This year, starting from when the pandemic hit Seattle hard, I’ve been writing periodic letters to my students to let them know that I’m thinking about them and that we’re all in this together. I’ve decided to collect them all in this post and will start posting future ones here as well.
March 16, 2020
Extra support if you need/want
I’m writing this message to all of my students from the last academic year to check-in and offer help if you need it or want someone to talk to or whatever during these extreme times. Gov. Inslee just declared no gatherings with more than 50 people across the whole state, no gatherings with fewer than 50 without permission, and no restaurants, bars, or entertainment/recreational locations will be open during the COVID19 crisis as we are asked to practice social isolation.
I know some students have difficult home lives or need social interaction for their well-being. If you’ve taken 236 with me, you know the importance of co-presence and staying social with friends so keep doing that or find ways to compensate and enhance your daily interaction. Think of it as physical isolation, not social isolation.
As this quarter ends and we transition to next quarter, I don’t know what UW will announce in the next few days, but I strongly suspect we’ll be fully online during spring. If you need help academically or whatever, UWB has many supports in place, but feel free to also contact me. I basically live and breathe tech (and if you need, I actually have several laptops that are free to borrow).
cheers and stay safe,
April 2, 2020
I want to get real with you for a sec
Things are changing drastically, very quickly. Remember the last email I sent to all my previous students from the last year? It was just two weeks ago when I mentioned that we’re now maintaining social distance and not having any gatherings of more than 50 people state-wide. This, as you know, has changed to no social gatherings of any sort at all period, and it comes at a time when the rest of the country has caught up with us in Washington (with places like NYC surpassing us quite significantly).
I want to get real with you for a sec. It’s going to get worse. Like, a lot worse. We’re currently seeing reports of infected cases *and* deaths due to the coronavirus double every three days. (An excellent tracker is actually the Bing one: https://www.bing.com/covid and if you only read one source of news about all this, I highly suggest the New York Times daily coverage: https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/coronavirus) Over the last few days, the White House seems to finally have taken this seriously and announced that it’s *hoping* we limit deaths to 100-240k. Yes, that’s one hundred to two hundred forty THOUSAND people. That’s our hopeful projections. Right now we’re at about 5k nationwide. To put this in perspective, the US lost about 300k during WW2 due to combat. That was over four years. If the rate of infection and death continues as it is now, we’re going to see the same numbers in two weeks. TWO WEEKS.
I worry about us. I worry about you. Hell, I worry about me. I worry about my friends and my family. But, you know what? I’m not that worried that one of us will die. I’m steeling myself for that possibility. What I’m more worried about is our mental sanity. I wonder how we’ll just keep on keeping on as the world goes nutso.
But, here’s the thing: We must push forward because it actually is the only sane response to an insane world. If you are familiar with Albert Camus and absurdism, you understand that when faced with intolerable systems that refuse to relent and where it seems futile to try, the moral and ethical and sane response is to try anyway because therein lies the path to agency and being woke. Camus wrote The Myth of Sisyphus during WW2 while living in occupied France, so it seems particularly apropos for our time now. The power of humanity lies in the struggle, in maintaining optimism, in collectively saying a big FUCK YOU to the universe and adamantly supporting each other, defiantly pushing on. Not only that, actually! In fact, this absurdist condition leads us to an attitude of joy and a sort of giddy happiness. Take a lusory and playful attitude towards life! (Learn from The Well-Played Game! https://www.journalofplay.org/sites/www.journalofplay.org/files/pdf-articles/7-1-book-review-2.pdf)
I’m sending this to you now because I can’t be sure anyone else is being real with you. (I believe we have a massive crisis in leadership on the federal level going on right now.) I still cling to the hope that all of our projections will defy math and that it really won’t be that bad, but I believe very strongly that an informed public is way better than an ignorant public. To mollify panic, more education not less. So what does this mean? In the coming weeks and the rest of this quarter, I know I’m not your prof anymore, but I want you to do me a favor and be diligent and communicative in your courses. The most important thing is to be communicative and social. Reach out to others. Make sure they’re okay. Keep doing your work. And beyond school, reach out to old friends, reach out to family, and let everyone know that we’re in this together. Let them know that you see them and that you’re there. Please do this for me and for humanity. And for fuck’s sake, stay home except for essentials!
- Here’s a good video about Camus and the Myth of Sisyphus:This Absurd Universe: Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus
May 31, 2020
My end of year thoughts: recognize your connectedness and responsibility, love, and grats
(I’m sending this to every student of mine from the past 1.5 years and every peer facilitator from all years.)
I was saving up a message to send to you all when the quarter ended–words of encouragement and a reminder that we’re all in this together.
But then this past week happened, and I feel obligated to send this out early while also adding some thoughts about the protests (local, national, and global). It’s extremely emotional for me to see my city go up in flames and being looted from anarchists exploiting a day of peaceful protests against the continual racial injustice in America, sparked by the murders of Arbery and Floyd (while the president foments hate, while we shelter in place, while Asian Americans are being targeted out of fear and ignorance, while the 1% continue to only give a crap about the stock market and profit off everyone else’s pain, etc.).
But the problem is, I don’t know *what* to say other than just to let you know that I think everything is connected. We’re all interconnected with each other and the systems we’ve built for ourselves. From a liberal white woman calling the cops on a black man to weaponize his race against him and then being called out on it in a massive way on social media to HK activists fighting for democracy and freedom and documenting it on social media. It’s all connected. Know that your decisions for how to live your life, including both how you work (and for whom) and how you play, have lasting impacts on those around you–the ones you love and hold close–*and* on those afar–the strangers who are only strangers because you haven’t let them in yet.
And this gives us enormous power and with that power comes responsibility. The repercussions of your decisions affect everyone near and far. You matter and have an impact, so live to your best self; project an ideal identity and strive for that every day. Own up to mistakes from yesterday and learn from them while continuing to be better today. Be more like Christian Cooper rather than Amy Cooper. Be more like those cleaning up this morning rather than those who marred the peaceful protests and destroyed downtown yesterday. Imagine a better future and work towards that. Elect to participate even in the face of apparent futility. Take steps to recognize the wretched constraints in our lives and then push back. But remember that you’re not alone so we all have to work together rather than divided and divisively to enact lasting progress. Step up with your brothers and sisters. Welcome to adulthood.
And here’s my original prepped message to be sent out in a few weeks:
To everyone, especially those of you who are graduating,
I want to say that I believe in you and that I hope you know that it’s not too late. It’s not too late for the world with all it’s problems because they can be worked on if enough of us do the work. It’s also not too late for smaller things like your individual relationships where you might feel like it’s weird to reconnect because too much time has passed or you just don’t know what to say. And, finally, it’s not too late to attend to yourself, to make sure you’re okay and healthy and strong enough to do good and keep going on. Indeed each of us has an infinite capacity to do good. Just remember that you matter, and, collectively, we can make the world better.
Grats for surviving this crazy year, and, if you’re graduating, grats for this massive accomplishment. UWB will always be here for you, and, if you need, I’ll always be here for you, too.
You see before you Mark Chen, PhD.
Above his head appears a label that changes every time you look at it between “Hoodie-Wearing Games Scholar Thug,” “PT Lecturer at UW Bothell,” and “A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.“Do you send him a tweet (@mcdanger), check out his website (markdangerchen.net), or respond to this email?His desk and surroundings are on fire as he smiles and says, “everything is fine.”
Addendum [June 1, 2020]: Just in case it wasn’t clear. When I wrote “anarchists,” I actually meant bad actors in general, whether they be white supremacists or other extremists. I was using a layperson’s definition of anarchist, perhaps too loosely, and I actually think a healthy skepticism of government and authority (and of everything, really), which is at the ideological root of anarchy, is a good thing… Not that we don’t need government–we absolutely do–but we need to make sure it’s serving the public rather than perpetuating systems of power and oppression.
But the overall message remains the same: We are all connected both in social terms and also in metaphysical terms (we’re all the same star stuff). The social systems we’ve erected are collective burdens while also being collective triumphs. Let’s make sure they’re more the latter as much as we can.
Anyway, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need someone to talk to.
June 1, 2020
Letter to current students
Given the happenings in the past week of our nation in distress (and evidence of extremist groups fomenting violence* and a president who is advocating for an authoritarian state**), I’ve decided that we will not have a regular class meeting this week but instead treat both days as optional open time in case any of you want somewhere to hang out and talk things over or have questions or whatever, whether related to this course or not.
As far as the final assignments, please do as best you can in finishing up and documenting what you did. Help each other as a team where you can. If you need more time, just let me know, and, if you cannot finish, that’s okay; just write about your intent and what you’d do if you had more time.
I’ll be looking at who participated in this week’s readings so definitely do so if you can, but, if you cannot, I’ll extrapolate from previous weeks and give you credit if you’ve consistently been participating.
Personal Learning Reflection
At this point, the thing I care about most is this assignment due at the end of the quarter where you write some thoughts on how well you think you did, what you struggled with, where you think you should go from here, how the course could be improved, etc. So, please, still do this.
Also, course evaluations are live, and I treat them fairly seriously, so do it for this course if you can.
June 9, 2020
Take a chance. Things are different.
I’m old enough to have been through other periods of unrest and civil disobedience as responses to social inequities in our systems. I remember when the Berlin Wall fell, when we started the Gulf War, when the WTO protests in Seattle happened, when students from my college protested against Bush’s visit to Portland by vomiting red, white, and blue colored mashed potatoes, and when 9/11 compelled us to go to war against Iraq. And I remember more recently Occupy Wall Street and the momentum of Black Lives Matter and #metoo a few years ago. The continual discourse (sit downs, shutdowns, *and* riots are part of our public discourse) seems to be cyclical, and it can get tiring to be constantly vigilant and resistant and critical of our public institutions. Institutions, I should say, that have been erected and bolstered over 400 years to suppress and discriminate against anyone who isn’t rich and white, set up to criminalize being Black or indigenous or POC or immigrant or poor or basically anything that doesn’t add a higher ROI to the 1%’s coffers, often using hypermasculinity and the big ol f*cking American Dream as weapons.
These past 11 days, I started out really, really worried and pissed off and anxious. I feared for people’s lives and well-being. I felt anguish that it was getting chaotic, and I was worried that Proud Boys and other domestic terrorists were pushing for a race war that the president would just spin as more reason to suppress African Americans.
But the past few days for me have turned into ones of hope. I think I’m noticing something different than all the other times. In the last few days, while many questionable events have occurred across the US, for the most part, I feel like it’s working, and I’m energized at the prospects for lasting transformation in a way that I’ve never seen before… in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen as a country in a long, long time. This latest call to defund the police (i.e., siphon money that’s used for training our police (with military equipment and tactics) to treat us as enemies away and towards progressive social services instead)–something that has been recommended time and time again over decades–is finally getting some traction rather than inaction.
When I think about what could be the soundtrack to our lives right now, I go old school and think about Public Enemy or Rage Against the Machine, but, you know what? This morning I woke up with “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA in my head, and I think the lyrics are particularly meaningful right now. (But actually, more nerdy than that, it was Erasure’s cover that I was remembering. Here’s the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-d4J3YUQmU 🙂 )
Things are different now, and I’m really, really hoping that we all take a chance on each other.
If you’re in one of my courses this quarter, I hope you know that I’m basically treating all the assignments from the last two weeks as optional. If you turn them in, I’ll gladly read and review them, but, if you can’t get to them, no worries. I think I have enough to extrapolate a grade for you (assuming you were able to keep up or communicate with me throughout the quarter).
Stay safe and sane. F*ck the police. Black lives matter.(and support your Asian American restaurants as we open up restrictions!)
If you need anything, I’m here.
P.S. The latest episode of Last Week Tonight is particularly on point. Watch the last few minutes if nothing else. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wf4cea5oObY
P.P.S. I’ve been periodically sending emails out to all of my students from the past 1.5 years and all peer facilitators ever. I fixed some email address recently so if you missed previous ones, an archive of messages sent can be found here: https://markdangerchen.net/2020/06/03/letters-to-my-students/
These messages aren’t normal. I’ve felt compelled to write you all in a way that’s also different than previous years. I don’t think this will be a regular thing moving forward, but I sort of didn’t think that three months ago either… Please let me know if you want me not to include you. Thanks!
July 11, 2020
Thoughts for Growth and Resources
As some of you may know, I live with someone who is immune compromised. We think that if she caught COVID-19, her chances of dying are far greater than the average so we decided that we’re not going outside at all, really, except to get necessary prescriptions for her medical conditions. Not until there’s a vaccine and it’s widely being used. I calculated that this means I would go outside this year maybe 6 more times… She was prepped to stay home and not leave even once for the remainder of the year. (This past week, we learned that we do have to travel in the next two weeks, unfortunately, but, as soon as that’s over, we’re back to hermiting…)
This time at home has given me a lot of time for contemplation. Like… A LOT.
The more I think about this year, the more I’m resolved to reach out to those I care about because I want them to know that they’re loved and that they matter. I also want to push them into educating themselves during our national/global time of not-normal.
This past week, in one of my courses, we talked about the desire to use ignorance as an excuse for inaction and avoidance as a way to stay happy and sane (which you can see with the Instagram trend of just discarding things from your life that you don’t want to think about and with the immature practice of ghosting), but we also talked about responsibility, ethics, and activism, and that the American usual to ignore uncomfortable topics is precisely why we’re in the shit we’re in and that to be uncomfortable is a necessary component for growth. So that’s just fueling my resolve to reach out.
Rather than trying to stay ignorant or avoidant to maintain happiness, learn to dwell in discomfort and see them as opportunities to learn and be better. There are things that are bigger than your bubble. Project your ideal self for how to be in the world and use that to dictate your actions. And for the sanity and happiness part, I highly suggest turning to playful satire (which only works for the informed). Read McSweeney’s, The Onion, follow memes, kpop stan trends, etc.
And generally, here are some other things that might be of interest to you (they were to me):
Two insightful articles from Time about being Asian American, its history, and why it’s important to stand up with our Black, brown, and indigenous brothers and sisters:
- The Asian American Response to Black Lives Matter Is Part of a Long, Complicated History
- Asian Americans Are Still Caught in the Trap of the ‘Model Minority’ Stereotype. And It Creates Inequality for All
- read The Decameron Project (29 short scifi stories about the pandemic)
- read The Grist’s Climate in the Time of Coronavirus series of articles
- use Intentionalist to find and support BIPOC restaurants and businesses
- read Conceptual Foundations of Systemic Racism
- register to vote and then VOTE this year
- check out the Anti-racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi
- subscribe to the 1440 and/or WTF Just Happened Today newsletters
- subscribe to the NYT (not free) and get the coronavirus and other daily newsletters
- (other news I follow: The Guardian, The Atlantic, KUOW)
- read Medium articles with a grain of salt
- stop consuming indiscriminately
- be critical and skeptical (in the scientific sense of those words) of everything
Wear masks and be safe, y’all.
If you need help with anything, I’m here for you.
August 21, 2020
Light it up like dynamite
As this summer is ending and another quarter is all but done with (grats graduates!), I thought it was time to send a reminder message that I’ve got you. In our crazytimes, it may be hard to focus or to find support or to do whatever you think is normal. Please reach out to your friends, loved ones, and strangers, and know that I’m here for you, too.
At the recent Democratic National Convention, Biden called this a “season of darkness.” It’s hard not to agree. We’ve got existential threats all around us: climate change, melting ice caps, COVID-19, rising wealth disparity, persistent racism in all facets of life, gender and sexuality hatred, rampant capitalism with no checks in place, the verge of a new cold war, and the general populace seemingly letting the wool be pulled over our eyes, being played as pawns (some of it on social media platforms) to help the rich and powerful maintain their status.
But, as this summer’s protests have demonstrated, we can fight back. and I think more of us are waking up and pushing the wool aside. As the midterm election 2 years ago proved, there is hope for a renewed America and a world that believes in fairness and the well-being of everyone. I believe we must keep pushing and make this moment lead to lasting change.
It will take effort, and it will take all of us, but I fully believe we can overcome and let hope prevail and truth and justice and equality and democratic ideals live again.
I read these words by John Lewis in the latest issue of Time: “Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.” Most of you are too young to really appreciate this, I think, but realize that things take time. The fight is constant, but, rather than feel overwhelmed, take heart in knowing that this fight for what’s right is an opportunity to show the world what kind of human you are. In doing so, you realize you can be a hero rather than a pawn and that we each have that capacity to be a hero. But also, celebrate when you can, and take a breather when you need.
So, yes, we may be in a season of darkness, but, as BTS says, we can be in the stars tonight and light it up like dynamite.
I hope you join me in lighting this fall’s election like dynamite. And then I hope you join me in making this moment herald a lasting era for future generations, for, even though the fight is never-ending, sometimes reducing the burden on someone else’s shoulders, even if for just a while, is worth it. All of it.
There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.
September 22, 2020
Thoughts as we start the new year (wherein Mark flies his progressive colors and appeals to you for help)
First, RIP Notorious RBG. With her death, we lost a strong voice for LGBTQ and women’s reproductive rights on a national level. If the Republican Senate succeeds in their massive hypocrisy, we’re going to see another dramatic shift in the judicial branch that threatens what I believe makes for a just and equitable society, and this shift will last decades. On lower levels of court, Trump has installed a number of conservative judges over the last four years, and, frankly, even if things change this fall, massive steps backwards have already been happening that will, yes, take decades to rectify.
The absurdity is that this all comes at a time when most Americans agree on many traditionally progressive values: believing that all Americans deserve stable lives and access to healthcare, recognizing the value of science, wishing to focus on climate change collectively, and addressing racial, gender, and sexuality injustice on a systemic, national level. It boggles the mind how powerful those in power can be and that so many Americans support them in their greed, completely fooled by the rhetoric of the “American Dream,” thinking that they just need to work hard for what’s theirs, not understanding that the system is rigged to reward some to the detriment of others. Indeed, the rich have us fighting each other. (For example, is immigration actually a problem? OR could it be that the rich are trying to use xenophobia to pit the poor against the even more poor while they accrue record-levels amount of wealth? They’re getting working-class folks to fight each other for shit jobs that pay shit but keep us too busy to see the shit, and instead we are thankful to be working, shoveling their shit.)
But more and more of us seem to be recognizing that it need not be this way, perhaps because COVID-19 has shown how fragile the system is. Maybe we’ve been given a potentially last chance to turn things around. I believe we mostly have a resource distribution issue, not a resource scarcity issue. We could all thrive, have our voices heard, and live loving lives as brothers and sisters, if only we would collectively move to tear down the institutions erected and sustained by the rich and powerful.
Today is National Voter Registration Day. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but participating in it is required for any chance of change. Register to vote and then vote goddammit. We need better representation on all levels of government.
Some useful resources:
And for distraction:
Lastly, as you know, this pandemic has had a traumatic effect on the world, and it seems like the summer protests and current wildfires and hurricanes are just more crap to deal with. As predicted in my very first email last spring, we have about the same number of deaths from COVID-19 as we did during WW2. 🙁 Like some of you, I’ve lost a few friends and/or family. But, as always, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here for you, and I can help or find resources.