Let Me Photograph You In This Light | 23

Entering the Mo Java cafe for the final microplace assignment was slightly bittersweet.  I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the coffee shop, though more recently I feel as though I’ve appreciated it more.

When I last visited a few weeks ago, Mo Java was full of patrons clustered in their own respective spaces, each group attending to a different activity.  One one side of the shop has the register and plenty of stainless steel carafes with half and half and cream in them for patron use.  The folks on this side are typically college students like myself.  The shop was truly buzzing with lively voices – it was just close enough to finals week that Mo Java was more crowded than I’ve seen it, but far away enough that there still was more chatting than actual studying.  The other side of Mo Java, which has a nice, open space for patrons to pick up their food orders, just had two groups of older folks chatting.  One group, whom I presume to be a couple, were chatting over elegant glasses of white wine.  The other is a pair of old friends, who talked amicably about their children.

I would like to remember the cafe like this: teeming with people of varying ages and race, with each group appearing at ease due to the mug in their hand or the company that they were with. These moments and observations are attainable at any old coffee shop, sure, but in a city where there seems to be a Starbucks on every corner, it is refreshing and exciting to sit in a mom-and-pop shop.  Where else am I able to order off a chalkboard menu, or become truly familiar and pleasant with the baristas, or simply find a space on my own to contemplate the art and how the atmosphere makes me feel? My mircoplace is truly significant because of its place.

Writing about the same place again and again proved difficult, because Mo Java is small enough that it was hard to find new, innovative ways to describe the same furniture.  However, if I could do it all again I believe I would still visit the shop. Not only is it cozy, it’s also close to my house, and the baristas sure know how to make a good cup of coffee. Additionally, the more practice that I’d have describing the atmosphere would help strengthen my writing – what better place to get some practice in than a shop as homey and comfortable as Mo Java?

Over the semester, I tried to focus on the atmosphere and how it made me feel in the present moment. I think this is what made it difficult to write a post sometimes; I wasn’t always feeling in the mood to write, or even leave my house! However, as I wrote about the people or the art or what I had nabbed from the bakery, I wanted to write descriptively but also discuss how my emotions changed each time I went. I liked having this diverse yet focused way of analyzing the place and how I felt a community within it.

I didn’t notice any particular changes in myself as an observer. I was happy to have found that going in the evening put me in a brighter spirit, but in general I liked exploring the same ideas and themes on the blog when I visited Mo Java.

As her most recent album isn’t on Spotify, here is a performance by Adele, singing “When We Were Young”.  It is just lovely. Her new album is stunning and has really moved me in the last few weeks.

Now here it is at last, the final Mo Java playlist. These songs are the ones I’ve bopped to the most while sipping coffee or typing away… I believe that these artists have had the most impact on me not only while working on this blog, but throughout the semester as a whole. Here are the songs I always come back to, and the ones that make me feel like anywhere can be a home.

Mo Java: Greatest Hits Edition

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I Want to Live and Not Just Survive: A Response to “The Soul of an Intercontinental Wanderer” | 22

I believe that it is in our human nature to talk about ourselves and our experiences at great lengths.  I love talking about myself and my life with others because I find it to be cathartic, but also because I believe that sharing with those around you is an essential aspect of the human condition.  With this in mind, as I read Pico Iyer’s “The Soul of an Intercontinental Wanderer,” I was reminded just how significant listening is as well.

Iyer’s perspective on place and its relation to community was one that I hadn’t thought of before.  It’s certainly arguable that because Iyer hasn’t settled down in a single location that he doesn’t have a community. However, when Iyer writes, “we don’t have a home; we have a hundred homes (15),” I think of the community that he has found with other travelers only because they collectively don’t have a place to call home. The way I see it, Iyer’s condition of not having a place gives way to a community with others who have this same experience.  In reading Iyer’s piece, I found that you don’t need a set place to still have a community.

I definitely feel connected to specific places, however, and I can empathize with Iyer’s frustration that he doesn’t – especially as he writes: “The refugee at least harbors passionate feelings about the world he has left… But what does the Transit Lounger feel? What are the issues that we would die for? (17)” As I stated in the opening, I enjoy sharing and connecting with others, and I find it easiest to do so when we’re linked by something like a place.  And yet… I desire to be connected to individuals and ideas and experiences more than a place, and I want be able to find my community there instead.  I could find a physical place to share, love, and laugh deeply just about anywhere, and the older I get the more I find that I want that connection no matter the location.  Perhaps that’s the issue I’d die for – a right to feel as freely as I want wherever I may be.

The title of this blog post comes from Adele’s “Love In The Dark” which is unfortunately not available on YouTube but still stunningly beautiful anyways.

The One with Two Parts | 21

What’s In A Name: A Response to “My Life as An Undocumented Immigrant”

In reading Jose Antonio Vargas’ essay, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,”  I found two main audiences that he was trying to address: American-born citizens, and his fellow undocumented immigrants.  With true poise and an excellent ability to intrigue the reader thanks to a lifetime of writing, Vargas discusses in heartbreaking detail how he lived in fear of being caught as undocumented in the United States.  I think his writing opens the eyes of American citizens to the struggles that many immigrants must face each day; living in fear of the discovery of a fake green card and Social Security number are just two common examples Vargas uses.  Citizenship is one thing that most Americans take for granted, and it is through his essay that Vargas reaches the minds of so many so that they may see a glimpse of the hardships that immigrants like him face so prevalently.

I also think Vargas was addressing undocumented immigrants.  He writes to them to remind them that they’re not alone in their fear and hardship.  Vargas also hopes that his piece may encourage others to come out as undocumented, so that through the sharing of their stories and experiences, a conversation about immigration and ways to fix the immigration system in the United States may begin.  In fact, this is why he co-founded Define American, a non-profit public charity.

Despite all of the wonderful things his piece can do to educate and help others, I ultimately see its purpose benefitting Vargas the most.  I believe that in his writing of this piece, Vargas is able to free himself from the hiding he had to do for the majority of his life.  This applies to the passage that I found resonating, in which Vargas writes, “I am still an undocumented immigrant.  And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out… rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am” (Vargas 2).

Though coming out as undocumented prevents him from ever being an American citizen, and bars him from entering the USA again if he ever left, at the end of his piece Vargas writes, “I’m done running.  I’m exhausted.  I don’t want that life anymore” (Vargas 12).  Through his words, not only is Vargas making a statement about immigration reform, he’s freeing himself from the shame and isolation that he’s felt with his taboo status.  It takes a person of courage and great strength to come out in the way that Vargas did, and I think that understanding this is what helped make the piece so memorable to me.

For more of my thoughts on Jose Antonio Vargas and his work, take a look at my first blog post about him, Defining American.

Follow Mr. Vargas on Twitter here.

Proposal for Writing Project Three

The community that I plan to investigate for our third writing project is the Twitter community for the Black Lives Matter social justice movement.  For the project, I plan to focus specifically on the main activists involved and how they respond to commentary or criticism, and work to promote the cause.

As for data, I’d like to look specifically at Tweets and Twitter threads, but also websites run by the main activists (DeRay McKesson, Shaun King, etc) involved with the movement.  I also want to explore newspaper and online articles about the community. In addition, I plan to utilize interviews they have done as a source for data as well.

In doing this research, I hope to learn more about a community that I feel has has a great impact on me since it has propelled into such prominence on social media.  As a biracial individual and sociology major, I’m greatly interested in race relations in our society, and I think that applying my interests in this class will help me to learn more about myself and my attitudes, but also more about the impact that community has on us all.

I’m Okay Alone | 20

When I heard that we were to visit our microplace again, I sighed to myself.  I had to admit the truth: I hadn’t been vibing with my homey coffee shop in my past few visits.  So, when I drove the short distance to Mo Java, Robert Galbraith’s audio book recording of The Cuckoo’s Calling playing faintly from my speakers, I wasn’t quite looking forward to reaching my destination. (Okay, part of the reason is that the book is getting quite good and I wanted to keep listening… but that’s not the point.)

My mood flipped completely as soon as I stepped into the shop. Since it was 5:00 pm on a Wednesday, Mo Java wasn’t as nearly as crowded as it was on Sunday mornings. Gone were the sweet grandmas chatting over tea and turkey sandwiches; instead, I heard the two baristas chatting faintly with one of their friends at the bar over the sound of my Spotify playlist and embraced a nearly empty shop.

Today for you, café au lait for me.

I stepped up to the register to order, a routine that I have quickly become familiar with. The barista who served me had a sizable beard, competing for my attention with the long, intricate sleeve of tattoos on his left arm, the sizable silver, round, and metallic gauges in his earlobes, and the short brown knit beanie that hardly covered the tops of his ears.  He smiled when I lit up with joy at the sight of a café au lait on the rustic, chalkboard menu over my head at the register.  I laughed bashfully, letting him know that I was craving one the day before, but he seemed amused at my reaction regardless.

As the minutes ticked by as I tapped on my keyboard, the lighting in the cafe became simply beautiful.  I overheard the baristas chatting about how they were dreading when the long glass windows that make up the front of the cafe frosted over, and glanced over in time to see the red taillights of a passing car briefly illuminate the girls sitting nearby me in a gentle glow. As James Bay’s sweet, melodic voice singing an acoustic tune about a potential love transitioned into Kevin Garrett’s most recent song, “Refuse,” I really got into the writing groove.  This felt so cathartic, especially since my last few visits at Mo Java hadn’t seemed as productive or meaningful.

Not for the first time, I wished that I had a companion to talk to while I studied.  It’s not that I mind being alone, it’s more that I don’t crave alone time.  It felt like everyone in my vicinity had a pal they were chatting or studying with, whether they be stylish college girls or the barista friends.  Since I really just had my music and my thoughts to keep me company, I compiled a playlist about being alone instead.  Sounds quite pitiful, sure, but I thought it was nice.  I love soulful indie acoustic music, and there is certainly no shortage of tunes about being alone in that department.  I smiled to myself as I wrote, because I couldn’t stop bopping my head to the sad tunes about lost relationships, lost dreams, and the scary feelings that come from being alone when it’s the last thing you want.  (If there’s just one of my music playlists to listen to – I suggest it’s this one. It even has a theme!)

As I wrapped up my time at Mo Java, I finally felt content.  I had the warm, sharp taste of coffee on my tongue, my sweet family to go home and spend time with (a girl can’t ponder about loneliness, desired or not, forever!), and the reassurance that it was the time of day that I went to the shop that made the experience, not my own inability to draw inspiration.

I present to you, Mo Java Vol. 4: Sad, Sweet Tunes with Grace.

The title of this blog post was taken from Kevin Garrett’s song entitled “Refuse”. You can listen to it on YouTube here.

A Lesson in Understanding: A Thoughtful Response to “Preface to the First Edition” and “The Homeland, Aztlán” | 019

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion and a drive to learn.  This motivation to learn about society and the experiences we have as human beings is especially interesting to me, which is why this week’s reading was so invigorating.

I love writing that goes outside of what one expects a piece to be like, so Gloria Anzaldúa’s combination of poetry, prose, and arrangement of words was quite pleasing to see.  I also simply feel so fortunate to be able to take a glimpse into Anzaldúa’s mind and read about her experiences and thought processes in regards to growing up under two separate and distinct cultures, and how this molded her life into what it was.  It can be difficult to talk about a history that has laid the foundation for abuse, discrimination, and pain for one’s culture, and I think that using her voice to allow people like myself to learn is an amazing trait for Anzaldúa to utilize.

Everyone speaks up about what they’re passionate about, and Anzaldúa is no exception.  In regards to emotion, I definitely feel like Anzaldúa is trying shake people out of their comfort zones with this piece of writing.  When she writes, “the Gringo, locked into the fiction of white superiority,” she is not aiming to tip toe around feelings (Anzaldúa 9).  I think that she is trying to induce others into feelings of understanding as she highlights the wrongs that whites have done for her and her culture.  It’s undeniably necessary to listen to the voices of those who are oppressed in order to address a problem (in this case, racism against Chicanos and mestizas) in a multifaceted and enlightening way.  Anzaldúa does a phenomenal job of bringing the issue to light and invoking a response.

As Anzaldúa writes beautifully about Chicano culture, she also discusses the U.S-Mexican border.  I think that in writing, “borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them” definitely touches on the subject of place and community (Anzaldúa 9).  There are two communities that are found in this passage, and I think she is speaking out about how each has their clear place both physically and within society.  The “borderland”, filled with people that U.S citizens thought to be lesser, has become both a place and community as well.  As whites have pushed people to the border, they’ve inadvertently created a community of folks who share the same experiences and want to be treated like human beings.  Though the outcasts are the ones who live in this borderland community with terrible surroundings and stigmas attached to it, the place that they’ve ended up in unites them in community.  It is only together they can fight the racism that perils them, and join together in speaking up about the significance cultural diversity.

The Unseen Identity in Possession: A Response to “To Name is To Possess” | 018

As an avid gardener and gardening writer, it only makes sense for Kincaid to discuss plants, gardening and the variation we see from place to place.  The words that made me think the most in her piece, however, were the ones about naming in relation to colonization.

When reading Kincaid’s piece, many of the emotions she described resonated with me.  As she wrote of the sadness she felt in seeing how conquerors and those not native to Southern Africa or the West Indies, for example, plucked plants up and renamed them, I wondered with her how “such ordinary, everyday beauty [can] become a luxury” (117).  I’ve never felt great attachment to flowers beyond appreciating the belladonna lilies that pop up each year in my front yard, and discussing their sudden appearance with my chattering niece.  I think a bright bouquet can spice up a room, or a delivery of roses can cheer up those who are hurting or just need a pick me up, but besides the occasional hum of approval, I definitely don’t hold botany in the same regard as Kincaid.  As I was reminded of how flowers and foliage seem ordinary to me, I was truly struck by how what I regard as a lily or rose may have had a different name in its country of origin.

When Kincaid wrote that Europeans thought that “plants from far away, like the people from far away, had no history, no names, so they could be given names,” and subsequently how this act of renaming was eliminating the possession (and identity) a culture has in the flower itself, I was so moved (122).  This passage really helped me to understand how significant the effects of colonizers had on native people, especially in regards to identity and its relation to place.  If the beauty native to your home land was taken away and renamed, and even replaced with unfamiliar plants from another region, the identity that is felt in picking flowers for a parent or simply seeing a place’s foliage can be dramatically altered.  Kincaid embodies the emotion that accompanies this just perfectly.

You Either Know or You Don’t | 017

When I walked into Mo Java, I knew where I wanted to sit, I knew what I wanted to order, and I knew why I wanted to write. Yet, I wasn’t feeling as introspective as I have in the past at the cafe, and I found it hard to concentrate. I quickly found myself  thinking about how I want each thing that I write to have an impact on those that read it, and that is nearly impossible to do each time. It is definitely frustrating to feel that the words and emotions that you’re trying to convey don’t come across the exact way you want them to. If there’s one thing that I struggle with as a writer, it’s fighting with myself about how a piece of writing can make others think introspectively every time. I knew where I wanted to be physically, but I didn’t know how to grab that sneaky, slippery piece of inspiration and write something of substance.

It was a shame to leave these beautiful paintings, though.

As I found my seat in Mo Java, I took a sip from my mocha granita and sighed to myself. The seat I had chosen was a bit closed off from other patrons, so I had plenty of space to brood about introspective and meaningful narratives. Yet, there was a music speaker directly above me and I couldn’t tune out the disruptive cafe music. I wrote and wrote, but as nothing was coming to fruition, I packed up my belongings and moved to the outdoor seating to write. (Also, Mo Java was quite cold, and with my cold drink and no jacket, it wouldn’t be long before icicles were forming from my nostrils.) 

There was a warm breeze, and my drink formed wet rings on the wrought iron tables. I played some tunes of my own from my computer; namely, Troye Sivan’s latest “Talk Me Down” and Kevin Garrett’s “Coloring” to soothe my racing mind. The steady buzz of insects and the noise of cars whizzing past joined the chorus soon after, and I wrote and wrote some more. The trees, leaves still green this late in October reminded me that growth is possible. The blue sky encouraged me to be clear and true. And, my own reflection let me know that it’s okay to push your limits and have a desire to do more than describe at the surface level.

What a self-absorbed, content-obsessed narcissist. Who takes selfies in their laptop screen? *scoff*

Ultimately, the time I spent at Mo Java this week wasn’t as productive as I wanted. I found I kept writing and writing, but subsequently tapping the Delete key in return, a rhythmic clicking that soon only frustrated me. That being said, I think that in describing how I feel, and recognizing that first blog post drafts can be shitty takes more effort and understanding than being physically descriptive is. However, that doesn’t make one type of writing any less significant than the other.

Often when writing, whether it is for a class or personal use, I try to tell myself to not “get it right, but get it written.” This mantra helped me for this post, and I hope it helps you know that we’re all on this writing journey together.

Title of the blog post is taken from Kevin Garrett’s “Coloring” which you can listen to exclusively here.


Writing Project 2 Update | 016

On Oct. 9, Meghan and I went to Starbucks and designated some time to work on our writing projects together. We looked at primary sources and found an excellent resource to keep track of all of our research materials. I got some good progress on my first draft, which will be reviewed in the whole class workshop on Monday.

MESU and Me | 015

In class this Wednesday, I sent a message to the president of Middle Eastern Students Unite (MESU), which is the group I plan to investigate. I think that this was an essential beginning, because the first step in properly observing a community is to respectfully gain access. In addition to setting this up, I worked with Meghan and Nick in discussing our progress throughout the class period.

As stated, I would like to learn more about MESU and its members. To learn more about this community, I want to interview those involved, observe a number of meetings, and utilize various social media posts or posters promoting the club.

In terms of what I’d like to learn from doing the research: primarily I want to be able to understand the experiences of those who come from a background different than my own. I want to learn specifically about the Middle Eastern student experience on campus, and how this affects the work that the RSO does, as well as the individuals involved. In turn, I think it is valuable to do this type of research because it is important to go outside of your comfort zone and experience something new. I know MESU has a lot to teach me, and I want to be able to utilize all they have to offer in every way that I can.

Just A Moment | 014

The wide wall of windows in front of me help to open up and brighten the small, sweet coffee shop. Mo Java reminds me so greatly of a mom-and-pop cafe, as the scratches and smudges that remain on the windows signify the elegance and character typically associated with a smaller place. I gaze out these windows so I can try to write beyond the surface level.

I’ve decided to stray from my typical Mo Java coffee, and for this visit I’m armed with a delicious iced pumpkin muffin and a glass of water instead. The muffin has a nice taste, with the pumpkin zing being better than anticipated. It crumbles in my hand as I munch, and I avert my eyes guiltily as the crumbs tumble to the floor.

After I seat myself and pull out my laptop to get to work, I notice that the tunes that typically float to my ears from the cafe’s speakers are off. So, I mix a playlist for myself, and just as I’m satisfied, the first notes of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” begin to play. Marc Almond’s voice slips into my ears and I turn up the the melodic, engulfing sounds of Jhene Aiko’s “Spotless Mind” playing from my headphones in protest.

A glimpse of the beautiful cloudless sky, and my branch friends. 

Other sounds include the overlapping gossipy voices of two girls nearby, presumably Wesleyan students due to Mo Java’s proximity to its campus. I sip my water quietly and wish I had a companion to chatter with; the glass vase of thin twigs in front of me and beginning thrum of Fractures’ “Won’t Win” are my company instead.

In this moment, the serene scene outside the windows looks so beautiful, and I crave the warm wind on my face. I begin to wonder what the cafe appears like from the outside – does it look as delicate yet rustic on the outside as it feels from the inside?

As Lewis Watson’s gorgeous timbre begins to serenade me, I take a deep breath and ultimately feel serene. The blue sky outside beckons me closer as the tall green leaves on nearby trees swish in the distance. The distinct firey smell from something cooking in the kitchen engulfs me, and I yearn to be wrapped in this moment. I’m content, bopping along to multiple tunes and trying to imagine Mo Java in a way that captures its essence. Its smells, sounds, tastes, and general atmosphere continue to bring out different emotions in me each time, and I think that’s what makes each moment more significant than the last.

Listen to what I do when I spend some moments in Mo Java: