When I decided to get married, I wanted to ensure I was bringing the best version of myself into the partnership. During my bachelorette party, I asked my closest friends what personal flaws I should keep an eye on and try to improve. One of them pulled me aside and revealed that sometimes I take things too personally. I grimaced and recoiled from this revelation. I absolutely do take things personally and although I knew it, having one of my best friends point it out in a loving way helped to diminish my defensive impulses.
I grew up with a single mom school teacher and modeled myself after her diligence, conscientiousness, and a borderline-perfectionist orientation to detail. (Let me put it this way: if God Herself had a font, She would model it after the flawless lettering of Mary Minerman—both printing and cursive.)
My desire to excel and improve myself was mainly good, but it did have its drawbacks; I once revealed to my fourth-grade teacher that my greatest fear was getting bad grades. I even remember the moment when I started thinking of myself as “the smart kid.” It was a year after we’d moved to Laguna Beach and we were learning fractions in Mrs. Clapp’s third-grade class. She wrote three figures on the board: 1/2, 2/3, and 3/4. Without sketching any handy pie charts, she asked us which of these was the largest.
The most popular girl in the class raised her hand and said one-half was the largest because halves were bigger than quarters or thirds. I raised my hand and said three-quarters was the largest, reasoning that while each fraction was missing only one of its pieces, a quarter was the smallest piece missing, and therefore it was a more complete pie.
The teacher wrote our names next to our guesses and took a poll. Most of the class believed that the popular girl had the correct response. After all, a half is larger than a quarter. A few brave souls raised their hands in support of my reasoning. When Mrs. Clapp revealed that I—the new kid—had the correct response, I beamed with pride. More important than having the right answer was the fact that I’d finally found my place in the social hierarchy at Top of the World Elementary School: I would be “the smart kid” and I would work very hard to maintain that status.
I always thought I was pretty good at hiding my insecurities as a child, but I had my perfectionist tells. If I said something socially awkward, I would ball my fists and buckle my knees, as if this internal pressure would help diffuse the external tension. I usually would think of something more clever to say later and repeat it over and over to myself to ensure I wouldn’t make the same social miscalculation. Should that topic of conversation arise again, I would be ready with my immaculate line.
I think my tendency to take things personally arises from my self-imposed quest for perfection. If someone offers criticism, it makes me feel further away from my (admittedly impossible) ideal, but this is the wrong way to receive information from the world. Why can’t I accept legitimate feedback as a learning opportunity instead?
When my friend told me I took things too personally, something changed. Now when I feel the sting of defensiveness rising in my throat or bringing a flush to my cheeks, I put my impulses in check.
Last week, I even came up with a little mantra. I was on a hike to Tamolitch Blue Pool along central Oregon’s McKenzie River. It was a clear fall day and the valleys were bursting into vibrant fiery shades of yellow, orange, and red. Although I normally hike with podcasts, the environment demanded the undivided attention of my senses and I went without headphones. As I rounded the corner toward the turquoise pool, a large insect flew hard straight into my face.
“What the fuck? Why did that insect just try to kamikaze me?” I said indignantly, totally breaking my zen. I stewed for 30 seconds as I rounded the trail along the cliffs, climbing down toward the water’s edge.
I sat down on a cool boulder and looked up at an amphitheater of fall color and down into the cerulean depths, where yellow reflections gently swayed. I thought to myself, Wait a second. What if that insect was just trying to give me a hello? Slamming into my face is its only way to get my attention. It wasn’t a missile; it was just a zealous kiss.
This new perspective has implications beyond the aggressive insect, of course. What if I viewed all of life’s misgivings, errors, and difficult lessons as zealous kisses rather than missiles? I no longer have to take something personally if I assume the best intentions of others or accept the message as a benign teaching moment.
Thinking that my new mantra was brilliant, I shared the story with my husband.
He asked me earnestly, “Don’t you think that mantra is a little rapey? I mean, a zealous kiss?”
Ugh, “rapey?” What the fuck. Why can’t he just appreciate my mantra? I took his feedback as a benign teaching moment and laughed to myself: I like the way “zealous kiss” rolls of the tongue, even in this post-#MeToo world. Bless his heart for having that reaction.
After all, my husband’s perspective wasn’t a missile; it just was a zealous kiss.
After finishing undergrad at Berkeley in 2006, I felt that graduate school was inevitable. Many of my peers had secured spots in law school, medical school, and various master’s degree programs at coveted universities across the country. It wasn’t a matter of if Cal students were attending graduate school; it was treated as a matter of when.
I looked at my fellow 22-year-olds and admired how they seemed to have everything figured out. There were some students with finance and business backgrounds who even scored six-figure salaries as consultants fresh out of their undergraduate programs. (Of course, little did they know that they would be the first to be taken to the chopping block in the Great Recession of 2008.)
Rather than joining this flock down the well-worn paths of graduate school or the U.S. job market, I decided to take a chance. I went to the on-campus travel agency and discussed my desire to live abroad with a young clerk. She showed me some flyers about various European and Latin American countries, but when she mentioned the three-week Trans-Mongolian Railroad trip across Asia, my eyes lit up. I put down a deposit for the following May. I planned to bounce around Europe for a year before catching my train in Moscow all the way to Beijing.
I didn’t realize that I’d just made a decision that would determine the next four years of my life.
I asked the agent about securing work in Europe; I was lucky enough to have full-tuition scholarships and worked as an RA to pay for my room and board, but I was cash-poor. The agent told me about the British BUNAC program for recent college graduates, which would allow me a six-month work visa. I applied and picked up my documents later that week.
Shortly before my graduation ceremony, I met with my friend Ivan at a restaurant on Telegraph Avenue for lunch. I asked him to choose a number between 1 and 30. He chose 15, so later that day I bought a one-way ticket to London for June 15th.
That was 13 years ago and I never looked back. One week after I landed in London, I’d secured a flat, a job, and even a Dutch boyfriend who introduced me to a nice group of friends. For six months, I worked as a waitress at Hard Rock Cafe—the first one in the world—and as an editor for a small record label, helping them create the liner notes for their CDs. I met all sorts of new friends—a music professor from Syracuse, a South African martial arts instructor, and an Eton graduate turned punk rocker who attended classes with Prince William.
I didn’t know anyone in London when I bought that one-way ticket; I just jumped with an open heart and an open mind. The experience of moving abroad alone into an unknown future was challenging and humbling, but it was also integral to building my confidence as an adult; if I could land in a world-class city with nothing—no place to live, no job, no friends—and build a life for myself, I could do anything.
With the deadline approaching for my British work visa, I applied for a teaching position at an eikaiwa (a private English conversation school) in Japan, hoping I could defer my start-date until after my Trans-Mongolian trip. Unfortunately, they wanted me to start in February after a training program in Tokyo, so I never did take that train across Asia, but I did live in Niigata City, Japan for over two years.
Niigata is known for having the best rice and sake in the world. It’s relatively rural, although my city had over one million inhabitants. My students and the small group of gaikokojin (foreigners) were very welcoming. My company had arranged my housing and helped out with navigating municipal bureaucracies. For example, there were 7 regular types of trash, plus several more categories for uncommon items such as used batteries. They all had inscrutable labels, but learning that trash sorting system actually opened my eyes to how wasteful we are in the U.S.
I also admired how orderly Japanese homes and customs were, how graffiti was non-existent, and how even the (very few) homeless lived in immaculately constructed box homes with sliding doors and a mat to keep one’s shoes.
Japanese society is communal-minded, while Americans’ me-first mentality is reflected in our disrespect for public property, littering, and crumbling local transportation. We prioritize individuals over the group and although I’d learned about these two types of societies in college classes, experiencing them first-hand was transformative for my thinking. One of my favorite parts of living abroad was cultivating a new basis of comparison for everything I took for granted about people and societies.
In Niigata, I met my boyfriend Paulo, a Brazilian post-doc and oral-maxillofacial surgeon. He was also a talented musician and had learned much of his English from Bob Marley and Pearl Jam. He was finishing his program and heading back to Porto Alegre, Brazil.
I’d spent my last few months in Japan learning how to speak Portuguese so I could communicate with Paulo’s family, but before following him to South America, I wanted to explore Nepal and Southeast Asia with some of the money I’d earned. It had been years since I’d taken any serious time off of work or school and there’s a special pleasure that comes with full-time immersive travel with no definitive end.
I planned most of the trip on the fly and I’d recommend that others do the same. Being comfortable with the unknown and refusing to overplan my travel came with great rewards. The internet can only take you so far with the way it privileges certain content; for the best recommendations, it’s always better to ask around. For example:
I had no idea that my new friends on Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit would recommend a multiday trip down the Mekong River.
I had no idea my new friends in northern Thailand would recommend the Gibbon Experience, a series of ziplines between treehouses in the deep jungle and a non-profit that defends forests from slash-and-burn policies.
I had no idea my new friends in Angkor would recommend Malaysia’s gorgeous Perhentian Islands.
After this unforgettable trip, I set off for Brazil and traveled widely for many months while working remotely as a ghostwriter. Although that relationship didn’t work out, I was beaming with confidence after several years of living and traveling abroad.
In early 2010, I moved to my favorite U.S. city where most of my closest college friends had been working since graduation: San Francisco.
At that time, I worried that I’d forfeited several years of career growth for travel and it would take me a long time to catch up. And at first, this was true. For several weeks I slept on a friend’s couch until I found a waitressing job at a nice restaurant to get on my feet. A couple of months later, I found a job as an addiction specialist in a non-profit clinic, where I worked unhappily for a couple of years—underpaid and overstressed.
But then it happened: I secured a position as a managing editor at a Silicon Valley tech company and “caught up” to where I would have been career-wise if I hadn’t traveled at all. I’d kept up my paid and unpaid writing over the years and essentially was hired on my Twitter feed, blog, and ghostwriting samples.
That was seven years ago and I’m now the chief content officer of a company started by the same director who first hired me in the Bay Area. I work remotely, so while continuing to develop my career, I lived in Argentina for ten months and took a one-year road trip all over the U.S. with my now-husband to figure out where we wanted to settle down. (We bought a house in Eugene, Oregon a few years ago and still love it here.)
If I hadn’t traveled after my undergrad, I wouldn’t have developed the language skills, resilience, adaptability, deep knowledge of other cultures, creativity, conscientiousness, and professional confidence I have today. If I had jumped straight into graduate school, I would have developed an expertise, but having a niche—not to mention crippling student debt—would have only constricted my choices. For example, I’ve observed that many of my friends with PhDs end up taking positions in Bumblefuck, Nowhere (NO) for tenure-track positions. Nobody wants to live in Bumblefuck.
I encourage everyone—especially in their 20s—to work abroad and travel with abandon as much as possible before settling into a more typical path. It’s harder to wander in your thirties when parts of life have already ossified. That house, career, family, and graduate school can wait.
You’ll be much richer the experience because if I’ve learned one thing, it’s this: ditching life’s little road map shapes extraordinary people.
Isn’t it suspect that one political party systematically needs to cheat in order to maintain power?
In North Carolina, the Cheaters collect absentee ballots in African American neighborhoods and throw them into the trash.
In Texas (and many other states), the Cheaters draw serpentine districts to limit the number of legislators their opponents can elect.
In Oregon, the Cheaters flee the state rather than hold a vote on a carbon tax where their opponents hold a legislative supermajority.
In Georgia, the Cheaters insist that their gubernatorial candidate, the acting Secretary of State, should remain the top elections official of his own race. His team then improperly purges 340,000 voters from the rolls and delays 53,000 voter registrations—80 percent of them were people of color.
In Arizona, the Cheaters close 70 percent of polling sites in Phoenix’s Maricopa County and tens of thousands of people wait in line for hours to cast ballots.
In Florida, the Governor—a Cheater—puts his state’s voter registration site “under maintenance” during Voter Registration Week.
And this is only the past two years.
Across the country, the Cheaters try to purge American voters from registries using the error-prone “Crosscheck” system. Fair Fight 2020 found that 1.6 million people were removed from the voter rolls between 2010 and 2018.
In the Senate, the Cheaters don’t hold votes for any legislation that might make their opponents look good. Rather than doing their jobs, they worked tirelessly to make President Obama look ineffective, denying him a Supreme Court appointment and repeatedly attacking the Affordable Care Act—one middle finger to Americans’ healthcare access and the other middle finger to wasted taxpayer dollars.
In the House of Representatives, the Cheaters voted to gut the ethics committee. They have no problem deregulating codes of conduct or the corporations which poison our air and water, but yet they want full control over American women’s reproductive health.
In that vein, the Cheaters are the ultimate hypocrites. They contend that they’re “pro-life,” but they refuse to ban assault weapons, strike down capital punishment, improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us, or even make basic birth control readily available.
They are also hypocrites when it comes to government spending. A few years ago when Obama was in office, the Tea Party Wing of the Cheaters was very upset about the federal deficit and national debt. But recently, the Cheaters passed a fat tax cut for the rich, which the CBO projects will add $1.9 trillion to deficits over 10 years. Federal spending also hit a new record ($3.7 trillion) and deficits are only projected to climb through the end of 2019. Of course, the Cheaters are now silent about our country’s fiscal health, as they are when our astronomical military budget climbs ever-higher. (The U.S. spends $649 billion annually—more than the next seven countries combined.)
The Cheaters also say they love small businesses but they refuse to support our most entrepreneurial group of citizens: immigrants. On the contrary, they prefer to lock up Latino children in concentration camps to please the rabidly racist contingent of their party—red meat to feed the MAGAts. The racism stoked by Cheaters actually helps them maintain power through fear; it’s one of their most effective tools.
The Cheaters get very upset when you call them racist, but they refuse to condemn the Supreme Cheater who (in reference to Haiti and African countries) bemoaned “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” The Supreme Cheater also stated that people from Haiti “all have AIDS” and empathized with white supremacists after their Charlottesville rally, which killed one counter-protester.
Worst of all, when the Cheaters hear a fact they don’t like, they brand it with the scarlet letter of “fake news” and treat it as a matter of partisan opinion.
How can Non-cheaters—the people who act with integrity—defeat the party of bad faith who will lie and steal to maintain power? As children, we’re taught that good people win in the end, but we’ve witnessed too many Cheaters seizing control of the American government, fueled by unlimited campaign donations and the popularity of their trusty propaganda network, Fox News.
I feel alienated from people who support the Cheaters and assume that those voters are one of three things: greedy, dumb, or complicit. The greedy ones—the Money-grubbers—support the Cheaters for their economic views and celebrate when funds for education, healthcare, and basic social services are slashed for tax cuts that will never “trickle down.” The Money-grubbers divert those funds into their offshore accounts or into the Cheater campaign coffers.
The dwindling federal budget for education has helped create the second Cheater subgroup: the Fools. These people believe that humans don’t cause climate change; that brown people are coming to steal their jobs; that immigrant children should be locked in cages; that women should stop invading the workplace and shouldn’t have access to reproductive healthcare; that Christianity is superior to other religions and Islam is bad; and that the USA is better than all other countries and should be able to play by different rules.
All of these views are destructive and dumb. Perhaps the feeble-minded are hypnotized by middle-aged white male anger or blonde Fox News hosts’ bare legs. They take the Cheaters’ bullshit hook-line-and-sinker and relish in “owning the libs.” (For the record, blowing out our candle isn’t going to make yours burn any brighter, morons.)
The third subgroup is waiting for the Cheaters to wind back the clock and stop being so uncouth. These are the Enablers, otherwise decent people with their heads in the sand. What they don’t understand is that this is not their white grandfather’s political party. There’s no going back from “grab ‘em by the pussy,” creating Latino concentration camps, or the Muslim Ban.
And most recently, the Supreme Cheater—again, a man who cheats on his taxes, at golf, and on his wife with a porn star—asked the Ukrainian President for the “favor” of investigating his political rivals’ family. Knowing this conversation was damning, the Cheaters tried to bury the notes about it in a separate computer server used for sensitive information—exactly the behavior that had them chanting through frothing mouths “Lock her up! Lock her up!” More MAGAts feasting on red meat.
The Non-cheaters lack a backbone, but the Cheaters lack a soul. The Money-grubbers, Fools, and Enablers are everything we were taught as children not to be: intolerant, hateful, manipulative, dishonest, self-centered.
What kind of example are we setting to the next generation and to the rest of the world when we elect Cheaters? It’s not a good look.
Impeach the Supreme Cheater and VOTE. THE REST. OUT.
“First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes…”
After getting married last year at age 34, the most common question I get is, “So, are you thinking about having kids?”
Sure, it’s a more delicate line of inquiry than in generations past, when it was assumed that every woman’s life ambition was to have children—not a matter of if but when. Back in those days, getting married and having kids was endemic to a woman’s survival when we were all but excluded from universities and the most lucrative jobs.
At 35, my answer is still maybe. Unlike some, I feel zero baby fever—in fact, call me a monster but I find babies gross, loud, boring, and frankly parasitic, especially on their mothers’ bodies, brains, and sleep patterns.
I took care of three kids (ages 14 months, three years, and five years) during the summer I was 16. Being the baby’s full-time custodian wasn’t as difficult as it was tedious—reading the same picture books, being attentive to her minute-by-minute needs, repeatedly picking up the books she’d thrown from the shelf, changing foul diapers and contemplating how many thousands of my own plastic diapers from the 80s must be still decomposing, rocking her to sleep on a pillow for naps and laying it ever so gently into her crib. (She refused to go to sleep unless she was physically in my arms.)
People say, “It’s different when it’s your own,” but I call bullshit: I think some U.S. mothers simply can’t admit how much they despise their young children. A component of postpartum depression is a mother’s realization that her old life is gone. American fathers have the luxury of being more honest about their indifference—especially toward babies—although I admit that men today are much more involved in the process than they used to be.
So what are the common reasons for wanting to have children?
One person told me it was an opportunity—maybe even a public duty—to shape a mind for the next generation, to pass on the best of my accumulated knowledge and sense of civic responsibility for the betterment of our collective future. I reject this premise. I can shape many more minds by becoming a teacher (been there), mentor (done that), or artist (working on it).
If you think about the people who have inspired you, are your parents at the top of your list? Parents in the U.S. seem to do a lot of work for very little credit. They don’t have the same respect afforded to elders in Japan, for example, or in Latin American cultures. For many, an American therapy session is just a bitch-fest about how awful a person’s parents were and how a person can overcome all of the limitations of their upbringing. I don’t want to be the subject of my unborn child’s therapy sessions.
Another person asked me who will take care of me when I get old. That’s easy: I’ll pay someone to do it, just as many elderly people—even those with large families—do. Having children and grandchildren in this individualistic youth-obsessed society doesn’t guarantee you won’t die alone. In fact, I’ll feel better about having a stranger wipe the soup from my mouth than having to reverse roles with a child I raised and compromise my dignity.
Plus, how many of us still feel truly connected to our parents? The majority of children take much more than they will ever return and many in my generation continue to do so; a third of my fellow Millennials have boomeranged back into their childhood homes to live cheaply. I wonder how many of those parents are happy to have their adult children home. And even for those who manage to live independently, the reality of American culture is that young people follow the jobs, often in places far away from their parents, only to return once or twice a year for holidays, often begrudgingly so. And many Americans consider calling their parents a chore rather than a joy. I’m fortunate that my mother is a vibrant, smart, continually evolving person and I enjoy her company, but others are not so lucky.
I actually asked my mom how she would feel if I didn’t have kids. At first, she said she would be fine with whatever decision I make, but she later revealed she’d actually be disappointed because I’d “never fully understand everything [she] had to go through.” I told her, “Actually, opting out of parenthood is precisely a recognition of everything you had to endure as a mother.” (After publishing this piece, my mom clarified what she meant. She told me that when a person becomes a parent, they truly understand unconditional love and this produces a new appreciation of one’s own parents—and a closeness that comes from that shared experience.)
A couple of weeks ago, my best friend told me about her family friends, an older childless couple, who now regret not having kids. This is the one that stumps me. There’s no guarantee that Jon and I won’t someday be reading in rocking chairs on the porch of our beachfront house and wonder, “What if? Wouldn’t it be lovely to have some grandchildren around?”
I agree. I would love to have grandchildren to spoil for a weekend and hand back to their parents. I also would love to be a modern American father—involved and loving but not leaking from my tits for a couple of years. For men, it’s a bonus if they opt into the parenting process; for women, it’s a necessity—and they’re judged mercilessly every step along the way without a shred of institutional support.
Maybe I’m just not wired for motherhood. I’m sensible and responsible to a fault, but I lack the desire to have my life—which I love—subsumed by the needs of another.
Growing up with a single mom, I also was exposed to the hardest version of motherhood, which I acknowledge is a bias. And as an only child, I’m used to lots of time alone. I love my solitude and unless I got an expensive live-in nanny, that would be gone for at least a decade.
I think about fostering or adopting older kids. Perhaps it’s just babies and toddlers I don’t care for. I simply don’t want to be a janitor for a human—I want to be a teacher. (And I’m not talking about the dull instruction of object permanence, the ABCs, and shapes.)
All of this said I’m still a maybe. I have one friend who continued to play kickball with us until she was 39 weeks pregnant and unlike many new parents, she and her husband, a pediatrician, continue to host gatherings at their home and meet up for events. This version of motherhood gives me hope. It’s so damn cool and inspirational when women don’t make a fuss and continue to have lives outside of being mothers.
My real fear is that I will end up with a needy little parasite who will deprive me of all I hold dear in this life: reading, writing, traveling, my friendships, and sleep. Above all, putting my career on hold to pay thousands of dollars to stretch and ultimately tear open my body to perpetuate my genes is too horrible to contemplate—and that’s only step one. There’s no guarantee that my kid won’t be a criminal or worse, an asshole. I don’t like that roll of the dice.
At my bridal shower, my aunt told me not to wait to have kids or I’d never do it. Perhaps she was right. I’m just grateful that the days of assuming that parenthood is part of a complete life are over.
It’s a few hours before the Super Bowl. Fans dressed in blue are pouring into sports bars; avocados are being mashed in kitchens across America; and all I can think about is whether the commercials will be woke.
Two weeks ago, Gilette released a short film entitiled “We Believe: The Best That Men Can Be,” which suffered a swift and mighty backlash. The crime? Promoting strong honorable ethics among men—treating women well, standing up to bullies, and being a good father and role model. Incels, MAGA losers, and other lonely men joined hands to decry the reverse racism and possible feminist infiltration of the company itself! These women and people of color simply don’t know their place.
David Scwartz commented yesterday on the film, “Not only is this absolutely insulting to males but it is absolutely discriminatory. This ad employs the same method of targeting a specific group just as Hitler did to the Jews.” Matt Burkholder added, “Anyone else notice the flagrant Anti-White message in this ad?”
Other comments presented valid concerns about false virtue signaling and the coopting of a social message by a multinational company accused of various abuses of power. Sure, this can be problematic, but I strongly believe that the merits of promoting social movements, feminism, anti-racism, and other progressive messages outweigh the detriment.
These companies have large ad budgets and incredible reach. Why shouldn’t they be using that power to promote a positive message, even if they are doing it to make profit? What matters is that they use a position of wealth and influence to get the message out. Think about the alternative: should Gilette really just be selling tired cliches of well-groomed men scoring sexy chicks?
Nike, a company busted for using child labor in the 90s, decided to champion Colin Kaepernick as an athlete-activist and hero and I wholeheartedly applaud their decision. And today, Colin Kaepernick is the elephant in the stadium. He’s the reason the NFL can no longer book first-rate popstars like Rihanna, Usher, and Cardi B to perform on America’s biggest stage. He’s the reason Maroon 5 was struggling to find artists of color for their show to “improve the optics.”
Here’s the thing: as a sport with declining viewership and increased concerns about CTE, the NFL had better start changing with the times. The League can start by updating its rules to better protect players’ heads and bodies; by paying cheerleaders a fair wage and lifting the sexist, patronizing rules governing their etiquette outside of work; and by providing health insurance to retired players who sacrificed their bodies and brains for our entertainment.
I have boycotted the NFL since Kaep was blacklisted, but I’ll watch the commercials to celebrate companies who stand up for what’s right. And if they sell a couple more jerseys or razors because of it, who cares. What’s important is that the right message is out there.
When I share my Great American Road Trip idea with people, I get this question more than any other. The short version of my story is that my lover-turned-husband and I took a one-year road trip around the U.S. to discover the place we wanted to call home.
Jon and I had burned out on living in San Francisco, where we had to sprint just to stay in the same place. Before leaving the city, he paid $1,600 per month for a single bedroom in a Fort Mason house in 2014. These days, it’s even worse and some of the world’s brightest people would gladly offer a pound of flesh to secure very basic accommodations in the area.
Not too long after we met in SF, Jon and I moved to Argentina together for ten months. I had just started working remotely for Sechel Ventures, a tech company based in the Bay Area, and Jon decided to finally write his novel,All Starships Go to HEAVEn.
After this experience living internationally, we knew we could thrive in a life on the road and we cooked up a dream: rather than letting our employment dictate where we would live, why not choose the city that felt right and go from there? What could be more important than loving where you spend your days?
We bought an orange Honda Fit, the “Fireball” and drove east from California for a cousin’s wedding in Fort Collins, Colorado—our first stop.
Before our Great American Road Trip, Jon and I had envisioned the features of our dream city. We wanted:
A progressive college town with plenty of hiking and camping nearby
Ubiquitous bike lanes and ample bike parking
Nice, non-pretentious, diverse people
A cute downtown with murals and tangible artistic energy
A world-class craft beer scene
Local leadership we could trust to make decisions as we would, being thoughtful about new developments, supporting public education and health, making recycling a priority, and fostering a vibrant environment for creatives
A place that wasn’t quite on other people’s radar
In other words, we wanted a really great party before everyone had arrived. We had our work cut out for us.
During our Great American Road Trip, we went through 25 states, hitting as many National Parks as possible and staying mainly in AirBnBs. While most hotels have the same predictable sterility, the most highly rated AirBnBs are created with pride and reflect specific tastes, hospitality, and culture. They’re a glimpse into a community’s way of seeing the world, and the amount of care these hosts put into their home’s amenities and local recommendations is moving—it reminds me that we all crave human connection and the opportunity to help others. The rewards of being a good person tickle our chests and bring a warm glow to our heads. And nowhere did our chests tickle and our heads glow more than in humble, magnificent Eugene, Oregon.
Since there weren’t many AirBnBs around, I’d found a three-week sublet on Craigslist in south Eugene. The tenant, Rachel, who had grown up a few hours away in Hood River, was teaching English in Japan for the summer—coincidentally near Niigata, the city I’d lived in for over two years in my early 20s. She loved yoga, gardening, and something called “ecstatic dance.”
Before we sent her our payment, she texted a considerate video message. She was wearing brightly colored athletic gear and a welcoming smile.
“Hi Jocelyn and Jon! I wanted to give you a feel for the place. Right now, there’s a bit of construction going on since the owners are building some new cottages.”
She panned the camera over new concrete foundations and piles of dirt.
“The workers don’t get started too early, but I just wanted to let you know there may be some noise. Thank you for reaching out and I hope this works for you!”
We arrived several days later to meet Rachel in person. Her cottage was spotless and had several Japanese tapestries adorning her walls.
One of the first things she said to us was, “I feel very comfortable having you in my space. I’m happy you contacted me.”
After giving us a brief tour, Rachel grabbed her bags and headed out toward her car.
“One more thing,” she said, handing us the keys with a smile. “The Saturday Market is downtown today. It’s a longstanding Eugene tradition and you should check it out. The bike path will take you most of the way there.”
She pointed to a paved treelined path, waved goodbye, and headed to Portland to catch her transpacific flight.
After unloading our backpacks, we removed our bikes from the back of the Fireball, unfolded them, and set off north toward downtown on a protected bike path far removed from any cars.
After passing under a tunnel along a rushing creek, a large, grassy park with a short fence emerged on our left with dozens of happy dogs chasing each other at full speed or cooling off in one of the four kiddie pools around the perimeter.
On our right, skateboarders ollied from the kicker of a large kidney bowl with colorful graphics. It was flanked by large trees and more grassy open space. We passed joggers in bright clothes and sunglasses as we rode by the Amazon Community Center and Pool. We continued along the smooth asphalt and the brand-new athletic fields of Roosevelt Middle School rose from the right.
We got to our first road and cars on both sides stopped immediately to let us cross toward South Eugene High School—one of the best public schools in the state—with its football field, volleyball courts, modern architecture, and small parking lot surrounded by trees.
After nearly 14 blocks of a carless path straight out the door of the sublet, the road opened with a separate bike lane heading north on High Street, which would take us the last ten tree-covered blocks toward downtown.
After years of biking aggressively through San Francisco, I noticed how patient Eugene drivers were. Pedestrians, runners, and cyclists seemed to rule the roads and nearly every street had a bike path and signage reminding cars to watch out for us.
Eugene was also the greenest town I’d ever seen. It’s surrounded by verdant Douglas firs, maples, pines, oaks, junipers, and alders. The city streets are lined with apple, plum, cherry, and chestnut trees. Almost everyone farms or gardens, and the saying goes you can throw seeds anywhere and they’ll just grow. The moisture, rich Willamette Valley soil, and healthy ecosystem support thousands of native (and non-native) plant species.
When we hit downtown, we saw large crowds of people walking west toward an open marketplace with white canvas overhangs. There were bike racks everywhere, so we locked up and headed into the throng.
The countless stalls stretched out several blocks, overflowing with colorful pottery, jewelry, clothing, greeting cards, leather goods, and paintings, as well as fresh meat, local cheeses, fruits and vegetables, flowers, plant starts, and and a local brewery cart. The central courtyard hosted several ethnic food areas, bakeries, and coffee shops. A small stage in front of long, communal tables thrummed with psychedelic rock, as people of all ages bobbed their heads while dining on kabobs, burrito bowls, and Thai stir-fries.
The Eugene Saturday Market is held downtown every Saturday from April through November. It started in 1970, and now hosts around 150 vendors, who migrate indoors in December to the Lane Events Center—the annual “Holiday Market”—adding several artisans from around the state and country for full weekends. There’s one main rule: the people selling the goods must have harvested or made them.
I’d enjoyed plenty of farmers’ markets, craft fairs, and other non-traditional shopping experiences around the world, but I’d never seen anything quite like this.
First of all, Eugenians looked very different than people from other cities. Most women wore their hair very short, very long, or asymmetrically. Bright colors mingled with earth tones, tattoos covered exposed skin, facial piercings abounded, and elaborate metalwork clung to the earlobes and collarbones of men and women alike. I noticed lots of hippie dandies, brown leather boots, Ducks gear, and neon athleto-leisure wear from North Face, REI, and Patagonia.
The people also acted differently. There were no hurried, tunnel-visioned pedestrians wearing ear buds. Everyone’s gazes were up and their defenses were down. They were engaging with the flesh-and-blood world, acknowledging others in the present, seemingly unconcerned about the future. The collective hive was positively mindful, which felt foreign and anachronistic. It was as if I’d unearthed a secret world of old-timey neighborliness, an impression that was confirmed when we rode our bikes back.
Unbeknownst to Jon and me, Kathie and Eric Lundberg (the owners of the Amazon Cottages development where we were subletting) had sent an email blast to the community asking everyone to say hello and welcome us during our stay. Residents came to the cottage to introduce themselves with handwritten notes; bushels of fruits, veggies, and herbs from their gardens; and fresh-baked breads.
Who does that? Like many twenty-first century city-dwellers, I’d never spent much time with my roommates—let alone my neighbors. Nobody in San Francisco seemed to forge relationships with people living on the same block. People were just too “busy.” This city is so goddamn neighborly that four-way stops frequently inspire an awkward dance of driver smiles and friendly hand-gestures.
For the following three weeks, we explored towering waterfalls, old lumber roads leading to stunning vistas, meadows of wildflowers, and the forested cliffs along the jagged Oregon coastline with its powerful surf. We enjoyed the U of O campus, live music, downtown art installations, world-class wineries, and family-friendly breweries.
Everything felt accessible, non-pretentious, affordable, creative, natural, and genuine. When we shared our story and mentioned that our next stop would be Bend, most locals told us we’d like it much more than Eugene.
Our last day in town, we rode our bikes across the Willamette River to the annual Art & Vineyard Festival, which attracts artisans and winemakers from all over the state. It was the Fourth of July and we happily discovered that fireworks laws are much looser in Oregon than in California. A rock band played 70s and 80s classics as Jon and I drifted between the craft stalls, beers in our hands.
Our mood was bittersweet. We’d enjoyed an unforgettable few weeks in Eugene and cooked dinner for Kathie and Eric Lundberg the night prior, finding them to be kindred spirits and people we’d love to call neighbors. They were among the people who believed Bend would be a better fit for us “big city” California folk with its art galleries, wealth, collection of fellow transplants, and most of all, its rumored 300 days of sunshine.
The following morning, we left Eugene with open hearts and minds, excited to reconnect with my old college friend and his family, who had graciously offered to let us stay at their house along the Deschutes River while they took a summer trip.
The drive to Bend along the McKenzie River and through the winding Cascades is spectacular. The west side of the mountains is lush with ferns and small roadside waterfalls. It’s often raining until the zenith of mountain pass, which makes way to a much sunnier, drier landscape in the east.
Bend was just as everyone had described it: manicured, naturally beautiful, and replete with wealthy young families—many of whom I’d wondered how they’d made their money. It reminded me of Aspen or Laguna Beach—nature- and outdoor sports-loving towns with well-heeled smiling white people. They had a carefree country club saunter and a zeal for new bistros and yoga studios.
Bend is a lot of people’s idea of “making it,” but it wasn’t ours. Eugene is much rougher around the edges. For one, it has a serious homelessness problem and attracts a lot of runaway youth. Some are inspired by the city’s history of celebrating rebels and eccentrics. Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was from this area and his “Merry Pranksters”—many of whom still live in Eugene—were immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
The city also has a lot of support for people who have fallen on tough times, including a free luggage/backpack storage by the bus station and the White Bird Clinic’s medical, dental, and psychiatric services. Eugene even pioneered the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Street) program—a mental health group dispatch used in place of the police when appropriate—which was recently celebrated in The Wall Street Journal for saving the city money and being more humane.
Eugene emits love and compassion, and you can practically hear the city’s heart beat. People understand that taxes are integral to the future of their children’s education, their family’s healthcare, and their community’s infrastructure and culture. Similar to many Oregon towns, it’s fiercely protective of its forests, lakes, and rivers. Promoting a green economy, protecting endangered species, preventing overfishing, recycling, and sourcing food sustainably all rank highly among people’s civic priorities. People are unhurried and generous, and I can trust a majority of the city’s leaders to promote policies I support: a more humane criminal justice system, funds for the arts, and thoughtful land use, among many others.
In 2017, we bought a house in the Amazon cottages community where we first subleased, and last year, I married my lover at the local Sweet Cheeks Winery.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford will go down in history as an absolute hero. Facing today’s firing squad, she remained poised but nervous as any honest person would be.
She was, after all, sharing her story of sexual assault with the world. Rachel Mitchell, the GOP’s female prosecutor—a mercenary the Republicans called in to avoid the “bad optics” of an all-white male panel—even believed Dr. Ford as any thinking/feeling person would.
Dr. Ford didn’t claim to have a perfect memory, but she recounted details that sent chills up the spine of our nation:
She described the laughter of two young men as she was pinned down on a bed.
Her screams were stifled by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hand as he tried to remove her clothes, and she gasped for air.
She told us how she finally broke free and locked herself in the bathroom as this drunk young man and his friend Mark Judge “pin-balled” down the stairs.
Years later when Dr. Ford was remodeling her home with her husband, she requested a second front door added—an escape hatch from this deep-seated trauma which she lived with for years.
Like most women, she didn’t come forward immediately with any allegations for reasons that were patently clear during the second half of the hearing. Men of a certain type will never believe women. The all-white male Republican team did not even have the courage to confront Dr. Ford directly—again, bad “optics”—but they had no problem joining Brett Kavanaugh in his (dare I say) shrill pity party.
Let’s start with Kavanaugh’s bizarre opening statement: for 45 minutes, he wavered between rage and tears while detailing his fastidious calendar-keeping—throwing in a list of his academic and athletic accomplishments for good measure—and of course, reminding the world of the “binders full of women” in his life. It was an utter disaster.
If any woman or person of color had displayed this Kavanaugh-esque rambling anger, sweating and reaching for their water glass every 25 seconds, observers would have written them off as LIARS. But that’s not the way that some people view well-bred boys from Georgetown Prep; the Brock Turners of the world can commit sexual assault and the most pressing question on many Republican minds is, “Oh, but what about that bright young man’s future?” This was EXACTLY the animating concern of those GOP committee members who fester in bad faith:
Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “To my Republican colleagues: If you vote no, you are legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.”
Ted Cruz (R-TX): “This has been one of the most shameful chapters in the United States Senate.”
Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to Kavanaugh: “This is a national disgrace the way you’re being treated.”
Brett Kavanaugh: “This has destroyed my family and my good name….I’m never going to get my reputation back. My life is totally and permanently altered.”
I ask all Republicans this: while “Bart” O’Kavanaugh and Mark Judge were laughing at Christine Blasey’s terror in 1982, how do you think she felt? She was 15 years old. And how do you think she feels now with her two front doors—an architectural anomaly born of a fear Kavanaugh baked into her when he tried to stifle her screams? She’s already had to relocate her family twice these past few weeks and still is receiving death threats.
Kavanaugh, the “Renate Alumnius [sic],” may be denied a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, but does a man like that deserve to be confirmed? Absolutely not. His next appointment should be as a cautionary tale to other would-be sexual predators; Americans will never forget what he did to Dr. Ford, and his shameless lies are unforgivable—as is the partisan complicity of the GOP.
Glenn Ligon (2014); University of Oregon exhibit on artists responding to “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
[Note: I like this title, but I can’t promise that you’ll learn anything about the most famous Chinese military strategist in history. In fact, I just peppered my piece with two of his quotes because I believe that “The Art of War” guides more of our government’s policies than the Bible. Thank you for reading this far.]
Like most Americans, I’m afflicted by economic anxiety. For some, it stems from student debt, which is at an all-time high in this country. But for me, it’s worrying about the unforeseen, as if I’m walking a tightrope without a safety net. I may be bankrupted in a moment by a burst appendix or a root canal, despite the fact that I have both health and dental insurance. This gnawing unease prevents Americans from being productive, happy citizens whether we have coverage or not. And I’m one of the lucky ones: I have zero debt and zero dependents. I should feel financially secure but I have diminishing faith that the American government will safeguard healthcare, education, and the environment into our future.
“All warfare is based on deception.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Social security—a program I’ve paid into for all of my working life—might not exist when I retire and need it most. Aetna® and Dental Health Services® will take my money, yet they give me no reassurance that services won’t be massively upended when I need care in the future. At 32, I gladly pay my premiums to support those less fortunate but I question why our wealthy country won’t embrace a single payer system or a better subsidized public option. In 2015, my fiancé got into a serious bike accident in Buenos Aires. He rode an ambulance to the hospital and got stitches, services which would have cost him more than $3,000 in the US without insurance; in Argentina, it was all free.
This incident shows that we need to rethink who deserves the power in our American democracy. We’re supposed to have the power. The people. As it stands, there’s often disagreement between what’s best for the public and what’s best for companies. By illustration, if the profit incentive outweighs the costs:
An unregulated insurance company will terminate coverage for a 65-year-old with cancer
An unregulated weapons company will lobby congress to put more guns into the hands of American families
An unregulated drug company will try to convince someone that he has depression in a TV commercial to sell poorly tested pharmaceuticals
An unregulated company will try to defeat its competitors by any means necessary, even if the competitor does something better, cleaner, or more efficiently
An unregulated company feels at liberty to discriminate against women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community
The worst part is that the people who would benefit most from progressive ideas are those who voted for Trump. Red states typically take more federal money than they pay in, meaning that they’re subsidized by the “liberal elites” that they hate. I also believe that red states suffer precisely because their local governments have elevated corporate welfare over the public interest. For example, a Louisiana town recently found out that they have the highest cancer rate in the country due to pollution from the local DuPont neoprene factory. Ironically the Louisiana town is called St. John the Baptist Parish, which reminds me of my favorite line in The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” To the citizens of economically depressed areas in the South and Rust Belt: your Devil does exist, and it’s sure as hell not Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, or the EPA. The real Devil is slippery and here’s his secret: he has convinced people that what’s good for Wealth is good for everyone.
I argue that despite what we’ve been told, economic growth is not a real gauge of our progress. I’d always been taught that the best indicator of our country’s success was the growth of our economy. This is usually expressed as an inflation-adjusted percentage of our GDP. Many people don’t question the assumption that we should be striving for ever-higher economic growth—more businesses, more money changing hands, and more investments equals more sweet, greasy American progress. Presidents from both political parties focus squarely on GDP percentages to guide rhetoric, diplomacy, and policy. Like many Americans, I assumed that this figure somehow represented our national well-being, but this overlooks the most important consideration: what’s actually good for people?
We should be using our wealth to help the public meet its potential through investments in healthcare, education, infrastructure, and the environment. Instead, we enrich defense contractors and we’re in perpetual war because it’s good for business.
These days, Fox News and Breitbart incite just enough fear and xenophobia to make some Americans play along. The problem is that rather that doing what’s best for the people, the US is beholden to the interests of powerful corporations which control our government’s policies while channeling wealth into prisons or the military—already larger than the next eight nations combined.
“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
How do we fix this? I offer simple solutions:
Take money out of politics. Once companies can no longer bribe their way into looser regulations, generous tax breaks, or fat defense contracts, the American government will be more accountable to the people.
Make voting compulsory. If we want our leaders to reflect the views of the greatest number of citizens, all who are eligible should be voting.
Establish a single source where political candidates can weigh in on important issues. We need a bipartisan government website where voters can get their information about politicians’ records, including a user-friendly tool which matches us to leaders based on our views.
Stop assuming that unregulated business has the public’s interests in mind. Why don’t we see that we’re simultaneously drowning in products we don’t need and eating up natural resources at an unsustainable pace? High shareholder returns or GDP growth shouldn’t be achieved at the expense of what really matters.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that like many Americans, I’m continually on edge. I’m anxious for myself, my loved ones, and the future of our country’s children. Let’s stop scuffling over abortion, Planned Parenthood, and prayer in schools. Those are divide-and-conquer smokescreen issues which obscure the real problems facing us: healthcare, education, infrastructure, and protecting the environment.
“Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.” (New sculpture on Wall Street, 2017)
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I participated in the “Day Without a Woman” protest by wearing red, spending money at exclusively female-owned businesses, and not working. I reflected on what it means to be a woman and how my life would be different if I’d been born a man. I’m grateful that now my female friends and I can vote and our career options aren’t limited to stenography or teaching (!!!), but as with any seismic shift in society, other less visible disadvantages of membership in Club Double X are still stifling our potential as humans.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but at my core, I resent being a woman:
I resent that being a wife and mother seems so much harder than being a husband and father.
I resent that women are led to believe their wedding day will be the “happiest day of their lives.”
I resent that unpaid domestic work—what UC Berkeley’s Arlie Hochschild called The Second Shift—still largely falls on women’s shoulders.
I resent that rich, white men are largely anti-regulation unless they have the opportunity to impose limits on women’s access to birth control or reproductive health services.
I resent that women’s and men’s ideas are treated so differently. JK Rowling’s publishers encouraged her to use her initials because they believed that boys wouldn’t be interested in a book written by a woman. In that vein, male authors don’t have the courage to publish under a female pseudonym unless they’re writing trashy romance novels. (I’d love to be proven wrong here.)
I resent that words coming out of a man’s mouth are perceived as more authoritative, persuasive, and intelligent than if they came from a woman (i.e., the Goldberg Paradigm).
I resent that female nonconformists throughout history have been seen as crazy or disobedient while many male nonconformists are left alone or celebrated.
I resent that women rarely occupy upper leadership positions in government, companies, and religious institutions.
I resent that traditionally female “caring occupations” are paid less than traditionally male “physical occupations,” especially when there’s no longer a single-income family wage (except for the richest Americans).
I resent that women pay more for health insurance, dry cleaning, toiletries, clothing, and more, all while earning lower salaries than men for the same work.
I resent that women are expected to have a “civilizing effect” on male family members. Women tolerate men’s anger, mood swings, and selfishness while men are still favorably stereotyped as the “more rational” sex. Riddle me this: a man might get angry at a bar, break a bottle, and stab someone in the neck to defend his honor. His honor. So which one is really the more rational sex?
Protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling (2016).
I resent that if a woman is not smiling, she’s often perceived as angry or upset.
I resent that society condemns steroid use among men while not caring whether women inject toxins into their faces or get non-necessary surgeries.
I resent that women’s assertiveness is misperceived as aggression or bossiness.
Worst of all, I resent my own biology. Why should I be less physically strong than a man? Why should I have to bleed every month? And despite what some women say, being pregnant looks supremely uncomfortable and inconvenient. Ok, so I can’t really change this one, although the US could do so much more by mandating paid time off for new mothers (as nearly all developed countries do), improving women’s access to family planning and healthcare, and ensuring that if an insurance company covers Rogaine or boner pills, IT ALSO covers female necessities such as birth control.
Iconic shot of Afghani Sharbat Gula, National Geographic (1985)
And I’m a privileged, white woman from the United States. My experience is just one person’s perspective and like so many women, I’ve never been able to fit the mold of the fairer sex. There’s been just enough social progress that thankfully, I don’t have to. I’m proud to be a feminist, and I hope that these disparities will someday be anachronistic, joining the same graveyard where our ancestors buried feudalism, buried Jim Crow laws, and (more recently) buried the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. The ghosts of longstanding discrimination still haunt us and public sentiment often changes more slowly than the law, especially as prejudice is passed down to those without the education to know better. I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on my own ghosts—those stomach-turning vestiges of legalized discrimination—even if the frigate of social progress is a slow-moving son-of-a-bitch.
My favorite photo of Georgia O’Keeffe. She was one of the most original modern artists of her time. Her (future) husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, showed intimate photos of her naked body without her permission to advance his own career at an art show during the 1920s. The media picked up on the scandal and humiliated her for it. This is why her incredible paintings weren’t discussed seriously as part of the canon of modern art at the time; instead, they were often disparaged and compared to vaginas. Now you know why her work still carries that stigma.