Friday, October 29, 2010

Expedition Give

It's raining today in Atlanta.  I welcome this precipitation as release from the pattern of heat and sun and have fittingly passed gray skies with two cups of earl gray tea with milk.  Thanks to the calm weather and my participation in Expedition Give, I have been sincerely reflecting on values, community, charity, and empowerment.

When my work colleague approached me about teaming up to participate in Expedition Give, I enthusiastically accepted the invitation.  Expedition Give is an easy sell--an all day scavenger hunt around Atlanta with a community service twist.  Participants collect points for performing community service projects and collecting items to donate to various local non-profit organizations.

The scavenger hunt is days away but all teams have the opportunity to arrive at the starting line with points by successfully completing a list of five tasks.

So far I have...

bought 4 cans of soup.
bought one box of macaroni and cheese
bought one blue winter hat.
wrote one letter.

The letter I wrote was in response to the following:

Fisher House does an amazing job taking care of the families of soldiers who get injured or sick. Hand write 2 letters to the FAMILIES of these soldiers thanking THEM for the sacrifice THEY make and offering words of encouragement. The letters need to be unsealed and generic (can be given to any family) so that Fisher House can pass them along to military families here in Georgia. 

Thankfully, Wislawa Symborska found her way into my thoughts and served as my eloquent muse, yet again.

"To your family, our country's unsung heroes,

Thank you for your contribution to the security and sustained success of our country.  You have offered your most precious gift, your family member, to serve the USA and for that I am truly grateful.  I would like to share with you a poem from one of my favorite poets, Wislawa Szymborska.  Many of Wislawa's poems showcase the aftermath of war and genocide on her beloved Poland's collective consciousness.

I hope you find beauty and comfort in this poem and know that our country supports you in cleaning the emotional wreckage from the relentless ravishes of war.

In Solidarity,

Emily A Baughman

"The End and the Beginning"

By: Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by: Joanna Trzeciak

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

Again we'll need bridges
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
Someone listens
and nods with unsevered head
Yet others milling about
already find it dull.

From behind the bush
sometimes someone still unearths
rust-eaten arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must give way to
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass which has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out,
blade of grass in his mouth,
gazing at the clouds.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Light that Never Turned Green

It wouldn't have been the first time.  

The first--I suppose, could have been classified as a mistake.  That is, if you classify a mistake as your mother's death grip on the minivan hand clutch and her high pitch scream of the Lord's name in vain.  

But mistakes unfortunately carry the burden of a bad reputation.  In fact, I was going too fast to safely come to a complete stop and the Lord's name was not indeed called in vain as we--me, my mother, and two sisters were returning from the 12 o'clock mass.  

Regardless, the first time was hazy even to my memory.  

Red lights are tricky that way.

Thankfully, I was able to discover at a young age that, in some parts of the world, red lights are simply a suggestion.  

While living in Vietnam, I broke traffic laws that did not even exist.  At the same time that red lights stopped portraying the gruff facade of a lawful mandate and adopted the gentle gaze of a prompt that is open to interpretation, I learned how to partake in the one-man circus that is riding a motorcycle.  

Now, as I am licensed to cruise around on two wheels in Atlanta, Georgia, the pleasures of the open road abound--but not without dangers.  

Criminals are lurking especially for unsuspecting scooters and their riders.  

If you're wondering...

then, yes.  I was a victim.  

At Briafcliff and The By Way, 11:30 p.m.  It was a Tuesday.

I am not ashamed to admit:

I was held hostage by a red light.

How, you may ask, does a girl outwit the ferocities of the Atlanta traffic system?

To be honest, I couldn’t say exactly.  But it did take raw courage, no doubt about that.   Moral conviction.  Unwavering moral conviction.  

Truly, I feel lucky to say,

I ran a red light.

Like I said, it wouldn't have been the first time.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What is an appropriate and thoughtful housewarming gift?

Forget the tacky picture frame or the transience of a good bottle of wine, bring your newly minted homeowner a gift that they can (and will) appreciate: a jade plant. 

Traditionally, the jade plant has been viewed as a symbol of good fortune or good luck as well as a symbol of friendship.  Originally hailing from South Africa, the smooth bright evergreen leaves of the jade plant are said to resemble coins. 

No need for a verified green thumb to maintain this succulent plant as it requires little watering and maintenance.  In fact, the jade plant thrives off periods of dry soil.  In addition, the cuttings from a jade plant will take root in or out of soil.  How about that for a gift that keeps on giving!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dining with the Dead

The cool of the booth refreshes the back of my thighs as I slide in across the table.  A mid-morning sun is already percolating into the pores of those parading the sidewalk in time with the click, click, click of my heels and the drip, drip, drip of coffee on the countertop. Soon it will already be lunchtime but thankfully breakfast is served all day.  I look out past the shoulder of my breakfast companion to the gray stones that litter the lot across the street.  Through the full length diner windows are the residents of Oakland Cemetery. I have come to dine with the dead.

I spot a man walking his dog through the chiseled rows of rock.  Has the dog already peed on Margaret Mitchell’s grave?  Or—quelle horreur—defecated on the mound of golf balls before Bobby Jones’ tombstone?  Beyond that, is the old water tower of the former pot bellied stove factory now transformed into a conglomerate of a dozen trendy dining, office, and retail spaces—plus one watering hole, Krog Bar, occupying the former forklift warehouse.  My mind wanders to the fine wine selection lining narrow red brick shelves and an evening of slow sips of ablemarle red.  Devious arousal unfolds when partaking in such a highly cultured art in such a primitive locale.  Atlanta's history oozes from cracks in the floor and its fumes propagate my interest in unearthing what lies beneath. Six feet beneath.

Cemeteries fascinate me.  Perhaps it is the scuffle with death allowing me the liberty of rejuvenation, or the poetry of epitaphs, or the serene calm of hundreds of people lounging at rest.  Regardless, Oakland Cemetery is enticing and enthralling with a fantastic city skyline view to boot.  “One wrong move in this part of town and you’ll end up there yourself!” my friend jokes.  I let my laughter shake hands with death.  I can’t help but feel there are gentle on-lookers silently making their own commentary on our conversation.  Uninvited ghosts incite a self-conscious blush to warm my face.  My attention darts around the room.  To my right two mothers discuss the intimate details of their children’s social lives.  An overweight man awkwardly poses on the bar stool and takes another sip—the outline of his blackberry impressed upon the right pocket of his khakis.  A tattooed dude with two tag-a-long friends idle over the last crumbs.  Two lawyers philosophize bankruptcy law and banter their good manners—“Oh! You pick me up and pay for my meal! No, no…”, “Please.  It’s my pleasure.”   The air we share—us characters in a made-for-TV movie—is as languid as the hour melting away.

Two plates of pancakes interrupt the pantomime of conversation.  The glorified fluffy stacks are consumed in silence as if the next hour of our lives demand this syrupy nourishment.  And the next 60 minutes do demand a satiated belly if only to playfully mock the folks who rest across a two lane road. 

Exiting the diner, I squint under a now blinding sun towards the princes and paupers beyond a decrepit wall--smiling to myself at how the dead, yet again, inspire the living.  Pancakes and pecans never tasted so heavenly.

Monday, March 8, 2010


If you had five apples what would you do with them?

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Smell of Genocide

I once burned (accidentally) three strands of my hair
heavy putrid wafts swallowed the room
and all adjoining enclaves down the hall.
Does my nose dare imagine
a head of blonde disappearing to black ash?
What is the smell of genocide?

Is it gardenias that grow in Rwanda?
flourishing in blood-rich soil
the fragrance of spring, this fanciful Venetian mask
like rose water enshrouding a cheap whore
forevermore the musk of atrocity
What is the smell of genocide?

Or the crows in Poland savaging for
worms squirming their way among human skulls.
the defecation of the living
the sweet smelling mockery of lesser forms
What is the smell of genocide?

Perhaps, the sharp cloud of cadaverine
when the upper arm becomes a humerus
When the last drops of marrow
seeped from the bleached bones of Cambodia.
What is the smell of genocide?

Abandoned shoes of old rotting leather.
The warden's sandalwood cologne.
The garlic breath of the executioner.
What is the smell of genocide?

What is the smell of genocide?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stuff White People Like

I recently came across a tear-off day-by-day calendar entitled: Stuff White People Like.  It caught my attention as I tend to classify myself (most of the time) in such a category.  "Well," I thought, "what do white people like?"  Assuming that these little blurbs were written from a perspective of someone with more melanin than me, I picked up the calendar of 356 white people pleasures with the same fascinated curiosity as I once picked up a French guidebook on the United States and a celebrity Brit chef's latest American cuisine cookbook.

I couldn't restrain any laughter throughout January 1st's entry.


When serving food to white people, it's essential that you remember that at least one person will be vegan, allergic, or highly concerned about high fructose corn syrup.  You can mediate this situation easily by putting out a tray of hummus.  For some reason, all white people love it!  In fact, if you find a white person who does not like hummus then they probably just haven't tasted it or they are the wrong kind of white person.  In either case, they are probably not someone that you want to know.

Putting out a plate of hummus and pita makes white people very comfortable.  It reminds them of home since at any given time a white person has hummus in their fridge.  Even the most barren white refrigerator will have a package of the stuff next to an empty Brita filter.

"Hummus!" my mind exclaimed.  How could I ever dare to undermine the social glue of this appetizer tray?  Somewhere, I suppose, hummus lost it's exclusive presence on Middle Eastern restaurant menus and found it's way into the hearts of white people everywhere (except perhaps the French).  Modern day hummus has been Americanized as most popular ethnic foods are, Chinese and Mexican cuisine among them.  Some entrepreneur started packaging hummus in a variety of delicious flavors with a variety of toppings just as someone in San Francisco passed off fortune cookie as Chinese or Japanese or any other obscure Asian country.  The debauchery of the Taco Bell fast-food chain speaks for itself.  As much as I would enjoy an increase in the number of Vietnamese restaurants in the United States, it's nutritionally better if Viet staples were kept under the radar.  And as for stuff white people like, yes, I do like hummus along with hardwood floors, sea salt, international friendships, short stories, British slang, political prisoners, Sufjan Stevens, eco-tourism, olives, wine, David Sedaris, and brunch.  You know, stuff white people like.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What We Leave Behind

What we leave behind.  A forlorn scarf waiting for another bitter winter.  A used college textbook.  A pair of frayed shoes that walked themselves across Europe.  This scarf that protected you from 5 months of wind chill, chin nestled safely in merino wool.  The book you once meticulously memorized to earn a degree. These shoes that were worthy of an honorary passport.  And we walk away.  We walk away (or we run); parting with former treasures to the upside of abandonment.  These objects which once held our life force are now left to chaos.  Our once prizes are left curbside and us: shutting the door and deliriously abandoning oneself to the adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure.
More than family heirlooms or old photographs consciously and selectively organized for safekeeping; perhaps it is these deserted items that define our lives.

I recall an artist who created an exhibition using everyday discarded items.  Trash, garbage, rubbish, we may call it: gum wrappers, used paper cups, Dirty napkins.  Can people be defined by what they do not choose?  

to leave (v) : to go away from; to terminate association with; withdraw from
-Merriam Webster

I left my hometown to pass a year in the exotic unknown with a simple suitcase and a backpack slung over my shoulder.  I left the remains of my adolescent innocence (and ignorance).  

Stripped naked of social statuses, relationship affiliations, I came to discover myself without and create a self-definition around what I didn't possess.  I became an accepted local in a stranger's guarded domain.  And then I left.

I left mountains unclimbed, conversations half started, conversations half finished.  I left strangers who became friends and friends who became strangers.  I left countries and cities.  Villages and vistas.  I left three giggling children on a dusty road.  I left an old woman with the eyes of my grandmother.  I left beggars and maimed street destitutes attempting to carve out a living upon the thousands of people who year after year, pass by and never return.  And all these I left are now slipping.  Slipping into the faded ghosts that have always resided where I sleep.  I let them slip at the risk of forgetting (or with the intent to forget).  I let them be condensed in one bookshelf box.  A box where left items (business cards, concert programs, handwritten notes and scribbled thoughts) go to decompose.  

As I get older and more experienced, I learn how to leave with more grace, more style.  Learning how to seamlessly exit and enter and then reenter and exit again.  Perhaps there is an art to leaving.  Learning how to wave your hand goodbye without wiping a tear.  The skill of packing a suitcase in 3 minutes flat.  Developing a heart with an inside soft enough to stay awhile and steely crust strong enough to leave and never turn your head to what's already behind.  

And soon I will look around my room, at everything in its place.  The smiling photographs, the vase of flowers, the pink walls now decorated with Vietnamese calligraphy scrolls. This somber yet beautiful masterpiece selected for a traveling art exposition.  And I will leave my hometown as a cloud, promptly departing as the fickle wind blows.  

But somehow (thankfully) I realize that leaving is motion.  And if I never left, well then, I would never arrive.  Perhaps we must leave everything in order to gain anything, as the left foot must leave the ground to keep walking.  How relieved I am to practice the art of leaving to avoid a life of standing still.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Where to?

"After living there [Hanoi, Vietnam], you can live anywhere," my friend chuckled after I recounted my mishaps of life in the tropics.  Well...yes.  Concluding our conversation, I considered what she had said.  Anywhere?  Yes, that sounds like a lovely place to live but how do I get there?

So I have found myself entrenched in the task of figuring out how to relocate to Anywhere.  After dedicating serious time to reading the plethora of "Best Cities" lists online, I grew hopefully as it can only improve from the grey grit that is Detroit.  Like fond memories of a first love, nothing can replace my soft affection for the mitten.  But first love dies hard and my parents have since expanded their views of close to home as being within the continental United States.  More research has seduced Richard Florida’s “Who’s Your City? : How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of your Life” to my bedside reading table.  I am curious what the current experts have to say on this matter.  But can’t I simply give the globe a spin, close my eyes, and place my finger on an unassuming place? 

“Wherever I end up” seems like a fine place to reside.  I think I've discovered my paradise.

Monday, January 25, 2010

2010 Detroit International Auto Show

Like it or not, if you live in Detroit, you must have an opinion about cars.  It's the "Motor City", after all.  Since the days of Henry Ford, the city's lifeblood pumps to the sound of welded metal; the monotonous thunder of the assembly line bringing sweet affluence to the Midwest.   

Detroiters generally disdain public transportation.  And it's no wonder since the elevated downtown train, the "People Mover", goes in a circle to little more than four stops, and the public bus system, the "SMART bus", is not intelligent enough to keep a reliable schedule.  Yes, to a local, there is no greater joy than cruising Detroit Rock City in your own set of wheels.  

So it's no wonder that two of the biggest events in the city that draw visitors from other states (or countries) revolve around the automobile.  January welcomes each year by marking the annual Detroit International Auto Show.  Using the word "international" in Detroit is dubious at best as it could simply mean that some Canadians from Windsor drove across the bridge to participate for the day.  Yet, the international auto show attracts the best and brightest steel machines from around the world.  

A family weekend outing to the Auto Show is traditional practice since I was young enough to pride myself on knowing that SUV stood for Sport Utility Vehicle.  And this year I dressed myself in metallic colors: silver and electric blue hoping to play chameleon among the shiny chrome of a new decade of automobiles.  

And so we made the rounds to...

...a Ford demonstration of a car with an automatic parallel park feature.  Practical to the average citizen who just couldn't master the art during driver's ed.

...a rather pathetic display of a new Chinese company to the market.  Several cars of the same color with 10 year old designs attracted only a handful of people, I guessed of Chinese ethnicity wondering what kind of business their homeland was up to.

...the rotating concept vehicles.  These cars are not currently on the market and will not be on the market for some time.  Like a playboy pin-up, these cars along with accompanying sexy female models, are for oogling only.  Dream on boys.

And the highlight of the show:  the 2010 Ford Fiesta.  

While checking out the sleek lines of the machine like the cute guy at the bar, my sister and I were asked to participate our opinions for Ford marketers.  I admitted that the magenta color of the display model won me over.  When have I seen one of my favorite colors on the exterior of a car?  My sister and I agreed that the 40 miles per gallon of gasoline that the Fiesta boosts is especially attractive as no other car has the winning combination of a low price and high MPG.  And our choice of automobile?  

2010 Ford Fiesta it is.  Party on.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


"Dance, you motherfuckers!" Given three words to describe my experience at Lady Gaga's live performance in Detroit, these syllables spewed from the fashionista would be it.

I can't attest to be a secret aficionado to the Lady herself, but presented with a last minute invitation to witness glam pop at it's finest? I'm in.

Before jumping on the expressway to meet my friends, was an hour long wardrobe fitting. What to wear to a Lady Gaga concert? Anything but plain. The fake purple hair left. The pleather short skirt stayed. As did the purple iridescent pumps, silver dangly earrings, and spray-on hair glitter. Two spitzes of perfume and I was about to join the ranks as a Gaga fan.

Finding our seats in the Joe Louis Ice Arena converted to Popland, we caught the last songs of the final opening act. A disappointing amateur oozing his thanks for the thousands of concertgoers for bearing the weight of mediocre entertainment.

In the twenty minutes preluding Gaga's grand entrance, it was recorded versions of Michael Jackson that proved better mood setting than any live pop wannabe. As Lady Gaga lookalikes danced in the aisles to Thriller and Billie Jean; the crowd prepared to be dazzled for a historic pop music event. Lady Gaga's Monster Ball.

The little monsters roared in applause, screams, and cat calls as the platinum blonde strutted her stuff for the first song and continued to do so through the...

costumes...Gaga in a rhinestone studded bathing suit with half naked male dancers wearing masks.

and the dancing..."Dance you motherfuckers" Gaga screamed. And dance they did, fans shoulder shimmeying and booty shaking in the aisles and into the little monsters next to them.

and the bizarre...a repeated moving image of Lady Gaga dressed ala Marilyn Monroe with a brunette self-inducing lime green vomit over her pristine lap. Perhaps an unscrupulous display to the destitute life of a wannabe?

The noise did not abate until she walked offstage hand in hand with her backup dancers after the final act. Show's over. And so the parade of mainly female fans reluctantly exited into frigid temperatures, most still humming the "Bad Romance" bridge.

Waiting amid the sidewalk slush for our ride home, a car full of four young teenage boys stopped next to us waiting at a red light. Gaga beats blasting, the four of them were head banging, clawing the air. As the driver caught our stare he sheepishly shouted, "I have to apologize for my friends!" I laughed.
"Dance away you motherfuckers!" I replied as the car sped away.