Not the End

I started this post with the intention of it being my last. I felt the blog’s lifespan was drawing to a close because I needed to get bigger and, at this point, the world knows a lot about me and I want to know more about the world. Not necessarily its facts or sights, but the essence, in the way that truly knowing someone is a deep, un-nameable sensation, characterized by small discoveries and shared, hidden giggles different from recognizing their face or growing up in parallel. I want to realize and manifest the joy or even absence of pain I can bring others by being present and soft and pushing the boundaries of my compassion. And though this blog was always intended as a connector and a means of breaking barriers, it began to feel like another self-indulgence.

Because after the unbelievable fortune of having been able to catapult myself across the globe during the past year and a half, it seems natural and expected that I would have gained perspective. That I would have developed my sense of self and what’s important, have experienced new challenges and surmounted old ones and deepened interpersonal connections and continued to expand and think new thoughts. All of which has happened.

But sometimes I feel unsatisfactory. That I turn around to find exactly the person I left, still quivering in existential questioning and unable to relax into the ebb as the waves inevitably roll, caught in a bouncing bubble with walls that thicken and constrain the longer I remain inside. So I convinced myself I have nothing more to say. That continuing these posts is really just an exercise in extending my stubborn stuckness, allowing myself to expound more and listen less. And I convinced myself that others, too, expect a more worldly and broadened Barae, open and humbled after the blessing and privilege of travel and the soul-searching by which it is accompanied.

And I do need to get bigger. Service and justice work are potent antidotes to internal struggle, empowering and healing and providing a tangible, grab-able rope to reality and community. Listening and adapting rather than declaring and demanding allows compassion and perspective that can help wrench me out of my cocoon. But I missed the blog, its fluidity and inspiration and catharsis. I missed the community of it. Of course, that community is extremely limited and Barae-centered, with me at the helm and the prow and therefore really more of an audience. But this tool for sharing feels more important and valuable now than ever.

As part of our human affection we struggle. We all wage internal wars and navigate stagnancy and disorientation and anger, and even though we know it’s harder alone we are taught it must be stifled, trapped, and hidden. In exploring vulnerability and euphoria and insecurity and realizations in a public space, without shame or stigma or judgment, I can at least open my own borders. I can establish that these are universal experiences and truly not wrong, not broken or disgusting or shameful. That by acknowledging and revealing and discussing we can wear away at the isolating barriers and dismantle the notions that tell us we must wrap ourselves tight until we are choked and already burst.

I am proud of but mostly grateful for this blog. I’m grateful for reception and encouragement and feedback and the opportunity to release, and honored to hold the trust of reciprocal listening and sharing. In the high-stress, no-pause whirlwind that is college I don’t foresee frequent blogging, but I’m allowing this creation to hover, leaving room for new growth and new directions and hopefully to emerge as a positive ingredient in supportive communities. If you feel comfortable and the desire ever strikes, please know that I am available, eager and open for questions and connections. Thank you for journeying with me.

 

You Are Not Alone and Now Is Not the Time to Be Silent

I’m struggling to find ways to take action while abroad. I cannot attend the weekly protests erupting at home. I have a French SIM card and can’t call internationally to encourage my senators to flex their spines. My mom (successfully!) emailed Murkowski against the confirmation of DeVos (though it proved insufficient), but mainly we just wake up and drop our jaws at our tiny screens hurling the horrors that transpired while we slept. Despite the moments of heartening, it’s difficult to evade becoming overwhelmed. So while France, too, nurses the foreboding possibility of its own entrance into this wave of 21st-century fascism and shakes its head along with us at each day’s events comically worse than the last, I feel removed from the home that, despite its fundamental atrocities and hypocrisies, I still desperately love.

My heart breaks for the people encompassed in a sweeping ban designating national hostility, for hard-won legislation and also common-sense legislation, for body autonomy and reproductive rights and healthcare and environmental protection and efforts to dismantle institutional racism and foreign diplomacy and heeding history’s lessons and every misguided, backwards step to come. Precisely because I feel so bitingly this overwhelming and cruel uncertainty, I also feel more heavily ashamed and unjustified at the minute yet paralyzing pain that governs my own personal existence. And because with every action comes its equal and opposite reaction, snide reminders of the insignificance of my struggles in the face of so many real issues to struggle against only feed that dripping, hollowing shame.

But it is not so far a leap to uncover the connections. In these double-edged times when it is all we can do to convincingly remind ourselves that our fortitude needs exercising to grow and that perseverance is possible, there is no division between personal and political. The larger collective world is not separate from us. It is a testament to humanity that we can feel enormous pain in (comparably) trivial adversities and allow it to topple us, to strike us squarely in the gut so as to simultaneously steal our breath and bend us in half.

For some agonizing time I fell back into spiked ruts which, though painful, are now as familiar and intimate as my own shadow. In that exasperating palimpsest of the demons we refuse to let go of, I bewilderedly watch myself repeatedly, voluntarily hand over my worth, resilience and belief in possibility to a prolonged delusion that scrapes away my insides. As I half-curiously, half-irritatedly contemplated how to reconcile my selfish desire to wallow in my endless faults with my quivering yet burning need to participate in just progress, I looked in the mirror and smiled at the wonder that I saw.

Because this body that endures changes and squeezes and death glares and deep breaths and chastising and congratulations (which are two sides of the same coin) and scorn and far too much responsibility for anyone to handle, this body has again demonstrated that inside of it exists an ancient and powerful knowledge that it is but a microcosm of the web it inhabits. Against my resubscription to a bogus, sexist, oppressive business scheme and mental manipulation deeply infiltrated in society, my body rebelled.

Long-held injuries flared up and hot tears stung. I panicked and flailed defeatedly — here I was again — but gradually, in the way that subconsciously you have known something for a very long time as it builds up under your skin but finally hits as if an entirely new, revolutionary epiphany, I wrapped myself in the soft truth of my connectedness and saw that my inner struggle mirrored the outer. In the context of the coinciding of a deeply introspective, fracturing historical moment and a well-positioned yet idiotic demagogue; when what the world needs most is compassion yet we are told to harden our skins; when we are convinced at once of the need to emulate simpler and truer times of the past and to speed forward towards relentless progress that should have already been made, we push harder to control and return more devastated when we can’t.

This is not to say that we do not have agency. Through protest and civic engagement and displays of humanity and commitment to step up and speak out when we recognize the warning signs, people power cannot be ignored and is already churning out impact and influence. Within every moment, we have choices. But in the larger framework of an election truly not decided by the people, and a history to which we are beholden but unable to change, and the sticky snowball of fear with a mind of its own that declares the only way up and out is to glom on, we are not in control of this world.

Surrender on this global scale, implemented personally and effected collectively, means leaning into that blurred mesh that feels a little uncomfortable because we know it’s time to wake up. Let us feel entirely the despair, the overwhelming deluge of absurdities and regressive power plays inundating our life-bubbles we have worked so hard to protect. Let us throw open the doors to that one little space maintained pink and tender, secret and oh-so-precious, reserved for the a-political and the soft glow on which we know we can depend in our moments of retreat.

Because if there was ever a time to deepen our humanity and build our strength, this is it. We cannot escape the realities of cementing justice and compassion as irremovable and uncompromising by separating our personal humanity from that of the rest. When we lean in, when we allow the full melding of our determined activist ideals and our vulnerable, tired, sacred organs, that pink and precious place will grow deeper and wider. When we finally fully listen to people of color and believe in their pain as our own, when we interrupt the steamroller of betrayed agreements to respect indigenous rights, when we pull from our education of a modern genocide embodying evil to recognize that Never Again requires commitment, when we engage with our bodies not in a hostile tug-of-war but by nurturing boundless acceptance, then we will truly feel the gears of change turning. Then we will feel more ourselves and more human, and remember that we have always been those things.

So yes, take care of yourself. Spread self-compassion and self-care unsparingly, and let it seep outwards and permeate the boundaries. But please, let’s not build walls. Let’s share and listen even when all we want to do is crawl and huddle and cry, and then when we’re on our knees and puffy-eyed let’s sit in a circle (or maybe a virtual one) and touch our hands or maybe not, maybe just let the space and the waves and the beingness roll and sit and refresh us.

We’ve got work to do, and my journey and yours and ours is so very far from over. And it will change and we’ll mess up and we’ll learn things and relearn things and forget them again, and hopefully relearn them, and I will love myself, as fiercely and unconditionally as humanly muster-able. Now is the time to be fiercely and unconditionally human. Truly, we have no other choice.

Keep Breathing

I’m constantly nostalgic for places I just left. Even when the moments themselves were less shiny than my clinging brain has polished them to be, there is a sense of loss, a sigh of longing for a feeling I’ve cultivated and attached to a place and a time that isn’t this one. It’s funny, the way each moment seems to appreciate in value the longer it falls into the past, even when its true worth was to be reaped in the instant of its occurrence. But I glance behind me and there stretches the Chugach Mountains dotted with countless days spent among them and mango smoothies in Thailand and the steep roads winding around a mountain in Peru with one wheel of the van nearly off the cliff, our breaths caught in our sleep-deprived throats as we fight the urge to look, and my seat in the bus climbing up a winding mountain pass in Southern Spain suddenly seems familiar.

The afternoons that dragged on, the points of frustration and pain and discomfort that then seemed suffocating now look… not inviting, but necessary, cushioned with a kind of motherly fondness now that they’re past and polished. Because in those moments in South America or Shishmaref I was certain that learning wasn’t really happening, or at least at great cost of near-misery in that minute. But steadily, inevitably, irreversibly, my frame of reference reached and continues to grow, letting in these new experiences in an ever-expanding web of realizing that maybe instead of the center I’m just another speck of silk extending my toes and fingers to form one side of one hexagon in an infinite connected expanse.

 

Palació Nacional da Pena, Sintra, Portugal

Palació Nacional da Pena, Sintra, Portugal

It’s okay not to always enjoy. Away from home and set on “a good time,” we can feel that real life is on hold and that vacation-burden dictating that every breath be an ahhhh of pleasure may instead leave pockets of guilt because we must also inhale. Gratitude can be constant and present even in the pinpricks of missing the train or heaviness of realizing that this is all that real life has to offer and we might as well nestle in.

We travel to expand our worlds and build our compassion and also to love our homes, to know where we come from and who we care for and to feel, deeply and in a place we previously couldn’t access, the ache of not belonging and the ease of when we did. We watch as each little thread of experience that arrives without our directional needle-eye but allows us to believe ourselves the guide align themselves in a pattern that does indeed resemble the skin we woke up in today. Somehow, even when they were unbearable, we look with our crusty, morning eyes at threads already irrevocably woven and smile sleepily, because we know everything was going to happen anyways whether we pretended we were in control or not.

Gallery of Urban Art, Lisbon, Portugal

Gallery of Urban Art, Lisbon, Portugal (graffiti on a tram underpass)

Today I ran along the Seine and yesterday, all of a sudden I was under the Eiffel Tower and before that I finally figured out how to use the WiFi in Spanish airports and between those two I found myself at the center of a capoeira circle in Lisbon, flinging my body around like a smiling fool because I had nothing to lose and something about the drumming and chanting words I didn’t know felt nourishing and for a second I was overwhelmed by gratitude to be in that body unabashedly and I knew that I was there because the whole world knew I’d be fine. My biggest breaths of wonder have been in the trees or the mountains, but near the river in Lisbon I nearly cried at three young men dancing in the street in their maroon crewnecks, reveling in the undeniable beauty and pure urbanity of it. Sometimes I just wonder what the hell I’m doing.

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I just read When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön (highly recommended to everyone) and am thoroughly on her Buddhist bandwagon. I’ve been working on practicing tonglen, the practice of, instead of avoiding pain at all costs, breathing in my own suffering and the identical suffering of everyone else in that second, and breathing out contentment and joy so that other people might experience some of that happiness. I try to remember it in the hard times and the light moments when everything seems to be going my way (they’re not all too common) because we can only exist in both. Yeah, I got spiritual in the last week.

I’m ready for my mom to come and take care of me (T-minus… 10 minutes? She should arrive any minute now) and I’m grateful for this time to grow, because that’s really my only choice. The more I learn and center and breathe, I find ways to peel open and expose my inner layers to their mirroring ones reflected in the rest of the world, and continually realize that there is always further to go but the only reality is now.

 

Mourning is Just the Beginning

I woke up gasping. I still have trouble painting a full, panoramic picture of reality without crumpling, eyes shut against the hot tears that continue to leak, sometimes bursting and some slow drops sinking into skin. These hard days have been defined by those tears. My own place in this maze, this present moment that is really, truly happening, is questionable and simultaneously absolutely materialized. 17 years old in Spain and not returning to the country for months, I could hardly be more inconsequential to this fateful election — yet I am more entwined, more responsible, more necessary than I have ever felt.

We are angry. Of course we are angry. We are angry at the third party effect, at voter reluctance, at protest votes, at early divisions only made nasty by their disciples, at the idea — however unfounded it may be — that joke write-ins like Harambe garnered any votes. These surface angers are the easy turns while we initially flounder in denial. Then come the next layers. We are justifiably angry that THE MAJORITY OF AMERICANS VOTED FOR HILLARY CLINTON, that only 55% of Americans voted in the most crucial election of our time — though previous hacks at voters’ rights laws could have contributed in vulnerable areas, that 53% of white women voted Trump after all that, that the definite majority of those who will truly be subjected to anything that occurs and their consequences (young people) were silenced, that every group (with the exception of low education levels exclusively in white people) who has ever been majorly oppressed, discriminated against, intimidated, and in any way marginalized in modern and historical America was soundly trampled upon and dragged through the thorny dirt. We know all of this.

More than all of the statistics, the unexpected and the unsurprising ones, we are angry that “our country betrayed us.” This does not represent us, we say incredulously. We are shocked. Heartbroken. I am too. And we are allowed to feel that heartbreak — we must. But we must also take responsibility. We, the White people, especially the shocked liberal ones, must take responsibility. It is obvious that we overlooked a not-so-latent vein of unabashed white supremacy unburdening its unjustified yet human fears of dethroning: we watched it loiter, but it was below us. We are better than that. Anger at their resentment is too easy to fall into, too easy to blame. Through every period and campaign, we know that the white low-income segment, clinging to pride and worth in a meritocracy only on the façade, has continually been manipulated to grab at strings dropped from a deceivingly lofty altitude while dropping to all fours, waiting to be stepped on and pushed further down. Still, through all that glaring manipulation, we are repulsed and incredulous at the hate.

And so we, as White, liberal, mostly well-off people, must also take responsibility for our astonishment. We do not recognize the racism because we do not experience it. People of color don’t have the option to bask in the reassurance of our constant declarations of confident collective goodness, our progress, our moving-towards-racial-equalityness. We surround ourselves with reinforcements of that ideal and we are relieved. We’re headed in the right direction. Which is true — we are, and we must keep believing that to galvanize our tireless work towards it. But imperative to that work’s efficacy is our recognition that, clearly, we as a demographic have an enormous role to play that is not self-congratulatory and not superior, but urgent and humble.

On The Day After my newsfeed — my primary means of live, updated communication while abroad — was and continues to be characterized by messages of determination, hope, and solidarity. That is inspiring. It’s worth remembering those messages are primarily coming from the privileged, protected among us. There’s room for hopelessness and mourning, too, and certainly anger. Anger must be harnessed and not forgotten; let us blaze this moment of sorrow and despair into our very bodies eternally and stoke that fire all the way to revolution. For unbelievably merited reason we dismissed Trump’s campaign and landed us in horror we deemed impossible; let us not underestimate his presidency. So when that hopelessness and mourning becomes moving to Canada or staying in Spain or declaring, simply, that this is not our America and we’ve lost faith in humanity, our job now is to recognize those moments as impetus for change. Leaving the United States is not an option because those we fight for — the most vulnerable who will be impacted most by every racist, bigoted, terrifying perception and policy — cannot leave. We abandon our companions in the lurches and we have committed horrendous sentences to injustice. We fight for them because we find ourselves in positions of privilege but also because, in the words of one of the greatest, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Isolated liberation does not exist while dehumanization marches on.

Thoroughly aware of my country’s history, numerous and grave current issues, and egregious wrongdoings too plentiful to count, I love my country. Not for its consistently and undeniably racist history, its colonial, imperialist legacy, its international prowess or its Dream. I love my country because I know what we harbor; I love that when a Spaniard asks for an American comparison I am nearly always forced to emphasize that generalizing the U.S. is impossible in many regards; that we have conflicts and activism and complexity and diversity and magical wildlands and dynamic cities and comfort and a purported concept of inclusivity and relentless change and everything that everyone else loves about our country. They’re worth loving. And the time has come that the systems in place maintaining our status quo that works so well for some and devastates others no longer guarantees the things we love. We have proven that, and we’ve proven that revolution must come.

Our work starts this very moment. We remain in our grievance but as propellant to nourish us on the decidedly trying path that has always been but begins anew now. Hurt is being caused, hatred is being spewed and lives are being threatened and people terrorized RIGHT NOW. Thanks to a wakeup call like we’ve never seen before, we must stay woke to the very apparent fact that we have not come as far as we think we have and we, collectively, are not who we think we are. This realization, this ramble, this questioning of everything I know and opening myself to all that comes, this attempt to jump head-on into the fervor that is positively roaring to be unleashed is only the beginning and will continue to expand and develop, but this is the beginning.

The revolution has already started. We, the Millennials, who have been so thoroughly trashed for our screens and our selfies and our laziness and sensitivity, we who overwhelmingly believe in equality and compassion and tenderness and community and connectedness, in safe spaces and trigger warnings, we will pull this slack until it breaks. I have never known my right, duty and responsibility so clearly. I have never been so ready.

Here are some resources for concrete action:
-Michael Moore’s Morning After To-Do List
Finish Your Ugly-Crying. Here’s What Comes Next.
-New York Daily News journalist Shaun King
-Show solidarity against the Dakota Access Pipeline and donate to the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock
-Donate to Black Lives Matter
-Donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center
-Join your local Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter
-Living/communal Google Docs offering support and suggestions: The “Oh Shit! What Should I Do Before January?” Guide and Concrete Suggestions in Preparation for January (by demographic issue, but for any interested readers)
-Search for, find, and donate time, money, or other resources to social justice organizations doing important work

This is only a glimpse of a very long list of actions, ideas, and movements we can start, support, amplify, and participate in. What do you have to add?

A Compilation of Flickers

There’s always moments. In the dark slogs and the unremarkable monotony there’s flashes of contentment, or maybe even a slight nanosecond of euphoria. Perhaps they are hidden and so small they become forgotten as soon as the realization fades, with enough distance between them to become convinced of their nonexistence. And then, one day, squashed between under-the-table footsie with your seven-year-old host sister and ease of communication in your second language and a little nugget of independence that is becoming more and more effective at persuading you that you’re enough, you plunge blissfully into cliché because the moments string together directly in front of your eyes and you’re running through the banner like the ribbon at the finish line but the edges continue to stream behind you indefinitely, flapping at your hips and stuck in the middle but dynamic all the same.

I’m not saying a switch just flipped. Sometimes it feels like that, but I know my moments — that I worked hard for and sometimes avoided and often longed for — have been steadily building. I’m not saying Spain is better or even magical. I still get frustrated and tired — the Spanish concept of a night is impressive in its extent while simultaneously designating the most insignificant of portions for sleep. Two-hour classes can be trying to sit through, frequently my words get jumbled and I doubt my language abilities and people and relationships are complex and frustrating. I have breaths of shame, regret and consternation and occasionally encounter lurking envy. But I wake up and sometimes my stomach gurgles with the remnants of the twilight hours and I sift through the world that took place on the opposite end of the waking cycle, and I smile.

I scroll through atrocities and inspiration, resilience and indignation, opinions and reminders of previous chapters. I smell October in Alaska and the mushy leaves are tangy and pungent and for a brief pang in the side of my chest I long for that crispness. Still a fire rages at injustice displayed to me by my country and my own complicit society, and again fleetingly I contemplate my place in those fights. Faces I love, accomplishments I’m proud to share, places my eyes trick me into thinking I need to be… ah, so is social media. The product of all this, to my surprise, is more often than not a smile. I think that’s what happens when you decide to love yourself. And when a whole lot of circumstance finally aligns on your side.

What else? (The Alhambra, Granada’s map-maker)

Layers too numerous to ascertain define my comprehension of Spain: a 10-year-old’s brief, wet and wrought family vacation, second-hand expectations and a historical lens I don’t always agree with. Memories of the Bolivian silver mine of Potosí that galvanized capitalism by feeding Spain’s debts through exploitation and the brutal colonization of all of Latin America sometimes seem dismissed here, but for me they are unshakeable. The date 1492 and the pedestaled statue of Columbus and Queen Isabela dominating the central plaza indicate something more to me than simply the “discovery” of the New World — namely, a vicious inquisition here and a ruthless genocide there that in many ways continues to this day. Now Spain, who laid so extensive a conquest, boasts its own political turmoil as it marches on without a government and I catch whiffs of a fallen empire. Tomorrow I will celebrate Indigenous People’s Day as I walk to class past that elevated Columbus and I will continue to ruminate also on the insanity occurring at home. This is a time to be alive. 

Casa Batlló in Barcelona, one of many Gaudí buildings by which I was mesmerized

Casa Batlló in Barcelona, one of many Gaudí buildings by which I was mesmerized

Barcelona sunset

Barcelona sunset

I wander (but mainly still lose myself) through the sometimes commercial, sometimes industrial, sometimes ancient streets of Granada that still exude charm and have thoroughly won me over and I’m not sure what it is that lets my insides feel light.

Perhaps my femurs know I am here solely to learn, expand and enjoy. That I am constantly, acutely aware of my fortune and privilege and somehow that inspires no guilt but only more gratitude. Absolutely nonlinear, by some stroke of serendipity this current section of the carousel has me twirling with a chunk of peace — stones roll off, chinks ever-plentiful are acknowledged, and still through it all there’s an overwhelming sense that I can handle it.

Flamenco in the caves of Granada

Oh, Granada… I have little to complain about

A Bouncing Sphere Becoming a Venn Diagram

It’s vacation, really, what I’m on. I didn’t quite think of it that way, but traipsing through Ireland and then England for two weeks with no job, no obligations and only my ability to stay within budget as limitation constitutes nearly a textbook definition of vacation. So, naturally, I find things to worry about. That’s partly human nature, partly my own neurosis, but those nagging perturbations that have a knack for popping up as soon as the preceding one diminishes in importance present a near-constant opportunity for growth. In fact, finding pockets of peace within those worries is kind of the whole idea of this year for me.

People ask and I’m still not entirely sure why I chose this particular corner of the world as my first stop, but both Ireland and England have proved soft entry points into a year of solo travel. Lack of a language barrier, for one, removes a major challenge. So, too, does the similarity of culture and the extensive tourism industry that renders much of both countries extremely receptive to (especially American) tourists. Really, besides being more expensive (London = $$$) and discrepancies in pronunciation and vocabulary, I couldn’t have picked a more comfortable place to travel. Which leaves me to contemplate, to reflect, to wander, and, yes, to worry — but also to sit with those worries and trust myself to progress through them (maybe aided by an occasional text to my mom).

The Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland

The Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland

Because the human experience exists on a very, very expansive spectrum, some days or hours or moments I feel good, and some I don’t, and sometimes they occur right after each other or within each other or mix in a confusing swirl of faded trails left by watercolors after the color has run out. I’ll go to sleep wishing so many of my decisions had followed the left side of the T instead of the right and wake up with the sun peeking over the windowsill, and my good-feelingness is welcome but invokes a sense of myself as an imposter. Sure, I’m fine now, but yesterday I made a mistake, I was negative or mean, I didn’t appreciate the present moment, I cried and felt hopeless — so I don’t actually feel good today. I really shouldn’t get too comfortable in this repose.

And that realization, albeit twisted, really has a spark of truth in it. No, I’m not an imposter when things look rosy, and that feeling is totally valid — even if it is because of caffeine or that early morning possibility. Simply, it’s all temporary. Though maybe I’d like my default to shift further towards the lighter end, we so often hail happiness as the end goal, the constant expectation. And by this point I think it’s pretty clear we gotta feel alllllll the feelings. There really is room for the whole of it.

Which is to say, there’s room for vacation and adventure, challenge and relaxation, staying informed and tuning out. I can work on expanding my worldview and nurturing myself and, simultaneously, I can applaud high profile American athletes joining in yet another stage of necessary activism manifesting itself in NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s valuable protest. I can watch incredulously and then with relief when President Obama listens to the people and acknowledges the disrespect and cruelty of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And then, as I’m continually discovering my place in the world, I can notice how unnerving it is to be right smack dab in the center of colonialism. I absorb all of this in a privileged, relatively easy situation and my ponderings only grow deeper — because they incorporate my entire sensory comprehension.

I have never really traveled in Europe before, excluding a short family jaunt through Spain many years ago. My life has been spent almost exclusively in the New World. Thoroughly all of the United States is populated by people whose ancestors did not originate there, with the preeminent exception of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Though I am constantly fascinated by and grateful to live in America, there is always the underlying truth that the people and America I see around me is not the natural outgrowth of what has always been. Especially in Alaska, where colonization is relatively recent and Alaska Native culture is so vibrant and present and central to the collective future of the state, I am always aware that people came before me. Even in South and Central America, where a majority of the population is indeed descended from ancestors who called their same land home, they speak a language and practice a religion forced upon them by the early Western world and look very different from the people who colonized them.

Here, however, surrounded by ancient castles and churches and the native language still the primary one and that from centuries past, with a few difficulties, maybe even I could understand, I feel the novelty. Of course, Ireland was invaded by the British and made to switch languages and religions. But even with that history of incursion, the pigment in the faces that primarily populate Ireland and England has not changed or been subjected to unspeakable cruelty, they have not been ousted from their traditional homes. This is the original West.

Years have passed, it’s not just Britain and England, and many other countries — notably the U.S. — have done their fair share of colonization, destroyed enough cultures and committed copious crimes against humanity. It’s worth feeling the vestiges.

St. Fin Barre's Cathedral in Cork, Ireland

St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork, Ireland

Guess where? (London)

Guess where? (London)

My extremely fortunate opportunity to explore all of these thoughts for myself is nonetheless operating on a one-way cash flow, and it’s not in. By the grace of hospitality and priceless connections I have stayed with friends of friends and am indebted to their generosity, and am definitely on a budget. I’m doing my best to be a responsible and stingy adult and make calculated decisions, so when I entered the Camden Market I nearly dropped into the gaping jaws of that insidious capitalism. Mainly stemming from my own ineptitude at balance, simply gazing at the stuff can be difficult for me to enjoy with no strings attached. But shopping can be fun, especially in foreign spaces and when viewed as an activity to explore the endless variety and ingenuity of the market. Sometimes I can appreciate it, but my inherent desire, my girlish want for the pretty thing makes me ashamed. I’d prefer to avoid shopping altogether and condemn capitalism without nuance than linger in the in-between where I marvel at things I don’t need, acknowledge the system we live in, and allow myself some room for whim purchases. And now that I’ve written that sentence, I realize that’s exactly where I’m headed. Ah, self reflection.

Getting acquainted with the Atlantic through the English Channel (Brighton, England)

Getting acquainted with the Atlantic through the English Channel (Brighton, England)

So I’m hopping around in a forgiving yet still terrifying first step of attempting to manifest independence, staying nearly exclusively with people I’ve never met but contacted from across the world, and each one tells me that they were warned karma would come for them. That they were hosted, treated, welcomed as young clueless travelers themselves, and now it’s their turn. I don’t know if the generosity, warmth, and support I’ve received can be justified by just karma, because I have an inkling I really ended up with some good ones. It looks like I’ll be hosting a lot of travelers in my day.

My Dirty, White T-shirt of a Flag

Yeah, about that “return in full force come May” thing…

Well, inspiration just never quite hit. I returned home and attempted to digest all that I’d experienced and chew on the simultaneous stagnancy and rapid change that I returned to and spit it all out just to take another bite, and it seemed that it was all the same stuff. No one wants to read someone else’s confused detritus over and over again. And that’s fine, because the beauty of the blog is that there are no rules.

And so, in the interest of cohesiveness, here’s a quick update: after a wonderful three weeks in New York City with my grandma working on a piece about perfectionism for an organization called Ma’yan, my time in South America with Where There Be Dragons was incredible. I fell in love with the Andes, was injected with a healthy dose of respect for the Amazon and the people that live in it, learned a lot about myself and work I need to do, read a lot of good books, wrote in my journal regularly, and underwent countless other experiences, some of which you can read about more presently and in depth in my travel blog. As expected, it was hard, because life is hard. And even while I was tucked away in a bubble of privilege to have that opportunity, with guidance and exempt from the full responsibilities of traveling alone, there was still the reality of navigating new and challenging situations, traveling with twelve other American teenagers who I’d never met before and attempting to negotiate group dynamics, leaving home for the longest I ever had, and the indelible truth that I will likely always be on a journey of finding inner peace. In short, it was exactly what a 16-year-old high school graduate who thinks too much needed.

But now I’m 17, and times have changed. (Just kidding.)

Upon homecoming, my head was still spinning from watching my 98-year-old host grandmother (see below) cry when I said goodbye, visiting El Tío with the star (Basilio) of the PBS documentary The Devil’s Miner (which I highly recommend), and our recurrent conversations on service and its detriments, among other things.

Maria (or Flora), my 98-year-old Quechua host grandmother who chases chickens and chops alfalfa and is a general all-around badass

Maria (or Flora), my 98-year-old Quechua host grandmother who chases chickens and chops alfalfa and is a general all-around badass

 

El Tío (The Uncle), god of the mines and a simultaneous force of evil and protection. He has a long history in relation to forced labor of indigenous miners, and is at once a companion in the long hours and dark depths of the mines as well as a source of fear and trepidation. Miners offer coca, pure alcohol, and other gifts. El Tío is said to be married to Pachamama, Mother Earth, and if women work in the mines Pachamama will get jealous and cause misfortune. Women can enter but not work in the mines. Idols like this can be found throughout the mines in Potosí.

El Tío (The Uncle), god of the mines and a simultaneous force of evil and protection. He has a long history in relation to forced labor of indigenous miners, and is at once a companion in the long hours and dark depths of the mines as well as a source of fear and trepidation. Miners offer coca, pure alcohol, and other gifts. El Tío is said to be married to Pachamama, Mother Earth, and if women work in the mines Pachamama will get jealous and cause misfortune. Women can enter but not work in the mines. Idols like this can be found throughout the mines in Potosí.

Life at home had kept moving while I was gone, of course, and also felt exactly the same. There was slight reverse culture shock while I tried to reconcile the two realities and attempted to resist falling back into the same patterns that I’d left. What I realized, though, was that there are no two separate realities, existing in different universes at different times where I am different people. While it is essential to recognize those enormous differences — not doing so is delusional and a recipe for misunderstanding and disappointment — that incredible and vibrant portion of my life is another fold, an additional step bringing with it new ideas and perceptions of the world.

I am constantly dumbfounded by my luck and privilege to be born into a circumstance where I can explore and learn from countless people in Bolivia and Peru at 16 years old and continually discover how much more there is to learn. And yet…

I move through every single day undulating between forty-seven different states of existence, often loitering in a default of despair that I wish I could climb out of but now I see there’s no other path than to embrace it. To settle in. How do I position myself as an effective ally for and active participant in the meaningful and imperative issues of social justice and collective healing — America’s abhorrent and vibrant racism; pervasive devaluing, controlling, and shaming of bodies (women’s in particular); honed and entrenched sexism; consequences of colonialism; the often-callous destruction of our environment, etc. — that I truly care about when I am still holding out hope that whatever is wrong with me will someday be righted?

I am tired of that burden. There is nothing wrong with me. The longer I believe there is, the less I have to offer to the dismantling of those injustices and the system that enables them — from which I often greatly benefit — and the less gratitude I can feel for my very actuality in which I can sleep in a stone hut high in a remote Andean village and then return home to a memory foam-lined mattress. The longer I believe there is something wrong with me the more damaging a family member I am, the less tolerant and less spontaneous a friend, the less soft caresses I can muster to bestow upon my survivor of a belly.

And so I will continue to wonder, to move and progress because I have no choice, to continually and constantly remind myself that I am a ping pong ball and I better learn to get served. When 6 months have passed without writing and I’m still deciphering what I’m trying to say I will give in, I will give up. Surrender is the only noble option.

 

One More Step

Readership has dwindled, thoughts remain a little stagnant, and occasionally I’ve gone multiple months without a single post or update to this site. Including and perhaps even because of this dynamic flexibility, this website and blog has provided an incredible opportunity for exploration and connection for me. As an added bonus, my domain company just emailed me and informed me that I own this web address until 2017, so it looks like we’re in the clear! (I would never have known otherwise. Thank you, GoDaddy.)

You have all (every single pair of eyes that even mistakenly clicked on this page) been an instrumental part of my own development, and I can’t wait to share more stories with you!

As many of you know, I will be traveling in South America (Bolivia and Peru) until May 2016, totaling about 3 months. I will have very limited internet connection, and am therefore (intentionally) putting any further updates on hiatus!

Be ready for a return in full force come May!

If you wish to keep track of my experiences abroad, you can visit:

https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/category/spring-2016/andes-amazon-spring-2016/

where my group will be posting updates and thoughts!

I will also have intermittent email access.

Thank you all so much for investing a little of your time into my ramblings and traveling with me along this circuitous, jumbled, sticky journey.

Playing Pretend

I’m not quite sure what growing up is, but I imagine it might feel something like this. I think it might have something to do with having discussions with myself where there is legitimate consideration of reality instead of emotionally-charged accusations. I’m picturing maturing a little bit like watching my body in the mirror, not quite liking what I see, and moving on with my day because I have other shit to do. Maybe growing up is something kinda like hearing opinions I don’t agree with or statements I know to be insane, acknowledging they are ridiculous and don’t really affect me, and smiling like the somewhat condescending, pretending-to-be-uninterested-in-pointless-conflict person that I sometimes am. I wonder if the person emerging from the other side of years of shaping, teaching, advising, and confusion might be walking down Broadway with my pitifully minimal selection of music inundating my ears as I bob my head and mouth the words, smiling at the rushed, frustrated commuters and feeling my little bubble of a world form around me, reassuring and encouraging but porous and permeable.

Perhaps embracing my own complete personhood entails accounting for the consequences of my actions while simultaneously giving myself a break for less-than-perfect decisions that leave me feeling beat up and ashamed. I’m entertaining the possibility that I’m approaching the VERY non-linear, very non-utopia where mistakes can be analyzed and learned from without translating into my own self-worth.

Slowly, yes — crawling, seeping, creeping, pulsing in an amber mass of caresses — I feel that root-sprout stretching down, circumventing the cells of resistance to ground me in a transportable, interminable habitat of my own fertilization.

In other words, I don’t give a shit.

I’m living in a world of contradiction, exposing myself to vulnerability and protecting myself from getting my foundations shaken out from under me; questioning my own beliefs privately while defending them against challenges; hesitating on thoughts and leaning into impulsive decisions. I can pretend in my head and walk around like I’m a brilliant, jaw-dropping bombshell while I go 3 days without a shower and wear my grandma’s pants. It’s a wild ride out here and I might just be continuing my entire-life crisis.

I’m learning, though, as it would be impossible not to. I’ll probably forget and I even forget the lesson I learned yesterday. I’m tricking myself into thinking I’m growing when maybe I’m just a big infant and all the growth charts had it wrong the whole time.

Back in my very first blog post I thought there was a skill to enjoying one’s own company. At this point I’m pretty sure it’s just listening to the same 10 songs on my unnecessarily extensive daily walk and harboring a suspicion that maybe deep down I’m actually a moderate Republican (HAAAAAAAA that was a joke. I’m not, don’t worry).

And you’re all over there stifling pity laughs saying “Yup, you go on thinking that. No, seriously, you’re probably right. You’re not ridiculous; you’re definitely growing up. Cute.”

And now, excuse me while I join you.

Too Many Metaphors — It’s Part of the Plan

More often than not, life does not go as planned. In fact, planning is such a useless attempt at control and securing future comfort that I now view plans as a likely predictor of what will not occur in reality, regardless of almost any efforts to steer the universe in my pre-ordained chain of events tailored specifically to meet my perception of productivity. I think most of us understand that, at best, planning is setting an intention that will come to fruition on the off chance that every decision preceding it also disregarded everyone else in the world and decided to heed our personal desires to ensure that our expectations and preparations are not left waiting for a date that perpetually no-shows.

Let it be known that as I sit here preaching the futility of control, I also have next to me a list detailing the activities and times of errands I would like to accomplish today to be prepared for leaving home for 4 months and millions of other lists outlining my long term goals, my short term goals, epiphanies I’ve had, people I want to apologize to, etc. You get the picture. Alas, writing this blog post did not show up in my plan for today. Whaddya know.

BUT, sometimes, little latent ideas of a desperately desired outcome seem to seep their way out of the molten iron that is reality doing its best to sever and block our plans, relishing in the irony that although they were originally part of the plan, the fickleness and impracticality of these outlines rendered them even less feasible.

And so arrived the relentless tears on the plane back from Thailand. Somewhere between seven straight movies, many episodes of multiple TV shows, and a repeat listening of an entire Broadway musical soundtrack (Ahem, Hamilton, I reallllly wouldn’t object if you decided to kick someone out of your eternally sold out shows to help a friend), it hit me.

The marvelous aspect of this particular realization is that I wasn’t drinking coffee. It wasn’t in the morning, it wasn’t after exercise, it wasn’t during a fired-up discussion on social justice issues I’d convinced myself I understood. It was, in fact, in the midst of 30 hours of traveling, permeating simultaneously with a feeling of intense fullness, leftover minor food poisoning, bodily frustration with sitting for so long and building anxiety over returning home. Despite all these historical indicators of despair and curling up into a ball with no desire to emerge unless my life magically became someone else’s, I cried because I felt a little shrapnel of peace finally lodging itself in my shoulder like a reminder for a war veteran.

I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t keep pinching my body in shame. I couldn’t go through an existential crisis every time I felt bloated or decided not to follow my body’s instructions. I couldn’t dictate my self-worth based on whether or not I had the motivation to exercise and I couldn’t look around the airport fighting the urge to compare my own body to that of every other female traveler — hell, male too. I was never, ever, ever going to embody the altruistic, confident, razor-sharp goddess I envision as a product of mastering my “issues” if my sense of deservedness as a member of humanity fluctuated depending on how my stomach felt.

Here’s the thing: this was part of the plan. I was scared to leave home for the sole reason that I know it’s impossible to run away from problems. Frolicking around in Thailand, then New York City, then Bolivia and Peru will not “fix” me. I am painfully, anxiously aware of this. Yet, with this ineffectiveness of control and annoying fact that I actually can’t escape my own company no matter how far I fly, I’m still a writer. I get to decide my own story. (Even if you’re not a writer, you still do. You don’t have to even know how to read or talk or be articulate or respectful or have any qualification as a productive member of society. Even if you’re Donald Trump you get to create your own character.) Though planning — like dieting, arguing and assailing with the intention of changing someone’s political party, denying that you share any characteristics with your mom, and refusing to acknowledge the merits of technology — in effect, doesn’t work ever, I am inevitably the author.

If I can’t get out of writing the longest book ever and constantly redeveloping the main character, why the hell should I waste it on not being a badass, hilarious, edgy, compassionate, impulsive, sometimes offensive, sarcastic, supportive, open-minded impossibility of a really short human?

Granted, this idealistic perception glosses over the very, very real inevitability that even since that realization I’ve crawled into bed with the intention of talking to no one and intense wish that I could teleport to an alternate path for this Barae person with complete disregard for the community issues that light the passion-fire in my belly. And these times harbor not an inkling of glamor. They suck, really hard, and I forget my lifetime position as editor in chief, fact checker, correspondent, and author of my little story because I don’t want the job. I am attacked with pointed, pungent reminders that I am not in control, never will be, and also probably will never be able to fully surrender my desire and hidden theory that I am, in fact, in control.

With no other choice, I accept the position of head author and also every other contributing writer. But don’t let it go to your head, Barae, because I was turned down by literally every other opportunity and given no alternative offers. So now we’re stuck together, and I intend to develop my reputation as a hell of a committed writer and a scary investigative journalist that everyone loves to hate, especially famous people with nothing to hide.

I’m currently accepting applications for the position of editor.