inspiration

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is a Movement

Is it just me or is everyone talking about Crazy Rich Asians?

My social media feed is flooded with adulation for its crazy talented beautiful cast. And damn right it should.

Crazy Rich Asians is the first Hollywood studio-produced movie with an all-Asian cast in 25 years, nabbing the top spot at the box office two weekends in a row and raking in $34 million in its first 5 days. Not only did it exceed expectations and blow past its projected earnings (by more than double), it’s the top opening comedy of the year and the highest grossing romantic comedy debut since 2015.

I couldn’t be happier that the film is making history. It sends a strong message that having diverse and authentic stories PAYS. But what I really love about Crazy Rich Asians is the story it tells behind the veneer of glitz and glamour. Of course there’s a lot of the fun over-the-top banter that comes with rom-com territory. But the theme that is uniquely powerful for Asian Americans is the one that speaks to our experience of straddling two cultures, and it’s portrayed with stinging effect in the film.

via Thrillist

Astrid is my favorite character. She’s stunning, smart, and elegant — someone I’d probably be envious of in real life — but her struggle is surprisingly relatable. Though she comes from a family of prestige and has her own set of impressive accomplishments, she takes a second seat to her husband and tries hard to not make him feel inadequate. In the process, though, she hides from her own light. You don’t have to study at Oxford or come from a privileged Asian family to relate to this fear of shining too bright. While Rachel, the film’s main character, also battles her own set of insecurities (especially after meeting Nick’s super rich family) her character comes with a bit more of an independent streak.

Witnessing these power dynamics flip and evolve between couples and generations is fascinating. I’m in awe of Astrid’s character because, unlike the matriarch Eleanor who is entrenched in Asian tradition or Rachel who espouses more American confidence, Astrid is somewhere in between, a character that grows and takes ownership of her power while straddling the demands of her Asian family. She’s also kind, one of the only women to befriend Rachel genuinely. Though she’s far from an underdog, I found myself rooting for her throughout the movie.

Crazy Rich Asians has all the stamps of approval: the backing of a major Hollywood studio (Warner Brothers), an attractive and talented cast, and a well-written contemporary narrative based on Asian and Asian American characters. So it’s not hard to throw support behind it. Supporting the movie is kind of like supporting your beautiful popular friend for Class Council president. Funny, mainstream, and totally palatable. What a nice (and somewhat foreign) feeling to walk out of the theaters and think, “Heck yeah! I’m proud to be Asian American”!”

And yet, there’s still a long way to go. On opening night, I was reminded of what a rare privilege this kind of representation means. My friend who is of Egyptian descent came to watch Crazy Rich Asians with me. She is a filmmaker and currently studying animation while writing her own screenplay on the side. Her dream is to create the first animation series featuring an Arab American family. She told me that there has never been an all Arab American cast film produced by a major Hollywood studio. I had no idea. And it goes to show that sometimes we can be stuck in our bubbles. So I hope that just as Crazy Rich Asians has shattered several myths about who we are across the colorful diaspora of Asia, it can also help pave the way for our brothers and sisters in other minority communities. Beyond box office numbers, success should be measured by the breadth of diversity, beyond our own, that we can help bring to the table.

“We know that the representation, or lack thereof, of not just Asians but also other minorities in the media and in popular culture directly affects how those minorities are treated in everyday life. And that’s why it means so much to me that this is a Hollywood studio making and promoting this film… and I hope it opens the doors for more diverse and inclusive storytelling across the board, not just for Asians.” — Gemma Chan

Apart from the success of Crazy Rich Asians, many of the actors themselves have rocked the boat in their own lives. Gemma Chan who plays Astrid (my now not-so-secret girl crush) studied law at Oxford and auditioned for drama school in secret. Her parents were skeptical. “My Dad said to me it doesn’t matter how good you are, how talented you are, but how many faces do you see on the screen that look like ours,” she said in the LA Times.

via USA Today

Other cast members navigated similarly zigzag paths. Kenneth Yang went to college as an economics major because it was the closest major that could please his Asian parents, to only then become a standup comedian after college. Ronny Chieng also studied law in Australia before entering the standup comedy circuit. And Ken Jeong who plays Awkwafina’s Singaporean dad started on the pre-med track when he was at Duke.

I got Koreaned into being pre-med and I got Americaned into being an actorKen Jeong

It’s stories like these that my co-host Lucia and I seek to tell in our first season of Rock the Boat. The pursuit of one’s dreams requires huge leaps of faith; seeing these actors on the big screen is a reminder that their story is ours. That’s the privilege of representation. And that’s why we’re so excited to be part of this movement.

As director Jon Chu said, this isn’t just a movie or a moment; it’s a movement. In order to sustain it, we must have wave, after wave, after wave.

This post was originally published on Medium

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Non-advice for Uncertain Times

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

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Somewhere between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Transitions are hard. Now that I’m back in NYC and figuring out next steps, I find myself caught in a phase of “in-between”, a place somewhere between being and doing.

The days when I am most productive are the days when I am accountable to others, checking boxes off a list of things that require me to show up: getting coffee with someone, sending an email, exercising, applying to a job, writing this newsletter. I do it mostly to reassure myself that I can still function as a person in larger society.

Of course, there are days that go terribly awry: I start a simple task and end with 20 open tabs + a pounding headache; I say yes to another glass of wine and learn for the millionth time that an extra hour of sleep would have probably been more beneficial; I fall into a rabbit hole of social feeds and emerge hours later frustrated with my lack of self-regulation.

But truthfully, the majority of my days comprise of quiet, subtle, slightly indulgent ‘inner work’ that wouldn’t mean much to anyone else: reading old journal entries about dreams once dreamed, scribbling new plans, wandering aimlessly through the city, reflecting on the things I’ve learned.

Unstructured time means that you learn to set boundaries between these periods of reflection, productivity, and self-indulgence. I realize how lucky I am to have this time. I’m learning discernment, for knowing when and how to act. Self-forgiveness, for moments of weakness.  Permission, to just be. It’s a pretty unscientific process of self-analysis + trial & error + course-correction, but it’s probably what I need most now.

It’s not all fun experimentation. If you’re prone to anxiety like me, having more free time can turn into analysis paralysis. Time, like money, is a finite resource, and can quickly drip dry. You try to remember what mountain you set out to climb to begin with and why it’s taking so long to figure it out.

So, what is time-well-spent look like in an intentional life? There’s no shortage of articles on how to be more productive, often modeled after the lifestyle of a hero CEO. Wake up early. Time block your calendar. Remove social media from your phone. Say yes to every opportunity. Actually, say no and set boundaries. Seek feedback from family & friends because you need to check your blind spots. Join support groups.

It is tempting to follow the experts & have others tell you what to do. But here’s the rub: only you can answer the question. Sure, we could all probably benefit from some time management tools, but this isn’t a productivity issue. This is a life. Simply put, you can’t delegate the direction of any one life to a generalized advice column.

Oprah always starts her Super Soul Sunday podcast by saying one of the most valuable gifts we can give ourselves is time, time to be present. I’d like to take this a step further: we should take time to be present, so we can determine our intentions and chart our future self. In fact, I’d argue that it is the most important work we can do because no one else can do it.  Figure out what matters to you and from there, your choices, actions, and identities will flow. You can’t outsource this stuff, baby.

“It is the intentions, the capacities for choice rather than the total configuration of traits which defines the person. Here the stage is set for identity crises, for wondering who one really is, behind the multifold variety of actions and roles. And the search for that core person is not a matter of curiosity; it is a search for the principles by which choices are to be made.”
– What Makes a Person

I’ve come to believe that life occurs at a certain cadence – at times, we are thrust into circumstances that don’t give us much of a choice – but when we do have the privilege of choice, it is our responsibility to set a framework so we aren’t continuously sidetracked and pushed further and further away from our destination.

For those who think this is a question reserved for the privileged, it totally is. Embrace it! And if you don’t have the fortune now, just wait – your glorious moment to navigate this beautiful in-between territory will come.


Simple Civility

Two weeks ago, I checked a major item off my life bucket list: running the New York City Marathon.

img_0074Words can’t quite capture the experience of running through the streets of New York City with 50,000+ other runners. What I can say is that running through the five boroughs — from the mass exodus in Staten Island across the Verrazano bridge into Brooklyn (admittedly, my favorite borough), followed by Queens and a stampede of supporters on 1st ave in Manhattan, into the toughest miles in the Bronx, and then concluding with the final stretch along Central Park West — evoked a powerful sense of unity.

Somewhere in the Bronx between miles 21 and 22 when my legs began to give way, I also began to meditate and pass the time by drawing a line of comparison between the race itself and the race of life. (This is what happens when your neurotic brain calms down!)

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Though I am far from seasoned in either race, here are a few racing takeaways that emerged along the path:

  • Pace yourself. You’ll burn out by going full blast too quick, too soon. As an all or nothing type of person, this level of control is something I’m still trying to learn in life.
  • And yet, you’ll inevitably get tired regardless. It’s ok to stop and take a break when you need it. Recognize when to stop because it’s not about crashing and burning; it’s about finishing the long game.
  • Be prepared to lose some shit along the way. I threw out an old hoodie and a jacket as it started to heat up, and allowed my headband to fall to the ground. Some things you’re better off without, for no better reason than to simply lighten the load.
  • Go with the (ebb) and flow. There are various phases along the course: times when you’re riding high and filled with determination, and times when you’re on the major struggle bus near drunken stupor. During miles 3–9 in Brooklyn, I felt like I could run forever, as well as miles 17–19 along 1st avenue in Manhattan. The energy on the streets was infectious; when you see people from all walks of life cheering, you can’t help but feel like the whole city is on your side.
    Reality hits during what I call the ‘desert miles’; these were miles 12–15, while crossing the Pulkalski bridge into Queens, and miles 19–22, while crossing the Willis bridge into the Bronx. The crowd peters out. You’re alone and doing everything in your power to not give up. The going gets really tough.
    We all get by a bit easier with a little help. That said, we don’t always have the luxury of a personal cheering squad which means we ultimately need to rely on our own beating hearts to charge towards the end goal.
  • Get over yourself. Just when you think you’re struggling hard, you’re reminded that everyone else is running the same race while facing a battle of their own. People are overcoming challenges beyond what you could ever imagine. Towards the later stretches of the marathon, I found myself running next to a a group called Achilles International. Not knowing who they were, I was a bit irked when one of the runners ran into me. I think I gave her a look, only to realize that she was blind and guided by a volunteer with Achilles International (awesome organization btw, they pair those with sight with the sight-impaired so that they can participate in marathons and running events). Life is filled with humbling moments like these.
  • Everything is in your head. We are capable of more than we think. Running a marathon is highly mental. During those moments of immense pain and perspiration, the only thing that kept me going was sheer will, not athletic ability. The physical act of putting one foot in front of the other is easy compared to quelling the brain’s desire to quit. Conquer the mind’s restless chatter and truly, anything is within reach.
  • Have fun. A marathon is not something people generally do for leisure. But willpower is in short supply. As with all things in life, if you opt to train for something, you need to do it not because you “have to” but because you “want to”. Develop a strategy to make it fun. It will make the journey a lot more enjoyable.

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The marathon is one of those milestones that puts everything in perspective. I actually wrote this post two weeks ago without publishing, in between the marathon and our presidential election, but decided to post now because its lessons seem particularly trenchant to our current state of affairs.

Two main takeaways:

  1. What a gift it is to be alive and healthy. Training and completing the marathon makes me more cognizant of the gift of the human body and all the elements that allow me to move, particularly my 2 legs, 2 arms, 2 eyes, and healthy lungs.
  2.  Unity is possible. If people of all backgrounds can show up on the streets of New York and cheer a simple act of human endurance and resilience — running — why are we so divisive in other areas of life?
Which leads to one final thought about the topic on everyone’s mind –

 

Though we may not all be on the same page politically, may we aim for simple civility in the days to come. As we enter a potentially transformative time in our nation, let us remember the freedom we are afforded and use it wisely. Fight in the way that matters most, which is inside. And just like the long and winding path on the marathon, press on towards the victorious finish.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr. 


Hello Again, New York

On Thanksgiving Eve, while most New Yorkers eagerly shuttled out of the city, I befittingly found myself glued to my couch in Alphabet City, alone, milking a bottle of wine. Solitary gulps couldn’t replace my family’s embrace but somewhere between the self-pity and nostalgia, I found a silver lining. This week marks my 2nd year of living in New York. Bottoms up!

20131130-004650.jpgShould the occasion warrant celebration or consolation? In the past month a number of authors have written emotionally wrenching tales about their breakups with the city. “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York At Age 24” likened the city to the overrated “prom king”. Most recently, “The Long Goodbye“- a NYT commentary on well-known writer’s broken love affairs with NYC – prompted me to ask whether it was time I cut the cord soon too.

2 years is not a long time, but it’s enough to begin embodying characteristics unique to a place. Certainly, my expectations of the city have evolved since day 1. I still remember arriving on a bus with an oversize suitcase that could barely fit in the aisle. Scurrying to the dinner I was late for (the beginning of a recurring New York theme) only to have my dinner date keep me waiting for an additional 30 minutes. Within 24 hours,  I had learned an important New York lesson: never wait longer for someone than they will wait for you.

The rest of it reads like a once-poignant-now-trite Thought Catalog riff. But in New York’s defense – or perhaps I’m stuffed with Thanksgiving propaganda at this time of year – I’ve learned lessons which can only be attributed to New York’s hard-knock teaching style. Here are a few:

1. The city moves fast, but you still need to wait at the station.

*applies to more than just commute times.

People can respond to your emails in a heartbeat, but getting anyone to do anything is like moving a mountain. When you’re young, resistance finds you at every corner. You have to pay your dues.

In a literal sense, you need to add at least 20 minutes to a projected commute time because the R or F train will likely be delayed.

The moral is that plans, ambitions, and dreams often get derailed by unforeseen obstacles but usually (God willing) you get to where you need to be. It just takes patience and waiting for the train to come.

2. The city gets smaller, while the world gets bigger.

New York City is the center of the universe and there’s always people to meet.  But as my network has expanded, I’ve experienced a shrinking of the “center”. This simultaneous shrinking and expansion of worlds is interesting. The more people I meet, the fewer degrees of separation I am from other people in the city (and the more I treasure my close circle of friends). Neighborhood establishments become part of the routine and former strangers become friends. New York City essentially becomes one big town and way more manageable.

Then I flip to an article on Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe and never does anything seem farther away.

3. The hero is redefined.

Few places embody beauty, wealth, and status more than New York does.  I arrived here as starstruck as the worst of Bieber groupies.  But after meeting a handful of personal role models- some as impressive as I imagined and others rude as rats – I’ve had to destroy my gods. Working in media taught me that so much of what we see is a marketing blitz and once all the fluff is stripped away, well – celebrities are mere mortals too.

Perhaps because of the preponderance of celebrities in this town, titles and money are a dime in a dozen. What’s harder to find is genuine compassion, a desire to listen, and an ability to think deeply about meaningful issues.  While I’m not immune to the allure of wealth and its impact (we all need to make a living), New York’s in-your-face inequality reveals the inflationary value of certain attributes and a gap in appreciation for the everyday heroes who display value beyond the short-lived hoopla of models, millionaires, and moguls.

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For the past two years, I’ve raced to keep up with NYC’s speed, size, and glitz. It’s kicked my ass. But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished overall: building a network within the tech and startup community, writing for one of the most-read US digital publications, working for the government of this grand city of cities, and most importantly, learning more everyday about this intricately woven world. While I have acquired certain archetypically New York characteristics, the hardest part about living here hasn’t been about becoming more assertive, professional, or socially savvy. It’s been refining the qualities that often aren’t associated with New York: patience, humility, and compassion. In its own prickly way, New York City has forced me to reconcile its somewhat contradictory nature (movement-stillness, expansion-shrinking, glitz-poverty) in a way that tamer cities simply can’t.  

Saying “Goodbye to All That” is justified. For my friends wondering when I will leave, my answer is not yet. Two years ago, I came to audition. Two years later, I’m still perfecting my routine. I’m still naive enough to believe that, more than anywhere else, New York City is the place for reinvention. Tomorrow, I will say “Hello again, New York” – like I do everyday – and audition for the next month, year, future. The show is yet to begin.


Orthogonal Bliss

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In the short time I’ve been in New York, I’ve lived multiple lives.

At times, it’s been anxious naval-gazing: “I have work and then a dinner thing, and then I’m busy trying to do this whole becoming who I am thing!“, circa Hannah Horvath.

Less often, it’s cosmopolitan ”I will never be the woman with the perfect hair, who can wear white and not spill on it’ Carrie: eating at places I can’t afford and feeding into the city’s conspicuous consumption.

But far more often, it’s neither, and instead, a rather boring in-between. I’ll also confess that I can’t really liken myself to female TV show characters whose shows I don’t even watch.

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When I started this blog, I titled it ‘socialynne’ because at the time:

a) lynneguey.com was already taken (for my “professional” persona),

b) ever clever, I wanted to use a pun with my name,

c) I was going to be that savvy girl in the city.

My noble goal at the time was to represent, in some form, my exterior shell. I wanted to contribute non-wisdom on what it was like to navigate the city as a 20something caught between extreme ambition & a desire to fuck it all/not give a damn. Kind of like the characters I mentioned, just a lot less cute.

20 months, 4 apartments, and 101 (intermittently) soul-bearing blog posts later, I’m reevaluating if ‘being social’ is a relevant topic for me to write about. I’m not exactly out on the town everyday.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still an awkward 20something for sure, but I’ve pivoted. I used to think about how Jess from “New Girl” or Hannah or Carrie would write my posts. But truthfully, I’m so different from each of those prototypes that I’m quitting that. As I enter a new stage of New York life, this dear blog -my sidekick from the start – will also shift focus.

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My former Hannah would grimace to hear that present-day me loves bureaucracy, rules, and hierarchy. I work for a quasi-government agency with 500+ employees, so my life is spectacularly boring as a suited up bureaucrat in a cubicle. Yet I love it. Did I mention that our organization reports to the Mayor of the greatest city in the world?

During my first month at NYCEDC, I’ve been stunned by its sheer impact on the city. The Applied Sciences Initiative is building a strong infrastructure for tech talent here in Silicon Alley. We own the maritime ports. We build numerous new neighborhood developments from unused, vacant property to create a higher-quality life for residents. Guilty as charged.

I’m learning that all the city agencies, programs, and internal departments are a hot mess of acronyms. You wonder if all these departments are necessary, but then you see how much work is required to keep the city’s economic engine chugging . You begin to learn how it works behind the scenes, which leads only to more admiration for this little village where 8 million people call home.

This is not to downplay the issues.

Could city government be leaner? Yes. Could it use drastic innovation? Of course. Could it benefit from a little more open dialogue? Always.

The system is replete with challenges and inefficiencies, which is exactly why strong leadership and new ideas are essential. Personally, I’d love to see an open platform where residents, businesses, and local government can collaborate and solve problems together. I’d love to contribute.

Though my time in New York has been topsy turvy, I’d like to think I’m entering the next stage of what Amy Jo Martin calls “orthogonal bliss”. Orthogonal bliss is defined as the intersection of skills, passion, and purpose. It’s the sweet spot, where all the skills and experiences you’ve acquired align to create something magnificent.

orthogonal bliss

Color outside the lines by combining, mixing and intersecting things that typically don’t jive. Expect adversity to follow as society fears and fights the interruptive, abnormal mixture. If the mixture is bliss, mass adoption will eventually occur and soon you’ll have diffusion of innovation.

Every company has stakeholders; ours is the public. So in honor of my newfound orthogonal bliss, instead of writing about ‘social’ in the literal sense, I’m honing this blog’s focus on ‘social good’ here in NYC. It’s no Sex in the City or pixie girl fantasy; it’s simply, me: sociaLynne, some imperfect social in-between.

Throughout our 20s, we represent a range of characters and continue to morph in these chameleon years. If you’ve found your trifecta of skills, passion, and purpose, stick with it. If not, keep looking. We all need to believe in something.

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For me, this belief is in the city. All I need is to look out, take a walk, and it’s around me. To make this a better place to live: that’s no better reason to wake up in the morning.

Always social,

– Lynne


Confidence in the Face of Failure

Got really vulnerable, y’all.

Last week, I had the fortune of meeting Christina Vuleta, founder of 40:20 vision, a website that offers advice from 40something women who have been there, to 20something women (like me) who are trying to figure it out. Christina was a panelist at a 40:20 Highwater Women panel  where she, along with some other incredibly accomplished women, offered invaluable tidbits on how to navigate this thing called life. I feel extremely lucky to have made a connection with someone so willing to pass on her experiences and help the next generation weather through the rocky 20s.

I wrote a guest post for her site about a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: failure. 

Read it, but if  you’re busy here’s the Cliff’s Notes version straight from the last two sentences:

Embrace failure as relentlessly as  you pursue success. One is not better than the other, as they both simply bring us closer to the goal.      

Elusively motivational?  That’s how I like it.

Also, I haven’t said this before but to all who actually read these meanderings, thank you. I don’t get to see your faces often but simply knowing that there are faces is encouraging. It’s what keeps me typing. 🙂


Monday Mission

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I live right above a Brooklyn Industries store.  The company motto, “live work create”, is emblazoned on the brick wall next to my building’s gate, so it stares at me each time I go in & out. I usually don’t return the glance but on occasion, I stare back. Or glare. Depending on my mood.

On the one hand, I think it’s a great reminder to live an inspired life. On the other hand, my schedule is often so stacked with more pressing commitments and responsibilities, such feel-good mantra rather irritates me. Who in their right mind has time to splatter around paint and compose pretty typography?  Artists with too much time on their hands!  Like Steve Jobs, Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Edison, and other rather trivial figures. (Learning typography was exactly what Steve Jobs did and today, ladies and gentlemen, we have the Mac.)

Sure, I proceed, creation is great for the legends but we can’t all be legendary. We are too limited by time and other impending life demands to deal with such high-minded ideals. Perhaps. But deep down, I know cynicism stems from disappointment. Disappointment that, in a glaring way, I have not lived up to man’s highest potential for creation and that my existence thus far has been marked more by consumption than production.

Brooklyn Industries’ specific mission, as stated on its website:

is to live with passion,

is work well-done,

is a constant desire to create.

Being of clear left brain origin (yet always seeking right-brain ingenuity), I often wonder what opportunities, if any, there are for non-artists like me to live with passion and create amazing work.  My drawing skills have not evolved much since third grade.

Yesterday, a few women gathered at my place to brainstorm business ideas. It was about as far from an artist’s collective as you can imagine with a clearly laid-out agenda, bullet points, and talk of business models. But the wannabe artist in me saw artist potential (think barefooted free spirits with rolled-up ripped jeans and palettes in hand, of course.) Previously unknown ideas were brought  to consciousness, compiled, developed. And with that, something new was created. Created. Yes, analytical, Excel-loving folks can be artists too!

I’m not saying our ideas were brilliant masterpieces. But I’m reminded that creation is not simply pretty art you hang on the walls. If anything, creativity is more about the reinterpretation of thought than any act of making something “different”. It’s about making something unoriginal happen that wouldn’t have if one hadn’t taken initiative. The originality lies in the intention. A new friendship, revised process, or translation of overwrought thoughts – these are creations unveiled.

Knowing that yesterday’s group would not have gathered had certain motions not been set in place is enlivening. To see that creation unveiled is to feel something like life, birth, the wail of a baby – yeah, you can call it inspiration gone mad.

Go out and create something this week. It doesn’t have to be a painting, though if you can make pretty stuff take a picture and send it to me. Our world can seem, at times, to severely lack creation in a culture of mass consumption. But its not hard to plant the seeds for something new. Take time for a conversation if you like people. Build an internal process if you dig logistics. You’ll find that it’s incredibly easy to create and make something new based on your inherent strengths. Before you know it, you’ll be a living embodiment of what you make.

Experiencing inspiration is like breathing a full gulp of air after years of just trying to catch your breath. After that, it’s hard to want anything else.