Goodbye to New York, a love letter.

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.

2. Addiction.
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.

3. Complexity.
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.

Amy Vachal at Creative Mornings.

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.

4. Fighter.
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.

New York, you were among my first loves.

On writing: Friendship’s love letters

I’ll confess: I have a box under my bed that has all of the love letters I’ve received from boyfriends since I was a teenager. The oldest one is from my first real boyfriend made me a set of stacked silver rings at art camp (I’ve lost two of the 4, but the other 2 remain safely tucked in the letter that he wrote for me when he gave them to me on the last night of camp). There are handmade cards and printed cards with notes in barely legible handwriting, drawings of birds on construction paper and nicknames scrawled under them. But mixed in with these notes from ex-boyfriends, are the love letters I have received in my friendships and I consider those just as important, if not more important.

I am a firm believer in the Birthday card. I have a ritual around this for my closest friends. I spend a lot of time exploring paper stores, searching for a card as weird and funny and quirky as my friendships are. I wait until I have time to think about what I want to write to them, sit at my desk or in a coffee shop, and prepare to pour my heart and all the memories of the last year into my loopy handwriting on the page. I usually cry when I write them, it’s the only way I know how to write with my full heart. Then I seal the card, tuck it into the gift (often a book) that I am going to give them, and get really shy when they read it in front of me.

I open the box and pull out the letters from my friendships when I feel really lost or down or find myself struggling in a friendship. These letters are a timeline. They are my anchors to specific times in our friendships and how much I loved them and they loved me in those times in our lives. When a friendship evolves, or we move apart and speak less frequently, their letters help me remember that love, like faith, exists because we feel it and not always because there is concrete proof.

My letters have evolved over time. I send birthday cards, holidays cards, and now random texted when I am feeling especially lovely thoughts towards a friend. I sent one this morning to a friend whose personal growth in the last year has inspired me:

I was talking to a friend who is having issues with their marriage, and they told me to remember that marriage is an agreement to love and celebrate the evolution of another person along their entire journey in life. 
 
I was thinking about that as it applies to friendships too this morning, and I am filled with love and pride in watching you grow in all the ways you’ve decided to explore. I love how much more often we talk now and what we explore together or what I learn from you all the time. I love you very much, my friend. In the long term friendship love journey, very psyched to be part of your life. 
 
I sent it knowing everything I said here and now was exactly how I felt about our friendship and her journey. It now exists, frozen and time in love, for us to return to at another time where we may have trouble communicating or remembering how we got to the place in our friendship were we find ourselves later. It’s nice to have something to hold on to and remember that this time existed, that this love and friendship was firmly alive in each of us. A memory I will look back on for a rainy day, perhaps when I feel alone, and it’s good memory will return a little more light to my smiles.

Header image: Ken Douglas / flickr

My graduate school (Ph.D.) application timeline

I promised a friend I would share my graduate school application timeline with him, since I just finished my successful application cycle a few months ago. This is how I scheduled my year (2016) to turn all of my applications for my Ph.D. program in by December’s deadlines.

January 2016:
— looked into programs that appealed to me, so I was inspired and had started building my lists of schools that I wanted to apply to, along with specific professors I wanted to work with at each one.
— Reached out to professors from my alma mater to meet with them in February to talk about applications/ask for letters of recommendation.

February:
— signed up for the GRE (for a June date), bought a practice book
— built my GRE practice schedule: worked for a few hours on Sundays and 1-2 evenings a week on practice tests, reviewed material I didn’t quite remember so I could do the tests without open notes
— Met with some of my professors from undergrad, gave them a timeline for when I needed their letters and when I would send them my research statement + personal statement, also offered to email them a reminder of what we had worked on together

March:
— GRE practice continued
— reached out to professors in the schools I was interested in applying to, went to do some visits and tell them about my research goals (this is not an option for all programs. For example: Sociologists want to meet you, economists do not. The best way to get a sense of what works/doesn’t is to talk to graduate students in the programs you want to apply to or someone in the field. The second best option for me was reading through the forums for graduate students on Quora).

April:
— GRE practice continued
— kept building and refining my list of schools/programs to apply to and specific things I could say about each professor I wanted to work with. Reached out to professors I hadn’t reached out to yet.

May:
— GRE practice
— started a draft of my 2 page personal statement: how did I become a researcher, why grad school, why did my questions matter now

June:
— took the GRE, decided to take it again in August to get a few more points
— completed a few more drafts of my personal statement by writing every morning, sent to close friends/colleagues for comments
— began a draft of my research statement

July:
— Focused on research statement drafts, gathered some early feedback on clarity with friends who had read my work before
— focused my GRE studying on the section I wanted to improve + continued memorizing vocab so I didn’t forget it
— ignored my personal statement for a month, to return with fresh eyes later

August:
— GRE round 2
— finished a full draft of my research statement, send it to my prof/mentor for comments and advice
— returned to my personal statement, sent to a different mentor who hadn’t read it yet for comments and a few friends whose writing I admired for style comments

September:
— had my final list of schools for applications: built a status doc with their due dates and requirements listed in each column

— wrote to my professors to remind them it was time to send recommendation letters to my escrow service (I had everything done through Interfolio. Not all schools accept it, Stanford and MIT did not, but the other ones I applied to did)
— created my Interfolio account and emailed them links for the letters with a due date for the first application to it
— prepared my personal statement for copy edits
— finished a new draft of my research statement

October:
— finished my research statement, prepared for copy edit
— gathered final comments on all of my essays, then started cutting them down to meet each program’s word count requirements
— sent my scores from the GRE to all of my schools

November:
— gathered all of my recommendation letters
— added all final edits to essays
— started sending in applications as they were done because I was BURNT OUT and couldn’t take anymore feedback

December:
— took a good long nap.

My additional notes, for my own sanity:
– there were days of the week I was not allowed to think about or talk about my graduate school applications (Saturdays, Mondays)
– I made sure I went to yoga 2-3x a week, because it was scheduled and that made me take a break and turn off my brain for a few hours a week
– I made sure to prioritize sleep so I could do a good job on the practice tests
– I refused to tell people, apart from a small handful of people, where I was applying and said, “let me tell you once I’ve applied!” to take the pressure of judgment and “advice” away
– I got used to explaining my research interests in 2 mins, 5 mins, and 10 mins depending on the level of interest the other person had for what I was talking about. This was really terrible at first but made it way easier to write my research statement later, so it ended up being really helpful.

Four tips for your next informational interview request…

First, let me set the scene: Perhaps you are someone looking for your first job or you are someone looking to switch jobs and want to learn more about what is out there. In this process, you are doing unpaid research to see what exists, where you could go, and how to market yourself in the labor market. Let’s say you encounter someone online whose job you think is especially interesting and you could imagine yourself doing, so you decide to approach them for an informational interview.

I study labor and serve as an organizer because I believe it’s the best way I can contribute. I am especially interested in the role of social networks and employment and finding ways to reduce “friction” that people encounter when looking for the right jobs for them. Like many of my peers, I get a LOT of informational interview requests and I try to take as many as I can but it adds up over time. Let’s say 20 people ask me in a week (which does happen sometimes). Each of those 30 minute phone calls adds up, so even if I try to make time for 4 of them in a week, that’s 2 hours of additional unpaid labor a week to my workload. I do it because I believe in reducing the employment “friction” issue, but these are some things I wish people who reached out to me would keep in mind.

1. Do your research and ask me interesting questions. If our conversation is interesting, I will remember you. If you ask me generic questions, I will be frustrated and not impressed. Do not ask me how I got to this job when you can look at my LinkedIn profile and see my history. Do not ask me what I did before or what I studied, again, listed on my LinkedIn profile and my blog. If you did a little research and looked me up you could answer that for yourself. Make this time an interview about things you could not see online and show me you came to the conversation prepared.

2. 30 minutes is not a lot of time for me to get to know you and I will not be able to tell you what you should do. It’s easier if you come to the conversation having a sense of yourself. What do you need in an environment to thrive? What kind of work can you imagine doing day after day without losing your mind?

3. A lot of people show up and tell me about how great my job would be for them, which isn’t a good “sales” strategy. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but you’re much more convincing and appealing if you can tell me how you would play with or build something I do. I’m a researcher, if you want to do research tell me about an experiment you’d run or questions that keep you up at night. I scream internally every time someone generically tells me, “I’m good at research.” Like public speaking, it’s a skill people often take for granted. Show me some concrete evidence, the way a researcher would.

4. After the call, say thank you. Extra points for writing back to me after the call to say thank you for taking time to talk to me. And if you ask for a favor and/or someone follows up with feedback on something, say thank you again. They don’t have to do this… be polite and say thank you.

There are times you need to have a very open and exploratory conversation. I encourage you to have those with peers and mentors, sometimes even your family. I explored jobs by reading websites like the Muse and then following researchers whose work I found especially interesting, see how they got to where they were. I explored skills I had and tried to see how I could market them. I also spent time thinking about what I enjoyed doing day to day, acknowledging things I “thought I should want to do” that I didn’t and leaving those behind. I think it’s a slow discovery process for everyone and it’s ok to ask for help. I share these ideas to help you make the most of your time reaching out to people and to respect the time of those who offer to help you. Good luck!

Photo credit: Nicolas Nova / Flickr

A doctor’s role in a community: reflections from a yale med student

I found Michael sitting in a café on Yale’s campus early on a Saturday morning. I arrived to write up my questions before my last interview on my revisit for the Ph.D. program at the Yale School of Management and was surprised to see someone else here. The café had only been open for 20 minutes and the campus was mostly empty while most of the students were on spring break. There was room at the table beside him, so I sat down and asked him, “what are you reading?”

“A book about eye examinations and diagnosis. It’s for an Ophthalmology class I’m taking at the medical school.” He was holding a highlighter in his right hand, and had been flipping back and forth between pages with a very serious expression on his face when I interrupted him.

“Do you like the class?”
“Yes. The faculty who teach it are trying to convince us to join their specialization.” And after a pause where he looked off into the room behind me absently, he added, “It has instilled a joy of medicine in me that my other courses haven’t.” There was weariness to his tone. Maybe medical school wasn’t what he expected it to be.

“What kind of patients do you want to work with?”
Like he was apologizing to me, he said, “I want to support a patient population that doesn’t trust physicians and who has been under-served by the medical system, like undocumented workers, low-income people, people of color…”

“Does your medical school do a good job reaching out to them?”
He thought for a minute, looking down at his lap as he responded. “Yes, it’s part of our curriculum. We talk about how to take care of them.” Though, it seemed, maybe not as well as he hoped.

“What are the biggest barriers for them?”
He looked up again. “Lack of access — I mean physical and financial access. Distrust of the medical system.”

Overcome with my own curiosity, I asked, “How do people rebuild that trust?”
“Well, you have to be there and follow-up, and be there for a long time. It’s about building long-term relationships. It’s about outreach: going to people’s homes and providing care there, not forcing them to go to a clinic full of people who don’t look like them, not force them into filling out overly complicated forms and navigating payment systems. The offices are gross, they’re covered in Pharma ads, with Pharma pens and Pharma shit everywhere.” I felt a similar frustration towards Pharma, especially with the ACA on the chop block earlier that week.

Michael, trying to convince himself he was a happy med student.

“What kinds of doctors do a good job serving them?”
“Right now, Primary care and family medicine do this well. But we also want other kinds of doctors to do better. Ophthalmology could do better … you need your vision to help your family, lots of space for impact here. People go into poverty because they have vision issues. There are so many easy, low-cost interventions that could fix their vision issues.” Maybe he really was interested in reading about eyes!

“What made you decide to become a med student?”
He crossed his legs, then his arms and leaned back in his chair. He looked down again when he said, faintly, “I want to help people. I want to be a doctor who serves these communities.”

“Do you still believe that you can do that as a doctor?”
He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow at me. “I do. I don’t know what it looks like in practice, what with all the logistical issues of being a physician. I like the idea of providing free care to people who need it. But this is a logistical nightmare… but who has time for it? And all the ethical things that go along with that… so much paperwork…” He was avoiding my eyes now. He had put his book and highlighter down on the table and was now very focused on gathering the crumbs on the table in front of him into a pile.

“Who creates all this extra paperwork?” I couldn’t help but keep poking.
“Insurance. Medicare and Medicaid do. HHS do.” He seemed to be less interested in answering my questions now, so I changed the subject.

“I don’t quite know how to ask this,” I said, “but what do you think about the physician’s God Complex? Do you notice one?”
He looked at me very seriously. “Some do go into medicine for this reason: OBGYN and Surgeons do see themselves as super humans. It exists. But I find this very off-putting. I went into medicine to build relationships with patients, to help them in the long-term. I think having a God Complex means building an inherent distance from the patient. This is off-putting to me. I believe medicine is about empowering patients, not just doing things to them that makes their lives better. It’s a collaboration, I’m not just a service provider.” He looked at me expectantly.,

I found myself without a good response, so I asked quietly, “Is it sometimes hard to remember why you are there?”
“Yes. Especially when you’re memorizing the umpteenth fact about cranial nerve 10 or whatever, it’s hard to remember why I’m doing what I do every day and what it will ultimately lead towards.”
“So then, how do you re-center yourself?”
“I try to go have experiences in hospitals as much as I can, I shadow as much as I can because that reminds me why I am here.”

He looked at his watch, purposefully. I got the message.
“Ok I have one last question and then I’ll leave you alone. What is something you wished people would ask you?”
“I wish people would ask me why my beard is red but my hair is not red. The answer is that it’s a mutation of one gene. I discovered this in med school, when my med school friend told me.” I let out a laugh from deep in my stomach in surprise.

Header image credit: mararie / flickr

Cusco in three vignettes

1. 

I was watching the two women weaving in the courtyard from my perch on the 2nd story balcony of the Museo de Arte Precolombiano and thinking about my mother.

I find myself thinking about her often whenever I am traveling in South America — my parents collect textiles from all over the world, but especially Mexico and Peru. They celebrate the craftsmanship and want to preserve the tradition before it is lost forever to machines. The textiles they’ve collected are stored until the rare dinner party or celebration when one or two of them are brought out to bring color to the table. The colors from the natural dyes the women were using in their weaving remind me of Christmases and happy occasions at home.

I arrived at the museum very early that morning, so I had to return in the afternoon to see the textiles for sale in the museum store. The two weavers were sitting in the corner eating their lunches — corn soup with vegetables — when I arrived. I found a beautiful red and green runner for my table at home, with tiny stitches and beautiful embroidery. I will think of my mother and her pure joy when she sees beautiful artwork every time it visits my living room.

2. 

Every time I walk at my normal required-for-moving-around-new-york-city pace I find myself breathless and a little dizzy, dreading the next block I must go to reach my destination. But then, I make myself walk a little more slowly and in this slower state, I have to look more closely at my surroundings — the ancient Incan stone walls, the brightly clothed women walking their llamas and alpacas, the “gypsy jewelers” with their macramé and stone jewelry that I’ve now encountered in public parks across Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Chile and Brazil. It’s a welcome change in what normally occupies my thoughts while I’m walking. I cannot use my phone here and I’m physically prevented from power walking. It’s nice to be able to spend my days learning to walk again.

3. 

I went into another textile store this afternoon with my friend and fellow traveler because she decided she wanted to purchase something there for her apartment. We had been wandering through the busy market places while I love with my whole informal economist heart and she found very overwhelming. We came to this quieter space, closed off from the busy streets, and spent time admiring everything handing from the walls.

While she made her purchase, the vendor asked her, “Where did your bag come from?” I had given it to her on her birthday and brought it back from a trip to Mexico. She loved it so much she used it all the time — I had a similar one that I brought for this trip as well. I told him I was from Mexico and these were a design I really liked from San Miguel de Allende. He asked for permission to take a few photos of it, explaining that he would like to make something similar but with wool instead of cotton and embroidered like the other work in his store, rather than with the woven stripes on our bags.

He asked me where I was from in Mexico (translated from Spanish):
– Mexico city, I said
– Ah, Mexico City. Well, we are geniuses at creating beautiful things here. Geniuses at some things… terrible at others.
– This is true for us too… I live in the US now.
– Ah, your president…
– Yes, our president…
– Are you afraid? Living there now?
– Yes and no. It seems to get uglier all the time.

I turned back to the retablos, little boxes with scenes in them from flower markets, skeletons celebrating together in a bar, the birth of Christ, and sculptors creating terrifying masks for holidays.

– These are like the little altars we have in Mexico. I have several of them hanging on my walls at home.
– Yes. They might be from Mexico, the design, I mean. Hard to know after a while where something first came from.

I gestured towards the masks on the walls, like the ones people wear for the parades for day of the dead in Mexico.
– we also have a tradition with masks like these.
– Oh really! Where?
– Mexico City, Oaxaca… everywhere for day of the dead. But fewer monsters. More skeletons, people, the devil.

He laughed when I told him their monsters frightened me more than our devils.