Morning Memorial

Is there anything more utterly luxurious, and lavishly glorious than getting back into bed? I mean, at the end of a long day it feels really delightful to fold back the sheets and climb into a cushiony embrace. But I’m talking about waking up in the morning, not to an alarm might I add, with nowhere to go, nowhere to be. That flickering realization that the morning is clear of responsibility and is truly and utterly yours. The freedom to get up, make some coffee, grab a book, light some candles, and crawl back into that bed in the quiet stillness of a morning free from routine and rush.

I am a librocubicularist (n): one who enjoys reading in bed. *Yes this is a real thing, pinterest tells me so. 

Today is memorial day and the only reason I am able to reflect on such luxury is because others have ensured my freedom. I have done nothing to earn it; I was born into a country already free, with skin that allows me to benefit fully from the advantages of our system. Aside from my status as a woman, I have been afforded every convenience and privilege there is. Including, the ability on a lazy morning, a day off from work and responsibility, to crawl back into bed with a good book.

I’m not a horribly patriotic person. Most of the time, especially in today’s climate, I’m embarrassed to call this country home for the way in which we participate in the world order, using violence, manipulation, and fear to make sure that we come first and keep our perch. But, today is not about patriotism – today is about saying thank you.

So as I put away my laptop and reach for my kindle and the literary pleasure that awaits me this morning, with a cup of Valhalla coffee in hand, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for this gift I have been given.

Photo Credit: Pinterest 

Advertisements

“Dream Until it’s Your Realty”

At the midterm, after having expressed my interest and (brief) experience with cameras, I was pleasantly surprised to be asked to join the school’s small but mighty event photography team. After a semester of lectures and colloquia and panel discussions, yesterday I had the fortunate opportunity to photograph the IFA’s commencement exercises.

After a bout with a passenger getting sick on my morning train, I arrived downtown to the beautiful light and airy event space, overlooking Washington Square Park. The graduates slowly trickled in, a fusion of nerves, excitement and logistical frustration filled the room as intellectuals who have earned the highest degree in our field attempted to hook hoods properly onto their gowns and fluff their caps properly. I spent the first hour capturing the hugs, the laughter, the lipstick application, and the phone selfies. But soon, the waiting subsided, and the candidates lined up in alphabetical order (another hilariously daunting task for such brilliant humans) as I slipped out to the ceremony space.

The room was packed. Extra chairs had to be brought in to fit the latecomers who ambled down the center aisle a little too long before someone came to their aid. Soon after, the music began and the processional commenced. A stream of purple and black flowed down the center aisle, filling that chasm beautifully with billowing gowns and beaming faces.

I spent the better part of the ceremony adjusting my focus, peering through my sight-finder for the perfect shots that would commemorate this important day for students, faculty, and parents alike. But in the rare moments, the moments when I could afford to look up, I saw something far beyond the scope of that room or my DSLR lens.

Witnessing friends and colleagues cross that stage, hearing the dissertation titles read aloud, and watching the doctoral regalia process through, I was taken aback by the accomplishment and accolade of those around me. On my way back uptown, I walked through Washington Square Park where grads and there families were taking photos with the sweetness of numerous jazz trios busking nearby, providing the festive soundtrack. Reflecting on the morning, I walked. With my camera packed away and my duties done, I turned to my own thoughts. It was then that I looked down at my feet. A chalk drawing reading “Dream until it’s your realty” glowed up at me in bright fresh pastel colors… and I was forced to pause.

That’s exactly what I plan on doing.”Dream until it’s my realty”. The day’s pomp and circumstance reminded me that I’m already halfway done with my MA degree and well on my way toward my further. Thus, with the support of friends and family, and the institutions that have molded me, I will be applying into doctoral programs next year, for I realized my academic journey is long from over.

Photo Credit: L. M. Raitt, May 2017.

10 Reasons Why Families Are Like Throw Pillows

Family is a process.

Sure there is a set of humans to whom you are biologically tied. But then there is the stunning network of souls that your heart yearns for. I often equate family to building a house. You start with a foundation – then you build an initial structure, the framework – then you the solid structure, the walls, the roof, the floors, the doors – and then you put on the finishing touches, you paint the walls and pick the perfect couch accented with just the right throw pillows.

It all starts with the foundation. The better the foundation, the fewer cracks, the stronger the material, the better off you’ll be in the future. The foundation is of utmost importance for it is what the rest of your house is built on.

But here’s the thing, I like throw pillows.

  1. They are colorful and add much needed spark.
  2. They come in all shapes and sizes.
  3. Our relationship is mutually dependent.
  4. They cushion your fall. 
  5. They aren’t for everybody.
  6. They support you when, and where, you need it most.
  7. They can recognize when they aren’t what you most need.
  8. They change shape, but never break.
  9. They are sometimes seasonal, and sometimes for life.
  10. But, they are chosen, by you. 

 

 

Photo Credit: Target. “Colorful Global Décor.” Target : Expect More. Pay Less., 2017, http://www.target.com/c/throw-pillows-home-decor/-/N-5xttp. Accessed 8 May 2017.

 

Homesick Part I

This afternoon, I stood in a silent reading room in front of the massive gilded window that overlooks the park, as the sunset light poured across its pane…and cried.

Sure, it is the end of the semester and I’ve been sitting in this same room since Saturday morning with only returning to my apartment to sleep. But it isn’t the fatigue or my looming deadlines that has me wrought. I’m homesick.

I left the comfort of Southern California for Tacoma, Washington when I was 18. I was eager but scared beyond belief to start over. Five years later, I drove away from the place I had grown to call home, weeping all the way down I-5 until I got to Oregon. Today, my heart longs and aches to be back in Northwest, to be in Tacoma, in the city where I grew up. The place where my soul most feels at rest and the place where I truly feel I belong. My chest tightens as I gulp down another twinge of nostalgia.

Once upon what seems like a lifetime ago, I worked at summer camp. At that camp we served middle aged and high school kids from all across California and Nevada for week long sleep-away camp on the rim of Yosemite National Park. It meant days of games on the green and pool olympics and hikes and nights of campfires and stargazing and dance parties. But, every week, without fail, some kids would end up in the infirmary with really nothing wrong with them. They took comfort in getting yet another bandaid for the blister that healed days ago or getting their temperature taken once again because they were sure there was something wrong with them, something that would warrant a call home.

Every night our staff gathered after campfire for prayer, a tradition where I worked, one that brought comfort and camaraderie and the utmost loving work environment. And that night, our nurse joined the group. Most nights she was kept too busy with distributing night meds that she never got to join us. But that night, she climbed up the hill and joined our hand-held circle. And I will never forget what she said…

“God, I want to thank you for all of the kids who are in the infirmary tonight that are homesick. What a blessing that they have such loving homes to be sick for.”

So as I stare out this window tonight, as the sunset turns into darkness and the clouds roll in over the park, I’m reminded, “what a blessing is it that I have such a loving home to be sick for?”

Photo Credit: L. M. Raitt, 2017. 

You Are What You Read: Self-Help on the Train

I never understood how people could read on trains.

Seeing a crowded train car, people packed in like sardines, bumping into one another with their bags, and shoulders, and strollers…reading hardly seems like the appropriate or even, like a possible activity. And maybe it isn’t if you’re standing, wobbling about trying to keep yourself upright as the car lurks and jerks into stop after stop after stop; but once you’ve got an ever coveted seat, the world of books opens up to you.

I’ve converted, so to speak.

I love to read on the train. It makes the time fly by and a 45 minute commute out to see friends practically vanishes. Train delays, no problem. Traffic ahead, that’s aight. I’ll just be sitting here immersed in whatever I happen to be leafing through. Not to mention, reading on the train has helped me cross books of my ever-growing “to-read” list with ease. I don’t have a lot of “spare time” when I’m in school because there always seems to be a better use of that time than reading something that won’t be productive in any way. But on the train, I’m not going to bust out the PDF on architectural theory of the 20th century that my professor assigned. Instead, I reach for my hand-held kindle and let the glowing paper-esque screen take me away.

But something I noticed, before undergoing this transformation from bored observer to avid reader, is just what people are reading on the train. The Chortle  published a video back in April of 2016 where comedian Scott Rogowsky hits the NYC Subway with fake book covers that boast ridiculous titles. If you aren’t familiar with the clip, I’ve included it for your viewing pleasure:

***Part two is now available as well!***

Depending on the title, Scott gets anywhere from a little chuckle to an ugly glare and just about everything in between. Now, while I’ve never seen someone reading “How to Hold in a Fart” or “How to Find an Asian Girlfriend on the L Train” what his video highlights a truth of city-train travel. No matter how hard you try, in such a tight space, you are forced to look directly across the chasm at the other people on the train and cannot help but become a participant observer of Boasian sorts. We people watch and we try to make sense of the person holding the book and the type of book they are reading. And some titles may just share more about that person than you’d otherwise know.

The book seems to be the window to the soul in the Subway world.

When I see a sweatshirt wearing man with glasses and overgrown facial hair reading a book about video games, it makes sense. When I see a teenager reading some young-adult sci-fi/romance novel, it makes sense. And even when I see a business person, briefcase in tow, pull out a book on corporate finance, or the market, it makes sense too. The person you observe is seldom discordant to the book they are reading, which is how I believe Scott Rogowsky hits the funny bone just right.

We make snap observations that allow us to draw conclusions about the people we see. But we also associate our observations with the space we are sharing with the person we see.

Have you ever seen someone reading a romance novel at the beach? If so, both of you silently entered into a kind of contract, an understanding. They boldly read what is essentially soft romantic pornography in public and you are allowed to know they are doing so. You don’t say anything and neither do they. But you both know the discomfort that the other bears and you ignore it. I grew up in Southern California where countless women on vacation would arrive, beach chair, tanning oil, and romance novel in hand for a relaxing summer getaway. There is, in a sense, a time and a place for a romance novel -my guess is there’s really only two- 1. on your nightstand and 2. on a girls weekend beach getaway. Despite how uncomfortable it may make you to see some 45 year old mom of 3 reading about the uncontrollable ecstasy of a woman most-likely named after a gemstone or a flower, the book, the person reading the book, and the setting of reading that book seem to strike a harmony.

Alternatively, I have many friends who are pastors. Whenever they fly, seem to strike up a conversation with someone they are sitting near. Not because they are wearing clerical robes or any sort of official vestment but often because they are reading books like Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World by Brian McLaren. (A great book, you should definitely read. 10/10) People see what they’re reading and recognize that they, by reading that book in such a public way, are probably one who would like to engage in positive, uplifting, kind-hearted interfaith dialogue.

The books we read, in a way, advertise who we are to those around us and also reflect the setting in which we find ourselves.

So what about reading on the train? What does reading on the train say about you?

A lot, I think.

There are many different NYC Subway reader types as I have come to classify them. After all, I did spent quite a while on the train before I converted a train-reader myself. You’ve got your Oprah’s Bookclub/New York Times Best Seller crowd, then you’ve got the “I-need-to-read-it-before-the-movie-comes-out” peeps, the foreign title crew split equally between non-native English speakers and native English speakers trying to practice their second-tongue, the elusive and ever-growing e-reader types, and lastly, the self-help bunch. An interesting bunch to be sure.

What does it say about you if you are reading self-help on the train? I saw a girl the other day reading You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero and almost immediately, I purchased the book on my kindle for myself. And here’s why.

I looked across the car and I saw a young, twenty-something girl with thick gorgeous brown hair and wispy bangs. She had a heart shaped face that was beautifully made up and was wearing a hip assortment of accessories to complement her simple outfit of dark wash denim and light grey peacoat. Her purse occupied the seat next to her and she reached in, grabbed, opened and proceeded to confidently read a self-help book on the B Train. She appeared, to me, to be completely discordant to the book she was reading. This girl was beautiful and well dressed and cool and successful-looking, why would she have any reason to read such a book? Sure the cover of Sincero’s book is almost click-baity in nature, made to grab the eye with it’s yellow cover, whimsical typeface, and catchy title. But the reason why I bought the book too was because I admired this girl who was reading it.

It takes courage to admit you need help. In any context. In fact, I’m notoriously horrible at it. Ask any of my former employers or teammates, family or friends. Admitting when I am wrong and when I need the help of others is not my best trait. So seeing this girl who, to me, looked like she had it all together, sitting on the train, owning her vulnerability and weakness and putting it on display, turning to this book for guidance made me want to be a part of the self-help on the train crowd.

I’m reading Sincero’s book now, and just finished part one. I love the way she writes. It took me a little while to adjust to it. She writes with the brashness and good intentions of a close friend that is sitting you down to coffee to tell you to pull yourself together. And although I am an elusive e-reader type, not bearing my weakness to all those around me on the B Train, I confidently read through my own self consciousness on my commute. We have a lot to learn from readers on the train… for they have taught me to bear who I am honestly, for all to see, right there on the sleeve.

 

Photo Credit: Pham, Diane, Michelle Cohen, Ondel Hylton, Dana Schulz, Emily Nonko, and Metro New York. “NYC’s First Subway Line Moved Passengers Just One Block.” 6sqft. N.p., 20 Dec. 2016. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Credits:

McLaren, Brian D. Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World. New York: Jericho, 2013. Print.

Sincero, Jen. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. San Francisco: IDream, 2015. Print.

Taking Fake Book Covers on the Subway. By Scott Rogowsky. Perf. Scott Rogowsky. The Chortle, Apr. 2016. Web.

Fake Book Covers on the Subway PART TWO. By Scott Rogowsky. Perf. Scott Rogowsky and Akilah Hughes. El Chortle, May 2016. Web.

 

 

 

Why I hate Cats, But Loved This Book

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts (*see We Need to Tip and 2017 Goals) I am trying to read more for fun. So here goes book review numero two for 2017. 

Writing a blog post about a print book that was written about an internet phenomena in order to commemorate a festival that celebrated that internet phenomena which was inspired by cats is a rather tricky endeavor. But here I go.

A little over a year ago I was in Powell’s Books, a book-lover’s paradise in the heart of the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon. With no particular course in mind I perused the titles as I meandered along by, coffee in hand, through the forrest of light-wooded shelves. I turned a corner to climb to a new colored room when a cover, displayed on the end of a bookcase as a “Staff Favorite” caught my eye. A white page stained with black cat-shaped spots and big colorful block letters reading Cat is Art Spelled Wrong stopped me in my tracks. Cats. Ew. But art? I like art…intrigued me at best.

It’s true. I don’t like cats. I tolerate them. I stand firmly by my mantra that if a cat happened to me, I wouldn’t be cruel but I would never go out of my way to make a cat happen to me. That is to say that if I was desperately searching for housing and the only promising prospect included a feline roommate, I would concede. Or if a significant other somewhere way down the line had cat I wouldn’t make them choose between the beast and me. Although let’s be real, would I ever really end up with a cat person? Get outta that one sweetheart, you need a dog-person in your life. 

I don’t like cats and yet Cat is Art Spelled Wrong has been sitting on my shelf for the last year, purrfectly fine. Until last week I could feel it staring me down, practically begging me to read it right meow. Just like any other cat who doesn’t want your attention at all until one day they knock over your lamp cause you wouldn’t play with them.

Cat is Art Spelled Wrong is a book of collected essays edited by Caroline Casey, Christ Fischbach, and Sarah Schultz and was co-published by Coffee House Press and the Walker Art Center both of which hail from the great city of Minneapolis. With entries from fifteen different authors, the perspectives include the entire range along the “cat spectrum” but each piece wrestles bold questions like  “What sparked the cat video epidemic?” and “Are cat videos art?” and most importantly,”Why do we even like cats?” Once beyond its beautiful cover,  these were the exact questions that drew me in.

I think David Carr perfectly encapsulates my personal relationship to cat videos when he writes:

I don’t mind looking at cats on the internet, in part because they are ubiquitous and can’t be avoided, and in part because I think that’s where cats should live, on the internet, imprisoned by my browser and one click away from being banished. So my little friends, go forth and multiply. Infest every corner of the web as is your nature. Chase that laser light, squeeze yourself into a glass bowl, freak out at the toy robot that your owner has set before you. Youtube is waiting, and people imprisoned in office cubes everywhere depend on you, cats of the internet, to bring a moment of respite to the quotidian tasks that are on other applications minimized until the boss walks by. (Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, pg. 138)

As an Art Historian, I spend a lot of time contemplating what constitutes art- and “what makes good art” is one of the most frequent questions that I am asked. I don’t mind because I find the discussion to be ever-changing and always intriguing; but philosophers, historians, psychologists, and artists themselves have been attempting to answer that question for centuries and I doubt I’ll be able to do any better than they have. I have done extensive research on the differentiation between so called “highbrow” and “lowbrow” culture, the barriers we create between what we deem to be popular art versus fine art. But what I’ve come to believe, especially in our technological age, art is in the eye of the beholder. I look at a cat and see a demon made manifest whose sole purpose it to keep me awake at night by sleeping on my face, but others look at a cat and see the epitome of love and grace and elegance. Why should art be any different?

The book concludes with a chapter written by Sarah Schultz, Director of Education and Curator of Public Practice at the Walker Art Center. Not a proclaimed cat lover, but an art lover to be sure. Sarah beautifully expounds on the intersection between the art museum and the intricate world of the online catosphere. The Walker put on a cat video festival in no way anticipating the size or type of crowd and attention they would draw. It was a risk, but it was one worth taking. In her concluding section Sarah writes, “Questioning rather than imposing what is worthy of our attention can only give us a richer experience of who we are and who we might want to become. And sometimes museums just need to lighten up and have some fun.” (Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, pg. 159) As an art historian, it has become so important for me to abandon what I think I know in order to encounter what is unknown.

Art is complex. It is renaissance icons and polychrome sculpture and drip paintings and cat videos. It is symbolic and expressive and historic and reflective. Art carries drama in the visual as much as the written word. Art provokes, encourages, critiques, and distracts.

And this book, just like its video counterparts, accomplished just that. It provided a critically sweet diversion and kept the actual fur at a comfortable distance.

Photo Credit: L. M. Raitt February 2017

 

On the Corner of Scared and Satisfied

It was a horribly humid August night when I stepped out of baggage claim at JFK and pushed my luggage trolley across the street to the taxi island. The rain began to fall and a cacophony of thunder clapped in the distance, roaring through the clouds. I stood there waiting for our car to appear wondering if I had made a huge mistake.

For my first week in New York, my mom and I stayed at a hotel in my neighborhood. Mostly because I had no mattress but also because having a haven of air conditioned hotel goodness was a welcomed gift. We chose it because it sits on the corner just two blocks south of my apartment and would be convenient for festivities of moving in and assembling Ikea furniture – but I never thought about the long-term implications of that choice.

Now, flash-forward 6 months later.

Nearly every day, I pass The Lucerne. The rooms soar high above anything else in the neighborhood, with the exception of the sky-rise co-op condominiums that seem to have popped up overnight. On a sunny day, it’s copper-red brick shoots upwards and contrasts so stunningly to the crisp blue sky. And as I look up, and the white clouds briskly skip by, as I canter through the crowds on my way home or to Duane Reade or to my favorite coffee shop or to the Subway, I am reminded of the passing time.

Every day I see The Lucerne I am reminded of how scared I was the first day I walked through its doors. I remember asking the employees where we should eat that night and walking 6 blocks to Shake Shack thinking it felt like a “long walk”. I recall sitting on the bed of our 7th floor room later that night, overhearing my mom regale the excitement of our flight to my dad on the phone, feeling the consequences of my decision weighing me down, as if the pressure itself was gluing me to the tacky geometric quilt.

But every day, I walk by it.

I’m still here.

I’m doing it.

The Lucerne was, at first, an anchoring point filled with Rosemary Mint Aveda shampoo and a high power Whirlpool system. It was a safety net, a liminal space, a not-quite-yet zone that somehow offered a comfortable buffer between the life I had abandoned and the new one I felt unprepared to tackle. I’m so grateful for that place now. And every day, when I walk on by, I give a nod to that scared-shitless girl sitting on her bed on the 7th floor and tell her that she is going to be okay.

Cause she is.

And it feels glorious.

Photo credit: L. M. Raitt September 2016

We Need To Tip

As part of my “New Years Goals”, in accordance with my non-resolution manifesto that I published on the first of the year, I am trying to read more for fun. Anyone who has ever dappled in higher education knows that you read all the time, but it feels like work, often something that you long to be rid of and yearn to put down at the end of a long day. Picking up a book at the end of a 14 hour grad school day feels like taking a vacation in December to the North Pole, a little redundant and exhausting. But as of today, I finished my first book of the New Year and what I have found so far has been surprising.

For starters, reading on the train is a delight. Especially on longer commutes. I’ve found that carrying my kindle with me wherever I roam is an easy way to fit reading for fun into the natural rhythm of my day. When I’m say taking a 35 minute train ride out to Brooklyn to grab dinner with a friend, instead of spending that time watching the curiosities that come and go, I can fade away into a different world and spend that time plugging through a book. I’ve come really to enjoy that time.

Today, thanks largely in part to Winter Storm Niko for shutting down school and cause the city to purr to a halt, I finished Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Although Gladwell first published the work back in February of 2000, much of what he writes rings poignantly true today. He argues, through a series of case studies that in every sort of epidemic there is a “tipping point”, a point at which what has happened to a select few becomes the fodder for a much larger group. The flu or the AIDS crisis serving as primary medical examples for what Gladwell eventually argues can be a social model as well. Whether it be fashion trends, smoking habits, or political ideologies the tipping point model rings true. It was impossible to detach Gladwell’s argument from the general chaotic climate in which we find ourselves today in the United States.

What I found empowering about Gladwell’s book however was how, through his model, he subtlety encourages everyone to identify their role in the larger order and use it to bring about social change. He separates people into different groups, each of which has its own shortcomings and its own irreplaceable strengths, without which society at large would greatly suffer. I fall into his category of “connectors”, people who are the spoke in a hub of networks, bringing people together through themselves as the common connection. Most people who know a connector  could identify at least one person, if not a half dozen friends, that they have come into contact with because of that connector. And as Gladwell outlined this person-type I was intrigued because I had never so perfectly identified with a “type” before. All my life I have had a foot in every group. I had a hard time in high school because I was notoriously non-cliquey at school. I had friends in nearly every social circle and that has remained to be true until now.

Now, in a climate so deeply divided, where the white liberal elite of which I am apart have so clearly isolated and disengaged the rest of the population to bring our country to this seemingly insurmountable precipice, I as a connector must take up my armor and do my part. Now is not a time for connectors to loose their ability to draw people together across what would be insurmountable differences. Instead, I must rise up to the calling and help bring our country to a tipping point, one of kindness and justice and love.

Political musing aside, The Tipping Point is a remarkable read. Engaging, lighthearted, easy to read. Gladwell is able to condense an immense amount of sociological and epidemiological study into quippy chapters that synthesize, analyze and summarize complex work for the average reader to enjoy. His case studies are so varied in topic that whether you are a lawyer, high school student, stay at home parent, investment banker, elementary school teacher, retired grandparent, or struggling grad school student you will find each case to be fascinating and approachable. Furthermore, they are broadening. I learned about fashion trend setting in the East Village and the Columbine shooter; the rate of teenage suicide in Micronesia and the impetus for Sesame Street. The cases were eye-opening and revealing of much larger social patterns that mirror our biological tendencies and in each case there was something with which I could identify.

Lastly, The Tipping Point, is a book that doesn’t tell you what to do with what you have learned. I was anticipating some great call to action at the end of the concluding chapter, or at the very least, in the afterward, the absence of which left me rather stunned. Gladwell allows what he has presented to sink in, to ruminate in you, so that in the end you may try to apply his findings to your own experience of the social order of the world. He doesn’t offer any quizzes to help you decide what kind of person you are or offer any take away “how-to” messages. He puts forth his writing and hopes your own awareness is keen enough that you can identify for yourself who you are and what you ought to do given what it is you now know. He lets his words speak and gives room for your responsive actions to do the rest.

I think we all need this book. We need to realize that in our words, thoughts, and deeds there are implications. That we can use our power for good and that with our help, the world just may tip toward a brighter future.

Regardless of your age, gender, background, income, religious or political leanings, I recommend you give Gladwell’s writing a go. I’m sure I’ll be returning to his other books Blink, David and Goliath, Outliers, et al. but for now I’m going to embark on a different reading adventure. Stay tuned.

Photo Credit: Gladwell, Malcolm (2000). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Little Brown.

Spontaneity Looks Good On Me

I did something insane today.

It occurred to me as I sat in one of my classes today, that I should really go back to Spain. In 2013 I studied abroad there for 5 months, mostly focusing on obtaining my International Diploma of Fluency in Spanish as a Foreign Language (The DELE as it is known). While I was there, I fell in love with Spain but more specifically, with Spanish art and cultural history. My study abroad experience changed the trajectory of my education and my career goals in one foul swoop. And today, as I sat in my Spanish Golden Age Seminar, I was daydreaming of returning to the dazzling country I love so much.

So I got online. I looked at ticket prices. And I realized something magnificent.

By moving to New York City, I’ve placed myself 1/2 way toward the European Continent and therefore, flights to Spain are remarkably less expensive then they were traveling from the West Coast. Better than that, I don’t have to transfer. I’ll be on a nonstop flight that cost me less than it would have cost me to fly home for Spring Break, which is a ridiculous reality that I am going to take full advantage of.

So what started as a daydream at 10am became a reality by the end of the day. I booked my flight, booked my busses, booked a hostel, and I feel good. I feel alive in a really odd way. Like somehow this lit a fire underneath me. I’m not sure what made me feel so strongly like this was something that I needed to do, but I felt a call, and I responded.

Photo credit: L. M. Raitt Fall 2013. Granada Spain. Plaza Bib Ramblas.

Inauguration Day Inspiration: Instructions for a Bad Day by Shane Koyczan and Reflection

Today is a dark day…

No, but literally. It is dark and cold and gloomy outside. I sit in my preferred reading room, overlooking Central Park, watching the sad sky drop its tears to the cold grey ground.

It’s Inauguration Day. 8 years ago I sat in my sophomore year AP US History class and witnessed the first black man rise to the highest seat of power knowing that my kids, my grandkids, would ask me about that day.

Today, I didn’t turn on the TV. I didn’t watch as Mr. Trump walked onto that stage and put his hand on President Reagan’s Bible. I didn’t want to watch him make more promises that he won’t keep. But I also didn’t want to watch a man, who openly defiles the words of the Gospel daily, claim to serve our country under God. I couldn’t do it.

But today, I am so beautifully reminded of the life that I am blessed to live. I received flowers in the mail from a friend who graduated ahead of me from Puget Sound. She sent a bouquet of pink carnations and a card that read “Here’s to strong women. May we know them, May we be them, May we raise them. Sending good vibes to the strong ladies I know this weekend.” My phone has been buzzing all day with words of encouragement, hope, and strength from loved ones. Nearly every woman I know is marching tomorrow to remind Mr. Trump that we are here, and we are strong, and we are not scared- we aren’t going anywhere.

And today, amidst the darkness and the glimmers of hope, I was reminded of a beautiful work of poetry by Shane Koyczan called Instructions for a Bad Day. I hope its words bring you solace and inspiration today, and for the next four years. They will undoubtedly serve as mine.

There will be bad days. Be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm slowly now. Let go. Be confident. Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended. Be gracious. Accept each extended hand offered to pull you back from the somewhere you cannot escape. Be diligent. Scrape the gray sky clean. Realize every dark cloud is a smoke screen meant to blind us from the truth, and the truth is, whether we see them or not – the sun and moon are still there and always there is light.

Be forthright. Despite your instinct to say, “it’s alright, I’m okay” – be honest. Say how you feel without fear or guilt, without remorse or complexity. Be lucid in your explanation, be sterling in your oppose. If you think for one second no one knows what you’ve been going through; be accepting of the fact that you are wrong, that the long drawn and heavy breaths of despair have at times been felt by everyone – that pain is part of the human condition and that alone makes you a legion.

We hungry underdogs, we risers with dawn, we dissmissers of odds, we blessers of on – we will station ourselves to the calm. We will hold ourselves to the steady, be ready, player one. Life is going to come at you armed with hard times and tough choices, your voice is your weapon, your thoughts ammunition – there are no free extra men, be aware that as the instant now passes, it exists now as then. So be a mirror reflecting yourself back, and remembering the times when you thought all of this was too hard and that you’d never make it through.

Remember the times you could have pressed quit – but you hit continue. Be forgiving. Living with the burden of anger, is not living. Giving your focus to wrath will leave your entire self absent of what you need. Love and hate are beasts and the one that grows is the one you feed. Be persistent. Be the weed growing through the cracks in the cement, beautiful – because it doesn’t know it’s not supposed to grow there. Be resolute. Declare what you accept as true in a way that envisions the resolve with which you accept it.

If you are having a good day, be considerate. A simple smile could be the first-aid kit that someone has been looking for. If you believe with absolute honesty that you are doing everything you can – do more.

There will be bad days, times when the world weighs on you for so long it leaves you looking for an easy way out. There will be moments when the drought of joy seems unending. Instances spent pretending that everything is all right when it clearly is not, check your blind spot. See that love is still there, be patient. Every nightmare has a beginning, but every bad day has an end. Ignore what others have called you. I am calling you friend. Make us comprehend the urgency of your crisis. Silence left to its own devices, breed’s silence.

So speak and be heard. One word after the next, express yourself and put your life into context – if you find that no one is listening, be loud. Make noise. Stand in poise and be open. Hope in these situations is not enough and you will need someone to lean on. In the unlikely event that you have no one, look again. Everyone is blessed with the ability to listen. The deaf will hear you with their eyes. The blind will see you with their hands. Let your heart fill their newsstands, let them read all about it. Admit to the bad days, the impossible nights. Listen to the insights of those who have been there, but have come back. They’ll tell you; you can stack misery, you can pack despair, you can even wear your sorrow – but come tomorrow you must change your clothes.

Everyone knows pain. We are not meant to carry it forever. We were never meant to hold it so closely, so be certain in the belief that what pain belongs to now will belong soon to then. That when someone asks you how was your day, realize that for some of us – it’s the only way we know how to say, “Be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm, slowly now – let go.

photo credit: Jewish Women’s Archive. “Marchers with the Olympic Torch at the National Women’s Conference, 1977.” (Viewed on January 20, 2017) .