DC, There and Back Again

There’s nothing like ending a long project with a weekend getaway with friends. For me, that means hopping on a train to DC to visit the fabulous Ingrid and awesome Callie.

My train arrived in the early hours of Saturday morning and I took a 10 minute cab ride up to Capitol Hill to meet Ingrid at her impressive row house. We swapped work tales, I learned about the local hero Mr. Outlaw, and I finally put my head to a pillow just after two in the morning!

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Saturday was in a word: perfect. Ingrid and I started off at the grocery store, buying ingredients and supplies for our baking and picnic adventures later in the weekend all while we wandered the aisles, Starbucks in hand, wondering how life would be like if we were Dallas housewives.

Later that morning we met up with Callie at Eastern Market. There we sampled more than our fair share of fruits, admired jewelry, caught up on each other’s lives, and even tried some apple flavored bbq sauce – it wasn’t half bad!

We picnicked on the lawn of the Capitol, in the lush grass and beneath a shade tree. The air was warm, the sky was blue, and I was quite content to be amongst such good friends! Callie had rehearsal to attend and so Ingrid and I walked back to her house, put up our feet, and watched some good ‘ol GCB.

With baking supplies (and champagne!) in tow, Ingrid and I caught the orange line out to Arlington, VA to attend Callie and Jerry’s quite impressive dinner party! It was good to see mutual friends from college. My old roommate Selena who had married Callie’s brother ,Will, were quite the welcome surprise! Jerry crafted Kir –  a delicious french cocktail – and dinner consisted of caper topped pizzettes, corn chutney, baked fish and greens. For dessert I whipped up my famous pound cake and I even had the gang try out some Cafe Bombón as well…they weren’t too keen on the espresso drink but everything else turned out wonderfully!

As we ate the last of our cake and everyone else politely avoided the rest of their espressos, I couldn’t help but take in the friendly and almost familial atmosphere of the evening. It was like we never left school and we were all back in the common room, sipping on teas near the fire place, avoiding studying for that next big exam.

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Sunday morning I surprised Ingrid by going to church! She took me to St. Peter’s where I happily learned that my favorite pope, JPII, had been canonized the night before. Callie joined us for brunch, which consisted of heart shaped waffles, bacon, eggs, strawberries, clementines and mimosas, and we later headed to Lincoln Park for a game of Boules. Callie and I tried our hand at synchronized cartwheels –  a success  I might add – and then I surprised myself at executing a one-handed cartwheel without breaking any wrists!

They early evening quickly came, and Callie, Ingrid and I joined Jerry, Will and Selena at the National Art Gallery for a free Eliot Fisk concert that Callie had been looking forward to for weeks! While the seating was quite the haphazard game of musical chairs, I think we all enjoyed ourselves despite the ridiculous amounts of flora, which inhabited the museum space. However, I will say, I did enjoy Fisk’s partner in crime more: Paco Peña, a world-renowned flamenco guitarist.

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Night fell and we said our goodbyes as everyone piled into the Saab convertible. As they sped away beneath the starry night and black sky, Ingrid and I made the trek over to see my favorite man on the National Mall: Abraham Lincoln.

I’m not sure what it is, but I’m always in awe when looking up at the Lincoln Memorial. Basking in the grandeur of his memorial always sends chills down my spine and standing where Martin Luther King Jr. once stood when delivering his famous speech reminds me of how much my family has overcome.

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With enough energy for one last hurrah, Ingrid and I headed back to Eastern Market and dined at Matchbox Pizza in barracks row.

Neither one of us wanted to go to bed and put an end to our weekend adventure, so we stayed up as late as possible watching more GCB before turning off the lights.

Monday morning reluctantly arrived and Ingrid and I walked to Union Station where I boarded my train back to New York. As I settled into my seat, pulling my hood over my eyes, I smiled at the thought, “DC is always a good idea.”

Till next time!

Nella Larsen

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, we’ll call her Carol because that’s her name, lent me her worn and weathered copy of Nella Larsen’s complete fiction. This book loaning was a long time coming. Seeing that Carol and I both seem to straddle this ambiguous line of culture and race and find the experience too frustrating to put into words, she suggested that I give Nella Larsen another go.

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In college, I read her novella “Passing” as part of a post 1800 American Literature course. The moment I finished it, I realized on an emotional level that my family’s experience isn’t a singular one when it comes to our light skinned-ness. Of course I knew the history of passing, of the African-American diaspora, of the Harlem Renaissance, of Langston Hughes, Morrison, Walker and Angelou, but it wasn’t until reading Larsen did this “experience” punch me in the gut and leave me breathless.

In Nella Larsen’s Complete Fiction, the character of Helga Crane in “Quicksand” really troubled me. She was, is, me. While the ending, which I won’t spoil, is a troubling one, I can’t help but believe that I and others in this day in age can “rise above” the social, cultural and racial trappings our American heritage holds so steadfastly to.

However, on that note, reading Larsen’s work opened my eyes to the fact that there aren’t a lot of stories about “us.” About those who are told they are one thing but look into the mirror and see something else. One small relief from this present reality comes in the form of Heidi Durrow’s “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.” In TGWFFTS, we find a present-day confused and frustrated Rachel who, after surviving a murder-suicide attempt at the hands of her Danish mother, must live with her African-American grandmother on the other side of the country. When reading Durrow’s novel, like when reading “Passing,” I felt this urgent sense of identity and that finally, I could wholly identify with this young woman who must constantly defend her looks and background.

Perhaps one day I too can write about this experience, of rolling my eyes and coming up with witty come backs when even grown folks would ask, “What are you?” “I’m human,” I’d like to say more often than not, “What are you?” I’d counter.

No matter what your race, culture, politics or religion is, I do recommend you reading some or all of Larsen’s work. It is a truth and chapter so often lost in the telling of our American history.

* a version of this post first appeared on Cures for Curiosity

Just read: The Opposite House

I know what draws me to Helen Oyeyemi‘s writing but it has been a labor of love to get through my first attempts at her novels. While “White is for Witching” was a haunting fairy tale that would unexpectedly and abruptly transverse between reality and fantasy, “The Opposite House” really threw me for a loop.

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The Opposite House, Oyeyemi’s second novel, is a slow moving identity struggle for a young woman lost between two worlds: her current reality of London and her childhood memories of Cuba. Not only is her struggle a cultural one, it is a matter of race as well. Her boyfriend is a white Ghanaian who she suspects to be more authentically “black” than she,  her parents are educated black Cubans who fled the revolution, and her brother, born in London and affectionately referred to as “the London baby,” to much, I suspect, of Maja’s annoyance paints an accurate picture of what it means to be not of one’s country of origin. The themes of race, identity, culture and the fact that she’s on the verge of bringing another life into the world terrifies her and rightly so. I loved the internal struggle of Maja and Aaron’s, her boyfriend, lack of understanding. While her mother still holds onto the ways and rituals of the “old world,” her father and brother only know and look forward to their new and only experiences of London.

However, in between the story of Maja and her internal struggles, was where I began to get frustrated. Intercutting the slow moving narrative is an Oyeyemi original folktale full of powerful imagery but a frustratingly confusing story line. While I understood what it meant, an abandoned woman, Aya, stuck in a, “somewherehouse” where one door opens to London and the other Cuba, the complex actions and names threw me and distracted me from Maja’s journey.

I recommend this book, but only if you come equipped with the the patience to handle her narrative style.

“There is nothing like returning to place that remains unchanged…”

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Last weekend, I flew home to finally see my sister perform. She’s a dancer, on her high school’s drill team. And before she graduates onto bigger and better things, I wanted to see her dance just one last time in her sequenced getup beneath the bright light’s of her school’s stage.

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Going home, back to Kansas City or Dallas, has been quite the challenge for me ever since moving to New York, to “the city,” two years ago. The moment I step off the plane and into the airports of cities I’ve left behind, I’m seized wtih teh fear of my own, possible stasis. The stillness of the midwest, of the south, it unnerves me. Over on my friend’s blog, Cures for Curiosity, I wrote, “While I love the grey and low hanging Texas clouds if spring, the thickness of the air, the warm breezes that rush over you, I don’t miss the stillness of the place and the people…the moment I stepped off the plane, into the oppressive warmth, I longed for the city train to whisk me back away again. The southern ‘comfort’ and niceities overwhelmed me.”

But when I see my family, that’s when I remember why I’ve come back, if just for a little a while. My heart leapt when I watched my brother clench first place in his Friday night hurdle event and later, drinks with my mom, reaffirmed that wherever she is, “home” is. Late at night into the early moments before dawn, my sister and I swapped stories sitting Indian-style atop my bed. All these years I yearned for that moment, the moment I could be DJ to her Stephanie, or Stephanie to her Michelle. Beneath the grey and low hanging clouds of Texas we walked around the neighborhood pond, me with my DSLR in hand and her striking the perfect pose the moment I lifted the camera to my eye. My dad, between errands, napped lazily on the white linen couch, basking in the afternoon light that streamed through the unblinded windows, and their little yorkie, affectionately known as Angel, photobombed most of my Instagram attempts over a fresh bouquet of flowers. I missed my brother’s laugh, his unguarded wit and comedy when it came to recanting tales of his last days of senior year and my sister’s excitement, too, and witnessing her sadness as her senior year comes to an end, I was blessed to be there for that short 48 hour period.

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When the plane landed back at LaGuardia, however, I let out a sigh. It was as if in Texas, walking through the dense and muggy heat of spring that only Texas could bring, I had been holding my breath the entire time. Here, in New York, I feel free, no longer restless, no longer itching to get up and run far far away.