(no subject)
Self - Upside Down
I've never felt unsafe before. That may be surprising, as I live in New York City, but I've never really feared for my physical safety. I'm a big lady and I've always felt comfortable walking or biking or taking the train at any hour of the day or night.

Last night, two men on a dark street stripped me of that sense of security.

I was riding my bike home from my friend's house around 1:30AM. I had dressed up for Shabbat services in a cute, short dress and was feeling a little chilly. I was riding mechanically slowly, really only looking forward to getting home so I could curl up in my warm bed and watch some dumb recorded tv shows.

I ride through some pretty desolate areas on this route. Keep in mind, I've ridden this route several times a week since I started biking. I've ridden it at four in the morning before. It is the only way I use to get home when I've gone anywhere east of Prospect Park.

I approached the overpass of the D train on 39th street right near my apartment and passed two men. All of the sudden I heard someone running behind me and I turned around to see one of them chasing me on my bike. He was running full out only a few feet behind me. I screamed out "What the fuck are you doing?" and started pedaling as fast as I could. They screamed "bitch" at me and threw a glass bottle which shattered near my tires.

I was three blocks from my home.

I rode at full speed the last three blocks. When I got to my house, my hands were shaking so badly I could hardly lock up my bike. I was terrified that the men would have followed me home. I ran up my stairs and locked the door, finding an empty apartment. I sat on my bed shivering with fear, unable to really process what had just happened.

When I looked back at that man chasing me, I truly thought that he would overtake me and pull me off my bike. There aren't a lot of street lights in that area and even less people out on the street. If they had wanted to take my bag, they could have. If they had wanted to sexually assault me and slit my throat, they could have. These are the thoughts that kept me awake as I huddled in my bed, to scared even to cry.

I don't know what they've left me. I ride my bike every single day. I ride it to work, to friend's houses, to the grocery store, to rehearsal, to meetings, to parties, and anywhere I want to go. I haven't bought a monthly metrocard since June. My bike is an essential part of how I interact with the city. It's my life. Yet now, when I think about riding in some of the areas where I travel on a regular basis -- I am terrified. What if this happens again? What if next time I'm not fast enough? What if they do get me off my bike? I'm so scared, but I'm not allowed to be -- I need my bike.

How can I reclaim the sense of physical security that they've taken from me?

(no subject)
Self - Upside Down
Orange juice from concentrate is just not worth it.

In other news, I spent another four hours applying for food stamps today (in addition to the five hours I spent on Monday) and I still have to return. At least I got my card and I simply have to go back and hand in some missing documents - not that anything is simple or quick at the food stamps office.

My father's response? "As you're finding out, this is what poor people go through every day. Bureaucrats that don't give a shit about people. Welcome to the world of the working poor! Here's hoping you don't stay there too long." Not that I wasn't expecting this - it's one of the goals of the Americorps program. The whole idea is that they pay us at the poverty level and that the participants enroll in government assistance programs (it's why my paycheck is technically not "income" and I'm technically not an "employee").

However, even expecting it, it's still an eye-opening experience. I am just fine spending hours and hours reading in the hot and crowded food stamps office as I accrue hours toward my total service hours for being there. However, looking at the people around me - overwhelmingly people of color, often with children - I couldn't imagine how many of them must be losing a whole day's pay for being there. Even though I legitimately qualify for and definitely need food stamps, I still have so much privilege. I can't imagine trying to feed more than just myself on the benefits.

I also can't believe how few multilingual people they have working in the office. While waiting for my case manager to fill out some forms, I listened to a particularly painful interview of a young Latina mother next to me. She hardly seemed to understand anything her case manager asked of her, to the point where I almost wanted to walk over and start asking the questions for her in Spanish. They finally managed to get it under control, but hers could not have been the only such case today.

There are a lot of complexities to my situation. I did actively choose to participate in this program, though it felt very much like my only option in this job market (I looked for a job from May to October). What does that mean for my life? I am on food stamps, much like the rest of my neighborhood. Yet I'm a college educated white person working a white-collar job in health care. It's definitely an interesting space to occupy.

(no subject)
Self - Upside Down
So. I'm supposed to be translating a powerpoint presentation about breast health into Spanish and I really don't feel like doing it, so I'm here.

I haven't updated in nigh on a year. I stumbled upon a friend's blog and I guess I just remembered how nice it is sometimes to write down your thoughts.

It's been a weird year. I've been on the most absurd emotional roller coaster since I got back to New York. I've had a lot of really intense highs and really devastating lows. The cool thing is that I feel like I've really grown. When my life used to go bottom-up, my coping mechanisms were appalling. I would fall apart and be utterly incapable of picking myself up off the ground. I'd try to throw myself into new environments (running away) or self-medicating with people/bad habits. Eventually I'd get better, but it would be a lengthy and agonizing process.

I can't say Summer 2009 goes on the highlights reel of "Best Periods of Emma's Life," but it wasn't nearly as horrible as it could have been. Maybe I'm interacting with the world as an adult finally, but I feel like things that were once catastrophic are merely painful. Perhaps I've finally seen the people around me for who they truly are, and finally understand what I can expect from them (not the potential I see in them, but the real them). Whatever the reason, I got through it. I opened my eyes, I breathed the air, I walked on my own two feet and I kept going.

I still feel sadness, but it's manageable. I get out on my bike and experience the city, I dance my ass off in two dance teams, I'm developing meaningful relationships with friends and lovers, and I fill my life daily with purpose. I feel like I'm finally figuring out who I am and what I really want and deserve from life, and let me tell you -- it's a lot.

Here you take it. Take my mess.
Self - Upside Down
Racism is Over! is one of the best blogs I have ever ever seen. I think you will all probably need to read this while sitting on the toilet for fear of pissing your pants.

The blog is a satirical look at what the world is like post-Obama. Really, it's a wish-list of all the things they want to change, and they do it in a damn funny way. Take this excerpt:

Wow, people in the United States actually know where other people’s countries are now. And people actually know that Africa is a continent with 47 countries in it, not just one giant desert full of black people.

Somebody tell Sarah Palin.

ALSO My friend sent me the funniest DMX quote pretty much ever. This is from an interview he had with XXL Magazine in which he was utterly brilliant.

Are you following the presidential race?
Not at all.

You’re not? You know there’s a Black guy running, Barack Obama and then there’s Hillary Clinton.
His name is Barack?!

Barack Obama, yeah.

What the fuck is a Barack?! Barack Obama. Where he from, Africa?

Yeah, his dad is from Kenya.
Barack Obama?

What the fuck?! That ain’t no fuckin’ name, yo. That ain’t that nigga’s name. You can’t be serious. Barack Obama. Get the fuck outta here.

You’re telling me you haven’t heard about him before.
I ain’t really paying much attention.

I mean, it’s pretty big if a Black…
Wow, Barack! The nigga’s name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain’t his fuckin’ name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, “Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit” [laughs] “That ain’t your fuckin’ name.” Your momma ain’t name you no damn Barack.

So you’re not following the race. You can’t vote right?

Is that why you’re not following it?
No, because it’s just—it doesn’t matter. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. It doesn’t really make a difference. These are the last years.

But it would be pretty big if we had a first Black president. That would be huge.
I mean, I guess…. What, they gon’ give a dog a bone? There you go. Ooh, we have a Black president now. They should’ve done that shit a long time ago, we wouldn’t be in the fuckin’ position we in now. With world war coming up right now. They done fucked this shit up then give it to the Black people, “Here you take it. Take my mess.”

(no subject)
Self - Upside Down
So here's a funny story about things lost in translation. It's a two-parter, one that involves some embarrassment for me, but I think it's worth it.

The Shame, part the first.
The characters:
la Fumadora-- my host mother who smokes like a chimney, aged god only knows.
Diego -- my host brother, aged 22
Nameless friends of Diego's -- who shall remain nameless and unseen
Yours Truly -- Emma Ann Gordon, aged 21
The broken toilet -- You see, most toilets in Argentina have a button built into the wall above them which is pushed to flush. Unfortunately, in my apartment this button is missing. In fact, part of the wall itself is missing. This means that you must reach inside the wall and pull up a thin pole attached to the lever for the flusher and then set it back in exactly the right spot or it will be lost to you forever, floating aimlessly somewhere in the wall until someone notices that the toilet didn't stop flushing for hours and comes in and reaches into the wall to fish it out again, which you may or may not be too scared to do because who knows what is lurking in the walls.


It was more or less two weeks after I moved into the apartment and I still spoke little to no Spanish. I suppose I was getting better, and could at least express basic needs, but a bare two weeks is hardly enough to learn to communicate oneself in a language. This obstacle in language skills was mighty and highly frustrating, especially when living with a family with limited English skills.

I was hanging out at the apartment, ostensibly doing homework or reading or something equally uninteresting, when I had to go to the bathroom. Well, gentle readers, I did not urinate in the bathroom. This has bearing on the story, I'm sad to say, as the toilet decided at that moment that it did not feel up to the task of flushing my waste away. There I stood, arm deep within the wall, grasping the flushing contraption and trying in vain to flush the toilet over and over and over. There was no plunger to be found in the bathroom and I was getting more and more frustrated and upset by the moment.

Finally, I decided I couldn't bear it any longer and went in search of la Fumadora. Now, my host mother does not speak any english. Sure, she'll know a weird word here and there -- mother in law, knife, comb, etc. -- but there is no way we could carry on a conversation of any kind in those early days. I approached her warily, through the cloud of smoke surrounding her and the family dinosaur computer (which died only a couple of weeks later) and began, with trepidation, to try to explain my situation.

I had learned the word "to break" because of a rather nasty incident the week before in which I opened a glass door at the NYU Center a little too hastily and it shattered into a million billion pieces, and now decided to put it to good use.

"Uh, me rompio el baño," I stammered, awkwardly (and incorrectly like woah, but the sentiment is there).

My host mother said something unintelligible in Spanish which I followed by miming enthusiastically a dance about clogged toilets and my desperate need for a plunger. Finally, something seemed to click and she handed me the tiniest plunger I have ever seen in my life.

I trudged back to the bathroom, determined to sort things out for myself. Obviously I didn't, or this story would be much shorter and far less embarrassing. I tried unsuccessfully to plunge the toilet for another 15 minutes or so, at which point I nearly dissolved into tears, allowing all my frustration at not being able to speak spanish and general study abroad woes to become wrapped up in this one problem of a clogged toilet.

I returned, dejected, to the smoky computer room and tried to explain myself to la Fumadora. At this point she told me to go ask Diego for help.

Now, Diego was in his room with a whole mess of his cute Argentine boy friends presumably watching fútbol or something along those manly Argentine lines and I was not in any mood to ask him (the only person in the apartment with any English skills, by the way) for help in my situation. I stood in front of my host mother hopping from foot to foot and wringing my hands. Finally she understood and replied, "Yo entiendo, tenés vergüenza." Vergüenza, gentle readers, is something between embarrassment and shame. And yes, I did have vergüenza at that point.

La Fumadora secured her blue bathrobe around her, picked up her ash tray in one hand and her lit cigarette in the other and followed me to the bathroom. The two of us together tried for another few minutes to fix the problem, but it became clear eventually that it was a lost cause and we needed to ask of the Diego for his manly assistance.

I sucked it up and poked my head into Diego's room to ask him for help. Finally after another 20 minutes involving several bucket-fulls of water and far more embarrassment than I thought I could endure, the toilet came unclogged and we all went back to our awkward lives.

The Shame, part the second.
The characters:
Paz -- A good friend of mine from my program. Like me, she grew up in upstate New York and we have much 518 love. She's also pretty zany and unusual, but in a lovable puts-all-her-hair-in-an-alien-bun-on-the-top-of-her-head kind of way. Aged 20.
Ernesto -- Another friend from the program. Ernesto is sort of indescribable, really really weird but also incredibly earnest (pun intended). He has a very serious mustache and will be hitherto referred to as "El Bigote." Aged 20.

I had told el Bigote and Paz of my shameful bathroom experience not long after the incident, drawing it out tragically and at great length much like above. Perhaps a month later Paz and el Bigote were talking and he used the word "vergüenza" in a sentence. Paz looked at him, confused. Her understanding was that the word didn't quite make sense in the context he used it. Turns out she thought that "tener vergüenza" instead of meaning "to have shame/embarrassment" meant "to take a shit." Hilarity ensued.


I was just having dinner with la Fumadora and we had a delightful conversation (at this point I've been here over three months and can now converse quite freely in Spanish). She got up to leave the dinner table saying that she had to wash her hands and "hacer pipi," which is one of my favorite Spanish phrases. It literally means to "make a pee pee." Brilliant. Anyway, I told her the story of Paz's confusion and we had a great laugh over it. I figured I should share it with everyone and revel for just a bit longer in my vergüenza.

I've got just under three weeks left in Argentina.

(no subject)
Self - Smoke
So, I leave Buenos Aires in less than a month. I'm both so so sad and so so happy, it's a real mess of feelings.

I went to this amazing publishing collective with my journalism class, Eloisa Cartonera. They publish books of all kinds by Argentine writers (and some from abroad) both unknown and known and they do it all collectively. They buy cardboard from the cartoneros (poor people in Buenos Aires who collect recycling to sell for living wages, it's a semi-government sponsored program) to use for the covers which they then paint themselves. They do the actual printing all on one tiny machine. They then share the profits from the books among themselves and re-invest in making more books. It's pretty amazing.

Anyway, among the many photographs of Che Guevara they have on their walls, they also had a poster that said "no hay cuchillo sin rosas" - "there is no knife without roses." The sentiment is that there isn't anything bad without something good as well, sort of the Argentine yin-yang. It sort of describes everything I've been thinking lately about the past year.

This past year has been both the best and the worst year of my life in so many ways. I got my heart juiced, I nearly flunked out of school and had one existential life crisis after another. However, I met amazing people, lived in three cities in one year, threw myself into incredibly fulfilling (and, yes, oft-times frustrating) organizing, learned a whole new language because I am a Spanish god, and learned that I am incredible and strong and adaptable and really fucking cool.

This is, of course, ramblings of a good day, but I've learned to be pretty content with myself.

In other news, I've been accepted to a program in Israel for next year. It's called Pardes and it's a year-long program in Jewish learning (you know, to get that Jew Shit 101 that I never got growing up) with a cool social justice track. If I do it, I'll also be doing an internship on the side, hopefully with the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, an Israeli Palestinian Solidarity group.

I have no idea if I will accept it or not (I also applied to AVODAH in New York). My decision sort of depends on the day I'm having here in Argentina. If I'm having a good day, it's like -- how could I not go? It's an amazing opportunity! But if I'm having a mopey, frustrated with Argentina sort of day, then I can't imagine being away from home for a year. In the end, I think it's too great of an opportunity to pass up. I have the traveling bug now and I'm young, it's still "acceptable" for me to be a vagabond. What happens if I don't do it and I'm 30 and regret not going but have some sort of stable life that is too hard to leave. Better to do it now than never, I guess. Decisions, decisions.

(no subject)
Self - Scarf
Well, um, I'm in Argentina. I'm not particularly good at updating this thing, haven't had much patience for blogging in the past couple of years.

Yeah, so I'm in Argentina. I ended up actually studying abroad for real instead of just "studying abroad" in Boston. I live with a family who are pretty much the shit. I have a host brother named Diego (22), a host sister named Ines (25) & my host mom, La Fumadora. They are mad cool & there's always a ton of people in the house. There's a small collection of photos here.

I've only been speaking Spanish since I came here, just under a month ago. However, I'm able to communicate more than I ever thought I could have. It's amazing what you can do when you're forced to learn. Last night I had a great night with Spanish with some friends, new & old & some guys that work at my program but are quickly becoming friends.

The people on my program are pretty okay, but it's a little frustrating being cooped up with them all the time. I have Spanish class four days a week for 2 hrs a day at 9AM. Yuck. Plus three other classes, is a lot. I still really hate school, I guess moving to another country to take classes wasn't really going to solve that. Oh well, what am I going to do?

However, Buenos Aires is a pretty great town & I've made a ton of friends. Some on my program but I've met a lot of really great folks through Couchsurfing. There's an incredibly lively community here in BsAs. For example, in the past week I went to a Boca Juniors fútbol game (omg so fun), a Día de la Independencia de México fiesta, a movie night, an international food night (I ate spicy food TWICE this week! & vegetables even! all they eat in this country are pan y carne y queso, enserio. it's really frustrating) & this weekend I'm going to another party & a first day of spring (because it's Spring here) gathering in the park. it's a great mix of expats, students on study abroad & Porteños (the name for folks from Buenos Aires).

Last night I went to services en español, it was pretty cool. A lot of the tunes were the same which was great. Security is super high here because they've had a lot of issues with anti-semitic terrorist attacks (not in recent past, like 15 yrs ago) so I got pretty thoroughly interrogated by the guards at the door even though my name was on the list to get in. At the Mexican Independence party I met a bunch of kids from Hillel in BsAs who got me the hookup para mi cita con dios. It's nice to finally connect with Judaism here, I didn't really realize how much I missed it until services last night. At home it's such a big part of my week & I hadn't gone in such a long time.

Starting to get a little nervous that I'll be homeless come January 1. New York, it's a crazy thought that I'll finally be moving back there. Who knows what'll come of it? My sister goes to Columbia now & I'm excited to experience the city with her.

Um so how are all of you?

(no subject)
Self - Smoke
Well, I just dropped my textbook out my window. Life is pretty good.

(no subject)
Blank - Japan Lights
My coworkers gifted me with some brightly colored post-it notes for a going-away present for my last day of work.

Is it weird that I'm so touched?
I really love me some post-its.

(no subject)
Self - Smoke
Well, this weekend was my roadtrip to Boston with Matt Bell to see Jens Lekman.

We got there without incident, I drove all three hours. We showed up in Cambridge, walked around, got some coffee at 1369, got indian food at the Cambridge Shalimar, went to a bookstore & then showed up for the concert.

There were three opening acts. During the last song of the last opening act I started to feel super hungry. I hadn't really eaten much as I was in a rush to get out of the house & only really had dinner several hours before the concert. Then I started to feel tired & my vision started to narrow & I couldn't really hear & then I came to on the floor with my head between my knees & people all around me pulling me toward the bar. (Unfortunately, Jess, I did not faint into Matt Bell's burly arms). I had a nosebleed & was asking for tissues but I didn't really have any idea of what was going on. I made it to the bar & they gave me a seat that I couldn't even see & they called an ambulance. By the time the EMTs got there I was pretty coherent, though exhausted, & feeling pretty sheepish. They decided that since I've never fainted before that they would take me to the hospital to run some tests. I told Matt to stay at the concert & enjoy the rest of the show. I never got to see Jens! I was on the last fucking song of the third opening act! Ugh.

Anyway so they took me to the classy hospital (because I'm a white woman, I guess) & they shoved an IV in my arm which is the part about hospitals that creeps me out the most. I hate needles & the idea of having something under my skin for hours is disgusting & scary! Apparently I have small & cleverly well hidden veins because it took them FOREVER to find it & I was freaking out the whole time. Finally they got it & I got to the hospital & they ran a zillion fucking tests & took a bunch of blood & determined that I fainted because I was standing in one place for too long & I hadn't had enough water. Ughh thank you. At this point it was around 3.30 in the morning & I took a cab to Alec's place where he was sleeping, met up with Colin & Matt & went to sleep.

Today was a lot better even though I didn't get a lot of sleep but it was nice catching up with the boys in the house & relaxing. Matt drove us home as my arm that had the IV is still really sore & bruised. Now I'm just exhausted & everyone is anxious but I'm okay.

I still didn't see Jens! Ugh.