Sunday, January 4, 2015

I know making goals on an arbitrary day of the year isn't for everyone but I kind of love it. This year I'm hoping to read more (because I haven't as much since the move) and get a second job (because I'm loca). 

We'll see how it goes. Happy New Year to you!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

So for lack of having any new photos to share, I've adorned this post with a little something I snapped at a work Christmas party.

I don't know how successful I'll be at this whole blogging venture considering that I'm deathly embarrassed of taking a photograph of my tea and book in public (as bloggers do). I don't want to be that girl. But I am that girl, so much so, writing alone in a coffee shop. But at least I'm writing in my day planner because interestingly enough, I didn't plan ahead and plus, it looks more conspicuous that way.

This irrational embarrassment is an innate and deeply embedded part of my personality, although most people may not know that about me because I'm too embarrassed to admit it. Most facets of my personality and most of what I like to do and pursue are humbly never brought up because I guess I'm just too private. Or self-concious, I can never tell.

Somehow I stomached putting my writing out into the world in college. I published my amateur musings, my giving-it-a-go fiction with scenes of casual sex and references to tripping on mushrooms. There was more to it than that but I just didn't know if, when published, people like my grandfather would understand and see something beyond the occasional profanity.

My grandfather was a writer and an editor of a major newspaper for 16 years so I suppose he had seen it all. He sent me a letter in college, saying, "The first time I read your stories, I thought they were quite sad but in second reading, they seemed much more." I put the letter away and although the sentiment was as much as I could hope for, it made me feel far too vulnerable. I retreated after I published a collection of short stories, only to come out now, writing in the pretend obscurity of the internet.

I am saying all of this because I'm reading Meghan Daum's new collection of essays "The Unspeakable" and I suppose it makes me want to confess my own unspeakables. I'm reading the book in hardcover, by the way, with sage and mint tea, which would be a nice little snapshot if only I had taken a photo.

I had originally planned to write about my Mom's old Christmas letters that I read through on Christmas Eve. My grandfather devoted his life to writing and my mother, come Christmas time, showed that she had it in her too. In a fashion I can't help but think Meghan Daum would approve of, my mother bypassed the tendency to turn the Christmas letter into a year-in-review of all the accolades one's perfectly mannered children had received. Instead it was a time to be honest about what life with four children was like:

When sick on Christmas -- "I'm sitting here surrounded by kleenex, thermometers, cough syrup and children. Nothing says 'It's the holidays' quite like a refrigerator full of amoxicillan."

When moving into a new house -- "May 30 - Put old house on market. "For sale by owner". June 13 -- Hire realtor. August 30 -- Children start school. Melissa tells new teacher that her family has nowhere to live and dissolves into tears."

When reflecting on being a stay-at-home mother -- "[My husband] continues to spend his free time fixing things we break during the week. And I find myself still enjoying being at home with the kids. There are THOSE days but then at least I get to keep up with All My Children. I'm room mother at school (you know those Catholics, all they do is bake and donate) and am learning to play bridge. The scary part is I'm having fun."

It seems honesty is so very well received when it's also funny, as my mother and Daum is. I'm not, which makes my writing a tad sad, as my grandfather puts it. But if I'm to be honest, hilarity is just not where I excel. Who knows where I do but I suppose that's for this space to explore. Sometimes a little pretend obscurity is all you need.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

In many ways, Thanksgiving this year was the same as years past. The same aunts and uncles, the same plate of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, the same suburban reunions. But two of my siblings couldn't make the dinner this year so it was bit quieter than most and with the quietness came extended to time to think (and read) about Ferguson and Ayotzinapa, two tragedies in places that hit close to home.

The loss of life is haunting. And what's even worse is that the loss of Michael Brown and forty three young students represent systematic violence that oppresses a race and a country everyday. So it seems this year, I'm thankful for those that have taken to the streets. Those that have started a conversation that's long overdue.

Pictured above: a snowy mountain peak in Vermont (because Chicago looks too grey and dismal right now for a photo)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Last week, I moved into an apartment in Chicago just in time for a polar vortex to sweep through. After the move, I wanted to write about my new surroundings but feeling the cold again and thinking of last Thanksgiving, I'm writing about Honduras like I am still there.

Last Thanksgiving, I returned to the States from Honduras, traveling to New York City to visit my sister and then up to Vermont where my family celebrated the holiday at my brother's house. Going from rural Honduras to New York City was a drastic cultural shift but one I craved. I don't really believe in reverse culture shock so much -- I've lived in the United States long enough to know what it would be like when I returned -- but I do believe there is a tuning in of certain habits that you never noticed before. 

Waking up on Thanksgiving morning, I made myself a cup of Twining's black tea (rather than the Honduran off brand I was used to), opened up the New York Times and thought, que lujoThere was a foot of snow outside in Vermont but the heat and my wool socks were on. I finished an article on the typhoon that had just passed through the Philippines. In Honduras, I never could sit down and read through articles on a screen so I fell out of the loop. That morning, I finally read about the tragedy, saw a photo of a family displaced, felt for someone outside my narrow focus.

After a week of home cooking, craft beer, laying on the couch with my family and other indulges the States provided, I traveled back to Honduras with a stack of my sister's old New Yorkers. My trip made me realize the luxury that I missed most from the States: not the ability to drive or shower in hot water but mostly I missed access to words and beauty in the form of reporting, photos and storytelling. It was strange, the dichotomy it drew, getting such contentment from reading about world events but in doing so, I had to gain distance from the field. I'm addicted to storytelling but I also recognize it's shortage, how indirect it is.

Nowadays, reading the paper with a hot beverage in my hand is a pretty common occurrence. Every morning, I open up my blinds, sit with mint tea and read the newspaper or a library book before I walk to the bus. I can walk to the Starbucks on my corner and buy the paper or to a library where any book I want is on the shelf.  I didn't come back to Chicago for this. I came back for family, to gain work experience, some money, and if I was fortunate to find a job doing so, to work for the need in my own backyard. But now, when I open that newspaper, finally in my hands again, I realize the space between the page and I. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. West With the Night by Beryl Markyhm. Madame Bovary by Gustauve Flaubert. Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybeck. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Those are my top ten. For now.

I didn't have easy access to the internet or TV in Honduras. I panicked before going and found a way to pack ten paperback books into my one suitcase for the year but when I arrived, I was soon consoled. There was a library in my house filled with twenty years of visitors' books. It was there I found Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Day, Jhumpa Lahiri. Female voices that made me wonder why I spent so long reading stories by old, white men.

My list is nothing compared to the book suggestions of Junot Diaz. Lily Stockman (here and here) has a list I'd like to make my way through as well.

Right now though I'm mostly reading issues of the New Yorker and last week I stumbled on Meghan Daum's essay "Difference Maker". It reminded me of what I love most in good writing; things that seem confessional but in the end, as the writer points out in an interview, are often "attempting something much more nuanced and generous, something outward-looking rather than navel-gazing." She has a collection of essays coming out in November (!!).

And to follow in the theme of females and essay writing, my heart fluttered a bit when I stumbled upon Vela magazine, an online magazine publishing female voices in long form. I hope to spend some of my weekend printing out a handful of those essays (because I just can't read longer essays on a screen nor do I want to) and enjoying my first fall in two years.

Pictured above: the messy but abundant volunteer library

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I arrived early to a job interview on Friday (yes, it's been six months since I've returned from Honduras and I'm still job searching) and while the trees were bursting with oranges and reds, the weather spoke more of summer. The place where I was interviewing was located on the outskirts of Humboldt Park, a 207 acre park in West Chicago. I've ridden my bike through it before and driven through on my way to Logan Square but never spent much time sitting in its grasses, walking through the pathways.

I have lived in Chicago for four years and am not well versed in urban planning but I have seen the city develop and transform since I first came. Logan Square, an area where I spent plenty of time during college, went from being largely Hispanic to now, not as much. It's now the site for Chicago's version of the High Line, also Chicago's first urban orchard. An old market and bazaar selling cheap goods was recently sold and is now part of a $100 million dollar development plan for apartments and grocery stores. Neighborhoods change quickly in a city; not always for the better but not always for the worse either and yes, grocery stores do seem like a good idea.

I can see that Humboldt Park, on the outskirts of Logan Square, is on the cusp, beginning to develop in the same way. The large park that sits in the middle of the neighborhood is filled with flower gardens, a lagoon, soccer fields, domino tables, an art gallery, prairies and food trucks (selling nothing artisanal; just fried chicken under heat lamps). Realistically this makes the neighborhood ripe and appealing for the young, urban dwelling upper class. But it's also impressive as it is now, especially after reading Jane Jacobs this summer and realizing just how hard it is to make successful, diversified parks in lower income neighborhoods; parks that act as an asset to a community rather than an empty spot that depresses and further emphasizes danger (example, here). 

I like the idea of urban orchards but I also want cultural diversity too so I have no hard stance on the matter. I just find hope in the steel structures on the Paseo Boricua, the two Puerto Rican flags that were erected on both ends of the neighborhood's main street meant to showcase the neighborhood's pride and cement it into the ground.