Scenes from a Christmas in Manhattan

When we looked at the forecast we realized we needed to wear ALL of our clothes.  We had this fantasy that we were going to wander up 5th Avenue, looking at the holiday window displays, with a hot chocolate in our hands.  But the reality is that our hands were too cold to take out of our gloves and our snot froze inside our noses.  Glamorous, right? This was the second year that D and I spent Christmas day in Manhattan and the coldest by maybe 20 degrees.

We had 5pm dinner reservations at a Lebanese-Armenian restaurant called Almayass so we didn’t want to eat a big lunch.  After stopping by Rockefeller Center to admire the tree, Mom found a fab diner on 6th Avenue, just as we were turning into human popsicles, and so we stopped into the Astro Restaurant.

We planned our route south to Almayass over fries and hot beverages which is when we found the National Museum of Mathematics.  If you know me at all, you know I started frothing at the mouth as soon as this popped up on google maps.  And since I only seem to hang out with folks who get as excited as me about things like Math museums, it became our obvious next stop.  On the way down, we stopped to see the Macy’s windows which I have to say I like at least one order of magnitude more than the Saks windows.  I found the Saks Disney theme to be grossly white and just generally too homogenous, heteronormative, etc.  It’s 2017, not 1940. Step it up. Know what I mean?

And then the National Museum of Math! *swoon* It was like a giant adult (and kid) playground with math in motion. Getting the chance to ride a bike with square wheels was my high school dream come true! There were puzzles and games and interactive physical experiences that made abstract math concepts come to life.  We spent two hours in Utopia before heading to our Christmas feast.

Walking into Almayass was like walking into a giant hug.  The decor was classy, quirky, and oh so welcoming. It was busy enough to provide that exciting, bustling atmosphere but not too crowded as to compromise the experience.  Our menu strategy was to order all of our Armenian favorites, and by the time we did that we only needed to order one actual entree to make it a complete meal.  We ordered the classic hummus, tabouleh, dolmas, and lentil soup.  Y’all, the lentil soup was to die for.  And then we ordered the lamb.  I think it’s weird to walk you through exactly what we ordered and how long it took us to eat each course, so unless you comment and tell me that would make your day, I’m going to end this post by saying, WOOHOO CHRISTMAS IN MANHATTAN WOOHOO!


The Narcolepsy Princess

Cleaning Out My Office

This is something I posted on Instagram (@curioussparkledirt) one week ago and I want to share it here.

Today my amazing husband helped me clean out my grad school office. And then dealt with me afterwards. Nothing makes a person grumpy quite like returning to the shrine of their undiagnosed neurological disease.

You might be sick if…you sneak a rug, pillow, and blankets into your office on a weekend night under cover of darkness so you can sleep underneath your desk for 3-4 hours/day before going home to sleep more, all after sleeping 10+ hours/night. Oh the shame I’ve carried…

Will I go back to finish my dissertation? No idea. But I’m grateful to have the diagnosis and to have Xyrem, so that when I’m fully treated in a year I’ll have a choice. Because there was a time when I loved my field and loved my research. And I’m done letting narcolepsy make my decisions.

A blog post to come when I’m done stewing. A week? A month? A year? No one knows. But what I do know? It’s okay to not be okay. About this one thing. Because everything else right now is fuckin fantastic.

The #narcolepsyprincess

Math Wasn’t Always Black&White


This has been on my calendar for oh gosh…a year? And it’s finally here!!! I went during opening weekend and the showing was SOLD OUT. We laughed and cried and got so angry. And at the end EVERYONE CLAPPED because it’s about damn time we start honoring the folks who disappeared into the shadows of our history books.

This movie struck me when I saw the previews because I am a woman in math.  This is my world and these women were missing from it.  I hold tight to my identity as a feminist because it connects me to a string of women and men who fought for my rights over decades, centuries even.  It reminds me to be grateful but not complacent, and to work hard but not fruitlessly.  These women that we see in Hidden Figures paved the way for me to do the things I’ve done and I was eager to add them to my story.

Hidden Figures – based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly – depicts the lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson at NASA leading up to John Glenn’s orbital launch in 1962.  It’s worth noting that NASA was the MOST PROGRESSIVE environment for black, female mathematicians in the 1950s which is so, so, so sad because it was still a terrible environment.*  Basically, we have an army of primarily white men handing math computation worksheets to overqualified white women and eventually black women.  Hidden Figures is a story about…

  • …race&gender and an entire cross section of American citizens treated as less than.  (This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you because race relations in our country have been despicable since our founding fathers pulled their boats onshore North America.)
  • …3 brilliant, black, female, mathematicians who are trying to do their job.  These women have the brainpower of jet engines and are being asked to do the tasks of a paddleboat.
  • …a country – OUR COUNTRY – that is SQUANDERING its human capital.

Hidden Figures struck me differently than other movies I’ve seen about race, partly because STEM is a language I talk and a world that I live in and can relate to.  But also because it shows the discrimination that black women faced in their workplace and in other areas – and I’m sure continue to face in many arenas – every. single. day.  I cried because it is maddening and so disappointing to watch humans denied the opportunity to pursue those things that their abilities allow.

When thinking back on the characters in this movie, I realized that there are no white heroes.  I appreciate that this is the portrayal for today’s kids because when I was growing up, I learned in history class that white folks were the heroes in these stories:

  • Underground railroad? My teacher lauded the abolitionists  who took in the runaway slaves and we talked about the bravery of doing something illicit.  Sure, Harriet Tubman sang songs, but whites, among others, were taking a risk by making their homes stops on the railroad.
  • The Holocaust? My teacher lauded the folks who allowed Jews to stay in the crawl space behind their bookshelves.

So I came home from school excited that I was descended from heroes and my parents got to tell me that a) there’s nothing heroic about treating humans like humans -that’s just part of being human, and b) I came from recent Armenian and Italian immigrants.

But there is still a moment of climax that presents whites as quasi-heroic:  Al Harrison, director of the Space Task Group, tears down the “Colored Women” bathroom sign to allow colored women to use all of the bathrooms. My first thought was “WOOHOO YES!” and my second thought was “HOW WERE YOU SO IGNORANT/OUT OF IT AS TO NOT KNOW THAT THIS WAS GOING ON YOU BUFFOON?!!! Like…SERIOUSLY?!”  Was that moment of white triumph necessary?  I’m guessing that Hollywood needed the drama.  It’s as if they’re saying “be grateful for what you get” even when you know it’s paltry.

What I took away from this movie:

  • People who oppress other people are filled with fear.  It is a fear that comes from knowing that the people you are oppressing are good, thoughtful, brilliant, and creative, and that they can take your job.  We come up with fantasies in our mind about how another group is less worthy than we are and how our struggles are more important.  Perhaps most critically, we fantasize that there is not enough to go around.  We have to stop these fantasies in order to move towards the equality and advancement of all peoples.  When I was canvassing for Hillary, I saw this fear in undecided voters.  Now that Trump has provided an institutional platform for spewing this hate, we need to work harder than ever to vanquish the fear of scarcity, however irrational, that so many of our fellow citizens have.  Lately I’ve been turning to this guy and his book, Creating True Peace.
  • Black folks are just like other folks.  They are curious and funny and brilliant and productive.  But how they’re not like me/whites?  They have to fight, every single day, for every single thing they have because “we” were/are dead set on taking it away from them and making their lives a living hell.
  • We, Americans, CONTINUE to squander our human capital! As President Obama said in his farewell address “We have to pay attention and listen.  For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the sixties.”  We need to be providing equal and quality education for ALL OF OUR CITIZENS.  Decades of institutionalized racism are threatening our humanitarian, economic, and national security interests.
  • And most poignant for me: I am standing on the shoulders of invisible giants.  It’s my job to help remove their invisibility cloak.  They’re invisible because it’s convenient for us: their brilliance, productivity, impact, and HUMANITY goes against so much of our country’s narrative, and it’s expensive to rewrite textbooks.

I will not be complacent.  I can never know the struggle but I can listen and I promise I will always be an ally.

*The movie depicts a dispute over bathroom-access for colored women.  Research shows that many girls across the African continent drop out of school during their adolescence because they do not have access to adequate bathroom facilities –> Our nation’s resources were on par with a third world country as recently as 60 years ago, and there are still many places in America where access to resources is woefully inadequate.