The Middle

In three short days, I enter my mid-30s. It’s a funny age when you know you’re no longer considered “young,” but you also aren’t legit enough to be old. The thing about being squarely in the middle, is that no one buys it. And for some reason these days, everyone wants something to buy; they want to be convinced. Not with facts, but with feeling. Of their own worth, righteousness, intellect, wealth, success, etc. etc. Social media allows to do this in a photo, a pithy comment, or less than 140 characters. We can cater our realities to how we want to be persuaded.

For the most part, it’s great. I enjoy being able to connect with folks I remember from childhood, people I went to school with and worked with in LA, Berlin, Beijing, and SF. I like seeing articles that make me think, or funny memes that make me laugh and go, “hell yeah!” I love seeing all the things that make us all unique and special. I’ve always prided myself in having friends from various walks of life, and hearing their perspectives has continually challenged me to grow and change as I know more about the world. I certainly have you guys to thank for that.

But what I’m seeing now is discouraging. I deleted Facebook off my phone the other day, just to eliminate the noise from my head. Because the outrage, the awareness– none of that is working right now. Our government is bought, and we’re fighting on a platform who doesn’t care about anything but their bottom line. Any effort to engage others through actual communication is met with ridicule, condescension, and hurt feelings on both sides. It all appears to be a smoke screen, to keep us fighting with the people we care about.

But then again, disengaging doesn’t work either. Disengaging allows for the status quo and those in power to win. I’m seeing well-meaning, intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate people on either side of the debate throw their hands up in despair and retreat back to their echo chambers to lick their wounds. I am doing the same.

But here’s what we have in common: 

  • Everyone feels like the victim
  • Everyone feels unheard
  • Everyone feels like they know better
  • Everyone feels like they’re trying their best

So why do we disagree on so much? Here’s are some reasons, though not at all limited to these: 

  • Politics is now being sold as a product, you only see what you would otherwise consume
  • The powerful benefits from keeping us divided, so they use our tribalistic, nativist tendencies to pin the blame on the poor, the incarcerated, and the minorities (the Other)
  • The poor and disenfranchised are feeling guilt for having to rely on the government for “handouts,” and being shamed for being the victims of a vastly unequal society. Instead of admitting this, they are quick to blame others who aren’t part of their tribe by calling them snowflakes, stupid, or entitled;
  • Everyone loses.

Recently, I’ve been told by various people and family members that they think I talk too much about politics, that I should focus more on Art instead, that I am potentially causing harm to my friends and family by being “so extreme.” Thing is, I consider myself fairly moderate– and if you were to stand in my shoes for a few days, you’d see that too. I’m sure most people feel that way about themselves. But like I said, everyone wants to be convinced of something, so if you must be convinced that I fall into some kind of spectrum and need to be labelled, I hope to just convince you that I care.

I care about giving opportunities for people who want them, I care about alleviating suffering for animals and humans alike. The line you choose to draw here is deeply personal, I don’t care if you eat meat. I believe the role we have in this world is to be the guardians of what we’ve been given, and if we can, be the voice to the voiceless. I don’t believe in heaven, or even hell, so maybe I believe this is the only place we’ve got.

I’m not saying I’m a Saint, and I’m no devil, either. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have friends and family members that are or were once on welfare, who were victims of violence and abuse, and have been arrested or incarcerated. That doesn’t make me a victim, but it gives me intimate perspective of what it’s like to live in shame and guilt. I’m no stranger to that, either. I also know that I can be a bit reactionary, a tad racist, and a hypocrite sometimes. I don’t think I’m alone in that, either.

What I would be ashamed of, however, would be to give into an acceptance that humans are selfish, greedy, and mean-spirited by nature, and that’s just the way it is. Because, that’s the way it will continue to be, if no one cares to be anything more. I mean that sincerely, between you and me, because I believe we’re all imprisoned if we continue to see ourselves that way.

To even have this perspective, I also know, means that I am coming from a lot of privilege– despite the fact that through income alone, I would be considered the working poor. I shop about once every two years, but I am able to buy what I need. I track everything I buy for my Art on a spreadsheet, and make sure I keep it in the black, so I can keep doing what I love. The thing is, most people I know do this. It’s easy to look at someone and assume that they’re not struggling, but you’d be doing yourself an injustice.

So maybe here’s a radical idea: I’m not ashamed to admit that I am not unique, that I fall squarely in the middle of most things. Sure–I’m an immigrant, I’m Chinese, I’m a woman, I’m an artist, I celebrate all these things that make me unique. But I’m also part of the majority, which makes me somewhat unremarkable, but here’s why it matters: It won’t be our differences, it’ll be our similarities that will matter the most in the next few years. Our diversity is what makes us exceptional, but it’ll be what we have in common that will help us in the end. And if there’s anyone to first find those shared commonalities and struggles to drive change, it’ll the folks in the middle. And I sincerely hope we do.

Your Friend, Cindy

 –San Francisco, February 9th, 2017