Yesterday, as I left the doctor’s office, I held the door open for an elderly woman, and we both entered the elevator together. She looked at me with a glimmer in her eye and asked me, “Are you a writer?”. I didn’t know how to answer. I stammered, “No…but I did some writing as part of my last job”. I was intrigued. Did I look like a writer? Did she figure I must have a job with an unconventional schedule to be at a doctor’s office on a Tuesday morning? In any case, I liked the implication. I liked that this woman looked at me and saw a writer. I eventually asked her, once we were out of the elevator, if she was a writer. She smiled and replied yes. Perhaps it takes a writer to recognize another. In any case, this stranger’s question prompted me to get back to this blog.
Perhaps it is because I have always regarded having many children (more than 4) as a modern form of female servitude, a peculiar form of modern torture. After four kids, how can you truly pay attention to each child? How can you be attentive to their needs? Of course, this comes from the naive assumption that one has kids to love and nurture them. That is not the only reason couples add to their broods. Some of them believe that a woman’s Christian duty is to birth as many children as possible in order to create more good Christian soldiers. A woman’s duty is to obey her father when she is young and her husband when she is married. Sound truly medieval? It is. It’s also the essence of the Quiverfull movement, which informs the beliefs of the Duggar family, Christian fundamentalists turned reality TV stars.
On the other side of the globe, ISIS is made up of young men from all over the Western world who have been moved by the terrorist group’s call to establish a Muslim caliphate throughout the Levant. Their rise and spread throughout the region, as well as their appeal to Westerners, has baffled people with much more expertise in modern terrorism than I can claim. CNN published a piece stating that ISIS has had success in this area through sophisticated recruitment efforts, with trailers like those that come out of Hollywood to convince young Westerners of their cause. A young ISIS recruit from England was quoted as saying, “I’m from the south of England. I grew up in a middle-class family…Life was easy back home. I had a life. I had a car. But the thing is, you cannot practice Islam back home. We see all around us evil. We see pedophiles. We see homosexuality. We see crime. We see rape.”
The aforementioned Duggars may not seem as sinister as the murderous armies of ISIS. But their worldview comes from the same place as ISIS: a deep fear of modernity, of a world where women are truly equal to men and minorities, such as gay people, also have equal rights. The Quiverfull movement, of which the Duggars are just an example, preaches very traditional roles for men and women in the home. Those who don’t adhere to such roles are heathens in the eyes of Christian fundamentalists. They prefer to homeschool their children instead of expose them to the views of the modern world. It is estimated that 58% of people in the Southern U.S. are Christian fundamentalists. While not all of them have 19 children whom they educate at home, many believe in a fallen world that is filled with sin and evil at every turn; only good Christian warriors will be saved in the end through the power of their faith.
Perhaps it seems extreme that I would compare the fundamentalism of the Duggars to the fundamentalistm behind ISIS. Yes, there are degrees of difference. ISIS is brutally murderous, there is no denying that. But their aims are political. So too is the Christian right’s. They see the onward march of modernity as a grave threat to their way of life rather than the natural arc of human progress. Rather than engage with the modern world, they adhere to a strict, literal, some would say erroneous interpretation of their religious texts. As women gain greater autonomy to live their lives, and minorities make strides in the U.S., the fundamentalist believers both in the U.S. and around the world will have to either fight the modern world, or live with it. I hope that they choose the latter, rather than the Middle Ages.
I try to be patient. The new kid at work is young, looks to me like a kindergartner, and has the happy go luck air of a kid happy to have his first real job out of college. I’m nice to him because he, too, is a foreigner in a foreign land. But in his short time at the office, he’s uttered the sentences “Funny, she doesn’t look Mexican”, and “Funny, he doesn’t look Mexican” many times. I usually make a comment like, “Well, I think you’ll find that a Mexican can look like anything”. But sometime I feel like banging my head against the wall. Because I’ve been teaching this lesson my whole life.
It’s true, there is a typical Mexican look. Think brown skin, brown eyes, brown hair. Short stature. Anything that breaks those norms stands out. Even dark-skinned Mexicans who are tall stand out in a crowd. But there are also many Mexicans who offer proof of the internal diversity that many foreigners aren’t aware of. Take a glance at the gallery of famous (and infamous) Mexicans below:
Miguel Osorio Chong:
The #2 man in the current Cabinet, Osorio Chong, a native of Pachuca, Hidalgo, is the Secretario of Governance, a sort of point man for any hot spots that may arise in Mexican national life. He is of Mexican and Chinese descent.
Perhaps you’ve heard of him? He is always switching back and forth with Bill Gates as either #1 or#2 wealthiest man in the world. He’s a titan of the business world in both Mexico and abroad. He’s also of Lebanese descent.
He has won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for the last two years in a row. He is the preferred cinematographer of director Terence Malick. And Mexican cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki is of Polish Jewish descent.
Giovanni Dos Santos:
One of the best players on the Mexican national team, and a standout on Spanish soccer team Villarreal, young Giovanni Dos Santos is a native of Monterrey, the son of a Mexican mother and Brazilian father.
Nicknamed El Sol de Mexico, Luis Miguel is an icon of Mexican music. He recently played the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City for two sold out weeks. His storied love life is the stuff of telenovelas. And yet this singer of Mexican songs was born in Puerto Rico to a Spanish father and Italian mother.
As I have spent the last few weeks considering what it means to do satisfying work, I have noticed signs everywhere that seem to be pointing me in this direction. A dear friend posted the photo above on Facebook. I’ll repost the text below just in case it’s not legible from the picture:
Some day you may be as old as I am. Take my advice, and don’t waste your short life. Invest your youthful vitality in your art. Share the best of your spirit with the world. Your body will die, but you cannot die. So, don’t worry about petty things like bodies, money and possessions. They pass with the body and are meaningless. Don’t worry what anyone thinks of you. Don’t seek approval, except from yourself. Your art and ideas are signs of your spirit. Your beauty endures forever, as do you.
I’ve been back at work from the Christmas holidays (remember them?) for a month and a half, but I’ve still had a difficult time adjusting. I don’t know what happened in between December and January, but I have found it difficult to do the work. During my first four months at my new job, I dove in with enthusiasm. But recently, it’s been a struggle to get through the workday. Don’t get me wrong, I still do my job the best I can, and work as hard as I can, but I often find myself thinking, how can I spend day after day nose deep in Excel spreadsheets? I alternate between liking the work and not. But unfortunately, the days of not liking it are adding up.
I always identify as a creative person in a non-creative line of work. My best friends are creative (my closest friend in San Francisco is a writer). I tend to fall for men in creative professions (artists in particular). I acted from elementary school through college, enjoying it as a pastime but never as a serious way to make a living. I always enjoyed writing as a child. When I think back on what has been a constant in my life, writing and reading are the biggest ones. I have always been a voracious reader, and when I was little, I fearlessly thought, “I can do that”. I wrote my own stories based on The Babysitters Club (this is before fan fiction was a thing). But the older you get, the more you talk yourself out of these things. You learn to apply your interest in language into a career that allows you to live independently as a woman in the city. My current field, digital advertising, has allowed me to live comfortably first in San Francisco and now Mexico City. I am respected and known in my field, and I appreciate that aspect of my career. It’s one of those things one is not supposed to say out loud, but recognition is an important aspect of one’s professional life. It’s why people like me who have some ambition choose to pursue demanding careers and eschew helping careers like teaching.
But I’m rethinking it all. I’m rethinking what’s important. How can I work at a job where I feel that my true talents and interests are not being used? What’s it for, to watch the clock for 40+ hours a week only to come home to a nice apartment on evenings and weekends? I want to do work from Monday through Friday that fulfills me. Is it possible to do that without taking a vow of poverty? How does this vague desire to find a more fulfilling profession translate into concrete action?
I think it’s entirely possible that I could reread this post in a year and roll my eyes, at how naive it all was. Or, another result is possible. I could reread this post in a year and realize that I was onto something. That it was right for me to listen to my instincts.
One of those other signs I saw recently? Another good friend posted this song by Sade that I had never heard before. It’s all about making a living while not being an office drone. We weren’t born to sit immobile all day manipulating data points and formatting cells. Sade knows that. The old lady above knows that. And deep down, I know it too.
I was saddened today when I read on The Dish that Andrew Sullivan will be retiring from the blogosphere to focus on his health and his family. Some have suggested that these are just more histrionics from a writer famous for his freakouts (Buzzfeed collected his reactions to Obama’s first debate performance. In Andrew’s mind Obama had all but lost the election there). I began reading The Dish on a very consistent basis about six years ago- I remember when because not long after I began reading the site, the Green Movement happened in Iran. I was recently unemployed and so had both the time and the inclination to follow The Dish’s liveblog of the protests in real time. It felt like this blog was doing great work, and I had to keep up. It soon became a daily habit.
Andrew Sullivan is, like me, someone with iconoclastic views, who supports gay marriage (he is the intellectual architect of it), marijuana decriminalization who vocally supports the Obama presidency and denounces the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I don’t always agree with him, and am sometimes infuriated with his opinions. I find that he is quite insensitive to women and women’s issues, and his insistence on a connection between race and IQ is abhorrent. Nevertheless, his blog was always an excellent source of not only smartly written opinions, but curation of the best links around the web. From poetry to economic analysis to theology to those gorgeous window views, the site is thoroughly original. Also, Andrew’s commitment to not accepting an ad dollar, and his condemnation of sponsored content are further reasons that his blog will be sorely missed in this media environment.
I, for one, will always remember the feeling I got when I saw that my email to him was the dissent of the day. And I hope Andrew reconsiders. I hope that his underbloggers take up his mantle and keep dishiness alive. And if not, I am thankful that Andrew has contributed so much to my own intellectual development. I hope he enjoys his semi-retirement.
It is a New Year, time to look ahead to a vast expanse of 12 months full of possibility. A natural optimist, I like the positivity that takes hold during this time of year, when people take stock of the past year and look to the New Year with hope. Last year I resolved to read 12 books in 12 months, and I came very close, completing book 11 on December 22nd. I’ve always tried to have a good book on hand for empty hours, and have always enjoyed reading both fiction and non-fiction.
So imagine my surprise when I saw that Mark Zuckerberg, so ably portrayed onscreen by Jesse Eisenberg, decided to start a book club. He has said that he would like to pick a new book every other week and discuss it through a forum on Facebook. I appreciate that he can encourage people to read something they would otherwise never read. But because it is not Oprah Winfrey, but rather the founder of the world’s biggest social network who is starting this initiative, I am a bit suspicious. Is this about encouraging reading, or mining user data (I suspect the latter is the motive for any move by Facebook)?
One reason I don’t consider myself to be a Millennial (although technically I’m on the older side of this generation) is that the way that I relate to the digital world is so different from the way people just a few years younger than I am do. I’m still wary. I don’t want to publish too much. Also, as someone who works in digital media, I am familiar with the glee with which digital advertising types discuss mining user data to sell users more and better stuff. The more highly targeted, the better. As a marketer, I think it makes perfect sense. As a consumer, I don’t like feeling so trailed. And so I think that, while it’s entirely possible that Mark Zuckerberg has the purest of intentions and wants to turn Facebook into an intellectual hub, I think it’s more likely that this is a further attempt to turn our reading habits (and our comments on said reading habits) into something that can be monetized.
So thank you, Zuck, but I’ll keep my book reading offline.
In order to put in motion my New Year’s resolution to simply write more, I thought a good way to accomplish this would be to do the 30 day blogging challenge put forth by The Single Woman. I’m normally not inclined to write posts that are too personal, but I crossed that line last year when writing about my experience moving abroad. So I hope I can do this in an honest way without being too self-indulgent.
Why am I still single? As someone who had her first kiss when I was 20 years old, I always knew my life was never going to go along with others’ schedules. If other people married at 26, or 28, or 30, I knew I was still going to be tip-toeing into the deep end. I’ve not had many relationships in my life, so perhaps I just haven’t kissed enough frogs. In any case, I’m not surprised that I am single in my 30’s. I always expected this. I also am someone who never settled into long relationships because, whether right or wrong, I often sensed when there was little to sustain a relationship after the initial two dates. So in the past I used to feel sorry for myself for being the two date wonder. But in retrospect, I think it’s because I just don’t force things. I won’t push forward into a relationship just out of fear of being alone. Either you hit it off with someone, or you don’t.
So that is the long version of why I’m still single at almost 34 years of age. The short answer, of course, is that I just haven’t met the right guy. Which is true. On my own schedule, and of my own accord, I will happily leave my single status behind. But not quite yet.