The Hillary Girl

6:43 PM, February 1, 2016. I drop my phone on the concrete floor of the Des Moines field office bathroom and spiderwebs spread across the screen. The battery is at 8%, worn down from months of searching for reception between small towns in Kansas, and from a day of navigating between 150 doors in Oskaloosa.

The shattered screen lights up — my boss. Glass slivers in my finger as I swipe to answer. “Are you near your car? Yes? Good. I’m going to send you an address. I need you to pick up two people from there and bring them to their caucus site before 7:00 P.M. or they will not be able to get in.”

Read the full piece in Six by Eight Press

What Was Missing at the Women's March

I marched on Saturday in Chicago.

I marched, along with millions of citizens and allies on seven continents, united by the conviction that a country led by Trump endangers our freedom.

The march was my first political action since mid-November, when I finished throwing leftover “Love Trumps Hate” placards into the recycling bin and drove from the Athens, Ohio campaign office back to my parents’ home in Chicago.

Read the full piece on Medium

Georgia

We stand at the edge of the world, overlooking lunar hills striped with rust and tan. Azerbaijan unfolds outwards, a March desert empty but for a flock of sheep and the border patrol station. Fortunately, we encounter no Azeri patrols as we test the unmarked border.

This unending undulating landscape and the steep hike up the dusty hill are a relief after the 2-hour bus ride on muddy, flooded roads: infrastructure doesn’t extend into the rural parts of Georgia. The country, roughly the size of Massachusetts, takes three times as long to traverse, and the scenery along the way – abandoned concrete villages, flocks of sheep streaming down a hill – could not be more different.

Guided along our path by the autonomous poles of an abandoned monorail project, we ascend the ridge. Above us, the rock face speckled with caves is ripe for discovery: the Ubdano monastery. Scrambling up boulders sometimes reveals only pockmarked sandstone caverns, but others are filled with light-toned 11th century frescos, covered in graffiti yet stunning. I marvel at their age, and the time it must have taken to carve out these spaces. Even with their open-air exposure, they hold a particular solemnity; the stone is cold to the touch. We find the monk’s refectory, presided over by The Last Supper, where there is an audible moment of silence before cameras come out and we stage a recreation. We are all guilty of picnicking at the main church, shoveling rice into our mouths with fingers and laughing over our lack of spoons. A joyful amazement defines our framework for comprehending this unprecedented monument – but I am glad we are alone, to take this in as we are, instead of defining our absorption by the pressure of gaping tourist group mentality. There are no lines here, and no guardrails either – this scene is exactly as austere and (as Giorgi demonstrates) dangerous as it has been for centuries.

Satiated by Garejan honey and companionable cats after a winding hike down the slope, we enter the Lavra monastery itself. Lavra, founded by Syrian father Davit Gareja during his missionary trips to Georgia in the 6th century, is the first monastery This site, like many religious grounds we’ve encountered, has been sacked and pillaged more times than it can remember: 6000 monks were killed here on Easter night in 1615 by Shah Abbas, and the Soviet era saw the monastery used as a training ground for the Red Army. Here we retain the silence, marveling at the caves above us from the courtyard and the solemn 6th century cave church.

Each of us find ourselves at a pause here, and I wonder at our role. We are here to learn and understand this region as much as we can, and seeing these churches has introduced me to a regional version of a familiar religion that I never would have known existed. But we are not on pilgrimage; we are spectators, and we seek to form subjective memories with the guidance of guidebooks and checklists. Davit Gareja falls into a list of unmissable monuments, so we faithfully trek out, as have thousands of others who are eager to comprehend the Caucasus.

But we carve out our own interpretation of the space, and leave behind a scratch in the landscape, when we hike to the red hills. These are, simply put, lovely piles of mud, accumulated over some lengthy geological process. An apathetic scamper down from the monastery turns into an intrepid voyage up the uncharted side of the Dragon’s Back – the largest of the hills – with four of our team reaching the top and the rest of us laughing from the next peak over as they roll down through the mud. The bus ride back is sleepy, satisfied, and – for the muddiest of us – pantsless.

On Beauty, and Being Just

From the Maglev between Shanghai and Beijing, inspired by Elaine Scarry

The culture of materialism encourages settling, in that one becomes laden with objects in one’s endless quest to capture beauty; but it cannot be that to experience beauty, one must also relinquish freedom.

Traveling enables exposure to particulars. It is impossible to love ‘the mountains’ or ‘the Chinese people’ or ‘the French baguettes’ without specific memories of vistas, friendships, or bakeries. Traveling forces one out of humanity’s tendency to categorize into generics through exposure to specifics, which incite an actual engagement with the beautiful thing itself.

Flightiness of beauty (the tendency to suddenly realize one’s error in beauty - either misattributing or over-attributing) prompts a search for truth - but what causes one to suddenly realize an object has outlived its beauty? Is it as spontaneous as the discovery of beauty, or can it occur, like appreciation of a painting after staring and studying, over a period of (over)exposure? Perhaps the realization itself is still sudden, immediate; what comes before is mere strategizing. How pitiful our inability to strategize the maintenance of admiration, but at least it forces us to keep searching for more beauty, to recognize our ability to be wrong and thus understand that there is some notion of right (truth).

Photoset: Horner Park, Chicago, August dawn.

From the Plane: Seattle

There is air, and within it buzzes a freedom, flavored with the rainier-topped cup of cherries and the treble scrapings of distant Elton John. I allow myself to be convinced by a miniature pot of blackberry jam, because it is sweet and tangy and magnificent, because I cannot remember my last blackberry. It is impossible to imagine these stalls with any less brightness, blueness - bursting with anything but sunflowers and lavender.

The cold bronze against my thighs as I self-consciously mount the pig in my skirt, recreating a memory that might have existed from an age at which one is perhaps better suited to be placed, lovingly, like these pink-clad children whose parents are holding my camera. I grin for them, honestly.

Scattered metropoli, glowing with star-like isolation.

I have been instructed to eat fish. This platter of salmon, pink and olive and red against the bagel and the blue (perpetual blue) tastes as though I never left. I think how quickly one accepts old paths. I am most aware of how content I am to be alone, confident in my absorption of these aesthetics, the breeze, the dappled sunlight teasing the porcelain of my espresso.

My hair whips about on the ferry, blurred lines against my attempts to capture the evasive Mt. Rainier. It is a ghost, bottomless - afloat in swirling crags of snow as though wisps of clouds. Seattle approaches us. Perhaps it is the fast slope towards the water but this flock of skyscrapers hold all the majesty I need.

Chicago: galaxy-level glow, with streetlamp-dappled lines radiating out from the lake against a burning grid. They guide us in before dropping off as though broken edges against a ponderous darkness.

Indonesia

Snippets from the notebook, after Lake Toba

Immediate nostalgia. Sunburnt legs dangling off a wooden ferry, the spray aloft; awareness that I will never return here, this recursive island (in an island).

Exhiliration, at my capacity to be overwhelmed by the view - and pull off the single-lane British-style highway (I adapt) into the dirt to stare at the fluctuating patterns of light on the facing mountains, the space between water and jutting vertical clouds.

Lured by a National Geographic landscape of a single water buffalo and a yellow metal church down a narrow dirt path, we leave the $7 bike. Apparently there is a waterfall, up. We walk too far; we fail to comprehend the pointing old men sitting under palm trees and we lose any trace of the steep path. An unnamed silent man, encountered, leads with machete. The waterpipe is the only proof that we are right. An hour later his dog and he sit on a rock waiting for us to marvel and return.

At first I am uncomfortable with the canoe-roofed buildings, their winding patterns and slated panels and buffalo attached. These are what resorts try to duplicate. But they are everywhere, rising out of bushes far from the main road and defiantly mocking the silent lightning on the rocky horizon. The sublimity, this volcano.

Shanghai: Wandering

That awkward time before midnight but after the subway has closed - the only stores still waiting to roll down their padlocked curtains are the massage parlor, the nameless dumpling store, the by-the-hour hotel, Woody’s DVD store.

The canopied street smells of wet sycamores, of their big brown rotting leaves in the fall - a heavy scent like rain, released in exhaustion into the humid night after 14 hours of fighting against the heat. Without my headphones, there are crickets. It is almost nature.

The moon casts out moldy arms into the haze as if trying to exaggerate its luminosity. An eager weed against the most meager of street lamps. The skyscrapers jeer: Magnificence is in our realm now.

I recall a hazy night last year, walking through Saybrook courtyard, when the defraction of light through the clouds formed a perfect circle around the full moon, and I stopped. I stopped and I felt silly for stopping and I kept walking with my eyes fixed upwards stumbling over cobblestones. I got to the Women’s Table and I lay there looking and a stranger walked past and I told him to look up too.

Murky halo, meager moon.

Here is the manicure place, here is yet another tea shop, here is the building decorated like a fluorescent rose with a sign proclaiming “Sincerity” and a fountain of ducks. I feel impulsive; I buy a bushel of jasmine flowers after haggling with someone who was not the flower seller for five minutes. He compliments my Chinese.

Walking through Tianzifang: scattered foreigners drinking beer, an occasional leather goods store selling stupid knockoffs. “HI lady come look outdoor roof terrace here.” These used to be factories. The hanging lights above the narrow lanes feel kitschy, but there is nothing else like it, so I suppose it is unique.

On the main road, I cannot hear the crickets, nor can I tell what these dark stores sell. I try reading characters: small, hour, sale, vacation, big - I get one out of five. I do not know how to understand a culture if I can only understand what I already know.

I imagine growing old and telling my granddaughter of spontaneous walks in a foreign land full of sycamores and lights and dragonfruit as she nods her head politely.