Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Email Spring Cleaning

The first official day of spring was March 20th, but I always feel that the season truly begins after the Easter and Passover holidays. I also almost ran over a bunny rabbit that darted in front of my car recently, which I took as a sign: winter is over, and I have some spring cleaning to do. While I have old clothes, books, and other items to give away, I realize that the most significant reduction I must make is online. Yes, it is time for me to get rid of my emails!

I have four different email addresses, and each inbox contains more than one hundred messages, not to mention the hundreds more I have in my sent folders. I readily delete from my trash, spam and draft folders whenever possible, but there is something about the inbox and sent folders that make me want to hold on. I realize that while I have some issues with hoarding tangible items, it is the virtual clutter that really is a problem for me.

I think the reason I am holding on to all of this excess is because of laziness. When I go online, I want to do research, write emails, write blog posts, read articles, and pay bills; deleting old emails from my inbox and sent folders is something that does not even come to my mind. When it does, I make excuses for not taking the time to go through it all to make the necessary deletions. Even though I cannot touch it, I know the email clutter is there online, waiting for me.

My plan is to delete a little every day. Any new emails I receive or create will also be trimmed down in number so I do not accumulate new clutter on top of the old. For anyone who wants to get rid of their virtual excess, I would suggest doing the same, and concentrating on one email address a day, if you have multiple accounts like me.

Do you have virtual clutter? How do you handle it?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Breaking Boundaries 2.0

I’ve been active on various social networks for many years now. My favorite network has been Twitter, which started as a place where I interacted mostly with other bloggers and feminists. We talked theory, live-tweeted conferences, and debated politics. As more and more people I knew in real life started joining Twitter, I interacted with them on a more personal level. I engaged with my Twitter followers differently, from political types I know only online, to feminists I’ve met because of my online presence, and friends I hardly ever interact with online.

In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that these lines are starting to blur. People I know in real life have stumbled onto the profiles of some online acquaintances and they’re becoming buddies. I can’t say I’m completely surprised, because that’s how social networking works, after all – you tap into a network of like-minded individuals and make connections with them.

When I first realized this was happening, I have to admit I got a bit freaked out. I share things with online friends that the people I know in real life don’t really understand about me. It’s not that I expect the world to suddenly collapse because these boundaries are being crossed, but it does make me more aware of how I’ve structured these boundaries in the first place. Just this past weekend, I spoke on a panel about social media and when we were asked about having multiple online identities, I confessed that this is something I struggle with myself. We all came to the conclusion that this is an ongoing challenge without any clear answer.

But I have to say that, more than anything else, seeing these groups of people interact is proving to me what I’ve always expected and told people: social networking is a great way to build relationships. And, in some ways, seeing these groups interact lets go of some of the pressure to keep the worlds apart. At the very least, it means I know really cool people who find each other cool as well.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Learning from Little Rock

I recently completed some in-depth research about the Little Rock Nine, the small group of black students who first integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Their first days of school made national headlines when the governor sent in the National Guard to block them from getting to class. It took weeks to resolve the situation in the federal courts, and even then, the President of the United States had to send in military support so that the community would stop their violent protests and allow the black teens to walk the halls of the white high school. It’s an amazing story.

I’m pretty much in awe of these nine folks, who were just young teenagers at the time, but who have grown into strong and amazing civil rights advocates. The backlash they faced every day in 1957-58 was extraordinary, and yet they faced it with courage. I can’t even imagine having to deal with the kind of overt attacks they faced—being spit on and beaten up and scalded and threatened with bombs. Actually, I feel lucky that I can’t imagine it, and that I never had to live it.

Black history month is over, and maybe this post would have been more appropriate a few weeks ago, but in my own life, thinking about such events is not specific to one month of the year. I spend a lot of time delving into history, both for my work and because it interests me. I often consider what it would have been like to live in another place and time, not because I want to go back, but because I want to understand what went on, and how we got to where we are today.

The Little Rock Nine’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. It makes me grateful that I don’t live in other times, and grateful for those who sacrificed so that I wouldn’t. The world isn’t perfect today. Some would say it’s not even a better place, overall. But in certain ways, big and small, there has been progress, and it’s nice to celebrate that from time to time.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Forum: Women's Future

To finish up our Women's History-themed Friday Forum questions, let's look forward to what you want for the future. What do you think are the top priorities for women in the years to come? Equal pay? Better representation in government? Let us know in the comments.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ada Lovelace and Other Women in Technology

CHICKS ROCK! welcomes back Kelly this week:

Kelly lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend, baby Jack and their dog, Pearl. Between feeding Jack and walking the dog, she is working with members of her community to start a food co-op.

Last month, I pledged to write something in honor of Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace wrote the first program for the precursor to the modern day computer. In response to the need for female role models in the traditionally male fields of science and technology, a movement started to spread her story. In her honor, I decided to write about women who shaped my own career in technology.

Teresa M. gave me a job as a summer intern in an IT department. After my second day, she told me I should consider a degree in Computer Science. I had one year left in college and didn't want to start a new major, but she gave me confidence and a connection that turned into a Help Desk job after graduation. Everybody starts somewhere!

Linda O. was a co-worker who in addition to being a whiz-bang package builder (someone good at installing software across many PCs at once), was also a very wise woman. I often strolled over for dinner in her office and she taught me how to survive in an environment that wasn't exactly hostile to women, but wasn't geared to assist them either.

Elysia B. hired me to be a data analyst when I thought of myself as a computer trainer. She had to cajole me into taking on the new role, but I’m glad she did. I became the uber-Excel-geek, setting up spreadsheets for others in the IT department, the lawyers for whom we worked, and even some fantasy football leagues.

Elysia also created a sense of community within our department. Our gatherings were legendary and special occasions came with beautifully wrapped gifts. Elysia could analyze information and make business decisions with the best of them, but I felt it was her strength as a woman that bonded the group and gave us a sense of purpose larger than "just" technology.

I've been honored to work with many talented women in the IT field – on the help desk, coding apps, and managing logistics. There is a human side to technology, and I have found that it’s often in the hands of women to make sure it’s not forgotten.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Infidelity Blame Game

I was very surprised to hear that a woman in North Carolina won $9 million from her husband’s mistress under the state’s alienation of affection law this week. The scorned spouse and her legal team convinced a jury that the “other woman” was instrumental in the destruction of her 32-year marriage. While I appreciate the plaintiff’s message to women to not have affairs with married men, I can’t help but wonder about the husband in the middle of this angst: after all, no one forced him to cheat. Shouldn’t the lion’s share of the blame be placed on the offending spouse? After all, when marriage vows are broken willingly, the problems exist between the two people who pledged their lives to one another.

I feel nauseous when I see two women fighting over the same man on reality television and talk shows. Usually, he says little or nothing at all while the two combatants for his affection scream and try to physically attack one another. In normal life, I have seen women guard their significant other from women in a variety of ways, such as preventing them from going out with their friends, calling them relentlessly when they are apart, and even warning others to stay away by issuing verbal threats. Of course, any relationship and both genders are not immune to these expressions of insecurity, but unfortunately it is still regarded as a predominantly female shortcoming. I find this to be insulting. Not all of us want to lunge at those outside of our relationships when they are plagued with infidelity. I am also not suggesting that aggrieved partners become best friends with the “other woman” or “other man” either.

I believe that when someone willingly cheats, it is that person alone who must repent the most to the scorned partner if he or she wants to save their relationship. Of course, there are those who cannot or do not want to understand, cannot apologize, and/or keep cheating.

Do you agree that blame should be shared when infidelity occurs?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Food, Friends and Finances

Last night, I had a scrumptious meal cooked by a good friend. Along with another friend, we sipped wine, busted out the Abbey Ale, and enjoyed the pleasure of each other's company. And to make it a picture-perfect evening, we worked on our taxes.

Yes, it's tax season here in the States and my friends and I turned what's usually an annoyance into a fun night of food, drinks and good company.

For my friend, it was her first time filing taxes and we thought this would be a good way to promote financial independence. Hooray for sisterhood! We were able to coach her through the process and get her feeling more confident about being able to keep her finances in order. In fact, I think this dinner, drinks, taxes combo is a great one that I'll be doing often! Any good cooks out there who need tax help? Or any awesome accountants in need of a yummy meal? I urge you all to start this tradition.

At some point in the evening, I started wondering what it is about women and finances... It shouldn't be the case that we are easily intimidated by our personal finances, and yet I find that - at least in my groups of friends - many women are. My friend, for example, was completely freaking out about her taxes. She had no idea what she was supposed to do, what she needed, or how long it would take and the panic was getting to her.

With the rest of my friends, there are some who take complete control over their finances, making sure to keep their debt down, buying property, investing, etc. The rest are completely lost, in loads of debt, not even thinking about investing or buying anything, etc.

Do you find that the women you know fall into the "don't know anything about money" stereotype? Or do they have their finances in order? I'm curious to see how much of this is an actual problem and how much has finally changed.

(Originally posted on Feministe.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

A New Vision

I attended The Women’s Mosaic Visioning Workshop on Saturday, and as usual it was a positive, healing and potentially transformative experience. Leading up to Visioning, I’m usually pretty excited. I find the collage process fun and relaxing, and I’m always eager to see what my final product is going to look like.

This time around, I felt like I was really dragging myself to get there, and I felt quite a bit guilty for giving up those six hours in the middle of a Saturday, which is usually a prime chunk of working time for me. I have a book deadline looming, plus an upcoming presentation to work on, and on top of it all, an out-of-town guest who I needed and wanted to spend time with. It was all too much!

I don’t know what inner force compelled me to follow through on the Visioning Workshop, but of course, I’m happy that I went. I know that in the days and weeks to come, when my life calms down, I will be glad to have my new collage up in my workspace. I’ve done Visioning with TWM so regularly over the past couple of years, that it is a familiar practice to glance up at the images for inspiration.

This time around, I was reminded that the Visioning Workshop is more than just a fun, artsy time of self-expression. For those of us who attend regularly, it becomes a touchstone that helps shape the year to come. A time to check yourself, and challenge yourself to be who you need to be.

Kristina Leonardi always starts the workshop by congratulating everyone for setting aside a whole day to focus on our personal needs and desires. Sometimes it’s really hard to do that, and to recognize how important it is in the midst of all the other pressures of life. I guess those moments when you think you don’t have any time for yourself are probably the exact moments when you need it the most!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Forum: Guiding Our Girls

Shifting the focus from women to young girls, what are the lessons you try to teach the girls and young women in your life? Most of us have younger sisters, cousins, nieces, children, grandchildren, etc. that look up to us. Do you teach them about feminism or women's history? Do you help them make major decisions? Are you a mentor, officially or unofficially? It'd be great to see some of your responses.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Link Love for 3/18

It's time for another round-up of great things we've been reading online. Check out the links below and feel free to add your own links in the comments for things you've been reading or writing online.

Girl w/Pen considers whether or not this is a great time to be a girl.

Global Sisters has information on joining The All Girl Army - a community for young feminists.

In Good Company explores what it's like to be an extrovert in the midst of introverts.

Lindsey Pollak has predictions about the future of work that's worth checking out.

One Writeous Chicks shares her experience of writing to Corey Haim when she was younger.

Savvy Ladies wants you to secure your future with a Roth IRA.

That's what we've got for you this week. Remember to leave links in the comments or thoughts on these pieces.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Other St. Patrick's Day Observances

Do you believe in past lives? I don’t, at least not really. I just know that from all my travels, I have never had so many déjà-vu moments anywhere else but in Ireland. I was only in Dublin for a few days one summer during my college days, and I was amazed at how comfortable and familiar everything seemed. From what I saw during my stay in the capital city and in the few day trips we took to coastal areas, I realized that Ireland was more than just another travel destination for me.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I prefer to honor the holiday by watching a great film that showcases the country’s many cultural and natural attractions rather than watching the parades or visiting pubs. The crowds can get rowdy (that is such an understatement) and I don’t think that these activities do the holiday proper justice. I don’t think one has to be Irish to make this statement.

In addition to movies about and/or set in Ireland, I like to listen to Enya, one of my favorite musicians of all time, who just so happens to be Irish. Her first album, The Celts, is not only a perfect soundtrack for relaxation (I hear it played in spas all the time) it is also a wonderful mystical journey into Ireland’s mysterious history before Christianity was introduced in the country by St. Patrick. The album really transports you into another time and place, and that is a very good thing.

Through the words of Irish writers such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Lady Gregory, William Butler Yeats, and Maeve Binchy, I gain an outsider’s understanding of certain aspects of the country and its people during various times throughout history. I also love Irish foods, like Irish soda bread, Colcannon (made with mashed potatoes, kale or cabbage), Boxty (another potato dish), and savory fish pies, but I don’t need to wait for St. Patrick’s Day to eat any of these foods.

How will you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What We're Worth

Lately, I’ve found myself in a lot of conversations about the value and worth of work. A friend of mine recently got a long-overdue raise, meanwhile other friends deserve a raise but have yet to receive one. I also have friends who aren’t currently working and are feeling greater confidence as a result of considering ways to measure success that aren’t related to a paycheck.

This got me thinking about how much of our confidence comes from our jobs. We live in a society where our work is a big part of our identity, so this makes a lot of sense. If we complete an important project or implement a new system at work, our confidence shoots up. If a project isn’t successful, then our confidence dips. This cycle seems part of a natural ebb & flow, but there’s another side to this...

For starters, what happens if your job is a supportive role rather than one that takes the lead? If you aren’t given any major responsibilities, it’s hard to feel that your job is of any importance. I have a lot of acquaintances who feel no ownership of the tasks they work on, and their confidence goes down.

Another issue that comes into play is reward. In some companies, completing a goal leads to some sort of reward. The reward might come in the form of a bonus, a promotion, a potential raise at your yearly review, a staff person for you to manage, office perks, a shout out at the next meeting, and so forth. In other companies, however, none of these are a possibility.

In my experience and that of those around me, I’ve seen all of these scenarios. In companies where every goal is met with some reward (even a small one), it definitely seems to me that morale is boosted when someone succeeds. Sadly, the opposite also seems to be true – if there are no rewards, people start to develop low self-esteem.

Has your confidence ever been affected by your work? What have you done when you felt your work wasn’t being properly compensated?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sorry, Oscar. Still Grouching...

I've been reflecting on my previous post, about Kathryn Bigelow as the first Academy Award-winning female director. I keep trying to figure out why this particular “first” felt so distressing to me. This is what I landed on:

I've always thought of Academy Awards for women and Academy Awards for men in the same breath. On the acting side, women are always nominated, and women always win because we have our own categories. I take this in stride, but now I’m forced to wonder: does having separate categories imply that you can't compare what women do with what men do? Is there an inherent inequality there?

Women steal the focus on the red carpet, but are asked to discuss what we're wearing. Men fade into the background, brought forth to talk about their actual work. Vera Farmiga gets asked what it was like working with George Clooney on Up in the Air, while George gets asked what drew him to the character he played. If male and female actors were judged together, would women ever be nominated, or would we simply get to be someone's date? Would a woman have won best actor by now, or would we still be waiting? Would the lack of recognition in other categories have been called to wider attention, and rectified, sooner?

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that women are still experiencing major "firsts." I admit that I come and go from the land of feminism. I want equality, and I'm willing to argue over it and I believe I'm willing to fight for it, too, but most of the time I feel like the world is working well enough for me.

In my most cynical moments this week, I wondered if we weren't better off in the days of overt, rampant sexism, a la Mad Men, because at least then we knew what we were up against. At least then sexism didn't sneak up on you like a mosquito--just when you think you imagined the buzzing, there comes the welt. I don't really believe that women were better off before, but I hate that blind-sided feeling when I stumble on problems I should’ve been aware of all along, I just didn't see them.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Forum: From Our Mothers

Continuing our Friday Forums themed for Women's History Month, we want to know what are some of the traditions amongst the women in your family?

Do you and your sisters make annual trips? Is there some jewelry or clothing that has been passed down through the women in your family? We'd love to hear how your family history is kept alive through the women in your family.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Money Makes the World Go Round

CHICKS ROCK! is happy to have Kristina back as a guest blogger this week:

Kristina Leonardi is the founder of The Women’s Mosaic. She is a career/life path consultant, speaker, seminar leader and expert in the areas of women, diversity and personal growth.

Join her for TWM's Visioning Workshop next Saturday, March 20. You can also check out her series, Thursdays at Three for weekly inspiration.

Artists and musicians do it. Actors and writers do it. Designers do it. Nonprofits and entrepreneurs do it. To some extent, we all do it. We strive to maintain our authenticity, creativity and vision of who we are and what we want to express in the world while trying to earn a living in it.

Last week I attended a lovely event hosted by In Good Company highlighting the journey of fashion designer Selia Yang. She reinforced once again that for successful creative types, every decision cannot always be 100% creative - to truly exist and thrive, you must understand and often defer to the financial/commercial aspect.

These types of lifestyles are the 'roads less traveled' for a reason - if it was easy everyone would be doing it! It's a path that takes faith, determination, perseverance, and, perhaps most of all, courage.

The word courage is made up of the Latin root for 'heart'. There is no doubt that to do what you want to do in life, you need lots of heart - in the form of love for yourself, others and your work, and the passion and conviction to forge ahead, even if you don't know for sure where your next meal will come from.

There's a reason they call it show business, and although nonprofits are not for profit, they still need money to do the work they do. How to achieve that balance of being who we are and supporting ourselves is an eternal quest with no silver bullet answer. At the end of the day, we need to be able to decide as individuals just how much we can compromise ourselves for it.

When choosing to live a life that is most true to who you are, you need to be aware of what things you might have to sacrifice to make things happen. But as challenging as the path can be, there is always a payoff for sticking with it - we wouldn't have all the beauty, innovation, entertainment and opportunity in the world if others hadn't done so!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dealing With External Pressures

In one of my first posts, I spoke candidly about the pressures women endure to marry from their families, especially those from traditional cultures. I feel the need to bring up the subject again, because I was the target of some bias during my recent trip to India.

First of all, I am really proud of the way I handled myself. There were a few relatives I met who treated me differently during my visit, and I knew it had to do with my unmarried status and having been born and raised in the United States (yes, there is anti-American sentiment shared by some members of my extended family) but I did not feel or act guilty. Why should I? It is who I am, and I make no apologies for being single or being an American with Indian roots. The former may change in the future; none of us knows what fate has in store for us. But being an American? I am proud to be one, without being obnoxious about it, and always will be.

Secondly, I have noticed that blame has been thrown at my parents, particularly my Mom. This is one aspect of the situation that really bothers me. I have my own views about life which are separate from my parents' views. They want me to marry, and I would like to get married one day too, but I am determined to find a person who is right for me, and vice versa. I am not going to fret about something I do not have at present; what is the point? My life is my own, and my parents have little to do with my present and future choices. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops when I was visiting certain people in India, but I restrained myself. I knew it would be a waste of my time.

I did enjoy my trip overall, but like an elephant (my favorite animal), I won’t forget the bad as well as the good experiences.

How do you effectively handle external pressures? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Equality: Personal & Political

I’m sure many of you know this already, but yesterday was International Women’s Day. Every year on March 8, various organizations, governments, and people around the world plan events, campaigns, days of action, and so forth to celebrate the advancement of women and to plan for the future. The United Nations chooses a theme each year, and this year’s theme was “Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all.”

When I heard this year’s theme, I thought it was an interesting one. For those who don’t know, this year marks the 15th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. This conference set up goals for countries around the world to improve women’s rights and this year various organizations have put out reports and documents tracking how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. I’m pretty sure the U.N. had this somewhere in their minds when they came up with this year’s theme.

But we can also look at this theme in a different way. Rather than simply looking at it as a reflection on politics, we can make it personal: as a commitment to the future not only for the world but for ourselves. Last week, I attended Women Hold the Solutions, an event hosted by Global Fund for Women. One of the panelists spoke about how difficult it is to raise children to be equal. Because parents themselves are products of societies where not everything is equal, they pass those ideas on to their children without realizing it. Around the world, mothers might find themselves demanding more from their daughters in terms of housework and chores, or urging their sons to take on more wives. Similarly, most of us do the same thing when we’re around our friends and families. We don’t expect or demand equality in all areas, so progress will always be that much slower.

I plan on taking some more time this Women’s History Month to think about how we can advance equality on all fronts. Just because International Women’s Day is over doesn’t mean we can’t keep it in mind for longer.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar's Dirty Little Secret

Until last night, watching The Academy Awards, I had no idea that no woman had ever won an Oscar for Best Director. What in the world????

I'm a movie lover, and though I'm not always knowledgeable about what goes on behind the camera, I know a little about the industry. Even I can name a range of female directors who might, at some point in their careers, have been eligible for such an honor: Penny Marshall, Jane Campion, Nancy Meyers, Kathie Bates, Nora Ephron, Sofia Coppola, Mira Nair....the list goes on.

Yet, I learned from the NYTimes last night that in Oscar's 82-year history, only four women have ever even been nominated in the director category: Lina Wertmuller (1975-Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (1993-The Piano), Sofia Coppola (2003-Lost In Translation) and Kathryn Bigelow, who shattered yet another glass ceiling by taking home the award last night for The Hurt Locker.

To be honest, I'm slightly appalled by this. I'm glad Kathryn Bigelow won, of course, but why did she have to be the first? And going beyond gender, why did Lee Daniels (Precious) have to be the first African-American director EVER NOMINATED??? Why, in our supposedly post-race, post-gender America do we still have to overcome so many large and small obstacles?

It makes me wonder....if diversity and equality aren't reflected and respected within our pop culture, organically, then have we really embraced these values as fully as we claim?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Forum: Images of Women

It's now officially Women's History Month! Just as we did last year, this month's Friday Forum questions will be reflective of that theme.

Because of the Oscars this weekend (and various other awards shows), there's a lot of talk right now about women representation in film and television. What are some changes you'd like to see in pop culture in regards to women? Is it simply more women creating media, or do you have an ideal image of what portrayals of women should be like? Is your reality close to the one being reflected back to you?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rise and Rebuild

CHICKS ROCK! wants you to welcome Bridget back as a guest blogger this week:

Bridget is a recent graduate of Vassar College, where she studied Political Science and Women's Studies, and former TWM intern. She loves watching movies with her younger brother and playing rugby.

For the past few months, I’ve been working at a homeless women’s shelter in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. Although it can be emotionally overwhelming to live surrounded by such poverty and heartache, my experience has been positive because of the connections I have built with residents and new friends alike. If I have discovered anything here, it is that New Orleans and its residents are an incredibly heartfelt, resilient people. They are committed to keeping up traditions and celebrating their successes. It would be an understatement to say that this Mardi Gras season, coupled with the Saint’s World Championship, has been an ongoing party in the streets. They take their celebrating very seriously here!

In reality, the quality of life here in the 9th ward could be disheartening. There is a deep sense of lawlessness, abandonment, and raw sadness. The legacy of slavery and inequality have never been made more apparent or felt so immediate to me. Yet, despite the crime, lack of resources, and other adverse conditions, New Orleanians are consumed – obsessed, even – with hosting community meetings, parades, and other social events. I think there’s an unspoken understanding that everyone who has come back into the city has a responsibility to contribute to its rebirth, whether it’s through painting murals on buildings that create a collective social memory, having brass bands play traditional music on street corners, or just getting a local library card. These small acts are big statements that keep alive a sense of Home and Spirit.

The reason New Orleans is staying alive and even thriving right now is because of the resiliency and passion of its residents. If it were not for the strong sense of community and home, I fear it would just be another devastated, abandoned city. But, of course, New Orleans continues to prove itself to be much more than that and I’m proud and privileged to call it my new home.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Travel: The Best Education

I think everyone should travel to a place they have never visited before at least once a year. Whether it is within our own country or to an international destination, traveling somewhere new and really experiencing the local culture is the best education.

I speak as someone who has just had the best vacation of my life in India, my parents’ native country. I have been there before, but this time I visited places I never saw before. Delhi, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and other locations not commonly mentioned by the tourism industry were some of my stops during the month of February, and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit these areas. What I learned from these urban and rural areas was how different the cultures and daily life in general are from other locations previously unknown to me, even though I have visited India several times before.

One example of this is witnessing camel rides in a residential area in central India. It is a common sight to see children sitting on top of these desert animals on any given day, walking by houses and avoiding cars and trucks that pass by regularly. For someone who was born and raised in New Jersey, where there are no camels or deserts in sight, I found myself watching and taking pictures eagerly, while parents of the children on these animals just returned to their houses to have afternoon tea. I had never seen this before when visiting India previous times, so it was refreshing to experience this unique sight.

Just driving a few hours away from New York City is like entering into a different world. When I visited a farm in Dutchess County in upstate New York, I was surprised that people actually say hello to strangers as they walk by, and will cheerfully take the time to give directions to those who are lost. I had to remind myself that I was not too far from home, even though it felt like I was.

Do you have any similar travel experiences to share?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Global Responsibilities Revisited

These days, it seems we can’t go too long without hearing of another natural disaster. This isn’t exactly new – hurricane season happens in certain parts of the world every year, and the after-effects of natural disasters almost always involve even more disasters. Of course, this doesn’t make it any less sad when you hear the stories of the lives devastated by these calamities. But what I find interesting is the way the rest of the world responds.

I’ve written before about our responsibility to help people around the world. It’s easy to get caught up in “me, me, me” and focus on the things that happen to the people and places closest to home. All too often, people forget about their ability to help those in bad situations around the world.

It’s almost refreshing, then, that when these events occur, we often rise to the challenge. The response to the earthquake in Haiti was significant, and in the past couple of days, I haven’t gone more than a few blocks without overhearing somebody talking about the situation in Chile. People are ready to give their money and goods when and where it’s needed.

In thinking about it a bit more closely, however, sometimes it seems the balance is tipped in the opposite direction. For example, I keep hearing stories about people wanting to adopt Haitian children. In reality, most children still have their parents; they simply don’t have the basic resources they need, but this is true for both the children and the parents. This just goes to show that any help people want to give needs to be considered with the bigger picture in mind.

Even still, I think it shows that people do have a great desire to help and that every so often we allow ourselves to feel the connection we have to the rest of the world. Perhaps we all need to become more in tune with that tug, so we can feel it all the time and constantly give back.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Hollywood Moment

On Friday evening, I attended the NAACP Image Awards show which was televised live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (My book was nominated for "Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens.") This was a full on black tie, celebrity studded, red carpet phenomenon... the kind you imagine attending as a kid, standing in front of your bathroom mirror with a hairbrush as your microphone: "I'd like to thank the Academy..."

The real deal, as it turns out, is simultaneously as thrilling as you imagine it will be, and yet somehow also fails to live up to your most glamorous expectations. The behind-the-scenes vibe of Hollywood, it seems, is just as awkward and dysfunctional as the behind-the-scenes vibe everywhere else.

My brother and I arrived in limousine style, stood in line with the other nominees, and walked the red carpet immediately behind the likes of Sherri Shepherd (The View), Gabrielle Union (Flash Forward), and the teenage cast members of Glee and Lincoln Heights. We waited forever for our turn, as they ushered the more famous individuals past us for priority red carpet access. Why we waited it out was unclear, because none of the photographers were terribly interested in capturing us, but I refused to slip around behind the curtain and scurry to my seat. I was determined to have my red carpet moment, even if nothing came of it but the experience.

Once inside, we discovered that, while the glitz and glam of Hollywood is definitely a true fact, there is also a human side to everything. It's refreshing to watch someone like Morgan Freeman studying his ticket stub up and down trying to locate his seat, or Chris Rock smiling as he embraces an old friend in the aisle. These are consummate performers with a job to do, yet they are also just people.

I'll be happy to post more about my L.A. adventures, if folks want to hear about it, but for now I'll leave you with one small nugget. I was so nervous in preparing for this event ("What am I going to wear?" "What is it going to be like?" "This is so far out of my league..."), but in the end, I didn't feel as out of place as I expected. I accepted my role as author, nominee, and person--and found my place among the stars.

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