12. Get comfortable with your voice.

To me, writing can sometimes feel like I’ve scooped out my insides with my bare hands, and handed them off to watch people squish them around in their fingers. There’s something intimate about putting your voice into the world, and it can be a terrifying thing to do. But if you believe you have something to say, then it’s worth saying. As long as you’re willing to accept that you might be wrong. 

In fact, I’m going to put myself out there to be wrong right now. I wrote down two versions of the above paragraph when I was prepping this series in November. The analogy above is verbatim one that I wrote circa 2011, and was fully prepared to use for this post. With the intention to not plagiarize myself, however, and as a writing experiment, I tried to take the metaphor further. Here’s what happened:

I had to get comfortable with not being afraid of myself creatively. Voice is a strange thing to find, and I was afraid of mine for a while. Imagine, for instance, that for some reason you make the decision to tear out your insides. You yank, and rip, and tear, and bleed. But the sheer torture of disemboweling yourself hasn’t quite quenched your thirst. So now, the only reasonable option is to hand them over to someone else, watch them poke around, grind and wiggle them in their fingers. Your innards are now on display for any and all to feel and interact with. That was how I used to feel about writing--that it was this torturous, horrific thing (1). Sometimes it is frustrating, and letting people see the things I’m working on is still terrifying, but I have learned to appreciate the rush.

I was recently flipping through my friend Rimmi’s art book when I came across the drawing above: the perfect embodiment of this sentiment I’d shied away from, but could appreciate in someone else’s work. You inspired me to march forth with a version of my voice I was unsure of. Thanks for letting me share it, Rimmi.  

I was recently flipping through my friend Rimmi’s art book when I came across the drawing above: the perfect embodiment of this sentiment I’d shied away from, but could appreciate in someone else’s work. You inspired me to march forth with a version of my voice I was unsure of. Thanks for letting me share it, Rimmi.  

When I was reading over my notes for this post with the two juxtaposed, it felt pretty dark, and way outside of my usual tone. But when I read it over again, I know that the words come from a place somewhere inside of me that I still identify with. The extended metaphor is pretty dark, but sometimes speaking up--about politics, our fears, the things that make us uncomfortable--can make us feel that beaten and disgusting. These feelings aren’t easy to accept, and they’re certainly visceral to picture, but there's still a melody to them. 

Acknowledging more painful emotions helps me grow more comfortable in them. Growing comfortable in the discomfort of sharing my voice has allowed me to not only accept that sometimes I will fail, but also rejoice in the attempt to try again until I find words that suit me. 

Getting comfortable with voice isn’t easy. Voice is about self confidence, and self confidence, as Sarah Kay says, tastes funny in your mouth.  But voice is also about confronting your demons, acknowledging where you came from, and standing forth to do better next time (or making enough mistakes until you can). 

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1. A sentiment beautifully discussed here by Elizabeth Gilbert.

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11. Give yourself room to fail.

Failure wasn’t an option for me when I was in high school. To be honest, I have no idea where this pressure came from, only that it was self-imposed. My parents are super accepting and patient. My teachers were encouraging. But something about the prospect of not getting a 5 on my AP US History exam was enough to make me develop a hand-twitch as a sophomore in high school (1). 

This photo about sums it up visually. 

This photo about sums it up visually. 

A lot has happened since then, and I’ve changed along the way. It may have been SoCal vibes sweeping through my windows disguised as the Santa Ana winds, or maybe it has to do with my time studying mindfulness, but I’ve lately come to accept that I will not always be where I want to be by the time I want to be there. 

One day on Koh Phanang, a crew decided to go to pay a visit to a local waterfall. You park off to the side of the road, go down a set of stairs, frolic for a few minutes, and then turn back the way you came.

Now, on this day, Bobby was our fearless leader, showing around a group of backpackers and his awesome girlfriend Mami. 

Bobby, in a nutshell, is all about self-improvement, so instead of turning this group of a dozen backpackers around to hop back up the stairs, he decided to be a competitive little shit and push us to all climb our ways to the top, out through a steep forest brush with no discernible trail (2). 

This is about a quarter of the waterfall... the climb through the rocks was by far the least difficult part. 

This is about a quarter of the waterfall... the climb through the rocks was by far the least difficult part. 

He led the way up, shouting annoying “motivational” phrases, while Mami smiled and yelled at Bobby when he would warn me not to slip and fall into the water. (Helping or hurting Bobby?) The two of them together verbally pushed and pulled me in equal words of support, taunting, and faith . 

When Bobby started doubting I could make it up--”Do I need to come help you?”--Mami would cheer me on. And Bobby knows me well enough to let me struggle through despite his ironically motivational jabs. 

Because I wanted to do it alone. 

Because amongst the three of us, there was enough faith to let me try. 

Not gonna lie--I wasn’t great at this. It took a lot of scraping, hesitating, and butt scootching. I tried four different routes before I was finally able to pull myself up out of the bushes, back on the main road. Poked one branch--no way that one would support my weight. Another rock was too steep for me to get leverage to heave myself over. If I tried to pull on that piece of brush, it was gonna uproot and send me flying backwards. 

I only know this because I tried them all.

I only know this because I didn’t turn back around and decide to exit through the stairs. 

I only know because I failed. 

Mami was an excellent cheerleader. 

Mami was an excellent cheerleader. 

In recent years, I’ve learned to try more often than I turn back. Sometimes the latter is inevitable, but only after I’ve exhausted every possibility. I let myself be terrible before I can be any good, because failure is progress I’m learning to embrace. 

I eventually found a way to climb on to one rock, take a leap of faith to jump on another, climb onto a flatter one above that, and pull myself up through a less steep patch of bushes without falling back down (3). 

When I got to the top, Bobby gave me an approving nod. Mami clapped. I was bright red, blood rushing through my cheeks, but I was pleased nonetheless. I made it.

I ultimately emerged victorious from those buses to the left. 

I ultimately emerged victorious from those buses to the left. 

That day, I proclaimed, “I'll always get where I'm going--I just might be the last one to get there.” And Bobby started cracking up (4).

I’m not saying I love when things don’t turn out, but like Thomas Edison said, every time I fail, I succeed in finding a new way that won't work. By persisting at the things important to you--even when you think you look foolish--failure has already become success. 

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1. It went away in a week, and hasn’t returned since.
2. In less of a nutshell, he played football for the Oregon Ducks, and he majored in Philosophy. When he and I got the chicken pox last year landing us in quarantine for 5 days straight, we watched Hayao Miyazaki films and argued about work-out routines. He is one of most annoying, supportive people I’ve ever met. His girlfriend Mami works with young kids in Japan, and she and I bonded over our youthful love of anime. Even in our stilted English-to-Japanese conversations, she built me up and made me feel confident and accepted. The two of them together inspire me, which made their support valuable in learning to support myself.
3. Although the bushes proved equally treacherous, as I was pulling pokies off my pants for days. 
4. Fuck you, Bobby. “Is that a Fat Joke?”

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START AT THE BEGINNING

8. You can always use your "Fuck It" Card.

This is a lesson that came from a crash course in life, but I didn’t have the words for until I met a career advisor in Nepal. I had quit my job against all reasonable wisdom earlier that year; I left a position at what would be a reasonable place to begin escalating my corporate career in order to travel and volunteer. 

My last day of work, January 2015. 

My last day of work, January 2015. 

When I was in Nepal, I debated whether returning to my same industry or continuing to travel was the right next step. Heidi told me that whatever decision I made wasn’t set in stone--that I always had the power to revamp my life. Though sometimes it seems hard--social, familial, or self-imposed pressures may make us hesitant to pull out of situations that are no longer serving us--change is always an option. It is, after all, the natural order of things.

This is something that comes up frequently in my travels. Whether it is making a decision to leave a city that no longer suits me, ending a relationship that doesn’t bring out the best in me, or throwing my fears to the wind in order to embrace a new adventure, I do my best to actively make decisions. This requires a lot of self-evaluation; I am the only person I can expect to be in touch with my own needs, which means I have to be assertive in satisfying them. The results of such choices are sometimes tumultuous, but the glorious thing about this concept is that even through the turmoil we have the power to enact change. 

Jaisalmer, India, July 2015. The person I was in January and the one I was in July feel lifetimes away from each other. 

Jaisalmer, India, July 2015. The person I was in January and the one I was in July feel lifetimes away from each other. 

Take that as you will--as a call to political activism, body positivity, quitting your job--as long as you have faith in yourself to come out on the other side. 

 

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7. Be vigilant about finding sources of inspiration.

In part 6, I discuss how moving abroad gave me time to walk around. It’s also opened up my time to explore doing things I love.  These days, I make a lot of to-do lists. I use it to keep track of my chores, but I also use it to remind me of all of the fun things I need to do in order to stay inspired.

A typical list these days may look something like this:
-Laundry
-Vietnamese Homework
-Make Bed
-Yoga
-Discovery Weekly Playlist
-Watch/Read X Book, Movie, Song, or Documentary (1)
-Hunt down a good bowl of Bun Bo
-Go somewhere or try something new. 
-Write a report
-Skype/Email/Text X

Some of these items are staples; I put “make bed”  and "yoga" on the list every day. My mother once told me that she read that successful people make their bed first thing in the morning. Perhaps its because of the suggestion that I’ve assigned it this meaning, but as a result, I do feel pretty accomplished when I get to cross it off to start my day. Influence from home is also a positive and constructive thing, which means staying in touch with the people I care about is a priority. I make an effort to stay in contact with them on as regular a basis as possible, which ensures that a few someones' names can usually be found on the list at any given time.

When I left Los Angeles, I asked myself what I wanted to be doing every day, if given the opportunity to do so. My answers were, write, do yoga, and meditate. 

These three items have since fulfilled my basic needs. As I’ve spent more time living my life, however, I learned that there are a lot of other things I need to be doing in order to feel productive. 

“Discovery Playlist” is a rolling playlist of 30 songs Spotify makes me each week. I may like some, none, or all of the songs on the list, but I make the effort over the course of seven days to give myself the opportunity to decide. The ones I take to get added to a more permanent playlist, and the ones I don’t... well, I’m glad I at least got to experience their vision. 

Next, something grounding makes the list. A chore like laundry, or making sure I complete a report on time. These things ensure I’m making money and staying on top of my home life. It may not always be the most glamorous, but the sense of satisfaction I get when I cross these things off the list keeps me motivated. 

Something fun will also always make the list; some new adventure to be had. Sometimes it will be to attend a concert, or visit friends at a bar, take part in Bar Trivia, or explore the botanical gardens. Essentially, I challenge myself to go somewhere new, or to experience something I never have before. This usually extends to food as well. I love exploring local flavors and things I’ve never tried before (2), whether it be in my own explorations in the kitchen or in deciding to go out and try some local dish Colleen has recommended (3)(4).   

I am always looking for inspiration, and I make this happen through a balance of routine and exploration. I try to make fresh decisions on a regular basis while valuing what I already know works for me.

The anatomy of a To-Do List.

The anatomy of a To-Do List.

In our current climate, I think this is especially important. If you’re only exposing yourself to a certain kind of news, that news is the only thing you’re going to think about. If you’re focusing on only getting through the work day, work is what will become your focus. If you actively spend your time seeking out interesting youtube videos, this is what you’ll have to talk about when it comes to time to talk about things that are important to you. The content we consume is going to be what we think about, which in turn becomes what we talk about, and how we react. It affects how we interact with the world. 

Thoughts become things--choose the good ones. (5)  

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1. Sometimes I like to posts links to the things inspiring me currently, so keep your eye on the site if you're interested. 
2. Post Pending
3. My friend Colleen is my life coach, foodie partner in crime, and corrector of my Vietnamese.
4. Most recently, my food adventures have come from the suggestions of friends in my Vietnamese language course--thanks Izzy, Scott, Darren, and Tu for showing me the ropes.
5. This is a motto I learned from daily affirmations sent to me by Notes from the Universe. Many thanks to my friend Holly for introducing me to the site. 

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6. Get out and take walks.

I am a true introvert in that I could contentedly spend an entire day inside my apartment. If I have a yoga mat, something to to write in, food to cook, and a bit of work to do,(1) I can find ways to entertain myself for an entire day without ever stepping outside my door. 

These stairs, dude... Jogging up Royce Steps when you're late for a 9 am class is actually the worst. Also, hi, these people are cool and bore witness to the beginnings of this lifestyle change in me way back in 2010. 

These stairs, dude... Jogging up Royce Steps when you're late for a 9 am class is actually the worst. Also, hi, these people are cool and bore witness to the beginnings of this lifestyle change in me way back in 2010. 

On a quest for Narnia in 2013. 

On a quest for Narnia in 2013. 

Over classic canal bridges in Venice, Italy Summer 2013.

Over classic canal bridges in Venice, Italy Summer 2013.

And I admit that I used to revel in doing so. I didn't like hanging out in the ether--I think I was a little afraid of it. (2) But somewhere along the line, I learned to fall in love with entire places through the act of putting foot to pavement. Maybe it was the mile walk to campus from my apartment in college, or the way Leah, Morgan, Anja and I learned to wander the steps of Europe on my first travel experience as an adult, or perhaps it was a lesson birthed from the unhappiness I felt sitting in my desk job when we returned from the trip. (3)   On the weekends, I learned to seize the time I was denied during my week’s stringent schedule--I’d wander Echo Park Lake, Runyon Canyon, Barnsdale Park, LACMA--and feel joy at the act of moving my body. This was one of the reasons I decided to leave that job in the city and explore the world. I wanted to be experiencing it more than just on Saturday and Sunday.

One of the higher floors of the famed Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace) in Jaipur, India, 2015. 

One of the higher floors of the famed Hawa Mahal (Wind Palace) in Jaipur, India, 2015. 

Over the last few years, as I’ve lived in in more walkable cities, with more free time to do so, and thanks to the presence of services like Grab (4) to help me out in a pinch, I’ve gotten the chance to walk so many new places. In Vietnam, I don’t have a consistent motorized form of transportation, forcing myself to be dependent on my feet to do daily tasks and explore. I walk to the market, and to the Old Quarter, and around the Lake for fun. My patamobile, as my fabulous college roommate Sara refers to her feet (5), has gotten me pretty freakin’ far these days. And my life is richer for it. 

This was one of my favorite roads in Hoi An, about a kilometer from where I lived. I'd make the trek to go to my favorite massage place and get my favorite bowl of Cau Lau (post pending). 

This was one of my favorite roads in Hoi An, about a kilometer from where I lived. I'd make the trek to go to my favorite massage place and get my favorite bowl of Cau Lau (post pending). 

Do I still, with my introvert tendencies, get the desire to have stretches of Netflix binges and lazy days? Yes, but I grow tired of them a lot quicker now. The more I stick around in bed, watching Netflix, getting lost in a click hole, exploring the most fascinating corners of the web, even doing something productive like working or writing from the comfort of my own home, the less I ultimately have to write about, or draw, or think about, or say. When I’m being productive, I’m taking walks--with friends wandering around my college campus, as I circumvent temples in monasteries in Nepal, up and down the busy beaches of Haad Rin, or through narrow alley ways in the capitol of Vietnam. 

The photo below was taken a few days ago, during the Tet Holiday. The occasion marks the first time I've ever had any desire to run. And I did it, for a couple of minutes. Maybe next time I'll run a couple more.  

After all, foot to pavement is the path to inspiration.

Around Tay Ho Lake, January 2017. 

Around Tay Ho Lake, January 2017. 

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1. Perhaps if I’m being honest, internet to procrastinate on..... 
2. This probably came from the whole, "Being afraid of my body," thing which I've talked about here and here.
3. Lessons are learned from both positive and negative reinforcement, as we saw in number 5.
4. Asia’s response to Uber and Lyft. 
5. “Pata” means “feet” in Spanish, and her Mexican mother used to jokingly mock their request for rides places with suggestions of using them.

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5. You can grow out of or apart from something, and still wish it the best (and the opposite is true too)

When I was 14, I discovered the band that I thought was going to be the love of my life forever. Every album release was a precious treasure, a divine sign from God that spoke directly to whatever internal teenage or early 20s crisis I was having at the moment. I had a signed t-shirt that I wore when I needed to feel confident, the cds were always in my car, and I’d seen him live almost 10 times. This band was my life.

In 2015, after four years of radio silence, this band released a new album. For the first time ever... it didn’t resonate with me. And I felt bad about it. It felt like a surprising sign of growing up, like I'd betrayed an important part of myself, or an old friend. But upon closer examination, this made perfect sense. A lot had happened since the last time we’d seen each other--I’d graduated college, held my first adult job, and moved across the world. His style had changed, and mine had changed too. It was sad, but it wasn't the end of the world. 

I don’t really listen to his music anymore.  But I haven’t lost my love and gratitude towards the Artist (1), and I wish him success as he continues to grow. And when one of his old songs does happen to find its way to my ears, I smile. I remember how much it meant to me in an important era of my life. This Artist taught me to be passionate about something, and to find solace and hope in music. He was a reminder that good things happen at unexpected times, and I've held on to that. 

I once drove two hours in LA traffic to make it to Long Beach to catch 5 songs of an impromptu show.

I once drove two hours in LA traffic to make it to Long Beach to catch 5 songs of an impromptu show.

Conversely, sometimes people and places are ready to be done with us before we’re ready to be done with them. College graduation sneaks up on us before we feel ready, people we love leave us before we think its time, or lose interest in the things we have to say. This will never be easy, but sometimes its inevitable, and maybe even necessary for our own personal growth. Everyone and every thing is on its own journey, and when we are no longer part of theirs, we should still wish them happiness and success.

This is true for a lot of things--for music, for lost loves, and schools I went to, for entire years of my life. What suited me before doesn’t have to suit me now, and I don’t have to suit it. But we can still love and appreciate each other for what we were while it lasted, and for the lessons we've held on to from it (2). 

Do these look like faces ready to be done with college? Absolutely not. But all good things must come to an end, and sometimes the ending comes when its supposed to, even when we aren't ready to let go.

Do these look like faces ready to be done with college? Absolutely not. But all good things must come to an end, and sometimes the ending comes when its supposed to, even when we aren't ready to let go.

1. I'm not naming the artist because I'd be sad if he came across this, I think. Break-ups aren't easy in any form. 
2. But, as we learned in number 2, don't feel like you have to take it all with you. Also the sweater I'm wearing in the photo from number 2 ties in very closely with the first part of this number. 

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4. Recognize your privilege.

I’ve written before about my Cuban heritage, so some of you might be aware of this. If you aren’t, I guess I can’t say I’m surprised--my three siblings and I are all very pale latinxs, and I guess I’ve spent a lot of my life “passing” as white. I identify very strongly with my latinx heritage, but I have encountered very few difficulties as a product of it.

I was recently discussing this with my aunt, however, when she told me about the difficulties that her two sons--cousins who are like my brothers--experienced while we were all students at the same high school. My cousins were called every derogatory name for latinos under the sun--someone in a bar once even came at my cousin for being arabic, which we aren’t, either.

My cousins and I grew up in the same area of Michigan. We attended the same high school. At home, we ate the same foods and danced to the same music and spoke the same languages. But based on the color of their skin, they have lived out a more tumultuous latino reality. Somehow, I had no idea. My eyes had been closed to this reality, inadvertantly. 

This, again, can be applied to a lot of things in life. I have been fortunate to have experienced little prejudice for the color of my skin (though the identity erasure of being “white” kind of irks me), and that my parents came from a country where they were afforded citizenship, when so many other immigrants struggle to obtain it. I recognize how lucky I am, and also the importance of helping others who have not been in equally advantageous positions in life. Though I would like to think I’ve felt this way for a while, especially as a result of my diverse college experience, I think realizing how close the issue of prejudice came to home really struck a cord with me.

This is especially important right now, given our present political climate. It is important to recognize that while we may be smart, talented, and capable, there are other, underlying, invisible factors that come into play in our own successes and failures, and the successes and failures of others. We should stand with those among us who have not been offered the same opportunities. Be willing to frame yourself in a world view that is open to love and acceptance. 

Me, my Aunt Mary, my sister, and my mother, circa 1996. Four Cuban women, though my Aunt is the most likely to be noted as Cuban by looks. 

Me, my Aunt Mary, my sister, and my mother, circa 1996. Four Cuban women, though my Aunt is the most likely to be noted as Cuban by looks. 

3. Never underestimate the power of consistency.

I stole this from my friend Amitai. Amitai is my ex-orientation student from UCLA and also a pretty smart fella. 

He tweeted this once, and I never forgot the sentiment. But I didn’t fully understand it until recently.

I have been doing yoga for the past four years. Amitai and I even did a class together way back when, during my senior year of college. My roommate Anja and I would go to Core Power on monthly passes. I bought the Yoga Studio app ages ago, when my friend Joey suggested it in October of 2013. I’ve done yoga on and off for the past several years.

In July of 2016 while I lived in Indonesia, I did 30 days straight of yoga, in which I was doing mostly beginners’ half hour classes. I then proceeded to take the next three months off, as I traveled through Thailand and Vietnam. When I finally settled for more than three days at a time (and I was no longer working in a party hostel on one of the craziest party islands in the country), I committed to doing yoga every day. In the first month, I moved up from beginner to intermediate, and then from half hour to hour classes. 

Through the sheer act of hitting the mat every single day--regardless of what else I have going on, or if I’m tired, sick, or hungover--I have seen more progress in months than I had in years. I make time each day to practice. Sometimes I only make it for a half hour, or even fifteen minutes. Sometimes I get in two classes a day. The point is, I have a goal, and I take steps towards it regularly.

And you know what? In November, after three years of practice, I moved into my first ever half shoulder stand. Now, as I continue with my consistent practice, I can not only move into a supported shoulder stand, but plow, side plank, and pyramid as well, with relative ease. My longest yoga streak to date is 60 days in a row, and I am continually pleased with my progress. 

As per usual, feel free to take this concept and extrapolate past my anecdote. If there is something you're passionate about--art, sports, politics, human rights--the act of doing something about it every day will help you achieve your goals. 

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2. Carry things with you--but don’t let them get too heavy.

I remember once I was on a high school Kairos retreat when a teacher gave a talk about how you come to know yourself. She constructed a thoughtful visual aid by putting on a bunch of old t-shirts. With each piece of clothing she added (t-shirts she got for being in this club or that, for playing a sport in college, etc.), she grew. Her shirts barely fit one over the other by the end. 

To be honest, I don’t remember what conclusions she drew at the end of her talk. But as I recall it now, I know what I took out of it. (1)

All of these t-shirts were representatives of places she’d been--of people she’d been, and roles she played. But as she put one on top of the other, she got bulkier. Her movements became more stitled. She commented that it was a good thing she was out of t-shirts, cuz she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to get another one on.

And I think I’ve always remembered this because it’s such a good metaphor for growth. If you take it all with you--the entirety of each piece of fabric--you don’t grow the way you want to. You get too bulky. 

So instead, maybe it’s okay to pay our respects to the people we’ve been, without taking every ounce of the experience with us in ways that weigh us down.

High School Me on the retreat back in 2008. (2)

High School Me on the retreat back in 2008. (2)

1. Apologies, Ms. C., if I totally didn't get this right... but it still meant a lot to me. 
2. Another great example of not taking EVERYTHING with you. I carry Kairos in my heart, but those glasses and that sweatshirt both had to go eventually (though that black sweatshirt put up a hell of a fight.) 

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1. Be willing to accept and integrate new information into your world view.

One of my earliest memories dates to an indefinite age pre-schooling. I grew up in a multi-generational, bilingual household. My great-grandmother who lived with me spoke only Spanish, as did all of my grandparents. My parents spoke both English and Spanish. All of my cousins spoke English. I logically deduced, then, that language skills were binary. You started with English, and the older you got, the more you moved into Spanish, until eventually it was the only language you spoke.

I believed this until the day I met my cousins’ Abuela Margie, who was well into her 70s and was still bilingual. I informed her that she was too old to still speak both. She laughed before explaining that language wasn’t something you just lose--and I had to change my concept of internal language binary.  This is a juvenile example, but I think it applies to life in general. Don’t hold on to your beliefs so tightly that you can’t let them go when you receive a new perspective.

You could even look at my celebration of Lunar New Year as an application of this concept. I did not grow up in a culture where the holiday was celebrated but since I’ve learned more about the celestial movements and what they means to the cultures I’ve lived in, I feel I’ve been introduced to such a lovely and previously unknown perspective of the world. New information can be about cultures, and mythology, and politics, and love, and friendship, and family, and language, and knowledge. Embrace constructive discussion. 

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Happy Lunar New Year! And welcome to 25 of my thoughts on turning 25.

Today is the Lunar New Year. In the last two years, I’ve abided closely to the pattern of the lunar months--its inevitable when you live in Asia. In Nepal, the monks would have a special puja on the morning of the Full Moon. In Thailand, I saw hordes of partiers flock to the wilds of Koh Phanang to celebrate various phases of the moon. In Hoi An, the 14th of every lunar month brought a lantern ceremony that honored their ancestors. The moon has thus been present in my life in a big way, made even more prominent to me due to the fact that this year I turned 25. 

While I feel like a lot of people are afraid of this milestone, I was honestly just happy to see 24 go. 

24, for me, was a year of education, of massive failure, of money troubles, and meditation retreats. It was loud parties, and good food, and friends you stay up all night with talking. I put myself in polar opposite situations every other week, making it virtually impossible to find an equilibrium. It was the year that I challenged myself to figure out who I was amidst the chaos that surrounded me. For as happy as I was to see 24 go, I appreciate it for what it was. It wasn’t easy. And the work is not yet finished. 

That being said, I think that the challenges I’ve faced as taught me something. The turmoil of 24, and of 23, 22, 21, and so on, have gifted me a lot of wisdom, in addition to their own individual successes and failures. In short, the last twenty five years have given me a pretty awesome tool box to get through things when times get tough.

Throughout the next week or so, to celebrate the Lunar New Year and the fact that I’m officially a quarter of a century old, I will be writing about some of the things that I’ve learned along the way. This obviously isn't a comprehensive list, but it is a lot of the stuff I've found to be important. 

In the spirit of exploring a new culture, through my celebrating Tet, let’s begin.  Chúc mừng năm mới! (1) 

Currently hanging out with the cherry blossom tree my landlord gave us for the Tet Holiday (2). 

Currently hanging out with the cherry blossom tree my landlord gave us for the Tet Holiday (2). 


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1. This is Happy New Year in Vietnamese.
2. The Vietnamese name for Lunar New Year.

 

Faceplant: the story of 2016

I think 2016 has been that kind of year.

You know, rough politics, money troubles, strange illnesses, the non-stop slew of celebrity deaths. Not to say it didn't have its ups, but it was definitely a year that tried to beat back.

I guess that makes what happened to me this morning feel like one of the most appropriate conclusions to this year that I could have pictured.

After spending a really wonderful holiday at my sister's in-laws with my family, the time had finally come to depart from their amazing home near Newcastle. There are two entrances to Matt's house--one with a bunch of stairs, and one that is slightly flatter. Matt had been warning us about the slippery stairs since we arrived, but we had taken them every single time we came or went.

This morning we left at 5:30. Worried about the slick stairs in the dark, we decided to pull the car to the flatter entrance. I had on my customary turtle shell backpack, and some new boots who's grips had yet to be tested.

Half asleep, I got one foot out the door, when I suddenly felt my feet slip from under me, and I face planted into the cobblestone.

I'd been feeling too coordinated lately, so I suppose it's about time. 

Anyway, the point is that after sitting in a kneeling position for a minute or two, apologizing to the cobblestone, blood gushing from my nose for only the second time in my life, I sat up, held my nose  in some bloody tissues, and then got up.

I've spent 25 years falling flat on my face, but I've never failed to pull myself back up.

2017, lets see what you've got.

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Hoi An's Flooded

It's been raining for a week nonstop in Hoi An. I've mostly avoided leaving my house because I hate getting caught up in the rain. Yesterday I couldn't have even if I wanted to because the water had risen so high on my street, I'd be knee deep if I wanted to go anywhere. 

Last night I ran out of groceries, so this morning I had to strap on my boats and wade out into the land of the living. I avoided the ancient town, which was basically completely flooded, but was surprised to find streets further back still pretty waterlogged.

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Fidel Castro, American Politics, and the Pendulum of History

I haven’t written about the recent US election because I haven’t known what to say. People are scared to verbalize what they believe for fear of being criticized--in both directions. You post anything too far to the left and you are a communist, a complainer, an out-of-touch idealist, a millennial too lost within your own self-righteousness that you are failing to see that we have a political process that “must be respected.” You post anything hopeful, you are normalizing the Trump phenomena. You are automatically a bigot, a racist, a homophobe, a sexist.

I know because I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. I reached out to friends following the Trump win with the hopes of starting a discourse--we are more the same than different, you are people I know, and love, and respect, please let me understand you--and they were fearful to voice their opinions, probably for fear of being shamed. I know this because despite my adamant support of human rights and climate change regulation, when I found a video that highlighted some of Trump’s less hateful speech (so much of the news we read is searching for illicit soundbites, and I was looking for something hopeful to hold on to) and shared it on my newsfeed, I was contacted by one of my closest friends suggesting that I was distributing propaganda (1).

So I’ve stayed out of it. Until today. Because today, Fidel Castro is dead, and I have something to say about it.

On election night, My brother posted the following non-partisan thoughts, and while some people championed his attempts towards unity, many shut him down, reacted angrily, likely threatened to delete him as a friend over his political views thus enforcing these echo chambers that we are getting ourselves trapped in, which have contributed to this chasm of difference amongst us all in the first place. We should never have been in this situation to begin with, and maybe if we’d started listening to each other earlier--actually tried to compromise--then we wouldn’t be stuck with this nightmare at all.

Like anything in life, there is a pendulum. After 8 years of Obama, moving to Trump as president takes us to the other side of that pendulum. Despite what your beliefs are, this is the reality. I do not live in fear of this result - I did not endorse either candidate - but at this point in time, this is where we stand.
People are going to either celebrate or mourn, cheer or complain, but regardless the sun will rise tomorrow morning and we will still be America.
I have pride for my country; I was proud to be an American under Obama and I will continue to be proud under Trump.
If you are worried, upset, or angry, that is still putting negativity into the world. Be the change you want to see in the world - spread positivity anyway you can. We don't know what the future holds, all we can do is hope for the best and continue to spread positivity anyway we can.


While I disagree with my brother that being angry or upset is automatically pumping negativity into the world (particularly if we can harness that negativity into productivity, and because some things definitely require scrutiny), I do think that there is something to be said for strapping on our work boots and getting our hands dirty, instead of fighting a battle against results that we are likely to lose.

And so I’ve hesitated to write about this election. I’ve fought with my parents, and I’ve fought with friends, whose opinions are all over the range of red and blue, because everyone is fighting and no one is listening.

So I called my aunt. I’ve always seen my aunt as a pillar of balance. I can call her to talk things through, to bounce ideas off of her, to help me fill in gaps of understanding, especially when it comes to interactions with my equally wonderful, loving, supportive parents who I sometimes fail to see eye to eye with.

And as I cried over Facetime with her about my fears for a Trump presidency, she told me gently that she had witnessed all too often what the world could be like when we tried to take on something so much bigger than ourselves (2). That as a girl, she watched my grandfather, who’d been a freedom fighter in Cuba before he’d had to flee, who’d led groups of a dozen men to try and fight back against the government, rage and storm every time the news came on the television. My mother always said that communism was a dirty word in their home, and I got an even more complete visual as my aunt added that he’d been known to punch the radio when Castro got on the news (3).

As I was growing up, I saw this in milder forms, in the way age seems to soften our convictions over the things we can’t control. My grandfather used to comment that the assigned readings for my Spanish classes were always written by hijo de puta communistas--he disapproved of my reading anything by Gabriel García Márquez, and God forbid an English teacher would assign a Hemingway. But they had become mere asides amidst all of the other ways he spent his time--he would laugh, and tell stories, and teach me how to make Cuban food. He had lived a good life, had struggled to provide a better, less conflicted upbringing for his children and grandchildren. He was a good, honest, hard-working man with a past that loomed over him in ways that were only occasionally referenced out-loud by the time I was old enough to understand.

My Abuelo Augusto and I in Fall 2008.

My Abuelo Augusto and I in Fall 2008.

And that day, as I cried on Facetime over the election results, my aunt encouraged me to look further into the things we have immediate control over, the way I like to believe my grandfather did in his old age. We talked about cancer, and the way its personally affected our family. We talked about racism, about how it has lived and breathed within our family as latinos in the largely homogenized area we lived in in Michigan (4). About how every day we need to be getting up to live our lives in the present moment. She encouraged me to do my small part, to be a drop in the ocean, but to try not to be too angry at the ocean at large.

I do think we can create change. Especially if we band enough drops together. I think that donating to the Standing Rock's efforts to stop the DAPL, acknowledging and challenging our own prejudices in order to become more compassionate (5), being aware of our own impact on the environment, and waking up every morning and trying to love everyone we encounter, are ways for us to really ignite something.

“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change. (6)” I don’t care how you feel about the results of this election--you can be upset, or you can be celebrating--but you should recognize the division we are experiencing as a nation, and should be concerned with how to bridge it. We are at a low, angry, hateful point as a country (on all sides, I am not exempting any side in particular), and the only thing we can do right now is treat each other with respect, and stay hopeful. History shows us that we have been here before. And while terrible things may happen, so too can great change be inspired by hard times. Progress can be slow, but that puts more responsibility upon the individual to ensure that we are not relying on our government to do what is right.

I wouldn’t be sharing this, or writing about the election at all, except today, something happened that was incredibly significant for my family and my community as a Cuban-American. Fidel Castro, a man who almost single-handedly brought an entire nation to its knees, violated basic human rights, ruled with a vicious iron fist, tore my family away from their country, sentenced my grandfather to death (6), a man who lied to his people with showy words and promises of hope, taking advantage of them at their most vulnerable as a nation, has died.

The implications of this for my family are too vast to condense succinctly (perhaps a post for another time), but we are certainly celebrating today. Both of my parents were born in Cuba. All of my grandparents were forced to leave their homes, the lives they had built, and all they had known. My great-grandmother, her daughter, and both of my grandfathers passed away before they were ever able to return to their homeland, or see it freed. My Abuela Livia is the only one left in that generation of my family to remember what they collectively lost.

All of those years that my grandfather, one of my greatest heroes, raged and argued and drove himself crazy--they’re over. And all of that energy, all he expended, all of the devastation and torture and loss he experienced, that perhaps were enacted in vain--they will now fade into the bloody lines of history. Today I will celebrate my family, their friends, and all of those that have been beaten down by the Castro regime. I wish my grandparents were all around to see it. I hope it would have brought them peace.

The pendulum in Cuba is slow-moving. Castro was in power for a long time. But now, perhaps it can begin to swing in the other direction. So too must history continue to write itself, both here in America and elsewhere in this world. So too can we choose to rage or to fight, or to be the small drop in the ocean that responds with peace.

---

1. And in the interest of full disclosure, I AM fearful; Trump’s appointments DO scare me. TRUMP scares me, and Pence even more so.
2. I am not saying I don’t believe that one person can ignite change, but I think its still valuable to consider all perspectives, and take comfort in them when you can. Castro was one person, and those who fought against him had an army. They still failed. The same can be true in reverse.
3. This, I think, is a 1970s version of the way we vent our social media frustrations today. And it did not accomplish anything.
4. This is a subject for a future post.
5. The fact that this event was condemned by the National Black Lives Matter movement is the kind of opposition to discourse that I'm talking about--both sides can be stubborn.
6. This is a quote from the Legend of Korra. Not only is the quote itself poignant, but I think that Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the best arguments for peace in times of turmoil and disagreement that I have ever seen, and demonstrates what it means to overcome a seemingly insurmountable divide.
7. He escaped, thank God. My family was incredibly lucky.

What I Learned From Being a Fat Traveler Pt. II

Earlier this year, I wrote about my experiences with being overweight while traveling in Asia. I thought about calling this piece, "What I learned from being a mid-sized traveler," but despite the progress I've made, I still feel like I have so far to go. While the experience can be frustrating and sometimes disheartening, I have learned to keep pressing forward. I've gotten fewer comments in Asia this year than I did last year, but I think that's what's made every one that comes my way even more ear-worming.

I know that those who make comments have never walked a day in my shoes. I know that many of people who do go out of their way to reference my weight just come from a different perspective culturally. But their words can still reinforce the loudest critic I know: myself.

I've made a lot of strides towards body positivity. But I'm not there yet. My current transformation is as much mental as it is physical.

I was recently reminded of this on a trip to Halong Bay with my friends Jake and Leah, who were visiting from Los Angeles. The few days we spent there were, by far, some of the highlights of the past two years of my travels. The bay was stunningly gorgeous (1), and I was there with some of my favorite people in the world (2). I got to see the stars in the middle of nowhere, which is one of my favorite things to do, surrounded by the water and the most stunning rock formations I’ve ever seen. It was a minor shot of awe.

But it also felt a little bit like adult summer camp. We kayaked, and swam in the sea, and laid in hammocks. There was a lot of drinking, and a lot of jumping off boats and cliffs. There were about 20 people on board, so it was fascinating to watch how people interacted for the next three days together.

I'd be lying if I said Day 1 wasn't mildly terrifying. I've never been one to shy away from getting into a bathing suit--I love the water, and this is what my body looks like, and anyone who doesn't like it can deal--but there was something about kayaking while wearing one that was kind of freaking me out. I think the idea of doing something so physical while being more exposed than usual (cuz let's be real, I do get a little bit of anxiety from biking or hiking in groups, hating myself a little for being last) just sent me over the edge. And Leah and I were the only two girls who had opted out of cover-ups.

These two wonderful people made the experience in such a beautiful place that much more amazing.

These two wonderful people made the experience in such a beautiful place that much more amazing.

I impressed myself when we managed to stay in the middle of the pack the entire time. We weren't the fastest, but we weren't dead last. I'll openly admit now that I probably cared too much if we were. While I did get to observe the beauty that were the Bay's rocks, I can't help but feel I tainted it slightly from being so self conscious.

When we returned to the boat, our guide let us know we could dive from the roof of the boat into the water. I had jumped from higher distances in Chiang Mai, but this jump freaked me out a little because you had to climb over the fence onto a small inclined part of the roof. My first attempt, I slipped on my wet feet and squatted on my butt to avoid falling in. I was already nervous, not so much because of the height, but because of the slipperiness, and the fact that we had spotted a jellyfish in the water not a minute earlier. One guy leaned over to try to pull me up, and mortified, I waved him off.

I took a deep breath, and pulled myself up from my squat with the help of the fence, and jumped in.

It was awesome.

I floated for a moment, before Leah, Jake and I decided to do another jump together. I was nervous after my slip, but with a little encouragement from my wonderful friends, I took the next leap. Another successful jump.

Happy faces because jumping off shit is cool.

Happy faces because jumping off shit is cool.

As the sun set, our tour guide called for final jumps. This one, we would get on film.

Usually this is the kind of thing that I would bury deep, untag on facebook, and pretend it never happened. But for the sake of honesty, this was the result:

Needless to say, I was mortified (3). One of the Australians called from up top, "are you okay?!" while I held my chest and struggled to catch my breath. The impact of the water had been painful, and I knew I’d be sore the next day. Of course the one jump we actually got on camera was the one I epically belly flopped. Of course I was the one to fail. After a day of body consciousness, I couldn't help but equate this failure to my size.

I pulled myself out of the water, chest still throbbing, and wanted to crawl into a hole.

But then, something kind of amazing happened.

There was a group of fit Dutch and Australian boys that had been diving off the boat all afternoon. Rowdy, cocky, and a bit drunk, these guys seemed completely fearless.

Just after my spectacular flop, they decided they wanted to get a little more dangerous for their last gos. They grouped together to stand at one end of the boat, get a running start, hop the fence over the slippery edge and jump into the water.

Photo by my friend Martijn. People were jumping from near the lounge chairs, over the boat's left side.

Photo by my friend Martijn. People were jumping from near the lounge chairs, over the boat's left side.

So the first guy starts. And this kid--he gets an epic sprinting start, everyone is cheering him on loudly, it's gearing up to be awesome--when he hesitates on the jump and knocks straight into the fence. He hits a piece of the boat into the water, but worse (4), his side is completely bruised and his knees are bleeding.

After checking to make sure he was okay, I felt a lot of tension leave my body. Not exactly in a schadenfreude (5) way, but in a, wow, so I'm not the only one who can fail epically in front of a big group of people way. Some people are clumsy. Sometimes we fuck up. It isn't determined by our size, and it definitely doesn't define our worth.

The rest of the trip was wonderful--the group of 20 gelled nicely, and Leah, Jake, and I spent time with some of the people we met in Hoi An. No one even seemed to remember my belly flop. And if they did, they didn't care, or let it affect the way they interacted with me.

Just a couple of the great people we met. Thanks Martijn, Jess, and Rick (not pictured) for being such a good crew.

Just a couple of the great people we met. Thanks Martijn, Jess, and Rick (not pictured) for being such a good crew.

When things are going well--like last year, during my adventures in India that reminded me that things can be amazing regardless of what I look like--it is easy to dismiss my body. It is harder to do so when something goes wrong, especially when it is something physical, but I'm getting better at treating myself with kindness. Sometimes things happen, and as I learned last year, it is better to laugh at yourself than be overcome by self-depreciation. To echo Sarah Kay's Useless Bay, "This. Is Not. A metaphor." Let a fall be a fall, and not a divine sign that I am a failure in life.

As for my Dutch friend--he was a great sport, and handled the teasing he got from the whole tour group for the rest of the trip like a champ (6).

He owned it. I'm learning to own it.

Sometimes you just gotta.

1. I wasn't aware that Halong Bay was one of the natural wonders of the world until a recent pub trivia. The more you know.
2. Leah, thanks for being my most consistent travel buddy, and Jake, I couldn't have asked for a better new one.
3. You can laugh. Don't feel bad. This was a very Monica thing for me to have done.
4. Those of you familiar with the Joey Wetmore dizzy bat incident of 2012 will understand the drastic change in mood.
5. German word, meaning deriving pleasure from another person's misfortune.
6. Thanks, S., for agreeing to being in this post :) You can see his battle scars beginning to form--as of the beginning of November (a month after the fence incident) he let me know that his ribs are still bruised...

The Cardinal Sins of Hostel Living

Okay, so I'm not one to rant. At least not to a broad audience. I like to focus on positivity and growth.

But guys. We need to talk. Over the last few years I've stayed in more communal living spaces than I can count on two hands, and have met people from all around the world who are just trying to live their lives and do their thing.

I've also met some people who warrant losing complete faith in humanity.

These are some lovely, non-garbage people I shared a room with in Koh Phanang. If only everyone could be so awesome...

These are some lovely, non-garbage people I shared a room with in Koh Phanang. If only everyone could be so awesome...

Now, I realize that staying in a dorm sacrifices a lot of personal comforts for the sake of frugalness, and there is no accounting for personal human nature, but I do believe we're all doing the best we can to not be shitty humans.

So please, for your dorm mates, your own sake, and mine, here are seven things you should avoid when you're living in a hostel.

1. Peeing on the floor. I'm putting this at number one because it happens more often than you'd think. Seriously, I understand that you're drunk and feeling debaucherous, but you're in a group space. People's stuff is all over the floor. Find the toilet. Or a bush. Or, god, even a house plant is preferable. Once, I was in a hostel in Thailand when I was awoken to--I kid you not--the smell of shit. I sat up abruptly and found a man, ass hanging out, standing over my bed. I managed a, "Dude, what the fuck!" just as he started peeing, and thankfully before he managed to a) do much damage, or worse, b) take an actual shit. I sat awake for the next two hours, during which time, I wish I was making this up, I caught him trying to return to my corner three times. THIS IS NOT THE TOILET. At this point the whole room was awake, and someone yelled, "WE CAN SEE YOU." Your drunkness is not an invisibility cloak.

2. Not wearing headphones. This is seriously one of my biggest pet peeves. I don't want to hear people yelling at each other on your Italian sitcom, nor your angry Swedish rap. Not when I'm trying to work and definitely not past the hour of 11 o'clock. Invest in a pair of headphones. And with that...

This is Tsultrim. Do you see how happy Tsultrim is in his headphones, knowing he's not distracting anyone around him? Tsultrim is a champ. Be like Tsultrim.

This is Tsultrim. Do you see how happy Tsultrim is in his headphones, knowing he's not distracting anyone around him? Tsultrim is a champ. Be like Tsultrim.

3. Talking on the phone while people are sleeping. Especially answering calls at 3 am not wearing headphones. I'm surprised I have to say this. I sleep like I'm dead, usually, but I also stay up really late. The number of inconsiderate people I've seen wake up an entire room of 18 is astounding.

4. Turning the light on when people are sleeping, especially after 2 in the morning. Again, I feel like this one should speak for itself. One time at a hostel in Canada, a girl turned the lights on at 4 am because she had just ordered pizza and didn't want to eat in the dark. There are 12 sleeping people, and you're not even drunk, so really what's your excuse here? Go sit in the hallway.

5. Drastically messing with the room temperature without consulting anyone. I'm generally freezing, so I always make sure to have a sweater on hand in case my dorm mates are fans of the ice box. I've heard horror stories of dorm mates shutting the AC off completely in the middle of the night, only to have everyone wake up a few hours later drenched in sweat. For the most part, we are in tropical weather--take one for the team, or at least chat around to see how people feel about bumping the thermostat up a few degrees. Most hostels will often appease you if you ask for a heavier or second blanket.

See how miserable Brad looks without the AC? Poor Brad.

See how miserable Brad looks without the AC? Poor Brad.

6. Banging in your bunk bed, or in a bathroom with limited options. Look, I'm not trying to cockblock, but if you're in the one bathroom that 16 people are supposed to share, not only can we probably all hear you, but someone probably has to pee. Get more creative in your space options. In terms of the room--look, I get it, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, but at least try to limit the secondhand awkward. And on that note...

This is a real sign, from a real hostel. The struggle is real.

This is a real sign, from a real hostel. The struggle is real.

7. Airing your dirty laundry in communal spaces. While this probably goes as much literally as it does figuratively (cuz, come on, traveler funk is real. Please take a shower. And do your laundry.), I'm talking about having very public, intimate arguments where everyone can hear you. One time I woke up in a hostel in Chiang Mai, where I had been staying in an all girls room, to see a dude in the bed over. One of the harder partying English girls had brought him home from a club. Live and let live, I had already been asleep and whatever they did didn't wake me up. BUT. The next morning, as everyone was shuffling around to start their days, the group suddenly became privy to a half hour of her reaming out her bedmate. I honestly can't tell you why the guy didn't get up and walk out. "Do you even remember my name?!" and, "God, my vag fucking hurts because of you." Cool story bro, but can you save it for somewhere a little more private? I do not want to hear the exact details of your disappointing screw, thanks.

I love hostel living, and it would be even more awesome without the above infractions. In short, use your best judgment, and try not to be an asshole. kthxbye.

What's your hostel horror story? Share in the comments below!