Over the past three months, 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).
You can find me on:
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.
FB, IG: markdangerchen
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.