It has already been two months since we first received the move-out notice in March. In the beginning of this semester, we hardly thought about the coronavirus having such a huge impact on us because of its “distance.” I still remember how I was worried about missing my friends when I go study abroad blocks 7 and 8, conflicted between which summer block abroad I wanted to take, and excited about my Venture Grant. While my plans soon became “unplanned,” it’s funny how things also worked out as I switched into classes by two amazing professors.
For many of us, this has been a bittersweet time as goodbyes were hurriedly said – or not said. For the seniors, they’ve also worked so hard and they won’t have a ceremony that solely belongs to them. I believe that many of us aren’t just aiming for this piece of paper to recognize the efforts, the stress, and the tears of these years. Rather, there is a sense of nostalgia for the memories and friendships formed at CC. And, I guess there is also a moment of finality and accomplishment to be able to walk up the stage to receive their diploma.
To all the people I know who are leaving – college isn’t easy and you guys did it. We don’t know what is going to happen during this time, but what I do know is how funny, insightful, and beautiful you are. Thank you for being such patient mentors who constantly inspire me to be more kind, passionate, and also skeptical. That’s right. “Skepticism” may sound cynical, but I believe it’s a spark of curiosity to question and have conversations. Although our time together was short, I am very glad to have met you and I hope we can continue to be in good health and may we stay in touch 🙂
In my personal experience, it can be difficult to be productive while both distance learning and social distancing in tandem. The illusion of a purgatory-like free-time can curtail my motivation, but luckily I have begun to develop strategies to fight against my urge to procrastinate while weathering the COVID-19 pandemic.
I start every day by writing a to-do list. Even if I don’t get everything done, it is satisfying to cross tasks off and to go to sleep at night knowing I did something important with my day. I’m not claiming I’m productive every day—I certainly was not during the block break between Block 7 and Block 8—but at worst I can at least pat myself on the back for washing dishes or for calling about a prescription refill. I also write these to-do lists because I realized that the fantasy of a busy schedule keeps me more productive than the illusion of a bottomless vat of free-time, so I recommend recording to-dos to those struggling to self-motivate during this unprecedented era.
I try to complete the most unappealing tasks on my to-do list first, which allows me to tackle the most difficult parts of my day head-on when I’m feeling most energetic and refreshed. I wish I could say I always stick to this strategy, but self-discipline during the shelter-in-place era is certainly an aspiration that is difficult to achieve.
That being said, procrastination is not always a negative phenomenon. Adam Grant wrote an article titled “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate” for The New York Times. Procrastinators are often creative, which supports Grant’s assertion that “procrastination encourage[s] divergent thinking.” Upon self-reflection, my identity—poet, artist, and, admittedly, procrastinator—also support’s Grant’s theory. I think that procrastination allows me to ruminate on projects. As I ruminate, my mind wanders, and I consequently create more unusual or complex products.
Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not advocating for procrastination. I work hard to satisfy both deadlines and requirements, and I think that’s an important part of being a student and/or employee. However, I think it’s important to avoid framing procrastination as solely shameful, because, managed wisely, the urge to procrastinate can be a creative tool.
Today, I will be reflecting on my our discussion about “true war stories”.
During the first week of class, one of the stories we were asked to read was, Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice by Nam Le. In the story, the narrator is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to “sell out” and write his father’s “ethnic story”. His ability to choose is ultimately taken away from him when his father burns the only copy of the story. While highlighting the dissonance between two different generations of Asians and Asian Americans, the story also touches upon the desire that many second generation Asian Americans have: to have a story.
Nam Le’s story made me reflect on my own desire to “have a story”. When I was growing up, my family made our country’s history very clear while simultaneously keeping their history silent. I used to make up different versions of how I thought my parents grew up and believe them to be true. “They crossed this river at this time,” etc., etc., just so I could build my own story from it.
Doing this was the only way I kept myself tied to my Tibetan identity growing up, but I have since learned that not every story has to be a devastating immigrant story to keep me tied to my identity. However, society places more values on those stories, which is why Le’s character so desperately wanted to tell his father’s story. He was not only hoping that it would make him money, but that the story would help him find himself as well.
Every child of war, displacement, and of genocide survivors have ties to trauma, that is inescapable. No matter what form our traumas take, they are all valid and they are worthy. Nam Le’s story reminded me that I don’t have to morph my or my parents’ experiences into something it is not. It also reminded me, that we don’t need to have “stories”, but we do need to validate each other without hidden agendas.
Last Friday, we read When the Emperor was Divine, a story about a family’s experience during and after the Incarceration of Japanese peoples in America. By reading the story, it became more understandable as why so many internees were quiet about what happened to them. It wasn’t so much the time they spent in the internment (though this definitely had seriously detrimental effects), but what came after. The family in the story were ostracized and ridiculed for something they can not change; their identity. It is possible to change your name, the color of your hair, but this family could not change the fact that they were Japanese. And what’s worse, they too hated themselves for being Japanese. The children would apologize for any slightly mistake, regardless off whether or not it was their fault, and what was possibly the most painful to read, was the mother’s fear of being alone as it might cause her identity as Japanese might become more transparent (196).
In Pilgrimage, the children of the internees are seen taking a stand and protesting the internment. They frustrated that they didn’t know such a big part of their families’ history and when I first saw this, I understood that anger. However, as time goes on, it feels difficult not to also understand their parents’ silence. How are you supposed to talk about a time where the entire country hated you to your children? Do you risk passing on trauma to them for the sake of honesty or stay silent? For the next generation, it was a time to figure out their history and ask for redress and although that may have been difficult, it would have been more difficult to protest if they were carrying memories from that time like their parents were.
Reading the story was hard because it made me confront my own anger towards my parents. I was so upset for so long because they had left me in the dark about their history, even now I don’t know the full story of their experiences. I blamed them for their silence, but I completely forgot to take their feelings into consideration.
I am still curious about their history, but I know now to have more patience.
For class today, we were asked to read Thannha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again. I remember passing by the book in my school’s library when I was in elementary school, but I never really had the urge to read it. Poems were short and confusing, while books like Harry Potter were long and fantastical (meaning it didn’t really require me to think for too long). But reading Inside Out and Back Again now, even though it is a children’s story, was healing. Lai’s story was moving (to me) because of the childlike innocence the story has. I really felt like I was reading from the perspective of a child, especially when Ha talks about how, “no one knows,” that she buys less food so she can buy more treats, which makes her feel “smart” (31). When I was younger, I too thought I was smart and that I could get away with anything (i.e, playing my gameboy under my blanket when my mom said go to bed). However, part of growing up is learning that your parents knew what you were doing all along. Ha too learns that her mom knew all along that she was buying less pork to buy fried dough (231).
Ha’s confession signified growth and development in the way, she was growing older, admitting her secret wrongs. Unlike the other stories we have read, Inside Out and Back Again zones in on what a meant to to be a child during war. It showed what it felt like to not understand what was happening, the loss of something you never really had, and how it felt to see the things and people you love all from the perspective of a child. The story is so heartbreaking because we all understand what it was like to be at that age, ignorant, scared, (sometimes) selfish, and angry. It is so was easy to understand how Ha and her siblings felt, which made Lai’s story all the more accessible to both children, and adults.
The class is coming to an end this week and its a bit of a bittersweet moment for everyone. On the one hand, we will have more time for ourselves and relax. On the other hand, this class has been one of the most reflecting classes I have ever taken and… well not being in it anymore is going to be a little saddening. Asian American/Asian studies have been a way for me to explore my identity in a predominantly white space, for which I am always grateful.
Investigative journalism can be a lot like foraging for mushrooms.
As the book Shaking the Foundations points out, journalists pick up the spoor of a story in a multitude of ways: an anonymous tip, an overheard rumor, an overlooked piece of information anywhere. A healthy sense of skepticism leads a reporter to think— hey, something is a little off here. Like the forager, a journalist’s job is to decide whether a mushroom is edible or not; that is, if a story is something worth digging for in the dirt, something worth uprooting.
I decided to bring this mushroom simile to life this block by focusing my investigative work on the decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms in my hometown of Denver. I chose this topic for my reporting class because I knew it would easily hold my attention for three weeks. Denver made history last May when it became the first metropolis in the United States to make magic mushrooms the lowest priority of law enforcement. Two California cities have followed suit, Oakland and Santa Cruz.
A key to investigative reporting is the document trail. This kind of journalism seeks to uncover and expose corruption of people in power, often government officials, or at least shed light on their behavior and hold them accountable for their actions. In reality, this glamorous job is often accomplished by weeks or months of tedious work, involving records requests, interviews, and combing through documents and databases.
This block I filed my very first records request under the Colorado Open Records Act, known as CORA. It was, to say the least, an unusual demand. When Denver decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms, it created the Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel—the first of its kind in the United States—to discuss and evaluate the effects of the initiative. My request? I wanted to see all emails exchanged between the 11 board members regarding their work on the panel—emails that, as government records, I was guaranteed access to under CORA.
To my excitement, the mayor’s office got back to me within a week.
But in looking through the email threads, I failed to unearth anything particularly groundbreaking. Not even a mushroom-inspired joke or a sprinkling of creative wordplay. This was serious business. The emails revealed the names of those appointed to the panel and in which room their first meeting would take place. The panel director, in forwarding her emails to the records custodian, summed up the contents perfectly, labeling it “spell-binding stuff.”
I sent my other records requests to the Denver District Attorney, the Denver Police Department, and the Fourth Judicial District of Colorado. Someone in the Denver District Attorney’s office thanked me for my email and said the request could take four to six weeks to fulfill. I have yet to hear back from the latter two entities. Though agencies are supposed to acknowledge your records request within three business days, these are unprecedented times. Normally I love being a pest, but the pandemic made me hesitant, as I’m sure my request isn’t the highest of priorities right now.
Impacts of the virus also completely changed the way I do my reporting. As I’m sure is the case with many of us, I spend my days in quarantine glued to my computer, conducting interviews for The Catalyst student newspaper over Zoom rather than in person, and asking the CC community questions via Instagram stories. I jump over hurdles created by COVID-19 and keep running. I remind myself that when society is able to function safely again, I will never take interviewing a source over coffee for granted.
For now, I continue to forage. There is something comforting in the search for information that’s hidden in the ground or in plain sight—how just a little bit of digging has the potential to make the world a better place.
We survived the first week of AI online but the second week felt much more daunting and I was honestly starting to feel pretty overwhelmed. My favorite thing about Computer Science on the block plan is how collaborative it is. We, as a class, are constantly working together to understand new material and finish our assignments. I have very rarely done the majority of my homework locked in a room by myself, I am always finding a friend in my class to work with or just working in the lounge of our coveted Tutt Science. With all this being said, I was getting frustrated by the lack of collaboration on assignments.
I was incredibly thankful to have a friend in the class who I am often texting about class or assignments, and one night we sat on zoom for a solid 4 hours to pair program (programming together and bouncing ideas off one another). With this week being overwhelming as class picked up pace we also got a really fun and challenging assignment.
We were coding Netflix’s recommendation engine. As some people may or may not remember, Netflix started out simply by the user being able to order a movie to their house and then mail it back when they were done watching. I remember the days of waiting for the next Netflix movie to arrive. However, Netflix knew that if they could nail down their recommendation engine it would be incredibly profitable. After trying simply within their company they decided to release a lot of their data and start a competition. The first person to get it would win one million dollars. After much time and many being unsuccessful they finally made smaller prizes of 10,000 dollars for anyone who could make progress they deemed significant and post a research paper explaining how they did it. Long story short, the code that Netflix deemed most useful was from a guy who programmed in his college dorm.
We took ideas we had learned the week prior, with the nearest neighbor algorithm and worked to code the Netflix recommendation engine. Of course we did not use as much data as Netflix, but I would say that in the end it was a success story. I found myself really excited by this project which made me mourn not getting to be on campus. I am still grateful for zoom calls with my professor and classmates who are willing to work together despite being miles apart.
Artificial Intelligence sounds scary in itself, but when you add on the online portion it sounds far too intimidating. While I was hesitant to take this class once it was moved to online, I decided to continue with it because it was something I had been looking forward to learning all year. The first day of class my professor announced that he knew this would be a lot of learning and adjusting as we go, everyone would be adjusting to online learning and Richard was willing to be flexible with us. In normal block plan fashion we dove into topics of AI on day 1.
Our first task being to define, What is Artificial Intelligence? As we bounced around ideas we landed on AI being a classification problem, where one is taking labeled data and learning from examples. AI is a statistical analysis of data. For this class, we are focusing on machine learning, which goes hand in hand with AI. This class seems to be working with a lot of different topics including algorithms, linear algebra, and data science. The first week we worked a lot with implementing well known machine learning algorithms such as Nearest Neighbor Model. This algorithm allows us to plot different points on a graph based on our labeled data and ask the computer to find the nearest neighbor to a specific point. As you may be able to assume, this takes a lot of both math and computer science so a good portion of our lectures were simply making sure we were comprehending what mathematics we were going to have to implement. We work really hard in this class to understand the “why” and “how” of our problem before trying to start coding.
While I will be the first to admit I am not a fan of distance learning I am a fan of having recorded lectures. I have found myself motivated (or confused?) enough to go through and watch my lectures again, to pause and take more detailed notes, and to keep track of things that I may have more questions about.
The dominant narrative tells and shows us that war looks like…
WW1. WW2. Vietnam War. Bombs. Guns. Men. Death. Enemies. Tension.
Glory. Honor. Power. Protection. National security. Memorials. Veterans. Social Mobility.
Beyond the romanticized documentation of war, war is scary as it affects everyone and all aspects of life. The US is an empire that has built its status and power through its military. This give-and-take relationship, in which the US military “provides” the resources to “improve” the quality of life in the foreign land while dispossessing the native people is a traumatic, painful, and violent experience. In the words of my block 6 Professor Nadia Guessous, living in America gives us the “luxury of distance” from war. In our day to day life, we do not hear or see planes flying above our heads – ready to drop a bomb anytime; we do not hear or see bullets piercing through skin nor people bleeding to death; we do not hear or see frantic cries for help. And with this “luxury of distance”, we somehow become normalized to think people who are not directly involved in combat wars are safe and well-protected. War is not always about direct combat. As Dolma mentions in her post, “Asian American in the Time of Coronavirus,” war can be used as a metaphor to describe intangible “enemies.”
War stories are references that we often rely on to catch a glimpse on how it affects the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of people with war memories. But how do we know what is a “true” war story? For all we know, the author could have written from his or her imagination or draw from memories with missing pieces and made-up experiences. The truth is complicated and we should be skeptical with the information we consume, especially if it fulfills our expectations that the story is written by men (as the majority war stories are) and about someone who participated in combat. Rather, peeling off the layers of war can show us that war stories are so complex. They can be about familial relationships between the parents who experienced war and their children, about the intergenerational trauma and identity struggles, about the different silences and sacrifices made, about emotions that are hard to express, about militarized spaces and intimacies, about racism, and more. As Tim O’Brien writes in “How to Tell a True War Story,” a “true war story is never about war.” I thought something my classmate said was very endearing – if we are so caught up with finding the “truth,” we will “miss the beautiful irregular mundaneness of these stories, how they speak so closely to our hearts.”
tw//death and violence
Last month, an Asian American family, including a two year old and a six year old, were stabbed in a Sam’s Club because they were thought to be carriers of the coronavirus. I remember reading the news and shaking it fear, realizing just how bad it was going to get from here on out.
It’s a little weird to be in a class about Asian Americans during a pandemic that people are so lovingly calling the “Chinese Virus”. How am I supposed to learn while the world is literally on fire? How am I supposed to function knowing my parents get attacked for being Asian at work? How am I supposed to function on finishing an assignment when so many people are dying?Don’t get me wrong, I love my class and am so grateful that my professors have been so understanding and kind, but I am one of the lucky ones. So many classes are trying to carry on like “business as usual” (not just at CC), but there is something that is just so ironic about the world expecting people to be “productive” right now.
However, even with the chaotic state of the world, there is something grounding about being in this class. On our first day, we talked about the metaphorical “war on the coronavirus”. War metaphors are fairly common; the war on drugs, war on poverty, and now the war on the coronavirus. Although the initial intentions behind these movements can be contested, they have all become wars that will disproportionately hurt those who are already vulnerable.
COVID-19 is no different. Instead of America focusing on preventing further spread of the virus and taking care of people, they have been focusing on who to blame. The coronavirus pandemic has made clear just how fragile America is, or better yet, how fragile the world is. Economies have fallen and people are dying, yet the the United States is worried about a “war” and refusing to give proper stimulus packages.
I know that staying informed during this time is important, but I want to kick and scream every time I open my phone. So in many ways, this class is a blessing and a curse.