Orlando, a shattered complacency

I’m a proud gay man.

I came out of the closet publicly three months after my 15th birthday, as a freshman in high school, and was met with overwhelmingly positive support from my friends, family and total strangers. I’ve marched in half a dozen pride parades around the world, from New York to Chicago to Tel Aviv. I’ve been on the steps of the Supreme Court during the most consequential arguments and decisions on LGBT issues in our country’s history. I’ve been to gay bars and clubs hundreds of times, including Pulse. I’ve loved, and been loved.

Tonight was my first time out at a gay club since Orlando. Tonight was the first time I glanced at the emergency exit, just in case, and made note of places to hide in case I couldn’t escape in time. Tonight was the first time I was scared in a gay space. Tonight was the first time, as Carlos Mazza so painfully and eloquently wrote earlier this week, that I was afraid of dying.

Far From Buenos Aires’ Tourist Traps, Street Artists Are Giving a Voice to the Voiceless

The late-day sun illuminated the street around us as we stepped out of the car in Isla Maciel, a predominantly poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. As we ascended a nearby set of stairs leading to the entrance of an elementary school and made our way through the lobby, a mural in the corner jumped out at me.

It depicted a skeleton with spiked shoulder straps, his face pointed down toward a microphone. He was draped in a distressed American flag, his eyes projecting rage. With his sharp features accentuating his boxy figure, it was reminiscent of a documentary I’d once seen on Cold War propaganda.

Isla Maciel lies just a stone’s throw across the river from Caminito, a well-known tourist trap boasting $15 crepes, tango dancers that sensuously wrap their legs around you for tips, and local craft shops with a suspicious number of “Made In China” labels. For the past several years, a compelling story has been unfolding in Isla Maciel, home to nearly 5,000 residents boxed in by the river on one side and a bustling highway on the other.

A diverse group of young artists have been working to create better conditions for the people living here, and they’ve proposed an unusual solution: to cover every inch of this blighted neighborhood with street art and murals like the one in the school’s lobby, which was painted by a 13-year-old. Their hope is that the art will bring a source of pride to a community with no landmarks to speak of, and help give a voice to people living on the margins.

You can read the full piece at Mic here.

CreativeMornings Chapters Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Reposted with permission from CreativeMornings.

CreativeMornings/DC is a behemoth, with tickets selling out in minutes and venues holding hundreds of people, usually time to meet and talk with just a minuscule number of the interesting people assembled for any given event.

When I visited CreativeMornings/BUE, I found myself in a much more intimate setting, located in a government-funded industrial park that houses varying creative initiatives throughout the city. I arrived in the midst of a downpour, but the host of the chapter, Laura Marcello, was nonetheless beaming as I walked through the doors. “Thank you so much for coming,” she warmly welcomed, her six year old son in-tow. Pedro scurried around the two dozen assembled participants, acting as the unofficial CreativeMornings greeter and serving up a natural dose of caffeine as we waited for the coffee to arrive. It almost felt like CreativeMornings was being hosted in Laura’s living room, an intimateness that served as a nice shift from the hustle and bustle of previous cities.

Coming Up For Air

Where did the past three months go?

I’ve found myself uttering those words a lot to myself lately. It feels like just the other day that I’d taken my seat at an outdoor cafe in Montevideo and penned my characteristically optimistic post “looking over the horizon” of Remote Year. The glimmer in my eyes was a reflection of the monumental leap that I had just made. I knew my life was about to change in a dramatic fashion, but there was a perspective of romanticism I’d already taken for how the next year would pan out.

But amidst my glaring positivity, I penned a graf to my future self:

…There’s something inherently powerful about writing down your goals while on the cusp of a transformative new experience, full of optimism and possibility. Perhaps most importantly, it can serve as a place to continually return to, when that optimism gradually makes space for the adversity that inevitably evolves from taking risks.

Waking Up With CreativeMornings/Montevideo

Reposted with permission from CreativeMornings.

The purpose of embarking on my CreativeMornings World Tour was to explore one central question in-depth: what do creative communities look like around the world?

It seems fitting that the first stop of my CreativeMornings tour was Montevideo. In many ways, Montevideo sits at the opposite of what I’ve become accustomed to in Washington; it’s the sleepy coastal capital of Uruguay, a country whose entire population (3.4 million) barely composes one-third of the Washington metropolitan area. It’s laidback, insular culture serves in sharp contrast to the fast-paced and deeply internationally-minded nature of Washington.

Vale Pi, the bubbly CreativeMornings/Montevideo host, invited me out to meet her CreativeMornings “All-Star Team” the first night that I landed in Uruguay. I arrived to Futuro Refuerzos, a bustling sandwich shop and bar overlooking the coastline, right at the end of their monthly planning meeting, where they had been discussing ideas for the upcoming event. The intervening hours were spent with Vale drinking and learning about the local CreativeMornings chapter: how she’d first been exposed to CreativeMornings/Barcelona before returning home and pooling together volunteers for the application; that she’s already begun saving up money to attend the CreativeMornings Summit for volunteer organizers later this year; and the process of building up the local chapter to where it stands today.

“Say No”: My Digital Nomad Mantra

“Say Yes!”

It’s the “Eat Pray Love”-esque mantra sworn by among those setting off on grand, one-in-a-lifetime experiences as a way to move beyond comfort zones and establish a culture of risk-taking. It was a common theme among my Remote Year colleagues that I recently joined with on this yearlong trip around the world, and it might as well be the collective name for nearly every “digital nomad” blog that I’ve read across the internet in recent months.

“Say yes” to a night out with strangers you just met! They could become your new best friends.

“Say yes” to to that suspiciously colored meat at your breakfast buffet. It could become your new favorite food!

“Say yes” to going home with that boy you just drunkenly met at the club. He could be the Uruguayan husband you’ve always been looking for!

With all due respect to the stubbornly optimistic digital nomad brethren that have come before me, that’s not a particularly sustainable mantra when you throw on concrete commitments: a demanding job, bills to pay, contracts to fulfill.

That’s why I’m going to embrace the contrarian perspective and adopt my own mantra: “say no.”

Tapping Into a Global Community

Reposted with permission from CreativeMornings.

I’ve never been a morning person.

In fact, I’d go so far as to list sleep as a hobby, which makes the act of setting my alarm to wake up early no small deal.

But ever since I dragged myself out of bed for that first CreativeMornings/DC event in March 2013, I’ve found myself slowly inching towards embracing those early mornings.

I vividly remember my first event: dozens of people with beaming, caffeinated smiles buzzing about with name tags exclaiming “Warning: Morning Person!” The steam from the pour overs of local roastery Vigilante Coffee illuminated the room, and the sun poured in through the wide windows of the Gibson Guitar Showroom. Three years later, I’d successfully dragged myself out of bed early enough to check-off an additional 27 CreativeMornings/DC events.

Photo credits, from left to right: Pam Janzesian and Stellar; Kate Warren; Kate Warren; Kate Warren.

Every month, the scope and ambition of the DC chapter has grown. What started as a modest gathering quickly grew by word-of-mouth into one of the hottest tickets in town, with two hundred tickets regularly selling out in minutes. I soon became a regular volunteer to guarantee my spot, helping to greet participants at the check-in table and live-tweet the events.

Looking Over The Horizon

“Write a letter to your future self”

That was the task given to myself and more than five hundred classmates as we filed into high school orientation on a balmy late-August morning. “You’ll receive this letter back with your high school diploma when you leave Highland Park High School,” the instructions continued.

Like nearly everyone else, with the thought of graduation inconceivably far off and giddy to move onto the more exciting parts of the day, I hurriedly scribbled a few things out without more than moments thought. I quickly forgot about that slip of paper as I descended into the twists and turns of high school adolescence.

Nearly four years later, my eyes welled up with tears as I pulled the long-forgotten letter from my graduation packet. As I read on, my diploma in-hand, I was struck by the unexpected thoughtfulness of my goals, most of which had materialized.

The introverted and risk-averse kid who wrote that letter during high school orientation would be in awe of the adventure he would be embarking on a decade later to travel the world. That exercise taught me that there’s something inherently powerful about writing down your goals while on the cusp of a transformative new experience, full of optimism and possibility. Perhaps most importantly, it can serve as a place to continually return to, when that optimism gradually makes space for the adversity that inevitably evolves from taking risks. It’s in the spirit of that first orientation letter, hours before 75 strangers from around the world descend on Montevideo to officially kick off Remote Year Battuta, that I chart out my goals for this upcoming year.