on tragedy and worldwide friendships.

I’ve been thinking about tragedy and how horrible things in the world impact us in very different ways. Some people tweet well-wishes, or rant about how our politicians have failed us, or retreat in the arms of the ones nearest to them. Or maybe all three.
Maybe there is no right way to grieve.
 
But, the reactions I tend to have are overwhelming. Sometime it’s so much that I feel absolutely nothing for a week or two. It’s defense. Biological, maybe.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always been anxious. As a child, watching exorbitant amounts of Law and Order probably did not help. I’d worry about burglars and break-in’s, and kidnappings. I’d plan out ways to protect myself and my family if something were to happen–cut open my window screen with my pair of child-safe scissors, run to the neighbor’s house, and call 911 from there.
I had pretty solid escape plans.

But those plans would only work if things in the world were actually understandable, and if the world was the size of a nutshell. Often times, though, tragedy doesn’t make sense.  And you need bigger weapons than child-safe scissors to face a world the size of the actual world.

I used to think of tragedy in isolation.  What would the immediate impacts be on me and those closest to me? My world was four bedrooms and four bathrooms. And it soon expanded to a schoolyard, my grandparents’ homes, and the lives & realities of those I called family & friends.

Over time, my world kept expanding. And it made it increasingly harder to create escape plans to get us all out of emergency situations in tact.

Look, I consider myself extremely lucky to know the people I do and care so deeply about them.  To have friends in nearly every corner of the globe is a truly wonderful thing–a gift that keeps giving.

But, that gift of knowing and loving people in places I can’t control, in places I cannot be to provide a shoulder or a helping hand, has been something that’s given me a considerable amount of anxiety.
 
Because when a tragedy occurs, natural or otherwise, in the UK, in Palestine, in Cuba, in Afghanistan, in Southeast Asia, in other parts of the US, in literally every country & disputed territory across this unforgiving world, faces flash in my mind and the atheist in me is quieted. I whisper something like prayer and hope that there is safety for the people I’ve met and the ones that they love.

I don’t know what the answer is, or if there is even a question to answer in the first place.

But I know that this anxiety and overwhelming worry I have for the well-being of my friends across the world is only getting louder. And even though it would be nice in some moments to shut it off, to turn away, to stop caring and let friendships fade, it wouldn’t make life any easier.

As anxiety-inducing as it is to love people in a world and political system that tells us to think of ourselves only, I would not trade in a heart that has felt a full range of human emotions or a mind that remembers far too many stories of loss & pain, and even more of laughter & triumph in the face of loss.

I don’t know what good these words will do. And maybe they serve only to quell my fears. But, maybe that’s all they need to do.

Maybe I just need a reminder that friendships with people different from you, living in different realities, and dreaming different things, are more valuable than the worries that threaten their existence.

Happy TunesDay: Collection 60

Okay, I decided.  I’m posting TunesDay playlists every other Tuesday.  I just can’t keep up with the weekly deal.  Sorry to disappoint the 3.67 people who listen to my playlists regularly!

Anyway, this week is a little hectic (as per usual).  Does anyone else turn into a sluggish, sloth-like creature when a ton of deadlines and tasks are piling up?  It’s like the more I have to do, the stronger my urge to curl into my bed and eat chocolate whilst binge-watching Freeform TV shows (aka Young & Hungry) on Netflix becomes.  Also, can we talk about how ABC Family rebranded themselves into Freeform.  I mean, what is that?  Is that supposed to make them seem young & hip with all the teens?

I have a little over a month until I embark on life’s next great adventure– 7 years studying social injustices and writing papers in Pittsburgh!  Okay, well I’m actually really excited about it, but I’m also terrified of leaving the comforts of my home.  And by “home”, I’m not just referencing the house I’ve lived in my whole life in NorCal or my apartment in SoCal.  “Home” means the friends, family, memories, laughter, tears, everything that has made me into a semi-normal, self-sustaining human person.  And all those things are in California.  How do people make new homes and still feel a constant sense of self?  It’s been 24 years and I feel like I just got a hang of things here.  And it’s really scary to think that in a small amount of time, people and places can change dramatically.  In seven years, we might as well just be completely new people.  California might be an entirely different place…country even. HAH. Jokes, but really, these next 3 years are going to be B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

So, I’m excited and terrified.  Terrifyingly excited?  Excitedly terrified?  A combination of the two.

How do you cope with moving and finding new homes?  Let me know, because I don’t have time to read a gazillion thinkpieces and self-help books.  I need the basics told to me in person.

With love as always,
Christina

2016, Fawkes, and How to Rise Again.

It’s 2017 and things still feel the same. It’s funny how we make such a fuss over the start of a new year, when time and again we’re shown that it makes almost no difference in how people act.  But, maybe that’s just me.

Regardless, this is my 2016 reflection post, because maybe at the end of 2017, I’ll want to know how much one year really does impact things.  Also, big up’s to those of you who get & love my HP reference in the title.  Fawkes, you’re the real MVP.


 

People have been saying 2016 was a terrible year.  And yeah, it has contained a whirlwind of terrible, awful messes.  But, I think we have a tendency to remember only the shit things.  They stand out more than the happy, sometimes mundane, but extremely joyful moments.  And to me, it’s those happily mundane things that keep us from losing ourselves through the darkest of times.

With that in mind, I’m trying to remember things with balance.  This year, while I am glad is over, has taught me much about what it means to persevere, to lose hope, to regain some semblance of it, and keep moving forward.

In the past year, I made new friends, connected with old ones on deep levels, listened to some really, really great music, and became more passionate about what I want out of my professional career.  Those have all been intensely wonderful things for me.

And still, I struggled with a lot of demons.  I realized what I need and what I didn’t in my life.  And though it has been hard confronting some of the things that have happened to me, I was always comforted, supported, and loved by friends who constantly stand by me in processing some of the trauma I’ve faced.  I’ve broken down several times, but breakage was and is not the end of my story–I know this to be true.  Even in experiencing sadness, fear, and sometimes hopelessness, I gained a lot of clarity.

I now know that healing comes in waves.  It is not an end all, be all status.  It is not a dichotomy of healed or not.  Some moments you’ll want to slink into a meek existence, let the fire extinguish, be alone for a long string of whiles.  And in other moments, you’ll think the world was so full of life and love, and maybe you’ll be more than okay.

This year, I lived a lot.  I lived with a cat.  I lost four toenails (if someone wants to buy me soccer cleats in 2017 to prevent this from happening again, I’d be eternally grateful–I wear a size 6.5).  I got too many bug bites and finally drank alcohol in Costa Rica.  I leased my first car.  I watched a lot of Netflix.  I started online dating again.  I stopped online dating again.  I divulged embarrassing moments and harrowing truths about myself, and my life didn’t end.  I felt waves of emotions and didn’t drown them out or let them drown me.  I grew out my hair and started wearing make-up like I knew what I was doing.  I grew into myself, and let my words flow more than I used to.  Those are all things I am proud of.

2016 also gave me tremendous opportunities in educational and professional experiences.  I continued as a UCI Tobis Fellow doing research on activism in the U.S., was accepted into the WISE Learner’s Voice Program, started my first copywriting job at The Muse, begun contract work at UCI’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, and overall am a little more comfortable with the whole idea of professional networking.

I always valued my relationships with people, but 2016 took my appreciation and love for human interaction to a new level.  I am overwhelmed at the beauty and tenacity of the people I have chosen to surround myself with–my chosen family.  I know that 2016 was a shitstorm for a lot of them, but they always made me laugh, let me cry, didn’t make me feel like I wasn’t important.  I hope that I somehow also made their past year a little less dark.  And even though I see the potential in 2017 to be a year for self-growth, empowered communities, and mobilizing forces, the future is incredibly scary.  From 2016, I want to carry the hope, strength, and vulnerability that I fostered from so many wonderful people.

Because arbitrary things like the passing of one year to the next doesn’t change things. People do.

And people have carried me through 2016.  I’ve accomplished a lot, but it would be a blatant lie to say I did any of it on my own.  To the people who stayed up with me while I worked on countless assignments I procrastinated on, my roommate who would wake me up and hold me accountable, the family who made me food and visited me, the strangers who became friends…I am so incredibly happy that 2016 is moving on into 2017 because it means more time to spend with you, to work alongside you, to keep fighting for our dreams.

On a personal level, maybe I can’t be too mad about 2016.  It’s only shown me what I already knew to be true about relationships, about injustice, about our entire world.  And I’m really trying to be hopeful for 2017 because I am convinced of collective ability to come together, prevent horrifying things, and stop the dehumanization of marginalized communities.

But collectively, I’m still angry, still processing.  Moving from December 31st to January 1st doesn’t speed up the reflection process.  In 2016, we all failed.  We failed a lot–pretty much every time it mattered (and it always matters).  But, when we fail, we are forced to reconcile and reevaluate.  In 2016, we learned how loss feels.  In 2017, we’ll learn how to cope, how to manage, how to rise.

Here’s to a 2017 filled with magic, awe, wonder, and indelible strength.

Happy TunesDay: Jamila Woods, y’all.

Hi friends,

I skipped a week. I know. I know.  I’m beating myself up over it, but life happens.

I’m back though, and this week I didn’t compile a playlist. SHOCK GASP AWE HORROR.
I know. I know. 

But, I felt that for this week, I would just let an entire album speak for itself.  Tonight I’m seeing the wondrous and soulfully talented Jamila Woods. I AM SO EXCITED.

But beyond that, I am ready and albeit a little scared to enter into a world where her music will wash over me and really get me to dig deep & feel things.  Like, real emotions, feeling.  That’s what her album has done for me ever since I heard it a couple months ago.  And to get ready to see her live, I revisited it all this week.

Normally when I prep for a concert (my friends know I have to know all the songs and sing along during the show, or else I’ll feel weird), the goal is just to memorize the lyrics to most of the tracks.  Yet with this, it wasn’t really just a memorization of lyrics, but a living through of them.  I don’t know if that makes sense.  But all I know is that I almost had to pull over yesterday while driving and listening to Lonely Lonely. And if a song makes me teary-eyed and think about my life in a different way and reflect on the things I’ve seen and been through…that’s a damn good song, and even more, a damn good songwriter & singer.

So dear pups, I’m leaving you with the gift of her album this week.  You can also download it for free from the link. Trust me.  Do it. It sets your soul aflame.  Take a minute and be okay with being uncomfortable with your feelings and being *omgwhat* vulnerable.  It’s okay.  You’ll get through it.  Just don’t cry while driving–it ain’t safe.

with love & good feelings,
Christina

Why We Should Stay: Work and Commitments

When you’re a young twenty-something, there are few things you have had the choice to commit yourself to outside of school.  Formal education was kind of a forced thing, and though you might have loved school, it wasn’t necessarily a decision made entirely on your own.

But, there comes a time when you get to decide things for yourself–how you spend your time and who you decide to spend your time with.

We’re not like our parents’ generation.  We move in and out of jobs, switch career paths, decide on a different course.  It’s not necessarily negative or positive, in my opinion.  And even in my case, I didn’t stick with my first job out of college for too long.  Though I interned previously at Tiyya, I just wanted professional work experience in a non-profit organization, working on direct services.  And I moved on after my contracted year as I thought I should.

I left that job last October.  But, I stayed on as an advisory committee member, then a fundraising committee member, and event planner to help out where & when I can.

For a while, I felt weird about staying–volunteering my time because I thought I should be focusing on getting ready for graduate school or whatever else.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay, but my peers were moving a mile a minute, and I felt stuck.  The nasty vein of comparison crept in.  People were getting degrees, new jobs, new homes, new partners. It just felt like too much.

But, every time I volunteered for a Tiyya event or saw those I worked with previously, it just made me so happy.  I forgot that by typical Millenial standards, I wasn’t necessarily supposed to still be there.

The idea that we need to climb invisible ladders and move up and out…it’s complete shit.

Honestly, we should all be so lucky to find an environment that makes us feel happy and needed.  Upon reflection, I think I was exceptionally naïve in thinking that I could dig deep into an organization with so much heart and love, and not get attached.  It still baffles me how I thought I should just leave.

I’m not saying that every person who works briefly somewhere should remain working for that organization or company for the sake of being committed.  But, what I am saying, is that when you do that, it’s not a bad thing.  You aren’t being tied down or sucked in.  Sometimes maintaining a commitment you enjoy, even when your peers are doing other things, can be rewarding and enriching.

By remaining involved in Tiyya, I think about every volunteer, intern, and staff member I interacted with, and I am just so grateful.  And every refugee, immigrant, and asylum seeker who I laughed and cried with taught me so much beyond what a typical year of experiences could give.  It is only fair and right that I continue that commitment and embrace the joy it brings me.

If my two years of interning, working, and volunteering at Tiyya has taught me anything, it’s that the best things happen when the people involved truly believe in what they’re doing.  And if you believe in what you’re doing, you’ll stay in some way.  I’m here to say to anyone who thinks they need to play into the rat race, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with staying.  You are not stuck.  Because who is to say that we are stuck when we are fulfilled, when we are happy?

With Tiyya, I got “stuck”. And it was the best damn thing that could have ever happened to me.

Because There Can Never Be Too Many Self-Reflections

It’s been a while, my friends.  I have neglected this blog, much as I have neglected caring for myself.

Maybe it’s a reflection of my priorities–myself always falling last on the laundry list of things I need to get done.  Because somehow, “self-care” is not something that appealing when I’m writing my to-do list.  It’s not enough syllables to sound important to me.

And now, 2015 is essentially half over.  Already.  And as astonishing as that is to me, it also isn’t surprising at all.  What is surprising is how much I have accomplished, and yet how little I feel like I have progressed (and how much I still make excuses for my lack of perseverance and direction in both my research interests & my “personal projects”).

When I graduated almost exactly one year ago, I was sure that I would make the most of my “last summer of freedom”.  I thought I’d find myself.  I thought something would find me.  I really don’t know what I talked myself into believing, but I really and truly thought that my life would somehow dramatically shift into adulthood and that things would just happen for me.  I also thought I’d stop making run-on sentences a regular occurrence in my writing.

As it turns out, none of that happened.

What I learned instead is that adulthood and post-graduate life is hard.  I even wrote a blog post about it. You’d think that would be enough to teach me.  But alas, dear friends.  I inherited my father’s wit, but not his foresight. (Shout out to my pops if you’re reading this.  Love you, babs…and as a sidenote, I have never called my father “babs” before, but I think he’d find it endearing.)

When people tell you that working life is hard, they are not joking.  It is equal parts exhausting and liberating and confusing.  Colleges should make How To Survive Being In A Full-Time or More-Than-Full-Time-If-You’re-In-Non-Profits Job 101 course a pre-requisite for graduation.  But that would be a whole lot of paperwork to enforce, so instead, we’re stuck learning life the hard way–by actually living it.

And it is not that I thought working full-time would be easy or smooth-sailing 100% of the time.  But I did not know how tired you can get.  And how easy it is to get derailed and not put the effort into caring about yourself and your aspirations because you’re just too tired all the damn time.  Because working an 8-5 job is not like the three different clubs and organizations you used to juggle like a pro.  You can’t do a job and fifty million side projects without getting burnt out.  You just can’t. And I think that when I realized that (and am still realizing that), it hurts for someone like me.  Because I am a somebody who gets excitement and a unique sense of euphoria and doing multiple things at once successfully.  Having to put projects that I am passionate about to the wayside gives me a really visceral reaction.  It is a very real, raw kind of hurt that I can’t really explain except that it feels like you’re breaking up with the person you thought you loved, but didn’t really because you’re thirteen years old and not Justin Bieber, so you don’t actually know what love is.  And again, there’s that run-on sentence.

Really though.  I think that when I realized how exhausting it is to try and accomplish everything all at once and be everything to everyone, you’re kind of left with nothing for yourself.

I’m slowly figuring out what really matters to me and how I can use my skills and interests to provide real, impactful change.  It’s hard, but so worth it.  I know that I would rather spend five years building something I’ve done the research on and I know won’t be detrimental to target communities than get my hands on everything I have a remote interest in.  I’ve done that and seen others do it before and I know how bad it can be for those you’re trying to help–including yourself.

And I know that one day, I will be a professor that cares and be so many things for so many people. (I’ll also get the damn chile pepper on RateMyProfessor… y’all know what I’m talking about.)  But until then, I am understanding that I can’t beat myself up over not being at a certain place or having accolades that I know others my age may have.

And maybe this summer I’ll finally experience the magical summer that Disney Channel always produces movies about, minus the musical numbers.  Maybe I will finish writing my book(s) or explore a new place by myself.  And I’ll surround myself with people who care and do good things and make me laugh.   I’ll stop striving for perfection and start embracing uncertainty.  And I will finally know what it means to care about yourself–that being selfish in this context is one of the most selfless things you can do.

What’s In A Year?

It has been one year since I departed from my home, to Denver, to Toronto, to Kenya and spent an amazing twenty days surrounded by wonderful people in an equally wondrous place.

It is strange to think that it has been an entire year. While it feels like it’s been more than a year, it also feels as if I was just in Kenya yesterday.

When people ask how Kenya was, I still don’t know how to explain everything.
I’ve had a year to contemplate the trip and winning Microsoft’s Challenge for Change competition alongside four driven, funny, talented, intelligent people. I know that the world is full of issues of which I am very aware, but I also know that based on the people I met and people I still keep in contact with, I have a great deal of hope that we can work together to tackle each and every one of them.

Kenya gave me a lot of things.
Courage, mostly.

I thought I was courageous and independent before the trip, but it really took me being away from the US, from my family, from my friends, from everything I had known before, to truly feel the kind of courage I needed to improve some really difficult things in my life.
I thought I was empowered and wanted to change the world before. It took Kenya to push me into really knowing that was what I wanted and needed.

I think a lot of times people get big ideas and huge dreams, which is a great thing. It is necessary to have dreams to accomplish anything in life. But I also think that changing the world can seem like an impossible task. I think that people still see things in black and white–that you either change the world for the better or don’t do it at all.

But everything is trial and error. When people want to improve things, it can’t be immediate. And even the best of intentions do not do what they need to do for the people that need it most.
And admitting that, especially when you have big dreams and big goals, is a really difficult thing. People don’t like admitting the things you’re trying to do to improve things is actually not making things better. Especially humanitarians. Especially people who are seen as selfless, strong, good people. Especially me.

And it has been a year.
A whole year.

A long time, but a short time. And I have realized that I have made contributions, good and bad, to this world. And that the impacts I have on the people around me are large and varied, and important, even if I don’t think they may be at the time.

Kenya gave me courage to cut the things from my life that were holding me back, making me sad, giving me strife. It also gave me the courage to admit my initial goals and dreams may be flawed and self-righteous. It then gave me the courage to look inward and start from scratch.

Starting from scratch can be the scariest thing in the world, but sometimes, a lot of times, it is necessary.

A year ago, I thought humanitarianism and international development were clear cut. I thought if you give things to poor people, it solves everything. I was much more eurocentric, less critical, less understanding of different perspectives. I don’t think I was ignorant, but I was set in my ways because I wanted so badly to do good for the world. And being set in your ways and being convinced of your own do-goodery can be the worst thing for the people you are trying to uplift.

A year ago, I didn’t know or understand that completely.

In Kenya, I saw firsthand how that kind of sentiment can be so detrimental to everyone involved–both beneficiaries and benefactors.
I realized that it is GOOD to be critical, as long as you can supply and work towards a shift in mindset. It is not negative to question structures that are in place, especially in a non-profit, development situation. It is necessary, in fact, to push the envelope, question what people’s intentions are, and give the impoverished a space to use their OWN voice.

A year ago, I was very proud of my accomplishments in terms of Microsoft’s Challenge for Change and my research with a close professor. And it’s not to say that I shouldn’t have been proud or that I am still not proud. But being proud slows down the process. It’s not that you shouldn’t be happy and confident of your skills or abilities. But I think that a year ago, the prize was at the forefront of my mind, not the journey or the process. And the process is a long and arduous one, no matter what social justice issue you’re tackling. A proud accomplishment is just another step on the ladder. You are never done with the work you are doing, and in a way, that is a very nice thing. There is always something to improve, some injustice to battle, some minds to shift. It gives you things to work towards. A year ago, this idea would have been very frustrating for me.

A year ago, I did not know the wonderful people I would come to befriend and grow so much from. Being one of the oldest people on the trip, I did not know what to expect. I thought I would be a mentor and source of guidance. I felt a little entitled, to be honest. But I learnt a great deal from everyone on the trip. I got into so many situations that angered me, from seeing poverty porn in action to the oversimplification of some of social justice issues in the modules we participated in as a group. The anger I felt really showed me how much poverty alleviation and inclusive social justice is a passion for me. And, the best part was that I could air out my frustrations with my close friends on the trip and they knew, understood, and allowed me to have a safe space to engage in conversations about everything that bothered us.
A year ago, I didn’t have these friends.
Now, even a year later, I still do.

Kenya was honestly one of the best trips and experiences in my young life. A year later, and I can still say that. There are, of course, details that are fuzzy in my mind. Sometimes, names blur from my mind, but I have Facebook to assist me with that. But there are very poignant moments from the trip that I don’t think I can ever forget. I will still remember the Kenyan salesman at a gas station that tried to sell me a painting by speaking Chinese to me. I will still remember the multitudes of late nights, laughter, huge bugs, mosquito net mishaps, toilet adventures, and dancing to Shakira. I think some of the most memorable things were those that I could have done anywhere else in the world, but it wasn’t anywhere else in the world. It was in Kenya. It was in the Maasai Mara. It was in Mwangaza, where a part of my soul will constantly remain. And I was thankfully with an amazing bunch of kiddos that I am so glad to have met, befriended, and bonded so deeply with.

Kenya and each person I crossed paths with gave me the courage I needed to do the things I needed and still need to do.

A year later, and I am still and always will be grateful.