrace of what actually is as opposed to what we think or feel. It's laser focus on what actually matters without being misguided by feelings or expectations. It's self-preservation when we choose only to allocate time, energy, and attention to what we can actionably do to move forward.

I've been trying to learn how to get out of my own way by clearing the blockages or superficial distractions that used to dominate my life. Instead of letting my expectations rule my life, I'm coming to terms with the fact that none of us really know what's best for us in the moment since we can't look into the future. By making space mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, what I truly need can make its way to me.

Anthem

2017 has undoubtedly been a year of fights on many fronts. This song is consistently at the top of my playlist because it illustrates the catharsis that awaits when you break through a struggle. It's great to listen to whenever you need a little reminder of your own strength or if you want to flip the bird at something (or someone) standing in your way.

The Muscle Memory of Loss: How Yoga Saved Me from Myself by Cassandra Lam

This October will mark 3 years since yoga saved my life.

I’m reminded of it each year when the final days of September melt away to welcome earlier sunsets and cooler evenings. One sniff of autumn’s first crisp air and I'm teleported right back to where it all started. To where I started. This visceral reflex, once capable of robbing me of breath and voice, lands differently now, but still hits me hard. I twitch from time to time from the muscle memory of loss. The difference is now, I don’t break.

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In October 2014, I was reeling from an unexpected break-up that put an end to a serious relationship with someone I thought, just maybe, someday, I might marry. I was deeply in love and it was devastating. It was really hard for me to cope – we had been swept up and intoxicated by each other from the start, delving into the most interesting conversations for hours on end, studying with undying interest each other’s souls. Then, we were nothing.

The pain of separation in the aftermath was crippling. It often brought me to my knees on the bathroom floor where I would sob alone until I exhausted myself enough to sleep. Other times, I'd curl up tight into a ball under my comforter, clutching my stomach, sometimes screaming into my pillow in anguish, wishing that I didn't have to face the world. I hate pretending that everything is okay when it's not, but never as much as I've always hated people asking me, "Are you okay?" for weeks on end.

We broke up on September 27, 2014. I remember the date vividly because we met up after I took one of my best friends out for a belated birthday dinner in LA. Perhaps it was naivete, but I was so brutally unprepared for what was to come. The remainder of the conversation by now is one big blur, but I'm certain I was reduced to a blubbering puddle of tears. To make matters worse, the terms of our particular break-up were extremely complicated, layered, and fuzzy. It was the kind of break-up where you couldn't point a finger at anyone or say with confidence what the right decision or best path forward looked like. There was no winner, just two losers, neither of whom had answers to the big questions looming over our heads.

Have you seen the movie 500 Days of Summer? The male protagonist, Tom, goes into a dark spiral after his girlfriend Summer breaks up with him. While I’ve never been the kind of person to wear struggle publicly, I felt like Tom on the inside – beaten up, emotionally volatile, and stuck on replaying the what-ifs. I didn’t know what to do with myself to silence the din of shitty thoughts in my head. 

To make matters worse, I had been in a rut all summer in a couple different ways:

  1. I was starting to dread coming into the office because of the politics and personalities
  2. I increasingly realized I didn't love my job and my career wasn’t where I wanted it to be
  3. I felt directionless and questioned my decision to not apply to law school
  4. I had been itching to find my community but couldn't seem to break out of my own circles or comfort zone
  5. I kept comparing myself to friends who had found their passion, their THING to excel at and succeed in, and criticizing myself for not having accomplished the same

The break-up was the final straw that broke the camel's back. I felt like I was free-falling towards rock bottom. Any day now, I expected to hit the pavement and smash into smithereens. To my surprise, I landed on something much softer. My yoga mat and this ancient practice saved me.

In desperation, I threw myself into the deep end of my yoga practice. It was the only thing in my schedule that shut my mind up and put a pause on the real world. At the time, I was practicing at Hot 8 Yoga in Santa Monica, a studio down the street from my office. I went to class religiously ~6-7 days a week, sometimes taking 2 classes a day on weekends, pushing my body to its limits in order to feel something, anything, other than pain. The heated studio cut right through the mental fog I struggled with in reality. I became addicted to the way my heart beat strong in my chest during these 60-90 minutes of class; it reminded me that I was still alive. My practice became the one thing I looked forward to every day, a brief reprieve before I relapsed into dark places again. It was a sacred ritual for myself by myself.

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After each class, I’d walk out of the studio and take a deep breath of fresh air, feeling so purified from head to toe, but dreading the slow, awful return of reality. In the beginning, it would hit me hard just 20 minutes after class ended during the car home. But slowly, that became 25 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours. I grew stronger and saw my body change in fascinating ways. My scrawny arms could finally do a proper push-up. I could inhale and exhale deeper than before. After years of terrible posture and at times, excruciating pain, my back finally found relief. Eventually, I stopped seeing a chiropractor altogether because yoga took care of my issues. But the most stark change of all was in my mind. My thoughts, usually so loud, critical, and relentless, had started to quiet down to a manageable pace. Instead of my sadness dominating my consciousness every waking moment, throwing me into a reactive state where I had no power over my emotions, I began to feel more in control. I could breathe and reckon with my new reality.

The reminder of once being broken came really close to making me bitter and hardened. Going to bed with only your demons to keep you company takes a toll. So does waking up enshrouded in darkness and fatigue. Some days I wanted to give up. But eventually, I grew tired of being this sad, shriveled, and cowardly version of myself. I realized to move past this, I had to fight for my own transformation. It was, and continues to be, a sobering and humbling process. The road, peppered with ugly moments, doesn’t lead to glory or redemption for a long time. But if you keep at it and do the work, even sadness has the potential to metamorphose into something beautiful.

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The Japanese created an art form dedicated to celebrating the beauty in broken things. Kintsugi is a method of restoring that which is broken with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. Rather than hide the cracks, kintsugi philosophy is dedicated to celebrating the history and reality of an object by making something beautiful out of its own imperfection.

And that, to me, is the practice of yoga.

Dancing in your darkness to truly know yourself. Running towards your demons to feel the things that typically scare us in order to taste freedom. Coming to terms with the natural duality in life that's required to appreciate happiness. Recognizing my brokenness with sincere humility and love instead of shame. Finding the courage to forge something more powerful, beautiful, and sacred in the face of the ugliness that makes being human inexplicably wonderful. Acknowledging that I will forever be a student of my own struggles with so much more to learn. Understanding that ultimately I can only control myself, but that if I know how to do so healthily, my Self is all that I’ll ever need.

P.S. Kintsugi is also the name of the last album from Death Cab for Cutie. A couple months after the break-up, I packed up my things and flew cross-country to move to New York. When this album was released in Spring 2015, I saw the album cover art and felt drawn to the philosophy behind kintsugi. Carrying that knowledge - that new beauty is made from imperfection - into my healing process, I felt, for the first time, that my own transformation was coming. That it was already underway. I didn't need to wait for any signs to start becoming myself again. And No Room in Frame was my favorite song off of this album for these opening lines:

I don’t know where to begin
There’s too many things that I can’t remember
I disappeared like a trend
In the hum of the five in the early morning
— "No Room in Frame" by Death Cab for Cutie

A Call to Action to My Fellow Asian-Americans in the face of Domestic Terrorism by Cassandra Lam

As an Asian-American woman who is active in social justice and activism work here in NY, I'd like to take an opportunity to publicly declare my solidarity, now and always, in action and in words, with my black and brown brothers and sisters. I deeply believe in dismantling the multiple fucked up systems of oppression heavily at play every day in America. It manifests in many forms, some of the most dangerous taking shape as institutions that racist, patriarchal white men created to divide and control people of color. Much of what we've been spoon fed in terms of the dominant narrative or history books says that this is just how it's always been, as if these efforts are circumstantial and not in fact concerted, legislated, and evil attempts to maintain a hierarchy that places whiteness at the top while invalidating and demeaning other racial and ethnic groups.

It's not easy removing the veils of ignorance that enshroud each of us and have formed much of our understanding of the world. But as human beings, it's our responsibility and moral duty to educate ourselves on the ways in which the privileges we have and thrive by daily are founded upon the systemic oppression of other communities. Trying to stand aside or remain silent because this fight doesn't directly impact you is cowardly and detrimental to your own livelihood. A hierarchy that places whiteness at the top thrives on the hope that peoples of color will fight and destroy one another in the rat race for a better position. While we may live here and perhaps even hold citizenship here, this country wasn't really designed for us - POC came here as slaves, refugees, immigrants, products of war/colonization. For indigenous folk who are native to this continent, the soil we exist on today was actually robbed from them. Truthfully, America was designed by white people for white people in 1776 and until we force our way into the White House, Congress, the C-suite of top banks/corporations, schools, police departments, courtrooms, etc., it will never be for us.

White supremacy exists and remains strong because it doesn't JUST look like the KKK or men with tiki torches. It lives in institutions as well as daily interactions of our lives. It lives through those who point at the racist people perpetrating violence on TV and shout, "See, that's not me! I'm not like that!" instead of consciously engaging in dialogue with yourself and your communities to test your beliefs and actions. It lives when people remain silent because it's uncomfortable to push the envelope or stick your neck out for someone else's cause.

Earlier today, I saw a tweet that called on white people to get their people. As an Asian-American woman, consider this my way of trying to get to my fellow Asian-Americans in hopes that we can mobilize and find our voice/stance in the resistance. There's no safety for us and any sense of it right now is tenuous at best - our fake security only exists because white supremacy, for now, considers us less a threat than black and brown communities.

If anyone wants to have a conversation, ask questions, or join me in any upcoming activist or healing events as we ground our boots into the dirt for the continued fight ahead, please reach out. I wasn't always this woke and I've still got tons to learn, but I'm always willing to devote some of my energy to bringing more people along.

Getting Off My Armchair: Activism & Action for Our (Not Trump's) America by Cassandra Lam

Exactly 8 days ago, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the United State's 45th president. Under normal circumstances, I would have watched. But on January 20th, I chose instead to go on a detox. Even if it was just for a day, I figured no television + no news = less bullshit. So my TV stayed off all day. I diverted my eyes from screens on the subway or street. I temporarily turned off push notifications on my phone. I didn't read the news or check Feedly (my fave news aggregator app). I stayed away from Twitter. If I checked Facebook, I focused exclusively on connecting with friends. 

It was the first time in my adult life that I opted to boycott an event of such national and political significance. As someone who believes deeply in the importance of tuning into your surroundings and the world at large, I anticipated feeling guilty. However, I was pleasantly surprised when that didn't happen. Instead, my information detox was empowering, clarifying, and cleansing. It was an act of radical self-care for myself and a symbol of my resolve going forward. It was also an act of protest, silent in comparison to the ones I hope to be part of in the future but powerful in intention. By reclaiming my mental space, I vowed to protect myself from negativity in order to make room for positivity and productivity. Many of the fronts I've been fighting on or advocating for are causes I've cared about for a long time, but January 20th marked a renewal of that commitment. 

Despite your political leaning, I think it goes without saying that the 2016 election cycle was tumultuous, frightening, and outright zany. A lot of hateful statements that I hoped to never hear from any human being's mouth, nonetheless the president elect's, were uttered. I lost count of the accusations lobbed against him and the childish verbal threats he launched back. Scandal and controversy emerged seemingly without pause. Trump's deplorable actions and words served directly as fodder to news outlets at the ready to distill headlines to the American people.

Since I've never been one to keep my mouth shut when it comes to justice or things I care about, I couldn't stop myself from reacting and feeling deeply for those harmed by Trump's messages. Over time, this took a devastating toll on my wellbeing. Processing everything he said or did depleted all of my reserve energy and robbed me of my ability to focus on other topics. Having to put on a smile at work on days when I just wanted to crumple to the floor wore away at my willpower. The disappointment I felt from not being equipped to do more than post my opinion or stance on Facebook ate away at my good intentions. Interaction with other people even began to feel effortful and demoralizing as a predictable pattern emerged - regardless of topic, there was always a turning point in conversation when someone would mention his name.

He was truly inevitable.

So approximately 4 months ago when it became apparent that he might just win it all, I started thinking - really thinking - about what was going on and what I wanted to do from here on out. Aside from casting my vote and encouraging others to do the same, what was I going to do? How could I prepare? What was my personal Plan B in the event that my worse case scenario came true?

When I took a step back to examine what he had done to the country in the span of a year, it was incredibly eye-opening to see the chaos he had orchestrated. In a world where we can't stop ourselves from watching train wrecks, where we can't peel our eyes away from our screens, where we can't help but respond at lightning speed to stimuli, Trump had us exactly where he wanted us. By bombarding us with so much content, without any regard for truth or falsehood, he overloaded our senses, triggering our emotional responses over and over. At best, our emotions can spur us into action and bring people together. But at worst, they have a way of clouding our minds and weighing us down if we let them. With enough time, our emotions can weaken us if we don't pay attention and especially if we don't make time to take care of ourselves. When you're overcome with despair, you're incapacitated. When you're incapacitated, you're rendered immobile. Immobile people can't organize movements, strategically plan, connect with others, or fight effectively. Trump's tactics and behavior would suggest that he was banking on just that.

The above realization really lit a fire in me. Over the course of the last year, I had poured so much energy into being angry and criticizing his incompetence, but I had nothing to show for it. It became clear to me that none of it really matters unless I take decisive action.

Unless we each decide for ourselves as individuals to take our tears, feelings, and rants out into the community.

Unless we vow to put ourselves on the line for our beliefs in ways we never did before.

Unless we protect one another and empower other voices to join our movements.

Unless we got up off our soapboxes, mobilized. and started talking to each other in person.

Regardless of whether our plans are perfect. Even if we don't necessarily know the right path forward right away.

Now, whenever I felt exhausted, I instead channel that energy into learning. I started doing research, signing up for newsletters, and bookmarking news outlets, websites, and blogs that I could rely on. I began to identify people in my network who I felt I could turn to for guidance or support. I got really freakin' clear about my beliefs and prioritized the issues I felt deserved my energy the most. I maintained my yoga practice, viewing each class as a way of practicing openness, compassion, and empathy for others.

I decided that I wasn't going to just get angry on the sidelines anymore. Instead, if something makes me feel weak, I'd like to react by doing something strong. One thing that makes me feel damn strong is getting out into the community where our individual acts of resistance can inspire others to do the same in their own ways. The momentum since Inauguration Day has been great, but lasting movements are built on the backs of people prepared to actually execute.

So let's act!

From here on out, I'd like to use my personal website as a platform for sharing organizations, links, resources, and events that I'm either interested in, part of, or believe in. The list will span the full spectrum of diverse topics I care about, some of which will be more relevant to current events than others. My goal is write a new blog post at least twice a month to share these resources or to write about experiences on the frontline of my activism. If you'd like to talk or discuss ways to collaborate on something together, feel free to contact me!


Interesting Reads

  1. A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, And What the Majority Can Do by George Lakoff
  2. 8 WAYS TO BE AN ACTIVIST WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE TIME by Mae Wiskin
  3. Persuasion in a “Post-Truth” World by Troy Campbell, Lauren Griffin, & Annie Neimand

Useful Links

  1. Adaptive Leadership: Mobilizing for Change from +Acumen
    1. +Acumen Complete Online Course Offerings
  2. Audrie & Daisy: A Netflix Documentary by Bonnie Cohen and John Shenk - "An urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera."
  3. Jigsaw by Google - "We’re an incubator within Alphabet that builds technology to tackle some of the toughest global security challenges facing the world today—from thwarting online censorship to mitigating the threats from digital attacks to countering violent extremism to protecting people from hate and harassment online."

Organizations

Reproductive Health, Access, and Justice

  1. All Above All
  2. Collective Sex

Government, Politics, and Citizenship

  1. She Should Run
  2. 5 Calls 
  3. Swing Left 
  4. Organizing for Action - Non-profit and grassroots community organizing movement closely aligned with Barack Obama's agenda
    1. Healthcare - ACA aka Obamacare
    2. Immigration Reform
    3. Climate Change
  5. Countable - Available on your browser or for iOS/Android

Sexual Violence

  1. Know Your IX

Intersectional Feminism

  1. Equality for HER 
  2. New Women Space

Events

NOTE: I'll personally be attending events in bold

Sunday 1/29 

  1. Brooklyn, NYC
    1. "What Happens to My Eggs?" hosted by Collective Sex - panel discussion on reproductive health and justice
  2. By Phone
    1. Ready to Resist: Emergency Call #2 with MoveOn.org, Working Families Party, and People's Action 

Wednesday 2/1 in Washington, D.C. or Livestream

  1. Shattering the Silence: A Conversation on the Capitol - Register to attend the panel discussion on sexual violence in person or for a link to the livestream

Wednesday 2/8 in Manhattan, NYC

  1. Town Hall on Diversity & Inclusion by Ladies Get Paid

Ongoing/Multiple Dates in Manhattan, NYC

  1. Impact Hub's 100 Days of Impact

Alone and Unafraid by Cassandra Lam

This is Part 2 of a series dedicated to demystifying some misconceptions and initiating honest dialogue around solo travel by sharing some of my personal experiences. Find Part 1 here.

Alcázar in Sevilla, Spain

Alcázar in Sevilla, Spain

I. The Why

Last month's trip to Spain was the second adventure to come out of this new solo traveling habit I fell into. While there were a few hiccups, including a mild panic attack over the incompleteness of my itinerary, there were many noticeable and welcome differences this time around. Sitting at JFK, waiting for my flight to Barcelona, and inhaling my first breaths of freedom - all of it felt good. Maybe even borderline natural. 

By some miracle called TSA Pre-Check, I, for once, was not sweating bullets or fearful of missing my flight. The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering softly out of excitement instead of anxiety. My bags felt lighter this year so I was confident that I had packed just the right amount of stuff (though in a few days, I'd realize how wrong I was). Surprisingly, I was comfortably at ease with the uncertainty before me and inherent to solo travel. All the things that scared me before had transformed into the parts I looked forward to most. 

Funny how that works, right?

When I set out to do Italy solo last fall, there were so many things I was doing for the first time all at once - staying in hostels, navigating a new public transit system (this is a big deal because I'm Californian, we've spent 90% of our lives in the driver's seat in traffic), communicating in a foreign language, attempting to backpack properly, and going out in unfamiliar places as a woman. Naturally, all this newness generated some apprehension. I worried over every unknown, wondered how I'd like being alone, and was concerned that I would never meet people I could connect with. However, when I came back from the trip happier, healthier, and a few pounds heavier than before (NO REGRETS!), I knew it wouldn’t be my last foray.

That first trip to Italy in October 2015 was, in essence, about doing something new that scared the hell out of me. But in a good way. 

2015 was a tough year full of transition and changes. I had just moved to New York in January, started a new job in a new industry, and was attempting to live in the aftermath of a devastating breakup I had left behind. Living in New York gave me a fresh start physically, but the belongings I had shed to get here were just the first of a few layers of things, people, and ideas I needed to let go of. There were consequences and skeletons I had to face, and that's never easy or pretty to look at. In fact, it's really freaking hard.

Some parts of me just needed time, but other parts of me clearly needed more. This became evident when the perfectly type A, pre-planned, structured life I had built for myself, which is normally my environment of choice, actually began to suffocate me. My life felt and tasted so bland. An itch for change pestered me day in and day out. Suddenly, I was eager to strip away the crutches, staleness, and routine that had begun to seep into my life. I was loving New York, but it didn't fix me or fill me. Oddly, it wasn't enough.

I realized that I was unhappy being my same old sad self in this beautiful new place.

So I kept looking outwards for a catalyst to shock me awake. I was hungry to kickstart the process, something to just get it over with so that I could stop hurting. I wanted to be myself again, except better and stronger. But most of all, I craved to live again, free from the series of events that I had allowed to define me for so long.

All of this internal noise made me increasingly curious about life outside the boundaries of my own embarrassingly limited experiences with the world. I had always toyed with the idea of going abroad alone, though never seriously. However, the longer it sat on my mind, the more traveling sounded like the best way to satisfy my curiosity while also giving me space to figure myself out. It began to feel right, if not also timely, to do something unexpected for once.

In surprising ways that I never could've imagined, it worked.

II. The WTF (aka What Solo Travel Is and Isn't)

On Keeping It Real(istic)

First off, I'd like to say that I've never believed that travel is the answer to every problem, and I still don't. Just because a Thought Catalog or Buzzfeed listicle claims that dropping everything to travel is the only solution to a millennial existential crisis does not mean there's any truth to it. In fact, we'd all be better off not relying on Thought Catalog for anything, least of all life advice. At least Buzzfeed is funny!

In all seriousness, I have issue with the consequences of that kind of messaging because it misleads people into thinking it’s the cure all or that their lives are not validated until they travel. At the risk of stating the obvious, traveling to run away (or running away in general) from something will not fix the problem itself. But if you’re looking to work on yourself - whether that means expanding your physical, emotional, and mental horizons, making conscious effort to be more open-minded, taking time off to reset or relax, learning new things, exploring interests or curiosities - then I think travel is definitely one way to go about it aggressively and uniquely.

On Friendships and Impact

Based on my own experiences and those of others I met abroad, I'd argue that it's almost impossible to return from a solo trip unchanged in at least a few fundamental ways. In fact, if you have returned from a solo trip unchanged, I would like you to message me about it! I'm that confident in what feels like fact to me and everyone else I've had the pleasure of speaking at length about this with. There is something about being alone, outside of your reality, in a foreign environment, surrounded by like-minded travelers that serves as a recipe for some magical and unforgettable experiences.

While sharing in new experiences with other people is in and of itself rewarding, I've found that my favorite moments come in the form of honest conversation. Hearing other travelers' life stories is incredibly moving. Yes, if you can believe it, I actually shut my mouth more abroad and turn into a conscious listener because I'm so engaged by everyone else! You quickly realize their struggles, heartbreaks, desires, and dreams are not at all unlike your very own.

Over time, these connections can grow into an amazing global network of friends, all comprised of people you would never have met were it not for the trip. I still keep in contact with some of the friends I made abroad when I was in Italy, some of whom I almost met up with in Germany for Oktoberfest this year! Unfortunately, it didn't work out, but the friends I made are people I'd feel comfortable messaging if I ever found myself in Europe or Australia and vice versa.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

In my previous post, I mentioned making new friends in Barcelona. David and Tony (the 2 gentlemen above) became my best friends during the 5 days we spent together exploring one of the greatest Spanish cities. We met on the first night at our hostel after David invited me to join in for some drinking games. When we parted ways to visit different cities in Spain afterwards, we all expressed excitement for the next time our paths would cross again (which actually wouldn't be tough since they live in Canada). The magical thing about making a friend abroad is that at the end of your time together, you've already shared so many adventures and laughs. Traveling together really accelerates how well you get to know someone. You'd be surprised at how willingly and how much you can open up to a stranger. Hence the quality of the friendships you make has this special weightiness to it that's incomparable to meeting someone randomly at home. 

On Going with the Flow

While many things will be out of your control, I've found that maintaining perspective, flexibility, and an open mind are crucial to a successful solo trip. More so than all the supplies you can fit into your luggage, I believe these 3 things are paramount to succeeding solo. Why?

Because the only constant is that shit happens when you're abroad.

Somehow, some way, it does and it always will so you should expect at least a few of your plans shifting. You aren't always going to have the best roommates at your hostel. If you think it, there's a decent likelihood that you will even run into really frustrating or outright annoying people. Pickpockets run rampant in many parts of the world, and robberies do happen from time to time. Getting lost is a given at least once or twice. If you're anything like me, you might even lose a few belongings by accident or carelessness so avoid packing anything too valuable or precious. Stuck in traffic and missed your train? You're definitely not the first or last person this will happen to. If you can embrace or at least maintain your cool through all of the above scenarios, the more wonderful aspects of solo travel will happen on their own.

On Discussing Solo Travel Healthily

Last but not least, I firmly believe that the decision to travel solo is one that everyone should make for themselves. When I first started talking about traveling alone, I quickly discovered that many people wanted to warn me of the dangers of solo travel before they could support me. This knee-jerk reaction is natural and understandable, especially when it comes from well-intentioned family and friends. It's also somewhat expected because in the US, the idea of solo travel is still fairly niche and uncommon, especially for women. Nevertheless, it can get overwhelming and frustrating to reason with this perspective

I felt this most acutely when it came time to tell my parents about my plans. When the "I'm going to die at some point anyway!" joke/argument did not go over well, I had to get creative to figure out the best way to communicate my intentions. It wasn't until I realized something pretty profound that I was able to better understand and reason with my parents. Sometimes, the people you love try to convince you not to do something because they could never imagine themselves doing the same. 

I definitely made my fair share of mistakes in trying to talk through solo travel with my friends and family. Hopefully you'll avoid doing the same! Here are some helpful ways to initiate more productive discussions with loved ones:

  1. Try to listen fully and respectfully to what they're saying. Thank them for sharing their concerns.
  2. Be clear about the reasons why you want to travel solo, what makes it important to you, and what you hope to gain. The better you are able to articulate your why, the more confident they'll feel that this is something you've thought through fully.
  3. Show that you've done your research to dismantle their fears of the unknown. Break down the 'scariest' aspects of solo travel and talk through those scenarios (how you would face them, resources you can rely on, ways you will keep in contact, etc.) together.
  4. Offer to provide contact information as necessary to calm worried family or friends. Something as simple as sharing your itinerary or setting up daily/weekly check-in emails, calls, or text messages can do a whole lot of good.

III. The Whoa

In the year after my first solo trip to Italy, there was a lot of internal assessment and shifting, a shedding of my old skin to become my most authentic self. My experiences abroad humbled me and taught me how to be self-sufficient again. I returned surer of who I was and who I still wanted to become. Where I was once unknowingly ruled by fear, I gained clarity and resolve to commit to living out my values daily. This allowed me to return to my life in New York happier as well as noticeably more tolerant, honest, and compassionate towards others. The lessons from this trip opened me up to both myself and the world, but perhaps the most important lesson of all (and indeed, the real work) was in how I could continue the self-discovery at home. 

Some Reasons Why I Love to Travel Alone:

  1. To be unapologetically selfish with myself. When I'm abroad, I make a point to be a little reckless, to practice doing things outside my comfort zone, and to meditate through it all. This process of purposeful self care allows me to reconnect with who I am when I’m not inundated with obligation or stimuli. Sometimes I even discover new things about myself!
  2. To continuously define and come closer to my values. Distancing myself from my everyday life really puts into perspective the who, what, and why of everything that matters most to me. 
  3. To consciously put in the work to know myself in my most authentic skin. Every encounter abroad serves as a test to see who I am and what I'm capable of. Am I a good person not just sometimes, but at all times? Have I learned how to be more patient? How do I react when things don't go my way? How do I interact with people who are different from me? These are just a few questions I can explore through actions or interactions to evaluate where I'm at and if that position makes me happy. 
  4. To surround myself with diversity and experiences from which I hope to grow.
  5. To shed unconscious bias and invisible divisions that can create toxic dichotomies: me vs. you, us vs. them, the United States vs. the world, etc. I find freedom in dismantling my own perceptions and love to hear what people from around the world think. Meeting people from different cultures also reminds me that there are so many things I don't know. It's refreshing to discover that we always have so much more to learn.
  6. To disconnect completely in order to recharge more fully. This is so important, especially in New York City where our lives can easily become defined by work. Doing this means that when I do return to everyday life, I'm excited to dive into the work I love and want to focus my energies on.
  7. To empower myself as a strong, independent, and competent woman who can thrive in all sorts of environments. I hope in turn it serves as an example that women definitely can survive abroad and do adventurous things alone.

Final Thoughts

In contrast to Italy, this year’s solo trip was more about reaffirming what I had first discovered and continuing to push every boundary simply because I can. I wanted to see what would happen if I started saying yes to opportunities and purposefully shied away from any debilitating form of safety. In San Sebastian, this mentality spurred me into spontaneity, something I don’t exercise enough in real life. I signed up for my first surfing class and ended up loving every second. I got my ass kicked by a few big waves, swallowed tons of ocean water, and bore some cuts and bruises. But I felt alive.

The following day, I met a girl from Canada at my hostel and together, we decided to do stand-up paddle boarding. It wasn’t her first time, but it was mine. Standing in the ocean and staring back at the San Sebastian shoreline, I recall wanting to remember how it felt to say yes like this forever, despite the impossibility of that statement. It was inevitable that I would forget the fleeting feeling and the details of the moment.

San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian, Spain

But if I can keep doing things that make me feel alive this way, is it not the same?

Perhaps we are supposed to forget so that we can keep forging forward in search of new places, people, or experiences that cultivate this very feeling again.

I think so. 

Chasing Sunsets and Perfect Moments by Cassandra Lam

“You’re always searching for that perfect moment,” David said. 

I cocked my head, processing the words slowly. A group of us, strangers who had become quick friends at our hostel, were perched atop the cross in Park Guell, which is the highest point in the park. The group was quite diverse, comprised of 2 Canadians from Winnipeg, 2 Australians from Queensland, and myself. We had just set up our picnic in time to watch the sun as it began to set. With plastic wine glasses in our hands and mouths full of ibérico ham against a backdrop consisting of gorgeous 360 degree views of Barcelona, we were absolutely ready to live in our collectively co-created perfect moment. 

Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain

Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain

His words rung true to my ears.

This magical moment, accidental in nature, was exactly what I dreamed of orchestrating and sharing with my new friends during our time together in Barcelona. Not the actual picnic itself as that was just the natural thing to do since we all loved to eat anyway... but the bringing together of the right ingredients to create the feeling that something special yet intangible was happening. Best of all, I wasn't the only one who felt it. We all did. Sharing this with one other connected the dots.

The atmosphere was electric with our laughter and joyous spirits. We would end up talking, drinking, and joking around for hours past sunset. Towards dusk, a Spanish musician would set up near us to add sultry jazzy sounds that faded in and out of our group consciousness, as if he knew we needed a soundtrack to our perfect moment. By night, as the city lights of Barcelona lit up, the crowd that had been sitting atop the cross since sunset had quietly dispersed behind our backs. Who knew when they had left? But it was right as we decided to get up to snap some photos of the horizon. It was just in time. Funny how that works, right?

There, as we were, I wished that I could fully encapsulate the hours we shared into a photograph so that we could revisit it over and over in the future. It was hard to imagine a better place to be than exactly where we were, doing what we were doing, seeing what we were seeing. Everything turned out perfect, and that's an outcome you can't really plan for.

“You know, this is going to be that moment we all remember forever from this trip,” David continued.

We all nodded in agreement. In silence, I continued to marvel at the fact that someone who I met just yesterday was already able to get such a clear read on me. It was bone-chilling how accurate it was. It warmed my soul. 

In a few short days, we would all be parting ways to continue on our respective travels. Normally, this would sound sad but in our cases, it lent an extra sweetness to it all. That’s the thing about traveling alone - you come to recognize the beautiful and transient nature of all things, people included. With the understanding that nothing lasts forever, you often find yourself connecting quickly, sometimes quite deeply, with people you may or may not ever see again. Maybe it's the level of distanced anonymity we can retain through brevity of contact? Or fearlessness in the face of a lack of judgment or knowledge of your past? Whatever it is, the friendships you create abroad are open, honest, and have a certain levity as the result of the brief but fun times shared together. These unique bonds can exist without expectation, serving as a welcome breath of fresh air against American lifestyles characterized by obligations and rules.

"Cheers to Barcelona, guys!"

Instead of yearning for what was, we clinked our plastic wine glasses as best we could, savored our time, and prepared for the next adventure to come.

Podcasting into Productivity by Cassandra Lam

Podcasting has recently taken over my life, and I absolutely love it. 

Since I moved to New York City in 2015, one of the absolute sweetest changes in my everyday life was the elimination of the need to drive to work (or anywhere, for that matter). Unfortunately, that's definitely not to say that I'm spending less time in transit. Whether on foot, on the subway, or in a cab, New Yorkers always seem to be on the go. Unlike in Los Angeles, however, where I was often found stuck behind the wheel, rendered useless, miles deep in a morbid sea of brake lights, this time in transit can actually be utilized for something! I've been obsessed with life-hacking my own daily routines lately to increase personal productivity and efficiency so I set out to find something useful that I could do with this time. 

Something I constantly struggle with during the week is finding the time and energy to stay current on both things going on in the world and things that personally interest me. While I thoroughly enjoy going on a good Internet news article binge as much as the next person, sometimes you simply can't afford such luxuries. And frankly, I find it overwhelming to sift through the fluff on the Internet to find quality pieces that are worth reading. So until there is a TL;DR button for everything that exists online, it remains a chore to get accurate and well-written information. Even with news aggregators such as Feedly, there is still an abundance of material to sift through daily, if not hourly. It's a lot for a set of tired eyes and a sleep-deprived brain to attempt to consume. 

This is where the wonderful world of podcasting comes in. Like many New Yorkers, I've adopted the habit of carrying headphones around everywhere, which makes it easy to tune into the things that matter to me on the go. It’s been a few months now, and I can honestly say I’m much more informed than before. Podcasting has given me a lot of joy in knowing that I am better utilizing all my time spent in transit. It has also empowered me to be more productive with my time overall, to stay current on the topics that matter most, and to feed my curiosities. If you have an interest, niche or not, there's likely a podcast for it, which makes it a fun exercise in discovering unique content! The added sense of accomplishment you get from multitasking like a champion is just the cherry on top. 

I found that diving headfirst into podcasting can be overwhelming at first. Hopefully the list below proves helpful as a starting point. Enjoy!

My Top 5 Podcasts of 2016:

  1. Slate's Double X Gabfest
    Feminism, like many other topics, is incredibly complex, diverse, and intersectional. As someone who's trying to do the work daily to uncover what exactly her feminist beliefs or stances are, I find it really helpful to listen to what others are thinking or saying in this same space. In a sense, it helps to put my thoughts into context and it informs my own decision-making.

    Double X Gabfest is hosted by 3 women - June Thomas, Hanna Rosin, and Noreen Malone. Each episode follows a similar format whereby the women discuss a handful of highly relevant topics (mostly drawing from current events) from a feminist perspective. Perhaps my favorite thing about this podcast is that the women don't always agree with each other. In fact, sometimes it's outright disagreement that leads to really thought-provoking arguments and eye-opening discourse, all of which lends more support to the fact that feminism is quite multidimensional. 

    Most recent episode: The Women and Headphones Edition
    My current favorite episode: Actually Good News for Women Edition
     
  2. Vox's The Weeds
    I am a closet policy geek, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I was recommended The Weeds from a good friend and I can't get enough. This podcast satisfies my heart's every little policy craving! The Weeds combines the tackling of highly relevant topics with discussions of policy, the implications of said policymaking, and really smart commentary.

    The 3 hosts (Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and Sarah Kliff) do a great job of summarizing each topic so that anyone listening in can understand. Similar to Double X Gabfest, the hosts each hold their own opinions and butt heads at times, which makes for really stimulating discussion. Each episode follows a similar format whereby the hosts discuss a few topics and then analyze a recently published white paper by dissecting its findings or approach live. 

    Most recent episode: Best Census Ever, the Trump Foundation, and Class Discrimination
    My current favorite episode: EpiPen Prices, the Clinton Foundation, and Lead Exposure
     
  3. Freakonomics Radio
    The majority of the reason why I enjoy Freakonomics is because I love the way Stephen Dubner presents information. Plus, the wide range of topics they cover, though sometimes seemingly disparate, on this podcast are pretty interesting questions I often have myself. This is one podcast that feeds curiosities I didn't even know I had but am extremely satisfied to have indulged in after I've listened to an episode.

    Most recent episode: Should Kids Pay Back Their Parents for Raising Them?
    My current favorite episode: Is the World Ready for a Guaranteed Basic Income?
     
  4. Slate's Political Gabfest
    Keeping up with politics and government on a day-to-day basis is confusing. Trying to do all of that during election year? Even more difficult and exhausting given all the mud-slinging, media bias, and drama on the campaign trail. When in doubt, I reach for Slate's Political Gabfest to break down the craziness of the American political system into digestible, if not also insightful, pieces. It doesn't hurt that David Plotz, Emily Bazelon, and John Dickerson also have such a powerful dynamic that lends so much credence to the arguments or analyses presented in each episode.

    Most recent episode: The “Hack, Sputter, Cough” Edition
    My current favorite episode: The “Get That Baby Out of Here” Edition
     
  5. New York Magazine's Sex Lives
    Sex is not taboo! It's an integral part of human life, and it's healthy to have forums where people can comfortably talk about their own experiences and learn from those of others. The existence of the Sex Lives podcast is representative of a growing movement in support of shifting the mentalities towards sex in the media and in society. It's really cool to encounter resources that aim to strip the stigma surrounding sex so that people can talk openly, healthily, and honestly without shame. Personally, I find it incredibly fascinating to interpret or dissect human behavior as it pertains to relationships, which is exactly what this podcast does!

    Most recent episode: Are the French Better at Sex?
    My current favorite episode: Is Dating in New York Actually That Bad?

Out of my love of music, I'd like to start the tradition of sharing a song with each blog post. Here's a current favorite to kickstart your week!

The Importance of Pressing Play by Cassandra Lam

I went to bed late last night with the bloodstained shirts of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile seared into my mind's eyes. Those images, and the thought of all those who died before, haunted me well into today, following me around like ghosts. 

Like many of you, I haven't been sleeping much this week. Over the past 2 days, I've attempted to carve out time to properly process the context surrounding the Alton Sterling shooting. Overwhelmed by the controversial nature of his death, I took to writing, seeking solace from the dark things we've seen unfold online. Putting pen to paper helped me find my footing in order to sort through my conflicted emotions. As I poured myself empty, my head and heart started to clear. My notes started to naturally flow more like the beginnings of a decent blog post. I thought maybe it was something even worth sharing.

But before I could finish sorting out my anguish, before I could read my saved draft one last time, before I could assess whether I should go public with my thoughts, we all found ourselves watching another video. This time, it was Facebook Live and what we saw was somehow even more terrifying, graphic, and damning. So at 3AM EST, alone in my hotel room, I watched, re-watched, and cried.

I didn't get the chance to finish writing about one man's death before I watched another man die. The magnitude of that statement alone weighs so heavily on me. It tastes so bitter on my tongue.

For most of you, this website comes as a surprise. Over the past few months, I've been secretly tinkering with it in all of my spare time. It was sincerely exciting to think of the day when I could share it with all of you, my friends and family. In preparation for the debut, I wanted to craft the perfect first post. But in light of recent events, this 'perfect blog post' that I had written no longer seemed appropriate, relevant, or right.

At the heart of it all, my main goal for this blog was to create a safe space where people (myself included) could engage in powerful discourse. From the controversial or outright messy (aka the stuff that keeps me up at night or makes me tick) to the fun or lighthearted (aka yoga, travel, food, life), I am passionate about utilizing this platform to connect with people in the way I know best. This blog is my way of starting conversations on topics that matter most to me in hopes that it inspires others to also do the same. 

With that said, in an ideal world, I never would have chosen to write about death. I hoped that I would never feel compelled to write about death. But the reality that we live in is such that I cannot in good conscience stand in silence any longer that I already have. 

In Jesse Williams' impassioned speech at the BET Awards, he said something that struck a chord with me:

We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

That floating credit he references? It's not only white people who are guilty of this. In a way, it applies to non-black communities as well. Many of the privileges other minorities have are the indirect or direct result of oppression of the black community. Many of us benefit from this broken system in some way. So it applies to the Asian Pacific Islander community. It certainly applies to me.  

I grow increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I am able to wake up every morning without fear of a being racially profiled, harassed, or subject to an unjustified search. I know the likelihood of a police officer ever pulling a gun on me out of suspicion or fear that I'm potentially dangerous based on how I walk, talk, look, or breathe is slim to none. I am sickened by the false position of security afforded to me by the mere non-blackness of my skin because it renders me non-threatening in the eyes of a racist justice system. I choke on the fact that members of the black community are suffering and hurting in ways I can only imagine. I recognize that I live every day generally left in peace and unharmed because others are being targeted instead.

As an Asian-American woman who has mostly stayed out of the fray and kept her thoughts to herself or confined within private conversations with individuals, I want to say that I am sorry. I should have stepped out of the shadows in solidarity with you sooner. It was never the case that I didn't care, notice, or feel your pain as institutionalized racism destroyed lives, families, and communities. I was nervous that I wasn't educated or well-read enough on the issues at hand, unsure if it was my place to intervene, and scared to offend or to make mistakes. I know now that those things matter little in comparison to the displays of support and strength the black community needs on this path to dismantling a system designed, from the birth of our country, to succeed at the cost of black lives. Slavery was the bedrock on which white America's success was built and while the shackles are gone, the fight is not over; the battleground has simply shifted from plantations to prisons. If you don't think that's true, I suggest you read, starting with The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

After I found out about the Alton Sterling shooting, I admit it took me all day to develop the courage to watch the videos for myself. I turned to news articles instead, which somehow felt easier without the visuals. I read everything I could get my hands on over the course of 5 hours - right-wing responses, left-wing responses, articles from reputable news outlets, articles from questionable news outlets, opinions from pro-gun/pro-police advocates, opinions from anti-gun/anti-police advocates, social activist posts, blogs, and more. I purposefully sought out opposing viewpoints to fight my own biases.

But at the end of the day, I still chose to press play for both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Being woke is a conscious decision. It's asking yourself in the mirror every day if you're doing everything you can to alleviate suffering and promote understanding within your own networks. It's the act of breaking down the divisions to celebrate differences. It's the desire to open your heart and mind to people who don't look like you. It's lending your voice to speak loudly, sometimes angrily, on behalf of others. It's a commitment you renew every day to fight the desensitivity that tempts you into turning the other cheek. It's the decision to press play each and every time so that you can remember what you saw and humanize the names of those who died yet live through your hashtags.

If you open your eyes to the injustice, you can start to recognize it. If you see the dead bodies, you can begin to understand the level of suffering. If you commit to learning about what you don't know, you can educate others. If you let the truth motivate your actions, you can find a place for yourself in this fight. 

In solidarity, I stand with you.