Holding space and claiming one of your own

As we wrap up November and head straight into the holiday season, like many, I find myself contemplating the year and everything that’s happened. As one of my friends put it, it’s like hundreds of years of trauma and growth finally reached a climax in 2020, and we’ve been challenged to place life as we knew it on hold to face our personal and collective demons. You had plans in 2020? Yeah, think again. The Universe, Nature, God, Spirit—whichever you subscribe to—has other plans.

Personally, I faced a devastating heartbreak from the end of my most significant relationship, which I’m still grieving but am finally finding my own sense of real closure on. Amid these unpredictable times of prolonged, collective loss through financial hardship and instability, illness and death, catastrophic climate change, and divisive rhetoric, I find myself breathing through the act of holding space for myself and the jarring experiences and emotions we are all trying to grasp.

One of my friends asked me what it means to hold space. To me, holding space means to allow what is to just be—staying in the present and meeting yourself, others, and situations just as they are. For me, holding space means taking pauses, creating, with intention, a moment to receive and accept. None of it is passive, and it is an active and often emotionally taxing practice. In these times of strife, I find it to be more and more important for my own sense of groundedness and the interconnectedness that is written into our humanity. Holding space can feel like an act of defiance at times, but its intentions are anything but that. Just like the dormant season before the bloom of spring or the fire that initiates germination, holding space for what must be is a part of growth and new beginnings.

Hold space where and when you can—for yourself and for others. In times of physical isolation and when the world we once knew must transform, making room is where it begins.

Body counts

I’m sitting on a roof catching the sun while I still can. It’s a quiet afternoon, as quiet as it can be near downtown. I’d just gotten off the phone with a friend in the throes of a COVID-19 infection. Total people I know who’ve contracted the infection: eight and counting. Total people I know who’ve died from COVID-19: one.

I remember sitting in on a meeting in July, right after one of my relatives died of COVID-19. Folks on the call were talking about how the California government was overreacting to the precautions we were taking to try to mitigate its spread, that all things considered, it was more important to maintain our regular lives than to live in fear of catching the illness, that all in all, COVID-19 wasn’t really as bad as our public health agencies were making it seem. I had to excuse myself from the rest of that call.

It’s easy to take a self-centered approach to all of this. It’s easy to say, hey, well I’m not affected and I don’t know anyone else who’s gotten it, so why should I be worried? I don’t think we should be living in fear. They are right about one thing—that we can’t live in fear, at least not for too much or too long. Fear, while at times compelling us to redirect our motivations and actions, also blocks us from moving with clear intention.

I consider myself rather cautious, especially because I live in close quarters with my neighbors and my parents are vulnerable to severe disease. I’ve come to accept that at some point I’ll contract it too, regardless of how careful I am. Yet, I, too, no matter how outwardly healthy I appear, live with a pre-existing condition that renders me vulnerable, but I’ll get to that if the time comes.

I wonder what those same folks in July are saying now. In the US alone, we’ve surpassed 254,000 deaths. In Los Angeles County—almost 7,400 to date.

I think I’ll paint today.

3,300 and counting

I live about 2 miles away from my first home in Los Angeles when I immigrated here in 1991. So much has changed since then, but the biggest thing on my mind now is the 3,300+ new daily cases of COVID-19 we are averaging.

With holidays approaching, tensions growing from unemployment, increased rates of homelessness, and stricter safety precautions, including a curfew being imposed for a month starting this Saturday night, it’s hard to know what’s going to happen in the coming weeks. Upheaval continues to be in the air.

I’m optimistic about emerging COVID-19 vaccines, but it’s hard to know how we’ll get enough people to get vaccinated in order for them to be effective on a large community scale and demonstrate herd immunity. I don’t think we’ll have a glimpse of much normalcy until the end of 2021, which—even then, from all of the projections I’ve kept up with—seems to fall on the more ideal end rather than what we might actually experience. I’ll stay optimistic for now. Ask me again in November 2021.

Keeping things fresh

It’s almost the end of the year, and it’s easy to feel like 2020 was both the longest and swiftest year of my life. Nationwide cases of COVID-19 are surging, as we brace ourselves for winter and a holiday season that brings a greater sense of isolation and financial instability for many this time around. I work in public and mental health, and the question around the work we are all asking is how do we manage physical distancing and sheltering in place when addressing mental health is critical for longevity?

Frequently working from home, it’s also easy to feel a sense of monotony throughout the days, weeks, months, and soon-to-be year. (To be fair, I am deeply grateful to be able to work from home.) I’ve been rotating various hobbies to keep things fresh and moving, and one of the hobbies back in rotation is painting. I am far from having any formal training in this craft, but I’ve always loved creating anything by hand and have painted for years. Recently, I started off painting a derpy portrait of my cat, but now painting pet portraits has become a side project, and I’ve managed to get a queue of portraits together.

I’m only on my third portrait, but I’ve got three more in the queue!

It all started with my muse George.
I painted Rue for a couple of my best friends in the Bay Area.
I’m working on a third portrait and mixed a sweet coral to match this pup’s namesake and color vibe for the background.

I try to get to know these pets’ personalities so I can capture unique quirks. It’s honestly the best part, and I often find myself laughing as I paint these silly facial expressions.

Painting has also been great with relieving stress, which also helps when I have technological issues and want to throw my laptop across the room!

If you’re reading this and feel apprehensive about starting anything crafty, just try it! No one starts off a master at anything anyway, and the most important part is whether you find joy in what you’re doing. If cost is an issue, try repurposing things you’ve already got at home. I’ve also painted old planters that have otherwise been collecting dust. I’ve used my glue gun to put several odd objects together, including repairing my toilet seat. (It’s easier than bugging my landlord and way more cost-effective for me.) Happy crafting!

Reflections of Wilshire Boulevard

Koreatown is the densest neighborhood in all of Los Angeles, but a stifling stillness still plagues this city, the economy of which depends heavily on the hospitality and entertainment industries. We continue to sit in the purple tier, indicating widespread COVID-19 test positivity rates and cases and requiring the most severe reopening precautions. While many businesses have been making due with limited hours and reliance on takeout and delivery services, many small businesses, including long-time favorites, have had to shut down permanently. Is there an end in sight?

‘Tis the Night Before Elections, and all through the house…

A crisp fog looms over downtown, obscuring the skyline.

Tomorrow is the official U.S. Election Day of 2020 and I’ve been volunteering at the polls at a local center in Los Angeles. I just got home an hour ago, and it’s almost 10 PM here. Tomorrow’s going to be an even longer day, and while we expect that many have already mailed in their absentee ballots, it’s gotten even busier over the last few days. There are over 6 million registered voters in LA County alone.

We’ve registered many first-time voters, eager to have their voices heard for the first time during this momentous election. Personally, it’s my first time volunteering at the polls. I wouldn’t have even known that volunteering as a poll worker was a thing, had it not been offered to me when I had to sort out my registration a couple of months ago.

I’m proud to be part of this election, doing my part in some way, no matter how the elections turn out. I’ve spent many afternoons and weekends canvassing and phone banking for local candidates I believe in. There’s a fervor that’s palpable with so many during this cycle, and it’s exciting to see so many younger people involved. Two of the volunteers at our center are college freshman. When I was their age 16 years ago, there’s no way volunteering for anything election-related would have even occurred to me, nor would I have wanted to.

The times are a-changin’. It’s been a polarizing election cycle, with families and friendships being blown apart with outspoken beliefs—some of mine included. Regardless of how the votes tally, the U.S. has been building up a collective sense of existential crisis that will require repair for decades to come. Whether we can come together and rebuild bridges is another story, or maybe it requires demolishing old bridges to build new paths? I won’t pretend to know the answer. All we can do now is brace ourselves for what’s to come.