How I Plan to Be Super Chill and Eat Waffles in 2018

Here we are a week into the new year and I must say my overwhelming feeling so far in 2018 is that the dumpster fire that was 2017 is far from over.

That seems mighty pessimistic, I know.

tina fey cake giphy

On a personal and professional level (and without getting too personal), last year was a bit bumpy, to put it mildly, pretty much from start to finish.

And the state of the world and society in general from a national and global level….well. I have thoughts and opinions.

You often hear people compare 2017 to a roller coaster. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. For one thing, some people really like roller coasters. And with a roller coaster, you can generally see the loops and dips and swoops that lie up ahead.

No, I think of 2017 as more like a pinball machine, where we’re all careening around recklessly, slapped about by seen flippers and slingshots yet also gut punched by those little knobs that pop up out of nowhere all the damn time.

LK super chill giphy

And while I can’t do much about the state of the world and society (I’ll leave that to Oprah for now), I can do something about my personal and professional spheres of being.

One thing that I subconsciously did last year was improve my interpersonal relationships. I didn’t set out to do it…I’m actually a bit of a hermit crab who wants to stay home, curled up on the sofa in my yoga pants with a cat on my lap and a glass of wine within reach, watching anything that Bravo wants to put in front of my face.

lizlemon

But when I look back on 2017, the memories that pop out the most are the ones involving family and new and old friends. Times when I made an effort. Times when I stepped out of my comfort zone and reached out to people I barely knew or talked to people I had just met or reconnected with people I hadn’t talked to in a long time.

My sister came and visited me for the first time here in D.C. and we got to spend some time together for the first time in years. Some of it was great, like when I played tour guide and dragged her all over town in the freezing January cold or showed her some of my favorite Old Town spots. Some of it was difficult and uncomfortable as we sorted through some of our vastly different memories and perspectives on shared events.

And I made a point to visit her when I went to Texas for a freelance conference later in the year. Again, some of that visit was good and some of it was awkward as we continue to hash out the perimeters of our relationship, but I think that might be what family dynamics are all about. They’re not cut and dried. They’re actually quite hard. It’s a feeling and situation I’ve tended to avoid more often than not. But at least – on that relationship – we are making inroads, I think.

tenor sisters

About that freelancing conference: it was, quite honestly, pretty much a bust (in my opinion) and I won’t be attending it again. But by just attending it, I met and learned a lot from my fellow attendees (we even joked about starting our own better-organized and useful, practical freelancer conference – maybe a goal for 2019?).

I also came back from that conference convinced that 1) I’m actually doing some things right in this old freelancing biz, 2) I have wisdom, experiences and advice that I’m happy to share with others, and 3) I shouldn’t be afraid to make friends, even with people I view as potential competitors. What I learned is that there’s honestly enough work out there for all of us.

When I got home, I doubled-down on attending networking events and reaching out to other freelancers for coffee, lunch and drinks. And I checked my motivation and expectations at the door. I made sure that my efforts were NOT for the purpose of generating job leads—which has never worked out for me at a networking event—but just to be social and have a laugh, and sometimes to commiserate and share advice. That’s something that I intend to continue throughout 2018.

That bummer of a conference also allowed me to reconnect with old Austin friends, some of whom I didn’t even think had missed me or would want to see me! I left Austin about 15 years ago and I figured we’d all just grown apart and moved on with our busy lives so it honestly didn’t occur to me that they would want to rearrange their schedules to meet up while I was in town. I just didn’t think we were “those type” of friends anymore. But they did! And I was so moved and humbled by that. It really made me reassess how I myself treat old friendships that I thought were “in the past.” I look forward to the work I need to do on improving those friendships in 2018.

18551286_how-to-be-the-leslie-knope-of_t93ff49b1

So that’s my goal for 2018 — work on the stuff that I have control over, including and especially, relationships. That, and cut back on cussing, but that’s damn losing proposition.

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Singapore: First Impressions

Hey there! I’m back.

Actually, I’ve been back for about a week or so, but between jet lag, and digging out of email/work/laundry, I haven’t even had a minute to start going through my photos and trip notes and coming up with some blog fodder.

But, this morning’s news is reporting on the death of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. So I better get my ass in gear and write something about my recent first visit to Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands
Things to know about Singapore: it’s really, really hot.

My travel-buddy/man-panion for life (XFE) and I actually learned a bit about Lee Kuan Yew at the very excellent National Museum of Singapore. We had gone to the museum primarily to escape the pervasive, bone-soaking, spirit-wilting heat and humidity that is Singapore in early March. The museum is in a blended building, half white colonial stucco, half modern cubist wonder surrounded by rolling green hills and landscaped trees. The important thing and main draw for us was the existence of the blasting, government-subsidized air conditioning.

Disappointingly, the majority of the museum and its exhibits were closed for renovations. But, they did have a condensed, Clif Notes version of the museum’s contents in the basement. It was a really great exhibit. The first part was a bit confusing, something about five kings and a boy who fought a giant swordfish and then was killed by the Sultan who feared him. Anyway, a big mix of legends and facts.

But things really picked up with some great exhibits on the different ethnic groups and immigrants that had come to Singapore when it was a colonial entrepot and trading post. The museum also had a great exhibit on Singapore’s occupation by Japan in World War II, and a brief exhibit on Singapore’s separation from Britain, the city-state’s internal struggle to become independent and self-governed, and it’s brief stint as part of the Federation of Malaysia.

A big player in Singapore was Lee, who was elected as the country’s first Prime Minister in 1959, and served in that capacity until 1990 (He remained a “senior minister” in the Cabinet until 2004, and “minister mentor” till 2011.) Quartz describes Lee’s ruling style best:

Lee led Singapore from a colonial backwater under British control to one of the world’s most thriving financial centers, and he did so with a tight grip on power. He has been criticized for instituting wide-reaching censorship, limiting civil rights, discriminating against gays and migrant workers, and generally maintaining a one-party autocracy for almost half a century.

That’s because Lee engineered one of the world’s most impressive growth stories—one that everyone from American Republicans to Chinese communists have both openly envied. (“Benevolent dictatorship has never looked so good” one columnist wrote of the Singapore in 2012.)

The tiny, resource-poor country’s GDP per capita skyrocketed under Lee to one of the highest in the world, behind just oil-rich Qatar and private banking center Luxembourg, according to the IMF.

We actually got a bit of a glimpse into the general public’s discontent with this one-party autocracy situation. We were in a cab one evening on our way to the Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay, a Las Vegas-worthy light and music show involving these tree-like structures that soar up to 160 feet.

Gardens by the Bay

Anyway, our cab driver asked us where we were from, and then launched into a grumbling monologue of discontent with his government’s structure. He told us that they’d had the same ruler/ruling party for six decades (Lee’s son is the current Prime Minister), and that wasn’t democracy, and how the people of Singapore have suffered under this dictatorship. He said the rich were getting richer while the poor were getting poorer.

I have to admit: I was shocked and more than a little annoyed. I was in the middle of reading a book about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge — a book about a horrific history in which real humanitarian atrocities were perpetrated by a real political wackjob dictator. Meanwhile, everywhere I looked in Singapore was prosperous and new and shiny and so technologically advanced.

But that cab driver’s rant is not unfamiliar to me. Not at all. You hear it in the U.S. all the time, especially the phrase, “the rich are getting richer while the rest of us get poorer.” I’m sure if I’d dug a little deeper, he would have blamed immigrants, or corporations, or the educational system, or real estate prices, or whatever other boogeyman he was currently facing or competing against.

Perspective is a luxury, I guess. I understand that on a random Tuesday a cab driver in Singapore is not likely to think about how there are people in other parts of the world, say, Cambodia for example, who are just trying to recover from brutal histories and get to somewhere even remotely as economically advanced as Singapore. We all grumble and bemoan our own political systems, and don’t care or think about who our audience is or what perspectives they bring to the table. It’s practically a human trait to complain about other people doing better than we perceive ourselves to be doing.

I don’t know if Lee was a horrible leader. I don’t know if that cab driver in Singapore might have been richer if a new, completely different party was elected every four years. There are certainly some people in the U.S. who would say that no, a new party doesn’t necessarily mean prosperity, or even anything remotely like it. But it does seem to me, an outsider, that Singapore–a small island nation with no natural resources that was practically decimated in World War II–did alright at the end of the day. It’s a good legacy to have.

Singapore night view

(Here’s another really good Quartz article on the rise of Singapore under Lee’s policies.)

The Treasury Department Seems Like a Pretty Decent Travel Agency

The recent story about Beyonce and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba combines my three greatest interests: celebrities, travel and a government scandal.

And, my fourth interest, pirate re-enactors. Gar.
And, my fourth interest, pirate re-enactors. Gar.

Alright, alright, maybe it’s not a government scandal like Weiner-gate or ‘Wide Stance’ Craig. I mean, it’s not like we need to drag in the FBI to look for imaginary recording devices or anything.

As far as political scandals go, this one is pretty light. BUT, that doesn’t mean I’m not scandalized. After all, maybe I’d like to go to Cuba. I do seem to have an affinity for Caribbean countries run by anti-American dictators.

According to Huffington Post:

U.S. Treasury officials say the trip by Beyonce (bee-AHN’-say) and Jay-Z to Cuba was licensed as an educational exchange.

Wait a minute, hold up. Do we really need to phonetically spell out Beyonce’s name? Doesn’t the whole world know about Miss Bey?

These school kids definitely know what's up.
These school kids definitely know what’s up.

And what is this about an educational exchange? Are Beyonce and Jay-Z part of some study abroad program? Did they become professors in their spare time? What would they teach – Ridiculously Rich and Fabulous 101? Crazy in Love: A Look at Psychological Issues in Contemporary Relationships? (I would absolutely take either of those classes in a heartbeat)

And, shouldn’t it be the State Department or at the very least the Department of Education who declares a trip to Cuba an “educational exchange?” The only reason I can think of that the Treasury would be involved was if there was a monetary donation in gold bars used to help speed the application along. (Oh wait….I might be thinking of the Federal Reserve on that one….)

“Assistant Treasury Secretary Alastair Fitzpayne wrote in a letter Tuesday to congressional representatives that the famous hip-hop couple traveled to Cuba with a group authorized by the Office of Foreign Assets Control to promote people-to-people contact in Cuba.

AH, the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Oh. OK. That sounds totally like an office whose mission “to promote people-to-people contact.” Sure. If those people are, let’s say, bankers, then yes, that might make sense.

US Banker: Hi, yeah, um, you’ve got some assets over there in Cuba that we’d like to see if we could maybe, possible get back. You know, what with that pesky embargo and everything, we thought it might be better to send over a high-profile delegation of rap stars to talk to you about it. And maybe smuggle the assets back in the elaborate hair style of the female rap megastar.

Cuban Banker: Sounds totally inconspicuous. Be sure to say it’s for educational purposes. I’ll clear my calendar so I can show them around.

bey cuba

The story goes on to clarify:

“Beyonce and Jay-Z marked their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana last week. U.S. citizens are not allowed to travel to Cuba for mere tourism, though they can obtain licenses for academic, religious, journalistic or cultural exchange trips. The so-called people-to-people licenses were reinstated under the Obama administration.”

Jay-Z, never one to rest on his laurels while enjoying a leisurely Cuban cigar, quickly came out with a rap song about the trip, according to Politico.

In a rap released Thursday, Jay-Z said: “I turned Havana into Atlanta…Boy from the hood, I got White House clearance…Politicians never did s—- for me except lie to me, distort history… They wanna give me jail time and a fine. Fine, let me commit a real crime.”

jay-z-cigars

My big question is: Who did the Cubans send over here? I mean, it’s a people-to-people educational exchange, right? An exchange usually means someone from over there got to come over here.

I hope it was a chef. I really like Cuban food.