What is Beyond “Awareness?”


“Tear to Mend” (2012) Watercolor Pencil on Paper (c) Cindy Shih

I am Asian (surprise!), which means: I don’t create waves, I don’t stand out, I don’t have emotions. But I went to bed angry last night, and I woke up today feeling profoundly sad. I don’t think I was alone, because if you’re even remotely a thinking person in the world today, you realize what a sad world we live in. But Anger? What good does that do?

I’ve learned to appreciate Anger, because I find it more motivating than Sadness. Depression runs deep in my family, I’ve always known that, so through the years, I’ve found ways to bring myself out of the never-ending spirals of despair and powerlessness. That’s just how my brain is wired, that’s all. But Anger? It’s there. But how the fuck do you use such a raw emotion constructively?

I’ll get to that. But perhaps the saddest thing of all though, is our Cynicism. Scratch that- MY cynicism. Blame it on social media, on fear, on circumstances, whatever it may be– but it’s easier to climb onto my Facebook soapbox and pass judgment on every small gesture, every feeble attempt to build a community, than to put myself out there and do something about it. Ha, that artist brings arts and crafts to the inner city children every weekend? Naive. That dude that writes a poem for everyone on the street? Desperate. “That’s the shit I did in high school,” “how typical,” “that’s so Asian.” Even the self-aware, liberal progressive types are branded as”#Stuffwhitepeoplelike” and makes a mockery of people trying, in their own small way, to bridge the gap between communities and use their own unique strengths to make things just a little bit better.

As an artist, I’m constantly consumed by self-doubt and live in fear of what Amanda Palmer would call, the “fraud police.” Truth is, everyone does. We don’t need each other to tell us how powerless we are, we have the media, our government, and ourselves to do that for us. In short: we’re already vulnerable. Yesterday’s decision made us more vulnerable; it stripped away any illusions that we are protected, we’re naked– and we’re angry. 

What now? We’re encouraged to protest when we’re angry. Protests unite; Protests work to create awareness. But we’re past awareness now. We know shit is fucked up. We’re angry because this isn’t the world we want to live in. We’re angry because we’re vulnerable, we’re angry because we’re powerless.

So what’s past awareness? Social media is a powerful tool, but it can only do so much until the next anger-inducing thing comes along. (There are so many!) It’s also a lazy substitution for meaningful, human connection. What we need now is a collective understanding of our powerlessness, a focus on what we can do to help in our little way: make art, sing a song, volunteer at a soup kitchen, write a letter: free from judgment from others, and fear of being called out as a fraud.

I’m writing this as my personal offering, it’s my attempt to connect: so if you feel the same way, make something, find a way to make a meaningful connection, and help others do the same. If we’re afraid of each others’ judgment, we won’t connect. Now is a time to connect and rebuild, we’ve done enough destroying.

Do something small, something stupid, anything–I won’t pass judgment, and in my own small way, I will help. We have a long fight ahead of us, folks. Nothing we do or say will fix the problem overnight. Little, stupid, small, seemingly inconsequential things to help build the community may be the only chance we’ve got to make a difference. Let’s help make our communities better.