sleepy musings on public service and the courage of young people in my instagram feed.

Yesterday, I fell asleep on our floor between the dining area and the babys new play pen. I did this because I was tired and since we had gone to the beach, there was a good chance I was tracking sand into the house. And as we know from the prequels, sand gets everywhere. 

I don't like sand." - Imgflip

As a result of the midday nap, I stayed up all night thinking about the future. Not necessarily mine; mine will mostly be filled with spreadsheets, weight-loss and throwing kisses at the wee baby, Shelby. The Future with a capital F. Maybe it’s because I keep seeing ads for the West Wing reunion (what’s next?) or maybe because like everyone else, I’m watching our country come apart at the seams.

I’m preoccupied with the future because I want to believe that our best days are ahead of us. I’m hopeful as I look forward because like many others, I’m growing disenchanted with the past. I can feel inside myself a swelling refusal to believe that the good ol’ days could have been that good when they were had at someone else’s expense. And as I watch millions of voices rising up on behalf of those who need it most, I’m not depressed, I’m proud. I’m proud of my country, not necessarily for our history, but the future that we are forging through disruption and compassion. 

And I think disruption is the operative word. In a broken system, the only language reform can take is disruption. You need people who are willing to say, “umm, that’s not ok,” or “can we do things differently this time,” or bang on the tables and rattle the walls, demanding change. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in and a wearisome responsibility to bear, but I see people taking it upon their shoulders everyday to make a better world for all people. How do you not get sentimental about the world that these people will help to build for us, our children and their children?

I insist on a stubborn optimism that says, no matter what 2020 looks like, we will make 2021 better than 2019. We’ve lost many heroes this year, but we can’t let the loss of our heroes cast a cloud that darkens the brightness of their legacies. Sure, we can stay up at night, tossing and turning, scrolling through the horrors of the day, but then, before we fall asleep we ought to think, and dream in our waning moments about what tomorrow CAN look like. We ought to spend just a little bit of time thinking about what’s next.

“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” – Neil Gaiman

It was after midnight. All she needed was to be flipped over and given a pacifier. The wee baby is in a phase where sometimes, she’ll roll over, prop herself up, and then not know how to go back to a sleeping position. I had just wrapped up a lovely novel with a wonderful, satisfying ending (Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere), and wasn’t quite asleep yet, so I stumbled out of my sweat soaked side of the bed and went to tend to the little one.


About five feet from our room is hers. Between the light coming through our drapes and the little leds on her humidifier, the path is never dark (even after a good Neil Gaiman book). A quick flip and her Elephant WubbaNub had her out like a light. Rolled on her side (like her mother does) with pacifier in tow, you could just make out where her chest rose and fell with each breath. I looked down at this child in her crib and thought about the stupid soul-wrenching love I have.


It’s the same love that compelled my parents to cross an ocean in hopes of a better life, to make their way in a land that was foreign and inhospitable. The same love that compelled their parents to fight against communist radicals or devote a life to working the land under the beating sun. I only wish my love manifested in some nobler fashion.

For me, it’s just a ridiculous, inexplicable feeling. Like now, when I watch old episodes of Pokemon, I find myself getting irrationally defensive of Pikachu because it is roughly the size and shape of the little baby. Does that count as courageous parenthood? I’m singing along to these inane nursery rhymes and babbling an infantile baby speech that I once vowed never to employ. And most recently, it seems that I’m making another career change (or two) to take my best shot at providing for my growing little family. Is there some nobility to be found in a cubicle someplace?

At some point, I crossed a river and I don’t know that I can get back across. Some days, it feels like I’ll lose who I am if I’m not careful. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself pining for, praying even, for a job that the 20 year old me would be shocked to have. But if I could speak to the twenty year old me, I would walk him five feet down the hallway, point towards that little bundle sleeping in that crib and tell him to shut the f*** up. I’d pull him close so he could hear my voice behind his ear and tell him, “this perfect creature is in our care now and she deserves more than we have ever wanted. Not everyone can live in a bivy or a van. Not everyone can subsist on caffeine and paperback novels. We’re going to make her proud, but first, let’s make her comfortable.”

Taiwan, the World Health Organization and the Extraordinary Voyage of an Unmanned Ship Called Galileo V.

A lot of our mornings in Quarantown start out the same. Stephy wakes up first while I laze about in bed. She feeds the baby and then presses Shelby’s butt and full diaper against my sleeping face and asks, “does this smell like pee to you?” It always does. Then, the baby and I nap together for a little as Stephy goes to work early because she’s a superwoman. On weekends, we all nap together.

This morning, while feeding the wee baby Shelby, Stephy was grumbling about something. It was a prepared statement by a group of Taiwanese activists to be published in the New York Times as a response to the World Health Organization’s treatment of Taiwan in the past few weeks. For the past few days, Stephy has been updating me on the ongoing back and forth between WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Taiwan. Some Taiwanese celebrities are spearheading a project to publish a public reprimand of the WHO by taking a full page ad in the New York Times (to which, I responded, “newspapers are dead.”).

Stephy was grumbling because the proposed statement was poorly written and unclear in it’s goal. My ears perked up.

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Then I read the statements and made faces.


…right?

***

Then Stephy saw something that she doesn’t often see this early in the morning. She saw me leap out of bed, grab my laptop and get to work.

For a moment, I channeled my inner Sam Seaborn. I was in a daze, redrafting a letter that was equal parts indignant and patriotic—polishing the existing statement s like a proper speech-writer should. I stole from other great speeches. I made sure I didn’t quote Tolkien verbatim. I quickly revised and then  I built an overarching motif like scaffolding around this piece. It was like scratching an insatiable itch, and then I felt better.

I rushed back into bed to show Stephy. I had this idea that she would share it on that group page, it would get recognized, and this epic speech would propel my career as a speech writer to statesmen, presidents and world leaders. She looked it over, said it was fine, and that she was hungry. I got back out of bed and made some French toast.

 

 


In case you were curious, this is what I ended up with:

TAIWAN: ALIENATED, NOT ISOLATED
Taiwan is an island in many regards.

We are a small island of about 14,000 square miles in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean, divided by a narrow strait from the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. Millions travel between China and Taiwan, but we have defied all expectations, minimizing the rate of infection and serving as an example around the world for preventing the spread of this deadly virus.

Yet now we find ourselves on an island again, isolated, on the world stage, excluded from many agencies, including the World Health Organization.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ refusal to recognize the efforts of the Taiwanese people and his blatant China-centric policies are not only disrespectful to the people of Taiwan, but dangerous to the people of the world who can gain from the experiences of Taiwanese health officials and front-line workers.

The spirit of the Taiwanese people is one that cherishes community. Our people are warm and generous, quick to lend a helping hand to anyone we come across whether in our native homeland, or abroad as we make our homes in countries all over the world. We seek inclusion into groups like the WHO because we believe we have earned our place there, but more importantly because we believe we have something to offer.

Our history has been devastated by diseases like COVID-19 and SARS, and now we believe that it is our duty to prevent it, not only here in Taiwan, but for all people, everywhere. We are bound by fellowship to the rest of the world and we will do everything in our power to come to the aid of those in need.

In the past three months, we’ve shared our knowledge and experience with the U.S. and the E.U. in an effort to improve testing for COVID-19 and hasten the development of a vaccine. Our government and kind individuals have donated over 16 million masks and other supplies, even as we face discrimination or exclusion overseas. We pen this message because we want the world to know that no policy or lack of recognition will stop us from sharing what we have with our friends around the world.

We may be an island, separated from the rest of the world by water and distance, but during a time where isolation is the norm, we have chosen solidarity.
#TaiwanCanHelp
#TaiwanIsHelping

This message is supported by over 27,000 contributors who participated in the crowdfunding project to publish this article.

Easter, This Year

This marks the first time in many years where I am not observing Easter as a professional clergy member. It feels strange not to prepare the prayers, embroil myself in those familiar passages and ruminate on the timeless truths of this somber, but joyous season. Ordinarily, this is the beginning of a mad stretch that includes major events revolving around Easter, graduations, summer retreats and mission trips. I am usually bracing myself for the brutal grind from March to September. This year, however, the season snuck up on me. Ash Wednesday appeared when I saw a coworker with a sullied forehead. Good Friday popped up suddenly without any fanfare. I’m accustomed to walking more slowly and more carefully through the season but this year, it feels as though I’m on the outside looking in.

Every year, I’ve had the obligation to examine this season and personalize it. I’ve always tried to make it a point not to do ministry by going through the motions, so if I’m preaching the resurrection, it’s a matter of integrity that I experience it as I invite others to do the same. This year, I haven’t had that same pressure. I’ve spent a lot of the lenten season getting fat on Postmates and binge-watching Yu Yu Hakusho.

Great moral lessons to be found here.

As a result this Easter feels distant and abstract. Today, I’ve tried to spend some time examining this, but deep down, I already know that for the past few weeks and months, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with God. I don’t ask God for much. I mean, of course I do when I’m praying for other people, and for causes and other things. But I have to admit, with a lot of prayers, I am a cheap date and a quick apologist. I can see how God works for the good of his people, not causing, but utilizing the worst of situations towards the ultimate goal of human flourishing and properly allocated glory. And then I’m cool with whatever the Big Man decides. 

But there’s a special type of prayer that spills forth from the guts. Every now and then, I ask something of God and I can’t see how he’s gonna work his magic otherwise. In short, I become a brat and I don’t take no for an answer. There are some things that I’ve been asking God for and his answer has been no.

And thusly scorned, I’ve been pouting. This is where I find myself this Easter.

***

I’ve never really been a Lee Strobel fan. It’s not that I don’t condone or appreciate his work. It’s just that I never really needed a case to be made to me about Christ. Christ was my lifeline when the only thing I was destined for was despair and misery. Christ is the lifeline for me still. I often recommend Strobel’s books, but they were never my personal cup of tea. That being said, there’s an exchange in A Case For Faith where Strobel is interviewing Chuck Templeton, a peer of Billy Graham’s, a gifted evangelist, and at the time of the interview, a vocal agnostic. Templeton rails against shoddy Christian scholarship, apparent contradictions in scripture and the seemingly irreconcilable reality of a broken world. But then, when Strobel asks him about Jesus, his face softens, his voice grows nostalgic. Then Templeton raves about the character of Jesus and tearfully admits, “I miss him.”

This conversation has always stuck with me. I don’t remember much else when I rushed through Strobel’s books on the 7 train while commuting to Brooklyn Tech, but I remember this. “I miss him.” That’s how I was feeling, how I often feel when I’m a bit wayward. 

That’s how I was feeling today when I crawled up to the loft holding the wee baby Shelby. She was getting a little fussy, so I decided that I was gonna read something to her. Stephy was making dinner and my mission was vital because 1. If I don’t get Shelby unfussed, Stephy doesn’t eat the food while it’s hot. 2. You smell everything more clearly in the loft and Stephy’s cooking smells good (curry and grilled chicken today).  Unfortunately, a large portion of my library consists of crime novels, literary fiction or other genres of books inappropriate for tiny babies. So I decided on some poetry. We started with a little Rupi Kaur, because sometimes I’m a basic b****, and also because I want to introduce the tiny baby Shelby to female poets she can look up to like Rupi Kaur, Maya Angelou or Joy Chen. 

Then I stumbled onto what I certainly needed today. I pulled out The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I knew it was right the moment I held it in my hands. I was in need of some truth, but I wasn’t going to hear it from a theologian or a pastor. I needed to hear it from a poet. Sometimes it’s just like that.

So I began reading Rilke poems to Shelby and ultimately, myself. I reminded the tiny infant child that they mention Rilke in Jojo Rabbit and that’s where she might remember the name, but Stephy yelled from the kitchen that Shelby didn’t watch the movie (she slept through Jojo Rabbit, can you imagine?). Shelby was very quiet and contemplative when I read the original German (my butchered, surely racist, German), but she got fussy and inattentive when I read the English. Sort of rude, actually. But it’s ok, I love her to death and I could kiss those cheeks forever and ever a hundred years. 

I read this poem.

In tiefen Naechten grab ich dich, du Schatz.
Denn alle Ueberflusse, die ich sah,
Sind Armut und armsaeliger Ersatz
Feur deine Schöenheit, die noch nie geschah…

Und meine Häende, welche blutig sind
von Graben, heb ich offen in den Wind,
So daß sie sich verzweigen wie ein Baum.
Ich sauge dich mit ihnen aus dem Raum
als hättest du dich einmal dort zerschellt
in einer ungeduldigen Gebärde,
und fielest jetzt, eine zerstäubte Welt,
aus fernen Sternen wieder auf die Erde
sanft wie ein Frühlingsregen fällt.
In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet…

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly,
like a spring rain?

Rainer Maria Rilke – The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God “The Book of Pilgrimage: II, 34”

For what it’s worth, it rhymes in German. It’s also deep and evocative and along with others in the book, this poem sums up the feeling in my guts as I enter into Easter this year.

I’m not predominantly mad. I mostly just miss God, and I feel stupid for letting my disappointment get in the way of returning to the only well that ever gave me life-giving water. It feels stupid to wander, but it’s reassuring to know that the moment I turn around and head back to Him, he’s there.

Important treatise on repentance

In the end, Resurrection Sunday isn’t supposed to be about me and how I feel about it, it’s about a good God who did everything in His power to break the walls between Himself and the ones that He loves. It’s about the life He volunteered to give on our behalf. It’s about triumph over the death that spreads it’s stench over every dimension of life. I love this Jesus God. He is risen indeed, and it feels like He rises again and again, every morning to find ways to remind me of those things I already know and always forget. Passover, the OG Easter, was established as a time where we pray the prayers, eat the meals, and most importantly, remember— remember the one who brought us out of Egypt, out of bondage, into a better life, not a perfect one, but one where we are free. 

Warrior, The Fighter and What If’s?

Last night, I watched Warrior (2011). I don’t know why I haven’t gotten around to it before. It’s right in my wheelhouse. There’s fighting, family strife, addiction and Tom Hardy with traps the size of mountains ranges. Even Cameron from House M.D. is in it (playing a very cookie cutter wet blanket character). On paper, it would seem to be custom made for me, but for some reason or another, I haven’t gotten around to it. Probably because I saw Fighting (2009) and I was worried this would be another low-budget, over-the-top, MMA porno. 

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geez, look at those things.

While watching, there were scenes that made me so tense, I wanted to skip through them. They weren’t, as you might expect, the fight scenes. They were the scenes where Joel Edgerton’s character needed to think about how to pay the mortgage, or explain to a superintendent about his black eye. The fight scenes were gripping but they weren’t the object of tension, they were the release. It was the day to day that left me feeling battered. It always seems to be the day to day that leaves me feeling battered. 

The fights, on the other hand, are a catharsis. I envy the way fighters in movies get to let it all out. During a crucial fight, Joel Edgerton’s trainer tells him “ You don’t knock him out, you don’t have a home.” The entirety of his struggle is made tangible. Everything he was helpless to change before is now malleable in his hands. Outside of the movies, day to day life doesn’t come with a release valve. The frustrations of work, the pressure of life, a lifetime of struggle— these don’t come with that button you find on your Instant Pot. I guess there are adult coloring books and transcendental meditation, but I don’t know man, I just feel like there are some amounts of steam that don’t get blown off with colored pencils. 

In The Fighter (2010), Christian Bale plays Dicky Ecklund, a crack-addicted former boxer, who gives Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) a moving speech in Mickey’s title fight. After the family overcomes failures, addiction, imprisonment, injuries and embarrassment, Dicky tells Micky “You f***in’ get out there, and use all the s*** that you’ve been through, all that f***in’ hell, all the s*** we’ve gone through over the f***in’ years, and you put it in that ring right now. This is yours. This is f***in’ yours.”

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“take all of you s***, and get it together.”

There’s something incredibly powerful about the idea that you can take everything, everything bad in your life and channel into your fists and bring it into a ring. I don’t know about you, but there are aspects of my life that I’m deeply disappointed by. I feel like made me these promises that it didn’t keep. I feel like there’s a type of person I could have been and a kind of role I could have had in society but society decided it didn’t need what I have to offer. Sometimes, I feel so mad at God that I don’t know what to say to him. Sometimes, I feel like I’m Jonah and I ran away and God never bothered to send a big ol’ fish after me. He just said, “oh well,” slapped the dust off his hands and moved on. I can almost taste what it would be like to pour all of this damned heavy heaviness into my hands and let it all out. 

I envy the fighters because they aren’t helpless like me.

***

Yesterday, I was lying in bed thinking about the destiny I was meant to have. I could have been a great man. I could have led people through war and strife. I could have penned great American classics, composed compelling ad campaigns, directed masterpieces of cinema and stage. I was mad at the world for not wanting the qualities I love most about myself and replaying my favorite Fight Club (1999) speech in my mind.

“I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s*** we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we’ve been all raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t and we’re slowly learning that fact. and we’re very very pissed off.” Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

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How can you face that level of disappointment and not want to fight?

I stayed up at night and thought about what I wanted to say about all of this. I thought about how I would explain it to Stephy. I was gonna tell her that I love fighting movies because I can live vicariously through the hero who can fight a manifestation of his problems. And as I got to this section of self-pity, it sort of flipped around on me. A question kept popping into my head that I couldn’t put down. It’s the question that Stephy would have asked me, but she went to bed first. The question is this:

“Who’s stopping you?”

Who’s stopping me? The answer, frankly is no one. I have to come face to face with the fact that I, like the fighters in these movies, have the opportunity to take fate into my own hands. I want the chance on the big stage with the bright lights, but I don’t put the work in on the ground. I want the title shot, but I don’t want to live out the training montage. No one stopped me from doing the things I love. No one came crashing through my door and slapped the pen out of my hand or threw my laptop to the ground. I sabotaged myself through Instagram Explore, Covid-19 memes and my fourth rewatching of The West Wing. I do hold my fate in my hands, I just don’t live like it.

You know, I don’t think this piece turned out the way I thought. I thought I wanted to rail against the decline of masculinity, about the vacuum of leadership that exists in the world, and the minimal stakes in which we find ourselves out here in suburbia. But I think the place where I’ve arrived is the same as the best part of any truly good boxing movie. Good fighting movies aren’t about dealing with the world outside. They are about a man by himself, a man learning to conquer the demons within.

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I have a lot of demons to conquer. I don’t have any discipline. I’m an addict, just not to anything sexy. I’m a glutton and a deadbeat. I’m a coward and I’m quick to point the finger elsewhere.  Maybe the takeaway from this isn’t to crave fight scenes, but to commit to the training montages. In a pivotal scene in Creed (2015), Sly Stallone (Rocky) points to Michael B. Jordan (Creed) and tells him, “You see this guy here staring back atcha? That’s your toughest opponent. Every time you get into the ring, that’s who you’re going against. I believe that in boxing and I do believe that in life. Okay?” You can feel the intensity when Jordan begins to confront his own demons as he shadowboxes. Stallone begins to step out of frame. As he takes a couple steps back, I can hear his voice speaking to me and my demons, speaking to where I need to put in some work. In that thick, tough guy accent, he says quietly, knowingly, “I’m gonna leave you two alone for a while.”  

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Noodle Note

When you grow to my age, you don’t remember much about elementary school. You remember the names of your teachers and some of the names of your classmates. You remember making edible dirt with crushed brownies and gummi worms. You remember playing with a parachute in gym class and being sent to the principal’s office for making prank Valentine’s cards for classmates with crude names that you borrowed from that old PC game Scorch (well, I remember that last part).

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I seem to remember worksheets that asked me what my favorite color was (don’t know), who my personal hero was (Raphael from TMNT), and what I wanted to be when I grew up (inventor/President of the United States).  I didn’t know it then, but there was only one question with an answer that has not changed. What is my favorite food? My favorite food always has been and always will be beef noodle soup, 紅燒牛肉麵.

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I grew up in Queens County, the most diverse county in the entire world (Google it). P.S. 163 and P.S. 173 were no different. People from every tribe, nation and tongue gathered a stone’s throw away from Manhattan to make a better life for themselves and for their families. They still do. But when you’re in grade school and you write beef noodle soup in a box on a worksheet, people don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. They think of chunky beef and vegetable soup. They think of beef stew with carrots and potatoes.

But they’re wrong. Beef noodle soup isn’t American. It isn’t Irish or English. Beef noodle soup is Taiwanese. Fatty beef shank, braised and slow cooked with bones for a deep, rich flavor. Soy sauce, rock sugar and star anise. Dough, delicious dough, hand pulled or knife cut into thick, chewy noodles that soak up the flavor without falling apart. Beef noodle soup is God’s gift to mankind, and it came by way of a little island formerly known as Formosa.

taiwanese-beef-noodle-soup-instant-pot-9-500x500

Main Street looked different when we were kids. When I was growing up, before there was Flushing Library, before there was Big Bowl or Starbucks, there was that wicked place Mega Academy and a string of excellent restaurants and supermarkets. On Main Street, in between 41st and 42nd ave., there was a Taiwanese Restaurant that made the best damn beef noodle soup in the city. Right smack on that street was a place that sold us 紅燒牛肉麵. I remember the sound of the bell against the door and the way the cashier had a booth before you got to the seating area. I remember the waitress with the hoarse voice, and the pulled back ponytail and a mole above her lip like Cindy Crawford. I remember the anticipation as we drove back home with it, burning hot even through the plastic container that I would hold to make sure it wouldn’t topple. Back then, I didn’t eat the meat or drink the soup, I just ate the noodles, and then I ate the extra noodles my mom would order for me and then I would eat my brother’s noodles that he didn’t finish, because beef noodle soup was my favorite food. 

***

When I was 21, I had essentially dropped out of college and moved to California (sorry mom). Then I decided to tag along with my dad and stepmom as they explored some business opportunities in China and Taiwan. It’s the longest stretch of time I can remember spending with my dad. I celebrated my twenty second birthday in a two bedroom condo in Taoyuan. It was during this time that my stepmom began to see some of the odd freakish similarities between father and son. Not the least of these similarities was the fact that we found an amazing beef noodle soup place on ZhongHua Rd. and without her intervention, my dad and I would have eaten there for every meal.

My dad, too, has always loved beef noodle soup and much of the mythology of my dad involves it. My mom used to tell me a story about my dad when he was growing up. My dad left home to go to high school in Taipei, so my grandma would give her beloved son enough money for two bowls of noodles. Two bowls, because beef noodle soup was his favorite food. A classmate of my father’s lost his parents when he was young and didn’t have the means to eat out, so for three years, my dad bought two bowls a day, one for himself and gave one to his friend. We now know that friend as uncle Liang.

Later, in college, uncle Liang introduced my dad to a precocious young lady from Chiayi. That lady was and is my mom.  

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And thus, my parents fell in love (and out of love too, but that’s another story). When they were dating, my dad would take my mom all over Taiwan on his motorcycle. They rode through mountains and by the ocean, and when the engine would overheat, my dad would pull over to the side of the road and pee on it to cool it down. Dad would take off his belt and wrap it around the both of them as they cruised through the countryside day and night. My mom would fall asleep with her cheek pressed up against his back.

But they didn’t just travel around, they had their regular spots too. One of them was none other than a beef noodle soup shop. In certain restaurants, they will differentiate between 牛肉麵 (literally beef noodle), and 牛肉湯麵 (beef soup noodle). There were two differences between the two. First, the fact that the latter had no meat and second, the price. Since my parents were broke and in love, they split a beef soup noodle and the kind shopowner would give them a free tea egg.

After many shared bowls and after many long years of courtship, they decided to get married. The problem is, my grandparents didn’t support the marriage. They didn’t think my mom was good enough for their cherished son, so they didn’t show up for the wedding. When they did, guess who acted as a father for my own father when he married my mother. That’s right. The man who ran the noodle shop.

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My grandparents would get furious because my dad would spend his holidays with the owner of the noodle shop.

 

***

Usually, Stephy reads these things when everyone else does. I catch her on the bed or couch scrolling on her phone. If I’m lucky, she’s moved by something she read and accepts my kisses. With this post, I read it to her in different phases as I wrote it. She asked me where I was going with it. I think this is where. 

Stephy likes beef noodle soup too. And so does her family. When we were in Taiwan, her dad brought us a really damn good one from somewhere deeper in the city. We ate it together—  myself, Stephy, her dad, aunt, niece, nephew, grandma and NaiNai the dog. We also ate beef noodle soup in a famous shop in YongKang Street, and at another place with my mom and brother and a couple of instant ones from 7-11. All told, I ate at least one bowl per day during our two week trip in Taiwan last year. What was I saying?

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Stephy makes a hell of a beef noodle soup. 

Anyway, sometimes when she has the time, Stephy’ll make it at home. She makes it in the instant pot which spouts the smell of stewed beef all up in the air and when I walk through the door, I feel like I could cry. I feel at home. Maybe Shelby will feel that way too. Maybe it will be her favorite food, and she’ll think of good memories from growing up. Maybe she’ll think of the places she can count on, or her ethnic identity, or maybe she’ll think of people who love her. Or maybe not. Maybe she’ll have a different favorite food. Maybe it’ll be pastrami. I love Pastrami.

Thoughts You Might Have If You Binge Watch The West Wing While Social Distancing

When I finally got to the cashier at Trader Joe’s, I asked, “do you think I should’ve bought more stuff?” She looked down at my purchase, three bundles of flowers and a small bag of lemons. “Umm, probably,” she chuckled, then asked “Was it worth it?”

I had just waited for about half an hour in a line that was one among many lines that stretched through the aisles and went all the way to the back of the store. People filled their carts with foods, non perishables, and whatever supplies they felt would help them as they prepared to hunker down for the next who-knows-when. I was just there to pick up some daisies, baby’s breath and lemons for the wee baby Shelby’s 100 day shindig. Yellow daisies and baby’s breath were gonna match the balloons and the lemons were for the ice water in the glass dispenser.

I stood in line with these items in one hand and with my other hand caught Pokemon and worked on the New York Times crossword. It took some time, enough to catch ‘em all, but not enough to finish the crossword. By the time I got to the cashier, my eyes were a bit fuzzy and my hands were a little sore, so it wasn’t unusual for the cashier to ask me if I thought the wait was worth it.
“Yeah.” I said, and I meant it.

That was last Friday. Later that day, Orange County schools would announce that they’d be shutting down. A few days later, the county would announce a prohibition on gatherings and businesses involved in non-essential activities. The lock-down had begun.

***


It’s been a lovely time working from home. Stephy has a set up with the big monitor up in the loft, and I’ve put together a two-laptop battle station on the dining table. We eat all of our meals together and perhaps most importantly, we spend lots of time with the wee baby. Well, mostly, the baby hangs out and falls asleep and poops and cries and smiles at us, God, we love her so much.

When I’ve taken out the trash, or retrieved things from the garage, I gotten a chance to look around outside. Maybe I’m thinking about it too much, but it feels different. This week, I see more parents walking or playing with their children. I hear more laughter from through our windows coming from the other homes in the complex.

This morning, I left our self-imposed quarantine to run a couple of errands. One of my tires is underinflated, so naturally I’ve ignored the warning light for the past two weeks. Stephy gently reminded me this morning to take care of it, so I promptly went to our local gas station and failed to reinflate it. Afterwards, I ventured to go see what Sprout’s looked like. I kind of expected what I’ve been seeing on the news, empty shelves, a line around the block and fist fights over Charmin Ultra. What I saw were families shopping contentedly for supplies, dutiful workers stocking shelves, and a relatively normal looking store.

It wasn’t mayhem. It was… normal. And maybe it’s because I’ve been binge-watching the West Wing (Sorkin Seasons only), which is basically patriotism-porn, but as I left the store and walked through the parking lot, I felt an immense sense of pride in my countrymen. We are indeed a resilient people.

***


Later, we took the family out for a little drive. The baby likes to nap in the car seat, and Stephy wanted to see firsthand if I might be able to reinflate the tire with a second try (I was not). Everywhere we went, we saw families walking around in parks and while the restaurants and stores were empty, life continued to flourish despite our circumstances.

You can say that America was ill-prepared and naive to the gravity of the situation, but there is something admirable about the aura of invincibility with which we walk. You can call it hubris (and you ought to) but it’s lined with a confidence that comes from a long history of leadership and heroism. You can call those spring breakers idiots (and you ought to) but Americans are trained with an ethic where we don’t let circumstances dictate how and where we’d like to exercise our freedoms. 

***

I read a passage once that, like all great pieces of writing, latched itself deeply, irrevocably onto some part of my soul. Steinbeck wrote that “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” He writes so in response to his family who, upon discovering about his ailing health, discourages him from getting into his RV and driving around the country with his poodle, Charley. He won’t allow fear to stop him from what he wants to do. 

I grew up in New York, where every bit of logic told us to fear large gatherings, avoid public transportation, and I don’t know, build smaller buildings. But we didn’t do that, we said “**** the people who would have us crawl in our holes in fear” and we built the tallest building in the western hemisphere, designed it like a middle finger and named it The Freedom Tower.

freedom-tower-nyc-911-memorial
Our country is not composed and classy like other ones. We don’t sing opera from our balconies, or organize group dinners across an apartment complex. We sort of hoard toilet paper and beat up Asians. We’re a young country, but we’re full of heroes like the cashiers at the grocery stores, like the nurses and doctors, like the government workers, mailmen, restaurateurs and delivery guys.

And we also like the little things, like insisting on having a good time for spring break. We also laugh in the face of danger, like going for walks with our family because of course it would take an unprecedented worldwide health crisis to get us out of the house. We like to do what we like to do, even if it’s unwise, like buying flowers for your baby even when she doesn’t understand what they are and there’s a pandemic to be hoarding for. 

What Would Kobe Do?

I’m not sure how these things are supposed to go. I’ve been slow to write this because I don’t know my end point. Part of me feels like I want Kobe to know what he meant to me. Another part wants everyone else to know. Then again, I think part of me just wants to remind myself. Something inside of me needs to know with certainty, that I am truly a fan. It’s important that this is true of myself. I am a Kobe Bryant fan.

Like everyone in this city, I have Kobe merch. I have tees, a couple hundred dollars worth of his signature shoes and for different phases of my life I’ve worn a custom-made bracelet on my wrist that reads “What Would Kobe Do?” My first real basketball shoes were the white Kobe IV’s that I wore until my foot would touch the floor through the hole in the bottom. For years, I made it a point to be the last person to leave the court because the shots I took while people were resting meant I was out-working them. I challenged anyone better than me to one-on-ones after games because I wanted to figure out weaknesses for the next game. Kobe has been one of my great sports role models. He’s shaped my approach towards challenges both on and off the court. Even still, it feels like I took him for granted. 

 

Screenshot 2020-01-30 at 6.20.48 PM

May 2012

 

Some people are asking why? Why is there so much mourning over just a basketball player? I think part of why it’s so crushing is that, more than anyone in the NBA, people were most excited for the next chapter of Kobe’s life. Kobe’s post retirement saw him as an Oscar-winner, a coach, a philosopher and a mentor to the young superstars of the NBA. Kobe’s nod of approval is what the young bucks looked for. He became a statesman and a patriarch, not just for basketball but for all realms of life. Calling Kobe Bryant just a basketball player is like calling Bruce Lee just a kung-fu movie actor. 

Screenshot 2020-01-30 at 6.36.13 PM

Mamba Mentality
For so many, the connection with Kobe goes so much deeper than basketball. For anyone feeling helpless on or off the court, the Mamba Mentality instilled a great power. You could be a killer, a warrior, a winner through sheer force of will. You see, Kobe wasn’t the most gifted or talented. He didn’t have the build like Jordan or Lebron. He didn’t have the giant hands or the indestructibility. He just worked harder than anyone in the league.

There are legendary stories of Kobe practicing for hours before teammates even get into the gym.

Then, just as many stories of Kobe playing through injuries because an ailing body could not get in the way of a man and his mission.

Then there are just legendary Kobe-isms:

The Matt Barnes inbound play.

“Job’s Not Finished” press conference.

Kobe and Chris Rock

The Kobe System

For scrubs on and off the court (like myself), Kobe’s career was a portrait of something truly special. It was special but attainable, because to be a Mamba was a mindset, not a set of God-given tools.

#GirlDad
As I wade in the collective sadness, it kind of feels like Kobe is inspiring the masses towards something else. Maybe it has to do with the tragic nature of the crash and the fact that Gianna was involved, but it feels like Kobe’s teaching us to be better fathers, to do more to elevate women. Elle Duncan shared a beautiful story about Kobe that seems to be resonating deeply with people, including myself as a recently christened girldad. While he always supported women athletes, it seems that his role as a father, not a player, is making the biggest impact. 

It used to be, when I thought about Shelby grown up, I felt a sense of loss, because I can’t transfer my love of sports, camping, and violence to a daughter. Now, I’m convinced that it’s even more essential to instill that strength and confidence in Shelby. It’s what Kobe would do. It’s what he did with Gianna and all the girls.

There are a lot of things that I can say about Kobe Bryant. His impact on my life is dawning on me more and more as the world mourns together. I could talk about my approach towards basketball, my bastardized version of the elbow fadeaway, how I pin an opponents hand against their hip. I could talk about staying at the park late and shooting jumpshots in the dark.

But as I think about his legacy, I wonder if the best I can do is to make sure he impacts what he cared about most: family. Maybe the best I can do is to make sure Kobe leaves a mark, not just on my game, but on my daughter. As I’ve been wearing my “What Would Kobe Do?” bracelet in the past few days, it feels like it’s taken on a different meaning. Sometimes, I look at it when I hear Shelby cry and I decide to run over instead of waiting for Stephy to handle it. Sometimes, I look at it when I’m dying inside at work and I think about what my job means for my family. Other times, I look at it and it makes me think about a brighter future with better GirlDads and more representation and compensation for women. I think about a world filled with more people like Gianna and Kobe Bryant in this world.

 

How I’m Doing

You may have noticed that I’ve been blogging more lately. This is mostly because we’ve organically settled into a rhythm where I take the first night shift. Stephy tries to sleep at around 10pm after the baby is fed and changed. Then, I usually I wind down and write until the baby wakes at around 1AM to impatiently demandsfood. After feeding and changing, I sleep too. Stephy takes care of things in the awful hours of night until around seven or so. Then, I take over so she can get some rest before I head to work.

Close Call: This child just peed AND pooped moments after I swapped diapers.

This irregular schedule has given me lots of time to compile goofy lists and think about things. It’s also given me more time to work on the novel (coming up on 50k words). I’ve been stuck plot-wise for a few weeks now, but steadily grinding on the passages that I know will happen. It seems to be moving away from detective novel into thriller territory. This is fine with me.

Anyway, one thing that I haven’t really written about is my current stage of life. This makes sense because it’s in flux. Not only am I trying to figure out what is happening, I’m also trying to figure out how I feel about it.

The first thing I want to communicate is that I miss ministry. I miss pouring my time and energy into the service of people, their understanding of God and His role in their lives. I loved every minute of study, preparation, even all the cleaning up. Most of all, I miss the kids. The role I was allowed to play in their lives was one that I never took for granted and the void left from stepping down from that responsibility has been the hardest part of this process.

It’s weird to go from having an important role in so many lives to kinda not. The past few months of “secular” work has been a mixed bag. I manage teachers, prepare curriculum, and help students apply to schools. For the most part, I’m not doing the things I’m best at. The work can be challenging and interesting at times, but there are always the parts of it that reek of the mundane. I think often about Jesus making tables or Paul and his tents. I wonder how they did it when they knew that the fields were ripe with harvest.

On the flipside, I have been able to commit more of my time and energy into my little burgeoning family. You see, for the past few years, I have to admit that there’s been a tension. When I was in ministry and with family (even pre-baby), I had to make compromises. It was hard to go full speed into ministry because I had new financial obligations, a wife to be present for, and a new set of affairs to be concerned about (1 Corinthians 8:33-34). Paul describes the married man as a man whose interests are divided, and that was an apt description for me. At the same time, it was hard to be fully present for my family. I had to give up most evenings and weekends, I missed birthdays and anniversaries.

More importantly, my attention would be divided. I took a look at my inbox today, and for the month of January, I have (as of writing this on January 21st) less than five emails in my primary inbox. As a minister, I’d routinely have hundreds of emails, let alone calls and messages. These were not nuisances, but they could be taxing. While a big part of me desperately wants to get back to doing the work of ministry, I can feel how this time has given me rest and an ability to focus on my family.

It was important to me to be there for Stephy and the wee baby Shelby, and although I’m occasionally too immersed in a TV show, I like to think that I’ve been a good father so far. I didn’t want Stephy to ever feel like there was something competing for my attention and affection and I didn’t want to feel like I had to choose. 

I feel like it sounds like I’m complaining. I don’t mean for it to sound that way. I just wanted to say that it’s been hard. I miss the youth, and I worry that every day I’m spending apart from them in this season is another step towards a day where they no longer see me as someone they can go to for help. I worry all the time that the day has already passed. 

But if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to share a little bit about what I’ve gained. First, you have to understand that for me, home was an unstable thing growing up. For parts of my life, my church family was the most nurturing family I had. I could count on those people to love and accept me. It’s why I committed my life to building the church. Growing up, I always had this home away from home. But now, I have a home at home.

I don’t know exactly how to express what it feels like to come home from work every day to my family waiting for me. Every morning, I don my necktie, brew my coffee in my travel mug, pack my lunch and mosey on over to the same office in a lifestyle that would make 20 year old Sunroot cry (I still want to cry sometimes). But then, I speed through regions of Irvine and Tustin to get home to these two women that I would do anything for. I come home to my family. After I park the car, I look up and see the lights on through the windows and my heart swells with a weird sensation. For the first time in my life, I feel completely at home.

At the end of the day, yes, of course I want to get back into ministry. A few times a week, I’m looking for jobs at non-profits where I can serve again. My thoughts and feelings are still jumbled. I’m still figuring it all out and I’m trying to know the right thing to do is. But as I write this on my laptop in the dark, my wife and my daughter are sleeping peacefully next to me and I know, without guilt or shame, that I’m doing my best to give my best to them. And that thought helps me sleep peacefully too.

My Favorite Stand Up Specials From the 2010’s

If you’re familiar with my unhealthy media consumption habits, then you know how much I love stand-up comedy. On a normal week with access to at least one of the major streaming services, I might average around 10 hours of stand-up a week. Currently, I’m without Netflix, and with baby, so that number has gone down. Although, with Spotify, late night feedings, and an impetus to research for this piece, I think I’m making up for lost time.

There’s something pure about the form that (for the most part) is just a person standing in front of an audience and making them laugh. One person committed to the entertainment of a crowd with nothing but a means of amplification. Stand-up is evolving past “airline food is bad” and the specials are becoming more immersive, more contemplative, more socially charged. If it means I get more specials like 3 Mics, Homecoming King and Make Happy, I’m all for that change.

I just wanted to take some time and take note of some of my favorite comedians and stand-up specials with a list of my favorites from the past decade. When I was pre-writing for this, I realized that I would have to leave out literally dozens of comedians that I wish I could pay homage to, but my list is already too inflated. Without further ado, here are some of my favorites.

21. Gary Gulman – In This Economy? (2011)Image result for gary gulman in this economy
Gary Gulman is kind of a throwback to what drew everyone to stand up in the 80’s. He’s insightful, witty and his subject matter is innocuous and delightful. Watching one of his specials (with the exception of The Great Depresh [2019]) is like watching a Disney movie; it might not might make you think that deeply, but it is enjoyable throughout. In This Economy is a good example of well constructed, classic stand-up.

20. Katherine Ryan – In Trouble (2017)Image result for katherine ryan in trouble
It should come as high praise that Katherine Ryan is occasionally described as the next Joan Rivers. She is unapologetically herself, or at least the version of herself that she projects on stage. She can be vain, self-deprecating and blunt, but throughout, she is charming, upbeat and fun. She carries herself with a great deal of confidence and that confidence helps her deliver catty and irreverent jokes without seeming cruel or mean-spirited.

19. Kevin Hart – Laugh At My Pain (2011)Image result for kevin hart laugh at my pain
If there were to crown a comedian of the decade for the 2010’s, it would be Kevin Hart. From smaller stand up specials to sold out arenas, no rise was as meteoric as Hart’s. While he never got the critical acclaim of Louie (until Louie’s fall from the public eye), he might be the most publicly recognized stand-up comedian of this era. I’m pretty sure everyone had a group of dudes in their friend circle that constantly snickered “you gonna learn today,” and “alright, alright, alright.” No? Just me? Laugh At My Pain is a great representation of that infectious, fun energy that Kevin Hart brings.

18. Jimmy Carr – Funny Business (2016)Related image
Jimmy Carr’s humor is polished, refined and unmistakably dark. In Funny Businnes, Carr spits out perfectly crafted and executed jokes. His one liners are delivered with precision and you feel comfortable in the hands of a practiced technician. Then, you see his wit and dry humor shine during the crowd-work sections of this special. Carr joins a number of comedians who relish in the shocking and politically incorrect and he does it with a lovely dry, English style. Plus, his laugh is disgusting.

17. Mike Birbiglia – My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (2013)Image result for birbiglia girlfriends boyfriend
Mike Birbiglia is sensitive and thoughtful in a way that makes me think about how weird it is that he shares a profession with guys like Anthony Jeselnik and Daniel Tosh. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is vulnerable in a way that draws you in, like listening to a good friend share about a tough time. Birbiglia is self-deprecating (as comedians are wont to be), but there is an inner strength that helps you to laugh with him and root for him at the same time. He won’t make you laugh so hard your guts hurt, but you’ll finish the special feeling somehow lighter and more optimistic.

16. John Mulaney – The Comeback Kid (2015)Related image
In the vacuum created by Louis CK’s fall from grace, John Mulaney has risen as the critical darling and the golden boy of stand up comedy. This is rightfully so. In this decade, he’s been nominated for dozens of Emmy’s and WGA Awards for SNL and Documentary Now!, including wins for SNL and one for his 2018 special, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City. He also co-created the broadway show Oh, Hello and the Netflix show Big Mouth with Nick Kroll. The Comeback Kid is a good encapsulation of what we love about John Mulaney, his self-deprecating humor, delivered with energy and charm.

15. Aziz Ansari – Intimate Moments For A Sensual Evening (2010)Image result for ansari intimate moments
Before Aziz Ansari was winning Emmys and Golden Globes for Master of None, he was living it up as Tom Haverford and making incredible stand-up comedy. Like many other comedians on this list, he was following the mold of Louis CK by taking a year to hone a full hour’s worth of material, recording it, and then burning it to start all over again. In short succession, Aziz came out with several excellent hour-long specials (Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening 2010, Dangerously Delicious 2011, Buried Alive 2013, Live at Madison Square Garden 2015). I chose this one as my favorite of them because it begins a great tradition of Aziz R&B bits. 

14. Tom Segura – Mostly Stories (2016)Image result for segura mostly stories
Tom Segura is a classic comedian in that his jokes will often revolve around certain comedy tropes; sex, poop, idiotic people. That being said, I really enjoy his stuff. Maybe it appeals to my more base instincts, but I have to admit I like when a comedian is doing what he can to shock and gross out his audience. There are so many fat, gross comedians that I love, and Tom Segura right up there with the best of them.

13. Hannibal Buress – Live From Chicago (2014)Image result for hannibal buress live chicago
The Kobe Bryant bit. I love most of Buress’ stuff, but the Kobe Bryant bit made me pick this special out from the pack. Buress has some of my favorite jokes “related to personal stories, current events, the streets and even food” (inside joke), but it’s his delivery and cadence that really make his jokes special. He has a way of starting a joke slow, and compounding it as he speeds up that is a testament to how hard he works on each bit. His meta jokes about stand up comedy provide an extra layer of enjoyment for the die-hards. 

12. Daniel Tosh – Happy Thoughts (2011)Image result for tosh happy thoughts
This list should make it clear that I love the unapologetic elitism that Daniel Tosh uses in his stand-up. He is critical of the pretenses that people use in the name of political correctness, and goes out of his way to assault them. What makes him special is that he does so in a way that self-aware and dare I say, thoughtful. In Happy Thoughts, Tosh’s persona helps to hold an unflattering mirror up to some of the things that make America, ‘Murica. 

11. Lil Rel’  – Kevin Hart Presents: Lil Rel’ – RELevent (2015)Image result for lil rel relevent
Lil Rel’s style is a pure kind of comedy that is just joyful. Watching him is like watching the funniest guy you know, but capture all of that fun into a package with hilarious delivery and put it on a professional stage. Laughs are had at nobody’s expense, so everyone is in on the joke. There is nothing overtly political or deep, but I want to put his stuff on my list because it legitimately makes me laugh out loud. RELevent is like birthday cake, festive and fun all throughout.

10. Hannah Gadsby – Nanette (2018)Image result for gadsby nanette
We’re cracking the top 10 on my list and this is where a lot of the entries start to get heavy— none of them heavier than Nanette by Hannah Gadsby. Gadsby recounts her own journey of discovery, abuse and triumph. She does this while examining art, including comedy, as an imperfect narrators, insufficient for conveying the depth and truth of a person’s experience. In a way, Nanette is a subversion of comedy, and the laughs are turned into tension, tension that she doesn’t let go of. It’s a beautiful and gripping special, worthy of watching, for laughter and severity.

9. Michael Che – Michael Che Matters (2016)Image result for michael che matters
I haven’t liked SNL for a long time, but I love Michael Che (I’m too jealous of Colin Jost to appreciate him even a little), and I really enjoy Michael Che Matters. Che is able to speak on social issues without being too preachy or myopic. In a way, he reminds me of Chris Rock in his heyday (you’ll notice I didn’t put Tambourine on this list) in the way he can. His insights are witty, sharp and memorable. The sign of a good satirist is the ability to turn a phrase in a way that makes you rethink an issue. Think of Chris Rock’s “bullet control” and “black people vs. n-’s”. Michael Che gives us terrifying white women and “All Buildings Matter”.

8. Anthony Jeselnik – Thoughts and Prayers (2015)Related image
Anthony Jeselnik has made a living on provoking a response through the most inappropriate jokes possible. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “________ is nothing to joke about,” Jeselnik has taken that topic, written it on an index card, and made it his mission to make a joke out of it. This audaciousness is not a virtue in and of itself, but his execution and delivery is just so wonderful. This special is a good blend of his toolkit, stories, short set-up/punchline jokes and personal thoughts. Whereas Fire in the Maternity Ward (2019) can be predictable and repetitive, Thoughts and Prayers is fresh and exciting from start to finish.

7. Bill Burr – Let It Go (2010)Image result for burr let it go
Bill Burr is another guy on this list where I could’ve put any of his specials and would’ve had multiple entries if it weren’t for wanting to be nice. Burr is what they call a comedian’s comedian, who, in the same vein as Aziz and Louie, is working on new material and touring constantly, refining his craft and steadily making quality material. He is profane and abrasive, but thoughtful so his rants come off like tough love, not malicious berating. I chose let it go because “what are you, a fag?” is an insightful bit that captures when Burr is at his best; reflective and hilarious.  

6. Marc Maron – Thinky Pain (2013)Related image
Marc Maron’s comedy resonates with the basest parts of myself: addiction, neuroticism, and depression. For those who enjoy the now legendary WTF? podcast, his specials feel like a polished version of our group therapy sessions. His stories don’t always end in triumph, but you feel like you’ve bonded by the end and accepted hard things together. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a comedian so raw, honest and unfiltered. 

5. Dave Chappelle – The Bird Revelation (2018)… but really, all of themImage result for chappelle bird revelation
The feeling I get when watching Dave Chappelle’s new sets is what it must have been like for Drake and Beyonce fans when they were hit by great surprise albums. Dave Chappelle came back from semi-retirement to fanfare and a comedy god status. When you watch the new specials, you can see why. There are sections where he is just riffing, making people laugh while just musing on whatever’s on his mind. Then there are times where he is presenting perfectly crafted bits, built up over the course of the set and drawn to an epic conclusion. Chappelle breaks a traditional paradigm for what comedy touring and specials should be with an absolutely virtuosic command of the craft. In one special, he jokes about how it’s too easy, and how he could just pull punchlines out of a fishbowl and destroy crowds. Then he does it when you know it’s coming. I picked Bird Revelation, because like all of my favorite stand-ups, it challenged me in my perspectives about a current issue (#metoo) and gave me the vocabulary to voice some ideas around it.

4. Hasan Minhaj – Homecoming King (2017)Related image
Homecoming King is about an Asian-American immigrant who grew up in an urban environment in the 90’s. Hasan Minhaj was custom-made to hit my cultural touchstones: hip-hop, sports and withholding parents. What makes Homecoming King so special is Minhaj’s thoughtful approach to discussing what it means to be a son of immigrants in America. He is open and reflective and honest in a way that makes you feel what he feels. You experience his struggles with him and you want to cheer in your seat with his triumphs. All in all, Homecoming King does what all my favorite stand up specials do. It makes you think, feel and laugh.

3. Neal Brennan – 3 Mics (2017)Related image
Neal Brennan will always joke about riding on the coat-tails of Dave Chappelle and the success of Chappelle’s Show, but in this special, you see how he has grown as a stand-up in his own right. He has a distinctive vision and style that makes 3 Mics a powerfully moving and hilarious time. Brennan takes an unorthodox approach of switching between three types of jokes, or one could argue, three different personas. The effect of the format is that it brings extra attention to each time he changes mics. It makes you want more of one or less of another, and all of these machinations cause you to think more deeply through the content. 

2.Bo Burnham – Make Happy (2016)
Image result for bo burnham make happy
Make Happy is a special that is filled with meta-commentary on the stand-up form and ends in an existentially reflective rant in the style of Kanye West. This is a man after my own heart. Bo Burham examines what it means to be happy and what it means to be in the public eye. He does it by disorienting and delighting his audience with catchy songs, non-sequiturs and deeply thoughtful ruminations. 

1. Louis CK – Hilarious (2010), Live at the Beacon Theater (2011), Oh My God (2013), Live at the Comedy Store (2015), 2017 (2017)
Image result for louis ck 2017
It’s hard to talk about Louis CK without mentioning his recent fall from grace. When I’m looking at different lists that people have compiled of their favorite stand-up comics and specials from the last decade, his name is very noticeably absent. I can understand why people are wary of including him or perhaps their own personal convictions make it impossible to continue honoring him. There’s also the reality that many of the jokes he made land differently in light of what we’ve learned about him. But at the end of the day (or decade), Louis CK was my favorite comedian of the 2010s.

Each of his specials taught me different ways to look at complex issues. His TV show made me a better person and, I think, a better father. The more recent specials challenged me to be a more thoughtful pastor and educator. I mean, admittedly, there are swaths of filthy content littered throughout all of these specials (not a bad thing). There are tons of inane (yet hilarious) stories and anecdotes. But when Louis CK talks about heavy issues like language, race and even abortion (what a way to open a special [2017]), he does so with such nuance and thoughtfulness. Louie has a way of reframing arguments that we take for granted and turning them into a mirror at something ugly inside of us. Those mirrors are crucial to evaluate what makes us think the way we do. I believe we’re a better populace for having watched specials, better equipped to listen and see from other perspectives, less expedient to judge and condemn without looking first at ourselves. 

On top of all that, Louis CK has done the most to make the other comedians on this list better. In this decade, he became the elder statesman in stand-up and set the tone for everyone else for what it means to be a professional. His commitment to creating new, relevant material through constantly working the clubs and touring was an example that has improved the quality AND quantity of good stand-up that we get on a regular basis. For those reasons, and the simple reason that he’s funny, he tops my list here.