“I feel a lot. Sometimes it’s horrible, and sometimes it’s awesome.”

YouTube is one of my most frequented online destinations, and I recently stumbled upon an interview with actress Victoria Pedretti by the channel StyleLikeU. Founded by mother-daughter duo, Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, the channel is dedicated to telling stories about self-acceptance, expressing individuality, and empowerment.

In their flagship The What’s Underneath Project, activists, founders, artists, models, and more undress layer by layer as they open up about style, self-image, and identity. I had never heard of Victoria Pedretti (and my woefully TV-ignorant eyes didn’t register her as the star of Netflix’s The Haunting), but her 17-minute interview is captivating.

Pop culture and pop psychology made us all too familiar with phrases like radical candor and practicing vulnerability. But their casual use in small talk about a new relevant book or office parlance as part of feedback sessions belies the impact of seeing it in action. It takes work to identify what emotions we may be experiencing and another level of courage to share it openly.

Her conversation with the interviewer starts off innocuously with some frenetic energy; Pedretti admits her self-consciousness. The questions move from what her style says about her to what she is insecure about, and as her hat and jacket are gently set aside, the tenor of the interview shifts. She admits a simple but raw truth — that she just wants friends who accept her and worries about being a burden unto others. She holds back tears when she recalls a former partner who created a secure environment for her to experience love, not just know that it existed in the world.

My favorite part is right after her shoes come off, and she’s asked, “When do you feel most beautiful?” The question is asked so earnestly, and instead of giggling it off with a blasé quip, she pauses and looks up. Her eyes glisten with unshed tears, and she offers simple answers: dancing, cooking, engaging in the things that allow herself to truly, fully express herself. With her sweatshirt now placed neatly away, she bares her heart. Feeling a lot can be horrible, painful, lonely, but it can also be a gift and “feel good, when [we] can accept it.”

Here is the link to watch the interview in full.

Taylor Swift, Reclaimed: A masterclass in bringing your community along for the ride

That first snare in “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” hits, and I’m fifteen again. I’m dancing alone in my room, hand curled around an imaginary mic, singing along nostalgic of a love not yet even lost. Taylor Swift was simultaneously best friend, older sister, confidante. I was young, but I believed her; that [we’ll] do things greater than dating the boy on the football team.”

Taylor Swift To Release Rerecorded Version Of "Fearless" Album

And greater things she did indeed. Taylor Swift’s latest album is not just a re-recording of her 2008 studio album “Fearless,” the album that catapulted her to stardom and earned her Album of the Year at the Grammy’s. It is also a triumphant culmination of the last two years of dispute around the issue of master ownership between artist and record labels. “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” is an album proudly written by, produced by, and performed by Taylor Swift.

As one of contemporary music’s most recognizable, popular, and objectively successful artists, Taylor holds a uniquely powerful position, and she has not been shy about using her voice to fight for artists’ rights. When Apple Music launched in 2015 with a three-month free trial, they reversed their payment policy to ensure artists were paid for music streamed during trial periods when Swift refused to allow the company to stream her album “1989” until they did right by artists. In 2019, when Taylor declared her intentions to re-record her earlier albums, she managed to turn the acquisition of a record label into a moral, ethical debate about musicians’ rights to their creations.

The controversy around the acquisition of Taylor’s masters is noteworthy for how it reflects the shift in the power dynamic between artists and record labels. In today’s digital era, record labels are no longer the powerful gatekeepers to distribution that they once were. With social media platforms like Instagram; self-hosting platforms and streaming services like Spotify and Twitch; and new content discovery platforms like TikTok, artists (and creators more broadly) have unparalleled direct relationships with their fans at scale.

Taylor Swift has also always recognized the power of her fans, and she offers a masterclass in how to engage and mobilize a fanbase. She always wanted her creative process to feel special for fans, inviting a select group of her most devoted fans to Secret Sessions in advance of new album launches. As a long-time Tumblr user, I can recall how active Taylor was (and continues to be) with her Tumblr Swiftie community. So when she learned that Scooter Braun acquired Big Machine Records and subsequently acquired the masters to her first six studio albums, she took to Tumblr to express her disappointment. Her (now controversial) plea to fans led to an #IStandWithTaylor Twitter trend where fans came forward to defend artists’ rights to have full ownership and autonomy over their creations.

As a result of this, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” feels like a collective win for fans, new and old. Taylor’s re-recordings are an ode to the listeners who have been with her since the beginning. Coincidentally, her re-recordings allow her to introduce many of her most iconic teenage anthems to a new generation of listeners. Moreover, the wistful themes of love and youth throughout “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” may resonate even more with GenZ, who may be one of the loneliest groups yet.

I’ve now listened to all the tracks a few times over, flipping back and forth between the 2008 originals and 2021 re-recordings. The songs remain faithful to their original arrangements, with Taylor even bending her intonations to match how she sang them originally at seventeen. Of course, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear how her voice is deeper, her tone richer, and her delivery wiser. Some of the earnestness in her voice from the 2008 versions is replaced by a cheeky confidence, the kind that comes through knowing it’s a confident, successful, young woman singing the words she wrote when she was just a girl.

I can’t help but sing along. “Fifteen” inspires a desire to relive moments of teenage naivete. “Forever & Always” still captures the pettiness of young heartbreak. “You’re Not Sorry” remains a gut punch. “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” a new track from her vault drops the “casually cruel” zinger we’re familiar with from “All Too Well” two albums later.

One of my favorites on both the 2008 and 2021 albums is “Change.” Listening to the re-recordings, I found myself briefly wishing I were fifteen today and experiencing the old Taylor Swift as the new Taylor Swift. But then again, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss how I can hear that her voice is more defiant than ever when she sings: “And the battle was long, it’s the fight of our lives / But we’ll stand up champions tonight. / It was the night things changed. / Can you see it now?” 2008 Taylor sang that last question with hope in her voice, mustering strength knowing her biggest fights were yet to come. 2021 Taylor sings that line knowing she stands tall even after years of criticism and heartbreak. It’s the rallying cry of an artist who remains at the top of her game and wants to bring us along for the ride, believing in the collective power of her community to never give in and to continue to defy the odds.

When do I get to be an American?

This week’s shootings in Atlanta are unfortunately the latest in a growing number of violent acts against the Asian American community.

I’ve often found myself downplaying the racism we face, but the rage, fear, and grief are there. It doesn’t help that the former President stoked fear and resentment across the country towards Asians this past year. So just as I am disgusted by the discrimination and violence leveled at the Black, LGBTQ+, POC, and other underrepresented communities time and time again, I am indignant at the pain inflicted against the AAPI community.

The recent events — from the Atlanta shootings to multiple, horrible stories of (elderly) Asian men and women being attacked unprovoked — sting. The victims could have been my parents. They could have been my childhood friends. It could have been me. 

I was born in Seoul and am the proud daughter of immigrants. My parents moved to the States in their thirties with little money to their names. They had university degrees from prestigious South Korean institutions that held no weight in corporate America, especially with their lack of English skills. They were the first of their families to set out West, and they came in pursuit of the “American Dream.” And guess what? They made it. 

My parents are lifelong entrepreneurs, founders of their own small businesses. When they immigrated to America, they unconsciously accepted that a level of suffering and discrimination would be the price to pay to earn a brighter future for their children. So they tolerated being made fun of for their accents. They bit their tongues when being scammed because they struggled to negotiate in English. They resigned themselves to smashed windows at their brick and mortar stores. They swallowed the loneliness that comes from being made to feel different yet rendered invisible. 

I have my father’s insatiable curiosity and penchant for thinking big. I have my mother’s compassion and steady resilience. But we are also not cut from the same cloth. I, alongside millions of Asian Americans in the U.S., see myself as just that: an American. Not all of us were born here, but we grew up here. We studied here. We earned jobs here. We contribute to our communities here. We don’t see ourselves any less deserving of the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness afforded to any other American. Comedian Hasan Minhaj put it best: “We have the audacity of equality.

If your Asian friends haven’t publicly shared their concerns, it may be that they are still processing. Asians are not a monolith. There are 21+ million Asians in the U.S., and different ethnic groups suffer from their own unique inequities. There are many of us who have led very privileged lives, and we may be unpacking our own frustrations towards a society that dangles the illusion of our equality yet punishes us when we don’t neatly fit into its stereotypes of us. Layer on top of that the dehumanization and fetishization of Asian women, in particular, and we have a lot to contend with. 

So if you take notice of and enjoy our food, our music, our films, our culture, take a moment to acknowledge our pain. Text your Asian friends that you’re there for them. Don’t expect a response, but know that your solidarity is important. Consider taking some time to think about how you yourself may perpetuate Asian stereotypes. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere, and it starts with all of us acknowledging our own complicity. And lastly, this is a link to donate to Georgia’s Asian American communities. The funds will go to support the shooting victims and their families, and it’s one way we can rally together and #StopAsianHate. 

What is your “loathe language?”

In 1992, anthropologist and philosopher Dr. Gary Chapman published a book called The Five Love Languages, describing a framework for how we communicate love with our partners, be they romantic or platonic. All of us can give and receive love in all five ways, but most of us tend to have a primary way we express and understand love. Being able to communicate what is our dominant love language can often resolve miscommunications between two people who don’t share the same love language.

Now here’s something new (thanks to #therapytok): Our self destructive tendencies are often the converse of our love language. Think about what kinds of self destructive behavior you engage in, and then consider your love language.

My primary love language is quality time: time that is set aside for paying full and undivided attention to a person or topic, often in the physical presence of each other. My self destructive behavior is self-isolation, which is the exact opposite of how I experience love.

Some examples of how your love language may relate to a particular self destructive behavior:

Words of affirmation ➡️ negative self talk
Acts of service ➡️ avoiding self care
Physical touch ➡️ not eating or overeating
Gift giving ➡️ intentionally buying things harmful for us or impulse shopping

It’s perfectly human to feel blue, stressed, scared, etc. What’s important is how we react and take care of ourselves. So if you know how you experience love, next time you’re down, will you show yourself the same care in your own love language?

Get out of your own way

I started writing on this site in undergrad, after years of online blogging across Xanga, Blogspot, Blogger, Tumblr, and finally deciding that I should invest in my own domain and make a home for all my musings on various intellectual pursuits, commentary on society’s relationship to technology, and my ongoing exploration of personal and professional identity. Occasionally when I sit to write, I’ll scroll through the scores of drafts I have from the last eight years of writing here. Some, more akin to journal entries than any objective writing, make me cringe. Others become helpful fodder for encouraging me to revisit a topic that I see with new perspectives.

Here is a quote from an old draft on vices from 2013: “What I know is that I am a people pleaser by nature, and that…has proven to be both a blessing and a vice. [It’s] inspired me to develop empathy and compassion…[but it can also drive me to fulfill a] sycophantic need to please others [at the expense] of my own happiness.” This got me thinking about how my relationship to others have evolved since then. More importantly, it highlighted how much I’ve evolved over the years.

One belief that radically helped me gain greater confidence personally and professionally was to internalize that no one is paying attention to me as much as I think. I was the type that would ruminate for hours after feeling like I interjected at the wrong time in a conversation or wished I had said something smarter, more clever, more memorable. Those scenes would loop over and over in my head, and the reality was that barely anyone would have noticed nor have perceived it as big of an issue as I did in my mind. Instead, I could and should have taken that self-imposed stress and channeled it toward a more productive activity.

As I grow in my personal and professional life, I will occasionally fall into the trap of (over) worrying about what others think of me. I want those I respect to think well of me, which isn’t an inherently bad desire. However, being able to balance it with stronger judgement on when to pursue my own independent beliefs, goals, ambitions is gratifying. It’s how I decided to no longer pursue playing the violin, despite having spent a decade of my life competing and dedicated to it, in the hopes of devoting that time to other academic interests. It also helped when I decided to leave New York, the city of my dreams and the place I still consider home, for San Francisco, despite many question marks from well intended friends and family members. I recall being worried that I would let people down because I wouldn’t be able to see them as often or just be there for them. It felt selfish at the time to pursue decisions that fulfilled what I wanted and no one else’s. But of course, in doing right by me, I also did right by those I care about and respect.

So if I could go back and reiterate something to my younger, people pleasing self, I’d remind her this: “Get out of your own way, and stop worrying about what others may or may not think. Frankly, no one is paying attention to you as much as you think. Embrace that freedom, and use the knowledge to pursue what you want and not what you believe others want of you. Your life will be richer for it.” I still remain a work-in-progress when it comes to getting out of my own way, but skimming an old draft written by past me was a sweet way to reflect and quietly celebrate my progress.

After #MeToo, it’s #UsToo

Don’t let the campy, bubble-gum pink, and vibrant set and costume design fool you. Promising Young Woman may force you to, as it did with me, contend with the uncomfortable familiarity of the film’s darker themes around consent, sexism, and shame. Multiple viewings later, I’m still thinking about several scenes from the film while replaying the (intentionally female-forward) soundtrack featuring familiar voices of fallen pop stars of yesteryear.

*Spoilers ahead for the film, so if you haven’t seen it, you were warned.*

Promising Young Woman is bleak, and in terms of a hero’s journey, intentionally dissatisfying.

The #MeToo movement made us all too familiar with the blatant injustices of sexual harassment and assault. It’s now fourteen years after the first popularized use of the phrase “me too,” and Promising Young Woman offers viewers a rare revenge thriller that gives voice to the frustration and anger that often accompany the hurt of sexual violence.

The film centers around Cassie, a young medical student drop-out (portrayed by the delightful Carey Mulligan) who embarks on a singular mission to condemn self-proclaimed “nice guys” as sexual predators. This comes after her best friend Nina suffers a sexual assault at a school party, and no one is held accountable despite formally reported accusations. The injustice ultimately leads Nina to commit suicide, and Cassie suffers a figurative death as she reels from the trauma and drops out of medical school to live with her parents and spend her days as a careless barista at a local coffee shop.

That said, it’s an unusual revenge thriller because our protagonist Cassie is no hero. She is not aspirational or inspiring in her pursuit for justice, and she seeks neither peace nor forgiveness. After her friend’s death, she is angry — rightfully at her perpetrators — and guilty — at herself — for not being there to protect Nina. Unfortunately, Cassie is unable to accept Nina’s death, forgive herself, and move on from the past. Her grief and anger consume her. Instead of finding a support system or going back to medical school, Cassie becomes a vigilante who weaponizes her femininity. She adopts a persona who pretends to be sloppily drunk at clubs late at night, waiting for a “nice guy” she can expose when he makes advances on her while she’s vulnerable.

The film forces the male gaze to look into a mirror and acknowledge its ugliness.

In one of the last scenes in the film, Cassie comes face to face with the man who hurt her friend. He believes himself a “nice guy” and chocks up his past misdeeds as stupid, drunken medical school behavior (mind you, medical students are often well into their mid to late twenties); and that it is “every guy’s worst nightmare to be accused of [rape.]” Without skipping a beat, Carey Mulligan’s character looks upon him squarely and replies, “Can you guess what every woman’s nightmare is?”

It’s no surprise to me that this film was written, directed, and produced by a woman (Emerald Fennell’s debut!). The scenes between Cassie’s fake drunken character and her supposed white knights in bad suits are delightfully subversive. Cassie has a script — appear very intoxicated; protest the initial advance; take up “nice guy’s” offer for a ride home, who somehow always persuades her to come over to his place instead; gives him a chance to stop when he inevitably makes unwanted advances; and finally confront him with stone cold sober eyes when he won’t stop.

These scenes are alarming yet so satisfying because they portray the importance of enthusiastic consent, which can’t be given when one is practically in a stupor. Of course, she isn’t really drunk, and Carey Mulligan’s character always lets the man advance just far enough for it to cross some line before she breaks out of her pretend blackout to ask him, “What are you doing?” At this point, they stop what they’re doing and quickly attempt to revert to their “nice guy” personas. Unfortunately, the damage is done, and we the audience can no longer defend him to be the standout guy he projected himself to be.

The sinister logic of the “nice guy” misinterprets what is and isn’t consent.

The “nice guy” finds Cassie attractive, and her drunken helplessness incites his inner “goodness.” He convinces himself that by offering to take her home, she, despite her inebriated state, must want him as reward for saving her from herself — or worse, from other potential predators at the club. When instead they end up at his place, he reads that as permission to make additional advances (again, despite her drunken state). When she asks him for water because she’s not feeling great, he thinks himself the hero who’s rescuing a damsel in distress.

In another romantic comedy, we’d root for him. He is agreeable, non-threatening, slightly nerdy, and reasonably successful. He calls her beautiful and that she shouldn’t wear so much makeup. He’s downright woke, until he’s not. It’s no accident that the male cast for these “nice guy” characters are all lovable actors, including Adam Brody, evermore the sweet and awkward Seth Cohen from The O.C.; Christopher Mintz-Plasse, better known as Superbad‘s McLovin’; and comedian Bo Burnham, who goes on to play Cassie’s love interest.

Viewers have been conditioned to root for the “nice guy.” It’s why the betrayal of Bo’s character Ryan, who plays Cassie’s love interest, stings so much. He’s a pediatric surgeon with an unrequited crush on Cassie, who at her request, respectfully woos her slowly over the course of the movie. He’s sweet and self-deprecating and cracks dry jokes over dinner with Cassie’s parents. You want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, when faced with several opportunities to actually be the good guy we’ve come to believe he is, he fails. We discover he was just as culpable in the event where Cassie’s friend was assaulted. Worse, he conveniently told her he didn’t remember the event despite being friends with the perpetrator. When Cassie finally confronts him with video evidence of his involvement from years ago, he immediately becomes defensive citing the same, “It wasn’t me. I didn’t do anything. I’m a nice guy” plea. He, along with all the other men Cassie confronts, never acknowledges his own role in causing harm.

Promising Young Woman is uncomfortable because it asks us to confront our own complicity in a society that readily upholds misogyny.

The first wave of #MeToo shed light on egregious physical and psychological abuse by men in positions of power unto (mostly) women. Now, we find ourselves grappling with the less obvious but equally (if not more) insidious moments of casual misogyny.

I don’t condone Cassie’s vengeful approach toward men in the film, but I can relate to her years of pent-up rage. It is rage against the expectation that in order to be desirable, it is not fun to set boundaries. (There’s a scene where one of the men Cassie lures at a club realizes she’s not drunk and storms off pouting, “Why do you have to ruin everything?” implying he’d rather have messed around with a woman who barely could stand up on her own.) It is rage against how the anger, no matter how righteous, can be as destructive as the traumatic incident itself. It is rage against the disturbing normalization of a society where abusers continue to lead normal lives with little to no consequences while survivors are often swept under the rug.

One of the best pieces I’ve read in the last few years on misogyny is Cornell philosophy professor Kate Manne’s book Down Girl. It reshaped my understanding of misogyny. Instead of seeing it as a deep hatred toward women by men, misogyny is defined as an unconscious moral manifestation of sexist ideology. Put differently, misogyny enforces patriarchal social structures that uphold male privilege and entitlement while sexism supports the assumptions and stereotypes that normalize and justify patriarchal norms. We may not all be sexist, but all of us are likely culpable in upholding misogyny which polices women, keeps them in “their place,” and preserves expectations that serve male interests.

Misogyny rewards women who reinforce the status quo. This is most evident in two scenes between Cassie and two other women. The first is at a lunch with an old medical school acquaintance Madison, played by actress Alison Brie. Cassie wants to talk to her about why she dropped out of school, implying Madison must have known about the sexual assault. Madison gets flustered. She defends herself by deflecting blame back at Cassie, citing her promiscuity. “If you have a reputation for sleeping around, then maybe people won’t believe you when you say something has happened. [It’s like] crying wolf.” Watching it, I saw my own disappointment reflected in Cassie’s face.

The second scene is even more gut turning. Cassie revisits her old medical school dean under the guise of re-enrolling in school. She asks the dean if she recalls why she dropped out. Frustratingly, the dean does not recall Cassie’s friend Nina and the rape that led to her dropping out, but when Cassie asks about Nina’s assailant, the dean lights up. He is a successful alum who gives back to the school community. (“He’s a really nice guy!”) The dean doesn’t remember the accusations made against him, despite Cassie reminding her that the incident was reported to the dean herself. Even worse still, the dean also gets defensive saying the school receives many similar accusations. She “has to give him the benefit of the doubt” lest she ruin a promising young man’s future. It’s hard not to recall Chanel Miller and the 2015 Stanford rape case from this scene.

These two scenes, each a dialogue between two women, underscore how much we expect women to police themselves. Like the “nice guys” at the club, neither of these two women — one a supposed friend and the other a figure of authority — acknowledged their own roles in perpetuating bad behavior by a male abuser while condemning the female victim. It should have been the other way around. Cassie recognized that and was fighting for it.

#UsToo calls for more responsibility from all of us.

The ending of the film is rather bleak. Cassie plays femme fatale and dies in the grand finale where she faces Nina’s assailant. She is fully aware that she might die at his hands, and she does. When confronted by Cassie, he is more willing to smother and kill her than to admit to the truth of what happened in that dorm room many years ago. His unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions reflects a society that never held him accountable. In fact, he almost gets away with Cassie’s murder, and if he had, his original victim Nina would have ended up as a footnote, an unfortunate casualty in the event started this whole story.

In the post #MeToo era, we’re still trying to find the right ways to make amends for past and ongoing missteps around consent and abuses of power. This moment is less about finger pointing at others and much more about introspection: How are we contributing to a culture that often sets up (especially young) men and women to hurt and get hurt? How do we create enough space for those who may have done wrong — intentionally and particularly unconsciously — to apologize and make amends? The backlash against Justin Timberlake’s public apology to the recent documentary Framing Britney Spears comes to mind, where he apologized for his role in benefitting from Britney’s fall from pop stardom after their breakup. Is his apology too late? Is it sufficient? I don’t know. However, I do know I’d rather encourage more of us to take ownership in how we’ve benefitted from unconscious biases at the expense of others; not to make us feel bad about ourselves but to make us aware of these implicit power dynamics. This feels particularly important for those of us who do have power and agency to go against the status quo and support those who may not be able to.

Promising Young Woman doesn’t offer catharsis, not in the traditional revenge thriller sense. Empowerment doesn’t come from Cassie’s gotcha moments with “nice guys.” Instead, the film’s punch comes from realizing that we may recognize a little bit of ourselves in each of the characters — the angry victim, the concerned family member, the chagrined bystander of abuse, the defensive perpetrator. It’s #UsToo, a mirror to represent society as it is. We may not like what we see, but the good part is that it means we can change it.

Kimi no Na wa, a visual dream that could use a splash more history

With how much I adore Hayao Miyazaki films (Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle being my picks), I’m shocked it took me this long to hear about and get around to Makoto Shinkai’s film Kimi no Na wa (aka “Your Name”). Special thanks to Kevin for introducing it to me and asking me to jot down these first impressions.

REVIEW] 'Your Name' (Kimi no Na wa) | Rotoscopers

The film is about a country girl Mitsuha and city boy Taki who swap bodies and live out the other’s life in their dreams. There is a subplot on time travel that culminates around a rare comet passing overhead, which itself is a rich, technicolor piece de resistance to a stunning visual experience. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say the the film’s magic is best experienced firsthand. I wish I had had the chance to see this in theaters on a big screen.

Beyond the visual splendor of the film, the plot revolves around a young love story. It’s written as a romance exploring the idea of a “soulmate,” but I believe the protagonists’ development could have been equally fulfilling left as a coming-of-age self-discovery story. For example, from the onset of the film, we get flashes of Mitsuha’s listless and lonely life; she feels unseen. With a father who neglects her, a sister who is too young to be her listener, and friends who have blindly accepted their small town lives, Mitsuha feels trapped and bored in her countryside life. It’s no wonder she grows frustrated and one day yells into the void wishing she could be a “handsome Tokyo boy in her next life.” Careful what you wish for.

Mitsuha’s wish to experience life as a “handsome Tokyo boy” feels like a nod to two tensions: one of tradition versus modernity and the other of different freedom of the sexes. Japan is a country steeped in tradition, so it’s no surprise that Mitsuha holds the perception that she could only lead an interesting, free life as a boy in a big, bustling city. Her life kept pulling her to an olden world while Taki’s Tokyo life reflected the future.

I wish Shinkai had spent more time exploring this cultural tension, especially from Taki’s side too. There is a tremendous amount of backstory on Mitsuha, especially about her family (along with an explanation for why she might be having these body-swapping dreams), but there’s very little on Taki’s history. It’s unclear why he’s having the same body swapping dreams and if he had aspirations for a simpler, pastoral life. It would have, for me, made it more believable that he could fall in love with a random country girl far away.

Shinkai uses Japanese Shinto religion, belief in the supernatural, and spirituality as a way to explore the ideas of fate and time, but if only he had another half hour in the film to dig into them. There are several scenes between Mitsuha and her grandmother, where they touch on the spiritual significance of nature and rituals, that feel under-explored. I was left hanging when her grandmother seemed to notice that Mitsuha was not herself and implied how it’s something that runs in her family, but the film doesn’t have the time or desire to expand on the family history.

Despite my wish for more depth to the characters, my favorite part of the film is hands down Shinkai’s interpretation on memory. Memories are often ephemeral and flawed but they are permanent in their emotional resonance. Neither Mitsuha nor Taki can recall the details of what happened when they switch bodies, so they start to keep a diary on their phones as recap for when each wakes to his or her original body. However, they’re able to maintain their emotional connectedness, even as time and memory start to warp so much so that they can’t recall each others’ names (hence the film’s title). While they never get to be together, the two appreciate how the other makes them feel stronger, braver, and loved. It reminds me of the quintessential Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said…[or] did, but [they’ll] never forget how you made them feel.”

Kimi no Na wa is the kind of special film I need to watch 3, 4, 5+ times to appreciate all of its components. I didn’t even touch on the music — a mix of mostly Japanese upbeat pop — in this review, but that’s what I’ll be paying attention to the next time I watch.

An Antidote to Helplessness

I have three windows open, but I’d be lying if I said I could see clearly right now. Each window features so many tabs that the tightly packed icons have been rendered nearly indistinguishable. It’s a decent reflection of my frenetic brain state these last few days.

Many of our lives — mine included — were upended these last two weeks. We went from commuting to our offices to cordoning off “home offices” inside cramped apartments, and from rarely giving thought to hand washing to doing so every chance we get for fear of hurting ourselves and others around us. Those are just two of the most obvious behavioral changes we’ve had to make.

It’s a testament to our ability to adapt that so many of us found normalcy in shifting swiftly to remote work, living in lockdown, and taking self-quarantine measures. For me, however, it only heightens an awareness of the invisible lines that divide the privileged and the less so. If I’m being honest, I feel guilty and insecure. Because while I continue to work with little business continuity risk, I have a parent whose small business was forced to close, friends who have been furloughed, and family and friends left to unduly risk their lives as healthcare practitioners.

Thankfully, times of crisis have a funny way of bringing things into focus. Amidst my guilt and fear, I am also hopeful. Before us is an unprecedented opportunity to take care of each other, to prioritize our loved ones, and to give back to our communities. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the headlines and feeling small and worried that you’re not doing enough, you’re not alone. We have a long way to go before this pandemic subsides, and an even longer time before our global economy regains its footing. But instead of giving into helplessness, I’m choosing hope and the effective actions that rise from it. 

If you’re asking yourself, “How can I make a difference when so many things are broken?” start small. Even one text saying, “How’s it going? Thinking of you.” can brighten someone’s whole day in trying times. Here is a shortlist of actions I’ve taken and been inspired by as antidotes to helplessness, one tiny act of kindness at a time. If any of them move you and you are in a position of privilege, I encourage you to give (or anything similar). In moments like these, even the smallest acts of compassion will have ripple effects.

🙏 Support your community and beyond

  • My younger sister is a nurse at one of the most preeminent cancer hospitals in the U.S. Two weeks ago, her floor was designated the coronavirus floor, so for now and the foreseeable future, she is on the frontlines of coronavirus care without the requisite masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). We can do our part by (1) not hoarding them for ourselves and (2) donating to organizations like shipping and logistics startup Flexport to support the sourcing and transport of these critical supplies. Mask a Hero NY is also helping connect those who can donate mask supplies with hospital workers in need.  
  • Volunteer to serve meals to our sick, elderly, and vulnerable. In San Francisco, there are great organizations like Meals on Wheels, Project Open Hand, or any of the number of non-profits or food banks listed here, all of which need volunteers, supplies, or funds.
  • There may never be a better time to foster a shelter pet. Is this to help a precious dog or for me to get emotional support? Why not both, and I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed to hear back from San Francisco’s SPCA and Muttville.

🤝 Find strength in solidarity

  • Throw a virtual party. Finding ways to connect is more important than ever, given social isolation and loneliness can lead to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions. South Korea popularized virtually eating together, and self quarantine shouldn’t stop you from having all sorts of virtual get togethers: happy hour, playing Catan together, or even celebrating your birthday (🎉, Lee!). For those in San Francisco and beyond, I’ll be hosting another virtual block party hosted on Icebreaker soon! Message me here if you’d like to join.
  • Practice #PhysicallyDistantSociallyClose by joining new tribes. Redditers were way ahead of us when it comes to finding hyper-connected online communities revolving around niche interests. A few places to get started:
    • Join a Book Club (built by the avid readers and builders behind Highlighter)
    • Quarantine Together (supported by the wonderful InterIntellect community)
    • Check out Instagram Live videos by your favorite Influencers. I’ve had tons of fun joining Jessica Olie for yoga practice, tuning into friends’ Live sessions featuring their personal passions like baking and tarot reading, and sending love to local SF choreographers who are making the most of this quarantine by hosting their own IG Live dance classes (In fact, now is a great opportunity to take online classes from teachers and choreographers all over the world who wouldn’t normally offer them.)

💸 Pay it forward

  • For food deliveries or groceries, tip generously. Before local stores and my laundromat closed, I purchased gift cards to use for when they re-open. You can still support local businesses by purchasing gift cards here, here, and here (last one is for SF only).
  • Those who are already the most vulnerable will be disproportionately hit by this economic lockdown. These are the individuals and families without a financial safety net, the ability to WFH, without safe homes, access to affordable health care or education, etc. While our government leaders, economists, and lawmakers debate an economic stimulus, if you’re able, a few organizations worth checking out and supporting:
    • The One Fair Wage Emergency Fund provides cash assistance to service workers.
    • Donate the money you would have spent on your daily commute or coffee habit to Cancel Corona, a collection of nonprofits supporting the communities hurt by coronavirus. 
    • My friend Lyndsey wrote up her own helpful guide on all the ways you can pay it forward (and stay sane).

💕 Take care of yourself

  • With limitations on being outside, it’s important to be intentional about getting enough movement in your day to maintain both physical strength and mental acuity. Tons of gyms have started to release online classes, but here are two of my favorite free workout resources:
    • Melissa Wood Health for short-but-tough workouts using only your own body weight. She offers a 7-day free trial and a few free flows on her YouTube.
    • HIIT workouts courtesy of former Australian Pole Vaulter Amanda Bisk will have you working up a sweat.
  • Introverts, rejoice! Want a new book to read? Here are my recommendations. Need something new to watch? Binge watch your celebrity hero on MasterClass. Need a moment of distraction-free productivity?  Try FocusMate or Focused. Been meaning to brush up on your cooking skills? Why not try a new covid-19-ready recipe or learn all 59 ways to cook an egg. Want to learn a new instrument and support out-of-work musicians? Check out MaestroMatch.

Nothing is too small, and every donation of our time, money, and mindshare counts. Thank you to the many friends who inspired me to give and to continue giving. That said, we’re only scratching the surface of what will require massive action from our local and federal governments.

In the meantime, “you are more powerful than you think.” So let me know in what ways you’re giving back, other ways I may be able to contribute or highlight other efforts big or small, and our collective efforts will help strengthen and rebuild our communities.

And since I have you: If you’re healthy, stay healthy. Call your loved ones. Wash your hands. Be kind.


Special thank you to Jen, Mason, and Phillip for reading earlier drafts, and to the friends who moved me with their ways of giving back during this crisis: Roy, Lisa, Aleka, Shawn, Nitin, Paula, Noah, and many others.


The extra 1%

At work, I have a note that reads:

1.01^365 = 37.8 vs. 0.99^365 = 0.03

The one additional percent of effort, over the course of a year, compounds into a dramatically different result than one percent less of effort. It’s a daily reminder that a little hustle goes a long way. 

From Ingestion to Digestion: lessons from a year in books, podcasts, and dialogue

52 weeks of education from 52 books, 500+ hours of podcasts, and endless conversations

Fueled by technology, our society is obsessed with the new and next big thing. While neomania drives our ability to continually ideate/design/build/ship, it also leaves little time for introspection and reflection. I’m no exception. I have a genuine love for enrichment through education, and my brain acts as a sponge, absorbing knowledge and constantly seeking its applications. This time last year, I set out intent on ensuring that my learning did not stop simply because I was no longer in an academic setting.

Over 52 weeks, I read 52 books, listened to 500+ hours of podcasts, perused thousands of articles/blog posts, and enjoyed a myriad of interesting conversations. But ingesting information for the sake of information isn’t nearly as valuable as digesting it, drawing your own conclusions, and sharing it with others. There is tremendous value in pausing to look back on all that has been gathered to connect the dots. Dakota Shane Nunley wrote a great piece reflecting on his life learnings from this past year so I wanted to write some of my own takeaways in hopes of paying tribute to my contemporary mentors.

From doctors and economists to venture capitalists and everyone in between, a new generation of thinkers and creators are leading the charge to change the world. The following 5 points were key lessons they expressed or demonstrated time and time again that we can apply to better our own lives.

1. Set positive constraints

“Decisions lead to options, options to choices, choices to freedom.” — MK Asante

It seems counter-intuitive. Constraints usually hold negative connotations, but positive ones can help keep our harried lives in check. Once we identify our priorities, we can set rules around them, which in turn can be incredibly liberating.

For many successful individuals, waking up at or before 5am was the norm. This gave them ample opportunity to read, meditate, spend a few hours devoted to their most important morning rituals. For others, I often saw a recurring commitment to spend time with loved ones sans tech. Emails were only to be checked at certain times of day and time off meant time unplugged.

These micro decisions did not come at the expense of convenience. Instead, they behaved as guidelines to optimize happiness.

2. The path to success is rarely linear

Very few people interviewed or written about knew exactly what they wanted to do/be when they grew older. Some had a semblance of the industry they wanted to be in or some functional role they wanted to occupy, but the most impressive, knowledgeable leaders revealed a non-linear career progression.

By being unafraid to replace what they do with what they aspired to do, they opened doors to meeting people and being exposed to new industries. This provided unique opportunities to grow and be challenged while others around them provided support and resources.

“When you say what you want, you give others the opportunity to help you make your dreams come true.” — Bruce Kasanoff

Look at the diverse careers of John Maeda, Andrew Chen, and Karlie Kloss. Heck, look at the Rock (ahem, that’s Dwayne The Rock Johnson). They are proof that success is not just one upward vertical climb.

3. Be obsessed

Look at this awesome iceberg image. That is why every single accomplished person is obsessed with whatever it is they do.

Success is bright and shiny and easily celebrated. What is rarely highlighted is the grueling work it takes to get there.

To get better at something, it takes commitment and diligence. Atul Gawande said that “[betterment] does not take genius…it takes a willingness to try.” No one writes about what lies beneath the tip of the success iceberg because more often than not, diligence is mundane. So find something to be obsessed with to make the hundred thousand steps to betterment worthwhile.

4. The devil is in the details

The importance of user experience was stressed above all else this year. Especially when it came to technology and digital content, the maturation of the web meant that design remained as a key product differentiator.

It’s easy to write off great design because good design solutions feel obvious. Facebook designer Julie Zhou and sushi chef Jiro Ono both understood that mastering the art of simplicity entailed a deep understanding of complexity’s depth and being able to strip away the non-essentials. This process calls for a venerable number of iterations, a painstaking attention to detail, and a holistic understanding of the essence of a product.

Without such meticulous behavior, we would have been stuck with functional products that never graduated to become the usable and beautiful products we know and love today.

5. Ask honestly and listen earnestly

Every single writer, CEO, designer, founder, contributor repeated this mantra in one way or another. If I could recommend one book from the dozens I read this year, it would hands down be Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In it, she has a quote that encapsulates this last point that I won’t even try to paraphrase:

“ If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”

Ask honestly and listen earnestly. Doing so can only spread a little more empathy to the world.

Consolidating a full year’s worth of knowledge into five points almost does a disservice to the collective wisdom of all the information out there. It’s been humbling to have access to so much, only to realize that what I have learned only scratches the surface of many of these subjects.

But I’m also excited. We can learn via almost any medium today and as more and more people around the world gain access to the web, anyone with internet connection can access this knowledge. We can learn more, faster, better than ever before so long as we are humble enough to admit what we don’t know. All of these lessons remain tried and true, and as we head into another year, I can only hope to continue learning and adding to this list.

For anyone who is curious, you can find my 2015 reads here, and I always welcome book/podcast/article suggestions via my twitter @minney_cat.

Special thanks: 
The quantity and quality of information I ingested this year would have been impossible without the help of some of my new favourite apps. Even within the veritable mountain of quality content out there, Overcast, Pocket, Medium, This.cm, and Airtable were instrumental in gathering, recommending, organizing, and consolidating the very best to help me on this educational journey.