I want to make a case for 2018 to be the year that we remember that people behave very differently when they are in supportive vs. toxic environments. When we read people’s statements and judge them, review them for jobs, or consider our first impressions, I ask that we leave some room for imperfection. The person before you may be working very hard to preserve themselves and not at their best. Or this person may have hit their stride and be comfortable and able to give a lot more to others. I think positive change in our communities comes from discussing and acknowledging what people need, rather than telling them to “suck it up” and just “try harder,” or writing them off entirely for failing to meet our expectations of “pleasantness.”
I was rereading my journal from 5 years ago and kept feeling my stomach twist in guilt with some of my behavior from a time when I was completely miserable and lost in my first job. This is not me. I wrote. And it’s true — the grumpy, detached, selfish person I saw myself becoming while my daily environment felt really confusing and unpleasant made me into a different person. It made me defensive and jealous in every interaction I had. I was fighting to preserve my sanity and it meant I could not give ANYTHING to anyone else. I hated myself for it. I saw the person I was in public and couldn’t stand her, but I didn’t have more to give to make it better.
I left that environment and started to prioritize things that kept me healthier and saner — spending time with people what I liked spending time with who were positive forces in my life, rather than those who tried to compete with me and drag me down, getting enough sleep, blocking out “sacred hours” of the week that were untouchable because they were the times I read, did artwork, exercised, etc. I went back to being the version of myself that I was proud of. And in this space of comfort, I was much better able to be kind and patient with other people.
I thought about what kinds of references my old coworkers would give me — they probably didn’t find me fun or pleasant to be around. In this day and age, that could be bad for a future job prospect. I hope interviewers know that sometimes people need to leave jobs because their previous environments were toxic to them and references from these old jobs will not always reflect the best sides of that person. Maybe this new space will be healthier for them and they’ll bring what they’ve learned along the way to be a better coworker and teammate than they were before. I wish that 2018 will be a year when we think about room for growth in hiring and seeing the potential people have when they are healthy and happy coworkers.
I think this goes for friendships too. Sometimes someone is really hurting and they behave unpleasantly for a while, but come back to a friendship when they are healthier. I hope there is space in our friendships for forgiveness and time and healing.
I think about those who have to carry many responsibilities in their days and how sometimes they fall short of expectations. I always used to brief my freelancers with, I want to be both your friend because I care about your health and sanity and your boss. When we have a conversation, tell me who I need to be in it so I can give you honest, un-conflicted answers. I think this worked well for us. We finished crushing schedules on time and supported each other, even while projects were chaotic and unpredictable. We leaned on each other when we needed to and we coached each other when we needed to. There was space to be imperfect and kind.
I wish for leadership this year. Messy, sometimes imperfect leadership that makes change and starts important dialogues. I want more “bad feminists” and dreamers and people who make shit happen. 2017 brought out so many strong thinkers and activists and so much honesty. I am so excited by all of the organizing that has been happening! I hope 2018 is a year we can embrace differences in methods and offer critiques that keep us moving forward powerfully. I hope we grow together.
I like reading a mix of fiction and non-fiction, alongside my academic papers. I find this is the best way to improve my writing style and think about the best ways to communicate different ideas memorably for different audiences. The following authors taught me a lot about character development and playing with research + language + scenes to develop characters and complicated stories.
My six favorites from this year were:
1) Difficult Women (Roxane Gay)
2) Outline (Rachel Cusk)
3) Another Brooklyn (Jacqueline Woodson)
4) My Name is Lucy Barton (Elizabeth Strout)
5) Argonauts (Maggie Nelson)
6) Cork Dork (Bianca Bosker)
Difficult women was a breath of fresh air in a year when I was fighting to define myself, including the less “savory” bits. The characters in each of the short stories in Difficult Women are challenging, complex and real. It was so refreshing to see someone develop female characters this way. They were unapologetic about their strength and who they were. I have read it three times this year when I am having trouble writing clearly and concisely. I find Roxane Gay’s writing memorable, powerful, and intense. I’ve learned so much from her writing style that I consider when I am writing this year.
While reading Outline, I imagined a beautifully performed play where the most beautiful moments are these smaller moments of reflection where characters learn about themselves from interacting with each other or the landscape behind them. I enjoyed the slow reveals and how present the characters and story felt. I’ve thought about this story structure often since the first time I read it, because it feels like a valuable way to present an experiment and related it back to theory/abstract reflection, rather than front or rear loading it.
There were so many elements of Another Brooklyn that delighted me. I loved the writing style: short sections that were beautifully written, memorable, and visually powerful. I was living in Brooklyn and could easily imagine this parallel story taking place nearby. The four women grow into themselves and their friendships in powerful ways, with all of the strength, sorrow, and pride that comes with navigating into adulthood. The author does an incredible job introducing the explicit and implicit challenges of female friendships and transitioning roles for women in their communities.
I read My Name is Lucy Barton around the same time I was reading both Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in their Own Land. The combination of these three books, in conversation with one another for me, felt like an important moment for me this year. It was an intense conversation about social class and expectations. What we take on from others, what we leave behind, what we choose to hide, what we define for ourselves, etc. I had many uncomfortable moments and questions arise from reading these three books at the same time, especially in a piece of fiction like Lucy Barton where I could imagine people I’ve met through the years in each of the roles she describes in her book. It made me think more deeply about fiscal responsibility and how openly we do (or don’t) discuss social class.
I had never in my life read anything like The Argonauts before. I know I am a little late to this party, but wow. I enjoyed the way Maggie Nelson weaves together research, personal essays, and beautiful writing to ask difficult questions and turn some of my assumptions about gender, motherhood and relationships on their heads. Powerful and challenging. Wow.
My dad gave me Cork Dork as a summer read before I started graduate school and it was a FUN way to think about methods and questions for ethnography from the perspective of a journalist who was HUNGRY for answers and fearless about how far she could push herself into this other world to answer them. I related to her insatiable curiosity. Each of the characters Bianca Bosker learns from sound like fascinating characters and it gave me a new way to think about New York’s restaurants. Each time I walk by or go have dinner, I watch for the subtle and impressive ways these teams coordinate their work. I have a new language for describing smells and flavors, as well. I realized how limited my descriptions were for these sensory experiences and kicked myself to do better.
If each year has a theme, I believe this year tested my ability to recenter myself and recognize when I needed to take a break and come back to something. For someone with the kind of “I never get tired!” attitude I had in college and post-college, this was a big step towards preserving my sanity. I learned that we are never always and completely self-reliant — the wisdom in “it takes a village” is just as much about adults as it is about raising children. Perhaps there are weeks and tasks that I can accomplish on my own, but there is no shame in asking for help.
2016 ended with what felt like an apocalypse. The day after the 2016 election felt like a funeral — I rode to work in a subway car that was uncharacteristically silent, with people weeping silently into their coats. I bought a sweater pattern that I finished 6 months later. It was something to keep my hands busy and knitting is very meditative for me. The anxiety I felt about the changes we were undergoing, especially the rising abuse in the ways people spoke to each other on and offline, felt truly overwhelming some days.
I believe in kindness. I believe in the kind of Christianity that I was raised in — where I give whenever and wherever I can. I started re-centering myself by taking deliberate time to be around people who made me feel positive about the world and hopeful. I was careful about how I devoted my truly focused time to projects and people that I was with and forgave myself when I was no longer able to juggle too many projects simultaneously.
I was fiercely protective of my time, preferring to do a few things really carefully and not try to improvise as much as I had to for a while. I read 52 books this year. I kept a list and wrote a sentence about each one so I could remember where I had started and how this year’s literary journey ended. I spent 15-20 hours a week on a single assignment (my math/programming homework) and planned my days around the hours I knew I was sharp and focused, leaving my less focused hours for all the tasks that used to take up so much more time during my day. I spent time cooking complicated dishes as a study break, learning to make curry by first toasting the whole spices and grinding them myself. I protected my Monday evenings as a “family dinner” time with my roommate. I hand wrote more letters this Christmas than I ever have before. I felt each word, and meant it, as I wrote to people I loved and missed during my new academic monk hood.
My world in some ways feels smaller now that I don’t juggle my overbooked calendar every week, but I am proud of what I am creating and the new creative ways of thinking I can access while I truly focus on my projects.
There are many days I have to cut myself off from reading the news (and twitter. I had already cut down my facebook habit significantly from last year). I feel the bile rising in my throat and a rage I’ve never felt before bounce through my veins. But this year, I tried to turn to my curiosity and understand what was happening so I could recenter. I learned that there are many things happening that are utter lunacy, but there are others that have some reasons that make sense to others and I can engage with that. I subscribed to the National Review, followed a number of Evangelical leaders on twitter. I started reading more of what my conservative friends were posting on their facebooks. I don’t agree with them frequently, but reading well thought out arguments and seeing how they gathered evidence took the “bogey man” element out of policies that I had felt were shoved down my throat during this last year. I was humbled in some of my finger pointing when I noticed that they too were enraged by things like voter suppression. This was not a conservative value, just a product of the horrible political machines in power these days. I re-centered. The rage was not allowed to consume me.
I read the bible, finding places I related to and found some of the values I grew up with stated time and time again. If this was a language that was so important to so many parts of the country, I decided it was time that I learned to engage with it.
I gave friends long hugs when they needed them most and I talked openly about my anxieties. Especially on the days that were much harder and I doubted myself or doubted that I would find hope again. I chose stillness on days when the world felt especially crazy to me. I stopped pretending to be happy and together when I was having a hard day and took time for myself to get better. Accepting this side of myself, the part that needs a little more attention some days, allowed me to love others more honestly. I found a partner who forces me to design our relationship with him each step of the way, without being lazy and assuming pre-determined roles. We talk about everything when it is beautiful and when it is difficult. And we go through very long walks in the woods on the weekends, just to be alone together in stillness.
And there were always books. Because books are my antidote to everything — heartbreak, change, excitement, exhaustion, hope. I will post a media list later this week, but books helped me through a lot of the harder times this year.
I learned the dimensions of my patience and my fear this year. I would have been so scared to do that years ago, preferring to “turn everything off” and just run like a machine for as long as I could. This year I listened and confronted my biases and fears and stubbornness when it deserved to be challenged. I constantly adjusted my expectations of myself allowing more room for growth than ever before.
I leave 2017 with hope and gratitude for those who love me even when I have a hard time doing everything I am supposed to be doing. I hope that I can one day do the same for you when you need me most.
From a very concerned graduate student: PLEASE CALL YOUR CONGRESS PEOPLE ABOUT THE TAX BILL ASAP. Asking very earnestly for your help. Please help.
This bill includes language that charges already pretty broke grad students for the tuition waiver they receive to attend school. In total, this means many grad students would be taxed as though they are making an extra $30,000-$50,000 that they in reality do not have access to in any form of liquidity. That’s a HUGE difference in what it means to be able to pay rent/eat/keep the lights on.
If it passes, I know a number of students in a variety of fields who would need to consider dropping out and abandoning their research. It will mean that labs lose some of their most important researchers and a lot of the research that helps create informed debate will be lost.
This feels like an assault on our academic institutions because they do not follow the sway of think tanks backed by billionaires. Without these students and an academic future, we risk only producing research that serves a handful of oligarchs and private research through pharmaceutical companies that can continue to charge you $$$$$$ for everything you consume when you are sick.
I study labor and want to keep studying labor because I am terrified of a future that looks like serfdom. I don’t believe in the “economic eugenics” of the far far right. I don’t believe that your salary, your savings account, and your access to liquidity says anything about who you are as a person or a neighbor. I don’t want to live in anything resembling that society because that is extremely dangerous for everyone.
I believe in a society that takes care of each other, especially when some of us stumble and need a little more help.
I am recently getting a questions in my inbox from people considering Ph.D studies and/or professional lives devoted to research. Many of these questions can be boiled down to, How did you get to where you are? Here’s one version of my answer.
I had a strong suspicion beginning my second year of college that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D., but I still had many lingering doubts. I applied to a fellowship program that would groom me for the GRE, independent research, and a life time in academia. I made it through to the final round, excited during the interviews and a nervous wreck about “signing away my life” during the breaks. I ultimately did not receive the fellowship, which felt devastating for 24 hours and then, a relief. I wasn’t sure at 20. I knew I wanted to be a researcher. I knew I loved numbers and surveys and reading endlessly and asking questions and investigating things. But I had trouble finding the right field for myself and I wanted to see what working life was like in the “real world.” Surely, I told myself, they still need researchers out there. So I put my Ph.D. dreams aside and decided to work for what I determined was a “respectable amount of time.”
In my head, this was meant to be a 2 year research job. But the job market is interesting and opaque and full of strange and unexpected results. I learned that job descriptions are rarely accurate, that I did not need to work anywhere near as hard as I did in college to still have excellent results and a social life(?!) and “research” in industry is sometimes a scary and terrifying Frankenstein version of what I wanted to do. It’s amazing what becomes “fact” when someone in a hierarchical organization determines it must be so. I worked in research in a financial company, a media company, and a tech start up. Each version of my job was interesting and had a lot of space for me to design what I was working on, but I was keenly aware of the holes in my skill set and the distance between what made me light up when I talked about it… and the research I did during my working hours.
I had a moment while fact checking where I was increasingly frustrated by the original research I was doing to patch up holes in an argument… knowing I would never get credit for the work… when I realized I wanted to do independent research. The questions and notes I had been scrawling away in notebooks and Evernote were haunting my dreams and making it very difficult to ignore any longer. I knew I needed more training to answer some of these questions and I knew I needed to work on them in a formal setting for people to take me seriously. So I approached my college advisors.
Absolutely no one in my life was even a little surprised when I told them. The scariest conversation (in my anticipation) was with my boss who did not bat an eyelash. She instead beamed at me and said she was thrilled and when did she need to turn in my recommendation letter?
See, I have always been a nerd. I obsess over things I am reading or decide to investigate for a long period of time not because it had a specific “end goal” but because it fascinated me and captured my imagination. My questions really do haunt me. Some kept me up all night. I would read for hours trying to answer my questions, even when I knew I had work the next day. I carried around a “field journal” for observations on communities I found interesting. I liked experiment design and talked about it long past the point of everyone else beginning to play with their phones. I break into a giant smile when I talk about theories I am playing with and successful days in the field.
Making money was nice, but it wasn’t enough. I realized the price of working on questions that didn’t interest me felt much more costly to me than I had understood. I was willing to take that pay cut — and sign up to be in grad school until I am at least 31 — because this time to read and study and design experiments and live my questions was what I needed to do to feel alive. It was worth leaving behind the experience I had built up over time, my comfortable salary and life style, and the networks of friends and colleagues I had built up because my questions called so loudly.
As one advisor told me when I told him about my plans, “I would not recommend this life style to anyone who could happily live a different life.” He told me, “you will spend the next few years becoming an expert on what feels like the handle of a single type of hammer in a tool shed. It drives most people insane. You need to be slightly insane to do this.” And I am. I tried and I cannot leave my questions behind. I returned to grad school because I know what I need to explore and answer with my life and I know what it will cost me to do so.
Sometimes people ask me if they should do this because they don’t know what else they would do. Don’t do that. Don’t come back until you have something you can hold on to when you are consumed with the self doubt and overwhelmed by the isolation that is part of independent research. I had to work for 4 years and try working in 3 totally different fields until I was ready. It’s ok to take your time and try giving yourself to another job, another field. Nothing you do, work-wise or research-wise will ever be absolutely perfect. It just won’t. But start by experimenting with the different variables that you can choose in this life. Maybe it’s money, location, or the type of work that you do. Find what matters to you. Pursue that.
For me, the type of work I do (research) and the specific questions I want to answer became a priority that I could no longer ignore. And it was an expensive decision to make, but I know in my heart this is where I am supposed to be.
Foreword: I had been drafting this letter to New York as a series of memories I have from my 4 years here. There 5 chapters are meant to offer a glimpse of what this city has meant to me. Unedited.
1. Arrival. There are two apartments that I stayed in during my bright transition time between college and my first job. Those days, anything felt possible. The future felt so bright and limitless, each new experience sweeter than the last. One of those apartments was my cousin’s home in London and the second was my friend and mentor Sunny’s apartment in Union Square.
I arrived in the dark on a cold night in March, but I could see the bright red-orange walls from the light the open door cast from the hallway. It was unlike any other apartment I had ever seen in New York. I fell in love with it immediately. I picked the corner on the L shaped orange leather couch to read and a little white poodle emerged from a bedroom to greet me. She barked at me until I pet her and she settled herself into my calf.
New York’s skyline glittered outside the windows along two walls of the apartment. As I stood up, the little dog wandered back into the darkness. I climbed out onto their terrace, amazed that even over 14th street I couldn’t hear the traffic below. The city’s twinkling night made my heart burst. I cried as my heart overflowed with its brightness. I felt invincible.
I still believed in love at this point in my life. I loved myself with the glow of an old, steady friendship as I applied red lipstick in the apartment’s mosaic bathroom and prepared myself to disappear into the night, meeting friends at the Bowery hotel for a drink. There is magic in that kind of love, I never felt alone.
The apartment has changed a bit in the four years I’ve lived in New York. The orange leather couch came to live in my first apartment in Chelsea for two years before I moved to Brooklyn. It didn’t come with me to this new island, but found a new home through a family on Craigslist. Today some of the walls are white and others are Poppy red. Roxy, the poodle, is a little older now but still demanding pets. And there is still an unbridled joy I feel every time I stand on the terrace over 14th street staring out into glittering Manhattan. Every time I return for a visit, I remember the girl with the red lipstick in the mirror and those glittering nights where anything felt possible.
New York, you were among my first loves.
There was one night you made me feel like magic. It was a night I held on to and used to negotiate with myself for months after we fell apart and burst into flames.
The Friday night before you came to my apartment with flowers and a bottle of wine. I made Tinga, my favorite winter Mexican food dish, and you helped me by shredding the rotisserie chicken into smaller pieces. It was my least favorite task and I told you so. After dinner we sat on my couch, me at one end and you at the other, running your hands back through your hair repeatedly and leaning on your knees while I told you my immigration story. When my roommate and her boyfriend came home around midnight, they both looked started and rushed into her room as fast as possible. I was confused. We weren’t even touching, I was just telling you a story. You left around 2:30am, lingering in my doorway. I asked what you were doing the next day and invited you to a friend’s going away party and you said yes. Still you waited but I didn’t get up. Instead I saluted you from the couch and said goodnight, something we’d laugh about the next day. You shook your head and left.
So… what happened? My roommate asked the next morning. You could have cut the sexual tension with a knife last night. Oh? What? I replied. I never pick up on these things. She laughed at me, and I went to meet you. We sat next to each other at this party where I knew everyone and you just wanted to talk to me. You left for an hour to see your brother, then I met you outside Death & Co. in the East Village.
I made plans for us for dinner, you told me. No one had ever planned an adventure like this for me before. I always did the planning. Death & Co. wouldn’t let us in with your brother who tagged along. He offered to leave and I invited him to stay, we could go to a bar I loved on Avenue C instead. We sat in Evelyn talking about Sleep No More and you pulled out your phone and bought two tickets to take me with you to the 11:30pm show. I had a Moscow Mule and flirted with you, one eyebrow raised, curious.
We went to Momofuku and talked nervously, though I had been with you the night before. You paid for everything, even when I protested. We decided to walk to Chelsea, to the show, and I took your hand. You switched sides to walk on the side of the sidewalk near the cars. My mom told me this is how I should treat a woman. You said. I laughed.
We had to wait in the smoky bar before until we were called to go into the show. I bought you a sidecar and you sat down so close to me that my curves molded into your side. Your arm came around my back and pulled me by the waist, closer to you. I think you felt braver in the darkness, which would be true about us for our time together.
We went into the set and wandered around separately, then you started following me more closely. I wandered into one of the studies on the set. You followed me. We were alone. I backed into a desk. You stood in front of me staring behind your mask. I pulled mine off. So did you. We stared at each other for a heartbeat. Then you bent me back and kissed me. You hands slide their way from my rib cage down my back, holding my lower back and my waist and adjusting me so my lines complimented yours as you leaned over me. And then, quite suddenly, an actor appeared with the group following him and we were interrupted. I blushed in the darkness, pulled on my mask, and walked stiffly out of the room, your laughter following me.
As you caught up to me you said, let it be known, I didn’t want to stop, your whisper tickling my ear and sending a shiver down my spine. We stood in other rooms “watching” the show, but really just leaning our lines into each other, molding to one another in the darkness. Let’s go, you said. We just knew you were coming home with me, so our feet lead us there without either of us saying anything.
The rest of the evening is a blur. It was very quickly strange and confusing. Where we’d been so clearly on the same page for hours, we started to fall apart. I ignored it. So did you. We woke up in the morning tangled together, my head on your chest and your arm around me, your other hand over mine over you heart. You kissed my forehead. We were quiet and wrapped around each other for hours, my curtains thin enough to allow the sunlight to wash over us.
You said you needed to leave to go think. You would be gone for 6 weeks now, to Australia. But curled up on my couch we couldn’t bear to let go. Each time one of us stood, the other rushed to hold them. You kissed me and my heart melted through my stomach and onto the floor. I need to think. You said, kissing me softly on the forehead. But I’ll come back soon. It wont be that long. You promised, maybe to reassure both of us. And then you left and I sat back down on the couch, alone, missing you in a way that was already a burning white light.
New York, I was addicted to you and sometimes couldn’t stop, even when I knew I should.
The morning after the Florida nightclub shooting I walked 45 minutes from my apartment in Clinton Hill to Gowanus for a CreativeMornings event. It was already a hot summer day at 8am, the concrete under my feet heat the leather of my sandals with each step. The news had knocked the wind out of me when I woke up and read the headline on my phone. I started imagining the horrible headlines Breitbart would draft, spinning this already terror inducing election cycle even further out of control. This tragedy felt like a bad omen and I was desperate to shake it off. Every time I felt my panic rise, I walked a little faster.
I arrived in the beautiful light space for the event and took a deep breath in the doorway to steady myself. The audience was a very specific subset of New York; people flowed between the tables and around each other light brightly colored water. Small groups gathered all around the site holding white paper cups of steaming coffee and gesticulating animatedly. The general buzz of this gathering held much more light than the twisting fear in my stomach. My former intern Brian appeared out of the crowd. ‘Hey Diana!’ he said, in his ever eager and abrupt way. ‘I saved you a seat!’
We sat down in the second row just as the founder and CreativeMorningsNYC host Tina Roth Eisenberg stood to introduce the musical opener, Amy Vachal. As Amy quietly started strumming her guitar, I felt my shoulders settle down my back. Each breath became a little deeper and longer. The dread’s long fingers started releasing my heart, one spindly finger at a time. Amy’s voice reset the tone for the rest of my day. I settled into her music, touching the depth of my sadness. My face was frozen in the way I’d perfected from many years of pulling on my titanium shell to do the work I needed to do every day, but tears streamed out of the corners of my eyes and into my lap.
In this moment, in this chapel of light in Gowanus, I was allowed to break for a moment, leave behind the emotional weight of my fear and swim back up towards the light. This too seemed like an omen and I felt a little safer.
New York, you showed me what it meant to sit with many different emotions at the same time. You showed me how intense sorrow and hope and joy could sit at a table together without yelling over each other.
I withered into my seat in the TED Theatre on election night. The polls reporting from Virginia were astonishingly close. Pennsylvania was ok for now, but the Midwest was going red. The prediction meter on the New York Times site that had called for a comfortable Hillary win earlier that day swung off into the deep red and called the election for Trump. My office, earlier full of excitement, turned into a ghost town as people went home to manage their shock. I thought of my two coworkers at the Javits center, now leaking the depth of their despair through their twitter accounts.
I started the day early: I went to vote around 8am, picked up my I voted sticker, and took a selfie on the sidewalk, posting to my Facebook about my excitement that I was able to vote for the first female presidential candidate to make it this far. This morning was the first time in the election cycle that I was excited about Hillary. That should have been my warning sign. Poll after poll closed, calling the election for Trump.
In that nearly empty theatre on Election Night 2016, filled with shock and horror, I heard that Arpaio had been voted out of office in Arizona. I stood up and felt the light in my heart flicker back to life. They did it! All of the amazing organizers fighting for more than 20 years in Arizona had removed Arpaio from power peacefully in Arizona! If there is hope in Arizona, we will be ok, I told myself. As I went home in a subway car filled with the silence of a funeral, I held my head high and gave myself permission to recover quietly this evening and regroup for tomorrow.
Keep your hope, I wrote on my Facebook before I went home that night. We’ll all need it tomorrow and for the next four years. Protect your heart and your mind. It will keep you stronger.
On November 9th, 2016, I woke up ready to organize.
New York, you healed the fighter in my heart.
5. This is where I leave you.
This spring I was a twisted, broken bird in the ashes. I sprinted through a tough full time job, my Ph.D. applications, and hid in my ceramics studio to avoid looking too closely at all the chapters of my life that were dying around me, like plants cared for by the wrong gardener for too long. May 2016 to May 2017 was a year of denial, of avoidance, of “keep going, just get the work done, then you can heal your heart.” I woke up May 1, 2017, broken and more exhausted than I thought my heart could ever begin to handle.
From the ashes, I looked back up at the sky and smiled. I acknowledged that this was the breaking point I needed to hit so I could shed the excess things I carried. I was broken, but I could heal. It was a gift. I left behind a lifetime of “should” and a conformity that choked me to death. I was left with a road I was going to define on my own. I smiled when it hurt most, because it meant I was growing. I was free.
In just a few weeks of the shedding and embracing the brokenness, I found a happiness in my heart that I hadn’t seen for years. I woke up uncertain of what the day would hold, ready to read my energy and where my excitement took me to work through projects with love instead of obligation. I fell in love. With myself. With a new city. With a new person. I told all of my loves, be gentle with me, I am broken and finding my light again. Please be nurturing and gentle. Right now my heart is weak though my dreams, like bright white light, are strong. And my loves arrived with a patience unlike anything I’ve seen before.
I woke up one morning in this new city that held my heart and decided to get the tattoo I carried on my phone for years. I sat in a café eating breakfast – a traditional German spread – and selected a local tattoo artist from the Berlin listings in Inked Magazine. I rode a crowded bus listening to Thomas Rhett’s “T-Shirt” on repeat and then a train to Mitte, showing up in the studio just as the man who would paint Picasso’s le Moineau (1907) into my left wrist was trying to leave for the day. He grumbled when I asked if he would do it, there and then, but when he learned I was from Mexico City, he said yes with new kindness, in Portuguese. In this new city that held my heart, I lay on my back on a table speaking Spanish while the artist spoke Portuguese with an accent from his native Sao Paulo, and in 10 minutes, I left with a love letter to myself etched in my skin. My sparrow is all of the complexity, beauty and sorrow of life in its simplest, most elegant form. Everything I love about this image is true in the reasons I love math and a beautiful equation. I am defined by my terms and no one else’s. I can no longer hide from this truth.
I returned to, and now prepare to leave New York, knowing this city pushed me to my limits, left me broken in my ashes, and ready to chase my dreams. I loved, felt my heart shatter more than a few times, and learned what it feels like to heal completely. Thank you, city that was among my first loves. You were not the one for me, but you gave me so many things I never imagined I’d receive.