CYOO #42: Stranger danger

TW: violence, racism

Hi there. I know every newsletter you’ve been receiving starts with something like “it’s been a tough week”, but it really really has been a week, even though we’ve been saying this every couple of weeks and shouldn’t we be tired of this sentiment by now?

I am still very much processing the Atlanta hate crimes and mourning the loss of the eight victims, whose names and stories we must remember. This doesn’t even include the countless incidents of anti-Asian hate crime outside of this event, which I’ve been mostly tuning out prior to last week so I wouldn’t be drowning in feelings of fear and helplessness.

I’ve been funneling a lot of energy into my art hobbies lately; while reading Haley Nahman’s latest newsletter I recognized this behavior as “manic defence”, a flurry of doing that can block feelings of helplessness and despair by occupying the mind with purposeful activity and things one can control. Because of all this blockage it took me a few days to identify that my initial reactions of feeling drained and disconnected really boiled down to fear, so much fear that I judge as shameful and weak. Not just fear for myself or for my family and Asian friends going about our lives in the outside world, but also fear that I’m not doing enough for the community or that I’ll say the wrong things or that I am not brave enough to be a good bystander.

Not many people know this but I was a victim of an attempted street robbery in 2014, which is the fancy way of saying I was mugged. I wasn’t severely hurt and didn’t end up getting anything stolen because a bystander chased the robber away. The robber unknowingly ran towards the nearby police station and was ultimately caught. I recognize this is the best outcome that could’ve happened in this situation, short of nothing happening at all, and I think that’s mostly why I don’t bring it up. But the feelings of terror fighting that man for my purse after he pushed me to the ground are embedded deep inside—like grief, the emotion can subside but it won’t ever fully disappear or be forgotten.

In early 2018, I decided I wanted to write more and signed up for a creative nonfiction class at Asian American Writers’ Workshop. I wrote and workshopped an essay “Stranger Danger”, a story about the mugging but also a broader meditation on belonging, kinship, and the fear of the unknown. After a few rounds of revision, I shelved the piece. I was tired of confronting how weak I felt, whether it was in descriptions of myself and my past feelings in the essay, or in my present feelings of whether I really wanted to publish it. I couldn’t figure out after a while what I wanted to say and worried that the piece would just read as a “this happened to me!” essay.

Rereading “Stranger Danger” now, I am so glad I wrote this piece if only to process for myself and to share with the few readers who saw it and provided great feedback. Through my past words I remember how the pervasiveness of fear caused my desire to hide. I remember how I thought being unknown was safe, because that’s what my parents taught me. I remember the deep gratitude I had for the bystander who helped me while also doubting my own ability to overcome my fear and do the same for someone else. I am also trying to remember all that I have learned since writing the essay—that these are not personal failures as I once thought, but instead a result of our deeply flawed society where we are not all afforded the same privileges and safeties.

Thanks for reading this, giving you all the virtual hugs until they can be replaced by real ones (hopefully soon). Hope you enjoy the spring flowers beginning to bloom. 💐

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Things that have helped me this week:

Hollaback and AAJC’s free bystander intervention training. I took their “How to Respond to Harassment” workshop on Friday, which was full of helpful tips led by very capable and compassionate facilitators.

Donating and volunteering. Some organizations I love are MinKwon Center for Community Action, NAPAWF and Heart of Dinner (lots of volunteer opportunities you could do from home).

Practice radical joy. I nearly cried seeing one of Katerina’s IG stories last week where she is beautifully radiant and vibrant, fully emanating the joy of living a fulfilling creative life. It was a great reminder that I don’t need permission to fully feel my joy and let it take up space, and that to express it is itself a radical act!