Perspective: Baltimore/Amandy

Last spring, I took my absolute first stab at photography with Humans of Hampden, a piece I based on Humans of New York, a significantly more popular, well-known, and more talented artistic collection.

I borrowed Sierra’s old camera and literally just hit buttons and turned wheels until the camera worked to take photos. Somehow, I got a few I found worthy of a blog and with the powerful captions people gave me, I had something I was proud of.

Last weekend, I, on the total fly, joined a photography class, thanks to Shar and to a great guy I can’t help calling “Mr. Kyle.” Mr. Kyle (only in his mid-30s) does projects at Lillie May and a slew of amazing things in Baltimore. He’s just one of those people. And Shar and I (and lots of Baltimoreans) are both so grateful to know him.

In Mr. Kyle’s Perspective: Baltimore Adult Photography Class, I took the following, around Mt. Vernon, The Bromo District, Westside-ish, Lexington Market, and other micro-neighborhoods in Baltimore.

 

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Sun-bathing elephant.

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Skill. (Love taps, not pictured.)

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Lutheran air quotes.

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Birth-year.

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Moon.

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Two feet on the ground. Twice.

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Moon, too.

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From where I’m sittin’.

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Floral snack.

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Stacey is a whole snack.

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Teacher.

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Dad.

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“Little Buddy.” A tea cup, long chair Chihuahua (yes, I had to look up how to spell Chihuahua).

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The forgotten in focus.

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Loitering reflection.

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Study.

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Soaring liquor bag litter.

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Through the spikes.

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My Sister’s Garden.

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Gutter Poet.

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Beauty.

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Hope.

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Swirl.

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Steadfast.

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Y.

AAmandaandKyle

Convex Amanda and Kyle.

Aambition

Ambition doesn’t stop. Oh wait…

AAmericanDarling

Raised. Zoom.

AAmericanDarlingOut

THE American Darling.

AATA

A T A

Aatreegrows

Lose ya head.

ABelieve

Blurry belief.

ABrian

Flyin’ Brian.

ABrokenHeart

Unwhole.

ACivilianHeadFormwithEgg

Civilian Headform. Egg.

ADali

Modern real-life Dali.

ADivide

Division.

ADontFixTheSidewalkPaintIt

Repairs needed.

AEyes

Eyes.

Afacade

Facade.

AFallenSoldiers

Unwanted progress.

AFriends

Friendship reflected.

AGold

Mislabeled.

Ahairshop

Hair and hood.

AHeadless

Someone cared for this once.

AHeadless2

Don’t lose ya head, two.

AHeyBaltimore

Hey Baltimore!

AHighVoltage

(caption included)

AHome

Baltimore is HOME.

AHowCanWeFocus

Can you?

AHowtheMightyHaveFallen

Lore and yore.

ALeglessPatioChair

Yard recliner.

Alet'sbuildafence

Invest in the fence. Forget the yard.

AModernRuins

Modern ruins.

ANotaCar

Alternative bumper.

ANuts

Nuts. Since 1896.

Apants

Pantsed.

Apapertorso

Torso.

Aphotogs

Photogs.

APloy

Who named this street?

Aprofile

Profile.

APushorPull

Push or pull?

ARelic

Museum piece.

ASharProfile

Love.

ASmash

“[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” -Jack Kerouac

Atherewasastage

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” – William Shakespeare

Atheroadtothemonument

Stay in your

Atops

Hats.

ATouchDown

Glory-free touchdown.

AUnholyCross

Unholy cross.

AVodkaPlant

Vodka plant.

AVrksasana

Vrksasana (tree pose).

AXandYs

Intersections.

Ayouareachild2

“You are a child of the universe, 
no less than the trees and the stars; 
you have a right to be here. 
And whether or not it is clear to you, 
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” – Max Ehrmann

AYouAreOkay

YOU ARE okay.

Reflection

Pre-splash.

 

The Hardest Thing to Gain, the Easiest to Lose

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Photo by and photo of Icsha J., graduate of LMCJ, taken in a summer program called Youth Perspective Baltimore, launched at an exhibition by Muse 360 this week. (Icsha is not the “young lady” below.)

Dear Young Lady,

Do you know why vulnerability is so scary? Do you know why sharing yourself with someone else is such a challenge? Do you get why revealing your truth makes you shaky? Why you won’t share your secrets? Or say more than “fine” when asked how you are?

What’s funny to me is that all of these ways that you live, are the opposite of the way I live. I thrive by letting people in and sharing myself and treating my friends as family. When someone asks how I am, I leap at the chance to give the good, bad, and the ugly. This doesn’t make me better, maybe it makes me crazy. But I have no walls (and no filter).

But for you, I get it. I get why you operate in the opposite way.

It’s because when you let down your walls, you’re letting someone care and likely, you’re caring for that person too. You could get hurt, attached, broken, or worse, start caring about someone else. To quote the little kid with the big ears in Love Actually, “[What could be] worse than the total agony of…love?”

If you toe the line, if you keep cool, if you stay quiet about feelings and things that matter, you can be neutral. No extremes. No joy and no pain. When you tell me a half-truth or omit something important on purpose and I find out later, it doesn’t feel as bad as it would with another person. Because it feels like you’re protecting yourself.

But here’s the thing, hon. Trust is the hardest thing to gain and the easiest to lose.

Maybe I’m also holding back my trust because I know you’re not always telling me the truth either. But as much as I care about you, I’m not here for me.

I already told you this, but I’ll tell you again in this letter I’ll never show you. The other day when I was with the Ceasefire Squad in East Baltimore and they were burning sage and hanging posters, the owner of a liquor store came outside of his eyesore of a shop. He told us we couldn’t hang a poster on his boarded up garage. He didn’t trust us. Why would people want to hang a poster that reads, “Nobody shoot anybody”? Did we think that a poster would prevent “them” from shooting, he asked. Why didn’t we ask him first? Couldn’t we see he owned the whole building? From the glass-walled-inventory, to the boarded up windows, to the storefront crowded with people boozed up on things they didn’t need to be spending money on. From the sign for a failed campaign for State’s Attorney to the trash on the sidewalk, from the rat haven alley to the corner so stumbly-traipsed. And then again, “They’re still going to shoot each other,” he said. Because gestures tiny and gargantuan, when filled with love and hope, are hard to trust. Because why would someone care about this city? Why would someone care about this corner? Why would someone care about the people on this corner?

Or in your case, why would someone care about me?

Your story echoes throughout this beautifully broken city. Even when I don’t know someone is suffering notes of what you’ve suffered, that’s where my heart goes and it leads to my brain and I feel empathy that no one asked for. I see you all over the place. Older versions, younger versions, male, female, whatever. You.

Young lady, there are lots of ways to be. But you have to trust. You have to trust that there are more options than the ones you’ve known. I throw hope and love and questions and conversation at you and it’s confusing to you. I get it, I confuse myself, and I have no idea if I know even how to help you. But every time it feels like the Spanish Inquisition when we’re riding in my car, know that this is my way. This is my way of breaking down your walls, of showing you that I care, my way of inviting you to trust in me. Because I might be hard for you to understand, but I’m trustworthy.

So while your future feels uncertain, look around for what is certain. And know that while vulnerability and sharing and trust are really hard, that’s because they’re worth it.

Love,

Ms. Eby

 

Anxiety and the Advice I’m Not Legally Qualified to Give

When I think about the peak of my anxiety, I remember things in snapshots, which is funny because I took very few pictures during that time–an unexpected measure of life enjoyment for me at least. I remember staring at photos of Baby Bodhi and running two 5ks. I remember the night Lochdawg came over for dinner, a rare time it was just the two of us. I know I went on a field trip when the leaves were at the height of their colors and that that day gave me hope that things were going to get better. I remember Thanksgiving, our last one with Gram, which we couldn’t possibly have known. She read her Thanksgiving prayer book the entire car ride up to Aunt Carol’s. I know that Chris and Sara’s wedding was gorgeous and that Lauren and Jesse got a kitten named Fiona. I remember driving to New Hampshire and arriving as a blizzard drove in too, a little bit of skiing, and a lot of board games. I could never ever forget the Women’s March with my friends and my Aubrey. And all of these are the things I remember joyfully. And we laughed and we hugged and we ate great food and we enjoyed better company. There was holiday cheer and precious time with people we didn’t know we wouldn’t have with us just a year later. And I think I savored some of it.

But I know, because I also remember, along with these snapshots that I was walking around with a gray cloud above my head and that it rained on me the entire time and that in any happy event, I was also watching the sands fall through the hourglass until it wouldn’t be happy again. Until the vice grip of my self-created pending doom would return and I wouldn’t be able to sleep or enjoy people or let things go or notice sweet details or write or relax or breathe deeply into my ribs, then belly, then chest.

Enter Cymbalta.

Now, don’t get me wrong it wasn’t like Cymbalta, a Selective Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SSNRI), was the first thing I tried and sunshine and rainbows suddenly filled my thoughts. In other words, I didn’t go straight to a pill. I spent maybe five years handling with my anxiety through exercise, therapy, and acupuncture. That cocktail felt like enough for a long while. And I still use all three, gratefully. But when I think about my lowest point, the fall and winter of 2016-2017, I know that Cymbalta completely changed my life. My life changes included increased time and presence with Chas and my family and friends, time with my girls outside of the school day. I wrote my own job description, threw myself into yoga and enrolled in teacher training. I started this blog and got back to writing. I saw more needs in my school and in Baltimore that I felt like I could address and then I started thinking about ways I could address them. I literally became a better version of myself.

I’m hardly unique. Anxiety for teachers is incredibly prevalent. I never felt suicidal, had an actual panic attack (I think) or went on disability nor left a school setting completely but I have felt a lot of the feelings this writer describes here. The article, from The Guardian out of the UK, is written by “The Secret Teacher.” Her account is sort of a hyperbole of my own but I have felt many of these feelings. She says, “…teachers play a pivotal part in society, yet society fails to recognise their worth. And so many people I value are still working in a system that is fundamentally flawed, ruins people’s lives and refuses to acknowledge the wellbeing of those who are fundamental to its success.” Quite literally, teaching is the job that becomes all other jobs. It makes the world go ’round. Also, according to this article from USA Today, teacher anxiety is on the up.

Without getting into research that explains why and because I lived it, I will just tell you. Testing, phones and screens, the cycle of poverty and the parenting that results or pressure on children to reach for unreasonable levels of perfection, and increased but often misguided “accountability” for teachers.

Enough about other teachers, back to me. I do think that I have a predisposition to anxiety and I’ve always been high strung but I also accept that teaching can bring that out in the most stable of us. There’s something about absurd pace along with the fact that teachers are “always on,” plus the gaps between where the kids are and where we want them to be and so much more. You have to believe in things that seem nearly impossible and even if you know that conventional success may only reach a small percentage of your kids, it is your actual job that it’s made available to all of them, and your responsibility. So, anxiety? Duh.

Enough about teachers, let’s talk about the whole world. Teaching is hardly the only profession rife with anxiety and for many, it’s not a profession that creates anxiety in the first place. It could be a trauma or a living situation. Or maybe it is a collection of many things, such as the fact that Donald J. Trump is our actual president. (#notmypresident)

2018 is pretty freaking unbelievable. You know. You’re in it too. It’s no wonder so many of us are all freaking out. But let’s not list those things and let’s move onto solutions.

Here’s my anxiety survival kit. From me and from my Cymbalta, to you. I am the farthest thing from a doctor or licensed anything (aside from teacher-gone-mad) but I have lived a life of anxiety so that equips me with at least some ideas that work for me. I welcome grains of salt as you read. Also, I should say, I’ve shared some of these coping mechanisms before but this is something that cannot hurt to revisit.

I will level these as they showed up for me.

Level I: I bite my nails and unconventional perils cross my mind from time to time.

  • Talk about it. Choose your own audience. Sometimes this is enough.
  • Deep breathing. 
  • Exercise, generally. Just get your blood pumping, muscles working, breath rising and falling, and move. Dealer’s choice.
  • Go outside.
  • Yoga (warning: I will put this in all levels).
  • Spend time with animals and babies
  • Meditation apps such as Calm, Headspace (do you like Australian accents?), and so many more. Try quick meditations before or after work, or in the smack middle of the day.
  • Shake things up. Move your furniture, clean, tweeze your eyebrows (not too much), bake brownies for your friend Amanda whose oven is broken.
  • Put down your phone and forget about social media. It’s dumb and makes us feel bad about ourselves.
  • For the nails, honestly, the only thing that helps me stop is getting a manicure. The problem is that the act of carving out 90 minutes and going to a salon is stressful in itself.
  • Music.
  • Go to bed earlier. Maybe you’ll wake up too early but then you can use that time on tasks, reading, exercise, or other fun.
  • Reconsider the way you speak to yourself and the words and messages you allow out into the universe, if only in your head–you’re still putting them out there.

 

Level II: I’m losing sleep over trivial and not-so-trivial things from the recent past or near or far future.

  • All of the above.
  • Try a meditation class. Many cities (can’t speak for ‘burbs and farmland) have Shambhala meditation centers. Here is Baltimore’s. They offer a variety of meditation classes for donation. I took one in January 2017. Five Tuesdays, two hours per session, a beautiful experience.
  • Yoga (I told you it would be in every category).
  • Therapy. Use this link from Psychology Today to find someone near you. Even the most mentally, emotionally, and psychologically healthy person could benefit from talking to someone. Maybe this should be in Level I.
  • Question your diet. Are you taking in foods that help your body feel well?
  • Acupuncture is incredibly restorative. Acupuncture Lauren (as I call her because I already had a Lauren) is an angel sent from heaven wrapped in a cute scarf. See her at Metta Wellness, try Mend which I have heard good things about, or any of the other two dozen spots in Baltimore. There are points that are directly tied in with stress and anxiety. You’ll walk out feeling like you dropped 20 mental pounds.
  • Don’t let the “good enough” be the enemy of the perfect.
  • Find a volunteer gig. May I recommend combining two of these bullets (volunteering AND exercise) and join Back on My Feet? Here’s the link for Baltimore but Baltimore is just the second of now twelve cities where BOMF has a presence. It’s quite possibly the best way to begin the day. I know that adding something else to your list may sound absurd if you’re here in Level II but research shows that focusing on someone else’s needs and helping others can improve your own mood, aura, and even relieve stress. 
  • Set small and reasonable completion goals for yourself for work, cleaning, laundry, whatever.

 

Level III: Uh oh.

  • Try a full throttle combination of the above options. FULL COURT PRESS. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
  • Yoga (see?)
  • Ask yourself some seriously life-altering questions. Is my job fulfilling? Is my relationship healthy and balanced? You know, stuff like that…things I have no authority to tell you to ask.
  • If it’s not against your religion, your dogma, your parakeet’s hopes and dreams for you, maybe you could commence to start to think about meds. I get the stigma. I was terrified of it. Sobbing, shaking terrified (well, I was kind of always sobbing, shaking at that time). But I feel like Cymbalta changed my life. And I am hardly one to fly the flag of the evil pharmaceutical industry. EVIL. I do think it help clear my rainclouds so that I could see the things I really wanted for myself, put aside the things that were not serving me anymore–including my anxiety–and launch into new ventures.

 

There’s one person in my world who seems unshaken by school settings, absurd working hours, and generally being the best employee Baltimore City Public Schools has ever seen–not an easy place to work. That person is my mother.

On October 3rd, she celebrated 41 years at the William S. Baer School in West Baltimore, an entirely special needs school serving children with a wide range of physical and mental differences. She has this new thing wherein she sends out an anniversary email every year on October 3. Here is this year’s. It is a fascinating look at what life was like in special education in the 1970s, and why my mom is one of the most unique people on this earth. And I have never heard her mention feeling anxious. So I guess my final bullet would be one that the entire world could benefit from, especially in these trying times.

  • Be more “Nancy.”
  • But when you can’t be Nancy, see what works for you and face anxiety head on. You will win.

Hybrids, a Throwback

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I first introduced this person in my blog as my “Niecephew,” a hybrid between a niece and a nephew because we didn’t know yet. Now she’s my niece Emma Lou. Still a hybrid though. She’s a hybrid between an angel and a human, as you can clearly see. 

 

When I was in college, I wrote a weekly column called “Sunny Side Up with Amanda Doran.”

Stay with me.

This is pretty weird but it’s an interesting peak into life 9 years ago. This piece is from “The Towerlight,” Towson University’s student-run newspaper. The following was published on September 3, 2009 but is still, I think, kind of humorous. I’ve made some small changes but mostly, this is the same piece from my senior year of college. It kind of scares me how similarly I think, although, I do not have a hybrid, I think sporks do neither task well, and I can barely believe I entertained the thought of a mullet.

 

“Some Hypotheses Regarding Hybrids”

I think about the recently expired “Cash for Clunkers” every time I enter my wad-of-tape Jetta, which has recently decided to lower its miles per take by 60 miles, increasing both my trips to the gas station and haunting regret that I couldn’t afford to take part in the recent tax credit program. “Cash for Clunkers” has certainly also increased talk about hybrids… and oh, how I wish I drove one and so does my Discover bill.

But instead of wasting time yearning for a Prius I have been trying to think of other hybrids that deserve recognition in order to encourage myself that I too have a hybrid or two in my life, even if my car drinks gasoline like it’s beer at a Friday happy hour.

I imagine one of the first examples of a hybrid goad back to Greek mythology with Pan, half-man, half-goat. In the animated version of “Hercules,” Danny Devito verbally delivers a stellar impression of the mythic man-goat, solidifying the genius of such a creature even in our day and age.

Additionally, I recall that there are hybrids in plant biology if I can correctly think back far enough to when I didn’t take only English classes. But the hybrids that are more capturing in science are the hybrid animals. As Napolean Dynamite pointed out to all of us a “liger,” half-lion, half-tiger is deserved of favorite animal status.

I’ve also read up (on a not-so-reliable website) that “zorses,” and “zonkeys,” and “zonys” are possible zebra combinations. I guess a lot of the animal kingdom wants to mate with the zebra. I can’t wait to hear about zumans or humbras (zerbra and huma) and I trust that the “National Inquirer” will report on one in due time.

Just yesterday for lunch I packed a serving of asparagus and a yogurt cup. Did I arm myself with two whole different utensils?

No, I packed a spork, the underrated combination of a spoon and a fork!

I was able to stab and enjoy my asparagus then scoop and enjoy my yogurt with just one tool.

While we’re on the topic of dairy, half and half, milk and cream, is maybe the most pronounced and common hybrid of daily life.

The realization took me back to my days of wearing “skorts,” a 90s hybrid of a skirt and shorts. These were typically denim with the shorts revealed in the back and the skirt dazzling up front.

And as my train of thoughts go, I started to think of the mullet, a hybrid haircut often referred to as “business in the front, part in the back.”

A mullet is the ideal haircut for attention-getting because everybody likes to point out a good, old-fashioned mullet.

Furthermore, I suppose that secondary colors could be seen as hybrids as well. Purple is simply a combination of blue and read and orange is just yellow plus red. But this raises the question, who says that, blue, and yellow came first?

What if they had made sporks before traditional utensils? What if we were all just zumans with black and white stripes but human qualities? When noticing hybrids, it is valuable to point out that any of these things could have just come first and not been slapped with the hybrid label.

But since we’ve decided that combinations of things must be labeled as such, let hybrids reign. I hope they bring back “Cash for Clunkers” when I’m not student teaching and I actually have a paycheck again.

I already know my ultimate hybrid goal: to drive a hybrid car to a driving range with a hybrid golf club, wearing a skort, rocking a mullet, a spork in my lunchbox, and a liger waiting for me at home.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes
They call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a restless wind
Inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

–  “Across the Universe” by The Beatles

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This is one of my scholars walking with a Baltimore City Police Officer. Never did I think I would see this sight. One of my girls, who has had numerous traumatizing interactions with cops, knows people who’ve been blatantly and wrongfully mistreated by cops, walking next to one talking about her goals for the future. This is hardly a problem solved. But it’s a start. Maybe a tiny one. But a start nonetheless. And it makes me think.

Dear Humans,

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Let that sink in. Let it flow from your corneas, lenses, retinas and to your brain. Let it tumble down from your brain and into your heart. And when your heart and your brain are ready to work together allow, “It doesn’t have to be this way” to dribble to your toes and feet and roll down to your fingertips and hands. Your heart and your brain and your hands and feet can all work together to prove that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Humans, sometimes I think that all we need to hear is that the way we’re proceeding is not the only option. Sometimes we just need to remember that stuck-ness is often more of a choice than an imprisonment. “I can’t do this because I have never done it before” is not valid reasoning. And “That’s not how we do things” or “But this is what I am used to” are lame excuses.

This thought, It doesn’t have to be this way, came to me the other day in a restorative yoga class. We were in a katonah version of half pigeon with all kinds of props–typically a very still posture–the teacher said to us, “Feel free to move around and keep playing with how this feels. Just because you’ve arrived doesn’t mean you need to remain the way you are.” Now, humans, I know she meant this in a totally literal way. A still posture doesn’t need to stay completely still and in yoga we get no points for being the most stagnant. It makes us no more peaceful than the chick on the next mat over. But I immediately thought of all of the ways that, we, we people, can be so stuck in our ways and our patterns and our jobs and our relationships and our “two cream, three sugar.”

And really, what more makes us human that our dynamic nature? Our ability to evolve? Our, quite honestly, lack of control of our own evolution: aging and growing and shrinking and graying and wrinkling and changing?

So, just because you’ve arrived, doesn’t mean you need to remain there. It doesn’t have to be this way.

When I thought about this, I did some googling. I came across an article called “America Doesn’t Have to Be Like This.” In it, the author, an Isreali American, Ilana Masad talks about our American political system, “It didn’t have to be this way, but this is how it is: there are still myriad ways in which minorities and marginalized people in the US suffer systemic oppression, and there is still so much money in politics that it boggles the mind and seems like an obvious, glaring flaw in the system. And so, what to do?”

And boy, do I hear her! I remember visiting the Vatican for the first time after 20 years of being Catholic and thinking of all of the pleas for the poor box and donations at church when the Catholic Mecca of sorts is quite literally coated in gold.

So it’s amazing, in the real sense of the word, that we have created a political system in which campaigns raise millions or billions of dollars for ads and attack ads; candidates spend years and careers preparing; and teams of people work toward one election. All of this to elect a person to “help” better any given neighborhood, town, city, county, state, country when that very money, those very resources, that immense energy could be enough to do just that.

And because it’s been this way, it keeps being this way. But does it have to?

I don’t pretend to have the solution to our pitiful political system and the most I’ve decided about the Vatican is that we could get a really tall ladder and some of those paint scraper things and just get some of that gold off of that ceiling. We will trade the gold for cash and give out micro loans in the world’s poorest communities.

But we all have ways in our lives that we can adjust, revise, adapt, bend, re-try, start over, etc. So maybe this mantra can help lead you where you’re headed or at the very least, shake you out of a pattern that isn’t serving you.

And as much as I loved “Across the Universe,” I think The Beatles were wrong when they said “nothing’s gonna change my world.” Frankly, they were on LSD by then and praising the Maharaja.

I’d argue that you are gonna change your world.

 

In the name of growth and dynamism and acceptance and love and forgiveness,

Amandy

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One optimistic (sort of) use of boarded windows and doors. #Baltimore

PS: Here are some tangible ways to make changes that I’ve shared with you in the past.

https://writingamandy.com/2017/11/10/let-there-b-more-love/

https://writingamandy.com/2018/07/06/paint-baltimore-kind/

The Changing Legacy of 33rd Street

Image result for memorial stadium

I grew up four blocks and well-thrown baseball away from where Memorial Stadium used to be. This doesn’t mean much to most of the world but this is how I describe my parents’ house to Baltimore natives. In response there’s always a nod, a smile, and many times a story about seeing the Orioles or Colts win a big one on that hallowed ground during simpler days.

Baltimore is a city in which people locate landmarks and neighborhoods by what “used to be there”—not because there isn’t a replacement or we haven’t seen the new occupant yet—we are a people who cling to tradition and memory. We know this about one another and out of respect we give our directions based on the land uses of yore. It’s an unwritten language, just like the long drawl of the letter “o” that occurs when a Baltimorean’s lower jaw juts beyond the upper, particularly unabashedly during the National Anthem. “OH” say can you see?

Our neighborhood, Ednor Gardens Lakeside, sits in Northeast Baltimore one asphalt hill away from what is now a diversely populated YMCA and clusters of affordable housing for the elderly. The website for Ednor Gardens Lakeside scrolls through pictures of some of its Tudor-style homes wrapped in ivy or enveloped by hydrangeas, none of which look like the middle-of-group-row house where my mom used to read me Goodnight Moon in the early ‘90s. The site doesn’t display the water filtration plant that’s been littered with bulldozers and jersey walls for a decade. It omits images of the speed humps the city installed to stop gangs like the 12 O’clock Boys from ripping wheelies on dirt bikes down residential streets. And, maybe most dishonestly, it fails to include a picture of the spot where Memorial Stadium used to be.

Despite the glaring omission, as a YMCA and low-income community for the elderly, this place undoubtedly still carries on the great legacy of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, home of the Orioles, the Colts, and the Ravens, the “Old Gray Lady of 33rd Street” though the “Lady” is no longer home.

The square of land that hosted Baltimore’s famous greats sits three blocks by three blocks in Ednor Gardens Lakeside. From the north on 36th Street peering above a row of leafy bushes, the downtown business district, three miles to the south, appears almost peaceful. From here soft clouds ripple gently around Baltimore’s tallest office buildings. Just over these bushes though, the immediate view has changed much more in 10 years than the distant—from a half-century of professional feats at Memorial to the recent decade where thousands of amateurs stretch in yoga, backstroke in the pool, and strike up strange conversations in the locker room.

On three sides of the square, stone and brick row homes stare at the space as they have since just after World War I. Most are well maintained. Perhaps speaking for their residents, they look complacent. They’ve watched their larger front yard greatly transform with little say .

The fourth side faces 33rd Street where treadmill runners behind wide panes of glass view cars going too fast past the building that used to be Eastern High School—huge and brick with sides that reach out like arms toward an old friend at right angles.

Just a few sidewalk tiles down was hallowed ground, if hallowed ground can be moved to past tense. The proud façade of Memorial Stadium stood there for almost 50 years mourning the dead and, for a time, immortalizing them in art deco lettering. Elongated silver letters—maybe better suited for a diner sign—solemnized those, “who so valiantly fought in the world wars with eternal gratitude to those who made the supreme sacrifice to preserve equality and freedom throughout the world.” The wall’s lone salvaged sentence is reassembled at Camden Yards, the Orioles’ current home, reading, “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”

While time may not have touched the glory, the memorial itself is long gone. Memorial Stadium, as of 1950, featured the famous wall that was cause for controversy during the already controversial demolition. Local writer and filmmaker Charles Cohen wanted to capture that glory in its final years, months, and days. As co-creator of “The Last Season,” a documentary about the stadium’s end, Cohen spent two years interviewing Baltimoreans’ reactions to the end of their Memorial Stadium including its celebrated wall.

The wall, a central focus of the film, was slated to be the one part of the stadium remaining when the rest of the structure met its final wrecking ball in 2002. Cohen interviews fans coming to see an old friend a final time as they pillage seats, haul urinals, and lug Miller Lite signs. Some cry as they reminisce and see what remains. The fans in “The Last Season” look at a ghost, their memories fighting against the glorified memories of the stadium preserved in their heads.

Through making the film, Cohen says, he saw a “strange window into the Baltimore psyche.” Baltimore is an odd place, he says, “with that Brooklyn kind of grit but a lackadaisical viewpoint.” Baltimore clings to its past in a nostalgic way but its residents are often too complacent or laid-back to really fight for it. Like our old streetcars and steamships, Memorial Stadium slipped into disrepair and became a part of Baltimore’s history. There were 11th hour protesters. Citizens lobbied their elected officials. But where were they for so long as the structure sat rotting and unused for years?

With the rest of the stadium in piles like the makings of a giant bird’s nest, “The Last Season” shows fans celebrating the salvaged wall. The chorus of “at least they’re keeping the wall,” echoes across the site as Cohen interviews Baltimoreans. Then, despite the $750,000 in additional funds used for a special procedure involving a diamond blade saw and the wishes of many to salvage the famed memorial wall, it too was leveled following the rest of its body in 2002.

For some, the total demolition meant a promising community and business opportunity, an infuriating murder of a historic landmark for many others. In Cohen’s documentary, both sides lay out their positions but the more unforgettable, the more heartfelt, the more emotive are those who rattle off memories like its roll call, with tears in their eyes, their feet standing on scraggly weeds that blanket a once manicured field. Games with a late family member, claims from the mayor at the time to “respect” constituents’ desires, memories of the Orioles final game when two men dug up home plate with pick axes, hacking, hacking, hacking for nearly thirty minutes, unearthing and ripping out the heart of the old stadium to cart it off to the Os’ new home. Many interviewees start by talking into the camera and then morosely gaze out at what the stadium had become: vacant, forgotten, and a memory of its former self, barely deserving of an address there on 33rd Street.

In a different time, it didn’t dip below 60 degrees in Baltimore on Saturday, September 29, 1945 when 14-year-old Mary Lou Luczkowski and some of her friends attended a local high school football game at what was then called Municipal Stadium. She was a beauty—her curled brown hair bounced on her shoulders, her bright Polish eyes smiled when her mouth did. She was petite, good-humored, and smart, having skipped a grade in elementary school. It was during that Poly-Patterson High game right there on 33rd Street that she met 17-year-old Vince Papa, thin-faced and Sicilian and from a different part of town. To hear her tell it, his charisma and politeness won her over that day in the massive oval structure on 33rd Street.

Just a year earlier, the Baltimore Orioles, then a minor league team, moved their home to Municipal when their own Oriole Park and its wooden stands went up in flames overnight on July 3rd into the 4th, 1944. Municipal, built in 1922, was the choice venue for local and collegiate sports at the time. The game where my grandparents Mary Lou and Vince met was just another sporting event in a blue-collar town that hadn’t yet earned professional teams of its own.

The city gradually built its reputation as the home of sports enthusiasts and the Baltimore Colts football team stomped into 33rd Street in 1947. Seven years later in 1954 Granpop had finished up his military service. He had already won over and married Grammom and they were talking about children when the Baltimore Orioles came flying back to town, this time as a pro team. Vince, Mary Lou, and Baltimore finally had their team.

With the same address, Memorial Stadium replaced Municipal in 1950, the city opting for a more enclosed and modern structure. With a capacity of 31,000 spectators, 1954 marked the first season for the major league birds, a team from St. Louis in pursuit of a better market, and landed on there 33rd Street. Memorial Stadium was soon solidified as a sports Mecca in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It quickly earned the nickname, “World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum.” And the Orioles and Colts were home.

Decades later when my parents bought their house around the way from Memorial in 1986, the stadium’s proximity was not a selling point, just a coincidence. Still, they both remember the days you could walk in unnoticed, for free after about the fourth inning while others freeloaded by watching from a fence with a view of the field. The stadium was a constant neighbor for the first decade and a half of their marriage.

Personally I can remember the lights sticking up over the hill at the end of our block. Cohen compares them to a black erector set and, if I look down the end of our street and then close my eyes, I can still see the glow from the top of that hill. White bursts erupting between black metal—an announcement of “game time” for everyone within an earshot range of a mile in every direction.

If the wind was right, we could hear players being called to bat from the stadium and right through our open windows. No air conditioning, just a hot Baltimore summer cooking our house and the echoed announcement of whatever Oriole was on deck. “Cal al al…Rip ip ip…ken ken kennnn.”

Most clearly, I can recall Jon Miller’s booming summertime voice throughout our house calling the Orioles’ plays over the constant drone of the huge metal fan that was once my height. Feats of the hometown team bounced off our walls emanating from an old silver radio, antenna pointing up as my dad did housework in cutoff jeans. I remember Dad explaining to me what Miller meant with his famous, “Give that fan a contract!” and Miller’s voice was like an anthem.

When the Orioles moved to Camden Yards in downtown Baltimore in 1992, the neighborhood felt a contradictory mixture of anger and peace, misery and relief. For a short time the stadium housed a championship Canadian Football League team, the Baltimore Stallions, who, despite success, failed to quench the football thirst of the city. So when Baltimore adopted the Cleveland Browns in 1996, in contrast to the way the Colts had been stolen from us in ’80, old trusty Memorial Stadium stepped up like the Giving Tree, happy to be needed once again. And all over, the lights over the hill beamed and loudspeaker hollers sailed to our front porch.

I remember only frustration on Sundays when my mom couldn’t find parking for “The Marshmallow,” her white hatchback Honda. We’d come home from church and she’d roar the manual engine around Ednor Gardens’ small streets talking about the “durn Ravens fans,” which we all are now. Impromptu cookouts sent smoke up from the grass lining our streets. Cans and tinfoil then lay abandoned after a mad rush to the gridiron. My mom recalls purposefully going out to pick up the spectators’ trash as they tailgated, giving them a mirror to see their disregard for our neighborhood.

By 1998, the Ravens had built their own nest, shiny and new and five whole miles from us. Parking woes were over, those lights stayed dark, and the voices were much too far to carry to our front porch. Memorial Stadium and its spot on 33rd Street were benched once again.

In the early 2000s the battle over the fate of the ground became fierce with Baltimore’s former mayor William Donald Schaffer fighting to keep the old stadium and the mayor at the time Martin O’Malley arguing for its removal. As Cohen shows in “The Last Season,” politicians fought for their constituents and seemingly for their own nostalgia in some cases.

My mom, in favor of the demolition, argued that as a resident of the neighborhood, a vagrant building that spanned 9 square blocks needed to go. She talked about friends from “the suburbs” (a phrase she always says with disdain) who wanted the stadium intact, “while we had been living here with this giant empty shell down the block.”

“It was time,” she says, then finds her way into a story about waiting in the parking lot in ’82 or ‘83 with one of her students, a boy with severe cerebral palsy. “Tyrone and I ended up in the elevator with Rex Barney [a former baseball player and Orioles announcer]. We asked where Eddie Murray parked and he actually told us,” she says.

On the steamy blacktop, Mom stood while 10-year-old Tyrone excitedly sat in his wheelchair with twisted limbs and bright eyes and they waited by Murray’s car. At the time, Murray was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner. He had been American League Rookie of the Year in 1977 but was known for his shy nature with the media and fans. Murray walked out of Memorial in civilian clothes expecting to drive away in his dark car, unperturbed; instead, he took one look at Tyrone and signed a ball for them graciously—and I can tell in her voice that she’s proud of this. She remembers snapshots like this fondly, but still thinks that in the early 2000s, “it was time.”

The YMCA, she says, serves everybody in the community, the way Memorial Stadium did, just in a different way. And there is the dichotomy of a people who are passionate about a ballpark and their history, but want growth for their city. How can Baltimore move onto the next without bidding adieu to the last? The month it finally opened in 2004, we signed up for a family membership to the new YMCA. My mom, dad, sister, and I have been working out there ever since.

“What temperature do you like to swim in?” a rotund, naked stranger asked of me recently.

“Oh I get used to it so quickly, it doesn’t really matter to me,” I said tightening my towel around my chest. The rest of my consciousness processed the familiar situation, and looked for a way to avoid staring at her bare body. I aimed my eyes at my book, but my place on the page pointed my gaze toward her stretched and drooping breasts. As I pierced my eyes through the paper, she began thoroughly toweling off, rubbing every crevice two feet from where I sat with my innocent little book. I crossed and uncrossed my legs, and crossed them again, keeping my towel over the same parts she flaunted.

“Haven’t been swimming in six weeks,” she continued as she bent down to wipe her legs. Her butt seemed to stop, and take a look at me, before widening as she lowered, then narrowing as she came back up.

I formed some reply about the therapeutic nature of swimming as she turned her body to face me. A small patch of pubic hair peeked in and out of sight as she shimmied the towel back and forth across her. The women’s sauna at the YMCA is rife with scenes like this one.

In that sauna, I have opened pores, polished off novels, held numerous conversations with strange naked people, caught a splinter in my butt, received an invitation to a line-dancing class. All within feet of where guys like Brooks Robinson, Johnny Unitas, and Cal Ripken put Baltimore on the map, where in the ‘50s, kids could be dropped off by their parents to watch the game unsupervised for 35 cents with a coupon from a box of cookies. A baseline away from where knuckleball pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm put up a no-hitter against the Yanks in September 1958 and the Colts hosted the NFL Championship in ’59, beating the Giants for the second consecutive year. Where in 1976 a plane crashed into the upper deck injuring no one because the Colts were losing so badly to the Steelers that everyone around had already left. Where, in teenaged innocence, my grandparents saw one another for the first time, and just around the way from where my parents made a life for us.Image result for waverly ymca

This YMCA serves Baltimore City with community outreach and engagement, programs for the elderly, summer camp for the young, after school care, nutrition education, a fitness center and pool, and so much more. The Y houses 4,000 “units” of membership (each unit can be as large as a family). I have played basketball there with my dad and run into old friends and harvest adrenaline. It’s a comfort after a long day to read a good book on the elliptical and then sweat in the sauna. I see the diversity of the people who go there and the wide range of activities that help the neighborhood where I grew up. While I know the loss of the stadium was heartbreaking for many Baltimoreans, this YMCA picks up where that community landmark left off and it serves the city. Athletes still play there; most are just significantly shorter and take many less steroids.

On a recent visit, I sat on a metal bench behind the new baseball park put in by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation in 2010. Home plate sits exactly where home plate sat in 1991 when the last O’s game was played here. Looking beyond the field, leafless trees reach with tendrils pointed skyward, the elderly housing complexes dot the perimeter where people once parked their Chevy Novas and Ford Pintos. The turf field looks impossibly green for February. And ever faithful, the row homes look down.

A girls’ lacrosse team practiced that day, running suicides as the coach yelled and whistled. Cries of “Oh mah gawwwd,” rang out and other girls yelled, “Stop complainin’!”

“Leave it all on the field! Leave it all on the field! Leave it all on the field!” hollered the coach. And I thought about all the Baltimoreans who had done just that. Right here. They left it all on the field. And I re-wrote something I’ve said so often to explain my neighborhood, “I grew up down the street from the 33rd Street YMCA.”

 

 

Works Cited

  1. Alexander, Gregory J., and Paul Kelsey Williams. Lost Baltimore. London: Anova, 2013. Print.
  2. Brown, Bob. House of Magic. Baltimore: The Orioles, Inc., 1991. Print.
  3. Cohen, Charles. Phone interview. 13 February 2014.
  4. Doran, Nancy. Personal interview. 15 February 2014.
  5. Eby, Skip. Phone interview. 13 February 2014.
  6. James, Mary Lou. Personal interview. 15 February 2014.
  7. The Last Season. Charles Cohen and Joseph Mathew. Eyesore, 2002. Film.
  8. Papa, Michael. Personal interview. 28 February 2014.
  9. YMCA of Central Maryland website. 16 February 2014. Web.

 

Gray Areas or “Would you rather?”

 

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The space between the gray areas.

At the Red Canoe Cafe in Hamilton, Baltimore City, the tip jar is always a “Would you rather…?” situation. You vote with your tip—highly motivational. It’ll be something like apples or bananas or Barney and Friends or Sesame Street, maybe a day at the beach or a day on the mountains or waterskiing vs. snow skiing. They’re easy choices that people feel unwarrantedly passionate about.

When I am traveling with Chas, I find myself in these “Would you rather” situations quite often. First off, Chas is our vice president in charge of planning but he also always asks for my opinion and when we’re traveling we have so many more choices than we typically have in everyday life. This begins when we select our destinations, though for our current trip, we allowed that to be almost completely dictated by finding the lowest flight prices for a desirable location during this week I have off from school.

Choice is a luxury, right? If we have the ability to choose things, it’s often because something is going right for us. I’m not talking about apples vs. bananas here (though bananas are cheaper) rather, choice comes when we have enough money to choose one mode of transportation or another, we have the ability to choose one journey or another, selecting a university, being able to choose where we live and in what type of house.

I’m increasingly more aware of the luxury of choice with the more time I spend with my kids from school. If you grow up in poverty, choice is limited. Choice in schools, choice in transportation, choice in housing and free time and so many more ripple effects that result from those absences of choice. The lack of these “black and white” choices are why I see so many things in gray, especially the older I get. As a child, everything is black and white. Strangers are scary. Adults are stable and always choose right. History books are trustworthy. Politicians are smart. Airplanes on crash over bodies of water. The more life you live, the less things are black and white. Gray becomes home.

For example, to bring it back to poverty in Baltimore: it’s not one’s simple choice to remain in poverty or to rise out of it. It’s not a simple choice to trudge through high school with mediocre grades, making it to the end of twelfth grade with one class standing in the way of a diploma or to launch one’s way through high school with straight As and into a great college with a scholarship. That’s not one easy choice. It’s not black vs. white. The cycle of poverty is as gray as an elephant’s back. Those diverging paths include thousands or millions of tiny choices influenced by one’s family and friends and the people on the corner who she walks by on the way to school and the boyfriend and her boyfriend’s mom and so on. But this blog isn’t about those gray areas. I think we should live there in that gray area most of the time and sometimes, it’s kind of fun to take a break.

So, here’s a pretty black and white “Would you rather” list ala Amandy. I’d love you to weigh in too.

 

Airbnb or hotel/hostel

I should paint this picture from a recent experience first, or the choice is unfair. I prefer Airbnb. Almost always. I love seeing the homes, the neighborhoods, talking to the people, getting reviewed, seeing the maps, looking at the fine touches. Also, quite simply, the Airbnb website makes sense to me. Actual humans respond, there are photos, it’s a bit like shopping for real estate.

This week, Chas and I have been in various places in Scandinavia and have mostly stayed in Airbnb spots. We did stay in one hostel. A former prison, turned hostel. Put your thoughts on just that aside for now because this is more about booking than anything. Because of the random nature of the site I used to book the prison hostel (a typical hotel finder website), I booked the wrong prison hostel in Sweden, meaning there are at least two prison hostels in Sweden and I selected and paid for the wrong one. This would not have happened with Airbnb. Fair preference? Maybe not. But I prefer Airbnb.

Still or sparkling

Absolutely still. Sparkling water is a nice treat when I am hungry but it’s too close to dinner time. But in terms of refreshment and replenishment, sparkling has nothing on still.

Red white or white wine

Seventy five percent of the time, I choose white wine. Red wine looks bad on teeth, feels weird in my belly, and is significantly more likely to give me a headache. Give me a sauvignon blanc any day.

Manicure or pedicure

This is tricky. For self-care, definitely a pedicure. Pedicures feel nice and include a mini leg massage. Manicures are more about walking away fancy. Oddly, I think I prefer walking away fancy and choose mani over pedi. While it’s a time and financial commitment, both is best.

 The Bachelor or The Bachelorette

While I shamelessly watch both and have for years, I prefer watching The Bachelorette. Not only does it come out in spring, a happy time generally, I love seeing all of the bros in incredibly vulnerable situations. I like watching them pick one another apart and lose their patience and lie and then get caught. It’s a great case study in good looking idiots.

Fiction or nonfiction

Obviously, I write nonfiction. When I try to write fiction, I think I sound ridiculous. Nothing seems real or believable or authentic. Nonfiction just feels right to me. And this world offers plenty of stories.

When I read, I have a slight preference for fiction. For listening to podcasts or watching TV, nonfiction hands down.

Tea or coffee

Coffee is my lifeblood. It makes the world make sense. It softens my sharp edges, gives me power, makes the world make sense, at least enough.

Ketchup or mustard

I hate ketchup. It’s so distant from the tomato, so sugary, so unnecessary. How long ago were those tomatoes grown? At Oriole games during the condiment race, I will always root for mustard or relish. Given the choice between ketchup or mustard, mustard every time.

Window seat or aisle seat

I get why people prefer the aisle, but I want the window. I want something to lean on for naps. The aisle offers no rest for the weary and planes make me very weary.

Kevin Costner or Kevin Bacon

Kevin Costner has been my older man crush for years. Think For the Love of the Game Kevin Costner. He’s a baseball pitcher who’s unapproachable and hard-edged but certainly soft and cuddly on the inside. Think Message in a Bottle Kevin Costner. He’s a waterman, gruff, and alone. Okay, okay, so he always plays the same character. But it’s a character I love.

And something about the space between Kevin Bacon’s nose and top lip weirds me out. All I can do is stare at it. Costner has got my vote.

Right or left side of the bed

This is a trick question, my choice will always be wherever the reading lamp is and wherever there’s a side table for my water.

Doctor or Dentist

If you’ve met my dentist (and an strange number of you actually have), you’ll already know my answer. I will take dentist over doctor any day. The doctor includes all sorts of unknowns and chances. The wait at the doctor is always head-scratching-long to me too. I mean, why bother having appointments? At the dentist, Dr. Bryan always takes me right back. The dentist lasts a predictable amount of time and there are a predictable set of activities. With the doctor, the clock is irrelevant. There could be shots or blood draws or maybe you lost an inch of height. I’ll take the dentist any day.

 

The gray area is mostly where I’ll stay. But when I get to choose black or white, I’m happy to and I can be pretty polarized. Would you rathers are a luxury, though. And while I stay in the gray, I promise to remember that.

 

A Newport Ad, The Internet, and Us

This week we received a tri-fold postcard advertisement in the mail for Newport Lights. We keep our recycling bins on the front porch (because we’re classy, but also green) so I usually pull ads out of the mailbox and drop them right into the recycling bin. This one was a strange exception though. I had to bring it inside and show Chas. What kind of an anachronism is a paper ad for cigarettes being mailed to my house? It contains an invite to make your own video on the Newport website, descriptions of two contests to win trips, one to New York City and the other to Hollywood, and coupons for cigarettes. How desperate have we become? And by “we,” I mean Reynolds Tobacco Company.

One thing that strikes me the most is that thousands of people must receive this ad. But who actually cares?

It’s printed on nice paper. It’s visually appealing. But who are these people who take these coupons and buy Newports? Is the goal to get people to start smoking? In the year of our lord, two thousand and eighteen? Are we serious? Am I supposed to think “Ooo $4 off! I think I’ll pick up this deadly habit and run with it!”?

What are we supposed to care about anymore? In a given “normal” American day, I receive two or three snail mail ads; absentmindedly view hundreds of online ads on a work day; if it’s a Bachelor(ette/in Paradise) day then a few repeated TV ads on abc.com; when I take 83, maybe eight or nine billboards; and probably more I’m not thinking about. It amazes me that our brains even weed through enough to prove that it’s worth buying ad time and space. But they must work because according to this top hit on google, TV advertising alone is a $71 billion per year industry. No way “they’d” be spending that much money on something ineffective.

So what’s urgent anymore? There are so many people and companies and devices all vying for our attention. It’s like little visual and audio explosions going off all around us all the time to the extent that we don’t even know how to deal and in some cases care–kind of like the Trump presidency.

———

So while I am squarely a millennial, I now have social media (as of the past 10 months), and I am technology literate and a very fast typer, here are my pet peeves about the digital age, a time that makes paper cigarette ads look quaint and surprisingly, almost endearing.

Passwords

How many passwords and versions of the same password do we all have by now? Mine’s gotta be in 90s. When I try to log into certain websites such as Apple, I just change my password every single time. It’s useless. Sometimes I email myself my new passwords and then can’t remember what I called the emails. Did I add a ? and a ! or a !?! or just a !? Was there a 1 at the end? Was the a and @?

If I could have back all the time I have spent trying passwords, resetting passwords, asking the website to email me, logging back in, remembering what I wanted on the site in the first place, I’d have time to write a novel. Give us back that time, universe!

Captchas

I will let John Mulaney handle this one. This is from his new Netflix special, Kid Gorgeous. Do yourself a favor and watch the entire thing, especially if you attended Catholic school.

The world is run by computers. The world is run by robots and we spend most of our day telling them we’re not a robot just so we can log on and look at our own stuff. All day long. ‘May I see my stuff please?’

“Ahhh, I smell a robot! Prove, prove, prove! Prove to me you’re not a robot! Look at these curvy letters. Much curvier than most letters, wouldn’t you say? No robot could ever read these. You look mortal, if ye be. You look and you type what you think you see! Is it an E or is it a 3? That’s up to ye. The passwords that passed, you correctly guessed, but now it’s time for the robot test! I’ve devised a question no robot could ever answer. Which of these pictures does not have a stop sign in it?”

Internet Grammar, Spelling, and Usage

This does not fit here but it’s been driving me bananas lately and I must get it off my chest. “Myself” is a reflexive pronoun. It can only be used when it refers back to an antecedent earlier in the sentence. You cannot say “See Ms. Sophie, Mr. Bongo, or myself if you have questions.” NO NO NO NO NO. Uncle Michael, I dedicate this paragraph to you and I am certain you are also cringing at this idea. If you use “myself” without an antecedent, you sound like you’re trying to be smart but you’re not sure how. Here’s how you can use it correctly. I will handle your grammatical problems myself.

Back to the title of this section. I know. I know. My soapbox is really tall. But why do we have to give up while we’re using the internet? Your vs. you’re just is not that hard to differentiate. Your yoga photo with the quote from Rolf Gates is meaningless to me if you follow it up with “Follow you’re dreams.” Vom.

Passive Aggressive Posts

This is rare from the people I actually “follow” but it happens. If you want to say something to someone, just fucking say it. Stop putting some Snapchat-enhanced selfie up as a way to say “Only care about people who care about you” or some other bullshit about something you’re too scared to say out loud.

Hatred

Posting hate on the internet (like this post…?) is a waste of energy. Put that energy into something else, people. Quit hiding behind that computer and improve what you hate about the world. Also, see above.

Rabbit Holes

It happens to the best of us. Have you ever started off googling a contestant on the Bachelor and an hour later found yourself looking at photos of Barbara Streisand’s ex-husbands? Yuk. I’ll take this time back along with the time spent attempting passwords, resetting, and retrying.

Weddings

I do not want to type this one. I know sometimes I make people I love sensitive to what I write about because I will put something here that I might not say to individuals aloud. Again, see above. So with pre-regret or pre-gret, I write this. When people attend weddings, it seems like they must take and post a photo with a partner and say one of the following:

  1. Congratulations to the new Mr. and Mrs. _________________. #dumbweddinghashtag #truelove
  2. Had a great time celebrating the new Mr. and Mrs. _____________________.  #dumbweddinghashtag #truelove
  3. Such a beautiful weekend celebrating these two! #dumbweddinghashtag #truelove

I will not judge you if you do this. Please continue, by all means. It’s normal now. And I’m sure it’s nice for the couple to see their hashtag used by many people. It’s supportive. But maybe I’m less so. And I’m sorry if I offended you, which leads to my next pet peeve…

Self-loathing

We can’t help it. Looking at the internet for any amount of time in the wrong place can make us feel ugly, stupid, inadequate, dumb, unaccomplished, and so many more things. There was a lot less self-loathing being passed around before the internet age.

———

Overall, what gets me about technology and how much we use it (hell, I’m using it right now and so are you), is that we forgo interactions with real humans. We ignore the people in front of us who, most of the time, are also ignoring us back. Our advances are great and technology has made literally almost everything better, but it sounds kind of nice to just visit an era for a bit (time-machine-style) that values, prioritizes, and spends energy on other things. A time when snail mail mattered and people had to remember how to spell and passwords were reserved for kids trying to block you from entering a room and we judged ourselves less because we weren’t constantly flicking through photos of other people and human faces mattered more than images of them on a screen.

Back to John Mulaney’s Kid Gorgeous…

Everything was slower back in the old days ’cause they didn’t have enough to do, so they had to slow things down to fill the time. I don’t know if you read history, but back then people would wake up and go, “God, it’s the old times.”

“Shit, I gotta wear all those layers. There’s no Zyrtec or nothing. Okay, we gotta… We gotta think of some weird slow activities to fill the day.”

And they did.

Have you ever seen old film from the past of people just waving at a ship? What if I called you now to do that?

“Hey, what are you doing Monday at 10:00 a.m.? All right, there’s a Norwegian Cruise Line leaving for Martinique. Here’s my plan, you and me get very dressed up, including hats, and then we wave handkerchiefs at it until it disappears over the horizon. No, I don’t know anyone on the ship.”

So where does this leave me (us)? Sure, I’d take technology over not technology. And this Newport Light advertisement doesn’t really offend me as much as it should because I loathe cigarettes and its old-timey-ness is sort of charming, but can we at least all agree on using reflexive pronouns correctly, or at least yours and theirs? Can we put our heads together and find some alternatives to this password madness/time-suck? Or at least agree to talk to one another in favor of climbing into rabbit holes that only lead us to find out Cap’n Crunch’s real name? (It’s Horatio Magellan Crunch.)

I love technology but it’s just as flawed, or more flawed, than we are. I’ll admit that and then chuck this cute little Newport ad in the recycling.

 

Travel to La Ciudad Perdida in Santa Marta Sierra Nevada, Colombia

In Summer 2013, Chas and I traveled to Colombia. I wish I had been more informed at the time but I hadn’t yet seen The Tale of Two Escobars. Just 10 years prior, apparently, Colombia had not been a safe place to travel. When we told people back then we were going there, we did meet with some versions of, “Are you sure that’s safe?” And my answer is yes, yes it was.

Chas and I were able to start in Cartagena, travel to Santa Marta, trek the Lost City Trek, and then spend a weekend in Medellin. While I highly recommend all of the places we visited in Colombia, this piece is about the Lost City Trek or La Ciudad Perdida. In some forms, it’s described as a Colombian Machu Picchu that’s luckily missing the “Disneyland” aspect of Machu Picchu. And it’s legit. It’s a total five day hike to a city that’s only been discovered in the past 50 years.

When I initially wrote this piece, version 1 was obliterated by my writing workshop. Ever been in one of those? I cried the entire way home from Johns Hopkins DC campus. But because I did an exhaustive amount of research for the first version to explain La Ciudad Perdida and its layers of history, here it is.

Colombia Rolling Hills

UnCivilized, 2013

On night two, I’ve fumbled my way out of my mosquito net. Rain pelted the tin roof structure where we would eat, sleep, and remain for the duration of the storm. I had heard a rumor of coffee in the “kitchen.” And after our day of hiking, I hobbled to a warm cup of comfort—careful not to let the rainforest’s rain find my already damp clothes. During the five-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Northern Colombia, clothes never really dry.

My hiking group—two Belgian girls, a guy from French Canada, a South American couple, and my boyfriend and I—had instantly bonded. Our “Magic Tours” tour guide, Miguel, had a great sense of humor and bag full of Colombian candy. We sat together that night discussing tomorrow’s hike into the Sierra. A dozen hiking groups surrounding us were doing the same.

After a few rounds of coffee and conversation a man appeared at the table behind our group. Surrounded by a small crowd, he spoke. All eyes locked on his face as he described his culture, a mystery to gringos. Miguel approached our table, pointed to the man, and told us in mumbled Spanish, “You’re next.”

We had seen many indigenous people over the past two days, passing them on the trail. We were told that most indigenous hated tourists and didn’t want us in the Sierra Nevada. Many gave us rigid glares, some returned smiles, and others stared at the ground. We met a small family at their hut that morning: a young mother and five cherubic, dust-covered children, one for each year she’d been married. A small girl followed us to a waterfall where we swam. She crouched on a rock hugging her knees, watching and smiling.

Minutes later the man sat down in our circle. His name was Fermin. A member of the Kogi tribe, he was chosen to learn Spanish by the Mamo, the tribe shaman. Most Kogis speak only the Kogi language. With only English, I was at the mercy of my new friends to hear his words second-hand.

Fermin wore his white tunic under a cascade of black silky hair. (The only indigenous people we had seen not wearing white tunics were children in extra large Led Zeppelin T-shirts.) His elbows rested evenly on the tabletop and his thick, calloused hands moved as he spoke. The strap of a saddlebag crossed his heart, its sacred contents rested next to his hip. His jaw was never idle. He chewed a cocoa leaf and lime combination like all Kogi men over eighteen. Following each sentence he took a breath and looked down, his lips meeting in a line over decaying teeth.

Candles propped in emptied tuna cans lighted the exhibit. Fermin said he would be telling us first about his culture. His tribe—one of four that descends from the original Tayrona people—rely on and protect the earth. The earth is the Kogis’ mother and they honor her with everything they do.

He explained the sacred poporo in his bag—a gourd filled with lime and cocoa leaves. Males, beginning at age eighteen, use it to bring them closer to “The Mother.” A foot-long stick through a hole in the middle of the gourd delivers the lime to the inside of Fermin’s cheek, so the reaction can take place. Sacred Cocaine.

I sat mesmerized by a man who had so little in common with me. “A walk that takes you thirty minutes, would take me five,” he joked. Surprised, we were happy to self-deprecate, laughing, loudly, with him.

He gathered his lips and switched to a somber face. Looking at each of us with black eyes, he told of the destruction and contamination caused by tourists and people from outside of the Sierra Nevada. The Spaniards had conquered his people in the sixteenth-century. His people have not forgotten.

Fermin worries about the Sierra and about the Earth. If “little brothers,” people not from Sierra Nevada, continue on our path of environmental destruction, the Mother will be in danger. A fellow-hiker named Paula translated tens of generations of wisdom. Fermin sounded as if he represented the Green Party.

“You should not go to Ciudad Perdida,” said Fermin.

We all stopped breathing. The point of our trek was to go to Ciudad Perdida, to see its ascending staircases, to behold the green-coated structures, to smell the air near the clouds. Not go?

Fermin looked at each of us and continued, “But when you do,” he said as we exhaled, “keep positive thoughts in your minds.”

He said the “Lost City” was never lost because his people knew it was there. Once a year, the Mamos go there to spiritually cleanse it. “From the dirty tourists,” I thought.

He wrapped up his talk, and I wished I could ask him a question. Instead, I said no fewer than four times, “Muchas gracias.” I wanted to apologize for the Spaniards, English-only Americans and all tourists, and tell him how this urban girl would go home and remember everything he said.

I appreciate nature and like camping, but I’ve lived my whole life between two Baltimore City neighborhoods. His life and my life could only intersect in this exact circumstance for these few moments. I wished he could know its significance for me.

Paula later told me that, in Spanish, Miguel contrasted us with the Kogis and other tribes by calling them “indigenous” and calling us “civilized.” She had purposely translated it differently for us, disagreeing with his word choice. They were indigenous. We were non-indigenous.

In Fermin’s presence, I felt uncivilized. Back in the States, the animated kids’ movie about talking beasts, “Monsters University,” dominated the box office. A New York mother of two had been released on $500,000 in bail after being arrested for warehousing millions of dollars of illegal drugs.

And now I was in the rainforest, feeling like a monster, speaking to an indigenous man who was openly, legally, and peaceably using coke.

The next day we woke, crawled out of our mosquito nets, put on our wet clothes, and kept walking toward Ciudad Perdida—armed with Fermin’s message, offering the positive thoughts he had requested. In his own words.

Colombia Accommodations

Our accommodations along the trek. Three nights were hammocks and one night was a creepy bed, much preferred the hammocks.

Colombia Layers

Colombia Village

Indigenous village.

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La Ciudad Perdida

Colombia View

COlombia Lost City Entrance

At the base of the city.

Colombia Indigineous

Mother of four and her youngest.

Colombia FamilyColombia Child

Colombia Lost City

Our group in La Ciudad Perdida

 

Travel to Belgium (with a side dish of Amsterdam)

In Bruges is a strangely violent Colin Ferrell movie in which basically everyone dies. In it, Ferrell’s character who is as dislikable as any given Colin Ferrell character, constantly complains about Bruges. It’s ugly, it’s boring, it’s cold, people are miserable. I couldn’t disagree more. Chas and I chose to travel to Belgium after Greece because we wanted to keep traveling and wanted to visit a country we could fly home from affordably. That place turned out to be Belgium. Further proving that hired hit man, Colin Ferrell and I have nothing in common.

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Ghent

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        We arrived in Brussels and immediately hopped on a train to Ghent. It was only about a 30-minute journey to the central station in Ghent. The bus/tram system was navigable but we way overbought the tickets because we actually barely used it, opting to walk almost everywhere. We took a two-mile tram trip with our bags toward our hostel. The rep at the train station was really helpful but convinced us to buy a certain pass we didn’t really need so maybe not so helpful. We stayed at the Andromeda Ecohostel which we loved. It’s on a canal and located on an old barge. Our room wasn’t cheap but Ghent isn’t cheap. We had a private room, shared bathrooms. The couple that owns it is incredibly helpful and kind. Marten, the husband, greeted us, gave us a map and directed us where to go. Definitely get the locals maps. They’re really colorful and have a ton of great and unique suggestions. I don’t know what else to call them but if they’re not in your hotel, go to a hostel and ask for one. They’re free so no one will mind. We let this map guide us through Ghent to the point that it felt like linen when we were done and we had to hold our pieces next to one another to navigate from neighborhood to neighborhood.

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Our boat hostel.

        The first night we wandered around, went to a coffee shop and got our bearings. Definitely get water in a Dagwinkel rather than ordering it in a restaurant. They charge an obscene amount for small quantities of water in restaurants. We lived entirely off of giant bottles. We walked around Ghent that first night, napped, and then grabbed beers which we drank in the square. We wandered around so long looking for the perfect place to eat that all the restaurants had closed. Finally we ate at a frite barge. It was pretty terrible. They fry meat, cheese, and meat again and put them on a bed of frites. Just pick something and stick with it. With a little perspective, I know now that Belgian food isn’t very good. There are many immigrant communities though that make amazing food from their countries: Syrian, Afghani, Iranian, and more. Just do this after you’ve had frites and mussels at least once. Any Belgian will gleefully tell you that French fries are not French. They’re Belgian. One of our hosts (albeit one of the strangest people I’ve ever met–more on her later) told us that American soldiers in World War II started eating frites, heard people speaking French and thought, “Oh we’re in France! These are French fries.” Really, they were in a French-speaking part of Belgium but as Americans are wont to do, we made up a lie and stuck with it.  

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        The next morning was a Monday which meant that the two museums we planned to go to were both closed. We ate at our hostel which had free breakfast and then went to Gravensteen Castle. It was a pretty neat tour with weaponry, the castle, medieval life, and some Ghent history. After Gravensteen we did some more wandering and ended up on the Ghent University campus. We visited an old socialist building which is now a concert hall and meeting place. Then, we went to the big part in the city and the botanical garden there which is gorgeous. We ate at a delicious vegetarian restaurant near the train station. Ghent is something like the vegetarian capital of Europe. They do it well! We walked through the red light district – eeks! That night we ate at a fancy restaurant which was pretty good. We got some beers, a waffle and watched the people. Ghent is gorgeous. At some point in this wandering, we could not find a public restroom. After miles of discomfort and peepee dances, I literally just had to pull down my pants in a park and go. But as Americans are wont to do… Anyway, nothing bad happened other than I solidified my place in the world as a working professional who also acts like a small child. 

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        The next morning we ate our free breakfast and headed to Dr. Huslain’s Museum which was a short walk from our boat hostel. Dr. Huslain was one of the pioneers in psychiatry. The museum is in an old mental hospital. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in psychology and the weird history. Some of the videos and photos of the treatment of the determined “insane” are absolutely unspeakable, shocking, haunting. But I guess Huslain was trying to make things better and that’s why he gets a museum. There were also some whacky art exhibits. We learned a ton about Huslain’s work and about the history of psychiatry around the world. We also learned a lot about the Christian Brothers—a little propaganda exhibit was snuck in there. I forget their connection but it was presented as positive. 

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At Dr. Huslain’s.

        We picked up our bags and headed to the STAM (Ghent City Museum). This was the most modern and impressive display I’ve ever seen. It was a great lesson in Ghent, Belgium, and European history. They had an interactive map on which visitors could change the year, the location, etc. It’s absolutely worth the visit and they have big lockers for storing luggage. You could easily be here for hours. We then went to the train station and grabbed a quick train to Bruges. It was about an hour-long journey.

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Castles and beer. Belgium.

Bruges

In Bruges we stayed in an adorable AirBnb. Loved it. It was a section of a woman’s house and just the cutest little Belgian room. Bruges, like Ghent, is not cheap. 

This town in simply gorgeous. Super walkable city. We went through neighborhoods, stood beneath windmills, visited a convenience store run by a man who goes by Apu (a character from The Simpsons), drank incredible beers, and just explored. I feel like we had the least direction in Bruges but it was for the best. Again, get the Locals Guide map here. One of my favorite things ever was a house that I wrote about in this blog. The house was just on a random street in Bruges. 

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We had a beer in a bar that was in the basement of a church, recommended on the Locals Guide. The basement was so old that it predated even the church which had been built in the 16th century. The basement had been the storeroom for a shop they believed went back to the 12th century. The bartender there told us that Bruges was in such good shape and so well preserved compared to other European cities in the path of World War II because one of Hitler’s right-hand men just “liked” Bruges and told the Nazis not to bomb it. I trust that bartender so I won’t even look it up.

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There was a church (featured in In Bruges in the way that three or four people are shot in it) where some of Christ’s blood is allegedly held. Once they wanted a couple euro to see it, we hightailed it right out of there. At some point we happened upon a marijuana festival which I guess is Belgium’s way of attempting to answer the vigor created by the Netherlands. The park that bordered the street where we stayed was a gorgeous run, almost pinch-yourself gorgeous, with swans and flowers and lamplights, and strollers but people probably call them prams. We only stayed one night in Bruges but certainly made the most of it. We trained it to Amsterdam from there.

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Amsterdam

In Amsterdam we struggled immensely finding our Air Bnb but when we did were so pleasantly surprised. It was another houseboat but the family used their top level for rentals. Diegert, the host, was about as helpful as they come and greeted us with beers. We could hang out in the front yard and rented bikes right from the family. Instantly, in Amsterdam you can tell that bikes are king, over walkers, cars, hovercraft, everything. We found ourselves stumbling to get out of the way of bikers until we figured out the rules of the road. We walked to a food hall which was just like a Dutch version of R House or Mt. Vernon Marketplace but with like 300 bikes out front.

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We visited the Anne Frank House while there, a must do, but you also must book it ahead of time. One cannot simply show up. The tour includes an audio guide with direct quotes and explanations of different uses of parts of the annex. It’s an emotional and humbling tour. Again, like we do, we just walked aimlessly throughout the city then bickered about where to eat. The next day we braved the bikes and spent most of the day in Vondelpark. It was divine. I just love the Dutch way of life.

Again, we spent most of the time agenda-less but in such a good way. I think we got a good feel for how people live there and it seems like a good life.

Amsterdam to…

Brussels

Brussels was pretty immediately a bit of a let down compared to the other utopias we’d visited. First off, I booked a private apartment on Air Bnb but when we arrived, Sophie, our host, told us that we’d have a roommate. She said that she had made a mistake and that Gen (a Japanese guy) would be arriving soon. Gen’s room was only accessible through the apartment’s only bathroom (which had no toilet paper) making showers and #2s pretty strange. Sophie showed up several times throughout the stay and was nice I guess but just clueless about hosting human beings who are paying for a service. On our last day there, we ran into her on the street in the morning and she told us that she hadn’t yet gone to bed. She asked if she could come up to take a shower and I wanted to say, “Well you’ll have to check with Gen” but we just said sure. She and her man-friend hung out as we packed our things for an hour. Just not normal.

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I started our time in Brussels by taking a yoga class down the street which was pretty great. We did our wandering and just found it to be less than spectacular generally. We did come across a memorial for the recent terrorist attack and happened upon some type of preposterous parade. Then, as we sometimes do, we found ourselves self-spite-eating fast food.

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The next day we visited the parliament building, braved the outside of the urine-soaked library, and happened upon an incredible World War I photo display in a park–that I loved. Chas had found his one demand on a local map–the Cantillon Brewery, a family owned brewery that uses an ancient method of brewing that depends on the seasons. We took the tour, drank the brews, and learned the methods. Loved it. We found an immigrant neighborhood near the brewery where we had an incredible Syrian lunch. Then we closed out the trip near our (and Gen’s) apartment.

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I’d recommend Belgium to anyone and Colin Ferrell can go shit in his hat.