el gran mojado/arcangel

The myth of the first world is that
development is wealth and technology progress.
It is all rubbish.
It means  you are no longer human beings
but only labor.
It means that the land you live on is not earth
but only property.

This is not a benefit for UNESCO
We are not the world.
This is not a rock concert.

– Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange

juxtaposition

Kitchen scene in Donetsk, Ukraine, August 2014. // Sergei Ilnitsky

Kitchen scene in Donetsk, Ukraine, August 2014. // Sergei Ilnitsky

“In her 1977 collection of essays, ‘On Photography,’ Susan Sontag identified a feeling of helpless voyeurism that comes over us as we look at photographs of people in the midst of conflict. She also wrote about how repeatedly seeing such images could anesthetize the vision and deaden the conscience. Sontag understood photographs of conflict to be making a utilitarian argument — that they could bring us into a state of productive shock — and showed that they seldom did what they claimed, or hoped, to do. The more photographs shock, the more difficult it is for them to be pinned to their local context, and the more easily they are indexed to our mental library of generic images. What, then, are we to do with a thrilling photograph that is at the same time an image of pain?

In Ilnitsky’s photograph, taken last August in Donetsk, a major city in the eastern part of Ukraine, a length of white lace is swept to the left side. Like a theatrical curtain, it reveals a table with a teapot, a bowl full of tomatoes, a can, two mugs, and two paring knives on a little cutting board. It is a still life, but it is in utter disarray. Broken glass and dust are everywhere, and one of the mugs is shattered; to the right, across the lace curtain, the shards of glass and the table, is a splatter of red color that could only be one thing. Domestic objects imply use, and Ilnitsky’s photograph pulls our minds toward the now lost tranquillity of the people who owned these items. How many cups of coffee were made in that kitchen? Who bought those tomatoes? Were there children in this household who did their homework on this table? Whose blood is that? The absence of people in the photograph makes room for these questions.”

– from Teju Cole’s essay “Object Lesson” in the New York Times Magazine

A lot to learn here, in writing and reporting too, I think.

storytime: chats with uber drivers

The first time I took an Uber, I tried to get into the wrong car.

I was in Arlington, Va., and after a midnight soak in a friend’s rooftop hot tub on a freezing February night, I had to get back to my budget hotel in D.C. My friend sent me a code for a free Uber ride, but I was apprehensive. Could I trust the Uber driver to not kidnap, kill, cut me into tiny pieces and/or stuff me into his trunk? That apprehensiveness grew when when I tried to open the door of a car that was parked in front of my friend’s apartment.

The door was locked. I knocked on the window.

“Uber?” I asked, waving my phone. The confused driver stared at me, and then shook his head.

I tried to ignore the fact that I had essentially turned a stereotype on its head–instead of a large black man trying to rob a small white woman, I was the small white woman who appeared to be jacking a large black man’s car–and I called my Uber driver.

“You’re parked around the corner?”

I got back to my hotel in one piece.


Two days later, I almost missed my flight back to Kansas City.

I sat in the back of an Uber, waiting as we stood still in traffic for five full minutes.

“Is it always this bad in D.C. on a Friday evening?” I asked my driver.

“Oh, that’s the President’s motorcade driving past,” he said.

Washington, D.C.: view from the Newseum.

Washington, D.C.: view from the Newseum.


By the time I visited Atlanta a month later for a computer-assisted reporting conference, I was an Uber convert. An Uber proselytizer, really. I was sharing a cheap hotel room with three other  grad students, and we were shamelessly cutting costs at every corner.

“We can share the cost of one Uber ride, which’ll be $3 each,” I told them. So, we took Uber everywhere.

We probably had ten drivers total. Not one of them was white, and two of them were women.

I asked one of the women how she started working for Uber.

“Well, I came to Atlanta to help out my daughter,” she said. “She’s thirty, but she acts like she’s sixteen years old or something. She burned through all her money. So I moved from Alabama to help her out.”

“Do you like Atlanta?” I asked.

The woman laughed. “Nope, not really.”


“Do you like Atlanta?” was a question I asked often, and more often than not, the Uber drivers said yes.

I soon learned that several of these drivers had recently moved to Atlanta from other states in the South–Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana.

Our first morning in Atlanta, our driver  could not sing the city’s praises enough. “I moved here two years ago, and I love it,” he said. “Ladies, you would love it too. You’re just what Atlanta needs–four, young, smart, pretty single ladies out on the town!”

He wore a metallic patterned shirt, and his energy at 7 a.m. was more effective as a strong cup of coffee.

“Is that your real eye color, or are you wearing contacts?” he asked me.

“I mean, I’m wearing contacts, but they’re not colored…”

“Well, girl, you have got beautiful eyes.”

Funny, the most romantic thing ever said to me was by a gay Uber driver.

He loved that we were new to Atlanta, and he loved pointing everything out. “And that’s the Hard Rock Cafe,” he said, his voice authoritative, as if we couldn’t read the giant neon sign that read: “Hard Rock Cafe.”

“That’s a trolley car–they’re just testing it out. See that man in the yellow vest? That’s a cop. They’re everywhere, but they’re friendly. They’re here so tourists will feel safe and come back,” he said. “Homeless people might ask you for money, but if you say no, they won’t harass you. It’s because they know the cops don’t mess around. Oh! See that other guy in yellow? Another cop.”

Thanks, buddy.

Atlanta

Downtown Atlanta


One of our Uber drivers, it turned out, was a retired cop and Atlanta native.

I couldn’t help myself.

“I’m a journalist from Missouri, and I’ve been covering some stuff about Ferguson and its aftermath,” I said. “What do you think about the police department here in Atlanta? Do you see similar issues?”

“It’s not as bad here. In this city, a lot of the cops are black. A lot of the people are black,” he said. “I tell you what, and this is just my opinion, but I truly believe it. If the racial makeup of police forces reflected the racial makeup of their cities, we wouldn’t be having these problems.”


On our final morning in Atlanta, our last Uber driver had another solution to my questions about Ferguson and race (oops–we’ll blame it on the reporter in me; nobody’s perfect).

“I’m not a Republican, I’m not a Democrat. We need rules and regulations, but we need family values too. You know what would solve the world’s problems? If parents taught their kids compassion!” he said.

“But how does that translate to legislation?” I asked.

“Those lawmakers need to legislate compassion!” the driver said, half-laughing, half-serious. “Nothing is just Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. It should go deeper than that. My political philosophy, I get that from Star Wars. Yoda said, ‘Only a Sith deals in absolutes.'”

Hear that, world? Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

scribbles//shame

Just returned from the NICAR Conference in Atlanta (or the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, for those of you who have normal lives and aren’t data nerds).

It was wonderful. I learned more in a weekend than I could in a month. I got to meet (and drink with!) some incredible journalists. New friendships abounded, old friends grew stronger.

Despite all of that,
and despite the fact that the conference was filled with brilliant, intelligent, curious women galore,

There were still
(a few)
moments where I felt dirty
For speaking out loud.

Once
A group of us
(Five women in our early twenties)
Was followed down the street
By a man
Who would just not give up.
We spent two hours in a restaurant
…And he stayed outside the front door
The whole time
Waiting.
For us to finish our pizza
And come back out.

Another man told me that I
“Only give a shit” about myself
When I pointed out double standards
Between men and women.

Well.

You can be twenty-four years old.
And you know better.
Because you’ve read the theory:
Betty Friedan, bell hooks.

But you’re still ashamed.

the line outside of roxy’s, february 26, 2015

10:58 p.m.

A group of four friends lines up outside the club. It’s a long line, but they can still hear the beat of the music matching the rhythm of the lights—red, yellow, green—that flash from the windows of the second floor.

The young man has a diamond earring in each ear, and he wears a heavy black coat. His companions are girls, wearing leggings and light cardigans. One of these young ladies isn’t wearing a sweater at all. Instead she wears a crop top that shows off a sliver of her belly, right above the black and white striped leggings that she almost certainly stole from the set of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice.

It’s nine degrees Fahrenheit. Snow sits partially banked on the grass across the street.

Beetlejuice and her buddies remain at the back of the line when another girl struts by, crown atop her curled hair and a sash that glitters “I’m 21!” across her teal tank top. She trips, but her two companions catch her before she eats the pavement. The trio bursts into giggles and then walks into the club.

“I don’t get it,” says Diamond Earrings. “They get to go in so quick, but we’re standing here. Why does it take so damn long to let people in?”

“Five dollar bottomless drinks,” Beetlejuice reminds him.

11:10 p.m.

The group has moved forward a few feet. They are standing beside the entrance to Jimmy John’s, but they are no longer holding up the end of the line. Now two girls stand behind them. One has a lollipop in her mouth, and her metallic miniskirt can’t cover the goose bumps on her otherwise bare legs. Her friend tries to avoid this fate by wearing socks that reach her knees. She, too, is wearing a miniskirt.

“My ears are freezing,” says Lollipop, covering her ears with her hands.

“My nose is freezing,” says Knee-High Socks.

In front of her, Beetlejuice sways back and forth.

“I can’t feel my toes.”

11:13 p.m.

A truck stops on the opposite side of Broadway, holding up traffic.

“Drew!” shout the four men who are stuffed in the front seat of the truck.

“Drew!” shout the three men who are sitting in the bed of the truck.

Drew, who is now at the back of the Roxy’s line, holds the door of Jimmy John’s halfway open.

“Ten seconds!” he shouts back.

“Drew, you have got to be fucking kidding!”

Drew leans back in frustration, and then bounds across the street. He jumps into the bed of the truck and joins his friends.

Beetlejuice and Cardigan Girls have barely moved, but now they’ve all assumed the same position: arms crossed, legs rocking back and forth. They watch as the truck speeds away, a sandwichless Drew along with it.

11:20 p.m.

A girl from the front of the line leaves, stomping down the sidewalk. She’s wearing a peplum tank top with nothing to cover her arms, and she’s angry.

“He said we should probably go to another bar,” she informs the rest of the line. “The bouncer did. They’re, like, full or something.”

Some follow her lead and give up on Roxy’s. Beetlejuice, Diamond Earrings and Cardigan Girls take advantage of the thinning line and move forward.

11:24 p.m.

Lollipop turns to Knee-High Socks.

“If I am not inside in ten minutes, we are leaving. Deal? Deal,” she says, having the courtesy to answer for her friend.

Approximately thirty seconds later, Lollipop and Knee-High Socks cross Broadway in the middle of the road, just missing a car that whizzes by. The girls are a whole twenty feet from the crosswalk, after all.

Beetlejuice and her girl friends are now hunched over in full Quasimodo form. Diamond Earrings doesn’t seem quite as bothered, although he’s now put his hands in the pockets of his heavy coat.

11:33 p.m.

Diamond Earrings, Beetlejuice and Cardigan Girls are at the front of the line. They’re shivering, and their teeth chatter. But finally, the Holy Grail: five dollar bottomless drinks.

d.c., baby

Today, I flew from Kansas City to Washington, D.C. First time here. What a year for firsts.

I walked up a mile-long hill with three heavy bags (while wearing heels!) to get from my metro stop to my hotel.

I met about a gazillion deadlines along the way (typing away in the airport, on the plane, at a coffeeshop, in my hotel room).

I’m here til Friday, for a conference on government and financial data in journalism. Stay tuned for stories.

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good riddance 2014

We’ve been in 2015 for six days now. I don’t think I’ve truly registered that. Here’s a post to say goodbye to 2014. 

The night before I left for my parents’ home this Christmas, the few of us who were left over met up for some tacos.

We were all journalism students–most of them photographers, and a couple of us writers showed up too. The end of 2014 was a mere two weeks away, and this seemed like an appropriate time to reminisce.

“What happened this year?” someone asked.

“Well, a whole lot of police violence…” I said.

“Right. There was Michael Brown in Ferguson, obviously, but also Eric Garner and Tamir Rice,” said another.

“And there was Ebola,” another person offered.

“Russia annexed Crimea…”

“ISIS beheaded those journalists…”

“Eh, ISIS in general was pretty bad,” I said.

“There was that Rolling Stone article about campus rape…”

“Boko Haram has been reeking havoc in Nigeria…”

“Guys, this is bad,” said a friend. “Can’t we think of anything good happen this year? Did anything good happen this year?”

I paused. “Well, Germany won the World Cup…”

“Oh, come on!” protested everyone else in the room. I guess none of them had German family members. They probably weren’t Bayern Munich fans.

More silence. I could on my friends’ faces that they were legitimately digging through their recent memories. Finally, somebody spoke up.

“We’re all safe and happy. And I guess that’s what’s really important.”

Everyone nodded in agreement, but I still felt frustrated. The answer was true, of course, but it seemed like a cop out. Things might be going well for me, but for millions upon millions of people in the world, the world was becoming an increasingly dangerous place. How are you supposed to avoid being weighed down by the news when your job is to study and write about it?

I’m going to leave that question dangling, because I plan to find how to answer it in 2015. Here’s to the new year, a year of digging and learning and staying on top of the news.

On a lighter note, how about this for a Transformation Tuesday? A year ago, I had dark hair and bangs. Now they’re long gone. R.I.P. high maintenance hair.