Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I went back for a short trip to Honduras last week and now that I'm thumbing through my photos, I realize that my photos hardly capture the place. I don't really like to post pictures of the children that I worked with for their privacy so the photos I ended up taking capture the light, the mountain range nearby  albeit poorly ‒ and the eucalyptus trees that decorate the ranch, but there are a range of things that they also leave out. 

For example: the noise of the children outside my window at five in the morning as they woke up for school or the lights that would go out at odd times each day (la luz que siempre se fue) or the sight of three hundred children watching a Bollywood movie dubbed in Spanish on a concrete basketball court, all staring at a projector underneath the night sky. Even more, they don't capture the feeling of heading down with Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing" and reading her words in the midst of a country bubbling with tension, as I grappled with race and history and privilege while traveling as a white American, reading the words:

"When you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect picture."

I often refer to the place that I used to work at as simply "the ranch," drawn to the vagueness of the word because its hard to describe the organization accurately. But I suppose for some context, it is best described as a casa hogar, a group home for children.

I already miss running after the kids as they yell ¡AtrĂ¡pame!, "Catch me! Catch me!" and dancing to Shakira and Carlos Vives' "La Bicicleta" over and over, lining up, performing choreographed dances with the other girls but as I witnessed the magic of what a group home can be, I also heard of the horror that is sometimes its reality. Just yesterday, I read through Francisco Goldman's piece on the 40 young girls who tragically died in a children's home in Guatemala, and I don't know if it's something that anyone can recover from. I like to speak to the charms of Honduras often  the terrain, the dancing, the expressiveness of the culture  but Goldman reminded me of an aspect I sometimes try to soften, how "every type of violence is present here."

Now that I'm back in Chicago, I find myself missing David, Juan Carlos, Lenin, Maria Araceli, Cynthia (and the list goes on...). I miss the air, the reggeaton (always), the sight of mountains that come as a surprise to a girl from Chicago. I miss a place that feels in a way like home, even though my home is here in Chicago too.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

For a rare change of pace, Chicago had a few 60 degree days this past week. As bizarre and disconcerting as it was, it was nice to be able to head out for a run in short sleeves this past weekend and decompress, which I desperetaly needed to do. There's been a lot going on personally/professionally/politically, and the yoga classes I signed up for this winter haven't been physical enough to give me much release (the classes ended up being more like long shavasana sessions). 

In much the same way I've always found the Clash more relaxing than say, Mumford and Sons, it seems I need intensity, movement, dance when stressed. 

If I'm really being honest though, I don't work out avidly. I'm quite moderate with most of obsessions, for better or for worse (another rarity it seems) and so I only find myself salsa dancing, doing yoga, or running from time to time. Even with my writing, I constantly feel like I should be doing more. I've been getting up at 6 in the morning to write for an hour before work but my progress on the page has been slow. It's okay. That's how it goes. It's still progress and yet, lately I've been a bit insecure about my moderate stance on most things, my contentness with slowly making headway.

I've been trying to think through it all, mostly wondering: is it bad that I'm content with how I operate? This might pertain to more things that just my lack of extremism but at what point do you try to better yourself, push past comfort zones and at what point do you just accept that for most of your life, despite moving out of your comfort zone, nothing has really changed?

There's a Longform podcast I listened to once with Meghan Daum, whose writing I love, where she comes out with the fact that despite a lot of attempts to better ourselves, we may end up fundamentally the same. She says unapologetically of her book, My Misspent Youth,  "The whole book is about how we stay who are." She's an essayist, mostly writing about herself, so one would expect transformations but I think that's precisely why I like her writing. There are no metamorphoses, no sea changes. 

It's a daily struggle but I think I'm okay with (what may seem to some) my modest efforts: posting here sporadically, writing maddeningly slowing, speaking mediocre Spanish, reading a few books a month, working out as needed. It's a stubborn view but it also keeps me quite healthy. Perhaps contentness and feelings of inadequacy can both exist at once, as long as effort is being made.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I needed to get out of the house this weekend. I wanted both to be outside and stay warm so I went to the Garfield Park Conservatory, a short drive away. Free, community driven spaces for the public good seem like a wonder to me right now amidst all of the disheartening politics ‒ as do the ferns and other flora blooming inside the conservatory. It was, in effect, a perfect place to go to get away from the news cycle. 

After this weekend, I have mostly come to terms with the fact that my mental health is going to be fragile these days. I'm channeling my inner Lykke Li/Leonard Cohen, and seeping into the emotion. It is what it is. I don't have a handle on how to deal with all of the news. I read too many articles, scroll through social media too much, vow to not feel guilty for stopping for a moment to cook, work without distraction, head to yoga, and then I return to the phone in my hand because I cannot disconnect fully at this time, no matter the ups and downs it brings.

But in case you're looking for a respite, the other night I prepared this lentil soup while listening to the Longest Shortest Time's "Accidental Gay Parents" series (Part 1, 2, 3 and 4), and both comforted me in a deep way. Because that's how it goes, isn't it? Simple joys seem almost sacred when so much is being threatened. I chop the onions, bring the lentils to a boil, stir in the coconut milk the whole time amazed at the moment I have given myself to not dwell on the work that needs to be done. And then it is back to picking up the phone, seeing what new thing I need to resist.

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?