On Monday night Isabelle sent me a link to an Instagram post by Yumi Sakugawa announcing that she would be participating in a panel at UCLA the following evening with MILCK and Krista Suh. Yumi Sakugawa is a comic book artist and the author of, among other books, I Think I Am in Friend-Love With You. MILCK (a.k.a. Connie Lim) wrote the song “Quiet” and sang it at the January Women’s March in Washington, D.C. in a performance that immediately went viral. And Krista Suh is a screenwriter and co-creator of the Pussy Hat Project, also of Women’s March fame. (It wasn’t until days after the Women’s March that I learned that Asian American women were behind both the pussy hats and the song that was being called the anthem of the march.)
The panel was variously advertised as being about women of color, intersectional feminism, Asian American women, creativity, and mental health. I was sold. And Isabelle is a big fan of Yumi Sakugawa and MILCK. So the decision to go was easy. Plus it was on campus.
The panel was hosted by LCC Theatre Co., an Asian American theater company at UCLA that Sakugawa was involved in as a student here. The evening started off with the trailer for Krista Suh’s documentary “I AM ENOUGH/Tea with Demons,” featuring Suh, Sakugawa, and MILCK and exploring the Asian American artist experience. It looks gorgeous and kind of just made me want to run away with my friends to write and make art and music in the desert.
Then the panel got underway, moderated by an LCC member. And here’s the thing: what MILCK, Sakugawa, and Suh talked about on Tuesday evening was almost eerily relevant to my life right now. As soon as I’d heard about the panel, I’d known I didn’t want to miss it for anything, but I didn’t realize how à propos it would be. For much of the panel, I felt like the three artists were speaking directly to me.
They talked about figuring out what they wanted to do (sing, write and draw, write) and in some cases having to break it to their parents that they didn’t actually want to be pre-med/pre-law/whatever. They talked about how long it took them to accept that they knew what they really wanted to do and what obstacles (often internal) they’d had to overcome to start pursuing what they wanted. They talked about friendship, about finding your people and both supporting and seeking support from your friends when they or you are going through a hard time. As an audience member later pointed out, it was wonderful to see their friendship shining through as they interacted on the panel.
Quite early on, Suh asked how many of us knew we wanted to do something creative (she knew her audience well). Most people’s hands went up, including mine. Then she asked how many of us were afraid or ashamed of that wanting. I didn’t raise my hand that time because I remember thinking very clearly that I wasn’t ashamed of wanting to write, but later I wondered, Am I still afraid? Even though I’m already an author? Maybe.
MILCK said something later that also resonated with me. She said to ask yourself what kind of suffering you were willing to endure. What are you willing to suffer for? What is worth the suffering for you? (And the unspoken converse, at least to my ears: What isn’t worth the suffering for you?)
Before the audience Q & A, they played us MILCK’s music video for “Quiet,” which I had seen before but was perfectly happy to watch again. And after the Q & A, Isabelle and I and a bunch of other people flocked to the front of the room where the panelists were to talk to them. Sakugawa had a few books and zines and prints on hand. We talked to MILCK first; Isabelle was delighted to hear there’d be more songs from her soon. Then we talked to Sakugawa, who said she remembered Isabelle from the Little Tokyo Book Festival. Isabelle introduced me as the writer friend she’d gotten Sakugawa to sign Friend-Love for. We all talked a little more (we told MILCK and Sakugawa that we were grad students in linguistics), and then Isabelle and I headed out. Night had fallen and the full moon slid in and out of the black clouds and walking past the botanical garden the air was heavy with the scent of honeysuckle.