2019. Begin As You Mean to Go On

This was a year where I saw the endless sky above Montana, smelled the ravages of fire in California, and stood at the edge of the fantastic, sensing and savoring the sublime magnificence of edges along the Grand Canyon.

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At the Grand Canyon. April 2018. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

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2018. Just Be.

Today is February 20, 2018. Hello world.

I wish I had a great excuse. A reason why this post (that no one is really looking for but me) is only going up today.

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A piece from Adrian Villar Rojas The Theatre of the Disappearance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Taken on a hot summer day in the middle of 2017, the roof was filled with energy, but the sculpture brought a sense of peace and in some ways defeat. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

There are a lot of good reasons to put the blame on. On being too busy. On the state of the world. On the unexpected. On letting fear of change effect the way I feel, think, act. On a surprising lack of will power. On procrastination. On having nothing to say.

That’s all a lie.
But also all true.

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75 Years Later: Allegiance and Executive Order 9066

Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. – Excerpt from Executive Order 9066. Signed February 19, 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

When I was in graduate school I was assigned Only What We Could Carry for a course on visual and material culture. This text used objects, poetry, photography, and art to reveal the wide ranging experiences of Japanese Americans (and permanent residents) that were forced, seventy-five years ago, from their homes into internment camps.

Members of the Mochida FAmily awaiting evacuation. | National Archives
Members of the Mochida Family awaiting evacuation. | Dorothea Lange via/ National Archives
One of the first artifacts photographed is an evacuation tag. At first glance looks like a label you would place on an inanimate object with basic reference information. For the evacuees forced to leave their homes, this tag removed identities paring individuals down to a name, family number, and a time and a place to report.
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Twenty-Seventeen

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A quotation from the walls of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I am
afraid. Folded in by the weight
of postcards and calls
links and 140 characters.
Always thinking about the invisible scales of equality  
between the unborn, the refugee, the immigrant, and those not living in privilege.

I am
certain that I have fingers
toes, a heart with blood pumping
slowly through my veins
as do you,
and them,
and us, but those that lead find
different ways to say
You Don’t Belong.

I question
my ability
my strength for this
test.
Yet I know that one cannot expect miracles
And God cannot do all the work

And so

Although I am afraid, I am certain. Although I question, I am ready.
I can be brave. I must be brave. I will be brave.


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Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr put up this panel during his talk for the Arlington County Library. I wrote about that talk here.

Whenever I begin writing my annual New Year’s post I take a look at what I wrote the year before. Here is what I said in January 2016:

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Rituals: Vote 2016

Dear America

I am standing in line to vote. It is the longest voting line I have ever waited in and admittedly not the longest citizens will wait today. It is winding, not unlike our first political cartoon that shows a fragmented snake, (1754, Pennsylvania  Gazette) split into seperate colonies. Below the image a proclamation from Benjamin Franklin “Join, or die.”

At the time this was a call for unity. A call for a fragmented people to come together. Today, that snake looks awfully familiar. For the last year I have had it coiled within me, an invisible knot in my chest, twinging when I thought about today. 

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Alex and Mike: A Love Story

A few months ago two friends of mine asked me to do a reading at thier wedding, and after I offered to write it for them they said yes. I wanted to share the piece with you along with a recording of a portion I had to cut due to time constraints (and that it didn’t quite fit in with the broader piece). 

Here is the final reading from the ceremony this weekend. 

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Ten.

August 14, 2006. This story begins in a stately building on the corner of 18th and Massachusetts in Dupont Circle. On this particular humid day, typical of a Washington August, a young twenty-three year old woman walked into her first day at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. While the specifics of her emotions are lost to time, they are likely tinged with a combination of relief (she has a job!) and excitement (she has a job in her field!).

That was then. This is now.

I have always been a big believer in loving what you do.  Every day we get out of bed and head to a workplace to spend a third of our weekly waking hours as means to support ourselves. In these hours we have a choice – to let our work become rote, a black hole of time filled with disengagement, or to find work that stimulates our mind, bringing passion and joy along for the ride. It is a luxury, perhaps, but something that I feel is essential.

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Kindness, Humanity, Hope: Hello 2016!

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Sunset from Pacific Grove, California. Credit: Priya Chhaya

Hello 2016!

As we closeout this second day of the new year I have to say that 2015 sped by. There were marriages and babies. Trips and a lot of theatre, and perhaps more importantly, I spent the year doing exactly what I had resolved: In 2015 I took control.

At the start I decided to let my choices and needs dictate how I spent my time-challenging myself to say yes (and at times no). We can say, for the most part, that I was successful.

But what about 2016? Well from a pop-culture standpoint I can’t wait to watch Downton Abbey’s last season (in the UK this is so 2015 already), the X-Files reboot, Hamilton the musical in August and yes, more Star Wars.

I am also looking forward to visiting Colorado and India (at the end of the year) with some other adventures along the way.
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Talking Honestly About the Past

It’s been over a week and I’m still thinking about the Slate Academy symposium “How Do We Get Americans to Talk Honestly about Slavery.” Why? It’s not just because the subject matter resonates with a lot of current events on race and class. It’s not just because the panel mimicked how I think about public history i.e. through a broader lens of objects, oral histories, literature, and popular culture. Rather, it is because the conversation presented to us represents a lesson on how to talk honestly about the entire past, period.

A culmination of a podcasting series for Slate Academy the live symposium brought together experiential historians, museum professionals, divers, authors, critics, and a pop culture icon to investigate the process of myth-making surrounding slavery. The strength of the symposium lay in participants ability to delve beneath the surface of history to identify ways to encourage a dialogue in the face of resistance. To investigate, as culinary historian Michael Twitty says, how “slavery is not a blip, but a chronic condition.”
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