Tag Archives: personal

Inauguration Pie

How can I put four years into a pie? I’m thinking of Inauguration Day 2017 through to today, Inauguration Day 2021. In truth things started back in 2015, when Donald Trump announced his run for the United States’ presidency, and I don’t know how long things will continue past the moment when President-Elect Joe Biden becomes President Joe Biden.

For the United States, it’s been a hell of a time. For the world, it’d been even worse. Every generation thinks that they lived through more than anyone else, that they had it worse. I had a Boomer tell me that the existential stress of COVID is nothing compared to the Vietnam War. I’m sure when we are living through a global water crisis, I’ll tell the kids that we had it bad too. Everyday I listen to the radio and read Twitter, aware that the current state of endless wars – wars against terrorism and drugs, organized crime and famine, climate change and racism – is global, and not limited to just what’s happening to and around me. That makes it feel worse and bigger and I wonder if earlier generations can really grasp how big that is.

The last four years brought me in closer working relationships with people in India and Nigeria. I would call these people my friends in that if they were in town I would want to see them and show them around. Most of them I would offer a space in my small apartment, in case they needed somewhere to sleep and wanted to save the money. We chat, though we only have the internet as opposed to elevator rides in tall office buildings and slow walks down to the shops during lunch breaks.

From these relationships I have learned very little about life in India or Nigeria, and I only visited India separately from any of my colleagues there. (I went for a wedding. My visa to Nigeria was denied on account of a medical issue.) But, I follow these people on social media and see what they share, the same political and social utterances that could be the same here or virtually any other place, as long as we replace the right keywords. Exchange the name of one leader, conservative party, or government unit for another. When I first saw the #EndSARS hashtag show up, I thought the images were from Black Lives Matter protests. Stop police brutality.

And that was only in the last few months.

I’ve had three jobs since Trump first announced his candidacy in three very different places. In the first I felt like I wasn’t able to talk about the sexism and discrimination I was dealing with in the office, and how much more so my views on an organizational partnership with a government whose policies I strongly disagreed with. In the second I was able to talk about these things, but there was nothing to do about them.

I’ve been in love and had my heart broken three times in three very different ways that all came down to someone valuing someone else more than they valued me. Can I bake heartbreak into a pie? Is it even fair to distract from the political world with my own loss?

What about COVID-19? There’s bitterness and anger and tears and pain – emotional and physical. There is desperation and desolation and loneliness. Covid has colored everything during the past year. It is a burden our new political leaders will take on. Biden and Harris, all of the new people in Congress, and everyone else who has taken on an elected position now must content with Covid with new levels of responsibility. Not only do their decisions affect the people they come into contact with, they now affect everyone their policies touch and perhaps even more than that.

The government hired people to build walls. Our government approved it and people willingly took on the job of building those walls. Families were separated. Children were placed in inhumane conditions; children were tortured. Remember when the guards at border detention facilities were raping children? Remember when children had guards? Women were forcefully operated upon and had their bodies permanently changed without their permission, against their desires. People were executed by the state.

There were so many things I’ve lost track of them all. I remember bits and pieces as I write this, coming back to me like singing a song I haven’t thought about in years. With each line, I remember another one. Being worried about coming home from Cuba, when the visitation rules were changed in the middle of my trip. Climate change, again and again. Pollution and microplastics and watching the country being broken into pieces and sold off in the name of economy and progress. People losing their access to healthcare, through clinics closing down and loss of insurance.

What do you bake into a pie that tastes like sedition? What are the flavors of loss and racism and hate? How to you balance the sourness with subtle hints of hope, which feels to tender and fragile? Do we pair equal parts of the palatable with the unpalatable, in the name of our neatly divided senate?

I have hope, of course I have hope, and I have always had hope, but now it feels thinner than ever, like a ganache or a caramel after your hand slips and you pour too much cream in. A custard or compote or curd that that refuses to thicken no matter how long you cook it. I see that things could be better, but better does not mean good and better does not mean enough.

So I will put my hope into this pie. I put my pain and anger into the dough. I will put my tears and helplessness and bitterness into the filling. I will cover it sweetness and the delicate hope I’ve spun out of sugar. Soon I will bake it and share it with the three other people I see because the most important thing about surviving these past years, these past months and weeks and days, is that we did it together. We will commiserate on what we’ve overcome, and we will share our hope and the sweetness of the moment, as the spun sugar dissolves on our tongues. There is so much we have left to do, so much we must do. We will be angry in the future, we may be angry later today, but until then, we have pie.

travel

I travel a lot. Not as much as people who are travelers–people who define themselves by the thing. In general, that’s a theme in my life: I do X more than the average person, but not as much as the average person who takes on that identity.

I leave the US a handful of times a year. In 2017 I went to Brussels, Paris, Montreal, Cuba, and, now, Leipzig. It looks like 2018 will include a trip to Australia, a few to Canada, and, hopefully, one or two to Europe. I miss my nephew (who is a baby and lives in Paris).

I probably leave Boston about once a month. 2017 was a fairly unique year, and I think I averaged a week out of town a month.

Okay, so I guess I do travel a lot.

The thing is, traveling -terrifies- me. Every time. Every single time.

Traveling within the United States makes me a little nervous. As long as you have a credit card and a pocket computer (and ideally a lap computer) you’ll be okay. I have these things. I also have a driver’s license and a passport, and am pretty good at keeping both of these with me most of the time.

Traveling internationally, however, means the phone function of your pocket computer is significantly less useful, your credit card may not work, and you need an adapter for your laptop charger. It is suddenly much easier for something to go wrong.

Also, the passport/driver’s license redundancy breaks down. In fact, losing your passport will throw you into a cascading adventure of bureaucracy, stress, and mounting express fees.

Add into this mix not speaking the language (as is usually the case for me. If I do speak any of it it’s mostly limited to ordering an espresso (as in one), or occasionally a croissant as well. Okay, I can generally express wanting an object).

Traveling internationally quickly can become much less exciting and much more nerve racking. The conversation now heavily relies on not just what can go wrong, but how to compensate for your lack of native knowledge should something go wrong.

Take today for example:

My debit card isn’t working at the ATMs. It turns out, one of my friends is also having this same problem (albeit in a different part of Germany). We have the same bank. Neither of us can call our bank, because we’re in Germany, because it’s Christmas, and because we’re in Germany on Christmas. Tomorrow, we may be able to call our bank, but neither of us could go to a German bank for help, because it’s the day after Christmas and we’d be in Germany on the day after Christmas–which counts as second Christmas according to a calendar I saw! They have two Christmases in Germany.

I usually don’t even have one.

So, now I have 15 euros (actually 11.81, because I bought a double espresso). I have a credit card, and the fees, while annoying, are something I can survive. However, I still don’t have any cash, and it’s not really feasible to do everything I need with a card.

Alternatively, I could find a friend (or friends) and buy them something (with my card) in exchange for cash. Maybe I could pay for someone’s hotel room, or take a big group out to dinner. Well, what if my card doesn’t work then? It will just be embarrassing.

In order to attack any of this, I need to find somewhere with wifi, which is what took me to the Starbucks where I spent 3 euro 19 purchasing an espresso so I felt okay using their wifi to text people. (Signal has been life changing for travel.) This doesn’t help me with the ATM problem, but it does make me feel less alone in Germany.

I’m kicking myself for not having a bigger stash of euros at home.

I know I’ll figure this out, but in the meantime I’m in Germany, all I can do is order espresso and say “eine bisse bitte” when someone asks me if I want sugar with my espresso and I only recognize that they’re offering me sugar because when I used to just say “ja” to every transactional question, I would end up with too-sweet coffee whenever they said the word sucre,

CDN expressed something along the lines of being impressed at my seemingly flawless confidence when it comes to getting on planes or trains, taking ferries and cars, and a deep love of discovering public transit systems and shortcuts through alleys. The thing is, every time I do any of this–whether it’s taking the yellow line on the BART and hoping I don’t miss the last stop before it crosses between San Francisco and East Bay (or East Bay and SF) or being pretty sure the woman who is going to check my ticket on the train is going to yell at me, in German, for something i don’t know I’ve done wrong and I can’t get another coffee, which my soul needs to survive the German woman who is inevitably going to be yelling at me–I am terrified. It’s scary and it’s hard.

Being in another country, whether you’re visiting or live there, when it’s not the place you carry native knowledge from–that’s a struggle. Every day of being in a place that’s foreign (whatever that means to you) brings with it a small but constant struggle that just makes you tired. It can be your brain doing that extra little work trying to understand languages you don’t speak at all; or not being able to tell if the packet you’ve picked up is baking powder or baking soda because it doesn’t say “sodium bicarbonate” anywhere, but the illustration of a cake and some cookies and a muffin makes you pretty sure it is one of those things; or just walking too slow (or fast) on the escalator. Walking on the escalator at all.

Life is full of constant, unconscious decisions we know instinctively based on knowing where we are. When we don’t know where we are, we struggle to make it work. We have to think consciously about these things or, when we don’t, we put more energy into it than the seamless flow of our life at home.

I travel a lot for my profession. I really do enjoy it, both my work in free software and traveling. I’m tired and it’s hard, but it’s valuable. There is a real purpose to putting myself on a train, a plane, another plane, a shuttle bus, another train, a subway car, and then a short walk in order to end up in the place where I’ll meet the people I need to meet, have the conversations I need to have, and build the ideas without which there would be no progress.

Besides, going interesting places is the most interesting thing about me. I have a credit card, a pocket computer, a passport, and an ability to be so terrified I appear confident.