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They let it happen

8 Feb

Donald Trump is our President. It seems incredible, surreal, like a bad joke the cosmos are playing on us. Is the reality show guy, the guy from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, actually sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office occupied by Barack Obama just 18 days ago? Life in America right now is so maddening that I, someone who lives firmly outside of the right-wing bubble, have to ask, how on Earth did we get here?

I keep going back to Reince Priebus. Spineless little worm Reince Priebus. He was the nominal leader of the Republican Party. Reince Priebus never discouraged Donald Trump from running for the Republican nomination. Once he began winning elections, Reince Priebus didn’t pull Trump aside and ask him to drop out for the good of the party. He didn’t ask Trump to tone it down once his rallies became ugly and violent. Throughout the long primary and then general election campaigns, the man in charge of the Republicans let Trump highjack the party, foregoing the good of the country for political gain.

And Paul Ryan? He felt empowered enough to criticize candidate Trump, but now? He is lockstep behind his party’s President. Hard to recall that just four years ago he was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate. I suspect that neither Ryan nor Priebus is driven by right-wing talk radio-driven hate and xenophobia. Priebus’ RNC produced the infamous 2012 autopsy that recommended that Republicans expand outreach to minority communities if they were to thrive in an increasingly diverse America. Ryan’s GOP pays lip service to vague concepts like liberty and opportunity, but when these ideas are made concrete and put on the chopping block by President Trump (I still shudder to type those words), like badmouthing federal judges and not divesting from his businesses, the Republican Speaker stays silent. There is no room for principle when there is a seat at the table and one is thirsty for power.

The ascension of erstwhile Ted Cruz supporter Kellyanne Conway, former RNC hack Sean Spicer, and the aforementioned Ryan and Priebus all show how tempting it is to succumb to access to power. I also suspect that there is an element of fear at play here- these people feared that if they couldn’t beat him, they’d have to join him. And so they joined him. So how did we get here, with a cruel ignoramus as President, with his slender fingers just one push away from the nuclear button? It happened because, one by one, people with scruples fell all over themselves to accommodate him and aid his ascension. They let it happen. Don’t ever forget it.

Fear and Loathing in 2016

16 Oct
Trump

Trump

In 2008 Barack Obama emerged to be elected President of the United States. Now, in 2016, a truly vile man seeks to succeed him as leader of this nation.

The hope and optimism of 2008 seem more and more like a distant dream. Optimism? Sarah Palin (remember her?) spoke derisively of ‘hopey-changey’ stuff. She was the asterisk to the hope of the Obama campaign, the one sour note of that joyful year in politics. But the rancor of the 2016 presidential campaign shows that she was not a bug of the Republican party. She was a feature.

I was an American who was inspired by candidate Obama’s call for unity, his rhetoric of not a red America, or a blue America, but a United States of America. Bill Maher once said he was tired of politicians hailing the heartland, wondering why people from the rural center of the country were considered more American than those of us from cities and suburbs from other parts of the country. Obama’s campaign gathered those of us who didn’t come from the amber waves of grain and reminded us that we too are America. His effort at inclusion wasn’t just geographic, uniting all regions of the country (minus the Southeast), but also racial, making those of us who are not of WASP-descent feel like an equally vital part of this nation. If the biracial candidate with African and white roots, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, and had a last name as uncommon as mine, could unite the country and reach the highest office in the land, anything truly seemed possible. We had always learned that anyone could grow up to become President of the United States. He represented the best in us, and he gave me, and many others, immense hope.

So it is important to remember the good feeling that prevailed eight years ago in order to appreciate how horrid things are now. All of the optimism is gone. I, a descendant  of immigrants, have been made to feel in the current political climate that I am less than some of my fellow citizens. Rather than inspire the better angels of our nature, the presidential candidate of the opposition party fuels hate. The election is rigged, he warns, not because sinister forces conspire to steal the election, but because some citizens, his followers believe, are less legitimate than others. They- Arabs, Mexicans, women, Asians, African-Americans- aren’t “real” Americans like we are, so their votes don’t count as much as ours do, their thinking goes. We have to watch the polls to make sure they don’t do anything fishy, they protest. It is terrifying for all citizens of good conscience to watch half of our country descend into the fever swamps of hate. 2008 was a season of unity and hope. 2016 is a season of division and anxiety. It has clarified for me, like no history lesson ever did, an understanding of 1930’s Italy and Germany. I just hope that the hate sown by Donald Trump doesn’t give way to violence. I hope.

The Girl in Purple

9 Nov
HONY

HONY

I saw a photo on Humans of New York this afternoon that touched me as no other photo from that series has. It appears to the left. A girl with both sadness and hope in her eyes expresses disenchantment with the loneliness of city life. She spends time alone doing what she wants, but her solitude seems less like a choice and more like a burden to live with. The last two sentences of her quote are: Everybody tells me: ‘You should do this,’ or ‘You should do that.’ But nobody says ‘Let’s do this,’ or ‘Let’s do that.'” And I think her words resonated with me because, although I love city life, I also recognize that the anonymity that comes with it comes with a price.

When I lived in San Francisco, I made friends, but I often felt like the girl in purple. People talk to you about cool things that are going on, and you wonder, “Why don’t you invite me?” In the comments, people advise the girl in purple to go out and propose activities to people instead of waiting for them to reach out to her. But I’m sure she has, and she doesn’t want to all the time. It can be exhausting to always be the one to make the effort.

Here in Mexico, I’ve adopted the same posture as before, as the girl in the photo. I go out and take long walks in the city, I eat at restaurants alone. It’s either that or stay home. And I want to soak up this great city, even though I don’t know a ton of people yet. I’ve only been here about 10 weeks. And when I have my weekly Facetime conversations with my best friend back home, I’m reminded that it takes time to make friends. It won’t happen overnight- I met this good friend back home after living in San Francisco for three years, and we’ve been friends for the last two. So I know I won’t have activity partners overnight. It takes time.

In general, the Humans of New York Facebook page is a joy; it’s the pleasure of travel in small vignettes. For the reason we travel is to get a glimpse of distant lives and realities. We see what is foreign to our experience and what is universal. I often wonder if the subjects of the HONY photos look themselves up to read the comments that people post. People send well wishes to those going through crises, they express their admiration for touching or inspiring stories. I hope that the girl in purple has seen the comments on her photo. She’ll see how universal her solitude is.

Tilting at Windmills by the Sea

21 Aug
Windmill

Windmill

As I spend one of my last nights in the city I love, San Francisco, I can’t help but think of how this city has been such an integral part of my life for the last five years. In almost every neighborhood I walk through (thanks to Muni I visit all the neighborhoods), I see places with some special significance to me wherever I go. From the HiDive Bar on the Embarcadero, where I saw Hunter Pence whiz by on his scooter as I enjoyed beer on the patio, to Java Beach Cafe by Ocean Beach, where I would sit and sip coffee with my last boyfriend, who lived just blocks away. The city imprints itself on you, and you imprint yourself on it.

I think about how much the city will change while I’m away. Today while walking down Valencia, I passed a new condo development in the works. I have long been a proponent of adding more housing to San Francisco, but I fear that only adding housing for millionaires will only lead to increased inequality in the city. I fear that my friends who are successful professionals and would be able to afford a home in any other part of the country will either have to keep renting or move far from the city they love. My love for San Francisco remains, but I fear that it will only become a playground for the ultra rich, a simulacrum of a once thriving creative city. I hate to admit it, but part of me hopes that the bubble bursts, and soon (but enough on my thoughts on the sustainability of the sharing economy!).

Condos

Condos

The prevailing stereotype of San Francisco is that it has always provided a home to the searchers, the poets and dreamers who have reached the tip of Manifest Destiny and remake themselves here at the edge of the continent. From the Gold Rush to the Beatniks to the Hippies, this was mostly true. Is the city still a haven for dreamers, or is it becoming out of reach for all but those arriving with a Stanford degree in hand? I think San Francisco is lucky to have the enviable problem of having so much wealth; Detroit we are not. But there are undeniable changes afoot in the city, and my friends and I sense it. You feel lucky to not be unjustifiably evicted from your rent-controlled apartment. You breathe a sigh of relief when the car alarm outside your window turns out not to be yours (that one is the experience of a car-owning friend near USF). You feel increasingly lucky just to still be here, eking out a living.

And yet one should feel lucky, and feel enormously proud to live in a place that is still a city of unrivaled natural beauty, home to people who are by and large a kind and helpful bunch. It is not for nothing that San Francisco united last year to realize the dream of young cancer survivor “Batkid“. I found the response to be typical of San Francisco and its residents, coming together to help one of their own. I have witnessed countless small kindnesses here in the city. It is not Coit Tower, or Sutro Tower, or the Bay Bridge that make the city unique and worth living in. it is the people who come here from all over and make San Francisco their own. It is them that I’ll miss the most.

Prolonged Adolescence in Silicon Valley

9 May
Stats on Mexican Facebook users

Stats on Mexican Facebook users

Yesterday, through sheer luck and twist of fate, I ended up having lunch at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, followed by a quick tour of the ‘campus’. Strolling through the central plaza of the campus, where young people in cutoff shorts were eating ice cream cones, riding bikes, and eating at cafeterias stocked with a salad bar, pizza, and sandwiches, I was transported to my freshman year at UC Santa Cruz, which looked and felt eerily similar (even the music playing in the cafeteria, such as Incubus and Third Eye Blind, was right out of my freshman year). As a mere thirty three year old, I normally don’t feel old. I stride comfortably between the carefree abandon of the 20’s and the sweet responsibility of family and career that many experience in their thirties. And yet I was torn while walking the Facebook campus yesterday, between yearning to work in such a carefree place and being a bit put off by a such a place. A publicly traded company that does everything in its power to keep its twenty something employees in a state of prolonged adolescence?

I couldn’t help thinking of the broader connection to bro culture and the infamous Peter Pan syndrome of many San Francisco men. They are able to live a life of little responsibility, having fun all the time and never committing to a community, a home, a woman, a career. And again, I’m torn. I don’t deny that it’s an appealing lifestyle. But it’s essentially a prolonged adolescence, a state of arrested development. It ultimately bothers me because at some point in life, we must grow up. College is awesome, from ages 18 to 22, but do I really want to relive that lifestyle as a woman in her thirties? No. I am free from the responsibilities of family, as I am unmarried with no children, but I do feel a sense of responsibility to myself and my community. I realize there is more to life than having fun (though having fun and enjoying oneself is important). Serving others, being a good daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, using one’s talents for good. I think these things are the hallmark of maturity. And because I’ve wanted to be a grownup since I was about 5 years old, I look on at the extreme youth culture of Silicon Valley with some bemusement. I mostly think, grow up kids.

Having said all that, Facebook, if you ever want to hire me, give me a call!

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

7 May
Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

I recently found a link online to UC Berkeley’s online quiz, part of their Greater Good project. It is a test of how one reads other people, as a way to gauge one’s emotional intelligence. And I have been thinking a lot about emotional intelligence lately, as I ponder which skills and abilities I have that would lend themselves to the right career.

I had a moment at my job a couple of weeks ago where I was asked to help construct chairs. It involved using tools and being handy, and it was not exactly up my alley. While I was attempting to be of some assistance, I noticed that our new secretary was sitting at her desk with tears rolling down her face. I promptly invited her to go out to get coffee, and she agreed, and as we left the office she told me what was bothering her. In that moment I thought to myself,this really reveals my stengths and weaknesses. The prospect of working with my hands, being handy, makes me nervous, simply because it has never been my forte. Yet I believe that emotional intelligence- recognizing the emotions of others and responding appropriately- is a strength, one that frankly I think is more important in life than many others.

Note in the post below that I try to figure out what happened to the company morale at my former employer, and there was a realization that my own emotional intelligence would not be rewarded.  You look around and see the qualities being rewarded, and they are not qualities that you have, or would want to have. In professional and personal settings, emotional intelligence is of the utmost importance; luckily there is a growing body of research supporting this. I admit that I could improve, especially since I only scored 15 out of 20 on the quiz. Sometimes it is difficult to know not what others are feeling, but how to respond to them. Someone starts to cry- do you hug? Let them cry it out? Different people respond different ways. I try to recognize what others want in the moment. Sometimes you can just tell when someone wants to be alone.

This last weekend I was with a friend and her three year old daughter at a children’s birthday party, and it gave me great satisfaction that I was able to calm her down when she geot fussy and turn her cries into giggles. These little victories reinforce how satisfying and necessary it is to comfort others. Let’s all endeavor to improve our emotional intelligence and respond better to others so that they may respond better to us.

23 year old me, meet 33 year old me

26 Mar

My new Facebook friend Gabi Moskowitz just had a birthday, and commemorated the occasion with a new blog post entitled “a letter to my 22 year old self”. Such a simple, beautiful idea, and since my birthday is coming up…in a matter of minutes, I thought I would reflect on how far I have come in the last ten years.

One reason I still unabashedly like birthdays and look forward to them with glee is that they are good moments to mark how far we may or may not have come in life. Over the last few days, I have been waging an all-out battle against a coming cold. Having a cold is always awful, but god forbid you have one on your day of days, your birthday. The feeling of dread at getting sick at this time of year makes me recall a birthday when I was younger, perhaps my 10th birthday. The birthday is a marker of time. This year I was sick, that year I was homesick. You think about friends who were present some years, absent in other years. Two years ago when I turned 31 I celebrated with a new friend who I was convinced was going to be my partner in crime. Two single ladies in the city! And yet not long after that birthday, she began dating a guy who she is with to this day. We haven’t remained close. So the people I celebrate the day with also mark the time. Friendships lost and gained. The temporal nature of friendship as seen through one day over the years.

So what was I doing ten years ago when I turned 23? I was living in France, and trying to survive my way through the worst year of my life. At the time I just wanted to blink my eyes and transport myself, Spock-like, to mid-April, when I would return home and leave my life of alienation in the French countryside (that year, Lost in Translation came out. It deeply resonated with the cultural isolation I was living through). But as I look back on that year and mostly cringe- the weight gain, the pimply skin, the crippling social anxiety, the even more crippling homesickness- I see the silver linings in that awful year abroad after college. I learned what anxiety, depression, fear, and shame feel like. They’re pretty awful. But empathy is only learned by living one’s own life. You can read about grief all you want, but can’t know another’s grief until you have felt it yourself.  After my year of profound loneliness and self-doubt in the village, I came out the other side, another person. With a newfound empathy for those who suffer (not long after returning home I struck up a close friendship with a friend serving in Iraq, who also was feeling isolated and alone. Our situations were different, but nevertheless I related), I emerged from the other side of my 23rd birthday with the first hints of the strength adn independence that guide me through my 33rd year.

On that sunny Saturday in Paris ten years ago that I celebrated my birthday, I did so alongside my friend from Barcelona. Ten years later, we remain the closest of friends, and I am still grateful for the gift of her friendship. At the time I couldn’t believe that someone could be friends with someone like me who was obviously going through a tough time. And yet our resulting friendship is proof that the best people in your life will be those who get to know you and stay by your side when you are not necessarily at your best. So on my 23rd birthday, as I strolled the streets of Paris with Ana and other foreign friends, counting the days til I got home, I had no idea that in ten years I would be infinitely stronger, more resilient, as a result of that long ago year. And, as always, a work in progress.