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.