Hello and welcome. My name is Cosette and I’m the writer here. I blog a lot about being an expat and have been featured on Blog Expat, Expat Focus, Expats Blog, InterNations, Expat Arrivals, and Globehunters.
Humans are weird and dealing with complicated relationships is hard. File this under ‘life lessons I’m still learning’.
Winona Ryder is an award-winning actress, one of the most successful of the 1990s. Since her twenties, she has supported the American Indian College Fund, which sends low-income indigenous peoples to universities. In 2001, she stole $5,500 worth of designer clothes and accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Ben Carson is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School. He was the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland from 1984 until his retirement in 2013. Carson performed the only successful separation of conjoined twins joined at the back of the head, pioneered the first successful neurosurgical procedure on a foetus inside the womb, and developed new methods to treat brain-stem tumours. He was received more than 60 honorary doctorate degrees, written over 100 neurosurgical publications, and was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Carson is a vegetarian because he believes it’s healthier and better for the environment. Carson also believes that Charles Darwin was inspired by Satan, that the pyramids were created by a Hebrew slave named Joseph to store grain, and that the United States will play a big role in the coming apocalypse.
People are complicated
Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we’ve been hearing about post-truth politics. This refers to the idea that debate is framed by appeals to emotions. Details, truth, facts, and expert opinion are secondary if they matter at all. The internet makes everything old new again and this is no exception. According to Oxford Dictionaries, “post-truth” has been with us for a while.
Post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine. Reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War, Tesich lamented that ‘we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world’. There is evidence of the phrase ‘post-truth’ being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant.
A book, The Post-truth Era, by Ralph Keyes appeared in 2004, and in 2005 American comedian Stephen Colbert popularized an informal word relating to the same concept: truthiness, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true’. Post-truth extends that notion from an isolated quality of particular assertions to a general characteristic of our age.
Social media makes things look new and notable, but humans have been irrational since there have been humans. It’s a tough lesson because we like to think that we’re logical and rational and that this is what separates us from other animals. We also want humans to be kind and compassionate. We struggle to understand human cruelty.
Some behaviours, such as the sexual abuse of children, should never be tolerated. But, hopefully, that isn’t the sort of thing we’re dealing with. It’s more likely to be someone who is mostly normal and nice but has some ignorant racist, sexist, or homophobic beliefs and behaviours. How do you deal with people like that?
Cut them loose
Evaluate the relationship against the behaviours. Some issues are more important than others and people don’t have to tick all your boxes. Maybe you don’t want to cut your father out of your life over his antiquated belief that men should be the breadwinners and women should stay home to raise children. But do you really need to be Facebook friends with your third cousin twice removed that you haven’t seen in six years who is always posting InfoWars conspiracy theories? And lunch with Jaxsen, the racist gothic hipster from the customer service team, is definitely a no.
Focus on common ground
Give yourself and your loved one a break. Centre on common beliefs, interests, and relationships. And give yourself permission to have a complicated relationship with a complicated person.
Don’t let them off the hook
It’s okay to have relationships with problematic people. However, don’t apologise for your beliefs and don’t make excuses for theirs. You may want to avoid certain topics or keep debates from becoming a fight, but if you have a good relationship with a person, it should be okay to ask them difficult questions and challenge their perspective from time to time. You may need to ease up on your expectations though. People don’t change easily or just because you present them with facts and logical arguments.
Find your tribe
It can be infuriating, exhausting, and demoralising being around people like Jaxsen, the racist gothic hipster from the customer service team, or your fat-shaming Uncle Jim. At the end of the day, you need time to relax and restore yourself. Self-care is important and one of the best things you can do for your wellbeing is to find your tribe, that special group of people, that second, magical family, that gets you.
Actress Kelly Marie Tran has deleted her Instagram posts following months of abuse. Tran has been the subject of online abuse since she appeared as Rose Tico, the scrappy Resistance hero in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film was a critical and box office success. Critics and fans praised the visual effects, action sequences, and emotional weight. But Tran’s attackers are a vocal minority who don’t like where the franchise is going.
These basement-dwellers don’t like that the president of Lucasfilm is a woman (her name is Kathleen Kennedy, by the way). They don’t like the the diversity, emotional nuance, and progressive ideals of this Star Wars sequel trilogy. These turds say that they are fans simply critiquing and expressing their dislike. Let’s pretend that’s true.
Here’s a short guide to how to be a critic without being a racist, sexist neckbeard.
I know, I know. I’m mixing up my fandoms.
Dislike and insults aren’t critiques. They’re not criticism either.
Although critique and criticism are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. A critique is a disciplined and systematic evaluation. Critique is usually reserved for academia, philosophy, and profound writing. Criticism is also an evaluative exercise and it can be highly specialised and technical, requiring subject matter expertise by both the critic and the person engaging with the criticism.
Semantic arguments aside, the point is that critique and criticism study, evaluate, and interpret, highlighting both the shortcomings and the strengths of a work of art. Good criticism is timely, relevant, precise, well-researched, persuasive, and actionable. The best critiques and criticisms also examines the piece within the context of culture.
Now, in the absorbing 83-minute documentary Finding Vivian Maier, Maloof and co-director Charlie Siskel peel back her layers, allowing us to see where her creative universe came from, how she functioned, what she made. Much of the film is made up of straightforward interviews with her former employers interspersed with wonderful visuals: Maloof laying out all of Maier’s stuff on the floor or describing his attempts to track her down, and a great array of her amazing pictures. Working as a nanny in the Chicago area, Maier found positions where she could be taken care of so that she could take care of her art. She was a servant of her talent, compelled to use her servitude to make what she needed to make.
For contrast, here is bad criticism. These are reviews of The Last Jedi posted on Rotten Tomatoes by manbabies:
Over politicized [sic] piece of junk -Matt C
A steaming pile of garbage -GridPoet W
Main Stream/Communist Propaganda with star wars in the title -Dan Z
Rian Johnson leaves us with a emotionless story with little depth. The characters are unbelievable. Poor attempts at humor are thrown in at critical points in the story. I felt like I was watching a burning bag of dog crap! Thx! This made, The Force Awakens, look like a good film. -Matt S
I went out from the theater a little empty -Xavier%20 E
See the difference?
Most critics praised The Last Jedi, but here’s what a review from a critic that didn’t love it looks like:
In particular, he lets his writing—or, rather, his plotting—take control of him. It doesn’t run away with him (as in his 2012 movie, “Looper”), but, rather, it dominates him, both technically and emotionally. Throughout “The Last Jedi,” twist after twist, touch after touch, line after line has the feel of the compulsory, of homework done elaborately, with extreme labor.
This one is easier than the critique versus criticism thing.
In December 2017, the Rose Tico page on the fandom wiki Wookieepedia was edited to this.
If you are directing prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism at a person because of their race, that’s racism. Don’t do that.
If you are directing prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism at a woman because she is a woman, that’s sexist. Don’t do that.
If you mocking Tran’s appearance for any other reason, that’s being a jerk. Don’t do that.
More tips on how to be a good critic
Offer criticism that is meant to help.
Focus on the work, not the person.
Be specific and clear.
Mention what you liked and what you learned.
And keep in mind, your criticism doesn’t have to be taken on board. Learn to live with that. And if your suggestion is to “reverse this forced diversity” and “bring back the Straight White Male Hero”, well, you half-witted Nerf herder, you’ve got some catching up, and some growing up, to do.
Are you sick of bad news? Fake news? Sad news? It’s Friday (somewhere) so it’s happy hour time. Take a break! Here is a collection of awesome stuff.
Bill Gates shares five summer reads
“I’ve read some terrific books lately. When I pulled together this list of five that you might enjoy this summer, I realized that several of my choices wrestle with big questions,” says Microsoft founder and avid reader Bill Gates. “What makes a genius tick? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where does humanity come from, and where are we headed? Despite the heavy subject matter, all these books were fun to read, and most of them are pretty short.”
American children of certain generations will remember our favourite neighbour, Mister Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was an American half-hour educational children’s television series that ran from 1963 until 2001. Rogers, who died in 2003, is the subject of an upcoming documentary by Morgan Neville.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? opens in select theatres in the U.S. on 8 June.
Probably-goddess Brigid stars in #RepealThe8th campaign
On 25 May 2018, the Irish people voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which banned abortion. As part of the #RepealThe8th campaign, David Keeling Film made a delightful short film featuring the goddess-cum-saint Brigid.
“The film is a tongue-in-cheek take on the stories surrounding Brigid of Kildare, including her powers of eye-bursting, beer-making, deceptively-large-cloak-wearing, and – most importantly – providing help for vulnerable women with crisis pregnancies.”
Beninese artist Angélique Kidjo releases cover album of “Remain in Light”
In October 1980, American new wave band Talking Heads released its fourth studio album. Considered the band’s magnum opus, “Remain in Light” was critically acclaimed for its originality and innovative merging of experimental rock, seventies funk, and Afrobeats.
Now, Beninese artist Angélique Kidjo has released a track-by-track cover album of “Remain in Light”. With lyrics in Yoruba and Fon, the languages of her native Benin, Kidjo figuratively brings the record back to Africa.
Angélique Kidjo - Once In A Lifetime - YouTube
Pick up “Remain in Light” on Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you listen to music.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure on Kickstarter
I bet you didn’t you know you needed an action figure of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in your life. You’re welcome.
I had a lot of Barbie dolls and accessories when I was a little girl, but there were two big things I never had: a Barbie Dreamhouse and a Barbie vehicle I could drive. The guys at Grind Hard Plumbing Co are living my dream.
Real Engine in a Barbie Car! - YouTube
“Well known for their crazy contraptions, the crew ‘roided up the Barbie Power Wheels Ford Mustang by replacing the humble 12V battery with a 240cc single cylinder air-cooled four-stroke engine taken from a Honda CRF230 dirt bike (I’m not entirely sure what I just wrote there but it sounds super impressive).”
Wherever people go, they carry their cultural beliefs and traditions. And their gods. And gods emerge and are forgotten and are rediscovered and reshaped.
The first inhabitants of North America migrated from Siberia at least 15,000 years ago. Many gods arrived and emerged between then and the settlement of Europeans. Waves of immigrants from all over the world brought more gods. While the loudest conservative voices proclaim that the United States is a Christian nation, many gods are worshipped in America and the symbols of paganism are plentiful, most obviously in the Greek and Roman architectural styles of many great public buildings. And one of the nation’s greatest symbols is a Roman goddess.
During our recent trip to the U.S., my husband and I went to New York City. It was my second trip there, but my first time visiting the Statue of Liberty. If you’ve never seen her in person, let me tell you, yes, she is that impressive and beautiful. I know the Statue of Liberty was based on Libertas, the Roman personification of liberty. As I stood at her feet, she struck me as the most culturally relevant American goddess we have right now.
The United States has had a pantheon of goddesses. The Statue of Liberty is a late addition. In 1575, the French engraver Étienne Delaune created four prints with allegorical representations of the four parts of the world. Europe was the most illustrious and cultivated to denote her superiority; America was the most barbaric. Her bow and arrow and animal companion suggest Artemis/Diana may have inspired the representation. In 1779, using earlier drawings by Cesare Ripa, the Scottish draftsman George Richardson represented America in similar fashion.
From “The Four Parts of the World” by Étienne Delaune, British Museum website.
From Iconology by George Richardson. Library of Congress.
Unlike Europe, Asia, and Africa, America, this new and savage thing, was depicted partially or completely nude. Well, more naked than the others. The European taste for Exoticism gave way to representing America as a native of the New World. While England was often depicted with a crown, America wore a feather headdress. The young daughter became the Indian Princess (with unironic European features). When America began to fight for its independence from England, America went from noble savage to rebellious slut.
“The Female Combatants, or Who Shall” etching and engraving, 1776, artist unknown. Lewis Walpole Library.
Early allegorical images of America were born in the mind of Europe. Around the Revolution, America began taking charge of its symbols. To shed its native identity and connect to the “civilized” world, artists reached into the iconographic heritage of classical humanism. In the European tradition of personifying nations as pseudo-classical goddesses, America embraced Columbia, which had begun appearing in magazines in 1738. Columbia referred to place, but another goddess referred to principle: Liberty.
“Liberty. In the form of the goddess of youth, giving support to the bald eagle” by Edward Savage, 1796, Library of Congress.
In 1796, Edward Savage created one of the most popular images of her, an engraving titled “Liberty. In the form of the goddess of youth, giving support to the bald eagle.” The summary in the Library of Congress reads:
An allegory of American liberty. Liberty, represented by a maiden in the form of the goddess Hebe, offers a cup to an eagle descending from the upper left. With her right foot she treads on chains, a scepter, a key, and other implements of tyranny. At the lower right, beyond a pedestal or altar, the town of Boston is visible, with lightning in the sky overhead.
Columbia and Liberty look a lot alike in art. Both were used in political cartoons for a variety of issues including the call for women’s right to vote, the abolition of slavery, and the defense and protection of immigrants, a theme that would endure. As Roman-inspired figures, Columbia and Liberty lacked organic rootedness. The Indian wars horrified Americans while the new literature of the frontier fascinated them, and the image of the Indian Princess was resurrected in a new, subservient role. Here, she aided whites, made peace with them, and even married them. In fabled figures like Hiawatha and Pocahontas, America found its symbols of rootedness and continuity. Nevermind their real stories or the genocide of Native Americans.
This fresco of an Indian Princess and Columbia honouring George Washington was painted by Constantino Brumidi sometime between 1855 and 1856. It is in the U.S. Capitol Building.
The Mother of Exiles
Because of oppression and enmity, her cultural inferiority, and her subservient role, the Indian Princess could never become a primary symbol of America. Columbia stood a good chance. The national capital was named after her as were streets, towns, and institutions. The songs “Hail, Columbia” and “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” were among the unofficial anthems until 1931, when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was officially named the national anthem. “Hail, Columbia” is still used as the ceremonial entrance march of the Vice President of the United States. But a French man had an idea that would cement Liberty as the most recognisable and enduring personification of America.
Dedicated on 28 October 1886, La Liberté éclairant le monde, or Liberty Enlightening the World, was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States. The project is traced to Édouard René de Laboulaye and French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Laboulaye was a prominent and important political thinker of the time. A staunch abolitionist, he was the president of the French Anti-Slavery Society, a careful observer of American politics, and an admirer of the U.S. Constitution. Libertas was the obvious choice to express the idea of American liberty. In ancient Rome, Libertas had been widely worshipped among emancipated slaves and she was well-established in the U.S., adorning coins and appearing in popular and civic art.
Fundraising for the statue began in 1882. For an auction of art and manuscripts, poet Emma Lazarus wrote and donated a poem titled “The New Colossus”, which is inscribed on a plaque at the base of the statue.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Liberty’s torch is a symbol of enlightenment and progress. Her crown represents a halo; the seven spikes are rays evoking the sun, another means by which she enlightens the world. A broken chain lies at her feet. She was not conceived as a symbol of immigration, but as a symbol of freedom and, as she faced ships as they entered the harbour, she became a welcoming symbol and an unofficial greeter of immigrants.
I’ve been engaging in activism since I was a teenager. Although there is a relationship between my politics and my spirituality, I’ve engaged in very little spiritual or magickal activism. As a theist, my spiritual work is closely tied to gods and orishas. Despite my devotion to figures like Kali, Hecate, Yemaya, and Ogun, I’ve never been able to place American political magick at the feet of a foreign god nor of a Native American deity (I don’t work with any Native American deities or spirits). Despite being modelled after a Roman goddess, the Statue of Liberty has always felt quintessentially American to me. She was born in America, in the aftermath of revolution, amidst the quest for freedom. And she’s a foreigner. Her parents are Rome and France. She’s of here and of there, in between and of cultures, idealist, hopeful, like so many Americans, especially the immigrants she calls and welcomes. Yet I saw her only as a symbol, something intellectual or philosophical.
When I visited the Statue of Liberty, I did not expect it to feel like a pilgrimage. The moment I stepped on her island, before I had even made it around to face her, she stopped being just a symbol. For more than 130 years, she has been fed with prayer and hope by Americans and immigrants from all over the world. Perhaps I was so touched because I am a refugee/exile/immigrant myself, and an American.
New York City is full of souvenir shops selling cheap, Chinese-made replicas of the Statue of Liberty. I bought a USA-made one at the gift shop on Liberty Island. I’ve made a little space for her on a shelf, a place to honour her. I pray that her light does not grow dim.
Once the wedding was over, we settled into enjoying South Florida.
We’ve visited Calle Ocho, the cultural and political centre for Miami’s Cuban community. Here we’ve eaten delicious Cuban food, purchased Panama hats and domino sets, and my husband Theo and his best mate enjoyed a cigar.
We went to Miami Beach and dined at Tap Tap, a beautiful Haitian restaurant. We cruised up Ocean Drive and walked along Lincoln Road before going in to see Black Panther, which was great.
We had frozen daiquiris and mojitos and a took a tour of the bay.
We went to Key West, one of my favourite places in South Florida. We visited the Key West Art & Historical Society and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Hemingway lived in Key West from 1931 to 1939. I’ve been to his house before, but as a writer and fan of his work, it’s like a pilgrimage. I’m happy to visit again and again and I learn something new every time.
Driving to Key West.
A collection of Hemingway’s items at the Key West Art & Historical Society.
A statue of Ernest Hemingway at the Key West Art & Historical Society.
Cute houses in Key West.
A busy day at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
A couple of sleeping six-toed cats on Hemingway’s bed.
Hemingway’s writing studio.
Hemingway’s writing studio.
The cat cemetery at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
Take your money, leave the six-toed cat at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
We’re married! The wedding was on Saturday, 24th of February. It was a beautiful day. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about it as time goes on, but here are some immediate thoughts.
Although I wanted more than a courthouse ceremony, I knew I wanted a simple and small wedding. I see my wedding as a special day, but not the biggest, most important, or defining day in my life. The marriage – the relationship – is far more important to me. Further, both my partner Theo and I both value our home and travel more than a flashy wedding. Nevertheless, there were some elements that I identified as very important to me: the ceremony, food, the flowers, the cake, and music.
We wanted a ceremony that reflected our multicultural backgrounds, that wasn’t too religious because Theo is non-religious, but also reflected my Pagan sensibilities. I wanted the food to be good and the cake to be pretty. I wanted pretty flowers, but I wasn’t particular about the types of flowers. I wanted good music and dancing, but I didn’t want to hire a DJ. We used Spotify.
I wanted to minimise the stress and anxiety of wedding planning. I wanted it to be fun and not completely consuming of my time. Living in Melbourne, I knew early on that I would struggle to plan a wedding in Miami. I had help from family and friends, but weddings, even small ones, have a lot of moving parts. So, I hired Blush & White Event and Design House. I worked with Founder and Creative Director Haydee Duarte for months and she was wonderful. She listened to me. She looked out for me. She was patient, but also firm when it was necessary. Haydee sourced the catering, rentals, florals, cake, and dancefloor. She managed all the vendors, helped organised guests lists, stationery, and seating, created timelines, and coordinated on the day. She was terrific and worth every cent.
Theo and I were able to get the ceremony site we wanted. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is a beautiful and special place. Part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Trail, I grew up going to the beach there. It was also important to Theo that we get married at a historic site that we will be able to return to.
Finding a reception venue was a huge challenge. Many venues won’t accept a wedding party of 40 on a Saturday night when they can have one of 100+ and make a lot more money. Other venues have large food and drink minimums that a small wedding won’t meet. The so-called wedding tax further complicates this. Services often cost more for a “wedding” than they do for a “party” even if the two are identical in everything other than name. Flowers are just flowers until they’re “wedding flowers”. Then, they’re triple the price. The wedding almost didn’t happen because we couldn’t find a reasonably-priced venue for the reception in Miami that would accept a small wedding party. In the end, some very good friends offered their home and that’s where it took place.
I went to a few bridal stores, but discovered that I didn’t want a traditional wedding gown. They were beautiful and molded my body into a shape that is rarely seen, but it just wasn’t me. And I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a dress I’d only wear a few hours. I wanted a simple dress, but the local plus-size stores didn’t have any options for me. After doing a lot of research, reading reviews, and watching YouTube reviews, I took a risk and ordered a dress on JJ’sHouse. It was delivered within two weeks and was nearly perfect. I took it a local alternations service to take up the shoulders a little and add a panel to the front (it was more low-cut than I was comfortable with). A couple of pins and a little Hollywood Fashion Tape kept it perfectly in place.
Although we got married at the beach, we didn’t get married on the sand. We got married outside the charming and rustic Keeper’s Cottage, by the sea, a few feet from the Cape Florida Lighthouse. If something can go wrong, it will, and there were a few mishaps. The chairs for guests were supposed to have been delivered and set up 45 minutes prior to my arrival, but were not. We were supposed to have two park rangers, but only had one. The Keeper’s Cottage and Lighthouse were supposed to be open to guests, but they weren’t. For some reason that is still unknown to me, some guests were prevented from entering the park.
It was important to me to have a bilingual wedding. My partner doesn’t speak Spanish and my parents don’t speak English. My sister recalled that an old acquaintance of ours was a celebrant. I reached out to Frank Nuñez and he did a beautiful job. He included all the elements we wanted such as a memorial for loved ones that have passed, our own vows, the Greek tradition of the wedding crowns, and a Pagan blessing of the four elements. Equally important, he excluded the elements we didn’t want such as religious language and traditional, sexist language.
We didn’t have a bridal party per se, but Theo and my mom emerged from the Keeper’s Cottage and I followed with my dad. My sister held my bouquet. Theo’s best friend presented the rings and the Greek wedding crowns. My niece managed the music. It was a moving and loving ceremony. Despite a few hiccups, it was beautiful.
We wanted a wedding party, not a wedding reception, but we ended up with a reception. People have expectations when it comes to weddings and some of them are easier to eliminate than others. For example, we didn’t plan to have assigned seating, but our wedding planner explained that while we may think we’re taking the stress out of it, it’s confusing for guests to arrive at a wedding reception and not know where to go. In the end, it worked out because we were able to sit people together according to their relationships and create good synergy as well as good buffers.
When Theo and I arrived, we gave a brief, clumsy speech. We didn’t plan speeches and toasts. We hoped they’d happen organically, but they didn’t. Again, wedding expectations. We danced our first dance and then I danced with my father. Then we posed for the cake-cutting pictures to get that ceremony out of the way early. We spent of the rest of the night eating, drinking, mingling, and dancing. One of my nieces managed the music and another niece managed the photo guest book.
Paella Party provided the reception rentals as well as the food, which was very good. It was a Cuban dinner. For hors d’oeuvres, we had chicken breast brochette, coconut shrimp, and picadillo served in tostones-cups. Dinner was roast pork, white rice and black beans, yuca, and maduros. Cloud 9 Bakery made the beautiful and delicious guava and rose champagne cake and chocolate hazelnut mini cupcakes. House of Lilac provided the beautiful flowers and Greek wedding crowns. The dance floor was from Infinity Sound Production, which also offers DJ services though we used Spotify.
Our guests seemed to remain mostly at their tables. There wasn’t as much dancing as I expected. Maybe they didn’t like the music or maybe we got old. Maybe the lights were too bright. It was still wonderful to be surrounded by so many of my favourite people. I was very happy.
At the end of the day
A year of planning culminated in a beautiful day that felt long, but happened very quickly. I planned it so that I wouldn’t have to do anything that day except be present and I was, but it’s remarkable how fast it starts to fade. It was a morning like any other. I woke up. I got up. I showered and brushed my teeth and had breakfast. But then it was unlike any other day. I got my hair done. I checked into an old hotel with my mother, my fiance, and his best friend. My old university roommate, my friend of 23 years, came and did my make-up. A friend from high school came and took photos of the day. I drove us to the ceremony site. I smiled and cried and said, “I do”. I posed for photos. I drove us to the reception site. I danced with my husband, with my father, with my family and friends. Lots of hugs. Lots of kisses. And when it was over, I drove us back to our hotel. And just like that, we were married.
As I mentioned above, I gave a clumsy speech. Let me give that another try.
Thank you, everyone, for celebrating this occasion with us. You are among my favourite people in the world and it warms my heart to see you gathered here – my family, friends that I have known for so long, and my spiritual family. Many thanks to our friends that have travelled very far to be with us: Graeme from Australia, Rachel from St. Augustine, Marla and Gypsey from Callahan, and Bruce from Quincy. Special thanks to Mic and Traci for generously offering their home. Thank you to my dear, old friend Augie for making me look beautiful today. Thank you to my nieces Ingrid and Gabi for their assistance today. Thank you to my sister Lissette and my good friend Lori for your help and support through planning this wedding. And, finally, thank you to my parents for all your love and support.
In the 1930s, Little Havana was a lower-middle-class Southern and Jewish neighborhood. Following the Cuban Revolution, there was a vast influx of Cuban immigrants which settled here and “Little Havana” emerged. By 1970, the neighborhood was more than 85% Cuban. Today, it’s more diverse and Cubans now make up about 58% of the Hispanic community.
The median household income in Little Havana is about $25k, less than half of the national average. But the neighbourhood is close to the bay and the beaches and adjacent to the bustling and more expensive areas of Downtown and Brickell. As people are priced out of those, they are increasingly settling here. This has made Little Havana attractive to developers. In 2015, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put Little Havana on its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This highlighted the lack of legal protection for its architecturally diverse collection of early to mid-20th Century homes and buildings and it helped curb a controversial rezoning proposal.
Still, gentrification is inevitable. Across from my parents’ home is a 61-year-old, one-story apartment building. According to The Real Deal, Brickell-based real estate investor and developer Arturo Ortega bought it for $1.7 million. He intends to knock it down and build a new rental building with 51 units. There’s a lot of construction happening around Little Havana. The juxtaposition of this poor, immigrant neighbourhood against the wealth and modern opulence of Brickell is striking.
Miami, like any major city, is always changing. When you live in a city, the changes happen at a steady but almost imperceptible pace. When you’re an expat returning home, years of so-called progress and gentrification hit you all at once.
Wish me a bon voyage. I’m going home. For a little while.
My father tells a story: when I was a little girl, I got mad because there was something I wanted to do that my parents would not permit. In my anger, I said to my father that I couldn’t wait to grow up and leave that house. He says he knew then that I would leave home someday.
It’s not an usual story. Kids say things like that in anger and, in some cultures, it is normal for children to leave home and lead their lives far away from their parents. But if Hispanic families are separated, it’s because the political situations in our countries make it impossible for us to stay together. Wherever possible, we stay together and we stay close.
I’m Cuban, but I was raised in America, where children are conditioned to believe that when they grow up and turn the magical number of 18, they are adults, suddenly more mature than they were yesterday at 17, to go away to college and live on their own, to then take a job across the country, and come home once a year for Thanksgiving. Family and community are great concepts as long as they don’t get in the way of individuality.
In hindsight, I see that I had a good childhood and many freedoms, but I felt stifled as an adolescent. When I graduated high school, I broke my parents’ heart and went away to college. I didn’t go that far, just five hours north, but it was far enough. It was hard, but it was healthy. It was what I needed to gain my independence as a young adult. I wonder if it was good preparation for a bigger move that came 13 years later.
I never imagined moving more than a few blocks from my parents. In 2012, I moved 9,680 miles.
My partner and I are off to the United States. We are getting married in ten days and will be spending time in South Florida among family and friends. We’ll also be going to New York for a week.
I hope to continue blogging while I’m away, but no promises. If you want to see what we’re up to, check out my Facebook and Instagram.
In November, I turned 40 and I wrote about things I know are true. A list of things I don’t know would be much longer and that’s just the things I know I don’t know. What prompted this abridged version was a discussion with my partner. We have been working on our wedding vows. When I asked him about the things he likes about me, he said a lot of sweet things, but he also pointed to my deficiencies. They make him laugh. They make me laugh too. Now. Years ago, they made me angry and they made me cry. Here are five things I don’t know.
I don’t know math.
I was a bad math student throughout my childhood and adolescence. For a long time, in college, it didn’t get better. Then I stumbled into a young teacher’s algebra class and, for the first time, I got it. Not only did I get it, I nailed it. I can still work out algebraic problems. It turns out that’s not very useful in my life. I didn’t go into the medical field or into business or become an architect or civil engineer. Nor did algebra improve my basic math skills. I can work it out on paper, but can barely add and subtract in my head. My partner laughs at my math mishaps all the time. Australians, but the way, call it maths, like the British.
I don’t know how to cook.
I have a few staples that I’m comfortable cooking, mainly Cuban dishes and a few desserts. Generally, however, I don’t know my way around a kitchen. I can follow a recipe and produce delicious results, but it takes me hours to cook. It once took me six hours to make a vegetarian lasagne. I have two main problems with cooking. One is that I can’t multitask in the kitchen. The other is that I’m impatient. I stir too much, turn up the heat too high, check it too often, remove it too soon. Cooking is a magical, alchemical mystery to me.
It took me 12 eggs to make this 5-egg omelette. Also, that’s not an omelette.
Money is this elusive thing that floats in and out of my life. I have decent spending habits and I’m never overdrawn on my accounts. I’m good about paying bills on time. However, things like budgeting, investing, interest rates, capital gains, gross things, nets… it’s another language to me, one that I do not speak nor understand. I suppose it’s the language of numbers that goes alongside not knowing math. Maths. All the maths.
I don’t know how to make things.
Needlework, jewellery-making, mosaics, pottery, decoupage, cardmaking, basket weaving… yeah, no, none of it is for me. I used to feel bad about not knowing how to make things. There’s something of a lost grandparental, rural art to this. Capitalism and consumerism have driven us away from create-repair to buy-a-new-one. I also felt that I wasn’t creative unless I could make something with my hands. I have tried a few hobbies, but I don’t derive pleasure from handicrafts and I don’t like buying and storing materials. Writing is a good art and craft for me. It doesn’t require a lot of supplies. The ideas are in the world and the words are pulled from the aether.
I don’t know how to fix things.
Toilet clogged? Leaky kitchen pipe? Replace a light switch? Nope. Luckily, I’m marrying a tradie.
Obviously, my chances of surviving the zombie apocalypse are not good. Given my astonishing lack of basic life skills, you might wonder how I even got to 40. Growing up, I had one responsibility: get good grades. I didn’t have any chores. I never had to make my bed, do my laundry, or cook myself a meal. My parents gave me a tremendous gift: the space to think, play, and explore. It came at a cost, as all things do, but it was also a great privilege and I am eternally grateful for it.
Sometimes I think that I would like to have these skills, but then the feeling passes. I mean, if I could just absorb them, I’d take it, but I’m not interested in making the effort anymore. When I was younger, I felt inept and inadequate, but I’ve gotten better at identifying which of my limitations I want to work on. I’ve also gotten better at being me and accepting my true likes and dislikes.
I love January. I love new-year-new-you energy. I love the quiet of Melbourne as many of its residents are away for the summer holidays. I love movie-award season. And I love reading new books and essays. Here are six films, two books, and the many essays that filled my January.
Coco Official US Teaser Trailer - YouTube
Coco is a Disney-Pixar film set in a Mexican village. The story follows Miguel, a boy who wants to be a musician though music has been banned in his family for generations. On the Day of the Dead, he is accidentally transported to the land of the dead, where he seeks the help of his ancestors to return him to the world of the living.
Coco became the highest-grossing film of all-time in Mexico and has received many accolades. It’s Pixar’s most gorgeously animated film and it tells a thoughtful, warm, and moving story. I’m not Mexican, but as a Hispanic person Coco resonated tremendously. The themes of this movie – family, identity, forgiveness, and healing – are close to my heart, and it’s a great example of how to respectfully tell a story of a culture other than your own.
I, Tonya Trailer #1 (2017) | Movieclips Trailers - YouTube
I, Tonya is a mockumentary-style film on the life of American figure skater Tonya Harding. In 1994, Harding’s main competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, was bludgeoned on the right lower thigh with a police baton after a practice session. The attack was planned by Harding’s ex-husband and bodyguard. Harding’s role in that plan is unclear, but she pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers. After its own investigation, the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) concluded that she knew about the attack before it happened.
Little of “the incident” makes it into the movie. It’s mainly about Tonya’s childhood, her relationships with her abusive mother and abusive ex-husband, and her struggle to be accepted in the figure skating world. Tonya may be the best skater, but she’s also poor, white trash. She can’t afford elegant skating costumes. She lacks grace and willow proportions. She wear scrunchies, paints her nails blue, and skates to ZZ Top and Tone Lōc instead of Tchaikovsky. She doesn’t have the wholesome American image that the USFSA wants to present to the world at the Olympics.
The violence, class issues, and institutional discrimination are the most interesting parts of the film, but they are not deeply explored. I, Tonya never quite figures out what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes it’s glib, there are giggles, but then there are black eyes and bruised cheeks. The soundtrack is very distracting. Perhaps the stylistic wrongness is designed to parallel its character.
Margot Robbie is superb as Harding and so is Allison Janney as her mother. It’s a sympathetic portrayal: Tonya as victim. And it works. I felt sorry for her, but keeping in mind that she’s also a perpetrator.
Lady Bird | Official Trailer HD | A24 - YouTube
Lady Bird is a coming-of-age comedy-drama about a high school senior named Christine, who prefers to go by Lady Bird. I didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. Lady Bird is fresh, quirky, and funny. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother is familiar. It’s turbulent and harsh, but also warm and full of love and sacrifice and a certain friendship that mothers and daughters have in between arguments about where you’re going, with who, what time you’ll be back, what you’re wearing, your grades, and what you’re doing with the rest of your life. Around all that are boys, friends, and the yearning to escape. Lady Bird is a sweet and bittersweet film that captures the honesty of late adolescence.
THE SHAPE OF WATER | Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight - YouTube
The Shape of Water
If you’re familiar with Guillermo del Toro’s work, you know you’re in for something special. Set in Baltimore in 1962, The Shape of Water follows Elisa, a mute custodian at a government laboratory who forms a relationship with a captured humanoid-amphibian creature. That plot description sounds silly and doesn’t do much to sell this movie. It is a fantasy, but it’s much more than that.
It stars Sally Hawkins, who is captivating as Elisa, Richard Jenkins as her neighbour and best friend, Octavia Spencer, who is underused as Elisa’s best-friend-at-work, Michael Shannon, and Doug Jones as Gill-man. The Shape of Water is stunning and absorbing. You can watch this film, stay on the surface, and take it in as a fantasy, but you’ll be further rewarded if you dive into it.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI | Official Red Band Trailer | FOX Searchlight - YouTube
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother who rents three billboards to call attention to the her daughter’s unsolved murder. The film also stars Woody Harrelson as the police chief and Sam Rockwell as a police officer. I enjoyed this film while I was watching it, and critics love this movie, but I found it problematic.
The trailer is going for black comedy and maybe tries to recall the work of the Coen brothers, but Three Billboards is not funny enough or weird enough. It introduces important social issues such as domestic violence, racism, and police brutality, but never does anything with them. Mildred is very angry, but not about any of these things, which affect her life and the lives of the people around her nearly every day. It’s strange that a small town wouldn’t be shaken to its core by a gruesome murder and be more supportive of Mildred. There’s also an odd and undeserved redemption arc. There more I thought about it, the more I thought there’s a lot here that doesn’t make sense. McDormand and Rockwell are fantastic though. With lesser actors, I doubt Three Billboards would have garnered such positive critical response.
12 truths I learned from life and writing | Anne Lamott - YouTube
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is less a book of instructions and more a collection of stories, anecdotes, and jokes. It is good writing about writing. The inspiration for the book’s title, which is at the heart of Lamott’s writing advice, captures it.
Thirty years ago my older brother, who as ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”
In Bird by Bird, writing is about writing. It’s about quiet grit. It’s about shitty first drafts. It’s about observation and neurosis. It’s not about publishing, fame, or fortune. Writing is about giving freely.
Marina Abramović e Ulay - MoMA 2010 - YouTube
The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose
The Museum of Modern Love is inspired by the life and work of Marina Abramović, a Serbian performance artist. From 14 March to 31 May 2010, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held a major retrospective of Abramović’s work. She performed The Artist is Present, a silent piece in which which she sat immobile in the museum’s atrium while visitors were invited to take turns sitting opposite her. Abramović sat during the opening hours of the museum for 75 days, for a total of 736 hours and 30 minutes. Her former collaborator and lover, Ulay, made a surprise appearance at the opening night of the show.
This is the setting for Heather Rose’s novel, The Museum of Modern Love. The main character, Arky Levin, is a self-absorbed film score composer. His wife, the famed architect Lydia Fiorentino, is dying. Arky is drawn to MoMA’s atrium every day. He watches and meets other people drawn to the performance. He slowly comes to understand what the work is about and what he must do.
This book did not grab me from the start. I thought about putting it down, but something told me to stick with it, that it would reward me, and it did. When I got into the second half, I couldn’t put it down. Abramović is the vehicle for profound observations about life and art; you don’t need to be familiar with her work to enjoy this novel. I struggle with modern art. I struggle with performance art, but Abramović, or Rose’s interpretation of her, is inspiring. The Museum of Modern Love is novel is for artists. If you struggle with your identity as a creative, with imposter syndrome, with the courage to create, read this novel.
One more film and many essays
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix - YouTube
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
In October, Netflix released Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, a documentary about Didion’s life and work. I can never decide if I want to know about the personal lives of artists. I’m afraid that if they turn out to be awful people, I’ll be unable to enjoy their art. At least, I’m likely to feel guilty for enjoying the art of great artists who are terrible people. I’m not interested in celebrity gossip, but I am interested in the minds and processes of creative people. Thankfully, The Center Will Not Hold gives us an intimate and affectionate portrait of Joan Didion.
Directed by her nephew, the actor and filmmaker, Griffin Dunne, The Center Will Not Hold covers the whole of Didion’s life, but it doesn’t offer thorough examination of her work or insight of her creative process. The best way to gain that is by reading her work and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks with a number of her essays. Didion has recorded American life since the 1960s with sharp observation and literary techniques rather than, despite her apparent detachment, dispassionate journalism. It’s not her subjects that interest me, but her style. She writes as if she were working her thoughts out on the page. Heavily influenced by Ernest Hemingway, she is economical with her words on the page and in this documentary. Her command of language is extraordinary.
The Center Will Not Hold is not masterpiece and it’s not as fascinating as its subject, but its glitters as good as gold.