Category Archives: Personal

Disbelief, disappointment, and fear, and why our work is more important than ever

Hi everyone. I usually don’t post except on Mondays, but I can’t sleep right now and I need to process the feelings of disbelief, disappointment, and fear that are swirling. I know just this week I said that things will be OK, that the Apocalypse is not coming, that no matter who is elected president, we will continue to do our work to build a stronger community. But I can’t feel those words right now. I just feel awful. And I don’t know how helpful or even coherent this post will be.

How did this happen? How did we get here? I am in a state of bewilderment. This is mixed with sadness and a profound sense of loss and grief. I know many of you are feeling the same way. We as a sector fight on the side of justice and inclusion. We are all invested in the kind of ideal world we want to build—many of us dedicate our lives to it—and because of that we feel things more deeply. To see our nation choose walls, divisiveness, xenophobia, sexism, and demagoguery over love, hope, diversity, and community is devastating. Continue reading

Orlando, and why our work matters

blowing-dandelion-tumblr-wallpaper-1Hi everyone, I’ve been thinking about the shooting in Orlando and wanted to share some thoughts. I don’t know if I can say anything that others haven’t already contributed more eloquently and effectively, but writing is a way for me to process and cope when awful things happen, so thank you for reading and for your patience in this possibly rambling and disjointed reflection.

The past few days, I have been exploring gardening with my three-year-old, Viet. He loves to dig up the dirt, even after we placed the seeds in. I reminded him that the seeds are sleeping and that we have to not disturb them. “I want them to wake up, Daddy,” he said, “it’s morning time!” As I watch him scatter kale seeds, I think of all the parents who lost their children in in Orlando. Parents who loved their kids, told them bedtime stories, pulled out their hair trying to get them to eat stuff, traced their tiny hands for a Mother’s Day card, worried over their every sniffle and scratch, felt the bittersweet passage of time as their little ones learned and grew, parents whose worlds are now shattered, who will never get to hug or talk to or laugh with their kids again. Continue reading

Father’s Day, and the power of storytelling

mad maxHi everyone, Father’s Day is coming up, and I’d like to talk a little about my dad, and then tie it back to our work in the nonprofit sector, specifically the importance of sharing our stories and connecting to one another. Like my Mother’s Day post, this one will be a little personal, and also potentially sentimental. If you are not in the mood for that, please skip this post and read something more hilarious, like Feng Shui for nonprofits, or 12 tips for not sucking as a panel moderator. (If you LOVE sentimentality, though, read this “Letter to my newborn son in case I die early,” which I wrote on my first Father’s Day.)

For the past few months, I’ve been taking my dad to see violent action movies. Kingman was awesome, and Mad Max: Fury Road was so awesome, it was like someone figured out how to distill awesomeness into its purest form and then allowed us to mainline it for two hours. My father doesn’t talk much about the movies after we watch them, but I think he likes our father/son excursions, and this is one of the few activities we can bond over. During the drives, we can talk.

“What was it like in the reeducation camp?” I asked during one of our drives from a movie. Dad is a great story teller with a sharp sense of humor. Charismatic and brilliant, he was born into a time of War. He fought against the Communists, and for that, he was put into reeducation camp when they won. Luckily, he was young and low-ranking enough that they let him go after a couple of years.

“They didn’t feed us much,” he said, “worms, grasshoppers—we ate those. If we caught a mouse, it was a rare treat. They made us set off unexploded mines. Two guys would hold a long tree trunk, one at either end. They set the middle part of the trunk down on the mine to make it explode. One time, a piece of tree trunk flew up and took off half of my friend’s ear. He found his ear, put it into his pocket, and continued working. Can you imagine wooden shrapnel just shooting into your face? I’d be extremely ticklish.”

“Of course,” he added, “we were the ones they didn’t shoot. If they found out you had been a high-ranking officer, they just dragged you off and shot you right away. You wouldn’t get to do fun things like explode mines and eat worms.” Continue reading

Nonprofit work, and the myth of indispensability

hyacinth-1403653_1280Hi everyone, this post may be melancholy and depressing. I won’t be upset if you skip this and read something more hilarious, like “Ask a Nonprofit Director: Advice on Love, Family, and Other Stuff.” Or these nonprofit cocktail recipes.

Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday, and I will wake up to realize that my mother has been gone for ten years. She died at the age of 49 of a stroke. When you’ve lost someone, holidays can be terrible to endure. The first few Mother’s Days I just stayed in bed most of the morning, envious of all those happy people taking their moms to brunch.

Now I am older, so I try to figure out what this all means, what I can learn from all this. I run through memories I have. Since it was one of the last moments I had with her, I recall coming home from college, and being greeted by the smell of her cooking. Sweet and sour soup, tofu sautéed in tomatoes, braised bamboo shoots—dishes she had learned to make when I told her I had decided to go vegan.

My mother stood there at the sink washing dishes, smiling. The late-afternoon sunlight streaming through our kitchen window fell on her hair, and she’d greet me with these sweet maternal words: 

“You’re too skinny. You look like one of those drug addicts on TV.” Continue reading

10 Lessons about nonprofit work I’ve learned from my toddler

viet eatingFor the past 19 months, I have been a father, and it has been a fun, rewarding, and exhausting experience. Having a baby is like getting a really large multi-year grant: You’re like “Yay, I got the grant!” and then you’re like, “Damn, this is a lot of work…”

I have been a new father and a nonprofit director simultaneously, and this combination is a terrible experiment that no one should try at home. Sleep has been as elusive as general operating funds. This is why when I carry the baby down the street, passersby often remark, “Aw, what a beautiful grandson you have.”

Still, the baby is magical. I have been flexing my hours so I could spend every Friday with him. First, because life is short, and I don’t want to wish later that I had spent more time with my son. And second, because I am training him to be a nonprofit warrior, passing down the wisdom I have gained so that he could eventually take over for me. “Learn your ABC’s, son,” I would say, “so that one day you may fight injustice through grantwriting.”

Continue reading