Author: Raisa

New York // California // Idaho // all spaces beyond.

On 2020

It’s cold enough this week in Idaho that my tears freeze on my eyelashes when I’m outside. Tiny little crystals gather, cool and sparkling, at the edges of my vision. They melt within seconds of coming back inside from my evening walks: a mile to River Run and a bit beyond, to the open field used in summer as grazing pasture for the Sun Valley draft horses. The waxing moon rises high above it now; the horses are nowhere to be seen. I’ve been walking this same route for seven months of solo strolls in the gathering dusk this year, often on the phone with a friend. I’ve watched the poppies—searingly bright—bloom and fade, the fuzzy thistles grow tall and wither. I’ve watched the aspen leaves swell, glossy and green, and then crisp underfoot, hidden now by soft pillows of snow. I’ve watched the river flow and freeze into a sheet of blurry ice. 

Seasons change. So, as it turns out, do we. When I came to Ketchum last March, I expected to stay for a few weeks, maybe a month. I stayed for six. I was in London just a few days before, celebrating my friend’s 30th birthday in the neon-lit basement room of a karaoke club. We drank champagne and belted out ABBA tunes and glittered with hope and a little fear, a kind of festive desperation fueled by the looming crisis. I am grateful, now, for that last moment of joy. This year has been about living in memories, not making them. I would sit in the hammock on the porch this summer, reading Dune or re-reading Harry Potter, and a glimpse of something long forgotten would come lurching back: a raucous dinner at college, a heady evening in Spain, an afternoon spent in my childhood garden and its pungent scent of dirt and rhubarb and unripe strawberries. Faces, names, places. I spent a lot of time aching with remembrance: for people, some long gone. For youth, quietly slipping by. For feelings, of invincibility and hope, fading away. As the months wore on, something in me settled, though. The world seethed around me, around us, tearing sharp bits into our visions of community and healing. I helped craft obituaries, published pieces on protest and medical treatment, interviewed dozens of people dealing with the fallout of lives deferred. And isolated in Idaho, I sat, and I wrote. 

I wrote about the deer I saw outside my window. I wrote about loneliness. I wrote about birds, and flowers, and the color of the grass when the sun hits it in the early morning, and the way someone’s unexpected text could make me feel. I wrote about being lucky, and being sad. There’s no bigger lesson in any of it, nothing I can say here or anywhere that means something great. At the end of each year, I used to try to pull out a grand moral in these blog posts, to share a story to illustrate something true. (Blogging? In 2020? What a concept, I know.) I have no truths that are worthy of much attention this time. I am just one 29-year-old woman, lucky beyond measure, sitting at a table in the corner of a house in a small town in Idaho, dreaming of something else and enjoying the golden feeling of afternoon sun on her left shoulder. 

In the book Circe by Madeline Miller, the titular demi-goddess of Greek mythology is exiled to a lush but lonely island. (That list bit was relatable, for me.) “But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth,” Miller writes. “Such a constellation was he to me.” Circe is reconciling herself to the fate of a short-lived relationship, but I sense something bigger and more universal in the sentiment. The many kinds of souls that dip near me—stars of my past, hung in the night sky of my memory—wheel now near, now far from my thoughts. I am happy to have each of them, each of you, in my story, and I never want to lose a single one. In fact, I want more. 

Happy New Year.

Things I did in 2020: Read the complete works of Jane Austen, and about 40 other books. Watched every James Bond movie. Ran over 200 miles, a personal best. Moved out of an apartment (mostly) and in with my parents (for now). Published around 100 articles, including two cover features for TIME (Halsey and BTS) and profiles of James Taylor and Rick Steves and Anitta, personal favorites. Wrote a couple of essays I’m proud of: about dating, and about Austen. Interviewed Mark Ruffalo and Emilia Clarke and Ellie Goulding and Jill Scott and more. Published stories about transformative youth voting and early COVID testing and sickness on campus and the power of art and the slow death of nightlife. Drank a lot of wine, and then a lot of tea, at home with my parents. Ate a lot of pasta. Hiked. Attended a beautiful Zoom wedding and a Zoom memorial. Made plans that almost all went awry.

Things I’m working on for 2021: Getting vaccinated. Finishing the last few pages of War and Peace. Trying out my hand at crosswords. Cooking more, particularly with my mom. Dating, in person. Writing, writing, writing. Holding hands. Making new plans. Updating this website, which I haven’t really done since, oh, 2013?


On 2019

It’s 4:00ish on a Monday afternoon in November and I’m on the back of a mototaxi, puttering speedily through sugarcane fields on a rutted dirt path headed to the beach. I’m in Buritaca, Colombia, a tiny coastal village on the Caribbean, speeding away from my hostel in the dense jungle and towards a stretch of oceanfront sand with four other travelers: two Dutch guys, a Dutch girl and an Aussie accountant. (I never did get his name.) But right now it’s just me and my Colombian taxi driver in his red t-shirt and the warm equatorial air, turned breezy with our speed, and the feeling. What’s the feeling? It’s freedom. It’s a lightness that’s hard to explain. My fate is up to this driver and his practiced facility on a bike. All I have to do is hold on. Mototaxis as transcendence: that’s my end-of-2019 hot take.

The beach is nothing to write home about, scattered with washed-up driftwood at waves’ edge. Slim white cranes swoop over the marsh behind us, protected by a sandbar. The beachside restaurants and bars are empty: Monday. The sun is already beginning to dip below the mountains silhouetted to the west. But the feeling of floating lightness from the mototaxi persists as I spread out my towel and dig my feet into the sand. Part of it is because I’m alone: these strangers have come with me here, but we just met a few hours ago, and I will likely never see them again. Part of it is because I’m disconnected: there’s no cell service for miles, no WiFi. And part of it is because there’s something transformative about letting go of who we are and who we’re perceived as and who we think should be, even for an hour or two, even for a few minutes on a rickety scooter. Because sometimes no one is watching. Sometimes that’s just what we need.

Performative living is a symptom of the present era. Is it a feature or a bug? Instagram and social media propel it, but it’s also how we’ve come to relate to people: we did this cool thing, we were also at that restaurant, we made it to XYZ event and did you hear what happened there? I like to share this stuff; I derive joy and a sense of recognition from the “likes” on a post, the eyes on a story, the laughter when I tell of the latest adventure. But not everything has to be for other people, has to feed the ego that way. (The irony is that this bit of writing itself is performative, of course. It’s also, mostly, just for me.)

Last year, I didn’t publish my annual blog post. I wrote a few things and scrapped them, moved on and let go. 2018 felt bigger than me, a watershed of painful politics and turning point for elevating disenfranchised voices. Who was I, to ask for attention in the midst of that? It’s a question I still ask. Why bother sharing my stories? 

Much of the joy I’ve gotten in 2019 has been from telling and hearing stories, though. From opening up with friends and strangers and offering something, an exchange that balances the desire to be seen and the pull to step back and listen. It doesn’t always have to be deep. It just has to be true. Like the mototaxi thing. Like hanging out with a bunch of strangers on a beach with no motives and no distractions, just to see what it’s like, just to find the edge of something uncomfortable and new.

In 2020, more of that.

Things I did in 2019: Visited six new cities and spent time in six countries, all within the last four months; wrote 331 articles for TIME; highlighted 180 songs in my weekly new music roundups; chatted with Rihanna in the bathroom of Cipriani Wall Street; spent my third consecutive Memorial Day in Nantucket; saw a bunch of bison and a few grizzly bears in Yellowstone; binged Fleabag, Sex Education and Succession; decided I quite like orange wine; watched around 100 live shows in venues from Barclays Center to dingy dives; became one of those Rent the Runway obsessives (sorry!); lit my hair on fire accidentally, but it’s fine; stayed out too late; skinny-dipped; built a desk; collected new friends; interviewed Sheryl Crow for a live audience; painted my nails white and only white for the sixth year in a row; sent out 13 email newsletters (more to come next year); interviewed Lukas Nelson, Maggie Rogers, Zara Larsson, the Backstreet Boys, Joji, Billie Eilish, Maren Morris, Sigrid, Hozier, Lizzo, Carly Rae Jepsen, BANKS, Alec Benjamin, Jason Derulo, Mike Posner, Keke Palmer, DJ Earworm, and the guy who created BTS, and wrote about Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, the Jonas Brothers, Succession, Looking for Alaska, Game of Thrones, The Lion King, Moulin Rouge, K-pop, Serena Williams, a cat fashion show, a chicken sandwich and dating.

Things I’m working on for 2020: Celebrating my friends and family (lots of weddings in store); staying diligent about budgeting; being consistent with my newsletters; attending more non-music events in New York, like talks and readings and art shows; finishing The Brothers Karamazov; sending postcards; listening, really listening, to people; checking off my to-do list.


On 2017

The air is so dry in Sun Valley that you age faster. In just a few days, crows’ feet blossom, crinkling, by my eyes. I was worried about getting carded at restaurants in town — I lost my ID in the airport on the way here — but no one has blinked twice at my martini order. At Christmas dinner, a family friend told me I looked old. (She assured me it was in “a good way.”) I use three layers of moisturizer daily, anyway.

My skin is pale right now, the ghosts of summer’s freckles lingering just barely on my nose. They’re a good reminder of a year that had its fair share of sun, even if it often felt — for many reasons — so dark. But as 2017 wanes, I choose not to linger too long on shadows. Instead, I’ll look back on the places I picked up those freckles. There were rosé-spiked beach afternoons in Ibiza; last days poolside at my childhood house in Santa Barbara; a late spring walk on a windy Nantucket path; early fall hikes in the Idaho mountains; and a boat off the coast of Capri. Amazingly, I avoided my usual spate of sunburns. I’ve been using sunscreen this year.


One sweltering Sunday afternoon in June, on the hunt for a tan while Manhattan was sunk in a heat stupor, a friend hit me up about finding solace at a rooftop pool. We finally posted up in the corner of the Gansevoort Meatpacking’s tiny deck. There were no lounge chairs, just plastic benches lined up around the edge of the turquoise slip of water, littered with beautiful bodies. The music was loud, the cocktails were strong, and the sun was sinking fast. I angled my legs in its direction. Crammed next to us, a group of rowdy Spanish men had claimed space. They were club promoters from Málaga, and I bonded with one — let’s call him David — as we wryly watched a group of models across the pool snap a stream of ever-more-thirsty selfies. David, who was uncomfortably good-looking, wanted to know what I did. I told him I wrote about music.

“Do you have a background in music?” he asked.

“Not really,” I admitted.

“So how are you qualified to write about it?”

“I don’t know,” I responded, chastened into uncertainty. “I guess I’m lucky.” We exchanged numbers, but never spoke again.


But David, if you’re reading, here’s what I should have said: I am lucky, of course. But to doubt my qualifications is to doubt anyone who’s ever started something from the beginning. We are all students of our craft, learning as we go along. At the end of my tenure at my college newspaper, someone shared a truism that has stuck with me: we are only qualified to do the job once we’ve finished it. Expertise is a process, not a prerequisite. And I’m getting better every day.

I thought about this a lot after that David encounter, about what is earned and what is given, what is privilege and what is merit. Who am I to tell the world that SZA made the best album of the year? Then again, why shouldn’t my opinion matter, too, if it’s thoughtful and informed? I always had an obsession with downloading albums off of Limewire, with burning mix CDs and reading rock anthologies. Might that be background qualification enough?

Building confidence — both personal and professional — is no small battle. (Especially, it seems, for women. In the year of #MeToo, that much has become clear.) It’s a process, like anything important, and it requires conscious effort.

At the end of this year, I’m putting conscious effort into recognizing resilience. There was fire and flood; change and monotony; champagne and hangovers. Somewhere in the middle, life happened, and we survived it.

Things I did in 2017: Wrote 881 stories for TIME; listened to 32,664 hours of music on Spotify; said goodbye to my beloved childhood home; partied with Paris Hilton; kept up with a job I love and appreciate more each day; continued to send out my twice-weekly newsletter; binged Riverdale, The Bold Type, and Peaky Blinders; ate a lot of KIND bars for breakfast; worshiped at the church of Perfume Genius, and Jacob Banks, and Miguel; painted my nails white (almost) every week; discovered the small joy of an oat milk iced coffee while in England; chatted with Lin-Manuel Miranda; moved down to FiDi; spent seven whole hours building a dresser by myself, damn it; interviewed SZA, Demi Lovato, Tove Lo, Daddy YankeeFifth Harmony, Dua Lipa, Diplo, Mavis Staples, Kelela, Stereophonics, Portugal. The Man, James Blunt and so many more talented artists; threw out my old binders of meticulous grade school work; made friends and reconnected with others who are deeply fun, deeply thoughtful, and definitely inspiring; finally (finally!) finished Moby-Dick.

Things I’m working on for 2018: Meditating; playing piano; investing in anti-aging skincare products; writing for myself, and not always just for work; spending less time on Instagram and Twitter; being chill when old crushes get engaged; trying some new workout classes; cherishing all kinds of relationships; making travel plans; reading The Silmarillion; getting better sleep; amplifying messages that matter.

On 2014; on 2015; on 2016.

On 2016

I moved to New York nearly three years ago. The wind was bitter that winter, and as I waited on the open platform of my Williamsburg subway stop, poorly equipped for the chill factor, I shook from head to toe. So after my first job interview (which was a total bust), I scooped up a necessary purchase: a heather-grey beanie from an American Apparel in midtown. It served as a cozy helmet, a piece of soft armor, a look. I loved that damn hat, and wore it daily through spring, winter, winter again. Taking it off felt like an unrobing from the New York self I was building, one cold day at a time.

Then this fall, in an unfortunate omen for the downward spiral of 2016, I left the hat behind in an UberPOOL. Ironic, I know.


Some things are only meant to be part of one chapter, though. Loss—of a thing, or a feeling, or a person—is part of the game, odds stacked against us.

That’s a lesson I’m learning, slowly. It never gets easier (although I’ll be the first to admit I’ve so far been pretty lucky in terms of real grief, real stakes). But we grow up, and we grow on, and that is loss, too. Friends move away, move on, find other cities and passions and people. Brad and Angelina break up. Health becomes a thing; mortality stares us in the face. Kanye goes rogue. The world seems to shift on its axis, bringing with it a wave we may not have seen coming, crashing down to strip away our millennial innocence and taking youthful optimism in its wake. Carrie Fisher dies. So do Prince, Bowie, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Leonard Cohen. Romances we strike up—such nice distractions—flash and fizzle just as fast. A favorite hat or coat or lucky scarf is lost to fate.

As a wise friend recently told me, though, that is all OK. Let that chapter end. Maybe it was lovely to read, or maybe it was rough, but it’s over and preserved in memory and, in its own way, complete. Then turn the page. Just turn the page!

In 2015, I reflected on overcoming fear. In 2014, I wrote about home: the way it changes, and stays the same. In 2013, I quoted a book on technology and identity. All still relevant. But the pages keep turning, and the wind keeps blowing, and the answer, my friends, is probably just to stay warm.

Thankfully, my mom got me a new hat for Hanukkah. I’ll need it, as these cold winds are just beginning. Let’s make 2017 a cozy one.

Things I did in 2016: Landed an internship, and then a job; interviewed some pop stars and cool people; got published in print; launched a newsletter; made it out to Montauk; saw Lady Gaga perform live at a dive bar; joined Equinox; was ambivalent about the new Harry Potter script; became a regular at my local Sweetgreen; got Olympic fever, specifically for the Final Five and the antics of one Ryan Lochte; chatted with Michael Phelps; performed my civic duty as a juror; binged on (and then incessantly recommended) Peaky Blinders, Lovesick, and Mozart in the Jungle; got pretty bummed about politics; discovered some top-notch friends, coworkers, and writers, whom I treasure; drank tequila sodas and vodka martinis almost exclusively, save for the champagne; read a poem a day; consumed so much good new music.

Things I’m working on for 2017: That damn yoga handstand; earlier bedtimes and earlier mornings; cooking, at least sometimes; punctuality; giving back and not giving in; abs; reading more classic books; dining out solo; organizing my music more effectively; rekindling relationships I’ve let slide; keeping an eye on the prize; being an ally; ditching the screens every so often to find a fresh perspective.  

Thanks for reading—thanks for thinking—thanks for keeping your chin up. Onward, into the warmth of a bright new year!

On summer in the city

On a recent Wednesday night, right smack in the heat of that thing called summer in the city, I found myself in Central Park to see some Shakespeare. The play was Troilus and Cressida which, frankly, I didn’t know at all, and it’s based on some weirdly free-wheeling mashup of The Iliad and a Chaucer tale—again, not my area of expertise. When we got to our seats (after wolfing down two glasses of rosé and some tiny canapés, thanks to my new friend in PR) I was already sweating in my long linen dress, a blister forming on my toe. My skin was sticky, many steps past that sought-after “dewy” look. I unbuttoned an extra button.

And then, magic: as the sky deepened and all eyes flicked to the open stage, I was rendered invisible.

The thing about Shakespeare is that you kind of sink into it. Like a foreign language you grew up with, it flickers in and out of conscious translation, but by the second act you’re deep in, feeling that tiny thrill when you get the joke or when you register the double entendre. Troilus and Cressida is about a lot of hot young army guys; the plot wanders; there’s a romance. Critics hate this story and call it one of Shakespeare’s lesser works. And it’s true: it see-saws between comedy and tragedy, young love and dry politics, with very little preamble or signature Shakespearean magic and sense.

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But in the hands of this director, these actors, this summer in the city, it seemed like the perfect show just because of its imperfections; just because it’s so obtuse, aggressive, unfinished. Those hot young army guys—Achilles, Hector, Ajax—were decked out for the show in modern-style rugged fatigues, copious tattoos, dog tags. The romantic lead, Cressida, wears a trendy leather jacket. There are machine guns and cell phones involved. Chaos is never far. Sound familiar?

Here’s what happens: Cressida and Troilus, after playing hard-to-get for a bit, finally admit they like each other. Cute! They spend the night together, profess their undying love. Then Cressida gets swapped over to the opposing army as a prisoner of war—and, naturally, her loyalty to Troilus is put to the test.

But first, here’s a snappy snippet in which she very presciently explains the rationale behind playing hard-to-get:

Yet I hold off. Women are angels, wooing:
Things won are done, joy’s soul lies in the doing.
That she beloved knows nought that knows not this:
Men prize the thing ungained more than it is:
That she was never yet that ever knew
Love got so sweet as when desire did sue.
Therefore this maxim out of love I teach:
“Achievement is command; ungained, beseech.”
That though my heart’s contents firm love doth bear,
Nothing of that shall from mine eyes appear.

— Troilus and Cressida, Act 1 Scene 2, lines 225–234

Very contemporary, no?

But back to the story. Cressida gets gang raped. (She’s a lone woman in a military camp, unfortunately.) When a potential protector/suitor comes forward, she makes the tortured decision to forego her promise to Troilus and flirt with this new guy, to be flirted with. Troilus is hiding in the shadows and sees it all. He’s disgusted by her disloyalty. He disavows her—and after that, we never see or hear from Cressida in the play again. The show goes on.

When I got home and Wiki’ed her, I learned that she is a symbol of whorishness throughout Greek mythology and later literature. I also learned that her story really does end, not just in Shakespeare but in everything; her narrative use to the (male) writers over, she’s forever frozen in time as an icon of infidelity, a caricature of flippant red womanhood. Like a punishment for her supposed weakness, all these men chose to strip her of agency over and over again. 


But what a shame, right? As Shakespeare in the Park presents it, here’s a woman who was smart enough to understand danger. While Troilus wears a bulletproof vest and a machine gun, Cressida gets tossed around by boorish soldiers in a flimsy nightie; she has to be pragmatic about survival, about the use of sexuality as capital. She did not have the luxury of trusting in the flimsy love of poetry. Or maybe we can tell a more modern story. Maybe her loyalties changed; the new soldier was pretty hot in the play. Is it such a crime to change one’s mind? More realistically, we can tell a horrible war story. She was dealing with trauma. She was dealing with life.

So Cressida: Cressida’s cool. In the heat of her moment, she’s more real than the virginal youth of Juliet, more relatable than the ice queen fantasy of Titania, more sane and sturdy than fragile Ophelia. She tells us something about the precarious power of being a woman.

But I didn’t know any of this while I watched the play on that Wednesday night in the park. I only knew that I was hooked on a complex story I’d never heard. I knew that I was looking, eagerly and for a long time, at something that wasn’t a computer—a victory in and of itself. As a humid mist layered itself snugly over us, I forgot, for about four hours as I sweated it out under the invisible stars, about the cockroach that lives in my bathroom and the rent I needed to pay and the sheets I needed to wash. Weird things went down in the play; there was fake blood and fake gunfire and cowardly betrayal. Weird things went down in my head; I was sad and ecstatic and surprised. I let summer, in all its weirdness, happen.

That’s the thing about summer: it stretches and jerks, grows bloated and sweaty. And then it gives us Shakespeare in the Park and there’s a glistening Achilles in front of you, abs flexing as he delivers his lines, hot-blooded and from another world and for a short moment, everything might just, strangely, be fine.

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On The Force Awakens

(A much-delayed review.)

We watched Star Wars Episodes IV, V, and VI over and over and over again. I was probably 5, or 6, or 8, and it feels like that’s all I ever saw, curled up on the grey couch in our low-ceilinged basement. Outside, suburban Seattle drizzled and traffic lights crawled. In the basement, though, we had adventure: X-wing fighter pilots on the move, snowstorms on Hoth, Princess Leia in her infamous golden bikini. Would I have chosen to watch these movies if my brother hadn’t monopolized the VCR? Probably not. But movies exert a magic, no matter if you intend to like them or not, and these ones became the fabric of my childhood.

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace came out in the year 2000; I was 9. Too young to be bothered either with Hayden Christensen’s relative level of hotness or the horror of Jar Jar Binks (and cringeworthy acting), I was more consumed with the spectacles of femininity I took in from Queen Amidala: her arresting lipstick choice (that stripe!), the stiff pageantry of her costume. I convinced my parents that I MUST be her for Halloween. I hunted down the appropriate costume, I wore a headdress, I painted my lips as best I could. As usual I spent the night sprinting door to door through the steady rain, costume obscured by a raincoat, hair and makeup increasingly disheveled. That summer, I went to space camp.

But although I had a thing for the Princess and the Queen and space travel, it turned out I wasn’t a Star Wars fangirl after all. I missed Episodes II and III. Life went on. I became preoccupied with more earthly endeavors—ballet, books, going to the beach.

Then signs of Episode VII: The Force Awakens began to emerge this fall, and even though I could barely remember the name of Luke’s home planet, I too felt that nostalgic tug to the Force. Preparation for full re-immersion commenced. (I wanted to watch all 6 movies chronologically, but iTunes rental is $20 a pop, so I sprang for Episodes III and Episodes IV—a mix of new and old, the introduction and conclusion of both sets of plot lines.) The re-watching was a bit boring, a bit painful. The old Star Wars turn out to be surface stories: all (simple) plot and no feeling. The highs (destroying the Death Star) are not made real by the lows (Anakin murdering all the Jedi trainees; Luke losing the only family and home he’s known; Vader blowing up Leia’s home planet due to her resistance). Grief and complexity have no place in the Star Wars universe; it’s a world of motion and momentum. That’s why the Episode IV scene of Luke looking out at the double sunset—one of the only moments of quietude in the entire series—stands apart, is so loved.

So on to Episode VII. It’s a more human movie. It’s a mash-up of all the previous character archetypes and plotlines. It’s basically Episode IV with better visuals and slightly better writing.

But when a nameless Stormtrooper smeared a handprint of bright red blood on the pristine white helmet of his comrade, my brother—seated next to me as we watched in the movie theater—whispered, “That’s the first time they’ve ever shown blood in Star Wars.” I felt a little thrill. In adulthood, it is the darkness in a movie that calls to me. Star Wars has never been truly dark, and has never made its own contrived darkness feel anything other than empty. (Whether that was an attempt to stay PG or a reflection of George Lucas’s own tendency to humor over depth is unclear.) Here, though, was a flash of pain that felt probable. So when the same Stormtrooper later removes his helmet in distress, it’s a sign: behind the smooth, hardened exteriors of our notions of good and evil, light and dark, lie consciences that agitate under the strictures of these stark narrative contrasts. Thank God. This iteration of the Force is flexible.

Because movie audiences today are not satisfied with just sharp plot and shocking special effects. No: we want sharp plot and shocking special effects undergirded by a grittiness, enhanced (and not undermined) by the realism of emotional depth. We want to be convinced that danger is real, that love is complex, that pain is present. All too often, our own lives clip along in the smooth, stifled tones of an Instagram filter, a muted routine of nameless gyms and neutral office desks, darkened bars and sterile apartments. Texts and small talk. Takeout and two-night-stands. In our blockbuster entertainment, then, we ask for vivid, messy color. We ask for consequences.

In The Force Awakens, the consequences are clear (perhaps, even, too clear). There are enough familiar faces to keep fans filled with nostalgia, enough shakeups to give us new heroes to admire, laugh with, root for. A new droid whose beeps elicit the kind of emotion I usually save for cute puppies. A new strong female protagonist to inspire the next generation of girls—and this time no golden bikini to bother with. A new baddie to rally against. The beats are the same, just better.

But is “better” good enough? It’s been discussed in critiques and reviews ad nauseum, and as time has softened the hype, consensus is that it will do. Nothing groundbreaking, just part of a science fiction continuum.

Is there even such a thing as an “original” story anymore? It’s hard to know what that would even look like.



On 2015

On Saturday, a friend and I were paused on our skis at the top of a run on Bald Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho. It was late in the afternoon on a bluebird day, temperatures hovering around zero. The snow was perfect, and at the end of this run we’d be drinking beer in the rowdy lodge below. We were on vacation in every way, giddy with it.

“Let’s race,” he challenged me.

I’d done NASTAR races growing up (and ranked nationally in middle school); I’d been on my college ski team; heck, when I was a baby I’d been stuck in my dad’s backpack while he, a former downhill racer, cruised down the slopes. I was confident that I was—am—a good skier. I feel comfortable on skis.

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But last week, at the top of that run, all I felt was fear. “I don’t know,” I said. “You’ll probably win.” He was bigger, faster, and more athletic. More importantly, he had taught himself to be fearless. He was afraid of heights, but had jumped out of planes dozens of times. He had left a good college to join the army. He was kind of a rebel, kind of a hero, didn’t care what anyone would think.

Not like me.

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he said. But I shook my head. “No, let’s do it.” I didn’t want to be that girl who couldn’t live a little on the edge. I was trying to prove I was cool, after all. Trying to prove I could keep up. Plus, he was cute.

The scary thing about going fast is that you lose precision; you lose control; you lose the ability to stop. You just have to let go.

For some people, this comes easily. My mom likes to tell the story of how my older brother and I learned to walk. Well, my brother didn’t walk—he just ran from the start, and would fall and get banged up and keep going, so they stuck a helmet on his head to keep him safe. I, on the other hand, started small: just a few steps at a time, hand always outstretched to a couch or table, slow and dainty and poised. So, yeah, you could say I’ve never been good at letting go or going fast or taking risk or any of that. It’s just not me.

But sometimes, I do it anyway. I’ve ski-raced. I’ve hang-glided. I’ve jumped off cliffs into rivers twenty feet below. I love rollercoasters and pushing past 90 on an empty freeway. I’ve gone to places that aren’t strictly safe. I’ve chosen paths that aren’t strictly smart. I’ve insisted on truths that aren’t strictly popular. Fear checks me, but it also goads me.

We raced. He won—barely. To me, though, it was a kind of victory.

For me, 2015 has been a year of trying—and, often, failing—to overcome fear. Fear of stasis; fear of vulnerability; fear of making the wrong choices; fear of losing something, or losing out on something; fear of things beyond my control; fear of that tick-tock of time. Adulthood, I’ve learned, is in fact just a process of confronting and minimizing these fears, the Sunday scaries that haunt us daily.

As I look back on my 2013 and 2014 year-end posts, the ironic truth is that, in many ways, little has changed for me. While our country (and our world) hopscotches from crisis to crisis, uprooting lives and upending paradigms of power all over the globe, I’ve been cocooned in a personal bubble of safe, privileged sameness. Here I am once again in Santa Barbara, uncertain of what the future holds, angsty and cautious and eager. I went to yoga much more often in 2015, but I’m still crap at handstands. I watched “In the Heart of the Sea” (hello Chris Hemsworth!), but my copy of Moby Dick lies dusty and unfinished since I started it in 2013. I’ve been trying to get to sleep earlier, but my bedtimes still careen between a somewhat respectable midnight and a really nonsensical 3am. And the list of little failures goes on.

In other words: three years on, and I haven’t accomplished much of what I set out to do. Why not? I fume at myself. What have I been doing, if not the important work of progress? 

Then again. If, for me, 2013 and 2014 were about wild transition, then 2015 was about learning to stay put: one job, one apartment, two states, no big trips or big changes. In 2015, I overcame a fear of letting people down to overcome a different fear—that of missing out on pursuing the things I am compelled to pursue. In 2015, I overcame a fear of being overly opinionated by figuring out how to speak up more articulately. In 2015, I overcame (or started to overcome) a fear of being alone by doubling down on friendships and taking more chances with people. I may not be letting go. I may be clinging to control. I’m not my brother running before I can walk, or my friend in Idaho eager for a race. I can only look to their confidence to guide me, to give me something to compete with, to provoke me past my comfort zone.

Sometimes this year has felt like forward motion; other times, like when I decided to start again from square one in my career, it has felt like backtracking. (The job application process does nothing better than planting seeds of destructive self-doubt.) It’s hard to tell. Only time, as they say, has that kind of prescience.

And time is, thankfully, what’s on the calendar. So here’s to a New Year of health and joy, of teaching ourselves to turn fear into fuel. I’ll be trying!

Things I did in 2015: became friends with the guy at my local wash ‘n’ fold; put my dating apps to use; grew up; dealt with various household pests; devoured all four of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and all seven Harry Potters once more; shared my home with friends I’m lucky to have found; learned to love to sweat; discovered the pleasures of Spotify; drank martinis; became a Belieber (yeah, I said it).

Things I’m working on for 2016: finishing Moby Dick, once and for all; writing more (always); cooking more new recipes; arriving on time (work in progress, sorry guys); being there for my family in whatever ways I can be; saving up some money; not letting myself down.

Thank you for sticking around—and cheers! Pop your bottles, now.


On the privilege of ignorance

I remember the DKE chant incident of 2010. It was the beginning of my sophomore year at Yale. The whole thing had gone down less than a block from where I slept, but it felt surreal and separate. Sure, I was appalled by their language (“No means yes, yes means anal”), and I wanted them chastised. But when non-Yale friends asked me about what was going on, I said: we’re fine, it’s all fine, the media is really blowing this out of proportion.

Then the Women’s Center and a group of strong-willed, strong-voiced students came out with an official Title IX complaint and made it an even bigger national issue. They said that Yale was a “hostile sexual environment” and that fraternities were mainly to blame.

I was outraged. I loved my friends in fraternities! I loved that they welcomed me to their houses. I loved that one of them found my phone when it was lost, and that another worked with me on Econ problem sets every week. I loved that they were just like all the guys I’d ever known (but more fun, because #college). They were good and goofy and made bad jokes and some even told me I was hot. “Hostile sexual environment?”

NO, I said.

NOT TO ME, I said.

NOT MY YALE, I said.

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Did I mention I was 19? Did I mention I was white, privileged, and so young—young to life, young to bad things, young to my education as a human and as a humanist?

Ignorance is bliss.

But I couldn’t be ignorant forever. What changed: I took Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies classes. I read books that expanded my feminist perspective (bell hooks! Betty Friedan! Virginia Woolf!). I had experiences in frat houses and at parties that made me uncomfortable. I heard raw stories from peers who had been hurt. I grew up, and in growing up I realized the incredibly simple fact that “my” Yale was not everyone’s Yale. My luck was not everyone’s luck. My privilege was not everyone’s privilege. It’s obvious in retrospect, but understanding the experience of others is often the hardest—and most human—thing we do. Especially when that experience is at odds with our own. Especially when it casts a dark shadow over something we love and are proud of. We don’t want to know.

But we learn. Just because I was not sexually assaulted or did not feel overt sexual hostility did not mean I could not accept, empathize with, or fight for the cause of creating a safer environment at Yale. It did not mean that I should not fight. And it did not mean that I was exempt from that fight.

Social justice is like this. We cannot all see, feel, or know the experience of other groups, of the subjugated or of the disenfranchised. We are not all in a minority; that’s what makes the fights of the underdogs so hard. We, the majority, are the oblivious upholders of a system that works for us. So it’s our responsibility to try our best to banish that oblivion. It’s our duty to accept full equality as a greater good in every sense, from the emotional to the economic. And it’s our challenge to fail less, work harder, and be more conscious every day. The minority does not “win” these fights. Rather, we all must come together better. The baseline gets adjusted.

– – –

My parents often ask me why college students are no longer activists. “Where are the protests?” they ask. “Why aren’t you marching against what’s going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria?”

They were in college at the height of political activism during the Vietnam War. The threat was real then: fight against it, or you (or your friends) would be sent to a jungle from which you (or your friends) might not return. Mortal peril was in the mix. Everyone was in the mix. Everyone had to have an opinion because it was their world at risk.

2015 is a bit different. Political activism is passé; maybe we’re too removed from personal impact, or just jaded to violence and bad governance. Instead, the new activism riling our country is for social justice. Equality activism. LGBTQ rights, #blacklivesmatter, Lean In and Title IX and equal pay for women.

But the problem with these causes is that, by definition, they don’t affect the majority. And so, by definition, the minority has to work harder—speak more loudly, agitate more aggressively, demand more insistently—just to be heard, just to keep their place at the table. This is how systems of power and oppression work, and they continue to operate in social justice fights just as they work in everyday life.

They are harder to win because implicit bias is hard to acknowledge and harder to strip away.

And this is what’s happening at Yale right now.

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Photo by Philipp Arndt

– – –

The associate master’s email and the SAE Halloween incident are just two straws in an ongoing fight that is finally being brought into the light. That camel has had a damn strong back for many years. None of the fears, pains, concerns, or demands expressed by students right now are new. But now is their moment to make them known.

Yes, the national news media is turning this into a free speech debate. Yes, people are calling for Yale students to “grow up” and not expect to be coddled. The real world is hard, they say. Safe spaces don’t exist. Be less sensitive.

They’re right: the real world is hard. It is doubly hard for anyone who is a member of a minority group, who has faced—and will always face—discrimination on any number of levels.

But campuses are always where the movement starts; they’re built for progress, especially the liberal arts ones. No one is saying that Yale is that much worse than anywhere else. No one is saying that students at the University of Missouri, for instance, have it better. But the Yale students are saying: let’s start this at Yale. Let’s use our access to the national stage to make a strong, clear, and unambiguous point. Let’s set an example that will bring the country up with us. Let’s start at home, because that’s where change starts, and Yale is our home.

I am not on campus anymore. I can’t speak to the mood of the place, to the lived experience of students there right now. But I can say that I am proud to see productive, positive protest taking place. I am interested to see the demands drafted. I want to see activism and administrative action at work.

More than anything, as I’ve had urgent, thoughtful, and conflicted conversations with fellow alumni and current students, I want us—especially those of us who, in this case, are in the majority and have the privilege of ignorance—to do our best to deconstruct that ignorance.

Change does not come from the top alone. Structure and agency are both at play here: we can only ask the college administration to do so much to break down preconceived biases and systems of conversation and social structure. (Mark Oppenheimer’s piece in Tablet is a worthwhile investigation into the limits of this approach). Yes, Yale should create appropriate channels for submitting complaints; for educating everyone about cultural sensitivity; for improving diversity in faculty and in hiring.

But also, yes, every student and alum who wants to do better SHOULD do better, SHOULD be an agent of change. This is an open ask to people of color and others who want to participate: tell us how. Lead us there. Share with us the things that make you uncomfortable, that we have said or done that are not right. Teach us how to be better allies, so we can do our part to spread this change. Tell us what to read and what to watch. We will all shape our own opinions from this conversation, and not everyone will be on board. The debate will be real, and it will be healthy.

We’ve been ignoring it for too long and we’ve got to get started. It’s hard work. For many, myself included, it is often uncomfortable.

Let’s begin.

– – –

Further reading:

The Vilification of Student Activists at Yale | The Atlantic

The Yale Student Protests Are the Campus PC Wars at Their Best| Slate

Here’s What’s Really Going on at Yale | Medium

What We Want & Need: Black Student Demands for the Administration | DOWN at Yale

Student Activism Is Serious Business | The New Republic

Open Letter from Yale Alums

On the fall blues

There’s a slice of time every year in adult life—after Labor Day and before Halloween, when that back-to-school spirit has waned and the reality of the continued grind digs deep under the skin—that you get the blues.

Yes, you shop for denim. (TIP: seventies-inspired lighter washes are in!)

But this time, I mean a deeper, darker wash. You feel it in the sigh that settles in, cozy as a scarf in the crisp fall, and then slowly, sweetly, starts to strangle while you sip your pumpkin spice whatever. It’s a sense of something ending, of bright summer nights all played out, of sameness making itself at home in your small apartment. I’m no stranger to these blues; they sneak up on me every season, like clockwork. I dread the coming hibernation of winter. In an attempt to recapture some magic, I re-read Harry Potter and buy books of poetry. I think maybe copious amounts of hot yoga and hot water with lemon will flush out the toxic feeling. (They don’t.)

Nothing seems all that fresh. Fall fashion is recycled, a simple repeat of suede and old silhouettes. The news is in turns tragicomic… and just tragic. Pop culture feels circular, self-indulgent and self-referential to a point of near-collapse (and the NYT agrees; say hello to the “year we obsessed over identity”). The passage of time hits hard, bringing with it the truths of the smallness of our trajectories, the limits of our personal legends.

statue of liberty in blue copy

Just me? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m more prone to the blues than most; maybe I’m more sensitive to these frustrations that bubble up each fall. But we all get hit with something, right about now. A twinge at the chill of twilight. A lump in the throat before bed. Where are we going? Why are we running so hard and so fast? And how did we get on this treadmill, anyway?

It’s a sharply Millennial thing, of course: from the unsettled feeling itself (so entitled!) to the fact that I’m indulging it in a blog post (so self-centered!). I know. I’m—we’re—not to be pitied. I’m—we’re—not supposed to be happy. We’re young, and if we aren’t hungry and scared then we’re wasting our youths binging at feasts we can’t really enjoy and don’t really deserve.

But I’m a Taurus, and I like the feast; call me a hedonist, sue me, it’s written in my stars. And my blues? My blues remind me that pumpkin juice and pork chops do not appear, magically, on a sparkling golden plate. That’s the work of house elves in Harry Potter, but I don’t have one in my fourth-floor walk-up. (Nor, I might add, would I collude in the practice of enslaving house elves, were I to live in our Hogwartsian parallel universe.) My blues nudge me to seek something that looks like purpose, to take a second look at the shape of my life and apply some tough-love corrections. The feast, I remind myself, will have to wait.

Soon I’ll snap out of it. Go apple-picking, be grateful, enjoy that PSL in all its basic, beautiful glory. But in this middle-time, just for a moment, I’ll recognize this feeling for what it is: an acknowledgement of time ticking, of growing and aching and letting go. There’s a pain in all that. The body—and the soul—have to be taught to stretch. They have to be taught to fit contentedly into the boxes we’ve built for ourselves—for now!—whether we meant to or not.

More yoga, I guess.