TED spends the last two hours of Wednesday afternoons in what we call “Learning Wednesday.” This time is reserved for a lecture, company wide meeting, or a series of workshops created and hosted by the staff.
For this month, I volunteered to host a workshop called “A Sociologist’s Guide to Spanish,” where we explore the Latino/Hispanic communities that coexist in New York City and the differences in the Spanish each of these groups speak. We have a number of native Spanish speakers from different countries on our teams, so we’ll host and discuss language differences together with some of our coworkers who are new to the language. It’s also a neat opportunity to compare pronunciation, slang, and expressions between our communities.
We have many different immigrant communities in our city, all coexisting peacefully, and language is one wonderful way to connect to our neighbors. I would love to be able to teach my coworkers enough Spanish that they could ask for directions or specific groceries in some of the predominantly Spanish-speaking areas of the city. Practicing a language that is foreign to you is humbling. It is good to see what it’s like to stumble through someone else’s words and sentence structures to fully appreciate what it means to learn English as a second language. It’s also about recognizing how cool it is that you can visit a neighborhood like Corona in Queens and practice your Spanish with a short trip on the train.
The guidebook I created includes some basic conversations in Spanish with relevant vocabulary lists, demographic information about different neighborhoods and communities within Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and our favorite recipes from the different countries represented within our staff.
This was a tiny way I can be a bridge between two of my communities, but it was also a nice way to introduce a broader conversation about the diversity that exists within Spanish speakers in New York and across our hemisphere.
Not of the hiking boots and rain-soaked maps–sort. Her adventures sought truth beyond what was directly stated.
A few years ago, I was writing my thesis, and she was completing her dissertation in parallel. We both wrote about Colombia, though I wrote about drug cartels and how they invested in political campaigns, whereas she focused on twentieth-century and contemporary Colombian artists and how they documented the violence of the drug wars.
We found that writing about Mexico, where I was born and she had lived for a quarter of her life, was too raw, too close to memories we weren’t ready to talk about, so we shifted our focus to Colombia.
She asked, “How do you sit down and focus? Help me remember what it’s like to be a student.”
I offered some notes on my study habits.
I asked, “Can I borrow your books from the artists?” Sometimes, they offered a perspective closer to the truth. She’d challenge me to go beyond the text.
We explored truth together.
I finished my thesis and graduated from Yale. A year later, she submitted her PhD dissertation to Harvard. Mine was to satisfy my burning questions about black markets in Latin America, an important step towards embracing myself wholeheartedly as an explorer of truth (a researcher). Hers was a project of love and defiance that shows it is never too late to chase your dreams.
Now, a few years after college, my mentors remind me that I should start my PhD now, if I want to sample all that life has to offer. They tell me the investment of my time and energy into a PhD has to happen now, if I want to have a family and a career. I left academia to try my hand at research inside industry, first for a think tank and then TED, and to try pursuing other people’s questions.
Sometimes, I am consumed by anxiety. And just when I wonder if my window of opportunity to return to my questions is closing, I remember my mother’s journey, and how she fearlessly pursued her degree while working and caring for her children. It would take fourteen years from start to finish for her to complete her PhD. It was interrupted with adventure: she left her program when she moved to Mexico City, had children, worked as an art critic, and taught art history, before she eventually returned to her PhD.
Timelines for the questions we pursue, she taught me, can be adapted, and sometimes a researcher requires different types of personal growth to reach her fullest potential.
My Mom is an explorer. My path (and my timeline) is my own to determine. With her as an example, I embrace my adventures.
Diana Enriquez is by day TED’s Content Researcher, and by night an informal economist. She loves experiment design, trying to answer difficult questions, unusual businesses, and the informal economy. She grew up in Mexico City and Boston and now lives in Brooklyn.
This was originally published as an essay in a collection of essays here.
This guidebook by Diana Enriquez with design by Kaela Gallo plays on our love of adventure… and people watching. Or the reasons why we’d prefer to meet you at the Blue Whale than the Met, and we’ll buy dinner at the Hong Kong Grocery store and meet you for sushi on a stoop nearby, with some change and our hearts in our pockets.
Kaela Gallo: Pigeons on a rooftop in Bushwick, Brooklyn
For Christmas this year, I wanted to give my boyfriend a year of adventures. New York as a choose your own story guide sounded exactly right… but it needed to be a little more thoughtful, better tailored to us than the guidebooks I have stashed in every corner of my bookshelf.
Already, I take him to lots of strange things all the time… For example, he first met my father entirely by surprise (for both of us) at a lecture about voguing and underground clubs in New York. He is willing to indulge me by going on my walking tour I put together covering the History of Organized Crime in lower Manhattan. He’s followed me down to DC for TEDxMidAtlantic and into a MOTH story slam about “Guts.” I needed to think bigger, this time.
Why Write a Guidebook?
I love the physical thud I feel in my heart while I am savoring a particularly good memory, but especially moments from my adventures and discoveries. I am perpetually curious.
Sometimes I find these moments in other people’s traveling writing. I find myself again and again, highlighting and scribbling in the margins of Pico Iyer’s books and currently in Patti Smith’s M Train, identifying my own slices of experiences happening in parallel to theirs.
In my own written work, it’s the moments where I’m reading outside in an urban garden in Mexico City, and someone sits down on a bench nearby to tune their guitar and take a private moment before heading to a gig. Before I leave the park, I will scribble it down into a notebook. Or the smell of the mango I picked up off the pile in the crowded street market… and when I touched its curve to my nose, all the busy stands and calls from street hawkers disappeared, until it was just me.
I set off to create a guidebook written entirely through people’s hearts. I wrote to a number of my friends asking them to share five of their favorite places and the memories that they associate with each of these spaces. In this way, the book was more about creating a “memory tour” of the city.
For three months, I collected these memories. Tagging and organizing them based on themes that emerged through the memories. Every email with the subject line “Eccentric Guide to NYC” that returned to me was immediately opened and devoured. For weeks, I was spoiled by beautiful memories.
I wrote a number of entries between September and December 2015, sprinkling them through out the collection of stories I gathered from 27 different New Yorkers, in various stages of their relationship with New York.
Unlike normal guidebooks, we had a lot of eclectic entries that didn’t fit neatly into groups
I took each entry, tagged it with the themes that most moved me about the entry… and then cut them up and tried to organize them into groups. Some of the groups are definitely “loose categories,” where I was hoping to combine an entry about a yoga teacher in Chelsea with a story about a laundromat, a room in the Standard Hotel that becomes a creative lecture space, and a handful of other eclectic entries.
Then I reformatted the entries in their new order and send them to my lovely designer, Kaela Gallo with some ideas for colors, type fonts, and themes. In about a week, she sent me a new copy, beautifully formatted and ready for a rough print for me to give Alistair… before we take another crack at making the final, beautiful copies.
In the next step, we build out a tour of memories, leading the adventurer from Harlem through Manhattan and into Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Each leg of the adventure, beginning with some walks through parks and meditative spaces along the way, offers windows into moments of time. One friend talked about her favorite entrance to Central Park, where she’d go to think when she needed private moments away from the boyfriend she had just moved in with. Another friend talked about the little park outside the 72nd Street 1/2/3 stop where he had come after a concert to make sense of the music and the experience he had just had, not wanting to lose the moments, instead crystalizing them then and there forever.
One author (and friend), Alex Rosenthal, recommended visiting the Blue Whale in the Museum of Natural History while you’re on the Upper West Side:
This is one of the most spectacular spaces in NYC: a huge dark void dominated by a flying model of a Blue Whale (to scale), that’s ringed by dioramas featuring various marine creatures. The floor under the whale is strangely calm — strange to find calm in an environment dominated by scores of children running around, barely avoiding trampling other children who have lain on the ground to stare at the whale. Yet you feel like you’re on the bottom of the ocean in the shadow of a magnificent creature. I like to go there and contemplate big ideas, like the meaning of existence, the future of humanity, and what it would be like to jump on the whale’s back and ride it around.
I recommended standing on a street corner, on Crosby Street and Howard Street in Soho, where I frequently find myself falling back in love with New York.
This street ends up in a lot of “street scene” shots in movies, but there is something gritty and old New York about it in a way that appeals to me. De Vera is a store full of old and super creepy antiques artfully arranged behind glass. Each glass chamber is more mysterious than the last. Stop for some amazing coffee and treats at Smile. Watch the fashionistas, people wandering off Canal street and sitting on the iron stairs along the street sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. Take in the remnants of gritty, warehouse filled soho. I love standing at the corner watching the ecosystem move by.
My friend Emily Ludolph grew up in New York City, but made herself a promise to explore the city as a new world when she returned in her 20s… and this promise kicked off on a visit to the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side.
This place is so darn beautiful. It has a blue stained glass galaxy window that’s really neat. There’s a story about how this congregation got into an innovation arms race with a neighboring synagogue when Edison in- vented the electric light. Which explains the insane light bulb chandelier. I first went when I got back from study abroad my Junior Year and was determined to explore hometown NYC like it was a brand new city.
After that, my Kim Nederveen Pieterse offered us a sincere moment about living in New York while you’re close to broke in your 20s:
When I first came here, I felt like I stumbled into a place I wasn’t supposed to know about. Jellyfish and unfamiliar animal bits lay on crushed ice in the back, while almost exclusively asian shoppers hunt with their overworn carts without saying excuse me. When I was first interning on a thousand dollars a month, the aisles of vegetables at 88 cents a pound meant that I, also, could eat produce. Today, the $2.50 California roll handcut by the old man in the front still tastes best from a dirty Chinatown stoop.
And my friend and co-worker Cloe Shasha took the reader to her favorite arts space in Brooklyn, where she found her jumping point into adventure.
A magical building in Red Hook full of artist residencies and event spaces,Pioneer Works hosts an event on the second Sunday of every month, aptly named Second Sundays. A lineup of multiple live musicians, performance art, and other surprises fill the space, and people gather for food and drink in clusters. As the afternoon turns to evening, strings of lights blink on, and people dance to music — whether it’s a brass band or a drum line — and lounge outside on a little hill. Next to the hill and an outdoor bar, groups of old and new friends talk around the fire pit overlooking the East River. When craving quiet time, people go back inside and climb up the stairs to the second or third floor to explore colorful rooms and take in the art made by the current artist residents of the building.
My first time going to a Second Sunday was this year. The place holds a lot of meaning for me because of a series of connections to the space. I first visited the space two years ago with a few colleagues when scouting for a TEDYouth venue. Though we didn’t end up using that space for TEDYouth, we absolutely loved being inside the building, and it was there that we first met the artist Dustin Yellin who runs Pioneer Works. His artwork — layers of glass with collages on each pane which, when completed, are stunning sculptural figures with depth — were being created by his art team and exhibited all over the place. He told us about how much damage Hurricane Sandy did to the building, and that they had only recently restored the space. During the storm, he was so moved by the violent intensity of the water rushing into the building that he didn’t leave right away — instead he stood on his glass structures and photographed the chaos. We were so blown away by his work that we ended up inviting him to speak at TED@ NYC and TED2015.
It was on that first visit to Pioneer Works that a personal realization struck me for the first time. The building felt magical and open to the air and the sky in a way that I rarely experience in New York City — the city that I grew up in — and that openness brought me so much joy and a sense of possibility. Being there reminded me just how powerful a beautiful physical context can be for the energy and experiences within it. A year later, I moved to San Francisco for a few months — a city with physical dimensions, architecture, and outdoors that I love — where I was delighted to find that from the high hills of the city, I experienced that context-induced magic on a daily basis. When I returned to New York City in September, I really missed that feeling, and wondered if it would be possible to find it in New York City. I had forgotten all about my experience at Pioneer Works in the midst of moving apartments and work. But a couple of months after my return to the east coast, a friend invited me to join her at a Second Sunday. The moment I arrived at the building, the magic all came back!
And the person who inspired the project… received his christmas gift: An Early Draft!
The first copy has been well received by all. My coworkers and friends, like me, dove right into the text, looking for people they knew who had written something for it and started collecting ideas for their yelp bookmarked lists.
I am excited to announce that we will be looking into a better binding option and turning this into a real guidebook. Look for our Kickstarter later this winter! (And thank you to everyone who wrote for this, Kaela for the beautiful design and layout work, Julia for guiding me through the mine field that is typography, and Helen for helping me organize all of the beautiful content I received.)
This is not the image of hostility and aggression portrayed by most of the media. One video clip of a student screaming at Professor Christakis went viral and, unfortunately, was used to set the tone for so many of the articles that came out covering the events on campus.
Updated on November 17: President Salovey addressed Yale and the alumni network with his response. He is increasing funding to all four cultural houses, improving training to talk about diversity for students and Yale’s staff (professors and administrators), improving financial aid for low income students, providing mental health providers through the cultural houses (to provide mental health professionals versed in more of the background their students are coming from), and investing further resources into programs like ethnicity, race and migration that offer academic opportunities outside the traditional “Canon.
I keep hearing from students still on campus that they are afraid and that the organizers face regular threats. That campus no longer feels safe. Today (11/11/2015) the Yale Daily News published a story about racist signs that appeared on campus… apparently from non-students. It doesn’t describe the atmosphere in the same ways that students have described it to me, but we need to keep paying attention.
Maybe the hardest part is reading the headlines every morning. Some are reflective of what the students are saying and asking for… others are clickbait or trying to place the story in a quick context for what else is going on in the US around race relations. This means… the headlines are clunky at best.
The Atlantic is being inconsistent (and sometimes needs to do better research before it writes about subjects outside of context). For example, we started with this from them: This article published Monday claims this is all a meltdown about a single email. They followed up with this article on Tuesday to add more context and adding that it was less about the specific email and more about the long overdue conversations about race, class and privilege that were missing on campus.
Those that read only the articles about the isolated email incident have taken to calling Yale students “children” and asking “where the adults are.” Several Yale alumni have published pieces about their own experiences at Yale and their concerns with speakers invited to campus, but their own “restraint” in interacting with these speakers… which again, doesn’t bring the larger context of race and class etc. on campus.
Something I’ve noticed over time, when I ask people about their favorite TED Talks or they ask me about mine, is that the ones that we remember and love most are often on subjects that we have spent time exploring, even just peripherally.
It’s a magical moment — when a speaker says something and crystalizes an idea or concept you’ve been exploring but had trouble explaining in concrete terms. It’s a moment of camaraderie. That talk becomes more than just a talk — it’s your connect, your tool, to explain a concept you care about. Sometimes it offers you a step into further exploration, sometimes it’s a moment of comfort, the wow I’m not crazy! moment, and other times it’s the push in a direct you needed to take your thinking that lets you take the next big risk in your adventure.
This was clearest to me when I was standing on the sidewalk outside the Town Hall theatre on Monday after TEDTalks Live: The Education Revolution. I was with three friends, none of whom had attended a live TED event before. The format, for them, had been a series of individual talks, rather than the curated sessions that weave content together in ways meant to inspire the audience to weave ideas together with their own analysis and reactions.
One friend, like me, was most deeply moved by Nadia Lopez. Her own work reflected so many of the passionate late night conversations that we had had about education and the teachers who inspired us. Another friend who works in TV for kids was interested in what Sam Kass had to say about nutrition and attention. And my last friend was glowing after Salman Khan’s talk about education by mastery rather than “passing grades.” After Khan’s talk, he promised aloud, I am going to write that essay that’s been in my head about this! He said this again on the sidewalk and again a few days later, when the talk had stayed with him.
These talks are beautiful to us long after we see them live because we connect to them and a little light inside our minds stays lit, offering a new point of orientation for ideas and further exploration. It’s about so much more than that short introduction to the speaker’s world and work. It’s about giving you a new stepping stone and the courage to keep exploring in your own right.
Perhaps my favorite moment from the evening was when principal Lopez was introduced by host Baratunde Thurston and everyone around me stood up and cheered. It was the warmth of reception that celebrities usually receive… and it was amazing to be part of a community that is this excited about a principal committed to making change in the lives of her students. She spoke without jargon or false promises, it was purely focused on her students and the community she was building in Brownsville. How she showed up for them every day, and therefore expected them to do the same.
I think the commitment the TEDTalks Live team made to including students and teachers at this event was what helped create such a magical experience for the rest of the audience. My section of the audience positively glowed with warmth for many of the figures on the stage last night, and their love and enthusiasm was infectious.
I left optimistic for the future of education reform… and seeking new places to be useful in my own corner of the world.
For my next birthday, I am creating a time capsule. Not a traditional one that I will bury in the ground and dig up in 20 years… more like an internet tattoo to mark where I am right now.
I’ve had a few days to reflect on the StoryCorps interviews with my grandfather this week. He really loved the experience and my relatives have all reached out to me to ask for access to the recordings. They want to hear what he said about his childhood, which we all only knew a handful of stories about, and his first jobs, losing my grandmother, his parents… all of it.
What is cool is that his thoughts and the crossroads he encountered in his life will now be preserved and searchable for our generations of Schneiders well into the future.
I want to add to my internet tattoo so I can remember the friendships that have meant so much to me and have been part of shaping my years here in this chapter of my life. I am asking a handful of my close friends to do a StoryCorps interview with me, where we will talk about how we met, memories we celebrate together, and what the friendship has meant to us. It’s a project about love and celebrating the exploration process of being young and confused, as well as finding our way in new spaces.
I want this to be a time capsule for both of us. I suspect I wont live in the same cities forever, and though some of my friendships defy this, time and space are difficult to overcome for some friendships. At least we can preserve these moments, savor these memories, of when we were young.