What will it take to get America to look within?

Social upheaval has always been a catalyst for a reevaluation of our raison d’etre. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a window of opportunity for a renaissance.

In March, when the world turned off its office lights and the pollution cleared, I had a glimmer of hope that the silver lining to this catastrophe would be an era of social democratic reforms like those of the Great Depression. For a few weeks it seemed people were warming up to a more proactive government. Paid leave took the spotlight. Fast-food workers, delivery workers, a workforce long devalued in the meritocracy pyramid were suddenly hailed as ‘essential’. But as progressive as it felt to talk about unions again, I failed to predict that this social upheaval could also foment the opposite — a cry for nationalism.

Suddenly the pandemic was politicized. Safety was torched for access to haircuts. White Americans took their guns to the Capitol to protest against government oppression and conspiracy theorists populated fake videos of Dr. Fauci to weaken his credibility and reopen the economy early.

In effect, the MAGA crew was back.

It’s understandable that a wounded people will turn to extremism, but despite the issues with our form of capitalism (high rent, low wages, mental health disorders, violence) why do people want more of it instead of going left of the spectrum?

In essence, how do they calculate that more of the same will drive different results? It seems that the only way to understand this is that their lens is focused on another enemy.

As French economist Thomas Picketty puts it in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, global unrest unmasks the tenets of inequality, but in the 21st century economic disillusionment can also feed nationalism.

He brings this example to mind in his historical analysis. When Germany was in shambles after a WWI, Hitler strung together the masses by giving them someone to blame for their misfortunes. It was easy; they were desperate, they were broken, and they needed something to revitalize their egos. The führer would galvanize their patriotism against a common enemy to make Germany great again.

It is no different than what we’re seeing with right-wing fanaticism. Rich or poor, people on the right have banded together against a common enemy — anything that bars them from living the American dream, i.e. the government or the immigrant.

I’d often wonder why my uncle, for example, would have all the grievances that could only be fixed with government intervention (i.e. vacation rights, paternity leave, cheaper healthcare, employee bargaining) but he instead blamed all his troubles on the immigrant who he had never met. The immigrant who came to America to steal jobs (though the jobs they took were landscaping jobs and he worked at a bank), the immigrant who brought crime (though domestic crimes were tied to gun violence and he didn’t call for gun reform), and the immigrant (who at the root of the issue) was not “white”. Hate can create a camaraderie, even if it’s nonsensical. In fact, maybe even more so because it is nonsensical. 

The reality that nationalism is on the rise again shouldn’t have surprised me, but I failed to see that it’s the same potion for appeasing pain we’ve been drinking since the beginning of our nation.

In his book The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, Greg Grandin points out that Americans hurting from the disasters of laissez-faire capitalism never looked inward to fix their social problems and redistribute the piece of the pie. They simply moved West to expand the pie. Andrew Jackson (the 7th president who scalped natives and kept their body parts in jars as trophies) took this opportunity of social unrest to fuel xenophobia. Americans made the Indigenous people their target, the barrier that kept them from a better life. The American settler believed in his own limitlessness, in Manifest Destiny. There was no need to think about social reform when he could always take more land. When there was no more land to steal from the Indigenous tribes or Mexico their eyes became fixed on the border.

The American vigilante, the MAGA hat wearing Republican says he wants freedom, but freedom to do what? Freedom from laws to keep the face of his country Anglo-American. It is not the government he really fears, it is a government that enforces laws to bring some sense of equity.

When the Black Lives Matter movement erupted, these same American vigilantes took to the streets with rifles in tow, portraying themselves as guardians. They took the side of the government — the government they claim to fight — in opposition to the people’s protests. In effect, American nationalism is not about a fear of government, it is deep down all about keeping the status quo. 

If in effect, what they wanted is to live the American dream, then their attention should be focused on freedom from monopolies, healthcare, fair income, and other such rights a government can instate. When FDR presented the second bill of rights — which would never come to fruition — he said “necessitous men are not free men”. The world the early settlers once lived in no longer exists. It doesn’t matter if the pie gets bigger if only a handful have access to it. We can fight more wars, we can create more enemies, but the problem will only be momentarily evaded, and we will never be free until we face the problems derived from inequality. What will it take to get America to look within? If we continue on with this dominoes trail of disasters that is the year 2020, maybe it won’t be long until we find out.

An *almost* blog post about the importance of fluidity

I have this pet peeve about my mother that before she responds to a question or argument she takes this really long accentuated pause. She blinks once, then enunciates a slow “oh – kayand breathes in deeply as if gathering the energy to persuade you. Unfortunately, this pause is the moment she loses the audience because the audience – ever perceptive – knows that it’s about to be dragged like cattle through a never-ending desert.

That was a little anecdote (my pause) before I proceed to slide down the rabbit hole of a mega argument.

You know what? 

::Exhales::

No. 

It’d take a big chunk of my day to scribble away my thoughts in this dark room, and the pool is all alone out there. I wanted to discredit Kant, compare socialism and freedom, the aggravating condescendance (I prefer the noun in French) of boomers, but it’s so giant a topic, the weight just flattened me. I give up. I won’t change anybody’s mind. I’m moving when this is over. (That’s what I say when I give up. I’m moving to Europe! To liberal-haven New York!)

Or maybe I’ll write tomorrow, you caught me on a bad day.

Maybe this is why we lose elections — millennials get easily distracted with wanting to live in the moment. But it’s too beautiful a day to ruin it with politics. Although not writing it will torture me with ceaseless anxiety. No, I’ve already had enough fighting for one morning. Hey, being a septuagenarian does not mean you have a monopoly on truth because of your life experience, just FYI. The gall of that man!

According to my therapist arguing about ideals makes my temper skyrocket because of my potential anxiety disorder. According to The NewYorker though, if I would have lived during Kierkegaard’s time I would have just had the simple diagnosis of being an intellectual. Just kidding, I’m only slightly a neurotic and this was a very uncomfortable back-and-forth. Would it help if I said this was just a Woody-Allen-type spiel meant to entertain and not actually a varied dialogue in my head? Because I swear that was the point.

Forgive me, I’m usually thorough in my work. I neither entertained you nor reasoned with you on the topic intended. You will see a blog post up on freedom and balance next week right after my post about psychological colonization.

Enjoy the weekend!

I didn’t get the job, again.

Today I got an email of rejection. I did not get the job at the Malala Fund.

I went outside to my backyard, looked up at the sky; bright blue, cloudless. 

I exhaled. 

Are you kidding me? 

Lol. 

All I can do is laugh, blink, and not understand.

I don’t understand what the point of all my work has been. 

I began applying to jobs in New York in January. Applying is not a cinch, you have to find a suitable template for your resume, write a cover letter, tweak your portfolio to best display the assets that are most relevant to the job description, redo your LinkedIn, clean up the rest of your social media accounts, do TikToks. ::Sigh:: It takes hours.  And after you’ve put that all together for one job, you spend days awaiting an email. The email that curtly informs you that your application was reviewed but not selected is a soft blow. The conniving emails are those that feign niceties and keep you dangling on with a silly hope for weeks on end. “You have an impressive resume” and they’d like to “schedule a phone interview”. You spend time researching the company, their competition, the job description, the staff, and you ace the test. Another email pops into your inbox congratulating you — you’re on to the next step! Giddy with anticipation, you complete the third round of interviews and then… the emails stop coming. Weeks later a sympathetic message will arrive to say “We thank you for your hard work, but the field was very competitive, and we regret to inform you we will not move forward with your application”.

I spent serious money traveling to New York for interviews. Ever checked the price of a hotel there? I interviewed for the New York Post, for Democracy Now, for the marketing agency that ran Obama’s 2008 election campaign. One night I even ran around New York tasting cocktails to concoct social media strategies for this restaurateur who seemed to be on the verge of hiring me. I came back to Miami and weeks later heard back. Someone, somewhere, somehow was better for the job.

With this constant influx of rejection, the next step is to question my worthiness. Why didn’t they hire me? Am I not smart enough? What ideas did the other contenders have? An art director I worked with at my former job told me, “everyone in New York is a 10”. They come from every hole in the wall imaginable all around the world and are just as hungry as the next one. But knowing the myth of New Yorkers didn’t scare me, because I thought I was just as diligent, ambitious, and capable as the rest.

I worked at arguably the best social media agency in Miami. My clients were influential entrepreneurs. I told millionaires what to do and they took my advice. I would get ingratiating emails from them telling me how wonderful it was to work with me. I was more creative, more rigorous, more perceptive than the other team members. (In this tedious routine of a system, you realize most people are drones memorizing steps, they don’t have unique thoughts.) The last thing my bosses told me when I resigned was that I was the best employee they’ve ever had. Sure, it was a small startup, at most they’ve probably had 20 employees but still, *the best*.  Silly me, I was just a big fish in a small pond. 

Rejection hurts and begs the question, how many no’s does it take to make you give up? I can at last begin to understand the bitter frustration a former beau felt with every letter of polite “thank you, but no” from publishing agents. He’d written four books, maybe more by now, and he was a talented writer. I never understood what the agents were looking for, why they snubbed his books. He didn’t know either. 

I don’t know what New York wants. People tell me maybe it isn’t God’s will. Although, if I really weigh in on this, it’s marketing work that is closing its doors to me — the very thing I wanted to get away from in Miami. Maybe it means I should revisit a career in publishing? 

If I think about it, I have been attempting to solidify a status so that society will deem me adequate, that I think if I have the job, now I am deserving of respect because I am making money and everyone can shut up now. Which is totally justified, I think, because a person who toils is one who is trying. Trying to be better, trying to grow, trying to survive. Well all this bounteous freedom that was given to me on behalf of the pandemic nobody asked for and my unemployment, could not have been more timely. Fine, you won’t hire me? I’m still going to work, I still matter. I still matter even if I don’t work, but I prefer to work — even if it doesn’t turn over a profit. I am in a phase of experimentation with fonts and colors and softwares and photos, exploring my curiosity, learning and listening. The nights and weekends I had off from my full-time were not enough to let me wander, and though this type of home-bound living is not fulfilling, free time has plenty of “aha” moments of inspiration. Okay, I’ll play the grasshopper now whilst perusing my email and rolling my eyes at society’s rejection. Maybe I needed to learn something. 

In the end, I want to live in New York, and I will make it happen. In the meantime, all I can do is invest in my education. 

The world is burning and I don’t want to watch

The world is burning and I don’t want to watch. Stealing this line from some article by some writer in some magazine. 

I haven’t read the news in days. Every now and then I skim a headline to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. Maybe they found a vaccine? But it’s just, oh the death toll is that high now. I don’t want to read about Trump. I stopped watching press briefings since he roasted one reporter and used Mike Pompeo as a shield to fend off the lions. But he’s had many more scuffles with reporters so you probably don’t know which one I’m referring to. Our President gives me anxiety. I deleted my Twitter app. 

I don’t want to think about him. Or the fact that the Democratic Party will lose the election. Biden is a weak candidate, people “rally around the flag” in times of crisis, and nobody wants a revolution at a time of uncertainty. It will be four more years of this mayhem. With the additional strain of a second Great Depression. But I will not think about that now.

I also don’t want to think about how I dug into my savings to buy this url weeks ago, and one month later I’ve only one blog post to my name. I have stories, but they’re shy birds that like to sing in their cages – I tell myself. Besides, Arianna Huffington says don’t beat yourself up for not being productive. 

Well, I’ve painted, learned Procreate, cooked food for friends, donated, I am learning “I wish you love” on the guitar, made like 7 masks, read, watched movies, spent more time on Pitchfork, made videos, learned and abandoned TikTok, gardened, taken graphic design courses, blah blah. I’m boosting my morale because the truth is no, my book will not be ready by fall. 

I am grateful. I am lucky. I have a two-story house with rooms I can rotate my time in, a garden, and a fridge stocked for 3 weeks. I even have hummus. On Saturday I was a gluttonous sinner and ordered French toast with fresh raspberries and a baguette with melted brie from Atelier Monnier. Minutes later, I took a nap because it turns out a full belly makes the guilt worse.

The world is burning and I don’t want to watch. Syrian refugees stranded in the desert without running water or soap. People lining up in California at soup kitchens. Women not affording pads. People holed up in efficiencies without windows. Janitors risking their lives for $7.25 an hour. Women suffering domestic abuse. Doctors choosing who to save. Makeshift morgues. Loneliness. Impending poverty. I don’t want to think about it.

My baby sister said her first word today: papa. And she said it twice. Nobody caught it on video. (Maybe it didn’t happen.)

The world is burning and I don’t want to watch so I look in the mirror. My face is aging. 30 is fast approaching. I have no love interests. Nobody calls. But this is immaterial. Nothing matters except surviving another day. 

I bought $40 worth of anti-aging serums from The Ordinary just in case. I’ll report back on whether it brought me happiness. For now, I’ll continue my survival routine of avoiding the world’s sufferings and my book.

A Collective Sneeze Shakes Up Our Philosophy

I was listening to a recording of Ezra Klein’s podcast a few weeks ago, where his interviewee Barbara Ehrenreich contended the shortcomings of the theory of individualism. We’d always relied on communal effort to survive, but in modern times we’ve bet instead on egocentricity, and she wondered if it’s working for us. 

I thought about the COVID-19 and the discussions it will spawn while on its tour de monde. Is the utopian fallacy that we are “independent” being challenged by the glaring proof that one’s misfortune has a domino effect on the rest? 

Are we recalling the wisdom of our ancestors, that we depend on society’s well-being as a whole for our own means of survival? Medicare for all? Paid sick leave?

Last night, in an unprecedented bipartisanship, the coronavirus bill was signed into law. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides free testing for COVID-19 and guarantees paid sick leave to those affected (among other provisions). I didn’t think we’d pass paid leave under a conservative administration, but urgency called for us to combat disaster together.

We may be practicing social distancing, but with 330 million people we need big government to counter this pandemic — and not just to bail out corporations. For all the conservative naysayers who deemed egalitarianism a fantasy, they are begrudgingly discovering that libertarianism is not a realistic path towards human survival. Regardez our system is collapsing around us, and we are scrambling to pass socialized programs other countries have had in place for decades. This is the way forward, but I admit I didn’t always know it myself. 

I was a registered Libertarian voter once in my college years having fallen into the cultish hole of objectivism intrinsic in the books of Ayn Rand. I related with the introverted protagonists of her books that manifested the resolute, heroic spirit in contrast to the silly masses she depicted as ignorant and entitled. There was a latent romanticism in their rebellious antisocial stance that I still sympathize with as an antisocial, socially-involved citizen. But Rand was an émigré from the Soviet Union who denounced government programs like Social Security as an infringement on rights, a hotbed for tyranny. To her the government served only for policing — not for leveling opportunity by curtailing the wealth inequality that causes a rise in crime, not for fixing the for-profit healthcare system that allows for millions of Americans to die.

Atlas Shrugged exalted the individual’s independence without assuming he was interconnected with the rest.

“Egoism is freedom”

“Government needs to keep its hands off the market”

“Greed is good, don’t feel guilty”

This pseudo meritocracy leaves power in the hands of a few and erodes democracy. It also relays a false sense of egoism. Were it not for my natural instinct to empathize, I wouldn’t have reasoned the obvious: We are innately social beings, and it is in our own self interest to care for our neighbor’s welfare.

It is human nature to care. Collectivity should not be elevated to a point of self-sacrifice when it has been our means for survival for all of human history. 

We are interdependent

The logic behind paid leave, reforming our justice system, negotiating prices with pharmaceuticals (and everything else we debated before our minds focused on finding toilet paper) is the idea that balancing the system from the far-right tilt will result in an overall improvement of our lives. i.e. It is not solely the felon who will benefit from criminal justice reform, we too will reap the rewards of a reduction in recidivism and be able to thrive in safer neighborhoods.

We are only as strong as our weakest member

In the U.S. there are 27 million Americans without health insurance. 25% of Americans have delayed treatment of a serious condition due to the financial burden of seeking care. This was of little consequence to some voters before. Now engulfed in the coronavirus crisis, does socializing healthcare sound so ridiculous if our own well-being depends on our neighbor’s financial ability to receive care?

33 million of Americans don’t have paid sick leave. Is it ridiculous to pass paid leave so that a sick restaurant employee can stay home from work instead of handling our food?

It was never ridiculous, but the status quo is too stiff to upend; it requires an apocalypse. Someone got sick in Wuhan, and it has reverberated around the globe. There is no denying how much globalisation has connected us even further. This virus might be our wakeup call. 

Holed up in our homes we might be forced to introspection. Maybe we cultivate our long forgotten passions and switch careers. Maybe we agree working remotely is smarter and we can spend more time with our loved ones. Maybe we will start to shop local, grow our own food. Maybe we warm up to a better healthcare system. We’ll have time to reflect on what our needs are as a human race, and I hope we find it. For now, virtual hugs are in order — America, you passed paid leave! Sort of. For now.

Muscovado

Perched on the sleepy rue Sedaine a few blocks from the bustling Bastille, Muscovado stole my heart with it’s delicious Belleville coffee served in bright red cups. The cafe is owned by two sisters from the Philippines, Quina and Francine (one a former pastry chef), serving healthy meals and tasty desserts for breakfast and lunch. The menu varies each day, some have an international flair like the breakfast burrito or the Cuban sandwich, but the ingredients are always fresh.

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I took a break from shopping during the latter part of the afternoon for a coffee and a strawberry salad – which was just the right amount of sweet.

 

Summer Spot: OFF Paris Seine

 

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There’s an aura of coolness surrounding the first floating hotel in Paris – and it’s the novelty of introducing a unique setting in a city that thought its seen it all.

Docked at the river Seine, the boat/catamaran or otherwise hotel overlooks the steel bridge where metro line 5 passes every few minutes – a very artistic trend nowadays that mixes modern luxury with a plebeian scenery.  The hotel itself looks like a rectangular warehouse smothered in wooden window blinds keeping it’s sleek interior space private, until you cross the ramp and walk into the stunning bar.

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The bar is cut in half by an open deck showcasing a long plunge pool that seems to go onto the river (an infinity pool illusion). Theres’s certainly an attractive business slash hipster ambiance what with the golden swan floatie hanging out on the pool and the musical playlist. I had a glass of rosé and enjoyed the warm summer breeze by the pool, happy to note the place wasn’t as crowded since most Parisians are on vacation in August. If you’re in Paris, don’t miss this place!

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The beauty of Étretat

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageI tend to visit Étretat every time I crave a quiet moment away from the Parisian bustle. This time I wanted to disconnect from the social media sphere and I even wrote a story about it for The Style Line. You can read the story here.

Étretat is about a 2-hour drive from Paris in the region of Normandy. This beautiful gem should make it on every nature lover’s bucket list. There are spectacular views at the top of the cliffs lining the sea shore, and I even went kayaking through the caves and hiked up the hills.

I took the roadtrip with two friends – one of them Veronicka who happens to be a nature photographer and is traveling Europe this month all the way from Seattle. I spent slightly scowling her to keep from tip-toeing on the edges of the slippery cliffs. Luckily we made it to ground-level with all our body parts in tact. (If your eyes need a breather browse her Instagram feed @veronichkaaa). We never know when we’ll be hit by inspiration, but when it hits, we should reap energy from it. All her travels have inspired me to go on my own. Therefore, stay tuned. Travel adventures coming soon in July!

A stylish brunch at Hardware Société

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Photos by Ketevan Giorgadze IG: @katie.one

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Perched at the top of the steps of Montmartre is the Australian restaurant Hardware Société bringing it’s Melbourne flair for brunching to a space decorated by black and white tiles, marble top tables and colorful golden rimmed coffee cups – a blogger’s dream café.

Though I can’t say I enjoyed the climb up the stairs (it’s next to the Sacre Coeur Basilica), the quiet neighborhood was an oasis in the typically polluted streets of Paris.

I went up with my friend Katie (whose photos I shared) and ordered from the tempting menu. A flat white, a plate of roasted mushroom with poached eggs on a bed of cheese and toast, an egg casserole (fries mixed with chorizo and eggs) and a raspberry pastry. It’s worth climbing the stairway to heaven!

 

 

Aloha Café

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There’s a tropical paradise hidden in the midst of Pigalle by name of Aloha Café. The newest addition to the coffee scene in Paris has the freshest bites to eat with a Hawaiian motif. In pastel-colored ceramic plates are served blueberry scones, sandwiches and even quinoa tabbouleh with a menu changing every week.

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I stopped by for a latte in a pink cup, but the interior design and the service was so wonderful I’m already a regular. It’s a lovely place to spend the day among palm tree wallpaper and bouquets of fresh peonies.

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Visit: http://www.alohacafe.paris/