A Little Bit of a Rebel.

I remember when i was given the dress: black, capped sleeves and a full, hoop-ish skirt that looked both bohemian and bona fide all at once. Mom had taken Granny shopping and i, insolent, was dragged along to Coldwater Creek.

Not prime hunting grounds for a fourteen-year-old.

While Granny picked out her usual sweaters with mom and the attendant, i amused myself by trying on the dress. I didn’t expect to like it, and even less did i expect to open a box with the black dress tucked inside for Christmas that year. Granny had seen me prancing in front of the dressing room mirror and Mom had helped her tuck it inside her stack of cardigans.

My grandmother was never an outspoken woman; she was South Carolina sweet-aggressive to her core. Dabbing napkins at her lips even when the strokes had ravaged her mind of so many of the manners she prized. “Whatever you’d like, sugar,” her automatic reply to anything asking her opinion.

At Granny’s funeral, my mother stood in the pulpit, unable to wear her robes because it was a Catholic service and her full ordination at a United Methodist Elder seemed irrelevant to her childhood priest. She was not allowed the Eulogy, either; she had fought to say even a few words to celebrate the life of her now-dead mother.

But half an hour before the funeral, she’d asked me to retrieve something she’d left at her own church down the road. Breathless from my sprint in heels, i’d managed to make it there and back in time for the opening hymn.

My mother stepped up to the microphone after the sermon. She began by describing how docile her own mother had been in life. “But,” she smiled, preacher-smile. Eyes sucking you in and fire catching. “She raised her daughter to be something of a rebel.” Turning her head back to the priest, all South-Carolina-Sass, she donned the white stole i’d fetched for her.

“So if you’ll allow me, I’m going to speak to y’all today as that little bit of a rebel.”

I still have that black dress. It’s a few inches higher above my ankles than when i was fourteen, but i could never bear to part with it. Granny and i may have mostly listened to the Classical Station while eating Lowes fried chicken when the strokes started, but she was still my grandmother.

Which is why, this past International Womyn’s Day, i donned the dress once more.

One of my favorite new nonprofits, Women’s Voices Worldwide, sponsored its second-annual Celebration of Speech. (I’m only a tad biased in my feminist fervor for them, having worked as an intern two falls ago). The event is a day-long rotation of womyn speaking: recreating historic speeches, featuring freedom-fighting womyn in the area’s speeches, and highlighting winners of a contemporary speech competition sponsored by WVW.

IMG_7467

My hair was curled in as 19th-century fashion as i could muster, black dress and pearls the closest i could get to resembling Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I read a selection from her “Declaration of Sentiments,” which she delivered at the start of the suffragette movement when she was only 32. I was familiar with her speech, opening with lines taken verbatim from the Declaration of Independence, with the key insertion of “men and women created equal.” But what resonated with me the most reading it aloud were some her more poignant reasons of patriarchy’s repeated injuries against womyn:

“He allows her in church, as well as state, but a subordinate position, claiming apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.

“He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

“He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”

Even as early as 1848, feminists weren’t “just” tackling voting rights. There is a fundamental challenge in Stanton’s words both to “Biblical” male authority and to the denigration of womyn’s self-worth because of this perceived cis-male authority. Of course these early waves were imperfect; though born out of the abolitionist movement, they were enormously racist and exclusive of the fierce work done by womyn like Ida B. Wells-Barnett. These are racist ramifications we must still, as people and feminists and Christians, grapple with and work to change.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Yet the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not end in vain: the 19th amendment was passed, divorce laws radically changed, and in many Christian churches apostolic authority no longer denies womyn like my mother the right to lead congregations.

IMG_7492

With J, after the speech!

But one perusal of Sarah Sentilles’ A Church of Her Own or the introduction of Jacquelyn Grant’s White Woman’s Christ, Black Woman’s Jesus makes it clear that ordaining womyn does not universally eliminate sexism in the church.

And as i read Stanton’s fiery words, surrounded by so many womyn re-creating and creating words of their own justice-seeking bent, i was not wearied. Sometimes, when i’m plugging along at my thesis or feeling overwhelmingly frustrated that my mother could not “officially” preach at her own mother’s funeral, i have to wonder: has nothing changed? It’s exhausting, this lenten season i sometimes feel perpetually stuck in.

But mustard seeds sprout mighty branches.

My grandmother’s docility did not breed docile daughters. We turned to rebellion out of love for her and love for all our foremothers. So we keep plugging along, against the microaggressions that we are only worth what we weigh and the macro claims that as womyn, we should not pursue ordination or call on Mother God or think of Mary Magdalene as the ultimate apostle.

We remain, exhausted and exhilarated, in rebellion.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s full speech can be read here.

Buy our book! 

Loch Ness & the Highlands!

The sound of death is surely someone wheedling out a hymn on faulty bagpipes.

Like a mixture of Dory, from Finding Nemo, bellowing in her best Humpback and a blunt hacksaw taken to a chalkboard. (You’ll want to take my word for it.)

There Jonathan and i were, enveloped by the mountains of Glen Coe. Probably the most famous of all Glens in Scotland – at least, cinematically speaking – Glen Coe boasts of a film C.V. including Hagrid’s cabin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the drive to the lodge in Skyfall.

highlands 02At our stop-off within the movie-star glen was a Highland lad, clad in full tartan regalia, muttering about a broken reed in between his attempts to play what i could only assume was meant to be “Amazing Grace.”

We’d made the decision to go with a tour bus, which is not my favorite way to travel. (The asinine teenage boy behind us who referred only to his mother as “Geez, WOMAN!” is a prime example of why American tourists get such a bad rep). But it was the most affordable way we could see as much as possible in one day, so we took it. As if the sights of Scotland weren’t enough to drink in, the sightseeing of thirty tourists in “Hairy Coo” fanny-packs certainly was.

Mr. Blurpity-Pipes was making a killing, asinine teenage boy posing for a sour-pussed grin as Grandma snapped a shot. Then went the Portugese Clooney-Lookalike, who posed for all his pictures like he was a supermodel: butt out, chin up, shades on, half-grimace sexy-grin. Behind him was a clattering group of Germans.

And so on, each plopping a fiver in Blurpity-Pipes’ tin, each encouraging him to play past that wonky reed. Granted, it’s a pretty stellar shot to bring home and make your profile picture: a real Scotsman in the Highlands!!1!!1!

I did my best to avoid the crowd, memorizing every curve of the mountains in our fifteen minutes of allotted time.

highlands 01

The real event of the tour was to be a boating ride on Loch Ness, involving sonar technology to scan the deeps for the monster below. But as Loch Ness is some four hours north of Edinburgh, we got to see plenty of Scottish countryside along the way.

highlands 05 highlands 03

After a lunch of disappointingly slim sandwiches (Jonathan’s face caved when he realized he had a what barely qualified as a tissue for his slice of ham) we were bound for the boat. I jockeyed my way to the front, rather than the sonar get-up, so as to avoid Asinine Teen and the Clooney Lookalike. Jonathan and i actually quite enjoyed the Loch, steep cliffsides and water so dark it was almost black really living up to its legend. This was my second time to Loch Ness, the first being a sojourn to Urqhart Castle with my Dad. It was my first time on the water, and we were delighted with the breadth of the sun.

Until, characteristic Scotland, the cloud bowled us over with pelting rain. Suddenly, all the fannypacks were clustered around the Sonar, making awkward small talk about flesh-chomping monsters.

highlands 07 highlands 06 highlands 04

Our jaunt was over before we’d even made it two kilometers out, and in a pressure-cooker of a run back to the bus we made a pit-stop into a petrol station. Laden with cheese and breadsticks, we clambered back on the fannypack machine headed due south.

highlands 08

And while we had to deal with the best of American culture and Blurpity-Pipes’ backdrop tunes, Jonathan is quick to say this was one of the best days of his life. Only the day before had he proposed, and i was desperate to see the Highlands one last time before i was stateside for the foreseeable future.

There is magic in those mountains, i tell you. Magic that still bathes the day as enchanting, even when set to the tune of Blurpity-Pipes.

in case you missed it: my sojourn through the highlands with my dad.

best thing: we took photos for our christmas card yesterday! who wants one?

New Posts of Old Things.

I named my external hard drive “the penseive” in a moment of Potter genius in the summer i lived in Kotido, Uganda. It mostly houses back-ups of my photos and comfort movies, like The Princess Bride. But, being as absent minded as i am, yesterday was the first time since March i cranked open the two-terabyte Valhalla.

Oops.

While cataloguing my backlog of photos, i came across a few old gems that i’d neglected to post/write about here. So over the next few days, i thought i’d share a mélange of old tales dating back as far as the naming of the very external hard drive that prompted this serenade down memory gig lane. And maybe some stereotypical pseudo-philosophical reflections on how these journeys in life have brought me to the woman i am today, blah blah blah.

But for today, here are a few snapshots and accompanying stories from my six months spent in love with and living in Edinburgh, Scotland.

You know you’re an American expat when…

watermarked lidl

It’s true that the cultural clash between the UK and America is no chasm. Sure, they prefer tea to coffee (i can hear the hipsters screaming: SO DO WE!) and say “schedule” the way i did when i was six. I delighted in the wee differences, the brogues and the bagpipes and the slang. But there were three big things i missed most: fresh, non-root vegetables, my mother’s fried chicken, and peanut butter. I handled the chicken-making myself, and made do with Spanish apples for the bulk of the semester. But it wasn’t until i realized Lidl carried peanut butter for under eight quid that i had a field day with my favorite fat-laden snack. I never thought i’d say it, but over a plate of artery-clogging food i basked in the stereotype: GOD BLESS THE USA.

view from scott monument watermarked

I snapped this photo from the topmost layer of the Scott Monument on Princes Street, wheezing with the narrowing stairs and staving off my vertigo. I’d saved the clamber for when my Dad came to visit, because he’s the macho man with zero squirms when it comes to elevation. Might be a product of his upper-troposphere height. But this same obscene scale of stature made it impossible for him to follow me to the tippy-top: the stairways were too narrow. So alone, wind ripping off any moisturizer clinging to my cheeks, i snapped this picture and plummeted my head between my knees to keep from vomiting.

‘Twas a charming view.

arthurs seat summit watermarked

My favorite sightseeing to do in Edinburgh was easily the clamber up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano overlooking the whole of Old Town. I only once got to see this marker of the elevation, because any sunny day i chose to scale its peak half the tourists in town had the same idea. On that same Dad-visit we made our way to the top, my father protesting i was trying to kill him with the hike. But it was a rare rain-free morning with no one else on the mountainside, and i insisted. He later confessed it was his favorite part of the trip – and it’s easy to see why.

Overlooking the city from Arthur's Seat!

Overlooking the city from Arthur’s Seat!

(Okay, that one was previously published, but still. Context.)

buy my book!

in case you missed it: my favorite posts from studying abroad, including saying goodbye in january to jonathan, jonathan’s proposal, faerie-spotting on the isle of skye, and riding a camel in morocco.

The Big League.

The run stretched from the fold of my knee to my ankle. I toppled out of the car, engine still purring, legs wobbling at their unaccustomed new altitude.

“Just stay in the car!” i craned my neck back at Jonathan, his fingers still thrumming on the wheel. He’d probably put NPR back on without me there. I’d been too nervous to listen to the latest exposé on Joy Division, or whatever.

The lady behind the Rite Aid counter gave me a perplexed once-over, my shimmery pink swath of a dress and elegantly messy bun a vision of out-of-place.

“Y’all carry tights?” i was practically yelping, in need of an inhaler but afraid to elevate my heart rate any more.

“Back row, near cosmetics.”

Heels clacking and eyes as wide as my eyeliner would let them, i flailed my way to the rear of the store. My salvation: rows on rows of Leggs silky-sheer. Five dollars later, i was doubled over in the dingy back bathroom struggling to pull a mess of nylon over my prickly legs. Hopping from foot to foot, i plucked off the ring my Grandmother had given me for my high school graduation, gingerly placing it on top of the toilet paper dispenser. As beautiful as the blue stone was, the beast was the reason for this four-inch-heels sprint through the drug store.

And there i was: legs in nylon knots, trying not to collapse into a hypoglycymic meltdown Rite Aid toilet stall, twenty minutes before the moment i’d been dreaming of since second-grade carreer day.

It was the night of the Talking Taboo book launch.

My book, the real book – not the Advanced Reader’s Copy – was tucked next to my vintage leopard-print coat in the car. I’d outlined in pencil the excerpts i would read, rehearsing with a hairbrush-as-microphone like i was still sixteen and auditioning for American Idol. I’d spent the afternoon slathering myself with hollywood mascara, not caring that i’d be overdressed because you only get one first book launch and this was the dress i felt the strongest in. Pink, effeminate, swishy, and tender. Not a congruent image to the ball-busting feminist ricocheting off the Rite Aid toilet stall walls, but just as much me as the foulmouthed bra-burner found on page 170.

I wound a stretch of scratchy toilet paper around my hand, dabbing at the smears in my foundation. Surrounded by flourescent lights and graying tiles, i stared myself square in my mirror-face. You can, you will, you have. I plucked up my Grandmother’s ring and smoothed down the faux-silk of my skirt.

Jonathan had turned NPR back on by the time i wobbled my way into the passenger seat. Graciously, he turned the volume off and gave me his best honey-you-can smile. With one hand on the wheel and one hand wrapped tightly around mine, he drove the final two miles to the Reality Center downtown.

“You got this, babe.” He’d donned a sport coat and khakis for me, never letting me be the only one overdressed again. In his pocket was a pen, one i’d use later to sign my first book.

“Do i have lipstick on my teeth?” i blurted. He shook his head. “And you’ve got my inhaler?” He tucked the red plastic next to the pen. “Okay, okay, let’s just take a second.” I envisioned myself on my yoga mat, drinking in oxygen as muscles popped with tension-release. Whispered a prayer of thanks, a prayer for confidence, a prayer of humility.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

Half-wobbling, half-strutting, we made our way inside.

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush and my own Jonathan at the event!

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush, and my own Jonathan at the event!

current jam: ‘rise to me’ the decemberists.

best thing: signing mary’s book!!

buy my book!

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!

So I’m Pretty Sure KFC is Made with Narcotics.

It began so innocuously.

My bus ride back from the EDI Airport left me only a fiver in my pocket and a tummy rumbling for food. More pressing than anything, though, was the need for solitude. This mega-level introvert can only handle crowds and queues for so long before she needs a nap. I made the fatal flaw of changing into leggings when i at last collapsed into bed.

There is no getting me out of my room when the cotton leggings have come on.

Some 24 hours later, i emerged, jet-lagged so much i felt hungover. My stomach was screaming for food; i’d only had cookies in the cupboard.

And that’s when it started. I needed food, fast, and my fridge shelf was empty. No time, i thought, for a run to the grocer.

So instead i ran to the KFC, not two minutes up the street. I hadn’t been once the whole semester. In the states, i’m not usually a fast-food-eater. But my week in Carolina had left me hankering for the greasiest stuff America can give, so in a bastion of homesick and hangry, i downed a Lunch Box special faster than any pie-eatin’ champion this side of the Mississippi.

It was french fries and fried chicken, and it was good.

I thought, foolishly, that would be it. My need for bad Americana-style food would be sated. Besides, the KFC’s here don’t even have biscuits or mashed potatoes.

I was so young and full of ridiculous notions of my own strength, then.

My Dad arrived, and his medium-sized-oak-tree stature was American enough to keep me away from the buckets of chicken for the remainder of the week. But all too soon, he was stateside bound. I was alone. Bereft. Abandoned in a land of chips-meaning-fries and no-ice-in-your-water.

So i wept my tears into a bucket of french fries and chicken breasts. (Not literally, that would have made the crispy perfection inside the box soggy). Once. Twice. Three times.

Four. Times. FIVE. Times.

I’ve had to cut myself off. Have intentional, no-KFC-allowed days where i stare down a bowl of granola and British strawberries and dream dreams of vegetables. But it’s so damnably close to my flat, so alluring with its obnoxious red windows and late-night hours. Tempting me with its evil, cheap-and-easy ways.

It’s not like i’m pining my days away for ‘Murica or anything. I miss my family, my cats, my J, my cats, and mostly my cats. But my love for Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) is neither subtle nor limited. I’ve come alive in this city, and i’m not ready for that plane ticket home in less than fourteen days time.

But JesusMaryAndJoseph, do i want KFC every meal, every day. It’s like i’ve unearthed Pandora’s box and now have founded a cult of the £2.99 special with an extra chicken breast, no ketchup.

Maybe my tummy’s telling me something that my mind won’t let me think yet. That the end of my five months in Scotland is coming – and soon – whether i accept it or not. Or maybe KFC just laces their meat with nicotine and i need a support group. Both are equal possibilities in my mind.

But if you’ll excuse me, i have to make a quick run up the block. Something drenched in salt and smelling of potatoes is calling my name, seductive bastard.

2013-05-07 19.29.56

current jam: ‘no church in the wild (feat. frank ocean & the dream’ by jay-z & kanye west.

best thing: more than a month after my last class, i have an exam today. about damn time i tackle this beastie.

On Being Bold

The first thing i ever wanted to be when i grew up was a dolphin trainer. Who also wrote books. And sang songs. And invented things.

The hybrid of this all in my imagination looked like this: i was the musical star of the Sea World dolphin show, using my inventions to train dolphins in singing along. And then i’d write of adventures in books with plots that suspiciously resembled Harry Potter, but with dolphins.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

The hybrid of all of this in reality looked like this: a large cardboard box in the corner of my room overflowing with “inventor-y stuff” (matchbox cars, duct tape). As my friend Becca so fondly recalls, i had a plastic toy dolphin named “Trixie” because she did tricks. (Becca will also tell you Trixie’s tricks were a big flop, but that never stopped me from trying). I actually went pretty far with the singing gig – two years of voice lessons and five years of more choir than anyone with any sense of social skills should hope to take. (Actually, i loved choir, but that’s not the point. I still have no social skills.)

But what has outlasted even my tacky-ass black chorus dress and books of Italian arias is the writing. The desire to write books, perhaps without Trixie-as-Harry-Potter plotlines, remains central to my ten-year plan. It’s kind of why i keep a blog: to keep in practice, to keep writing. To preserve material for my someday egocentric and totally indulgent memoir about my romp through a historically women’s college and semester mucking about Europe.

But if i’m honest with myself, my writing about traveling is not the substantial stuff. It’s tremendously fun, and i know come next year when i have the missing-Edinburgh-blues i will be grateful for making the effort to memorialize what i have experienced. And i love travel writing best of all for keeping in touch with neighbors-as-good-as-kin, my parents, my friends back home.

The substantial stuff, though, that’s what i want to do. I remember telling my best friend in high school i wanted to write a classic – a Tolstoy, a Fitzgerald. She facetiously (and rightly) pointed out that no one sets out to Write a Classic. I look back now with a grain more of humility and heartily agree: people write what is meaningful and beautiful to them, and the power that comes from such truth-telling is what defines a classic.

I’m pretty sure i’m never going to write a War and Peace, as much as my self-important teen self may have wanted to. But i do think it is time for me to truly start embracing that fundamental asset i have seen in all the Good and Great Books i have read, from John Green’s teen fiction to my beloved Toni Morrison’s work.

I have to be bolder, take the risks that terrify me with my naked honesty. This doesn’t make me a Phenomenal Writer – it doesn’t even make me a great writer. It means i am writing, truly and deeply, from my gut. And the best i can hope for is that my vulnerability and lexical expression communicates those questions and feelings with authenticity.

So that is what i’ve done.

Tomorrow, friends and family and good-as-kin-neighbors, i have some exciting and anxiety-inducing and wonderful news to share. I hope you’ll come back to read about it, and i hope it doesn’t flop quite the way Trixie used to.

And, hey, even if it does, i’ll just keep trying.

current jam: ‘san francisco’ the mowgli’s (thanks, radha!) 

best thing: #talkingtaboo.

also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM, YOU’RE THE GREATEST. Thanks for the dolphin wallpaper and putting up with my “dolphin call” for the whole of second grade.

The Fairytale of Chefchouen.

Having awoken to mist-draped Rif mountains and the spices-and-sweet taste of Moroccan tea, i had pretty high expectations for our first full day in Morocco.

The view from the balcony of the Hotel!

The view from the balcony of the Hotel!

A stop on the bus ride to Chefchouen.

A stop on the bus ride to Chefchouen.

My expectations were met.

Chefchouen, the “blue city,” was like something painted in a fairytale: tumbled-up-together blue houses and windy closes running between them, all draped in varying shades of cobalt and azure. The town itself was situated high on a mountain, running thick with waterfalls and the sloping sounds of running rivers. Most magical of all, though: innumerable, friendly, pretty little cats. (My priorities were clearly in order!)

chefchouen OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We began the day with a walking tour around the city. I was too swept up in the sea of sapphire engulfing us to keep up with the guide, so the most of what i learned was that the color was meant to keep away the flies and that the mountains around us were treacherous but exhilarating to climb. The air was crisp, like the paler blues underneath roofs and washed away by rains over the seasons. But still the whole place – in the grandest of clichés – smelled rich with spice like indigo or ultramarine.

P1010115 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cats! Everywhere, cats!

Cats! Everywhere, cats!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wooing felines.

Wooing felines.

Wooing more felines.

Wooing more felines.

I drank in the wonder of iron-wrought window frames in cerulean and smiled shyly at the people who lived behind them. After a while, the group of some 100 tourists (mostly obnoxious Americans) were making me feel like we had invaded someone’s private space. In a very real way, we had.

So i was grateful that, after an incredible lunch on the roof of the Casa Aladdin, Joan, Abby, and i could break away from the crowd and saunter along the streets. Every sign we saw was doubled in Arabic and Spanish, and every shopkeeper we met shifted with ease between English and French. They also often started in Spanish, murmuring to coworkers in Arabic. I felt my lack of interest in language-learning burn a little, shamed.

Seriously, an amazing lunch!

Seriously, an amazing lunch!

Besides acquiring cat-friends, i collected an incredible leather backpack and Chefchouen key-holder to hang by my door. I wanted the latter for the contours of the lock and reminder that such a place did exist outside of storybooks. (And i just have to say, i haven’t lost my bargaining abilities one ounce since Uganda. Not one ounce!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Where we had our lunch! Stunning views.

Our rooftop lunch had afforded us tremendous views of the town, but even seeing the spread of it underneath and around us was just not enough to capture how wondrous it all was. Like the white Spanish pueblas we had seen on our train ride through Andalucía, the houses possessed this undeniably romantic quality that stood at sharp contrast with the unfriendly and commanding peaks of the mountains around us. Such color, such vivacity.

The flatmates and i stopped for a long conversation over (more) Moroccan tea that afternoon. Watching life go by around us and navigating purring cats underfoot assured me that Chefchouen was seriously a kind of paradise on earth. And maybe i only think that because my walks took me outside the windows – seeing only the blues from the outside, and not the in. But isn’t that why we take vacation, when we are able to?

My beverage obsession.

My beverage obsession.

All too soon we were piling back on the bus, swapping bargaining stories and drinking in the vistas outside our windows bound for Tétouan. It had been a trek through a tremendous tale, but i guess we always have to leave before the happily-ever-after gets colored by the reality descending from the rafters.

And for that day, i was content to let it be so.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

current jam: “crooked arrows” rocky votolato.

best thing: my daddy is here!

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.

eiffel tower in b&w, watermarked

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.

eiffel tower watermaked 03

Sparkling on the hour!

eiffel tower watermarked 02

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

2013-02-26 17.18.39

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.