November 25, 2018

What we do, in English, and in the humanities more broadly, what we teach, what we celebrate and investigate, is human particularity.

Death of an English Major

By Gary Taylor

This piece devastated me.

(Not unlike the feeling of heartbreak I felt after reading this piece commemorating the life of a boy killed in the Newtown mass shooting.)

So, SO, beautifully written and unique to the author and his (and the victim's) experience.

Thought it especially important to give it a lift given the terrible news lately—I'm feeling the gravity of the loss of life and of the indifference to the lives of black people and POC, of women and children. A whole, vast universe with all its potential is lost after each person is killed and it's a huge, ugly shame.

"But Maura, unlike the others, was an English major. She was many other things, too; she was a treasury of particulars and potentials." 
"What we do, in English, and in the humanities more broadly, what we teach, what we celebrate and investigate, is human particularity ... We grieve, now, the loss of all the “brave, bold and kind” particularities of Maura Binkley."

November 24, 2018

Happiness is possible only when you stop running and cherish the present moment and who you are.

© HarperOne

The Art of Power
By Thich Nhat Hanh

Per usual, I'm overwhelmed by all of my goals. And my obligations. I promised myself after the last big trip (to Peru) I'd take a few months off from traveling to be still. To reflect & reset. After a while, so much travel feels like running. It's been a great privilege and has opened me up to possibilities. Now I need to sit with them.

Good lessons imparted with good intentions in this read. At times repetitive but the solutions are so simple & I'll do my best to implement these teachings into my life.

“I take my time. I want to be myself. I don’t deny myself in the here and now. This is our practice—we call it aimlessness. We don’t put a goal in front of ourselves and run after it constantly. If we do, we’ll be running all our life and never be happy. Happiness is possible only when you stop running and cherish the present moment and who you are. Who you are is already a wonder; you don’t need to be someone else. You are a wonder of life.”

“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.”

September 17, 2018

She could only hope that when the moment came, she’d be wise enough to know it, and brave enough to act.

Lovecraft Country
By Matt Ruff

“A wanderer in darkness, she followed an eccentric orbit, each new disturbance angling her closer to some long-awaited rendezvous. She could only hope that when the moment came, she’d be wise enough to know it, and brave enough to act.”
(p. 186)

September 15, 2018

The richness of Latin America lies in being many things at once, so many that they make of it a microcosm in which almost all the races and cultures of the world coexist.

© Farrar Strauss & Giroux
Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa

Entire essay worth reading, but I can't find it anywhere (in English or Spanish).

"Observed in this way, without the deforming goggles of mythology and utopia, Latin America is neither paradise nor inferno, although for millions of its poor and marginalized it is closer to the latter than the former. It is, pure and simple, a continent that has still not overcome basic obstacles that impede development or deform it and that, in contrast to what is already luckily happening in all of North America, nearly all of Europe, and a good part of Asia and Oceania, has not yet accepted itself for what it is, preferring, in the manner of those who would still like to find in it the Seven Cities of Cibola, the Fountain of Youth, or the Paradise of Leon Pinelo, the visions of the marvelous real over simple reality.
Let's try to approach the reality of Latin America that lies beneath the phosphorescence of images, witches, or horrendousness with which ideology, religion, and literature have dressed Latin America, making an effort to be rational—and knowing that this is difficult, since we Latin Americans, whether we like it or not, are infected with mythology and utopianism.
Let's start with a very simple question that throughout our history has received contradictory answers. What does it mean to feel Latin American? Above all, it means feeling beyond national borders, like an active member of a transnational community. To be conscious that the territorial demarcations dividing our countries are artificial, arbitrarily imposed during the colonial years and that, instead of repairing them, the leaders of the emancipation and republican governments legitimized and sometimes aggravated them, dividing and isolating societies in which the common denominator went deeper than particular differences. The Balkanization of Latin America, as opposed to what happened in North America, where the thirteen colonies united and their union set the United States on its way, has been one of the conspicuous factors of our underdevelopment, since it stimulated nationalisms, wars, and conflicts in which Latin American countries have bled, wasting huge resources that could have served for their modernization and progress. Only in the field of culture has Latin American integration come to be something real, a product of experience and necessity—everyone who writes, composes, paints, or carries out any other creative task discovers that what unites them with other Latin Americans is more important than what separates them from other Latin Americans—while in other realms, politics, economics, and especially attempts to unify governing and market actions have always been restrained by nationalist reflexes, very deep-rooted in the continent: this is the reason for which all of the organisms conceived to unite the region have never prospered."

"The richness of Latin America lies in being many things at once, so many that they make of it a microcosm in which almost all the races and cultures of the world coexist. Five centuries after the arrival of the Europeans on its shores and mountain ranges and in its jungles, Latin Americans of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, African, Chinese, or Japanese origins are as much natives of the continent as those who have ancestors in the ancient Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayas, Quechuas, Aymaras, or Caribs. And the mark that Africans have left on the continent where they have also been for five centuries is present everywhere: in human beings, in ways of speaking, in music, in food, and even in certain ways of practicing religion. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is no tradition, culture, language, or race that has not contributed something to that vortex of mixtures and alliances that can be seen in all aspects of life in America. This amalgam is our best patrimony. To be a continent that lacks one identity because it has them all. And because, thanks to its creators, it keeps transforming, every day."

(pp. 177-9; 183 "Dreams And Reality in Latin America"; Mexico, April 2007)

September 09, 2018

Because men and women from both places are interested in the same thing: living peacefully, freely, without fear of the future, with work and the opportunity to succeed.

© Farrar Straus and Giroux

Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa

"But the United States and other countries in the West should understand that solidarity and friendship do not signify vassalage or servitude, but respect and mutual understanding, and this demands a constant effort to understand reciprocal reasons and problems.
This will be achieved only when knowledge replaces the web of prejudices and myths that still greatly distort the images forged in the mind of the South about the North and vice versa. But now, besides the great wave of democracy in Latin America, there is another powerful instrument to achieve this difficult deed of communication and understanding. It is the other factor that can contribute to radically renewing relations between the Anglo and Latin American cultures. I am referring to that world that is so present and that has had such an important role in the modern history of the United States: that of the "Hispanics."
The Latin American community in the United States is, in many states, a presence as alive as it is in Miami. And it is increasingly conscious of its historic tradition, its language and culture, which affects all of North American society. As in Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, or New York, the Hispanic influence can be seen in culinary habits and ways of dress, in music and religion, and in the way Spanish-language usage has slipped into businesses, shows, services, schools, and street life. It is possible that, long-term, given the traditional ability of metabolism and freedom that it has forged, the United States will integrate this community, as it did with Italians and Poles. But the process will be long and it can be expected that when it peaks, integration will have achieved the feat of opening the minds and spirits of many North Americans to the realities—instead of the myths—of Latin America. Or, at least, to have incited the curiosity and interest of the United States in getting to know them, such that instead of the hate that seems like love, or that hateful love that is still the norm, an equitable and productive relationship can finally emerge between the people of the continent.
This is a task that the "Hispanics" of the United States are already carrying out, although they are not even aware of it. In contrast to politicians, prisoners of rhetoric and of calculations, and diplomats whose life is played out rather removed from the average citizen, they do know the hustle and bustle of men and women on the street. Those in their new homeland and in the homeland they left behind, because of political persecution, know how hard life is, or, simply, the legitimate desire for an improvement. And in contrast to expatriate intellectuals, who have to perform acrobatics to justify their ideological positions, the average immigrant can act with authenticity and dignity.
He knows both cultures in that intimate way born of direct experience, what is lived, and this has taught him—counter to what they say about stereotypes—that despite the different languages (and that in the North there is abundance while in the South there is poverty), the differences are not that big. That beneath the customs, beliefs, and prejudices that make groups distinct, there are basic similarities. Because men and women from both places are interested in the same thing: living peacefully, freely, without fear of the future, with work and the opportunity to succeed. The "Hispanics" of the United States—20 million strong–can be the bridge that gringos and Latinos cross to recognize each other and be reconciled.
(pp. 111-3 "The "Hispanics"; Lima, January 4, 1992)

"This is something that we liberals should celebrate with serenity and happiness, not triumphalism, and with the clear conscience that, although what has been achieved is notable, what still remains to be done is more important. And also that, since nothing is definitive or fateful in human history, the progress obtained in recent decades for a culture of freedom is not irreversible, and, unless we know how to defend it, it could come to a standstill, and the free world could lose ground, due to a push by two new masks of authoritarian collectivism and the spirit of tribalism that have come to substitute communism with the most hardened adversaries of democracy: nationalism and religious fundamentalism."

"Of this kind I'd like to point out an emblematic case: that of Robert D. Kaplan. In a provocative essay, he maintains that, contrary to the optimistic expectations about the future of democracy prompted by the death of Marxism in Eastern Europe, humanity is on the path toward a world dominated by authoritarianism, revealed in some cases and, in others, hidden by institutions of civilian and liberal appearance that, in fact, are mere decorations, since true power is, or soon will be, in the hands of large international corporations, owners of technology and capital that, thanks to their ubiquity and extraterritoriality, enjoy almost complete impunity for their actions. "I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington." His analysis is particularly negative regarding the possibilities of democracy managing to take root in the third world."
(p. 153; 157 "Liberalism Across Two Millennia"; Berlin, May 12, 1998)

September 03, 2018

The way in which a country strengthens and develops its culture is by opening its doors and windows, widely, to all intellectual, scientific, and artistic currents.

© Farrar Straus and Giroux
Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa

wild how inevitably history repeats itself.

"Fujimori's trial lasted almost seventeen months, was televised, was attended by journalists and international observers, and the accused enjoyed all the guarantees to a defense. The three-member court, presided over by a prestigious criminal attorney, magistrate, and university professor, Doctor César San Martín, whose conduct throughout the proceedings was of a calmness and uprightness recognized by all sides, issued a sentence that should be published and read in schools across Latin America—abridged, because it is almost 700 pages long—so that new generations learn, through concrete events and identified people, about the tragedy of human suffering, public insecurity, criminality, distortion of values, lies, and contempt for the most basic civil rights in modern society in a country, and within the corruption and degradation of institutions of a dictatorship like the one Peru experienced between 1992 and the year 2000, when Fujimori, failing in his attempts to be reelected in rigged elections, fled to Japan and quit the presidency via fax."
(p. 38 from "Warning to Dictators"; Madrid, April 15, 2009)

"But it is vain to attempt to reason thus with those who have made the logic of terror theirs. It is rigorous, coherent, and impervious to dialogue. The greatest danger to a democracy is not terrorist attacks, no matter how painful or onerous they end up being; it is accepting the rules of the game that the terrorist tries to impose. There are two risks to a democratic government in the face of terror: to become intimidated or to go too far. Passivity in the face of attacks is suicide. To allow instability, psychosis, and collective terror to spread is to contribute to creating a climate that favors a military coup d'etat. A democratic government has the duty to defend itself, firmly and without any inferiority complexes, with the assurance that by defending itself, it is defending all of society from a greater misfortune than what ails it. At the same time, it cannot forget for a second that all of its power depends on its legitimacy, that in no case should it go beyond what laws and "ways"—which are also the essence of a democracy—allow. If it goes too far and commits abuses, jumps over laws like a bullfighter in pursuit of efficiency, relies on misdeeds, it could be that it defeats the terrorist. But the latter will have won, revealing a monstrosity: that injustice can lead to justice, that the path to freedom is dictatorship."
(p. 55 from "The Logic of Terror"; Lima, December 1980)

"Let's briefly summarize what nationalism consists of in the realm of culture. Basically, it asks one to consider what is one's own absolute and unquestionable value and to devalue all that is foreign as something that threatens, undermines, impoverishes, or degenerates the spiritual personality of a country. Although such a thesis withstands the most shallow analysis with difficulty and it is easy to demonstrate how prejudiced and naive its reasoning is, as well as how unrealistic its aims—cultural autocracy—are, history shows us that it takes root with ease and that even countries with an ancient and solid civilization are not immune to it. Without going too far afield, Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Stalin's Soviet Union, Franco's Spain, Mao's China all practiced cultural nationalism, trying to create a culture that was pure, cut off from and protected from the hated corrupting agents—foreignism, cosmopolitanism—through dogma and censorship. But in our days, it is in the third world especially, in underdeveloped countries, where cultural nationalism is preached more stridently and has more followers. Its defenders start from a false assumption: that a country's culture is, like natural resources and the raw materials held by its soil, something that must be defended against the voracious greed of imperialism, and kept stable, intact, and unpolluted, since its contamination with anything from the outside would adulterate it and make it vile. To fight for "cultural independence" and to become emancipated from "foreign cultural dependence" with the goal of "developing our own culture" are habitual formulas in the mouths of so-called progressives in the third world. That such catchphrases are as hollow as they are cacophonous, true conceptual gibberish, is not an obstacle to the many people finding them seductive, due to the air of patriotism enveloping them. (And in the realm of patriotism, Borges has written, the people only tolerate affirmations.) They allow themselves to be persuaded by them, even the media who believes themselves to be invulnerable to the authoritarian ideologies promoting them. People who say they believe in political pluralism and in economic freedom and that they are hostile to the idea of only one truth and omnipotent, omniscient states subscribe nonetheless to the theses of cultural nationalism without examining what they mean. The reason is very simple: nationalism is the culture of the uneducated, and of these, there are legions."

"The way in which a country strengthens and develops its culture is by opening its doors and windows, widely, to all intellectual, scientific, and artistic currents, stimulating the free circulation of ideas wherever they come from, in such a way that its own tradition and experience is constantly put to the test, and corrected, completed, and enriched by those who, in other territories and with other languages and in different circumstances, share with us the misery and greatness of the human adventure. Only thus, subject to this continuous challenge and encouragement, will our authentic, contemporary, and creative culture be the best tool of our own economic and social progress."
(pp. 92-3, 96 from "Elephant and Culture"; Lima, November 1981)

August 12, 2018

A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it's not a philosophical statement—it is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
By Cal Newport

Newport's definition:
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep—spending their days instead in a frantic blur of email and social media, not even realizing there's a better way. 

As of late, I've been so frustrated and disappointed in my inability to produce and to experience deep work. There are many factors contributing to this—some of which feel more in my control than others—but distraction is high on the list. Over the next month I will experiment and make some adjustments.

Instagram has been the biggest offender. Not only have I spent so much time mindlessly scrolling but, over time, as the platform has evolved, I've struggled to share of myself without feeling immense pressure and self-consciousness. (Someone I know recently articulated this feeling; I called it Instagram paralysis.) It's so easy to feel this way when the algorithm validates its users by the number of likes, comments, and views they receive.

So, I'm leaving Instagram for 30 days. More than anything, taking a hiatus is a conscious effort to redirect my time and attention to interests and projects I don't make enough time for. (Thus, eliciting feelings of guilt and failure—it becomes a vicious cycle.) I'd like to give more IRL love to my people, too. To find spaces for deeper connection. And maybe I'll finally make headway on that project or two I've been thinking about for a year?

Social media has been a wonderful resource and outlet for creativity, education, and connection in my life. Abandoning it permanently, as Newport suggests, is not an option for me. (Ashley C. Ford's recent tweet about making a "grand exit" echoes my perspective.) But I hope disconnecting from one platform for a month provides the discipline to achieve a healthy balance that prevents drastic withdrawals in the future. I also hope for the confidence to share & connect with others more authentically and fearlessly, in person and on social.

July 22, 2018

Things live by moving and gain strength as they go.

© 🙏

Friday morning I woke up feeling dread & insecurity & decided to start the day by listening to something positive. I opted for the Bruce Lee podcast—episode #99 (Someone Real)—hosted by his daughter Shannon Lee and cultural anthropologist Sharon Ann Lee. Every so often, I need to get all Lion King "remember who you are" with myself, and this episode helped me do that.

Friday also happened to be the 45th anniversary of Bruce Lee's death. Coincidence? This fact came to light after Maria Popova shared never-before-published words in his honor. So inspirational & I appreciate his musings on will power, emotion, reason, imagination, memory, subconscious mind, & conscience.

Excerpts below but see Brain Pickings for more.


Realizing that my emotions are both POSITIVE and negative, I will form daily HABITS which will encourage the development of the POSITIVE EMOTIONS, and aid me in converting the negative emotions into some form of useful action.


Recognizing the need for sound PLANS and IDEAS for the attainment of my desires, I will develop my imagination by calling upon it daily for help in the formation of my plans.

& not new, but also good—

You will never get more out of life than you expect
Keep your mind on the things you want and off those you don't
Things live by moving and gain strength as they go
Be a calm beholder of what is happening around you
There is a difference a) the world b) our reaction to it
Be aware of our conditioning! Drop and dissolve inner blockage
Inner to outer ~~~ we start by dissolving our attitude not by altering outer condition
See that there is no one to fight, only an illusion to see through
No one can hurt you unless you allow him to
Inwardly, psychologically, be a nobody

July 19, 2018

The nonconformism of living in a battle with what is possible and what is real has made Latin American life intense, adventurous, unpredictable, full of color of creativity.

© Farrar Straus and Giroux

Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa

About a month ago, I saw this book on display while visiting a Barnes & Noble & knew I'd want to get back to it soon. I just started reading Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat, which is historical fiction based on 20th century Dominican Republic under the dictator Rafael Trujillo.

However, given the atrocious policy concerning immigrants at the U.S. border–possibly the worst crime this current administration has committed IMO–I put Feast on hold & decided to read this first. Often these days I feel my personal problems so frivolous in comparison to the suffering the U.S. has inflicted on innocent families and their children. It doesn't suffice to donate money or express my sadness/anger/frustration on social media. (Forget in person, few want to discuss.)

It's of little external impact, but the action I most wanted to take ASAP is educate myself.

Wow. Mario Vargas Llosa is a great writer. And wow. Am I ignorant. So little I know about Latin America, as a Latina American. So humbling.

"Rejecting reality, fixating on substituting it with fiction, denying what has actually been experienced in favor of something else that is invented, confirming the superiority of dreams over objective life, and behaving according to such a premise, is the oldest and most human of attitudes, that which has generated politicians, soldiers, scientists, artists, and the more attractive and admired saints and heroes, and, perhaps, the main engine of progress and civilization; literature and the arts were born of it and are its main nourishment, its best fuel. But at the same time, if the rejection of reality escapes the confines of the individual, the literary, the intellectual, and the artistic, and contaminates the collective and the political—the social—all idealism and generosity entailed in this position disappear, confusion replaces it, and the result is generally that catastrophe in which all attempts at utopia in the history of the world have ended.
Choosing the impossible—perfection, a masterwork, the absolute—has had extraordinary consequences in the creative sphere, from Don Quixote, to War and Peace, from the Sistine Chapel to Guernica, from Mozart's Don Giovanni to Mahler's Second Symphony, but wanting to model society without concern for limits, contradictions, and variations in humanity, as if men and women were docile and easily manipulated clay capable of being adjusted to an abstract prototype, designed by philosophical reason or religious dogma with total disregard for the concrete circumstances of the here and now, has contributed, more than any other factor, to increasing suffering and violence. The 20 million victims who, in the Soviet Union alone, paid for the experience of the Communist utopia are the best example of the risks run by those who, in the social sphere, bet against reality.
The nonconformism of living in a battle with what is possible and what is real has made Latin American life intense, adventurous, unpredictable, full of color of creativity. What a difference from bovine and calm Switzerland, where I pen these lines. In these atrociously placid days, I have recalled that ferocious declaration by Orson Welles to Joseph Cotton in The Third Man, the Carol Reed film written by Graham Greene: "In a thousand years of history, the civilized Swiss have only produced the cuckoo clock" (or something like that). In reality, they have also produced fondue, a dish lacking in imagination, but decorous and probably nutritious. With the exception of William Tell, who, was far as everything else goes, never existed and must have been made up, I doubt that there has ever been another Swiss person who perpetrated that systematic rejection of reality which is the most widespread Latin American habit.
A habit thanks to which we've had a Borges, a Garcia Marquez, a Neruda, a Vallejo, an Octavio Paz, a Lezama-Lima, a Lam, a Matta, a Tamayo, and we've invented tango, mambo, boleros, salsa, and so many rhythms and songs that the whole world sings and dances. Nonetheless, despite having long ago left behind underdevelopment in the matter of artistic creativity–in that field, we are rather more imperialistic—Latin America is, after Africa, the region in the world with the most hunger, backwardness, unemployment, dependency, economic inequality, and violence. And small, sleepy Switzerland is the richest country in the world, with the highest quality of life any country can offer to its citizens (all of them without exception) and to many thousands of immigrants. Although it is always bold to assume the existence of historic laws, I dare to propose that social and economic progress is in direct proportion to the vital boredom signified by complying with reality and inversely related to the spiritual effervescence that comes from rising up against it."
(pp. 62-3 from "Down with the Law of Gravity!"; Davos, January 2001)

June 15, 2018

But just as elemental, I believe, was the man’s almost unlimited capacity for empathy, for feeling the lives and loves and hopes of others.

Anthony Bourdain. My heart ached hard, for days. Still does. That night I felt lucky to find joy with friends after moments of tears and remembrance, but the subsequent days I found myself in a very somber place (add to his death the general state of the world). Journaled a bit the day after and mostly lamented how unfair so good and compassionate a person could feel so much pain and despair while there are monsters who mosey along wreaking havoc without consequence.

He seemed eternal. Few celebrity deaths have affected me so. And of course, I'm not alone. I took a bit of a social media break & didn't catch all of the tributes. I really appreciated the below two. Feel better about reading others now that some time has passed (if anyone has recs). And speaking of, feel my heart heavier seeing how fans have arrived in droves to pay their respects at Les Halles.

Eddie Huang Remembers Anthony Bourdain

"If he had a premonition that your reasoning stood on shaky ground or that your anger was misplaced, he intuitively got closer and offered a meal. Food was his equalizer – a seemingly innocuous hard-hat activity that set the table for thoughts and revelations traditionally ignored by mainstream journalism. He'd wind his way into your personal space, taking note of the things you held close, and slowly but surely offered other ways to hold them."

"But the rabbit is gone now. You don't realize how much someone means to you when you're chasing them like a greyhound. They're your inspiration, your role-model, your North Star. I don't think any of us would be the people we are without Tony setting the standard not just as a writer, not just as a host or spirit guide, but as a human that always made it his duty to pick someone up that was down. He single-handedly made us care about each other all over again through food."

Eddie Huang is the fucking man. If you haven't yet read Fresh off the Boat, do.

Tony by David Simon

A mammoth piece worth reading in its entirety.

"A lot of people will tell you that on meeting Tony – despite how extraordinary a being he was – they somehow felt as if they’d known him for years. In part, this was the natural result of having so much of his wit and intellect bleed across our television screens. But just as elemental, I believe, was the man’s almost unlimited capacity for empathy, for feeling the lives and loves and hopes of others. He listened as few listen. And when he spoke, it was often to deliver some precise personal recollection that was an echo or simile on what was still in his ear. He abhorred a non sequitur; for him, human communication — much like his core ideas about food and travel and being – was about finding the sacred middle between people."

May 18, 2018

“In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.”

Havana's Symphony of Sound
By Reif Larsen

"The country’s complex identity is inherently bound up in the duality of this proximity, in its ability to feel both so close and yet so far away at the same time."

"So then why go to Cuba and dive into the cross hairs of both diplomatic and acoustic uncertainty? Because this is why we travel. As José Martí, Cuba’s talismanic national poet and philosopher once wrote, “In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.” No one can predict what will happen to Cuba in the coming years, which is why you must rush there now. As in, right now. To visit is to witness a rare bird about to fly the coop."

"We were constantly called out by strangers: “Where are you from?” People beamed when we told them. “We love the U.S. I have a cousin in Queens. It’s cold there, yes? I would die. Please tell everyone that Cuba is beautiful. No Mafia, no war. Just Mojitos and salsa dancing.” Hand on stomach, the dance was demonstrated, the toe expertly twirled in the dust."

"And you come for the sound. Havana is a land of sound. Never have I been to a place whose identity is so entangled in its auditory fingerprint. The guttural putt putt of eight cylinder Cadillacs built before my father was born; the ocean rising and slapping at the Malecón like a newborn babe; the dip and pull of the timbale’s bell chattering at a bar across the street, tin tin — tin tin tin; the shuffle of a man demonstrating salsa for you on the sidewalk; the swish and chop of a broom on a doorstep; the plush boom of the ceremonial cannons fired every evening from the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña; the clink of ice cubes in the most delicious mojito de piña you will ever taste."

Cuba is beautiful. The favorites of my photos after the jump. One day I'll be a decent photo editor, but for now I Vsco'd the shit out of these. 

April 24, 2018

Show up for yourself.

© Clarkson Potter

Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood
By Mari Andrew

It's 8:30pm. I am already in bed (lol)—cozy after making a delicious, healthy meal, taking a long shower and practicing the piano. It feels so good to take care of myself. I know I may not always have this quiet so I'm treasuring it now.

I was really excited to receive Mari Andrew's new (first!) book in the mail. The weekend after I returned from Cuba, I had every intention of completing necessary chores and getting back into a routine: laundry, grocery shopping, spring clean the apartment (kitchen and bathroom, especially). But I woke up Saturday morning and all I could do was lie there. One hour became three hours became the entire day. I don't remember exactly what I did besides read and be still.

Sadness overcomes me after returning from a vacation and it takes about a week to fully recover. (Saudade may be the best descriptiona deep-felt appreciation for an experience and the simultaneous yearning once it's lost.) Being completely disconnected in Cuba was the best respite for my oft fast-paced, busy, complex emotion-filled life here in New York. Having to go to work the next day didn't help. By the time the weekend arrived, my body said, "nah." I needed some time to recalibrate.

This was the perfect book to get me there. I'm growing and could feel how quickly I'm evolving by how in tune I felt with the words. I'm proud of my journey. It brought me so much comfort it made me cry. Not sad tears. Tears tied to feeling recognition and a reminder that all the things I have felt—good and bad—are not new to the world.

Sometimes, I really feel the weight of my past experiences. I'm thankful an illustration exists that perfectly articulates this weight. Some days—like days I take a boxing class and feel so fucking proud for doing well because it means I'm getting stronger, and I think of my dad and how proud he might feel if he knew (he introduced me to boxing)—I feel the weight tug at me a little harder.

Most days lately I have it so good and can appreciate the sweetness that encompasses my life. The minutiae. I can take full breaths. I know my time on earth is limited and it fills me with excitement and purpose. As I've made more time to love on myself, I reflect on my life in disbelief and become overpowered by that feeling, nearly bursting with the anticipation of all the things I'm working towards and all of the things that can be good.

April 14, 2018

It's a matrix light, a recombinant light that disintegrates hard lines and planes, rearranging objects to their essences.

Dreaming in Cuban
By Cristina García

This year I've attempted to read books based on my upcoming travels and I've mostly been disappointed in my selections. But I appreciated this one. And I loved Cuba so much. 

More insights about the book from the author in this Q&A.

"Outside, the afternoon light is a dark, moist violet. It's a matrix light, a recombinant light that disintegrates hard lines and planes, rearranging objects to their essences. Usually I hate it when artists get too infatuated with light, but this is special. It's the light I love to paint in.
Last semester when I was studying in Italy, I found the same light in Venice at carnival. It surrounded an impossibly tall person cloaked in black and wearing a white eyeless mask. The person dipped and circled like a bat in a square behind the Piazza San Marco. I was afraid to stay, but I was more afraid to go. Finally the light chased him down an alleyway and I was released from his spell.
The light was also in Palermo at dusk on Holy Thursday. Slaughtered lambs, skinned and transparent as baby flesh, hung evenly on rusted hooks. They were beautiful, and I longed to stretch out next to them and display myself in the light. When I returned to Florence, I began to model nude at my art school, something I'd vowed I'd never do. As I posed, I thought of the transparent lambs in the violet light.
Sometimes I ask myself if my adventures, such as they are, equal experience. I think of Flaubert, who spent most of his adult life in the same French village, or Emily Dickinson, whose poems echoed the cadence of the local church bells. I wonder if the farthest distance I have to travel isn't inside my own head. But then I think of Gauguin or D.H. Lawrence or Ernest Hemingway, who, incidentally, used to go fishing with my Abuelo Guillermo in Cuba, and I become convinced that you have to live in the world to say anything meaningful about it.
Everything up until this very minute, as I sit at my desk on the second floor of Barnard library, looking out over a rectangle of dead grass, and beyond that, to the cars racing down Broadway, feels like a preparation for something. For what, I don't know. I'm still waiting for my life to begin."
(from Pilar, pp. 178-9)

March 25, 2018

In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift.

"The human spirit, while resilient, is fragile. Not only are our bodies susceptible to harm, but our minds, the very instrument that produces creativity, ideas, and connection, is also at the mercy of danger. As a culture, have we explored the multifaceted dimensions of mental health? Scientists have their research, but can we talk about it without feeling ashamed or uneasy? The common cold, a broken bone, and even cancer have all found a place in 'normal' conversations. But, what about the health of the mind? Why have we been so afraid to discuss, share or recognize that sickness and brokenness do not stop at the mechanics of the brain? Is it too much to acknowledge that stress and anxiety are as damaging as a disease, or even a gateway to illness? What about the realization that suffering and pain can just as well be rooted in trauma and crisis as it is in physical health? How about that our heads are only separated from our hearts by inches? It is all connected."
- Letters from the Founders: Elena Baxter and Rachel Baxter

"Mental health is a prevalent issue that is somehow still a silent topic within our communities. Globally, 350 million people suffer from depression, and within the United States, 61.5 million (1 in 4) people experience a mental illness within a given year. Studies show that one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, and despite effective treatment, there is a huge chasm between diagnoses, first appearance of symptoms, and when a person actually gets help. We need to bridge this gap and gain a better understanding of what is deterring people from getting help. Is it shame? Is it a lack of resources within communities, or is it a lack of awareness and education around issues? Whatever it is, it is important we find out, or we will continue to lose lives and see an increase in behavioral and mental health disorders."
- Minaa B.

"In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others."
- Brennan Manning
one of many quotes featured in the issue

Conscious Magazine is a social good publication I subscribed to about a year ago. It is beautiful and a reminder of why I fell in love with magazines. When executed well they're such havens for excellent writing and art. Every issue of Conscious has a theme and its most recent (06) is mental health.

Spring is here, and I'm happy to report a renewed sense of optimism has arrived with the season. This winter I've made a conscious effort to be more mindful of how I take care of myself when it comes to eating, exercise, my morning routines, and the energy in my budding home. But I've struggled with the best ways to approach my mental health. Modifying the afore-mentioned things has definitely helped but I still have so easily resorted to negative and fearful thinking, depression, and anxiety.

These feelings were no doubt exacerbated by the long, cold winter. The end of a relationship and friendship I didn't want to let go of; the realization I felt a profound love for a person who would never return it. (And could that even happen in six months? I guess it can.)

But, by digging deeper, I realized I needed to again face multiple fears I've developed in childhood that resurface when triggered by certain situations. In my case, my father's estrangement and silence. The ensuing complicated feelings of anger, rejection, sadness, and nightmare-inducing worry. I am often good at masking (or straight up forgetting) these fears when things are good, but they are heightened when things are not.

Solely making the decision to go to a therapy appointment—despite how long I choose to continue—feels like a major act of compassion and self-love. I say this because I truly feel this. And also because my therapist said it's so, ha.

I've been forced to reconcile with this fact: "It's good you've worked hard to resolve childhood issues while in your twenties, but understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again." I'll be honest, it was really validating to hear that I have been strong and resilient and courageous and caring and forgiving and selfless. Sometimes I don't believe these things at all, though deep down I know them to be true. Hearing it from someone so unfamiliar with my being, and so disconnected from my family's history and drama was so important. Memories can perpetually haunt and shape expectations and ways of thinking. "You've always waited for the other shoe to drop," my therapist said. I feel like I'm waiting every day. The result of having taken on the role of mediator, protector, and chief worrier took a toll and I was naive to think the past could stay there.

I no longer want my fears to overpower me. I also don't want past pains to manifest in debilitating ways and affect my ability to work, live, and love.

Shout out to Conscious for continuing the conversation about the importance of mental health. I am also the most thankful to my friends. They don't know how much they've helped me. Stigmas are pervasive and I'll admit I never saw therapy as something I needed. So many people I love and respect and admire have revealed they go to therapy, and it made it easier for me to feel I can do it too without shame.

Healing is hard! Healing is ever constant. We're all trying to navigate our issues on this pale blue dot in this vast, infinite universe. I want to keep talking and writing and reading about this so we can all heal.

Organizations featured in this issue:
Crisis Text Line
Byrne Dean
Listen Lucy
Bring Change to Mind
National Alliance on Mental Illness
To Write Love on Her Arms
Young Minds Advocacy
I'll Go First
Project Semicolon

I also recommend:
Everyone is Going Through Something by Kevin Love
Professional basketball player Kevin Love discusses his decision to seek help after suffering from a panic attack. So worth the read. No lie, I read this article and then immediately—after months of indecisiveness and inaction—looked up therapists in my area covered by my insurance and made an appointment.

March 21, 2018

Nothing in the record of human history argues for divine morality, and a great deal argues against it.

©Penguin Random House

We Were Eight Years in Power
By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates has had an incredible journey. I love reading his work because he makes me smarter, and he does so with eloquent, precise language.

Each of the eight The Atlantic essays featured in this book can still be found online, but the bound compilation is worth purchasing for his insightful notes alone. All of the essays were new to me, with the exception of "My President Was Black," which I wrote about last year.

A true revelation for me. One of its central themes: this country was built on a foundation of lies, plunder, and cruelty. Coates' anger, disappointment, and cynicism surrounding this fact is palpable. The conclusion seems to be that this nation cannot make meaningful, permanent progress until we can accept its whole truth. I agree.

"At that moment, in that classroom, going through all the mandated motions, I could not see it. I could not see anything. And like almost every other lesson administered to me in a classroom, I don't remember a single thing said that day. And as with all the other buried traumas accumulated in the classrooms, I did not allow myself to feel the ache of that failure. Instead, I fell back on the old habits and logic of the street, where it was so often necessary to deny humiliations and transmute pain into rage. So I took the agony of that era like a collection notice and hid it away in the upper dresser of the mind, resolved to return to it when I had means to pay. I think now, today, I have settled almost all of these old accounts. But the ache and aftershock of failure remain long after the drawer is bare."
("Notes from the First Year," pp. 6-7)

"I remembered that once, as a child, I was filled with wonder, that I had marveled at tri-folded science projects, encyclopedias, and road atlases. I left much of that wonder somewhere back in Baltimore. Now I had the privilege of welcoming it back like a long-lost friend, though our reunion was laced with grief; I mourned over all the years that were lost. The mourning continues. Even today, from time to time, I find myself on beaches watching six-year-olds learn to surf, or at colleges listening to sophomores slip from English to Italian, or at cafes seeing young poets flip through "The Waste Land," or listening to the radio where economists explain economic things that I could've explored in my lost years, mourning, hoping that I and all my wonder, my long-lost friend, have not yet run out of time, though I know that we all run out of time, and some of us run out of it faster."
("Notes from the Second Year," pp. 35-36)

"The twentieth century, with its struggles for equal rights, with the triumph of democracy as the ideal in Western thought, proved Douglas right. The Civil War marks the first great defense of democracy and the modern West. Its legacy lies in everything from women's suffrage to the revolutions now sweeping the Middle East. It was during the Civil War that the heady principles of the Enlightenment were first, and most spectacularly, called fully to account.
In our present time, to express the view of the enslaved–to say that the Civil War was a significant battle in the long war against bondage and for government by the people–is to compromise the comfortable narrative. It is to remind us that some of our own forefathers once explicitly rejected the republic to which they'd pledged themselves, and dreamed up another country, with slavery not merely as a bug, but as its very premise. It is to point out that at this late hour, the totems of the empire of slavery–chief among them, its flag–still enjoy an honored place in the homes, and public spaces, of self-professed patriots and vulgar lovers of "freedom." It is to understand what it means to live in a country that will never apologize for slavery, but will not stop apologizing for the Civil War."
("Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?" p. 80)

"Nothing in the record of human history argues for divine morality, and a great deal argues against it. What we know is that good people very often suffer terribly, while the perpetrators of horrific evil backstroke through all the pleasures of the world. There is no evidence that the score is ever evened in this life or any after. The barbarian Andrew Jackson rejoiced in mass murder, regaled in enslavement, and died a national hero. For three decades, J. Edgar Hoover incited murder and perfected blackmail against citizens who only sought some equal pursuit of liberty and happiness. Today his name is affixed to a building that we are told was erected in the pursuit of justice. Hitler pushed an entire people to the brink of extinction, escaped human censure, and now finds acolytes among some of the very states he conquered. The warlords of history are still kicking our heads in, and no one, not our fathers, not our Gods, is coming to save us.
Ideas like cosmic justice, collective hope, and national redemption had no meaning for me. The truth was in the everything that came after atheism, after the amorality of the universe is taken not as a problem but as a given. It was then that I was freed from considering my own morality away from the cosmic and the abstract. Life was short, and death undefeated. So I loved hard, since I would not love for long. So I loved directly and fixed myself to solid things–my wife, my child, my family, health, work, friends.
I found, in this fixed and godless love, something cosmic and spiritual nonetheless."
("Notes from the Fifth Year," preceding the essay "Fear of a Black President" pp. 110-1)
"Fear of a Black President" earned Coates a National Magazine award. 

"At thirty-six, with a now eleven-year-old son, I felt, for the first time in my life, a sense of financial stability. Kenyatta was back in school and had transformed herself into a scientist. She still worked part-time, but it was less necessary. Soon it would not be necessary at all. I took pride in watching her grow. She was always introducing me to things–Paris, pre-Code Hollywood, E.L. Doctorow. And now she was adding the wonder of cells and biological systems to her repertoire. I had not been prepared for the simple charm of watching someone you love grow. I had not known to look forward to it, and I guess that is because so often it does not happen, or perhaps when it does people generally grow apart. I don't really know. All I can say is seeing Kenyatta remake herself from liberal arts savant to med student, and doing so in service of her own mission, has been one of the great pleasures of my life. It was resistance: We do not have to be what they say about us. And it was more, something that I was actually lacking in my own life: service."
("Notes from the Fifth Year," preceding the essay "Fear of a Black President" p. 117)

"To celebrate freedom and democracy while forgetting America's origins in a slavery economy is patriotism à la carte.
Perhaps no statistic better illustrates the enduring legacy of our country's shameful history of treating black people as sub-citizens, sub-Americans, and sub-humans than the wealth gap. Reparations would seek to close this chasm. But as surely as the creation of the wealth gap required the cooperation of every aspect of the society, bridging it will require the same.
Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate–the kind that HR 40 proposes–we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans. But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion–and that is perhaps what scares us. The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper–America's heritage, history, and standing in the world."
("The Case for Reparations, pp. 200-1)

"This was a shocking definition of "political correctness" proffered by a politician of the left. But it matched with a broader defense of Trump voters. "Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and just deplorable folks," Sanders said later. "I don't agree." This is not exculpatory. Every Trump voter is most certainly not a white supremacist, just as every white person in the Jim Crow South was not a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one."
("Epilogue," p. 358)

"Still there was nothing inevitable about Donald Trump's election, and while great damage has been done by his election, at the time of this writing it its not yet the end of history. What is needed now is a resistance intolerant of self-exoneration, set against blinding itself to evil–even in the service of warring against other evils. One must be able to name the bad bargain that whiteness strikes with its disciples–and still be able to say that it is this bargain, not a mass hypnosis, that has held through boom and bust. And there can be no conflict between the naming of whiteness and the naming of the degradation brought about by an unrestrained capitalism, by the privileging of greed and the legal encouragement to hoarding and more elegant plunder. I have never seen a contradiction between calling for reparations and calling for a living wage, on calling for legitimate law enforcement and single-payer health care. They are related–but cannot stand in for one another. I see the fight against sexism, racism, poverty, and even war finding their union not in synonymity but in their ultimate goal–a world more humane."
("Epilogue," p. 366-7)

This is How We Lost to the White Man
American Girl
Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?
The Legacy of Malcolm X
Fear of a Black President
The Case for Reparations
The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration
My President Was Black

February 19, 2018

"I wanted to be liberated, a new woman, but I lived so quietly."

© Penguin Group

Drifting House
By Krys Lee

In an effort to connect with a community in my new(ish) neighborhood, tomorrow I'm checking out the fiction book club of my local bookstore. This month's pick: Drifting House, a collection of devastating short stories depicting Korean and Korean American experiences. Central themes include: abuse, loss, loneliness, yearning, family, & pain inflicted by government, war, and circumstance. They're all special and profound. Krys Lee is a good writer—provocative, illuminating, brave. Educational, too. I know very little about Korea aside from what I know about North Korea. I want more time with these, another time. But, given my current feels (winter blues!!!), I'm in need of a more uplifting next read stat.

Loved this one because in it a woman found her power; it's one of the shorts that felt the most uplifting:
"I wanted to be liberated, a new woman, but I lived so quietly," Eunkang spoke honestly, the way she rarely allowed herself, like a woman hungry for speech, and she felt herself lighter with each sentence.
("A Small Sorrow," p. 142)

"When their parents have completed the honor rituals to their ancestors and are sleeping off the Lunar New Year's feast, the neighborhood's children try to catch the moon. One of their fathers said that the Americans have learned to walk on its cratered surface, so they are determined that at least the Koreans will be the first ones to catch it. Hana will buy the successful boy or girl coveted silver-foiled Hershey's chocolates off the black market; Mina has promised a kiss to the victor. The moon looks so close. It seems entirely possible.
Boys take turns releasing the swing and gliding as high as they can. Girls jump from the top of the gleaming slide and fling a fishing net into the sky. Still, the universe is too large, and they land, dusty and defeated in the sand. Within an hour the seven of them line up on the chilly beach, somber with disappointment. Junho, the oldest by three months, says, I knew it was impossible. The youngest at seven, a girl so poor she was once caught eating leftovers from a garbage can, begins to cry. She casts a fistful of sand at him, and makes the sky cloudy for a moment.
Mina kisses the girl. Of course it's possible! she says. Here it is! And pulls the net over Hana's solemn moon-shaped face."
("Beautiful Women," p. 177-8)

February 14, 2018

There are so many kinds of love in the world, not to mention the warmth you already have.


Still Here
By Rowan Blanchard

I expressed my admiration for Rowan in the past, and almost a year to the day I'm back to express my love for her new book—a compilation of personal works by her and her friends. It is so raw and beautiful and necessary, especially now! I love seeing everything handwritten, thoughts being worked out on the page. And it reminds me of my own journal, which I've started to write in again on a semi-regular basis.

So glad Rowan created something that will make many teens (and adults) feel seen.

My favorite pages are 140-141. They read so TRUE. Was it written for me? If not, I could've easily expressed similar sentiments: the contradiction of deeply valuing my solitude while hating being alone for too long, my personal internet musings (and subsequent regrets), mornings being mine.

"Reminders: You need to be alone very often but if you stay alone you get depressed. People give you life, energy & strength. When you get too personal on the internet you almost always regret it after. Mornings are your time, you don't need to hate yourself for the things you can't control, like the way your body feels drained in the evenings. You wake up & charge with the sun. There are so many kinds of love in the world, not to mention the warmth you already have. Dip into these feelings of calm. Make lists of what you have and not just what you have to do. Good work takes time & patience but best work comes fast when you (I) are least expecting it. Trust it. It is like love, and you might get hurt."
- Tova Benjamin

"All signs are signs of the universe."
- Rowan Blanchard

January 01, 2018

The truth is that I haven't shook my shadow.

While we're here talking about light & dark, here's a song I've had on repeat the past few days. Discovered via Spotify. Those curated playlists are gems.

The truth is that I haven't shook my shadow
Every day it's trying to trick me into doing battle
Calling out 'faker' only get me rattled
Wanna pull me back behind the fence with the cattle
Building your lenses
Digging your trenches
Put me on the front line
Leave me with a dumb mind
With no defenses
But your defense is
If you can't stand to feel the pain then you are senseless
Since this, I've grown up some
Different kinda fighter
And when the darkness come, let it inside you

Your darkness is shining
My darkness is shining
Have faith in myself

I've seen a million numbered doors on the horizon
Now which is the future you chosen before you gone dying
I'll tell you about a secret I've been undermining
Every little lie in this world comes from dividing
Say you're my lover say you're my homie
Tilt my chin back, slit my throat
Take a bath in my blood, get to know me
All out of my secrets
All my enemies are turning into my teachers
Because Light's blinding
No way dividing
What's yours or mine when everything's shining

Your darkness is shining
My darkness is shining
Have faith in ourselves

Yes I'm only loving, only trying to only love
And yes, that's what I'm trying to is only loving
Yes I'm only loving, trying to only love
I swear to god I'm only trying to be loving
 Yes I'm only lonely loving
And yes I'm only feeling only loving, only loving
Ya say it ain't loving, loving but my loving I wanna only love til I'm only loving
I swear to god I'm only loving.
Trying to be loving, loving, loving, loving, loving, loving, love
Yes I'm only loving, yes I'm trying to only love I swear to god
I'm trying but I'm only loving
Ya say it ain't loving, loving, loving, loving, love my love
But I'm only loving, loving, loving
The Truth.