In 2020, 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.
Nov 29, 2020
(I’ve been sending periodic emails to all of my students from the past 2 years. If you no longer want them, let me know If you want to read my previous emails, I’ve been archiving them on my website: https://markdangerchen.net/2020/06/03/letters-to-my-students/)
Earlier this week, I saw a post on Delish for an apple pie with a cinnamon roll crust. That looked amazing and, thus, it came to be, along with brussel sprouts, stuffing, and mashed pos. Without having to deal with family or friends, the favorite parts of the meal (i.e., sides and dessert) could receive the attention they deserve. That’s the key, I think, to life as well. You have to make do with what you can, and, sometimes, like this year, it is more constrained than usual, but that comes with the realization that you can also look for new opportunities and silver linings. Rarely do new constraints come without new potentials.
Anyway, I just wanted to say two things:
1. We’re living in a particularly absurdist time where it can feel like you’re going insane as different people you care about are so completely at odds with each other or totally disregarding science and healthcare workers. The pandemic is worse than it’s ever been and it’ll get a lot worse before it gets better even though vaccines are on their way. Make no mistake, we will lose many more loved ones before this is all over, and, way beyond the death toll, we’ll have millions more suffering from neurological complications that might last their whole lives. On top of that, even without the pandemic, we still have the existential threat of climate change and the centuries-long injustices of colonialism, unchecked capitalism, and ongoing systemic racism and xenophobia. Yes, the fight for everything right isn’t over, and, though our endurance is constantly tested, we have to regroup and keep on fighting. Also, jesus christ, avoid people like the plague because, hold on, it IS a plague.
2. I’m thankful we might be turning towards compassion for others again, and I believe Biden does truly care about all of us. I think we’d all be better off if we all cared for each other rather than just for our own tribe. I’m frankly surprised this isn’t actually a given in America because I remember being taught this value as something to be proud of as an American. In fact, I think the ultimate test for a society is how much its individual members care about strangers as much as they care about friends and family. I think we’re all connected, but, on top of that, I really appreciate the personal connection I make with students, colleagues, and friends. So thank you for being in my life. Drop me a note and let me know how you’re doing, or play a game with me online some time!
Anyway, I hope this message finds you well and that you’ve been finding some respite over the long weekend. But I also know that some people don’t have secure home lives the same way others do. Let me know if you need anything. I’ll always be here for you if I can.
P.S. Things to watch or rewatch: The Social Dilemma, Queer Eye, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Bake Off. Go Sounders. Stay playful.
P.P.S. If you have book/movie/show/game recommendations for me, lemme know!
December 25, 2020
Happy holidays, farewell (and fu) 2020, and next year’s watch parties
Happy holidays everyone!
This has been a crazy year, huh? I hope these holidays are bringing you some respite from the craziness and that you are able to connect with loved ones and friends.
Some of my students this year and I started watch parties that we’ll continue on into next year. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you details.
At the beginning of this week, we watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it seemed like the perfect story for our times. (I want to do an encore viewing of them in Jan or Feb when the 4k versions are more readily available!) So, in the meantime, here are three quotes, one from each movie, that I thought were particularly meaningful:
- In Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and Gandalf have a moment in the Mines of Moria when Frodo laments,
“I wish that none of this had happened.”
Gandalf’s reply: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Life can seem unfair and without reason, especially this year, it seems. But, in truth, to live meaningfully is to constantly strive to make life better. The struggle for happiness is what gives life purpose. Choosing to accept the challenge is the decision to take control of the thing that you actually can control–yourself. And how you act in the world and your ability to stay true is your measure.
- In The Two Towers, Frodo, the Ringbearer, finds that he’s sinking more into despair as the challenges keep adding up (in this case, Nazgul appear on winged beasts to terrorize the garrison). Sam, the Support Hero, gives probably his most famous speech:
It’s all wrong.
By rights, we shouldn’t even be here.
But we are.
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really matter. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the ending because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end,… it’s only a passing thing.
Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.
Those are the stories that stay with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand now.
I know now.
The folk in those stories had lots of chances for turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding onto something.”
Frodo asks, “What are we holding onto, Sam?”
“That’s there some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
(You might recognize the last line from an email I sent out earlier this year. 😉 )
The struggle is important because there is always hope that it *can* get better. There’s always some good in the world, no matter how dire things may seem and how it may seem like there are villains in every corner who care only about themselves. But there’s always a projective future we can work towards to find the good and make it better.
- In The Return of the King, Frodo and Sam are soooo close to their goal, but the weight of the ring (i.e., the weight of the world) is too much for Frodo to bear, and he finds that he cannot continue. After Sam asks Frodo to remember The Shire, the lush meadows, the smell of the fresh crops, and the taste of the season’s first strawberries and cream, Frodo admits that he can’t remember any of it. Sam realizes, he’s about to lose Frodo and says,
“I can’t carry it for you, but I *can* carry you.”
He then lifts Frodo up and, with renewed vigor, carries his friend up the mountainside.
Ultimately, it’s within each of us to find the responsibility to live a good life and to reconcile with any demons or personal hang ups we may have. But that doesn’t mean each of us is alone. We can’t take on our friend’s personal burdens, but we *can* support *them* when they need it so they can concentrate on their inner burdens.
I hope the end of 2020 means something for you like it does me. A turning point where humanity can regroup and find renewed conviction to do right by each other and to also focus inward in doing right by ourselves.
I’ll leave with three things:
- The Great Conjunction happened on Monday. Remember that our acute experiences are fleeting in the grand scheme of things, and be in awe of the majesty of the universe.
- I recently rediscovered the School of Life videos: https://www.youtube.com/c/theschooloflifetv/videos
- And, when all else fails, cats in snow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_t773h9UolY&feature=youtu.be
cheers, happy holidays, and lmk if you want to join the watch parties
January 30, 2021
Realize we’re connected. Now it’s time to move forward.
Hi all and happy new year.
And what a new year, huh? I know this is late, but January was pretty extreme, leaving me rather stupefied and dumbfounded such that I found myself at a loss for words.
Anyway, I’ve been listening to a lot INXS these past few weeks.
I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s because I feel like we’re in a time of transition and that we finally have some time to reflect on the past year(s) before moving forward. In reflecting, I recognize that, among the high amount of stressful news of the past year, we lost many great luminaries. The one that hit me the hardest was the death of Chadwick Boseman.
And when I think about tragic deaths, I think about Michael Hutchence of INXS, so that’s probably why… Hutchence was named the sexiest man alive in the mid-90s and the wild man of rock. Unfortunately, he took his own life in 1997, after years of suffering from depression. U2’s Bono wrote a song to him, trying to say that he was stuck in a moment and couldn’t get out of it.*
Boseman gave the commencement speech at Howard University a couple of years ago, in which he reminded those graduating that the key to life is to find purpose. There were, are, and will always be struggles–personal hills to climb–and they are different for different people, but the important thing is to live to an ideal, even if it means taking the more difficult path. He also gave this extremely important piece of wisdom: you sometimes have to fall down a few times in order to understand what your purpose is.
You are stronger each time you get up. So long as you learn and reflect and stay true to your ideal projected self. (This reminds me of Schwarzenegger’s recent message about how, like Conan’s sword, our democracy is stronger the more it is tempered.)
And as Hutchence sings in “Tear Us Apart“, we’re connected. Forever. I know he was singing about romantic love, but I believe this extends to all love and to love for humanity and for Mother Earth. We’re all connected. If only Hutchence could learn from Bono and find strength in his connections.
It’s not too late for us to learn this lesson. Take this moment to catch your breath and reflect on our collective connectedness. Soon–like really, really soon… now even–we move forward. We have a lot to catch up on if we’re going to make the world better.
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(I’ve been sending periodic emails to current and former students. I still mean to trim the list some time this quarter so lmk if you def want to stay in it (or if you def want to be out). If you’re interested, an archive of the emails can be found here: https://markdangerchen.net/2020/06/03/letters-to-my-students/)
*: U2’s lead singer Bono wrote the lyrics about the suicide of his close friend Michael Hutchence, lead singer of the band INXS. The song is written in the form of an argument about suicide in which Bono tries to convince Hutchence of the act’s foolishness. Bono characterised the song as a fight between friends, which he felt guilty for never having with Hutchence.
February 26, 2021
There’s a place for everyone.
So… last week the Perseverance rover landed on Mars and transmitted the first audio recording from the surface of another planet. It’s worth listening to while just imagining the wondrous nature of our universe. Seriously, go do that now…
You see, Mars is very far away (it took about 7 months to get there) yet the sounds are as familiar as trying to talk to someone with your smartphone while they’re walking across the street downtown. That’s the amazing thing for me: how huge and how small the solar system, galaxy, and universe can feel.
The distance always boggles my mind, made more acute since I’ve been playing this game called Elite Dangerous, which has a simulation of our galaxy with 400 billion stars in it, each of them visitable. After being out for several years, by 2017 hundreds of thousands of players had only visited like 0.003% of the galaxy. I think now the number is closer to 0.01%?
The game has become something of an obsession for me, and I’ve even upgraded my monitor set up as I prep for a months-long journey to circumnavigate the Milky Way. I have a ship that’s outfitted with a sci-fi jump drive (engineered to the max) letting me hop about 75 light years with each jump. By contrast, the rocket that took the Perseverance would take about 1,900,000 years to go 75 light years (if it didn’t accelerate the whole time). But I’ve got a journey ahead of me that’s about 330,000 light-years, so jumping 75 light years at a time seems pretty damn slow. (The diameter of the Milky Way is approx 100,000 light years, but I have to get to an edge from Sol first.) I estimate I’ll contribute about 4,000 to the number of visited star systems (maaaaybe), which would add about 0.000001% to the total number that players have visited.
Yes, it kind of boggles the mind. And that’s just our galaxy. The current low estimate is that there are 100 billion galaxies in our universe.
Take heart in knowing that you’re part of something bigger… like seriously much bigger… much much bigger… than you can even begin to fathom. There’s room for everyone, but not only that… it’s kinda miraculous that we exist in the forms that we do. Each of us is unique among billions and billions and trillions of uniques. You must believe that there’s a place for you because there’s a place for everyone. There’s a place for everyone.
NASA named the last two Mars rovers Curiosity and Perseverance. These two things are mantras we can all live by. Use curiosity to propel you forward, asking questions, challenging beliefs, discovering the world and yourself. Persevere when the going gets tough. It’s not always going to be easy, but persisting is what gives you power and creates a layer of infinite meaning on top of the base layer craziness of the stuff of the universe.
P.S. If anyone wants to join me as I fly through the galaxy, I can stream the game whenever. I’m basically a hobo with a home and a very fast computer, I’m often free and always will be for you.
March 18, 2021
Our country was founded on racial injustice so acts of oppression, discrimination, and violence against BIPOC are not new, but this past year has seen a particularly alarming uptick in violent acts against Asians, clearly due in part to the previous president’s evil rhetoric around the coronavirus.
I want you to remember, however, that there is hope for a better tomorrow where all of us have agency and can feel like we belong. It requires education and empathy to the highest degree. Now is the time to step up as humans.
It also requires persistence. The BLM protests cannot be where we stop speaking out. We have to fight in solidarity for each other. No racial group should stand up just for themselves. The fight requires all of us who value decency, fairness, justice, and humanity. We can’t do this alone.
If you’re wondering how to help, The Cut has a good list of suggestions: https://www.thecut.com/2021/03/atlanta-spa-shooting-how-to-help-where-to-donate.html
Anyway, I just wanted to use my own privilege to say something. I feel relieved that these emails have been helping some of you so I keep doing them, but I’m always wondering if they’re enough. So this is a reminder, too, that if you ever need anyone to talk with about anything, I’m always available. Or just say hello and let me know how you’re doing.
Also, go listen to some BTS, the number one band in the world right now (who keep getting shortchanged at the Grammys because they’re Asian.)
P.S. If you’re interested, I started putting up course lectures on my YT channel. The ones from 236 are particularly important, regarding agency and control in our digital age. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVZwWhfG8ak&list=PLqMt8w5YgAQqgZyEMAXFdUkEKgZ6bRBHj
April 20, 2021
So much has happened since my last letter that I’m not sure what to say. I mean, for weeks now, I haven’t been sure what to say, and that’s partly why this has taken so long. It seems like we keep getting hit by tragedy, both nationally and close by. The close one, a death of a student right as Spring Break was starting left me just not sure of anything anymore, especially because they were always the light of the room. It is extremely distressful and heartbreaking, and I will always remember them and try to live up to their hopes and dreams.
Yet the longer I waited to send something, the more it became clear that America is the most absurd place to live right now, with each week showing us that gun violence, police brutality, and racism are unrelenting issues that seem intent on reminding us in the most horrendous ways.
There are two posts I found this week that pretty much cover my sentiments:
I’m not sure what I could add. Maybe more about AAPI hate because jesus christ…
But, anyway, I guess I’ve waited long enough that things seem easier to say, or maybe I’ve hit a point where I feel like I just have to say something… and, I guess, maybe the sunshine also helps. It’s like a dark cloud is lifting (tho I can’t tell if it’s a facade or a distraction)…
One of the main issues and why we’re at a boiling point, I think, is that people feel helpless. We desperately need to feel hope and find some agency in our lives (and that agency needs to come in forms that don’t then take away agency from others, goddammit!).
So I guess I’m writing now to remind you that finding agency is mostly an incremental endeavor. Things improve gradually. It starts with realizing that small steps matter, but also that these small steps add up. Also, they are collective steps where the aggregate is what creates lasting change. So even if things seem stuck, your little push may have lasting effects, when combined with others’ little pushes, for things to be a little less stuck.
But also, maybe you’re stuck because you don’t see the larger picture. If you read one of my previous emails, you saw how we could be considered just a tiny blip in the overall scheme of the universe. But the scope goes inward as well as outward. Whatever you’re stuck on is just a tiny blip in the sum of your life. Whatever your life is, it is also just a tiny blip in the sum of humanity. And whatever humanity is, it is also just a tiny blip in the galaxy. The galaxy a blip of the universe.
So long as you have some vision of tomorrow that’s better than today, you can maneuver towards it in tiny blip-like fashions. The arc bends ever so slightly. It also helps to have a vision of yourself that is better than today. You might not be the best at something now but you can be better at it tomorrow than you are today, and that’s enough to aspire to from day to day.
Or… maybe you can’t help yourself right now, but maybe you can help a friend. Or maybe you can’t help this one friend, but you might be able to help a different friend. There are always opportunities for growth and learning; sometimes you just have to take a step back and defocus from a problem where you’re stuck to refocus on a different problem, and this includes defocusing from yourself to refocus on others in need.
Attend to what you can.
Finally, realize that words have power, and how you say something matters. I was reminded of this today in a moving way, which is another reason I’m writing this. I feel like this is one way I can help with words so I find I have to do this. I hope you know that I’m rooting for you and for me and for all of us and for our future selves, as well. We can be noble so long as we realize it takes all of us to work at it for humanity’s blip to shine.
love as always,
TW: @mcdanger | DS: mcdanger#6611 | FB/IG: markdangerchen
P.S. Black Asian solidarity.
May 29, 2021
Thoughts after more than a year…
(I’ve been sending periodic emails to current and former students. I think I’ll be sending fewer and fewer, but, just in case, if you want off this list, lmk. Also, if you’re graduating and want to stay on, send me your non-UW email. And, if you’re interested, an archive of the emails can be found here: https://markdangerchen.net/2020/06/03/letters-to-my-students/)
As stated in the disclaimer above, this may be one of my last emails to you all. I started writing these when the pandemic first hit because I was seriously worried that no one was checking in on you and letting you know exactly what was happening. We lived in a time of massive misinformation (and still do) and incompetent leadership. Then, as UW and local authorities became more clear on their pandemic news and guidelines, we started going through extreme turmoil as news hit about George Floyd’s murder, acting as the breaking point and giving rise to an (inter)national movement for black lives. (The Central Park Karen was just icing on the cake.) We also realized that we were in this pandemic life for the long haul, adding stress and negatively affecting our ability to stay social and healthy both physically and mentally. So I kept writing. Then it became pretty damn clear that the previous administration was deliberately encouraging Asian American hatred and violence. It just seemed like I needed to keep writing and reminding you all that moments like these are challenges to be the best humans we can be and that no matter how shitty the world is, love and friendship CAN triumph. But now, with the academic year coming to a close (grats graduates!) and the bright days of Seattle summer are upon us, marking a change in national leadership as well, I feel like I might be able to take a break and just geek out on sci-fi and videogames for a while. (Effing Supreme Court better not eff things up too much!)
A Note on Communicating and Being Human:
Being human sucks sometimes. I say this because sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you’re going to miscommunicate, and sometimes it’s alarming how much what you say can be misinterpreted and then taken offensively/defensively. And when this happens, it can be painful since it’s confusing and such a jolt. “Everything was going great; what the hell happened?”
But here’s the thing. I believe you get better by trying, failing, and trying again. That said, sometimes it’s hard when who you’re communicating with has been put on guard and doubts your intent or when you’re the one who feels slighted so you’re not open to anything else they have to say.
But I think it’s important to remember this:
Never ascribe intent when incompetence or obliviousness could explain what happened.
Then follow up with questions. Indeed this is very true of group work and something I tell my students, but it’s also just true of general communication with friends and loved ones. This requires generosity in how you interpret and communicate.
If it seems like things got out of alignment somewhere, whether you think you may have said something wrong or whether you’re the one misinterpreting, the only move is to apologize for the miscommunication and then see if things can be repaired. If so, great! If not, that’s sad but you’ve done the right thing in admitting that there was a breakdown and trying to learn from it. Sometimes, you just have to let go.
Regardless, if you feel like you have no control, remember that you do… with yourself. You will always be in control of yourself and how you interpret and react to things, and mastering that–attempting to stay level-headed and not overreacting or jumping to conclusions–is the key to peace, contentment, and enlightenment.
Anyway, I say all this because I was surprisingly repeatedly reminded this year about these things, and, in thinking why, I thought maybe the extremely stressful year may have made miscommunication events more likely. So maybe it’s happened to you, too. And you don’t know what to do. Well, I encourage you to reach out to your friends and family and just let them know you love them. We need to normalize love because being human doesn’t have to suck as much as it does.
(Potential) Final Thoughts:
I leave you all with these wise words from Bill and Ted: “Be excellent to each other!” But also be excellent to yourself, too. 🙂
And, as always, if you need anything, you can find me in netspace.
FB/IG/LI: markdangerchen, Twitter: @mcdanger, Discord: mcdanger#6611
P.S. I’ll be rescreening the Lord of the Rings and maybe throw in Bill and Ted’s trilogy as well this summer starting in June in case you’re interested in joining the Discord server… 🙂
P.P.S. I’m also still out in space with Elite Dangerous if anyone wants to come to check it out sometime, but I’ve also been thinking of trying some more coop games so lmk.
P.P.P.S. I still can’t get enough of this YT channel! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfx4cqD5n0M
P.P.P.P.S. This Red Table Talk about Asian American and Black tension is very, very good. I cried for the whole thing. https://fb.watch/5Oq0cxKZWR/