Learning to Live (it up)
Posted on April 15, 2022
It is such a privilege to be on spring break but I have not always thought about it as a “break.” As a new(ish) parent, I’ve treated it like having to do a LOT of “child care”. This time around, I started shifting my mindset to gratitude and learned to live (it up).
Our family conditions are changing and it feels a bit unsettling. First, Collin is now 7! He is growing up and has cool new hairstyle. He can swim on his own now (even in the deep end!!). I’m so used to being “on” all the time and doing things “for” him. This spring break, I started feeling that he may not “need” my care, at least in the same way as before. I’ve also been learning to live with my disability and chronic illness. All this has deepened the urgency and my ability to discern my purpose in these precious times.
From Obligation to Joy and Purpose
For me, some of my tendencies are very engrained in a culture of obligation, like I “have to” or “should” do something because it is my “duty.” Obligation is tricky. As a Chinese American, raised by Chinese immigrants, I’m wired a certain way. Hundreds of years of feudal and Confucian thought mixed in with committing myself to social transformation and collective liberation… well thats a lot of obligation.
On the one hand, it makes me a very solid and loyal partner, friend, and comrade. On the other hand, it can be just that a task and obligation to a person, organization(s), or movement(s). It can sometimes be self destructive. I have overworked myself and burnt out many times because I thought it was my duty. How do I shift from obligation towards joy and purpose? How do I shift in this period of constant crises of war, COVID, white nationalism, systemic oppression, and fragmentation within our communities and movements?
From Child Care to Quality Time
This spring break I began to treat my time with Collin as quality time (vs child care). I’ve always known this intuitively but I never truly embodied it. I listened more instead of reminding and nagging him about his routine and tasks (but tbh I’m truly a good task master when needed!). I asked him questions instead of assuming and anticipating his needs.
What did I learn? Collin is an AMAZING and BRILLIANT child! From inventing multiple swim styles – like the jelly fish and the bullet – to being a dynamic game master and ring leader with his friends at school, he has a future as a creative and visionary. No pressure haha. He still remembers many random facts about nature and science. He also feels deeply and is a protector full of convictions. He’s growing up super fast and I’m here for all of it.
From “Fixing” to Embracing my Disability
When I started getting facial spasms in March of 2020, I treated it as an organizing campaign and wanted to “fix” and “cure” it but now I’m learning to embrace it. Living in a capitalist (and ableist) world, I’m listening to my body and tending to the long arc and what it will take to “heal”. Of course, I’m doing all the things to be healthier and more resilient but these spasms will probably be with me for the next unforeseen future. In a somatic perspective, the facial spasms are like living with a constant “grab” that will not go away. If those are my conditions, how will I transform myself and my role? How will I relate to work, life and the good people around me?
Even though I’m still quite functional and most people don’t notice, it is a constant reminder of how fragile life is and how important it is to discern purpose. My spasms are a constant reminder of my gratitude, my privilege, my joy and purpose. It doesn’t mean that I am always joyful or purposeful but I’m highly aware of the task at hand.
The myth of work/life balance
I’ve written about the myth of work/life balance before. It is hard (if not confusing) when I enjoy what I do. I love that I can flank and support movement leaders, nerd out about and experiment with movement infrastructure and all the things. In enjoy writing this blog when I can and I enjoy reflecting on my on lessons as an organizer. I was totally honored to be part of this anthology, Contemporary Asian American Activism: Building Movements for Liberation!
This is me living it up! The intention to “unplug” is totally needed but there is something about enjoying your paid work and not always enjoying your unpaid work. So to me, it is less about work/life balance and more about what brings me joy and purpose. AND it is about the beautiful squad of people who are there, who have been there and catch you when you fall. Still I totally get it. We need all kinds of rest.
But one thing is for sure. Life is hella fragile and precious. While we’re on this path to our collective liberation, remember that life is a constant practice of living towards your joy and purpose.