(get over the) hump day inspiration: Desmond Tutu edition


Trying times. So many hate-filled people causing so much needless pain. I wish I could go hang out on Desmond Tutu’s couch and listen to him make me feel better about the universe. Last week I said I would pay to be David Sedaris’ friend. Today, I think I would turn over my life’s savings just to sit at a kitchen table with Desmond Tutu and David Sedaris and feel that all is right with the world.

Perhaps I should give up on language learning and join an ashram instead…

hate to break it to you…

african art deco.JPG

Every single time I talk to my family they ask me the same question: When are you coming home?

Every single time, I give them the same answer: I don’t know.

Meanwhile, this song runs through my head:

I left so many people I love behind in New York, but apart from those people, I don’t miss a thing. Not because there’s nothing in New York worth missing, but because it’s all old news to me, and none of it has proven irreplaceable with something equally interesting but novel.

A recent article in The New York Times, “Think Less, Think Better,” inadvertently spelled it out for me. The author, a neuroscientist, differentiates between exploitative thinking –  “leaning on our expectations, trusting the comfort of a predictable environment,” and exploratory thinking – when “we attend to things with a wide scope, curious and desiring to learn.” Driving your commute on auto-pilot is exploitative, for example, while wandering down a hidden alley in Greece is exploratory. He posits that we need a healthy balance between the two, but I guess I’m just in a mid-life crisis exploratory phase right now, because I see absolutely no need for the tried and true and no-longer-stimulating.

Maybe one day I’ll be ready to return to familiar pleasantries. But considering that in my adult life, I have never lived in a place longer than three years before asking myself, “Where to next?”, it’s doubtful.

There are certain things I appreciate about the United States now more than ever: democratic ideals, diversity, tolerance, coffee. I’ve become way more of an American exceptionalist than I ever was at home during my time abroad. But so far that has not translated in any way into a desire to be back.

(Note to family: Don’t worry. That does not mean I am not coming back. It just means I will not be particularly enthused about it.)


please let us wake up on Monday to find it is still Thursday


I would have posted some weekend links on Friday, but I was too despondent to do a thing apart from be despondent.

Brexit. Heartbreaking Brexit. Tragic to me for selfish reasons – I have much skin in the EU game; and for humanitarian reasons – it seems to me that a huge dam has broken in these ever-rising floodwaters of western xenophobic fear-mongering. I’m disgusted that this is becoming our zeitgeist, and I’m terrified at the damage it will do and has already done. And I should leave it at that, because I’m not comfortable spewing forth my sadness and rage in such a public forum.

I will say this: the Scots have a sublime way with the English language. “Mangled apricot hellbeast” is so superhumanly charming and whimsical and imaginative — while simultaneously spot-on – that if I worked in publishing I would give the slinger of that inspired insult a huge advance to write whatever else her little heart desired. 

On that note, here are a few things I read over the past couple of weeks that didn’t leave me wanting to crawl into a hole and skip the next five to ten years:

This man. I love this man. I would PAY to be friends with this man. And here’s what he takes with him when he travels.

I share this article nominally because Leah Dieterich’s considerations of language and semantics are interesting but really because I love everything she does. (See here.)

Talk the-most-foreign-of-all to me: aliens.

10 must-watch TED talks for language learners

You will not catch me talking about squad goals, but this woman wishes she were allowed to use her kids’ new slang.

Ok, scratch that, I will use new slang just once and then never again.

Brexit: so not on fleek

monumentally awkward


I was browsing Instagram one night a couple of weeks ago and saw that The New York Times Travel section had asked people to post their #awkwardfamilytravels photos. The mother of all awkward family travel photos was sitting not two feet away from me on my laptop, so I couldn’t not post it. I was proud to post it.* Because while my family will never be the most beautiful, cultured, gracious, or fun, we hands down are among the most awkward people on the planet. Especially when we’re together: our awkwardness’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s nice to accept yourself and your family as is, and to embrace the thing that used to horrify you. (The thing I am talking about is our family’s awkwardness in general, but I could also be talking about my haircut here, which is the one that mortified me as a child, but which I now find rather elfin and cute.)

It didn’t surprise me one bit when @nytimestravel reposted my photo as their favorite. Of course it was their favorite. Why wouldn’t some of the most awkward people on the planet take one of the most awkward photos on the planet? If I had access to my parents’ photo albums right now, there are at least fifteen more where that came from. We could lap and double lap and triple lap other people’s #awkwardfamilytravels.

What I didn’t expect was for The Times to print the photo in the actual paper this past Sunday. I love love love this most dubious of honors and am overjoyed to have gotten such a low-brow photo into such a high-brow publication. (My parents bought a copy of the paper for me but I haven’t seen it yet. I really hope our pic is on the same page as some article about luxury ecotourism.)

*The reason I had it on my computer in the first place is because I had made it my Facebook picture after rediscovering it at my parents’ house a few years ago.

Portugal eu te amo


Hard to believe it’s been almost two months since I left Dakar for a vacation starting in Lisbon. Life has been moving along from one thing to the next pretty quickly, and I am only now coming up for air after a whirlwind tour of Portugal, Morocco, Liberia… and Adobe Premiere, whose depths I plumbed day in and day out for the past three weeks while working on various video deadlines.

Since those deadlines are not yet completely behind me, I’m still liable to go MIA for days at a time, but I now have a ton of stuff to post here, so I’ll try to keep up with it.

On that note, here are some many photos from Portugal. Continue reading

(get over the) hump-day inspiration: Paperwhite edition

I am actually over the hump already, since it’s 1:30 on Thursday morning here, but I never changed from EST to Dakar time on my computer so I’m just going to pretend it’s still Wednesday at 9:30. When it was actually Wednesday at 9:30, I was in a great mood despite this looming deadline, but since then a very industrious and vengeful mosquito has picked up tormenting me where it left off last night. This same mosquito bit me repeatedly on four of my toes yesterday, and today it has tattooed that ankle and also gotten both arms so many times that the hydrocortisone cream that usually kills the itch immediately has given up the fight and left me wanting to peel my skin off. I don’t even understand how one mosquito needs that much blood. How has it not exploded by now?

This is all entirely tangential. I had meant to post a song that, while not filled with the most inspirational words, is filled with an inspirational feeling that had described my current mood, until my current mood shifted from a world-is-my-oyster-happiness to a world-is-nothing-but-discomfort-itchiness. Is itchiness a mood? Because it is literally overwhelming all my senses right now.

In the battle of mosquito bloodlust vs. Ruth wanderlust, the mosquito has won out tonight. But there’s always tomorrow, and with that I am off to bed.



taking the bad with the very, very good


I have loved every second of being back in Dakar… excepts for the seconds minutes hours days I’ve spent uploading videos to send out for review. I wish I could say the photo above was stolen from the Internet ether, but it is actually the current sad state of affairs chez Ruth.When all is said and done, it will have taken five hours (if I’m lucky) for a file that is less than 1GB to upload.

But tragic network speeds and all the other things that had at one time or another annoyed me about Dakar are rolling right off me now that I’m back from my trip. Being here feels positively glorious, and such a privilege. The sun is out, rainy season has not yet begun, I have spent no more than three hours in an office in 2016, and my French has miraculously improved rather than suffered in the absence of speaking it for a month. (More evidence for my “marination theory” of language, which posits that time away allows everything to seep into the long-term, intuitive part of the brain, even while it abandons the short-term, readily accessible part.)

As Lloyd Dobler put it, I’ve been “walking around feeling satisfied. Can you imagine that?” I keep having these manic bursts of happiness while on the street or reading a book or listening to music. Even in the middle of twelve-hour edit sessions I have found myself overcome with the shock of contentment.

While I was away on my shoot and missing Dakar much more terribly than I would have thought possible after only three months living here, a similarly “homesick” study abroad student at the language center, who had just gotten back to the States, posted this video to Facebook. It’s been stuck in my head since, and it’s now one of my go-to happy songs. I think it very nicely captures how I am feeling at the moment.


happy weekending


After ten days straight of nothing but eat-sleep-edit, by this past Thursday I was feeling out of the woods enough on my video deadline to take a little break. During this little break, which has inadvertently extended to today, I have inexplicably decided to continue staring at my computer screen, to set down a few links that will go completely stale if I don’t share them soon. Also to post some pictures from the Dak’art Biennale, which I managed to get to just under the wire, on its last day this week.

First, the links:

Pick a country, pick a decade, and listen to the popular music of the era. My friend Jennie posted this link to Facebook a few weeks ago and I have been meaning to tell her since then that it has made me so so so so so so happy. Right now I’m listening to music from 1960’s Congo and it is amazing. I could spend the rest of my life blissfully down this rabbit hole…

Anthony Bourdain has lovely things to say about Senegal, and I agree with all of them.

There will be a refugee team at the Olympics. This is amazing, and there needs to be a documentary about it (and I need to work on it).

In Morocco I kept telling shop owners I was just looking but might come back to buy later, and without fail they would respond, “Inshallah,” which I found hilarious because I had just finished reading this article.

Hyperintelligent commentary on the usage and interpretation of “woke.”

The ostensible reason I am posting this article about getting chills while listening to music is because I like that the word for that sensation is French, but the real reason is that I love beyond measure that Air Supply was part of the study.

A reminder to stay positive while learning another language.

The end of sleeper train service in France. 😦

When West Africans dress, the fabric is the message.

Instead of renting one apartment, sign a (pretty expensive) lease that lets you live around the world.

On the pleasures of traveling alone.

The seven joys of traveling, from a joyful traveler. 

In English, double negatives make a positive, but that’s not true for all languages.

15 slang French words every French learner should know.

Along the same lines, 20 funny French expressions. (Can someone French please confirm that number 19 is still in common usage? Because I would like this phrase to come out of my mouth as often as possible.)

Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants? I refer to a foreigner intending to stay someplace temporarily as an expat and one hoping to stay permanently as an immigrant but I guess that is also fraught.

And now, some Dak’Art favorites:


The piece above, which at first glance appeared to be a sculpture wrapping around the gallery wall, turned out to be a photo-mural featuring real people. I loved it. The artist explains. dakart_africa


The above were all at the IFAN Museum of African Arts, which I intend to revisit soon to check out the permanent collection. I mistakenly thought that one of the other Dak’Art exhibition sites was at the old railway station that I passed by and went gaga over on one of my first walks in Dakar. It was actually only for performances, and there were none the afternoon I visited. But what there was… was the most spectacular train station in disrepair I’ve ever seen. This may be my favorite place in the city. Also, I am in love with the French phrase for railroad: chemins de fer, literally “routes of iron.”


And now I’m off to grab something to eat before getting back to editing. Enjoy the rest of your weekends!