joy, sorrow, & toothpaste

joy, sorrow, & toothpaste

small things

I bought new toothpaste today. It’s a small thing.

This post is about small things, which are big things in this murky water of change.

Slowly and all at once – I’m making/finding/feeling out a home here. I’ve been meaning to buy toothpaste. I had bought some when my travel sized toothpaste ran out in the first few weeks of being here. And now this week, the anniversary of living here for 6 months, I needed to buy more. A lovely serendipitous coincidence. And a small marker of that amorphous slippery being that is change (s/o to all the Octavia Butler I’ve been reading this year).

It is a small thing – but it’s the small things I’ve been noticing. Small things that were foreign and now feel (more) familiar.

I’ve noticed how uni and flat roll comfortably off my tongue — words that have never been part of my lexicon. ’Ich hätte gern’ isn’t usually so daunting to say. It used to make my heart race. Still, I give myself a mental high-five when I complete any simple interaction all auf Deutsch. I can order hummus and almost joke back when it’s clear to the guy my German isn’t so good but hey the attempted joking is all auf Deutsch. I knocked on the table at the end of my German class, while everyone else clapped. Knocking on tables is how it goes for the end of class in German Universities — maybe others too but certainly not U.S. universities and very alarming the first few times.

And these little things and a million more small things that are going from unknown to everyday have added up to 6 months. Not a long time but still enough time to feel a little less lost, a little more grounded.

I had the realization the other day that it is going to (I can already tell) feel weird to be back in the US. Cultural adjustment in all its glory is what I’m moving through. I know this intellectually & that I’m far from the only person who’s experienced this process. Every step of it here for me though is mine. I’m savoring it. Or I’m at a point where I can – so I am.

the cycle continues

Last week I had a few days in a row where I just felt full of joy. It was, perhaps, the happiest I’ve felt since moving. On my way home from Aquafitness (auf Deutsch) dancing down the street to music (auf Deutsch) I’m slowly starting to actually understand — I thought to myself, hell yeah, I’m doing this. Figuring it out. Schritt fur Schritt. Looking toward my 6-month mark – I thought I’m in a new phase of this transition/cultural adjust process. One that’s a little more grounded. Where I feel a little less lost.

Then a small actually insignificant comment sparked renewed insecurity about speaking German and wedged itself in my psyche the rest of the weekend.

This comment and actually making it to 6 months sparked some renewed sorrow. This cycle of ever intertwined joy & sorrow & peace & longing continues. And now every time I feel the ‘downward’ part of ‘it’ happening, I can see the signs and understand what’s coming a bit better. Each time is a little different. Not just a circle repeating, it comes in waves, each a bit different from the last. Crest and fall. And I have had a little more practice now in pulling myself back up from this particular kind of fall. And allowing myself to be moved by the current of friends, community, & grounding practices who lift me up, renew me when I can’t alone. Thank god for German learning pep talks from fellow-learners and some really kind folks who are German and willing to be patient with my learning. Thank god for remembering I’m never in this alone, though sometimes I feel lonely.

intrepid

Over the weekend I was in contact with my advisor from undergrad. I had a question about the research I’m doing and also wanted to update her on things. Her response to my ramblings was “that’s the intrepid Mary I know!”

I’ve never seen myself as intrepid. Yet I’m seeing in my behavior that I am. A small tattoo on my inner right ankle is a permanent reminder to never stop taking risks (among other things). Through to this point in my life, I sure haven’t stopped. And this is the plan ever more.

Every time I do something that scares me, I remember I can move through fear and discomfort and not-knowing. I build this muscle of acknowledging ‘yes, I’m afraid and no it’s not going to stop me.’ Even if it does temporarily. Even if the first time I’m babbling like a baby and messing everything all the way up. Reflect. Try again. The cycle continues. Buy more toothpaste.

.

.

.

‘Real Work’

It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go

we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

by Wendell Berry

 

 

img_9490
view of the river down the street from my flat

 

Advertisements

resonance

img_9411
train ride views from amsterdam to berlin

 

2 March 2018

I’ve been feeling (and ignoring and putting off) the pull to write. Thoughts, questions, and themes I’ve wanted to dive deeper into include:

i don’t want to live efficiently.  i seek to live fully.

what i’m learning about berlin in conversation with what i learned in nyc

gentrification, agency, change, responsibility

mike smith – nada – connection – healing

what does it mean to be ‘german-american’?

history, public history, public memory, what we remember and what we don’t

learning language is a continuous practice in humility.

embracing ‘i don’t know’

what does practicing history differently from its colonial history look like?

‘decolonizing history’

the little things

Maybe I’ll write the rest of the night away. I’ve finished my first term, just come back from a wondrous adventure & healing time with my chosen sister, and my mind is racing. My heart is both full & still full of longing. I want to acknowledge this moment, look back to look forward.

Right now I have to finish work for one of my two steady jobs. Getting through graduate school debt free & still living pretty comfortably means the hustle is real.

The hustle(s) have been real. I wrote the above on the date noted and haven’t had the time to return to it since. My days have been full. Full of Deutsch learning, new & growing friendships, writing for school, and a mind-numbing job. Still, I wanted to share this ‘unfinished’ post as both a record of some of where I’m feeling drawn and an accountability measure to return to these themes that have been coming up again and again. Cheers to the process ya’ll. 

In Process

As I have said previously, I seek to share myself here in process. Below is a response to the most evocative reading so far this semester: ‘No Mask’ by Grada Kilomba. A friend named this weekend – after I struggled through digesting the class where we discussed the article I react to here – that going ‘back to school’ what I am learning right now is simply how to ‘be’ in academic spaces again. She’s spot on. So, here I am unedited and in process learning to be again in academic spaces while carrying all I’ve learned with me.

When I moved to Berlin, I started a project of posting one picture to Instagram a day for a year – an effort to capture the change of this year and to keep me noticing whatever I am being drawn to. For the first time, I posted about my readings yesterday and quoted from the conclusion of Kilomba’s article:

“Every semester on the first day, I always play a quiz with my students. I start by posing very simple questions such as: Who wrote Black Skin, White Masks? Or ‘Who was May Ayim?’ And conclude with more specific questions. Most of the white students do not know the answers, while the Black students answer successfully one question after the other. Suddenly, those who are usually silent start speaking, while those who always speak do not have a reply. Those whose histories have been hidden, become represented; while those whose history has been represented become speechless.”

I did this because this reading felt important to me. It moved me. It brought up many thoughts, feelings, and visceral memories. And it is so important to me returning to academic spaces to be thinking about the histories and implications of those histories of these institutions we occupy. Of course, I am most intimately familiar and knowledgeable about the U.S. university system and I am continuing to learn about universities here. One of my first observations, first reactions, to the program was simply its whiteness. (Predominantly White Institutions and thus Whiteness still dominates the U.S. system certainly – Historically Black Colleges & Universities are both like Kilomba articulates at the margins and spaces of resistance.) Still the lack of black students of any background was alarming. I wondered then and still do now, why? Program promotion? University admissions processes? How does this program represent the field at large? Are historians still coming in greatest numbers out of the US and Europe? I know so little about University settings or exchanges beyond even these ranges, which in itself is problematic.

Moving back to the quote I pulled out – I think this is so important. To be figuring out — in these historically white, historically & presently continuing to be sites of violence — how to teach and learn differently, to change power dynamics within still very set power dynamics where white academics (at least in the US and Europe) continue to benefit from legacies of racism within academic institutions and society. How are academics pushing back? How are historians? Is this program?

I spent the last 3 years facilitating and running a program for students, predominantly young people of color & from a vast array of different backgrounds, from across New York City that aimed to ‘bring their voices’ into the policy-making process on issues they lived through (specifically related to the criminal justice system). In everything I did as a facilitator, I thought, how can we rethink the ‘usual’ ways of learning. How do I as a (white) facilitator not from here both bring my knowledge and skills and also invite and allow the smart talented young folks I worked with to understand, uncover, and bring their own deep knowledges that so often were not being engaged in their regular school days.

One of my favorite techniques to move control of a dialogue from the facilitator to participants is this: have a reading (it should be evocative), divide the group into pairs for a deep discussion of the text (perhaps a prompt or just talk), then after some time instruct the pairs to come to a word/phrase that came out of the conversation, ask pairs to post on a board, each pair talks about what they wrote on the board/why, from there discuss. This has never failed me – it brings out a variety of voices from the room, and allows the conversation to move where the group is engaged/interested, where it matters to the people in the room. They go from theory to stories, mingle the personal, political, historical, present day.

I’ve gone on a tangent here, but that’s what this text brought up for me: so much. It has me thinking about academia at large, history specifically, my role as a student now considering pursuing a career as a historian. Who, like Kilomba & the example of her class, is doing things differently? Whether historians or other disciplines. What can historians learn from other disciplines? These aren’t new questions. I know this too. I am still asking them because they are important to not just think on but also act on.

this too shall pass // 2 january 2018

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” I whispered to a coworker now friend, trying and failing to hold back tears.

“You’re surviving,” She responded.

Then, we overlooked the mayhem of Midtown Manhattan from a conference room whose door couldn’t be trusted.

Now, overlooking my small cobbled street of colorful alt baus (old buildings) in my neighborhood, Kreuzberg, in Berlin, Germany, I think to myself. What am I doing here? These first three months, I have been, in many ways, surviving. But in an entirely different way than I was in New York.

then

In 2013, I moved to New York City, a process and period that I somewhat documented here.

When I first started working in lower Manhattan (Chelsea & then Midtown near Times Square), I remember seeing people drag themselves, unenthusiastically shuffling off trains and up stairways, to their jobs. My new to full-time working self, did not want to become that.

In New York, I had jobs that filled my days, community that filled my soul, and bills that drained my bank account every month. I had a rich and beautiful life. I engaged in work paid and unpaid that was deeply meaningful, incredibly challenging, and will ever be important to me. The work, people, and communities I was welcomed into and co-conspired in building will always be a treasure and joy to me. What I’ve learned in these years, has I am sure only begun to unfold.

I was also, at times & especially in my final year, just trying to survive. When a challenging job became toxic, I was one of those people barely dragging themselves to work. Dreading it at every step, I was hardly present to myself because presence would have meant feeling feelings of anger & hopelessness I couldn’t safely express. That job threatened to take my spirit. It almost did. And so I left it. I quit my first full-time job, the most consistent part of my life (aside from some of my first friends) for 3 of 4 years in New York, for a new host of unknowns and uncertainties. That day was the most exhilarating day I had had in months, years. I felt terrified. I felt alive.

now

On September 26th I (barely) got on a plane in New York and by the following morning, I had moved to Berlin, Germany to pursue a Master’s in Global History. Well, I moved my packed things & myself. And I began a process that is still ongoing of grieving, letting going, and beginning to build a new life here.

I moved with two suitcases, a backpack, my violin, and a box on its way to my new flat, as Europeans say. I moved with emotional baggage of jobs I loved and hated. I moved not wanting to leave people I loved, a city I loved (and hated), and knowing deeply that I needed to leave even if I didn’t (I still don’t) know all the reasons why.

I began, after sleeping a lot, with tears looking out my new window wondering precisely that: why I was there? What had I done? I began by making myself leave my flat that second day, walk down new streets, and utterly fail to order some food in German. I began by pointing. I began to learn German, which in my native-English speaker privilege/arrogance I did not yet know. I began getting to know a new train system, new cultural norms, a new school system, a new way of grocery shopping, new friends, new everything.

This newness was and is exhilarating and exhausting. Through this point, it is often more exhausting. And getting out of bed every day is its own struggle. Making it through each day of new everything has been its own process of figuring out how to survive. As much as I tell myself, remind myself, this was my choice and it is an incredible privilege & opportunity to be here, my body & inner self crave familiarity. Amidst all this change, my body craves rest.

But now slowly, slowly, as my route to the train becomes rote and small German phrases feel (more) natural, I am not just surviving. I am thriving. I am inspired in new ways by old passions. I am exhausted & rejuvenated. I am lonely & yet connected to communities that cross continents. And, aside from needed Netflix retreats from humanity, I am every day alive. So deeply alive.

a year of transition (amidst years of uncertainty)

For most of my 20s, I’ve felt like I’m in a state of constant uncertainty and transition from one thing (mainly places & jobs) to another. And in the last three months I’ve begun this huge transition, an upheaval of the life I knew and built in New York. So, I am moving into 2018 knowing and naming this year as one of transition. I’m transitioning from a steady full-time job (both the constraint of that schedule & freedom of its salary & PTO) to student life and the part-time hustle(s). I’m transitioning cities, countries, cultures. And I am in transition personally, coming slowly to know myself in this place with people I’ve met and will come to know.

As surely as my decision closed doors, I know too that it is opening other possibilities. And I know I need spaces to slow down, reflect, and share in order to document and fully explore those possibilities. Thus, I began a daily practice of sharing a photo & caption on Instagram/FB/Twitter. I’ve felt in the last few months that perhaps I need something more.

I’ve held on to this blog. Though my writing has been sporadic at best & almost non-existent for a while now, I haven’t been ready to let it go or to create something entirely new. So I return to my initial intent: to share my story as it emerges & the stories of those I encounter (as it is right & appropriate to do so).

So, my original intent is still my intention. And for the next year I will write & share here when I feel pulled to do so. Then, I will review what I’ve written and whether to continue on, let this space go, or create a new space.

gratitude

The following is a non-exhaustive, non-sequential list of people, spaces, and organizations in New York (and beyond) that for the last four years have shaped me, held me, encouraged & demanded I continue to become who I am becoming: MarieLiz, Liz, AnneMarie, Adriana, Sharese, Michael, DS, ARTE fam, young folks incarcerated at Rikers, every young person I got to work with, Stevo, Erica, YJB, PANY, NOMADA, JVC fam, DIYLADIES, Marisol, Teresa, St. Francis Assisi, St. Francis de Sales, Ben & Leo, Charlene, Dona, Max, Medina, Lisa-Marie, Adelle, Nich, Jeri, Amy, Courtney, Christine, Hannah, CCI, YUNY, Crystal, Angela, Ife, Josy, Juan, Claudia, Betsy, NYIC, the Conservatory in Central Park, Breakneck Ridge, Gina, my block in Harlem, my roof, my room, Grace, 5F, Emily, my momma, Patrick, Michael, Peter, Theresa, my dad, PCAP, Rachel, Sara, Buzz, Mike, NADA, Suz, Anne, Dave, Kev, Elizabeth, Sarah, Jill, Maggie, and on and on and on.

I wouldn’t be me without my family and community. I write now for you. And for all of you, I am grateful. Frohes neues Jahr // happy new year to all wherever you are in the world and in your own processes of being and becoming.

paradox: thoughts on leaving a life I love

I am a walking paradox. This is how I describe myself these days when someone asks how I am and really means it. I am filled with sorrow and joy. Anxiety, fear, excitement, and resolve.

Through all of it I feel loved.

I am in transition.

A big one.

Oh so soon I will be getting on a plane with some luggage and moving to Berlin to pursue my Master’s in Global History – a dream I dreamed up two years ago while a Public Ally. Since I have far too many feelings to be very coherent at the moment. Here is a collection of thoughts and feelings as I am closing an immensely important and challenging four years of living in New York City:

I am loved. Goddamn I am so loved.


I’m hella afraid. I picked up ‘hella’ from Teresa and Lisa-Marie.

I’m *ucking excited. Amplified by affirmations from friends new and old back home over Bell’s and here at old haunts and new spots I’ve meant to go to for four years (including Spot bar).

How has it been 4 years? // It’s only been 4 years why am I leaving?

What am I doing? // this is exactly what I need to do. I dreamed it and wrote it into existence and worked for it. It’s here.

I’m going to miss all of this. // get me the hell out of here.

Embrace it. Embrace it all. – Ben

Never doubt your potential. – Nich

I’m going to miss making space with you. -AM

Shit I have so much to do.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe it all in. Soak it all in. Everything is about to change.

Long drives (in Michigan) turned to long walks (in New York). What will it be in Berlin?

Joy as resistance.

img_5033


In this transition, How do I balance this me-focused time with engaging in the urgent times we live in? DACA is attacked. Black communities continue to experience police violence and the violence of mass incarceration.

People are dying. I’m moving to Berlin. Why? Is my why enough? Am I?

I need to do this.

‘Mary I believe you are meant to move to Berlin’ – a new friend while riding the train
In every way God is telling you this is your next step. – Momma

img_5045

I cried ‘my heart is breaking in the most beautiful way’ tears on my roof dancing dancing dancing with all the joy and love of four years in this wild wondrous chaotic serendipitous city. A night I won’t forget.

This is going to change everything.

While I’m in graduate school I plan to dedicate more time to writing. Both continuing to reflect on my daily life, as well as what I’ll be learning in conversation with the present day. Stay tuned.

Questival NYC 2016: Late Night Report

I’m currently 8 hours into the 24 hr challenge that is #Questival 2016 NYC. At this late hour I want to share my favorite challenge so far: recreating a scene from Luke Cage. [S/O to my favorite Lionesses AnneMarie and Coleen. You can follow our adventures on my social media and by getting the Llama judges app and supporting our team: La-La-La Lionesses!]

Enjoy.