A few surprising plot twists in daily economics

I love economics stories that surprise me. In the last few weeks, I’ve listed to a few stories that truly shocked me and I wanted to share them, in case you need a media list for the weekend.

Did you know that some professional hunters are also some of the most ardent conservationists? This RadioLab episode explores the story of poachers who pay for expensive contracts to hunt for rare or endangered animals around the world.

White Rhinos, US Fish and Wildlife Services, Taken Nakuru, Africa. Credit: Karl Stromayer/USFWS
White Rhinos, US Fish and Wildlife Services, Taken Nakuru, Africa. Credit: Karl Stromayer/USFWS

Turns out, the story is more complicated than “blood thirsty poachers.” This episode is well worth a listen to the complicated financial structure behind conservation parks.

Voluntourism draws a lot of critique from communities around the world, but I hadn’t realized how closely tied some orphanages in countries like Cambodia, Nepal, and Uganda are to the emotions (and markets!) that tourists bring to their travels. What happens when “cute children” become a tourist trap? (Good news: She’s working on fixing this bad dynamic)

We Need to End the Era of Orphanages | Tara Winkler

Breakfast is my favorite part of American cuisine… but it wasn’t always a “thing.” This writer explored the breakfast cereal marketing campaign that made Breakfast “the most important meal of the day.”

And how about a public bench designed to simultaneously interrupt informal economic activities (specifically, drug dealing), prevent theft, limit loitering, and defy graffiti? 99% Invisible covered a brief history of unpleasant design to show how some designers though about solving what they viewed as “social ills.”

Work by Public artist BiP, New Haven CT
Work by Public artist BiP, New Haven CT

Finally, a few thought-provoking pieces by R. Luke DuBois about how we organize numbers and think about people. If you haven’t seen his TED talk yet, I would recommend beginning here.

His maps of the United States are fascinating and worth exploring over a long, hot summer afternoon. You can see more of them on the TED Ideas Blog or on his website. He challenges the idea of “data viz” with his piece called “Take a Bullet for the City” and he does his part to make our communities a little warmer through his piece that connects people on the missed connections board on Craigslist.

Making “an Eccentric Guide” to New York

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.

The Prompt.

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.

The Process.

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.

We built a tour of memories.

Kaela Gallo: FDR Boardwalk

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.)

Originally published by me on Medium.

How we remember & Leaving Tunisia

I wrote this on my last evening in Tunisia after a very eventful week.

I did my best to tweet about a lot of the activities and places I was able to see/explore this week… not to be THAT person who overshares on social media, but because I know my own experience of digging through media channels and twitter before coming to Tunisia was repeated scenes of violence and WARNING WARNING WARNINGS. It meant I came with my own fears and apprehensions about being here… even down to the last minute before I boarded my plane from Frankfurt, when an old friend who has been to Tunis several times told me to be very careful because he was worried.

I tweeted and posted and created content about the positive efforts and growth here, because I want there to be more discussion and dimension to the pictures we paint of Tunisia in English media right now.

Violence is terrible, I do not mean to belittle the experience of those who were shot in Tunis in March or in Sousse this past month. It is terrible. But this country, and so many others, are more than the sums of their violence.

Even yesterday as I sat outside waiting for someone, I received another traveling warning from the US Embassy about Tunisia and the Middle East, more generally. The email didn’t have any more news — it restated the recent shootings, but it caused my heart to race when I saw just the subject line from the embassy in my inbox.

The language we use to frame events and communities affects our perception and later the attitude we take when we interact with those communities.

I am still critical of the frequent shootings in the United States, where we still refuse to improve gun regulation and thus wind up with often preventable mass shootings. We don’t see a travel ban or repeated warnings from other embassies around the world about these events in the United States. Tunisia, I am told, strictly regulates guns, making it easy to identify who is playing with weapons traffickers or interested parties in the black market when the police find weapons outside “acceptable” places.

There is pain here, there is economic pressure that makes some feel like they are reaching a breaking point as they search endlessly for jobs they may never find… but where isn’t that true right now?

It took a while for me to let go of the fear, especially as a woman who often travels alone. For my entire life, I have been offered endless advice on ways to “stay safe” and narratives about all the people “who want to hurt” me. Yes, I could stay home and program and never see the world, but that’s not who I am.

Tunisia is so much more than the sum of the acts of violence these past few months. It is a country with an enormously rich history, a diverse ecosystem of entrepreneurs and thinkers and builders and artists, and a country that is tackling challenging issues in designing a government.

I always take precautions and try my best to stay safe. I respected the fact that Tunisians dress more conservatively than I normally would and planned accordingly, if for no other reason than to keep a lower profile and be able to explore without disturbing the ecosystem. I spent more time listening and asking questions than talking. I said “yes” to every adventure that came my way, while making sure I knew where I was, had access to a charged cell phone, and had enough cash on me to handle a variety of situations. But if something happened to me here or in New York… sometimes there isn’t a whole lot I can do. And I accept that. I accept that as the cost of living and the cost of actively learning about communities.

It’s hard to break out of popular narratives, but every little piece helps. I hope that instead of fixating on the violence, we can also see how people in countries struggling with violence survive in the background. How they continue to build and grow businesses or create art. Because that is the backbone of the countries like Tunisia…  and my beloved Mexico. Not the violence.

Extended Eulogies: Remembering Marina

I am working on a long form project that I am calling “Extended Eulogies.” I am interested in the role of the “curator” behind a profile of the deceased, particularly when the deceased has left behind a portfolio of written work where they explores who they are, who they think they are, and the questions they tried to answer. This is much an exploration of memory as it is about process. The following is one of many pieces of my research to answer my own questions about how I will remember some of those who are closest to me in my own life.

I still remember the morning over the summer when I woke up to 16 missed calls from a close friend and another series of texts from someone I had become friends with over the course of that spring that started with “have you read the news?” followed by “Diana, can you call me? I’m scared.” And finally, “Fuck. I feel so lost right now.” Everything had come into my phone between 1am – 4am, the last one at 4:11am.

Remembering Marina Keegan…

On May 26th 2012, Marina Keegan, one of my high school and college classmates (we both ended up in the Saybrook college at Yale) died in a car accident that shook our communities. For days, my newsfeed on Facebook was filled with people posting on her wall, sharing memories and their disbelief that she was gone. Best know for some of her prolific written works like The Opposite of Loneliness and Even Artichokes have Doubts. And even a handful of spoken word pieces, that just as quickly as her writing does tear a hole in your heart or fill you with joy.

Among her many talents, Marina was a writer, a playwright, an activist, and a creator. Her voice is well documented, as were the questions she took time to explore with you in her written work. Marina is now the author of a bestseller titled The Opposite of Loneliness, which was like sitting in a time machine and relieving my high school and college experiences in a way that knocked the wind out of me.

Who served as a curatorial voice?

I got to know Yena when we started a salon series at Yale in the spring of my senior year. Nearly a year after the accident, Yena was a brilliant soon-to-be Philosophy Ph.D student living in New Haven and making sense of what had happened to her college roommate a year earlier. Yena is a brilliant thinker, talented writer, and dear friend to many of us.

In the months following Marina’s accident, Yena was tasked with an enormous project: she was handed Marina’s Hard Drive and told to organize the work and consider which works she would have selected to use to contribute to a lasting profile of Marina. She, alongside Marina’s mother and a handful of others, began to think through the dimensions of a collection of some of Marina’s short essays and stories. [I am comparing this collection of stories to an effective “profile” of the voice of an author.]

As Yena was remembering the experience with me, she said, “You begin to look at life and death through the voice of a person. With every artist, so much of them is embodied in their work, it feels like you are interacting with that person. It feels like a pseudo interaction that you’ve had with the person who is gone now.”

How do you process your memories? What does it mean to build a profile through Marina’s voice?

Yena first wrote this piece for the Yale Daily News to remember her friend very shortly after her death. “The YDN was me and Marina. It was very raw and [the grief] was there with me. The book was more collaborative.”

Yena started by re-reading all of their Facebook messages and emails. Some long, others shorter, asking quick questions. Some sent over summers apart, others between Saybrook and the Library.

“You are not an objective bystander. You bring a different element of you to every conversation that you have, already there is a filter or an angle. We are biased by our grief, the personal relationship with the person, and how we think about that person. When I looked back at her work, I wanted to look at it through these filters, but I also wanted to try to represent her accurately, objectively, in the ways that I loved her.”

This role, as an editor, was perhaps most pronounced when Yena was deciding what was most important to include in the book, and where some of the work needed to be trimmed or cleaned up. “[T]here is also an element: this is something I am sure she would not want other people to be reading.” The process was about taking in all of the work Marina had written over the course of her life time, beginning to organize it around common themes, and present a few pieces in a collection that captured the voice of the artist.

“It was a difficult experience — with her writing, you could hear her voice,” she added. “When you encounter that grief… it’s the expression of it that is so hard. Sometimes I felt like I needed to laugh really hard, I needed to get it out of my body.” Yena started to see this project as a “personal exercise.” It became a process that required her to manage and really feel the grief that seeped into her physical and emotional responses to the work, but it also helped her celebrate the great achievements of a friend that she admired and loved.

[Sidenote: Yena was not the only collaborator on the final version of The Opposite of Loneliness. When I first asked her about the project, she told me that the questions were a little startling because she forgot that she had helped put the work together. She remembers this book as something that was a collection of Marina’s life’s work, not a book by those who curated collection for the final product.]

What I learned from talking to Yena:

We spent a lot of time talking about what it means to “know someone.” We discussed the levels of friendship that exist and how well you get to know the rhythm of someone’s thoughts and the questions she wants to spend her life answering.

We wondered, does the product itself change depending on how well you knew someone before they died? I said yes. Because to really capture the pulse of someone’s thought patterns, you would need to see them at their most carefully edited, at their most raw and unrefined, and everything in between. Yena had the opportunity to see work by Marina in many different stages of completion.

Then Yena asked me, what is the difference between a biography and an extended eulogy?

My answer was that biographies are about extended narratives: you are meant to interact with the narrative provided by the writer and the context the writer decides to provide you with as you engage with the narrative. You are not interacting with the individual.

When the artist can leave something in her original voice, you interact with it. As Yena has told me earlier in our conversation, you build into the relationship with the artist a little more.

The extended eulogy, for me, is a project about building and protecting memories that are multi-dimensional and offer a few perspectives on a person simultaneously. You see the person, in how they would describe themselves, but you also see how others (the curators) see and remember her. You also see what their life looked like, to them, from 30,000 ft. You see what questions became important to explore and what stones they unearthed to find their answers. The Extended Eulogy offers the artist a chance to remember themselves and leave behind a breathing memory that engages with you and challenges you and promises to be the same thorn-in-your-side that the artist may have been while she was living.

The work of some artists requires little context for me. I react very powerfully to it, in the same way that some relationships with other people make sense and others don’t or don’t register in our memory at all. Some voices vibrate like strings on the cello through your memory and their questions haunt you. This is not true for every conversation and person that we come across – but for the ones who do leave a mark… we remember them. We remember the sound of their voices and the pulse of their thoughts and it stays with us.

Many of us continue to serve, in our own ways, in Marina’s memory. Though my own relationship with her was largely based on the interactions we had as activists working on some overlapping issues in our communities, I remember her for her writing.

“Do you want to leave soon?”

“No, I want time to be in love with everything… and I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.” [Marina Keegan, Bygones]