Sunday, September 8, 2019

I just went on a walk to pick up take out on a Sunday night and felt it: the pull I have towards this place. 

Walking past the six-foot-tall sunflowers, the Russian sage growing on corners, the neighborhood cats that follow me down the block, the myriad of dog walkers in every direction, and the view of earth beyond the houses that sits miles high, I felt lucky to be here. 

I never expected to live in Salt Lake City but here I am. Most people probably only have one idea of what Salt Lake City is like, which is religious, and that's not at all incorrect. In a weird way though, despite the conservatism of its suburbs, Salt Lake City checks a lot of boxes of what I wanted in a place to live.

At one point on this blog, I wrote: "If I could choose, I would live in a place where you could hike on the weekends, somewhere quieter and smaller where houses have yards, maybe down South where winters aren't as long.And here I am, in a city that's smaller, quieter, living in a house with a yard, hiking on the weekdays and weekends and waking up to blue skies that are so common they can almost seem oppressive.

Honestly, part of me can't believe people actually grow up here. When I moved here, it felt like another world and so I looked to books for some history, turning to Amy Irvine, Scott Carrier, and Wallace Stegner for some guidance. It was Stegner who taught me, as a Midwesterner, to look at the brown, parched land that comes in the summer differently, writing in Thoughts in a Dry Land: "You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale." An inhuman scale. I'm reminded of that phrase often while I'm here.

Oddly though, the proximity of everything in Salt Lake City is what I find myself liking the most. It might be the thing that has improved my quality of life the most. I can get to places after work multiple nights a week and not feel utterly exhausted after due to the commute. The relative smallness of this city also means it's a community I can quickly find a place in. A year in, I know writers, I know activists, I know legislators personally. The mid-size city migration, which I very much feel a part of, has its perks.

But you know what people don't tell you about getting a thing you had planned / hoped for? It's often so different from what you had in mind. I can speak of the positives of Salt Lake City and post photos from my time in its mountains but of course, my mind is a mix of emotions. My mind races on the weekdays, for whatever reason, and relaxes on the two days off I get a week. Recently I wrote in my journal: I can't tell if I'm happy or sad here. I think I'm a little bit of both, all the time. I know that sounds depressing but it's sort of just the truth. I upped and moved away from my friends and family, and while I'm slowly making friends here, there is a lingering sense of loneliness too.

Alain de Botton assures me this is okay. I read his book The Art of Travel earlier this year and he wrote a line about the wavering nature of human emotions, especially evident when traveling, that felt so perfectly accurate. While vacationing in the Bahamas, he wrote, "My body and mind were to prove temperamental accomplices in the mission of appreciating my destination. The body found it hard to sleep and complained of heat, flies, and difficulty digesting hotel meals. The mind meanwhile revealed a commitment to anxiety, boredom, free-floating sadness, and financial alarm." 

He went on to say: "The condition [actual happiness] rarely endures for longer than ten minutes." A comforting, infuriating realization that pretty much sums it up.

Despite an array of mixed emotions, I know that whenever I leave Salt Lake City, I will miss the mountains deeply. I will miss them like I miss the kids I worked with in Honduras. I will miss them like I miss nights with my girlfriends in Chicago and Sundays with my parents at home. Every place I have lived has given me something different and I wonder if I will ever have it all (i.e. will I ever not be plagued by feelings of anxiety, boredom, free-floating sadness, and financial alarm?).

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe the best I can do is write these thoughts down and practice gratitude and finally, make myself a therapy appointment. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A few months ago, I had a work conference to go to early in the morning and so I rushed to the hotel, grabbed a plate of the hotel breakfast, and sat down to listen to the opening speaker. He was an Ironman athlete who had completed the extreme triathlon more times than I can count. Granted it was 7:30 in the morning and I was just beginning to wake up but I looked at him the whole time, deadpan. I ate my eggs, I'm sorry to say, rolling my eyes.

I know I shouldn't be so harsh  and I don't know why it irks me so much  but mainly I was just thinking about how refreshing it would be to sit down and listen to a motivational speech from someone more modest in their ambitions, perhaps steady or quiet or balanced. Since then I've watched Free Solo and The Dawn Wall and Homecoming and countless other documentaries of people achieving the unachievable and I walk away from so many of them thinking, can you ever achieve your dreams and still have healthy relationships with people you love and get eight hours a sleep a night? (Eh, probably not.)

To be fair, I loved the aforementioned movies and think people should pursue absolutely anything they want within reason I suppose but at that conference, I kept thinking that I wanted nothing more than a co-worker of mine to go up on stage and give a motivational speech. He lives in the woods of the Pacific Northwest and does his job just fine and looks completely inconspicuous but also like maybe he really has life figured out. I can't be sure but I feel like his speech would go something like, Hey, don't work yourself to death. 

That being said, I probably could benefit from the stories of accomplished athletes more than most. I told myself that I would be done with a second draft of my novel before I left for a two-week vacation to the Southwest last month and I failed to meet that self-imposed deadline. It's been six years since I started the first chapter of this novel and I'm still chipping away at itMy deadlines for the book are usually arbitrary and unrealistic considering the other things I have going on in my life (and the fact that I don't focus solely on this novel) so it's laughable that I didn't think it was going to take 6+ years. But still, that number: 6+ years. It's longer than I thought. 

In the end, the important thing is to see this thing through, which I will do, but I should knuckle down. I should just get this thing done but as someone with a slower, more "everything-in-moderation" demeanor, I can't help but be drawn to hard work and balance. A blessing, I suppose, but also a curse.

I am a writer, not an athlete, but in light of this post, it's interesting to note that I have recently moved to Salt Lake City, a city of outdoor enthusiasts, and have been dabbling in things I never thought I would. By my nature, I am drawn to the slow, steady activities of hiking and backpacking but I have also have been trying my hand at more extreme endeavors due, a bit, to my partner. Ever since the move, the riskier, more intense, more testosterone-prone activities of climbing and mountain biking and skiing have been pushing me past my limits, for better or worse.

Just yesterday, I was walking my mountain bike up a trail, huffing and grumbling, and thinking the thing I always think when I'm struggling: When is it good to push yourself? When is it good to just accept who you are? It seems a question there is no real answer to. It seems the question I am getting at.

Basically all of this rambling and lamenting to say, if I had my way, I think I would have invited a poet to be the opening speaker of the sales conference (can you imagine?) because you know what has been invigorating me lately? The words of Mary Oliver and Nikki Giovanni and Bernadette Mayer. The poetry of Tony Hoagland and essays of Robin Wall Kimmerer.

"I really don't think anybody ever listens to poets so it doesn't matter what you say," Nikki Giovanni said laughing in her interview with WNYC, and then added: "If they did, it'd be a whole different world." I can't help but agree, though I'm biased. 

I do hate posing questions and just leaving them there so I will end with this: I have learned a lot in the past year. I have learned, for example, that you can get over your fear of, and even enjoy, hanging from a forty-foot wall if you do it enough. I have learned that you can write a novel slowly and still, hopefully, get it done. 

Pictured above: shots from a recent two-week long adventure through the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Santa Fe and Moab

Sunday, January 20, 2019

I'm back on here because another year has started and I love using the new year as an excuse to take stock of the art that sustained me the year prior. Things that I think deserve sharing, acknowledging, taking time with. Not everything on this list came out last year, just crossed my path in 2018, but here it goes...

Of the longer form pieces on the internet I read last year, the ones that I particularly loved include:

Courtney E. Martin's series on On Being regarding the benefits of sending your children to "underperforming" schools (the discussion continued here, here, and here).  Also loved her piece in Bright Magazine on the reality of why social change is so hard (wonderfully titled "Shooting for the Moon, Missing the Point").

Other great writing on the internet I stumbled on: Anand Giridharadas critical look at philanthropy in "Beware of Rich People Who Say They Want to Change the World" and "Democracy is not a Supermarket." Molly Fisher's piece on the #MeToo movement in "Maybe Men Will be Scared for a While."  And it doesn't sound uplifting but Mari Andrew's short essay "Optimism is Exhausting" was actually really lovely.

In terms of podcasts, I probably should have started with this but if nothing else, I wish everyone would listen to Alain de Botton's On Being interview, "The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships". I've listened to it twice and will probably give it another play soon. Also This American Life's "LaDonna" episode stopped me in my tracks.

Favorite books I read this year have to be: 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
Prisoner of Zion by Scott Carrier

Albums I listened to on repeat include (linking to my favorite songs in case you want to take a listen):

Saba's Care for Me
Rosalia's El Mal Querer
Marissa Nadler's Self-Titled Album

And then I probably watched too much TV this year but there was so much that was good, mainly: 

High Maintenance: Season 2
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
The Letdown
Ugly Delicious
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
and of course, Queer Eye 

My heart is filled thinking back on all of this genius. 

Finally I have to mention that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave me so much joy in 2018. Her outspokenness, her strength/joy in the midst of countless trolling, her refusal to give into imposter syndrome, her candidness breaking down Washington politics, her hoop earrings  it's unprecedented. I know she must not feel confident all the time but the fact that she refuses to let people take her power away inspires me every day.

So there you go, 2018 wasn't all that bad (though it was also horrifically bad). Thankfully, there were some gems that helped get me through / reminded me that change is being made.

Though of course, as I'm reminded every day as I check the news, there's always more work to do. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

I ate well this summer. Every week, I took home a bundle of fresh tomatoes, swiss chard, beets, potatoes, carrots, peppers and every other veggie growing under the Utah sun from a local CSA and figured out what to do with what I had.  

Mostly, the veggies didn't need much. I roasted them and paired them with salmon or trout or put them in pasta or corn tortillas or over couscous with a dash of dressing. It was the most fun I've had cooking in a while, though it was also stressful at times, trying to cook all of my veggies before the next bag came. It's a theme I'm finding: happiness despite feeling I may have been a bit overambitious with my to-do list.

At the end of most summers, I often have a feeling of phew, I did it. I made it through another wedding season and the well-meaning / hurried attempt to get the most out of sunny months, and now I can just breathe and go back to a slower routine. This summer I felt it especially, which has made me think a lot about time in general and how everything takes longer than I think and how it's hard for me to understand how other people have houses and babies and an enviable career and travel the world simultaneously (I mean, they don't, obviously, but somehow this is the message I get from my phone).

How to find time and money for the things I want: a thought everyone is working through constantly but has been occupying my headspace more than usual lately. But like the CSA, which was a bit above my budget and a bit demanding, I'm sure I will find a way to squeeze the important things in. 

This is most likely wishful thinking but wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to do that? Squeeze so much in? I've been reflecting on Naomi Klein's book still, mainly her thought that one day, if we rearrange life to be more aligned with real limits and resources, we all might have more time. 

"There could be other benefits too," she writes, "Like shorter work weeks, in part to create more jobs, but also because overworked people have less time to engage in low-consumption activities like gardening and cooking (because they are just too busy). If countries aimed for somewhere around three to four days a week, it could offset much of the emissions growth projected through 2030." 

It is a pipe dream, I know. One that I don't know if it could really come to fruition even if people were given the choice but it's a thought that I carry with me. Most of my writing as of late (here and here) has made me realized that living sustainably takes time and well, I think it would be nice if we all had more of that.

Also as a person in their late twenties, it's hard not to stress and feel like the clock is ticking (maybe because for women, we are made very aware of that?). I grapple with all of those late twenty-something choices, the biggest ones being, how can I afford to own a place someday? Or how can I juggle a career and a family? Sometimes, though, it's just the feeling of, how can I get a hike in this week? How can I cook through the groceries I bought and go to the Sierra Club meeting and make time with my partner? How can I finish writing my book and do well at my day job too? 

My usual thought: you sacrifice and rearrange and that's that but then I read this lovely thing on the internet by Cut columnist Heather Havrilesky and she sparked a bit more fire in me, saying "Do all of the things." Sure, get rid of what you can to open up more time, but do all of the things. Celebrate the work amidst the other to-dos.

All of this to say that it's felt a little bit more hectic than usual lately, with a summer full of visitors and a new job and travel squeezed into two day weekends (all wonderful, exhausting things). I can finally see things calming down and it feels so good and necessary and so I think at least for now, I'm going to let this blog practice go  along with Instagram and Twitter for a bit  to free up some time and focus on my book and exploring and getting settled in my new city. 

I don't think I'll be in Salt Lake City forever so it seems important to be as present as I can be. I hope to post some updates here and there, but also who knows. I'm sure whatever happens, I'll write about it someday.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

I just finished Naomi Klien's This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate and have been thinking about it ever since. It connected a lot of dots for me in terms of the environmental movement, made clear what we should focus on, put a lot into context, offered a lot of hard to stomach realities (i.e. it was depressing) but led to a small, necessary glimpse of hope.

I've been struggling recently with the writing project I've been working on and by struggling, I mean I have only looked at it once since my move to Utah. Moving cross country, finding a job, starting a new job, scouring the internet to furnish my apartment has taken up a lot of my time, but also in the last few months, children have been separated by their families at the border, among other tragedies, and so figuring out where to put my energy seems increasingly hard to decipher.

I recently stumbled on Emily Johnson's essay The Darkness and the Needle by way of Bill McKibben a while back, and Johnson really got at a lot of the despair that I've felt recently but couldn't quite articulate. A fiction writer, she finally gave up writing because she found it more imperative to spend her time kayaking in Seattle ports, blocking Arctic rigs. "If I had the time," she said, "there's nothing I'd rather do [than write] and the lack of that time writing hurts me like a phantom limb sometimes. But I understand the stakes of this moment and writing cannot be my priority right now."

The threat of climate change is so great that Johnson had to give her writing up. The time to act is now, and so Johnson had to put the pen away. I feel the same way at times. Writing a book while working and living requires a lot of time and focus. It requires a lot of me, and I wonder whether my efforts are desperately needed somewhere else.

In the end, it pains me to give up my writing project but it also pains me to give up working toward the resistance and so most likely, I will do what I do best. I will put my effort in many things and see small but encouraging successes in both. If someone has a better idea, I'm all ears.

This post is different from most mainly because it's long, and I don't feel much like editing. I've been wanting to talk about a lot of things related to resistance here but never fleshed out my thoughts, thinking maybe it was too self-congratulatory but I think it's important to move beyond that and have concrete conversations about what we're doing, what we're not, what we should be doing, what's hard, what's easy. This is my attempt at being less vague, less wandering, just transparent.

Here's a rundown of everything in my toolkit regarding how to work toward a future with a livable wage, widespread public transportation, wealth redistribution, immigration reform, reparations and radical equity for the black community, affordable healthcare and so on and so on...

Donating - I donate a portion of my salary every year. I don't know if my donations are large or small in the grand scheme of things (I'm sure they're too small) but it's a habit I've tried to keep. Sometimes it pains me to punch my credit card numbers in because managing money is hard but I do think it's something I can afford to do, being I spend quite a bit on myself. I donate monthly to an international NGO, donate to a local social service agency in Chicago, donate to the Sierra Club around the holidays, and then donate any place that I feel called to after tragedies occur (for ex. Hurrican Harvey, Hurricane Maria, the Parkland shooting, the recent news about family separation at the border, GoFundMes of friends and family). For me, donating is an easy way to feel a little less helpless.

Also, as an environmentalist with a larger footprint than I would like, I tend to take my guilt and use it as motivation for larger donations. I bought carbon offsets a few years ago to offset the driving and flying that I do but then I started donating yearly to the Sierra Club because I felt that the Sierra Club was working toward a longer-term solution than offsetting (i.e. 100% renewable energy). This year, my footprint is even larger than usual because I have to drive to work daily, which means I'm going to try and donate twice as much as I did last year (kind of arbitrary but whatever).

Instead of the Sierra Club though, I'm leaning toward donating to Indivisible or Swing Left, two organizations spearheading the movement to flip seats for the midterm elections. More and more, I'm beginning to see that a lot of what I want to see changed won't be changed unless we have people in office who are pro-clean energy, pro-livable wage, pro-healthcare for all, pro-immigrant rights, pro-public school funding, etc. etc.

The thing is I could be putting this money into retirement and savings as many of my co-workers are doing (and talk about more than I would like). But I'm lucky enough to not have student loans (a privilege not afforded to many) and so I am able to contribute toward savings and retirement as well as donate. It's not always easy but the way I see it is that I am extremely privileged. I came into this life so far ahead, and so it is the debt that I owe. As Brittany Pact writes, "Spend your privilege. And then when you think you've spent enough, spend some more."

Volunteering - I have mixed feelings about volunteering. I think it's a good way to get to know an organization, to grow, to understand issues beyond the headlines and learn more of the nuance that comes with reality but in the end, I feel like short-term volunteering is only good if it entices you to donate (it's really the only reason organizations bring in short-term volunteers) and long-term volunteering/mentoring is great, but only if you can put in the time that it calls for.

I think it's best when people are compensated for the work they do and for skilled lawyers, social workers, educators, scientists to tackle the issues at hand and dedicate 40+ hours a week to social justice work. Plus I think full-time, skilled staff is much better for anyone receiving social services than a volunteer, which is why my default is usually towards donating (to help organizations better be able to hire/retain their workers) but obviously, everything is case by case.

Marching - Protesting is a form of therapy for me. The energy and community I feel at protests is palpable; it's one of the few forms of activism that doesn't feel disheartening so I try to make any marches that I can. I do think protests are more effective when not planned in advance (i.e. the protests that showed up at airports after the travel ban) but those are usually harder to make, understandably.

Voting - Obviously, a very important to-do in the fight. Naomi Klien writes in This Changes Everything, "Climate action has failed on Capitol Hill for the same reasons that serious financial sector reform didn't pass after the 2008 meltdown and the same reasons gun reform didn't pass after the horrific 2012 school shooting in Newton, Connecticut. Which in turn are the same reasons why Obama's health reform failed to take on the perverting influence of the medical insurance and pharmaceutical companies. All these attempts to fix glaring and fundamental flaws in the system have failed because large corporations wield far too much political power -- power exerted through corporate campaign contributions, many of them secret."

The majority of people in power speak to the wealthy because they receive financing from the wealthy and so voting in primaries, midterms, local, and federal elections is critical to take back any control we can. Both the Sierra Club election guides and Ballot Ready are helpful resources to look through before hitting the polls, especially for lesser known seats. I definitely recommend utilizing them as elections come up.

Calling legislators - I never called my senators before Trump was elected because I was much too shy. I still hate calling but as one of my friends said, "The good thing about Trump's election is that it's teaching us all how to be activists and I don't think we're ever going to forget that." Indivisible and 5 calls are my go-to for scripts and weekly priorities regarding who to call and what to say. I don't call as much as I should but I still do when I'm really compelled to. It's hard because I work and have to slip away -- plus it usually only feels slightly validating -- but I think it's a really important tool in the fight.

Staying informed - I have a tendency to spend more time reading and sitting on things rather than getting involved, which may not be totally beneficial, but I do think that being aware of the news is good. I just think that it should come in moderation.

I go in and out of New Yorker subscriptions (which I love but can't always keep up with), I listen to NPR (although it's not always great for my mental health), I read articles online but one thing I find really helpful is reading through emails/newsletters from the groups I'm involved with. Sierra Club newsletters, Indivisible emails, Swing Left emails are all quite good at giving up-to-date information on local issues and usually involve concrete call-to-actions, which I find to be productive.

Speaking Up - I could definitely be more vocal. Writing here is good (mainly for me take thoughts spinning through my head and put them somewhere) but I wish I spoke up more in real life, talked about all of this with people other than friends. Having conversations in real life not just about what is wrong but what we can all do I think would be helpful.

Buying ethically - I feel like there's been a big push recently, at least in the blogosphere, to buy ethically, to spend more time and money to make sure your purchases come from companies that support a livable wage, safe working conditions for workers, and promote environmentally sustainable practices. This is great obviously, and I have begun buying more clothes and other goods from ethical brands in the last few years but it's hard. I'm a big fan of companies like the ReformationEverlanePACT, Girlfriend Collective, and Patagonia and have bought from all of them but they are expensive and I don't love shopping online. It's hard for me to know what to I want to buy without trying it on so it's not my favorite option.

Ideally, I would love to buy everything either ethically made or secondhand but sometimes it just doesn't work out and I have to buy from Target or Ikea or the Gap or whatever. When I do, I try to buy something that I will use for a a very long time. Honestly, I don't love shopping because all of this comes into play, plus women's fashion changes constantly and I can never keep up, so I do the best I can. 

Mobilizing - The main takeaway from Naomi Klien's This Changes Everything? That mobilizing and collective action is probably the most important thing we can do to create comprehensive change on the scale that we need to. "Only mass social movements can save us now," Klein writes. 

While I do my best to donate, protest, vote, stay informed, and call my legislators, I put down Klien's book and immediately reached out to the Sierra Club (an organization that I feel does important work toward a clean energy future). The book helped me realize that nothing will change if I sit back and keep thinking small, individual acts are going to enact the sweeping change I want to see. Being part of a community and working collectively is at times frustrating, at times nourishing, and at best, effective. So if anything, if someone is looking for what to do, I think joining an organization that works toward a much larger movement is a good place to start.


There are so many things we can do to bring about a more sustainable, inclusive, dignified, healthier future. We can compost, ride our bikes or take public transportation instead of drive, try to go zero waste, buy local, grow our own food, put our kids in public schools to fight segregation, run for office, register people to vote, use positions of power to cultivate diverse workplaces, work in social services or health care or education or what have you, and a million other things that I'm forgetting but I do think it's important to note that we can't do them all.

Making these changes takes time. I hate when greenwashed advertising or social media says that doing the right thing is also doing the easy thing. It's not! Usually, it takes more time to do and while these actions can come with benefits, they also often come with added, unexpected difficulties. Please, let's talk about both. Riding my bike throughout college meant I got easy exercise and felt the city in a more visceral way but it also meant I put myself in danger and my jeans got worn through quickly and sometimes I ended up at my destination wet from an unexpected rainfall. It was both wonderful and hard.

So instead, let's calculate what we can all personally do while also staying somewhat sane and then take some pressure off ourselves to bear the burden alone. As Naomi Klien writes, "The end of the world as we know it, after all, is not something anyone should have to face on their own."

But okay, phew, long-winded blog post over. This post might have zero relevance to readers if their politics aren't similar to mine but in case they are and these times are trying, anything else you're doing that I'm forgetting? Would love to hear.