Çocukken/Yaz.

It’s the dog days of summer in the Piedmont — late July, early August. That point where the novelty of summer has worn off. I’m tired of the neighborhood kids; I just want to see my school friends. Too many games of flashlight tag that end in pointless fights, too many profitless lemonade stands. The water in the pool is the exact same temperature and humidity dew point as the air — no longer refreshing. The North Carolina humidity is oppressive, and street after identical street of repeating brick, colonial-style houses trap the imagination within their bounds.

I’m eleven. I lie on my back in the middle of my backyard. It’s so hot and humid, I don’t want to move even an inch. It’s mid-afternoon, past the peak heat of the day, but still several hours off from the evening thunderstorms that will offer a small respite from the heavy stillness that permeates.

I lie on on my back in the middle of the yard. A grassy lawn divided from the woodsier, pine-straw covered part of the yard by a border of creeping lily. Trees tower overhead, dappling the yard in shade. Mostly long-leaf pines, of course, but a smattering of oaks as well. A few baby pine trees sprouted in the woodsy area this spring, but I don’t think they’ll grow to adulthood. This is suburbia; we control our natural environment.

The grass is scratchy and dry on my bare shoulders and legs. Although thunderstorms sweep in nearly every night, they hardly ever bring rain. Just the atmosphere relieving the tension. So, the grass is dry and yellowing. The air doesn’t smell of freshly cut grass and loamy soil, as one might suspect. Instead it smells like midsummer in Carolina — the dry, hay-like scent of dead grass and the always-damp smell of hard, red clay earth. If there were a breeze, it might carry with it the scent of pine and dogwood. But it’s as still as death. And hot as hell.

I’m lying in the middle of the yard because Mom sent me outside. Apparently, “it’s good for” me. I can’t sit on the deck because the screened-in porch is technically “inside,” and the wooden slats of the flooring are too hot to touch. Plus, it’s kind of depressing, being wedged between the gas grill and the wilted, dead tomato plant. I’d lie closer to the porch, in the shadow of the house, but I’m afraid of the black widow spiders that my brother claims are hiding behind the wheelbarrow and the other lesser-used yard maintenance tools (We don’t “garden,” we just “maintain,” because, like I said, this is suburbia). The pine needles of the woods are sappy and they stick to my sweaty back. Thus, I find myself lying in the center of the yard, on a patch of withered grass.

The porch door creaks on its hinges. Somewhere down the street a car revs up and whips out of a driveway way too fast. Probably a teenager testing the limits of his provisional driver’s license. A dog barks in the distance. Otherwise all is quiet and still.

My cutoff jeans chafe my day-old sunburn uncomfortably. A single bead of sweat slips down my back, in the gap between my shoulder blades. My tank top doesn’t quite fit right these days, as a shadow of my soon-to-be breast distort my known body shape. Too many things are changing too quickly. But I’m eleven, and I want to force that change. I’ve finished one year of middle school and I already know it’s the worst. Maybe if I can force these changes, it won’t suck so much.

My tank top is from Old Navy — the kid’s section — but I claim it’s from Aeropostale. I’m a runty kid, still too small to fit into “junior’s” sizes that all the cooler middle schoolers are wearing. We were friends in elementary school, but something changed over the last year, but I don’t know what; it wasn’t me. I want to fit in, so I do what any self-respecting eleven-year-old would do. I lie about where my clothes came from.

Three bracelets woven from colorful embroidery floss encircle my skinny wrist, evidence of a summer-boredom-buster project. My bare feet are tough from walking around the scorching hot, cement pool deck without shoes all summer. A dog-eared, well-loved copy of the first Baby Sitter’s Club book lies just out of reach. Maybe I’m not as ready to be adult as I profess to be.

I open my eyes and look straight up. The sky is a blinding, beautiful Carolina blue. A few wispy clouds dot the skyscape, but nothing substantial enough to block out the blazing white sun. I’m bored and have been rendered lethargic by the heat. Moving makes the suffocating heat worse, so I don’t.

My best friend is on vacation on Bald Head Island with her family this week. My other best friend goes to the year-round school and is tracked-in this week. There hasn’t been a dance choreographed to Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” in over a week. Nor has there been a stupid, pointless eleven-year-old girl fight. I can’t remember the last time I’ve got this long without crying hot, angry tears as I fought with my best friends over who would get to be in the front of the music video. It’s been quite a dull week.

My little sister doesn’t get home from soccer camp for at least another hour. But when she does, the silent spell will be broken. She’ll come find me to play with her, but also to goad me into picking a fight. At least it will be interesting. But for now, I lay completely motionless in the hot, humid, oppressive, sunny, blazing, still afternoon, as sweat drips from my temple onto the dry, itchy, dead grass.

Görünmez komşular.

Seattle’s homeless population is just about impossible to ignore — it’s huge (3rd in the nation, after New York and LA) and growing. These faces make up the fabric of my daily life. The old man who I pass each time I go to catch a bus, who beds down with his patchwork quilt each night on the stoop of the investment firm down the street from my apartment. The woman who I walk by on my way home from work each evening, who commandeers the bus stop on the corner of 5th Avenue and Denny Way, who constructs a windproof shelter each night out of several battered umbrellas. The men and women who call the Hooverville-esque tent city at the I-5/I-90 junction home. If you take half a second to stop and look around this city, you’ll see the ongoing struggle with homelessness on every corner.

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Yet those of us who have a warm, dry, secure place to spend the night each night tend to look right through these people, treating them as if they are inanimate parts of the urban landscape, like benches or trash cans. Hell, I spend half my week dodging people gathered on street corners, as well as my own conscience. It’s almost too easy — walk quickly and purposefully, keep your eyes focused on a point in the middle distance, and if someone does approach you, mumble something marginally coherent about not having any cash.

This is how I have always approached these situations, and how everyone I know approaches them (I had to learn the steps to the dance somewhere), with blinders on, keeping out the ugly and unpleasant. For some reason though, the cognitive dissonance has caught up with me in the last few months; I am a self-declared progressive feminist, who has been known to rail against racism, sexism, income inequality, the education gap, regressive tax systems, foreign policy led by hawks instead of doves, and a host of other issues. I believe strongly in social justice, and hope to make addressing inequality my life’s work. Yet, when faced with the prospect of engaging with actual humans on these issues, particularly homelessness, I freeze up because I don’t have the experiences to relate. Though I empathize, I am not sure how to act in response. But I want to learn.

This summer, I will be participating in Bike and Build, a cross-country cycling trip in support of affordable housing. Over the course of 10 weeks, I will pedal from providence to Seattle, stopping along the way to participate in affordable housing builds and to educate communities on the issues surrounding poverty, homelessness, and the lack of affordable housing in the US.

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I have wanted to participate in Bike and Build for years, mainly because I love riding my bike and cycling across the country seemed like a challenging and exciting adventure. However, living in Seattle has changed my motivations for this trip. Before it was all about the bicycling. But, as I learn more about the failures of public housing and the stories of individuals, as told by artists like Jesse Rogers, I am drawn more and more to addressing the root causes of poverty and the lack of affordable housing in the US. For a country that bills itself as the land of milk and honey, we have a lot of citizens who are not reaping the benefits of this so-called egalitarian democracy. I plan to learn more about the underlying, systemic problems and what steps are being taken to address them, to hear other people’s stories, and to chronicle these lessons, as well as all my misadventures on the road, here.

If you would like to learn more about my experience with Bike and Build and/or make a donation in support of my ride, follow the link to my Bike and Build profile.

Yankı.

Lately, I have felt trapped in an echo chamber, where I encounter only ideas and opinions that mirror my own. This leads to a feedback loop, whereby all the information I come across reinforce my already-held beliefs. There is very little push back, nothing to counter my opinions and to force me to question what I perceive to be the truth.

Some of this is my own fault. I voluntarily watch “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight”. Most of my news comes from The AtlanticThe New York Times, NPR, and Al-Monitor’ “Turkey Pulse”. I choose my friends and with whom I associate (I can count on one hand the number of friends who would consider themselves card-carrying members of the Republic party).

However, much of this siloing of my knowledge and access is a result of the algorithmic power of Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk. These social media capture data on the information I willingly provide (education, location, gender, age), as well as on the things I “like,” comment on, and click on, and provide me with more of the same. By capturing data on a particular article I read, Facebook assumes I want to see more of the same in the future and tailors my Newsfeed accordingly. It pigeonholes users in an attempt to please.

To wit, my newsfeed has been clogged with the following in the last month [and what that says about me]

The only instance where I have gotten any kind of push back is with regard to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. In this case, my fair number of Jewish friends who have differing opinions from myself on the sovereignty of Palestine post articles with which I may not necessarily agree. But even with these friends, I am too chicken to engage in an actual debate. I peruse the articles they post, but do not vocalize my differing opinions for fear of jeopardizing our friendship.

And this unwillingness to engage in a health debate is rampant, and slowly suffocating us all. We teach small children to respect the opinions of others and to discuss their problems, rathe than fighting. Yet somewhere in the intervening twenty-odd years, we disregard, forget about, throw out these lessons. We retreat to our corners and play only with our peers who like the Red Power Ranger and think the Black Power Ranger is for suckers. Congress is in partisan deadlock, unwilling to compromise on even the smallest of issues. Rather than engaging opposing views, news outlets compete to see who can yell the loudest. We see the rise of extremism worldwide (and it’s not all Islamic) and a cascade of global crises, but fail to address their root causes. In this age of overwhelming access to information, we are more ignorant of opposing views than ever. What will be the long-term costs of such polarization?

I leave you, dear readers, with one last question — when was the last time you really engaged with, had a true debate with, a person or idea whose beliefs ran counter to your own? This question has been thrown in sharp relief for me as I attempt to read a book which has a premise I do not agree with (William Easterly’s The Tyranny of Experts), and the answer (for me, anyway) is a long, long, long time ago. I don’t agree with Easterly’s overarching thesis; I find myself arguing with the text and poking holes in Easterly’s logic. I have to force myself to pick up this book and read the next chapter.

But it’s not all horrible. Despite my and Easterly’s diverging views on the way in which development has happened, is happening, and should happen, Easterly’s got a few fair points that need to be weighed and taken into consideration by all members of the development field. I feel more engaged reading this book than I have with any other piece of non-literary writing that I’ve encountered in years. It makes me a better economist, development worker, and policy wonk than I would ever be if i just stuck with those those writers and thinkers with whom I agree.

This book and the ever-repetitive nature of my Facebook Newsfeed make me want to seek out real, substantive dialogue with people, writing, and ideas that I would normally eschew. I find myself craving the dissonance and debate. so, if you find anything that you think might challenge me, please send it along. May the hunt begin.

 

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A final aside: All of the articles and videos linked to to here are ones that have informed and reinforced, and did not really challenge, my worldview. So there’s that.

Parklar ve rekreasyon.

I love the show, “Parks and Recreation.” It’s a feel good show, full of silly antics. It makes me laugh, but more than anything, I love it for its beautiful, strong, well-rounded characters.

I love Tom, because he reminds me that sometimes you just need to treat yo’self. Ben Wyatt is the nerdy boy after my own heart; also, he invented the Cones of Dunshire. Donna Meagle, because all that sass (too much sass for me to pick just one). I identify strongly with April Ludgate’s misanthropy. Ron Swanson, because:

I love the weird cast of smaller characters — Jean-Ralphio, Tammy I, Tammy II, anyone from Eagleton, Lil’ Sebastian. My greatest love is probably for Leslie Knope, because we are the same person.

Perhaps my most under-appreciated love is for Andy Dwyer. I don’t profess to love him like I profess to love Donna, Leslie, April, and Ron. Perhaps it is because we’re so different; I find less to identify with Andy than I do with the other characters. Or at least I thought I did. Until the beauty of the internet did what I could not do, and showed me that even though Andy and I are so different, he has uttered some eternal truths…

To be honest, this whole post was written because I found one Buzzfeed post I liked. But also, it is a teaser for something I will post when I have more time in the next week, about agreeing and disagreeing, and the power of the internet.

On üç.

One of the biggest complaints of late is a lack of inspiration in my life. There are so many things I love and so many things I want to do, but I’ve been able to come up with specifics of all the things I want. Getting out of Seattle, taking a vacation, and seeing family and friends have got my brain churning in a way it hasn’t in what feels like months.

I’m a great lover of lists and I’ve come out of my vacation with multiple lists of (re)inspiration — foods to cook, songs to listen to, books to read, people to call, plans to round out my summer.

It’s the first time since the early spring that I’ve found myself truly excited to dive into life and all the things I love best. That’s not to say I’m finished slogging through the muddy waters of life’s doldrums, but I’m moving through, determined not to get stuck in the Doldrums and become a Lethargian. I need to hold onto and explore these (re)inspirations.

On bir.

A hot, sticky July night, cruising through downtown Memphis, with country music streaming out of the speakers. It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to country music and I’m falling in love all over again. Something about being with old friends, being back in the South, driving aimlessly late on a summer night. Puts me back into my teenage years. The conversation meanders through many topics until we settle on music. Someone mentions Shania Twain, and C.P. and I burst out in unison:

Whose bed have your boots been under?

And whose heart did you steal, I wonder?

This time, did it feel like thunder baby?

And who did you run to?

Return to the best of friends. Return to the best of seasons. Return to the best of music. Simple nights are the best nights.

On.

This weekend I find myself in the company of the best of friends. The friends who know the best way to deal with stress, exhaustion, and heartbreak is with humor. The friends who know that laughter and wine are the best medicine. The friends who know just the right YouTube video.

Dokuz.

I’ve been sitting here, on this fold-out couch in my family’s beachside apartment rental in Montauk, NY for the last half hour, trying to come up with an idea of what I am grateful for today. That’s not to say that I’m not grateful for anything tonight. Rather, all of the things for which I am grateful and about which I want to write are big things, stories that require thought, effort, care. But it is late and I am on vacation and I must get up early tomorrow, so I don’t want to do thought and effort. And I shouldn’t need to do thought and effort. I’ll save that for a later day, when I’m home and back to real life. Sometimes, you just need to give yourself a break.

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So, instead, I’ll settle on this — I’m grateful for my vacation. An escape from Seattle to the East Coast was just what I needed at this juncture. I needed to escape my routine, the people and places that I frequent, the day-in-and-day-out-ness of life in which we find ourselves. I needed to revel in a bit of muggy, humid East Coast summer and to see the people who know and love me best — my family and some of my dearest friends. Ignoring my day-to-day life, taking a break from my routine has allowed me to decompress, recharge, rejuvenate. I’ve dug into some deep thoughts, some real feelings, and I’ve got a myriad of different things about which I want to write. But for now I just want to enjoy my lack of responsibility and the ease of old, unconditional-love relationships.