It’s up to us now

I was already struggling with election anxiety and news cycles of unending madness and chaos.

From the upheaval at USPS at at time when mail-in voting is potentially life-preserving, to AG Barr’s desire to charge protesters and dissenters with sedition, to forced sterilisation of immigrant women in detention centres, to the non-stop lies and fabrications, to raging fires in both North America and Brazil, on top of a global pandemic as we head into winter, it’s too much, y’all. It’s simply too much.

And, then, Saturday dawns and the news of RBG‘s death greeted me as I scrolled through Twitter (fuck you, Mitch McConnell) whilst waiting for my coffee to brew.

This morning feels incredibly dangerous, not just for women’s rights and reproductive freedom, but for democracy in general. The fragility of the rule of law, immigrant rights, voting rights, environmental and labour justice and the simple idea that laws should not hinge upon the mad ramblings of an individual who would like to be king and a party that allows him to do so all feel just that much closer to disintegration. And the nightmare that is 2020 continues.

Yet, this isn’t some distant land; it’s happening in the United States. It’s just unreal and yet far, far too real.

At some point over the past year or so, I received a packet of 50 protest postcards to benefit the ACLU in a book hookup subscription from Strand Bookstore in NYC. Since my copy of Notorious RBG is currently with a friend, I flipped through those protest postcards looking for hope I suppose or something to give me solace as the tears flowed. I kept returning to this image:

For the next 50 days, I’ll be posting one of these images, primarily to remind myself what I’m fighting for. But, also, to remind us all that we must continue to fight for as long as we can, in whatever way we can and for as long as it takes to create a more perfect union for us all.

RBG provided us with a to-do list. That list is rather simple:

– Work for what you believe in
– But pick your battles
– Don’t burn your bridges
– Don’t be afraid to take charge
– Think about what you want, then do the work
– But, then, enjoy what makes you happy
– Bring along your crew
– Have a sense of humour

from Notorious RBG

So, today, I’ll honour the gigantically iconic yet tiny in stature, courageous righteous, brilliant woman who dedicated her life to making ours better. Then, tomorrow, I’ll dry my eyes, suit up and fight like I’ve never fought before, for myself and everyone else who suffers injustice in whatever form it takes. And, for the country that I love even in these incredibly dark times.

I’m doing this for RBG. She fought for all of us her entire life. Now, it’s up to us to fight for the legacy she forged for us and our children.

On ‘The Chicken Chronicles’ by Alice Walker

The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I found this book at a tiny little indie bookshop in the Cabanyal neighbourhood of Valencia when we were on holiday last December and January, which seems like a lifetime ago now. I bought this book because it was written by Alice Walker, one of my favourite writers, and because I’d never heard of the book before. It wasn’t until I started reading it that I realised it was a memoir. Despite the title, I didn’t really expect it to be about real-life chickens. Truthfully, I honestly love that she writes about her chickens, creatures I did not know she tended or owned.

This a a delightful little read. Given the weight of this very heavily burdened world, Walker offered me a brief and welcome respite from those burdens in her musings on chickens. Some of those musings are rather weird for me or somewhat silly. But, the simplicity of sitting with chickens and watching and meditating on their actions and movements is incredibly appealing to me at the moment. This book is like a very long letter or series of letters to her chickens, and that’s quite sweet in a world filled with too much sourness.

I envy her, and her chickens. And, now, I rather want my own chickens to tend and watch.

If like me, you need an escape from all that troubles you, this little book might just satisfy you. It did me.

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It costs me nothing

I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticise her perpetually.’

― James Baldwin

On 28 August 1955, a 14-year-old black boy wrongfully accused of ‘offending’ a white woman was abducted and brutally murdered in Mississippi. ‘Offending’ in that instance merely meant ‘flirting’ or ‘whistling’ at a white woman, an offence later recanted by the would-be accuser. Unfortunately, that recantation came too late for Emmett Till.

Emmett Till was beaten and mutilated, shot in the head and then thrown in the river by those who brutalised him. An all-white jury found the white men who killed Emmett not guilty. Those men later admitted, rather proudly, that they had indeed killed Emmett Till.

Emmett Till was 14. He was lynched, for the ‘crime’ of daring to speak to a white woman.

In 2020, we can now add to the list of names of far, far too many black bodies killed or brutalised first with questions only following later. Their crimes may not involve simply speaking to a white woman in rural Jim Crow Mississippi, but they are largely no less shocking: walking with Skittles in a pocket through a gated (read: white) community. Playing with a toy gun. Driving while black. Running while black. Sleeping in your own bed. Paying for groceries with a counterfeit $20 bill. Selling single ciggies on a street corner. Breaking up a brawl between two women.

A black man who *may* have a knife is shot in the back seven times a fate deemed justifiable because he seemed *threatening*, whilst a white boy carrying an AR-15 through the streets can shoot three people, killing two, is given the benefit of the doubt and granted the justification of ‘self-defence’.

For black bodies, there is no due process. There is no justice. And, there is certainly no peace. But, what sort of self-defence exists for them? They can scream with what little breathe remains, ‘I can’t breathe!’, and still they are choked and prevented the most basic of needs: air to breathe.

What’s worse, those who perpetrate those murders and far too many contemporary brutalities are emboldened by badges and guns or the simple cloak of their whiteness despite being sworn into duty to serve and protect.

Who are they serving? Who are they protecting?

At times, it feels to me like we have progressed so very little from 1955, or that any progress we have made is cosmetic rather than lasting, enduring or systemic. Systemic racism and racial injustice and inequity appear to be more institutionalised rather than less, primarily because we refuse to open our eyes and see the realities lived by those who are not born white.

If we ever hope to be truly free or peaceful or just, these atrocities must be acknowledged and we must accept our collective responsibility for the continued and persistent systemic racism that is woven into the very fabric from which our flags are sewn.

Black lives matter. Emmett Till mattered. Medgar Evers matters. Martin Luther King Jr mattered. Rodney King mattered. Travyon Martin mattered. Sandra Bland mattered. Eric Garner mattered. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor mattered. All of these black lives ended too soon and for no justifiable reason. And, they matter still.

Jacob Blake matters.

That these lives matter does not negate my own. It simply means that I recognise that I am infinitely safer because I am white. That, in and of itself, is the problem.

Yesterday hit a nerve for me. From Emmett Till to Jacob Blake and all those lives in between. We have work to do, y’all. And, it costs me nothing to say so.

Photo taken by Emmett Till’s mother on Christmas Day 1954.

Nine is just fine

About a year or so after my husband—then, partner—and I moved to Helsinki from Moscow, my lovely mother-in-law Victoria spent several weeks living with us. We had previously met just after The Cuban and I met and decided we were meant to be together. And, I loved her immediately, which made her visit to our home in Helsinki infinitely less intimidating. Victoria is also perhaps the single sweetest, kindest and funniest human around, which made the days when my husband was at work easy to navigate despite our lack of a common language (she speaks Spanish, I still do not, shamefully). It also allowed me more insight into his roots and the woman who moulded him, and I loved him all the more because of it.

During that visit she remarked to my husband that he and I make a good team. He quipped back something along the lines that I was a team all unto myself, which was rather hilarious (and true?). I am nothing if not tenacious when I’m on a mission, and I’ve always be a bit more independent than is strictly necessary or good for me at times. I suspect that independence rendered it all the more shocking to those who have known me longest that I was going to marry some Cuban guy. No one, least of all myself, expected me to ever marry. But, marry I did.

But, Victoria, my lovely MIL, was and remains correct. The Cuban and I are a team. As time passes, we appear to be a single, interconnected unit, using the same phrase or reaction or even grunt of (dis)approval in certain situations and simultaneously.

And, today, as we celebrate 9 years married, I love us and what we are becoming. With each passing year, I love us, our life and this man who is my ultimate teammate even more.

The last year has been such a challenging time, not so much for our relationship, just simply as a year and a point in time. Naturally, we like all couples have had our moments of married non-bliss. But, we have endured those instances and recognised what brought us together far outweighs a single or even several unpleasant circumstances.

There are roller coasters we ride through life and there are also storms from which we all seek shelter. This past year, The Cuban and I have endured both the wildest, most terrifying and thoroughly wearisome rides and survived raging, damaging and turbulent storms, both figuratively and literally. And, we’ve done so together.

I go to bed each evening, even on those darkest of nights—perhaps more so on those when I feel most troubled—thanking my lucky stars that this man landed anywhere near my orbit. The odds were stacked so much against it ever being a possibility. And, it’s continually a source of awe to us that we landed where we did when we did. Timing was everything.

As we approached our ninth anniversary, and we both looked up precisely which anniversary it was for us, I found myself reflecting on what Team Cuba Sí, Yankee Tambíen means to me. Primarily, it just means that we bring out the very best in one another for one another. It’s not simply that we want to be better for one another, but that we genuinely are better because of the other. At least, I know he’s offered me the possibility of becoming a better person, by challenging me on my bullshit, encouraging me to grow and expand intellectually, and cheered me on as I both failed and succeeded throughout the past 15 years we’ve been together and 9 since we joined our lives legally.

I see the world differently with and through him, not because he asked me to; but, because I wanted to for him.

So, a year on, this is what I know to be true:

  • There’s no one with whom I’d rather be in quarantine and be forced to spend all of my time.
  • There’s no one who makes me laugh quite like he does, at times over absolutely nothing.
  • He is still my best friend, my moral compass, my sunshine on a cloudy day and my own personal hero and cheerleader.
  • And, when the storms rage and the night is darkest, I know that he’ll help me navigate to safety and provide a light to lead me home. Hell, he’d carry me and the umbrella if necessary. Because he hasn’t let me down yet when I’ve needed him most. I can only hope that I have not nor will ever fail him.

Since all bets are off on what the next year will bring, all I ask is that our little team flourishes and endures. This is home. It may not be particularly flashy or fiery (recent escapades next door aside) or exciting from where you sit, but it is just fine by me.

Here’s to nine, bebe.

We are family. And, we all wear tie-dyes.

On ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book was stunning. Absolutely stunning.

Bernardine Evaristo offers an a masterful example of storytelling at its absolute finest. Each character was painted and shaped so carefully that you feel as though you’re drifting in and out of individual lives rather than chapters, akin to making the rounds rather than sitting and reading about them.

Some characters I loved and wanted to linger with a little longer; others I’d like to have thrown a cream pie in their face to simply snap them out of their own myopia and selfishness; some made me consider realities I never completely imagined or gave much time to, and challenged me to shift my own perceptions a bit or wildly. The challenges posed were welcome and natural rather frightening and threatening.

And, all of this written in a form that alarmed me a bit at first, but made sense along the way.

I loved this book. So, so much.

#blm #blacklivesmatter #blmreadinglist

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(Un)healthy opposition

Heather Cox Richardson is a hero to me. Her near-daily summations of the daily mayhem in the United States have been not just helpful and insightful, but at times necessary.

Today’s was particularly poignant.

Having lived in Russia and seen the remnants and return of a one-party (or one-leader) system, and being married to a man who grew up in a one-party system and only knew that reality for most of his life, I understand and shiver at the idea of this becoming a reality in my own country.

I think this, more than anything, is what has troubled for me quite some time. Perhaps traces of the demonisation of the opposition reflect the very initial conversations I had with my conservative family, particularly my uncle ca ’92 or ’93, regarding politics, and his insistence that all Democrats are bad. (Never mind that I’ve pretty much self-identified as an independent for most of my adult life.)

Yes, I am a progressive and fall far-left on the US political spectrum; but, I welcome consensus-building and compromise. I understand that ‘my ideals’ are my own and may not work for a behemoth like the very large and diverse United States, thanks to discussions with friends of mine willing to have some tough discussions (I’m looking at you Cissy Walker & Todd Hoven). But, fundamentally, I’ve always believed that we as a country should be ‘united’ — not divided and at each other’s throats, out to destroy and tear one another down. And, beginning with Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, it’s felt increasingly as if anyone who isn’t a Republican is painted as a traitor whilst anyone who openly questions or attempts to compromise on any issues supported by the GOP is some sort of pinko communist who hates America. (I have been labelled as someone who hates her country by people I love, an accusation that cut me to the core.)

It’s probably been more than a month now that Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Know Your Enemy‘ has been on constant repeat in my head. And, every day that I read posts, comments, etc regarding the issue or news de jour, I can’t help but wonder how we are ever going to collectively escape or emerge from this particular moment.

The United States, when it was united and parties worked together rather than with a winner-take-all attitude (think post WWII and during the Civil Rights era) was strongest, when we understood that we were a work in progress and needed to continually do better. Was it perfect? Hell, no. As a feminist, I’m very much happy to be living now rather than then. However, changes were possible (VRA and the Civil Rights Act come to mind along with women’s rights in general), and we could at least image a better future for our children and grandchildren.

But, more importantly, those we elected had that simple notion in mind — working together and collectively towards a better future.

All I see today is a party that is fighting tooth and nail along with its mouthpieces a la various talking heads to rip us apart and create a view of ‘the other’ as the enemy. (And, yes, I am speaking of the Republican party and the likes of Fox and worse.)

I support free speech, the freedom to assemble and the freedom to choose to worship whatever you deity you believe in.
I support fairness and justice. For all.

I love my country and still think the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence are incredible documents, even if they failed to recognise me as a woman or any person of colour as equally deserving of protections — they were designed to be amendable, and that’s bloody brilliant.

And, I desperately want to be able to discuss rationally and reasonably how to make the great experiment that is the United — emphasis on united — States of America a better place for all of us. All. Of. Us.

I understand that those conversations won’t be easy. But, they are necessary. And, even if you choose to elect officials I would not and with whom I disagree or whom I personally find reprehensible, I will fight like hell for you to be able to cast your vote. Why? Because every vote matters and every single vote should be counted, whether it agrees with mine or not.

Teaching in the time of Corona

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, largely because it has so very little meaning these days. It passes, certainly. But, how we classify it seems all confused and out of sorts. For instance, I’m not sure if today marks the beginning of the last course to close out my fifth academic year (2019-2020) or the official beginning of my sixth academic year (2020-2021) teaching at the University of Helsinki. Why this confusion? Well the course that began today was originally planned for last spring, but was rescheduled due to Covid-19. Thus, we met for the first time today. Ambiguous time, right?

Thus, I’m straddling a weird place. Rather apropos for 2020, I suppose.

Regardless, as the time for that first ‘meeting’ of this specific course neared, I realised two things:

  1. I’ll never not be a bundle of nerves on the first day of the academic year or just prior to meeting a new group of students for the first time. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve taught the material or how comfortable I feel with it, I’m a nervous Nellie on the first day and through the first few moments of a class. Perhaps given that this was my first real-time Zoom class, I was even more nervous.
  2. This year more than most I am feeling so much solidarity with and love for every single teacher / instructor / professor I know at the moment. Whether their academic year features in-person, online or some hybrid format given Covid-19, and whether they teach the tiniest people or more seasoned and budding young scholars, educators everywhere deserve so much recognition and kudos as a special cadre of underappreciated superheroes in these times. I don’t know a single educator friend who is not a badass with the compassion of the Buddha to back up their mad skills. And, I know a fair many who are terrified for their students and themselves, which breaks my heart.

Today’s class went well enough all things considered. All of us are attempting to be a bit more forgiving and more patient with ourselves as well as with one another than perhaps we would be normally (speaking for myself here). We — students and educators alike — are all navigating strange times, and simply must deal with things as best we can and as they present themselves to us.

Hopefully, we all emerge from this surreal experience and academic year a little wiser and having met our individual and collective objectives as educators. And hopefully our students learn what we intended or planned for them and feel fortified and fulfilled, and ready to embark on whatever future awaits them.

I’m fortunate: my courses at least for the autumn term are entirely online. I would naturally prefer to meet my students in person. But, I’d much rather they and I remain healthy in these times. I genuinely hurt for those educators and students forced to enter situations in which daily they wonder if they are risking their own or their family’s health and well-being. No one should be forced into such a situation.

So, as Finnish school children and teachers across the country return, here’s to all of the educators entering the 2020-2021 academic year. In Finland, the United States and everywhere.

Be safe, y’all. And, I hope you feel supported and loved and recognised for your heroism and extraordinary efforts in continuing to inform, enlighten and educate your students. You’re value and worth are immeasurable and I for one and for what it’s worth salute you.

Google Doodle for 13 August 2020

Unintended restoration

Yesterday was weird.

It wasn’t until late in the day that I realised it had been two years to the day that we discovered our beloved feline, Cheeky Che Fufu, the Princess of Darkness, had developed kitty titty cancer. That particular gut punch was vividly relived after stumbling upon an image of her from exactly one year ago when she was still clear-eyed and sassy. It’s been roughly six months since we said our final farewell, a realisation that left me unsettled me and heartbroken all over again. Che Fufu’s been on my mind a lot lately, and her memory has thrown phantom shadows of her around my desk as I’ve worked. Whilst I am enormously grateful to our newest family member, the Tiny Terror that is Squeaky Pollito Pito Frito Fu, and his persistent play and silliness along with kitty hugs the likes of which I’ve never really known, I will forever be a member of #TeamCheFufu.

Simply put, I miss our darling beautiful girl.

With her in my mind and an incredibly heavy heart, my husband and I set off on our evening stroll yesterday evening, me silently shedding tears behind my sunglasses and my husband also lost in his own thoughts and concerns. We decided just after setting off that we wanted to try to get in a good long stroll. I think we both needed it. So, we headed for that tiny uninhabited island not far from our flat, Seurasaari, to see what we could see. Little did we know that Finland had plenty of treats in store for us, perhaps at a moment when we needed them most.

The light. The glass-like water surrounding Seurasaari. The sun gently sliding below the horizon over the water creating a kaleidoscope of colours. The shadows cast against trees at impossible angles, both bending and expanding the light in unexpected ways. And, so many reflections and images in every direction. At times we seemed so far in the woods only to be pulled back into the city as we looked across the bay in the direction of the city centre. The deeper we traversed, however, the more our moods lifted. And, the less our worries, concerns, heartbreak and woes weighed us down.

Thank you, Helsinki. We forget sometimes just how insanely beautiful you are. On days like these, there’s a certain restoration in simply getting out and moving about. Perhaps that was your intention all along.

On ‘Born a Crime’ by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’ve admired Trevor Noah because he’s funny AF and also speaks about and advocates for policies I myself support.

But, reading about his life in South Africa as a child born into a world where he embodied an actual crime by simply existing is immensely powerful and profound. And, I’m not sure that I could admire him any more now, particularly after reading the last chapter of this book.

Central to this little gem is the story of a mother and her son. But, the richness of that relationship and the context within which it is lived is more than worth anyone’s time. That it’s beautifully crafted is all the more rewarding. Moreover, it’s a story we would all do well to read carefully and consider thoroughly given the times we’re currently navigating and the reckoning these times call for.

It shouldn’t surprise me that I finished this book laughing through choked-back sobs. But, I did.

What a brilliant, brilliant book.



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Good trouble = voting

07/30 Mike Luckovich: John’s bridge, Atlanta Journal Constitution

John Lewis, who literally fought like hell to ensure black Americans (and all Americans) could secure the same rights, not least the right to vote, that you and I have, will be laid to rest today in Atlanta. He fought his entire life for justice and to ensure that those who had no voice were not forgotten and would be heard. And, his work and legacy are far from complete.

I have a confession.

I took voting for granted for a long while. I voted regularly and researched the candidates I’d be voting for to ensure they reflected my own vision for my community. But, I also occasionally missed a local election or voted straight ticket out of laziness or simple complacency. I voted, but… I could have done better.

It wasn’t until I watched my husband—Cuban by birth and to the core, and an exile from his own country because he dared think outside the state-sanctioned box—vote the first time we were eligible to vote in Finland, our home by default. He was in his 50s at that time, as we left our neighbourhood polling station. He looked at me, and told me it was the first time in his life that he knew definitively that his vote mattered and would be counted. And, that he felt heard and seen.

I no longer to take voting for granted. I think of my husband’s words each time I sort through the details of ensuring I can vote overseas now. It matters. And, not everyone enjoys the same rights that we do to exercise our voices freely.

Please, check your voter registration details (and register if you haven’t) to make sure everything from the spelling of your name to your address is correct and up-to-date. If you plan to vote by absentee ballot, request your ballot now and know what you need to research and how you’ll vote (scroll down to ‘Know Your State’) before your ballot arrives. And, given Covid and issues with United States and other Postal Services, make sure you send your ballot with sufficient time to ensure it arrives in time to be counted.

If you have done as much of the above as you can, pour yourself your favourite beverage and spread the word to your friends and family. (Hell, you can just share this post, if you want, although, just sharing the link vote.org is fine, too.)

If you are healthy and feel confident enough to volunteer as a poll worker in your community, do so. So many poll workers are retired and they are at an increased risk for Covid. Do a quick Google search to see what the rules are in your state / community. And, if you have teenage kids and want them to understand the importance of civic duty, even if they cannot vote, they may be able to work the polls.

There are so many ways you can help make this specific election matter. But, it requires doing something. So, let’s do some good and do something.

John Lewis fought for all of us and shed his own blood on that bridge in Selma so that we and others wouldn’t need to. He got into good, necessary trouble his entire life so that our voices would be heard and counted. Now, it’s up to us. The best simplest sort of good, necessary trouble we can get into and perhaps the most patriotic act is the simple act of voting.