Getting “Lost”

The son of a Vietnamese family rocked by war, Andrew Lam grew up amid the Bay Area’s vibrant immigrant bricolage, which has shaped the region’s cultural boundaries as well as his work as a journalist, activist, and author of fiction. In his latest book, Birds of Paradise Lost (Red Hen Press), Lam’s short stories trace the contours and conflicts of migrant life in the post-Vietnam War diaspora—through characters who span borders, generations, and a broad social spectrum. Read “Show and Tell,” from Birds of Paradise Lost, here.

Michelle Chen: You’ve been a journalist, a radio commentator, memoirist and now, fiction writer. Why the genre shift?

Andrew Lam: I have been a fiction writer right from the start. The trouble was that I could never make a living writing fiction so got into journalism by sheer luck—a classmate at my MFA creative writing program introduced me to essayist Richard Rodriguez, who was editor at Pacific News Service. He hired me to write commentaries and news analyses.

What can fiction do that non-fiction can’t? It can get into the secret lives of people, reveal their inner thoughts and yearnings, and get closer to the human experience and beyond. I can be a lot more versatile writing fiction—speaking in a voice of an old man or an angry teenager or a traumatized woman. I can embody their lives in a way a journalist can’t. Birds of Paradise Lost was cathartic for me to write, as I got to really let go of my own ego, live someone else’s life, and get at the core of their suffering.

You introduce an earlier book of yours, East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres, with a description of the imaginative space “between East and West, between languages, between memories and desires.” For me, the phrase “writing in two hemispheres” evokes a cultural or geographic divide, but also the supposed division between the emotional and rational. What is the essence of a hemispheric outlook from your perspective?

It is both regions of the brain as well as the conflict between East and West. It struck me early on that a lot of people feel they have to choose between A and B when really they should be trying to balance opposing ideas. When I wrote East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres, I was chiefly thinking about how to build bridges between dissimilar sets of values. Mine, after all, is a world complicated by memories, ambitions, and displacement—and it refutes simplification. At home, I speak Vietnamese and French. In the office, I speak English, my language of choice. Americans celebrate birthdays. The Vietnamese celebrate death anniversaries. In Vietnam, I bowed to teachers and never looked them in the eye. In America, my math teacher told me I was “shifty” when I didn’t look at him directly. Such are the strange bearings for those of us who lurk between East and West, between languages, between memories and desires. However, where the two hemispheres over-lapse, is where I learned and relearned how to mediate opposing ideas and to bridge disparate viewpoints. It is barely charted territory, and fraught with contradictions and tensions, but fun and exciting as well.

Your characters in Birds of Paradise sometimes embody stereotypes—of Vietnamese refugees, queer Californians, and lonely but assimilated “successful” immigrants. But they also subvert and challenge those stereotypes. How do you lure people with the familiar and then spring the strange on them?

I am sometimes asked about what kinds of “literary devices” I employ. But I don’t think in terms of technique or try to play on stereotypes or any social construct. I leave a lot of assumptions and theories at the entrance to the fiction world. When I hear a voice—as in the girl in “Slingshot” who speaks in a particular way, or Bobby’s voice in “Show & Tell”—I feel like I have to tell that story. When a scene moves me, I live with it until characters are born. Usually, I don’t even know what the story is about; I have to listen hard until it’s revealed.

Once I know my character really well, it is as if she’s playing out her life in front of me and I’m simply recording it. I do, however, fine tune and play with themes or add a certain quirkiness in subsequent drafts once I get the core of the story down. I hone the characters’ decisions and gestures. But I never set out with the idea that characters should be “strange.” People are strange. Inner life is a labyrinth and a mystery—those who have experienced war and exodus have already inherited a whole world of strangeness, traumas, and sadness.

Some of your characters are patently unlikable but still sympathetic, like the teenager who accidentally fires a slingshot at the man carrying an urn of ashes, or the ambitious young woman who trades her dignity for a good deal at a yard sale. Do these characters, and the ambivalence with which you present them, relate to your work as a journalist who deals with real people in the community?

The fact that many of these characters exist at all has to do with my innate sense of empathy for those who suffer great losses. But empathy does not mean I cry for them. I learned quickly that you don’t cry for your characters or no one will cry for them. You let them cry when the time is right, if at all. Sometimes they laugh with tears, but whatever they want to do, they will do—that’s what makes characters believable. Really, the best you can do in fiction is to understand that characters have a certain amount of free will. They might do things that shock and embarrass you, things against your belief. But you have to let them do it.

As for why I incorporate certain things like cannibalism and self-immolation, I think it has to do with my limitations as a journalist. In that form, I can’t really get to the horror and sadness of something like a man watching his wife being killed on a crowded boat or refugees starving to death. I can’t fathom their helplessness unless I inhabit their skin. But in fiction, I can be there, on the boat, to record some of the horror by claiming omniscient understanding, and therefore claiming to know the survivor’s yearning and hope in the aftermath.

How does growing up the Bay Area color your view of migration and the immigrant experience?

I grew up in a city where 110 languages are spoken on any given day, Asians are the majority in K-12 classes, the Chinese New Year’s parade is mainly attended by non-Chinese, and the Gay Pride parade is attended by more straight than gay people. It is why I wrote East Eats West. In such a diverse place, I grew up confident that my voice, my perspective, my experience—my Vietnameseness—is an indelible part of the American story, even when mainstream media doesn’t acknowledge it. In the Bay area, lives influence one another and cultures are mixed and blended in so many ways. I think it’s marvelous—from food to religion, agriculture to music—the whole world comes here. The result, for those who can transgress the borders, is a rich, diverse and cosmopolitan life.

How have the rise of new media and the globalization of technology affected the way you think about migration and cultural interaction?

Once upon a time leaving home meant not seeing it again. Now you can watch your homeland news or movies online. You can chat with grandma on Skype or Google Hangout, and talk to relatives across the world for free. Ties with a homeland are stronger because migration is no longer a one-way fare. The number of people who travel through San Francisco’s airport in a single year exceeds the population of California itself. In a way, one needs to develop multiple affiliations to make sense of it all. We talk of diversity as a cultural phenomenon but we barely explore pluralism as an individual experience. I believe the most exciting contemporary literature incorporates this “internal diversity” aspect of the human experience. I’m thinking of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans, and that incomparable book The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje as prime examples.

It’s become almost a cliché to write about the “clash of cultures” when younger people in the Asian diaspora return “home.” What aspect of the so-called “homecoming” is most misunderstood—both by members of the diaspora and by others?

The notion of home is also not fully explored, so “homecoming” is a bit of a misnomer. Am I going home when I go to Saigon, my birthplace? Where is home? Is it rooted in geography or beginnings? Or is it in us? When I lost my first lover and became a writer, I thought of myself as someone who became exiled twice—first from Vietnam, then from the country created by the two of us.

Going back to Asia, there’s always a certain amount of strangeness for me. There’s that familiarity: I know quite a bit about Asian culture and have traveled much throughout Asia. There’s that sense of understanding of how a society functions beyond the cosmetic. Yet in Vietnam, I am both a stranger and an insider. I understand the language and the culture, but I don’t quite belong. My individualism is so strong that I end up standing out, being outspoken, and my humor is more West than East.

How does your work as a journalist and activist—particularly around the issues of race, war, and social justice—influence your creative storytelling?

You might be surprised to know that I don’t play the activist at all in fiction. As an essayist, I speak up on various issues of our times—discrimination, war, violence against the dispossessed. But in fiction, I realized early on that you can’t make your characters lecture people or else they’d commit suicide or turn into puppets.

The best I can do is provide the background—people who fled from Vietnam to the U.S., life in a run-down restaurant, someone living in a black-dominated neighborhood—and let the characters live out their lives. It’s a simulation in which I am constantly surprised by what these characters do next. When I write fiction, a different part of the brain takes over. I enter a dream world. I drop my own morality and my penchant to sermonize. The result is always unexpected—i.e., they fall in love with someone who shot their spouse, or shoot an urn full of their own father’s ashes.

If you were to give one book to someone who just arrived in this country, what would it be?

Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde. It can be a little too intellectual for some but the message is this: You can be a trickster and rewrite and realign the borders, the rules, and the demarcation that tells you who you are suppose to be. You can move toward the center with cunning and art. And transformation is possible, not just for the self, but for society as a whole, when you cross those lines.

Andrew Lam is an editor at New America Media, an association of over 2000 ethnic media organizations in the U.S. He is also the author of two previous books, Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, and East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.

How to Become a Wellness Coach

So, you are passionate about helping patients to attain a better state of health. And you think you have what it takes to coach patients to have a better state of health and healthy wellness culture. Whether you are considering becoming a wellness coach or you have made up your mind already, you need some tools and the knowledge to go about it.

Read on to learn how to take the decisive steps to begin a journey of being a wellness coach.

Take a Wellness Coaching Training Course

Wellness Coaching Courses are designed to train the prospective expert coach to have the required skills to provide coaching service to patients. The course required to prepare you to become a wellness coach can be learned from a University, a Polytechnic, or through online portals like Udemy and Coursera.

You can use the training objectives as seen in the course prospectus of Georgetown University’s School of Continuous Studies are as follows:

  • Study of the key concepts of Wellness Oriented Coaching
  • The Psychology of Behaviour Change
  • Fundamentals of the most common Health Challenges/Diseases

These should give you an idea of what the training covers.

As in many endeavors, you have the choice to specialize in specific wellness coaching aspects or you can choose a broader academic content that will provide more opportunities for work.

If you chose an online platform, you might have had the opportunity to learn the fundamentals, and next you should decide to have a certification.

Get a Certification to Qualify you to Practice

A certification in wellness serves as proof that you know what you’re doing. Having a certification will give you something to show to your future employers to consider you for employment.

Whether you’re considering the option of volunteering as a wellness coach or work privately, you will need certifications. If you’re considering starting a business around managing your wellness coaching services yourself, a posted academic achievement can create trust.

Patients that will need your service may need assurance that they’re talking to an actual professional that others trust too. And the training should help you

  • Make people change by encouraging mindfulness with motivational skills.
  • Know how to interview clients and help them to maintain optimal health after recovering from a poor health state.
  • Know how to carry out health coaching sessions for individuals or groups
  • Know how to manage personal relationships and have some knowledge of business management.

Preparing for certification can serve as a way to make you think about what to expect on the job as it makes you fully ready to start the job too.

Start Your Dream Job as a Wellness Coach

Knowing about the job and doing the job can be different worlds of experience. You can imagine that you will feel some pressure when you begin. Thankfully, you’re not working as a doctor in an internship where things are more complicated.

Just as intern surgeons need to grow in confidence before they can perform more difficult surgeries on their own, you should allow yourself to grow in greater experience on the job.

Building a portfolio of work experience with a bigger organization can help you soar in confidence if you decide to switch to run your service. Another good way to prepare for a real-world job is to read plenty of case studies in course materials.

Conclusion

In summary, if you want to know how to become a wellness coach, it means you love people and you genuinely want to help them promote their health. Then, you have to have the skills to help you become a good coach.

Get the proof to show doubters that you have the skills and then start helping people to be healthier by working in a job for another organization or in a business that you own.

What Is The Difference Between Health and Wellness?

Health and wellness are often used together and maybe sometimes interchangeably. However, there are slight differences between health and wellness. In this article, we will discuss some of the differences between health and wellness. So, read on to know what it means to be healthy and what wellness entails.

What is Health and the Wellness Difference?

Health is defined as the state of being free from illness or injury. Also, health is that which describes a person’s mental or physical condition. So, one can be in good health, we say that the person is healthy. Or when someone has a poor or bad health condition, we say they are sick.

Health can be local or global and there might be times when someone may not know that their health is already deteriorating. For instance, someone might say they are healthy but the doctors may discover worrying issues with an internal body organ. In some cases, health can be reported based on a local part of the body.

Sociologists have observed some problems with the definition of health which is why there are slight differences in the definitions. The Constitution of the World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” The constitution further restates the notion of the complexity of definition based on the presence and absence of diseases.

The position of the World Health Organization people tends to lean towards the idea of accepting that health definition cannot be complete. Therefore, there should be attention to the promotion of health. In effect, this leads to placing value on total wellbeing rather than the mere absence of disease.

A broad perspective on health often leads to the subject of wellness.

What is Wellness and the Difference from Health Definitions?

The World Health Organization defines wellness as the “optimal state of health of individuals and groups.”  

The definition further explains that “there are two focal concerns: the realization of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually, and economically, and the fulfillment of one’s roles and expectations in the family, community, place of worship, and other settings.”

Wellness definitions are not without criticisms as well but have less of it compared to the definition of health.

The key difference between health and wellness is that in defining health the focus is on the state or condition, whereas, wellness entails the processes and ways to enhance good health and maintaining wellbeing.

Wellness tends to move a step higher from the notion of subjective definition of health to a more objective one. While discussing health and ways of maintaining health need to include promoting a healthy lifestyle, wellness already encompasses these steps and the processes as the main content of its definition.

Conclusion

In discussing health, it is best to follow the wellness approach to ensure that you attain the optimal state of health. After all, there is a world view that prevention is better than cure. And the wellness approach to healthy living best addresses ways to enhance wellbeing and or prevent a bad state of health.

What is Social Wellness?

The relationship we have with people and the pattern we interact or converse with people is referred to as social wellness. Social wellness relatively has to do with the nurturing of a healthy and supportive relationship with others. Having genuine connections with others in society through our conscious actions is important in creating a balance in our social lives.

From when we were born, our early relationship foundation aids us to learn and live and relate well with others in our communities.

Some qualities are inherent but we learn how to interact with others as well as how to express ourselves and carry out different healthy habits that qualify us to be important members of society.

Tips on How to Cultivate Behaviors that Promote Social Wellness

Make it a habit to care for you (self-care).

There is a common saying stating that you can’t give what you don’t have. Taking proper care of yourself embraces some basic needs like having enough sleep. Doing things like mouth washing, engaging in exercises regularly to keep fit, bathing as well as avoiding activities like smoking and over-drinking shows a high level of social wellness habits.

Seeking skills to manage stress through enjoyable activities that are self-soothing helps in maintaining an active social living.

Nurture and Rekindle Healthy Relationships

We all get caught up in different challenges of life and as no one is perfect, we sometimes fail to maintain good relationships. The good relationships we keep provide that much-needed support when we are faced with different challenges. In the face of challenges, we know a friend in need is a friend indeed.

Maintaining healthy relationships with friends who love and accept us for who we are is important for our social wellness.

Practice Self-appreciation and Appreciate Others as well

Society needs more positive energy than negative energy as this keeps every individual happy, healthier, and more hopeful.

On a more consistent basis, we should encourage and appreciate the positive attributes we possess and also learn to appreciate and compliment others we care about and feel comfortable with when they are around us. This simple act goes a long way in fostering a healthy social life.

Connect with others

Our social connections might help to protect our health as well as prolong our lifespan on earth. Research has been able to show that the links we create with others be it our family, friends, neighbors, our romantic partners can have effects on our health. Hence, looking for ways to get entangled with others is deemed a necessary tool that enhances social wellness.

The pathway to social wellness

The route to social wellness is one we can discover by ourselves and it gives us the power to promote our relationships with others. By doing this, we are allowed to learn empathy for others and cultivate active listening skills. You can begin your journey by doing the following

  • Joining a club or organization
  • Practicing self-disclosure
  • Keeping touch with supportive friends and family
  • Practice self-reflection of your social needs. What are the things you enjoy doing? What part would you want to improve on?

Conclusion

The kind of relation we promote plays a huge role in the way we experience the world hence the need to foster a healthy relationship for better social living.

6 Tips For Building A Culture Of Health

Good health cannot be compromised if you must realize a happy and successful lifestyle. Whether it be in your workplace, or at any level of living. Whether you work from home, or you have retired from work or you’re focussing on taking care of your family, having a healthy culture can help you to have a more fulfilled life.

Here are 6 tips you can follow to help you build a culture of health.

Use Technological tools to help you aid, track, and enhance your healthy lifestyle development

These days smartphones and wearable devices are being used in tracking and managing health information. New applications are being designed to ensure that medical attention reaches patients faster.

Technology can enhance your healthy lifestyle in useful ways and for some use cases, tech tools can be lifesaving.

An example tool is the Philips HeartStart Home AED Defibrillator, which can help save the life of someone with cardiac arrest at home if used within 5 minutes of the incident

Plan and Implement the Health Culture Strategy with Team Inclusion

When you work with the whole group, you create a sense of ownership and increase the rate of compliance with the plan agreed upon. As John C. Maxwell puts it in his book, teamwork makes the dream work.

It is a good leadership approach to have the team form a strategy that is a representation of what would work best for everyone in the group.

Assign Leaders within the Organization to Champion the Execution of the Accepted Strategy on Health Culture

The good health policy that you might have agreed upon for your organization may not yield the expected results without good leadership. Assigning roles and responsibilities will ensure that the implementation of health policies does not suffer.

The health club leader in your group should lead by example and can be a role model to group members. It will be easier for a true role model to influence positive group behavior towards the health culture you’re trying to create. But an “I don’t care” attitude might be the case if the leaders don’t care about wellness.

Invest or Save for Resources and or Equipment that will Aid the Ease of Implementation of your Personal or Organizational Health

Health is wealth! You cannot focus on work and other areas of your life without prioritizing healthfulness and healthy living. So, what can you do? At a personal level, you can start budgeting or save towards acquiring resources and tools.

Saving for emergencies can be a way to be ready if you’ll need to spend money on your health or that of your family member. Whereas an organizational strategy might be to demand regular health and fitness reports, you can make a personal commitment to checking your weight, or heart rate.

Also, be mindful that tools that you can use at home to get health information do not replace doctor’s examinations you might get from regular check-ups.

Be Practical and Goal Oriented

Build your health culture around the most important health problems or risk that your people might face. Whether you are working on a personal plan or group plan, it has to be focused on what is presently necessary to mitigate against or work towards enhancing your healthy lifestyle.

The overall approach should be designed to meet your goal. At best, if you should work from external frameworks, you can select the aspects that will fulfill the goals of your organization first.

Create Partnerships and Relationships that will Make your Gains Sustainable

On a personal level, partnership entails working with a sort of community health group approach to health as relates to present health challenges. Virtual groups that work on fitness together and creative conferences helped many people to look after aspects of their mental and physical health.

Your organizations can take advantage of the group spirit to gain offers and partnership deal with gyms or other health-related services. Useful relationships can help you make collective and individual health gains that will last for a longer-term.

Conclusion

The discussion on building a culture of health has mainly focussed on corporate health. However, a health culture should be a personal business that everyone should look after, as well as what should matter for groups and communities. Whatever thought is put into building a culture of health should be creative and aimed at promoting overall health.

3 Ways to Create a Workplace Culture of Wellness

3 Ways to Create a Workplace Culture of Wellness

Workplace wellness issues are specific although the issues around wellness culture are not peculiar to what you need to consider in general wellness. In this article, we will discuss three ways that you can create a workplace culture of wellness.

You might be in a position to determine what your company needs to do to create a workplace wellness culture that will work for everyone. So, what three areas are key in a workplace culture proposition?

Recommend Replicable Standards and Best Practices in Workplace Wellness

One benefit of copying and implementing standards and best practices is that it gives you a better chance at covering some basics that you could easily miss in your organization. When you create a workplace culture from standard templates you worry only about implementing the content of the workplace culture.

Example of workplace wellness best-practice templates to follow – see SHRM:

  • Baseline surveys: Some companies are required to get information on workers’ specific health conditions because of risk assessments related to employee’s exposure from work.
  • Delegating a leader: Handing a key leader the task of implementing health and wellness programs.
  • Bold Stands: Making policies that strongly discourage unhealthy actions like smoking for example
  • Motivate employees to make changes by introducing rewards: A carrot and stick approach has been used by many companies to up their health and wellness culture compliance.  
  • Create a medium for direct or virtual discussion with company management and employees about wellness concerns.

Also, the AHA Journal contains useful descriptions of corporate workplace wellness principles that can serve as a guide. The template is as follows:

  • Leadership
  • Relevance
  • Partnership
  • Comprehensiveness
  • Implementation
  • Engagement
  • Communications
  • Data-driven
  • Compliance

It is important to have a good framework that the majority of your people will follow.

Create Medium for Employee-Employer Rapport and Communication about Wellness

The best leadership policy is one that makes everyone feel included rather than excluded from the work. So, you want to make your wellness policy by collaborating with the people in the company.

your wellness model is more likely to be successful if you ensure that everyone is carried along from the conception of ideas to the implementation. Effectively you and your team will be creating one of the best environments for employee wellness that is based on continuous communication. 

Be an Example to Your People and Encourage them to comply with your company’s wellness culture

When you and your people are in great health and mental condition, you will be more productive at work. Knowing this as a leader in your team, you should take champion the course to a healthy work-life that will influence others to follow.

The best way to drive home the idea of wellness culture in your workplace is by leading by example. If you take active breaks in break times, you will be encouraging your team members to do the same too. Some exemplary companies have spaces for indoor activities like table tennis and encourage their workers to be physically active.

Facebook’s example of health and wellness information for employees is a great example of a corporation leading in wellness culture. They shared the benefits of their policies that promote a wellness culture.

Conclusion

You have seen three possible strategies that could be employed in making sure staff in workplaces are doing well. Companies who are open to partnerships and constantly learn to improve will do fine in their business as long as their people are well in their bodies and minds. 

References

SHRM 2015, Five Best Practices for Workplace Wellness. Available online at < https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/best-practices-wellness-guide.aspx > Assessed August 27, 2021.

Tannenbaum D, Valasek CJ, Knowles ED, Ditto PH. Incentivizing wellness in the workplace: sticks (not carrots) send stigmatizing signals. Psychol Sci. 2013 Aug;24(8):1512-22. doi: 10.1177/0956797612474471. Epub 2013 Jun 13. PMID: 23765268.

How to Create and Nurture a Wellness Culture

Let us imagine for a second that wellness culture is a living entity that we can culture in a lab or plant that we can plant its seed in a field. Then we must nurse it or provide and maintain the conditions for it to grow and keep living.

This article will discuss how to create a wellness culture in one part and on the other part how to maintain wellness culture just like how to plant a tree and make a plant survive.

Creating a Wellness Culture

Identify the most important problem that can potentially undermine your wellness and take the bold step to fix it: This is like knowing which crop you want to plant and then actually getting the seed and you sow it.

Maybe you need to buy into a meditation program to clear your mind from emotional trauma or de-stress, or paying for a gym ticket to start your journey to build your strength or muscles.

Other concerns might be you need a massage to relax well, need to make new friends, or you might need to see a doctor for a general check-up. Notice that you need to make commitments or some form of investment to start.

At this stage, you know you have to overcome the hurdles of excuses or conditions that would have discouraged you from starting. Set core beliefs or ground rules that should guide you through the course you have chosen.

How to Maintain the Wellness Culture

So, you have started a program that you have determined will help you achieve your wellness goals, or you intend to begin one now. How do you ensure that the efforts you have invested in so far will last? What should keep you motivated to keep going?

Promise yourself that you will be motivated to do the actions for a longer-term

As you may know, the biggest challenge in maintaining the good gains you might have set your mind to make is a deviation from the plan. A lot of limiting factors stand in the way. These can be in various forms that you must overcome; tiredness, pain, and sometimes you stopping after small successes.

As long as you have set to do the actions for a relatively long timeframe, you would have a higher chance of turning your gains into habitual wellness culture that will last a lifetime.

Remind yourself of the Self-love mentality

If you convince yourself that you love yourself and you do, you’ll find that you’d always strive to complete processes that will fulfill your goals and benefit you or avoid what you ought to avoid.

Having a love for yourself will breed self-respect and trust in your ability to keep ridding your mind of negative energies that will stand in the way of you reaching your set goal. Just like you have to remove weeds from your crops to let them grow, you know how to remove the limiting factors against your wellness now.

Conclusion

As discussed in this article on creating and nurturing a wellness culture, you might have noticed that the place of affirmation and personal determination are important factors. You may be motivated to work well in a team to help you maintain your wellness culture too.

Run of the House

A woman’s work is never done—it just gets passed on to someone else. For the nannies, housekeepers, health aides and other caregivers in New York’s middle- and upper-class households, work means carrying others’ burdens: tricked-out strollers and spattered baby food, damp diapers, and dry cleaning—or the family secrets tucked behind a genteel exterior. On Sunday, Christine Yvette Lewis captured a bit of the warped edifice of American domesticity and colored it with memories of her native Trinidad. Taking a paintbrush to the wall of an old cottage, she depicted an island house from her homeland, and below, scrawled a scene from the adopted home where she works today: “Push Pale Pampered Baby in Ornate Pram Along Pompous Avenue … A Tale of Two Cities.”

Though domestic workers are often known only for their quiet servitude in the homes of others, amid the stress and isolation of their job, they occasionally snatch a rare moment of play. On Sunday, “the help” had their run of the place in a stately cottage on the sun-soaked strip of Colonel’s Row on Governors Island, off the Manhattan Coast. A group of domestic workers went rogue and spent the day scrawling poetry, protest slogans, and particolored Devanagari script on the white plaster walls. The workshop brought together a crew of primarily immigrant women, many of whom started their careers as domestic workers and eventually became labor activists and women’s rights advocates. The art-making event was coordinated by the event series Writing on It All and Andolan, a South Asian domestic workers’ group, and participants of a domestic workers writing workshop coordinated by poet and activist Mark Nowak. (To hear an excerpt of an interview with domestic worker advocate Nahar Alam at the Governors Island workshop, please click here.)

Some of the writing on the wall reflected unspeakable trauma (“Beaten, raped, starved, work no end!”). Others expressed frustration and a growing willingness to challenge authority (“Why employer are powerful? Why my boss always give me heart [hard] time?”).

While the walls were populated with writing and imagery, women waved hello to a laptop screen that broadcast a live video chat with a similar group of domestic workers in London, part of a global network of women worker advocates that has crystallized in recent years. Meanwhile, Claiming Our Voice, a documentary about Andolan women producing a play reflecting their own experiences, screened on the upper floor.
domestic_workers_2

Courtesy Angela Jimenez/Writing On It All

Nahar Alam, a former domestic worker and founder of Andolan, beams with pride as she watched fellow activists’ putting their imaginations on display, on the the stage, the screen, and now, the wall. The graffiti verses of poetry represent a different form of protest, she said. “When you march, you follow, and when you do this, write on a wall, you do it from the inside. This is … different, but it’s the same powerful message.” For workers who have long been denied any outlet through which to assert their individuality, or even their personhood, she said that art “is a different release, and also powerful in the same way. We’re writing from our heart.”

Meanwhile, Lewis lovingly vandalized her corner of the living room with her quaint Trinidadian bungalow framed by palm fronds, a world away from the concrete of Manhattan. Through articulating her memories on the wall, she said, “I go there … I yearn for the Julie mango. I yearn for the island.” But to mark off where reality invades her imaginary idyll, she added the line about the Pampered Baby on Pompous Avenue—the bleak caption always underlining her daydreams.

For women whose daily labor involves equal parts love and hate, it’s rare that they have a chance to create freely this way. Yet, caregiving, in Lewis’s view, is an art form unto itself, because “as immigrant women, as women who work as women in the homes, we have to create, yeah?”

Since she arrived in New York about 20 years ago, she’s earned her living as a domestic worker while writing for pleasure on the side. She previously worked as a teacher of English literacy classes and has published some of her poetry before. She recently began writing creatively about her day job, offering new perspectives on what it means to be a nanny. Her poems sometimes refer to home; for example, a romance set in the tropics or cravings for familiar fruits. But she hits a deeper emotional chord when charting the rhythms of the banal and strumming overlooked crevices of the a stranger’s house.
Photo by Michelle Chen

Photo by Michelle Chen

At a recent reading, Lewis picked apart the world that created her vocation, crisply ticking off the entitlements and privileges she must juggle: “Finger paints, pancakes, Skittles, scones. Dustpan, Swifter … . Did someone say ‘light housekeeping’? Ever such a thing?” She inwardly mocked the tedium of impressing a prospective boss: “Interviews? Four time this week. How many ways to clean poop?”

But beyond the phrases muttered under one’s breath or the bristling at petty routines, the worker is elevated as the protagonist, possibly even a heroine, as her list of tasks builds into a catalogue of multiple identities: “Ageless, stoic, divas, invisible woman, decision-maker, pre-K teacher, Superwoman, you ain’t—Mary Poppins was fictitious.”

The magical English housekeeper may have been the stuff of cinematic fantasy, but the women in the house were putting their lives on stage as well, bringing their hidden gifts into the foreground, for once.

“We’re artists in the home, we’re artists on the streets, we’re artists around, we’re artists, we’re pregnant and fertile with having to give, and give out,” she recited. “So yeah, it merges, you know? I know people may not acknowledge that. [But] that is, though.”

Do her employers know about her other career? They have some idea that she has artistic interests outside of work, but the craft of domestic work requires both discretion and intimacy.

Dabbing the paintbrush on the plaster and cocking her head pensively, she wonders if her employers see her as a creator as much as a caregiver. “When we work as creative people, and as people who give care,” she said, “it’s not about a pat on the back, you know? … I’m looking for recognition for women. For women’s rights, a woman’s movement, an immigration woman’s movement. I’m looking for accolade for that.” Looking around at the paint-spattered cottage, bustling with women in kurthis and blue jeans, brimming with a kind of indulgence usually reserved for the people they serve, she felt a certain sense of plenitude.

“As long as that is recognized and respected, I’m good to go. I’m happy for that.”

How The Hookup App SPDate Is Helping To Fight Climate Change

One of the apps you might least expect has started a fundraiser campaign to help fund climate change research. SPDate is a hookup app that’s growing faster than Tinder, and they’re doing their part to save the world.

SPDate is one of many hookup apps. Users set their preferences and can filter matches by race, weight, height, age, and more.

But their latest mission has nothing to do with hooking up. They want to fund climate change research because we are all part of the problem, and if we’re not looking to fix that problem we won’t have a planet to survive on.

What SPDate is doing is pretty ingenious. They’re donating a portion of all membership fees, and giving away prizes to users who post photos of themselves with an animal. The money raised will go to the World Wildlife Fund and Save The Children.

The World Wildlife Fund describes how they spend the money raised on their website. “Our primary areas of focus are to help protect the wildlife and the forests of Africa, the world’s largest carbon sink; to promote the sustainable use of wild lands for the benefit of the poor; and to restore degraded ecosystems and their wildlife through habitat-restoration and the protection and restoration of natural areas.”

If you don’t mind playing hooky from Tinder, you can give them a go. I think SPDate is the kind of app you have to look past its hookup app reputation, because they’re trying to do the right thing.

What’s SPDate all about?

SPDate is a hookup app where you can filter your matches based on weight, height, race, age, location, and more.

I’ve used this app on and off for a few years now, because I have a weird dating philosophy. I’ve always been a “just because” kind of guy, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m open to meeting new people, and don’t mind meeting women and men who are different from me.

The site isn’t trying to be anything special. It’s just a basic app that lets you filter people based on a lot of things, then send a quick message to the person you like. But I really think it’s a good concept, because it takes the stigma out of online dating. It’s not about matching you with people who are just like you; it’s about matching you with people who might be a lot different than you, and that can be a lot of fun.

SPDate is growing really fast, and for good reason. It’s the app for people who don’t want to feel like they’re only meeting people they’d have to meet if they were single. And when you take that stigma out of dating, a lot more people are willing to try it.

That’s why I’ve stuck with this app, because I like meeting different kinds of people, and I’ve never been disappointed in it. If you’re looking to try a new dating app, I recommend you give this one a shot. Their huge user base and SPDate’s commitment to climate change make them a great choice.

“Home in Time of Displacement” (Chicago Release)

Join us in the Chicago release of “Home in Time of Displacement”, an anthology by Undocumented Writers at the Chicago Freedom School!

We hope to share our anthology to open up a space for stories, ideas, and experiences of home and displacement, whatever that may mean to you.

All are welcome and we encourage a space of listening and affirming each person’s unique journey.

Light refreshments will be provided as well as bus cards for youth.

We will be asking for donations to the Chicago Freedom School. Any amount you are able to contribute is important and will give back to sustaining youth programming.

There is an elevator at the back entrance on S. Holden Court (Please note: The front entrance on S. State Street is not wheelchair accessible). CTA stop: (Red Line) Harrison.