Reflections on a vacation to Rio de Janeiro

When traveling in different countries, I live by one rule: that this is not the last time I'll find myself in this country. This fundamental rule relieves all stress that one might feel when scrolling down the list of monuments, tourist traps,  photo friendly sights, and activities. 

On a recent trip to Brazil, in the heat of the World Cup and with tickets to three games myself, I found myself hardly believing that I'd ever have the opportunity to witness firsthand a moment in history just as unique. World Cup aside, Rio de Janeiro has plenty to hold you for weeks - Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana beach, churrascarias (steakhouses), and an endless line of clubs and block parties. Tack on the frenzied mayhem of the World Cup and your itinerary starts to look plump. 

Leave it up to the Brazilians to keep you stress free anyway. 

Two blocks off the shores of Ipanema, three friends of mine and myself found ourselves blowing through two volleyballs and one soccer ball in one week. Of the 30 or so hours we spent on the beach, only 2 of them were spent actually sitting down. We went to the same sandwich and juice bar - sometimes up to four times in one day. And on one celebratory birthday of mine, I woke up to an acai bowl with birthday candles emerging from the purple slush. 

We saw Colombian striker James Rodriguez score from outside the box, just eight rows back from the pitch. We watched France take Ecuador out of the tournament, and we witnessed Belgium's textbook excellence well before the US Men's National Team did. And when we weren't watching games at Maracana Stadium, we watched them in expat bars (long live Tio Sam), hotel televisions, and along the flanks of the beaches in crowds of uniformed tourists hunched over coconuts. 


In BJ Novak's short story collection One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, he brings to the reader the character of a dead grandmother in Heaven who spends her time watching Frank Sinatra perform live each night. Novak's idea is to create a world with infinite time and then ask the reader what they would do with that infinite time.

The grandmother's response to this question:

"'It's funny, isn't it?' said Nana. 'You have infinite time here, and there are infinite things to do, but you still don't end up doing much of it. You do what you love most, over and over"


I don't have a particularly long list of places we visited or activities we did. In the end, we went to a handful of neighborhoods: Ipanema, Copacabana, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Gavea. We didn't even see Christ the Redeemer up close. I snapped one photo from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain and we drank in the streets of Gavea. 

The rest of the time, we we played beach volleyball and watched the World Cup. Over and over. 

My life in 5 books

In a recent email I received from The Listserve (an email lottery where one person a day wins a chance to write to the growing list of subscribers on the Listserve), a stranger shared with me their life in 5 books. I felt so compelled to respond and the below is my own attempt to describe my life in 5 books.

1) As a child
The Velveteen Rabbit

If my back were the size of a 9 foot canvas, I'd probably get this tattooed on it:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

2) Growing Up
A Separate Peace

All things considered, this book is good not great. Well executed, perfect for analysis, but there are dozens of books I'd recommend before this one. However, this was the book I was assigned in 10th grade English class and the paper I wrote was the first A I received on any piece of critical analysis. From that moment on, I knew I was in love with words. Not because of the grade I was given, but because of the agency the act of expository writing gave me. My 10th grade English teacher was the person who taught me the difference between subjectivity and objectivity, that essays didn't have to be 5 paragraphs long, and that standardized testing is full of bullshit. In fact, he was the first person who taught me how to write in first person, and in doing so, I think he taught me how to start taking a stand for what I believed in - whatever that was at the time and whatever that may be in the future. 

3) Still Growing Up
The Harry Potter series

Like many, I literally grew up with Harry (we're the same age, so to speak). But for me, Harry Potter was all about escaping to a different place, and eventually, I started to notice that other people wanted to go there too. I thought that was so cool - that a million different people could have this shared experience even though they experienced this story at different times in their lives, in different places around the world. And eventually, I met a girl at a summer camp who wanted to go there too. And eventually, that girl became the first girl I ever truly liked. I was 17 and we held hands underneath the blanket after the midnight release of the Deathly Hallows. 

4) In School

This is Jay-Z's biography. Curve ball, I know. But I graduated with a degree in Race and Ethnicity, and for my senior thesis, I found myself looking for ways to weave in elements of pop culture that I loved to consume - like hip hop. The subject of the paper - Demystifying the Corporate Hip Hop and Ethnic Hip Hop Binary - examined the tension between the highly commercialized rap ballads of Jay-Z's repertoire and the more real often political themes found in his other works. 


5) In my mid-twenties
Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

I've tried just about every form of writing imaginable - poetry, short story, theses. Only recently did I realize that I'm most attracted to the philosophy behind writing and the idea of a daily practice, than I am in actually writing. Nearly a year ago, I went on a 10 day silent meditation retreat. The first book I picked up was Dani Shapiro's Still Writing. She just so happened to be scheduled for a book reading the next evening at the bookstore by my apartment (I had the fortune of meeting her and talking to her for 15 minutes). In one part of the book she mentions how difficult writing is, how difficult the practice of writing is. There are days when she doesn't want to write but she resolves this by knowing that it is the "very act of writing that is generative." 

If I waited to be in the mood to write, I’d barely have a chapbook of material to my name. Who would ever be in the mood to write? Do marathon runners get in the mood to run? Do teachers wake up with the urge to lecture? I don’t know, but I doubt it. My guess is that it’s the very act that is generative. The doing of the thing that makes possible the desire for it. A runner suits up, stretches, begins to run. An inventor trudges down to his workroom, closing the door behind him. A writer sits in her writing space, setting aside the time to be alone with her work. Is she inspired doing it? Very possibly not. Is she distracted, bored, lonely, in need of stimulation? Oh, absolutely, without a doubt it’s hard to sit there. Who wants to sit there? Something nags at the edges of her mind. Should she make soup for dinner tonight? She’s on the verge of jumping up from her chair – in which case all will be lost – but wait. Suddenly she remembers: this is her hour (or two, or three). This is her habit, her job, her discipline. Think of a ballet dancer at the barre. Plie, eleve, battement tendu. She is practicing, because she knows that there is no difference between practice and art. The practice is the art.

I think I'm struck by the optimism behind this philosophy. Inertia starts somewhere, is the takeaway for me. And right now, it's working. 


Thanks Gabriella, for the inspiration.