Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Yesterday I had the privilege of witnessing history. I was cold and achy and walked forever and it was chaotic and the sound echoed. But I was there and it was amazing. I was lucky enough to have a ticket to the Inauguration of our newest President, Barak Obama.

I, along with some two million of my fellow Americans stood on the National Mall and watched Obama take the oath of office and address the country. His speech was eloquent as we have come to expect, but that is not what made the moment so special. It was the grand significance of this moment in American history, and the energy and optimism radiating from an enthusiastic crowd of people who trekked to Washington to be present in that moment, that made it unforgettable. I am awed by the thought that my children will never know what it is to grow up believing that only white Christian men can be president. Okay, in my heart of hearts I believe that Christian is still politically required in this country (though I would love to be proven wrong). And I don’t think that this election ended the significance of racial or gender inequality—but it represented progress that we didn't imagine was possible in our generation.

My parents worked to change the possibilities that American offers. My father was in high school when he volunteered on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign in 1968, and later really cut his teeth politically on the McGovern campaign. My mother worked to get women into elected office. They tried to change reality. But by the time I was growing up, they were not expecting to see this happen, not yet. It seemed like the changes they worked for were still a long ways off.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, one of the characters, Hallie Noline writes, “[T]he very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” I am not an optimistic person. But yesterday I felt a part of a moment of collective optimism.

All weekend the millions of people who made their pilgrimage to Washington exuded a spirit of exuberance. They were just not celebrating Obama’s inauguration, or even the inauguration of our first black president, but something more – the fact that this seminal event changes the possibilities that the future holds. I grew up in a diverse metropolitan community, and very few of us ever believed that anyone like us could grow up to be President. We were brilliant and we were going places, the presidency just wasn’t one of them. And so I am thrilled that this highly symbolic change – the realization of the impossible dream – has taken place. I believe that more deeply rooted changes have taken place allowing this moment to arise. And I am cautiously optimistic that further deep changes are coming – not just during Obama’s presidency but further into the future. Because it is not one man changing history. It is Americans changing their own destiny by collectively changing the realm of the possible.

Someday I will teach my children about these things, and tell them that I stood there in the cold at that moment. Sí se puede.

An Ode to Socks

Yay! A while ago some friends were talking about “smartwool” socks, but I tossed it aside as hype. However, my feet are always cold (okay, most of me is always cold). So I'd been worrying about spending a bunch of time outside in DC this week. And besides, I needed to try something different. Thus when Toyb suggested I try smartwool, I decided to give it a whirl. I obtained a few pairs (with some lovely designs). I have been wearing them the last few days (including a double-layer today), and wow am I impressed! (Though I’m not convinced the miracle is really the brand so much as wool vs. cotton in general, but still…). Hooray for cozy feet. Clearly a shopping trip is in order!

In honor of this new revelation, I bring you an excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Oda a los calectines” (“Ode to Socks”), which concludes:
Y es esta la moral de mi Oda:
Dos veces es belleza la belleza,
y lo que es bueno es doblemente bueno,
cuando se trata de dos calcetines
de lana en el invierno.

And this is the moral of my Ode:
Beauty is two-times beauty,
And that which is good is doubly good,
When you are talking about a pair of wool socks
In wintertime.

(Translation is my own).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Answering to a higher authority

The application of standards whether for to people, organizations, or even nations is not easy and not always fair. We are all biased. And sometimes that bias is revealed through preferences or prejudices – treating favorites less harshly than others. But sometimes that bias is manifested in holding certain people to a higher standard.

During my sophomore year in college when I was taking a notoriously difficult Spanish literature class I encountered this type of standard. More than once I was surprised by receiving a lower-grade than I thought I had earned on a paper for the class. I discussed this with La Profesora. I told her that while I was fine with a B if I earned it, I wanted to know why I had been given that grade when all of her comments on my paper were complimentary. She responded by telling me that in fact I had written the best paper in the class, but other the students had received higher grades because while my paper was clearly very good, I was capable of better.

Likewise, when I was growing up my mother regularly told me “I don’t care what other people’s children do, I care what you do”, whenever I would try to bring in someone else as an example of why she was being too judgmental.

I must confess that despite recalling my great frustration with both my mother and La Profesora, I empathize with their position. I hold myself to a higher standard than I believe is fair to apply to other people. Likewise, I hold those I respect to a higher standard than people with whom I have no connection. The same can go for organizations or even nations. I think that this is legitimate, but I also try to temper the tendency with some leniency. I try to remember to distinguish between hopes and expectations – to hold a combination of idealism about potential and realism about what to expect. I think I succeed, at least to a point. After all, while I have been accused of being an idealist, I’ve never been accused of being an optimist.

An Ode to Travel by Train

I am writing this as I sit on the train from Boston to DC. If you can afford it (in terms of time and money), I believe the train is the best way to travel between East Coast cities. It’s comfortable and stress-free. You don’t have to get to the station super early as when flying and when you arrive you’re already in the city. You don’t have to know where you’re going and pay attention to the road as when driving. And it’s less cramped and more reliable than the bus. (Not to mention more reliable than a plane in winter!). My computer is plugged in and my phone is charging. When I’m done writing, I’m going to take a little walk and stretch my legs. I only wish there was wireless, but I’m sure that will come some day. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying looking out the window. I think the view is probably considerably nicer during the winter – everything looks magical covered in snow – at least when you’re looking at it from a warm and cozy vantage point.

As for the Left Coast: I’ve taken the train from Los Angeles to Portland, OR. It was a fantastic experience (and much more scenic than back East), but is worth doing only if you will enjoy the experience for it’s own sake. If your purpose is simply to reach your destination, a plane is worth it at that distance.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

When inspiration fails to strike, try a meme

So I haven’t really felt like writing in a long while, and the truth is I’m still not feeling the love. I guess I’ve been wrapped up in living my life and processing events of the past semester. However, Katrina (of Conservadox and Single) tagged me with a meme (two-in-one actually). This is not the sort of thing I have ever done, or imagined myself doing, but I’m flattered, and besides, I’m in need of inspiration and this was handed to me! So, here goes.

Part 1. Pick up the nearest book (physically) to you, turn to page 56, and write down the 2nd to 5th sentences.

The book is The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (a novel which I have not yet read – it’s next on my reading list).
It was suffused with Indian femininity in there, abundant amounts of sweet newly washed hair, gold strung Kolhapuri slippers lying about. Heavyweight accounting books sat on the table along with a chunky Ganesh brought all the way from home despite its weight, for interior decoration plus luck in money and exams.

“Well,” one of them continued with the conversation Biju had interrupted, discussing a fourth Indian girl not present, “why doesn’t she just go for an Indian boy then, who’ll understand all that temper tantrum stuff?”

“She won’t look at an Indian boy, she doesn’t want a nice Indian boy who’s grown up chatting with his aunties in the kitchen.”

Part 2. (Unrelated to Part 1). State 7 facts about yourself. Katrina says the facts should/can be a combination of weird and not-so-weird ones.

1) I find talking out loud a very useful way of organizing my thoughts. I like hearing myself think. While having an interlocutor is preferable, if none is available, talking to inanimate objects is frequently an adequate substitute.

2) On occasion I have caught myself talking out loud to myself in Spanish.

3) I feel much calmer and happier when my stuff is neat and organized. I feel like there’s a connection between the organization of my things and my life. So if my space is chaotic I feel like my life is chaotic. When I organize my space and my things, I find myself feeling more in control of my life, I have ordered the chaos in my universe in a way that extends beyond the pieces of paper and books filed neatly into their correct locations.

4) I thrive on making detailed plans of how to approach upcoming tasks. My favorite way of organizing is making lists on post-it notes. I can plan out my work days, weeks, even months in advance that way. And the really special thing is – it works! I actually follow the plan.

5) I frequently forget to eat. I get absorbed in my work and I don’t get hungry. Really, I must have a defective hunger mechanism.

6) I love buying greeting cards / note cards. I can spend forever searching for the perfect one. And I frequently buy them even when there is no occasion imminent. In those cases I save them because I have found the perfect card for some particular person on some occasion that may eventually arise.

7) Back before grad school, in the land before time, I actually had real hobbies (in addition to varieties of politics), like dance and art.

(Note: I am not actually tagging anyone particular. But if you read this blog, then I probably read yours and would love to read your answer. So consider yourself tagged if you would enjoy this exercise. You can even link to your answer in a comment!).