Are Weddings Outdated?

I used to wonder if I would be invited to any weddings, but then I turned 27. The average age of marriage in America. Seven weddings, five bachelorettes, one year. It’s enough to drive anyone to the brink.

Wedding number six: Milan.

Night one: An open cocktail bar in the heart of downtown Milan. Outside, tram tracks crisscross the cobblestone streets. It’s raining softly. Street lamps light up the rain and the wet cobblestones, making the street scene look like stained-glass.

Guests fill every corner of the bar. I elbow my way to the counter and order a Campari spritz. The harried bartender gives me an Aperol spritz instead. Drink in hand, I turn my back to the bar and survey the crowd. Clusters of conversations buzz around me. Not unlike a small child who can’t find their parent in a supermarket, I look hopefully around. I make eye contact with a man in his 50s. Like the bride’s father, he’s Scandinavian, he tells me, but lives in Paris. He tells me how the bride’s parents love cars. They bring their cars to Paris every year from New York to drive with him. “Oh?” I say.

“Cars are more than machines,” he says. “They’re like a philosophy that allows you to connect with the road.” I smile and nod. “At least that’s how I see it,” he says. I let the topic slide as we move on to how the far right is becoming a growing threat in Europe and around the world. I order a Negroni and move on to another conversation.

Day 2: The wedding is a civil service in a “marriage room” in the famous the Duomo piazza. The wedding guests gather outside the marriage room. The non-Italians guests glance nervously at each other, not sure of the protocol. Finally, family members wave us into the room and we park ourselves against the tapestried walls. Then the wedding party walks through the crowd and the service begins. I feel like I’m looking through keyholes as I find spaces between guests’ heads to see what is happening at the front of the room. An Italian official reads out the vows, which are punctuated infrequently by a translation. The bride and groom sign, they kiss. They’re married! They walk out of the room and we shower them with petals. Next stop is the cocktails, then dinner, then toasts, and dancing.

Not all weddings are like this. I went to one on an island in a golf course in Vail, with dramatic mountains and the setting sun as the backdrop, a Jewish one where the Chabad rabbi kept mentioning how the groom, a “nice Jewish boy,” would take care of the bride, until she yelled out mid-service, “and I’ll take care of him too!” I went to a sober Christian wedding and one with Arabic dancing and a pregnant bride. I went to one in a backyard where Korean moms in traditional dress danced non-stop to Gangnam Style. Really, it runs the gamut.

I’ve spent 7 weekends of my year at weddings, 5 weekends at bachelorettes. That’s 12 weekends devoted solely to a personal decision a friend happens to be making. For each weekend I arrange plane tickets, train tickets, rented cars, hotels, nearly all for places I’ve never been. That’s a quarter of my weekends based around someone else’s schedule.

But is it worth it? I get it, my friends are getting married. They’ve decided to spend the rest of their life with someone. But most of the time, they were already spending their life with this person. This person was already their partner and would likely continue to be so whether they decided to sign this piece of paper or not. I loved my friends before they got married and will continue to do so. I’m not quite sure why I need to celebrate this decision that really, quite frankly, has nothing to do with me.

In the 1700s, marriage celebrations occurred so that families could meet each other. Inviting family to witness a marriage solidified it and put societal pressure on the couple to stay together. But that was before couples exclusively married for love. Now, couples marry for love. They know each other, typically for years, their families and friends meet long before any wedding. They don’t need societal pressure to stay together- they have chosen each other, and decided together, that they’d like to spend the rest of their lives together. Again, it has nothing to do with me.

Along with all the time and money and stress spent planning trips for someone else’s occasion, more often than not, weddings make me feel less than. I have a career I’m proud of, I take part in activities that enrich me. I’m quite comfortable with myself and my life. I’m proud of what I am accomplishing, and I hold great hope in accomplishing more. Yet weddings make me, and the life I’ve created, feel worthless. The verse read at most marriage ceremonies is a verse from the Old Testament, where God creates Eve out of Adam’s rib. From the start, Eve was made to be a companion to Adam. She was not made to be her own person. People may say that there’s more to that verse than meets the eye, but as an audience member, this is what I hear. The verse strips women of their agency. It says to women, who wake up each day and make their own decisions and lead their own lives that, “no- you were placed here to be a companion.” Further, as I’ve learned from the weddings I’ve attended, the overarching Judeo-Christian belief is that God brings partners together as soulmates, people who fit each other like puzzle pieces. “When your spouse burns the toast and hasn’t done the laundry,” one pastor said at a service, “you can just say to yourself, ‘well, this is what God made for me.’” God molded and formed us at birth to be one particular person’s companion. As someone who cultivates my own life, I don’t want to be told that I am put on this earth to compliment someone else. I want to believe that I am whole, all on my own. I am not dependent on my partner to complete me.

My friends’ marriages have nothing to do with me, they make me feel like shit, and, lastly, what are we actually celebrating? When I ask my friends how married life is, they laugh and say, “the same!” In today’s era, nothing changes couples get married. Everyone experiences major life events. Buying homes, getting promotions, graduating school. All these events are pivotal ones that start a new chapter, but we don’t celebrate them the way we celebrate marriage. So, again, I ask myself, “What’s the celebration for?” Am I merely celebrating that society has given them an “ok” to have kids? That now they pay less taxes? That now they have fancier cutlery and dishes than I do?

Perhaps this sounds bitter, and it quite well may be. I have shelled out money and vacation days, and spent energy figuring out stressful logistics to celebrate this not-very-tangible change in people’s lives which has nothing to do with me. I’ve gone dress shopping, to dress fittings, I’ve ordered specific gowns, bought specific shoes, I show up early to sit in a hall, make polite conversation, and listen to a service about how I am not here on this earth to be my own person. Perhaps I am bitter that although I have accomplished things, and hope to accomplish more, I don’t throw parties to celebrate my successes where my loved ones shout my praises. Today, when more than 50% of women aren’t married and when women have a host of other accomplishments under their belt and are able to gain new footholds in the world with each decade, why are we celebrating a decision two adults make between themselves?

I am happy my friends are happy. I love my friends dearly. When they ask me to show up, I will show up in full form and dance the night away. I am happy for them regardless if it’s for a promotion, or a new child, buying a house, or running a marathon, or getting married. But why do I need to celebrate a marriage as if the bride and groom had discovered the cure for cancer? With the amount of time and energy and money put into each wedding, I feel like something more in their lives should have happened. I’m not saying marriage isn’t a big deal, but – oh, I guess I am. What if we diminished the hoop-la around weddings and increased the hoop-la about other achievements? Let’s celebrate publishing books, running 5Ks, becoming heads of departments, finishing a painting, or, just life. At the very least, let’s get rid of statements at the pulpit that diminish someone’s wholeness. I know my friends don’t believe that they are not complete without a man, so why should they have a service that espouses that? And if my friends do believe it, I ask that they give me a heads-up, so I know to skip the wedding.


Corporal Musing

As I approach 30 I find myself meditating more often on the idea that everything in life is fleeting.

This concept is visually manifesting itself in the physical, namely speaking my body. I am recognizing changes in my physique, small signs of wrinkles here, a gray hair there, the slow path towards decay starting to become apparent. It is humanizing and humbling to think about mortality. But it can also be daunting.

Yet at the same time it’s also showing me and reminding me of the absolutely incredible change that our bodies are capable of. If we take care of our bodies, they show it. They can reward us in the most amazing ways, from merely functioning harmoniously to helping us get through a strenuous or tough situation. We can ‘glow’ and shine, and if we tap into ourselves on a cellular level, we can even slow, and perhaps in some cases, stop, the aging process. (more on aging and ageism etc. another time).

I think about stories of instances when people have had to survive in awful conditions – and miraculously their bodies managed to keep them alive. Or people who participate in crazy sports events, climbing, running, swimming, fighting… and their bodies are able to kick into overdrive and keep going. And I think about cases when people have been able to turn their lives around and become healthy, morphing over a period of time such as after periods of sickness and bad habits, for example. Seeing those types of transformations really impress me. I know how hard it is to change, especially when something is so ingrained in your way of life as food or (lack of) movement are. And when your body seems to revolt against you, when neither you understand what is wrong, nor do medical professionals, I can understand the gratification and relief when your body becomes yours again. When you feel in your skin and in control.

But the truth is, so many of us do not have healthy bodies. We have chronic disease, we have dependencies and vices. It is also true that some of these health conditions we have little or no control over. Yet many are things that are a result of what we do to ourselves. Sometimes it is lack of education, others lack of access, and sometimes, pure apathy. I have such frustration when people I know have no desire to make changes to take care of themselves, to move their bodies, to refuse that candy. I know I have no place to tell people what to do, but if the science is there that there are rather simple ways to keep our bodies running more smoothly, then I think we not only should follow it, but we should encourage others to as well. Because it really does effect us – the pain, suffering, and hospital bills related to these lifestyles can be reduced.

As I consider having children and what that would do to my body, I am both terrified and also intrigued as to how our bodies can handle this huge endeavor. It is absolutely mindblowing to think that some people are capable of growing life inside themselves, and that their bodies are fully equipped to handle all the stages to produce a new being. From having the correct mix of hormones to allow for the environment to hold a baby to providing the right nutrients to the baby as it develops, to actually releasing a human into the world who is fully formed and ready to start its own life.

The more I read about it and talk to other women about their stories, the more I hear about how things can and do go wrong. It is alarming to think that there are so often complications in the process. Sure, some may be preventable and some may be detectable early enough to counteract. But still there are so many doubts and questions along the way.

But somehow the human race carries on. In fact, there are too many of us, which also is cause for concern for the future. That’s a topic for another day.

As for me, I am trying to take care of this one life, this one body. Please help me if I verge off path.

Family, America, and Moving On

Last time I wrote I was in Liberia, and now I’m writing again from here. By the time I finish this, I might actually be next to you!

I’m thinking about so many things and I want to write about them all. I’ll see how many I can fit in.

Two Thursdays ago now, I rode into the rural country, zombie-like with a throbbing headache and a contorting stomach from a night of vomiting. The night before, for the first time in all my trips to Liberia, I got food poisoning. I didn’t want to get out of bed Thursday, yet I knew I needed to go on this field trip because these trips are when I really learn about this country. I slept in the car on the way to the field, sunglasses on, head knocking against the window. I love to look out the window as we drive, but I slept as we passed the villages of small mud houses with thatched roofs, groves of palm trees and deep jungles. I slept as we passed students, walking on the side of the road in their uniforms to school.

Three hours later, we arrived in the city of Grbanga, dropped our stuff at the hotel, and went into town for a Liberian dinner where I nibbled at rice.

After dinner, I had arranged a talk show at a local radio station to promote our project. I had organized for a teacher to give testimony about the program on the show. The teacher lived far from the radio station and would have had to ride a motorbike in the dark down the dusty roads in order to get to the station. It’s dangerous in the dark here. Their motorbike could hit a pothole, a car could not see them, they could be robbed- so a colleague and I drove to pick her up.

It was dark by the time we set out for the teacher. Liberia is so close to the equator that the sun sets around 5:30 nearly all year. When the sun sets here, everything is so black. Few people in the rural areas have electricity. No light pollution dilutes the blackness. In the car on the way to the teacher, with the night surrounding all sides of us, my colleague, Robert, talked to me about his family. Robert is quiet and acts deliberately. When I first met him, he would make eye contact so seldomly with me that I didn’t know if he understood me. This week, I have gotten to know him more and have been impressed by his attention to detail and thoughtfulness. His wife, he told me, as our car hummed through the dark, was a nurse who died during Ebola. At the time, their only child was one and a half. He has five siblings, all adults, and his mom. All his siblings, he said, live with him in Monrovia. They have partners and children, but he is the only one of the six adult children who has a job. He is the sole breadwinner for the entire family. Family, he says, is everything. He is so dedicated to them he takes care of all their needs. His mom had cataracts and couldn’t see. He paid for her to have surgery, and now she sees. When he moved to Monrovia for this job, his entire family moved with him.

This is a common story. One person in a family works and financially supports the entire family of nieces, parents, siblings, siblings-in-law: all of them. These breadwinners don’t have fabulous jobs. They are drivers, guards, car washers. Yet their one salary supports everyone. Family here is so important. There is rarely homelessness because all family members live together. People infrequently go hungry, because everyone shares.

It makes me think of the United States where I know people who hate their family, people who refuse to speak with their family. I know there are valid reasons why people hate their families. Their parents traumatized them, were unsupportive, gave them more pain than joy, perhaps. But it still seems crazy to me that you could hate the people that raised you, carried you, fed you, and sacrificed for you.

I was talking to an American about this difference and they mentioned that perhaps people here prioritize family higher simply because there is less here. Families provide valuable emotional support and financial support, but also, you can’t escape your family. You can’t move across the country and start over, go on a vacation, throw yourself into your job, or start a business. Jobs are like four-leaf clovers here, rare and lucky. The country isn’t big enough to move across, plus, there’s basically only one big city, Monrovia. There’s no money to go on vacations, or start businesses. People don’t have time or money for hobbies.

I thought about this value for family when I met a woman from Azerbaijan who works at the UN at a party on Saturday night. “I love this job because I get to meet people from around the world,” she told me. “It’s so great to connect with people who share my values, unlike Liberians. You know, if you don’t work hard, you don’t get anywhere.” Perhaps it is easy to see Liberians as lazy. Perhaps it is easy to see any poor person as lazy. ‘Why aren’t they middle class like me,’ some might think. ‘They must be doing something wrong.’ But with the amount of weight each of Liberian carries in their daily lives and with their deep loyalty to family, I don’t see them as lazy, I see them as inspirational, making joyful, loving lives out of no resources, no safety net, no security. I wonder if that woman has considered how her life would be if she had to walk a mile to pump her water and carry it back on her head herself, feed 5 children as a single parent because her husband has died, and needed to get her tasks done by 6:00 each night because the sun goes down and there is no electricity and no light? The UN woman’s values- I’m not certain what they are, but I don’t think I share them.

We are lucky as Americans. We are fortunate that our country has some sort of safety net. We are lucky that we can distract ourselves with jobs, or afford vacations and move across time zones to a new city and find capital for a business. But this luckiness makes us less reliant on our families, and less likely to need them and care about that bond. I wish people didn’t hate their families. I wish Americans were more loving and kind towards their family. I don’t want to judge people who don’t like their families, but I do wish our society valued family more.

The other thing I wanted to talk about was the US. Man, Europeans don’t like us. I forget, living in the US—or maybe I never fully realized.

Saturday night I went to a pool party with a host of other expats. It was at one of the nicest apartment complexes in Monrovia. There was a DJ and probably 50 people there from around the world: Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Ireland, who knows where else. I love being able to talk with so many people from around the world and see our commonalities and differences. But one thing stood out more than I expected: the disdain for the US. One man I spoke with from the UK even seemed hateful towards us, saying how he would never step foot in our country.

I know we’re far from perfect. We are racist, we don’t provide a safety net for the poor (mainly because we’re racist), we have guns in schools. But still, I find it hard to think that the UK is oh-so-much holier than we are. They have quite their fair share of racism, particularly evident in the wake of Brexit. They led colonization, taking over tens of countries and forcing those countries to act and speak like them. Abortion and same-sex marriage are both illegal in parts of the UK.

I think many parts of Europe are fed news about America’s shootings, cops shooting unarmed black men, Donald Trump’s “wall” and, perhaps, they hear how we tear apart hardworking families with deportation. All these are true, and things I abhor, yet I still feel the need to defend our country. I think most Americans would agree with me that the positives of our country outweigh the negatives.

Despite our racism I have not yet seen a country as diverse as ours. Yes, every wave of immigrants had difficulties. Immigrants perhaps have more difficulties today than before, although I am not necessarily convinced about that because our history boasts Japanese internment camps, the Chinese Exclusion Act, a Jew quota, and so much more. Eventually, though, acceptance occurs and immigrants are woven into the story of America. This year, Harvard Business School accepted more minorities than whites. I am not saying this slow pace of progress is right, but I am saying that I have yet to see a country as diverse as ours.

From Silicon Valley, to gay pride parades, to the best research institutions in the world, our country is creative, and industrious, and expressive. We have backwards laws and processes, but we know it and we are not afraid to speak out for what we think is wrong. It makes me sad to think there is so much anger and disgust towards our country. I don’t have hatred towards my country. In fact, I believe so strongly in our country that I have a passion to make it better. That is why I joined the march against the Muslim ban this year, that is why I joined the march for climate change this year, that is why I protested the pipeline, that is why I support the ACLU. Although I am surprised there hasn’t been more of a revolution in the advent of Trump, I think our country’s passion for expression, for vocalizing our opinions, and participation in democracy is evident.

I don’t want to sound like a blind patriot. I think the US does a ton of things incorrectly, we start wars, we kill our own citizens, but that doesn’t mean we are all only bad.

The other topic I wanted to write on was relationships, just about how hard it is to de-couple from Nik. I miss him. I miss having a best friend here. I miss having a best friend to go on adventures with. I miss the adventures we would do together. I love adventures. I love feeling alive, and he would make that happen. I know that this period is going to be hard. And I know that it’s going to be ok. I will find friends, I will spend time with myself. I will meet people that make me curious. And hopefully, I will be able to be friends once again with him.

I love you!

Reminders to Live

Hey sis,

Today I had a panic attack. My lungs were closing in, my mouth was dry, my head spinning. I tried to close off my ears with my pointer fingers and take deep breaths but I couldn’t calm down. I was on the plane, so I couldn’t put my head between my knees, lie down, or walk away.

It’s weird to think about fear. I’m lucky that it isn’t something I usually think about, so when it sneaks up on me, it is particularly jarring.

So what set me off? I think it was a combination of a few things. I’m not afraid of flying. Maybe I should be since I fly so often and something is bound to happen (yes, I know planes are one of the safest modes of transport), but usually flying doesn’t cause me any emotional damage save when there is someone annoying or uncomfortable sitting next to me. (oh also once I was too high and I started to get paranoid, but that was an exception!) But this time there was a girl, maybe 4 years old, who was shrieking (laughing, screaming, simply making high pitched loud noises) the entire 2 hour flight in the row in front of me. It was annoying at first, but I think it became sensory overload (you know how I feel about loud noises!!) because I was stuck in the middle, the sky was completely cloudy outside, and I felt really trapped. And it freaked me out.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how happy I am to be alive. How I don’t want to die yet. It’s not that I’ve had lots of near-death experiences, but recently I feel vulnerable and I gues with all the traumatic things that go on (hurricanes, politics, persecution) I feel like life is fragile. Statistically speaking I guess I’m doing pretty well for having made it this far and for having had such a healthy childhood. I’ve avoided major accidents and I’ve never been truly sick with the exception of the occasional flu or other infections.

I guess as a kid I had lots of stomach aches and headaches, but I think they were the result of anxiety more than anything else. But who knows. Also I had warts on my big toe on my right foot.

But back to today. Max asked the flight attendant to bring some water. That helped. I stared at a picture from the airline magazine and tried to take deep and even breaths. When I started to cry I knew it was going to be okay. And I asked Max to rub my back. That really helped. Slowly I started to calm down. Finally we landed and when I got off the plane I was almost completely relaxed.

More than anything, if I were to self diagnose, I think my pathologies are more psychological than the result of anything really physical. Of course they can be triggered by physical things: cramped spaces, stuffy rooms, loud noises. When I am in that moment of physical reaction to my surroundings, when I feel myself shutting down, I tell myself that it’s all okay, but when you are scared, you can’t always be in control of your body and mind.

But what are you afraid of? I actually have no idea… except for being home alone, but is it more boredom than anything else?

Also as an aside the mother of the child was encouraging her behavior: playing with her to produce the shriek-laughs, ignoring her to produce the shriek-yells— so that’s a whole other conversation that can be had, looping back to our conversation in London about how kids behave in public and parenting. I don’t mean to point fingers and to assume anything, but I’m just commenting that the child’s volume was what set off my reaction and it was almost certainly preventable.

But I’m okay! Finally home in Minsk, listening to the rain outside my window and my bed warmer’s sweet sleep breaths at my side. It’s nice to be alive, even when things are scary.

Trump’s New World Order

Hi little married munch,

I feel bad for my slow blog response. I can’t believe the last time you posted was August!!! I’m so sorry. I’m the one who has been holding it up. As I mentioned to you on the phone, I had first started a post about how I tried to be less judgmental during 2016. It was this whole nice post about personal growth and goals for 2017. But then Trump got inaugurated and I felt my whole world turn upside down. In a matter of a day, I suddenly left like I didn’t matter. My individual, personal goals didn’t matter. In one day, we were thrust into a new world order where all that mattered was fighting the government for those who have less, for those who will truly suffer under Trump’s leadership. My personal goals seemed frivolous when our country, and the world around it, was crumbling.


The supervisor for the maternity ward shows me the birthing room, with two beds.

I have believed that America is the greatest country on earth. And I have believed that because we are formed of immigrants. When you get on the train in this country, you see people of all backgrounds, all skin colors, all walks of life, working to make their lives fruitful. America is great because we take the best from other countries and allow them to flourish.

When I come back to America from wherever I travel, I feel a deep, deep sense of relief to see all different hued people living together, working side by side. It’s not ideal, it’s not equal, but it is the best demonstration of diversity and inclusivity I have ever seen of any country.

When Trump threatens our diversity and our openness to others, the very thing that makes us great, when he tells Syrian children that they should throw away their hopes, when he tells countries that desperately need educated doctors that no, your people cannot be educated here, he is tearing the world down, one dream and one individual at a time.

The plan Trump is implementing for America not only takes away what makes us great, but it also effects the entire world. It effects people desperately seeking safety, those seeking higher education so that they can lift their own countries out of poverty, and those seeking new opportunities. Trump’s strategy puts a damper on our entire world.

Two days ago I visited Kolahun Hospital in the north of Liberia. According to the IMF, Liberia is the fourth poorest country in the world. It is obvious. In Kolahun Hospital, there is only one doctor. This hospital serves three districts in this extremely rural area. After the doctor, the next man in charge is a registered nurse. I spoke to him while we were there. He saw the first Ebola patient; he still remembers his name. He told me that he loves his country. He has seen it suffer and is determined to see it succeed. He said he wants to go to America to get his MD so he can come back and serve his people. Trump is crushing dreams like these. Dreams that only help the world become stronger.

And of course, there’s climate change. By ignoring climate change, Trump has sealed the world’s death letter.

Climate change is here. And it’s terrifying.

In Washington DC this winter, it flurried once. It’s been 70 and sunny day after day. When I wake up to find another spring-like day, a tingling sense of dread rises from the depths of my stomach. I am terrified of what climate change will bring us.

But as an educated white woman in Washington, DC, I don’t really need to worry about that much for myself. I, mostly likely, will be ok.

But here in Liberia, climate change has severe consequences.

The rain, they say here, is coming “so soon” this year, so soon. While I’ve been here, I’ve been through a few rain storms. When the rain comes, it thunders viciously down, pounding the tin roofs of the shack houses. High speed winds tear through them. While I was in the rural areas, there was an unexpected storm which was particularly bad. A few houses, an education director I spoke with told me, were ruined.

But more than the houses, it is the roads. Roads are the veins of a society, pumping the essentials for life into a nation. Food from farms to towns, trips to the hospital, visits to the bank, all this relies on roads. In rural Liberia, where most of the country lives, there are barely any roads. Those that do exist are unpaved, carved with pits and traversable only by Land Rovers or motorcycles. The people say the roads are “deplorable,” and it’s a perfect description.

Because of the lack of roads, it takes a person one hour to travel four miles by motorbike during the dry season.

But during the rainy season, the roads become mud trenches. They are nearly impassable. Trucks get swallowed in these mud pits. When this happens, the driver and all those on board shovel themselves out, leaving the road even more torn up for vehicles behind them.

We have been visiting hospitals and schools this week. As I mentioned before, Kolahun Hospital is one of the hospitals we visited. It serves three districts. It has one ambulance, an SUV with huge tires. When there is an emergency, that car travels down those mud trenches, spending hours to get to a destination maybe only 10 miles away. Even once the ambulance is close by, there may not be any roads to the exact location. What does this mean for hospitals? Patients unnecessarily die from causes that could have been cured.

The north of the country, where I am, used to be the bread basket of Liberia, but because of the road conditions, trucks can no longer transport food from the north to the south where the capital city is. Economic growth, which these people desperately need, has been stymied.

Visits to the banks, where teachers and health care workers pick their salaries up, take days, which means that teachers and health care workers leave their places of work to pick up their salaries, letting their students and patients suffer.

The rain, they say, is coming so soon. Too soon. Unusually soon.

I think of how climate change effects my life in DC. I will miss the snow.

I think of how it effects people in these villages. They can’t even consider climate change or the environment. This entire region has no electricity. None. Not even the cities. If you are lucky enough, you have a generator or a solar panel, which you use at night. This region has no running water. You pump your water from the village pump. There are 250 to one hand pump. If you are lucky, there are 150 to one hand pump. People here are focused on finding food for the day, on surviving. They don’t have time to think of climate change, and the fact that America is poisoning the earth. All they know is that the rain is coming too soon, and what it means for them is hardship. More months of hardship.

It pains me to think that we, the West, are poisoning the planet, and others, these faceless others in places far away, are the ones that will suffer.

Trump has turned our worlds upside down, but more than us, he is hurting those at the bottom of society most. Those who are fortunate, like us, need to help those who are less fortunate. How can we sit around in our privilege while others, because of some random accident of birth, suffer.

Feeling the feels

Just the other day we were talking about happiness and finding happiness within oneself. Being tuned into one’s mood and emotions is a complicated task. As humans we are unique in our ability to not only feel emotions but to also have some control over the way we express those emotions. But even when one tries to mask how one truly feels in donning a ‘poker face’, there are times when the feeling overtakes any efforts of constraint.

I often find myself struggling with my emotions, clumsily shifting from extreme numbness to overwhemling emotion. I can’t say why really, and sometimes I surprise myself in my reactions to certain things. (Max is amazingly patient — I’m truly lucky for that!) Yet at the same time, I can’t say that my emotions themselves span the enitre spectrum; I can only recall a few times in my entire life when I’ve been genuinely angry, and in the past five years at least I can’t say that I’ve been jealous or bitter. It’s mostly feelings of hopes and fears, sympathy and irritation, sadness, worry, amusement, and, on the occasion, senenity. I’m really trying to work on being zen, but really, when I sit down to enjoy the moment and someone lights a cigarette next to me and the smoke is blowing in my face, it’s hard to relax and I fight feelings of annoyance. Yes, I can get up and move, but that doesn’t prohibit someone else in the next spot from doing the same thing or something else that stresses me out. Basically people bother me and I recognize that and I’m trying to work through it until I can move to a remote location where only people I permit can be present, mwahaha.

Now as I am writing this, I am saddened, but I can scarcely explain why. I feel the fleetingness of time, I am nostalgic, and I am overhwelmed about the stuggles the earth and people face. At times when I watch all the tired faces stream past me in the metro, their pains feel like a constant weight that tugs at me. Even when I burrow myself into my book or phone I am constantly aware of the struggles that surround me. I find myself distracted and falling into loops of pity and shame relating to so many things — excess and lack, ignorance and condesendance, extremes of all kinds that don’t allow for compromise and middleground.

Yet at the same time as I am often overwhelmed with saddness, I also find that there are moments, regularly, when I am walking around and I am recognize that I am truly happy. It can sneak up as a surprise or it can be an dull buzz hanging around for a period of time. I think about how grateful I am for the experiences and people that I’ve been fortunate enough to have in my life.

I don’t know if living abroad has made me hyper-aware of my surroundings or if this was something that I always tapped into as an insecure person growing up. Sometimes I am too overloaded by all the things that are going on around me and I have to tune it all out. I do think that living in Russia has made this easier and more acceptable because people don’t really interact with strangers, so you can ignore people and it’s not seen as rude or antisocial. In fact I think that when I do communicate with strangers here there is an initial surprised reaction of ‘what do you want from me’ until it is clear there is a good reason for engaging. I haven’t decided how exactly I feel about devoting attention to strangers. I think it depends on my mood and frame of mind. When you’re travelling and you have a lot free time, it can be funny and interesting to converse with people, or perhaps if there is a situation that is worthy of discussion. But the mundane small talk that is so typical in the US? I guess it lifts some people up, fueling them with energy while to others it is draining and pointless.

I think that lately I’ve been even especially emotional and nostalgic since I’m about to embark on a serious change in my life. Listening to a postcast or reading a passage in a book can bring me to tears, or upon seeing an old couple with linked arms can touch me. I am excited in both the positive-anticipation way as well as the untamed-nervous way because there are still so many questions to be answered by time. I know that everything will continue to work out, or that it will get worked out, but still, the fact that it’s so ‘real’ in that it is official and binding makes it seem like a huge deal. I don’t want marriage to be the defining moment of my life, but just one of many meaningful steps along the way. I certainly don’t see marriage as an accomplishment or a rite of passage, but more as a fact and a celebration.

I understand that happiness and sadness, truly, are states of mind, but that they have such a deep bodily impact. I am glad that I can feel things so wholly even though it often makes for extremely uncomfortable moments both physically and socially. I cherish that in a way because even though sometimes I can sink down way low, I’d rather feel that and have a slight grasp on how people who really suffer feel constantly, than to live on a steady plane numb to the highs and lows. I do think that I am, to some extent, both manic and bipolar, but I think that anyone who is real with themselves and listens closely to their inner emotional dialogue can recognize moments of inbalance. But once again, we are complicated animals with such diverse ranges of experiences, and the added dimension of relationships is simply abstruse. I think that these tendencies don’t always need to be ‘fixed’ or addressed if the individual can cope with it on their own. (Yet I think that sometimes chemical intervention is very effective and necessary — it’s for the individial to decide with their trusted medical advisors.)

Anyway, for now I’ll keep feeling all the feels over here. Love you!



Our Whiney Generation

To my sister, the women’s study major:

Dear Becky,

A few months ago, Nik and I went to a feminist socialist talk at a café con bookstore. It’s one of these cozy places with comfy chairs and organic coffee and baristas wearing t-shirts. I forgot to look at the map as we drove so we were at least 15 minutes late. When we arrived, the room was overflowing with people. We posted ourselves at the door and peeked in: millennials of all stripes with a sprinkling of aging hippies filled the room, pouring into the aisles and lining the wall. The speaker was a short woman around 55 with curly red hair covered by a beanie. She wore snow boots and had a confident, wide stance with her feet slightly turned out. As she spoke, she waved her arms and moved her body, as if had too much passion to gesticulate with her hands. She spoke with an unpremeditated freeness that is so rare in this political city. It was captivating, and in a way, reminded me of how mom speaks: from the heart, with such a dynamism and energy that it takes the movement of her whole body to make a point. It was touching to see someone express themselves so genuinely in such an uncalculated way. Looking around the room, I wasn’t the only one shocked by how uncontrolled she was. Everyone was mesmerized, which is unique to see these days, when people always seem to crawl into the safety of their phones. “I want to be like her,” I thought. “I want to speak vibrantly and be unafraid to stand out.” But I don’t even think she was unafraid to be different. She was simply confidant and passionate about what she said.

Which was socialist feminism. The only real type of feminism, she said.

After she spoke, there was a discussion, which turned to how to have a socialist feminist revolution. To have a socialist feminist revolution, the working class and middle class need to unite and rise together against corporations. It takes collaboration and dialogue to work together for one cause.

Not everyone liked this idea of working together. A girl in the front row raised her hand. “I don’t have time for non-feminists. I’m sick of them. I’m at the end of my rope. This guy next to me, for example,” she pointed at one of the few guys in the room, “had asked me if anyone was sitting in this seat before he sat down. I told him ‘not that I know.’ But what I should have said is, ‘why don’t you ask one of the 10 girls that are sitting on the floor. Why don’t you offer them a seat.’ I’m sick of this rudeness. I can’t deal with it anymore.” She burst into tears.

Nik and I had paid strict attention to the discussion as it was going along, but at this, we both turned to each other and I couldn’t help lifting my eyebrows up in terror. Let me reiterate: this girl was in the front row. She called out a young man sitting next to her, one of only a few men. He had come, it seemed, to learn, to join the conversation, to hear from knowledgeable people. She burst into tears because he had politely asked if anyone was sitting in the chair, and because none of the 10 girls sitting on the floor had taken it. The young man looked slightly confused.

The conversation continued in agreement until it reached a blonde girl in her early 20s in the corner. “All we have is our words,” she said. “If people want to join the conversation, they need to use the right words. They should be mature enough to respect the conversation and shouldn’t join if they don’t.”

Other people in the room looked at each other and nodded in agreement. One black girl chimed in, “Yes! I just don’t have time to teach everyone. I don’t have enough energy to do it. If you don’t know the right words, I will not talk to you.”

Finally, the speaker jumped in. “What I hear is troubling. You shouldn’t see conversing with someone as teaching them. Treat every conversation like a two way street, you can learn from them, and they can learn from you. When we share perspectives, everyone can learn. Everyone has something to offer. You should be excited to converse with someone about a topic like feminism. These people are just learning, how can you expect them to know the right words? How do you get anyone to join a cause if you frighten them away?

“You millennials,” she continued, “have never seen a real revolution.”

“Not true!” Said the black girl. “Black lives Matters is from our generation!”

“No.” The speaker shot her down. “Black Lives Matters is a fringe awakening in comparison to the civil rights movement that swept the nation in the 60s, when people from all walks of life united for one cause. You have never seen struggle or severe discrimination. You have never seen a revolution where backgrounds don’t matter, vocabulary doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are there, you care, and you are ready to stand up for your rights and those of your fellow citizens.”

Becky, I agree with her. I am so tired of people completely invalidating others because they don’t know the right words, or are ignorant of the cause. Our generation frustrates me often. We’ve grown up with such ease and luxury that all we do is complain and whine and find reasons to judge. We have never seen struggle. We have never fought tooth and nail for something. We just sit in our armchairs in comfy coffee shops and wail at those that don’t share our beliefs.

I wish we had more people like this woman around to jolt us back to reality and help us be vibrant, shake off society, reach across the aisle, and listen to those who come from different schools of thoughts.

Let’s see what 2016 has in store.

I have similar feelings about gifts.

I think we’ve talked about it before, but for posterity, I’ll lay it out here. If this makes me an ungrateful asshole, I’m okay with that. I just don’t get the whole material gift thing (unless we’re talking about food!).

In my relationship with Max we haven’t really followed the traditional route in going through the motions of giving gifts at the standard appropriated times. Thinking about it now, we haven’t exchanged birthday presents for the past few years, Christmas/New Year’s presents, presents for Valentine’s Day or the Russian (somewhat) equivalents “Defender’s Day” and “Women’s Day.” In 2015 I didn’t get any gifts at all except some chocolates from a student, and I’m okay with that.

It’s not that I don’t like and appreciate gifts. And it’s not that I don’t like giving gifts. But to me there is nothing worse than a useless and unwanted gift. I think there are things that you can always give, no matter who or what, if you really really feel like it’s important to give a gift (chocolate, olive oil, in-season flowers, fresh fruit, tea/coffee/cocoa, socks… mostly food 😉 ) BUT what I think is more meaningful is when you see something that reminds you of another person, and you know that they will find it purposeful. For some people it could be a tchotchke – there do exist (gasp) people who actually like knick-knacks, but I think it takes knowing a person and really thinking about what they would like, not what you want (or just buying whatever you can for under $10!). 

I will always remember the gifts that were surprises and that were really thoughtful over the ones that were just routine and mundane (perhaps someone did give effort and time in choosing the gift regardless and I acknowledge that). I will remember the random tokens of love and appreciation from my loved ones, and cherish them.  

And, conversely, I will always remember the gifts that broke me somewhere inside because of their pointlessness and plain outright wastefulness. In moments like those all I can think of are a) people who don’t receive gifts because they live in poverty and here I am receiving a piece of junk that makes me angry, which makes me more upset b) landfills c) clutter in my surroundings d) the money that I could have actually used that was spent to buy some crap e) the resources that went into making the piece of shit in the first place and on and on, feeling equally terrible about myself for having high standards and for getting worked up about a gift that someone gave with much different intentions.

And in giving gifts I have great anxiety as you do, unless I have been intending to do something/give something to someone for a while and a holiday makes it more legitimate.

Maybe in a way our blog is like the modern extension of what Gma Lenore was working on: our family history, our views and perceptions laid out and trying to make sense of it all.

One more thing in response to your post: change is inevitable. You just gotta embrace it and keep on growing along with the world. We can reminisce about times past, but we can’t let ourselves miss the current moment and dream about the future.
Sorry for the delay in writing!!! Motivation these winter days is a struggle.

Changes Are A’Comin

Hi Munch,

Well, the holidays are here! We’ve had gift baskets arrive in our office each week; at least three holiday parties with more on the way; Christmas trees crowd the sidewalks in Eastern Market.

And with the holidays comes the new year: new beginnings and new adventures.

As the end of this year has foretold, I think 2016 will bring lots of changes. I don’t want to jinx anything or get my expectations too high, but just realistically I think this year will be different for all of us. For the past three years, I’ve been so used to every year repeating itself with slightly different variations. Here in DC we’ve established routines and patterns that have become annual. I know what to expect with each coming season. Summer means volleyball, barbeques, tennis and picnics. Fall means apple picking, hiking, and Danielle’s birthday. Winter means board games and dinner parties. Spring means festivals and cherry blossoms. For the past three years, while small changes are made each year, the larger theme has stayed the same.

This year, I know it won’t be the same. Matthew is moving to the West Coast, you are splitting time between St. Petersburg and Belarus and have a whole new career. Evan will probably leave for NYC in the next few months. Marina has a boyfriend, my friend John has left DC and is traveling the country in a van. Sam has gotten into grad school and Simone and Alison will hear back soon.

It’s terrifying, but at the same time, a relief. Now that I have these routines in DC, I know that it is time to move on, to experience something new. I hope I don’t get ahead of myself as I often do, but I’m excited for the uncertainty that lies ahead. I am scared to make big changes by myself, without a partner or a known path. I hope I have someone to make these changes with, but if not, I’m glad that my friends are making changes because it will encourage me to as well, even if I have to do it on my own. This year, I hope I can be bolder, and focused, and follow through with my ambitions.

Quick note on your last post: I agree. It’s all about balance. We need to treat our bodies well because they are the vessels that carry us through life. But we can’t confuse that with torturing our bodies for society. It’s hard to know sometimes whether I’m doing something for society or for myself. I try to think deeply about what I do to my body and what I gain from it. It’s hard to honor it, but I hope that I do more often than not.

PS. I can’t wait till you read Grandma Lenore’s book. I really do think it’s amazing.

PPS. Was this post too short? I want to say more, but that is all I think I want to say on this subject right now. Maybe if you write your next post soon, I can write more on different topics.

PPS. Well, one thing I do want to talk about is presents. I hate presents. I hate the anxiety of spending money, of the fear that the person won’t like it, of the fear that I won’t like the ones I receive. Of wasting money that no one has. But Matthew gave us all gifts last night and it did give me some warm fuzzies. I felt appreciated and cared about. I hate how I liked it. Bottom line is it made me think, maybe I should give gifts. (But then I go to buy them and the fear sets in that the person won’t like it and I remember why I hate them.)

XOXO. Love you.

Contemplations on mortal existence

As a femaIe person, body image has been something that I’ve always been so aware of – at points to a destructive degree. Men and women alike are privy to such an absurd inundation of gender norms and standards of one’s appearance from the time we are born until we are about 60 years old —- when society stops giving any kind of shit what one looks like, man or woman. (and soon forgets about the individual’s existence what-so-ever). Many of these messages on what kind of body we are supposed to have are on a subconscious or even subliminal level, so deeply ingrained into language and behaviour that they even may go under the radar of highly sensitive feminists. But the majority of the manifestations of appearance norms are so blatant and obvious yet they are rarely even questioned and are simply accepted as the status quo. I must say, though, that since the time that we were teenagers (ohhhhhhh wow, I’m feeling old), I feel as though the discussion around body image has shifted and open dialogue has become much more visible, creating room for more body types to be seen and accepted. But perhaps this is just a refocusing of my own comprehension of the world rather than a change at-large. All I can say is that in many ways I’m glad I’m no longer 16.

Now, as a 27 year old, I feel like I have a moral conundrum about my body. On the one hand, I believe in accepting all body types and allowing myself to age in whatever way ageing manifests itself. But on the other hand, I feel that it is important for me to maintain my health – and body – or at least attempt to do so. To me this doesn’t mean aspiring to the societal standards of beauty, but feeling good and strong in my body and taking care of my body in a thoughtful way are somewhat priorities for me, even if I’m not always good to my body. (I should probably exercise more, get more sleep, drink less, stop smoking weed…. but then again I should probably move out of the city, and to create the ideal-ideal life would just mean that my life is curated and that’s not really living.) At the same time, I feel hypocritical about attaching so much value to my physical person. I feel like it’s so important for girls to see their worth in other things than their bodies, and so it makes me conflicted and angry even that I spend so much time and invest so much money into doing things (exercising, exfoliating, moisturizing, all kinds of procedures…) that reinforce this idea that our bodies are our worth.

I know, I know, we still live in a reality where our bodies are by extension ourselves, and taking care of our bodies means that we have a better chance at living long lives with less risk of sickness and other incidents that may kill us or prevent us from living out our lives to our greatest potential. And so this is why I am torn between the corporeal realities and pressures we face and the philosophical and figurative world of letting go and using energy to focus on other things.

I do contemplate the consequences of a world where we are immortal or where we are detached from our physical selves (like the movie Surrogates). I think that fear of death can motivate people and that knowing that there is finality has great significance in people’s decisions. And I think that the plot-line of every individual’s life is special in it’s own unique way. If we all existed forever, we would eventually know and experience everything possible and things would get boring.

Whatever. I guess what’s really important is some kind of balance. Sometimes it’s good to pamper yourself. Sometimes you have to push yourself to do things you don’t enjoy because it will pay off in the long run. Sometimes you eat an entire container of ice cream, and that’s okay too.

But you know what’s good? Doctors. Everyone should go get tested for HIV and screened for cancer regularly. Because what’s worst of all is leaving the world before you’re ready to go, when your body revolts against you and you give up on fighting for your life and succumb to what’s easy – just letting go.