Confessions

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The morning I stopped believing in God I was thirteen. My childhood broke bread on its deathbed—

A cold planet born in foam and ash.

Years before, I stole ice cream from my grandmother’s freezer,
Took the only things that age had not,
Chocolate and the sound of a nearby washing machine still drive me to shame.
Like a too-tight shoe, I have often dreamed of shedding the coils of my body,
Pirouetting past the daily degradations and hungers,
Even as you have sat quietly outside and called my name.
I have wielded mighty instruments without care or thought,
Stumbled over the celestial busted forms of this sad, small world,
Closed my eyes while feeling my way along a dark corridor—

A seeker of double blindness.

I have chased you from the auspices of revelation
Employed parlor tricks to convince myself that loneliness is genius,
Lost my own body in the smoke and mirrors of daily living.
Behind false pretense and ugly make-believe, I store my fears one by one,
So many that I can divide them by size and color and texture,
So many that I can sell them all half-off, or free if you haul them yourself.
Not long ago, I took something that did not fit because I was afraid,
And then I gave it back because the fear did not go away,
I know fear’s angular collarbones and how she smells at night, her eyes—

A terrible reflection.

creation and destruction

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Here in Pittsburgh, local news has picked up the story of five previously lost Elizabeth Black portraits that were rediscovered in a public library under decades of dirt and grime. Conservators are trying to restore them—their work is being made much more difficult by vandalism. Three of the five portraits have been defaced in some way.

I wonder why humans always break things? It seems to me like a constant slide towards not only atrophy, but destruction. Shattering bottles in the street, tossing trash out the window, cutting down forests, polluting rivers, knocking over ruins, vandalizing cemeteries. We see legacies and histories effaced, nature corrupted. Sometimes we kill people, sometimes we take away their language and break apart their communities.

This is tied, of course, to creation—new buildings, new technologies, new cities, new goods, leaving some sort of new mark on the things we see and come into contact with. It’s impossible to have creation without destruction, birth without death. Sometimes it seems to me that living is just an endless wrestling match between these two uniquely human impulses.

If that’s true, I know that I’d like to be a creator. I try to create something every day. It doesn’t always go well, but I try.

3 recommendations you need to hit up when you’re in Bogotá

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I love that feeling you get when you wake up in a new place. How the sounds bleed in bit by bit—people in the street, unfamiliar cars, the clattering of wheels and feet—until they’re accompanied by smells, feelings, a flash of sunlight through a curtain.

We started our trip in Bogotá, a city about which I’ve heard mixed reviews. Some people call it cold or undifferentiated from any other capital city—a little boring or difficult to navigate.

I loved it. The local people were incredibly friendly (keep in mind, I flew in after two years in DC, so my expectations might have been low), and the food was divine—ajiaco for the win.

Our three days in Bogotá included Monserrate, the beautiful mountain in the photo that’s crowned by a chapel and offers expansive views of the city, the nearby town of Zipaquirá and its salt cathedrals, and exploring Bogotá’s colonial sectors, including La Presidencia, el Congreso, a former-convent-turned-art-museum, and (my favorite) a street filled entirely with book vendors next to the Gabriel García Márquez Cultural Center.

We also checked out La Zona Rosa, which has some very high-end shopping and restaurants. After dark, we were careful to take a secure taxi service, since the number of robberies-by-taxi in Bogotá has been growing. All in all, we felt very safe, although our hostel in the La Candelaria neighborhood encouraged us to go out with a security guard late at night (we generally declined).

In addition to the classics (Monserrate, Plaza Bolívar, Museo de Oro), here are three different recommendations from my time in Bogotá:

1. Café Magola Buendía: This adorable coffee shop is what dreams of Colombia are made of. Super chill place with super chique decorations and, of course, delicious hot and cold coffee beverages, not to mention aromáticas, sandwiches, and chocolate goodies. It’s next to the popular La Candelaria neighborhood. Free WiFi!

2. Museo Santa Clara: Located one block away from Plaza Bolívar, this museum is a former convent that now houses colonial art and religious relics. It’s very affordable ($3,000COP/person, about $1) and mysterious—nuns were cloistered for life here, and you can still check out the narrow, winding path they took to get to their confessional boxes. The museum also hosts rotating exhibits from a variety of plastics and performative artists.

3. Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez: This cultural center was a gift from Mexico to Colombia, which explains the big Mexican flags out front. They sell every book imaginable here and demarcate special sections of Colombian fiction and non-fiction, which, if you have a literati heart like mine, will make you very happy. Local booksellers also set up stalls outside of the center, so you can easily find bargain-priced used books.

Are you going to Bogotá? Have you already been? Hit me up with your own recommendations or questions in the comments!

The return of the renaissance woman

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Once upon a time, when I was maybe five, I wanted to be archeologist. I hadn’t seen Indiana Jones, but who needs a movie to convince them to play around in the dirt and dig up old stuff?

That was followed by my wish to be a paleontologist (dinosaurs!), then a neuroscientist, then a geneticist, then a journalist. I’ve been all over the map—even as an undergraduate, I studied a rainbow of things like languages, political science, chemistry, and literature, and I’ve worked with code, consulted, edited, and taught.

My story isn’t unique. I know a lot of people around my age whose interests and careers look more like a kaleidoscope than a straight line. It’s made me think—hundreds of years after the fact, are we seeing the returning of the Renaissance Wo(man)?

Leonardo da Vinci, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and Thomas Jefferson could have designed you a plane, taught you Nahautl, or built you a house, respectively. They were also artists, scientists, poets, and politicians (Sor Juana corresponded with Isaac Newton, which is pretty cool).

Industrial capitalism tends to broadly reward narrow specialization, however, so as factories started to emerge I think a lot of the innate curiosity of the human spirit became unequally distributed. I mean sure, once he became rich Andrew Carnegie had a lot of interests, but did his factory workers?

I wonder if that’s changing. I, and so many of the people I know, understand a little bit about a lot of things. Technology allows us to work more flexibly and also requires a broad, nimble skill set that doesn’t necessarily fit into the clock-in and clock-out mentality of my grandparents and their grandparents.

I believe in continuing to democratize discovery beyond the Andrew Carnegies of the world.

So, I quit my job.

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As the patron saint of perpetual comings and goings, I started getting antsy in DC about six months after I arrived. But it was more than that—I’ve never been able to hold down a job that doesn’t fit into me as a person, as an extension of me instead of just a part of me, as a reflection of what I want to take from and put into the world. I don’t compartmentalize well. I get distracted easily. I’m claustrophobic.

This is kind of frustrating, because I’m also hyper-analytical. I have a strange, probably inbred need for security, and although that doesn’t necessarily include a 401K account, it does encompass a steady paycheck. Also, I’ve seen numbers related to  the millennial underemployment crisis. I read the NYT every morning and sprinkle in a little WSJ to keep me honest. I am very, very grateful for the job I had and the opportunities given to me.

But unfortunately, I just couldn’t continue to hack it—yawning in my dark cubicle at two in the afternoon while pouring over Excel spreadsheets. I mean, I could have kept waking up and getting on the metro every day—like clockwork, it required little to no effort once I got the gears in motion—but I did not see the woman that I’d like to be as I gazed further along that path. I don’t really have a lot of her form down yet . . . she’s vague, and sometimes seems too far away. Nonetheless, I don’t think she inhabits M St NW in DC.

Now let’s be clear. I deeply, profoundly admire friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers that  do those things, that are laboring intensively to build their credibility and their career as parts of all kinds of organizations. I’ll admit that sometimes I’m more than a little jealous of their  endeavours and I wonder why mine has to feel so different. Am I just undisciplined? Unwired? Occasionally, I’m tempted to chalk up my resignation to some moral failure. I do well at something just long enough to decide not to do it.

I don’t know. I think when you’re doing something that doesn’t fit right, the gnawing in your stomach makes it pretty difficult to think of anything else. I want to view myself as brave and self-assured and independent, maybe even defiant, but I’m not there yet. Right now, I’m just a little excited, a little curious, but mostly scared and unsure.

Faith is believing in what we cannot see.

I’ll be traveling for the next couple of months and then hitting that #gradschoollife again, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Mexico—and why you need to go

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Hay cosas que sentimos en la piel, otras que vemos con los ojos, otras que nomás nos laten en el corazón. —Carlos Fuentes

Mariachis, elotes, cerros, colores. Mexico has it all, and although the current political climate in the United States is committing a grave error by stereotyping our neighbors to the South, you and I don’t have to.

I wanted to go to Mexico for a really long time, but I put it off so my husband and I could make the trip together—I mean, it is his birthplace, after all. The wait was arduous but well-rewarded.

I spent my time in Jalisco, Michoacan, and Guanajuato. My journey there was a bit unique, since I was meeting my in-laws for the first time and I can’t concoct Mexican in-laws for you/fix you up with a Mexican, but I can give you some of the highlights of why you need to go (fair warning: Cancún does not appear on this list).

First of all, the food is fantastic. I think that goes without saying, but it is so good that I will say it anyway. Yes, having three hundred little tacos at midnight is the bomb, and I would never knock the taco, but it goes so much further. Enchiladas, tortas ahogadas (the staple of Guadalajara), tinga, elotes, garbanzos, churros, and a thousand kinds of aguas frescas (jamaica is my personal favorite). I think I ate my weight in tortillas, and I had enough paletas and nieves to supply a small town.

Second, the whole area is shatteringly beautiful. I went during the dry season, and on long road trips—like the pilgramage we made to the shrine of la Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos—rolls of the earth and the tangles of blistered nopales went on forever. The city of Guanajuato looks like it fell into a pool of all the colors in the world (see post’s featured photo), and Jalisco’s maguey fields are blue and unending. Plus the sunsets are like . . . unreal.

Third, the music. I say this with a grain of salt, because banda is not my jam (just no), but something about an open and free-flowing musical culture is just generally soul-nourishing. Whether you’re listening to the mariachi groups competing for attention in San Miguel de Allende or a trío of musicians bringing down the house in Guadalajara, music is a big deal in Mexico, and it’s good—even when you’re being woken up at seven in the morning by “Adiós, Amor” booming from a tricked-out sound system after you’ve already heard that song six hundred times. Music makes people lighter.

How to not love Mexico? The dogs at night, the roosters in the morning, the cities where extreme poverty and extreme wealth do a strange dance, the variants of Spanish that rise and fall like singing. I think it’s particularly important to get to know our neighbors now, and you can look at the atrocities going on in Washington, D.C. for two seconds to figure out why (I fielded so many questions about “Trompas” that I can’t even tell you, and there is no good answer to any of them).

And of course I have to talk about the people, the people who made me feel for every second that I was at home. I was brought into people’s kitchens and living rooms and backyards, fed and hugged and loved immensely. I had a lot of long conversations about things like politics and sexism, and I like to think we all learned from each other.

For about three weeks, I spent a lot of my time in rural Mexico, in a thumbprint-sized rancho with less than a thousand people. There is something about this part of the country—the cows rambling in the shade, the women walking from house to house with umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, the young people in the plaza after dark, the altars to la Virgen set up on the hills with candy, prayer cards, and photos of loved ones left behind as offerings—that is both comforting and timeless, something that feels like one long exhale.

I look forward to going back and exploring more of the country. From the stomping grounds I was able to cover this time, here are some places that you just can’t miss:

  1. Guadalajara (Jalisco): The colonial district of Guadalajara is beautiful, and includes many must-sees like its cathedral, which dates back to 1541. Of course, the enormous city has a million other things to do—including book stores, coffee shops, and fabulous shoe shopping, due to a strong local shoe industry.
  2. Tonalá (district of Guadalajara, Jalisco): The districts of Tonalá and Tlaquepaque are the shopping meccas of the city for artisan goods. So many beautiful things—blown glass, handmade furniture, paintings, and more. I bought some beautiful glass pieces for $10. Also, if you can make it on a Thursday, you’ll be able to go to the “tianguis,” or the flea market, where you’ll find 50x more of everything.
  3. Arrandas (Jalisco): This town of about 47,000 people is set squarely in tequila country, and in particular, it’s home to Cazadores—one of the most recognized brands of tequila in the world.
  4. La Piedad (Michoacán): La Piedad’s plaza is gorgeous, and its main cathedral is super impressive. Its streets are winding and charming, and play host to a lot of shopping.
  5. El Cerro del Cubilete (Guanajuato): I’d never heard of this place and I don’t understand why. Located near Silao, it’s a 8,000+ ft. mountain in the middle of rolling farmland, and if you can make it to the top, the indescribable views knock the air out of you.  It’s home to the geographic center of Mexico and topped by a church and statue of Christ that commemorate the slaughter of Christians and the destruction of the first statue during the Guerra de los Cristeros.
  6. La Ciudad de Guanajuato (Guanajuato): Guanajuato gave me #earthfever. The city is plastered by so many colors it’s almost obscenely beautiful, and has a thousand gorgeous cafés, restaurants, hotels, and shops. You can visit the Callejón del Beso (Kiss Alley, so-named because the upper-story balconies are close enough for neighboring lovers to embrace) or, if you’re slightly more morbid, el Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum).
  7. San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato): The darling of ex-pats everywhere, especially the U.S. ones. San Miguel is a well-preserved Spanish Baroque city that levels up on charm by light years. The neo-Baroque cathedral looks like it stepped out of Barcelona, the plazas are filled with mariachi bands, women selling paper flowers, and kids cracking confetti-filled eggs on their heads. Just be warned: there are a lot of ex-pats here, which affects things like prices and overall vibe.

I also toured a slaughterhouse (not recommended), an agave sweetener factory (recommended), went to birthday parties, rode on a motorcycle, and observed an exercise class for seniors, including one very motivated priest. I’ll be returning for the New Year, and I can’t wait to report back on what a Mexican New Year’s Eve looks like. ¡Hasta pronto!

To the 20-something having an existential crisis in a cubicle

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I know how you feel. I know the devastating disappointment that sometimes knocks your breath out when you least it expect it, how moments of merciless clarity make you almost double over. How you’re slowly wilting under a fluorescent lightbulb without the words you need to name your discontent.

I’m sure we aren’t the first generation to have an existential crisis in our cubicle. We won’t be the last. But what does that matter, really, when you’re pasting numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and painfully aware that you have so much more to give to the world?

This isn’t what we signed up for. And not what we promised ourselves our lives would mean. You’ve probably seen the articles—I know I have. Millennials, they say, are driven by an unprecedented sense of purpose. We need to know that what we do matters.

Usually, these articles sound kind of confused. But we’re not confused. We’re the best educated generation the world has ever seen, and we’re connected with our peers around the globe in a way that our predecessors weren’t. We want to have an impact as borderless as our lives are.

But there you are, making data reports, reporting to managers, choking down talk of company value that sounds like it was ripped right out of Orwell.

I know how you feel, because I am you. Or one of you.

Privileged? Yes. We have jobs (usually), we collect benefits (probably), we have enough to eat and a place to sleep—even if we’re consigning half of our income to student loans and sharing an apartment with four roommates, or living with our families until we’re thirty. That, too, is a privilege. The world of the metropolis moves so fast that the gap between those that are part of it and those that are excluded seems more enormous than ever.

We know this. And that’s why we want to produce change—right? It can feel like a need as integral to our body as thirst or hunger.

Privileged, and yet fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as incredibly limited. We trained for a world that doesn’t seem to exist. We see things in grades and dimensions, but our job applications are still written in black and white.

So I get your existential crisis in your cubicle. I get how you’re lucky enough to have a job but not lucky enough to quit and find a way to feed your hunger for passion. Is this a #firstworldproblem?

Or is this the underutilization of something that really matters?

I don’t know, but I know what it feels like. I know how you tell yourself to be patient, that your time will come. That you (and your parents and your grandparents and maybe even your great-grandparents) have worked so hard to get you here, to this moment, to where you can walk into work every day and walk out.

But patience isn’t always a virtue, and I think they would understand.

Want to change the world? Fight against the temptation to become complacent. Do one thing every day that matters. Infuse yourself into every aspect of what you do. And don’t give up. Don’t give up. Believe, with every molecule of your being, that your incomplacency and discontent are exquisite and rare (they are.)

In the end, the problem isn’t the existential crisis in the cubicle. It’s when you start to become defined by it.

#onwardandupward