what surprised me most is how not different we are. i pictured far away places where everything was crazy and odd and strange. but when i got there it wasn’t that crazy or odd or strange. people were still laughing and going to school and wanting to be around more people. buses still roared and kids still threw tantrums and two old ladies still sat in the cafes gossiping. businessmen still strutted in navy suits and babies still waved behind embarrassed moms and middle school boys still made a scene on the metro. everyone was still running towards a thing or studying for a test or looking really hard for something somewhere. there are different food and buildings and sounds and pants and all kind of things i thought there would be but underneath there are still busy, scared, searching humans that might not understand what i mean when i say excuse me but know exactly what i’m saying when i point at gelato.
The Czechs know problems. Regime takeover after regime takeover, they have suffered. It’s a country in the middle of countries, caught in the power plays of history, often collateral damage in the combustion. A country traded to the Nazis by world powers for just a little more time. A country freed from a totalitarian regime only to be taken captive by another. Freedom, fracture, freedom. There are bullet holes in building walls and places where bombs landed that were never built upon again. Rows and rows of Soviet building blocks painted light pink, baby blue, seafood green in rebellion against their utilitarian silhouettes. Bronze faces are memorialized on street corners, matyrs of a nation that has always been itself a martyr. Golden plaques are hidden between the cobblestones marking the homes of the murdered Jews of Prague.
Ledice was an entire town destroyed, wiped off the map by men with big guns and hate. A death mask on my school memorializes a student who set himself on fire in protest of the regime. A plaque marks the square where young girl was shot in the grass by Soviet police because she was carrying a poster that they thought it was a gun. 27 crosses mark the cobbles in Old Town Square where 27 Czech noblemen lost their heads. Fifty feet away stands a 20 foot statue of a brave man, burned at stake for speaking his mind. Hidden in a crypt under a church lies a memorial where 7 Czech heroes took their own lives rather than be taken by Nazis.
Sad story, sad story, sad story.
In the blueprint, this place is covered in death.
But they eat cake. Mid-morning, afternoon, late evening. Somewhere someone eats cake. In colors, flavors, shapes like you’ve never seen. 50 crowns. Cafe Louvre Cheesecake with an apricot inside. 45 crowns. Sacher cake covered in chocolate. 120 crowns. A bright yellow cubist cake shaped like a square. 60 crowns. Tiramisu. 40 crowns.
That’s what all of this death, this suffering, this fighting teaches you. Eat your cake. While you can, as often as you can, all that you can. The blueprint of Prague says death, the people say life. I have never seen so much of it. So many people living on purpose. A slap in the face to all this dying. They will not be the victims. Eating cake at 10:30 am in spite of it all.
That’s what I’m taking with me back home. An optimism that defies gravity. The courage to live fully, impeccably, relentlessly. To enjoy more, so much more, it’s a precious thing; this life; all this time to eat cake.
We were sitting in a cafe in Copenhagen, eating traditional Danish pastries that we couldn’t pronounce. There was some loud talking in the background, something unusual for the quiet, happy peace of Denmark. At the counter there was a man arguing loudly with one of the employees. I rolled my eyes. People who create messes for service industry workers are my biggest pet peeve so I turned back to my pastry. Eventually the yelling got louder and my ears pricked up again. We couldn’t hear much, just snippets of anger and arguing but eventually pieced together that the cafe manager did not want him to stand at the counter, rather sit down and wait.
“I’m asking you to leave sir.”
“But why, what did I do wrong?”
“I’m asking you to leave.”
“I need you to leave.”
“But why? What did I do?”
Another boy at the counter tried to reason with him but still couldn’t tell the man why he was being asked to leave.
The man slams his fist on the counter. He’s bleeding.
Copenhagen is white. Almost all of Europe is white. The kind of whiteness you notice because you haven’t seen this kind of homogeneous pool since you lived in a small town in rural Ohio. The angry man was the first person of color I’d seen in days.
“Not all white people are racist! But you are being racist!”
People pick up their croissants and move away. No one says anything.
We sat waiting. Waiting for someone to pull out their smartphone to record what was happening. Waiting for police to come and calm everyone down. Waiting for the manager to explain what he’d done wrong. Waiting for someone to speak up.
We’d almost finished our pastries.
The man demanded to pay for his coffee, he would not take it for free he insisted. Finally, the manager complied and the customer stormed out the door. Police cars arrive and they run into the metro to find him. We wait still. Hoping there would be no handcuffs. Feeling guilty, uncomfortable, awestruck, angry, we should have said something, we should go home, why didn’t we say anything? One of the girls I’m traveling with is crying.
I’ve lived my whole life in a country with racial tensions, escalating in the past year or so. I’d always pictured Scandinavia as a utopia of socialism, equality and progressive values. But here in the 3rd happiest country in the world, I witnessed the most outwardly racist interaction I’d ever seen in my life.
It happens everywhere. Nowhere is safe from intolerance and injustice. I needed to see that.
Every society could improve. Every society has good things happening. It’s important to be aware of all this good and all this bad. We cheat ourselves when we act like everything is good. We cheat ourselves when we act like nothing is.
We can’t become apathetic but we can’t become so paralyzed by negativity that we stop pushing to improve.
And a lack of discussion of problems does not mean there are no problems and talking about our problems openly does not mean that’s all we have.
This incident was a wake up call to me on both fronts. It is easy to point fingers at the US and all of our protests, conflicts and debates on the news and call it bad. That’s what happens when you’re standing on stage. And it’s easy to live in the US and get caught up in all the “fixing” that we stop trying to fix things anymore because it’s just too overwhelming. I dreamed of a place like Denmark, the promised land of tolerance. And while it was overwhelmingly kind and beautiful and wonderful, there are still dark corners. Just like anywhere.
We saw the man later outside talking to the police officers. Everything seemed okay. They were not arguing, the officers seemed to be taking his side. I looked at the smiling Danes all around me, working on a better future, counting on a better future. And I breathed out and knew that’s exactly what it could be.
So lately, I’ve gotten a few questions from other people interested in starting their own little thing on the internet. I’m not an expert in anything, ever but these are a few of the things I’ve learned in my three years of writing down stuff and putting it online for fun:
So figuring out the why is crucial when beginning any new endeavor. A valid why allows you to create authentic and meaningful content. For me, I do this whole thing for myself more than anything else. It’s fun to me, it’s a hobby I truly enjoy and it’s what I do when I don’t want to do anything else. It’s also a place for me to keep track of my life so I can look back and remember what the heck was happening when I was twenty. It’s a grasp at permanence in a very impermanent world and a chance to put all the things I think down on a white background. There’s at least 7 billion different reasons to do this. Figure out your own because defining the why sets a template for your vision.
I use WordPress as the content management system for my blog. There are lots of different options available like SquareSpace, Winx, etc. but I’ve found WordPress to be intuitive, inexpensive, flexible and simplistic enough to get what I want done without a lot of coding knowledge. WordPress allows you to customize your domain and site design for minimal fees and it’s also easy to learn for beginners. There are plenty of tutorials on Youtube about WordPress to teach you about things like tagging, best practices for online sharing and site design tips. I’ve basically learned how to be alive from Youtube tutorials so I 10/10 recommend.
We live in a day and age where internet safety and responsibility has been pounded into our heads since middle school. The same rules that apply for social media obviously apply here too. Create content that you would want your grandma or future employer to see. Because they probably will. Your digital brand can make or break you and this is an opportunity to create your own narrative. Sharing online is a fine balance between authenticity and personal privacy and it’s also different for everyone. Share responsibly kids.
Consistency is important. I know a lot of people who start these things and then get bored and don’t post for months or years. Like anything, you get better the more you practice. Posting schedules work well for some people, not so well for others. There’s a feature on WordPress (and most other platforms) that allows you to pre-schedule a post for a set time and date. This is useful during crazy times like finals or holidays but also not completely necessary. How often you post is up to you but I recommend maintaining a certain level of consistency for yourself, as well as everyone else.
Write what you write. This is the most wonderful part of being alive in the 21st century aside from probably modern medicine, increased personal hygiene and Netflix. There has never been less of a barrier to entry in the world of publishing. This is a platform to speak truths or jokes or make stuff up. Share your lens and translate it to pixels on a webpage. People might love it or hate it or think you’re wasting a lot of time. Welcome to being alive. Create your own stuff, take inspiration from others and do your own thing.
This is a very brief overview on a very beautiful and intricate thing. My best advice is to just go for it, even if you have no idea what you’re doing. Especially, if you have no idea what you’re doing. Get brave. It’s definitely an intimidating thing, sharing your thoughts publicly for critique, putting words in different orders to be read by who knows who. But it changes you. There are marketable skills to gain, fascinating people to meet and a whole world of 1s and 0s for the taking.
At the beginning of this school year, I was tired. I was interning at a nonprofit trying to better the world in some small way but was seeing little to no results. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to save the planet via a temporary internship at a local nonprofit organization but I was surrounded by people there who truly wanted nothing more than to do that; tirelessly, constantly, incessantly. And all the while, the world felt like it was falling apart. A summer of immigration bans and failed climate agreements and terrorist attacks and mass shootings and political turmoil piled up around me.
The problem with wanting to fix things is that sometimes you kinda can’t. It’s out of scope, unrealistic, untimely or too late. And that feels like failure and that turns into exhaustion. So by the end of the summer I had given up, I was just tired of caring so much about everything.
The thing about passion is that it’s fire; a burning that gives you energy and makes your eyes light up and your Leslie Knope come out. But the thing about passion is that it’s fire; it can burn out if you don’t give it any fuel.
I was burnt out. Passion had given way to apathy.
I was trying to figure out how to shift my career plan before it was too late, to something easier, something I wouldn’t have to care so much about, something that wouldn’t take so much soul or burn so much of my fire.
You’ve probably heard the old adage like,
“An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to the boy.
‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment and ego.’
He continued, ‘The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf will win?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.”
Cut to a night when I was begrudgingly watching the Disney movie Tomorrowland with my family at home; half paying attention, half online shopping. This little parable was enough to pull my consciousness from the FreePeople website. I had heard the analogy many times, from many sources, all citing various old men who said this– probably none of them very accurate. But I’d never thought about it in a societal context before.
The whole movie is about saving the world from the futuristic apocalypse– of course. It was about finding the “dreamers”, the people who hadn’t given up on fixing the world yet. And by finding these dreamers who still believed they could do it, they inevitably saved the world in classic Disney fashion. They started feeding the right wolf.
This kind of hope is hard to maintain. There are some days that I wholeheartedly believe that I am somehow contributing in a small way to fix a small problem and that piece by piece, the world will be made better. But there are also days that I feed the other wolf. The wolf that has given up, complains about society on social media, points fingers, finds the bad in everything and tries to stay out of the whole mess, while doing nothing to fix it– therefore contributing to the monster. It is my scariest demon, this apathy. Wars aren’t won by passion, they are lost by indifference.
But over the course of this semester I have given myself a chance at more fuel– fuel so passion can burn. Take it in, soak it up, turn the sunlight into life. Fuel is the small successes. The things that work. It won’t be everything. They might not even be truly significant in the grand scheme of things. Little victories and sparks and proof that what we’re doing, it really does work. Slowly, surely, sometimes backwards, but there are golden days when it works.
This is what scares me most: that we might grow into our indifference like grey hair and wrinkled skin. That we will give up before we get anywhere. I almost did and some days I still almost do. That’s the real danger. Not icebergs melting and mutual assured destruction (okay, actually those are really, really scary and I’m terrified but I’m just trying to make a point). The real danger is that we leave the fixing to someone else. That we accept the bad things about this planet and look at our phones instead. That we bury our heads in memes and macchiatos and reality TV. That we become too damn exhausted to try anymore.
Keep drinking coffee.
i am ready for 2018 / not because 2017 was bad / but because 2018 sounds brave / a bracelet on my wrist says fearless / not because i am / but because i want to be /
This year I read the book The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte. I was gifted this book by a mentor/boss/friend and it came into my life at the perfect time. I was spinning out, existential crisis mode threat level midnight as a junior in college panicking about the next decade of my life as one typically does on a Monday mid-morning. The basic premise of the book (because you should read it yourself here’s the amazon link go ahead kid) is that we are taught our entire lives to set our goals and resolutions based on outcomes. We picture the end result and we work towards that thing. If you’re in college, think the dreaded S.M.A.R.T. goal. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely, Vomit. RT if you never want to hear the words SMART goal ever again in your young life.
But Danielle challenges you to do this whole goal thing different. Instead of picturing the final outcome (which is typically overwhelming and daunting and I usually panic and quit before I can even begin said thought process), it is better to think of how you want to FEEL at then end of the process. The reason that we do anything, literally anything, okay, is because of how we think it will make us feel. Since the beginning of time, this is how human behavior has worked. Eat a cupcake, sleep until noon, work out every single day, major in geology, learn Chinese, skip yoga, have a kid, pay for the person behind you at Mcdonalds, spend too much money on coffee, whatever. We are chasing some kind of feeling. We act in a certain way because of the feeling we will receive, whether that be a sense of accomplishment, energy, independence, pride, health or to be entertained, enlightened, inspired, empowered. All of this is an attempt at this end goal of happiness. With me? Danielle argues that if we set goal and resolutions based on how we want to feel rather than what we want to achieve simply because we think it will make us feel this way, we will be more successful in this endeavor as well as actually enjoy the process.
So think words. Write down words that are right for you, right now in this nanosecond in time. Picture that person you want to be, people you admire, moments when you felt like Beyonce and Ruth Bader Ginsberg mixed into one.
See ya never SMART goals!!!
I am absolutely done defining a life by arbitrary resolutions that I was forced to write down as a part of a group exercise and then share out in front of strangers. Work towards your own words instead. For me this year, they are brave, creative and whole. Defined on my own terms for me by me. You can have 3 words or 67 words if that’s your vibe. To keep in the back of your mind or tattoo on your forehead. This is 2018 people, opportunities are endless, go crazy.
To 2017, may she get the brief history book summary she deserves.
To 2018, cheers to a brave new year.
I’m sitting at a coffee shop. Staring at a blank computer screen watching the cursor flash like it’s daring me to say what I want to say. Off, on, off, on. Happy. Happy is a big word for a small word. It’s a word on birthday cards and advertisements for dating apps and paper bags that hold Big Macs. It’s a marketing scheme as much as an emotion that you feel when you see a fluffy dog. It’s a word that I’m not sure describes what I’m talking about as much as I wish it did because the meaning has been lost to millions of national holidays and Fridays. It’s been turned beige by overuse and under-feeling. Some people have forgotten the meaning entirely. The holidays are here so you are going to hear it a lot. It is red and green and sparkly and covered in receipts. So I by no means challenge you to use it less. I challenge you to rebel by understanding it. Taking it in, re-deciding what the heck it means. Maybe feeling it more. Or notice that you’re feeling it more. It’s a tough thing, that happy thing. It looks like honey and feels far away. And sometimes when we say it we use it as a synonym for not-sad. I don’t think you should be not-sad. I think you should be happy. Fully, truly, consumingly. Not all the time, not everywhere, because this is life and there’s a lot of dog shit that comes with a lot of cute dogs. And you’re inevitably going to step in it at some point. But I hope, there are seconds, or minutes or hours when you can look down or up or in or out and say that word and it feels more than lukewarm and sounds like much more than an adjective.