Homesick? Maybe not.

Friends from the Guatemala City zoo.

I’m prone to feeling homesick when I get to a new place. In my hotel, the people down the hall stopped playing their loud (but well-curated!) playlist very late so the rest of us could sleep. Of note, I chose a hotel without a microwave or free parking. For my first time since Coronavirus and doing my monthly travel, I see I’m out of practice. This was my initial thought after reviewing my astronomical rental car agreement. My feelings of my travel ineptitude continued through the late afternoon.

My first time feeling homesick was the summer before my senior year of high school. That was an epic summer; I went to this thing called the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine, and a week later went to the U.S. Naval Academy Summer Seminar. The Forum on Medicine was a ten-day program at the University of Chicago for kids interested in studying medicine. In case you didn’t know, every college-bound kid with immigrant parents considers studying medicine at some point, the way middle-class people consider dumping money into college funds for their five-year-olds. It’s just what you do, although it might not be right for you. I remember arriving in my dorm room, meeting my chubby Asian roommate, and for the first night or two, I felt myself in a distant place and very remote, with a hallow pit in my stomach. This was before cell phones, by the way. Of course, this feeling disappeared after a couple of nights, and I ended up having a superlative time. I learned things about medicine like open-toed shoes are not allowed in a laboratory, and cadavers’ faces become smooshed and disfigured after lying face down. I also came away, having forever ruled out a medical profession for myself.

The U.S. Naval Academy Summer Seminar thing was different. Since the organizers treated it like a boot camp, I had no time to sit around my room, thinking about how I didn’t know anyone, especially once things picked up. I ended up enjoying the Summer Seminar and showed up to the Naval Academy as a Plebe two summers later. Perhaps that’s something I love about the military: there is no pressure to make friends because you get grouped with people to make your little unit together, for better or worse. As a junior military person traveling with the military, I rarely felt homesick.

But every once in awhile, when I travel by myself, I remember that I’m prone to feeling homesick. Part of that is missing out on the creature comforts and family time at home, but the other part is the drudgery of living out of a bag. Last year I lived in a hotel for two and a half months. It sucked. Maybe if I just figured out how to build a routine for when I go away and learn to “live well” from a hotel, including not eating tuna packs for consecutive dinner/breakfast, maybe I’ll find that I don’t mind being alone all that much. Perhaps I’ll see that I’m not homesick after all.

Remote School Means Another Setback for Women

When the Wall Street Journal published an article with the headline, How the Coronavirus Threatens to Set Back Women’s Careers, I thought about the journalism fellowship I had applied to back in May and how mainstream online learning could be my chance to finally go back to school, only to defer my spot thanks to Coronavirus’ impact on K-12 school.

If you multiply this scenario and that of other far more accomplished women across the country whose domestic support network fell out from under them, you’ve got thousands of women facing a rush of domestic duties, many of whom are struggling to stay afloat. True, coronavirus has impacted men too, but statistically, women still bear the majority of the burden when it comes to childcare. In a 2014 study, researchers found it to be true that among the Physician-Researchers studied, women spent more time on domestic duties than their spouses, and were more likely to take time off when childcare disruptions occurred.

In the article, the Wall Street Journal reports, “If em­ploy­ers don’t take more ac­tion to shore up moth­ers in their jobs, McK­in­sey and Lean In warn, they could see the per­cent­age gains women have made over the past sev­eral years up and down the man­age­ment lad­der dis­si­pate.”

Employers can do a lot, and many have yet to do very much. The same goes for the state. But what is to be done of the disproportionate share of childcare in the home that consistently leads to disruptions in women’s careers and aspirations more than men?

To blame is the idea that the domestic domain belongs to women. While this idea seems harmonious and harmless on its face, it draws a line based on gender that imposes additional disruption and demands on women that men do not face. Hence the rhetoric about “hard choices” for women when it comes to career or family as women drop out, fall behind, or choose alternative career paths or staying home. Hence the homogeneous makeup in the positions of influence.

Equality between the sexes is the state of being equal in terms of opportunity and status. It’s a qualitative definition, not quantitative. For example, if an alien landed on Earth and observed the likes of Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, it would find that things between them look quite the same in terms of wealth and status, though they are not identical. Equality is not about interchangeability. It’s about outcomes and potential.

When the director of the fellowship program expressed sympathy and a willingness to adjust the schedule for parents, it still wasn’t enough to sway me. We’re in a global pandemic, after all, and my kids’ education is at stake. It was one of those “hard choices” that always seem to land at my feet. If I were born a guy, there’s a good chance I would have pushed ahead with the program. Because like I told a friend via text message, if I were born a guy, I probably would not be remote schooling my kids right now anyway.

No Room For Humility In American Politics

We’ve all heard that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Next month the squeakiest wheel might also get elected president. It occurred to me the other night as I watched from my parents’ couch as President Trump and Joe Biden shouted over one another on a national live stream. I laughed. I cried. I went to bed early.

At this point in the week, I think everyone agrees that they both behaved badly. Trump and Biden were engaged in nothing more than a battle of egos, trying to win for the sake of winning. I learned very little about “the issues.” Today I’m convinced there’s no room in American politics for any quiet, humble human being, which is too bad.

As a quiet person myself, now and again, I am confronted with the realities of being quiet. Given a situation with a cohort of peers, aside from my minority characteristics, I tend to blend into the background, drowned out in the competition for the top squeaky wheel. I don’t mean for this to sound ho-hum. It’s just part of my deal. I’m an introvert, and I’m fine with it.

But I’m not fine with it. So I picked up the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and I laughed at myself and the world and how there is a book for every problem today. So far in the book, Susan Cain confirms what I and every introvert already know: it’s hard to get ahead in the world as an introvert. At least in the U.S., this is true. But our premium on extravertedness is cultural and not an absolute. See diagrams below from When Cultures Collide, 3rd Edition: Leading Across Cultures.

Several years ago, at a graduation party, I chatted with a friend of a friend of my sister’s, a woman who worked for a non-profit dedicated to promoting third party candidates for public office. By the time I met her, the startup had been dissolved, and she was looking for new projects, still fresh from the experience.

“The main thing I learned from it,” she said, “was that third-party candidates couldn’t break through the media noise without money.”

That sounds about right. We reward those who are loud and memorable and capable of breaking through the noise of day to day life. We want to be entertained everywhere we go, and we want to win for the sake of winning where the ends justify the means. We wanted to see an old-man brawl on Tuesday night, and that’s what we got. It’s a depressing thought for the introverts of the world, not to mention the country. But there’s still time to think, and a couple of debates left. The squeaky wheel can get the grease, but the squeaky wheel can also get replaced.

Feminism, Relationships, and The Rule of Reciprocity

Below are my three guiding principles for greater equality in a relationship.

There’s a lot of media going on around me right now. Nick has gotten in the habit of playing Fortnite while watching YouTube and TikTok videos. Outside in the back patio, it’s an instant relief as far as noise, only light rain, and the air conditioner. In Coatepeque, Guatemala, every afternoon, around 5:00 pm, lightning would crack nearby, and buckets of rain would crash onto the roof of the patio restaurant, a barrage of white noise such that you couldn’t hear the person sitting across from you. But it’s not that loud here. Not yet anyway.

I recently read Dear Ijeawelle, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Of the different books and articles I’ve read about feminism, Adichie offers advice which has become something of a guiding principle as I navigate what equality means to me. Adichie offers two Feminist Tools:

1. The basic feminist premise: I matter, equally

2. Can you reverse X situation, and get the same results?

These guiding principles need not only apply to women, of course. Both men and women can find themselves in relationships with an unfair premise based on a twisted interpretation of gender roles, and both genders can find themselves suppressed by these roles. It’s typically the woman who is down and out either because she’s a woman or because she’s taken a back seat, expecting the man to do all the heavy lifting. Neither situation is fair, and applying Adichie’s rules can be helpful for bothe men and women.

As Adichie wisely points out, equality is not about keeping score of who does the dishes or who drops the kids off at school. Or who earns the money. It’s about respect for one another’s effort, time, and attention. It’s about playing by the same rules.

To Adichie’s Feminist Tools, I will add one more thing:

3. Decide on a basic premise for your partner.

If the basic premise is, ‘I think my partner is responsible and acts in good faith,’ then it’s fair to expect the same vote of confidence, reciprocated. Of course, this implies that a negative premise for your partner requires some investigation. If you think your partner is truly irresponsible, for example, that’s a problem. A negative basic premise means there’s a lot more work to do before anything like fairness can exist. Where there is no fairness, there is no peace.

Projects on The Back Burner

Lately, I have been struggling to write, either on here or work on my manuscript. I even had a military paper I was working on with Team Chief that somehow turned into two professional articles that ended up falling off the rails at the end because I didn’t have the bandwidth to work my part of the argument. We managed to publish the original, shorter, and more narrowly scoped paper yesterday on a professional association blog. I think some people read it. I’ll take that as a win. Yay.

A guarantee of 20 minutes of uninterrupted writing time a day does not mean I can work on my manuscript, for example, because 20 minutes is not an absolute number in terms of writing time. Some projects I can jump into, others need a short warm-up before I can jump in, and one needs a major warm-up before I can jump in. I will now use a running analogy.

In a runner’s world, life cycles around races and race seasons. Training consists of speed days, tempo days, distance days, and easy days. Speed and tempo days require at least a two-mile warm-up. Distance days don’t need warming up so long as the pace is comfortable, and easy days are short and slow by definition. Depending on your mileage goal, speed, tempo, and distance days can take two-three hours. Easy days take less time and less mental energy. All components count and are necessary to a well balanced training regime that will get you where you want to go, without injury.

Writing is like this. Blogging is the “easy day” activity. Other projects like professional papers and novels are the big race performances, broken down into bits that require a warm-up, and 20 minutes isn’t going to cut it. It takes me 15 minutes just to remember where I left off on my big projects! I hate having stuff on the back burner. It frustrates me to start over on things every day with very little forward progress. Until remote school is over, projects requiring a warm-up will have to wait. And I hope they don’t die in the process.