Houseless in Portland

My first encounter with the houseless of Portland was after a carb-filled dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery. I walked out with a leftover deep-fried cuban sandwich that wouldn’t taste good the next day and would end up in my trashcan. But I hate leaving behind good food, so I asked for it to be boxed. Divert the inevitable for at least another day.

On my walk to the bus, I passed a houseless man on the corner. I recognized him along this route and if he’s not sleeping, he is pleasant. Those are his two modes: asleep or cheerfully bellowing well wishes. He said “Have a good evening!” and I instinctively asked “Do you want this sandwich?” Thanked me repeatedly as I walked away. I glanced back to see him open the sandwich and take the first bite. It felt good.

My second encounter was very similar. I purchased a massive breakfast sandwich on my way to work and knew I wasn’t going to finish both halves. I wouldn’t dare throw it away, so I calculated when I would have time to eat it. I had lunch and dinner plans, I doubted the egg would be good the next day, and I was too full to reasonably finish it then. Coming to terms with throwing it away, I walked by the same cheerful, sleepy man. This day he had friends and they greeted me with a chorus of hello. “Do you want this spicy egg sandwich?” I offered. “Thank you! We will share it.” he answered, followed by a chorus of thank you’s and well wishes. I looked back to see him open the sandwich and offer it to his friends first. It felt good.

Today was hot. I spent the day moseying around coffee shops, shopping at second hand stores, and running the overrated adult errands. A few blocks from my house, I prayed the blocks would get shorter; my book bag was heavy, the large package of toilet paper was sticky in the heat, and I purchased too much fruit from the farmer’s market. It was a pretty miserable walk and finally walking beneath a tree, in front of a 7-11 convenience store, I smiled at how relieving the shade felt. I would’ve loved a slurpee, even though I didn’t have enough hands to carry it.

Sharing the perfectly cool, shaded area was a houseless man. “Hey! How are you doing?” he offered enthusiastically. I commented on his optimal sitting position and admitted that I didn’t have any change. He waved off the money-talk and insisted I “stay cool”. This is an opportunity to do good, I thought. I bought a bag of Doritos, an apple, a super gulp slurpee, and a slice of pizza from 7-11 and handed it to the man outside. “Aw, you didn’t have to do that, that was really nice. I appreciate it.” he said and accepted the food with a wide grin. Further down the block, I stopped and watched him assess the contents of the bag, nod and smile. It felt good.

Sometimes, I feel small because my goals for change are lofty and will take years to accomplish.

I like this feeling because it’s a reminder that I can make immediate change and have impact. Sometimes, I feel small because my goals for change are lofty and will take years to accomplish. Shaping an industry, influencing the next generation, and contributing to the development of technology I’m passionate about take time. It’s nice to know that along the way I can do little things to change someone’s day.

On Virality

Last week, during a gchat conversation with a friend, I admitted my financial goals: I would like to make a salary higher than my student loan total. I was mostly joking, but with student loans into the 6-figure range, a salary to match is something to aspire to.

I tossed the idea in my head for a while. I tweeted it. It went viral.

Before we continue, I have to confess that we’re talking about virality as it pertains to my history online. The tweet generated 200+ retweets and 170+ favorites. Is that ground-breaking for global Twitter standards? No. Is that the closest I’ve come to virality? By a long shot.

I watched the tweet go viral from the minute I posted it at 3:38pm PT (6:36pm ET). Very familiar with unfair debt-to-salary, two friends retweeted it to their sizeable follower-base. The time may have had something to do with it, since people were getting home from work and winding down on the East Coast. If you’re going to go viral (and you’ll never be able to time or control it), I recommend doing it at 6:36pm ET.

I received retweets from people I’d never engaged with on Twitter and received a few responses. There were the responses in agreement (“Especially for those of us with 100K+ debt!”), the responses that missed the point (“It’s only fair if you have to repay it”), and then the trolls (“Dumb as fuck”). I didn’t feel the need to respond to any of them; the tweet wasn’t a discussion, just a thought. Also, online community rule 1: DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS.

The most shocking thing was how little it all mattered. I’d always assumed there was a positive correlation between the engagement (e.g., retweets, favorites, mentions, etc.) of a tweet and the original poster’s follower-base. There isn’t. Twitter is a series of half-baked thoughts and fleeting moments. Your timeline is filled with polarizing thoughts that you either engage (respond, retweet, etc) or ignore. Seeing or missing an interesting tweet depends entirely on whether you checked your Twitter before or after you called your mother. In that way, virality is almost serendipitous: right place, right time, right audience. Or wrong everything if you happen to tweet something terrible or misinformed.

My life hasn’t changed since the tweet, though my brother did tell me he was proud of my “social media progress”. There wasn’t a large influx of followers, my tweet didn’t brand me, and worst of all, Sallie Mae didn’t tweet saying the next 10-grand was on them. Though, what did happen is that I put words to a feeling that a lot of people my generation are experiencing.

I am smart, with a promising career, and too many loans to logically pursue an underpaid passion project.

I’m not the voice of my generation, but I am here and I matter. I am smart, with a promising career, and too many loans to logically pursue an underpaid passion project. I am doing well and supporting myself, but have a huge debt cloud over my head. Thinking about my journey out of debt is depressing and something I reserve for days when I have an emergency bottle of wine handy. Though, if there’s one thing that I’m pleased about, it’s that this tweet went viral. I’m happy the tweet was representative of my truest feelings…and that there wasn’t a typo. That’s really important to me, too.

Revisiting the Harry Potter book series

Harry Potter broken glasses

This piece is cross-posted onWellesley Underground.

Christmas 1999 and the largest box under the tree had my name on it in my grandmother’s scribbled cursive. “I’ve been hearing about this book series and wanted you to have them.” She said as I unwrapped the box, revealing the first three Harry Potter books: Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban.

This story could end with me grounded for yelling “BOOKS?! FOR CHRISTMAS!” in a snotty, unappreciative manner, but I was (…am?) a nerd. I spent the rest of the holiday reading the first Harry Potter book. I spent the next 15+ years in some way involved (reading, reflecting, watching) with the series.

The first time I read the Harry Potter book series, I stood in line at midnight for each book release, with $60 in cash. The second time, I reread the first six books during the summer of 2007, in preparation for the final novel. In February 2015, I decided to reread the entire series again. This is a mid-way recap of the first three books, through the eyes of an adult that read the seven as a kid.

The Harry Potter book series and J.K. Rowling’s writing grew with its audience. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1) reads like pre-teen fiction. This is Harry. Harry is special because he is a wizard. The first book features short sentences, oversimplified conflict resolution, several references to characters recounting events, and a pretty high-level understanding of life’s toughest emotions. Example: In the final chapter of Book 1, Harry and friends find, confront, and defeat Voldemort; Harry passes out and wakes up in the infirmary where Dumbledore fills the gaps in the story; Gryffindor wins the house cup; and Harry heads back to suburbia. A single, normal-length chapter with all that action. Later in the series, J.K. Rowling stretches the climax-to-resolution arc in a way that demonstrates growth in her literary style. I’m almost proud of her progress all over again.

What I can’t knock is how eloquently J.K. Rowling describes scenes. What she skimped on with conflict resolution, she poured directly into thoughtful adjectives and descriptions that brought the reader everywhere from the Great Hall to Hagrid’s little shack. Rowling tackled the task of explaining a world without widely understood points of reference in a way in which “It’s Wing-GAR-dium Levi-O-sa…” means something.

By the third book, things start to take a mature turn. There are hints of classism and racism between pure-blood and muggle-born wizards that will serve as an undertone for the remainder of the series. Harry starts to grapple with the death of his parents in a deeper manner than “man, that kind of sucks, huh?” and really focusing on understanding who and how great they were when alive.

Harry Potter grew up passively neglected, mildly tortured, and completely isolated. He had no friends, experienced no love, and had no reason to be hopeful. On paper, this story looks like it will end in him growing up to be Voldemort: a great, powerful, evil wizard. Instead, Harry went to Hogwarts and learned how to be a friend. A really good friend, without any practice or instruction. He knew how to navigate ride-or-die-ness better than  adults from loving families. On one hand, I believe that once Harry experienced a taste of genuine kindness (from Hagrid, Ron, and Hermione), he wanted to preserve it at all costs. On the other hand, he could have been a complete shit-head with trust issues and insecurities from 12-years living in a closet beneath the staircase and receiving old socks for his birthday.

From the very beginning, Harry was out here spreading good-friend practices. He shared his food, let Ron ride his new broom, stood up for his friends being picked on, didn’t get sucked into Malfoy’s bully allure, and visited Hagrid religiously. I’m an adult that has loved and been loved all my life and still have trouble sharing my favorite foods with people. This means that Harry Potter was meant to love and be good. His childhood was basically fuel for a revenge movie, but just when you think he’s emotionally depleted with zero effs to give, we see that he’s been saving his best self for Hogwarts. Harry chose to embrace and fully immerse himself in the awe of the wizarding world and make it his safe-place. His home.

I thought this post was going to be about the amazing foreshadowing J.K. Rowling sprinkles throughout the early novels. They’re interesting and will make any re-reader chuckle. However, like my entire relationship with Harry Potter, this won’t end as superficially as I thought.

This series could be a story about a boy that gets a wand, does some stuff, then grows old, but there are levels to this. Harry grapples with deep, dark feelings of confusion, abandonment, and misdirected anger. Everyone knows things about his life that he will never quite understand. His parents were legends and he carries that burden without the benefit of understanding why he should be proud. He lives in a world just as politically corrupt, systematically oppressive, and unfair as the muggle world. These books can be understood and digested on several different levels, making them worth a reread all these years later.​

#Wellesley2010

Wellesley 2010 5-year Reunion

Day 30 to 32 of #100inPDX

A tent in the middle of the Academic Quad. In a past life, I trekked through the grounds headed for hundred-year-old buildings to sit in classes that would stretch my mind. I saw the quad covered in crisp orange leaves, fresh feet of snow, spring flowers, and summer grass. Once upon a time, I sat in that very quad with a black robe and purple accents, celebrating an accomplishment four years in the making, with 600 other women who will. Now, I stood in a tent in the middle of the Academic Quad with dozens of Wellesley alumnae dancing to guilty pleasure music and running into familiar faces.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun played. Cyndi Lauper whispered the lyrics over a belting tent-choir. This was a space of love, acceptance, sweat, and bad singing; where being yourself was encouraged. We were who we were and during Girls Just Want to Have Fun was no time to apologize for our shortcomings. I turned and ran into another 2010er, we hugged. A genuine hug that said ‘It’s SO good to see you! How ARE you?’ The hug could’ve been superficial and I wouldn’t have been upset; that’s what reunions were supposed to be, right? Fake interest in people you haven’t thought about in years. That’s not what this was though and when I realized, I lost it. I cried.

At that moment, in a tent in the middle of the Academic Quad, surrounded by my Wellesley sisters, I realized that moments like these were far too rare in the world. Earlier that day, I sat in the Zeta Alpha society house, an old stomping ground, and navigated a conversation about the importance of meaningful friendships, the politics of gender, and campus updates in the last five years. The ZA house wasn’t mine (insert purple + gold hearts for TZE!) in college, just like Wellesley is no longer mine now.

But this conversation – the ability to dive deep into gender politics and come up for air to laugh about old memories – was all mine. I feel “so Wellesley” when I debate the nuances of my passion-topics and feel my brain stretching. I feel “so Wellesley” when I am less concerned with the way I will be perceived and more concerned with asserting my opinions. In all honesty, I feel “so Wellesley” all the time because it extends far beyond a geographic location or place in time. That is the Wellesley I love.

I’ve always felt at home at Wellesley, seeing myself reflected in the space. There’s something about returning to a place so frequently associated with unimaginable amounts of stress, competition, and type-A-ness, because it frames the way people share their stories. We graduated five years ago and by now certainly expected to be financially secure business leaders, but in reality, we’re in our mid-20s, struggling to claim our destiny, true desires, and fullest potential – life is a rollercoaster ride right now. I want everyone to know that there is a place for their narrative at Wellesley. There is a space for “I quit my toxic job and am working on what’s next”, “I’m behind on my PhD journey” and “I’m just living life”. I carefully asked “Where are you living right now?” Mostly because everyone is scattered, but also because that’s a question not loaded with implications.

Anxiously anticipating things you’re not ready for: the mid-to-late 20s plight. There’s something beautiful about hearing your classmates’ accomplishments, journeys, and realizations and listening to their journey. To fully understand their journey without comparison, judgment, or speculation. My classmates are pursuing or finishing advanced degrees, law school, business school, and med school. They’re single, dating, engaged, and married. They live a dream life abroad, a rent-free life at home, or a grownup mortgage life in a quiet picket-fence neighborhood. I don’t see my path reflected in every story, but I see similarities in the foundation. We are all driven, brilliant, considerate women that carefully consider our place in and impact on the world. We also love impromptu dance parties. That’s all the comparisons I want to do, because that’s all there is to do.

Returning five years later is Twilight Zone meets Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I spent the better part of the weekend grasping for the words to describe the way I felt and feel about Wellesley College. I may not have all of those words now, but I do know that Wellesley changed the trajectory of my life and made me a woman of which I am proud. #Wellesley2010

GORGEous

Gorges

Day 24 of #100inPDX

I went to the Columbia River Gorges for a sunny day of hiking. A gorge is a narrow valley between hills or mountains which is also code for numerous hiking trails and beautiful scenery. The Columbia River separates Washington State to the North and Oregon to the South and is perfectly situated between the two major mountains. You get beautiful glimpses of Mount St. Helen (in Washington state) and Mount Hood (in Oregon).

Aside from remembering the geographic location of the mountains (I have yet to master this), I find it easier to identify these active volcanoes by sight. Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980 killing dozens, clearing acres of land, and causing the overall devastation one would associate with a volcano eruption. As a result, Mount St. Helens has a flat top with no peak.
Mount St. Helens

Mount Hood, on the other hand, hasn’t erupted since the 1860s and has a pointed peak.
Mount Hood

We drove up to Crown Point Vista House for this panoramic view of the gorge. That’s Washington state on the left, across the river.
Columbia River Gorge

This really is a story best told through photos, because there are only so many times you can say “amazing”, “gorgeous”, and “stunning” before the words lose their meaning. I spent most of the hike in awe of nature and it’s amazing, gorgeous, stunning beauty so it’s only right that this blog post follows the same trend!