Sunday, August 11, 2019

This Is a Goodbye Song

"Well, I've been 'fraid of changin' 'cause I built my life around you." --"Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac 
Goodbyes from Namibia (top) and Taiwan (bottom) If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend being group-hugged by a bunch of pre-schoolers. 
        Inevitably, I've had to say a lot of goodbyes in my life. As a teacher, each year I say goodbye to a group of students who so tenderly and openly shared their lives with me. Each year of teaching abroad, I've had to say goodbye to friends who I've collectively shared personal and professional lives with. When I was leaving Taiwan, I was so afraid that the goodbye would mark the start of the end of our friendship. What if our friendship was just held together by proximity and a shared experience? I now know that this is not true. I still keep in contact with my friends from Taiwan. When I moved abroad, I still remained friends with people back home. I know now that moving away doesn't mean a goodbye forever. However, it does mean change.

        After we had left Taiwan, Tyler texted me asking me who he was going to talk to about certain things now that we were far apart. I told him we could still talk about those things. “BUT IT WON’T BE THE SAME,” he text-shouted back to me. He was right. It wasn’t. Moving away means knowing less of the ins and outs of my friends’ lives. It’s harder to have deeper conversations when conversations are less frequent. I can no longer just take the elevator or take a short walk to their apartment. The hardest part of saying goodbye for me is not the goodbye itself. It’s knowing that we shared something special together and leaving means our relationship is inevitably going to change. For me, that change is hard to swallow when you have built your life around those people for a year or two. 

   Washington: One last time/relax, have a drink with me/one last time
                               --"One Last Time," from Hamilton

In the months leading up to leaving, I listened to the song "One Last Time" from Hamilton on repeatIn the song, George Washington tells Hamilton that he will be stepping down as president after his term. He has Hamilton help him write a letter telling this to the people of the United States and saying goodbye. (I listened to both the original Broadway cast version and the 44 Remix where Barack Obama reads Washington's letter). The song resonated with me at that time for several reasons. For one, I was experiencing a lot of last times of different things in El Salvador. There were experiences that I knew would be my last time. I wanted to remember everything from those last times and make it significant. 

There were other experiences that I did without knowing it would be the last time. While I was ready to move on from El Salvador, there were times where I wanted time to stop so I could live in those moments forever. There were late-night conversations that ended with the best hugs where I was always so lovingly encouraged to be unapologetically myself. There was watching sunsets on the beach with a group of people in companionable silence. There were weekend trips with rides in the back of pickup trucks. People asked and answered and questions without being afraid of being vulnerable. There, I was reminded of how complicated it is to be human in this world. In those times, I wanted to put my feet down and drag my heels so I could stay right there and preserve those moments. But that's not how time works. 

Hamilton: Why do you have to say goodbye?
Washington: If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I'm gone. 
--"One Last Time," from Hamilton

When I graduated high school, it was the first time I realized that while the school had an impact on my life, I had very little impact on the school. The school would exist and continue without me. A new class would take our place with nothing more but a "thank you, next." In Namibia, I was heartbroken to leave but knew also that a new group of teachers would come to fill my place. Every year I get new students and my old students get new teachers. There's something both terrifying and comforting that the cycle of change is constant and inevitable. You learn to move on because you have to.

During my first year in El Salvador, a large group of us drove to Copan together. I was in a car with my friends Jared, Elise, and Graham. They had all been in El Salvador for at least a year. They talked about some of the teachers who had moved onto other places and had not returned for this school year. I hadn’t met any of these people, so all I could do was listen to the stories they shared about these people. Jared said I would do the same thing to the new people who came the following year. When I returned to El Salvador for my second year, there were people who left whose absences were felt. I did the same thing to the new people that Jared said I would. We told them stories of the people who had come before them. We told them that they would do the same thing to the new people the next year when some of us were gone. When you are used to someone being around, you feel their absence. While the missing seems like a constant acute pang at first, it settles into being more bearable with more time. You learn to move on and the absence of those people become the new normal. Eventually, it just turns into occasional happy reminders of, "aww, this reminds me of _____."

As much as I'd like to think I'm irreplaceable, I know that someone will fill my job and the house where I lived. They won't fill the exact roles in my friends' lives, just as new people in my life won’t replace my old ones. However, they will fill a role that my friends didn't know they needed in their lives until that person came along. It seems to always work out that way. 

Washington: We have to teach 'em how to say goodbye.  
--"One Last Time," from Hamilton 

"I'm not that good at goodbyes/Sometimes it's best to just fly/Ask where we're going, oh, I/Can't talk about it, can't talk about it/'Cause I'm just going to the store to the store/I'm just goin' to the store/You might not see me anymore, anymore/I'm just going to the store"
--"Store," by Carly Rae Jepsen

Even though I have said a lot of goodbyes, like Carly Rae Jepsen, I don't feel like I am good at goodbyes. Can you be? I was curious to see if there were any helpful articles about goodbyes online. I don’t think they are particularly helpful, but I was amused to find that there are several articles on wikiHow. There is a wikiHow on how to say goodbye. They also have specific ones for saying goodbye to coworker and how to say goodbye to your best friend who is moving, which I guess could be reverse-engineered. In the basic how-to-say-goodbye wikiHow it just suggests making goodbyes brief and sincere. How do you impart the weight of what someone meant to you briefly? As one of my friends said to another, "I just don't want to leave anything left unsaid." 

My goodbyes in El Salvador varied. There were people I didn't see one last time to say goodbye. There were the honest/realistic goodbyes of "I'll probably never see you again. Have a nice life." There were some "I'll miss yous" and "I love yous" and "I'm glad your forced your friendship on me." I received a lovely letter. There were goodbyes that were a refusal to say goodbye. 

My last few hours in El Salvador, I got waffles with a group of friends. We walked back to the complejo together listening to goodbye songs like "Graduation" and "Good Riddance (Time of Our Lives)." People said goodbye and peeled off one-by-one as we got to each house in the complejo. I finished packing. Leah and I sat in our entryway on Jess and Vanessa's furniture, which had been moved into our house. Jared and Elise joined us. Vanessa joined us. The van to the airport came. I said goodbye to everyone, then Jess showed up just in time for a goodbye. When I got into the van, "Stay" by Maurice Williams was playing. It crooned, "Oh won't you stay, just a little bit longer." 

So to all my friends still in El Salvador and the ones who have moved on, one last time, goodbye. I'll miss you. I love you. Our time together was important to me. A goodbye for now, doesn't mean goodbye forever. From experience, time apart makes reunions all that much sweeter. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Who Gave You Permission?

       In January, I went to Puerto Rico on my first ever solo trip. The main purpose of the trip was to go see the national treasure, Lin-Manuel Miranda, perform in Hamilton but I had planned for a whole week to explore Puerto Rico. I had rented a car for a few days, which when you're staying in a hostel automatically increases your popularity. The day before the older Bulgarian woman who I was sharing a room with asked if she could come along with me for the day. We'll call her Ana. I told her she could, but that I wanted to leave the next morning at 10. This seemed like a reasonable hour to compromise on, especially since I would be up way before then. At 9:30, she was up and I reminded her that I wanted to leave by 10. 

     "I'll try," she responded. 

     I wanted to quote Yoda back to her. Do or do not. There is no try.
     At this point, the Finnish woman, we'll call her Julia, who was also sharing a room with us asked if she could also come too. Why not? At the very least it might be nice to have someone help give directions. 

     At 10, I went into our room to ask Ana if she was ready to leave. She was not. She was putting on a nail treatment on her feet and said it would need time to dry. She said I could leave without her but I felt bad doing that since we were sharing a room. At 10:20, everyone was ready and we finally hit the road. I was a little irritated because I had been up since about 5:30. If I hadn't had to wait for her, I would have been on the road hours ago. 

     The first stop was a cave that I had picked out to go to. When we were buying tickets, Ana looked like she did not want to do this but she didn't say anything. My original plan for the day was to go to the cave, then to the nearby largest radio telescope. However, after the cave, it was almost lunchtime. I didn't bother asking if they wanted to go see the telescope, they were more interested in getting lunch and going to the beach. 
Cueva Ventana, or Windo Cave
         We got to the beach and found some street stands to get lunch. I translated the mostly-meat options to Julia. She gave me a strange look. 

        "Are you vegetarian?" I asked. 

       She nodded her head. We drove around to several different restaurants and looked at the menus. It took three tries to find one that she wanted to eat at. After we found something to eat, we ended our day with sunset on the beach. 
Just one of the many beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico
         At the end of the day, it wasn't a bad day. However, it occurred to me that I would have done things differently if it had just been me. I had come to Puerto Rico be by myself and with just a couple of days left on the trip, I hadn't spent much time solo. When I was first settling in, it was nice to have people in the hostel give suggestions and offer to go do things with me. It was also sometimes nice to have someone around to help with directions. Although Ana's directions of "drive towards the ocean" weren't overly helpful when you're on an island. As the week had gone on though, I found myself craving time by myself but felt guilty for declining social invitations. I had wanted to go on a solo trip so I could do what I wanted and I wouldn't have to accommodate other people. On my trip, I still found myself accommodating other people. The worst part of it was I wasn't working to accommodate friends or family members, these people were strangers I would never see again.  

       The next morning I was determined to get some solo time on my solo vacation and to not spend another day accommodating other people. I left as soon as I got up. I got in the car and just started driving. There was something that I noticed when I was by myself: I stopped asking for permission. I had a destination in mind but I made several side trips and stops along the way. The next day I also spent by myself. I  took my time exploring the forts of San Juan, stopping frequently to take pictures. If I saw a store I wanted to go in, I went in it. I didn't need to ask somebody if it was okay or let someone know. It was liberating. My last full day in Puerto Rico I went to see Hamilton by myself. The last three days of my vacation were my favorite because I could do exactly what I wanted to do because I didn't have to think of anyone besides myself. I gave myself permission to do what I wanted to do.

The view of Old San Juan from one of the forts. I stopped to take a lot of pictures when I was by myself. 
      Admittedly, I'm guilty of being overly-accommodating to other people. I'm also guilty of not giving myself permission to put my wants and needs first. I think this comes from a couple of different places. As a woman, it is engrained that we should do things to make others comfortable. This includes things from being a good hostess to moving off the sidewalk if someone is walking towards you. In the classroom, the needs of my students are frequently prioritized over my own. I've given up personal time hunting down lost lunchboxes, talking to a parent or colleague with concerns about a student, or setting up for science labs. As a friend, I have been the person that people come to talk to about their issues. I am grateful that people feel like they can come to talk to me, but it sometimes comes at the cost of frequently putting the needs of others before my own. Making people comfortable, being considerate of students, and listening to friends aren't bad actions. However, they can be harmful when they are constantly put in front of your own mental, emotional, or physical health. I have often felt emotionally exhausted and burnt out from taking care of others over myself. 

     I took this trip in January, a time for new beginnings. I'm not one for resolutions, but made the point that in the new year I could stand to be a little bit more selfish. I could give myself permission to do more to put myself first, from voicing and doing what I wanted to do to be okay with doing things by myself. I had a place I wanted to start too.

Jonathan van Ness serving up some realness on Queer Eye. 
    The summer before I left for El Salvador, I met with my friend Monica at a local bakery. We met there almost weekly to eat, talk about books and publishing, and write. It came up in the conversation about how our friend Jon was getting his MFA in writing for children and young adults. 

     "You should apply," Monica urged. 

     Our meal ended again with the action steps we were going to take.

     "So, you're going to apply for Hamline," Monica said again. (Writers are the most supportive group of people you will ever meet.) The seed was planted. 

     My initial reaction to her telling me to apply was I can't do that. In some ways, it seemed frivolous.  Many writers debate the usefulness of an MFA. You don't need an MFA to be a writer. Currently, I am debt-free and it would possibly mean going in debt to pursue the degree. But for me, the program was not only about improving my writing. It's about giving myself permission to put writing first. Writing is something that I have always wanted to do, so it was also giving me permission to put myself first. The program is a low-residency, which means the majority is done remotely. I go to campus for a week-long residency in July and January. While I wouldn't necessarily have needed to move back to the U.S., I felt it was necessary to put writing first. When I lived in Minneapolis previously, I found myself surrounded by such a strong writing community. 

     So I did it. I applied and got in and already finished my first residency. Who gave me permission to make writing a priority in my life? I guess I did. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Statistical Abstract of El Salvador

This is inspired and modeled after "Statistical Abstract for my Home of Spokane, Washington."  by Jess Walter. 

A Statistical Abstract of El Salvador

1. I moved back to Minneapolis in mid-June after living for two years in El Salvador. I called my grandma with my new U.S. phone. “I’m glad you’re back in the United States. It sounds like Central America is maybe not the best place to be right now. One hears things,” she said.

2. She’s not the only one who hears things. When I would go home for winter and summer break people were always curious. I saw on the news . . . Is it safe? Are the gangs really that bad?

3. One hears things from U.S. news.

4. In 2018, San Salvador was ranked the seventeenth most dangerous city in the world due to high homicide rates.

5. It’s in good company. St. Louis was ranked thirteenth. Baltimore was ranked twenty-first.

6. I moved to El Salvador in July of 2017. The school grounds are huge and are fenced in with vigilantes, or guards, at all of the entrances. I lived in the complejo, or compound, that housed all the international staff. There was a vigilante at the street entrance. The other entrance was inside the school and required a fingerprint to unlock the door.

8. During orientation, we asked about safety. We were told that the gangs probably wouldn't bother us. We were told that the worst that would happen to us was that we would get robbed. They don't really bother foreigners. 

9. They didn't say what's implied. (You're white.)

12. If I came into the complejo with a friend or an Uber, I needed to roll down the window and stick my head out so the vigilante saw me and let the car through the gate. The vigilantes rotated through all of the different entrances of the school every three months. Some might have known who I was but when I stuck my head out the window they could see that I was obviously a foreigner.

13. When friends came over, the vigilante checked and held onto their ID. We are not allowed to have local guests in the complejo between the hours of 12 AM to 5 AM for “safety reasons.”

10. I experienced a lot of white privilege in El Salvador.

11. (And everywhere.)

14. My second year in El Salvador a security person from the U.S. Embassy came to talk to us about living safely in El Salvador. He said that while homicides were down, disappearances were up. He told us about the “Color Code of Mental Awareness.” This mental process was developed by the U.S. military and is used by defense instructors to measure preparedness for action.

15. There are five conditions, which are represented by colors.  White means you are unaware of your surroundings and unprepared for potential threats. Yellow means you are relaxed, but alert. It goes all the way down to black, which is you are in a blind state of panic and are unable to react. He said you never want to be in a situation where you get to black and can't respond to a threat. 

16. He told us to think about the worst thing we could imagine happening to us and plan our reaction. It reminded me of an assignment I was assigned in high school English class. We were reading "Paradise Lost." We had to design our own paradise, then plan what our fall would be from our own paradise. I couldn’t imagine what the worst thing happening to me would be so I couldn’t plan a reaction to it.

17. My color was white in the complejo where I rarely wore shoes or locked our door. When someone messaged our complejo chat to see if someone could borrow X. The response was usually, “we do, you can walk in our house and get it.”

18. Leah and I were yellow when we walked for twenty minutes from our house to Mister Donut and Dollar City our first year. "You went where?" people asked us. "People get shot on that street all the time." We shrugged, it seemed okay when we went. We also went on a Sunday morning when most people were at church. 

20. I was yellow when we walked around parks and saw men with machetes.

21. I’m fairly certain that on any given day in El Salvador, there are more adult men per capita with machetes than in any other place in the world. While they can be used as a weapon or for protection, the gardeners at our school use them to weed whack or to carve the topiary with the school letters.

19. I was yellow when I walked weekly to the grocery store by myself. On my way to Super Selectos I passed several vigilantes standing outside of stores and restaurants with shotguns. They smiled and said “buenas días” to me as I passed.

21. A survey conducted in 2017 said that 42% of people in the United States live in a household with a gun. About 40,000 people died from gun-related in the U.S. in 2017.

23. At every elementary school I taught at in the U.S, we practiced several lock-down drills throughout the school year.

23. The school I taught at was a private school that served mostly very wealthy families of El Salvador. The students had nannies and drivers and tutors. They lived in gated colonias and had lake houses and beach houses.

24. This past year we had our first lockdown drill at the school. “We are practicing this in case there is someone in the school who wants to hurt people,” I told my students. They had a lot of questions. What if the robber comes in through the window? How do we know if the robber is gone? What happens if the robber takes all the stuff from school?

25. The security person from the embassy asked us to conjure the worst scenario in our heads. My students had to think of the worst villain in their heads. The worst person they could conjure was a robber.

22. There have been fourteen school shootings in the United States so far in 2019 with deaths or injuries.

26. There’s a lot of privilege that comes with being wealthy in El Salvador.

27. (and everywhere.)

28. There were maybe two times when I was orange. In that state, a potential threat is identified and you mentally prepare an action. I lived in whites and yellows and so did my students. Living with frequent safety threats was never my reality in El Salvador but it is for many.

29. I have local friends who have been robbed multiple times. My friend got robbed three times taking the bus. My friends always spoke about getting robbed with such nonchalance.

31. One of my friends helped me figure out how to get a VISA to go to Brazil. To get a VISA I needed to pay about $200, go to a bank and get a check, provide proof of employment including pay stubs, and set up an appointment with the Brazilian Embassy with all my documentation. “I don’t know if I want to do this,” I told my friend. “It seems like a lot of work.”

33. He responded by saying that’s what he has to do to go to most places, including Mexico.

33. To get a tourist VISA to visit the U.S, the first step is filling out an application. It costs $160. You need to get a check from the bank for this. You need to schedule an appointment with the U.S. Embassy for an interview. At the interview, you need to have current proof of income, tax payments, property or business ownership, or assets. You need a travel itinerary and/or other explanation about your planned trip with the assurance that you will not overstay your VISA. You also need a letter from your employer detailing your position, salary, how long you have been employed, any authorized vacation, and the business purpose, if any, of your U.S. trip and Criminal/court records pertaining to any arrest or conviction anywhere, even if you completed your sentence or were later pardoned. This process can take several months.

34. In 2015, 46% of people from El Salvador were denied a tourist VISA to the U.S.

32. Before I went they changed the policy, so U.S. citizens just needed to submit an application and $40.

33. There is a lot of privilege that comes with being a U.S. citizen in Central and South America.

34. (and everywhere).

35. I complained about work to the same friend who helped me with my VISA to Brazil. His response was, “but you can leave.”

36. A different friend was supposed to get his VISA in October of this past year. His girlfriend moved back to the United States because it seemed like it was a sure thing. October passed, and his lawyer continued to tell him that it would be longer. His family got a VISA and moved to the United States in February but he was processed separately because he was an adult. They said it could be years until he got his VISA.

37. He was going to school and had to stop school because he could not afford both tuition and a plane ticket if his VISA came in. He also needed to be ready to leave quickly after being granted his VISA.

38. While some people are able to wait to get a VISA to go to the United States, others can’t.

39. While my friend Kristen was visiting, we went to a more rural part of El Salvador. Our tour guide told us the story of two boys who were friends. One of the boys joined a gang. He asked his friend to join. His friend said no. The boy asked his friend to join again. His friend responded no. Our guide told us that the gang does not ask people to join four times. The third time a gang asks someone to join you join or you run away or you are killed.

40. Red means that you must assume you will need to take action to neutralize any and all threats. I couldn’t imagine the worst thing that could happen to me and what my response would be. Many people who live in reds in El Salvador and Central America can.

41. So when my grandma or someone asks if I felt safe living in El Salvador I tell them yes. But I am white and financially stable and a U.S. citizen and there is a lot of privilege that comes with those things in El Salvador.

42. (and everywhere.)

43. One hears things from U.S. news.

44. One day another teacher came up to Leah and me in the mailroom. “What’s going on in your country?” She asked us concerned. We didn't ask her to specify what it was. It could have been any number of things going on in our country. “I’m praying for your country,” she told us.

45. One hears things from El Salvador news too.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Two, Four, Six, Eight, How Do We Appreciate?

The pyramids of Tikal peeking out over the trees as we wait for the sunset. 
            "I'll meet you at the top," Hugo, our guide told us. My mom and I climbed the wooden stairs to the top of one of the pyramids of Tikal. At the top, the ruins peeked out over the canopy line. The sun started its descent. Another guide at the top asked the forty or so people at the top for silence to be able to hear the birds, howler monkeys, and other animals settling down for the night. Collectively, we all watch the sun sink before disappearing completely. My mom and I made our way back down the stairs. Hugo was waiting for us at the bottom. He never made it to the top. 
       "Oh, I was going to come up. We could have gone stargazing," he joked. As we walked back to our hotel through the woods by flashlight, he told us,  "I don't need to see the sunset. I've seen it hundreds of times before." He preferred to talk to the other guides at the bottom who also didn't feel the need to see yet another sunset. 
       I really couldn't blame him for not wanting to see something he had seen repeatedly before. Earlier in the day, we had done a group tour of Tikal. There was one pyramid Hugo said we had the option of climbing. While others immediately started the climb, I questioned whether or not I wanted to go up. I've climbed up my fair share of ruins in the past year and a half. Since living in El Salvador, I have visited Copan in Honduras and Tazumal, San Andrés, and Joya de Ceren in El Salvador. Less than two months earlier, I had climbed the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon in Teotihuacán near Mexico City. Would climbing this pyramid really be that different? While 2016 me in Taiwan thought: How many temples can one person see? The 2018 me in Central America was thinking: how many ruins can one person see? More importantly, though, how do you continue to appreciate something when it is no longer a novelty? 

The sunset at Tikal
          By realizing that I was not appreciating something as much as I should, I felt guilty. Here was an amazing experience, and I wasn't fully appreciating it. I came up with some ways I could help appreciate my time traveling, even if it wasn't a new experience. These aren't overly earth-shattering but maybe serve as good reminders. 

1. Take a Moment
     The day after we watched the sunset at Tikal, my mom and I went to a different pyramid to watch the sunrise. We walked up the stairs by the light of our cell phones. When we got to the top, there was no fence protecting from the drop-off of the pyramid. We flashed the light on our phones to see about fifteen people sitting on the stairs. We had not realized that they were there because they were sitting in complete silence. We found spots to wait for the sunrise and sat in companionable silence. 
      "Think about where we are," my mom whispered at one point. 
      I took a moment to think about the Maya who had built this pyramid and their lives and how they had built something that had lasted for so long. I also thought about how we were experiencing this in silence with a bunch of strangers. 
       There wasn't much of a sunrise. It was foggy. Still, by taking a moment I could appreciate where I was and who I was with. 

2. Learn More
     I had been caving before. I had been tubing before. I had never been cave tubing before. In Belize, we went on a cave tubing excursion. As someone who enjoys caves and tubing, it was quite a lovely experience. We floated down the river in the cave, shining our headlamps to see the different parts of the caves. What made me appreciate it more was learning more about caves and our guide's experiences mapping out the caves in Belize. The cave we were floating in was about 35 million years old, which is young for a cave. Giovanni, our guide said that they were still mapping out the caves in Belize because there was still so much to explore. He helped by rock climbing and scouting out for the cartographers. While the experience of floating down a cave in an inner tube was enjoyable in and of itself, I was able to appreciate it more by learning a little bit more about caves. 

3. Make a Personal Connection
     My favorite activity we did in Belize was taking a cooking class from a worker at our hotel in St. Ignacio. The biggest reason that this was so fun and memorable was that we asked Chef Will about his hopes and dreams and his life. He taught us how to cook, but talking with him was what made the experience enjoyable. Making connections with people is often the most memorable aspect of a place. 

     One of the people I have made a connection with in El Salvador is my friend Jacob. He is one of the most appreciative people I have ever met. Ask him how he is and his response will be, "Oh, just another day in paradise." He used to end our conversations by saying, "I appreciate you." This is something very rarely said outright. It is even rarer to hear it repeatedly. I have learned a lot from him about how to continue to appreciate living in El Salvador once the novelty has worn off. 

    When I first moved to El Salvador, I was amazed by my walk to school. It featured a view of a volcano behind the athletic fields. Most days now, I don't even take the time to look at it because I have gotten used to the view. In many ways, it is so much easier to appreciate my friends who do not live here. Hearing from and seeing them happens less frequently, so each time it is special. In El Salvador, I have gotten used to the people and living here that I don't appreciate it as much as I should, especially since my time here has an expiration date. I'm moving out of El Salvador in a little over three months. I'm trying to get the most out of the time I have left here. So here is me taking some time to appreciate El Salvador. 

 Here is a video I took when I first moved to El Salvador of my walk to school. 

1. Take a Moment
     My favorite thing to do in El Salvador is spending the weekend at the beach or the lake. On one trip to the lake, Jacob pointed out to me, "We get to go on vacation almost every month. That's not something most people get to do." It's true, living in the states I never took weekend trips. I also would have had to take a plane to a tropical beach or lake. I appreciate the fact that I get to do this so frequently. 

2. Learn More
     Before living abroad, I was aware that I have a lot of privilege. My privilege is even more apparent in El Salvador. I make twice as much money as the local staff for doing the same job. My salary is higher solely on the fact that I was born and went to school in the United States. As a foreign teacher, I was told I would be getting $250 extra for this year. While this is nice, it does not significantly change my lifestyle. A local friend was told she would be getting $250 more. She was so excited because it meant that she could afford to drive her car to work. She had been taking the bus, which she had been robbed on three times. As a white person, I also get treated very differently both at school and around El Salvador. By learning more about my privilege, I appreciate what I have. 

Last three months here we go. Here's to appreciating every moment of it. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

My Wish + Things I'm Looking Forward to in 2019

The past couple of years I have posted my wish for myself and others for the upcoming year, via Neil Gaiman. My wish this year is taken from the best advice I heard this year. I have footnoted the inspiration for each piece of my wish. Here is my wish for 2019. 

1. Jonathan Van Ness
2. Stacey Abrams
3. Beth Pickens
4. Hillary Clinton via Call Your Girlfriend/Michelle Obama via Becoming

Here is my list of some things I'm looking forward to in 2019, in no particular order. 

1. Live Action Lion King
Disney has sure capitalized on remaking their classic movies as live-action. They have Dumbo, Aladdin, and Lion King coming out in 2019. Lion King is the only one I am really excited for because the cast is excellent. It features such faves as Beyonce, Donald Glover, John Oliver, and Billy Eichner.

2. Queer Eye Season 3
Queer Eye was my favorite TV show in 2018. I'm so excited to get more of the Fab 5 and in Kansas City!

3. New Music from Carly Rae Jepsen
I also had this on what I was looking forward to in 2018. She only released the single "Party For One" this year. Fingers crossed there will be an album this year. 

4. New Music from Lizzo
Lizzo also released a couple of tracks in 2018. She has said an album is coming soon, so I'm looking forward to this too. 

5. Little Women
The year 2018 marked the 150th anniversary of Little Women. There were a lot of adaptations including a movie and a mini-series. The adaptation I am most looking forward to is the Greta Gerwig adaptation coming out in 2019. It unites Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan, and Timothee Chalamet from Lady Bird. Meryl Streep and Emma Watson also star in the movie. 

6. If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann
One of my favorite books last year was Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann. She has another YA book coming out in 2019 that features a romance, a fat protagonist, and a cooking competition. I'm in! 

7. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Marlon James used to be my brother's neighbor. Publishers have described this first book in a trilogy as the "African Game of Thrones." 
8. Hamilton in Puerto Rico
Last year Lin-Manuel Miranda announced that he was going to bring Hamilton to Puerto Rico for a three-week run to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. I immediately wanted to go but didn't know if the logistics would work out. Well, I am currently in Puerto Rico and I am going to see Lin in Hamilton on Saturday. 

9. Peru
Last year, I went to South America to meet up with my friends, Tyler and Jacob, to go to Brazil. This Semana Santa I will be going to Peru with my parents. We're going to Machu Picchu, among other attractions. 

10. Ali Wong book
Ali Wong is a stand-up comic with two stand-up specials on Netflix. In both of her stand-up specials, she was pregnant. This year she is releasing a book with essays that are in the form of letters of advice to her daughters. I'm ready for some funny and insightful advice from Ali Wong. 

11. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Helen Hoang wrote one of my favorite books in 2018. The Bride Test is about a Vietnamese man with ASD whose mom arranges a marriage for him with a mixed-race girl from Ho Chi Minh City. I'm banking that it will be equally swoony and steamy as her first book.

12. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
I knew Harper Lee helped Truman Capote research In Cold Blood. What I didn't know was that Harper Lee worked to cover the trial of a reverend serial killer in Alabama as her own In Cold Blood. This book covers "the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country's most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity." 

13. Believed podcast
This podcast is already out. It tells the story of how women won the conviction of Larry Nassar and how it was possible that his abuse of power lasted so long. 

14. This is Love podcast
This podcast has already put out two seasons, but I am hoping to listen to it in 2019. It is made by the same people who made Criminal. It looks at love in all of its facets. 

15. Us
This is the second film written and directed by Jordan Peele. I thought Get Out was incredibly well done. This looks more on the horror side of psychological horror-thriller. I'm interested though. 

16. Veronica Mars TV Reboot
The TV show Veronica Mars checked off many of my boxes of things I look for in TV shows. It features a strong, smart female lead, it was set in high school, it had mystery/noir, and it was heavy in class issues. They Kickstarted a movie and wrote two books. I will always take more Veronica Mars though. I was very excited when Hulu picked it up for a limited eight-episode series. 

17. Miss. Fisher And the Crypt of Tears
Miss. Fisher's Murder Mysteries is an Australian TV show that also satisfied my strong female lead/mysteries itch. They also kickstarted a movie, which I hope will be available to view in 2019. I'm ready to see more of these characters.

18. Shrill
This TV show is loosely based off of the Lindy West book of the same name. It stars Aidy Bryant who "plays Annie, a fat, young woman who wants to change her life, but not her body. The current statistic is that 67% of women in the United States are a size 14 or greater. They make up less than 2% of what is seen in media. I'm excited for some fat representation that doesn't revolve around weight loss. 

19. Central Park Five
Ava DuVernay is creating, writing, and directing a drama based on the Central Park Five case. I'm looking forward to seeing how it is dramatized in DuVernay's capable hands. 

20. TV Finales 
This year many TV shows I've watched off-and-on will be ending, including Broad City, Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, You're The Worst, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Orange is the New Black, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I'll be along for the ride to see if they get a fitting ending.

21. Kristen Visit
My friend Kristen is coming to visit me in El Salvador. I'm so excited!!!!

21. New and Old in El Salvador
Outside of school, I have developed a weekly routine in El Salvador. On Mondays, I go play ultimate frisbee at the British school. On Thursdays, I go play Dungeons and Dragons. There's also at least one hockey game thrown in the week too. I'm excited to keep these routines. There's also a list of things that I would like to do in El Salvador before I leave in June, so I'm excited to do even more exploring. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My Favorite Things of 2018

A couple of weeks ago, I Facetimed with my friend Tyler. We discussed what we viewed as the hits and misses of 2018 and some of our favorite things of the year. He asked that I write a post about my favorite things of 2018. He also requested that I name-drop him on this blog more frequently. This year seemed to be a long one. Did you remember that we had an Olympics this year? In some ways, this list was difficult for me to come up with because many things I enjoyed were not new to 2018. For example, I still continue to listen to old podcast favorites and continue to watch the same TV shows. I didn't watch that many movies.  The media I took the most enjoyment from this year was books, so I have many of my favorites below. Many of my favorites are old favorites. Nevertheless, here are some of my favorites and things that brought me joy this year.

Diverse voices
This year saw a lot of projects with diverse voices be successful, from Black Panther to Crazy Rich Asians to Dumplin'. More, please!

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John Green
John Green is most well-known for his YA books. However, I appreciate him more for the other content he creates. This year I started watching his Vlogbrothers videos he creates with his brother Hank. They make videos to send back and forth to each other about a range of topics. They also have two podcasts, Dear John and Hank and the Anthropocene Reviewed.  I will also occasionally listen to their podcast Dear Hank and John, where people just ask them random questions and they give dubious advice. John also has his own podcast called the Anthropocene Reviewed, where in each episode he reviews two things about the human experience from the Taco Bell breakfast menu to Teddy bears. 

Snipping Tool
The computers at are school are a little older. One day I watched our grade level leader use the snipping tool on her computer. I don't know why I didn't know about it sooner, but it is like magic.

New Place visited: Mexico City
Sometimes when traveling with others you go to places and do things that wouldn't normally be on your radar. This is how Mexico City was for me. I went over Thanksgiving with my friends Leah, Michelle, and Baylee. Lately, when traveling to cities, big cities have felt like generic big cities. Mexico City has its own feel to it. It is also one of the cities you can walk and find a ton to do. There are ruins mixed with colonial architecture mixed with modern. Also, my cool friend Jacob from Taiwan went there before me. He also asked that I name-drop more on this blog too.

Purchase under $40: Clothes from Old Navy Mexico City
When living abroad, there is a certain appeal to go to things that are familiar. That is why my friends Tyler, Josilin, and I went to an American diner for breakfast in Hong Kong. It is why we wandering into an Old Navy in Mexico City. Is it uniquely Mexican? No, but we can't go to Old Navy in El Salvador. I hadn't slept very well in Mexico City, because it got cold at night and I didn't have warm enough clothes. I ended up buying flannel pajama pants, fuzzy socks, and a sweater at Old Navy to wear at night. I slept so very after that. It was one of the best purchases I made all year. Not even mad about it.

Purchase under $2
There's an anchor chart floating around the internet for teachers that shows students when it is okay to interrupt a teacher's teaching. I designed a poster for my classroom that said it was okay to interrupt me if Lin-Manuel Miranda entered our classroom. It cost less than $2 to have it printed. I tweeted a picture of it and tagged Lin. I was at a restaurant celebrated a friend's birthday when a friend messaged me to say that she saw my tweet and said I must be so excited. Notifications were not showing up on my phone for Twitter. I left the restaurant with my friends Vanessa, Jared, and Elise. I told them why I was scrolling through Twitter. They too started searching for what this message meant. We were about to give up when Vanessa found it. Lin had retweeted me and the tweet had thousands of likes. There was a lot of giggling and jumping followed by me collapsing on Jared and Elise's couch not sure where to go next with my life. 

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"This is America" music video
I am always amazed at the diverse talent of Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino. The video to the song "This is America" was very well-done. It endures rewatchings to catch all of the little details and symbolism in the video.

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Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae
This was my favorite album of this year. She had me hooked with her music videos for "Make Me Feel" and "Pynk." I love the aethetic for both videos. "Make Me Feel" is so Prince-y. "Pynk" has some great visuals, including vulva pants. This was actually one of the only albums I played this year on repeat. I also saw her in concert this summer and it was awesome.

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Queer Eye
My friend Sarah flew in for the weekend to see me when I was back in Minnesota this summer. We stayed at the apartment she would soon move into in Saint Paul. We spent the weekend hanging out, walking around her neighborhood, and trying different restaurants. She also introduced me to Queer Eye and my fav of the Fab 5, Jonathan. I've learned a lot from watching the show. I also love introducing others to the show and watching it with them for the first time.

Things out of context
Leah introduced me to the Twitter handle Queer Eye Out of Context. It is exactly what it sounds like. They take screenshots of the Fab 5 saying things out of context. Similarly, my favorite song of all time is "A Better Son/Daughter" by Rilo Kiley. I enjoy following the Rilo Kiley bot on Twitter, which just tweets random Rilo Kiley lyrics.

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Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat
This is a "cookbook," but I use that term very loosely. It has recipes, but they are at the end of the book and serve more as exercises to learn a skill rather than cooking the actual recipe. The author straight up says that following a recipe doesn't teach you how to cook. Instead, she teaches you the science behind what she considers the four elements of cooking--salt, fat, acid, and heat--and how to use each of them to make your food taste better. It's changed the way I cook. If I want to make food taste better, I know can think to myself which element it needs more of and what form of that element I could add.

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The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
In this romance, Stella is on the spectrum and hires an escort to teach her about physical intimacy. It features diverse leads and is really steamy and real cute simultaneously.
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Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann
This YA book is adorable and also features diverse leads. Alice is asexual and falls for a fellow library employee. "She has to decide if she's willing to risk her friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated or understood." I enjoyed reading about an asexual protagonist because it is not one that is seen very often.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
This was the first book I read in 2018 and after reading it I knew it was going to be a good reading year. This book won the National Book Award for 2017 and topped a lot of best books lists of 2017. It is very well-deserved. This book is beautifully crafted. The sentences are gorgeous. I tried to get everyone to read it all year.

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Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli
It was important for me to learn more about how immigration worked in the United States, especially this year. The author worked as a translator at the border to process entries. The book is formatted around the forty questions that people are asked at the border. At times I wish this dug a little bit deeper, but it served as a good primer for me especially on immigration in Central America.

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The singer Lizzo has continued to be a favorite of mine. As Tina Fey said this year, "How did Lizzo not even get a nomination for best female artist? She plays the flute while she twerks." She is also the body positivity icon we deserve.

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Ariana Grande
I enjoyed following Ariana Grande's year from her album release to her relationship to Pete Davidson to the music video for "Thank U, Next." The one taught me love, one taught me patience, one taught me pain was probably my favorite meme of the year.

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Jonathan van Ness
My second favorite person I've never met of 2018 is Jonathan. He is my favorite of the Fab 5. I enjoy using his catchphrases. He also has a podcast. He's the gift that keeps on giving. Who gave him permission?

Two Goats in a Boat
Leah showed me this video and it brings me so much joy everytime I watch it.

I subscribe to probably too many newsletters. Two that I really enjoy are the Ann Friedman Weekly from Ann of Call Your Girlfriend and Laura Olin's newsletter. Both link to different articles that they found meaningful in the week. 

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Vegas Golden Knights

While I enjoy watching sports in person, I've never really been one to watch televised sports. I started watching hockey games with my friend Jacob. It started out as a I-don't-know-if-I-will-enjoy-watching-this, but I-will-enjoy-watching-you-watch-this-thing/social thing. The Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last year as a first year team. It continues to be a social activity, but I actually really enjoy watching the Golden Knights play hockey now.

They were a sponsor of the podcast She's All Fat for a couple of episodes. I thought I would give them a try. They sell shortlettes to wear underneath dresses and skirts to prevent chafing. I bought two pairs and found them really comfortable.

While my 10-year high school reunion fell through, I was fortunate enough to have many unofficial reunions. This started when I Rio-nited with my friends Tyler and Jacob from Taiwan in Brazil. I wrote a whole blog post about it! This summer I got to go to Washington/Oregon to visit my extended family for the first time in several years. In the summer my friend Josilin came to visit me in Minnesota. I met up with some friends in El Salvador with the #MichelleTakestheMidwest tour. I also got to spend a week with my friends Jess and Kristen in Pennsylvania for Kristen's wedding. 

Deeper getting to know you questions
Last year when  I was visiting my Guatemala with some friends, my friend Jacob told us about the New York Times' 36 Questions. We took turns asking each other these questions. It helped break the ice and get to know each other. This year, these questions got brought out again a couple of times. It helps to talk about something other than school/work and goes deeper than small talk. Here's a list that I used:

Going to the Lake
Even though I grew up in Minnesota, I spent more time at the ocean than at the lake. I went to Lake Coatepeque in El Salvador and it helped me reappreciate lakes. I just enjoy being around water. Lakes in some ways are more peaceful than oceans. There's just something about jumping off a dock and swimming to a floating platform. 

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Love, Simon
This movie was just 😍😍😍. After Leah, Michelle, and I saw this movie we wanted to keep the good mood going, so we went to Chili's and got tableside guac. 

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Lin-Manuel Miranda
For the third year in a row, Lin is my favorite person I've never met. What a year Lin had! He got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was in Mary Poppins Returns. He also retweeted one of my tweets causing it to go viral. I'll be kicking off 2019 by going to see Lin in Hamilton in Puerto Rico. 

I'll be posting my things I'm looking forward to in 2019 post soon.
Have a happy New Year!