#LoveLetterToThePassingYear

Dear 2020,

You were a year of calm. Okay, it was the year of absolute utter bullshit but it’s the year that I became calm. Well, calmer.

My mental health was something that I took seriously this year. I became really conscious. I paid close attention to my thoughts, to the words that came out of my mouth, to what I put in my body, to the actions and people that were lifting me up and putting me down, to how much movement I was doing every day, to the things and moments that made me feel truly happy and alive…

Back in February, I just discovered this song and have listened to it at least ten times a day since. One of Nao’s lyric went like this: “I wish that perfect was enough for my own heart.” It got me thinking about perfection and how much I self-sabotaged demanding perfection all the time. I think back on something my friend Lisa once said- don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Yes, I didn’t get the “dream” job that I wanted but I was able to work and buy the things that I needed (I got new glasses!). I didn’t find my perfect Mr. Right but I met some really cool and kind people. I found my hobbies again, as well as my tribe here in Austin, after being lost for such a long time. I also got more into biking, finally finished a painting and really celebrated my Puerto Rican background this year- three things that I’m really proud of. I feel good.

I learned a lot. I learned what I really wanted out of my life: the type of career I wanted, the relationship that I desire and deserve, the kind of lifestyle that I wanted to live. I may not have an exact five year plan but I finally defined my goals. I learned how to breaks- I took a social media break over the summer which was a godsend. I learned what triggers my depression- mostly finances but surprisingly, not loneliness as I once thought it did. I learned that I have a voice in my relationships and with the world around me. I learned that our country, though incredibly divided, will stand for what’s right. Black Lives will ALWAYS Matter and I’m hopeful about the state of our country. I do believe that we are slowly healing from the hate, as well as COVID-19.

In short, we keep fighting. We are intrepid. We carry on.

To end on a positive note (because the world needs more positivity), I hope we take the lessons that we learned from you, 2020, and keep in our hearts. I hope we continue to keep each other safe and let everything know that they’re loved.

Thanks for the memories. You were a dumpster fire of a year but I loved you, Andrea

#55Days

The 2020 Presidential Election is 55 days away- are you ready?

First off, are you registered to vote? Find online voter registration for your state (as of today, 40 states allow you to register to vote via internet. If you’re not registered and don’t see your state on this list, you can register through your local DMV).

If you’re not able to vote in person, request a mail-in absentee ballot ASAP. If you are able to vote in person, consider early voting– this is a good way to avoid lines on Election Day.

Before you go out to vote, you can find your polling location. If you need a ride to the polls, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are offering free or discounted trips for voters in need. When you do get to the polls, make sure that you have your ID and any other required identification in order to vote.

Second, poll workers are desperately needed November 3rd.  If you’re like me  and looking for ways to serve your community, sign up to be a poll worker in your city. You will be paid for your training days and for the days you work.

Third, do your research and make the best, informed decision for you, your family and your community. Get a sample ballot. Before you head to the polls, get a sample ballot so you know in advance all the races you’ll be voting on. There are smaller races for local offices and propositions that could have an immediate impact on your life but don’t get as much news coverage. Fill it out in advance and show up at the polls prepared to make your decisions.

This time back in 2016, I was chasing after people in downtown Reno, registering them to vote. My friend, Monique, and I would be out during the drinking crawls with our clipboards in hand (and me with a shot or three in my stomach), getting the word out. This election, I’ve been avoiding others due to the pandemic but I still feel that civic responsibility to encourage others to vote. To put it blunt, our country is a mess right now and voting may be the only way we can make things better. It’s is our responsibility as Americans. When you vote, you are vocalizing what you need, want and believe in. You’re standing up and demanding to be counted. But this system only works if we participate in it. So, are you ready to vote?

#CoVOID

It is certainly a weird time to be alive right now. As the world and myself slowly move out of our COVID-19 quarantines, I’m still lost on how I should handle “normal life”- is it safe to go out to my favorite places? Can I make plans to visit my sick mom a few states away? Am I able to hug my friends again? With all the information out there, am I being informed or misinformed? I feel stuck. I’ve felt stuck most of my life but this time, I’m a hard time shaking this off. 

When I first started quarantining back in March, my introverted heart was ecstatic. I get to spend all this alone time doing hobbies and not seeing anyone in the flesh. I quarantined with my boyfriend, which proved to be disastrous (we broke up but got back together a month later. We don’t quarantine together anymore). Even though I love hanging out with him, I realized how much I miss my friends and what a vital part of my good mental health they attributed to. I’m lonely for them. 

I’ve been fortunate to work during this time. While I have issues with my job (ie. my hours have been slashed to very part-time), I’m grateful for my position. I can still pay my rent and buy groceries. I’m still job hunting for something better, something in marketing or editorial with full-time hours and health insurance. I send out applications every day and average an interview a week. I should feel lucky with getting interviews but I know that so many people are not working right now and are applying for the same positions I am. My Imposter Syndrome kicks in, mixing with my depression- I honestly feel like I’m not going to find that job until sometime next year. I’m worry about my finances. 

I stopped reading the news. I usually know what’s going on in the world and now, I don’t (I didn’t know about the explosion in Beirut until two days after the accident). I’m off all social media platforms except Twitter (hey, I need one vice). I don’t make much of an effort with my appearance anymore. I stopped wearing makeup since my mask covers must of it. A good day for me is one where I can make it through work and then still have the energy to put in applications and maybe clean my bathroom or have sex in the evening. 

Needless to say, I’m in this black void. My depression before all this was high. The coronavirus has definitely elevated those feelings of sadness and despair. It’s a fight every day to stay positive and remind myself of the good in my life and in the world right now. Most days, I just want to sleep and not take care of myself and my responsibilities. But somehow (God only know), I manage to wake up, stumble out of bed, brush my teeth, call my mom, get to work, do chores and cuddle with my cat and my boyfriend. I remind myself that I’m not alone- the rest of the world is hurting; some more deeply than me. I’ve been listening to Michelle Obama’s new podcast right now- she is going through it, too. I tell myself that this mess of a year will be over with- a vaccine will come and politics will be soon shifting in a more progressive direction. I will get that job and be able to introduce Amit to my family in person. While it’s difficult to see, the future will be better.

How are you doing, dear reader?

#i2i

It’s okay if you don’t see “i2i…”

The last couple of weeks have been difficult ones. We are angry. I’m furious. I feel helpless. I started posting images of the various Black Lives Matter protests around the world on my social media accounts. Signs that spoke truths. Fists in the air. Looks of exhaustion from the participants. As I expected, I lost some followers and Facebook friends after I posted. What I didn’t expect was some of the direct messages and comments that followed. 

It is a tense time in the Untied States and during times like these, we all need a reminder of how to stay respectful and kind to each other. It’s okay to express your opinion. It’s okay to stay quiet. It’s okay if you don’t have an opinion. These days, I honestly tell people that I don’t have an opinion about current topics because I haven’t been following the news (it’s okay to be a self-called “news junkie” but stop listening to/reading the news for self care). I want to be able to make the most informed opinion possible but I’m not staying up-to-date to do so. It’s okay have conflicting opinions with your loved ones. It’s okay to think someone’s wrong. But it is not okay to send harsh words and threats. I have to admit that in my past, I’ve sent some mean messages about what I strongly believed in, political or not. While it felt good to get those frustrations out, I now know it was wrong to do that. It’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to learn new information and form a different opinion. And it’s okay to seek out forgiveness for these past judgements that you’re unlearning. 

The world is a mess right now. It’s a lot between the protests, COVID-19, the uptick in unemployment and other issues that I can’t fathom right now. Fear and anger are running rampant and it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling at this moment. It’s okay if we all don’t see eye to eye right now. But we all need to do our best to respect each other- our bodies, our rights, our thoughts and our feelings. 

And yes, dear reader, Black Lives Matter

#PostalService

Public Service Announcement: Save the USPS.

I have always loved the United States Postal Service. Receiving letters (excluding bills and unnecessary weekly mailers) in the mail has been on of the biggest joys of my life. I’ve relied on the Postal Service’s office to get my passport and send money to loved ones. USPS has been hit hardest by COVID-19: while package deliveries are up, mail volume is reportedly down by almost a third compared to this time last year. Businesses around the country have made cuts to mail advertisements and solicitations. As a result, the USPS’s revenue  has tanked.

Last week, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, the chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform and Gerry Connolly, chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that COVID-19 is threatening the future of mail service.

“The United States Postal Service is in need of urgent help as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis,” the Representatives said. “Based on a number of briefings and warnings this week about a critical fall-off in mail across the country, it has become clear that the Postal Service will not survive the summer without immediate help from Congress and the White House. Every community in America relies on the Postal Service to deliver vital goods and services, including life-saving medications.”

USPS is not a government agency. Instead, it relies on fees rather than taxes (think of the extra dollar fee that is added on when you ship a package). Maloney and Connelly proposed a bill that would provide emergency funding (roughly $25 million). They said the funding would save the jobs of more than 600,000 Americans. 

There is speculation why President Trump doesn’t want to fund the USPS. 2020 is an election year. With the rise and unpredictability of COVID-19, we could be quarantined for months which could lead to a lack of voting poll workers, accessible locations, etc. People will not line up to vote (see what happened last week with the Wisconsin Primary). The next best option is to vote by mail but… You can’t mail-in vote if there is no mail. Sure, there other mailing options. However, FedEx, DHL and UPS won’t deliver to some rural neighborhoods. The USPS is also a more affordable option- many low income Americans still depend on it for checks, services and other documentation.

So, dear reader, continue to use the USPS’s services- buy stamps online, send love letters in the form snail mail and thank your mail person for their commitment of service during the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, contact your US Representatives and Senators and let your voice be heard. Let’s not imagine a world, our country without the United States Postal Service. 

(Oh- and I do love Postal Service, the band.)

#AnotherCWord

Can we talk about another C word? Comradery.

I’ve been running a lot in my boyfriend’s neighborhood since the start of COVID-19. He lives in a part of Austin where a lot of senior citizens live. Usually I blast my music through my headphones but lately, I’ve been running without tunes and try to say hello to those I run by. People are friendly and thank me as I stay the mandated six feet apart as I sprint by. I always see this older gentleman walking his toy poodle every morning. The first day I met him, I screamed from across the street, “Good morning! OH MY GOD-  you have the cutest dog! Aren’t you the fluffiest fluff in the world!” Now the man lets his dog run across the street so I can pet it and give it some quick loving.

We’re living in the strangest timeline with the Coronavirus but I’m trying to make the best of it. People are scared and anxious. I know when I feel that way, I need to be around people. But because that isn’t safe to do, I’m exploring other ways to reach out and be kind. I’ve been on Zoom and Houseparty chats almost daily with friends. I text my besties almost every day, checking in on their mental health and levels of boredom. The USPS is still up and running so I’ve been mailing postcards and love letters. I signed up for Table Wisdom, which pairs mentors and mentees together online to chat, as well as the People’s Dialer. When I’m at the grocery store, I thank the staff for working (I also tip when I can). I seek out that level of friendship and gratitude, that level of comradery that makes people feel good (even an introvert like me).

Thank God for the internet. If you look, there are a lot of ways others are reaching out and giving back online. Celebs are lending their voices, reading children’s books aloud online. Prestigious colleges and universities are offering free online courses (check out courses from Coursera and Harvard University). Museums, galleries and zoos around the globe are offering free virtual tours. One of my favorite things that has come out of the Coronavirus is the live sets my favorite artists are doing- DJs, producers and bands all over the world are live streaming from their own living rooms (I highly recommend D Nice’s Club Quarantine, sets by my “husband,” Diplo and Kayper and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard’s cover sessions). Sure, it doesn’t make up for being in a club but their sets remind us that we will be at concerts, venues and cook outs together again soon.

Living in the time of COVID-19 has been a lonely period for some. I texted one of my friends in Philly who lives alone. He hasn’t been out of his apartment for weeks and misses touching people- shaking hands, giving and receiving hugs and and fist bumps.  Even those in relationships are being tested. I truthfully thought that being quarantined with my boyfriend would lead us to being more physical (especially since our relationship is so new) but I was wrong. We spend a good chunk of our day alone, doing our own thing which can be pretty lonely.

If you are feeling alone, I do encourage you to reach out. There are a lot of resources out there (including things like free therapy apps like Youper and Moodpath. If you’re looking for professional help, check out this NPR article for a list of affordable resources). This is a difficult time right now but the entire world is in this together. You may be by yourself but you are not truly alone.

What are you doing to reach out to your friends, loved ones, even strangers, dear reader?

 

#TheOtherCWord

Listen to Homer, Marge!

With all the Coronavirus news, we seemed to miss another C word: Census.

April 1st was National Census Day, the day that highlighted the importance of the US Census. Every ten years, the Census counts the population in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories (including Puerto Rico) and uses that information to help disperse money (roughly $650 billion) at the federal level to the community for vital assets like public schools, food stamps and roads. It also determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress. The census is required by the Constitution, meaning it’s required by law to be filled out and submitted in a timely fashion. Census representatives also count local homeless populations (they matter, too!). If you refuse to fill it out, there could be a hefty fine coming your way.

The questions on the Census are pretty basic (i.e. how many are in your household, the genders living in the household, dates of birth, race and ethnicity questions- whether or not you’re of Hispanic origin, how is everyone in the household related, etc.). The Census will never ask you for your Social Security number, money or donations and your bank or credit card account numbers. Last year, the Trump Administration recommended adding a citizenship question on the Census which would ask takers if they were a US citizen or not. Immigration rights advocates were concerned about that question as it could possibly out illegal immigrants and make them more vulernable to being caught and deported. The question never made it on to the 2020 Census- a federal judge signed an order last year permanently blocking it (phew!)

Last month, homes across the United States began receiving invitations to complete the 2020 Census online. If you were not to complete the Census questionnaire online by the end of April, representatives from the US Census will stop at your front door to count your the residents in your home. With the rise of COVID-19, the Census extended the deadline but lawmakers are still trying to determine how to safety send Census representative to the homes that don’t fill out either the physical or online form.

Everyone living in the United States is supposed to be counted by the census, whether they’re citizens or not. My boyfriend, Amit, and I had a pretty lengthy discussion about the Census and his fear about it. He is from India. He’s been in the United States for eight years and filled out the Census for the first time this year. He was concerned about giving the US government a bunch of his personal information (including his Visa status). I heard from other friends, people of color, who are afraid to fill it out. Immigration aside, one friend is Arab-American and is afraid that if he disclosed his address, he might be watched by the government.

I understand the fear and lack of trust of the Census. Census information is supposed to be confidential information. If you look back in history, that always hasn’t been the truth (check out of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act and it’s affect on the Census). But it is important. In 2010, the lowest response rates were in communities of color, neighborhoods that often need the most federal assistance. We need an accurate Census count and this is a way to let your voice be heard.

Have you filled out your part for the US Census, dear reader?

#AnxietyInTheTimeOfCoronavirus


Despite the world being on fire, my anxiety levels have been surprisingly low. It’s truthfully refreshing to see the world riding the same anxiety wave that I’m usually on.  I am terrified that when things get back to “normal,” I’m going to sink back into depression, continue to have no luck job hunting and struggle financially.

But there are things that have change in my since pre-Coronavirus: I’m in a great relationship. I started applying for government positions and internships, and feel like I will hear back about them soon. The student loan payment freeze is actually beneficial to my credit score and I’ve been spending more time outside, wandering around while catching up on missed podcasts and getting ample amounts of sun. I’m not alone. I have a roof over my head. I have food. I have money (at the moment). I’m not sick. My loved ones are not sick. I’m doing good- and no matter what happens, everything is going to be okay (maybe just boring for a while). There is nothing to worry about, right?

For the times that I notice my anxiety is peaking, I go through my Burning Man checklist for mental wellness: Did I eat? Did I drink enough water? Have I gotten any exercise? Enough sun? Too much sun? Have I rested? Talked to someone about my feelings? I also started focusing on the things that I can control- the food and drink I’m putting into my body, the amount of exercise I do daily, how much social media and news briefs I consume.

I also focus on living in the moment, day-by-day. Who knows what the future holds, whether it’s a few hours from now or a few months away. I’m doing the best I can to take care of myself and those around me by constantly washing my hands, wearing gloves, practicing social distancing and staying home when I don’t have to work. I have to admit, it’s hard especially when you’re someone who likes to hug. I miss my Sunday Social Rides around the east side of Austin. I’m lonely for my friends and the places that I used to frequent regularly. My life is not perfect but it is good.

To quote my favorite Oasis song, these are crazy days but they make me shine. How are you shining, dear reader? Are you scared about the present, about the future? What anxieties are you experiencing at this time? How are you staying positive? How can I support you? Remember that we’re all in this together and that I’m here for you, as well.

#Blessing

I’ve been thinking a lot about fate these days and how we are destined for some things and not for others. Maybe fate is the wrong word. The hand of God. Manifestation. Magic. Dumb luck. Whatever. I’ve been noticing how certain recent events dominoed into each other in somewhat kismet ways…

Story time: I was supposed to go to New York City for my birthday at the beginning of the month. My friend, Tom, very graciously paid for my flight to the Big Apple and I started packing for a long weekend up north. At the last minute, Tom told me that he was going to cancel my flight, saying that COVID-19 spreading and he was scared for my safety. I was upset but I understood his rationale. I ended up spending my birthday with friends, eating dinner at my favorite Italian place. One friend told us about the guy she started dating and how they met on the dating app, Coffee Meet Bagel. Me, perhaps being bitter about love, brushed off the app but Trenna insisted that there were decent, attractive guys on there. Later that night (when I was buzzed from some birthday booze), I downloaded the app and created a profile. Two days later, I matched with Amit, an engineer who recently moved to Austin from New York City. We started texting, then met two days later for dinner and clicked. We had three dates after that and decided to quarantine together when the stay-at-home mandate was announced.

Now as I lay in bed next to Amit, I think about the timing of our relationship and how things worked out. If I went to New York, I maybe would have not met him. I’d be spending this time alone with my cat, rewatching “Gossip Girl” and “Sex and the City” to savor my recent moments in NYC. I think about the other recent luck I’ve had especially with jobs. I wish that I could say that I had the foresight of today when I quit my waitressing position a few months ago but I’m glad that I’m in the position that I am in now. With work, I was devastated when SXSW was canceled. I heard from my coworkers about the mass amount of tips I was going to receive- I really needed that money. My hours were eventually cut. But that was okay. Amit and I had a lengthy discussion during date four and decided to bunk and weather out the storm together. Since then, we spend our time together listening to music and cooking, watching movies and talking for hours upon hours. If SXWS wasn’t canceled, we wouldn’t be able to have this quality time together.

I call Austin the Curse– everything that could have gone wrong went wrong since I moved here a year and half ago- cancer, job loss, loneliness, financial problems, etc. But looking right now how things turned out, maybe Austin isn’t a curse. Maybe the city is actually a blessing in disguise. I still don’t know if everything happens for a reason or if a magic wand has waved over me, I’m grateful with how the way things turned out.

#BadBunny

Music has been my salvation during my Coronavirus quarantine. I turned my kitchen into a makeshift ballet barre where I can get some daily stretching in. I’ve been blasting reggaeton, specifically Bad Bunny’s newest album, “YHLQMDLG” (“Yo hago lo que me da la gana” or “I do whatever I want”). I love the entire album and grew excited for the videos that would steam from each single. The latest release is “Yo Perreo Sola” (note that this is the second video for this song). I’m loving this video for it’s strong stance on harassment against women.

Bad Bunny appears throughout the video in body hugging outfits, makeup and painted nails, and breasts that revile my own. He sings and dances alone, just as the song’s title says, for all the women who simply want to dance alone and safely in the club. “I wrote it from the perspective of a woman,” Bad Bunny explained to Rolling Stone in a recent interview. I have been in the club when I’ve been danced upon by men who didn’t ask permission touch me, and am feeling this message- there is finally a man who gets it.

I was first introduced to Bad Bunny when he teamed up with Drake for the song, “Mia.” In that music video, Bunny rocked painted nails, a beauty enhancement that became one of his staple features. I love and respect that Bad Bunny has never been a fan of gender norms and uses his voice to protest corruption in his native Puerto Rico and support LGBT rights. I also appreciate his emotional vulnerability- some of his lyrics reveal his fight against depression and mental illness. Bad Bunny is championing a new version of masculinity and has this eager willingness to address many of the issues other rappers (both Latin and otherwise) seem to steer away from.

I’ve read a lot of angry Tweets about the many who vowed to stop listening to his music, disgusted with what they saw in the video, as well as those who say Bad Bunny using gay and transgender culture to only boost albums sales. I truly believe that Bad Bunny is taking advantage of his popularity to resignify the model of Latino machismo culture (aka toxic traditional masculinity) by changing the narrative and aesthetic in his music and his videos (come on- the man is a supporter of pubic hair!). He is doing want he wants and he is choosing to make the world a better and more understanding place.

Gracias por tu energía positiva, Bad Bunny. And thanks for reading, dear reader. If you need a pick-me-up (I think we all do these days), I highly recommend having your own solo dance party and rock out to “YHLQMDLG.”