Travel

Illuminated Montréal

I love Montréal. Politics times south of the border in the U.S. does help make this French-Canadian city all the more lovable, but even on its own it’s hard to not adore.

June, I’m told, is one of the few months it’s nice to be here. The sun is out and festival season is in full swing. I came here on a little jaunt with my aunt to get lost on the city streets. Review the festival guides before picking your dates, we landed here on the one quiet week/end of the summer, and there really is something for everyone.

While you’re there, take special note of the light fixtures: in restaurants, bathrooms, hallways, museums, and nightclubs. I wonder if cities with long dark winters take more care on light design. Montreal certainly does and artfully so.

Hotel / Neighborhoods

I recommend staying in Le Plateau near the Mont Royal station or in the Mile End district for friends and peers in my demographic. However, if you prefer a hotel, I had a wonderful stay at Hotel Monville (and got a great deal on Hotels.com). This newly opened spot downtown near Old Montreal is in a touristy district but is close to a few primo museums and the Place d’Arms station which is on the Orange line (fun stuff goes on here). Monville recently opened and has a modern interiors true to their press photos, friendly service, reliable wifi, and a rain shower. Below I’ll link to a few fantastic restaurants in the ‘hood.

Dining

Food in Montreal is well priced and very delicious. I’m sure many people will give you recommendations but you can always rely on Eater Montreal in a pinch. We got gourmet poutine at hipster, open-air, slightly chic-punk spot Suwu. Have it somewhere! For a great view, book a table at Les Enfants Terribles at Sommet Place Ville Marie. A local friend took us there and several others recommended it. It’s a great way to start or end a visit to Montreal.

In old Montreal there are three yummy fresh, healthy vegetarian spots: Lov, La Mediterenee, and La Finca (a nice quick spot next to Hotel Monville)

Lov

Lov is a mid-range boutique vegan spot is full of plants, wicker, and botanical cocktails. An expert in millenial pink and mint must have done the interiors. While the color and styles are trendy, I have no problem with plants being a trend. And anyway, it’s done well here and the food was excellent–even for a carnivorous enthusiast like me. A few locals and blog posts pointed us here.

Botanical pleasures

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La Mediterenee

We stumbled upon this understated middle-eastern spot when we first arrived and may have been our favorite meal of the trip. Fresh, light, herbacious, quick, and probably the best service of the whole week. Lucky for us it was closed on weekends or we may have gone three times!

Fresh, light, friendly welcome to Montréal.

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Bagels

Bagels in Montreal are a thing. If deciding between the Fairmount and St. Viateur’s, go for Fairmount (full review in my IG post). Although a friend of a friend recommended Real Bagel. I can’t say for myself, but it seems like there is no wrong path here.

Ssense

The cafe on the top floor of Ssense in Old Montreal is slick. But to get there you have to hustle through the rag-tag Gucci adorned hipsters on the ground floor and ride the elevator all the way up. You’ll either find yourself rolling your eyes, feeling unnecessarily uncool, or if you’re anything like my aunt, wonder why these young kids in expensive clothes have holes in their shirts and unkept haircuts. Don’t take it too seriously and enjoy the bookstore and concrete on the top floor. Adore the beautifully designed stairwells on the way down.

I love me some good concrete

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Art

Biospehere

Architect futurist Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller designed the biosphere (not the biodome) on the island built alongside Montreal’s Old Port. I recommend reading the wikipedia page on the biosphere and Buckminster Fuller as a minimum. Save this activity for a sunny day, and if you can, plan to ride bikes around the island, I wish we did!

If you have some experience with light and music acts you can skip the immersive show. But it’s cute if you want to hang around. The coolest part is certainly the actual dome itself, and is indeed worth going. In fact, we went twice! Ok confession, we went twice because we needed to pickup something in the lost and found, but coming back a few days later, in different weather circumstances, did have a completely different feeling.


Société des Arts Technologiques

Check out whats happening at the Société des Arts Technologiques. We saw a lovely 45-minute immersive piano concert in their dome. There’s a proper bar and restaurant on the same floor if you want to bring a drink in with you or get a few recommendations for your next destination.

Debussy in space

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Murals

The painted walls were vibrant and and rich during our stay since we came just after the Mural Festival. Follow the links on the festival’s guide or stroll around the Plateau area off the Mont Royal Metro station.

Blanc in the Gay Village

The city is working on bringing in more public art, including this fantastic illuminated free open-air exhibit blanc. One of the exhibits (not pictured) had an Augmented Reality component. It was surprisingly not gimmicky, quite funny, and worth downloading an app for a one-time use.

Out in the wide open

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Music

Stereo

What a wonderful nightclub. This after-hours spot has great sound and a clean and positive vibe. They don’t serve alcohol but you can get a Redbull at the bar or a vitamin water from the vending machines downstairs. Full review in my IG post.

Very nice fitness centre! Stereo felt like a younger sister to Berlin’s Big Club (🏢). You can’t deny the reveal up the staircase. The crowd last night was diverse by style (athletic, nerdy, technosexual, clubby, street), age (college kids to senior citizens), and ethnicity. The absence of alcohol made this night with @djjohndigweed an intense but unaggressive and friendly dance zone. I liked that. Throughout the night I spotted people in corners doing runners stretches and wiping their brows with sweatbands. People come here to werk out and I would like to do so again!

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Picnic Electronik

It rained on Sunday during my visit so I missed Picnic Electronik but I’m told it’s a wonderful, sunny, day party with great bookings. Have a look.

Mightykat

Lovely lady and talented DJ, Dominique Thibault (Mightykat), is based in MTL. During my visit she was co-hosting a few all-female dj lineup parties. I remember her sound as bright and housey. See if she’s playing anything in the ‘hood on Resident Advisor or her Facebook page.

Things to skip

MTL blogs insist on going to the Jean-Talon market. It was yummy and cute. But if you’ve been to a half farmer’s market/produce market elsewhere in the world, you have been here too. I’m told the Botanical Garden is missable. We didn’t go, but a friend told us if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I like flowers so I think I’d still like to have gone. And finally, the famous underground city talked about in blogs seemed to be mostly chain stores. Don’t sweat it if you don’t find yourself accidentally wandering around down there.

 

 

Design

A course on intuition (and laundry) for Silicon Valley

My family used to joke about making a course for Silicon Valley kids to practice doing laundry and interacting with babies. I live in a strange bubble that designs infrastructure for much of our modern world. It can be a powerful magnifying glass on global issues.

People today are sad. I see it around me and we know it to be statistically and clinically true. Ads, Likes, and Facebook posts like this one, drain our serotonin (the chemical in our brain that makes us happy). I believe Marie Kondo sold over 8 million books because she is an astute business person and has great timing. She offers some relief to a world becoming disconnected and depressed.

At first her method might sound preposterous. Go through your home, category-by-category, holding each item in your hand asking if it sparks joy. Really? I rolled my eyes a bit at first. Anyone who has completed each step knows it is physically and emotionally challenging. But, she says if follow her process just once, you’ll never rebound again. Her book teaches you how to develop intuition-based decision making, a dying art in our robotic world.

I went to a Konmari Consultant training last weekend. Kazuma Yamauchi, Cofounder of Konmari Media, Inc. reminded us how structured and systematic our world has become. The more technology we use, the more we develop or logical and rational minds. Unless we practice our sensitivity skills, we risk losing the intimate relationship with ourselves. As a person who spends most of their day in an office behind a machine, powering more machines, I could relate.

He said that’s why Konmari starts somewhere as personal as our bedroom, instead of the garage or basement. When else do we get to fully dedicate decision making based purely on our own happiness? Not that often really. Among all the new noise pollution out there, some of us need a little practice having quiet conversations with ourselves. One fold at a time.

Because if you can’t enjoy yourself, how can you enjoy anything else?

Design

Track your Konmari™ Profits and Losses [Spreadsheet Template]

 

Between the mountains of clothing and boxes of old photos are hours focused of sweat, tears, and sparks of joy. Don’t lose sight of how much you’re spending to run your business.

[ Download Spreadsheet Template ]

Spreadsheets are lightweight ways to help me track track my profits, losses, and miscellaneous expenses as I go. I plan to start slow, so a lightweight option like this works for me.

How to use this template

  1. Open the Template.
  2. Make a copy of the document. (File, Make a copy)
  3. Input any clients you have worked with, including those you did not charge. It helps to have a full tracking of how many hours you have worked.
  4. Track your expenses thoroughly and accurately. Record any expenses made for your clients, marketing, and self care. Use minus sign for expenses, leave it neutral for profits. Your total earnings, hours spent, and average rate will total in the last row.

If you are pursuing your Konmari™ Consulting journey as a serious part or full time business, consider creating an LLC (for those in the U.S.), separate bank account, and more formal bookkeeping strategy using Quickbooks or ANDCO. By the way, ANDCO handle contracts, invoicing, and payments beautifully. I like this nice guide on how ANDCO works. I hope this sparks joy for you!

If you enjoyed this, you might also like: 

Design

Inspiring Designers [spreadsheet template]

What do you want to do in 5 years? What about 15 years? This question is hard because technology, industries, and what’s possible changes so fast. As a thought exercise, I tracked the career history of ten designers who inspire me in 2015 to help me make my own plan. I figured out it was time to rejoin a product company, continue writing, and most importantly not to worry. Because this activity was so valuable for me, I made a spreadsheet template for you!

Your Inspiring Designers [Template]

Map Your Inspiring Designers

  1. On a sheet of paper, make a list of 10 designers you look up to. See how far you can get without doing deep internet research. Who comes to the top of mind?
  2. Make a copy of the Inspiring Designers spreadsheet template.
  3. Replace the “Your Name” placeholder in the document title (at the top) and spreadsheet tab (at the bottom) with your name.
  4. Track your personal career history. (Row 2)
  5. List the ten designers who inspire you. (Column A)
  6. Focus on Inspiring Designer #1. How are you connected to this designer? Is mentorship in the realm of possibility? (Row 3, column B)
  7. Why is Inspiring Designer #1 interesting to you? Not to twitter. Not to bloggers. Not to investors. To you! (Row 3, column C)
  8. Look up Inspiring Designer #1 on Linkedin. Track their career history in 5 year blocks. If they’re not on Linkedin, do some googling to find a resume, bio, or something close enough. The further back in history you go, the fuzzier the records will get. (Row 3, Columns D-H)
  9. Highlight the jobs Inspiring Designer #1 held that are interesting to you in bold.
  10. Repeat. (Row 3 – 12)
  11. What do all the designers you look up to have in common? Did they take any common themes or career paths? Are they on a similar or wildly different trajectory than you? (Row 16, column B)
  12. What insights can you make from these themes? Do their career paths interest you? Do you want to do something similar? What were these designers doing when you were in high school? Are you on track, behind, ahead, doing something totally different? Do you need to change direction? (Row 17, column B)

That’s it! I hope this helps you look at your own career from a new light. And a big thanks to Ofri Afek, my design manager in 2015 at Pivotal Labs. She initially suggested I make a list of ten designers I look up to. During this activity, we often talked about how careers are so much more than status updates on Linkedin.  But having a view of the past can be meaningful for insights about the future. If you want to learn more about other designers and their backgrounds, check out How They Got There by Khoi Vinh.

In 2015, I learned:

I look up to designers who

  • identify as writers or are connected to journalism
  • were head of a design or product team
  • spent at least 4-years at a single product company growing their career
  • were working as professional designers when I was in high school

If I want to be like these leaders I

  • am on track and possibly ahead of the curve
  • should continue writing for fun
  • should consider joining a product company
  • meet more female design leaders
  • need  mentor!
How we live

I Will Teach You to Be Rich [Spreadsheet Template]

Personal finance is intimidating, especially since many Millennials graduated when the economy crashed and started off their adult lives in debt. Ramit Sethi will teach you to be rich. His book I Will Teach You To Be Rich is a step-by-step plan for setting and forgetting your finances. I got really into it with my brother and geeked out making a spreadsheet based on Ramit’s Framework.

Please keep in mind our spreadsheet is a compliment, not replacement, for Ramit’s book. The percentages and dates are samples and are different for my personal budget.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich [Spreadsheet Template]

  1. Read Chapters 1-4 of I Will Teach You To Be Rich
    This spreadsheet specifically refers to Chapter 4 (39% way into the book) but the first three chapters are important setup. This book is especially great on Kindle. Even if you’re usually a paperback person, having it on the computer like a reference document, using the Kindle Desktop App, was helpful.
  2. Make a copy of the spreadsheet
    File> Make a copy
  3. Only edit the cells in highlighted in blue 
  4. Input numbers from your paycheck (Cells B13-B17)
    The numbers on your payslip tell you how much money you earn, and thus how much money you can spend and save.
  5. Adjust your savings percentages (Cells C2-C9)
    These percentages help you decide how much money you can allocate to different categories of spending. In my spreadsheet I made a new row for each of my savings goals. This will then calculate how much to auto-transfer to a high yield savings account every month. Add or remove as many rows as you like as long as the percentage equals 100.
  6. List your fixed expenses (Cells B23-B27)
    Enumerate each expense you have every month. Now compare the Monthly calculated total (B23) with D2 (Monthly fixed cost). Adjust the numbers so they come close to matching. Ramit offers many specific tips to lower your monthly expense (and how to get a raise).

    Ramit recommends

    • 50-60% Fixed Costs (rent, utilities, loans, etc)
    • 10% Investments (401k, Roth IRA, other investment funds)
    • 5-10% Savings (gifts, house, down payment, unexpected expenses)
    • 20-35% Guilt Free Spending (dining out, music, burning man, etc)
  7. Bonus activity
    1. Money in savings (B23)
      If you want help re-allocating your existing money into higher yield accounts, list the amount of cash you currently have here.
    2. Target date (G4-G9)
      What is all this saving for? You may not know if you want to get married, have children or buy a house. However, if it’s something you’re considering, this can help you estimate how much saving you need to do now for possible big expenses in the future.
    3. % from savings (I2-I10)
      Looking at raw numbers can be overwhelming. Allocating savings by percentage makes it easier to parse and prioritize numbers. This column can help you re-allocate any cash you have that you want to redistribute into high-yield savings or investment accounts.
    4. Total (K2-12)
      This column shows you how much you will have saved by your target date (existing savings + future contributions). It does not account for interest.

Good luck, have fun, and stay positive. You may be pleased with how much money you have or disappointed by how expensive it is to live in today’s world. But rest tonight knowing you are ahead of the curve by having awareness and approach for your finances.

How we live

Frameworks for life

I love organized patterns, structures, and frameworks. They reduce stress, cognitive load, and decision making on topics where I lack expertise. That means I spend more time focusing on the parts of life I care about. Here are my favorites:

Finances

Ramit Sethi teaches you how to set your finances on auto-pilot. Make money when you’re sleeping and enjoy a nice pool of money called Guilt Free Spending. It took me about six months to get finances buttoned up but it was pretty painless, and to be honest, quite fun. He writes a language easy to understand with anecdotes that make a scary topic accessible.

Home

Marie Kondo believes when our home is a happy place, we can bring our lives into a happy place. Her framework is famous for finding items that spark joy, but her system protects from rebounds or doing a little cleaning every day. Patterns like similar items together and make sure all items are visible in a drawer are small changes that have huge impact.

Art

Julia Cameron’s self-directed 8-week course of writing every morning and taking yourself on artist dates is blissful, inspiring, and challenging. She helps you unblock creative insecurities, experiment with art, and do daily self-reflections. She and I both believe, everyone is creative and can be an artist.

Health

The Whole 30 diet is a true challenge. It’s an elimination diet that only allows for fruit, vegetables, and meat. No sugar, dairy, grains, beans, booze, honey, soy, etc. The authors say

This is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth—the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime.

That’s some tough love. I am still working on finding a way to integrate my Whole 30 insights into a daily lifestyle. Stay tuned on that.

Design

How we live is how we make

This was originally posted on superyesmore.

Our world today is designed to be instant, connected, and fast.

Us software people say the apps we make help people do more, in less time. We are more productive than ever. We live, make, and work in a world where more is supposed to be better — but at a cost.

Some of the original makers at Facebook and Google now say “our minds are being hijacked.” The price to live in a beautifully connected world is putting up with the frenetic 24-hour news cycle, empty swipes for dates, and endless little red badges on our phones like stubborn pimples that won’t pop.

Our state of mind is visualized in the products we create. How can a designer in a mental state of chaos create something calming and joyful to use? It’s hard to conceive. Even worse, that chaotic software then goes out into the world perpetuating an already distracted society.

Less but better

I believe technology can be calming and joyful to use. It should improve the quality of our lives, including our mental state. But that must start from us, the makers of technology ourselves.

The faster my life moves, the less I get done. I make mistakes, forget important details, and take longer to generate good ideas. It is our responsibility as makers of tools and services to take care of our own minds and bodies to make thoughtful decisions about our products for our users.

Even in the Bauhaus School, Professor Johannes Itten dedicated the entire first year to teaching students to build an intimate familiarity with their own body, mind, and materials. He believed it was required for creative success. The Bauhaus movement went on to directly influence designers like Steve Jobs and Dieter Rams

“My first morning periods in class began with relaxation, breathing, and concentration exercises to establish the intellectual and physical readiness which make intensive work possible. The training of the body as an instrument of the mind is of great importance to a creative person.

How can a hand express a characteristic feeling in a line when the hand and arm are cramped? As we breathe, so we think and conduct the rhythm of our daily routine. People who have achieved great success in their lives always breathe quietly, slowly, and deeply. Those who are short of breath are hasty and greedy in their thoughts and actions.” —Design & Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus by Johannes Itten

Every weekend, I do a hard reset. I take my mind and turn it off, then turn it on again. It files away the week behind and prepares me for the week ahead. It’s my happy hour.

Nina’s Happy Hour

Saturday mornings are a special time in San Francisco. The city rests under a quiet blanket of fog for a short relief from calendar invites, side projects, and last minute bookings to wherever.

All I see from bed is a soft infinite white sky thinly veiled behind my grey linen curtains. The cool wet air diffuses the colors in the what-would-be-sunrise. It mutes the morning tweets and jangling dog collars that are out walking my neighbors.

I look at my phone when I wake up. I would love to be someone who doesn’t.

Usually I have about an hour in bed to slowly read nice emails I snoozed until Saturday at 8:00 am. These are wandering reads without any focus on replying or achieving inbox zero. It is a distinctly different read than on a given Tuesday.

My Saturday mornings hinge around a 9am yoga class in the Castro with someone who started teaching before most startup founders were born. She knows me there. They know me there. We see each other and smile and never have to talk.

I roll out my matt on the hardwood floor. Everyone is on airplane mode.

Sometimes in downward dog, I wonder if this is why people go to church on Sundays. Not so much for actual scriptures or path to god. But for a reliable and predictable time to do not much more than doing nothing at all.

Sometimes while laying in corpse pose at the end of class, I fall asleep for what feels like an hour. I roll up my mat and sling it over my shoulder and bet myself how long I can go without checking my phone.

When I re-emerge on Castro street, the Muni bus screeches by and the sun has burned through the fog. I see waiters pouring boozy mimosas at Harvey Milk’s diner around the corner from the row of kinky sex shops.

But I never miss the stroll across the rainbow sidewalk to see my guys at the florist. At this point they know me too and know my routine. The air is cool and sweet in their small rainforest of fresh cut flowers.

I pick a $5 bouquet from the black painters bucket on the floor in the back corner. I buy one every Saturday. Sometimes tulips, sometimes lilies, and sometimes lavender spiky stems I’ve never seen before. They wilt away with the week because, hey, they’re from the $5 bin.

Nina’s Happy Hour goes all morning. After a shower, I give my space a quick tidy. I toss away last weeks flowers, clean the vase, refill the water, and start again fresh. Marie Kondo says a cluttered home is cluttered mind. I feel relief when my laundry is neatly put away.

It’s barely noon and I can still make it for brunch. I could have slept in. It’s easier to sleep in. But I get more out of my week by doing less on the weekend. Rhythm is essential for a city without seasons.

The weekend is my time to daydream, take care of my home, and check in with my neighborhood. It’s a time to strengthen my body and soften my mind so I can bring intellectual and physical readiness to intense and productive work. After all, how we live is how we make.

Design

Konmari™ UX: how to tidy up your product design

The Konmari Method™ is a framework to help individuals tidy their home.

Most people know the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by New York Times Best Seller Marie Kondo. But many of her philosophies from apply for product and ux designers.

Visualize your destination

Konmari™ believes her method helps people create the they want instead of the lives they happen to have. She says to visualize their life and design their home to fit that future.

Designer and teams who start with a clear vision of what they value and where they want to take the product move happier and faster. Design and prioritization decisions are much easier because everyone is working towards the same goal.

Keep only what matters

Nostalgia in business is not your friend. We are tempted by our emotions to keep clothes and things that once, but no longer, had deep value or purpose in our lives. We are tempted to keep items that were gifts and pants from decades ago that might fit again someday. Holding onto these things weigh us down at home and at work.

Old code and ux patterns often live on longer than should. It’s natural for us to get attached to features that cost a lot of money to develop or that took great efforts to ship, even if they no longer serve the business or users.

Sometimes we keep old features around because we are afraid to let them go. They are familiar, predictable, and help us feel safe. Holding onto software for nostalgia alone slows down teams and costs money and cognitive load to maintain. It also weighs us down.

Make content accessible

Konmari™ recommends folding all items in drawers so they can be laid out side-by-side like a filing cabinet, rather than stacked like pancakes. This lets you see every item in your drawer at once and helps you pick out the item you want rather than whatever is on top.

Product designers should do everything they can to avoid hiding important content and UI from users, even when it’s easy. Instead of hiding choices behind dropdowns, menus behind hamburgers, and content behind tabs, I look for ways to make my most content and UI elements in my visible without being overwhelming. When designing, I like to ask myself, “if I can hide this behind a click or hover, does it need to exist at all?”

Design by category, not location

Often in our homes and UI, items of similar categories are stored all over the home or product. I have seen many people store some jackets by the front door, some in the coat closet, and also in the bedroom closet. This means, when we are looking for our coat we have to think about three different locations each time.

You can think of your like a house and each section (tab, menu item etc) is like a room in the house. It’s tempting to only work on one section at a time, but your home and product need to work as a wholistic system if you want to realize your goals.

If the part of the product you’re working on needs a new form field pattern, do a short inventory to see if this problem exists elsewhere in the product. Take the opportunity to propose a redesign of the component that improves the overall quality, flow, and system of the entire product.

Applying the Konmari™ method has helped me take a focused and thoughtful approach to the system and product design in my work.

If you enjoyed this post, check out Digital Konmari™: tidy up your computer.

Short stories

A shaadi is not a wedding

Little girls in America are taught to dream about their perfect wedding day. The big white dress celebrates purity. Their favorite girlfriends in perfectly matching dresses, with perfectly paired groomsmen, stand in a cul-de-sac around the couple, eerily patterning the false perfection of our suburban childhoods.

I never seriously thought to daydream about my own wedding. Mom and dad have a mental guest list of all the aunties and uncles who invited us to their kid’s weddings and I suppose are waiting for their invitation. A mountain of  paperwork is waiting for us at the consulate so family from India can finally visit Am-ree-kah.

With a tired voice I explained to my girlfriends, Indian brides wore red and weddings are more like the chaos of sound, color, and lights of Indian traffic and less like a cooling stroll through Taj Mahal.

If I do it right, my wedding would probably be hosted in a suburban hotel that has room for a white horse in a parking lot. We could host the dinner at India House, a once grocery store, now Indian ballroom, perfectly tucked in a strip mall with endless parking and curbside drop off for women in saris.

They have the lucrative monopoly on the Indian wedding parties in the Chicagoland Area. Who else can do pure veg samosas and a chocolate fountain on the same bill? All I can hope for is an open bar, so some Indian kids with uni-brows and hairy arms can have their first drink before college.

I started answering the wedding daydream question a little differently when I got to college. “I’m not really sure. It kind of depends on who I marry,” which seemed like a perfectly logical answer if a wedding was about partnership.

My girlfriend’s eyes light up. I can see the idea of bright gems and colorful patterns swirling in their head. “You have to get married so I can go to an Indian wedding!” This is their only chance to experience a real live Indian wedding that will be soooooooo fun. I have to get married.  I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaave to get married. I have to get married so they can come. Does Crate and Barrel’s wedding registry have a checkbox for down payment of a house?

“I hope it’s small. Or maybe I won’t have one.” which disappointed my friends. My ideal guest list got shorter and shorter as I got better at boundaries with my mom.

But I give her a lot of credit. As I got older, she realize my wedding might not happen in Chicago, where she lives. “We’ll have to get a tour bus so everyone can see San Francisco.”

My temperature shoots to 100 and I think steam must be blowing out of my ears like a Looney Toons character. What everyone? What wedding? What groom? What city? Who’s we? What if his family has their own wedding traditions? And a coach bus? The backpacker in me dies a little.  None of this is a factor.

“Sure,” I respond. It’s finally my mom’s chance to daydream about her daughter’s marriage. The idea of a virginal bride at an Indian wedding is kind of silly. What else would she be?

Short stories

In Capetown, I’m a white girl

I vividly remember the first black man I kissed. We met on a melting hot summer afternoon in Capetown just before New Years. He grew up in a white neighborhood in Botswana and went by the name Sydney. He had an African name but didn’t respond to that other than at somewhere like the DMV. Sydney had soft full pinkish brown lips. They were the same color as mine. I liked his booty and he liked my hips.

He tasted different than other men. Maybe it was just the lager beer. There was nothing else to drink there. Not on a graduate student budget at least. The kiss was short but intense. We were in a bar on the third floor that felt like a bungalow. Capetown was alive at night, the air was thick and hot. Our hands and arms stuck to the red plastic table cloth with floral tropical print. My friend and travel companion had gone to the bathroom so it seemed like there was only one other obvious thing for us to do while we waited.

He sat across from me with a charming and cheeky smile. We both got up and kissed from across from each other. I had to press myself up on the table to reach him. Our teeth met a little because we were smiling. His hand softly pet my kinkless hair.

Sydney and I didn’t kiss again. We never needed to. But the three of us hung out the next few weeks while in town. We talked a lot about skin color and race and hair. We talked the most about hair. The conversation was not overly academic or about politics, culture, or the Apartheid. We just talked about the way things were.

In Capetown, I’m a white girl.

“How can that be Sydney? My skin is exactly the same color as yours,” I said pressing my forearm against his. My skin got so dark after a few days in the sun.

“Darling, Nina. You have straight, shiny hair and oval eyes. Being white is not about the color of your skin.” And even more confusing and later enlightening is to learn in Botswana I was mixed race. Of course I explained time and time again my mom and dad were both born in India and all of our ancestors were from there too. My soft cafe face and lightened cheeks with a bit of pink meant, I looked more like Rhianna and less like Mary J. Blige. Rhianna was on every other Billboard in Bostwana. She was their Beyonce.

I felt like a queen traveling in Africa. My curvy body, soft thighs, carmel skin, loving eyes, and naturally shiny black hair with soft waves was the ideal. I was always moved to the front of the queue, served drinks first, and treated with a little extra grace. It didn’t happen once or twice, it happened everywhere. I was labeled by my place in society, and the names were defined by color. I was white because I wasn’t black.

I was only seriously proposed to for marriage only once while traveling around Africa. I’m still connected to the guy. I met this suitor through Sydney’s childhood best friend who then lived in Jo’burg and now a DJ in Seattle and father of two.

The African admiration I felt wasn’t so much validating as dumbfounding. I had never walked into any bar, restaurant, club, airport, or travel agency, and got treated as a first class citizen other than fine establishments where it’s in the training manual. I wondered if this is what it was like to be skinny, white, and blonde somewhere like New York.