Thursday, August 25, 2011

From Libya to Midnight in Paris and Bon Iver to Hillary

I have loved Alan Taylor's work from the Boston Globe's "Big Picture" to the Atlantic's "In Focus." In this striking photoessay, he chronicles the first six months of the conflict in Libya. Images #7 and #17 are blowing my mind.
On the subject of Libya, Erica Chenoweth asks "Did the Libyan uprising have to be violent?" I heard her speak at Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of NonViolent Conflict and she truly inspired me with her research on conflict and non-violence. She recently wrote a Foreign Policy article dispelling myths on nonviolence and a follow-up about the relationship between pacifism, conflict and nonviolence
Partners in Help: Paul Farmer discusses the concept of accompaniment in development. One of the best development reads of the year. 
PolicyMic is hosting a Women in Journalism series. Sara Jerving reported on peace-building and corruption from Kenya and I discussed the challenges of sharing women's stories without falling into the same stereotypes we seek to combat. I am very grateful for the discussion and am looking forward to reading Anna's article tomorrow in the same space. 
"For every story of tragedy there are 10 stories of courage and inspiration." - Hillary Clinton, on how she does not get overwhelmed by suffering. Excellent insights on women in politics in the same interview.
Join the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign. I know I will.
The Deep Old Desk is one of my favorite spaces on the internet. Kim painted love on her walls (yes, literally -- and be sure to click on the song that accompanies the post), and Heather had this to say
"Scott always asks why I deliberately drown myself in heartbreaking movies, songs and literature and I always turn to the same answer: because a good heart-bleeding must be shared so that we are reminded just how similiar we all are.
A beautiful take on empathy.
A quote from Midnight in Paris, my favorite film in a while: "All men fear death. It's a natural fear that consumes us all because we feel that we haven't loved well enough or loved at all, which ultimately are one and the same." And this as well: "Hmph, you'll never write well if you fear dying... do you?"
Recently read: She walks in beautyA woman's journey through poems by Caroline KennedyBeautiful, from cover to cover. Some of my favorite words from it, by Antonio Machado in "Poem 41": 

Don't try to rush things:
For the cup to run over, 
It must first be filled.

Holding dear- "Late Fragment", by Raymond Carver:
 Did you get what you wanted 
from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on this earth. 

Now reading: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (I know, I know, I'm late to the party) and Ordinary Sparkling Moments by Christine Mason Miller, the latter of which was waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I flew home to Greece. Christine Mason Miller creates beauty wherever she goes and shares the beauty of Hafiz too. 
Now listening - and viewing. Viewing this (Icelandic) beauty is mandatory: 

What made you think, laugh or love this week? Have a magical weekend!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why Mary Oliver and I wake early

Mary Oliver named a collection of poems "Why I Wake Early." Her words and the beauty of early morning walks are traveling with me through the change of seasons and through life transitions.

I am participating in August Break, a month-long break from words and experiment in expressing life through photography. Join in

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gender is a lens, not a conclusion

People ask why I return to conflict and post-conflict zones to work on project after project. The truth is that I feel like I am bound to the people there by the power of stories. Stories of resilience and perseverance, of courage and optimism in the face of adversity, inspire me to the core. As a gender-related development specialist, writer, and photographer, I have been called to document these stories in the Middle East, Latin America, East Africa and the Balkans. Whether in Cuba or Colombia, Egypt or Israel, Uganda or Jordan, I have consistently asked myself the same question about gender and storytelling: How do we share stories of women without falling into the same gender stereotypes we seek to combat?

PolicyMic is hosting me this Friday as part of their Women in Journalism series. You can read the rest of my thoughts and chime in on gender, storytelling and conflict here. Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, August 15, 2011

When conflict becomes personal

A street sign at my birthplace: Thessaloniki, Greece, August 2010

Buttons. Mpoumpou. Little Miss Sunshine.

Those have been my nicknames through different eras of life. By far my favorite, though, is Dorkosaurus Rox.

My dorky days can be traced back to high school in Greece. I wore an unfathomable amount of pink and was the Captain of the Greek National Debate Team at the World Schools Debating Championships. That mouthful, right there, is indicative of a Dorkosaurus in the making.

At the World Schools Debating Championships, I learned about that "every new argument must have a good topic sentence" and that kissing debaters on the Argentine National Debate team in piano bars in Stuttgart will teach you more about romance than any Rachel McAdams movie ever will. Perhaps the most valuable lesson of all was this: You can never win an argument against your own mother. "Save those eloquent words for the World Championships, young lady," will silence any argument, no matter how good its topic sentence may have been.

Many years and Dorkosaurus-worthy endeavors later (Secretary-General of Harvard National Model United Nations, anyone?), I am revisiting the crossover between argument and life - between work as a conflict management professional and conflict in that professional's own life. When I share my blob of a title with people, I hear a lot about the conflict plaguing their lives: sibling rivalry, marital spats, boyfriend tiffs. When I told a new friend what I do, he said: "Like in war zones and shit? Or like...couples counselling?"

Though not quite in that articulation, the former is a more accurate reflection of my professional life -- but, the truth is that the tools for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict are universally applicable. To resolve conflict, in Colombia or at home in Greece, we return to the basics of humanity: active listening, empathy and compassion, honest and open questions and patience with the answers. And, much like my pink-wearing debating 16-year-old self learned, I am finding it much harder to apply conflict management principles to my own life than to teach the same concepts in a workshop in a village in rural Guatemala.

There is a particular tenet of negotiation that is especially relevant to my life right now and which I find challenging to embrace: "When you do not feel like you can have the conversation as your most effective self, step away from the (negotiating) table."

I lead a life that does not enable me and my loved one to "sit at the table" together very often. In the past three months alone, I have boarded over 30 flights, attended a conference on nonviolence, co-led a photography and storytelling initiative in a country that broke my heart and broke me open, studied for the GRE and prepared to apply to graduate school, danced with old and loved friends to old and loved tunes in the living rooms of their grown-up apartments and drunk so much bubble tea that I am starting to grow tapioca pearls in my stomach. [I have also become the person-who-tells-you-everything-she-did-woe-is-her, which is one step before the-person-who-photographs-everything-she-had-for-breakfast-lunch-and-dinner-and-then-blogs-about-it. May a higher power help us all.]

All of this while being away from my anchor -- my anchor of love.

We said goodbye at an airport at the end of spring and, by the end of summer, life has spat us out in different places.

Tell me how to step away from the table. How to shy away from the big questions when we have been longing for the shared zip code that will allow us to tackle them together, holding hands.

Tell me, rather, how to have the conversation without the "fierce urgency of now." Tell me that now we can exhale because our hearts have returned to their rightful places. Tell me that we can hold hands all the way till we find our answers without the plane ticket that will whisk me across the world in 7 days casting everything in a harsher, emergency light.

In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer writes:
I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth cannot tell fast enough, the ears that aren't big enough, the eyes that can't take all the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.
I am caught between that end of missing someone, the urgency of 'what's next', the uncertainty of which life decisions will enable me to live the story I wish to be living, and the longing of wanting to share with my anchor not only the reunion tears of relief, but also the minutia of daily life that make the shared life delicious.

Tell me, as Rilke would want you to in Letters to a Young Poet, to
be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is,to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you win then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
Tell me, as Joan Didion would whisper to me, to "go with the change."

And let me tell you one thing I do know. If Colombia and Egypt and Uganda and Israel and Palestine and Jordan and Guatemala and Greece and Boston and conferences and plane tickets and workshops have taught me anything, it is to love. It is that only through kindness and love can we arrive at the answers -- or the answers I would want to embrace, anyway. As Mitch Albom and Tuesdays with Morrie have taught me, "love wins. Love always wins."

The person who named me Dorkosaurus Rox taught me that love wins. August, for me, is for sitting at the table, over and over again, patiently and kindly. For knowing when to step away from the table, and return to it with the patience and kindness replenished. August is for learning to love the questions themselves, for embracing the uncertainty, for leading - through conflict - with love.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Telling stories about storytelling

The lovely Beth Nicholls of Do What You Love interviewed me as part of Photography Fortnight. A glimpse into the interview:

Beth Nicholls: How differently do you see the world through the lens of a camera?
Roxanne: In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton discusses the process of drawing while traveling. He remarks that drawing enables the traveler to see: to squint, to scrutinize, to look in a way that transcends the fleeting glimpse. Photography plays a similarly enabling role in my own life, even though it is more instantaneous than the process of drawing. I look through the viewfinder searching for beauty… or for surprise, incongruence, contradiction, conflict. The camera reminds me to look — to really look.
You can read the rest of the interview here.
Until the hyperlinks appear properly in the interview text, here are some of the sources of inspiration I reference:
What are some of your favorite resources -- books, blogs, articles, etc. -- on storytelling, photography and the creative life? 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Re-learning fractions

I am participating in August Break, a month-long break from words and experiment in expressing life through photography. Join in.

There was a time when I owned flashcards that read "A calf is a baby cow." You see, for a Greek, 'anthropomorphism' was not a hard word on the SAT. But ask that same little Greek what you call an animal's young or a group of doves or a female horse or the name of a tool that we use for a particular action and she'll draw a blank. 

The flashcards are back, this time for the GRE standardized test and in light of a hopeful return to the academic community in a new capacity. Alacrity, perfidy, prattle, fulminate. Rules of exponents. Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally and the order of mathematical operations. Bear with me as I re-learn how to count.

Flash cards
by Rita Dove

In math I was the whiz kid, keeper

of oranges and apples. What you don’t understand,
master, my father said; the faster
I answered, the faster they came.
I could see one bud on the teacher’s geranium,
one clear bee sputtering at the wet pane.
The tulip tree always dragged after heavy rain
so I tucked my head as my boots slapped home.
My father put up his feet after work
and relaxed with a highball and The Life of Lincoln.
After supper we drilled and I climbed the dark
before sleep, before a thin voice hissed
numbers as I spun on a wheel. I had to guess.
Ten, I kept saying, I’m only ten.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

When stories cross paths

Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland went to Haiti on assignment and wrote an article called "Aftershocks: Welcome to Haiti's Reconstruction Hell." A few months later, for GOOD Magazine, McClelland recounted her experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in an article titled "How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD." I balked when I first read the title, but I became even more uncomfortable with some of the comments following the publication of the piece.

Critical Peace kindly hosted me this week to talk about storytelling in conflict zones. Springing from the controversy surrounding Mac McClelland's GOOD article, I ask what happens when stories cross paths: when the stories McClelland witnessed during that first trip in Haiti affect her own life story. Click here to read the full piece.