Initiate 2014

2014 x2

The first minute of 2014 came quietly, but in no way a bad entry to the new year. Reflective. Content.

And then Lunar New Year came with a gallop and a leap, befitting of the year’s sign, gallantly making its way into the world. Between the two New-Year-markers, much happened. The rush up to this minute was intense. Weeks prior involved many projects ending, new ones starting. You know, new year stuff. Last week I said I’d commit to writing more and putting my stuff out there.

So what better way to start than share a run-down of what I’ve been up to! Scroll on down to check it out, or jump to the update you wish to see!

PhillyCHI     |     Gung Fu     |     123&Co.     |     Dribbble     |     SBYF Project


PHILLYCHI

PhillyCHI_logo-01

I became the 2014 Chair of PhillyCHI! What is PhillyCHI you ask? From the source, PhillyCHI is the Philadelphia region’s chapter of the ACM SIGCHI, an interdisciplinary academic and professional group interested in Human-Computer Interaction, User Experience, Usability, and other related disciplines. PhillyCHI holds monthly meetings and socials to network and discuss current topics in HCI.

So we host cool events pertaining to user experience and usability. As for being Chair? I was apprehensive at first, but with great support and working with a phenomenal leadership team comprising our 2014’s board, well, it’s been pretty hectic, but also wholly satisfying. The greatest thing is learning to lead while being able to deliver. The curve is huge, but as I said, I’m working with a fantastically talented team with phenomenal support on the sidelines.

Some things PhillyCHI is looking to make happen this year:

Showcasing Philadelphia as a primier design & tech hub. Ever been to a PhillyCHI event? Heard our panels? Seen our sponsors? Engaged in the dialogue we’re having with the local universities? If you have, you will well know Philadelphia as a leading design city, one that creatively advances. If you haven’t, you can glean this from the many existing creative initiatives citywide. But PhillyCHI wants to push the focus further. We believe Philadelphia as a city of burgeoning opportunity for creative professionals. This year we want to hone in on the amount of opportunity for designers of all disciplines to embrace our city’s offerings.

Focus on stewarding Philadelphia’s design & tech talent. From recent grads, transitioning entry levels, aspiring experts and adept masters—this city has all shades and we want to help them blend in nurturing fashion. In a couple of week’s we have a coding marathon with Drexel. In the coming months, we’ll be partnering with even more organizations to make these relationships possible. So join our mailing list and tune in.


GUNG FU

why-we-train-computer

Why We Train: Three Generations of Cultural Study — my latest creative project was working with Arvil Prewitt to create this video short. It’s a reflection on the cultural relevance of gung fu, a piece I am extremely proud of. Please check it out by heading over here.

2014 marks my return to teaching gung fu. I taught for a little while at Philadelphia University as a part of their extracurricular physical education program. While the opportunity and exposure was great, it was hard to really nurture the art and the students: the turnaround was fast while the education really an introduction, a primer into the culture.

This year, I am fortunate in having a few private students request my teaching. Thus far I’ve worked with them for a little over a month, the relationships being fantastic. They are passionate, forcing me to become a better practitioner through their hard work. As pressure tests go, humble-yet-knowledgeable students, eager to learn, they are as good as they come.

This came at a coincidental moment to a project I was working on for a fellowship application I submitted. I chose to focus on the cultural relationship of my base martial art, Kwong Sai Jook Lum. As anyone who knows me knows, the passion I have for martial arts is multifaceted and you can glimpse another part of that by looking at this creative project I’ve had the opportunity to create with my colleague and gung fu brother, Arvil Prewitt. I’m proud of this piece, as it pays tribute to my teachers while also providing a synopsis of the cultural relevance to an otherwise obsolete art.


123&CO.

123&Co

123&CO. is a side project my roommate and I started. It is comprised of friends and colleagues working closely with organizations in Philadelphia for social good. While we realize that our small efforts won’t save the whole world, we believe affecting change in any sphere of influence is a great start.

Our first gathering is an ice cream social to support Youth Emergency Services. You can learn more about this particular social here and learn about the thought process behind my logo design here.


DRIBBBLE

autumn-dribbble

I’ve promised myself to be more assertive with sharing my work, especially on Dribbble: it’s the only way I’ll get better and hold myself accountable. I thought I’d share my latest with you here!

My latest Dribbble post was inspired by something I read last autumn: that the ancient Chinese believed winters grew so cold due to the Earth, once a year, moving far away from the Sun. They embraced autumn as a time of finding beauty in change and sorrow, a time for courage in the face of increasing darkness, and a time of hope for the coming spring.

This sparked a little story in my head with Tàiyáng (太阳), the Sun, reaching out to her departing love, Di (地), the Earth, due to unseen forces (gravity) driving her towards the direction of autumn.

If you’d like to see any of my other Dribbble shots, please head over to my collection and leave a crit or two!


SBYF Project

sample-3

SBYF Project rolled out with some updates during the last quarter of 2013. If you haven’t checked that out yet, we are continuing our workshops in storytelling and memory collecting! As a matter of fact, have a story to share? Have a memory you want to preserve? Head on over to our website and submit one!

While you’re at it, if you need some inspiration or simply feel like reliving tales from other members, direct your attention to the SBYF Online Memory Library. One of our objectives is to foster community and sharing through stories, so dive in and enjoy moments from a diverse pool of history!


There You Have It!

I hope you enjoyed some of the things I’ve been working on so far! This was a nice opportunity to take some stock in the excitement I have for the rest of 2014. Stay tuned and until next time, enjoy 2014!

The Art Requires the Whole Man

My reflections on the factors behind my quest for success and the start towards the reconciliation of such a burden.


As originally published via The Good Men Project


“Ars totum requirit hominem.”

I write those words in every sketchbook I start. The phrase is in reference to the obsolete tradition of alchemy. It speaks of the requirements between Art (work/discipline/endeavor) and man, of their irrevocable tie to one another to create something of value, to be someone of worth and that this creation would require the sum of his being. This resonated with me.

The Magnum Opus, the Great Work it was called.


I remember the moment of my resolution in creating a life’s work, something the family generations preceding me could be proud of. It was a 10pm third-grade evening umpteen years ago, eyes blurry with tears and a yellow No.2 pencil in my hand. I was sitting at the kitchen table, legs dangling over pea-colored tiled flooring, so tired, so tired, with an angry mother over my shoulder.

The moment produced a combination of senses mingled in shame and anger, of guilt and damaged pride. I trembled shaky cursive across a sheet of loose-leaf, my pencil scribing words I no longer recall. Why was I so stupid as to have misspelled these words on last week’s quiz? Why was I so careless?

My mother was still angry, disappointed at how I could let something like this happen. Wasn’t I concerned with my future? Didn’t I want to become something? Didn’t I understand the hard work she was doing in order for me to have a meaningful life? Couldn’t I spend a little effort getting some silly words spelled correctly?


Looking back I can empathize with her situation. She felt alone in a new world that never grew quite familiar. She worked long hours in midst of mental exhaustion induced by her relationship with my father. Her worries about making the next round of bills permeated our home. She was loving, but easy to frustrate, always a step away from irritability. And she was so fearful of my ever living the life she had to endure. And so that was the culture of our home—failure was not an option.

I no longer remember what those misspelled words were, but those errors and that evening still swirl in my head. They conjure intertwined feelings of a son’s duty, a first-born’s responsibility to make something of himself, to honor the sacrifices of a (pretty much) single mother. I can’t remember a time when the stakes weren’t so pertinent. My godparents frequently reminded me that I was destined for great things. That the hardships my mother inherited were never in vain; they were for me, the fruits of labor borne through me. I can’t remember a time when no bar of some expectation was just out of reach, a time when I didn’t feel I had to dig myself out of whatever it was that I was told I needed to get out of in the first place.

The sense of guilt was worse. A year ago, overwhelmed, distraught and floundering between maintaining a day job, creating a startup, teaching, contributing to a collective art project, and stumbling over a relationship, I called my mother. I was always anxious to call her as she never had anyone to exasperate her problems with—for as long as I could remember, I was that person. But this night, I needed to ask for some advice of my own. I shared my feelings of inadequacy, of the relentless sensations of pursuing some grandeur I couldn’t see, and of the crushing fear of failure that seemed to always loom above me.

“I feel tired all the time. I wake up anxious, not looking forward to the day, not driven to really excel. I feel depressed I think,” I said over the phone.

“You think I’m not tired? I am anxious and depressed all the time.”

“I know,” I say. Not really knowing how to respond I continued with, “Mom, you’re getting old, please stop working overtime. Besides, don’t you ever get bored?”

“How can you be bored when you have a purpose?” she responded.

The matter-of-factness took me back. It startled me, even shocked me, because I knew she truly believed it. My mother started working in the States since she landed here from Vietnam. She met her sponsor family at age 18, working, working… she still works every hour she can get her hands on. She’s come a long way since she’s hit these shores, but it was never easy.

“I get tired. But then I remember. The tiredness goes away when you have vision.”

She doesn’t see her working days ending anytime soon and still, she works hard. Because dammit there’s just no other option. This is life.

Right?


I was the son of immigrants. Of foreigners. First male of a generation across two family names. First collegiate graduate. First born into joys of Western comfort. And so, it wasn’t just a blessing: it was duty. The question of success was never a question. It just was. I just had to be.

But duty is never that easy, is it? How does one explain that sense of burden? I was expected to appreciate it as privilege: male privilege, Western privilege bestowed on the son of runaways. But all I felt was a relentless weight that drove itself into knots. The guilt of laxing through a study session or calling sick out of work. The shame of feeling that life was sometimes difficult.

The strength and stoicism this required. All feigned, I knew wasn’t allowed those feelings. I wasn’t supposed to have weakness let alone express it. I was a man, product of trials greater than mine. Where was my Magnum Opus? When would I build my noble house? Where was the meaning in my work? What was I working for? When would I stop feeling so utterly inadequate?

As I threw myself into my work, I ignored my relationships. I ignored former hobbies and passions. My myopic sense of perfection’s pursuit, of finding that ingredient that would turn my perceived leadened-self into gold drove me onward. The equation made sense: anything could be attained through diligence and discipline.

If I just worked hard enough I could be closer to perfection. The closer I was to perfection the closer I would be to love. With success, with security, with accomplishment, if I achieved the unachievable I would earn respect. If I devoted myself to the impossible, I would never feel sorrow again. I was set on making an impact on the world, because that is what it would take for me to accept myself.

Of course, these were all delusions. And it took years of missteps and losses to really take a look at what was important.


“And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy, “Three Methods Of Reform: Pamphlets”

Not too long ago I reached a point of diminishing returns, of exhausting myself and ruining some relationships. The jolt I received from this took on other forms of self-doubt. How could I have been so selfish as to think only about me? How could I be so concerned with making something of myself that I sacrificed all that I already had around me?

It was around this time that I met with a mentor of mine, a former college professor. We occasionally corresponded over the last several years and decided it was due time to meet for lunch. We discussed our endeavors, reacquainting one another with our projects, of life and of what we had accomplished and what we were looking to accomplish. I mentioned to him my shift in careers focusing on the social service sector as a reaction to my self-involved pursuits. I told him of my ambitions with a variety of projects, of wanting to better the world in some way. That, was of course, the meaning I’d been searching. But where was the key? Where was my Philosopher’s Stone to make such a goal happen?

“You know Phil, it also comes with age. You reach a point and you realize that your life is the good work. Living your life is the project. I wake up in the morning wanting to be a good person doing good things. That is my project.”

And it was at this point that I finally took a look at what was important to me, of all the good I already had in life. Perhaps the ingenuity of the Magnum Opus wasn’t in its ability to provide an answer at all. Perhaps its significance was in its impossibility. It made one search and search and in the end notice patterns. In that searching, certain models succeeded while others did not. It was the awareness of these patterns and the fortitude to hone them that provided us with the chemistry and physics of today.

And so, while there was no direct elixir of life and no transmutation, perhaps the process of learning from that journey was the answer itself. The failures and the successes. The joy and the suffering.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
T.S. Elliot

My circumstances dictated that I wanted to have a “good” life. A life provided for. A life in which I wasn’t only happy, but a life full of meaning and worth. And perhaps with all my angst and all my insecurity I failed to notice the successes that were happening right now. Sure there were varying degrees of struggle, small bouts of suffering, but for all of my fears and pressures of success, I was succeeding.

I am achieving what is needed. I am what I need to be right now. I am all right. I am the art that requires the whole man. The art and the man are one and the same.


  1. Republished from http://goodmenproject.com/business-ethics-2/the-art-requires-the-whole-man/#2YQ32MsIZU3lKesd.99
  2. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Alchemical_Laboratory_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_14218.jpg

Formations

On teamwork and individualism


Shield to Shield

While working today’s social hour, I flipped through a few pages of a book entitled “A Study of History” by Arnold J. Toynbee. It was here that I came upon a part in particular speaking of the evolution of the Spartan phalanx. 1

A phalanx is a general term for military infantry formation. The popular construction of the word describes a military arrangement of tightly packed soldiers armed with spears and interlocking shields. The shield of your colleague’s protected your exposed right side and your shield in turn protected your fellow teammate’s right side. The dense nature of the arrangement provided a compact defensive structure within an offensive mobile force. The Spartans in particular were able to maintain flexibility in this arrangement due to their single-handed dory spears (as opposed to the Macedonian double handed spears) and their short iron xiphos swords, thusly able to function as a single unit while maintaining some autotomy of the individual.

“One-against-one, they are as good as anyone in the world. But when they fight in a body, they are the best of all.” 2

While Tonybee chronicles the evolution of the basic phalanx into more sophisticated military formations, the modern analogy here is less to the lasting integrity of these specific strategies in an ever evolving battlefield and more on the fundamental component of their value: that each individual member is an integral component to the overall integrity of the unit.

Collaboration today is similar. A part of the usefulness in collaboration is the trust in your team and the ability to defer to their various disciplines of expertise . Relinquishing control doesn’t mean catering to your team’s whims, but rather placing trust in why you have a team in the first place. Each member has his and her strong attributes, each is capable of catching any holes you or any other member may make, and each reinforces the movement forward through tightly formed strategy. Like the phalanx.

Transcend Yourself.

There is strength in vigorous individuality. The composite of the whole is completely dependent upon the constitution of each individual member. And this is where disruption, the positive kind, can come into play, where diverse individuals challenge one another to provoke invigorating new solutions. This is the crucial spice in the recipe of innovative culture.

It can take a single idea to spark action, but it takes action to keep that spark burning. IDEO’s one tenant for Human Centered Design is to compose a team of varying abilities and disciplines.3 This diversity creates a breadth and depth of experience, but provides lateral thinking that enables the connection of a variety of dots—dots which likely may not exist without a particular member in the fold. Consider a melting pot of the strongest points of culture, perspective and skillset—this is innovative teamwork, when one’s individual value reinforces something greater than himself. When one can, for the moment, put his own individualism aside for the common strength of a greater goal.

“The most effective moral communities – from a well-being perspective – are those that offer occasional experiences in which self-consciousness is greatly reduced and one feels merged with or part of something greater than the self.”4

Our relentless individualism shades the fact that everything we do affects our society, the people around us, the people in our lives. Strengthen oneself to strengthen those around us. That’s why many of us got into the fields we got into in the first place; to make the world a better, more interesting place. And I believe that if we, from time to time, realize that our individualism is stronger when applied to the benefit of the formation, of the goal, of the pursuit, of the good for our constituents, that we can very rarely go wrong.


1. A Study of History, Volume V, The Disentigrations of Civilization; Arnold J. Toynbee
2. Herodotus vii (trans. G. Rawlinson)
3. HCD Tool Kit; IDEO.org
4. “Hive Psychology, Happiness & Public Policy“; J. Haidt, P. Seder & S. Kesebir (as quoted from Why Teams Make Us Happy; Scott Belsky)

 

Rain-streaked Windows

“Suffering as the great educator is denied by the Western mind, which always pursues happiness.”
Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit


1

Again the rain begins. And so it’s been. Stare long enough out there into that rain-streaked window and you may start to lose sight of the picture on the other side. What you may start focusing on however, are the little globs dribbling down the panes. Some droplets may defiantly cling, holding on rather than sliding down to meet with others. Some likely pool in a corner, weighing heavily with every patter.

Waiting. Weighing. Waiting…

The magic is in those raindrops you know. Each reflects and refracts a familiar world into something distorted and new. It beckons you to look upon the familiar with unfamiliar scope. There’s a tiny microcosm in those droplets, every one of them. And they all magnify the existing world. Don’t believe me? Next time, take a look through a raindrop and tell me what you see.


2

Tears are probably similar in that way. They are probably similar in that way though I wouldn’t know. It’s been a long time since I’ve shed one.

I’ve forgotten how.

But if I were to use my imagination, I imagine that tears falling from your eyes are similar to the raindrops falling from the sky—tiny beads filtering your view. I imagine you can learn a lot from seeing through them. Not beyond them, but literally, through as you would bifocals, trifocals even, into another world.


3

Tears are probably a bit like the words you hold inside yourself, the words you want to say during all those awkward silent moments. You know those moments, I know you do. Those moments in which you need the right words to mean what you’re saying, but none exist. Those moments that slip beyond cordial “How’s the weather?” and “Did you have a nice weekend?”

I’m talking about those moments where the silence is shouting everything you’re feeling and questioning everything you’re screaming from within. It’s that awkward moment you’ve reached where no audible language can translate what you’re bearing, what you’re breathing.

You know the scene. You’ve been there. Sometimes it’s with a friend on the other line and she’s sitting there listening to your quiet. Neither of you say anything, but she hears it in the void, in the blank gap of darkness I always picture separating phone lines and airwaves.

Or maybe you’re at the bar and your buddy sits beside you picking at the coaster, tapping the edge of his pint to echo the reticence. It’s uncomfortable, but he’s uncomfortable with you. You don’t say anything, but he doesn’t either.

He. She. They are your friends and aware you’re feeling feelings and that you have no way to tell them so.

And so you wrap your hands, slip on the gloves and find a language that can convey the conviction to your thoughts.


4

Hitting the heavy bag is probably similar to the pattering of the rain. It offers a cadence, a rhythm your words can’t describe. It’s like the music others turn to, but here the lyrics are the poetry of a different language.

Because that’s what men do. We don’t give in to things we can’t fight with our fists. We shell up and punch through. Why would we be “man enough” to explore the origins of our sorrows when we can numb them by punching them away? Why should we communicate our care, concern and fears when we’re taught to “man up or shut up”? Why should we do anything but see:

love = vulnerability = weakness

And so you don’t want to shut up. You want to fill that nihility with your speech and so you keep throwing those combinations hoping they’ll unlock the response you’ve been looking for. It kept you safe before. Why not again?

Jab-Cross-Hook.
Jab-Cross-Hook.
Jab-Cross-Hook.

And Hook. And Hook. And Hook and Hook and Hook.


5

Unshed tears are probably similar in that way. You know they want to talk to you, but they don’t know how to break the threshold of silence. So you and those hidden tears acknowledge each other. You’re both subdued allowing solace in knowing you both care.

Men cry. But I can’t. Instead I look out at rain-streaked windows imagining what it’s like to answer a silent vacuum. The world sheds a tear so that I can hear. And when I can’t answer back, I let the beat of the canvas bag answer for me.

And now that it’s gone it’s like it wasn’t there at all / And here I rest where disappointment and regret collide / Lying awake at night / Up all night / When I’m lying awake at night.

Men cry. But I can’t. Maybe if I keep writing instead of fighting I’ll remember how.


Further Reading

Fears for Tears: Men and Vulnerability Higher Unlearning, The Good Men Project

Why Is Our Society Obsessed with Modern Men and Maniliness? Nicole Johnson, The Good Men Project

Egg Yolk Subways

Time. Like passing trains on parallel tracks.

I’m crammed into one in New York, and then Boston, then Chicago. In every one I can clearly see the lucid frames as my window intersects with the windows of the passing carts, all quick snapshots in time. I don’t know the person on the other side of the frame, but for one moment we share a space. It’s so tangible, I want to rewind the film, 35mm subway cars realigning that I may ask through these windows:

Who are you?
Have we met?
How far away was it from here?

He won’t respond, “1,000 miles.” He’ll tell you “17 hours.” That’s how it works. We don’t measure distance with miles, leagues or kilometers anymore. We measure it with time, a complicated conversion rate made up of the division of distances and seconds. Or minutes. Or hours. We finagle the answer, something that would accurately require minimal algebraic reasoning to accomplish. But we’re all so caught up with time, the saving of it, the managing of it, the worth of it, that even our physical distances are measured by it. We’re so attuned to giving time physical weight we are able to approximate its value when dealing with traversing tangible space. You can’t help but feel that same cull as when waking amidst a dream.

Dreams. I dream vividly. Some nights more than others.

When I wake suddenly middream, I don’t simply wake up remembering the dreams as past fog, wisps wiping away towards daylight. Rather, they click through from a continuous stream into the next, one scene and then the next, the next until the moment in which I wake.

If dream and reality were a film, the frames between dreamstate and awakeness would be a jumpcut of one shot to the next. I’m dragged unwillingly into the real world with a physical weight to my back, a fog in my mind, like an egg yolk slowly lifted from a bowl full of egg white. The mass of the yolk and the white of the egg are inextricably connected until that moment of break between glutinous substances: a sudden PLOP and I’m drawn to a waken state. The pull just lets go.

That was this morning. In one frame I’m dreaming of old friends, merry times that probably could have happened, but didn’t. And then within the next frame I hear a closing of the door, see a ceiling stark white, feeling smooth leather on my skin. I’m on a couch and I’m waking up, I realize. I feel heavy and my mind is confused despite the fact that I know I’m now in reality. Yellow yolk yanked from a pool of thickness. The window of a subway car zipping to match its counterpart.

It’s like that moment with friends forged long ago. Wasn’t it yesterday that I saw them together in New Zealand? And then the next day we were all at their wedding? No, it was another friend’s wedding we were all dancing, singing, and racing along the streets of Portland. Or was it the New Years of 2010 when we went to see the big Christmas tree in Boston? And then I meet their precious daughter Madeline, giggling at me like she has ages ago.

That’s the feeling you get when you’re separated by time. Each moment is inextricably linked to the last one. The Katilin and Chris that I meet now with their adorable Madeline only had a frame apart from the Kaitlin and Chris of New Years, of Lindsay’s wedding, of their wedding, of our time in New Zealand. Quick snapshots on subway cars pulled from the egg white of yesterday. I know there are tapestries of woven stories separating those moments, but the possibility to rewind back to see them again feels so logical. Like chosen scenes from a television episode, I’ll just go back to season three when we were in Boston on their wedding day, season four to smile with them on New Years Eve as we’re counting down the moment before the next frame cuts through.

I’m now sitting on a deck. Not the one on South Boston’s harbor, but the deck adjoined to my house in Philadelphia. Despite Matt being unable to relocate those steps he found all those years ago, I can hear from the slight breeze traveled the distance of the Pacific, across the snowy titans dotting the American plains, and over these rooftops reaching me say “Memory Hold The Door.” And with a nod, maybe a smile, but definitely reassured, all I can think back is, “May all the memories lived and yet be lived continue to hold that door.”

But then suddenly, the pull lets go. I’m here, now. That was all then. It’s been nine years. No, wait, it’s been four. Three. Two.

Now.