last week, we fly out to baltimore because it’s thanksgiving, and that’s what we do for thanksgiving — we descend upon my youngest aunt’s house and eat and laugh and drink sangria and hang out with their dogs.
the lead-up to thanksgiving, though, feels like a whole mess of wrongness. usually, my brother flies into JFK and rents a car, and we have lunch with my maternal aunt before driving down to baltimore. he usually takes a red-eye, and i’ve usually been up too late the night before, so he’s usually asleep in the car for the first hour or so, and we usually stop once for coffee and cinnabon and the bathroom. usually, usually, usually — so then there’s the part of me that just feels wrong because this isn’t just usually, it’s how things should be had my life not gone so horribly wrong.
but what’s the point losing ourselves to everything that should have been? lots of things should have been.
or, at least, those are words i tell myself, and that’s all they are — words i tell myself, words i don’t quite believe. 2017 feels an awful lot like a string of words i tell myself — that i will be better, that i will find my way back home, that i will get a job that will be a career that will mean something, that i will do this and be that, that i will still be alive when 2018 dawns, that i won’t have died in california like i’m still so terrified i will.
sometimes, i think it’s strange that i try to make my business be one of words but often find words to be just that — words. other times, i think that makes sense, that being a purveyor of words means that i understand both how invaluable and how empty they can be, that words carry both strength and emptiness depending on circumstance, situation, and speaker. words, like so many other facets of life, are not inherently good or evil — they are what we make them to be, and to try to make them more than they naturally are is to do us all a disservice.
moving on to other things, i suppose.
i’ve been back in LA for all of five days, and i’m already itching to leave again. i’m starting to think this isn’t just plain old wanderlust; it’s rooted in something deeper, something that sometimes feels more sinister because there’s a fair amount of malcontent admittedly woven in there; but, whatever it is, the fact remains that i’ve always been the anywhere-but-here kind of human, the one who’s always had feet that long to carry her away to every corner of the earth and the appetite to try and experience everything.
because, hey, i think the world is this stupidly beautiful, vibrant, interesting place, and i want to learn it all and taste it all and know it all in its madcap diversity. i want to eat everything i can. i want to experience everything i can. i want to walk amongst strangers, hear their stories, and capture all the colors the world has to offer. i want to know how the seasons differ depending on where you are in the world. i want to see how the sky changes. i want to feel the whole spectrum of what there is to feel when you’re aware of being someone different no matter where you are in the world.
because, hey, there’s this, too — that i inevitably move through the world in a way a straight white woman does not and, consequently, that i experience it differently. that the general world of food writing and travel writing bore the shit out of me because they’re both so white, so straight, so freaking boring. that it’s about time that the narrative is shifted, that publishers start seeking out writers of color who don’t fall into clean binaries, that white people stop being allowed to exist under the illusion that they are somehow more qualified to speak for cultures that are not theirs, that they are able to consume and appropriate only because of their whiteness.
and this isn’t something that applies only to whiteness and “exotic” cultures. it’s about time the narrative is given to adoptees, not martyrs of adoptive parents. it’s about time the narrative is given to queer people, trans people, people who identify as non-binary. it’s about time the narrative is given to those who live with mental illness, with depression, with suicidal tendencies.
it’s about time to stop being so goddamn afraid of the Other.
wow, none of this is what i came into this post to write.
this was supposed to be a kind of travel blog, or maybe it is a travel blog — or, at least, an attempt to suss out what travel writing looks like to me and, in connection, what travel means to me.
i think we tend to put travel on a pedestal, to elevate this idea that traveling results in more open-minded people, but i don’t know, i kind of feel about that like i feel about how we put literature on a pedestal, automatically assume that people who read must be more gracious, less provincial, less prone to bigotry and racism and misogyny.
i keep thinking about that essay kevin nguyen wrote last year, and i keep thinking how true it is. just because we’re in the business of books doesn’t mean we’re inherently doing good. just because people read a lot doesn’t mean they think outside of their narrow, ingrained mentality. just because people are well-traveled doesn’t mean they see outside of their bubble; it doesn’t mean they’ve experienced anything outside of what and who they know. travel, literature, whatever other thing we want to elevate — these things can keep us in our comfort zones and ignorance as much as they can challenge us and make us uncomfortable and help us become better people.
the opportunity means nothing unless we have the courage to step out of ourselves while also looking into ourselves and seeing the uglinesses within.
on saturday, we drive out to d.c.
before we flew out to baltimore, i’d floated the idea of me going out to d.c. for a day because i have friends in the city and i thought i might get restless, stuck in suburban baltimore. i wondered if i could rent a car, was discouraged from it because my brother would probably rent a car and we didn’t need that many cars, and i wasn’t quite sure i’d tag along when my brother and sister-in-law said they were planning to go out to d.c. on saturday.
my little cousin decided she wanted to go, too, though, so off we went. we’d gotten a recommendation for the holocaust memorial museum, so there we went.
the thing that terrifies about the holocaust memorial museum is how prescient it all seems. it’s easy to approach museums as things that stand in record of the past and to put distance between us and those moments in time, like these things happened back then, and back then is removed from now.
and yet — walking through the holocaust memorial museum felt almost like deja vu. watching video footage of nazis walking through city streets with torches felt like seeing images from yesterday because, shit, it was like seeing images from yesterday. just a few months ago, nazis marched in charlottesville, waving torches and shouting white supremacist bullshit. the cheeto was put into office in the same way hitler was, by being a laughingstock no one took quite as seriously as everyone should have until it was too late. the nazis were able to implement their horrible genocide and acts of violence against non-white, non-straight people with the complicit silence of so many ordinary white citizens.
history repeats itself.
maybe the thing that dismays me so much about cheeto voters is that they have shown themselves to be who they are, not only a year ago during the election but also (and maybe more frighteningly) now, a year since. they dig their heels in, defend their choice by saying, i like how he tells it like it is, never mind that he has proven to be as ineffective, incompetent, and dangerous as we always knew he would be.
and maybe there is a kind of reassurance in the i like how he tells it like it is because there is a part of me that would rather look danger in the eye, exposed in all its insidious ugliness than hidden under niceties and illusions. there is a part of me that says, okay, it’s good that the bullshit of we live in a post-racial world that white people loved to spout during the obama presidency has been exposed for being just that, bullshit, that the same people who loved to pat themselves on the back for electing a black president have had to look themselves in the eye, whether individually or as a community, and see that they’re not all that progressive, they’re not all that great, in fact, they’re part of the goddamn problem.
or it could be a good thing, had there actually been that moment of reckoning. self-reflection, though, is too much to ask of most, and no one wants to admit to complicity.
one of the more sobering captions at the holocaust memorial museum came in the section that talked about resistance. this particular caption talked about ordinary citizens, and it ended with the paragraph:
factors such as the intensity of german occupation policies, local antisemitism, and proximity to a safe refuge often influenced the success of rescue efforts. in denmark, 9 out of 10 jews were saved; in norway and belgium about 1 out of 2; in the netherlands, 1 out of 4; and in lithuania and poland, fewer than 2 in 10 survived. when ordinary citizens became rescuers, jews had a chance of survival. (emphasis added)
this isn’t unique to jews during world war ii, either. slaves were able to escape the south through a network of ordinary citizens in america who hid them, ferried them to the next home of safety, fed them, risked their own lives for them. muslims from the countries on the cheeto’s travel ban, especially those who were already on flights when the ban was announced and airports thrown into chaos, were assisted by ordinary citizens who showed up at airports to protest, offer legal and/or interpretation services for free, provide support to families who were anxiously awaiting news of loved ones.
history repeats itself.
and maybe that’s another thing i’ve been learning this year — that we often forget our capacity to do so much even when we’re just “ordinary citizens.” by calling our congresspeople and holding them accountable, we can stand up for each other’s healthcare, for immigrants who risk deportation, for whatever fresh hell the gop tries to shove secretly through the government. by showing up, we can express solidarity for native people trying to protect their land. by donating as much as we can spare, we can help communities ravaged by disasters get basic things like hot food and drinkable water and clothes and sanitary napkins while they try to rebuild and recuperate their losses.
and the key word there is “we.” no one single person saves the world, despite the preponderance of superhero movies in the last decade (and, even then, justice league and avengers, anyone?). no one single person makes a difference. we all do it together, and we don’t do it by just making huge, grand gestures — we often do it by doing the least we can do. we do it by showing up. we do it by donating five dollars. we do it by being present, by keeping our eyes open, by defiantly and intentionally saying, never again.
the main reason i wanted to go to d.c. was to go to momofuku. momofuku ramen isn’t my favorite ramen, although momofuku noodles are my favorite — i love their noodles — but momofuku hits all the nostalgia points in me that makes it one of my favorite bowls of ramen.
unfortunately, ccdc doesn’t have momofuku ramen anymore?!? they have other noodles but not the ramen! and apparently momofuku la might not have the ramen either?!? that makes me sad. i’ve literally been debating a vegas trip just to get some momofuku ramen, and i don’t gamble or go to clubs or enjoy going to shows, so i’d literally be going to vegas just to get some momofuku ramen and that seems kind of exorbitant, even for me.
i just want a taste of home.