Liberty and Justice for All.

I think the way we tell stories can betray something fundamental about our character. Scholars of nationalism like Sumathi Ramaswamy and Benedict Anderson both argue that the mediums in which we express our national identity – words, songs, maps, monuments, images – convey the fundamental ideas clung to by nationalists.

And in between the sizzling sounds of hot dogs on the grill and the anticipation of pyrotechnics tonight, today is a day wherein America’s national myth is most salient. When i go to the Durham Bulls ballgame tonight, all will be asked to rise and pledge their allegiance to a flag embodying “liberty and justice for all.” We’ll sing an anthem metaphorically tied to this day in 1776, but with poetry actually written during the War of 1812. And, assuredly, someone today will praise the “Founding Fathers” for all that they sacrificed to give us our freedom.

But a suckerpunch of a question begs to be asked.

Because while tonight i’m going to, undoubtedly, relish in the Great American Pastime of eating and watching men chase a ball around a field, i don’t have to worry about my income going to waste on yet another hot dog. 17,000 North Carolinians are now without any kind of unemployment insurance. At my church’s food pantry on Tuesday night, a woman whose Medicaid has been slashed asked for money to cover her rent. The medical expenses were too high without her government’s provision.

Because while tonight i can chit-chat about wedding plans, many of the people whom i love most in this world cannot share in the same legal and religious benefits my male partner and i will with a marriage recognized under the law. A section of DOMA may have been overturned, but Amendment 1 still stands as a barrier denying same-gender couples the rights married hetero couples enjoy.

Because while i have the luxury of a flexible job and means of transport to vote on election day, the push in the NC Legislature to cut early voting, same-day registration, and mandate a Voter ID be shown at the polls will mean thousands of people will be unable to vote. It is an overt suppression of the people’s voice guised under the name of the “Restore Confidence in Government Act.” (Which has a seriously ominous tone to it).

And yet, this government was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all. So the question begging to be asked is: exactly who makes this “all” category for liberty and justice? Who gets to feast at this table of red, white, and blue democratic delights?

Something is rotten in the state of North Carolina. 

There are many spheres of action and storytelling in which the people can move to confront these injustices; i’ve written about my experiences with the Moral Monday movement and i stand by the work that the NAACP is doing. Coalitions of people engaging in civil disobedience is a frank and profound confrontation. Yet this is by no means the first time people have marched, peacefully, to confront injustices. The suffragette movement, the Civil Rights movement, LGBTQIA Pride marches, Slut Walks – to name a few – have all used visibility and loud but peaceful protesting to convey their calls for equality.

Yet none of those people are plastered on the banners outside today. Our Founding Mothers don’t have their very own 1776 musical starring the guy who played Mr. Feeney (Abigail Adams ever excepted, of course). Instead, white, socially affluent, cisgendered men who owned property signed a piece of paper that called for a revolution. A revolution that, while politically revolutionary in the scope of nationalist history, did not fundamentally change the power structures at be in the colonies.* These same men were privileged under King George and would continue to enjoy such privileges after the war.

So, in the spirit of Liberty and Justice for All, i wanted to amplify the stories of other Freedom Fighting Founding Parents today. These are the people from whom i claim my nationalist history, people who made profound sacrifices and waged their own kind of war against injustice and oppression. They aren’t perfect, but no one is. What matters to me is how we carry forward the good work they did. This is by no means a complete list – and i invite you, in the comments, to add your own. Who are the people who inspire you to pursue liberty and justice for all?

Fannie Lou Hamer: Instrumental in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 in conjunction with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Fannie Lou Hamer remains one of the most powerful leaders of the American Civil Rights movement. Her speech to the Democratic National Congress was seen as so threatening to the powers at be, then-president Johnson held a press conference at the same time to divert the attention of the media. This attempted erasure of her and the cause for which she stood did not deter her from running for Congress the next year.

Sojourner Truth: Her most famous speech rings with earnest and gut-wrenching truth even today – “Ain’t I a Woman?” Sojourner, an escaped formerly enslaved person, advocated tirelessly for women’s rights despite her exclusion from much of the movement because of her race.

Audre Lorde: Author of two of my most favorite essays of all time, “Uses of the Erotic” and “The Master’s Tools with Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Audre Lorde was a modern-day prophet. Her words on the importance of deconstructing race and gender in tandem still hold true today. She described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” and lifted high the beauty of differences and diversity.

Eilzabeth Cady Stanton: Spearhead of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 and fierce fighter for the 19th Amendment, Stanton also worked in conjunction with the abolitionist movement. She, along with a committee of other women, published the The Woman’s Bible which posed theological challenges to the idea that women must be subservient to men.

Dolores Huerta & Cesar Chavez: Co-founders of the National Farmworkers Association (now the UFW), these two activists propelled the intersectionality of labor rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, and civil rights to the forefront of justice conversations. My favorite Chavez quote is: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

Coretta Scott King: Though her husband is heralded as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Coretta is not to be underestimated. Her work in civil rights began at Antioch College long before meeting Dr. King – who told her, on their first date, he wanted to wed her. She fundraised for the SCLC, marched with Dr. King, and was in their home when it was bombed during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the wake of his assassination, she carried the cause forward in founding the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Frederick Douglass: Most renowned for the first of his three autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, A Slave, Written by Himself, Douglass was a fervent advocate for abolition and women’s rights to vote. He took numerous speaking tours and was a prolific writer over the course of his life, working with Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War to eradicate the enslavement of African-American people. [Update: Douglass also wrote a seriously good speech entitled 'What to the Slave is the 4th of July' which is a must-read!]

Mary Daly: My favorite image of Mary Daly is her most iconic portrait: her wielding a battle-axe. A professor of theology at Boston College, a Jesuit institution, Daly was a self-proclaimed “radical lesbian feminist” who advocated for profound change in the Catholic and Christian church as a whole. Her book Beyond God the Father is a foundational text for anyone seeking to study contemporary philosophy, feminist ethics, or theology.

Who would you add to this list?

current jam: ‘we shall overcome’

best thing: strawberries. also, this incredible video.

pre-order my book! 

*for a further explanation for why the american revolution wasn’t much of a revolution, here is an excellent and informative john green crash course video for you!

Serendipity and Serenades at the Eiffel Tower.

So when i wasn’t prowling about the Eiffel Tower looking for a hot dog, i was busy being rather bedazzled by the tower itself. There’s magic in Paris, i swear; perhaps the secret entrance to Beauxbatons lies beneath the Seine.

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Seeing the Eiffel Tower at all is striking and poetic and full of Aristocat-themed-music-making. Seeing the Eiffel Tower at night is unlike anything else; the gold against the purple night, the way it lights up and sparkles for ten minutes every hour, the glow it casts on the whole of the jardins surrounding it make me understand why so many artists and writers came to Paris and never left. It’s the music itself.

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Sparkling on the hour!

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Though initially disappointed to learn that the cables for the lift to the tippy-top were too frozen to function, the mid-atmospheric snow in the air at the second level made us quite content to look out at Sacre Coeur and L’Arc de Triomphe from our frozen perch. It was stunning; the whole of Paris reflected back at us like the lights on the tower itself. Even the Seine glowed. If you’re going to Paris, do everything you can to scale the Eiffel Tower at night. It may be knee-knocking, teeth-chattering freezing, but the view is transcendent.

Windswept!

Windswept!

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Making the climb back down!

Making the climb back down!

The Tower’s magic, though, was not bound in cables and floor and vistas for us, though. In some cosmic convergence, one of my very best friends from Mount Holyoke, Saran, was traveling through Paris at the same time as us. Neither one of us had functioning phones, so through spotty glimpses of wifi we’d managed to communicate online that we would meet at the Eiffel Tower sometime that night.

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My fingers were going numb, refreshing my inbox at the base of the Tower. J and i had scouted the lines, walked the perimeter, tried every cranny we could see to find Saran. Worry we were relying too much on chance in a city too big, i began to fret we wouldn’t find her at all.

Until someone shrieked my name from the other side of the tower.

There was a running and a leaping and a hugging and an OH MY G-D, PARIS-ing. I was so delighted to see her, and a mutual friend from Paris, all basking underneath the sparkling gold beams of the most famous French landmark. We walked, arm-in-arm, to a restaurant a few blocks up and had warm reminiscing and fast catching-up over French cuisine. Entrenched in a language and culture and place not my own, i was home in the hearts of people i love.

Blurry and beautiful because of what this means to me!

Blurry but beautiful because of what this means to me!

Just when you start to disbelieve in the magic that weaves Paris together, the rug is pulled out from under you all over again. I suppose that’s falling in love: being awash in passion, falling into a place of comfortable constancy, and, just when you start to get too comfortable or edgy from boredom, something happens to make you commit and believe all over again. 

Paris certainly lives up to its reputation in that way!

current jam: ‘little bird song’ ed sheeran.

best thing: these INCREDIBLE signs advocating for marriage equality at the supreme court yesterday.

inquiry: would anyone be interested in purchasing a (non-watermarked) print of the eiffel tower (or anything, really)?

Self-Reliance & Southern Fried Chicken.

My inability to cook anything more than rice and eggies-in-a-basket has been a running joke in my family since my brothers learned how to grill steak circa age eight.

I called it my feminist anti-domesticity clause. “I don’t cook because i don’t adhere to gender roles!” i’d stomp and snap. Meanwhile, all my self-prepared dinners consisted of frozen pizza or my tried-and-true favorite eggie snack.

So much for self-reliance.

I knew, in spite of my claim to anti-domesticity, that cooking is not inherently an anti-feminist thing. Obviously, all people have to eat. And i was growing older and pizza for dinner was getting to be repetitive and unhealthy. When i moved into my own flat for the first time on January 11th here in Edinburgh, i knew this was to be the semester of learning and growth abroad.

Fundamental to the growing pains? Learning how to make a balanced meal for myself.

It started slow, tortellinis cooked in slightly salted and oiled water. A few days in i was making sautéed spinach salad, and my first foray into baking chicken was an endeavor of it’s-still-pink-so-five-more-minutes? (For the record, it turned out pretty moist and edible and non-salmonella-filled). I then tried my father’s go-to: honey mustard chicken. A few rounds into those baked delights, i was feeling more assured of my own abilities.

The time had come. My friend Megan and i decided to undertake cooking what we Southern ladies missed the most: fried chicken.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

Merlot is the most important part of any well-cooked meal.

It was a semi-disaster. We knew, vaguely, that it was best to soak the chicken in some kind of egg-or-butter wash before slathering it in flour and bread crumbs. I always hated how warm the milk was after my mom had kept it beside her while frying up her famous Second-Helpin’ recipe, so i figured milk went in there somewhere.

With a decidedly eff-it-we’ll-make-it-work attitude, we threw all the ingredients together in one bowl. Which turned into dough.

Oops.

Half an hour of packing dough onto chicken legs ensued. Merlot was drunk. Potatoes began to boil. At last, dough dripping off those once-running legs, we threw our concoctions into a pan of oil and prayed to the Almighty Steal Magnolia that She would help us make our mothers proud.

Having no tongs, Megan expertly wielded chopsticks to flip the chicken over until, all but surrendered, we popped them into the microwave to ensure they were fully cooked.

In the pan floated the remains of our dough.

As we sat down to the table, we contemplated our creation. The mashed potatoes and corn, if nothing else, looked exquisite. Bravely, we took a bite of the chicken. Not bad, i thought. Not too bad at all, for making up the recipe on the fly. Sure, it was no Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ but it certainly was good enough for the bone to be licked clean. Megan and i exchanged smiles of victory.

Round 1.

Round 1.

When i told J, the other fried-chicken-master-maker of my life, how our endeavor had gone i think he actually wiped tears from his eyes he chortled so much. My pride mildly wounded, i emailed my mother for her Most Secret Recipe for Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Fried Chicken.

A Tesco trip later, i was armed for round two.

And this time, i must say, it went peach-pickin’ perfect. I’d had to improvise slightly, because Bisquik isn’t exactly available in Scotland (to my knowledge). But one sizzling pan later, i proffered the generously full plate to one of my flatmates, a hopeful grin tucked into the corner of my cheek.

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Round 2.

“Daaaa-aaaamn!” she exclaimed. There was a pronounced diphthong in her reply, even with a mouth full of chicken. Paula Dean would be downright green in the face.

I’m not sure which was more satisfying: the fact that i’d finally made something worth craving (and not just edible) or the chicken itself. As delicious as the food in Amsterdam was, nothing really compares to the warmth of my Southern Mama’s cuisine.

I’m sure there are immeasurable numbers of my peers who scoff at my simple pride in learning how to balance a budget, much less cook a meal (again, my brothers could grill sirloins before middle school). But i think growing up sometimes can be so taken for granted it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t know what you know now.

So i’m taking time to appreciate the learning, even if it involves clumps of should-have-done dough and try-harder-next-time chicken. Because nothing tastes so sweet as knowing my own capability, domesticity and all.

current jam: ‘kiss you’ one direction (unashamed!)

best thing: self-reliance is the new sexy, ya’ll.

other cookery blogs: cheese buns & rice.

Keeping in Touch.

When i imagine what my life would be like trying to sustain relationships with people in the states without the advent of technologies like Skype, my first inclination is to curl up in the fetal position and weep. Purchasing an international sim card has given me the ability to send unlimited iMessage for 10 quid a month, things like FaceTime make calling people free and straightforward, and (however much we all may whine) Facebook has leveled the field for keeping in touch with the day-to-day lives of friends afar.

And still, i complain.

I can not begin to imagine what keeping in touch must have looked like before, you know, email. The time (not more than twenty-ish years ago, really) when all you had were letters and 10-cents-a-minute phone calls once a week. I’m not sure i would have had the fortitude to endure being abroad, much less be able to really enjoy my time afar. Maybe i’m crippled by my lifelong dependence on the virtual world, or maybe i’m just a realist who is very glad some people were optimistic enough to think something like the internet could work. Either way, i’m grateful for my Mac-product plug-in addiction.

Still, there is something tremendously romantic about letters. I’ve mentioned before i collect postcards – but i also send them all the time. At school, i try to send off at least five a week. Here, because it costs nearly four times as much to send mail, i’ve been a little less prolific in my letter-writing. I know i treasure postcards with international stamps from friends who’ve voyaged abroad. The sheer volume of old notes adorning my walls here are a testament to how much i need words from the past to ground me in the present.

That’s why it’s been so nice to receive mail here, too. In particular, i received a lovely, typewriter-crafted composition from M a few weeks ago!

JAMES BOND -  QUANTUM OF SOLACE

 

Well, no, not that M. M my brother who, because i refer to my significant other as simply “J,” wanted me to give him a similarly cool-and-elusive nickname. So James Bond’s feisty boss and fabulous Judi Dench pseudonym it is!

Naturally, M’s letter was rather covert and full of secret instructions involving a posh car and a certain Daniel Craig look-alike. I fear, then, in the interest of national security i can’t share all the content of the letter with the internet.

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I can say, though, it was a delight to receive such a sweet note via Royal Air Mail. Of course, i’m abundantly grateful for the accoutrements of modern communication. But sometimes, seeing familiar handwriting or typos printed on a page remind me of the warmth of the person who wrote them. I read the cards plastered to my walls at least once a day, finding comfort in the familiarity of the loops in the cursive script. It’s a visual representation that the people across the ocean are still eating and living and reading and writing, they’re people more than an image captured in a photograph or words on a screen.

So thanks, M, for the note. Be sure to tell Q i send my love.

current jam: ‘natural disaster’ zac brown band.

best thing: letters.

 

Maps & Gastronomy: Eating and Reveling in Edinburgh

Edward Tufte says maps are metaphors. I’m no infometrics whiz, but i like this idea – if, for no other reason, than my affinity for maps. Splayed across my wall before me is a map of Edinburgh i peeled out of my guidebook. Adjacent to it is a map of Durham, North Carolina that i plucked from a visitor’s desk downtown. Though these maps are from far-away places, the greens couldn’t be of a more identical hue.

I love this metaphor within a metaphor: a town that is known to me and a town that is new are not so very different that they are required to clash. Durham’s streets are reminders of the world that has nurtured me, and Edinburgh’s closes and squares nurtures the at-times-overwhelming feeling of falling in love with a new world.

Yet falling in love with a new place means i need to share this love with the people who make up the home in the map of my heart. I sometimes fear my noticing of the very-matched greens will be a noticing only for me. That while this world i’m coming to know in Edinburgh is vast and exciting and beautiful, it starts to make my own dot on the globe all the farther from the world i knew.

This fear, though, was deeply assuaged this past weekend: i had the delight of sharing my budding romance with Edinburgh with one of my dearest, dearest friends – Nora!

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As she is also studying abroad in the UK, Nora and i threw together a weekend excursion about the city on a whim – a marvelous, serendipitous, and delicious whim. Because i’ve been so focused on making myself feel at home in Edinburgh, i haven’t necessarily done all the typical tourist-y things one might explore on holiday. Having a guest, though, was the perfect excuse to give myself full permission to go light on the schoolwork and heavy on learning all the reasons you should holiday in Edinburgh.

And easily ranked in the top ten reasons to visit Edinburgh would be the food! Thus, this is the first of two blog posts chronicling our weekend together. And it’s all about the food. (Don’t worry, the latter will be about the actual tourist-y things we did!)

Our gastronomical tour began with the comfort food haven, Mums. “Top nosh at half the cost,” according to the website, Mums boasts of a vibrant and edgy charm: they’re home-cooked comfort mixed with urban attitude. I mean, the mac & cheese has a spice kick to it and comes with chips!* Who doesn’t love drowning in cheese and carbs? Their food is locally sourced, their service impeccable, and the deal incomparable to anywhere else. Eating there with Nora was my first time, but it will so most definitely not be my last.

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Having sated our need for traditional fare, the next evening’s meal was one reminiscent of home: Southwestern American cuisine. Living in North Carolina for so long spoiled me, with taco stands and sit-down Mexican restaurants on every block. So to tend to my poor, burrito-deprived needs, we ventured to the local Tex-Mex joint: Illegal Jack’s. It was all i wanted and more, guacamole included.

Our final dinner was at a place i’ve frequented before: 10 to 10 In Delhi, a Halal Indian restaurant with excellent chicken roti and even better student deals. If you’re looking to stretch your pounds, three quid will get you a belly-stretching meal here. We particularly loved the pretty tapestries stretched across the ceiling and the cozy couches!

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Easily the best place we visited, though, was no foreigner to me: The Elephant House Café.

I met Nora in the fall of our first year at Mount Holyoke. She was wearing a Hogwarts crest t-shirt, it was love at first sight, and the rest (as they say) was Hogwarts, A History. Nora and i are no strangers to Harry Potter-themed adventures; in the winter of the subsequent year, we attended the Brooklyn Yule Ball together. On the last day of finals. In Christmas-themed ball gowns. We’d skipped dinner in an effort to catch the last train into the city, downing rolls of bread and Dr. Pepper’s in a convenience store outside the venue as substitutes.

There aren’t many people you can romp about New York City in a gold petticoat with, but Nora has always been an exceptionally genuine and beautifully adventurous friend.

I remember gleefully turning to her, as Harry and the Potters crashed and roared over their keyboard and guitar on stage. “I’m so tired, but i am having so much fun!“she mouthed over the din. It was a magical moment to share with a dear friend then, and it was just as magical to share the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” with her this weekend over elephant-shaped shortbread and excellent cups of tea.

We were sure to leave our own note in the bathroom – signed, as ever, with our nicknames for each other: Padfoot & Prongs.

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

(note the painting of JK Rowling writing in the café behind us!)

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Feeling known is an immense gift. I feel known by this city – but part of this feeling known comes from sharing it with an old friend. Nora and i have a history of adventures (gastronomical and literary alike!) and to make this weekend a part of that map of stories was such a treasure. My green maps still match, and the loves in my life make the most beautiful harmonies when sung together.

current jam: ‘good morning sunshine’ alex day.

best thing: a beautiful place to be with friends.

p.s. you can always find my reviews of restaurants and attractions on my tripadvisor profile!

*for friends in the states: chips = french fries, just in case your daily dose of the BBC hadn’t kept you abreast of British slang!

Learning Curve.

Life in Edinburgh is, at last, normalizing.

My morning routine of brewing a cup of Earl Grey in enough time for it to cool into a drinkable liquid is coming to feel more and more like my favorite sweatshirt. The tear in the cuff is where i last left it. It may take a minute or two to warm me up in the chilly Scottish morning, but when the warmth arrives it feels known.

But with the routine comes the knowledge that this routine is different than any other i’ve known.

Being far from home is no stranger to me; i go to school some 900 miles from Carolina comfort. I lived in Uganda for some three months. Sleep-away summer camp was an expectancy from the age of eleven. I have been blessed with opportunities to grow and explore far from the nest. Homesickness, then, is not a new phenomenon to me – and i must say, this has been the easiest adjustment to being away i’ve ever had. My living situation is supreme, i’m making real friends, and i am madly in love with Edinburgh. Even the weather (most days).

Yet no matter how prepped and rehearsed my dealing-with-homesickness treatment may be, 4000 miles is a vast distance. Sometimes, it feels like nothing at all – like at any moment, i could hop on a bike and be back in time for Hannah’s Second Helping Fried Chicken. But some days, when the rain seeps into the crevices between bones and the winter feels unyielding, it just sucks. No matter how beautiful the city, how enchanting the experience. Yesterday was one of those days.

At my pre-departure orientation whilst still at Mount Holyoke, the global learning folks shared with us this graphic:

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While, obviously, adjustment is different for each, i found then and find now there to be a lot of truth in this curve. My adjustment to Uganda was easily filled with this many troughs and crests (tropical illnesses are no bueno for the needle-phobe, being in South Sudan for independence day ranks in top ten life experiences). So far, my time in Edinburgh has been tremendously a mountaintop – and it is continuing to be. Every day i find something new to revel in. Coffee with new friends. A piggy-bank shaped like the red letterboxes lining the city streets. Mastering my own guacamole recipe.

I have to make the conscious choice, then, to seek out the growth. And the thing about growing things is this: pruning is required. Sometimes, to reach the sunshine and boundless sky, i have to clear out the weeds. I’m learning all over again how to feel the growing pains and channel them into something beautiful. So i don my rain boots, plug in my headphones, and take a walk. Remind myself, even on rain-slicked cobblestones, why i fell in love with this city to begin with. Why i call traveling my first passion. I choose to take pride in my knowledge of the winding streets. Take delight in the wonder of how small and big this world is all at once. Revel in making a routine, and come to my new home to a steaming cup of Earl Grey.

And then my roots are a little deeper, my arms stretched a little wider, and the rain makes all things grow.

current jam: ‘live & die’ the avett brothers.

best thing: padfoot.

Making Rice, Making Do.

What i lack in Southern charm, my mother makes up for with every sultry ya’ll she smooths out of her mouth like butter. When she cooks, our table is swimming in vats of her fried miracle meat masterpiece she’s fondly named “Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Chicken.” A friend of hers recounted their initial introduction, enumerating specifically that she was wearing her perfect pearls strung around her neck. My roommate frequently remarks that my ability to curl anyone’s hair (no matter the thinness or resistance to hairspray) is my Southern Superpower. I’m always quick to share it’s a superpower i inherited from my South Carolinian mother.

But easily, one of the most Southern things i have inherited from my mother (particularities with hot curlers aside) is an abundant love for steamed white rice.

She is the master of rice. Nowhere else have i had rice that compares – not the kitchens of Mount Holyoke, not the restaurants in Uganda, nor the meals consumed at friends’ homes. My mother’s rice is the kind of food i cling to as a measure of perfection. While some rice dishes may rank on a scale of goodness, none have ever paralleled Hannah’s Second Helpin’ rice concoction.

Part of what makes her rice so delicious is the particularity with which she makes it. In the unending panicked phone calls i’ve made to her asking for cooking advice (including, once, from Uganda) she’s quick to reiterate: rice is very, very precise.

“Don’t be sloppy with your measuring cup,” she shows me in my umpteenth lesson, bending down to be on eye level with the red dashes marking ounces and liters. Often as she does this, there is a persistently misbehaving strand of brown hair (curled, of course) that she tucks primly behind an ear.”You have to make sure it is exactly 3 cups of water.”

Over the phone, she reminds me the name for the recipe: 3-2-1 Rice. Precision in name, precision in numbers. 3 cups of water, 2 cups of rice, 1 teaspoon of salt. For the longest time, i couldn’t remember whether the three was for the grains or the water. Naturally, a few pots have turned a delicate shade of brownish-black as a result of my imprecision.

Living in Massachusetts for two and a half years now has been brilliant. I’m even growing to like snow. Living there has also been a lesson in just how Southern i am – even if i’ve spent the better part of my early adulthood in denial. Sure, i don’t own anything Carhart and will never suggest a BBQ joint for lunch. But i have a strong affinity for pearl earrings and i brew my own sweet tea (à la my mother’s recipe). The longer i live in New England, the more i come to make peace with – and embrace – the roots i have in Carolina country. The salience of my differences among my peers has been a wonderful part of this path of discovery.

And in five days, i begin the next big cross-cultural expedition to Scotland.

As i frantically decide between which map of Durham, NC to bring and put on my wall, i can’t help but think about how much more i’m going to learn abroad. I intend to try Haggis, explore the bowels of Edinburgh castle, breakfast at the Elephant House Café. I hope to grow in my sense of a globalized identity and engage critically with my own assumptions.

Learning who you are while abroad is a messy process. There’s plenty of journaling and contemplating and weepy phone calls ahead. Nothing is precise about identity, i think. But that’s also the adventure of it; for every homesick day i’ll have, assuredly there will be wildly wonderful moments where i can scarcely believe the world unfolding around me. For me, the most important thing right now is to focus on making those moments meaningful by being present in the moment. 

And when the days are so messy and i feel so foreign and disembodied, i’ll go home by making a bowl of rice. In all the messiness, there is still the precision of her 3-2-1 Rice Recipe. (Hopefully, i can even find that calm without burning the pot.) And the thing is, rice is still rice even when you’re 3,700 miles away from the woman who makes it best in the whole world.

current jam: ‘toes’ zac brown band

best thing: hanging paintings.

 

 

27 Days.

The last paper has been turned in, my hands washed with unnerving, maniacal glee (a ritual after every exam). My room is in an explosive state of disarray. There are socks to coax from the far corners of the closet, mugs of long-gone coffee to be scrubbed, and a car waiting to be stuffed with my material life.

It’s the end of another semester, and at the same time the beginning of the next big whirlwind adventure. The cliché of every door closing meaning only a window need be opened for a fresh breeze is apt, if expected. I’m having a weird sense of preemptive déja-vù: as i shove a pair of jeans into an oversize, obnoxious pink crate, i feel a prickling thought that these jeans will be carefully folded within a tattered suitcase in less than a month’s time. I’m making mental lists of which hats are best for wet-cold weather. The tabs in my Lonely Planet guidebook are accumulating. There are running playlists in the back of everything that (stereotypically) feature either bagpipes or lyrics about 500 miles. Or both. 

I’m so excited. I really, really am. At the realization that The Elephant House Café is less than a quarter of a mile from my flat, i shrieked (sorry quiet hours, i just couldn’t help it (also also, this is where JK Rowling wrote large portions of Harry Potter for people who do not professionally live online)). It just all seems so unreal, so far from the tangible packing lists cluttering my desk right now. Seeping, ever so slowly, into the corners of my finals-frizzled brain is knowing i am leaving the country for the most substantive time yet. But emphasis on the lethargically. And still, all i can fret over is what to get my brother for Christmas.

So i have 27 days. 27 days spent listening to terrible Christmas music and wearing wonky, homemade scarves. 27 days that will accumulate well over a 1000 miles to fall down at my own door in the semi-annual drive from New England to North Carolina. 27 days of blustery bliss and blistering farewells. 27 days to plot ways to run into JK Rowling at the local grocer. 

27 days to beckon in the next adventure, and say fond see-you-laters to my two stateside homes. 

Hate with Hate Won’t Work: Marriage Equality and Where We Go From Here.

I’m the first to admit i was infuriated and despondent in the wake of the (albeit expected) news of Amendment One’s passing. It was crushing because, more than anything else, i knew we hardly stood a chance in defeating it – but i had genuinely hoped that we could overcome the odds. I knew my despair was shared among many: my new feed was cluttered with colorful language and statements of disappointment over its passing, for which, i won’t lie, i took some real comfort in. But there was also a lot of hateful slanders from these very people against those who had voted for the amendment, which was far from soothing. Rather, images that compared the counties who voted for the amendment and counties with the highest concentration of college graduated with snide captions over the lack of formal education breeding stupidity left a sour smell in my nose.

For even in the midst of this hurt we all shared, an oft-quoted line from  Dr. King’s speeches and published works came to mind: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

In responding to those who voted for the amendment with spiteful comments about the low percentage of people with college degrees who populate their counties, or snarky remarks concerning their personhood, we are fighting hatred with hatred. Do i think they should have voted otherwise? Of course i do. Does this make me entitled to sneer and be as equally cruel towards them as they are to me? Absolutely not. Such an argument makes me no better than they are. It may be the easy choice – to go for the low blow, take the hard-hitting swing, but such a smack speaks more of my unchecked privilege than it declares my allegiance to fighting for justice.

Besides, the comment most especially concerning college education is inherently incredibly classist, and it shows the nastiest side to liberal intellectualism. It’s the we’re-better-than-you-because-we’re-enlightened argument which (hello!) is the same premise under which the anti-marriage-equality campaign is founded. Both arguments are praising an institution (the church vs. higher education) and both drive a divisive line between “us” and the ungodly “them.”

Which is why i was not comforted, vastly, by these statements. In the moment it may have been satisfying, but that’s the thing about the path of nonviolence: it is a way of life for courageous people, ergo it is not easy. I’m not trying to say everyone should believe in nonviolence or think like me (because who am i to tell you what to think?) but i do think if we’re going into this fight for the long haul, we ought to look to our forbearers and glean what wisdom we can from their victories. The last time North Carolina amended its Constitution it was to ban interracial marriage. I think, then, the ancestors we must turn to are not from the distant past, but from the immediately preceding history wherein people of all colors stood together to fight institutionalized racism. I personally thus find Dr. King’s words to be all the more relevant.

Yesterday, though, the country took a turn when President Obama publicly announced he was for marriage equality. To be totally honest, my initial reaction was: “About damn time, Mr. President!” But the importance of what he was doing still resonated deeply with me. The timing of it, coming so close after the loss in NC, was clearly artfully planned – but also an enormous risk. North Carolina is a swing state in national elections; we may have voted Democrat for the first time in sixty years in 2008, but that’s no guarantee we’ll do so again. In lieu of the tremendously powerful conservative vote displayed in Tuesday’s gubernational election, i think what President Obama did was a bold, and thus all the more commendable, action.

But he’s not the only one working for this. The most powerful response to Amendment One’s passing that i have yet seen came from an Episcopal bishop,* Bishop Curry of North Carolina. His words are pointed at all sides of the fray; he takes a religiously-founded stance for marriage equality but also holds his comrades in this accountable in decrying those who have said hateful things to the people who voted for the amendment. Whether or not you’re a person of faith (and not that my opinion on your autonomous decision matters but, for the record, i still love and value you and your rights even if you are not a person of faith) i highly encourage you to watch his response.

Most of all, however, i know i need to remember the humanity present in all of us. This isn’t a one-time, lizzie-writes-a-blog-post-and-is-now-a-saint thing. Rather, i know for myself i must choose to recognize this humanity in all of us every day – and most of all on days when this fight is exhausting and hurtful and i am at my most vulnerable. But in the words taken from the essay “Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant,”by freedom fighter Thomas Merton: “love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminating evil once and for all but resisting and overcoming it every day.”

further things of interest: a petition to repeal amendment one; also, a counter-voice critiquing the slippery language of president obama’s marriage equality statement.

current jam: “tomorrow will be kinder” the secret sisters, from my playlist in response to the amendment’s passing.

*For friends who may or may not know: the Episcopal church has been at the forefront of the religious fight to ordain people of queer identities (you can be gay and/or female and still be a priest in the Episcopal church).

Thoughts from the Journey: Homeward Bound.

My Dad flew up Thursday afternoon to assist me in moving out and, consequential of my sleep-deprived, exam-taking state, do part of the fifteen hour drive home. I turned in my final exam and, within no less than thirty seconds, my phone started buzzing with the news that he was at my dorm ready to start moving me out.

We wasted no time. Nothing less than a tornado of sweeping-up and placing-in-boxes and balling-up-in-bags cleared through my half of the room. No matter where i am or where i am going, the first items to be packed and unpacked, always, are my posters. It doesn’t feel like my space without color splashed on the walls in the form of treasured photographs or Van Gogh prints; it feels too somber to begin departure without un-doing the creation of my own space. When the walls are stripped, the room belongs to someone else again.

The room now relocated to the back of my car (code name: The Firebolt), we embarked Friday afternoon. Details only reveal the sweet sorrow of parting, and leaving sounds too callous. Embarking, it seems, is the most appropriate. A journey, a voyage, a temporary coming-and-going. My life, these years at university, seems to be an ebb and flow in the most non-figurative of senses.

Enough waxing lyrical; finals seem to have drained me of sensible writing. The journey commenced, the departure encroached, and Massachusetts was bid adieu. Through Connecticut we flew, and into endless hills and thunderstorms of Pennsylvania we held fast. We took our dinner in Scranton at the advice of my favorite Marauder and MI-6 agent, whereupon i ate breaded ravioli (delicious), Dad ate a french sandwich au jus (no beef for me!), and we shared a brownie (or warred over, depending on whose perspective). Fans of the office might appreciate the restaurant in question:

(it wouldn’t be a larry-lizzie journey without the signature dad-drinking-coffee-for-fortitude shot!)

There were hotels to select, and radio stations to recollect, and free wi-fi to prey upon for the father (and more ice-cream eating for me):

(of note: this computer is his, not mine. they are twins, naturally, but i think it sweet every time i see it!)

…before the time came to take up the wheel once more.

And then, lo and behold, we came upon a town that, were it found on Caprica, i think might be the laughingstock of the entire Battlestart Gallactica. The sign is mildly obscured by poor lighting and droplets of rain, but it reads “Frackville.” I laughed and longed for summer time ample enough to watch science fiction shows.

Night drew close. Gas was consumed by the vehicle, sleep taken by we who, for the day, had occupied it.

We awoke at what in college might be considered the crack of dawn (save for the crew team, perhaps) and traversed more roads through Pennsylvania and Maryland. It was whilst in West Virginia, however, that we drove past a landmark notable for its importance in American Civil War history and for me, most recently, in a paper i wrote for a class on the conscious of women in the lives of Frederick Douglass. Though John Brown was not to be seen, I delighted in recognizing Harpers Ferry (which is, apparently, meant to be spelled sans-apostrophe) and took it as a validation that education can manifest itself usefully in the world outside college.

Through West Virginia we drove until we reached her mother, Virginia, guided so fruitfully by one of the two identical road atlases kept stocked in The Firebolt.

(Also of note: Amherst, blurry at the bottom of the above photograph, bears the same name as a neighboring town to Mount Holyoke. There is also a South Boston in Virginia, which made me feel as though we had never really left Massachusetts to begin with).

(every good road trip requires its own unique 6-CDs-long mix!)

While my father drove, i burned CDs filled with old loves and tunes of Carolina. The Avett Brothers, Ben Folds, and Old Crow Medicine Show were featured prominently in the latter category, whilst Billy Joel and Elton John occupied the former.

Whilst in the Shenandoah Valley, we pulled over for a scenic stretching break wherein more classic Larry-and-lizzie photo-taking awkwardly occurred until, thank goodness, a couple from Missouri offered to take our picture in exchange for us taking theirs. Strangers on the road and in snapshots. The mountains were painted like the colors of the Van Gogh works that had so recently collaged my walls. I took solace in this.

thanks, friends of the road.

I took the driver’s seat, and my father took over the camera. There were lunches to eat, and my first solid jolt of sweet tea since March. Alongside Jerry Falwell’s memorial we ate southern chain food and, though i was acutely aware this was not yet home and in no way did i blend in, there were hints of Carolina growing closer. The air was getting thicker, the dogwood scent more potent.

Before long, there were signs indicating what tastes had taunted and scents alluded to. Chapel Hill was nigh, and summer was really here. Mango Jerry played juxtaposed to Keltic Electric; we sang an out-of-key harmony.

And now here i sit, somewhat at a loss. I knew the semester was wrapping up too fast – it always does, after all – but this happens more than i care to admit. I grow more and more restless, ready to tear down the posters and roll them into their boxes bound for home before i give pause to remember that home is a complicated word. Simon and Garfunkel plays on repeat, the rain taps at the window, and the cats are here. This is home. The room behind is no longer mine, and yet come fall there will be empty walls ready for the stringing up of new photos and old memories. A time in between, the season of weeding, blooming where i am planted. Come what may.