Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I Have Nothing To Say About 2015 But Thank You For Showing Me Who I Can Be

What A Time.

It's the first of the last 24 hours before I have to change the calendar on my wall. There's a hole in the left underarm of my sleep shirt and my sweatpants are borrowed from my sister, who's fast asleep across the home. Even though I have a cozy Brooklyn abode of my own, I'm in my home home with my nuclear family, in my big bed swaddled in linty, overly fuzzy blankets, thinking about how wild of a ride 2015 was. And I am smiling. A lot.

The last time I even checked into this blog was damn near eight months ago. Absurdity. I thank God that I was so busy living that I hardly had the time to reflect outside of Twitter and inconsistent pen-to-paper diary entries. Living as in doubting, believing, struggling, seeing, crying, flying, moving, doing, being, succeeding. I've experienced every emotion and every sensation there was to be had, which is an amazing feeling.

At the top of it all, I am grateful for life. To be aboveground. Breathing, unassisted. Unscarred and unscathed. America and the world at large has been some sh*t when it comes to the humanity, especially when it comes to cowardly law enforcement and trigger-happy translucents snatching the lives out of brown bodies left and right. I say a prayer for Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, the Charleston 9, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Samuel DuBose, Eric Garner and the many more who aren't as privileged as I am to witness the ushering in of a new year.

And then a say a prayer of thankfulness to God for taking me places I never expected to go. For reasons I can't exactly explain, I'm extremely hard on myself. I'm not sure if I've always been this way, but ever since college, I'm much more aware of how I behave (towards myself). I'm never satisfied with what I'm doing currently, because it can always be better. I see better all around me, and I can always spot where I'm falling short, even if others don't see it. I realize my missteps and I hate them. I'm hyper critical of my projects and impatient with my progress. I want control of my process so badly and I easily slip into a funk when things don't come out in the grand and "perfect" way I want them to, and I beat myself up inside. I don't celebrate anything because I never feel like where I am is worthy of celebration. I have so. much. more. to do to be "great." And I want to be "great" more than anything. Not even for anyone, just for me. I have some internal things to work out with confidence and all that jazz, so my work ethic is all I have and I'm very protective of it.

But during a staff retreat earlier this month, my boss Datwon—I'll come back to this—said something at the end of our pow wow that stuck to me: "Yes, we have improvements to make, but let's celebrate the successes we have had. We have to celebrate the little wins." I fussed and fussed so much inside that I didn't stop to smell the roses until people pointed out the size of my bouquet.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Scattered Thoughts And Things While Alone On The Coast Of Costa Rica



Hopefully the title explains this well enough. I just wrote as I went, so take it as it is.

Pure backpackers boarded my second plane. They all had overwhelming duffles and cumbersome knapsacks, thermoses hanging off of dusty Jansports and those heavy duty athletic sandals good for hiking and climbing over rocks. They were tan, not the beach kind of tan, red and leathery, but a healthy brown (for white) like they spent most of their time outside in parks and on nature trails. I would imagine that they smelled like earth. They had laid back buns and pony tails and white corn rows and boho skirts and billowing harem pants and guitars to strum around bonfires and those colorful hipster string necklaces you grab from a small country's local markets. All smiling and chattering down the length of the aircraft. "I like your hair," one said to me as she slowly passed my coarse twists.

--

These flights have been superb lately. Super smooth with very little jitters on my end. Is it just that these are better pilots? Windless days? Maturity? Or just that I've been so booked with travel that my psyche has no chance but to calm down and boss up. And the ambience of all this solo travel has been nice too. For a long time, I couldn't even fathom tackling an airport all by lonesome. No one's shoulder to bury my eyes into during takeoff and turbulence. No one to occupy my attention at the gates pre zone 4 boarding. Hell, no one to be accountable for or to be accountable for me at the destination. It's cool though. Alarmingly, I don't feel nervous right now. Mexico was a good prep and the strangers I've been interacting with make me feel at ease. The sweet Asian girl sitting next to me—I could pick up her positive energy from the get go—just randomly offered me a stick of Juicy Fruit. We haven't actually spoken the entire flight and I literally hate Juicy Fruit, but I accepted and now I'm chewing this insanely large wad of gum, waiting for the flavor to fade out. I can't help it, I'm a sucker for random acts of kindness. I didn't want to kill the moment.


I am seriously winging it at this point. I'm on hour two of a five-hour local bus ride to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, winding through lush green foliage on foggy mountain tops. My ears keep popping and my skin feels sticky. I'm so tired and hot that I can barely keep my eyes open to take it all in. It's suddenly raining down outside and my umbrella is in my suitcase. Oh, and my suitcase is somewhere lost in the San Jose airport by now. It never made it to the baggage claim area and I had to leave without it to catch this bus. There's only one every two or so hours.



I wake up a little bit later, and the greens around me are thick. I'm driving into the jungle basically. This is going to be an interesting two weeks of solitude. Outside doesn't even look like it even rained. We just stopped at a rest stop in Limon. Hopefully this empanadas will hold me over until I get settled in. Oh yea, and 'til I get my luggage. (Post empanada: it was quite delicious). Back on the hot, damp bus we all pile on, onward to Puerto Viejo.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Travel Diary: If You're Wondering How My Contiki Mexico Trip Went…



It's warmer than I expected up here. And calmer. The sun is strong on my arm through the slit of my window seat, magnified as it rises high over the Earth I'm not touching. Just two hours ago, I was freezing, my pores raised high on my even skin and my hairs standing straight. One degree outside, I believed, but I came outside dressed for 65 so that when 77 hit me in the face, it'd be a smoother transition. There's no one sitting in between me and Ms. Matilda. Okay, I'm more than positive that isn't this older woman's name, but her stature is sweet and her nature warm, like a Matilda. When I first climbed into 18A and she in seat C, she turned to me with a smile (and I returned a half one as I was greedily slurping meh-seasoned chicken soup from a plastic spoon), saying, "Now, is that as delicious as it looks and smells?" "Not really," I replied with a laugh, before she insisted it must be better than the hardboiled egg she had for breakfast. Such a Matilda. Anyway, we're sharing the middle tray tabs in our row to house our juice, tea and coffee. My belly is unexpectedly full. I forgot that some airlines still serve "complimentary" meals for long, international flights, so it feels like AeroMexico is spoiling me a little bit. As an added bonus to the birthday treats. You know, in addition to just up and buying a solo ticket to Mexico to hopefully make friends with a scattered origin tour group. Some people are coming on this trip from Korea, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the U.S., and the nerves aren't quite hitting me now, but I'm sure once I touch down, the mariposas will begin.

Ah well, I've got some hours. In the meanwhile, the white down blanket of clouds is soothing me, soft, straight and constant as if they go on to infinity. Forever and ever and…

Hold on just a damn minute. We're about an hour outside of landing when the concession stand rolls by with peanuts and beverages. "White wine?" Hell yes I will have a free glass of white wine (and a cup of water)! Matilda, pleasantly surprised herself, glances over at me with a smirk one might find in Sin City and holds out her hand to receive her glass of wine. "When in Mexico…," she begins before raising her glass over the seat to cheers with her engaged daughter in the row behind us. Yes, cheers to Mexico, I toast in my head before taking a sip. AeroMexico has won my heart. 



--

I've spend less that 24 hours with these strangers and I already know I need to do another Contiki before the year's over. Especially solo. After taking in the sights on my taxi ride to the Zona Rosa Hotel, I learned that I'm the only American out of 20-something travelers besides my LA roommate, Suzanne. What are the odds that she'd be in my room? And she's a Pisces at that. (Cancun is going to be a movie due to all the Pisces on the trip celebrating birthdays). Other than that, this luxury tour bus is full of Aussies and Kiwis. There are a couple from Tasmania, one from Korea and one Canadian, who has her professional camera out and about like me. I don't know more than 10 peoples' names so far, but it's easy to feel like friends here. They nearly convinced me to boss up and eat a grilled cricket, but as soon as it hit my tongue I freaked out and spit it out. I'm proud of myself for getting that far. Ish, our tour guide, held out a bag full of them in my face and I swear I nearly screamed. Good times. I'm starting to feel the local Mexican coffee hit me now. It was super strong but so good. Brewed with sugar and cinnamon? America, get on it. And the chocolate filled churro I had? Heaven. Anyway, we're driving to the pyramids of Teotihuacan right now, passing through the parched grass of what looks like the country side. Lots of torched earth and space on one side, rubbly short houses on the other.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

It Took 25 Days To Discover A #QuarterPieceOfMe

The moment I turned 24, I was already anxious and excited to turn 25. It just seemed like the IT age to be, and not just because 25 is such a perfectly rounded out number (that helps). By looking at my circle of friends and college alumni and other people I look up to, wonderful things seem to happen around that age. Not necessarily riches, fame and marriage, but smaller things that help build to whatever their definition of happiness entails. Progress. Confidence. Freedom. Movement. Thrill. Fluidity. Experimentation. Risk. Comfort. Discomfort. Spontaneity. Newness. All things that I can already feel happening in 2015, and luckily for me, my birthday is at the top of the year.

So, before I fully jumped into my new quarter century skin, I wanted to take a moments to discover my self more with another challenge: #QuarterPieceOfMe. It's similar to #30DaysOfSELF in that it is a creative self-portrait challenge that I forced myself to stick to daily. But it's different in that the photos were the anchor, yes, for the Instagram series, but not the most important element. For 25 days leading up to my 25th birthday, I shared a little bit of myself with the faces both foreign and familiar of the digital space. What a ride it's been. As much as outsiders have learned about me, I've learned a lot about myself. What I'm conscious of and what I'm not so conscious of. Pretty and ugly. Proud and pitiful. All of it.

I present to you my personal countdown, #QuarterPieceOfMe, with select favorite photos.



#QuarterPieceOfMe, 1 of #25to25: I thought everything would make sense by the time I was 25, but 25 days out from being alive for a quarter century, I see just how mistaken I was. In the prime of adolescence, I swore that by now I'd be some man's wife, some child's mother, somebody's well-established expert. What a detailed daydreamer I was back then! I didn't realize that 25 was in no way designed to be my ending or mid-point. The starting whistle blows now...


Day 2

#QuarterPieceOfMe, 2 of #25to25: My heart and ability to create are the biggest things I have to offer the world. I already acknowledged that, like Sway, I don't have the answers to anything. All I can do is share the colorful questions, thoughts, ideas and other little somethings swirling around my noggin with the world through my visual crafts, simply in hopes that they'll inspire or spark that solution within whoever may see it.

#QuarterPieceOfMe, 3 of #25to25: I'm easily inspired by others and I absolutely LOVE that about me. Well, most of the time. I'm like a sponge. Chances are that if you've ever spoken to me, passed by me, made eye contact with me, held me, smiled at me, hurt me, actively ignored me, encouraged me or attracted me, I've absorbed some part of it and it manifested itself into something I put out into the atmosphere. I keep it and hold onto the memory. No encounter is isolated or self-contained. I love that energy is transferable like that. It's a thrill because you truly put out what you take in. Keep inspiring me with your lives and see who and what I become because of it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Humanity In Action Is Thrilling

Humans are never a bore. An annoyance maybe when it comes to common sense, or a disappointment when it comes to morality, but there's nothing to get you thinking and feeling more than the human race. Sure, teacup-sized animals with pillow soft fur might make you awww a bit and the mysteries and deep open spaces of unexplored nature have you marveling, but the flesh and blood that we brush shoulders with daily, or the funny habits we squint our eyes at when we are privileged enough to catch a quick glance, never cause a dull moment. Especially in New York, where the time gaps in between memorable human encounters is almost as short as our patience being in close quarters with them. 

This week alone has been full of blog-worthy encounters and non-encounters with the city's quiet inhabitants, and it's been fascinating.

For instance, there was the scruffily dressed, dreadlocked man in line at the Bank of America on 7th Avenue, whose staff know him on a first name basis. As the queue inches forward slowly, he's gabbing on about his admittedly unexpected culinary profession, about the exceptional tequila-soaked chops with a lime finish that I wish he'd detail more for my personal learning benefit. I've learned he's a liquor-based chef preparing to spend some time in Portugal perfecting their cuisine with his cooking styles, and he really wants to stay within the Bank of America family, but up until now, he hasn't found a sister bank. "I specialize in couples dinners," he says to the chubby attendant in the slick gray suit, who, by now, is day dreaming about what he and the Mrs. would like to have for dinner. His wedding band subtly glistening as he idly swings his left hand, moving with every new detail about the apple juice brine he soaked his steak in. "Apple juice isn't acidic," Chef says before asking the stern-faced tellers hiding behind bullet proof glass to crack a smile for him. "So it won't absorb into the meats like lemon or lime will." My friend and I laugh as we exit the toasty lobby into the cold, warmed not only by the building's powerful vents but by this man's bright optimism on a frigid day.

Then there was the London man beside me who begged me for a "moment of good fortune" or something or other. Asking for help reading the subway directions on his iPhone. He had a cleft lip, a lisp and a charming enthusiasm to talk to the rigid, headphone-wearing New Yorker he just softened for a bit of convo. "You know, it's always great coming heaah because New Yorkers all want to get out, when all Londoners want to do is live heaah." The slant of his accent was comforting and homely, as if I too, was in Queen Elizabeth's land. "I'm on my way to pick up my baby's passport and documents," he volunteered after receiving a friendly but silent smile and nod. "My wife insisted on having our child here in America for citizenship." After a few more words of jolly banter, he left me to the Tink song playing softly into my right ear and allowed my to clog my left with the other earbud. He whipped out an iPad to play a game, but looked up and smiled a genuine goodbye when I got off at Queens Plaza a few stops later to head to work.

Another day, a homeless man I was forewarned about from a friend with a sensitive stomach boarded the conductor's car at Sutphin Blvd. His left foot was missing entirely and the right foot was exposed, cut and infected, a continuous victim of subzero wind chills and a lack of medical attention. He weakly wheeled onto the train, hoisting himself thought the doors with a grunt, head low. "I'm so sorry to bother you all," he started. "I'm disabled and I am homeless and I know that's no one's fault but my own." My heart broke, and I wanted so badly to tell him that it wasn't. Pacify the pity in exchange for a smile. "It's just a little too cold out today," he continued, "and all I would like is a hot meal." He clutched his dingy blanket closer to him. I don't believe he had a strong smell, but maybe subconsciously I was holding me breath, a slave to habit and unrealized privilege. As he slowly rolled through the car, as if expecting this to be another dry sweep, a young Desi girl said something softly to him, and he stopped and nodded his head gratefully. She dug into her bag and pulled out two socks, none matching but both warmer than the nonexistent ones he had on. From the other side of the car came an outstretched arm with a piece of pound cake sealed in cellophane. More hands reached out, silently, but with food, change and dollar bills. Mine was one of them. I couldn't see his face as he rolled away, but I could practically feel the slight fulfillment, the joy that for a few moments he was equally as human, receiving aid hand to hand instead of hand to cup. I smiled to myself as brightly but inwardly as I had as I witnessed a girl sit across from a stronger-scented homeless man without moving her seat the other day. It's the little things.

On a trip home from Long Island City, I marveled as a white—more-than-likely-millenial—man at Court Square assembled a wooden coat rack right there on the platform, screws and all, while waiting for the local train, just so he wouldn't have to carry the box home. Quickest hands I've seen operate in the cold without instructions, no less.