Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Am ScienceMama's Bitch

If any of you ever find yourself in a position of agreeing to cook Thanksgiving turkey for 8 people when you consider yourself a cooking idiot, all you have to do is follow ScienceMama's recipe. It will turn out brilliantly, even if you are in a country that does not have non-alcoholic apple cider, and you have to use pressed apple juice instead. It will turn out brilliantly even if you fail to realize that turkeys have TWO cavities, and so you inadvertantly end up cooking the bag of giblets inside the turkey. Not that that happened or anything.

So yes, the turkey was a huge hit at my expat Thanksgiving dinner. And the rest of the food was divine as well: homemade rolls, eggplant with stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetable risotto, pumpkin pie, baklava and mulled wine. Plus there was good conversation, a lot of laughing, and some Uno Stacko. What else could you want?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful My Family Is Safe

I just got off the phone with my relatives in Bombay. My cousin works near the Oberoi hotel, and apparently missed the attack on the train station by about 15 minutes. 

I'm tired, I'm heartsick, I'm dazed by the wreckage of beautiful hotels I have stayed at, but right now, for this second I am thankful that my loved ones are okay.

Hope you and your loved ones have a safe Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Too Busy Not Writing Papers To Blog

So go read this instead. (Full disclosure: the author is my uncle.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Eco-First Date

Well, since my post about engagement rings was so popular, I figured that I'd leap to the other end of the dating spectrum and spend some time discussing the first date today.

First dates are tricky enough as it is, but when you're a little eco-nutty they are even harder. You want to be yourself, but you don't want to seem too nutty on the first date. Best to gradually let the crazy come out. Hopefully by the time your sig o finds out that you don't use paper toilet paper, they will already be so smitten with you that they won't care.

On the other hand, you do want someone who will be reasonably tolerant of your green escapades, so if your date spends all his time mocking polar bears, they might not be the one for you. So, you definitely don't want to hide too much. For example, many many years ago, I went out on a date with a guy, and I let him pick the restaurant. Which isn't a big deal, except that I specifically told him that I didn't eat red meat, as at the time I was only eating chicken and fish. Now, I would imagine that as dietary restrictions go, no red meat is a fairly minor one, right? Well, guess where the guy took me. To a steak house. Yes, a steak house. In the Midwest. Know what was on the menu? Red meat. Know what was NOT on the menu? Things that didn't involve red meat. I ended up eating an extremely sad garden salad that literally consisted of iceberg lettuce, croutons, and ranch dressing. As you can probably guess, there was no second date.

So, you definitely want to be upfront about your environmentalism, if not entirely upfront about your specific enviro kooks. A date who is intolerant of said environmentalism is not a person you really want to be with anyway. BUT, this is not to say that you shouldn't say ... date someone who drives an SUV, or someone who eats factory farmed meat, or someone who doesn't recycle. Because the truth is, people change. Remember, most of us weren't born environmentally conscious. It took us time to become so. So if your date isn't Mr. or Ms. Eco, don't let that necessarily be a deal breaker. If you both really like each other, you'll probably adapt.

All right, so in sum, be honest about yourself, but not too nutty, and don't date environmentally intolerant people, but don't make their lack of environmentalism a total deal breaker. Everyone got that? Ok, good.

Now that we've got that out of the way, where are you going to go?

Some first date locales are definitely trickier than others. A coffee date, for example, is a pretty easy date. It's low key, it doesn't have to be too long, and it's not that hard to find local independent coffee shops that brew organic fair trade coffee. Even if you go to that non-independent behemoth, Starbucks, they do have fair trade coffee available. On the other hand, if you really like a person, coffee might not be your first choice in terms of first dates....

Then there's the ever popular drinks option. It's fun, having a drink can alleviate first date nerves, and here in London, it's surprisingly easy to find organic, locally brewed beer on tap. If you can't find organic locally brewed beer on tap, just do your best. I tend to give preference to what's on tap, both because it generally tastes better, and then you're not stuck with a bottle which may or may not be recycled. Then you might go for a local beer, unless your local beer choice is Bud Light, in which case, absolutely DO NOT GO FOR THE LOCAL BEER. If there is no good local beer choice, you might live in a region like California that has excellent local wines, so that's always an option. If you can't find anything local or organic that sounds appealing, don't sweat it too much. It's your first date, you're freaking out a little inside, and really, your choice of drink should be the least stressful part of the evening.

Dinner dates are probably the most difficult first dates to deal with. They involve a longer time commitment than coffee or drinks, and dealing with food is complicated even when you're not an eco-nut! If you're a girl, there's a lot of pressure not to be The Girl Who Eats Half A Salad, but there's also a lot of pressure not to be The Girl Who Eats Like A Pig. Similarly, if you're a guy, there's all this weird pressure to be masculine. Like, if you order a vegetarian entree, then maybe she'll think you're some super sensitive girly boy who likes to take baths while listening to Peter Gabriel. (Not that there's anything wrong with baths or Peter Gabriel per se.)

The point is, we all subscribe, at least a little, to the idea that you are what you eat. Thus, we can see what the other person orders as an indicator of sorts as to what kind of person they are. Not very fair, but thems the breaks on a first date.

So what to do? Well, clearly restaurant choice is important as illustrated in my sad steak house first date story. Many of us eco-nuts would probably prefer to go to the cute place downtown with really good food that sources their ingredients locally. But, your date might have other ideas, which, remember, doesn't necessitate that that person is a bad fit for you. Also, there's the added question of who is going to be paying for said date. Now, I'm not going to go into that little issue, as we all could probably write books about it, but what I'm saying is, if there's a good chance you won't be paying, then don't suggest a place which costs $50 per head.

So here's what I would suggest. Ethnic food, if you both are somewhat adventurous can be a really good option. One, because you can often find good ethnic food inexpensively, and when you're eating at an ethnic restaurant, all those steak/salad issues tend to disappear. What does ordering saag paneer or kung pao chicken say about a person? Nothing really, that I can think of.

Another good option is pizza. I know what you're thinking. Really, pizza? But your local pizza place is a really nice option because almost everyone likes pizza, it's reasonably inexpensive, and there are likely to be plenty of veggie and non-veggie options. Also, then you can throw in that funny story about how you tried to make mozarella, and ended up setting off the smoke alarm, and half the building had to be evacuated.

And that wraps up this week in first dates. Anyone else have some first date advice they'd like to offer?

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Did I Get Myself Into?!!!

I agreed to make a turkey for our expat Thanksgiving next Saturday. I, who does not understand what the words brush cut mean. I, who has a horror of raw meat. I, who can screw up the simplest dish on the planet.

Yeah.

So if you need to find me next Saturday, I'll be in the kitchen, breathing into a paper bag, hysterically dialing ScienceMama for the 3,000th time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend?

No, I'm not engaged or anywhere NEAR engaged, but I'm a girl, and occasionally I think about these kinds of things.

Once upon a time, I had decided that if I ever were to get engaged, I wanted a princess cut diamond from Tiffany's with a platinum band.

Looking back, I can't really believe that that was actually what I wanted. I mean, clearly it's what I wanted because it's what *everyone* wanted. But the truth is, that's not really me. Even if I didn't care about the cost, or the environmental factors, princess cut Tiffany's? Can you imagine that being ME? Okay, you may not know me very well, but trust me. It's not me.

Now, the non-consumer in me has a preference towards second-hand, err, I mean antique, rings. I'd guess an antique diamond would be insanely expensive, but there are other cool stones out there. If I ever wind up getting married, that would probably be what I would lean towards. I'm not particularly set on a diamond anyway.

But if you like the diamond look, what do you do? My friends were having this discussion, and I think people generally agreed that antique diamonds were great if they were affordable. A lot of my friends have diamonds that have been passed on from generation to generation so that's an EXTREMELY affordable option! And it's more meaningful to be wearing your grandmother's ring, I think. (Unless your grandmother had a horrible marriage, in which case I'm not sure if it is better, you know, symbolically.)

The other options are, of course, conflict-free diamonds and synthetic diamonds. Conflict-free diamonds, are again, probably expensive. Synthetic diamonds have the advantage of being cheaper, and as one of my incredibly wise friends pointed out, it reduces the general demand for natural diamonds which is probably a good thing. It's funny to think that natural is bad, and artificial is good, but diamonds are probably one of the few things where artificial really is the more environmental option by far.

Of course, there is a bit of me that is sternly chastising the rest of me (what can I say, it's hard being me.) Because, the truth is, engagement rings can hardly be classified as a need. Presumably, you're going to be getting a wedding ring soon enough, so the real non-consumer answer is probably to just forgo the engagement ring entirely. BUT, the tiny mushy romantic in me is hard pressed to give up entirely on engagement rings. I know it's unnecessary, but I freaking LOVE seeing my newly engaged friends' rings, and I love seeing them beam as they proudly extend their hands. I'm eco, but I'm not a grinch.

So for you married peeps, what kind of engagement ring did you get? Would you get a different one if you were making the decision today? Did any of you get your husbands engagement rings? And for you single folks, if you ever decide to tie the knot, do you have any thoughts as to what kind of ring you'll get?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Freeze Yer Buns, Update Uno

Well, this year, I again decided to participate in The Crunchy Chicken's freeze yer ass off challenge. Of course, last year I was in LA. Where it never really freezes.

This year I'm in London. Where it is cold, but seriously, guys, it is not as cold as I was led to believe. Maybe it's because I spent four winters in the freaking Midwest, but London seems more like Seattle than anything. It's just always kinda drizzly and gross, but it's not particularly cold ... yet.

Anyhoo, I pledged to go without heat in my dorm room. We have individual radiators in our rooms so theoretically we are allowed control over the heat, but I swear there HAS to be some sort of secret heat monster living in the walls, because I haven't turned my radiator on once, and yet it is still always hot in my room. To the point where I often go to sleep with the window open.

So. I guess I am technically cheating with the whole Freeze Yer Buns thing, since I'm ... not, but this is SO not my fault! The heat that is under my control is turned off! Can I help it if my dorm happens to have hot ... ghosts or monsters or whatever it is that is turning my room into a freaking sauna?

All I'm saying is that I'm having an easy time of it right now, but y'all know I'm doomed come June. Did I mention that our windows only open about three inches?

Monday, November 17, 2008

You Can Never Go Back

About a year ago, one of my favorite beans wrote a post entitled, "You Can Never Go Back." Because I am a shameless stealer, I am totally ganking her post title. Sorry, GB. Next time, trademark your post titles. Ha ha!

There are times, when I feel like I am slipping. The transition between continents, the move from a routine of working at an office five days a week to that of a being a student with no clear routine has been ... rough.

I am doing well on some counts. I walk to school every day. I haven't been in a car in at least a month. I live in a tiny room. I have minor electricity needs. I go to the natural food store and buy my massive cartons of tea, all organic, fair trade, and without plastic shrink wrap.

BUT. I am consumed by my failures. The many times I end up grabbing a sandwich, or a doughnut, or even worse a Dr. Pepper or a Kit Kat bar from the vending machine.

I am overwhelmed. I am unprepared. I am still adjusting.

Sometimes I worry. I'm getting lazy. What if I get too lazy? What if I eat Kit Kat bar too many? Is there a tipping point for a personal environmentalist? A point where we say, "Eh, eff it. It's too hard. Let's just go back to the way things used to be?" Or is it more subtle? Is it, that one day, we wake up and realize that we're living the life we used to live three years ago?

But then yesterday, I was at a shoe store. And the shoe store was selling several pairs of cute shoes for a mere £5. £5! That's only $7.50 with the new AWESOME exchange rate. True, none of the shoes were particularly sensible, but dude £5!

But ... I couldn't do it. True, the cost to me personally at the moment might only be £5, but I knew that the shoes really cost much more than £5. And so, it didn't matter that right now I would only have to pay £5. Maybe if the shoes were a necessity, if they were sensible, I would have considered it. But for cute but impractical Mary Jane's? No way.

And that's when I realized that it's true. You can never go back. That maybe I do slip up more than I'd like to. But I can't slip up unaware. I can't buy a plastic wrapped sandwich entirely guilt free. And that's a good thing. Because while we are all going to make mistakes, or get lazy, it is ultimately, our awareness that keeps us going. It is our awareness that prevents us from going back to the way things were.

So I'll keep plugging away. And some days, I know, I will fail. But I will continue to take things one day at a time. And every day, every single day, I will stay mindful. I will stay conscious.

Friday, November 14, 2008

In Soviet Russia, Shirt Wears You

Beer+Indian Food + 2 Brits+ 3 Americans + 1 Colombian= Ruchi having a Russian accent??!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Merely Useful

"Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else." - Aristotle

This quote has resonated with me quite a bit recently. I've always believed that money isn't everything (it is merely useful), and yet, I can't deny that money matters (it is useful). For me, wealth or money has been useful in securing me an education. I have the luxury of reading and studying for 8+ hours a day because I can afford not to work for the present time. And for that, I am daily grateful. 

Material wealth by itself can't buy happiness or love, but it can be a vehicle to further opportunity. It can provide us with education, health care, and security, among other things. 

What useful purpose does money serve in your life?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Urgently Requesting Help From The Blogosphere!

One of the things I'm finding is that grad-school is very much what you make of it. Meaning, that basically, there aren't constant problem sets. You're not continuously being quizzed on reading. You read, you don't, no one cares. It's also very unstructured, routine wise. Sometimes there is class at 9:00 am, and sometimes there's no class until 11:00 am. And sometimes there is no class at all.

So my question for those of you who have already finished grad school, or for those of you who are currently in grad school is: how do you create routine or organize your time? Are you really structured, or do you go with the flow? My new plan, which I admit is more of a theory, is that I should be working eight hours a day at school, like it's a job. So eight hours of work can include time spent researching, essay writing, reading, in lecture or seminar, in office hours, etc, as long as it is productive work. But I'm not sure how realistic this is. If eight hours a day is really enough ... and how much time I also need to allow for non-school stuff, or for school societies and things. On weekends, do I also need to work eight hours a day? How do you create work-life balance?

And, how do you create school-sustainability balance? Today, I bought a doughnut encased in plastic. And yes, I was sad about the plastic, but I was STARVING, and mmmm ... doughnut! I'm having a really hard time figuring out how to manage my eating when I'm on campus all day without access to a kettle or microwave. Anyone have any suggestions? I have difficulty waking up in the morning in time to make myself a sandwich for lunch, so when I worked, I would say, make a lasagna on Sunday, and then eat it for lunch all week, but without a microwave available at school it's tough. Also, if you have a way of avoiding the vending machine at midnight when all I want is chocolate, and the vending machine is RIGHT THERE a few feet from my dorm room, I would appreciate that as well. My waist line (and waste line) will thank you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Writing Essays

One of the things that I've realized is that having a blog has given me a lot more confidence in my writing ability. I've always thought I was a decent writer, but clearly blogging for a year has built that muscle, so to speak. I've consistently been impressed by the quality of writing you get on the blogosphere, but I guess it shouldn't be so surprising. If you are practicing writing daily (or near daily), you're bound to get pretty good at it.

As a result, the essays I have to write for school are nowhere near as scary as they might be. I mean, don't get me wrong, they're still scary. But the dreaded word requirement isn't. Couple thousand words? Pshaw! That's just two somewhat lengthy blog posts!

So, this week I turned in my first essay two weeks early. My next goal is to turn in my second essay one week early, and from then on turn in an essay every week so that it's all nice and spread out and not too stressful. Let's see what really happens at the end of term, but I'm grateful that blogging has generally made writing a less harrowing process.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Think Global, Act Local ... And It's All Local

You know that book Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... And It's All Small Stuff? Yeah, I never read it either, but lately I've been applying that same logic to that ubiquitous phrase "Think Global, Act Local." Think global, act local ... and it's all local. If that hadn't been hammered home enough during the global financial crisis, it was certainly hammered home on Tuesday when people from all over the world rejoiced over the election of Barack Obama. Why? Because very simply, what happens in America affects the entire world.

Every act you make now has global consequences. As Bill McKibben pointed out in his book Deep Economy, American demand for plastic shower curtains produced in China is helping to pull many Chinese young men and women out of poverty. While I might not encourage people to buy new plastic shower curtains from an environmental point of view, I cannot deny that shower curtain factories produce jobs for people who desperately need them. In The End of Poverty Jeffrey Sachs talks to some Bangladeshi women who work in sweatshops producing clothes destined, most likely, for America. Although their work environments are poor, still, the women are grateful for the work, and for the opportunities they see arising from their paid labor.

I've always been a little wary about the idea of buying locally simply because I feel it ignores this component. And when locavores don't ignore the component, such as Bill McKibben, they often seem left with no ready answer. McKibben points out that globalization has increased the prosperity of many Chinese people, and I give him credit for that. But he never resolves the issue for himself. How do we deal with the legitimate environmental concerns related to shipping products around the world, and yet still ensure better lives and more opportunity for those workers in Chinese factories? If we, as environmentalists are telling people not to buy cheap plastic goods produced in China due to the hidden negative externalities of cheap plastic, what is the engine that produces equality?

Because here's the thing. The surest way to get less cheap plastic crap on the market? Is to make that cheap plastic crap more expensive to produce. And a great way to make that cheap plastic crap more expensive is if labor becomes more expensive. That is, if people have more opportunities, and better job possibilities, then working in a shower curtain factory is suddenly not so appealing. Why are there almost zero shower curtain factories in the United States? Because people don't want those jobs. Because labor is expensive. Because most people living in America can find better work that pays MORE.

So right now our global corporations send those jobs abroad where labor is cheaper. Essentially, in my opinion, the answer isn't to boycott goods made in China, but to reduce inequality. Because, frankly, when the whole world is making say, between $15,000 and $20,000 a year? Those plastic shower curtains are going to become veeeery expensive to produce. Why don't people fix their DVD players when they break? Because it's cheaper to buy new. But those $10 DVD players, rampant consumerism, and a need to buy new, new, new are built on the backs of cheap labor. Once labor starts getting expensive, so do the DVD players.

But besides all that, here's the truth. Those Chinese workers in the factory? They are part of my community. They are human beings, and thus, my people. And they have as much right to their dreams as does the person who lives next door.

So what am I saying? Am I saying that we should all start buying produce from South Africa because it enhances South Africa economy, that we should all start buying plastic shower curtains by the dozen from China?

No. But what I'm saying, is we need to start framing things differently. Buy local food, by all means, but buy your sugar fair trade, and your chocolate fair or equitrade. And next time you're dying for a banana, then get yourself a damn banana, just get it fair trade. Buy goods at your local mom and pop green store, but if the shoes you buy happen to be ethically and sustainably produced in China, treat that as a WIN, as opposed to a loss. Take the money you save by forgoing the plastic shower curtain, and lend it to someone in the developing world at Kiva.org. And the next time you have to talk to IT support in India, instead of griping about how you can't understand the accent, take a moment to remember that these IT jobs have enormously benefitted India, have pulled thousands and thousands into the middle class, and that the environmental negatives for phone support are fairly small.

We must stop viewing the world in terms of us versus them. There's only us. Think global, act local, but remember it's all local. So by all means, buy products from your farmers' markets, support the seamstress who lives next door. But remember, that the choices we make directly impact people all over the world, and not just our neighborhood. Remember, we are all human beings. We are all entitled to dignity, to food, to health care, to work, to education. We are all entitled to dream big.

*This is my post for the November APLS carnival. There is STILL time to get your submissions in. Write your post about buying local and email it to aplscarnival (at) gmail (dot) com.*

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thankful for...


Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a wee bit vain about my looks. And one of the things I've always prided myself on is my skin... that is until a few months ago when I used Body Shop's terrible plastic fish-killer face wash and ruined my skin. (Ok, not maybe AS tragic as the plankton that were indubitably killed, but tragic, nonetheless.) 

I found a new face wash, and the problem got better, but the breakouts never went away. One day, I had had it. So when I found this blemish stick with tea tree oil at my crunchy store, I decided to give it a go. 

And I have to say, it worked a miracle on my face. Who knew the magic of tea tree oil?

So, yeah, I know it's a little silly, but, hey it's Friday. So today, I'm thankful for my tea tree oil blemish stick. If you are susceptible to breakouts but want to use something natural on your skin, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving was always my father's favorite holiday of the year. One, because it was a secular holiday, and my father was an atheist. Two, because it involved family, friends, and food, and who doesn't love those things? An third. and I think, most importantly, because it was a time for us to reflect on our lives, and express our gratitude. So, every year, my father would insist that we go around the room and talk about what we were thankful for. He didn't care if we were at a Thanksgiving party of 20 people, or if there were a mere 8. We were all going to give thanks.

This year will be my first year spending Thanksgiving without my family. I'm not even a hundred percent certain whether there will be a turkey or yams or pumpkin pie. My heart aches knowing that I won't be with my family on my dad's favorite day.

But, turkey or no, I can still give thanks. So, this November, I'm participating in Joyce's Thanksgiving Challenge. Almost every day this month, I'll try and talk about something I'm thankful for. Some days I might explicitly say that I'm grateful, other days I might not, but in general, my posts for this month will be imbued by a sense of gratitude.

Today, I'm simply thankful for this holiday. For the opportunity to spend some time reflecting.
Happy Thanksgiving, all.

P.S. If you want to join the challenge, I don't think it's too late to join!! Visit here to sign up.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

They May Have Lost The Battle, But All Of Us Won The War

One more post, and then I'll stop talking about politics for a good while, I swear.

(Has anyone wondered what we, collectively, as a world- and I say world because the Brits here were as obsessed with the election as any American- are going to talk about now?)

There has been a lot of justifiable pride that the United States has elected it's first African-American president. And I have to tell you, that the pure symbolism of this is overwhelming. As I watched Jesse Jackson cry on CNN, I couldn't help but tear up myself. Who would have believed in 1968, that a mere forty years later an African-American would hold the highest office in this land.

But the feminist in me couldn't help wanting to give some equal time to the other "historic-ness" of this race, that is, that the Democrats came close to nominating a woman as their nominee, and that the Republicans *did* nominate a woman as their Vice Presidential nominee.

Now, let's put aside our personal feelings towards Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. (Full disclosure, I adore Clinton and voted for her in the primary, and I'm not personally a huge fan of Governor Palin.) But love them or hate them, I do believe that what the two of them accomplished was nothing short of astonishing.

Never again will it be questioned whether a woman can have a viable shot at the White House. We know a woman can. Both women were able to elicit votes and support from Americans who wouldn't consider themselves feminists, but who, nonetheless found something attractive in these women.

I know Sarah Palin isn't the most popular person around liberals. I'm not going to comment on her qualifications or her positions on this blog, but I will say this: I think that in a symbolic way, the Republican Party's nomination of Sarah Palin was a huge leg-up for women. Because it was a sign that now, women transcend politics. A woman can be a viable candidate from the right and left side of the aisle.

I predict, that from now on, we will REGULARLY see women running for president, from both parties. Maybe in eight years we will see a President Kathleen Sebelius, or a President Kay Bailey Hutchison. We may not have completely smashed that highest glass ceiling, but we've come far, America. So thank you Senator Clinton and Governor Palin. Thank you for fighting the fight. You may have lost your personal quests, but because of you, we all have won.

And thank you America. For proving to us, this election cycle, that it does not matter if you are black or white. It doesn't matter if you are male or female. The promise of America is still within your reach. This was a long, and often bitter race, but I think, in the end, we came a long, long way.

A Picture of My Ear...

And some other dude. I don't know what he's doing in there. ;)

No matter who you're supporting, please, people, exercise your Constitutional right and GO VOTE!! 

Monday, November 3, 2008

My Vote

I have avoided, thus far, from writing much about the Presidential election. Those of you know me know that I'm a political geek and a capital L liberal. And yet, I've restrained myself from writing much because, well, this isn't a political blog, it's mostly a personal environmentalism blog (among other things.) And I don't believe that climate change should be a right/left issue. I believe the environment should and does have the capacity to cross party lines.

So. For me, that has meant no editorials on why you should vote for Barack Obama, nor charts detailing who has the better environmental track record. I am not out to troll for votes. I believe that you can be a committed environmentalist and vote for John McCain, and what's more, I think, for the sake of us all, there *have* to be committed environmentalists on the other side of the aisle. The Democrats can't solve these problems alone; we need the support of ALL Americans.

But, all that notwithstanding, I have decided, today, to tell you a little about why I am proud to have voted for Barack Obama.

Once upon a time, I was a young girl, who, for whatever reason, dreamed of being president. (Side note: I should add that I have also dreamed at various points in time of being an artist, a maid, an actor, a lawyer, the president of NBC, a teacher, a singer, and an environmental activist. It's a long list.) But the stumbling block I kept coming to, whenever I imagined such a scenario, was that I was an Indian-American, the child of immigrants, a girl. Even then, at a young idealistic age, I knew that in America, you had to be white and male in order to become president. Anytime I thought about being president, I'd hit this stumbling block, and
eventually, I just gave up and stopped dreaming. Because even in my pipe dreams of pipe dreams, I simply could not allow myself to believe that it was possible. Never, no way, no how. I was an American, and proud to be one. I had thousands of opportunities, but president just wasn't one of them.

Then came this election. Suddenly the Democrats were either going to nominate a woman or an African-American, a second-generation American on his father's side. The promise that America holds for all immigrants: that it is a melting-pot, that she welcomes your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, that in America, ANYTHING is possible, well, all that started to feel really true.

This is what Barack Obama represents to me, and thousands of other immigrants, and children of immigrants. This is what Barack Obama represents to the many Africans, South Americans, Canadians, Brits, and Australians who have excitedly pressed me for details about the election in the past weeks. For us, Barack Obama is a symbol of what makes me proudest to be an American: the fact that we truly are a multicultural nation. That we are a nation where thousands of races and religions live together in peace. That we are country where you can eat Korean Barbecue and then drive up La Brea for Iranian ice-cream. That it doesn't matter if your parents came from Kenya, or India, or North Dakota; you CAN still become president.

And in the end, that's why I teared up a little as I checked Obama's name. I may not want to be president anymore, but somewhere out there, I know a young child of immigrants is now free to dream big.

No matter who you are voting for, may you vote with the same sense of pride that I felt.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Things You Cannot Say

There is a girl I have met recently. She is in my program, and she is an incredibly sweet, energetic girl.

And she reminds me of Kim.

It's not just that she's quite short, with medium-brown hair, or that she's got a cute voice ... it's not just her physical characteristics that remind me of Kim. It's something about her personality, her smile, the way she says my name that makes me catch my breath.

There have been a couple times, where I've almost said it to her.

But whereas, once I would have probably said, "You remind me so much of a good friend of mine!" it is now just to creepy to say, "Hey, you remind me of my dead friend!!"

Besides the obvious weird/creepy factor, I worry that if I give voice to this idea so early in knowing my new friend, that I won't be able to see her for who she really is. Because, clearly she's not Kim, nor a replacement-Kim. Kim will never come back to life, and there will never be a replacement-Kim, one has to face the facts. Best then to treat this fledgling friendship as any other, to treat my new friend on her own terms. Best to check my emotional baggage at the curb.

But it's not easy.

People claim that wounds heal over time, and I'm not going to claim that my experience is universal, but my experience is that they emphatically do not. But nor would we want them to. Just as a war veteran might gain a sense of identity through his scar, so too, do I gain a sense of identity through my scars. If I couldn't think about my dad, and metaphorically rub the scar that cuts a wide swathe across my heart, who would I be? Would I be a bad daughter? Or merely a forgetful one? I'm not sure, but I do know I don't want to find out.

Some days the scars itch more than others, and some days they positively ache. And some days, you purposefully press on the scar, to remind yourself what pain feels like.

Today, the 1st of November, is Dia De Los Muertos, a day for celebrating and honoring the dead, a day that has had increasing resonance in my life. You see, most days, for me, are about repressing the dead. Because thinking too much about the dead is essentially pushing purposefully on the scar. And though there is a validity to it, if I pressed on my scar every day, I would never be able to survive. So most of the days are about reducing the ache, ignoring the itch. Most days are about biting your tongue instead of saying, "You remind me of my dead friend."

Today, on the other hand, is a day of release. A day to grieve. A day to allow myself the luxury of crying for an hour if I feel like it. A day to play parlor games with myself: How would Kim have felt about the election? (Well she'd obviously be very excited.) Would my dad have enjoyed the latest P.D. James? (He might have, though its possible, that like me, he would have been a little deflated by it.)

Today I will honor the dead in the only ways I can. By grieving, by loving, by memorializing, by tracing the scars on my heart. For one day.

And then tomorrow, I will dry my tears. I will leave the scar alone. Instead, I will move forward, maybe email my new friend, and get to know her for herself over a couple of pints.

I think Kim would approve.