Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Justin and I settled into our new place a few months ago, and while it is a bit bare, a bit hand-me-down, a bit too white on the walls, I love it anyway. I can hole up in Chicago's negative degree weather and light candles down to their wick and look around for a second and think, "I don't need much more than this."

Of course the feeling doesn't last long. Justin and I wake up most mornings, him mumbling, "I wish I could climb" and I think, "I wish I could write" and then we pull the covers off and get on with it. 2017, I hope, will be the year of waking up to write, at least before heading for the bus.

Some other thoughts floating around as of recent: I wish my hair was blonder (why didn't I ask my stylist to go blonder?); How do I stop getting UTIs?; Am I saving enough?; When will I stop feeling so defeated that Trump won? Of course not all of my thoughts are worries  there is my recent obsession with Adriana Ugarte in "The Time In Between" and Acure shampoo and "Umami," a little wonder of a book by Laia Jufresa.

This year has, as many have already noted, been a rough one. As Ta Nehisi-Coates put it, this year "confirmed everything I knew about my country and none of what I could accept," and now there is the daunting task of figuring out how to move forward. I donate, I call my senators, I show upthough it rarely feels like enough. Before Christmas, I took a look at my bank account, for the first time wondering if I could buy carbon offsets to assuage my guilt for all of the air travel I've done this year and lamented over the fact that I don't think I have it in my budget.

(Or do I? I always think of C.S. Lewis who pointed out,"I don't believe one can settle how much one ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words ... if our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.")

It's rare to hear someone make a case for sacrifice these days, and rare too to hear anyone acknowledge that the desire to travel (fly) goes against one's concern for rising temperatures. I don't know what to do about this, finding it hard to pinch or hamper myself in this way, even though I know the privilege of it all and how I should probably refuse a trip or two. In many ways though, I think we need more space to lay this out, to acknowledge that it's hard to live conscientiously, that we will always find ourselves hypocrites, but so what? That comes with the attempt. To twist the words of Roxane Gay, better to be a bad environmentalist than no environmentalist at all. 

I don't necessarily like to admit my faults, or many other things I have confessed in this post, but I think it's important to add some authenticity along with the photos. I feel like it is a bit of a gendered thing to want to appear perfect ‒ women are well-versed in waking up every day and covering blemishes ‒ but I find this practice lacking substance. So instead, I guess the truth I've been trying to get at with this post, this blog all along: I make attempts to live better but often, it's hard. And I think it's helpful to talk about the nuances, the contradictions, the messiness.

Buy anyway, that's all for now. Happy January! And yes, my Christmas tree will be coming down soon.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A few days ago, I headed to the Riviera Theater to see Patti Smith play her debut album "Horses" all the way through on her 70th birthday and from the minute she began with her opening song, singing "G-L-O-R-I-A," I knew it would be a poignant end to the year. A fan cried out at one point asking if Patti would be attending the Women's March in Washington D.C. and Patti answered, "It doesn't matter about me. I'm one person. What we need is f****** numbers!" And then she kept on playing on her guitar, the weapon of her generation, and continued to restore all hope lost in 2016.


I'm still reflecting on the past year, hoping to formulate my thoughts on paper soon but in the meantime, I wanted to round up my favorite pieces of writing that I stumbled upon last year. I mentioned some of these before but I think they deserve to be mentioned again. Here's to hoping you find some gems in the mix.

Best of 2016: The difference between teaching in Nepal and South Central L.A. / How to write like a man / The heartbreaking story of Sandra Bland and racism's slow defeat / Oh, the personal essay / Notes on  and against  ambition / The woman you want to be is rich / Sensible advice: here, here and here / "The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railround" and how we are it, if we choose. / Rule #1: Believe the autocrat! / Superpowers we wish we had / "Assault is not an accident." / And lastly, but mostly: Choosing a School for my Daughter in a Segregated City

Not the lightest of topics but important ones, nonetheless. As for favorite books I read this year, I highly recommend Maggie Nelson's "The Argonauts" and Justin Torres' "We the Animals." They are both short and superb.

If nothing else, it was a great year for reading but then again, most years are. 

What about you? Any recommendations?

Monday, November 28, 2016

I spent the long Thanksgiving weekend with family in Vermont, mostly relaxing by the wood stove and going on morning walks with my brother's dog. I had brought along a Murakami book with me for the weekend but ended up never opening it; instead just reading through the New Yorker's feature on sixteen writers speaking to the Trump presidency. The response of each writer was varied, both in their subject matter and levels of concern, which comforted me since there still feels like a lot to dissect.

Other than a new lunchtime routine of making calls to state representatives, my day-to-day in Chicago has been mostly normal this past month; just working, reading (currently: Mia Alvar's "In the Country"), finishing an essay that doesn't seem to want to end, and hunkering down with graduate school applications. It feels a bit trivial to be spending so much time right now applying to grad schools but I remind myself to keep at it, knowing that despite everything suggested by our President Elect, the future is still female.

Friday, November 11, 2016

On Tuesday evening I boarded a plane as the polls closed and when I landed and turned on my phone, my body began to ache seeing the election results. It’s been days and sleepless nights since then but I’m still tired, worried, and aching.

For others frightened by this presidency, the response has been for a call to organize, a call for action instead despair, and well-intentioned messages to embrace hope because it will be the only thing to get us through but in reality, I am still in mourning. The plea for action is an honorable one but as much as I advocate for volunteering, donating, organizing, and taking steps to live sustainably, I have never thought individual action can be the solution. I can advocate for immigrants' rights and compost my banana peels but unfortunately, those in power have a much greater ability to be destructive than my individual attempts at conscientiousness. My vote is important to me and so on Tuesday, I lost.

In these next years, I will, of course, organize and hope for the best but I will also like many, live with a fear that never existed before. I will take to the streets and retreat into written words often. The most hopeful of sentiments I can muster at this point is that we move onward still.

Some articles of note, lately:

It’s okay to still be enraged, and yet, one must always understand context.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A few weeks ago, I made it to Red River Gorge in Kentucky, a hideaway for climbers that my boyfriend has been talking about since we got together last year. I missed his last two trips there but went down this autumn at the height of climbing season, at a time when fog would roll off the hills come morning. At peak season, the campground was full, housing around 200 climbers (see: Miguel's if interested) and often we had to wait in line to get on the rock faces during the day but being a very slow-going climber, I mostly went for the fresh air anyway.

In addition to this trip, I spent most of my time last month moving and when I wasn't moving I was helping my Dad with his move. Cleaning out his house, my Dad gave me a journal that he kept when my Mom and him traveled through Europe after getting married. The account was comical, an accurate account of what travelling usually entails. There were a lot of wrong turns made in their rental car, or exasperated notes of "and then we finally ate lunch." At one point, my Dad ordered a glass of wine in French but when the waiter came out, it was apparent he had ended up ordering a bottle instead. My Mom, at that time pregnant, couldn't drink any so he had to finish it himself to get his money's worth; she also later climbed back down the Arc de Triomphe when visiting, realizing that "stairs and pregnancy don't mix." And then there was the common theme for most all travelers, as my Mom wrote, "I think Paris would be more fun if you had lots of money."

My boyfriend and I didn't make any horribly wrong turns during our trip but we did drive through a rain storm on our way down. On the way back, we decided to "indulge," spend the night in a hotel, and take a shower after two days of camping in the cold. Booking the hotel online, we rolled up to the Day's Inn that night to find that it was, in fact, a motel situated next to a gentleman's club. Spotting mold in the bathroom, we laughed at our mistake, thought whoops, and then stared longingly at the La Quinta across the way. 

In other news, I haven't stopped thinking about this essay on ambition I read a few weeks ago. It's about a lot of things relevant to me, mainly writing and the banality of competition and what it means as a woman to feel that way and the verbalization of one my favorite feminist anthems: So what? So the fuck what? It voiced how I feel about most things, and my most common response to misogyny: anger, for sure, but mostly annoyance and then an unwillingness to let it drain my energy when there's so much work to be done. 

I particularly liked this part, where Elisa Albert writes, 

"I get that my foremothers and sisters fought long and hard so that my relationship to ambition could be so... careless. I get that some foremothers and sisters might read me as ungrateful because I don't want to fight their battles, because I don't want to claw my way anywhere. My apologies, foremothers: I don't want to fight. Oh, is there still sexism in the world? Sigh. Huh. Well. Knock me over with a feather. Now: how do I transplant the peonies to a sunnier spot so they yield more flowers next year or the year after? How do I conquer chapter three of this new novel?"

I hope you read it and hope you keep doing your work, as Albert advocates for, no endpoint in sight.