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Monthly Archives: October 2012

In a world with internet, I think “foreign” is more a personally-defined concept than an unbiased adjective. Foreign connotes a state of mind far outside oneself, a place, situation or thought that makes you step back and question yourself and how you got there.

Pillars outside Tower Court, overlooking Lake Waban, Wellesley, MA
I took this picture at sunrise, the spring of my Senior year at Wellesley College. Although I’d weathered four winters, the snowfall that spring and layering up in down and wool always made me wonder how I ever left sunny California and made it all the way to a new universe. The snow was both refreshing and beautiful, and completely alien.

Outside a crusader castle, Byblos, Lebanon
My first full day in Lebanon – graffitied lovenotes that surely mean the same as those you’d find in America.

Los Angeles, CA
Because nothing makes you check yourself twice, or realize how much you’ve changed, quite like revisiting your hometown.

So, how many dresses do you have now?

Oh geez, Grammie, I don’t know… I guess I’ve been to like, five dances, so five? Now six for next weeks?

I just don’t understand why you need a new dress for each dance, especially when your sister and her friends and your friends all have so many, too!

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It was no use explaining to my wizened, almost-five-feet-tall grandmother that 6-year-old dresses were no longer ‘in,’ or that my sisters’ and friends’ dresses didn’t work with my body type. My sister and I had this conversation every single time we went to a dance in high school (with the exception of Sadie Hawkins’, obviously) and by the time I graduated I learned to simply smile and silently ignore what sounded like criticism to my ears. When I went off to college and my grandmother explained that I would be able to stretch my old twin-sized sheets to fit my twin extra-large dorm bed, I debated whether it was worth telling her that sheets cost a mere ten bucks at Target. In the end, I’m not sure if I rejected her advice or simply listened to it to humor her, but now that I’m living on my own I realize how many of those lessons, born of growing up during the Great Depression and feeding four children on the meagre salary of a pastor, I have internalized. My sister and I have happily inherited countless pieces of furniture, refinishing it to make it our own. We drink out of old peanut butter and pickle jars so that we don’t buy drinking glasses (which truly are a waste of money, since we break everything anyway), and every time I look through my closet I am struck by how much clothing I really have, and do I actually need something new? (and then I try it on and realize that yes, I do, I do indeed)

Anyhow, I wish that I had taken that advice for what it was, rather than seen it as criticism. My grandmother’s frugality was a way of life, and while it may seem miserly to scrimp and pinch as she did, it allowed her to give generously to every cause she cared about and everyone that mattered to her. There was a beauty in her frugality as well. While she had moved from her silken skirts and suits to her “grubbies” (clothing only suited for gardening) by the time I came along, she created a world of magic out of almost nothing for my sister, my best friend, and I. We spent an afternoon a week at her house, and she captivated us with dollhouses made out of old cardboard boxes, walls papered with wrapping paper, floors lined with old rug samples or fabrics, hand-drawn dolls made from old milk cartons, and our dish gardens, tiny worlds that we planted inside pie-tin sized dishes – mountains out of moss and rivers that we made out of blue seran-wrap. On rainy days, we would work on our dish gardens on her covered porch, listening to the rain on the plastic roof, and drinking hot chocolate with diagonally-cut cinnamon toast, after which we would retreat to the living room, where we built forts of furniture and sheets. During one particularly rainy el nino year, those forts stayed up for weeks, and I guess we’ll never know if she left them up at her own great inconvenience, or carefully re-built them right before we came over. Sunny days were similarly joyful – we would sip lemonade from concentrate out of aluminum glasses (which somehow made it so much colder and more delicious) before spending hours in her peppercorn tree, designating different branches as rooms and rigging up pulleys out of baskets and string.

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I only realized this year when cleaning out her apartment that my grandmother hadn’t worn her “grubbies” all her life; I found treasures of beautiful jewelry, perfectly tailored suits, silk paisley skirts and an incredible assortment of belts and dresses that I never saw her wear, and which I have happily adopted, and it is a pleasure to know that she had a side of her I never knew, a mystery. The parts of her that I did know were so important, and I can only hope that I can be half as selfless. My grandmother was the trumpeter of any and all causes and worked tirelessly to advocate for those in need, from the homeless, to the infirm, to those not receiving justice. She was so giving that she almost couldn’t receive help, and absolutely hated asking for it. Last spring, she began having strokes, and despite the fact that she couldn’t use her words, she had a special laugh for those times when she thought we were offering too much, for the moments when we were worrying about her excessively. She would wave her hand and laugh at our offers to get her more pillows or more clothes, or painkillers, or anything, not wanting to trouble us over her discomfort.

Beyond her frugality and constant campaigns for equality and justice, my grandmother was a funny woman; in the same breath she would warn me against the dangers of becoming an alcoholic and request more wine; in the piles and piles of papers that we thought were pure junk, we would find a treasured note or beautiful piece of art; her bookshelves were equal parts Christian literature, information about earthquakes and geography, and books from the Hemlock Society.

Despite the fact that I’ve known this day was coming for years, the reality of her passing is just as hard to grasp as a sudden death. This is, perhaps, because I was in Lebanon when she died, and a combination of no phone, little internet, and heat-and-food-poisoning-induced-delirium made “reality” a difficult concept. But, more realistically, because she would surely be horrified that the whole family was spending so much time thinking and talking about her. And this is why it’s so hard to wrap my mind around her death – she spent so much time being as little trouble and as much help to anyone else that there really isn’t an “absence” – she was no obligation, and so there is no change in our routine, but she is a definite gap nonetheless. I’ll always miss her little laugh, her insistence that she can do it on her own when she really needed help, and her happy presence at family gatherings even when she could hardly hear the conversation.

To Grammie, good wine, and life lessons. May we ever appreciate and learn from them.

Big. It all depends on your point of view. Here, a few of my favorite (on a large and small scale) pictures that capture “BIG” for me.

Calton Hill, as seen from the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Me on one of the six remaining pillars of the Roman Temple of Jupiter, Beqaa, Lebanon

My friend befriending a butterfly in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

I generally try not to define things in the negative; if you’re just “not” something, how do you ever know what you “are?” But, in this case, I think the Republicans have given me a pretty clear idea of what I am not, and that is (huge surprise to anyone who knows me) a Republican. (And yes, that is sarcasm. Come on people, I went to Wellesley – our mascot is the color blue. Literally.)

But, anyhow. I have shocked myself with my own political disinterest this election cycle. In 2008 I worked on the Obama campaign and went to the inauguration in DC, but this year, I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the Presidential Debates. Frankly, I have found myself to be a product of my generation – indifferent. Hopelessly, pointedly, actively, indifferent. Barack and his supporters email me at least five times per day, and I routinely delete anything from Jim Messina. But, one of these emails caught my eye this morning, and reminded me of why I chose this ignorance: that’s right. Because I cannot stand the face of the Republican party.

Bill and my Wellesley sister Hilary at the 2009 inauguration

Don’t get me wrong; I sincerely try to look past political affiliations when it comes to individuals, but there’s something about the last few years of politics that has made me completely loose respect for the Republican Party. Do I think that Barack Obama is the best President ever? No. Am I sick and tired of the partisanship and mudslinging that has defined American politics in my memory? Absolutely. Do I think that the Republican Party has a lot to offer? Yes. (Let’s be honest – our economy under Clinton was the best it’s been in ages. And yes, I am implying that Clinton had some serious Republican leanings, at least economically.)

Now, I could make a list of all the outrageously idiotic quotes from this campaign’s frontmen, but honestly, I say a lot of stupid stuff that could be twisted to make me sound like a bimbo, and I’d rather give these guys the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Romney had a serious point that got totally twisted by some vicious reporter when he said that he can’t make people take responsibility and care for their lives (doubtful), but there are some deeper issues at play that really offend me.

First and foremost: women’s rights. The Republican Party has always been an old (white) boys’ club, but the sheer idiocy in the debate about women’s rights is what truly offends me. I will very, VERY, begrudgingly understand if men support Republicans in this cycle, but I will automatically lose respect for any educated woman who votes red this year. Women are advancing, making huge strides in every sector, but somehow, old white dudes still think they have the right to tell us what, and what not, we can do with our bodies. I’m sorry, but would I ever tell a man that he has to take 75% of a year out of his life, put everything on hold, go through a horrific, unwanted, life-and-body-changing, and potentially life-threatening process (ie, pregnancy), when he had the option not to? And then, once we take away the option of abortion, we’re also going to take away birth control. Essentially what the Republican party is telling me is that I have no say in whether I get pregnant or not, and then, no say in if I keep the baby. This tells me that the men of the Republican party are so threatened by women actually getting to career-age and earning an education that they will do literally anything to keep them in the home with the children. Am I pro-abortion? Hells no. I pray to whatever is in the sky that no one I know ever has to have an abortion, but I will fight tooth and nail (literally, I would probably claw Paul Ryan’s face off) to defend my, and all of women’s, right to make that choice. Men have, and still do, controlled women’s rights for far too long. Men will probably never understand this, especially white men, but please, minorities, and women – how is this just? How could you ever believe in someone who refuses to grant you basic rights, or even think that it’s his responsibility to care for you? How is this even a 21st century debate? It’s nothing short of barbaric.

No birth control + no abortions + abstinence-only education results in one thing: lots of unwanted, uneducated, poor babies. And what happens to unwanted, uneducated babies? They become criminals, who land in our very, very overcrowded jails, muck up and slow down the judicial system, and ultimately create a huge cost for our federal and state governments. Read Freakonomics; abortions save the world from the unpredictable future of criminals-to-be.

AMERICA

My second point: Mitt Romney is not, and never will be, the face that I want to represent my country. Where was Ann Romney this summer? Watching her horses at the London Olympics. Yeah, her HORSES. This is not me, and this is not my generation. America is in turmoil, some of our biggest trading partners are heading for a huge economic crisis, and we’re looking to a couple of blue-bloods to save the day? I’m sorry, but these people haven’t fought for anything in their lives. Mitt Romney is from Mexico? What kind of stupid campaign bullshit is this? They symbolize the America of years past, maybe, but they will never, EVER, symbolize what my generation has, is, and will go through in our lifetimes.

I could go on, but frankly, I’ve done more political reading and thinking in the last three hours than the last three months, combined, and my coffee has gotten cold. America needs to change. Our political system needs to change. We need to drop the racial, socio-economic, and gender-based caste system that has developed and that will only crystalize if Republicans come to power. It’s time to move beyond our fears of socialism and use the government to help people within our country rather than continue our policies of enemy-making neo-imperialism that drain our resources and destroy our future.

Let’s work together, learn from one another, and respect each other, and create a new face for our country and our politics.

Happiness – I think it comes from the everyday joys that surround us, which is why my selection this week includes more pictures of friends and family than my grand adventures. Adventures and traveling are one thing, but even the most incredible city would be empty without the people and memories that give it meaning. At the end of the day, the Eiffel Tower is just a feat of engineering if you’re not enjoying the view with people you love.

These are the things, memories, and people that put a smile on my face, that I look forward to, and that I hope fill my future.

Left to right, top to bottom: Sister and me in Eagle Rock, CA, a friend on a truck of wine barrels before we got kicked off in Santa Rosa, CA, a rainbow from my bedroom in Caux, Switzerland, olives at a farmer’s market in Geneva, Switzerland, a friend, sister and I at sister’s bday party, Claremont, CA, my dogs playing in the yard, Claremont, CA, tomatoes at farmer’s market in Larchmont Village, CA, college best friend and I on Nantucket, MA, and homemade fresh baked honey whole wheat bread, Claremont, CA.